On an otherwise unremarkable long weekend in the middle of term, Lan Wangji takes the train home to Cloud Recesses. He normally wouldn’t make the trip for such a short stay, but his uncle has asked to see him, and as Lan Qiren is neither frivolous nor sentimental, Lan Wangji assumes that he has a good reason for wanting to speak in person. He isn’t overly anxious about what might necessitate such a serious conversation – his studies, now as in his undergraduate career, are progressing smoothly, and neither he nor his small circle of friends have done anything remotely gossipworthy of late – and so assumes it’s either regarding his brother’s upcoming birthday or some matter of clan politics too delicate for a regular phonecall.
In a sense, he turns out to be right.
“Wangji,” says Lan Qiren, once they’re kneeling comfortably at a low table and two cups of tea have been poured. “Let me speak plainly. In this modern world, the clans and cultivation sects play a different role than once they did, but the bonds between us are just as important as ever.”
“These bonds can be strengthened in many ways, but one of the most venerable is through marriage and the creation of blood-ties.”
Warning bells start to ring in Lan Wangji’s head.
“For too long,” Lan Qiren continues, oblivious, “the Lan have failed to make marital connections with the other sects. We have been isolated, and this must not continue. I have thought deeply on this matter, and after consulting with Jin Guangshan, acting in his capacity as head of the LanlingJin, and having made the proper consultations with her family, we have decided that you would be an excellent match for one of his best disciples, Luo Qingyang.”
Lan Wangji, who up until this point has only ever met his uncle’s requests with demure acceptance or a polite request for more information, jerks like a heavy fish on a too-thin line and says, “What?”
“Luo Qingyang,” says Lan Qiren, a frown appearing between his eyebrows. “We would like you to marry her.”
“Why?” And then, because he can see his uncle is about to repeat his explanation about strengthening ties with the LanlingJin, “I mean, why me?”
“Ah.” Lan Qiren smiles faintly. “You mean, why not your elder brother?”
No, thinks Wan Wangji wildly, I mean, why any of this at all? But he forces himself to nod, drymouthed.
“Two reasons,” says Lan Qiren, raising a hand to tick them off on his fingers. “Firstly, because I hope to find a more illustrious match for Xichen, who after all is heir to both the Lan Clan and the GusuLan Sect. I mean no slight to Luo Qingyang, of course – she is both an accomplished cultivator and a suitably modest young woman – but the Luo are not one of the major clans, and I have hopes that Xichen might net us a different sort of alliance. And secondly, because you and Miss Luo already know and like one other. You were classmates at school, you have friends in common, and that sort of connection is a sturdy basis for marital harmony.”
Lan Wangji resists the childish urge to close his eyes in the vain hope that this will somehow make the conversation stop happening. True, he’s on good terms with Luo Qingyang, better known to her friends as Mianmian, but that’s more due to their shared friendship with Jin Zixuan than because of any innate compatibility, and as for the rest of it –
“Uncle. With the greatest respect, why do we need to strengthen ties with the Jin in this manner? I understand the importance of alliances, but surely –”
He breaks off, distracted by the sudden mad buzzing of his phone in response to an incoming volley of texts. Very few people ever text Lan Wangji, let alone with such persistence, and he has an awful premonition that his uncle’s plans are no longer secret. Is Mianmian, too, being subjected to such an awful conversation even now, or is she yet to have it sprung on her? She can’t have known; they aren’t close, but he knows her well enough to be certain that she wouldn’t let him be blindsided by something like this.
“Surely what?” prompts Lan Qiren, frowning at Lan Wangji’s silence.
“Surely there’s a better way to ally our sects, in this day and age. Shared indoctrinations, perhaps, or disciple exchanges –”
“Wangji,” says Lan Qiren, sternly. “Speak to me plainly. What is your real objection?”
Lan Wangji takes a steadying breath. “I do not wish to be married. Not like this, and certainly not to Mianmian. I esteem her as much as I esteem anyone, but such a union would render us both miserable. It will not work. It cannot.” He meets his uncle’s furious gaze. “I politely decline the match.”
Face like a thundercloud, Lan Qiren snaps, “And on what basis, pray, do you claim that such an advantageous marriage is unworkable?”
“Uncle,” says Lan Wangji, hands fisted to keep from trembling, “I’m gay.”
Lan Qiren turns first red, then purple.
And then he starts to yell.
His tirade is about piety, about moral upheaval, about sexual deviance and right behaviour and the importance of blood-ties to lineage, but Lan Wangji, for the first time in his life, remains immovable before his uncle’s will. Stonefaced, he buries his hurt, his rage, and says only, “Respectfully, I still decline. I will not marry her,” until finally Lan Qiren runs out of invective and rasps at him to leave.
Lan Wangji exits his uncle’s study at a controlled, measured pace. He walks to his childhood room, repacks the bag he brought with him, collects his sword, Bichen, and flies himself down the mountain to the train station in Caiyi Town. He buys a ticket, relieved beyond measure to find that the next train is just a few minutes away, and only once he is safely seated inside, his carriage gliding smoothly away from Cloud Recesses, does he take a shaky breath and pull out his phone.
Jin Zixuan: oh fuck I’m so sorry
Jin Zixuan: please don’t kill me this isn’t my fault I HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS I SWEAR I ONLY JUST FOUND OUT
Jin Zixuan: LITERALLY I JUST GOT HOME AND MY MOM WAS LIKE “GREAT NEWS! YOUR SECT-SISTER IS GOING TO MARRY YOUR BEST FRIEND!” AND SHE DIDN’T EVEN BLINK
Jin Zixuan: MIANMIAN IS SEEING HER PARENTS RIGHT NOW, PRAY 4 HER
Jin Zixuan: WHY MUST WE LIVE IN THE DARKEST TIMELINE
Jin Zixuan: PLEASE TELL ME YOU’RE NOT DOING THIS WANGJI I SWEAR TO GOD
Jin Zixuan: IM NOT TAKING OFF CAPSLOCK UNTIL YOU TELL ME YOU AREN’T DOING THIS
Jin Zixuan: LOVE YOURSELF WANGJI PLS I BEG
Jin Zixuan: IF YOU DO THIS THEY’LL THINK THEY CAN MARRY OFF THE REST OF US TOO AND I WILL NOT STAND FOR IT
Jin Zixuan: HELP ME WANGJI-LAN KENOBI YOU’RE MY ONLY HOPE
Under ordinary circumstances, Lan Wangji isn’t a fan of phone conversations, but this is very much the opposite of an ordinary anything. He phones Jin Zixuan, who mercifully picks up on the second ring, and says, without preamble, “I’m not doing it. Uncle is furious.”
“Oh thank fuck,” says Jin Zixuan. Lan Wangji can hear him drinking from a bottle, and for once does not begrudge him the coping mechanism. “What did you tell him? What did you say?”
Lan Wangji shuts his eyes. “I told him that I’m gay.”
Jin Zixuan lets out a shocked burst of laughter. “Holy shit, you what? Like, I understand panicking in the heat of the moment, but you do realise that excuse isn’t going to wash the second you bring home a girl for real, right?”
“It’s not an excuse,” says Lan Wangji. Dimly, he’s aware that he’s shaking, and grips his phone case far too hard by way of compensation. “I’m. I really am gay.”
One beat of silence. Two. Three. Then –
“Oh my god,” says Jin Zixuan. “You’re serious? You – really?”
“Fuck.” And then, with feeling, “Fuck, I didn’t mean it like that, I just – I’m surprised, but also supportive, and also, like, proud of you? Is that a thing? But also really pissed on your behalf, because I can’t imagine that telling your uncle was easy, or that he took it well.”
Lan Wangji leans his head on the window, the thick glass cool against his temple. “It wasn’t. He didn’t.”
They share a moment of silence. Jin Zixuan takes another swig of whatever he’s drinking and then says, more hesitantly, “Did other people know? About you liking men, I mean – not that you, like, owed it to me to come out before this or anything, but if I ever did anything to make you think I’d be a dick about it, then –”
“Nobody knew,” says Lan Wangji quietly. And then, because there’s no point hiding it anymore, “Or at least, nobody who actually knows me knew. I have had… partners, at times, but no real relationships.”
“Lan Zhan,” says Jin Zixuan, scandalized and delighted. “Are you telling me you’ve been indulging in casual hookups?”
“Sexual needs are nothing to be ashamed of,” Lan Wangji says primly, and tries to pretend that his ears aren’t burning. “I knew that Uncle wouldn’t accept me, so it didn’t feel right, to try and date while I was closeted.”
“I fucking hate this, Wangji.”
“Wait, hang on – where’s your brother in all of this? What did he say?”
With a lurch, Lan Wangji realizes he didn’t even think to tell Xichen he was leaving Cloud Recesses. “I don’t know,” he says, stomach churning. “Uncle threw me out of his office and I just – left.”
“You should talk to him,” he says. “He’s always been cool about stuff, he’ll have your back – oh, fuck, hang on.” There’s a burst of scratchy static as the phone is presumably pressed against Jin Zixuan’s chest, but the muffled sound of distant shouting and a door being slammed still comes through. There’s a moment’s silence, and then Jin Zixuan speaks again. “Well, I’m guessing Mianmian reacted about as well as you did. My dad is pissed. I’m gonna call her, make sure she’s okay.”
“Please do,” says Lan Wangji. “Give her my number, too, if she wants it – if we’re both against this, we ought to fight it together.”
“Will do. See you on Tuesday, all right?”
“Tuesday,” Lan Wangji promises, and ends the call.
He zones out then, mind blanking on the fact that he just defied his uncle, refused a marriage and came out to, for all intents and purposes, the entire cultivation world in the space of a single argument. There’s a hum of anxiety low in his gut, but mostly he feels a strange, detached sort of serenity: the worst has happened, and Lan Wangji has survived it.
When his phone rings again, he’s both relieved and unsurprised to see that it’s Xichen calling.
“Brother,” he says, voice scratchy with relief. “I’m so sorry –”
“You have nothing to apologise for,” says Lan Xichen. He’s not a man much given to temper, but Lan Wangji can hear the telltale heat that means he’s truly angry. “I can’t believe Uncle would spring this on you – demand this of you, with no preamble –”
“He said he wants you to marry, too.”
Xichen swears softly. “Does he not see the irony in a man who’s stayed single his entire life insisting on marriage for others?”
“Wangji,” asks Xichen, softly. “You’re gay?”
Swallowing, Lan Wangji nods, then realizes his brother can’t see him. “You overheard?”
“I think half of Cloud Recesses did. Uncle was… not discreet.”
Lan Wangji winces, shutting his eyes. The train sways beneath him, and he lets himself pretend its motion alone is responsible for the way his stomach swoops. “How bad is it?”
“Truly, not as bad as whatever you’re thinking. Nobody who matters is against you.”
Lan Wangji makes a small, relieved noise, and on the other end of the line, he hears Xichen sigh.
“Wangji, I have to go. Uncle is looking for me.”
“Don’t let him bully you,” Lan Wangji says, and is rewarded by Xichen’s laughter.
“I won’t. Travel safely, brother.”
Lan Wangji hangs up, phone cradled in his hands. He feels emptied out, unable to quite accept how he reached this point despite the clear chain of events. What was Uncle thinking? He doesn’t know, and isn’t sure he wants to.
So he turns off his phone, tucks Bichen securely between his thigh and the carriage wall, and spends the rest of the ride back home in silence.
Trigger warning for a quick discussion of Qin Su's canonical origin story.
Four days after the fateful conversation with his uncle, Lan Wangji is frowning at the tutorial homework his undergraduates turned in that morning for their History of Cultivation class, wondering if his own standards are simply too high or if this particular group of students is struggling with the material, when Jin Zixuan bursts into his office.
“We have a problem,” he says, by way of greeting.
A chill born of long experience runs down Lan Wangji’s spine. “What sort of problem?”
“Apparently, our families aren’t done meddling, and now they’re dragging me into it, too.”
Lan Wangji blinks at the screen, then swivels in his chair. “What?”
“You heard me.”
Shutting the office door, Jin Zixuan helps himself to the visitor’s chair and fixes Lan Wangji with a look of feverish unease. “Well. First off, after I got off the phone with you and Mianmian on Saturday, I figured there had to be a reason why our families are suddenly hell-bent on marrying us off, so I started doing some research. And on my side of things –” he grimaces, mouth pinching sourly, “– apparently Mianmian’s parents discovered that I have yet another half-sibling, and when they asked my father about it, he decided the best way to keep them quiet was to promise a good marriage for their daughter –”
“Another half-sibling?” Lan Wangji interrupts, startled.
“Oh, yeah. A sister, this time. Qin Su.” Jin Zixuan looks briefly wretched about it, and if Lan Wangji was any good at normal human interactions, this would probably be the moment to pat his shoulder or take his hand in comfort. Instead, he makes what he hopes is a conciliatory noise, and is relieved when Jin Zixuan’s lips quirk in an almost-smile. “It’s not her fault our dad is the worst. She knows, at least, which is a small mercy; I don’t ever want a repeat of that conversation I had with Mo Xuanyu. I’m going to go see her this weekend, compare notes, the usual.” He shakes his head, gaze sharpening once more. “Anyway. Apparently, my father was so persuasive about the matter that the Luos didn’t really question it. He told them he knew enough about Mianmian to be sure she’d accept the offer, which was a blatant lie, so they were completely blindsided when she didn’t react positively to the news, and now he’s trying to backtrack by implying that the reason she said no is because she and I are secretly an item.”
“Which means,” says Jin Zixuan, through gritted teeth, “that I am now being pressured to marry Mianmian – or at the very least, to date her publicly for a while, to salve my father’s pride – because if the Luos end up unsatisfied, then they might just let other people know how, once upon a time, he forced himself on the wife of an underling and got her pregnant. You know. Very normal stuff.”
Lan Wangji inhales sharply. “When you say he forced himself –”
“Yes,” says Jin Zixuan, short and furious. “He belongs in jail, and instead he’s sat at home telling me how immoral and unfilial I am for refusing to help him fix a mess entirely of his own making.”
Lan Wangji feels sick. “Did my uncle know any of this?”
“I don’t think so,” says Jin Zixuan, and Lan Wangji feels briefly relieved. “Still, there’s a reason why my father approached Lan Qiren first, instead of Nie Mingjue or Jiang Fengmian or Wen Ruohan. Apparently, your uncle has been writing letters to the other sect and clan heads about reviving classical cultivation etiquette for a while now – full adherence to the ancient rules, arranged marriages, rejection of modern technology while within cultivation schools, the lot.” He snorts. “My best guess is, he’s realized you and your brother aren’t going to keep up his teaching methods once he’s gone, so he’s trying to get our whole generation under his thumb while he still has the chance.”
“That… sounds very plausible,” Lan Wangji admits, heart sinking. He’s always known his uncle for a traditionalist, and has suspected for some time that the tragic deaths of his own parents, who’d been so much more accepting of the modern world, had only entrenched this attitude. Even so, he’d never thought it would go as far as trying to arrange marriages for both himself and Xichen.
“What does Mianmian think of all this?” he asks.
Jin Zixuan grimaces. “She’s about as furious as you’d expect. When she found out about Qin Su, she wanted to go public immediately, but her parents have begged her not to; they keep saying it was so long ago, Jin Guangshan made an error, he’s an honourable man who doesn’t deserve to have his reputation ruined, they only wanted him to know that he had a daughter, not to try and press for any advantage – all the usual excuses. Plus, they know that she and I spend time together, so they also refuse to believe we aren’t a couple. The idea that Jin Guangshan of the illustrious LanlingJin would barefacedly lie about his own son is apparently vastly less plausible than Mianmian being discreetly embarrassed about a secret boyfriend.” He bares his teeth. “So now she’s stuck between wanting my dad to get what’s coming to him and having a good relationship with her family, which means she’s actually considering the fake-dating idea.” He rubs his face. “I’ve told her, if she decides she wants to go that route, I’ll back her up, but neither of us is exactly happy about it. What about you – has your uncle been back in contact?”
Lan Wangji’s lip curls of its own accord. “He has written to me. Evidently, Xichen calmed him down enough to accept the fact that I am, indeed, homosexual, and that marrying a woman will not magically change this. As such, he has also decided that my having biological children would be a bad idea, as they might inherit my unfortunate condition.” He grips the edge of his chair hard, feeling the plastic bite into his palms. “His new plan is that I swear myself to celibacy and dedicate my life to teaching new Lan disciples, the better to renew his faith in my filial piety.”
“This is bullshit,” Jin Zixuan says.
Jin Zixuan opens his mouth, then closes it again. A terrible gleam comes into his eye. “Therefore,” he says, “we are going to take a stand against it. A public stand.”
Oh no, says the rational part of Lan Wangji’s brain. “I’m listening,” says his mouth.
“Okay.” Jin Zixuan leans forward, elbows braced on his knees, chin resting on his fists. “Your brother’s birthday is coming up, right? Big party at Cloud Recesses, all cultivators invited. And Zewu-Jun has control of the guest list, correct?”
“He does,” says Lan Wangji, not quite liking where this is going.
“Perfect. So, here’s the plan: I bring Qin Su, Mo Xuanyu and Meng Yao as my guests, to show my father I’m willing to acknowledge them all even if he won’t. Mianmain brings a partner of her choosing to kiss in public, to show her parents that she and I aren’t dating, and you bring an extremely disreputable boyfriend, to show your uncle that, if he’s not going to be supportive, then you’re not going to bother dating socially appropriate men. Not an actual boyfriend, obviously,” he adds, as Lan Wangji opens his mouth to protest this detail. “You find a fake date, someone who’ll have steam coming out of Lan Qiren’s ears, so that when you finally do bring a nice boy home, he’ll be so relieved at the nice part that he’ll forget to be so hung up about the boy.”
It’s a terrible plan: an absolute social catastrophe waiting to happen. Recent events aside, Lan Wangji is still a responsible, filial person, and the idea of deliberately setting up the heads of two major cultivation clans to be publicly humiliated goes against everything he’s been brought up to believe in. But then he remembers his uncle’s face as he yelled about sexual deviancy, which leads him to think of the only other time he’s ever seen Lan Qiren anywhere near as angry, and as the memories overlap, he realizes he knows exactly who to ask to be his disreputable fake date.
“I know that look,” says Jin Zixuan, annoyingly smug. “You like my plan, don’t you? Admit it. Admit that you like my plan.”
“I do not like your plan,” says Lan Wangji, on principle. He waits a beat, then concedes, “However, Xichen will likely approve of it, and I can’t deny that it would be effective.” Not to mention satisfying, a traitorous part of him adds. “And… I think I know exactly who to bring.”
He shoots Jin Zixuan a meaningful look, trusting him to make the same mental leap. They only have a handful of shared friends and acquaintances, and of those few, there’s really only one person whose mere presence can be counted on to make the big vein in Lan Qiren’s temple throb visibly, not least because he’s been openly bisexual since their first year of university.
An awed, delighted, thoroughly devious expression creeps over Jin Zixuan’s face. “Chaos gremlin,” he breathes. “Finally, a good use for Wei Wuxian!”
“He’s not a chaos gremlin,” says Lan Wangji, ignoring the way his ears heat up. “He’s just… eccentric, sometimes. And loud.” And very, very beautiful, adds the same unhelpful part of his brain that’s countenancing any of this in the first place. “And you know he’d leap at the chance to annoy my uncle.”
“Well, then, that’s settled!” Jin Zixuan says. “You confirm that it’s all okay with Xichen, and once that’s done, I’ll contact Mianmian and the others, and you can bring in Wei Wuxian.”
Lan Wangji ought to protest this. He should tell Jin Zixuan no and find a more restrained, less childish way to deal with his uncle’s homophobia. “Agreed,” he says instead, and folds his hands in his lap to hide their trembling.
The first time Lan Wangji ever met Wei Wuxian, they were both fifteen, both students at the GusuLan indoctrination camp for junior cultivators held annually at Cloud Recesses, and both standing on top of a wall in the dark. Wei Wuxian had snuck out, flown his sword down the mountain to buy alcohol in Caiyi Town, and had been in the process of sneaking it back in when Lan Wangji had caught him redhanded. Wei Wuxian had grinned an unrepentant grin and tried everything from flirting to bribery to get Lan Wangji to let him go, and when that didn’t work, they ended up dueling, evenly matched in a way that left Lan Wangji as furious as Wei Wuxian was breathless with laughter. When he finally prevailed, Lan Wangji dragged Wei Wuxian to Lan Qiren’s office for punishment, only to find that in doing so, he’d made a rod for his own back, as his uncle promptly tasked him with personally supervising Wei Wuxian’s line-writing in the library.
It was during one such session that Wei Wuxian, as part of what felt like his ongoing campaign to destroy Lan Wangji’s sanity, slipped some explicit gay pornography into his reading material. Lan Wangji almost dueled him over it there and then, but though his ears had burned as he shredded the offending paper, the image of one man bending another over a table remained seared into his consciousness, overlapping with his memory of the way Wei Wuxian had looked while sprawled on the ground – mouth laughing, eyes smiling, robe disheveled, legs splayed – in the aftermath of Lan Wangji knocking him over. He’d had some vague inklings about his sexual preferences before that moment, but it was the close association of Wei Wuxian’s mischievous good looks with actual hardcore pornography that catalyzed his first true moment of gay panic. As a result, he spent almost as much time that summer masturbating furiously to the thought of bending Wei Wuxian over a library table as he did arguing with him, which was to say: a lot.
