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It takes a good two months for Wei Wuxian to realize that Jin Guangshan had no idea exactly how badly he had screwed up.

Jin Guangshan spends those two months constantly trying and failing to manipulate Wei Wuxian. He can’t blatantly demand that Wei Wuxian perform demonic cultivation, but he hints at it constantly, dancing around the subject every time they talk. Wei Wuxian deflects him with fake politeness, pretending he doesn’t see through to the man’s agenda. He supposes he should be thankful that Jin Guangshan is either overconfident or paranoid enough that he will not delegate this task. If he had assigned the job of getting Wei Wuxian to perform demonic cultivation for Lanling Jin’s benefit to someone more competent, like his son, Wei Wuxian might not have been able to hold out. He allows Jin Guangshan to think that his mixture of flattery and condescending words might work, allows himself to look just the slightest bit swayed by them once in a while, only to brutally crush Jin Guangshan’s hopes the next time they talk. It’s tedious, but fun in a way.

It had been a fear of his power, fear of his demonic cultivation, fear of his Yin Tiger Seal that had prompted this ridiculous gambit, but in marrying Wei Wuxian to Jin Zixuan, Jin Guangshan had handed him something just as effective, if not more so— political power. He may not have the seal anymore, but it had never been anything more than a fickle thing to use in the most extreme of situations. The demonic cultivation, the raw power and ingenuity that came with it— that was all Wei Wuxian. It couldn’t be taught, or removed, or destroyed. It was his mind, his will power, his sheer determination that made him so dangerous, and Jin Guangshan hadn’t understood that. He had coveted the seal as an artifact of power, he had coveted Wei Wuxian as a conduit of power, but he had not understood that that was not all Wei Wuxian was.

By making Wei Wuxian the spouse of the heir to the most powerful and influential Great Sect, Jin Guangshan had practically handed Wei Wuxian the keys to his kingdom. It would only be his own fault if he found himself replaced on the throne someday soon.

All his life, Wei Wuxian had been a charmer. He had needed to be, at first, had needed people to feel sympathetic enough for him to spare him a bun or a coin, to distract them long enough that he could run away before they hit him. By the time he became a disciple of the Jiang sect, it had become a habit. He knew how to talk to people, how to navigate the world of cheerful jokes and gentle teasing and harmless flirtation, how to use his appearance and his demeanour to his advantage. He had used it to make friends and get people to like him, mostly.

During the Sunshot Campaign and in its immediate aftermath, he had made people fear him, and for good reason. Yunmeng Jiang was practically non-existent, then they were slowly and painstakingly rebuilding. He needed to be feared, to show that the sect was protected, that their numbers didn’t matter when they had Wei Wuxian on their side, that no matter how far the new recruits had to improve, no one could dare to threaten them with Wei Wuxian’s raw power protecting them. He had pushed away anyone who sought to help, made it clear that he had no need for anyone’s help. Being seen as vulnerable could have damaged the sect’s reputation— there had needed to be no chinks in his armour.

Now, though, he needed to be likeable. He needed to convince all the fawners and schemers in Lanling Jin that they were better off supporting Jin Zixuan. He had to sway their tightly held beliefs, show them that Jin Guangshan wasn’t worth their loyalty, and hint to them ever so slightly that Lanling Jin would benefit from the fresh perspectives and youthful exuberance of their heir. Jin Zixuan, for all the good qualities Wei Wuxian was unfortunately beginning to discover he had, was not made for polished speeches or charming manipulation. The man was blunt and honest, and while it worked well on some people, others needed a gentler touch. That was where Wei Wuxian came in.

A comment here, a whisper there, an oblivious-sounding observation or two, and he had people eating out of his hand. He drew people into conversations about cultivation, before guiding it into a discussion of Jin Guangshan’s policies. He smiled and flirted subtly enough that no one could call him out on it and accuse him of betraying his husband, but strongly enough that they would feel endeared to him. He hooked them with the stories of glory they expected about the Sunshot Campaign while steering them down the conversation path he laid out himself.

As seasons passed, the atmosphere of Koi Tower began to shift. Slowly, people started to take notice of Jin Zixuan, and began to consider his idealism as less youthful naivete and more optimism. They began to whisper about his dedication, how he had boldly led forces in the Sunshot Campaign, how honourable he was to have done so. More people were beginning to grumble about Jin Guangshan— something Wei Wuxian had subtly encouraged, coaxing people to talk about their dissatisfaction while making sure to introduce them to others who felt the same way.

Jin Zixuan’s particular brand of awkward honesty served very well to rehabilitate Wei Wuxian’s own image. While whispers had followed his every footstep, mutters about how he had desecrated corpses, how his unimaginable, terrible power was something to be feared and watched for, or how he refused to carry his sword, Jin Zixuan’s blunt comments in his defense were turning the tide. He would pointedly remark that Wei Wuxian was the reason the war was won, or that they had personally fought together, not just during the Sunshot Campaign, but also during the Wen Indoctrination, or that he had saved Jin Zixuan’s life. He would point out that if he, as sect heir and Wei Wuxian’s husband didn’t have a problem with him not carrying a sword, they had no right to object. In any case, Wei Wuxian— demonic cultivator or not— was married to the heir of their sect. He was, for all intents and purposes, on their side. They had no reason to fear him.

 

Slowly, but surely, Lanling was coming over to their side. They didn’t yet have enough leverage to officially depose Jin Guangshan, nor did they have a reason his supporters would rally behind, but his power was becoming a little less absolute, as people flocked to Jin Zixuan— and by extension, Wei Wuxian— to get his opinion on major decisions, instead of simply agreeing to everything Jin Guangshan proposed. It was a difficult thing, in Lanling, where the sect ran on how much one was favoured by Jin Guangshan, but more people were coming around to believing that Jin Guangshan’s favour didn’t really matter if they had Jin Zixuan’s ear. After all, no matter how strong a cultivator Jin Guangshan was, it was undoubtedly Jin Zixuan who was the future of the sect.

