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“This is all very weird,” Jiang Cheng remarks with a characteristic scowl, glaring down at his brother’s bent head. They are in one of the pavilions that stretch out from Lotus Pier. His sister is painting next to his brother and the small smile she tries to hide seems to irritate him further and it is reflected in the gruffness of his voice that is still treading that line between boy and man. “Since when would you prefer to stay in and write a letter?” he asks with a grimace at the very thought. “When the lakes are full of fish and there are pretty maidens to charm food from down by the waterfront markets? You said we would go today.” His petulant tone is rather unbecoming for a fourteen year old but there is no one on the pavilion but them.

His sister’s smile widens as she stops painting and turns her attention to the youngest of them. Since they were able to cultivate, Jiang Cheng has always been compared with their adopted brother Wei Wuxian. Both their parents do it to motivate though neither are particularly successful. Jiang Cheng will learn in his own time and views Wei Wuxian as more brother than rival as it should be. Knowing that the older boy does not actually excel just to annoy him also mollifies him since he is well aware that Wei Wuxian finds his own prowess at cultivation more troublesome than a blessing. Picking things up so easily, he rarely feels challenged and gets bored easily which is when he starts causing problems during training, always attempting to push boundaries or ask seemingly unrelated questions until Madam Yu sends him away in a huff only because he is so disruptive. He does not mean to be so and Jiang Cheng, for all his faults, can see that quite clearly. For his part, he remembers Wei Wuxian’s parents and he knows his adopted brother’s aptitude is a direct result of being their progeny so he figures his own lack of talent should really be his own parents’ fault rather than Wei Wuxian’s and thus, Jiang Fengmian and Yu Ziyuan can never get their son to feel even the slightest bit competitive against the head disciple. Pitting them against each other would mostly result in the two of them colluding.

Wei Wuxian waves his brush as he re-reads his sentence, biting his full bottom lip and pursing his mouth, pushing his lips into a thoughtful pout. Referencing another letter on hand, his brush drips ink onto his parchment but he does not pay it any mind, reading the letter quietly to himself, he puts brush to paper once again.

Before Jiang Cheng is able to fully open his mouth for another diatribe, now doubly annoyed at being ignored as well as having his morning plans disrupted, Jiang Yanli cuts in smoothly before any trouble occurs.

“A-Cheng, you know mother wants A-Xian to focus on his writing.” Her voice is gentle but there is the faintest hint of steel within it that her brother catches. Do not make a big deal of this.

“Writing? Can’t it wait?” The teenager settles down on an empty cushion with a loud huff and leans across the table to fiddle with his sister’s paints. “A-Jie, it’s the first day of the markets.”

“Perhaps you should learn patience,” Jiang Yanli murmurs with a smile. “Here, help me pick a colour for this butterfly. A-Xian will not be much longer and you have all afternoon.”

Jiang Cheng huffs again but his eyes are caught by the prettiness of his sister’s incomplete painting and he shifts around the table to help her with it. Their mother is responsible for the general cultivation of the sect’s disciples while their gentler scholastic father responsible for their book-learning and the arts. Jiang Yanli is his star pupil while Wei Wuxian is his mother’s. Jiang Cheng hovers in between the two, good enough at both to get by.

“I just need to catch the post,” Wei Wuxian murmurs around the bitten off end of his brush before continuing to chew thoughtfully on the mangled piece of wood as he reads the words he has written over the messy parchment.

A waterfall! A waterfall, Lan Zhan, that was too easy surely. A waterfall is always running but never moves and has a powerful roar even without a mouth. Am I right? Are there many waterfalls in Cloud Recesses? There are none here but flat rivers and lakes. I wish there was a quicker way of receiving your reply instead of having to wait for the post. I am learning cultivation right now. Perhaps there is some way to cultivate a method of ensuring you receive my letters immediately. We have been writing for months but I have barely ten of your letters. The postal system is truly archaic and I really will spend some time thinking about improving it. Think of how instructions during war time could be conveyed in a more efficient and quicker manner? Not that we’re at war and not that I want to be at war. You know what I mean don’t you?

