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somewhere to belong

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Meng Yao certainly couldn’t go talk to anyone in the Jin sect about Jin Zixuan’s atrocious treatment of Jiang Yanli, and it was clear that neither Jiang Cheng nor Wei Wuxian were willing. He couldn’t blame them for that. So Jin Zixuan would continue to act like a spoiled brat, and that was all there was to it.

Unless, he supposed . . .

That evening, after his studying was finished, he went to the pavilion and tapped on the door of the hanshi. Lan Xichen looked pleased to see him as always, and he managed, for the first time, not to immediately start blushing in his presence. “What’s on your mind, Meng-gongzi?”

“Ah, I’ve been spending a bit of time with the members of the Yunmeng Jiang sect,” Meng Yao said, and Lan Xichen nodded. “They’re very grateful for the way you stepped in today. Jin-gongzi has behaved so poorly towards Jiang-guniang, but of course I can’t speak to him . . . I suppose I was wondering if you could step in. They would never ask you to, of course, but I’m concerned for them.”

“You’re so thoughtful, Meng-gongzi,” Lan Xichen said, and damn it, there was the blush. “His behavior is a little odd, I will admit. But despite being brought up as one of the ranking young masters, he seems to have very little experience interacting with his peers. Although most of the young masters are on friendly terms with each other, even the young master who came from Qishan, Jin-gongzi seems determined to only interact with those who came with him. Of course, my own brother is much the same way.”

“I think for very different reasons,” Meng Yao said.

“Granted, probably true. I have been trying to encourage him to make friends among the other young masters, but he has been resistant.”

“Despite Wei-gongzi’s best efforts,” Meng Yao said.

Lan Xichen laughed. “And he is persistent. Perhaps I’ll have a word with my uncle about assigning pairs at random – that would give both Wangji and Jin-gongzi some experience working with people outside their immediate circle.”

Meng Yao winced. He summoned up the backbone he had grown in Qinghe whenever Nie Mingjue had had a spectacularly bad idea, and said, “I do not think that is such a good idea, Zewu-Jun. It seems that it would only lead to arguments and poor performance in the exercises. If Wei-gongzi got paired up with Jin-gongzi . . . or if I got paired up with anyone in the Jin sect . . .”

“Ah, I suppose you’re correct,” Lan Xichen said. His eyes sparkled slightly and said, “That’s too bad. I was already thinking about how to rig the drawing so Wei-gongzi got paired up with Wangji.”

That made Meng Yao laugh. “How underhanded of you! Isn’t there a discipline against cheating?”

“Several,” Lan Xichen said. “But you can’t always rely on fate and chance . . . they have a lot to do! Sometimes you have to give things a little nudge in the right direction.”

Meng Yao laughed harder. “And forcing your poor brother to put up with Wei-gongzi’s antics is the right direction?”

“Trust me, Meng-gongzi, I know my brother. It’s very unlike him to let anyone underneath his skin like this. Normally he would just ignore them or avoid them. The way he treats Wei-gongzi is wholly different from how he behaves when he dislikes somebody. I am very invested in getting to the bottom of this.”

“Oh, I see,” Meng Yao chuckled. “To be honest, I’m not particularly interested in why Jin-gongzi is behaving the way he is. I just wish I could free poor Jiang-guniang from the engagement so she could find someone better suited for her.”

“Well, as noble a goal as that is,” Lan Xichen said, “I doubt anyone will be willing to cross Yu-furen, who is clearly set on the union.”

“Fair,” Meng Yao said with a sigh. He had never met Yu Ziyuan, but he had heard Nie Mingjue speak of her, with a great amount of respect. That meant she was probably terrifying. “Then instead of pairs, perhaps we could do some work in groups of three or four. That would allow Lan-xiansheng to assign them ‘randomly’,” he made air quotes with his hands, “and you could put Wei-gongzi and Lan-er-gongzi together but still have some people there as a buffer so they didn’t antagonize each other too badly. And Jin-gongzi could get some experience with people outside his sect, possibly including Jiang-guniang.”

“That’s an excellent idea, Meng-gongzi,” Lan Xichen said. “Although I don’t think my uncle is too keen on the idea of Wangji spending more time with Wei-gongzi. That’s a friendship he’s not going to encourage.”

Meng Yao shrugged. “He sent Lan-er-gongzi to the library after Wei-gongzi that time . . . he clearly thinks that Lan-er-gongzi should be able to set a good example for him and rein him in. Just mention that to him.”

