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The Cloud Recesses are less than a mile away when Wei Wuxian makes his grand declaration.

“I,” he says loudly – but not loudly enough for Shijie to overhear – “am going to have a holiday romance.”

Jiang Cheng snorts, because he’s a terrible brother and utterly unsupportive of Wei Wuxian’s life choices. “I’ll believe it when I see it. And we’re not going on holiday.”

“Don’t be so negative,” Wei Wuxian chastises. “With an attitude like that, who’s going to marry you?”

“And what about you?” Jiang Cheng counters. “Don’t tell me you’re planning to marry a Lan.”

When they left Lotus Pier, they were given two bits of parting advice. I realise it’s a challenge, but you could at least try not bringing shame to our sect for once, Madam Yu had said. And Jiang Fengmian had waited for his wife to leave before laying a firm hand on both his children’s shoulders, with Wei Wuxian standing slightly to the side, and added, If you must make trouble, don’t do it in the Cloud Recesses. Gusu Lan doesn’t have your sense of humour.

Even though he hadn’t addressed anyone in particular, it was clear to everyone present who this was directed at. Wei Wuxian had taken the words to heart, and then promptly forgotten all about them within the first five minutes of their departure, but what’s stuck with him is this: the certain knowledge that whatever they are, the Lans aren’t fun.

Evidently, this stuck with Jiang Cheng too, or else he wouldn’t have asked.

“Who’s talking about marriage?” Wei Wuxian demands in exasperation. “I didn’t say I was going to marry. I said I was going to have a romance. Don’t be so old-fashioned, Jiang Cheng.”

Jiang Cheng, he knows, will not have a holiday romance in the Cloud Recesses. He won’t make any friends, either. He’s going to scowl at everyone and die alone with his five dogs. This is sad, but also not Wei Wuxian’s most pressing concern. He can worry about his brother’s prospects later.

“Whatever,” Jiang Cheng says, which is a sure sign that he’s given up. “Do whatever you want, I don’t care. Just don’t drag me into it.”

This is unacceptable. If he doesn’t drag Jiang Cheng into it, then what’s even the point of being an older sibling?

Wei Wuxian considers the matter for approximately two seconds, and then throws an arm around Jiang Cheng’s shoulders. Jiang Cheng groans, but doesn’t shrug him off, so Wei Wuxian draws him in closer and says, “Let’s make a bet.”

“Bet! You have no money!”

“You lie,” Wei Wuxian accuses, lying. “Come on. Jiang Cheng, come on. Do it for me. Come on, come on, come on.”

At last, Jiang Cheng shoves him away, but in a resigned way, so Wei Wuxian knows he’s won. “What’s the bet?”

“If I get my great love story, then I get your share for all of Shijie’s cooking for three months. If for some reason, not a single person in Cloud Recesses wants to kiss me even a little bit, then I’ll take over meditation practice with the junior disciples for you when we’re back home. Deal?”

“Hold up,” Jiang Cheng says. “What happens if I kiss someone?”

Wei Wuxian laughs, long and hard. Like that’ll ever happen. But it’s cute that Jiang Cheng thinks it will. Optimism is an excellent character trait. “If you kiss someone while we’re here, I’m going to let you name my firstborn.”

Apparently considering this, Jiang Cheng finally nods. “Deal.”

Excellent. This is excellent. Wei Wuxian can see the gates from here, and he’s going to find the invitation in the many folds of his robes any second now, and soon they’ll be in the Cloud Recesses and spend three months meeting disciples from other sects, drinking the famous Gusu wine, and, hopefully, falling in love. Just a little. Just to see what all the fuss is about. And then they’ll go back home to Lotus Pier, and Wei Wuxian will be ready to do all this stuff for real.

This is definitely going to work out for sure.

***

Wei Wuxian spends his first day of the Guest Lectures trying to inconspicuously determine who among the other disciples might be open to, like, do things. With him.

There’s the Jin Sect. Mianmian is a strong contester, even though she’s part of the same sect as Jin Zixuan, who’s going to get himself punched sooner rather than later, and Jin Zixun, who would have already gotten himself punched if Jiang Cheng hadn’t dragged Wei Wuxian away by force.

Then there’s the disciples from the Nie Sect. Wei Wuxian has never been to Qinghe, but he’s heard great things about Chifeng-zun. Studying with them in Cloud Recesses is not the legendary Nie Mingjue, but his little brother, Nie Huaisang. Definitely more friend material, though Wei Wuxian likes to keep all his options open.

Wen Ning is adorable, but Wei Wuxian is pretty sure that if he even so much at looks at him, Wen Qing will spontaneously materialise right behind him, stab him in the eyeball, and leave him to bleed out. So he’s putting these two on the back burner for now, to be considered as last options only.

And then there’s the Lan Sect.

In the morning, Old Master Lan gives a speech. It’s really long and really boring, and Wei Wuxian almost falls asleep twice. The second time, Jiang Cheng kicks him just in time for him to see Old Master Lan step away, and someone else take his place at the front of the classroom.

And suddenly, Wei Wuxian is awake.

“Who’s that?” he whispers.

Jiang Cheng kicks him again, but dutifully replies, “That’s Zewu-jun.”

The sect leader of Gusu Lan. Lan Qiren’s nephew, if Wei Wuxian remembers correctly.

Zewu-jun welcomes them, once more, in Cloud Recesses, and launches into a speech of his own, which seems to be essentially the same as Old Master Lan’s, with very minor deviations. It doesn’t matter, because Wei Wuxian has already stopped listening again. He can’t stop staring. “Jiang Cheng,” he whispers loudly, “what do I get if I manage to kiss a sect leader?”

Abruptly, the disciple in front of him turns to look at him in horror. It’s not an expression Wei Wuxian is unfamiliar with, even directed at himself. Especially directed at himself.

“What?” Wei Wuxian asks, on the verge of laughing. “Are you jealous?”

At this, the disciple – and he’s from the Lan sect, Wei Wuxian can see his weird forehead ribbon now – appears even more horrified.

Normally, Wei Wuxian would keep pushing, possibly until something breaks, but then a voice calls his attention.

“Is there an issue?” It’s Zewu-jun, having interrupted his speech in order to frown at them. “Wangji?”

Behind him, Wei Wuxian hears Jiang Cheng sigh.

Wait.

Wangji.

Something about that name rings a bell. Wei Wuxian tries to remember where he’s heard it before, why the name should hold any significance-

“There is no issue, Brother,” the disciple in front of him says.

Oh.

Oh, no.

Wei Wuxian desperately cranes his neck to check for exit strategies. Maybe there’s a window he can fling himself out of, or like, a pit full of snakes or something. He wouldn’t even question why Gusu Lan has need of such a thing, because the need is obvious. It’s so stupid people like Wei Wuxian can do the world a favour and commit a ritual sacrifice.

The speech continues, and at some point, Old Master Lan takes over again in order to start the first of many lessons. He’s citing some rules or something, but Wei Wuxian is only half-listening. There’s going to be a break at some point, right? He needs a break so he can have an emergency meeting with Jiang Cheng.

The opportunity arises around noon, and Wei Wuxian drags Jiang Cheng off in the opposite direction while all the other guest disciples file out to get lunch.

“What’s happening?” asks Nie Huaisang, who’s followed them to the small alcove at the first hint of drama.

“Wei Wuxian insulted Lan Wangji by hitting on his brother,” Jiang Cheng says without preamble.

“No, that’s not-“

“You did what?” Nie Huaisang exclaims. “Oh, no. Wei-xiong, how could you! Do you have a death wish?”

“It’s not like I knew,” Wei Wuxian says, offended. “And besides, I have a good feeling about him. He’s not going to tell on me, I’m sure of it.”

“I went to the guest lectures last year,” Nie Huaisang says, “and when he saw that my robes didn’t adhere strictly to regulations, he got me to kneel in front of the Wall of Discipline for six hours. He’s not going to go easy on you!”

Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes, like he has anything better to do than listen to Wei Wuxian’s sorrows. “I don’t see why you care. It’s not like this was the first time you’ve offended someone. It’s not even the first time you’ve offended someone today.”

“What? No, this isn’t about that, who even cares.”

“You said-“

“Jiang Cheng! Focus! Are you focusing? You need to focus.”

Jiang Cheng glares. It probably counts as focusing. Wei Wuxian will take it.

“I want to extend our bet. Sect leaders should count more, don’t you think? Anyone can kiss a fellow disciple. It’s practically a graduation requirement.”

“It’s not-“

“It should be! But I’m going to up the ante.” Wei Wuxian pauses for dramatic effect, to make sure they’re listening. He grins. “I’m going to use this summer to seduce Zewu-jun, and I’m going to get his brother to help me do it.”

***

Tracking down Lan Wangji and getting them to talk in private turns out to be easier than anticipated. All Wei Wuxian has to do is get caught with liquor after curfew, and just like that, he has a whole month of alone time with Lan Zhan guaranteed.

What did you call him?” Jiang Cheng asks, the first night that Wei Wuxian returns to their guest pavilion after today’s punishment ends.

“Mh? Oh! We’re using personal names now. We’re very close.”

“Are you?” Jiang Cheng sounds sceptical.

“Yes! It was his idea,” Wei Wuxian lies shamelessly, flopping down onto the bed. “He likes me.”

Jiang Cheng looks like he doesn’t believe a word, which is hurtful but also fair. Earlier at the library, Lan Zhan hadn’t seemed thrilled at the chance of spending time with Wei Wuxian. But Wei Wuxian is confident that he’ll change his mind. He has to! How else is Wei Wuxian going to make his move on Zewu-jun?