The fantasies tapered off once they started at university and Lan Wangji, like almost every other freshman, discovered the heady delights of an internet connection unmonitored by family and a horny student populace. Still, though, he always felt a little flustered around Wei Wuxian, though Xichen was mercifully the only one who noticed this, and the fact that the pornography incident had somehow resulted in each of them calling the other by his given name was only a tiny part of it. Wei Wuxian was maddening: flirtatious, borderline anarchistic, easily distracted, loyal, shameless, fearless and, despite his habit of drinking too much, sleeping too little and studying almost never, academically brilliant. He’d completed his three-year undergraduate degree with high distinction, then followed it up by blitzing a one-year honours course in talismanic practice, with several of his creations appearing in high-level cultivation journals. Lan Wangji, meanwhile, had opted to go straight into starting his masters on the parallel development of music as a tool within different cultivation traditions, and was now into his second year of study. He’d expected Wei Wuxian to start his own masters this year, too – as had almost the whole cultivation faculty – and had therefore been completely taken aback to find that he’d deferred his studies without any explanation beyond “personal reasons.”
The situation has been made all the more mysterious by the fact that, despite not technically being enrolled, Wei Wuxian is still clearly living close to the university. He’s popped up once or twice at parties since the start of the year, but has either been glibly dismissive or coyly silent whenever anyone asks about his deferral, with the result that the rumours about his situation are as diverse as they are unfounded. And with Wei Wuxian’s adoptive Jiang siblings now both living elsewhere – Jiang Yanli back at the family home, Jiang Cheng interning in Qinghe – there’s no one around to give a truthful account of things; no one Lan Wangji can ask for advice in advance of approaching Wei Wuxian with this stupid, harebrained scheme.
More than once, in the days since Xichen approved Jin Zixuan’s plan and first Mianmian, then the trio of Jin half-siblings agreed to participate, Lan Wangji has considered backing out of his part altogether. The idea of asking Wei Wuxian to be his fake date – of having to physically sit in front of him and make the request, knowing how easily he might be laughed at, if not turned down outright in honour of all the times he’s chastised Wei Wuxian for failing to follow the rules – made his ears hot and his stomach twist. The only thing that stops him from reneging is the certain knowledge that, if he voices his reservations, Jin Zixuan will take the request to Wei Wuxian on Lan Wangji’s behalf, if only for the comedic value, which is an even more mortifying prospect than being rejected in person.
Which is how, the following Saturday, Lan Wangji finds himself preparing to meet Wei Wuxian for lunch at a café close to campus. He arranged the whole thing over text – he’s had Wei Wuxian’s number for years, though has seldom had cause to use it – and has half-convinced himself that Wei Wuxian will stand him up on principle. He is therefore shocked, on arriving at their meeting place a good ten minutes ahead of the agreed-upon time, to find that Wei Wuxian is there already. He spots him the moment he steps through the door and promptly comes to a halt, arrested by the sight of him. Wei Wuxian, handsome as always in his customary black and red, is seated at a corner booth. A full cup of bubble tea sits before him on the table, neglected as he looks worriedly at his phone. There’s a dark-coloured lump on the bench beside him, and for a moment Lan Wangji mistakes it for a particularly large bag, until it moves and reveals itself to be, not a satchel, but the curved back of a small boy, aged surely no more than four, with dimpled cheeks and messy dark hair, who’d evidently been reaching down to retrieve a dropped toy from beneath the table.
The toy in question is a small wooden dragonfly mounted on a stick. The little boy waves it in front of Wei Wuxian, distracting him from his phone. “Look, gege! I got it!”
“Well done, A-Yuan,” Wei Wuxian tells him, flashing the boy a smile.
Lan Wangji is riveted to the spot, hardly breathing at the shock of it all, and is therefore wholly unprepared for Wei Wuxian to look up, spot him, and visibly freeze in place.
They stare at each other for two long seconds, neither one moving. Then, with an excruciating wrench of will, Lan Wangji makes himself walk forwards, nodding politely at Wei Wuxian as he slides into the opposite side of the booth.
“Thank you for agreeing to meet me,” he says, inanely.
“Oh, it’s no problem,” says Wei Wuxian. His voice is strained, and his smile doesn’t reach his eyes. “I’m, uh – I’m sorry, my usual babysitter cancelled on me last minute, and I’ve been trying to find a replacement, but –”
“There’s no need to apologise,” Lan Wangji says. “I have no objections to children.”
Wei Wuxian blinks at him, then seems to relax a little. Swallowing, he says, “This is – this is my son, A-Yuan. A-Yuan, this is my friend, Lan Zhan.”
“Hello, A-Yuan,” says Lan Wangji, feeling distinctly like he’s having an out-of-body experience. His son. Wei Wuxian has a son. “It’s very nice to meet you.”
“Hello!” says A-Yuan, beaming. “Are you rich? You look rich. I have a dragonfly!” He waves the stick excitedly.
“Dragonflies are very beautiful,” says Lan Wangji, and is absurdly relieved when A-Yuan nods in firm agreement.
“All right, A-Yuan,” says Wei Wuxian, immediately catching the boy’s attention. “Now, I need to have a boring grown-up talk with Lan Zhan, so why don’t you drink your boba and watch your show –” he reaches down and grabs his actual bag from beneath the table, withdrawing a battered tablet in a chunky rubber case and a pair of children’s headphones, “– and if you’re good, then afterwards, you can have a cookie.”
A-Yuan squints at him and held up a pair of fingers. “Two cookies?”
“Maybe two cookies,” Wei Wuxian allows.
“Two cookies,” A-Yuan repeats. He nods to himself, looking for all the world as if this has decided the matter, then grabs the headphones – only Wei Wuxian’s quick reflexes save him from knocking over the bubble tea in his haste – and dons them with his father’s assistance. Wei Wuxian fusses with the headphone cord, gets the tablet propped up just so, makes sure A-Yuan can hold his drink and use the straw without hindrance, and then turns back to Lan Wangji, smiling wryly.
“Sorry,” he says again, more softly than before.
“Wei Ying,” says Lan Wangji, reaching over to squeeze his hand before he can think better of it. Wei Wuxian’s skin is cool against the warmth of his palm, and he pulls back after scarcely a second, embarrassed for reasons he can’t articulate. “I already told you, there’s no need to apologize.” He cuts a glance at A-Yuan, now happily distracted by an educational cartoon, and says, unbearably awkward, “So, this is… he’s why you didn’t enroll this year?”
Wei Wuxian nods, not meeting Lan Wangji’s gaze. “I’m hoping to come back next year, once he’s old enough to start kindergarten, but… this year, this first year, I wanted to be around for him as much as possible. Give him some stability, you know?”
There’s no polite way to ask the obvious questions – How long have you been a father? Where’s his mother? Are you two together? – and so Lan Wangji finds himself saying instead, “Stability is important. He’s lucky to have a father who’s willing to spend so much time with him.”
Wei Wuxian jerks his head up, startled. “You actually mean that, don’t you,” he says, almost disbelieving. “You’re really just… accepting this.”
Lan Wangji gestures helplessly at A-Yuan. “He’s your son. You clearly care for him. What is there not to accept?”
Wei Wuxian stares at him, blinks, and finally bursts out laughing, smiling so big and bright that it makes Lan Wangji’s chest hurt. “Lan Zhan, oh Lan Zhan. You really are too good.” His smile softens as he glances again at A-Yuan. “His birth parents died when he was a baby; he’s had friends and relatives looking after him since then, but the situation was never stable for any of them, and after – well. Let’s just say that, near the end of last year, things got a bit complicated. He’s known me for a while now, and there weren’t any safer options, so I adopted him. Not quite how I expected to end up parenting, but I love him too much to have left him with strangers. He’s worth it.”
“You’re a good person,” Lan Wangji says, the ache in his chest intensifying. “A good father, too.”
“You can’t know that,” says Wei Wuxian, a flush creeping up his neck.
Lan Wangji shakes his head. “Wei Ying is good,” he repeats, and is thankfully saved from having to explain himself by the timely arrival of a waitress. Lan Wangji hasn’t so much as glanced at the menu, and hastily scans it as Wei Wuxian orders a spicy noodle dish and a soda for himself. After a moment of indecision, Lan Wangji asks for iced tea and slice of vegetarian frittata, fixing a polite expression on his face as the waitress writes everything down.
When she’s finally gone again, he seizes the chance to change the topic of conversation. “I have a favour to ask you,” he says, rushing in ahead of whatever Wei Wuxian was about to say. “You’re under no obligation to help, obviously, but I’d be willing to pay you for your time.”
Across the table, Wei Wuxian sits up a little straighter. “You have my attention,” he says, and proceeds to listen with increasing delight as Lan Wangji, ears burning hot, explains about the argument with Lan Qiren, the failed betrothal, his preference for men – Wei Wuxian’s eyes go huge at that, but he refrains from comment – and the subsequent plan developed by Jin Zixuan, including the fact that Mianmian, Xichen and the Jin siblings are already on board. The only detail he omits is the ugly truth about Qin Su’s origins, which doesn’t feel like his secret to share; he says only that she’s a newly-discovered half-sister to Jin Zixuan and leaves it at that.
“And, well,” he says, faltering now that the background details are out of the way. “Without wanting to insult you, I can’t think of anyone my uncle would object to seeing as my partner more than you, and I know you’ve always enjoyed provoking him, so I was hoping that maybe –”
“Yes,” says Wei Wuxian, grinning from ear to ear. “Lan Zhan, yes, I will absolutely be your obnoxious fake date to your brother’s birthday! I’m so happy you asked! Let’s see: we can say we’ve been dating since, oh, the end of last semester, so nearly five months. Remember I threw that party to celebrate finishing my honours year? We’ll say got together then – I finally won you over with a combination academic genius and raw sexual magnetism –”
“– and since then, we’ve been seeing each other regularly off-campus, whenever time permits.” He grins again, propping his chin on his hands. “Just so you know, I’m very comfortable with PDA. Public displays of affection,” he adds, when Lan Wangji raises an eyebrow at the acronym. “Obviously, we can work out the full details later, but I’m thinking plenty of hand-holding, lap-sitting and a few strategic makeout sessions should do the trick.”
Lan Wangji chokes on air, and is once more rescued – mercifully, bless her, he will tip fifty percent even if the food tastes like cardboard – by the return of the waitress, who sets their lunch in front of them, asks if there’s anything else she can do, and then bustles off again. Lan Wangji starts eating his frittata with unseemly vigour, trying and failing to banish the thought of touching Wei Wuxian, holding him, kissing him, all with his enthusiastic permission. It hardly seems possible that the need for feigned intimacy to sell the relationship hadn’t occurred to him before this moment, and yet the practicalities have caught him completely off guard. He’s hardly the same blushing virgin he was at the start of university (or even during the GusuLan indoctrination camp, for that matter); there’s no good reason why the prospect of kissing someone he’s known for the better part of eight years should make him feel hot all over, no matter how prominent a role he played in Lan Wangji’s early sexual fantasies.
And yet. And yet. He eats his food and sips his tea, and somehow gets himself sufficiently under control to say, once he’s washed down the last bite of frittata, “We should practice beforehand, to see what we’re both comfortable with.”
Across the table, Wei Wuxian coughs violently as some of his soda goes up his nose. “That – makes sense,” he gasps out, thumping himself on the chest. “Remind me, when’s the – party?”
“Next Sunday,” Lan Wangji says, passing him a napkin. Some of the soda must’ve gone down Wei Wuxian’s windpipe, too, the way he’s still wheezing for air. He’s loud enough that A-Yuan looks up from his cartoon, frowning in adorable concern. Carefully, he sets his now-empty cup on the table and pats Wei Wuxian’s shoulder with a small, chubby hand.
“Drink slow, Xian-gege,” he says. Wei Wuxian nods, still sucking in air, and after a moment, A-Yuan returns his attention to the tablet, evidently satisfied that his wisdom has been accepted.
“All right,” says Wei Wuxian, voice finally returning to normal. “All right, that’s – my schedule is pretty free, so tell me whenever you’re available between now and then, and we can meet up to, uh, explore the practicalities.”
“Of course,” says Lan Wangji. “Thank you, Wei Ying. I truly appreciate it.”
“No need to thank me!” Wei Wuxian says, flashing a bright smile. “What are friends for? Frankly, I’d gladly annoy your uncle for free any day of the week, but here you are offering me money and a party invite into the bargain, too. How could I resist?”
“Even so,” says Lan Wangji, feeling an obscure need to make this clear, “I am grateful. I’ve been… judgmental of you in the past, unfairly so, and you’d be well within your rights to have turned me down.”
“Lan Zhan –”
“I just don’t want you to think,” he says, frustrated that he’s not expressing this clearly enough, “that I don’t value you as a person. That I’m asking because I think you’re disreputable, instead of because my uncle does. Because I do. Value you, I mean. As a person.” He stares at Wei Wuxian, hoping he’s got the point across. “You are not disreputable, Wei Ying. Anyone would be lucky to have you as a partner. It’s only my uncle who’s too blind to see it, and after what he said to me, I need –” he gestures helplessly, fingers flexing against empty air, and says, more raw than he means to be, “I need him to see me. I need to him to know that I’m not like him, not constrained by his biases. That his inability to see the worth in either of us is his failing, not ours.”
Wei Wuxian laughs softly, ducking his head. “Hanguang-Jun, you shouldn’t flatter me like that. I’m only a humble single father, I’ll get ideas and then where will we be?” He grins a crooked grin, and before Lan Wangji can insist that it wasn’t flattery at all, just the truth, Wei Wuxian leans out of his seat, flags a passing waitress and asks her to bring him two cookies.
“He’s really been very good,” he says, tipping his head to indicate A-Yuan.
“Definitely deserving of two cookies,” Lan Wangji agrees gravely.
The cookies arrive within minutes, and A-Yuan is so excited that he gets tangled up in the headphone cord. While a laughing Wei Wuxian helps to disentangle him, Lan Wangji stealthily makes his way to the counter and pays for them both, making his tip exactly as generous as he’d promised he would. He feels serenely smug when he sits back down again, and Wei Wuxian is so busy packing up A-Yuan’s things that it takes him much longer than usual to catch on. When he does, however, his eyes narrow.
“You,” he says accusingly, pointing a finger at Lan Wangji. “You paid, didn’t you!”
“It was my pleasure,” says Lan Wangji, indulging in a very slight smile.
“Rich-gege paid?” asks A-Yuan, looking up from his cookie.
“He did,” says Wei Wuxian, “which means that next time, we have to be extra quick and make sure to pay for him instead.”
A-Yuan nods seriously. “Paying is imptant.”
“Im-por-tant,” Wei Wuxian corrects gently, enunciating the syllables.
A-Yuan frowns in concentration. “Imp-rortant.”
Wei Wuxian laughs. “That’s close enough.”
They linger in the booth for as long as it takes A-Yuan to finish the rest of the cookie. Wei Wuxian tidies up the spilled crumbs as best he can – “No need to make extra work for the waitress,” he says, helping A-Yuan to wipe his hands on a napkin – and then they file out together, Wei Wuxian lifting his son onto his hip with practiced ease.
“I’ll let Jin Zixuan know that we’re going ahead with it,” Lan Wangji says, then hesitates. “If you’d rather I not mention A-Yuan to him, I understand –”
“No, no.” Wei Wuxian gives a rueful laugh. “There’s no need for secrecy. A-Yuan’s my son, it’s right that people know about him. I only kept it quiet at first while the paperwork was going through, and after that, we were busy getting settled in together. But I trust you to let people know.”
“My thanks,” says Lan Wangji, who can’t think of what else to say. “I’ll, ah. Text you about meeting up again before Sunday; I just need to check my calendar.”
“All right, then,” says Wei Wuxian. “A-Yuan, we’re headed home now. Say goodbye to Lan Zhan!”
A-Yuan waves cheerfully at him. “Bye-bye, rich-gege!”
“Goodbye,” says Lan Wangji. He returns the wave, feeling awkward as he does so, but Wei Wuxian smiles at him in a way that makes him feel like he did the right thing, and then he’s turning, walking back to his campus office to research his thesis, grade homework, and catch Jin Zixuan up on this latest development in their very un-filial plot.
“How did this happen,” he mutters softly to himself.
Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t receive an answer.
By mutual agreement, Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian agree to meet the following Wednesday afternoon – this time at Lan Wangji’s apartment, while A-Yuan is off at playgroup – to practice their dating routine. The fact that said practice will likely involve kissing, hand-holding and other small intimacies is a reality that Lan Wangji shoves very firmly to the back of his mind. He’s going to be a gentleman about this, inasmuch as that’s possible under the circumstances, and being a gentleman means not masturbating about Wei Wuxian in the days beforehand just because some deep-seated part of his libido is still primed to get overly excited about him.
It’s not until the last half-hour before Wei Wuxian is due to arrive that Lan Wangji realizes, far too late, that he’s made a tactical error. Having been unable to get Wei Wuxian out of his head for the past five days, he’s ended up not masturbating during that time at all, with the result that he’s now – noticeably, embarrassingly – much hornier than usual. He’s so annoyed at the oversight that, instead of doing the sensible thing and having a quick, perfunctory orgasm to calm himself down, he spends so long mentally weighing the pros and cons that, by the time he finally decides on a course of action, he’s run out of time. The doorbell rings at exactly 4pm, and Lan Wangji, despite having thought of little else but this all day, is woefully unprepared for it.
“Fuck,” he mutters softly, and goes to admit his guest.
“Lan Zhan!” says Wei Wuxian, practically bouncing on the doorstep. His long hair is tied half-up with his customary red ribbon, his legs are clad in black skinny jeans tucked into lace-up black boots, and he’s wearing a bright red crop-top that proclaims, in big, black letters, SAVE A SWORD, RIDE A SOCIALIST.
Lan Wangji stares at the shirt. It’s short enough that a startling amount of Wei Wuxian’s toned, lean stomach is visible, and yet it’s also so loose and wide-necked that it’s half skewing off his right shoulder, showing a long stretch of collarbone. Even without the slogan, it’s wildly inappropriate for any sort of cultivation gathering, and it takes a painfully long moment for Lan Wangji to remember that this is, in fact, the point: that Wei Wuxian had said he’d be wearing the outfit he was planning to wear on Sunday, so that Lan Wangji could approve it ahead of time.
“Wei Ying,” he says, still staring at the shirt. “Ah. Please, come in.”
“Do you like it?” Wei Wuxian asks, doing an impish twirl as he steps past Lan Wangji, bending to remove his shoes. “I had it custom made, and I’ve been dying for an excuse to wear it, but if you think it’s too much –”
“It looks perfect,” says Lan Wangji, whose brain to mouth filter has apparently ceased to exist. “I mean, it is perfect. Will be, for the party.”
Wei Wuxian does a little fist-pump as they enter the lounge, which Lan Wangji outright refuses to find endearing. “Yes!” he says. “You’re the best, Lan Zhan. Truly, there is no greater gift you could give me than the look on Lan Qiren’s face when he sees this fashion masterpiece.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” says Lan Wangji wryly.
“But – oh.” Wei Wuxian stills, a guilty look creeping over his face. “Before we get to anything else, though, I need to tell you that there’s been a… complication.”
Frowning slightly, Lan Wangji sits, gesturing for Wei Wuxian to do likewise. “What sort of complication?”
Wei Wuxian takes a deep breath. “I have to bring A-Yuan.”
“Oh,” says Lan Wangji, relieved it’s not something serious. “Is that all? It’s no trouble whatsoever; I’m sure there’ll be other children there, too. I can let Xichen know easily.”
Wei Wuxian winces. “Thank you, but it’s not – what I mean is, the complication is why I have to bring him. See, the thing about this being your brother’s birthday is that Jiang Cheng and my shijie are already invited – and Uncle Jiang and Madam Yu, too, but they’re not able to make it. I swear, I didn’t know when you asked me,” he says quickly, as though this is somehow his fault and not a monumental oversight on Lan Wangji’s part, “but A-Li called me yesterday to see if I’d been invited, too, and when I told her I’d be there, she insisted I bring A-Yuan along, so that she can see her nephew. Which also means,” says Wei Wuxian, twisting his fingers together, “that we’re also going to have to pretend to date in front of my family.”
“Ah,” says Lan Wangji.
“If you don’t want to do it anymore, I completely understand,” Wei Wuxian says in a rush. “Just, I’d really appreciate it if I can still come along, because otherwise I’ll have to make up a lie about why I won’t be there, and I really don’t want to disappoint my shijie.”
“Wei Ying,” says Lan Wangji, startled. “Of course you can still come, but are you sure you want to do this? You shouldn’t have to lie to your family just for my sake, and especially because it involves your son –”
“I want to help,” Wei Wuxian says, determined. He meets Lan Wangji’s gaze, dark eyes bright. “What your uncle said to you – what he tried to do – it’s inexcusable. You’ve always been the most perfect son, done everything he’s ever asked of you more flawlessly than he’s had any right to expect, and then the very first time you assert yourself – the one time you ask him to accept you on your terms instead of his – he as good as calls you a reprobate and says you don’t get to love anyone if it doesn’t make him comfortable?” He makes an angry noise. “It’s wrong, and I know he’s your family, but he shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it. Even if it’s only for one day, he deserves to feel exactly as uncomfortable as I can make him.” He looks away and adds, more softly, “I know what it’s like, to be brought up by someone... someone other than your parents, and to have them hold that over you like they were only ever investing in a disciple, not raising a child.”
A loaded silence follows.
“In that case,” Lan Wangji says, his mouth once more running ahead of his common sense, “we should probably change our backstory.”
Wei Wuxian lifts his head, a look of startled hope on his face. “You mean it?”
“Mn.” He tips his head, considering. “A-Yuan has only just met me, and we can’t expect him to lie about that, so… we should say we’ve only been together for a few weeks. We’ve known each other as friends for years, so nobody can say we’re rushing into it, but obviously we’ve been taking it slow because you’ve got A-Yuan to think about now.”
Wei Wuxian laughs, a little breathlessly. “Of course, you’re right. Can’t have him getting all excited about the prospect of a second father if we’re not sure how the relationship will pan out.”
“It’s only sensible,” Lan Wangji agrees. “So this, coming to Xichen’s birthday, it’s obviously our first public appearance as a couple.”
