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The realization comes to him, as a lot of things seem to do, during a Night Hunt.

It's one of the joint night Hunts that's become increasingly common for Wei Wuxian - What started as an elaborate ploy to get Jin Ling more friends growing and growing into something that Lan Zhan had amusedly remarked to be "A good new tradition for fostering intersect relationships."

Tonight's Hunt is hosted by Qinghe Nie, a relatively straightforward case of fierce corpses which allows Wei Wuxian to simply hang back as the multi-colored group of junior disciples run around the forest beneath him. At least, until the familiar figure of Nie Zitao lands lightly on the branch of an adjacent tree - The sheepish grin on his sharp face promising a likewise familiar topic of conversation.

"Zitao," he laughs, after the Nie's Head Disciple admitted to needing help, again, with the preparations for the year's Annual Discussion Conference in Qinghe Nie "You have to take it easier! The Conference is what, in mid-autumn? It's barely spring!"

"I want it to be perfect, Senior Wei!" Nie Zitao pouts, the childish gesture at odds with his frankly terrifying height and upper body strength "You know it's the first time Sect Leader Nie's entrusting me with the preparations! It's a big deal!"

"Right, right," Wei Wuxian grins, sweeping his eyes over the clearing beneath him to make sure that no one had lost a limb or some other mishap. Satisfied, he turns to the younger man.

"So, last time we figured out the seating charts, didn't we?" and oh, that had been quite interesting. Who knew just how many Sect Leaders are at odds with each other and couldn't be seated next to each other? The brightest Cultivator of his age he might be, but Lan Zhan really had his work cut out for him when he accepted the position of Chief Cultivator "What will it be this time, hmm?"

"Food!" Nie Zitao pipes up cheerfully, "I'll show Senior Wei later in the inn after we're done - I've written up a list of each Sect's preferences and dietary restrictions that Senior Wei can check. But also the teas and snacks for the main table during the Sect Leaders' meeting!"

Wei Wuxian is thankful to the darkness around them for hiding his smile. Not for the first time, he wonders if it was simply fate that, out of a Sect brimming with hardened, stony-faced swordsmen and women, Nie Huaisang gained himself a Head Disciple who is as enthusiastic about tea leaves and pretty things as he is.

"Oh, and also…" Zitao hesitates for a bit, and Wei Wuxian peers interestedly into the darkness to find the younger man fidgeting ever so slightly. 

"I was just wondering what snacks or sweets Hanguang-Jun prefers with his tea," Nie Zitao blurts out, because of course, like the fair majority of the juniors Wei Wuxian has sort of taken under his wings, the boy is utterly in awe of his husband the Chief Cultivator - Not that Wei Wuxian blames him, really.

Wei Wuxian laughs, opens his mouth, and then has the horrible realization that he really, truly, doesn't know.

It takes a moment to sink in.

He's known Lan Zhan ever since he was fifteen, had saved the Cultivation world together with him twice over, is actually married to the man, and Wei Wuxian doesn't know what his favorite tea snack is.

"Only if Senior Wei thinks it's all right for me to know, though! I mean, Hanguang-Jun is a really private person, right? Oh, but can I at least know his favorite tea? I've gotten a good supplier for the Lotus plumule tea you said Sect Leader Jiang likes, so it would be great if I could serve His Excellency tea that he likes too," Nie Zitao rambles on, completely oblivious to the slow breakdown that Wei Wuxian is having just one tree away from him because he doesn't know what Lan Zhan's favorite tea is either.

"Senior Wei?" Nie Zitao finally asks, after a considerable length of silence. Wei Wuxian swallows the sudden lump in his throat, the distant sounds of fierce corpses groaning in the background.

"You know what? I'll get back to you on that."

 

**

 

Wei Wuxian is having a crisis.

Which would probably sound really alarming to anyone were he to say it out loud, being that the crises in his life (lives?) so far has involved being thrown into a haunted tomb to be left for dead and the very public and well-known spectacle of the entire Cultivation world marching together to have his head on a platter.

So he keeps his mouth shut, wraps up the Night Hunt neatly - even managed to give out some pointers on how to get the most out of spirit flags, and sits down with Nie Zitao to go through his list of dishes and tea leaves even as his mind slowly descends into chaos. Because after his brief talk with Zitao in the forest, it was as if a dam had burst inside him, letting out a flood of countless other little things that Wei Wuxian apparently just doesn't know about his husband - What is Lan Zhan's favorite dish? Favorite book? Favorite color

Sure, Wei Wuxian knows what Lan Zhan uses and eats and do, knows what he has for his meals, knows the sparse contents of his bookshelves in the Jingshi and the neatly-folded rows of sedate whites and pale blue inside their shared wardrobe.

But.

But Wei Wuxian also realizes that he can not confidently say that those are things that Lan Zhan likes. Whenever he orders sadly-seasoned vegetables in whatever restaurant they go to, who is to say that it's really because Lan Zhan likes sadly-seasoned vegetables, and not just because that's what he's been eating ever since he was a kid? Whenever Lan Zhan flicks through a book of Cultivation theory or the discourses of long-dead philosophers, is it because he actually enjoys it or is it because that's just the kind of books he's expected to read as the Second Jade of Lan? And really, does Lan Zhan even have clothes or things that are not in the Gusu Lan colors?

The questions continue to pile up in his head even as he rides home to Gusu, even as he stops by Yingchuan to check up on the few small sects that has been flourishing there with the help of Lan Zhan's intersect initiative, the smiles and encouraging words feeling rote on his lips.

