"Hey Lan Zhan."
"Lan Zhan, are there still rabbits here?"
Lan WangJi finally looks up at him. "Yes," he says. His voice is blank as ever, but his eyebrows draw microscopically closer together.
Wei WuXian grins across the table at him, slumping forward to tug at his hair. "Will you introduce them to me? I want cute bunny friends."
Lan Wangji's eyebrows move again, so that he's almost making a normal human expression of concern. "They're rabbits," he says unhelpfully. "Introducing you wouldn't make them like you any more."
"They like you," Wei WuXian points out.
"Right," Lan WangJi agrees. "It's not that they don't like you because they don't know you. It's that you annoy them."
Wei WuXian clutches his heart. "Lan Zhan!! Ouch!! Me, annoying??"
Lan WangJi sips his tea and doesn't say anything. Wei WuXian pouts at him. "Okay," he tries, "well, what do I do that annoys them?"
Ordinarily Lan WangJi has, just, stupid good posture, even when he's sitting down, but evidently his aversion to slumping is overruled by his desire to make condescending eye contact with Wei WuXian. He props one elbow on the table and leans his head on his hand. "You're very... loud," he decides.
"Oh," Wei WuXian says. "That's an easy fix, I can just whisper—"
"No, your whole body is loud," Lan WangJi says. He makes a kind of fluttering gesture with his hand. "All your energy is put into movement. It's overwhelming for them."
"Hm," Wei WuXian says. "I can sit still. … But I see them playing with each other all the time."
"You're a lot bigger than they are," Lan WangJi says. "If you aren't careful, you aren't playing. You're just a huge monster harassing them."
"Oh." Wei WuXian grimaces. "I don't want that at all."
Lan WangJi looks at him consideringly. "I know," he says. "But it's still true."
"Don't make this deep," Wei WuXian warns him. Lan WangJi raises his eyebrows. "No metaphors before 10am. It's one of the lesser-known Sect rules."
Lan WangJi actually snorts. Wei WuXian grins at him, feeling accomplished. Every once in a while he gets Lan WangJi to admit to actually having a sense of humor, and it feels like a triumph every time.
Lan Wangji stands up, turning away. "Go get dressed," he says. "It's almost seven."
Wei WuXian stands too, popping his joints in wordless protest. "So?"
"The rabbits aren't as fearful in the early morning," Lan WangJi says, already disappearing into his bedroom.
Wei WuXian stares after him. Then he pumps his fist in celebration and hisses, "Yessss."
Half an hour later Wei WuXian finds himself trotting down the grassy hill after Lan WangJi. The morning air is fresh and chilly, and mist curls in an almost-friendly way around their legs as they walk. Lan WangJi comes to a halt near a swell of earth and sits down gracefully, gesturing for Wei WuXian to do the same.
"Is this where the bunnies live?" Wei WuXian whispers. Lan WangJi nods. Then he produces a bundle of turnip greens from his sleeve and hands it to Wei WuXian.
"Wow," Wei WuXian says. "Thanks, Lan Zhan. Really. It's so thoughtful of you. But I already ate."
Lan WangJi looks pained. "It's for the rabbits," he says.
"OH," Wei WuXian says. Lan WangJi has that look on his face that he gets when he's trying hard not to have any look on his face at all. Wei WuXian congratulates himself again silently.
Then Lan WangJi whistles quietly, four short notes, and after a moment sounds of soft movement are audible, and a moment after that the first rabbit hops out of an almost-invisible hole in the hill. It looks around, nose twitching expressively. Wei WuXian grabs Lan WangJi's sleeve in glee.
"Look at it!!" he wheezes. "It's so cute!!"
"I see it," Lan WangJi says placidly.
"How do I make it be my friend??" Wei WuXian demands.
"Sit still," Lan WangJi tells him. "Let her come to you. Don't try to reach out to her."
Wei WuXian is practically vibrating with the desire to reach out to the bunny, obviously. It's small and cute and it looks really soft. He laces his fingers tightly around the turnip greens in his lap instead and watches the rabbit take little investigative hops around them. It approaches Lan WangJi first, and he offers his hand for it to sniff. It bops his knuckles with its head and he extends two fingers to pet its head gently.
"Cute," Wei WuXian breathes. "So cute…"
"Offer her one of the turnip greens," Lan WangJi suggests quietly. "Just hold it out in her direction."