“Obviously,” Wei Wuxian says. “And normally, I’d be trying to make a good impression, but I was very upset by what your uncle said to you – which, let’s face it, from what you’ve told me, that’s going to be common knowledge – and everyone knows I’ve never gotten along with him anyway, so nobody will think I’m acting out of character if I opt to rub it in.”
“Perfect,” says Lan Wangji. “Details, then – let’s work it out.”
As though they’re once again undergraduates working on a group project, they put their heads together and carefully concoct a simple but plausible story: that, a week before the fight with Lan Qiren, Lan Wangji met up with Wei Wuxian to find out why he wasn’t enrolled this year. As they admitted to missing each other, a mutual attraction was realized, and after talking it over, they agreed to give it a try on the quiet, not wanting to involve A-Yuan too early. The “date” at the café was Lan Wangji’s first trial meeting with A-Yuan, to see how they got along, and as it went well, they’re now all coming to the party together. A-Yuan, of course, knows only that Lan Wangji is a friend; should things go well, they’ll explain the relationship to him in more detail at a later date.
“The only problem is,” says Wei Wuxian, once all this has been agreed upon, “that at some point, I’ll have to tell shijie we’ve broken up. Not straight away, obviously – that would be suspicious – but it’s not like she’s living close by anymore, so we won’t have to go on any other fake dates to throw her off the scent.”
“I would, though, if it was necessary,” Lan Wangji feels compelled to add. “After all, you’re doing this for me; it would be hypocritical not to do the same for you, too.”
“Well, thank you,” says Wei Wuxian, grinning at him. “And of course, you breaking up with me will make perfect sense to everyone, so there’s no need to worry about that side of things.”
Lan Wangji frowns. “What do you mean, my breaking up with you makes sense?”
Wei Wuxian rolls his eyes. “Don’t be dense.”
“I’m not being dense; I just want to make sure we’re on the same page, and I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
“Lan Zhan, really!” Wei Wuxian laughs. “You’re Hanguang-Jun, one of the Twin Jades of Lan, whereas I am an orphaned nobody. You have endless career prospects anywhere in the cultivation world, whereas I can’t even get a job with my home sect. You’re extremely out of my league, and even if that wasn’t true, not a single person would blame you for deciding that actually, you’re not ready to sign on for long-term co-parenting. There’s plenty of reasons why you’d break up with me.”
Lan Wangji stares at him, chest twisting at the ease with which Wei Wuxian dismisses himself. “But that’s not right,” he finds himself saying. “Bloodlines aren’t important to me, and I know they’re not important to you – why should I care about your origins more than I care about who you are? If the YunmengJiang don’t want to employ you, that’s a failing on their part; any sect or clan would be lucky to have a cultivator of your talents. I don’t agree that I’m out of your league – if anything, you’re out of mine. You’re good with people, you’re thoughtful and generous; you make wonderful art and music; and you were brave enough to come out years ago, which means you’ve got more relationship experience than me. And as for not wanting to co-parent, that’s not… if that was truly an issue, I’d never have asked you to date me in the first place. We might break up for any number of reasons, but that would never be one of them.”
A beat of silence follows this proclamation. Then:
“Ah, Lan Zhan,” says Wei Wuxian, softly. He runs a hand down his face and laughs a quiet, tired laugh, looking up at him through his lashes. “Even in a story, you’re too good to be true. Very well, if you insist – when we get to that point, I’ll tell everyone that I broke up with you, and nobody will be surprised that I was too foolish to recognize a good thing when I had it.”
Something catches in Lan Wangji’s throat. “Wei Ying –”
“We should kiss now, I think,” Wei Wuxian says, suddenly enough that Lan Wangji completely loses his train of thought. “Make sure we’ll be prepared on the day.”
“Yes – I mean, only if you want to – if you’re comfortable with it –”
“I’m plenty comfortable,” Wei Wuxian says, and before Lan Wangji can muster up any more words, Wei Wuxian climbs onto his lap, straddling his thighs. Heart beating hard, Lan Wangji stares at him, lips parted on a question he doesn’t know how to ask. Smiling impishly, Wei Wuxian twines his arms around Lan Wangji’s neck and leans in slowly. His eyes fall closed, and Lan Wangji shuts his own in turn, abruptly overwhelmed by the gentle brush of Wei Wuxian’s nose against his cheek, the soft huff of his laughter. He turns his mouth blindly, seeking, lips ghosting across Wei Wuxian’s jaw even as his hands, acting wholly on their own initiative, settle on Wei Wuxian’s hips.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian whispers, and then they’re kissing, a press of mouths that stays chaste for all of a second before Lan Wangji deepens it, groaning as Wei Wuxian kisses back. Heat licks through him, urgent and shameless. It’s been nearly a year since he last had a partner, the novelty of brief encounters long since having worn off despite what he let Jin Zixuan infer, and combined with his recent abstinence, his whole body feels electrified. Wei Wuxian’s fingers are in his hair, and Lan Wangji is moved to squeeze his hips, tugging him closer. Wei Wuxian kisses him like he’s drowning, and Lan Wangji is helpless to do anything but respond in kind. He dreamed of this so often when he was younger, and now that it’s a reality, he can’t understand why he ever stopped; why his fantasies have ever resembled anything other than this.
Wei Wuxian whines in his throat, breath hitching as he grinds down. He’s hard in his jeans – as hard as Lan Wangji is himself – and when he breaks away for air, his cheeks are flushed, his eyes blown dark. Lan Wangji drinks in the sight, then leans in and kisses beneath Wei Wuxian’s jaw, sucking lightly at the skin.
“Oh fuck,” Wei Wuxian gasps. “Lan Zhan, Lan er-gege, you’ll leave a mark –”
“You don’t want a mark?” Lan Wangji murmurs, the words Lan er-gege atomizing his higher brain functions.
“I do,” Wei Wuxian says, voice turning thready as Lan Wangji sets his mouth to his throat, “I just – oh, fuuuuck.” He shudders bodily, panting as Lan Wangji sucks a hickey into the delicate skin, and the second Lan Wangji pulls back to admire his handiwork, Wei Wuxian is on him again, kissing with a desperation that has Lan Wangji’s pulse hammering in his ears.
We should stop, a distant part of him thinks, this was meant to be practice, not – whatever it is we’re doing now, but he’s so turned on he can barely think. His hands slide up, stroking at all the soft, bare skin revealed by Wei Wuxian’s crop top, until his thumbs are brushing against small, hard nipples, and Wei Wuxian is keening into his mouth.
“Lan Zhan,” he gasps, “Lan Zhan, I know – I know this was meant to be practice, but I haven’t – it’s been so long, fuck, can we just – can we just call this a one-off and –”
“Yes,” Lan Wangji rasps, and somehow shoves himself to his feet with Wei Wuxian still clinging to him. There’s a precarious moment where his balance wavers, and then those long, lean legs are wrapping around his waist, that bright, clever mouth lipping at his throat, and there’s no power on earth, cultivation or otherwise, that could stop him from carrying Wei Wuxian into his bedroom and dropping him on the mattress. Wei Wuxian exhales hard as he lands, their gazes locked for a heated moment, and then they’re both undressing, Lan Wangji letting his clothes drop with uncharacteristic unconcern as Wei Wuxian shimmies out of his stupidly tight jeans. Lan Wangji watches greedily, hard in his briefs, and lets out an involuntary noise when Wei Wuxian sprawls back again, dressed in nothing but the crop top and – his mouth goes dry – a pair of red panties.
“Wei Ying,” he says, and whatever expression he’s wearing makes Wei Wuxian flush all the way down his throat.
“Would you believe me if I said they were part of the outfit?” he asks weakly.
“Don’t care,” says Lan Wangji, and climbs on top of him, caging Wei Wuxian in with his arms as he leans down to kiss him again. Wei Wuxian melts into it, legs parting to make space for Lan Wangji between them. Their kisses turn biting, a sharp, playful tease, but even though they’ve never done this together before, there’s an impossible harmony to every bit of give and take between them.
“What do you want?” Wei Wuxian breathes against his ear. “What do you want, Lan er-gege?”
You, Lan Wangji thinks wildly, and only by the skin of his self-preserving teeth does he not say so out loud. Instead, he reaches down between them, stroking Wei Wuxian through the satiny fabric of his panties. Wei Wuxian moans in response, hips canting up as Lan Wangji snugs the panties beneath his balls to take him fully in hand.
“No fair, you too,” Wei Wuxian laughs, and grabs the band of Lan Wangji’s briefs, tugging them down his thighs to stroke him in turn. It ought to be awkward, and on some level it is, but it’s also incredibly hot. Each of them has a hand on the other, knuckles bumping where their bodies meet; they’re kissing, laughing, gasping in pleasure, tipping onto their sides with their foreheads pressed together. It’s straightforwardly perfect, arousal coiling through Lan Wangji with every stroke of Wei Wuxian’s hand, the feedback of Wei Wuxian’s noises winding him tighter and tighter until he’s coming with a groan, back arching as he spills between them.
“Oh fuck,” Wei Wuxian gasps, and leans in to kiss him as he comes in turn. It’s a shallow kiss, oddly sweet for all the frenzy that led them here, and Lan Wangji can feel it when Wei Wuxian smiles against his mouth. Both sheened with sweat, they steady their breathing in the aftermath, and Lan Wangji keeps waiting for the shame to come, the sinking certainty that he’s made a mistake, but it never does. He just feels… light, impossibly so, the same way he did the first time he successfully imbued a talisman with his spiritual energy as a child. It’s inconceivable that what just happened shouldn’t have happened: he knows there must be a reason why he was worried about it, but in the moment, he’s too endorphin-high to remember what it was.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian murmurs. “Lan Zhan, are you falling asleep?”
“No,” says Lan Wangji, for all that he hadn’t quite realized that his eyes were shut. He makes an effort and opens them, unable to keep from smiling at the sight of Wei Wuxian’s face, so close to his own, and then, point proven, lets them fall closed again. “’m awake.”
“You can’t fall asleep right after a hookup, Lan Zhan, it’s bad manners!”
“I am very polite,” Lan Wangji mumbles, and blindly presses a kiss to Wei Wuxian’s cheek to prove it. “See?”
Wei Wuxian laughs, the sound high and breathless. “So polite, truly. Do you have tissues? Please tell me you have tissues.”
Lan Wangji groans, belatedly aware of the fact that they’re both lying in their own shared mess, and forces himself to sit up. “I’ll get a washcloth,” he says, and before Wei Wuxian can protest this, he swings his legs over the foot of the bed, performs a small, undignified jig to remove his briefs – he tosses them straight in the laundry hamper as if shooting a basketball, earning a startled bark of laughter from Wei Wuxian – and walks, shamelessly nude, to the bathroom.
He glimpses himself in the bathroom mirror, ears heating at how much redder his cheeks and mouth are than usual, how disheveled his hair is. Refusing to be distracted, he cleans himself up, then wets a washcloth with warm water, wrings out the excess, and carries it back to Wei Wuxian, who’s half sitting up to take off his now-unwearable panties.
“Here,” says Lan Wangji, and because he’s clearly taken permanent leave of his senses, instead of simply handing over the cloth, he kneels down at the bedside and gently cleans Wei Wuxian up himself, ignoring the startled inhale this earns him.
“You really are polite,” says Wei Wuxian, grinning crookedly. He is still – absurdly, beautifully – wearing nothing but the SAVE A SWORD, RIDE A SOCIALIST crop top, and at some point Lan Wangji is going to have to examine how fond this makes him feel, but that time isn’t now, because he’s too busy watching as Wei Wuxian comes to his feet, stretches theatrically and asks, “May I have my pants back, please?”
“Of course,” says Lan Wangji, handing them over. He is still, himself, naked and kneeling, and this doesn’t change as Wei Wuxian pokes out his tongue and tugs his jeans back on – commando this time, as the panties now require a wash. It’s not until Wei Wuxian triumphantly does up the button and looks at him that Lan Wangji realizes the absurdity of his own position. Ears burning anew, he walks to his dresser and pulls out a clean pair of boxer-briefs, stepping into them with his back turned to Wei Wuxian.
“So,” says Wei Wuxian cheerfully. “I think it’s clear we’ll be fine with PDA at the party.”
“Yes,” says Lan Wangji, turning around. He feels abruptly like he’s missed a step; like there’s something important he ought to be saying or doing, if only he knew what it was. “I’m looking forward to it,” he adds, which is true, but also not quite what he thinks he means.
Wei Wuxian grins at him. “I’ll bet you are,” he says, mock-flirtatious. “Remember, though, we’ll have to keep it pretty PG around A-Yuan; I don’t want to scar him for life.”
“Of course,” says Lan Wangji. He’s still only wearing his underwear, and he has a vague notion that he ought to put some clothes on, offer to make them both some food, but before he can sort it all out, Wei Wuxian’s phone, which has evidently remained in his jeans pocket this entire time, starts chirping loudly. Wei Wuxian swears and fishes it out, turning off what is evidently a preset alarm.
“I have to go pick A-Yuan up from playgroup,” he says, a flash of apology in his eyes. “I swear, I’d stick around otherwise, I just –”
“Of course,” says Lan Wangji. “He’s your son. He needs you.”
Wei Wuxian smiles at him, big and bright and impossibly soft. “He’s looking forward to seeing you again,” he says. “You bought him two cookies, which means you’re a friend for life.”
“You gave him the cookies, though.”
“Mere semantics. Trust me, four-year-olds have very firm opinions about these things.”
“You’re the expert,” Lan Wangji says, and doesn’t know what to do with how his chest aches at Wei Wuxian’s answering peal of laughter.
They move back out to the front door, Lan Wangji hovering as Wei Wuxian pulls on his boots and fixes his hair in the hall mirror. The hickey is visible on his throat, and Lan Wangji feels some kind of way about it.
“There! Do I look presentable? Can’t have the other parents thinking I’m a total deadbeat.”
“You’re not any sort of deadbeat,” Lan Wangji says, frowning. “Wei Ying is an excellent parent.”
“Ah, Lan Zhan.” Wei Wuxian smiles at him again, the expression somehow more private than before – and then, before Lan Wangji can fully process what’s happening, Wei Wuxian leans in and kisses him softly on the cheek. “We’ll meet you here on Sunday morning for the drive down, okay?”
“Okay,” says Lan Wangji, stupidly. “Goodbye, Wei Ying.”
“Goodbye,” says Wei Wuxian, and with a final, parting grin, he leaves.
Lan Wangji stares at the door for several long seconds, trying and failing to process what just happened. He’s still in his underwear, and when he finally makes himself return to the bedroom to put on some clothes, he finds that Wei Wuxian’s panties are still on his floor. The sight of them freezes him briefly in place; then he picks them up, puts them in the hamper, and decides that he needs a shower.
He blanks a bit as he runs the taps, but once he’s inside, warm water sluicing over him, he lets out a groan and presses his head to the tiled wall. So much for being a gentleman, he thinks, a little hysterically. How did the afternoon get so far away from him? It would be easy, convenient to believe that the sole fault was his own: that, if he’d either gotten off his high horse or out of his head for long enough to masturbate at some point the past five days, he would’ve been less affected by Wei Wuxian, better able to slow things down. He wants to believe it, but the habit of honesty is too ingrained. Horny or not, there’s nothing to explain why he suddenly felt the need to put a mark on Wei Wuxian’s neck, or – more importantly – why Wei Wuxian let him. Both of them were enthusiastic participants, and for all that Lan Wangji can’t bring himself to regret it, he still doesn’t understand what it means.
Technically, Wei Wuxian had asked to call it a one-off. Technically, Lan Wangji had even agreed. But it hadn’t exactly been a detailed conversation, and Lan Wangji feels very strongly that the matter should be revisited at some point in the future, preferably soon, although perhaps – he winces slightly – not before Sunday. Xichen’s party will be emotionally fraught enough for the pair of them as it is; there’s nothing to be gained by trying to, to agree to anything before then, when the experience might well be enough to put them off each other.
Agree to what? he asks himself, uncomfortably aware that part of him already knows the answer. Dizzy from more than the heat, he gets out of the shower, dries himself off, and pulls on his softest, most comfortable house clothes before curling up on the couch, his feet tucked under a blanket and a cup of hot tea in his hands. He thinks about Wei Wuxian, who has always been as beautiful as he is maddening – or at least, who used to be maddening. Now that he comes to think of it, it’s been a while since Wei Wuxian did anything to genuinely get under Lan Wangji’s skin – since they were undergraduates, at least. The rest is just Wei Wuxian’s exuberant personality brushing up against Lan Wangji’s memories of his younger self, the latter perception ensuring he’s kept a certain distance from the only out, queer friend he’s ever had; a smart, clever, thoughtful man who flirted with him outrageously when they were teenagers and who has never stopped being beautiful –
Very calmly, Lan Wangji sets down his tea and pulls out his phone. He calls Jin Zixuan, and is equal parts relieved and disappointed when he answers.
“Wangji! To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“How do you know when you’ve been an idiot about someone?”
“How do you know,” Lan Wangji repeats, “when you’ve been an idiot? About someone. And what do you do to fix it?”
“…In what context?”
“A general sort of context,” Lan Wangji hedges. “You’re more experienced at being an idiot than me, so I thought you might have some advice.”
Jin Zixuan hangs up on him.
Lan Wangji stares at his phone and silently counts to twenty. When he reaches nineteen, the phone rings again and he picks up. “Hello, Jin Zixuan.”
“You’re an absolute bitch,” Jin Zixuan grouses. “But okay, fine, whatever, I’ll bite. My curiosity is piqued. But I need more to go on here than just being an idiot to someone. The medium in which I work requires context, Hanguang-Jun.”
Lan Wangji shuts his eyes. “Hypothetically,” he says, “say you meet a person, and you start out thinking of them in a sexual way, but there’s no possibility of it going anywhere, and also they drive you crazy. Subsequently, you meet them again, but this time there is a possibility that it could go somewhere, but only if you were brave enough. The problem is, you aren’t ready to be brave enough, but you don’t want to admit it to yourself in those terms, so instead you build up a sort of… a sort of false belief, I guess, in your head, that all they ever do is drive you crazy, because otherwise you’d have to deal with how attractive they are, and how kind and intelligent, and how the only reason nothing has ever happened there is because you’re too scared to try. But then, when you finally get to a point where you’re no longer scared, and you realize that what you’ve been telling yourself about them isn’t true, it’s suddenly really complicated, because now they’re a single parent and you’ve asked them to be your fake date to your brother’s birthday party. That sort of being an idiot to someone. Hypothetically.”
“Hypothetically,” Jin Zixuan says flatly, after a long and extremely judgmental silence.
“Hypothetically – no, I’m sorry, I can’t do this. You’re telling me that Wei Wuxian – Wei Wuxian, professional chaos gremlin – is a fucking single father?”
Lan Wangji winces. “He… adopted a child? Who is four? Which is why he’s not enrolled this year?”
Lan Wangji makes a tortured noise and slides down the couch a little. “He adopted a child, Jin Zixuan. A small, adorable orphan who had nowhere else to go. He just… adopted him, and is now a father.”
“Wangji,” says Jin Zixuan, “I’ve always said you have a weird domesticity kink for a guy who never actually dates, but for fuck’s sake.”
“Do not,” says Lan Wangji, “kinkshame me in my hour of need.”
“Your hour of need is directly caused by your stupid kink!” shouts Jin Zixuan. He makes an exasperated noise, then affects the drawling monotone that means he’s pretending to be Lan Wangji. “‘Hello, my name is Hanguang-Jun, and I’m attracted to dumbasses and dumbasses exclusively. Yesterday Wei Wuxian told me he adopted an orphan even though he’s a single idiot in his early twenties, and now I dream of kissing him under the moonlight.’ You’re my friend and I love you, Wangji, but – from the bottom of my heart – why are you like this?”
“Because I’m an idiot, apparently,” Lan Wangji says, morosely. “I didn’t realise I wanted him, because I didn’t think it was something I could have, but now –”
“But now you’re out of the closet – under unpleasant circumstances, admittedly, but out nonetheless – and suddenly you want to date Wei Wuxian? Really date him, not just fake date him?”
“I… yes?” says Lan Wangji, who somehow hadn’t got as far as phrasing it so succinctly in his own head. Just the concept makes his skin prickle. “Yes. I do want that.”
“Why,” says Jin Zixuan, plaintively. And then, when Lan Wangji opens his mouth to answer, “That was fucking rhetorical, don’t you dare explain.” He takes an audible breath and says, more gently, “Wangji. I hate to ask this, because it involves thinking about the inside of Wei Wuxian’s brain, but what’s the likelihood of him reciprocating, here? I mean, I’m not trying to be harsh, but he has met you.”
Lan Wangji lets this pass without comment, aware that it’s justified payback for calling Jin Zixuan experienced with idiocy, and feels his ears grow hot. “Well. If nothing else, we are definitely, ah… sexually compatible.”
The sound of something being knocked over bursts through his phone speaker. “I’m sorry,” says Jin Zixuan, faintly. “Could you repeat that? I think I just had a stroke.”
Lan Wangji presses his face into the couch cushions. “We had sex. Today. Earlier. It was – extremely good.”
“Tell me one more detail about the sex itself, and I will literally murder you. What the fuck, Wangji? Talk about burying the fucking lede – how and why did you end up boning him?”
“We thought… kissing practice, for the party. So we’d know how much physical intimacy we were comfortable with. It… escalated.”
“It escalated into sex.”
“And he still wants to come to the birthday party?”
“Yes.” And then, because this is a somewhat salient detail, “He’s bringing his son, too. We realized his siblings will be there, and they want to see their nephew.”
“And he’s still going be your fake date, even though it means pretending to both families?”
“And yet,” says Jin Zixuan, in somewhat strangled tones, “you still decided to call me – me – and ask about what happens next, because you weren’t sure what your own feelings were, and you’re not sure if he feels the same?”
“You’re both complete fucking idiots,” says Jin Zixuan, and hangs up in disgust.
