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speaking with the speech of men

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Lan Wangji snapped. He couldn't take it anymore. Wei Wuxian was a problem he needed help with. Lan WangJi darted out of the library pavilion where, once again, Wei Wuxian came to bother him. The young man shot to his feet and followed after him, seeming genuinely disbelieving when he asked Lan WangJi if he went too far. A quick and unexpected hit on Wei Wuxian stomach made him fall back and roll inside the pavilion, stopping with a pained sound.

As Wei Wuxian was already complaining and moaning about his – terrible – wounds, Lan Wangji left. He mulled over which of his brother-apprentice or sister-apprentice he could bother for help and – more importantly – which one would make useful comments and not just offer emotional support.

He crossed Lan Xichen's path and scowled immediately.

“Mah, Lan Wangji, you seem troubled.”

“I'm going to see Lan Shuyin,” he retorted before Lan Xichen could meddle in things that had nothing to do with cultivation.

“Do you-?”

Lan WangJi hummed harshly, he was gone before Lan Xichen could finish his question. Their ways of thinking were not compatible on other subjects than cultivation and Lan WangJi had no patience for his brother today.

He went through the Cloud Recesses, scaring quite a few junior-apprentice and finally reached his older cousin's bedroom. She was outside at a table doing some calligraphy, her hair up in a tasteful manner that wouldn't hinder her in case of night-hunting. She lifted her head and smiled slightly.

“It's been a while, A-Zhan. What's ails you today?”

Lan WangJi sighed deeply, watched her put down her brush carefully then put her chin in her hand, waiting patiently. Lan Xichen was everything else, he poked, asking innocuous questions until you answered to him. Lan Shuyin waited. It was both the best for Lan WangJi and the worst. Lan Xichen's wall of questioning was easy to lie to, but Lan Shuyin's silence forced anyone to talk.

“I have... trouble to understand a... guest disciple of the sect.”

She hummed and waved her hand to the other side of the table, inviting him to sit down. She made a sign to catch another passing apprentice's attention and asked for some tea. Focusing on breathing properly as to not mud his Qi, Lan Wangji watched her go inside her bedroom and exit with a bamboo box. She hadn't even removed the ribbon holding her long sleeves back to avoid smudging during calligraphy.

“Talk, A-Zhan,” she said, tidying the space so there was no trace of her work but only the bamboo box smelling of something sugary. “Or are you here to have a bit of peace?”

The corner of her lips twitched upward like she was laughing at a private joke. It took a moment for Lan WangJi to understand what was the joke. He waited for the disciple that brought the tea to leave before talking.

“You know Wei Wuxian is bothering me.”

“All the Cloud Recesses knows it,” Lan Shuyin retorted, opening the box to reveal sweets that she pushed toward Lan WangJi. “Ah! Don't frown! I know it's against the rules, but do you see Lan Qiren? No? Eat or I'll do it myself.”

“I should report you.”

A sweet in her mouth Lan Shuyin hummed, “Ah, I miss my little brother A-Zhan ready to act silly and make puppy eyes to Lan Qiren in hope to get away from punishments.”

Lan WangJi stared at the box with conflicted feelings, “It didn't work.”

She giggled, “Right, whatever you think.”

The jasmine tea tasted good, but the sweet Lan WangJi finally caved into tasting was better.

“I do not know if Wei Wuxian is harassing me because my mere presence scream I'm a vulnerable prey to him from my... innocence in certain area or if he is flirting.”

Lan Shuyin choked on her mouthful of tea. She hid half her face behind a hand, apologising, and took a few seconds to reign on herself. Her cheeks had taken a light red hue like a blossoming camelia. Lan WangJi sighed in his heart, even the beauty of Lan Shuyin touched nothing in him.

“Bullying or flirting... hum. From what was reported to me, it is hard to say,” Lan Shuyin commented, acting like Lan WangJi waited from her: attempting to be rational and find the truth. “But why would you want to know? If it bothered you, you'd dealt with it yourself. If it doesn't bother you...” A soft 'oh' escaped Lan Shuyin's lips. “Unless you like him and hope he's flirting!”

Lan WangJi's looked away, putting another sweet in his mouth so he wouldn't say something embarrassing. Sometimes Lan Shuyin was too straightforward. She reached above the table and patted his arm.

“You can simply ask him.”

“I would never dare to.”

Lan Shuyin ostensibly rolled her eyes, making Lan WangJi frown interiorly, “Yes, obviously.”

“He is much more skilled than me at any social act,” Lan WangJI carefully stated. “I-... I believe he would understand my feelings before I have even the chance to get an answer from him. It would be embarrassing.”

Lan Shuyin hummed shortly. Between them, the sounds of water and the chirping of a hidden bird filled the space. Lan Shuyin nibbled on a sweet, her eyes set on the faraway thing that were her thoughts. Lan WangJi didn't speak up to recall her of his problem, he had all confidence she was thinking about it.

“You can get him drunk an learn his true feelings with some careful questioning,” she said, a soft smile playing on her lips. “Drunk your lack of social skills will pass above his head like a flight of cuckoos.”

Lan WangJi considered it, “I would feel guilty in taking advantage of him.”

The young woman made a cheerless sound in her throat, “I told you to ask him questions, not to strip him of his clothes and bend him!”

The image set in his mind by those words provoked a deep blush on Lan Wangji. He looked away, his hand coming to hide his mouth and part of his cheek.

“You'll be able to do so if you find his true feelings, dear,” she said, patting his arm again. “Everything of the flesh is more fun sober anyway.”

“Sister!” Lan WangJi exclaimed, outraged by her carefree words.

She laughed, deep and unrestrained for a second before she lowered her head as her shoulders shook in silent laughter.

“Well, take my advice or not, but do something rather than infuse on your bitterness and turn into Lan Qiren. If you do, I'll be forced to give you a disappointed stare.”

“A dreadful threat,” he commented sarcastically. Lan Shuyin jokingly hit him with a sleeve and send him off.

On the evening, at the time where the rosy colours of the sleepy sun gave place to the soft blue of the falling night, Lan WangJi followed the group of young men from afar. Being away from Cloud Recesses at the time of the sect's bedtime and unofficial curfew made Lan WangJi uneasy. Though, he had obtained a night pass for the occasion. He wasn't breaking any rules.

He still felt chilly as the time passed. No one was helping by occupying his mind since the group hadn't noticed him. Idly he wondered when one of the guests would finally notice his presence. A white robbed figure should have been easy to spot. Yet Lan WangJi spent one hour a few meters away from the boys, observing one particularly as he drank one after the other drink put in front of him.

The young men separated, some going to eat while others found rooms where to sleep off the alcohol. Lan WangJi spotted one guest finding his way to a brother – carefully hidden as the Gusulan Sect found it improper in a town so close to them – and frowned. His heartbeat went up but calmed the instant he found Wei Wuxian leaned back on a food cart, nibbling on a chicken stick and humming while doing so. A smile spread on Lan WangJi's face, Wei Wuxian held his alcohol but even him started to look sleepy and unsure on his feet.

The smile disappeared the second the three boys went to eat came back to drag Wei Wuxian along. The young disciple moaned he wanted to eat spicy and other unintelligible things, but they won him over by proposing to pay for his share.

Lan Zhan caught up with the group of festive young men. He drew Wei Wuxian apart simply by interposing himself between him and the group then walking away, making a sign to the other young man to follow him.

"A dark and cutthroat alley," Wei Wuxian slurred, now the only sign of his inebriation as he walked fine and his attention sharpened quickly. "Are you going to kill me? If so I'll warn you that I won't go down easily. Also, I don't really want to fight you, you know? I should have know your proper façade was a... façade! Traitor! I thought we were comrade! Apprentices from the same year."

Lan Zhan stopped in front of the shop he had been guiding Wei Wuxian too. Wei Wuxian who collided with his back. Lan Zhan steadied him with one arm and opened the door with the other.

"Why are you using the back door young masters?" said a woman as they entered a corridor. "Ah! Lan cultivators, I see, I see. Come, I have a quiet place for you."

Wei Wuxian grumbled as Lan Wangji guided him by having his hand on the small of his back. The woman opened a room for them with a table and two chairs. Quiet like the Lan liked it. Wei Wuxian didn't enter first, he looked up at Lan Wangji, his nose wrinkled as he forced his eyes to focus.

“What's going on?”

“My cousin like to come here drink sometimes. She said they sell the best emperor smile of the town,” Lan Wanji explained, giving a bit more force into pushing Wei Wuxian.

This time the young man moved, his face blank with surprise.

“This is too much honour, please tell your cousin she is welcome at any given time,” the woman said bowing before she took Lan Wangji's order and left.

“You're...” Wei Wuxian started. He fell on one of the chairs more than he sat while his eyes roamed Lan Wangji's face for something. “Gifting me emperor's smile?”

“I broke your jar.”

“I broke the Sect's rules.”

Lan Wangji turned his head so Wei Wuxian couldn't stare openly at him anymore.

“I wanted to apologise.” Lan Wangji said curtly, feeling embarrassed by Wei Wuxian's full attention. “Take it or not. Do as you please since you seem to only be capable of such.”

