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Love wakes me

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“Welcome to Yiling!” Wei Wuxian called out absently, most of his focus on decorating the latte in front of him, carefully giving the rabbit he was drawing there an actual expression, complete with a nose that gave the appearance of wriggling. It was not easy, considering he was doing it in foam, but Wei Wuxian loved a challenge, and he took particular joy in making his customers gasp with delight with his creations.

Wei Wuxian had never imagined he’d grow up to own a café. He thought about that sometimes – tried very hard not to think about it in other times – when he turned on the coffee machine in the morning, or while he was stocking up the dessert fridge with Wen Ning’s creations, or when he was putting down the chairs from where they stacked them on the tables at night so they could clean more easily after closing.

He thought about it sometimes when he opened Yiling Café’s doors to its customers for the day, when he was putting his art skills to use by ridiculously decorating someone’s latte, when he was laughing and chatting with his regulars – he’d never imagined owning a café. Now, it felt like the most natural thing in the world.

Of course, he owned a café. He finished off the little bunny with a flourish, grinning at his customer brightly as she laughed, and he bent down closer to the counter so she could take a picture of him with it.

“That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,” she said with a laugh of her own. “It’s definitely going down as the fanciest latte I’ve ever had. Might even be better than the bird you drew for me last week. Thanks, Yiling Laozu.”

He’d also never imagined, Wei Wuxian thought as he went back to the counter, that he’d end up with giggling girls calling him anything like laozu.

The honest truth was, for a while, he’d never really imagined a future for himself – at least, not one that he could have really controlled. He’d just figured he’d go wherever he needed to go, do whatever he needed to do, be whatever his family needed him to be. It was the least he’d owed them, considering they’d given him a home, safety and security, everything he’d ever needed growing up. He’d been ready to be the dutiful son.

And then, for a short while, he’d imagined nothing – just surviving to the end of the day. Thankfully, that was only for a very short while.

After that, he’d gone back to never really imagining a future.

When he’d found this place – or, rather, when he’d first stumbled into it, sixteen years old, broke (and broken) and hungry and desperate – it had been nothing more than an old, run-down family teahouse that was barely holding it together. Somehow, for some reason, the little family that had lived here had taken pity on him, had taken him in and given him food, a roof over his head, a job – and finally, a family.

Now that little tea house was Yiling Café, a locally famous but mostly out-of-the-way place where a niche group of students liked to hang out, a must-visit for all those who liked particularly complicated latte art, and a curiosity for those who liked the eclectic blend of styles that couldn’t quite be labelled, furniture that didn’t quite match, and a truly unique combination of art on the wall that couldn’t quite be described.

Instagrammable, hipster, indie – whatever anyone might call it, Wei Wuxian had put everything he could into making Yiling into what it was today – dedicated his heart and soul and body to creating the most perfect place he could as a tribute to the love and the life the little mismatched family he’d found here had given him so unconditionally.

He might never have imagined owning a café, but now that he owned part of Yiling Café – now that he was very much a part of the family that owned Yiling – Wei Wuxian couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

Which was also a bit of a lie, he supposed, because he could imagine himself doing something else. This – running Yiling during the day, doing a combination of night and online classes whenever he could, finding time to paint whenever possible, and all the rest of the responsibilities he juggled – was not even close to the future he’d thought he’d have or the life he’d once lived.

Then again, that was a long time ago, and Wei Wuxian tried hard to live in the moment and not think about what-ifs or to let himself dwell too much on what could have been. Life hadn’t gone the way he’d thought it would go, and here he was, living a new life, working towards new dreams.

That was why his name ringing through the café in a voice that was distinctly one from his past came as such a surprise to him.

He’d been working on decorating his customer’s cappuccino when the bell above the door rang, and he’d called out, “Welcome to Yiling!” as usual – absently, and without real focus, because he was trying to get the whiskers on the cat he was drawing just right – and then….

“Wei Ying.”

His hand started to shake. He forced himself to finish the slightly-less-than-perfect piece of latte art, plastered on a smile as he handed it over to the girl – and then, very, very slowly, he turned to the door.

He was still staring at Lan Wangji – Lan Zhan – standing there, framed by the rainbow faux-stained glass of Yiling’s front door, eyes wide with surprise, when Lan Zhan said again, “Wei Ying.”

And Wei Wuxian smiled, bright and brilliant, pushing away any other thoughts – any other memories – to just bask in the happiness – the improbability – of actually seeing Lan Zhan again – of Lan Zhan being here, in a university district, in the middle of the city.

“Lan Zhan,” he said, laughing, shifting to wipe his hands on his apron and come around the counter towards him. “Oh my god, it’s really you. What are you doing here?”

“I… getting tea?” Lan Zhan said, the inflection in his voice making it sound like a question. Wei Wuxian laughed again, reaching over to take his hands and squeeze them softly – Lan Zhan, here, in his shop! – before letting go quickly. Lan Zhan had never liked to be touched – not by strangers, in any case. Wei Wuxian didn’t think he’d fit into Lan Zhan’s exceptions anymore. He'd lost that particular right years ago.

“Getting tea,” Wei Wuxian repeated, laughing again, trying not to let his smile dim at the thought. He laced his fingers together behind him instead to stop the urge to reach out and touch Lan Zhan again – check if he was really here, if he was real. “Oh god, it’s been – what? – ten years and you’re here getting tea. Incredible.”

“Nine years,” Lan Zhan corrected him, and then, “Wei Ying, you – you’re here.”

Wei Wuxian grinned, gesturing around him. “Yep. This is Yiling. It’s only partially mine, but it is basically mine and – “

“WEI WUXIAN!” Wei Wuxian froze, wincing, turning away from Lan Zhan – only for Lan Zhan to grab his wrist, grip tight.

“Just a – ” Wei Wuxian tried to turn back to say, but was interrupted by a loud thump as the door to the kitchen shut, and Wen Qing stormed out.

“Where the fuck is my coffee?” she demanded. She came to a dead stop in front of him, staring down at where Lan Zhan was still gripping his wrist. She gave him a narrow-eyed and slightly-too perceptive look. “Why the fuck are you holding that boy’s hand instead of making me coffee?”

Lan Zhan let go of his wrist like it burned.

“Yes, yes, ma’am,” Wei Wuxian said with a huff, turning to Lan Zhan, he said, “Don’t go anywhere. I’ll get you that tea – just – don’t go anywhere, okay?”

“Okay,” Lan Zhan answered, walking over to stand by the counter. Wei Wuxian gave Wen Qing a pointed look as he passed – one that she masterfully ignored. He continued to try to give her pointed looks as he rounded the counter and started on her coffee, but she was incredibly determined and probably far too used to his glaring for it to have much effect.

“You know Wei Wuxian?” she asked, sidling up to Lan Zhan, as if she didn’t know the history better than almost anyone who hadn’t been there with him when it had happened. As if Wei Wuxian wasn’t still sentimental enough to have those ridiculous little polaroid strips they’d taken together taped up by his desk, or pictures of Lan Zhan still carefully saved, or ridiculous pieces of art so clearly inspired by Lan Zhan that Wei Wuxian wasn’t even sure he could sell them.

As if she’d never walked in on him crying his eyes out on their ridiculously old sofa after going to one of Lan Wangji’s concerts, the ticket and program still carefully held in his hands.

You know Wei Wuxian, indeed. Oh no, she had no idea who Lan Wangji was to Wei Wuxian at all.

“Mn,” Lan Zhan said, not really glancing over at her. He was still staring at Wei Wuxian. It was getting a little hard to ignore just how intently he was staring. Wei Wuxian fought the urge to tap his foot as he waited for the expresso shots to finish so he could dump them into Wen Qing’s tumbler and send her away.

“You’re that classical composer-slash-musician-slash-socialite-slash-whatever else you are though, aren’t you?” Lan Zhan nodded once. It was… a fair description of him, actually. It was really quite hard to pinpoint exactly what label Lan Wangji fell under, but Wei Wuxian suspected the average human being probably didn’t know as much as this about Lan Wangji.

He hoped Lan Zhan didn’t think Wen Qing was some kind of stalker or something – even though that would be really hilarious; he’d love to see her reaction to that sort of assumption. It just so happened that she lived with him and just –

He wasn’t a stalker either. Not really, anyway. “Right,” she continued. “So how do you know our Wei Wuxian?”

“Goodbye, Wen Qing,” Wei Wuxian said pointedly, shoving her tumbler at her. “Go to class before you’re late.”

She gave him a pointed look. He gave it right back at her. Eventually – this time – she lost. Mostly because she was going to end up really late if she didn’t leave, but Wei Wuxian would take whatever victories he could.

Wei Wuxian started on the green tea. “Don’t mind her,” he said to Lan Zhan, offering him another smile, even though he was only met with that intense gaze. No indication whatsoever of what was going on inside his mind. Wei Wuxian felt another momentary pang of sadness at that; once upon a time, he would have known what Lan Zhan was thinking, what was behind that inscrutable look.

Once upon a time.

He’d lost that particular privilege too.

He finished making the tea, sprinkled a small rabbit on the top of the foam with some matcha powder and slid the cup over, glancing up at the short intake of breath from Lan Zhan. “I – it’s a green tea macchiato,” he explained, not entirely certain how to interpret the breath. “Er – I… it’s – is that how you still prefer green tea? I mean, I can make you just a regular one if you – I mean, I just assumed –”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan said quietly, cutting Wei Wuxian off. “It’s fine.”

Wei Wuxian smiled at him, wide and happy, and waved him away when he tried to pay. “Don’t be stupid,” he said. “You walk into my café – I’m definitely treating you to a drink! It’s been so long….” He gestured to a table, following Lan Zhan there, setting the tea down in front of him and dropping onto the seat opposite him. He couldn’t believe Lan Zhan was here – couldn’t take his eyes off him.

The beautiful boy he’d known had truly grown up into the most ethereal man Wei Wuxian had ever seen. He’d known he was beautiful – he’d seen him on the news, all over social media, in pictures – seen him from the nosebleed seats of a really fancy theatre – but he hadn’t seen him up close in so long, and he was even more beautiful than Wei Wuxian could have imagined.

“Tell me,” he said because just sitting there staring was… stupid. Unprofessional. Not allowed. Not anymore. “How have you been? Apart from buying tea, what are you doing here? I mean, what are you doing in the city? Especially this part of the city!”

“Working,” Lan Zhan said, sipping at the green tea with an appreciative hum. “Uncle is setting up a community performance center nearby as part of our outreach program. There will be a concert, and an exclusive camp on the new facilities to raise more funds.”

“Ah! So generous, Lan Zhan! Always giving back to the community. You’ve always been so kind; I shouldn’t be surprised.”

There was a moment of silence before Lan Zhan asked, sounding almost tentative, “And you?”

Wei Wuxian gestured around him. “This is my café,” he said. “Or, well, I co-own it with Wen Qing – that’s the utterly terrifying woman you just met – and her family.”

Something flashed across Lan Zhan’s eyes – only for a moment, and then it’s smoothed away again. “Oh.”

“She’s actually a med student so she’s not here that much. It’s usually just me and her brother, Wen Ning, because the Grandma who ran this place and the old uncle that used to are both a little too old now, and they spend most of their time taking care of A-Yuan.” He knew he was rambling – and god, Lan Zhan probably didn’t even care about how this place was run. He’d just been asking to be polite, but Wei Wuxian had never been very good at getting his mouth under control. “So yeah, it’s mostly me out here, Wen Ning in the kitchen and – “

The door opened, bell jingling, and he had just enough time to stand up before A-Yuan was attached to his leg. Grandma walked in slowly and serenely after him.

“A-Yuan,” Wei Wuxian said, laughing. “You’re just in time.” Carefully, he turned him around so he could look up at Lan Zhan. “This is Lan Zhan. He’s an old friend of mine.”

“From the pictures!” A-Yuan said happily, still clinging to Wei Wuxian’s leg. “He’s prettier than in your pictures.”

Wei Wuxian felt something like horror starting to creep up on him. “Ah, well – er – um – Grandma,” he said, shifting around so he could thrust A-Yuan in her general direction. “Could you please – “

“But Xian-ge,” A-Yuan whined, still clinging tightly to his leg. “I want to talk to your pretty friend.”

“Later,” Wei Wuxian said hurriedly. “I – “A-Yuan detached himself before Wei Wuxian could protest, and instead, clung to Lan Zhan’s leg. “A-Yuan.”

“No,” he insisted, trying to climb into Lan Zhan’s lap without letting him go. “I want to stay.”