On Thursday morning, Lan Wangji wakes to find he’s received a text from Wei Wuxian, timestamped a little after 1am, that reads, I think I owe you an apology. Are you free to meet today?
Anxiety swirls through his stomach. What if Wei Wuxian has changed his mind about the party? What if yesterday was a mistake, and he no longer wants to be around Lan Wangji? Forgetting the fact that it’s 5am and Wei Wuxian, who is very much a night-owl to Lan Wangji’s lark, will likely still be fast asleep, Lan Wangji instantly texts him back: I don’t need to be on campus until 2pm. Please call or come by whenever you wish before then. He considers sending a second message stating that Wei Wuxian has nothing to apologise for, but ultimately decides against it: if Wei Wuxian wants to have whatever conversation this turns out to be in person, then Lan Wangji won’t push his boundaries.
With potentially hours to go before he receives a response, Lan Wangji goes through his usual morning rituals in a state of increasing tension. Meditation and running both help a little, but once he’s out of the shower and dressed, he can’t stop checking his phone. He is therefore both surprised and relieved when an answering string of texts comes through a little after 7.30, just as he’s finishing a later-than-usual breakfast:
Wei Ying: oh thank god THANK U
Wei Ying: honestly wasn’t sure you’d reply
Wei Ying: I can be there in forty minutes if that’s okay??
That works for me, Lan Wangji texts back, and then has a small crisis about the fact that, as he hasn’t yet done any laundry, he won’t be able to return Wei Wuxian’s panties to him. Ears burning, he hurries to empty his nearly-full hamper into the machine, putting in the detergent and selecting his usual settings on autopilot. The machine starts to fill, and only then does he realize that he could’ve just put the soiled panties in a bag; that Wei Wuxian probably didn’t expect him to return the damn things laundered, assuming he even realizes they’re missing. He then has an additional panic about the fact that the panties are made of a different material to just about everything he owns, and what if his regular laundry settings leave them damaged? He should’ve taken them out and checked if they needed hand-washing or warm water, not just tossed them in with his regular load!
If they’re ruined, I’ll buy him a new pair, he thinks, and then has to sit down and take some deep, calming breaths at the prospect of buying lingerie for Wei Wuxian, which – how would that even work? Presumably there are specialty stores that make such items to fit traditionally male bodies, but Lan Wangji has never actually shopped at one before. Will he need Wei Wuxian’s measurements? Will he have to go in person? Every potential outcome is both more arousing-slash-mortifying than the last. Lan Wangji groans and puts his head in his hands. Jin Zixuan was right. Why am I like this?
After thirty-five minutes of self-flagellating introspection, the washing cycle finishes. Lan Wangji moves instinctively to put everything in the dryer when he remembers the panties will almost certainly need a different setting to his own clothes, and is about to try and fish them out in the hopes of finding care instructions on the label when the doorbell rings.
Lan Wangji jerks upright in front of the washer as if he’s been caught doing something illicit. Taking a deep breath, he schools his face to calmness and goes to answer the door, where he finds an agitated and visibly tired Wei Wuxian, a jittery smile on his face and an extremely large cup of coffee in his hand.
“Hi,” says Wei Wuxian, flashing a nervous look as he steps into the hallway. Lan Wangji shuts the door, heart pounding all out of proportion to the context.
“What – what did you want to talk about?” he asks, trying very hard not to stare at the extremely visible hickey on Wei Wuxian’s neck.
Wei Wuxian flushes, fiddling with his coffee cup while failing to make consistent eye contact. “Right. So, about yesterday? I just, I know we’re both consenting adults, and it’s not like I took advantage of you, exactly, but I also kind of… jumped you, a bit – jumped on you, really – and that ended up, uh, escalating things, which was not what we’d agreed to, and the thing is –” he visibly forces himself to look up, biting his lip in a way that makes Lan Wangji want to push him against the wall and bite it for him, “– the thing is, I wanted to say sorry. Like, not sorry like I regret being sexual with you, specifically, but sorry like I made things sexual in a way you probably felt really awkward about afterwards, once the hormones wore off and you had time to process it. And I know it’s not, like, an excuse, but ever since I adopted A-Yuan, I haven’t exactly had a lot of time for, uh, relations of any kind, never mind the fact that he’s sleeping in my bed most nights, but I wanted you to know that I’m not going to be like that on Sunday. I can actually control myself around you, Lan Zhan! And that’s. That’s what I wanted to say.”
“Wei Ying,” says Lan Wangji, after he takes a moment to process all this. “You don’t owe me an apology. I –” he falters, fighting the urge to duck his head, and somehow manages to admit, “– I didn’t feel awkward afterwards. I just wished you’d been able to stay.”
Wei Wuxian’s mouth forms a soft O of surprise. Hesitantly, he says, “I wish I’d been able to stay, too.”
“Mn,” says Lan Wangji, stomach twisting as a shy, soft smile creeps onto Wei Wuxian’s face – and then he ruins it by blurting out, “You left your panties here.”
Wei Wuxian goes bright red. “Oh my god, I’m so sorry –”
“I washed them,” Lan Wangji says, ears burning as his mouth runs away from his brain, oh god, why can’t he stop talking, “just now. But I wasn’t sure what dryer setting to use.”
Wei Wuxian cycles through several sets of facial expressions at lightning speed before – mercifully, beautifully – bursting into laughter. “Lan Zhan!” he wheezes, almost doubled over, “only you would be worried about which dryer setting to use!”
“I didn’t want to ruin them,” Lan Wangji says, helplessly. “They’re so pretty.”
The laughter stops as abruptly as it started; Wei Wuxian jerks upright, a speculative light coming into his eyes. “Yeah?” he asks, mouth quirking slyly. “You liked my pretty panties, Lan Zhan?”
Lan Wangji swallows hard. His ears are on fire. “Yes,” he says.
“I have… other pairs.” Wei Wuxian steps incrementally closer, looking up through his lashes in a way that is no less electrifyingly hot for being, on this occasion, clearly deliberate. “I could wear some on Sunday.”
Please do, Lan Wangji thinks, but somehow wrangles enough self-control to say instead, “They were part of the outfit.”
“Hmm,” says Wei Wuxian. He grins, head tilted gently onside. “Maybe I will, then.”
“It can be a surprise,” Wei Wuxian says, the tiniest bit of hesitation creeping into his tone. “For – for afterwards, I mean, I was serious about the whole not-jumping-you-at-the-party thing, but –”
“Does that mean,” says Lan Wangji carefully, “that you might be amenable to some, ah… subsequent jumping?” He takes a steadying breath and steps a little closer. “Or to being jumped?”
Wei Wuxian mouths the phrase subsequent jumping to himself, then inhales sharply, meeting Lan Wangji’s gaze as he realizes what’s being offered. “Yes to both,” he says, shakily. “Lan Zhan –”
Lan Wangji cups the curve of his jaw and kisses him, soft and gentle. Wei Wuxian gasps against his mouth, and there’s an exquisite moment where it would be so easy to deepen things, but Lan Wangji forces himself to pull back instead. He knows he’s smiling, and sees the moment when Wei Wuxian sees it, too, a bright grin blooming across his face in answer.
“Well, then,” Wei Wuxian says. “Well, I can’t – I can’t actually stay, I had to leave A-Yuan with my neighbour, but I think – we’re good, right? This is good?”
“We are,” says Lan Wangji, swallowing. “Wei Ying is good. For Sunday and for – other things.”
“Good,” Wei Wuxian breathes. “Good, then. That’s – good.” He motions awkwardly towards the door, still smiling broadly. “So, I’ll just go now, but – Sunday?”
“Sunday,” Wei Wuxian promises, and then he’s fumbling his way out backwards, almost tripping over the doorframe and dropping his coffee in the same instant. Lan Wangji lunges to help him, but he rights himself at the last second, his grin taking on a manic quality as he bounces upright and declares, “It’s fine! I styled it out, I’m fine, goodbye!” and not-quite-running away.
It’s not until he shuts the door that Lan Wangji realizes he’s still in possession of Wei Wuxian’s red panties – but this time, the thought doesn’t fill him with anxiety. Stomach swooping, he returns to his half-done laundry and puts the panties in the dryer with the rest of his things.
If they do end up ruined, he reasons, he can always buy another pair.
Lan Wangji spends the next two and a half days in a state of nervous anticipation. Not wanting to stay completely out of contact with Wei Wuxian, he summons his courage and texts him a picture of a rabbit he sees on his way to campus on Thursday afternoon, and is rewarded, first by a string of heart-eyed emojis, and then by a series of random messages, seemingly about whatever is on Wei Wuxian’s mind at the time. Mostly, what’s on his mind is A-Yuan, and Lan Wangji finds himself smiling fondly whenever he opens his texts.
On Saturday morning, he steps out of the shower, checks his phone and finds a new string of messages:
Wei Ying: A-Yuan just asked me to make his congee spicy, CLEARLY he is my son who I birthed from my very own body
Wei Ying: oh god I made it too spicy for him now he’s crying WHO LET ME HAVE A CHILD I KNOW NOTHING
Wei Ying: it’s gremlin hours in the wei household now we’re both eating donuts for breakfast I will not be accepting criticism at this time
This third text is paired with a photo of A-Yuan and Wei Wuxian, the former still a little red-eyed but nonetheless grinning triumphantly around a mouthful of donut, the latter rolling his eyes with half a donut hanging out of his mouth like a sugary, broken cigar. Lan Wangji huffs a laugh and texts him back:
Lan Wangji: Please make sure to have a healthy, balanced lunch.
Wei Ying: donuts are a vegetable
Wearing nothing but a towel around his hips, Lan Wangji walks to his fridge, opens the crisper and snaps a photo of the leeks, spring onions, bok choy, turnips and beansprouts arranged carefully therein. He sends it to Wei Wuxian along with a frowning emoji, shuts the fridge and then leans his hip against the counter, lips quirked as he watches the typing bubble flicker.
Wei Ying: TURNIPS???
Wei Ying: the BETRAYAL
Wei Ying: its like I dont even know you
Lan Wangji: I’m a man of hidden depths.
Wei Ying: …was that a joke?? You joke now??
Lan Wangji: I dabble.
For that, he receives a keysmash and a string of crylaughing emojis. He doesn’t know how to reply to that, and so says nothing until Wei Wuxian texts him again hours later, at lunchtime: a photo of A-Yuan happily eating a selection of vegetables, none of which are turnips.
Aside from texting with Wei Wuxian, Lan Wangji spends the rest of the day either on the phone with Xichen or helping him to confirm various last-minute details for the party. Originally, he was meant to have been far more involved in the preparations, but after the argument with Lan Qiren, Xichen had gently insisted on taking over. It had made Lan Wangji’s stomach twist with guilt and frustration, but the only alternative was remaining in regular contact with his uncle, and that… was still untenable. Will possibly always be untenable in a way that makes Lan Wangji’s heart hurt if he thinks about it too much, and so he shoves those thoughts aside and focusses on double-checking orders with vendors and fielding Xichen’s questions, rereading his messages with Wei Wuxian whenever he needs a pick-me-up.
His final errand for the day involves a trip to the shops, to make a purchase he’s spent the last two days researching online. His pulse ticks up a bit as he pays for it, but the cashier just gives him a friendly, customer-service smile and asks if he wants a bag. Lan Wangji declines and carries the box out to the car, where he sets it carefully in the back seat. He plans to read the instruction manual thoroughly before tackling the installation, though hopefully it won’t be too dark by then.
On Sunday morning, he wakes at his usual 5am and goes through his usual routine, though for once, he has to actively coach himself not to rush. The party doesn’t officially start until 11am, though Lan Wangji is expected to be there an hour earlier to help set up, and as they’ll be driving to Cloud Recesses rather than taking the train – he wants the option to leave immediately, should the need arise – Wei Wuxian has agreed to bring A-Yuan over at around 8. Though his mornings are normally a time of peace and mental clarity, today, he finds himself resenting how the hours drag. He takes an extra-long shower to help pass the time (and to sneak in an orgasm; he doesn’t want to be even more keyed up all day than he already is) and then spends an inordinate amount of time staring at his wardrobe, wondering what on earth to wear.
Ordinarily, he wouldn’t put so much thought into his clothing choices. He has plenty of smart causal, business casual and formalwear options, knows exactly what he’d be wearing if he’d never quarreled with his uncle, but knowing he’ll be going with Wei Wuxian – knowing what Wei Wuxian will be wearing – lends the whole thing a sudden air of significance. He can’t look too buttoned-up, not when his date is wearing a saucy crop-top – or will the effect be somehow magnified, if Lan Wangji shows up dressed like he’s going for a job interview? No, no; that feels too much like using Wei Wuxian as a prop. Lan Wangji needs to dress down, not up. Should he try and match colours with Wei Wuxian? He doesn’t own a lot of red, but he has some black, and that looks good enough with the blues and creams that constitute the bulk of his wardrobe. But most of his black clothes are formal, and he’s trying to loosen up…
In the end, he settles on a pair of pale blue jeans, somewhat more fitted than he’d usually wear – they’ve been in his closet since his first undergraduate year, and he’s put on more muscle since then – and a charcoal grey tee, likewise formfitting, with a pair of rabbits where the breast pocket would go, if t-shirts had breast pockets. One rabbit is white, the other black, curled together in an approximated yin-yang shape. They’re the whole reason he impulse-bought the shirt, though at the time, he’d been too embarrassed to wear it outside of the house. Now, though, it feels perfect, and after brushing his freshly-dried hair to a shine, he puts on socks and sets the shoes he’s planning to wear by the front door, ready to go.
At 8.15, just as Lan Wangji is starting to fret that Wei Wuxian has changed his mind, the bell rings. He smiles as he opens it, and there’s Wei Wuxian, smiling in turn, a beaming A-Yuan by his side.
“Hi, rich-gege!” says A-Yuan, bouncing slightly. He’s wearing a pale purple tee patterned with lotus flowers and a pair of dark green corduroy pants. “We’re going a party!”
“Yes, we are,” says Lan Wangji.
“Sorry we’re running a bit late,” says Wei Wuxian. “A-Yuan wanted to wear the shirt that shijie bought him, but it was hiding down the back of the drawer, so we had to get a later bus than planned.”
“You’re barely late at all. We’ve still got plenty of time,” says Lan Wangji, allowing himself to drink in Wei Wuxian’s appearance. As promised, he’s wearing the same black jeans and red SAVE A SWORD, RIDE A SOCIALIST shirt as the other day, though he’s also accessorized with a pair of red and black drop earrings and a necklace that Lan Wangji half recognizes. It’s a long black cord, doubled in two snug loops around Wei Wuxian’s pale throat, so that the third loop, bearing a small wooden flute charm, dangles against his chest. Lan Wangji blinks at it, wondering why on earth a piece of Wei Wuxian’s jewelry should look familiar to him, until it suddenly clicks.
“I gave you that,” he says, startled, and without quite meaning to, he reaches out to touch it, a gentle fingertip tap to the wooden flute.
Wei Wuxian’s eyes go wide. “It was you?”
Lan Wangji feels his ears go hot. In their first year of university, their classmate Nie Huaisang had decided to throw a party where every guest would be randomly given the name of a different guest, for whom they would then have to buy a present. No giver could identify themselves to the giftee, he said, as anonymity was the point, with everyone having to adhere to a set price limit for their purchase. He called it Sang’s Secret, and it had caught on among their extended circle of friends, becoming an annual event. Two years ago, Lan Wangji had drawn Wei Wuxian’s name, and after weeks of frustrated searching had finally found the necklace at a market stall. He knew Wei Wuxian had liked the gift – he’d spent a not considerable portion of the party pestering various people about who his giver had been – but although he’s seen him wear it since, the last time was a while ago.
“It was,” he says, mouth a little dry. “I’m glad you liked it.”
Wei Wuxian laughs, two spots of colour on his cheeks. “It’s my favourite.”
They stare at each other, smiling stupidly, and are saved from silence by A-Yuan, who tugs firmly on Wei Wuxian’s hand and asks, “Now we go to the party?”
Lan Wangji coughs. “Just let me get my things,” he says. Xichen’s gift is already sitting wrapped on the hall table, and once he’s put on his shoes, he tucks it neatly under his arm, pockets his phone and wallet, and joins Wei Wuxian and A-Yuan for the walk down to his car.
They’re within sight of the road when Wei Wuxian suddenly stops dead, a groan emitting from his lips.
“Oh, no,” he says. “Lan Zhan, I’m such an idiot, I’m so sorry, I didn’t think –”
“What is it?”
“I didn’t bring A-Yuan’s car seat.” He looks genuinely mortified, an expression Lan Wangji has never seen – nor, indeed, ever expected to see – on Wei Wuxian’s face. “I’m so sorry. I keep his seat in the hall cupboard because we don’t have a car, but we caught the bus over today and I just didn’t think – I knew I needed to bring it, but we were running late, so we ran out the door – I can’t believe I just forgot it, I’m so –”
“Wei Ying,” says Lan Wangji, interrupting gently. “It’s all right. I already have one.”
“– but we can’t go without a – what?” His mouth falls open. “You – what?”
“I already have a car seat.” He gestures towards his car, walking closer so that, when Wei Wuxian finally follows, he can see it for himself.
Wei Wuxian stares at him, throat working as he swallows. “Lan Zhan, why do you have a car seat?”
“Because I bought one,” says Lan Wangji. “Yesterday. For you. For A-Yuan, I mean,” he says, sparing a glance for the boy in question.
“New seat?” asks A-Yuan, standing on tiptoes to peer in through the car window. “Gege, I’ve got a new seat! It’s got red! Can I sit in it now? Can I try it?”
“Of course,” says Lan Wangji, when Wei Wuxian doesn’t immediately answer. He unlocks the car, wondering for an awful moment if he’s crossed a line, then steps back, making room for A-Yuan to clamber in and exclaim over how tall he is in the seat, and how much he likes the red stripes.
“Silly melon, you’re sitting on the buckles,” says Wei Wuxian, belatedly bending down to lift them out from under him. “Now, before I fasten you in, last chance – do you need to use the restroom?”
“No, I’m fine,” says A-Yuan. Wei Wuxian levels him with a skeptical look, but proceeds to buckle him in regardless. Lan Wangji admires his facility with the straps, which he’d found fairly confusing when setting the whole thing up last night, then sidesteps as Wei Wuxian straightens up again, closing the door.
“You bought a car seat,” he repeats, an unreadable look on his face. “You bought a whole car seat, just for one trip.”
Lan Wangji swallows hard. “It… seemed like the right thing to do.” And I don’t want it to be just one trip.
Wei Wuxian stares a moment longer; then he smiles, bright and beautiful. “Lan Zhan, you’re truly ridiculous. Has anyone ever told you that?”
“They have now,” he says, and feels his heart flip at the sound of Wei Wuxian’s laughter.
Sang's Secret, get it? Because there's no Santa in cultivationland?
...I'll see myself to the door.
Lan Wangji doesn’t have much experience with small children, and is therefore ill-equipped to judge whether A-Yuan is representative of his age range, generally speaking, or if he’s somehow ahead of the curve. Either way, it doesn’t take long for him to feel a slow, dawning joy at the realisation that he likes A-Yuan, who has a lively, curious mind and a cheerful disposition. Once he calms down a little from the excitement of the new car seat, A-Yuan instantly starts asking questions: whose party are they going to? Is Xichen rich-gege’s da-ge or his didi? Does he have any sisters? Any other brothers? (A-Yuan wishes he had three brothers and two sisters.) Will there be other children? Will there be games to play?
Lan Wangji isn’t sure what games might be on offer – he hadn’t asked Xichen about this particular detail, assuming that small children would instinctively make their own fun – but he assures A-Yuan that, if he ever gets bored, there’s a meadow full of rabbits that he can visit, provided he can be gentle. A-Yuan is thrilled at the prospect, and proceeds to ask dozens of new questions: what colour are the rabbits? Are they nice? Are there babies? Are there other animals at Cloud Recesses? (A-Yuan’s favourite animals are cats and rabbits, because they are cute and soft.) Has rich-gege ever had a cat?
Except for occasional pauses, the questions are more or less constant. After the first twenty minutes, Wei Wuxian shoots Lan Wangji an apologetic look from the front passenger seat and murmurs, “You don’t have to answer everything he asks, you know.”
Lan Wangji blinks at him, surprised. “But I want to,” he says. Truthfully, Lan Wangji has always felt more at ease answering questions than venturing his own opinions, especially regarding factual rather than personal matters. It’s taken him years of practice to reach a point where he can easily converse with Jin Zixuan and a handful of other people, and he feels a little frisson to realise that Wei Wuxian was among the first of these. But then, Wei Wuxian has always been easy to talk to: he sometimes teases, yes, but he doesn’t judge, and he’s always happy to carry a conversation without making his interlocutor feel like a burden.
Wei Wuxian laughs, a fond smile on his face. “Well, just let me know if you need to tap out. He can keep it up for hours.”
In the end, this turns out to be a slight exaggeration: A-Yuan keeps up his questions for a full hour, the pauses between them getting a little longer each time, until he abruptly falls asleep, one chubby cheek resting against the edge of the car seat.
“Good job tiring him out!” says Wei Wuxian, after twisting around to establish that A-Yuan really is out for the count. “Honestly, thanks for indulging him. I try my best, but it gets a lot more exhausting when you’re doing it solo, 24-7.”
“It wasn’t indulgence,” Lan Wangji says. “I enjoyed it.” He hesitates, not sure how to put it into words. “As a child, I was not encouraged to ask questions. I was taught to listen to my elders and to answer whatever they asked me about my studies; asking additional queries would have implied that I didn’t trust them to teach me properly. I still learned a great deal, but not about conversation, and I have always found it difficult since to ask for things. It… delights me, to meet a curious child; to see how clearly he wants to learn, and to know I can help to teach him.”
