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The Pearl

Chapter Text

When he sees Wei Ying, Lan Xichen chokes on his tea.

Lan Wangji sends him a look.

"Young Master Wei!" Lan Xichen cries as Nie Mingjue slaps his back, "What a—wonderful surprise!"

Wei Ying laughs and salutes, though he's clearly as confused as every non-blood Lan in the room. "Thank you, Sect Leader Lan. It's, ah. Good to be back."

"Yes," Lan Xichen says, "Yes, very good! Wangji! You must be tired after your journey!"

It's the closest Xichen has come to outright dragging someone. Lan Wangji feels guilty about leaving Wei Ying alone, but it's only supposed to be a brief greeting to the other members of the war council before Wei Ying rests. Jiang Wanyin is with him, and he also has—

"Your pearl," Xichen whispers, "Wangji, what happened?"

Remembering Wei Ying's reticence about Jiang Wanyin, Lan Wangji says, "He needed my help."

It feels unnatural to keep things from Xichen. His brother notices, of course. However, instead of looking troubled, he smiles softly at Lan Wangji and asks, "I'll approach Sect Leader Jiang tomorrow about the contract."

"Contract?"

"Wangji, Uncle will be displeased if you elope."

"Elope?" Lan Wangji says, perhaps too loudly.

Lan Xichen turns slightly. "You gave him your pearl. Don't tell me you didn't tell Young Master Wei your intentions?"

"I...there is not...I did not..."

Lan Xichen's eyebrows climb. "Wangji?"

Lan Wangji barely restrains his tail from lashing out and twitching like a restless tiger. "Brother, I am not marrying Wei Ying."

...his brother looks confused. "Did he refuse?"

"I did not propose," Lan Wangji replies tightly.

"Why else would you hand over something so precious?"

"He needed my help," Lan Wangji helplessly repeats.

"Wangji." Xichen looks sympathetic. "Surely you—"

The scent hits before the knocking: spice, lotus, resentful dust. Wei Ying needs to rest, settle his energy. Yet here he is, calling Lan Wangji's name.

Lan Xichen sighs through his nose and fixes his smile. "Young Master Wei."

Wei Ying opens the door. In the light, what color Lan Wangji had thought he'd seen has drowned. He looks exhausted. Lan Wangji has to restrain his tail again.

"Zewu-Jun," Wei Ying says, "Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt."

"Not at all," Xichen replies, "I was just leaving." He fixes Lan Wangji with a pointed stare. "Good night, Wangji."

Lan Wangji purses his lips and bows. "Brother."

Wei Ying slides into the room. "Lan Zhan," he says as soon as the door shuts, "can I ask you something?"

"Mn."

Wei Ying sits on Lan Wangji's bed despite the perfectly good table nearby. Lan Wangji does not mind. "What makes a pearl? A dragon's pearl." He presses a hand to his gut. "It feels different from a core, but there's no weight to it."

Lan Wangji takes two steps forward before he realizes it. "Did something go wrong?"

"No, no! It's." Wei Ying huffs, smiling. "Ah, Lan Zhan. That's the other thing." He rubs the back of his neck. "Jiang Cheng says I should kow-tow for your gift."

"No need."

Wei Ying jumps to his feet. "Well I should do something! Lan Zhan, you know what you've done for me." His throat bobs. "You know."

Lan Wangji averts his eyes. "There is no debt. Wei Ying needed help."

"You—! Lan Zhan!" Wei Ying pokes his chest with Suibian. "You're impossible. At least let me thank you properly."

"No need," Lan Wangji repeats.

Wei Ying sighs dramatically, plopping back on the bed. After a moment, he mumbles, "Though, you did undo all the work I put into harnessing resentment. So maybe I shouldn't thank you after all."

Lan Wangji glares at him, only to find a teasing smirk. Wei Ying points at his face. "See? You do want thanks!"

"No," Lan Wangji says, "And do not joke about resentful energy."

Wei Ying's nose scrunches. He looks so much like a rabbit.

Cautiously, Lan Wangji sits beside him. He considers. Then asks, very quietly, "Did they truly throw you into the Burial Mounds?"

Wei Ying's hands clench around his sword.

Lan Wangji's lungs seize. "Wei Ying—"

"Lan Zhan." Wei Ying's smile has turned brittle. "Whatever happened, happened." He looks at him. "Let's not go back."

A crackling noise draws their attention. With a start, Lan Wangji sees his fingernails curing into silver talons. He can't cover them fast enough.