“Ah, Lan Zhan – I’m so – “

But Lan Zhan was already moving, shifting the teacup and making space for A-Yuan to climb up and settle, giving Wei Wuxian an incredibly smug little grin. Wei Wuxian was going to have Words with Wen Qing and Wen Ning because, holy shit, where did the child learn to be that devious?

“It’s okay,” Lan Zhan said, wrapping one arm around A-Yuan’s waist to keep him from slipping. “Let him sit.”

“I – ” The bell above the door rang again, signaling a customer, and Wei Wuxian cursed. “Ah, Welcome to Yiling!” he called out, turning to wave at the customer, before giving Lan Zhan a sheepish smile. “I’ve got to – are you sure A-Yuan isn’t bothering you?”

“He’s fine,” Lan Zhan repeated again, serenely reaching around A-Yuan for the tea.

“I’m fine,” A-Yuan repeated, beaming at Wei Wuxian – and wow, wow. This child is possibly evil.

Hesitantly, but very, very aware that he had customers waiting, Wei Wuxian returned to the counter to take the orders. Out of the corner of his eyes, he could see A-Yuan talking to Lan Zhan, chatting happily. And Lan Zhan, far from looking uncomfortable or upset or put upon, actually looked completely relaxed and natural.

Oh god, what was the little monster telling Lan Zhan? What secrets was he spilling right this minute? He was now abruptly aware that they’d somehow raised the child to be friendly – but was it really appropriate? Was A-Yuan like this with everyone, or was it just the fact that he recognised Lan Zhan from Wei Wuxian’s pictures – and oh god, he recognised Lan Zhan from Wei Wuxian’s pictures – what was he saying?

He didn’t realise exactly how distracted he was until he slid a cup of coffee over to the waiting customer. “Laozu,” she said, a soft whine in her voice. “Please could you decorate it?”

“Ah – ah, yes!” Wei Wuxian said, a little too loudly. She was one of their regulars, and he knew he needed to get his head in the game or people would start wondering why he was being so weird. “Sorry, sorry. Head’s all over the place. I have a test coming up soon,” he said, looking back, giving her a warmer smile as he decorated her latte, adding more of a flourish than usual to make up for the lack of attention initially. “It’s on my mind.”

“Oh, no – yeah, me too,” she answered, sighing. “I’m going to fail.”

“No you aren’t!” he said, reaching for his notepad. He gave her a wink, drew a silly little sketch of a small frog and a good luck banner, and passed it to her. “For luck,” he said – and ignored her blush.

“Ah, Wei Wuxian,” she said, laughing. “I could sell this for a lot of money.”

“A little bit of money,” he said, and gave her a small pout. “But I drew it just for you. The luck charm will only work for you.”

She giggled. “Of course,” she said, tucking it away in her bag. “I’d better keep it safe then.”

Part of the reason Yiling was so popular, according to Grandma, despite Wei Wuxian’s incompetence (excuse you, he was a great cook) in the kitchen was because of Wei Wuxian’s charm – and it wasn’t that Wei Wuxian did it on purpose or anything, but if being nice and kind and considerate to people was really considered flirting (Wen Qing insisted it was), then it didn’t exactly do any harm. It brought in business, after all.

He glanced back at Lan Zhan as he felt eyes on him, found him watching Wei Wuxian with an unreadable expression on his face, and Wei Wuxian gave him a bright smile right back, feeling his heart clench as he watched the way A-Yuan was playing with the ribbon holding his hair in a ponytail, and Lan Zhan just… letting him.

Wei Wuxian really didn’t think his heart could take such a perfect sight. It was just far, far too close to his deepest dreams – the ones he’d never even dared to think about in daylight – ones where Lan Zhan forgave him and he got to see his family again.

Lan Zhan stayed for longer than Wei Wuxian expected him to, sitting quietly and seemingly quite content to play with A-Yuan, who kept his interest in “Zhan-ge” for much longer than Wei Wuxian had been expecting.

Apparently, today was just going to be all about defying expectations or something. Maybe the world was playing a huge joke on Wei Wuxian.

“I’m so sorry,” he said to Lan Zhan for about the twentieth time as A-Yuan still refused to let Wei Wuxian take him back to Wen Ning, clinging to Lan Zhan’s cardigan stubbornly. In front of him, on the table alongside Lan Zhan’s second cup of green tea, was a passable drawing of what might be a person – potentially Lan Zhan, judging by the white cardigan – playing a qin, which was a little too well-drawn to have been done by a four year old child, next to a man in black and red playing a flute, which was definitely drawn by a four year-old. It looked scarily like a post-modern interpretation of something Wei Wuxian had upstairs in the apartment.

A-Yuan was finishing the drawing with helpful labels – Zhan-ge - Xian-ge – and even some helpful arrows in the appropriate places.

“How does he know I play the qin?” Lan Zhan asked, when Wei Wuxian finally slid down into the seat opposite him, customers all served and settled for the moment.

“Er –”

“The pictures upstairs!” A-Yuan answered helpfully. Seriously – seriously – where did he learn to be like this? A-Yuan gave Lan Zhan an angelic smile, and then turned it on Wei Wuxian as well. Wei Wuxian narrowed his eyes at him suspiciously.

“The pictures?” Lan Zhan asked. He wasn’t looking at A-Yuan; he was looking straight at Wei Wuxian.

“I’ve been following your career,” Wei Wuxian finally had to admit, because he couldn’t exactly deny it, all things considered. “It’s – it’s impressive.” He put on a bright smile and looked up to meet Lan Zhan’s gaze. “The great Hanguang Jun – Lan Wangji – who basically single-handedly revived classical Chinese music and brought it into pop culture.” His smile softened into something more real because… well, this part, at least – this was true. “It’s amazing, what you’ve done.”

“You’ve… you’ve followed my career?” Lan Zhan asked, and it might have been Wei Wuxian’s imagination, but he thought he heard a small bit of surprise in Lan Zhan’s voice.

“Of course,” Wei Wuxian said, flashing him another smile. “Didn’t I always say you’d be famous one day?”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan said, and Wei Wuxian felt his stomach flutter – god, it had been so long since anyone had called him that. He didn’t even notice Lan Zhan covering his hand with his own, grip tight. “This place – back then – “

Lan Zhan’s phone rang. Wei Wuxian glanced over it, spotted Uncle flashing on the screen, a picture of the Lans together as the background, remembered he’s destroying Wangji and go home, Wei Wuxian – and carefully pulled his hand away. He didn’t dare meet Lan Zhan’s eyes.

“You should get that,” he said, still looking at A-Yuan’s drawing rather than anything else. He really couldn’t bring himself to look at Lan Zhan.

“Wei Ying….”

“You used to get into so much trouble when you didn’t answer their calls.” When you were with me, Wei Wuxian thought, stomach twisting painfully at the memories that recalled. God, he tried so hard to not remember them – the painful parts, the regret – to only remember the happiest times, the happiest memories, not let it be tainted by the hurt and the longing. But now, with all this – with Lan Zhan in front of him, with his uncle calling him on the phone, with the picture right there on the screen - all those emotions were right here now.

“Wei Ying.” He refused to move, refused to look up, refused to continue the conversation – afraid he’d give too much away – just sat there, eyes down, until Lan Zhan sighed and picked up the phone. “Uncle….”

Wei Wuxian picked up the empty cup from Lan Zhan’s table, moving away to put it into the sink and give him privacy for the conversation with his uncle. He swore he could still feel the warmth of Lan Zhan’s hand on his, fingers wrapped tight around his own.

“I have to go,” came from behind him as he finished washing the glasses in the sink. He turned around, plastering the usual smile onto his features as he finally looked at Lan Zhan again. He was carrying A-Yuan, shifting to settle him onto his hip, obviously waiting for Wei Wuxian to come around to take him. A-Yuan was clinging, misery in every line of his body.

“Zhan-ge, you won’t stay for dinner?” he asked, voice small and plaintiff. Wei Wuxian hurried around the counter, drying his hands on his apron again.

“A-Yuan,” he scolded. “Lan Zhan has his own dinner waiting.”

“But I want him to stay for dinner,” A-Yuan all but wailed, clinging tighter. “Then you’d be happy, and you wouldn’t have to hide your sadness away anymore. I don’t want you to be sad anymore.”

“A-Yuan,” Wei Wuxian said again, helpless and a little angry and just so confused. He took A-Yuan from Lan Zhan, shaking his head, addressing Lan Zhan instead of the clinging child, who finally came easily enough. “Lan Zhan, I’m so sorry. I don’t know what’s got into him. Kids, you know? I just –”

Lan Zhan’s hand curled around his wrist, where he was holding A-Yuan up, stopping his words. Slowly, he looked up to meet Lan Zhan’s eyes.

“I’ll come back,” Lan Zhan said quietly, words solemn as any promise.

Wei Wuxian could only swallow hard and nod, completely unable to find any words to reply – couldn’t do anything but stare into Lan Zhan’s eyes. They were firm, serious, full of emotions that Wei Wuxian didn’t have time – and didn’t have the concentration – to actually decipher.

“I’ll come back soon,” he said again, before letting go of Wei Wuxian and walking out of the door.

Wei Wuxian stood there, still staring after him, A-Yuan clinging to his neck. He felt A-Yuan’s head turn, then, noticing Lan Zhan was gone, eased back to grin at Wei Wuxian. “He’ll be back,” he said triumphantly, looking so incredibly pleased with himself that Wei Wuxian had to laugh.

“Oh my god, A-Yuan,” he said, spluttering, still laughing as he bounced A-Yuan on his hip. “I can’t believe – you sneaky little…. ah, what am I supposed to do with you?”

“Thank me?” A-Yuan giggled happily, settling against Wei Wuxian, and Wei Wuxian had to shake his head.

“You are definitely evil. Who taught you to be like that, huh?”

Another soft giggle, and Wei Wuxian felt small fingers tugging at his ribbon. “You did.” It shocked another laugh from Wei Wuxian.

“Ah, A-Yuan….” He let out a soft sigh, looking back at the door, shaking his head a little. He wondered if, after everything, Lan Zhan would really come back – if he’d be allowed back, if he’d even care whether he was or not. Then again, why would he? Why could he possibly want to see Wei Wuxian again?

A small hand rested lightly on his cheek, pulling his attention away from the door and back to A-Yuan in his arms. The boy’s eyes were solemn. “He’ll come back,” he said quietly. “So you don’t have to miss him anymore, okay, Xian-ge?”

Wei Wuxian tried to smile back, turning to kiss A-Yuan’s palm softly. “Okay, A-Yuan.” He looked back at the door again, not letting the wistful sigh escape him. He felt the sigh in his very soul though.

If only it were that easy, A-Yuan. If only.

But he’d learned nine years ago that things were never that easy – not in the real world.

--

He stands in front of the Lan’s house, up against the immovable force of Lan Xichen.

“Please,” he says, voice shaking. “Please. I can explain. Just – please let me explain.”

Lan Xichen doesn’t move. “He doesn’t want to hear it,” he says, voice calm – but there’s ice in the tone, and Wei Wuxian has to remember that despite all the gentle kindness he’s received from Lan Xichen in the past, when it comes to his baby brother, there is no give, no understanding.

“Please,” Wei Wuxian continues trying because it’s too important. He needs to say it, needs to make Lan Zhan understand – or even if he won’t, he doesn’t, he needs to apologise.

“He doesn’t want to hear it,” Lan Xichen says again. “Go home, Wei Wuxian.”

Wei Wuxian swallows hard, blinking back tears, shoulders dropping. “I – please,” he says again, and hears Lan Xichen’s sigh.

“Go home.”

He nods once. “Just… please,” he breathes to keep from sobbing. “Please tell him I’m sorry.”

He hears the door click shut. As he leaves, he takes one look back, hoping to get any kind of glimpse of Lan Zhan, but there’s not even a shadow in the window.

He goes home to angry voices in the living room.

“He’s a disgrace,” Lan Qiren says. “An utter disgrace. This is one prank gone too far, and I have had enough of it. This – this is beyond anything. It’s destroying Wangji. He’s destroying Wangji. If you do not control him….”

“I will resolve this,” Yu Ziyuan promises, and Wei Wuxian barely manages to dodge out of the way as Lan Qiren comes storming out. He gives Wei Wuxian the dirtiest glare he’s ever seen and brushes past him without another word.

Yu Ziyuan follows, her own look telling Wei Wuxian to stay right where he was. Once the door shuts behind Lan Qiren, she turns around and glares at him, then sniffs once.

“Pack your things,” she says quietly, firmly.

Wei Wuxian feels his entire world stop. “What?”

“You heard me,” she says. “Pack your damn things and leave. You have brought enough shame on this family.”

