It is half past one o’clock in the morning on a Tuesday (or rather, a Wednesday now, technically) and Wei Wuxian yanks open the door of Meng Yao’s car in the parking lot of the McDonald’s and slides in, hunching down in the seat while both of them peer out the windows--the parking lot is all but abandoned.
Meng Yao locks the doors and takes off his large sunglasses. “Did anyone see you?”
“No,” Wei Wuxian says, digging in the bag of food and handing Meng Yao two of the cheeseburgers. “I’m a pro at this by now.”
The next few minutes are occupied primarily with cheeseburgers.
When Wei Wuxian is halfway through his second, he pauses long enough to lick ketchup off his fingers and says, “How’s Lan-dage?”
“Very well, thank you. How is Wangji?”
“You literally saw us two days ago.”
“It is polite to ask.”
“He’s fine.” Wei Wuxian takes another huge bite of cheeseburger. “How’d the thing go this week?”
Meng Yao is, of course, eating more sedately. He finishes chewing before he speaks. “The plan is proceeding.”
“The coup,” Wei Wuxian says, pointed, and slurps obnoxiously from his extra-large soda.
“It is not a coup,” Meng Yao says, which he has said at every weekly covert cheeseburger assignation since they began doing them. “A coup is, quote: a sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government. Unquote.”
“The HOA counts as a governing body. Trying to take it over is a coup.”
“A governing body is not a government. Additionally, the scheme is neither sudden, nor violent, nor illegal,” Meng Yao says primly. “I am using entirely legal means and standard parliamentary procedure to take control of a very minor board of elected volunteers who may, incidentally, be entrusted with the oversight of the maintenance and general welfare of a neighborhood on behalf of a group of like-minded property owners.”
“It’s a fucking coup, A-Yao. It’s fine to admit it. Who am I to judge? I once hot-wired a car.”
“You have never hot-wired a car. You maintain the fiction that you once hot-wired a car in order to give your husband the impression that you are, quote,” Meng Yao sets his cheeseburger down on its wrapping paper so he can make air-quotes with his fingers, “a bad boy , unquote, because he seems to find it sexually arousing.”
Wei Wuxian glares mulishly at him. “I used to loiter places. That’s a crime, right? There’s signs about it all over the place.”
“By loitering,” Meng Yao says crisply, taking up his cheeseburger again, “I suppose you refer to your days of hanging out by the dumpster behind the Chili’s when you were on your cigarette break.”
“The Chili’s where you worked for four years.”
“To pay tuition for your engineering degree.”
“Loitering,” Wei Wuxian says with relish.
“The engineering degree with which you graduated cum-laude, having earned a GPA of 3.85.”
“After nearly getting kicked out, yes,” Wei Wuxian says. “For my delinquent, gremlin ways.”
“You were nowhere near kicked out of university. You annoyed several teachers who, pushed to the limit of their endurance, demanded your presence at office hours, where they spoke sharply to you. Your unmedicated ADHD manifested as rejection-sensitive dysphoria, leading you to spiral into an episode of catastrophizing, self-medicate with alcohol, and drunkenly tell everyone that you were a hair’s breadth away from being kicked out.”
Wei Wuxian holds up a finger. “I did get banned from the country club when I was seventeen, though.”
Meng Yao purses his lips. After a moment, he says, “I will allow that you did get banned from the country club, yes.”
“And I used to wear a lot of ripped jeans. Like, before it was cool. Before it was fashion. And! And! Dog collars. And black nail polish. And eyeliner.”
“Yes, every morning you woke up and thought, ‘How can I make myself look like I live in an empty cardboard box in the back room of a Hot Topic?’ We all remember this vividly, I assure you.”
“And! There was the year Jiang Cheng and I skipped school--”
“The week you and Jiang Wanyin skipped school, until the school called Jiang Fengmian because he had not replied to any of the daily emails they had sent asking after your whereabouts, on account of how they had all gone to his spam folder, whereupon Madam Yu put the fear of--well, the fear of Madam Yu, anyway--into the two of you and grounded you both for the rest of the semester.”
“Yeah! See? Grounded! I’m totally a bad boy.”
Meng Yao gave him a pitying look.
“And one time I thought about buying a motorcycle,” Wei Wuxian adds, stuffing the last of his cheeseburger in his mouth.
“Please explain how the legal ownership of a motorcycle has a bearing on your personal morality.”
“Well, they’re quite noisy,” Wei Wuxian says, looking speculatively at the roof of the car as he chews. “I would have revved the engine all over the place, I would have driven past the Lans’ house four times a day and revved the shit out of it, and everyone would have been very annoyed.”
“Except, presumably, for the object of your affections.”
“Right.” A pause. “Well, no. No, he would have been annoyed too. But his dick would have been hard about it, so.”
“Oh, but of course,” Meng Yao says, dry as a desert. “As long as his dick was hard about it.”
“You know too much about Lan Zhan’s kinks,” Wei Wuxian says conversationally, balling up the cheeseburger wrappers and taking the fries out of the bag. “And I don’t know anything about dage’s.”
“Nor will you ever.”
“I just feel like if you know what gets my husband going, I should know what gets yours going.”
Meng Yao looks thoughtfully out of the windshield. “Exciting new chutneys at the farmers market.”
“No, but like for real though.”
“Holiday catalogues. Coupons for quinoa. That thing when jars of jam come with gingham fabric on top.”
“Yaoyao,” Wei Wuxian whines. “Come on.”
“Crate and Barrel. Wall decorations that say things like ‘Today is a gift, that’s why we call it the present.’ The philosophical concept of Instagram. Reading aloud the names of items at IKEA. The idea of one day getting into making his own jam, presumably so he can pick out his own gingham for the jars. Seasonally-themed oven mitts.”
Wei Wuxian sighs and stuffs several fries in his mouth. “I don’t believe any of this,” he mutters. “A nice Lan boy always has a horny secret identity. What’s his favorite sex position?”
“Missionary, slowly and gently, while I tenderly whisper that the lube is organic, ethically sourced, vegan, and not tested on animals.”
“I do not believe you,” Wei Wuxian says loudly, enunciating each word. “Also, that’s gross.” Meng Yao takes several of the fries; Wei Wuxian puts it in the cupholder of the center console so they can both reach it. “But seriously, how is the coup going?”
Meng Yao folds his own cheeseburger wrappers into a neat square and tucks them in the bag. “At this week’s board meeting, I arrived with a large travel cup of perfectly clear liquid. As soon as Horrible Susan mentioned her diet, I volunteered the information that, well, I am doing a holistic juice cleanse, oh, haven’t you heard? It’s the latest thing. It’s 0.001% activated acai juice and charged solar water--”
“Holy shit, what the fuck is charged solar water,” Wei Wuxian asks with unmitigated delight.
Meng Yao gives him a simpering smile. “Susan, I’m sure you know about all the health benefits of charged solar water, don’t you? What! Really? But simply everyone’s talking about it! It’s distilled mountain water that’s been imbued with the revitalizing energy of the sun by soaking charged quartz crystals which--oh, sorry, I forgot, I believe they’re already sold out on Gwyneth Paltrow’s website, but maybe you can find some knock-offs somewhere! Anyway it’s just so refreshing, my husband says I’ve been just glowing lately! Which is saying something because, well, you know husbands! They never notice anything, do they, ladies! Ha ha, fun joke, we have all bonded today.”
Wei Wuxian is shuddering with silent laughter, both his hands pressed to his mouth. “Oh no, oh no,” he gasps between his fingers. “And nobody said, ‘But you’re a husband too, Meng Yao,’ did they.”
“Don’t be silly, of course they didn’t. I exude wife energy at them intentionally, you know this,” Meng Yao replies, which sets Wei Wuxian off again until his eyelashes are wet with tears.
“Oh no,” he manages, barely. “Oh no, A-Yao, what was actually in the cup, though?”
“Straight vodka,” Meng Yao says, taking another couple of fries. Wei Wuxian shrieks with mirth, still muffled by his hands. “Xichen did say I looked unusually cheerful when I got home from the meeting, though.”
Wei Wuxian’s muffling fails and he collapses into peals of cackles.
“You know,” Wei Wuxian says at the following week’s covert cheeseburger assignation. He is double-fisting a pair of apple pies. “Blackmail is illegal, probably.”
“Yes,” Meng Yao says mildly. “It is a form of extortion, generally classified as a felony. And?”
“And you’ve got shit on nearly everybody on the HOA board.”
“No. I have shit on everybody on the HOA board.”
“And me,” Wei Wuxian says, speculatively. “Because I’ve done such terrible things in my life.”
“Certainly. Skipping a whole week of school and being banned from the country club, for example, and failing to be kicked out of university. And what was the other thing you mentioned? Oh yes, giving consideration to the idea of legally purchasing a motorcycle.” Meng Yao clucked his tongue reprovingly. “You villain.”
