These days, it’s difficult for Lan Wangji to find peace. Not when Wei Wuxian haunts him like a ghost he has personally wronged.
“Lan Zhan, Lan er-gege, I overheard a couple of the girls in Caiyi talk about how they’d like to be your bride. Should I have told them you’re actually a stick-in-the-mud and no fun at all?”
“Lan Zhan, why don’t you show me the back hill? I know your uncle said it’s off limits to outsiders but since we’re so close, I’m sure he doesn’t mean me. Are we going now? Awesome! Wait, Lan Zhan, this is the library!”
“Lan Zhan, you’ve been really weird lately. Is everything okay? I know you’re really private, but my shijie always tells me - Lan Zhan, where are you going? Why are you always running away?” Wei Wuxian wails.
The situation becomes so intolerable that Lan Wangji tells all to his brother.
Lan Xichen looks on the verge of a laugh. “Do you know why he teases you?”
Lan Wangji says nothing. The answer is obvious. Wei Wuxian is all that is unruly and undisciplined and for all that he is beautiful, he cannot stand to see someone so opposite him doing well.
Lan Xichen says patiently, “It’s because he wants your attention. He wants desperately for you to like him. Else he would have stopped long ago.”
But Wei Wuxian bothers everyone as well. Does he simply want everyone’s attention then? Lan Wangji sighs to himself. That is none of his concern. By his brother’s logic, if he agrees to be attentive to Wei Wuxian for awhile, the boy will finally leave him be.
A paperman lands on Lan Wangji’s desk, bows in greeting and proceeds to dance across the surface, nearing upsetting the brush stand it collides into. Lan Wangji flicks the paperman back to Wei Wuxian. It has been the fifth one today. Barely a minute later, a note comes flying in his direction. This lecture is so boring. Entertain me. Lan Wangji crunches up the note and drops it to the floor. Next comes a folded paper flower and written on one of its petals, For the handsome gege.
This is not at all the time and place Lan Wangji has planned to indulge in Wei Wuxian’s antics. He scribbles a note and with a small burst of spiritual energy, sends it over to Wei Wuxian, who accepts it with surprised giddiness. He opens the note and falls backwards onto another student’s desk. The student yelps, class is disrupted. Lan Wangji closes his eyes and prays for patience.
“Wei Wuxian, what is wrong with you?” Jiang Wanyin demands irritably. “What did he write?” He snatches up the note and winces so hard he drops it.
The note flutters onto the floor; Lan Wangji’s neat calligraphy clear to all those close enough to read it: Can this wait until after class? I will pay attention to you then.
Nie Huaisang is the first to break out of the collective stupor and tugs the note surreptitiously under his leg just as Lan Qiren comes looking for it. “Who wrote the note?” he demands.
Jiang Wanyin looks steadfastly ahead of him.
Lan Wangji flexes his hands. It has been a while since he has copied the rules.
Wei Wuxian looks at Lan Qiren as if he doesn’t understand the question. In a daze, he bows and mumbles out an apology for disrupting class.
Lan Qiren is so shocked he spends the next few minutes staring into the distance.
Wei Wuxian skips up to him after class, voice unnaturally bright. “You promised, Lan er-gege. You said you will pay attention to me now.”
Lan Wangji nods. “After you finish copying out the rules shufu has assigned you.”
“I can do that later! Let’s go catch some fish in the back hill.”
“Outsiders are forbidden to enter the back hill,” Lan Wangji reminds him.
“Don’t be like that. How about we go buy some food then and have a picnic?” Wei Wuxian tugs at his arm plaintively.
Lan Wangji wants to remove him but wonders if doing so would be counterproductive. “After you have finished copying out the rules.”
Wei Wuxian releases his arm and pouts. “Once I finish the market won’t be there any more. Here I thought you liked me now but you’re just the same.”
Lan Wangji is at a loss. He is paying Wei Wuxian attention. Why is this boy still troubling him? What would his brother advise now? Lan Xichen had told him Wei Wuxian wants Lan Wangji to like him. Is that the problem here? “I like you, Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says. “So be good. Copy out the rules.”
