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Pearls For a Funeral

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The inside of the Lone Palm bar was its usual crowded, dimly-lit, smokey self befitting a Friday night. Wei Wuxian shifted on his bar stool and set aside the day’s paper as he took a sip of his gimlet. The gin hit the back of his throat, the flavor of cucumber bursting fresh and crisp as it coated his tongue. Warmth spread through his tired limbs as he reached for his pack of Lucky Strikes and flicked his zippo with the pad of his callused thumb, letting the flame light up his features before taking the first, long inhale of his cigarette.

The headline splashed across the front page of the Chronicle hollered “MOGUL JIN GUANGSHAN FOUND DEAD ON HIS HONEYMOON” in bold, capital letters. Wei Wuxian took a slow drag of his cigarette and strained to read the small print below. Of all the rich bastards in San Francisco, Jin Guangshan was probably simultaneously the most admired and the most hated. Certainly the most envied. Many lollygaggers and rubberneckers would be sure to come to his funeral, Wei Wuxian thought as he chewed his lower lip. Many would likely scratch and bite and attempt to claw out their own piece of his inheritance. Wei Wuxian dragged his index finger down the page, staining it with ink while scanning the article for the juiciest tidbits.

The leader of the Jin Enterprises is survived by his sons, Zixuan and Guangyao, and his young widower, Lan Wangji, one of the scions of the fabled Lan dynasty, which had fallen upon financial troubles of late. Lan Wangji and Jin Guangshan were hastily married in a private ceremony a little over three weeks ago in Tiburon.

Wei Wuxian remembered it well. The gossip rags were having a field day of that wedding. Lan Wangji had been young, well bred, and gorgeous, whereas Jin Guangshan had ever been known as a nouveau riche philanderer and purveyor of enterprises that may very well have crossed into criminal. After the passing of his last legal wife, he had begun to sniff around the Lans, who had been rapidly descending into financial ruin, without any obvious way to recover their former grandeur. A marriage into a family that was the closest as you could get to royalty in San Francisco would have elevated Jin Guangshan in society in a way that all his money never quite did. Logically, he had fixed his sights then on Lan Xichen, the eldest son of the dying dynasty, and heir to all that fabled Lan prestige. Imagine everyone’s shock when it was Lan Wangji, Lan Xichen’s younger, silent brother, the renowned Ice Prince, whom the mogul had ended up dragging to the altar.

The Lan Estate, at least, seemed to be well provided for, Wei Wuxian thought with a smirk as he sipped his drink. He knew a little of the Lans, enough to know that the patriarch and uncle, Lan Qiren, would never have allowed his pristine, precious nephew to enter such a union without the appropriate contracts in place, contracts which would have afforded Lan Wangji a hefty inheritance in the case of his husband’s tragic and untimely passing.

“Couldn’t even wait for the honeymoon to end, huh?” Wei Wuxian snorted into his drink. It wasn’t a generous thought, but then again, he had owed Lan Wangji nothing, certainly no benefit of doubt. He didn’t blame the nubile swain. He probably would have killed Guangshan himself, that utter sleazeball, if it had fallen to him to save his family fortune by trading in his virtue. Luckily, Wei Wuxian had very little in the way of virtue, and even less in the way of family to his name.

In fact, the closest thing Wei Wuxian had ever had to family, his ex-partner from the police force, was in the process of angrily tossing his fedora onto the bar next to him, and sliding onto the empty bar stool at his side. “I’ll have whatever he’s having,” Jiang Cheng barked at the bartender, before casting a suspicious look at Wei Wuxian’s drink. “Nevermind. Make mine an old-fashioned.”

“Good evening to you too, Jiang Cheng,” Wei Wuxian turned his brightest grin towards the man next to him. His former partner, the one who definitely had no regrets when Wei Wuxian retired early, the one who absolutely did not miss the stupid gumshoe, no sirree, cast him a derisive look and then poked at the newspaper headline with more violence than the situation called for. “Jin Guangshan finally met a problem he couldn’t buy his way out of,” Wei Wuxian said, reaching his pack of Lucky Strikes towards Jiang Cheng and waiting for the detective to pull out one of the proffered cigarettes from the pack.

“It’s a bullshit case that stinks to high heaven,” Jiang Cheng let out, as gruffly as ever. “The Lans have barricaded themselves behind a wall of attorneys and the Jins aren’t cooperating much more either. You’d think someone somewhere would want to know who bumped off dear old dad.”

“So, you do suspect foul play?” Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but ask. It was Friday, and usually that was the night they left it all behind them. The detective and the private eye disappeared, and what remained was two men who tolerated each other much more than anyone else in the world. In Jiang Cheng’s case, it had been simple misanthropy, whereas for Wei Wuxian the reality of simply being so much smarter than anyone else had proven much more of a burden than a boon. Their time in the police academy had made them grow as close as brothers, but when Wei Wuxian finally left the force, for reasons which he never did feel entirely at ease discussing, Jiang Cheng’s forgiveness had been less than forthcoming.

“What do you care? You keep your fucking nose out of police business,” Jiang Cheng snapped, predictably.

“You won’t have a dearth of suspects,” Wei Wuxian shrugged and signaled the bartender for a new drink. “You can’t swing a cat in San Francisco without hitting someone Jin Guangshan has pissed off.”

“I don’t have to swing any cats,” Jiang Cheng replied as he emptied his old-fashioned in one giant swallow and loosened his tie. “It was obviously that gold-digger, Lan Wangji.”

“The Second Jade?” Wei Wuxian snorted. It was hard to imagine Lan Wangji getting his pristine, diamond-encrusted hands dirty like that. Then again, it had been equally difficult imagining him in Jin Guangshan’s bed. Wei Wuxian shuddered at the thought.

“The ink was barely dry on their wedding contract,” Jiang Cheng mused. “Do you know that he gets fifty percent of everything under Guangshan’s will?”

Wei Wuxian blew out a smoke ring and watched it float lazily towards the tarnished mirror reflecting a myriad of bottles in the back of the bar. “He must’ve been quite the lay,” he finally concluded, and immediately washed the words out of his mouth with another sip of his new gimlet.

“You should’ve seen him at the funeral,” Jiang Cheng snorted. “Wide brimmed hat with this ostentatious veil, right? But fucking dripping in pearls. I’m talking those big, baroque style necklaces, okay. Probably a fucking heirloom.” Jiang Cheng took a drag off his Lucky Strike and fixed Wei Wuxian with an amused look. “I’m pretty sure he wore a dress. Like an actual full-length dress. With these white cuffs and massive golden bracelets. I don’t know. It was obscene.”

“I’m sure Lan Wangji looks pretty as a bird in a dress,” Wei Wuxian let out almost dreamily. He’d only ever seen the young socialite in pictures before, but he was man enough to admit to recognizing effortless beauty when he saw it.

“He could have at least pretended to be sad, you know,” Jiang Cheng said, almost regretfully, as if some part of him actually lamented Jin Guangshan’s passing.

“Are you working the case, then?” Wei Wuxian asked. They tried not to talk shop, they truly did. But this was the splashiest case of the year, and it wasn’t like Wei Wuxian could really keep his nose out of it, not if his ex-partner was investigating it. Could he?

“None of your damned business. You’re not on the force anymore, you private dick.”

“It’s a yes or no question, you don’t have to be such a prick about it.”

“I don’t need your fucking help,” Jiang Cheng bristled, predictably.

“I ain’t offering.”

“Well, good.”

“Good.”

“Fine.”

“Great.” Wei Wuxian directed his eyes back towards his gimlet. “I’m just saying,” he muttered, more to himself than to his former partner, “plenty of folks would’ve killed him. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.”

“Yeah, well, my money’s still on the Ice Prince.”

Wei Wuxian’s eyes lit up. “Care to make it interesting?”

Jiang Cheng picked his fedora up off the bar and slapped a few bills down onto the polished countertop. “Wei Wuxian, I mean it,” he said, finger far too familiar and in close proximity to Wei Wuxian’s nose. “You stay the fuck out of my investigation!”

The door of the Lone Palm swung into the foggy San Francisco night, as Jiang Cheng’s form disappeared into the darkness, only a cloud of smoke hovering over the crystal ashtray where he previously sat.

***

The old Lan Manor, for to call it a house was laughable, sat on the eastern boundary of the abandoned Sutro Heights Estate, which had recently lapsed into dilapidation mirroring that of its Lan neighbors. The Great Depression and the War had not been kind to the Lans, whose significant investments into the art and music scenes of San Francisco had not resulted in financial rewards. The elder Lan patriarch had died, after squandering his last dollar, and leaving his brother with the dubious honor of raising his two male heirs - Xichen and Wangji. But good looks and good breeding only got you so far in life. Although, Wei Wuxian mulled over as he stubbed his cigarette out on the bark of a nearby pine tree, it certainly got you as far as you were willing to go.

It was Wen Qing who had given him the message on Monday morning, or rather afternoon, which was the closest Wei Wuxian ever came to mornings, once he actually rolled into his tiny office, located in a walk up of an old Victorian near Alamo Square. Wen Qing had been, formally, his assistant, and informally - his best friend. He provided her male companionship in instances of nosey family members who wondered why she refused to settle down and get married; she provided him structure the kind his little practice would never have seen, had it been left entirely up to his own devices.

“Old Admiral Lan wants you to come by the manor as soon as you’re available,” she said, peeking up at Wei Wuxian over the top of her horn-rimmed glasses while she sipped her morning tea. “I have a date with MianMian, so you’re on your own.” Wei Wuxian could not help but unfurl his lower lip into a pout. His hand, entirely of its own accord, stole a biscotti cookie from Wen Qing’s tea plate, and shoved it into his own mouth. “I’m sure you can be on good behavior, this once,” she added, shoving the address of the Lan Manor into his hand, which was still covered in crumbs from the pilfered biscotto.

“What could the Lans possibly want with me?” Wei Wuxian asked, squinting at the piece of paper as if at any moment it was liable to bite him.

“Perhaps they want you to find out who killed that scumbag Jin Guangshan,” Wen Qing offered, very reasonably, with a slight shrug of her narrow shoulders. “Either way, they’ll probably pay you. They’re moneyed now again, aren’t they? The news rags said Lan Wangji is getting half of everything Jin Guangshan owned. He’s now the majority stakeholder of the entirety of Jin Enterprises.”

“Much good it’s gonna do him on death row,” Wei Wuxian scoffed.

“Think he did it?”

“Jiang Cheng seems darn tooning sure. He certainly had motive.”

“Well, shit, I would’ve popped that pig just for the fun of it,” Wen Qing said, returning to her tea and shielding the remains of the biscotti from Wei Wuxian with her free hand. And that blasé relationship with morality was why she had been his best friend to begin with. That, and the fact that queers traveled in packs.

Wei Wuxian took the stairs leading up to the manor’s front entrance two at a time and used the cloud-shaped knocker to announce himself by rapping at the door. It swung open, revealing the unimpressed face of a butler.

“Wei Wuxian here to see Admiral Lan Qiren,” he announced himself, placing his business card into the butler’s gloved hand. The man stood aside to allow Wei Wuxian entry, and the private eye had to suppress his innate instinct to whistle, because the vestibule of the Lan Manor was as well appointed and tasteful as any palace he may have imagined growing up in Chinatown.

“Wait here, Mr. Wei,” the butler pointed to a settee as he quietly and efficiently flounced off to announce Wei Wuxian’s arrival.

Twirling around, Wei Wuxian took in the marble imperial staircase, with two sets of balustrades of polished dark wood winding up to the upper floor. Above his head, a chandelier made entirely of tiny crystal cranes twinkled with an ominous light. The Lans may have been on the brink of bankruptcy, but signs of their storied majesty were certainly everywhere the eye landed. And Wei Wuxian’s eye in particular caught on a family portrait that hung on the wall opposite the settee. It was traditionally styled and realistically rendered, with the elder Lan sitting regally in the foreground, and the two younger men with impeccable faces, who stood behind him like sentinels, dressed in nearly identical pale-blue suits. One of the young men was smiling. In the other one, Wei Wuxian had recognized the placid features of the infamous Ice Prince, the pearl-draped Black Widower, Lan Wangji.

“Mr. Wei, I presume.”

Wei Wuxian startled and tried to cover up his embarrassment with his brightest and most disarming smile. The man who had snuck up on him on feet as light as a cat’s was clearly one of the fabled Twin Jades. Wei Wuxian recognized him from the portrait - it was a very good likeness, and must have cost a pretty penny.

“I see you’re admiring our family portrait,” Lan Xichen said, not waiting for Wei Wuxian to confirm his identity. “It was one of the wedding gifts that the poor, departed Mr. Jin gave Wangji as a pledge of his troth.”

“One of…?”

“The only one Wangji saw any value in, anyways. Wangji has such immaculate tastes, you understand. He’s very selective about the brands he will wear on his own body.”

Wei Wuxian shifted carefully from one foot to another and let out a noncommittal hum. He was beginning to see what Jiang Cheng had against the Lans, if only as a concept. No wonder they had been under such pressure to marry well to save their estate: these socialites were entirely unsuited to the real world, or whatever world it was that Wei Wuxian currently occupied.

“Anyways, how rude of me. I’m Lan Xichen,” the man finally said, reaching his hand out to shake Wei Wuxian’s. “My Uncle invited you here today to discuss this… unpleasant matter. It’s all so terribly gauche, you understand. It’s not that we don’t want to cooperate with the police investigation, but it’s such a terribly difficult time for us, and their questions are so invasive. And besides, Wangji is bereaved.”

Is he?” Wei Wuxian could not help but inquire.

“It was quite a shock,” Lan Xichen continued, seeming oblivious to Wei Wuxian’s slip in proper manners. “Well, you can imagine. Waking up with your spouse’s corpse next to you, and on your honeymoon, no less. Quite embarrassing.”

“Embarrassing,” Wei Wuxian repeated. “Yes. Quite.”

“My brother has very delicate sensibilities,” Lan Xichen added without any trace of irony.

“And likely even more delicate skin,” Wei Wuxian replied with a lopsided grin. “Men with faces like his do not do well in federal prison.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re insinuating,” Lan Xichen bristled. “It was bad enough having that nasty piece of work, that Detective Jiang fellow, coming by the house, sniffing around like a bloodhound, casting all kinds of aspersions. But you, Mr. Wei, I expected more from you.”

“You did? Why?” Wei Wuxian asked with genuine curiosity.

“Well, for one thing, you have a kind, open face.” That made Wei Wuxian blush and he scratched the side of his nose to hide his sudden discomfiture. “You don’t look angry, like something crawled up your posterior and died, unlike Detective Jiang.” Wei Wuxian was about to protest at this treatment of his former partner, but he decided to finish listening to the entirety of this fascinating tirade.

“And the other thing?”

“The other thing?” Lan Xichen graced Wei Wuxian with a guileless smile. “I don’t know, Mr. Wei, I just have a good feeling about you, that’s all.”

At this moment, the door where the butler had earlier disappeared opened again, and the man pronounced “Admiral Lan will see Mr. Wei now.”

“It appears that I must regrettably cut short this delightful conversation,” Wei Wuxian nodded with a grin towards Lan Xichen. “But I do hope we get to continue it some other time.”

“Ah, my apologies for keeping you from your appointment.”

“No need. Mr. Lan?” Wei Wuxian tipped his trilby, as gallantly as he could manage.

“Please, call me Xichen.”

“Well, I just might,” Wei Wuxian replied with a wink. He wasn’t sure if Lan Xichen had been flirting with him, per se, but flirting had ever been his own default, and he saw no reason to stop now. Besides, you had to be blind not to notice the Elder Jade was a stunner.

***

Lan Qiren, as his title readily implied, had indeed been a retired Navy Admiral, a position which after the war had entitled him to all kinds of due respect, with all the meager benefits the government would provide. He was a man of few companions and fewer indulgences, and whatever was left in him of drive and ambition had all been poured into raising his two orphaned nephews, whom he clearly loved and doted on with the devotion entirely lacking in their biological and evidently unmissed father.

Wei Wuxian found the old Admiral in his study, puffing on a fragrant cigar. He did not drink himself, but as any polite host, he had a jar of Emperor’s Smile brought in and served to Wei Wuxian from what the private eye was fairly sure was a literal silver platter.

"Mr. Wei Wuxian," the Admiral said, turning the business card between his fingers, as if he wasn't the one responsible for Wei Wuxian darkening his doorstep in the first place. He looked like a man in the process of smelling his own fart, and Wei Wuxian couldn't help but wonder if this was an honor reserved exclusively for him, or simply the way Lan Qiren's face normally looked. "Doubtlessly, you are aware of the problem my family is facing right now." Wei Wuxian inclined his head. He always thought it more prudent to let his clients talk, though in his line of work, what people did not say was often even more illuminating than what they did choose to share. "It's utter nonsense, of course. The mere insinuation… Wangji would never!" The Admiral cast another furtive look in Wei Wuxian's direction and found no objections. "I raised him better than that, Mr. Wei," Lan Qiren continued. "When a Lan wants you dead, he meets you at dawn, pistols in hand! None of this underhanded poison malarkey!"

Wei Wuxian coughed to cover up a burst of escaped laughter. So, the Admiral's defense was that if Lan Wangji had wanted his husband dead, he would've dueled him, like a gentleman. Well, Wei Wuxian could see how such a pronouncement would not sit well with the police in general and Jiang Cheng in particular. The Lans were certainly not doing themselves any favors in this investigation.

"So, he was poisoned?" Wei Wuxian asked. Interesting. That information had not been made public yet.

"I have contacts who have contacts at the medical examiner's," the Admiral explained.

"I see." Oh, Wei Wuxian saw alright. And it did not look rosey for the Ice Prince.

"Wangji has never done a single untoward thing in his life," Lan Qiren resumed, his deep voice filled with tangible fondness. "We were all shocked when that philandering swine managed to take advantage of him." Wei Wuxian raised one eyebrow. "I was going to let that pig have either of my nephews over my dead body!" The Admiral exclaimed, angrily stubbing out his cigar in the elaborate Murano glass ashtray by his side. "But he took advantage of Wangji's low alcohol tolerance and trusting nature and well… The impudent alleycat! Were I ten years younger, I would have horsewhipped him in the public square! But for the sake of discretion, I was prevailed upon to permit this unfortunate mésalliance. At least the cad had sense enough to wed Wangji after, to avoid an even bigger scandal. And here I thought it had been Xichen he'd been after all along."

Wei Wuxian found himself chewing his lips. So far, the only thing Lan Qiren had given him was another motive for Jin Guangshan's murder. He pictured Lan Wangji in his mind's eye: draped in pearls and with his virtue besmirched, dropping poison into his husband's wine glass from a secret compartment of a very large, sapphire ring. Just one drop saved him from having to share his bed and life with the man who had stained his pristine honor; one drop restored the Lan family fortune. People have died for less.

“Admiral,” Wei Wuxian cleared his throat and took a refreshing sip of his Emperor’s Smile. “Forgive my impertinence, but I fail to see what my role is in this entire… ah… affair.”

“Obviously, Mr. Wei, I intend to hire you to clear my nephew’s name.”

“Um… how?”

“By uncovering who actually did it! Mr. Wei, I hope you do not need me to tell you how to do your job.”

Wei Wuxian took another drink. “But finding the culprit, that’s the police’s job, Sir.”

“Fuck the police, my boy!” Lan Qiren waved his hand as if shooing away a pestering fly. “The police are part of the problem. In fact, one of the reasons I thought you’d be perfect for the job is that I presume you can use your old connections to shield Wangji from all this… police-related unpleasantness.”

“So, you are aware of my checkered past on the force,” Wei Wuxian shifted in his seat. “Then you are doubtlessly also aware Detective Jiang and I have a history.”

“Good! I’m paying you to have that history!”

“Sir, I cannot interfere with an active police investigation.”