Wei Wuxian pouts hugely. “Are you saying you wouldn’t blackmail me, A-Yao?”
“It would be a generally pointless exercise, as you are a generally useless person.”
“But if you wanted to blackmail me, you probably have something on me, right? Come on.”
Meng Yao gives him a stern look from over the edge of the soda straw he is sipping from. “I have no interest in being part of your sex life.”
“How the fuck would you get there from blackmail?” Wei Wuxian squawks.
“Because if I tell you whether I have blackmail material on you, you will go home and tell Wangji, ‘Oooh, Meng Yao knows about some terrible things I have done, what if everyone finds out what a hoodlum I am,’ whereupon he will be inflamed with a passionate lust and ravish you within an inch of your life. And then I will have to hear about it next week.”
Wei Wuxian’s eyes have slightly glazed over.
“I do have blackmail material on you, as it happens,” Meng Yao says, sweet as honey as he plucks another chicken nugget out of the supersize box. “If I wanted to blackmail you, I would simply threaten to tell Wangji that you have never hotwired a car.”
“Don’t!” Wei Wuxian shrieks. “You can’t tell him that!”
“See?” Meng Yao says encouragingly. “That’s how you’re supposed to react to blackmail. Well done, we’re all very proud of you.”
Wei Wuxian slumps back in his seat and cronches mournfully at his apple pies. “This is about the song, isn’t it?”
“Of course. All the torments I have brought upon you are ultimately because of the song.”
“You don’t bring torments upon Lan Zhan, though, and he’s the one who wrote it.”
“Xichen would be upset if I brought torments upon his baby brother.”
“But his baby brother -in-law is fair game?”
Wei Wuxian sulks for a moment. “It was just a song,” he mutters.
“It was an excessively sad song, and Wangji played it every hour of the day because you were grounded and he wasn’t permitted to see you.”
Wei Wuxian throws his hands in the air. “But why do you hold this against me?”
“Because, crucially, you coincidentally chose to play truant from school the very week before Lan Qiren left on a business trip, which would have left Wangji and Xichen alone in the house, unsupervised. Had you not been grounded, Wangji would have spent a great deal of time with you which,” he jabs a french fry accusingly at Wei Wuxian, “would have left Xichen alone in the house, and simply anyone might have stopped by as his guest to share in such peace and solitude. But as you were grounded, Wangji was in the house, and moreover was playing excessively sad music on his guqin, which in turn made Xichen sad as well, which rather ruined the mood for everyone, and as a result, I did not have the opportunity to lose the remainder of my virginity that fortnight.” Meng Yao levels an icy look at Wei Wuxian. “For this, I will continue to bring torments upon you until the end of my days.”
“It was high school. It was ages ago.”
“This is irrelevant to me. Xichen’s happiness is my utmost priority at all times. Hence my coup of the board. They told him he was not allowed to have a vegetable garden, and they made him pull up all his tomato plants. They threatened to issue him a fine if he didn’t. Xichen has never broken a rule in his life. He was distraught, both for that and for the loss of the tomatoes.” Meng Yao takes another sip of his soda. “I will see them all disgraced and humiliated.” He gives Wei Wuxian another withering look. “Do you think your past wrongdoings are less impactful on my life than that of a tomato plant?”
“Are you planning on poisoning my cheeseburgers?” Wei Wuxian demands.
“No.” Meng Yao purses his lips and tilts his head from side to side. “Only because if you were dead, Wangji would come to live with me and Xichen out of grief, and he would play sad music again. I cannot have this. So no, I will not poison you. I will merely--”
“Bring torments upon me, right, yes, got it.”
A long silence. Wei Wuxian snatches the last two chicken nuggets and stuffs them in his mouth. Meng Yao does not deign to be baited by this.
“So... you admit that it’s a coup, though,” Wei Wuxian says slyly.
“I admit that the word has a--how would you say it?--a fun vibe.”
“But if you’re blackmailing the board members, then that’s using illegal means to seize power. So that makes it a coup.”
“I have not yet needed to use any. Blackmail is a last resort. It is… crude. A blunt object. What I wish is for Horrible Susan to lie awake in the small hours of the morning next to her terrible husband, staring at the ceiling as she slowly realizes how comprehensively I have destroyed her life.”
“And just to clarify, this is over dage’s tomato plants.”
“It is over my beloved and his happiness.” Meng Yao rummages all the way to the bottom of the McDonald’s bag to find his own apple pie. “Do not pretend like you would not do the same, if it had been Wangji and something he loves. His rabbits, for example. What if Horrible Susan had fined him and demanded he get rid of them?”
Wei Wuxian scoffed. “Who would care about the bunnies? They’re bunnies.”
“Horrible Susan thinks that they are rodents,” Meng Yao says, nibbling at the pie. “And rodents are prohibited as pets according to the HOA covenants.”
“That means rats and mice and things!”
Meng Yao shrugs. “Do you think Horrible Susan and her cronies care? My coup is righteous, Wei Wuxian. I will see justice done.”
Wei Wuxian subsides, clearly troubled. After a long time, he kicks the side of the footwell and says, “I didn’t mean to cockblock you by getting grounded.”
“Intent is irrelevant, only result.”
Wei Wuxian sighs gustily, annoyed. “Will it make a difference if I say sorry?”
“Not in the slightest.”
“If you told me what dage is into, I could help think of ways for you to get laid now.”
“No.” Meng Yao gathers up the trash and stuffs it all in the McDonald’s bag. “Take this to the garbage. And put your hood up!”
Wei Wuxian grumbles and pulls up the hood of his hoodie. “Nobody will see me.”
“I cannot risk that,” Meng Yao says, putting his own sunglasses back on, large and dark enough to obscure most of his face but set low enough that he can see over the rims to drive. He starts the car while Wei Wuxian is scampering across the parking lot to the trash can and back.
The drive home is nearly silent. During the rest of the week, they hardly ever see each other, and when they do, they barely speak. Covert cheeseburger assignations are a special exception, a deliberately constructed liminal space where they can talk more freely. Wangji and Huan-ge know, of course, that they go out incognito once per week, but Huan-ge does not ask for details, and as far as Meng Yao knows, neither does Wangji.
The McDonald’s they go to is a full half hour away from their neighborhood--close enough to be convenient, but far enough away to be mostly safe from any busybodies. It is nearly four in the morning when Meng Yao drops Wei Wuxian off on the corner of his street. Wei Wuxian gets out silently with only a wave of his hand in farewell. They do not need to agree to meet in the same place and at the same time next week. This is for the same reason that Russian spies do not need to agree to use the same dead-drop for their next communiqué.
“This week,” Meng Yao said, delicately unwrapping his cheeseburger, “Horrible Jessica brought brownies to the board meeting.”
“Ooh,” Wei Wuxian says, his eyes lighting up. “Did you destroy her?”
“I asked if they were vegan.”
“Of course,” Wei Wuxian nods. “Naturally. A classic opening gambit.”
“Precisely. She admitted that they weren’t, and I told her, ‘Ooh, sorry, I’ll have to pass, Xichen and I are just so conscientious about what we put in our bodies, I bet they’d be so yummy if they were vegan, though--oh, but you did use certified fair-trade chocolate, didn’t you?’”
“Did she?” Wei Wuxian asks, opening his own cheeseburger to layer fries onto it before taking an enormous bite.
“She said, ‘Oh… I don’t really know…’” Meng Yao says with an apologetic kind of whimper to his voice. “So I said, ‘What do you mean you don’t know? What brand of chocolate powder did you use?’ And then she said it was just…” Meng Yao lowers his voice as if confiding a shocking scandal, “...from a box .”
Wei Wuxian gasps dramatically and almost chokes to death on half-chewed cheeseburger. He folds in half, coughing violently while Meng Yao deliberates about whether his death would be of any benefit, before deciding that no, it probably still would be more trouble than it's worth. He pounds Wei Wuxian on the back.
“Oh no, not from a box,” Wei Wuxian croaks, as soon as his airways are clear.
“Yes, from a box.” Meng Yao shakes his head mournfully. “So of course I crinkled my nose just the littlest bit, and I said, ‘Oh.’” A painfully long, judgmental pause. “‘I thought they were from scratch.’”
“Elegant,” Wei Wuxian says, still coughing lightly. He takes a gulp of soda and gargles with it, which is possibly the most disgusting thing Meng Yao has ever personally witnessed. “Elegant, classy,” Wei Wuxian says again, his voice clearer now.
“It was a very good week--Horrible Susan was doing the holistic juice cleanse, also.”
“She found ‘sun-charged quartz crystals’ on Etsy for only seventy-five dollars, she was very proud to tell me.”
“She said she had trouble figuring out how to calculate the right amount of acai juice, so she just put a couple drops in a gallon of water and shook it.”
