Lan Xichen is in the process of breaking eggs to cook breakfast when the front door of the apartment bursts open. It is only years of carefully holding himself together and still that keeps him from tensing his hold, shattering the eggshell, and making a mess of the kitchen.
Nie Mingjue, from his place sitting by the counter, barely blinks. Lan Xichen isn’t surprised. His friend had a rough night working at the fire station, to the point he, for the first time since they’ve known each other, picked up the phone and called Lan Xichen in the middle of the night to vent. Lan Xichen, knowing Nie Mingjue needed support, didn’t hesitate to grab an overnight bag and invite himself over. This is why he’s here now, cooking them breakfast, while a barely awake Nie Mingjue sits and watches him.
“Da ge, you won’t believe what—” Nie Huaisang skids to a stop before he even makes it to his brother, his mouth opened in mid-sentence as his eyes dart from Nie Mingjue to Lan Xichen and back again.
“Good morning,” Lan Xichen offers, going back to his cooking. He grabs another egg and mentally goes over the ingredients list so he can make enough food for the three of them now that Nie Huaisang is here.
“Good… morning?” Nie Huaisang takes a tentative step forward.
“Huaisang,” Nie Mingjue says, and Lan Xichen watches from the corner of his eye as Nie Mingjue turns to his brother. “What are you doing here?”
Nie Huaisang opens and closes his mouth a few times and then seems to make a decision. “Nie Zonghui told me you had a rough day at work yesterday and might need cheering up. I was going to tell you all about how Jin Zixuan embarrassed himself in front of Lady Jiang again, because he never learns—”
“Huaisang,” Nie Mingjue interrupted him and then let out a yawn.
“But I guess I don’t need to anymore!” Nie Huaisang says instead and darts another glance to Lan Xichen. Lan Xichen is starting to feel a little self-conscious. “Because… Zewu-jun was… here? For you?”
Lan Xichen can’t help but smile a little when the line of Nie Mingjue’s shoulders seem to relax an inch at hearing that.
“Yes,” Nie Mingjue confirms. “Xichen spent the night.”
“Zewu-jun spent the night?”” Nie Huaisang’s voice cracks a little. Lan Xichen frowns and serves him a cup of tea.
“I did.” Lan Xichen offers Nie Huaisang the cup. “But it is very nice of you to come over and worry about your brother this way.”
Nie Huaisang takes the cup, eyes wide. “I am known to be very nice.”
Nie Mingjue snorts. “Sure.”
“Hey! I am!” Nie Huaisang protests and then quiets down when he stares down at his tea. He looks from Nie Mingjue to Lan Xichen and back again, his expression softening. “Thank you for the tea.”
Lan Xichen nods to him. “You are staying for breakfast, yes?”
Nie Huaisang glances at Nie Mingjue and, at his brother’s nod, says, “Yes, thank you. I’d love to have breakfast with Da ge and… Er ge?”
Lan Xichen blinks a little, startled, but he supposes Nie Huaisang calling him that is fine. They have known each other for a long time and Nie Mingjue is Lan Xichen’s closest friend. “Er ge is fine.”
Nie Huaisang smiles throughout the entire morning.
“Zewu-jun,” Nie Zonghui says, the relief on his face so striking that Lan Xichen is immediately suspicious. “You’re back.”
“Is something wrong?” Lan Xichen asks, but he can guess. He’s seen that look on Nie Zonghui’s face many times before.
“Chifeng-zun is…” Nie Zonghui trails off.
Lan Xichen raises an eyebrow. “Upset?”
Nie Zonghui’s face twitches before it settles on a blank mask. “I’m sure he will be very happy to see you,” is what he says. “If you permit me to say, I believe he missed you.”
Lan Xichen feels warm right down to his toes. Being away for the past five days due to a work conference was not fun, but it was his duty as head of his family’s accounting company. Even so, he missed his friends--especially Nie Mingjue.
“I missed him too,” Lan Xichen admits.
Nie Zonghui smiles a little. “Of course. I also miss my wife when I am away.”
“I’m sure she is always happy to have you back,” Lan Xichen replies, though he’s not sure why Nie Zonghui would make that comparison. “Is Nie Mingjue available?”