“Another good point.” Lan Xichen smiled. “I see why Mingjue-xiong values you so much, Meng-gongzi.”

“Ah – ” Meng Yao flushed pink. “Thank you, Zewu-Jun.”

“And who would you like in your group?” Lan Xichen asked. “Seems only polite to let you choose your own, so you’ll be comfortable, after your help.”

“Oh, anyone is fine, as long as they’re not from the Jin sect,” Meng Yao said.

Lan Xichen’s gaze softened. “There’s not a single one of them you think you could get along with?”

“I could get along with all of them,” Meng Yao said. “I’m very skilled at getting along with people. I simply have no desire to do so after the way they’ve treated me.”

“All right,” Lan Xichen said. He seemed to understand that this was not an issue he could push. “I’ll speak to my uncle. Thank you for your counsel, Meng-gongzi. I’m sure the Jiang siblings will appreciate your assistance.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Three days later, Meng Yao was left with the inevitable conclusion that either he was an idiot, or Lan Xichen enjoyed teasing people too much.

He’d had the opportunity to choose his own group. He could have listed off a few inoffensive people. He even could have volunteered to work with Nie Huaisang and with Jiang Cheng, or various lower-ranked disciples who didn’t seem to care about his low birth. But instead, he’d said anyone was fine as long as they weren’t a member of the Jin sect, and now he was the poor bastard stuck trying to be a buffer between Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji.

A part of him was flattered, because he knew this was important to Lan Xichen, and it meant he was trusting Meng Yao to mediate and keep things from getting out of control. The other part of him yearned to be extremely far away from this drama. Wei Wuxian absolutely could not stop flirting and Lan Wangji had said ‘boring’ or ‘ridiculous’ three times and they had only been working together for four minutes.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the room, Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang were working with Luo Qingyang. That seemed like a good idea to Meng Yao. Luo Qingyang was obviously of the mind that Jin Zixuan should stop being a jerk to his fiancé, so opening up lines of communication between her and the Jiang sect was a good idea. She’d be less likely to talk to Jiang Yanli directly, as it might hurt her feelings, but she might talk to Jiang Cheng. On top of that, Nie Huaisang’s general fecklessness would keep the atmosphere casual.

“But why can’t we just – ” Wei Wuxian said, before rambling for several minutes about what he clearly thought was a great idea.

Lan Wangji glared daggers at him. “That is not how it is done.”

“Yeah, okay, I know that’s not how it’s normally done or how it’s been done, but it would be so much quicker and easier my way! Don’t you agree, Meng-xiong?”

Meng Yao wished he was back in Qinghe. “We shouldn’t invent shortcuts. These methods have been tried and tested, or else we wouldn’t be learning them.” He saw Lan Wangji give him a hesitantly approving look. “Even if your way is faster or easier, that doesn’t mean it won’t pose risks that the traditional way safeguards against.”

Wei Wuxian groaned. “Nobody here can think outside the box, that’s all.”

“Listen,” Meng Yao said, summoning up his ‘I’m the confident adviser to the leader of the Nie sect and I know what I’m talking about’ persona, “if you want to experiment with things on your own time, that’s your own business. But when you’re working in a group, you have to remember that it isn’t just your own grade at stake. Neither Lan-er-gongzi nor I want to be marked down because you, a sixteen-year-old, think you know better than a four-hundred-year-old textbook. Will you please just do the exercise with us? If you want to try your own methods later, Nie-gongzi and I will help you out.”

That made Wei Wuxian brighten. “Yeah, okay, I guess that’s fair. Fine, let’s do it the old fuddy-duddy way first.”

They managed to get through that without any major scarring, and once it was complete and they had turned in their results, Wei Wuxian immediately went back to flirting. Lan Wangji sat stone-faced, obviously wishing they could be dismissed, but Lan Qiren obviously intended to go over everyone’s results once all the groups had completed.

“Wei-gongzi, please,” Meng Yao said, pinching the bridge of his nose. This was harder than baby-sitting Nie Huaisang, and he’d never thought he would find anything harder than that.

“I keep telling you to call me Wei-xiong!” Wei Wuxian said. “You don’t need to be so formal!”

Lan Wangji, who had clearly decided that he found Meng Yao a much more tolerable person than Wei Wuxian, immediately glowered and said, “You do not get to dictate how formal someone would like to be. If he is more comfortable calling you Wei-gongzi, that is his business, not yours.”