Wei Wuxian’s engineer brain takes over and he looks up at the roof of the car, murmuring to himself, his eyes flickering across an invisible abacus, “Ninety-eight drops in a teaspoon; forty-eight teaspoons in a cup; that’s four thousand seven hundred and four drops; sixteen cups to a gallon, that’s seventy-five thousand--”
“--two hundred and sixty-four drops in a gallon, yes.”
“But to make a 0.001% solution, she’d only want one part per hundred thousand.” Wei Wuxian grinned suddenly at the ceiling, then rolled his head to the side. “So?”
“So I gave her a shocked look and I said, ‘But with that much acai juice, you might as well just be eating sugar right out of the bag with a spoon .’ Of course, she got defensive and uppity,” Meng Yao says, serenely stirring the ice in his soda with the straw. “She said she felt just fine, very cleansed and detoxed, and then she said…” He pauses to savor this. “Brace yourself. She said she soaked it in extra quartz crystals, and that they were supercharged with sun energy anyway, so everything balanced out.”
“You could have said malachite,” Wei Wuxian says helpfully.
“You could have said sun-charged malachite, instead of quartz. It’s poisonous. Quartz is pretty harmless, unless you inhale the dust or something.”
Meng Yao looks down into his drink and ponders this. “I think… that I would slightly prefer that she live to see her own humiliation and my eventual triumphant vengeance,” he says slowly.
“Aw, look at that. You know what that’s called? Growth.”
“Hm. Well, Xichen would worry if I outright murdered someone.” He sighs. “And it would be quite a lot of extra trouble.”
“Man,” Wei Wuxian says, looking mistily into his milkshake--his milkshake, because Wei Wuxian is the sort of person who has no fear of god, nor man, nor lactose intolerance. The cheese on the burgers is a different matter--it’s so hyper-processed that it no longer possesses even the faint memory of a cow, but the absolute hubris of milkshakes is a step too far. Meng Yao makes a note of this in his mental tally of Wei Wuxian’s various crimes. “Man,” Wei Wuxian whines again. “Can you imagine the sex I’d get if I murdered somebody? Fuck. I’d get mauled. Ravaged.” He slurps morosely.
Meng Yao ignores this. “My next step is… going to be difficult,” he says, gazing out the windshield with his eyes narrowed. “There is one social subset of the board that I have not been able to infiltrate.”
“Yes. There is a small enclave--small, but influential--of people who primarily attend board meetings for the purposes of socializing over shared parenting grievances.” Meng Yao sets his drink aside and digs for the fries.
Wei Wuxian munches through the silence for several bites. “So what are you thinkin’? What’s the scheme?”
“Well, at first I was thinking that I could convince my brother to let me borrow Jin Ling for the afternoon, do a cute photoshoot with him and Xichen, and then hang the photos around my house and tell everyone that he is our son who died tragically of a rare illness. I could have milked sympathy on that for years.” Meng Yao heaves a sigh. “But Xichen thought it was a bit odd.”
“Uhhhhh!” says Wei Wuxian loudly. “Um?! Excuse me!! A-Yao!?” His voice is going up in both pitch and volume; it is irritating. “Yaoyao??? It’s more than a bit odd! Meng Yao, that’s fully weird. Like, fully, fully weird, bordering on fucked the hell up. Holy shit.”
“I do not care for your tone,” Meng Yao says. “I have already decided not to do it. He is not a very photogenic baby anyway, it would have been entirely the wrong look.”
“Our precious nephew looks like a potato, I agree. A miniature, Chinese Winston Churchill. No offense, but it must be your brother’s fault, because my sister’s beautiful. No way she’s responsible for why he came out looking like that.”
Meng Yao shrugs in acquiescence. “Perhaps he will grow into it.”
“I sincerely hope he doesn’t, if it means that you’re going to show his photo to everybody and say he’s your son who died, holy fucking shit. What the fuuuuck. Are you trying to give him a complex? Are we all going to have to pool money into a joint bank account to pay for his therapy one day?” Meng Yao did not honor this with acknowledgement, except to move the container of fries to the driver’s side cupholder, out of Wei Wuxian’s reach. “How the fuck did dage only say it was a bit weird?”
“He is accustomed to hearing me think out loud. He knows that I come up with many hypothetical ideas that I have no intention of putting into practice until more thought is given to them. He simply does not bother to make a fuss over such abstract and nebulous things.”
Wei Wuxian shook his head in silent disbelief.
A minute later, Meng Yao said, speculatively, “I suppose we could adopt, but I don’t know that I want children of my own.”
“Really? Why not? You love Jin Ling, you were over the fucking moon when you got to hold him after he was born.”
“Mm,” Meng Yao agrees. “Infants are innocent of all evil. They need nothing from you but love and attention. Toddlers, likewise, are very sweet. Small children are fine--they are still cute, but they begin to have personal agency, and that can be difficult. But the fundamental problem with having children is that they inevitably end up being adults, and I do not like adults.”
“You like dage and my sister; you’re sort of friendly with Nie Mingjue and Nie Huaisang when they’re in town; and you tolerate me and Lan Zhan and Jin Zixuan.”
“Yes, that is the complete list.”
“You really don’t want kids?”
“Wei Wuxian, you have been to my house. You have sat upon my pure white artisanally-crafted, custom-made couch.”
“Well, I want kids,” Wei Wuxian says cheerfully.
“I’m abundantly aware.”
“What? How? I’ve never fucking mentioned that to you before.”
“You interact with children every chance you get. If there’s a toy corner at any social gathering, you are there, playing blocks and allowing yourself to be bullied and bossed around by six-year-olds.”
“Hey, that only happened…” Wei Wuxian stops to count on his fingers. “Uh. Four times.”
“Five times! Only five times.”
“All through college, you whined about dropping out of the engineering major and taking child development instead, so that you could get a job as a kindergarten teacher. You regularly volunteer at the children’s science museum.”
Wei Wuxian laughed aloud. “Okay, yeah, I guess that’s true.”
All at once, a scheme unfolded itself in Meng Yao’s head like a blossoming flower--a perfect, exquisite scheme, he could see that at first glance. Not only would it advance his own agenda with the HOA board, but it would be personally pleasant as well, and--most crucially--Wei Wuxian would never, ever foresee the torments that it would bring upon him. It was perfect poetic justice, and Meng Yao got goosebumps all down his arms just thinking about it.
He twisted in his seat to face Wei Wuxian. “I think you would be a good father,” he said.
Wei Wuxian blinked with surprise. “Hey, thanks. I dunno, though, I haven’t talked to Lan Zhan about it at all--”
“He wants children as well,” Meng Yao said confidently. “Whenever you are playing with children, he is watching you surreptitiously from nearby.”
“What, every time?”
“Every time I’ve been there to see it.”
“Maybe he was just supervising to make sure I don’t accidentally, I dunno, set a kid on fire? Break them? Indoctrinate them into radical socialism?”
“No, it was a yearning sort of expression.”
“How do you know what Lan Zhan’s yearning expressions look like?” Wei Wuxian asked suspiciously.
“Need I bring up the Incident with the excessively sad song again?”
“Fair point.” Wei Wuxian chews on his lip. “Huh. Wow. I mean. Wow. Holy shit.” He seems to be spiraling himself into a minor meltdown about this, which tracks nicely with the scheme. “Holy shit, what if I got a kid? Fuck, Lan Zhan would be such a good dad.” He flops back in his seat, one hand to his face, and Meng Yao is internally congratulating himself on step one of the scheme when Wei Wuxian says, “Oh, and you and dage would be uncles again, you’re so good at it--”
Meng Yao stops. Wei Wuxian is still babbling, as is his wont, something about Jin Ling having a cousin, and his sister being an auntie, et cetera.
Meng Yao hadn’t… quite…
It is just that he barely thinks of Wangji as his brother-in-law, and he never thinks of Wei Wuxian as his brother-in-law (though he is, and from two directions, no less). It… He…
He hadn’t been thinking of Wei Wuxian’s child as anything more than an abstract political pawn. He hadn’t thought… niece or nephew.
Wei Wuxian grabs his hand suddenly. “Oh fuck , are you freaking out as much as I’m freaking out?” His voice is very high pitched. “You look like you’re freaking out. You don’t want your own kids, but you like being an uncle, right? Ignoring all the weird fucked-up hypothetical stuff related to your coup, I mean.”
“Well. Yes,” Meng Yao says. His mind is still whirling.
Wei Wuxian, who is now trembling all over, studies him hard for a minute. “If you promise not to do anything weird, I would let you borrow my kid. For, like, going to the farmer’s market or implying to the people at the board meeting that you’re just a super involved uncle who can join in with them when they’re complaining about--about parent-teacher conferences or whatever. But only if you promise on Lan-dage’s life that you won’t make it weird and creepy!”
Meng Yao is rarely stunned. “What?” he finds himself saying.