And if Jin Zixuan had a demonic cultivator for a husband, who could stop them from leading the cultivation world into a new era? Who could prevent them from shaping the future?


Befriending (if it can be called that) Jin Guangyao happens almost naturally. So naturally, in fact, that Wei Wuxian suspects Jin Guangyao might have manipulated at least some of their encounters.

Their first encounter though, is all Wei Wuxian’s work. He seeks the man out to have tea with him, right after he learns that Madame Jin has been particularly scathing about him. For some reason, Madame Jin seems to have softened towards Wei Wuxian, but she is still derisive of Jin Guangyao. He supposes it may have something to do with the fact that Wei Wuxian isn’t a living reminder of her husband’s infidelity, but her treatment of Jin Guangyao is uncomfortably close to how Madam Yu treated him. Wei Wuxian feels sorry for Jin Guangyao, and relates to his position in the household— the outcast that the father brought in, that the mother hates because she sees him as a threat and a reminder of another woman. Though, Jin Guangshan is a far worse father to both his sons than Uncle Jiang had been to Jiang Cheng, and Jin Guangyao is more of threat to Jin Zixuan than he ever was to Jiang Cheng, what with Jin Guangyao actually being Jin Guangshan’s son and all. It is not an enviable position at all.

He invites Jin Guangyao to have tea with him in one of Koi Tower’s many gardens— and the sheer hilarity of the fact that he is in a position to invite someone someplace inside Koi Tower is not lost on him— and decides to have a little talk with him. He decides to be as straightforward as he can with Jin Guangyao— the man is an expert manipulator, much better than Wei Wuxian— to try to outwit him would be useless.

“Lianfang-zun, I’ve been meaning to meet with you for quite some time now,” he says, once they both have filled teacups. “Forgive me for not doing this sooner. My marriage was a rather rushed affair, you see, and it has been challenging to get used to life here.”

Jin Guangyao smiles his usual polite smile. “There is no need for apologies,” he says. “I trust you have found Koi Tower welcoming?”

“Well,” Wei Wuxian says, absently twirling his cup. “I’m sure you know how it is, Lianfang-zun. The people in Koi Tower can be… insular. They have certain… ideas of who fits here and who doesn’t.”

Jin Guangyao’s mask doesn’t slip. “Indeed, Young Master Wei,” he admits, but keeps smiling politely. “In a place like Koi Tower, one must prove their worth.”

“But some of us may be tested far more than others.”

Jin Guangyao only offers another smile, gracefully sipping tea.

Wei Wuxian sighs. “I’ll be honest,” he says, leaning forward. “I find it unfair, the way they treat you here. Your skill is obvious, yet you do not get the recognition you deserve.”

For a second, Wei Wuxian thinks he miscalculated, that he came on too strong, that he pushed too much too fast, but Jin Guangyao’s smile becomes just a little bit less fake. It is still polite, of course, but it is no longer the uncanny thing that sets Wei Wuxian on edge.

“My father has legitimized me and accepted me into Koi Tower,” he says. “What more recognition could I need?”

Wei Wuxian sighs again. “I believe that you do not receive the respect you are entitled to, Lianfang-zun. You are a war hero and you are truly accomplished in many fields. You deserve to be treated as such.”

“Young Master Wei—”

“Please, call me Wei Wuxian,” he interrupts. “After all, as my husband’s brother, aren’t you my brother too, in a way?”

At that, the biggest crack so far appears in Jin Guangyao’s mask— his eyes widen slightly in shock, and his smile reaches his eyes a bit more.

Wei Wuxian suspects no one really acknowledges him as Jin Zixuan’s brother. It is a pain he knows well, knowing that even if he grew up with the Jiang siblings, was their brother in all but blood, nobody would see it that way. He sees it in the stubborn way Jiang Cheng would not even call him shixiong— only by name, the way shijie sometimes looks at him. He remembers it from the one and only time he had called shijie ‘jiejie’ like Jiang Cheng used to back then, and the way Madame Yu had reacted to it. He may have grown up with them, but he is not their brother in the ways that matter, merely the head disciple of their sect— former head disciple, now that he has married out.

Jin Guangyao on the other hand, shares blood with Jin Zixuan, but they had grown up so differently— Jin Zixuan as the heir to Lanling Jin, and Jin Guangyao in a brothel. They had different mothers, which may have even been forgivable to the cultivation world if Jin Guangyao’s mother had been a cultivator herself, but she had been a prostitute, and none of them will let Jin Guangyao forget that, nor will they forgive him for it. To them, he is already tainted; to associate with a sect heir, to have the audacity to call himself the brother of a sect heir— no one will allow that.

But Wei Wuxian cares nothing for these arbitrary rules in the sand the gentry so enjoys drawing. He has not failed to see the double standard they hold people like him and Jin Guangyao to— and they were alike, they could have each easily had the other’s life if Jiang Fengmian and Jin Guangshan had been different people. Jin Guangyao’s father is the Chief Cultivator, but his mother had been a prostitute, so he will forever be the son of a prostitute. Wei Wuxian’s mother had been a disciple of Baoshan Sanren, a skilled cultivator in her own right, but his father had been a servant, so he will forever be the son of a servant. Besides, he does not share the view that prostitutes and their children deserve to be shunned. If Wei Wuxian was going to take issue with Jin Guangyao’s parentage, it would be with who his father is, not who his mother had been.

So he reaches out to Jin Guangyao, because he understands, perhaps better than most other people, exactly what Jin Guangyao’s current position is like. Perhaps Wei Wuxian has been more privileged at a younger age than Jin Guangyao had been, but he still relates to the man in a way no one else can come close to understanding.

