Four men meet in a private room in a quiet inn, at nearly precisely the midpoint between Gusu Lan and Langya Hall. This is not precisely a diplomatic mission but it is a near-cousin to one. There are niceties to be preserved.
This would not necessarily be apparent by observing the four men in question at this moment. Wei Wuxian and Fei Liu took an immediate shine to each other. Gremlins know their own , Lin Chen thinks as he watches them through the window, darting circles around each other and no doubt raising the ire of people attempting to sleep below them.
“Wei Ying has always liked rooftops,” the Chief Cultivator of the Lan Sect murmurs.
His face doesn’t give anything away, but Lin Chen spent many years keeping watch over a man whose eyes and mouth told contradictory tales. He knows love when he sees it. And he’s heard the stories. They’re why he’s here.
He steels himself so that the naked edge in his voice will not be evident when he says, “Even before he died?”
Lan Wangji looks at him, steady, thoughtful, as if the fate of the most necessary man Lin Chen ever knew does not hang in the balance, and says: “Even then.”
Lan Wangji refills the tea. Outside in the night, Fei Liu hoots, wild and gleeful, and Wei Ying’s laughter echoes back.
“It can’t be done again,” Lan Wangji says. “The cost is too high.”
Lin Chen is about to embarrass himself by saying money is not the object, do you not think I would give you everything I am, do you not think that the emperor would-- but something in him understands that the cost Lan Wangji refers to is not measured in gold or pearls.
It was never going to be as easy as that, was it?
If Mei Changsu were here, he would have scoffed at any attempt by Lin Chen to act surprised. If some part of him hadn't known, surely he wouldn’t have arranged his affairs so carefully before leaving Langya Hall, successors chosen and secrets passed on. There’s nothing left in this world now that only Lin Chen knows and only Lin Chen can do.
He chooses his next words carefully.
“The cost to save him when he was alive,” he says, “would have been ten men. Tell me, Hanguang-jun: is the cost less than that?”
Lan Wangji does not answer.
It’s answer enough.