Of course Lan Zhan didn’t actually want to get married (or maybe he did, but the only person he wanted to marry was someone who he would never be able to ask). But for the sake of his family, he was willing to go along with his uncle’s plans of marrying Lan Zhan off to a young woman from a sect that was still growing. It would be beneficial to both their sects to have a union through marriage, and since Lan Zhan didn’t see any valid reason to object, he had agreed.
He had to stand in line in the city hall office for nearly an hour before it was finally his turn, and then he stepped up to the desk to hand over the clipboard with the paperwork he’d just filled out. Seeing as this was a political marriage only, Lan Zhan had convinced his uncle to not bother with a fancy ceremony, and his fiance had agreed, since she also knew that it was not a love match.
As the employee on the other side of the desk typed Lan Zhan’s information into their computer, there was a long pause. “Huh. Uh, Mr. Lan? I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I can’t process your wedding certificate.”
Lan Zhan didn’t show any of his annoyance on his face. “Why not?”
The employee arched one eyebrow. “You know…” They trailed off when they realized that Lan Zhan really didn’t know. “Ah, this is awkward. Well according to these records, you are already married. In case you weren’t aware, you can only have one legal spouse at a time.”
Surely this was all just some mistake, because Lan Zhan knew that he wasn’t married. He lived alone in his apartment in the Cloud Recesses, and rarely interacted with anyone outside of his family and subordinates except when he was out on a night hunt. “Who?”
The employee blinked once. “Beg pardon?”
“Who am I married to?” Lan Zhan gritted out.
There was a pause before he got his answer, and when he did, he felt like the entire world started to spin far too quickly around him. “The marriage license you have on file says that you’ve been married for thirteen years to a man named Wei Ying.”
Lan Huan stared at him with wide eyes once Lan Zhan had finished explaining everything that had happened. It sounded so far-fetched when said out loud, and yet it was the truth. And Lan Zhan had even purchased a copy of the marriage certificate to show as his proof.
His brother looked at the paper and gently ran his fingers over the seal in the corner, then he looked back up at Lan Zhan. “And you’re sure that this never happened?”
Lan Zhan nodded. “Would remember marrying Wei Ying,” he answered stiffly.
A few moments passed in silence before Lan Huan asked, “Do you have any way of getting into contact with Wei Ying’s family? I know that you have not seen them since the- since the funeral, but I’m sure they’d be willing to help you resolve this matter.”
The problem was that Lan Zhan wasn’t entirely sure that he wanted the matter to be resolved. He had no idea what strange twist of fate had led to such a large mistake, but he couldn’t help wishing that it was real. That he could really be married to Wei Ying. That Wei Ying did not hate him, and that they had not parted ways on such awful terms just because Lan Zhan hadn’t been able to properly explain himself. That Wei Ying had not died less than a year after the date on the marriage certificate that sat in front of him so accusingly.
Lan Zhan didn’t exactly frown at his brother’s suggestion, but he knew that he had to look pretty doubtful about it. And for good reason. Sect Leader Jiang had never been very fond of Lan Zhan, but that had moved more to outright dislike in the wake of Wei Ying’s death. And the feeling was mutual, considering the many rumors about how Jiang Cheng had been responsible for his own brother’s death (although gossip was forbidden in the Cloud Recesses, nothing stopped the word from being passed around by people in other towns that Lan Zhan passed through).
His brother seemed to realize the problem with his suggestion as well, and tilted his head to the side. “Did you tell the clerk at the city hall that Wei Ying passed away many years ago?”
That would have been the right thing to do, of course, but as he’d stood there and looked down at the marriage certificate, he’d found himself unable to utter the words out loud. Many would say that he was simply in denial if they were to realize that he’d never once stated Wei Ying’s fate out loud.
But if there was anyone who would know about whatever prank Wei Ying had pulled that involved marriage, it would be Jiang Cheng. The date on the certificate clearly showed that it had been long ago, back before Jiang Cheng had publicly kicked Wei Ying out of the Jiang Sect and declared that they were no longer brothers.
“I will go to Lotus Pier,” Lan Zhan said quietly.
Lan Huan gave him a long, searching look. “Would you like me to come with you?” Lan Zhan thought about it for a moment, but in the end he shook his head. His brother was the leader of the Lan Sect, and was needed here. Plus, Lan Zhan expected an unpleasant welcome at Lotus Pier, which wasn’t something he wanted to subject his brother to. “Very well. In that case, please be safe. And call me when you get there.”
