Wei Wuxian learns pretty quickly that being the sect leader’s husband is so much more work than being the sect heir’s husband.
In a span of days, Wei Wuxian finds that around a sect leader, especially one as young as Jin Zixuan, new duties crop up out of nowhere and there is always a fire to put out, always a dispute to mediate. Even under normal circumstances, it is challenging to take over a sect, but in their case, they also have to clear Koi Tower of Jin Guangshan’s yes men and investigate everything Lanling Jin was doing under him. In most cases— that is to say, instances of natural ascension to sect leadership— a new sect leader is given some leeway, but with Jin Guangshan being, well, Jin Guangshan, every other sect is looking for blood in the water so they can pounce. The Jin sect has much to make amends for, and the other sects will not forget Jin Guangshan’s actions. The fact that Jin Zixuan himself was involved in bringing his father’s crimes to light garners him some goodwill, but it isn’t enough to make up for the fact the Lanling Jin’s leadership is a mess no wise person wants to touch.
Jin Zixuan’s skill at diplomacy has improved in the past year, with the training he has gotten from Wei Wuxian and more regularly from Jin Guangyao, but even that only goes so far— diplomacy is hardly the only matter at hand at Koi Tower. Jin Zixuan is lucky in that Jin Guangyao is very experienced at handling sect matters, thanks to his former position in the Nie sect, and that Wei Wuxian is both good at talking to people, and at serving as a deterrent for any assassination attempts. Wei Wuxian’s reputation— though much better nowadays, since Jin Guangshan has replaced him in everyone’s mind as the insidious evil of the cultivation world— still has its uses. Despite these advantages, heading Lanling Jin is not an easy job. There are just so many odds and ends to handle. The sheer amount of correspondence, documentation, petitions, and proposals that the three of them have to sift through on a daily basis alone is exhausting.
There is also the fact that Wei Wuxian still doesn’t know exactly how far Jin Guangyao was involved with the Wens being in the prison camps. Sure, no one has implicated him, but Jin Guangyao is smart enough that he would ensure that there was no evidence linking him to the camps even if he was involved. On the other hand, he had helped them and spoken up against his father, so perhaps he was not aware of what was happening, at least not entirely— unless that was simply a ploy to get on the winning side. He has also spent the time since the beginning of his father’s trial painstakingly helping Jin Zixuan wrangle Koi Tower, and he seems pretty content with his new position. Honestly, Wei Wuxian doesn’t know exactly what to believe when it comes to Jin Guangyao, doesn’t know how trustworthy— or untrustworthy— the man is, and at this point, he has no way of finding out. It isn’t like he has evidence either way, nor can he obtain some anytime soon— all he has is his feeling that Jin Guangyao is smart enough that this couldn’t have happened entirely without his knowledge. He resolves to keep an eye on the man, just in case something happens again, but really, that’s all he can do. It just makes working with him an added source of stress— something Wei Wuxian really doesn’t need.
One good thing that comes out of this whole ordeal— besides the Wens being freed and Jin Guangshan’s crimes being brought to light— is that very soon after Jin Zixuan becomes Sect Leader, Wei Wuxian runs into Mianmian. Rather, she comes up to congratulate the two of them, and Wei Wuxian is not lying when he says he is delighted to see her. They had quickly fallen into comfortable banter, and he finds out that she has been doing quite well. She has evidently climbed the ranks in her sect since they had last met, and had been one of the representatives at the banquet— the banquet that Wei Wuxian had turned into a spectacle.
“What did you think of the entertainment?” he asks jokingly when she tells him she had been there for all of it.
“Hmm,” she pretends to think it over. “I thought it was enlightening. Excellent entertainment. I’ll give you this, you definitely know how to throw a party.”
He grins widely at that.
“My sect leader wasn’t too happy though,” she admits. “He supported Jin Guangshan and he doesn’t think that the matter of Wens should be taken so seriously. He disapproves of your methods as well,” she adds. “I tried telling him that I have always known you, Hanguang-jun, and Young Master Jin— Sect Leader Jin to be fair, but he thinks I’m… biased.”
The way she says the word biased makes it seem like there’s more to the story, but she isn’t forthcoming with the details, and Wei Wuxian doesn’t pry. They turn their conversation to lighter topics, like the night hunts she has been on, and she tuts in fake pity when he tells her he hasn’t been able to leave for a night hunt for over a year.
Mianmian leaves Lanling with her sect leader right after the trial is over, so they have only a handful of opportunities to talk— and even that evokes her sect leader’s displeasure— but Jin Zixuan even joins in once or twice. When she leaves, she and Wei Wuxian promise to write to one another, though, Mianmian points out with a sadistic smile, she is much more likely to have free time than he is. He whines and pouts about her being rude to him, which only makes her laugh harder.
Their letters cover a wide range of topics— Mianmian is a witty conversationalist, and a very good storyteller, but they also talk a lot about the difficulties she faces in her sect and how it frustrates her. They see something familiar in each other and both of them have found an uninvolved third party to complain to, but that isn’t all they talk about. Somewhere in between commiseration and trading funny stories, Mianmian becomes another good friend and Wei Wuxian, who already had an immense amount of respect for her, feels it grow with every passing letter. She is far worse off than he is, but to some extent, he understands, or tries to, as best he can.