Wei WuXian complies, and after a moment of sniffing the rabbit hops over and starts nibbling on the leaves. Wei WuXian tries very hard not to lose his absolute shit. "Lan Zhan," he whispers. "Lan Zhan, are we friends now??"
"I honestly thought we'd been friends for a while now," Lan WangJi says. Wei WuXian makes a sound like steam escaping a hot kettle.
"You!!" he hisses. "You really just go around letting people think you're not funny!!"
Lan WangJi shrugs, narrowing his pretty eyes in his version of a smile. "You're almost friends," he says, instead of addressing the fact that he's actually a very funny person. "Be patient, Wei Ying."
"Hmm," Wei WuXian says. "Just let me know when I get to touch her little ears."
"Mm," Lan WangJi says. The rabbit finishes eating the first turnip green and starts sniffing inquisitively at Wei WuXian's hand, so he pulls back gently to fish another green out of the bundle. The rabbit hops towards his knees. He shoots Lan WangJi a Look.
"We're friends now," he decides, offering the fresh leaves to the rabbit.
"Hold your other hand out to her," Lan WangJi says. "You have to let her know what you're doing — she has to see you the whole time." Wei WuXian shows the rabbit his hand, two fingers extended like Lan WangJi. The rabbit doesn't seem to react. "Try petting her head. Gently."
He very carefully pets the rabbit's forehead. The rabbit flinches at first, but keeps eating the turnip greens, so he does it again. "Hi," he says to her. "I'm your best friend now."
"Hm," Lan WangJi says.
In the end Wei WuXian ends up making friends with another four rabbits, for a total of six friends. He stopped chattering at Lan WangJi after a while because Rabbit #2 was skittish about noise and he didn't want to scare it off, so they spend most of the morning in relative silence. Plus, he ran out of turnip greens after Rabbit #3, and then he had to work harder to get them to like him. By the time lunchtime rolls around, Wei WuXian is in a semi-meditative state; Rabbit #2 is on his lap and he's been picking grass and feeding it to her blade by blade. It's honestly pretty calming.
Also, he's leaning against Lan WangJi's back, which is its own kind of calming. Lan WangJi is reading something; every once in a while he shifts minutely and Wei WuXian hears a page turn. He leans back and tilts his head to rest on Lan WangJi's shoulder. To his surprise, Lan WangJi tilts his head a little in return, like you might when you're hugging someone. Wei WuXian sighs contentedly. Lan WangJi makes a little inquisitive noise.
"I just like being like this," Wei WuXian says. He feeds Rabbit #2 another blade of grass. He doesn't really know how to put his contentment into words; or else he isn't sure he wants to, in case he jinxes it. He settles on, "I spent so much of the last couple years — I mean, my years, not your years — feeling like… like I was a spinning top with, like, a tea set balanced on me, and if I started slowing down for even a millisecond everything would be destroyed, and it would be all my fault."
Lan WangJi doesn't say anything, but he leans back a little, pressing their bodies closer. Wei WuXian closes his eyes and leans into him. "I was right," he says, and he hears Lan WangJi close his book. Wei WuXian continues, "Anyway. Now I get to be still."
"Wei Ying," Lan WangJi says.
"Lan Zhan," Wei WuXian says.
"I—" Lan WangJi starts, but he's interrupted by shouts. Both of them startle a little, and Wei WuXian opens his eyes. His movements disturb Rabbit #2, which leaps off his lap and hops away.
"Aww, bunny," Wei WuXian whines in disappointment. He looks toward the shouters and sees it's Lan SiZhui and his crew of juniors, who seem to have spotted the pair of them and are cheerfully waving. He waves back. "Eh, Lan Zhan, we have more friends!"
Lan WangJi leans forward again away from him, and Wei WuXian falls backward a little before he catches himself. The two of them stand up to greet the kids, who seem to be in a cheerfully rowdy mood. They greet Lan WangJi and Wei WuXian in a disorganized chorus of "good morning"s and "good afternoon"s.
Wei WuXian squints at the sun's position in the sky. "Good morning," he decides, "it's still morning officially. What are you hooligans up to?"
"Torturing me," moans Lan JingYi. "Senior Mo, make them stop!"
"Eh!" Wei WuXian says. "What—"
"We're not!" Lan SiZhui pipes up. "We're giving helpful advice!"
