Actions

Work Header

Delta Delta Flyboy

Chapter Text

The cab of the truck was hot. The old air conditioner struggled to blow out air that could be considered lukewarm at best. Sweat trickled down his face and he rested his boots on the open door. With his ankles crossed and eyes closed, he could almost imagine he was sitting in a tropical locale. Enjoying the soft noises of trickling water and gentle breezes.

Instead, the radio was pumping out staticky Britney Spears and his partner was singing along, flicking his hands around as he danced along from the driver’s side.

“Must you?” Jiang Cheng asked without opening his eyes.

Nie Huaisang reached forward and turned up the radio, bobbing his head along with the beat. “Don’t be Toxic, Jiang Cheng.” He sang along with the lyrics.

A headache began forming at the base of Jiang Cheng’s skull.

They were parked in the only shaded corner of a gas station parking lot. This was a frequent haunt of theirs—this particular gas station had the best Icee’s and microwave Taquitos in town. It was also smack dab in the middle of their zone, the perfect place to wait and pray that a call did not come through.

Four hours into his twenty-four-hour shift and he was already done with the day.

He had been working for this agency for four months now. It wasn’t a hard decision to move—this agency was well run, well funded, the equipment was mostly in working order, and the pay was a tick above average. Combine that with one of the best high schools in the state, and it was a no brainer.

The problem was Jiang Cheng. He didn’t like change, or new people.

Actually, he just really didn’t like people.

Nie Huaisang turned down the radio and looked over at him. “I thought you were on B shift?”

“I am. I’m covering for someone.”

Nie Huaisang eyed his partner. “That’s a lot of overtime.”

Tell that to the bags under my eyes, he thought.

Jiang Cheng didn’t answer. It was a lot of overtime. But since he was the only one bringing home a check right now, he had to take every shift he could get. Reaching between the bucket seats he picked up his warm water bottle and chugged the contents, squashing the bottle in his fist. Ostensibly, it was to save space in the small trash can they had wedged between the driver’s seat. In reality, Jiang Cheng just liked the way the plastic crumbled underneath his hands. The small flicker of masculinity flooded his veins and gave him a sense of success.

Cavemen bonked a dinosaur on the head, he crushed a water bottle. Evolution is a wonder.

He shifted in the uncomfortable seat and listened to the engine rattle. His current chariot was a ten-year-old Chevy. The ambulance had probably been top of the line at the time, which wasn’t saying much. If Fire Engines were the show ponies of EMS, the ambulances were the workhorse they kept in the back. Rode hard and put away wet, it was a miracle anything worked on the abused machine. The tires were bald, the AC busted two summers ago, and there were suspicious holes appearing in the faded bucket seats that looked suspiciously rodent like.

Nie Huaisang had taken to leaving left over sandwiches for the mice, an offering to the rodent gods in an attempt to get them to stop chewing through the seats.

Jiang Cheng opened his eyes and looked down at the computer monitor fastened to the dash. He punched the touch screen and cursed when the screen didn’t shift.

“You can’t hit it like that.” Nie Huaisang chided. “It’s more of a spank. Hard, but not too hard. Enough to feel the sting but not enough to leave a bruise on your lovers’ ass.”

Jiang Cheng stared at him in horror. “I will shove a fire extinguisher up your ass if you ever say anything like that to me again.”

Nie Huaisang blinked at him, started to laugh, then realized he was serious and clammed up.

His ass was saved by their alarm going off. The screen shifted and Jiang Cheng groaned, reaching for the Toughbook and pulling up the screen.

Nie Huaisang looked at the address and read off the call. “Vaginal bleed.”

Jiang Cheng swore as he began typing up his report. After years of being a Paramedic he could safely say his job was 10% working with patients, 10% resisting the urge to slam his head against a wall, and 80% paperwork.

Nie Huaisang put the truck into drive and pulled out of the parking lot. Jiang Cheng scanned the information given, which wasn’t much. Occasionally a Police Officer or Fire Engine would arrive first and they would get more information, but the majority of time they went into a call completely blind.

“38 year old female, complaining of abdominal pain with vaginal bleeding.”

“Ectopic pregnancy?” Nie Huaisang suggested.

“Probably nothing.” Jiang Cheng dismissively.

They call it gallows humor. To the onlooker it sounded horrible, macabre, cruel, and insensitive. But in the field, if you couldn’t joke about it, you would lose your mind. They weren’t people to Jiang Cheng. They were sacks of meat—his job was to keep the air going in and out, the blood going around and round, and hopefully all the pieces attached.

The last twenty vaginal bleed calls he had gotten, had all been complete bullshit. He wasn’t expecting this one to be any different.

 

Rescue 4 pulled into a neighborhood that looked like it had been copy and pasted from a thousand other neighborhoods. The kind of place where the houses were custom built—so long as you chose one of three designs that only varied in the smallest of details. With one eye on the addresses they finally pulled into a two story stucco home with no distinguishing features.

Quickly, Jiang Cheng assessed the home and checked for any security problems. Loose dogs? Crazy axe wielding drug addicts? An elderly woman looking for someone to talk to because her family ignored her and she was lonely?

Jiang Cheng would personally rather deal with the axe murderer.

Nie Huaisang grabbed the stretcher with the jump bag and monitor latched to the back. They rolled the stretcher up the concrete driveway and Jiang Cheng pounded on the front door.
“EMS!” he shouted with a deep baritone.

“Ohh, I love it when you’re authoritative.” Nie Huaisang said, shooting him a thumbs up.

Jiang Cheng was plotting unique and interesting ways to torture his partner when a harried looking man opened the door. He was painfully thin, wearing a set of boxers and a loose tanktop. A cigarette hung from his lips and rolled over the multiple piercings set into the plump skin.

“She’s back here.” He said worriedly, his lanky hair hanging around a painfully bland face.

“What happened?” Jiang Cheng asked, slipping on a pair of gloves and casting an experienced eye around the home. The furniture was mismatched, and it was a little cluttered, but overall the residence seemed clean enough.

“Uh, well, she started bleeding.” He said sheepishly.

Jiang Cheng felt his headache throb. “Look, I don’t care whatever illegal or kinky shit you were doing. I’m a Paramedic, not a cop. I need to know what happened so I can do my job.”

Slim looked at him and worried at the cigarette in his mouth, the smoke curling around Jiang Cheng’s face and making him wish he hadn’t quit when he was a teenager. “We were just having sex. All of a sudden she said it hurt and started bleeding.”

They got to the back room to find a woman sitting up on the bed, holding a towel between her legs. She looked like she was shaking, and in the dim light of the room Jiang Cheng thought she might look a little pale.

“Hit the lights.” He told Nie Huaisang, and a moment later the overhead light flickered to life and he could see her pallid complexion. Her skin was clearly pale and looked clammy and cool.

Jiang Cheng walked over to her and immediately took up her wrist, feeling the pulse there. It felt a little light and his concern grew. “Hey, I’m a Paramedic. Can you tell me what you’re feeling?”

Nie Huaisang dragged over the monitor that would take their vitals for them. While she sniffled and prepared to talk, he expertly applied a blood pressure cuff and SPO2 monitor. “He…we were having sex and it hurt and then there was so much blood. Am I giving birth?”

Jiang Cheng fought the urge to roll his eyes. “Can I look?” he gestured to the bunched towel and when she nodded, he moved the terry cloth material.

As soon as the material was moved, blood gushed out from between her thighs. Jiang Cheng caught himself before he swore, pressing the towel back into place. He had never seen so much blood from a vaginal bleed, not even during child birth or a miscarriage.

Without looking at the monitor, he knew what her vitals would say. She was bleeding out.

“Hypotensive, 90/60. O2 is ok.” Nie Huaisang said, not waiting for Jiang Cheng’s instructions. He immediately moved the monitor back onto the stretcher and helped Jiang Cheng move her onto the stretcher. They buckled her in and began wheeling her out into the hallway.

The tall and skinny boyfriend followed them out. “I’m sorry babe, you kept saying go deeper. I tried to and I…” he suddenly cut himself off and peeled up the waistband of his boxers, glancing down at himself.

Jiang Cheng paused when he saw the look of horror on his face. “What?”

“M…my piercing. The back is missing.”

Realization dawned on Jiang Cheng and he shoved the stretcher faster. They loaded her into the back of the ambulance, the small statured Nie Huaisang hefting the stretcher with a surprising amount of strength.

“You need help?” he asked.

“No, we’re going hot. Get us there.” Jiang Cheng said as he launched himself into the back of the truck. He didn’t need to look for the supplies, he knew where they were by feel. All their trucks were set up the same way.

Within moments he has a tourniquet around her bicep and had the tip of an 18gauge IV pressed against her skin. She was losing a lot of blood, and he knew the vein might be difficult to find. With minimal amounts of digging, he got the flash of blood. Advancing the catheter in, he secured the line and started a bag of fluids as fast as they would drip.

With the fluids going, he rechecked her vitals. They were holding relatively stable. He checked the towel again and noted the same amount of blood. He could give her some of their bandaging to staunch the blood, but the towel seemed to be doing the best job.

She blinked at him with teary eyes. “What is going on?”

Jiang Cheng ignored her and pulled down the radio. The sirens were distant in the back of the truck, hard to hear over the grinding engine and the exhausted groaning of the AC trying to do its job. With a hand on the support built into the ceiling, he lifted the radio to his lips.

“Rescue 4 to hospital.” He waited for the Emergency Department to answer.

“Go ahead Rescue 4.” He heard a bored nurses voice crackle over the static.

He read off the patients vitals and called in a Trauma Alert.

There was silence over the radio. “Rescue 4, say again. Trauma alert?”

“Yes.”

“…for a vaginal bleed?”

Sonofabitch. He reined in his temper. “Yes.” He ground out, holding back the litany of curses he wanted to rain down the line. Did she think he was joking?

He slammed the radio back after giving their ETA.

The patient looked up at him with pale listless eyes and he wondered if this young woman might actually bleed out from rough sex with her boyfriend.

 

Lan Xichen looked up from his chart and rubbed his eyes. The bright florescent lights from the Emergency Department were wreaking havoc on his eyesight. He had not gotten nearly enough sleep the night before and he was feeling it today. The ceramic coffee mug was a little too hot to the touch, but he kept it pressed against his lips, taking a moment to inhale the fragrant scent.

From the moment he clocked in a 7 AM this morning he had been running nonstop. The Emergency Department was never really quiet, but today it was worse than normal. Flu season was upon them and that always brought in astronomical numbers of patients. Everyone with a runny nose came running to the hospital, despite the fact that unless there were secondary complications, there was no treatment for the flu except bedrest and vitamins.

Two nurses were out with the flu, and the staff was running ragged to make up for it. He had never seen their head nurse quite so flustered—not that you could tell just by looking at him. Nie Mingjue was the steeliest man Lan Xichen had ever seen. His devastatingly handsome looks were cut short by the often angry look in his eyes—pupils almost vanishing in the darkness as he glared across the nurses station at lackadaisical staff.

As he cautiously sipped his coffee he hid in the small nook dedicated for physicians. He was supposed to be inputting orders and finishing up his reports, but he took a moment to let the caffeine infiltrate his system. Brushing his hair back from his eyes he took a sip and wrinkled his nose at the burnt taste. He should know better than to expect much from the break room coffee machine.

He perked up when he heard the EMS radio go off. The warbled noise was almost impossible to decipher until you’d gotten used to it. To the average person, it probably sounded like a rare form of Cuneiform. But he was able to pick out what he needed.

Wheeling around in his chair he looked at the young nurse who had taken the call. “What did he say the BP was?”

She glanced down at the log. “He said…90/74 but that can’t be right. It’s just a vaginal bleed…”

Lan Xichen set his mug down and sighed. It would be cold by the time he got back from the trauma alert. He could take crappy coffee, or cold coffee. He couldn’t handle both.

Stretching his arms up over his head he prepared to head into the trauma bay.

Trauma Alerts were always tricky. Normally, when an ambulance came in the patient was triaged like any other patient. They were set an order when they would be seen according to the severity of their illness or injuries. But Trauma Alerts were different. Based on certain criteria, the Paramedics could call it and a Trauma team would be waiting in the bay, ready to receive the patient and begin working on them right away.

Settling the lead vest onto his shoulders, he tightened the mask around his face and slapped on a pair of gloves. A nurse in the corner began recording the process for documentation purposes and several other staff members prepared to receive the patient.

Lan Xichen didn’t know the other members of the ED well. He had just transferred here from a bigger hospital when he finished his residency training. In truth, he liked working at the smaller hospital. He got to know the staff members a little better and his notoriously famous bed side manner was put to good use. He had only been working in the hospital for a month or so now. Besides the work, he got to be closer to his family.

The trauma bay doors slammed open and the stretcher was wheeled in. Lan Xichen immediately noted the patients pale skin and the glossy way she looked at him. While his team assisted transferring the patient the Paramedic stepped in close to him.

“Patient is a 38 year old female, chief complaint vaginal bleed secondary to sharp abdominal pain. Pain upon palpation in lower quadrant. Significant bleeding controlled with pressure and bandaging. Patient reports she was having consensual sex with her boyfriend when she asked him to uh…go deeper. Boyfriend reports the back of his piercing came undone.”

Without looking up from the patient Lan Xichen watched as the ambulance cables were exchanged for the hospitals.

The back of his piercing? Was he having sex with his ear?

He looked up in confusion until he saw the strange look on one of the nurses faces.

Oh. That kind of piercing.

Looking up he made eye contact with the Paramedic and he paused. He had never seen this medic before, hardly surprising because he rarely had time to speak or interact with the ambulance staff on a regular basis. He was generally focused on the patients on their stretcher.

The medic was tall and broad shouldered. His face was twisted into a bit of an impassive scowl, though there was no real venom in his eyes. Dark eyes stared back at him over angular cheeks and long hair was pulled back into a small bun at the back of his head. His uniform shirt was tucked into loose fitting cargo pants and he was wearing thick soled boots.

He was dressed like every other medic that walked through those doors.

So why couldn't Lan Xichen couldn’t take his eyes off him? There was something in the way he stared at him, unflinching and unabashed that sent his brain into meltdown. It was like the static on a TV. All the education he had, all the intelligence he had accrued over years of studying, died in the face of that intense stare.

“Doctor?” the nurse asked him, staring at him expectantly over her mask.

“Right.” He shook himself and began running the trauma as he had a thousand times before. The static cleared from his brain and he fell back into the rhythm of the trauma bay. Follow the procedures. Treat and stabilize the patient. Diagnostics. It all made sense to him and his brain started working again.

When he finally had a chance to look up again, the Paramedic was gone.

 

Jiang Cheng dropped the Toughbook onto the counter. He got a petty sense of glee when the computer struck the surface with a thud. That thing was the bane of his existence and he was only too glad to inflict pain upon it.

After giving his report he hounded a nurse until she signed off his patient, and then he retreated to the EMS room. Usually nothing more than a glorified closet if they were lucky, it was supposedly a place where EMS personnel could grab a quick snack or drink, and work on their reports. While Nie Huisang cleaned the back of the truck, he snagged an apple and opened the Toughbook. Punching the keys with violence, he bit into the skin of the apple and began filling out his report.

The Toughbook keys were small and hardened over years of being punched. Typing was a slow one fingered affair that reminded him of watching someone who refused to learn how to use a computer. Each stroke was agonizing and by the end of his report he was a combination of homicidal and suicidal.

He finished the apple and tossed the core into the trash, finishing his report and sending it off. Flipping off the screen he slapped the cover down and snagged a water and a chocolate milk from the fridge before leaving the room and going to find Nie Huaisang.

He tossed the milk to his infantile partner who cackled with glee when he popped the top and chugged the entire contents. How this man was related to Nie Mingjue, who was arguably one of the scariest people Jiang Cheng had ever met, was a mystery he had not yet figured out.

“Did you hear? She got sent up to surgery.”

Jiang Cheng tossed the Toughbook into the cab and nodded. “Piercing sliced open her cervix.”

Nie Huaisang shuddered and finished loading the stretcher. “Ready to go back into service?”

With a protracted sigh Jiang Cheng looked down at his watch. Only eighteen hours left.

Chapter Text

The apartment building was tucked away behind a major shopping center. A basic looking building, the walls were painted a neutral khaki color and the lawns were trimmed neatly. It was a middle of the road kind of place—clean and relatively safe. The rent was reasonable, and the neighbors minded their own business.

Jiang Cheng parked his car in the space and trudged up the stairs to his upper floor apartment. Every bone in his body ached, and the headache had been following him through his entire shift. They had calls all night and he hadn’t been able to get any sleep. He spent two hours with a patient who was convinced she was allergic to water and could only drink Mountain Dew. By the end, he just agreed with her and let it be someone else’s problem.

He unlocked the front door and toed off his boots, tossing the keys on the side table. Despite the early hour, the apartment was suspiciously active. Rock music was playing, and the smell of food being cooked wafted through the apartment. He narrowed his eyes and moved toward the kitchen warily. Jiang Cheng was a terrible cook, but he was the only one in the family who could make anything even remotely edible.

He walked into the kitchen to see his brother dancing along to the music and stirring a pan on the stove. Wei Wuxian’s hair was down and he was still wearing pajamas. The food smelled suspiciously good and Jiang Cheng stood on tiptoes to see over his shoulder.

“Don’t give me that look.” Wei Wuxian said, waving his hand at him. “I am a good cook.”

“I’m just surprised you haven’t burned through the pan yet.”

Wei Wuxian tsked and picked up a plastic bag beside the stove. “For your information, it’s a frozen stir fry. I haven’t added anything to it. Yet.” he looked at a handful of chilis he had set on the counter with wicked glee.

“Stir fry for breakfast?”

“It’s all we had.”

Jiang Cheng needed to go shopping. There was a lot of things he needed to do.

Turning around he saw Jin Ling sitting at the kitchen table.

Doing homework.

“What the hell is this?” he asked as he stared at his nephew incredulously.

Jin Ling looked up, blinking wide innocent eyes at him.

“What did you do?”

“Huh? What do you mean?” Jin Ling hedged. “I’m just doing homework…”

“Don’t bullshit me. What did you do?”

Jin Ling stared at him for a moment before sighing and slumping down in his chair. “I bit someone.”

“What?!”

His brother popped his head around the corner. “Did he deserve it?”

“WEI WUXIAN!”

“What? Like you’ve never bitten anyone before?”

Jiang Cheng closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. After several deep breaths he pointed at Wei Wuxian. “Dumbass number one, finish cooking then go to class. And if you add even one chili so help me god, I will break your legs.”

He turned his attention back to Jin Ling. “And you, dumbass number two, why did you bite a kid?”

Jin Ling took a breath to answer and Jiang Cheng lifted up a hand. “Actually, you know what, I don’t want to know. Am I going to get a call from the school?”

A cocky smile graced his nephews face. “Nah. It was settled.”

“Fine. I expect you to get an A on your next math test, or I’m throwing the Xbox off the roof.”

“Aw c’mon. An A? How about a D?

“At least a B.”

“C?”

Jiang Cheng gave up. “B minus, final offer.”

Jin Ling sighed then nodded. “Fine.”

“Go to school.” He said before shuffling back to his bedroom.

“Where are you going?” Wei Wuxian asked.

“To fantasize about being an only child!”

 

Jiang Cheng slammed his bedroom door and fell face first onto the small twin bed he called his own. He buried his face in the pillow and wondered if it was possibly to smother himself. The room was warm, and the ceiling fan was struggling to move the thick air around.

It was the biggest bedroom in their two bedroom apartment, which wasn’t really saying much. They decided to give Jin Ling his own room, so he shared with Wei Wuxian. Neither one of them were willing to share a space with a moody 17 year old, so they crammed two twin beds in the small space.

Besides the beds there was a dresser they shared, and a mountain of clothes shoved onto a rickety looking chair Wei Wuxian had rescued from a garage sale. He insisted it was a deal, but Jiang Cheng was pretty sure it introduced fleas to the apartment.

Rolling onto his back he stared up at the ceiling. His life was a joke. He was a few months shy of thirty and he didn’t have anything to himself. Everything in his life was shared—the apartment, bedroom, bathroom, and even most of his clothes were routinely stolen by his brother.

Throwing an arm over his eyes he tried not to feel too sorry for himself. It could be worse.

It wasn’t a bad life, he just wished someone had asked him if he wanted it. After his sister died, she left him with sole custody of her child. Why she thought that was a good idea, he had no idea. With a child to care for, there was no way he could go to College. Not that he had the grades for it, anyway. High school had been less about academics and more about picking fights.
Wei Wuxian got a shitty job and helped him support their nephew. Unlike Jiang Cheng, Wei Wuxian had the grades to go to college. He might have been a prankster, but he was wicked smart where it counted. The kind of smart that could really change the world.

Instead, he ended up serving up stale hamburgers and freezer burned French fries at a local diner.

After Jiang Cheng got his Paramedic license, he told Wei Wuxian to go back to school. Of all the things, Wei Wuxian decided he wanted to be a nurse. Supporting Jin Ling and scraping the money together to send Wei Wuxian to nursing school had been putting a strain on Jiang Chengs already fragile emotional state.

Most of the time Jiang Cheng felt like he was standing on a balance beam holding his nephew in one hand, and his brother in the other. There wasn’t room to consider what he wanted. He couldn’t possibly handle it and dropping the only two members of his family wasn’t an option.

Sometimes, Jiang Cheng felt like he was the side character in his own life. The one who moved the plot along and made things happen but didn’t actually get anywhere.

 

The school smelled like industrial cleaner and the unwashed bodies of a thousand kids going through puberty all at once. It was supposed to be one of the best in the state, but Jin Ling thought that all high schools were the same. They all had shitty flickering lights, bland white checked linoleum, and steel lockers with edges that could slice through a tendon.

He shouldered his backpack and meandered through the halls until he found his locker. He had only been in school a couple months and hadn’t quite managed to make friends. He wasn’t antisocial, but it was hard to relate to people he had nothing in common with. The students around him all had parents and siblings. They joined clubs and played in teams.

Jin Ling just couldn’t relate. How was he supposed to introduce himself? ‘Oh hi, my name is Jin Ling. My parents died when I was a kid and I was raised by my two uncles. One has the temper of a tiger with his tail on fire and the other is more likely to blow up the apartment than successfully navigate a meal.’ It sounded like a bad sitcom, the kind with a laugh track and cringy lines.

High school was teeming with people who didn’t know who the hell they were. In the absence of an actual personality, they relied on their looks and the tangible things that they could brag about.

Jin Ling was the short new kid, with a scowl and wearing clothes given to him by his uncles. His shoes were a half size too large because he didn’t want to bug Jiang Cheng for money for new ones.

He unzipped his bag and pulled out the crumpled piece of paper lodged at the bottom of his backpack. It was a flier for the archery club—a new club the school had opened in an attempt to seem diverse and wealthy. It looked like fun, and at the time he had snatched the flier and planned on trying out. But it cost money to join. With his uncle working 80 hour weeks, how could he ask for something like that?

Tossing the neon green flier into the back of his locker, he decided to forget about it. He wasn’t that kid.

Laughter echoed around the hall and he turned to look round his open locker door. He didn’t really need to look--he would recognize that laughter anywhere.

Lan Sizhui.

He was laughing at something his friend had said, head tossed back and glossy black hair catching the shitty hallway lighting. His smile was bright, and Jin Ling thought that no one should look that good this early in the morning.

Jin Ling ducked his head into his locker and tried not to be noticed. He had first met Lan Sizhui on his first day of school, the class president had immediately noticed him and came over to greet the new kid. He was warm, smart, and confident. His clothes weren’t ostentatious, but they were clean and new.

He was also fucking gorgeous. The bastard had no business looking like that and being nice.

Jin Ling’s traitorous body immediately decided that Lan Sizhui was going to be the object of his affections, and no matter how much he begged and pleaded, his brain refused to pick anyone else.

So, he spent half his day ducking down hallways and hiding in bathrooms, doing anything he could to keep Lan Sizhui from seeing him.

Which was why he was now sticking his head in his fucking locker like a dumbass ostrich, looking like a complete idiot just because the guy was walking down the hallway.

“Please don’t notice me, please don’t notice me.” He whispered into the caverns of his metal locker. It smelled like mold, and there was a worrying hint of bologna that he couldn’t quite pinpoint.

“Are you ok?”

Jin Ling jumped and spun around, his head banging into the locker door and swinging it closed on the sleeve of his shirt. Panicking, he yanked at the shirt, but it refused to budge. His backpack fell to the ground and the straps got tangled up in his legs.

“Whoa, whoa. Are you ok?” Lan Sizhui stepped closer to him with a worried expression on his stupidly perfect face.

“Er…I uh…yes. Yes. I’m fine.” Jin Ling crossed his arms and tried to act nonchalant, as if his sleeve wasn’t stuck in his locker and his backpack wasn’t wrapped around his ankles.

Lan Sizhui laughed, and his eyes sparkled in warmth. “Want some help?”

Actually, Jin Ling wanted to turn into a pigeon and spend the rest of his life picking up fries from a fast food parking lot. Anything to keep from reliving this moment.

Lan Sizhui didn’t wait for his answer. He bent down and began gently extracting Jin Ling’s legs from the straps of his bargain brand backpack. His hands were warm and strong, expertly pulling the nylon straps and lifting Jin Ling’s foot so he could slide it out.

From this angle, Jin Ling could see his thick eyelashes fanning over those dark intelligent eyes. His pink lips should have looked ridiculous on a man, but instead they looked plump and perfect. Did he use chap stick? Would Jin Ling be able to taste it if he kissed him?

Because Jin Ling’s life couldn’t get any worse, he realized he was getting hard.

In the middle of the school hallway.

In front of Lan Sizhui.

Fuck the pigeon, someone just kill him now.

Squeezing his eyes shut he tried to think of things to calm himself down: the vein on his uncle’s forehead that throbbed when he was really angry, Wei Wuxian’s off key singing to Shakira when he was drunk, the way the racoons fled from the dumpster when he left for school in the morning.

Soft hands rested against his forehead and he opened his eyes to see Lan Sizhui’s face only inches from his. “Did you hit your head? You’re making a pained expression.”

A weird sort of strangled noise erupted from Jin Ling’s throat and he ripped his sleeve free of the locker, fleeing in the direction of the closest bathroom. Skidding around the corner he wrenched the door open and slammed it shut behind him.

He could move. He could change schools, dye his hair, and talk with an accent. What did Wei Wuxian say he wanted to name him? Rulan? He could go by that. Ling was a stupid name anyway, right?

Straightening up he pushed his hair out of his face and finally looked around the bathroom.

There was a pair of sneakers sticking out from one of the stalls. Jin Ling cocked his head and stared at them. Why was someone lying down in the bathroom? Gingerly, he tapped the shoe with his foot. “You good?” he asked.

The foot moved limply, and a feeling of dread crawled down his spine. Kneeling he shook the toe of the shoe. “Hey! Hey! Are you ok?”

There was no response. Jin Ling grasped the ankle and yanked. The person was heavy but eventually he pulled them free from under the half door. He didn’t recognize the person, but they were definitely a student. Judging from his smooth face and the layer of baby fat clinging to his cheeks, he was a freshman.

And he was unconscious.

“Shit! Shit!” Jin Ling swore reaching forward to feel for the pulse. He couldn’t really feel one, but he wasn’t sure he was feeling in the right place. He tried to remember all the things his uncle grumbled about every time they watched a medical show but he was usually looking at his phone and pretending like he wasn’t stalking Lan Sizhui’s social media.

He shook the kids shoulders but there was no response. Was he even breathing? Jin Ling put his fingers up to his mouth but he didn’t feel the warm exhale against his skin.

The bathroom door opened. “Hey, you forgot your backpack…” Lan Sizhui stepped in and blinked at the scene owlishly.

Jin Ling’s panic increased. “I didn’t kill him!” he shouted instinctively.

Lan Sizhui stared at him for a moment before sticking his head out the door and yelling for someone to call 911. He dropped the backpack and came to Jin Ling’s side.

“I…I…” Jin Ling gaped like a guppy that had hit his head on the side of his tank too many times.

Lan Sizhui reached down and pulled up the kids’ sleeve. A needle was sticking out of the crook of his elbow. “He must have OD’d.” he said confidently, setting the needle aside and feeling for a pulse in the kids neck.

“He’s not breathing. Do you know how to do CPR?” Lan Sizhui asked calmly, not freaking out at all.

Which was fine, because apparently Jin Ling was doing enough for both of them.

“No! Why would I know how to do that?”

Lan Sizhui didn’t say anything, just tilted the kids head back and clasped his hands. He felt around the chest for a moment before beginning to do chest compressions.

“Can you breathe for him?” Lan Sizhui asked, his eyes down on his clasped hands.

Jin Ling scooted over next to Lan Sizhui so their shoulders were touching. “If you tell me how.”

“Ok, tilt his head up and plug his nose. Latch your lips around his to form a seal, then breathe until you see his chest rise.”

Jin Ling did as he said, lowering his lips to the unconscious kids and adjusting them until he thought they were sealed. He breathed with an inordinate amount of spit but was rewarded with seeing the kid’s chest rise.

It tasted like bile and Cheezits, but he would have to be grossed out about that later.

A few moments later a security guard and two teachers came through the door and took over. Lan Sizhui guided Jin Ling out of the bathroom by his shoulder.

“Are you ok?” he asked softly.

Jin Ling stared at him for a moment before bending over and puking all over both of their shoes.

 

In the bowels of the hospital, tucked at end of several long hallways, was the morgue. An infrequently visited place it was dark and cold, and by necessity, difficult to access. The pallor of death clung to the air and there was a heaviness to the atmosphere despite the well lit rooms.

Lan Wangji adjusted his gown and pulled the gloves a little tighter on his fingers. He glanced down at the body lying naked on the metal slab in front of him. Harsh lights illuminated the thickened skin of the corpse. Sightless eyes gazed up at the specialty lighting. Lan Wangji picked up the chart that came with the body and looked over the information.

Wen Ning wheeled over the instrument tray. He had set the tools in just the way Lan Wangji preferred. He took his job as assistant seriously, honored that he was chosen out of all the applicants. While some people wouldn’t enjoy working in a windowless room full of dead people, Wen Ning didn’t mind. What was so scary about a dead body? They couldn’t hurt him. They were dead, and it was his job to treat their bodies with as much dignity as he could.

Today, it was his turn to choose the music they would play when performing the autopsy. When Lan Wangji was in a good mood, he would allow Wen Ning to play music. When he was in a bad mood, he would insist on stony silence. Wen Ning flicked to a popular music station and bobbed his he when Taylor Swift’s newest ballad came out from the speakers.

“Ready when you are, Doctor.” Wen Ning said, standing on the other side of the table and waiting for Lan Wangji to begin.

Lan Wangji came from a family of doctors, but he was the first to choose to work as a Forensic Pathologist. Working as a doctor came with a certain amount of hero status, there was a glamor about it. People respected doctors, they found them intelligent and dedicated.

Lan Wangji was all of those things.

He just lacked any outward signs of empathy. His grades in med school were perfect, but when it came to actually working with patients he fell flat. No one found his impassive face and technical jargon comforting.

During his last clinical he had the unfortunate task of telling a woman her husband had died. She flung herself on him, sobbing into his shoulders. He distastefully pulled her from him and exited the room. None of which was apparently ‘comforting’. His reasoning was that she wanted to grieve privately, but Lan Xichen had explained that she probably wanted him to say something soothing like ‘it wasn’t your fault’ and ‘he’s in a better place now’.

All of which would be lies. She had continued to allow her husband to eat salty and fat rich foods, which contributed to the heart disease that ultimately killed him. And he didn’t know what kind of man he had been in life, so he very well might not be in a better place.

None of which would be the correct things to say.

Lan Xichen suggested he look into pathology, and in that he found his calling. No one pestered him with their grief. It was all easy, black and white. Dead and why they were dead. The bodies didn’t mind when he pointed out that the life they lived contributed to their death, and they certainly weren’t crying into his clothes and demanding lies just to make them feel better.

A hospital administrator came in to drop of some paperwork. She visibly shivered when she looked over at Lan Wangji from the other side of the room. “This place is so creepy. How can you stand it?”

“How is it creepy?” he asked, glancing around at the sterile conditions that were up to code and specifications for any morgue of this size.

She gestured at the drawers of dead bodies behind him. “Dead people.”

“What is so frightening about dead people?” he gestured to the body in front of him. Everything that made this man anything was gone. He had no personality, no soul, no heartbeat. It was the wrapper of a candy bar. The good stuff was gone, all that was left was trash.

The woman stared at him before making a hasty exit. Wen Ning chuckled a little. “I think you scared her.”

Lan Wangji glanced down at the face of the body he was autopsying. A 15 year old boy. Found in his school bathroom, possibly having OD’d. Judging by the track marks on his arms and between his toes, he had been a drug user for some time.

Picking up his scalpel, he made a Y shaped incision on the boy’s chest.

Dead bodies weren’t scary, it was the things that people did to them that were scary. She should be far more afraid of the things outside the morgue than the things inside.

 

Lan Wangji dropped the heavy file onto his Uncle’s desk. Lan Qiren looked up from his computer and blinked at his youngest nephew for a moment before taking up the file.
“This is the third death this week.” Lan Wangji said.

He had removed the cap and mask, and now his dark hair was sticking up from sweat. He had just completed the autopsy on the teenager and had immediately brought the results he had gotten to his Uncle.

As Medical Director for the hospital, Lan Qiren was in charge of the hospital. He organized the health staff as well as administrative. He created the polices and standard operating procedures for the hospital. He had inherited the position from Lan Wangji’s father after his death, and Lan Qiren ran the hospital with an iron hand.

His pointed goatee twitched as he flicked open the folder. “An overdose?”

“Yes. It’s a new strain of Heroin. Xichen said they’ve seen several in the ED. Narcan barely touches it.” He reached forward and flicked through several pages of his report until he got to the bloodwork section. “This patient barely had 1/10 the usual amount of Heroin it would take to kill someone of his size.”

“Is it mixed with Fentanyl?” Lan Qiren asked, looking over the bloodwork.

“No. None found in the system.”

A wrinkle of worry formed between Lan Qiren’s eyebrows and he stroked his chin as he contemplated the information. “Have you informed the police?”

“Yes. They’re looking into it but have yet to find the supplier.”

Lan Qiren sighed and looked up at his handsome nephew’s face. His ascetic face was pleasing, but most people were put off by his impassive nature. Sometimes Lan Qiren worried his nephew was becoming more and more like the corpses he worked on.

“I will ensure we are stocked on Narcan. I will also bring this to Jin Guangyan’s attention.” He said, mentioning the hospitals CEO. A man Lan Wangji had very little to do with.

He nodded. “Thank you, Dr. Lan.” He said formally, as usual.

Lan Qiren met his nephew’s light eyes. “I’ll also inform Xichen and the rest of the medical staff. I have a feeling this epidemic has just begun, and you will be the busiest of us all when this is over.”

Chapter Text

The oxygen tank slammed into the cabinet, shattering the clear plastic door into a spiderweb of cracks. Jiang Cheng ducked and covered his head.

“Jesus lady!” he swore as the tank arced back at his head.

Two minutes ago, his patient had been unconscious and barely breathing on his stretcher. After placing an oxygen mask on her face, he quickly administered a dose of Narcan to wake her up from her drug overdose. Not even one minute later her eyes snapped open, and then the rage of a thousand Karens descended up on his ambulance.

Shrieking at the top of her lungs she ripped off her seatbelts and decided that Jiang Cheng was the object of her dissatisfaction. Taking hold of the oxygen tank strapped at the foot of the stretcher, she began swinging it around like some sort of demonic spinning top. There was only so much space in the back of the truck and Jiang Cheng was doing everything he could to avoid taking a tank to the head.

Nie Huaisang glanced in the rear view mirror to see what was going on. The small window that led to the back of the ambulance limited his vision and all he could see was Jiang Cheng occasionally leaping past, followed by the green O2 tank he had just replaced that morning.

The problem was Jiang Cheng couldn’t hit her back. It would have been relatively easy to take her down had they been in a bar fight. But Jiang Cheng was a professional, and they didn’t like it when their Paramedics had the audacity to fight back.

She swung at his head again and he lifted his arm in time to take the brunt of the blow on his forearm. It still rang his bell, and he saw stars as he collapsed to the tacky floor. Wedged between the stretcher and the bench seat he was a sitting duck.

The patients eyes were wild as she stood over him, lifting the tank above him like some sort of medieval knight about to deliver the killing blow. Jiang Cheng grabbed the stretcher and braced himself.

“Nie Huaisang!” he yelled at the top of his lungs. He knew it would be difficult for his partner to hear him over the truck. “Dead dog!”

The code word had been decided a few months ago. Mostly as a joke, Nie Huaisang had said they needed a safe word. Jiang Cheng agreed, just so he could eat his lunch in peace. But now he found that his partner might have been on to something.

Nie Huaisang slammed his foot down on the brakes and the ambulance screeched to a stop. The patient fell forward, tumbling over Jiang Cheng and crashing into the back doors. The oxygen tank dropped onto Jiang Cheng’s head before rolling down his body to land on his stomach.

The back doors opened and Nie Huaisang grabbed the woman, pinning her arms to her side and bodily shoving her back onto the stretcher.

Sitting up, Jiang Cheng shoved the tank off and blinked the blood out of his eyes. He could feel the warm fluid trickling down the right side of his face. His eyesight narrowed and darkened a few times but he managed to blink away the unconsciousness.

“Hold her down!” he mumbled, pulling himself to his feet shakily. He yanked the key to the drug box off his belt and pulled out his secret weapon.

He called it the B52 Peacekeeper. In reality, it was a sedation dose specifically designed for violent patients. He had already established an IV to get the Narcan on board, he just needed Nie Huaisang to hold her still long enough for him to inject the medicine.

Jiang Cheng grabbed her arm and held it still, twisting the syringe into place and depressing the plunger a little faster than he should have. The patient was bucking and twisting, spit frothing out of her mouth. One leg slipped free and nailed Nie Huaisang in the ribs. He groaned and waivered, losing his grip.

Jiang Cheng grabbed the leg and pinned it in place until her wild eyes finally softened and she dropped off into sedated peace.

Both men dropped to the floor and stared at her panting.

“She kicked me!” Nie Huaisang whined, poking at his side to test the ribs.

Jiang Cheng stared at him, blinking the blood out of his eyes. Gingerly he touched his head, feeling the laceration just beyond the hairline. It didn’t seem deep and would probably stop bleeding soon. Nausea swooped in his stomach and judging by how his vision danced he knew he was concussed.

“What does she weigh? Like 90lbs?” Nie Huaisang asked.

“When they ask, she was a beefy 6 foot tall biker.” Jiang Cheng said.

“With a mohawk.”

“At least 300lbs.”

“Probably more.”

 

The patient slept for the remainder of the trip to the hospital. Jiang Cheng used a pair of padded restraints to tie her to the stretcher in case she woke up again, and they drew quite a few stares when they wheeled up the ambulance entrance into the ED.

While they waited for a bed to open up, Jiang Cheng rested against the wall and watched the ED. There was a sort of rhythm to the place once you knew what to look for—nurses ping ponging from nurses station to room, the doctors hiding in their alcoves, and the myriad of other specialists dragging their feet when they got called down from their floors to assist in the ED.

If a hospital was built like a city, then the ED was the scary part of town. The place where the light doesn’t touch. The kind of streets that cars lock their doors when they drive by, and passersby casually ignore the graffiti and turn the other direction when they hear suspicious noises. The only kind of people who worked in the Emergency Department were the kind who fed off chaos. If being spit on, possibly injured, and watching people die on a nightly basis sounded like a good time, then the halls of the ED were for you.

Jiang Cheng’s face was covered in blood, and not a single person looked at him twice—just another Tuesday around here.

Nie Huaisang nudged him and pointed to the nurse’s station. “See that doctor?”

Jiang Cheng glanced up and blinked the fog from his eyes. Nie Mingjue was standing at a computer and talking with a tall doctor. His dark hair was trimmed neatly, and his shoulders were broad under his white coat. Even in the harsh lighting from the ED, he looked handsome. Several patients did double takes when they walked past. As if he knew he was being watched, he looked up from the computer and met Jiang Cheng’s eyes.

His eyes were the color of tea with a hint of milk and sugar. There was a softness around them that Jiang Cheng couldn’t look away from. Those eyes flashed when they took in the blood coating his face.

“That’s Dr. Lan.” Nie Huaisang said. “Well, one of them anyway.”

Jiang Cheng dragged his eyes away from the doctor and looked down at his partner. “One of them?”

“Right, you haven’t been around very long.” He said with a smug smirk, as if he was proud to know something Jiang Cheng didn’t. “There’s three. That on is Dr. Lan Xichen. The medical director, Dr. Lan Qiren is his uncle, and his brother is Dr. Lan Wangji our forensic pathologist.”

a shoulder against the wall. A family of doctors. That was…intense. If you added up all their years of education, it amounted to a fully grown adult.

After depositing their patient on a free bed, Jiang Cheng made a beeline for the bathroom. Nie Mingjue had just noticed his little brother and was coming over to chat with him. Jiang Cheng would rather not be there when he found out he had been injured. Mostly because he was pretty sure Nie Mingjue could snap him like a pretzel stick.

His boots squeaked as he made his way to the staff bathroom. Honestly, it was a good thing that Nie Huaisang had pointed Dr. Lan out to him. Now he knew who to avoid. Jiang Cheng wasn’t here to make waves or cause a ruckus. Especially with someone so well connected. Jiang Cheng couldn’t afford any sort of drama in his work life, not when he was the only one bringing home a paycheck.

No, keeping as far away from anyone named Lan was the best plan.

He ducked into the bathroom and ran the tap, wetting a paper towel and scrubbing at his face. The blood had hardened and congealed in some places, and there was no way he was getting it out of his hair without a shower. Even his uniform had droplets of blood on the collar.

When his face was reasonably clean, he tossed the paper towel into the trash. He would have to wait until he got home to do a better investigation of his wound.

Pushing open the door he collided with someone’s chest. “Oh, sorry.” He said before his eyes drifted up to their face.

Son of a bitch.

Dr. Lan was standing right in front of him, looking down at him with those eyes he had just been lost in.

The taller man cocked his head. “You’re hurt.” He said as he lifted the strands of hair off Jiang Chengs forehead to look at the wound.

Instinctually he slapped the hand away. “I’m fine.”

Dr. Lan raised an eyebrow at him. “Are you qualified to make that assessment?” there was a soft smile resting on his features, but there was a definite smirk hiding under the pleasant façade.

“Are you qualified to piss me off?” Jiang Cheng fired back before he could stop himself. His eyes widened when he realized what he had said. And to who he had said it.

“Excuse me, I have to get back to my partner.” He stepped around the man and began walking off.

A hand shot out and grabbed his, stopping him. “Let me look at your wound.”

“I told you I was fine.” Jiang Cheng said irritably, refusing to look back at Dr. Lan.

“It would…be a shame if someone reported this to your boss.” Dr. Lan said smoothly. “I can’t imagine the lawyers would like to hear that one of their Paramedics was assaulted and didn’t get checked up.”

Jiang Cheng froze. Something prickled at the back of his neck and he turned to face Dr. Lan. “Are you threatening me?”

“I tried asking nicely.” That affable smile was still in place, but there was something glinting in those tea colored eyes.

They stared at each other for a long moment, neither one of them backing down. Something sparked between them and the tension in the room rose to unbearable levels.

Dr. Lan dragged Jiang Cheng to one of the exam rooms. To call it a room was charitable. A room indicated there were walls and a door. This was just separated by curtains on tracks embedded into the ceiling.

Jiang Cheng settled onto the bed but refused to lay back. Dr. Lan pulled a pen light out of his pocket and waved it over his eyes, examining his pupillary response.

“Did you lose consciousness?” he asked while he waited for Jiang Cheng’s eyes to adjust.

“No.”

“Any headaches?”

“No.” he lied breezily.

Dr. Lan narrowed his eyes at him in suspicion. “Nausea?”

“Nope.” Another lie. But Jiang Cheng couldn’t afford to get put out of work. If they found out he had a concussion, then he would be put on sick leave for a few days. He couldn’t afford that—financially or emotionally.

Jiang Cheng was not strong enough sit alone in the apartment with only his thoughts.

Lan Xichen glared at him and Jiang Cheng gave him a fake smile. “So, we good?”

“Not even close. I want to get a CT scan to make sure there isn’t any internal injuries.”

He rolled his eyes. “The only internal injury I have is the pain in my ass. And I don’t need a CT scan to know that it’s being caused by you.”

Improbably, Dr. Lan laughed. His eyes almost disappeared when he smiled, and his laugh was deep. It rumbled out of his chest in a way that didn’t seem to fit his trim appearance.

Jiang Cheng slipped off the bed and made to move around Dr. Lan, but for the second time in less than twenty minutes, his arm was grabbed. “When do you get off shift?”

“Seven.”

“Really? I also get off—”

“AM.” Jiang Cheng said wickedly. “Twenty-four hour shifts, Doc.” He pulled his hand out from Dr. Lan’s grip and disappeared around the curtain.

He didn’t see Dr. Lan smiling at the space he left behind.

 

Jin Ling’s shoes squelched as he plodded down the hallway. One would think that finding a dead kid in the bathroom would buy him at least half a day off school, but no, the teachers thought that ‘keeping a normal schedule’ would be better for his psyche.

As if anything could be normal after today. Not only had he embarrassed himself in a succession of times in front of Lan Sizhui, who he had been consciously avoiding for the last three months, but he also had put his mouth on a dead kid.

That was his first kiss

He could still taste the remnants of stomach acid mixed with toasted cheese cracker.

Jin Ling pushed out the front doors of the school and began his walk home. Twenty minutes and he could shower, gargle with bleach, and crawl under his blankets and debate exactly what he would tell his uncles to let him switch schools.

“Hey, Jin Ling!”

He jumped when a hand snagged his backpack, tugging it gently to get him to stop. Lan Sizhui came abreast of him and flashed him a winning smile.

Jin Ling thought he said ‘hey’ back, but he also might have recited the Canadian national anthem. He couldn’t be sure because his brain was actively turned off at the moment.

“I just wanted to be sure you were ok. You took off pretty quickly after everything.” Lan Sizhui said, not even mentioning the fact that Jin Ling had vomited on him.

“You’re…asking about me?” Jin Ling asked incredulously. “What about your shoes?”

Lan Sizhui laughed and looked down at his sneakers. They were as wet as Jin Ling’s, and he had clearly had the same idea to wash them in the sink. “They’re just shoes.” He shrugged as if it wasn’t a big deal.

Jin Ling fidgeted, uncomfortable being the object of Lan Sizhui’s attention. “Uh, well, I can probably buy you a new pair? I’m really sorry, again.”

He was waved off. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll just toss them in the wash or something.” His smile was so genuine it was unnerving. He really didn’t seem to mind.

“Can I walk you home?”

Jin Ling swallowed hard and blinked. “You want to walk me home?”

Lan Sizhui nodded. “Yeah, you look kind of pale. And after everything that happened today…well…” he scratched at the back of his neck and looked a little unsure for the first time since Jin Ling had known him.

“I guess. I don’t want you to go out of your way.”

“It’s not a problem. I just spent all day sitting, I could use the walk.” He stretched his arms above his head and Jin Ling forced himself not to look at the way his shirt rode up and exposed his stomach.

They walked shoulder to shoulder in companionable silence. Lan Sizhui had his hands in his pockets and the keychains on his backpack tinkled together. Jin Ling didn’t know what to say or where to look. What did he normally do with his hands when he walked? He settled for grabbing the straps of his backpack and resting them there, but that made him feel like a little kid. He couldn’t put them in his pockets because then it would look like he was copying Lan Sizhui. He settled for leaving them at his sides.

As the rounded the corner of the school he noticed a gaggle of people standing around a dumpster. It seemed like an odd place to group up, the view wasn’t exactly scenic. The scent of cigarettes was strong in the air and he took notice of one person in particular. He didn’t look like a high schooler. He was a little older, maybe in his twenties. His long dark hair was pulled back into a thick braid that resembled a shark fin. It gave his pleasant features a hard edge. He was grinning in a way that could only be described as feral as he exchanged something with a few kids wearing backpacks.

His view was obscured as a tall tree rose up and he turned his attention back to the walk.

“I did mean to ask…” Jin Ling said finally. “how did you know how to do all that?”

“What? CPR?”

“That and you were just…so chill.”

Lan Sizhui chuckled. “Well, I’m glad it came off that way. I was definitely freaking out. But it helps that I grew up in a family of doctors. My uncle is a doctor and my foster father is a forensic pathologist.”

Jin Ling jerked his head up. “Foster father?” he asked before realizing how rude that sounded. He clapped a hand over his mouth and shook his head. “Sorry, sorry. That was prying.”

“No, it’s ok. Don’t worry.” Lan Sizhui reassured him. “My parents died in a car crash when I was a kid. I don’t remember much from the accident, except that it was raining, and everything was loud. My foster father was driving in the car behind us, he was just a student then. But he pulled me out of the car and kind of…unofficially adopted me.” There was something strange in Lan Sizhui’s eyes, a sort of wistful emotion that Jin Ling didn’t understand.

“Me too.” He answered in a small voice. “I mean, my parents died too. My uncles raised me.” Jin Ling couldn't believe that there was someone else like him. Someone who might understand a little bit of what he was going through. And that person was Lan Sizhui.

Lan Sizhui looked over at him with interest. “Your uncles like…are they married?”

Jin Ling burst out laughing. He laughed so hard he had to rest his hands on his knees and take in deep breaths. “Oh, god, no. That is…the most horrifying thing I’ve ever heard.” He wiped the tears from his eyes before straightening up. “My uncle Jiang Cheng is technically my only biological uncle. But my uncle Wei Wuxian was raised by my grandparents. It’s kind of complicated…” Jin Ling said with a lingering smile.

The sidewalk opened up in front of them and he could feel the warmth radiating off the concrete. Shade trees cast some of the walkway in shade and the temperature was comfortable. A gentle breeze carried the scent of freshly mowed grass and Jin Ling felt strangely at peace. He hadn’t told anyone at school about his living situation and it felt good to finally get it off his chest.

“It doesn’t sound complicated at all.” Lan Sizhui said. “It sounds really nice.” That wistful look was back on his face again. “Like there’s a lot of love in your family.”

Jin Ling hadn’t really thought about it that way, but he supposed Lan Sizhui was right. His family was a giant clusterfuck of disasters. He couldn’t count how many times Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian had been frantically googling different things about childcare. How many nights had Jiang Cheng spent glaring at him in bed, checking his temperature every five minutes because Jin Ling had a case of the sniffles?

They ate a lot of cereal, and most of his meals were from the microwave, but he never once felt like his uncles didn’t care.

“Do you…do you um…” Jin Ling stopped walking and Lan Sizhui turned to look at him quizzically.

“Just now you looked…sad. Do you want to talk about it?” Jin Ling mumbled. “Or not, I could be wrong. I’m probably just talking out of my ass so just ignore that.” He knew he was blushing.

Lan Sizhui looked surprised but then he smiled softly, stepping up into Jin Ling’s space and running the back of his fingers against his hot cheeks. “You noticed? Most people don’t. They just assume.”

Jin Ling swallowed and looked into Lan Sizhui’s eyes. They were the same height. He had never noticed that before. “Assume what?”

Lan Sizhui shrugged. “Everything. They see what’s on the surface and don’t bother to look any deeper.”

A car driving by honked at them and they both jumped and laughed nervously. They had been standing awfully close. Continuing on, Lan Sizhui walked Jin Ling to his apartment complex.

“Uh, this is me.” He said as he dug his keys out from his pocket. Should he invite Lan Sizhui in? That would be the polite thing to do but he could only imagine his uncles shouting at each other, each one insisting they got their water bottle closer to the trashcan. Eventually it would devolve into a physical altercation and one of them would end up in a headlock.

No, he didn’t think he was quite prepared for Lan Sizhui to see that.

“Thanks for walking me home.” He said sheepishly.

“No problem. Let’s do it again?” Lan Sizhui said as he waved him goodbye. Before he disappeared around the corner he called back. “See you at school tomorrow.”

Jin Ling gripped his keys in his palm and felt his cheeks flame up again.

 

The needle and syringe balanced precariously on the spoon. The spoon was resting over a fork like a tiny teeter totter with the needle as the payload. Wei Wuxian ducked to table height to be sure his contraption was set correctly.

“Ghostie, are you ready?!” he said triumphantly.

Wen Ning looked around the almost empty hospital cafeteria. “Wei Wuxian, I don’t think this is a good idea…”

“Give me a drum roll!” he chanted as he hovered his palm above the lifted handle of the spoon.

No drum roll was given, but Wei Wuxian slapped his palm down anyway. The needle and syringe went soaring through the air, arcing beautifully before landing perfectly into an orange set on the other end of the table.

“He scores!” Wei Wuxian shouted, throwing his hands up in the air and making a crowd hissing noise.

“Wow!” Wen Ning said, looking down at the pierced orange. “How did you do that?”

“Trial and error, Ghost Boy.” He said looking down at the needle. “So, so much error.”

They were both taking a late lunch break. The cafeteria was almost empty at this time, only the disapproving tuts of the cafeteria staff could be heard over the industrial dishwasher.

Wen Ning and Wei Wuxian had been friends for the last couple years. They met working at the diner together. Wei Wuxian had tried to teach Wen Ning to be more personable so he could make more tips, but the lessons didn’t quite stick. Despite the career change, they remained friends. Wei Wuxian was delighted to learn Wen Ning would be working at the same hospital he was doing his clinicals at. They routinely tried to meet up so they could chat and eat lunch…which was code for Wei Wuxian doing something stupid. It wasn’t any different from him doing something stupid by himself, but it was always better with an audience.

His bright red scrubs were a bright contrast to the black Wen Ning was wearing, and they matched the hair tie holding his hair up into a ponytail. They made an interesting pair.

“Want to see me do it again? This time I’ll try it from another table.” He made to reach for the needle, but a large hand wrapped around his wrist. Cool, slender fingers squeezed his hand and he followed the long arm up to its owner. The man was quite tall, his pale skin was flawless and bright amber eyes stared down at him with a hint of irritation.

“That’s hospital property.”

Wei Wuxian glanced at the name embroidered on the black scrubs. “Dr. Lan? Wow! This is such a coincidence.” He flashed an enchanting smile, not bothering to take his hand back. “My next rotation of clinicals is with you.”

The doctor’s lips twitched. “You cannot steal from the hospital.”

“Don’t worry.” Wei Wuxian said. “It wasn’t used!”

Wen Ning whined from across the table, covering his head with his hands. “That’s not the issue, Wei Wuxian!”

He blinked at Wen Ning and then back at Dr. Lan. “Want me to show you how to do it?”

Chapter Text

It always happens right before the end of their shift.

Jiang Cheng was lying on a recliner in Station #4, praying the next thirty minutes ticked by without incident. His head was throbbing, and he didn’t get any sleep.

The problem with 24 hour shifts was the lack of sleep. No matter how many shift Jiang Cheng worked, he could never fall into a deep sleep. It felt like every time he was halfway there the call would come in and he had to jump up and immediately get to work. No call was just ‘going through the motions’ either. They were all unique and different. Snapping complete awake was never easy, but doing it five to six times a night tended to wear on someone. Most of the time, he didn’t actually sleep. He would perch in a recliner and watch Animal Planet into the early hours of the morning. Even upon pain of death, he would never admit this, but he found the shows with the baby animals the best. There was something about a fluffy puppy on stubby little legs that made him happy. Nie Huaisang might be the only person who suspected, but he tended to sleep like the dead.

Unlike Jiang Cheng, Nie Huaisang had no issues with sleep. He would collapse onto the mattress, pull down his silk eye mask, and be fast asleep before you could burn an incense stick.
It wasn’t that their station was uncomfortable—it was perfectly fine. From the outside it looked like an industrial garage. A rolling door would lift, and the ambulance could be parked inside where they could load supplies and charge the batteries. Attached to the garage was a living space. Calling it an apartment might be generous. In reality, it was an office with an old TV and two broken recliners. Off what could technically be described as a kitchen was a little bedroom with four twin beds lined up along the walls and a bathroom tucked in the corner.
He was watching a black and white kitten named Oreo attempt to navigate stairs for the first time when the call came in.

Moving like he weighed a thousand pounds, he hefted himself into the passenger seat while Nie Huaisang drove to their call, which was of course, a chest pain. The sirens cut through the early morning gloom and Jiang Cheng watched the red flashing lights paint the street beside them as they drove to their call.

The address took them off the beaten path into a sketchy area. Once paved roads were now cracked and crumbling, testing the shocks on the ambulance as it bounced down the road following the GPS. The houses on either side of the road began deteriorating until they pulled into the dirt drive of a dilapidated mobile home.

As Nie Huaisang shifted the truck into park Jiang Cheng counted no less than three old mattresses littering the yard. A boat was sitting on its side next to the house with gaping holes in the hull and seats picked at by birds until they resembled masticated cottage cheese.

Dew drops littered the lawn and caught the morning sunlight. It might have been pretty except for the looming sense of dread Jiang Cheng was feeling.

The house itself looked rotted to the core. Patches of vinyl were missing and he could see directly through the rotted walls into the dark interior. “Just bring the jump bag.” He told Nie Huaisang. He wasn’t sure what they were going to find inside the house, and he wanted to make sure they could beat a hasty retreat if needed.

They climbed the front porch and Jiang Cheng knocked on the door, standing to the side and waiting for an answer. There was no response. He knocked again, harder this time.

“EMS!” he shouted. He could hear his voice reverberating around the neighborhood eerily.

On a whim, he tried the doorknob and found it was unlocked. It opened on creaky hinges.

“Is anyone else getting the ‘opening of a horror movie’ vibe?” Nie Huaisang asked without bothering to hide his nervousness.

Cold sweat dripped down Jiang Cheng’s back and every nerve in his body screamed for retreat. This wasn’t right. He had been doing this long enough to know that he should listen to his instincts.

“Call for Police.” he said without taking his eyes off the inky blackness of the open front door.

Nie Huaisang brought his radio up to his lips and made the call for police backup. “Yeah, let’s let the guys with guns and bullet proof vests go into the creepy death house from hell.” Nie Huaisang said once he was finished with the radio call.

Jiang Cheng was about to agree when he heard a groan coming from inside. “Stay here.” He told Nie Huaisang, and he stepped into the darkness.

There was a strange smell permeating through the house, but it was hard to pick up over the thick stench of decay. The air was stale and heavy, like no one had been moving through the space for a while. Tentatively, Jiang Cheng stepped across the foyer and breathed shallowly while he waited for his eyes to adjust.

Digging into his cargo pocket, he withdrew his cellphone and flicked on the flashlight. Dust motes filtered through the beam of light as he shone it around what he supposed was the living room. Rotted carpet clumped around his boots as he stepped forward. Boxes and old furniture were pushed around the room haphazardly.

Walking further into the home he bypassed the kitchen and came to a bedroom. He blinked in the gloom and found he was having a difficult time focusing. Was his concussion acting up? He was fine a moment ago. Shaking his head, he trained the beam of light onto the floor and caught sight of a body.

Without examining it, he knew the person was dead. There was an unnatural stillness to the way they were lying. No live human was ever quite that still. Old vomit had dried into the carpet and when he looked around the room he could see several more piles of stomach bile, like someone had been stumbling around the room vomiting.

As he came abreast of the body he reached down and felt for a pulse. The skin was icy to the touch and firm. He didn’t bother looking for a pulse. Training his light around he saw two other bodies, both in similar states.

Their silhouettes shifted in front of him and he felt a sudden bout of nausea. He swallowed several times but the swooping in his stomach persisted. Rubbing his eyes, he tripped back and his flashlight lit upon several Formica tables pushed together in the back of the room. Baggies and vials were lined up, including a Bunsen burner and several crusty looking test tubes.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

Jiang Cheng felt panic mix with his rising nausea. He needed to get out now. At the very least, this was a drug lab. Probably Heroin, judging by the various beakers. But this suddenly became a crime scene and was definitely above his pay grade.

Turning, his knee bumped into a box and sent the contents scattering to the gross floor. Looking down he saw that it was full of tiny clear plastic baggies. There was a sticker of a cartoon ghost with X’s on the eyes and mouth. It was flipping the bird. Against all his better judgement, he picked up one of the baggies. There was a thin layer of powder the consistency of beach sand inside.

If Jiang Cheng’s math was correct, and he was up to date on current market prices of Heroin, there was at least two hundred thousand dollars worth of product spilled all over the floor in front of him.

He was having a hard time breathing now. Stumbling, he retraced his steps back and tried to find the front door. For some reason he couldn’t remember where to go and the room was spinning. His vision clouded and he bent over and retched. Leaning against the wall he lurched down the hallway and tripped when his foot felt resistance.

