“You know,” Ouyang Zizhen says thoughtfully over dinner one day, “I’ve never seen Wei-qianbei get jealous before.”
Lan Jingyi pauses for the briefest second, remembers the sect rule of keeping silence during meals, and decidedly forgoes it. “What?”
“Well,” Ouyang Zizhen continues, “Hanguang-jun always has a lot of admirers everywhere we go, but Wei-qianbei never seems to mind it.”
“Why are we talking about this?” Jin Ling asks flatly.
“Because! I heard that Hanguang-jun was the second most eligible bachelor of their generation. We get swarmed by suitors everywhere because of our generation’s number one eligible bachelor here—”
Lan Sizhui flushes and is very thankful for their sect rule of keeping silence during meals.
“—so I can’t imagine it being any different for Hanguang-jun.”
They all imagine it. It isn’t too hard to imagine.
“Just the other day,” Ouyang Zizhen says, “I saw a beautiful maiden brave enough to approach him with a flower and she shoved it into his hands before she ran off, and Wei-qianbei just… watched it happen and laughed! Like it was funny!”
“What? When was this?”
“Jingyi,” Lan Sizhui warns. They’re dangerously close to breaking the rule to not gossip behind one’s back. Lan Sizhui reluctantly gives up and pointedly says to Ouyang Zizhen, “They’re married. Happily.”
“That’s exactly my point!” Ouyang Zizhen makes a face. “Why doesn’t Wei-qianbei say ‘back off!’ or something? If your cultivation partner was pursued after so constantly, wouldn’t you feel at least a little annoyed?”
That’s… true. The other three can’t refute that.
Ouyang Zizhen barrels on. “And imagine if it was the other way around and Wei-qianbei was the one to receive a flower from that maiden. Can you imagine Hanguang-jun just laughing it off on the spot?”
They imagine it. They all see each other arrive at the exact same conclusion.
Before any of them can voice it out, Lan Sizhui swiftly reminds them, “No gossiping behind one’s back.”
“Jin Ling and I aren’t part of the Gusu Lan sect,” reminds Ouyang Zizhen.
“It would be good of this disciple to practice it,” firmly reminds Lan Sizhui.
“I can’t imagine anyone giving a flower to that idiot,” Jin Ling mutters.
Lan Jingyi’s eyebrows climb up to his hairline.
Jin Ling doesn’t need a vocal criticism on how objectively untrue his statement is, so he quickly clears his throat. “Okay, okay. He’s just too carefree, that’s all. He’s got no brain space to be jealous.”
Ouyang Zizhen considers this with a hum and they drop the topic for the rest of dinner for more interesting things to talk about.
After dinner, they spend their free time by roaming the street market stalls of the town they’re staying at. It’s not so much the wares that they sell that are exciting but the new sights in a new town that greet them. The main road bustles with people and they blend right into the crowd.
They’re helping Ouyang Zizhen pick out some souvenirs for his sisters when Lan Jingyi spots something among the crowd and hisses, “Look.”
Wei Wuxian is standing by the side of the road with his hands behind his back, and he’s intently watching something with a small fond smile. Unsurprisingly, they find Lan Wangji at the receiving end of that look.
A shopkeeper behind a chuan stall is shoving an extra chuan into Lan Wangji’s hands while she says something about it being on the house. She’s charismatic and confident in a way that a seasoned shopkeeper is, and the low red glow from the chuan grills only helps to render her flushed grin more alluring.
The disciples all watch as Lan Wangji inclines his head in thanks. Just as he turns away to make his way back to Wei Wuxian, the woman at the stall shouts to his back, “Handsome gongzi! If you’re ever in the area again, stop by any time! I’ll wait for you!”
Wei Wuxian’s peal of laughter echoes above the bustle of the crowd.
“Wei-qianbei,” Lan Sizhui says. “Hanguang-jun.”
“Ah, Sizhui. Kids. Enjoying the night?”
Wei Wuxian has already eaten half a stick worth of meat in one go. It’s very impressive. Lan Wangji wordlessly offers him the extra chuan in hand.
“Eh, Lan Zhan, you don’t want it?”
“One is enough for me.” Lan Wangji takes out a handkerchief and gently dabs the corner of Wei Wuxian’s mouth. “I will get you something to drink.”
Wei Wuxian beams, Lan Wangji softly smiles back, and the disciples feel like they’re very much intruding on something private even though they’re standing on the side of a crowded road. Wei Wuxian finishes his first stick and nibbles on the extra chuan as they watch Lan Wangji disappear back into the crowd in search of a drink stall.
After some small chatters about how their night is going, Ouyang Zizhen asks, “Does that happen often?”
“Hanguang-jun getting extra food at food stalls.”
“He’s your popular Hanguang-jun after all.”
“And how does that… make you feel, Wei-qianbei?”
The other two perk up with interest. Lan Sizhui gives a small resigned sigh but doesn’t intervene.
Wei Wuxian just blinks in confusion. “…Good?” he answers, clearly unsure on why he’s being asked this.
Lan Jingyi gives the same eyebrows-raised look to Wei Wuxian that he gave Jin Ling earlier.
“Good?” Jin Ling echoes. “How does that make you feel good?”
“Aiyo, what are you getting angry at me for? You asked me a question and I answered it. I get extra food out of it, so why not?”
“That woman was—flirting with him!” Jin Ling flushes. “Or don’t tell me you didn’t notice?”
Wei Wuxian blinks again, this time looking at them strangely like they’re the ones being weird about it. “I do have eyes.”
“Then why didn’t you step in?” Lan Jingyi asks.
Wei Wuxian regards him with amusement. “Jingyi, if I went after every person who thought Hanguang-jun pretty, I’d have no time left on my hands for anything else. People are allowed to appreciate him. Which they should,” he adds pleasantly. “It only makes sense.”
“But some people—they do it right in front of you, like that woman just now. Aren’t you worried?”
Wei Wuxian clicks his tongue. “About what? Hanguang-jun is capable of taking care of himself. If something did happen, you don’t think he’ll be able to handle it?”
Lan Jingyi starts to refute but closes his mouth. He can find no fault in that logic.
Lan Wangji arrives with drinks in hand, and that conversation comes to a stop altogether as it trickles into another topic.
Lan Sizhui comes back from his recent night-hunt with Wen Ning, and he’s holding an envelope like it’s about to explode in his hands.
Lan Jingyi peeks at the envelope as if he can see through it for its content if he tries hard enough. “Another one of your admirers?”
Lan Sizhui flushes. “No. Someone was waiting by the gate and they wanted me to deliver it. I guess they didn’t know how else to send direct correspondence to… Hanguang-jun.”
Lan Jingyi snorts. “Cultivation-related?”
Lan Sizhui clears his throat. “No.”
That explains the whole panicked look. “Are you going to deliver it?”
Lan Sizhui looks at the letter thoughtfully. He isn’t trying to disrespect the letter writer’s intention, but Lan Wangji has made it clear in the past with more or less words that he’s not, and will never be, interested in receiving letters of this nature, and so they were usually sorted out before they could reach him.
A sudden thought occurs to Lan Sizhui. “Do you think Wei-qianbei knows about these?”
“I doubt it.”
Ouyang Zizhen is truly a frightening influence, because next, they both try to imagine Wei Wuxian learning about the letters and fuming with possessive jealousy.
As if summoned by their thoughts, Wei Wuxian rounds the corner and screeches to a halt as Lan Sizhui knocks into him. Lan Sizhui blinks up to find amusement written across Wei Wuxian’s face.
“No need to run into my arms for a hug, Sizhui! This gege will give you one any time.” Wei Wuxian wraps his arms around him with a laugh and squeezes him tight. Lan Sizhui flushes but doesn’t refuse it.
“You’re the one who almost knocked him over,” Lan Jingyi complains. “No running in the—”
“Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.” Wei Wuxian waves him off. “Of course you can be next, Jingyi.”
“Get off me!”
Wei Wuxian laughs happily with his arm locked around Lan Jingyi’s neck, and notices the letter that Lan Sizhui is holding.
“What, another one of your admirers?” he asks smugly. “Ah, Hanguang-jun has raised you so well! At this rate we’ll marry you off and I’ll have to mend his poor broken heart every night—”
Why does everyone keep assuming it’s for him? “No, it’s for Hanguang-jun.”
“Oh? Who’s it from? What’s it about? A night-hunt request?”
Lan Jingyi quickly ducks out of Wei Wuxian’s arms. “It’s from an admirer.”
Wei Wuxian eyes the letter and nods with an indulging smile and a hum. His face then twists into an openly hostile frown, and Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi exchange a quick glance with surprise. Could this be it?
But Wei Wuxian only makes a disgusted noise at the back of his throat and says, “It’s so hot today. Not even a single cloud in the sky and no breeze to cool us down.”
Lan Jingyi stares at him. “Aren’t you… at least a little curious about what the letter says?”
“Eh? Oh.” Wei Wuxian laughs with his hands on his hips. “I assume it’s similar to what goes through my head every time I see your Hanguang-jun.” He strokes his chin with a soft smile as he becomes lost in a thought. “He’s very easy to love, after all.”
Lan Jingyi and Lan Sizhui exchange another look, this time with more understanding.
Wei Wuxian turns his attention back to them. “So, Sizhui, how’s Wen Ning? Is he doing well?”