‘If you ever find yourself in need of a change in sect, the Jin sect would be lucky to have you,’ he writes to her once, after she confesses that her sect leader is not-so-subtly trying to edge her out of the position she has fairly earned. She sounds understandably frustrated, and besides, Wei Wuxian would really like to have another competent person to work with who he is sure has no loyalties to Jin Guangshan. Her sect leader doesn’t seem like the type of man who takes defiance well, and Mianmian doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would keep her head down just to retain the status quo, which makes for quite the tenuous position, and truly, he is both desperate for help and to help. ‘A-Xuan is a good man. He would judge you based on merit and nothing else, if you were to join the Jin sect.’ what he implies, of course, is he wouldn’t expect you to shut up about unfairness.
‘He stood up for me when he didn’t know who I was, against the Wens,’ her reply reads. ‘Yes, I do believe he is a good man, and so are you.’
He scoffs when he reads that, but then he thinks about her words, thinks about what she knows of him, thinks of what she has seen him do— at both the Xuanwu Cave and the banquet, he had refused to stand aside while atrocities were being perpetrated on his watch. His fingers lightly trace the Wen brand that lies on his chest— the brand he had taken in Mianmian’s place, and he sees why she thinks that of him. It feels... nice, to have someone else think of him in a positive way— especially someone who has no obligation to think well of him, someone who judges him on his deeds alone.
He requests that she give his offer some serious thought, though, and she replies that she will.
‘I would never have joined the Jin sect under Jin Guangshan,’ she writes, ‘but Jin Zixuan is a different story. I might consider it.’
‘Please do,’ he writes back. ‘Your common sense will be an asset.’ Further down on the same letter, he confesses, ‘I would also like someone to delegate some of my headaches to.’
When she writes again, she assures him that she had had a good laugh. She does, however, also send him a pouch of herbs that are a local headache remedy in her hometown, so there’s that, at least. Even if Mianmian— he doubts he will ever get into the habit of calling her Luo Qingyang— is laughing at him, at least she is slightly sympathetic.
In the middle of all of this, Wei Wuxian writes regular letters to A-Yuan, because he does not plan to break a promise to a child. He wonders who reads them out to A-Yuan— Wen Qing, Wen Ning or his grandmother, probably. He definitely doesn’t manage visits to Gusu every week or even every month— in fact, he only manages to find the time for two trips, and each time, as promised, Lan Zhan accompanies him to and from Koi Tower.
In the air, Wei Wuxian keeps himself tucked into Lan Zhan’s side and chatters on about anything and everything that comes to his mind, seeking to distract himself— his nightmares have become less frequent, but being in the air is still reminiscent of being tossed into the Burial Mounds. Lan Zhan, as always, listens attentively and hardly ever interjects, but he seems to sense Wei Wuxian’s discomfort at certain times and wraps his arms more firmly around Wei Wuxian’s shoulders. He never comments on it, only offers silent support.
At Wei Wuxian’s request, they do not go into Cloud Recesses— he does not want to create a scene when he was there at A-Yuan’s behest, and even if Lan Zhan and Lan Xichen insist that he will be welcome, he doesn’t want to risk it— and instead, they spend their time exploring Caiyi Town. Apart from seeing A-Yuan himself, watching Lan Zhan interact with A-Yuan is the highlight of these visits for Wei Wuxian. The man is endlessly patient with A-Yuan, never once getting annoyed with him even when he breaks the rules, and the way he tends to all of A-Yuan’s needs like it is second nature to him makes warmth bloom in Wei Wuxian’s chest.
The feeling must be mutual, because when Wei Wuxian is the one taking care of A-Yuan, sometimes he looks up to see Lan Zhan gazing at him with the softest look he has ever seen. On one of those trips, A-Yuan spills a little of his soup on himself, and when Wei Wuxian notices that both he and Lan Zhan have simultaneously moved to clean him up, he is suddenly overcome with feeling and has to laugh nervously to try and dismiss it.
When they sit together for meals, when one of them carries A-Yuan while the other one hovers close by, when they walk down the street, one of A-Yuan’s tiny hands in each of their hands, Wei Wuxian tries very hard not to notice how right it feels, how much they feel like a family— it is far too soon for him to be thinking like that.
He fails. Miserably.
Seven months into Jin Zixuan’s official appointment as sect leader, Wei Wuxian and Jin Zixuan still stay married, but that only remains true because they need an excuse for Wei Wuxian to remain at Koi Tower. They are both well aware that the day when they end their marriage amicably is coming, and it is only utility that keeps them in this union. They’re simply trying to ensure that there won’t be any complications following it, trying to make preparations for the aftermath of their separation, and those are truly numerous— they find themselves in need of trustworthy people to take over the myriad duties Wei Wuxian had taken upon himself, which is hard when they are also trying to figure out who is trustworthy and who isn’t. Not to mention that the transition to new positions leaves them very little time to do anything beyond the duties they have committed to already.
There is also the question of what will happen with Mo Xuanyu— something that isn’t as easily resolved as assigning tasks to someone else. They do not want to separate him from his brothers— the brothers he has only just begun to form a relationship with— but he is adamant that Wei Wuxian has to be the one who teaches him— he refuses to let anyone else do so. Well, he still learns the basics with the other juniors of the Jin sect, but he refuses to let anyone else take over the role of teaching him anything more than that. He uses different excuses every time— no one is as qualified as Wei Wuxian is, no one is as engaging as him, they make mistakes that even Mo Xuanyu knows not to make— but if the incidents with A-Yuan have taught Wei Wuxian anything, it is that Mo Xuanyu doesn’t want to be separated from him, even if he doesn’t want to admit it.