There was a thin metal wire lying over his boot. He had pulled it free from the wall and now he could hear a sinister clicking sound.

“Fuck!” he shouted, throwing himself forward and out the front door a second before an explosion blew the house wide open.

Jiang Cheng rolled down the front steps, taking Nie Huaisang with him. They ended up sprawled on the dewy grass. Someone was screaming, probably his partner but it definitely could have been him. His ears were ringing, and his vision was getting dark.

Nie Huaisang’s face popped up and he felt cold hands slapping his cheeks. His mouth was moving but Jiang Cheng couldn’t hear what he was saying.

Numbly, he looked down at his hand.

In his right hand, he was clutching the baggy of Heroin.

 

There’s probably a joke about a Paramedic sitting in the back of his own ambulance.

Jiang Cheng was holding the clear plastic non-rebreather mask onto his face and breathing in 12LPM of oxygen. His head felt better and his stomach had settled. Besides the bruises that were no doubt coloring his entire torso, he came out of his first explosion relatively unscathed. Nie Huaisang was sitting next to him, trembling like a chihuahua on the first day of winter. It was probably the CO2 poisoning, but Jiang Cheng was picturing him with large ears and a fuzzy sweater sitting in Nie Mingjue’s handbag.

Which was a scarier visual than the dead bodies he had just seen.

Several hundred yards ahead of them the mobile home was completely engulfed. Fire fighters had given up fighting the blaze and were now focused on containment. That’s the thing with these mobile homes—they went up like kindling and there was usually no way to stop the fire once it starts.

After he told the cops his story—twelve fucking times because apparently no one knows how to write anything down—they had told him there was probably a Carbon Monoxide leak that took out the drug dealers. It was by complete chance that Jiang Cheng had stumbled upon a Heroin lab, tripped the booby trap, and set the place up.

A fucking booby trap. Jiang Cheng felt like some shitty brand of Indiana Jones some ambitious fifth graders filmed in their back yard and uploaded to the internet. The whole thing was ridiculous, although the idea of a whip wasn’t totally abhorrent to him.

If someone hadn’t called EMS on the house it was entirely likely the cartel would have just tossed the bodies and continued operations as usual. The whole thing was one gigantic mess of accidents.

“Hey, Jiang Cheng, are my eyebrows ok? Did they get singed?” Nie Huaisang asked, leaning into Jiang Cheng’s face and raising his eyebrows at him. He turned his head left and right so Jiang Cheng could get the full effect.

The explosion could have killed him and then he never would have had to have this conversation. But no. Jiang Cheng didn’t have that kind of luck.

He was saved from answering by the approach of a stocky officer. He had a pudgy face and his name badge said Su She.

“I swear to God,” Jiang Cheng said, his words fogging up the plastic mask he had over his mouth. “if you ask me for another statement, I’m going to intubate you right here.” The look on Jiang Cheng’s face must have said that he absolutely would shove a 23cm plastic tube down his trachea and into his lungs because Officer Su blinked and stopped in his tracks.

Nie Huaisang snickered, grateful his partners ire had been redirected.

Officer Su tried to put on a charming smile but there was nothing charming about his sweaty face. “I just needed to ask you if you took any photos of the scene.”

“Yeah, after I found the second dead guy I thought to myself ‘you know what, I haven’t updated my Instagram in a while. Let’s take a selfie.’” He snapped.

“He did it for the ‘gram.” Nie Huaisang chimed in and Jiang Cheng shoved him out the back of the ambulance.

He whined as he stumbled to the ground. “I’ll tell my brother!”

“Good, maybe he’ll kill me.”

Officer Su watched as Nie Huaisang stuck his tongue out at Jiang Cheng and walked towards the driver’s side of the ambulance.

The police officer coughed and sidled up next to Jiang Cheng. “Listen, I know this is a very scary situation. I’m sure you’re in shock.” He sat down next to him and the ambulance tilted with his weight. “Did you see…anything suspicious?” Officer Su tried to ask coolly, but his pig eyes were darting back and forth. Everywhere but making direct eye contact with Jiang Cheng.

He pulled the mask off his mouth and stared at the officer. “Tell me the truth. You’re actually a stripper doing research for your police officer act? Because there’s no way an actual police officer is this fucking stupid.” The flimsy filter for Jiang Cheng’s mouth was left on the floor of the drug house. “What’s more suspicious in your book: the stack of drug making equipment, the boxes of drugs, or the dead guys?”

Jiang Cheng turned off the oxygen tank and tossed the mask onto the floor of the ambulance. He stuck his hand in his pocket and touched the plastic baggy. “I’m going home. You know where to find me when you inevitably need to ask me the same questions again. Maybe I could tell the firehouse Dalmatian? I don’t think he’s heard yet.”

He slammed the back of the ambulance without waiting for a response from Officer Su and got into the passenger side of the cab.

Why didn’t he hand over the drugs? He had no business holding a baggy of Heroin. Not only was it wildly illegal, it was evidence in a criminal investigation. Whatever kind of organization was making this stuff, was insanely prolific. There were three boxes full of these baggies that Jiang Cheng saw, and not many groups were capable of setting booby traps for their labs.

He had every intention to hand it over but Officer Su gave him the creeps. From the moment the cops arrived on scene he had been staring at Jiang Cheng like he had grown a second head. His eyes bored into the back of his skull while he gave his statement and he followed him around, eavesdropping on him every chance he got. There was something inherently sketchy about him and Jiang Cheng had ignored his gut feelings once today and had gotten blown up for it. He wasn’t about to make the same mistake twice.

They arrived at the station and met their relief. There were questions, but luckily Nie Huaisang was more than willing to tell the harrowing tale. Jiang Cheng took a quick shower and changed. All he wanted was alcohol, of any form, and he wanted it now. He wanted to drink until he slipped into sweet unconsciousness and didn’t have to think about the illegal drugs burning a hole in his jeans pocket, or the fact that he now had intimate knowledge of what it felt like to be fried chicken.

In the span of 24 hours he had been attacked with an oxygen tank, poisoned with CO2 and then blown up.

And it still wasn’t the worst shift he had ever worked.

 

The thing about Lan Xichen was that he was smart. It wasn’t a brag or a boast, it was a fact. Even though he didn’t need to, he studied. He retained information on all sorts of things, and when he didn’t know the exact answer, he was able to pull what he needed from context clues. He never thought of it as a particular skill, he had grown up in a home full of people who were the same way. Lan Wangji was also brilliant, and their knowledge couldn’t hold a candle to their uncle’s knowledge combined with his life experience.

While he breezed through school and was the envy of his peers, he found an annoying byproduct of his intelligence—he got bored. Challenges lost their luster when he was able to ace them the first time. Escape rooms that took groups of ten an hour, took him minutes. Sudoku was pointless, and cross word puzzles never held his attention for long.

None of this was necessarily a bad thing, and he realized that by complaining about it he sounded conceited. But his life outside of work was constantly looking for ways to be challenged. He tried increasingly difficult recipes, upped his workout routines, and even learned new languages. Anything to hold his attention for longer than a moment.

Which is why Jiang Cheng fascinated him.

The Paramedic was a walking puzzle, one that Lan Xichen couldn’t fit together no matter how hard he tried. The first time they made eye contact there was an expression of wonder on his face, like he had just discovered one more piece of candy in a bag previously thought empty. Those dark eyes had entrapped him from across a crowded Emergency Department.
Then, in a flash, they were icy and cruel. Like a switch was flipped.

At the time, he hadn’t even known his name, but a few questions posed to the nurses got him what he needed. After that, he found out that Nie Mingjue’s brother was his partner and from there it was all downhill.

From his discreet questions he found that Jiang Cheng was an insanely competent Paramedic. His sour face and often snarky comments were a little off putting, but at he had a higher success rate than any other Medic in the county.

He had stopped himself from asking the hospital staff about the man’s personal habits. That was a conversation he wasn’t quite ready to navigate. But he did get Nie Huaisang’s number, and after the promise of some expensive name brand belt, he was given a golden nugget of information.

Jiang Cheng’s car was currently in the shop and he was taking the bus to work.

Which is why Lan Xichen was currently parked in the small lot of Station #4, leaning against the hood of his car with his arms crossed and waiting for the Paramedic to get off shift.
The front door opened, and Jiang Cheng stepped outside. His hands were stuffed into his pockets and a ratty gym bag looked perilously close to dropping off his rounded shoulders. His hair was wet, and it was the first time Lan Xichen had seen it down. For some reason it made Jiang Cheng look softer, a little younger. The damp strands tickled his angular jaw and swayed as he walked across the parking lot.

A pair of ripped jeans were stuffed into unlaced boots and his t-shirt clung to his damp skin. Lan Xichen felt his lips quirk up into a grin.

Halfway across the lot Jiang Cheng looked up and scowled.

“No. No. No. Not today.” He said when he caught sight of Lan Xichen.

Lan Xichen’s grin deepened. “Heard it was a fun shift.”

The glare Jiang Cheng shot him was not softened by the distance between them.

Changing tactics, Lan Xichen pushed up off his car and took a few steps toward him. “Let me give you a ride home.”

The scowl changed to suspicion. “How did you know I needed a ride?”

Lan Xichen’s eyes flicked to the window of the Station #4 where Nie Huaisang was peeking out around the blinds. Jiang Cheng looked over his shoulder and flipped off his partner. “Fucking traitor. We’ll see where your loyalty lies when I make you lift the Bariatric patient by yourself.” He yelled at the window.

Lan Xichen chucked and took the opportunity to step up into Jiang Cheng’s space. The scent of two in one shampoo lingered on his skin. Upon closer inspection he could see several holes in Jiang Chengs ears, as if at one point he had several piercings dotting up the cartilage. The image did terribly wonderful things to Lan Xichen’s fantasies.

“The last thing you want after a terrible shift is to take a bus. I can give you a ride in my nice, semi-used SUV. It even has heated seats and an air freshener.”

“Yes, but you’re also in the SUV.”

Lan Xichen grabbed his chest as if he’d been wounded. “Am I really that bad?” he asked sincerely, boldly reaching up to smooth some of his hair away from the laceration he had gotten from the O2 tank. It wasn’t bleeding anymore but there was definite swelling. The sight of the tender skin made Lan Xichen disquiet. He didn’t like seeing it on Jiang Cheng.

Surprisingly, Jiang Cheng didn’t break the hand that was touching him. Rather, he seemed to close his eyes and lean into the touch for the briefest of moments. “All I want right now is a nice stiff drink, and a bed.”

“I’ll buy you a beer.” Lan Xichen offered. He decided not to make a comment about sharing a bed with him.

Jiang Cheng raised an eyebrow at him. “There’s an air freshener, you say?”

 

They ended up sitting on the hood of Lan Xichen’s car in the parking lot of a 711. It was 10 AM and they were both nursing a beer, hidden in a discreet brown paper bag that fooled absolutely no one. Jiang Cheng was surprisingly relaxed as he sipped his can of cold beer, eyes closed and head resting against the windshield.

“You do this often?”

“Show me the bar that’s open at Seven AM when I’m done with my shift. I’m just a blue-collar worker going for a beer at the end of a long workday.” He answered without looking at him.

Lan Xichen tried to relax but he was struggling with it. He kept picturing the look on his uncles face if he saw him right now. He might actually just drop dead from the sight of his eldest nephew drinking beer on the hood of his car.

Lan Xichen wasn’t particularly fond of beer, or alcohol at all really, but Jiang Cheng wanted a beer. And it would be impolite to let him drink alone.

“So, why did you want to drive me home so badly.” He said as he took another long swallow from the can. “You’re acting like the quarterback trying to get his date into the car so he can cop a quick feel.”

“If I’m the quarterback does that make you a cheerleader?”

“Fuck you.” Jiang Cheng said with a chuckle, his teeth bumping against the aluminum can.

Lan Xichen liked his laugh. It was husky and raw, like he didn’t do it enough and his muscles were unfamiliar with the sensation.

“The patient who attacked you yesterday. You gave her Narcan?”

There was a moment of silence from Jiang Cheng. “Yeah, triple the normal dose.”

A lot of times patients who OD wake up hostile after a dose of Narcan. They’re normally angry that they’ve lost their high, and their body is now flooded with adrenalin and fear. Sometimes they calm down, and sometimes they don’t. But they very rarely wake up with the kind of rage and strength that patient exhibited. Occasionally they’re taking multiple types of drugs, but that kind of reaction was unwarranted.

“Wangji ran blood work. She only had 1/10 the amount of Heroin in her system than it would take to OD.”

Jiang Cheng sat up and looked at Lan Xichen. “I gave her enough Narcan to wake the fucking dead.”

Lan Xichen nodded. “Exactly. Wangji thinks there’s a new strain going around, something potent. I suspect it’s a hell of a lot purer than anything we’ve seen before.”

“It’s got to be laced with something.”

Lan Xichen shook his head. “Not according to toxicology.”

Jiang Cheng tapped the purple ring on his right pointer finger on the can. He was staring off into the distance, lost in thought. “What have the cops said?”

“Nothing to me.” Lan Xichen said a little bitterly. “But the patient finally told me that it was something new. Cheaper than the stuff she’s been buying. It’s called Corpse Poisoning.”

“Wow, sounds exactly like something I would inject directly into my blood stream.”

Lan Xichen nodded. “The police don’t seem to be as concerned as we are.” He sighed and swished the beer in his can, listening to the liquid spin around as he turned his wrist. “I could probably dismiss it…but we’ve had two kids come in from overdoses. One died, and the other is in a coma in ICU. If it’s in the schools…”

Jiang Cheng was suddenly quiet, his lips pursed together. Lan Xichen didn’t know what he was thinking about, but he was thinking about his nephew. Lan Sizhui was a good kid, and Lan Xichen wasn’t worried about him getting involved with anything like drugs. But it hurt him to think that someone Lan Sizhui’s age was dying because of one or two stupid decisions.

There’s a million reasons kids do stupid things: their brains aren’t fully developed, they’re trying to fit in, or they’re just trying to find themselves. Experimentation was part of growing up, and one misstep shouldn’t color their entire lives. Teenagers were already emotionally unstable. It was the most difficult time in anyone’s life, could they be blamed for seeking solace in chemicals? Perhaps he was too soft because of the fondness he felt for his nephew, but when he saw that teenager in the ICU bed with no brainwaves registering on the monitor…it hurt him.
Lan Qiren had agreed, but they were not the police. They had no authority. The only thing they could do was treat the victims as they fell.

That was their job. They were doctors. But it felt pathetic. If he saw an overflowing sink was he supposed to just wait until it flooded the room? Shouldn’t he turn off the tap before it got to that point?

“Why are you telling me all this?” Jiang Cheng asked suddenly, the can hanging limply in his fingers.

“Because you’re the best medic in the county. You’re on the front lines of this and you deserve to know what you’re up against.” He turned to face him, the soles of his sneakers squeaking against the hood of the car. “Because I think you care enough to help us get to the bottom of this.”

Jiang Cheng sighed and dropped his chin to his chest. Lan Xichen let him think, let him process what he wanted to do.

It was certainly true that Lan Xichen was attracted to Jiang Cheng. He had no intentions of hiding that. But he did genuinely want his help and truly believed that he could help them. If the younger man rebuffed his affections, that would be fine. They could continue working together. But until that happened, Lan Xichen didn’t see why he couldn’t achieve both of his goals at the same time.

He did love a challenge.

Jiang Cheng chuckled and shook his head. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a dime sized plastic baggy. He held it up between two fingers. Lan Xichen narrowed his eyes and looked at the strange label.

He quickly told Lan Xichen what he had seen in the drug house. Lan Xichen was shocked, horrified, and wildly concerned about how blasé Jiang Cheng was about the whole thing.

“Want to bet this is our culprit?” he asked cheekily.

 

The final school bell had rung over an hour ago and the mass exodus of teenagers had already departed the school yard. A small field off portable classrooms was currently set up with several straw targets. Someone had crudely spray painted lopsided targets onto the straw. Two boys were standing fifty feet away with a quiver full of plastic arrows between them. A compound bow was resting at their feet and their voices carried across the empty field.

Practice was getting more difficult with the setting sun. As the sun dropped lower in the sky it was directly in their eyeline. Several shots had gone laughably wide and they were beginning to think it was time to pack it in.

“One more.” Lan Sizhui said, lifting up the black compound bow and getting it steady.

It was a cruel twist of fate that Lan Sizhui was also a member of the archery club. The past couple of days Lan Sizhui had made it a point to seek Jin Ling out in the halls of school. They didn’t share any classes together, but he accompanied him to lunch and walked him home every day. During one of those walks, Jin Ling mentioned the archery club. Of course, because Lan Sizhui was apparently one of the nicest human beings on the face of god damn earth, he invited Jin Ling to come practice with him. Jin Ling protested that he didn’t have a bow or any kind of base knowledge.

Somehow Lan Sizhui managed to convince him to come anyway. This was becoming a pattern: Jin Ling would say no but did the thing anyway because Lan Sizhui smiled at him.

Still, there were unexpected perks.

Like right now, he was sitting on the grass looking up at Lan Sizhui as he drew back. The red evening sun was framing his face, and his eyes turned a light honey color in the brightness. Controlling his breathing, he steadied the arrow and planted his feet. With ease, he drew back on the pull and his muscles shook with the effort.

With a soft grunt he released the string. The arrow whizzed out, just barely grazing the soft skin of his cheek.

The shaft embedded itself in one of the outer circles. Not perfect, but not bad.

“Hey!” Jin Ling jumped up excitedly. It was the first time he had hit the target in a while. He jogged across the grass to retrieve the shaft, yanking it free and holding it above his head like a trophy when he brought it back to Lan Sizhui.

Feeling goofy, he kissed the shaft before returning it to Lan Sizhui. “There, this one is special.”

Lan Sizhui stared at the plastic arrow in his hand. He blinked a couple times before smiling faintly. “Should have kissed all of them, then.”

“Before your next competition.” Jin Ling promised with a laugh, plopping back down on the grass. Lan Sizhui joined him, using far more grace to sit beside him. They stayed silent while they enjoyed the warmth on the sides of their faces. The afternoon was really nice, the end of summer was officially here, and fall was creeping in. Already the leaves on the trees were beginning to change colors. There was no chill in the air yet, but Jin Ling was looking forward to it. He loved winter.

He glanced over to ask Lan Sizhui what he thought about winter, but the boy had a contemplative look on his face. He did that a lot. A look of seriousness would slide into place and destroy the joy that had been there. Not quite sadness, Jin Ling had discovered, more like longing. A want for something he wouldn’t name.

Jin Ling reached over and poked the wrinkle that had formed between Lan Sizhui’s elegant eyebrows. “You look so serious.”

Lan Sizhui blinked at him in surprise before a smile curved his lips. “Right, sorry.”

Jin Ling scooted a little closer and pushed Lan Sizhui back until he was laying down in the grass. He joined him so that their shoulders were touching, and they were looking up at the sky.
“You know, right after my parents died, I was sad a lot. I didn’t want to do anything except sit alone. My uncles didn’t know how to help me.” Jiang Cheng had tried yelling at him, Wei Wuxian had tried bribing him with sweets. Nothing worked.

“One day, they took me up to the roof of the building we were living in. We stood right on the edge and they said we were going to play the Penis Game.”

Lan Sizhui started at the name, looking over at Jin Ling suspiciously.

Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian said that they played it all the time as kids. The idea was to go into a somewhat populated area and say the word penis louder and louder until one person chickens out. Apparently, Madame Yu had slapped them both several times when they had been caught, but that was how the two brothers solved most of their disputes.

“We played the game for hours and hours. By the end, we had offended several old ladies and my uncle Jiang Cheng had almost gotten into a fist fight with a custodian. But I learned how to laugh again that day.” He smiled faintly at the memory. That had been the day he started living again. The day he realized there was some happiness despite the fact that his world had ended. That maybe, even though his parents were dead, that these young guys might be ok.

He felt weird telling Lan Sizhui this. Like he was showing off a part of him that he had never shown anyone before. But Lan Sizhui would understand. He was an orphan too, and beyond that, he seemed to try. People could understand what Jin Ling was talking about, but only at its base level. Lan Sizhui tried. He asked questions and prodded until Jin Ling finally explained things. Talking to Lan Sizhui was easy.

Lan Sizhui smiled then, but the wistful look was still in his eyes. “Your uncles sound pretty amazing.”

“They’re something.” Jin Ling said fondly.

Lan Sizhui shifted for a bit before finally exhaling. “My foster father is a great man. He took me in when he didn’t have to, and he’s given me the best of everything. I’ve got my own room, game consoles, any club I want to join I can join without even asking. He checks to make sure my grades are good, and I know he will pay for me to go to whatever college I want to go to.” Jin Ling sensed a ‘but’ coming, and he didn’t have to wait long for it to come.

“But…there isn’t a lot of love or affection. I know my foster father and uncle care for me, even my foster grandfather has shown some interest in me now that I’m older. But it’s more like they’re my teachers rather than family. I can go days without seeing any of them, and no matter how hard I work it’s like it’s never good enough.”

Lan Sizhui was on a roll now, and apparently once Jin Ling pulled the plug everything came spilling out all at once. “And I know I sound so ungrateful—how could someone who has so much ask for more? It’s just…”

Jin Ling stopped him. “I don’t think it’s selfish to ask for love.” He said before Lan Sizhui started talking backwards and convincing himself he had no right to feel the way he did. “It’s one of the most basic human emotions, right? Biologically, humans need other humans. We’re pack animals at heart. So, why is it that love is the hardest thing to give?”

Jin Ling rambled a little, thinking back to the way he felt right after his parents died. His uncles might not have always given him a gluten free, GMO free, dye free, vegan diet with non-perishable cruelty free clothes, but they did let him know that no matter what, they were there for him. They were willing to yell obscenities off the roof of a building just to see him smile.

Lan Sizhui was staring at him. His face was blank, but his eyes were shining wetly. Jin Ling turned his head to face him. The grass tickled his ears and the smell of earth was strong. He didn’t know what to tell Lan Sizhui about his family. He suspected that was why Lan Sizhui made friends so quickly, and why he pushed himself in school. He craved affection that he wasn’t able to get at home. That was a heavy way to feel, and Jin Ling didn’t think he could say anything to help.

Instead he leaned in closer to Lan Sizhui and held his gaze before he quietly whispered. “Penis.”

A horrified look passed over Lan Sizhui’s face before he broke out in a fit of giggles. He held his stomach and bright pink spots appeared on his cheeks. When the laughter subsided, he covered his face with a hand and eyed Jin Ling out of the corner of his eye. “…p…penis.” He said just barely above a hoarse whisper, so quiet Jin Ling almost missed it.

Jin Ling grinned evilly. “Penis!” he shouted, his voice echoing around the empty field. Lan Sizhui launched at him, covering his mouth with his hands and laughing so hard he was crying. He was half laying over Jin Ling, his weight pressing into him and his hand over his mouth.

“Ok! Ok! You win!” Lan Sizhui said as he looked down at Jin Ling.

They maintained eye contact for a long time. Lan Sizhui’s hand smelled like soap and the plastic from the compound bow he had been using. Wisps of his dark hair tickled Jin Ling’s cheeks and it made him shudder.

Lan Sizhui opened his mouth to say something, but a loud bang distracted them. The two boys turned to look at the alley just behind the school. Jin Ling saw the same older man as before—the one with a vicious look and shark fin hair style.

He had pinned someone up against a metal dumpster. His head was cocked, and he had a switchblade in his hand. He spun the blade easily, the weapon twirling around his fingers expertly. They were too far away to hear what was being said, but the pinned man looked absolutely terrified.

“Isn’t that Coach Elm?” Lan Sizhui whispered so close to Jin Ling’s ear that he felt the warm breath ghost over his skin.

Jin Ling didn’t know. He didn’t pay that much attention to the teachers.

Scary guy was gesturing wildly, pointing at something before he pushed Coach Elm to the ground. He put a knee on his back and wrenched an arm back. With devastating quickness, he severed the man’s pinky off his right hand.

It was a good thing Lan Sizhui had a hand over Jin Ling’s mouth, because he screamed when he saw the bright flash of blood and heard the bone chilling scream of Coach Elm.

Lan Sizhui pressed him down and dropped lower, trying to remain out of sight. There was a small hill between them that blocked the teenagers from view of the guy with the knife. They stayed like that until the man disappeared and Coach Elm dragged himself out of the alley, holding his hand to his chest and leaving behind a gruesome scene.

“Whatehefuckwasthat!!” Jin Ling shouted into Lan Sizhui’s palm.

“Sorry, what?” Lan Sizhui said after he removed his hand.

“What the fuck was that?!” Jin Ling said as he sat up.

“I don’t know.” Lan Sizhui said grimly. He looked at Jin Ling and reached forward to pull some dried grass out of his dark brown hair. “Sh…should we call the police?”

Jin Ling shook his head. “I don’t know.” Fear settled in his stomach. What if Knife Dude came at them next? The other day he saw the same guy talking with a few other kids. Was he selling them drugs? Was Coach Elm involved?

He didn’t know.

“Ok. Ok. What about this…if the cops come and ask questions, we’ll be honest and tell them what we saw?”

“Right, right. If they ask, we won’t lie.” Jin Ling nodded.

They exchanged a look that lingered before they cleaned up the bows and equipment and carried it back to the storage room. Lan Sizhui had a key because apparently even the teachers were enamored with him. On their way back, Jin Ling veered over to the alley.

He stepped around the wet pools of blood. He tried not to inhale. The scent of coppery blood was strong in the air and mixing with the scent of old cafeteria food. Jin Ling didn’t really know what he was looking for or why he was there, but he just needed to see it. Lan Sizhui followed him, his mouth set in a grim line.

“He took it.”

“What?” Lan Sizhui asked, looking around nervously.

“The…the pinky. It’s not here.” He didn’t know if Knife Dude or Coach Elm took the severed digit with them, but something about the situation told him it was Knife Dude. The fact that he was willing to not only cut off a finger, but also carry it around with him, made everything so much worse.

“C’mon. Let’s go.” Lan Sizhui said, reaching for Jin Ling’s hand.

He let himself get pulled along the alley before something caught his eye. Stopping, he pulled out of Lan Sizhui’s grip and walked over to a plastic baggy on the ground. It was ripped and old, like it had been folded over again and again. The structure of the plastic was compromised and the seals on the three edges had given way.

Jin Ling picked it up and rubbed the dirt off with a thumb. On one side of the baggy was a label that had a ghost with crossed out eyes and mouth. It was holding out two middle fingers.

He showed it to Lan Sizhui who shrugged. “What is it?”

Jin Ling didn’t know. But it was in the area Knife Dude was pointing at. Whatever was in this bag was the reason Coach Elm lost his pinky.

Chapter Text

The row of students were dressed in brightly colored scrubs. The colors popped and contrasted against the surgically white aesthetic of the morgue. They were wide eyed, terrified eyes darting to every corner as if a corpse was about to push its way from the drawer and strangle them with icy fingers.

All except one.

Wearing a pair of bright red scrubs with his thick chocolate colored hair pulled up into a messy bun, he stood out amongst the other students. Not because of the way he was dressed, but because he looked completely at ease. He yawned and stretched as they waited for the clinical to begin. The other two nursing students had their arms crossed. They were clinging to notebooks and pens, ready to take notes when needed. The man in red stuck his hand in his pocket and pulled out a granola bar, unwrapping it and stuffing the entirety of the bar into his mouth with one bite.

Lan Wangji felt of flicker of something. It wasn’t quite irritation, and it wasn’t quite curiosity. Something in the middle, something he couldn’t name. The fact that he didn’t know what he was feeling was part of his irritation. There were three students, his assistant Wen Ning, and his uncle in the room. Yet, his attention was completely on the student in red.

He didn’t know his name, but he did remember the breezy way he interacted with him in the cafeteria two days ago. There was not a hint of shame on his face when he was caught playing ridiculous games with hospital property.

Lan Qiren was there to give the lecture to the students, partly because he enjoyed getting out of his office and doing something non-clerical, and partly because Lan Wangji was no longer allowed to give them. Apparently, making the students do handstands in the hallway while memorizing the proper PH levels in the blood was ‘excessive’ and ‘not acceptable’ according to hospital lawyers.

During these lectures Lan Wangji usually hovered on the edges—out of the way but close enough to see the mistakes before they happened. Normally he found the class to be boring entry level education. After all, these were nursing students. They didn’t have to go quite as in depth in autopsy procedures and forensic pathology. These lectures were really a broad overview to help complete their education.

The body lying on the table was another OD victim. Lan Wangji hadn’t gotten the toxicology report back yet, but he suspected it would lead right back to the so called ‘Corpse Poisoning’ that had been rearing its ugly head lately.

All of his calls to the police had been dismissed. The cops believed it was just another strain of Heroin, one of thousands, and it would eventually die out or they would catch the dealer responsible. What’s a few more deaths?

He supposed when the police were faced with literally hundreds of calls a day, it was easy for one or two overdoses to get lost in the shuffle. But they weren’t cutting kids open. They weren’t seeing the devastation the drug was wreaking.

Heroin was an insidious type of drug. Essentially, it broke down to a Morphine subset in the body. A feeling of euphoria was followed by relaxation and decrease in pain. It was highly addictive, and as time went on users developed a tolerance for the drug. Dosages would have to keep increasing, until one day, one dose was just a little too high.
When that happened, the person’s body quite literally forgot it needed to breathe. Blood pressure dropped and organs failed.

The strange thing about these current overdoses was that the victims were found immediately after injecting the drugs, sometimes with the needle still in their skin. That was highly unusual—less than 14% of Heroin overdoses were that fast.

At least, with normal Heroin. Corpse Poisoning seemed to be the exception to the rule. Fast, deadly, potent, and apparently cheaper.

Lan Qiren stepped up to the body and flipped the sheet off. Most of the students averted their eyes, except the man in red. His grey eyes dropped and immediately began examining the corpse. Lan Wangji watched him quickly take in several details all at once.

Lan Qiren began his lecture with his same usual spiel—rules and regulations. As Medical Director, he valued rules above all else. Rules kept the hospital running. Rules kept them from being sued.

The student with grey eyes was clearly not listening. His eyes were narrowed, and he was staring at the corpse, head slightly cocked and his mess of hair shifting on his head.

Lan Qiren noticed. “Wei Wuxian!” he snapped.

The student in red jumped. “Yes!”

Lan Qiren sighed. “Since you don’t see the need to listen…can you tell me the two types of autopsies?”

“Medicolegal and clinical. Would you like their definitions?” Wei Wuxian asked with a cheeky smile. He proceeded forward without waiting for an answer. “Medicolegal is also known as forensic. Used in criminal cases and cases where death is suspicious. It’s used to find manner of death, identify the decedent, or possibly collect evidence. Clinical autopsies are used to diagnose a particular disease or for research purposes.”

Wen Ning snickered from the corner. When Lan Qiren squinted at him, he dropped his head and began shuffling through the paperwork he was supposed to be going through.

“What type of insect is used to determine time of death?”

“Blow flies. But entomologists have been having luck using other types. Insect activity begins immediately if the body is outside or somehow exposed.”

“What are the five manners of death?”

“Natural, accidental, suicide, homicide, and undetermined.” Wei Wuxian’s smile hadn’t faded, but his eyes flicked to Lan Wangji and he winked.

Lan Wangji felt his curiosity for the student pique. His hands tightened into fists and he suddenly became aware that his heart was beating faster.

Lan Qiren glared across the body at Wei Wuxian balefully. He was about to fire off another question, but Wei Wuxian stepped up. “I wasn’t trying to ignore your lecture, sir. I was just looking at the body here.”

He pointed at the Y incision on the chest of the corpse. “Obviously Dr. Lan has already performed an examination, so let me know if I’m wrong.” He looked up at Lan Wangji from beneath thick inky lashes and Lan Wangji felt the tips of his ears turn pink.

“Victim looks to be approximately twenty years old. Judging by the track marks on his Antecubital vein, he is a recent drug user.” Wei Wuxian indicated the soft skin of the inner elbow. “There’s very little scarring or thickening, and the majority of the marks are clustered around the one vein. Which tells me he’s either not very good at hitting a vein yet, or he hasn’t ruined this access point.”

Moving down to the feet of the patient he flicked the sheet off and looked between the toes. “No marks there, so he probably didn’t have a day job or anyone he had to hide his drug use from.” He pulled the sheet back down. “Judging by his eyes, he’s been dead less than 48 hours. There’s obvious cyanosis around his lips, so he probably OD’d on some kind of downer. Most likely Heroin.”

Wei Wuxian’s sly smile was gone and he was totally focused on his task now, warming up to the activity. “Considering Heroin users are 300 times more likely to die of Infectious Endocarditis than overdosing, this kid was either recently clean or he came across a strain of Heroin that was mixed with something else. Maybe Fentanyl.”

Lan Wangji wasn’t paying attention to Lan Qiren anymore. His attention was fully on Wei Wuxian. He stepped toward the body and eyed the nursing student.

“So? Am I right?”

Lan Qiren inhaled, ready to answer but Lan Wangji spoke first. “You’re correct.”

A large smile spread of Wei Wuxian’s face and he clasped his hands behind his back and stepped back in line. Lan Qiren continued the lecture, but Lan Wangji couldn’t stop watching Wei Wuxian. He was…inexplicable. Beneath his wide eyes, gullible smile, and cheery personality was an intense mind. Something sharp, honed with use. Why did he hide it?

When the lecture was over the students filed out, but Lan Wangji stopped Wei Wuxian. “How did you know all that?” his observations had been spot on for someone who was just looking at a body.

Wei Wuxian shrugged. “Didn’t you know? I’m more than just a pretty face.” He winked at him again and disappeared into the hallway.

Lan Wangji froze, staring at the door he had just disappeared out of. Did he just…wink at him? Again?

No one had ever, in Lan Wangji’s entire life, winked at him.

On paper, Lan Wangji understood what winking was. It was the closing of one eye. Usually to indicate some sort of jocularity or flirting. But flirting was…Lan Wangji was his superior in the hospital. He was older than him and they had just met.

And people didn’t…flirt with Lan Wangji.

He’s been told that some have tried. They’ve batted their eyelashes and made cute jokes, but the laughter died in their throat when he turned his icy expression towards them. His last intern had called him ‘Iceberg Man’, which he never quite understood. Someone else said his face looked like it was made from Jade.

On more than one occasion, a child started crying when it got a look at his face.

And yet, some random nursing student had winked at him.

Twice.

 

Lan Wangji thought that things would get better. But as the week continued, his thoughts only grew more confused. Wei Wuxian exhibited a rare form of brilliance. He picked things up the first time around, never had to take any notes, and possessed a confidence that fully licensed doctors hadn’t developed.

Yet, he would constantly do the most ridiculous things.

He unabashedly flirted with anything that moved, and on one occasion Lan Wangji caught him trying to get the other nursing students to steal a body so they could recreate ‘Weekend at Bernies’. On another occasion he caught him trying to keep a bottle of alcohol in the cooler drawers designed for bodies. Wei Wuxian just grinned and smiled at Lan Wangji, the kind of blinding smile that was completely inappropriate for the situation.

The kind of stupid smile that should have angered Lan Wangji. He should have been demanding the disruptive student do handstands in the hall or reorganize all the files in the cabinet by alphabet, and then by caseload.

But he didn’t. Instead he stood staring at him impassively until he had no choice but to walk away. Because Lan Wangji didn’t know how to deal with that smile. More specifically, he didn’t know how to handle what that smile did to him.

Lan Wangji wasn’t shaken by anything. No amount of blood or entrails had ever given him pause. He had never been nervous in his entire life—not at the morgue, or when he was called to testify on behalf of a murder trial.

Not even on the day he watched a minivan careen out of control and roll down the side of a hill. He simply dialed 911, and then slid down the slope to see if he could help. With mud up to his knees and rain in his eyes, he immediately understood that the two adults in the vehicle were dead. A neck bent that way was not conducive to life.

But he did find a young child. Hanging limply in his seatbelt, there was blood all over his face and he was eerily silent. Lan Wangji thought he was probably about 7 years old. Against his better judgement, he unbuckled the seatbelt and carried the child to safety. He had many lacerations, but none were life threatening.

While Lan Wangji stood there in the pouring rain, holding a child that wasn’t his, he felt something. A tenderness that wasn’t new, but it was strange. He brushed the wet strands of hair from the child’s feverish forehead and he tightened his grip on the bundle in his arms.

Still mostly unconscious, the child wrapped his arms around Lan Wangji’s neck.

Fostering the child was the first illogical thing Lan Wangji had ever done. He was only 23, and about to enter medical school. He had no legal or familial claim on the boy, but he knew he didn’t want to lose him.

Despite Lan Qiren’s protests, and Lan Xichen’s gentle questions, he began fostering Lan Sizhui. He even changed his name. Lan Wangji never felt the need to explain his actions, not to his brother or uncle, and not to anyone else. Perhaps it was because he knew his excuse would fall flat in front of his family. His family put reason, science, and the things they could tangibly prove above all else. How could he explain that there was no reason for him to take care of this child? How could he explain that in the briefest of moments at the base of a hill, he looked down at the child hugging him tightly and felt something flicker inside him. Something he didn’t recognize, but knew he needed.

When Lan Wangji looked at Wei Wuxian, he felt that same tenderness. That same urge to hold tight and never let go. A desire that had no root in logic but was there all the same. He didn’t know what to do with it.

The day he felt it with Lan Sizhui, he chose to never let go.

But this was different. Wasn’t it?

Wen Ning came through the thick double doors and set down a heavy box of supplies. He stretched up and gave his boss a gentle smile.

“Are you all right, sir?”

Lan Wangji looked up from his thoughts. He had intended to sit down and proofread the reports Wen Ning had put together, but the moment he sat at his desk and let the silence of the lab get to him, he became lost in thought.

“Yes.” He said evenly, looking up at Wen Ning. “You are friends with Wei Wuxian, are you not?”

Wen Ning nodded. “Yes, sir.”

Lan Wangji didn’t say anything else. He didn’t have an end to the question when he asked Wen Ning. It just slipped out. But perhaps it wasn’t a bad thing. If there was something he didn’t understand, it was probably because he didn’t have enough information. So, it made sense that he would try to gather more information on a subject.

“I know he’s a bit much, sir. But he is a good nurse. And he’s very smart.” Wen Ning said quickly, speaking up for his friend. “He’s really caring.”

Lan Wangji knew that. He could tell by the way he helped his fellow students, and the way he was respectful to the bodies in the morgue.

“Actually, you guys have something in common.” Wen Ning said brightly, happy to have picked up on something. “His nephew is the same age as Lan Sizhui. Actually, now that I think about it, they go to the same school.”

That surprised Lan Wangji. He realized he didn’t know all that much about the strange nurse.

He glanced at his watch and then back up at Wen Ning. “Do you have lunch plans?” he asked his startled assistant.

“Well, yes. I was going to meet Wei Wuxian at the--”

“Perfect. Let’s go.” He cut off his assistant and dragged the befuddled man to the cafeteria.

 

 

Wei Wuxian wasn’t often speechless.

In fact, you could argue (and Jiang Cheng has) that his default setting is to talk.

But when he saw Wen Ning walk into the cafeteria with Dr. Lan, he was speechless. Then they further confused him by getting trays of cafeteria food and coming to sit across from him at the sticky table. He stared at them until Wen Ning shrugged at him and ducked down to eat.

Wei Wuxian genuinely didn’t know what to say. As far as he knew, he had managed to anger two of the three Dr. Lans. And the only reason it wasn’t a perfect trifecta was because he hadn’t yet gotten to work with Lan Xichen.

Dr. Lan was rarely seen outside the morgue. Everyone knew he brought his own lunch from home, and he didn’t socialize. Not with his peers and definitely not with students. Rarely, he could be found chatting with one of the other Dr. Lans. But never in the cafeteria eating lunch like this.

So no, Wei Wuxian had absolutely no idea what to say.

He gave Wen Ning a look and Wen Ning absolutely saw it but chose to ignore him. Wei Wuxian sighed and began picking at his chicken. Most of the food cooked at his apartment had the lingering taste of freezer burn. He was reasonably sure this chicken was somewhat fresh, so in his mind, it was delicious.

He watched Lan Wangji pick at the salad he had bought, moving the carrots to the side as he ate plain lettuce with no dressing. What kind of person eats a salad without dressing?

Wei Wuxian was debating pulling out his phone and googling ‘correlation between people who don’t use salad dressing and serial killers’, but Lan Wangji looked up and met his gaze.
They stared at each other for a long time. A painfully long time.

Finally, Wei Wuxian couldn’t handle it anymore. “So, I was working in this Urgent Care a couple weeks ago. And we had a client complaining of eye pain and itchiness. Long story short, she had Chlamydia in her eye.”

Wen Ning snorted and speared a few pears.

“And I had to be the person to tell the doctor. He just looked at me and was like ‘how could she get it in her eye’ and I had to explain to a sixty year old man how someone gets Chlamydia in their eye.”

Wei Wuxian laughed at his own story. He eyed Lan Wangji, only to see his ears turning a bright pink as he moved the food around his tray. Wei Wuxian smiled and leaned on his elbows. “Dr. Lan, ever have any fun experiences like that?”

Wen Ning coughed up the pear he had just eaten. “Wei Wuxian…NO!”

But it was too late. The evil switch on Wei Wuxian’s brain had been flipped and he wanted to see how far he could push Dr. Lan. “Surely you have some fun experiences. All alone in the basement, soundproof walls. You ever take anyone down there?”

The pink increased and grew deeper.

While Wei Wuxian was teasing Lan Wangji, he realized just how handsome the man was. It was an objective fact that the Lan family was full of good looking men. Everyone in the hospital knew that. Lan Xichen was constantly harassed by staff and patients, and the only reason Lan Wangji wasn’t, was because he kept himself hidden in the basement with the dead bodies.
Wei Wuxian wondered if Lan Wangji was dating someone. He hadn’t heard any rumors, which didn’t really mean anything. There wasn’t a ring on his finger, which again, didn’t mean anything. Doctors washed their hands so often a lot of them chose not to wear a ring.

Dr. Lan cleared his throat and looked up at Wei Wuxian. Their eyes met and there was something new in Dr. Lan’s eyes. Something…aggressive. Had he gone too far? Wei Wuxian wasn’t sure. Dr. Lan was so stoic—he had yet to find the line.

Suddenly Dr. Lan stood up, he walked away from the table and carried his tray to the garbage can.

“He’s my boss!” Wen Ning hissed, doing his best impression of a glare at Wei Wuxian.

Wei Wuxian was about to answer when a rough hand grabbed his shirt collar and jerked him to his feet. He made a strangled noise as Dr. Lan dragged him out of the cafeteria.
“But I haven’t finished my hash browns!” Wei Wuxian whined.

Dr. Lan dragged him to the elevators, pressing the door close button before shoving Wei Wuxian against the back wall. He was standing so close that Wei Wuxian could smell cold sandalwood coming off him. It was mixed with something antiseptic, something harshly chemical that shouldn’t have been as alluring as it was.

Each of Wei Wuxian’s wrists were trapped in Dr. Lan’s strong hands. He was pressing him against the textured wall of the elevator and leaning in close. From this close, Wei Wuxian could see flecks of brown in Dr. Lan’s amber eyes.

Wei Wuxian swallowed. Dr. Lan seemed to be content staring at him in silence. Experimentally, he wiggled a bit to see if there was any give in Dr. Lan’s grip. As expected, there wasn’t.

“You know, Dr. Lan, if someone were to see us, they might get the wrong idea.” Wei Wuxian said with more bravado than he felt.

“Mmn.” Dr. Lan said before releasing Wei Wuxian and taking a step back. He breathed in deeply before reaching into his pocket and pulling out a plastic bag. He handed it to Wei Wuxian.

Inside the plastic bag, was another smaller plastic bag. Wei Wuxian tried to make sense of this method of Russian nesting dolls, but he caught sight of a familiar logo.

“Corpse Poisoning?” he asked.

Dr. Lan seemed surprised. “Yes. How did you know?”

He couldn’t exactly tell the righteous Dr. Lan that his brother had stolen a sample from a crime scene. “I’ve seen it before.” He said simply, choosing to leave Jiang Cheng out of it.

Dr. Lan nodded and didn’t pry. “You knew a lot about the overdose the first day.” He said, referring to the first day in the morgue when Lan Qiren had quizzed Wei Wuxian.

“Since then, we’ve had two more overdoses. Both resulted in death.”

Wei Wuxian looked down at the bag in his hand. “Were they young?”

Dr. Lan nodded. He pushed some hair from his face and eyed the elevator as it finally arrived at the morgue. The doors opened and he plucked the bag from Wei Wuxian’s hands. The taller man exited the elevator and Wei Wuxian had no choice but to follow him.

“What are you getting at?”

Dr. Lan stopped and looked at him. “The majority of Heroin overdose fatalities are men. They are often found in groups, and it’s almost always several hours after the initial dose. This brand of drug,” he held it up for Wei Wuxian to see. “defies all of the statistics. I want to know why, and I want to stop it before I have to cut open another kid.”

Wei Wuxian didn’t think Dr. Lan had ever said so much to him. There was a fierce sincerity to his words.

It was probably the wrong time, but Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but notice how attractive he was.

“And you need my help. Obviously.” He said as he crossed his arms.

Dr. Lan looked him up and down before inhaling and looking away.

“Ask me nicely, Wangji.” Wei Wuxian said, using his first name.

Dr. Lan paused and flicked his gaze over to Wei Wuxian. That aggressive look was back, something deep and unreadable. He pinned Wei Wuxian in place with his stare for a long moment before he squared his shoulders.

“I want your help, Wei Wuxian.”

 

Wei Wuxian didn’t know how, but he had gotten home. He unlocked the front door and kicked his sneakers into the living room. Finding them would be tomorrows problem.

Jin Ling was sitting on the couch playing on his phone. His tawny hair was getting long and he put it in a ponytail. As Wei Wuxian walked past the couch, he licked his finger, then inserted it into his nephews ear.

“Agh! Ugh! That’s disgusting.” Jin Ling cried, rubbing his ear.

Wei Wuxian cackled and rolled over the back of the couch until he was sitting next to his nephew. The 17 year old glared at him in moody teenager and scooted away from him to the other end of the couch.

“How’s life?” Wei Wuxian asked, not really paying attention. Amber eyes were dancing in his vision.

“It was a lot better until you stuck your nasty finger in my ear.” Jin Ling said petulantly. “Where’s the Angry Grape?”

Jiang Cheng would blow a gasket if he heard their nickname for him. “Took another shift.”

They both felt guilty about it. Jin Ling had offered to get a part time job, but Jiang Cheng wouldn’t hear of it. He wanted him to enjoy his childhood. There was plenty of time for shit jobs. And he told Wei Wuxian to go back to school. It was a burden he was ready to bare, but it didn’t make them feel any better.

“Hey…do…do you guys date?” Jin Ling suddenly asked, looking uncomfortable and staring at his shoes.

Wei Wuxian flinched and wondered if somehow his nephew could read his mind. “What! Why would you ask…that?” he asked with a nervous swallow.

“It’s just…I’ve never seen you guys bring anyone home. Is that because of me?”

Truthfully, Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian had never had time to date. They had been so focused on Jin Ling, and then their careers, that dating took a back burner. Wei Wuxian had settled for a couple lackluster hookups and he knew Jiang Cheng had seen someone once, but they never got very serious. The nature of their work was hard enough to relate to but add a grumpy teenager on top of it and you didn’t exactly have the best recipe for romance.

Wei Wuxian rubbed his nephews head because he knew he would hate it. “It’s not because of you.” He said assuredly. “Jiang Cheng is…well, you know how he is. And I’ve never found anyone that I wanted to do anything serious with.”

Jin Ling didn’t look convinced.

Wei Wuxian stared at him. “What are you actually asking?”

The kid shuffled his feet before dropping his head on the back of the couch. “It’s…I might…like someone.”

Wei Wuxian gasped and clasped his hands together. “AWW! Wittle Jin Ling! You’re growing up right in front of my eyes.” He pretended to sniffle.

Jin Ling growled at his uncle and shoved him. “Fuck you. This is why I don’t tell you things.”

“Have you told Jiang Cheng?”

They both pictured what the man would do if he found out Jin Ling had romantic aspirations. Probably threaten everyone, pace around the house, demand a background check, and then forbid Jin Ling from ever leaving the house again.

“When do I meet them?” Wei Wuxian asked cheekily, enjoying how much pain his nephew was in due to this conversation.

“Literally never. I will never introduce anyone to either of you.” He said petulantly. “It doesn’t matter, anyway. He doesn’t like me. He’s like…” Jin Ling waved his hands around.

Wei Wuxian wasn’t fluent in teenager. “What do you mean?”

Jin Ling groaned. “He’s like…he’s a Dorito! And I’m…just a…Frito.”

“What? Are you referencing shape or taste?”

“Both. Doritos are clearly superior to Fritos.”

“I think that’s a matter of opinion.”

Jin Ling scoffed. “No, they are objectively better. Everyone knows this.”

Wei Wuxian tried not to laugh. He wrapped his prickly nephew in his arms and stroked his head. He grumbled but didn’t fight the hug too hard. “Listen kid, I know it doesn’t seem possible, but eventually you’ll realize that there’s a whole ass chip aisle out there. You know why? Because not everyone likes the same thing. You may not understand why someone would prefer a Frito to a Dorito, but it doesn’t matter.”

He squished Jin Ling’s cheeks and looked him in the eyes. The eyes that were so much like his fathers that it was scary. “You find someone who makes you feel like a Dorito, ok? Because you are. You’re a Nacho Cheese Dorito and don’t let anyone, including yourself, make you feel like less.”

Chapter Text

Lan Xichen took a sip of his coffee and jotted down a note on the legal pad in front of him. It was twenty minutes before his start of shift, and he had stopped in the hospital cafeteria to get some breakfast and relax for a moment before he headed into the ED. He stared at the coffee and found himself missing the burnt taste from the coffee maker in the break room of the ED.

He chuckled to himself and set the cup down.

“Laughing at yourself, Dr Lan?”

Glancing up Lan Xichen smiled when he saw the cherubic face of his friend. “I suppose I was.”

Jin Guangyao took the seat opposite him and set his own cup of coffee down. He was dressed in a pressed grey suit with a golden tie. His black hair was slicked back, and as usual, he looked very professional.

Lan Xichen had been friends with Jin Guangyao since college. The man had rose to being CEO of the hospital in a short amount of time. His professionalism was only matched by his competence. He had a way of making everyone feel heard and kept the chaos that comes with running a hospital to a minimum. Lan Xichen enjoyed talking to him and considered him one of his closest confidants. He was an easy person to talk to—so much so that the intense way he listened to you could be unnerving at times.

“How have things been on your end? It’s been a while since we’ve talked.”

Lan Xichen nodded. “It is the season, I’m afraid. I’m sure it’s been busy for you too.”

Jin Guangyao smiled. Lan Xichen had always thought he had a nice smile—the kind of smile that warms one’s bones. He even had two little dimples that appeared on his cheeks. “You know how it is.” He took an experimental taste of his coffee before deciding to wait for it to cool off a little more. “How is your…extra project?”

Lan Qiren had told him that he had brought the subject of Corpse Poisoning up to Jin Guangyao at their last meeting. The men had all agreed that the whole thing was alarming. As the CEO the only thing Jin Guangyao could do was be sure to order enough supplies and give support to his medical staff as needed.

“We were finally able to get our hands on the stuff. Wangji wants to run it through some labs to see if we can find out its exact makeup. If we can do that, we might have a better chance of discovering where and who is manufacturing it.”

Jin Guangyao blinked twice before answering. “How…how did you get your hands on something like that? You didn’t…” he looked around the cafeteria to make sure no one could hear him. “..you didn’t purchase illegal drugs, Xichen?”

Lan Xichen shook his head. “No. We came across it by accident.”

Jin Guangyao didn’t seem relieved. He sighed and rubbed his forehead. “This seems very risky. Shouldn’t you leave this to the cops?” his eyebrows were drawn together in worry.

Lan Xichen agreed: this was very risky. But he didn’t have a choice. He couldn’t stand back and keep allowing this to happen. The cops weren’t prioritizing these cases—why Lan Xichen couldn’t guess, but it didn’t matter. They were the ones dealing with the aftermath.

What was the point in all his schooling or in all his training, if he couldn’t save people? Maybe that was a personal defect, or some misplaced sense of justice, but Lan Xichen was tired of fighting a losing battle. Not when he had the ability to potentially change the outcome of the war.

Perhaps that was something an administrator couldn’t understand. After all, Jin Guangyao wasn’t the one seeing the effects of this drug every day.

Pushing his hair from his eyes he tried to give Jin Guangyao a reassuring smile. “You are probably right. We are ill equipped to handle an investigation like this. But I don’t think we have a choice.”

Jin Guangyao didn’t seem any more reassured but he backed off his questioning. “It has always been impossible to get you to change your mind, so I won’t try. But please be careful.” He reached across the table and squeezed Lan Xichen’s hand.

Lan Xichen patted the hand of his friend. “I will. I will.”

They finished the last few moments before the start of their day by chatting about less depressing subjects. Jin Guangyao asked about Lan Sizhui’s studies and they reminisced a bit about their time in school together. Normally, this kind of conversation would be quite diverting for Lan Xichen, but he was distracted. He kept thinking of the way Jiang Cheng looked the last time he had seen him.

With his hair down and his eyes closed against the morning sun, he had looked like temptation personified. The mood between them had been light, and that quick wit had been put aside and Jiang Cheng had seemed relaxed. It was the kind of image that kept him up all night, and his days chasing that feeling that had grown between them.

“Xichen?” Jin Guangyao asked, smiling a little at his friend’s distraction.

“Oh! I’m terribly sorry. I got a bit lost in thought.”

“I was asking if you would like to meet for breakfast tomorrow before work.”

Lan Xichen glanced down at his watch. He was already a couple minutes behind. Standing quickly, he collected his trash and notebook and gave his friend an apologetic look. “My apologies, but I’m planning on meeting someone tomorrow after his shift.”

Jin Guangyao looked surprised. “Oh really?”

Lan Xichen smiled softly as he pictured the grumpy look on Jiang Cheng’s face when he saw Lan Xichen sitting in the parking lot again. “Yes. I’m quite looking forward to it.”

He waved goodbye to Jin Guangyao and threw away his trash on his way to the ED.

What he didn’t see was the pleasant smile fading from Jin Guangyao’s face, or the way his hand clenched on the coffee cup he was holding. The paper cup crunched under his grip and hot coffee spilled over his fingers.

 

Things had escalated.

After their tense moment in the elevator, Lan Wangji had decided to avoid any and all things Wei Wuxian. To be safe, he actually began avoiding anything that had the color red. He had even outlawed the use of red toe tags, causing a poor confused Wen Ning to have to run back to the supply closet and get an entirely new box of toe tags.

As a nursing student, Wei Wuxian had very little to do with the morgue or its Forensic Pathologist. There was no reason for him to be in the basement of the hospital.

Not that it stopped him.

Wei Wuxian had taken to popping by the morgue at all hours. Sometimes he would just stand in the doorway with a wide grin, waving and calling out ‘Wangji!’ before disappearing to go back wherever he came from.

On one memorable occasion, he had left a basket of various bottles of alcohol on Lan Wangji’s desk. When he looked at them closer, he realized that most of them were half empty. It left the Forensic Pathologist in a confused tizzy, staring down at the wicker basket as if it held the world’s most confusing puzzle.

Who gifted open bottles of alcohol?

For Wen Ning’s part, he had taken to hovering by the door to cut off his friend before his harried boss could get a glimpse. Twice, Wen Ning had tackled Wei Wuxian to the floor before he could get the first syllable of Dr. Lan’s name out.

Lan Wangji watched his mild-mannered assistant launch himself at a surprised Wei Wuxian and thought that he probably didn’t get paid enough.

For two days now the morgue had been quiet. The double doors had remained tightly closed and no red scrubs had dared to make their appearance known in the quiet basement.

Dr. Lan and Wen Ning were elbow deep in a patient. Lan Wangji had just finished removing the last organ and Wen Ning had recorded its weight when the doors of the morgue slammed open.

“What do you call a turtle with a hard on?” Wei Wuxian asked proudly. His excited voice echoed around the sterile space.

Lan Wangji and Wen Ning stared at him over their masks.

“A slow poke!” Wei Wuxian disappeared down the hall in a fit of giggles. His cackling laughter could be heard long after he had gone.

For a long moment the only sound in the morgue was the ticking of the clock on the wall.

“Sir?”

“Yes?”

“I apologize for not getting to him fast enough.”

“No need to apologize, Wen Ning. Your hands were full of reproductive organs. Shall we continue?”

Lan Wangji stared down at the open body in front of him and realized he was smiling behind the cotton mask.

 

 

“Clear!”

Jiang Cheng glanced up and took stock of where Nie Huaisang was standing before he pressed the button to shock.

The kid lying on the stretchers body jerked, back arching briefly before coming to lie flat. Jiang Cheng glanced down at the monitor and swore when he saw the flat line across the screen.

“Resume CPR.” he ordered Nie Huaisang. The EMT clasped his hands together and began pressing down on the patient’s chest. Jiang Cheng grabbed the airway roll and laid it out, selecting the appropriately sized intubation tube and a Mac blade.

Standing at the patient’s head, he tilted it back and pressed the flattened metal blade against his tongue and lifted it out of the way. It took him a moment to get a view of the trachea, but once he had it, he didn’t hesitate. Sliding the plastic tube through the narrow opening and advancing it forward. He tossed the Mac blade aside and used an empty syringe to inflate the balloon on the end of the tube. The balloon would seal the trachea and keep air from escaping up and out the mouth.

Holding the tube with one hand he attached an Ambu bag to the tube and squeezed. He checked for universal chest rising. Without being asked, Nie Huaisang pulled the stethoscope from his neck and listened to the breaths.

“You’ve got breath sounds in both lungs.” He confirmed, then resumed chest compressions.

Jiang Cheng secured the tube and kept bagging. “Where the hell is fire?” he demanded to no one in particular.

On bad calls, the fire department would send out an engine to assist. Usually two guys would hop in the back with Jiang Cheng so Nie Huaisang could drive them hot to the hospital. But today they were taking their time.

Sweat beaded on his forehead and he wiped it away with a shoulder.

They had picked this kid up from the bus stop. He had collapsed and the bus driver had called 911. Jiang Cheng had found him pulseless, and apneic. He had no idea how long he hadn’t been breathing, but he didn’t sit around to ask.

The kid couldn’t be more than sixteen years old.

Glancing down, Jiang Cheng could see a faint bruising around his upper bicep from where he had used something as a tourniquet. Jiang Cheng would bet money that this was another overdose, and judging by how quickly it set it, it couldn’t be anything but Corpse Poisoning.

Nie Huaisang’s face was red and his breathing was ragged. Chest compressions was difficult for even the hardiest of people, and Nie Huaisang wasn’t exactly spending much time in the gym. His shirt was growing damp from sweat and Jiang Cheng pushed him aside so he could take over and Nie Huaisang could bag the patient.

They had already administered doses of Narcan and Epinephrine. Keeping an eye on his watch he kept up with the code. Every five minutes he could give another dose of Epi, even though so far it hadn’t done anything.

“Time.” Nie Huaisang said.

Jiang Cheng stopped chest compressions and he felt the patient’s neck. The faintest flicker of a pulse could be felt against his gloved fingers.

“Fuck it, let’s go. Get us there quick.” He told Nie Huaisang.

The EMT handed the bagging duties over to Jiang Cheng and dashed out the back of the ambulance. Not even thirty seconds later the truck was in gear and the sirens were screaming. Nie Huaisang might have been a delicate man who enjoyed the finer things in life, but he could drive like a bat out of hell when needed.

Jiang Cheng had been a paramedic long enough to know the best way to save a patient was to get them to a hospital. The faster, the better. Too many medics got caught up in doing too much sometimes. Nothing beat a fully equipped hospital.

Every few seconds Jiang Cheng squeezed the bag and pumped air into the teenager. He glanced at his vitals—they were garbage.

But at least he had some now.

There were a thousand therapies the hospital could do for this kid, but he just had to get there. He needed this kid’s heart to pump on his own, if that happened, he could take care of the rest.

Yanking the radio down he held it between his shoulder and chin and called in that he was working a code. He wasn’t sure how much of the information went through but as long as they were waiting for him, it would be ok.

He looked at the teenager’s skinny face—there wasn’t even traces of facial hair growing yet. This was a fucking baby. He should be worrying about his voice changing and hiding porn magazines from his parents. What the hell was he doing fucking around with drugs? Jiang Cheng wanted to be angry at him, he wanted to be so angry he didn’t feel the horrifying sense of guilt and hopelessness. If he could be angry at this kid, if he could think ‘well he brought this on himself’ then maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much.

The monitor changed and a long beep cut through the ambulance.