Wei Wuxian flushes, chuckling as he ducks his head. “It gets a little less endearing when you’re answering the same question for the fourteenth time, but – yes. It’s nice to help him learn.”
Lan Wangji considers this. “Repetition is part of learning,” he says. “Certainly, it can be frustrating to feel you aren’t being listened to –” he thinks of his History of Cultivation students, “– but it is still part of the process.” Then he frowns, though only at himself. “I apologise. I didn’t mean to lecture you. This is your area of expertise, not mine.”
“You weren’t lecturing,” says Wei Wuxian. “It’s… nice, actually, to have someone assume that I know what I’m doing.”
“Why would anyone assume otherwise? A-Yuan is clearly flourishing.”
Wei Wuxian lets out a strangled laugh. “Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan. You truly are too good.”
Cheeks burning, Lan Wangji says, “I am merely myself.”
“Modest, too,” says Wei Wuxian, but grins to show he’s teasing. He tucks a stray strand of hair behind his ear, then says, in a softer voice, “At any rate, it’s good to practice with easy questions now. One day, A-Yuan will be old enough to ask what happened to his original family, and that will be much harder to answer. I’m hoping that by then, I’ll know how to explain it properly.”
Lan Wangji glances in the rearview mirror, throat growing tight at the sight of A-Yuan, peacefully asleep with his mouth open. “You don’t have to tell me, but… what did happen?”
Wei Wuxian sighs. “You deserve to know, if only because there’s an outside chance that it might come up at the party. A-Yuan was born into the Wen clan, one of the cadet branches. Most of that part of the family are doctors, and his parents both served as medical staff in one of the Qishan mining communities. It was an older mine – old equipment, old gear. He was only a few months old when something went wrong in one of the shafts. His parents went in to help the wounded, but there was a secondary collapse, and they both died. The surviving miners did their best to look after him, but there were more accidents, and Wen Ruohan kept refusing to improve the safety conditions. You remember Wen Qing and Wen Ning, from our indoctrination year at Cloud Recesses?”
“I do,” says Lan Wangji. He hadn’t paid them much attention at the time – he’d been too busy furiously obsessing over Wei Wuxian – but they’ve remained in the periphery of his awareness ever since despite attending a different university, if only because they’re still his agemates in the cultivation world.
“Well, I’ve been friends with them since then,” says Wei Wuxian, “and when the miners started protesting, Wen Qing got involved. And, well, you know me – if there’s a protest happening, I’m going to be a part of it, so I ended up tagging along, which is how I first met A-Yuan, back when he’d just turned one. This would’ve been, uh – fuck, I suck at maths – our second year of university? Yeah.” He shakes his head, grinning ruefully. “Anyway. You probably don’t need me to tell you that Wen Ruohan is a great big bag of dicks, but just in case: he’s a great big bag of dicks who doesn’t give a shit about worker safety in the mines his company owns, even when the people getting hurt are technically part of his clan. And he really does not like his policies being protested.
“Long story short, it’s three years later and shit still hasn’t been fixed. The miners have been lobbying for change pretty consistently, but they’re a small community, isolated, and it’s only now that people elsewhere have started to take notice. Which means Wen Ruohan’s people have started cracking down on their unions, lots of shady retaliatory stuff – including violence, though of course it all gets written up internally as ‘random muggings’ or whatever.” He makes a disgusted face. “Late last year, it started getting bad enough that Fourth Uncle and the others were worried about A-Yuan; about what would happen to him in the future if anything happens to them. And the area where they’re living, there’s really only one local school – not a lot of resources or opportunities – but for the miners, it’s their livelihood, their ancestral land. They want to stay and fight to make things better for the future, which is awesome, but they also wanted something better for A-Yuan now, you know? Madam Wen was technically registered as his foster-carer after his parents died, but even though she loves him to death, she’s old, and he just has so much energy. It was getting too much for her, especially with all the other stresses.
“So I just thought, why not adopt him myself? I’ve known him since he was a baby, I’m friends with everyone else who cares about him, but I can keep him safe, get him into a better school district. And I love him, you know? He’s easy to love.” He swallows. “There’s rules about adopting as a single parent, but I inherited a bit of money from my birth family, plus the Jiangs set up a trust for me years ago, just like they did with shijie and Jiang Cheng, so I was considered financially secure enough to be approved. It helped a lot that Wen Qing and Madam Wen and the others all endorsed me for it – the fact that they trust me not to fuck it up is honestly, like, kind of overwhelming if I think about too much – but the alternative was A-Yuan going into the foster system and ending up with strangers, and like fuck was I letting that happen.”
“Wei Ying,” says Lan Wangji, overwhelmed by his own feelings. “A-Yuan is lucky to have you.”
Wei Wuxian waves a hand and looks out a window, a fey smile on his lips. “Tell me that when he’s all grown up; right now, I feel like I’m learning how to swim in the middle of a flood.” He laughs. “Seriously though, the weirdest part about all of this is realizing how much of being an adult is apparently just making shit up on the fly. You remember being a little kid and thinking that grown-ups always knew what they were doing? Like, obviously you didn’t always like it, but there was this, this sense that even if they were being dumb about kid things, about you, they still had to understand how adult stuff worked, right?”
“Mn,” says Lan Wangji, who in honesty had felt something similar up until just a few weeks ago, when Lan Qiren threw him out of his study.
“Well, it turns out that’s bullshit,” says Wei Wuxian. “These last few birthdays, turning twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two, I keep waiting for some sort of switch –” he gestures at the side of his head, miming an up-down motion, “– like a brain switch for Adult Things to turn on, where suddenly I’d wake up one morning and know how to fill out a tax return without wanting to set my hair on fire, and always remember to put milk on the fucking shopping list instead of thinking each time, oh, obviously I need milk, there’s no need to write it down, then coming back home again without any fucking milk, but like –”
He takes a breath, glancing back to check that A-Yuan is still asleep, then continues, a little more quietly, “– you’d think, if anything was going to make the Adult Things switch turn on, it would be having a kid. But it didn’t. It doesn’t. You’re still just you, still learning things because apparently you never actually stop, only now there’s a tiny person who assumes you know how everything works, and your job is to make them believe it. And it’s terrifying. Wonderful, but terrifying. And A-Yuan is four! That’s way past diapers and bottles and toilet training; he already walks and talks, and he doesn’t have that weird soft spot on his head that babies do. You can drop a four-year-old – like, not on purpose, obviously, but you can – and they’ll just kind of giggle and bounce, but you absolutely cannot drop a baby.” He mock-shudders, running a hand through his hair. “Fuck, if I’d had to take him when he was any younger than this, I’d be a wreck.”
“But you would’ve?”
“I would’ve. Of course I would’ve.” Wei Wuxian smiles softly. “I love him.”
Lan Wangji swallows and grips the wheel. He can’t believe there was ever a time when he didn’t think the world of Wei Wuxian; when he was so tangled up in his own neuroses that he didn’t see how astonishingly compassionate he is, didn’t understand the depths of his loyalty to the people he cares about. He wants to do something ridiculous, like pull the car onto the hard shoulder and kiss him senseless, or possibly propose marriage. He wants to ask to stay in his life in whatever capacity Wei Wuxian and A-Yuan will have him.
Instead, he says, with only the barest shake in his voice, “My uncle was wrong about me, but he was even more wrong about you.”
Wei Wuxian tips his head back and laughs. “If I traveled through time and tried to tell my fifteen-year-old self what you just said, he wouldn’t believe a word of it! You hated me so much back then, I can’t believe I’ve finally won you over.”
“I never hated you,” Lan Wangji says, startled. He forces himself to catch Wei Wuxian’s eye – albeit briefly, as he is still a responsible driver – and, seeing his expression of disbelief, says, “Truly. I was… embarrassingly obsessed with you, often in very aggressive ways, but nothing I felt was even close to hatred.”
“Wait, wait.” Wei Wuxian straightens up, a delighted expression on his face. “You were embarrassingly obsessed with me? Lan Zhan! Since when? I demand an explanation!”
Feeling hot all over, Lan Wangji focusses on the road and says, as calmly as he can manage, “You put explicit gay pornography into the book I was reading. I’d been – struggling, trying to ignore the signs that other boys interested me in a way that girls did not, and then you made me look at it. You made me look at you, and I was furious about it, because I thought that you’d seen right through me. But even though I reacted, you didn’t seem to care – not about that, at least – and I wanted, I wanted nothing more than to pin you down and make you explain yourself, but I wasn’t brave enough.” He takes a deep breath, allows himself another glance at Wei Wuxian’s beautiful, astonished face, and says, “All those times I started fights, I wanted you to finish them. I wanted you to take the step that I couldn’t, so that then I’d have an excuse to take it further.”
Wei Wuxian is silent for several long seconds. “Are you seriously telling me,” he says, slowly, “that the whole time I was fantasizing about you bending me over a library table, you were fantasizing about –”
“– bending you over a library table?” Lan Wangji says, wry and embarrassed all at once. “Yes.”
“Oh my god.” Wei Wuxian makes a sound that’s half laugh, half groan and slouches dramatically in his seat. “Lan Zhan, you don’t even know – I got that porn from Nie Huaisang, and it was the first time I’d seen anything gay like that, either!”
Lan Wangji cuts him a disbelieving glance. “You didn’t have the internet at Lotus Pier?”
“Of course we did! But you think I was going to risk Jiang Cheng walking in on me? I didn’t even look up straight porn at home, let alone anything more adventurous! But Nie Huaisang had that magazine, and I hadn’t known you could like girls and boys until he showed it to me – it was a bi magazine, it had something for everyone – but as soon as I saw that picture, I wanted to show it to you. I didn’t even really understand why, at first, but I still did it anyway; it wasn’t until afterwards that I realized I’d been bugging you so much because you were hot, and after that, I kept on trying to get you to reenact it with me.”
“A jointly formative experience, then,” says Lan Wangji, faintly.
“Apparently so,” says Wei Wuxian.
With perfect ironic timing, they pass a road sign stating how many kilometers away Cloud Recesses is, and Lan Wangji almost chokes at the belated realization that they’ll soon be arriving at the place where they first met; the site of their respective (yet apparently mutual, intrinsically linked) gay awakenings. I could ask Xichen for the library key, Lan Wangji thinks, then promptly slaps the thought away like he would a mosquito. No. We’re here to celebrate Xichen’s birthday, and – with his blessing – to send a message to Uncle. Not to belatedly enact any teenage sexual fantasies either in, near or in any way relating to the library, or any other part of Cloud Recesses, for that matter.
From the back seat, A-Yuan makes a sleepy noise, half-lifting his head from the seat. “Bunnies yet?” he asks blearily.
“Not yet, bǎobǎo,” Wei Wuxian says gently. “Bunnies later.”
“Okay,” A-Yuan mumbles, and falls straight back to sleep, blissfully oblivious to all else.
By the time they reach Cloud Recesses, A-Yuan is awake again, eagerly pushing against his restraints as Lan Wangji drives slowly up the narrow, winding mountain road to the compound.
“I still can’t believe we all had to walk up the steps for the indoctrination camp,” Wei Wuxian mutters. “It was like, three thousand steps. One step for every ancient GusuLan rule.”
“Uncle thought it would build character,” says Lan Wangji. His lips quirk. “Unfortunately, he did not specify which type of character.”
“Bunnies!” says A-Yuan, shouting over Wei Wuxian’s snort of laughter. “Can we see the bunnies? I want to see the bunnies first!”
“Bǎobǎo, I promise we’ll see the bunnies, but not right away, okay?” Wei Wuxian turns in his seat, reaching out to pat A-Yuan’s knee. “Lan Zhan has to help his brother first.”
“But I want to see the bunnies!”
“I know, and you will. But you have to be good and wait. Can you be a good boy?”
“But I’ve been good,” A-Yuan wails. “Can’t I see the bunnies please?”
“Just be good a little longer. Can you do that?”
“No!” says A-Yuan. He thrashes against his restraints, bucking hard enough that the car seat moves in place. “I want to get up!”
“I know, bǎobǎo. You’ve been really good for a long drive, but we’re nearly there, okay?” Wei Wuxian leans closer to A-Yuan, pitching his voice to a conspiratorial register. “If you can be patient, I’ll do airplane with you later.”
A-Yuan immediately sits bolt upright. “Airplane! Airplane!”
“Just a few minutes more, okay?”
A-Yuan nods, hands clasped firmly in his lap. Wei Wuxian watches him a moment longer, then turns back to Lan Wangji with a sigh. “When I wake up tomorrow and my arms don’t work, remind me that this is why.”
“I will,” says Lan Wangji, although he has no idea what airplane is in this context and is frankly too distracted by the assumption that he’ll be seeing Wei Wuxian first thing in the morning to ask.
Though A-Yuan fidgets a little more, he remains otherwise well-behaved as they finish their drive and, at long last, pull into the flat parking lot cut into the mountainside. A-Yuan cheers as Wei Wuxian unbuckles him, swinging delightedly from his hand as, led by Lan Wangji, they cross the gravel to the switchbacking ramp that leads up into the compound.
“Air-plane! Air-plane!” chants A-Yuan, giggling delightedly. He’s unapologetically loud, and Lan Wangji has a sudden impulse to shush him – an impulse born from years and years of being shushed himself, taught always to be quiet within Cloud Recesses, to lower his voice and act with decorum. He swallows it, and embraces A-Yuan’s joy instead – and then, when he realizes it’s not only allowed, but expected under the circumstances, he carefully transfers Xichen’s gift to his right hand in order to grasp Wei Wuxian’s free hand with his left, squeezing gently.
Wei Wuxian’s eyes go wide for all of a second: then he smiles, bright and beautiful, and laces their fingers together. Impishly, he leans across and kisses Lan Wangji on the cheek. “You ready?” he murmurs.
“No,” says Lan Wangji, flustered into honesty, and then they’re passing beneath an arch of silver, white and blue balloons that’s been set at the top of the ramp, entering Cloud Recesses proper.
They’ve barely made it three strides into the courtyard when Xichen emerges from the main building, smiling broadly. He’s dressed in a pale blue suit and crisp white shirt with a mandarin collar, his short hair neatly gelled and combed. “Wangji!” he exclaims, striding over. His eyes widen a little as he takes in the sight of Wei Wuxian and A-Yuan, but only for a moment; then they crinkle warmly again, and Lan Wangji feels a rush of affection as he lets go of Wei Wuxian’s hand and embraces his brother.
“Xichen,” he says, voice muffled against his brother’s shoulder. “Happy birthday. It’s good to see you.”
“It’s good to see you, too.”
They pull back from each other, and Lan Wangji hands over the present. “You don’t have to open it now,” he says, “but you can, if you wish.”
“I’ll consider it,” says Xichen, eyes twinkling. With that, he turns his gaze to his other guests, the corner of his mouth flicking up in a smile. “Wei Wuxian! I’m glad you could come.” And then, to A-Yuan, “And who is this?”
“This is my son, A-Yuan,” says Wei Wuxian, and when Lan Wangji turns, he’s surprised to find that A-Yuan, who was so boisterous only a moment ago, is clinging firmly to Wei Wuxian’s leg, staring silent and wide-eyed at Xichen. “Sorry,” Wei Wuxian says, smiling ruefully. “He gets a little shy sometimes around new people.”
“I feel the same way myself,” says Xichen. He winks at A-Yuan, who clings all the tighter to his father, and then turns back to Lan Wangji, his expression turning more serious. “I’ve convinced Uncle to stay in his office until the official start time. I know you’ll see him eventually, but I though it might be nice to prolong the inevitable.”
Lan Wangji nods, throat suddenly tight. “Of course. What do you need help with?”
Xichen laughs, though there’s something almost sad in his expression. “Wangji. It’s a catered party. Everything is already set up. There’s plenty of people looking after the details. I asked you to come early so we could see each other, not to make you do chores.”
There’s an awkward silence, broken by a deliberate cough from Wei Wuxian. He grins at the pair of them, gesturing to A-Yuan. “If you two want to catch up, I can take him to see the waterfall,” he says. “We’ll wander back once the party starts.”
“No,” says Lan Wangji, too quickly. “No, that’s – I mean.” He takes a breath. “I mean, if you wish to go, I’ll understand, but I would… I would like you to stay.”
“Of course you should stay,” says Xichen, though the slight rise of his eyebrow speaks volumes to Lan Wangji. He suppresses a wince: he’d only told Xichen that Wei Wuxian was here as his fake date, but his brother knows him well enough to know from this single exchange that there’s nothing feigned about his feelings.
“Perhaps,” Lan Wangji says, glancing carefully at Wei Wuxian, “we could all go to see the rabbits?”
A-Yuan’s head jerks up. He stares at Lan Wangji, eyes huge, then looks pleadingly up at Wei Wuxian. “Please, gege?”
Wei Wuxian gives an exaggerated eyeroll. To Lan Wangji, he says, “You’ve made me a liar.” And then, to A-Yuan, “All right, yes. We’ll see the bunnies first.”
A-Yuan shrieks with delight. Jumping up and down, he tugs on Wei Wuxian’s jeans, chanting, “Bunnies! Bunnies! Bunnies!”
Xichen chuckles. “I’ll lead the way, shall I?”
“Please do,” says Wei Wuxian, and Lan Wangji is about to explain about the earlier promise of bunnies made while en route, when A-Yuan suddenly flings himself forwards, grappling Lan Wangji around the knees.
“Zhan-ge carry me to the bunnies?” he asks, head tipped all the way back as he grins winningly up at Lan Wangji.
For half a second, Lan Wangji is frozen, burningly aware of the astonished looks both his brother and Wei Wuxian are giving him. Then A-Yuan tugs his knees again, and Lan Wangji, who has never carried a child in his life, says, “Of course,” and reaches down to pick him up. A-Yuan laughs and lifts his arms – he’s both heavier and lighter than Lan Wangji expected, his muscles tensed in preparation for clinging on – and, after a brief hesitation, settles him on his hip the way he saw Wei Wuxian do at the café. A-Yuan leans against him, gripping his shirt for balance as he bumps his head against Lan Wangji’s shoulder.
“Bunnies!” he says again, cheerfully.
“Bunnies,” Lan Wangji agrees, and breathes a sigh of relief as Xichen starts walking, enabling him to do likewise.
He jostles A-Yuan against his hip, settling him more securely, and feels his neck prickle when Wei Wuxian falls into step on his other side. He glances at him, not sure what to make of his expression, and is relieved when he starts to talk.
“Now, remember, A-Yuan, bunnies get scared easily, so we have to be quiet and gentle, okay?”
“Quiet and gentle,” A-Yuan echoes, head bumping against Lan Wangji’s ear as he nods. He shifts his hold again – unlike an inert object, A-Yuan controls his own center of gravity, but is seemingly oblivious to the potential for overbalancing, and keeping him steady requires frequent recalibration. As if to prove this point, A-Yuan promptly leans his whole weight forwards across Lan Wangji’s chest to reach for his father, blithely trusting that he won’t be dropped.
“Soft pats for bunnies,” A-Yuan says, fingers extended to clumsily bat at Wei Wuxian’s shoulder. “Like this!”
Laughing, Wei Wuxian ducks around to Lan Wangji’s other side, and Lan Wangji readjusts once more as A-Yuan sways back upright, grinning happily. “Soft pats!”
“Very soft pats,” Wei Wuxian agrees, smiling.
When they reach the meadow, Xichen stops and theatrically puts a finger to his lips, signaling silence. A-Yuan hides his head against Lan Wangji’s shoulder, still apparently intimidated by Xichen, but is coaxed into looking up again when Wei Wuxian whispers, “If you get down now, you can see them.”
“Okay,” A-Yuan mumbles.
As he starts to shift again, Lan Wangji gently lowers him down. His heart twists a bit when, instead of moving straight to his father, A-Yuan clings to his legs, staring uncertainly up at him.
“It’s all right,” Lan Wangji says. “I promise.”
Nodding, A-Yuan makes a brave face and extends a hand to Wei Wuxian, letting himself be guided forwards. He goes slowly, looking around for the promised bunnies, and audibly gasps in delight when one of the rabbits hops onto a nearby rock and sits there, ears twitching.
There’s no good reason for Lan Wangji to feel as tense as he does, watching A-Yuan approach the bunny. The Cloud Recesses rabbits are tame, accustomed to being picked up and carried, to say nothing of their collective assumption that most human visitors come bearing treats. And yet he feels unbearably relieved – and just as unbearably fond – when Wei Wuxian picks up the rabbit and successfully transfers it to A-Yuan’s arms.
“Bunny,” A-Yuan whispers. He looks almost on the verge of tears, he’s so happy, one hand clumsily (but nonetheless gently) stroking along the rabbit’s back while his other arm cuddles it close. “Soft bunny. Best bunny.”
It’s a measure of how distracted Lan Wangji is by the sight that he doesn’t notice Xichen coming to stand beside him until his brother murmurs, voice pitched for him alone, “I thought he was supposed to be a fake date.”
“Things changed,” says Lan Wangji, shocked to hear the rasp in his voice. He glances at Xichen, suddenly awash with uncertainty. “Are you upset with me?”
Xichen’s brows lift high. “Of course not!” he says. He hesitates, then says, achingly gentle, “Wangji. The way you look at them both, and the way they look at you… seeing you that happy is the best gift you could give me.”
Lan Wangji inhales so sharply, it’s like he’s been stabbed. He stares at Xichen, completely at a loss for words, and is absurdly grateful when his brother smiles and hefts his actual, wrapped present. “Of course, I haven’t opened this yet. I could be wrong.”
“Open it and find out,” says Lan Wangji.
Eyes crinkling, Xichen obliges, tearing neatly along the seam of the blue and silver paper. Wangji watches as the long, polished wooden case is revealed, silently taking the discarded wrapping as Xichen flips the clasp and opens it. Inside is a beautiful antique xiao, snugged protectively in soft, fitted padding.
Xichen’s mouth falls open a little. Reverently, he touches the instrument, a light stroke along the polished length.