Wei Wuxian visibly reeled back. He balanced on his chair before finding back his stability. The woman interrupted him as he opened his mouth. She put down a jar and two cups and little snacks. Instantly Wei Wuxian's face lighted up with a beaming smile. He looked up at Lan Wangji making his heart miss a beat. Lan Wangji quickly looked away, fishing blindly for a snack and occupy his mind with something else than Wei Wuxian bright eyes.

Wei Wuxian took the first drink and sipped it. He grinned, almost jumping up and down on his seat, “This is the best gift, ah! Thank you, Lan Zhan, you have an admirable education.”

Observing him enjoy his drink occupied Lan Wangji for a while. He realised he had been silent too long and forgot to ask his question when Wei Wuxian put his chin in his hand and started giggling to himself.

“Lan Zhan looks so preoccupied. Lan Zhan should drink with me!”

“I-...” Lan Wangji pushed back the drink Wei Wuxian was pushing toward him. The younger blew out some air with a dissatisfied sound. “I wanted to ask you something.”

Wei Wuxian gasped theatrically, clamping a hand around the fabric above his hear, “You are not giving me a gift! You're paying me for my advice! I thought we were becoming friends, ah... my heart cannot take it.”

“I would like to know how you act with someone you want to court,” Lan Wangji said, ignoring Wei Wuxian last remark.

"Ah, Lan Zhan wants to know how to woo the girls. Do you fancy someone?" he asked, leaning above the table like he was melting on it.

Lan Wangji sighed at Wei Wuxian interpretation of his question and choose to goes with it, "I believe I do."

"You believe? Do you doubt your own feelings? Ah, I see you nod. Well, do you find her attractive? The prettiest flower you laid your eyes upon?"

Beauty was an arbitrary thing Lan Qiren told them countless time and Lan Wangji had no habit of staring at people nor comparing them to flower. Wei Wuxian had nothing of a flower - not even girls could be compared to flowers - but there was an aura that made Wei Wuxian shine. The curb of his chin took the light the right way to give his cheeks fairness and any emotion Wei Wuxian felt was written on his face. Seeing it enticed Lan Wangji. He liked following Wei Wuxian's feelings just by looking at the expressions he made. The slight crease of brows when he was deep in thoughts or the dimple on his right cheek when he was holding in a laugh in preparation for someone's reaction to one of his joke.

"Do your heart rate goes mad like a rabbit when she's around?” Wei Wuxian continued, blind to Lan Wangji's absence of an answer. “When she's smiling?"

Wei Wuxian accompanied his question with a devilish grin that made Lan Wangji blush.

"Do you want to spend time with her? All day long?"

This time the young inebriated man made a pause in his questioning. He stared at Lan Wangji, his eyes huge with curiosity, his chin resting on his hand. He sipped his drink as Lan Wangji sorted his thoughts and tried to find which words to use. In Lan Wangji's mind, his words jumped around like rabbits and were as hard to grasp as Wei Wuxian.

Lan Wangji couldn't confess even though he felt like he needed to. What if Wei Wuxian was another Shi Liangzhao? Lan Wangji couldn't live through another catastrophe like his first crush had been. He still felt the stinging shame and confusion Shi Liangzhao's hateful words provoked. Lan Wangji needed to be sure of the other's feelings this time and stop his brother to meddle in his love life.

"Do you love someone Wei Wuxian?"

Wei Wuxian opened one eye, having closed them for a short while. He hummed sleepily, "Sorry, ah. Seems like I was quite more tired than I thought."

For good measure he yawned, hiding his mouth with his forearm. He sipped the drink he still had in hand, eyes closed, but opened them to peer into the container. Wei Wuxian frowned, blew out some air with disgruntlement and put down the empty drink.

Lan Wangji gazed at the empty jar of emperor's smile. He wouldn't have been against the thing bursting into flames for being so unuseful. He sighed and stood up.

“Let's go back to the sect.”

“Won't we be punished for coming back late?” Wei Wuxian asked, his eyes fluttering shut. “I can pay for a room.”

“No,” Lan Wangji said, resisting the urge to scowl.

Wei Wuxian hummed again and stood up. He followed after Lan Wangji without complaining, though he kept on yawing and nearly hit a wall as he walked eyes closed during this time.

Lan Wangji slowed his pace and grabbed Wei Wuxian's forearm. They walked in companionable silence for a moment. Or so Lan Wangji thought. When he sent a look to his companion he saw his eyes closed again, his head rolling from side to side.

“Are you sleeping, Wei Ying?”

“Mn,” came the unintelligible answer, eliciting an amused smile from Lan Wangji.

Lan Wangji contemplated his option, slowing down even more until they stopped. Wei Wuxian leaned his shoulder against Lan Wangji, his breath even. Was he sleeping standing? Lan Wangji poked his partner's cheek and received only an annoyed huff in response.

Taking things in hands, Lan Wangji grabbed his partner's arms and lifted them above his shoulders. He bent down, pulling on Wei Wuxian's arm so he fell forward and caught him on his back. In this position, Lan Wangji could walk as fast as it pleased him, though he found himself taking a leisure pace. Guiltily, he enjoyed having Wei Wuxian holding onto him.

It's almost as if we are cuddling, Lan Wangji thought, the sensation bittersweet.

The gate of the Cloud Recesses was in sight when Wei Wuxian's head rolled on Lan WangJi's shoulder.

“I am dreaming?” he asked before giggling to nothing in particular. He patted Lan Wangji's chest and snorted before taking a second to find back his breathing, "Lan-er-gege's back is nice and warm. I like it. I'm sure any other sisters-apprentice would too."

The blush that crept up Lan Wangji's face was seen by Lan Xichen standing at the gate, guarding it.

“Do-?” he started, eyes twinkling.

“No,” Lan WangJi's scowled.

“But-”

“Shhh.” Lan Wangji's shushed him in passing, ignoring the happy glow on his brother's face.

“I said nothing!”

“Good.”

From the gate where he stood, Lan Xichen said, “It's was years ago, Lan Zhan.”

Yet Lan Wangji's shuddered at the simple mention of his last crush. His mind reeled at all the memories that followed. Unconsciously he clutched harder on Wei Wuxian's legs wrapped around him. The young man hummed sleepily and patted his chest.

“It was years ago,” Wei Wuxian mumbled, surely only repeating Lan Xichen's sentence and yet holding more strength with his mumbled words than Lan Xichen.

Chapter Text

"He holds his alcohol pretty well," commented Lan WangJi the following day.

"Too well apparently." Lan Shuyin commented, her fingers pausing above her guqin. "Not everyone reacts to alcohol like you, A-Zhan. Why don't you evoke yesterday and ask him to share his own feelings to be fair? He surely can't be so shameless as to use-"

She didn't end her sentence as her eyes lost themselves on a far away point. Lan Wangji didn't ask; somehow he felt he knew what – or who – she had been thinking about. The memories of Shi Liangzhao's smile changed into a grimace into Lan Wangji's mind. Worst even, his treacherous mind conjured the disgusted expression of Wei Wuxian. He closed his eyes and breathed out.

"Try, A-Zhan," murmured Lan Shuyin. "From what Lan Xichen gathered about him, Wei Wuxian is a shameless boy, but with a big heart."

“What?” Lan Wangji's eyes widened. “Brother meddled?”

Lan Shuyin grimaced, “He remarked before you your crush, dearheart. He didn't talk to Wei Wuxian, only to others boys. Be assured I was firm with him; he will not do like with Shi Liangzhao.”

Lan Wangji's pinched his lips, his tense shoulders lowered and he sighed.

“Will you try to talk to Wei Wuxian?”

"I will do so."

His feet almost dragging on the ground – for people with keen eyes – Lan Wangji made his way toward the library pavilion. Somehow he didn't doubt one second that Wei Wuxian would be there, waiting for him.

The young man was sprawled on the ground, one arm on the table supporting his chin. He noticed Lan Wangji and a grin stretched his lips.

"About yesterday..."

"I promise I'll keep everything to myself." Wei Wuxian cut him as he stood up. "You were nice enough to buy me this jar of emperor smile so I'll be the only one knowing and teasing you about your crush!" Wei Wuxian sidestepped around Lan Wangji who stayed frozen. "Anyway, got a prank to do on Jiang Cheng. See you later!"

Blinking, Lan Wangji looked at his retreating back. He sighed and sat down to start his morning practice. Hopefully working would clear his mind so he'd avoid mulling over his incapacity to obtain information from Wei Wuxian.

"What should I do now?"

Lan Wangji stared at the inside of his cup, following the lazy dance of a tea leaf. Lan Shuyin hummed, presenting her face to a rare ray of sun.

"Let's see,” she commented, taking back her brush to work while still pondering about Lan Wangji's problem. “You tried to obtain answers from him subtly without any results. Why don't you try to be more direct? Be the one making the first step and offer him a gift."

"I don't even know what he likes besides alcohol - which I will not condemn by gifting him another jar so soon - and doing what he wants." Lan Wangji drank a bit and added, "I want to be sure of his feelings before doing anything anyway."