Jiang Cheng began chest compressions again, counting the rhythms and pausing to breathe for the kid every 30 compressions.

Right now, Jiang Cheng was the only thing keeping this kid alive.

 

Nie Huaisang unloaded the stretcher while Jiang Cheng continued to do compressions. He stopped briefly while the stretcher wheels touched down, then continued to do CPR while running beside the stretcher.

Seeing him, a nurse ran out of the ED and took over bagging for him. A blast of air conditioning hit him, and he knew they had entered the hospital. They wheeled the patient into the first room in the ED and Jiang Cheng looked up to see Lan Xichen standing there, ready to take over the code.

A strange feeling of relief washed over Jiang Cheng. If Lan Xichen was here, it would be ok. He would help this kid.

Their eyes met and a thousand things were said between them—somewhere in there was Jiang Cheng’s complete trust in Lan Xichen’s ability to play god.

He didn’t realize it, but the report was falling from his lips. The same as a thousand others, a routine that felt familiar but should be anything but. He watched as the nurses and ED staff crowded him out of the room and exchanged his monitor and cables for the ones in the hospital. The rest of the patient’s clothes were cut off and a thousand things were done at once.

Mutedly, he heard Lan Xichen call for defibrillation and the entire room lifted their hands out of the way as joules of electricity were arced the small body on the bed. Jiang Cheng thought it looked like an absurdly macabre roller coaster. Like Lan Xichen was the conductor telling everyone in the room to lift their hands and scream—it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Nie Huaisang collected their stuff and wheeled it out to the ambulance bay to begin the long process of cleaning. Jiang Cheng should go and work on his report—codes were always a bitch to write up. But he couldn’t move. His gaze was transfixed on the slim chest that looked so white under the harsh fluorescent lights. It seemed like a hundred wires were hanging off his body. So many that they almost overlapped. There just wasn’t enough surface area for so many electrodes and the two sinister looking pads that would send ungodly amounts of electricity into a heart that was too young to bear such a thing.

Standing in the doorway, Jiang Cheng felt like he was on the threshold of death. Right here in this room, humanity was doing what it could to snatch a life from death. But at the end of the day, they were just humans fighting against something that was in a whole other league.

At the end of the day, their best just wasn’t good enough.

He knew the end result before Lan Xichen called it. Codes could only go on for so long. CPR could only keep a body going, it couldn’t keep a soul tethered. And this teenager’s soul had fled the moment he put that needle in his vein.

They worked the code longer than they should have—probably due to the age of the patient. Eventually Lan Xichen couldn’t justify any more and he had to call it. Several heads turned to look at the clock on the wall, jotting down the time a kid officially lost his life.

Someone began unhooking cables and wires and someone else grabbed a sheet to cover the patient. His parents would have to see him this way—the tube sticking out of his throat and the broken ribs from the chest compressions. Only the Forensic Pathologist could remove the medical devices they had used to save his life, right before he cut him open to see just what went wrong.

Lan Wangji would do his duty and cut him open. He would say the cause of death was accidental. But Jiang Cheng already knew better.

That teenager was murdered by the contents of a dime sized plastic baggy.

He swallowed dryly and looked up to see Lan Xichen’s hazel eyes looking at him worriedly. Without saying anything he turned and left the room. He had stayed too long anyway. Exiting out the automatic ambulance bay doors he saw a fire engine parked in the bay.

Two firefighters were hopping out, their bunker pants held up by suspenders. Tobacco rolled around their mouth and they spit brown leafy globs onto the asphalt.

“Where the fuck were you?” Jiang Cheng asked icily.

Nie Huaisang said something to him and plucked at his shirt but he couldn’t hear him. The only sound he could hear was the blood rushing in his ears.

The young guys in bunker gear strutted over to Jiang Cheng and looked him up and down as if he had no right to be talking to them. It reminded him of the asshole jocks in high school, the ones who thought they were better than everyone else just because of the jersey they wore on their back.

His fists were clenched so hard that his nails dug into his palms. “What? Were you too busy jerking each other off to come do your fucking jobs?”

They looked shocked. Their oversize rubber boots skidded to a stop in front of him and they crossed their arms. “Excuse me?” the taller one said.

“You got something wrong with your hearing? I’m asking if you were so busy playing clubhouse with each other that you missed the call to come do your jobs.” He snarled, his voice sounding particularly venomous against the idling of the trucks. He could feel the heat coming off the engines in waves and it did nothing to cool his temper.

“Hey, who do you think you are?” the taller one, the one with the mouth full of chew, said. It looked like an obscene pimple protruding from his lower lip and Jiang Cheng wanted to take a scalpel and pop it.

Instead of pus, he thought whiskey and bad decisions might pour out.

“I’m the guy who just spent the last half hour breathing for a kid who couldn’t do it for himself. I’m the guy who listened to a rib crack because I was doing too much CPR. I’m the fucking guy who watched this kid die in my ambulance because I didn’t have any goddamn help.”

There must have been a strange look in his eye because the two men glanced at each other. Some of the bravado drained from their faces and their arms loosened across their chests. “Listen, we got lost ok? The GPS sent us a street over.”

“I can understand how it could be easy to miss the bright red truck with flashing fucking lights.”

“You can’t talk to us that way!” one of them protested, but it didn’t matter which one. Between the chew, the Viper sunglasses, and the standard haircut they were pretty much interchangeable.

Jiang Cheng clenched his jaw. “You want to tell that kids parents that the reason he died was because you guys were too busy swiping on Tinder and making each other ‘brotein’ shakes to try and save their sons life, or should I?”

“That’s it!” the smaller one cocked a hand back to lay a right cross in Jiang Cheng’s face.

“Fucking do it, Water Fairy. Give me a reason to smack that gob of cancer right the fuck out of your mouth.” Jiang Cheng egged on, stepping closer to make the punch easier.
“Jiang Cheng!” his name was shouted, and two strong arms wrapped around his waist, plucking him up and dragging him away.

He sent an elbow back into the chest holding him. Nie Mingjue stepped passed him with his little brother cowering behind him. The look in his eyes scattered the two firefighters.

Jiang Cheng twisted and realized it was Lan Xichen dragging him away from the fight. He was bodily dragged into the back of the ambulance, thrown in and Lan Xichen slammed the doors behind him.

“You can’t just pick me up!” Jiang Cheng shouted, his voice loud in the enclosed space.

Both men had to duck when they stood up straight. Nie Huaisang had already cleaned out the mess but hadn’t replaced the stretcher yet.

“What were you going to do? Start a fight in the parking lot?” Lan Xichen asked with an annoying amount of calm.

“You think I couldn’t win?” he snapped peevishly.

Lan Xichen huffed and dropped onto the bench seat. He rested his elbows on his knees and waited for Jiang Cheng’s breathing to normalize. “You know they didn’t cause that kid to die.”

“I know.” He said brusquely. And he did. Logically, he knew that the outcome would have been the same whether he had help or not. “They’re just…so…so…” his temper flared again.

Lan Xichen reached forward and took Jiang Cheng’s hand, dragging him down to sit next to him. He pushed some sweaty strands of hair from his face. “I know.”

Jiang Cheng didn’t pull away and dropped his head in his hands. “I fucked up.”

“No, you didn’t. You’re experienced enough to know that.” He stroked Jiang Cheng’s head. “You’re allowed to be upset without putting guilt on yourself, you know.”

His words hit home. Jiang Cheng had been trying to find an emotion he was comfortable with, something he could work with. Guilt was a good one, he had felt that all his life. Anger was his personal favorite.

But being sad…that was…new.

Normally Jiang Cheng didn’t care. He couldn’t afford to care. If he got this worked up over one patient dying, then how was he supposed to work the next fourteen hours of his shift? He didn’t have the luxury to think of them like that.

Roughly, he rubbed his face and looked at Lan Xichen. He wasn’t looking at him with pity or disgust. He was looking at him with something closer to sincerity. It did all sorts of things to Jiang Cheng’s heart.

And he hated it.

“Sorry.” He mumbled, looking away from those eyes that seemed to see right through him.

“Don’t apologize.” Lan Xichen said. “Nie Mingjue just came and told me that the kid’s parents are here. I have to tell them that their son is dead, and I don’t even know his name.”

“Fuck.” Jiang Cheng said, realizing how selfish he had been to complain when Lan Xichen was the one who had to face the family.

They lapsed into silence. The only sound was the idle engine and the air conditioning blasting through the vents. Their legs were resting against each other and Jiang Cheng realized this was the first time he had been this vulnerable with anyone since he was a kid.

His mother hated seeing any form of weakness, and his father was so preoccupied with avoiding his mother that he rarely saw him. Who had been the last person to see him cry? Probably Yanli. Thinking of her made his heart ache and he pushed that memory away.

Lan Xichen chuckled and looked at Jiang Cheng. “Water Fairies?”

“Yeah, they really hate it when I call them that.”

They shared a morbid laugh and Jiang Cheng glanced up at the taller doctor. “I can’t believe you carried me.” Lan Xichen had probably saved Jiang Cheng from getting fired. The hospital could overlook a lot of things, but starting a physical fight wasn’t one of them.

“It wasn’t difficult.”

“Bullshit.” Jiang Cheng snorted. “I’m not the cutesy type who gets carried around.”

Two strong fingers reached up and traced his ear, they lingered on his cartilage and cupped his face. Gently, Lan Xichen turned Jiang Cheng’s face so that it was only a few inches from his.

“Hmm.” He said as he examined Jiang Cheng’s face, eyes flicking over every inch of skin until they came to rest back on his. “Who wants the cutesy type?”

Jiang Cheng could feel Lan Xichen’s breath ghosting over his lips. He smelled like hand sanitizer and something faintly cold, if cold had a smell. Jiang Cheng couldn’t describe it, but it was making his knees weak and putting butterflies in his stomach.

Lan Xichen seemed to realize the effect he was having on him. His thumb caressed Jiang Cheng’s cheek and he came closer, so close that his lips were almost touching Jiang Cheng’s. “I like the rough around the edges, piercings in their ears, and a mouth that gets them into trouble type.”

Jiang Cheng could have sworn he felt Lan Xichen’s lips against his, just faintly hovering above as he spoke. What was he even saying? Jiang Cheng was having a hard time thinking with Lan Xichen’s hands on him and his low voice reverberating in his ears.

Lan Xichen’s lips felt so warm. It was like heat was coming off them, and Jiang Cheng wondered if they would feel as good against his. Unbidden, his hand reached forward towards Lan Xichen. What was it even doing? Jiang Cheng had no idea--he just knew he wanted to touch the doctor.

Suddenly, the back doors of the ambulance opened and the Nie brothers appeared.

“Hose draggers are gone.” Nie Huaisang said.

Jiang Cheng jerked back and almost fell on his ass. Without looking back at Lan Xichen he fled out the door and retreated toward the EMS room to start working on his report.

Chapter Text

“You’re not going to use an Plasma Sword for the entire level, are you?”

“Why? Afraid I’ll show you up?”

“Uh, no.” Jin Ling said, pressing the buttons on his controller to reload his shotgun. “Why should I be afraid of the Arbiter in any situation?”

“Excuse me?” Lan Sizhui said without taking his eyes off the bottom half of the TV. His character was cutting its way through a swarm of the Flood. “No one trash talks the Arbiter.”

“That’s pretty big talk for the god forsaken love child of a dinosaur and a rolypoly.”

Lan Sizhui smacked Jin Ling with his shoulder and they wrestled for a moment without taking their eyes off the screen in front of them.

Jin Ling had finally acquiesced to letting Lan Sizhui come into the apartment after he had walked him home from school. He knew both of his uncles were out and the place would be quiet and free from embarrassment.

Well, save for the poster of a Clone Trooper in a bikini that Wei Wuxian refused to take off the living room wall. But some things just couldn’t be helped.

They were sitting cross legged on his flea market couch, the one with the strange wear patterns and the cushions that were overstuffed on the right side. Side by side, they watched the split screen on the TV and played through the game. Technically, they were on the same side, but they were naturally competitive. Jin Ling had insisted on playing Master Chief, wielding a shotgun and an assault rifle at all times. Lan Sizhui was trying to stay true to his character, using only alien technology.

He was also currently kicking Jin Ling’s ass.

“Do you think an Energy Sword is stronger than a Lightsaber?” Jin Ling asked a he watched Lan Sizhui decapitate a Grunt.

“I don’t see an Energy Sword cutting through a blast door.”

“Quai Gon-Jin did that one time.” Jin Ling pointed out. “And it didn’t totally work.”

“Only because he was interrupted by Destroyer Droids.”

Their banter was light and easy, the kind of conversations that were completely inane but kept them laughing. At one point, Jin Ling laughed so hard he accidentally threw a Sticky Grenade at Lan Sizhui’s back, blowing him up.

“How are you so terrible at this?” Lan Sizhui asked breathlessly. The skin around his eyes was crinkled from laughter and he had to wipe the tears from his eyes.

“I don’t have anyone to play with! Wei Wuxian thinks it’s funnier to spend all his time killing me, and Jiang Cheng takes two steps in the game and gets frustrated and throws the controller.”

Lan Sizhui hadn’t met either of Jin Ling’s uncles, but he had heard enough about them to know that they were unique people. Definitely different from his family.

“Your foster father doesn’t play video games with you?”

Lan Sizhui resisted the urge to snort. “No. I honestly can’t imagine him playing video games.”

Jin Ling heard that wistful tone again and felt bad for bringing it up. “Have…have you ever tried talking to him? Maybe he just doesn’t know you want him to do more things with you.” The advice sounded hallow and useless. What did Jin Ling know about families?

“We don’t really…talk.” Lan Sizhui said as he navigated the Arbiter to part of the map that was heavily populated with enemies. “Mostly he comes around and asks about school and if I need anything.”

Jin Ling glanced at Lan Sizhui out of the corner of his eye and noticed his face was drawn. The smile lines were gone, and he looked solemn. He wasn’t even pressing the buttons as fiercely as he had been.

Quickly, Jin Ling searched his brain for a subject he could talk about to bring Lan Sizhui’s joy back. “Uhm, so that kid we found in the bathroom’s name was Brandon. They’re having a memorial for him.”

Fuckity fuck. Jin Ling closed his eyes and internally berated himself. Great, let’s bring up a traumatic experience to lighten the mood. Maybe next you can talk about your dead parents.

Lan Sizhui didn’t say anything, but he wasn’t playing the game anymore. His character was standing still on the screen and the thrilling action music kept playing. It gave Jin Ling a sense of anxiety. Even though he knew the character was fake, he still felt like he was a sitting duck in the middle of the screen.

“Are you going to go?” Lan Sizhui asked after a while.

It seemed like Jin Ling’s entire life changed the day he found that kid overdosed in the bathroom. Not only had it sparked a friendship with Lan Sizhui, something he could have only dreamt of in the past, but it had also started a chain of events that were getting scarier by the day. The school was doing mandatory locker and bag checks, and two other kids had been caught with drugs.

On top of that, Coach Elm hadn’t returned to school.

The day after Jin Ling and Lan Sizhui saw Coach Elm’s pinky get cut off the school sent out a notice that he was taking leave due to a family emergency. No one seemed to think it was strange.

No one except Lan Sizhui and Jin Ling. They knew that the family emergency was between him and the littlest finger on his right hand.

Jin Ling still had the baggy he had found in the alley. It was hidden at the back of his sock drawer.

“I guess so.” Jin Ling answered. “It would only be right, considering he was my first kiss.” He joked, trying to lighten the mood.

The controller in Lan Sizhui’s hands squeaked. Jin Ling looked down and saw that he was gripping the black controller so tightly that the plastic was screaming in protest. Lan Sizui’s knuckles were white and his lips were pressed together so tightly they seemed to disappear.

Before Jin Ling could ask if he was ok, Lan Sizhui threw the controller on the coffee table and tackled Jin Ling to the couch. He gasped and made an embarrassing squeaking sound when Lan Sizhui pinned him down. Lan Sizhui was so much stronger than he looked. His hands were pressing down on Jin Ling’s wrists and he was straddling him.

“Don’t like that.” He mumbled with his head down and lips pressed against Jin Ling’s shoulder.

“Wha…what’s wrong?” Jin Ling asked with a shaky voice. His mind was reeling with the sudden change in Lan Sizhui.

Lifting his head, Lan Sizhui brought those normally warm brown eyes to Jin Ling’s. They were full of something Jin Ling didn’t fully recognize. They were sparkling and full of heat. The force of his glare was so intense that Jin Ling couldn’t look away.

“No. I don’t like that.” He enunciated.

Jin Ling opened his mouth to ask him to clarify but Lan Sizhui silenced him with a kiss. Jin Ling’s entire body stiffened when he realized what was happening. Lan Sizhui’s lips were warm and insistent, pressing down into his insistently. The grip on his wrists relaxed and there was a warm hand cupped around his face, angling his jaw so that their lips could slot together easier.

His eyes fluttered closed and he noticed his hands had slipped around Lan Sizhui. The smell of shampoo was strong in Jin Ling’s nose, followed by the faintest hint of sandalwood. Lan Sizhui’s kisses were confident. The pressure increased and a tongue slipped out and pressed against Jin Ling’s lower lip. He gasped in realization, parting his lips and allowing that probing tongue to run across the pout of his lips.

Lan Sizhui’s left hand dropped and drifted down Jin Ling’s chest, rucking up under his shirt and lying flat on his stomach. He didn’t move any more, just gently caressed the soft skin there.

Finally, Lan Sizhui broke the kiss. Jin Ling followed, making a grunt of protest as he tried to catch those lips again.

Panting lightly, Lan Sizhui opened his eyes and smiled softly. “That…was your first kiss.”

Breezily, as if he hadn’t just made all of Jin Ling’s wildest fantasies come true, he brushed Jin Ling’s messy hair from his forehead and gently stroked his cheek before sitting up. Jin Ling felt bereft at the loss of his weight and he just laid there staring up at the ceiling. His mind was spinning and he felt like his brain had just received an error message and the entire system needed to be rebooted.

Lan Sizhui crossed his legs, adjusted his jeans, and picked up the controller had had tossed down. His attention was now wholly focused on the game.

Jin Ling lifted his head to look at him. “You’re just…going to go back to playing?”

“Yup.”

Jin Ling couldn’t hear anything over the sound of his internal screaming.

 

Wei Wuxian was lurking outside the hospital.

Lurking was probably not the right word, lurking implies something nerfarious. He had nothing nefarious or untoward planned. He just wanted to ambush Lan Wangji on his way to his car. The man was getting too smart—he had begun wearing headphones while working in the morgue. None of Wei Wuxian’s jokes were getting through anymore.

The moment Wei Wuxian realized that Lan Wangji’s ears turned a bright pink when he got embarrassed, was the moment he found his new obsession. He spent hours thinking of jokes and ways he might shock, awe, and horrify the Forensic Pathologist.

Wen Ning was proving to be a difficult, but not impossible, obstacle. He was part of the reason Wei Wuxian had to take his antics to the parking lot.

He jumped when his cell phone rang. Without taking his eyes off the front door of the hospital he dug his phone out of his pocket and answered. “Hello?”

“What are you doing?” Jiang Cheng asked. In the background of the call Wei Wuxian could hear the faint sounds of Nie Huaisang singing to the radio.

“Waiting for Dr. Lan to come out of the hospital.”

“Which one?”

. The good looking one. “Dr. Death.” He said instead.

Silence. “…why?”

“Because it’s common knowledge that Wen Ning leaves half an hour earlier than Lan Wangji.” This was the perfect opportunity. Wen Ning wouldn’t be around to ruin his attempts.

“That is absolutely not common knowledge and it’s very worrying that you know that.” Jiang Cheng said. “I ask again: why?”

Wei Wuxian glared at his phone as if Jiang Cheng could see it. “His ears turn pink, Jiang Cheng.”

“Are you insane?”

“Pink! Gotta go.” He hung up the phone and stuffed it back into his pocket. Jiang Cheng would never understand—the man thought pictures of dogs in hats was peak entertainment.

Finally, his efforts paid off. Dr. Lan strode from the hospital front doors with a briefcase in one hand and a stack of papers in the other. His long legs made quick work of the parking lot, covering the distance easily.

Wei Wuxian jumped from his hiding spot and darted between the cars so he could keep even with him. It was the first time seeing the man outside of the hospital, and he was wholly unprepared for just how good he looked. The reddish glow from the setting sun rose over the parked cars and set off a delightful contrast with the black of Lan Wangji’s hair and the cool paleness of his skin. Without his lab coat, Wei Wuxian could see the strong build of his chest and back. The top two buttons of his shirt were undone, and he looked more relaxed than Wei Wuxian had ever seen him before.

As Lan Wangji reached clicked the unlock button on the remote on his keys, Wei Wuxian sped out and stepped in front of him. Lan Wangji blinked in surprise, stepping back and dropping the folder he was carrying.

Dropping to his knees, Wei Wuxian collected the paperwork. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

Lan Wangji was staring down at him. His face was its usual mask, but Wei Wuxian could see a small tremor in his lips. The quickest movement in the corner that may have been the beginnings of a smile.

“Why?” he asked. His voice was low and even—outwardly he didn’t appear even the least bit rattled.

How disappointing.

“I wanted to see what would happen if you stepped into direct sunlight: would you burst into flames or sparkle.” He finished collecting the papers and stood up. This was the first time he had been this close to him since the elevator incident. Faced with Dr. Lan’s broad chest and his intense light gaze, he suddenly felt his confidence flagging. Had that ever happened before?

Dr. Lan was looking at him like he didn’t understand the joke, and Wei Wuxian decided it would lose some of it’s meaning in translation.

Looking up at Dr. Lan, Wei Wuxian was reminded of magnets. As a child, he loved them. What kid didn’t? He would run around the house and stick them to every surface—trying to see what stuck and what didn’t. He even tried to attach a magnet to a sleeping Jiang Cheng’s braces, which earned him his first black eye.

But beyond sticking magnets to his siblings, he liked when they were polar opposites. No matter how hard he pushed, the magnets just wouldn’t join. He knew they could, knew they were designed too. So why couldn’t they? Surely it was just a matter of pushing a little harder or maneuvering them differently.

He never could get them to stick.

That’s what he was thinking of right now—that Lan Wangji was his polar opposite. Testing his theory, he stepped up close to Dr. Lan. As expected, the taller doctor stepped back and kept an equal measure of distance between them.

Dropping his head, Wei Wuxian huffed. Of course, they were polar opposites. How could they not be? The world was full of people like that, he knows that.

What he doesn’t know is why he feels so disappointed about it.

Dr. Lan was looking at him strangely and Wei Wuxian finally handed him the paperwork. As the doctor reached for it, something caught Wei Wuxian’s eye.

“Wait.” He said, flipping the pages around to read them better. “Is this the lab work for Corpse Poisoning?”

Lan Wangji nodded. “Mmn. I haven’t had a chance to look at it yet.”

“Hot off the printer.” Wei Wuxian mused as his grey eyes took in the figures and percentages. When he processed the information, he went back and read it again. And then one more time.

He couldn’t believe it.

“This…this isn’t Heroin.” He said in surprise.

Lan Wangji stepped around, so he was facing the report. Reading it over Wei Wuxian’s shoulder he made a grunt if dissatisfaction. “It isn’t.”

“Well, not completely. It looks like they used Heroin as a base. But the rest is…completely new. And see this? Judging by the lack of preservatives it’s made locally.”

Lan Wangji stared at Wei Wuxian. He looked mildly surprised that the nursing student could decipher so much information simply from a lab report.

Wei Wuxian met Dr. Lan’s eyes. “We’re not talking Heroin imported directly from China or Myanmar. We’re not even talking Black Tar made in some redneck bubba’s garage. This is pure, and completely new.”

A moment passed between them and Wei Wuxian pulled out his phone to take a picture of the pages of lab report. Jiang Cheng would want to see this.

He handed the papers back and plucked at his scrubs. All his plans had died out the moment he got distracted by those top two buttons being undone.

“You should discuss this with your uncle and brother.” Wei Wuxian said a little sheepishly, embarrassed that he had just read his paperwork without asking.

“Mn. I will.”

“Cool, cool. Let me know what they say. I’ll talk to Jiang Cheng and we can…ya know. Reconvene.”

He flashed the doctor a grin and took a few steps back from his car. “See you later, Dr. Lan.”

 

Lan Wangji watched Wei Wuxian leave. His ponytail swayed with each of his steps and the red of his scrubs blended into the evening haze until he disappeared. Lan Wangji reached a hand out as if to stop him. Words came to mind, but none spilled from his lips. In the end, he said nothing.

Wei Wuxian left Lan Wangji standing beside his car with the sun setting behind him. His car keys were hanging limply from his fingers and he was left feeling crestfallen. There was something hollow in his chest. It was like Wei Wuxian brought with him a feeling of joy, of sunshine on a crisp fall day. And now Lan Wangji was plummeted into the depths of a dark winter, alone and searching desperately for the sun.

Blinking, he looked down at the pain in his hand. He had been holding the keys so tightly the metal had dug into his palm. Relaxing his grip, he opened the driver’s side door of his late model SUV and ducked into the driver’s seat.

With the engine on and the AC blowing on his face he stared out the windshield.

“He called me Dr. Lan.” He whispered to the interior of his car.

 

Lan Wangji lived in a modest colonial home built in an established neighborhood. The live oak trees lining the street were large and impressive, their branches arcing over the street and casting it in perpetual shade. He had chosen this neighborhood for the proximity to excellent schools and the unique homes with large yards.

Before Lan Sizhui, he had been content living in studio apartments within walking distance to his schools and places of work. But children need space, so he had bought this home with a sturdy fenced in yard so that Lan Sizhui could play. It had been a bit of an oversight, as the boy mostly preferred to sit inside and read rather than play outside.

Lan Sizhui made great use of the Lan’s personal library. Within a year he had read almost everything that Lan Wangji had in the home and had started picking through Lan Xichen’s collection. Even Lan Qiren had recently begun bringing books around he believed the teenager would enjoy. Perhaps it would be surprising to some parents to learn that the seventeen year old was reading medical textbooks and factual accounts of WW2, which was a guilty pleasure of Lan Wangji’s uncle.

But the boy did read them. All of them.

Around his birthday and Christmas, the Lan’s had a habit of just gifting the teenager with money. Ostensibly, it was so that Lan Sizhui could just purchase whatever he wanted rather than anticipating receiving something only to be disappointed. It’s what Lan Qiren did for his nephews, and it was sound.

Recently, Lan Xichen had begun searching for the most popular gifts for boys in Lan Sizhui’s age range and purchasing those for him. Lan Sizhui accepted them with modest grace, polite as ever. Lan Sizhui was never anything but.

Whenever Lan Wangji met with Lan Sizhui’s teachers, they always sang his praises. They remarked that he was an intelligent, polite, and delightful young man that Lan Wangji should be proud of.

And he was.

What was there not to be proud of? Lan Sizhui was top of his class, kept up on household chores, and had never required discipline. When they were in the house together, Lan Sizhui kept to his room. What he did in there, Lan Wangji did not know the specifics. He respected Lan Sizhui’s privacy.

Noting Lan Sizhui’s tendency to stay in his room, Lan Wangji was surprised to see the teenager in the kitchen when he came home. Stepping into the cozy kitchen he saw Lan Sizhui stirring something on the stove.

“Oh, hello Dr. Lan.” Lan Sizhui said as he glanced at his watch. “Dinner will be ready in a moment.”

Lan Wangji was surprised. He set his briefcase and paperwork down and took an experimental sniff. “You’re cooking for us?”

Lan Sizhui stopped stirring and looked a little unsure. “Yes, I thought we could eat together.” He fidgeted a little and had a hard time meeting Lan Wangji’s eyes. “But if you’ve already eaten that’s fine! I can store yours for lunch tomorrow.”

Seeing Lan Sizhui looking sheepish like that, Lan Wangji was suddenly reminded of how young he truly was. When was the last time he had really looked at him? It had been a while. Gone was the chubby kid with intelligent eyes. Standing in his kitchen, was an almost grown man. He still had the intelligent eyes, and there was a soft innocence about him that made him look a little younger than he was.

After Lan Sizhui’s parents died, it took a few months for the legal paperwork to be cleared up. The boy had no family, and rather than send him into the system, the state had been happy enough to let Lan Wangji foster him. The first day he brought him home, Lan Sizhui looked around the house that was still full of boxes and didn’t say a word. Lan Wangji had bent down to see that the child had been biting his lower lip to keep from crying.

Panic had washed over him then. Lan Wangji was fully prepared for the fiscal and legal responsibility for taking on a child, but the college aged man had not anticipated being the responsible for the child’s emotional well being.

The two stood in the foyer staring at each other, each waiting for the other to make a move. Lan Wangji tried to remember what his uncle had done for him when he was sad, but he couldn’t recall ever wanting anyone’s help. The last time he had been sad, Lan Xichen had gently patted his head and distracted him with a book.

Experimentally, he reached out and patted the child on the head. His hand was stiff and elbow straight, but Lan Sizhui had stopped biting his lip.

“W…would you like something to eat?” Lan Wangji had asked.

Lan Sizhui did, and they went into the kitchen where Lan Wangji made a basic fried rice. Sitting at opposite ends of the table, they ate in silence.

Looking at Lan Sizhui now, there was no hint of tears, but there was the same look of uncertainty. No matter how many years passed, they were still two strangers not knowing what they needed from the other but thrust together anyway.

“Yes, I would like some dinner.” Lan Wangji said after a pause.

Lan Sizhui smiled and turned back to making dinner.

Seeing his smile, he was reminded of the way he felt that rainy day when he pulled a young Lan Sizhui from that wrecked car—a sense of tenderness gripped his heart.

Much like the first day, they sat at opposite ends of the table again. Lan Sizhui’s meal was a little more expansive—salmon, rice, and a vegetable medley. The flavors were good, and Lan Wangji wondered where he learned to cook.

With his fork scraping against the plate Lan Sizhui looked up at his foster father. “Uhm. How is work?”

Lan Wangji paused in mid-bite. “Fine.”

The silence descended again, and he noticed that Lan Sizhui wasn’t really eating. He was glancing around the room and fidgeting in his chair. “How is school?”

Lan Sizhui’s head snapped up when he heard Lan Wangji’s question. His lips quirked up and he looked relieved to be asked. Lan Wangji stopped eating and wondered if Lan Sizhui had been wanting him to ask. He had always told him if there were any events that needed his attention, and never needed guidance with his homework.

Perhaps did he just…want to be asked?

“It’s going well. We just started, but I’m really enjoying archery club. We might have a competition soon...” Lan Sizhui trailed off.

Sitting back, Lan Wangji examined his ward. “Do you feel confident in your abilites?” he asked experimentally.

Lan Sizhui brightened at the question. “I think so. I’m the best on our team, but I need more practice.”

A hypothesis formed in Lan Wangji’s head: if he asked him a question, then Lan Sizhui seemed to animate. It was puzzling, and something he would have to think on.

“Uhm. Dr. Lan?” Lan Sizhui said as he pushed his vegetables around his plate. “I was…I was considering…persuing someone. Dating. Dating someone.” His head was down but he was looking up at Lan Wangji through his eyelashes.

Lan Sizhui had never even brought a friend around, so hearing that he wanted to date was a bit surprising. Not that it should be, he was a healthy seventeen year old. Of course, he would begin thinking of romantic interests.

“I see.” Lan Wangji said.

“Would that be ok?”

Another surprise. Lan Sizhui had never really asked permission for something before. “As long as your studies don’t suffer, I don’t see why not.”

Lan Sizhui nodded quickly. “Of course. I won’t let my grades slip.”

“I’m not worried.” Lan Wangji said impassively.

“Y…you’re not?”

“No, you’ve always been very responsible. I believe you are capable of maintaining social and romantic relationships without compromising your responsibilities.”

Lan Sizhui seemed to blush a little then, his ears turning a light shade of pink.

“Then, would you like to meet him?” he stressed the last pronoun. Lan Sizhui was clenching his fork so tightly it was shaking.

Lan Wangji lifted an eyebrow. He wasn’t used to Lan Sizhui needing any sort of reassurance. Truthfully, Lan Wangji found it a little amusing to see how serious he looked.

“I believe it would be appropriate.” He answered. Before taking another bite, he reconsidered. “I would like to meet him.” He made sure to stress the last pronoun so that Lan Sizhui wouldn’t misconstrue what he was saying.

Lan Sizhui ducked his head and tried to hide the radiant smile that split his face. He finished eating in silence. Just before he collected the plates, he looked at Lan Wangji.

“Do you know what’s stronger: an Energy Sword or a Light Saber?”

Lan Wangji tried to imagine what he was talking about, but he couldn’t picture it. “I don’t believe I’m familiar with the specifications on either.”

Lan Sizhui nodded and stood to collect the plates.

“But, perhaps, if you explained it to me, I could make an educated guess?”

Lan Sizhui set the plates down and took a seat. “Well, the Energy Sword looks more intimidating, but it has a limit to ten strikes. That’s why I think…”

Lan Wangji watched Lan Sizhui talk with his hands and tried to follow along. Most of the time, he had no idea what he was saying. But the teenager looked happy.

 

Later that night, Lan Wangji sat down with his computer and typed 'foster child communication' into his search bar.

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng stepped outside the station door and closed his eyes, breathing in the fresh air. Standing on the doorstep he let the early morning sunshine wash over his face. It felt good after spending twenty-four hours cramped in the cab of the ambulance. A breeze picked up and carried with it the smells from the diner two blocks away. Hints of freshly baked bread tickled his nose and it smelled heavenly. It awakened a craving in him he didn’t know he had.

Without opening his eyes he sighed. “You can take me to breakfast.”

From somewhere off to his left he heard Lan Xichen chuckle. “Ok.”

Jiang Cheng didn’t need to look to know Lan Xichen was there. The man had stubbornly showed up at the end of every shift for the last three days. He was half convinced the doctor had bribed his mechanic to delay fixing his car. Lan Xichen seemed to derive some sort of strange pleasure from chauffeuring Jiang Cheng around. It was more than discussing the Corpse Poisoning—which easily could have been done over the phone or even at work.

If Jiang Cheng didn’t know better, he would think that Dr. Lan liked spending time with him. But he did know better.

Because Jiang Cheng wasn’t the kind of guy that people wanted to hang around with. Wei Wuxian used to joke that when it came to genes, Jiang Yanli received all the benefits from both of their parents while Jiang Cheng was passed down all the negatives.

He possessed his father’s inability to display acts of affection or emotion. He wasn’t a monster—he felt things, he just didn’t know how to express them. Like a shower connected by an unqualified handyman: the hot and cold knobs had been reversed. Wei Wuxian and Jin Ling understood that when he yelled and threatened them it was because he cared, but most people couldn’t handle that.

And from his mother, he inherited her legendary temper and sense of pride. It went without saying that Madame Yu was a terrifying person. The Violet Spider, as they called her. A mere look from her could make a man’s balls retract into his body. Why she ended up with a man like his father was unknown to anyone.

Jiang Cheng was the youngest of his siblings. He was also the least likable.

Which is why Lan Xichen’s actions were so confounding.

He turned and walked off towards the sidewalk, following his nose to the diner. He didn’t check to see if Lan Xichen was behind him. There was the sound of a car being locked followed by the scraping of shoes on the asphalt, then Lan Xichen was shoulder to shoulder with him.

Lan Xichen held a hand up and stopped Jiang Cheng.

“What?” he snapped.

There was no response, Lan Xichen just knelt and began tying Jiang Chengs boots. He had a bad habit of leaving them unlaced. The ends of the acrylic laces were frayed from dragging against the ground.

“You could trip.” Lan Xichen said as he pulled on the laces and tied them into even bows.

“Are you treating me like a child?” he asked hotly. Those butterflies were back in his stomach, the same ones that had suddenly appeared when Lan Xichen was talking to him in the back of the ambulance the other day.

Lan Xichen smiled and looked up at Jiang Cheng. “Not a child.” His grin was oozing charm and confidence. “But I think you do need to be cared for.” He lightly flicked Jiang Cheng’s forehead and continued walking toward the diner.

Jiang Cheng was dumbstruck. He didn’t understand what just happened, and he sure as hell didn’t understand what the hell he was feeling. No one had ever managed to unsettle him quite like this. Hell, he spent the majority of his life standing sentinel on the line between life and death. He entered drug dens, crime scenes, and saw the worst of humanity on the daily. There had been times when he realized the goo on the floor of a suicide victim was actually brain matter, and when he had pulled a drowned child off the bottom of a pool. Those things may have sent him straight for the closest bottle of alcohol, but they had never shaken him.

Not like the way Lan Xichen looked at him.

He shuddered and jogged to catch up with the long limbed doctor.

The diner was your average kind of place. Red checkered tablecloths with a perpetual layer of stickiness that no amount of industrial cleaner could remove. The vinyl flooring was probably white at some point, but years of traffic had dyed it a grungy yellow. None of that mattered though, because the moment you stepped into the place you were hit by the wonderous smells coming from the kitchen.

Jiang Cheng sighed as they entered. A bell tinkled above the front door and a woman called to them from the back to seat themselves.

The smell of fresh bread combined with the sizzling of fat on the griddle made his mouth water and they snagged the closest booth.

Lan Xichen was the kind of man who could look at ease in a fancy steak house, or here in the diner. His good looks were elegant and refined, but he had a relaxed and affable nature that put people at ease. A genuine smile paired with his sweet hazel eyes, and it was no mystery that he was considered the hospitals most eligible bachelor.

Jiang Cheng scowled down at the plastic menu in his hand. The diner had an expansive list, and he tried to get lost in the selection, but his eyes kept looking over the top of his menu to see Lan Xichen’s face. He wanted to ask him what he was doing, or why he was here with Jiang Cheng.

The waitress appeared. She was a good looking girl, maybe a little younger than them. There were dimples on her cheeks and her light hair was pulled up into a cute braid. She smiled at them both, but when her eyes alit on Lan Xichen the smile deepened. Jiang Cheng watched as her entire body language changed—she tucked an errant strand of hair behind her eyes and chewed on her lower lip in an attempt to look, what Jiang Cheng supposed, was coquettish.

Lan Xichen smiled back at her. He smiled so hard that his eyes almost disappeared. “Coffee and a water, please.” He ordered smoothly.

Jiang Cheng watched them smile at each other and felt his left eye begin to twitch. He rubbed it before setting the menu down. “Diet Coke.” He needed the caffeine.

The waitress smiled at Lan Xichen again and disappeared. Jiang Cheng glared at her back.

“Diet Coke?” Lan Xichen asked.

“I’m watching my figure. Pageant season is coming up.” He busied himself by reading the menu, even though he already knew what he wanted. He didn’t think he had ever been in a position where prolonged eye contact with Lan Xichen was a thing. It was uncomfortable. He kept thinking of the way the sun sparkled off Lan Xichen’s eyes when he knelt to tie his shoes. It was like a fucking cartoon.

Jiang Cheng was trying to remember the last time someone knelt down and tied his shoes. He didn’t think anyone ever had. The last time he could remember asking, his mother had looked down at him with something like disgust. “Wei Wuxian can tie his shoes. What are you? Are you not a Jiang?” she had asked a four year old Jiang Cheng.

When he could tie his shoes on his own, no one cared. Why would they? Everyone had to learn to tie their own shoes. No one was going to do it for you.

Jiang Cheng learned to tie his own fucking shoes. And he learned to never ask anyone for help.

He hadn’t asked, so why had Lan Xichen done it?

He was about to say something when the waitress returned. She set their drinks down and pulled out a pink pen with a feather glued to the end. She used the feather to tickle her lips as if she was trying to draw attention to them.

Jiang Cheng wondered if the feather was really the most hygienic option to have in a food establishment.

They ordered: Lan Xichen ordered an omelet to go with his coffee because he was an actual mature adult, and Jiang Cheng ordered French Toast with extra bacon on the side.

And yes, he would be putting powdered sugar on them.

Jiang Cheng played with the straw wrapper, balling the paper up between two fingers. “Wei Wuxian showed me the lab report.”

A wrinkle formed between Lan Xichen’s eyebrows. “It’s troubling. I spoke to a detective yesterday. He said that Narcotics didn’t know any gangs capable of producing something like Corpse Poisoning.”

Jiang Cheng flicked the ball of paper towards the window. “Here’s what I don’t understand…” he looked up at Lan Xichen. “whoever this guy is, he’s smart. He must have some sort of chemistry background in order to make something like Corpse Poisoning. So, he’s got an education.”

Lan Xichen nodded. “I don’t see how, if it’s one guy, he couldn’t have some sort of formal education.”

“Right. So, he’s got the knowledge to produce one of the purest strains of drug on the market. He’s got the income to mass produce the drug, which I saw in the drug house.” Jiang Cheng couldn’t get the sight of boxes full of dime baggies out of his head. “And he’s got the ability to do it locally, in secret.”

Lan Xichen nodded “It would appear so.”

“But why make it potent? Drug dealers don’t want to kill off their clients. That doesn’t make sense. Why kill off the people you need to buy the drug? He’s got the knowledge to create it, couldn’t he make it weaker so that the consumers have to buy more?”

“It’s also cheaper.” Lan Xichen said, leaning back in the booth and trying to process the information.

“Exactly!” Jiang Cheng banged his palm on the table. The waitress with the feather pen glared at him, but he didn’t notice. “I find it hard to believe that smarty pants drug guy is that bad of a businessman.”

Lan Xichen rubbed a thumb over his lip in thought. “You’re right. Making money doesn’t seem to be the point of Corpse Poisoning.”

Jiang Cheng dragged his drink closer and took the straw in his mouth. Absently taking a drink, he tried to come up with reasons why someone would do that. What would be the point in creating a deadly strain of drug? If someone wanted to kill someone else, there were certainly less round about ways to do it. Was this guy trying to make a point? If so, what point was it?

“I’m entirely too bushed for this.” Jiang Cheng said finally. “I think it may be time to admit defeat.”

Lan Xichen arched an eyebrow at him. “What do you mean?”

“Don’t you think we’re a little out of our depth?” as he asked it, he could see the confusion on Lan Xichen’s face. Of course, he didn’t. Because Lan Xichen was brilliant. Nothing was beyond his scope.

Their food arrived and after she flirted a little, the waitress actually did deliver their food. Grumpily, Jiang Cheng cut into the heavenly slices of French Toast. The powdered sugar was the perfect contrast to the eggy flavor of the slices. Adding maple syrup to that, and Jiang Cheng was in glucose induced heaven.

He chewed a piece of bacon and watched as the waitress wrapped a curl around a finger, twirling it around as she asked if Lan Xichen needed more coffee or water. Jiang Cheng stared at her back and hated to admit that she was pretty. Her skin was fair and creamy, her hair had a shine and bounce to it. With petite shoulders, she would look good next to the tall Lan Xichen.

Ten years from now they could tell their kids that they met at a diner. Wouldn’t that be sickeningly cute?

Suddenly, his food didn’t taste as good. The bacon tasted like ashes in his mouth and he didn’t know why. Lan Xichen smiled at her, the same sort of smile he gave Jiang Cheng when he tied his shoes and his stomach dropped.

Something ugly and unfamiliar crept out of the shadows of Jiang Cheng’s consciousness. It slid its icy fingers around his neck and squeezed until he felt like he couldn’t breathe.

‘Why would he want to spend time with you? You’ve always been second best.’ It whispered in his ear, the words making their way straight to Jiang Cheng’s heart.

With those words, every memory he had ever pushed to the side came shuffling in.

Wei Wuxian can run faster.
Yanli is so smart.
Wei Wuxian can already read.
Yanli has so many friends.
Wei Wuxian got a scholarship to college.

Jiang Cheng had always been second or third best, even to his own family, so why would it be any different now?

Straightening his shoulders, he picked up his fork again and continued eating. The waitress giggled but Jiang Cheng couldn’t hear it. He didn’t want to.

That was the problem with Lan Xichen—when he was around him, he forgot who he was. He forgot that he stopped trying to please people a long time ago—he was never going to be good enough anyway. For a moment, Lan Xichen made him forget that he was the youngest sibling with not a thing to his name.

Thankfully there was a waitress to remind him.

Calmly, he set the fork down and reached into his pocket. He pulled some cash from his wallet and tossed it onto the table.

The waitress glanced at the cash in confusion and Jiang Cheng gave her a smile that made the girl recoil. Whatever, he was always better at scowling anyway.

“You’ve got good taste.” He told the girl as he stuffed the wallet back into his pocket. “He’s a doctor. Don’t be stingy, Lan Xichen. Give her your number.”

He knocked his knuckles on the table and slid out from the booth. Swinging his bag onto his shoulder he forced himself to calmly exit the diner.

Jiang Cheng might have been a loser, but no one could accuse him of being a cockblock.

Shoving his hands in his pockets he made his way across the parking lot. Why was he so upset anyway? He had no claim to Lan Xichen. He had wanted help with the Corpse Poisoning deaths, and Jiang Cheng had helped him.

There was a lump in his throat he couldn’t swallow past. It was hot, and he felt tears stinging at his eyes. Angrily, he swiped them away and gritted his teeth. He stumbled and looked down to see one of his boots were untied.

He stopped in the middle of the parking lot and stared at the loose laces. Jiang Cheng refused to tie them. If anything, he wanted to wrench the boot off and throw it as far as possible.
“Jiang Cheng!” Lan Xichen’s voice stopped him and he stiffened. “What are you doing?” he sounded a little breathless, but Jiang Cheng refused to turn around.

“Don’t worry about it.” He said, his voice sounded a little shaky. “I can catch the next bus. You should go back inside.”

Strong fingers wrapped around his arm and tugged, trying to get him to turn around. Jiang Cheng wrenched his arm away. He didn’t want Lan Xichen to see him like this.

“Jiang Cheng.” Lan Xichen said softly. So softly. So tenderly, that Jiang Cheng almost turned around and struck him. Two arms wrapped around him and hugged him close. He could feel Lan Xichen’s chest pressed to his back and his forehead resting on the back of his head.

That ugliness crept out again, it curled around Jiang Cheng and whispered the cruelest things. He should shove him off, kick him, anything to get Lan Xichen away from him. Anything to get the feelings that he knows he shouldn’t get used to as far away as possible. It would hurt far more in the future if he waited.

“Please don’t.” Jiang Cheng mumbled thickly, barely audible over the passing traffic. “Please just go back inside.” The words came out as a beg, desperation laced in his tone.

“Why would I go back inside? Jiang Cheng.” Lan Xichen tried to turn him again, but he refused. Instead, Lan Xichen came around in front. He was still close. He lifted Jiang Cheng’s head so that he could meet his eyes. “Why would I go back inside when you’re out here?”

Jiang Cheng hated it when Lan Xichen looked at him like this. He had no control. He got lost in those eyes that made everything all right.

Lan Xichen wiped a tear that was threatening to fall from Jiang Cheng’s eye. “Weren’t you listening?” he asked with a tone as if he was explaining something to a child. “Was I not speaking clear enough?”

He didn’t wait for a response. Instead he dipped his head and kissed him. It was more than a press of lips. There was a hint of desperation in the way his fingers clung to Jiang Cheng’s face, and the way he pressed his entire body against him. His lips sent sparks of electricity across Jiang Cheng’s and it started a fire in him that quickly consumed his entire body. Jiang Cheng’s hands rose and wrapped around Lan Xichen’s back. He could feel the muscles moving under his t-shirt and the strength that was hidden behind a gentle mask.

Lan Xichen huffed and pressed a chaste kiss on Jiang Cheng’s forehead. Without removing his lips, he held Jiang Cheng closer, letting the shorter man bury his head against his shoulder. “Was that clear enough?”

Without looking, Jiang Cheng knew his cheeks were flaming. His heart was thundering so hard he thought it would punch right out his chest and if he weren’t holding onto Lan Xichen, he might have fallen right on his ass. He didn’t trust himself to speak, so he just buried his nose into Lan Xichen’s shoulder and hugged tighter.

When it grew difficult to breathe, he lifted his head and looked over Lan Xichen’s shoulder. The waitress was standing at the window watching them with a shocked expression. Her delicate fingers were pressed to her mouth and her eyes were the size of dinner plates.

Jiang Cheng lifted a hand and flipped her the bird.

 

 

He rested his head on the back of the couch and closed his eyes. Despite the distance, he could still feel Lan Xichen’s chest pressing against him. He could feel the way his breath drifted across his face and the way his lips pressed against his. His hands were so strong, but they held Jiang Cheng so gently.

It had been two hours since Lan Xichen had dropped him off at his apartment. The doctor had put his car in park and turned to Jiang Cheng expectantly. No doubt he wanted to do the mature thing and discuss their relationship, and the changes they both wanted.

Jiang Cheng had wrenched open the car door and fled up to his apartment. He didn’t stop until the front door was slammed and the deadbolt thrown.

It wasn’t his proudest moment.

Now he was sitting on the couch and ignoring his phone. He wasn’t sure if Lan Xichen was even calling him—but he wasn’t ready to look. A large part of him wanted to sit down and talk. But an even bigger part of him was afraid to do it.

Jiang Cheng didn’t know how he felt about love. He grew up watching his parents navigate the angriest marriage he had ever seen. His mother couldn’t get past the rumors of his father’s love for Wei Wuxian’s mother—rumors that only increased when he brought Wei Wuxian home after his parents’ death. Jiang Fengmian showered love on the child of his dead friend, something Madame Yu never let him, or Jiang Cheng forget. When he closed his eyes, he could still hear his mother yelling at his father from across the house.

She blamed him for showing love to Wei Wuxian, but what she did was almost as bad. Jiang Cheng was constantly compared to the older boy. They told him he was his new brother, but in the next breath they told him that he was better in every way.

For the longest time, Jiang Cheng hated Wei Wuxian. How could he not? But Wei Wuxian was the only person in the Jiang family that never made Jiang Cheng feel bad about himself. When the yelling reached its peak and the walls of their home shook, Wei Wuxian would wrap an arm around Jiang Cheng and whisper dirty jokes in his ears until he laughed.

Despite his parent’s constant arguing, they couldn’t live without each other. After the heart attack that killed his father, his mother laid down and died two days later. As if she couldn’t face a world without the existence of the man who was the constant source of her pain.

Was that love?

Jiang Cheng didn’t know. He wasn’t sure he wanted to.

Yanli told him she loved her husband. He supposed they loved each other so much that when the mugger demanded the money in their pockets, they took the bullets for each other. They left a young son behind. A son who would never know why his parents left.

At the funeral, they said they died for love.

Did love always demand such a high price?

He rubbed his face and didn’t want to think about it anymore.

The front door opened, and he knew Wei Wuxian was home by the way two shoes went flying into the room and a bag dropped to the floor. Wei Wuxian was more than a roommate--he was an experience.

A moment later the couch sagged as his brother dropped down beside him. “Today sucked.”

“Hmm.” Jiang Cheng said without opening his eyes.

Wei Wuxian wriggled beside him and laid his head on Jiang Cheng’s shoulder. “Hold me.”

Jiang Cheng shoved him off. “Fuck off.”

Wei Wuxian laughed and didn’t try to weasel anymore cuddles from Jiang Cheng. “Did I tell you that Jin Ling asked me about our dating lives?”

That made Jiang Cheng open his eyes. “What? Why?”

Wei Wuxian shrugged. “I guess he was concerned because he’s never seen us with anyone. I told him that I was just too busy and you’re just…well…” he gestured to Jiang Cheng’s face.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“That.” He pointed at Jiang Cheng’s face. “That angry look on your face that you’re making right now.”

Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes and crossed his arms. He didn’t think now was the right time to tell his brother that he spent a portion of his morning kissing the hospitals most eligible bachelor. Although the temptation to rub it in his face was strong.

Wei Wuxian grew serious and played with the hem of his scrubs. “Do…do you have anyone you’re interested in?”

The serious look on his brother’s face concerned him. What was he supposed to say? He thinks he might have feelings for Lan Xichen but he’s too afraid to actually talk to him? Besides, what would it even look like if they did decide to date? Lan Xichen was…well, he was Lan Xichen.

He decided to evade the question. “Do you?”

Wei Wuxian took a deep breath and nodded. “I think so. It’s complicated but…I like him.”

It wasn’t often that Wei Wuxian looked unsure of himself. Normally, he saw something and he went after it without a second guess. Haltingly, Jiang Cheng extended his arm and patted Wei Wuxian on the shoulder. “You should. Anyone would be lucky to have you.”

Bright grey eyes stared up at him. “Do you mean that?”

“Of course not. I just want you to get out of my hair.”

They laughed and then lapsed into silence. “Jin Ling says he has a crush on someone.”

“WHAT?!” Jiang Cheng exploded, grabbing his brother. “Who?”

Wei Wuxian laughed and waggled his eyebrows. “He didn’t tell me. Why? You going to hunt them down?”

Jiang Cheng dropped Wei Wuxian and got up to pace around the room. Did Jin Ling even know about condoms? What if he did something stupid and got some girl pregnant? He stopped.

“Have you ever…discussed sex with Jin Ling?”

“God no.” Wei Wuxian said then his eyes widened. “Oh fuck. We were supposed to do that, weren’t we?”

Jiang Cheng slapped his forehead. Is this kid walking around not having a clue about sex? Or worse. He got his sex education from the internet.

Wei Wuxian stood up. “What if he thinks that porn is real? He’s going to go around thinking that pizza guys can be paid with ass!”

Jiang Cheng ran his fingers through his hair. “He’s probably got some weird warped sense of sex because you insist on hanging that thing up!” he pointed to the poster of the Clone Trooper in the bikini.

“What? Don’t talk about G Stringo Fett like that!”

Yanli was going to rise up out of her grave and strangle the both of them.

 

Three hours later, Jin Ling got home to find both his uncles sitting at the kitchen table with their hands clasped in front of them.

“Uh? Are you guys ok?”

Jiang Cheng’s right eye was twitching, and Wei Wuxian had a fake smile plastered on his face. “Jin Ling, please have a seat.” They indicated the empty chair and Jin Ling slid into it. Had they found out about the math test? Surely not. His teacher said she would let him make that up.

Horror dawned on him. Did they find the baggy in his drawer?

“You see, when a man loves a woman…well no, actually, when someone loves someone else…regardless of gender…they might have sex. If both parties consent.” Jiang Cheng started but his voice got high halfway through and he lapsed into a fit of coughs.

“Right, right.” Wei Wuxian said. “But um. Sex is…like…a pretty big responsibility. But it’s not dirty! It’s nice, and good. If it’s done right. And um…safety…you need protection…” Wei Wuxian covered his face and mumbled something about alcohol.

Jin Ling stared at them both. Both his uncle’s faces were bright red and they looked physically in pain. Horror clawed at him. He would have rather they thought he was a drug addict.

“Are you guys actually trying to have the sex talk with me? I’m 17!”

Jiang Cheng’s right eye actually closed it twitched so hard. “Right, well, it’s a good age to start learning about…wait are you saying you’ve done it?”

“Like I would tell you!”

“Jin Ling! You are a child! If I find out you’ve been sexually active, I’m going to—”

Wei Wuxian threw a hand over Jiang Cheng’s mouth. “We agreed that threatening him would not be productive!”

Jiang Cheng shouted something through his palm but then settled down.

“Ok,” Jin Ling held up a hand to his uncles. “I know about consent. I know about condoms and how important they are. I know where babies come from, and I know that sex is a big deal that shouldn’t be considered lightly.” He stood up and fled into his room, slamming the door and put his hands over his ears.

This conversation was going to live in his brain for the rest of his life, and no amount of therapy will ever help him get over it. Not only were his uncles thinking about him having sex but now Jin Ling was wondering about their sex experience, which led to all sorts of images he would rather power wash off his brain.

His eyes drifted over to the box under his bed where he kept the box of condoms he bought a year ago. There was no particular reason, he just figured everyone should have them. He didn’t have anyone then, but now he had lost his first kiss. Sizhui had kissed him…but did that mean he was interested in him? Or was he just trying to be a friend? Did friends make sure their friends had good first kisses?

He could ask his uncles, but he would literally rather shove his hand in a garbage disposal than have that conversation.

Thinking of Sizhui and condoms did uncomfortable things to his body. He glared at the tent forming in his pants. “You have the worst timing!” he hissed.

 

Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng stared at Jin Ling’s closed door.

“Wow.” Wei Wuxian looked at Jiang Cheng. “I think we nailed that.”

They gave each other a congratulatory high five for their top notch parenting.

Chapter Text

The sting of alcohol felt good on his tongue. Heat blazed a trail down his throat and he sighed as it settled in his stomach, creating a soft glow from within that he wanted to melt in. Wei Wuxian tapped the red solo cup against his lips and let the vapors of whatever the hell Wen Ning had brought singe his nostrils.

Wen Qing was one of the world’s foremost Thoracic surgeons. Not only was she an accomplished cutter, but she was also an expert in acupuncture. People flocked to her lectures to hear how she seamlessly molds Eastern and Western medicine to create a rounded health plan for her patients with staggeringly positive results.

What people didn’t know, was that in her garage she dabbled in creating her own moonshine. The kind of alcohol that the FDA would absolutely never let grace the shelves of any store. Wen Qing bottled the stuff in glass mason jars, and everyone knew better than to ask its alcohol content.

Occasionally, Wen Ning would bring some of her stash to the parking lot and all the nursing students, interns, and anyone else off duty would gather and drink by the glow of the streetlamps. If someone forgot to turn on a radio, they would be drinking to the sounds of cars passing by and the clinking of bugs bodies striking the lights.

Wei Wuxian was watching the moths as they circled the recessed lighting in the ambulance bay. He was reminded of the story of Icarus—the kid that flew so close to the sun the glue melted off his wings and he fell into the sea. He knew it was supposed to be a story about reaching too high, of letting your pride cloud your judgement.

The fact that he built actual fucking wings that worked, but all anyone remembered was the fall, was a statement in and of itself. Society will always remember your failures but forget the things you accomplished on the way.

Wei Wuxian tipped the cup and let the sharp sting of alcohol and cinnamon invade his senses. Wen Qing was a genius. This unholy concoction tasted just like liquified apple pie. The apple cinnamon taste was so strong that it almost hid the deadly bite of alcohol behind it. Personally, he liked the bite.

He glanced over the ragtag group loitering around the parking lot. Technically speaking, this was super illegal. Drinking on hospital property? That was at least a terminable offense. While the hospital remained open 24 hours a day, the people who cared about things like off duty staff drinking, went home at five. The security guards didn’t give a shit as long as they kept in the shadows and didn’t cause a ruckus.

Wen Ning was chatting with Nie Huaisang beside a black Toyota Camry. Judging by the way Wen Ning was nodding his head up and down, he was already drunk. Wei Wuxian glanced down at his drink and thought he should probably slow down.

Most of the people in this parking lot were here because of work. They needed the alcohol to burn off the images of the things they saw during the day. No matter how experienced you were, sometimes seeing the worst and best of humanity got to you.

Take Wen Ning for example. He only saw the end—a dead body was rolled in with almost no information about who they were when they were alive. He wasn’t responsible for ‘fighting the reaper’ as they say, nor did he have to deal with the families. But he still needed to blow off steam.

The moment you could cut a human body open, hold their organs in your hands and not be affected, is the moment you’ve been well and truly lost.

Wei Wuxian remembered the first couple of weeks after Jiang Cheng started working in EMS. Some nights were ok, but on one particularly bad night he took two steps in the front door and collapsed to the floor. He stared at the wall for an hour while Jin Ling and Wei Wuxian fluttered around in the background, unsure of how to help him or what to say.

Eventually, he lifted his head and looked Wei Wuxian in the eye and asked. “Do you believe in God?”

Wei Wuxian had sent Jin Ling to bed and then sat with Jiang Cheng for a long time. So long that he lost track of time. They sat staring at the wall until the alarm went off. Jiang Cheng blinked, stood up, and went back to work.

He never asked Wei Wuxian that again, and he never told him what happened on that shift. Wei Wuxian was too afraid to ask.

Everyone viewed these people as heroes. The people who were unafraid to see the things that the public couldn’t stomach.

It was easy to forget that underneath their capes, was a human being. An imperfect person that sometimes needs to use unhealthy coping mechanisms so that they can get up and face the things that haunt them the next day.

Wei Wuxian wasn’t drinking for so noble a reason. He could probably look through all the things he had seen this week and pick any number that would make him want to drink, but selfishly, the thing at the forefront of his mind was something much less magnanimous.

He was drinking because of a tall, ascetic, man that he couldn’t get out of his mind.

Wei Wuxian had never been interested in men before. He had noticed if a man was attractive, he was straight not blind, but he had never had any romantic inclinations towards any of them. And then he met Dr. Lan. A man who was so far his polar opposite, it was actually laughable. Like a bad sitcom without a laugh track.

He laid awake at night wondering if his skin was as cold as it looked, or if anyone else noticed that those amber eyes revealed everything that was going on behind that cold exterior. What had started off as a fun game--how pink could he make those perfectly formed ears, boomeranged back on him like a sick game.