This is all suddenly years ahead of schedule, according to the preliminary outline that had appeared complete and perfect in his mind,
“What do you mean what? Why do you look so shocked? Is this about how your dad was shitty about you getting to hold Jin Ling? You’re my brother-in-law, Meng Yao, obviously you can hold my kid if you want!”
“I,” Meng Yao says. “Thank you?” He was not aware that Wei Wuxian thought of him in ‘brother-in-law’ terms either. They weren’t friends, in Meng Yao’s estimation, they were simply… weekly covert cheeseburger assignation partners. Shit, what else had he misread? A very, very old fear crept in around the corners of his mind--if he’d missed noticing something this important, what else might he have overlooked? Something crucial? Something that could ruin the coup?
Worry about that later. With a quick mental jerk, as if he is snapping dust out of a rug, he rearranges the timeline. As long as this is happening now, he might as well lock it in. He squeezes Wei Wuxian’s hand back, adding his other hand on top of them. “Thank you,” he says again, allowing his voice to artfully wobble. “I do really like being an uncle. And yes, about that incident you refer to, my father was…” He purses his lips and looks away.
“Shitty,” Wei Wuxian supplies instantly, because he is the easiest fucking touch in the world. “Extremely shitty.”
Meng Yao gives a soft little sound, half-laugh and half-sob. “Extremely shitty, yes. If he’d gotten to the hospital before I had, I don't think he would have allowed me to hold Jin Ling at all.”
“He’s a motherfucker,” Wei Wuxian says, heated. “Of course you should get to hold the baby! You should get to hold whatever babies you want! All the babies!”
Entirely against his will, that hits Meng Yao in a Real Emotion.
Terrible sensation. Like a bruise-ache in his chest, and Wei Wuxian had just pressed his thumb on it. No thank you, Meng Yao does not care for that at all.
“That is kind of you to say.” Meng Yao extricates his hands from Wei Wuxian’s grip, because there really are limits to how much he can put up with, even in pursuit of his goals. He needs to… to deescalate this, somehow, to distract and deflect Wei Wuxian’s heated earnestness. “Not on my nice white couch, though. Perhaps adjacent to the couch.”
Just as intended, Wei Wuxian laughs, and predictably jumps to another topic while they polish off the last scraps of food.
But that Real Emotion keeps pinging around in Meng Yao’s chest, all the way through tidying up the trash and driving home.. He feels, strangely, grateful(?) to Wei Wuxian? Is that right? No, it’s not gratitude--it’s a feeling of obligation, that’s what. Very bad.
Obligation can be divested, however.
At the corner where he drops off Wei Wuxian, Meng Yao puts the car in park and says, “Before you go.”
Meng Yao internally groans with discomfort and straightens his spine, his hands on the steering wheel, the enormous rock on his engagement ring glinting in the distant orange light of the streetlamp. “I had. A positive feeling. When you made those comments about my father.”
“Oh. Don’t mention it. Any decent person would hate that guy. You’re worth ten of him, y’know.”
That hits Meng Yao in a second Real Emotion and he suppresses the urge to cringe from it. Is this bonding? Is he going to end up friends with Wei Wuxian, heavens forbid? “I feel that I may have been talking too much about my own matters lately.”
“Ah, no, don’t worry about it, really. You’ve got stuff going on, and I’ve just got work stuff and volunteer stuff and, y’know, conjugal duties.” This last is with a coy note that’s quickly ruined by the laugh that follows on its heels. “The usual.”
After a moment or two, Wei Wuxian says, “So was that it, or?”
“Do you trust me?”
“Uh. Shit, A-Yao, that’s a fucking question. I mean, I would probably trust you a lot more if you weren’t such a weirdo. Gotta be honest with you--I’m not gonna be over the ‘photographs of Jin Ling, your tragically dead son’ thing for a while. Like a whiiiile.”
“Hm,” Meng Yao says. And then, brusquely, “Next time you want to get fucked, tell Wangji that you want him to knock you up.”
Wei Wuxian chokes.
“Now get out of my car,” Meng Yao says calmly. There. There, that will do. Wei Wuxian’s loyalty has been positively reinforced and any debt of kindness has been repaid. Meng Yao can relax.
“What?” Wei Wuxian shrieks. “You--what?”
“Please clarify what you are asking.”
Wei Wuxian splutters for a moment. “Where to fucking start!”
Meng Yao chooses to deliberately misunderstand. “You do not know what to say to him? I see. It is very simple. Repeat after me--”
“‘Fuck a baby into me, gege,’” Meng Yao says, flat and clinical. He pauses expectantly for Wei Wuxian to repeat it, but he seems to be frozen in--well, probably a combination of horror and embarrassment and arousal. Poor fool. When it becomes evident that Wei Wuxian will not say it, Meng Yao continues, “You earlier expressed wistfulness about the sex you would get if you murdered someone. The word you used was ‘ravaged’.”
Wei Wuxian makes a tiny small squeak of a sound. Meng Yao assumes this means ‘Why yes, honored companion, I do recall saying something along those lines. Please continue.’
He continues. “I hypothesize that this will approximate the same effect. Enjoy. Godspeed, as they say. This is a gift for you in return for your… kind words, earlier.”
“Fuck, you’re so weird,” Wei Wuxian says, finally finding his voice. “Can’t believe I used to look at you and think, ‘Wow, yeah, that looks just like the sort of guy Lan Xichen would be into, totally normal, wears polo shirts and khakis.’ Can’t believe it took me until today to realize that you’re actually just fucking weird as shit.” He clears his throat. “You’re sure that’ll work?”
Meng Yao permits himself a small, smug smile in the dark, since Wei Wuxian will not see it. Bullseye. “Yes.” Perhaps he has bonded with Wei Wuxian in a friendship-adjacent sort of way tonight, perhaps they’ve just been spending too much time together and Meng Yao is picking up some of Wei Wuxian’s delinquent, gremlin ways, because he adds smoothly, “He’s a good Lan boy. Of course it will work.”
“Wait,” Wei Wuxian says. Meng Yao leans across him, opens Wei Wuxian’s door, unbuckles Wei Wuxian’s seat belt, and bodily shoves him out. “Wait, wait, did you just imply something about dage?!”
Meng Yao hauls the door closed with a slam and drives off.
Wei Wuxian is waiting at the corner the next week, hoodie pulled up and hands jammed in his pockets, tucked into a sliver of shadow and standing quite still so that it’s difficult to see him. Meng Yao pulls up (headlights off, of course) and Wei Wuxian slides in immediately.
“We need to have a follow-up about last week.”
“Do we,” Meng Yao says. He’ll turn his headlights back on as soon as he gets another street or two away. “Jumping straight to business, are we? No pleasantries? Good evening, Wei Wuxian, how have you been?”
“Incredible, and you fucking know that,” Wei Wuxian says. “I need to know how you knew that.”
“I know many things.”
“That’s an awfully specific thing to know, A-Yao!”
“Seriously, tell me. Did you hack Lan Zhan’s computer and look up his porn history?”
“Yes. He either does not look at pornography, wipes his browser history every time, or views it in a private browser. It was actually an acute disappointment to discover this. Usually men are more careless.”
“Hah!” Wei Wuxian jabs a finger at Meng Yao, which is a rude thing to do to the driver of the vehicle, but fine. “That’s where you’re wrong! He’s never looked at porn on his own computer at all!”
“On his own computer,” Meng Yao muses, tilting his head thoughtfully. “Interesting. And how long has he been borrowing yours?”
“Since we were seventeen. This is not counting how I tricked him into looking at an old copy of Playboy I found in the woods when we were fifteen. Also, preemptively: Shut the fuck up.”
“Oh, you poor sweet fool,” Meng Yao breathes, sparing Wei Wuxian a single glance. “And it still took you three more years to kiss him?”
“I refer you to my preemptive comment.”
“Were you politely leaving him alone with your laptop like a gentleman, or was it a ‘two bros jerking off on opposite ends of the couch, five feet apart cause they’re not gay’ situation?”
“How do you know that meme? You don’t know memes.”
“Answer the question.”
“I don’t have to, because I already told you to shut the fuck up.”
“And here I thought we had gotten so close last week,” Meng Yao sighs. “I had been thinking how nice it was to have a friend and confidant.”
“You know too much about my sex life!”
“It depends on how one defines ‘too much’, doesn’t it. Personally, I never turn up my nose at having more information. One never knows when a bit of trivia might come in useful.”
“Sure, except you drag information out of me by the bucketload and you never give me anything back! That’s not friendship or--or having a confidant! How am I your confidante if you never confide anything, hm?”
“I have confided a great deal of my plans for the coup. I confided in you Xichen’s passionate enthusiasm for seasonally-themed oven mitts. Do you think I would tell simply anyone such things?”
“I thought you were kidding about that.”
“Not in the slightest.”
Wei Wuxian whips out his phone and, after a moment of swiping, types something in. “Making a note of that,” he mutters. “I always die trying to think of something for his birthday.” He shoves his phone back in his pocket.
