The day before they all traveled away from Phoenix Mountain, Lan Wangji was surprised to find the heir of LanlingJin approach him with a miraculous mixture of arrogance and hesitance.
“If I wanted to court maiden Jiang, I should get along with Wei Wuxian, don’t you think?” It wasn’t a question meant to be answered, because he continued on, “Jiang Wanyin has his own apprehensions about me, but he mostly keeps them to himself. Wei Wuxian, on the other hand… well, he did punch me on the face that one time.”
“I’m aware,” replied Lan Wangji. He was there, after all. It was because of that punch that Wei Wuxian’s stay at the Cloud Recesses was cut short. “What I don’t understand is my part in this.”
“You get along with him, correct?”
That was… a first. He thought the common impression about him and Wei Wuxian’s relationship was that they, in fact, did not get along at all. For a moment, Lan Wangji was speechless before he finally managed to say, “I don’t know.”
“Well, you’re my only choice. I can’t enlist Jiang Wanyin or maiden Jiang’s help with this for obvious reasons.” With a plea, Jin Zixuan finished, “Please, do me this one favor.”
Unable to refuse, Lan Wangji nodded his acceptance, and Jin Zixuan broke into a relieved grin.
Wei Wuxian seemed surprised when Lan Wangji asked him for a moment to talk, even more so when he revealed the reason. Frankly, he appeared to be on the verge of laughing.
“So, Jin Zixuan wants to get along with me...”
Lan Wangji nodded.
“And sent you as the middle-man…”
Lan Wangji nodded.
“Because he thinks we get along?”
Lan Wangji nodded, a little at loss himself.
The amusement was gone in an instant, replaced by consideration. “I suppose he’s closer to the truth than the common idea people have on us. At least, I don’t hate you…”
“Neither do I,” Lan Wangji returned, confused when Wei Wuxian’s eyes widened with surprise, so much so that he repeated, slower, softer, “I don’t hate you, Wei Ying…” What he felt was the exact and complete opposite, and to a degree that stayed true to the Lan name.
“You… don’t? But I thought…” Quickly, he changed the subject, “How about this: tell Jin Zixuan to come to YunmengJiang camp tonight and have a drink with me.”
At that, Wei Wuxian grinned in a way Lan Wangji never tired of seeing, bringing attention to those lips he stole a kiss from – making both want and guilt burn to ashes in his heart. “You know what a man is made of when you have a drink together, Lan Zhan! It’s the perfect test…! And oh, you can come with him too, I managed to get your Gusu’s Emperor’s Smile from another camp.”
Lan Wangji was doubtful, but he didn’t express any of his thoughts. “Thank you, but I don’t drink. I’ll inform Jin Zixuan of your reply.” With that, he bid Wei Wuxian his farewell.
“You just told him everything I said?!”
“Yes?” Was there a problem with what he did?
“You… you can’t just do that! Now he’ll think I want to get along with him to court maiden Jiang!”
“Isn’t that exactly what you’re aiming for?”
“Yes, but you should’ve been more subtle…!”
Subtle? Subtle? “Apologies, I merely followed your example.”
“What do you me—oh…” a little flustered, Jin Zixuan rubbed the back of his neck, face reddening. “You were there?”
“Yes.” Jin Zixuan’s rather public confession had a wide audience. He himself had a front seat.
A few moments passed in total silence, before Jin Zixuan cleared his throat and said, “Alright, I’ll visit YunmengJiang camp…”
“Why are you dragging me with you?” asked Lan Wangji, his neutral expression betraying nothing of the irritation he felt upon being woken up an hour after he went to bed.
“You’re my middle-man, aren’t you? You’ll be there to ease the air.”
Ease the air? Him?
Lan Wangji couldn’t understand Jin Zixuan at all.
When they did arrive at YunmengJiang’s camp, they found Wei Wuxian waiting for them. He grinned in greeting at him, ignoring Jin Zixuan by his side, “So you came…”
“Mn,” he answered.
The curve of that grin flattened when Wei Wuxian directed his gaze at Jin Zixuan. Curtly, he greeted, “Peacock…”
“Wei Wuxian…” Jin Zixuan returned the favor, barely containing his fury.