"Ask him direct questions," the woman repeated, her brush going neatly across the paper.

"I am inept to do so."

Lan Shuyin sighed, posed her brush aside and shook her head.

"A-Zhan, A-Zhan," she softly said in a mournful tone. "What are we going to do with you?"

Lan Zhan didn't answer as Lan Shuyin's comment wasn't really asking for it. She sighed anew, putting her cheek in her hand as she thought.

"Unleash your older brother Lan Xichen on him and you'll have all the answers you need."

Lan Zhan's face dropped with his mood. His sister grimaced.

"No, I guess it is going too far. Your boy Wei Wuxian wouldn't understand what happened to him except that he was stripped of all his secrets. A sure way to traumatise him and make him run away," she smiled as she said so. "And it'd be a far worse fate for you. Your brother can be quite meddling in the love life of his siblings-apprentice."

Lan Shuyin chuckled at some memories while Lan Zhan sighed.

“I know. With Shi Liangzhao...” Lan Wangji didn't finish his sentence.

"He actually made the situation with this young lad worse, isn't it?"

Again the comment wasn't needing any input from the young man. He preferred not to acknowledge the disaster that was his first crush anyway.

"No meddling Lan Xichen. I do not want to you to withdraw on yourself even more."

Lan Zhan moved slightly on his chair, his position suddenly uncomfortable. As it was Lan Shuyin didn't care to evoke such emotional events. Even though she had been quite hurt too when Lan Zhan isolated himself more and more and not for cultivational purposes.

“The only idea left is to ignore him. Let's see his reaction.”

As it turned out avoiding Wei Wuxian was an arduous task. Going back on his heels as to not be spotted by the young man, Lan Wangji went to think the boy has a sixth sense only to track him down.

“I swear I saw Lan Wangji, Jiang Cheng!” Wei Wuxian whined. “Do you think he's avoiding me outside of class?”

“He's totally doing so,” Jiang Cheng said sternly. “Let him be for once.”

Wei Wuxian trampled on the ground, huffing and pouting but ended following Jiang Cheng away. Lan Wangji's heart squeezed at the discontent frown on the other's face. Yet he didn't make his presence be known. He got out of the interstice he had been in and sighed. When he opened his eyes, Lan Xichen was looking at him from afar, confusion clear in his eyes.

This time his brother didn't come bother him. Lan Wangji felt mixed feelings about it; he started to feel lonely again and yet was glad not to bear open his feelings to his brother. Lan Wangji sheltered himself from anyone close enough to him to be able to hurt him with words but he also ended up driving away friends and even family.

The days passed and the attempt to stay away from Wei Wuxian too. Either Lan Wangji became better at avoiding the young man or Wei Wuxian was giving up. In fact, Lan Wangji ended up staying in his room so he wouldn't confirm the fact that Wei Wuxian had completely forgotten him. If he stayed inside, then he wouldn't have to face the truth. Whatever it was.

On the third days, after Lan Shuyin and Lan Xichen sent him a disciple to inquire about his health, Lan Wangji got worried. He was doing exactly the same then after Shi Liangzhao's harsh mockery. Though, this time he avoided the possibility of Wei Wuxian's mockery.

Worried, Lan Wangji went to Lan Shuyin again.

There, Lan Xichen stood the moment Lan Wangji arrived. Their cousin ordered Lan Xichen to sit down again and so he did. Lan WangJi stood idly by the side.

“No one is chasing you, Lan Huan,” she said.

Lan Xichen looked up at Lan Wangji with an expression that made Lan Wangji guilty. He looked away then sat down in front of Lan Shuyin, close to his brother.

“I am sick of staying in my room.”

“Then stop hiding there,” Lan Shuyin said matter of factly.

"You are easily anxious, brother," Lan Xichen added carefully, pondering each word like he was afraid of being rejected by Lan Wangji. "What are you afraid of?"

"You know what I'm afraid of."

“I'm sorry, Lan Huan. I didn't think Lan Zhan would take my advice this far and avoid everyone.” Lan Shuyin glared at Lan Wangji who crossed his arms and stared at a mark in the wooden table. “Are you done being-”

She stopped, rolling her eyes.

“Being what?” Lan Wangji asked.

"Being an adolescent," she sighed, shaking slightly her head before grinning. "It happens. Feelings can be scary, but you must not hide from them, dear one. You will hate me, but take example on your brother for once.”

Lan Xichen hid a chuckle, "You can be respectful of the Gusulan's sect rules and not get numb to your own needs and feelings."

Lan Wangji took a deep breath as to not let the anger rise in him. There was no reason for this emotion and he closed it behind a wall. A sound of surprise escaped his lips when he realised he was doing it again: he numbed his feelings.

“What?”

“I'm angry that you are right.”

The older two shared a glance. Lan Shuyin bowed slightly.

“Let's get back on tracks,” she said. “How has been Wei Wuxian, Lan Huan?”

“From what I know he's fine, having fun and bothering Lan Qiren. In appearance everything is normal,” Lan Huan reported, making Lan Wangji's heart squeeze. “But he has been asking about Lan Wangji's health. I've noticed him marching up and down in front of the library pavilion and coming closer to the jingshi each day.”

“Really?” Lan Wangji asked with a soft voice, feeling ambivalent. Wei Wuxian hadn't forgotten about him, yet what did it entail?

"Will you come out now?" Lan Xichen coaxed. "You can see for yourself Wei Wuxian waiting for you."

“You just have to leave the garden and make a hundred steps,” Lan Shuyin added.

Lan Wangji's shoulders slumped, “I do not feel brave enough.”

His two siblings sighed in unison before the silence reigned. Unable to even leave his own bedroom... he had fallen low, Lan Wangji thought bitterly.

"What if... what if Wei Wuxian is unable to know it is you? Would you leave?" Lan Shuyin asked carefully, her eyes piercing into Lan Wangji who nodded. She smiled broadly like no other Lan would and stood. "Wait for me!"

A chill coursed through Lan Wangji. He shared a worried look with his brother when she disappeared into her bedroom and they heard her rummaging. She came back with white fabrics and a few boxes.

"Let's put you in disguise then!" she exclaimed before opening the fabric to reveal woman's white robes.

Lan Wangji stood up immediately, “I am not seven anymore.”

He was about to leave but a hand clutched on his wrist. Lan Wangji turned around, noticed both of his siblings' concerned faces, then meet Lan Xichen's wrist.

“What if I do it with you,” he said.

A surprised and delighted laugh left Lan Shuyin's lips and clutter hitting the ground was heard. The two young men looked at her. She put both of her hands on her mouth to hold back her laugh, the stuff cluttered at her feet.

“Look at what you've done,” Lan Wangji's muttered. “If you retract, Lan Shuyin will surely cry.”

Lan Xichen gave him a smile that was between the regretful grimace and a proud look, “Then you won't refuse either, isn't it?”

They stared at each other for a while, daring the other to play the game. Finally, Lan Wangji sat back down. He really needed to leave his bedroom.

After interminable minutes – which lasted for hours in Lan Wangji's mind – Lan Shuyin declared their disguise perfect. She stood proudly in front of them both, her smile bigger than anything they saw on her for years now. A few time Lan Wangji asked himself why he subjected himself to his cousin's torture, but the gleeful air she had made him content.

"I'm sure you made all this dressing act worse than it is for a girl," Lan Xichen sighed. "I have a knot in my inner robes that bother me."

Lan Shuyin asked where, verified then huffed, "Stop complaining, it should be like this. Anyway, take a look!"

She fished a mirror and presented Lan Wangji with his own unrecognisable face.

"In one or two years it'll be impossible for you to pass as girls since you're going to – hopefully – have your father's build, but for now..." she chuckled. "You make really pretty girls. If a bit on the taller side."

The young woman facing Lan Wangji in the mirror had half her hair up in round bun and two braids on the side. The Gusulan's headband was half-hidden by a silver headpiece with startling blue gems. Lan Wangji had seen it on Lan Shuyin a few times, yet it seemed different on him. He straightened up and glanced at his cousin.

“It's impressive,” he conceded.

“Isn't it?” she beamed at him. “Let's go now!”

She took off, a spring in her steps. Lan Xichen jumped on the mirror to look himself, moving his head a few time as he contemplated himself. Lan Wangji trailed a bit behind and waited for him to catch up.

“This is your fault,” he whispered to his brother.

"No. It's yours," Lan Xichen murmured back. He picked up a flower on the path and put it in his brother's hairstyle. Lan Wangji glared at him.

“Good morning!”

Lan Wangji, a step behind Lan Shuyin, froze like a deer facing the hunter. He glanced around his cousin to see Wei Wuxian approach. Lan Wangji's heart speed up, he looked up at his brother who frowned with terror and looked up at Lan Shuyin.

“Act delicate,” she – not helpfully at all – told them. Once again she changed face in an instant, from the bright cousin she became the aloof Lan lady. She straightened, schooling her expression into a blank canvas. “Good evening. I believe we were not presented...”

"Wei Wuxian, lady Lan," the young man said, bowing with emphasis. He glanced at the three of them, "And you are?"