They briefly talk about Lan Sizhui’s night-hunt with Wen Ning, and then about an upcoming one in a few nights that Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji are to supervise. The letter stays forgotten until Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi are a good fifty steps away from Wei Wuxian.
“Hanguang-jun is really loved,” Lan Jingyi muses with crossed arms. He nods to himself, satisfied. “Well, he deserves no less anyway.”
Lan Sizhui smiles. “Mm. Yes.”
Jin Ling is about to lose it.
“If I have to keep watching him flaunt all over Hanguang-jun, I really will shoot him,” he mutters darkly.
He expects Lan Sizhui to reprimand him as per usual—there’s probably some sort of rule against murdering someone for being shameless or how else would Wei Wuxian have survived in Cloud Recesses all this time—but Lan Sizhui stays resolutely tight-lipped as he stares ahead of the road.
“Wei-qianbei doesn’t seem to mind,” Lan Jingyi points out. “Why are you so angry?”
“Just—look at him!”
They all look over to find the same scene from a few minutes ago—Lan Wangji walking ahead, Wei Wuxian beside him, and a rogue cultivator practically plastered to Lan Wangji’s other side.
The rogue cultivator—Chen Minzun—came across their group during tonight’s night-hunt. Having recognized Lan Wangji immediately, he had begged to tag along so he could ‘provide service and learn over the shoulders of the very best cultivation sects’.
Clearly, Chen Minzun had one specific set of shoulders in mind.
Irritation flares up as Jin Ling watches Chen Minzun shuffle up to Lan Wangji far closer than should be considered appropriate and says something to him with a charming smile.
“Someone has to be offended by that behaviour,” Jin Ling grits. “He conducts himself in such a manner during a night-hunt. Why did they even let him join?”
“He’s a local. He knows how to get around the maze arrays in the area better than any of us,” Lan Sizhui says with a polite smile. The smile is terrifying.
At least he’s not the only one who thinks that Chen Minzun is being unsightly.
“What is it about a maze array or two that we couldn’t have handled it ourselves? We’re supposed to learn from this, aren’t we?”
“Didn’t you hear Wei-qianbei? We’re learning to be resourceful,” Lan Jingyi says.
Jin Ling scowls. “I’d rather die than have to rely on someone like Chen Minzun any day—”
“Jin Ling is just angry on behalf of Wei-qianbei, isn’t he?” Ouyang Zizhen supplies helpfully. “It’s very noble of you.”
“Who’s angry for him?” Jin Ling half-yells. “I just think Chen Minzun might be more shameless than him, and that’s saying a lot.”
“He does seem similar to Wei-qianbei, doesn’t he?” Ouyang Zizhen ponders. “Chen Minzun is very bright, and confident and handsome. He has a cheerful personality and seems like someone who might laugh in the face of danger. And his cultivation is highly skilled, too.”
Lan Sizhui’s terrifying tight smile widens.
“What are you implying?” Lan Jingyi asks sharply.
“Whose side are you on?” Jin Ling fully yells.
“I’m not implying anything!” Ouyang Zizhen says indignantly. “I obviously fully support our Wei-qianbei! Who else would suit Hanguang-jun better?”
Jin Ling huffs, very nearly stomping his feet like he’s three years old again.
It’s not like any of them are actually worried that Lan Wangji will be—what, unfaithful to Wei Wuxian? They’ve all seen the man’s devotion to Wei Wuxian firsthand. It isn’t as if some no-name nobody from nowhere can suddenly come between that. It’s a laughable thought at best.
It’s just that something about Chen Minzun rubs Jin Ling the wrong way—the way he looks at Lan Wangji gracefully making his way through the forest, then at Wei Wuxian chattering away by his side, and gets this thoughtful expression on his face as if he’s come to some sort of conclusion that he isn’t sharing with the rest of them.
“Maybe he just doesn’t know that they’re married?”
“I don’t think so,” Jin Ling bites.
That’s what Jin Ling had thought too, at first. To save the man some face from acting so shamefully towards a married man, when Chen Minzun had shared some information about the area, Jin Ling had pointedly said, “You should share that with Hanguang-jun and his husband.”
Chen Minzun had looked over at Wei Wuxian. “I’ll keep that in mind,” was all he said.
Something about the way he said it made Jin Ling’s hackles rise for some reason, but the words themselves were innocent enough so he thought Chen Minzun had gotten the point.
Until he realized how Chen Minzun’s compliments and sweet words for Lan Wangji became even more frequent.
But neither Wei Wuxian nor Lan Wangji seemed to care. If anything, Wei Wuxian just nodded to whatever praise Chen Minzun spouted about Lan Wangji and wholeheartedly agreed with a delighted laugh, going along with whatever Chen Minzun dished out and adding his own input on how good of a person Lan Wangji is.
Which is—fine, whatever, if that Wei Wuxian’s head has always been full of nothing but the equivalence of carelessly running through a field of flowers, Jin Ling won’t be the one to change him now. But—ugh! Something about the way Chen Minzun looks at Wei Wuxian grates at Jin Ling. That man is up to something, he just knows it!
So Jin Ling takes it as his sole duty to keep an eye out. It’s only been so long since Yiling Laozu cleared some of the dirt off of his name and maybe Chen Minzun has other motives for being here after all.
But soon enough the night-hunt reaches its climax and Jin Ling is too busy to care about things outside of the immediate threat at hand. He’s well-tuned to fighting in tandem with this group, but the monsters they’re dealing with are particularly vicious tonight, and one of them manages to slip away from their formation, lunging for the adults standing by the side.
Specifically, for Wei Wuxian’s throat.
They let out a shout, but Bichen is instantly in front of Wei Wuxian to fling it aside and the panic is short-lived. Wei Wuxian doesn’t even blink.
“Don’t worry about over here!” Wei Wuxian shouts nonchalantly. “Jin Ling, pay attention!”
Jin ling grits his teeth and swings extra hard as he thinks, It’s you who should be paying attention!
After all the monsters are dealt with, Jin Ling is ready to go back to town and pass out. He’s missed the simplicity of a night-hunt—being a sect leader is no joke—but he doesn’t care for this part of the night where he’s covered in grimes and his muscles feel like they’ve been sucked right out of his body.
As they’re just about done cleaning up and getting ready to mount their swords, Jin Ling’s ears perk up at Chen Minzun’s voice, feigning thin worry over what’s clearly contempt.
“So it’s true that you don’t carry your sword.”
Jin Ling glares at the side of Chen Minzun’s head, but Chen Minzun is too busy antagonizing Wei Wuxian to notice.
Wei Wuxian just smiles. “I have no need to.”
“But what will you do when something like this happens again?”
Wei Wuxian shrugs it off. “Hanguang-jun will save me just like tonight. Right?”
That look flashes over Chen Minzun again.
And recognition finally flashes through Jin Ling’s body.
Jin Ling fumes.
Maybe it’s the years of growing up with older cousins who never thought him befitting the title of sect heir. Maybe it’s because he still sometimes catches people looking at him the exact same way when they think he can’t see them. He hadn’t noticed it for what it is right away because it wasn’t directed at him for once, but he’s learned to recognize that look no matter who wears it.
The look that says, ‘I’d be a better fit for that role’.
Chen Minzun really thinks that he’d be better suited for Hanguang-jun’s side. That Wei Wuxian isn’t Hanguang-jun’s equal because of his cultivation, that he’s a—liability because he needs protection during a night-hunt! Chen Minzun truly thinks he’s better than Wei Wuxian in every way!
Does Chen Minzun really think Wei Wuxian didn’t participate because he’s weak?? Wei Wuxian could’ve done this by himself without lifting a finger if he really wanted to!! Then Chen Minzun would’ve known that the man standing in front of him is Yiling Laozu—does he know that?? That he’s the legendary Yiling Laozu???? Wei Wuxian didn’t earn that title for no reason!!! He would’ve wiped that stupid smug look right off of Chen Minzun’s stupid handsome face!!!!!
It’s then that Jin Ling realizes that Lan Wangji is staring at Chen Minzun.
Chen Minzun notices, and gives Lan Wangji a blindingly charming smile.
Lan Wangji is as always unresponsive, but Jin Ling wonders if Lan Wangji too saw the look on Chen Minzun’s face just now. If he understood what it meant.
Wei Wuxian perks his head up. Lan Wangji looks the same to Jin Ling, all icy and intimidating and indifferent to the rest of the world, but Wei Wuxian must see something else; a worried frown flashes across Wei Wuxian’s face. “Lan Zhan?”
“It is late,” Lan Wangji says. It’s actually not that late even by Gusu Lan sect’s standards. He settles his hands over Wei Wuxian’s waist and encases him from behind.
“Eh.” Wei Wuxian relaxes and lets out a little chuckle as he leans into the touch and brushes his fingers under Lan Wangji’s chin. Jin Ling looks away with a flush. “Are you tired? Is it already time for bed? It’s still early even for you, isn’t it? Do you want to head back?”
“Okay. I will accompany Chen-gongzi and the kids for a meal. You can get some rest. Or do you want to join us?”
Chen Minzin looks hopeful at Wei Wuxian’s last suggestion. The nerve of this man. But Wei Wuxian is also right in that normally it would be common courtesy to at least invite him back for a meal to thank him for his assistance.
“There’s no need,” Lan Wangji says. “We will part ways with him here.”
