One evening, the spirit bathhouse receives a visit from the most disgusting stink spirit that anyone has ever seen—or smelled—in a hundred years.
The first employees to see its lurching form in the distance call out to the lower levels in alarm, and then watch as it crawls slowly across the bridge to the bathhouse, leaving a trail of oozing brown slime in its wake.
Of the entire workforce, not a single spirit with a sense of smell can stand to be in the same room as it without gagging at the repulsive odor. Of course, no one is willing to be its attendant for the night—
Except for Wei Wuxian.
In his mind, a customer is a customer—and as far as customers go, he thinks that this stink spirit is quite nice. He’s had to serve some pretty awful spirits before, ones that send him running back and forth to get more towels and platters of chashu without so much as a minute to catch his breath; but this stink spirit is quiet, undemanding and, dare he say—polite!
When he leads it to the largest tub they have to offer, it clambers in, sends out a sweeping brown wave of water when its massive body displaces the liquid, and then just...sits there, soaking quietly in its muddy half-bath.
Well, Wei Wuxian thinks, such undemanding behavior deserves an extra hot bath! So he goes to fetch some herbal bath tags, even scrubs away at the spirit’s oozy surface. And eventually, emboldened by the lack of complaints, he starts to chatter away.
The stink spirit hums every now and then in response. For all that it is non-verbal, it’s surprisingly interactive and kind! It retrieves the tub of herbal bath tags for Wei Wuxian as he struggles to reach it through the thick muck on the floor; it reaches down in concern when Wei Wuxian slips and hits his knee on the tub edge; it doesn’t even mind when he loses his purchase against the slippery surface and falls into its bath head-first, and simply uses one of its big tentacle-y appendages to dislodge him from the sludge and hoist him out of the water!
It is during this last interaction that Wei Wuxian feels the object lodged into the spirit’s side.
“Quit dawdling, Wei Wuxian!” roars Master Jin from the upper floors, where the entirety of the bath-house staff has been gawking at how cheerfully Wei Wuxian has been working around the gods-awful stench of his sludgy customer.
“There’s a thorn stuck in the customer’s side!” Wei Wuxian calls back.
And very quickly, Master Jin realizes that this ‘stink spirit’ is not what it seems to be.
The entire bathhouse is set to work pulling the ‘thorn’ out—and when it finally comes free, all manner of human trash starts pouring out; bicycles, discarded plastics, metal cans and the like, all covered in a thick layer of mud.
Wei Wuxian nearly falls back off the edge of the tub with the force of the wave, but something holds him steady.
The water in the tub is clear now. A great horned head breaks the surface.
“Well done, Wei Ying,” says the ancient river spirit, teeth sharp and large eyes blinking.
One long, scaly tail is still wrapped around Wei Wuxian’s waist, holding him still as he regains his balance.
Then it lets him go.
That rippling body uncoils, and the river god bursts out of the tub and leaves through the entrance, disappearing into the night with a joyful roar.
As the rest of the bathhouse staff scrabble over the gold deposits the river god left behind in the floorboards, Wei Wuxian stares out into the sky and laments the fact that he never said a proper goodbye to his customer.
But, then again, what is an indentured fox spirit to a great river god? After a few seconds of contemplation, Wei Wuxian resigns himself to the fact that he’ll never see his nicest customer again, and gets back to work.
The following week, a remarkable spirit shows up at the bathhouse.
Wei Wuxian only finds out after he passes by after his lunch break and hears the commotion at the main doors. When he pokes his head out, it seems like half the bathhouse is there, fussing over the most handsome spirit Wei Wuxian has ever seen.
Male and female spirits alike are swarming around, each clamoring for his attention. However, even with the noise, the spirit seems to know the second Wei Wuxian steps into the room. His head snaps around and he pins Wei Wuxian to the spot with a sharp golden gaze.
His deep voice cuts through the chatter, and everyone else falls silent.
“I would like you to be my attendant for today.”
And. Well. Who is Wei Wuxian to disagree?