"Don't you know?" Lan Shuyin scowled, acting outraged like a reputation seeking woman. "Someone failed your education. The Jiang clan does not live up to its reputation."

"Ah, I apologise," Wei Wuxian said without losing his cheeriness. "The Jiang clan rescued me from the streets, you see? All mistakes are mine. Please, forgive my poorly educated self."

"Mn," Lan Shuyin huffed, tapping her foot on the ground while Wei Wuxian's eyes returned to Lan Wangji. The young man fidgeted under Wei Wuxian gaze, worried he would recognise him. Lan Shuyin put her sleeve in front of Lan Wangji's face, "Stop ogling her! My cousin is fiancee."

“I apologise. She looks just like a dear friend of mine, Lan Zhan. She must have close families ties. Though, I confess I have never seen you around."

"How can you be so sure of yourself?"

"I never forget a face."

Lan Wangji lifted a brow in disbelief.

"It is strange that Lan Wangji's and Lan Xichen are said to be the two jades of the Gusulan sect when the three of you are here."

Lan Wangji pinched his lips. His cousin's name was rarely mentioned as she was a strange pea in the bowl of rice, and for the girl version of himself and his brother, it was normal that Wei Wuxian never heard of them.

"What can I say? Women are seen as less relevant cultivators than their counterpart." Lan Shuyin said, her face still a mask of calm as she said such outrageous words.

"A tragedy," Wei Wuxian nodded. "I've met women with a level of cultivation astounding and yet that were less known than a mere man cultivator from a lesser clan."

Lan Wangji blinked and tilted his head to the side in surprise. Wei Wuxian seemed genuine in his words. Next to him, Lan Shuyin almost vibrated with gleeful energy. Lan Wangji shared a glance with Lan Xichen. Somehow they both were worried that Wei Wuxian and their cousin would be too fond of each other.

Lan Wangji scowled and held Wei Wuxian stare when he looked at him again.

"Such astute words from a young man," Lan Shuyin beamed, her proper Lan façade cracking. "Would you-"

Lan Xichen coughed in his sleeve then, with a voice purposefully lowered, said, "We are waited."

Wei Wuxian shook and his fixated eyes on Lan Wangji returned to Lan Shuyin who pinched her lips in annoyance.

"Yes, yes. Let's go."

"Wait!" Wei Wuxian shouted. "Do you know about Lan Wangji's health? Is he feeling better?"

"Why don't you come to visit him?" Lan Shuyin asked sweetly. An elbow in her side made her cough. "Ah, my cousin might have given us his sickness. Be careful not to enter the jingshi."

"Would I really be allowed inside the private part of the Cloud Recesses?" Wei Wuxian asked, eyes huge with surprise.

"Obviously! Lan Zhan is feeling lonely." She coughed at another hit from Lan Wangji. "But come later. He's... sleeping! Come after your class, be a good student."

Wei Wuxian didn't care about the last part of Lan Shuyin's sentence, Lan Wangji was sure of that. The young man skipped on the spot, beaming at Lan Shuyin then bowed theatrically.

"Lan ladies, it was an honour. Have a great day and may Lan Wangji's sickness spare you."

With that, he left. Lan Wangji glared at his cousin who grinned openly.

"What? You must have been lonely. A friend visiting you will help your health."

They walked fast to get away from the family's quarter. Lan Wangji found the costume uncomfortable, though trying to hide his identity and spent some time with his family put a balm on his loneliness from the last days.

“Lan Shuyin, you left your room.”

The three of them, enjoying a quick chat with a little sister not above eight years, turned to Lan Qiren. The man froze then frowned as his eyes fell on Lan Wangji and Lan Xichen.

“My boys? What-? Lan Zhan? Lan Huan?”

“What are you talking about!” Lan Shuyin exclaimed as the two brothers stayed frozen. “Are you sick? You look really pale, please do not tell me you caught Lan Zhan's illness. Come, we will see the physician.”

She grabbed his forearm and locked arms with him. She trapped him surely, then took him away as Lan Qiren sputtered and said that – maybe – he wasn't feeling well since Lan Zhan was sick and this rascallion of Wei Wuxian was calm, surely preparing something. Before leaving, Lan Shuyin turned to them and made a grimace, then put a finger under her throat.

“You deserve it,” Lan Wangji mouthed back at her.

“I don't know,” Lan Xichen commented as they looked at the duo chat. “Her idea did work.”

Lan Wangji huffed, he abandoned his brother on the spot.

After a few more hours of freedom. Lan Wangji realised that he wasn't free. The boys disciples keep on stopping him and asking him questions until a death glare was necessary to be left alone. One held his ground at the death glare but left when Lan Wangji stepped on his feet – inadvertently – and broke a few things.

Lan Wangji found haven in his bedroom where he started by taking off his cousin make-up. He was quickly joined by Lan Xichen – still dressed as a girl – and Lan Shuyin sighing and rolling her eyes as she mouthed yet another lecture by Lan Qiren.

“Good evening, Lan Zhan!”

The three of them froze again. Though, this time they were hidden by a wall. Lan Wangji had found back his white robes but his hair was still up in the girl hairstyle.

"I didn't know you had a feminine double!" Wei Wuxian exclaimed from the other side of the wall. His back thumped against it when he leaned back. "I meet her in passing and don't even know her name. She's pretty." He paused, oblivious to the hairpin Lan Wangji crushed into his hand that Lan Shuyin took back to mourn. "She made me think of you and then I was sad you couldn't get out those last days. Hey, let's go into town again when you're feeling better, okay?"

Lan Shuyin lifted her head from her lost hairpin. She struggled to hold back her laugh. A glare from Lan Wangji made her put her hand in front of her mouth as he struggled against one of the braids.

Lan Wangji's tore off the last pin in his hair holding parts of the elaborate hairstyle. He threw wide open the doors then looked down at a startled Wei Wuxian who've been against them. He asked, "Do you like me?"

Wei Wuxian half turned toward him and craned his head to look at his face, "Obviously I like you. You're my friend."

Lan Wangji felt a cold chill ran up his spine as his heart sunk to his knees. He shut the door without any words and decided – for the first time in many years – to really take an early sleep. He huddled in his covers, not even bothering to shoo away his siblings and pretended he hadn't been rejected. Again.

At least this time wasn't as bad. Lan Wangji prefered to only be seen as a friend rather than a disgusting creature that couldn't breathe the same air as normal people.

Before they left, Lan Shuyin kissed his temple and said that he shouldn't be too bitter. Lan Xichen patted his shoulder too and abstained from comments at Lan Wangji's happiness.

Chapter Text

The following days Lan Wangji's mood was as cloudy as the Cloud Recesses were. Though, he didn't exude the same calm the place did. Lan Wangji's patience was wearing thin with everyone and they ended up tip-toeing around him. Even Wei Wuxian.

The thought made Lan Wangji's huff in annoyance. He stamped on the ground, imagining it as Wei Wuxian's face, but found no peace in it. He sat down at his table to study but ended up holding his head in his hands, his eyes closed. Soon enough, Wei Wuxian would leave the Cloud Recesses with Jiang Cheng. Their stay was nearing the end. Except Lan Wangji didn't know if he felt glad or sad.

“He's starting to infuse in his bitterness like Lan Qiren.”

"Sadly, I think you are right my dear cousin."

Lan Wangji's glared at the two cultivators outside of the library pavilion. They smiled in unison. He stood up and closed the window to have his peace.

"Lan Zhan, ô Lan Zhan!" Lan Shuyin melodious voice resonated. "You must not infuse but rather expose your true feelings to the one who has your heart."

Lan Wangji opened the window only to have the possibility to close it again on his cousin's face.

“This is your fault this time,” Lan Xichen said almost in a cheerful tone. “Not mine.”

"Shut it. It's not my fault his heart choose an idiot who can't take a hint when it's about him," Lan Shuyin said gruffly. "Did you hear that Lan Zhan? Your loved one is incapable to realise when someone loves him! Do you think he heard Lan Huan? Lan Zhan! Did you hear?" she started talking normally to Lan Xichen again. "Really, how stupid is Wei Wuxian?"

"He's not stupid," Lan Xichen sighed. "He realised one of our sister-apprentice liked Jiang Cheng right away. Apparently, he is... slow when it touches him closely."

Lan Shuyin snorted loudly, coughed then was silent. In fact, the both of them were silent long enough that Lan Wangji dared to open the window.

“Boo!” Lan Shuyin shouted mere inches from Lan Wangji's nose.

Lan Wangji punched his cousin instinctively. She fell back into Lan Xichen's open arms as she held her nose. They stared at each other, stunned before Lan Shuyin giggled at Lan Wangji's astoundment.

This is your fault,” Lan Xichen sighed.

"I concede," she commented her voice muffled by her hand pressing on her nose. "So, dear Lan Zhan, will you be clear about your own feelings? It is possible Wei Wuxian misunderstood you or worse, he also is terrorised that the one he likes will mock him form loving a man.”

She was trying to manipulate him, Lan Wangji knew. There was no reason for Wei Wuxian to fear this, to have lived the same thing as him. Yet... yet Lan Wangji never heard of Wei Wuxian having a long lasting girlfriend nor something more than a fleeting moment of infatuation for girls meet on the street forgotten the moment they weren't under his eyes. Wei Wuxian acted like such a shameless person would if they wanted to hide their love for the same sex.