Behind them, Jiang Wanyin develops a hacking cough.
“You like me?” Wei Wuxian’s face lights up in a shit-eating grin. “We are friends?”
He is so stubborn, Lan Wangji thinks. “Yes, we are friends.”
“Lan Zhan, how shameless of you to admit that!” Wei Wuxian exclaims with mock-surprise. “So what made you fall for my charms at last?”
“Wei Wuxian, stop giving Lan Wangji more reasons to kill you,” Jiang Wanyin hisses. He lunges for Wei Wuxian, who gleefully dodges him.
“Is it because I’m funny?” Wei Wuxian continues to ask Lan Wangji as he runs away from Jiang Wanyin around the courtyard. They attract a crowd; guest disciples egging them on and curious Lan disciples. Wei Wuxian is anything but deterred. “Is it because I’m clever?” he crows, jumping over Jiang Wanyin’s sweeping kick. “Is it because I’m handsome?” Jiang Wanyin lets out a cry of outrage and Wei Wuxian has never looked more delighted. “Tell me I’m beautiful, Lan er-gege!”
“You are well aware you are beautiful,” Lan Wangji says.
Wei Wuxian trips over Jiang Wanyin and sends both of them to the ground in a tangle of limbs and bruises.
“Copy Conduct three times for creating a ruckus,” Lan Wangji adds.
Jiang Wanyin fists the front of Wei Wuxian’s robes. “Why do you have to be like this,” he demands while Nie Huaisang props himself up against a tree, crying into his fan. “I’m so glad I came back this year.”
It is not that Lan Wangji had thought his brother’s strategy would take effect immediately, but he had thought Wei Wuxian would pester him less by now. One week later, Wei Wuxian is still passing him notes in class, begging Lan Wangji to look at him, at which point Wei Wuxian would grin and wave and Lan Wangji, exasperated, nods back.
Where previously he could expect to be left alone as he goes to the library pavillion to study after lessons, Wei Wuxian now is glued to his side, chattering nonstop.
One afternoon, Wei Wuxian tells him about his idea for a compass to detect resentful energy but shrugs when Lan Wangji recommends a few texts from the collection he can consult. Lan Wangji says, “You are smart. Why do you not put in the effort?”
“Ah, I’m just crafty. It’s not the same.”
Lan Wangji recalls the way Wei Wuxian interrogates their assigned reading materials and debates solutions for nighthunting problems and shakes his head. “No, you are smart.” To his surprise, a flush rises in Wei Wuxian’s cheeks and he is silent for the rest of their time in the library. From then on, Lan Wangji makes a startling new discovery: it is very easy to make Wei Wuxian blush.
Lan Wangji often makes the guest disciples’ dorm room the last place he checks in on when he’s on night patrol. He knows curfew is one of the rules the guest disciples take to the least so he gives them the time it takes for him to do a circuit of the compound to go to bed. Therefore he is understandably disappointed when he sees light still streaming from the window of Wei Wuxian’s dorm.
Before he can enter the room and reprimand Wei Wuxian and his dormmates, however —
“Shut up! You don’t know what it’s like being complimented by Lan Zhan.” It is Wei Wuxian’s voice.
Hearing his name, Lan Wangji stutters one step forward towards the window where he can now see Wei Wuxian while the angle of the window and shadows keep him hidden.
“What is it like?” Nie Huaisang asks. The table before him is thankfully clear of any contraband. They are drinking tea.
“You know how he never says more than necessary?”
Jiang Cheng hums, nodding. “Unlike you.” Wei Wuxian shoves him in the shoulder and they descend into a scuffle around the dorm room. Nie Huaisang picks up the tea things to make sure they don’t break.
When the fight ends with Wei Wuxian sitting on his younger brother, he continues. “So everything Lan Zhan says feels like it absolutely must be true. And then he looks at you like that and it’s like there’s no fighting with him.”
Nie Huaisang laughs. “You are saying there have been people who have not been complimenting you? What a surprise.”
