“Can you believe the absolute, smug nerve of those two?”
Lan Xichen snuggles harder into his betrothed’s very fine bed, heedless of the summer heat, and tries to keep from laughing at the consternation showing in every line of Huaisang’s features. His little bird is adorable in this kind of indignation: he can almost see the ruffled, puffed feathers as Huaisang paces the room, bright and animated, waving Wangji’s letter.
“Didi has always been solicitous.”
“And Wei-xiong has no sense of propriety, I know. That does not mean they aren’t the most obnoxious kind of married couple imaginable and we put them in charge of our wedding.”
“It’s not that serious, Huaisang—we’re married enough.” Xichen takes a moment to appreciate his ribbon still wrapped around Huaisang’s bare thigh, its home of late, and consider a few pleasing ways to cut this conversation short. He discards them with an internal sigh. Huaisang is unrelenting when he wants to address something; Xichen would just be putting it off. “Besides, you put Wei Wuxian in charge of negotiating your side for our wedding; he’s just picking a date and a bride price. Wangji has nothing to do with it...”
Huaisang’s eyes narrow. He’s more of a bird of prey than a songbird; those are quite a different matter to hand-feed. “How much do you want to bet if I refuse to answer your brother’s insane, intrusive list of questions, our date will be pushed back?”
Teasing might lose him a finger; Xichen attempts to be soothing. “They wouldn’t go that far.”
“I expect you to know the following about each other before making your bond public.” Huaisang flops across the foot of the bed in distraught outrage. He’s so cute when he’s performing his emotional mess, and Xichen is only human, after all. He reaches for a calf, intending to drag his husband to him for a change of subject.
Huaisang seems not to notice. He rolls into the tug, sits up, and prods the offending sentence for emphasis. “'Before,' A-Huan, 'Expect.' Your brother is holding our wedding hostage for this."
He produces the second page of the letter, handing it off to Xichen. It details in no uncertain terms the seriousness and duties of marriage, very much in Wangji’s clipped, concerned style. In the end, boiling down to something like, ‘this is an important choice for your sects and for your clan, as well as your future happiness,’ that sort of thing. It is a bit rich coming from Wangji, considering how much thought he had put into his marriage outside of the hormonal kind, but not entirely unexpected or offensive. Looking at a flushed, genuinely glaring Huaisang, with all of his rough edges and most of his body on display, Xichen can certainly sympathize with hormonal decision making.
The list of questions does have a whiff of Wei Wuxian about it. Not that Didi is incapable of coming up with these, but he would typically hesitate to ask them of Xichen. No doubt Wei Wuxian convinced him it was their filial duty to ensure his happiness in all aspects of their relationship.
“Well?” Xichen’s betrothed still looks ready to tear into flesh. He sets aside some more vivid thoughts about how to redirect that energy to try later. Didi deserves at least one brother-in-law that can be in the same room as him without plotting an assasination.
“Well, I don’t mind you knowing any of this about me. I think it could be fun...” That’s a truth.
Huaisang taps his foot on nothing and quirks an eyebrow. “Xichen-ge.”
Right. He loves Huaisang because he allows Xichen to be his safety, to be needed, but a not-small part of how that was accomplished means they know one another a bit too well for the usual hedging. It is endearing when it’s not inconvenient. Even so, they’re good for each other this way. Xichen finishes detailing his thoughts, “It could also be an uncomfortable disaster, but I tend to agree with Didi—they do seem important.”
“Not all of them.”
“Well, no, not everything, but enough.”
“And you’re fine with letting those two broody hens quiz us on these?” Huaisang cocks his head in curiosity and watches him for a response.
“I did not say that.” Xichen’s relaxed smile pulls down at the edges at the thought of Wangji knowing personal things about Huaisang. Those are certainly not for his little brother! “Wangji will trust me if I write back and say we spoke and know one another’s answers to my satisfaction. If he or brother-in-law request more detail I can say no, you know.”
There’s a breath or two where it looks like Huaisang is going to argue, then he finally, finally relaxes, absently brushing a hand across Xichen’s ribbon. “Okay, I trust you gege; now give me that!” he snatches at the list as he reclines properly; Xichen chuckles his approval and lays his head on his husband’s stomach, pressing a gentle kiss there.
“We’re doing this now?”
“When better? You seem relaxed, and I won’t stop thinking about it until it’s done.” Huaisang meditatively runs his fingers through Xichen’s loose hair, who shudders appreciatively and quells the urge to take ‘I won’t stop thinking’ as a challenge: to climb on top of his man and make sure neither of them can think by the time they’re done. “We can take turns picking questions until we’re through with the list. Does that sound fair to you, A-Huan?”