“Cockamamie!” Lan Qiren’s fist landed on the side table near his arm chair with a loud crack. “The police are investigating Wangji, I need you to investigate the actual killer.” Wei Wuxian inclined his head while the Admiral pulled something from the side table which Wei Wuxian quickly recognized for a checkbook. “You find the real killer, Mr. Wei, and you get that former partner of yours off my nephew’s ass,” he said as he wrote in his checkbook, avoiding Wei Wuxian’s eyes. “This is your retainer fee. We will spare no expense. It is imperative that Detective Jiang find himself a new suspect.”

Wei Wuxian took the check from Lan Qiren’s extended hand and let out a soft whistle. His “retainer fee” would more than cover his rent for both the apartment and his office for the next month. Clearly, the Lan estate was flourishing again. He could see their motivation to hold on to that liquidity, which would certainly disappear if Jin Guangshan’s rich widower were to suddenly find himself in prison or, worse yet, on death row, as Wei Wuxian suspected.

“I’ll do my best, Sir.”

“You sure will, Mr. Wei.”

Wei Wuxian placed the check into the inner pocket of his blazer and rose from his seat, placing his trilby back upon his head. “I’ll see myself out, then. And I’ll bill you for any exorbitant expenses.”

“Mr. Wei, my nephew cannot be speaking to the police,” Lan Qiren repeated, as if it hadn’t already been made abundantly clear.

If he’s even a tenth as bad at it as you are, I can see the problem, Wei Wuxian thought to himself while he did as promised, and saw himself out.

Oh, Jiang Cheng was not going to be happy about this. Wei Wuxian pulled out his pack of Lucky Strikes, and lit one of the cigarettes while still standing on the Lan Manor threshold. He took a long drag and tried to take stock of his situation. He wasn’t entirely certain whether he was getting sent on a fool’s errand by Lan Qiren when all signs truly did point to his nephew being the one who’d done the deed, or whether there really was a whole other foul plot afoot, broiling beneath all the glitz and glamour. As suspicious as it all seemed, if the Lans really were guilty, would they really be acting so guilty? Was the real reason Lan Qiren was hiring him simply to meddle with the investigation and keep his prized nephew out of prison? Or was the true murderer really still out there, laughing at all of them from a great distance?

Well, this was, after all, a paying client, and Wei Wuxian knew better than most that beggars could not, in fact, be choosers.

Just as he was about to descend the stone staircase, Wei Wuxian’s ears caught the soft roar of an engine. A gorgeous, spotless, slate-grey Rolls Royce Silver Dawn rolled up along the gravelly driveway towards the manor. The engine was killed, and Wei Wuxian watched with his mouth hanging open as the driver’s side door swung open, and a tall figure in a floor-length black cape with a fur trim got out of the vehicle. Even though the figure wore gloves and heavy bracelets, Wei Wuxian could not help but use his incredibly honed detective skills to figure out that only a man’s hands would have been that big. He allowed his eyes to travel up the slender, black-clad body, found himself entirely unsurprised to find the neck to be dripping in multiple strings of pearls the size of eyeballs, and finally stopped when his gaze reached Lan Wangji’s (for by now Wei Wuxian had very little doubt whom he was looking at) mouth. Wei Wuxian swallowed.

The mouth in question was set in a stern line befitting the immaculate reputation of the Ice Prince, but formed of two lips so soft and shapely that Wei Wuxian found himself mentally reaching out to touch. He immediately gave himself a swift mental kick in the ass, for good measure. Lan Wangji, in the meantime, removed his large pair of Chanel sunglasses, and fixed Wei Wuxian with a distinctly displeased glare.

“Tell me you’re not another one of Seymour Yao’s messenger boys,” the young widower uttered, his voice dripping with disdain as heavily as his neck dripped in pearls. “Go back and tell him for the hundredth time that my husband just died and I will not marry him. And even if my husband was dead for a thousand years, I will never marry him.” And then, Lan Wangji quietly and demurely added, “Ew.”

Wei Wuxian took a few steps towards the man, shocked at the sudden spring in his own step, and cheerfully declared, “I’m not a messenger boy!”

Lan Wangji placed his sunglasses firmly back over his perfectly shaped nose, hiding the deep amber gleam of his eyes. In fact, in the short amount of time that Wei Wuxian had to admire the Ice Prince face to face, he found absolutely nothing out of place in his entire, infuriatingly perfect physiognomy.

“Then why are you here?” Lan Wangji asked, arms crossed, heavy bracelets clanging against each other like bangles.

“I’m here to get you off!”

“I beg your pardon,” Lan Wangji hissed, utterly scandalized.

Wei Wuxian replayed his own words in his mind and scratched the side of his nose. “Uh… ha. I mean, your uncle, the Admiral, has hired me to help solve your case.”

“Mn.” Lan Wangji sounded entirely unimpressed.

“It would help out a lot if we could find some time for me to interview you,” Wei Wuxian pressed on, undaunted.

“You mean question me,” Lan Wangji squinted.

“Not like the police would question you. I'll buy you a drink and everything.”

“My Uncle and Brother are of the opinion that it would be disastrous if the police questioned me. But I have nothing to hide,” Lan Wangji said, infusing the final phrase with copious amounts of indignation. “You’re a gumshoe,” Lan Wangji suddenly pronounced, as if putting two and two together.

“Private investigator.”

“Mn.”

“My name is Wei Wuxian, but if it would put you more at ease, you may call me Wei Ying.”

“It wouldn’t and I don’t think I shall.”

On brand. Wei Wuxian tried to suppress a small smile that threatened to betray his thoughts. “And what shall I call you, then? Your brother said I may call him Xichen. May I call you Wangji?”

“The presumption!”

“Ice Prince it is, then.”

“Impertinence.”

Wei Wuxian tipped his hat at his new project. This one was going to be a challenge. “Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Ice Prince. I'll be seeing you soon.”

“Not if I see you first.”

Wei Wuxian laughed and waved over his shoulder. “You should definitely not say that to the police!” he shouted at Lan Wangji’s back, as the young widower entered the Lan Manor and slammed the door behind his perfectly erect, cape-clad back.

Chapter Text

Wen Qing greeted Wei Wuxian with a sly look as he stumbled into his office with his tie only half knotted around his neck and his hand already reaching for the nearest empty cup.

“Mmthere coffee?” he muttered.

Wen Qing pulled the cup from his hand, filling it from a freshly brewed pot. “You’re a disaster, boss. Pull yourself together - we have a guest.”

“Ah??” Wei Wuxian burned the roof of his mouth from the scalding liquid and cast an accusatory look into his cup.

“Careful. It’s hot.”

“Mrrr.” Wei Wuxian set the cup aside, impatiently waiting for the liquid to cool. “What guest?”

A tall figure in a feather-trimmed, white Chanel coat unfolded out of the armchair in the corner of Wei Wuxian’s office. “She means me.”

Wei Wuxian squinted at the large sapphire pendants that reflected the shaggy, silver coiffure that framed the by now familiar face. “Ah, Mr. Ice Prince!” Wei Wuxian swallowed. “I see your hair has turned positively silver from grief!”

“It’s a disguise, Mr. Wei,” Lan Wangji replied with a bored expression.

“You don’t say.”

“My Uncle insisted that I come by your office so we could speak,” Lan Wangji intoned with all the enthusiasm that Wei Wuxian could imagine of one visiting the dentist. “I’ve been waiting here for quite some time.”

“I keep unusual hours,” Wei Wuxian replied.

“Your secretary explained.”

“She’s my partner.”

Lan Wangji fixed Wen Qing with a distrustful gaze. She looked back at him equally unimpressed. “How very avant garde,” he stated.

“Her name is Wen Qing,” Wen Wuxian gestured between his uninvited guest and his best friend.

“I’m riveted,” Lan Wangji responded.

“Told you he was a bitch,” Wei Wuxian whispered into Wen Qing’s ear.

“Well, if you don’t need me,” Wen Qing said with an eye roll, “I have some errands to run.”

Wei Wuxian desperately grabbed her by the elbow. “Who said I don’t need you?” His partner simply laughed, throwing on her coat and heading for the door with treasonous intent. “Don’t forget about tonight!” he hollered in her wake. “And bring your paramour - I’ll need her connections!”

This case was already going to be a pain in his ass without the Ice Prince showing up unannounced in his office and getting on Wen Qing’s bad side. Wei Wuxian turned, fixing Lan Wangji with his best approximation of an ice cold stare.

“Are you an asshole to everyone or just to people you hire?” he snarled.

Lan Wangji seemed to consider the question with a serious expression before finally settling for, “Everyone.”

“I guess I won’t take it personally then.”

“Mn.”

Wei Wuxian was not going to let the beautiful asshole get under his skin. He adjusted his tie and unbuttoned his suit jacket to make himself feel more at ease. “Why don’t you sit your princely ass back down," he suggested, graciously. "You want an extremely hot cup of joe?”

“Your partner already offered me tea.”

“Then, can I offer you something stronger?”

Lan Wangji gave Wei Wuxian a look that would have withered a weaker man. Ah yes, Wei Wuxian suddenly recalled, low alcohol tolerance is what the Ice Prince allegedly owed his near-call with dishonor to, according to his Uncle. He almost laughed. He wouldn’t be getting very far in this investigation if his client thought he had dishonorable intentions towards his esteemed and unapproachable person.

“Suit yourself, then.” Wei Wuxian plopped into his chair and stretched his feet out over the top of his own desk. He pulled his hip flask from the inner pocket of his suit jacket, and added the contents to his cup of cooling coffee. There, now he could have his uppers with his downers in relative peace. “I apologize,” he started again. “I didn’t mean to get off on the wrong foot with you. I seem to recall your Uncle saying something about how you do not drink.”

“Mn.”

This… was not going to be an easy interview.

“It would help out with my side of the investigation if you were to tell me as much as you know about what actually happened,” he tried again. “Start with telling me about your husband.” After a pause, he added, “Your late husband.”

“Guangshan was a slobbering pig who made his fortune in bootlegging and had designs of being a social climber.”

Wei Wuxian did his best to suppress a snicker. “Look, I know it wasn’t exactly a love match. But surely there must have been something you liked about the man? Your brother, Xichen, told me he gave you a number of expensive wedding gifts.” Lan Wangji remained silent and immobile in his armchair. “I saw the family portrait he had commissioned,” Wei Wuxian attempted to loosen his guest’s tongue again. “The likeness was striking and tastefully rendered. What else did he give you, if you don’t mind my asking?”

Lan Wangji shifted slightly and raised one of his elegant hands. Without gloves on, Wei Wuxian was able to admire the long, musician’s fingers. Unlike Lan Wangji’s neck, which was constantly draped in layers of jewels, his fingers were mostly bare, except for what looked like a golden signet ring with the Lan family crest on it. Lan Wangji pulled the silver wig off his head and shook out his dark hair. It was lustrous like onyx and looked slightly damp, as if Lan Wangji had freshly bathed before getting ready to visit Wei Wuxian. Before he started to mentally undress his guest any further, Wei Wuxian took another swallow of his Irish coffee.

“I know it’s uncouth to speak ill of the dead,” Lan Wangji finally said, “but Guangshan was a very crude man, more interested in abiding by his own garish tastes than by ours. Would you believe he bought me a collier of rubies? Rubies, Mr. Wei,” he emphasized with a shudder. “Everyone across the Golden State knows I prefer sapphires. Such effrontery, really.”

Well, Wei Wuxian had to give it to the Ice Prince, it was true that even he himself had somehow been inculcated with this cursed knowledge of Lan Wangji’s preferred gemstones, although he’d be damned if he knew how and why.

Wei Wuxian cleared his throat. “Ahem, yes, I see. What a Neanderthal.”

“Thank you, Mr. Wei.”

Wei Wuxian swallowed. The whiskey inside his coffee mug burned the back of his throat pleasantly. Lan Wangji was beautiful, and absolutely intolerable. Two qualities which did not necessarily make him a murderer. Still, Wei Wuxian wasn’t so sure that Jiang Cheng’s instincts were off in this case.

“It’s really all right if you call me Wei Ying,” he blurted out, against his better judgement.

“I’d really prefer not to get so overly familiar. Mr. Wei.”

“As you wish, your highness,” Wei Wuxian shrugged. “The thing is, if we’re going to point the police away from you, we’ll need a slew of other suspects. Care to brainstorm with me who besides yourself may have wanted your husband dead?”

“I did not want my husband dead, Mr. Wei.”

Wei Wuxian laughed. “Sure, sure. You sound full of affection for the old sod, and I can see you are besides yourself with mourning.”

“You are mocking me.”

“Only a little.”

“I had never seen Guangshan’s will. I had no idea he would have left me half of everything. He had two adult sons…”

“Tell me about them.”

“Well, there’s Zixuan - he’s younger but he’s Guangshan’s only son from his legal marriage. Guangyao was born… out of wedlock. Guangshan had formerly adopted him much later in life.”

“What are they like?”

“Conventionally pretty. Nothing to write home about.”

“I did not mean their looks, your highness.”

“Oh…” Lan Wangji looked genuinely at a loss. “Zixuan seems oddly morally upstanding for that family. He must take after the late Madam Jin. You may wish to ask my brother about Guangyao. They’re… They’ve grown close.”

“And you do not approve?”

Lan Wangji pulled his ribcage inward, as if trying to protect himself from an invisible attack. “I trust my brother’s judgement,” he uttered.

Wei Wuxian was not entirely convinced. There was something else going on there, although he could not quite place his finger on what yet, and pressing Lan Wangji about it would likely prove futile.

“Your brother seems like an easy man to like,” Wei Wuxian probed gently.

Lan Wangji’s eyes darkened again. “My brother has a pure and trusting heart, which many people in this world would strive to take advantage of.”

“Ah, so you must protect him?”

“Who said that?”

Wei Wuxian looked around, as if someone other than the two of them had truly been speaking, and spread out his hands in a helpless gesture. “Nevermind,” he conceded. “Besides the two sons, who obviously also stood to inherit, can you think of anyone else who may have wished your late husband harm?”

“He was a gangster, Mr. Wei.”

“He was a businessman,” Wei Wuxian corrected, cheekily.

“Pish posh,” Lan Wangji whispered under his breath and Wei Wuxian snorted. There was something quite compelling about being abused by someone as beautiful as Lan Wangji. But that was a thought for another day entirely. Better yet, for another night. “Well, if you like…”

“Please! Anything. Anyone at all.”

“There’s Seymour Yao, of course.”

“Is that the guy who keeps sending you messenger boys with proposals?” Wei Wuxian reached for his cup, only to find it empty. He pulled out his hip flask and took a fortifying gulp directly from the neck, before putting it back in his pocket.

“The same,” Lan Wangji agreed with a barely perceptible frown. “He was very interested in me even before Guangshan and I were wed. Of course, the man is a pleb, far far beneath my mention.”

“Even lower than Jin Guangshan?”

“He doesn’t even have Guangshan’s levels of money.”

“The villain!”

“You jest, but the man is repugnant, Mr. Wei. There isn’t a bigger gossip in all of San Francisco. Besides, none of them want me for me. They only want what I symbolize.”

“And what’s that?”

“The power and prestige of Cloud Recesses.”

It had been a long time since Wei Wuxian last heard the old Lan Manor being referred to by its ancestral name. Something about the way Lan Wangji said it, with tender reverence, made him sit up in his chair and lower his legs from his desk. He drummed his fingers against the polished wood of his tabletop and stroked his chin in contemplation.

“You say your husband was a gangster - what do you know of his business dealings? Who were his rivals? What sort of vendettas did he have?”

“Mr. Wei, we were only wed less than a month. Guangshan never shared that information with me. I… I don’t think he married me for my business acumen.”

“So, one day, you both went to bed and when you woke up… he was…?”

“Quite dead. Yes.”

“Anything memorable happen the night before?”

“Nothing extraordinary.”

“Hm.”

“I’m sorry I can’t be of any more help, Mr. Wei. All I can do is reiterate that I did not want my husband murdered.”

Wei Wuxian gave the other man a long look. “No,” he said. “Perhaps you did not. But you never once said you are sorry that he’s dead.”

“Death comes for all of us, Mr. Wei. Sooner or later.”

Wei Wuxian fixed Lan Wangji with a melancholy look. To die with a man like that in your bed - there were certainly worse ways to go. With that, he still felt compelled to add, “I prefer later.”

***

There were many bars popping up after the war in the city, but Local Edition, in the basement of the Hearst Building, still had that old speak-easy vibe that appealed to the glitterati of the day. It was where anyone who was anyone came to rub elbows and drink finely mixed cocktails served by exquisitely attired bartenders. It seemed the logical place for Wei Wuxian to do reconnaissance for a case of such a high profile.

He was probably going to have to step on many toes to get what he wanted, since it was becoming readily apparent that Lan Wangji would never be able to fend for himself. Oh sure, he looked like his bite was as bad as his bark, but his tales simply did not stand up to scrutiny. Wei Wuxian was entirely unconvinced of his innocence himself. The question was - was there someone else out there who was at least equally as guilty? A rival? A lover? Lan Qiren had hired him to point the finger in another direction. He just needed a convincing direction to point.

He found Wen Qing and MianMian canoodling in a booth in the back corner of the bar, their heads pressed close together, trading soft whispers. Wei Wuxian plopped down next to them, uninvited, setting his gimlet down next to their martini glasses.

“QingQing! Remember, we’re here to work.”

“XianXian, you’re a pest.”

“But I’m adorable,” he pointed out, which was, objectively, true. Many people have told him so in his long and illustrious life. “I am buying the next round, ladies,” he said with a placating smile. “But in the meantime, I need introductions. Who is who around here? Who, you know, knows things? Who is the Seymour Yao of high society San Francisco?”

Wen Qing reluctantly pulled away from her gal pal and cast her eyes about the darkened salon. “Well, you’ll probably want to talk to Nie Huaisang,” she said, pointing out someone who had all the accoutrements of a dandy playboy. “Do you know Captain Nie Mingue?”

“By reputation only,” Wei Wuxian admitted.

“That’s his baby brother.”

“They have different moms,” MianMian chimed in, as if that explained everything.

“Huaisang knows everything while pretending to know nothing,” Wen Qing explained. “He’s probably slept with more than half the people in this bar.”

“A celebrity!” Wei Wuxian toasted the man that his friends had pointed out with his raised glass. The man in question looked behind him, as if uncertain that the gesture was intended for him, and then flashed Wei Wuxian an enchanting smile. “You must introduce us, QingQing.”

“Remember, you’re here to work, not to bone him.”

“Please, ladies, I’m a professional.”

“A professional dumbass.”

“Insulted,” Wei Wuxian said, not even remotely insulted. "And what about the Jin sons, MianMian? Any of them here tonight?"

"It's still early," MianMian pointed out. "If I see either of them, I'll go over to talk to them and signal you to join us."

"What would I do without you, ladies?" Wei Wuxian gallantly kissed MianMian's hand, earning a dubious look from Wen Qing.

"Likely starve to death in front of a full refrigerator, you disaster of a man."

"Wen Qing, you wound me." Wei Wuxian pressed his hand to his heart with dramatic flare.

***

Nie Huaisang truly was a gasbag, Wei Wuxian was finding. Fortunately, in his line of work, gasbags were invaluable sources of information. However, it was difficult to discern, his intoxicated state notwithstanding, whether Nie Huaisang’s pronouncements were truly simply the ravings of an overexcitable mind, or something entirely more calculated.

“So, anyways, I said to my brother, I said - Brother, if you are in love with that Lan Xichen fellow, stop beating about the bush, and jump into the bush before someone else does!” Nie Huaisang was pronouncing at the same time as he waved the bartender to refill his elaborate drink. “But my brother is an honorable man, Mr. Wei. He knew his army pension could never support Lan Xichen in the lifestyle he and his brother have grown accustomed to, and so he was willing to simply…” Here Nie Huaisang let out a dainty hiccup. “Simply step aside. And now, of course, it looks very much like Lan Xichen might end up with Jin Guangyao.” He lowered his voice conspiratorially, “Did you know that Jin Guangyao was his daddy’s main fixer?”