The fact that he was attracted to a man wasn’t all that alarming to him, it was the man itself that was the most worrisome part.

And now Wei Wuxian was watching that man approach the small party with an unpleasant look on his face.

Apparently, Dr. Lan had worked late tonight. He had followed the noise of merrymaking and was now witness to their illicit gathering. Wei Wuxian didn’t say anything. He didn’t even make a move. He wanted to see what he was going to do.

With his briefcase in hand, he stopped to talk to Nie Huaisang and Wen Ning. His face didn’t change, but there was the faintest twitch of his eyebrows. Wei Wuxian knew that meant he was irritated.

Finishing the remaining drink in his cup he sighed and enjoyed the feel of relaxation that flooded his limbs. Normally he wouldn’t hesitate to flounce right up to Dr. Lan and proceed to push all his buttons. He would reach into the recessives of his mind and pull up every dirty joke he could think of until his ears were so red, they might actually burst into flames.

But that was before he knew he was interested in the man. Now, he didn’t really know how to proceed. He stared at the few remaining drops of liquid in the bottom of his cup and wanted more.

A hand snatched the cup out of his hand and crumpled the plastic.

Wei Wuxian looked up in shock to see Dr. Lan standing over him with hooded eyes and his mouth pressed in a thin line. They shared a moment of uncomfortable prolonged eye contact before Dr. Lan tossed the cup to the ground.

“Hey! That’s littering!” Wei Wuxian yelped.

He didn’t have time to say anything else because Dr. Lan dropped his briefcase, stooped and wrapped his arms around Wei Wuxian’s waist. He hefted him over his shoulder and turned to walk back into the hospital.

“Dr. Lan! What the hell…?” Wei Wuxian pounded his fists on that broad back but it didn’t seem to affect him at all. An iron arm was wrapped over his thighs and pinning him in place. His hair fell over his eyes and he spluttered out the strands.

“Wen Ning! Wen Ning! Come get your boss!”

“Sorry, Wei Wuxian. He scares me.” The traitor called out from where he was hiding behind Nie Huaisang.

Wei Wuxian would plan a swift, and terrible revenge.

Just as soon as he got off Dr. Lan mountain.

“Listen, listen. Dr. Lan, you don’t have to do this. I apologize for drinking on hospital property, ok?” he tried pleading with the man, but he only received stony silence. “All right, I get that you’re mad, but I was not the only one drinking. So, this seems like a bit of profiling on your part.”

Dr. Lan moved to the elevator and pressed the button as if he wasn’t carrying a hostage. He stood quietly while generic elevator music mutely played from speakers in the ceiling. Wei Wuxian sighed and tried to prop himself up as he felt all the blood draining to his head.

“You’ve left me no choice.” He said as he reached down and pinched the globe of Dr. Lan’s ass. The skin was firm, and his scrub pants were slick, but Wei Wuxian managed to get a good pinch in. The kind of pinch that sent Jiang Cheng howling.

The only response was a slight stiffening of his back, followed by his hand lifting and landing with a clap on Wei Wuxian’s ass.

He gasped and kicked his legs. Did Dr. Lan just spank him? He was just spanked by Dr. Lan! Not even Madame Yu had spanked him! No one in his life had ever spanked him, and Dr. Lan just spanked him in a hospital elevator.

Wei Wuxian was so busy trying to process the extreme amount of emotions he was feeling, that he didn’t realize Dr. Lan was bringing him to the morgue. He pushed through the double doors and finally set Wei Wuxian back on his feet.

A moment of dizziness had him reeling and he had to grasp onto Dr. Lan’s arms to steady himself. When he looked up, he was met with wide amber eyes.

“Show me.” He said suddenly.

Wei Wuxian blinked in confusion. “Show you…what?”

“The trick.” Dr. Lan produced a spoon and brandished it in front of Wei Wuxian’s face.

“Where did you get a spoon…?”

Dr. Lan moved off and then returned with a syringe. “Show me.”

Sudden clarity dawned on Wei Wuxian. Dr. Lan was referring to the day they met in the cafeteria. Wei Wuxian had been dazzling Wen Ning with his party trick of catapulting the syringe into an orange.

Wei Wuxian put his hands on his hips. “Isn’t that using hospital property?”

Dr. Lan stepped into his space and looked down at him. He was standing so close that Wei Wuxian could smell that scent of sandalwood he had smelled before. It was mixed with something else this time.

Cinnamon.

“Dr. Lan…have you been drinking?” Wei Wuxian asked in shock.

Without saying anything Dr. Lan threw the syringe and spoon down. The metal utensil skittered across the spotless floor and came to rest somewhere beside the filing cabinet. Dr. Lan huffed and dropped his forehead to Wei Wuxians shoulder.

If he wasn’t so terribly confused, he might have laughed. The sight of the stoic Dr. Lan bent over and resting his head on Wei Wuxian was an image he never could have conjured in a thousand years. Now that he was picking it out, he could smell the harsh scent of alcohol coming off Dr. Lan.

“Of course, you’re a lightweight.” Wei Wuxian said fondly, dropping a hand to his head and stroking his hair. “If you puke on me, I will never let you live it down.” Wei Wuxian figured even a puking Dr. Lan would look attractive.

He continued stroking his head. “Do you know magnets?” he asked.

Dr. Lan nodded his head against his shoulder.

“Of course, you do. I always figured we were polar opposites. No matter how hard I pushed, the magnets just kept repelling each other. So, how come we keep ending up in the same space?”

There was no response, but Wei Wuxian had never had any trouble filling silences.

“I feel like I don’t even know anything about you, except that when you’re drunk you get the urge to commit a felony.” He tugged on Dr. Lan’s hair to remind him that he was, in fact, currently being held hostage. “Shall I do some guessing, then?”

He cleared his throat and focused on the back wall. “Let’s see. You grew up wanting to be a doctor. I can picture a baby Dr. Lan knowing exactly what he wants and never wavering. Your older brother was always effortlessly good at everything. You are just as smart, but you lack the social skills. I don’t think it’s because you think you’re better than everyone else, or because you hate people. You come across as two dimensional, but you have a depth of emotion.” A devious thought drifted through his mind and he grinned. “I’m betting that underneath that starched lab coat is a whole lot of repressed emotions that makes you fucking great in bed.”

Dr. Lan didn’t move, and Wei Wuxian wondered if he had fallen asleep. Experimentally, he poked at him. Nothing.

“Fine, I guess I’m just going to have to hear myself talk some more.” He said dramatically. “Let’s, see, where would the esteemed Dr.Lan have gone to school? My first choice is Hogwar—”

Wei Wuxian was suddenly tackled to the ground. He hit the tile floor in a tumble of limbs. His ass hurt from colliding with the ground, but he didn’t have time to notice because Dr. Lan had him pinned. Fingers wrapped around his wrists and his thighs were squeezing Wei Wuxian’s slim hips.

“This is not a very Ravenclaw thing to do…” he feebly protested.

Dr. Lan’s face was only inches from Wei Wuxian’s. “No.” he said stubbornly.

“Ok, well, maybe it is I only read the books once when I was in school—”

“No.” Dr. Lan repeated. “Wangji.”

Wei Wuxian stared at him for a long moment. “That’s your name…?”

“You called me Wangji. Now you call me Dr. Lan.” His voice was even and a little petulant.

Was he throwing a temper tantrum?

“You don’t like it when I call you Dr. Lan?” Wei Wuxian asked quizzically. He was under the impression that the good doctor was a fan of titles and professionalism.

Dr. Lan shook his head, his uncomfortably intense gaze pinning into Wei Wuxian.

“Ok.” Wei Wuxian acquiesced. “Wangji.”

The tense area around his eyebrows softened and Wei Wuxian smiled. “Wangji. Wangji.”

Dr. Lan seemed to stiffen a little.

Wei Wuxian lifted his head, so he was a little closer to Dr. Lan’s face. “Wangjiiii.” He whined softly, dragging out his name.

Wei Wuxian’s head dropped back onto the floor, chased there by Lan Wangji’s lips. Without releasing his crushing hold on Wei Wuxian’s wrists he pressed a clumsy kiss to his lips. It was a bit awkward, and the taste of cinnamon was strong on his lips. Teeth clacked together but everywhere Lan Wangji’s body touched Wei Wuxian was stimulated, like his mere touched made all the nerves clustered underneath him dance the conga.

Wei Wuxian made grabby hands and twisted his wrists until Lan Wangji finally released them. His hands flew to Lan Wangji’s waist, grabbing on and pulling him closer as he deepened the kiss. The alcohol destroyed all his common sense and the logical part of his brain was gagged and shoved into a closet by the part of his brain that was currently throwing a party because he was being touched by Lan Wangji.

Experimentally, Wei Wuxian rolled his hips against Lan Wangji and he was rewarded with an almost feral sounding grunt. The kind of grunt that was borne from a desperate need.

Gasping for breath, Wei Wuxian broke the kiss. A hot flush was uniform across Lan Wangji’s face, from his ears to his cheeks and he was breathing heavily.

Dimly, Wei Wuxian was aware they were making out not ten feet from drawers of dead bodies. That probably should have bothered him, but between the alcohol and the savage look in the man above him, he really didn’t give a damn.

 

 

Lan Xichen couldn’t focus.

He stared down at the chart in front of him, but all he could see was the look on Jiang Cheng’s face as he stood up from the booth at the diners. It was pleasant. A smooth affable mask that didn’t belong anywhere on Jiang Cheng’s face. Gone was the lips twisted in a scowl, or the eyes flashing in annoyance.

It was the must gut wrenching thing Lan Xichen had ever seen.

Jiang Cheng could have punched him, and it would have hurt less. He fled from the diner, and it was all Lan Xichen could do to make sure enough cash was thrown onto the table fast enough that he could catch him. When he finally caught him, he noticed the stupid loose shoelace and he wanted to tie it again. Tie it so tight that Jiang Cheng would never have to have anyone else tie it for him. Make the bow so secure that he would never worry about tripping on it ever again.

Lan Xichen wanted to bundle him in his arms and chastise him for being so stubborn but being stubborn was one of the things he so admired about him. He wanted to pull him into his arms and ask him everything he was thinking. He didn’t dare believe that he was jealous but there was a flicker of hope that maybe he was. Maybe Jiang Cheng had seen a threat in the nameless waitress, but rather than fight, he fled.

Which, quite simply, wouldn’t do.

Lan Xichen learned several things that day. The first being that Jiang Cheng made the most adorable face when he was trying to hold everything in. To some, it might be an intimidating mask, but all Lan Xichen saw was a man stubbornly pretending he didn’t feel anything, when he was the sort of person who was drowning in his emotions.

The second, was that Jiang Cheng made the sweetest noises when he was being kissed. They were like soft, desperate, pleas for more. Quiet and unassuming, but there. Begging for more tenderness he has been starving for. His entire body melted into Lan Xichen and it was all he could do to keep them both upright and decent.

And the third was something he learned about himself—that he would chase Jiang Cheng no matter how fast or far he ran.

He had hoped that on the drive back to Jiang Cheng’s apartment, they would be able to talk through what had just happened. But the moment his car made the turn to the apartment complex Jiang Cheng had burst from the vehicle and ran to his apartment. Then he ignored all of Lan Xichen’s texts or calls. If Lan Xichen was a less secure person, he might be feeling a little bad about himself.

But Jiang Cheng couldn’t fake the way he reacted to his kiss. The way he slumped in his arms and held onto him like a port in a storm. There was something between them, he just had to get Jiang Cheng pinned down so they could talk about it.

He sat back in his chair and ran a hand over his face. Through Nie Huaisang he learned that Jiang Cheng had today off. His first day off in a while. Which meant that Lan Xichen would have no possibility of seeing him at work.

Lan Xichen couldn’t get rid of the frustration.

A small knock shook him from his thoughts and Jin Guangyao appeared in the nook he was using to look at charts. He held up a bag of food from a decent restaurant down the road. “Lunch?”
Lan Xichen smiled and felt genuinely relieved to see his good friend. “Yes, please.” He pulled an extra chair out and the CEO sat.

“BLT, extra L for you.” Jin Guangyao said as he handed a wrapped sandwich to Lan Xichen.

“Ah, you know me too well.” Lan Xichen said happily, unwrapping the sandwich and biting into it. The bread was toasted perfectly, and it melted in his mouth.

“This was just what I needed.”

Jin Guangyao smiled widely as he pulled out a salad for himself. “Bad day?”

Lan Xichen chewed. “Not bad, just frustrating.”

Jin Guangyao was an excellent listener and Lan Xichen felt the urge to unburden himself. “Just some personal issues…well, romantic.” The story came out. He didn’t tell his friend Jiang Cheng’s name and Jin Guangyao didn’t ask. He picked at his salad without eating, just shuffling the lettuce around the plastic container while Lan Xichen talked.

“I feel like he is just too afraid to face his feelings, but I don’t know if I should push.” Lan Xichen said as he finished his sandwich.

Jin Guangyao inhaled and nodded. “I never thought you were a coward, Xichen.” He said without malice

“So, you think I should push him?”

Jin Guangyao shrugged. “I think that it’s unfair to you to be left wondering where you stand.”

Lan Xichen nodded and closed the folder. “I’m going to see if I can find someone to cover for me. Thank you.” He dropped a hand to Jin Guangyao’s shoulder and squeezed before dashing out of the office.

 

Jin Guangyao remained seated. His smile fell and a look of cold cruelty slipped into place. He collected the remnants of their lunch and tossed it into the trash. Straightening his tie, he left the ED and walked back to his office.

When the door was shut firmly behind him, he sat at his computer and began scanning through surveillance tapes. He had several already highlighted. Specific ones that showed Lan Xichen exiting and leaving the hospital. Another few were of Lan Qiren speaking to several sleek looking detectives.

Diving deeper into the files he found what he was looking for. The camera showed a wide angle feed of the ambulance bay. The date was several days ago. A paramedic came out of the ED and began picking a fight with two firefighters. Jin Guangyao couldn’t hear what was being said but he could see the fight escalating.

Nie Mingjue’s younger brother ran into the ED and returned a few moments later with Nie Mingjue. Hardly surprising, the head nurse was probably the only one capable of stopping a fight between grown men with just a look.

But he also brought Lan Xichen.

Without even looking at anyone else, and with no hesitation, he immediately grabbed the yelling paramedic. He even took a blow from the paramedic’s elbow. But he didn’t stop, just pulled them man into the back of the ambulance.

Fifteen minutes later they both emerged. The paramedic looking flustered and disappearing off camera. Lan Xichen watched him wistfully.

Tapping his fingers on his desk he paused in thought. He didn’t have access to the EMS employee records. He took a screen shot of a close up of the paramedic’s face.

Pulling out his phone, he pressed redial and held it up to his ear. “I need you to find someone for me.” He said without preamble or greeting. “I’ve sent you a photo.”

The person on the other line spoke for a moment and Jin Guangyao sighed. “This is a priority. Everything else can wait. I want you to find this paramedic and tell me everything about him.”

The voice on the line asked one more thing.

“No, don’t hurt him. Not yet.”

Chapter Text

Jin Ling slammed his locker door shut and took a deep breath. School had dragged on him today and he was looking forward to just going home and becoming one with his mattress. His English teacher was hounding on him after his last book report. He glanced down at the essay in his hand and grimaced at the large red D- on the top right.

An arm wrapped around his shoulders and he jumped to see Lan Sizhui coming up next to him. “How was class?” he asked with a bright smile.

Jin Ling wanted to scowl at him, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. The handsome bastard hadn’t said a word since their kiss. He was being his usual calm, cool, collected self. Meanwhile, Jin Ling was a mess of anxiety. The kiss had to mean something right? Platonic friends didn’t just kiss each other simply to make sure the other had a good first kiss?

Right?

Instead of pouring out his heart, he shifted the paper in his hand and let Lan Sizhui see the failing grade.

“Oof.” Lan Sizhui said, plucking up the paper and beginning to read the essay. “You misspelled necessary.”

“Ah!” Jin Ling whined, snatching the paper back from Lan Sizhui. “This is what I get for trying to use big words.”

Lan Sizhui chuckled and steered Jin Ling out the front door of school. They descended the steps and began walking towards Jin Ling’s apartment. Lan Sizhui didn’t ask anymore, he just walked Jin Ling home every afternoon he didn’t have archery practice.

“Do you want my help? I can tutor you.”

The thought of Lan Sizhui getting the full scope of Jin Ling’s stupidity was the last thing he wanted. “No.” he grumbled, folding up the essay and stuffing it into his pocket.

“Why not?” Lan Sizhui asked, his brows furrowing. “I’m really good at English.”

“Of course, you are.” Jin Ling said sarcastically before he could stop himself.

Lan Sizhui stopped and his arm dropped off Jin Ling’s shoulders. “What’s wrong?”

They were standing on the sidewalk just passed the soccer fields and Jin Ling was staring at Lan Sizhui’s honey eyes. They weren’t the color of honey you bought in the store, more the natural kind that was dark and warm. A kaleidoscope of browns and golds that reflected the sun. His heart ached looking at him. He was so much better than Jin Ling, and he had given him a taste of what it might be like to be with him and Jin Ling was having a hard time coming back to reality.

His mouth opened and shut and then he just groaned and started walking again. He bit his lower lip to keep from spilling all the embarrassing things that were pinging around in his brain. Jin Ling didn’t want to lose Lan Sizhui from his life. Knowing Lan Sizhui was like driving a car that was hydroplaning—you wanted to slam on the brakes but that only made it worse, so you had to steer into the skid, praying you didn’t crash but all the while knowing that there wasn’t anything you could do.

“Jin Ling!” Lan Sizhui jogged after him and tried to stop him from walking, but Jin Ling just knocked his hand away. “Are you mad at me?”

Lan Sizhui looked so much like a confused puppy that Jin Ling couldn’t help but feel his resolve soften. He was like those puppies in a box with their floppy ears and head cocked to the side.
“Why would I be mad?” Jin Ling asked with words that dripped in derision. “Should I be mad about the fact that you’re the most confusing person I’ve ever met? Or how about the fact that I can’t sleep at night because I’m constantly thinking about that kiss you gave me and whether it means anything, and if it does, how can I get you to do it again. Or that I’m so sexually frustrated that my dick might actually have third degree friction burns. Oh! And I can’t actually tell you any of this because having you in my life, even as a friend, is better than not having you in my life.” He spoke so fast that he forgot to breathe. Reaching into his pocket he pulled the failed essay out and tossed it at Lan Sizhui. It hit him in the chest.

“And I’m failing English because I don’t understand why Romeo and Juliet is considered a classic when it is clearly pedophilia. She was 13, Lan Sizhui! What the fuck was happening in Medieval Italy?”

Jin Ling didn’t bother to pick up his essay, he continued walking. He dragged his heels as he walked and tried to clear his mind. Talking to Lan Sizhui would be the mature thing to do but he just wasn’t ready to tell him what he was feeling.

Suddenly, he stopped.

Lan Sizhui was behind him, but he didn’t turn to look. “Did…did I just say all of that out loud?”

“Yes.”

“Which parts?”

“I’m confusing, you can’t sleep, your dick might fall off, and ended with your hatred of Shakespearean literature.”

Jin Ling nodded and wrapped his hands around the straps of his backpack. “All right. Well.” He said before turning and walking towards the road. There was no way he could face Lan Sizhui after what he said. There’s no way he could look anyone in the eye ever again.

It had been a good life. Seventeen long years was enough.

He was preparing to step off the curb, when Lan Sizhui grabbed his backpack. “What are you doing?”

“I’m trying to die with some dignity, Lan Sizhui, please respect my wishes.”

Lan Sizhui huffed a laugh and pulled him farther from the street. “What? You want to get hit by a minivan?”

“Actually, I’m hoping it’s a city vehicle so my uncles can get some sweet settlement money. But beggars can’t be choosers.”

He was pulled around into Lan Sizhui’s space. Their toes were touching. Their faces might have been close, but Jin Ling was too ashamed to look up at Lan Sizhui.

“Jin Ling? Can you look at me?”

“Absolutely not.”

Another soft laugh, the self-indulgent kind of laugh like a parent amused at something their child had done. “I’m sorry I made you feel that way. I never intended to confuse you.” Lan Sizhui sighed and tucked a stand of Jin Ling’s hair behind his ear.

“Honestly, I was scared.”

That made Jin Ling jerk his head up and finally meet those sweet honey eyes.

“I was scared that I had pushed you. That I kissed you without your consent and that you weren’t really interested in me like I was interested in you.”

“Are you insane?” Jin Ling asked. “I had a crush on you from the moment we met.”

Lan Sizhui blinked in surprise and Jin Ling wondered when he got so brave. Maybe it was the way Lan Sizhui was looking at him—he was looking at him with uncertainty. Like somehow, Lan Sizhui was worried that he wasn’t good enough for Jin Ling.

“You kept avoiding me…you would take one look at me and run the other direction.”

Jin Ling can officially cross ‘stealth’ off his resume.

“That’s only because I was so nervous that I would make an idiot out of myself. You’re…” Jin Ling waved his hands at Lan Sizhui.

“What?” there was a smirk on Lan Sizhui’s face, like he was fishing for something.

Jin Ling groaned and stamped his foot. “You’re smart and handsome, and nice. Everyone loves you, even the teachers. You have the prettiest eyes I’ve ever seen, and you smell good.” He covered his face in his hands to hide the blush that was radiating off his skin. “You’re a Dorito.” He mumbled lamely.

Lan Sizhui laughed and wrapped his arms around Jin Ling. The hug was a little awkward with their backpacks, but they made it work. Jin Ling snuggled into Lan Sizhui’s chest and oh, it felt so much better than he imagined.

Lan Sizhui breathed into Jin Ling’s hair. His breath caressing the tip of his ear sent goosebumps down his spine. “Do you like Doritos?”

“They’re my favorite.”

Jin Ling was suddenly grabbed and dragged off the sidewalk. Lan Sizhui pushed him up against a tree. He lowered his lips and kissed him. It was a little softer than last time, a little bit slower. Lan Sizhui’s hands were resting on Jin Ling’s hips and his thumbs worked their way under the t-shirt so he could touch the smooth skin there.

A leg slipped between Jin Ling’s and pressed against his aching arousal. He whined but Lan Sizhui silenced any words he might have mumbled with more kisses. He sucked his lower lip into his mouth and dragged teeth against the plump skin.

Jin Ling was dead. Deceased. He would never recover from this.

Lan Sizhui kissed up Jin Ling’s face and peppered kisses along his cheeks. “I love it when you blush. You’re so expressive.” His lips moved against Jin Ling’s skin and it sent shudders through his body.

He wasn’t moving that leg; it was just resting there. Tempting Jin Ling and also supporting him. He could feel a zipper from his backpack digging into his back.

Lan Sizhui looked up and met Jin Ling’s eyes. “I asked my foster father for permission to date.”

Jin Ling’s eyes widened, and he swallowed.

“I want to ask you to be my boyfriend. To make things official. I want to let everyone know that you’re mine and I’m yours.” He kissed Jin Ling’s forehead. “But I need to ask your uncles permission first.”

Jin Ling stared at him for a moment before swatting him on the arm. “I’m not a girl!”

“No.” Lan Sizhui obviously eyed him up and down and smirked. “Definitely not. But regardless of gender, it’s the responsible thing to do.”

Jin Ling whined. “You’re such an old man.”

Lan Sizhui kissed his cheek. “C’mon. Let me walk you home.”

With fingers intertwined, they walked home together.

 

Lan Xichen stared at the peeling paint on the apartment door. Long strips of maroon paint were missing, revealing the original color of the door. The number was faded from the door. Despite the outward appearance, the structure was solid. His knuckles felt the solid resistance of the door as he knocked.

After speaking with Jin Guangyao he had made the decision to come find Jiang Cheng. If he was going to ignore his phone calls, and any attempt at a natural meeting, then Lan Xichen would have to manufacture his own. He wasn’t sure it was the right call, but Jin Guangyao was right. Lan Xichen needed answers.

He smoothed his hair down and pulled at the scrubs he was wearing self-consciously. He probably should have showered and changed before coming over, but his mind had been completely consumed with seeing Jiang Cheng that he couldn’t wait. Like every moment that passed was another obstacle wedging itself between them.

Lan Qiren had scoffed the first time Lan Xichen had told him he harbored romantic feelings for someone. The conversation happened so long ago that Lan Xichen barely remembered it. But the one thing he did remember was when his uncle had asked him:

“Even after what happened between your parents?”

Lan Xichen had just smiled and said. “Especially because of what happened between my parents.”

With a faint smile Lan Xichen knocked again.

He heard some shuffling from inside. “I swear to god, Wei Wuxian, if you forgot your key again, I’m going to kick your—”

The door opened and Lan Xichen felt every ounce of his bravado flee the moment he caught sight of Jiang Cheng. The man’s hair was down and tangled. His eyes were bleary and there was a definite pillow mark on his cheek. He wasn’t wearing a shirt The only clothing he was wearing was a pair of soft looking purple pajama pants that were hanging low on his hips. Lan Xichen’s eyes were drawn to the way the fabric contrasted with his pale skin.

Jiang Cheng looked like he had just rolled out of bed and it did a thousand terrible things to Lan Xichen.

The sleepy man’s eyes widened. “What are you doing here?”

Lan Xichen dragged his eyes up and forced his brain to think about words--polite, civil words. “I’d like to talk about what happened the other day.”

Jiang Cheng stared at him for a moment. “No.” he said quickly and slammed the door in Lan Xichen’s face.

He sighed and couldn’t help but smile. Maybe he was broken, but there was something about the stubborn streak in Jiang Cheng that did things to him.

Knocking again, Lan Xichen leaned against the door frame. “I’m not going away, Jiang Cheng.”

There was no response, but Lan Xichen knew that he was listening. “Do you want your brother and nephew to see me sitting on your doorstep?”

Again, no response. Lan Xichen ran his hands through his hair and looked over at the parking lot. An idea came to him.

“If you don’t open the door, I’ll tell your neighbors you want to have a game night with them. It’ll be a potluck, of course. I’m sure your neighbors would love to bring a plastic veggie tray and their grandmothers famous seven layer dip.”

The door opened a crack. “You wouldn’t dare.”

“I’ll even be sure they bring pictures of their cousins, nephews, new baby.”

Jiang Cheng glared at him from the crack in the door before finally letting it open. He didn’t invite him in but stalked down the hallway.

“You’re an ass.” He mumbled.

Lan Xichen figured that was as warm of a reception as he was going to get. While Jiang Cheng disappeared into a bedroom, he took the time to close the front door and kick his shoes off.
The apartment was small with no coherent design scheme. Beige carpeting ran throughout the place, except in the kitchen where cheap laminate was peeling up in the corners. The living room was taken up by a large lumpy looking couch and a TV sitting on a rickety looking table. Wires and cables attached a worn out looking gaming system.

His eyes were drawn to the posters on the wall when Jiang Cheng reemerged. He had pulled half his hair back and was wearing a t-shirt. He noticed Lan Xichen’s attention and scowled briefly before walking past him.

“Let’s talk out here.” He walked over to the sliding glass door and wrenched it open just enough to step through.

Lan Xichen walked out after him. There was no furniture on the small porch, so Jiang Cheng just rested his elbows against the railing. Lan Xichen joined him.

“Are you considering jumping off?” Lan Xichen asked good naturedly.

“Possibly.” He glanced down and looked like he was doing some mental calculations. “What do you think? One broken leg, or two?”

“If you break a leg you won’t be able to run from me anymore.”

They lapsed into silence and Jiang Cheng took a deep breath. “I don’t know what to say.” He said finally, almost reluctantly. Like he was ashamed to admit it.

Lan Xichen wanted to get closer to him, let the grouchy paramedic lean on him for support. But he thought it might be too much. “Do you believe in love at first sight?”

Jiang Cheng startled and stared at Lan Xichen out of the corner of his eye. “I’m not sure I believe in love at all.”

“Why?”

Jiang Cheng snorted. “Oh, is that what we’re going to do? Share past traumas that have warped our view of love and relationships?” he flicked some hair from his face, not because it was bothering him, but because the weight of Lan Xichen’s stare was too much.

“I’ve never seen it.” Jiang Cheng said simply. “I don’t know how it works.”

Lan Xichen dropped his head and took in several deep breaths. He could smell freshly cut grass and the smell of someone BBQing.

“I’ve seen it.” He said simply. “My dad met my mom when she was in prison.”

Out of the corner of his eye he could see Jiang Cheng staring at him. “He was working as a doctor in the prison system. She was incarcerated for attacking a man. Even in an orange jump suit and shackles, he fell in love with her the moment they met. He used all his money and all his spare time to get her acquitted. When she got out, they married. They must have been happy for a while, but after Wangji was born she killed my father’s business partner.” Lan Xichen didn’t know the whole story, and he didn’t want to know. His mother being shrouded in mystery was better than knowing the truth.

“My father visited her every week. Even after he knew she was guilty, he didn’t care. He visited her until the day he died.”

Jiang Cheng shifted. “So…murder is your idea of love?”

Lan Xichen shook his head. “No.” he looked up to meet Jiang Cheng’s inquisitive eyes. “But can you imagine what my father felt? What feeling is so powerful that he could overlook such atrocities? That he forgave the ultimate sin as if it never happened?”

He let the silence linger. “I don’t know what it is, but I want to feel that.”

Jiang Cheng swallowed. Lan Xichen knew his stare was intense, he knew he was coming on a little strong, but he didn’t care. In that moment, he could do nothing else but wear his heart on his sleeve.

He stood up and cupped Jiang Cheng’s face, holding it as if it was the most fragile thing he had ever held. With his other hand, he brought Jiang Cheng’s hand up to his chest and rested it over his heart.

Jiang Cheng’s lower lip trembled a little. “I don’t want some fling.” He said hoarsely.

Lan Xichen smiled and tightened his fingers around the hand over his heart. “Good. Because I want to make sure you’re getting enough sleep and pester you into drinking more water. I want you to tell me about your day and roll your eyes at me when I make terrible jokes and embarrass you.” Jiang Cheng wrinkled his nose and it made Lan Xichen laugh. “I want to poke you at night when you’re hogging the bed and wake you up early, so you have time to eat a good breakfast before work. I want to argue over what we’re going to have for dinner, and—”

“Stop.” Jiang Cheng said softly, dropping his forehead to Lan Xichen’s chest. His voice was tight.

Lan Xichen pressed a kiss to the top of his head. “You told me you don’t believe in love, but I’d like to be the one to prove to you that it exists.”

Jiang Cheng pulled his arm free and wrapped them around Lan Xichen, clinging to him the way he did in the parking lot. “Why do you even want me…” he mumbled.

Lan Xichen was about to tell him all the reasons that Jiang Cheng meant the world to him, but Jiang Cheng slipped a hand over his lips. Jiang Cheng shook his head. “You talk too much.” He said as he buried his head even farther into Lan Xichen’s chest.

Lan Xichen kissed his palm and Jiang Cheng twitched as if it tickled. His arms tightened around Lan Xichen. “How does this even work?” he asked.

Lifting his head up so he could meet those expressive eyes, Lan Xichen shrugged. “I don’t know. I just know that I want to figure it out with you.”

Jiang Cheng held his gaze for a moment before standing on tiptoes and kissing him. His kiss was a little timid. Lan Xichen let him lead, let him gain confidence as he pressed their lips together. Just like the first time they kissed, it felt like there was a spark between them. Something ignited and Lan Xichen’s heart began beating wildly.

Images of Jiang Cheng shirtless crossed his mind and he suddenly felt like they were moving too slow. He wanted to go gently and let Jiang Cheng get comfortable but having him here in his arms after so long was intoxicating.

His hands slid lower and he grabbed Jiang Cheng and lifted him into his arms and pushed his back against the stucco wall. Jiang Cheng’s legs tightened around him and he gasped.
“Stop picking me up!” he said as his fingers dug into Lan Xichen’s shoulders.

Lan Xichen kissed him and nipped at his lower lip. “No.” he said as his hands slid to take in handfuls of the ass he had only seen in tactical pants. The cotton pajama pants were thin, and he could feel the firm flesh underneath and it sent that fire burning in him straight to his groin.

Jiang Cheng made a soft little noise of wanting and Lan Xichen lost it. He suddenly didn’t have enough hands, and he felt a physical need to kiss every inch of this man’s body right now. His lips made their way down to that sharp jawline and then beyond to the pulse point throbbing on his neck. He could feel Jiang Cheng’s heartbeat through his lips, and he sucked, feeling particularly wicked when the pulse began throbbing harder.

Jiang Cheng’s hips rolled and the thought of him trying to seek relief for his erection made Lan Xichen move. He hoisted a protesting Jiang Cheng and carried him back into the apartment without bothering to close the screen door behind him. He dropped him onto the couch and fell on top of him, yanking the offending t-shirt off and tossing it to the floor. His hands slid along the taut abdomen, feeling the contours of muscles and Jiang Cheng’s heaving diaphragm.

Lan Xichen kissed just above the waistband of Jiang Cheng’s pants and almost lost it when Jiang Cheng made the softest whine of desperation. For a man who didn’t like talking, he was incredibly vocal while being intimate.

And it was killing Lan Xichen.

Even his loose scrub pants were too much, too constricting for the arousal that was building up. Lan Xichen nipped at Jiang Cheng’s hip, tauntingly close to the hardness he felt in his pants.
“Ugh.” Jiang Cheng said, fingers scrabbling on the couch. “Fuck you.” He groaned at the blatant teasing.

Lan Xichen looked up at him through his lashes. “I’m trying.” He said wickedly.

Jiang Cheng’s hands grabbed at Lan Xichen and he jerked his head up for a messy kiss, letting his tongue invade Lan Xichen’s mouth and wrapping his legs around his hips to bring their heated centers together.

 

Jin Ling reached into his pocket and pulled out his house keys. As he lined the key up to the lock Lan Sizhui crowded behind him and placed a kiss on the back of his neck.

He couldn’t help but shiver at the feel of warm lips pressed to his neck, and Lan Sizhui’s breath made goosebumps erupt over his skin. “I thought you were waiting to talk to my uncles?”
Lan Sizhui huffed and tugged on Jin Ling’s ponytail. “I’m trying, but you’re too cute.”

Another blush colored Jin Ling’s cheeks and he realized that he had just unlocked ‘Lan Sizhui: Flirty Edition’ and he wasn’t sure how to handle it.

He managed to get the front door unlocked and they shuffled into the small foyer. Jin Ling dropped the keys on the table and paused when he heard something strange. He didn’t think anyone was home.

Lan Sizhui followed him to the living room and the noises only increased. Something registered in Jin Ling’s head, but it was too late.

Two mussed heads popped up from behind the couch and it took Jin Ling a moment to realize the guy with his hair in his face was his uncle.

Jin Ling stared at the men as they scrambled off the couch and tried to organize their clothing.

Or lack thereof.

Both of them were shirtless and their pants were definitely pulled low, and he could have sword Jiang Cheng’s were on backwards.

“Uncle Xichen?” Lan Sizhui asked from beside Jin Ling.

The man beside his uncle looked up and stared at Lan Sizhui with a mix of horror and shame.

Jin Ling stared from Lan Sizhui back to his uncle. “Wait. Is your uncle fucking my uncle?!” he shouted.

“No one was fucking!” Jiang Cheng shouted back as he pushed some of his hair from his face.

Jin Ling stared at the hickeys that dotted Jiang Cheng’s chest and neck pointedly. “What’s your definition? Because this looks like textbook fucking!”

“Hey, watch your language, you little shit.” Jiang Cheng scolded.

“Fuck you!” Jin Ling snapped.

“Fuck you too!” Jiang Cheng stepped on the couch like he was going to vault over it and grab Jin Ling but the man beside him tugged him back down.

“Ok, ok. Everyone let’s….be civil.” He wasn’t blushing as hard as his uncle, but the man looked harried. His hair was equally as messed up and Jin Ling could see scratch marks on his shoulders.

Lan Sizhui was staring at his feet. For the first time since Jin Ling had met him, his cheeks were pink, and he looked embarrassed. It was unfairly adorable, and Jin Ling couldn’t even enjoy it because he was too busy trying not to look at the bite marks on his uncle.

 

Ten minutes later they were all sitting around awkwardly. Jin Ling and Lan Sizhui had dragged chairs from the kitchen table and Lan Xichen and Jiang Cheng were sitting on the couch, as far away from each other as physically possible.

“That’s a shared couch.” Jin Ling pointed out.

Jiang Cheng narrowed his eyes at his nephew. “Lan Xichen, this is my nephew Jin Ling.”

Lan Xichen lifted his hand and nodded. “And that’s my nephew, Lan Sizhui.”

Jiang Cheng eyed the kid up and down. Besides the horrified absent look on his face, he was a good looking teenager. Occasionally, he would glance at Jin Ling and then back at the two men.

“Erm, when did you two meet?” Lan Xichen asked, desperately trying to make the situation less mortifying for everyone.

Lan Sizhui swallowed and rubbed the back of his neck. “We go to the same school.”

Jin Ling pointed at Jiang Cheng. “Uh, excuse me, I’ll be the one asking the questions. How did you two meet?”

Jiang Cheng raised an eyebrow and wondered if it was considered child abuse if he gave his nephew a swirly. “We met at work. Lan Xichen is a doctor.”

“Well, Lan Sizhui is class president.” Jin Ling said.

He glanced at the class president in question. He looked like he was trying to disappear into the carpet. Suddenly something clicked.

“Is this the kid you have a crush on?”

Jin Ling’s mouth dropped, and he stared at his uncle. “Wei Wuxian told you?!”

The embarrassment disappeared from Jiang Cheng and he suddenly stared at the kid who Jin Ling was crushing on. Of course, the kid his nephew was interested in was the nephew of the guy he was sort of seeing.

“You have a car?” he asked Lan Sizhui.

The teenager shook his head. “No, I can walk everywhere.”

“Job?”

Another head shake. “My foster father wants me to focus on school.”

Foster father? Lan Xichen had said something about his nephew being adopted but that meant…

“Dr. Death is your foster father?”

Lan Xichen chuckled. “Yes, Wangji is his foster father.”

Jiang Cheng rubbed his temples. “Are you two dating?”

The room grew silent and Jin Ling licked his lips as if he wanted to say something, but nothing came out, finally Lan Sizhui reached across and took Jin Ling’s hand. “Not exactly.” Jin Ling stared at the hand holding his, but Lan Sizhui was sitting straight and making direct eye contact.

“Sir, I apologize for not speaking to you sooner. I wanted to speak to my foster father first and get his permission to begin a romantic relationship.”

Lan Xichen raised an eyebrow. “Wangji knows?”

Lan Sizhui nodded. “Yes.” He patted Jin Ling’s hand and then pushed himself to his feet. He looked at Jiang Cheng and balled his hands into fists. “I know this is a bit rushed, and maybe not proper timing, but I really care about Jin Ling. I would like your permission to date him.”

The room was completely silent. Jiang Cheng wasn’t sure if he wanted to laugh or cry. Some teenager was looking at him like he was the executioner and the kids head was on the chopping block. But he had to hand it to the kid, he had guts. Not many seventeen year old’s could handle facing their crushes guardian with such resolve.

In the end, it wasn’t the kids bravery or his status as class president, it was the way Jin Ling was looking at him. He was staring at Lan Sizhui with shining eyes and a sort of loving admiration. It was so sweet it was sickening.

He waved his hand. “Jesus Christ, sit down before you have an aneurysm.” Lan Sizhui didn’t look relieved. “Yes, it means yes, you two can date.” Honestly the whole thing felt antiquated. He was terrified Lan Sizhui was going to bow to him and offer him a chicken for Jin Ling’s hand in marriage or something.

Jin Ling jumped up and took Lan Sizhui’s hand tentatively. They smiled shyly at each other and Jiang Cheng hoped to God he didn’t look like that with Lan Xichen.

“Just…you know, keep your grades up and all that shit.”

Jin Ling dragged Lan Sizhui towards his room. “Ok!”

“Where are you going?” Jiang Cheng asked.

“He’s going to ravish me, probably get me pregnant.” Jin Ling said flippantly. The last thing he heard was Lan Sizhui’s horrified squeak of protest before the door slammed.

Jiang Cheng flopped back onto the couch and dropped an arm over his eyes. “What the hell just happened?”

Lan Xichen scooted closer to him and took his hand away, leaning in to kiss him. “They’re good kids.”

“Stop that.” Jiang Cheng scolded him, pushing him away. “You’re the reason we were in this mess.”

Lan Xichen chuckled and dropped his head to Jiang Cheng’s shoulder. “I can’t help it. My boyfriend is too hot.” he said it coolly, but he was watching Jiang Cheng out of the corner of his eye to see how he would react.

Jiang Cheng scrunched up his nose. “Yeah, well…my boyfriend needs to go to horny jail, apparently.”

Lan Xichen grinned evilly and pulled Jiang Cheng in for another, deeper kiss. “Gladly.”

Chapter Text

If you had asked Wei Wuxian about his sexuality three weeks ago, he would have told you he was straight. He had only ever been attracted to women, and the handful of relationships he had pursued had been women. That was the classic definition of straight, right? He wasn’t questioning, or in doubt, he was very comfortable with that fact.

Right up until he was making out on the floor of the morgue with a man. With Lan Wangji, to be specific.

He could probably blame the alcohol, but any alcohol he had consumed had long since burned off, and he was as close to sober as could be. He knew he found the man attractive, and he might have had an idea that he was interested in him. Enough to be a little more cautious around him and address him as ‘Dr. Lan’, something he had subconsciously started doing the moment his thoughts began straying from ‘he’s a good looking man’ to ‘I want him to bend me over and touch every inch of my body with his skilled hands’.

The moment when they kissed had felt right. Despite their surroundings, Wei Wuxian had wanted to kiss Lan Wangji. Maybe it was an experiment, a way to solidify the way he felt, or maybe he just really, really, fucking wanted to.

Wei Wuxian was not in the habit of denying himself things he wants, so he kissed him. And then kept kissing him. Things were escalating beautifully, crescendoing in a way that promised something they both might regret, when Lan Wangji passed out.

On top of Wei Wuxian.

So, now he was lying on the floor of the morgue with a passed out Forensic Pathologist snoring on his chest. If there was a way to spin this where he ended up with a shred of dignity, he wasn’t sure how.

Lan Wangji was heavy. Wei Wuxian’s bones were digging into the cold tile floor and no matter how much he poked or prodded, he could not wake the sleeping doctor.

“You better wake up with a raging headache, Wangji.” Wei Wuxian mumbled as he tried wriggling out from underneath him. His hips were pinned, and it took some crafty maneuvering to get the man off his shoulders. Once Lan Wangji was half off him, he was able to slide the rest of the way out.

Wei Wuxian stared down at the sleeping man and resisted the urge to smother him. “Don’t worry, I won’t take this personally.” He said as he moved the hair from around Lan Wangji’s face. Now that he was lying on his back, Wei Wuxian could see his serene face and he was left wondering about this man. There was so much he didn’t know.

Seeing Lan Wangji’s head resting on the hard ground he slid his hands underneath, so that there was a cushion between his skull and the cold tile.

With his eyes closed he looked different, softer almost. Wei Wuxian wasn’t sure anything about Lan Wangji could ever be considered soft. The planes of his body looked like they were designed with a straight edge, and while visually appealing, they were harsh and foreboding. But really, it was those eyes. Those acerbic eyes that cut right to your soul. They were filled with so much intelligence, like Lan Wangji was completely in control of all things.

Which was probably why Wei Wuxian tried so hard to mess with him. He just wanted to see Lan Wangji off center, just once. He wanted to see him flustered or stressed. Anything besides that cool competence. But now that he was thinking about it, he wasn’t sure that would be a good thing. Because he liked that about Lan Wangji. He liked that he was a solid pillar, something strong and predictable that Wei Wuxian could shelter behind.

Wei Wuxian spent his entire life looking for a place to belong. After his parents died, he was adopted by a family he didn’t know or understand. Madame Yu hated him for reasons a child couldn’t possibly comprehend, and Jiang Fengmian looked at him with a deep sadness that he never understood. No matter how hard he tried, no matter how succeeded, there was someone behind him whispering that it was thanks to someone else. Thanks to the Jiang’s for taking him in or thanks to Madame Yu who graciously allowed him to live there. And when they weren’t saying that, they were telling Jiang Cheng how much better Wei Wuxian was than him—shaking the foundation of love he had with his brother, one of the only people in the world he had.

He would sit up at nights telling himself he needed to be smaller. Needed to be invisible. If no one saw him, then no one could compare Jiang Cheng to him. No one could say the things he did were because of someone else. But no matter how hard he tried; he couldn’t. He couldn’t be invisible. Yanli had told him that some people were made to shine, and Wei Wuxian was one of them. She would brush his tears away and tell him that no one would dare tell a tiger to hide his stripes, so Wei Wuxian shouldn’t hide his.

No matter what he did, he felt like he was hurting someone. His life was a constant tug of war between denying himself or risking hurting the people he cared about. It seemed like no matter what he did, it was the wrong choice. It would come back and bite him in the ass and the world was pointing fingers at him without trying to understand the good in him.

When the Jiang’s died, he was suddenly free. The people who looked down at him were gone, but they were still haunted by the things they said. Like wraiths they were constantly hovering on the peripheral. Jiang Cheng became angry: like a cat who sliced anyone who tried to touch his soft underbelly. But Wei Wuxian took all the feelings and emotions he had been smothering and let them loose. Like a storm that had been caged, he was released and was free to wreak havoc on everyone around him.

The problem with that was he never learned how to stop. He never learned how to rein in the storm, like a child who learned to ride a bike without learning how to brake, he was careering downhill and didn’t know what to do.

And then he met Lan Wangji.

If Wei Wuxian was the storm, Lan Wangji was the eye. A quiet calm that came before and after the raging winds and rains, a place to breathe and recuperate. Wei Wuxian wondered what that was like. How could he be so in control? Where did he learn how to do that?

No matter how hard he tried to distance himself, he always found himself drifting back towards Lan Wangji. Back towards the one thing that could help him stop. That could help him breathe.

He was left wondering what would happen if he just…let go. If he kept going like this, would Lan Wangji catch him?

Wei Wuxian rubbed his face with his free hand. He was getting ahead of himself. All they had done was make out.

Previously he had thought they were like polar opposites of magnets—destined to push each other away. So why was he always drawn to him?

His muscles were beginning to ache from the position he was sitting in. Tingles were spreading up his legs from falling asleep. Glancing around the room he saw one of Wen Ning’s jackets and he carefully extricated his hand and retrieved the jacket. Folding it up, he slid it under Lan Wangji’s head.

He couldn’t just leave. Sticking his hands in his pockets he began wandering around the morgue. In the far corner Lan Wangji’s desk was shoved into a corner. For such a powerful man, his desk was unassuming. A chunky square of particle board and rusted metal, it looked like any desk you would see in a government institution. The top was orderly and the in and out box was empty. There were no personal effects that Wei Wuxian could see.

His shoes scuffed the floor as he walked around. It was late. Not that he could tell in this windowless room, but he could feel it in his bones. He had worked a full 12 hour clinical today, and he was beginning to feel the effects.

Boredom drove him to begin rifling through the drawers. He didn’t look at any patient information, but he did find the store of toe tags and blank examination charts.

An idea formed in his mind and he found a way to beat the boredom.

 

A mild throbbing woke him up. Bright lights stabbed through his eyes and he winced, throwing an arm up to protect his vision. Holding his head as if it might shatter at any moment, he sat up. Lan Wangji’s stomach roiled and threatened to empty its contents but he managed to fight it did. The sour after taste of bile and cinnamon coated his tongue and he smacked his lips in an effort to remove it.

Blearily, he looked around and tried to remember what had happened. He remembered closing up the morgue and leaving. After that it was a nauseating blur of colors and events. One thing that did stick out was a pair of wide grey eyes.

Wei Wuxian.

What had happened? He swallowed and finally looked up. The only lights that were on were the examination lights. Everything else was swathed in darkness, giving the place a creepy spotlight effect.

With a thunk, the air conditioning kicked on and a soft breeze came through the vents. It caused the white sheet on the exam table to flutter. Like a ghost, it swayed with an ethereal grace and drew Lan Wangji’s eyes.

Haltingly, he stood up and waited until his head stopped spinning.

There was a body under the sheet.

That didn’t make any sense. Lan Wangji didn’t have any autopsies this afternoon, and even if he did, he never would have left one out. Between his blurry vision and the spotlight effect of the lights, he felt his vision tunneling and he had to fight to stay upright.

Out from under the sheet a pale ankle was dangling. It was completely still, and there was a brown toe tag hanging from the big toe.

Lan Wangji reached for it and blinked until the letters stopped cha-cha’ing and he could read it.

Wei Wuxian.

His heart dropped and he began sweating bullets. Was that why he had thought of Wei Wuxian? No. The eyes he pictured were bright and alive. With a lot more confidence than he felt, he ripped the sheet off and he stumbled backward. Wei Wuxian was lying on the slab. His lips were blue, and eyes closed. Body completely still. He stared at his chest for a long moment, but it didn’t rise or fall.

A sense of panic began rising in Lan Wangji. He tried to push it down, but he it was only getting worse. He couldn’t remember anything. Had Wei Wuxian died? Then why was he on the floor? Something he couldn’t name settled in his stomach and he felt like he might throw up, and it had nothing to do with his hangover.

Wei Wuxian was still wearing his red scrubs, but they looked faded in the harsh glare. A chart was resting beside the table and he picked it up. It wasn’t written in Lan Wangji’s handwriting.

He read the chart and then threw it down on the table. Yanking the sheet up, he ran a fingernail down the sole of Wei Wuxians foot.

“Ah! Ah! Wangji! That’s cheating!” Wei Wuxian said, his still face breaking into a giggling grin as he sat up.

Lan Wangji pointed to the chart. “Cause of Death: Blue Balls?”

Wei Wuxian cackled and crossed his legs. “Did I scare you?”

“No.” Lan Wangji said as he tried to calm his heartrate. “What are you doing here?”

Wei Wuxian’s grin faded. “Are you kidding me?” he threw up his arms. “You’re the one who kidnapped me, dragged me down to your evil lair, ravished me within an inch of my life, and you have the audacity to ask me what I’m doing here?”

Lan Wangji felt that panicky feeling return. He did what? That didn’t sound like him. It might be something he wanted to do, something he locked away in the recesses of his fantasy, but to actually do it…he closed his eyes and tried to remember.

He remembered the party—faces filtered past him, but he didn’t know some of them. Then he had seen Wei Wuxian standing beside a car. There was a cup in his hand, and he was pointedly not looking at him. A flash of irritation then. But why? Oh, it was because he had started calling him Dr. Lan. He didn’t like that. He liked the way his name sounded in Wei Wuxian’s mouth.

Another memory invaded his mind. The taste of alcohol on his lips and the feeling of hands running down his side. A tongue sliding against his and flicking against his teeth. Hips wriggling and soft moans of pleasure.

“There it is.” Wei Wuxian said wickedly, laughing at the way Lan Wangji’s face suddenly heated up.

Lan Wangji stepped back until he hit the wall and slid back down to the floor. He dropped his head to his knees and tried to breathe.

He heard Wei Wuxian slip off the table and come up beside him. Wei Wuxian was barefoot, and his toes looked strange in this space. Like a foreign object. Bare feet in the morgue seemed completely ridiculous.

Lan Wangji must have said it aloud because he heard Wei Wuxian inhale sharply. “Ok, well, we can just pretend this never happened. No one would believe it anyway.” There was a caustic laugh that sounded painful, and he heard joints cracking as Wei Wuxian stood up.

That would be the sensible thing. Wei Wuxian was someone he worked with. He hardly knew the man—he didn’t know about his personal life or his background. The only thing he really knew was how he felt around him. How Wei Wuxian was one of the only people who could make him laugh, and that goofy smile shouldn’t look as good on a grown man as it did. A wicked intellect and professional capability were hidden behind sparkling eyes and sassy comments.

Lan Wangji had seen Wei Wuxian delicately attend to a dead body, while in the same afternoon stand up to a domestic violence suspect trying to get into his wife’s ED room. Without being asked, he helped the janitorial staff load boxes after a shift, and then turned around and filled gloves with water to pelt at kids in the parking lot.

Wei Wuxian would be better off with someone less austere. Someone more suited to his tastes.

But when he thought about that smile being directed at anyone else, his heart clenched like a severe case of angina and he couldn’t breathe. Someone else might get to hear those lewd pants of want or leave marks on his pristine skin.

Without conscious thought he reached out and snagged Wei Wuxian’s ankle, holding tightly. The man staggered and made a small yelp before falling back down.

“What was that for?”

“Don’t leave.” Lan Wangji said softly. It sounded almost pleading to him. Perhaps the alcohol was loosening his tongue, but he found himself speaking again. “I don’t know anything about you, not really, but I know what I feel around you.”

“Is that feeling irritation?”
“It is not.” Lan Wangji answered with his hand still on Wei Wuxian’s ankle. He rubbed his thumbs in circles on the bone, watching in fascination as he depressed the skin and the capillaries flushed with blood the moment his thumb lifted. He so rarely got to see skin blush with life.

“What is the feeling?”

Lan Wangji huffed and caught those grey eyes. They were sincere. There was a hint of wanting. Like Wei Wuxian was hanging on every word he was saying, like the things he said right now would echo through their lives.

For a man more comfortable with silence, that was a lot of pressure.

He stared at Wei Wuxian and didn’t know what to say. Love? No, it wasn’t quite love. Or, maybe it was, but he was too afraid to give it voice. Could you fall in love with someone so fast? Lan Wangji didn’t think so. He thought love was a slow and looming feeling, something that crept over you so slowly that you didn’t even notice. Like a drug that infiltrated your system slowly, bit by bit, until before you knew it you were addicted, and you couldn’t live without it. Don’t want to live without it.

But Wei Wuxian was like an overdose, hitting his system hard and radiating throughout his systems until his entire body was filled with him.

Instead of telling him this, of rambling nonsense, he gripped the front of his scrubs and pulled Wei Wuxian into his lap. He kissed him again, sober this time. Memories of this kiss wouldn’t be hazy, and half formed or fuzzy at the edges and one bleeding into another. This kiss would be branded into his brain, seared hot over his heart, something he couldn’t forget even if he wanted to.

Which he didn’t.

Wei Wuxian fit against him so perfectly. His slim body was strong, constantly moving in the smallest of ways. His hands dug into Lan Wangji’s hair and the sting was exquisite. The kiss started slowly but grew in intensity. It built up until it was messy and undignified, which only made it better.

Lan Wangji’s hands were under Wei Wuxians scrubs, tracing every inch of skin with his fingers.

Wei Wuxian broke the kiss and panted against Lan Wangji. Because of the way he was sitting, he was taller than Lan Wangji. Arms wrapped around his neck he looked down at him and Lan Wangji pressed his nose into Wei Wuxian’s chest and inhaled the mixture of laundry soap and cinnamon.

“Was that your answer?” Wei Wuxian asked breathlessly.

Lan Wangji nodded.

Wei Wuxian laughed--a sound so pure that it didn’t belong in the dank basement. As it echoed around the stainless steel drawers and cold tile walls, it brought a bit of light to Lan Wangji’s world.

“We do have to talk you know. You can’t just answer everything with a kiss.”

Lan Wangji growled a little, hands sliding down to grab at Wei Wuxian’s pert behind.

At that moment, the double doors of the morgue opened and the harsh overhead lighting flicked to light. Wen Ning stood in the doorway and stared at them for a long moment. With his car keys in one hand and the morgue keys in the other, he blinked slowly twice, then turned and just walked out.

“Wen Ning! Grab me a coffee, will you?” Wei Wuxian called after him.

Lan Wangji stood and set them both upright. He tucked some of Wei Wuxian’s messy hair behind his ear. “Go on a date with me.”

Wei Wuxian cocked his head and waggled his eyebrows. “Should I wear something slinky?”

Thoughts of Wei Wuxian wearing something slinky plagued him all day, and Lan Wangji got absolutely nothing done.

 

 

“Wei Wuxian, you better be dead on the side of the road. Because you left me all alone to deal with the fact that Jin Ling has a boyfriend. The kid almost kissed my ring and it was the weirdest fucking thing and if I find out you’re doing something stupid I’m going to kill you.”

Jiang Cheng hung up the phone after leaving his ninth voicemail and glared down at the black screen. Wei Wuxian hadn’t come back last night. More than likely, he was holed up with Wen Ning sleeping off Wen Qing’s deadly alcohol, but he could have at least sent some sort of incomprehensible drunk text so Jiang Cheng didn’t worry.

He had not slept well last night. Thoughts of Lan Xichen kept running through his head—horny thoughts, sentimental thoughts, and completely flabbergasted thoughts. The term boyfriend sent a little thrill through him and he suddenly felt like a high school freshman with braces on his teeth and counting the amount of times the phone rang so he didn’t seem too eager to pick up.

“Did Wei Wuxian not come back last night?” Jin Ling asked sleepily, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand as he shuffled into the kitchen. Jiang Cheng had noticed he woke up earlier than usual and took a longer time in the bathroom. The urge to tease his nephew about getting all dolled up for his boyfriend was strong, until he realized he had only noticed that because he had done the same thing.

Karma was a bitch.

“No.” Jiang Cheng said, firing off another threatening text.

“Do you think he’s ok?” Jin Ling asked nervously. His eyes were wide, and the sleepiness was gone.

Jiang Cheng set his phone down and leaned on the counter. “I’m sure he’s fine. Wei Wuxian is like a cockroach--he’s going to outlive us all.” The bastard had a habit of always landing on his feet.

Jin Ling didn’t look particularly relieved and Jiang Cheng came around the counter to rub his head. If he were Wei Wuxian he would bring the kid into a hug, holding tighter even as the teenager fought, but Jiang Cheng couldn’t do that. He settled for a prolong head pat.

“You know, I’m proud of you.” Jiang Cheng said suddenly. It was true, but normally something like that wouldn’t come out of his mouth.

Jin Ling looked just as startled. “I mean, you’re growing up and…for a while you were kind of this anthropomorphic blob of baby fat and teeth falling out. I swear to God, every other day you lost another one and Wei Wuxian put on those shitty dollar tree wings and pretended to be the tooth fairy.”

“I used to pretend like he fooled me.” Jin Ling said, thinking of his uncle with body glitter and plastic wings strapped to his back as he slipped a coin under his pillow.

“He just wanted an excuse to use the glitter.” Jiang Cheng said fondly. Looking at Jin Ling, he realized just how much he was like both his parents. He took after his father as far as looks, but he was softer at his heart. Empathetic, like he mother. Something Jiang Cheng hoped he never lost.

As the silence dragged on Jin Ling took a deep breath. “There’s something I didn’t tell you.” He fidgeted. “Sizhui and I agreed we wouldn’t tell unless someone asked but you…you just…” he looked like he felt guilty about keeping something from him after he had just complimented him.

Jin Ling stuffed his hands in his pockets and the whole story came out. About how the kid overdosed in the bathroom and he and Lan Sizhui performed CPR, then about their Coach Elm losing a finger in the alley.

At the end of his story he produced the battered dime bag, handing it over to Jiang Cheng. His stomach dropped out and his mouth went dry. Corpse Poisoning. He knew a few kids from Jin Ling’s school had been caught using but he didn’t think it had gotten that bad. There was an actual dealer in school?

He crumpled the baggy and rubbed his temples.

“Ok, first of all, I can’t believe you don’t know how to give CPR. How do you live with a paramedic and a nurse and not—ok no, never mind, we’re going to let that one go.”

Jin Ling looked suitably ashamed and Jiang Cheng felt bad. The kid was only seventeen, and seeing a guy get his finger cut off was pretty high on the traumatizing scale.

“From now on, if something like this happens again you tell me right away, ok?”

Jin Ling nodded eagerly, a little surprised by his uncles’ mild tone.

He felt the plastic tickle his palm and the urge to call Xichen was really strong. They needed to talk about this, now. This drug was bad enough, but now it was getting close to Jin Ling. That was unacceptable.

“I want you to keep your phone charged an on you at all times, ok? Fuck your teachers if they tell you not to have it.” He told Jin Ling. “And you stay the hell away from all this shit. You see something going down, and you walk the other way. Stay in groups and don’t dawdle after school. Stay close to Lan Sizhui.”

Jin Ling nodded, grinning a little. “I think you’re the only guardian who tells a teenager to stay close to their boyfriend.”

“Yeah, well at least he knows CPR.” He pointed out.

Jin Ling scowled and went to go get his shoes on. Jiang Cheng was going to be driving him to school from now on. Thinking of this shit getting anywhere near Jin Ling caused his head to throb and his fists to clench.