Huaisang grins at the Lannish response and begins. “Wei-xiong must have had Lan-er-gongzi put down ‘penis size’ as a joke. They know we have been—”
“Perhaps they think we do not pay attention?” Xichen does not want to know exactly what Wei Wuxian, and by extension Wangji, knows about his love life.
“Maybe Wei Ying wants reassurance he married the right brother.” Huaisang mischievously runs his fingers over the ticklish spot on Xichen’s ribs.
He does his best not to squirm and giggle. “Scandalous!”
“Don’t worry, I will refuse the trade on grounds I saw you first.”
“How do you know I am the better brother?”
His husband’s teasing hands come to a stop. He looks thoughtfully at Xichen, running his eyes appreciatively from his face to the area in question. “Impressive endowment aside? Wangji seems like, hm...a blunt instrument, if you will. You know how to use that thing.”
“So you only agreed to marry me for my bedroom skills?”
A lazy smile drips down Nie Huaisang’s face, eyes lit up with unfairly attractive glee. “Don’t be silly! I’m marrying you for your bedroom skills and your massive cock.”
“You simple beast!” Xichen chuckles and pinches the back of Huaisang’s knee just enough to get a yelp.
“Prude.” Huaisang dissolves into incoherent giggles at his own obviously false statement. No doubt they will continue to find ways to disprove the notion soon.
“Well in that case, back to business.” Xichen does the best correct-and-upright diplomatic air that he can muster naked, in an unmade bed, in the middle of the afternoon. He opens a palm expectantly, holding out the hand with all of the regal gravity of Zewu-jun, waiting for Huaisang to relinquish the document.
Huaisang ruins the effect by leaning over and playfully poking his tongue into the corner of Xichen’s mouth. Xichen gets the feeling he’s been wanting to upend his conference face in just such a way for some time. “It’s still my turn.”
“Huaisang, you just had a turn.”
“I never picked a question, merely commented on the absurdity of one.”
Lan Xichen purses his lips. “Following the letter of the rules and neglecting the spirit is my trick—you cannot just turn it on me like that.”
“We’re married. We now have joint custody of all manipulative tricks.” Huaisang is looking smug. He thinks he’s winning.
“I don’t remember agreeing to that...” Xichen reaches a hand up to run over his husband’s ribs, hunting for anything ticklish: Huaisang’s vulnerabilities seem to move daily.
“Here, how about a compromise? I’ll pick a short, easy one.” Huaisang plucks Xichen’s hand from his chest, kisses the palm, and places it on the bed.
“I must concede in this case to Nie-zongzhu’s request, in light of his obvious need of gentle handling.”
Huaisang rolls his eyes affectionately and folds a crease in the letter next to a line. “What is your favorite color?”
Xichen allows himself to indulge in a bit of petulance. “I refuse to answer any question the asker is not willing to respond to first.”
“Punishing me for my victory, sweet husband?” He presses his lips together to hide a smile.
“I simply appreciate it when things are done correctly.”
“This is silly and you know it.” Huaisang pokes the tip of Xichen’s nose. “Green. My answer is green.”
Xichen’s answer earns him a look of actual surprise, “Really?”
“It looks good on me.”
“Huh. I mean, I knew it wouldn’t be white but you’re still fond of your clan and...”
“And blue really isn’t my color. Would you honestly like green all that much if you didn’t look unnervingly good in it?”
“Point taken.” Huaisang doesn’t even preen a little at the compliment; he looks distracted, likely thinking of a thousand other things. Open-ended questions and new information do that to him.
Lan Huan takes his betrothed by the wrist and moves the letter to where he can read it, wiggling around for a better view.
“How many children do you want? Well, me—One, perhaps? I already run a sect,” He pauses for a slow blink and wards off thoughts of things that need doing. “I really don’t need that much more responsibility.”
The word ‘responsibility’ seems to catch parts of Huaisang’s consideration in a way Xichen rarely sees, his eyes following the lines of things not yet formed. “I’d rather have a Nie heir or two that we raise instead of just going down the order of advisors. Not that I plan to retire any time soon.” He fidgets a bit. “Babies are upsetting in large doses, though... Ideally, I want two, I think, spaced however you want, preferably over the age of four at adoption.”
Now it is Xichen’s turn to 'huh'.
“What?” Huaisang’s demeanor passes through mildly offended to land at simply confused.
“You just don’t seem...I don’t think I’ve ever seen you around a child younger than fourteen.”