And Wei Wuxian knows it's silly and frivolous to get so worked up over something like this - After all, he knows Lan Zhan. Knows his values, his unflinching ideals and the foundations that makes Lan Zhan who he is, knows him so closely that he could anticipate both the sparse words from Lan Zhan's lips and the arc of his sword before they even happen.

And yet.

And yet, amongst all the broad brush strokes that made up his husband, Wei Wuxian realizes that he is missing a host of finer details. Trivial and frivolous as they are, they are still part of Lan Zhan and not knowing them feels wrong, somehow, and he wonders - Is it because he's not paying enough attention? Is it because he never asked?

And then, on the very bottom of the murky waters of his questions - The shape familiar and well-worn - Is it because he hasn't been good enough for Lan Zhan?

The questions swirl uncomfortably on his chest all the way to the Cloud Recesses, as his feet takes him through the gravel path to the Jingshi, up until the wooden doors slides open and he sees Lan Zhan's golden eyes upon his.

"Wei Ying"

Lan Zhan's arms are waiting for him the moment Wei Wuxian launches himself at his husband, warm and solid and home, and all of Wei Wuxian's discomfort and doubt dissipates readily, impossibly, inside the embrace.

"Wei Ying?" Lan Zhan's tone shifts infinitesimally, concern softening his eyes as Wei Wuxian stays a beat too long, too still in his arms and oh, surely Lan Zhan is too, too good to him. He knows how upset Lan Zhan would be were he to know of his earlier self-doubt, and Wei Wuxian doesn't want that for his husband. Whatever Lan Zhan sees in him, whatever makes Lan Zhan hold this much trust towards him, he's going to trust it too.

He owes Lan Zhan, owes himself, at least that much.

"Just missed my Lan er-gege too much!" Wei Wuxian grins up at Lan Zhan, assuaging the other man with a small peck on his lips "Two weeks is way too long to be on the road - Why don't we just let the Cultivation world take care of itself once in a while, huh?"

"Wei Ying could stop any time he wants," Lan Zhan remarks, the slightest hint of amusement dancing behind his gaze.

"Not the point!" Wei Wuxian whines, even as Lan Zhan ushers him inside their home, hands already busy warming Wei Wuxian's own from the persistent chill of Gusu's early spring "It's just not the same, going to all these places without you! Ah, Lan Zhan, let's go to Caiyi tomorrow and see the market!"

"Mn," Lan Zhan hums in assent, planting Wei Wuxian near the brazier as he sweeps gracefully past him to start on a pot of tea. Which reminds him - 

"We should eat out too! Say, Lan Zhan, anything you want in particular?" Wei Wuxian asks, studying Lan Zhan's face carefully, even as he gets the feeling that he already knows the answer that's coming.

"Whatever Wei Ying want is fine," Lan Zhan replies as if on cue - gentle and familiar and completely honest.

Wei Wuxian's eyes narrows, and he considers.

 

**

 

Wei Wuxian has a theory.

It might sound crass, for some, to theorize upon one's own husband and soulmate, but it is the only way Wei Wuxian knows to approach a problem without completely derailing or losing himself in a maelstorm of tangential feelings. And really, it's not as if Lan Zhan would mind much anyway, what with the way the other man often looks at him as if he's a particularly obstinate Qiqiao Ban puzzle, the way Lan Zhan has this satisfied, barely perceptible quirk of his lips whenever he figures out a new way to get Wei Wuxian to sleep earlier or remember to eat properly.

And so, as with any respectable theory, It has to be tested - Preferably with a limited and controlled amount of data that's easily observable. Wei Wuxian decides on tea leaves, because it was what started off this whole venture in the first place, while also being a relatively easy subject to observe, seeing how much people in the Cloud Recesses actually spend time brewing and drinking tea.

His baseline, as it is, is the tea that Lan Zhan drinks every day - Morning and night and just after lunch, something that Wei Wuxian often partakes in too, sitting across Lan Zhan as his husband gracefully pours and serves him tea. The tea, though -

Look, Wei Wuxian is not going to say that he's a tea expert or anything - He's no Nie Huaisang or little Zitao, who could sniff a disc or bag of tea leaves and tell you what region it was planted in or whatever. But over his travels he's drunk a lot of tea, and it's just that, as with a lot of other things in the Cloud Recesses, the tea they have there tastes like nothing at all.

Nie Huaisang would probably look disapprovingly behind his fan and inform him that the words he's looking for are "delicate and light", and Wei Wuxian gets it, the tea Lan Zhan drinks every day is apparently Baihao Yinzhen - White silver needle buds grown only in nearby Fujian, highly prized and ridiculously expensive for tasting like boiled water with a bit of grass. He also found out, from auntie Tsuchi who supervises the Cloud Recesses kitchens, that it is the same kind of tea that they've been serving the Clan for decades now.

Well, that's about to change.

Wei Wuxian starts picking up different kinds of tea leaves each time he makes his rounds for Lan Zhan - Joint Night Hunts and settling disputes and generally being on the field to tackle problems too immediate, too fraught for bureaucracy or new edicts alone to solve. He sniffs tea leaves and sips on cups upon cups of tea, listening to the often impassioned ramblings of tea sellers on the depth and intricacies of taste. Haggles a lot, because good tea is apparently just ridiculously expensive in general.

He first switches Lan Zhan's usual tea with Bai Mudan - White peony that's still similar in taste but more robust and fruity. Watches very carefully as Lan Zhan's brows quirk in recognition at the difference, before it smooths out again and he drinks it as usual.

Well then. 

From there on, Wei Wuxian ups the intensity of the tea leaves incrimentally, white tea giving way to yellow, the familiar Junshan Yinzhen he drinks at Lotus Pier, then to a more astringent series of greens  - Tart Chun Mee, mellow roasted Longjing Cha, to jasmine-scented Molihua Cha, and then a smattering of Oolongs, its deeper, woody aroma permeating the quiet air of the Jingshi.