"Whoa," Wei Ying says, "Does that happen a lot? I mean, I haven't seen it, but maybe because we've become so cloooose?"

For lack of a better option, Lan Wangji sits on his hands. "Ridiculous."

Wei Ying snickers, nudging their shoulders. "You didn't answer my question, you know. About the pearl. And what about the rest of it? See, I've been thinking. You said you didn't cultivate beyond the top, but how else could you be a dragon?"

Lan Wangji stares ahead.

"And the way Zewu-Jun reacted to me," Wei Ying continues, "He looked right at my core—or, your pearl. Like he could see it." He nudges again. "Lan Zhan. Are you both dragons?"

Lan Wangji keeps staring. Nie Huaisang's touch is apparent in this room by the tasteful tapestries and splashes of color.

Wei Ying blows out a breath, settling back on his hands. "The Twin Jades truly are paragons of cultivation! Only they didn't cultivate to scales, apparently. Which means..."

Perhaps if he says nothing, it will not count as revealing anything to Wei Ying. Can Lan Wangji be faulted if Wei Ying is clever?

Then Wei Ying's hand is on his thigh and Lan Wangji's mind goes embarrassingly silent.

"Don't worry, Lan Zhan. I won't tell." Wei Ying squeezes. "I promise."

There's a tearing sound. Wei Ying whips his head about for the source. Ears flaming, Lan Wangji carefully retracts his hands from underneath him. The linens do not survive regardless.

Wei Ying's lips contort. Lan Wangji stares at his full talons. Wei Ying snorts, tries to cover it with a cough. Thankfully, it means his hand retreats to cover his mouth.

"Energy," Lan Wangji says. Wei Ying makes a stiff, high-pitched noise. "A dragon's pearl is made of spiritual energy. But not the same as a human's. Our cores are different."

Wei Ying's laughter dissipates into interest. "Really? I can't tell."

"My human form is carefully structured," Lan Wangji replies. His talons finally sheathe. "We study our elders' constructions and imitate."

Wei Ying's eyes flick over him. "So...is this an illusion?" He pokes Lan Wangji. "Doesn't feel like one."

"Yes. And no."

"Ah, very straightforward. A good Lan answer!"

Lan Wangji scowls at him, making him laugh. "Illusion is not the proper word. But you can never see every aspect regardless of form."

"You're dragon and human? The perception of your core changes with you?"

"Mn."

"That's incredible! So you just—" Wei Ying makes an innocuous gesture. "Switch? Like clothes?"

Lan Wangji opens his mouth. Closes it. "There are texts that describe the process. You are not permitted to see them."

"No fun, Lan Zhan!"

"I have already spoken too much."

Wei Ying laughs. "Lan Zhan, you never speak too much. I like listening to you!"

Lan Wangji's throat works.

"...then, isn't a pearl just—another core? If it's made of spiritual energy?"

Again, Lan Wangji opens and closes his mouth. No one has ever described a pearl this way, but it would make sense: the time it takes to form, the material. But it still does not account for Lan Wangji's case.

As always, Wei Ying fills his silence. "So I guess I have something closer to dragon than human now. You're amazing, Lan Zhan."

Lan Wangji does not know how to respond.

Wei Ying shifts in his periphery. "Is that the only reason you did it? Because I didn't...because I needed help?"

Lan Wangji does not know how to respond.

Wei Ying leans closer. He's warmer than other humans. Because of Lan Wangji. "Lan Zhan. Can I ask you another question?"

"Mn."

"What does it usually mean when a dragon gives someone their pearl?"

For some reason, this makes Lan Wangji think of his brother's grin.

"...it is rare to cultivate a pearl," he replies, "Lan An is the only precedent to—this." He keeps his eyes carefully away from Wei Ying. "He gave a woman his pearl and told her it would grant her deepest wish. She wished to marry him. He used his pearl to make human bones. This is why we have two forms."

Wei Ying is very still.

Lan Wangji feels his scales scratching under his skin. It's as if the dragon, once seen, wishes to be seen all the time. Vain and reckless.

"One more question," Wei Ying murmurs. "Why did you give me your pearl?"

Lan Wangji swallows. "Seeing you...without your core. I could not bear it." He forces his head up. Wei Ying's eyes are wide. "You deserve to fly, Wei Ying."