“Wei Wuxian like girls,” Lan Wangji stated firmly. Yet, Lan Shuyin had planted the seeds of doubts in his mind.

Lan Xichen stayed a bit longer.

“Don't you regretted not coming for me at first?” he asked.

Lan Wangji opened his mouth to say 'no' but settled for, “I regret not asking uncle Lan Qiren advice.”

His brother seemed genuinely shook at the idea. After a few second of astonishment, he chuckled and bid him farewell.

The day Wei Wuxian and all the other guest disciples at the Cloud Recesses were planned to leave, Lan Wangji hunted down Wei Wuxian who avoided him now. He spotted the purple robes of the Jiang sect and walked on Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian conversing calmly – for them.

They curiously observed his approach. Lan Wangji interiorly scowled but showed nothing on his face as Jiang Cheng discreetly stepped a bit in front of Wei Wuxian.

“You did not come to the library pavilion,” Lan Wangji said to Wei Wuxian. It was only after the young man frowned in confusion that Lan Wangji realised that his words meaning were not easy to understand. Interiorly, he lectured himself on the necessity of being clearer.

“Wei Wuxian did his punishment, he copied the rules with you and no other punishment was given to him.”

"Did you miss me?" Wei Wuxian asked with a laugh.

Lan Wangji put his weight on his other foot. It would have been less embarrassing if Jiang Cheng had not been here. He breathed out to reign on himself then nodded minutely.

“I want to talk to Wei Wuxian alone.”

“I will not let you attack him,” Jiang Cheng said.

Lan Wangji nodded more clearly. He turned on his heels, sent a glance to Wei Wuxian and took the direction of the library pavilion.

"Wait... where are you going?" Wei Wuxian called from behind Jiang Cheng. "Didn't you want to talk to me? Are you abandoning?"

"I have readings to do," Lan Wangji answered, slowing his pace in a clear invite. A glance at Wei Wuxian showed him ready to accompany him but stopped by Jiang Cheng. They talked in hushed tone before Wei Wuxian patted Jiang Cheng's shoulder and got out of his hold. Lan Wangji felt something in his chest bubble in pleasure when Wei Wuxian stood next to him, waiting.

They walked next to each other toward the pavilion library. Wei Wuxian made most of the conversation and even though he asked questions to Lan Wangji if he didn't answer then Wei Wuxian keep on talking.

The pavilion library welcomed them into an intimate and quiet place. Lan Wangji felt more in control there. He sat at his table and Wei Wuxian sprawled in front of him.

“Sat right,” Lan Wangji scolded.

Wei Wuxian only grinned and laid his chest on the table, his hands extended in front of him. Some of his movements made his fingers graze Lan Wangji's knees. The brush made Lan Wangji's heart miss a beat the first time before he got familiar with it.

"So?" Wei Wuxian asked. "What's going on? I thought I did something to bother you too much. I even avoided you so you'd stop being all grouchy but apparently you weren't like that just with me. Did someone step on one of your rabbits?"

With that, he looked at the two little ones near the pavilion. Lan Wangji had thought about taking them to the private part of the Cloud Recesses but he liked seeing them when he studied and got stuck on something.

Lan Wangji had noticed Wei Wuxian being more subdued in his attempt to embarrass or tease him those last days. Wei Wuxian's talk and behaviour flowed less, he acted more stilled and less carefree. It was like he was afraid Lan Wangji would snap again. Lan Wangji would never have guessed he would feel like so, but he missed the Wei Wuxian who put no barrier into his interactions with him. He missed the whole Wei Wuxian, as mad as he acted like.

It wasn't how Wei Wuxian acted with friends nor family, Lan Wangji was certain of that. It was how Wei Wuxian acted with someone he didn't know if he was a friend or a foe yet.

Lan Wangji took a deep breath and met Wei Wuxian's curious stare, "You said you liked me as a friend. I should not have reacted in such a way to feelings I have and you do not share."

“What?”

“I don't want you to be my friend.”

Wei Wuxian blinked, mouth agape. He straightened from his previous position of lounging on the table. Lan Wangji observed the emotions play on his face. Shock then incomprehension and – at Lan Wangji surprise – sorrow. The emotion was followed by a few tears that stunned Lan Wangji.

“Wei Ying?”

"Ah? I- I don't know why I'm crying," Wei Wuxian blubbered as tears feel down more heavily. He looked as stunned as Lan Wangji. "Sorry. Is it the first time someone I like hates me that much? Sorry if I did something that crossed the limit. I-" He lifted his arms only to let them flop down on the table, surely hurting himself in the process. "I wanted to be close to you but. How to approach you? You're really closed off. So I acted like I do with all the others boys. Sorry for crossing the limit. Don't hate me, please."

Lan Wangji's blood froze in his veins looking at Wei Wuxian being so lost. The young man looked younger even with tears streak that he wiped angrily only for them to flow out again.

“I really don't know why I cry!” Wei Wuxian shouted. “That's so unmanly. What's wrong? It's okay if people don't like me. I can live with it!”

The young man scrubbed his face with his sleeves before giving a dark stare at Lan Wangji.

“It's okay if you don't like me, I swear!” he said, the scene so strange Lan Wangji didn't know what to do. “I'm not crying so you'd take pity.”

He stood up with stilled movement, looking angry, but at himself. Lan Wangji's hand shot before his mind knew what to do. He held onto Wei Wuxian's wrist to stop him from leaving and tugged on it so he'd sat down again.

“Don't cry. I like you, but not in a friendly way.”

"What?" Wei Wuxian sniffled, wiping his tears stained cheeks on his sleeve once more.

Lan Wangji met his eyes a second before looking away, "I was upset you did not like me as I liked you and was harsh to you the last days. I apologize for my behaviour and will not trouble you with those feelings. I only hope you can still see me in a friendly manner and are not disgusted."

“Because you like me in a brotherly way?”

Lan Wangji blinked. He took a breath then blinked again, “Mn?”

"You said 'not in a friendly' way so it's a brotherly way. Which explain why you were so sour and acting harshly with me. Jiang Cheng is always angry at me too, even if preventively for when one of my jokes turns bad." Wei Wuxian said, wiping his nose on his sleeve. He sighed, now calmer, "So we're fine. You're just doing your Jiang Cheng. I can live with another Jiang Cheng."

Lan Wangji stared at Wei Wuxian for the remaining minutes he was there. When he departed, nearing the time he had to find Jiang Cheng to leave the Cloud Recesses, Lan Wangji's eyes lost themselves as his mind analysed what had just happened.

“Is he stupid?” he murmured in the silence of the library pavilion.

"You."

Lan Wangji's angry tone startled Wei Wuxian who turned to the white robbed cultivator. The man's furrowed brows and creased forehead let Wei Wuxian mute. It was the first time he saw the young man express his emotions so openly. Oftentimes the young man only pinched his lips at any of Wei Wuxian shameless acts.

Even though Lan Wangji had exuded such a dark aura the last days even him had avoided bothering the young cultivator too much, this time he showed emotion. Wei Wuxian was ambivalent about it. On one hand: expressive Lan Wangji! On the other hand... he had an angry Lan Wangji approaching him.

Quickly, he searched in his mind what he could have done deserving this kind of expression. Wei Wuxian bit his lips. He thought they had resolved their miscommunication problem. Lan Wangji saw him as Jiang Cheng: a bother that managed to get under his skin and make him care about. Although, the idea felt like a teacup crooked on its base. But which other 'like' would Lan Wangji could have talked about?

Lan Wangji walked straight to him with such determination Wei Wuxian backed away. His retreat was stopped when he knocked onto Jiang Cheng and then Lan Wangji grabbed the col of his robe. He pulled him toward a quieter and less public place with a strength that awed Wei Wuxian. Jiang Cheng followed after, shouting at Lan Wangji to let go of him. Lan Wangji stopped when they were partially hidden from the rest of the leaving disciples, though Jiang Cheng was on their trail.

Wei Wuxian could only remark, "You are very close Lan-" before his words were cut by a mouth on his own, their teeth clicking on each other. Wei Wuxian froze, his mind going blank while his heart did like a startled rabbit and played dead. On his tongue was the taste of blood.

Lan Wangji backed away, still close enough for his breath to tickle Wei Wuxian's lips.

"I am clear now?"

Wei Wuxian made a gurgling sound then jumped back, "Lan-Lan-Lan Zhan!"

The young man had recomposed himself, he turned on his heels and took off with one last order, "Go now."

Wei Wuxian sent a look to his brother in heart, pointing at Lan Wangji's retreating back. Jiang Cheng stopped gaping and shook his head.

"That's what you get for playing with people. They become crazy!"

"No!" Wei Wuxian shouted with a big smile. "He's serious."

With a disbelieving and happy laugh, he jumped up and down on his heels then bolted after Lan Wangji's.

"Wei Wuxian! Come back, we need to leave!"

But the young man was already too far for Jiang Cheng to bother more than necessary. He settled on waiting and suffering doing so.