Looking at the teenager as he sat down to tie his sneakers, Jiang Cheng felt a ridiculous surge of emotion. He always knew he would die for that kid. Even before he was born, when he was a peanut in his sisters’ stomach, he knew that this kid was his family. And now, besides Wei Wuxian, he was his only family.

When Jin Ling returned he dragged him into a rough hug, pulling the shorter teenager in tightly. Jin Ling squeaked in surprise but then slowly hugged him back, tentatively wrapping his arms around his uncle.

They held each other for a moment before stepping away, smoothing out their clothes.

“We tell no one that happened.” Jiang Cheng said hoarsely.

“Agreed.”

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng dropped his head and sighed as he pushed the stretcher up the gentle incline to the ED doors. The old woman they had picked up had not stopped complaining since the moment they got the call. They called them Chest Clutcher, or Pearl Grabbers. The patients who continually insisted they were dying or having a heart attack regardless of the fact that all signs pointed to the fact that they were very much alive.

He watched the squiggly lines on the 12 lead and tried to resist sighing again. Any time a patient complains of chest pain they attach electrodes to their skin—small, foam, circular stickers that were pressed onto the skin so that the wires that read heart rhythms could be hooked up. The squiggly lines on the screen told Jiang Cheng that the woman’s heart was functioning perfectly. Her SPo2 was perfect and even her glucose was within normal limits. The only thing that was elevated was her heart rate, but to be honest, so was Jiang Cheng’s.

They wheeled her into the ED and positioned themselves on the wall to wait. Triage would indicate that this woman would be waiting for a long time, which meant Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang would be waiting for a while, too. He leaned his head against the wall and watched the ED.

Nie Mingjue glanced up at them and nodded to his brother. Jiang Cheng snickered as Nie Husaisang sucked in his gut and stood up straighter when his brother’s eyes were on him. They had been arguing for years about Nie Huaisang’s unwillingness to move up in the medical world. Nie Huaisang was happy with being an EMT, but his brother wanted him to push on with his education. Hardly surprising from the man who excelled in leadership positions. The last name was the only thing the brothers shared—they couldn’t be more different if they tried.

“Young man!” the patient on the stretcher waved her hand to Jiang Cheng and he came around to the side of the stretcher so she could see him. “I think I’m having a heart attack!” she cried piteously.

Jiang Cheng stared at her tattooed eyeybrows and wondered if she asked for two uneven sharpie marks or if that was a byproduct from years of beauty cream use.

“You are not having a heart attack.” He said with as much patience as he could muster. He pulled up the EKG he had printed out and showed it to her. “It’s probably a bout of angina or anxiety. You might need to speak with your doctor about changing dosages of your medication or—”

She cut him off with a dramatic sigh, clutching her chest and wailing loud enough that the entire ED looked at them. Several nurses glared at Jiang Cheng, as if it was his fault the woman wouldn’t listen to facts. Nie Huaisang shot him a pathetic thumbs up.

With a sigh, he pulled out a pair of gloves from his pocket and snapped them on. Thusly gloved, he took the woman’s hand and gently pat it with a look he hoped was reassuring but judging by the way Nie Huaisang was laughing, probably looked constipated.

Her sniffling died off and she stared at Jiang Cheng’s awkward attempt at a bedside manner. After a moment, she calmed and began chatting with him about inane topics like her tiny dog’s incontinence issues and the mailman who she swears is part of a Satanic cult because he has a nose piercing.

Jiang Cheng nodded whenever he heard a lull in conversation, but he wasn’t actually listening. His mind drifted towards the Corpse Poisoning and what Jin Ling had told him about this morning. He had passed on the information to Wei Wuxian when he bothered to finally call him back this morning.

His brother claimed that he was in the hospital basement all night and didn’t have service. Jiang Cheng wasn’t sure if he believed that, or if the truth was so much worse, so he let it go.
Wei Wuxian had been equally as upset about the whole thing. He suggested they go to the school themselves and try to find this dealer, but Jiang Cheng wasn’t sure that was the best idea. They got into their fair share of fights as teenagers, but that was before. Back when the only consequence was detention and Madame Yu’s ire.

Suddenly a warm hand caressed the back of his shoulders and Jiang Cheng jumped.

“Hi there, I’m Dr. Lan. What’s going on today?” Lan Xichen said with a winning smile. His smile was radiant, and he didn’t seem at all distracted by the patients terrifying eyebrows. He was the picture of a competent and caring doctor. The slight touch he had given Jiang Cheng hadn’t registered on his face at all, but it sent shudders down to Jiang Cheng’s boots.

Jiang Cheng was so flustered that he couldn’t give report. Nie Huaisang stared at him with a worried look. Jiang Cheng was gripping the tough book so tightly his knuckles were white, and Lan Xichen had to tug the EKG from his hands.

The woman released Jiang Cheng’s sweaty hand and began explaining her symptoms. Lan Xichen was standing so close to Jiang Cheng that their hips were brushing and there was an evil sort of curl to his smile. He knew exactly what he was doing to Jiang Cheng and was getting far too much joy from it.

A room opened up and they wheeled the stretcher in. As they helped her into the bed, she glanced down at Lan Xichen’s left hand and her smile grew three times in size. “You are such a handsome man. You know, my granddaughter is about your age. She’s a kindergarten teacher and just cute as a button. I could give you her number?”

Jiang Cheng grit his teeth and regretted not using a larger IV on her. He could have gone with the 14g and—

“Actually,” Lan Xichen’s smile never faltered. “I’m seeing someone.” He continued to pleasantly address the nurse as they hooked up the patient, but it was impossible to miss the way the woman’s face fell.

“Is that right?” the woman who just swore she was having a heart attack, said primly. “You best tell them to propose to you soon. You’re far too handsome to be walking around without a ring.”

Lan Xichen snorted and glanced over at Jiang Cheng. “You hear that?”

Jiang Cheng flipped him the bird before turning on his heel and walking out.

His face was pinker than an OBGYN’s scrubs and he ignored several people who tried to talk to him. Lan Xichen couldn’t tease him like this. Not at work. He had to focus.

Stepping from the hospitals air conditioning into the muggy summer morning helped clear his mind. He stretched his arms up above his head and yawned.

Someone tugged on his bun and he swatted backwards. “Nie Huaisang!” he shouted before turning around to see it was Lan Xichen. The doctor wrapped his arms around Jiang Cheng and kissed him. A considerably chaste kiss, considering they were standing in the ambulance bay. The truck beside them was idling and Lan Xichen pushed Jiang Cheng into it. The wheel well dug into his back, but Lan Xichen deepened the kiss.

“Do you know how sexy you look when you’re working?” He plucked at the tactical pants Jiang Cheng was wearing.

“Xichen!” Jiang Cheng said, even more flustered than before. Now he would never be able to look at the side of his ambulance without blushing. “You’re supposed to be working.”

Lan Xichen didn’t respond, instead he tried to kiss Jiang Cheng again. He slapped a palm on his forehead and held his boyfriend off. “Later!” he hissed. The fact that Jiang Cheng was the mature one in this situation was just wrong.

“That a promise?”

“No,” Jiang Cheng said while narrowing his eyes. “it’s a threat.”

Lan Xichen chuckled and lifted his hands, taking two steps back. “Fair enough.” He ran his fingers through his hair and looked completely unashamed. Meanwhile, Jiang Cheng felt like he had just been ravished and ‘HORNY’ was tattooed on his forehead.

Calming himself, he pushed himself off the ambulance. “I need to talk to you, so reroute your blood flow to your upstairs doctor brain.”

He quickly told Lan Xichen everything Jin Ling had told him this morning. “Have you had anyone come into the ED with a missing finger? Jin Ling was pretty sure it was the pinky.”

Lan Xichen shook his head. “Not that I can think of, but maybe on a day I wasn’t working. I’ll check the system when I get back in.”

Jiang Cheng crossed his arms. “Check with your bother. If this Coach Elm was wrapped up in this shit, then he might be wrapped up in something else too.”

“You think they might have killed him?”

He shrugged. “No idea. By a corpse with a missing pinky is pretty distinctive.”

“All right, I’ll check.”

 

 

At the first break Lan Xichen got he sat down in front of a computer and began searcing for patients who came in missing a finger. There were more than he thought there would be, especially due to fireworks. But none that had come in recently with a missing pinky.

He could call around the other hospitals and ask, but it would look strange. Besides, this hospital was a Level 1 trauma center. Any surgery that would need to be performed would have to be done here.

Picking up the phone he decided it was worth it. He called all the hospitals within a seventy-mile radius, but none of them had a patient that matched that description. While on the phone with the other hospitals he asked about Corpse Poisoning. They hadn’t heard of it. So, it was only the local area that was being targeted. Feeling frustrated, he slipped away from the ED and made his way down to the basement. The air grew cooler as he descended in the elevator and he felt a strange chill run up his back.

Jiang Cheng had been worried, and with good reason. Whoever this person was, he seemed to be intentionally targeting the high school. Speaking from a business standpoint, it was stupid. High school students were poor and more likely to be caught. But this guy had already proven that money was not what he was after.

None of it made sense. It was frustrating to Lan Xichen. He felt like he was given an incomplete puzzle and the closer he got to finding the rest of the pieces, the farther away he got from completion. Once, in school, a teacher told Lan Xichen he had to get used to failure. That making mistakes was part of life.

Lan Xichen agreed in principle, but not when it came to something like this. Not when the cops were so blatantly ignoring the problem at hand.

Which was another baffling piece to this whole puzzle. Why would the cops not be interested in preventing the deaths of children? Were they being paid off? That didn’t make sense. How could someone control an entire counties police force? One or two officers, sure. But the whole thing?

He found Lan Wangji sitting at his desk. Papers littered his desk and he was scrolling on his computer with a somewhat piqued look.

“Are you looking into something?” Lan Xichen asked as he drew up another chair and sat across the desk from his brother.

“Mn.” He answered briefly before returning to his work. After typing some more things, and double checking the papers on his desk, he turned his amber eyes to his brother. “I was looking into the chemical makeup of Corpse Poisoning. Perhaps there is something that could tell us where it is being manufactured.”

Lan Xichen nodded and glanced down at the sheets of paper that littered his desk. “Wangji, we think it’s in the high school.” He gave a rundown of what Jiang Cheng had told him earlier.

Lan Wangji sat back and blinked. “Sizhui did not tell me.”

“He was probably frightened.” Lan Xichen said. “Or distracted. Young love tends to take precedence.”

His brother nodded but didn’t look any happier. “Have you had any bodies come in with missing pinkies?”

Lan Wangji shook his head. “No. But I’ve done two more Corpse Poisoning related autopsies.” He pulled a folder from below the bottom of the stack. “It seems to have a prolonged high, longer than regular Heroin, before the crash. Victims would be completely out of their minds before everything went wrong. They would have no way of helping themselves.”

It wasn’t what Lan Xichen wanted to hear. He sighed and sat back. Maybe Jiang Cheng was right, this was completely out of their capabilities.

“I…” Lan Wangji began, his voice soft. “I am worried about Sizhui.”

“Really?” Lan Xichen didn’t think Sizhui would get into something like this. But then again--did any parent think their child would?

“He didn’t tell me about this.” Lan Wangji looked unhappy.

Lan Xichen wasn’t the best person to talk about this with. He had less experience in child raising than Wangji did. “Wangji, do you think that raising a child is different than practicing medicine?”

Lan Wangji raised an eyebrow as if it was a dumb question. “I think you want Sizhui to come to you with a printout of information, something you can refer to whenever you have a question. There are no protocols, or standard operating procedures.” He smiled faintly and pat his brother on the shoulder. “Try being more flexible.”

He left his brother and glanced back at his watch. His break was almost over and he just barely had enough time to swing by the vending machine and grab a snack.

When the elevator opened Jin Guangyao stepped in. He was carrying a large stack of folders and Lan Xichen could barely see his head over the top. “Do you need some help?”

“No, no. I’ve gotten used to it.” He smiled softly then sighed. “Xichen, I got a strange call from a hospital administrator two counties over. Why are you asking about patients over there?”

Lan Xichen felt guilty. He should have spoken to Jin Guangyao before he called. Hospitals could be defensive, the all consuming fear of being sued loomed over all of them. Another doctor calling to check on patients they treated would be a red flag.

“I apologize. I should have spoken to you first. It was about these drug related deaths.”

He blinked up at the taller doctor. “You’re still investigating those?”

Lan Xichen nodded. “Yes, there’s been more deaths. They all seem to be concentrated to this county, and we can’t figure out why. Money doesn’t seem to be a motive.”

Jin Guangyao’s shoulder stiffened a little and he shifted the weight in his hand. “That seems…implausible. That is the entire basis behind drug selling operations.”

“I agree. But the facts are leading us to this conclusion.”

“Well,” Jin Guangyao began. “I’m sure Jiang Cheng has a lot more contacts on the street that can be of benefit. Keep me informed.” He smiled politely and exited the elevator when the doors opened.

Lan Xichen stared at the closing doors and was struck by a thought.

He never told Jin Guangyao Jiang Cheng’s name.

 

 

Jiang Cheng crossed his arms and watched the school. Besides the flags flapping in the breeze, it was relatively quiet. By his calculations, it should be the last class of the day. They had thirty minutes before school let out for the day and he was taking the time to familiarize himself with the layout.

Like most schools, it was built with a certain number of students in mind. Then as the population increased, the school added on until it was a jumbled maze of a campus that made no logical sense. A small army of portable classrooms were line up behind the school like an army of ducklings following its mother.

The main building was a three story brick building that looked like every other industrial building built in circa 1950. Jiang Cheng hadn’t spent much time here, but it looked very similar to the school he went to.

Wei Wuxian handed him a pair of sunglasses. “Here.”

Jiang Cheng glanced down at the gas station brand of aviators he had handed him. “Why?”

“It’s our disguise.”

Jiang Cheng glanced down at the bright red scrubs Wei Wuxian was wearing. “Yeah, completely stealth.” He said dryly.

Wei Wuxian slipped on his own pair of mirrored aviators. “Just call me Maverick.”

“Absolutely not.”

“C’mon, Goose. Don’t be like that.”

Jiang Cheng turned to face him. “First of all, if any of us is Maverick, it’s me.”

“I’m older.”

“Who said that Goose is younger than Maverick?”

“You’re taller.” Wei Wuxian pointed out.

Jiang Cheng shook his head. He couldn’t believe he was caught up in a conversation about Top Gun with his dumbass brother.

The fact that Wei Wuxian was right was even more annoying.

Without saying anything to Wei Wuxian he crossed the parking lot. Jin Ling had said there was an alley between the main school building and the portables and that’s where they had seen Coach Elm be de-fingered.

“Hey, is a pinky a finger?” Wei Wuxian asked as he followed Jiang Cheng toward the back of the building. “Like, all thumbs are fingers but not all fingers are thumbs? Is it the same with pinkies?”

“This may surprise you to learn, but I have not spent very much time thinking about pinky fingers.” Jiang Cheng responded.

The alley in question looked like…an alley. Two dumpsters full of cardboard boxes were shoved up against the brick wall of the school building. Wooden ramps to the portable classrooms exited into the alley and in less than thirty minutes, the place would be full of kids.

“Jin Ling said there was a pool of blood, right?” Wei Wuxian asked, searching around for any telltale stains.

“Yeah.”

“This guy is pretty ballsy. To just leave a puddle of blood in the middle of a school campus. How was he going to explain that?” Wei Wuxian asked as he knelt to examine a stain that turned out to be oil.

“Apparently he doesn’t have to. The cops aren’t investigating.” Jiang Cheng said as he glanced up at the roof. No cameras. He had seen several CCTV cameras at the front of the school and in the parking lot, but there didn’t appear to be any in this section of the school. Which was most likely why Pinky Killer decided to conduct his business back here.

He wasn’t exactly sure why they came. They weren’t exactly CSI: Yunmeng. But his worry for Jin Ling wouldn’t let him sleep at night. Seeing the place where his nephew described what he had seen was a little disconcerting. It was completely out in the open. Pinky Killer was either very confident in his skills or not worried about being caught.

“Ok, so what do we know.” Jiang Cheng said, thinking out loud. “We know that he’s smart enough to pick a place that’s mildly inconvenient but doesn’t have cameras.”

Wei Wuxian stood up. “He’s probably young enough to blend in with the students.” He walked over to Jiang Cheng and flicked his pony tail out of the way. “Think about it, the administration would notice a grown man just hanging around with a bunch of kids.”

That was a fair point. Although some of the Seniors Jiang Cheng had seen were sporting full beards. It might not be as hard as it should be to immerse himself with the student population.

“There’s no way this is a one man operation, is there?” Wei Wuxian asked. “What is the likelihood that one man is smart enough to create the drug, and also ruthless enough to enforce payment?” Not very likely. The probability that one man could do all of that, and somehow keep the police off the trail was…astronomical.

Jiang Cheng stared down at his hand. Why the pinky? Of all the fingers, that seemed like such a strange one to cut off. Wouldn’t the thumb be more devastating? It would affect use of the hand so much more than a pinky.

“Why would he take it with him?” he murmured as he flexed his hands.

Wei Wuxian suddenly grabbed his arm and dragged him behind the dumpster. Jiang Cheng landed in something slimy and he retched, extending his soiled hand and wiping on his brother. “What the fuck?”

“Shh.” Wei Wuxian leaned around the dumpster and jerked his chin at someone. “Tell me that doesn’t look like a guy who would decapitate a pinky.”

Jiang Cheng leaned around Wei Wuxian to get a good look. The guy was tall, and handsome. His features were childish, with dark eyes and black hair that was braided up into a faux-hawk. Jin Ling had said his hair reminded him of a shark fin.

He walked with a sort of savage confidence. One hand in his pocket and the other swinging by his side. A black nylon backpack hung off his shoulders. Wearing a flannel shirt and skinny jeans, he looked just like a kid skipping class--were it not for the shifty way his eyes glanced around, taking in the exits and checking behind him.

“What do we do?” Wei Wuxian asked.

Jiang Cheng stuck his hand in his pocket and pulled out the baggy he had taken from Jin Ling. “We go buy some drugs.”

Wei Wuxian snatched the baggy and stood up, confidently walking up to the guy. Jiang Cheng walked behind him and hung back a little. He felt the protective urge to tuck his pinky up into his fist.

Wei Wuxian didn’t say a word, he just approached the guy and extended his hand to show him the baggy. Pinky Killer glanced down and smirked. The tips of his canines flashed when he smiled.

“Really? A murse?” he asked mockingly.

Jiang Cheng wondered if he would have the guts to call someone like Nie Mingjue a ‘murse’. Leaning against the wall he watched the exchange out of the corner of his eye.

“I don’t recognize you.” He said, eyeing Wei Wuxian up and down.

With a shrug, Wei Wuxian crossed his arms behind his back. “You going to sell it to me or am I going to have to take it from you?”

Two eyebrows raised and Pinky Killer barked a laugh. “You think you could take it from me?” his eyes drifted up and down Wei Wuxian in a way that was somehow flirty and menacing.

“I’d rather keep this civil. I give you money, you give me what I want, we both go home. Seems far less complicated.”

The gaze on Wei Wuxian lingered far longer than Jiang Cheng liked, and he was close to getting involved when the dealer laughed. “Fine, fine. We’ll do it the boring way.” He pulled the backpack around to the front and unzipped the main compartment.

“By the way, who sent you?” he asked as he rummaged through the backpack.

From the way Wei Wuxian’s shoulder stiffened, he didn’t know what to say. Jiang Cheng stepped up. “We know Elm.” He said, his voice coming out a little scratchier than usual.

The dealer stopped rummaging and looked up at Jiang Cheng. Something in his face changed and his cocky smiled disappeared. Recognition flitted across his face. “You!” he hissed.

 

The change in body language was more than enough for Jiang Cheng, he grabbed Wei Wuxian and they bolted for the end of the alley. A muted retort echoed through the alley. The brothers dove behind the dumpster and pressed against the wall.

“That’s a gun!” Wei Wuxian said.

“No shit, I hadn’t noticed.” Jiang Cheng said, pressing his brother to the wall. This guy not only was dealing drugs, he brought a gun onto campus.

Jiang Cheng was going to send a strongly worded letter to the PTA about their security measures.

Another muffled gunshot and the carboard boxes stacked above them exploded in a rain of confetti.

He has a silencer, Jiang Cheng belated realized.

They had to get this guy, and his gun, out of here. Those portable buildings were definitely not bullet proof. Neither was Jiang Cheng or Wei Wuxian.

He hadn’t brought any weapons with him, because they apparently severely underestimated the danger they were walking into. The only weapon Jiang Cheng used on a daily basis was his trauma shears—but not even he was dumb enough to bring a pair of glorified scissors to a gun fight.

Pinky Killer gave a sinister laugh. It was the kind of laugh that was an equal mix of mirth and something feral. He tapped the barrel of his gun on the first dumpster, a percussive countdown that hid the sounds of his boots on the asphalt.

“Quick.” Jiang Cheng cupped his hands and indicated for Wei Wuxian to get up into the dumpster. “Hide there, then distract him when he gets close.”

He boosted his smaller brother into the dumpster and then leaned up against the side of the metal can. His blood was thundering in his ears. Part of his paramedic training had involved self defense, but at the moment he couldn’t remember shit. Jiang Cheng got his feet up under him and tried to balance on the balls of his feet. Controlling his breathing, he tried to listen to the tapping of the gun barrel on the metal dumpster. It was getting closer.

Was this guy really willing to shoot two people in broad daylight? In the middle of a school campus?

The clanging stopped. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the muzzle of the gun come into view. It was black and shiny, a semi-automatic, but Jiang Cheng didn’t know enough about guns to know more than that.

He did recognize the alteration to the barrel of the gun. A homemade silencer.

As the wrist of Pinky Killer came into view Jiang Cheng noticed something. Maybe it was the hammering of his heart, but he was suddenly hyper aware of small details.

The dealer’s right pinky was missing.

Jiang Cheng had assumed the gloves he had been wearing were a fashion choice, but now he could see they were to conceal the lack of a tenth finger.

Above him, the pile of cardboard boxes exploded and one that had a picture of bananas on it landed squarely on Pinky Killer’s head.

Jiang Cheng jumped up, his legs feeling sluggish despite the adrenalin humming under his skin. He grabbed the gun with both hands and aimed a kick for the guys leg. The kick was successful, but as he toppled to the ground, he ended up taking Jiang Cheng with him. They wrestled for the gun, and Jiang Cheng felt a sharp bite on the flesh between his thumb and forefinger. Somehow, he had gotten his hand between the hammer and the firing pin.

Swearing, the Pinky Killer had been so busy grappling with Jiang Cheng that he couldn’t get the produce box off his head. He wanted to punch him in the stomach, but he was too afraid to take his hands off the gun.

Finally, the dealer managed to swing the box off his head and kicked. Jiang Cheng felt the force on his chest, hard enough to make him lose his grip on the gun and fall back. With his hair sticking up, the man stood and pointed the blood covered gun at Jiang Cheng.

He smiled viciously, and just as he pulled back the hammer the school bell rang.

In the throng of students, he disappeared, taking his gun and his backpack full of drugs with him.

Wei Wuxian scrambled out of the dumpster and squatted beside Jiang Cheng. He took hold of his non-injured hand and pulled him out of the alley.

Jiang Cheng looked down at his bloody hand and felt a little dizzy.

“We should cross detectives off list of possible careers.” He muttered to Wei Wuxian.

 

Two black and white figures embraced on the screen. Their expressions were pixelated and unclear, but it was obvious what they were doing. The taller man pushed the shorter up against the ambulance and they kissed.

Jin Guangyao watched it all play out on his computer, before rewinding and watching it again.

A sick feeling sitting in his stomach, not quite rage and not quite jealousy. Irritation, definitely. This complicated things far more than he wanted. His timeline was in shambles.

All because of this paramedic and his obnoxious brother.

He leaned in closer to the screen and reached out to stroke Lan Xichen’s paused face.

It was hardly surprising that someone like Lan Xichen was trying to stop this epidemic. That was something he would do. Lan Xichen was predictable, and so he had accounted for this in his plans. He even made concessions for Lan Wangji to get involved. The man was intelligent, but normally lacked the ability to get people on his side.

Having things play out in a way he didn’t plan for was…disconcerting. His chess board had been set up, and the plays should have been set in motion. He should have been ten steps ahead.

But out of nowhere, two obnoxious men came and upended his board of carefully laid plans. Took what was his.

Jin Guangyao had spent his life being told no. It took him several years to learn that he needed to stop asking questions. If he asked, the answer would be no. But if he manipulated people, made them dance to his tune, he could have them ask the question.

He had sacrificed, scraped, begged, and suffered to get where he was now. To finally be in a position of power, a position to be the one who said no.

His door was kicked in and Xue Yang stomped in. He threw his bag on the floor of the office and wiped some sweat from his forehead. He had already called Jin Guangyao and told him the events that had happened at the high school.

Xue Yang was a nuisance. But a necessary one. Jin Guangyao needed someone to do his dirty work, someone who wasn’t afraid to get bloody. Someone who was expendable. Like a lizard that shed its tail when it was caught, Jin Guangyao needed him.

But only until it was time to shed his tail.

“Fucking bastards!” Xue Yang swore.

Jin Guangyao ignored him. He glanced at the file on his desk. Thanks to his other lackeys, his tails, he was able to get information on this paramedic.

He learned a long time ago, that everyone had a weakness. Humanity’s propensity for surrounding themselves with loved ones was ultimately everyone’s undoing.

Jiang Cheng had two weaknesses: a brother and a nephew.

What Jin Guangyao hadn’t anticipated, was their identities. His fingers lingered on the school photo of the nephew and he sat back in his chair. This was something he didn’t expect. While that irked him, it also could work out in his favor.

Without looking up at Xue Yang, Jin Guangyao finally addressed him. “Our timeline has just accelerated.”

Xue Yang snarled. “I’m going to cut them a thousand times. Each one slower, and more painful than the last.”

Jin Guangyao didn’t care. “Kill the medic and his brother. I don’t care how.”

When Xue Yang left, he turned his attention back to the computer. He watched the couple embrace once more, and then hit replay.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian wasn’t sure why he was standing in front of a nice looking brick colonial house at 7:37 pm. He knew how he got there. After taking Jiang Cheng back home and bandaging his hand, his brother downed questionable amounts of over the counter pain killers, chugged a beer in one go, and then went to bed.

Which left Wei Wuxian feeling listless. His emotions were on a roller coaster and he couldn’t seem to stop them. He felt like he was on one big drop after another. His heart was racing, and his stomach was unsettled. Wei Wuxian was only too conscious of how close they came to danger today.

Seeing Jiang Cheng grabbling with a drug dealer was something he wouldn’t be able to forget.

They had been in countless fights in their adolescent years. Mostly due to Wei Wuxian’s big mouth and Jiang Cheng’s anger issues. But they had been stupid scuffles amongst young men—a punch here, a kick there. Maybe a black eye, or a broken nose if things were really intense.

But he had never seen a gun up close like that.

His head swam when he thought about the way Jiang Cheng clung to the gun, and the sickening click of the trigger being pulled. If his hand hadn’t been in the way, the bullet would have ripped through his chest. And there was nothing Wei Wuxian could have done.

Grabbing the car keys, he took off from the apartment and climbed into his old sedan. As he accelerated out of their apartment complex, he didn’t have a destination in mind. He just knew he had to move.

Investigating this drug had been amusing. Something to take his mind off school. It was supposed to be diverting, but this afternoon it became real. Wei Wuxian’s scrubs were still covered in Jiang Cheng’s blood. They had taken off so quickly that they didn’t have a chance to see what the scene they left behind was like. Surely there was some blood left behind, and bullet casings. Wei Wuxian hadn’t seen Pinky Killer stop and pick them up.

Maybe the mass exodus of students had disrupted the scene enough that no one noticed? That was a distressing thought in itself.

Wei Wuxian was shaken. Jiang Cheng dealt with it by being alone. That’s how he always dealt with things, but Wei Wuxian was different. He needed someone. A warm body, a person he could cling to calm the whirlwind in his mind.

He needed an anchor.

An eye in the storm.

Which was why he ended up on the front porch of Lan Wangji’s home just as darkness was falling.

He wasn’t sure what he was expecting—maybe nothing. He just knew the urge to see him, to feel his calm, was too strong to ignore. It was something he couldn’t get from anyone else, not his brother or nephew. Wei Wuxian wasn’t going to question why he needed something so serious from a man he just met. It transcended things like logic and acceptable time tables.

The front door opened, and a young man was framed by soft interior light. When Wei Wuxian shifted, he could see the details of his face. His dark hair was cut neatly, and his bright brown eyes were soft. A hint of a smile lingered on his features.

“You must be Lan Sizhui. I’m Wei Wuxian.” Wei Wuxian said.

The boy nodded as he glanced down at Wei Wuxian’s soiled scrubs. “Oh. Have you come from the hospital?”

He glanced down at his scrubs and rubbed the back of his neck. “Kind of. Is Wa…Dr. Lan home?”

“Not yet.” Lan Sizhui said. “But you’re welcome to come in and wait? I’m making dinner.”

Wei Wuxian followed the teen into the home. As expected, it was clean and organized. The aesthetic wasn’t fancy or expensive, more like austere and utilitarian. Much like the owner of the house. The occasional painting broke up the monotony of the neutral colored walls—mostly landscapes and other impersonal fare.

Lan Sizhui walked into the kitchen and continued cooking. Wei Wuxian took a seat at one of the bar stools and tapped his fingers on the granite countertop. He felt strange sitting in Lan Wangji’s house without the man. Like he was a spot of bright red amongst the neutral colors of the home. Something that clearly didn’t belong.

“Do you work with Dr. Lan?” Lan Sizhui asked amiably.

Wei Wuxian was startled to hear him call him Dr. Lan. He didn’t stumble over the title so he must be used to calling him that.

He took a moment to study the young man. Lan Sizhui held himself with almost perfect posture. His appearance was neatly groomed, and as he puttered about the kitchen there was a pleasant smile on his face. He was a far cry from the sulky teenager that lived in Wei Wuxian’s apartment. Jin Ling wouldn’t be caught dead using honorific titles with his uncles. He also wouldn’t be cooking dinner for the family.

“No.” Wei Wuxian finally answered. “I’m a nursing student. I just completed some clinicals with him.”

Lan Sizhui nodded. “I thought you might have met through my Uncle Xichen.”

“Oh, really? I actually haven’t worked with him yet.”

The teenager stopped stirring and then looked over his shoulder at him. “Well, I meant…since he’s dating Jiang Cheng.”

Wei Wuxian almost fell off the stool. Lan Sizhui had to repeat the sentence three times, then give him two glasses of water before Wei Wuxian could process just what the hell he was saying.

“You’re telling me that your Uncle Xichen is dating my brother? Since when?!”

Lan Sizhui looked very uncomfortable. He fiddled with the wooden spoon. “Um. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything, it’s just…I thought you already knew.”

“I knew about you and Jin Ling! But Jiang Cheng left that piece of information out!”

Honestly, the whole thing was a little much. The information would normally give him so much joy. It meant months and months of fresh material to torment his brother with. But he just wasn’t up to it right now.

He had to admit that talking to Lan Sizhui had a similar calming effect to talking to Lan Wangji. They both had a calmness about them, a soothing aura that touched his restless soul and calmed it. Lan Sizhui might not be Lan Wangji’s biological son, but they might as well be. Lan Sizhui was a unique combination of all the Lan’s.

Wei Wuxian stood up and inserted himself into the kitchen, beginning to cook with Lan Sizhui. The teenager watched in horror as Wei Wuxian loosely dumped spices into the chili he had been stirring.

“I can’t imagine Jin Ling making dinner like this.” Wei Wuxian said.

Lan Sizhui smiled at the name of his boyfriend. “I guess not. But he doesn’t need to.” the shorter teenager smiled softly. “If I don’t make dinner, Dr. Lan and I will eat separately.”

Wei Wuxian nodded. He could see everything in the teenager’s face. Jin Ling went through a phase like that. There was a time when he was exceptionally clingy. He refused to let go of Jiang Cheng or Wei Wuxian. His tiny fists were like vices that wrapped in their clothing or hair and refused to let go. Eventually they just got used to doing things with the kid wrapped around their shoulders like some kind of gremlin shawl.

Lan Sizhui looked like that right now. Like he wanted to cling to someone and hold them tightly.

Wei Wuxian wrapped an arm around his shoulder. “Don’t tell Jin Ling I told you this, but he is incredibly ticklish. The best places are if you squeeze his upper thigh and right behind his right ear. Only the right one though, the left one makes him kicky. Which is equally as fun, just guard yourself.”

 

Lan Wangji didn’t recognize the battered black sedan parked in his driveway. Bending down to peer into the vehicle he noticed a stuffed bunny hanging from the rear-view mirror and an unhealthy amount of fast food cups on the floor.

He entered his house and heard the faint murmur of two people talking. Dropping his things, he stepped into the kitchen to see Lan Sizhui cooking with Wei Wuxian. They were shoulder to shoulder and cooking together with ease as if they did it all the time. Wei Wuxian kept trying to add more spices and Lan Sizhui would gently pluck the spice from his fingers and set it out of reach.

“Oh, you should wear the headband to your next archery competition. I’ll make Jin Ling a sign. Nothing too embarrassing, just something like ‘I want to have your baby’. How do you feel about glitter?”

Lan Sizhui laughed and shook his head, begging Wei Wuxian not to do that between his peals of laughter.

Lan Wangji was dumbstruck. How long had it been since he had seen Sizhui laugh like that? They didn’t even know each other, and Wei Wuxian and Lan Sizhui were talking like old friends. They were completely relaxed, and Wei Wuxian even tousled Lan Sizhui’s hair affectionately.

Clearing his throat, Wei Wuxian turned and flashed him a smile. Those bright grey eyes found Lan Wangji’s and they widened in happiness. “Wangji!” he waved as if Lan Wangji couldn’t see him.

He was all he could see.

No one had ever looked at him with such happiness.

Without saying a word, he grabbed Wei Wuxian’s hand and tugged him upstairs to his bedroom. Wei Wuxian said something, and then called back to Lan Sizhui, but Lan Wangji couldn’t hear him. All he could see was that bright smile and the way his entire face lit up like a Christmas tree.

When he got Wei Wuxian to his bedroom, he slammed the door and pushed the slender man up against it. Wei Wuxian’s chatty lips were running a mile a minute, but Lan Wangji wasn’t listening. He kissed him hard, hard enough to silence him. Wei Wuxian startled for a moment before he wrapped his arms around Lan Wangji’s neck, melting into him.

“Are you drunk?” Wei Wuxian teased.

“No.” Lan Wangji said breathlessly against Wei Wuxian’s lips. He didn’t want to be parted from them for even a moment. His hands had ended up fisted in Wei Wuxian’s top and he felt the stiffened fabric from the dried blood. Stepping back, he had to keep a hand on Wei Wuxian’s shoulder to keep him from following.

“Blood?”

“Not mine.” Wei Wuxian said. The dazed expression he had when Lan Wangji kissed him had disappeared and a troubled look replaced it. He dropped his head forward and rested it on Lan Wangji. His nose buried in the base of his neck and he inhaled deeply. “Today was…bad. And I don’t know why but I just needed to see you.” His arms clung to Lan Wangji. Last time he had checked, Wei Wuxian only had two arms, but he felt like he was being held by an octopus.

Lan Wangji stroked Wei Wuxian’s head. “Why don’t you shower and change. Then tell me about it.”

He offered Wei Wuxian a pair of his pajama pants and a t-shirt. While Wei Wuxian showered, he returned to the kitchen. Lan Sizhui looked up at him but didn’t question why he had dragged their guest upstairs so suddenly.

“I like him.” Lan Sizhui said with an unassuming smile.

Lan Wangji glanced up the stairs where he could hear the shower running. “Mn.” He said.

I like him, too.

 

When Wei Wuxian returned, they ate dinner together. Despite Lan Wangji’s preference to remain silent while eating, Lan Sizhui and Wei Wuxian talked about everything. From video games to school, to Wei Wuxian’s role as a nursing student. After they finished eating, Lan Sizhui cleaned up the table, then excused himself to go finish his homework.

“Oh.” Lan Sizhui said before he ascended the stairs. “There’s another competition next week. I would like it if you came.”

Wei Wuxian smiled and promised he would.

Lan Wangji rubbed his eyes and rested his elbows on the table. “How did you do that?”

“Do what?” Wei Wuxian asked as he plucked at the tablecloth.

“Talk to him.”

Wei Wuxian snorted. “You may not have noticed but talking is my default setting.”

Lan Wangji leaned back in the chair. “He is unhappy. Sizhui won’t say it, but I am not…giving him all that he needs. I have failed him.”

Wei Wuxian tried no to laugh but he wasn’t particularly successful. “’I have failed.’” He quoted Lan Wangji with a low voice. “I thought you were the stoic, undramatic type?” instead of waiting for Lan Wangji to answer he stood up and climbed into his lap. Straddling him, he wrapped his arms around his neck and laid a soft kiss on his lips.

“All parents think they’ve failed. It goes with the job description.” He pinched Lan Wangji’s stiff cheek. “Sizhui is a good kid. And you still have time. If you think you can do better, then do better.”

Lan Wangji let his hands rest on Wei Wuxian’s hips. He smelled like his shampoo and the borrowed clothes were soft under his fingertips. The combination was lulling him into a sort of domestic bliss that he wasn’t used to.

Wei Wuxian was beautiful. Not just in his appearance, although he was undeniably attractive. He was the type of man who wore his heart on his sleeve. A person who said what he was thinking, and extended comfort without a question.

Seeing him with Sizhui, then having him eat dinner with him, only to end up talking like this was…something Lan Wangji had never pictured. It was a nourishing meal to Lan Wangji’s starved soul.

Being raised by a fastidious uncle, affection was not something that Lan Wangji was comfortable with. It wasn’t that he didn’t enjoy it, more that he just didn’t know how to initiate it. It was like someone was given a toolbox, but not told how to use the tools. He knew that affection was something he needed, an important tool, but he didn’t know how to apply it.

Then there was Wei Wuxian, who shamelessly came to his home in search of something he couldn’t quantify. He followed the emotions that ran rampant in his soul, and they brought him to Lan Wangji.

Wei Wuxian was looking into Lan Wangji’s eyes. “You know, you’re not as ascetic as you think you are. You give everything away. Here.” He pointed at the corners of his eyes. “And here.” He pointed at the corners of his mouth. “And of course, here.” He gently tugged on the cartilage of his ears.

“Tell me,” Wei Wuxian said abruptly. “why did it bother you when I called you Dr. Lan, but not when Lan Sizhui does?”

Lan Wangji blinked and had to think about the question.

He supposed it was because he liked the informality between Wei Wuxian and him. He liked the way his name sounded coming out of Wei Wuxian’s mouth. But more importantly, he liked that is signified a closeness between them.

With Sizhui he just assumed that…he was more comfortable with a barrier between them. An obvious distance, since Lan Wangji was not his birth father. He didn’t want to overstep and somehow negate his biological parents. They were important to Lan Sizhui, even if he couldn’t really remember them.

“I…” Lan Wangji began but he couldn’t quite find the words.

Wei Wuxian rubbed his temples. “Don’t think so hard. I can see smoke coming out of your ears.”

There was a sort of self-indulgent smile on Wei Wuxian’s face. It was somehow more frightening than the wicked smile he wore when he was plotting something. He looked like he was enjoying Lan Wangji’s discomfort.

“You know, when we first started taking care of Jin Ling it was absolute hell. He was miserable, and Jiang Cheng and I had no idea what we were doing. For the first two months all he would eat is Cheerios. Dry Cheerios right out of the box. He also refused to take a bath unless one of us got in our swim trunks and stood out in the yard and hosed him down.” Wei Wuxian laughed at the memory. “So, picture us standing in line at the grocery store with 12 boxes of Cheerios. Jin Ling is dirty, Jiang Cheng is wearing a set of pink flamingo swim shorts, and I’m half asleep on the shopping cart.”

Lan Wangji did picture it and it made the corners of his mouth lift up. Things with Sizhui were never quite that chaotic.

“What I’m trying to say is that kids are resilient. You put the effort in, and they’ll love you.”

He gathered Wei Wuxian in his arms and held him close. The urge to never let him go was so strong that he couldn’t think. Holding him felt right in so many ways. A myriad of emotions that he didn’t understand or recognize bloomed inside him.

They were too much. He couldn’t logically process them.

Instead of trying, he just kissed Wei Wuxian.

He kissed him until his lungs cried out for air, and then he kissed him some more. He kissed him while his hands blindly mapped every inch of his body, touching and pinching, reveling in the way he fit against his palms and tantalized his fingers. He inhaled Wei Wuxian’s pants, the warm breath coming from his partner faster and faster until they mixed with whines of want that sent shocks straight to his groin.

Lan Wangji wasn’t even aware that he had picked up Wei Wuxian and carried him to his bedroom. Not until the door slammed behind him and he had laid him on the bed and covered him with his body.

Wei Wuxian ran his fingers through Lan Wangji’s hair and tightened them, yanking back with a force that sent pleasurable pain radiating throughout his body. “I thought you were going to take me on a date.” He taunted breathlessly.

“I thought you were going to wear something skimpy?”

Wei Wuxian burst into a fit of giggles, tugging him closer and kissing his neck. He gnashed his teeth just below Lan Wangji’s ear.

Nagging guilt managed to crawl its way through the haze of arousal and Lan Wangji pulled away from the kiss. Looking down at Wei Wuxian’s face was a colossal mistake.

His eyes were blow with lust, and his lips kissed swollen and shiny from their saliva. Damp hair coiled around his oval face in messy tangles and his chest rose and fall with the power of his breaths.

Lan Wangji bit the inside of his cheek until his vision cleared. “Do you want to stop?”

Wei Wuxian snorted. “Do I look like I want you to stop?” he rolled his hips and pressed his erection against Lan Wangi’s groin. Even through their clothes he could feel the heat and firmness of his arousal pressing against him. The arms that normally possessed so much strength began to tremble as they bracketed Wei Wuxian’s head.

He dropped his head to his chest and pressed a kiss on his sternum, pushing the drooping neckline of the t-shirt out of the way so he could get to that fiery skin that seared Lan Wangji’s lips. “I…”

Wei Wuxian clasped his hands on either side of Lan Wangji’s face and brought his eyes up to meet his. “I know.” He said softly, his swollen lips quirked into a crooked smile.

Somehow the man understood what Lan Wangji was trying to say. He knew that despite their passionate kissing, there was more, he wanted more from Wei Wuxian. And Wei Wuxian wanted more from him.

Wei Wuxian could understand Lan Wangji’s silence.

So, Lan Wangji made sure that Wei Wuxian wasn’t silent the rest of the night. Watching Wei Wuxian bite down on his forearm to keep his cries from alerting Lan Sizhui was something that would replay in Lan Wangji’s head. At the most inconvenient times, he was sure. But he wasn’t complaining.

They didn’t have sex, not quite. But they didn’t keep their hands to themselves, either. Wei Wuxian’s hands moved as fast as his mouth—they flit around Lan Wangji’s body and drove him mad, holding and caressing until he was seeing stars, and then they would dance to the next part he wanted to torment.

After they had both come and were sated, Lan Wangji tucked them into bed and Wei Wuxian clamped onto him much like a koala hugs a tree. He burrowed into Lan Wangji’s side and they slept so close their breaths intermingled.

Chapter Text

“Ok, so let me get this straight.” Jiang Cheng said as he rested his elbows on his knees and tapped his forehead with the ring on his right index finger. “I’m dating Lan Xichen, whose brother is Lan Wangji. My brother, Wei Wuxian, is dating Lan Wangji. Lan Wangji is the foster father of Lan Sizhui, who is dating my nephew Jin Ling.”

Jiang Cheng made eye contact with the men sitting around the room. The situation would have been comical if he didn’t need a fully annotated graph with color coding to figure it out.

They were sitting in Lan Xichen’s spacious studio apartment, having agreed to all meet up on a rare shared day off. Wei Wuxian was perched on the kitchen counter, Jiang Cheng and Lan Xichen were sitting on the comfortable leather couch, Jin Ling and Lan Sizhui were squished into a suspiciously frail looking recliner, and Lan Wangji was standing behind Wei Wuxian with his arms crossed and face as stony as a beach in Europe.

“Technically, we’re not dating. Yet.” Wei Wuxian pointed out. “We haven’t been on a date yet.” Lan Wangji’s ears turned pink and he shot Wei Wuxian a look.

“Would it help if I wrote it down?” Lan Sizhui asked in a tone that was probably meant to be helpful but only made Jiang Cheng realize just how ridiculous the situation was.

“No, I think that might make it worse.”

Lan Xichen rubbed the back of Jiang Cheng’s neck. “Maybe it would help to not think about it so closely?”

“Is this technically inbreeding?” Jin Ling asked from where he was currently plastered up against Lan Sizhui in a chair made for one.

The room full of medical professionals turned as one to stare at a wide eyed Jin Ling. Lan Sizhui patted his hand and shook his head.

Deciding he didn’t want to deal with his nephew’s blatant lack of biological knowledge, he reached into the bag he had brought with him and unfolded a map. Laying it out on the coffee table he took a good look at the work he had done last night.

“All right, so last night I decided to map everything out. The blue dots are overdoses. Reds are deaths. The black one is where the drug house was located, and the X is the high school.”

Everyone moved closer so they could see the map. Wei Wuxian glanced down at it and then raised an eyebrow at Jiang Cheng. “This is what you did last night?”

Jiang Cheng. “Yes. The reds should be accurate. The alcohol didn’t kick in until halfway through the blue dots.”

Lan Xichen eyed Jiang Cheng. He glanced at the bandage around his hand but didn’t say anything.

Seeing it all laid out on the map was surreal. They looked like those Scantron test sheets schools used. The kind where they had to put instructions on how to fill in the bubbles.

They could immediately see the sheer amount of cases. The number of blue stickers were equal to the red. While the drug house was off the west and devoid of any of the dots, they did make their way to almost every other inch of the map.

“They surround the high school.” Lan Sizhui said softly.

He was right. While the dots were all over the county, strangely stopping directly at the county line and not moving into any other jurisdiction, they were most concentrated around the high school.

“That doesn’t make any sense.” Lan Xichen said as he dropped an elegant finger on the black X. “We’ve already established that from a business sense selling to teenagers isn’t a smart financial decision, and the risks are greater. So why?”

Jin Ling looked over Lan Sizhui’s shoulder. He rested his head there and his wide eyes took in the map. “Is there something close to the school?”

Everyone in the room looked up at him and he blinked at the sudden attention. “Like…what if we think it’s the school but it’s really something beside it? Or ya know…” he trailed off.

“The hospital is only several miles from the school. Other than that, it’s just random businesses. And construction.”

“I’ve always thought the bakery was shady.” Wei Wuxian said unhelpfully.

Jiang Cheng ignored him. “Either way, I don’t think they’ll be so bold as to go back to the high school. Not after yesterday.”

“I don’t know. Pinky Killer looked pretty ballsy.”

“What happened yesterday?” Lan Xichen asked, eyes flicking down to the bandage on Jiang Cheng’s hand again.

Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng shared a look before they coughed, and Jiang Cheng attempted to awkwardly change the subject. “Did you find anything about corpses or patients with a missing pinky?”

Lan Xichen stared at Jiang Cheng with a look that said he was not letting his previous question go. “No. Nothing in the surrounding counties either.”

“Which means this Coach Elm didn’t get it treated. How does a guy explain a pinky being cut off to family and friends?”

“Maybe he didn’t have many? If he was using Corpse Poisoning he might be pretty isolated.” Lan Wangji pointed out.

“Actually,” Lan Sizhui cut in a little shyly. “we did some research on Coach Elm.” He pulled a sheaf of papers out of his backpack and held them in his lap. “I didn’t know him well, since he was predominantly the girls team coach. But his attendance record was flawless, he almost never called in sick, and none of his students or colleagues noticed anything off about him in the days leading up to the uh...” he flailed and tried to come up with the right word.

“Pinky decapitation.” Jin Ling provided.

Wei Wuxian slipped off the counter and took the papers from Lan Sizhui. He flipped through them, scanning the detailed notes and verified sources the kids had used. “How did you two manage this?”

“It wasn’t difficult. The school’s computers are all on a central system and most of the teachers forget to log out. It’s just a matter of going in behind them before the system locks you out. You can see grades, attendance records, all that jazz.” Jin Ling said breezily.

“All right. Go Scooby squad.” Wei Wuxian said as he ruffled both kids’ heads. Lan Sizhui smiled happily under the praise, eyes flicking over to his foster father briefly to gauge his reaction. He looked disappointed when Lan Wangji didn’t react.

Jiang Cheng wasn’t sure he should be praising his nephew’s illegal computer skills, but he was willing to let that one go. “There’s no way people wouldn’t notice if this guy was using Corpse Poisoning. The users I’ve picked up all had classic symptoms: inability to speak, tachycardia, loss of motor function, followed by plummeting blood pressure and then death. No one could be a functioning teacher while using.”

“Could he have been using off work hours?” Lan Wangji suggested. He had made no comment on Lan Sizhui’s efforts to help with their investigation and the kid looked slightly deflated about it.

“Possibly.” Lan Xichen said while looking down at the map. “From what we’re seeing it’s twice as addictive as average strains of Heroin. I can’t see him being able to not use for the long stretches of time he was at work.”

“So, he wasn’t a user.” Jin Ling said. “Maybe he was selling it to kids?”

That was a possibility. Maybe Pinky Killer wasn’t the original seller to the high school. He might have taken over after Coach Elm was kicked out of the operation. What could he have done to warrant losing a pinky? And why would a seemingly average coach start selling deadly drugs to the kids at his school?

And where was he now?

Jiang Cheng flopped back onto the couch. “We don’t know who. We don’t know why. We only sort of know how. What exactly do we know?”

“Why don’t we call the cops with this info?” Jin Ling suggested.

Thinking of calling the cops reminded Jiang Cheng of that weird officer at the scene of the drug house. Besides acting like a total idiot, he had asked some strange questions. And he had been overly interested in Jiang Cheng, almost like he was watching him.

“Su She.” Jiang Cheng said suddenly. “That was the name of the cop who was acting so strange at the drug house.”

Lan Wangji lifted his head. “There was a Detective Su She who came to speak to me about the Corpse Poisoning cases. He said he was lead investigator for the narcotics division.”

Sitting up Jiang Cheng tried to think back to that night. It was a bit hazy—lately his mind had been occupied with Doctor Perfect Lan and his saccharine speeches that were so cheesy they made him want to vomit. It felt like a lifetime ago he was doing his best impression of a bargain brand Indiana Jones.

“No…no the officer I spoke to was definitely a uniformed officer. He wasn’t a detective.”

“Are there two?” Lan Sizhui asked, not unreasonably. Considering there were three Dr. Lan’s at their hospital, it could be that there were multiple officers with the same name.

“Was he pudgy? Unremarkable except for how ordinary he looked? Pug eyes? Looks like the kind of guy who would listen to motivational speeches to hype himself up?”

Lan Wangji blinked at Jiang Cheng. “How would I know what he listens to?”

Looking at Wei Wuxian, Jiang Cheng pointed at Lan Wangji. “Him? Really?”

Wei Wuxian waggled his eyebrows. “Yeah, him.”

“Wangji,” Lan Xichen broke in. “please describe him.”

“It was as he said—an average looking man. He did have small eyes.”

It had to be the same guy. What were the odds two different officers named Su She with that description were involved in the Corpse Poisoning case?

“Is that evidence that the police might be involved in the cover up?” Lan Sizhui asked.

“Seems like it. We still don’t know why. What’s the point if it isn’t money?”

The room fell silent and they all stared at the map. Lan Xichen was still fiddling with Jiang Chengs hair and he found that he didn’t mind the touch. Like a constant reassurance that he wasn’t alone. It was a strange feeling, and one he wasn’t sure he wanted to look into too closely. Lan Xichen always seemed to know how to center him, to make him feel better even when he didn’t know what he was feeling himself.

“Unrequited love.” Wei Wuxian said dramatically. “It’s always unrequited love.”

As usual, everyone ignored him. “Maybe he’s trying to make a statement? Something about the war on drugs?” Lan Sizhui suggested. “Like people who blow up planes to prove how unsecure airport security is.”

It was as good an idea as any other. Maybe officer Su She was willing to help because he too believed that the measures for the drug war weren’t stringent enough. The problem with that line of reasoning was their county was relatively low in drug case numbers, which was why these were standing out so much.

No matter how he thought about it, the financial loss just didn’t make sense. Why would someone go through the process of creating and distributing a deadly strain of drug if it wasn’t for money? The risks were too high for this to just be about drawing attention to the war on drugs. The war on drugs has been a societal issue since man first discovered they could use nature to give themselves an artificial high.

“Revenge.” Jin Ling said.

Jiang Cheng glanced at his nephew. “What?”

“I was trying to think why someone would do all this, so I put myself in that position.” he wriggled out from the chair he was squeezed into with Lan Sizhui and stood up. “The only thing I could think of is revenge. It’s too broad of an attack to be targeting someone specific, so it has to be a group of people.”

Wei Wuxian laid a hand on Jin Ling’ shoulder. “Your parents?”

He nodded. “I would give anything to find the man who shot them.”

Rubbing his back, Wei Wuxian looked at Jiang Cheng. “So would I.”

Revenge was an emotion Jiang Cheng was familiar with. In high school, the brothers had beat the hell out of Jin Zixuan after he insulted Yanli. The guy had just hurt his sisters’ feelings, but hearing her lock herself in her room and cry about the opinion of that peacock of a man? It was too much to bear. Jiang Cheng took out his feelings on the pretty boy’s face.

Understandably, it put a bit of a damper on their relationship with the man after he married their sister.

But the rage had burned so hot, that even all these years later Jiang Cheng could feel it still. So yes, revenge seemed like a perfectly good reason.

“So now the question is, who has been the most hurt with these overdoses?” Lan Wangji said.

Staring down at the map, Jiang Cheng didn’t know. The kids who died all came from different backgrounds, families, and even income brackets. There wasn’t anything that tied any of them together.

Jin Ling was looking at the map with his eyebrows drawn. Lan Sizhui noticed the change in him and stood, sliding an arm around his waist. “C’mon. Let’s go for a walk or something.” He waved goodbye to the adults in the room and steered him out the apartment door.

Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian shared a look of approval. Maybe this Sizhui kid was all right after all.

“Wangji,” Lan Xichen called his brothers attention to the map. “did the mass spec tell us anything about where the drug was made?”

Lan Wangji knelt beside the table and used a blunt fingernail to scrape at one of the off-center dots. “As Wei Wuxian noted, there’s no preservative. So, it has to be made local.” His picking increased in intensity, as if the crooked sticker was personally mocking him.

Experimentally, Jiang Cheng reached out and nudged the map until it was no longer flush with the edges of the table. Lan Wangji immediately righted it, almost on instinct and without taking his eyes off the sticker he was furiously trying to peel off.

“Wait, wasn’t there something in the…” Wei Wuxian began muttering to himself as he pulled out his cell phone. He began furiously scrolling until he found what he was looking for. Using two fingers he zoomed in on it. “Gypsum. There were levels of gypsum in the drug.”

“Oh, gypsum. That makes total sense.” Jiang Cheng said sarcastically. “I am the least educated person in this room, what makes you think I would know what the hell gypsum is?”

Lan Xichen shot him an unamused look. “Don’t say that.”

Jiang Cheng waved at the three men in the room. “Raise your hand if you’ve gone to college? Ok, now raise your other hand if you went to medical school?” he didn’t wait to see if they actually did it. “Now raise your hand if you know how to make an ambulance make the wee woo sound?” he raised his hand.

“I would argue that skill is far more important than a medical degree.” Wei Wuxian said.

“You’ve always been loyal to me, Maverick.”

Wei Wuxian pumped his fist. “Finally.”

The Lans collectively decided to ignore their idiots and went back to the task at hand. Lan Xichen quickly typed in gypsum into his phone. “It says it’s an ingredient in a lot of different things like fertilizer, paper filler, and a fluxing agent. But most of it is used in plaster of paris for construction and dry wall.”

“Construction?” Lan Wangji looked at the map again. He pointed to the area east of the high school. “There’s several construction sites within a mile of the school. They’re building new apartment complexes.”

Jiang Cheng nudged the map off kilter again. He snickered when Lan Wangji immediately righted it. “Would that be a good place to set up a drug lab?”

“Normally no, but the man who was funding it lost his permits a couple months ago. He’s been fighting red tape on it but it’s taking a while. The site has been dormant for a while.” Lan Xichen said. Jiang Cheng didn’t ask why he happened to know something like that.

“We should check it out.” Jiang Cheng said.

Wei Wuxian nodded. “Your car or mine?”

“We’ll take yours, mine is still making that—”

“No.” Lan Xichen wrapped his hand around the back of Jiang Cheng’s neck and forced him to sit down on the couch. “What did you two do yesterday?”

Lan Wangji turned to Wei Wuxian. “Yes, you never told me.”

Wei Wuxian made a face at the forensic pathologist. “My mouth was busy doing other things last night.”

“I can’t know that!” Jiang Cheng shouted, swatting Lan Xichen’s hand off his neck. He wasn’t sure where his brother got his shamelessness from. On second thought, he didn’t want to know.

The Lan brothers stared at them both. Jiang Cheng had never noticed the difference in the men, mostly because he found Lan Wangji to be slightly insufferable and so avoided spending any time with him, but he was now given the opportunity (curse) to see them both side by side as they stared down at the Jiang boys.

Lan Xichen’s face was slightly softer. It was the way his darker eyes were wider and a little less judgmental. He also had a habit of smiling faintly, even when his face was at rest. When he looked at you, it was with a sort of comforting support. The kind that said he knew you did wrong, but he wasn’t mad, just disappointed. But he would help you fix it because he was always there for you.

Lan Wangji’s eyes were a bright amber color, and he usually was looking at people with his lid’s half closed. Like he was shading his eyes from other people’s nonsense and was only giving you half his attention. Even at half power, his light eyes radiated an intensity that was belied by his impassive expression.

They were weirdly the same height, and from a distance they would look indistinguishable.

He wasn’t sure when they both stood up next to each other and crossed their arms. Or when Wei Wuxian was forced to sit on the couch beside Jiang Cheng so they could stare down at them like a couple of disapproving parents.

“Ok, first of all, this is creepy.” He gestured to the doctors. “Second of all, Wei Wuxian and I are adults. And we are capable of making our own decisions.”

Jiang Cheng didn’t want to mention that those decisions involved him boosting Wei Wuxian into a dumpster and him wrestling a gun from a nine fingered drug dealer. Those were just semantics.

“You showed up at my home covered in blood.” Lan Wangji said with the same even tone that grated on Jiang Cheng’s nerves. The man could be falling out of an airplane and his tone wouldn’t change.

“And you have a bandage on your hand.” Lan Xichen said with a softer tone. There was only a hint of accusation in it.

Jiang Cheng felt a flicker of irritation. “I cut myself shaving.”

“Your hand?”

“Yes. I have hairy knuckles. I’m very sensitive about it, and quite frankly I think it’s incredibly rude of you to bring it up in such a public setting.”

Wei Wuxian snorted and lost all semblance of a poker face.

Lan Xichen sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m sorry. I should have known better than to corner you.” He took a seat on the coffee table and spread his hands. “I am just concerned. Would you please tell me what happened?”

He gritted his teeth and glared at him. That was cheating. Somehow Lan Xichen had managed to flip the situation. If Jiang Cheng continued hiding behind his stubborn exterior, he would like a royal jackass to his boyfriend who was just trying to be loving and supportive.

Bastard.

“Wow.” Wei Wuxian started slow clapping. “That was just…it took me ten years to figure out how to manipulate Jiang Cheng like that.”

Jiang Cheng smacked Wei Wuxian on the side of the head, but the older man managed to dodge most of the block. Lan Wangji stepped up and picked up Wei Wuxian by the arm, setting him down on the recliner and out of arms reach of Jiang Cheng.

“Fine.” He said as he flopped back onto the couch. He managed to tell them an abridged version of events, starting with their investigation into the alley and glossing over the whole gun thing.

“So how did you hurt your hand?” Lan Xichen asked suspiciously.

“The gun did that.” Wei Wuxian said dismissively.

Both doctors’ eyes widened at that. Jiang Cheng chuckled at the comedic effect it had, but no one else seemed to find the situation funny. “Oh, come on. It was a small gun. It’s not the first time someone’s pulled a gun on me.”

Unfortunately, that was true. His first year as a medic he was working on a multi car accident. In an multi casualty situation, it was procedure to triage patients on the scene. Jiang Cheng had black tagged a woman in a blue suburban. She was only breathing twice a minute and the entire right side of her head was caved in. The injuries only got worse from there. Everything in him screamed at having to leave a patient, but there were ten others. Ten other patients he could save.