Chen Minzun looks taken back, clearly surprised at this turn of event. Wei Wuxian looks at Lan Wangji with curiosity.
Not caring about the dozen of eyes on them, Lan Wangji leans over and says something loud enough only for Wei Wuxian to hear. Wei Wuxian’s eyes grow wider and wider at whatever Lan Wangji is calmly whispering, and maybe Jin Ling imagines it, he’s pretty sure he imagines it, he really hopes he imagines it, but he watches in horror as Lan Wangjii, Hanguang-jun, one of the Twin Jades of Gusu Lan, lightly bites the tip of Wei Wuxian’s ear before he leans away again.
Wei Wuxian clears his throat.
“Chen-gongzi,” Wei Wuxian addresses with perfect professionalism, as if nothing’s happened in the past few seconds and his face isn’t brightly flushed. “Thank you for your help tonight. We’ll part ways here.”
“But I thought—”
“Good night,” Lan Wangji says as if Chen Minzun didn’t speak at all, hauls Wei Wuxian by the waist, mounts Bichen and they just—fly off.
Just like that.
The rest of the disciples scramble to mount their swords and follow after them. Lan Sizhui stays behind to smile sweetly and properly thank Chen Minzun for his assistance tonight—who’s only gaping at the space where Lan Wangji was standing just a few seconds ago.
Jin Ling flies back to town alongside Lan Sizhui, who seems pleased enough by whatever just happened that his tight smile from earlier is replaced by a genuine one.
There’s still a knot in Jin Ling’s stomach.
Sure, it was gratifying to see Chen Minzun ridiculed and left behind in the middle of the forest, but Chen Minzun still doesn’t know how wrong he is. Jin Ling wants to see him and his stupid opinion on Wei Wuxian be thoroughly crushed, watch him learn how capable Wei Wuxian actually is, how Chen Minzun is barely a drop compared to Wei Wuxian’s ocean and be devastated about it.
He wanted to see that face. Why didn’t Wei Wuxian or Lan Wangji prove that to him?
Jin Ling doesn’t get Wei Wuxian alone for a talk until the next morning just before they depart. Jin Ling waits until Wei Wuxian comes out of his room and catches him before he goes downstairs, and he corners him into the end of the hallway.
Wei Wuxian is covered with marks everywhere one can see, from his neck to where the sliver of his chest is revealed by the gap of his robes. He’s barely made an effort to hide them, if any.
Blot out what Jin Ling thought before. No one is more shameless than Wei Wuxian.
“Why didn’t you say anything last night?” Jin Ling demands.
Wei Wuxian stops mid-yawn, and blinks. “Hm?”
“To Chen Minzun. He clearly thought—” Jin Ling wrinkles his nose. “And don’t pretend you didn’t notice. Why don’t you ever do anything about these people?”
Wei Wuxian seems to think his words over for a second before he asks, “Why should I?”
And Jin Ling is just so angry that all of his thoughts jumble up into a mush and he can’t get a single word out to articulate all of them at the same time.
So maybe he is a little angry on Wei Wuxian’s behalf. So what? Someone has to be. Why doesn’t he ever fight for himself when he’s being wronged like that?! He knows Hanguang-jun wouldn’t mind; in fact, he’s pretty sure Hanguang-jun wouldn’t think twice about his status and fight these people himself if Wei Wuxian wasn’t so lax about the whole deal.
Wei Wuxian sees through Jin Ling’s thoughts anyway and huffs. “Jin Ling, you think we’ll ever see Chen Minzun again?”
“I certainly hope not,” Jin Ling bites out.
Wei Wuxian nods in agreement. “So why should I care what he thinks of me?”
“He’s not the only one we’ve met that’s like that.”
This idiot—does he really have to say it? “They think you’re not enough for Hanguang-jun!” Jin Ling says, well aware that he’s yelling at this point. “They think they’re a better fit than you for some reason! Why doesn’t that bother you?”
“Lan Zhan doesn’t think so,” Wei Wuxian retorts. “Why should I believe them over him?”
That’s a really good point.
“Then.” He struggles for the next retort, because he’s trying to make a point though the point is rapidly slipping away by every second. “Why don’t you ever put them in their rightful place? Prove them wrong?”
Wei Wuxian’s expression softens. “I am used to people having opinions about me, Jin Ling. People will always have their own opinions.”
Jin Ling wants to refute, that standing up for himself is still different, only to recall the helpful fact that Wei Wuxian has at least an entire past life worth of times where he’d spoken up and people still hadn’t changed their minds about him.
“But I have nothing to prove to them,” Wei Wuxian continues. “Whatever they think about me, Lan Zhan knows me, and I know him. That’s the important part.” He grins. “So don’t worry.”
“Who’s worried about you?”
“Alright, alright. Was that all?”
Jin Ling is not good at this.
The point is that—He’s just—
“Hm?” Wei Wuxian leans over. “What was that?”
“I said,” Jin Ling grits loudly, “if someone like Chen Minzun comes around again and you’re too scared to fight them, I’ll do it myself!”
Wei Wuxian blinks.
“It’s—unsightly! To be around someone who acts such a way during a night-hunt! And stop letting these rogue cultivators join us! Aren’t you supposed to let us figure it out ourselves? You think we can’t do it without some backwater nobody’s help?”
Wei Wuxian presses his lips together to keep a laugh in. “Jin-zongzhu,” he says coyly, “your youth would be better spent than going around picking fights for this Yiling Laozu.”
“Who said it’s for you?” Jin Ling snaps. “I just—can’t stand people like that. And didn’t you see how much he annoyed Hanguang-jun?”
Wei Wuxian laughs. “Don’t worry, a-Ling! I’m confident that no one can annoy Hanguang-jun more than I can.”
“Why would you be proud about that?” Jin Ling asks with despair.
Wei Wuxian just hums with a pleased smile and claps a hand on Jin Ling’s shoulder before he bounces off downstairs. Jin Ling watches him go and deflates.
Jin Ling jumps as the door behind him slides open and reveals Lan Wangji.
Jin Ling freezes.
Of course they were sharing a room together, but it didn’t occur to Jin Ling for some reason that Lan Wangji would still be inside. Did he just hear their whole conversation?? Did he just hear how Jin Ling used his name as an excuse??? Isn’t there a Lan sect rule against eavesdropping or something????
Lan Wangji looks at him with his cold piercing eyes. “Jin-zongzhu.”
“Hanguang-jun,” Jin Ling squeaks with a bow. He will treat this with the dignity of a sect leader. “I—uh, that, just now, it wasn’t—”
Jin Ling snaps his mouth shut.
Lan Wangji looks less scary than normal.
He thinks Lan Wangji maybe almost looks… pleased?
Before Jin Ling can decipher this interaction any further, Lan Wangji says again with a tilt of his head, “Jin-zongzhu,” as a clear invitation for him to take his leave.
“Hanguang-jun,” Jin Ling helplessly replies, and hurriedly makes his way downstairs with the back of his neck still prickling.
He’s not really sure what just happened. But he supposes he should be… reassured.
He’s sorry he was ever worried about Wei Wuxian.
It’s a start of a beautiful, tranquil day when Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi come across a stranger lying face-down on the ground in the middle of Cloud Recesses.
They’re earlier to rise than the rest of Cloud Recesses today as they’re in charge of running the morning sword drills for the juniors. It’s when they’re making their way to the training ground during the serenity of early dawn that they find this man clad in black and red, passed out in one of the main courtyards. His hair isn’t adorned by any ornaments except for a red ribbon that loosely ties back a handful of hair.
Lan Sizhui tries to rouse him by politely calling out to him, but the man doesn’t budge an inch. Neither of them have seen him before and he’s definitely not a guest as far as they’re aware, either.
“Seriously, who is he?” Lan Jingyi grumbles and goes to shake his shoulder to wake him up.
As soon as Lan Jingyi gets close, the man jolts awake with wide panicked eyes before Lan Jingyi even has his hand on him.
The man holds Chenqing in front of him in defence.
Lan Jingyi’s mouth drops open and his hand goes to his sword at once. The man’s grip on Chenqing tightens and Lan Sizhui’s stomach spikes with panic, and he stops Lan Jingyi from unsheathing his sword, suddenly very aware that this man could easily kill them both if given the reason to do so.
The man narrows his eyes and doesn’t exactly relax, but his killing intent disappears. Lan Sizhui’s heart races as he tries not to jump to conclusions on what’s happened to Wei-qianbei if this man has Chenqing with him.
“Jingyi,” Lan Sizhui says quietly as the man surveys his surroundings and the lost look on his face melts away. “Go find Hanguang-jun.”
“Hanguang-jun?” the man repeats, his eyes sharp enough to cut physically. “Ah, wait wait. No need to drag him into this. He’s probably very busy. Just—” The man looks around again, and back at them with a friendly smile this time. “Let me leave and I’ll just be on my way.”
“We’re not going to just let you leave,” Lan Jingyi demands. “That’s Chenqing, isn’t it?”
It’s a reasonable response considering the man somehow breached through their security wards without notice and managed to steal Wei-qianbei’s spiritual tool. The moment Lan Jingyi points it out, the man drops his smile.
“So, what?” the man mutters. “Finally dragged me here, is that it?”
Neither of them know what he’s talking about, but Lan Jingyi bristles at the man’s sardonic tone. Lan Sizhui tightens his hold on Lan Jingyi, pleading silently.