“Ziyuan,” he hears Jiang Fengmian say behind her, but he’s staring at her, eyes wide with shock and disbelief.

“No,” she says. She doesn’t look away from him. “You heard Lan Qiren. You heard what he did. That is unacceptable – and you have indulged him enough. Either he leaves,” she says, “or I do. And I’ll take A-Cheng and A-Li with me.”

“I’ll leave,” Wei Wuxian says, because what else can he say to that?

“A-Xian…” Jieng Fengmian starts to say, but he’s cut off by his wife.

“Tonight,” she says. “Leave tonight.”

Jiang Cheng is crying as Wei Wuxian zips up the bag, hands shaking, breathing too fast, too hard, and it’s all Wei Wuxian can do to keep from screaming. He doesn’t understand how this is happening, doesn’t understand how it’s come to this, but his room is… it’s clear of everything important, everything he can carry, everything that will fit into the one bag he has to take with him.

Everything else – his life, his dreams, his family – he’s leaving it behind.

Jiang Cheng clings. “I’ll talk to her,” he says. “Wei Wuxian – I’m sorry – I’ll – I’ll talk to her, I’ll –

Wei Wuxian hugs him back. Quietly, he slips him a letter, folded into the shape of a rabbit. He tries for a watery smile, but thinks it probably looks more like a grimace. “Can you –

Jiang Cheng’s hand shakes. “You still want to write to him? After this?”

“Please?” Wei Wuxian says quietly, squeezing Jiang Cheng’s hand. “Just make sure he gets it?”

“Wei Wuxian,” Jiang Cheng says again, trying to hold on. “A-Xian – I –

Wei Wuxian sees Yu Ziyuan on the stairs behind him, face showing only impatience. He extracts himself from Jiang Cheng carefully and starts down the stairs. She hands him a small envelope.

“My husband wants you to have this,” she says, and then she walks away.

Jiang Cheng is still crying when he leaves. He doesn’t even get a chance to say goodbye to his shijie.

He doesn’t realise he’s crying until he’s already miles away, standing on his own at the last stop of the bus, in the middle of a city he doesn’t know, completely and utterly alone.

--

Wei Wuxian wasn’t expecting anything – he wasn’t really expecting Lan Zhan to come back, wasn’t expecting anything close to forgiveness or friendship or – well, his presence at all. That meeting had been an accident, and Lan Zhan had probably just been too polite to leave right away. He’d always been too polite for his own good, really, putting up with Wei Wuxian all the time when they were younger, even when Wei Wuxian had probably annoyed the shit out of him.

Probably too polite, didn’t want to cause a scene, especially with A-Yuan determinedly clinging to him the way he was. Lan Zhan had always been nice to children too, so he’d probably just not wanted to disappoint him.

Wei Wuxian kept telling himself this as he opened up the next day. Don’t expect. Don’t hope.

He’d learned, within that first month after being thrown out, that hope hurt more than just dealing with it – just accepting the truth for what it was. He’d hoped then, those first few months – when his phone was still connected, and there had still been a way for his family to reach out to him – that they would. That father – Jiang Fengmian, not his father – would reach out, would call him and tell him… something. Ask him to come home. Tell him he was forgiven.

He’d hoped, he’d half expected it – especially when he’d still get tearful phone calls from Jiang Yanli and assurances from Jiang Cheng – he hadn’t thought… he hadn’t planned for it all to stop.

But when the phone line had been disconnected, his bills unpaid and overdue, there had been no real way for A-Li or A-Cheng to reach him then, and he knew Yu Ziyuan wanted it that way. That’s when he’d learned to stop hoping.

The more you expected, the worse the hurt became – so it was best to just not expect anything. Then, everything that happened came as a surprise. It was much better that way.

That was also the reason he was most definitely surprised when Lan Zhan walked into the café a little after the lunch rush had died down. He stepped through the door, wearing jeans, a white shirt and a light blue cardigan, his hair tied up, white ribbon streaming behind him, and Wei Wuxian almost choked on his customary, “Welcome to Yiling!”

It was hard enough to believe Lan Zhan was even here – but here and looking, if possible, even better than he had yesterday…. It was entirely possible that Wei Wuxian was still sleeping and this was a dream, or this was a hallucination brought on by too many emotions.

But no – no, that was definitely Lan Zhan, giving Wei Wuxian a curious look.

“Ah – ah, Lan Zhan!” he said, beaming, trying to cover up just how flustered he was by the man’s very appearance. God, how was it possible he looked so good? “Green tea macchiato? Have you had lunch? We’re doing a really nice Greek salad today, and luckily for you, I wasn’t in charge of making it. There’s also some nice pastries, which I had a part in making, and also this!” He pulled out a bunny cupcake. “Which I also made.”

“Yes,” Lan Zhan said. “No, and that sounds good.”

Wei Wuxian blinked. God, did Lan Zhan even sound better than he had yesterday too? Or is this all part of this weird hallucination that Wei Wuxian was most definitely suffering. “Er. So that’s… green tea macchiato… and no salad?”

“No, I haven’t had lunch,” Lan Zhan said patiently. “The salad sounds good, as does the cupcake. Thank you.”

“Ai, no – no, don’t just – er – just, sit down?” Wei Wuxian offered, laughing to cover up his nervousness. “Let me just – I’ll bring everything to you, okay? Sit, sit.”

Lan Zhan was really here. Ordering lunch. He’d really come back, just as he’d promised he would. Wei Wuxian couldn’t quite wrap his head around it, hands shaking just a little as he made the coffee. He almost couldn’t find the voice to call into the kitchen for Wen Ning to bring out the salad, and just barely managed to bring over the tea and the cupcake without dropping anything.

“Here,” he said, setting it down in front of Lan Zhan. “Salad’s just coming.” He bit his lower lip, unsure, sitting down across from Lan Zhan. There weren’t any other customers yet – he could… he could enjoy this, just for a bit. “You came back.”

“I said I would,” Lan Zhan said quietly, reaching for the tea. His eyes never left Wei Wuxian’s. After a moment, he frowned, almost imperceptibly – but Wei Wuxian was watching him closely enough to notice. “You didn’t think I’d come?”

“Oh – no, it’s not – It’s just been a really long time,” Wei Wuxian said, a little breathless by the intense gaze. “I wasn’t sure….”

“It’s been a really long time,” Lan Zhan agreed, setting the cup down and making as if to reach for Wei Wuxian’s hand again, just as he had yesterday. “Wei Ying….”

“Lunch,” Wen Ning said from beside the table, suddenly appearing, sliding the plate right between them. Wei Wuxian started; he hadn’t even noticed Wen Ning approaching, and drew his hand away with a soft laugh.

Lan Zhan turned his glance up to Wen Ning, and said very politely, “thank you.” Wen Ning nodded but didn’t move.

“Oh! This is – Lan Zhan, this is Wen Ning,” Wei Wuxian introduced. “Wen Ning – Lan Wangji – he’s –”

“Your friend from before,” Wen Ning agreed. “Jiejie told me.”

That – immediately – made Wei Wuxian suspicious. He narrowed his eyes at Wen Ning again, but he seemed completely unmoved by the hints Wei Wuxian was trying to throw. They sat there – or stood there, in Wen Ning’s case – awkwardly silent until, finally, the bell on the door rang as it opened, and Wei Wuxian was forced to turn his attention away.

“Welcome to Yiling,” he called out, waving at the small group of people who’d just entered. “I’ll be right with you.” He looked back at Lan Zhan and smiled at him, soft and apologetic. “Enjoy lunch. I’ll be back.”

He got up and went to the counter, looking back at the table – the same table as yesterday, the one in the corner, nearest the paintings of lotus pond that Wei Wuxian had painted there in a fit of homesickness – and fought the urge to go back over there.

Wen Ning was saying something to Lan Zhan, too low to be overheard, and Lan Zhan’s face was giving absolutely nothing away. He made the coffees, attention still on the pair, extricating himself from the customers for a moment as he saw Wen Ning walk away. He grabbed his wrist before he could go into the kitchen, leaning in close.

“Wen Ning,” he said, quiet and firm. “What did you say to him?”

Wen Ning looked over, the perfect picture of innocence. “I was just talking to him about the café,” he said, but Wei Wuxian was finding it increasingly difficult to believe him.

“Wen Ning,” he said again.

“That’s all!” Wen Ning said, not quite meeting his eyes. “And complimenting his music, seeing as you play it constantly.”

Wei Wuxian’s grip tightened, pulling Wen Ning closer. “Wen Ning,” he said again, gentle. “It’s – it was never his fault, okay? I know what Wen Qing thinks but – it was me. I – It was never his fault.”

Wen Ning smiled at him, soft and easy, twisting out of his grip easily. He patted Wei Wuxian’s arm gently, and then quietly slipped away back to the kitchen.

Wei Wuxian glanced up to find Lan Zhan watching them. He gave Lan Zhan a reassuring smile – or what he hoped was a reassuring smile, he wasn’t entire sure he had full control of his body right now considering the stress everyone he knew was apparently trying to heave onto it – and waved, then turned back to finish with the customers.

“Sorry, sorry!” he said, slipping a couple of cookies onto a plate as he finished the coffees. “Treat on the house for the delay.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Lan Zhan pulling out a laptop and settling with it in front of him as he ate.

Lan Zhan…. Lan Zhan was staying. Despite everything Wei Wuxian tried to do, he felt hope – a traitorous, tiny, spark of that unwanted want – rise inside him.

It doesn’t mean anything, he tried to tell himself, eyes sliding over to where Lan Zhan was still sitting, tapping at the keys on his computer, looking completely focused on whatever it was on the screen. It doesn’t mean…. He’s just… he’s here. And that was what Wei Wuxian couldn’t get passed – that was one reason the hope refused to die again. Lan Zhan was here. He could have chosen to go anywhere, but he’d chosen to come here, where Wei Wuxian was.

Maybe, he traitorous part of him whispered, it means he’s forgiven me.

He heard the frustrated, almost silent huff as he went by the table a little later. “Refill?” he asked, reaching for the empty cup.

Lan Zhan looked up at him, lips curling up into a tiny smile. “Please.”

He heard the frustrated huff again when he came back with the refill, noticed the tiny shift in his expression that he was quite sure meant Lan Zhan was glaring at the screen. He put the cup down and slid into the seat opposite him once more, waiting until Lan Zhan looked up, a little sheepish at being caught emoting, probably.

“Everything all right?”

Lan Zhan sighed and turned the screen around, indicating for Wei Wuxian to look at it. It took him a moment to actually realise what he was looking at.

“Is that the artwork for the concert?” he asked, raising his eyebrows. “That’s… that’s. Something is really wrong with that.” It was… it was quite hideous, really. “Did you hire a professional for this?”

If Wei Wuxian sounded incredulous, it was because he really was. He’d seen work from some of the art students in the area and some amateurs on the internet who could do better than the… the atrocity on Lan Zhan’s screen.

“Yes,” he said shortly, glaring at the screen. “I have tried to get them to fix it multiple times. Each time, it comes back worse.”

“Here – can I – ?” Wei Wuxian shifted in his seat, about the pull the laptop closer – but he shifted his seat instead, sliding it to sit right beside Lan Zhan. “Do you have the ai file of this? Oh, great – that’s… Let’s start with getting rid of all of this… what even is all of that supposed to be?”

“Confetti,” Lan Zhan sighed, soft and so put-upon Wei Wuxian had to laugh.

“It’s okay, Lan Zhan,” he promised, turning to give Lan Zhan his brightest smile. “We’ll fix it.”

He watched Lan Zhan drop his eyes, a small smile tugging the corner of his lips up. “Thank you,” he said, and Wei Wuxian felt something twist in his stomach, happy and sad and incredible and painful all at once.

“Don’t say thank you yet,” he managed to get out, turning his attention back to the screen. “I haven’t even finished fixing it. You might hate it.”

“Impossible,” Lan Zhan said quietly and firmly beside him, and Wei Wuxian could feel the heat radiating off his body as he settled closer.

And, for a moment, they weren’t in Yiling at all; they were sixteen years old, basically in each other’s lap, pressed up right against each other’s side, Wei Wuxian giggling softly as they fought over the mouse on the laptop, trying to put the finishing touches on their project without getting too distracted by one another. He could remember it so clearly – the way Lan Zhan had turned, soft lips brushing gently over Wei Wuxian’s cheek; how he’d slid his hand into Wei Wuxian’s, threading their fingers together and squeezing; his soft, “thank you, Wei Ying” that had made Wei Wuxian’s heart soar.