By the first month, he's actually become pretty adept in picking out tea leaves, pointing at leaves and tea discs with more confidence and getting into interesting arguments with tea sellers about the merits of mixed leaves and acidity and just how much steeping time is too much steeping time.

He builds a catalogue of adjacent taste around the Baihao Yinzhen Lan Zhan has spent his whole life drinking, and each time, Wei Wuxian watches.

He watches as Lan Zhan sniffs delicately at each of the parcels Wei Wuxian brings back for him, watches the delicate balance of his face shifts as he takes the first sip of a new brew, watches for telltale signs of displeasure or otherwise which never comes.

 

**

 

A few weeks and a veritable tour of the finest teas in the land later, Wei Wuxian is ready to concede that his theory might very well be right after all. It wasn't that he didn't know what Lan Zhan's tea preferences were.

It's just that previously, Lan Zhan most probably didn't really have any.

It sounds slightly absurd, when he puts it like that. But the more he thinks about it, the more it makes sense - Just like Lan Zhan's meditations and waking up at five and falling asleep at hai shi, the action of drinking tea has been ingrained into a part of his routine. And after having drunk the same kind of tea for years and years, Wei Wuxian supposses that it's plausible that the sentiments between being used to and liking something becomes muddled up a bit.

And really, it shouldn't bother Wei Wuxian this much - He knows the act of making and drinking tea itself is comforting to Lan Zhan, as with his morning routines and the steady cycle of his sleep. So Lan Zhan has a set of little things that he is familiar with and is more or less ambivalent and agreeable to the rest, which is totally fine. And yet -

The whistle of the water kettle is loud in the quiet of the Jingshi, startling both Wei Wuxian from his musings and Lan Zhan from his letter-writing - His husband's brush caught in mid-stroke.

"I'll get that," Wei Wuxian waves his hand at Lan Zhan, absentmindedly padding to the small stove before settling himself back down across his husband.

It's not something he does a lot, but Wei Wuxian knows how to serve tea. How to serve tea very properly, even. Madam Yu had made sure that he won't be an embarassment to the Jiang Sect by having poor decorum, rapping his knuckles sharply with every wrong move and making him pour tea and observe proper sitting postures until his arms and back ached. There was a period of time in their lives where he and Jiang Cheng would flinch at the mere sound of teacups clinking.

Mind still preoccupied with his musings, Wei Wuxian doesn't realize that he's assumed the posture of his adolescent lessons - Back straight, arms held away from his body just so, as for the sleeves of his robes to fall gracefully over the wrists as he pours water over the pot, and then the cups. He pours everything out again, the tea cups warmed and the leaves clear of impurities before pouring water a second time - swirls the lid of the pot out of habit before closing it. Waits, then portions the tea carefully into the gongdao bei before he finally pours it a final time into his and Lan Zhan's waiting cups. Satisfied, he picks one of the cups delicately and offers it to Lan Zhan.

Who doesn't take it.

He waits a beat longer before finally looking up to see Lan Zhan staring at him - Golden eyes all wide, molten honey, the brush on his hand seemingly forgotten. 

"Lan Zhan?"

His husband finally takes the cup from him, only to set it down carefully along with his brush before he reaches out and pulls Wei Wuxian towards him and into his lap.

"Lan..Zhan?"

It's Wei Wuxian's turn to stare as Lan Zhan catches his right wrist neatly, bringing it up to his lips to mouth at his quickening pulse. Lan Zhan's other hand migrates down - Long, long fingers spanning the breadth of Wei Wuxian's waist before gripping tightly.

"Wei Ying serves tea very well," Lan Zhan whispers against his knuckles.

"Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian laughs helplessly, even as he is pushed down to the Jingshi's floors, "If only I'd known pouring tea properly would make you this hot and bothered, I'd have done it in front of you when we were teenagers!"

He gets a bite for a reply, sharp and hot on his shoulder, and all thoughts of teas and preferences flees his mind for the rest of the night.

 

**

 

Wei Wuxian wakes up to a sore back, an empty bed with breakfast on a cloth-covered tray on the table, and a realization.

Lan Zhan has very clear preferences when it involves their marriage bed. Even from early on, in that strange time after his resurrection where they danced circles around each other and stole brief, confused touches in the hushed corners of Cloud Recesses, Lan Zhan had always delighted in capturing his wrists - fingers replaced by ribbons and silks after they did their three bows and is afforded a lot more privacy. Lan Zhan likes it when Wei Wuxian is loud and shameless, as if the noises he makes is proof that he's alive, that he's there. And yet Lan Zhan also likes it when Wei Wuxian is quiet and demure, when he is draped in Lan whites and proper manners - And apparently, when he serves his husband tea just so.

Wei Wuxian would not call their lovemaking a frivolous thing, but it is certainly something beyond the functional routines of Lan Zhan's life. And in this, Lan Zhan has all these preferences he makes very clear to Wei Wuxian, and it makes him wonder.

He wonders about this as the day goes on, as he drags himself, sore back and all, to teach an afternoon class on the basics of handling spiritual weapons. Wei Wuxian had tweaked the curriculum a bit, and instead of having them simply take turns with an actual spiritual weapon, he's imbued a bunch of practice swords with enough spiritual energy as to have the disciples interact and try to wield different kinds of energy levels and signatures. He goes from disciple to disciple to make sure everyone gets the hang of melding their own energy with that of the swords, having now adjusted to the way that the Lan disciples channel the flow of their Qi to properly instruct them on how to direct it.