“Okay, sure, normally I’d agree,” Wei Wuxian said amiably, “but Meng-xiong is only so formal because obnoxious people fed him terrible ideas about status and class his whole life. I’m trying to help him get past it.”

“Your idea of ‘help’ is terrible,” Lan Wangji told him icily.

“Listen, I’m just saying,” Wei Wuxian began.

“He’s right.” Meng Yao felt his cheeks burning, but he wanted to cut this discussion off at the knees before anyone else could overhear, or before Wei Wuxian thought to try this in a larger group. “Wei-gongzi, I appreciate your efforts, but you can’t make me comfortable using an informal form of address with you just by telling me it’s all right. I understand why you’re trying to include me in that way and I’m grateful, but I can’t.”

Wei Wuxian sighed. “I mean, I know how it feels. I’m the son of a servant, and there are people in my life who have never let me forget that. I just don’t like the idea of you feeling the same way around me.”

“I don’t,” Meng Yao said. “Honestly, Wei-gongzi, you have never made me feel that way. Quite the opposite. Like I said, I’m grateful. But please . . . if you understand the way it feels, surely you understand that it cannot be overcome so simply.”

For a moment, Wei Wuxian looked away. Then he nodded. “Yeah, I get that.”

He was clearly thinking of someone back home, someone who probably rubbed his face in his parentage all the time. Meng Yao knew the look and it didn’t surprise him. Wei Wuxian was a genius, and he was one of the most powerful cultivators of their generation. But there would always be people who would think he was a lesser person merely because of who his parents were. That pain, so awfully familiar to Meng Yao, didn’t surprise him.

What did surprise him was the look on Lan Wangji’s face. His icy glare had vanished and he was looking at Wei Wuxian with a soft sort of concern, and Meng Yao realized in that moment that Lan Xichen was right. Lan Wangji absolutely did, one hundred percent, return Wei Wuxian’s feelings. He might even feel more strongly about it than Wei Wuxian did. He just clearly had no idea how to cope with it, presumably because of repressed and isolated upbringing.

Well. That was interesting.

He put that at the back of his mind to mull over at a future time, and in order to keep things from getting awkward, said, “How is your sister feeling? I heard she was ill the other day.”

“Yeah, she gets mild fevers sometimes,” Wei Wuxian said, “but she’s fine now. Did you know Wen-guniang is a doctor? She seems very skilled.”

“Mm,” Meng Yao said, because truthfully he had been wondering for a few weeks where the Wen siblings were. They had come to attend the lectures, in theory, but he never saw either of them there. Wen Ning’s absences could be excused because he seemed frail himself, and had very low cultivation. Meng Yao had met him a few times because Wei Wuxian got along with him and invited him to hang out with them. But why wasn’t Wen Qing attending? A mystery.

When the class was over, Lan Wangji immediately huffed away, but Wei Wuxian naturally went over to his siblings, so Meng Yao followed. Nie Huaisang was beaming, probably because this was one of the first good grades he had gotten in the class. Sometimes Meng Yao didn’t get Nie Huaisang. He knew that Nie Huaisang was a lot smarter than he acted. But he applied absolutely zero effort to things that didn’t interest him. That baffled Meng Yao, who hated failing at anything, even if it was something he didn’t care about or had no reason to be good at.

“How did it go with Luo-guniang?” he asked, as they settled on their normal spot near the river.

“She was oddly pleasant,” Jiang Cheng said, frowning.

“Then try being pleasant back and maybe you can get Jin-gongzi to stop being a jerk to your sister,” Meng Yao said.

Jiang Cheng scowled the scowl of a man who didn’t want his sister’s fiancé to stop being a jerk. He wanted his sister’s fiancé to fall off a convenient cliff. Meng Yao sympathized.

They spent an hour or so testing out Wei Wuxian’s weird theories and finding that they were correct, for the most part. Wei Wuxian immediately left to go say ‘I told you so’ to Lan Wangji, an exercise that Meng Yao was sure would end well. Jiang Cheng, clearly having the same bad feeling about it, chased after him, leaving Meng Yao and Nie Huaisang by themselves.

Nie Huaisang was looking speculatively after them, and flipped open his fan. “So how are we going to get Lan-xiong and Wei-xiong to admit they have feelings for each other?” he asked, and then saw the look on Meng Yao’s face. “Ah, don’t be like that! I just thought it would be fun . . . I know we should leave them alone . . .”