Wei Wuxian closed his eyes, swallowed hard, and when he opened them, he was back in Yiling, the picture of the brilliant, incredible man beside him open on the laptop in front of them, reminding Wei Wuxian exactly how far out of reach Lan Zhan really was now.

“I hope he’s paying for your time,” Wen Qing said who-knew-how-long later. Wei Wuxian had been so focused on the edits he was making to the poster in front of him, to Lan Zhan’s quiet instructions and murmured approvals from beside him that he hadn’t been aware of much of anything else. “Because he’s certainly wasting a lot of it.”

Wei Wuxian turned to find her standing behind them, hand on her hip. “Doesn’t he have professionals to do that?”

“Wen Qing,” he protested immediately, turning, already starting to apologise to Lan Zhan for her rudeness.

“No – she’s right,” Lan Zhan said quietly. “This is a huge imposition. I will, of course, compensate - ”

“No,” Wei Wuxian said, before Wen Qing could articulate her agreement to that. “I offered. I mean – I didn’t even ask, I just did it. Absolutely not,” he said again, shaking his head as Lan Zhan seemed to make to reach for his wallet. “No.”

Wen Qing snorted inelegantly. “Wei Wuxian,” she said with a sigh. “You’re a fucking idiot.” She shook her head, glaring at Lan Zhan again, before she gestured at the clock. “You are supposed to be going to class.”

He looked up and swore. “Fuck – fuckfuck, yes – shit,” he said, scrambling up and almost tripping over Lan Zhan’s legs. “God – fuck, I’m so sorry, Lan Zhan – I have to – “

Lan Zhan looked up at him and inclined his head. There was most definitely a small smile on his lips. “I… I can come back tomorrow?” he asked, and Wei Wuxian… god, he thought he actually imagined hearing a little hopefulness in that question.

He wasn’t sure, but he… as hard as he tried, he couldn’t help but hope.

“Yes,” he said quickly, scrambling to get the apron off. “Yes – please. Come back tomorrow.” He grabbed his bag from under the counter, made a detour to Lan Zhan’s table. “I – “He took a slow breath, offered a warm smile. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Lan Zhan.”

“See you tomorrow, Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan answered, doing a masterful job of ignoring Wen Qing’s glare.

Wei Wuxian took his lead in that and, also ignoring her glare, called out another goodbye before rushing out of the café and towards his night class. This time, he couldn’t even find it in himself to stop hope from taking hold of his heart and, as much as he was trying to prepare for disappointment, he just couldn’t help but feel lighter.

If nothing else, he would see Lan Zhan tomorrow. That was more than enough to hope for.

--

It starts with a bet. All mistakes, Wei Wuxian thinks, start with a bet.

It’s starts with a bet and ends with Wei Wuxian losing everything.

It starts with Jiang Cheng getting bored of Wei Wuxian’s infatuation, of one too many comments about Lan Zhan, one too many “what-ifs” – just a brother who wanted to find some way to get Wei Wuxian to rise to the occasion rather spend any more of their teenage years pining after a boy he’d probably been in love with half his life.

They’re standing off to the side in the gym, their fencing masks off and dangling at the side, foils in hand, watching Lan Zhan compete – Wei Wuxian, Jiang Cheng, Nie Huisang huddled together, other team members a little way away from them – and Wei Wuxian’s cheering is perhaps a little too enthusiastic, but he doesn’t care what the others think – because that parry and riposte had been beautifully executed and won Lan Zhan the victory – and the championship.

He thinks he might see a smile on Lan Zhan’s face when he takes his mask off and turns to them, eyes catching Wei Wuxian’s, holding for a moment, before he turns away to shake his opponent’s hand.

He sighs happily. “Lan Zhan’s just so good.”

Jiang Cheng makes a retching noise. “You’re disgusting. When are you going to tell him you have the world’s biggest crush on him?”

Wei Wuxian snorts. “I’m not. I mean – I do not.”

“Oh, you do,” Nie Huisang says, knocking his shoulder against Wei Wuxian’s. “You really, really do. It’s visible from like. Outer space.”

Wei Wuxian rolls his eyes and waves enthusiastically when Lan Zhan looks over again.

“Seriously, Wei Wuxian,” Jiang Cheng says. “Ask him out.”

“Nope.”

“Why not?” Nie Huisang demands. “I dare you to.”

Wei Wuxian laughs, shaking his head. “I’m not taking that.”

“I’ll bet you anything,” Jiang Cheng says, “that he’ll say yes. Anything.”

Wei Wuxian snorts, looking over incredulously at Jiang Cheng. “You want me to bet against myself? Those aren’t exactly good odds, brother.”

Jiang Cheng laughs. “What am I supposed to say then? That I bet you anything you can’t get him to go to the end of year dance with you?”

“I don’t even understand the odds right now,” Wei Wuxian laughs with him.

“You get him to go the dance with you – you get a dance with Lan Wangji, and I get to pick the music in the car for a year and half of your allowance for – oh – three months?” Jiang Cheng says.

“And if he doesn’t?”

“Well – what would you want?”

“Your support while I cry forever?” Wei Wuxian says, nudging his brother’s shoulder before throwing an arm over his shoulder. “Half your allowance for three months – and you are not allowed to complain about my music tastes in the car all year.”

“I want in on this,” Nie Huaisang says, sliding in between them. “What do I get?”

“Copy my homework for the rest of the year?” Wei Wuxian asks.

Nie Huaisang grins. “Better yet, do my homework or the rest of the year.”

“I don’t even know which side you’re betting for,” Jiang Cheng points out.

“Ah, whichever side wins, I’m going to get someone to do my homework, right?” Nie Huaisang says with a laugh. “So I definitely think this one is a win-win for me.”

Wei Wuxian laughs, and then is immediately distracted by Lan Zhan walking over to them. He winks at his little group, extracting himself from them to go to Lan Zhan’s side.

“That was so great, Lan Zhan!” he says enthusiastically, falling into step beside him even as Lan Zhan continues to walk towards the changing room. “Congratulations on the championship.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan says, and it might be Wei Wuxian’s imagination, but he thinks Lan Zhan might slow a little to let Wei Wuxian match his pace more easily.

“Do you want to come out for milkshake with us after?” he asks, turning a little to see Lan Zhan’s expression, smiling a little more brightly when he saw that it didn’t change. No annoyance at the question – definitely a plus point for him.

“Okay,” Lan Zhan says with only the barest hesitation, and Wei Wuxian beams at him. To think, it would take Jiang Cheng and that stupid bet for him to actually think seriously about asking Lan Zhan out – but now that the thought was really there, planted in his mind, he couldn’t seem to shake it.

Maybe the bet is exactly what he needs to finally push him into asking what he’s always wanted to ask anyway.

Eventually, anyway. He’s not quite ready to take that plunge yet. He’s still got a little while, and it’ll make it all the better when he collects his reward.

--

“I think we need a house meeting,” Wei Wuxian said pointedly, poking his head into Wen Qing and Wen Ning’s apartment as he came back that evening before evening thinking about going upstairs to his own rooms.

They were both giving him looks of utter innocence that he was not buying in the least. He sighed and took off his shoes, coming inside. “Seriously,” he said. “We need to talk.”

“So talk,” Wen Qing said, raising an eyebrow. She reached out a hand to pause the movie they had on and put down the textbook she’d been reading.

“If he comes back tomorrow,” Wei Wuxian said, and ignored Wen Qing’s snort of incredulity “If he comes back, which, by the way, if he doesn’t, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be your fault for being so rude to him… let’s not be rude like that again, okay?”

Wen Qing raised an eyebrow. “Why not? Was anything I said untrue? He’s rich as fuck. He shouldn’t be making you – a poor student, struggling artist, and café worker – do free work for him.”

“I was just helping,” Wei Wuxian said with a roll of his eyes and then he shook his head, sighing. “And you know that’s not what I meant.”

They were all silent for a minute before Wei Wuxian let out a soft sigh. “It really wasn’t his fault,” he said quietly.

“He’s the reason you were thrown out,” Wen Ning pointed out, his own voice just as quiet, a little hesitant.

“No – not exactly,” Wei Wuxian said, shaking his head again. “I did that to myself.”

“Yes, you just… spontaneously decided to get yourself thrown out, disowned, left wandering the streets alone and basically penniless,” Wen Qing said, eyes flashing with anger. “What would have happened if you hadn’t walked into our shop that day?” she demanded. “What if you’d – I don’t know, walked in somewhere else where people had been less – less – what would you have done, Wei Wuxian? What the hell would you have done?”

“No, that’s not – I mean – god, Wen Qing,” he said with another shake of his head. “That’s not what I meant either – stop misinterpreting my words.”

“You were sixteen years old,” she hissed in a whisper.

“I made the bet,” Wei Wuxian said. “I’d been – been messing around, making a mess – for years – and I – they weren’t wrong, I did make that bet, I did do it because of the bet – and then I – “

“You were sixteen,” she said again, louder this time. “Stop taking on the weight of the fucking world, Wei Wuxian. You were sixteen years old, and you made a mistake, and they abandoned you.”

She swallowed hard. It wasn’t until she reached over and wiped a tear from his cheek that he realised he was crying. Her eyes were flashing, bright and angry – but also bright with their own tears. “They abandoned you because they were more worried about saving face than they were about you. And now you’re asking me to be nice to one of them?”

“It – it wasn’t Lan Zhan’s fault,” Wei Wuxian said, reaching up to take her hand, squeezing it gratefully. “I hurt him.”

“He wouldn’t even listen to you,” Wen Ning said quietly. “When you wanted to explain.”

Wei Wuxian looked at him, eyes widening. “How – how did you know?” He’d never told them that. He’d never told them the details.

“You talk in your sleep, Xian-ge,” he said quietly. “Sometimes, you beg him to just let you explain.”

Wei Wuxian closed his eyes, letting out another slow, shaky breath. “It wasn’t his fault. I hurt him. You don’t – you don’t understand. You couldn’t understand.”

“So explain to us why we should be nice to him,” Wen Qing said. “When he’s been such a big part of that sadness you’re always carrying around. When the last time I found you crying your eyes out, absolutely inconsolable, right here on this couch was when you’d just come back from one of his concerts. Why the hell should I be nice to him?”

“Lan Zhan didn’t have many friends,” Wei Wuxian said quietly. “Or, well, any friends. He was just so fucking perfect all the time – one of the Lans, whose uncle owned the school, whose brother ran it; top the class for everything, a prodigy at every activity whether that was music or sport or art. Like an ice prince. Ever since we were little, he was just… this untouchable person no one dared approach.

“But I’m… well, I’m not very good at doing what I’m supposed to so I just – I couldn’t help it. I approached. I tried to be his friend, kept bothering him even though… Well, sometimes, I think he was just too well brought up to tell me to go away. He only told me to piss off once or twice, which was quite something, I’ll tell you. I was so proud of myself.” He gave a wistful smile, laughing a little wetly at the expression on Wen Qing and Wen Ning’s faces. “I’m not selling this, am I?”

“No,” they both said at the same time.

Wei Wuxian shook his head, still smiling wistfully. “The point is he never let anyone in until I forced my way into his life. And he let me in. After the bet, after I started seriously considering my crush might be something – I – he let me in. He’d never let anyone get close to him, and when he opened up – I did that to him.”

“You made a dumbass bet with your brother,” Wei Qing said, raising an eyebrow. “I mean, I’ve heard worse, Wei Wuxian. That’s not exactly a reason to cut you out of his life so decisively. I mean, sixteen-year-old boys…” She snorted derisively. “Not really known to be the picture of tact and subtlety.”

“It wasn’t just the dumbass bet, which was stupid enough,” Wei Wuxian said, closing his eyes. “It was… it was so much more. You can’t possibly understand – how it came out, what people said about him afterwards – what people said to his family. It… it wasn’t just the dumbass bet.” He could still remember that moment, remembered it so vividly he could have painted it a million times over, and each and every rendition would look exactly the same.

Wei Wuxian, in a spitting rage, in the middle of the great hall, rising to bait he knew better than to rise to, stepping forwards to have it out with Jin Zixun. Lan Zhan, catching the punch Jin Zixun had thrown with one hand, other hand curled around Wei Wuxian’s wrist, holding him steady, stopping him and supporting him all at once.

Jin Zixun pulling back, rubbing his hand, glaring, spitting out, “You, Lan Wangji? Defending that low life? Don’t you know he’s playing you, just like he’s playing the rest of the world? You’re protecting him – but the reality is, he’s just doing you to win a bet.”

And beside him, Su She – “Is he doing you or are you doing him? There’s a lot of money riding on that too, Lan Wangji. Fair game for us to bet on your activities when your boyfriend is doing the same, right?”