Where Yunmeng Jiang had taught Wei Wuxian to tap directly into his core, the disciples of Gusu Lan were taught to achieve a state where they are one with their cores instead - A longer and definitely more roundabout process involving long regimens of meditation to be able to easily slip into the coveted state of oneness. Wei Wuxian has to admit that it makes for a more refined control of one's Qi flow, which makes a lot of sense given that a big part of Gusu Lan practices musical cultivation - where every minute shift of tone is paramount. It makes Wei Wuxian wonder of his own learning curve in Demonic Cultivation, wonders if the technique he develops suits him so well because everything he's learned he's learned by no precedence nor prior example - Purely through trial and error and sheer shedding of blood and pain.

Wei Wuxian wonders if it had been the same with Lan Zhan and their lovemaking, how in his husband's strictly regulated life, upon the bedrock of so many strict precedences and rules, the complete absence of prior sexual teachings has carved a space where Lan Zhan can freely explore and try out things, to just be.

Unbidden, his fingers alights beneath the collars of his robe, to the mark that Lan Zhan had bitten into his skin, and Wei Wuxian wonders.

 

**

 

Wei Wuxian carries his curiosity all the way to the Hanshi, along with a carefully-rolled musical sheet and a disc of pu-erh tea he got in Yiwu.

"Xichen-ge!" He sing-songs after a brief knock, and is welcomed into the serenity of the Hanshi with a gentle nod from Lan Xichen, seated in his usual spot by the window.

As he has for over a year now, Wei Wuxian does the ritual of settling down across the older man, bowing on his seat before prattling on about his latest outing and presenting him with the region's folk song that he's transcribed. It's something of a habit by now, Wei Wuxian bringing home songs from places he's been - What started out as a safe alternative to news and rumors now a slowly flourishing collection of folk songs across the realm.

There is the slightest hint of a smile on Lan Xichen's lips as he hums the tune before him - A small, simple haozi to be sung by farmers at work. Lan Zhan's brother has always been a more expressive man than his husband ever was, and it fills Wei Wuxian with delight whenever a hint of his previous gentle cheer surfaces through.

"A-Xian," Lan Xichen says gently, as he is re-rolling the music they had just pored over, in that tone that reminds him so, so much of his Shijie. "Is there something you'd like to talk about?"

Wei Wuxian opens his mouth, then closes it again - caught between guilt and resignation that of course Xichen-Ge notices. As with his Shijie, it's probably something that comes with being an eldest sibling, Wei Wuxian sometimes thinks, that even in the depths of his grief, the older man is still looking out for others. He wonders sometimes, wants to know if it is simply something they cannot control, cannot stop. If they want to stop.

"Um," he says instead, "It's really nothing urgent - I'm just…"

"I just realized that I didn't know…a lot of what Lan Zhan likes? As in, tea? Food? If anyone would know it would be Xichen-Ge, right?"

Wei Wuxian laughs nervously as Lan Xichen stays silent for a long moment - Long enough that Wei Wuxian tries to peer at the older man's eyes, wondering if he's said something wrong, somehow.

"Wangji has never been a picky child," Lan Xichen begins, and Wei Wuxian frowns at the non-answer before the older man continues.

"When we were younger, we were told to be good. To be able to see Mother."

Oh, Wei Wuxian thinks, something pulling in his stomach as he realizes, oh.

"And a lot of the time, being good means you do what you're told, eat what you're given. Wangji has always wanted to be good in this way, and I suppose, it stayed."

For a split second, Wei Wuxian sees red - wishes he can march into the inner heart of the Cloud Recesses and demand the Elders to explain themselves, to justify themselves, somehow, in treating a child in such a way. He squeezes his eyes shut, draws a deep breath before he says, instead.

"I see."

Lan Xichen's answering smile is small and sad.

"But Xichen-Ge doesn't…" Wei Wuxian muses after some time, gesturing at the parcel of tea between them "I mean, I know Xichen-Ge's favorite tea, for one."

"I didn't use to," Lan Xichen says quietly, the look in his eyes that soft, distant one Wei Wuxian is familiar with - The one where he thinks of people that are not there anymore. "I had some help in finding out what I like."

"I -" Wei Wuxian swallows, "I'm sorry"

"A-Xian has nothing to apologize for. As he himself told me once, just because something ended badly does not erase all the good that it did."

Wei Wuxian excuses himself, then. Leaves the tea and the song like a promise, admonishing Lan Xichen to eat more almost absentmindedly when the older man suddenly bows in his seat - Quiet and sedate, as with everything about him are nowadays.

"Thank you, for doing this for Wangji"

Wei Wuxian opens his mouth, but bows instead when he sees the smile upon Lan Xichen's lips - A small, tired thing, but warm in a way that he hasn't seen for a long, long time.

 

**

 

Xichen-Ge's words stays with him throughout the day, as he teaches afternoon class and helps Lan Zhan with his correspondences, as dinner rolls along and Lan Zhan bathes with him and combs his hair. He laughs and smiles and talks about one inane thing after another, but Wei Wuxian can't keep the image of Lan Zhan - Little Lan Zhan, trying so hard to be good, because anything but good might mean he doesn't get to see his Mother for the month.

"Wei Ying?" Lan Zhan finally asks, when they are both loose-limbed and sated in each other's arms, when Wei Wuxian buries his face too tightly, a touch too long on Lan Zhan's chest and gives himself away. His husband's voice is worried despite the edges of sleep starting to creep into it, and Wei Wuxian wants to groan in frustration that it's Lan Zhan who's worried now, that it's Lan Zhan who's comforting him when it's supposed to be him doing it, even if it was to a Lan Zhan that is long gone - A Lan Zhan who is all right now, warm inside his arms.