He holds his head high, ignores the confused whispers, and leads the spirit straight to his bath.
As expected, attending to a customer of such awesome beauty is quite...distracting. Wei Wuxian chatters on as he always does, but he can’t help but feel a little flustered as he tries not to eye all that bare skin and muscle too hungrily.
However, the spirit doesn’t seem bothered at all. In fact, Wei Wuxian thinks that the spirit is staring back at him just as much.
As he soaks in the water, he nods along to all of Wei Wuxian’s small talk and even asks a few quiet questions of his own.
The whole time, Wei Wuxian is dying to know exactly why he’s been chosen, but he forces his curiosity down. A customer is a customer, and he can’t be rude.
At the end of their session, he sees the spirit straight out to the entrance.
Just as Wei Wuxian has finished bowing and is halfway through turning back to the main doors, the spirit speaks.
“Well done today, Wei Ying.”
Something sparks in the back of Wei Wuxian’s head. He looks back in confusion.
“Have I met you before?”
The spirit blinks, golden eyes suddenly so familiar.
“I see that you do not recognize me in this form. Very well.”
He transforms, and suddenly—there is Wei Wuxian’s kind and quiet river god, heavy body coiled before him.
Wei Wuxian, heart thundering in his chest, lowers his head.
“My lord, I am honored to serve you a second time! Please forgive this humble servant for not recognizing you!”
A deep rumble of words; “Lift your head, Wei Ying. There is no need for such formalities. My name is Lan Wangji.”
“And you...you may call me Lan Zhan.”
Then, before Wei Wuxian can recover from his shock, the massive dragon lifts off the ground and flies away, leaving without a proper goodbye for the second time.
Once is sheer luck. Twice is a kindness. Wei Wuxian does not go through life tallying his encounters with handsome river gods, and he is already content with what he has.
But the thing is—Lan Wangji keeps coming back.
Every week, like clockwork, Lan Wangji shows up at the bathhouse.
He refuses to be attended by anyone other than Wei Wuxian, and if Wei Wuxian is occupied, he sits and waits, ignoring the protests of the employees that you must be cold, my lord, why don’t we get someone else to draw a bath for you?
Wei Wuxian begins to look forward to Lan Wangji’s visits—each one is a bright spot in the long, tiring weeks of work.
He’s so comfortable talking with Lan Wangji, even though he will admit that it’s harder to focus now that Lan Wangji is all Delicious Bare Skin instead of Simply Sludge.
Lan Wangji’s baths get longer, and his visits become more frequent. Over the course of many visits, they become closer, and eventually Wei Wuxian finds himself opening up to Lan Wangji more than he thought he ever would to another spirit.
He tells him every little detail about himself; that he’s bad with faces, good with cooking. That he misses his true form—“I make a beautiful fox, Lan Zhan, trust me!”—and that he dreams of leaving the bathhouse and traveling.
One day, Lan Wangji asks Wei Wuxian how he started working at the bathhouse, and Wei Wuxian goes silent.
He’s never told the truth to anyone—but this beautiful god, this kind, handsome, blessing who is sometimes the only reason Wei Wuxian can get up in the morning—he deserves the truth.
so Wei Wuxian explains slowly, haltingly, about how in his first days as a fox spirit, he was so frail and weak that he couldn’t even find food. He was cold and starving and would have died, if it were not a group of snake spirits that had taken him into their care. It was highly unconventional, but the Jiangs saved his life and took him into their care.
So when he found out how much they owed to Master Jin Guangshan, who ran the bathhouse, he didn’t even think twice.
in the end, it wasn’t that much—13 years of indentured servitude to pay off the Jiangs’ debt.
Lan Wangji frowns. “Do they not worry about you working here? Do they not visit? I have never seen snake spirits at this bathhouse.”
Wei Wuxian shakes his head.
“No. I never told them. As far as they know, I just ran off and never returned. Madam Yu probably still curses my name to this day; damn that Wei Wuxian! I told you all, never trust a fox spirit! Haha, it’s like I can hear her voice in my head.”