“Lan Zhan,” he calls out the next day. He has the courtesy to wait until he’s truly and properly bored with copying rules; unfortunately, the boredom settles in after approximately ten minutes. “Lan Zhan! Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan!”

Yesterday, using Lan Zhan’s personal name was enough to shock a reaction out of him. Today, Lan Zhan seems to have adapted, and his eyes remain focused on whatever book he’s reading. Wei Wuxian tilts his head and tries to make out the title from afar. Modern Agricultural Practices (975 BCE).

Lan Zhan is ignoring him for that?

“Lan Zhan!”

No reply comes. Of course it doesn’t. He’s probably deeply engrossed in learning different ploughing techniques.  
Wei Wuxian waits some more and then decides that he needs to change tactics. He walks over in order to sit down next to Lan Zhan, propping his arm up on Lan Zhan’s shoulder for better support. He’s pleased to note that Lan Zhan only flinches a little, and is a little slower to shove him away than he was yesterday. Progress. This is progress!

“Return to your seat.”

“How’s your book?” Wei Wuxian asks, ignoring him. “Is it good? Want to read it to me?”

“No. Return to your seat.”

“I could lend you better books, if you’d like. I have lots of interesting books in my room! They’re from Lotus Pier, but I packed them when Jiang Cheng wasn’t looking. Want to go take a look?”

There is a long pause. Then Lan Zhan says, slowly, like every word costs great effort, “Vulgarity is forbidden in the Cloud Recesses.”

Wait. “Wait,” Wei Wuxian says, delighted by this development. “What books do you think they are? Does Lan Zhan think they’re of a lewd nature, perhaps? This disciple is sorry to disappoint! Only volumes on cultivation in my room, nothing more.”

Lan Zhan has turned faintly pink. “Return to your seat.”

Wei Wuxian has absolutely zero intentions of returning to his seat. Based on past experiences (yesterday), he has a few more minutes before Lan Zhan snaps, and he intends to make the most of it. Especially because he hasn’t even gotten to his main point yet.

“There’s a matter of utmost importance I must trouble you with. You’ll help me, won’t you? Help those in need and all. Is there something wrong with your face? You look kind of weird.”

Lan Zhan’s eyes glazed over when Wei Wuxian quoted one of the precepts. This is a typical sign of a fever, so Wei Wuxian helpfully puts his hand against Lan Zhan’s forehead to check. Lan Zhan instantly pulls back, but that bit of skin contact was enough to ascertain that he feels flushed.

“Are you okay?”

“Fine,” Lan Zhan says. He says it like Wei Wuxian does when he tells people that he’s fine and definitely does not mean it, except that Wei Wuxian likes to think he’s more convincing. But maybe with a face like that, there’s got to be some flaws. If Lan Zhan was gorgeous and a good liar, that would be ridiculous.

“What help do you require?”

Recognising this as a signal that Lan Zhan is done with the conversation and would like to move on, Wei Wuxian is more than happy to return to the real problem. “Right. Right! So. As your friend-“

“Not friend.”

“As your best friend, you want me to be happy, which is only natural. And what would make me happy right now, more than anything, would be a kiss.”

Lan Zhan stares at him, mouth agape.

“From Zewu-jun,” Wei Wuxian continues happily.

Lan Zhan shuts his book with a snap and turns his head so that he’s no longer looking at Wei Wuxian. “Ridiculous.”

“Don’t be that way,” Wei Wuxian whines. “Help me out! Your brother is not betrothed, is he? I can’t kiss someone who’s already spoken for. Tell me everything. Likes, dislikes, his schedule and his type. Lan Zhan? Where are you going?”

“Leaving,” Lan Zhan says, already opening the door.

“Oh! That’s fine, I know you’re busy,” Wei Wuxian shouts after him. Lan Zhan probably has some important business to take care of. He can’t be expected to be free the entire afternoon! “I’ll just copy the rest of these scrolls by myself, shall I? Alright! Good talk! I’ll come find you later!”

All in all, he thinks to himself, this day has been rather successful.

***

They’ve been in Cloud Recesses for an entire week, and so far Wei Wuxian has:

  • smuggled in liquor
  • gotten punished for smuggling in liquor
  • skipped class
  • gotten punished for skipping class
  • skipped punishment
  • gotten punished for skipping punishment

While that list is certainly worthy of pride, he has to admit to himself that until now, the guest lectures haven’t been the source of sunset watching and moonlight kisses he’d been hoping for. He keeps missing the sunset because Lan Zhan makes him stay in the library until the dead of night every day, and thus far, his only moonlight activity has been a duel, also with Lan Zhan.

And if that weren’t enough, Lan Zhan has also refused to so much as talk about the matter with Zewu-jun. He’s taken to silencing Wei Wuxian at every opportunity, which is mean and horrible and also insane, because it’s not like Wei Wuxian is breaking any rules. He checked. Nowhere in the 3000 rules of Gusu Lan does it say anything about not falling in love.

Alright, so it’s not love. But Wei Wuxian is still young! He’s not ready for love yet! He’s working up to it in small steps.

One of those steps is going to happen tonight. But for that, he needs to prepare first.

The paper talisman flies over to Lan Zhan. Wei Wuxian had quickly figured out that Lan Zhan can stop him from making noise, but he can’t stop him from using talismans. For the past seven days, an increasing number of papermen have made their way over to Lan Zhan’s spot in the library, all doing their best to catch his attention.

Today is a rare success, if only because the paperman lands on Lan Zhan’s book and prevents him from reading. Then it blows him a kiss, which makes Wei Wuxian wince in embarrassment. He hasn’t told it to do that.

Lan Zhan turns in his direction, silently judging him. But a reaction is a reaction, so Wei Wuxian decides to take this one as a win. He waves a hand, the paperman returns to its owner, and Lan Zhan is still looking at him. Good!

“I need your help with something,” Wei Wuxian says, and quickly adds, “don’t silence me!”

Lan Zhan waits.

“There’s this bar in Caiyi Town that-“

Lan Zhan turns pointedly back to his book. It’s still Modern Agricultural Practices (975 BCE). Wei Wuxian takes this to mean that either Lan Zhan isn’t that fast a reader, or that he secretly finds it boring, too.

“Don’t just dismiss me like that! You don’t even know what I was going to say!”

“I will not help you break rules.”

“That’s not-“

“Drinking is forbidden in the Cloud Recesses. Being out after curfew is forbidden in the Cloud Recesses.”

“Lan Zhan! I’m not asking you to help me break rules. I’m-“ Wei Wuxian hesitates. “I’m sort of asking you to break them with me?”

Alright, so he probably could have phrased this a little better. Shijie is always telling him to think more before he talks, and Jiang Cheng is always telling him that he’s going to get punched someday. Lan Zhan wouldn’t punch him though, he’s way too nice.

“No.”

“It’s for a good cause!”

Lan Zhan closes his eyes briefly, and in that split second, his long-suffering expression bears a striking resemblance to Jiang Cheng. This is what Jiang Cheng looks like whenever he’s about to give in to Wei Wuxian despite knowing he’ll regret it.

“What cause?”

Triumphantly, Wei Wuxian says, “I need to go to a bar and pick someone up!”

“I thought- my brother-“ Lan Zhan says, for the first time in their acquaintance visibly flustered. It’s really cute, and Wei Wuxian immediately has 27 different ideas on how to make this happen again.

“I haven’t seen your brother in a week,” he tells Lan Zhan mournfully. “And I need to practice, anyway. I can’t disappoint the great Zewu-jun with my lack of experience!”

He’s mostly joking. But this morning, Wei Wuxian tried to lecture Jiang Cheng on the art of lovemaking, and had to endure being called a clueless virgin by someone who suffers from the same affliction. So there’s an easy solution to this. And Wei Wuxian is not actually going to do anything. He just wants to try it out, a little bit. He’s a naturally curious person, after all.

“Practice in the Cloud Recesses before curfew,” Lan Zhan says, looking like the suggestion pains him greatly.

“Where everyone knows my face? No. It needs to be with a stranger. Don’t worry about it! I’ve thought about it long and hard, and this is the best solution. I’m doing this, tonight, and I want you to come with me.”

If Lan Qiren heard him speak this boldly to his nephew, he’d surely have Wei Wuxian kneel for hours. If Madam Yu heard it, the punishment might be harsher still. But there’s no one here but him and Lan Zhan.

Lan Zhan, who still might report him.

“Look at it this way,” Wei Wuxian coaxes in what he likes to think of is his most reasonable voice. “I’m definitely going out tonight, and there’s nothing Lan Zhan or anyone can do to stop me. Wouldn’t it be better if someone accompanied me? You could supervise, make sure I behave in a manner that doesn’t bring shame to Gusu Lan. Also! What if someone tries to have their wicked way with me? What’s a weak, helpless cultivator such as the one before you supposed to do? No, Lan Zhan, you need to come and protect me. Lan Zhan, please come!”

For what feels like an excruciating amount of time, Lan Zhan says nothing. Then, finally, two words.

“To supervise.”

Yes!

“Yes!” Wei Wuxian exclaims. In his joy, the paperman from before slips out of his sleeve and wanders over to Lan Zhan again, caressing his knuckles even though Wei Wuxian has definitely not asked it to do anything of the sort. Well, that’s a problem he can deal with later. For now, he has to plan how best to sneak out of Cloud Recesses, and how to ensure that Lan Zhan doesn’t change his mind halfway through.

***

Wei Wuxian did some research. If he’s doing this, he might as well do it properly, so he questioned several Lan disciples who would have grown up around here and, when he was met with nothing but blank stares, ended up interrogating Nie Huaisang instead.

“The best bar?” Nie Huaisang had echoed, eyes wide. “Wei-xiong, you can’t think that I would know such a thing!”