"Lan Zhan," he whispers, "You know I love you, right? You know I would do anything for you? Anything you want," Wei Wuxian presses himself closer still, fully knowing that the reassurance is more for his benefit, because it's not how Lan zhan works.

And then, because Lan Zhan is so kind and so good to him, because he is Lan Zhan, his golden eyes merely gentles in the darkness, meeting his embrace with the calm, unshakeable warmth that Wei Wuxian's known him for for so long now, his voice reverbrating between their joined skin, "I know."

"Wei Ying should never worry about this" He says again, after some length, the arms around him firm, unrelenting, "Now sleep."

 

**

 

Jiang Cheng has set up something of a temporary office on the water's edge, Yunmeng's warmer weather allowing him the luxury of an amazing lotus-pond vista as he works, the visual and sensoric stimulation allegedly meant to inspire calm and reduce stress and tension headaches - If the Jin healer they talked with last month is to be believed, that is.

Wei Wuxian arrives to a spare cushion already set for him - Across a pile of correspondences and a definitely still stressed Jiang Cheng.

He makes a mental note to himself to drag Jiang Cheng to a Night Hunt some time later during his visit, tranquil sceneries be damned. Sometimes when one is faced with this many paperwork, hitting something really hard really is the only cure.

"Really, Jiang Cheng?" Wei Wuxian plops himself down on the cushion, rifling through the stack of papers "Your dearest shixiong just arrived and you're making him do paperwork? Where's the filial piety? Where's the hospitality?"

"Hospitality my ass, I didn't reinstate you as a Yunmeng Jiang Disciple for nothing, you idiot!" Jiang Cheng glares at him over his own stack of papers, "Go make yourself useful - These numbers are killing me!"

Wei Wuxian acquieses with a laugh, and they soon fall into a comfortable rhythm of shuffling papers and scratching brushes, the gentle lapping of the water a familiar, comforting thing now that Jiang Cheng is across from him. Wei Wuxian is just about to tell Jiang Cheng that the Lanling healer might have a point after all when a servant comes in bearing tea and a bowl of piping-hot steamed buns, and Wei Wuxian stops - remembers.

He remembers being eight, his new home all strange and alien to him, trying to be good, trying to make himself as small as possible as Jiang Cheng dragged him to the bustling market of the docks. The colorful stalls and raised voices reminded him so much, too much of Yiling.

He remembers Jiang Cheng stopping at a stall - Rows of plump, glistening steam buns nestled on bamboo steamers - pointing at one, then turning to ask which one he wanted. 

"I'll have what's left after you're done," Wei Wuxian had said, even as his stomach twists in knots, the fragrant steam of the buns tickling his nose, remembers thinking that he shouldn't be greedy, shouldn't be a bother, should be good.

He didn't understand, at the time, why Jiang Cheng became so angry - Why he asked again, pushed him to just pick one that he wanted.

"I've…never had any before, so I don't know which one I want?"

And then something resolute had formed in Jiang Cheng's face, his small brows knitting together in that way that still carries over to this day. His Jiang Cheng, his shidi who is now a Sect Leader and an Uncle.

"We'll take one of each, shushu" Jiang Cheng had said, before Wei Wuxian could protest.

Later, Shijie had found them sitting together on the pier, face sticky with sauce and sweet beans and one too many opened steam buns spread on both their laps.

Wei Wuxian had liked the spicy pork buns the most.

"A-Xian" She had said then, after she had wiped both their faces with the lavender-scented handkerchief that she seemed to just possess in impossible abundance, her eyes gentle "From now on, you can say what you want too. You can tell us what will make you happy because we're family, and family is supposed to make each other happy"

It had taken him months, to do so. To simply say that he wants - That he wants to try, to eat, to do something. And every time, Shijie would smile that gentle smile at him, and Jiang Cheng would glare and nod, as if daring anyone else to stop him.

"Hey, Jiang Cheng," Wei Wuxian grins, nudging his brother gently over the bowl of steaming buns.

Jiang Cheng grunts across him.

"You know, I never thanked you properly for introducing me to the wonders of steamed buns!"

"What the fuck are you on about?" Jiang Cheng snaps, even as Wei Wuxian catches the poppy-red flush high on his cheeks, even as he reaches out for a bun to deflect his eyes somewhere, anywhere else.

Wei Wuxian breaks one bun open, revealing the sticky, glistening red of pork pieces swimming in sauce.

"Ah, the spicy pork ones are the best, aren't they?"

Jiang Cheng glares at him a moment longer before something seem to relax on the slopes of his shoulders, a fragile balance of things suddenly naked on his face.

"Yeah," he says, voice thick with something both familiar yet far away "Yeah they are."

And in that moment, surrounded by the fragrant steam and the lapping waters of his childhood, Wei Wuxian thinks he can hear his Shijie's gentle voice, the edge of her handkerchief dabbing at their stained lips - Family is supposed to make each other happy.

 

**

 

Wei Wuxian knows, without the shadow of a doubt, that Lan Zhan is happy.

He knows it from Lan Zhan's smiles - A thing he once thought so rare as to be nonexistent, now seemingly everywhere in his day if he just knows where to look. He knows it from Sizhui, from the way his eyes turn that soft, almost reverent contentment whenever he looks at his father. 

And yet, family is supposed to make each other happy - and Wei Wuxian thinks that, in the idylic days of this second life that's been granted to him, he might just want to make up for all the small happiness that was denied from Lan Zhan. That after a lifetime of being so careful, of being so afraid, maybe he is now allowed to be a little greedy.