“Here is my method, which I will confide in you.” They reach the gate of the neighborhood, and Wei Wuxian obligingly pulls the collar of his hoodie up over his face while they go through. Meng Yao waves to the guard, whom he bribes with several hundred dollars every month to report to him on all unusual comings and goings. “My method,” Meng Yao says again, when they are out of sight of the gate, “is simply to think of the most intensely basic bitch thing I can possibly imagine, and then buy it. Xichen has never been less than delighted.”
“Is that why there’s a ‘Live, Laugh, Love’ cross-stitch hanging in your downstairs bathroom? In an embroidery hoop instead of a frame?”
“One of my better ideas,” Meng Yao says, nodding. “I bought it as a kit, of course, not ready-made. He becomes melancholy if he does not have tasks to stimulate him, and then he begins inadvisable projects before I can clear away obstacles for him. The tomato garden was one such example.”
“How does it feel to have such a hot house-husband?”
“Very good.” A pause. Well, they were bonding lately, were they not? Meng Yao adds, “It feels like winning. Every morning, I am awoken with a cup of coffee and a kiss, and then I am left to sit in bed and victoriously survey my domain and reflect on all the lesser idiots out of whose unfortunate grasp I snatched Xichen for my own. The sheer intensity of my triumph in these moments could outshine the sun itself.”
“God, you’re so weird. The coffee thing is cute, though.”
“Seriously seriously, though, you said, ‘Your husband is a nice Lan boy, Wei Wuxian, of course he’s into it’.” That is not precisely word-for-word what Meng Yao said, but this is not worth correcting. “Which implies that all nice Lan boys are into it, and since dage is also a nice Lan boy, he is therefore… into that?”
Meng Yao weighs his options. He can continue refusing to tell Wei Wuxian anything. On the other hand, Wei Wuxian is a soft touch. Any kindness or friendly gesture he is given, he reciprocates immediately, often tenfold or more. Perhaps telling him some few small scraps would be an… investment, in continuing to ensure Wei Wuxian’s future forthrightness.
There is, of course, also the part of Meng Yao that screams in bloody, victorious joy every morning as he sips his coffee in the huge bed he shares with his beautiful husband, in the huge bedroom of their huge house with the white one-of-a-kind artisan-crafted couch and the literal white picket fence around the yard. It is everything he did not have as a child--security and money and space and beautiful things and all the affection he lost after his mother died. His childhood was marked by these many flavors of starvation, and now he will never starve again. He fought, and he beat the odds, and he won. He wants to brag. He wants people to know his triumph and his conquest: Look, look at his perfect life, look at his perfect husband. No one in the world can touch Meng Yao now.
Wei Wuxian of course does not deserve to know anything about anything, as he is a useless person who is good for nothing but supplying Meng Yao with a (hopefully photogenic) niece or nephew and accompanying him on covert cheeseburger assignations, but. But. Meng Yao does have to admit that he and Wei Wuxian share… a certain perspective. Both orphans, both with sharp memories of poverty, both later begrudgingly brought into families who did not unanimously welcome them. Both lucky and clever and bright enough to make the best of it. Both married to nice Lan boys now; both sharing the teeth-grinding, fist-clenching knowledge of how that house wasn’t happy either, and of Lan Qiren’s difficult ways, and of the psychological tripping points that both Huan-ge and Wangji share.
Ally, Meng Yao’s mind whispers. A foolish thought. He is not ready for that yet.
But an audience to his bragging? A sympathetic audience, no less, someone who will react with shared glee rather than burn with envy and resentment.
Yes, alright, Meng Yao won’t turn up his nose at that.
“Xichen is not into precisely that,” he begins slowly. From the corner of his eye he sees Wei Wuxian sit up straight, alert. “He is not as… visceral in his preferences as I gather Wangji is.”
“Yes, but how do you know that?”
“Let us take a step back and speak generally for a moment on the topic of psychology. Two people can share the same underlying psychological quirk, yet react to it in divergent ways. For example: Xichen and Wangji share common traumas, yet they have grown into two dramatically different personalities.”
Meng Yao drives in silence for a minute, tapping his finger on the wheel. “Our husbands share a subconscious fear of losing love, of having it vanish one day without explanation. They share a quiet and subdued obstinacy, a difficulty with reaching out or asking for things they want--sometimes even in determining what it is that they want in the first place. It is, of course, better now than it was when we were teenagers, because Xichen and Wangji are both capable of paying for and attending therapy about it, and because they were fortunate enough to marry people who would kill for them, happily and without hesitation or question.”
“But the fear is still there, and the obstinacy, and the issues around wanting things. When either of them figures out a thing that they want, or even a thing that they like , they have a tendency to get… obsessive. Possessive. A little fixated. This is why Xichen gets excited about holiday catalogues--they are a sanctioned opportunity for him to sit on the couch and look at things that some advertising company has decided that he might like and practice deciding whether he likes them or not.” Meng Yao shrugs. “You have heard, I suppose, that the inclination towards possessiveness and fixations runs in the family.”
“Mm,” Wei Wuxian says philosophically. “Their dad, yeah. But Lan Qiren has it too.”
“Yes, manifesting as an obsessive need to control everyone around him.”
They share a moment of exhausted silence about this.
“In-laws,” Wei Wuxian sighs, which seems to just about cover it.
“In-laws,” Meng Yao agrees grimly. Lan Qiren was directly responsible for their first covert cheeseburger assignation--all four of them had gone to stay with him for three days over New Year’s, and it had been, in a word, miserable. Three days of Meng Yao clenching his jaw and keeping his eyes demurely lowered. Three days of Wei Wuxian growing increasingly fractious and decreasingly courteous every time Lan Qiren attempted to pick a fight with him. Three days of Huan-ge and Wangji doing their level best.
All culminating in the moment that Wei Wuxian, hitting his limit, had turned away from Lan Qiren, marched across the room to Meng Yao, touched his elbow, and murmured, “Let’s take a break before either one of us snaps and kills him.” Thus, covert cheeseburger assignations. (Though, technically, that first one had been a covert taco assignation, because Wei Wuxian had started weeping about Lan Qiren’s flavorless food, and Meng Yao, already well past his own emotional limit, had panicked and taken him to Taco Bell, the only reliable source that he could think of for hot sauce at one o’clock in the morning.)
Hm. Meng Yao seemed to be having a Real Emotion again, thinking about all this. He tentatively labeled it “camaraderie????” and set it firmly aside.
“So,” he continued. “In summary: Possessiveness, obsession, fixation. Fear of love vanishing. My equation for determining anything about Wangji is to look at how Xichen exhibits the same thing and then dial it up using a particular complex formula that I cannot fully express aloud without at least one whiteboard. Xichen exhibits these issues through being, for example, very responsive to touch and closeness--”
“Oh yeah, he’s super handsy with you,” Wei Wuxian interrupted. “Shit, I used to laugh about that. Like when you got engaged, and for two weeks, every time I saw you guys, he was holding your hand and you kept touching his arm whenever you spoke to him so everyone would see the ring. Even in public. Especially in public. I am thinking specifically of that one luncheon at the country club where you announced it.”
“Yes.” Meng Yao spares a moment of nostalgia for the way his father’s eyes had nearly fallen out of his head when he’d seen the size of the diamond. One day he should really get around to asking Huan-ge how he managed to reconcile his extremely strong views on labor exploitation and the fact that all diamonds are blood diamonds with… actually giving Meng Yao a rock of this size. He glances reflexively at his hand--the thing is the size of his thumbnail. Frankly, he would not complain if Huan-ge’s answer was to look limpidly into his eyes and kiss his knuckles and say, “I would compromise any of my dearly-held ethical beliefs for you, beloved, you deserve it.” He probably won’t say exactly that, but Meng Yao gets his knuckles kissed every day, so that part, at least, is a safe bet. Sweet boy.
“He is, as you say, super handsy with me,” Meng Yao says. “And he finds it emotionally fulfilling to do things like... propose marriage once a week just for the pleasure of hearing me agree. Or ask me if it is too soon to renew our vows. Or buy us ‘His & His’ handtowels--”
“Quite. They are identical towels,” Meng Yao says. “I do not see the romance in owning several handtowels that all say ‘His’ on them. I do not know which ‘His’ towel is intended to be designated as mine, so what is the point?” He shakes his head. “Every time they are out, I am perplexed by them. It makes brushing my teeth an unpleasantly philosophical experience.”
“You could get some custom-embroidered ones with your initials and your wedding date on them. Then at least it’d be more intentionally cute, but still kinda basic-bitch enough that dage will like ‘em, right?”
Meng Yao blinks. “Hm. Possibly. I will have to consider that.”