"I see," Wei WuXian says. "About what?"
The kids look gleefully at each other, except Lan JingYi, who just kind of looks like he wants to die. "Romance," one of the younger kids says. "JingYi has a crush."
"Oh ho," Wei WuXian says, crossing his arms and grinning. "Is that so!"
"It's nothing!" Lan JingYi says quickly. "They're full of it!"
Lan SiZhui looks at Wei WuXian and Lan WangJi speculatively. "You guys are adults," he says. "And you're — the way that you are. Do you have any advice?"
"I'm sure I have no idea what you mean," Wei WuXian says. Lan WangJi makes an amused sound. "But yes. Obviously. I have opinions about every possible situation you could ever find yourself in. And you know HanGuang-Jun knows everything." Lan WangJi coughs.
"Excellent," the younger kid who snitched on Lan JingYi says.
"But," Wei WuXian continues, "our advice isn't free!"
"Awwww," the kids whine. Lan SiZhui mock-scowls. "Name your price," he says.
Wei WuXian looks at Lan WangJi, who looks back at him blankly. "Bring us lunch," he decides. "We can have a picnic while I bestow my great wisdom upon you."
Even Lan JingYi perks up at that. "Okay," Lan SiZhui agrees. "You like spicy, right?"
"Right," Wei WuXian says. "Good luck finding spicy in the Cloud Recesses."
"I have my ways," Lan SiZhui says mysteriously. "HanGuang-Jun, you like normal, right?"
Lan WangJi makes the repression face again. "Yes," he says, completely without inflection.
"Cool," Lan SiZhui says. "Okay, we'll be back in a minute for your wisdoms." He turns to leave, herding the other juniors. Wei WuXian snickers at their receding backs.
"Wei Ying," Lan WangJi says, "I have absolutely no advice to offer them."
"Eh!" Wei WuXian says. "You don't need to have courting experience to say things like 'ask them questions.'"
"Ask them questions?" Lan WangJi echoes, turning to look at him. "That's your courting advice?"
"Sure," Wei WuXian says. "Everyone likes talking about themselves." Lan WangJi narrows one eye skeptically. "Or, okay, everyone likes to feel like they're interesting. Even if they're made entirely of jade like Lan Zhan." He pats Lan WangJi's shoulder. Lan WangJi frowns at him.
"Have you ever courted someone?" he asks.
"No," Wei WuXian says. "I was too busy goofing off. And then — well. Then."
"Mm," Lan WangJi says.
"You haven't either, right? So you're not allowed to judge me," Wei WuXian teases him.
"No, I was too busy being made of jade," Lan WangJi tells him.
Wei WuXian snorts. "Girls must have tried their luck with you, though, right? Number two eligible bachelor after all this time…"
"No," Lan WangJi says. "Not seriously, anyway."
"Really?" Wei WuXian asks, genuinely surprised. "But you're so… you."
"Yes," Lan WangJi says. "I'm made to understand that's the problem."
Wei WuXian frowns at him. "Stupid," he says. Lan WangJi raises his eyebrows at him. "They don't know what they're missing. Well, I'm glad you don't have a wife. Means you can hang out with me all day." He tugs on Lan WangJi's hair and grins at him. Lan WangJi's eyebrows raise higher.
Wei WuXian wants to kiss him.
He gives Lan WangJi's hair one last tug and turns away. "And anyway," he says, looking at the grass, "your rabbits would get lonely."
"I don't think—"
"Senior Mo! HanGuang-Jun! We have lunch!"
Wei WuXian twirls around eagerly. "No shouting in the Cloud Recesses," he chirps at Lan SiZhui, who shrugs in apology as the kids approach again.
There's a flurry of activity as food is distributed and seating arrangements are made, disagreed upon, and remade. Ah, the politics of youth. Wei WuXian doesn't care where he is as long as he has a clear eyeline to watch Lan WangJi's microexpressions, since evidently he's the only one who appreciates them. He ends up sitting between Lan SiZhui and Lan JingYi's whistleblower friend.
"So," Wei WuXian says once everyone's settled. "I believe I was promised spice? Here in these Cloud Recesses, where anything more intense than black pepper is spat upon and turned away at the door?"
The kids snicker. Lan SiZhui hands him a bowl of bright red-orange noodles. "Your spicy, sir," he says cheerfully.