Wei Wuxian turned his back on them and walked into the camp, gesturing for them with a move of hand to follow.
“Maiden Jiang is so lovely, so wonderful,” Jin Zixuan dreamily and drunkenly sighed, taking a gulp from his fourth jar.
“That’s the truest thing you ever said, Peacock!” agreed Wei Wuxian, hardly drunk despite being on his fourth jar as well.
Between them sat Lan Wangji, nursing a cup of tea, holding back from falling asleep in his seat.
Jin Zixuan slung an arm over his shoulders, exclaiming with a half-coherent cheer, “Lan Wangji, you’re so much nicer than what people say! A real good guy, you know? When I marry maiden Jiang, I’ll definitely send you an invitation!”
“Aren’t you getting ahead of yourself there, Peacock? I’m right here…” Wei Wuxian drawled, irritation lacing his voice as he continued, “And stop sticking so close to Lan Zhan, you’re making him uncomfortable…!”
Jin Zixuan ignored him, still on his drivel, “If you ever fell for a maiden and needed some help, you can ask me for anything. That is, if you haven’t fell for one already. Are you in love, Lan Wangji?”
“Yes…” he answered, tiredly taking a sip from his tea. A few moments too long after, he noticed the sudden silence around him.
“You are?” slurred Jin Zixuan, in the same breath that Wei Wuxian breathed out a sharp, “What?”
Realizing that he said something he absolutely shouldn’t have, Lan Wangji quickly dismissed himself.
“Are you hiding from Young Master Jin?”
In the distance, Jin Zixuan stood out in the GusuLan camp, like a bright, yellow sore thumb. His brother’s questioning had him pause enough for Jin Zixuan to notice him.
“Lan Wangji, Zewu-Jun…” he greeted, turning to Lan Wangji and asking, “I apologize for disturbing the preparations for your departure, but could I have a moment in private?”
Before Lan Wangji could refuse, his brother answered for him with his ever-pleasant smile, “Of course…!” before leaving him alone with Jin Zixuan.
“So… Hanguang-Jun is in love.” It appeared that despite his many, many wishes, Jin Zixuan wasn’t the sort of person that forgot what happened during a drunken episode. “Tell me who and I will help you with anything, just like I promised.”
“Oh, you’re already courting her?”
“Then you approached her with your intentions?”
“Does she know…?”
“Do you intend on telling her?”
“Shouldn’t you focus on getting along with Wei Wuxian?” Lan Wangji asked.
He didn’t want to decipher the look in Jin Zixuan’s eyes upon understanding the hidden ‘No’ in his abrupt change of subject. At least Jin Zixuan was courteous enough to allow him this, answering, “About that, it seems I’m heading to a good start. After you left we discussed arrangements for me to visit Lotus Pier, although Wei Wuxian did seem a little distracted...”
“Good luck,” he said, sincere. Despite his arrogance and awkward way with announcing his romantic intentions, it seemed that Jin Zixuan did love maiden Jiang earnestly, and judging from her reaction upon hearing his confession, it seemed that maiden Jiang didn’t mind his feelings at all – could, perhaps, return them as well.
“And good luck to you too,” replied Jin Zixuan, just as sincere.
Then the letters came. They weren’t many, only three.
The first one was sent from Koi Tower, a week after. In it Jin Zixuan detailed his plans for his upcoming trip to Lotus Pier, and then all what he hoped to achieve by the end of it. Lan Wangji didn’t know when, exactly, he became some sort of a confidant to the LanlingJin heir, but he wasn’t callous enough to let his letter go unanswered. So, Lan Wangji sent a letter in reply, much shorter but still sufficient according to his brother.
The second letter was sent from Lotus Pier. In it Jin Zixuan detailed the many trials Wei Wuxian put him under to gain his favor, from overly spicy meals to fetching the best lotus seed pods -- a process that was much harder than it seemed, apparently. He also waxed poetics about maiden Jiang and her everything, as he eloquently wrote. At the end of the letter, Jin Zixuan said that he seemed to be on his way to get along with Wei Wuxian, especially when he apologized for all his past misdeeds and cruel words. It seemed that his time in Lotus Pier changed his opinion about Wei Wuxian – had him try and befriend the man for its own sake rather than hoping to gain a leverage. It was a good development, Lan Wangji wrote along his reply to the letter.