“No, no, of course not,” Wei Wuxian said, gamely playing along. “I know Nie Huaisang is a paragon of virtue and would do nothing to embarrass his brother. But everyone hears things. Nie-xiong, have you heard anything?”

“Well,” Nie Huaisang said slowly, “if we’re talking about hearing things, then I do know of a few rumours. Let me tell you about the best places, and then we never speak of this again!”

The best place, apparently, depends on what sort of pleasure one is seeking. Melting Moon serves Emperor’s Smile of the finest quality, and nothing else. The Caiyi Tea Room offers a variety of liquors, none of which are tea, all of which are outrageously expensive. Then there’s a few smaller establishments, cheaper but less likely to ask after one’s age, and finally, there’s the Flying Ostrich. Few people, Nie Huaisang had said, come into the Ostrich for the booze.

Wei Wuxian can’t stop sneaking little glances at Lan Zhan the entire way here. He almost falls of his sword a couple of times, but that’s not his fault, really.

It’s a full moon tonight, the sky cloudless, and so there’s nothing to diminish the sight of Lan Zhan, in his stupid white robes that he refused to take off even for the sake of remaining anonymous, flying on his sword with his head held high and seemingly indifferent to the fact that he’s breaking at least five rules right now. Wei Wuxian wants to draw a picture of this to capture the moment forever, but at the same time, even if he had ink and a brush with him, he doesn’t think he’d be able to look away long enough to actually paint anything of meaning.

When they arrive at the Ostrich and manage to snatch two seats right at the bar, Wei Wuxian quickly realises his mistake. From this spot, he’s able to overlook the entire crowded room, but at the same time, everyone is able to look at them, or, to be more accurate, at Lan Zhan.

Lan Zhan hasn’t realised yet that people are staring. At least, that’s what Wei Wuxian thinks until Lan Zhan, one hand clenched around his cup of tea, says, “People are staring.”

“Aha, really, you think so?” Wei Wuxian asks, feeling slightly guilty because he, too, has absolutely been staring. “I think you’re mistaken.”

Lan Zhan raises an eyebrow, not believing him, and sips his tea. It should look ridiculous, because who even orders tea in an establishment like this? Wei Wuxian warned him that people would mistake him for a law enforcement officer if he kept this up, but Lan Zhan ignored him. Now, it turns out that not only are people clearly into it, but also, Wei Wuxian has to admit that it doesn’t look ridiculous at all.

To try and diffuse some of the awkwardness that looking at Lan Zhan has made him feel, Wei Wuxian says, “Maybe I should’ve taken someone else after all! With all the attention you’re getting, no one is going to even notice me next to you.”

He waits for a moment to see if this gets a reaction. It does not.

Wei Wuxian downs the cup of liquor that Lan Zhan couldn’t stop him from ordering, and waves for the barman to replace it. “Time waits for no man. I’m just going to introduce myself to some people! Lan Zhan, help me pick out the best ones. Who here looks handsome and available?”

Lan Zhan doesn’t even pretend to look around the room. His eyes remain focused on Wei Wuxian, the way they have been ever since they entered the bar.

“Lan Zhan! Fine, I’ll do it myself, then. What about the one sitting in the corner over there?”

“No.”

“You didn’t even look! Alright, what about the lady who-“

“No.”

“Let me finish at least! Do you even want me to succeed? Wait-“ Wei Wuxian pauses as something occurs to him. Abruptly, he’s ashamed that it took him this late to think of it. He touches Lan Zhan’s shoulder to get his attention, only to realise that he had it all along. “Lan Zhan, do you want me help you find someone, too? I’m a terrible friend, I haven’t thought of this at all! Can you forgive me?”

“I-“ Lan Zhan stops, lost for words.

 “Don’t worry,” Wei Wuxian says confidently. “I’ve got your back. And there’s no need to be shy! Anyone would be happy to be chosen by Lan Zhan. Just tell me who here is to your liking, and I’ll introduce you!”

In a way, this is almost a relief. Wei Wuxian likes to flirt, he does it all the time, with varying degrees of success. But so far, he’s always had reason to back out. Jiang Cheng was calling his name, or he had to get back to Lotus Pier before someone noticed he was missing, or he had some night hunt that required he leave immediately. Tonight, he has nowhere else to be. Somehow, Wei Wuxian hasn’t yet taken the time to consider what might happen if anyone actually takes him up on his offer.

But! If it’s about helping Lan Zhan find love and happiness, then that’s different. Wei Wuxian can do that, no problem! What else are very good friends for?

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, snapping him out of his musings, and, oh right. That’ll never get old, Lan Zhan saying his name like that.

“Yes?”

“Wei Ying. I don’t need- there is no reason to trouble yourself.”

“There’s every reason! How could you say there’s none? Come on, let’s get up, we’ll just approach someone. I’ll show you how to flirt, it’s no big deal.”

He realises that his hand is still on Lan Zhan’s shoulder, which is perfect, because now he can try and move him from his seat. Lan Zhan doesn’t budge, Wei Wuxian shakes him a little, and suddenly, someone behind them clears their throat. Alarmed, Wei Wuxian turns around, dropping his hands and ready to convince whoever it is that there’s no need for them to be kicked out.

The person who’s come over doesn’t look much like a bouncer. It’s a man, not that much older than them, tall and handsome, his hair in a careful braid. He’s smiling at Wei Wuxian, so Wei Wuxian smiles back.

“Sorry to interrupt,” the man says. “I’m Han Ren.”

“Wei Wuxian,” Wei Wuxian says, bowing. He waits for Lan Zhan to introduce himself. Lan Zhan says nothing.

Not deterred, Han Ren keeps smiling. It’s a very nice smile. Wei Wuxian wonders what Lan Zhan’s smile would look like. Probably even nicer.

“Can I buy you a drink?” Han Ren asks, which, oh.

“Ha, that’s, can you buy me a, that’s really, I mean, no,” Wei Wuxian says, waving his hands about to show that this is all a big misunderstanding, nothing to see here, and proceeds to almost hit Lan Zhan in the process. “No, I’m sorry, you, no. No.”

Han Ren nods, bows, and then he turns to Lan Zhan. “How about you?”

This is bad. This is very, very bad. Wei Wuxian cannot believe that Han Ren would be shameless enough to ask Lan Zhan out like this, except for how he absolutely can believe it, because if their situations were reversed, it’s what he might have done. Aim high, right? And what’s higher than Lan Zhan?

But, also, this is wrong, because Lan Zhan doesn’t deserve to be anyone’s second choice. Wei Wuxian doesn’t understand what’s wrong with Han Ren, he only knows that if he picked Wei Wuxian before he picked Lan Zhan, he’s clearly out of his mind.
Han Ren is still waiting for an answer, but Lan Zhan doesn’t seem inclined to give him one, his gaze focused on something in the distance, like Han Ren’s presence hasn’t even registered. The situation is turning awkward, but Wei Wuxian can’t bring himself to mind.

Because someone, at some point, really needs to say something, Wei Wuxian cheerfully decides to assist. “Young master, you’re so kind to ask! Sadly, Lan Zhan has taken a vow of silence, so he can’t converse with you.”

“I saw you two talking just now,” Han Ren says suspiciously.

“The vow is only for non-sect members.”

“Well,” Han Ren says, considering this, “I suppose we don’t have to talk.”

His implication is obvious, and Wei Wuxian kind of wants to report him to Lan Qiren. Surely Old Master Lan would not take too kindly to strangers attempting to chat up his nephew.

“He’s taken a vow of abstinence, too,” he says instead, and looks at Han Ren challengingly, daring him to question this.

Han Ren doesn’t, naturally, question this, presumably because Lan Zhan totally looks like someone who’d do such a thing. Bowing, Han Ren takes his leave, and Wei Wuxian is suddenly struck by the insane thought that Lan Zhan really has taken a vow of abstinence. Is that part of the Lan rules? Are all Lans required to commit themselves to a life of chastity? And if so, are there exceptions? What are they? Is there any way to find out?

“Lan Zhan,” he says, once Han Ren is safely out of earshot, “let’s go home, eh?”

Lan Zhan’s frown is so tiny that Wei Wuxian would have missed it if he hadn’t just spent an hour studying Lan Zhan’s face. “You did not practice.”

“I’ve changed my mind,” Wei Wuxian declares, grimacing. “I don’t need to practice. Who even cares, right?”

“I see.” Lan Zhan gets up, and his lips curve ever so slightly, not like he’s smiling, but at least like he knows what a smile is, in an abstract sort of way.  

Panicking, Wei Wuxian blurts, “And besides, Zewu-jun probably won’t mind, right? He can teach me himself, that’s more romantic anyway.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, his face blank again. Good. At least this way, Wei Wuxian isn’t in danger of walking into any doors on his way out.

Flying back to Cloud Recesses proves less of a challenge this time around, if only because Wei Wuxian forces himself to not look in Lan Zhan’s direction even once. Also, there’s clouds obscuring the moon now, so he couldn’t see him as well anyway.

It must be close to midnight when they arrive, which is earlier than Wei Wuxian had planned to stay out, but still much later than the insane bedtime Gusu Lan enforces on its disciples. Lan Zhan deactivates the spelled gate with a wave of his hand, like he does it all the time, and Wei Wuxian almost chokes on his tongue.

They’re in the courtyard and about to each go back to their quarters when Lan Zhan suddenly says, “Stop.”

Wei Wuxian turns, more surprised than anything. “Lan Zhan?”

“Breaking of curfew, consuming liquor, lying to a stranger. Three rule violations. Punishment must be served.”

“You-“ For maybe the first time ever, Wei Wuxian is speechless. “You broke them with me! Breaking of curfew, deactivating the wards, and that last one wasn’t even my fault! That’s two rule violations. Are you going to punish yourself?”