The man studies Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi up and down and pointedly stands up as if daring them to stop him. They don’t move. He dusts off his robe and towers over them with his arms crossed.
“So this is how the Lan sect conducts itself,” he says, and his words feel loud even though he speaks barely above a whisper. “So much for your honourable and noble virtues when you drag an unwilling man out of his own home to lock him up.”
“What are you talking about?” Lan Jingyi finally demands, his patience worn thin at the insult. “You’re the one who broke in here.”
Confusion momentarily cuts through the man’s complexion. “What?”
It’s that then they all hear footsteps, and already Lan Sizhui feels tension bleed out of him at the familiar sight. Lan Jingyi calls out, “Hanguang-jun!”
Lan Wangji looks over to them, calm and poised as always, and relief floods through Lan Sizhui. If anything’s happened to Wei-qianbei, there’s no way that Lan Wangji would be here looking as steady as he does now.
But the moment Lan Wangji registers the man standing in front of Lan Sizhui, something about Lan Wangji’s expression makes the bottom of Lan Sizhui’s stomach drop.
The man beside them is unfazed in comparison as he uncrosses his arms with hard unrelenting eyes, and they stare at each other. Lan Wangji’s lips part.
Lan Jingyi and Lan Sizhui whip their heads back to the man in front of them.
“Hanguang-jun,” the man drawls.
Lan Jingyi leans over to Lan Sizhui and whispers, “What is going on.”
“Never thought our next meeting would be like this. And I obviously didn’t sleepwalk here.” The man cocks his head to the side with a smile, laced with an edge of an unhinged animal that sends a chill up Lan Sizhui’s spine. “What did you exactly do? Kidnap me in the middle of the night? I’d think the Lan sect was above that, but what do I know?”
When Lan Wangji doesn’t answer and just stands there to stare at him in shock, the man’s contempt drops slowly to be replaced by confusion, clearly having expected to be pushed back only to receive nothing.
To Lan Sizhui’s surprise, he starts to look… concerned of all things.
And then he calls, “Lan Zhan?”
They all hear it. The way he says it, as easily as if he’d done it his whole life.
It’s this that snaps Lan Wangji out of his state.
“Jingyi,” Lan Wangji says, his voice a controlled calm, and Lan Jingyi snaps to attention. “Go to the Jingshi. Bring… Check on—”
Lan Wangji swallows, unable to finish his sentence as his eyes never leave this—stranger who is somehow no other than Wei Wuxian.
Lan Jingyi forgoes all sect rules and runs. Wei Wuxian watches him go and slides his attention back to Lan Wangji with wariness.
“Who are you bringing? Some Lan expert on purification?” he asks flatly.
For a moment, Lan Wangji doesn’t answer as he takes in Wei Wuxian. He takes a deep breath and finally says, “I am not keeping you. Nor did I bring you here.”
Wei Wuxian narrows his eyes but is hesitant for a second. He studies him for a second longer and nods to himself. “Okay. Then I’m leaving.”
“To Lotus Pier.” Wei Wuxian looks at Lan Wangji like he’s the strange one. “Where else?”
It’s only then that Lan Sizhui and Lan Wangji both notice the Yunmeng Jiang’s silver bell on Wei Wuxian. Lan Sizhui has rarely seen Lan Wangji so conflicted on anything, and the uneasiness in his stomach only grows.
“Wei Ying, wait.”
Wei Wuxian crosses his arms, clearly irritated. “What?”
“Stay. Until we learn what is happening.”
Something behind Wei Wuixan’s eyes closes off again. “What’s there to learn? You—”
Just then, they all hear the running set of footsteps approach them, and Lan Sizhui has never been more glad to see Wei-qianbei in only his inner robe before this.
“What, what’s the emergency?” Wei-qianbei is asking in-between breaths with Chenqing clutched in his hand and his unkempt hair flowing behind him as he runs towards them. Lan Jingyi is right behind him. “Lan Zhan, what—”
Wei-qianbei sees Wei Wuxian. Wei Wuxian sees Chenqing in Wei-qianbei’s hand.
“What the fuck,” Wei-qianbei summarizes.
Wei-qianbei confirms that Wei Wuxian is definitely not a demon, a monster, or a yao.
“And he obviously can’t be a ghost,” Wei-qianbei says with a chuckle.
Lan Wangji gives him a scalding glare for the bad joke as he secures his own outer robe around Wei-qianbei, who’d given a full-body shiver in the mountain’s early morning air. Wei-qianbei croons at the warmth, and upon noticing the glare, he spills out a laugh.
Lan Sizhui glances at the other Wei Wuxian, who’s staring with open disbelief at how Lan Wangji is carefully straightening the collar of his outer robe on Wei-qianbei. Or maybe at Chenqing in Wei-qianbei’s hand? One’s not too sure.
Wei-qianbei ties his hair up as he circles around Wei Wuxian like a hawk while the latter watches back, assessing each other up and down. Wei-qianbei taps his finger against his nose and with a hum.
“And he said he’s going back to Yunmeng?” Wei-qianbei asks.
Lan Wangji nods.
Wei-qianbei hums again as he thoughtfully taps Chenqing against his arm.
“I think,” Wei-qianbei says slowly, “this is some form of past me.”
“My guess is sometime during or right after Sunshot Campaign, but before… everything else.”
“Explain,” Lan Wangji finally says.
Wei-qianbei clicks his tongue. “He has Chenqing—and it is Chenqing, I would recognize my dizi anywhere—so he must be me somehow, but he hasn’t deformed from the Jiang sect yet. So he can only be from...”
Lan Wangji takes a deep breath as he takes this in. “Before everything else,” he repeats.
Wei-qianbei nods, his expression unreadable as he stares at Wei Wuxian.
Everything else, Wei Wuxian is mouthing to himself with a frown.
“So you’re saying he’s—really you? From the past?” Lan Jingyi finally asks, bursting at the seams with curiosity. “How is this possible?”
“I know.” Wei-qianbei sighs dramatically. “It's unbelievable how good looking I was.”
Lan Sizhui searches for any familiarity of this face with his heart pounding away. If this is really Wei-qianbei before his death, then Lan Sizhui has known him like this before.
But there’s a dissonance between him and the Wei-qianbei he knows. In body and stature too, but it’s as if the spark that’s always present in Wei-qianbei has been snuffed out in the man in front of him.
This Wei Wuxian’s eyes are sunken. This Wei Wuxian looks—
Wei Wuxian turns his attention back to Wei-qianbei. He briefly glances at Lan Wangji’s outer robe draped on him, at his lack of a forehead ribbon that clearly shows he’s not a Lan sect disciple. “And you are…? Who are you?”
Wei-qianbei blinks. “Ah.” Nods. “Yes. I can explain that. I can explain everything. But first, Lan Zhan.”
“We should bring him to the Jingshi.” Wei-qianbei winces. “It’d be better than him being seen out in the open like this.”
Lan Wangji nods in understanding but Wei Wuxian only backs away with a scowl.
“Hanguang-jun,” Wei Wuxian grits with a tight smile. “I’m impressed by this—elaborate antic, really. But we’re long past schoolboy tricks, and what’s clear is that I’m not here by choice and you’re yet again trying to keep me here.”
“Who do you exactly think you are? Outsiders,” he bites out, “have no right to intervene with matters that concern me.”
Lan Wangji stiffens like Wei Wuxian just struck him physically.
Lan Jingyi’s mouth falls open.
Wei-qianbei’s face darkens.
Lan Sizhui finally sees some resemblances between the two, merging in his mind as the same person for the first time.
“Mind your words,” Wei-qianbei says evenly, calmly, and Lan Sizhui has to tell his fight-or-flight instinct that it’s not him that Wei-qianbei is angry at. “It’s safe here. Be a good boy and come back with us for the moment.”
“I’m leaving,” Wei Wuxian snarls. His eyes start to glow red and the hair at the back of Lan Sizhui’s neck rise. “Or you can try and stop me and bear the consequences.”
Wei-qianbei looks back at him like he really wants to smack him in the face.
Neither of them look at Lan Wangji, opting to glare at each other.
Lan Wangji steps over and tugs Wei-qianbei’s arm.
Wei Wuxian’s head snaps to Lan Wangji with a blink, the red in his eyes stuttering out.
Wei-qianbei closes his eyes and shudders out a breath as his shoulders slump and tension bleeds out of him. He finally meets Lan Wangji’s eyes with a small genuine smile. He huffs.
Lan Wangji brushes his hand against Wei-qianbei’s hand. “Keep your focus.”
“Mm.” Wei-qianbei glances at Wei Wuxian, who’s still going through a range of emotions with a big frown. “I forgot how insufferable I used to be. How did you stand it?”
“Such a swift response! My husband is so mean to me. Though I remember that we fought a lot back then, didn’t we?”
Wei-qianbei playfully bumps their shoulders together with a teasing smile. “But you still liked me, right?”
Wei-qianbei pauses and stares, and his entire face flushes brightly. “Lan Zhan! What am I meant to do if you answer me so sincerely?”
“Lying is forbidden in Cloud Recesses.”
“Me,” Lan Wangji agrees.
Wei-qianbei needlessly pats at Lan Wangji’s chest with a flutter of his hands. He looks up and beams. Lan Wangji beams back.