Wei Wuxian’s brow furrows slightly before he continues to write at the end of that.

You must think I am bloodthirsty or something. I just re-read your most recent letter and it is so wonderfully pristine and concise that your words make me marvel you can say so much with so few strokes while I have practically written an entire parchment and have said absolutely nothing.

Huffing slightly at the mess his paper is in and sighing grumpily, not unlike his younger brother who is now engrossed in helping his sister paint her butterfly, he chews on his brush again before continuing.

Do you think we will ever meet? Cloud Recesses seems so far away. I’ve never been anywhere but Lotus Pier. Will you come visit? I can’t leave yet, I don’t think. I’m not old enough. At least that’s what I keep being told. Wait till I’m sixteen then the world shall be my oyster! Will you travel with me?

He stops again to scowl at his words. “Honestly…” he mutters under his breath. “Surely a damn talisman will fix this,” his mind whirling at the possibilities. He will look into it once he finishes his letter.

I have so many questions and yet your answers will take over two weeks to get to me at the earliest and by then I will have probably forgotten them.

Even as he writes that, he knows the likelihood is practically negligible. He can practically recite Lan Zhan’s letters from memory by now and despite the erratic nature of his own writing, his friend always takes genuine care to reply to his queries that he basically knows the contents of his own letters from the other boy’s reply. He lays back onto the deck, arching his face towards the sky when he realises the sun’s position and he bolts upright quickly and starts to scribble.

Ah, my Lan Zhan, the sun has risen much too quickly into the sky. I must catch the post otherwise your reply will take three weeks. Since you gave me such a simple one this time, I shall return in kind. What is so delicate that even saying its name will break it?

He signs off his letter with a flourish, smiling to himself which is caught by both his siblings. Barely muttering to be excused, he rushes off to the main house and prays he doesn’t have to chase the post master halfway to the village the way he had to last time.

Yanli giggles quietly. “You know, if I didn’t know better, I’d say A-Xian was in love.”

Jiang Cheng stares after the back of his brother before turning to his sister, his expression quite serious. “We do know him better, and I think you’re right.”

“Remember that girl with the mantou cheeks?”

“The one selling mantous?” Yanli chuckles and nods. “Yes, I remember her. A-Xian kept wanting to poke her cheeks.”

“He followed her around for a whole month until she finally let him poke her cheek and his smile when he did wasn’t even half as brilliant as that one we just saw. And you know they were sweet on each other for a good month after until she moved away. Even father got tired of mantous since he kept bringing them home.”

“Did he ever write to her?” She asks curiously.

Jiang Cheng shakes his head. “I asked once and he said out of sight out of mind.”

=====

In the quiet of the Jingshi, no one witnesses the smile from the younger Twin Jade as he opens his letter. Just like the rest, they are redirected to the main post office in Caiyi Town. Unsure about the intentions of the person behind the missive all those months ago, he had not given the person his address. It had taken several unexpected letters and a boisterous correspondence that had led him to, at the very least, share that he lives in Cloud Recesses although the letters remain directed to the post office in Caiyi. The other boy had never questioned it and Lan Wangji is not sure how to bring it up and so he does not. Most of his own letters consist of replies to the other and each time he writes, he worries about not receiving a response for he is not exactly the most loquacious whether in speech or writing. In fact, he is the complete opposite while his friend seems to be exactly what he is not.

Despite the fact that he knows full well that he would never have befriended such a person had they met for they are too different, he had been surprisingly drawn to the rambunctious energy that seems to quite literally leak off the pages of Wei Ying’s letters. The streaks of dried ink, sometimes in blobs across the page make the corners of his mouth turn up for some reason when he would normally have chided a fellow disciple for being both messy and wasteful. He can practically hear the other boy’s exuberant chatter with the way he strings row upon row of questions at a time and then bemoans the lack of an immediate answer. It is as if he truly wants to know everything and especially about him which is something Lan Wangji has never in his life experienced. Even his brother, the closest person to him, does not interact with him the way Wei Ying does.