It’d been a joke, but Lan Zhan nods. “Mn. We will both copy the chapter of conduct one hundred times tomorrow. Good night, Wei Ying.”

With that, he leaves. Briefly, Wei Wuxian contemplates running after him, but in the end he decides against it. Since it looks like he’ll be spending yet another endless afternoon in the library, he will have plenty of time to pester Lan Zhan tomorrow.

***

Another week passes. Jiang Cheng continues to be sceptical about Wei Wuxian’s ability to have the spectacular summer romance he deserves, but Wei Wuxian finds himself caring less and less. First of all, he has plenty of time left to win the bet, secondly, it’s not like Jiang Cheng is having much success either, and thirdly, he’s been spending all his time with Lan Zhan recently, which seems like a good trade-off.

It isn’t until he talks to Nie Huaisang that Wei Wuxian realises that something must be done.

What Nie Huaisang says, one sunny afternoon after today’s lecture is over, is this:

“Wei-xiong, you haven’t bet on the wrong Lan brother, have you?”

“Eh? What are you talking about?” Wei Wuxian asks, confused. They’re in Nie Huaisang’s quarters peacefully exchanging porn, and this question has come out of nowhere.

“Oh, I meant no offense! I’ve just noticed that you seem to have been focusing all your attention on Lan Wangji. Maybe Jiang-xiong will let you change your bet if you ask?”

Wei Wuxian hits his head on a cupboard in his haste to fling himself off the bed and, subsequently, out of the room. Half-concussed, he yells, “No need to change the bet! Really, I don’t know what you’re, Zewu-jun is very, I’m going to kiss him for sure!”

Naturally, he says that last bit just as he’s exiting the guest pavilion and, also, just as Lan Zhan walks past.

Lan Zhan freezes for a second before continuing his walk. It’s not actually possible to die of embarrassment, but Wei Wuxian almost wishes that it was.

So, in short, he needs to get it together, and really devote all his time and energy on the one thing that’s supposed to come of this guest lecture of Gusu Lan: gaining sexual experience. Ideally with Gusu Lan’s sect leader.

He hits the jackpot when Lan Zhan mentions, offhandedly, that he won’t be able to train with Wei Wuxian the next morning, because he’s having tea with his brother.

Lan Zhan does not, in any way, indicate that he would like Wei Wuxian to come.

Wei Wuxian isn’t going to let that stop him, though.

The following day is one of leisure, with no lectures or other activities planned, and technically there is no need for Wei Wuxian or anyone to get up at sunrise. But it’s also the one time that he can be absolutely sure of Zewu-jun’s whereabouts, to he has to seize this chance.

Thus, he tries to first go to bed early, then, once he realises that there’s no way he’ll be able to fall asleep, tries to convince Jiang Cheng to go to bed early, wake up at sunrise the next day and wake Wei Wuxian, and finally, when that doesn’t work either, he decides to just stay awake. And because there’s nothing much to do on his own, he takes out his secret stash of liquor and starts drinking to pass the time.

The next morning, Wei Wuxian is tired and hungover, but he’s also awake at dawn, so clearly his plan worked. He washes his face and changes into new robes, and arrives at the Hanshi at the same time as Lan Zhan.

Lan Zhan pauses in his step, frowns one of his tiny frowns at him, and looks about two seconds away from making him leave. Luckily, Wei Wuxian saw this coming, and knocks on the door before Lan Zhan can say anything.

“Come in,” Zewu-jun’s voice rings out from the inside, and with an invitation like that, it’d be rude to decline.

When Zewu-jun realises that the one who entered is not his brother, but Wei Wuxian, it takes him a visible second to compose himself. But in no time, there’s a polite smile on his face, one that gets almost imperceptibly bigger when Lan Zhan enters, too.

Wei Wuxian is faintly amazed at Zewu-jun’s collectedness. He wants to tell Lan Zhan that his brother is really cool, almost as cool as him, but that will have to wait.

“Wangji,” Zewu-jun says. “I see you brought a guest today. It’s good to see you again, Wei-gongzi.”

Wei Wuxian bows while, next to him, Lan Zhan’s soul seems to have left his body.

They sit, and Zewu-jun smoothly adds a third cup to the table.

“How are you doing?” he asks warmly, after Wei Wuxian has poured tea for them all. “How are you finding our lectures?”

“Boring,” Wei Wuxian says automatically, before remembering who he’s talking to. Trying to salvage the situation, he forces an awkward laugh and adds hastily, “Kidding, I’m kidding. It’s all very riveting. Lan Zhan, wasn’t I telling you just yesterday how riveting the lectures are?”

“No.”

“He’s kidding, too,” Wei Wuxian tells Zewu-jun, whose gaze darts between the two of them, fixating on where Wei Wuxian’s hand has wandered over to Lan Zhan’s wrist at some point in the past 30 seconds without him noticing. Wei Wuxian drops his hand like he’s been burned.

“Anyway,” he continues, “it’s really great to talk to you. Zewu-jun’s wisdom and cultivation skills are widely known! I admire you a lot.”

“Thank you,” Zewu-jun says. His eyes twinkling, he continues, “I hear you’ve been spending a lot of time in the library lately.”

“It’s all because your brother is quite merciless,” Wei Wuxian sulks. “He never lets me catch a break!” Suddenly, he remembers that Zewu-jun is, apart from Old Master Lan, Lan Zhan’s guardian. If he makes it sound like Lan Zhan is punishing him for no reason, what’s going to happen?

“Not that Lan Zhan is being unreasonable! He isn’t! If anything, he’s probably a little too lenient with me!”

“No,” Lan Zhan says, catching Wei Wuxian by surprise. He’s not even looking at Wei Wuxian as he says it, his attention instead fixed on his brother. “It is fine.”

Lan Xichen chokes on his tea. Wei Wuxian would be more worried about this, maybe attempt to slap Zewu-jun on the back or something, but he’s too busy staring at Lan Zhan.

“It’s fine?” he echoes, while Zewu-jun is still coughing in the background.

“Mn.”

“Lan Zhan! If your uncle hears that, he’s going to send you into seclusion for sure.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says again, but that’s not his happy Mn. It is, at best, an indifferent Mn. At worst, it’s sad. Lan Zhan should never be sad!

“Don’t worry about that! If you ever go into seclusion,” Wei Wuxian says confidently, “I am going to come break you out, and we’ll run away into the night together!”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, for the third time in a row. This time, it sounds quite cheerful.

Zewu-jun appears to have recovered at last, and he gracefully accepts Wei Wuxian refilling his cup. “That,” he says, “is not really how seclusion works. Alas, it can’t be helped. Do what you must.”

“Brother?”

“All I’m saying is, if the need should ever arise for you to – how did Wei-gongzi put it? Run away into the night together? You have my full support.” Zewu-jun winks at them, and Wei Wuxian beams back. It’s great to know that if he and Lan Zhan ever decide to become rogue cultivators, or move to the countryside or something, they won’t have to hide from the wrath of Gusu Lan’s sect leader.

Lan Zhan seems to be hiding his face behind his tea cup. Wei Wuxian peers at him, trying to see what kind of expression Lan Zhan is wearing and whether it’s worth teasing him about, before he suddenly remembers that he had something he wanted to ask Lan Xichen.

“Zewu-jun!”

Zewu-jun looks at him questioningly, while next to him, Lan Zhan has suddenly tensed up. It occurs to Wei Wuxian that Lan Zhan probably thinks Wei Wuxian has no game, that he’d be rude enough to ask his brother out just like this in front of him.

This was, of course, exactly Wei Wuxian’s plan until now, but with Lan Zhan obviously uncomfortable, he needs a different strategy.

“Do you have any funny childhood stories about Lan Zhan?” he blurts out, mentally congratulating himself on his quick thinking. If family is even half as important to Zewu-jun as it is to Lan Zhan, then bonding over that must be a good way to win his heart.

Also, Lan Zhan looks kind of like how Wei Wuxian imagines moonlight, in a very pretty way, and he must have been the cutest kid.

Zewu-jun’s lips quirk up, as Wei Wuxian had known they would. He knows how much Shijie perks up at the opportunity to talk about Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng, and who wouldn’t want to talk about Lan Zhan, given the chance? He’s a very good conversational topic.

Over the span of an hour, Wei Wuxian learns all about Lan Zhan’s childhood ailments, his first word, his complicated history with cats, and that time he got his hair stuck in a tree branch. It’s all very valuable information that Wei Wuxian gladly soaks up and will remember for all eternity.

When Lan Zhan starts to eye the exit with more and more desperation, Wei Wuxian finally gives in. He thanks Zewu-jun for his hospitality, and extends a hand for Lan Zhan to help him up.

They all bow, and Wei Wuxian is half-way out the door when Zewu-jun calls them back.

“I’ve just remembered,” he says, smiling kindly. “Gusu Lan has something to trouble Wei-gongzi with, if you’re not too busy.”

“I’m happy to help,” Wei Wuxian says. He can’t help but throw an excited grin in Lan Zhan’s direction: Gusu Lan needs his help! How great is that!

Lan Zhan, however, is studying his brother intently, frowning slightly. Maybe he doesn’t think Wei Wuxian can do it? Or maybe he thinks he should’ve been asked first?

Nudging his shoulder, Wei Wuxian says, “We’ll do it together! Is that okay, Zewu-jun?”

“Wei-gongzi reads my mind,” Zewu-jun says. “I wanted to ask the both of you to please take a look at a stack of talismans that were recently discovered by some of our disciples. Most of the ink has faded, so careful examination is needed in order to tell their original purpose. Reference books will be provided, of course.”

