"I'm certain I speak for all of us when I thank you for your continued efforts," Jin RuLan finishes, and inclines his head to WangJi.
Lan Huan feels a faint smile curve his lips and quickly lifts his tea behind his sleeve to hide it. Despite everyone involved being quite obviously grown, he occasionally has to remind himself that WangJi is no longer a child hiding in the folds of Lan Huan's robes. That Jin RuLan has become a respected, formidable leader in his own right. While Lan Huan studies his brother, feeling unbearably fond, WangJi bows to the Jin sect leader, then straightens.
"I was honored to provide assistance, Sect Leader Jin," his brother murmurs, and something about his tone creases Lan Huan's brow. "The people of YunMeng do not deserve such a creature prowling about, desecrating their lands."
Oh, gods above... So it is to be this, again. Lan Huan stifles his sigh, allowing his gaze to drift toward Jiang WanYin. As expected, the man's eyes are sharp, trained on WangJi like an eagle tracking a vole.
"Indeed," Jin RuLan remarks, and it is almost perfect; casual, unhurried, as if WangJi didn't just imply YunMeng Jiang cannot care for their own. It is only the nearly imperceptible dart of his eyes toward his uncle that tarnishes Jin Rulan's performance. Ah, well. He is young, yet. "Again, you have our gratitude."
A clear dismissal. Lan Huan feels a pang of pity for Jin RuLan at his valiant attempt to avoid an argument. If past behavior is any indicator, things are about to get much worse.
As if on cue—and for all Lan Huan knows, perhaps it is—Jiang WanYin leans forward, teacup clinking to his table just loud enough to draw attention. "What an honor for all who live in YunMeng," he articulates, syllables crisp and deliberate, "to have such an illustrious man as HanGuang-Jun arrive uninvited, insert himself into a situation they had well-handled, and then deem them deserving of better."
The room goes still, Jiang WanYin's low, threatening tone saturating the thick silence. Blinking, Lan Huan carefully keeps his expression blank. If WangJi had caught their attention, the Jiang Sect leader certainly has the assorted clan leaders riveted, now.
Even Lan Huan can admit a good spar, whether physical or verbal, is entertaining to the baser parts of his brain, and he waits, breath held, for his brother's response. Uninvited, Lan Huan thinks amusedly. Jiang WanYin does not seem to hinder himself with the truth, in these situations. The demon-cat had found the both of them—according to their own retelling of the story—while they were out for what WangJi described as a leisurely walk (only to be immediately corrected to 'romantic stroll' by Jiang WanYin) through the forests that stretch along YunMeng's southern border.
Of course, some account had to be put forth for the beast's death, and it was decided to play it safe and omit Jiang WanYin's presence in the official report. How any of it found its way to Jin RuLan's desk, Lan Huan cannot even guess, but it was kind of the Jin sect leader to praise WangJi in front of those assembled.
And WangJi is repaying said kindness with this.
WangJi turns, but only enough to bring Jiang WanYin into his periphery. Gods, his brother is capable of the most exquisite bitchiness. True to form, WangJi's subsequent nod of acknowledgment is a work of art. Not even a hair's-breadth further than decorum requires. Lan Huan does not smile, but he wants to.
"Sect Leader Jiang," WangJi clips out. Where had his brother learned such mastery of verbal contempt? Lan Huan cannot recall either of their parents possessing such capabilities, though admittedly, his time with them was limited. In his mind, a voice that sounds suspiciously like his uncle tells him to stop his foolishness. Contemptuously.
"Your gratitude is unnecessary," WangJi declares, as if the very act of speaking the words could alter Jiang WanYin's intent. "Please do not trouble yourself further for this humble one."
"My gratitude is nonexistent." In the brutal silence that ensues, Jiang WanYin sips from his tea, unbothered. It's astoundingly rude. Also hilarious. There's no fighting the smile stretching Lan Huan's cheeks, so he does his best to at least make it appear nervous.
WangJi's fist, held proper and stiff behind his back, tightens. He looks, for all intents and purposes, incensed. Not for the first time, Lan Huan wonders how much of these displays are scripted. They dance together so beautifully, their indignation a strange sort of choreography that keeps them in-step, even in this. It would not surprise Lan Huan in the least to learn these… public spats, or whatever one might call them, are entirely unplanned.
"If you are going to accuse the Jiang Sect, and by extension, myself, of incompetence," Jiang WanYin purrs, his voice pregnant with danger, "say it clearly. Petty wordplay is surely beneath a man of your… importance."
Petty wordplay is WangJi's specialty, and Jiang WanYin knows that better than Lan Huan. He wishes he could properly see his brother's face; something about it has Jiang WanYin's eyes sparkling with poorly hidden amusement. He wonders if WangJi cracked and smiled.
"Sect Leader Jiang, HanGuang-Jun, let us—"
"If you heard an accusation of incompetence in my words, perhaps it is your own conscience placing blame."
Jin RuLan gapes, openly shocked at WangJi's interruption. Lan Huan allows himself a quiet sigh. WangJi will need to apologize to the Jin sect leader when this is all said and done; whether distracted or not, there is no excuse for such disrespectful behavior from one of Gusu Lan's Twin Ja—
"My conscience?" Jiang WanYin laughs, a harsh, grating sound, and there is a collective inhalation from the other sect leaders present when Zidian sparks to life on his fist. "I was unaware rumor left room for the fearsome and unreasonable Sandu ShengShou to clothe himself in such tender adornments."