He knows that their relationship— perhaps a friendship, perhaps an alliance, perhaps merely a recognition of someone just a little similar— was manipulated by Jin Guangyao, but he doesn’t care. He is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, manipulation is not always malicious. Perhaps, a part of Jin Guangyao just desperately wants a friend too, but the only way he knows how to keep one is through manipulation. There is no need for Wei Wuxian to immediately jump to the worst conclusion about Jin Guangyao. Too many people are already willing to do that. He stays on his guard of course, as one is wont to do with someone who hides their emotions as well as Jin Guangyao does, but he will give the man a chance.

 

A month after they form their friendship or alliance or tentative truce as it stands, Jin Zixuan asks him how to befriend his brother. Wei Wuxian, who has already been implying that Jin Zixuan while awkward is accepting of his brother during his talks with Jin Guangyao is all too willing to guide him. Jin Zixuan is awkward but determined, Jin Guangyao is wary but hopeful, and Wei Wuxian is there to get them off to a good start. Jin Guangyao softens a bit at Jin ZIxuan’s earnest declaration that he wishes to find the rest of their half-siblings to make up for their father’s poor conduct, and even further when he accidentally sees Jin Zixuan’s passionate defense of a servant girl when a member of the sect berates her for no reason. Wei Wuxian has to admit that Jin Zixuan, when he isn’t being a spoilt brat, is irritatingly endearing, and is actually a nice person. Following that horrifying revelation, when Wei Wuxian sees Jin Guangyao getting along with his half brother, he is just glad he isn’t the only one who has fallen victim to it.


Jin Guangshan announces the Phoenix Mountain Hunt to celebrate a year of his son’s marriage. Everyone who isn’t a lackey of his knows that this is simply an excuse to show off the wealth of the Jin sect— the wealth they accrued by not participating in the Sunshot Campaign, and joining in just in time to claim the spoils of war. It doesn’t help that Jin Guangyao stands next to his father while the announcement is being made with the fakest smile that Wei Wuxian has seen yet.

Every sect has been invited to the hunt, meaning that an inordinate number of preparations must be made. Jin Guangshan puts Jin Guangyao in charge, but seeing as this is Lanling Jin, where no one but a select few respect Jin Guangyao, the poor man ends up having to do the bulk of the work instead. Wei Wuxian offers to help, and Jin Guangyao accepts gratefully in a voice that would sound frazzled if it belonged to anyone but him. He drags Jin Zixuan into helping too, but unlike Wei Wuxian who has helped his shijie plan events for Lotus Pier— or stayed by her side while she did it— Jin Zixuan has no clue what to do.

When Jin Guangyao sees Jin Zixuan trying to help but looking horribly lost, he narrows his eyes at his half brother.

Jin Zixuan sighs heavily. “A-Xian made me come,” he admits. It makes Jin Guangyao snort in amusement, which Jin Zixuan seems to take as a win. He really has come a long way from the boy who huffed any time anyone looked too long at him. Wei Wuxian really wishes he would stop making himself so easy for him to like. It’s inconvenient to think good things about Jin Zixuan.

To Wei Wuxian, the hunt is an opportunity to see his family again. None of them had been able to make trips to see each other this year, each busy with their own duties. Wei Wuxian has found surprisingly little time to miss them, his duties keep him busy enough that he has no time to think. He is grateful for it— he worries he would have missed them too much otherwise.

It would have been different if he had married someone he loved. If he had married by choice, if he had married for love, he would have been happy with his spouse. He wouldn’t have felt like something was missing then. But despite the fact that he respects and— he will deny it if he is ever asked— likes Jin Zixuan, he doesn't love him in the way one is expected to love their husband. He doesn’t allow himself to dwell on those thoughts, but sometimes he wonders what it would have been like if Lan Zhan had been the one he married. He would have put up with the three thousand rules of Gusu for Lan Zhan, he thinks. Even that wouldn’t have dampened his happiness. But he is at Koi Tower and he is married to Jin Zixuan, and so, he must make do.

At least someone is having luck in love, he thinks as he watches Qin Su, who has recently arrived at Koi Tower with Sect Leader Qin talking to Jin Guangyao, blushing when he smiles. Jin Guangyao himself seems to be truly happy, not just faking it, if the affection he looks at her with is any indication. He has watched the two of them moon over each other for almost half a year, each separately asking Wei Wuxian what he thinks the other will like as a gift, or what activity the other would like to do. More than once, he has had the urge to point out that as someone in an arranged marriage with a guy he hadn’t even liked a year ago, Wei Wuxian really is the last person they should ask for love advice. But he has been known as a charmer and the two of them really are so shy around each other that he feels obligated to help. Wei Wuxian thinks they might start formally courting sometime soon. Good for them, he thinks.

Like any good thing, however, it is instantaneously ruined by Jin Guangshan.

It happens, unfortunately, when Jin Guangyao and Wei Wuxian had been in earshot of Jin Guangshan’s ostentatiously ugly receiving room. A minor sect leader has apparently noticed Jin Guangyao and Qin Su’s pre-courting courting rituals, and he asks if Jin Guangshan was expecting to celebrate another marriage soon.

To which Jin Guangshan replies like the asshole he is.

“You think I’d let that son of a prostitute marry a woman when my legitimate son doesn’t even have an heir yet? That too, a woman like Sect Leader Qin’s daughter? What a joke!” he exclaims. Then he throws his head back and laughs obnoxiously.

For a second, the mask that Jin Guangyao wears cracks to show utter humiliation. It angers Wei Wuxian so much that he nearly steps in to say something incredibly rude to Jin Guangshan, but Jin Guangyao stops him. He shakes his head, his lips pressed tightly together. Wei Wuxian understands that. It would probably make more trouble for Jin Guangyao if he were to say something.