Wei WuXian sniffs it and his eyes immediately start watering. "Oh, you're my new favorite person," he tells Lan SiZhui. "Sorry Lan Zhan."
"I thought the rabbits were your best friends," Lan WangJi says mildly.
"They're all tied," Wei WuXian decides. "Anyway, they're my best friends. You were my favorite person. There's a difference. No matter now, you've been eclipsed. Hey, SiZhui, I'm your dad now."
Lan SiZhui laughs with pleased embarrassment. "Ahah, I figured it was going to happen someday," he says. Wei WuXian isn't sure what he means by that. "It's good?"
Wei WuXian shovels some noodles into his mouth. "It's good," he says as his nose starts to run. Lan WangJi shakes his head.
"So what's your advice??" Snitch asks.
"Patience, child," Wei WuXian says. "First I eat the first good food I've ever consumed on this mountain. Then I dispense the advice."
"It's fine," Lan JingYi says quickly. "Take your time. Or if you want to keep it to yourself that's fine too."
Wei WuXian snorts at him. The other kids howl in protest. "Eh, what about HanGuang-Jun? Do you have any thoughts on courting?" one girl asks.
Lan WangJi looks at Wei WuXian and raises his eyebrows. "I hear asking them about themselves is a good start," he says, because in addition to being secretly funny he's also secretly a huge bastard. There goes Wei WuXian's one real idea.
"Really?" Snitch says doubtfully.
"Yes," Lan WangJi says. "People like to feel interesting." Wei WuXian is going to kick him as soon as they're not eating.
"Hmm," Snitch says. "I guess that makes sense."
"Have you ever been in love, HanGuang-Jun?" another of the kids asks. Wei WuXian tries not to choke on his noodles. No subtlety, that one. He prepares himself for a couple seconds of awkward silence as Lan WangJi tries to figure out how to say "no" and not sound like a loser.
But Lan WangJi says, "Yes."
It takes Wei WuXian a second to process that. Then he really does choke on his noodles. "What?" he wheezes. "What, really?"
Lan SiZhui and Lan JingYi look at him strangely. Probably they're concerned about the choking.
"Yes," Lan WangJi says again.
"I didn't know that," Wei WuXian tells him.
"Really?" Lan JingYi asks. "Wow."
"Eh! He doesn't tell me everything," Wei WuXian protests. "Lan Zhan, who — when?? Where are they now, why aren't they here?"
Lan WangJi doesn't meet his eyes. "They died a long time ago," he says.
That shuts him up. It shuts the kids up too. "I'm sorry," Wei WuXian says after a long moment. "I didn't know."
Lan JingYi rallies. "Whose ass are we kicking? Eh! If whoever's responsible is still on this earth, we'll kick their ass from here to hell!" He punches his open palm to emphasize the point.
"Ah, I'm afraid you can't do that," Lan WangJi says. He still won't meet Wei WuXian's eyes.
"Whose fault is it!" Lan JingYi demands.
"JingYi," Lan WangJi warns him.
"It was the YiLing Patriarch," Wei WuXian guesses, feeling his whole body go cold. Lan WangJi finally looks at him. "It was Wei WuXian's fault, wasn't it."
The kids suck in breaths. Lan WangJi holds his gaze and nods minutely. "His, and mine," he agrees quietly. Wei WuXian can feel his heartbeat throughout his whole stolen body. It beats out a rhythm just for him: guilty. Guilty. Guilty.
"I'm sorry," he says again.
"It wasn't intentional," Lan WangJi tells him, more kindness than he deserves.
"But it was still his fault," Wei WuXian says. Lan WangJi nods again. Wei WuXian wants the earth to devour him.
"Who was it?" he asks. He has to know. He has to know. He owes it to Lan Zhan to know the person's name. "Would I know their name?" Lan WangJi wides his eyes just a tiny bit in warning. Wei WuXian ignores it. He tries to think of people Lan WangJi would have known. Of course his first thought — as it is so often — is, "Jiang YanLi?"
"No," Lan WangJi says, something Wei WuXian can't identify in his tone. "XuanYu—"
"No — What? She isn't dead."
"Oh. That's good. Wen Qing?"
The kids gasp at the idea of someone good falling in love with a Wen. Lan WangJi says, "No. XuanYu, stop."