Nie Zonghui nods. “He is always available to you. Please go ahead.”
Lan Xichen heart skips a beat. It is always good to know Nie Mingjue values his friendship as much as Lan Xichen does.
“What?” Nie Mingjue barks when Lan Xichen knocks on the door to his office.
“I can come back some other time,” Lan Xichen says when he pops his head inside.
Nie Mingjue’s expression turns from scowling to open surprise to pleasure. “Xichen. You’re finally back.”
“And I brought cookies.” Lan Xichen holds the box up in front of him. “Is this a bad time?”
“Not at all.” Nie Mingjue gestures inside. “C’mon, tell me how boring work was for you.”
They spend the next thirty or so minutes like that, talking and eating cookies. Lan Xichen feels lighter just by being in Nie Mingjue’s presence. The conferences always make him tense and it is nice to be in a room with someone who wants nothing from him and won’t judge him from being himself. It is so nice that Lan Xichen doesn’t stop himself from reaching out and rubbing a few crumbs off Nie Mingjue’s mustache before he stands up to go.
“Thank you for the cookies,” Nie Mingjue says as he reaches out and squeezes Lan Xichen’s shoulder, “and the company.”
“Of course.” Lan Xichen smiles. “Are we still on for Saturday?”
“If there are no fires,” Nie Mingjues agrees and smiles back.
Lan Xichen leaves Nie Mingjue’s office like he’s walking on clouds. Nie Zonghui stops him before he gets to his car.
“Zewu-jun, I just wanted to thank you.”
Lan Xichen blinks. “For what?”
Nie Zonghui stares at him for a few seconds and then says, “Chifeng-zun is lucky to have found someone like you. Have a good day.”
Lan Xichen stands there for a few seconds after Nie Zonghui goes back inside. He doesn’t know what he meant, but Lan Xichen knows he’s also lucky to have someone like Nie Mingjue in his life.
“Is this okay?” Nie Mingjue asks when he sits down next to Lan Xichen on the couch and throws an arm around his shoulders. They’re at Lan Xichen’s apartment that he shares with his little brother, Wangji, and Lan Xichen has just finished making them buttery popcorn.
Lan Xichen nods and feels himself relaxing. “Popcorn?”
Nie Mingjue takes a handful of popcorn and pops it in his mouth. “What are we watching?”
“You pick,” Lan Xichen tells him. “My last choice was not… the best.”
Nie Mingjue huffs out a small laugh. Lan Xichen’s last movie pick ended up with both of them hugging each other and crying. They both want tonight to be different.
The movie they settle on is an animation of some sort and soon enough Lan Xichen finds himself settling more and more against Nie Mingjue’s side. It’s been a rough week at work for both of them and Lan Xichen basks in these few hours they both get to be together and rest. Wangji is out with his boyfriend, Wei Wuxian, and Lan Xichen doesn’t expect him to be home tonight. It’s the perfect moment for him and Nie Mingjue to just… be.
So, of course, that is not what happens.
Halfway through the movie, Lan Xichen hears the distant sound of a key in the lock and the front door opening. Wangji and Wei Wuxian’s voices reach his ears, but Lan Xichen is too relaxed to bother getting up, greeting them both, and asking if anything happened. Nie Mingjue’s body is a line of warmth against his side and his arm around Lan Xichen’s shoulder is a comforting weight against him. Lan Xichen doesn’t want to move, so he will not.
Even so, he still calls, “Wangji?”
“Brother,” Wangji says back, voice sounding a bit far away. There is the soft pad of socks against the floor as he moves from the front door to the living room. “I apologize. I know you were expecting—”
Lan Xichen turns to look over his shoulder at Wangji, then. His brother is not one to trail off mid-sentence.
“Is everything okay?” Nie Mingjue is the one to ask after he pauses the movie. He sits up a little bit on the couch, but doesn’t move his arm away from its place around Lan Xichen’s shoulder.
Wangji just stares at them. It says something about how well Lan Xichen knows his brother that he notices the minute widening of his eyes as he stares at Lan Xichen and Nie Mingjue on the couch in surprise.