“He thinks he’s worth something because his mother could read? Hah!” Jin Guangshan continues. “I should make some arrangement between Qin Su and Zixuan. That’ll teach him to get ideas above his station.”

Wei Wuxian pulls Jin Guangyao along with him, unable to listen without interfering any more. It had been an open secret that Jin Guangshan thought poorly of Jin Guangyao, that he had only legitimized him because he was a war hero. But to openly deride him, and that too to another sect leader? It was disgusting!

By the time they reach an alcove, Jin Guangyao’s face is no longer anguished. There is an unsettling blankness to his face and a strange glint in his eyes.

“Are you alright?” Wei Wuxian asks, though he is clearly not alright. He does not want to force Jin Guangyao to talk to him about this, so he offers him an out if he needs it. “I hope you don't mind me saying this, but your father really is a piece of work.”

When Jin Guangyao looks up at him, he smiles, but the strange glint in his eye is still there. “I’m quite alright, Wei Wuxian,” he says. “I just have some plans to make.”


The Phoenix Mountain Hunt arrives, and Wei Wuxian is ecstatic to see his family. The delegation from Yunmeng arrives a few days early, just to visit him. He spends countless hours trading stories with his shijie and Jiang Cheng, taking pride in how much they’ve managed to rebuild the sect since the last time he had been at Lotus Pier. He studies their disciples— novices, but determined to prove themselves, and he feels a rush of pride for them.

He had not prepared himself to see Lan Zhan.

He knew he was going to be seeing Lan Zhan, but there was nothing he could do to prepare himself for it. He had spent a year living on memories of Lan Zhan— it had been the longest they had been separated since they had first met. Now, his heart thrums in anticipation as the delegation from Gusu Lan is about to arrive.

He is standing next to Jin Zixuan as they greet each sect and welcome them to Lanling. When the Lan sect is announced, he has to stop his breath from hitching, has to pretend not to care. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Jin Zixuan’s lip twitching— fair play, he supposes, considering that he had laughed at the way Jin Zixuan had stammered his way through a greeting to his shijie when the Jiang sect had first arrived. He elbows the stupid peacock without looking, smiling in satisfaction when he grunts slightly.

And then Lan Zhan is here, and the smile freezes on his face.

Lan Zhan looks older, somehow, even if it’s only been a year. More distinguished. More authoritative. He carries himself more regally. He still wears his hair ornaments and his jade token the exact same way as before, and his robes are a crisp and spotless white. He looks unfairly unlike someone who has just travelled, perfectly groomed as always. His eyes skip over everyone else in the room like he cares nothing for their presence, but when they meet Wei Wuxian’s, his face softens a little bit.

Wei Wuxian barely registers Zewu-jun in front of the delegation as he bows in greeting. His eyes, as always, are stuck on Lan Zhan. He never wants to look away. Lan Zhan seemingly feels the same way, refusing to look away, not even to acknowledge Jin Zixuan or Jin Guangshan. As the Lan delegation bows as one, Lan Zhan keeps his eyes on Wei Wuxian’s, not even looking away as he bows. He tilts his body slightly— and Wei Wuxian only notices it because he is paying such close attention to Lan Zhan— as he bows to Wei Wuxian, and Wei Wuxian alone. It is a gesture that is unmistakable to Wei Wuxian, but hidden to everyone else, something so typical of Lan Zhan that fondness blooms in Wei Wuxian’s heart.

For his part, Wei Wuxian feels a flush creep up his cheeks, and quickly averts his eyes, but then he is met with the sight of Lan Zhan’s lips, soft and slightly parted, and quirking up into a smile that feels smug. He cannot focus, not with Lan Zhan’s beautiful face right in front of him. He hears Zewu-jun speaking to Jin Zixuan, but it feels muffled, like it comes from under water. Then they sweep away as a sect, and Wei Wuxian is left with the far too comfortable sensation of Lan Zhan’s gaze burning through him like molten gold.

“Oh wow,” Jin Zixuan says dryly out of the corner of his mouth as they leave. “I can’t believe I ever thought he was annoyed by you.”

“Shut up, peacock,” he says in embarrassment. “Don’t call attention to it, okay? How will it look for you if rumors start spreading about me and Lan Zhan being clandestine lovers?”

“Please, no one else has heard you whisper his name in your sleep,” Jin Zixuan scoffs.

Wei Wuxian blushes harder as he recalls the incident with perfect clarity. He had been overtired one night, and he had had a nightmare that had caused him to nearly roll off of the bed. Jin Zixuan had pulled him back in, and with his mind sleep-addled and still thinking about his dream, Wei Wuxian had sighed out a barely audible “Lan Zhan”. Jin Zixuan, because he was annoying and the bane of Wei Wuxian’s existence and definitely not as funny as he thought he was, had gleefully latched on to the event, and brought it up periodically. It had prompted an embarrassing conversation where Wei Wuxian had told Jin Zixuan about his feelings for Lan Zhan, another thing that had amused his stupid peacock of a husband.

“I’m quite offended you know,” Jin Zixuan teases. “My husband, saying another man’s name in our marriage bed.”

“That happened one time! Stop bringing it up, peacock!”

“I’ll stop bringing it up when you and Lan Wangji stop looking at each other like you want to devour each other in public,” he deadpans.

Wei Wuxian closes his eyes and sighs. “Is this your revenge for when I laughed at you when you utterly failed to talk to my shijie yesterday?” he asks, wishing he was still fifteen, with a raging hatred for Jin Zixuan and a complete unawareness of his then-budding crush on Lan Zhan.

“Oh, you bet it’s revenge for that,” Jin Zixuan retorts, then immediately drops their conversation to greet the next sect to walk through the door.