“Wangji,” he breathes. “It’s beautiful.” He looks at him, all warm joy and sincerity. “Thank you.”
Lan Wangji inclines his head, pleased that his gift has been well-received. “It is my pleasure.”
Xichen looks lovingly at the xiao for a moment longer, then shuts the case. “If you don’t object, I’m going to take this straight back to my room; I couldn’t bear to have it damaged.” His smile turns sly. “I trust the three of you will be all right in my absence?”
“Of course,” says Lan Wangji, ignoring the way his ears heat up.
“I’ll take the wrapping, too,” says Xichen, and once he has it hand, he begins to head back towards the main compound.
Lan Wangji watches him vanish around the curve of the hill, then turns his attention back to Wei Wuxian and A-Yuan. What he sees almost makes his heart stop: Wei Wuxian is sitting against the rock, A-Yuan cuddled in his lap, still holding the original bunny as two more snuffle around his feet. Wei Wuxian is smiling at his son, whose face is so crinkled up with happiness that his eyes have almost disappeared into his cheeks.
Before he can second-guess himself, Lan Wangji pulls out his phone, opens the camera and takes a series of photos: closeups of both A-Yuan and Wei Wuxian’s faces, and two shots of the pair of them together. Then he takes a deep breath, puts his phone away, and walks over to join them.
Wei Wuxian looks up at his approach, a soft smile on his face. “I think this might be his best day ever.”
A-Yuan nods, burying his face in the bunny’s soft fur. Lan Wangji considers a moment, then sits down beside Wei Wuxian, thrilling a little as their arms brush. Another rabbit approaches, nose twitching in anticipation of treats, and Lan Wangji scoops it up carefully, cradling it in his hands.
“Where’s your brother gone?” Wei Wuxian asks. “You shouldn’t let us chase him away.”
Lan Wangji shakes his head. “He’s just taking his present back to his room. He’ll return soon enough.”
“Oh. That’s good.” Wei Wuxian hesitates, looking for all the world like he’s going to say something, but before he can get it out, A-Yuan yelps as the bunny in his arms finally decides it wants to get down. Wei Wuxian instantly soothes him, assuring him that he hasn’t done anything wrong, the bunny just wants to move around again, and look, there’s plenty more! Lan Wangji hands his own rabbit over to help make the point, showing A-Yuan how to pluck the longest bits of grass and feed them to the bunnies. A-Yuan is delighted, and soon enough all three of them are preoccupied as more bunnies show up, not realizing that the “treat” they’re being fed is the same grass they normally eat.
Somehow, Lan Wangji ends up sitting even closer to Wei Wuxian than he was originally, though he has no idea which of them closed the gap. Having exhausted the nearby supplies of long grass, A-Yuan clambers up and goes to grab fistfuls of it from slightly further afield, and when he comes back – walking with exaggerated care so as not to disturb the bunnies – he clambers unhesitatingly onto both their laps, face serious as he distributes grass to each of them.
“Got to be fair,” he says. “Being fair is imptant.” He pulls a face, looking inquiringly at Wei Wuxian. “Imp-rortant?”
“Impor-tant,” says A-Yuan.
Wei Wuxian laughs and kisses his head. “Perfect.”
“Very good,” Lan Wangji agrees, and feels his whole chest swell when A-Yuan beams at him.
A polite cough from some feet away signals the return of Xichen. Lan Wangji flushes – he has no idea how long his brother has been standing there – and moves to stand, but Xichen waves for him to stay seated. Evidently braver now that he’s surrounded by bunnies, A-Yuan watches carefully as Xichen sits down an armslength away from Lan Wangji, plucking grass to feed an approaching rabbit.
“You’ll get your suit dirty,” Lan Wangji says, mildly.
Xichen smiles. “It’s only a suit. So,” he says, turning to Wei Wuxian, “when does this one start at school? Have you thought about enrolments yet?”
Wei Wuxian grins ruefully. “Oh, only about once an hour for the past six months. There’s three different elementary schools in our district, but they’ve all got different schedules and different reputations, and I’m still trying to figure out which would be the best fit.”
“What are the options?” Xichen asks.
As Wei Wuxian launches into a description of the available schools, Lan Wangji leans against his side and brushes a stray piece of grass from A-Yuan’s hair. He listens carefully, frowning when Wei Wuxian mentions that the school with the best academic record also has a reputation for putting too much pressure on its students.
“A-Yuan doesn’t need pressure,” he finds himself saying. “Surely his social and emotional development is more important than a few extra points on a standardized test per year.”
Wei Wuxian makes an enthusiastic noise of agreement. “Thank you! That’s what I’ve been saying, but Jiang Cheng keeps insisting that I’m being lazy about it just because I used to get into trouble at school.”
“That hardly seems fair,” says Lan Wangji, annoyed on his behalf.
“Lan Zhan, you’re the best,” says Wei Wuxian, and promptly renders him speechless by kissing his cheek again. “Once Jiang Cheng hears that Hanguang-Jun is on my side, he’ll have to rethink his position!”
“What about the other two schools?” asks Xichen, courteously not remarking on the fact that Lan Wangji’s ears are now bright red.
As Wei Wuxian once more warms to theme of A-Yuan’s education, Lan Wangji feels something soft and bright swell within his chest. Like a new dawn rising between his ribs, the realization creeps over him: this is what family feels like. Nothing involving Lan Qiren has ever made him feel anything like this, and though the thought of facing his uncle still looms like a cloud on the horizon, for the sake of this moment – for the sake of the bubble of peace in which he sits, with Xichen and Wei Wuxian, A-Yuan and the rabbits – whatever happens later, Lan Wangji silently decides that coming back to Cloud Recesses will never have been a mistake.
Their time in the meadow is perfect, but – inevitably – it cannot last. A little before 10am, with much regretful sighing and assurances to an overjoyed, overwhelmed A-Yuan that the bunnies will be fine on their own, they troop back up to the compound. Lan Wangji was too distracted to notice before, but a drinks marquee has been set up at one end of the courtyard, while the sliding doors of the main hall have all been thrown open. There’s a lavish buffet set up against the far wall, with plenty of chairs and tables for the guests – more have been brough out into the courtyard since their arrival, the tablecloths cleverly weighted down to keep from blowing away – while a string quartet is setting up in the corner.
“I’ll need to start greeting people soon,” says Xichen, a touch of apology in his voice. “I’ll find you again later, though, okay?”
“Of course,” says Lan Wangj. “It’s your birthday. You deserve to have a wonderful time.”
Xichen smiles in answer, nods at Wei Wuxian and A-Yuan, the latter of whom is balanced on the former’s hip, and heads off to speak to one of the catering staff.
“That drinks tent,” says Wei Wuxian, casting a speculative eye over the marquee. “Does it contain alcohol?”
“It does,” says Lan Wangji, mouth curving into a not-quite-smile. “Uncle still keeps to that particular GusuLan rule himself, but has begrudgingly allowed that certain gatherings can be an exception.”
“You don’t drink, either,” Wei Wuxian says, with just a tiny note of question.
“I don’t,” Lan Wangji allows. “Originally because of the GusuLan rules, but subsequently because I learned that have absolutely no tolerance for it.”
“Really? How little tolerance?”
Lan Wangji snorts. “Based on past experience, if I have a single glass of champagne, I’ll pass out inside of fifteen minutes.”
Wei Wuxian pretends to consider this, then says, “As much as I’d like to see you all cute and sleepy, I’m kind of counting on you to drive us home, so that’ll have to be an experiment for another day. As for me, though, I could really go for some alcohol right about now.” He hesitates. “Assuming you don’t mind, of course.”
“By all means,” says Lan Wangji, and basks in the glow of Wei Wuxian’s answering smile.
As his not-a-fake-date heads for the marquee, Lan Wangji turns and sees that guests are starting to arrive, small groups of people entering through the balloon arch at the top of the ramp. Inasmuch as he ever attends parties, he’s used to university student conventions, where the given start time of any event is a very loose guideline, and where nobody really starts to arrive until a good half hour to an hour later than that. Cultivation gatherings, however, are invariably punctual affairs, with the result that guests tend to show up in clusters. Already he can see a handful of Xichen’s university friends paying their respects to his brother, and close behind them are the Nie brothers, as distinct from each other as they are distinctive. As Nie Mingjue joins the circle around Xichen, Nie Huaisang casts a cheerful glance around the courtyard – he is, as always, carrying a folding fan, this one decorated with cranes – and lights up when he sees Lan Wangji.
“Hanguang-Jun!” he exclaims, hurrying over. Unlike his elder brother, who has eschewed his usual black leather jacket and ripped jeans for a black suit (though the jacket is already discarded, the sleeves rolled up to his elbows and the tie fashionably loosened, conspiring with his moustache to make him look like a rakish businessman hitting a club after hours), Nie Huaisang is wearing a pale green blouse tucked into dark grey skinny jeans, which are in turn tucked into wedge-heeled ankle boots. The blouse is tight at the wrists but slightly billowy everywhere else, and unless Lan Wangji is very much mistaken, he’s also wearing eyeliner.
“Nie Huaisang,” he says. “It’s nice to see you.”
“Of course! Our brothers are such great friends, it would’ve been impossible not to come.” He flicks his fan so as to shield his face from onlookers and murmurs, “Also, I heard that things might get… interesting.”
Lan Wangji’s pulse ticks up a notch. Part of him wants to deny it, but the rest of him can’t be bothered, too strung out with waiting for the proverbial shit to hit the fan to want to prolong the experience. “They very well may,” he admits.
“Nie-xiong!” calls Wei Wuxian, returning from the marquee with a champagne flute in one hand and A-Yuan by his side. A-Yuan is walking very carefully, holding what appears to be a cup of apple juice in both small hands. “I was hoping you’d be here!”
Nie Huaisang’s face wheels through delight, surprise and disbelief at breakneck speed before finally settling on a species of polite shock. “Wei-xiong!” he says. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here!” He smiles, a tiny bit manic but mostly impressed, shaking his fan at Wei Wuxian’s chest. “That shirt is certainly a choice. And who is your small friend?”
Wei Wuxian grins, a man in his chaotic element. “This is my son, A-Yuan,” he says, proudly.
Nie Huaisang looks briefly like his eyes are going to fall out of his head. “Your son?” he says, and Lan Wangji realizes, with a mix of annoyance and fondness, that he’s going to be hearing variants on this theme for a great deal of the party.
“Yes, my son! A-Yuan, do you like Nie-xiong’s fan? It has cranes on it!”
A-Yuan blinks at Nie Huaisang over the top of his cup. “It’s nice, I guess,” he says, a little dubiously, and takes a large sip of his juice.
“The sass is genetic,” says Wei Wuxian, affecting a stage-whisper. “Did you know, I bore him with my own body?”
Nie Husaisang’s mouth hangs open for a solid two seconds; then he snaps shut both fan and jaw, looking for all the world like a man in desperate need of a witty retort but unable, just now, to come up with one. Fortunately for his dignity, he is spared the burden of replying by A-Yuan, who squeals with delight and very nearly throws his juice in the air.
“Ayi! Jiujiu!” he shouts, and only barely manages to shove his drink into Wei Wuxian’s hand before bolting away across the courtyard, to where – Lan Wangji fights off a sudden wave of anxiety – Jiang Yanli and Jiang Cheng have just stepped through the balloon arch.
“Excuse us,” Wei Wuxian says to Nie Huaisang, who looks even more confused now than he did a moment ago, and somehow manages to link arms with Lan Wangji without spilling a drop of either drink, walking him over to greet his family.
“A-Yuan!” says Jiang Yanli, already crouched down to hug her nephew. Her expression is bright and happy, a marked contrast to the semi-permanent scowl affected by Jiang Cheng. “Look at you, I think you’ve grown already! And you’re wearing the shirt I sent you!”
‘It’s the best shirt!” A-Yuan says. “Ayi, guess what? There’s bunnies here, and I patted them!”
“Oh, that’s wonderful!” Jiang Yanli says. “You must tell me all about it!”
As A-Yuan begins to do just that, Jiang Cheng shoots Wei Wuxian a thoroughly disapproving look and mutters, in lieu of greeting, “I still say we should be shushu and guma, not jiujiu and ayi. You aren’t his mother. And what on earth are you wearing?”
“Hello to you too, shidi!” says Wei Wuxian, who has evidently committed to the role of Provocative Little Shit. The fact that Lan Wangji finds it even remotely attractive should probably be worrying. “And what do you mean, I’m not his mother? I bore him with my own body!”
“Gross,” says Jiang Cheng. “Does that mean you’re not calling yourself his father now?”
“I am also his father,” says Wei Wuxian blithely. “I contain multitudes, Jiang Cheng. Do not stifle me with your gender-normative bullsh– ” He breaks off, glancing guiltily at A-Yuan, and self-corrects: “– nonsense.”
“Hello, Jiang Wanyin, Jiang Yanli,” says Lan Wangji, who feels he ought to say something at this point.
Jiang Yanli flashes him a quick smile, still crouched down and listening animatedly to A-Yuan’s rapturous descriptions of bunnies. Jiang Cheng adjusts the timbre of his scowl to something slightly more polite and says to Lan Wangji, “You’re really dating this idiot?”
Lan Wangji looks at him, unimpressed. “I’m really dating Wei Ying.”
“Well, good luck with that. Ow!” This last in injured response to Jiang Yanli, who has swiftly and mercilessly corked her brother in the thigh without so much as breaking eye contact with her nephew. Jiang Cheng rubs at his leg, visibly wincing, and then – to Lan Wangji’s great surprise, mumbles, “Sorry, that was rude. Really, I’m glad he’s found someone.”
“Aw, Jiang Cheng, thank you!” says Wei Wuxian.
“Yeah, yeah.” Jaing Cheng huffs, half impatience and half embarrassment. “Now, where the hell did you get that champagne?”
Wei Wuxian points to the marquee, and Jiang Cheng immediately beelines for it.
“I apologise for my brother’s bad manners,” says Jiang Yanli, finally straightening up once more. She pats A-Yuan fondly on the head, and when he stretches out his hands, Wei Wuxian obediently hands him the rest of his apple juice. “He’s… tetchy, about family matters.”
“Also, he was dropped a lot as a baby,” says Wei Wuxian, grinning unrepentantly.
Jiang Yanli swats his arm, just a smidge too hard to be wholly playful. “A-Xian, stop it. You’re setting your son a bad example!”
Wei Wuxian ducks his head, contrite. “Sorry, shijie.”
“Juice done!” A-Yuan pronounces, brandishing his now-empty cup. He looks between the three adults, hands it to Lan Wangji – who accepts it without thinking – then turns straight back to Wei Wuxian, tugs imploringly on the hem of his crop-top and says, “Airplane, gege? You promised!”
Wei Wuxian sighs theatrically. “I did promise that, didn’t I? Well! Never let it be said that I’m not a man of my word.” He drains the last of his champagne, winking cheekily as he, too, hands his empty glass to Lan Wangji, and takes A-Yuan by the hand, leading him out into an open, as-yet unoccupied bit of courtyard.
“Airplane!” shouts A-Yuan.
Curious, Lan Wangji watches from Jiang Yanli’s side as Wei Wuxian grips his son by the forearms, lifts him up and promptly begins to spin him around, so fast and with such strength that A-Yuan swings with him like a giggling, shrieking helicopter blade. Around and around they go, a joyful blur of movement, until finally, Wei Wuxian starts to slow again.
“I’m getting dizzy!” he proclaims, laughing as he lowers A-Yuan to the ground. His face is flushed, a few stray hairs escaping his ribbon, and as he smiles at his son, he looks so achingly beautiful that Lan Wangji’s heart damn near thumps right out of his chest.
“Again, gege!” says A-Yuan, holding his arms up. “Again! Again!”
“Again?” Wei Wuxian puts his hands on his hips. “You ought to be dizzy by now! Why aren’t you dizzy?”
“Once more, then,” says Wei Wuxian, and is just taking up his grip on A-Yuan’s forearms when a familiar voice bellows across the courtyard, “Wei Wuxian, what are you doing to that child?”
Dressed in a severe grey suit, Lan Qiren storms across the paving, advancing on Wei Wuxian with a murderous look that turns almost to apoplexy when he comes close enough to read the writing on his crop top.
“Excuse me,” Lan Wangji whispers, and awkwardly thrusts both cup and glass into Jiang Yanli’s hands as he moves to intercept his uncle. His heart is hammering: all the guests have turned to watch, staring in surprise at the unfolding drama.
“We’re playing,” says Wei Wuxian, nonplussed. He forces a cheery smile and lifts his chin. “It’s called airplane.”
Face reddening, Lan Qiren takes another step closer. “You,” he hisses, pointing a finger at Wei Wuxian, “should not be allowed near anyone’s child! Just look at you!” He glances furiously around the courtyard and demands, “Whose son is this?”
“He’s mine,” says Wei Wuxian, gaze turning sharp and hard as flint. “And you’re scaring him.”
Lan Qiren freezes in place, face red with shock. It gives Lan Wangji just enough time to reach them, stepping up to put an arm around Wei Wuxian’s shoulders, positioning himself so that A-Yuan – who does, indeed, look terrified in a way that makes his blood boil – is sheltered between them.
“Uncle,” he says, deadly calm. “Is there a good reason why you’re shouting at my boyfriend?”
At the word boyfriend, Lan Qiren goes from red to purple. He stares at Lan Wangji, his expression one of tortured, furious betrayal. “Do you mean to tell me,” he says, voice shaking with rage, “that you are – associating with this reprobate?”
“Yes,” says Lan Wangji – and then, because apparently Wei Wuxian’s biting sass is rubbing off on him, “Frequently and with pleasure.”
Wei Wuxian makes a choked sound like he’s fighting back laughter; Lan Qiren, however, has a look on his face like he’s just seen someone beheaded.
“You dare,” he says, so angry he can barely speak, “you dare, you dare to bring him here – to my home, to this hallowed place – on your brother’s birthday, you dare to bring that catamite –”
“STOP BEING MEAN TO MY BABA!”
The words are furious, loud and trembling with a child’s righteous fury as A-Yuan – A-Yuan, who is all of four – puts his tiny hands on his tiny hips and glares at Lan Qiren with eyes that are seconds from spilling over with tears. Face ashen, Wei Wuxian drops down and tries to hug A-Yuan against him, but A-Yuan sniffs mightily and pulls against his arms, refusing to be turned away.
“You’re mean,” he says again, the words coming out in a terrible gulp, and then he really does start to cry, fat tears rolling down his cheeks as he turns his face to Lan Wangji and asks, through hitching breaths, “Zhan-ge, is airplane bad? Did I get you in trouble?” And then, his voice a terrible wail, “I’m sorry.”
Heart breaking, Lan Wangji drops to his knees and pulls A-Yuan into a fierce hug, which, as Wei Wuxian is also still holding him, has the effect of pulling them both in at once, so that A-Yuan is smothered between them.
“Bǎobǎo, no,” Lan Wangji rasps, just as Wei Wuxian says, “You did nothing wrong, nothing.”
A-Yuan keeps crying, his wet face pressed to Lan Wangji’s chest, and in that moment, were Bichen with him, Lan Wangji would gladly have drawn on his uncle. Lacking a sword, he shoots him a venomous stare instead, and feels nothing but cold satisfaction to see that Lan Qiren has now gone white, staring down at the three of them with an almost broken expression.
He looks, for the first time in Lan Wangji’s life, not like a force of nature, but a tired and brittle old man.
All at once, Xichen appears, face shadowed as he touches Lan Qiren’s shoulder.
“Uncle,” he murmurs. “Respectfully, you are overwrought. I think you should go back inside and rest.”
Lan Qiren jerks, lips parted as he looks at Xichen, and for a horrible second Lan Wangji thinks he’s about to start yelling again. But all Lan Qiren does is shake his head – bewildered, angry but subdued – and turn away, striding jerkily back towards his residence.
Xichen watches him go, then crouches down beside them, resting a hand on Lan Wangji’s shoulder and squeezing gently.
“I’m so sorry,” he says, sounding genuinely gutted. “I didn’t think he’d behave like that towards a child.”
Lan Wangji swallows and turns back to A-Yuan, unable to muster up a reply. He hadn’t thought so, either, and yet he’s suddenly overwhelmed with memories of being shouted at by Uncle when he, too was small; of how unrelentingly stern he was, even after their parents died; of being told to meditate whenever he was crying.
A-Yuan is hiccupping now, slowly calming as Wei Wuxian hugs him around the waist, murmuring into his ear, “You did nothing wrong. You were brave and good. The mean man is gone, it’s okay, I’m sorry, shh, it wasn’t your fault, I promise.”
“Promise?” A-Yuan whispers.
“I promise,” says Wei Wuxian, “and so does Zhan-ge.”
“I do,” says Lan Wangji, thumbing a tear from A-Yuan’s cheek when he looks to him for confirmation. “I promise, you did nothing wrong. You aren’t in any trouble.”
A-Yuan gives a wobbly nod and shuts his eyes, going almost limp as he turns and tucks his face into Wei Wuxian’s shoulder, arms curling around his neck. As they both rise, Lan Wangji helps to steady Wei Wuxian with a hand on his elbow, A-Yuan clinging on like a creeper vine.
“Let’s go sit somewhere quiet, hm?” Wei Wuxian says, jogging A-Yuan gently.
“Go wherever you wish,” says Xichen. “I’m so sorry.”
Sparing his brother a grateful nod, Lan Wangji puts an arm around Wei Wuxian’s shoulders, as much to help shield him from the stares of onlookers as for mutual comfort, and steers them away in silence, his stomach twisting itself in knots.
This is all my fault.