Wei Wuxian’s confused frown has turned into a scowl.
Lan Jingyi coughs.
“Isn’t there anything you can tell him so he knows you’re you?” Lan Jingyi voices painfully. Lan Sizhui thinks he’s the bravest man alive to intervene like this. “Something only you’d know?”
“Something only I would know,” Wei-qianbei repeats thoughtfully, and glances at Lan Jingyi and Lan Sizhui. “That’s pretty simple.” He holds Wei Wuxian’s eyes before he enunciates each word with a wag of Chenqing, “Golden core, Baoshan Sanren, Yiling.”
These words don’t mean much to Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi, but it must hold some sort of significance if the way Wei Wuxian stiffens is any indication.
Wei-qianbei smiles tightly. “Should I continue?”
As soon as they arrive at the Jingshi, Wei-qianbei brings out a jar of Emperor’s Smile.
Wei Wuxian eyes the room. He doesn’t move otherwise. He’s so still and—so tense unlike anything Lan Sizhui has ever seen Wei-qianbei be. This Wei Wuxian looks like the smallest touch could set him off.
It’s even more of a stark contrast to see Wei Wuxian standing in the middle of the room like someone thrust into an unknown space for the first time while Wei-qianbei sits by the table and pours a cup of tea for Lan Wangji with practiced ease.
Wei Wuxian’s eyes narrow as he watches them sitting together.
“This is strange, isn’t it?” Wei-qianbei says conversationally as he pointedly puts down a cup across from him. “Even for us, this is strange.”
He pours Emperor’s Smile into the cup across from him and gestures for Wei Wuxian to sit. He pours himself a cup, shoots it down, and lets out a happy sigh. He pours himself another one. It’s five o’clock in the morning.
Wei Wuxian watches Wei-qianbei drink, and sits. He makes an agreeing grunt behind his throat and downs his cup. He squints through the alcohol and looks the happiest that Lan Sizhui has seen him all day.
And then Wei-qianbei blinks up at the disciples. “What are you two still doing here?”
Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi exchange a look.
“We can help,” Lan Jingyi suggests.
“In any way we can,” Lan Sizhui adds.
Wei-qianbei looks a little lost, like he’s not sure why anyone would like to be around his past self more than is absolutely needed. “Hanguang-jun and I can handle it. Don’t you have things to do?”
“The morning sword drills,” Lan Wangji agrees.
Ah. It slipped their minds among all this chaos, but… this means they’ll miss this only chance to learn what Wei-qianbei used to be like when he was around their age. He’s—so different from the Wei-qianbei they know today, and this fascination about their beloved qianbei’s terrifying past self keeps them rooted to the spot.
At whatever expressions they wear, Lan Wangji regards them with mild amusement. “You may come back once you’re done.”
They brighten with a smile and bow. “Yes, Hanguang-jun!”
As expected, neither of them can keep up focus as they run the morning sword drills. None of the junior disciples are rude enough to point out the several times Lan Jingyi rushes through the routine and misses a step or two, and Lan Sizhui can only wince in sympathy. They demonstrate a duel to end the session and Lan Sizhui almost pokes Lan Jingyi’s eye out. As soon as the last junior disciple leaves, they head out in the same direction without another word exchanged.
By the time they get back to the Jingshi, Wei Wuxian looks—calmer than before. Less angry. Whatever Wei-qianbei and Lan Wangji told him, it must’ve been enough to convince him that he isn’t being held prisoner at Cloud Recesses.
Lan Sizhui is still not sure how he came to that conclusion in the first place—Hanguang-jun taking Wei Wuxian for a prisoner for anything is an idea that’s hard to wrap his head around but that’s another question for later.
“What have you told him?” Lan Jingyi asks, not able to contain his curiosity.
Wei-qianbei shrugs. “Everything.”
Lan Sizhui’s eyes go wide with surprise. “I-Is that a good idea?”
“Is it such a bad idea? I don’t remember this happening at all, so it isn’t likely that he will, either. Speaking of,” Wei-qianbei says, “what’s the last thing you remember?”
Wei Wuxian hums. “A good question, but I don’t know.”
Lan Jingyi barely contains himself from rolling his eyes. “Have you really always had such a terrible memory?”
Lan Sizhui is about to elbow him but they all startle when Wei Wuxian bellows out a laugh.
It’s not that Lan Sizhui forgot how Wei-qianbei’s current body didn’t use to belong to him—just that Lan Sizhui has never known Mo Xuanyu, so there was never a reason for Lan Sizhui to associate Wei-qianbei with any other form or shape.
This Wei Wuxian—this Wei-qianbei—is as tall as Lan Wangji, has broad shoulders with sharper slopes to his cheeks to sculpt an extremely handsome face. But he still places his hands on his hips the same way that Wei-qianbei does when he’s laughing about something particularly funny to him, with his head tilted back and his eyes twinkling, with a laugh so energetic and boisterous that it fills the room and makes Lan Sizhui want to laugh along with him.
And for the second time today, Lan Sizhui sees the resemblances between the two figures in the Jingshi now.
Lan Jingyi elbows Lan Sizhui, and Lan Sizhui is about to bat him away when Lan Jingyi pointedly directs his eyes elsewhere.
Lan Wangji is staring at Wei Wuxian like he’s been struck by lightning with his hands holding his cup frozen midway up to his lips. Distantly, Lan Sizhui realizes that the man in front of them right now is how Lan Wangji knew and remembered Wei Wuxian for over two decades. This is the Wei Wuxian that Lan Wangji had mourned, with the body that had housed him in his first life.
Except that right now, he is very much alive and very much real. Laughing in that particular way that always seems to melt Lan Wangji away enough even for strangers to see the difference.
“Who is this kid?” Wei Wuxian wipes a tear from the side of his eyes. “Is he really from the Gusu Lan sect?”
“Of course I am!” Lan Jingyi says indignantly.
“Don’t take that tone with your elder,” Wei Wuxian jests.
“What elder? You’re barely older than us right now.“ Lan Jingyi scoffs, and nudges Lan Sizhui. “Sizhui?”
Lan Sizhui blinks. Everyone is staring at him. “Ah, I…”
It’s one thing to theoretically know that Wei Wuxian was barely older than him when he left for the Burial Mounds with the Wens. Of course, Lan Sizhui knows that Wei-qianbei did this.
It’s another thing entirely to actually see him, who is just as youthful as Lan Jingyi as he pokes fun at him, and really understand to the depths of his bones that at such an age—he was their age—Wei Wuxian had thrown everything away to give his family a second chance at life.
Lan Sizhui’s eyes trail back to the Yunmeng Jiang’s silver bell hanging from his sash. He had so much going for him.
Lan Sizhui swallows the lump in his throat. Lan Wangji gives him a minute nod, and that alone is enough for him to compose himself again.
“Wei-qianbei is indeed much younger right now,” Lan Sizhui finally says.
“Wei-qianbei,” Wei Wuxian repeats, rolling each word in his tongue. He smiles. “Things really have changed a lot in the future, hm, Lan Zhan?”
Lan Wangji takes a deliberate sip of his tea before he answers, “Mm.”
Wei Wuxian doesn’t miss this pause and grins, and it’s charming in a boyish way. For the moment, gone is the man with the heavy set of eyes from earlier.
“I still can’t believe you married me! Really? You and me?” He lets out another peal of laughter. “But we never get along. I wanted to be friends but you never did. You always hated me!”
Lan Wangji finally sets his teacup back down. “I never hated you.”
Wei Wuxian huffs. “Hanguang-jun, I thought lying was forbidden in Cloud Recesses.”
Lan Wangi looks at him straight in the eyes and says with an even tone, “Wei Ying, I never hated you.”
The words sink around them, and Wei Wuxian blinks wildly at this, looking shocked at this declaration.
“How did this even happen?” Wei Wuxian asks, sounding immensely pleased and shuffling up closer to Lan Wangji. “Are you really the Lan Zhan who used to be so angry with me all the time? Who constantly fought me in graveyards? Who’s as different from me as fire is to ice? Is this really the honourable virtuous Hanguang-jun who I’m speaking to?”
He’s teasing him. Maybe not with the same level of awareness and intent that Wei-qianbei does it with, but he’s—flirting with him.
And it’s clearly working, because Lan Wangji is looking at him with that special brand of soft exasperated fondness he only reserves for Wei-qianbei.
Lan Jingyi seems to realize this about the same time as Lan Sizhui, and they both flush at being in presence of this. This being their Hanguang-jun rendered speechless and entranced with someone who isn’t Wei-qianbei, but… also is? They don’t know whether to stop what’s happening on behalf of Wei-qianbei’s behalf or let it happen for… Wei-qianbei’s behalf? It’s very confusing.
Speaking of. Wei-qianbei has been… very quiet. Unsettlingly so.
Lan Sizhui sneaks a glance at him, but he’s just leaning against the table with his palm on his chin and watching the interaction unfold before him with a completely neutral face. This in itself is worrying.
“And here I thought Hanguang-jun never thought about these kind of stuff.” Wei Wuxian pokes and prods at Lan Wangji’s arm. He gives another laugh. “This didn’t result from some sick form of punishment for me and you, did it? I mean I always figured I’d marry someone at some point but I really didn’t expect it to be you—"
Lan Sizhui involuntarily shudders.
Wei Wuxian blinks.