Jiang Cheng is silent, as if he knows exactly who has not been complimenting Wei Wuxian, then in a burst of strength, he throws off his older brother. “Who would compliment him? He’s ridiculous. He never takes anything seriously.” He grabs Wei Wuxian’s ankles and drags him round the table as Wei Wuxian laughs.
Lan Wangji waits several heartbeats before knocking on the door and reminding them of curfew. The noise quickly dies and Lan Wangji is already walking away when Wei Wuxian throws open the doors to wish him a good night.
What good night? Lan Wangji thinks. He will have to copy out Conduct come the morning for eavesdropping.
It has been a month and still Wei Wuxian shows no sign of leaving him alone, but Lan Wangji no longer minds it so much. It is flattering. Wei Wuxian is extraordinary in so many ways and still he seeks out Lan Wangji’s company. He is quite singular. Also, he is so very pretty when he blushes.
“Just kiss,” Jiang Wanyin complains. “Watching the two of you do this is disgusting.”
Lan Wangji isn’t quite sure what ‘this’ refers to.
“And you say I’m the shameless one!” Wei Wuxian exclaims. “What makes you think Lan Zhan and I want to kiss? Do all friends need to kiss? Scold him for me, Lan Zhan.”
“I told you it wouldn’t work,” Nie Huaisang mutters at Jiang Wanyin from behind his fan.
Lan Wangji considers how red Wei Wuxian has turned and wonders how warm that cheek would feel under his hand. “You do not want to kiss me?”
Nie Huaisang’s fan drops with an audible thunk. The courtyard, which had been filled with the soft bustle of people going about their day, suddenly descends into pin-drop silence. In the distance, Lan Wangji can hear the rush of the waterfall.
“I don’t…” Wei Wuxian stops himself, frowning.
Lan Wangji can hear his heartbeat. His skin feels like it will split.
Wei Wuxian curls a fist under his chin, his frown growing deeper. “I don’t…not want to kiss you?”
From his left comes a strangled moan. “I made it worse,” says Jiang Wanyin.
Noise slowly comes back to the courtyard, a susurration of murmurs and giggles as everyone breaks the rule on gossiping. Lan Wangji should dole out their punishment. Lan Wangji should at the very least report them to someone who will. But at present he cannot seem to look away from the emotions playing on Wei Wuxian’s face, the hope, the confusion and then finally, a nervous giggle. “But I bet Lan Zhan gets that all the time.”
Nie Huaisang, who had saved some dry rice to throw in celebration, quickly retracts his hand, shock warring with disbelief. “Ji-xiong,” he says apologetically to Lan Wangji, “I tried my best.”
Lan Wangji does not think about what Nie Huaisang means by this because he has never seen Wei Wuxian look like this before. Like he is scared of him.
“It worked,” Lan Wangji says miserably. Wei Wuxian is no longer bothering him. He would think himself arrogant for declaring such simply because it is noonday and he has yet to hear Wei Wuxian call out for him but by now he has grown used to his name being called ten times before breakfast. “How do I make him want my attention again?”
Lan Xichen chokes on his tea.
Lan Xichen recommends the path of straightforward communication. Get straight to the heart of the matter, he’d said. Ask him why he has been avoiding you and tell him why you would like him to stop it. While communication is not Lan Wangji’s strong point, his brother’s advice has helped him before. Unfortunately, Wei Wuxian does not make it easy.
Every time he catches Wei Wuxian, he is in the midst of hurrying somewhere else. He would love to stop and chat but he has a study session with the other guest disciples. He has to run because there’s a play he wants to catch in town. He’s so tired, he needs a nap. Can Lan Wangji wait until tomorrow?
One morning, Lan Wangji rudely accosts Wei Wuxian straight after their lessons. Wei Wuxian straight up hides behind Jiang Wanyin and tugs at his sleeve until Jiang Wanyin clears his throat and tells Lan Wangji that Wei Wuxian isn’t feeling too well right now, so please excuse them. As they leave, he sees Jiang Wanyin slapping Wei Wuxian on the shoulder. “Don’t make me do that again. He actually looked sad. What the fuck.”