The sounds of laughter, too many people humming in agreement – and the guilty looks on both Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang’s faces – and probably his own horrified expression. He remembered Lan Zhan dropping his hand like it burned, remembered his expression as he’d looked at Wei Wuxian – disgust and horror and pain – and then he’d disappeared into the crowd.

Wei Wuxian had been left standing there, people giving him knowing looks and murmurs and insinuations of such – such crassness – about a relationship that had become so important to him, with Su She and Jin Zixun looking so, so smug – and his brother and Nie Huisang holding him back, trying to stop him from hitting Jin Zixun in his arrogant little face.

He’d been sent to the school office for brawling. Lan Xichen had sent him home.

The next day, Lan Zhan hadn’t come to school, and the gossip had been everywhere – and not just in words – but pictures, and social media posts, and speculation, and more and more bets, and demands for him to answer questions so they could see who’d won how much.

It had made enough of a fuss for every societal news source to have heard about it.

The Jiang’s secretary’s son – the one they’d adopted and who Jiang Fengmian doted on for reasons “unknown” – and his bet to get Lan Qiren’s perfect, beautiful nephew – the apple of society’s eyes – ruined.

And Wei Wuxian hadn’t been able to deny it.

He’d never even had a chance to explain. Lan Xichen had sent him home.

And then… he’d gone away. Up until yesterday, his last memory of Lan Zhan had been that look – disgust, horror, pain.

In that moment, he’d known Lan Zhan had hated him, and Wei Wuxian hadn’t blamed him. He’d hated himself too.

“What the fuck do you mean you didn’t blame him?” Wen Qing demanded. “Why the fuck didn’t he ask you? Why the fuck didn’t anyone ask you?”

“I – the big families,” he tried to explain, feeling… something – lighter, so grateful he could cry – at her immediate defense of him. “You have to understand….”

“That they valued their own faces over your life,” Wen Ning said, repeating his sister’s words from earlier. “And we’re supposed to… to what, Xian-ge? Forgive them?”

Wei Wuxian bit his lip, looking from one face to the other, finding in their expressions all the anger – on his behalf and not at him – all the acceptance, all the sympathy he’d never seen from anyone else over this – not even from himself, and felt the tears start again. “I don’t know,” he said softly. “Understand, maybe?”

Wen Qing’s arms came around him, and Wen Ning shifted to rub lightly at his back.

“Wei Wuxian, you are the most kind-hearted, compassionate idiot I’ve ever met,” she said with a soft sigh. He wasn’t entirely sure that was a compliment. “You really want us to forgive him, don’t you?”

Wei Wuxian swallowed hard, nodding almost imperceptibly. “He doesn’t hate me, Wen Qing,” he said, voice small. “He… I’ve always thought – I was so worried he – but he doesn’t hate me.”

He was silent for a few more moments before he whispered – so, so softly, afraid of what the words might mean – afraid of the hope that seemed to refuse to die inside him since earlier this morning – “Maybe… maybe he’s forgiven me. Maybe he’ll finally listen.”

She hugged him tighter, and he felt Wen Ning’s arms join his sisters, holding him close and safe and loved. “I’ll fucking gut him if he doesn’t,” she said, voice suspiciously wet.

“Jiejie,” Wen Ning added, voice also thick with tears, but his words were ringing with a clear resolution. “I’ll help you hide the body .”

Chapter Text

Lan Zhan came back to Yiling the next day, just like he promised. And the day after. And the day after that. After a week, Wen Ning finally gave in and reserved the table in the corner for him. About a week after that, they almost didn’t need the reservation sign on the table anymore; the regulars had stopped trying to sit there. It was just a given that, at around two o’clock every day, just after the lunch rush, Lan Zhan would turn up and occupy it.

He spent his time switching between talking quietly to Wei Wuxian, mostly about his work, about his latest project – sometimes carefully alluding to other people from Wei Wuxian’s past, but never dwelling long on them. Wei Wuxian helped him to finish the artwork for the new poster, and even helped input some ideas on some of the staging and various other things Lan Zhan sometimes asked his opinion on.

When Wei Wuxian was busy with the café, he simply worked on something by himself and, occasionally – well, more than just occasionally – Wei Wuxian would look over to find Lan Zhan watching him, an unreadable expression on his face.

On other days, A-Yuan sat with him. Wei Wuxian’s heart had turned over the first time he glanced in that direction to find Lan Zhan helping A-Yuan with his homework, and it still did a small little flip every single time it happened. Wei Wuxian wasn’t entirely sure he’d ever get used to that sight.

Every day, Lan Zhan seemed to stay a little later, seemed a little more reluctant to leave – at least, on those days when Wei Wuxian didn’t have class. Sometimes, Wei Wuxian was afraid it was his over-active imagination reading into something that wasn’t there, but the hope blossoming and growing inside him was getting harder and harder to kill with every day that passed.

He prayed it wasn’t just his heart setting itself up for heartbreak – but late one night, sitting in his studio, finishing up one of the art pieces he’d been working on all week, he thought the heartbreak might be worth it if that really was the case. He glanced at the picture and smiled, feeling warmth spread through him.

It was an artistic rendering of Lan Zhan as Wei Wuxian had found him these past two weeks, sitting at the corner table in Yiling – but instead of the laptop he usually had with him, he was playing his qin. When it was dry, Wei Wuxian planned to give it to Lan Zhan. He wasn’t sure what Lan Zhan would do with it, but it had been done with Lan Zhan’s current project in mind – perhaps he could display it at the concert; perhaps it might make a little bit more money for the charity he was supporting or something.

Wei Wuxian let out a pleased sigh, and started packing up the paint. It was well-past time he should have gone to bed, but Lan Zhan had been on his mind and…well, he’d wanted this to be finished as soon as possible.

He thought about the future again – about the possibility that, after this project was over, after he wasn’t required to be around this area anymore, maybe Lan Zhan would disappear again. What reason did he have to stay in this neighbourhood anyway…. He’d disappear back to his life of glamorous parties and expensive dinners, beautiful clothing and even more beautiful people – and Wei Wuxian would still be here, running Yiling, the table empty without Lan Zhan there – Wei Wuxian empty once again.

Wei Wuxian shook his head, huffing out a laugh at how ridiculous he was being. He didn’t have any right to Lan Zhan’s time or attention – or any claim on him at all. They were just… he hoped Lan Zhan could see them as friends, anyway – that much rekindled in the last two weeks - and just getting to spend a little time with Lan Zhan again… that was definitely worth any heartbreak that might follow.

--

“How will you even decide what you’re going to work when you leave school, Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying asks, hand working rapidly over the sketch pad in front of him, eyes flicking up to where Lan Zhan was sitting, qin in his lap, plucking up the soft sounds of a melody Wei Wuxian doesn’t recognise.

“Hm?” Lan Zhan asks, looking up curiously. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, you’re so good at everything,” Wei Wuxian says honestly. “How are you going to decide what you’re going to do?”

Lan Zhan blinks, shakes his head a bit, picks out a few more soft, ringing notes. “It will be clear when the time comes. What about you, Wei Ying?”

Wei Wuxian laughs. “I don’t know. I think I want to be an artist, but I’m not sure that’s going to be an option, you know? Not with helping Jiang Cheng with the business and everything.”

“You have a head for business.”

Wei Wuxian shrugs, finishing the sketch quickly but deciding to add a couple of flower petals drifting down from the trees into the picture as well since the wind had blown them so beautifully from above where Lan Zhan is sitting.

“I can manage okay,” he says finally. “I’d love to just… to be able to do something with my art though.” He turns the picture to show it to Lan Zhan with a flourish. Lan Zhan stops playing, reaching for the picture, and Wei Wuxian immediately brings it closer.

He’s silent for long enough that Wei Wuxian starts to fidget. “Do you like it?”

“You can draw things for me any time,” Lan Zhan says. “In the future, if I ever need an artist….”

Wei Wuxian laughs. “When you’re famous,” he promises, “I’ll design all your posters.”

--

The next day, Wei Wuxian presented Lan Zhan with the painting. He’d taken it downstairs with him in the morning, waiting for Lan Zhan to arrive, and had walked it over along with his green tea macchiato.

Lan Zhan stared, mouth going slack. He blinked once, twice, and then the sweet, beautiful smile Wei Wuxian remembered from too many years ago curled at the corner of his lips, soft and unguarded, and Wei Wuxian felt his breath catch.

God, Lan Zhan was so, so beautiful.

He watched as Lan Zhan hesitated, hand hovering over the canvas.

“It’s dry,” he promised with a soft laugh, feeling unaccountably nervous. Lan Zhan’s thumb, to Wei Wuxian’s surprise, ran lightly over the tiny line drawing of a rabbit Wei Wuxian had penned into the corner, inked over the almost imperceptible “wwx” signed at the bottom.

“Ah, I hope you don’t mind that,” Wei Wuxian said hurriedly. “I didn’t think anyone would notice, and just – if they did, maybe they wouldn’t see the initials and just the rabbit? And that would be – I’ve just – I thought I might put it into my portfolio in the future, maybe, and then it’s best to have some sort of indication that I – “

“It’s perfect,” Lan Zhan interrupted softly. “The world should know you painted it for me.” Lan Zhan took a soft breath. “If you don’t mind, Wei Ying, the world will know that you painted it for me.”

Wei Wuxian blinked. “What?”

Lan Zhan’s hand tightened on the edge of the canvas. “If you’ll allow it, I want this to be the final poster for the event.”

Wei Wuxian opened his mouth, but no words came out. He shut it, took a deep breath and tried again, “Lan Zhan…”

“Is that – will you allow it?” he asked gently.

“I – absolutely. Of course. God, of course,” Wei Wuxian said, laughing softly, incredulously. “It’s – if you like it, then yes. Of course.”

Lan Zhan’s eyes were smiling when he put the canvas carefully down against the wall beside his seat. “I love it,” he said quietly. “I have always loved your art.”

“I….” He didn’t even know what to say to that.

Lan Zhan was also quiet for a moment, silence feeling a little more loaded than usual, and then, slowly, like he wasn’t sure this was something he should ask, he said, “The classes you go to…. are they…. is it art school?”

Wei Wuxian slid into his usual seat, crossing his arms on the table and resting his chin there, looking up at Lan Zhan with a soft smile. “No,” he sighed, shaking his head. Just thinking about his classes made his head hurt. Maybe it made his heart feel even worse. “Business school.”

Lan Zhan tilted his head to the side, eyebrows turning down in a frown. “Business school? But you didn’t like business.”

Wei Wuxian fidgeted with the saltshaker on the table. “I – well. I still don’t,” he admitted quietly. “But that’s what you’re supposed to do, right? Or, at least, that’s what you’re supposed to have if you can’t be a doctor or an engineer or whatever – then at least, you could get a business degree and that would be… acceptable.”

“To whom?”

Wei Wuxian looked up, surprised. “Sorry?”

“Acceptable to whom?” Lan Zhan repeated patiently.

“People,” Wei Wuxian said, lips thinning, looking away. “Just – everyone. People.”

“Like who?”

Wei Wuxian huffed out a breath, a little angry, a little embarrassed, feeling a little hunted by the questions he didn’t really have an answer to. Or maybe he did – but they were ones he’d never, ever spoken out loud.

To you, he thought. To them.

“Everyone,” Wei Wuxian said, sitting up – but before he could leave, he felt Lan Zhan’s fingers wrapping around his wrist.

“Wei Ying,” he said, soft and apologetic, and Wei Wuxian looked up to meet his eyes because he didn’t think he could handle hearing Lan Zhan apologise for asking perfectly reasonable questions.

Wei Wuxian shook his head, fingers curling against the wood. “I never went back to school,” he said, voice managing not to shake. “But last year, I thought…. Well, a business degree.” He plastered on what he hoped was a cocky smile. “How hard could be, right?”

“It’s quite hard,” Lan Zhan said quietly. He hadn’t let go of Wei Wuxian’s hand, and he felt those fingers like a brand against his skin.

“Especially when you hate business,” Wei Wuxian said, deflating, smile dropping.

“So why not do something else?” Lan Zhan asked. It prompted Wei Wuxian to look up at him, surprised at the question. “You have always been so talented. Do something you love.”

Wei Wuxian glanced at the canvas sitting beside Lan Zhan, then at the café around him. When he looked back, he could feel that his smile was more genuine. “I am. Most of the time. Or, at least, some of the time.”

Lan Zhan nodded. “So why do you keep going to classes? If you hate it so much.”