Her teenage son did not feel that way. After escaping the accident relatively unscathed, he stole a gun from an officer on scene and tried to hold Jiang Cheng up. He thought that pointing a gun at him would give him the motivation he apparently lacked.

That was the first time, but not the last.

Lan Xichen’s eyes softened a little and he took Jiang Cheng’s bandaged hand in his. “Can I look at it?”

While he unwrapped his hand, Lan Wangji went to retrieve his brothers first aid kit.

“I took care of it last night. It’s fine.” Jiang Cheng protested, although he kept his hand in Lan Xichen’s.

His hand was swollen. The skin was tender, and around the actual lacerations it was tinged blueish from the contusions. There was no blood, but the two lacerations looked very much like large snake bites from where the hammer had dug into him. They were red from the exposed tendons and nerves underneath.

“These could have used some stitches.” Lan Xichen said disapprovingly.

Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes. “That would be overkill.”

Hazel eyes lifted to meet Jiang Chengs as Lan Xichen covered his wound with his hand. The warmth from his palm felt good on his aching hand but it sent a shiver down his spine. Lan Xichen was looking at him with an intensity that did things to him.

“Would it be ridiculous to make sure you heal properly?”

Wei Wuxian glanced down at his bare wrist. “Oh, look at the time. Wangji, let’s go to the construction site.” He grabbed Lan Wangji and dragged him from the apartment.

“Hey! Wait for me!” Jiang Cheng made to stand but Lan Xichen pushed him back down. Jiang Cheng opened his mouth to protest but the look on Lan Xichen’s face made him stop.
“Jiang Cheng.” He said it as if he was defeated.

The way he said his name made Jiang Cheng’s heart flutter. The tall doctor had his shoulders slumped and Jiang Cheng didn’t like that. He scooted to the edge of the couch and dropped to his knees on the carpet. Sliding between Lan Xichen’s knees he wrapped his hands around his waist and hugged him.

With his face against Lan Xichen’s chest he didn’t have to look up at him. “Are you mad that I did it or that I didn’t tell you?”

Lan Xichen didn’t move for a long moment before he couldn’t resist anymore, pulling Jiang Cheng closer. “Yes.”

“In my defense, we weren’t actually looking for trouble. We were just trying to get some information.”

“You knowingly went into a dangerous situation, and then knowingly kept it from me.”

Jiang Cheng buried his nose into Lan Xichen’s crisp button down shirt. It smelled like laundry detergent, but he could feel Lan Xichen’s skin underneath.

It wasn’t that Jiang Cheng had intentionally kept it from Lan Xichen for any nefarious reason. He just didn’t think to tell him. Since Yanli died, no one really cared what he did. Or how hurt he got. Wei Wuxian was usually right next to him getting hurt, and Jin Ling was too young to know a lot of the shit he had seen.

He didn’t know what to say, but Lan Xichen just stroked the back of his head. “Next time, please tell me. I’m not telling you what you can and cannot do, I just…I’m worried about you.”

Out of all the things Lan Xichen had said to Jiang Cheng, that was the sweetest. The way he held his injured hand and insisted on examining it and the way he held him, even though he was frustrated, were incredible. But hearing Lan Xichen say he cared—that did things to him.

Jiang Cheng’s fears and insecurities disappeared, and he dragged Lan Xichen’s lips to his. Unlike their slow kisses, this was frenzied. Jiang Cheng’s blood was rushing in his ears and the only thought in his head was the way Lan Xichen made him feel.

They ended up standing up with their limbs tangled together. Lan Xichen huffed a laugh when Jiang Cheng bit his lower lip and aggressively pawed at his shirt. The buttons strained as Jiang Cheng roughly undid them and let the starched fabric fall to the ground so he could look at Lan Xichen’s chest again. He didn’t think he would ever get tired of it. A person’s chest had no right to be that alluring.

Lan Xichen made a soft groan and Jiang Cheng felt a rush of excitement that went straight to his groin. He did that. He made Lan Xichen make that noise.

His mouth found the pert pink nipple and he licked it until the skin around it pebbled up with the sensation. Lan Xichen’s hips jerked and he made some sort of stuttering noise.

He has sensitive nipples, Jiang Cheng thought viciously.

He grabbed Lan Xichen around the waist and lifted him up, carrying him toward the bedroom in the back of the apartment. Lan Xichen grabbed him in surprise, panting slightly. He pushed the man onto the bed and crawled over him.

“That’s payback for all those times you picked me up.” Jiang Cheng told him with a smirk.

“What a terrible punishment.” Lan Xichen said drily as he kissed him again. He shucked Jiang Cheng’s shirt off and his hands went right for his hips. Jiang Cheng had noticed that Lan Xichen liked his hips, that’s where most of his hickies ended up.

Jiang Cheng kissed down Lan Xichen’s achingly beautiful face, kissing along his jawline and down the pale neck. He nibbled on his collarbones and felt his heart beating faster the more he got to enjoy Lan Xichen’s body.

Last time had been rushed and cramped. The couch was too small, and they had just established their relationship. This time was different. It was still rushed; they were still trying to learn each other’s bodies but there was room to spread out. Jiang Cheng tried to force himself to slow down. He wasn’t terribly experienced when it came to the bedroom, and most of the things he did felt clumsy and not at all sexy.

Lan Xichen didn’t seem to notice, or care. He reacted so beautifully as he allowed Jiang Cheng to map out his body with his lips. Alternating the sensations: kissing, sucking, and biting. Marring that perfect jade like skin with his greedy lips. It was almost a shame, but when he sat up and looked at his work, he was proud. Perhaps perfection could be improved upon.

Heavy lidded hazel eyes watched him with something like rapt attention. They picked up on his every expression and watched as he felt his way through the inexperienced movements. The hands on his hips drifted below the waistline of his jeans and slid under his underwear to grip his ass, fingers kneading into the flesh there.

“You look good in jeans.” Lan Xichen said huskily before using his knees to trap Jiang Cheng, flipping them on the bed so he was suddenly on top. “But I think I prefer you in your tactical pants. You have no idea what it does to me when I see you in them.”

Jiang Cheng blushed, but he buried his fingers in Lan Xichen’s hair and dragged his lips back where they belonged. Against his. “I don’t usually wear underwear with them.”

Lan Xichen groaned and nipped Jiang Cheng’s lips. “You’re killing me.”

“I’m a paramedic. I can save you.” He said cheekily.

Lan Xichen might have had something to say about his corny pick up line, but it was lost in his desperation to get Jiang Cheng’s pants off. The jeans he had been wearing ended up somewhere, but Jiang Cheng lost all thoughts of them when Lan Xichen’s fingers slipped below his boxers and took his achingly hard cock in his hand.

Even just his touch was too much. His skin felt like it was coming alive under his hand, nerves sparking with just the feel of his palm against the sensitive skin of his shaft.

“You’re already so wet, my stubborn boy.” He whispered against Jiang Cheng’s ear. His voice was dark and low. Rather than shaming him for it, his voice was full of pride. Hearing that almost undid Jiang Cheng. What was left of his sanity had fizzled away at his touch.

Fingers tightening in Lan Xichen’s hair, he couldn’t help but squirm on the mattress as Lan Xichen slowly stroked him. There was no rush, fingers gently probing at all his sensitive areas. Thumb swiping over the head of his weeping erection, and knuckles brushing against the base. He would even let go completely and stroke his inner thighs, dragging his nails along the ticklish skin.

Lan Xichen kissed the soft area below Jiang Cheng’s ear. “I wish you could see how beautiful you look right now.” His teeth nibbled on his ear lobe. “You sound so amazing, too. Did you know that you make the most delightful noises of pleasure?”

Jiang Cheng lurched and felt his hips jerk. What was Lan Xichen even saying? No one had ever said anything like that to him. In any other setting, Jiang Cheng would have thought it was ridiculous, but right now it was the hottest fucking thing he had ever heard. He had to fight to keep from losing it all over Lan Xichen’s hand right now, his fingers were digging into Lan Xichen’s back and he clamped his mouth shut.

“No.” Lan Xichen said as he licked Jiang Cheng’s lips. “I want to hear you come apart. I want to hear it so I can replay it in my mind when I’m alone.”

The hot arousal pooling in his stomach was too much. Digging his heels into the mattress Jiang Cheng finally came, gasping and arching his back as Lan Xichen coaxed him with his words and his hands.

Lan Xichen didn’t seem to mind the mess. He kissed Jiang Cheng’s forehead and lips, taking in his harsh breaths as he tried to get his breathing back to normal. “You’re such a good boy.” He said in a low tone.

The haze in Jiang Cheng’s brain hadn’t quite cleared but he knew that the way Lan Xichen was looking at him, was just as good as the orgasm he had just had. Covering his heated cheeks with his hands, he tried to hide from those soft, probing eyes. Lan Xichen kissed his hands, peeling them away.

“Never hide from me, stubborn boy. I want to see it all.”

Chapter Text

The construction site was a sprawling mess of dust and forgotten tools. Like a dystopian hellscape, the perimeter fence was falling down in several places and all manner of hooligans had used the site as a place to hang out. Bottles and cans were piled up in corners and graffiti colored the walls that were still standing.

Nothing of value had been left in the site. The tools and machines were taken with the construction crew. The only thing that remained were the skeletons of apartment buildings with bare rebar sticking out.

Wei Wuxian kicked a can across the empty lot and put his hands on his hips. “I don’t think anyone has been here for a while.”

“Mn.” Lan Wangji said as he climbed some rubble and looked through the buildings.

“The lot doesn’t have water or electricity. So, unless they’re bringing in generators and water cans, I don’t see how this could be our super villains lair.”

It was late afternoon, but the sun was still hot on his head. Coming here wasn’t exactly a mistake, they were able to rule it out as a potential manufacturing area. But now they were at another dead end. If the gypsum in the Corpse Poisoning didn’t come from a construction zone, where the hell did it come from?

Looking around at the frameworks that had been left, it was obvious this couldn’t be the place. There wasn’t even any drywall. The gypsum couldn’t have come from here.

Bending down, Wei Wuxian picked up a bottle and flung it at a concrete wall. He smirked as the glass shattered. There was something about destruction that made him giddy. They used to set cans and bottles on the train tracks by their house and wait for a train to come by and smash them. After the train had rattled by, they would fine the crushed cans and marvel at the difference. Yanli never understood the enjoyment they got out of it. Maybe it was a boy thing, or maybe they were just destructive weirdos.

Lan Wangji stared at him with a questioning look in his eye.

“If you don’t understand, I can’t explain it to you.” Wei Wuxian said as he turned to walk back to the car. The weight of Lan Wangji’s confused stare followed him all the way through the sagging chain link fence they hopped, and back to Lan Wangji’s car.

People looked at something broken and wanted to throw it away. Broken things were useless. Putting them back together was pointless—it would never be the same. No amount of glue, tape, hopes and dreams could make that bottle whole again. Buying a new one was easier.

It was easier to forget about it.

Wei Wuxian thought it might be the same way with these overdoses. It was easier to write off those who died as addicts, broken things that were pointless now. They’d been cracked and it would be expensive to put them back together. Why spend the time to put something back together when it’ll never be as good as it once was?

Leaning on Lan Wangji’s car, he trailed a finger through the dust on the hood. Idly, he wondered if that’s what Madame Yu saw when she looked at him. Did she see a broken kid that was a waste of time? Maybe that was one of the reasons she hated him so much.

He heard smashing glass and looked up. Lan Wangji was staring at bits of broken glass at his feet. Crunching over the glass he hopped the fence and came over to Wei Wuxian.
“I don’t understand. Is it the sound?”

His face looked so serious that Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but laugh. Once he started, he couldn’t stop. The laughter bubbled up and erased all the things he had been thinking. Like a healing balm, the laughter smothered his thoughts of broken people and Madame Yu’s hatred. It lifted his heart up and tears leaked from his squinted eyes.

With his lips still parted in laughter, he threw himself in Lan Wangji’s arms. Wrapping his arms around his neck, he held onto him. He was so tall that even on his tip toes Wei Wuxian could barely kiss him. Not that it could really be called a kiss, really he was laughing into Lan Wangji’s mouth.

“Wangji…never change.” He said between his fits.

Lan Wangji held him close and they kissed beside his dusty car. In the shade of the battered chain link fence, and amongst the piles of broken bottles and dented aluminum cans--were making a habit of getting physical in the most unromantic places. But somehow, it didn’t matter. Wei Wuxian thought that it didn’t matter where they were, if it was Lan Wangji, it would be ok.

Lan Wangji’s hands ended up under his shirt, thumbs pressed to his ribs and leaving behind tingly tickling sensations as he caressed the skin. Suddenly, he felt itchy. His whole body felt like it was on fire and he needed some kind of release. Reaching behind him he pulled the rear door open and shoved La Wangji inside. The taller man hit his head on the SUV’s roof but Wei Wuxian didn’t care.

He didn’t bother to undo Lan Wangji’s buttons, he just shoved the shirt up his chest so he could have access to the muscular torso that he might never get tired of looking at. Wei Wuxian considered stealing all of Lan Wangji’s shirts and hiding them.

Running his teeth along the skin of Lan Wangji’s chest he tested to see if he was ticklish. The man was annoyingly stoic—the only sign he was struggling was the pink tinge to his ears and across his cheek bones and the set of his jaw. Like he was fighting it.

This wouldn’t do.

Wei Wuxian felt the evil part of his brain make a deal with the horny part—he would see Lan Wangji come apart.

With his teeth, he pulled at the black leather belt that Lan Wangji was wearing. Honestly, it went a lot worse than he thought it would. Why did it look so sexy in movies and in books?

Wei Wuxian gave up halfway and just used his impatient fingers to unbuckle the belt and get access to the snap of his jeans. The denim smelled like starch and he reminded himself to make fun of Lan Wangji for ironing his jeans later.

A small noise of protest came from Lan Wangji’s mouth and Wei Wuxian bent his head so he could mouth at the bulge in his underwear. Leaving behind wet fabric, his tongue lapped at the shaft.

Fingers buried in Wei Wuxian’s hair and Lan Wangji pulled his head up. “You shouldn’t.”

Wei Wuxian kissed the wet head of the erection he had yet to get a hold of. “Why not? Hasn’t anyone done this for you?”

A vein in Lan Wangji’s forehead throbbed and the skin around his eyes looked tight. “It’s not…”

“What?” Wei Wuxian asked wickedly, his voice purposefully low and lustful. “To be honest, I’ve never done this before. But I want to see what you taste like.” He pulled the hand from his hair and brought Lan Wangji’s thumb to his lips, smearing the pad across his lower lip before wrapping his tongue around it and bringing it into his mouth. Depressing his tongue with the digit, he made eye contact with Lan Wangji’s amber eyes. They were completely blown. Unfocused and thin lips parted in want.

He tightened his lips on the thumb and sucked experimentally. This was new ground for him but seeing Lan Wangji’s face made it thrilling.

Releasing his thumb with a pop, he bent back to the main event. Before Lan Wangji could protest anymore, he pulled the elastic band of his underwear out of the way and started a little when his erection finally bounced free.

Was this what he had been grinding against? It looked so much bigger now that he was face to face with it. He had seen dicks before, but for some reason this one gave him a thrill. He was just as hard as Lan Wangji and no one was even touching him.

A little tentatively, he let his tongue trace the veins on the thick shaft. Feeling the hardened raised areas like someone reading braille. There was an unfamiliar salty taste, but it didn’t disturb him as much as he thought it might. Swiping his tongue over the pink head of the cock, Lan Wangji inhaled sharply. His fingers had migrated to Wei Wuxian’s shoulders and the fingers digging into his flesh were almost painful.

Lan Wangji’s thighs were tight with the effort of keeping himself still. Thinking back to the embarrassing amounts of porn he had consumed, he took the aroused rod into his mouth and let his slide into his mouth. He choked a little with the head pressed against his throat, closing his eyes and fighting the urge to hack and cough. Despite not doing anything, Lan Wangji’s breathing grew harsher. Hoarse pants mixed with grunts of exertion came from him.

With the erection slipping into his throat, Wei Wuxian closed his lips around it and used his tongue to lap at the base while he sucked. Cheeks hollowed, and eyes closed, he focused on trying to tantalize the sensitive area as much as he could.

Lan Wangji’s hips shuddered below him and threatened to thrust, only Wei Wuxian’s hand on his hips kept him down. He wasn’t quite ready for the full force of Lan Wangji’s hips yet.
Popping off the cock he dragged his tongue along the underside, smiling faintly while making direct eye contact with Lan Wangji. Something flickered on his face and his fingers tightened in Wei Wuxian’s hair. Pressing back into his mouth, he felt Lan Wangji’s arousal shake before he finally grunted and doubled over, sticky ejaculation filling his mouth.

Wei Wuxian sat back in surprise. His mouth was full of the salty, warm fluid and he didn’t know what to do with it. Finally, he swallowed it out of habit. Licking the remnants off his lips, he looked up and was treated to a disheveled looking Lan Wangji. His entire face was pink, and his eyes were hungry as he caught his breath. Hair in disarray and clothes rumpled, he looked completely debauched.

Wei Wuxian smiled, catching Lan Wangji’s eye and suggestively licking his lips. Slowly dragging his tongue around his swollen mouth.

He squeaked when their positions were suddenly reversed. Lan Wangji was straddling him, pressing something rigid against him.

“You provoked me.”

“What? Who? Me?” Wei Wuxian said with false innocence.

Lan Wangji growled, and the mist of red over his eyes suddenly made Wei Wuxian afraid he might have pushed the man too far.

Swallowing nervously, he gestured to the windows. “Anyone can see us, Wangji.”

There was no response.

“Wangji…Wangj wait, I’m ticklish!!”

 

 

Jin Ling looked down at the paper in his hand and then back up at the house. It was a small house, tucked away from the street and hidden by a pair of overgrown bushes that reminded him of the chia pets that were popular when he was a kid. The lawn was long and unkept. Several bright pink notices were pinned to the front door, most of which had the HOA’s name at the top.

Lan Sizhui glanced down at the address on the note pad and then back up at the house. “This is it.”

“It doesn’t look like anyone has been home in a while.” Jin Ling pointed out.

Lan Sizhui nodded before setting up the driveway. He carefully skirted the lawn, not that stepping on it would have made much of a difference and followed the cracked paving stones to the front door. With Jin Ling behind him, he boldly knocked on the door.

Jin Ling pulled one of the neon notices from the front door. “Wow. Talk about passive aggressive.” He scanned the HOA’s vaguely threatening letter about the state of Coach Elm’s yard. It was as if an overgrown lawn was the worst thing in the world.

“I think he has bigger problems.” Jin Ling said as he crumpled the notice and tossed it on the front porch.

Besides the obscene number of angry letters, there was two dilapidated looking lawn chairs on the porch. Spider webs criss crossed the arm rests, so they clearly hadn’t been used in a while. Lan Sizhui sighed and reached for the doorknob, jiggling it to see if it was locked.

“What were you going to do? Go into his house?” Jin Ling asked worriedly. There was a determined look on Sizhui’s face that worried Jin Ling.

He reached for his hand and pulled him from the door. “I know you want to help, but there’s a limit to what we can do.”

Lan Sizhui looked unconvinced. “If he isn’t here we can just look around for a little bit, see if he’s been home or maybe get a clue to where he’s been.”

Sighing, Jin Ling pinched Lan Sizhui’s nose between his knuckles. Something Jiang Cheng used to do with him when he was being hysterical and not listening. Lan Sizhui almost went cross eyed looking at the fingers gripping his nose and it made Jin Ling smile.

“If this is some sort of cry for attention from your foster father, then I’m pretty sure getting arrested for breaking and entering would do the trick.” He wiggled the nose so that Lan Sizhui’s face went side to side. “But you’re too pretty for prison. You’ll end up leaving me for some beefy biker guy.”

A slow smile spread out over Lan Sizhui’s face and he pulled Jin Ling into his arms, giving his cheek a kiss. “A biker guy?”

“Yes. He has tattoos. He looks very intimidating, but he has a heart of gold.”

Lan Sizhui kissed the other cheek. “Oh really?”

“His name is Carl.”

Arms tightened around Jin Ling and Lan Sizhui finally kissed him on the lips. “Hmm. I don’t think Carl is as cute as you.”

Jin Ling liked hearing Lan Sizhui say it. The kissed for a little while. Neither one of them had kissed before, and they were in the blissful stage where every kiss felt new and exciting. Even just their hips bumping up against each other could send thrills down Jin Ling’s back.

“How about this…I’ll go look through all the windows on the east side. See if anything is visible from the windows. You take the west.”

“Easy up there Lewis and Clark, which side is west?”

After Lan Sizhui patted Jin Ling’s head and told him which side was west, the left of the front door, Jin Ling made his way through the overgrown grass and followed the brick wall until it turned. There was a side door in the middle of the house and two trash cans beside it. The only window on this side of the house was a small one with the curtains drawn. Judging by the clouded surface it was one of those bathroom windows.

He turned his attention to the trash cans. Wei Wuxian used to say that you could learn a lot about someone from their trash. Jiang Cheng called him a rabid racoon, but he was still right. Lifting the metal lid, he wrinkled his nose at the smell of old garbage. Thick writing maggots were resting on top of the bags and he felt the urge to kick the can as far away from him as possible.

Wiping his hands on his jeans, he picked up a maggot free section of black garbage bag and ripped it open. Banana peels and coffee grounds spilled out and Jin Ling swore he would never drink coffee again.

“First Cheezit vomit and now this...” Jin Ling mumbled, worried he was somehow finding his niche as the gross guy of the group.

Using a discarded straw, he pushed the riper garbage away until he came across a bill. He pulled it out and snapped the paper until the majority of gunk had come off. Opening the tri folded paper, he scanned it quickly.

It was a collections agency for a hospital. Someone Coach Elm knew was sick, and judging by the amount he owed, really sick. Continuing to dig through the bag, he found several more collection letters, all from different doctors and clinics.

Coach Elm owed a lot of money.

Which might explain why he might have gotten caught up selling drugs. But Lan Xichen had said that selling the drugs wasn’t actually profitable.

So why would he do it? It would be one thing if he wanted to pay these hospital bills off, but if the drugs weren’t making money then it didn’t make any sense. There was no motive for him to risk so much.

The letters in his hand felt heavy. Like they meant something, but he didn’t know what. Looking beyond them, he saw a weirdly shaped garbage bag. The color was slightly different than the others, like it was from a different brand. Someone had wrapped ductape around it too, like it was something particularly smelly and they didn’t want it to get out.

Setting the letters aside he reached for the bag. It was too heavy to lift out, so he found a spot in the plastic he could get a hold of. The black plastic was thicker than the others and he couldn’t rip it. Looking around, he found an old soup can and used the lid to slice through the plastic.

Jin Ling gagged the moment the smell hit him. It was unlike anything he had ever encountered before. It clung to his throat and he could even taste it. Trying not to breathe, and clamping his lips shut, he tentatively reached into the bag.

Something sticky and scratchy wrapped around his fingers. He yanked his hand out in disgust, but something was stuck to his fingers. It looked like a bunch of spiders had wrapped around his fingers and he flung his wrist back and forth until the clump came loose and landed with a sickening splat on the concrete by his sneakers.

Dropping to one knee, he tried to get a better look. It wasn’t spiders.

It was hair.

Human hair attached to a crusted blob of dried blood that looked suspiciously like a piece of scalp.

Yelping, Jin Ling propelled himself backwards and landed on his ass. Staring at the sickening piece of human body by his feet he felt nausea rise. He looked down at his fingers and saw crusted blood stuck to his knuckles and cuticles.

Furiously wiping his hand on his jeans, he fought the urge to vomit. This was officially above him, and he was done. There had to be a line somewhere, and bodies parts was his.

“Hey! What are you doing?”

Jin Ling looked up to see a man walking toward him. He was wearing a uniform and it took his traumatized brain a moment to realize he was a police officer. The afternoon sun glinted off a name badge and the man’s hat was pulled low over his eyes.

“Oh, thank God, listen man there’s a…” he paused when he stood up and caught a look at the officer. Something registered in his brain, something his uncle said.

Looks like the kind of guy who listens to motivational tapes.

This cop did, in fact, look like the kind of guy who might be repeating inspiring mantras on his way to work.

“What are you doing here? Is this your home?” the officer asked as he got closer. Without waiting for Jin Ling’s reply he began reaching for him.

Taking a step back he looked up to the name badge and his stomach dropped.

The badge said ‘Su She’.

He didn’t wait for confirmation, he faked left, then went right around the officer. He tried to take long strides, ignoring the yelling officer behind him. Jin Ling had to get to Sizhui. He had to warn him and get them both out of here. Fear that Lan Sizhui might not know that there was danger made him want to cry out for him.

“Sizhui!! Run!” he yelled at the top of his lungs, breathless already from the fear clutching his throat.

He tried to reach into his pocket for his phone while he ran but it was too much. When he looked up again a fist was coming for his face.

Pain exploded in his nose and eyes and he flew backwards. All the momentum he had from running sent him sprawling backwards and he hit the grass with a grunt of pain. Blood spilled from his nose and choked his mouth, sliding down his throat and making him gag and rasp for breath as he curled to his side. Tears clouded his vision and he tried to stand up, but rough fingers dug into his hair and dragged him to his knees.

“Oooh, run.” A sneering voice taunted him. “How cute.”

Jin Ling forced his eyes open and he was face to face with Pinky Killer. His braided hair was the same, but up close he could see the sheer joy on his face when he was causing Jin Ling pain.

“Aren’t you a noble little shit. A little late, but still, A for effort.” He stepped aside and Jin Ling could see Lan Sizhui sprawled out on the front yard. His eyes were closed and there was blood matting his hair.

The panting officer jogged up behind them. “You got him?”

“I got them both. You are so fucking useless.” Pinky Killer muttered, dragging Jin Ling by his hair to the van that had appeared on the sidewalk. Without looking around to see if anyone was watching, he opened the sliding side door.

“Help! Help! Someone!” Jin Ling started shouting. Blood and spit flew from his mouth. The fingers in his hair jerked him and a rough hand wrapped around his throat.

“Listen, he said to bring you alive, he didn’t say I couldn’t cut your tongue out. Don’t tempt me.”

Jin Ling swallowed and gasped for breath. The pain in his nose was sharp and his vision was tunneling. He tossed Jin Ling into the van and put a knee on his back, wrenching his arms behind him and tying something around his wrists.

The cop had an unconscious Lan Sizhui over his shoulder and brought him to the van. He tossed him in beside Jin Ling.

A thick piece of tape was slapped over his mouth and then the door was slammed shut.

Whatever was binding his wrists was painfully tight. His fingers were already tingling from obstructed blood flow and he was having a hard time breathing through his crushed nose. Lifting himself to his knees, he scooted closer to Sizhui.

He watched until he saw his chest rise and fall. Tears of relief filled his eyes and he rested his head on Lan Sizhui’s chest so he could hear his heartbeat. As long as Sizhui was ok, he could make it through this.

The phone in his front pocket was taunting him. He could feel it resting against his thigh but with his hands tied he couldn’t reach it. Lifting his head, he looked at Lan Sizhui’s pants to see if he could find his phone. His pockets were disappointingly void of anything.

Dropping his head back to Sizhui’s chest, he tried to focus on his breathing. Closing his eyes, he tried to think of what his uncles would do in this situation.

Unfortunately, he didn’t think flipping his kidnappers off was a valid option at the moment.

Chapter Text

Lan Xichen wildly swung his hand toward the nightstand to silence the alarm. Blindly feeling around his fingers came across the plastic clock and he pressed the snooze button. Blearily, he sat up and pushed the hair from his face. The apartment was still dark. Muted sunlight streamed through the windows and gave the place a greyish filter.

Yawning, he looked down and saw a pair of unfamiliar boots tossed onto the floor. It took his sleepy brain a moment to catch up to the events of yesterday.

After their impromptu Corpse Poisoning meeting, they had spent the rest of the day in bed. Remembering all that they had done made his cheeks heat up and his downstairs brain wake up a hell of a lot faster. They had started out fast and erratic, the need to release paramount to anything else. But then it had been slow and beautiful. A time to get to know each other and become familiar with what made the other happy.

Jiang Cheng was more than Lan Xichen could have imagined. Not just in his stamina, which was insanely high for someone who said he didn’t work out, but in the way he softened under Lan Xichen’s touches. The man with a glare that could peel paint was soft as a kitten in bed. Not that Lan Xichen was brave enough to ever tell him that. The way he reacted to touches and words, back arching and fingers grasping…it was something Lan Xichen would never get tired of.

Casting a hand out he felt the bed beside him was still warm. The shower was running in the bathroom and he was surprised by how early Jiang Cheng had woken up. Glancing at the clock, he flopped back on the bed and rolled over to the side Jiang Cheng had been sleeping on. Burying his face in the pillow, he was delighted to find that his scent still lingered.

Jiang Cheng didn’t want to stay over last night, but he physically couldn’t leave. The stubborn man had tried to get dressed but his wobbly legs prevented it. Lan Xichen couldn’t help but smile smugly, even when Jiang Cheng threatened to smother him with a pillow.

The shower cut off and a few moments later the door to the bathroom opened. Jiang Cheng stepped out of a cloud of steam with just a towel wrapped around his waist. He had done a terrible job of drying himself off—droplets of water raced down his torso and his damp shoulder length hair sprayed water every time he turned his head.

He looked over at Lan Xichen hugging his pillow. “What are you doing?”

“Smells like you.” He said with his face buried in the pillow, words muffled.

Jiang Cheng raised a disbelieving eyebrow and scanned Lan Xichen. He was lying across the bed with the sheets tangled up around his waist, exposing the planes of his back. Jiang Cheng came closer and tentatively ran a finger along his back. “Does it hurt?”

“What?” Lan Xichen tried to turn to look at his back.

“You look like you got into a fight with a cat.” Jiang Cheng traced the nail marks running the length of Lan Xichen’s smooth back.

Sitting up, he swung his legs over the mattress and tugged Jiang Cheng between them. “Who won?” he teased.

“It’s too early for your nonsense.” Jiang Cheng muttered.

Lan Xichen licked up some of the water droplets that were clinging to Jiang Cheng’s skin. He loved the way it made Jiang Cheng squirm and only tightened his hold when he tried to buck him off.

“Go take a shower you perv.” Jiang Cheng said as he pushed his face away from his skin.

“If I go take a shower who will take care of that?” he gestured to the erection Jiang Cheng was trying to hide behind his towel.

“No one! No one will, I’m putting you in horny jail again. We have to go to work.”

Lan Xichen whined, and Jiang Cheng sighed. Bending down, he kissed Lan Xichen softly. “What would your patients think if they saw you like this?”

“Lucky doctor.” He said as he pinched Jiang Cheng’s ass. Dodging the swat Jiang Cheng sent his way, he finally made it to the bathroom to shower.

Halfway through the shower Jiang Cheng appeared in the doorway. He was looking down at his phone. “Hey, have you heard from Lan Sizhui?”

“I haven’t checked my phone this morning. It should be on the nightstand--you can go check.” There was a strange tone in Jiang Cheng’s voice and Lan Xichen looked over the shower curtain to see him frowning at the phone in his hand.

“Jin Ling hasn’t responded to any of my texts. Neither has Wei Wuxian.”

“It’s pretty early on a Sunday. Maybe they’re sleeping?”

Jiang Cheng didn’t look reassured. “I should have checked in with them last night.” There was a wrinkle of worry between his brows.

“Go check my phone. You can call Wangji from it and see if he’s heard anything.”

Jiang Cheng disappeared into the bedroom and Lan Xichen quickly finished his shower. By the time he reappeared in the bedroom Jiang Cheng had both phones in his hand. “Well?”

“My idiot brother is with your brother. They spent the night together, which means Jin Ling was alone.”

“Was Sizhui not with him?” Jiang Cheng wrinkled his nose at the implication and Lan Xichen kissed the top of his head as he went to get dressed. “They’re 17.”

“I know. But when I look at him I still see the little kid who cried when we got him a new bicycle because he didn’t want to hurt the other ones feelings.”

Lan Xichen smiled and looked at his cranky boyfriend. “Why don’t you leave first. Go check the apartment and wake up those horny kids.”

Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes. “Like you can talk.”

“I didn’t hear you complaining.”

A wry look came across Jiang Cheng’s face and he came towards Lan Xichen. He helped him straighten the scrub top he had put on. His fingers traced the embroidered name over the right breast. “I wasn’t.” he said softly, so softly Lan Xichen almost missed it.

The urge to tease him was strong, but he knew how difficult it was for Jiang Cheng to be honest. Lan Xichen took the hand that was tracing his name and kissed the palm, lips lingering.
Jiang Cheng scrunched up his face and looked down at his feet. Lan Xichen enjoyed watching him fidget until he leaned forward and kissed Lan Xichen on the cheek.

“Don’t let any old ladies marry you off.” He said as he walked out the bedroom door.

 

Lan Wangji stroked Wei Wuxian’s head and continued scrolling on his phone. They were sprawled out on his bed and the smaller man was perched on top of him with all four limbs wrapped around him. Long dark hair splayed over his shoulder, and Lan Wangji was enjoying using his fingertips to sort it out. Wei Wuxian slept like the dead, and Lan Wangji was loathe to wake him. Not when his delicate features were so relaxed.

The phone call from Jiang Cheng woke him up. Their conversation was brief, but it was enough to wake up him. He had assumed that Sizhui came home last night and was safely tucked in his bed like he was every night. Where Jin Ling was, he couldn’t be sure. He didn confirm that Wei Wuxian was currently using him as a pillow and that seemed to alleviate some of Jiang Cheng’s worries.

He texted Sizhui, just to be sure, but hadn’t received a reply. It wasn’t so unusual as it was a weekend morning, and the sun wasn’t even fully up yet. Normally by now Lan Wangji would be up and doing things, but he didn’t want to disturb Wei Wuxian.

Instead, he was entertaining himself by looking at his phone. It had been a few days since he checked his emails and he was working through them now. With most of his attention on the way Wei Wuxian’s naked form felt against him in bed, he wasn’t really paying attention to the emails. Most of them were inane announcements and other junk that had somehow managed to slip past his inbox filters.

There was one from Sizhui’s school. The alumni foundation was asking for donations, again. He immediately went to delete the email when something caught his eye. Clicking the link brought him to their homepage. Why anyone cared enough about their high school to be an alumnus organization was beyond him.

The page opened and he scanned the rhetoric. What caught his attention was an older photograph of a previous graduating class. It was smaller than modern graduating classes, which is why a man standing on the edge of the crowd caught his attention. The details were a little fuzzy, but the man was standing a little away from his classmates and his arms were hanging by his side. He wasn’t quite smiling, but there were two large dimples on his cheeks.

Lan Wangji recognized Jin Guangyao almost instantly.

He hadn’t been aware that he had attended the same high school Sizhui did. Not that he would know, he was more Xichen’s friend than his.

The strange thing was the name under the photo. They had his name listed as Meng Yao. He didn’t recognize the surname. He had always known him as a Jin.

Something tickled at the back of his memory, something someone said once that didn’t matter to him, so he didn’t pay attention. It tugged at his memory and every time he chased it--it was gone. Slipping from his grasp to fade into nothingness. Like trying to remember a song but it would only come to you just as you were half asleep and not thinking about it. What had Xichen said about him? Not much. His mom had raised him as a bastard, which was hardly unusual.

Meng must have been his mother’s name, but then why would he change it to Jin?

Opening up the browser, he tapped in ‘Jin’ and read through the results. As expected, he got a bunch of things that were completely useless. One article about a Star Wars character than he saved to share with Sizhui later, but nothing about Jin Guangyao.

Finally, at the bottom of the page he found an obituary. He was surprised to see it was about Jin Ling’s parents. The photo showed a good looking couple on their wedding day. Wei Wuxian had mentioned they died in a mugging gone wrong. The article said much of the same, but just at the end it mentioned that Jin Zixuan was the son of the Mayor, Jin Guangshan.

Lan Wangji hadn’t been living here at the time, so the name meant nothing to him. But upon further research he learned that Jin Guangshen had been the principal of the high school before he was elected to mayor.

None of that was particularly interesting, Wei Wuxian had mentioned that the Jin family was quite influential but had died out with Jin Zixuan, which is why custody of Jin Ling had gone to his maternal uncles.

In fact, looking at the Jin family tree he could see that they had all died young. Muggings, car accidents, and even rumors of an STD taking out the Jin family members were tossed in articles he found on the third and fourth pages of search results.

Tucked away in a small gossip column, he found what he was looking for.

The author called herself Mian Mian. She wrote under the heading ‘You didn’t hear this from me but…’ and she published senseless town gossip that Lan Wangji would ordinarily ignore upon pain of death, but a name caught his eye.

‘Meng Shi, an English teacher at the local high school has applied for maternity leave. The unmarried woman is said to be single but has been seen having lunch with married Principal Jin Guangshan. Are the rumors of Principal Jin’s philandering ways true? And is this child the product of his wandering eye?’

Without really knowing why he felt a growing sense of anxiety. He slid out from under Wei Wuxian, who rolled over onto the mattress without waking up, he exited the bedroom. He didn’t even bother to put on clothes, walking down the hallway in his boxers to Sizhui’s room.

Normally he wouldn’t enter the teenager’s room. He respected his privacy and Sizhui never gave him cause for alarm. Turning the knob, he pushed the door open and quickly scanned the dark room.

The air was thick and still. Dust motes danced in the light coming in from the open window. Everything looked normal—the twin bed in the corner was made and the room was clean. A textbook and some papers were on the desk and there was a sleeve sticking out from a closed drawer in his dresser.

But no Sizhui.

The room clearly had not been occupied last night. At 17, Sizhui was almost an adult and Lan Wangji wouldn’t mind him spending the night elsewhere. But he had never done so without informing him. A quick text would have been adequate.

His alarm might not be so great if Jiang Cheng had not called him asking about Jin Ling twenty minutes ago.

Returning to his bedroom, he unlocked his phone and clicked Sizhui’s contact. The phone went straight to voicemail.

 


Juggling a coffee, his car keys, and a bagel in his teeth Lan Xichen made his way to his car. After Jiang Cheng had left, he quickly got ready to make his way to his morning shift. He was in a bit of a rush, not quite late, but closer than he would like. His preference was not to eat on his drive, but he would have no choice.

His phone buzzed in his pocket and he almost dropped his coffee. Setting the cup on the roof of his car he fished out his phone just in time for it to stop ringing. The missed call notification said ‘Lan Wangji’.

Making up his mind to call him back when he got to work, he was putting his phone away when it rang again. The caller ID said ‘Jin Guangyao’.

“Hello?” he answered, cradling the phone between his head and shoulder.

“Oh, Xichen, thankfully you answered.” Jin Guangyao said a little breathlessly. The tone of his voice made Lan Xichen pause.

“Is everything ok?”

“No, unfortunately it’s not. I just spoke to Lan Wangji, but Lan Sizhui has been in an accident.”

Lan Xichen felt his heart contract painfully. “What? What happened?”

“I’m not really sure. I just got the call from the ED. I’m having him transferred to a private room on the fourth floor.”

Worry clouded his mind. If he was in an accident, why wouldn’t he be in the ED? It didn’t make sense, but he would get the answers he needed when he arrived.

“All right, I’ll be there in ten minutes. Thank you for calling me.”

Hanging up the phone, he tossed the bagel into the grass beside the parking lot. Some bird or squirrel would get a delicious breakfast. He wasn’t hungry anymore. Concern for his nephew was the only thing he could focus on.

His mind ran through a thousand scenarios as he drove to the hospital. Pushing speed limits and running a few red lights, he made it faster than he normally would. Bypassing the ED he went straight for the elevator and pushed the fourth floor button.

The fourth floor was recently opened. It had been under construction for the last six months, and addition to the hospital to help with the growing population in the area. Lan Xichen didn’t know it was finished, let alone ready for patients, but Jin Guangyao must be trying to give the Lan family privacy.

What accident Sizhui could have gotten into he didn’t know. He pulled out his phone and swiped until he found Jiang Cheng’s contact. Maybe he would know, or he could ask Jin Ling.

Pressing the contact, he held the phone up to his ear only for it to not connect. He cursed his stupidity for trying to call in an elevator. He would have to wait until he got to the fourth floor, but even then, it might be sketchy. Service in the hospital was never reliable.

When the elevator doors opened, he expected to see the same thing he would see at any other floor, but the hallway was dark. Only a few service lights illuminated the area. Stepping out of the elevator he glanced around for the floor number, expecting that he got off on the wrong floor. Dust and dirt crunched under his sneakers and his confusion deepened.

There were tarps and tools all over the place. It looked like it was still a construction zone. He would have to call Wangji and find out if Sizhui had been taken to surgery or something. He was about to unlock his phone when someone called his name.

Jin Guangyao jogged up to him a little breathless. “Oh, I’m glad I caught you.”

“Where is Sizhui?” he asked immediately, feeling frustrated and more than a little suspicious.

“Xichen.” Jing Guangyao said softly, he stepped into his space and touched a spot on his neck. Lan Xichen knew it was one of the marks left by Jiang Cheng last night. When he spotted it this morning, he was a little proud that it would stick out of his scrub top.

“A-Yao, what’s going on?”

The polite smile faded and there was a cold and cruel look left behind. He had never seen Jin Guangyao look like that before and it made him take a step back.

“If only you hadn’t betrayed me.”

Something cracked against the back of his head, and the world went dark.

 

 

The smell of tea woke him up. Its earthy scent was cloying in his nose and too strong. Opening his eyes, he blinked at the porcelain saucer and cup set in front of him. He recognized the carpeting right away—it was the thin grey industrial carpeting that were in all the hospital administration offices.

A throbbing in the back of his skull made it difficult to open his eyes. The lights were too bright, and he went to rub his eyes but something snagged on his wrist. Tugging at his wrist he realized the bite of cold metal wasn’t in his head. Forgetting the pain, he tilted his head and looked up. His wrists were attached by a set of handcuffs threaded through a pipe on the radiator.

The sight was so absurd that it took him a moment to catch up. This was the kind of thing in novels and in movies, he never expected that it would be his wrists. Experimentally he moved his hands and confirmed that it was his hands trapped in the handcuffs.

“Su She…how is he supposed to drink with his hands like that?”

Lan Xichen looked up to see Jin Guangyao standing in the doorway.

He was clearly in an office but judging by the lack of furniture it wasn’t in use. The only thing in the room was the radiator he was handcuffed to and the cup of tea in front of him.

“You said to be careful.” A voice answered.

The voice came from a pudgy, unremarkable looking man who filed in behind Jin Guangyao. He closed office door behind them and locked it.

Lan Xichen pulled his legs up under him a little better and tried not to shiver. His brain felt sluggish, like it couldn’t process what he was seeing. With his hands raised above his head he felt the strain in his shoulders and lower back. Besides the ache in his head, he felt relatively unscathed.

Jin Guangyao knelt down beside him, picking up the cup and offering the lukewarm tea to Lan Xichen. He turned his head and refused it.

“What the hell is going on?” he demanded.

Jin Guangyao sighed and set the cup down. “You must be confused.”

Lan Xichen might have been spending too much time with Jiang Cheng, but he felt the urge to respond with something sarcastic.

Deciding to try being civil for now, he spoke calmly. “Where is Sizhui? And Wangji?”

Jin Guangyao glanced down at his watch. “Lan Wangji should be enjoying his day off right about now. Probably with that nursing student…what was his name? Wei Wuxian?” he hmm’d as if he was talking with Lan Xichen over coffee.

“Sizhui?” Lan Xichen asked with barely restrained civility.

A small frown appeared on Jin Guangyao’s face. “You have to understand Xichen…Sizhui was never part of this plan. He wasn’t supposed to get hurt. I have nothing against him.”

Fear choked Lan Xichen. He was talking about Sizhui in past tense and it made Lan Xichen jerk at the handcuffs. “What did you do? What the hell is going on?”

Jin Guangyao reached forward and stroked Lan Xichen’s head. “That might take quite a bit of time to explain, more time than I currently have. If things had gone according to plan, we wouldn’t be having this conversation like this. Unfortunately, my plans have been ruined.” The polite smile was back. “Don’t you just hate that?”

The way he was speaking to Lan Xichen was alarming. He spoke so quietly, as if the world was perfectly normal. As if Lan Xichen wasn’t handcuffed to a radiator and there wasn’t dried blood sticking to the back of his head.

“Still, I do have to thank you. Without the interference I never would have been reunited with Jin Ling. He’s a little older than I would like, but I should be able to salvage him.”

Every time Jin Guangyao opened his mouth, Lan Xichen grew more lost. What did Jin Ling have to do with anything?

“Speak plainly. Why am I here?”

A sickening look of tenderness came over Jin Guangyao. “You haven’t figured it out? Xichen. You’re so smart.” His hand dropped to Lan Xichen’s neck and fingered the hickie there.

“You’re so smart but you’ve been behaving so foolishly.” His fingers dug into Lan Xichen’s shoulders painfully. Jin Guangyao seemed to notice and he relaxed, smoothing the scrubs so they sat naturally again.

“The handcuffs are cruel, but necessary.” He cocked his head and dragged his gaze up and down Lan Xichen. “I didn’t want you to get in the way and get hurt. There’s a few things I need to wrap up.”

Leaning forward, he slid his fingers in Lan Xichen’s hair and kissed him. Lan Xichen pressed his lips together and struck his head on the wall behind him trying to get away from him. But the lips pressed against him anyway. They were cool and clammy, pressing too hard and he couldn’t help but shudder from the violation.

While he was kissing him, Jin Guangyao pulled the cellphone from his pocket. “Just a few more hours and we can continue this.” He stood up and unlocked Lan Xichen’s phone. How did he know the password? It’s not like he thought the four-digit code was infallible but seeing him key it in so easily made him want to vomit just as much as the kiss.

Jin Guangyao started going through Lan Xichen’s phone. He came across something that made his face drop into that steely cold look again. It was harsh and cruel. A look Lan Xichen had never seen before.

“Tell me,” he said coldly. “when did you meet him?” he flashed the phone so that Lan Xichen could see one of the photos he had saved. It had been such an innocent photo. He took it while Jiang Cheng had been sleeping on his chest. His hair was splayed out around him on the pillow and he looked so soft. The kind of picture he would never show anyone, he just wanted for himself.

“When did you meet him?” Jin Guangyao asked again, venom dripping from his words.

“A few weeks ago…” Lan Xichen said, unsure if he should.

“How long have we known each other, Xichen? Years. We’ve known each other for years and you would throw that all away for some…paramedic you just met?”

Lan Xichen didn’t have any idea what he was talking about. “We’ve been friends but…Jin Guangyao you never said you wanted more. I didn’t know you felt that way…”

He scoffed and then tapped some more on the phone. “It won’t matter. In the end, he won’t be a choice.”

“What do you mean?” Lan Xichen asked with a sinking feeling in his stomach.

“Shh, Xichen, I’m on the phone.” Jin Guangyao said as he stalked to the other side of the office. Holding the phone up to his ear he listened to it ringing before someone picked up.

“Jiang Cheng? Hi, this is Jin Guangyao…yes I know I’m calling on Lan Xichen’s phone. I apologize for that, but I didn’t have your number.” There was a long moment of silence. “I’m calling to let you know there was an incident with Jin Ling and Lan Sizhui…I’m not sure of the details. Lan Xichen is here now. I’ve already called Lan Wangji. Yes.”

“Jiang Cheng! No! Don’t listen to him!” Lan Xichen screamed, trying to warn him in anyway. He didn’t know where Sizhui or Jin Ling were, but he couldn’t have Jiang Cheng caugt in whatever twisted web Jin Guangyao was weaving.

Crossing the room quickly, Jin Guangyao slapped a palm over Lan Xichen’s mouth and nodded a few more times before turning the phone off.

Cold eyes turned to him and Jin Guangyao lowered his hand. “In the end Xichen, you will choose me.” He tugged the chain between the cuffs and made the metal dig into Lan Xichen’s skin.

“Did you really think I would choose you? Especially after all this?” Lan Xichen spat.

“You’ll choose me.” He said confidently. “Because I’m going to kill that paramedic and his idiot brother. And if you don’t want Lan Wangji to end up with them, you’ll cooperate.” His smile was vicious as he caught the look on Lan Xichen’s face.

Chapter Text

“I’m just saying, it can’t be a coincidence that literally every culture has a dragon mythology.” Nie Huaisang said while tapping his fingers on the wheel.

They were sitting in back to back traffic on the highway. Construction had slowed the northbound lanes to a crawl and ambulances were no exception. Their truck had been put on traffic delay, so no calls would be coming to them unless it was a real emergency.

“Don’t you think they were just describing lizards?” Jiang Cheng asked, prolonging the conversation because there was nothing else to do.

“Seriously? You think ancient man was so stupid that they confused a gecko for a flying behemoth that carried people off?”

Jiang Cheng was honestly not well versed enough in dragon mythology to have an in-depth analytical conversation with Nie Huaisang.

“These are the same people who thought witches collected penises and kept them as pets?”

“What do you think dildos are? Those women were just ahead of their time.” Nie Huaisang reached for the radio and turned it up. “They didn’t need no man.”

Jiang Cheng tried not to think about what a penis for a pet would look like, but all he could picture was the witch from Wizard of Oz walking a dildo with googly eyes on it.

He shuddered and was saved from that thought by his phone ringing.

“Hello?” despite the fact that the call came from Lan Xichen, it was a man Jiang Cheng didn’t know speaking. His voice was calm and polite, but there was a greasy undercurrent he didn’t like. Like spraying air freshener over garbage, you didn’t really eliminate the smell you just added Fresh Linen scent to smelly garbage.

He wrinkled his nose but his face fell when he heard him speak.

“Jin Ling?” he asked quickly.

Worry had been plaguing him all day. When he returned to his apartment Jin Ling hadn’t been there. He wasn’t answering his phone, and neither was Lan Sizhui. He went to work anyway, but the worry didn’t abate. Jin Ling might not be a whiz in classes, but he would never be gone without letting them know. Especially after how his parents died, he knew Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian worried.

The only thing that kept him from going to the police was the hope he had fallen asleep with Lan Sizhui somewhere. He would come home sleepy and sheepish, and Jiang Cheng could let his wrath loose on him.

But now this guy was saying he was in the hospital.

Jiang Cheng swallowed and looked out at the traffic in front of them. It stretched on for a mile at least. The ambulance was completely boxed in. Even turning on the lights and sirens wouldn’t get them there fast enough. His mouth was dry, and the phone forgotten in his hand. If Lan Xichen was there, then he could relax a little. There was no one he trusted more. But he needed to be there. Without noticing, he had dialed Wei Wuxian’s phone again.

There was no response.

He needed his brother. Not just because he needed to be there for Jin Ling but because Jiang Cheng needed him. If something was really wrong, if Jin Ling was really hurt…it was something he couldn’t fathom. He needed Wei Wuxian’s support. He needed to see his dumb face and know everything would be ok.

His next thought was to call Lan Xichen. But he was already there and was probably working.

Heart racing, he felt claustrophobic. Suddenly the cab of the truck felt stifling even with the AC blasting. Jiang Cheng pulled at his uniform shirt and slammed his fist on the dash.

“Jiang Cheng?” Nie Huaisang asked.

Apparently, he had been asking since the first phone call, but Jiang Cheng couldn’t focus. He looked up and mentally gauged where they were. If he cut across a couple parks and a residential neighborhood, they were probably only three miles from the hospital.

Fuck it.

He wrenched open the passenger side door and started to run. Horns honked and he heard Nie Huaisang called after him, but he ignored it. Nothing mattered except making sure Jin Ling was ok. With his phone in his hand he sprinted down the side of the highway.

His work boots weren’t designed for running and he felt the fatigue in his legs right away, but that was nothing compared with the anxiety he was feeling. Maybe the fear was making him nostalgic, but he remembered feeling this exact way when he got the phone call about Yanli.

They didn’t even take them to the hospital. Yanli and Jin Zixuan were dead on the scene. One bullet had torn through both their chests in some sort of poetic Romeo and Juliet esque way of dying. Lovers until the end.

All Jiang Cheng remembered was sitting in the police station with a young Jin Ling sitting next to him. There were tear marks on his cheeks and his lower lip was wobbling. Jiang Cheng hadn’t known what to say. Wei Wuxian kept bringing him snacks from the vending machine because he didn’t know what else to do.

A social worker had come up to him and told him that he had temporary custody of Jin Ling, there would need to be more technical and legal shit to be sorted through, but none of that mattered. What mattered was that when Jin Ling woke up that morning he lived in a nice house with two loving parents and when he went to bed, he was an orphan saddled with two uncles who were only legally considered adults.

Wei Wuxian was sleeping on a bean bag and Jiang Cheng had dibs on the futon. The only vegetable they ate with any regularity was the shredded lettuce on a taco.

But for some reason Yanli had believed in them. She thought they were the best choice for her only son.

And now Jin Ling was hurt, and Jiang Cheng had failed his sister. The thought made him run faster, sweat dripping down his back and plastering his hair to his forehead. He ran so fast he couldn’t think anymore.

Somewhere around the second mile his phone finally rang.

“Wei…Wuxian…” he panted into the phone, slowing to a slower jog so he could talk.

“Holy shit. Wha…did you answer the phone in the middle of sex?!”

“No. Jin Ling has been in an accident. Some guy from the hospital called me and said—”

“Wait, what? Jin Ling? Hold on. Who told you?” the phone shuffled on Wei Wuxian’s end and then he heard Wei Wuxian’s voice a little distant. “I just put you on speaker.”

“I don’t know! Some guy used Lan Xichen’s phone and told me that Jin Ling and Lan Sizhui was involved in some kind of incident.”

“Who was it?” Lan Wangji’s cool voice came over the speaker.

“Surprisingly, I didn’t stop and get his info. Would you like to know if he likes Pina Colada’s and getting caught in the rain?”

“Was it Jin Guangyao?”

“That sounds right.” Jiang Cheng said as he crossed a street. A car slammed on its brakes and almost hit him. He slammed his open palm on the hood and flipped off the driver. “Hit me! I fucking dare you!” he sneered before continuing his walk/jog pace that looked ridiculous.

“Jiang Cheng!” Wei Wuxian shouted from the phone to try and get his attention. “Where are you? We’ll come pick you up.”

Jiang Cheng glanced around and told them the cross streets. “I can just meet you at the hospital.”

“No! Do not go there alone!” there was the sound of car doors slamming on Wei Wuxian’s end. “We’ll be there in ten minutes.”

Jiang Cheng stopped cold. “Why can’t I go by myself?”

“Wangji found something this morning. Jin Guangyao’s name used to be Meng Yao. His mom was an English teacher at the high school who got pregnant by Jin Guangshan.”

Jiang Cheng blinked sweat out of his eyes. “Is that supposed to mean something to me?”

Wei Wuxian said something to Lan Wangji and Jiang Cheng could hear a turn signal going. “Yes. It’s…look it’s complicated but I think he has something against the high school for treating his mom like a pariah. But there’s more…Jin Guangshan was Jin Zixuan’s dad.”

“As in…?”

“As in he’s Jing Ling’s paternal uncle!”

None of it made sense. Jiang Cheng was trying to put the pieces together, but his brain wasn’t grasping it. He felt like he was holding onto a bar of soap and the harder he squeezed the faster is slipped away.

“That’s not all, Jiang Cheng, his master’s degree is in business, but his bachelor’s degree was in chemistry.”

The pieces slowly began floating together. A man who hated the high school might be willing to release a deadly drug into the system to take revenge. But why now? Jin Guangshan was dead. All the Jin’s were gone except...

“Jin Ling! He has Jin Ling!”

“Way to catch up!” Wei Wuxian said. “I think he’s trying to lure us all to the hospital.”

“He called me off Xichen’s phone!” Jiang Cheng felt like he might pass out, like he wasn’t getting enough oxygen to his brain. Lan Xichen and Jin Ling were in danger.

It all felt surreal, he was clutching the phone to his sweaty face and trying to regulate his breathing. They couldn’t even call the cops because they didn’t know how much they could trust them.

Lan Wangji’s car came to the curb and Jiang Cheng pocketed his phone. Wei Wuxian popped the passenger side door open.

“Get in, Goose. We gotta go do some hero shit.”

Jiang Cheng tried to ignore the fact that Goose died at the end of the movie.

 

 

Dried blood crusted to his lips and the taste of copper made him gag. Jin Ling tried to sniff experimentally but the pain was too great. Blinking, he tried to make out exactly where they were. He must have fallen asleep because the last thing he remembered was being dragged out of the van.

He couldn’t smell anything from his swollen nose, but his eyes were beginning to adjust to the dark. They were in a dark room that looked like a disused laboratory. Dust collected on the floor and cobwebs danced in the non-existent breeze. Glasses and beakers lined the counter opposite him.

Wiggling his fingers, he found they were cold. His hands were still tied behind his back but this time they were attached to an exposed framing in the wall. Wherever they were looked like it was under construction, at least partly. Half of the walls were drywalled and the rest were open and exposed the framework. Somewhere he could hear water dripping out of a leaky faucet.

Turning his sore neck to the right he caught sight of Sizhui. He was tied up similar to Jin Ling, just far enough away that Jin Ling could nudge his leg with the toe of his sneaker.

“Sizhui!” he hissed, afraid to be too loud.

He shifted and groaned but didn’t wake fully. Half Sizhui’s handsome face was covered in blood and the sight made Jin Ling choke. “Sizhui!” he tried again. He stretched his leg all the way out and was able to kick him.

Lan Sizhui’s opened his eyes suddenly, jolting and slamming his wrists against the restraints. “…Jin Ling?” he said hoarsely.

“Yes, I’m here. Give your eyes a minute to adjust. Are you hurt anywhere?”

He heard Lan Sizhui cough dryly. “Just my head. Are you ok?”

“Broken nose. But I’m fine.” Jin Ling answered.

There was a window above the counter, but someone taped a garbage bag over it. Without the window it was impossible to see what time it was. A shrill ringing cut through the silence and Jin Ling jerked like a bomb went off. Electronic light lit up the room from several feet away where someone had tossed Jin Ling and Lan Sizhui’s phones.

From where he was sitting, he could tell it was his phone. He saw his uncles name pop up. He wanted to cry out, call for his uncle even though he knew they couldn’t hear him. He dropped his chin and sighed.

Jin Ling tried pulling at the restraints, but they had swapped out whatever temporary cuffs they used before and now there were thick ropes cutting into his skin. They were so tight he couldn’t even move his hands up and down to try and cut them with friction.

“We’re in the hospital.” Lan Sizhui said.

“How do you know?”

“Smell.” Lan Sizhui said knowingly. “I recognize the smell of the cleaner they use. I’ve spent enough time in hospitals to know.”

Jin Ling couldn’t smell anything, but he could taste something chemical on his tongue. “Why would they bring us to the hospital?”

He could see the whites of Lan Sizhui’s eyes flash. “I don’t know.”

Without being able to see, he still knew Lan Sizhui was looking at him. He could feel the weight of his stare. Jin Ling wanted to say something to comfort him, but he didn’t know what to say. Instead he just stared back at Lan Sizhui, hoping he was making eye contact.

He heard Lan Sizhui shifting and then heard his sneaker dragging over the dirty floor. He bumped his foot against Jin Ling’s. “Hey, it’ll be ok. I’ll get us out of this.”

Jin Ling wanted to cry. It was stupid but hearing that helped. Even if they both knew it was false bravado. He bumped his foot back and even though it was an uncomfortable position, he kept it resting against Lan Sizhui’s.

“Is it stupid that if I had to get kidnapped with anyone, I’m glad it was you?”

Lan Sizhui laughed weakly, and Jin Ling so wanted to just wrap his arms around him.

A door to their right slammed open and harsh light flooded the room. “Oh my god, do you ever shut up?” Pinky Killer sneered, stalking into the room with his signature prowling walk. “I should have cut both your tongues out.”

He leaned against the counter and crossed his arms over his chest. Dragging his eyes over the two of them blew out a breath and sneered. “You don’t look all that impressive.”

Coming closer her knelt in front of Jin Ling, reaching out he took his chin between his fingers and examined his face.

“Don’t touch him.” Lan Sizhui said.

Pinky Killer raised an eyebrow. “Don’t touch him.” He said in falsetto, mocking Lan Sizhui’s bravery. “Cute. But not necessary. I’m not allowed to touch him.” He released Jin Ling.

“But you?” he turned to Lan Sizhui and backhanded him. The slap sounded so loud in the confined space. Lan Sizhui slumped over until his restrained wrists caught him.

“No! Stop!” Jin Ling shouted, kicking out at Pinky Killer with a leg that was nowhere near long enough to reach him.

“Xue Yang.” A calm voice cut through the darkness.

Pinky Killer stepped back to where he was leaning on the counter. A second man entered the room. He was wearing a crisp suit with a golden tie. If he smiled, he might have been handsome, but there was a cruel look on his face. The kind of face that wouldn’t look out of place on the villain in a Disney movie.