Wei-qianbei has his face angled down to look up through his lashes, and he's tugging at Lan Wangji’s sleeve for his attention. Wei Wuxian realizes the voice came from his future self, and looks alarmed like he’s ready to fight Wei-qianbei if it means he’ll stop using it. Lan Jingyi seems to share the same sentiment.
With the same sickeningly sweet voice, Wei-qianbei whines, “I’m hungry.”
Lan Wangji is unfazed, because—Lan Sizhui has the horrifying realization—he’s used to this. He looks out the window where the morning light is streaming through, and frowns.
“Your breakfast,” Lan Wangji says as he realizes the time.
Wei-qianbei nods with a pitiful petulant pout.
Lan Wangji is already on his feet. “I will bring us something.”
“Ah, Lan Zhan,” Wei-qianbei says. “You forgot something.”
Lan Wangji stops and looks back at him with a silent question, and Wei-qianbei grins and taps his mouth. He closes his eyes and purses his lips together.
As understanding dawns on him, Lan Wangji huffs with a soft smile.
And Wei Wuxian watches with wide eyes as Lan Wangji leans down.
By now, the disciples are used to seeing them kiss here and there. A peck on the cheek, on top of each other’s heads or hands, sometimes a quick press on the lips in passing. These kisses are generally kept chaste so it’s not usually a huge deal for Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi to be witnesses to these casual affection in passing.
This is… not that.
What they get instead is the horrifying sight of Wei-qianbei opening up Lan Wangji’s mouth with his tongue.
Wei-qianbei gives Lan Wangji’s sleeve a tug and Lan Wangji follows, leaning over and balancing his weight with his hand on Wei-qianbei’s thigh so he doesn’t fall over, and his other hand flush against the back of Wei-qianbei’s neck as they… engage. Wei-qianbei loops his arms around Lan Wangji’s waist in response and press them closer together.
Gone are their usual greeting-like kisses—they kiss like parched men whose thirsts can only be quenched by each other’s mouths.
Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi make the wise decision to look away at this point, their faces blazing bright. But there’s still the sound that carries over—if they imagine really hard, they can just pretend that the two are bad-mannered children noisily sucking on a piece of candy instead of each other.
It just—goes on and on like that for a little while. At one point, to their collective horror, Wei-qianbei lets out a few obscenely breathy moans from the back of his throat, and Lan Sizhui is pretty sure they’ve actually forgotten about the rest of them in the room.
Lan Jingyi looks like he wants to cry. Lan Sizhui wonders if it’s too late to leave.
When they finally pull apart after what feels like an eternity of—that, Wei-qianbei blinks dazedly with his kiss-swollen lips parted and panting slightly under his breath with his cheeks flushed. He grins as he takes in Lan Wangji before him, who’s no better off with his usually perfect hair tussled from Wei-qianbei’s fingers having run through them.
Wei Wuxian has turned completely red from the top of his head to the bottom of his neck.
Wei-qianbei, on the other hand, looks the smuggest Lan Sizhui’s ever seen him be.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji reprimands. The effect is somewhat lost by the unkemptness of his hair.
“Ah, Lan Zhan, I’m not that hungry after all!” Wei-qianbei laughs as he reaches up and straightens Lan Wangji’s crooked forehead ribbon. “I found some sweets to snack on.”
Lan Sizhui can practically feel his face burning off.
Lan Wangji catches Wei-qianbei’s wrist. “Behave,” he says sternly, but it only makes Wei-qianbei’s grin bigger.
“What’s this?” Wei-qianbei coos. “Did Lan er-gege not want to kiss me? It’s just our two beloved juniors, and my past self who knows what to look forward to now.”
Lan Wangji eyes Wei Wuxian, whose mouth is still agape at what he just witnessed, and looks back at Wei-qianbei. “Stop fooling around.”
Wei-qianbei widens his eyes innocently like he has no idea what Lan Wangji is talking about.
“I don’t want Wei Ying to be unhappy,” Lan Wangji says firmly, and Lan Sizhui is pretty sure Wei-qianbei is the opposite of unhappy until Lan Wangji pointedly adds, “Any Wei Ying.”
Wei Wuxian flinches. “I’m not—”
“I don’t want Lan Zhan to be unhappy either,” Wei-qianbei shoots back, suddenly serious.
Silence falls over as they stare at each other and exchange a series of looks, though Lan Sizhui can’t grasp what it exactly is that pass between them, let alone this conversation that no one else is privy to.
After a tense minute, as if following up on a point made, Lan Wangji kisses the inside of Wei-qianbei’s wrist.
“Husband,” he murmurs.
Wei-qianbei’s frown lessens. He reaches up and thumbs over the corner of Lan Wangji’s lips. “That’s right. Don’t forget that.”
Satisfied, Wei-qianbei smiles.
“Bring Sizhui or Jingyi with you,” says Wei-qianbei, and what? Ah, right, breakfast. “Or are you two going to make your Hanguang-jun do all the work?”
“I’ll go!” Lan Jingyi squeaks, shooting up from his spot and rushing out of the Jingshi before Lan Wangji is even outside.
After Lan Wangji leaves, Wei-qianbei foregoes any leftover manners and lounges on his side. He languidly pours himself another cup of liquor and his eyes are crescents as he watches Wei Wuxian’s dumbfounded expression.
“You…” Wei Wuxian finally croaks. “That was…”
Wei-qianbei takes a lazy sip and waits. Wei Wuxian’s face is still brightly flushed but otherwise silent.
Wei-qianbei hums and swirls the liquor in his cup. “Lan Zhan always has that pure pristine look to him that fools you into thinking he’s like a monk. It really isn’t fair, is it?”
Wei Wuxian stares at him. Lan Sizhui wishes he’d escaped with Lan Jingyi when he had the chance, but he has the feeling he was left behind so these two won’t be alone with each other.
“Do you need another minute?” Wei-qianbei asks sweetly with his eyes twinkling.
Wei Wuxian purses his lips for a few seconds, and clears his throat. “I don’t want disgusting Gusu Lan food,” he mutters. It comes out like a desperate plea to change the subject.
But Wei-qianbei doesn’t play nice. “Don’t be ungrateful. Lan Zhan cooks so well.”
Wei Wuxian stares at him, dumbfounded again. “Lan Zhan? Cooking?”
“He likes taking care of us,” Wei-qianbei says nonchalantly. “He’s just very good like that.”
Wei Wuxian has nothing to say.
“So I’m asking you nicely now,” Wei-qianbei continues, “stop saying things like how you can’t imagine marrying Lan Zhan and such. Save me some face here! I don’t like being reminded of how I could’ve been doing this a lifetime ago, and it took me dying and being forcefully brought back to realize that. It’s embarrassing to watch how clueless I used to be.”
Before either Wei Wuxian can say anything back at all or Lan Sizhui can wrap his head around this, Lan Wangji returns with a tray full of food.
Wei-qianbei and Lan Wangji set up the table completely in tune with each other, which is a sight that Lan Sizhui has had the occasion of getting used to but not Wei Wuxian, who just sits by the table as his gaze hovers over them. Wei-qianbei waves Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi over, and they all eat.
“So I was thinking,” Wei-qianbei says, “you don’t have any curse marks on you, right?”
Wei Wuxian blinks away from where Lan Wangji is swiftly placing bites of side dishes into Wei-qianbei’s bowl of rice. “No.”
“So, not a curse.” Wei-qianbei eats the bite that Lan Wangji had set up for him. He hums thoughtfully as he thinks.
Wei Wuxian visibly startles when Lan Wangji starts to place bits of side dishes on top of Wei Wuxian’s bowl of rice as well. Wei Wuxian blinks between his bowl of rice and Lan Wangji, who just looks at him meaningfully, and Wei Wuxian murmurs, “Thanks.”
“And I definitely don’t remember travelling into the future to meet my future self,” Wei-qianbei continues on, as if nothing is happening in front of him.
Lan Wangji’s chopsticks move gracefully as he goes back to stacking more food into Wei-qianbei’s bowl. “Your memory is terrible.”
Wei-qianbei makes an offended noise at this, then notices Lan Wangji’s untouched rice. He places bites of Lan Wangji’s favoured side dishes onto Lan Wangji’s rice as he says, “What are you only feeding me for? You should eat, too.”
Wei-qianbei tosses out a few palpable theories and bounces them back and forth with Wei Wuxian. Lan Wangji doesn’t contribute, either content to soak in the presence of not one but two Wei Wuxians, or simply keeping to silence during meals as per sect rules.
Their theoretical discussions make Lan Sizhui’s head spin. Keeping up with the brain of one Wei-qianbei keeps him at his toes, so trying to keep up with two of them at the same time is difficult especially when neither of them pause to explain their thought processes as they jump from point to point. From the look on Lan Jingyi’s face, he’s not much better off.
“I feel like I should be taking notes,” Lan Jingyi mutters. Lan Sizhui agrees wholeheartedly.
“In any case,” Wei-qianbei says as he stacks empty dishes into neat little piles, “let’s hope this is temporary. I don’t think Cloud Recesses can handle two of me at the same time.”
Lan Wangji makes a sound that’s neither an agreement nor a disagreement.
“Lan Zhan!” Wei-qianbei laughs. “Think of your uncle.”
Lan Wangji pauses for a second. He replies, “He is in my thoughts.”
