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“Lan Zhan! Lan Er-gege! Future husband! I’m going to miss you so much!” Young Master Wei wails into WangJi’s shoulder, where he’s draped himself.

“Shameless.” But WangJi keeps his arms down and does not attempt to remove the other boy.

From the flush of WangJi’s ears and the glint in Young Master Wei’s eyes, Lan XiChen is guessing that such an attempt had been made before and been turned into an embrace rather than a successful disengage. Young Master Wei was remarkably talented at unarmed combat.

“Won’t you miss me, Future husband?”

“Ridiculous.”

The other guest disciples departing after their year of studying at Cloud Recesses were mostly ignoring this byplay, having had a year to become inured, but Lan XiChen still found it utterly delightful.

Lan QiRen found the whole situation appalling, but had agreed to ignore the situation after Lan XiChen had pointed out that it was one thing for a guest disciple to declare that he would one day marry Lan WangJi and quite another for the Grandmaster of the sect to acknowledge that intent. It was the same reason he gave for his own silence, although Lan XiChen would have put a stop to it if he’d seen any sign that it actually bothered his little bother beyond some blushes and embarrassment.

“Ah, don’t worry! I’ll be back! I’ll come with proper courting gifts! Even Master Lan will have to be impressed with the gifts I’ll find for you!”

“Ridiculous.”

Lan XiChen had to agree with that. Uncle QiRen would like to never see Young Master Wei again, one of his few failures to molding a disciple into proper behavior. He had even found, much to his horror, that Wei WuXian in Lan WangJi’s presence was appallingly inappropriate and yet still significantly better behaved than Wei WuXian away from Lan WangJi’s supervision.

Uncle had apologized profusely, for him at least, for making WangJi put up with such behavior but WangJi had not seemed unhappy and did manage to rein the other boy in somewhat.

“I’ll find the best presents and become the most famous and renowned cultivator in all the lands!”

Which, Lan XiChen had to acknowledge, was not out of the question. Young Master Wei was indisputably brilliant. And one of the few people who could keep up with Lan WangJi’s own brilliance.

“Expect me again, when I’m twenty-four and famous!”

For the first time, WangJi frowns with serious displeasure. “No.”

Lan XiChen jerks out of his own amused observation and steps forward to put an immediate end to this, but stops when Young Master Wei also drops all teasing and stands up to seriously study WangJi’s face. “No?”

WangJi’s frown deepens. “No. Twenty-four is too late.”

And Lan XiChen’s heart sinks. Had his little brother been taking the teasing seriously? He hadn’t even considered that a danger. The whole year, the other disciples had teased Wei Wuxian mercilessly for his shameless chasing of the Second Jade, but mostly commiserated with WangJi about being the focus of it. Lan XiChen didn’t want to see WangJi transformed into the butt of the joke before so many people, but also didn’t want to see his heart break at the loss of one more person he had expected.

Lan XiChen was already castigating himself for not realizing that his little brother might not be able to recognize what a real courtship looked like and how this was not it.

At least Wei Wuxian is being serious now.

“Ah, Lan Zhan, I’m sorry. You are right. I was thinking of twenty-four as a new start, a new time. But it wouldn’t be for you, would it? You’re right. Twenty-four is too late. I’ll be here at twenty-three. I promise.”

And that was not the gentle let-down that Lan XiChen had been expecting.

“No.” WangJi says again, although calmer than before. “Nineteen.”

Young Master Wei’s eyes opened wide and Lan XiChen feels his own do so as well. He rather thinks the crowd of other disciples had all stopped to finally pay attention as well, but he can’t look away to confirm that.

“Nineteen?” Wei Wuxian grins. “You’re so passionate and impatient, Er-gege!” But then he’s serious again. “I can’t be ready by nineteen. I need to be worthy.”

“Already worthy. Just too young.”

“Ah, what have I said about saying such things! My heart can’t take it!”

Lan XiChen is pretty sure Young Master Wei’s heart is just fine, but his own is in serious danger. What was going on? Had they actually been seriously courting for the last year?

“Ridiculous.”