He came in front of Jin Ling and watched him for a long time. “You look like him.” He said unpleasantly.

Jin Ling was trying to alternate looking at this new man and Lan Sizhui. He hadn’t moved since Pinky Killer had hit him. He had hit him right where his head injury had been, and he was worried that there was more damage. Lan Sizhui looked so pathetic hanging by the hands pulled behind him that Jin Ling couldn’t bear it.

“Please…I don’t know who you are…just don’t hurt him.” He begged.

A feral smile crept over the man’s face and he knelt in front of Jin Ling. “That’s what those idiots have been teaching you? How to be weak?” he asked with something mocking in his tone.

“Wha…what?”

The man sighed. “We haven’t been introduced. My name is Jin Guangyao. I’m your uncle.”

Jin Ling just stared at him. He didn’t have any other uncles that he knew of. His father had been the last Jin, and when he died the name went with Jin Ling, but he was raised in the Jiang household.

“I don’t understand.”

Jin Guangyao held out his hand and Pinky Killer came forward and put a syringe filled with black liquid in it. He held the syringe out and looked like he was looking at Jin Ling through the viscous looking fluid.

“I know you’re worried, but you don’t need to be. My plans didn’t originally include you, but we’ll consider this a happy accident.” He said softly, still staring down at the syringe. “I’m going to make you stronger. A worthy heir for the Jin name.”

“Dude…what are you talking about?” Jin Ling asked without taking his eyes off the syringe.

“Had you been given to me from the beginning, you would be stronger by now. But, it’s never too late to learn.” He flicked his eyes over to Jin Ling. “The first thing you need to learn is that attachments make you weak.”

Jin Guangyao reached for Lan Sizhui. The passed out teenager’s head rolled when he shifted his shoulders but Pinky Killer came forward and cut the bindings on his wrists. “That was something I learned early on, Jin Ling. Loved ones are a weakness. Weaknesses can be exploited.” His mouth twisted. “My mother taught me that. She loved that man, that waste of space, and in the end it drove her to her death. She was dead and they celebrated him. As if he was something special just because of his name.”

Jin Ling didn’t have any idea what he was talking about, but he didn’t like the way he was looking at Lan Sizhui. Pinky Killer manipulated him so he was lying prone at Jin Guangyao’s feet.

“Your father didn’t understand that either. I tried to make him see. I wanted him to be on my side, but he just wouldn’t listen. He called me crazy. Me?” he laughed mirthlessly. “His death was inevitable. Your mothers was…regrettable. I never intended for her to die but what did she expect when she stepped in front of that bullet?”

Jin Ling felt like he was going to vomit. His parents…he was talking like he knew. “My parents…did you…?”

“Kill them? No.” he answered quickly. “Well, technically, yes. I didn’t pull the trigger. That’s something else you’ll learn, Jin Ling. Delegate, delegate, delegate. A strong leader knows how to divide the work and how to never get his hands dirty.”

A sob escaped Jin Ling and it send vibrations up his nose. Pain radiated from his nose to his eyes, but it was nothing compared to the pain in his heart. “You’re a monster.”

Jin Guangyao’s hand shot out and he grabbed Jin Ling’s throat, squeezing tightly until Jin Ling felt like his head might pop off. He couldn’t breathe. His vision started tunneling out into blackness. “I’m not a monster. I’m a realist. Look at what I have achieved. Do you think someone like me could have done that without a few deaths along the way?”

He released Jin Ling’s throat and he gasped. It felt like his lungs couldn’t expand fast enough and he felt lightheaded.

Lan Sizhui groaned and began moving.

“You’re weak Jin Ling. Those uncles of yours made you sentimental. It will be hard, but we can break you of it.” He gripped Lan Sizhui’s arm and turned it palm up. “Starting with this attachment.”

“No! No! Stop! Don’t hurt him!” Jin Ling begged.

He brought the syringe to the crease in Lan Sizhui’s elbow, he uncapped the needle and inserted it into the skin. With practiced ease he dug until he found a flash of blood.

“Please…please, I’ll go with you. I’ll do whatever you want just leave him alone.” Jin Ling sobbed, fat tears dropping down his cheeks and cutting through the dried blood on his face.

Pinky Killer scoffed and Jin Guangyao shot him a look. “Don’t you have something to do?”

“Yeah, yeah. Kill the Paramedic and the murse.” He mumbled, walking out the opened door.

“…no…no…” Jin Ling said thickly. “Jin…Jin Guangyao don’t do this. Please.”

“Jin Guangyao sighed. “Jin Ling, I’ve told you. I need to make you stronger.”

He depressed the plunger. Jin Ling watched in horror as the black liquid was pushed into Lan Sizhui’s vein.

Jin Guangyao stood up. “Remember this,” he looked down at Jin Ling with something like disgust on his face. “you’re a Jin. Jin’s don’t beg.”

Lan Sizhui opened his eyes and blinked a little. A droplet of blood slid down his arm and Jin Ling yanked on his bound hands. “You’re not a Jin! You’re a bastard! I’ll never be family with you.”

Jin Gunagyao grabbed Jin Ling by the hair, pulling his head up to face him. “I’m so tired of being disappointed. Jin Ling, I’ll be back for you later.”

He left, stepping over Lan Sizhui as he left for the door. Charitably, he flicked a switch which illuminated a light in the far corner of the room. With the light Jin Ling could see Lan Sizhui start to wake up.

“Sizhui! Sizhui, talk to me!” Jin Ling called out.

Lan Sizhui blinked several times, as if his vision was fading. He turned his head to Jin Ling. “Hey…” he said dreamily. “you’re cute.”

Jin Ling tried to remember what his uncles had said about Corpse Poisoning. There was a high, right? Lan Sizhui must be feeling the high.

“I need you to stay awake Sizhui. Please.”

Lan Sizhui smiled softly, and he met Jin Ling’s eyes. His pupils were blown, so large he could hardly see the honey colored irises.

“Thanks for letting me be your first kiss, Jin Ling.”

“Hey! Hey!” Jin Ling cried out as Lan Sizhui closed his eyes. His face was still turned to Jin Ling and he looked so peaceful.

He struggled against the ropes and twisted until he felt blood drip down his wrists and acute pain radiated up his arms and shoulders.

“Sizhui! Please. God, please wake up. You…you have to be more than my first kiss. You have to be all the rest of my kisses.” He was spouting nonsense. Begging an unconscious Sizhui.

He watched the steady rise and fall of Lan Sizhui’s chest. Horror dawned on him as he realized the breathing was slowing.

“Please don’t leave me, Sizhui. Please.” He wailed through thick tears, the salt stinging the wounds on his face and burning his skin.

Slowly, Lan Sizhui’s chest stopped rising and falling.

Chapter Text

Wen Ning peeked around the corner and scanned the empty hallways. Construction debris littered the half-finished hall, and he ducked under a tarp to continue his walk. Sticking his hands in his scrub pants he fingered the lighter he had there and tried not to feel too guilty.

Technically, he quit smoking years ago. It wasn’t good for him, it was an expensive habit, and it really had no benefits.

And his sister threatened him that if he didn’t quit, she would stab him.

She wasn’t specific as to what she would stab him with, but he was smart enough to know that it wouldn’t be pleasant.

For many years he didn’t touch a cigarette. No nicotine or tobacco had passed his lips and he could face his sister with the usual moderate levels of fear she inspired. But recently his job had been incredibly stressful. Working for Dr. Lan was an incredibly rewarding experience. He was learning so much and he was eternally grateful for the opportunity.

Of course, working with Dr. Lan meant actually working with Dr. Lan. The man was a perfectionist and Wen Ning never knew if he was displeased or happy. Occasionally the other Dr. Lan would come down and comment on his brother’s good mood, but how he distinguished that from literally any other facial expression the man had he wasn’t sure.

On top of that, their workload had increased exponentially. Corpse Poisoning was filling up the drawers in the morgue faster than they could clear them. Between that and their usual work, Wen Ning was always running around during his workday.

All of that he signed up for. What he didn’t sign up for was Wei Wuxian. He loved his best friend, but he was wildly unprepared for the amount of stress the man brought into his professional life. Keeping him from Dr. Lan had been his only goal, a goal he was reasonably sure he had been succeeding at.

Until he walked in on them sucking face in the morgue.

There were some things in life he just couldn’t comprehend—advanced mathematics, quantum theory, his sister’s mood swings, and the attraction between his boss and best friend. At some point, he stopped trying to think about it.

Mostly because the sight of his bosses’ hands on his friend’s ass was more traumatizing than a Wen family reunion.

So, recently, he had been sneaking up to the fourth floor for a quick cigarette break. He couldn’t go outside because the chances of his sister catching him was too great. The woman was omnipotent and terrifying.

Wen Ning pulled out the carton of cigarettes and slid one free. Just feeling the stick between his fingers was enough to lower his heart rate. Laying it between his lips was as close to orgasming as he’d come lately, and in just a few short moments he would be able to inhale all those wonderful toxins his sister lectured him about.

An ethereal wail cut through the silence and he dropped the lighter. He crouched, as if somehow getting lower would hide him in the middle of an open hallway. Looking around, he couldn’t help but shiver at the sudden emptiness. No one had been up here for months. Construction had been halted lately, though Wen Ning wasn’t sure why. He had chalked that up to things that were above his paygrade and left it at that.

He should be up here alone.

Another scream cut through the hallway and he dropped the cigarettes. “Ok! Ok! I’ll stop!” he pleaded with whatever unseen deity was warning him.

“Help!”

He paused. That was definitely no angry anti-smoking god. That was a person, and they sounded in pain. Cocking his head, he followed where he thought the cries were coming from. Listening, he crunched over the dust and detritus that had been left behind by the construction crew until he came to a door he had never seen before. He could have sworn this exact door had been covered by a tarp every other time he was here. There was a small window in the door, and he glanced in.

In the dim light he could see a body on the floor. As his eyes adjusted, he recognized it as Lan Sizhui. The kid had come around his father’s work a few times to bring lunch and to visit with his family. He was always kind to Wen Ning, and often asked about his hobby of metal work.

Beside him was Jin Ling. He was sitting strangely, leaning forward and crying out. His face was a mess. Swollen and covered in what appeared to be blood and tears. His wet eyes met Wen Nings and he started yelling harder, twisting his shoulders.

Jin Ling was tied up!

Wen Ning tried the doorknob but it was locked. He rammed his shoulder into the door a few times before he realized it wasn’t budging. Glancing around he found an old tarp and he wrapped his fist in it.

“Please don’t hurt. Please don’t hurt.” He mumbled as he widened his stance and punched the glass window as hard as he could. Cracks splintered across the glass, but it didn’t shatter.
Wen Ning howled in pain and hugged his hand to his chest. Pain radiated up his arm and he knew he had broken something.

Breathing through the pain, he inhaled sharply and threw another punch. This time his fist went through the glass and ended up inside the room. Using the covered hand, he cleared the glass shards and reached around to flip the deadbolt and the lock on the knob, opening the door.

“Jin Ling! What happened?” he said as he rushed to Lan Sizhui’s side. He checked his pulse and found none.

“He drugged him! He gave him Corpse Poisoning! Please, he’s not breathing!” Jin Ling cried out, yanking at his arms behind him.

Wen Ning shook off the tarp and looked down at his hand. Blood was pouring from a thousand small cuts in his knuckles and wrist, but none were bad enough to give him pause. Interlocking his hands, he began chest compressions on the slim teenager.

Lan Sizhui’s skin was pale and clammy, and there was a bluish tint to his lips. Wen Ning usually worked on corpses, but he knew enough about CPR to know that this kid needed a doctor.

“Untie me! I can help!” Jin Ling begged.

Without pausing in his compressions, he looked around until he saw a large shard of glass from the window. Grabbing it, he lurched to Jin Ling’s side and began cutting at the thick ropes that bound his wrists.

There was so much blood, Wen Ning couldn’t tell what was his and what was Jin Ling’s. The piece of glass in his hand was slippery and he could barely keep hold of it. He was pretty sure it was cutting his fingers as he sawed at the bindings but at this point, what was one more laceration?

The moment he was free, Jin Ling sprawled to the ground. Stiffly, he crawled to Lan Sizhui’s side and immediately cradled his head. Tilting his jaw, he pressed his lips to his and breathed.

Lan Sizhui’s chest rose and fell with the breaths, and Jin Ling moved to start doing compressions. Wen Ning could see that his fingers were pale from poor circulation, but Jin Ling didn’t seem to notice.

“Sizhui…” Jin Ling said under his breath as he counted the compressions. Wen Ning came beside him and took over the compressions.

Jin Ling cupped Lan Sizhui’s face and stared down at it with his lips trembling. “Listen to me! You need to wake up right now! Wake up…because…because if you don’t, I’m going to break your legs, ok?” his threats didn’t have the same power as Jiang Cheng’s.

“Breathe.” Wen Ning said as he reached the end of his compression cycle.

Jin Ling ducked down and did two more rescue breaths. His bloody hands had smeared thick red blood all over Lan Sizhui’s clean face.

“I already decided…I’m going to study really hard so we can go to the same college. And you’re going to go into pre-med and be super smart, and I’ll make sure you take plenty of breaks for Halo. I’ll even let you play as Master Chief.”

“Breathe.” Wen Ning instructed again.

Jin Ling breathed for Lan Sizhui, his tears falling onto the unconscious teenager’s face.

“Didn’t you hear me? I said I would play the Arbiter! Please Sizhui!”

 

Wei Wuxian supported himself on the dash as Lan Wangji’s car screeched to a halt outside the hospital’s main entrance. The three men scrambled from the SUV and they raced for the building.

Pushing through the glass doors, Wei Wuxian was surprised to see it was empty. Usually there were volunteers at the reception desk, and people milling around. Even the cafeteria off to the right was closed, the metal security gate pulled down and locked. It was enough to give him pause so that Jiang Cheng ran into his back and swore.

“What are you doing?”

“Where are we supposed to go?” Wei Wuxian asked.

They knew that Lan Sizhui and Jin Ling were probably being held hostage somewhere, as well as Lan Xichen. But they didn’t know where. The hospital was a big place, and they would have to be stashed somewhere that wasn’t busy. Which ruled out the ED or ICU as both those units were constantly busy.

“The fourth floor.” Lan Wangji said suddenly, coming up beside them. “It’s been under construction.”

“The gypsy!” Jiang Cheng exclaimed.

“Gypsum.” Lan Wangji corrected him, but his attention was elsewhere.

Wei Wuxian followed his gaze and shivered.

Pinky Killer was leaning against the circular reception desk. His arms were crossed, and he was watching them with a pleasant expression on his face. There was a creepy stillness to his face, like he was used to standing and just watching them.

“No, please, continue. I so rarely get to see live theater.”

Lan Wangji tensed up beside them, but Wei Wuxian grabbed his elbow. “Go find them. We’ll take care of this guy.”

His amber eyes flashed at Wei Wuxian and worry creased his brow. “I don’t want to leave you.”

“Lan Sizhui and Jin Ling might be in real danger, Wangji. And we don’t know where your brother is. You need to go.”

Jiang Cheng nodded beside him. “I already kicked this guy’s ass once.” He shouted across the atrium, making sure his voice carried.

Pinky Killer’s eyebrow twitched, and he pushed himself up from the desk. “Yeah, Doc.” He said with a wide smile playing across his features. He reminded Wei Wuxian of a shark. “Let’s see who’s faster—you or the Corpse Poisoning running through his veins.”

Lan Wangji inhaled sharply and clenched his fists so hard his knuckles popped.

“Tic tok, Doc.”

 

Wei Wuxian glanced at Jiang Cheng and an unspoken agreement passed between them. Wei Wuxian went left and Jiang Cheng went right. Neither of them had any weapons but neither did Pinky Killer.

Jiang Cheng stopped halfway--his face homicidal. “Where is Lan Xichen?”

Pinky Killer shrugged. “That depends…is he a bottom or a top?”

The only sound was Jiang Cheng’s teeth grinding together. Wei Wuxian looked at his face then back at Pinky Killer.

“Hey, before we do this, I just want to give you a trigger warning.” Wei Wuxian said as he extended both his hands. “I do have both my pinkies. That won’t be a problem for you, would it?” he waggled his pinkies at him.

He finally succeeded in pissing Pinky Killer off. The sneer wiped off his face and he launched at Wei Wuxian. Bracing for the hit, he let the drug dealer crash him into the welcome desk. The air whooshed from his lungs and he couldn’t breathe.

Two hands came at his face and he kicked out, catching Pinky Killer in the stomach as the grappled for a moment. He was crazy strong, the kind of strength that was belied by his quick movements. While Pinky Killer was dodging Wei Wuxian’s kicks, Jiang Cheng came from behind and grabbed the guy by his hair, spinning him around and throwing him to the ground. He skidded across the waxed floor.

Looking around, Wei Wuxian picked up the closest thing he could find. The stapler was hardly intimidating, but it felt solid and heavy in his hands.

Brandishing it he pointed it at the drug dealer. “Last chance.”

“Or you’ll what?” he asked as he spat between them. “Next you’ll threaten to collate me.”

“Sorry, I don’t have a file for bat shit insane.”

Pinky Killer launched up faster than anticipated. Jiang Cheng got between him and Wei Wuxian, ducking his head down and trying to get under his point of balance. Pinky Killer anticipated it—diving left to kick Jiang Cheng’s knee. There was a sickening crunch and Jiang Cheng toppled, groaning in pain.

Wei Wuxian didn’t pause, closing one eye he cocked his hand back and threw the stapler. The metal office supply hit Pinky Killer right in the temple, knocking him off balance so that Wei Wuxian could tackle him to the ground. If they were both horizontal, his speed wouldn’t matter, and it would make things a little easier.

They both went down in a tangle of limbs. Wei Wuxian’s elbow hit the floor and pain shot up his arm. Rolling, he tried to get his legs around him, but Pinky Killer was fast, and far better at fighting. Before he could get his hands around Wei Wuxian’s throat, he bit down on the space between his neck and shoulder. The taste of sweat and cologne flooded his mouth, but he bit down harder until he tasted blood.

Pinky Killer swung a fist into Wei Wuxian’s temple, knocking him loose. Spitting blood, he pushed himself up to his feet and tried not to look at where Jiang Cheng was.

“Tell me something, why the high school coach?”

Pinky Killer had a hand on his bleeding shoulder. He glared at Wei Wuxian. “Haven’t figured that out yet?”

Wei Wuxian shrugged and tried not to stagger. That last punch had rattled him, and he was almost seeing double.

When it came to fighting, Jiang Cheng was the brawler. He liked to throw punches and he could take them like a champ. Wei Wuxian was different. He didn’t like to get hit. He preferred one punch knock outs, one strategic hit. Usually, he could wind up his opponent enough that they made a fatal mistake. Then he could come in and end it before breaking a sweat.

“Idiot was in debt. Was selling steroids to the high school athletes.”

“No kidding?”

“You see that Volleyball team? No tenth grader is that fucking jacked.” He flicked the blood off his fingers. “We pressured him into selling for us. But the loser got cold feet just because some kids died.”

“Dead kids are most people’s limit.”

Pinky Killer snorted and reached behind him. He pulled out a wicked looking blade. It wasn’t particularly long, but Wei Wuxian could see the edge from where he was standing. A little bit of his bravado fled, and he backed up until he hit the desk again.

“Hey now, who brings a knife to a stapler fight?” Wei Wuxian asked as he glanced down beside him.

Swinging the blade around so that it was facing upward he stormed toward Wei Wuxian.

At the last second, Wei Wuxian grabbed the can of air freshener sitting on the desk. He sprayed Mediterranean Lavender directly into Pinky Killers face. As he did, he ducked to the side, missing the slash Pinky Killer aimed for him.

Screaming, he clawed at his watery eyes, stumbling forward until he hit the desk and folded over it.

Flipping the air freshener over, Wei Wuxian hit him in the base of the skull with the aluminum can. It reverberated out of his hands and the drug dealer dropped his knife as he fell to the floor. Blinking furiously, his eyes were red rimmed, and he blindly reached into his shirt and withdrew a gun.

Jiang Cheng stepped up behind him and grabbed the gun, twisting his arm until the elbow popped with a gut churning crunch. Pinky Killer howled and Jiang Cheng pried the gun out of his hand. Setting it on the desk, he put his boot on the man’s face, shoving him into the tile.

Wei Wuxian knelt down beside him. “You know, it’s a fatal mistake to forget how many people you’re fighting.”

It was their classic move. One of them would attack first, then pretend an injury was worse than it was, and they were out of the fight, only to wait until their opponent turned their back and they’d step back in. This tactic had been working since high school.

“How’s your knee?” Wei Wuxian asked.

“Fucking hurts.” He ripped the twisted arm he was still holding and the man below his boot yowled. “Next time you take the kick.”

“Jiang Cheng,” Wei Wuxian said as he pointed at his face. “should risk this work of art?”

Ignoring him, Jiang Cheng pressed down until there were tread marks on Pinky Killers cheek. “Where are they?”

The sheer amount of profanity coming out of the man was impressive, but it didn’t help them. “Listen, you either tell us where everyone is, or I get the staple remover. I don’t know what part of you I’m going to use it on yet, but I bet it’ll hurt.”

Jiang Cheng twisted the arm again until something popped and tore. Pinky Killer screamed and then went limp. Jiang Cheng dropped the useless arm and watched as it hit the floor. “Oh shit, was that his good hand?”

Pinky Killer was totally passed out, but Wei Wuxian ripped out an extension cord from the computer and tied him up. His foot hit the air freshener can and he picked it up. There was a label on the bottom that read ‘Property of Linda’.

Jiang Cheng was staring down at the guy. “Go help Lan Wangji. Check out the construction. I’m going to check admin.”

“Why admin?”

“Because, our Freudian Pinky Envy bitch here told me more than he thought.” He glanced in the direction of the darkened administration hallway. It was a weekend and the place was a ghost town. Only absolutely essential staff were working. “Jin Guangyao is in love with Xichen. He’s not going to keep him in the same place as the kids.”

Wei Wuxian nodded. “All right, go get your man.”

“Fuck you.” Jiang Cheng said as he limped toward the darkened hallway.

Chapter Text

Lan Wangji ignored the elevator and ran straight for the stairs. He took them three at a time, his long legs propelling him up faster than his brain could register. This was all foreign territory to him. Normally, his time at the hospital was predominantly spent below ground. He usually had no business in the upper floors of the hospital unless he was attending a meeting.

He found the fourth floor and wrenched open the door. It opened with a squeal of unoiled hinges and he paused to glance around.

The fourth floor was laid out like every other floor on the hospital—a central desk with hallways leading off of it like tentacles on an octopus. But while under construction nothing looked familiar.

The drug dealers words kept echoing in his head.

‘Let’s see who’s faster.’

His heart slammed into his chest, and he was certain it had nothing to do with the lack of oxygen to his lungs.

He remembered Sizhui smiling at him when he came home from work, or when he was doing homework at the table with his eyes downcast and a serious look on his face.

Then he pictured him sitting on his autopsy table—sightless eyes open and staring, lips parted and blue. He staggered and gasped, holding his chest as he scanned for the right direction to go.

He couldn’t lose Sizhui.

Blindly he took off in a direction. He was looking in all directions until he saw some disturbances in the dust on the floor. Skidding to a stop, he changed direction and followed it until he saw glass shards glinting in the low light. They were scattered on the ground in front of an open door and he could hear the muted sounds of people talking.

Crunching over the glass he grabbed the edge of the door and swung himself into the room.

His brain took in all the information instantly.

Lan Sizhui was on the ground and Wen Ning and Jin Ling were performing CPR. Jin Ling was crying, Wen Ning looked like he was about to pass out, and there was blood everywhere. He might have said something, because they looked up at him as he fell to his knee’s beside Sizhui.

“Wen Ning, go find an AED.” He instructed quickly. Wen Ning stood up on wobbly legs, flailing for a moment as he waited for his sleepy limbs to wake up and he could go off to look for the device.

“They injected him.” Jin Ling said tearily, still holding onto Lan Sizhui’s face.

“I know.” Lan Wangji said. He tried to be clinical, remembering the steps he hadn’t performed physically in many years. CPR wasn’t necessary in his line of work, and he had not run a code on anyone since med school. He would have much preferred Lan Xichen be here. But that wasn’t an option.

Looking around him, he recognized this as a drug lab. All the equipment needed for manufacturing the Corpse Poisoning was strewn about. Several cardboard boxes were stacked in a corner, and he could see several syringe filled with sinister looking black liquid resting on the counter.

Clearing his mind, he clasped his hands and continued chest compressions where Wen Ning had left off. There was an uncomfortable give in Lan Sizhui’s chest and Lan Wangji knew he must have some broken ribs from the constant compressions. There was only so long they could do compressions before it was useless. He needed to get Sizhui’s heart beating on its own.

Finding an AED might be difficult. Technically, all construction sites needed one, but since Jin Guangyao had shut down construction for the past few months, they might not have left one here.

Glass crunched behind him and Wen Ning joined them holding a small yellow case. Lan Wangji ripped Sizhui’s shirt open while Wen Ning unzipped the case and opened it.

Inside was a small laptop looking device. There were only a few buttons and two sets of cables running to thick adhesive pads. Lan Wangji set one on the upper left side of Lan Sizhui’s chest and the other beneath his ribs on the right. These pads would communicate with one another, measuring his heart rhythms and determining the need for electrical intervention.

Wen Ning turned the AED on, and Lan Wangji stopped his chest compressions. He looked at Jin Ling. “Let go of him.”

Jin Ling nodded numbly and removed his hands.

An electronic voice warbled from the AED ‘analyzing rhythm’ followed by ‘do not touch the patient’ over and over. It seemed to be taking forever and Lan Wangji was ready to throw the entire damn thing across the room when it finally said ‘shock advised, charging’ followed by a ridiculous sound that Lan Wangji assumed was supposed to sound like something charging. To him it sounded like something out of science fiction—a ray gun that needs to charge before being able to be discharged again.

Finally, the shock button on the AED lit up and Wen Ning glanced up to make sure no one was touching Sizhui before pressing it.

Lan Sizhui’s entire body jerked. Not quite as dramatic as they depict it on TV, but it was unsettling to see. The moment his body stilled again Lan Wangji checked for a pulse. His fingers crawled to the place under Sizhui’s jaw, pressing and hoping to feel the small thud thud of a pulse. He would take anything. Even just the faintest of pressures.

His entire body felt like it was shaking, then he felt it. The gentlest caress of Lan Sizhui’s pulse against his index and middle finger. Lan Wangji glanced down at his chest and saw a shallow rise and fall.

“He’s breathing!” Jin Ling cried out, pushing some of Lan Sizhui’s hair from his forehead.

Lan Wangji leaned over Sizhui, peeling up an eyelid to look at his pupillary response. “Sizhui? Sizhui, wake up.” He said with a shaking voice. He almost didn’t recognize it as his own.

Running out of patience, he performed a sternal rub. His knuckles brushed against the prominent bone and Sizhui’s eyes fluttered open and he tried to pull away from the pain. Blinking in confusion, it took a moment for his eyes to focus. Lan Wangji didn’t wait, he pulled Sizhui into his embrace and held him. He buried his face into the teenager’s shoulder and tried not to wince at the scent of blood that clung to his skin.

“Sizhui.” He said as he ran his hand along the nape of his neck. “Just breathe.”

Shakily, weak arms wrapped around his back. “You’re the one who isn’t breathing.” He said with a scratchy voice.

Lan Wangji realized he was right and took a shaky breath.

 

 

The pain in his knee was excruciating. There was an awful twinge every time he straightened it, and there was no way he could bear any weight on it. Jiang Cheng lurched down the hallway with a hideous gait—trying to be speedy without completely ruining his knee wasn’t the most graceful thing he had ever done.

Ugly pictures lined the hallway—generic photos that he supposed were supposed to be comforting and colorful while also not able to offend anyone in anyway. Instead of a picture of a babbling brook he thought they should post unique x-rays. Nothing screams healthcare like seeing what someone is willing to shove up their anus.

He wasn’t sure what was more impressive: that he once treated a patient who stuck a lightbulb up their ass without it breaking or that the doctor was able to get it out in one piece.

Scanning the names of the offices, he ruled them out one by one. Most of these offices had small windows, which would not be ideal for holding a kidnapped victim. The rest were either in use, or a dual office where there would be more than one person using it.

Finally, he came to the end of the hall. Two plastic potted ferns rested against the dead end and he wondered who would actually believe plants could grow in a windowless hallway when his eyes caught a blank nameplate. The door was closed, and it was obviously an office that was not in use, but light was shining from under the door.

Without second guessing himself he tried the knob. The brushed steel doorknob was warm, as if someone had just used it. It was also locked.

He banged on the door. “Lan Xichen?” he called, hoping he would be able to hear something from the other side.

There was nothing, but his suspicious were aroused.

He patted his pockets and wondered why he didn’t grab the gun. Grabbing the gun would have been the smart thing, but instead he hobbled off like a dumbass with nothing but his trauma shears, a stethoscope shoved into his pocket, and a portable radio that was too far out of range to be anything besides a brick.

Fingers closing around the radio he brought it up to his eyeline. His first preceptor had told him that during a particularly violent scuffle with a drunk, he used his radio as a weapon. The thing cracked in half but still worked.

Positioning the heavy radio above the doorknob, he did a few practice swings before bringing the butt of the radio down onto the door handle. Nothing happened. He did it two more times but neither the radio nor the doorknob gave.

“That was anticlimactic.” He muttered.

Sizing up the door, he took a step back and sighed deeply. “This is going to hurt.”

The thing about most office furniture is that it’s cheaply made. Durability is the last thing on most people’s minds when creating or purchasing things for an office. So, it’s not like he thought the door would put up a huge amount of resistance.

Still, he was wildly unprepared for how much it hurt.

Jiang Cheng’s shoulder crashed into the door, just off the jam, and the plywood splintered underneath him. His bad knee gave out and he ended up in a pile at the base of the door, rolling into the office with a grunt of pain.

“Mother fucker!” he swore, clutching his knee and closing his eyes until the stars faded from his vision.

Breathing heavily, he looked up and around the office. There wasn’t any furniture in the space. It was literally an empty square with a small window affixed up high by the roof. He heard a clang and glanced to the back wall.

“Xichen!”

Lan Xichen was staring at him with large eyes. His hands were bound above his head by handcuffs. There was a gag in his mouth, and he was trying to talk around it. Boosting himself up, he piteously limped toward him.

“That would have been really embarrassing if no one was in here.” He said with a grin, dropping down to a knee in front of Xichen and easing the gag out of his mouth.

“Behind you!”

Jiang Cheng closed his eyes. “Aw fuck.”

Slowly standing, he turned around and made eye contact with Jin Guangyao. Or rather, the guy he assumed was Jin Guangyao. He’d never met the man before. The man was shorter than him, a completely unassuming man in almost every way.

Except for the gun he was leveling at Jiang Cheng.

Less of a gun, and more of a hand cannon. The thing had a pearl handle and everything. The metal was stainless steel and shone in the florescent lighting.

“This is the part where you put your hands up.”

“Yeah I figured.” Jiang Cheng said, lifting his hands up rather unenthusiastically.

He tried to take a moment to recap his situation. Lan Xichen was behind him and still handcuffed, so moving quickly was not an option. Jin Guangyao and his gun were between him and the open door. The only other exit in the room was the small window set up high on the wall. But even if he could get to it, there was no way he could wiggle through.

“You got past Xue Yang, I see.” Jin Guangyao said with a smirk. Even smirking he had the deepest dimples Jiang Cheng had ever seen. He was a head full of curls away from being a homicidal Shirley Temple.

“Pinky Killer? Yeah. Took him out courtesy of Linda.”

Jin Guangyao looked confused but didn’t say anything.

“Just let him go. I’ll go with you, just don’t hurt him.” Lan Xichen said from behind Jiang Cheng.

“Like hell you will.” Jiang Cheng responded without looking at him. “You might as well shoot me now, because I’m not leaving here without him.”

Jin Guangyao didn’t say anything. He looked Jiang Cheng up and down, his beady eyes taking in all the details. He wanted to ask Xichen just how he didn’t realize this guy was crazy—one look at him and Jiang Cheng could tell he was a few crayons short of a box.

“I just can’t figure out what makes you so special.”

“Careful, you’re starting to sound like my parents now.”

Jin Guangyao scoffed. “Is everything a joke to you?”

“Just you.” Jiang Cheng said, his lighthearted tone going hard. “Did you really think you would get away with all this? You’re responsible for the deaths of so many people…and for what? Your mom? The people who tormented her are gone.”

His ugly sneer faded, and the crazy eyes returned, the whites showing around his pupils. “Do you have any idea what it’s like to grow up like that? To be mocked and scorned? For something you can’t even control. That mad had everything! He had money and power, and he took them all for granted.” His words were turning erratic. “He wasn’t laughing when I cut his brakes, was he? Do you think he appreciates the fact that the only remaining Jin was the bastard he scorned?”

Jiang Cheng felt his stomach drop. The only remaining…?

“Jin Ling?” he asked breathlessly. In his mind he had pictured Wei Wuxian rescuing him, pulling him in for a hug and getting him far away from him.

But was he too late?

“Jin Ling.” Jin Guangyao shook his head. “There was real potential there. Unfortunately, there’s just too much Jiang in him to be useful. He cried when I killed that other boy, but he needed to see. He needed to see what happens when you let other people drag you down.”

Lan Xichen yanked the handcuffs against the radiator. “If you touched Sizhui…” he growled.

“Of course, I can’t blame the Jiang blood too much. His father was a poor excuse for a Jin.” He waved the gun around like it weighed nothing. Jiang Cheng wondered if he could lunge for it before it ripped a hole through his chest.

“He was too sentimental. Even after he found out about the Corpse Poisoning, he begged me to reconsider. To stop before I even began.” He laughed mirthlessly. “He should have known better than to threaten me.”

Jiang Cheng’s mouth went dry. “You killed them.”

Jin Guangyao shrugged. “Have you ever heard of Acceptable Losses? It’s a term the military uses when planning a battle. They have a specific number of lives that can be lost, and the battle is still considered profitable. It’s an unfortunate aspect of war.”

“What battle? There’s no battle here! There’s no soldiers…just a bunch of dead kids. How is that getting revenge?”

Jin Guangyao took a step closer to Jiang Cheng and looked like he wanted to pistol whip him. “You think the high school was it? That was the end goal? Don’t be ridiculous. This was a trial run. Corpse Poisoning is going to be shipped all across the world. And by the time anyone realizes what it is, it’ll be too late.”

“Why? To what end, Jin Guangyao? Your mother is dead! Your bastard father is dead!” Lan Xichen cried out from behind Jiang Cheng. Jin Guangyao tried to look around Jiang Cheng to see him, but he stepped between them and refused to let them make eye contact.

“Because then the world will know my name. They’ll know they made a mistake. They’ll know that I could have been their savior, but they made me be the villain.” He cocked his head and pulled the hammer back on the gun. “You could have been part of that Xichen. You could have been by my side, but you chose him.”

“I would have never gone along with this, you know that.”

The barrel of the gun came level with Jiang Cheng’s eyes. He stared at the dark hole in the metal and felt a strange sense of anxiety. Was Wei Wuxian able to get to Jin Ling? That’s all that mattered. In the end, his life wasn’t flashing by his eyes. He was thinking about the small pieces of family he had managed to keep beside him.

He was going to miss them.

“Don’t worry, I’ll make sure Jin Ling doesn’t miss his uncle.”

Jin Guangyao stiffened suddenly, his breath was ragged and he blinked a couple times before staggering forward.

Behind him, Jin Ling was standing with a hand raised and eyes wide. His lips were pressed together so tightly they were white.

“Don’t worry,” Jin Ling said. “I won’t.”

As Jin Guangyao turned to look back at him, Jiang Cheng saw a syringe sticking out of the back of his neck. The plunger was pressed all the way down and whatever had been in there had been injected into Jin Guangyao.

Jiang Cheng launched forward on his good leg and took the gun, pulling it from Jin Guangyao’s limp fingers as he crashed to the ground. He slid the gun across the carpet until it was out of reach.

Jin Ling took one step toward his paternal uncles’ body and stared down at it. Jin Guangyao’s eyes were going glassy and they looked black they were so dilated.

“That was for my parents and for Sizhui.” He said with conviction.

Jiang Cheng watched him. “What about me?”

“Oh, right.” Jin Ling kicked Jin Guangyao in the ribs. “And that’s for pointing a gun at my uncle.” As he made contact with the body, he suddenly seemed to feel the weight of his actions. He collapsed backwards and started shaking.

Jiang Cheng knelt down beside him and pulled him close, trying to hold him so tight the shaking stopped. “Hey, hey, it’s ok. It’s over.”

“No, it’s…he said I was…I’m not like him! I’m not!” Jin Ling said as he clutched at Jiang Cheng’s forearm so hard his nails drew blood. “I don’t want his blood in me.”

“Kid,” Jiang Cheng grabbed his face so Jin Ling was looking at him. “you’re nothing like him, ok? You’re a Jin, not him. Your dad found out about what he was going to do and was going to stop him. He was a real Jin. He was brave and strong, and your mother was kind and wonderful. That’s the blood running in your veins. That’s who you are.”

Jin Ling sniffed and dropped his head to Jiang Cheng’s chest. He rubbed his nephews back. “Your parents would be proud of you, Jin Ling.” He pressed a kiss to the top of his head and lifted his head up to wipe away his tears.

“You think Wei Wuxian and I would let you be anything like that bastard? I’d break your legs.” Jin Ling laughed thickly. He rubbed at his swollen eyes and tried to stop crying.

“Sizhui’s in the ED. Dr. Lan took him there.”

“Is he ok?” Lan Xichen asked quickly.

Jin Ling nodded. “They’re doing tests but he’s awake now.”

“All right.” Jiang Cheng ruffled Jin Ling’s hair. “Go back to the ED and find Wei Wuxian. I’ll be right behind you.”

Jin Ling stood without looking at Jin Guangyao, he looked at Lan Xichen once before exiting the empty office.

Jiang Cheng flipped Jin Guangyao’s body and pulled out the syringe. It was a typical 10cc with a 20g needle. Pulling back on the plunger, he filled the tube with air. Kneeling down, he placed the needle bevel edge up and pressed it into the thick jugular vein. Without hesitation, he pressed the air into the vein.

Jin Guangyao made a small gurgling sound before he stopped breathing.

Jiang Cheng tossed the syringe to the side and stared down at him. His hands were shaking.

“Why did you…?” Lan Xichen asked without judgement.

“Now I can tell Jin Ling that he isn’t a murderer.” He looked up and made eye contact with Xichen’s hazel eyes. “I killed him.”

Finding the handcuff key was easier than expected. It was in the first pocket he tried. With trembling hands, he unlocked Xichen’s handcuffs. The moment they were free they wrapped around Jiang Cheng and pulled him into a tight embrace.

“Are you ok?” Lan Xichen asked.

“You were the one who was kidnapped. I should be asking you that.” Jiang Cheng said through the lump in his throat. He didn’t feel ok. He wanted to wrap himself up in Lan Xichen’s warmth and never come out. Pull the blanket over their heads and never let any of this touch him every again.

He wanted to be strong for Xichen. The hero who came bursting through the door, took down the bad guy, and saved the day. But all he ended up being was the dumbass who needed the kidnapped guy to hold him because he was afraid he might lose his shit if Lan Xichen didn’t weigh him down.

Lan Xichen didn’t seem to mind. He wrapped Jiang Cheng up and pressed kisses against his temple. “I was so worried.” He said.

“I’m going to need you to be more aware of your surroundings, Xichen, because the next time one of your friends goes insane and kidnaps you, I’m not kicking down any doors.”

Lan Xichen chuckled and brushed some of Jiang Cheng’s hair out of his face. They would catch up later. Eventually the adrenalin would subside and there would be nightmares. The scary moments they lived would replay in their heads, and it would be a while before any of them were normal again.

For now, just holding each other was enough.

Chapter Text

Jin Ling rested his head against Lan Sizhui’s chest and resisted the urge to wake up. The ambient noises from the hospital had been hard to ignore at first, but now they blended into a soothing white noise. Despite the lights being off, the room was bright and he didn’t want to open his eyes, not yet.

He was wedged into a hospital bed lying beside Sizhui. His back was pressed against the plastic safety rails and his entire front was plastered beside Sizhui’s warm body. After Lan Wangji had brought him to the ED he had been checked into a private room overnight for observations. The cardiologist said his heart was fine, and all his vital signs were normal, but they didn’t know what kind of damage the Corpse Poisoning could do. Not to mention the prolonged CPR he had received.

Lan Wangji had correctly guessed at least one cracked rib. Sizhui said it was too painful, but Jin Ling could see the way the skin tightened around his eyes when he moved or took a deep breath. Which was why he was originally happy to just sit beside his bed, one hand holding onto his. But Sizhui wouldn’t have it. The moment the doctors left he had pulled Jin Ling into bed with him.

Truthfully, Jin Ling didn’t fight it too much. Just feeling Sizhui’s warm body and the gentle rise and fall of his chest eased his anxieties. Every time he closed his eyes he saw the way Lan Sizhui was lying on the ground—unnaturally still and pale, with skin cool to the touch. It was enough to make a cold sweat break out along his brow and his heart to beat faster.

But here, now, he could sense the life in Sizhui. He could feel his fingers intertwined with his, occasionally twitching in his sleep. It was enough.

That, and his watch dog uncles, of course.

Jiang Cheng had insisted on keeping Jin Ling and Wei Wuxian in his sights at all times. If it wasn’t for Lan Xichen forcibly picking him up and carrying him to the MRI to get his knee checked out, he would have been glued to their sides. Once the MRI came back as just a small tear in his ACL, he returned to Lan Sizhui’s room. He was sleeping on a recliner in the corner, knee propped up with a melting ice pack resting across it.

Wei Wuxian had chosen to curl up on Jiang Cheng, resting across him like a giant cat. The fact that Jiang Cheng allowed this spoke to just how worried he had been. Jin Ling could hear their soft breathing coming from beside the bed and it reassured him.

It seemed like, for now anyway, they were in a perfect bubbly. A self-contained system that was safe and soft. The moment Jin Ling opened his eyes, or someone left the room, it would burst and all the bullshit they had just dealt with would come flooding in again.

Jiang Cheng had told him he didn’t kill Jin Guangyao. He didn’t say exactly what did, but judging by the haunted look in his eyes, it was better if Jin Ling didn’t ask. He was sure he would find out.

There was already a mass of reporters at the hospital doors demanding answers. Harrying cops and hospital staff as they came and went. Rumors were already circulating, but Jin Ling was too tired to listen to them.

The cops had come and gotten a brief statement from them. Then Lan Wangji had ushered them out with his stern face, demanding they come back later because Sizhui and Jin Ling needed to rest. Lan Xichen had offered to go down to the station to discuss everything in depth and for now that seemed to satisfy them.

Jin Ling knew he would have to sit down and relive the whole thing again, but his uncles promised to be there with him. Between Wei Wuxian’s snarky mouth and Jiang Cheng’s propensity for violence, he knew he would be spared the worst of any questioning.

He already felt bad for the detective who had to be in a room with them.

Lan Sizhui stirred, and he knew he was awake. He wanted to hug him, but he was conscious of his cracked rib.

“Awake?” Jin Ling asked, finally opening his eyes to look up at Lan Sizhui.

The head of the bed was propped up to help with his ribs and breathing, so Jin Ling was perched a little lower than Sizhui. Even in the low lights, his honey eyes sparkled as he looked down at Jin Ling.

“It’s our first time sleeping together.” He said in a whisper.

Jin Ling suddenly grew self-conscious. He hadn’t thought of it that way. “Oh…er…”

Lan Sizhui smiled and stiffly kissed Jin Ling’s head. “To be honest, whenever I fantasized about sleeping with you, it wasn’t in a hospital.”

Jin Ling’s cheeks heated up and he couldn’t meet Lan Sizhui’s eye. He had been thinking about sleeping with him? “Were my uncles there?”

Lan Sizhui chuckled and glanced over at the sleeping men. Jiang Cheng’s head was turned, and he was breathing softly. Wei Wuxian had his head on one arm rest and his legs over the other, sleeping with his mouth wide open.

“Yeah, no, they were definitely not there.”

Jin Ling gently ran his hands along Sizhui’s chest. He laid a palm over his heart and felt the muscle beating just under his palms. “You were dead.” He said morosely. If he had any tears left in him at all, he might have started crying again.

“You saved me.” Lan Sizhui said, and a wave of guilt came crashing over Jin Ling. If it wasn’t for him, Lan Sizhui wouldn’t have been in danger at all. Jin Guangyao would have completely ignored him. The guilt grew so strong that Jin Ling felt like he couldn’t breathe.

Sitting up, he tried to get out of the bed. He needed to get away from Lan Sizhui, he needed to get his head wrapped around what had happened. There was so much blood. Sizhui wasn’t breathing. Pinky Killer hitting Lan Sizhui. Jin Guangyao’s sinister smile and the way he looked down on him.

It was too much. He had to move.

A hand clamped over his wrist and he looked back at Lan Sizhui. “If you try to run, I’ll run after you.”

Jin Ling looked at the wall, steeling himself. “You can’t, you’re supposed to be resting.”

“Then rest with me.”

He tugged on his hand until Jin Ling fell back beside him, his arm wrapped around him. Jin Ling closed his eyes and buried his face in the pillow until breathing was difficult. He felt Sizhui’s hand on his forehead, stroking his dirty hair away from his face.

“When I said you saved me, I didn’t mean from the Corpse Poisoning.”

Jin Ling paused and turned his face so he could see Lan Sizhui out of the corner of his eye.

“You made everything better, Jin Ling. You encouraged me to talk to my dad and stayed by my side even when you found out how weird my family dynamic is. You made me laugh, a real no kidding laugh, not the fake polite laugh that I do sometimes.” He pinched Jin Ling’s nose teasingly. “Before I met you, I was just going through the motions of life. I was too afraid to ask for more—you brought a little bit of chaos to my life and reminded me that it was ok to feel things.”

Jin Ling didn’t know what to say. It was too much, wasn’t it? Maybe it was their age, or maybe it was because they just went through a horrible situation together, but Jin Ling surged up and kissed Lan Sizhui’s lips.

“I love you, Sizhui.”

Sizhui smiled against Jin Ling’s lips. “I love you, too.” he grimaced. “But your elbow is in my ribs.”

“Oh shit, sorry!”

 

Wei Wuxian crossed his arms and sat back in the recliner. He had kicked Jin Ling and Jiang Cheng out hours ago. They had wanted to stay with Lan Sizhui until he was discharged but they both needed a shower and proper rest. Jiang Cheng lingered until he found out that all three Dr. Lan’s were monitoring the patients progress, and Wei Wuxian was given permission to use deadly force. With or without office supplies.

He had his eyes closed, pretending to be asleep. There was a shower in the doctor’s break room, and he had taken a shower and borrowed some of Wangji’s old scrubs. He had been asleep, but there was a commotion outside Sizhui’s door.

Opening one eye slightly, he saw that Sizhui was ignoring the book in his lap and was staring at the half open door. Through the crack Lan Wangji’s broad back could be seen.
“No, he’s not ready to talk to you yet.” He said firmly, his tone low and even.

“Uh, and who are you, sir?” a voice asked a little timidly. Wei Wuxian smiled. Not many people could stand up to Lan Wangji.

“I’m his father.”

Lan Sizhui audibly gasped, his hands clenching the paperback in his hands until the cover almost tore. He was still staring at the door, unaware that Wei Wuxian was watching him. He blinked several times before looking down at his lap, swallowing a couple times before a wide smile broke out across his face.

“Did you really think he didn’t care?” Wei Wuxian asked, sitting up and giving up all pretense of sleeping.

Lan Sizhui started and looked over at him. He looked so much like a startled deer caught in the headlights that Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but laugh, coming over to sit on the edge of the bed and tug at a strand of hair.

“I knew he cared…I just…didn’t know he considered himself anything but a guardian.”

“You’ve known him a lot longer than I have.” He said, casting a glance backward at the door. “But you wouldn’t say that if you saw how worried he was.”

Lan Wangji had been borderline frantic. He kept a mask on, but Wei Wuxian could see the way he gripped the steering wheel so hard the leather squeaked under his hands. Or the way he wrenched open doors and called every number he could think of to find him.

When Wei Wuxian found them, they were running down the stairs to the ED. Lan Sizhui had been conscious, but dazed. Wei Wuxian had been far more interested in Jin Ling at the time, but he saw the way Lan Wangji carried Sizhui.

“He burst in through the ED doors like a cannon. Nie Mingjue took one look at his face and immediately got you a bed and the first available doctor.”

The teenager grinned self-consciously, moving to rub the back of his neck when his ribs twinged and he had to drop the hand suddenly.

“In case you ever wanted to know if there was someone who could intimidate Nie Mingjue, the answer is a scared Lan Wangji.”

A hand dropped onto Wei Wuxian’s shoulder and he looked up to see the man in question.

Lan Sizhui looked up at him. “I didn’t know you were scared of anything.” He said honestly.

The way Lan Wangji looked at him bordered on tender. His face was still, but there was something in his eyes and the way he set his mouth. A softening that only happened when he looked at the two men in the room.

“I was terrified to lose you.”

It’s up for debate who was more shocked: Wei Wuxian or Lan Sizhui. But Lan Wangji was completely serious. He pulled up a chair and took both of their hands in his as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

He cleared his throat. “You both mean a good deal to me. I’m not used to…I’ve never had to articulate how I feel. Xichen always knew and my uncle was never…well—”

Wei Wuxian held up a hand. “We’ve met him.”

“Right. So, I apologize if I am not…or if I haven’t said it. But,” he looked at Lan Sizhui. “from the moment you came into my life, you were my family. I never said it because I thought it was obvious. I will try to do better.”

Lan Sizhui blushed and looked away, mumbling something incomprehensible.

Wei Wuxian looked at Lan Wangji, smiling a little at the smartest, most capable man he’s ever met. “Hey, come with me to get a coffee.”

He dragged Wangji out into the hallway, mostly to give Sizhui a moment to breathe. He had been shaken a little and couldn’t stop rubbing his nose and blinking away unshed tears. Wei Wuxian took Lan Wangji’s hand and dragged him toward one of the hospitals vending machines.

“I’m proud of you.” Wei Wuxian said, leaning his head on Wangji’s shoulder.

He was suddenly pushed against the wall, two strong arms bracketing his head as Lan Wangji rested his forehead on Wei Wuxian’s. “I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you.”

Wei Wuxian laughed at the seriousness on his face. “Wangji,” he cooed softly, pressing a kiss to his thin lips. “I don’t need you to protect me. I can clearly take care of myself.”

He grunted and was clearly dissatisfied by the way everything went down. Wei Wuxian slipped his arms around his waist and rested his forehead against his.

“It’s not about you taking care of me, or me taking care of you. It’s about taking care of each other. Sometimes you’ll need to lean heavier on me, and sometimes I’ll need to lean heavier on you.”

“Will you lean on me?” he asked hesitantly, almost like he was unsure.

Wei Wuxian didn’t know what there was to be unsure of. They’d had car sex, defeated a nine fingered psychopath, toppled a man’s insidious drug empire, and found a way to repair his relationship with Sizhui together. If he wasn’t all in by now, he didn’t know what he was.

“You really want me to stick around?”

“Sizhui likes you.”

Wei Wuxian grinned. “Just Sizhui?”

“Mn.” He kissed him then. Slow and full of contentment. The kind of kiss that didn’t speak of sex or arousal but promised evenings in front of the TV eating popcorn and ice cream straight from the tub. Of grocery trips where Wei Wuxian would try to sneak alcohol into the basket and Lan Wangji would take it right out. Nights where Wei Wuxian would cling to him like some sort of possessed kudzu vine, sticking his cold toes under him to keep warm.

“You know,” Wei Wuxian said as he broke the kiss. “I’m kind of a package deal. I come with one grumpy brother and a smartass nephew.”

“I have my uncle.”

“Ok, you win.”

They kissed again and forgot about coffee and hospital CCTV cameras and the poor security guard who would have to watch them.

 

Eight Months Later

 

Jiang Cheng pulled the clear tape across the box and ripped it with his teeth. Settling the tape down he stood up and stretched his back.

When did they get so much stuff?

The apartment looked almost bare. There was a discolored spot where G Stringo Fett had been hanging, and some of the DVDs had been packed away into a box. Only one bed in their bedroom had sheets on it, and there was far fewer hair products in the bathroom now.

He glanced at some of the other boxes that were sitting by the front door. Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji would come back to get them later. Allegedly there was some sort of number system on the boxes, but Jiang Cheng had yet to begin to figure out what it was.

There was a bittersweet kind of feeling arising in him. He had been sharing a bedroom with his brother since he was four years old. They had never been parted, not once. And now he was packing him up to go move in with the illustrious Dr. Death.

His new family.

He was happy for him, he really was. It’s not like he was moving out of state, and he worked at the hospital that Jiang Cheng visited several times a shift. But still, it wasn’t the same. He couldn’t help but feel like he was being left behind. Like he was watching his brother leave, and he was standing in the rearview alone.

Jin Ling still lived here, at least for another couple of months before he left for college.

The kid had done it. He pulled up his grades and got into the same elite university that Sizhui did. How, no one knew, but if anyone deserved it, he did. Jiang Cheng wasn’t allowed to read his admissions essay, but Xichen did. He said it brought a tear to his eye.

Jiang Cheng crossed his arms and rested his shoulder against the wall. If he closed his eyes, he could swear he felt his sister’s presence. The faint smell of her signature soup, and the perfume she always wore lingered in the still apartment air.

“I did it, Yanli.” He said softly, maybe more to himself than the ghost of his sister.

He somehow managed to keep their little family in one piece. Wei Wuxian was a fully licensed nurse and was working full time in the ED. He thrived in the chaos, and his patients loved that winning smile. His breaks were all spent in the morgue, shamelessly flirting with his doctor boyfriend and prematurely aging poor Wen Ning.

And Jin Ling was off to one of the top universities in the country to study Cyber Security. How Jiang Cheng was going to pay for it was something he would think about later. The important thing is that he was giving the kid a start in life, better than he had. He might not have been able to be his parents, but he damn sure made it so that kid had someone he could trust.

Two crazy uncles were better than nothing.

Jin Ling even managed to date the class president. The kid was going into pre-med, and if he was anything like the other Dr. Lan’s, he would excel beyond any reasonable doubt. That had to count for something, right?

A lump formed in his throat and he felt the hot sting of tears in his eyes. He would trade anything to have Yanli and Jin Zixuan here right now. They were the ones who should be doing the university tours and telling Jin Ling that just because he was going off to school with his boyfriend didn’t mean they got to live together yet.

He thought finding their killer and getting revenge would help. But in the end, it didn’t bring them back. The ordeal with Jin Guangyao only gave him nightmares—vivid dreams where he didn’t get there in time, and instead of looking down at Jin Guangyao’s body he was looking at the bodies of everyone he loved.

They were getting better, though. Every night it was a little less vivid. The memories were a little more faded. One day he would be fine. Maybe not soon, but if Jiang Cheng was anything it was stubborn.

He finally opened his eyes and looked around the half empty apartment. It wasn’t Wei Wuxian’s stuff that was missing, it was his spirit. The guy brought life into a place.

Arms wrapped around his waist and greedy lips kissed his neck just under his ear. He snorted and shivered at the ticklish way Lan Xichen’s breath ghosted across his neck.

“What are you doing?”

“Reminiscing.”

“About what?”

Jiang Cheng turned his head so that he could look at Lan Xichen. “How empty this place is going to be.”

Lan Xichen nodded. He had just worked an overnight shift, and Jiang Cheng could tell how tired he was. Since Jin Guangyao’s mess, the hospital had been a warzone. All sorts of bureaucrats were analyzing every inch, every paper, and crevice. Nothing was safe, including the doctors. Lan Xichen had been taking extra shifts to help with the workload, but even all these months later it was still a nightmare.

The criminal case was still ongoing, too. They had decided to cooperate as much as necessary but to keep it at arm’s length beyond that. Tons of offers for interviews and even book deals came their way, but they just wanted to get past it. The people who needed answers were the families of the victims, and Jiang Cheng hoped that with Xue Yang’s cooperation they would get them.

Lan Xichen turned him so that they were facing each other. “You know, you could always move into my apartment.”

Jiang Cheng scoffed. “That place? No way. It’s way too fancy, and I could never afford the rent.”

He spent a lot of nights over there, he slept better with Lan Xichen next to him. Behind closed doors, when it was just them, it was easier to breath. Like he could stop being so strong and he could rest. Lan Xichen would hold him without judgement, smile through his angry tirades, and soothe the anxieties he didn’t want to give name to.

“You know, I figured you’d say that.” Lan Xichen said. “So, I cancelled my lease.”

Jiang Cheng looked up sharply. “What?”

“Yeah, and you know the funniest thing? It just so happens to end two days after Jin Ling and Lan Sizhui leave for college.”

Lan Xichen was wearing the most ridiculous, knowing smile. A cat got the cream kind of smile. Jiang Cheng couldn’t help but laugh, shaking his head at the man.

“You know of a place that might be available?”

“Yeah, you know, I think I actually might have space here.”

He kissed Lan Xichen and loved the way his arms felt around him. It was stupid, and he would probably kick his own ass if he ever said something like that out loud. But he loved being wrapped up in this man.

“Mhmm save this for tonight. We have to go.”

Jiang Cheng turned to look back at the empty apartment. Was it just him, or did it seem less melancholy than it had a few moments ago?

Lan Xichen was standing at the door with his hand outstretched towards him. There was a pleasant smile on his face and his hazel eyes were sparkling.

Jiang Cheng looked down at that hand and realized he had been wrong. He thought he was being left behind, standing stationary in the rearview mirror while Jin Ling and Wei Wuxian drove off to new futures.

But he wasn’t. He was moving in his own direction. For the first time in his life, he wasn’t doing something for his family or being compared to his siblings.

For the first time in his life, he had something for himself.

He took Lan Xichen’s hand and felt the strength there.

 

Everyone was crammed around Lan Wangji’s table. The house had never been so full. Britney Spears was coming out of the speakers, courtesy of Nie Huaisang, and there was so much food on the table that leftovers would be eaten for days.

The atmosphere was cheerful. Wei Wuxian had insisted on banners and signs, anything that sparkled he had bought and hung up. Banners that said ‘Congrats Grads’ were hanging off every surface. Even Wen Ning wasn’t safe. Wei Wuxian had insisted in wrapping streamers around the poor man.

After his daring rescue of Lan Sizhui, he was treated at the ED for a broken hand and some deep lacerations. The news stations had gotten wind of his heroism and had done a piece on him. For a few moments, he was the Wen everyone was talking about. Wen Qing even kept her lectures on the dangers of smoking to a minimum.

Lan Wangji gave him a raise, too.

He was currently clutching a red solo cup and leaning on Nie Huaisang. They were arguing the musical talents of Britney Spears versus Taylor Swift. No one was quite sure who was winning, but they seemed to be happy enough.

Jin Ling and Lan Sizhui were inseparable. Their chairs were dragged so close together that they were practically in each other’s lap, and it was only Lan Xichen keeping a hand on Jiang Cheng that kept him from taking a pry bar to the couple.

“Presents!” Wei Wuxian said, sliding a package and an envelope onto the table.

The two teenagers looked up at him. “I thought my present was the gift of you paying for college tuition?” Jin Ling asked looking at his two uncles.

“It is. That’s not from us.” Jiang Cheng said suspiciously.

Jin Ling plucked up the box labeled with his name. He didn’t recognize the handwriting. It was wrapped in pale blue paper, ribbons tied perfectly. Gingerly, he pulled the ribbons free and lifted the lid. He plucked out a set of car keys.

Everyone at the table stared at them as if he was holding the secrets to life.

A gruff cough came from the other side of the table. “It is strictly so you can run errands and come visit.” Lan Qiren said from his silent perch at the end of the table.

“You…got us a car?” Lan Sizhui asked dumbfounded.

“It’s my old car. Nothing fancy, but the radio works. Public transportation is not safe for young people these days. And no doubt you two will be sharing everything anyway.” He waved his hand primly, as if the entire affair was beneath him.

Wei Wuxian was the first to react. He clapped his hands together. “Quick, someone throw some holy water on him. He must be possessed.”

Lan Qiren almost rolled his eyes at him. It was a near miss.

Jin Ling and Lan Sizhui looked at each other and then back at Lan Qiren. “Thank you, sir.” Lan Sizhui said.

Lan Qiren nodded. “Take care of it.”

Lan Wangji and Lan Xichen were staring at their uncle completely frozen. They looked like they had both received error messages and they needed to reboot the hard drive.