Deflating a little (this is not as exciting as Wei Wuxian had hoped for), Wei Wuxian still bows again and repeats, “I’m happy to help. We’ll get it done in no time!”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan agrees. He’s not as enthusiastic as Wei Wuxian, but that’s okay.

“Excellent! Then, I’m looking forward to your results. Wangji, are you free for another moment?”

Wei Wuxian takes the hint and leaves, a skip in his step on his way back to his quarters. It really feels like he’s made great progress today. He’s learned so much more about Lan Zhan, and now they get to do a special task together! That’s much better than just copying lines, and this way, Wei Wuxian can also stop getting in trouble on purpose just to spend time in the library. If he still gets in trouble a regular amount, and him and Lan Zhan are doing the talisman thing, then he’s still increasing his Lan Zhan time even without breaking rules just for the punishment. This morning really couldn’t have gone any better.

Also, he remembers with a slight pang of guilt, he’s totally come closer to Lan Xichen. By this rate, Wei Wuxian can kiss him very soon, and then the bet will be over and done with and he doesn’t need to worry about it anymore.

***

Lan Zhan is not in a good mood today.

Of course, when Wei Wuxian proposes this theory to Jiang Cheng during their daily sword practice, Jiang Cheng looks at him like he’s lost his mind.

“How would you tell?” he asks, with Nie Huaisang nodding his agreement.

“Just- his face!”

They all turn to Lan Zhan, who is currently flowing through the different moves like it takes no effort whatsoever. He’s so good, Wei Wuxian thinks he must be almost as adept as Wei Wuxian is. They should spar again, really give it their best effort this time.

“His face looks fine to me,” Jiang Cheng proclaims doubtfully.

“Of course his face looks fine! He’s really handsome! But do you see that little thing he does with his eyebrow?”

“No.”

“It’s there,” Wei Wuxian insists.

At the other end of the training field, Lan Zhan has finished. He sheathes his sword, and walks past them without a word.

“Did you see that!”

“Wei-xiong,” Nie Huaisang says anxiously, “are you feeling alright? We can get you a healer.”

“He didn’t even spare me a glance,” Wei Wuxian laments at the same time that Jiang Cheng says:

“He doesn’t need a healer, he needs a good smack upside the head.”

Those are words that Wei Wuxian simply cannot accept from his shidi without retaliation, so they abandon their practice in favour of attempting to shove one another in the river. But it’s only a temporary delay of the inevitable, and Wei Wuxian is still thinking about it by the time that today’s lectures end.

He and Lan Zhan meet in the library to begin the task of examining talismans, and for a while they work in silence. As promised, there have been several reference books provided to help them, and Wei Wuxian spends an hour or so getting lost in all these ancient scrolls, the only connection they have to a world long gone. Over half of these talismans he’s never even heard of, and the brushstrokes are as unfamiliar to him as a foreign language.

He gets so excited about all these new possibilities that he even forgets about Lan Zhan, working silently alongside him, until at last he looks up to push the hair out of his face and sees Lan Zhan, still studying the talismans, still unhappy.

When Zewu-jun announced this new task, this isn’t what Wei Wuxian wanted at all.

He waves his hand in front of Lan Zhan’s face to get his attention. “Lan Zhan? This is really boring, isn’t it?”

“Not boring,” Lan Zhan says, and Wei Wuxian winces. Guessed wrong, then. And now Lan Zhan must think he’s a liar, because obviously Wei Wuxian doesn’t really find it boring either.

“Right! We’ve been working for a long time, though. Do you want to take a break?”

He thinks Lan Zhan is about to decline, until their eyes meet, and Lan Zhan pauses.

Hesitatingly, Lan Zhan says, “Alright.”

“Yes!” Wei Wuxian pushes away those scrolls; then, at Lan Zhan’s pointed frown, stacks them together in something resembling an order. “What do you want to do? Get something to eat? Should we go down to the river? Want to play a game? Wait- I have an idea. Why don’t we test out one of these talismans?”

“We don’t know how they work,” Lan Zhan says, because he’s predictable.

“We’ll find out!” Wei Wuxian says, because he’s predictable too. He holds up one of the talismans enticingly. “Talismans are made for usage! We’ll be doing them a favour. Come on!”

He doesn’t wait for Lan Zhan’s agreement, since he’s not an idiot. Instead, he makes a grab at the stack of talismans that they had diligently copied from the originals, takes the one right on top, and throws it on the floor.

Nothing happens.

“Okay, so that’s disappointing,” Wei Wuxian says.

A blinding white light envelops them, and when the stars in front of his eyes are gone, he realises that there is now a spiritual ward set up around them, big enough to encompass the entire library, small enough to prevent them from leaving.

Wei Wuxian doesn’t dare to look Lan Zhan in the eye. He walks to one of the outer edges of the parameter and tries to stick his hand through it. Instantly, he’s thrown back several meters right into a bookshelf, which collapses.

“Wei Ying!”

“I’m alright, I’m alright!”

Wei Wuxian is alright, except for a small headache that comes from forcefully colliding with a shelf. But Lan Zhan is kneeling by his side, not touching him but kind of hovering, and it’s all very endearing, so Wei Wuxian has no compunction about exaggerating his groan of pain and letting Lan Zhan help him up.

There’s a brief, awkward moment after Lan Zhan has successfully pulled Wei Wuxian back to his feet, they’re both standing on firm ground once more, and Lan Zhan is still holding Wei Wuxian’s hand. Wei Wuxian knows this is from the shock of the talisman malfunctioning like that, and he spends several agonising seconds contemplating whether he should say something, or whether he should keep hanging on to Lan Zhan’s hand.

Then the door to the library burst open, Wei Wuxian quickly steps away before someone can accuse him of molesting the second heir of Gusu Lan, and someone shouts, “What the fuck.”

There’s that light again, the one that apparently comes every time someone touches the ward.

“Don’t touch that,” Wei Wuxian says helpfully, and watches his brother scramble up from the floor.

“What did you do,” Jiang Cheng asks, more confused than angry, as he moves closer to the ward again, this time careful not to come into direct contact with it.

Wei Wuxian walks over to meet him, Lan Zhan by his side. Technically, they’re standing as close to Jiang Cheng as they would in any normal conversation, no more than a couple feet apart. But there’s still the shimmering lines of the spiritual parameter separating them, ready to electrocute them at a moment’s notice.

“I didn’t do anything! Why are you assuming it’s something I did?”

“You must have done something. Oi, how did my idiot brother mess this up?”

Next to Wei Wuxian, Lan Zhan freezes, evidently torn between the rule to answer questions truthfully, paired with the instinctive desire to report wrongdoings, and his unwillingness to speak to Jiang Cheng or, in fact, people who aren’t his brother or uncle.

Wei Wuxian decides to save him.

“If you must know, we tried out one of these old talismans. Just to see what they were for!”

“Okay,” Jiang Cheng says. “So, use another talisman to counteract it.”

His brother is so smart! Wei Wuxian immediately brightens.

“No,” Lan Zhan says firmly. “No more talismans. Jiang Wanyin, go find Zewu-jun or the Grandmaster.”

“No!” Wei Wuxian cries. “Jiang Cheng, don’t you dare! We don’t need to get anyone involved in this. I can fix it!”

“You’re injured,” Lan Zhan says, but he looks unsure.

“No, I’m not! Look, I’m fine. Not even a scratch.” Wei Wuxian takes Lan Zhan’s hand and guides it up to the back of his head, so Lan Zhan can see for himself that there’s no blood or anything. He also tries his very best not to flinch when Lan Zhan touches the part of his scalp that does feel tender and bruised, and thinks he’s managed it pretty successfully. “See?”

Withdrawing his hand, Lan Zhan doesn’t reply immediately, so Wei Wuxian presses his advantage.

“Give us- no, give me one hour! If I don’t get us out in one hour, we can send Jiang Cheng to get help.”

“Jiang Cheng is not your errand boy,” Jiang Cheng grumbles. He hasn’t said no, though, and he hasn’t stormed off.

“One hour,” Lan Zhan agrees, and Wei Wuxian breathes a sigh of relief. Then Lan Zhan softly adds, “Us.”

“Eh?”

Lan Zhan appears mildly uncomfortable. “Not give you. Give us one hour. We’ll try together.”

This is so sweet that Wei Wuxian is speechless. Then he gets over himself, and he grins, trailing one of his fingers through Lan Zhan’s silky hair while Jiang Cheng pointedly studies the ceiling.

“That’s right! Together! Now, everyone get out of the way while I try the next talisman.”

 

5 Minutes into the Entrapment

“This is a bad idea,” Jiang Cheng says. It doesn’t have any effect on Wei Wuxian, because Jiang Cheng says this approximately three times a day.

“I agree,” Lan Zhan says, and, alright, this makes Wei Wuxian feel at least a little guilty. But he’s doing this for the common good! He’s trying to get them out of here. Lan Zhan should appreciate that.

“It will be fine, don’t worry so much. Watch this!”

Wei Wuxian sticks the talisman on his upper arm. If he’s studied the characters correctly, then they look similar enough to the talisman for additional strength that technically, he should now be able to punch a hole through the spiritual parameter with no effort whatsoever.

The talisman turns into a knife. A knife that pierces skin and nicks blood.

Hastily, Wei Wuxian pulls it out and drops it to the floor, where it bursts into a cloud of dust.

“Okay,” he says, massaging his arm, “clearly there’s a learning curve.”