The possibility that receives the most contemplation and discussion is that perhaps Mo Xuanyu could spend part of the year at Koi Tower with his brothers, where he would learn the basics of cultivation. For the rest of the year, he could stay with Wei Wuxian as his apprentice— nobody outright says that this will be at the Cloud Recesses, but Jin Guangyao and Jin Zixuan are both working under the assumption that it’s only a matter of time before Wei Wuxian marries Lan Zhan, and he knows it. As the second in line for sect leadership— third if Jin Zixuan marries and has an heir— he will not be needed at Koi Tower year round, and besides, he is young enough that it is a possible solution. They agree, finally, to try it out briefly, and make changes to their plans if required.
Some part of Wei Wuxian thinks he will miss being married to Jin Zixuan. Not the marriage itself, but rather the companionship. Over the past year, as much as he had fought it every step of the way, Jin Zixuan had become one of his closest friends, and he— as much as it baffled him— cared for him very much. Jin Zixuan had grown on him like a particularly annoying but endearing weed, and Wei Wuxian knows that he will find it hard to adjust to not seeing him every day. He is also certain he will be worrying about Jin Zixuan too, about how he would manage in Koi Tower— improvement over the past year or not. Fifteen year old Wei Wuxian would have been horrified, fifteen year old Jin Zixuan would have too, but to adult Wei Wuxian, Jin Zixuan is now— and probably forever— a part of his life. One of the good parts too. Who would have thought?
After one particularly hard day of work which had included Wei Wuxian eating his dinner cold while looking over a request for allocation of funds for a famine in the northern part of their territory, he comes back to their chambers, planning to sleep for as long as he can manage before the next crisis hits, only to find Jin Zixuan there with a truly impressive amount and variety of liquor.
“Are we celebrating something?” Wei Wuxian asks, raising an eyebrow.
“I don’t want to be sober,” Jin Zixuan replies, and he somehow looks both exhausted and exasperated.
Wei Wuxian can’t argue with that, so he shrugs and takes a seat, uncorking a jar of Lanling’s best wine and drinking straight from it, not even bothering to pour it into a cup. He half expects Jin Zixuan to make a face at that, maybe even reprimand him, and he can hardly hold in his surprise as Jin Zixuan instead follows suit, drinking straight from his own jar.
“How unrefined, A-Xuan!” Wei Wuxian grins teasingly. “One would hardly expect such uncouth behaviour from Lanling Jin’s golden peacock!”
Jin Zixuan rolls his eyes, but his lips twitch the slightest bit.
“Aiya, Aiya, forgive me,” Wei Wuxian corrects himself, making a mocking half-attempt at a bow. “I meant, Lanling Jin’s esteemed sect leader.”
“What’s the point of filling a cup repeatedly?” Jin Zixuan sighs. “It’ll only make my arm tired.”
Wei Wuxian laughs. “See, that’s why I don’t bother with cups. But you? You grew up in the most ostentatious cultivation sect! It’s surprising to see you like this.”
Jin Zixuan rolls his eyes. He reaches for his second jar, having finished the first one already. “Think of it as a rebellion against my upbringing,” he says dryly.
Wei Wuxian quickly finishes his first jar too, determined not to be outdrunk by Jin Zixuan. Halfway through the second jar though, he reconsiders, decides to pace himself. High alcohol tolerance or not, it wouldn’t do for both of them to get drunk— they might end up embarrassing themselves, which wouldn’t do at all. By the time Jin Zixuan finishes his second jar, he slows down too, choosing to sip delicately from his third jar. He still doesn't start to use a cup though.
“So, are you going to tell me what has you drinking this heavily?” Wei Wuxian asks.
Jin Zixuan sighs. “Meetings,” he says. “So many meetings. With so many unpleasant people.”
“Mhm, that’s the burden of a sect leader.”
Jin Zixuan groans, rubbing his face and slumping where he sits. “I hate it so much,” he says— too quiet to be a wail, but a tone of lament nevertheless. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I’m the sect leader now, but I just wish my father hadn’t made such a mess of everything, you know.”
Wei Wuxian hums in understanding. He takes a slow, long sip of wine. “You’ve been dealing with that for seven months though,” he says. “Why has it suddenly driven you to drink today?”
Jin Zixuan sighs heavily. Then, with a displeased expression, he mutters, “Some of my advisors were… let’s say very passionately invested in the matter of my heir.”
Wei Wuxian snorts. “Let me guess, they have a problem with it being Jin Guangyao.”
“They don’t think he would be a good fit because of the circumstances of his birth,” Jin Zixuan’s words slur slightly as the alcohol starts to hit him. “He is the most competent person I have advising me, and they don’t think he makes a good heir.” He huffs in a way that Wei Wuxian absolutely does not find adorable, then he looks up and his eyes widen. “You’re very competent too,” he says hurriedly, like he’s worried about hurting Wei Wuxian’s feelings, which is quite kind of him, even if it is bemusing to Wei Wuxian. “It’s just, you can’t be my heir anyway, so you don’t really count.”