There didn’t seem to be much point in waiting, so Lan Zhan set out that afternoon. He was too impatient to drive, so he instead flew on his sword all the way to the place that Wei Ying had once called home. By the time he got there, it was already long after dark and he was quite tired- both from the constant flying and from the fact that he was used to going to bed at nine.
The Jiang disciples at the entrance seemed shocked to see him show up without any warning, but they dutifully led him inside, and told him that they would fetch Sect Leader Jiang.
Lan Zhan got the feeling that he was forced to wait for so long because of the hostility between himself and Jiang Cheng, but he did not mention it once the other man finally deigned to show up. “Isn’t it past your bedtime?” Jiang Cheng asked in a tone that was certainly not befitting of a sect leader. Lan Zhan chose not to respond, and Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes as he knelt across from Lan Zhan. “So what’s so urgent that it’s got you showing up in the middle of the night without sending any advanced notice?”
This was the part that Lan Zhan still didn’t feel entirely prepared for. He was worried because he had no idea how Jiang Cheng would react. Without saying a word, Lan Zhan slid the marriage certificate across the table so that Jiang Cheng could look at it.
The sect leader stared at Lan Zhan searchingly for a few seconds before he looked down at the paper. It didn’t take long for him to comprehend what it was, and Zidian crackled menacingly on his finger. “Is this a joke? Why are you showing me this?” he asked in a cold voice.
“I went to apply for a marriage license today only to be informed that I am already married. Seeing as I cannot recall getting married, I found this to be quite strange.”
Jiang Cheng narrowed his eyes. “So tell them that he’s dead. Problem solved.”
Lan Zhan resisted the urge to shift around where he was kneeling. “I was hoping that you would know how this happened.”
For a moment, he was sure that Jiang Cheng would tell him to piss off, but then the other man let out a long sigh, and his shoulders slumped down. It became obvious in that moment that Jiang Cheng was just a tired man mourning the loss of his entire family- including Wei Ying. He glanced up to make sure that the door to the room was closed, then he looked down at the table instead of looking at Lan Zhan. “It was after Sister’s wedding, but before things really went to shit. I only know what he told me after the fact, so I’m sure that I don’t have all the details.” He scrunched his face up in disgust. “I’m sure that I don’t want to know all the details.
“I knew that it had to be something serious when he snuck into Lotus Pier, leaving his precious Wen remnants unguarded. He said he would have gone to Sister, but getting into Koi Tower would have been much more difficult.” There was a wistful look on Jiang Cheng’s face as he let himself get lost in a memory of the past. “He looked so miserable, and I told him I would kill whoever was responsible, but he told me that I couldn’t. He didn’t say much about what had happened, just that you had gone to Yiling, the two of you drank together, and then went to get married. I don’t even know how he convinced the clerks at the Yiling city hall to allow that to happen, considering he was technically a wanted criminal, but whatever. Apparently the next morning, you acted like nothing happened and you left. I know it was a long time ago, but how could you not remember breaking my br- breaking someone’s heart?”
As soon as Jiang Cheng had mentioned drinking, Lan Zhan felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. He was well aware of the Lans’ inability to hold their alcohol (as the scar on his chest attested to), and he knew that he never remembered anything that happened when he was drunk.
It felt like a punch to the gut to find out now that Wei Ying must have felt the same way towards Lan Zhan as Lan Zhan did towards him. To find out that they could have been together, that Lan Zhan could have convinced Wei Ying to go to Gusu, that he could have stopped Wei Ying from- well, from dying. He wished desperately that he could remember that moment, the bows they must have taken, the way that Wei Ying must have smiled so beautifully. To know that he could have had everything he wanted, but just couldn’t remember it… Lan Zhan was just grateful that he was only finding out about this now, because he was certain that if he’d learned of this just after Wei Ying’s death, nothing would have been able to pull him back from doing something irreversible.
Lan Zhan stood up and bowed once towards Jiang Cheng. “Thank you for telling me.”
Then he turned to go, but the sect leader called out, “Wait!” When Lan Zhan looked back at him, Jiang Cheng’s face went slightly pink. “I’ll never understand why, but he- he really loved you. So don’t go doing anything stupid.”