Wei WuXian wants to say, That's not my name! But he can't, so he bites his tongue.
"I know who it was," Lan SiZhui says slowly. Wei WuXian looks at him, curious. "It was Wei WuXian, right?"
Wei WuXian deflates. "SiZhui, don't play," he chastises. "I'm serious here."
"So am I," Lan SiZhui says defensively. To Lan WangJi, he insists, "I'm right, aren't I? Back then — you were so sad all the time. I remember."
This time it's Wei WuXian who can't meet his gaze. He stares resolutely at the ground so he can't see whatever Lan WangJi's nonverbal reaction to that horseshit is. He exhales through his teeth. "Don't be foolish," he says. "Anyone'd have to be out of their fucking mind to be in love with that guy back then."
"I'm sorry to hear you say that," Lan WangJi says.
Wei WuXian looks up at him, feeling so wound up with guilt and discomfort that he's close to snarling. "If Wei WuXian from back then were to magically appear in front of us right now, I'd kill him on the spot," he tells him harshly.
"That's too bad," Lan WangJi says, his head tilted thoughtfully. "If Wei WuXian were in front of us right now, I'd still be in love with him."
All the tension leaves Wei WuXian's body at once. He has no fucking clue what to say to that.
".................... Well," Lan JingYi says at last, slapping his knees as he stands up. "This got weird. Thanks, SiZhui, this was a great idea."
Lan SiZhui scrambles to his feet too, followed by the rest of the juniors. "Yep," he agrees. "Yeah, yes, it did. Sorry JingYi. C'mon, guys. Let's go away so the grownups can have a grownup discussion where we aren't present. Bye HanGuang-Jun, bye Senior Mo."
"Have a good afternoon," Lan WangJi says as the kids grab their food and scramble away. He doesn't drop eye contact with Wei WuXian. "Thank you for lunch."
"Smell ya later," Wei WuXian calls. After a second, he adds, "No running in the Cloud Recesses!" They ignore him.
He looks at Lan WangJi, who looks back at him.
"You aren't fucking with me, right," Wei WuXian says, just to check.
"No," Lan WangJi says. "I'm not."
"That exchange probably seemed, like, so incredibly cruel to them," Wei WuXian realizes with horror. "I bet they think I'm a huge jerk now."
"You are a huge jerk," Lan WangJi tells him, his mouth curving a little.
"But you love me," Wei WuXian says cautiously.
"And I love you," Lan WangJi confirms. "Wei WuXian. Wei Ying. I'm in love with you. I've been in love with you this whole time." When Wei WuXian doesn't say anything, he says, "You don't need to do anything about it. It's just true."
Wei WuXian clutches his head in his hands. "Stupid," he mutters to himself. "Stupid, stupid. You're so stupid."
"Mm," Lan WangJi says.
"Of course I have to do something about it, you dumb repressed bastard," Wei WuXian tells him. Lan WangJi raises his eyebrows at him. He clarifies, "I have to make out with you about it."
Lan WangJi actually smiles. He's so fucking pretty. Wei WuXian scuffles across the grass to sit next to him, so they're facing each other. "You're so fucking pretty," he tells Lan WangJi seriously, because it's true. He raises his hands slowly, places his hands on either side of Lan WangJi's face. He sweeps his thumbs along his cheekbones. Lan WangJi turns his face into Wei WuXian's palm and breathes, his eyes fluttering shut.
"Hey," Wei WuXian says quietly. Lan WangJi looks up at him. "Hey," he says again.
"Mm," Lan WangJi hums.
"I love you," Wei WuXian tells him. "I love you. I'm sorry I died."
Lan WangJi kisses his palm, then he raises his own hands to grasp Wei WuXian's wrists lightly. He slips his hand up to hold Wei WuXian's hand that he kissed, threading their fingers together. He presses a kiss to Wei WuXian's wrist. "I forgive you," he says. "I'm sorry I couldn't stop you."
"I forgive you," Wei WuXian echoes. He feels breathless. Lan WangJi kisses his wrist again. "Hey can I — I love what you're doing here but can I kiss you for real?"
Lan WangJi places Wei WuXian's hands on his own shoulders and leans forward to place his elbows on Wei WuXian's shoulders. "Yes," he says, so quietly, his face so close that Wei WuXian actually can't look at his mouth.
Wei WuXian kisses him.