Wei Wuxian let out a soft laugh, tinged with bitterness. “Why? Not obvious?”

“You have nothing to prove, Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan said – and god, why did he keep saying things that surprised Wei Wuxian? Why did he have to be so… so damn perceptive?

Wei Wuxian floundered for a response, and settled for, “Don’t I?”

“No,” Lan Zhan said decisively, as if he could speak for the rest of the world. As if he could speak for… for everyone else who mattered to Wei Wuxian. As if with that word alone, Wei Wuxian could get past the voices in his own head. “You are so accomplished.”

“Says the man whose concerts draw in thousands of people,” Wei Wuxian said – and this – this was safer ground. “Who pay thousands of yuan just for the honour of being in the same room as you because just those few hours listening to your music live – just right there in the same room as you – could bring a person to tears.”

It was Lan Zhan’s turn to look startled. “Wait – you’ve heard my music live?”

Wei Wuxian tried to backpedal but, somehow, his legendary spontaneity had deserted him in the face of Lan Zhan’s questions. “I – er – I mean, that’s what I’ve heard?”

“You’ve heard me play live,” Lan Zhan said again, grip on his wrist tightening. “A-Yuan said you had pictures. You said you’d followed my career.” Every sentence seemed more pained than the last. “Wei Ying….”

“Ah, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan – what are you thinking?” Wei Wuxian said helplessly. “I wasn’t – I wasn’t stalking you or anything. I just –" He sighed, looking down, shaking his head. “I’ve always loved hearing you play – and you were playing, right here in my city. So close.”

“So close,” Lan Zhan echoed, sounding a little breathless, but Wei Wuxian didn’t dare look up at him. He wasn’t sure what he was afraid of finding – he just knew he was afraid to find it there.

“So I went. I wanted to hear you play…. And I wanted to see you.” Wei Wuxian tried to find a smile, and finally looked up. The smile, Wei Wuxian was fully aware, trembled on his lips. There was nothing he could do to stop it. “So I went.”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan breathed, fingers tightening – tight enough, Wei Wuxian was almost sure they’d leave marks.

He thought maybe… maybe he really, really wanted them to. He wanted them to so much he was breathless with it. He swallowed hard, meeting Lan Zhan’s eyes, finding so many emotions there he couldn’t put a name to them all – his breath caught at the sight, mind blanking completely except for the need to just… just something.

The bell rang, forcing them to break eye contact, and Wei Wuxian let out a breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding, feeling his entire body shaking.

“Welcome to Yiling,” he called out, managing to make it sound almost – almost – like it usually did. Not quite though.

Lan Zhan’s fingers didn’t ease his grip on his wrist. He glanced back, down at them, up at Lan Zhan again, his own eyes wide. “I – Lan Zhan. I have to – “ He gestured to the counter with his other hand.

Lan Zhan’s grip eased very, very slowly. “Later,” he said, and Wei Wuxian didn’t think he imagined the note of pleading in his voice.

“Later,” Wei Wuxian agreed, easing very slowly out of Lan Zhan’s grip – which didn’t loosen all the way, not yet.

“Tonight,” Lan Zhan murmured softly, waited for Wei Wuxian’s nod of acknowledgement before finally letting him go.

Wei Wuxian could still feel the shape of Lan Zhan’s fingers on his wrist hours later – and echoing that, the shadows that might be bruises. He could feel it in his very bones.

--

There had been other eyes on him throughout the day – there always were – but he felt Lan Zhan’s like a physical thing, tracking his movements around the room, watching him as he worked, even when A-Yuan arrived and settled into Lan Zhan’s lap like he belonged there.

Wen Ning had appeared to take A-Yuan off him a few hours ago. He’d looked between Lan Zhan and Wei Wuxian, and then said quietly, “We’ll take A-Yuan tonight,” like he could feel the strange heaviness in the room. Or, at least, the heaviness in Wei Wuxian – one that made him breathless.

Lan Zhan’s attention stayed on him, focused and intense, the shapes of his fingers a brand on Wei Wuxian’s wrist. He didn’t leave.

He stayed until closing time – until the one lingering gentleman was finally asked to leave, and Wei Wuxian locked the door behind him, turning to find Lan Zhan next to him, one hand – the same hand – reaching out to curl fingers around Wei Wuxian’s wrist again.

“Wei Ying,” he said, gentle, voice exactly the same as he did when they were younger and they’d visited a petting zoo. Lan Zhan had crouched down near the rabbits, picked one up slowly and spoken to it, voice just as soft, just as soothing – and sometimes, Wei Wuxian thought that might have been when he’d fallen in love. That was how he was talking to Wei Wuxian now – like a rabbit that might bolt at any time.

As if Wei Wuxian could have moved away.

Instead, he swayed forwards into that touch, into that heat, helpless, as Lan Zhan’s grip tightened with his movement.

He looked up from Lan Zhan’s hand and finally met his eyes, felt his breath catch again at the intensity, watched them flicker from Wei Wuxian’s, down to his lips – back again – down once more when Wei Wuxian licked his lips.

“Wei Ying?” he said, and this time it was a question.

Wei Wuxian licked his lips again, deliberate this time – wanting so much but so afraid to take it, afraid to get it wrong. “Yes,” he whispered instead – and Lan Zhan kissed him.

Lan Zhan kissed him.

Soft and tentative, and so full of emotion Wei Wuxian didn’t even know how to take it. When he drew back slowly, Wei Wuxian followed with a whimper, hand going up to Lan Zhan’s neck, to keep him close, to kiss him again – and he found himself backed against the door, pressed there as Lan Zhan kissed him again, harder, tongue flicking out to run over the seam of Wei Wuxian’s lips.

Wei Wuxian didn’t even hesitate, parted them for him, let Lan Zhan lick into his mouth and met his tongue with his own. He moaned low, legs spreading to let Lan Zhan in closer, felt his weight pinning him to the door and reveled in it, arched into it, wanted more. They broke the kiss only to breathe.

Wei Wuxian dropped his head back against the door, panting softly, as Lan Zhan trailed his mouth over Wei Wuxian’s jaw, down his neck, pressing soft kisses across his skin. When Lan Zhan stopped at his pulse and bit, Wei Wuxian’s knees gave with a startled cry – but Lan Zhan was right there, shifting so Wei Wuxian could wrap his legs around his waist, taking his weight easily. He sucked harder and Wei Wuxian arched helplessly, hand – the one not still held by Lan Zhan – scrambling to find a grip at Lan Zhan’s shoulder.

Finally, Lan Zhan pulled back, trailed his mouth back up to catch Wei Wuxian’s, so soft and sweet and – god – so reverent, lips moving over Wei Wuxian’s skin, murmuring Wei Wuxian’s name like a prayer.

“Lan Zhan,” he breathed, and tugged lightly at his shoulder, wanting to see his face – felt a small, helpless sound leave his lips when Lan Zhan finally pulled back to let him. “Lan Zhan… you’re….”

He was crying. Silent tears against his cheek. “I tried to find you,” Lan Zhan said. “Wei Ying – I tried so hard to find you, but I couldn’t.”

Wei Wuxian’s breath caught. “I – Lan Zhan?”

“When I went back to school,” he said, words coming slowly, one by one, like a confession too heavy to hold, “I…. At first, I thought you were avoiding me. Then I realised… you weren’t there at all. I asked Xichen, but he wouldn’t tell me anything. So I asked Jiang Cheng.” His expression shuttered but the pain was clear enough. That couldn’t have been a good conversation. “When he told me – Wei Ying, I didn’t know.”

“Of course, you didn’t,” Wei Wuxian said, swallowing the lump in his own throat, reaching up to hesitantly brush away a tear.

“I should have listened. I should have known you’d never – but I was so hurt – and then you were gone.”

“Stop,” Wei Wuxian said, even though this might have been what he’d thought he’d wanted to hear from years. Now that the apologies were right there, the regret and guilt and recriminations right on Lan Zhan’s lips – Wei Wuxian didn’t want to hear them. “Don’t. Lan Zhan, you – it wasn’t your fault. I shouldn’t have – “

Lan Zhan cut him off with a firm shake of his head. “Don’t. Don’t try to take the blame. It was my fault. I should have known – I knew you, even if I didn’t know the story. But I didn’t think, I didn’t listen – and then you were gone.”

He brushed his hand over Wei Wuxian’s cheek, fingers trembling against his skin. “I tried to look for you. I’ve been looking for you.” Slowly, he brushed his thumb over Wei Wuxian’s lips. “Now, I’ve found you…. It wasn’t your fault, Wei Ying. It’s never been your fault.”

Wei Wuxian wrapped both his arms around Lan Zhan’s neck, felt the sob rise in his throat, dropped his legs back to the floor so he could press in closer, could feel both Lan Zhan’s arms around his waist, holding him up, holding him tight and close as he cried, felt Lan Zhan’s own tears against his skin.

It was more than he’d ever thought to dream.

Eventually, the tears subsided, and Wei Wuxian collected himself enough to pull back and offer Lan Zhan a watery smile. He threaded his fingers back through Lan Zhan’s, glancing up for permission to find it already in Lan Zhan’s eyes, in the way those fingers curled perfectly into his.

“Come upstairs?” he asked quietly. Lan Zhan nodded, squeezing Wei Wuxian’s hand gently, and Wei Wuxian thought maybe – just maybe – Lan Zhan might follow him anywhere.

Wen Ning’s door opened as they passed the second-floor landing, and Wen Ning poked his head out. “Everything all right?” he asked quietly, but Wei Wuxian saw his gaze drop to their joined hands, saw the small relaxation in his shoulders.

“Everything’s fine, Wen Ning,” he said, offering a soft, warm smile. Everything…. maybe everything was even a little more than fine. “Just going to show Lan Zhan my apartment.”

Wei Ning let out a soft laugh. “Uh huh. The apartment.” He shook his head and shot Wei Wuxian another smile. “Have fun, Xian-ge.” He shut the door, and Wei Wuxian lead Lan Zhan up another flight of stairs to his own apartment.

“The Wens own the building,” he explained, opening the door and tugging Lan Zhan in. He looked around a little self-consciously, trying not to think too much about what Lan Zhan would see, what he’d think.

“It’s not big or flashy or – “ Wei Wuxian cut himself off, not knowing how to say it’s nothing on anything you have, or anything we had without sounding rude. Instead, he just said, “It’s nothing much.”

“It’s beautiful,” Lan Zhan said, looking around. Wei Wuxian looked with him, wondering what it was he saw – he couldn’t help his own curiosity there, though he couldn’t bring himself to ask.

The apartment wasn’t large, and the decorations were mostly second-hand furniture with Wei Wuxian’s own additions to make it a little bit more homely – several new bright pieces of cloth sewed into the sofa here, a fresh coat of paint on the table there.

A-Yuan’s toys were neatly piled into their box in the corner, one rabbit thrown carelessly on the sofa where he’d left it. His blanket was folded up over the back, and several throw pillows that didn’t quite match scattered across the cushions. There were a couple of photos in frames up on the wall, mostly of Wei Wuxian and the Wens, and A-Yuan’s drawings taped to various services.

“This is the living room,” he said, leading Lan Zhan through it, gesturing towards the kitchen at one end, then towards some of the other doors. “This is A-Yuan’s room for when he’s a bit older – mostly, he prefers sleeping in with me still,” he said fondly, trying to just… give the tour. Not wonder what was going on in Lan Zhan’s mind.

“This is my studio,” he said, hesitating before opening the door. It was just a clear space – one that would let in plenty of light in the day time from the skylight above it. It wasn’t the space that had made Wei Wuxian hesitate though; it was the paintings that were still there, leaning against the wall. The ones he hadn’t even thought to try to sell, didn’t think they’d sell even if he tried.

Paintings of memories – Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli, just silhouetted shadows against a sunset, his old room at their house, the treehouse they’d built together one summer that they’d never got off the ground but were stupidly proud of anyway. There was a painting of a fencing tournament, and a few out-of-focus, stylised concerts, and one of Jiang Yanli, beaming bright, dressed for prom, just about recognisable if you knew what you were looking for.

And Lan Zhan. There was more than one painting there of Lan Zhan, recognisable probably even if you didn’t know what you were looking for. The one on the wall at the far end of the studio – one of the only ones actually hanging up, meant to be there, relatively permanent, was the one A-Yuan had copied two weeks ago when he’d first met Lan Zhan – Lan Zhan playing the qin at the one concert Wei Wuxian had managed to scrape enough money together to go to.

“Wei Ying….” He felt Lan Zhan’s hand tighten around his, and he ignored it, pulling him back and shutting the door. “And then this is my bedroom.”