 

20 Minutes into the Entrapment

Apparently Gusu Lan Sect keeps basic medical supplies in the library, that’s good to know. According to Lan Zhan, they have a collection of bandages and medicinal herbs in every public room of the Cloud Recesses, just as a precaution. Wei Wuxian wanted to ask more, but Lan Zhan was gritting his teeth while he said it, his face a stormy contrast to the gentleness with which he treated Wei Wuxian’s arm, and so Wei Wuxian had closed his eyes and instead focused on Lan Zhan’s closeness.

Now, he’s all bandaged up, refreshed, and ready to give it another go.

He reaches for the next talisman, and pauses when Lan Zhan catches his wrist.

“Let me.”

“Ah, are you sure? Lan Zhan shouldn’t trouble himself. If you get hurt, your uncle will never forgive me.” Also, Wei Wuxian would never forgive himself. Someone like Lan Zhan should never get injured.

“I won’t use a talisman,” Lan Zhan says in a voice that implies he’s judging Wei Wuxian for even considering that as an option.

Lan Zhan pulls out his guqin, and Wei Wuxian remembers that yeah, there’s probably options of breaking the ward that don’t include a blind talisman usage or brute force.

Gusu Lan Sect practices music as a spiritual tool. This, Wei Wuxian knew in theory, but he’s never really thought much about it, and he’s certainly never heard anyone play.

He quickly realises, as Lan Zhan plucks the first few strings, that he’s really been missing out. Actually, it’s hard to understand why not all sects would want to do this. Wei Wuxian never really thought of himself as someone who might enjoy music, but watching Lan Zhan weave his own spiritual power into the melody is enough to make Wei Wuxian change his mind. It’s decided. He has to learn how to do this. Maybe if he learns, he can impress Lan Zhan and trick him into playing together sometimes. That, Wei Wuxian thinks, would be nice.

Lan Zhan plays for several minutes, and Wei Wuxian can almost see the core-channelling music attack the ward, try to find a weakness, a way to break through the barrier. None of it works, and eventually, Lan Zhan is forced to admit defeat.

“The ward is too strong. My attempts were futile.”

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says, ignoring him, “that was amazing.” From behind the barrier, he can see that Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes, but he decides to ignore that as well. “Can you teach me? No, don’t tell me- no teaching to outsiders, am I right? How boring.”

“I-“ Lan Zhan falters. “I can teach you. If you wish.”

“Yes! Can we start right now? I’m not sure if I want to learn the guqin, but-“

Wei Wuxian was planning to leave the library, to maybe find someone he can borrow a musical instrument from real quick, when he suddenly realises that they’re still trapped, and he’d just been about to walk face-first into the barrier. Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes again.

 

55 Minutes into the Entrapment

“Alright, last one,” Wei Wuxian declares. “If this doesn’t work, Jiang Cheng has to go find someone who can help.” He really, really hopes this works.

Since all their efforts to recognise the long-since faded talismans and see if maybe there’s a countermeasure for the spiritual barrier have been pointless, he might as well stop bothering. Wei Wuxian just reaches blindly into the stack and pulls out the first one he can find without looking at it.

Having learned from his mistakes, he throws this one on the ground.

It goes up in flames.

And suddenly, there’s a fire in the middle of the library. Where there are a lot of ancient scrolls. Ancient scrolls that are very, very flammable.

Wei Wuxian exchanges a panicked look with Lan Wangji, who appears frozen on the spot. Then they both move into action: Wei Wuxian tries to search the library for something, anything, that will extinguish the ever-increasing flames, and Lan Wangji starting to play his guqin again.

Then Wei Wuxian is struck by a thought, and he calls out, “Lan Zhan! Take off your robes!”

Lan Zhan looks scandalised.

Wei Wuxian mimics taking off one’s robes and putting them over the fire, and Lan Zhan’s face clears. A wave of the hand, the guqin is gone again, and then Lan Zhan actually shrugs out of his outer robes, layer by layer. Wei Wuxian’s mind blanks. They’re possibly about to burn down the entire collection of centuries-old scrolls that contain infinite knowledge, and all he can think of is that Lan Zhan is undressing, right here, right in front of him.

Lan Zhan removes the last layer, leaving only his underrobes, and throws it all over the fire.

The fire sizzles for a bit, like it’s fighting with all it’s got, and then dies. Wei Wuxian breathes a sigh of relief, too high on adrenaline to even care that Lan Zhan is collecting his clothes and putting them on again.

It takes a second for him to notice something off.

“Hey, your robes aren’t burned!”

They aren’t. Every piece of white fabric is exactly as pristine as always.

Pausing in his movement, Lan Zhan explains, “Gusu Lan cultivation robes are spelled with an added protection layer to prevent burning.” He frowns slightly. “I assumed that was why you suggested it.”

Wei Wuxian is saved from answering when, exactly one hour after he used the very first talisman and got them into this mess, the spiritual parameter blinks twice before fading into oblivion.

After, Jiang Cheng leaves, satisfied that Wei Wuxian is not going to be trapped in the library until he dies. This leaves Wei Wuxian alone with Lan Zhan, at a loss of what to do next. They will continue with their task tomorrow, and there’s really no reason for them to stay here anymore. Lan Zhan is probably anxious to leave as well, after being literally confined with Wei Wuxian for so long.

And yet, neither of them go.

They tidy up all the remaining scrolls and talismans, fix the collapsed bookshelf, and doublecheck to ensure that no leftover traces of the ward remain. When they run out of things to do, Wei Wuxian pulls himself together and asks, “Are you angry?”

“No.”

Lan Zhan wouldn’t lie. If he says he’s not angry, he’s not angry.

Wei Wuxian hesitates for a second before asking his next question. “Are you sad?”

The entire reason why he suggested taking a break in the first place was, after all, because for the entire day, Lan Zhan has seemed inexplicably unhappy. Jiang Cheng would tell him not to push, but Jiang Cheng is an idiot, so Wei Wuxian doesn’t feel like his advice is worth minding.

“No,” Lan Zhan says again, his voice tentative, and Wei Wuxian thinks, Ah. So Lan Zan would lie, after all.

“Lan Zhan!  You have to tell me what it is. Tell me, and I’ll fix it for you. Easy as that, right?”

“It is,” Lan Zhan says, “nothing you can fix.”

“Impossible! You don’t believe me, but that’s alright. I’ll just have to prove myself to you! Come on,” he says, catching Lan Zhan’s wrist to pull him out of the library, “it’s time for dinner. Food will cheer you up. You should let me cook for you one of these days! Or Lan Zhan can cook for me, that’d work, too. We can exchange recipes.”

They go to dinner. Lan Zhan doesn’t talk, but Wei Wuxian keeps up a steady stream of running commentary all throughout, and gradually, the tense lines around Lan Zhan’s eyes fade. It’s a start.

***

They spend the next week or so gradually making their way through the hundreds of talismans. Some, they figure out the usage for, while others are lost forever. It’s nice, the two of them working together without the added tension of punishment. They’ve also started music lessons, which means that in between that, the talisman project, and their lectures, he basically sees Lan Zhan all the time now – except for sleeping. And Wei Wuxian is working on that.

“I just think it’d make more sense for Lan Zhan to share his quarters with some of the guest disciples,” he tells Nie Huaisang. “Socialising is important. Gusu Lan can’t just shut away its disciples in an ivory tower until they come of age. I’m thinking of suggesting this to Lan Qiren.”

Nie Huaisang tells him that that’s a great idea, and Wei Wuxian is halfway through drafting a speech when Jiang Cheng overhears, hits him over the head, and tells him it’s a terrible idea. So, that project is put on hold. For now.

Then, one day, Lan Zhan doesn’t show up.

It’s around noon and they have no lectures today, so Wei Wuxian waits for precisely three minutes and twenty seconds before he goes to find him.

Lan Zhan is never late. Never.

The thing is that Wei Wuxian doesn’t actually know where Lan Zhan lives. He knows the most important thing: that it’s not with Wei Wuxian or any of the guest disciples. He also knows, after a lot of stalking and questioning, that it’s not with any of the Lan disciples, and also not with Zewu-jun, whose quarters he’s seen first hand. But so far, every attempt to follow Lan Zhan home has been tragically unsuccessful. Lan Zhan tends to notice immediately, and he’s never very sympathetic to Wei Wuxian’s desperate need to see his bedroom.

So he asks around a bit. He can’t find Zewu-jun and he’s definitely not asking Old Master Lan, but he does manage to run into one of the Lan disciples who Wei Wuxian thinks might sit somewhere near Lan Zhan in class? It’s hard to remember, but the guy recognises him and answers easily.

“Lan Wangji? He lives in the Jingshi, it’s not one of the main buildings.” He points Wei Wuxian in the general direction and tells him about the forest path he needs to take, and adds, almost as an afterthought, “I don’t know if you will find him there, though. I heard he was with the healer this morning.”

What,” Wei Wuxian says, and starts running.

Healer? Is Lan Zhan sick? Injured? Dying? Wei Wuxian knew it was suspicious that Lan Zhan refused to have dinner with him yesterday.

It’s not long until he reaches a pavilion that must be where Lan Zhan lives. Wei Wuxian thinks it looks nice, and it suits Lan Zhan: naturally, Lan Zhan wouldn’t stay right in the middle of Cloud Recesses. He’d want something a bit more secluded, where not just anyone can walk past constantly.

When Wei Wuxian takes him to Lotus Pier someday, that will be a bit of a challenge, since Lotus Pier is constantly bustling with noise. But maybe if they do lots of activities with just the two of them, like taking a tour over the lake in the evening when no one else is there, it will be alright. Also, Lan Zhan can take a bit of excitement! It’ll be good for him. Wei Wuxian will make it good for him.

He briefly considers knocking before deciding that Lan Zhan probably won’t care. So he waltzes inside, and finds that things are as he feared: Lan Zhan is lying on the bed, deathly pale, eyes closed, unmoving.