Wei-qianbei tips his entire body back and laughs delightedly, only held upright by Lan Wangji’s arms around his waist as Lan Wangji looks down at him warmly. Wei Wuxian watches them with wide eyes and… and…
So this is what Wei Wuxian looks like when he’s—
Wei Wuxian suddenly stands up with a frown. “Well, whatever this is, I need to go back.”
Wei-qianbei wipes tears off his eyes as his laughter dies down to a smile with a keen knowing look. “So eager all of a sudden? I suppose you have amends to make with Lan Zhan back home, hm?”
“That’s—” Wei Wuxian glances at Lan Wangji, and back to Wei-qianbei. “That’s none of your business.”
Wei-qianbei chuckles. “If not mine, then whose?” He gives a lazy stretch and gives Lan Wangji’s cheek a playful tap. “Look at you, seducing me twice over. Hanguang-jun, what a sinful man you are.”
Wei Wuxian blanches. “You—”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji admonishes.
“That’s right,” Wei-qianbei says, pressing a kiss to his other cheek. “It’s many more times than just twice, isn’t it—”
“Wei-qianbei!” Lan Sizhui yelps maybe a little too loudly. “We should! Um. Think about what to do next?”
So they do that.
It’s quiet in the Library Pavilion except for the occasional page flipping. Lan Sizhui is trying his best not to look, except Lan Jingyi is just ogling at what’s happening so Lan Sizhui will just have to look to judge for himself whether it’s appropriate for Lan Jingyi to continue ogling.
“The segment here,” Lan Wangji is murmuring right beside Wei Wuxian, pointing at something he found as he presses closer. “Does this seem familiar?”
Wei Wuxian looks completely frozen in place. He blinks wildly down at the page, obviously not registering any of the words.
Lan Sizhui hears a gentle snort come from beside him. When their eyes meet, Wei-qianbei grins.
“Ah, your Hanguang-jun,” he says with a wink. “He’s a big flirt, isn’t he?”
Lan Sizhui flushes and clears his throat. “Wei-qianbei, are you alright?”
“I’m not the one you should be worried about. Look at them,” he says flippantly. “I’ve been there and I pity the man! Hanguang-jun is bad for the heart like this, all unaware of what he’s even doing to me.”
If it wasn’t for the playful twinkle in his eyes, Lan Sizhui would’ve believed his sympathy. For that, Lan Sizhui doesn’t ask him if he’s absolutely sure that Lan Wangji doesn’t know what he’s doing.
That thought just makes him flush even harder, so Lan Sizhui opts to not thinking at all.
Wei Wuxian has shuffled aside to pull out another book, and he thumbs through it when he pauses at a page and stares.
“This is… Lan Zhan—”
Wei Wuxian turns, only to freeze when he realizes that Lan Wangji has moved closer to look at the book in his hand. Wei Wuxian stutters out a breath that Lan Sizhui thinks he didn’t mean to let out and have everyone else in the room hear, and Lan Wangji looks up at the sound.
Their faces are a hair’s breadth away. Upon realizing this, Lan Wangji’s eyes widen. Wei Wuxian’s eyes glance down to Lan Wangji’s lips and back up.
Lan Wangji does not miss this. His lips part in surprise, equivalent to a full-bodied startle on anyone else, and Wei Wuxian’s eyes drop down again to track the movement.
Wei Wuxian gulps but doesn’t move away.
Watching this, Lan Sizhui distantly recalls Wen Ning telling him of a time before Wei-qianbei and Lan Wangji were married, when Wen Ning had actively tried to avoid ‘being around Wei-gongzi and Lan-gongzi while they were feeling one particular sort of way’, his face somehow overcoming all logic of corpse stiffness and twisting into an awkward grimace.
Thankfully, arms sling around both of their shoulders and relieve the room of its tension.
“Wangji-xiong,” Wei-qianbei drawls as Wei Wuxian sputters and clears his throat by his side. “What do you think you’re doing, hmm?”
Lan Wangji stays frozen on the spot. “I…”
Wei-qianbei grabs the tip of Lan Wangji’s earlobe and tugs it gently with amusement. “You?”
It’s only then that Lan Wangji belatedly seems to remember the rest of the audience in the room and glances at Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi, and they both scramble with their books and pretend to not have seen the whole thing.
Lan Wangji takes a deep breath. “What did Wei Ying want to show me?” he asks evenly.
It turns out to be an incense burner.
Wei-qianbei and Lan Wangji have apparently been writing a book together to catalogue all the unidentified items in Cloud Recesses’ storage. One of said items is an incense burner that helps its user enter dreams.
By coming across the illustrations that Wei-qianbei had made of the incense burner, Wei Wuxian recalled that he too had found a similar incense burner within Lotus Pier’s treasury and had tried it out. Wei-qianbei and Lan Wangji seem to think they finally found the cause for the younger Wei Wuxian’s visit to the future.
“An incense burner can really do this?” Lan Jingyi asks as they walk back to the Jingshi. “Bring someone to the future?”
“Hm. Well. It looks like an incense burner can do many things.” Wei-qianbei looks like he’s barely holding in his laughter for some reason. “Isn’t that right, Lan Zhan?” he says cryptically.
“Mm,” Lan Wangji replies, equally cryptic.
“Wei-qianbei? Hanguang-jun?” Lan Sizhui questions, half-afraid to know the answer.
To his relief, Wei-qianbei purses his lips with a smile and shakes his head. “If it’s anything like the other one, it shouldn’t last more than a few days to wear off. What a relief!”
Lan Wangji pauses in his stride and turns to Wei Wuxian. “What would you like to do?”
“While you’re still here,” Lan Wangji says carefully, “is there anything you’d like to do?”
Wei Wuxian quirks an eyebrow. “Anything?”
Lan Wangji nods.
“What if I want to go pheasant hunting by the back mountains?”
“What if I want to go and desecrate a graveyard?”
Wei Wuxian narrows his eyes. “What if I said,” he says slowly, “that I want us to go and shave your uncle’s beard off?”
Lan Wangji visibly hesitates, but seems to steel himself. He nods. “If that’s what you want.”
Wei-qianbei chokes off a laugh. Lan Sizhui’s stomach drops at the mere thought.
Wei Wuxian dissolves into laughter as he holds onto a wall and bends over backwards. Lan Wangji watches him helplessly.
“Lan Zhan,” he gasps, “that’s—I wouldn’t make you do that!”
Lan Wangji’s tense shoulders relax, obviously relieved even for those who might not know him enough to see it. Lan Sizhui notes that Wei Wuxian doesn’t say how he himself would be above doing such a thing.
“Then what do you want?” Lan Wangji asks.
A teasing smile tugs at Wei Wuxian’s lips. “What if I want your forehead ribbon?”
Lan Wangji looks at him for a pause, and undoes his forehead ribbon to hand over to Wei Wuxian.
“Jingyi,” Lan Sizhui mutters as he takes in Lan Wangji’s expression, “I think we should go.”
“Sizhui, you are a wise man,” Lan Jingyi replies.
Before they can take their leave, Wei Wuxian studies the forehead ribbon under his thumbs and says, “What’s so special about this thing anyway? I thought maybe there’d be some sort of special charm sewn onto it or something but it’s really just a piece of cloth.”
Lan Sizhui can see that Lan Jingyi is about to say something, but his mouth snaps shut.
At the unnatural silence that blanket over them, Wei Wuxian looks up and blinks. “What, why are you all looking at me like that?”
Wei Wuxian is getting—fainter. Like he’s becoming one with the hazy fog they often have in the mornings.
“You’re leaving us,” Wei-qianbei says cheerfully.
“Ah,” Wei Wuxian says and looks down at his arm that’s become see-through. “Well, this was nice while it lasted.” He looks at Wei-qianbei. “If everything really happens the way you’ve said, I am going to stop it.”
Wei-qianbei shakes his head. “I don’t think the incense burner’s purpose is meant to change what’s to come. It’s probably why it got shoved into the back of the treasury. Interesting to use, but not very helpful.”
Wei Wuxian regards this and nods an acknowledgement. “Doesn’t mean I won’t try.”
Wei-qianbei huffs, but doesn’t refute.
It’s then that Lan Wangji steps up. Gently, he reaches out and takes Wei Wuxian’s hands. “Wei Ying.”
Wei Wuxian smiles, small but genuine. “Lan Zhan?”
“Take care,” Lan Wangji says quietly. “I…”
Lan Wangji lays a tentative hand on Wei Wuxian’s waist, and when Wei Wuxian only watches with pliant curiosity on what Lan Wangji will do next, Lan Wangji pulls him into a hug. Wei Wuxian’s wide eyes are almost comical in comparison to the sombre lines of Lan Wangji’s tense shoulders, but Lan Sizhui’s throat burns at the sight.
Here is a beloved man in front of him who he knows is sending to face his eventual death. Lan Sizhui can’t begin to comprehend how Hanguang-jun feels right now.
When Lan Wangji murmurs something only for Wei Wuxian’s ears, Wei Wuxian stiffens for a second, glances at Wei-qianbei who is quietly watching this exchange from the side, and he relaxes again. He puts one of his arms up with hesitance and awkwardly pats Lan Wangji on the back.
Lan Wangji’s eyes are damp when he pulls away.
“Take care of yourself,” Lan Wangji repeats softly.