“If you want ‘em, I’ve got a guy,” Wei Wuxian says in a voice that… maybe is supposed to make him sound like a 1920s gangster of some sort? In his normal voice, he says, “By which I mean: I have a link to the Etsy store I’ll send you. I commissioned a towel with a bunny on it, and the lady I was messaging kept asking whether I wanted it as a smallish towel rather than a full-size bath towel, and I said no, and she expressed concern that a small child might have difficulty managing so much fabric, and then I had to explain that it was not for a child, it was for my actual adult husband. Nice lady, does good work.” A moment later, he says, “What were we talking about?”
“Your attention issues were getting in the way of me explaining your husband’s sexual fetishes, a matter which I had assumed you would be breathlessly invested in.”
“Oh shit, fuck, whoops. Yes. Of course, Meng-gongzi, Meng-laoshi, the floor is yours.”
“Xichen,” Meng Yao says. “Proposing marriage, matching handtowels, et cetera. These are all little ways of emphasizing to himself the fact that I am present in his life and a permanent fixture. They are very adorable expressions of subconscious fear. With sex, it often exhibits as,” he pauses, because ugh, he’s made a habit of not telling Wei Wuxian anything, and now the granting of this one token feels disproportionately symbolic and meaningful, “romantic intimacy. He likes to fuck while holding my hands and looking into my eyes and, you know, saying he wants to stay in bed with me forever.” Meng Yao waves his hand dismissively so that Wei Wuxian will at least be under the impression that Meng Yao only indulges this behavior with fond amusement rather than… because of anything involving a Real Emotion. “All that sort of very sweet nonsense. But Wangji is, as I said, a more visceral person.”
“You can say he’s incredibly horny, I won’t mind.”
Meng Yao snorts and pulls into the parking lot of the McDonald’s. “As you say,” he says. “I’m sure you would know better than I. So: Possession, fixation, fear of loved ones vanishing, but dial all that up to eleven, and you get… Whatever happened when you brought it up.”
“I got fucked so hard and so much this week that I think I might actually be pregnant for real, is what happened,” Wei Wuxian says smugly.
“Congratulations.” Meng Yao parks in the far back corner of the parking lot, the car all but hidden in the shadows. He pulls out his wallet, and hands Wei Wuxian his credit card. “My turn, I believe?”
Wei Wuxian plucks it out of his hand. “Chicken sandwich or cheeseburger this week?”
“Chicken. Fried, yes.”
“The usual for the rest?”
Wei Wuxian gets out and saunters across the parking lot. Meng Yao watches him in the rear-view mirror, still vaguely paranoid that someone will catch them. He is not sure which would be worse--certain people on the HOA board finding out that he willingly associates with Wei Wuxian, or that Meng Yao has only been maintaining the fiction of being vegan for the suburban holier-than-thou superiority points.
Probably the latter would be worse, as that it exposes what would be seen as an outright lie--although, to be fair, Meng Yao has never once told any of them that he is vegan. It is simply that whenever offered food, he pointedly asks whether it is vegan, haughtily turns his nose up if it isn’t, and allows everyone to form natural conclusions. An entirely different matter than actually lying.
If he were ever to be discovered associating with Wei Wuxian, he supposes he could… make up a story to get out of it. Perhaps something about how Wei Wuxian’s parole officer--the whole HOA already thinks he is a criminal, this will not be a stretch for them to believe--wants him to spend time with role models in order to reform his character, and Meng Yao has generously agreed to be that role model out of the goodness of heart. He will then sigh about how difficult it all is, but something something something; he truly feels a calling to help his brother-in-law’s husband; something something something; Meng Yao just feels so sorry for everyone else who doesn’t have a support system; something something something; oh, thank you for your kind sympathies, everyone; hopefully I can help him fit in better with the community…
He snorts. Wei Wuxian fitting in with the neighborhood community is something that will never happen. Wei Wuxian goes on walks around the block wearing paint-splattered jeans he’s owned for fifteen years, and ratty old band tees that he genuinely did buy during his Hot Topic mall-rat phase, and he never seems to notice or care about anyone whispering behind his back, nor about the ones who make passive-aggressive comments directly to his face.
Meng Yao is not sure whether Wei Wuxian just doesn’t notice this happening, or if he simply doesn’t care. The latter is the option that keeps him up at night, squirming with envy.
Wei Wuxian opens the door and slides back in, handing Meng Yao his credit card and the drinks tray and putting the bag of food between them. As soon as he gets settled, he digs into it. “It’s kind of a territorial thing, when you think about it,” he says. “I was thinking about it inside, the knocking-me-up thing. That’s what you meant by possessiveness, right? I think it’s also a bit about, like, wanting me for so long, and I was an oblivious idiot so I kept not noticing that he was trying to catch me. And, like, with his thing for bad boys--it’s like I’m an elusive wild creature and he wants to domesticate me.” Wei Wuxian takes a bite of cheeseburger and adds with his mouth full, “By keeping me barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. Which is kind of hot actually. Except, plot twist, I’m the one with the Pinterest board about nursery designs and I used to jerk off thinking about sitting across the breakfast table from him and eating toast while he reads the newspaper.”
“Mm, yes, your kink about this is tied to your history of feeling unwanted or abandoned, I would guess. You both want to have the assurance that it will be impossible for anyone or anything to truly separate you.” Meng Yao unwraps his chicken sandwich in his lap, removes the top bun, and rearranges the pickles so they are not all in one glob in the middle. “It’s all compensation for trauma when it comes down to it.”
“I don’t know that it’s that deep,” Wei Wuxian muses. “I mean, maybe, but sometimes a fun harmless kink is just a fun harmless kink.”
“True. Although, I will point out that almost all of a person’s most emotion-driven actions and decisions, in any context, can be traced back to some powerful experience in their past. Everyone’s fucked up.” Meng Yao takes a delicate bite of his sandwich. This conversation seems to be going well. “But yes, you are right, sometimes a fun harmless kink is just a fun harmless kink.”
“Want to tell me about one of yours?”
Meng Yao thinks about this as he chews. Bragging. He wants to brag. He wants badly to brag. He sets down his sandwich, wipes his hands, takes a sip of his drink. “The Lans have a safety deposit box at the bank. Have you ever seen it?”
“Nope. Should I? I know Lan-dage takes some things out to get them appraised every few years, I’ve heard him mentioning it to Lan Zhan, but that’s it.”
“Mm.” Another sip. “There is rather a lot of exquisite antique jewelry, including many truly exquisite pieces from the Qing and Ming dynasties, as well as a sapphire and diamond necklace, made by a Parisian designer in the late 1800s and valued at roughly one point five million dollars and strongly reminiscent of the one Nicole Kidman briefly wore in Moulin Rouge.”
“Holy fuck, that’s a lot--wait, hang on, you’ve seen Moulin Rouge?” Wei Wuxian asks with as much deep perplexity as Meng Yao feels about the His-&-His handtowels.
“We shall henceforth refer to this collection as ‘the family jewels’,” Meng Yao says, doggedly ignoring him.
“Dramatic, love it, okay.”
“Once a year, Xichen removes a few of the family jewels--never all at once, of course--and, as you have heard, takes them to be appraised. The next day, oh dear, he has just so many errands, he isn’t able to get to the appraiser’s to pick them up until the afternoon, and oh dear, by the time he gets across town to the bank, it’s too late to access the safe deposit box. Xichen says, ‘Oh no, I suppose there is nothing for it, I will have to take them home and return them first thing tomorrow morning.’”
Meng Yao pauses to take a long, long sip from his drink.
“Holy shit,” Wei Wuxian says, sounding appropriately impressed. “And then you spread them out on the bed and fuck on top of them like a pile of treasure?”
“That would be dangerous, some of the pieces are quite delicate. No, I lounge in bed wearing absolutely nothing but Great-grandmother Lan’s mink coat, and Xichen pours me a glass of champagne and drapes me with all the jewels and then does whatever I say.”
“Mm,” Wei Wuxian says, squinting and nodding. “There’s that nice Lan boy possessiveness thing again.”
Meng Yao tilts his head. “Yes, I suppose it is.”
“Lan Zhan just pins me down by my hair and jerks off onto my face.”
“How charming for you.” He can’t help but add, acerbic, “I’m sure that’s exactly equivalent to the mink coat and millions of dollars of the family jewels.”
“Is that where your ring is from?” Wei Wuxian says, nodding towards Meng Yao’s engagement ring. “Is it part of the family jewels?”
“Oh.” Meng Yao looks down at it. His heart flutters in his chest at the thought, and what that would mean. “You know, I’ve never asked.”
“I feel like he would have told you if it was.”
“Yes, I concur.”
“But it’d explain how you got a rock like that even though your husband is, y’know, like that. Vegan and socially conscious and stuff--wait, hang on, the fur coat. I was focused on the family jewels, I didn’t even think--he’s vegan, like really vegan, not just vegan-to-the-HOA-ladies-for-gaslighting-reasons like you, he’s vegan and he doesn’t mind about the fur coat?”