The third latter was sent from Koi Tower again. In it Jin Zixuan told him about his proposal to maiden Jiang and her answering with a yes, about the grudging blessings both Wei Wuxian and Jiang Wanyin offered the couple. It would be a long while before the wedding ceremony would be held, Jin Zixuan wrote, but the idea itself had him buzz with an excitement that was evident even in written form. In reply, Lan Wangji wrote his congratulations.
“It’s awfully inspiring, don’t you think?” his brother mused, reading the letter after he was done with it, just like the two before. He looked at him meaningfully, as if waiting for a certain reply.
Lan Wangji didn’t give out any.
With a ‘thanks’, Wei Wuxian bid him goodbye, an aftermath of their conversations spiraling down to that one conflict that had them part on bitter terms – both during the war and after it.
Just as Lan Wangji was about to exit, however, Wei Wuxian’s voice stopped him, idyllic, curious, “You and Jin Zixuan… since when you became friends?”
He turned to look at him, brows furrowed. Were he and Jin Zixuan friends? He supposed the other saw him as that.
Not waiting for an answer, Wei Wuxian continued, his voice holding nothing but its usual teasing, but something about the glares he received from the ghostly maidens surrounding the man alerted him, “I have to say I’m envious of him. Not even a few months, and you two had gotten close enough to exchange letters…!”
“You could exchange letters with him, I’m sure he’d welcome it,” Lan Wangji suggested.
For a moment, Wei Wuxian was silent. He simply stared at him while the ghostly maidens’ glares increased in intensity. Finally, he asked, “And you? Would you welcome it?”
“What goes between you and Jin Zixuan is none of my concern,” he replied serenely. He’d welcome it, even. It was one less interaction that fed into the resentment.
When he left, he took the peony that Wei Wuxian used to get his attention. Something to remember this by, perhaps…
It should say something about him, how his heartbeats sped up when an arm reached out to take the cup of wine Jin Zixun was coercing him to drink. However, that fluster soon gave into a heavy concern when Wei Wuxian stated the reason for invading this banquet, when he started exposing all the tender spots, when he started threatening to act.
Once he got the answer he sought, he left as furiously as he arrived.
(Something about seeing Wei Wuxian’s retreating back, something his brother said about the improving relationship between him and Jin Zixuan, something about him always remaining in his place, unmoving, unchanging…)
Lan Wangji barely felt it when he got up and followed.
It didn’t take much to catch up to Wei Wuxian, and immediately, he realized the oddity of that fact.
Both Wei Wuxian and the lady he recognized to be the renowned Wen Qing were traveling by her sword, despite Wen Qing appearing to be in a much worse state than Wei Wuxian, something that went against everything Lan Wangji knew about him.
But this wasn’t the proper time to ask.
“Lan Zhan…?” Wei Wuxian questioned, that rage in his eyes replaced by complete surprise, so much so that he didn’t say anything when Lan Wangji reached to support both him and Wen Qing on Bichen.
“You might need your energy later on,” he only replied, directing his words to Wen Qing, who didn’t seem to be hearing him.
“Why are you here?” Wei Wuxian asked again.
“It’s faster to travel this way…”
“That’s not I mean and yo—“
“Wait for me!” came from behind them, loud and close.
It was Jin Zixuan on his sword. Jin Zixuan whose presence even surprised Lan Wangji. “If it concerns my Sect, I think my presence would be useful.”
Wei Wuxian looked between them, confused, before he shook his head and sighed. “Let’s go, then...”
Upon reaching their destination, they were met by a hideous reflection of the Cultivation World’s ideals.
A work camp that contained the elderly and the unaware young. Beaten, branded bodies, alive and long dead.
Jin Zixuan’s presence was indeed useful to quickly reach the one Wen Qing frantically called out for, her brother Wen Ning. Despite their hesitance, the guards eventually caved in and guided them to where a young man was held captive. Wen Qing immediately went to his side, calling for him as she worked to heal him with trembling limbs. Lan Wangji took a place beside her and helped her with his energy. Surprised, she nodded in an acknowledged that he returned.
