”NO, NO, NO, ” Zhen Yan laughs, reaching to snatch the bowl of nuts back from Song Tao. It takes three tries, but thats not his fault. The bowl keeps moving. ”Thats not how you do it. ” He grabs a cashew. Tossing it up in the air, he opens his mouth wide to catch it. It bounces off his nose instead and he hears Song Tao quietly laugh.

”An expert, clearly. ”

Zhen Yan giggles again, reaching for another nut. He accidentally tips the bowl and a number more spill out. He ignores the mess, turning back to Song Tao. ”I had it before. You messed with my mojo. ”

”Mojo? ” Song Tao is smiling again, bright and wide. Zhen Yan likes it when he smiles. He doesn look so much like a boss when he smiles like that. Hes not all that bad looking. ”Is that right? ” Wait… did Zhen Yan say that out loud? Song Tao is smiling even wider now.

”Open your mouth. ”

Song Taos smile drops, and he immediately shakes his head, raising a hand in warning between them.

”No. Do you know how many peoples hands have touched those nuts? ”

Zhen Yan snorts. ”Don slut shame the nuts. ” It has the exact effect Zhen Yan intended and Song Tao laughs. Zhen Yan aims for his slightly open mouth and throws the nut; it bounces off Song Taos cheekbone.

”Hey! ” Song Tao objects, wiping at his face. He tries to frown. He probably thinks he looks scary.

Zhen Yan doesn think hes scary at all. Hes kind of cute, actually.

”Open up! ” Zhen Yan demands again, smiling cheekily as he leans forward to get closer. They
e not separated by much room as they sit next to one another at the bar, but everything around Zhen Yan seems to be wobbling a little bit now and he thinks he has a better shot of aiming if he doesn leave anything to chance. ”Cmon Song Tao… ” He adds a little whine to his voice as Song Tao leans away from him, a hand rising to clasp to Zhen Yans wrist and keep him at bay.

Out of balance on his stool with one hand held hostage by Song Tao, Zhen Yan steadies himself by placing his other hand on Song Taos thigh, leaning even closer. He grins widely. He remembers how his mother used to tell him his smile could start wars. Hed never understood the comment as a child, but he thinks of it now. He wonders if Song Tao would wage war on him. Its a silly, stupid thought. Zhen Yan laughs again.

”Please… ” He wiggles in Song Taos hold, voice mocking as he brings the hand holding the nut closer to Song Taos mouth. ”Song Tao… ” The other mans grip on his wrist is strong but he allows the movement. Zhen Yan focuses on Song Taos mouth, eyes narrowed with determination, and his fingers can almost touch. If Song Tao would just open his mouth… Song Taos lips part. Zhen Yan grins victoriously, pressing the nut between plush lips until Song Tao accepts it, mouth closing as he chews. ”Yes! ”

Zhen Yan crows happily, bringing his hand down to Song Taos other thigh as he steadies himself.

Song Tao is watching him with a patient smile as he chews. He shakes his head, exhaling an amused sound. ”Has anyone ever told you… ” His eyes scan Zhen Yans face, tracing his features before meeting his eyes once more, ”when you
e drunk, you are so… ” He trails off, leaving the thought unsaid.

Zhen Yan snickers, oddly delighted by the way Song Tao speaks. He falls forward, headbutting Song Taos chest lightly before he raises his head, closer than before. ”So what? ”

Song Taos smiling. His face blurs a little bit as Zhen Yan looks at him but its pretty – a pretty smile.

”So… nutty. ”

It takes Zhen Yan a second but… he did not. Zhen Yan throws his head back as he laughs, reaching to shove Song Taos shoulder, punishment for unspeakable crimes against puns. Cheesy puns.

”That was so dumb, ” Zhen Yan says with a snort.

Song Tao is laughing too though he does it quietly, like he doesn want anyone to notice. ”Perfect for you then. ”

”Im not dumb! ” Zhen Yan squawks. Hes not really offended though. Everything Song Tao says sounds like a compliment. Hed complain some more anyways – its fun to complain to Song Tao – but hes interrupted by hands landing on his shoulders, pulling him away from Song Tao as hes turned roughly in his stool.

”You idiot! ” Sun Ning yells. Why is he yelling? ”We thought you bailed! ”

”I didn bail. ” Zhen Yan swats Sun Nings hands away, adopting a pout. ”You bailed! ”

”I didn bail, ” Sun Ning argues. ”Ive been here the whole time. ” Hes definitely drunk. So much drunker than Zhen Yan. Drunker? Drunker? Drunkest. Hes the drunkest.

”Ive been here the whole time, ” Zhen Yan argues.

Song Tao clears his throat next to Zhen Yan, drawing both of their attention to him. Sun Ning gasps with surprise.

”Mr. Song Tao! What – I mean, um, I didn – uh, hello? ”

Song Tao nods. ”Sun Ning. ”

Sun Ning wobbles back and forth on his feet. He looks scared. It makes Zhen Yan giggle. ”Um… how are you? ”

Song Tao smiles a little like someone told a joke. Sun Ning didn even say anything funny for Song Tao to smile like that. Zhen Yan pouts. ”Im ok. ”

”Good. ” Sun Nings eyes dart around them. He looks panicked. It makes Zhen Yan feel dizzy. ”I, uh – pee! I need to pee! ”

”Me too! ” Zhen Yan shouts, maybe a little more excitedly than the announcement required. But he really does have to pee. He hops off his stool, grabbing Sun Nings arm, mostly so Sun Ning will wait for him but also because the floor doesn seem so steady under his feet. He turns back to look at Song Tao before Sun Ning can steer him away. ”Save my seat, ok? ”

Song Tao nods. He doesn look as happy as before. ”Sure. ”

Zhen Yan looks at him for a second longer, wishing not for the first time tonight that he could know what Song Tao was thinking. ”Don steal my nuts, ” he adds. It makes Song Tao smile and something like relief rushes through Zhen Yans veins, making him feel a bit lightheaded.