“Wangji? Is everything okay?” Lan Xichen echoes Nie Mingjue’s question.
Wangji opens his mouth to speak, but Wei Wuxian chooses that moment to come bouncing into the room. “Xichen-ge, I’m so sorry we disturbed your—” he stops, mouth forming a little ‘o’ of shocked surprise as he stares at the couch, and then he smiles bright, “—date. My heater broke and Lan Zhan said it’d be okay if I stayed the night. I didn’t know Chifeng-zun would be here.”
Nie Mingjue gives them a little wave.
“You didn’t disturb anything,” Lan Xichen assures him. He’d only been about to fall asleep on Nie Mingjue. “Of course you can stay. We were watching a movie. Would you like to join us?”
Wangji and Wei Wuxian share a long and heavy glance before Wangji shakes his head. “Wei Ying and I will be in my room.”
“For the whole night!” Wei Wuxian adds. “Don’t worry about us. You just… keep doing what you’re doing. Together. Because that’s what you are. Toge— Lan Zhan!”
Wangji grabs Wei Wuxian by the wrist and drags him away. Lan Xichen watches in amusement as they leave, happy that his brother has found someone for himself.
“That Wei Wuxian is weird,” Nie Mingjue comments before making himself comfortable on the couch again. “I don’t know what your brother sees in him.”
“Wangji is a complex person,” Lan Xichen answers. “Wei Wuxian is good to him.”
“Still weird,” Nie Mingjue grumbles and then taps his fingers on the popcorn bowl. “More?”
“Of course, I’ll go get—”
Nie Mingjue squeezing his shoulder stops Lan Xichen from getting up. Nie Mingjue takes the bowl from him and tugs at a strand of Lan Xichen’s hair before he stands up. “I’ll do it,” he says. “You sit there and try not to fall asleep before I come back.”
“Thank you,” Lan Xichen says with a smile.
He doesn’t fall asleep before Nie Mingjue comes back with another bowl of fresh popcorn, but he does wake up the next morning with his head on Nie Mingjue’s chest, Nie Mingjue’s arms around him and holding him tight, as a blanket covers them. It is the best night’s sleep Lan Xichen had in a while.
“He’s fine,” Dr. Wen Qing promises when Lan Xichen rushes into Nie Mingjue’s hospital room. “Just a few scrapes.”
“Mingjue,” Lan Xichen murmurs, heart still in his throat. He had canceled all of his meetings for the day after receiving a text from Nie Huaisang telling him Nie Mingjue had gotten hurt and was on his way to the hospital. “What happened?”
“I’m fine,” Nie Mingjue reassures him. “It was nothing.”
“It was not nothing.” Lan Xichen leans in close, one hand coming to rest on Nie Mingjue’s arm. “Your hands are bleeding.”
Perhaps an exaggeration. Lan Xichen can see a few cuts on Nie Mingjue’s fingers, red and angry, that are being treated by Dr. Wen Qing.
“Are you going to tell him or should I?” Dr. Wen Qing asks.
Lan Xichen turns to her. They’re familiar with each other by virtue of her being one of Wei Wuxian’s best friends, but this is the first time they’ve had to interact in this setting.
Nie Mingjue lets out a very long and drawn out sigh. “You know Huaisang.”
Lan Xichen frowns. “I know your brother, yes.”
“You know he loves birds and owns a few of them,” Nie Mingjue continues.
“Did you know one of his birds loves burrowing inside places that are not meant for him to burrow into? And, sometimes, he gets stuck?”
Lan Xichen’s lips twitch up as the dread in his stomach dissipates. “I see.”
The look Nie Mingjue gives him is the look of a man who wishes he could murder his brother. “I attempted a rescue and got attacked by my brother’s ungrateful pet.”
Dr. Wen Qing snorts. Lan Xichen tries very hard, but has to smile along with her.
“You’ll be fine,” Lan Xichen says and squeezes Nie Mingjue’s arm.
Nie Mingjue rests his hand on top of Lan Xichen’s own. “I’ll be fine, but thank you for coming. You didn’t have to.”
“I had to,” Lan Xichen tells him.
“Done,” Dr. Wen Qing says after she finishes with Nie Mingjue’s hands. She stares at them for a beat. “I wondered where Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian got it from, but I guess this answers the question.”