Wei Wuxian contemplates Lan Wangji for a second, and to everyone’s surprise, he pulls Lan Wangji back into a hug. Lan Wangji immediately embraces him as Wei Wuxian hooks his chin onto Lan Wangji’s shoulder.
“I want Lan Zhan to come back home with me,” he mutters with petulance.
Lan Wangji twitches.
Wei-qianbei finally steps in with a frown too exaggerated to be real. “Step seducing my husband.”
Lan Wangji snaps his head back to stare at Wei Wuxian.
“My husband,” Wei-qianbei says, wrapping an arm around Lan Wangji’s arm, who looks stunned at this sudden predicament. “You have your own cute little Lan Zhan waiting for you back where you came from.”
Wei Wuxian sneaks another glance at Lan Wangji. “Lan Zhan in the future is much nicer to me,” he says with a grin. He looks down at the forehead ribbon still in his hand. “Ah, I forgot to give this back to you, Lan Zhan. I wonder what you’d do if I went back with it?”
“I don’t mind,” Lan Wangji replies immediately.
Wei Wuxian’s mouth drops open, and closes again. He frowns with confusion. “Lan Zhan, I thought this was something really important! You wouldn’t even let me touch it before. Did it become less important in the future or something?”
Lan Wangji shakes his head. “It holds the same meaning. But I don’t mind if it’s you.”
Wei Wuxian freezes, and looks back down at the forehead ribbon. “Oh.”
Wei-qianbei, who has a wholly different level of understanding to that statement, gives Lan Wangji a knowing glance with a flush only matched by his former self in front of them.
Wei Wuxian clears his throat, the flush on his face still noticeable even though he’s barely a faint outline now. He reaches over and places the forehead ribbon back into Lan Wangji’s hands.
“It sounds like I make a lot of mistakes from now on,” Wei Wuxian says quietly, not letting go of Lan Wangji’s hands. He looks up with a grin, breaking through the husk of a man that he was when Lan Sizhui first saw him this morning, instead radiant and bright and everything that Lan Sizhui knows Wei-qianbei to be. “But I must’ve done something right, if Lan Zhan is my husband in my future.”
Lan Wangji sucks in a breath.
And Wei Wuxian scatters away.
For a beat, they all stare at the space where Wei Wuxian used to be. Wei-qianbei gently takes Lan Wangji’s hands, still hovering in the air where Wei Wuxian was holding them, and squeezes.
“Lan Zhan,” he say softly, “I’m here.”
Lan Wangji clutches his hands, and exhales. “Mm.”
After Wei-qianbei and Lan Wangji take their leave, Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi hurry to their own duties to attend to for the day. They still have lessons to attend to, which they’ve already missed by several hours with Wei Wuxian having taken up their entire morning and then some.
Well. That was certainly an experience.
“I cannot believe,” Lan Jingyi says loudly some time later, “that we finally got to see Wei-qianbei jealous, and it was of himself. And he wasn’t even the one we know!”
Lan Sizhui huffs.
In any case, they have much to tell Jin Ling and Ouyang Zizhen the next time they meet.
Chapter 6: epilogue
“Tell me,” says Wei Wuxian lightly. “How much did you want to ravish past me?”
They’re lying in bed for the night with Wei Wuxian slung on top of Lan Wangji as a comfortable weight. Lan Wangji cracks his eyes open, looking pensive.
“I know what I had isn’t what I have now, and… It would’ve been different, right?” Wei Wuxian asks thoughtfully. “If I still had my own body.”
It’s not that he’s forgotten what his own face looks like, but it’s one thing to see oneself in the mirror and another to see what he looks like as he simply exists in his own body and how he looks when interacting with the world around him. More different still, to watch how Lan Wangji treats him from an outsider’s point of view.
“You do have your own body.”
“You know what I mean.”
Lan Wangji presses his lips against the top of Wei Wuxian’s head. “As long as it’s Wei Ying.”
“So you did want to ravish past me.”
Wei Wuxian watches as Lan Wangji’s ears go bright red in the moonlight and smiles. Lan Zhan really is too cute!
“I was very handsome back then, hm? Devastatingly so.”
“Mm,” Lan Wangji agrees easily. “You still are.”
Wei Wuxian gives Lan Wangji’s side a poke. His smile morphs into a sly grin. “How much did you want both of us at the same time?”
Lan Wangji’s arms tighten around Wei Wuxian’s waist.
Wei Wuxian howls with laughter as Lan Wangji helplessly watches. “How shameless of you, Hanguang-jun! No one would believe just how shameless the peerless Hanguang-jun really is!”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji warns.
“But I must admit, it would’ve been interesting, right? A little odd for me because that’s my own face so maybe I could’ve worn a blindfold or something. But Lan Zhan, you know I would’ve been willing.” Slowly, sweetly, Wei Wuxian coyly looks through his eyelashes and says, “We both would’ve been for our Lan er-gege.”
Wei Wuxian makes a happy noise as Lan Wangji flips him over, finally pushed to the edge as he pins him to the bed and kisses him senseless. Wei Wuxian enthusiastically wraps his limbs around the familiar weight on top of him as Lan Wangji bites the side of Wei Wuxian’s throat and mouths at it. It’ll bloom into a mark by morning.
“You should’ve sent him back with one of these,” Wei Wuxian gasps breathlessly. “Tell everyone who he belongs to, remind him whose he’ll be—”
Lan Wangji’s fingers on his hips grip harder and one of his hands shifts down, and Wei Wuxian no longer has the brain capacity to register what he’s saying as his mouth blabbers on.
Later on, with their chests heaving as they come back down from their elated states and pleasantly sore, Wei Wuxian clings to Lan Wangji and peppers him with kisses. Lan Wangji brushes aside a strand of sweat-soaked hair from Wei Wuxian’s face with his clean hand. Wei Wuxian catches his hand and kisses him there, too.
“Ah, Lan Zhan.” Wei Wuxian rubs his cheek against Lan Wangji’s palm. “I take back my words. I can’t share you after all. Otherwise I would’ve been so jealous.”
Lan Wangji stills. He’s glowing in the moonlight that stream through their window. “Were you?”
Wei Wuxian blinks up at Lan Wangji, who looks equal parts thoughtful and cautious. “Of what? My past self? All the attention you gave? How you didn’t have eyes for anyone else except me, even then? Which part?”
Lan Wangji’s earlobes go red. “Wei Ying.”
“Lan Zhan.” Wei Wuxian laughs breathlessly. “If anything, I was flattered. I’ll admit it was a little odd for me at first, but that’s how you wanted to treat me back then, isn’t it? You wanted to tell me those things all those years ago.”
Lan Wangji leans down and buries his face into the space between Wei Wuxian’s face and neck. He nods almost shyly and Wei Wuxian feels something bubbling in his chest.
“Lan Zhan ah, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says softly into his hair. “He wouldn’t have remembered any of it anyway.”
“Even if it was just for that moment.”
“I wanted Wei Ying to know that he wasn’t alone,” Lan Wangji replies quietly. “That he is loved.”
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian yelps.
Lan Wangji huffs. Wei Wuxian closes his eyes and wraps his arms around Lan Wangji into an embrace, and every one of his senses are taken by Lan Wangji. The press of his warm skin against him, his steady heartbeat, the faint smell of sandalwood. Some sort of feeling lodges in his throat and he can hardly breathe around it.
Wei Wuxian huffs it out with a laugh. “Then Lan Zhan will have to frequently remind me.” He kisses his shoulder. “And I will do the same. Alright?”
Wei Wuixan hums, satisfied. Feeling playful again, he flips them over and climbs up on top of Lan Wangji. Lan Wangji settles his hands on Wei Wuxian’s waist with his hair splayed under him.
Wei Wuxian leans over and whispers, “You know, Lan Zhan, that he was jealous?” He thinks back to how his past self looked when Wei Wuxian kissed Lan Wangji right in front of him, and stifles a laugh. “He probably didn’t realize it, but he definitely was.”
Lan Wangji’s eyes widen. Underneath Wei Wuxian’s palm, Lan Wangji’s heart beats erratically.
“You didn’t know?”
Lan Wangji shook his head slightly. “I didn’t want to presume.”
“Ah, Hanguang-jun,” Wei Wuxian laments. “You are truly a capable and sinful man, seducing one pretty man after another like this. And I bet that shameless man was thinking about all the ways to take you in the Jingshi right in front of your husband—”
Wei Wuxian squeals when Lan Wangji pulls him down.
Much later on, Wei Wuxian whines into their bed, sore all over again. “Lan-gege is merciless. So cruel.”
Lan Wangji drops a kiss on his sweaty shoulder blade. “Bath.”
Wei Wuxian reaches up and pulls Lan Wangji down, wrapping his limbs around him despite the mess between them. “You tired me out, Lan Zhan, er-gege, you used me all up, I’m so sleepy, I don’t want to bathe…”
“You’ll catch a cold.”
Wei Wuxian yawns. “Then just stay here and keep me warm.”
Strong arms encase around him and Wei Wuxian hums happily. He sluggishly reaches up and lightly taps Lan Wangji’s cheek with fondness, and snuggles into the warmth of Lan Wangji’s embrace. “Good night, Lan Zhan,” he mumbles. “I’ll see you tomorrow…”
Wei Wuxian feels a kiss on top of his head as a response, and he slips into a relaxed sleep.