Lan Wangji wonders if he has offended Wei Wuxian somehow. If the offense is so terrible that Wei Wuxian will not even let him apologise for it. Or is it that…is it that Wei Wuxian never truly wanted his attention and now cannot find a polite way of telling him to back off?
He decides he will not force his company on Wei Wuxian if it makes him so uncomfortable. He will speak to him as Lan Xichen has advised and leave Wei Wuxian to the rest of his studies in peace. Though he cannot deny. His chest hurts.
When Lan Wangji begs entry at the guest dorm before breakfast, he finds Jiang Wanyin and Nie Huaisang in various stages of getting ready while Wei Wuxian squeaks and hides under his blanket.
Baffled, Lan Wangji blinks at the other two boys in the room.
“Um,” Jiang Wanyin offers. He turns to Nie Huaisang who shakes his head. With a put-upon sigh, Jiang Wanyin crosses the room and snatches the blanket off Wei Wuxian. “This has gone on long enough. Go speak with him.”
Nie Huaisang all but shoves Wei Wuxian out into the courtyard and closes the doors behind him.
Wei Wuxian beats at the doors. “I’m not even dressed.”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says and Wei Wuxian turns to face him, shamefaced and fidgeting. Concerned, Lan Wangji says, “Wei Ying.”
“Ah Lan Zhan, I really didn’t expect you’d be the type who would bully me back. See I cannot even talk to you properly now without making a fool of myself,” Wei Wuxian mumbles to his feet.
Bully? Lan Zhan thinks. When has he? “Wei Ying.”
Wei Wuxian flinches. “But you see, I realised I actually like you like that.”
There is an ocean roaring in Lan Wangji’s ears. There is an eagle soaring in his chest.
“So it’s not nice for you to tease me any more, okay? Lan Zhan is good and nice. He won’t be cruel, will he?” Wei Wuxian scuffs his toe.
“When have I teased you?” Lan Wangji asks.
Wei Wuxian scowls, looking hurt, and the eagle is shot out of the sky. “I just told you it’s not nice!”
Lan Wangji is so confused.
“My friend is really dumb. You have to forgive him,” says Nie Huaisang later. He’s never been this candid with Lan Wangji even though their brothers are close. Lan Wangji never would have expected it would take Wei Wuxian avoiding him for Nie Huaisang to stop being afraid of him.
“He says I am teasing him,” says Lan Wangji.
Nie Huaisang nods as if this makes perfect sense. “He probably thinks you are taking revenge for all the time he spent trying to get a rise out of you. He really does like you, you know.”
Lan Wangji knows. Wei Wuxian is loud and friendly but he has always singled him out.
“The thing is you have to convince him that you like him like that too.”
Lan Wangji shoots Nie Huaisang a look. Is he implying that Wei Wuxian does not know? Does he think Lan Wangji talks of kissing with just anyone?
Nie Huaisang grimaces. “As I said, he is very dumb.”
Lan Xichen had told him to be forthright. How can he do that if Wei Wuxian refuses to speak to him?
“Well,” says Nie Huaisang, “they say actions speak louder than words.”
At first, Lan Wangji thinks it will be difficult to think of ideas of how to win Wei Wuxian over. But then, when he reformulates the question to ‘what would make Wei Ying happy?’, the answers are easy. He procures a bottle of chili oil from the kitchen, which he presses into Nie Huaisang’s hand since Nie Huaisang always takes his meals with Wei Wuxian. He copies out the basics of music cultivation from the library and gives those to Jiang Wanyin because he knows Wei Wuxian wants to learn it. After several days, he remembers Wei Wuxian doesn’t have an instrument, so he borrows a dizi from the equipment room and tells Wei Wuxian in class that if he prefers a different instrument, he should tell him.
Wei Wuxian finds him later, wailing, “Stop it. I’ll be your friend again, just stop it.”
“Why?” Lan Wangji asks. Had his gifts distressed him?
“Everyone keeps saying that you really must be in love because you’ve never gone out of your way like this. It’s mortifying.”
Wei Wuxian like this is so cute. Lan Wangji finds himself helpless. He teases. “So Wei Ying can get embarrassed too.”
Wei Wuxian harrumphs, crossing his arms. “Who knew Lan-er-gege is more shameless than me! No one would believe it.”