Wei Wuxian gets Lan Zhan sweets. Because nothing remotely close to a decent dessert exists within the borders of the Cloud Recesses, and he thinks it a crime that little Lan Zhan has never even had a stick of tanghulu.

He doesn't start with a tanghulu, of course. Even if he has thoughts about his husband's perfect lips enveloping the slick-shiny red globes - Which, really, is another thing entirely. It doesn't do well to start off with things that are too sweet when one has lived with virtually no sweet things all their life.

He sneaks Lan Zhan out into town, to night markets of distant cities they visit and plies him with little parcels of fried cakes and nibbles of twisted doughs that leaves his husband's lips a glistening pink, beads of sugar begging to be licked off.

Wei Wuxian brings home cakes - Tiny, pretty things wrapped in leaves and paper, some scented with honey, some sprinkled with osmanthus and nuts and all manner of dried fruits, some molded and carved in intricate designs that almost makes them too precious to eat.

Lan Zhan seems quite taken with the tiny cakes, remarks at how pretty the delicate designs are, at how much it complements and echoes their taste, and Wei Wuxian thinks that Lan Zhan just likes pretty things in general - Likes capturing fleeting beauties and hoarding keepsakes. Wei Wuxian remembers the drawing Lan Zhan keeps under his floorboards, remembers the peony bookmark he traces tenderly with his finger. 

He plies his husband with flowers - kept fresh from his journeys with a tiny bit of Qi -  Left in his study and in the Jingshi and everywhere else he knows his husband to frequent. Sprigs of violets and wild dandelions laid as if an afterthought, intricate chrysanthemums placed like an offering, elegant orchids in full bloom, tucked underneath a brush.   

Wei Wuxian peppers Lan Zhan's days with treats and flowers as he would pepper kisses on his husband's skin - Small dots of happiness over the one that they've secured together after so long.

 

**

 

Wei Wuxian tells Lan Zhan stories - Remembers his husband telling him that he never grew up with bedtime stories. Whispers legends and folk tales and half made-up fancies near Lan Zhan's ears as the darkness of night and the warmth of their togetherness cocoons them like a womb. Watches Lan Zhan's eyes flutter close and feels the weight of his limbs settle heavy around him with his words.

He sneaks books into the Jingshi, novels and bawdy poetry and romantic sagas, books that would have absolutely no place in the hallowed shelves of the Cloud Recesses, excessive in both happiness and grief as they are. He places them casually across their home, in Lan Zhan's study, in his office - Innocent and inviting.

He comes back to the Jingshi one night to find Lan Zhan frowning into a book - The visible knot in his brows at odds with his serene, perfect posture. He sneaks a peek at the cover to see that it is indeed one of the books he's placed - A doomed love story between a young lady and a lone wolf of a prince who became an Emperor to protect her, at the cost of tearing them apart with what he's become.

"I do not understand how it just," Lan Zhan's frown deepens, after he's set down the book on his lap, eyes intent against Wei Wuxian's own "Just ends like that. What is the purpose of a story if it merely showcases the futility of things? What good does it do?"

"Well, some people like a good cry?" Wei Wuxian asks, even as he plucks the offending book from Lan Zhan's hands and starts running his hand through his husband's hair, amused at how he's still wearing all his headpieces, too engrossed in the book to even take them off properly, yet at the same time aching at how much his Lan Zhan feels.

Lan Zhan gives a delicate snort, even as he relaxes into Wei Wuxian's touch.

He writes to Ouyang Zizhen the next day, and receives a thick package with a very enthusiastic, very emotional letter accompanying it a week later. Wei Wuxian picks at random, fully trusting in Zizhen's boundless romanticism - A story of a disgraced martial God and his loyal Ghost King, of a wait spanning centuries and a love that endured in the end - and places the book gently on Lan Zhan's writing desk.

He comes back after a short trip to Tangxi to Lan Zhan reading the book, back straight and fingers gracefully turning the pages as if he's reading scripture and not some racy, overwrought romance that would probably send an Elder to an unfortunate Qi deviation. Wei Wuxian makes tea and sticks a warming talisman over the pot, settles himself across Lan Zhan with his own book until Lan Zhan finishes.

"Good read?" Wei Wuxian asks, offering the still-hot tea to his husband.

"Mn," Lan Zhan hums before he sips his tea, in that tone that means he's quietly satisfied.

Lan Zhan likes happy endings.

 

**

 

It hits him, as he places a second helping of Yunmeng-style fried tofu on Sizhui's bowl, that the boy was raised by Lan Zhan.

"You like fried tofu," Wei Wuxian says, without thinking.

Sizhui blinks, looks at the tofu Wei Wuxian just gave him, then slowly looks at him, in that careful, kind way that he does

"I do, Senior Wei," Sizhui says. The "You know that, though?" part goes unsaid because that's just the kind of well-mannered child his A-Yuan is.   

"Huh," Wei Wuxian mutters, and continues to eat.

He watches for the rest of dinner how Sizhui eats all his vegetables like a good Lan disciple, but also tips a fair amount of sauce on them, how he clearly saves the greasy, bamboo shoot-filled tofu skins for last. How afterwards, Zizhen spots Sizhui eyeing the tanghulu peddled on the night market and buys one for him, Sizhui's grin shy as he delicately crunches the crispy sugar behind his hands.

"Huh," he mutters again, as he meets Sizhui's eyes over the red shine of the tanghulu, before Jin Ling swats at his shoulder and grumbles at him to get moving.