Wei Wuxian drops to his knees beside the bed and takes one of Lan Zhan’s hands, tugging at it. “Lan Zhan? What’s wrong?”

Lan Zhan doesn’t react. A quick touch on his wrist makes sure that he’s still alive, and that his qi is flowing steady, if somewhat depleted. Satisfied that Lan Zhan is not dead, Wei Wuxian moves to touch his face, trying to check for a fever (there is none) and then just kind of cupping his cheeks for a while, until he realises that that’s really creepy.

“Lan Zhan?”

Still nothing.

Well, alright then. Wei Wuxian nods to himself, pats Lan Zhan’s head, and goes to see if Lan Zhan has any interesting books he can occupy his time with. He’s expecting perhaps Modern Agricultural Practices (975 BCE): The Thrilling Sequel, or something similar. Instead, he finds some music scores, a guide on gardening and another on calligraphy, a poetry volume that looks like it’s never been opened, and one that he instantly recognises from his own bookshelf back at home.

He takes out Live by the Sword, Blade or Arrow (as long as it's deadly), the famous guide to combat by Nie Zheng, and settles down on one of the cushions. His own copy of the book has so many notes scrawled inside that it’s barely eligible, but Lan Zhan’s copy, although undoubtedly well-thumbed through, is still in perfect condition.

An undeterminable amount of time has passed when Lan Zhan stirs. Wei Wuxian instantly drops his book and kneels by Lan Zhan’s side again, in case Lan Zhan needs something or is too weak to talk.

“Lan Zhan? How are you feeling? Do you want some water?”

Wei Wuxian tries to move away so he can get Lan Zhan something to drink, but Lan Zhan doesn’t let go of his hand.

“Why are you here?” He sounds confused. That’s fair, Wei Wuxian would be confused too if he went to sleep alone and woke up with someone in his room.

“I’m keeping watch! You didn’t show up at the library, so I went to check on you. Lan Zhan, you have to tell me the truth. Are you dying?”

Lan Zhan, it turns out, is not dying. Apparently he was called to perform a cleansing, went on his own because it sounded fairly straightforward, and refused to call for assistance once he realised that it wasn’t, instead pouring most of his spiritual power into it and collapsing in the process.

For the first time in his life, Wei Wuxian understands why Jiang Cheng gets angry when he runs off into danger. It’s not that you’re taking a risk, Jiang Cheng always says, it’s that you don’t take me along for backup.

“You shouldn’t have gone alone,” Wei Wuxian says, echoing his brother’s words without quite meaning to, though where Jiang Cheng is sharp and pointed, Wei Wuxian sounds almost fond. He’s stroking Lan Zhan’s cheek, because Lan Zhan is sick and that’s what you do for sick people, and also because Lan Zhan is too tired to resist.

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says noncommittally, turning his head so Wei Wuxian has better access to petting his face.

“I’m serious! Next time, ask your brother for help. Or me! I can’t believe we’ve never been on a night hunt together. Lan Zhan, do you promise to ask me next time?”

Lan Zhan blinks drowsily up at him, like he has trouble understanding the question. Telling Wei Wuxian yesterday’s events seems to have used up most of his strength, and he’s already dozing off again. Wei Wuxian smiles, and once more tries to free himself from Lan Zhan’s grip.

“I’m going now, okay? You should sleep. I’ve probably disturbed you too much already.”

“No.” Lan Zhan isn’t strong enough right now to actually hold Wei Wuxian back, but it’s not like Wei Wuxian is in a hurry to leave.

“No?” he repeats, his smile widening. “Does Lan Zhan want me to stay?”

It's mostly a joke. But Lan Zhan says, “Yes. Stay.”

“It’s almost curfew.” It’s almost impossible to say this without a trace of mocking slipping into his voice, but he’s also saying it mostly for Lan Zhan’s benefit. Between the two of them, Lan Zhan is the one who cares about rules. Wei Wuxian is the one who got punished last week for making Jiang Cheng give him a piggyback ride.

“Don’t care. Stay.”

Wei Wuxian never wants to see Lan Zhan hurt again, but he has to admit that this is possibly the most adorable thing ever. This calls for further experimentation: is this the spiritual exhaustion, or is Lan Zhan always like this when he’s tired? What about when he’s drunk? Wei Wuxian has never wanted to know anything as badly as this.

He's mostly convinced already, but he also still remembers that evening in the bar, and what happened afterwards.

“If I stay and break the curfew for you, are you going to report me tomorrow?”

Even if Lan Zhan says yes, he’s still going to stay. He has to! Lan Zhan never asks for anything, so how could Wei Wuxian deny him this?

“No,” Lan Zhan says, his voice muffled by the pillow, and tries to pull Wei Wuxian onto the bed. Wei Wuxian yelps and staggers several steps back. Is Lan Zhan- does Lan Zhan want-

No. Lan Zhan is literally running so low on spiritual power that he spent the entire day sleeping. He’s not in control of his feelings right now. If Wei Wuxian actually sleeps in his bed, that would be unforgivable. Lan Zhan would wake up tomorrow and be horrified.

But he did ask him to stay.

Wei Wuxian decides to do the only sensible thing: he grabs one of the cushions to use as a pillow, takes off his outer robe to use as a blanket, and settles in on the floor next to Lan Zhan’s bed. This way, he’s staying, and he’s close enough that if Lan Zhan needs anything he’ll be right here, and he can also see Lan Zhan’s face from this angle, which makes it perfect.

They fall asleep like that, Wei Wuxian curled up on the floor, Lan Zhan on the bed. At some point in the night, there’s rustling and movement, and Wei Wuxian is nudged aside as a warm, heavy weight settles next to him. He blindly reaches out for it, and succumbs to sleep once more.

In the morning, he wakes to Lan Zhan, also on the floor, and Wei Wuxian attached to him like a fussy koala.

***

“Wei Wuxian!” Jiang Cheng barks as soon as he spots Wei Wuxian trying to inconspicuously make his way back to the guest pavilion. Jiang Cheng has, apparently, been sitting here in the inner courtyard waiting for Wei Wuxian to come home. It’s unclear how long he’s been waiting. Wei Wuxian hopes it wasn’t all night.

“Yes?” Wei Wuxian asks, trying to sound nonchalant and not like he just spent the night cuddling Lan Zhan.

Judging by Jiang Cheng’s unamused expression, it’s not working.

“Where were you?”

“Nowhere! Out! Just taking a walk!”

“In yesterday’s robes.”

“It’s a fashion statement,” Wei Wuxian informs him loftily.

He tries to walk past his brother, vaguely planning to wash up and have a minor freak-out in peace, but Jiang Cheng isn’t having it. He stands in Wei Wuxian’s way, arms crossed, scowling.

“You’re not going anywhere until you tell me where you’ve been.”

“Jiang Cheng,” Wei Wuxian cries. “Why are you doing this to me? And what are you doing out here, anyway? Don’t you have better things to do?”

“This isn’t about me! Just tell me if I need to prepare an apology letter,” Jiang Cheng demands angrily. “Or-“ He stops, eyes wide and horrified. “Is this about the bet,” he hisses.

“Bet?” Wei Wuxian echoes. If he ever made a bet about sleeping with Lan Zhan’s strong arms around him, and then waking up nuzzling Lan Zhan’s neck, he thinks he would remember.

Jiang Cheng has turned an unhealthy shade of purple. “The BET,” he shouts, all efforts to keep this quiet forgotten. “Our bet! Tell me you didn’t spend the night with Zewu-jun!”

Wei Wuxian laughs uncomfortably, scratching his neck as he tries to think of an excuse. “Of course not.”

He didn’t spend the night with Zewu-jun. He spent the night with Zewu-jun’s little brother, then woke up the next morning, realised what he’d done, deposited Lan Zhan back on the bed and wrapped him in a million blankets so he won’t get cold, and then he tried to go home so he could panic about all of this in private.

“Wei Wuxian! I know when you’re lying!”

“I’m not lying!”

“If Zewu-jun did anything-“

“No!” Wei Wuxian rushes to say. He holds up both hands in a placating gesture, both to urge Jiang Cheng to stop shouting, and to be prepared to hit him over the head if he doesn’t. “The bet was only about kissing, anyway.”

“Hmph,” Jiang Cheng says. He’s still glaring.

“Relax! Zewu-jun would never kiss me, anyway. I suppose we should call off the bet.”

That’s for the best, really. Wei Wuxian can admit that he really aimed too high this time, and they can stop this madness and he can just do whatever stupid thing he promised to do if he lost, and they never have to speak of it again.

Then, from somewhere behind them, someone says, “What an intriguing bet.”

It’s Zewu-jun.

Wei Wuxian turns in horror. This is it. This is the day he finally gets kicked out of Cloud Recesses.

His mouth opens and closes, no words coming out. He would drop to his knees and kowtow, if he wasn’t paralysed.

Lan Xichen smiles benevolently at him.

“Wei-gongzi, you never fail to surprise me. What is this bet you speak of?”

Wei Wuxian cannot think of a single thing to reply to that. He glances helplessly at Jiang Cheng, hoping that his brother will step in. His brother does no such thing, and his face displays the exact same look of terror that Wei Wuxian thinks he himself must be wearing right now.

“Just a dumb joke,” he manages to get out, his voice strangled. “Nothing to concern Zewu-jun.”

“Really?” Zewu-jun sounds baffled. “It seemed like it very much concerned me.”

He’s not going to get kicked out of Cloud Recesses. He’s going to stab himself with his own sword first.

“Zewu-jun,” Jiang Cheng says, finally breaking through his own panic. “Forgive Wei Wuxian. He’s always like this. We think it’s head trauma.”