“Don’t worry, A-Xuan,” Wei Wuxian replies in amusement. “I’m not offended.”
“Oh.” He looks relieved.
“In any case, they may be annoying, but you have the final say over who your heir is. For what it’s worth, Jin Guangyao would probably be a good sect leader, and if you do have kids someday, he’ll be good at helping you train one of them to take over.”
At the mention of kids, Jin Zixuan sighs heavily again. “Some of them are pestering me to divorce you so I can marry a woman and have a child,” he confides. He looks neither happy nor unhappy at the prospect— merely tired. “They’re being quite rude about it,” he adds with a displeased expression. “Very pushy.”
“Well, we’re going to be divorced anyway,” Wei Wuxian reminds him with a bewildered expression. He doesn’t see why Jin Zixuan is so obviously unhappy when they had both known it was going to happen anyway. The need for heirs was, in fact, the reason they were going to give for their divorce if anyone asked. “That shouldn’t make you feel bad.”
To his surprise, Jin Zixuan scowls. “But I’m not going to divorce you because they say so,” his expression gets more displeased as he frowns harder. “I’m going to do it so you can be happy and finally marry Lan Wangji. I’m—"
"And so you can finally marry shijie," Wei Wuxian points out.
"—not getting rid of you for the purposes of acquiring an heir.”
“Well… yes, but they don’t know that.”
Jin Zixuan’s scowl gets darker. “The way they talk about you, like you’re an inconvenience, like I should be itching to replace you… they shouldn’t talk about you that way..”
Jin Zixuan looks so offended on his behalf that Wei Wuxian should find the expression ridiculous, but he feels touched instead. People are often angry with him; they are hardly ever angry for him. Somehow, the fact that his soon to be ex-husband is offended for him, that he thinks Wei Wuxian is worth defending, fills him with fondness. It isn’t the first time Jin Zixuan had defended him, of course— Who are you to question whether or not my husband uses his sword when he is more than capable of defeating you with his hands tied behind his back? he remembers hearing, A-Xian saved my life and those of every disciple at the Wen’s indoctrination when he confronted Wen Chao, he had heard, His cultivation method saved me and countless others, so I don’t take kindly to what you’re implying, he had heard— but this is the first time he has admitted it to Wei Wuxian. It… it means more to Wei Wuxian than he wants to admit.
“Thank you for valiantly defending me honour,” Wei Wuxian tries to say jokingly, but it comes out more sincerely than he intends. He hopes Jin Zixuan is too drunk to notice how choked up his voice is.
Jin Zixuan reddens suddenly. He clears his throat and takes a particularly long swig of his wine. His eyes dart around the room, but he very intentionally does not look at Wei Wuxian. It’s very suspicious.
Immediately, Wei Wuxian’s eyes narrow. “There’s something else, isn’t there?”
Jin Zixuan continues to avoid his gaze, but his flush deepens.
“A-Xuan!” he whines. “Won’t you tell your poor husband what happened?”
Jin Zixuan reddens even further at that, something that Wei Wuxian hadn’t thought was possible. He opens his mouth to complain again, but Jin Zixuan speaks before he does.
“Some of them were…” he whispers, then coughs lightly.
“Come out with it!” Wei Wuxian urges, now increasingly curious.
“They were…” he hesitates.
“They were…?” Wei Wuxian prompts impatiently.
“They were wondering if you could use demonic cultivation to bear a child,” Jin Zixuan blurts out, then immediately downs the rest of his jar of wine, possibly in an attempt to escape the embarrassment of what he had just admitted.
Wei Wuxian, on the other hand, cackles wildly at the expression of pure mortification on Jin Zixuan’s face. He throws his head back and laughs hard enough that tears begin to escape his eyes. Wiping them away, he pants, still breathless with laughter. Even now, just reporting the situation. Jin Zixuan looks like he would rather be anywhere else, and the thought of what his face must have looked like when he was actually asked that question is hilarious.
“It’s not that funny,” Jin Zixuan says sulkily.
“Oh, but it is!” Wei Wuxian replies, before bursting into another fit of giggles. “Husband,” he says between breathless laughs, “Could it be possible that no one knows that we are yet to consummate our union?”
“It’s not like I tell people that,” he splutters.
Wei Wuxian shrugs. “I don’t know, I suppose I assumed someone would figure it out, honestly. Didn’t you? Isn’t that why you even suggested that we fake it on our wedding night?”
While he waits for the flush to fade from Jin Zixuan’s face, he begins thinking about it— not with intent, but simply because he has a curious mind, and it would be an interesting puzzle. “Theoretically though, it would be a fascinating study,” Wei Wuxian says, almost muttering to himself. “Reanimating corpses could be thought of as creating life, if only in a certain sense, so perhaps it isn’t so far fetched. Hmmm…” he loses himself in thought for a second, wondering what sort of technique it would require— a talisman wouldn’t have the range, an array? That might work, but that left the actual process itself. Could energy actually work like that? Would it even be worth trying? If he could—
Wei Wuxian is interrupted by Jin Zixuan snapping his fingers in front of his face. He raises an eyebrow.
“No thinking, no working,” Jin Zixuan says firmly, though the flush on his face is yet to fade. “We are here to forget about work, not obsess over it.”
“You’re just embarrassed at the idea of a demonic cultivation baby!”