They had established remarkably early on that they are close in age though his brother had cautioned that people may not be as they say over this type of correspondence but Lan Wangji had stubbornly refused to even acknowledge that possibility. Wei Ying’s words are too honest, too overflowing for there to be any guile behind it and so after that conversation perhaps three letters in, he stops speaking to Lan Xichen about them.

He is grateful that his existence and introverted nature has been so accepted in Cloud Recesses that barely anyone questions him. Those who do, never expect a proper answer in any case. The freedom this accords him has been especially refreshing in the past few months. While it had previously caused him to at times dwell on his lonely existence, Wei Ying’s correspondence has brightened his life in a way he cannot articulate even if asked.

It is as if he has a new pair of eyes, seeing the abundance of fish in the flowing rivers that can be found around Cloud Recesses or the fact that no cloud in the sky ever looks the same to two different people. He had tested that latter theory out on his brother and had been properly affronted when Lan Xichen could not see the rabbits he could. All he saw was fat livestock or something. Not even the rabbit ears that were so obvious he had to bite back a remark enquiring if his brother had gone blind.

Wei Ying’s laughter practically flew off the page when he recounted his efforts to his friend and the boy had responded remarkably quickly. Well, two weeks is definitely quick when it comes to their correspondence. It is the near perfect alignment of his letter being picked up the same day he drops it off and vice versa at Lotus Pier. The warmth he felt thrumming in his chest at the ink spattered letter had kept him in the Jingshi for a full day for he could not wipe his smile from his face even if he tried. Wei Ying’s parting words at the end of that letter still echoes in his head especially when he finds rabbits in the sky - I would have definitely seen the bunnies with you, Lan Zhan.

In an attempt to ensure the correspondence continued, Lan Wangji had started adding a riddle to each of his letters, hoping that Wei Ying would not be able to resist. It has worked for near six months now, and he surely needs to think of better ones or perhaps of some other way to keep the his unlikely friend’s attention.

Reading over Wei Ying’s letter for the third time, he settles down at his writing desk and pulls out his nicest stationery and writes.

Wei Ying,

You are correct as always. I do apologise for my lack of imagination for I am still unable to best you in this riddle war.

There are many waterfalls around Cloud Recesses and I have a favourite one where I play the qin for the sound of the water accompanies my music in a remarkably pleasing manner. Lotus Pier sounds wonderfully peaceful. Perhaps I may visit with you as my host since I have recently turned sixteen and may travel on my own.

He frowns at his words. Is that too forward? It was not, was it? He picks up Wei Ying’s letter again and reads over it slowly, before finally deciding on the fifth read that the sentiment in the other boy’s letter appears to be similar if not the same. In a way, Wei Ying had invited him.

Hands trembling slightly as he lays the messy parchment down, he stares at it for a few more minutes. It is not the first time that Wei Ying has asked about meeting though Lan Wangji has always skirted responding to that question in particular, mostly speaking in generals. In truth, he would dearly love to meet Wei Ying and find out if the boy is just as effusive in actions and speech as he appears to be on paper. He is already quite entranced by the other’s brilliant mind and the way he reaches solutions that are not quite the standard or even acceptable way. Despite the difference, Lan Wangji has always taken care to test Wei Ying’s more cogent theories before passing judgment and he has always been both surprised and satisfied when the result is exactly as Wei Ying had said. He has even taken to sharing his homework with the other boy and he remembers his uncle’s shocked expression the last time he had brought up one of Wei Ying’s points. Unable to find fault with the answer but troubled by the way he had reached his answer, he had been questioned by Lan Qiren at length after class and for once, Lan Wangji had not felt the need to share beyond what was required. He did not lie, but he did choose not to respond to more pertinent questions. Since he had not actually done anything wrong, his uncle could only punish him for not being forthcoming and he had carried out the punishment with a healthy amount of somewhat perverse glee which should have bothered him more than it did.