Wei Wuxian sighs in irritation before following suit. Sometimes, he wishes he and Jin Zixuan had never gotten to a point in their friendship where the peacock had gotten comfortable enough to make fun of him.


The opening ceremony for the hunt puts Wei Wuxian right next to Jin Zixuan in the riding formation. As two of the formerly most eligible bachelors of the cultivation world, plenty of flowers are tossed at them as they ride, even if they are no longer bachelors. Wei Wuxian supposes it’s a sentimental thing. That, or the ladies are so fond of the two of them that even marriage to each other and Wei Wuxian’s reputation as a purveyor of the dark arts hadn’t dulled their appeal. Jin Zixuan bows his head slightly in acknowledgement, while Wei Wuxian cheerily waves at some of the people throwing flowers, prompting fits of both excited and shy giggles from them. In another world, Wei Wuxian thinks he would throw a flower or two to Lan Zhan. But in this world, he is a married man, and all he can do is smile pleasantly and graciously accept the flowers thrown at him.

As they make their way to the target arena, Wei Wuxian leans in closer to Jin Zixuan.

“How about a little archery competition?” he asks, grinning cheerily.

“You do know we’re part of the same sect, don’t you? And this doesn’t even count, it’s just for eligibility to enter.”

“Afraid I’ll beat you, A-Xuan?” he teases. “I’ll even let you go first!”

Jin Zixuan rolls his eyes. A year of marriage has taught Wei Wuxian that the man can never resist a taunt as obvious as that though, if it comes from him. “Fine. Whatever. Let’s do this,” he says.

He aims and shoots without preamble, crisp, clean movements that make his arrow land in the middle of the target at the center.

“Not bad,” Wei Wuxian mutters. “Not bad at all, peacock.”

Before Jin Zixuan can reply, his cousin whose name Wei Wuxian can’t bother to remember begins to cheer obnoxiously. “If anyone thinks they can shoot better than Zixuan, feel free to try!” he yells.

Wei Wuxian scoffs and rolls his eyes, but doesn’t respond immediately. Jin Zixuan seems embarrassed by his cousin’s proclamation, if only because he knows too well that Wei Wuxian is going to take the words as a personal challenge, but he doesn’t do anything to stop his husband, so Wei Wuxian has to assume he tacitly approves. He waits for the other great sects to enter the target arena, letting the cousin puff up in pride and satisfaction. Once he has an audience, he unwraps his wrist guard, whispering a quick “watch this” at Jin Zixuan before blindfolding himself with it. Grabbing his bow and notching three arrows, he takes aim and lets them loose. Even before he takes the blindfold off, the gasps and resounding cheers tell him that he’s hit the three targets closest to the middle, each at the center.

Pulling it off, he sees the expression on the Jin cousin’s face, like he had been force fed something sour, and can’t stop himself from smiling mockingly in his direction. To his side, Jin Zixuan looks grudgingly impressed. At the front of the Jiang formation, Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes, but his shijie looks thrilled from where she sits to watch the hunt. As he catches sight of Lan Zhan’s face, for an instant, the expression there is wanting, almost hungry, then Lan Zhan seems to catch himself, his face impassive once again. Wei Wuxian is almost proud of himself for putting that expression on Lan Zhan’s face, then he remembers that he is currently married, to someone who isn’t Lan Zhan, and the pride is replaced with a hollow, melancholy feeling.

 

Wei Wuxian manages to convince Madam Jin to let him show his shijie around the hunting grounds. She approves remarkably quickly, considering the impropriety of Wei Wuxian’s husband being formerly engaged to shijie, but Wei Wuxian isn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. He chatters on as he leads them into the hunting grounds, shijie looking at him soft and indulgent, Jin Zixuan looking increasingly flustered at being in her presence. They walk on until they reach a fork in the path, where Wei Wuxian stops, calculating where he saw the Gusu Lan disciples enter, then points to one of the paths.

“This way,” he says, pointing, then leading the way. Shijie and Jin Zixuan follow him, exchanging bemused expressions. He has had a plan since four months ago, when he had covertly asked his shijie if she would ever be able to be friends with Jin Zixuan, or if it would hurt too much. When she had replied that she would welcome an opportunity to get close to him, he had started planning. The Wei Wuxian of a year ago would have broken Jin Zixuan’s entire face before allowing him near his shijie, but much to Wei Wuxian’s chagrin, the past year had made him see that Jin Zixuan truly was a good person, if terribly awkward. He had no qualms about them spending time together, now that he had ensured that Jin Zixuan wouldn’t make her cry again.

He had wondered at first if it would be good for them to spend time together, or if it would break both of their hearts. His dilemma was thankfully answered by the fact that about half a year into their marriage, shijie and JIn Zixuan had begun a letter correspondence. He didn’t know who had started it, only learnt of it from brief mentions from both of them. Once he learnt that, he began to plan in earnest.

As Wei Wuxian had expected, Lan Zhan was exactly where We Wuxian had predicted he would be, but none of the others from his sect were around.

“Lan Zhan!” he calls, then waves him over. Lan Zhan looks conflicted, but he makes his way over to them. He watches as Lan Zhan bows to Jin Zixuan and his shijie, as they bow in turn. “Shall we walk together?” he asks.

The three of them seem mildly puzzled by this, but they do not protest. They agree, and walk in silence for a little while longer, before Wei Wuxian disturbs it once again.

“You can walk ahead,” Wei Wuxian says to Jin Zixuan and his shijie. “We’ll fall back a bit.”

“What?” Jin Zixuan looks comically panicked but hopeful at the same time. Wei Wuxian supposes he should have explained his plan to Jin Zixuan before, but he hadn’t been sure if he could have managed it, and he didn’t want to have him moping. Besides, the current look on his face began to make up for the relentless teasing Wei Wuxian had endured recently.