“No, we’re absolutely doing this,” Meng Yao said, and Nie Huaisang’s face lit up with glee. “They clearly have no idea how to go about this and desperately need help. You could ask Lan-er-gongzi to help you study without it seeming too strange, right?”

“Oh, yeah, definitely,” Nie Huaisang said. “I can cry and say I think I’m going to fail and da-ge will be so mad at me . . .”

Meng Yao gave Nie Huaisang a sideways look. “That does sound likely, yes.”

“I’ll catch up, don’t be that way,” Nie Huaisang said, clearly unworried. “So the next day we don’t have lectures, I should ask him to come help me? At the guest house?”

Meng Yao nodded. “And I can get Wei-gongzi there.”

“And then we lock them in a closet together?” Nie Huaisang asked eagerly.

“What? No!” Meng Yao pinched the bridge of his nose. “Why, so they can kill each other? The goal is just to get them to spend time together where other people can’t see. If we ask them each over and then we’re conveniently a few minutes late, they’ll have to interact in private. Maybe they’ll get somewhere.”

“You’re no fun, Meng Yao,” Nie Huaisang said, but thankfully, let it go.

A few days later, they put the plan into action. Nie Huaisang played his part perfectly, getting one of his latest grades back and, without needing to act at all, fluttered anxiously about how poorly he was doing and how his brother was going to kill him. Lan Wangji reluctantly agreed to come tutor him the next day, although he extracted a promise from Nie Huaisang that he would work hard and stay focused.

That being accomplished, Meng Yao did not bother with subterfuge with Wei Wuxian, pulling him aside and saying, “Want to come to our study session tomorrow so you can shamelessly flirt with Lan-er-gongzi where Lan-xiansheng can’t see you?”

“I keep telling you, it’s not flirting,” Wei Wuxian said, laughing. “I just like to see him get flustered, that’s all. What Lan Zhan and I have transcends petty ideas like flirtation and infatuation. He’s the person who’s going to be my equal in life. We’re going to fight evil and bring justice to the world side by side!”

“Uh huh,” Meng Yao said. “Ever thought about him naked?”

Wei Wuxian’s eyes glazed over.

“Take your time,” Meng Yao said, amused.

“Uh,” Wei Wuxian said, his cheeks now flushing pink. “Why - why would you say that? Are - is that - what - now I can’t stop thinking about him naked! What have you done?”

Meng Yao shrugged.

“Well, just for that, you should think about Zewu-Jun naked!”

Having seen this retort coming a mile away, Meng Yao said calmly, “Whether or not I think about Zewu-Jun naked, or anyone else for that matter, is none of your business. Now, are you going to come study and flirt or not?”

“Of course I am but I’m holding you responsible for whatever happens.”

“I can live with that.”

What happened, in the long run, was Wei Wuxian completely lost his ability to form words and sentences once in a room with Lan Wangji. He stammered and teased and made an absolute fool of himself while Lan Wangji stared at him like he was from another world and Nie Huaisang and Meng Yao could barely contain their laughter from where they were watching from outside.

“What did you say to him?” Nie Huaisang asked, wiping the tears from his eyes as they retreated into the forest.

“I might have told him to think about Lan-er-gongzi naked.”

Nie Huaisang howled with laughter. “And you say I’m the troublemaker!”

The afternoon turned out to be quite an enjoyable one, because Lan Wangji kept trying to strong-arm Nie Huaisang into studying, while Wei Wuxian vacillated between staring at Lan Wangji with flushed cheeks and distracting Nie Huaisang, as if he could prolong the study session that way. When they both left a few hours later, Meng Yao and Nie Huaisang were in agreement that it had been an extremely productive use of their time.

Unfortunately for Meng Yao, it took Wei Wuxian less than twelve hours to marshall himself for a counter attack. The next afternoon after classes, when the four of them were sprawled out in their usual spot by the river, he said, “So Meng-xiong, how’s it going with you and Zewu-Jun?”

“It’s going fine,” Meng Yao said suspiciously. “I mean, in as much as anything is ‘going’. He’s been very kind in helping me settle in.”

Nie Huaisang immediately jumped on board the ‘time to torment Meng Yao’ train. “Isn’t he so elegant and beautiful? Truly, a superlative gentleman. Don’t you think it’s odd that he isn’t betrothed yet? He must be fielding offers from every young woman in China.”

Meng Yao absolutely did not want to get into a discussion of whether or not there was a reason Lan Xichen wasn’t looking to get married, so he responded with a noncommittal, “Hm.”