“With both the fur coat and the family jewels, Xichen believes that inheriting items is essentially recycling, and additionally that it is filial to honor and appreciate the gifts our families have passed on to us.”
“By keeping them in a box at the bank and only wearing them to have wild sex in.”
“To have tender, gentle lovemaking within the bounds of wedlock, while looking deeply into each other’s eyes,” Meng Yao corrects, because it will make Wei Wuxian scrunch up his nose in distaste.
Wei Wuxian, on cue, scrunches his nose. “Gross. Do you have to say it like that?”
“Yes, it was in the pre-nup,” Meng Yao says sarcastically, but like so many things, this goes over Wei Wuxian’s head.
“You had to sign a pre-nup?” Wei Wuxian says, horrified. “ I didn’t! Was that Lan Qiren’s idea?!”
“Point one: No, Xichen had to sign a pre-nup. Point two: No, it was my idea, on account of how my mother did not raise an idiot. Point three: You eloped.”
“But you’re, like, in love. Like super super in love, in love like me and Lan Zhan are.”
“Yes. That is a much better time to negotiate what would happen to our assets in the cataclysmic event of our divorce than it would be to negotiate when we have already stopped being in love and actively caring about each others’ welfare.”
Wei Wuxian groans. “That’s so grown-up and sensible, I hate it. If Lan Zhan ever divorced me I would simply accept my fate and go live in a small hole in the ground.” After a moment, he adds, “Well, congratulations on getting railed in one point five million dollars’ worth of diamonds, and I mean that sincerely.”
“Thank you.” Meng Yao pauses, then moves his drink cup to bump against Wei Wuxian’s in a toast, which Wei Wuxian reciprocates with enthusiasm as soon as he sees what Meng Yao is doing. “Usually I just make him give me a foot rub and suck me off, though. The mink is far too warm to wear while doing anything strenuous.”
“Oh, good point. And you wouldn’t want to get come and lube on great-grandmother’s fur coat, yikes.”
Meng Yao props his elbow on the little ledge next to the window and puts his face in his hand for a long, long moment.
When he finally speaks again, he cannot keep the tremble of emotion out of his voice: “You are right. Naturally, for anything more involved, we lay out a towel.”
“...A-Yao,” Wei Wuxian says, very seriously. “Am I given to understand by your tone and, um, general demeanor of elegant dismay that it’s usually one of the ‘His’ towels?”
Silently, in absolute agony, Meng Yao nods.
Equally silently, Wei Wuxian gets out of the car. Meng Yao lifts his face from his hand and watches Wei Wuxian step away about ten feet and immediately crack into howls of laughter until he has to bend over and brace himself on his knees.
After several minutes, he returns to the car, coughing the laughter-phglem out of his throat. “I,” he says, his voice still wavering from perfect composure. “I would like to express my--hmmmm,” he hums urgently, biting his lip and pressing his fist to his mouth and staring hard out the window. When he has himself under control again, he says, “I would like to express my. Condolences,” just a hint of laughter on that word. “And because I do not want you to bring any further torments upon me than you already have on the schedule, I would also like to apologize--” his voice nearly breaks on that word, going high and falsetto with barely-restrained mirth for a moment before he clears his throat, “--apologize for laughing. I am absolutely not laughing at you, I am merely laughing at the situation and at… at d-dage’s t-towels--” He squeezes his eyes shut and claps his hands to his mouth, which doesn’t muffle his snort, and leans down to put his head between his knees.
“It’s fine,” Meng Yao says through gritted teeth. He is aware that the situation is ridiculous.
Wei Wuxian sits up again on a long, desperate inhale and turns to Meng Yao with imploring eyes. “It’s just that I keep thinking of you in the mink coat and all the family jewels, and everything is great and perfect and sexy and exquisitely choreographed, because that’s your whole jam, and there’s probably candles and rose petals, and dage is, like, reciting beautiful love poetry to you or whatever--” Meng Yao makes a mental note, “--and then he leans in and strokes your cheek with his fingertips and he’s like ‘Wait here, my love, let me fetch the sex towel,’ except that it’s those towels--” Wei Wuxian puts his head back down between his knees with a high pitched hysterical noise.
Meng Yao silently takes Wei Wuxian’s strawberry milkshake from the cupholder, rolls down the window, and hurls it out. It vanishes into the darkness and lands somewhere with a faint splat.
Wei Wuxian, who may be having an apoplectic fit, does not notice.
Meng Yao rolls the window back up.
“You know, you didn’t get around to telling me about the board meeting last week,” Wei Wuxian says.
“You were busy having a conniption about towels.”
“And you said it was fine and that you understood and you forgave me for laughing and are not plotting my demise,” Wei Wuxian says. Meng Yao did not say the latter half of that, but he lets it slide. “So? How was it? I live for these updates, you know.”
Meng Yao sighs heavily. “I have encountered obstacles that will take quite some time to dismantle. I do not expect further progress for at least a year.”
“A year? Oh shit, I’m so sorry.”
Meng Yao studies him--he seems sincere. “Yes, well. Evidently Horrible Susan still holds a stranglehold on the board. She was re-elected as chairwoman. Hence the delay of a year.”
“Anything I can do?” Before Meng Yao can even give him a flat look, Wei Wuxian says, “I know you think I’m an idiot about politics and social niceties and stuff but, like… Your hands are tied because you don’t want to go around saying outright nasty things about her, right?”
“It would harm my own chances if I were seen to be… vindictive.”
“Emphasis on seen, yeah,” Wei Wuxian agrees. “Because as long as no one notices, you can be as vindictive as you want, right? So what if I do it? I’m not going to be running for HOA Board Chairman or anything. I can pass around flyers or talk shit about her or whatever, I don’t give a fuck.”
How pleasant it must be to live without the weight of anyone’s judgment on you. “They would not believe you,” Meng Yao says dully. “In fact, it might do more harm than good. Because they already see you as an outsider for a number of reasons, you attacking Horrible Susan’s reputation in any way could actually lead to the rest of them closing ranks around her and intensifying in their support of her.”
Wei Wuxian joined him in moping silence for a full minute. Eventually he said, “Was your whole week that bad? You’ve barely touched your cheeseburgers, A-Yao.”
“It was not all bad,” Meng Yao says quietly after a moment. His fingers go to his ring, as they have been for the past few days. He can’t seem to stop touching it, fiddling with it.
When he doesn’t say anything else, Wei Wuxian makes an inquisitive, encouraging noise through a gruesome mouthful of cheeseburger.
“I asked Xichen about the ring,” Meng Yao says quietly.
“I’m sorry, I don’t speak disgusting guttersnipe.”
Wei Wuxian swallows his bite. “Family jewels?”
Meng Yao again weighs his options. For some reason, he wants to… tell Wei Wuxian about it. “Not… like the others. Not like the silver-tipped white jade chopsticks they’ve had since the Qing dynasty.”
Wei Wuxian stares at him, wide eyed and frozen, a bit of lettuce hanging from the corner of his mouth.
“I made Xichen use them to feed me Cheetos once,” Meng Yao says.
Wei Wuxian swallows, sets down his cheeseburger, and says fervently, “A-Yao, you are truly an icon.”
“I know.” He looks down at the ring, at the matching wedding band next to it, unadorned white gold worked in a pattern of swirls that looks like delicate clouds. It had been made new, a custom commission based on Huan-ge’s own design to match the engagement ring, the gold taken from several melted-down midcentury items from the safe deposit box that were appraised as having little more value than that of sentiment and their components. “Recycling,” Huan-ge had said, grinning, as Meng Yao had slid the wedding band onto his finger to check the fit and how it looked beside its partner. When he’d been able to look up from admiring them, Huan-ge had kissed the very tip of his nose and, laughing, folded him up into his arms.
“A-Yao?” Wei Wuxian says quietly.
“The diamond belonged to his mother,” Meng Yao says. “Their. Their mother. It was from a pair of earrings. Xichen had the stone removed and the setting made specially.”
After a long moment, Wei Wuxian says in a small voice, “Oh. Wow.”
After another eternity, Wei Wuxian says, “Oh. Fuck.”
“Earrings. A matched pair. Two. Two diamonds.” He drops his head into his hands. “Oh, heck shitting balls. Lan Zhan asked me if--when we eloped, he asked me whether I wanted a ring with a stone, and I didn’t know about the earrings, so I just told him no, because it’d annoy me and get in my way and catch on everything, and I’d forget to take the ring off while I was tinkering with stuff so the stone would probably get chipped. I said I wanted just a regular manly wedding band, because it’d have a low profile that wouldn’t snag on anything, and he looked kind of disappointed and asked if I wanted any other jewelry. I laughed and pinched his cheeks and called him a silly goose and asked whether I looked like the sort of person who wore jewelry.”
“Mm,” Meng Yao says, unsympathetic. “And to think that if you’d just been a little bit more of a gold-digger, you could have waved your hand around and flashed the rock in the light, and he would have jumped your bones every time, guaranteed. But you, a bumbler, had to go and thwart the nice-Lan-boy-possessiveness-thing, to your doom.”