“The two of you walk ahead, Lan Zhan and I will walk behind,” he repeats. “As long as that’s alright with you, shijie.”

His sister nods and smiles, while Jin Zixuan has gone red.

“But… you… aren’t we supposed to…”

“Peacock,” Wei Wuxian lifts a hand to stop him from talking. “I am falling back, pretending not to be giving you and shijie privacy. You will walk ahead and pretend you aren’t giving me and Lan Zhan. Are we understood?”

“Ah… I… yes.”

“Good. Don’t forget what I said about using your words. Make shijie upset again, and... well we’ve already had that conversation.”

Wei Wuxian keeps a close eye out as Jin Zixuan and shijie walk ahead, making conversation that begins awkwardly, but slowly improves as time goes on. For all that they have been exchanging letters, Jin ZIxuan is still painfully awkward while talking to shijie in person. Wei Wuxian watches him stumble his way through a question about one of Lanling’s popular dishes and shijie immediately brightens up and begins to tell him about a version of it she makes. As she talks, Jin Zixuan stares at her with a dazed look of affection that says he cannot believe how lucky he is that she is giving him her attention. Wei Wuxian sees Jin Zixuan slowly lose his nervous stutter and become more confident— shijie really is good at getting people to open up to her. Jin Zixuan pays close attention as she talks, asking relevant questions, engaging her, and all in all, being a better conversationalist as compared to any of the times he had awkwardly attempted to talk to her before.

Once their conversation moves from mildly polite to deeply involved and Wei Wuxian is certain the peacock won’t put his foot in his mouth once again, he turns his attention to Lan Zhan, who he catches staring at him with an open fondness that makes heat rise in his face. He seems to be blushing with unnatural frequency in Lan Zhan’s presence. The man is bound to notice at some point, but Wei Wuxian really hopes he doesn’t.

“Have you been well, Lan Zhan?” he asks, looking at the ground so he doesn’t have to meet Lan Zhan’s intense gaze.

“Mn. Have you?”

Wei Wuxian lets out a breathy laugh. “I have been single handedly manipulating the rumor mill at Koi Tower in my favour. It’s been… challenging.” He smiles at Lan Zhan. “What have you been doing, Lan Zhan?”

“Night hunting. Some teaching.”

Wei Wuxian bites his tongue before he can ask do you miss me? It would be a cruel question, and he suspects he knows the answer anyway. He believes it is the same as his answer would be if the question was posed to him. His voice runs dry as he cannot think of a single thing to ask that would not bring to mind the tragedy of their expectations for their lives.

“What do you think of the hunting grounds?” he asks instead, gesturing to them, and winces inwardly. What kind of question was that to ask Lan Zhan, like he was a distant acquaintance and not the one closest to him in the world.

“Impressive,” Lan Zhan replies, but his eyes do not leave Wei Wuxian. He gives Wei Wuxian a pointed onceover. “Very impressive,” he adds, definitely not talking about the hunting grounds.

Wei Wuxian’s traitorous heart flutters again, but he pointedly ignores it.

“I’m sure Lan Zhan has seen many other impressive sights,” he says, pulling out Chenqing and twirling it absently, just to give his hands something to do.

“None as impressive as Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan replies casually, like he isn’t flirting with no concern for what effect he’s having on Wei Wuxian’s poor, sensitive heart.

Wei Wuxian fumbles Chenqing and has to stop twirling it to rebalance it. “Lan Zhan!” he hisses. “What has gotten into you?”

“I do not know what Wei Ying means,” Lan Zhan has the audacity to reply nonchalantly.

“You— this! All of this! The looks and the bowing and now this!”

Lan Zhan raises an eyebrow.

“Lan Zhan, ah, Lan Zhan, if you keep going, my poor heart can’t take it! You’ll have to—” he cuts himself off abruptly.

Take responsibility, he had nearly said. You’ll have to take responsibility, he was going to say, before the reality of the situation hit him, before he had remembered that Lan Zhan wasn’t the one who was responsible for him. He wonders if they had realized sooner, if they would have had sweet temperate days in Cloud Recesses, stolen moments under the harsh Qishan sun, a beautiful Yunmeng spring, instead of these finite moments hidden by a canopy of leaves where they do not, cannot belong to each other.

Lan Zhan’s gaze is on him, heavy and knowing. He shoulders the weight of it willingly.

“Do you believe in fate, Lan Zhan?” he asks softly, meeting Lan Zhan’s eyes, where he sees his own frustration, his bitterness, his resignation mirrored.

“I once did,” Lan Zhan replies, equally quiet. That is what they are now, subdued, quiet, only allowed to love in whispers and stares and broken-hearted wishes.

“Yeah,” Wei Wuxian nods. “Yeah, me too.”

He thinks back to those days, when he had been so sure of everything, when he had thought he had known who he was and what he was going to be, when he had seen Lan Zhan and been seen in turn. He had been young and naive and foolish enough to believe that he could ever have so good a thing as Lan Zhan, and the world had seen fit to teach him a cruel lesson.

He refuses to learn it.

He cannot, will not learn to stop loving Lan Zhan.

He must be quiet and subdued about it, perhaps, but he will not stop, not until his dying breath, and not after that either. His heart has long belonged to Lan Zhan, and it will belong to no other. He sees his determination mirrored in Lan Zhan’s face, and thinks, of course. Of course this is a thought he does not need to voice, because Lan Zhan hears it anyway.