It was too close for comfort, but Wen Ning eventually breathed out a broken, “S-Sister…?” as Wen Qing embraced him in relief. It was familiar, this frantic worrying of an older sibling, the safety of knowing the other was alright.
Behind them, Jin Zixuan and Wei Wuxian furiously questioned the guards, alternating threats between informing superiors and raising the dead, until the culprits started to confess left and right.
In the end, Wei Wuxian took the horses in the camp and escaped with the Wen remnants, while he and Jin Zixuan stayed behind to bring the guards and this work camp to investigation.
Before he followed the rest, Wei Wuxian halted his horse in front of him, steadying the crying child he took from the shaky hold of an elderly lady, “Thank you, Lan Zhan…”
“There’s no need…” he replied. It was the right thing to do, the honest thing that they all appeared to have missed completely.
When he left, he asked Jin Zixuan, “Did you know?”
“No, I didn’t, believe me.” With disgust, he added on, tossing aside an iron brand that held the symbol his Sect, “I always knew Father thirsted after the power QishanWen held, but I never thought it would be to this extent…”
“Of course, the old bastard is more concerned about what I did than the fact they had people fucking branded with our symbol…!”
In the following days, Jin Zixuan made his feelings about his father rather obvious. His actions at the work camp were met with protests, but he still held on to his stance. “How do you fare on your end?”
“Once I told them about what I saw, Uncle and Brother seemed to have reconsidered…” What he saw in the work camp was an echo of QishanWen’s ways, and perhaps it was the memory of what they all lost in the fires that consumed the Cloud Recesses years ago that had them changing their minds, deciding against punishing him for interfering with another Sect’s affairs by himself.
But despite of this all, Lan Wangji knew it wasn’t him or Jin Zixuan that would pay the price the heaviest…
And as if to prove his words right, news broke out soon after:
Wei Wuxian was no longer part of the YunmengJiang Sect.
By choosing the Burial Mounds of Yiling as a place to settle, Wei Wuxian gained what would be the name everyone would know him as: the Yiling Patriarch.
The Cultivation World buzzed with many discussions and rumors regarding him. Everywhere he looked, there was a person making up some wild story about Wei Wuxian’s person.
It was inane, infuriating, and most of all, exhausting to hear constantly.
But all that exhaustion seemed to have dissipated when faced with Wei Wuxian, sitting across of him, pouting because the child he was taking care of chose to take a seat by Lan Wangji’s side, complaining that the child favored him merely because of the many toys Lan Wangji bought for him.
When he reminded him to keep his silence while eating, when the child echoed his words, the betrayed expression on Wei Wuxian’s face almost had him laugh.
It was good to see him like this.
“Shijie is going to marry soon,” he said, in cheer once they were finished with their meal. “She’s marrying the Peacock, but still. Are you attending?”
“Yes.” Jin Zixuan personally delivered his invitation, looking ready to attack him if he showed the slightest hesitance in accepting. It was mildly amusing.
“I’ll be attending as well, but Shijie doesn’t know.” His expression was pure schemes. “It’s going to be a surprise.”
“A disguise?” It was the only way he would be able to surprise anyone with his presence. If he were to attend as himself, it would be known the moment he crossed the borders.
Wei Wuxian hummed a ‘yes’, reaching over to steal one of the child’s – A-Yuan – toys. “I wonder if you’ll be able to recognize me.”
“I will,” he promised, stealing back the toy to hand it over A-Yuan.
“Oh, is that a challenge?”
“It’s the truth.” He’d recognize Wei Wuxian in anything, he liked to think. Perhaps even with another’s face.
He offered to take them back by his sword, making a point to not ask about Suiban. By now, he had his suspicions.
Wei Wuxian agreed, and A-Yuan seemed delighted at the mere prospect.
It was this visit that had him realize and understand, what path Wei Wuxian walked, what he protected.
Most importantly, he realized that Wei Wuxian’s heart never changed.