“I mean, I offered to compromise and get my nipples pierced for him, so I didn’t totally thwart him.”
“Not the same as wearing one of his mother’s diamonds, though.”
“Yeah, I know,” Wei Wuxian groans, rubbing his face with both hands and probably getting cheeseburger grease all over. “I really can’t wear it, though, can you imagine how it’d break his heart if I lost it? And not just him, dage too, probably. Fuck.”
Meng Yao considers this. “Yes. Your instincts are correct, do not wear it.”
“Do not wear it, and also feel bad about it until the end of time.”
Meng Yao crosses his arms and gazes out the window, pondering. “You will simply have to find some other way to make it up to him.”
“Like getting ‘Property of Lan Wangji’ tattooed on my ass? Listen, I’m already planning on doing that for our ten-year anniversary, give me some credit.”
Meng Yao privately rolls his eyes and sneers. Permanent marks were simply asking for catastrophe. “After you were finished with your week of having pregnancy kink sex--”
“Oh, we’re not finished with that, that is still very much going on.”
“--did you, in the twelve seconds of afterglow before the next round, ever get around to bringing up the topic of providing me a photogenic niece or nephew?”
“Oh, I see, you won’t let me help out with the board thing by slandering Horrible Susan because all I’m good for is birthing children. I see how it is.”
Meng Yao turned his head just enough to give Wei Wuxian an unimpressed look. Wei Wuxian was once again attempting to play the same game with Meng Yao that he played with Jiang Wanyin (and many, many other people), to wit: Saying stupid things in order to push his buttons and get a humorously angry reaction, thereby distracting from whatever the original topic had been. Meng Yao rather thought less of Wei Wuxian for still trying to play this game with him after it had failed the first thousand times.
After a moment with no further reaction, Wei Wuxian pouted. “Everybody wants to keep me barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, huh.”
Meng Yao wondered idly if Wei Wuxian was actually aware of how few fucks Meng Yao gave about his childish and immature attempts to be shocking. After another moment, Meng Yao said crisply, judgement dripping from every word, “Not your best work, frankly. I’d give it, oh… Two out of ten?” Wei Wuxian’s pout subsided, replaced with an annoyed look. Meng Yao mentally tallied yet another point for himself, and smoothly changed tacks to manipulation. “Come now, I told you about the ring. A matter very personal and close to my heart.”
Wei Wuxian grumbles under his breath and kicks the floor of the footwell. “Look, just. Have you actually researched this stuff at all? Adoption? It takes forever, and there’s so much red tape--which is good, probably, because they shouldn’t give out helpless kids to just anybody--like, paperwork and approval processes and background checks--”
Meng Yao bites back the impulse to point out that Wangji is almost certainly going to find out the horrible truth about how Wei Wuxian has never hotwired a car. He is almost lightheaded with the sudden surge of giddy delight. An unforeseen bonus to this long con of torments. Delicious.
Ahem. “Surely you are not concerned that they would decline your application. Two adults in a loving marriage, one of whom is heir to a very respectable fortune, both of whom are college-educated and in possession of stable jobs?”
“Well, you never know,” Wei Wuxian says mournfully. “All the websites keep saying things about how you shouldn’t get excited, don’t your hopes up. Look at me, I’m a fucking mess. I’m eating cheeseburgers in a McDonald’s parking lot at one thirty in the morning. Who would--” He cuts himself off, clenching his hands into fists in his lap.
Meng Yao muses to himself that that sentence was probably going to be ‘Who would want me?’, because 1) in their youth, he had heard Wei Wuxian make jokes about similar sentiments almost constantly, and 2) he knows for a fact that Wei Wuxian’s therapist has challenged him to stop making those jokes, because they are not actually jokes.
Meng Yao feels that he is currently in the comfortable position of emotional superiority, which means he can offer benignly self-serving kindnesses (which are in fact Trojan horses for a variety of future torments) with a certain magnanimity. “Ohhh,” he says, sounding terribly sympathetic and sorrowful. And why not add a bit of a flourish to it? So he lays one hand on Wei Wuxian’s arm. “Oh, A-Xian, you should have said. I’m very good at paperwork, you know, I would be more than happy to help you.”
“Don’t give me any of your tricks,” Wei Wuxian mutters, slumping down further in his seat. “Don’t A-Xian me, you snake, I see you.”
Shit. Meng Yao grumpily adds a point to Wei Wuxian’s column. “Fine,” he says, dropping the silky sympathetic voice and taking his hand back.
Wei Wuxian groans. “Don’t be like that either, don’t get offended.”
“Who is offended?”
“I just meant you don’t have to pretend! I’m obviously not going to turn down help if you’re really offering, even if it’s only because you’re deeply invested in me adopting a kid so that you can borrow them for your schemes, as long as they’re not--”
“Weird or creepy or something the child will require therapy about later, yes, I remember.”
“Right. You can just admit that’s why you’re doing it, you can say it’s for sneaky snake reasons. Help is help, right? It’s okay to be sneaky, there’s not anything wrong with that.”
Meng Yao stares at him. “I beg your pardon.”
Wei Wuxian groans again, fumbles for the backrest lever, and slams the seat back as far as it will go, so that he is almost horizontal and looking up at the roof. “You’re a sneak, you’re sneaky, and that’s fine . You only use it to get back at people who are assholes, or to bring torments upon me personally. But frankly my brother and I did stuff like that to each other all the time when we were growing up, so I kind of view it as a gesture of affection.”
Meng Yao feels faintly queasy. He is experiencing at least two Real Emotions. Horrible. Thank goodness he barely touched his cheeseburgers, or he would be outright ill.
“So?” Wei Wuxian demands, looking at him. “Are you actually offering to help, or was it just to yank me around a bit?”
Meng Yao clenches his jaw for a moment. “What is the matter with you?” he snaps.
“Lots of things,” Wei Wuxian replies, just as sharp.
“Do you go around saying that to just anyone? ‘Hello, I am a gullible fool, please feel free to be as conniving as you like, I won’t worry about your motives at all!’ Should we put a sign around your neck that says ‘Grifters welcome!’ surrounded by little hearts and stars?”
Wei Wuxian shoves himself up on one elbow. “No, I am not gullible or a fool, Meng Yao, and no, I don’t say things like that to just anyone, I say them to members of my family because being family means they’re allowed to be themselves, especially when they’re trying to help other members of my family against really stupid fucking injustice! Do you want to help with adoption paperwork or not!”
“Fine!” Wei Wuxian sits up long enough to grab one of the (now cold) cheeseburgers from the bag and lays back with a thump, shoving half of it into his mouth at once.
Meng Yao seethes out the window. It was not supposed to go like this. That is the trouble with Wei Wuxian. Too chaotic. Too difficult to predict. Every time Meng Yao feels like he’d gotten a bead on him, Wei Wuxian goes and… says ridiculous things like that. How dare he, really.
After about five minutes, Wei Wuxian says, cheerfully conversational, “You know, that was nice. I liked that. Cleared the air. Haven’t had a proper spat like that since the last time I saw my brother.”
Meng Yao turns on the car and puts it in reverse.
“Wait, what? We’re going home?” Wei Wuxian levers the seat back up and stuffs his cheeseburger in his mouth so he can fumble for the seatbelt. Meng Yao is already pulling out of the parking lot by the time he has it buckled.
“Because I am exhausted and I miss my husband,” Meng Yao says through his teeth, and drove.
Meng Yao fumes for the rest of the week. He lost control of himself. He lost his temper, right in front of Wei Wuxian, and that means--
It means he failed. He slammed that door closed in Wei Wuxian’s face, and now it will never open again. It means that if he even tries to open it, there will only be rejection and anger on the other side.
Except, for some fucking reason, Meng Yao still drives to the usual corner on Tuesday night at one in the morning (technically Wednesday), muttering to himself the whole way that it will be empty, that he will wait there in the car like an idiot for ten minutes while no one shows up and then he will drive home. There will be no one on the corner. Meng Yao is sure of this. He is sure. He has waited by a lot of corners in his life, both figurative and literal. He knows how this works. No one will be there, because no one ever is.
Except… He is.
Somehow, impossibly, against any kind of logical sense, Wei Wuxian is standing there, his hands jammed in the pockets of his hoodie.
Meng Yao pulls up, his mind straight static, and Wei Wuxian yanks the door open without hesitation and chirps, “Hi! Haha, I didn’t know if you were going to come! Can you turn the seat warmer on? It’s fucking cold out, how is it this cold, it’s only September--” and chatters away while Meng Yao releases his hands from where they’re white-knuckled on the steering wheel and thinks resentfully (because it’s preferable to the relief that he is ignoring as hard as he possibly can) that Wei Wuxian really never met a pattern he couldn’t break.