Which was even more private, really. He tugged Lan Zhan inside, watched Lan Zhan’s eyes flicker to the desk in the corner – over the pictures there. A-Yuan and the Wens, and more drawings by A-Yuan – and a few of Wei Wuxian’s own careless sketches he’d liked enough to keep.

Tucked right in the corner of the room, pictures of himself and Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli – the family pictures he’d managed to take with him.

And then a small strip that were the only real pictures Wei Wuxian had of the two of them – of himself with Lan Zhan. They’d slid into the photobooth on one of their only official dates, Lan Zhan smiling that soft, secret smile that was all for Wei Wuxian, and Wei Wuxian grinning so brightly his eyes were just slits in every picture.

Also tacked up in that corner of the room were other mementos from Wei Wuxian’s past life – and from anything that might have reminded him of it, a small private shrine in the corner of his most private place. The original picture used for the painting in the studio was there, pinned carefully up – one of the many photographs Wei Wuxian had taken that night at the concert, a few more scattered artistically around it; alongside it, the ticket stub and the program, carefully preserved.

He knew it probably made him look painfully desperate, pitiful – but there was no point trying to keep it from Lan Zhan. Maybe if he was trying to decide whether he’d stay in Wei Wuxian’s life or not, he should see all the baggage Wei Wuxian was still carrying. Then – only then – could Wei Wuxian let Lan Zhan make any decisions.

If he was even considering it at all.

The rest of the room was nothing special – a double bed, covers not quite straightened, made in a hurry as he’d got up this morning, bookshelves with second-hand schoolbooks on some, comics and a couple of other novels on another, a forgotten coffee cup sitting on the bedside table next to an old lamp. All the usual things in a bedroom – and all second-hand, painted or drawn over to make it look like a feature, as the saying went, and not a bug.

He wondered what Lan Zhan thought – he’d lost the battle against his curiosity – and perhaps the slowly rising dread, and certainty that this truth might be too much for him.

That this would be a reminder for him that Wei Wuxian… well, Wei Wuxian wasn’t part of his world anymore. He was… secondhand. Shabby. Poor. Nothing at all like the people Lan Zhan no doubt mingled with on a regular basis, and nothing like his memory of his Wei Ying, who’d always been bright and loud and new.

His hand tightened convulsively on Lan Zhan’s, and Lan Zhan turned his attention back to Wei Wuxian immediately attentive.

“It’s not much,” Wei Wuxian said, looking out at the room, ignoring Lan Zhan’s gaze on the side of his face. “But it’s home.”

Lan Zhan was silent for a moment before he said very softly, “Are you happy?”

Wei Wuxian wasn’t sure how to answer that. He was quiet, just breathing into the question, for another few breaths, trying to collect his thoughts. “I’m not unhappy,” he said finally, glancing at Lan Zhan to find worried eyes looking back at him. Wei Wuxian gave a helpless little smile, tinged with sadness and regret. “I’ve missed you,” he said honestly. “And shijie. And Jiang Cheng. I miss home, and I miss… just. Not worrying so much about money and responsibilities, or thinking about whether we’ll have enough to send A-Yuan to a good school.

“I miss being able to just… buy a bracelet or necklace or earrings or concert tickets without feeling guilty about it. Stupid stuff – except for missing you and shijie and Jiang Cheng. Everything else is just…”

“Nice to have.”

Wei Wuxian nodded, then rubbed at his eyes tiredly. “I don’t need any of that stuff – not really. I feel like shit sometimes for wanting it anyway.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Lan Zhan said, turning to put a light hand on Wei Wuxian’s hip.

Wei Wuxian gave him a small, sad smile. “Yeah, so. It’s not – I’m not unhappy. I’m better off than I might have been, and I’m grateful for just….” He gestured around. “We’re not struggling. It’s not – It’s not perfect, but we’re not struggling.”

Lan Zhan nodded, worry in his eyes, and Wei Wuxian squeezed his hand again. “Come on – do you want something to eat? I don’t think we have anything fancy, but I think there’re some noodles in the fridge we can heat up. I’m starving.”

Lan Zhan followed him into the kitchen. Wei Wuxian indicated to one of the chairs at the kitchen table, and went to rummage around in the fridge.

Once the microwave was on, heating up some leftovers he had from yesterday, Lan Zhan asked, “How did you come to be here?”

Wei Wuxian glanced over to find Lan Zhan focused entirely on him. His breath caught, not quite able to believe that this beautiful, amazing man was sitting in his dingy little kitchen, staring at him like that – like he was the only thing in the world.

Like they were still sixteen, and Wei Wuxian was still the only one Lan Zhan had let get close to him.

He… he didn’t quite know how to answer that.

He let the silence stretch until the microwave dinged, and he brought the food over, offered a pair of chopsticks with a smile, sitting down opposite Lan Zhan. “Sorry, definitely no fancy dinner set up here,” he said apologetically. “I usually eat alone up here so…”

“It’s fine, Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan said quietly, reaching to pull Wei Wuxian to the seat beside him instead. He didn’t resist, settling in, letting Lan Zhan hook his foot around the chair’s leg and slide the chair – and Wei Wuxian – closer “Just. Please. Tell me. How did you get here?”

“I was pretty desperate by the time the money Unc – Jiang Fengmian gave me ran out,” Wei Wuxian said, trying to keep his voice matter-of-fact, trying to distance himself from the emotions he’d felt then. Fear. Desperation. Hopelessness. Absolute and utter despair.

He’d been trying to find a way to tell this like some story that had happened to someone else for years. He’d never quite succeeded in even lying to himself.

He’d been so scared and felt so alone.

Lan Zhan’s hand slid into his, squeezing gently. Wei Wuxian closed his eyes, squeezing back gratefully, before opening them again to stare at the plate of heated noodles in front of him. He wasn’t so hungry anymore.

“I was sleeping on the street by then, trying to make the money last for as long as possible, but within a day or two, I was starving.” He’d known he needed to find a way to get more money, to make some – get a job, do something – but no one had been willing to even talk to a dirty, exhausted boy who had nothing left to give.

Well, almost no one – and almost nothing. That had probably been the problem.

“I’d been sticking to mostly main streets, brightly lit places – places with a lot of people, hoping…. I don’t know. I don’t even remember what I was hoping for. Just hoping. I think maybe… it had worked once before. Jiang Fengmian had found me after my parents had died – I’d wandered the streets hoping then too, and my prayers had been answered – so maybe it was that. I don’t remember.”

He felt Lan Zhan’s hand clench convulsively, but he resolutely didn’t look at him. If he did, Wei Wuxian wasn’t sure he’d be able to keep going – but he’d practiced telling this story for that wild hope that maybe, one day, someone would listen.

Lan Zhan would listen.

So he’d tell the damn story so Lan Zhan would know.

“Anyway,” he continued. “I was just – sort of sitting there, out of money and just about out of hope, and this man approached me. I hadn’t been doing anything – just – sitting there, staring out at the crowd, and his eyes had caught mine.” He felt a disgusted shiver going through him even at the memory, but he forced himself to say the words, forced himself to get them out. “He asked me if I was alone, if I was hungry. If I wanted money.”

Lan Zhan sucked in an audible breath.

“All I had to do was suck his cock, he said,” Wei Wuxian said, trying to keep his tone exactly the same. “And I thought – well, how hard could it be?”

Lan Zhan’s grip on his hand almost hurt.

“Turns out it’s quite hard,” Wei Wuxian said determinedly. “Even when you’re desperate.”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan breathed.

“I was on my knees in this dirty back alley and I just – I couldn’t do it. I – I couldn’t. I think I started crying. He slapped me so hard my head spun, called me all kinds of names, and kicked me for good measure. He left me throwing up in the alley.”

Lan Zhan hissed out something that might have been a curse.

“I suppose I was lucky,” Wei Wuxian said, trying to make sure his voice didn’t shake the same way his body was starting to – fear and revulsion and that twisting in his stomach that was a mixture of shame and guilt and horror. He could still remember the absolute shock of the pain; he’d never hurt so much in his life. “That he just left like that – that he didn’t just fuck me anyway. It wasn’t like anyone would have helped me.”

“Wei Ying – I – Who was he?”

Wei Wuxian shrugged slowly, ignoring the tears running down his cheeks. “I don’t know. I hardly remember what he looked like. I staggered out of the alley eventually. I don’t really remember much, but I finally stumbled onto this street. The lights were on in this rundown teahouse, and there was a small family eating dinner and I just – all I wanted was a little light or warmth or… or something.

“Madam took one look at me – she always assures me I looked absolutely awful, like the most pitiful stray cat she’d ever seen – and I must have done.” Dirty and beaten and bruised and hopeless. “Then she ushered me inside, forced me to sit down and eat with them, helped me clean the blood off my face. Then she… offered me a job. And a place to sleep on the floor in the kitchen. She never even asked who I was or where I’d come from – she just… offered all that. For nothing. Wen Qing and Wen Ning accepted it like it was the most natural thing in the world. Eventually, we decided to turn Yiling Teahouse into Yiling Café and….” Wei Wuxian shrugged, lips tugging up a little into a small smile.

“I owe them everything,” Wei Wuxian said finally, letting out a slow breath. “I was so lucky I found this place and this family.”

He finally glanced over, slowly, careful, afraid of what he’d see in Lan Zhan’s eyes. He wasn’t expecting the angry tears he found there. He swallowed hard, reached up to brush away the tears – and Lan Zhan caught his hand, bringing it carefully to his lips.

“Wei Ying.”

“Lan Zhan,” he said, just as quietly. “Don’t cry. I’m here. I survived.” Lan Zhan nodded, but he used his hold on Wei Wuxian’s hands to pull him closer. Wei Wuxian laughed. “I don’t think I can get any closer, Lan Zhan.”

“Here,” Lan Zhan said, tugging again, and Wei Wuxian went with it, sliding into his lap because there really was nowhere else to go. Lan Zhan let go of his hands to slide his arms around Wei Wuxian’s waist and pull him close, leaning up to press a soft kiss to the corner of his mouth, his jaw, his neck, press his lips right against Wei Wuxian’s pulse once again. “You’re here,” he said, but it seemed more to reassure himself than it was for Wei Wuxian to hear. “You survived.”

“I survived,” Wei Wuxian repeated, tipping Lan Zhan’s face up so he could meet his eyes. “I’m here.”

“And I’m here,” Lan Zhan said with a nod, reaching up to pull Wei Wuxian down into a soft kiss as though he was sealing a promise.

Don’t get your hopes up, Wei Wuxian thought to himself even if a very small, traitorous part of him insisted that he wasn’t just getting his hopes up. He tried to stop himself hoping even as Lan Zhan kissed him again, so full of care – care and need and want. And that tiny part of him kept repeating, I’m not – it’s not for nothing. He cares. He’s here. He cares.

“You’re here,” Wei Wuxian whispered, trying to find the courage to say it – to speak the words out loud as if that would make this feel more real. Lan Zhan, here in his tiny kitchen, holding him with such care, kissing him with so much desire. Lan Zhan, Lan Wangji – the honest to god, most beautiful, ethereal creature Wei Wuxian had ever seen in his entire life – here, with him. “God, you’re really here. Lan Zhan. I can’t believe you’re actually here. With me.”

“With you,” Lan Zhan agreed. He brushed his thumb over Wei Wuxian’s cheek again, soft, wonder clear in his expression – leaned up for another soft kiss. “How did you get even more beautiful?”

That startled a laugh out of Wei Wuxian. “Idiot,” he said fondly. “I definitely didn’t.”

“You did,” Lan Zhan insisted, tucking a strand of hair behind Wei Wuxian’s ear. “You’re so beautiful.”

He actually felt himself blushing – had to shift to bring his hands up to hide his face. “Stop it. I can’t believe – I never imagined you’d be such a sweet talker.”

“I’m not,” Lan Zhan said, easing Wei Wuxian’s hands away from his face, holding them in his own. “But I’ve had time to think. There were so many things – there are so many things I want to say to you. I promised myself I would say them when I found you again.”

He looked so earnest, so real – like he really, really meant it. Like he’d been kept awake, just as Wei Wuxian had, night after night by thoughts of what-if and why didn’t I and if only – and now was finally, finally getting the chance to do some of those things.

Maybe, his traitorous heart said, it’s because he has been. He is. He cares.

“Lan Zhan….” What could Wei Wuxian even say to that.

“I’ve found you,” Lan Zhan said, voice almost pleading. He tightened his fingers on Wei Wuxian’s hand. “Please, Wei Ying. Please – let me take care of you.”