”Ok. ”

Zhen Yan eyes him, adopting the most serious expression he can manage with the world spinning around him the way it is. ”You promise? ”

Song Taos smile widens. ”Promise. ”

”Zhen Yan, ” Sun Ning whines, tugging his arm in Zhen Yans hold.

Satisfied hes secured a promise from Song Tao, Zhen Yan lets himself be dragged away, keeping his eyes on Song Tao until he disappears behind a swarm of bodies.

Sun Ning rounds on him right as they reach the bathrooms. ”What are you doing with Mr. Song Tao? ”

”What? ” Zhen Yan squirms a bit. He really does need to pee. And the more he thinks about it, the more desperate the situation becomes.

”Mr. Song Tao! You
e drinking with him?! ”

Zhen Yan didn know Sun Nings voice could go that high. ”I don know. Yes? ” He wiggles a little more. Maybe Sun Ning will notice and let him go pee.

”But… why? ” Sun Nings mouth is hanging open. He looks ridiculous. Zhen Yan snorts.

”I don know. It was fun. Can I pee now? ”

Sun Ning sighs, falling back against the wall. He looks like hes aged ten years in ten seconds. ”Yes.

Fine. Go. ”

”You don have to pee? ” Zhen Yan asks, wondering why Sun Ning doesn look like he has any plans of entering the bathroom.

”No. ” Sun Ning shakes his head. ”I said it to get away from him. ”

”What? Why? ” Zhen Yan questions, perplexed. ”Song Taos nice. ”

”Nice, ” Sun Ning repeats, his voice sounding a bit strange. He presses a hand to his face like he suddenly has a headache. ”Just… go. Im too drunk for this. ”

Zhen Yan might make fun of him a little more if it weren for the fact that he thinks he might explode if he doesn pee in the next five seconds. He dashes quickly into the bathroom to relieve himself. Sun Ning is nowhere to be seen when Zhen Yan exits, but a familiar face appears as Zhen Yan moves to re-enter the general bar area. Its not a face he ever would have expected to see here.

”Mr. Liang Shuren? ”

”Zhen Yan. Hello. ” He smiles… warmly… like its not at all strange theyve run into one another.

”Uh… you
e here to see Song Tao? ” Zhen Yan asks. Its the only plausible reason he can come up with for Mr. Liang Shurens appearance in Wang Jus, and even then, it doesn make much sense. The alcohol Zhen Yan has consumed through the night has left his thoughts feeling delayed and sluggish, and yet he suddenly feels strangely sober.

Mr. Liang Shuren shakes his head. ”No. Ive always heard good things about this place. ”

”Oh. ” Zhen Yan doesn know what to make of that. ”Thats… oh. Ok. ”

”Are you having a good time? ”

Zhen Yan feels weirdly unprepared for this conversation, but he nods, doing his best to string together words that will not give away that hes spent the evening doing shots with his boss. ”Yes. ” He darts his eyes behind Mr. Liang Shuren and around the hallway, unable to maintain eye contact with the man in front of him for longer than a second at a time. ”Its – its been good. ”

”Perhaps you can introduce me to the bars owner, ” Mr. Liang Shuren continues. ”I understand shes looking for investors. ” Zhen Yan is in no way sober enough for this conversation.

He nods, throwing in a hum he hopes sounds interested and moves to pass the other man. ”I better – ” But he trips. He could swear Mr. Liang Shurens foot appeared in his way, but his vision is too hazy to be sure. All he knows is that hes walking and then hes not, flailing arms in the air as he tumbles forward until suddenly his forward momentum is interrupted and he finds himself in Mr. Liang Shurens arms.

”You all right? ” Mr. Liang Shuren smiles, steading Zhen Yan as he holds him close.

Zhen Yan attempts to pull back, but Mr. Liang Shuren holds him tightly. ”Im – Im fine. Sorry. ”

And then Mr. Liang Shuren is reaching for Zhen Yans hair, smiling as he brushes it back into place with gentle fingers. ”There. Much better. ” Zhen Yan shivers uncomfortably, struggling until Mr. Liang Shuren releases his hold and Zhen Yan is able to stumble back a few steps.

”Um, thanks. ” Zhen Yan shuffles sideways until hes got a clear path to the rest of the bar. He nods awkwardly at Mr. Liang Shuren in departing. ”Ill see you. ”

Mr. Liang Shuren nods, looking far more relaxed and at ease than Zhen Yan feels. ”Sure. See you around Zhen Yan. ”

Zhen Yan can feel the other mans eyes on his back as he turns, and he doesn relax until hes enveloped by the crowd packing the bar. He couldn say what it is about Mr. Liang Shuren that makes him feel so ill at ease. He wonders what it is Sun Ning sees in him – if Sun Ning sees anything in him. He wonders why Mr. Liang Shuren seems so interested in Zhen Yan if there is any truth to the rumors about him and Sun Ning. Zhen Yan wonders if he even wants any of these answers.

By the time he makes it back to the bar, the shot glasses have been collected, and his spilled bowl of nuts tidied and set on a coaster. One of the small signs that read Reserved has been left on Zhen Yans bar stool. Song Tao is gone.

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