During wartime, Jin butterflies are used for correspondence and over short distances, they may take only a few hours for their answers to reach. Perhaps you could improve on it?

Struck by a sudden idea, Lan Wangji carefully puts away his writing material before practically running out of the Jingshi to find his older brother. He will finish his letter later.

=====

I have enclosed two Jin butterfly messengers with this letter. You may use one to send me your next reply and I shall receive it within a day or two. I will still need to write as I cannot enclose butterflies with a butterfly message but I hope this is moderately acceptable for now. With the other, you may use it to discern how it works so that you may create an improvement of it. I am afraid I have no talent in this regard and may only provide you the means for your experiment. I shall provide more with my next letter for I was only able to procure two at such short notice.

Wei Wuxian eyes the sparkly thing in awe. He is still looking at his gifts when his sister knocks on his door.

“Come in,” he calls out.

She enters and stops short when she sees the butterflies, her eyes widening. “A-Xian, where did you get those from?” Inwardly she cringes, glad that she is the one to find him for it would be difficult indeed to explain why her brother has not one but two of the precious Jin butterflies that are kept under lock and key in their father’s study. Those things are ridiculously expensive and if he is using it for his letters then trouble will be had. The fact that she is sure they only have three makes it even worse.

“He sent them to me.” He looks up, silver eyes reflecting the golden sparkles from the butterflies “He said he’d get my answer in one or two days,” his eyes are glowing from happiness. “A-Jie, he might be able to get my answer tomorrow!” Alight with pleasure and joy at the brilliance of his friend, he mistakes his sister’s shock for awe.

“Your…friend?” Wei Wuxian has been corresponding for. several months now though he has never divulged if it is with one person or many. After being told to learn to write letters he had gone about it the way only he would. Sending missives to each of the major sects, he had requested for an answer to a riddle - Greater than god, more evil than the devil, the rich need it, poor people have it and yet if you eat it, you will eventually die.

She knows he had received several responses but she does not know how many he corresponds with and her heart tugs at the brightness of her brother’s eyes. Whoever this person is, they are well on their way to stealing her brother’s heart if it has not already been stolen.

“Mn,” he nods absentmindedly as he places his treasure back into the box they came in. He looks up at his sister. “My friend,” he grins. “He was the only one who got the right answer to the riddle and he’s my age. Isn’t that amazing? You still don’t know the answer, do you?”

“Will you tell me now?” She asks with a smile. “It has been well over six months and there is no fear of someone finding out the answer and tricking you into thinking they know it.”

Grinning he moves to kneel at where his sister is sitting and rests his head on her knee while she starts to card her fingers through his hair. Whenever he does this in public, he gets scolded, mostly by Madam Yu but otherwise, her knee is Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng’s personal private property.

“It’s nothing.”

“Nothing?” She wrinkles her nose. “If it’s nothing then just tell me the answer.”

He giggles into her lilac coloured skirts. “It is nothing.”

“Xianxian, just tell me then if it’s nothing,” she coaxes with a laugh.

“The answer is nothing.”

Her hand stops mid-stroke and when she finally speaks as she pats his head gently, her voice is an awed whisper. “Nothing is greater than god, nothing is more evil than the devil. The rich need nothing and poor people have nothing and if you eat nothing, you will eventually die.”

“Jiejie is so smart,” he teases.

He earns himself a light smack on the shoulder for that though his sister’s words are fond. “Xianxian is much smarter.”

“For a three year old?”

“For a one year old.”

Their giggles echo in large room and Jiang Yanli forgets that she is meant to tell her brother that their parents have decided that they will join Cloud Recesses as guest students during the next intake just after her birthday in May where they will will remain for six months until after Wei Wuxian turns sixteen in October and Jiang Cheng fifteen a few days later.

=====

Lan Wangji has to take several steeling breaths as he gazes at the innocent-looking butterfly. Giving Wei Ying two butterflies had been purely altruistic and it was only after he had sent off his letter that he remembers that Jin butterflies can only take vocal messages, not written ones. He had been grateful for his brother’s lack of questions but the older teenager had started commenting more often about how he seems more approachable lately. Approachable? He never thought he was not approachable considering the number of maidens that always bother him whenever he goes to Caiyi and that had started almost seven months ago. In fact, he finds that he must be too approachable for outside Cloud Recesses, he gets approached all the time.