Lan Xichen and Nie Mingjue stare at her, confused.
“Got what?” Nie Mingjue asks.
Dr. Wen Qing blinks at him and then rolls her eyes. “I’m out. Keep your hands dry.”
“Got what?” Nie Mingjue asks again, but this time to Lan Xichen.
“I don’t know,” Lan Xichen replies. “I’ll see about your release papers and drive you home.”
“You don’t have—” Nie Mingjue tries to say.
“I know.” Lan Xichen turns his hand, palm up, so he can grab Nie Mingjue’s hand. “And don’t try to argue with me when I also cook you lunch.”
Nie Mingjue gives him a slow smile. “Deal.”
“Dinner was pleasant, Uncle,” Lan Xichen says after he finishes eating. “Thank you for having me.”
Lan Qiren tilts his chin in acknowledgement. “Of course. Families should share weekly meals together. I’m disappointed Wangji couldn’t be here.”
Lan Xichen tries very hard not to wince. “Wei Wuxian has the flu. Wangji, and Wei Wuxian, will be here next week.”
Lan Qiren lets out something that sounds surprisingly like a scoff. Lan Xichen, and Wangji as well, are very aware Lan Qiren is not a fan of having Wei Wuxian around. Yet Wei Wuxian is the person Wangji loves; by their uncle’s own values, this means Wei Wuxian must also be present at dinner once a week. Wangji is their family and, as much as Lan Qiren dislikes Wangji’s choice in partner, Wangji is his nephew.
Silence stretches between them. Lan Xichen can feel his uncle’s heavy gaze on him.
“Xichen,” Lan Qiren starts.
“You may bring someone with you next week,” Lan Qiren tells him, much to Lan Xichen’s surprise.
“Uncle?” Lan Xichen asks, caught off guard.
“Wangji has that,” Lan Qiren’s face settles into a grimace, “boy, so you may also bring someone.”
“That is not necessary,” Lan Xichen tells him, if mostly because he has no idea why his uncle is mentioning this now. Lan Xichen doesn’t have a Wei Wuxian to bring to dinner.
Lan Qiren presses his lips together. “I have not met Nie Mingjue yet. You must introduce us. Officially.”
“I…” Lan Xichen closes his mouth. He is not sure what’s going on here. Maybe his uncle does not want him to feel lonely since Wangji brings Wei Wuxian as his plus one? Nie Mingjue is his best friend, after all. It makes sense for Lan Xichen to introduce him to his uncle, since Wangji has met him already.
“Is he not important to you?” Lan Qiren narrows his eyes.
“Uncle,” Lan Xichen smiles a little, “yes, he is.”
“Does he not treat you well?”
Lan Xichen doesn’t hesitate to answer that one. “He is very kind to me.”
“Then it is settled,” Lan Qiren nods. “Bring your boyfriend with you to dinner next week.”
Lan Xichen freezes.
Bring his what?
Lan Xichen can’t stop thinking about it.
He sits on the couch, hands on his knees, eyes unseeing as his uncle’s words play over his mind.
Surely, it is not…
They are friends, yes. Best friends, even, for a few years now. Nie Mingjue is the person Lan Xichen goes to when he’s upset or hurt or when there’s a piece of big news to share. When something good happens, Nie Mingjue is the first one to know.
They also go out together a lot. To the movies, shopping, to walks around the city and to visit the local parks. They get together for lunch or dinner at least once a week. For a movie night at Lan Xichen’s apartment every month, if their jobs permit it. Sometimes, yes, they sleep over each other’s apartment, but never—
They did share a bed once or twice, after coming back from Huaisang’s or someone else’s birthday party, tired and with Nie Mingjue a little too buzzed on whatever alcoholic drink was being served. But that’s… that’s what friends do. Right?
Lan Xichen’s fingers twitch on his knees.
And of course, Lan Xichen can recognize Nie Mingjue is an attractive man. He’s tall, strong, with broad shoulders and muscled arms. He’s seen Nie Mingjue shirtless before and his chiseled chest is very… impressive. It might have crossed Lan Xichen’s mind once or twice what it would be like to touch him, to feel those muscles, but Lan Xichen had always dismissed those thoughts.