Jin Zixuan groans and covers his face. “Please don’t say that loud enough for anyone else to hear,” he begs. “If they think it’s possible, neither of us will ever know a single day of peace.”
Wei Wuxian snorts, then takes another swig of wine. It’s good wine, even if it can’t compare to Emperor’s Smile. Then he sighs, gazing up at the ceiling, deciding to take pity on Jin Zixuan.
“Do you want to hear about the first time I got drunk?” he asks.
“Is it an embarrassing story?” Jin Zixuan takes the change in subject for the peace offering it is.
Wei Wuxian laughs at the memory. “Not for me, but definitely for Jiang Cheng.”
Jin Zixuan looks oddly thoughtful for a drunk— or nearly drunk— person, then he sighs and nods. “I suppose it’ll do.”
“Oh, this story involves shijie, so you better listen closely,” Wei Wuxian says, stifling a laugh at the way Jin Zixuan’s face twitches to attention at the mention of his shijie, even if he’s getting drunker by the second. “Madam Yu was out on a night hunt and Uncle Jiang was away on sect business, so…”
They end up getting ragingly drunk — or rather, Jin Zixuan gets ragingly drunk and Wei Wuxian is just past tipsy when they decide to go to bed. When Wei Wuxian stands up, stretching his legs, Jin Zixuan tackles him into a hug— a completely unexpected, but surprisingly not unwelcome hug. They stand in the middle of the room, swaying slightly under the influence of the alcohol.
“I’ll miss you,” Jin Zixuan mumbles into Wei Wuxian’s shoulder where his face is hidden.
Wei Wuxian, who had been about to make a joke about how short Jin Zixuan was, freezes. Instead, he pats his back comfortingly and makes no effort to hide the swell of emotion in his voice as he says, “I’ll miss you too.”
One year, nine months, and eighteen days after Wei Wuxian and Jin Zixuan get married, they get divorced in the middle of the day in the office of the sect leader of Lanling Jin. Wei Wuxian laughs and says something about the irony of foiling Jin Guangshan’s plan in the office he had probably made it in, while Jin Zixuan sighs, though it is a fonder sigh than those from two years ago. In every way, it is the opposite of what their wedding had been— there are only two people, they are actually comfortable around one another, and Wei Wuxian remembers every second of it. In only a few moments, they are once more, officially, bachelors.
Their goodbyes when Wei Wuxian leaves to go back to Yunmeng are not tearful and dramatic, nor are they stony-faced and silent— it is an unusual end to an unusual marriage indeed, that sees them both parting with grins on their faces, and promises of future visits. Wei Wuxian’s departure from Koi Tower is also, in every way, the opposite of his arrival, in that there is clearly more good will between him and his husband— ex-husband— than there was when he first arrived. Somehow, when they say goodbye, it feels like a new beginning— bittersweet and filled with hope.
Two weeks into his return to Yunmeng, Wei Wuxian sits on a boulder by his favourite lotus pond, idly playing some folk tunes on Chenqing. He has, to his great disgruntlement, found that there is nothing for him to do here— Jiang Cheng and his shijie have had to reassign duties to account for his absence, and now, he has no real role at Lotus Pier. He spends his days idly, which at first, felt like bliss, after nearly two years of continuously working, but soon he tires of it. He is so used to having things to do that his entire body itches with the lack of work. Shijie had told him to relax, but he has begun to find it mind-numbingly boring. The boredom also leaves far too much time for him to think.
Lotus Pier is… not the way he remembers. It hasn’t changed physically— everything that was there before he went to Lanling is still there. There are still vendors selling snacks by the side of the pier, and there are still children running around as their parents and older siblings running to catch up with them so they won’t fall into the water. The smell of lotus still fills the air and the old lady who carves the prettiest combs in all of Yunmeng is still there, selling her wares to blushing young people.
It is his place that is no longer there.
From the time he had first been brought to Lotus Pier, he has always had a complicated position. When he had arrived, he had spent close to five years on the street. He could barely read— nothing beyond the little his parents had managed to teach him before their deaths and the little he himself had learnt to read from the signs he had come across while living on the streets— and he’d needed to be taught until he could match the level of others his age. He had been weak and malnourished, even needing to eat differently from the rest of the disciples. He had been so far behind everyone else in forming his golden core that there was a serious concern over whether he would ever be strong enough to cultivate. He simply had not fit in with everyone in his age group.
He had caught up, though. He had learnt to read and had proceeded to read every text he could get his hands on— poetry, old manuscripts, research, philosophy, cultivation manuals— vowing not to stop until he was satisfied with how much he had enriched his knowledge. He had never been satisfied, only seeking out more complex material, more information, to meet the unquenchable thirst in him. He had eaten what he was told to eat and had trained hard every single day. Every day, no matter how much his arms trembled with the force of hefting a practice sword, no matter how much his thighs hurt as he went through the various sword forms. His doctor had told Jiang Fengmian that his growth might be stunted; Wei Wuxian had, instead, gone on to be the tallest of his disciple group. He had had the strongest golden core of them all too, had surpassed every single one of them. He had ensured that he had mastery over the Six Arts— wouldn’t settle for anything less. He had not fit in then either, this time because no one could catch up to him.
He cannot remember now if it was simply an urge to be the best he could, or if it was a desperate scramble to prove that he was worth it, that Jiang Fengmian hadn’t made a mistake by picking him off the streets.