Wei Wuxian grinned when he caught sight of Lan Zhan's silhouette.

"You!" He yelled, a laugh on his lips.

Lan Wangji turned around a mixture of confusion and something akin to hope written on his face.

Before the young man could say anything, Wei Wuxian tackled him to the ground. Lan Wangji huffed as the air was knocked out of his lungs. The disciples around them sighed at Wei Wuxian antics.

Wei Wuxian straightened, straddling Lan Wangji's hips and grinning maniacally.

"What you did was really improper!" He said, delighted. "Do it again!"

Lan Wangji's constant scowl disappeared in surprise. He looked at Wei Wuxian in awe.

"Told you so, A-Zhan," someone said, hiding it in a fake cough.

Wei Wuxian looked up at an older sister-apprentice.

"I've seen you with Lan Zhan's double!" Something clicked in Wei Wuxian's mind. He stared at Lan Wangji still sprawled on the ground then whispered, "You don't have a double."

in his mind, the image of the feminine version of Lan Zhan merged with the masculine one. Wei Wuxian's laughter made him fall down next to Lan Wangji. He rolled on his back, holding his sides for how much he laughed.

The other sat, straightening his clothes. He was going to stand up but Wei Wuxian locked his arms around his neck and hugged him tightly.

"Lan Zhan you are a true jokester at heart. I knew it!" Wei Wuxian smiled so much it hurt his jaw. He knocked his forehead against the other, holding his gaze, "I knew there was a reason I dreamt so much about you."

Lan Wanji blushed at the confession. He breathed out when Wei Wuxian cradled his cheeks and kissed him. This time their teeth didn't clack against each other, hurting the both of them. Wei Wuxian's lips were soft and moved leisurely. After the first second of surprise, Lan Wangji closed his eyes, enjoying the moment.

"You!"

Wei Wuxian backed away like a startled rabbit. He grimaced at Lan Qiren shout then jumped on his feet and ran off, letting Lan Wangji sitting on the ground, dazed.

"Write to me, Lan Zhan! And more than two words, please." Wei Wuxian yelled from across the yard, waving madly at him. Lan Wangji waved back, his mind hundred cuns away from the Cloud Recesses.

 

Chapter Text

The Discussion Conference held before then never excited Lan Wangji that much. Boys his age like to compete against each other, proves their strengths and capacities. It was a show for the ego. If you were a good cultivator you were good at night hunting, if you were mediocre you were mediocre. That's all. Why flaunt each other qualities and flaws?

But it was seen as a tradition and Lan Wangji followed the rules. Though, seeing Wei Wuxian again was exciting. If the young man could only restrain himself from being shameless and improper in public.

Lan Wangji frowned at the target possessed by a fierce spirit. At the entrance, he hadn't known what to do with himself at seeing Wei Wuxian again since he left the Gusulan sect's place. His reaction had been incomprehensible for himself at first but he realised that being in public had stunted him. He sighed, recalling the expression Wei Wuxian wore when he looked at him after telling him his forehead ribbon was crooked. Lan Wangji contemplated the idea to slap himself.

One sentence to acknowledge him and Wei Wuxian would have been overjoyed. Lan Wangji shot another mannequin, the arrow sticking to the amp in a tree under the strength put into it. As it was, Lan Wangji acted like he hadn't sent letters – each time more inappropriate – to the young man and so for a year.

He hoped Wei Wuxian would try to find him again. If not, he'd have to do it. In both cases, Lan Wangji had to apologise.

His mind was half on the game, half on finding a decent apology so he wasn't entirely paying attention to his surroundings.

“Mah, isn't that kid from the Gusulan's sect infatuated with me?”

Lan Wangji's shoulders tensed shooting pain in his neck. He breathed out slowly to take back control and did not spare a glance at the man who talked.

“Mah, are you ignoring me, Lan Wangji?”

The other got close enough that Lan Wangji worried he might invade his personal space. He took a few steps back and glanced at the other. He became a man since the moment he last saw him. Taller, with sculpted shoulders and a face dear to ladies, he was beautiful in the Wen sect's forced uniform. Three others cultivators without renown stood a few steps behind him. Except... Lan Wangji's breath wasn't taken away like it had been younger. His heartbeat went up but so did his irritation. The feeling he had at seeing the man wasn't happiness, but displeasure. It was far from an infatuated person's reaction. Last, but not less, Lan Wangji would never ask questions about cultivation to the man when he had a clearly lower level. Lan Wangji progressed by leapt and bounds while Shi Liangzhao hit a wall.

Lan Wangji nodded before turning his back and walking away.

“Hey! Don't ignore me! You made my life a living hell while I was at the Gusulan's sect, won't you take responsibilities?”

Lan Wangji frowned at the exaggerated words. Shi Liangzhao might have been embarrassed at being followed by a younger disciple, but Lan Wangji wanted to please him at the time. He made his life better even doing so much as hid infractions to the Gusulan's sect rules. After his crush was revelated, Lan Wangji hid much of the time, so he didn't know how Shi Liangzhao lived. Though the young man left not one month after that and he had looked for Lan Wangji a few times. None of them had been to apologise for his words.

A resentful energy made Lan Wangji look toward his old crush. The man's pretty face lost this allure as he grimaced a smile, gleeful that Lan Wangji gave him attention when he was only a mediocre cultivator. Lan Wangji stretched the bow and shot above the four young men clearly perturbed by his presence.

“It was mine!” Shi Liangzhao shouted in outrage. “You didn't have the right to steal it!”

There was quite a long lecture Lan Wangji formed in his head at this comment, yet he only said, “It's a competition. Shoot first.”

For the second time, he turned his back to Shi Liangzhao as the others asked Shi Liangzhao if he was going to let Lan Wangji get away so easily. Apparently, they had their trill for the month by mocking a member from a principal sect. A hand on his shoulder stopped him from leaving. He froze and send a glare to the young man.

“Being a cut-sleeve isn't enough for you, now you have to bend your honour too?”

Lan Wangji's lips curled into a scowl as Shi Liangzhao's friends stifled their laughs. The sentences he wanted to say stumbled against each other in his mind with anger and outrage.

“Please, stop trying to anger me.”

“Anger you? Because I'm telling the truth and asking for just treatment? Ah!” Shi Liangzhao's hand pressed on his shoulder uncomfortably. “I ask for excuses. Or do the disciples from the Gusulan's clan are even less courteous than the Wen clan?”

Lan Wangji's hand clenched on his bow.

“Lan Zhan! Your ribbon is crooked!”

Wei Wuxian's voice startled him. He glanced at the young man skipping toward him. Lan Wangji shook his shoulder and took a few steps toward Wei Wuxian who's beaming smile made his stomach flip. The young man pulled slightly at his ribbon, his smile becoming teasing. Lan Wangji blushed, dropping his eyes so he wasn't seeing the provocative glint in Wei Wuxian's eyes.

A strangled sound from behind him caught his attention. Shi Liangzhao pointed at his own head.

“He let you touch his ribbon!” he said, stunned.

Lan Wanji's frowned, his mood dropping again after Wei Wuxian's presence lifted it.

“Good evening, brave adversaries. I don't think I know you.” Wei Wuxian scooted toward the four adolescent. “I am Wei Wuxian from the Yunmengjiang sect.”

They presented each other quickly, demonstrating that they had at least this politeness. Wei Wuxian lifted his shoulder, making a gurgling sound and saying he'd remember their names. With a few words, he managed to get them to like him. Lan Wangji bite the tip of his thumb. He didn't want Wei Wuxian to like those men, but he couldn't talk of their misbehaviours like that.

Shi Liangzhao pointed at Lan Wangji with his chin, “Young Master Wei, I must tell you, I do believe the disciple behind you like you.”

“You think?” Wei Wuxian asked. Lan Wangji thought an instant that maybe Wei Wuxian doubted his feelings, but the young man glanced above his shoulder at him. There wasn't trace of surprise, but only a delighted smile. Apparently, someone noticing Lan Wangji's feelings for Wei Wuxian made him happy.

Shi Liangzhao grimaced, “Yes, I do. I know what being the subject of his... unnatural infatuation feels like.”

“Unnatural?” Wei Wuxian repeated and even though Lan Wangji couldn't see his expression, he felt uneasy at the absence of warmth from Wei Wuxian's voice. Being cold didn't suit him.

“Cut-sleeves cannot have kids, so their coupling is sterile,” Shi Liangzhao said in a tone equal to a master talking to a young child a bit slow. “It is unnatural and wrong.”

Lan Wangji took a deep breath at the stinging pain in his chest. He noticed Wei Wuxian freezing, then sending him an unreadable look. He mouthed the name 'Shi Liangzhao' a few times like he tried to recall it. It was normal that the sound of it was not familiar to Wei Wuxian, Lan Wangji had only written about him.

“Wait. You're... the one who was at the Cloud Recesses when Lan Zhan was twelve?”

“And his tendencies already showed. I thought he was only a friendly kid, but he had other disgusting thoughts,” Shi Liangzhao spit out with disgust.

“Oh.” Wei Wuxian let go of his bow and walked on Shi Liangzhao.