With a soft exhale, a scoff only those closest to WangJi would recognize, WangJi turns to face Jiang WanYin fully. "Your reputation is irrelevant," WangJi snaps. "A beast of such power should not have been permitted to draw breath within the reaches of your protection."
Incredulous and scowling, Jiang WanYin hauls himself from the floor, shoulders back and feet spread, looking every bit the terrifying Sandu ShengShou of rumor. "I suppose the flawless HanGuang-Jun can simply sense the presence of all troublesome monsters that dare to tread within ten li of his most honorable personage! Perhaps it manifests as a bit of indigestion, hm? It seems I must ask my esteemed colleagues to forgive this humble sect leader for not possessing such gastrointestinal talents."
Lan Huan twists his involuntary giggle into a clearing of his throat. "Ridiculous," WangJi hisses, and in a turn of events both Lan Huan and Jiang WanYin clearly find stunning, he spins on his heel and storms from the room, knuckles white on Bichen's hilt.
Ah, over so soon? Carefully, Lan Huan avoids looking Jiang WanYin in the eye; WangJi had been holding in laughter as he made his escape, and if Lan Huan receives any acknowledgement of that fact from Jiang WanYin, he will not be able to avoid laughing himself.
"Assembled leaders," Jiang WanYin murmurs, and when he bows in apology, Lan Huan allows himself to peek. Jiang WanYin is gloating. Oh, WangJi is never going to hear the end of this. "I must apologize for my participation in such a foolish distraction from our duties here today."
Murmurs erupt around the room, everyone pasting on strained smiles and insisting it was no trouble. Jin RuLan calls them all back to order, and Lan Huan studiously avoids Jiang WanYin's gaze for the remainder of the meeting.
"VICTORY IS MINE," Jiang WanYin crows, gesturing to the jar of wine in the center of the table. "Pour my drink so I may toast to your defeat, WangJi."
Lan Huan is giggling before he can even get himself lowered to the table, and when WangJi huffs, lips pressed tight and spine rigid as he kneels beside him, Lan Huan only laughs harder. "Who says 'gastrointestinal'," WangJi mutters, but carefully pulls back his sleeves and pours into Jiang WanYin's bowl.
"You need to apologize to Jin RuLan," Lan Huan suddenly titters, leaning sideways to bump his shoulder against his brother's. "I nearly forgot. You were terribly rude, today."
"I have done so, Xiong-Zhang. I found him as soon as the meeting was finished." WangJi's eyes lift to Jiang WanYin. "WanYin. When do you plan to inform Jin RuLan? It is beginning to feel… like a deeper deception than we intended."
Grimacing, Jiang WanYin stalls, taking a slow sip of wine. Though both WangJi and Lan Huan watch him, interested in his answer, Jiang WanYin refuses to meet their gaze. "Ugh," he finally grumbles, and Lan Huan's eyebrows raise when the bowl is set back to the table, empty. "I suppose I do need to do that, soon. When he was younger, I didn't feel he could be trusted to keep the secret. Even an accidental slip could have been… troublesome."
"He's been running his sect rather well for a handful of years now," Lan Huan offers when WangJi remains quiet. He knows neither man enjoys the secrecy surrounding their relationship, but after A-Yao— Swallowing, Lan Huan reframes his thoughts. After the incident at GuanYin Temple, the political climate had been turbulent, and it felt like too great a risk to announce a marriage between two great sects, much less a marriage of two men.
"We would have the support of the Chief Cultivator, I believe," WangJi whispers, once the silence has grown too heavy. He reaches for Jiang WanYin, and Jiang WanYin entwines their fingers, resting their hands on the table.
"Likely so." Voice soft, Jiang WanYin leans forward. "Nie HuaiSang was a friend of mine before… Before."
"Perhaps it is time to stop hiding," Lan Huan agrees. A sigh shudders from Jiang WanYin's chest, and Lan Huan can't help smiling at the way WangJi's thumb soothes over Jiang WanYin's knuckles. "I will miss your foolish fighting, though."
"Why would we stop?" WangJi immediately asks, his voice barely audible over Jiang WanYin's indignant 'you need not worry about that'.
"How else will this stubborn, unbearable man know I care about him?" Jiang WanYin guffaws. "He ignores my gifts. Turns his nose up at my flowery words. It seems anger alone is capable of moving his frozen heart." A chuckle rumbles in Jiang WanYin's chest. "Isn't that right, my dearest? Light of my life? Lover of my soul, in this and all future lifetimes?"
WangJi clicks his tongue, making a show of his irritation, and Lan Huan kindly does not point out the flush creeping over his ears. "Nonsense," WangJi whispers. Lan Huan cannot muster the decency to feel bad when both he and Jiang WanYin laugh at him.
Still, even now, their eyes are so soft when they look at one another… Filled with warmth at the privilege of witnessing his brother's happiness, Lan Huan decides to make himself scarce and carefully stands, bowing. "I believe it is time for me to retire," he murmurs, and smiles when they offer weak protests. "I wish you a pleasant evening."
In the hallway, sliding the door shut, Lan Huan pauses, his brother's voice drifting through the wood. "I cannot believe you called me petty," it rumbles, low and laden with affection. Lan Huan has to resist the urge to settle his hand over his heart.
"Oh, please. Quit your bitching and kiss me, you petty pain in the ass," comes Jiang WanYin's response, and Lan Huan quickly heads down the hall toward his own rooms.