The older he got though, he had begun to temper himself. He had grown to understand that when he outperformed Jiang Cheng too much, Madam Yu was harsher, her usual sharp tongue not satisfied until it drew blood from both of them, and how could he put his shidi through that? Yet if he let Jiang Cheng win, it infuriated him— he could always tell, somehow, when Wei Wuxian was holding back. So Wei Wuxian simply stopped training along with Jiang Cheng. Madam Yu couldn’t compare her son to the disciple who never trained alongside him, could she?
He had learnt that living in Lotus Pier meant that he would be punished for things everyone did, that only he would be punished. He learnt not to question it, at least not where Madam Yu could hear him. If this was how he was meant to pay for the privilege of being picked up off of the streets, he would do it willingly. He would take the punishment, if it only meant that he would never have to fight another dog for a scrap of food ever again.
All of those things had only further affirmed to Wei Wuxian that he would never fit in the way everyone else did— the younger disciples adored him and he felt the same about them, but his position wasn’t quite like theirs. He was raised alongside Jiang Cheng and shijie, thought of them as his siblings, but he wasn’t truly a part of the family like they were.
Wei Wuxian had never really known who he was— the servant Madam Yu said he was or the little brother shijie treated him as, Jiang Fengmian’s ward or Yunmeng Jiang’s head disciple, the troublemaker who was constantly punished or the unquestionable prodigy. But even then, despite it all, he knew he belonged there. Even when he couldn’t put a name to exactly what his role was, he could say with conviction that he belonged at Lotus Pier.
He… can’t quite say that anymore.
He understands that his duties have had to be taken over by other people. He isn’t an idiot, it isn’t like he had expected Jiang Cheng and shijie to hold every place of his vacant indefinitely just in case he had magically been able to escape an unwanted marriage in a way no one before him had ever managed. He hadn’t expected to come back to have a role waiting for him either. He had just… he had hoped that there would be something new for him to do, something shijie and Jiang Cheng would need his help on. Or if there really wasn’t, he had hoped they would try to include him.
If he had truly been unneeded, he would understand that too. It would have been hard for him— when he has tried, since he was a child to be needed— but he would have understood that, would have accepted it. The problem is that it isn’t that he isn’t needed at Lotus Pier. It’s that nothing he does meets Jiang Cheng’s standards, which have somehow become even more exalting than before he had left.
He has never once complained about Jiang Cheng’s harsh words— it’s how he shows love, shijie has said to him over and over again after every fight, and Wei Wuxian has internalized those words. He knows that Jiang Cheng is just that way, that he is sometimes rude and sometimes pokes exactly where it hurts. He doesn’t do it on purpose either, at least not that Wei Wuxian thinks. It has always been the way they have communicated— Jiang Cheng says something that is, on the surface, an insult, Wei Wuxian sees the hidden concern in it and points it out, Jiang Cheng calls him annoying, shijie berates the two of them gently. It’s the way they are, the way they’ve always been. It has never upset Wei Wuxian before. Jiang Cheng doesn’t mean to hurt him— he never means to hurt him.
It’s just… living at Koi Tower has spoilt Wei Wuxian, somewhat. When he invents something new, he has gotten used to Jin Zixuan appreciating it in his usual awkward way that has become so endearing to Wei Wuxian. When he solves a diplomatic tangle, he has gotten used to Jin Zixuan’s grateful expression, like Wei Wuxian has just descended in front of him with divine wisdom. When he does something wrong, he has gotten used to Jin Zixuan’s dry teasing. When he points out an issue, he has gotten used to Jin Zixuan’s weary sigh that says he appreciates the information, even if he really wishes he had never gotten it.
Now, when Jiang Cheng responds to his invention with a barb about how he is wasting both his own time and Jiang Cheng’s, it stings, just a little bit. When he comes up with a solution for some diplomatic issue, it hurts when Jiang Cheng says “No one asked for your help, Wei Wuxian”, and that hurt does not heal even when he sees Jiang Cheng implement his idea anyway. He has to force a smile on his face when Jiang Cheng scoffs loudly when he makes a mistake. He has to pretend not to be affected when Jiang Cheng reacts to bad news by glaring at him.
He understands that Jiang Cheng is under a lot of stress— it is the kind of stress the past year has made him intimately familiar with. He knows how short it makes someone’s temper, how much worse that is for an already short-tempered person like Jiang Cheng. So he tries to compensate for it, tries to ensure that Jiang Cheng doesn’t have a reason to lose his temper, doesn’t have a reason to complain. Unfortunately, for the most part, that means that there’s nothing for him to do— because there’s nothing he can do that Jiang Cheng won’t lose his temper at, nothing that won’t have him yelling that Wei Wuxian isn’t in Lanling anymore and that Yunmeng is different. Removing himself is the only thing that works. He can’t be gone too long though, or Jiang Cheng might be angry at him for slacking off, but for now, it works.
Shijie tries, she truly does, but even her actions only go so far. She mediates between them as much as she can, but it is beyond even her capabilities to do it every time. It doesn’t help at all that Wei Wuxian hadn’t been able to crush that tiny bit of resentment at the events that led to his marriage, and even if he doesn’t hold it against Jiang Cheng anymore, he cannot stop himself from getting indignant. Maybe it is true that he has forgotten what it is like to be in Yunmeng, but it hadn’t been his idea to marry into Lanling. It’s unfair for Jiang Cheng to hold that against him.