With that, Lan Zhan was free to go, though he kept Jiang Cheng’s words in mind. Yunmeng was pretty close to Yiling, so instead of flying, Lan Zhan took a taxi, and arrived in the city that he hadn’t stepped foot in in so many years. His back ached just at the thought of what had happened the last time he was here.
Lan Zhan wasn’t even sure what exactly he was looking for, until he found himself standing outside the city hall. It was the middle of the night, though, and therefore closed. So Lan Zhan got a room at a cheap inn nearby, and tried to sleep despite the thoughts that wouldn’t stop swirling around in his mind.
In the morning, he walked into city hall, glad to see that it wasn’t busy at this time. He went up to the nearest desk. “Do you know where I can find Qiao Yuanjun?” It was the name of the witness on the marriage certificate.
The middle aged woman behind the desk stared at him for a moment, taking in his all white clothing and the Lan headband that went around his forehead. Even with the bags under his eyes, he knew that he was a distinct figure. “Mr. Qiao retired about five years ago. Is there something else I can help you with?”
Lan Zhan’s shoulders didn’t actually slump down, but he felt defeated. He wasn’t even sure what he’d been hoping to find, but he knew now that it had been pointless to search for it. “No, thank you.”
He would have left, but the woman suddenly snapped her fingers together. “Oh, you’re Second Young Master Lan, aren’t you? I knew I recognized you.” Lan Zhan nodded, and then watched in slight confusion as the woman’s eyes softened. “You probably don’t remember me, but I was at your wedding. Of course a lot of people come here to file their paperwork, but most don’t actually do their bows here. But the more memorable part is the people involved. To see the renowned Lan Zhan dragging the infamous Wei Ying in here to get married was quite the scandal. The news always reported you two as enemies who hated each other, but you were so obviously in love.” Then the slight smile on her face turned into a frown. “That was so long ago. It must feel like even longer to you. I’m sorry for your loss. Despite what the rest of the world seemed to think, we here in Yiling never thought Wei Ying was evil.”
As he listened to her speak, Lan Zhan felt his hopes rising, even though he knew that he really shouldn’t let them. “Do you have any pictures?”
She seemed a bit surprised by the question, but then stared thoughtfully into the distance as she tried to remember an event from over a decade ago. “Let me check with a few people. We didn’t have smartphones back then, of course, so there’s less chances of any casual photos being taken, but someone might’ve pulled out a camera for the occasion. Just give me a few minutes, okay?” Lan Zhan nodded as he watched her hurry off. He tried not to let his hopes get too high in the twenty minutes or so that it took for her to return. She had a photo album that seemed to be yellowing with age, and she flipped through it for a minute. Then she stopped after letting out a soft, “Aha,” and turned the book around so Lan Zhan could get a better look. “You look like you’ve hardly aged a day since then.”
Lan Zhan didn’t look at himself in the photo, though. He could only stare at Wei Ying. The photo showed the two of them holding hands, with both Lan Zhan’s forehead ribbon and Wei Ying’s red hair ribbon wrapped around their wrists. The younger Lan Zhan’s head was turned towards Wei Ying, a lovesick expression on his face, while Wei Ying looked at the camera with a wide grin that sent flutters through Lan Zhan’s heart even now. “Can I keep this?”
“Of course. Just- can I take a quick picture of it first? If you don’t feel comfortable with that, it’s fine, I would just hate to lose such a beautiful piece of history.”
Lan Zhan nodded solemnly, and waited for the woman to take a picture with her phone. Then she carefully pulled the photo out of its plastic sleeve, and looked around for a moment. She grabbed an unused ziploc bag and slid the photo into it, then handed it over to Lan Zhan. “Thank you,” he said softly, but intensely. He didn’t have any other photos of Wei Ying, and seeing that familiar face, even on the fading picture, had felt like a jolt to the heart. Like he had forgotten what Wei Ying even looked like until he was able to stare at this one photo.
He knew that it was pointless to focus on his regrets, but looking at how happy both of them clearly were in that picture, Lan Zhan couldn’t help wishing that he could go back and choose to stay with Wei Ying.
It wasn’t until he’d boarded a train to head back to Gusu that Lan Zhan realized there was something written on the back of the photo. It was in a familiar messy scrawl that Lan Zhan had spent months looking at when Wei Ying had been constantly punished with copying down the disciplines of the Cloud Recesses. It was a simple message, but it was enough to make Lan Zhan feel like he couldn’t even breath.