Wei Wuxian shook his head. “Tell me more, my friend!”

Nie Huaisang beamed up at him and slipped another gimlet into Wei Wuxian’s waiting hand. Wei Wuxian could not surmise where all this dispensable income came from, considering Nie Huaisang had no detectable profession. But he was also not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, especially if the horse was buying drinks.

“They say,” Nie Huaisang lowered his voice again, “they say that whenever Jin Guangshan needed something done on, you know, the other side of his business, he always sent in Jin Guangyao to take care of it. But I don’t know the details, I really don’t know.”

Wei Wuxian was about to try his luck and see how much Nie Huaisang might suddenly remember if perhaps he had another drink, when his companion’s eyes widened and he took a step back, colliding with the brass rail of the bar.

“Oh, fuck. He’s here. I didn’t say anything. Well, there’s nothing to say, is there? I wish him all the best. Lan Xichen is a very beautiful man.”

Wei Wuxian could not disagree there. He slowly, so as not to arouse suspicion, turned to face the salon and locked eyes with MianMian, who was just rising from her seat. It appeared he was about to be introduced to one of Jin Guangshan’s heirs after all.

“Nie-xiong,” he tipped his trilby at his new friend, “you’ve been exceedingly helpful.”

“Wei-xiong, surely you exaggerate!”

The first thing Wei Wuxian noticed when he was introduced to Jin Guangyao was that he was incredibly short. The second thing he noticed was the dimples. Dimples and puppy eyes. What a pretty picture Jin Guangshan’s illegitimate son painted. The Ice Prince had been wrong - he was something to write home about. Though, Wei Wuxian supposed, if the face you saw in the mirror every day was that of Lan Wangji, everyone else would seem a bit of a troll by comparison. Still, Jin Guangyao was cute as all get out.

Also the dimples. Had he mentioned the dimples? There was no way someone with that face was a fixer unless by “fixer” Nie Huaisang meant of his father’s social calendar. What on earth? That boy had the sweetest face on the West Coast, Wei Wuxian would bet his hat on it.

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” he said, shaking the man’s hand.

“We’re all so shocked by it,” Jin Guangyao responded, demure and misty-eyed.

“Are the police any closer to catching who did it?” Wei Wuxian played dumb. It was, honestly, one of his fortes.

“It’s embarrassing to mention, really,” Jin Guangyao mumbled, looking around the salon to make sure they weren’t being overheard. “And I’m certain it must be a mistake. But the police are looking into my…” He lowered his voice to a husky whisper, causing Wei Wuxian to lean closer to hear him. “My step-father.”

“How dark!” Wei Wuxian exclaimed. “Isn’t your step-father one of the Lans of Cloud Recesses?”

“The Lans are my dear friends,” Dimples protested, wringing his hands. “If Wangji goes to prison, Xichen will be devastated.”

“Doubtlessly, the police will find the real culprit soon,” Wei Wuxian said, squeezing the man’s shoulder in what he hoped was his most reassuring manner.

“From your lips to god’s ears,” Dimples intoned with a devout look in his puppy eyes. “Ah, I see my brother is here as well. And with his girlfriend. You know, I’m so happy Zixuan has someone in this trying time, but it does seem a bit foolhardy to be seeing someone so closely entangled with the police department.”

Wei Wuxian followed Jin Guangyao’s look until he saw a man in an ostentatious suit that appeared to sparkle with sequins. He stood out in the crowd like some ridiculous peacock, and Wei Wuxian was filled with immediate antipathy. These must have been the garish tastes that Lan Wangji held in such low regard, and Wei Wuxian did not blame him. The girl on his arm, though, had a classy look about her, far too classy for the sequined peacock. And just as she turned around to cast a look towards the bar, Wei Wuxian let out a sharp gasp.

MiamMian gave him a gentle shove. “Do you also want to be introduced to Zixuan?”

“No need,” Wei Wuxian said, taking a fortifying gulp of his drink. “I know his date.”

The woman on Jin Zixuan's arm met Wei Wuxian's eyes with a bright smile and waved him over immediately.

"A-Xian!" Clasping his hand in both of hers, she seemed entirely unaware either of Wei Wuxian's discomfiture or her date's sudden tension. "What brings you to Local Edition?"

"It's so good to see you, Shijie," Wei Wuxian said, fighting against the impulse to hug her in front of all these people (and possible suspects in her brother's investigation). Yes, the woman accompanying Jin Zixuan was none other than Jiang Yanli, Jiang Cheng's older sister, and a default mother figure to all his classmates from the police academy. If Wei Wuxian thought of Jiang Cheng as a brother, it went without saying that Yanli was the closest thing he had to a sister. "I'm just here with some friends," he hedged. "And yourself?"

"Oh, how silly of me," Jiang Yanli smiled and reeled her date in closer by his arm. "A-Xian, this is my boyfriend, Jin Zixuan. Zixuan, baby, this is Wei Wuxian. I all but raised him."

Stiffly and with a distrustful look, the Peacock shook Wei Wuxian's hand. "Fiancé," he added curtly.

"Beg pardon?"

"Miss Jiang and I are engaged, though we are not announcing it publicly yet, due to the circumstances of my father's passing."

"Ah, of course." Wei Wuxian mustered his most sincere smile. "My condolences and… my clandestine congratulations. I was speaking with your brother earlier. What a torrid affair."

"How do you mean?"

Wei Wuxian faltered and cast a look at Yanli. "I mean… the murder investigation. It must be extremely awkward for the two of you. I'm surprised Jiang Cheng has not recused himself - you are to be family, after all."

"A-Cheng doesn't know," Yanli said in a lowered voice.

"But surely…" Wei Wuxian was at a loss. "He's a detective and this is something he might… detect?"

"Zixuan, baby, do you mind if I speak with my Didi alone for a few moments?"

With readily apparent reluctance, the Peacock gave Yanli a squeeze before going over to say hello to Dimples and MianMian.

"You're working this case, aren't you?" she said as soon as her fiancé was out of earshot. "Does A-Cheng know?"

"It seems, dear Sis, that you and I have both been keeping secrets from our copper brother."

"It's different. I love Zixuan. You, I can only presume, are in it solely for the money. Who hired you?"

"Not at discretion to say. But love you."

"Then are you looking into Zixuan's connection to all this?"

"Why? Should I be? Rumor on the street is he's the only one of the Jins who wasn't born crooked."

"A-Xian, you must drop this case!"

"As a personal favor to you?"

"Nothing good can come of you sticking your nose in this. It's bad enough that A-Cheng is involved. A high profile case like this, with so many highly positioned people involved, at the very least you'll make enemies."

"But I might also make friends."

"A-Xian!"

"Shijie! If you should be warning anyone off this case, it should be Jiang Cheng. Imagine the trouble he'd get for not disclosing your relationship with one of the potential suspects! And what if one day he has to drag your fiancé off in handcuffs? Have you thought about that?"

"That's ridiculous! Everyone knows it was the Lans who did it! Either one of them or all three, you take a pick - each one had a motive as big as the other!"

"So you're standing by your man," Wei Wuxian replied, fighting to keep his composure. "Very admirable of you. I hope you really did pick the one Jin worth standing by."

When the slap came, it seemed to shock Jiang Yanli even more than Wei Wuxian. They each drew back, their faces flushed and breaths panting from excitement. Wei Wuxian's rage seized him by the very roots of his hair. He hadn't been ill-treated like this since his early days of foster care, and Yanli had been the last person he would have expected it from.

"A-Xian, I'm so sorry," she stammered, her eyes big and filled with unshed tears.

"No, Shijie, I'm sorry," he countered. "I treated you like a suspect and that was wrong of me."

"A-Xian…"

"I have to go."

"Wait!"

He left before he did anything else he might regret. He was vaguely aware that he should have informed Wen Qing or MianMian of his departure, but blood pounded in his temples and he felt far too close to suffocating. He needed to get some air, or better yet, have a cigarette in the fresh air. Yes. That would clear his thoughts.

He stumbled upstairs, head still spinning from the drinks and the lasting effects of his final encounter. He pushed the door open and burst out into the crisp, cool air of Market Street. Downtown was still pretty busy for a work night, with small groups docking into various drinking holes in an attempt to make the night seem longer and life less tedious. The stars were invisible above the thick layer of fog, but the street lights twinkled far too brightly. Wei Wuxian lit one of his Lucky Strikes and turned off the main drag into a darkened side street, away from prying eyes.

In truth, he wasn't sure what had hurt more: the slap or what Yanli had said leading up to it. It was undeniable that the Lans had both the motive and the opportunity to off Jin Guangshan. Lan Qiren all but confessed to wanting him dead. Lan Wangji had the most to gain from that death. And even Lan Xichen, whose own pride must've been sorely wounded when he got passed over for his younger and ruder brother, was not above suspicion, his decidedly genteel nature notwithstanding. Yanli was correct in her assessment of the Lans. What confounded Wei Wuxian entirely was why he had been so upset at that insinuation. Upset enough to lash out at the one person in the world who had always treated him with nothing but kindness.

"You're an asshole, that's why," Wei Wuxian muttered to himself, taking a hard, punishing drag on his cigarette.

Something shifted out in the shadows. Wei Wuxian opened his suit jacket, hand prepared to reach for his hidden holster, when a gruff voice sounded from the darkness, "I would not do that if I were you, Mr. Wei."

The figure of a masked man emerged from the shadows into the poorly lit path of the alley. He held a gun pointed squarely at Wei Wuxian's chest.

Wei Wuxian dropped the remains of his cigarette into a nearby puddle and watched it fizzle out with a dying puff of smoke.

"What do you want?" he asked the stranger.

"First, I wanna see your hands."

Wei Wuxian raised his hands above his head. People who wanted you dead generally shot first and chatted you up later.

"Second," the man said, still keeping Wei Wuxian in his gun's sights, "I want you to give Old Man Lan his money back and keep your nose out of this investigation."

"What investigation?"

As soon as the question was out of Wei Wuxian's mouth, a gunshot blasted through the alley, frightening a nearby flock of pigeons and sending them scrambling for the foggy skies. The bullet ricocheted off the wall right above Wei Wuxian's head.

"Don't play games with us, Mr. Wei," said the masked stranger. "Next time, I won't miss."

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian was cutting his way across the abandoned Sutro Heights estate on his way to the Lan Manor. He could have taken a cab, Lan Qiren was certainly paying him enough for it, but he preferred to have the time to think. He always did his best thinking on the move.

When he'd gotten home the night of his alleyway encounter, he had stared at his phone long and hard before he finally dialed Jiang Cheng's number. His ex-partner's voice conveyed all the excitement of an early morning calculus lecture.

"Don't be mad," Wei Wuxian forestalled him. "I know it's late. Someone just took a shot at me."

"You in one piece?" Jiang Cheng was never an emotionally effusive person, unless that emotion was naked rage, but Wei Wuxian was touched by this display of concern.

"Yeah, yeah. They were just trying to scare me. Which is why I'm calling you. I really don't think Lan Wangji did it."

He could practically hear the eye roll on the opposite end of the line. "Didn't I tell you to stay the fuck away from my investigation?"

"I don't go looking for trouble, Jiang Cheng, it comes looking for me."

"Do you know what the Ice Prince said to my team when we tried to do him the courtesy of interviewing him at the manor, instead of dragging his ass downtown?"

"I…"

"He told us we weren't qualified to talk to him, Wei Wuxian!"

"Well, that's… he's…"

"He's what?"

"He's a bitch, all right? But he's not your murderer. I think he's being set up."

"Then why do I have to go through a wall of lawyers four men deep to even speak to him?"

"The Lans are a very private family."

"They fucking killed him, Wei Wuxian. And one of these days, I'm gonna prove it. The Ice Prince will crack."

"You're not even looking at anyone else, are you?"

"Is that what's going on here? You've been blinded by his good looks?"

Wei Wuxian let out a chuckle. "Not all of us can be as indifferent to sex appeal as you, Jiang Cheng," he teased.

"I've been told it makes me better at my job," Jiang Cheng countered.

"Maybe usually, but not in this case."

"Do the words motive and opportunity mean nothing to you anymore?"

"Do the words reasonable doubt mean anything to you?"

"Man, when you left the force, you really fucking left the force."

"Don't be like that, bro."

"Good night, Wei Wuxian."

Jiang Cheng wasn't wrong, exactly, but neither was Wei Wuxian. In order to convict, one needed proof, an overabundance of suspicion wasn't going to convince a jury. It was also not going to convince Jiang Cheng. Wei Wuxian needed evidence. He needed to track down the masked man. But before anything, he needed to talk to Lan Wangji and tell him what had happened. If someone was willing to go as far as scaring him off, what was to stop them from trying something else, something worse on the man they very clearly wanted arrested for this murder.

Lan Wangji's Silver Dawn was in the driveway, getting a sponge-down by a man wearing a driver's cap and livery. Wei Wuxian was relieved to evidently find his reluctant client at home. The same butler who let him in last time led him to another salon, where he was surprised to find Lan Xichen and another man he'd never had the pleasure of meeting before.

"Ah, Mr. Wei, how lovely to see you again," Lan Xichen rose from the couch to greet him. The man who had been sitting on the couch next to the First Jade graced Wei Wuxian with a cold and measuring look.

"Xichen," Wei Wuxian shook the man's hand, replying to his warm smile with one of his own. "I was actually hoping I might catch your brother."

"Wangji is very popular this afternoon," Lan Xichen replied, cryptically. "Won't you have a seat? I'm sure he'll be available to speak with you shortly." He gestured towards an empty armchair and placed himself back onto the couch. "By the way, do you know my good friend from my schoolboy days, Captain Nie?"

That did ring a bell. "I do not have the pleasure." Wei Wuxian tipped his fingers to his hat. "Although I do believe I've made the acquaintance of the captain's brother."

"You and half of San Francisco," Nie Mingjue mumbled, reaching for his tumbler filled with a warm, amber liquid. He turned his entire attention back to their host, as if there was nothing else in Wei Wuxian's existence that interested him. "You were saying, you wanted to go riding today."

"Ah yes! I want your opinion on a new mare Wangji bought for me." Lan Xichen turned to Wei Wuxian, making an effort to include him in this discussion that he had intruded upon. "Mingjue knows so much about horses."

Mingjue, if Wei Wuxian had to venture a guess, cared very little about horses at that particular moment. However, the Elder Jade seemed determined to remain blind to his obvious ouvertures of devotion.

"I'm sure the Captain is knowledgeable on a variety of topics," Wei Wuxian responded, attempting to make himself as unthreatening as possible.

"Have you eaten, Xichen?" Nie Mingjue asked solicitously. "If you're not hungry, I suppose we could go right now."

"Please, do not delay your activities on my account," Wei Wuxian offered. In truth, he had a great amount of sympathy for the captain, having met his rival only the other night. Jin Guangyao had a lot going for him: good looks, youth, money. If he adored Lan Xichen even half as much as Nie Huaisang professed his brother did, he would make a great match for the Elder Jade. Wei Wuxian wondered where Lan Xichen's own preferences lay. His impeccable manners made his deepest desires obscure and unreadable.

The door to the salon burst open like a firework and Lan Wangji poured into the room, clad in a regal blue robe that trailed behind him, followed closely by a little man with a punchable face.

"How many times must I make myself clear?" Lan Wangji fumed, turning to face the man. "When will you disabuse yourself of this notion that you have a chance with me?"

"You married Jin Guangshan!" the little man insisted. "If he was good enough for you, why can't I be? I'd treat you like a King! I'd never buy you a single ruby! I'd keep you strictly in Chanel and Dior, none of those horrid British Utility designs!"

"Seymour, I am perfectly capable of buying my own clothes!"

"So, you only spread your legs for gangsters, is that it? You're a gun moll, now?"

"Sir," Nie Mingjue calmly unfurled to his full height. "You cross a line."

Wei Wuxian also rose, his hand traveling habitually towards his holster.

"I will escort Mr. Yao off the premises," the captain stated in a way that broached no argument from anyone present.

"Don't act all high and mighty with me, Lan Wangji!" Seymour Yao hollered as Nie Mingjue grabbed him by the collar. "Once a whore, always a whore!"

Lan Xichen quickly stepped in between his brother and the kicking and screaming guest who was being roughly removed from their presence.

"Wangji, don't listen to him."

"Some men don't know how to love, only how to own," Lan Wangji said, his eyes looking past Lan Xichen's shoulder into the unfathomable distance. He slid quietly into his brother's embrace, oblivious to the fact that he was still being observed, and Wei Wuxian forced himself to look out the window, where the sight of Nie Mingjue literally kicking Seymour Yao in the ass was a lot more amusing and less invasive.

Whatever Lan Xichen said to his brother next was too soft for Wei Wuxian to hear. He wasn’t ready for Lan Wangji to turn around and see him, but he attempted to put his best game face on for the inevitable moment of awkwardness.

“I didn’t see you there,” Lan Wangji’s voice called Wei Wuxian back from the window.

“I came at an inopportune time,” he said, still avoiding Lan Wangji’s eyes as he turned. “My apologies.” Before Lan Wangji could dismiss him, he added. “It was critically important we speak. I wouldn’t have bothered you at your home otherwise.”

“It would appear that Uncle is paying you to bother me.”

This was simpler to cope with, frankly. Wei Wuxian was ready for a cold, dismissive Lan Wangji. Not the one who crumpled like an autumn leaf into his brother’s arms.

“I’m sorry you had to see that, Mr. Wei,” Lan Xichen added. He turned towards the returning Nie Mingjue and mouthed “Thank you” at the captain, who cast a wordless look towards Lan Wangji and then back at Lan Xichen. The silent interplay between the two men also felt too intimate to observe, and once again Wei Wuxian found himself examining the laces of his spats.

“Is there anything I can do?” Wei Wuxian asked, finally looking up and meeting Lan Wangji’s eyes, who had by then slipped back into the icy mask he was so accustomed to showing to the world. “Break that guy’s legs? Just say the word.”

“I did not realize you had such a varied portfolio,” Lan Wangji said, clearly taking the piss out of Wei Wuxian. He would allow it, this time. “Come for a drive with me?” Lan Wangji suddenly pivoted. “We can talk then.”

“Wangji, please be careful,” Lan Xichen admonished, his hand hovering just short of touching Lan Wangji, the way he may have approached a nervous colt.

Lan Wangji pulled on a pair of fine kid leather driving gloves and tossed his robe into the waiting arms of the materialized butler before putting on one of his long Chanel coats. “Brother, I’m always careful.”

“Deliberate and careful aren’t always the same,” Lan Xichen pointed out with a sad smile.

Wei Wuxian took a step forward. “I’ll take care of him,” he said, meeting another one of Lan Wangji’s unreadable stares. He jutted his chin out, challenging the other man to contradict him. “Let’s go?”

***

The Rolls Royce cruised down the Great Highway, letting in the salty ocean air through the rolled down windows. The late autumn sun was beginning to set, coloring the scattered clouds in a myriad of pastel hues as Wei Wuxian fixed his eyes on the horizon. The Pacific Ocean looked turbulent. In all his years in San Francisco, Wei Wuxian was yet to see it earn the “Pacific” moniker.

“Sun’s going down,” he said, to no one in particular, while the Silver Dawn veered to the left and turned off in the direction of Sloat Boulevard. The Herbert Fleishhacker Zoo sign flashed past them, shocking Wei Wuxian with its incongruous newness. The city was changing at a rapid pace since the war, as if in a hurry to leave all that ugliness in the past.

“Mn,” Lan Wangji hummed quietly.

“Where are we going?” Wei Wuxian ventured.

“Just… Clearing my head.”

Lan Wangji, Wei Wuxian noted, was a rather heavy-footed driver. He wondered whether that was one of the reasons for the liveried chauffeur he had seen earlier that day. The car peeled past the clandestine greenery of Stern Grove, and zoomed towards the winding stretch of Portola Avenue.