He hates to admit it, but he misses Jin Zixuan, misses the work that comes with being his husband, misses the companionship they had managed to develop, misses bickering with him. He misses the way Jin Zixuan would make fun of him, but somehow— for all that he is clumsy with words— never hit at Wei Wuxian’s insecurities. He misses teasing back and knowing he wasn’t going to accidentally set Jin Zixuan off. He has missed not feeling like an annoyance— a feeling he finds is inescapable in Lotus Pier.
He had been so isolated at Koi Tower with Jin Zixuan as his only ally among people who whispered in corners about his heretical cultivation path, yet Jin Zixuan had made sure he knew that Wei Wuxian had his support. Here in Lotus Pier, everyone treats him kindly, but he feels so alone.
He is thinking about the merits of putting his flute down and rolling straight into the lotus pond, just to have something to do, when he hears a rustle from beyond the tree line. No one else comes here— they know not to— so Wei Wuxian is instantly on his guard. He steels himself for a threat. He does not rise, merely pulls a talisman out and prepares to throw it, when the foliage parts to reveal a familiar figure.
For a second, he thinks he’s seeing things, then he realizes that what he’s seeing is real, and his heart leaps with delight.
Lan Zhan stands in front of him, dressed not in his usual white— well, not only in his usual white— but in a pale blue outer robe. He looks as perfect as he always does, if a little more grandly dressed than usual. Not too grandly, of course— Wei Wuxian is certain that dressing ostentatiously is against at least one of the rules of his sect. He looks beautiful, as he always does, like the closest thing to perfection that Wei Wuxian has ever seen. Lan Zhan could outshine the moon, he thinks, even without trying.
It is incredibly impolite, but his arrival is such a surprise to Wei Wuxian that he cannot even bring himself to stand until Lan Zhan is right in front of him. He moves to stand then, but Lan Zhan stops him, moving to kneel in front of him instead. Like this, Lan Zhan’s face is close enough that Wei Wuxian can see every hint of motion, the softening at the corner of his lips that means that he is pleased to see Wei Wuxian, the barely raised eyebrow that means that he is wondering what Wei Wuxian is doing, sitting here all alone.
“Lan Zhan,” he asks, his voice slightly breathless, “Are you really here?”
“Wei Ying,” he replies warmly, with so much fondness that it makes Wei Wuxian’s heart melt, “I am here.”
“And what brings the great Hanguang-jun to Yunmeng?” he asks teasingly. He cannot stop himself from teasing Lan Zhan, he never can. He thinks he wants to do it forever.
“There is a question I must ask of you,” Lan Zhan says, evenly, not responding to the teasing at all, though his tone is still warm and accommodating.
“And what question could the great Hanguang-jun have for this lowly one?” he asks, still teasing to hide the fact that his heart is pounding, that his mouth is going dry.
Lan Zhan simply looks at him for a moment, then reaches up and unknots his forehead ribbon, still looking Wei Wuxian in the eye. With one hand, he takes Wei Wuxian’s in his own, turns it over till the palm is facing upward, moving it with the same gentleness Wei Wuxian has seen him use to pet a particularly skittish rabbit. With his other hand, he holds the newly removed ribbon up, offering it to Wei Wuxian.
“Wei Ying knows very well what question I mean to ask,” he says, his head tilted consideringly, his eyes knowing.
Wei Wuxian surprises himself by letting out a sound that is somewhere between a gasp and a sob. He hadn’t expected this so soon, hasn’t prepared for it yet. He wants to accept, he wants it so badly, but still...“Lan Zhan are you sure?” he asks. “There are—” he swallows and braces himself, resists the urge to press his hand against the empty, empty spot his core once occupied. “There is something you don’t know about me.”
“You will tell me when you are ready,” Lan Zhan replies simply, as though potentially keeping a life-changing secret from the man proposing marriage to you was in any way a reasonable thing to do.
Wei Wuxian makes the same choked noise again. “It might change the way you see me,” he warns. He doesn’t know for sure if it will, but if Lan Zhan marries him and then sees him differently, if he knows what it is like to have Lan Zhan and then has to give him up, it would break him.
“Wei Ying is Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says resolutely. “Nothing will change that.”
This time, the sound that escapes Wei Wuxian is closer to a sob. “You can’t know that, Lan Zhan,” he cries. “How can you say that so certainly?”
Lan Zhan merely looks at him consideringly, seemingly seeing something in his face that causes him to pull back slightly. “Does Wei Ying... not want to?” Lan Zhan asks, his face sad, but understanding.
How could this wonderful man misunderstand him so badly? “Lan Zhan, ah, Lan Zhan, of course Wei Ying wants to, how could you even think that?” Wei Wuxian looks at the ground, unable to meet Lan Zhan’s eyes. “Are you sure I’m the one you want?”
Lan Zhan only huffs softly. “Wei Ying, do you recall a conversation we had in a similar place many months ago?” he asks quietly.
That makes Wei Wuxian laugh slightly. “Lan Zhan, there is not one encounter I have had with you that I have ever forgotten,” he says helplessly. He is helpless in the face of this wonderful, ridiculous man, this man he is so utterly in love with.
Lan Zhan’s breath hitches, barely noticeably. “Then, Wei Ying, will you allow me to tell you what I had wished to tell you then?”