He had wondered once, if Lan Zhan would see him differently if he knew all of his secrets, if he truly knew what had happened to Wei Wuxian, but he meets Lan Zhan’s eyes and none of it matters anymore. If Lan Zhan knew, he wouldn’t pity Wei Wuxian, he thinks or hopes— when it comes to Lan Zhan, they are the same to him. Lan Zhan wouldn’t see him as a broken thing; he cannot reconcile it with the Lan Zhan of now who looks at Wei Wuxian— demonic cultivation and life in the Burial Mounds and all— like the stars pale in comparison to him. He cannot tell Lan Zhan now, but he lets himself believe that he might be able to one day, that Lan Zhan would hear him out without judgement, that Lan Zhan would accept him for who he is, that finally, finally, there would be no secrets between them.

One day, he thinks. One day. There are still things for him to do.


The hunt is over too soon, the Nie sect winning, but Yunmeng Jiang and Gusu Lan both capturing equal amounts of prey, second only to the Nie sect. At the banquet to celebrate, Wei Wuxian sits next to his husband, alternately throwing longing looks at the Jiang sect’s tables and the Lan sect’s tables. The food is expertly made as always, but it sticks in Wei Wuxian’s throat. Jin Zixuan, on the other hand, seems to have made a good impression on shijie, and they both look happy, sneaking looks at each other whenever the other isn’t looking.

Jin Zixuan interrupts him when he sighs for the third time.

“You could just go over, you know,” he says.

Wei Wuxian turns to stare at him. Jin Zixuan just rolls his eyes and shakes his head.

“You could go talk to Lan Wangji. I doubt he’s any happier to be here than you are.”

Wei Wuxian snorts. “And how would that look for you? If I just abandoned my husband to go eat with the heir to another sect?”

Jin Zixuan huffs slightly. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to you being politically cautious,” he says.

Wei Wuxian furrows his brow. “Why not?”

Jin Zixuan gives him a pointed look. “Throughout the Sunshot Campaign, you antagonized almost every important person you talked to.”

“They were prying into my private business,” he shrugs defensively.

“You constantly missed meetings you were expected to be at as head disciple of one of the sects leading the campaign.”

“Graves don’t dig themselves up, peacock.”

“You punched me at Cloud Recesses.”

“You were being an idiot! I was just knocking some sense into you!”

Jin Zixuan stares incredulously. “I was a sect heir and betrothed to your older sister,” he says, as though he had expected fifteen year old Wei Wuxian to have cared about any of that when his shijie was being insulted.

“And now you’re still sect heir, and you’re married to me, do keep up, A-Xuan,” he pats Jin Zixuan’s shoulder mockingly.

Jin Zixuan shakes his head again and huffs. “My point is, you don’t have to worry so much about my image. Or your image. One night won’t ruin anything.”

“See, you're wrong. One night is exactly enough to ruin everything. It takes just one bad night for all the progress we’ve made to come crashing down.”

Jin Zixuan raises an eyebrow, unimpressed. “I don’t think you having a single conversation with Lan Wangji will ruin all the progress we’ve made, you overdramatic idiot,” he says. “Besides, I’m tired of you mooning over him from afar. At least go be embarrassingly in love together.”

Wei Wuxian opens his mouth to protest, when he notices the annoying cousin— Jin Zixun, he had learnt— pestering Zewu-jun and Lan Zhan, while a number of others watch uncomfortably. He cannot hear what’s happening, but Jin Zixun seems to be brandishing cups of alcohol at their guests. Their guests who very much do not drink alcohol.

“Fine, I’ll go,” he mutters, getting up. “But I’m not doing it because you told me to.”

Jin Zixuan only hums in what Wei Wuxian thinks is amusement and turns his attention back to his food.

Wei Wuxian covers the distance in long strides, but by the time he reaches, he sees Zewu-jun drink from one of the cups, and Jin Zixun swaggers closer to Lan Zhan.

“Your turn, Hanguang-jun,” he says, smirking. Lan Zhan only shoots him an icy glare and remains unmoving.

“What’s going on here?” Wei Wuxian asks as he gets close enough. The crowd parts for him, and eager eyes turn to him, probably hoping for a noteworthy confrontation to occur. He ignores them and turns to Jin Zixun. “Explain yourself.”

Jin Zixun scowls at him. “I was only inviting our esteemed guests to show us how much they value the close bond between Lanling Jin and Gusu Lan by fully accepting our hospitality,” he says.

“If our bond truly is as close as you say, you should know that the Lan sect forbids the drinking of alcohol,” Wei Wuxian replies.

“Can an exception not be made between friends?” Jin Zixun demands.

“The Gusu Lan sect is known for their adherence to their rules, not for making exceptions,” Wei Wuxian quickly replies, before Lan Zhan can pointedly tell Jin Zixun about the decidedly unfriendly feelings he has towards him. It would be objectively hilarious, but somehow, Wei Wuxian doesn’t think it would help in this situation. “They are our guests,” he continues, hating that he has to describe himself and Jin Zixun as an ‘us’. “We must accommodate their needs, not the other way around.”

Jin Zixun is undeterred, though. He thrusts the cup in Lan Zhan’s direction again.

“I have already poured the wine,” he says haughtily. “It would be disrespectful to me not to drink it. Hanguang-jun must accept it.”

Wei Wuxian quickly snatches the cup from Jin Zixun, who looks at him in outrage. “In that case, I’ll drink it instead,” he says, throwing his head back and swallowing the drink in one smooth movement before anyone can interfere. He places the empty cup on a serving tray. “Is that satisfactorily respectful?”

No one says anything. Jin Zixun is staring at him with a mixture of outrage and irritation, Zewu-jun is smiling slightly, and Lan Zhan… Lan Zhan is giving him such a heated look that he can almost feel his knees go weak.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some business with Hanguang-jun,” he says, taking advantage of the stunned silence to guide Lan Zhan away from the banquet.