“We need to talk,” Wei Wuxian reminded Lan Wangji. “I know you’ve had quite the day, but I’ve had an equally exciting night, I promise you.”

“Mn.”

“I don’t mean like this. You might want to pull over.”

The car sped up the hilly, zig-zagging stretch of Portola, newly constructed single family homes flying by them like colorful dragonflies. Over the top of Twin Peaks, one could make out the darkly teeming oncoming fog. The sun must have set behind them, casting the skies in penumbral blues. Wei Wuxian could just make out the risen crescent moon, hanging low over the outline of downtown beneath them.

“You’re heading for Twin Peaks?” he asked.

“Mn.”

“It’s foggy as fuck up there.”

“I have fog lights,” Lan Wangji replied, flicking on his lights as if to demonstrate the verity of his pragmatic pronouncement.

He was taking each serpentine turn at breakneck speeds, causing Wei Wuxian to grasp the ever-appropriately named “oh shit bar.” The fog poured around the mountain like milk, hiding the path and any potential oncoming traffic from their eyes. It appeared that Lan Wangji cared very little for visibility, steering the vehicle as if by muscle memory alone, gears shifting like clockwork, making Wei Wuxian wonder how many times he had made this drive in the past, and in a similarly agitated state.

“You… uh… come here often?” he mused.

“Often enough.”

“Nice view, is it?”

“See for yourself,” Lan Wangji said, pulling his car to a sudden halt at the top of what Wei Wuxian had to surmise was the viewing platform. Lan Wangji killed the lights and the engine, leaving the two of them shrouded in fog and darkness.

Wei Wuxian peered out the front windshield, trying to pierce the night that had descended during the precarious drive. The wisps of fog shifted around and beneath them. A long way down, one could just make out the glimmering lights of the city. Wei Wuxian pulled up the collar of his own coat and stepped out of the car. He pulled out his pack of Lucky Strikes and offered one to Lan Wangji, who had followed him out of the vehicle. His own coat hung unbuttoned around his shapely, slender frame. His neck, for once, was unadorned with various jewels, and Wei Wuxian caught himself looking at the long expanse of pale skin stretched over the prominent knot of Lan Wangji’s throat.

Lan Wangji accepted the cigarette and the light from Wei Wuxian’s fingers and took a long, thoughtful drag, letting the smoke escape out of his mouth and his nostrils, resembling some dragon of legends. “Thank you, Wei Ying.”

“My pleasure, your highness,” Wei Wuxian replied, trying very hard not to preen at the fact that Lan Wangji finally called him by his given name.

“What did you wish to discuss?”

Lan Wangji leaned back against the hood of his Rolls and gestured for Wei Wuxian to join him against the polished chrome.

“Well, don’t be alarmed, but someone took a shot at me last night when I was doing reconnaissance on your case.”

Lan Wangji froze in the act of taking another inhale. “Someone tried to kill you?”

“Not exactly. They wanted to warn me off. It would appear my big nose being stuck places ruffled some feathers.”

“Who were you investigating, then?”

“Oh, no one in particular. And everyone all at once.” Lan Wangji was silent. Wei Wuxian found himself staring at his finely sculpted profile: his chiseled jaw, sharp like a blade, the gentle slope of his nose, the way his ears were slightly pointed at the top like some fairytale elf he’d only read about in books before, the curve of his supple mouth, devastating. Wei Wuxian took a hard drag on his own cigarette and flicked the remaining butt away. “Detective Jiang has it in for you. And someone out there is very interested in you taking the fall for this. I just wanted to tell you to be careful. Truly be careful. Don’t go on any drives by yourself. Lay low for a while, if you can. Maybe leave town for a bit.”

“Wouldn’t leaving town make me seem even more suspicious?”

“They’re not really looking into any other suspects than you,” Wei Wuxian said. He was breaking the code by sharing this information. But Lan Wangji was his client. No client, no money. No money, no food. Sometimes, it really was that simple. Even Jiang Cheng and Shijie would understand, surely. “Well, they may also be looking into your Uncle and Brother.”

“Xichen didn’t do anything!” Lan Wangji exclaimed, suddenly as animated as Wei Wuxian had ever seen him.

“Neither did you. Right?”

Lan Wangji looked at the bright red cherry of his cigarette, letting the smoke wrap around his long, gloved fingers. “Perhaps I should turn myself in,” he said.

“What are you talking about, highness? Who are you protecting?”

“Everyone. No one. Maybe even you.”

“If you had said this to me two days ago, I may have agreed. But someone has tried to blow a hole in my hat since then, and I’m very emotionally attached to my hat. So, spill.”

“I may have done it.”

“Lan Wangji.”

“Wei Wuxian.”

“I’m not fucking around here. Whatever it is that’s on your mind, you might as well come properly clean about it.” Wei Wuxian realized this would be at least a two cigarette conversation and reached for his pack once again.

“I did not love my husband,” Lan Wangji said, eyes fixed downwards, in the direction of the city lights. A cold gust of wind blew past them, ruffling Lan Wangji’s hair and making him finally pull his coat tightly around his frame. “I did not wish to… you know… with my husband. So…”

“So…?”

“So, to avoid having to… you know…"

"Papapa?"

"...I drugged him.”

“You what?” Wei Wuxian bit his lower lip so as not to laugh.

“I slipped him a Mickey.”

“Holy shit, your highness.” Now Wei Wuxian really did laugh. “Like, how many times?”

“Pretty much every night.”

“Jesus!”

“It’s not what you think. It wasn’t supposed to harm him and… I don’t think it did. He woke up fine every morning, except…”

“Except the morning he didn’t,” Wei Wuxian completed for him.

“Quite so.”

“Didn’t he ever try to… you know… papapa with you during the day?”

“Wei Ying!”

“What! I’m just asking. Look, not out of any prurient reasons, just… I need to know what we’re dealing with here.”

“What if I did it? What if his heart really just gave out because of the sedatives?”

“Two reasons why I don’t think that’s the case?”

“Mn?”

“Number one, follow me closely here, the tox report from the ME’s office specifically said the man was poisoned, right? Sleeping pills, if that’s all you gave him, may have been ruled accidental. But the cops are up your ass, so - not an accident.”

“All right. And number two?”

“Number two - someone took a fucking shot at me!”

“So, what you’re saying is, if there was nothing for you to uncover, why would anyone care if you were digging.”

“Precisely,” Wei Wuxian said, tapping his temple with his index finger.

“But every family has secrets,” Lan Wangji said, his deep voice a low rumble, “skeletons that they would prefer not to be unearthed.”

“True. Digging up skeletons is the thing I’m best known for.”

“Perhaps someone took a shot at you because they didn’t want you finding out something else, something having nothing to do with my husband’s murder.”

“You’re really determined to take the fall for this? To go to prison? Death row?”

“It’s just that… My family is innocent. And I’ve already put them through so much just… With this entire Jin Guangshan fiasco.”

Perhaps, Wei Wuxian thought, there were skeletons here that no one wanted unearthed, too. But be that as it may, he had taken Lan Qiren’s money, so to quote the old Admiral himself, Lan Wangji would be going to prison on his watch over his dead body.

“Don’t overthink this,” he finally said, letting out a thick cloud of smoke. “And for god’s sakes, keep not talking to the cops. Christ almighty!”

***

The drive back to Cloud Recesses was much more sedate. Wei Wuxian was twirling his trilby on the tip of his finger, while Lan Wangji calmly steered the Silver Dawn down the winding side of the mountain and back towards the ocean. Neither man spoke. They had appeared to reach a sort of detente, a mutual understanding that curled around Wei Wuxian’s throat like a cashmere scarf. He had been horrified to learn that he did not hate Lan Wangji as much as he previously thought - a concept that in itself warranted close examination over a nice bottle of Tanqueray. Wen Qing would be hearing all about it in short order, if for no other reason than because Wei Wuxian was famously crap for sorting out his own feelings. Plus, now he had wasted an entire day, and he was nowhere nearer to cracking this case wide open than he was at the start. Perhaps another pair of ears was just what he needed.

They drove past Sutro Heights and turned onto the street leading up to the Lan Manor when Wei Wuxian reached out and placed his hand on Lan Wangji’s forearm.

“Wait.”

“What?”

“Stop the car.”

“Why?”

“Too many vehicles.”

“Too many vehicles?”

“Lan Wangji, turn the car around!”

Lan Wangji slammed on the brakes, making the Rolls pull up with a heavy jolt. Wei Wuxian looked in the side mirror just in time to see one of the vehicles he had clocked pull out and block their path backwards.

“Shit,” he said, hand reaching for his holster.

Another car was parked on the gravelly driveway ahead of them. Its doors opened and two people got out. Wei Wuxian immediately recognized the man who had approached the Rolls, with one of his hands on the holster of his side arm and the other brandishing his badge. It was, of course, none other than Jiang Cheng.

“Stay in the car,” he told Lan Wangji and pushed the door open.

“Hands where I can see them!” Jiang Cheng hollered immediately.

“Jiang Cheng, don’t shoot - it’s me!”

“Wei Wuxian?”

“The only me I know,” he replied with a shrug. “And may I ask, why do I have the honor of running into Detective Jiang tonight at the Lan Manor?”

“We have a warrant for the arrest of Mr. Lan Wangji.”

“Bull,” Wei Wuxian snarled. “On what charges?”

“For the murder of Seymour Leopold Yao,” Jiang Cheng replied with a crooked grin. His new partner, whose name Wei Wuxian could not be bothered to remember, brandished a pair of handcuffs.

Behind him, Wei Wuxian heard the Silver Dawn’s driver’s side door slam. “Did you say Seymour Yao’s dead?” Lan Wangji asked.

“Mr. Yao passed away tonight after driving himself off a cliff because the brakes of his car had been cut. But you would know everything about that, wouldn't you, Mr. Lan?”

Chapter Text

"Get back in the car, highness," Wei Wuxian commanded through clenched teeth.

"Wei Ying?"

"Oh, it's Wei Ying now?" Jiang Cheng smirked. "Getting cozy with my suspect, are you, Wei Wuxian?"

"My client."

"Bully for you!"

"And I'll tell you something else, Detective," Wei Wuxian took another step towards his old partner. "You can shove that warrant where the sun don't shine, because my client has an alibi. I was with him all evening, since before the late Mr. Yao left his domicile. So there's no way he would have had the opportunity to cut his brakes."

"As if I would ever lower myself to doing manual labor," Lan Wangji slipped in casually.

Jiang Cheng cackled with glee. "I suppose poisoning is more in your wheelhouse?"

"Don't answer him, your highness," Wei Wuxian admonished while scowling at Jiang Cheng. "Like I said, Detective, there was no way he could've done it."

"And yet, the entire household heard the row they had earlier in the day. Mr. Yao said some things a man like Mr. Lan could not allow to go unanswered. And this is the last place Mr. Yao was known to take his vehicle before his fiery crash."

"All that proves is my suspicion that the Lans are being framed is correct!"

"How terribly convenient! A violent row leads to a violent death, but it's a frame up job." Jiang Cheng let out a forced laugh. "Not to mention that your client here had Mr. Yao bodily removed," he added with a snarl, getting right into Wei Wuxian's face. "Now step aside before I book you for interfering in a police investigation."

"The man who removed Mr. Yao from the premises was Captain Nie Mingjue," Lan Xichen's voice sounded from up the gravelly path. Various policemen parted to allow him passage as he approached and graced Jiang Cheng with one of his radiant smiles. "Perhaps Detective Jiang is going to try to arrest Captain Nie next as well?"

"See, Jiang Cheng? Lan Wangji was surrounded by people all day. When was he supposed to have snuck off to cut Yao's brakes?"

"Of course, and why would any of his own people cover for him!"

"Detective Jiang will have to arrest all of us then," Lan Xichen stated with glacial composure. "Since we're his people."

"Brother, no!"

"Get back in the car, Wangji!" echoed down the street at the same time as Wei Wuxian exclaimed "Get back in the car, highness!"

"Over my dead and rotting body!"

Everyone present turned in the direction of the outraged baritone of Admiral Lan.

"Detective Jiang!" Lan Qiren called out in a voice accustomed to being obeyed from the top of the stairs.

"Sir?" Jiang Cheng responded on instinct.

"There's a phone call for you inside."

"For me, Sir?"

Wei Wuxian pulled in his lips to rein in an inopportune smile.

"You are Detective Jiang, are you not?"

Looking chastened and confused, Jiang Cheng mounted the stairs and entered the manor, while Lan Qiren joined Wei Wuxian and his two nephews at the foot of the driveway.

"Who's on the other side of that call, Admiral?" Wei Wuxian asked.

"The mayor."

"It's not going to hold him off for long," Wei Wuxian pointed out. "My former partner is like a dog with a bone. He won't stop until he gets his man."

"Then I suggest, Mr. Wei, you work faster to find the right man for him to get." Lan Qiren scoffed and approached Lan Wangji, placing himself like a wall between his nephew and anyone else who may have dared to approach.

A few minutes later, Jiang Cheng exited the manor and descended the stairs, bristling like a thundercloud.

"We're pulling out," he barked at his new partner. "You and I aren't done, Wei Wuxian."

"You know where to find me," Wei Wuxian threw back, his heart in his throat.

What the fuck was he actually doing and what would it all end up costing him before it was done?

***

The night was still young and Wei Wuxian decided to pop over to Louis' for a grilled ham and cheese, taking advantage of the fact that he was in the neighborhood, before heading back home. He took a window seat, fixing his eyes on the long, lit up compound of the Sutro Baths, and beyond it, the waves breaking against the jagged outline of Seal Rocks. The turbulent, dark sea beneath the cliff where the little diner was perched resembled the various states of his own mind's unrest.

He asked the waitress for a pencil and quickly jotted down his thoughts on the small napkin as he chewed his sandwich.

Whoever cut Yao's brakes was clearly connected to the Lans, or had access to the manor. Then again, security was lax, and anyone may have snuck in while Yao was inside, unsuccessfully attempting to plight his troth. Could it have been the masked man who had threatened Wei Wuxian earlier? There had been nothing familiar about him, per se, nothing for Wei Wuxian to follow up on. He was a ghost, a spook, that was all. Whoever pulled his marionette strings was the real culprit. But who? And why?

For a moment, Wei Wuxian mulled over catching a cab to Wen Qing's, but quickly reconsidered, not wanting to interrupt whatever her plans may have been with Miss Luo that evening. There would be time to pick her brain on the morrow. Things always seemed less murky in the light of day, even in San Francisco.

Having settled his bill, he strolled down the hill, hoping to hail a cab over by the busy entrance to the Cliff House. He skirted the liveried doormen, tipping his hat at them while he descended the stairs towards the recently built novelty known as the Camera Obscura. It was too dark for the place to still be operating, but he paused in front of the tiny building with its lighthouse-like triangular top and took in a lungful of the fresh ocean breeze. This case too was a kind of Camera Obscura - what you saw was not the real picture, but merely a reflection in a bowl, a trick of light and optics.

By the time the cab dropped him off at the street corner of his building, Wei Wuxian had almost started to nod off. “Too much excitement for you, old man,” he chided himself as he rummaged inside his coat pocket for his keys. Instead, he discovered a gaping hole in his lining and swore. He wiggled his coat, encouraged by the jingle coming from somewhere inside. At least not all hope was lost, his keys were in there, hidden in the lining, playing hide and go seek with him. He’d need to darn that blasted hole as soon he was home.

With a sigh, he removed his coat and started to shove his entire fist through the inconvenient opening which had betrayed him, but before his hand had the chance to clasp his keys, the sound of rapidly approaching footsteps alarmed him just in time for him to look up and see two gloved hands with a garrotte headed straight for his windpipe.

Wei Wuxian dropped the coat, just giving himself enough time to protect his throat with his hands. The garrotte cut into the pads of his fingers, breaking skin as he was pulled flush against his assailant, back to chest. Wei Wuxian threw his head backwards, satisfied with the loud crack of his skull connecting with his would-be assassin’s nose. The man staggered back, the garrotte loose in his hand and covered in blood, and Wei Wuxian whirled around, once again coming face to face with the masked man from the other night.

“You!” he gasped, wiping one of his bloodied hands on the wool of his trousers.

“I warned you,” the man hissed, teeth bared, before lunging at him again and landing a punch right into Wei Wuxian’s solar plexus with what he had belatedly realized were brass knuckles. "Couldn't leave well enough alone, could you, boyo?"

“Ugh, cheating!” Wei Wuxian complained as he tried to climb back up on his knees, only to be kicked back down, a heavy boot thudding against chest. This wasn’t how he died, he’d decided. He’d survived worse, far worse. He’d survived being orphaned, the foster care system, the police academy, being shot at multiple times (and had scars to attest to some of those shootings), broken bones, and the inadvertent loss of his badge. He wasn’t going to be beaten to death underneath his own fucking windows by a man too cowardly to show his face. Especially as the aforementioned coward had apparently decided to kill him quietly, which was the only advantage Wei Wuxian still had.

He summoned what was left of his strength and lunged himself right at his assailant’s legs, wrestling him to the ground. They rolled on the hard asphalt, sharp pain shooting through Wei Wuxian’s lungs as the man once again managed to get the upper hand and straddled his chest, both hands closing around his windpipe. There was no way he could reach the holster under his arm from the way his shoulders were pinned by the other man’s knees, however, there was still one more trick up his sleeve. Or rather, up his pant leg.

The shot from Wei Wuxian’s ankle revolver rang through the street. The man’s hands slackened and blood trickled out of his mouth before he slumped over on top of Wei Wuxian’s prone body. Wei Wuxian gasped for air and coughed, his ribs heaving through the pain. He pushed the man off of himself and quickly checked for his pulse, finding none.

“Better luck next time,” Wei Wuxian answered, pulling off his mysterious assailant’s mask. His face was as unfamiliar as it was unremarkable. Wei Wuxian rummaged in the man’s pockets until he pulled out a small leather billfold. “Let’s make proper acquaintance, shall we?”

He slipped out the man’s driver’s license and squinted at it in the dim light. The loud sound of more steps running towards him did not make Wei Wuxian feel particularly reassured, given his circumstances. He quickly slipped his gun back into the ankle strap and directed his eyes towards the beat cop who already had his own weapon drawn on him.

“You need to call Detective Jiang at the Embarcadero Precinct,” Wei Wuxian said, raising both his hands high above his head. “I’m a private eye and this man just tried to murder me. Tell Jiang Cheng… His name is...” He squinted at the ID in his hand again. “Some fucker named Su Minshan.”

The copper gave Wei Wuxian a look over, taking in his bloodied and bruised appearance, and finally lowered his weapon, convincing himself that the gumshoe wasn't a threat. “You need some help there, Mister?”

“I can’t find my hat,” Wei Wuxian muttered before his body finally slid to the asphalt and his eyes closed for the remainder of the night.

***

When Wei Wuxian woke up in the hospital, and learned he had gotten off easy, all told, with a mild concussion, some bruised ribs, and a few stitches on his fingers, he immediately insisted on checking himself out. While the nurses were processing his paperwork, the curtain around his bed was unceremoniously pulled open and Jiang Cheng’s dour face stared down at him, eyes shooting every thunderbolt of Zeus.

“You’re fucking lucky you got your ass handed to you by some piece of shit mobster,” his ex-partner said without any preamble. “Because when I was planning on getting my hands on you? Well, you wouldn’t have got off with just some scrapes and bruises.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Wei Wuxian droned. “You hate me and I’m the worst.”

“Got that right.”

“Is there some other reason that you’re here? Besides to gloat?”

“Come on,” Jiang Cheng threw Wei Wuxian’s tattered coat into his lap. “I’m driving you home, idiot.”

The drive from the hospital at Parnassus Heights was surprisingly quiet, with Wei Wuxian casting furtive glances at Jiang Cheng’s sharp profile, while the other man doggedly kept his eyes glued to the road.