PLEASE KNOW THAT I HURT MY OWN FEELINGS BY HAVING LAN QIREN MAKE A-YUAN CRY
Lan Wangji leads them all to the Jingshi, a single, small residence set back a little from the main compound. The Jingshi is both his and not-his: a place he was allowed to study and meditate as a teenager, but which he has never truly inhabited. And yet it is also understood to be his house-in-waiting, a place earmarked as his in the hope that he, like Xichen, will one day return to live at Cloud Recesses. The irony isn’t lost on him, but whatever its thematic failings, the Jingshi is nonetheless quiet, unoccupied and out of the way, which right now is what they need.
As Lan Wangji pulls away from Wei Wuxian to open the door and toe off his shoes, he feels a lump rise in his throat. Will I ever come back here again?
“I think he’s asleep,” Wei Wuxian murmurs. He hesitates on the threshold: his boots aren’t so easily removed, but he can’t put down the drowsing A-Yuan, now a deadweight in his arms, in order to untie the laces.
Without thinking, Lan Wangji goes to his knees and starts to unlace Wei Wuxian’s boots. He already has the first undone when he realizes it would’ve been easier to simply take A-Yuan. He feels the back of his neck heat up as Wei Wuxian, rather than pointing this out, silently lifts his foot instead, balancing carefully as Lan Wangji levers the boot off. He repeats the procedure on the other side, then flows back to his feet, unable to meet Wei Wuxian’s gaze as he enters the Jingshi and carries A-Yuan over to the double futon set against the wall in the second room.
Gently, Wei Wuxian lays A-Yuan down on the mattress, smoothing the hair from his forehead with shaky fingers. A-Yuan’s face is blotchy from crying, his cheeks puffy and creased from being pressed against his father’s shirt, but his eyes stay closed as he makes a grizzling noise and wriggles his head onto the pillow, little body curling into an exhausted half-moon. Wei Wuxian slumps against the futon, head bowed, and as Lan Wangji comes to kneel beside him, he feels his throat tighten.
“This is all my fault,” he croaks, just as Wei Wuxian says, “I’m a terrible father.”
They both jerk and look at each other. “You’re an excellent father,” Lan Wangji says. He reaches out and covers Wei Wuxian’s hand with his own. “You did nothing wrong. I’m the one who asked you to provoke my uncle, which means it was my responsibility to ensure that nothing happened to A-Yuan. I should’ve known –” he withdraws his hand, fingers curling into a fist, “– that he was capable of this. You have every right to hate me, and if you want to leave, I’ll pay for a cab to take both of you home –”
“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian grabs his fist and squeezes it, looking distraught. “No, that’s not – this isn’t your fault at all. He’s my son, I should’ve just picked him up and walked away as soon as your uncle got close, not stood there riling him up. I don’t hate you, please.” He squeezes again, thumb stroking the side of Lan Wangji’s hand. “I couldn’t.”
Lan Wangji lets out a shuddering breath, and realizes, to his intense dismay and shame, that he’s on the brink of tears. “You should blame me,” he says, the words coming out choked. He bows his head, unable to bear the soft worry that sparks in Wei Wuxian’s eyes. “I didn’t – I didn’t think, I knew he’d be angry but I thought it would be at me. What’s the use of him shouting at you, at A-Yuan? What you do, how you live, he can hate it, but it doesn’t affect him. I affect him, I’m the one he wants to fix –”
“You don’t need fixing,” Wei Wuxian says fiercely. He cups Lan Wangji’s face in his hands, forcing him to meet his gaze. Lan Wangji gulps and shudders, unable to help from leaning into the touch as Wei Wuxian strokes his cheek. “Lan Zhan, this is on him, not you. And maybe a little on me –”
“No,” says Lan Wangji. Trembling, he reaches up and puts his right hand over Wei Wuxian’s left. “If it’s not on me, then it’s not on you, either.”
Wei Wuxian laughs and shuts his eyes. “Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan. What are we doing? Because if this is how you pretend to date someone, I’m not sure I could survive the real thing.”
“This is the real thing,” Lan Wangji whispers, heart pounding as Wei Wuxian’s eyes snap open. “Wei Ying, I thought – was I not clear? I want you. I want this.”
“No. Yes. Maybe. I don’t know. I mean, I hoped, but I thought –” he laughs again, a little wild and a lot self-deprecating in a way that makes Lan Wangji’s heart ache, “– I thought you just wanted sex.” He smiles, sad and crooked. “It’s not like I have much else to offer.”
Lan Wangji makes a hurt noise and leans in, pressing their foreheads together. “Wei Ying,” he whispers. “You have everything to offer. And I want – if you’ll have me, I would be privileged to –”
Wei Wuxian kisses him, sweet and hot and desperate. He tastes of champagne, and Lan Wangji kisses back with an urgency he scarcely understands. The angle is awkward, but the fit of their mouths is perfect, and when they pull away again, hands linked in their laps, they both instinctively glance at A-Yuan, still asleep on the futon.
All at once, something flashes across Wei Wuxian’s face, an expression of tender wonderment that Lan Wangji wants to capture forever. “He called me baba,” Wei Wuxian whispers. “To your uncle, he said I was baba.” He looks at Lan Wangji, overwhelmed. “He’s never called me that before. As long as he’s known me, I’ve always been gege, and I know – I know I call myself his father, but I wasn’t ever sure he’d agree with me.”
“You are his father,” says Lan Wangji, softly. “You claimed him to care for when no one else would or could. What else would that make you?”
“The same as the men who raised us,” says Wei Wuxian, just as soft.
The words aren’t meant as a blow, but they land as one nonetheless. Lan Wangji doesn’t know what his face is doing, but whatever it is makes Wei Wuxian wince. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean –”
“No,” he says. “You’re right. Don’t apologise.” He strokes a thumb along Wei Wuxian’s knuckles, letting out a breath. “These past few weeks… it’s not that I never disagreed with Uncle before all this, but I didn’t… I didn’t have a frame of reference for it. He raised me, but I’ve never thought of him as a father. I knew he wasn’t, and he never tried to be, and that… that never felt wrong, before. But now I look back, and I realise that it never quite felt right, either. I just didn’t know what was missing.”
Wei Wuxian looks away. “Uncle Jiang would’ve been my father, I think, if not for Madam Yu. But even then, he still treated Jiang Cheng so differently, had such different expectations of us… maybe he could’ve been a father, but I’m not sure he would’ve been the same father to us both. I’m not even sure he’s the same father to shijie as he is to Jiang Cheng.” He laughs, then adds hastily, “Which doesn’t mean he was bad, or that I don’t love him! I’m grateful the Jiangs took me in, and it’s not like it’s strange for different siblings to have different relationships with their parents. I’m hardly an expert at any of this. But A-Yuan deserves a father, and I worry all the time that I’m not… that I won’t do it right.”
“Maybe there isn’t a single right way,” Lan Wangji says. “You care, and you try, and you’re willing to learn. That’s what matters, I think. Or at least, I hope it does.” He meets Wei Wuxian’s gaze and says, softly, “It’s all I can give to either of you.”
Wei Wuxian inhales sharply. “Lan Zhan… A-Yuan really likes you. He doesn’t take to everyone, but he took to you, and if this goes wrong –”
“You can’t know that.”
“Maybe not,” Lan Wangji allows, “but… what I said to you before, when we were making up stories, that I wouldn’t do this if I wasn’t all in? I meant it. And I am. All in.” He squeezes Wei Wuxian’s hand, hoping desperately that he understands. “I know that I’m not experienced – not at dating, not at any of this – but I want to do this with you. With both of you.”
Wei Wuxian makes a choked noise and hugs him hard, face pressed against his shoulder. Lan Wangji hugs him back, breathing in the scent of his hair, and sheds a few quiet tears – of loss, of relief, of joy – in sympathy with the salt he can feel on his collarbone.
“Gege?” comes a sleepy voice from the futon. “Where’d the party go?”
Wei Wuxian laughs and pulls away, wiping a wrist across his eyes. “We’re still here, bǎobǎo. We just went to a quiet room for a little bit.”
“Oh,” says A-Yuan. He rubs his eyes with clumsy fists and blinks at them, not yet sitting up. “Are you sad?”
“Not sad,” says Wei Wuxian, smiling. “Just happy, that we have Zhan-ge to help protect us from mean old men.”
A-Yuan frowns. “He was very mean.”
“Yes, he was,” says Lan Wangji. “But he got in trouble for it, and now he’s gone from the party.”
A-Yuan considers this. “Gone to the naughty chair?”
Wei Wuxian makes a tortured face, which Lan Wangji interprets as a desperate attempt not to laugh out loud.
“Yes,” says Lan Wangji gravely, when it becomes clear that Wei Wuxian, now clutching his ribs, cannot actually speak. “He has gone to the naughty chair.”
A-Yuan gives a decisive nod, as if this settles the matter. “Good.” He rolls on the futon and then sits up, legs dangling over the edge. “Can we go back to the party now? I’m hungry!”
As if on cue, Lan Wangji’s phone buzzes in his pocket. He pulls it out, lips twitching as he scans the text:
Jin Zixuan: Sorry we’re running late, we’ve been waiting at the bottom of the mountain for my STUPID dad to drive up first, so he can’t see us & bail & pretend he wasn’t coming in the first place. But he just went past, so we’ll be there soon!
“Well,” says Lan Wangji, smiling at Wei Wuxian. “What does Wei Ying think?”
Wei Wuxian grins and opens his arms to his son. “Let’s get back out there.”
Walking back from the Jingshi, A-Yuan insists on holding both their hands. At first, he only bounces along between them, excited by the possibility of cake, but once he trips over the uneven paving and realizes that Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian can hold him off the ground, he keeps trying to swing between them. It’s awkward at first, as A-Yuan doesn’t so much articulate his desire for swinging as he does suddenly and unexpectedly tuck up his legs and hang his whole deadweight from their unsuspecting arms, but once Wei Wuxian establishes the intended goal, they’re able to execute it with ease. Every three steps by A-Yuan’s count, they lift him into the air, giggling and laughing, only for him to resume the count as soon as his feet return to earth. For all that Lan Wangji keeps up with his swordplay, it’s surprisingly tiring, and yet he’d sooner cut off his arm than stop.
In this way, they re-enter the party: with a laughing, happy A-Yuan swinging between their hands as they smile at each other over his head.
“A-Xian!” cries Jiang Yanli, hurrying over to see them. Her expression is equal parts relief and worry, and to Lan Wangji’s surprise (and mild suspicion) she is tailed by Jiang Cheng, whose scowl at this point could mean anything.
“Shijie!” says Wei Wuxian, releasing A-Yuan as he runs to hug her legs. “Sorry, that was all a bit intense – we didn’t mean to worry you.”
“You’ve nothing to apologise for!” she says, stroking A-Yuan’s hair. “I just wanted to make sure you were all okay.”
“I saw it all from the drinks tent,” says Jiang Cheng. “No offence, Lan Wangji, but if your uncle shows his face out here again, I’m going to have words with him.”
“No offence taken,” Lan Wangji says, darkly. “In fact, I would gladly join you.”
Jiang Cheng looks first surprised at this, then pleased, before finally seeming to recall that he doesn’t actually like looking pleased, and so his scowl returns, albeit less convincingly than before. “Well, good,” he says, gruffly. He sips his wine and then gestures towards the balloon arch with his glass. “Oh, look. Jin Guangshan is here.” His scowl intensifies. “I imagine the peacock will be along soon, too.”
Jiang Yanli shoots him a sharp look, though there’s an odd touch of colour to her cheeks. “A-Cheng, you will behave yourself.”
“Yes, yes.” He flaps a hand. “I’m going to go talk to Nie Huaisang. Surely you can’t object to that.” He flicks his gaze to Wei Wuxian, appears to change his mind about saying something, and then crouches down to A-Yuan’s level, giving him an affectionate tap on the shoulder. “Come find me if you get bored, okay? I’m much more fun than these two.”
“Okay, jiujiu!” A-Yuan says, and a tiny smile crosses Jiang Cheng’s face before, scowl once more firmly in place, he stalks off in search of Nie Huaisang.
“Shijie,” says Wei Wuxian. His face is apologetic, but at the same time, his tone is oddly reluctant. “You should know, Jin Zixuan’s father is trying to make him marry Luo Qingyang, but he doesn’t want to. So if you see him with her today, or with some other date, it’s not because he’s involved with them; he’s just trying to send a message.”
“Oh,” says Jiang Yanli, cheeks darkening just a little. “Thank you, A-Xian. That is… good to know.”
“I’m hungry,” A-Yuan says, plaintively.
Jiang Yanli smiles at him. “Then we must feed you! Why don’t you come with me, I’m sure we can find something good to eat.” She glances at Wei Wuxian as she says this, receiving his permission in the form of a grateful nod, and just like that, A-Yuan is being led away towards the buffet by his ayi, leaving Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian, for the first time today, alone with each other.
“Well!” says Wei Wuxian brightly. “Here we are, then.”
From where they’d been setting up earlier in the open hall, the string quartet finally starts playing. Lan Wangji vaguely recognizes the music, something lively and classical without being brash, but is far less interested in identifying it than he is in taking Wei Wuxian’s hand and lacing their fingers together. Wei Wuxian startles at first, then flushes, visibly pleased. Encouraged, Lan Wangji leans in and kisses the corner of his mouth and murmurs, “A-Ying.”
Wei Wuxian shivers. Voice equally low, he replies, “A-Zhan.”
Lan Wangji swallows. He feels almost giddy, warm from his core to the tips of his ears, toes, fingers. The simple intimacy of the moment – just their joined hands, the exchange of endearments – is something he’s never had before; had been so certain he couldn’t have that he’d almost convinced himself he didn’t want it at all. But now that he has it – and with it, the promise of so much more – it feels like dipping his toes into a hot bath after an interminable day’s labour. He wants to put it into words, but is still struggling to find the right ones when both he and Wei Wuxian are distracted by a sudden babble of voices from near the balloon arch.
“Oh, here we go,” Wei Wuxian says, his whole face alight with mischief as Jin Zixuan, Mo Xuanyu, Meng Yao and a woman Lan Wangji assumes is Qin Su arrive together. He catches Jin Zixaun’s eye – or attempts to, rather; it’s difficult, as his friend is wearing a pair of huge gold aviators – and gives him a nod of greeting. Jin Zixuan grins broadly in response, then beelines for Xichen, arms spread wide as he loudly calls out a birthday greeting.
“Jin Guangshan is in the marquee,” Wei Wuxian murmurs. “I give it fifteen seconds, tops, before all hell breaks loose.”
True to this prediction, Lan Wangji watches with bated breath as Jin Guangshan, accompanied by Sect Leaders Yao and Ouyang, with whom he is laughing amiably, returns to the courtyard with a glass of wine, takes a single sip, and almost spits it everywhere at the sight of his legitimate son slinging his arms around the shoulders of his illegitimate half-brothers, their half-sister standing close by. Jin Guangshan goes still and red, but unlike Lan Qiren, he doesn’t immediately start shouting. Instead, he excuses himself from his companions and walks slowly towards Jin Zixuan, who steps away from his siblings with a wolfish smile on his face.
Without exchanging a single word, Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian both choose this moment to drift closer, joined hands squeezing in mutual comfort as they come within earshot of the Jins.
“Zixuan,” says Jin Guangshan, his false cheer laced with an undertone of menace. “I had thought you’d be coming with Luo Qingyang.”
“Oh, she’ll be here soon,” says Jin Zixuan. “She and her date took a separate car.”
Anger flashes across Jin Guangshan’s face, replaced by a mask of studied calm. “Is that so.”
“Yes,” says Jin Zixuan. “As you can see, I’ve brought my own companions.” He smiles a dangerous smile. “Would you like to meet them? I don’t believe you’ve ever been properly introduced.”
Jin Guangshan stiffens, mouth a hard line as, nearby, Sect Leader Yao starts whispering furiously behind his hand to Sect Leader Ouyang. “That will not be necessary,” he grits out. “Zixuan, I think we should talk in private –”
“I don’t,” says Jin Zixuan, voice still skirting the line between silk and steel. “In fact, I think there’s been quite enough privacy about certain matters lately, don’t you agree? After all, Father, you were the one to teach me about the importance of transparency in business, and I wouldn’t be a dutiful son if I didn’t take your teachings to heart.” He grins, head turning as two new arrivals step through the balloon arch. “Ah, here’s Mianmian and her partner now!”
Wei Wuxian lets out a delighted gasp, though it takes Lan Wangji an extra second to appreciate why. It’s not just that Mianmian has entered with a woman on her arm; it’s that the woman in question is Wen Qing, her dress as red as Mianmian’s is gold, so that together, it looks like they’re wearing wedding colours.
“Oh, that’s perfect,” Wei Wuxian whispers, tugging gleefully on Lan Wangji’s hand.
Lan Wangji nods and looks around for Xichen, pleased to see that his brother is smiling in welcome as Mianmian and Wen Qing approach him. It was one thing to know that Xichen had okayed their collective social rebellion plan, but after what happened with Lan Qiren, it’s frankly a relief to see that he’s still as calm and cheerful as ever.
(“What do I have to worry about?” Xichen had said, back when they’d first discussed it all and Lan Wangji had double-checked to make sure his brother was really okay with it. “Nobody is going to think I was involved. All I have to do is stand there and smile and maybe smooth things over, which won’t be hard – it’s my birthday, after all. Whatever lead I set, the rest of them will be obliged to follow.”)
Lan Wangji loves his brother.
“Well,” says Jin Guangshan, smiling rigidly. “It’s good to see you finding your way in the world. Please excuse me.” And with that, he turns away and stalks off in the direction of the buffet, Yao and Ouyang still gossiping furiously.
Jin Zixuan watches him go, then does a little fistpump. He turns back to his siblings, all of whom look pleased with this outcome, and then excuses himself, heading straight to Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian.
“Wangji!” he says, removing the aviators and tucking them carefully into the breast pocket of his (immaculate, gold-embroidered) linen suit. He pauses, flicking an amused glance as he takes in Wei Wuxian’s outfit. “Gremlin. Nice shirt.”
“Peacock. Nice face.”
Jin Zixuan smiles with all his teeth, returning his attention to Lan Wangji. “Sorry to keep you waiting, but goddamn, that was worth it. Has your uncle already lost his mind, or is that scheduled for later?”
“Already happened,” says Lan Wangji. “It was… unpleasant.”
“He made my son cry,” Wei Wuxian adds, darkly. “Xichen had to banish him.”
Jin Zixuan winces, then raises a brow. “Your son, huh? So where is this mysterious cherub?”
Wei Wuxian points behind him, a slight smirk on his lips. “My sister is bringing him now.”
“Your sister?” Jin Zixuan whips around, smoothing one hand over his perfectly gelled hair and the other down his suit. It’s as close to flustered as Lan Wangji has ever seen him, and together with Jiang Yanli’s earlier blush, he belatedly makes the connection. Huh.
“Gege!” cries A-Yuan, running from Jiang Yanli’s side to hug Wei Wuxian’s legs – albeit one-armed, as he’s carrying a very large iced bun in his right hand. “Look what I got!”
Wei Wuxian smiles so wide, it’s like a second sun coming out. “That looks delicious!” he proclaims. “You’ll have to show me and Zhan-ge where you got it.”
A-Yuan nods, then does a comic double-take as he looks to the side, a huge grin breaking out on his already icing-streaked face. “Qing-jie!” he yells ecstatically, and promptly bolts off towards Wen Qing. She turns at the sound of her name being called and smiles as she sees A-Yuan, bending down to scoop him up into her arms. She jounces him on her hip and heads over to join them, laughing as A-Yuan waves his bun in her face.
“Qingqing!” says Wei Wuxian, beaming. “I didn’t know you’d be coming!”
“I didn’t know you were, either,” she says, as A-Yuan takes an oversized bite of his bun. “Mianmian only asked me last-minute; her original shock-the-patriarchs date broke her ankle yesterday, so I had to sub in.” She looks at A-Yuan, her sharp edges softening into fondness. “It’s always wonderful to see this one, though.”
She’s clearly about to say more, but pauses as she belatedly tracks the fact that Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian are still holding hands. Eyes narrowed, she fixes Lan Wangji with a gaze as sharp and assessing as a surgeon’s scalpel, and he has the uncomfortable premonition that he’s going to be given a shovel talk at some point in the near future.
Mercifully, Jiang Yanli chooses this moment to join their circle, smiling warmly, a touch of pink in her cheeks as Jin Zixuan makes room for her and says, just a little awkwardly, “Hello.”
“Hello,” she replies, shyly ducking her head. “It’s lovely to see you again.”
“It’s very lovely,” Jin Zixuan says, unusually inane. “I mean, uh. It’s lovely for me, too, not lovely for you. I mean, it can be lovely for you, I just didn’t want to assume –”
“Oh my god,” Wei Wuxian mutters.
“It’s all right,” says Jiang Yanli, blushing fiercely now. “I know what you meant.”
“Oh,” says Jin Zixuan, also looking somewhat pinker than usual. “Good. That’s – good.”
Wen Qing rolls her eyes. “Oh, look!” she says, brightly sarcastic, “A distraction! Let’s go and look at it, shall we?” And with a pointed glance at both Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian, she strides away across the courtyard, A-Yuan still happily ensconced in her arms.
Cackling, Wei Wuxian makes the universal I’m-watching-you sign at Jin Zixuan, then lets Lan Wangji pull him away, knocking their shoulders together as they follow Wen Qing.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again,” he says, affecting a mock-sage tone. “I might be a disaster bisexual, but at least I’m not straight.”
Lan Wangji snorts, lips quirking, and Wei Wuxian looks insufferably pleased with himself.
Together, they reach Wen Qing in time to hear A-Yuan asking to be put down, as he’s just seen some other small children running around on one of the grassy areas away from the main courtyard.
“Go ahead,” says Wei Wuxian. “Just remember to be nice!”
“I’m nice!” A-Yuan insists, and trundles over to where two small boys – one a Lan disciple’s child named Jingyi, the other of whom Lan Wangji vaguely recognizes as being Sect Leader Ouyang’s youngest, Zizhen – are kicking around a ball. All three adults watch as A-Yuan introduces himself by offering to share his bun, tearing off two big chunks for his new friends, who immediately accept him into their game.