He keeps a hold on Lan Zhan’s wrist as he guides him through a number of corridors, before finding a guest room that is usually empty. Only after he finishes his usual routine of using silencing talismans does he look at Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan is looking at him with the same hunger in his gaze that he saw before the hunt, when he had shot those arrows.

“Lan Zhan…” he whispers.

Lan Zhan’s gaze is like liquid fire, and it freezes Wei Wuxian in place. He feels a trickle of heat trail up his spine. Lan Zhan leans towards him, almost in a daze, his hand coming to rest on Wei Wuxian’s forearm, his lips parted, his eyes slightly unfocused. Their faces are close enough that they are breathing the same air. For a long moment, Wei Wuxian thinks Lan Zhan will kiss him. He hopes for it, even. But the moment passes, and Lan Zhan moves back, his gaze clearing, though his hand still stays on Wei Wuxian’s forearm.

“My apologies, Wei Ying,” he says, and his voice sounds rougher than ever. Wei Wuxian feels the mounting urge to kiss him, but he refrains. “I forgot myself.”

Wei Wuxian laughs nervously, hoping to diffuse the tension. “You sure you didn’t drink a little bit, Lan Zhan?” he teases. “I know how you get when you drink.”

Then Lan Zhan gives him that look that says he’s going to say something insufferably romantic, something that will undoubtedly cause Wei Wuxian’s heart to race. He remembers how Lan Zhan used to respond to his flirtation with glares and silence and wonders when Lan Zhan became the bold one. Perhaps Lan Zhan has decided he has nothing to lose anymore, so he might as well repay Wei Wuxian for every time he had flirted when they were younger. He regrets ever teasing Lan Zhan, if this is how he is going to respond every time.

“The only thing I am intoxicated by is Wei Ying,” he says in a matter-of-fact tone.

Lan Zhan! I told you not to say things like that!” His voice is higher pitched than he would like. Even though he braced himself for it, it wasn’t enough.

“Mn, I apologize,” Lan Zhan says, sounding absolutely unrepentant. “What did you wish to discuss with me?”

Wei Wuxian smiles at him. “To be honest, I really just wanted to spend more time with you, Lan Zhan,” he says. “But there we don’t really have much time here, so I’ll just show you something I’ve been working on instead.”

He pulls out the new talisman and hands it over to Lan Zhan, who holds it gently, running a reverent finger over it. He gives Wei Wuxian a questioning look.

“It’s for long-distance communication,” he says eagerly. “Focus on it and think of the person you want to send a message to,” he instructs. “Since we’re testing it, it should probably be me.”

“For how long?” Lan Zhan asks.

“Oh, you’ll know,” Wei Wuxian winks. There needs to be some mystery, after all.

Lan Zhan simply huffs in amusement and closes his eyes to focus. The minute he’s focused enough, the talisman releases a small puff of smoke and turns into a tiny crow, about the size of a butterfly. Lan Zhan’s eyes widen as he sees the miniature bird.

“Cute, isn’t it?” Wei Wuxian grins. “I made friends with a lot of crows in the Burial Mounds. I thought I could pay homage to them like this.”

Lan Zhan simply nods, staring at the little bird with wonder in his eyes.

“I’m going to go there,” he points to the far end of the room. “Whisper your message to the crow so I can’t hear it, then blow gently on it when you’re done.”

He quickly walks over, watching Lan Zhan gently murmur something solemnly to the tiny crow. It is an extremely adorable sight, and Wei Wuxian wishes he had paper and ink to capture the moment. Soon enough, the tiny crow flies to him, and perches on a strand of his hair close to his ear.

“Hello, Wei Ying,” he hears in Lan Zhan’s soft voice, so fond and indulgent that he cannot help the little giggle that escapes him.

“Hello, Lan Zhan,” he replies, smiling, as the little crow turns into smoke, then vanishes. “What do you think of it?”

“Wei Ying is brilliant,” Lan Zhan says immediately. “It is an excellent invention.”

“Oh? So it’s not boring then? Or extremely boring?” he teases.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan repeats firmly. “It is a remarkable invention. You should be proud of it.”

“Ah…” he smiles sheepishly. “That’s kind of you to say Lan Zhan.”

He bounds closer to Lan Zhan before the man can protest and hands him a small stack of identical talismans. “I know you aren’t a big talker, so we can still exchange letters, but if you need me or my help and there isn’t enough time to write, or if you’re worried someone will read your correspondence, you can contact me with this.”

Lan Zhan solemnly accepts the talisman. “Thank you, Wei Ying,” he says sincerely.

“You don’t have to thank me Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian replies quickly.

Lan Zhan goes to speak, and his face tells Wei Wuxian that he is going to disagree, but before he can, they hear rambunctious voices outside the door. Wei Wuxian takes a deep breath and lets it out.

“We should probably go back to the banquet,” he says.

Lan Zhan nods.

Wei Wuxian walks towards the door, about to open it, when Lan Zhan catches him by the wrist. Every urge tells him to pull away, worried that if Lan Zhan’s fingers connect with a meridian, he will be able to tell that Wei Wuxian is empty inside, but a bigger part of him says let him find out. What will he do if he knows? He shuts down both of those impulses and turns to face Lan Zhan instead.

“Wei Ying,” he says, and in Lan Zhan’s mouth, his name sounds like Lan Zhan is caressing it. “Take care of yourself.”

“You too, Lan Zhan,” he whispers back, like speaking too loud will shatter something. “Take care of yourself.”


The next day, Wei Wuxian doesn’t get to see Lan Zhan off, as he is saying his goodbyes to his siblings when the Lan sect leaves, but he sends out a fervent wish that he will see Lan Zhan again soon, that it will hurt a little bit less when they meet the next time. He gives himself a few brief moments to dwell in the pain, then shoves it all away and gets back to work.

He does not have time to despair.

He still has a lot of work to do.