“You found my coat,” Wei Wuxian said, fiddling with the cursed hole inside his pocket again as he tried to keep his bandaged fingers warm. Everything hurt, a dull, buzzing ache that seemed to pervade his entire body. He shouldn't have been so quick to decline the script for the pain meds. Despite having been unconscious for close to ten hours, all he wanted was to go back to sleep. “You didn’t happen to find my hat, did you?”

“Shut up.”

“You will tell me what you dig up on the guy who tried to kill me though, right? Su… Whatever?”

“I didn’t look for your stupid hat.”

“Jiang Cheng…”

“Just… Don’t. All right? I don’t have the energy for whatever….” He motioned vaguely towards Wei Wuxian’s entire body. “This is.”

That made two of them. Wei Wuxian closed his eyes, and let his head fall against the window as he watched the street car roll past them up one of San Francisco’s many steep hills.

The next time he woke up, it was inside his own apartment and with a cold compress on his head. Time lost all meaning and he could not have told you what day of the week it was if his life depended on it. Given his line of work, it may very well have. His stomach emitted an undignified noise, making him wonder how it was possible to simultaneously be hungry and nauseated. He pulled his covers tighter around himself and rolled to the side, eyes scanning his tight quarters for clues of who had been there last and for how long.

“You’re awake,” said a voice Wei Wuxian was definitely not expecting. Perhaps he was still asleep and this was a concussion-induced dream.

Wei Wuxian shut his eyes and once more carefully pried them open. Two long legs materialized in his line of sight, clad in finely tailored trousers. A long, silk, white blouse with a coquettishly styled bow was draped over Lan Wangji’s frame, making him look somehow expensive and vulnerable at the same time. It was, frankly, a look that was frying Wei Wuxian’s barely functional brain.

“What are you doing here, in my humble abode, your highness?”

“You almost died for me. Twice now.” Lan Wangji pulled up a chair and sat at his bedside, adjusting the cold compress on Wei Wuxian’s head. “I thought, the least I could do is mop your brow and maybe serve you some tea.”

“Who told you?”

“Your partner, Wen Qing, called the manor.”

“I hope you didn’t come here alone. It’s dangerous.” Wei Wuxian tried to sit up, only to be gently pushed back into the pillows.

Lan Wangji reached across with his delicate wrist, unadorned with any traces of heavy bracelets, and produced one of Wei Wuxian’s tea cups. “I had my driver bring me,” he said, and gently blew into the cup. “This is the only tea you had,” he said, apologetically. “I’ll have more sent over here tomorrow. You cannot live on chamomile alone. It’s unseemly.”

“I don’t usually drink tea,” Wei Wuxian admitted. “I prefer my brews stronger.” And then, he gently added, “Like my men.”

“Mn.”

Lan Wangji carefully stirred the inside of the tea cup before placing it into Wei Wuxian’s freshly bandaged hands. Wei Wuxian raised his eyebrows. Their fingers brushed as the cup passed between them, and the strong scent of chamomile hit Wei Wuxian right in the nostrils. “Ugh! So floral and sweet!”

“I also added honey.”

“Poisoner.”

“Baby.”

“Buy me a real drink before you call me ‘baby’, your highness.”

“I meant that you are a baby, as in a crying, newborn person. And you know, if it would put you more at ease, you may call me Lan Zhan.”

“It wouldn’t and I don’t think I shall,” Wei Wuxian pronounced with all the considerable sass he could muster.

“I deserve that,” Lan Wangji nodded. If Wei Wuxian’s brain was not literally mildly concussed, he would have sworn that he caught the shadow of a smile grace his guest’s lips.

“It was rather bold of you to come here, though, wasn’t it, highness?” Wei Wuxian asked, taking a careful sip of the disgusting tea. It felt oddly soothing going down his parched and bruised throat. “Playing nurse to me is beneath your station. Aren’t you worried people might talk?” Lan Wangji shrugged and did not elaborate. “Really? You’re just so above it all?”

“People talk, Wei Ying, it’s what they do.” He once again reached over to fix the compress that was doing it’s best to slide completely down Wei Wuxian’s face. His fingers lingered along the side of Wei Wuxian's neck, where the private eye could still all but feel the imprints of his would-be assassin's hands. “I think you will find I put very little stock in my reputation.”

“That so?” Wei Wuxian asked, entirely unconvinced. “A Lan like you, in a place like this, after all the effort your Uncle put into raising you to be the perfect Ice Prince?”

Lan Wangji let out a small noise which Wei Wuxian could have sworn was some kind of a laugh.

“I wanted my brother to be free to marry for love,” he said, the seeming non-sequitur catching Wei Wuxian unawares. “You know, for as long as I can remember, he was always protecting me, caring for me, sheltering me. From the world, from people like Seymour Yao and Jin Guangshan. Brother was going to marry him to save Cloud Recesses, surely you must have heard. But he did not love him, how could he? How could someone like my brother love a man like Jin Guangshan? And I couldn’t… I couldn’t let him do it. I couldn’t let him sacrifice his last chance at happiness just to keep me in Chanel and pearls when I was more than capable of getting all those things for myself.”

Wei Wuxian found himself leaning forward, listening to every word with rapt attention, as if each sentence was a golden thread to unraveling some mystery that he did not know he’d gotten caught up in. But, oh, Wei Wuxian was caught.

“Hang on, hang on,” he interrupted Lan Wangji’s tale. “What are you saying? Didn’t Jin Guangshan get you drunk and… uh…”

“Don’t say it.”

“Papapa?”

Lan Wangji covered his beautiful face with his large, winglike hands, and Wei Wuxian took a moment to revel in his own childish assholery to his heart’s content. “Uh, not exactly,” Lan Wangji muttered through his fingers.

“Sorry I interrupted you. You were going to tell me…”

“I knew the kind of man Jin Guangshan was. Even though he had his sights set on my brother, his eyes still roamed, as did his hands. So, one night, I went over to his private club and joined him for one of his games of poker. Soon enough, he was inviting me up to his upstairs suite, just as I expected he would. He offered me a drink and I… I drank, knowing exactly what would happen to me if I did. The thing is, the lipstick I chose to wear that night was laced with a sedative. A sedative that I had trained myself to develop a tolerance to over the years. I knew that he would try something once I was passed out, which of course he did and then…”

“He kissed you while you were unconscious, like a dirtbag, and fell asleep?”

“I was fully clothed next to him when I woke up. So, I quickly divested both of us of our clothes, jerked off all over him, and climbed under his covers.”

“Lan Zhan!”

“Are you very scandalized, Wei Ying?”

“You are a lot more devious than I gave you credit previously!”

“I wanted my brother to be free to marry for love,” Lan Wangji repeated his earlier statement. “I figured, I could manage Jin Guangshan. Even if that meant I had to drug him every night. Even if I had to pretend to tolerate him. I was the Ice Prince, no one expected me to be warm and cuddly, after all. But it would have killed Xichen to have to do it. And I couldn’t live with that.”

Wei Wuxian took a gulp of his tea. It had cooled considerably while Lan Wangji was sharing his twisted tale of deception. “None of this makes you sound less suspicious,” Wei Wuxian mumbled. His face and neck felt flushed and he had a sudden desire for a gimlet.

“I know. Look, I know I’m not a particularly good person. I lied to my family, I ruined my brother’s engagement, I set up my husband, I drugged him. I use Japanese make-up! But I’m not a murderer.”

“Japanese make-up in post-war America, that really does cross the line,” Wei Wuxian wheedled him with a smirk.

“You’ve been really good to me, though,” Lan Wangji added, taking the by-now empty cup from Wei Wuxian’s hands. “You went up against Detective Jiang for me. You put your life at risk for me more than once.”

“I lost my favorite hat for you,” Wei Wuxian announced with a lachrymose grimace.

“I know my Uncle is paying you, but you don’t owe me any of that, all right? Listen to me, Wei Ying,” he said earnestly, gingerly pulling Wei Wuxian’s injured hands into his own. “You do not owe me your life. You owe me nothing. Please understand that.”

Before Wei Wuxian could even formulate a response, the doorbell rang, causing Lan Wangji to drop his hands and pull away. “I’ll see who it is.”

Wei Wuxian buried his face in his own pillow. He wanted Lan Wangji - Lan Zhan - to come back, to sit next to him again, to look at him with those ridiculously expressive amber eyes, to hold his fucking hands. When did it sneak up on him like this, like a thief in the night? How long had Wei Wuxian been so utterly, embarrassingly whipped?

“A-Xian.”

He lifted his face from the pillow. “Shijie!”

“I brought you some soup,” Yanli said, the look in her eyes melting whatever was left of any defenses around Wei Wuxian’s heart. He was dangerously close to weeping, and that was one thing he was not ready for Lan Zhan to see yet.

“I’ll leave the two of you alone,” Lan Wangji said, taking a brightly colored coat off the rack by the door. “Wei Ying, please take care of yourself.”

He was out the door in a flash of plumage, once again making Wei Wuxian wonder whether any of it had truly happened, or if this entire exchange had been nothing but a figment of his imagination.

“Shijie,” he whispered, lifting his eyes to Jiang Yanli’s eternally patient face. “I’m so fucked.”

Chapter Text

"I swear to God, if I catch flack for this, I'm driving you back to the hospital in an ambulance," Jiang Cheng's voice sounded subdued and exhausted over the phone, making Wei Wuxian wince in sympathy.

"You won't, come on," he prodded, knowing very well that he was pushing his luck.

"The doctors will have to surgically remove my foot from your ass."

"Vivid."

"Anyways…" Wei Wuxian could hear the long inhale of Jiang Cheng's cigarette across the phone line. "So this goon, Su Minshan, also went by Su She. Has a rap sheet a mile long for racketeering and other petty crimes. No known associates in the system that I can find so far. I'll keep digging, something's gotta shake out eventually."

"No connections to the Lans?" Wei Wuxian asked carefully.

"Worried about your boyfriend, are you?"

"Fuck off."

"A fish like Lan Wangji is a little big for your hook, ain't he?"

"It's not the size of the hook that matters, Jiang Cheng, it's how you wiggle it."

"You're such a fucking idiot, I swear."

Wei Wuxian smiled into the receiver. "Thank you. I mean it, truly."

"Don't make me hurl."

"And thank Shijie for me again if you see her."

"Thank her yourself, ass."

"Love you too, bro."

Wei Wuxian hung up the receiver and scratched the side of his nose in contemplation. For every step he took forward in this case, he seemed to hit another wall. But he had a name, and that was a start. If this Su She fucker wasn't connected to the Lans but had a rap sheet, there was still one obvious avenue to explore.

He quickly dialed Wen Qing's number and implored her in his whiniest and most pathetic voice, "QingQing, can I get five minutes with your best gal?"

His partner and her paramour arrived at his place with noodles and a cardboard box that had apparently been sent over to the office from Cloud Recesses. It was filled with expensive green tea and arnica oil.

"How intimate," Wen Qing smirked, twirling the beautifully packaged oil in her hand. "Does XianXian need us to rub this all over his boo-boos? You can close your eyes and pretend I'm the Ice Prince."

He covered his face with both hands and moaned, "Oh my god, shut uuuuuuup!"

“I’m sure he would have come here in person to rub this all over you,” Wen Qing continued, pitilessly. “But he probably has a massage and a pedicure and a hair appointment and, you know, whatever other super important stuff he has on his busy schedule today. Shopping!”

“A-Qing, you’re so mean to poor Lan Wangji,” MianMian chimed in. “You know he probably also has an appointment with his jeweler to have all those rubies Jin Guangshan bought him set into a tiara.”

“Wow!” Wei Wuxian exclaimed. “You two truly are a pair! And anyways, Lan Wangji hates rubies, and he would never wear them, even as a tiara.”

“Oh,” MianMian patted Wei Wuxian’s head with a condescending look, “you’ve got it so bad, poor baby.”

“I didn’t call you here so you could abuse me,” Wei Wuxian said with a pout, avoiding his friends’ twin mocking gazes. “I got quite enough abuse from that hired goon, thank you very much.”

“I’ll make tea!” Wen Qing pronounced, brandishing the packet that Lan Wangji so thoughtfully sent him. “You two can talk shop in the meantime.”

“So, MianMian,” Wei Wuxian plopped back down onto his unmade bed and patted the mattress next to him. “You know a lot of people.”

“Don’t make me sound like Nie Huaisang.”

“Ever heard of anyone named Su Minshan or Su She while you were rubbing elbows with our local glitterati?”

MianMian frowned. “Su She?” She raised her eyes, attempting to recall some fleeting memory. “Yeah, yeah, I remember Su She. I saw him a few times hanging about Jin Guangyao and his pals. First-rate ass-kisser, I’ll tell you that.”

“Jin Guangyao, his daddy’s fixer?” Wei Wuxian’s ears perked up.

MianMian shrugged. “I guess. He definitely always followed Jin Guangshan’s lead. Never a peep in contradiction. Daddy’s perfect little soldier.”

“Unlike Jin Zixuan?”

“Zixuan is a spoiled brat, but he’s always kept his nose clean. Plus, I’m pretty sure whatever Old Man Jin was up to, he wanted Zixuan as far away from it as possible. You know - continuity planning and all that.”

“And this Su She guy? You’ve only ever seen him with Jin Guangyao?” Wei Wuxian asked.

“As far as I recall. He wasn’t particularly memorable. Just a hanger-on. The Jins have so many, an entire army of sycophants and bootlickers. That creep who drove off a cliff? Seymour Yao? When Jin Guangshan was alive, you couldn’t have extricated that man’s head out of his ass.”

“Thanks for the titillating visual,” Wei Wuxian grimaced. “But this is very helpful, MianMian, you’re a treasure.”

“And don’t you forget it,” Wen Qing said, walking back up to them with a little tray of steaming tea cups. “By the way, Wei Wuxian, can Lan Wangji buy you a new tea kettle, or what? Yours is an embarrassment.”

“I’m not his kept man!”

“Actually, you are.”

“Actually, XianXian is his Uncle’s kept man,” MianMian added with a complacent grin.

“You’re both terrible and I can’t believe you have keys to my house. I’m under a sapphic assault.”

“I’ll get you the address for the Sapphic Complaint Department right away,” Wen Qing said with her usual deadpan delivery. Wei Wuxian adored his asshole friends.

***

Wei Wuxian figured three whole days of convalescing was more than enough. Admiral Lan wasn’t paying him to lay about in bed, drinking his nephew’s fine tea (which, Wei Wuxian had to admit, had been quite superior to the chamomile monstrosity he had previously been forced to imbibe).

His body was still sore and covered in some impressive hematomas (though he hated to admit the arnica oil was helping), but he hadn’t died in the past from a little heavy bruising, and he wasn’t going to start now. His hands were mostly healed and at least he still had all his teeth. He smiled into his reflection in the small mirror by his door, and combed back his hair. Without a hat, this would have to do. He threw a scarf around his neck to hide the bruises still visible above his collarbones and slipped on the coat that Wen Qing had dry cleaned in the meantime. (Truly, he did not deserve her.)

Thus, deeming himself as close to presentable as he was going to get, he caught a cab back to Cloud Recesses. Sure, he could have had this conversation via phone, but he wasn’t going to lie to himself - he wanted to see Lan Wangji again, to make sure that he was still free and in one piece, perhaps to reassure himself that whatever awful feelings he’d caught weren’t just a concussion-induced fluke.

As luck would have it, Lan Wangji was not at the manor, as the butler informed him upon arrival.

“What about your other young master?” Wei Wuxian asked.

“Master Xichen just returned from his horseback ride,” the butler replied. “If Mr. Wei could wait in the sitting room,” and led Wei Wuxian to yet another salon he had previously not been in. He was beginning to wonder exactly how large the Lan Manor was and how many people it had originally been intended for.

Lan Xichen walked into the salon still in his riding gear. His polished boots sat perfectly around his shapely calves and the tweed outfit he had chosen for his riding gear had the aura of simultaneous sin and propriety. Wei Wuxian forced his mouth closed and thanked the gods that the First Jade was not accompanied by Captain Nie this time around. The last thing Wei Wuxian fancied was a riding boot up his own ass, compliments of the captain for inappropriate gawking at the object of his desires.

“Mr. Wei!” Lan Xichen exclaimed, walking right up and enthusiastically shaking his hand. “I did not expect to see you out and about so soon after that grisly assault!”

“Ah, thank you, Sir… Xichen… ahem,” Wei Wuxian stammered, flustered at being suddenly so close to the man and his entire number, replete with the riding crop. Get a grip, Wei Wuxian! “I’m fine. Really. Nothing that a few of days of bedrest couldn’t cure.”

“Wangji said you looked positively ghastly when he last saw you.”

“Well, your brother says a lot of impolite things.”

“He was very concerned for your well-being.”

“And I for his, which… ah… That’s why I’m here, actually.”

Lan Xichen pointed to the settee next to him, and Wei Wuxian obediently sat down and tugged at the loops of his scarf to allow himself more ease of breath.

“Jenkins,” Lan Xichen called out to the butler. “Please bring a jar of Emperor’s Smile for Mr. Wei.”

“Your butler’s name is Jenkins?”

“Yes?”

“It’s a little on the nose, don’t you think?”

“Why?”

“Nevermind,” Wei Wuxian said with a helpless giggle. Honestly, these people! “I wanted to speak with you about something important,” he decided to jump straight to it, then. “The man who assaulted me, his name was Su Minshan, or Su She. Have you heard this name before?”

“Su She?” Lan Xichen was momentarily lost in thought. “Perhaps. I cannot be sure. I meet so many people, Mr. Wei. I’m much better with faces than with names.”

“I understand he may have been an acquaintance of… I’m sorry, Xichen, this is awkward. I know he is your close boon companion.”

“Who?”

“Jin Guangyao.”

“A-Yao?”

Very close boon companion, then. Wei Wuxian scratched his nose with much discomfort. He was thankful for the arrival of Jenkins and the jar of Emperor’s Smile and gave himself a generous pour.

“Will you join me?” he asked his host who was looking at the jar with a dark and thoughtful gaze.

“Why not, indeed,” Lan Xichen said and reached out for the second cup of the wine.

Apparently, the First Jade did not have the same tolerance issues as his brother, Wei Wuxian observed as they both downed their drinks and once more descended into an uncomfortable silence.

“I’m sorry, but you were saying something about A-Yao?” Lan Xichen reminded him.

“Can you tell me more about him? You seem… very well acquainted.”

“I only met him around the time that Jin Guangshan started coming around the manor,” Lan Xichen explained. “He’s very bright and eloquent and does a lot of charitable public works. He has a sweet and loyal soul. Did you know he started a shelter for disabled dogs?”

“I did not know that,” Wei Wuxian said, taking another drink. “Mind if I smoke?”

“Go right ahead.”

Wei Wuxian lit up and took a slow drag off his Lucky Strike. “You were saying, about disabled dogs?”

“A-Yao had a very rough childhood and I believe it’s made his heart very tender.”

“You think?”

“He writes excellent poetry and sings like an angel.”

Poor Captain Nie, Wei Wuxian thought with genuine regret. Nie Mingjue did not strike him as someone who could compete in a poetry or a singing contest.

“Forgive my impertinence,” Wei Wuxian started with caution, “but I also heard it said that Jin Guangyao may have been involved in some of his father’s less than legal dealings. In fact, some people go as far as to claim he was Jin Guangshan’s fixer.”

“A-Yao?” Lan Xichen seemed genuinely distraught and scandalized. “A-Yao is a sweetheart! He’s been nothing but supportive of our family in this extremely difficult time. You know, when Wangji and Guangshan married, he even made a grand gesture of gifting him the Silver Dawn, replete with the chauffeur and everything.”

“Come again?” Wei Wuxian’s cigarette almost dropped from his lips. “Wait, hang on, are you saying Lan Zhan’s driver is on Jin Guangyao’s payroll?”

“Wangji did not have his own income at the time of the wedding and it was a very thoughtful gesture to make,” Lan Xichen protested, seemingly not at all perturbed by this connection. “Of course, that seems to no longer be necessary. I should speak to A-Yao about that.”