The man backed away. Too late. Wei Wuxian grabbed him by his shoulders, blocking him on the spot, then drew his knee into his parties. Shi Liangzhao made a strangled sound, his eyes almost rolling into his orbits at the strength. Wei Wuxian let him fall on the ground and put his hands on his hips.

“See, your coupling with anyone will be sterile now. Unnatural, much?” Wei Wuxian declared before looking at the other young men. “Something to add to your friends' words?”

They shook their head negatively with eyes huge with fear.

“Then scatter!” Wei Wuxian shouted, taking a strong step toward them and effectively scattering them. He glanced down at Shi Liangzhao having managed to get on his knees, “See, being Lan Wangji's loved one is a pleasure. I'm happy he isn't in love with an idiot like you, he deserves better.”

“You?” Shi Liangzhao hissed.

“Yup!” Wei Wuxian exclaimed, finding back his smile. He came back to Lan Wangji and linked their arms together. “Let's go, I want to get first place today. Maybe Lan Qiren will hate me less if I present him the trophy? Ah! I know you wrote to me about it – that he doesn't really hate me but I make him recall Lan Shuyin – but duh! I wanna look perfect if I meet him today!”

Lan Wangji trailed after Wei Wuxian, stunned by his friend – no! Lover – shameless. He had no qualm to say they were together. It's wasn't a big group, but yet... Lan Wangji feared the consequence of Wei Wuxian's running mouth. If the other young men talked then their secret was out for everyone.

“Take a few hits, Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian encouraged. “You should be one of the best in this competition too!”

“To look good in front of sect leader Jiang Fengmian?”

Wei Wuxian leaned against him, “Pff, no! You're always looking good.”

In the place they were, the silence filled the space between them for a while before Wei Wuxian said.

“Don't get anxious about those guys. They won't talk. Why would they say they harassed a member of the Lan family? They lost their face when they went running rather than affront me.”

Lan Wangji leaned against Wei Wuxian too, “Thank you.”

He lifted his head, the sweet smile on his lips stole Lan Wangji's breath, “Every day, Lan Zhan. I'll be here.”

Lan Wangji spent most of the rest of the competition admiring Wei Wuxian rather than use his bow.

Even after the competition drew to its end and after, when the winner and the second and third in places where announced, Lan Wangji's chest fluttered with an emotion that made his heart beat faster and his eyes stay on Wei Wuxian's silhouette.

Before a celebratory meal, Wei Wuxian found him and pulled him toward a quieter place outside where they couldn't be bothered. The air was still fresh and people would prefer to stay inside rather than being subjected to the wind.

“I've seen you look at me,” Wei Wuxian said as he pulled Lan Wangji's hand to drew him closer. “Am I that pretty?”

With the shadows made by a line of bamboos, Wei Wuxian's black robes cast his body in the dark only to give more attention to his face. The smile playing on his lips created the little dimple on his right cheek. Lan Wangji's words got caught in his throat again. He hummed, his eyes following Wei Wuxian's lips.

“You don't need to think about him ever again,” Wei Wuxian murmured against his lips. “I'm here.”

“Every day,” Lan Wangji completed.

The young man chuckled, the sound eliciting a stronger flutter in Lan Wangji's chest, and walked backwards, still holding onto Lan Wangji's hand. Wei Wuxian's back hit the only wall here, he made Lan Wangji's arm drap over his waist then cradled his cheek with one hand.

“Do you want to kiss me?”

Lan Wangji's heart missed a beat. He nodded as his whole body trembled in anticipation. Wei Wuxian wrapped his arm around his neck then knocked their foreheads together. His eyes had the colour of coal ready to combust into a burning fire.

“Do you need an invitation?” Wei Wuxian murmured, his breath tickling Lan Wangji's lips and making his heart go wild.

Lan Wangji kissed the laugh on his lips, holding tighter on his waist so their bodies were flushed together, only clothes between them. Wei Wuxian lips moved against his languidly as he hummed a pleased tone. Lan Wangji observed his closed eyes before doing so. With a sudden need accompanied by the necessary bravery, Lan Wangji nipped at his lover's lower lip. Wei Wuxian smile was moulded against Lan Wangji's lips and then he answered the ask. He kissed him open-mouthed inviting him to do the same. Lan Wangji's breathed out, his body buzzing with desire, and gladly met Wei Wuxian's playful tongue.

Wei Wuxian teasing fingers went into Lan Wangji's hair and tugged at his ribbon. Lan Wangji pressed Wei Wuxian against the wall, his mind only focused on him. The younger one drew back from the kiss, his lips red and swollen calling to be kissed again. Lan Wangji did so but Wei Wuxian pulled on his chest robe a bit to get his attention as he drew back again.

“We should stop or we'll get really improper,” Wei Wuxian chuckled. “And since we're two of the best competitors, our presence is needed.”

Somewhere in his mind, Lan Wangji found himself surprised Wei Wuxian tried to be the voice of reason, but it's wasn't as strong as his focus on Wei Wuxian dishevelled hair and his inviting lips.

“Don't care.”

Wei Wuxian laughed heartily.

“You!”

They both froze at Lan Qiren shout. The man looked at them with eyes huge with fury.

“...both,” he hissed, his pupils becoming needles heads under his rage.

“Celebratory kiss?” Wei Wuxian said tentatively.

“Go. Now.” Lan Qiren said in a clipped tone.

Wei Wuxian laughed, amused by the whole situation. He took a hold of Lan Wangji's hand again then ran toward the hall. Lan Wangji followed after, dazed and still thinking about the kiss.

Lan Wangji realised Wei Wuxian had stolen his ribbon during the meal. Sitting next to his family's members and siblings-disciples, he heard Lan Qiren choke on his mouthful and Lan Shuyin emitting a surprised laugh that she hid in her sleeve. He looked at them and she pointed at something. Following it, he saw Wei Wuxian talk to Jiang Cheng – surely annoying him from the young man expression – and eating. Except his ribbon was loosely wrapped around his arm. Wei Wuxian didn't notice him, he tugged on the ribbon, making it brush his palm, then took another mouthful of the meal as his left fingers played with the fabric.

Then Wei Wuxian looked up. Their eyes meet and Wei Wuxian smiled playfully. He lifted his left hand – the ribbon held between his thumb and index – then kissed it. Lan Wangji felt his ears become red as tomatoes. He let his eyes drop in embarrassment and saw Lan Shuyin hiding her entire face behind her sleeve so no one could see the delighted smile on it. Lan Qiren held his chopsticks in such a manner Lan Wangji thought he'd break them.

“I do hope you did the proper thing, my boy,” he said. “I know you are respectful of the tradition and your... lover isn't, but he could make an effort.”

Lan Wangji felt his inside go cold. He brushed the wood of the table, embarrassed and thinking that after all the troubles he went to declare his interest to Wei Wuxian, he should have been explicitly clear on others subjects too. Like the meaning of the ribbon.

“I didn't have the time to,” he murmured. "He doesn't know the importance of it. Don't hold it against him."

“But you had time to... frolick with him?”

Lan Shuyin lifted her second sleeve to her face becoming redder as she held in a laugh. Lan Qiren glared at her, but she managed to avoid the improper giggle that shook silently her shoulders.

“You must do it soon,” Lan Qiren said. “I will not be more indulgent than I am.”

Lan Wangji bashfully nodded. He looked up at Wei Wuxian and the smile he gave him chased the guilt inside him.

“Sect leader Jiang Fengmian.”

Wei Wuxian shrunk on himself as the group from the Yunmengjiang sect were stopped in the corridor by Lan Qiren.

“A few words please,” Lan Qiren asked.

Jiang Cheng turned to Wei Wuxian and hissed, “What did you do now?”

“Celebratory kiss?” Wei Wuxian answered. But it shouldn't have provoked Lan Qiren into talking to Jiang Cheng's father, isn't it?

Wei Wuxian searched for Lan Wangji's eyes. He stood a few steps behind Lan Qiren with the rest of his family, no other disciples from the Gusulan sect.

Before anything could happen, a group of seven from a lesser clan came from another corridor. They passed by, looking at the two facing sects. One of the disciples made Wei Wuxian scowl. He frowned when the young Lady Lan stumbled forward and Shi Liangzhao caught her by her arms but was destabilised himself. Lan Xichen caught his forearm, the way he held the accupresion surely lost to a lot of people.

“Ah! Shi Liangzhao,” she exclaimed, her face set with a delicate smile that only radiated coldness for Wei Wuxian's detector of Lan's members' emotions. She pressed his neck like she helped herself stand though it hid another rueful pressure on an acupresion point. “A truly noble man, isn't it? Always so careful of his words and to whom he says them.”

The young man let go of Lan Shuyin quickly, his face paling. He joined the rest of his sect quickly. He looked like he had seen the ghost of his dead mother. Shi Liangzhao's face turned into a grimace when he saw Lan Wangji but became confused when they set themselves on Wei Wuxian playing absent-mindedly with the white ribbon in his hands.

Lan Qiren frowned at the retreating young man, his anger clear in his eyes. Then he cleared his throat and nodded at Jiang Fengmian.