Knowing full well the butterflies may only convey their message the one time and he will not be able to re-read anything so to speak, he calms his mind and his heart and focuses on his core so that he may be as open as possible to receiving and remembering Wei Ying’s words.

And his voice.

Even his toes are tingling at that thought and Lan Wangji strives very hard to meditate himself into a calmer existence.

Three hours later and he gives up in frustration and mild embarrassment. He is much too excited and he cannot calm anything. Even his heartbeat is erratic.

Taking another steeling breath, he has enough sense to raise wards on the Jingshi to make sure he is not interrupted before he allows the butterfly to rest in his palm and suddenly his mind is filled with a smiling voice. Quite literally he can practically see the smile he can hear in the teenager’s bright voice.

“Oh my I thought we were closer in age but we’re more months apart than I thought. I’ll be fifteen for too many more months yet. Does that mean I have to call you Zhan-xiong? That sounds odd. Zhan-ge? Gege? Oh boy, I just gave myself some crazy goosebumps. Shit, how do I erase part of the message? Lan Zhaaaaan! Why didn’t you send instructions with this? Oh my god I should have checked how this thing worked first or at least written a script. I’m going to be rambling again and you’re going to be like who is this crazy person and never want to be my friend again. Shit. Fuck! I’m sorry I’m really nervous and I don’t want to waste this butterfly but I’m already swearing and I would swear it’s nerves but really that’s probably a lie because I am the swearing type. Jiang disciples all have foul mouths and oh Heavens I am not making this any better, am I? I should have tried meditating or something before sending this but I just wanted you to get this soon and yeah… You meditate a lot, don’t you? Teach me how to meditate because Madam Yu says I’m too distracting and kicks me out of meditation classes all the time. I mean, how does anyone sit still for literal hours just to empty their thoughts? I like my thoughts just fine. Why do I need to empty them? Surely there’s more to meditation than this? I heard there are different forms of mediation and cultivation partners meditate differently. I hope that’s true. I’m a bad student, aren’t I? Oh speaking of students, guess what? I’m coming to Cloud Recesses! Well, you’re still welcome to come to Lotus Pier first though since I won’t be going until May but I don’t mind if you want to wait. I hear it gets super cold up there and it’s horribly warm and sticky in the summer in Lotus Pier but our winters are mild so perhaps after we finish in November you can come back with me? A Yunmeng winter would probably be a summer in Gusu. Do you think we would be capable enough to go night hunting together after that and travel around? I shall diligently work on trying to improve the time taken to correspond because I really don’t think you should send me anymore of these butterflies. Jiejie almost cried when I told her you sent me one to experiment on because they’re so expensive. I hope you didn’t get into any trouble sending me these two. Oh shit my brother is coming I have to go. Please wait patiently for me, I will figure something out for my Lan Zhan. I’ll write soon. Bye!”

Lan Wangji’s face is flaming and he cannot decide whether to try and calm down or just bask in the feeling. Cupping his heated cheeks, he closes his eyes, razing the tip of his tongue followed by the plump flesh of his generous bottom lip with the edges of his teeth. He had gotten crazy goosebumps at the exact same part of the message Wei Ying had. And they only got worse with the way the younger teenager had whined his given name and he is actually glad he cannot repeat the message for that moment had sent strange feelings coursing so rapidly through him his hands are still fisted in an attempt to try and stave them. He has no idea why he shared his birth name all those months ago but now he is glad. So very glad for nobody calls him Lan Zhan. Many people do not even know his name is Lan Zhan. The fact that only Wei Ying does makes him feel right.

The rest of the message is a riotous jumble in his mind and he will need some quiet in order to parse them.

The beautiful Second Jade retires to the Cold Springs for some much needed…meditating.