Happiest day of my life!!! WY + LZ ♡
Lan Zhan was grateful that the photo was protected by a plastic bag so that his tears wouldn’t smear it.
It was three years later that found Lan Zhan watching Wei Ying walk away after promising that they’d see each other again someday. After spending so long thinking that he’d never see his soulmate again, the last thing Lan Zhan wanted was for Wei Ying to walk away. But he couldn’t force Wei Ying to stay.
It was only a few minutes after that, though, that he heard a familiar tune carry across the mountain, and Lan Zhan felt his legs moving forward before he could stop himself. “Wei Ying,” he breathed out, unsure of what else to say. He could remember the times in the past when he’d all but begged Wei Ying to return to Gusu with him, and he remembered being rejected each time. (Sometimes, late at night, he wondered if he had asked again the day they’d gotten married, and he wondered what Wei Ying might have said).
As he looks at Wei Ying, and thinks about the specific song he had chosen to play, Lan Zhan can’t help but think that maybe Wei Ying was waiting for him. It was a strange thought, since Lan Zhan had just spent the past thirteen years waiting for Wei Ying, but it also made sense. Wei Ying probably still thought that Lan Zhan hadn’t wanted to marry him back then.
He didn’t realize how long he and Wei Ying had just been staring at each other until Wei Ying gave him a curious little smile. “Lan Zhan?”
“Stay,” he asked softly. “Please,” he added, to make sure Wei Ying knew it wasn’t a demand.
Wei Ying fiddled with Chenqing as he looked at Lan Zhan with uncertainty. “Why?”
There were a million things he wanted to say in response to that, but the first thing that ended up making its way out of Lan Zhan’s mouth was, “Marry me.”
Wei Ying’s eyes widened in surprise, and then he leaned back against Lil Apple. “You don’t want to marry me,” he said with an unfortunate amount of confidence. “Believe me, you don’t.”
Lan Zhan shook his head. “I do.” He fumbled to pull a photo out of his pocket. He’d been carrying it around with him nearly everyday since he’d gotten it. “I want this.” When Wei Ying still didn’t move closer to him, Lan Zhan continued. “I was drunk,” he reminded, as if Wei Ying might have forgotten. “I didn’t remember.”
They just looked at each other for several long seconds before Wei Ying smiled, and it was a brilliant, beautiful thing. “Lan Zhan, you always made fun of me for my shitty memory, but it turns out that you’re just as bad.” Then he finally moved close enough for them to meet each other with a tight hug that they both seemed to move into at the same time. “I love you so much, Lan Zhan.”
“I love you too, Wei Ying. I’m sorry I didn’t stay with you back then.”
Wei Ying shook his head. “I don’t blame you for that. I never asked.”
Lan Zhan leaned back enough to get a good look at Wei Ying’s face. “You didn’t?”
Wei Ying only hesitated for a moment before answering, though he moved his hand to hold Lan Zhan’s as he spoke. “It would have been too selfish of me. With the reputation that I had back then, being with me would have been a disaster to your own reputation. So I didn’t ask, and when you acted like nothing happened the next morning, I assumed that you’d figured out the same thing.”
“Don’t care about my reputation. Only care about Wei Ying.”
Wei Ying sniffled once. “Lan Zhan! You can’t just say things like that without warning me!”
“Won’t apologize,” Lan Zhan informed him. “Love Wei Ying. Will say it lots.”
Wei Ying buried his face against Lan Zhan’s chest. “Ah, Lan Zhan, you’re going to make my heart beat right out of my chest. But it would be worth it, if it’s you.”
Even though the two of them were technically already married, they decided to have an official ceremony to make up for the one they hadn’t had in the past. Everyone was invited, and Wei Ying almost started to cry when he saw that his brother actually showed up. It was the noisiest that the Cloud Recesses had been in a very long time, and the elders quickly gave up on trying to scold the excited juniors and guests.
It was the happiest day of Lan Zhan’s life, because everyone he cared about was there, and because it marked the start of him spending the rest of his life with Wei Ying.
(Almost as good as the wedding itself was the next day, when Lan Zhan quietly thanked his uncle for attempting to arrange a marriage for him. If it weren’t for that, he’d never have known that he and Wei Ying were already married. The look on his uncle’s face was priceless, and Lan Zhan didn’t even care that Wei Ying’s bad habits seemed to be rubbing off on him. No, that was one thing he didn’t care about at all.)