“Wait, hold on, hold your horses,” Wei Wuxian raised his hand and stubbed out his cigarette. “This chauffeur, is he with Lan Zhan right now?”

“No,” Lan Xichen said with his usual guileless look. “Today is Tuesday and that’s his usual day off.”

Wei Wuxian pulled a little notepad out of the inner pocket of his suit. “What’s this chauffeur’s name, then?”

“Something Xue… Xue Yang!” Lan Xichen leaned forward and watched Wei Wuxian jot that information down in his notepad. “Is that important?”

“Could be,” Wei Wuxian said, chewing on the tip of his pencil. “Know where he lives?”

“You’d have to ask Jenkins. He keeps all the personnel records for the manor staff. Or, I could ask A-Yao?”

“Please don’t! I mean, no sense in bothering him over such a little thing.”

Lan Xichen rang the little bell and the butler once again appeared inside the salon.

“Jenkins, please get Wangji’s driver’s address for Mr. Wei.”

“Right away, Master Xichen.”

Wei Wuxian nursed another drink, watching his host out of the corner of his eye. He looked somewhat relieved now that the focus of the conversation seemed to have shifted from Jin Guangyao to the mysterious driver on his payroll. Wei Wuxian could not bring himself to point out that the tenuous deviation was nothing to feel good about. Still, it did not seem worth it to encroach on a man's feelings of loyalty over a professional hunch.

“How has your brother been holding up, Xichen?” Wei Wuxian asked instead.

“He’s been going on a lot of drives,” Lan Xichen replied with a sad smile. "Today, I believe he was headed over the Golden Gate into the Marin Headlands. I asked him to go riding with me instead, but he said he wanted to be alone."

“I guess there’s really no stopping him once he gets determined upon something,” Wei Wuxian muttered.

“You noticed that as well?”

“Hard not to notice.”

“He did not kill Jin Guangshan, you know.”

“Did you?”

Lan Xichen laughed. “I know it’s your job to ask these questions, Mr. Wei, so I will not take it personally.”

“Well, that’s awfully kind of you.”

“I did not.”

“Did you want to, though?”

Lan Xichen sighed. “Of course, I did. To know Jin Guangshan was to wish him ill.”

“I get this feeling about you,” Wei Wuxian said. “You smile on the outside, but on the inside you're often punching someone in the face.” As if on cue, Lan Xichen’s face folded into a beatific smile. “Like right now.”

“Mr. Wei is very astute and excellent at his job.”

At that moment, the door opened again and Jenkins slid a piece of paper into Wei Wuxian’s waiting hand.

“Looks like I’m off to Daly City,” he rose and gave Lan Xichen a short bow. “Thank you for the drink.”

“Please, take care, Mr. Wei.”

Wei Wuxian could still feel Lan Xichen’s eyes on the back of his skull as he made his way out of the salon.

***

Wei Wuxian found Xue Yang, or at least who he was hoping was Xue Yang, in the front yard of a small, square, pastel-hued house in Daly City, working on fixing up his motorcycle. Wei Wuxian was no expert, but it looked like a Vincent Black Shadow, making him wonder how the man afforded such a beauty on his chauffeur's salary.

“Mr. Xue?” he called out in his friendliest voice.

“You a copper?”

“No, I'm a private dick.”

The man straightened out and wiped a smudge of motor oil off his chin. “Oh yeah, yeah, I remember you. You’re that gumshoe the Admiral hired. I drove Lan Wangji to your house the other day.”

A thought that, in retrospect, did not fill Wei Wuxian with a lot of joy.

“Right,” Wei Wuxian said, getting his game face on, and fixing Xue Yang with his most disarming smile. “I figured, since you’re Lan Wangji’s personal driver, you might have information that could help me crack this baby.”

“It’s my day off, Mister.”

“I understand,” Wei Wuxian replied and pulled his pack of cigarettes out of his pocket, offering one to Xue Yang. “And I do hope you’d accommodate me. I came all the way out to Daly City, after all.”

“Ain’t that long of a drive.”

“I had to take a cab.”

“The Admiral will reimburse you.”

“Indulge me.”

Wei Wuxian lifted his zippo and lit the smoke for Xue Yang. The driver was young and handsome in the way of a fox. The thought of Lan Wangji spending all that alone time in the Rolls with him suddenly filled Wei Wuxian with all-consuming rage. Christ Almighty, he was jealous of this mook! He was absolutely ridiculous. An utter embarrassment to the profession.

Xue Yang took a satisfied drag and turned back towards Wei Wuxian, ostensibly in a much better mood. “What d’you want then?”

Wei Wuxian had to tread carefully. There was very little sense in spooking the man before he could really delve into the details of his acquaintance with Jin Guangyao. He had to approach this methodically. What would Jiang Cheng do?

“So, where does Lan Wangji go when he asks you to chauffeur him around?” Wei Wuxian asked, as casually as he could. “I know he doesn’t drink, so I doubt you take him to a lot of bars.”

“Your house,” Xue Yang replied with what Wei Wuxian thought was a rather sinister gleam in his eyes. Seemingly recovering quickly, the driver added, “Lots of places. Is there something specific you’re looking for?”

For all the things Lan Wangji had shared with him, Wei Wuxian had a feeling there was more that the beautiful socialite was hiding. It seemed like a good opportunity to try and glean what little he could before he got to the real reason for his visit.

“Was there any place he asked you to take him after the… unfortunate event?”

“After the police came to question him and found him draped in his golden peignoir?”

“I don’t need that kind of detail,” Wei Wuxian said through gritted teeth. The golden peignoir must have been another gift from Jin Guangshan - it sounded like something the man would have done.

“Yeah, he asked me to take him to his brother’s place.”

“What do you mean his brother’s place? Do you mean the Lan Manor?”

“Nah, I mean the apartment Lan Xichen has downtown.”

Wei Wuxian chewed on his lip. Speaking as slowly and as calmly as possible, he inquired, “Why does Lan Xichen keep an apartment downtown?”

“You’d have to ask him yourself, buddy.”

“And uh… Does he… um.” Wei Wuxian rubbed the bridge of his nose. There were many reasons a man might keep a separate residence, but primary among those was for a clandestine love shack. “Do you know why Lan Wangji went there?”

“Beats me. I’m the driver. I just drive. I go left, I go right, I go forward. Anyways, he didn’t stay long. Master Xichen was not at home.”

“Gosh, uh, does this apartment by any chance happen to be financed by Jin Guangyao as well?”

It would certainly make sense Lan Xichen would not want to carry on an affair with his own brother's step-son right under his uncle's nose. Of course, that alone added only more suspicions in that particular awkward column.

“What d’ya mean as well?”

“Doesn’t Jin Guangyao pay your salary?”

“Don’t know what you’re implying, buddy.”

“It’s not an implication of anything. My understanding is you were part of the nuptial gifts that Mr. Jin Guangyao made to his step-father, along with the Rolls. I hear he’s generous to a fault.”

“Yeah, yeah, Mr. Guangyao is a real do-gooder. Bleeding-heart, for sure,” Xue Yang replied with a sly smirk. He leaned over his bike and tested the engine, making it come to life with a roar.

Wei Wuxian had wondered before how his assailant or whoever pulled his strings knew so quickly about his investigation. Now it all made sense. Xue Yang had been the mole implanted at the Lan Manor. And the one most likely to have the skill and opportunity to cut poor dead Seymour Yao's brakes. Su She and Xue Yang both worked for Jin Guangyao. But could Dimples really have been the mastermind behind the entire plot, or was he merely following Lan Xichen's lead? Any man could smile to your face and think "Murder."

“A man like that must inspire a lot of loyalty,” Wei Wuxian said, as he unbuttoned his suit jacket in case he had to reach for his holster. Xue Yang shrugged and took another drag on the cigarette, letting out a perfect O-ring. “Would you say he’s the kinda guy you might kill for?”

Xue Yang smiled at Wei Wuxian like a wolf's scowl, baring all his teeth. “Wouldn’t know anything about that, Mister. I told you, I just drive. Maybe you want to talk to Lan Wangji some more about who he thinks murdered his Big Daddy?”

“Who does he think murdered Jin Guangshan?” Wei Wuxian leaned forward. It was clear that at least half of what Xue Yang was throwing his way was a load of crap, and Wei Wuxian was not catching it, but something about this particular deflection felt true. And if Wei Wuxian's hunch was correct, it would explain why Lan Wangji had been in no hurry to exculpate himself.

Xue Yang flicked his finished cigarette to the grass and stomped out the embers. “Hang on, I got something to show you.”

Before Wei Wuxian had the sense to step back, Xue Yang swung the tire iron at him, knocking him off balance and causing him to tumble backwards onto the turf. Clearly, his instincts weren’t fully recovered after the last assault, and Wei Wuxian cursed his own stupid ass for falling for such an obvious ploy.

In the meantime, Xue Yang had leapt onto the seat of his bike and gunned the engine, heading straight in Wei Wuxian’s direction. The Black Shadows' tires loomed before his eyes, and he only rolled out just in time to get a face full of earth and the smell of hot rubber before Xue Yang sped away.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian managed to get two shots off, one of them actually succeeding in glancing off the spinning rims of the receding bike, as Xue Yang fled the scene of his attempted crime.

“Ugh asshole!” Wei Wuxian cursed as he got up off the ground and examined himself and his clothes for any new damage. He seemed intact, for an indefinite value of “intact.” Whatever these people’s endgame was, they were clearly approaching it. Otherwise, Xue Yang wouldn’t have panicked and tried to kill him so fucking blatantly, and certainly wouldn’t have turned tail without finishing the job unless there was a fairly foolproof contingency plan.

A worrisome proposition all around.

He kicked in the door of the little pastel house and quickly searched for Xue Yang’s phone. He really doubted his latest attempted murderer would press charges for breaking and entering. Finally, he found what he'd been looking for in Xue Yang's cluttered kitchen and dialed the number of the Lan Manor.

“Jenkins, it’s Wei Wuxian,” he spoke into the receiver, attempting to catch his breath. “Can you put the Admiral on for me?” He wiped at his forehead with the tails of his scarf and gave Xue Yang’s kitchen table a kick for good measure.

“Mr. Wei,” he heard Lan Qiren’s gruff voice, “Do you have news for me?”

“Yeah, uh… So, you’re surrounded by traitors and murderers, Admiral. That’s the good news, I believe. Because I don’t think your nephew did it.”

“If that’s the good news, I hate to ask what’s the bad news?”

“I think he thinks your other nephew did it.”

“Explain yourself, Mr. Wei.”

“That’s not important right now. The important part is that Lan Zhan’s driver just tried to kill me.”

“Oh dear. Is that three times in one week?”

“The driver, this Xue Yang fellow, works for a man named Jin Guangyao. Who… uh… Well, you’re not paying me to tell you who your nephews are sleeping with.”

“Remind me to give you a bonus when this is all over, Mr. Wei,” Lan Qiren muttered into the receiver. Wei Wuxian could all but imagine the migraine that the old Admiral was about to start nursing. If he were Lan Qiren, he'd be reconsidering that lack of drinking habit.

“Anyways, where are your nephews right now, Admiral? It’s critical that you keep them out of harm’s way while I work with the police to apprehend the people responsible.”

“Just a moment,” Wei Wuxian heard, while in the Lan Manor, the Admiral hollered for Jenkins and appeared to have a very passionate screaming match with the butler about something Wei Wuxian could not quite make out. “I have more bad news,” Lan Qiren said in an exhausted voice as he came back on the line. “Xichen went out some time ago with this Jin Guangyao fellow and Wangji was home for only five minutes before receiving a mysterious phone call and driving away again. Jenkins here tells me he seemed in quite the pique.”

Wei Wuxian groaned and let his head pummel into Xue Yang’s wall. “Fuck.”

“You think their lives are in danger,” the Admiral said in a strangely composed tone.

Well, at least one of them, Wei Wuxian thought as his mind rapidly imagined every possible scenario. Was Lan Xichen simply the patsy or was he just as complicit as his fixer boyfriend?

“I am not sure,” Wei Wuxian replied with his eyes closed. “I think Lan Zhan is going to do something stupid. I am afraid Jin Guangyao has manipulated this entire thing from the start. But I am not yet sure exactly how or why.” He shook his head to clear his thoughts. “Hang in there, Admiral. I’ll get to the bottom of this soon.”

“Godspeed, my boy,” Lan Qiren replied before the line went dead.

“Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian whispered under his breath. “Where the hell are you?” He dashed out the door of Xue Yang’s empty house. “Wait for me,” he said, knowing full well that wherever Lan Wangji was, and whatever he was about to do, his sentiments would be futile.

***

It was doubtlessly a Hail Mary to go back to Local Edition, especially this early in the evening, but there was a man there Wei Wuxian needed to see about this nightmare of a case and that man was Jin Zixuan. Not only was Wei Wuxian rooting for him to be innocent for personal reasons, his conscience demanded that Shijie's beau be forewarned about his half-brother's sketchy dealings, lest he go the way of Seymour Yao and Dear Papa himself. He was as obscure as possible on the phone with Yanli. He couldn't tell her much, but what he could do was promise her that he had her best interests at heart. At last, she'd promised to get her secret fiancé to Local Edition at some point that night. Until that time came, Wei Wuxian could still drink and brood over Lan Zhan.

"Wei-xiong!" Someone's arms draped around his neck. "I thought I might never see you again! It's been ages!"

Wei Wuxian set down his drink and turned about to face Nie Huaisang. "Nie-xiong!" It was only polite to meet enthusiasm with enthusiasm. "It's only been a week."

"Has it really? Feels like ages," Nie Huaisang slurred. How could he possibly already be three sheets to the wind, Wei Wuxian wondered. Surely, his tolerance wasn't as bad as Lan Zhan's. "So much has happened! Although, nothing like back in the day when Jin Guangyao used to…" He let out a hiccup. "...to throw all those epic underground parties. You know," he added coyly, "the kind that the cops loved to break up." He slapped Wei Wuxian with a sudden burst of glee. "Ahahaha! Wei-xiong! Have you ever been to one of these parties? By the boondocks in the Dogpatch? You could have an entire rager and no one would be none the wiser. How I miss those days." Nie Huaisang sighed and took a dolorous sip of this drink.

"Boondocks, you say?" Wei Wuxian lit a cigarette and put on a calculated air of boredom which could rival Lan Wangji. "I didn't know Guangyao had property there. That area is so... underdeveloped."

"Oh yeah yeah, in that dome-shaped building right on the dock, behind Bar Serpentine?" Nie Huaisang leaned back in. "It would be a real shame if the cops ever found that place. Real shame."

"Who do you work for, Nie-xiong?"

"I work for the bourbon and the bourbon works for me," Nie Huaisang let out with a bubbly giggle. "I'll be right back. I think I have to vomit. I really don't know."

As soon as the other man tottered off in the direction of the facilities, Wei Wuxian flagged down the barkeep.

"I'll need to close out my tab and use your phone," he said, tipping generously.

He had no idea when Jin Zixuan might turn up, in the meantime, this ridiculously juicy lead just landed in his lap. Sure, it could be a trap, but Wei Wuxian wasn't about to pass an opportunity like this up. Besides, Lan Zhan might be over there, too, doing god knows what. That beautiful idiot! And Wei Wuxian had to stop him. He really was much too pretty for prison.

The bartender brought over the house phone and left Wei Wuxian to make his call in peace. He dialed the number and waited for the line to pick up. It was a Hail Mary kind of a night, after all.

***

The waxing gibbous moon hung low above the San Francisco Bay. The cabbie high-tailed out of there as soon as Wei Wuxian told him to "Keep the change," leaving the private eye in the darkness. It didn’t get foggy so much on this side of town and Wei Wuxian looked up into the night skies and tried to read his destiny in the spatterings of constellations above his head.

With a sigh, he unholstered his gun and walked towards the building that Nie Huaisang had described. “No plan, no back up,” he muttered to himself, “you’re up shit creek without a paddle, and yet you don’t turn back. Wei Wuxian, you truly are a dumbass.”

For a moment, his mind had conjured a flash of Lan Wangji as he last saw him, sitting at the side of his bed in that diaphanous poet’s shirt, looking soft and earnest, and holding his hands. You do not owe me your life. You owe me nothing. Please understand that.

“Aiyoh, Lan Zhan, you’re busting my balls!” Wei Wuxian complained to the Lan Wangji in his head.

He circled the building in question. It looked like the remains of some sort of non-denominational temple, abandoned and boarded up. It stood like a silent carcass against the glimmering, black waters of the Bay. There was no one there, and, evidently, he had made the trip for nothing. All that build-up and for what? He had a hunch, but he’d been wrong. It happened to the best of them, and even a genius like himself at times had to face defeat. He’d have to go back to Local Edition and wait for Jin Zixuan after all, with his tail between his legs.

“Get ‘em up where I can see ‘em,” Wei Wuxian heard behind him. “I said, get your hands up!” He slowly raised both his hands, including the one that was holding his revolver. “Turn around slowly.” Wei Wuxian did as he was told. There were about ten men pointing guns at him. None of them wore police uniforms. “Now, how the fuck did you even find this place?”

“Xue Yang?” Wei Wuxian cocked his head to the side. “I can’t believe you didn’t just skip town after the bang-up job you did not killing me.”

“Well, the night is young. Put your gun on the ground and kick it over here.”

Once again, Wei Wuxian did as he was told. One of the goons picked up his revolver and shoved it down the back of his own trousers.

"Your other gun, too."

"What other gun?"

"The one strapped to your ankle, don't fuck with me."

Wei Wuxian slowly pulled his back-up piece from the ankle strap and also slid it across the asphalt towards Xue Yang's men.

“So, ah… You fellows just out for a pleasant moonlight stroll?” Wei Wuxian asked.

“Shut your face. You hurt my baby.”

“Come again?”

“My Black Shadow! I spent two weeks fixing her up and you took a shot at her.”

“Ah, my apologies, it’s just that your baby was going to run over my face, and you see, I happen to be very attached to it.”

“You talk too much,” Xue Yang spat on the ground. Which, truly, talking about the pot calling the kettle black. Wei Wuxian was about to make a protest, when Xue Yang nodded to the other goons and ordered them to, “Drag his ass inside. The boss can decide how to deal with him.”

Two men grabbed him by the shoulders, while a third very meaningfully pressed the barrel of a Beretta to the back of his head. A doorway, so nondescript that Wei Wuxian had not noticed it upon first inspection, opened and allowed him and his captors inside a dimly lit narrow corridor, at the end of which was another door, which opened onto a staircase leading down into the basement. The basement! At the boondocks? That had to be some truly creative architecture and Wei Wuxian would enjoy studying this building’s plans were he to ever so much as survive the night.

Unlike the rest of the abandoned temple and its environs, the basement was brightly lit and set up in the ways of a subterranean ballroom, clearly a hold-over from the Prohibition era. A few other armed goons were already inside, milling about, minding their own business over a drink or a smoke. A round table was set up close to the small stage, covered in drinks of all kinds and a selection of hors d'oeuvres. Only three people were sitting around that table: Jin Guangyao, Lan Xichen, and Lan Wangji.

“Mr. Wei, what an unpleasant surprise!” Jin Guangyao was the first one to break the strange silence that had descended upon the ballroom with Wei Wuxian’s forced and unannounced entrance.

“Wei Ying!” Lan Wangji tried to get up from the table, but one of the goons casually pointed a gun at him and he sank back down, as if someone had cut his strings.

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian’s heart beat like a wild summoning drum. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

“I could ask you the same,” Lan Wangji countered.

“And that little lover’s quarrel would be simply adorable to watch,” Dimples said, his dimples deepening as he grinned bright-eyed at all those present. “Unfortunately, I do not have the time for it. We’ve already wasted enough of the night on pleasantries and foolish conversations. Haven’t we, darling?” His hand landed on top of Lan Xichen’s, and for the first time, Wei Wuxian noticed how pale the Elder Jade looked.