=====

I think I’ve got it! I tested it with jiejie when she went to the market and it worked. You’re much further away but I’ve infused your paper man with much more of me. Jiejie got a wisp, you get whatever I could feasibly spare without Madam Yu asking why my aura looks dimmer than normal. It would work better if the paper man I have had a bit of you as well but asking someone for a bit of their core energy is a bit much seeing as we haven’t even met so don’t worry about it. I can power it enough for both of us for now I think.

Lan Wangji’s heart is in his throat. A couple of letters ago, Wei Ying had referred to the butterflies as a gift. Considering what he had just been given, that is no more gift than a stone by the side of the road. What Wei Ying has given him is priceless. Spiritual energy is one thing. Core energy is another. While there will be no ill effect on someone if an item with their core energy is destroyed compared to an item with their spiritual energy, core energy is a finite resource. For Wei Ying to have removed some of it means he would need to cultivate in order to replace what he has removed and for him to do it just so they can talk makes his belly churn with a strange type of anxiety that is not negative in the slightest. He can practically feel the blood roaring in his ears and it is only when he tastes the metallic tang on his tongue that he realises that he had bitten his lip so hard to injure himself.

There is absolutely no way he will allow Wei Ying to power it for both of them. He has done the hard work in figuring out how to do this, Lan Wangji can very well provide the energy to make it easier. Like most Lans, despite the rules, they are proud of their prowess in cultivating their core and being adept at all things relating to the Six Arts. He does not know how much is needed but like Wei Ying, he knows how much he can spare without drawing attention to his diminished core. His brother would be the primary problem

I’ll be in Cloud Recesses next month then you can decide if you want to spare me some energy or not. I’ve packed three papermen for you so you can keep one at home for safekeeping and another to take around with you, and a third to test just how long we can talk before it dies. I have infused an equal amount of energy in each. Just press your mouth against it and call my name three times to activate and it will alert me and we can talk. No one calls me Wei Ying except you so I know it will be you. You might want to find a quiet room or something though because while my responses will be in your mind the way the Jin butterfly works, you will need to speak out loud for me to hear you. It works the same for me. I have to call your name three times and I will also hear you in my head but I have to reply out loud. Jiejie said the scallion pancake seller thought she was crazy when she started talking to nobody and answering questions only she could hear quite seriously. I don’t need anyone to think you’re crazy, Lan Zhan.

Feeling unbearably warm and absolutely resolute, Lan Wangji takes out the three papermen carefully, holding them gently as he examines each. They are all the same except for the collar around each of their necks. One red, one purple and one blue. Knowing the Jiangs favoured purple, he understands that choice. Red might be a personal preference though he cannot be certain since blue and red together make the colour purple. He does not dwell any further on it, checking the time and hurriedly picking the blue paperman before infusing it with as much of his core energy as he dares without being questioned. Once done, he packs it away in a locked box accompanied by a short note explaining what it is and summons one of the trusted servants that only serve the ruling Lan family. He has always personally taken his letters to the post office but this time he is going to get it personally delivered by one of their own which should take half the time it normally would. He has never considered this an option since it is a personal indulgence but this will be the only time and considering the message, it is important enough to justify.

At least to him. He knows his brother will side with him.

His uncle might fall into apoplexy over the core energy separation first.

Once the man has left, he returns his attention to the rest of Wei Ying’s letter.

I still couldn’t figure out instant letter sending but the Jin butterfly works on voice messages so I just worked off that. Hope you don’t mind? I don’t know how well they will work over such a long distance but each paper man can be used until the energy is depleted. Jiejie’s could only be used twice but since you have more, I’m hoping the distance does not actually matter since they don’t seem to matter with the Jin butterflies. Madam Yu has us practicing adhering to Gusu schedules which I’m going to be honest, has been a bit of a nightmare. Please tell me going to bed at nine and waking at five is just a suggestion and not an actual rule? Please have mercy on this poor Jiang cultivator my dear Lan Zhan and tell me this is a joke so I may tell Madam Yu to stop this practice? If it not a joke then pray for me because I will likely be late to every single class next month and get into trouble. How does anyone even fall asleep at nine? I can barely get my mind to quieten by midnight, forget about nine. Though admittedly, you should take some responsibility since I tend to re-read your letters in the night and then think about them wondering if you’re thinking of me too. Jokes on me, now I know you’ve been sleeping the whole time, Lan Zhan! Take some responsibility for my inability to sleep at nine and wake at five and I promise to try and be on my best behaviour when we meet.