Wei Ying kisses him. His hands are dry, cupping Lan Wangji's face, but his face and hair are soft. He is far too thin, hip bones jabbing Lan Wangji's fingers. He is still warm. He is still beautiful. Lan Wangji wants him closer.

Wei Ying makes a noise, whispers his name, but then they're back to kissing. Wei Ying climbs into his lap. Closer, closer. Lan Wangji's mind glides pleasantly somewhere above him. His eyes are stinging, he realizes, but he is happy. Very, very happy.

"Ah, Lan Zhan," Wei Ying gasps, tipping his head as Lan Wangji burrows against his throat, "What if someone comes in?"

Lan Wangji says "Let them" because his mind is still elsewhere.

Wei Ying chokes a laugh. "I don't mind being caught kissing, er-gege,"—what did he just call him— "but the tail?"

"Mn?"

Very reluctantly, Lan Wangji pulls off and looks over Wei Ying's shoulder.

His tail is indeed wrapped twice around them, clutching Wei Ying close. It's a pleasing sight. This way, Lan Wangji knows Wei Ying is safe. No blade can pierce his scales, certainly no shadow. What could be wrong with that?

Wei Ying's thumb presses gently on his cheekbone. "Your eyes. I didn't tell you. They're so pretty, Lan Zhan." Lan Zhan rumbles. "Ah, and that noise! So cute, like a cat. But you're trying to keep a secret, aren't you?"

But kissing is important. Lan Wangji likes to think he prioritizes well.

Wei Ying's little sigh into the next kiss is so lovely Lan Wangji's hands warp into paws. The dimensions in his flesh are melding. It is not painful. With Wei Ying like this, Lan Wangji thinks he will never feel pain again.

Thundersong finally tethers his mind. It speaks in his brother's voice. And there is his brother, clearing his throat, sending Wei Ying flailing—though not very much, as Lan Wangji's tail still holds him.

"Zewu-Jun!" Wei Ying cries, "Hello! We were just...ah."

"I take it your conversation went well?" Xichen asks.

"Yes," Lan Wangji replies. "Does Brother need something?"

He does not like Xichen's expression. "I only wanted to offer my congratulations. Sect Leader Jiang expressed his relief knowing you two will be officially wed. He is convinced you engage in indecent behavior."

"Indecent?" Wei Ying says.

"Wed?" Lan Wangji says.

"Wed?" Wei Ying shouts.

Xichen's smile is bland and insufferably smug. "There is still a war, of course, and rebuilding after that. But I trust you both can be patient."

Lan Wangji slowly unwinds his tail.

"Hard to think of a future after this war," Wei Ying says. He turns back to Lan Wangji. "But Lan Zhan, are you sure? You won't be able to back out of a marriage, you know."

The Twin Jades blink as one.

"Does Wei Ying have any objections?" Lan Wangji asks.

"No!" Wei Ying replies instantly, "No, no, Lan Zhan. Not when I know—no. I'm just making sure you don't."

Another blink.

Lan Wangji realizes Wei Ying is actually waiting for a response. "None."

Wei Ying grins, relieved. "Really?"

"Mn."

Wei Ying hugs him tight. "That's good, Lan Zhan. Because—I really like you, you know? Not because of what you did for me. Because you're—you're Lan Zhan."

The next "Mn" comes out slightly hoarse. Lan Wangji quickly gathers himself enough to reply, "Like Wei Ying."

"Really?"

Xichen looks mildly lost.

"Mn."

Wei Ying sighs and snuggles closer. Then jumps away completely with a, "But we can be patient! Right, Lan Zhan? You're the most patient person in the world, apart from my Shijie. And Zewu-Jun. We can do this!"

Lan Wangji places one hand over the other in his lap. "Mn."

They stare at each other.

"Right," Xichen says, "Young Master Wei, Sect Leader Jiang wishes to speak with you about this."

"Hah? Ah! Jiang Cheng is probably going to break my legs!" Wei Ying seems very excited about this. "Shijie is probably making a bunch of soup! She'll want you to have some, Lan Zhan! But later. I'll see you later, Lan Zhan! Zewu-Jun!"

He kisses Lan Wangji's cheek and nearly runs from the room.

At length, Xichen says, "Young Master Wei seems happy." His smile becomes more genuine. "As do you."

Lan Wangji is certain he is capable of more happiness. Most of him has been whisked off with Wei Ying's lips.

Xichen nods. "Congratulations, Wangji."

The halls tremble with "WEI WUXIAN!"

Lan Wangji smiles. "Thank you, Brother."