“A-Yao, please,” Lan Xichen spoke in a voice tinged with desperation, “You don’t have to do this.”

“Ah, but I do, baby. Don’t be silly. You know, Wangji here had plenty of time to confess on his own and turn himself in. But he didn’t. And now I have a feeling he won’t. So, I’m afraid this last little push is necessary.”

“Confess to what?” Wei Wuxian fumed, losing his considerable cool. “He didn’t do anything!”

“Mr. Wei,” Dimples pointed to the table across from him. “Please, come sit over here, so we can complete this transaction in a civilized manner.”

Wei Wuxian was pushed towards the table. Someone pulled out a chair, someone else pushed him down into it. Xue Yang’s scowl lit up the room like the mockery of the moon, as he took his place behind Wei Wuxian's chair like a sentinel.

“You see, Mr. Wei, you have arrived just in time to witness Lan Wangji here signing his confession of his own free will.” Jin Guangyao took out a small piece of paper covered with a few lines of type-written text.

It read: I cannot live with the guilt anymore. I poisoned my husband, who was a philandering pig and abused me horribly. Nevertheless, I am not strong enough to face the law, nor can I watch those around me suffer. Forgive me.

“Pithy,” Wei Wuxian said. “Not sure that anyone would really buy that he wrote it, though. It’s really far too florid.”

“Florid? How is it florid?” Dimples bristled.

“Well, first of all, forgive me. I mean, have you met Lan Wangji?”

“It’s a suicide note!”

“I'll say,” Wei Wuxian laughed. “It’s a murder note disguised as a suicide note, but semantics. You do you, Dimples.”

“A-Yao, please, stop this horrible charade!” Lan Xichen snapped and also tried to rise. That’s when Wei Wuxian noticed another goon with his sights set on the First Jade.

“Please, sit back down, darling, you’re not thinking clearly,” Jin Guangyao turned his puppy-dog eyes upon Lan Xichen. “You never think clearly when it comes to your little brother. I did so hope that with him in prison, I could finally be there for you the way I’ve always wanted to be, that you would see that you do not need anyone in the world but me. I would take better care of you than anyone. I love you so much, darling, I'm crazy for you. But now it’s simply too late for prison. It has to be death for Wangji. He will not stand in my way a moment longer.”

“This is madness,” Lan Xichen whispered.

“You’re a psycho,” Wei Wuxian echoed, eyes fixed on Jin Guangyao’s oddly cherubic face.

“Now, Wangji, there’s no more point in delaying,” Dimples pushed the paper towards Lan Wangji. “Sign this, and I promise that your suicide will be very swift and painless.”

“And what are you going to do to my brother and Wei Ying?” Lan Wangji asked, hand hovering above the fountain pen that lay on the table before him.

“Nothing, you silly baby. Xichen is going to be grief-stricken and he will need me to be there to console him, which is a role I will faithfully perform.”

“You’re insane!” Lan Xichen exclaimed.

“Shhh, hush my pretty, you know I would never hurt you,” Jin Guangyao turned towards Lan Xichen, actually placing his index finger against the other man’s lips to shush him.

Wei Wuxian fixed his eyes on Lan Wangji, on his pale, wing-like hand, and the long, musician’s fingers that he never got to kiss. “Lan Zhan, don’t listen to him,” he blurted out. “There’s no way he’s letting any of us go. Don’t sign that thing!”

His head snapped to the side, the pain in his jaw only sinking in a few moments after Xue Yang had punched him. He spat blood right onto the white tablecloth in front of him and fixed a murderous gaze on Jin Guangyao.

“What? Am I wrong?" Wei Wuxian taunted the man through bloodied teeth. "You’re not going to let any of us live. Not now that we know the truth!”

“What truth?” Jin Guangyao asked with that same saintly look that had Wei Wuxian fooled when he first met him.

“You killed Jin Guangshan. You tried to set Lan Xichen up for the murder, but only for Lan Wangji's befit, not for the police. As you said earlier, your plan this entire time was to get Lan Wangji take the fall for it. And it almost worked! Because Lan Wangji here did believe that Lan Xichen was the murderer. Didn’t you, Lan Zhan?”

“How… how did you know?” Lan Wangji stammered.

“I’m a private detective, your highness. It’s what they pay me for. Now, the thing that I suspect Lan Xichen never knew is that Lan Wangji went straight from the scene of the crime to his brother’s secret apartment (conveniently rented by - you guessed it - Jin Guangyao) and found the drugs that you, Dimples, had hidden there. Once he’d disposed of the evidence, he went out of his way to keep the police’s attention on himself, and away from his brother. Didn’t you, Lan Zhan?”

“Wei Ying, are you saying what I think?”

“I’m saying, your brother is innocent," Wei Wuxian said with conviction. "I wasn’t sure of it until the moment I saw that goon pointing the gun at him. I guess that means Dimples here used Lan Xichen as bait to lure you into his trap and force you to sign this bullshit confession. But yeah. He didn’t do it, Lan Zhan. Jin Guangyao did! ”

“Wangji, you truly thought…?” Lan Xichen looked as if he was about to expire and for the first time Wei Wuxian felt genuinely devastated for him. The way that Jin Guangyao had used the brothers' mutual love against them was truly revolting.

“Brother, I couldn’t let anything happen to you!” Lan Wangji exclaimed, looking equal parts heart-broken and relieved.

“But wait,” Wei Wuxian pronounced dramatically. “There’s more! You, Dimples, did not count on the Admiral hiring a private dick. That was your mistake and it made you panic. So you sent Su She after me. First to scare me off, then to kill me when I didn't scare. A mistake which cost me my favorite hat and Su She his life. And because the police weren’t moving fast enough to arrest Lan Wangji, you had Xue Yang cut Seymour Yao’s brakes. You figured, once is a thing of chance, but two corpses at Lan Wangji’s feet will make the cops shimmy. And you were right! They came over with a warrant for his arrest, but of course, I ruined all your plans again by providing Lan Wangji his alibi.” Wei Wuxian shook his head. “No wonder Su She tried to strangle me with such fervor.”

“You’ve got it all figured out, don’t you, Mr. Wei?” Jin Guangyao’s smile turned into a contorted sneer.

“Not all of it. I still don’t understand why you killed your dad in the first place. It couldn’t have been just for the money, could it?”

Jin Guangyao slammed his fist upon the round table. “I killed him because he deserved to die!”

To Wei Wuxian’s right hand side, Lan Xichen fixed his eyes across the table on his brother and whispered, “Wangji, I’m so sorry. I ruined everything.”

“It’s not your fault,” Lan Wangji replied just as quietly. “How could you have expected this?”

“Yes, he deserved to die,” Jin Guangyao continued unprompted. “That man was a monster. Ask anyone at this table. He let my mother die in squalor when it would have cost him nothing to save her. I did everything he ever asked me to, but he always treated me as his second-rate, bastard son. Zixuan was the one who had all the legitimate businesses in his name! Zixuan was the one who attended all the official galas with him! I was relegated to the shadows, to the darkness, like some shameful secret. He treated me like I was the monster!”

“So what?” Wei Wuxian asked. “You became the monster he thought you to be?”

“And then, instead of simply elevating me to my rightful place as his right hand man, or giving me rein of any of his legitimate companies, what did he do? He wanted to espouse himself to a Lan - ha! He wanted to elevate himself above mere mortals. Ha ha! I wasn’t going to let him get away with it! I wasn’t going to let him have his cake and eat it too! Now sign the goddamn confession, Lan Wangji!

“Wangji, don’t do it!” Lan Xichen once more leapt to his feet. “A-Yao, you’re mad if you think this will work! I would sooner die with my brother than be with you after what you’ve done.”

Jin Guangyao too jumped out of his chair with a wild cry of, “That could be arranged!”

Five guns pointed at Lan Xichen again while Jin Guangyao’s face once more returned to cherubic smiles and puppyish stares. Lan Xichen lowered himself into the chair and cast Wei Wuxian a desperate look.

“Frankly,” Jin Guangyao continued, adjusting his tie and hat, “I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. Mr. Wei, you’re so good at solving mysteries, but do you know the mystery of Lan Wangji’s sleeping potion lipstick? It’s a very becoming shade, really complemented his skin tone. Shiseido Scarlet, was it not? He wore it a lot for my father. My father did so love the bright reds on him.”

“What’s that gotta do with anything?” Wei Wuxian was losing his patience with this little be-dimpled shit.

“Well, you see, the poison I gave dear old dad would not have killed him alone. It was only deadly in combination with the sedative that Lan Wangji administered to his husband himself.” Jin Guangyao’s triumphant smile was as ugly as his deranged soul. “So, you see, Lan Wangji, you truly did do it. And you must pay for your crimes. Sign the confession.”

Lan Wangji’s face wilted like a flower and Wei Wuxian’s heart constricted inside his chest as if pressed by an invisible vise.

“Should have just performed your conjugal duties,” Jin Guangyao smirked cruelly. “But no, you had to be the Ice Prince.”

“I’ll sign it,” Lan Wangji said just as Wei Wuxian and Lan Xichen both emitted matched cries of “No!” “But you must promise me to let my brother and Wei Ying go. You win, all right? I’ll sign the confession. I’ll… I’ll even shoot myself if you want. You have to promise to let them go and never bother either one of them again as long as you live.”

“A noble sacrifice worthy of the price,” Jin Guangyao pronounced. He raised his hand, as if invoking the gods to be his witnesses, and smiled once again, his dimples deepening into craters. “I give you my word, I will let them both go and never bother them again.”

Wei Wuxian was in the process of rolling his eyes and muttering, “Please, like anyone believes you,” when he saw Lan Wangji’s hand grasp the fountain pen and quickly sign his name to the ludicrous document.

Wei Wuxian’s vision went white. “Lan Zhan!”

He threw himself across the table before Jin Guangyao could get his filthy, little paws on that piece of paper, grabbed it himself, and having crumpled it, shoved it into his mouth and swallowed it whole.

Stunned silence filled the room as all eyes and guns turned upon Wei Wuxian, whose body valiantly attempted to push the piece of paper down his esophagus. Well, if they wanted it, they’d have to cut him open to get it!

“What the fuck just happened?” Jin Guangyao asked, completely appalled.

“Wei Ying…. Why?” Lan Wangji’s eyes were the color of bourbon. Wei Wuxian wanted to look into them forever. He would die, go to hell, and come back only for a chance to look into them again.

He swallowed once more against the dry lump stuck down his throat. “I guess I’m in love with you,” he announced with a helpless shrug.

That’s when the door to the ballroom flew off the hinges and the bullets started flying through the air.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian threw himself past the table, tackling Lan Wangji to the floor and covering him with his own body as the bullets whizzed past them. Someone had upturned the table, attempting to use it as cover in the resultant melee. The shout of “SFPD!!!” echoed through the ringing ballroom as men in uniforms spilled into the space in the middle of constant gunfire.

“How many bullets are you planning on taking for me?” Lan Wangji asked, staring up at him with one of his inscrutable gazes.

“As many as it takes,” replied Wei Wuxian.

As he pressed his hands over Lan Wangji’s elf-like ears, Wei Wuxian took stock of the situation. Many of Jin Guangyao’s goons were either on the floor, in a puddle of their own blood, or trying to make a retreat in the other direction from the broken door. He saw Xue Yang dash for the hidden exit just as Jin Guangyao rose and pulled Lan Xichen off the floor behind the overturned table. He placed his own revolver to his hostage’s head as Lan Wangji threw Wei Wuxian a desperate, pleading look.

“Stop shooting!” Wei Wuxian hollered.

“That’s right,” Jin Guangyao echoed him. “Stop shooting. We wouldn’t want anyone else to end up dead.” He moved in the direction of the back exit, through which Xue Yang had disappeared a moment ago, dragging Lan Xichen with him like a human shield.

“Step away from him, Jin Guangyao!” Jiang Cheng’s familiar voice bellowed, sending a jolt of warmth into Wei Wuxian's gut.

“Ah, I don’t think I will, Detective Jiang,” Jin Guangyao replied in his most cloying voice. “I think we can all agree that if I step away from him you’re going to shoot me.”

“Not if you surrender,” Jiang Cheng said, taking another step forward, his gun fixed on Lan Xichen.

Wei Wuxian heard Lan Wangji’s frantic whisper, “Get off me!”

“I don’t trust you not to do something stupid,” Wei Wuxian whispered back.

“Well your gun is poking me in the stomach.”

“I don’t have a … ah, nevermind.”

He pulled gently back, scrambling back up to his knees, and fixing Lan Wangji with a sheepish grin. The Ice Prince looked adorable when he blushed.

“I’ll be leaving now,” Jin Guangyao declared, taking a few more steps backwards and continuing to drag Lan Xichen along with him to the exit. “Don’t do anything stupid, Detective Jiang!” He took another step backwards, colliding with the barrel of a gun which was pointed straight into the nape of his neck.

You don’t do anything stupid, Jin Guangyao,” said Captain Nie with a menacing sneer.

Wei Wuxian jumped to his feet, using Jin Guangyao's moment of shock to pull Lan Xichen from his grasp. “Hand it over, Dimples, the jig is up,” he stated, taking the gun from Jin Guangyao’s unresisting hand. Nie Mingjue hit the man on the back of the skull with his own gun, bringing him to his knees.

Jiang Cheng was at Wei Wuxian’s side, already cuffing their culprit, while the rest of his squad rounded up whoever was left of Jin Guangyao’s unlucky crew.

“You came!” Wei Wuxian exhaled with sudden relief.

“Of course, I came, you idiot. Your partner called to tell me what you were up to and I thought, no way am I gonna miss Wei Wuxian getting his ass handed to him for the fourth time in one week.”

“I was hoping she would. I thought it might be much more well received than if the call for back-up came from me,” Wei Wuxian grinned at Jiang Cheng.

“Oh, you’re such a genius, you think of everything,” Jiang Cheng snarled, pulling Dimples up and carelessly pushing him into the arms of two more uniformed officers. “What’s the deal with this guy, anyways?”

“Well,” Wei Wuxian said as he watched the Twin Jades out of the corner of his eye where they stood in close conversation with each other. “He’s your murderer, that’s his deal. He just confessed to it, in front of the three of us and his criminal co-conspirators.” Jiang Cheng cast Jin Guangyao a suspicious look, clearly as confused and befuddled by the dimples as everyone else. “Daddy issues,” Wei Wuxian added, by way of explanation. “Also, apparently he was hoping to get in Lan Xichen’s pants while Lan Zhan rotted on death row. Or in his heart? His heart-pants? I don’t know, it was really fucking crazy. Just, all of it.”

“You’ll testify?” Jiang Cheng squinted.

“It would be my deepest pleasure. That little shit belongs in Alcatraz, to start with.” Jiang Cheng let out a little dubious hum. “The Lans will testify, too, I imagine. He did just abduct them both and tried to get Lan Wangji to sign a bogus suicide confession before offing him.”

“Shameless little fucker,” Jiang Cheng concluded. “Take him away!” he ordered the men holding Jin Guangyao.

“Wait!” Wei Wuxian called out. He took a few bouncing steps in Jin Guangyao’s direction, and snatched his fedora off his head. “You owe me a hat, jackass!” It wasn’t a trilby, but it was surprisingly the right fit, so it would do in a pinch. “All right, take him away,” he pronounced magnanimously.

He walked back towards the liberated Lans, just as Nie Mingjue, whose appearance at the scene was still somewhat of a mystery (although Wei Wuxian could venture a wild guess), pulled Lan Xichen to the side.

“Are you all right, Lan Zhan?” Wei Wuxian asked, his own voice sounding embarrassingly soft to his own ears.

“I haven’t been shot, if that’s what you mean,” Lan Wangji responded, stepping closer and lowering his voice. “Wei Ying, you ate my suicide note.”

A few feet away from them, Wei Wuxian heard Captain Nie say, “I never should have let him have you.”

“Mingjue, what do you mean?” Lan Xichen asked.

Looking a bit flustered but perhaps buoyed by the heat of battle and thrall of victory, the captain said, “Surely you must know the way I feel for you, the way I've always felt for you, since we were together in boarding school.”

“Yikes,” Wei Wuxian mouthed at Lan Wangji who cast him a stern warning look.

“But that was before the war,” they heard Lan Xichen reply, “and when you came back, you didn't say anything. I thought you may have lost interest. And then when Jin Guangshan started to come around with courting gifts, you still said nothing!”

“What could I say?” Nie Mingjue shook his head. “It wasn't my place to stand in your way of restoring Cloud Recesses. No matter how much it killed me to do it, I had to step aside.”

“So,” Wei Wuxian spoke aside to Lan Wangji, “when you told me you wanted your brother to marry for love, you did not mean Dimples, did you, Lan Zhan?”

“No, I did not.”

“Lan Zhan, ah Lan Zhan, you're a real handful!”

Lan Wangji smiled his barely-there, cryptic smile at him. “Nothing you couldn't handle.”

“Oh Mingjue,” Lan Xichen exclaimed ruefully. “I've been so willfully blind. I don't know what to believe anymore.”

“Believe that I love you and that I would never betray you,” Captain Nie declared, boldly putting his arms around Lan Xichen’s waist.

Wei Wuxian cleared his throat and pulled Lan Wangji to the side to give the other two men a semblance of privacy with a whisper of, “And that’s our cue.”

“Aren’t you going to tell him?” Lan Wangji asked, nodding in Jiang Cheng’s direction. Wei Wuxian’s former partner was having a makeshift bandage put over his arm while his men took care of the living suspects and covered up the dead. “About the other thing Jin Guangyao said? About me?”

“What other thing? Never heard of it. You know, I'm told I have a really terrible memory.”

Lan Wangji picked up Wei Wuxian’s hand and flipped it over, palm up. The scars from his scuffle with Su She still stood out in angry red lines against his skin, and Lan Wangji traced over them with his long, elegant fingers.

“So, are we free to leave?” Lan Wangji asked.

“Anytime you like. You’ve been through a lot tonight and you can always give your statement later.”

Lan Wangji flipped Wei Wuxian’s hand back and pressed it inside his own palm. “Wei Ying, would you like to go for a drive?”

***

Lan Wangji did not say where they were headed and Wei Wuxian had not asked. Judging by the direction they were driving down Market Street, they seemed to be going back towards Sutro Heights and Cloud Recesses. It was completely on the opposite side of the city from the boondocks at Dogpatch, and Wei Wuxian allowed the city lights and the soft hum of the Silver Dawn’s engine to lull him into a sort of a doze. All the adrenaline that had been circulating through his body, suddenly seemed to abandon him, and he slid coyly across the leather front seat and allowed his head to rest against Lan Wangji’s perfectly round and surprisingly comfortable shoulder. He might have imagined the whole thing in his sleep, but he could have sworn that Lan Wangji was humming a beautiful, peaceful tune as the car left the busy stretch of Market Street behind and headed up the serpentine path of Portola Avenue.

When Wei Wuxian woke up, it was to find himself drooling peacefully yet embarrassingly onto Lan Wangji’s expensive Dior coat. The Rolls appeared to be parked on top of a hill, hidden behind a row of sycamores, overlooking the ocean. The white outline of Cliff House beneath them resembled a fairytale castle about to float out into the turbulent sea. The lights of Cliff House and Sutro Baths had long turned off, and only the stars and the moon were there to hold vigil over the two of them.

“It’s beautiful,” Wei Wuxian spoke, looking out the front windshield. “It’s so dangerous. The waves, the rocks, the rip currents. But I cannot look away.”

“You are talking about the ocean?” Lan Wangji looked at him askance.

Wei Wuxian smiled, momentarily at a loss for words. “Sorry I drooled on your coat,” he finally whispered, looking up at Lan Wangji from under the canopy of his long eyelashes.

“Believe me, I’ve had worse.”

Wei Wuxian let out a soft chuckle. “You’re something else, Lan Zhan.”

Lan Wangji turned towards him, his eyes heavily hooded and fixed on Wei Wuxian’s lips. “Wei Ying…”

The air was heavy and their breath was beginning to fog up the windows around them.