“He’s a good kid,” Wen Qing says, softly. “He reminds me so much of my brother at that age.”
“You guys should come over for dinner again soon,” says Wei Wuxian. He glances at Lan Wangji, flushes slightly, and adds, “Do an official meet-the-boyfriend thing.”
Instantly, Wen Qing’s laser-eyed stare is back. “Hmm,” she says, looking pointedly at Lan Wangji, who unconsciously attempts to straighten his already-perfect posture in response to her scrutiny. “Pop quiz!” she announces suddenly, dark eyes glittering.
Wei Wuxian groans. “Qingqing, you don’t need to –”
“Quiet,” she snaps – and then, to Lan Wangji, her tone sharp as a sword, “When is Wei Ying’s birthday?”
Lan Wangji has known that for years. “October 31st.”
“Does A-Yuan have any allergies?”
“Shellfish.” (Wei Wuxian had been careful to tell him this on the drive over, in case Lan Wangji ended up supervising him around the food.)
“What toy does he sleep with?”
“A rabbit called Moon.” (The toy in question had featured in several of the texts and photos Wei Wuxian had sent him about his and A-Yuan’s daily life.)
“When is A-Yuan’s next birthday, and how old will he be?”
“He turns five on January 12th.” (This had come up during the earlier conversation with Xichen about school enrolment dates, as it will make A-Yuan one of the older children in his class when he starts kindergarten.)
“Does Wei Ying drink too much coffee?”
“Yes,” he says, automatically.
“Hey!” says Wei Wuxian, feigning hurt, just as Wen Qing says, “Correct on all counts. Last question: how long have you two been together?”
“Just a couple of weeks,” says Lan Wangji, unable to keep the fondness out of his tone, “but it feels like longer.”
“Hmm,” Wen Qing says again. She looks him up and down, then tosses her hair and smiles. “All right. You can stay.”
Lan Wangji bows gravely to her. “Thank you.”
Dropping Lan Wangji’s hand in order to cross his arms, Wei Wuxian glares at Wen Qing. “I am standing right here.”
“Yes,” says Wen Qing blithely, “but that’s never stopped you from being dumb about men before. Besides,” she adds, ignoring Wei Wuxian’s outraged splutter, “I’ve got A-Yuan’s welfare to think about, too.”
“Well, I’m so glad you approve,” Wei Wuxian huffs.
Wen Qing grins at him. “You should be,” she says, “because on the basis of that approval, I’m going to watch your son for the next, oh – forty minutes? Call it an hour, tops – while you two go and spend some child-free time together.” Her smile softens. “You’re a good man, Wei Ying. You deserve nice things.”
Wei Wuxian turns bright red. “Shut up,” he hisses, “you know I’m allergic to compliments!”
Wen Qing merely raises an eyebrow and makes a shooing motion at the pair of them. “Run along!”
Wei Wuxian looks like he wants to argue, but before he can get the words out, Lan Wangji links their arms together and tugs him away, nodding gratitude to Wen Qing as he does so. Her eyes spark with mischievous encouragement, and Lan Wangji decides that he likes her very much.
“Bossy,” Wei Wuxian grumbles, as Lan Wangji leads him onto one of the covered walkways that curves away from the courtyard. “I cannot believe you’re already helping her bully me! And after she grilled you, too!”
“She is merely concerned for your welfare, and that of A-Yuan,” says Lan Wangji mildly. “I like that in a person. And,” he adds, lowering his voice, “I am very much in favour of being alone with you.”
“Oh,” says Wei Wuxian. His smile turns playful, sultry. “Is that so?”
“Always,” says Lan Wangji, and as they round a convenient corner, he spins Wei Wuxian, pushes him up against the wall, and kisses him, deep and greedy.
Wei Wuxian moans into Lan Wangji’s mouth, kissing back as his arms twine around his neck. Their bodies press together, Lan Wangji fitting his hands to the tantalising strip of skin left bare by Wei Wuxian’s crop top, skimming up and down his sides. They lose themselves in the rhythm of it, urgent without being hurried.
“We should break into the library,” Wei Wuxian pants, grinding shamelessly against Lan Wangji’s thigh. “Revisit those old fantasies, huh?”
For a moment, Lan Wangji is sorely tempted, and expresses this temptation by squeezing Wei Wuxian’s hips as he kisses along his jaw. But then he shakes his head and leans in, putting his mouth to Wei Wuxian’s ear.
Wei Wuxian groans, only somewhat in disappointment. “Remember that part where I have a small child? There I things I want to do with you that absolutely require he not be present.”
“We are not,” Lan Wangji murmurs, punctuating his words with a sucking kiss to Wei Wuxian’s throat, “going to fuck in the GusuLan library at my brother’s birthday party.” He lifts his head, body thrumming with arousal as he meets Wei Wuxian’s dark-eyed gaze. “I’ve got a better idea.”
Straightening up, he takes a moment to orient himself, ignoring the little whine Wei Wuxian lets out as they pull apart. They’re on the opposite side of the courtyard to the Jingshi, but his childhood room – which is to say, the room he still uses whenever he visits Cloud Recesses – lies in one of the smaller buildings just along the path. Somewhat importantly, it is also still a ways distant from Lan Qiren’s quarters.
Taking Wei Wuxian’s hand, he proceeds to lead him there at a pace which, while not actually a run, is nonetheless swifter than usual. They don’t pass anyone else en route, which is hardly surprising but still a relief, especially when they both pause to take off their shoes outside, but still, Lan Wangji doesn’t fully relax again until they’re safely inside his personal space with the door latched.
“This is your room?” Wei Wuxian asks, looking around. There’s a playful smile on his lips as he looks at the framed, artistically black-and-white photo of Cloud Recesses rabbits that hangs on the far wall. “Did you take this?”
“I did,” Lan Wangji admits. “For a photography contest when I was ten.”
“Did you win?”
“I came second.”
Wei Wuxian snorts. “Clearly, it was rigged.”
This is demonstrably untrue, and Lan Wangji almost points this out until he realizes he’s being teased. He ducks his head, lips twitching, and says instead, “Clearly.”
And then, because he can and he wants to, he reels Wei Wuxian back in and kisses him again. Wei Wuxian melts against him, sweet and pliant at first, then growing more urgent, hands sliding from Lan Wangji’s waist down to grip his ass. Lan Wangji retaliates by sucking on his bottom lip; Wei Wuxian whimpers, breathing hard when they pull apart.
“Lan er-gege, please tell me your plan involves nudity.”
For an answer, Lan Wangji strips off his shirt and then reaches for the hem of Wei Wuxian’s crop top, shivering with anticipation as he pulls it gently over his head. By mutual silent decision, they each take care of their own jeans and boxers, then gravitate back to one another, Wei Wuxian laughing against his mouth as he struggles to kick off a sock.
“Hah!” he cries, finally freed of the offending item. He smiles at Lan Wangji, so bright and beautiful it makes his chest ache, and when Lan Wangij steps in to kiss him again, his touch is reverent.
They move to the bed – a double, albeit a small one, so they aren’t too cramped – and lie down together, kissing as they tangle their legs. Then Wei Wuxian shifts, pulling Lan Wangji on top of him, and both of them gasp at the change in position.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji murmurs, rutting gently in the crease of his thigh. He kisses Wei Wuxian’s cheek, his temple. “A-Ying, what do you want?”
“You,” breathes Wei Wuxian, running a leg down Lan Wangji’s calf. He arches against him, eyes blown dark. “Want you, gege.”
“How do you want me?”
Wei Wuxian curls a hand around the nape of his neck, drawing him down until his mouth is pressed to the shell of Lan Wangji’s ear. “Want you inside me,” he whispers. “A-Zhan, please?”
“Anything,” Lan Wangji rasps, and kisses him until they’re both breathless. Only when they’re both gasping for air does he pull back, lean his weight up on his elbows and reach over to the nightstand, where he keeps lube and condoms.
“Oh, you’re prepared, I like that,” says Wei Wuxian, grinning as he folds his arms behind his head. “Though I didn’t think you’d ever have brought a boy here before.”
“I haven’t,” Lan Wangji admits. “But there’s a club in Caiyi Town, and sometimes I’d go there when I was home from university and Uncle was away on business. Not often, but… as you say, I like to be prepared.”
“I love preparedness,” Wei Wuxian purrs, letting his legs fall even more open than they were already. Heat flares in Lan Wangji’s gut; he prowls his way down Wei Wuxian’s body, kissing his pec, the cut of his hip, sucking a gentle mark onto the inside of his thigh as he lifts it up, resting Wei Wuxian’s right knee on his shoulder. As he opens the lube, Wei Wuxian makes a breathless noise and tips his head back. “Preparedness is so good, I can’t believe that I have never, until this moment, experienced true prepar- ohhhhhh fuuuuck.”
Lan Wangji smirks, crooking his slippery finger a few more times before adding a second. Wei Wuxian pushes into it, urging him on with the flex of his hips and thighs, which only makes Lan Wangji go slower, arousal building in him with each panted noise he wrings from Wei Wuxian.
“Lan Zhan, I swear, if you keep teasing –”
“Would never tease Wei Ying,” he murmurs smugly, choosing this moment to withdraw his fingers. Wei Wuxian groans, trembling with impatience and arousal as Lan Wangji gets the condom on. He huffs, shifts his weight, and slowly guides himself in, shutting his eyes against the overwhelming sensation of Wei Wuxian around him, hot and tight, the scent and sound of him.
“A-Zhan, Lan er-gege,” Wei Wuxian gasps, and Lan Wangji’s eyes snap open again, helpless to look away from Wei Wuxian’s beautiful gaze. He pushes forward, bracing his arms beneath Wei Wuxian’s thighs as he folds him in half, and kisses him when he’s fully seated, a shallow brush of mouths that nonetheless steals the breath from him.
“A-Ying,” he says, and then he starts to fuck him, steady thrusts to build a rhythm that soon turns staccato as Wei Wuxian whines and bucks and bows beneath him, grabbing at the nape of his neck and pulling him down to pant obscenities in his ear.
“So good, gege, so sweet to me, so much – ah! fuck, oh, please, like that, like that –”
It’s almost too much in the best way possible. Lan Wangji all but growls as he snaps his hips, bending his head to suck a fresh hickey high up Wei Wuxian’s neck. Wei Wuxian makes an exquisite noise in response, high and desperate.
“Can you come like this?” Lan Wangji asks, biting at the edge of his jaw. “Come just from me in you?”
“Oh fuck,” Wei Wuxian gasps, “oh fuck, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, please –”
“A-Ying,” he whispers back, and Wei Wuxian arches up, makes a gorgeous throaty noise and comes, his whole body clenching down like a vise. Lan Wangji swears and fucks into him deeper, riding him through the aftershocks as Wei Wuxian shudders from overstimulation, making little punched-out sounds that soon have Lan Wangji coming in turn, ears ringing from the force of it.
Gasping, Lan Wangji devotes the last of his brainpower to gently pulling out, tying off the condom and throwing it in the trash. Only then does he collapse along Wei Wuxian’s side, tucking an arm around his waist and pulling him close as sweat cools on their bodies.
Wei Wuxian makes a contented noise and burrows back against him. Lan Wangji kisses the nape of his neck, breathing in their scent as his heartrate steadily slows. He shuts his eyes and drowses, satiated and content. Wei Wuxian does likewise, at least for a minute or two; then he rolls over, pillowing his head on Lan Wangji’s chest, fingers trailing idly along his stomach.
“I’m so sweaty, I don’t think I can get my jeans back on like this.”
“So walk out naked,” Lan Wangji mumbles, pressing a kiss to Wei Wuxian’s hair.
Wei Wuxian laughs, delighted. “So shameless, Lan Zhan!”
A featherlight kiss is dropped on his cheek. “You’re adorable like this, you know. The world’s most beautiful caveman, rendered non-verbal by the power of sex.”
This doesn’t seem entirely fair, but Lan Wangji is too content to argue. “Mn.”
“Lan Zhan, did I break you? I hope so, because I’m not sure my legs work anymore.”
“Mouth still works fine.”
“Maybe you’ll have to wear it out, too.”
Lan Wangji cracks an eye open at this, and is met with the full force of Wei Wuxian’s soft, sly smile. Making an enormous effort, he lifts a hand and traces Wei Wuxian’s plush, red lips with a fingertip, brain coming partially back online with the sharp inhale this earns him. He smirks, then uses the hand to cup Wei Wuxian’s cheek, guiding him in for a soft kiss.
“Maybe later,” he murmurs.
Wei Wuxian hides his face in Lan Wangji’s shoulder. “Stop being so nice, you’ll set a bad precedent. I’ll start to expect this sort of thing!”
“Should always expect it,” Lan Wangji says, looping Wei Wuxian’s hair behind his ear. He pauses, thinking. “We’re both sweaty.”
“Very,” Wei Wuxian grumbles.
“Would you like a shower?”
Wei Wuxian perks up instantly. “I would love a shower.”
“There’s one next door, between this room and the one that used to be Xichen’s.” He curves a possessive hand over Wei Wuxian’s hip, stroking the bone. “Of course, we’d have to go into the hallway naked. Anyone might see.”
“That’s a chance I’m willing to take.”
“Mn,” says Lan Wangji, and pulls him back in for another luxurious kiss.
The hallway is empty when they sneak to the shower, and presumably remains so, as nobody comes to bang on the door and demand to know what they’re doing in there. Under different circumstances, Lan Wangji would happily keep Wei Wuxian in the shower until they’d both recovered enough to go a second round, but he’s conscious of the fact that, even if Xichen won’t object to their absence, Wen Qing is still donating her time to mind A-Yuan – something she might be kind enough to do again in the future, provided they don’t abuse her patience this first time around.
Even so, it’s difficult to resist touching as much of Wei Wuxian as he can, slick hands stroking sides and arms as they kiss beneath the spray. Inevitably, they start to get aroused again, but by that point, they’re both aware of the time and agree, albeit reluctantly, to return to the party.
Snagging a pair of clean towels from the rack, Lan Wangji hands one to Wei Wuxian and leads him back to the bedroom, where they somehow manage to get dried and dressed without falling back into bed again, despite taking multiple breaks to kiss each other up against various surfaces. When they’re finally done, they leave the towels in the hamper, and as Wei Wuxian straightens his necklace and fixes his hair in the dresser mirror, grinning cheekily at his own reflection, Lan Wangji feels his whole chest expand with emotion. This is the room where his teenage self fantasised about teenage Wei Wuxian; where he later sat crying quiet tears the day he heard his uncle decry homosexuals and realized, for the first time, that this meant him. This is the room where he decided not to tell Xichen the truth of himself; where he shakily planned that first, illicit visit to the gay club in Caiyi Town.
And now it is also a room where he has slept with Wei Wuxian (where we made love, the long-stifled voice of his inner romantic thinks, to the anxious, yearning embarrassment of the rest of him), thereby bringing the whole thing full circle, like closing a circuit he never knew was open.
“Hey,” says Wei Wuxian, voice soft and worried. He’s moved away from the mirror, resting a hand to Lan Wangji’s cheek, eyes gentle with concern. “Are you okay?”
Lan Wangji manages a tremulous smile and leans in to kiss him, short and sweet. “I’ve never been better,” he says, and is startled by how much he means it. He links their hands, amazed all over again that he gets to have this. “Come on. Let’s go and eat, and see what A-Yuan is up to.”
Out on the verandah, they reclaim their shoes without anyone noticing. Wei Wuxian pokes out his tongue as he fiddles with his bootlaces, and when he straightens up again, Lan Wangji is moved to put an arm around his waist, snugging him close as they start to walk.
Wei Wuxian laughs, his cheeks still pleasantly flushed from the shower. “Really, Lan Zhan. So shameless!”
“Nothing about this is shameful,” Lan Wangji says, and thrills to think that any part of him maybe, finally believes it.
Wei Wuxian looks at him, realizes he’s serious, then smiles his full, bright, beautiful smile and puts his arm around his waist in turn.
When they walk back out to the courtyard, the music is still playing, and there are even more guests present than there were before, many of whom are now eating as well as talking, occupying the tables and chairs set up outside the main hall. Most importantly, however, Jingyi and Zizhen, who are supervised by their mothers, are still playing happily with A-Yuan, who is supervised by both Wen Qing and Mianmian. The two women are seated on the grass, Wen Qing braced on her palms with Mianmian’s head in her lap, and Lan Wangji has the sudden realization that perhaps he isn’t the only one here who caught feelings for a supposedly fake date.
“Welcome back,” says Wen Qing, looking them over with affectionate suspicion. A corner of her mouth ticks up as she takes a theatrical glance at her watch. “And you even made it in under an hour! I’m honestly impressed.”
“What can I say?” says Wei Wuxian. “Enthusiasm makes the job go faster.”
Mianmian snorts, swaying langorously upright to smile at Lan Wangji. “Hello, failed fiancé the first.”
“Hello,” he says, gravely. He tips his head to indicate both Wen Qing and Mianmian’s intimate proximity to her. “Who knew we had so much in common?”
Mianmian pokes out her tongue. “Oh, shut up,” she says, throwing a small clump of grass at him. “Still, if they’d put a gun to our heads, I would’ve chosen you over Zixuan.”
Wei Wuxian groans. “Please tell that to my sister. She actually likes him, it’s horrible.”
“She’s welcome to him,” says Mianmian, leaning back to grin at Wen Qing. “It leaves more sensible women for the rest of us.”
Almost imperceptibly, Wen Qing blushes. “Hush,” she says. “A-Yuan is coming.”
Sure enough, A-Yuan is barreling towards them, Jingyi and Zizhen hot on his heels. “Gege!” he shouts. “Zhan-ge! We’re playing space planes!”
“That’s great!” says Wei Wuxian, laughing as A-Yuan spreads his arms out and veers off from the adults, zig-zagging as Jingyi starts to make gun strafing noises in mock-attack. He watches the children dash off again, then turns back to Wen Qing. “Seeing as we’re still within the hour, do you mind watching him a little longer while we get some food? I’ve worked up quite an appetite!”
“I bet you have,” she mutters. A good three seconds passes, during which time Wei Wuxian makes puppy-dog eyes, before Wen Qing heaves a long-suffering sigh and flicks a magnanimous hand towards the buffet. “Go. Eat.”
“You’re the best, Qing-jie,” says Wei Wuxian, beaming.
“Correct,” she says dryly – and then, to Lan Wangji, “Congratulations! It’s now your official responsibility to make sure he eats a vegetable every so often. I resign my duties to you from here on in.” She tips her head back, smiling at the sky. “Ah, freedom!”
“I changed my mind, you’re the worst,” says Wei Wuxian, and promptly tugs Lan Wangji away before he can reply.
They’re almost to the main hall when Jin Zixuan appears in front of them, arms crossed and an extremely judgmental look on his face. He scans the pair of them, lip curling.
“You actually snuck off and fucked, didn’t you,” he says accusingly. “Wangji! Have you no pride?”
Lan Wangji feels his ears heat up. “You have no proof of that.”
“No proof? No proof? You’ve both got wet hair and the gremlin is missing an earring!”
Wei Wuxian lifts a hand to his ear and swears. “It must’ve come off in your room.”
“In his bed, more likely,” mutters Jin Zixuan.
“Where’s my sister?” asks Wei Wuxian, evidently deciding that the best defense is a good offence. “Did you run out of things to talk about, or has she just come to her senses?”
“She’s talking to your brother,” says Jin Zixuan, his attempt at hauteur somewhat ruined by his suddenly red cheeks. “I was going to bring her some cake.”
“Lan Zhan!” says Wei Wuxian, suddenly looking upset. “We missed them cutting the cake?”
“No,” replies Lan Wangji, touched by the concern. “Xichen’s never liked that part of birthday, and neither have I. We just put the cake out at a certain point and let people help themselves.”
“Oh,” says Wei Wuxian, visibly relieved. Then he brightens. “That means I can get cake, too!”
“Lunch first, then cake.”
“A-Zhan, Wen Qing was joking! You don’t really have to supervise my food, I’m perfectly capable –”
Lan Wangji kisses his cheek, which proves to be a startlingly effective method of shutting Wei Wuxian up. “Lunch first,” he says again, “then cake.”
“Ugh, fine,” says Wei Wuxian, blushing to the roots of his hair. “But I’m having two slices, and you can’t stop me!” And with that, he pokes his tongue out at Jin Zixuan and bounds ahead to help himself to the buffet, leaving Lan Wangji alone with his friend.
Jin Zixuan raises an eyebrow. “That’s really what does it for you? Him?”
“Just think,” says Lan Wangji serenely. “If things go well with Jiang Yanli, he’ll be your brother-in-law.”
Jin Zixuan opens his mouth. Closes it again. “Ah,” he says.
They start to move slowly towards the hall, the scent of food rekindling Lan Wangji’s appetite.
“Your uncle,” says Jin Zixuan, softly. “Was he really that bad?”
“Fuck. I’m sorry. This was my plan, after all.”
“Don’t be,” says Lan Wangji. “I’m not.”
They pause on the threshold, watching as Wei Wuxian, who is already at the buffet table, helps himself a frankly unnecessary number of egg rolls.
Jin Zixuan smirks. “Congrats on the sex.”
“Thank you,” says Lan Wangji. “Please never say that again.”
“Perish the thought.” He claps Lan Wangji on the shoulder. “All right! I need cake for Yanli. Go make sure your gremlin doesn’t choke on an egg roll.”
“Not in public, certainly,” says Lan Wangji, and steps away with the sound of Jin Zixuan’s disgusted protests ringing in his ears.
Apparently, Wei Wuxian is already rubbing off on him.
Good, he thinks, impossibly fond, and goes to join his boyfriend at the buffet.
And we're done! Thanks again to everyone who read along with this one - I had a blast writing it! :)