It's a slow Night Hunt - A simple case of mountain demons that they're really just tackling so Jin Ling can have a night off from the absolute political hot mess that is Jinlintai. His nephew is off to set up some spirit nets across the perimeter, bickering all the way with Jingyi, Zizhen wedged between them like some sort of buffer or referee, while Sizhui stays to help him set up the spirit-attraction array that's going to be the center of their strategy.

It's not that he needs the assistance, really - It's a simple one-man job that any Cultivator with a stick can do, but Sizhui had smiled, and just stays put beside him as he gently waves his friends away. He has always been a sticky child, his A-Yuan.

"Hanguang-Jun was the one who first got me fried tofu."

Wei Wuxian blinks, his stick stopping mid-stroke on the ground as he looks across the array to a crouching, still-smiling Sizhui.

"Oh?"

"They used to only have boiled tofu in the Cloud Recesses, and I hated it, I think. Refused to eat any, even though it's forbidden to be picky with one's food. So one day Hanguang-Jun took me to this small restaurant in Caiyi, then gave me three kinds of tofu and asked me which one I liked the most," at this, Sizhui's smile grows wider, "And now, sometimes we have fried tofu in the Cloud Recesses -  Senior Wei knows which ones."

"Oh," Wei Wuxian says again, laughs to cover the sudden, embarrassing tightness in his throat, "Your Hanguang-Jun is just too good, isn't he?"

Sizhui pauses at that, looks at Wei Wuxian again, in that careful, kind way that he does.

"After Guanyin Temple," Sizhui says, at last, when Wei Wuxian's about to launch into a random ramble just to break the strangely pregnant silence "I asked Hanguang-Jun to tell me about - Of how he got me. Like, how he really wasn't much older than me right now, you know? How did he do it? And he said -"

"Hanguang-Jun said that every time he didn't know what to do, he just did what he thinks Senior Wei would do."

"Ah," Wei Wuxian blinks, lost on how to react.

"And I think, I think the tofu was one of that? Hanguang-Jun said that it's good for children, for people to have choices, to know what the choices are instead of just wholly accepting what is given to them. He said that it was something Senior Wei taught him when he was young."

Wei Wuxian remembers days of arguing with Lan Zhan on the library pavilion, the half-written copies of the Lan precepts between, both of them young and brash. He remembers, later on, him shouting in the rain, older, both stubborn in their surety of doing the right thing, and his throat constricts with too much things all at once - Regrets, what ifs, and so, so much gratitude -

"Ah, A-Yuan, this one is so thankful Lan Zhan raised you so well." 

And Sizhui, who is so good and kind, who is so like his Lan Zhan in so many ways, merely smiles again - Gentle and radiant like the morning sun, "Xian-gege raised me well too."

Wei Wuxian laughs, reaches out to ruffle his son's hair, and tries hard not to cry in the middle of a fucking Night Hunt.

 

**

 

Wei Wuxian decides to take what is apparently his own advice, and ventures into choices - Laughing at himself for not doing it sooner, the laugh soon tapering off to a bittersweet feeling that Lan Zhan had gone through the trouble of cultivating all these choices for Sizhui, but never for himself.

Wei Wuxian draws a deep breath, and firmly assures himself that it's why he's here.

He makes Lan Zhan choose what to eat and where to eat when they travel, does a little tournament between all the tea leaves he's amassed so far, just to see which of those Lan Zhan actually likes the most. 

Wei Wuxian takes to jotting down Lan Zhan's answers in a small, inconspicuous book - the contents probably making sense to no one else but him, given the random nature of the choices and his own less than stellar penmanship.

Lan Zhan likes him smelling of magnolias, he writes, after Wei Wuxian takes him to a shop in Caiyi, makes his husband smell a full array of hair oils until their noses are numb and their sleeves are an incorrigible mixture of scents.

Lan Zhan likes him in dark blues and deep reds, as they run their fingers through bolts of silks, his old family Seamstress smiling indulgently at their joined hands. Likes a shade of gentle violet-blue for himself, like the gentians that his mother so loved. 

Lan Zhan prefers Wei Wuxian to do the numbers when they tackle budgets and tarrifs, prefers the more abstract surety of letters for himself. Prefers Wei Wuxian to sit near the door when he has his hearings as His Excellency, so their eyes could meet when things are too boring or too infuriating. Prefers to drink the smoky brew of Zhengshan Xiaozhong rather than his usual teas when the nights are long with paperwork and deliberations.

His book fills up as the day passes, a myriad of choices and preferences and patterns that are Lan Zhan's and Lan Zhan's alone, and Wei Wuxian thinks that for all the books in the Gusu Lan library, all the mysteries it holds within its secret chambers, he thinks that this book must be the most precious one of them all.

 

**

 

And then one day, Lan Zhan asks.

Wei Wuxian is doing one last check-up on his route before his departure the next day, their trusty map with its myriad of annotations and pieces of parchments stuck to it spread out between them, when Lan Zhan says :

"If Wei Ying is passing by Guanli, can he get the melon seed tea he got there last time?"

"Of course!" Wei Wuxian tries his damnedest not to grin like a loon, fails spectacularly, and doesn't find it in himself to care.

 

**

 

Summer passes them by, and in no time at all the Grand Discussion Conference is upon them - Scores of multi-colored sect robes filling the cold stone halls of the Unclean Realms as Wei Wuxian tries to keep Nie Zitao from the jaws of a Qi deviation amidst the proceedings. There is a small incident involving a missing group of caterers that Wei Wuxian manages to solve with a hastily-assembled contingent of mismatched Juniors, but otherwise the preparations go smoothly and no one Qi-deviates nor dies.

Which, considering the history of Discussion Conferences he's been to, is already a win.