In the face of a plea like that, what could Wei Wuxian do but agree?
As soon as Wei Wuxian nods, Lan Zhan lets go of his hand and reaches to cup his cheek. Wei Wuxian resists every impulse to turn his face and press a kiss to Lan Zhan’s palm. There will be time for that later, he thinks.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, his gaze intense and sincere, his touch gentle and grounding, “I am not good with words, but I wish that there should be no doubt about what I feel for you. I have loved you for many years now. I have loved you since I first saw you, and I have fallen more in love with you with every passing day. If you will have me, I wish to forever be by your side.”
Wei Wuxian gasps again, heat rushing to his face. He would turn away, but Lan Zhan’s hand on his cheek stops him. “Lan Zhan, how can I follow that up?” he cries instead. “Anything I say will be inadequate!”
“No,” Lan Zhan replies firmly. “Nothing about Wei Ying is inadequate.”
“Not good with words?” he playfully nudges Lan Zhan. “You’re such a liar, er-gege!”
“Lying is forbidden,” Lan Zhan replies, a tiny smile on his lips. “None of my words are enough to encompass what I feel for you, Wei Ying. No words can compare to you, and in that, they are all inadequate in expressing the depths of my feelings for you.”
Wei Wuxian wonders briefly, if he is, perhaps hallucinating vividly, or if he has just died. “Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, now I am certain that you’re exaggerating.”
Lan Zhan looks so offended by the suggestion, that if Wei Wuxian wasn’t lost in the pleasant haze of his words, he would laugh. “Wei Ying,” he says firmly, “It is truly a great tragedy that you do not know the extent of my regard for you. I will immediately begin to rectify this error.”
“Ah, you’re too good to me Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian sighs, glad to be sitting down. If he had been standing, he is worried his knees would be too weak to support his weight. He turns to look seriously at Lan Zhan, trying to match his intensity, though he thinks he comes off a bit too vulnerable for that. “All I want from you, all I have ever wanted was for you to like me, because I like you so much,” he confesses. “Even when we were younger, I just wanted you to look at me. Even all those months when we were fighting, when I was refusing to listen to anything you had to say, even then, all I wanted was for you to like me. Lan Zhan, I love you so much, sometimes I think my heart will stop beating from the force of it.”
“Do not let it,” Lan Zhan says seriously. When Wei Ying huffs a laugh, he repeats with the same sincerity, “Wei Ying, do not let it.”
“Don’t worry, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian replies, smiling gently, then carefully guides Lan Zhan’s palm to rest against his chest where his heart is beating like a drum, his forehead ribbon trapped between the two of them. “I promise I will live a long life with you and I will tell you that I love you everyday.”
Lan Zhan nods in satisfaction, then wordlessly offers the ribbon again, and this time, Wei Wuxian huffs and holds out his wrist.
“So stubborn,” he says fondly.
“Mn,” Lan Zhan looks smug.
“You know, Lan Zhan,” he says as Lan Zhan begins painstakingly wrapping the ribbon around his wrist, “This is highly improper! I was a married man not a month ago! What will people say?”
“I care nothing for what other people say,” Lan Zhan says, as he finishes knotting the ribbon around Wei Wuxian’s wrist. Done with his task, he tilts his head up to meet Wei Wuxian’s eyes, asks the question he has asked over and over and over again. “Wei Ying, will you come to Gusu with me?”
Wei Wuxian laughs at that, clear and delighted. He cups Lan Zhan’s face with both his hands, then leans down towards him. “Shall I show you my answer instead, er-gege?” he asks.
A quick nod. “Mn.”
Wei Wuxian leans down and presses a chaste, reverent kiss to Lan Zhan’s forehead, where his ribbon was resting moments earlier. He feels Lan Zhan’s eyelids flutter closed and pulls away to drink in his appearance, vulnerability painting every one of his features. He presses another playful kiss to the tip of Lan Zhan’s nose, nearly giggles at the way his face twitches the tiniest bit. He pulls back again, and this time, Lan Zhan opens his eyes. There is amusement in his eyes, but he huffs impatiently— which for Lan Zhan is truly saying something.
Finally, Wei Wuxian leans in to capture Lan Zhan’s lips with his own. Kissing Lan Zhan is both everything and nothing like he had imagined, and Wei Wuxian decides at once that he wants to do it for the rest of his life. His lips are soft and pliant, but he kisses intensely, like a drowning man seeks air. Wei Wuxian’s hands wind in Lan Zhan’s hair and one of Lan Zhan’s hands comes up to firmly hold the back of his neck even as the other rests warmly on his thigh. Wei Wuxian frees one of his own hands, uses it to tilt Lan Zhan’s chin up and explores his mouth from this new angle, catalogues every sound, every movement Lan Zhan makes. It feels right. It feels like coming home.
When they finally part for air, too soon for his liking, Wei Wuxian can’t hold back the grin on his face, and apparently, Lan Zhan can’t help but smile too. Lan Zhan’s smile is as slow and sure as a sunrise, and Wei Wuxian can feel its warmth seep into the cracks of his soul. There is still much up in the air, and he still has many things to tell Lan Zhan, but in this moment, none of it matters to him.
If he can have this everyday— Lan Zhan’s smile, his warm presence, and the ability to ply him with sweet kisses, he thinks the future looks bright indeed.