“He must be waiting for someone special,” Wei Wuxian said, so eagerly that he and Nie Huaisang had clearly coordinated their plan of attack ahead of time. “Ah, but Nie-xiong, your brother is even older than Zewu-Jun, isn’t he? And he’s not betrothed yet either. Perhaps it’s for the same reason.”

“Well, obviously not just anyone could measure up to my brother,” Nie Huaisang said. “It would take someone of the highest caliber.”

Jiang Cheng, who clearly had not been briefed on the plan ahead of time, broke in with, “Listen to you two, gossiping like old ladies. Next thing you know, you’ll be theorizing that Zewu-Jun and Chifeng-Zun are secretly in love with each other.”

Meng Yao felt his cheeks flush red, because that - that actually had some plausibility to it. He had heard Nie Mingjue speak in nothing but glowing terms of Lan Xichen, and Lan Xichen clearly felt some affection for him as well. He knew that they were close friends and had been for years, and, well, it was kind of unusual that neither of them were betrothed yet. Nie Mingjue, he knew, considered the whole idea of ‘marriage’ too much of a pain in the neck to bother with, but that couldn’t be Lan Xichen’s excuse.

For his part, Nie Huaisang just laughed. “Maybe so! Da-ge does hold Zewu-Jun in extremely high regard. What do you think, Meng Yao?”

“I think it’s none of our business,” Meng Yao said automatically.

He realized what a mistake that was a beat too late, when Wei Wuxian grinned and said, “Yesterday you seemed quite keen on poking your nose into other peoples’ relationships. Why the change of heart?”

Meng Yao wondered when he had lost control of the situation. Then he remembered that he was dealing with Wei Wuxian and Nie Huaisang, who seemed to have made some sort of unholy pact to be impossible to control. He quickly ran through his options. “Zewu-Jun and Nie-zongzhu are both sensible adults who can handle their own lives. You, on the other hand . . .”

Nie Huaisang, an equal opportunity shit-stirrer, laughed harder. “He’s got you there, Wei-xiong!”

“Like you can talk,” Wei Wuxian retorted. “You’re going to have to do these lectures all over again if you keep this up.”

“No, I won’t,” Nie Huaisang said, lazily waving his fan. “I’ll do just enough to get by. Right, Meng Yao?”

Meng Yao sighed. “He will. He’s extremely good at figuring out exactly how much effort is necessary and not putting in a gram more.”

Jiang Cheng shook his head at Nie Huaisang. “You’ll never bring glory to your sect that way.”

“That’s okay,” Nie Huaisang said amiably. “Da-ge gets enough glory for both of us.” He grinned and repeated, “Right, Meng Yao?”

With another sigh, Meng Yao gave up and said, “Right, Nie-gongzi.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

“No, it is definitely odd,” Wei Wuxian said, when Meng Yao hesitantly brought up his concern that the Wen siblings were there for some ulterior motive. “I’ve seen Wen-guniang up in the back hills a few times, too, in the forbidden areas.”

“Which you were in because . . .?” Meng Yao asked.

“I like to explore!” Wei Wuxian said, lifting his hands in surrender. “But Wen-guniang doesn’t seem like the type of person who does things for fun. She’s just like Jiang Cheng that way; that’s probably why they get along so well. I tried dropping a few hints for Wen Ning but he didn’t pick up on them. I don’t think he’d be able to hide it if I caught him in a lie, so he probably doesn’t know what she’s doing.”

“Mm,” Meng Yao agreed. “Oh, is that why you didn’t want Jiang-gongzi here for this discussion?”

“Well, that was partly just because he’s such a killjoy and I thought maybe you were about to propose something that might actually be fun,” Wei Wuxian said, laughing. “But yeah, he stares at her like she hung the moon, it’s really funny.”

“Like you can talk,” Meng Yao said.

“Like either of us can talk!” Wei Wuxian said. “Okay, seriously. No teasing. You and Zewu-Jun. What’s going on?”

“Nothing is going on,” Meng Yao said. “He’s a kind, generous man. Nie-zongzhu asked him to make sure I was accommodated at the lectures, since I started out from such a different place from the young masters. He’s gone out of his way to make sure I felt comfortable here, and that I had anything I needed. That’s it.”

“But you like him,” Wei Wuxian said.

“Of course I like him. As I just said, he’s a kind and generous man who has helped me tremendously. Why wouldn’t I like him?”

Wei Wuxian gave his shoulder a friendly shove. “Don’t be obtuse! You know what I mean.”