For some reason beyond him, Jin Zixuan shared the preparations of his wedding with him in his letters.
“What could I even reply with?” Lan Wangji muttered to himself, mystified.
It was a grand ceremony, Jin Zixuan and Jiang Yanli’s wedding, fit to the joining of two of the most prominent Sects.
“I still cannot believe it…” Jin Zixuan confided in him, the morning of that day. “It seems only yesterday when I was trying to reason out my feelings. To get them realized, acknowledged, returned…? It’s a blessing.”
He couldn’t relate, unfortunately. Still, he replied, “Indeed, it is…”
Awkwardly, Jin Zixuan patted his back, his tone kind, his advice disastrous: “I think you should follow my example, let it all out…”
There was no kind way to correct him. “You were indeed brave…”
“See? It works…!”
“Don’t be mistaken. I was embarrassed on your behalf and maiden Jiang, but it was still brave nonetheless.” To make himself a spectacle? It was bizarrely admirable.
Solemnly, Jin Zixuan promised, “One day, someone is going to confess to you the way I did. My vindication will be absolute.”
Lan Wangji simply stared at him, until Jin Zixuan felt a little embarrassed and went to pick on a tailor or something.
“There’s too much gold scattered around, it makes the scene quite dull,” one of the guests said beside him, purple robed and heavily masked, hair braided and voice purposefully gruff. “At least the young bride is absolutely lovely, while the groom leaves much to be desired. I’m sure a good-looking fellow such as yourself would agree.”
“Hello, Wei Ying…” Lan Wangji replied.
There was gasp, and then: “How did you know?” in a much more familiar and pleasant voice. He didn’t even make the effort of pretending to not know what he was talking about. How did he pass by Koi Tower’s gates?
Lan Wangji kept his silence. Counting the tells would be almost humiliating.
“You’re just too good…!” Wei Wuxian praised.
“I do have eyes,” Lan Wangji returned. “You talked with maiden Jiang?”
Wei Wuxian gave a nod. “But she managed to surprise me by visiting me in Yiling along with Jiang Cheng!” With a fond smile, he continued, “Should’ve guessed she’d do something like that…”
From the corner of his eye, he caught Jiang Wanyin looking in their direction with a cross between alarm and agitation. It wasn’t until Wei Wuxian gestured an assurance that he turned his sights away. “He’s the one who helped me get in. Gave me those fancy robes to mingle with the crowd properly.”
“I see…” He didn’t miss the significance of the particular color Jiang Wanyin picked out, the message it grudgingly told.
Lan Wangji did the bare minimum of socializing in an event such as this before he retreated to a secluded table. He wasn’t planning to attend the all-night banquet that would be held later on, only until Jin Zixuan and Jiang Yanli made their bows. But with Wei Wuxian’s arrival, he ended up staying longer.
“Do you ever think of getting married?” Wei Wuxian suddenly asked. It was good that he didn’t have anything in his mouth lest he choked on it in his startle.
“Not even to the one you love?”
Ah, so he remembered that little incident. “No point.”
“What does that even mean?”
“It’s nothing, Wei Ying. Do not trouble yourself with me.” He got up to leave. It was getting too late and the ceremony ended a little while ago. There was no point in staying longer.
Too caught up in his thoughts, he didn’t realize he was being followed until he heard Wei Wuxian say quietly by his side, “Sorry, didn’t mean to pry.”
“You don’t need to apologize.”
“Well, I still will.” With a nudge of his elbow, he offered, “How about I treat you to a meal as a proper apology next time you visit Yiling? And this time I’ll pay.”
With his track record so far, Lan Wangji had his doubts.
Still, it was an invitation, wasn’t it? It was a chance offered on a plate of gold.
He didn’t even think of refusing.
It initiated a rhythm, that single invitation. Sporadic visits, short in time but precious in memory, until he his presence became expected, welcomed.
It was a rhythm he found idyllic, peaceful, one he could get used to…
… but then came Jin Zixuan’s son’s month celebration.
Lan Wangji wasn’t there to witness the incident, only heard about it from Jin Zixuan immediately before the emergency Conference held to discuss it.