“How about twenty-two? I can try to be worthy by twenty-two.”

“Already worthy. Nineteen.” Then one of WangJi’s own rare smiles. “I will come to you with a dizi as my first gift.”

“Aaahhh, my heart,” Wei Wuxian says and a few other of the observing disciples probably do as well. “But what can I possibly give to the Second Jade when I’m just nineteen?”

“A talisman, a bell, and a compass.” WangJi spoke with certainty.

“But I’ve already give those to you. Those aren’t proper courting gifts.”

No, Lan XiChen thinks: they were revolutionary innovations that had Lan QiRen close to Qi Deviation with the sheer dissonance of being so very impressed with the creation and so very unimpressed with the creator. Young Master Wei had created them and offered them to Lan WangJi and the Lan Sect as a whole with careless generosity. Lan XiChen and Lan QiRen had actually discussed with Jiang Fengmian what to do about such behavior because it was a sign of praiseworthy humility but also dangerous lack of political comprehension.

Despite Young Master Wei’s continued protestations of devotion to Lan WangJi, none of them had considered such gifts as courtship gifts. Except, apparently, for WangJi himself.

And WangJi was correct: they would have been very fine courtship gifts if they had come with the proper presentation.

But they hadn’t and Lan XiChen had not considered them as such.

“They are enough.” WangJi tells Wei WuXian. “You are enough.”

“Ah my heart,” Wei WuXian declares dramatically, but Lan XiChen is beginning to realize that maybe, for all the dramatics and the appearance of jokes, maybe Young Master Wei wasn’t joking at all.

“You do not have to walk your path alone,” WangJi says and such a statement should have been out of place. Wei Wuxian always seemed to be surrounded by friends and it was WangJi who most often sat alone. It should have been Wei Wuxian saying that to WangJi, Lan XiChen thinks, except that he had apparently missed a great deal in the relationship between his little brother and Young Master Wei.

“I don’t want you in danger.”

Lan XiChen thinks: what danger? Except that they’d had danger, hadn’t they? The waterborne abyss and the Wen Sect was clearly preparing for something. There was danger and he had just assumed that Wei WuXian and even WangJi were too young to realize.

“More danger in your loss than in your partnership.”

“Ahh,” Wei WuXian says again, but this time a sigh rather than a wail. “Only if you’re sure.”

“I’m sure.” Lan WangJi says and for the first time that Lan XiChen had seen, reaches out to Wei WuXian to put his arms around him. Then WangJi lowers his head to press their foreheads together. To press between them the Lan ribbon that only family and spouses are allowed to touch. It is more meaningful than any kiss and Lan XiChen feels some sympathy for their uncle’s heart palpitations.

And Wei Wuxian who was always so full of energy and movement is still and calm in WangJi’s arms, centered in a way he never was even in meditation and Lan XiChen has to acknowledge that this was apparently very real.

“We’re still too young.”

Yes, Lan XiChen wants to say. Yes, they are way too young. But looking at them now, they didn’t seem young. They shine with maturity even through their gangly adolescence.

“Nineteen.”

“Nineteen.”

“I’ll miss you until then.”

“Miss you so much.”

“I’ll write.”

“I’ll respond.”

“Okay. Okay. We can do this.” WangJi and Young Master Wei finally separate, as if the separation itself is painful, but still walk their separate ways, for now at least. As if everything that needed to be said had been said. As if their certainty in one another is such that no more words are needed to be in agreement.

WangJi has always been sparing in his words, and Lan XiChen had never expected anyone else to be better than himself at understanding those few words. Apparently Wei Wuxian has far surpassed him. He stands stunned, glad of his ability to maintain a calm façade even when uncertain.

WangJi and Young Master Wei walk their separate ways either ignoring or oblivious to their avid audience.

And Lan XiChen thinks, Okay, I can do this. His brother and Young Master Wei are just seventeen, so he has two years to get Uncle prepared to accept Young Master Wei. He has his work cut out for him, but, he thinks, maybe it is time to promote a closer relationship between Cloud Recesses and Lotus Pier.