Lan Wangji’s face becomes awfully closed-off after that, but Wei Wuxian puts it down to drowsiness from the warm bath.
“Lan Zhan, you must be getting sleepy! Turn around, let me scrub your back.”
The next time Lan Wangji visits, he’s unusually quiet, up until midway through, when Wei Wuxian is adding floral oils to his bathwater, and he turns around to look at him.
“If money is the problem, I can pay your debt off for you.”
Wei Wuxian freezes.
“Lan Zhan. What do you mean.”
Lan Wangji presses on. “You must remember the gold I carry in my body—the gold deposits in my river. I could pay your debt off for you, you would not have to work here anymore—”
Wei Wuxian does not hear the rest of it, because he is too busy snapping back. To be honest, he’s surprised with the...vehemency of his own response. He’s never shouted at Lan Wangji, ever, but this comes close.
“Lan Wangji, I am not your charity case. I don’t appreciate pity—this debt is my own to pay off.”
Halfway through his response, he remembers who he’s berating, and shrinks back instantly.
Even if Wei Wuxian has tricked himself into thinking that he’s a friend, Lan Wangji is still a god, and Wei Wuxian is just a lowly fox spirit.
He apologizes, and makes to back off.
A wet hand rises out of the water to grab his wrist.
“Wait, Wei Ying, please. It was my fault. I overstepped. It was not my intention to make you feel as though I pitied you.I do not—I just want to help.”
Wei Wuxian stares back, helpless and so, so confused. “I...why would you even offer? Why do you care?”
Lan Wangji gazes back.
“Do you really not know?”
And Wei Wuxian—his brain shorts out.
Lan Wangji’s hand is so warm, power thrumming under his palm, and his eyes are pleading, and the steam is turning his skin baby-pink—
And Wei Wuxian loses his mind, leans forward, and kisses him.
In the next second, he’s horrified. If he were in his true form, his tail would be dropped between his legs, his ears would be tucked back flat against his skull.
He stammers out an incoherent apology and sprints away, leaving Lan Wangji frozen in the bath, staring after him.
After that incident, his shame is too great to bear. Not only did Wei Wuxian delude himself into liking a customer who was a god , he forced himself on that god and he left him sitting in his cooling bath without finishing his damn job!
With no other solution in sight, he starts avoiding Lan Wangji.
“Tell him I’m occupied,” he begs the other spirits when they tell him that his ‘favorite customer’ is asking for him. “Tell him I’m busy, and that he should just get a different attendant.”
Lan Wanji, for his part, starts coming by every evening.
Every day before they go to bed, the other bathhouse workers tell Wei Wuxian about how the great river god Lan Wangji will sit the whole night at the front, waiting for Wei Wuxian to show his face, and leave silently when the bathhouse closes.
Wei Wuxian is miserable, but he doesn’t tell them to shut up.
It’s his fault, after all; the least he can do is listen to the fallout.
Then, early one evening, he opens the sliding doors to the garden to pour out the water he was using to clean the floors before the bathhouse opened—
And Lan Wangji is standing right there.
It’s the first time Wei Wuxian has seen Lan Wangji in person for weeks, and even though he’s standing there looking pale and cold and rained-on, he still glows with the power of a god. He still looks so, so breathtaking.
And Wei Wuxian may be a coward, but even he is not so shameless as to ignore a god when they are standing right in front of him.
So he steps down to the garden, bows his head in shame, and apologizes as deeply as he can.
And then he waits for Lan Wanji’s rage.
It does not come. Instead, a gentle hand lifts his chin.
“I’ve told you before, Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says. His eyes are sad. “There’s no need to bow to me. Not when it’s you.”
All Wei Wuxian can do is ask, again; “Why?”
Why shouldn’t I bow to you? Why aren’t you mad at me? Why do you come here, sit night after night in the rain, waiting for me?
Why are you looking at me like that? Like I’m someone who matters?
And Lan Wangji says, simply, “Because I love you.”
Wei Wuxian’s heart thumps,
and then he’s throwing his arms around his river god.