“Oh…” he exhales the word and re-reads that last part. Does he keep Wei Ying awake? Meditating and body conditioning ensures he is asleep well before ten even though he is always in bed by nine. He has purposefully avoided looking at Wei Ying’s letters before bedtime knowing full well he will get no sleep if he did. They are one of the first things he reads once he is done with his morning ablutions though for Wei Ying’s letters always put him in a good mood for the rest of the day and he has memorised them all enough to know which letter he might need depending on the state he finds himself upon waking.

Though in truth, the actual state he is increasingly finding himself in every morning without relief has no true release.

Lan Zhan, will you let me hug you when we meet? I feel like we’ve known each other for ages and I don’t know if you can tell from my letters but I’m a tactile person. I heard Gusu folk tend to be more taciturn while I am probably a Gusu dweller’s worst nightmare in that regard but I have never tried to hide that part of me from you so I hope you’re expecting a hug at least? Or allow me one?

He aches. His chest hurts. His friend…his Wei Ying. Surely he does not need to ask. Surely he knows how he feels? He bites his lip and wonders perhaps maybe he has read far more into their correspondence especially of late, than the other boy had intended. They are only in their mid-teens, what do they know of attachment? What do they know of cultivation partners except what the adults deign to share? It was Wei Ying who brought up the term first and rightly or wrongly, Lan Wangji had unerringly latched onto it, unsure how else to understand where their letters have been leading to. Nie Huaisang is a friend but he most assuredly does not refer to the other teenager as my Huaisang while Wei Ying calls him my Lan Zhan in practically every letter for the past six weeks. He even said it.

Lan Wangji shivers at the memory, skin breaking out in goosebumps, even more so when he remembers the questioning gege. He is not sure how else he could be reading this.

You don’t have to answer me now of course. I am happy to take whatever you are willing to give. Friends or more, I’m here for whatever you want. That sounds a bit forward but it’s been awhile now and I’ve thought about this. Madam Yu was right about that at least. Writing does make me think more than I normally would and I have considered our letters and how it makes me feel. You’ve never met me so there is no judgment based on how I look. Despite my crazy butterfly message, you still replied seriously and dare I say, indulgently/ I don’t care much about looks so you could be ugly as sin and it wouldn’t matter to me. I like your mind. I like how you write in proper paragraphs and give me little insights into yourself. I love how you are a lot more spontaneous than you give yourself credit for and I love that you only share yourself with me. I want it to be the same for you. I only share so much with my siblings but I would like to give you more. I thought to get this out before we talk because it would be super awkward if I randomly confessed and you didn’t feel the same. Letter writing was supposed to be a way to calm me down and in a way it worked because Lan Zhan, I can be patient and I will wait for you to be ready because I know that if you did not feel the same way, you would tell me instead of stringing me along. So call me when you’re ready because to me, you will always be my Lan Zhan.

He calls him before the letter even settles properly on his desk.

“Lan Zhan?”

“Wei Ying.”

The silence stretches for a few seconds before Wei Ying starts to chuckle. “The joke is really on me, isn’t it? I thought this would make it easier but it just makes me wish I was there even more. How do you do this to me, Lan Zhan?”

“It is not just Wei Ying.”

The chuckle is louder this time. “And you really talk the way you write. Who would have thought? Do you think everyone else is like this or just you?”

“You do, too.”

“All the questions?”

“Mn, and the tone.”

“The tone?”

“Wei Ying…always sounds lively.”

This time the laughter is true and loud, making Lan Wangji smile.