“Definitely head trauma,” Wei Wuxian agrees, nodding rapidly. “This one will accept any punishment Zewu-jun sees fit. I’ll commit ritual suicide if I have to!”

Lan Xichen’s smile gives way to a frown, his lips pursed. “But Wei-gongzi,” he says, “that would mean you lost your bet!”

What.

Maybe he really did hit his head. Maybe he’s still asleep, held firmly in Lan Zhan’s arms. Maybe he died and this is hell.

He laughs awkwardly, because at this point, what else can he do?

Zewu-jun isn’t done. He’s smiling again, this time somewhat mischievously. “There’s no need to worry, Wei-gongzi. It’s not been that long since I was your age, after all. I understand. Wei-gongzi,” he says, taking a step closer, “how would you like to win your bet?”

“What,” Jiang Cheng says.

Wei Wuxian stares at Lan Xichen. He wants to laugh again, but it dies in his throat.

Jiang Cheng asks, “Are you serious?”

“Naturally,” Zewu-jun says. “One kiss, is it? I think we should just about be able to manage that.”

He’s right, of course. One kiss is nothing. And he is, after all, doing Wei Wuxian a favour with this. Wei Wuxian won’t have to take over meditation practice now! He gets Jiang Cheng’s share in all of Shijie’s cooking for three months! That’s fantastic news. It’s exactly what he’s been trying to achieve all these weeks.

Except, suddenly that doesn’t seem so great anymore.

“How about it, Wei-gongzi?” Lan Xichen asks.

Wei Wuxian’s mind goes blank. His palms feel very sweaty. He wipes them off on his robes.

“I can’t,” he says.

“I’ve taken a vow of abstinence,” he adds.

Then he hastily bows to Zewu-jun, gives Jiang Cheng a friendly cuff to the shoulder, and walks away as fast as he can.

***

Wei Wuxian doesn’t go back to the guest quarters. He meant to, originally, but ended up changing his mind halfway through. His bedroom will be empty, anyway.

Instead, he goes back to the Jingshi.

Earlier, Wei Wuxian left while Lan Zhan was still sleeping soundly. Now, Lan Zhan is awake, though still somewhat pale, dressed in a fresh set of robes and with his hair all tied up neatly. He’s drinking tea, but stands when Wei Wuxian bursts in.

Wei Wuxian knows he’s about to say something like, Why are you here, or maybe just, Wei Ying. He can’t let that happen. If Lan Zhan speaks first, then Wei Wuxian is going to lose his nerve, and this will all be over before it started.

He had time to think on the way here. Most of it was spent blindly panicking. But some of it wasn’t. And if he’s going to walk into his sword for the honour of his sect, he might as well say his piece first.

“Jiang Cheng and I made this stupid bet,” he says quickly. Best to just get it over with as fast as possibly.

Lan Zhan halts in whatever it was he was going to say, tilting his head slightly. “I know. You told me about it.”

Gods, that’s right. Wei Wuxian did tell Lan Zhan about it. Multiple times. Because he sucks.

Changing tracks, Wei Wuxian says, “Your brother tried to kiss me! Zewu-jun is so shameless.”

He realises his mistake a second before Lan Zhan flinches, and only barely manages to stop himself from telling Lan Zhan that it’s probably head trauma.

“Brother tried-“

“No, no, he only offered! He didn’t sneak up on me in the woods or something. It was very generous of him.”

“I see,” Lan Zhan says, plainly not seeing.

“I said No.”

“You-“ Lan Zhan blinks, once, twice, a third time. Nothing more comes.

“Yeah!” Wei Wuxian nods fervently. “I don’t really mind losing. And Jiang Cheng lost, too! I don’t see him kissing anyone. Anyway, so the bet is over now. Totally done. I’m not going to kiss Zewu-jun.”

Lan Zhan looks like too much has happened too fast, and now he’s having trouble processing. It’s really cute, and Wei Wuxian would love to give him as much time as he needs, but also if he waits even a second longer, he’s going to implode, and that’s no good. He can’t help being impatient! Lan Zhan won’t mind.

“So,” he says, presumably interrupting Lan Zhan’s quiet panic spiral. “There was actually another part of the bet that had no relation whatsoever to Zewu-jun! It was about having a holiday romance. What do you say about helping me out with that part?”

Another tactical error. Lan Zhan stiffens, and moves away. “No.”

“Lan Zhan!” It takes literally all of his self-control to not immediately close the gap between them. Wei Wuxian settles for taking his wrist and, after spending half a second considering, interlacing their fingers instead. He figures that he has a very narrow time frame before Lan Zhan shoves him away and possibly goes for his sword, so he needs to get all of this out now.

“Don’t look at me like that, I’m sorry! It’s not a bet. I don’t want to kiss you just for that.”

“You were lying?” Lan Zhan asks uncertainly. He hasn’t dropped Wei Wuxian’s hand yet, though, so that’s good news.

Wei Wuxian grimaces. “Alright, no, it’s definitely still a bet. But it’s not about that! How do I prove it to you? We can wait until after the guest lectures are over, so it doesn’t count as holiday romance.” It’s only a few more weeks. Wei Wuxian has spent over a month not kissing Lan Zhan, so he can not-kiss Lan Zhan for another month with no problem. Except that he has spent over a month not kissing Lan Zhan, so how can he possibly wait any longer?

This is a very bad plan, he decides. It turns out Wei Wuxian is terrible at making plans. He needs a new strategy.

Lan Zhan seems to think it’s a bad plan, too. He also doesn’t seem entirely convinced yet.

“Come back to Lotus Pier with us,” Wei Wuxian says. He hadn’t planned on this, but the moment the words leave his mouth, he realises that this is what he wants. He’s clutching Lan Zhan’s hand tighter now, and he should really let go, Lan Zhan’s spiritual power hasn’t fully returned yet and this must be hurting him. But when Wei Wuxian forces himself to loosen his grip, his hand doesn’t fall away. Lan Zhan is holding on just as tightly.

“Come with me to Lotus Pier,” Wei Wuxian says again. “And not just for a visit, either. Stay there for a few months. Then when you go back, I’ll go back with you. Or we can go somewhere else! Wherever you want. I don’t mind.”

Finally, Lan Zhan drops his hand. Before Wei Wuxian can panic about that, it’s back, cupping Wei Wuxian’s cheek instead. This is so nice. Wei Wuxian can’t believe they didn’t do this earlier. He wants to touch Lan Zhan everywhere.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, very gently.

“We can go anywhere,” Wei Wuxian says, voice hoarse. “You won’t get rid off me. I’ll follow Lan Zhan everywhere he goes.”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan repeats. Wei Wuxian loves it when Lan Zhan calls him that. He’s never thought much about his name, but when Lan Zhan says it, it sounds like something precious.

“Lan Zhan.”

Lan Zhan kisses him. That, too, feels precious.

***

They only manage to leave the Jingshi when it’s time for dinner. They’ve already missed lunch, and Lan Zhan tries to make them miss dinner too, but Wei Wuxian remembers how sick Lan Zhan was yesterday, can see how pale he still is, and makes them both go get some food.

On the way there, they run into Jiang Cheng and, for some reason, Wen Qing.

Lan Zhan and Wei Wuxian haven’t really talked about whether to tell people about this, but if Lan Zhan seriously thinks Wei Wuxian is capable of keeping something like this a secret, he’s deeply, deeply misjudged him.

Bouncing on the balls of his feet, Wei Wuxian excitedly says, “Jiang Cheng! I won the bet! I kissed someone!”

Just in case Lan Zhan is still feeling insecure about the bet thing, Wei Wuxian takes his hand.

He expects Jiang Cheng to get angry, either about losing or about Wei Wuxian’s inappropriate behaviour in a public setting.

Jiang Cheng does nothing of the sort. Jiang Cheng grins at him.

“I won the bet, too,” he says.

Wei Wuxian laughs, and allows Lan Zhan to put an arm around his waist. “No, you didn’t. We can’t both win!”

“We can,” Jiang Cheng says, “and now I get to name your firstborn.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Wei Wuxian says, ignoring the alarmed look Lan Zhan is sending his way. “That was only for the case of you kissing somebody!”

“Yes,” Jiang Cheng says.

“Yes! So-“

Wei Wuxian abruptly realises that Jiang Cheng, too, has his arm around someone’s waist. That someone is Wen Qing. Jiang Cheng looks smug. Wen Qing looks bored.

“I,” Jiang Cheng says proudly, “have so many great ideas for names. I’ll go get my list!”

He leaves, and somehow, inexplicably, Wen Qing follows him. Almost like she genuinely likes Jiang Cheng, instead of thinking that he’s possibly the dullest person on earth. Wei Wuxian stares after them, dumbstruck.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says disapprovingly. Probably he’s judging Wei Wuxian for gambling away his children’s future like this. Their children! Because if Wei Wuxian is going to have any children, it will be with Lan Zhan.

That thought brings a smile to Wei Wuxian’s face, and he can’t help it, he has to kiss Lan Zhan right here in the courtyard.

By the time they break apart, he’s reasonably sure that Lan Zhan isn’t mad anymore.

“I’ll tell you what,” he says, taking Lan Zhan’s hand again, “you can name the second kid. But then after that it’s my turn!”

For a brief moment, he regrets this – maybe Lan Zhan doesn’t want kids? Maybe he doesn’t want three of them?

Then he realises that Lan Zhan is smiling, too.

“Yes,” he agrees. “And then my turn again.”

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian kisses him again.

 It occurs to him, when they finally make it to dinner, that he doesn’t mind if Jiang Cheng won the bet. Wei Wuxian won, too, and he got Lan Zhan out of it. That’s basically as good as it gets. And Wei Wuxian is never letting go.