“It is about two of our charges'...” Lan Qiren paused, his face looking like he'd eaten something sour. “Engagement.”

Jiang Fengmian looked down at Wei Wuxian who looked back at him with the most innocent smile possible. The man smiled too, amused.

“I've seen the ribbon. If my boy wears it, it means your boy asked and Wei Wuxian accepted.”

Lan Qiren scowled, “He hasn't. Your boy stole the ribbon.”

Jiang Fengmian lost his smile and looked down at Wei Wuxian with an air of anger. Wei Wuxian gulped, took a few steps back and send a worried look to Lan Wangji. But the other young man was whispering some words with Lan Qiren who pinched his lips.

“Is it that bad? He hasn't taken it back and didn't even object when I took it.”

Lan Wangji left his uncle side and strode off toward Wei Wuxian who joined him mid-way to avoid Jiang Fengmian's burning eyes. And Jiang Cheng's.

“I wanted to ask it otherwise,” Lan Wangji murmured, invading his personal space to take back the ribbon that he straightened in his hands before meeting Wei Wuxian's eyes. “Will you cultivate with me?"

“I thought I was pretty clear in my letters,” Wei Wuxian huffed, taking back the tip of the ribbon, but Lan Wangji held tight. 

“Say it.”

Wei Wuxian rolled his eyes, he had been the first to mention an engagement, more in a teasing manner than something else. But then Lan Wangji's answer had been serious and Wei Wuxian had thought about it for days before sending back a letter confirming it all. He still felt the need to skip around happily with Lan Wangji's letter months after it - at Jiang Cheng utmost annoyance.

The illumination hit him. They promised to each other to get engaged but they hadn't said it aloud and even less at other people. He sent a look to Jiang Fengmian who stood arms crossed next to his kid. Jiang Cheng huffed and suffered from the scene.

“Obviously, I want to be your cultivational partner!”

He tugged on the ribbon again and rolled it loosely around his arm.

"I'm keeping it today. I like it."

"Do you even know what the significance of the ribbon?" Jiang Cheng shouted.

Lan Wangji took back his arm to put nicely the white fabric above the black of his robe. Wei Wuxian sent a glance to his adoptive brother. He hummed, "Is it open to interpretation?"

Jiang Fengmian put his face in his hand, the other holding Jiang Cheng's shoulder to stop him for coming over and hitting Wei Wuxian. From the Lan, Wei Wuxian heard a quiet snicker and Lan Qiren choke again on nothing.

“No, it's not. The ribbon tied around someone else is an engagement promise." Jiang Fengmian helpfully answered, making Wei Wuxian's grimace. He'd have to apologise to Lan Wangji for taking it. "Are you sure, Wei Ying? You are still young. You could fall in love with a... better looking girl.”

Wei Wuxian choked up on his own saliva at the awkwardness of his adoptive father who – if not outwardly against him being in a cut-sleeve relationship – wasn't opposing it with the strength another less open-minded father could. What surprised Wei Wuxian was the fact that Lan Qiren didn't seem to oppose it either. Even if he looked bitter to death.

“I'm sure, I'm sure!” he sang. “Lan Zhan is the better-looking girl around anyway.”

He shared a look with his lover. The twinkle in his eyes made Wei Wuxian's meaning clear for his lover.

“Ah, Lan Zhan! You're wrapping it too tight, it hurt!”

“Mn,” Lan Wangji hummed, loosening his last wrap.

Wei Wuxian observed him carefully adjusting the fabric so it'd be visible from his wrist to his elbow.

“Don't take it off,” Lan Wangji murmured between the both of them.

“Good!” Lan Qiren exclaimed. “We will send someone to discuss the date for the wedding."

Jiang Fengmian lifted an unconcerned brow, “Till the Yunmengjiang sect is in charge of the food, I won't be difficult.” He muttered to himself. “I can't stand the Gusulan sect's food.”

“I agree!” Wei Wuxian shouted, lifting his white-clad arm.

Jiang Fengmian sighed, “We must choose a chaperone, Lan Qiren.”

“Well, then I propose, my-”

Jiang Fengmian cut him, “Lan Shuyin. This young lady seems perfect.”

All the head turned toward Lan Shuyin, smiling innocently. She joined her hands and bowed.

“I will do so, sect leader Jiang Fengmian.”

“My daughter?” Lan Qiren choked on his words. “This is-”

“A good idea. Isn't it, father? I am discreet and will not bother them, but can stop any improper conduct,” she said sweetly. “Do you doubt it?”

Lan Qiren seemed to combust on the spot. He rasped out a little, “No.”

“Perfect!” Jiang Fengmian said, clapping his hands together. “Let's go now, disciples. I think you know where the Yungmengjiang sect's quarters are set for the following week, Wei Ying?”

Wei Wuxian nodded with vigour, not believing his luck. He had been sure Lan Qiren would be their chaperone and if making him die from apoplexy seemed fun, having him breathing on his neck anytime he stood near Lan Zhan wouldn't have been as fun. He glanced at the quiet Lady Lan, she winked at him.

Lan Qiren groaned but left the three Lan plus Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng together. Jiang Cheng shuffled on the spot, his face set on a grimace before he came near Wei Wuxian and tapped his back a few times.

“Felicitation for your engagement,” he said grungily before sending a glare to Lan Wangji. “Be careful. Don't make something that I could make you regret.”

Lan Wangji nodded as Wei Wuxian snorted at the badly hidden threat. He waved at his brother in heart when he left him with three Lan. The best in the batch Wei Wuxian thought.

“You talked to sect leader Jiang Fengmian, isn't it dear cousin?” Lan Xichen asked.

Wei Wuxian observed them, curious to see an interaction between Lan Wangji's brother and the cousin he knew almost nothing about. Except that she had accompanied them when they were cross-dressing when acted like a little mistress.

He tugged on the – his – ribbon only to be stopped by Lan Wangji's hand that fit in his perfectly well., warm and solid.

“I did,” she answered, glowing as she put her hands on her hips. “Apparently my 'Lady Lan' persona is sect leader approved! Who do you thanks now, boys?”

“Thank you, cousin,” Lan Wangji said without any hesitation.

“Be glad there's a mastermind ready to bent the rules in this family.”

“Bend the rules?” Lan Xichen said teasingly. “I do feel like you are shattering them.”

Lan Shuyin smile got bigger, “It's not my fault the sect's rules can't stand me.”

Wei Wuxian chuckled but laughed out loud when Lan Wangji added, “A true force of nature.”

“Uncle Lan Qiren will be mad, though,” Lan Xichen added.

She waved it off, “What will he do? Add another rule? It'll help me get to the hundred all in my name then. Or lecture me? I can meditate as he does so now.”

“I like her,” Wei Wuxian whispered to his fiance.

“I do like you too!” she exclaimed, beaming at him. Then she took a hold of Lan Xichen's arm, making him do a confused face, and walked off. “Let's find you someone you'd like.”

“Wait, you're their chaperone. You need to chaperone them!” Lan Xichen exclaimed.

Lan Shuyin stopped, send an innocent look at her cousin and said, “But I am. If the whole lot of you keep your mouths shut. Now, dear Lan Huan, we'll leave the lovebirds to themselves and find you a lover.”

“Lan Shuyin!” Lan Xichen exclaimed more strongly, nearing his limit at his cousin's break of rules. “We cannot!”

“What are you afraid of? One of them getting the other pregnant?” she said, genuinely baffled by Lan Xichen respect to this particular rule. “Let me tell you, the spell for two boys to get a baby is arduous and take months. To get one they'd need to find me.”

“What?” Wei Wuxian said, glancing from Lan Zhan to his cousin. “Two men can have babies? Is she mad, Lan Zhan?”

“Mn,” he nodded.

“Ah! If only you read books from long-lost sect rather than just the one from yours!” Lan Shuyin exclaimed. “Come find me when it interests you! Good night lovebirds!”

She dragged a confused Lan Xichen away who asked with a small voice Wei Wuxian almost didn't catch, “Are you messing with us?”

Wei Wuxian could almost see her smile in her words as she said, “Please, I know both of your preference. And mine. I needed a mean to save the Lan's name.”

“Still, we cannot let them-”

“Do you want them to spent time together, brother?” Lan Wangji asked, his eyes meeting his brother before going from Wei Wuxian to Lan Shuyin.

Wei Wuxian looked back and forth between the two brothers when Lan Xichen sent Lan Wangji a look of pure horror. He blinked when the corridor was empty anew except for him and Lan Zhan. Lan Xichen had suddenly held onto his cousin and left without more opposition at letting Wei Wuxian alone with his Lan Wangji. The other looked deep in thought, his eyes set on where his siblings had left.

"Are you stopping me from spending time with your cousin?" 

"Ridiculous," Lan Wangji declared before turning to him and asking, “Shall we?”

“Shall we what?”

Lan Wangji hummed then bend down. His lips grazed Wei Wuxian in an almost kiss. Wei Wuxian went on his tiptoes to follow him when he straightened. The mischievous glint in Lan Wangji's eyes wasn't lost to him. Wei Wuxian laughed, his body buzzing with eagerness.