“Well I mean, I’m not great with them, but I’m okay. Da-ge learned for me; I can learn for him and the family line and all of that. Besides, it’s different when they’re yours, right? Like with birds and horses.” He waves a hand airily, the way he does when he is desperately trying not to care about something he cares about very much. It makes Xichen’s chest ache.
It’s surprisingly easy to paint a future together this way, Xichen feels how he wants to proceed and states it as if it were a simple thing, “We’ll start with one little Nie then, and see what we want in a few years?”
“Of course! I’m not in a hurry.”
Thinking of it like this, Xichen does come across the uncomfortable idea of what his life would have been without his didi. Perhaps raising children alone is not ideal for their well being. He will need to consider carefully.
Xichen kisses the wrist still in his grip and relinquishes it along with the letter.
“Hmm...oh!” Huaisang’s posture goes subtly predatory: he still does that when he knows he’s going to say something his conversation partner will like. After all, without affability, the feigned helplessness would have never worked; Huaisang is in the habit of wielding it like a weapon. “Who was your first crush? That would be you, gege.” He kisses the top of Xichen’s head. He can feel the bright, nostalgic smile through his hair.
Oh. Oh no. Xichen freezes; he’s certain Huaisang was correct now—Wei Wuxian had a large part in penning this list. Wangji would not do this to him, but Wei Wuxian does not know. Does he? Never mind writing back; first thing in the morning Zewu-jun is going to find his didi and strangle him for being big-mouthed, or meddling, or both.
Xichen puts away the distraction of Wangji’s sins and focuses on handling their impact, “Ah, so, it is not a big deal but...are you sure?”
Huaisang tenses under him, but his voice remains cheerful. “Well, now I am! Besides, you won’t be able to truthfully tell my new monsters-in-law that we completed the assignment unless we complete the assignment. You’re a terrible direct liar.”
Xichen buries his face in his husband’s underarm and mumbles the answer into it. Forget his ears, he’s sure his toes are red. His teeth are probably blushing.
“What was that?” Huaisang lets out a musical little laugh. The one that conceals a slide into nervousness more often than not. “Come now, it can’t be that bad, it’s not like you wanted Wen Ruohan or something...ohnotellmeyoudidNOTwantWenRuohanIwouldDIE!”
Xichen pops all the way up to an elbow at that declaration, breaking contact with Huaisang for the first time since he laid down. “What? Disgusting! I am NOT— I would never— My taste is far better than that.”
Woundingly, Huaisang looks unconvinced. “So...Wen Chao?”
Xichen does his best not to gag. “Ugh. At least Ruohan had power...wait. No, we are not discussing this. The relative attractiveness of dead Wen dictators is off-limits.”
There’s that raptor keenness again. “If you had simply answered the question when asked...”
Huaisang is unimpressed. “In a way I can hear it, please?”
Xichen lets out a breath, closes his eyes, and exhales the words with what air he has left, “Mingjue-xiong...” There’s a long silence. He can’t hear anything. In a moment of absurd panic he’s convinced Huaisang has left.
He cracks open an eyelid. Huaisang is turned towards him, waiting patiently, features pulled into a rare state of seriousness. Xichen sighs his relief and meets his eyes, allows his husband to search his face.
Huaisang’s gaze is steady and gentle, not the sharpened evaluation he rakes over political opponents. Whatever he’s thinking, he wants to think it kindly. He takes Xichen’s hand and plays with tangling and untangling their fingers; when he finally speaks his voice is just as gentle and just as serious as his manner. “Nie Mingjue? Da-ge? That ‘Mingjue-xiong?”
Xichen nods. His betrothed takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly.
“Okay. Okay. When?”
“I was fifteen or sixteen. I was just realizing I preferred men, and Mingjue was easy to love.”
Huaisang nods. He does not look upset so far, but he does look concerned. “Did he know?”
Lan Xichen winces and flushes a little further. “Yes. I told him. He told me he thought of me as his brother and best friend.”
“Ouch. Poor baby A-Huan.” There’s a genuine sympathetic note in his voice, even as Xichen can sense the squirming discomfort he was afraid to face.
“I got over it.”
Huaisang looks at him strangely: probing, wary, and just this side of guilty. Lan Xichen feels lost. “So you two never?”
“And that had nothing to do with me?”
Xichen’s brow furrows. “Wha—? Not even a little.” He watches Huaisang close his eyes and the tension drain from his face.
“Good. I wouldn’t have robbed him of that, if you two were happy. He deserved more joy in his life.” There’s a sad little pause while they both collect themselves, while the knot in Xichen’s throat loosens; because of course Huaisang would not be jealous of a decades-gone infatuation, but he would very much care about the impact their dalliance would have made on Mingjue over his short life.