He sticks with Lan Zhan though the boring bits of the Conference, alternating between making increasingly ridiculous faces at Hanguang-Jun upon his seat of honor and twirling his dizi while making increasingly disquieting grins at the more difficult Sect Leaders.

Wei Wuxian won't admit it on sword point, but he's having fun. So much so that he is almost unaware when tea and refreshment is served between sessions, until the familiar fragrance of Guanli melon seed tea and Osmanthus rice cakes gently assaults his senses. The very same tea and cakes that he himself had recommended to Nie Zitao after successfully garnering that yes, these are his husband's favorites, in what should have felt like a strange amount of pride and joy.

Wei Wuxian is suddenly, inexplicably nervous as he watches Lan Zhan pour tea for the both of them, the scent he now so closely associates with the Jingshi, with home, now feeling novel yet comforting amidst their foreign surroundings. Watches Lan Zhan sip the tea and nibble at the fragrant cakes, finishes one, watches the slope of his shoulders gentle the slightest bit. He wonders if Lan Zhan chalks it up to coincidence, wonders if Lan Zhan notices the appearance of his favorite tea and sweets after months and months of Wei Wuxian plying him with virtually all the tea leaves and tea snacks in the Realm.

In the end, Wei Wuxian settles for simply enjoying his tea, one hand slipping beneath the table to find Lan Zhan's already waiting for his - their fingers finding each other's easily in the brief moment of respite afforded to them.

And this he will admit, at least to Zitao. It's the best tea he's ever had in a Discussion Conference ever.

They finally get to Nie Zitao at the tail end of the Discussion Conference - Only the Farewell dinner left in the schedule and the Nie Head Disciple finally simmering down to a content, if still slightly manic state of being. Wei Wuxian waves wildly at the boy, only for Lan Zhan to approach himself in a graceful glide.

"Young Master Nie," Lan Zhan addresses Nie Zitao, and Wei Wuxian hopes that the boy doesn't forget to breathe. Lan Zhan does have that effect sometimes, "I heard from Sect Leader Nie that we owe the smooth running of this year's Conference to you."

"It - It was only my duty, Your Excellency! This disciple begs forgiveness for any imperfections you might have encountered!" Nie Zitao practically babbles, wide-eyed, barely remembering to bow properly.

"It is good be kinder to oneself, you did well," Lan Zhan says, in that gentle way he reserves for his brood of adoring Lan juniors, and Zitao's eyes widens even more "Also, the tea had been most excellent. Thank you."

If Zitao had been happy before, he is now ecstatic, and Wei Wuxian almost worries for the boy with how wide his smile is, sharp eyes shining with sheer joy, even as the corners of Lan Zhan's lips curls upwards with the barest hint of a smile.

Wei Wuxian finds it hard not to follow suit, and grins for the rest of the night, his husband's hand warm around his.

 

**

 

"Wei Ying has been busy these past months."

It's not an admonishment, not an accusation, but it's still said in that deliberating yet conclusive tone that Wei Wuxian has gotten very familiar with in the course of his two lives, and he freezes in the middle of having his hair brushed by Lan Zhan.

"Aha, hah," Wei Wuxian tries out, "You know me, Lan Zhan, can't stay still even for a bit!"

Lan Zhan hums, in that way where he's being deliberately noncommittal, reaching out for the flask of magnolia-scented oil on the dressing table before them - the scent that his husband chose himself. For a moment, Wei Wuxian lets himself enjoy the feeling of Lan Zhan's deft fingers on his scalp and through his hair - Eyes almost fluttering shut before Lan Zhan speaks again, voice low and soft on the nape of his neck.

"Like the smell of magnolias on Wei Ying. Feels like the library, like memories."

And oh, Wei Wuxian knows he's been found out - Probably since the Discussion Conference, even, if he remembers how Lan Zhan's gazes stays with him a tad too long after Qinghe. It's not supposed to be a secret in the first place, true. Not like it was some kind of subtle maneuver or surprise, but Wei Wuxian still feels the beginnings of a flush at Lan Zhan's gentle acknowledgement.

"Oh," Wei Wuxian half-whimpers, half-answers, with all the intelligence of the famed, devious Yiling Patriarch. He can feel the smile on Lan Zhan's next hum as he gently turns Wei Wuxian to face him, his husband's hands gliding down to adjust the collars of his red under robes.

"Like it when Wei Ying wears red to bed," one of Lan Zhan's hands dips lower, fitting snugly around Wei Wuxian's waist, "Easier to see, in the dark."

"Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian whines, feeling the flush on his chest creep up, up, Mo Xuanyu's body betraying him completely as he feels it reach his cheeks, Lan Zhan's finger cool as it brushes his heated skin.

"Like it that Wei Ying asks things -" here, there is the barest hint of a catch in Lan Zhan's voice, his fingers settling to cup Wei Wuxian's cheek "Gave things I never had."   

And then, gently, so gently that Wei Wuxian feels that he might break - "Thank you."

"No - No thank you between us, remember? Lan Zhan, I'm just, you don't have to-"

This time, there is a wicked, wicked edge on the slight upturn of his husband's lips.

"Like thanking Wei Ying."

And really, that was just unfair.

"Ah, Lan Zhan, my Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian laughs, helpless and warm and so, so fond that he's sure his heart is going to burst with how much he loves, is loved. Lan Zhan bows his head closer to his, and before his incorrigible, evil husband could say anything else, right into his ears no less, Wei Wuxian surges up to claim Lan Zhan's mouth with his own, pulling the other man up for them to stumble blindly until the backs of his legs hit the bed and they fall into an embrace of tangled arms and sheets

There is not much more talking to be had that night, no more words or confessions exchanged, but Wei Wuxian knows for sure that they both like it very, very much.

 

**