=====

“I can’t believe we forgot the invitation! I’m not walking back down this infernal mountain and finding it. It’ll take fucking hours!”

“Since you were responsible for it, it makes sense for you to go back down,” Jiang Cheng argues belligerently, glaring at his older brother. “A-Jie is tired and hungry and they won’t let us in without the invitation.”

Wei Wuxian glares equally at one of the stoic looking Lan disciples guarding the entrance to Cloud Recesses. Honestly, he would name drop if he had to because he truly isn’t making a four hour round trip for the darn invitation. He would absolutely prefer not to so he hopes that someone, anyone, would be more reasonable than the sentries.

“Shit, one of the Twin Jades is here.”

“It’s the Second Jade.”

“Lan Wangji. Get back in line! Lan Wangji is here.”

Jiang Yanli straightens immediately at the whispers from the Jiang disciples as they travel from the back of their procession to the front. Turning to her brothers, she speaks out of the side of her mouth just as the tall and imposing young Second Jade appears around the corner. “Behave yourselves. He has the power to allow us passage so please behave.”

Wei Wuxian cannot hear his sister. His brain just ground to mush. He is vaguely aware his jaw is hanging rather unbecomingly for the life of him he has no ability to do anything about it. Their last call had been three nights ago, Lan Zhan telling him not to expend more of his energy for they will meet soon. Only then had he told him, just as they were about to end the conversation, that he is the second young master of the Lan Sect. Knowing Lan Zhan had purposefully left that to the very end, preventing him from exclaiming over it since his paperman had well and truly run out of energy, had kept him up that night trying to figure out why he had done so and what to do with that information.

He is vaguely aware of his brother moving forward and introducing them. He hears his name, Wei Wuxian and he sees the Second Jade glance over but not at his face, but rather at the ground in front of him. Marble would pale next to this young man’s stony countenance and he returns their bows politely without expression. When Jiang Cheng finishes his explanation of their predicament, the impeccable Second Jade simply remarks simply.

“No invitation, no entry.”

Jiang Cheng isn’t sure if he heard right so he tries again. “Please make a merciful exception for us.”

“No invitation, no entry.”

It is Yanli’s tiny disbelieving sigh that pushes Wei Wuxian out of his stupor and he smiles at the serious young man standing before them. Honestly, how does he actually seem to glow? His golden eyes are intimidating by themselves but he knows better.

He smiles as he speaks. “We travelled all the way from Yunmeng to arrive here as directed before sunset. Are you really turning us down for the lack of a physical invitation? Don’t you think that’s too rigid…” he pauses when the man’s startled golden eyes meet his. “Lan Er-gege.”

“Wei…Wei Ying?”

Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli exchange confused glances but their brother breaks rank and before they can even say a word, Wei Wuxian has his arms locked around Lan Wangji’s neck and is kissing him.

Before the Lan disciples are able to react, the Second Jade’s arms snake around the slim body of the tall head disciple from the Jiang Sect and wrap tightly around his waist.

No mouth is closed as everyone stares in varying degrees of bemusement to outright shock.

“I think we found the person he’s been writing to.”

Jiang Cheng whistles softly, goggled eyed at the couple now whispering breathlessly against each other’s mouths. “Mother wanted a match with the Lan sect and since you were already promised to the Jins, she was looking at me or Xian-ge. Let’s just say I’m fucking glad this is no longer an issue.”

Yanli chuckles lightly. “I think I’d better write to our parents today and inform them to send their intention to pursue Lan Wangji’s hand.”

Wei Wuxian pulls away briefly from Lan Zhan, smiling when he feels the older boy’s arms tighten around him. Looking over his shoulder at his siblings, he smirks. “No need, jiejie. Both Lan Zhan and I are the spares not the heirs. I will marry into Gusu Lan.”

“Wei Ying.”

“Yes?”

“We will need permission for you to marry.”

“We will?”

“Mn. You are not yet sixteen.”

All three Yunmeng siblings along with every single Lan and Jiang disciple within hearing distance blush bright red.