It was a common knowledge that Wei Wuxian was personally invited by Jin Zixuan to attend his son’s month celebration. With that common knowledge, however, came the schemes.
Jin Zixun, Jin Zixuan’s cousin, took a party of hundreds and attempted to ambush Wei Wuxian, only to be faced by a welcoming party led by Jin Zixuan and Jiang Wanyin, who escorted Wei Wuxian from Yiling.
(“Father didn’t make any protests about me inviting him, so I got suspicious,” Jin Zixuan told him when Lan Wangji arrived to Koi Tower and asked him for the details. “I asked A-Li to get her brother to accompany me to Yiling. When I saw Jin Zixun’s party, I knew I was in the right to suspect something.”)
Jin Zixun started making accusations, and Jin Zixuan asked for a public investigation. The situation quickly turned into a blow for LanlingJin’s Sect, especially when other Sects voiced out their indignation. Nie Mingjue, in particular, didn’t shy away from directly insulting Jin Guangshan. And the less spoken about Jiang Wanyin’s fury about the attack, the better.
Aside from YunmengJiang, Lan Wangji knew it wasn’t the fact that Wei Wuxian was attacked that infuriated the other Sects, but the reason for it. What would be the benefit of eliminating Wei Wuxian? His notes and resources, of course. Jin Guangshan didn’t make his lust for the Stygian Tiger Seal’s powers a secret. The prospect of him obtaining it didn’t sit well with any of them.
At least, the only good that came out of that ordeal was that Wei Wuxian was proven to be not responsible for Jin Zixun’s curse. And although he couldn’t get to the celebration, his gift for Jin Rulan managed to find its way to Koi Tower.
“I’m sorry…” he told him, when he visited Yiling.
“Don’t be, it wasn’t your fault...” Wei Wuxian looked… tired, almost apathetic as he let out a laugh. “Guess I forgot my place.”
“No,” Lan Wangji replied, looking Wei Wuxian in the eye, steady and resolute. “They forgot theirs.”
“You’re… mad?” he said, staring at him in wonder, fascinated. “Why?”
Shouldn’t it be obvious? “They wanted to hurt you.”
Wei Wuxian then laughed again, this time much warmer. “Careful now, I might start to imagine things.”
Lan Wangji frowned. “What things?”
“Nothing, nothing…” he waved off dismissively. “Now, tell me about your visit to Jin Ling. Did he have the bell? Did Peacock remember to give it to him…?”
His visits to Yiling continued as the world changed around him.
Some visits he spent listening to Wei Wuxian talking about Jiang Yanli’s visits to Yiling along with her son and husband, and some visits he spent listening to the man talk in general – whether it was about a new invention, or a plan to make the Burial Mounds more habitable. Sometimes, they discussed – all about the events and changes happening in the world, their differing and matching opinions.
Some visits he spent helping out with the radish field and assisting with the construction.
Some visits he spent with that child, Wen Yuan, giving him the toys he bought for him on the way, letting him play with the guqin, sometimes giving him a simple lesson. Both Wei Wuxian and Wen Qing informed him that he was spoiling the boy, but he conveniently chose to not listen.
Some visits he spent night hunting with Wei Wuxian and Wen Ning, who proved himself to be quite the formidable archer.
Some visits he spent assisting Wei Wuxian with arranging the destruction of the Stygian Tiger Seal, taking the necessary precautions to lessen the resulting backlash.
Some visits he spent idly, joining a meal or observing the slow change of the Burial Mounds, taking in the slow change in Wei Wuxian. He looked more settled into his place, in better health as the days passed.
And while his visits were frequent throughout the years, he never stayed the night.
“It’s late,” Wei Wuxian said this time, his hand gently placed above his own, stopping him in his tracks. “Why don’t you stay the night?”
The Demon Slaughtering Cave, as elaborately named by Wei Wuxian, was hardly the place a human could take residence in. How Wei Wuxian lived and slept in this place was still a source of confusion and concern for him.
Still, it was the only place available. Wei Wuxian gave him his sleeping mat, telling him that he would sleep on the – stony --- floor.
Lan Wangji was hardly amused.