Huaisang picks up the thread of conversation, as if a thought had just occurred to him. “My, what must he have thought when we started sniffing around each other as kids...” He brings Xichen in on the joke with a small chuckle.
Smiling at the memory of Mingjue-xiong’s solemn examination of his intentions, Xichen replies, “Oh, no, he was not pleased at first. I had to take a vow I wouldn’t seduce you, or interrupt your studies, or push you too hard at your studies, and that I wasn’t writing you just because Uncle wanted closer ties with the Nie, and Mingjue had not been willing.”
That earns him a snort. “Da-ge could be so serious about clan motivations. I’m sure it never even occurred to him you just happen to have a Nie fetish.”
“Hey!” Huaisang is well and truly laughing at him now; Xichen thoroughly kisses him quiet.
When Xichen breaks from their embrace and fishes the letter out of the tangled sheets, Huaisang makes a dismayed sound, but now this cursed thing is lodged in Xichen’s head and he needs it done as well. Also, he had his next question picked out already and it wouldn’t be fair to just stop here. Xichen reads directly from Wangji’s painfully precise lettering. “'Is your partner willing to entertain the frequency and variety of your carnal needs?' Yes, I am, obviously. How about you, Sangsang?” He bats his eyelashes at the other man, who produces an incredulous squawk.
“That is not on there! You’re making that up for ironic effect or...I don’t know, leverage!”
“Look, right here,” Xichen points out the line triumphantly.
Huaisang glowers and mutters 'Lans' clearly enough it is obvious he was intended to hear it. Honestly, Xichen fails to see Huaisang’s point: If his family tends to partner enthusiastically, that’s not such a terrible thing, and if Lan Xichen responds to the accusation of 'Lan' with some eyebrow-waggling, that surely should not be an issue either.
“Quit being judgemental and answer the question—our dear brothers want to ensure we are well suited to take care of one another—” He dodges a long-discarded under-robe thrown at his head.
“What do you think we have been doing these past couple years? Yes! You are well aware I am fond enough of your carnal needs to entertain them with some enthusiasm.”
Lan Xichen sits up and folds his hands primly. “I just wanted to hear you say it.”
There’s a brief tussle as Huaisang grabs for the list, and Xichen makes use of his longer arms to keep it out of reach. Huaisang eventually wins; his small frame is surprisingly powerful when he wants to exert himself, not that anyone would ever know until they get his clothes off. Lan Xichen takes a perverse joy in making him leverage it occasionally.
It takes them almost up until the evening meal to come to the end of Wangji’s ridiculously comprehensive list. They work their way through discovering one another’s opinions on the proper way to run a household, an army, and night hunts, make congee, and educate disciples. There’s a short but heated disagreement over at what age it’s best to introduce their hypothetical child to fruit juice, which they solve by realizing if things go to plan they will not have a child young enough for that to be a salient question. They learn each other’s favorite foods, favorite body parts, scent preferences, opinions on hats, weirdest sex dreams, and skip over a pledge never to keep a dog in their home disguised as a question.
When they finish discussing the last question (if and when they are allowed to touch each other’s cultivational tools) the letter burns like a talisman, and consolidates into a scrap of paper marked in cinnabar. So. A disguised talisman that activates into a...talisman? How very Wei Wuxian of them. Lan Xichen is delighted; Nie Huaisang is wary. He is the one that takes the paper and actually reads it. “Does he love and trust you?”
A warm chuckle escapes Xichen. “Would I be here if I did not?”
“Huan-ge, don’t answer a question with a question, that’s rude.” Huaisang touches a finger lightly to his cheek and traces down his neck, holding his gaze.
Xichen takes the hand from his collarbone and kisses the extended fingers one by one. “You know I love you; of course I trust you.”
Huaisang gazes at Xichen lovingly and murmurs,“See, was that so hard?”
Xichen huffs. Huaisang laughs; the full, genuine one.
“Just to be clear, for you and this nonsense,” he flicks the talisman derisively, as well as he can manage such a gesture when it’s not a fan in his hand, “I have loved you since we were children, and you’re the only person I trust with my whole self.”
The talisman explodes into sparkling, gaudy, green and maroon lettering in the air above them.
CONGRATULATIONS! WE APPROVE OF THIS MATCH!
Doubtless something similar is informing their insufferable brothers of the same, wherever they may be at the moment.
Lan Xichen does not dwell on it too long. He’s had his man in bed with him—wearing nothing but his ribbon—for hours and not done a thing about it. They spend the rest of the evening happily remedying this oversight.