“Yes?” Wei Wuxian exhaled.

“How did you know about the drugs in Xichen’s apartment?”

Wei Wuxian shook his head to clear it of various weak thoughts. “Uh… I didn’t. I was bluffing. I just needed to keep Dimples talking until the cops arrived.”

Lan Wangji let out a soft hum. “You were wrong about one thing, though.”

“What’s that, Lan Zhan?”

“I did not dispose of the evidence. It’s back at the manor. And now that I think about it, I certainly hope it’s got Jin Guangyao’s fingerprints all over it.”

Wei Wuxian paused. The car was suddenly too stuffy and Lan Wangji not close enough, and frankly, Wei Wuxian was far too sexually frustrated to be contemplating the consequences of evidence tampering at that precise moment. It would keep for another day.

“I need a cigarette,” Wei Wuxian declared, pushing open the car door and walking to the edge of the cliff.

They were parked in the abandoned lot of Fort Miley, and Wei Wuxian cast a look towards the mounted cannons, nothing more now than a reminder of all the battles that had been fought before the last war. He lit up one of his Lucky Strikes and watched the smoke float up to meet the layer of fog that hung heavily above the darkened ocean.

He felt rather than heard Lan Wangji’s presence behind him. Wei Wuxian turned, taking in Lan Wangji's stately figure in the silver glow of the moon. His long, grey coat had been unbuttoned, showing off the long column of his neck and the thin sheen of a silk black blouse, accessorized rather demurely by a short, single string of pearls and a low-hanging sapphire pendant on a heavy, gold chain. He had clearly not taken the time to get dolled up for his attempted assassination.

“Lan Zhan, we’re so close to Cloud Recesses. Why didn’t you just drive straight home? You must be beat.”

Lan Wangji pulled the cigarette out of Wei Wuxian’s fingers and took a long drag from it himself. His lips wrapped around the filter looked soft and obscenely kissable. Wei Wuxian had the sudden desire to fall to his knees and never rise again.

Lan Wangji said, “I guess I’m in love with you, too.”

Wei Wuxian had always thought of himself as a strong man, capable of withstanding anything. But he was powerless in the face of such naked sincerity. He pushed his appropriated fedora deeper over his head, hiding his eyes from view.

“You’ve only known me for a week,” he said, stealing the cigarette back and taking his own drag from it.

Lan Wangji nodded, “Feels like twice as long.”

Wei Wuxian laughed and flicked the remains of his cigarette over the cliff. “Come here, you horrible asshole!”

Lan Wangji stepped right into the circle of Wei Wuxian's arms. He felt solid and warm, even in the chilly night air, and his eyes reflected the moonlight like two bright stars, blinding Wei Wuxian with their proximity. Even this close, with their noses almost touching, he seemed flawless, like painted porcelain, like something out of this world. Like a priceless pearl himself.

"You're absolutely terrible," Wei Wuxian whispered. "The fucking worst. You're so…"

Lan Wangji's mouth closed over his own, cutting off the nonsensical stream of his words. Wei Wuxian whimpered and opened his lips to allow Lan Wangji's tongue to gently slide past them. One of Lan Wangji's hands grasped his lower back, pulling him tighter, while the other tangled in the hair above the nape of his neck. His lips really were as soft as they looked, Wei Wuxian noted, as he moaned into Lan Wangji's mouth, allowing his jaw to slacken while being kissed more hungrily and thoroughly than ever in his life.

They were both panting when Lan Wangji pulled back, his lips red and kiss-swollen, his eyes dark and unfocused, and beautiful like jewels. Lan Wangji's own wide brimmed hat had fallen off and had luckily been carried by the wind against the glass of the windshield, where it now lay caught.

"Wait," Wei Wuxian whispered, his knees weak, "you're not wearing that lipstick, are you? Because I don't need another nap."

"Shut up."

"So bossy," Wei Wuxian complained, reeling Lan Wangji back by the lapels of his coat to resume kissing him. Lan Wangji turned them both, slamming Wei Wuxian's back against the hood of the Rolls. "Ah, Lan Zhan, so violent!" Wei Wuxian pouted in feigned displeasure. "Aiyoh, you can kill me later, but I'd like to actually get my hands on you first."

"Shut up," Lan Wangji pressed heated words into the skin of Wei Wuxian's exposed neck, kisses peppering over the remains of his bruises. "Shut up, shut up!"

His mouth was scalding against Wei Wuxian's skin. Who would've ever thought that the Ice Prince would burn so hot?

"Lan Zhan, fuck!" Wei Wuxian babbled on as Lan Wangji's fingers undid the buttons of his coat. "We're right outside! What if someone sees us? What if your Uncle sees us!"

Lan Wangji lifted his beautiful mouth off of Wei Wuxian's collarbones and fixed him with a stare so intense that the private eye was about to meld with the hood of his car.

"I didn't expect you to be such a prude," Lan Wangji stated.

"Hey! Watch who you're calling a prude, highness!" Wei Wuxian scoffed in outrage.

"Give me your tie," Lan Wangji said, fingers already pulling at the knot around Wei Wuxian's throat.

"Fuck, you're hot," Wei Wuxian muttered, feeling as if his brain was about to dribble out of his ears. "How are you this hot? It's a crime, you know. No wonder Jiang Cheng wanted to book you every day."

Instead of a reasoned response, Lan Wangji simply picked Wei Wuxian up by his thighs and lifted him up onto the hood of his Rolls until his legs dangled over the side of the front tire. Steam came out of Wei Wuxian's ears, while his mouth fell open.

Lan Wangji held his own tie in front of him. "Do you trust me?"

"To bang me within an inch of my life? Sure."

"Do you trust me, Wei Ying?" he repeated. "I need you to trust me."

Wei Wuxian let out a helpless giggle. How was he supposed to function with Lan Wangji looking like that, while standing between his legs and saying things like this? The craziest part of it all was that he did trust Lan Wangji. Insanely and inexplicably, but his gut had seldom steered him wrong before (perhaps his first impression of Dimples notwithstanding). And as crazy as this thing between them was, Lan Wangji had never actually lied to him.

Lan Wangji's hand was a hot pressure against Wei Wuxian's thigh. "I've put my life in your hands. Do you trust me?" he asked again.

"Yeah, Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian nodded. "It might be crazy, but I do. Completely."

Lan Wangji's mouth slammed against his once more, a careless collision of lips and teeth. There was something exhilarating and joyful about being kissed this way, and Wei Wuxian wrapped his legs around Lan Wangji's waist, reveling in the way their bodies slotted together, so perfectly. As if Wei Wuxian was created just to be crushed by Lan Wangji. His entire body vibrated from need of it.

"Come on, then," Wei Wuxian whispered in his ear, already keeping his eyes closed in anticipation. "Put it on me."

The soft cloth of the tie slipped around his eyes, causing Wei Wuxian’s breath to hitch. The cold ocean breeze ruffled his hair, like an autumn kiss against his flushed skin, and when Wei Wuxian felt the hot exhale of Lan Wangji’s breath against his ear, he shuddered, letting one of his hands grasp forward, finding the warm wool of Lan Wangji’s unbuttoned Dior coat.

“I’ve thought about this,” Lan Wangji whispered, his lips a soft caress against Wei Wuxian’s earlobe. “A lot, Wei Ying.”

Wei Wuxian let out a small giggle, seeking the warmth of Lan Wangji’s body in the darkness that had descended around him. “You thought of having your wicked way with me on the hood of your Rolls?”

“Mn.”

“Lan Zhan, did you really?” Wei Wuxian attempted to pull the other man towards him, but Lan Wangji eluded him, stepping too far out of his reach, making him feel suddenly naked and observed, even while still fully clothed. “Is that what you thought about on all those lonely drives to Marin?”

“Mn. And more.”

“Lan Zhaaaaaan,” Wei Wuxian let out a desperate whine. “Touch me, please.”

Lan Wangji’s fingers were suddenly on his belt, unbuckling it, hands maneuvering Wei Wuxian’s limbs however they pleased, making him feel disoriented and completely helpless while Lan Wangji pulled his trousers off in one determined tug, exposing his naked legs to the chilling moisture of the fog.

“Ah!” Wei Wuxian gasped, tipped over onto his back against the hood. The engine was still warm and the smooth metal felt pleasantly soothing against his exposed skin. “Lan Zhan, you are a menace,” he whispered, feeling impossibly turned on yet optimally foolish. He must have looked ridiculous like this, in nothing but his skivvies and spats from the waist down, still wearing his tattered coat and suit jacket, blindfolded with his own tie.

As if reading his thoughts, Lan Wangji’s mellow, butterscotch voice caressed him through the darkness, “Wei Ying is beautiful.”

“Fuck, are you trying to kill a man?” Wei Wuxian moaned, throwing one arm over his face, attempting to hide whatever was still visible of it from sheer embarrassment.

“Want to make you feel good,” Wei Wuxian heard as Lan Wangji’s long fingers hooked into the waistband of his briefs and pulled them down his legs. His cock bounced up, careless of the cold, careless of anything except the bone-deep desire that settled into Wei Wuxian’s body. “You’re so beautiful,” Lan Wangji whispered again, his body a furnace hovering above Wei Wuxian’s. His lips barely brushed against Wei Wuxian’s open mouth, a shadowy caress that left him shaking for more contact. “Wanted you mine. Wanted to feel your hands on me. Your legs around me.”

“Fuck, fuck, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian gasped. His body seemed to have no problems following the implicit commands, as his arms and legs wrapped around Lan Wangji, pressing his body closer. “I knew you’d be trouble the moment I saw you,” Wei Wuxian said as Lan Wangji’s lips trailed along the curve of his jaw and pressed a surprisingly gentle kiss to the tip of his chin. Wei Wuxian’s cock thrust valiantly into the heat between their bodies, probably smearing against the expensive wool of that damned coat. “Well, you have me,” Wei Wuxian said. It was a lot easier to be brave, to say things like this when he didn’t need to see himself saying them. “You’ve got me, Lan Zhan, what are you going to do to me?”

Lan Wangji’s tongue pushed past Wei Wuxian’s lips, exploring his mouth thoroughly, almost thoughtfully. Their breaths mingled gently as Wei Wuxian allowed Lan Wangji to take control of the kiss, letting himself go lax and pliant in his arms, allowing himself for just a moment to be nothing but a well of sensation. Lan Wangji kissed the way he did everything else, with dauntless determination, as if he wanted to drink all of Wei Wuxian in, to immolate him in the fire of his own mouth. Wei Wuxian moaned in disapproval when Lan Wangji finally broke the kiss and pressed his mouth to the column of his neck. It felt great there, too. But Wei Wuxian wanted it back on his mouth at the same time. No, he wanted it lower. He wanted it everywhere. Lan Wangji’s kid glove-covered fingers were wrapping around his shaft, while Wei Wuxian’s head knocked against the car from the sudden shift in the attention he was getting, and he lifted his hips off the hood, attempting to thrust into the light leather grip.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji whispered against Wei Wuxian’s hair as his tongue curled around the shell of his ear. “I have wanted you since the first day I met you. I was so annoyed by how beautiful you were. Such effrontery!”

Wei Wuxian was losing his mind. “Ah… ha… I’m sorry,” he panted, wanting to fuck harder into Lan Wangji’s gloved hand, which was denying him by keeping the grip maddeningly loose around his cock.

“And you didn’t take any of my shit,” Lan Wangji continued. “I cannot tell you how hot that was.”

“Ooooooooh boy,” Wei Wuxian let out. He was beginning to lose his hold on Lan Wangji, whose body slid serpentlike down his own, all warmth and contact disappearing for a moment, except the infuriatingly soft strokes that teased his cock into an angry, leaking rod.

“I wanted to go down to my knees for you,” Wei Wuxian’s heard the sweet lull of Lan Wangji’s voice, as if carried on the ocean breeze. He was going to nut just like this. Just from Lan Wangji talking so dirty to him. "I've waited so long for someone to make me feel like this, I might devour you," Wei Wuxian heard.

The sudden pain of Lan Wangji’s teeth sinking into the soft flesh of his inner thigh made Wei Wuxian cry out and reach forward blindly, seeking his lover's touch. He was rewarded with a wet swipe of tongue along the place where teeth had likely left their mark a moment ago and shivered.

“Ah, Lan Zhan, you can’t do this to a man. Has your Uncle taught you no manners?”

His thighs were suddenly lifted and Wei Wuxian realized through the haze of his desire and the darkness of the blindfold that they were being placed around Lan Wangji’s surprisingly broad shoulders.

“Oh, my god, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian began to babble again nervously, even as he could feel the scalding breath that came out of Lan Wangji’s mouth and wrapped around the exposed soft tissues of his own genitals. “Lan Zhan, are you on your knees right now? Fuck. Lan Zhan, I want to see. Please, let me see. You can’t do this to me. Ah!” The last cry was caused by Lan Wangji’s teeth sinking into the flesh of his other thigh. “Ah, god, Lan Zhan, you’re so cruel!”

The exhalation from Lan Wangji's soundless laughter tickled against Wei Wuxian's scrotum and before he could utter any more protestations, Lan Wangji's mouth was back, pressing hot kisses into the groove of his iliac furrow, tracing his path with soft, wet licks of his tongue. Lan Wangji shifted, and for a moment, Wei Wuxian heard uncertain sounds, a soft clicking, something hard placed against the metal of the hood, and then his hand was back on Wei Wuxian's aching cock, fingers bare and covered in something slick.

"Lan Zhan!" Wei Wuxian gasped. "Are you… is that? Oh my god, is that lube? Do you have emergency lube in your car, oh my god… Why are you like this?"

The hand around his cock tightened, and the soft warmth of Lan Wangji's lips enveloped Wei Wuxian as his lover took one of his balls into his mouth. Wei Wuxian's teeth sank into his own lower lip as his hips gave another involuntary jolt. Lan Wangji's mouth continued the excruciating torment of sucking around his balls, first one, then the other, soft slurping sounds reaching Wei Wuxian's ears along with the susurrus of the waves. His hand stroked Wei Wuxian with practiced ease and intent, his long fingers finding new ways of sending Wei Wuxian into a frenzied delirium.

Wei Wuxian let out a high pitched keen, completely beyond caring of anyone hearing them. Even had Jiang Cheng himself shown up to arrest them for indecent public acts, he would've begged Lan Wangji to let him finish, everything else be damned. Lan Wangji's tongue twirled once more around a testicle, before licking a long stripe all the way up to the tip of Wei Wuxian's leaking cock. It dipped inside the slit, toying with him, reducing him to a muttering mess, before taking pity on him. The heat of Lan Wangji's mouth descending over his cock made Wei Wuxian moan wantonly again as he thrust forward, seeking more, wanting everything Lan Wangji was so generously giving him. One of his hands reached down, fingers twining through the thick, lustrous strands of Lan Wangji's hair, tightening to hold him in place.

"Ah, I'm sorry," Wei Wuxian gasped. His blindfold was moist, either from the fog, or the tears of pleasure that kept escaping from the corners of his eyes. "Please," Wei Wuxian begged, not knowing anymore what he was begging for.

Lan Wangji let go of his cock, only long enough to say, "You may fuck my throat."

Wei Wuxian was damn proud of himself for not just losing it then and there. He tightened his fingers in Lan Wangji's hair as his lover swallowed and let out a deep moan around his shaft, and began to thrust up into the waiting heat of his mouth, pistoning his hips into a frenetic rhythm. Lan Wangji's fingers were back, once more covered in the same slick substance, trailing down Wei Wuxian's perineum, until the pad of his lover's thumb was pressing against his opening, circling it, toying with the sensitive nerve endings before finally breaching him with a single powerful thrust. He cried out, no longer in control of his body, his cock twitching inside Lan Wangji's throat as Wei Wuxian crested and began to shoot his load even while Lan Wangji's finger stroked his insides, milking him until the end. His thighs shuddered and clamped down hard around Lan Wangji's shoulders. Despite the blindfold, Wei Wuxian could've sworn he was seeing stars. He was seeing the face of God. He shook apart completely, lulled by the soft slurping sounds of Lan Wangji cleaning every last drop of his spend with his long, talented tongue.

He fell into a strange and uncharacteristic silence, his fingers absentmindedly stroking along Lan Wangji's soft hair, caressing the shell of his ear, while he remained kneeling between Wei Wuxian's naked legs, with his smooth cheek resting against the exposed skin of his thigh. The rush of the waves breaking against the distant rocks was the only sound around them, and Wei Wuxian felt as if his body was floating, carried away by a relentless rip current out to sea.

"Wei Ying?"

Lan Wangji's breath caressed Wei Wuxian's earlobe again, but he could not recall his lover moving. He let out a soft hum, turning his face in the direction of Lan Wangji's voice.

"Are you all right?"

"No," Wei Wuxian shook his head. "You have killed me. You have no measure of what a fragile wreck of a man I actually am."

The tie was pushed up to his forehead, uncovering Wei Wuxian's eyes, and he found himself staring into the night sky, up at the running tendrils of the fog that floated above him. The sound of the car door being opened made Wei Wuxian lift his head. The rest of his limbs had long turned to butter. Suddenly, Lan Wangji was next to him again, arms wrapping around Wei Wuxian's torso, scooping under his knees, and pulling him off the hood of the car and into his own arms.

"Lan Zhan!" Wei Wuxian exclaimed, horrified and turned on in equal measure. "What… what are you doing? Are you bridal carrying me? Into your back seat?"

Lan Wangji indeed did just that, maneuvering Wei Wuxian deftly into the wide back seat of his Rolls, tossing his trousers after him, and then climbing inside himself, and settling right on top, pressing him into the leather with the pleasant weight of his body.

"You did say you liked your men strong," Lan Wangji pointed out with a strangely studious expression on his face.

Wei Wuxian swallowed and spread his legs, allowing Lan Wangji's slender hips to settle between them comfortably. "I'm losing my mind from how hot all that was," he said, fingers combing through his lover's hair, "but please don't ever do it in front of my friends."

Lan Wangji smiled, before hiding his face against Wei Wuxian's neck. He felt good there too, tucked right in. A perfect fit, Wei Wuxian thought fondly. He wanted to keep him so much, he was afraid his heart might burst.

"You're going to introduce me to your friends?" Lan Wangji whispered against the rabbiting pulse just under Wei Wuxian's skin.

"Maybe. Although you kind of already met and have insulted most of them. Are you going to introduce me to your horses?"

"I can't tell if you're insulting me or just trying to get me to fuck you in the stables."

"Mostly the second one."

"Devious."

"Hey, Lan Zhan, do you also have a riding crop?"

"Shameless!"

"Hey, Lan Zhan, hey. Do you really have emergency lube in your car?"

Lan Wangji rummaged on the car floor before shoving a round container into Wei Wuxian's hands. "Estée Lauder Rich All Purpose Cream," Wei Wuxian read out loud. "This shit is like… priceless!"

"Bringing the best to everyone we touch," Lan Wangji recited the Estée Lauder slogan with a deadpan expression on his gorgeous and smug face. Wei Wuxian was absurdly in love with him.

"You're really the best, do you know that, Lan Zhan?" Wei Wuxian said, cupping that sharp jawline with both of his hands. "Has anyone ever told you that?"

"No one," Lan Wangji replied, turning his face to place a chaste kiss into the middle of Wei Wuxian's palm. "Only Wei Ying."

A scoop of pelicans sailed on the wind past the car windows, carried towards the ocean, ready to fend for themselves with the coming break of day. Somewhere in the distance, another car door slammed, and the sound of a barking dog joined in the cries of the sea gulls. Over in the East, behind the hills of the Marin Headlands and Angel Island, the sun was beginning to rise, coloring the Golden Gate Bridge in an orange glow that could not be found anywhere else in the world.

"Come home with me, gumshoe," Lan Wangji whispered against Wei Wuxian's lips.

"I'd go anywhere with you, highness."

He would. And he did.

The End