“What I know,” Meng Yao said, unable to keep a bit of a snap from his voice, “is that the first ranked young master isn’t going to marry someone who doesn’t even have a place in the gentry. Besides, I owe my loyalty and my allegiance to Nie-zongzhu, after everything he’s done for me. I won’t be staying in Cloud Recesses.” He changed the subject, before Wei Wuxian could continue to push. “Perhaps I’ll speak to him about Wen-guniang. He should know she was in the forbidden areas. I assume you didn’t tell anyone because you couldn’t without admitting you were up there yourself.”

“Hm? Oh, no, I just figured it wouldn’t be fair to tattle on her,” Wei Wuxian said, and Meng Yao rolled his eyes. “Ugh, and speaking of your shitty family – ”

“We weren’t,” Meng Yao muttered.

“Yesterday Mianmian came by our guest house, right? She and shijie are making friends, which is fine I guess – Mianmian seems really nice, so how she puts up with that pouting peacock is beyond me – anyway she was saying that Jin-gongzi’s just upset because he’s been fed the same status bullshit we both have our whole lives. Which I guess is fair. And that he would have been upset no matter who his betrothed was, that no woman would ever have been good enough for him, but it’s not personal. Which, frankly, I think makes him still a jerk. But it seemed to cheer shijie up, so I guess there’s that.”

“That does actually make sense to me,” Meng Yao said. “Jin-gongzi was clearly raised being given the absolute best of everything. I doubt any woman could have met his standards.”

“At least they aren’t Jiang Cheng’s!” Wei Wuxian laughed. “His ideal woman has a list of attributes longer than my arm. Helpful, gentle, quiet – ”

“But he likes Wen-guniang?” Meng Yao asked, arching his eyebrows. He had only met Wen Qing once, but he didn’t think those words could possibly apply to her.

“Go figure, right?” Wei Wuxian just laughed harder. “Anyway, Mianmian said that now that Jiang-guniang is actually a person Jin Zixuan knows, instead of a concept, he’s realizing that he’s been a total dick and wants to apologize but also was taught his whole life that men like him never have to apologize for anything, so – ” Wei Wuxian waved a disgusted hand. “She’s working on him.”

“I wish her the best of luck,” Meng Yao said dryly.

Wei Wuxian sprawled back into his chair. “But that sort of made me wonder if the same thing might apply to you.”

“How so?” Meng Yao asked, frowning.

“Well – your whole life, you’ve just been a concept to Jin Zixuan. His illegitimate half-brother. But now he’s actually getting to see you as a real person.”

Meng Yao shrugged. “So what?”

“So, I don’t know. Maybe he’ll stop being a dick to you, too.”

“Jin-gongzi has never been a dick to me. He’s never even acknowledged my existence.”

Wei Wuxian looked dubious. “I mean, isn’t that in and of itself kind of dickish?”

“I guess. But I don’t care how Jin-gongzi feels about me. In his shoes, I wouldn’t like me any better. Every time he looks at me, he has to live with the knowledge of how disrespectful his father was to his mother. That’s not a fun thing for him to think about.” Meng Yao saw the confused look on Wei Wuxian’s face. “I don’t need Jin-gongzi to be my brother, Wei-gongzi. I don’t care about that.”

“But wouldn’t you like having a brother?” Wei Wuxian asked. “I mean, I have one, and it’s great.”

Meng Yao had to admit that he was a little amused at how Wei Wuxian would extol the virtues of brotherhood when, as far as he could tell, he had made it his life’s work to annoy Jiang Cheng as much as possible. But more than anything else, he was torn between being annoyed at Wei Wuxian’s naïveté and an emotion he couldn’t quite put his finger on. “Jin-gongzi is never going to be my brother, because I’m never going to be accepted into the Jin sect. That’s all there is to it.”

“I mean, you never know – ”

“I do know,” Meng Yao said, and forced a smile. “Please don’t worry so much about it, Wei-gongzi. Nie-zongzhu clearly intends for me to have a place in the Nie sect as a disciple, and after everything he’s done for me, I would be rude not to support him. Would you ever want to leave the Yunmeng Jiang, after Jiang-zongzhu took you in?”

“No, never!” Wei Wuxian said. “So all right, I see your point. You’re probably better off without that peacock, anyway.”

“Mm,” Meng Yao agreed. He stood and said, “I’m going to go see if Zewu-Jun is free, so I can let him know Wen-guniang has been poking around in the back hills. I’ll see you in class tomorrow.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~