Jiang Cheng snapped his fingers in front of Lan Xichen. “What just happened?” he whispered to him.

“Honestly? I have no idea. But I think my uncle might be softening in his old age.”

Looking at the two boys, it was almost impossible not to. They were so young, filled with enthusiasm and potential. Neither one of them had let what they went through define them. Some nights had been hard, and Wei Wuxian had insisted they both go to counseling sessions.

He thought Jiang Cheng should go too, but he had thrown a shoe at Wei Wuxian when he brought it up.

Lan Sizhui looked at the envelope. His name was written on it in Lan Wangji’s careful block writing. Hooking a finger under the flap, he ripped open the adhesive and slid out the papers.
It took him a moment to read the documents, his eyes flicking left to right over the pages. Jin Ling looked over his shoulder, reading a little slower.

“These are adoption papers?”

“Yes.” Lan Wangji said stiffly. Wei Wuxian had a hand on his shoulder, encouraging him to speak more. “I realize you are 18, and legally it isn’t pertinent. But I thought that there should be some kind of tangible proof.”

Lan Sizhui seemed like he stopped breathing. He looked from the papers to Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian, then back at the papers.

The table was silent and Sizhui swallowed a few times. His eyes were wet, and he looked at Wangji. “Really? You want to adopt me?”

“I never thought it was necessary, because you are and always will be my son.” Lan Wangji said simply.

Sizhui jerked up and hugged Wangji. It was a little awkward because Lan Wangji was still sitting, but he hugged the teenager back. Sizhui extended an arm out to Wei Wuxian and dragged him into the hug too.

Someone drunkenly sniffled in the back and it sounded a lot like Nie Huaisang.

Hugs followed. Lan Xichen hugged Sizhui then, assuring him that he was always a Lan and that he loved him, too.

Jin Ling and Jiang Cheng stood back and watched the whole thing. Their arms were crossed, and they tried to remain inconspicuous to avoid any unnecessary hugging.

“You never adopted me.” Jin Ling said accusatorily.

“Who’d want you?” Jiang Cheng responded and they both laughed. He bumped his shoulder against Jin Ling’s. “Your parents would be proud of you.”

“Yeah.” Jin Ling said. “I think they would be proud of you, too.” He looked up at his uncle and they shared a moment.

“You’re going to be all right, you know?” Jiang Cheng told him.

“I know.” He said looking back at the Lan family where Wei Wuxian stood out like a sore thumb and yet somehow seemed like he was always meant to be there. “And if I’m not, I know who I can call.”

Lan Sizhui broke away from the group to grab Jin Ling and they disappeared into the living room.

Wei Wuxian drifted back to Jiang Cheng and hugged his younger brother. Jiang Cheng grumbled but allowed it. “I think you broke Wangji.”

“No.” Wei Wuxian said wistfully. “I think he helped fix some of my pieces, though.”

“You’ve still got a screw loose.”

Wei Wuxian smiled and hugged Jiang Cheng tighter. “You ok?”

He pondered the question but wasn’t sure how to answer it. If you had asked him a year ago if he thought any of this was possible, he would have asked what you were smoking. How probable was it that they found happiness? Convoluted and confusing as their family tree was, they were all happy.

Jiang Cheng would have sold all his organs on the black market to make sure Wei Wuxian and Jin Ling were happy and safe. He would have given anything to know that they would be ok. But seeing it play out in person was so much better than he could have ever anticipated.

“Yeah, most days.”

Wei Wuxian looked up at his younger brother. He looked happy. There was a softer look in his eyes, and he was threatening to break legs far less than he had been. He pushed him towards his Dr. Lan and went to see if any of Wen Qing’s moonshine was left when Lan Sizhui appeared by his side.

“I know you influenced this.” Sizhui whispered, gesturing to not only the party but also the adoption papers.

“Nah, this was all him.” He said truthfully. Wangji wanted to do things like this, he just didn’t know how. All Wei Wuxian did was add a little bit of commotion to it.

Lan Sizhui fidgeted. “I’m really glad he found you. He seems happier.”

They both looked at where he was chatting with the two older Dr. Lans. They all looked serious, and it was entirely likely they were discussing the latest medical journal entry on skin disorders in patients who lived in an obscure two-acre section of the Amazon.

“Are you sure you want to be like them?” Wei Wuxian teased.

Lan Sizhui looked at the three and nodded. “Yeah. If I can.”

They were interrupted by Jin Ling trying to show a drunk Wen Ning how to play Halo. He kept trying to be friends with the alien Grunts and thought that shooting them was too cruel.

“You better go save him.” Wei Wuxian said.

“Uhm, you know in a couple months we’ll be going to move into the dorms and stuff. I know you’ll probably go with Jin Ling but…I’d like it if you came with me too.”

Wei Wuxian stared at Lan Sizhui until he became uncomfortable. “Are you asking me to be your stepmother?” he asked with a lilting tone.

“Uh…”

“You can’t take it back, my little Sizhui!” Wei Wuxian said, pulling him into a hug and twirling the teenager around the kitchen. “They grow up so fast.” He said obnoxiously, sniffling loudly.

Lan Sizhui pried himself out of Wei Wuxian’s grip and fled the kitchen.

“Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to label your underwear, so all the kids think you’re cool!”

 

Somehow the night led to everyone crammed into the living room staring at the TV. Lan Wangji and Lan Xichen were trying to learn how to play Halo, but neither doctor seemed able to comprehend the buttons. Xichen was too preoccupied with trying to be sure he was using the correct gun, and Wangji kept mistaking the sight for the grenade button.

Jin Ling and Lan Sizhui were trying to coach them, while Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng hollered unhelpful advice and comments from behind them. Wen Ning and Nie Huaisang were passed out on the floor, completely oblivious to what was going on.

Lan Qiren watched impassively from the back. He narrowed his eyes at the way Wei Wuxian was splayed in Lan Wangji’s lap, and how Jiang Cheng kept playing with the back of Lan Xichen’s neck. He thought such displays of affection were unseemly, but he could admit that perhaps he was just a product of his time.

Like any guardian, he wanted his two wards to be happy and successful. He thought he had given them all the tools they needed to do so, and he watched them grow into adults with a quiet satisfaction.

He just wasn’t quite sure why their happiness had to take the form of those two men in particular.

Lan Qiren never wanted children. He was self-aware enough to know that he didn’t possess the affections young children required. But his brother was a selfish man. He chose a woman over his children, and he chose to wear her mistakes like a weight until it eventually crushed him. Had he looked up and seen the two bright children he had left--he might have chosen a different path.

While mourning his loss, Lan Qiren tried to make sure Xichen and Wangji never made those same mistakes.

He thought he knew the men he raised, but they consistently surprised him. First, when Wangji brought home a child he had no affiliation with. Then, when they chose two men that were complete opposites of their personality to spend their lives with.

And make no mistake, when Lan men chose a partner, it was for life. It was the one stubborn gene he couldn’t seem to educate out of them.

“No, you keep missing because you’re using a sniper.” Lan Sizhui told Xichen, showing him once again how to change weapons.

Lan Qiren sighed and looked at the crowded couch. Legs over one another, and hands flying in good natured swats. It was the exact kind of anarchy he didn’t want Xichen and Wangji to be part of.

His gaze shifted over to Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng. One had the other in a headlock and was sticking a spit covered finger into his ear.

His nephews were happy. How these men made them happy, was irrelevant.

At least, that’s what he kept telling himself.

Over, and over again.

END

Chapter Text

Lan Xichen yawned and stirred the spoon around his coffee idly. There wasn’t really anything left to stir, the coffee had long since gone cold, but he was enjoying the physical motion. The distraction from his thoughts.

His eyes throbbed from lack of sleep and he wondered if injecting the coffee intravenously would work faster. He could just go to sleep, but he was waiting for Jiang Cheng to come home from his third 24 hour shift this week.

Glancing at the muted TV he watched the images splash across the screen. It was some channel Jiang Cheng liked. Since moving in with Jiang Cheng, Lan Xichen was learning all sorts of things about him—twice he had caught him watching a show about fluffy baby animals. Both times Jiang Cheng had insisted he was just scrolling through channels. Lan Xichen had left it at that, but privately, he thought it was the cutest thing he had ever seen.

Most people were under the assumption that Jiang Cheng was an angry kind of man. And he worked very hard to wear that image. Anger was easy for him. What Lan Xichen knew was that the anger was very much a shell, a hard covering to protect the soft center. Jiang Cheng was, at his core, soft and vulnerable. A space very few people had seen.

Moving in with him had been a bit of an adjustment. Lan Xichen had been living alone for many years, and Jiang Cheng had been living with his brother and nephew for most of his life. Neither one of them were used to having someone they were romantically entangled with living in their space.

There were difficulties, but the one thing that made it all worth it was Lan Xichen being able to fall asleep and wake up next to Jiang Cheng. Waking up with Jiang Cheng’s hair in his face, or his leg wrapped over his was an unexpected pleasure. Something he has grown so used to—he wasn’t sure how he lived without it.

Which is why he was so tired now.

Lan Xichen wasn’t able to sleep without him anymore.

Standing up from his perch in the kitchen, he left the mug in the sink and ventured across the small apartment. He tripped over a pair of tactical boots and he kicked them towards the wall. He snorted as he pictured the look on his uncles face if he saw their apartment—mismatched furniture, clothes hanging from the drawers, uneven hangers in the closet, and shoes all over the place. It was the kind of anarchy that Lan Xichen was bred to hate and trained to never allow.

He paused and looked at the boots he had just moved out of the way. Hooking one with his ankle, he dragged it back into the middle of the living room. A thrill of rebellion shivered down his spine and he took a moment to savor it. As his uncle thought, Jiang Cheng was proving to be a bad influence on his eldest nephew.

The front door banged open.

“No, Jin Ling, you can’t drop out of college and become a stripper.” Jiang Cheng said into the phone he was cradling between his shoulder and ear. His old duffel bag was flung to the ground and he kicked off his boots, not bothering to look where they landed.

“First of all, if Wei Wuxian said it, it’s automatically a bad idea. So that’s a terrible argument. Second, I’ve seen you dance. You’re better off asking people to pay you not to dance.”

Jiang Cheng stormed into the apartment and brought with him a cloud of emotions. Like smoke, his presence seemed to fill the home and make it feel better. Lan Xichen had spent most of the night feeling listless and empty, but the moment Jiang Cheng walked in that all changed.

Lan Xichen crossed his arms over his bare chest and leaned against the wall to watch the conversation.

“I don’t care if Sizhui says he will love you and respect your decisions. I don’t care if he offers to be your pimp. I got you to college, and you better damn well finish…because if you don’t, I’m going to make you move in with Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji.”

Lan Xichen snorted at the threat. Wei Wuxian had moved into Wangji’s home a few months before the boys shipped off to college. It took all of two days before Sizhui showed up at Lan Xichen’s apartment begging to sleep on the couch. Apparently, beneath Wangji’s ascetic exterior, he was quite the lover.

And Wei Wuxian was very loud.

Sizhui spent the summer sleeping on Xichen’s couch, or begging Jiang Cheng to let him spend the night with Jin Ling.

“No.” Jiang Cheng said exasperated. He moved to the kitchen and opened the fridge. Reaching in he pulled out a soda and set it on the counter. Lan Xichen frowned at it and went into the kitchen, plucking the soda from the counter and putting it back in the fridge. Instead, he poured a glass of juice and set that in Jiang Cheng’s hand.

He scowled up at him but took the juice.

“Yeah…yeah…I’ll talk to him. I’ll get a weekend off. We’ll come visit.” Jiang Cheng’s voice was softer now. “Soon, ok? All right, kid. Keep your head up. You’re doing great.” He hung up the phone and set it on the counter.

“Homesick?” Lan Xichen guessed.

Jiang Cheng nodded and leaned against the counter. “He says it’s too hard. His roommate sucks, Sizhui is too busy for him, something about a guy named Carl…I don’t know honestly I kind of tuned out some of it.”

Xichen reached for him and pulled him into a hug, letting Jiang Cheng rest his forehead on him. Jiang Cheng might complain, but he missed his nephew. The first month he was gone had been difficult. Jiang Cheng woke up several times from terrible nightmares, nightmares that varied from Jin Ling being present during his parents mugging to the events that took place at the hospital with Jin Guangyao. Twice, Lan Xichen had to take the keys from Jiang Cheng as he was ready to drive to Jin Ling’s college in the middle of the night to bring him home.
The nightmares stopped the first time the boys came home for the weekend. They were so full of life, excitedly telling their uncles about all the people they had met and the things they had seen. Jin Ling was even able to join the drama club and Sizhui continued on with his archery, enrolling in the club on campus.

That night, Jiang Cheng had clung to Xichen with a lot more ferocity than he usually did. He hid his face from him and told him he was happy—happy that Jin Ling was getting to experience the things he never did.

Xichen stroked Jiang Cheng’s damp hair. “There’s going to come a time when he won’t call home so often, and you’ll complain about that too.”

Jiang Cheng grumbled and moved away from him, venturing toward the bedroom. “Last time I checked complaining was free.”

He changed into a soft pair of pajama pants, a match to the set Xichen was wearing, and flopped onto the bed. Burying his face into the pillow, Xichen watched as he wriggled to get comfortable. Jiang Cheng would often come home from his shifts and catch a quick nap—most nights he didn’t get to actually sleep on shift and he needed the power nap to get through the day.

Xichen didn’t have work today so he spent a few moments watching Jiang Cheng from the doorway. He liked the view, but he especially liked the way it felt. He liked the space Jiang Cheng took up in his heart, he liked the way he stormed into the house, but more than anything, he just really loved him.

He knew from the moment their eyes locked across the trauma bay that Jiang Cheng was special. At first, a fun puzzle. An entertaining mystery that tickled his fancy. But it quickly morphed into something more permanent.

How could he not love the man who kicked down a door for him?

Lan Xichen had seen him kill a man. He had seen him take Jin Guangyao’s life without a pause. A selfless act to preserve Jin Ling’s innocence. The man had a habit of throwing himself in front of an impact to protect the ones he loved, never afraid to use his body as a shield.

He had seen Jiang Cheng take a life.

But he had seen him save dozens more. Everyday Jiang Cheng put himself on the line for his patients, not just physically but emotionally. A sacrifice he was willing to make, a price he paid without counting the cost. He did it for those he loved, and he did it for the lucky patients who ended up in his ambulance.

Lan Xichen saw the toll it took on him—the edges that seemed a little more frayed every day. He brought up a career change, but Jiang Cheng told him to ‘fuck off’ and so Xichen had shelved the conversation.

Jiang Cheng shifted on the bed and extended a hand behind him, making a grabby motion towards Xichen. Chuckling, he pushed himself off the wall and crawled into bed. Jiang Cheng scooted closer to him, sleepily grabbing at Lan Xichen and pressing himself against him.

The first few times Jiang Cheng initiated any form of intimacy had shocked Xichen. They were rare moments of exposed vulnerability. Fleeting as they were beautiful. Any softness from the man who thought ‘fuck you’ was interchangeable with ‘I love you’ were precious treasures that Xichen was not going to pass up.

Jiang Cheng’s head ended up on Xichen’s shoulder and he snuffled in his sleep.

“I love you.” Xichen whispered. It wasn’t the first time he had said it, but it still sent a small thrill through him.

“You should reconsider.” Jiang Cheng responded lazily, not opening his eyes.

Xichen traced circles on his shoulder, blunt fingernails tickling the skin that Xichen loved to touch so much.

“I love you, stubborn boy.”

Jiang Cheng growled lowly and shifted. “Don’t do that.”

“What?”

“Call me that.” Jiang Cheng mumbled. “Gives me a boner.”

Xichen laughed, the sound sharp and loud in their quiet apartment. He kissed the top of Jiang Cheng’s head. As appealing as starting something with him sounded, they both were too tired. At the moment he was content with just holding him.

He rolled onto his side so he could pull Jiang Cheng closer. Their legs intertwined and Jiang Cheng rested his forehead against Xichen’s chest. The room was silent and Xichen felt quieted.

“Mmmloveyoutoo.” Jiang Cheng whisper mumbled against his chest.

Xichen tightened his arms around him until Jiang Cheng knew that his vulnerable self was safe. He wouldn’t let anyone get to it.

“What if I told you I wanted to marry you.” Xichen murmured tentatively.

Jiang Cheng didn’t move. He was still for so long that Xichen wasn’t sure if he had already fallen asleep.

“I’d hit you.” Jiang Cheng finally answered, his breath a whisper across Lan Xichen’s chest. “Go to sleep.”

Xichen smiled and closed his eyes.

He didn’t say no.

 

---

 

Lan Xichen put his car in park and raised his eyebrows. Shutting off the engine he stepped out and made his way over to the beat-up Bronco that Jiang Cheng drove.
“Your car seems to have sprouted limbs.” he remarked.

A hand slid out from under the carriage with the middle finger extended. “Ha. Ha. Ha.” Jiang Cheng remarked, his voice muffled from laying under the car. “The shifter cable bushing came off. I’ve been using zipties to keep it on but they keep breaking.”

Lan Xichen stared at his boyfriend’s legs. He kicked the closest leg to him. “Why do you insist on driving around in a death trap?”

“Rude. Zidian is not a deathtrap.” he snapped, pushing himself out from under the car. It was an ungainly move but somehow he made it look smooth.

Standing up Jiang Cheng brushed his hands off on his jeans.

Lan Xichen remembered the first time he had seen Jiang Cheng—it felt like his brain shut off and he couldn’t think. TV static filled his mind, and nothing could penetrate it.
That was happening now.

Jiang Cheng was shirtless, wearing only a pair of low-slung jeans. A pair of purple boxers were just barely sticking out from the jeans, clinging to his tanned skin. Stripes of oil and dirt crossed his abdomen—perfect finger prints from where he had wiped his hands on his sweat slicked skin.

All the exhaustion from his shift evaporated the moment he caught sight of Jiang Cheng. His eyes flicked up to his face. Jiang Cheng had half his hair up with a headband holding his bangs off his face.

“Xichen?” he asked, cocking his head.

Lan Xichen grabbed him, roughly pushing him against the Bronco and kissing him. It wasn’t soft and sweet—it wasn’t the kind of kisses he usually peppered his boyfriend with. This was savage, borne of desire. Something feral took over his normally gentile personality, a flicker of dominance and possession. He needed Jiang Cheng, right now.

Their teeth clacked together, and Jiang Cheng might have said something but Xichen didn’t hear it. He was too busy licking into Jiang Cheng’s mouth and letting his hands slide down his slick skin. It was warm from the sun and from Jiang Cheng working. Heat from the asphalt had toasted his skin until it felt like the outside of a coffee mug—pleasant and seeping straight into his bones.

Lan Xichen’s hands dropped to Jiang Cheng’s ass, grunting in dissatisfaction as the thick denim kept him away from his goal.

He pulled away and looked down at Jiang Cheng. The shorter man was leaning against the car, needing it to keep him upright. The band holding his hair had been discarded and thick chocolate colored locks were obscuring his angular face. Blown lips were parted as he panted, eyes wide. Oil and dirt coated Xichen’s hands and smudged his work scrubs.

It was the hottest thing he had ever seen.

“Don’t you dare.” Jiang Cheng panted, recognizing the look in Xichen’s eyes.

Xichen grinned and scooped up Jiang Cheng, tossing him over his shoulder and carrying him up into the apartment.

“Xichen!” Jiang Cheng hissed, clinging to his shoulders as he ascended the stairs.

Lan Xichen could feel his erection pressed against his shoulder and it gave him a savage sort of satisfaction.

“I’m fine Mrs. Rakowski, please just…go about your day…” Jiang Cheng called to their downstairs neighbor who was staring at them with a wide eyed horror.

“Think she still believes we’re cousins?” Jiang Cheng asked perfunctorily.

Xichen didn’t care what Mrs. Rakowski was thinking, he only cared about getting his hands on Jiang Cheng. Now.

He kicked open their door and flailed a hand behind him to try and close it, but he wasn’t sure if it actually did. Several long strides got them to the bedroom, and he tossed Jiang Cheng to the bed.

“You know I hate it when you carry me.” Jiang Cheng said impishly.

“No, you don’t.” Lan Xichen said, peeling off his scrub top and tossing it to the floor.

Jiang Cheng dragged him down for a kiss. Despite his protests, he wanted Xichen just as much as Xichen wanted him. Their torsos pressed together and the skin to skin contact was exquisite. Hot and sticky, with grains of sand and dirt from the parking lot pressing into him. It was the kind of sensory overload that was bliss mixed with torture.

Their hips ground together, an instinctual need to release the pressure building up inside them. Jiang Cheng’s jeans were too thick to properly feel him, and Xichen pawed at them until he was finally able to get his sluggish fingers to undo the zipper and button. Gracelessly, they kicked off their pants and joined each other again.

“You know what? I think I found something I like besides the tactical pants.” Xichen mouthed into Jiang Cheng, lips dragging along his salty skin to nip and suck against his neck.

Jiang Cheng huffed but he wasn’t able to speak. His mind was gone and the only noises spilling out of his mouth were soft whines of want, begs for more. The kind of erotic sounds that drove Xichen mad. They sent all his blood running south.

“You’re perfect, stubborn boy. You’re perfect.” Xichen murmured into his heated skin.

Jiang Cheng’s fingers dug into his shoulders, nails dragging along the skin in an attempt to get closer.

He arched up underneath him, brushing his hot erection against Xichen’s. A silent beg to touch it, for release.

Xichen trailed his hands down, letting his fingers map out his lovers’ body. They teased and taunted him, tickling beside his hot arousal and trailing around to the firm ass. His fingers pressed hard enough to bruise, but as Jiang Cheng had told him, he was not the gentle type.

“What do you want? Do you want me to touch you?” his fingers trailed up Jiang Cheng’s straining cock ever so gently, ticking against the skin and taunting it with more.

Jiang Cheng snapped his hand out and dug his fingers in Lan Xichen’s hair, dragging him down into a fierce kiss. “In me. I want you in me. Now.” his breathing was ragged and the fierce look in his eyes sent shivers down Xichen’s back.

Xichen bit his lower lip, pressing him into the mattress before leaning back to flip Jiang Cheng over. His hands ran down the expanse of his back, fingers digging into the dip in his back. Blindly he reached for the condom and lube while he kissed the dip just above his rounded ass, teeth biting the soft flesh and sucking it into his mouth in apology. Jiang Cheng writhed beneath him, wantonly humping the bed in an effort to get relief.

“I’m going to do this right, love.” Xichen whispered into his ear as he covered his fingers with lube, rubbing them together to warm the slick substance up.

Gently circling Jiang Cheng’s entrance, he pressed a single finger in and marveled at the shudder that crept up Jiang Cheng’s spine.

“Everything you do is so sexy.” he murmured as he slowly pressed his finger in and out of that tight space. “How are you always so tight, love?” he knew he wasn’t going to get an answer, but he loved the way his words made every muscle in Jiang Cheng’s body tremble.

He slipped in a second finger, maybe a little too soon but Jiang Cheng hissed at the pain and thrust his hips back on Xichen’s fingers. “Yes, love, just like that. God you’re so hot.” Xichen was rapidly losing control. The effort to do this right, to not hurt him was taking its toll. His cock was throbbing, hard since the moment he saw Jiang Cheng in the parking lot.

He watched as Jiang Cheng fucked himself on his fingers, hips searching for that sweet spot. It was too much.

“I can’t wait anymore.” Xichen said in apology, as he removed his fingers and slipped on the condom. Hooking and arm around Jiang Cheng’s hips he slowly pressed his erection in, body shaking with the effort of not ramming it straight home.

“Fuck!” Jiang Cheng gasped, forehead pressing into the mattress and legs quivering as Xichen eased his length in. No matter how many times they had sex, Jiang Cheng was always surprised by the size and length of Xichen’s cock.

Pressing in a little harder than he usually did, he bottomed out and leaned over Jiang Cheng. Resting his forehead on the back of his neck he could smell the sweat and oil coming off his skin. It was a heady mix. "God, love. Just like that. You feel so amazing."

When he thought Jiang Cheng had adjusted, he began moving, a little faster than he normally would start. His thrusts were erratic and without control. It was obvious he wouldn’t last as long as he could, but judging by the keening noises coming from Jiang Cheng, it wasn’t a bad thing.

“Am I hitting your spot, love? I can feel when I do. Your whole body jerks. Should I hit it more?”

Jiang Cheng nodded against the sheets, eyes closed, and lower lip locked in between his teeth.

Xichen gave a particularly violent thrust and wrapped a hand around Jiang Cheng’s neck. He sat back and brought him with him so that he could bring those bitten lips against his and kiss them open.

“Stubborn boy…I’ve told you before. I want to hear it.”

Jiang Cheng moaned open mouthed into Lan Xichen. “’s deep.” he mumbled.

“Do you like that?”

Jiang Cheng nodded and was rewarded with a faster drive of his hips, pressing up against that sweet spot.

Jiang Cheng came abruptly. His entire body shook, and he almost collapsed forward. Were it not for Lan Xichen holding him up he would have fallen to the bed. His head dropped back against Xichen’s shoulder.

When he came his body tensed and the pressure was too much. It was so tight and warm around Xichen that he couldn’t help it, he hilted his cock into Jiang Cheng and came with a loud groan.

They fell to the sticky mattress and their breaths were harsh in the room.

“You’re amazing, stubborn boy. Did you know? Every time is better than the last.”

Jiang Cheng trembled a little. Lan Xichen wasn’t sure if it was the air conditioning against his wet skin or the orgasm leaving his body sensitive.

Xichen kissed at his neck, lazily letting his lips take in the sensitive skin at the back of his neck and ear, sucking on the lobe.

“I love you, stubborn boy.”

Jiang Cheng’s breaths evened out and he elbowed Xichen off him, jerking a little when he pulled out and the sensitive nerves were teased again.

“You got the bed dirty.” he mumbled against the sheets.

Xichen kissed his shoulder and grinned. “Worth it.”

“Horny jail.” Jiang Cheng said without any heat.

His eyes fluttered closed and Xichen took a moment to watch his lover rest before he pushed himself off the bed and got to cleaning up. Pulling on a pair of boxers, he went to check that the front door actually closed. Luckily it had, otherwise Mrs. Rakowski would have had an earful.

He came back to Jiang Cheng and kissed his back. “C’mon stubborn boy, go take a shower. I’ll get dinner.”

“Thai food?”

“Anything you want.”

Jiang Cheng groaned and sat up. He stretched out his back and stood, swatting off Xichen’s offer of help. He rested his forehead against Xichen’s chest.

“You in your hoodie.” he said after a moment.

“Hmm?”

“You said you like my tactical pants and stuff…I like it when you wear that ratty hoodie.”

Xichen blinked in surprise. He only wore that old hoodie on lazy days around the apartment, days when he liked to curl up on the couch and catch up on his reading or watch a movie with Jiang Cheng.

While he processed this information, Jiang Cheng stood on tiptoes and kissed him hard. Nibbling on his lower lip before disappearing into the bathroom.

Lan Xichen glanced down at the tent in his boxers. “Yeah, I’m going to horny jail.”

Chapter Text

Jin Ling sighed and stared at the ceiling of his dorm room. The ugly off white popcorn ceiling was worryingly discolored in the are right above his computer, a water stain the RA had sworn was fixed years ago but Jin Ling was not convinced.

It was an old dorm building, but it was situated close to campus center. Because of its ideal location, it was popular among freshman. The rooms were modest in size—two twin beds, two desks, and a dresser just barely fit in like a game of real life Tetris. Despite having to share a large bathroom at the end of the hall, it wasn’t a bad place.

It took Jin Ling a couple months to get used to dorm life. Without the overpowering chaotic presence of his uncles, he was lonely. Add to that, and Sizhui was far busier being a pre-med student, and they rarely got to see each other.

This was supposed to be their freedom. Time away from their respective guardians. Time when they could be alone and finally enjoy dating. But Sizhui’s dorm was a twenty-minute walk from Jin Ling’s, and none of his classes were in the same buildings as Jin Ling. They were lucky to see each other for a few minutes a week.

It’s not that Jin Ling wasn’t enjoying his classes, or college life in general, because he was. But he missed Sizhui. He missed seeing his stupidly perfect face, and his honey colored eyes. He missed the way he held him and made everything feel ok.

Jin Ling sighed again.

His roommate slammed a textbook on the desk. “Will you shut up?”

Ouyang Zizhen swiveled in his chair and glared at Jin Ling. “Listen up you malcontent, that is the fourth time you’ve sighed in the last ten minutes. If you’re going to be dramatic, can you do it in the common room? Or literally anywhere away from me?”

Jin Ling glanced at his blank phone. Sizhui was in class so he wouldn’t be texting him. The guy was stupidly fastidious about rules.

“I’m sorry if my pain is bothering you.”

Ouyang Zizhen glowered. “You are not the first college freshman to break up with their high school boyfriend and you won’t be the last.”

Jin Ling flung a pillow at his head. “You don’t know what we’ve been through together.”

“I’m sure it was very dramatic. Life and death, even.” He swiveled back in his chair and began sorting through his notes.

Sitting up in bed, he kicked the covers off and plucked at his jeans. He didn’t want to admit it out loud but what Ouyang Zizhen said hit home. Since school started Jin Ling had been worried that Sizhui was moving on. He adapted into college life much easier than Jin Ling, had already made friends and joined some elite study group. He was the darling of pre-med while Jin Ling was being left behind.

How could their history compare to a bright future? A future where Sizhui is the amazing man that he is and Jin Ling was just the loser he dated for a few months.

“Ohmygod.” Ouyang Zizhen said as he threw his pen down. “You’re like the sad little puppy in those commercials. I can’t decide whether I want to feed you or take you home and dress you in little sweaters.”

“Please don’t do either of those things.”

“Listen,” Ouyang Zizhen said with a huff of impatience. “I shouldn’t have said all that shit about you breaking up. I’m sure you’ll be together forever. It’ll be adorable, remember to invite me to your wedding.”

“Do you think so?” Jin Ling asked sheepishly.

“How the hell would I—” he stopped himself and rubbed his face. “Yes. I mean, the fact that he started dating someone as annoying as you in the first place is already a statistical anomaly.”

Jin Ling blinked up at him. “Wow.”

“What? Too many big words?”

He threw his second pillow and hit Ouyang Zizhen right in the face. They ended up wrestling on the small section of floor between the two twin beds. It wasn’t a fair fight. Ouyang Zizhen was an only child and had no practice in the art of wrestling, while Jin Ling had grown up having to wrestle Wei Wuxian for the remote. Otherwise they would end up watching hours of House Hunter just for him to sniff imperiously and say ‘Shiplap fixes everything’ as if the bitch who had lived in an apartment his entire life would have any idea.

Twenty minutes later Ouyang Zizhen finally gave in, tapping out so he could crawl away from Jin Ling’s surprisingly strong arms. Jin Ling grabbed his hoodie and pulled it on over his head.

“I’ve got an idea, but I need your help.”

Ouyang Zizhen stared up at the short freshman. “You just put me in a choke hold! Why the hell would I help you do anything?”

 

The building was a behemoth of industrialization. With a brick façade, it rose up four stories and was completely unremarkable. If it wasn’t for the vines that crawled up the side, it might have been the ugliest building on campus. For now, it was the home of several underclassman classes.

Which is why Ouyang Zizhen was standing with his face pressed into the brick, eyes squeezed shut as pain radiated down his back.

“You owe me so much.” He muttered.

“I already told you I would get you the number of the cute girl in my poli sci class. So stop bitching.” Jin Ling said as he balanced himself, feet planted on his roommates’ shoulders and hands braced on the brick.

“You know, I’m almost positive the classroom has an actual door.”

“Right,” Jin Ling said. “But that wouldn’t be romantic.”

Ouyang Zizhen tried to figure out what was romantic about their current situation, but his imagination failed him.

Jin Ling was peering into the second-floor classroom. He could only just barely reach the window, eyes straining to see into the room. He didn’t have any classes on this floor, but the classroom looked just the same. Twenty desks were lined up facing a white board, but none of the students were sitting in them. They were all standing around chatting. Jin Ling couldn’t remember which class this was, but it looked like it might have something to do with a group project.

“Hurry up, Romeo. My shoulders hurt.” Ouyang Zizhen muttered as two of his classmates walked by, they cocked their heads and laughed at him.

“Don’t call me that.” Jin Ling said. “I hate Shakespeare.”

“No one likes Shakespeare, you little shit.”

“I think there’s some English Lit majors who would disagree with you.”

“Will you just…focus!”

Jin Ling gripped the wall and studied the faces until he found Sizhui. He was standing in the center of the group, notebook out and pointing to something he had written. Jin Ling smiled fondly. He looked so studious. Like the perfect college student. His dark hair had gotten longer, and he pulled it back with a headband.

Jin Ling was about to bang on the window when he saw a girl sidle up next to Sizhui. She wrapped an arm around his waist and leaned into him. Her pretty blonde hair brushed against him and trailed over his shoulder. Sizhui didn’t push her away, instead he turned the notebook so she could see better.

He felt like his heart might fall out. They looked so beautiful together. She was smaller than him, and her light complexion worked with his darker.

Sizhui smiled at her, his face lighting up in a genuine smile. Not the polite smiles he gives the world. A real smile. A Sizhui smile. The kind of smile that he said Jin Ling brought out in him.

“Dude! What are you…why are you wobbling—ah!”

They fell to the ground in a tangle of limbs. Jin Ling’s face was pressed into Ouyang Zizhen’s shoulder and his knee was digging into his side.

“Jesus fuck!” he moaned, rolling over onto the grass and clutching his stomach. “You kneed me in the balls, asshole.” Ouyang Zizhen mumbled; hand clenched protectively around the family jewels.

Jin Ling dragged himself up and wiped at his face. Somewhere in the fall he had managed to cut his face and a slow trickle of blood was making its way down his cheek. It tickled. He wiped at it and glared at his hands.

He was losing Sizhui. It didn’t matter that they had almost died together, or that they thought they were in love. In the end, it was a stupid high school romance that was doomed from the start. Why was he surprised? He had worked so hard to get into the same college with Lan Sizhui so he could be there with him, but Lan Sizhui was always the popular one. It didn’t matter where he went. He would be with someone that fit in with the Lan’s. Someone tall and beautiful. Someone smart.

Someone not him.

He wiped his face with his sleeve and bit down on his lip so he wouldn’t cry. Not here.

“Woah. Are you crying?” Ouyang Zizhen asked as he sat up. “What…did you see something?”

Jin Ling looked up at him. A tear was trapped between his lashes and his dark eyes were serious. “I want to get drunk.”

 

The party was anything but glamorous. Held in the seedy basement of a frat house, there were inflatable chairs and beanbags tossed in every corner. Someone had put cellophane over all the lights and colored them in with markers. As a result, the effect gave the room a sickly neon color. It was difficult to see in the dimness and after several beers, everyone was just bouncing off each other.

Gaggles of people had broken off to quietly sip their beer. The freshman were easy to see—they dressed up and looked like they were nervous, eyes darting back and forth as they tried to find their place in the drunken hierarchy.

Ouyang Zizhen knew a couple guys in the frat, but he told Jin Ling not to expect to be let in. It was the closest frat to campus and their parties were usually packed. But the guy at the door took one look at Jin Ling’s dark eyes and button nose and let him in.

“Cute twink.” He said, winking at Ouyang Zizhen.

On principle, he wanted to stop and explain that it wasn’t like that. He preferred women, and even if he liked men, the first time Jin Ling’s tiny body managed to contort him into a sleeper hold he would have lost all attraction to the kid.

Plus, he bites.

But no, he didn’t have time because Jin Ling was determined to get absolutely trashed. He grabbed the first cup he found and tossed back the contents, retching at the taste before crumpling the cup and throwing it to the ground. He disappeared quickly into the crowd and didn’t hear Ouyang Zizhen’s calls for him.

At what point he decided he had to be this damn kids babysitter, he didn’t know, but here he was turning down drinks from hot women because he was pretty sure his dumbass roommate was going to end up half dead in an alley somewhere.

He found Jin Ling standing on a table with his hoodie tied around his head. He had a solo cup in one hand and a beer bottle in the other. Judging by the unsteady way he was standing and his blown pupils he was well and truly drunk.

“Roomie!!! Come dance with me!”

“I don’t know what the fuck you’re doing, but it isn’t dancing.” Ouyang Zizchen said wearily. He wrapped his arms around his waist and dragged him off the table, carrying him to a beanbag and setting him down.

“Now.” He took the drinks from Jin Ling’s hands and ignored his protests. “Water. You’re going to drink water.”

“You’re not the boss of me.”

“I wouldn’t have to be if you weren’t such a disaster!” Ouyang Zizhen snapped. “Call your boyfriend to come get your drunk ass.”

Jin Ling scoffed. “He doesn’t want me anymore. Why would he? Doritos should be with other Doritos.” He rambled. “I wouldn’t even mind if it was Carl but why her…? I could dye my hair blonde. Would I look good with blonde hair?” he grabbed onto the front of Ouyang Zizhen’s shirt and clung to it.

With a sigh, he extricated his fingers. “No, I think it would be some form of blasphemy. Besides, you shouldn’t have to change yourself for a guy. If he doesn’t like you for you, then you need to find someone who does.”

Jin Ling sniffed and looked up at Ouyang Zizhen. “Really?”

“Uhh…yes? Just…stop looking at me like that.” He hated when Jin Ling did that stupid puppy look. That’s how he got Ouyang Zizhen to help him with math homework and how he ended up with a knee to the groin in the middle of campus.

“That’s what Wei Wuxian said.”

“I’m glad to know there’s other people you don’t listen to.” He reached for Jin Ling’s phone and pulled it out of his pocket. “Now, stay. I’m going to get you water. Do not move from this beanbag. And no more drinks!”

He made his way out to the front porch where it was a little quieter. Three or four people were smoking and he choked on the thick scent. Scrolling through Jin Ling’s contacts he tried to remember what his boyfriends name was. Checking recent texts, he found a contact with a little heart emoji.

The phone rang a few times before someone answered. “Hello?”

“Yes, uh, is this the pre-med who is dating the most annoying human on the face of the earth?”

“…Jin Ling?”

“God, no.” Ouyang Zizhen swiped a drink from a shocked freshman, downing whatever concoction the girl had picked up. It tasted like liquified watermelon. And not in a good way. “Ugh. No, I’m his roommate. Jin Ling is currently pissed off at you.”

“At me? What?” the voice sounded concerned and clipped, fancy. Or maybe Lan Sizhui was just sober, and Ouyang Zizhen was used to the slurring of drunks.

“Yeah, don’t ask me why. But the idiot is not just about blackout drunk in the basement of a frat house. Seeing as how you're the one he's mad at, I don’t see why it’s my responsibility to get him home. Or clean up his vomit.”

There was rustling on the other end. “I’m at the library. I’m coming to get him. Could you tell me the address.”

Ouyang Zizhen did and then hung up the phone.

He studied the phone in his hand. The lockscreen lit up and it was a picture of Jin Ling at graduation. He was leaning into a handsome guy with dark hair. Jin Ling was holding onto his tassle on his graduation cap and cheesing for the camera. The guy was staring down at Jin Ling with nothing short of love in his eyes, ignoring the camera completely.

Ouyang Zizhen shook his head. “Idiots.” He said fondly.

 

Jin Ling couldn’t concentrate. His mind was swimming with the sight of Sizhui smiling at that blonde girl. Her lips were so pinky and soft. Plump. Did she use that lip plumper stuff? He pulled at his lower lip and wondered if it would work on him.

Someone sat beside him and he shifted in the beanbag until he was pressed against the person. Blearily, he looked up at the face of a pretty guy. He had makeup on and the sparkles in his eyeshadow reflected the lights.

“I like your makeup.” Jin Ling slurred.

“Thanks.” He said with a predatory smile. “I like your face.”

Jin Ling giggled and covered his face with his hands. He knew he was blushing. He was always blushing. Lan Sizhui said he liked it when he blushed. He would kiss the heated marks and smile when the blush deepened.

Not anymore. He hadn’t even kissed Jin Ling in weeks.

The man plucked the sweatshirt from Jin Ling’s lap and moved it to the side, he rested a hand on Jin Ling’s stomach and put his lips close to his ear. “You’re very cute.”

Through the haze of alcohol Jin Ling could feel something uncomfortable starting. The urge to push him off and get out. He didn’t want his hands on him. He only wanted Sizhui’s.

“Mmmthanks but…I have a boyfriend.” He mumbled, blinking as he tried to get his vision to focus.

“Is he here? Because if I was your boyfriend, I wouldn’t let you come to such a dangerous place alone.” His words were smooth and low.

Jin Ling laughed and wiggled a little farther from the man, trying to make space between them. “Um, no. He’s going to be a doctor so he’s studying.”

His heart hurt thinking about where Sizhui was now. Maybe he should lean into this man? He was giving him attention. He called him cute. Sizhui barely text him back these days. He made Jin Ling wait until they graduated to have sex. He said they had to wait and he wanted it to be special but now he didn’t even want to kiss him.

“I’m tired of being a virgin.”

The man blinked in surprise. “You’re a virgin?”

Jin Ling looked up at him through messy hair. “How did you know? Can you tell?”

“You just…never mind. I’d be happy to help you.” He said, reaching over and cupping Jin Ling’s face. His thumb swiped across the cut on his cheek and dragged him closer. “I’ll make you feel really good.”

“No…” Jin Ling said as he tried to pull back. “Has to be Sizhui. I only want him.”

“I could be him. Just close your eyes.”

Makeup guy leaned closer, but a hand slapped onto his face, pushing him backward off the beanbag until he ended up in a heap on the sticky floor.

“You get any closer to him and I’ll kill you.” Sizhui’s calm voice cut through the thumping music.

He had put himself between the man and Jin Ling, fists clenched at his side and the ugliest snarl on his handsome features.

“Ah, you must be the boyfriend.” Makeup guy said, getting to his feet and brushing his jeans off. “He wouldn’t stop bitching about you.”

Jin Ling wanted to protest but he felt sick. Curling up he tried to hold it in, press the feeling down.

“Yeah, I’m his boyfriend.” Sizhui said fiercely. “And if you ever even so much as look at him again, I’ll surgically remove all your veins and strangle you with them.”

The man started to laugh but the look on Sizhui’s face stopped him. “Dude, whatever.” He said before stalking away into the crowd.

Without looking at anyone else, Sizhui scooped up Jin Ling. Supporting his weight he helped carry him out of the house. Once they were in the fresh air on the front lawn, he set him down.

Ouyang Zichen jogged up. “Dude. What was with that face?” he handed Jin Ling a water bottle and gave him his phone back.

“Learned it from my father.” Lan Sizhui replied grimly, not taking his eyes off Jin Ling.

Chugging down the contents of the bottle, Jin Ling laughed. “Good ol’ Dr. Death.”

Ouyang Zichen glanced between the two of them. “You know what, I don’t want to know. You good?”

“I’ve got him. Thank you for calling.”

He waved him off before disappearing back into the party.

With the water in his system and away from the stagnant air of the party, Jin Ling was feeling better. Still a little unsteady but the urge to vomit was gone.

“Jin Ling, what happened?” Sizhui asked. “If your uncles find out you were drinking…”

“Yeah, well, it’s not like you care.” Jin Ling mumbled, pushing himself to his feet. He fell twice, but eventually managed to get to his feet and began walking in the general direction of campus.

“What are you talking about? Jin Ling, stop.” Sizhui reached for his hand, grabbing it.

Jin Ling flung him off so hard he fell down again. Rolling back to his feet he steadied himself on a fence post. “Don’t touch me…is that the hand you were touching her with?”

“Her, who?”

“Don’t play dumb. Be sure to invite me to the wedding. I’m sure your kids will be super fucking cute.” Jin Ling said as he entered the main campus. There was a large fountain in the center, and benches situated all around it. A lot of kids came here to read or take pictures for their social media, but this time of night it was deserted.

“Jin Ling, can you stop? We can talk about this later when you’re sober.”

“Sober or drunk, it doesn’t matter! Sizhui…” Jin Ling did stop then, so suddenly he wobbled. “If you want to end it, then end it. I know I always loved you more than you loved me, but I thought…I thought if I was smart enough I could stay by your side. It would be ok if I just worked a little harder.” He hated that there were tears in his eyes. Hated how his voice choked up and hated how vulnerable he felt.

“But it doesn’t matter how hard I work. If you don’t love me then just…end it.” His body slumped forward.

Lan Sizhui stared at him with wide eyes. His mouth opened and closed several times before he closed the distance between them.

“Jin Ling…you’re an idiot.”

As Jin Ling looked up, Sizhui pushed him into the fountain. His equilibrium was shot, and he tumbled over the cement wall and into the cold waters of the fountain. The water tasted like chemicals. It was probably his imagination, but he could have sworn it tasted like copper from the thousands of pennies people had wished on.

Breaking the surface, he gasped and spluttered, wiping his face and pushing his hair away. “What the fuck?!”

Sizhui hopped over the wall and knelt in the water in front of Jin Ling. He slapped two cold hands on Jin Ling’s face and stared into his eyes. “You can accuse me of being a bad boyfriend, because I’m guilty of that, but don’t you dare accuse me of not loving you.” His words were harsh but the look in his eyes was soft.

“Jin Ling, I love you. I loved you when you were sticking your head in the locker to avoid looking at me, I loved you when you were vomiting all over my shoes, and I loved you when you held my dying body and begged me to live.”

His fingers dug into Jin Ling’s face and he pulled him closer. “I love you for you. I love you for the little things, and the big things. Every day I find something to love about you more. I loved you, I love you, and I’ll continue loving you. There’s no one else for me, but you.”

Sizhui pulled him in for a kiss then. Their lips were hot compared to the cold water around them. Sizhui’s kiss was fierce and possessive, like he was trying to somehow imprint himself on Jin Ling.

Jin Ling felt the hot tears finally fall down his cheeks, mixing in with the nasty fountain water. He threw himself into Sizhui’s arms and knocked him into the water, so they were both soaked. They kissed some more, until Jin Ling pulled back.

“Why won’t you have sex with me?”

Sizhui choked a little and held Jin Ling in his lap. The water was at chest level for them when they were sitting down.

Sizhui sighed. “I…I want to, please don’t think I don’t. I want to so bad sometimes I can’t even concentrate.” He dropped his head to Jin Ling’s shoulder. “I…sometimes when we’re hanging out…I have to leave because you’re so goddamn sexy.”

Jin Ling couldn’t help but laugh at the misery in Sizhui’s voice. “So why haven’t we?”

“Because,” Sizhui said uncomfortably. “I’ve never done it. And I want your first time to be really special, but I don’t know what I’m doing.” His hands fisted in the back of Jin Ling’s shirt.

“Hey,” Jin Ling pulled his head up. “I’m not expecting like…god levels of sex for our first time, Sizhui. I just want it to be you. If it’s you, then it’s all I want.” He dropped his forehead to Sizhui. “You’re going to be my first, and that’s the most special thing I can think of.”

Sizhui groaned and kissed Jin Ling again. “I’m sorry for being a dumbass.”

“Yeah, well.” Jin Ling wrinkled his nose. “I guess I could have communicated better.”

“Let’s do this,” Sizhui said with determination. “I promise to make you more of a priority if you promise to tell me if you’re feeling insecure. Then next year, we’ll move in together.”

Jin Ling scoffed. “My uncles will never allow it.”

Lan Sizhui grinned. “We’ll be legal adults. They can’t stop us.”

With eyes wide, Jin Ling laughed. “When did you become so devious?”

He didn’t answer with words, instead he kissed him again. With the splashing from the water fountain over them and the pennies digging into their knees, they kissed. They kissed until all the things they didn’t say were conveyed, and promises were made without words. They kissed until security came by and chased them off, and then they shared kisses as they slogged back to their dorm room.

They didn’t have sex that night, but they crammed into Jin Ling’s twin bed and fell asleep entwined around each other.

And when Ouyang Zizhen came back in the middle of the night and saw them, he didn’t wake them. Instead, he collected a pillow and blanket and fell asleep on the common room couches, cursing Jin Ling’s name and whatever cursed fate made them roommates.

Chapter Text

“MOVEMOVEMOVEMOVE!”

Jin Ling shouted as he sprinted across campus. His backpack smacked into his bag and the straps threatened to slide off his shoulders as he ran. Upper classmen stared at him as he burst from the theater building and ran through the courtyard by the cafeteria, swinging a right at the library, and then up a set of stairs towards the pre-med dorms.

He had been too distracted at rehearsal and lost track of time. Sizhui had invited him to dinner and he was late. Horrifyingly late. So late that he might as well not have actually been on the same campus as his boyfriend.

Since their disastrous late night fountain talk two weeks ago, things had been a lot better. Sizhui was turning down extra projects in order to spend some more time with Jin Ling, and Jin Ling was communicating more. At least, in his own way. Sometimes that meant him sending an emoji filled text message and then throwing his phone across the room because he was filled with so much anxiety.

When Jin Ling got too dramatic, Ouyang Zizhen had taken to spraying him with a spray bottle filled with water. He told Jin Ling he bought it to spray his plants, but in actuality the bastard kept it on his desk and sprayed Jin Ling everytime he sighed more than twice in a twenty-minute period.

Jin Ling’s clothes were perpetually damp.

He came close to crashing into an exceedingly short girl, whirling around her and yelling “SORRY!” as he dashed away.

Jin Ling’s hair was loose and streaming behind him as he ran. The girls at drama club had decided that it was their latest plaything. They pulled it out his usual ponytail and started braiding it—oohing and ahhing over the thickness and its rich chocolate color. He found the entire process extremely uncomfortable. No one had ever played with his hair before. Normally he kept it up and back in a high ponytail. The only time anyone had ever actually touched his hair is when Wei Wuxian used it as a leash when he was a toddler.

A guy was coming out of Sizhui’s dorm building when he got to the door, which saved Jin Ling from having to enter in the code or ask Sizhui to let him in.

He bypassed the elevator and took to the stairs. Taking two at a time he wheezed and puffed his way up to the second floor. Sizhui’s room was at the end of the hallway, right by the shared bathroom. His name was written neatly in the little placard above his roommates, a mysterious guy who was gone most of the time.

Jin Ling didn’t slow down and used his momentum to run into the door, using his body to knock. Hands resting on the door frame he tried to catch his breath.

Sizhui opened the door and immediately raised his eyebrows. “Are you ok?”

“I’m so sorry I’m late! Rehearsal ran late and then they were braiding my hair and literally holding me hostage so I couldn’t escape.” Jin Ling was staring down at Sizhui’s feet as he tried to regain feeling in his legs.

“You could have texted.” Sizhui said not unkindly. There was a hint of irritation in his voice.

“I know, I know.” Jin Ling stood up. “I promise I’ll make it up to you.”

Sizhui’s eyes went wide and his mouth dropped open. “You…you’re wearing makeup.”

Jin Ling touched his face and remembered that they had done a mini dress rehearsal. The girls had wanted to practice with the makeup under the lights. They had put golden eyeshadow on his eyes, the kind with little sparkles in it that flickered under the heavy lights. Jin Ling had large eyes, at least according to the girls at rehearsal, and they had drawn on heavy theatrical wings. Bright red lipstick didn’t suit him, so they used a more neutral peachy color. He had gotten so used to the gloss he didn’t even taste it anymore.

“Oh. Sorry, I didn’t have time to take it off.”

Sizhui was staring at him. His honey colored eyes flicked from the makeup to his hair then back to his face. His mouth was still hanging open and Jin Ling had never seen him look so alarmed before.

“Is it running or something? I can just wash my face.”

“No.” Sizhui grabbed Jin Ling by the straps of his backpack and dragged him into his room. Bodily he tossed Jin Ling on to the narrow twin bed that had been meticulously made, blankets tucked in perfectly. He wrenched the backpack off and tossed it to the floor before straddling Jin Ling and pinning his wrists to the mattress.

His kiss was aggressive, maybe even down right mean. His teeth clashed with Jin Lings and he bit his lips, sucking them into his mouth.

“Sizhui what—” Jin Ling started but had to stop when Sizhui licked up the outer shell of his ear.

“You went outside like this?” Sizhui growled possessively.

“Well I didn’t teleport here.”

Sizhui didn’t say anything but his fingers tightened around Jin Ling’s wrists. He kissed every inch of Jin Ling’s face and neck, pausing to bite and suck in various places. Even places that didn’t seem that erotic, like his collar bone and the hollow in his throat. Dropping his hips, he ground against him. Pressing against his sensitive erection. Instinctively, Jin Ling’s hips bucked and he tried to increase the pressure.

Jin Ling had never seen Sizhui like this before. He was panting through his nose, eyes blown and angry.

“Sizhui! Sizhui! Stop!! That hurts!” Jin Ling whined as her jerked at the hands holding him down.

His whine seemed to get through to Sizhui. He sat back and blinked, looking up at the grip he had on Jin Lings wrists. With a soft gasp he let go. There were red finger marks on Jin Ling’s pale skin.

“I…I’m sorry…” the angry look was off his face. He couldn’t stop staring at the marks he left. He looked like he might vomit. “I…”

“Hey, hey.” Jin Ling said softly, cupping Sizhui’s face and keeping him from running away. “What’s wrong?”

Sizhui rubbed his face, pushing Jin Ling’s hand away so he could bury his face in his hands. “I can’t.”

Jin Ling sat up. “Talk to me. We said we would do that, right? No more stupid miscommunication shit.”

Without removing his hand Sizhui groaned. “I was irritated that you were late. I was ready to lecture you and then you showed up at my door—panting and looking like that. You were fucking gorgeous. I’ve never seen your hair down and I realized…” he paused and Jin Ling could see his jaw working, like he was gritting his teeth. “Someone else had been touching your hair and face. I hated it. I hated it so much that I just needed to…possess you. I wanted to make you mine.”

Jin Ling was taken aback. He thought he looked stupid with the makeup, and his hair was a sweaty mess from the run. He tried to process what Sizhui was saying. To a kid who was adopted, who grew up longing for love from an austere faster father, possessions were a rare thing. Something that was only his. Something he didn’t ever have to question or worry about.

“Sizhui,” Jin Ling said softly, peeling his hand away from his face. “I’m already yours. I always have been.”

Sizhui looked up from under his eyelashes at Jin Ling. He looked so soft and sweet that Jin Ling wanted to laugh. How could he go from horny possessive rage monster to cute and shy in a matter of moments?

Jin Ling reached for his hand and laid back on the bed, dragging Sizhui with him. Resting the hand over his heart he gently kissed Sizhui’s lips. “You already possess my heart. I want you to possess my body now.”

Sizhui blinked down at him in confusion.

“I don’t want to wait anymore, Sizhui.”

Jin Ling’s shirt hadn’t even hit the ground before Sizhui was working on his jeans. His normally graceful movements were halting and jerky. Hands shaking with nerves. Jin Ling laughed and dragged him down for a kiss.

“I’m nervous.” Sizhui said with a huff, resting his forehead on Jin Lings.

“Me too.”

“I was going to make this special. Candles and a nice dinner.”

“There’s no candles allowed in the dorm.” Jin Ling pointed out.

“I know. There were plans for a hotel.”

Jin Ling raised his eyebrows. “Really?”

Sizhui nodded with his eyes closed, inhaling Jin Ling’s scent and enjoying the feel of their bodies pressed together.

Jin Ling had an idea. Freeing his phone from his pants pocket, he flipped on the flashlight and set the phone on the bedside table.

“There.” He said with a smug smile. “Mood lighting.”

Sizhui’s lips spread out into a beautiful smile. He laughed so hard his chest rumbled and Jin Ling could feel it through his body. Jin Ling kissed his smile. He kissed him while he laughed and then when he stopped laughing and the mood went from light to heavy. Sizhui’s hands mapped out over Jin Lings torso, thumbs brushing against his lean torso.

Between his hands sliding along his skin and his lips on his, Jin Ling felt like he couldn’t breathe. His lungs were screaming but their screams were a dull roar compared to the lust building up in him. He rolled his hips up against Sizhui’s and tugged at his shirt. They had been skin to skin like this once or twice, but there was always an end in sight. This time he knew there would be no end.

Sizhui thumbed over Jin Ling’s nipples. Jin Ling gasped and his eyes flew open, lips stuttering against Sizhui’s.

“Are your nipples sensitive?” Sizhui asked with a smirk.

“N..no…” Jin Ling said, blushing so hard he thought his face might burst into flames.

Sizhui didn’t seem to believe him, and he lowered his head to lick at the pink buds. Jin Ling gasped and his fingers buried into Sizhui’s back. Tongue on his nipple, Sizhui’s hands fumbled with their pants, yanking Jin Lings off without grace.

No one had ever touched him before, but the knowledge that it was Sizhui gripping him was so much more intense. He felt like he might come just from Sizhui’s fingers experimentally brushing against his erection.

“You’re already so wet.” Sizhui whispered in his ear, voice strained and husky.

Jin Ling shuddered but didn’t trust himself to speak. Sizhui rubbed him up and down, thumb swiping along the veins and along the tip. Jin Ling felt like he might shake apart. Eyes closed and his entire body tense he felt like there was too much stimulation. Just the feeling of Sizhui’s naked body pressed to his was sending him reeling.

Something cold pressed against his ass and he flinched.

“Sorry, sorry. I should have…I’ve never used lube before.”

Jin Ling looked at Sizhui and noticed the faintest of blushes on his cheeks. He didn’t think he had ever seen him really blushing before. There was such a look of concentration on his face that Jin Ling thought like he might be falling in love all over again. Sizhui was achingly hard. His arousal pressed up against Jin Ling’s stomach, thick and heavy. Despite that, he was going slow, taking his time to make it good for Jin Ling.

Sizhui inserted a finger and Jin Ling hissed at the sharp sting. He had never really done this to himself. The thought of doing it was…scary. But when it was Sizhui, it was ok. He wasn’t afraid of the pain.

He kissed the pain away. Tongue lapping at his lips and licking into his mouth while his finger experimentally moved in and out of Jin Ling’s sensitive place. Somehow, he was able to use his hips to rub against Jin Ling’s erection, pressing their hard cocks together.

Later, Jin Ling would be impressed with his dexterity, but now he was trying not to completely lose it.

Sizhui had two fingers in Jin Ling, rubbing and curling them until he finally hit that sensitive spot. Jin Ling cried out, thighs tightening and hips bucking. Sizhui antagonized that spot, taunting Jin Ling and grinning while he trembled and came apart.

“I’m sorry I can’t wait.” Sizhui said as he grabbed for a condom and slid it over his leaking head. The noises Jin Ling were making was too much. The way his fingers grabbed at him and the small moans and grunts of pleasure spilled from his mouth.

Jin Ling bit down on his lip as Sizhui pressed into him. He was enormous. It was insane. He cried out and clung to Sizhui, ducking his head into his shoulder. Sizhui’s strong arms held him tightly as he slid inside, going slowly until he was fully hilted

“Are you ok?” he asked, lips pressed to Jin Ling’s hair. “Shit you feel so good.”

Jin Ling snorted. “Did you just cuss?”

Sizhui rolled his hips and Jin Ling whined, nodding his head frantically for Sizhui to keep moving. He started slow; his eyes squeezed shut in focus.

The pain was subsiding and slowly a blooming sense of pleasure started. Head falling back Jin Ling tried to breathe and focus on the feeling of being full, of the warmth radiating from Sizhui His hair tickled Jin Ling’s neck as he bowed his head and teased those sensitive nipples again, tongue laving at them until they pebbled up erect. Following with his teeth, nipping them.

There was a warmth developing in his belly, warm arousal pooling and flowering. His hand moved on its own, grabbing his own erection and pumping it jerkily.

His orgasm hit him like a car wreck. Thighs tightening and the heat exploding from him. Heels burying themselves into the mattress he arced up against Sizhui, crying out with a guttural grunt.

Sizhui snapped his hips and dropped his head onto Jin Ling’s chest, gasping as he came. Seeing Jin Ling finally come apart was too much for him, it sent him over the edge.

They lay collapsed together for a long while. Their hearts beat together and the sweat on their skin cooled. The sticky mess between them was uncomfortable, but not enough for them to let go of each other.

Sizhui kissed up Jin Ling’s neck. “That didn’t go the way I planned.” He mumbled.

“What do you mean?”

“Ugh.” Sizhui groaned. “I planned on making you come twice. I wanted to taste you and…but you felt so good. God, that was heaven.”

“Ohmygod shut up.” Jin Ling covered his face with his hands. “Stop talking. You have to stop talking.”

Sizhui kissed his palms until Jin Ling laughed at how ticklish it felt. “Thank you for trusting me.” Sizhui said seriously, eyes warm and soft.

Jin Ling scrunched his face up. “Obviously. There’s no one else I want.”

They fell asleep holding each other. Later that night, they tried again. It was a little smoother, a little more practiced. It would take a while before either one of them had confidence in themselves, but the two were more than willing to keep practicing.