Which was how it had come to this, how they came to share this single sleeping mat. Lan Wangji was starting to think staying the night was a mistake, now that he was acutely aware of the warmth of Wei Wuxian’s body against his own, the almost scalding feel of his breath against skin.
Just when he thought the other went to sleep, he heard him ask, uncharacteristically hesitant, “Do you still…?” leaving the rest unsaid.
Lan Wangji understood what he meant, answering, “Yes.”
“Lucky them…” Wei Wuxian murmured, his tone odd. “They must be incredible, to have you love them like this.”
“They are,” he agreed in earnest. He felt Wei Wuxian shift beside him. “Wei Ying…?”
He felt it then, like a lightning strike, like the start of breaking dam… a caress of a hand to the side of his face, a closer warmth, a gentle press of lips against his own.
In the darkness, Lan Wangji was too weak to hold himself from returning the gesture and giving more – taking more.
It felt like a dream, and for a moment he thought it was, until they parted a long while after, after they wore each other out, the feverish haze slowly calming down enough to regain coherence.
“I’m sorry…” Wei Wuxian said, and Lan Wangji froze up, let out a trembling breath, steeled himself, and relaxed, numb.
“Don’t be.” He didn’t give the other the chance to speak further, quickly redressing himself and leaving.
The thing was, he had grown attached to the Burial Mounds and its residents, and he supposed it went the opposite way as well. He didn’t want to stop his visits… so he wouldn’t.
Still, he thought he had time before his next visit to gather his wits, the scattered bits of his frantic thoughts, calm his aching heart, push back the memory of those maddening moments.
But he forgot a single detail, Jin Rulan’s fourth birthday, a celebration Jin Zixuan invited him to that was only a day away, one that Wei Wuxian would attend as well.
“I’m right here,” said Jin Zixuan, amused and a little irritated. Lan Wangji realized that he was barely looking at the man who pulled the effort to receive him at the gates, too distracted by his thoughts. “Say, do you know what happened to Wei Wuxian? He has been a mess ever since he arrived this morning.”
Lan Wangji let out a sharp breath. “He’s here?”
“Yes.” There was a contemplating look in Jin Zixuan’s eyes as he continued in a mutter, “How come I never noticed it until now? It’s so damn obvious…”
Jin Zixuan acted as if he never heard him, dragging him along. “Come on, A-Ling is waiting for his present!”
Compared to the standard the Jin family set out for generations, this celebration was a relatively small affair, with close family members and friends being exclusively invited. It caught Lan Wangji off guard to be considered in such a high esteem to be included among those.
He crossed paths with Wei Wuxian during the celebrations, and they exchanged short greetings. Even at the height of their conflict, they never shied away from addressing each other, never found themselves walking on eggshells like they were doing now.
His mind couldn’t help but return to that night, that ‘sorry’. Was it out of regret?
He knew he’d have to ask about it, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it so soon.
It was at the ends of the celebration that Wei Wuxian approached him, this time none with the awkwardness he showed before. He was carrying a squirming Jin Rulan in his arms, Jin Zixuan shouting behind him, “At least give me A-Ling before you run to talk to him, you idiot!”
What was goi—
“Is it true?” Wei Wuxian asked, the look in his eyes almost pleading. “The one you love… is it me?”
Stunned, Lan Wangji could barely begin to formulate an answer before Wei Wuxian added, “Because I love you, I keep thinking about you, about spending the rest of my life with you. I adore you...”
Perhaps Jin Zixuan, from his place, caught something in Lan Wangji’s expression, because he quickly stepped in to take Jin Rulan away and ushered them to another corner, away from prying eyes.
They had an audience.
For some reason, Lan Wangji didn’t care about it one bit.
(In private now, Lan Wangji returned those precious words and more, over and over and over again.)
Later on, Jin Zixuan grinned at him. “Didn’t I tell you? Public confessions always work!”
Lan Wangji let the man have his delusions.
Even more later on, Jin Zixuan told him this: “He actually thought you were in love with me, can you believe that?” The amused expression he had turned into a frown when Lan Wangji kept staring at him in disbelief. “Why do you look so offended? What’s wrong with falling for me?”
Lan Wangji kept his silence.