Lan Wangji does not know how his actions have been shameless but Wei Wuxian is talking to him again. He counts it as a win.
He happens to be in Caiyi Town when Wei Wuxian drops his token. It’s carved in the shape of a lotus flower and it’s been hanging from Wei Wuxian’s sash forever. It slips out into the river when Wei Wuxian leans over the boat to collect the loquats he’d just bought. Wei Wuxian lets out a cry of dismay and would have jumped out of the boat had Jiang Wanyin not stopped him because what does Wei Wuxian intend to do? Dredge the river? Wei Wuxian cries that Jiang Wanyin didn’t understand. The token is special. It’s —
Lan Wangji does not catch the rest of it as Wei Wuxian’s boat drifts too far away. Lan Wangji looks at the sky. If he starts now, he will have a few hours to search before he loses the light.
He emerges from the river a while later, sopping wet. There are people staring because it isn’t every day that they see a disciple of the esteemed Gusu Lan climbing out of their river with gunk hanging from his expensive robes. They know better than to say anything, will assume he’s up to some strange cultivation practice. Except Wei Wuxian barrels through them, crying, “Lan Zhan, what are you doing?”
Lan Wangji holds out the token to Wei Wuxian. He’d intended to clean it first and present it on a silk handkerchief. But Wei Wuxian had sounded so distraught when he’d lost it. He must be here to make his own attempt at finding it.
“Lan Zhan, you…”
Nie Huaisang is gaping, which worries Lan Wangji. Is this not what he meant by ‘actions speak louder than words’? Has he somehow misread yet another social cue?
Wei Wuxian takes the token back, turning it in his hands before tucking it securely into his sash, swaying on his feet. “What am I supposed to do with you?” he groans and leans into Lan Wangji and oh — they’re kissing.
Just as suddenly, they’re not. “You are in public, you idiot!” Jiang Wanyin yells, wrenching Wei Wuxian off Lan Wangji.
Wei Wuxian laughs at Jiang Wanyin. “Sorry, sorry, I couldn’t help myself.”
Lan Wangji touches his lips, stunned.
Wei Wuxian smiles at him, pink-cheeked and shy. “Sorry, Lan Zhan. I just. I really like you so much.”
Lan WangJi takes Wei Wuxian’s hand and strokes his thumb over the pads of his fingertips, over the callouses from hours of stringing a bow and maneuvering a sword. Lan Wangji has never wanted to touch anyone the way he touches Wei Wuxian now. His ears burn.
“Me too,” he says. “I like Wei Ying a lot.”
Wei Wuxian bites his lip but not in time to stop the squeak that escapes him. He looks like he wants to kiss him again. Lan Wangji wants him to.
“You guys,” says Nie Huaisang haltingly, “are so embarrassing to watch.”
Since Lan Xichen had helped, Lan Wangji thinks it only right he update his brother. When he goes to visit him in the Hanshi, he is surprised to find him taking tea with Jiang Wanyin, who levels a sardonic gaze at Lan Wangji. “I didn’t realise Zewu-jun has been suffering longer than I have.”
Lan Xichen smiles. “I would have settled for him making his first friend. But Wangji has never done anything by halves. Have you?” There is a knowing glint in his eye.
Lan Wangji nods. “I want to marry Wei Ying.”
Jiang Wanyin slams back his cup of tea like a shot of liquor and sighs into his chest. “I knew this was coming and still I wasn’t ready to hear it. They’ve only known each other for three months. What the fuck, Wei Wuxian.”
Lan Xichen reaches into his robes and withdraws a small pouch. “Blood pressure medicine for shufu for when you tell him.”
Lan Wangji pockets it. “Thank you, brother.”
“Now, back to the topic of our discussion...” says Lan Xichen.
Jiang Wanyin grits his teeth. “I told you before. Lan Wangji should move to Lotus Pier. Wei Wuxian would die here with your three thousand rules. My father will say the same. At Lotus Pier, we...”
Lan Wangji leaves them to it, returns to the courtyard where Wei Wuxian is waiting for him.