They kiss there in the dark garden, soaking wet from the rain.
And when they break free, gasping, Lan Wangji presses his forehead against Wei Wuxian’s own and whispers, “I will wait for you. However long it takes to pay off your debt, I will wait for you, and when you are free I will take you wherever you want to go.”
They manage, after that. Lan Wangji has his weekly visits, and Wei Wuxian chatters away happily. Wei Wuxian is maybe a bit more touchy than a bath attendant needs to be, and Lan Wangji responds in kind.
One year passes.
And then two.
And suddenly, wwx’s thirteen years are nearly up. The week before his contract expires, he even dares to sneak a kiss, and as he pulls back he murmurs, “I’ll be with you soon, Lan Zhan.”
At the end of his final day, he goes all the way up to Master Jin’s study to terminate his contract.
He’s on cloud nine—he’s just minutes away from freedom. Lan Wangji is already waiting for him outside the bathhouse. They’ll finally be able to embrace properly.
Wei Wuxian does not realize something is wrong until he’s standing before his boss.
Master Jin’s jeweled rings glint in the candlelight of his study. His smile is indulgent. And his eyes—they don’t look like those of an employer about to lose his best worker.
Wei Wuxian’s stomach fills with lead.
“Thirteen years to pay off the jiang’s debt, Wei Wuxian,” purrs Master Jin. “What did your contract ever say about letting you go after?”
Wei Wuxian doesn’t remember much after that. Shaking, screaming, cursing; and then suddenly he’s fleeing through the crowded levels of the bathhouse, his contract clutched in his fist, Master Jin’s henchmen hot on his heels.
There are bird-like paper talismans surrounding him, slicing at his exposed skin in a flurry; he keeps running, feet a pounding beat under him.
Keep going, he thinks, lungs burning. Lan Zhan is outside. You’ve kept him waiting long enough.
He’s nearly at the entrance when they catch him, and they start dragging him away as he flails and bites and shrieks. “You can’t do this!” he cries. “Lan Zhan is still waiting for me! Lan Zhan! ”
Someone slaps him across the face, hard, and he tastes blood.
The entrance is getting farther and farther away.
I was almost there, Wei Wuxian wants to howl. I almost made it. I was almost happy.
His heels bleed as they drag on the wooden floor.
Then, a great roar; and the main doors splinter to pieces as Lan Wangji plows right through them in his true form and rains down upon the henchmen with all the terrifying fury of a vengeful river god.
The destruction rages around him, and the arms restraining Wei Wuxian fall away. In the eye of the storm, he drops to his knees—
And before he can bruise them on the ground, he’s swept up into the protective embrace of an angry dragon.
Of course, Wei Wuxian’s contract ends up being terminated. No one is brave enough to stand between Wei Wuxian’s freedom and Lan Wangji’s massive sharp teeth, least of all Master Jin.
They leave the bathhouse behind them in disarray and fly off, Wei Wuxian cradled gently in Lan Wangji’s massive talons.
(one of wwx’s first things on his agenda is to stretch out in his true form. he poofs into the cutest little white fox lwj has ever seen and frolics around in the grass. maybe lwj cannot resist the urge to bury his face in that fluffy tummy and wwx just pwaps his little paws on lwj’s head
maybe lwj is in his true form too!! little fox spirit wei wuxian all snuggly in this massive coil of dragon-like river god lan wangji
and then also, now that wwx is no longer a bathhouse attendant, lwj can finally return the favor. he draws wwx a hot bath and plays the attendant instead!
maybe wwx is a little shy because he realizes that for all the many times he’s seen lwj with his clothes off, lwj has never seen HIM naked. lwj gives him a tender massage, and then a smooch on his shoulder. and then, softly, a kiss on his neck. a nip on his jaw.
and then they make out like they never dared to in the bathhouse and [redacted] in the tub like canon wangxian. they break it too because i love that for them
and lwj takes wwx everywhere just as he promised and they kiss as freely as they like and live happily and in love for eternity!!!! 🦊🐲)