Until now, apparently.
Now he wonders what it would be like to touch Nie Mingjue like he’s wanted to. What it would be to slide his hands up Nie Mingjue’s chest, his shoulders, to cup his neck. What it would be like to pull him forward and lean in close. What it would be like to wipe the stern expression off his face, the one that is usually present, except during those times when it softens when is—
Lan Xichen stands up. “I must leave,” he tells the empty apartment. Wangji is at Wei Wuxian again and—
Lan Xichen has more important things to worry about now.
Like the possibility that the reason Nie Mingjue’s expression always softens when Lan Xichen is around is because Nie Mingjue likes him . Maybe as more than a friend.
Next thing Lan Xichen knows, he’s knocking on Nie Mingjue’s apartment door. For a split second, he tries to remember if Nie Mingjue is on shift tonight. He can’t.
“Xichen?” Nie Mingjue opens the door before Lan Xichen decides to turn back around and drive to the fire station. “Are you—”
“My uncle,” Lan Xichen interrupts him, being incredibly rude.
Nie Mingjue startles for one second at the interruption and places both of his hands on Lan Xichen’s shoulders. “Your uncle? Is he alright? Did something happen?”
Lan Xichen sways a little under Nie Mingjue’s hands and has to hold on to Nie Mingjue’s biceps to maintain his balance. “Mingjue…”
“My uncle said I should bring my boyfriend to dinner next week,” Lan Xichen blurts out, once again being incredibly rude. He’s going to have to apologize for his behavior. Later.
Nie Mingjue’s face goes slack before he grimaces and then finally settles into something that somewhat resembles indifference. “I didn’t know you were dating anyone.”
Blood rushes to Lan Xichen’s ears. “I’m not.”
It’s relief Lan Xichen sees flash across Nie Mingjue’s eyes, definitely.
“I don’t… understand,” Nie Mingjue admits.
Lan Xichen takes a deep breath and squeezes Nie Mingjue’s biceps. “He meant you .”
Nie Mingjue blinks once, twice, three times. He doesn’t say anything.
The pit in Lan Xichen’s stomach opens and he’s afraid he’s going to drown himself in embarrassment.
“Am I?” Nie Mingjue asks.
Now it’s Lan Xichen’s turn to blink. “What?”
“Your boyfriend. Am I?”
Lan Xichen opens and closes his mouth a few times. “I think that’s… what people think we are?” he offers. He can’t help but think of Huaisang calling him Er ge for the first time, Wangji’s look of surprise at finding Lan Xichen and Nie Mingjue on the couch, and Nie Zonghui telling him he also misses his wife when he’s away.
“But what do you think?” Nie Mingjue asks, determined. His eyes shine in a way that makes Lan Xichen want to squirm a little and get closer.
“I think,” Lan Xichen starts, “that I would…”
“Because I would like that,” Nie Mingjue is the one to interrupt him now. “I would like that very much.”
Lan Xichen thinks he might swoon. Maybe he does, because Nie Mingjue’s arms are around his waist a second later and he’s pulling Lan Xichen into his apartment before he closes the door and presses Lan Xichen against it.
“I would like that as well,” Lan Xichen admits, heart beating so fast he thinks it’ll beat right off his chest.
“Because you like me,” Nie Mingjue clarifies, smiling a little.
“It would seem so.” Lan Xichen laughs. “And you like me .”
“Yes.” Nie Mingjue stops smiling and frowns. “And everyone noticed but us.”
Lan Xichen leans in close and rests his forehead against Nie Mingjue’s. “They don’t need to know that.”
Nie Mingjue is the one who laughs now just as he nuzzles Lan Xichen’s cheek. “Can I kiss you?”
“Please,” Lan Xichen asks and tilts his head so he can meet Nie Mingjue’s lips with his own. “By the way,” he adds after they break the kiss, lips tingling and cheeks flushed. “The dinner invitation stands.”
“I’m honored,” Nie Mingjue says through a smile and kisses him again.
Boyfriends, Lan Xichen thinks, giddy, and kisses Nie Mingjue back.