Wei Wuxian’s brain came to a screeching halt. He opened his mouth – but he was speechless, unable to process what Lan Zhan seemed to be asking him. It couldn’t be – that couldn’t be what he meant. He was probably just… probably just… just….

“Now?” Wei Wuxian managed to get out.

“Now,” Lan Zhan agreed, brushing his thumb over Wei Wuxian’s hand. “Tomorrow. Next week. Next month. Every day from now on. Wei Ying,” he said again, the pleading even more clear in his voice. “Please. Let me take care of you.”

Wei Wuxian’s eyes went wide, breath caught in his throat – but Lan Zhan’s eyes were absolutely serious, not keeping anything from him, expression completely open for Wei Wuxian to read. And it was there, the desperation, the need, the same longing that had plagued Wei Wuxian since he’d been thrown out, since he’d had to leave all that behind.

“I – Lan Zhan….”

“Please,” he said again, and Wei Wuxian… couldn’t think, knew there had to be a reason to say no – to deny them this.

“Your family – “

“I don’t care.”

“My family – the old one – all the things that all the families would say.”

“I don’t care.”

“The papers – “

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan said, soft, pleading, squeezing his hand tight. “I don’t care. I don’t care about any of that. Just you.” He brought Wei Wuxian’s hand up again, pressing his mouth against the pulse beating rapidly on the inside of Wei Wuxian’s wrist. “I just want you – safe and happy.” He glanced up through his lashes, met Wei Wuxian’s eyes. “And, if you want it – mine.”

Arguments, excuses, walls, resolve – everything crumbled under the intensity of that gaze, and Wei Wuxian found himself unable to breathe. He swallowed hard, lips parting so he could suck in a breath.

“God, Lan Zhan,” he breathed. “Shit. Fuck.” Another slow breath. “Give a man a chance. How can you expect me to think when you’re saying all that and looking like that and – fuck.”

Lan Zhan didn’t say anything, just kept looking up at him. Like that.

God, Wei Wuxian was so, so fucked. He made one last attempt, even though he wasn’t entirely sure why he was still trying to deny Lan Zhan this when it was all Wei Wuxian wanted as well.

“I’m not – look, this is it, yeah?” Wei Wuxian said, gesturing around them at the apartment. “This is all I have. Literally – this is it. This isn’t… I’m not – This – I’m not sixteen and confident and…and shiny anymore. Not someone who’ll graduate from a top university, step up into some big company or become a doctor – or whatever. I’m just – I’m an artist-slash-café owner who never graduated high school, doesn’t make the bed, almost never cleans the house, hates waking up early, can’t cook for shit – and comes saddled with a child and a whole second family because I can’t leave them, Lan Zhan – I won’t.” He took a breath, biting his lower lip, meeting Lan Zhan’s eyes again. “And you’re telling me you want this?”

“Yes,” Lan Zhan said, soft and simple.

“I’m not who I was nine years ago,” Wei Wuxian tried again. “You – you fell in love with me nine years ago. That’s not who I am anymore.”

“And two weeks ago,” Lan Zhan said, still quiet – and still absolute. “I fell in love two weeks ago.”

“You really want this,” Wei Wuxian said, a little incredulously. “Me. Like this.”

“Yes.”

“Be serious,” Wei Wuxian said shakily. “God, please, Lan Zhan. Because I don’t – I can’t – If you… if you change your mind.”

“I won’t,” Lan Zhan said, threading his fingers through Wei Wuxian’s, tangling them together. “Wei Ying, I won’t change my mind. Stop trying to change it for me.”

Wei Wuxian searched his expression again, trying to find any shadow – any hint at all – of doubt. But – if there was any there, Wei Wuxian really, really couldn’t find it. He swallowed hard, leaning forward to rest his forehead against Lan Zhan’s.

“Really?” he asked softly, needing to hear it one more time.

“Really,” Lan Zhan said, steady and patient as ever. “As you are now, the café, the apartment, A-Yuan. You. Say yes, Wei Ying,” he added again, the pleading back in his voice. “Let me take care of you.”

And Wei Wuxian stopped fighting – stopped even trying to fight something he wanted so much.

“Yes,” he finally said, giving in, surrendering – finally – to hope – and to Lan Zhan’s hot, hard – relieved – kiss.

--

Within moments, Lan Zhan’s kiss had gone from hot to burning, hands slipping from Wei Wuxian’s to slide up his back and into his hair, pulling as Wei Wuxian broke the kiss to breathe – pulling a low, helpless moan from Wei Wuxian’s throat – a moan that must have been both felt and heard because Lan Zhan’s mouth was kissing trails of fire down Wei Wuxian’s neck, nipping and biting and sucking – and every single movement was searing itself into Wei Wuxian’s memory, into his heart, into his very soul.

Wei Wuxian moaned Lan Zhan’s name like a prayer, arching helplessly – felt Lan Zhan’s hand on the back of his neck as his head tipped back a little too far, moving with him, supporting him as easy as breathing.

Let me take care of you rang true in every single touch, and it felt so amazing to just – to let go, let him, to believe that Lan Zhan really would that Wei Wuxian felt tears coming to his eyes. His hand scrambled back against the table, trying to find purchase, as the other clung to Lan Zhan’s shoulder – then abruptly felt himself move as Lan Zhan pushed out of the chair. Wei Wuxian’s hand on the table slid back – and he found himself sitting on it instead, arching up instead of back – trying to get enough leverage to follow Lan Zhan’s mouth for a kiss, legs automatically wrapping around Lan Zhan’s hips to try to get closer.

He let out a laugh against his mouth, breathless, so happy it hurt. “Bedroom,” he said Lan Zhan bit at Wei Wuxian’s lower lip, word flattening out into a low, needy moan. “Bedroom,” he repeated, trying to push off the table and ending up just rubbing up against Lan Zhan. “Our first time is not going to be on this kitchen table,” he said with another laugh when Lan Zhan made a frustrated sound and rocked in against him.

“C’mon, Lan Zhan – C’mon,” Wei Wuxian said, pushing a little again, trying to get off the table – managing to back Lan Zhan up the step that he needed to slide down, turning them so he could back up towards the bedroom, bringing Lan Zhan with him.

He ended up pressed against the wall instead, hands scrambling to get Lan Zhan’s shirt off him – lips parting long enough only to pull the shirt over his head and drop it to the side. Lan Zhan’s hands were trailing under his own shirt, which was already rucked right up as far as it would go without him taking it off, Lan Zhan’s hands trailing over his stomach, up to brush over a nipple – worked in circles there until Wei Wuxian was whining high in his throat, hips rocking helplessly against the leg Lan Zhan had wedged between his own.

“I want you to fuck me,” Wei Wuxian breathed as Lan Zhan’s fingers teased, slipping just under the waistband of his jeans. “God – Lan Zhan – please – I want you to fuck me.” His head banged back against the wall as Lan Zhan’s lips closed over a nipple, sucking hard, and he gave another helpless, needy whine. “Please – please, I need – please, Lan Zhan, please.”

Lan Zhan surged up to kiss him, hands sliding around to work the buttons of Wei Wuxian’s jeans free. “Yes. Whatever you want.”

“Fuck me,” Wei Wuxian said again. “Please – fuck – we have to – bedroom,” he managed finally, hands clinging, nails digging into Lan Zhan’s skin. “Bedroom – we have to – the bedroom. Need – the stuff’s all in the bedroom.”

“Bedroom,” Lan Zhan agreed, pulling back far enough to tug Wei Wuxian away from the wall and closer to him, using that moment to ease his shirt off as well, drop it to the side to join Lan Zhan’s own, careless with the clothing – but when he touched Wei Wuxian again, his touch was so gentle and yet Wei Wuxian could feel the want in every single movement.

Lan Zhan touched him like he was something precious, Wei Wuxian realised. He touched him like something he wanted to cherish.

Wei Wuxian laughed, happiness bubbling over as his hands slid over Lan Zhan’s shoulders as he clung to him. He turned and pressed a kiss to Lan Zhan’s jaw, dropped one hand to take Lan Zhan’s, and tugged him along with him, leading him back to the bedroom, glancing over his shoulder to smile happily at him.

He saw Lan Zhan swallow, felt his hand tighten on Wei Wuxian’s, wondered what he saw – but was more interested in what he was seeing instead – the appreciation in Lan Zhan’s gaze, the hunger in his eyes – the pure desire and want and… and love for him – for Wei Ying – that Wei Ying could see so clearly he wondered how he’d ever missed it before.

He let out another soft, helpless laugh as he drew him into the bedroom, pulled him in close and kissed him again – found himself pressing his lips against a smile, wrapped himself back around Lan Zhan and deepened that kiss. The back of his thighs hit the edge of the bed and he went down onto it, bringing Lan Zhan with him - but instead of following immediately, Lan Zhan pulled back from the kiss to look down at him instead, eyes warm.

Wei Wuxian gave him a soft smile, tipped his head back in blatant invitation – one that Lan Zhan didn’t refuse. He leaned down and kissed him, soft and lingering. He stroked his hand through Wei Wuxian’s hair, finally tugging the hair tie out then combing his fingers through Wei Wuxian’s hair – so careful, so soft – so much wanting in that simple touch.

Wei Wuxian felt himself starting to blush. “Lan Zhan,” he said, and reached out to slide his hands up the back of Lan Zhan’s legs, around to tug on the button of Lan Zhan’s jeans, ease the zipper down. He glanced up for permission, suddenly feeling a bit shy – found Lan Zhan watching him, eyes dark and hungry, but expression careful, concerned.

“Wei Ying.” His fingers stroked Wei Wuxian’s hair again. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” Wei Wuxian said, so much emotion welling up inside him just at the kindness, the thoughtfulness, the care of this amazing, wonderful incredible man in front of him, and Wei Wuxian wanted him so much. Any way he could have him. Every way he could have him.

He tugged Lan Zhan’s jeans and his boxers off his hips in one fluid movement, let out a low, appreciative sound as they dropped away, and Wei Wuxian slid his hand up the back of Lan Zhan’s thighs, over his arse, his hips – shifted to curl one hand around his cock with another low moan of pleasure.

It was echoed by Lan Zhan, who was still holding him gently, holding himself still, letting Wei Wuxian explore.

“Fuck,” Wei Wuxian breathed with feeling. “God, you’re so fucking beautiful. Every single part of you is so fucking beautiful.”

Lan Zhan’s hand twitched against Wei Wuxian’s head, and Wei Wuxian felt those fingers curl into his hair before they relaxed, softened their grip – which wasn’t at all what Wei Wuxian was going for. He leaned forwards instead, flicking his tongue out over the head of Lan Zhan’s cock, heard the sharp intake of breath from above him – and felt those fingers tighten, felt that sharp, helpless, amazing tug on his hair.

“If you keep teasing me,” Lan Zhan said, edges of his control clearly starting to fray. “I am not going to be able to fuck you.”

Wei Wuxian laughed, soft breath against Lan Zhan’s cock, licked it one more time because he could, and then looked up at his face, met his eyes with a wicked, playful grin. “So how would you like me, Lan Zhan?”

He dropped back onto the bed, stretching slowly and arched in blatant invitation. Lan Zhan’s eyes darkened, and he hummed quiet approval, running one hand gently down Wei Wuxian’s stomach, following the light dusting of hair down to finish undoing Wei Wuxian’s jeans. He eased back so he could pull them off – both the jeans and the boxers, leaning down to following the skin being revealed to him with his mouth – one leg, then the other – and then he just stood back and looked.

Wei Wuxian felt completely and utterly exposed. He’d thought that might feel uncomfortable, thought it’d be too much, thought he’d feel awkward or – or something. But instead, looking at the way Lan Zhan was watching him, Wei Wuxian had never felt more beautiful.

Lan Zhan looked at him like he was the only thing in the world worth looking at.

Wei Wuxian stretched deliberately again, watching Lan Zhan’s eyes follow the movement – and then slowly let his legs drop open, making space for him between them.

“When you’re done looking,” Wei Wuxian said softly. “You should come here and touch me.”

Lan Zhan let out a soft laugh – and oh – that was one of the most incredible, amazing things Wei Wuxian had ever heard. He wanted to hear it again – wanted to be the one to make Lan Zhan laugh like that again – wanted it so much he could taste it. Instead, he reached out as Lan Zhan moved, pulling him closer, pulling him down to settle against him, close enough to wrap his legs around his hips again and really feel Lan Zhan’s weight pressing him into the mattress, feel him right there, almost as close as they could get.

He arched up to catch Lan Zhan’s lips in another kiss, hummed soft approval when Lan Zhan deepened it again, sank into that kiss, into Lan Zhan, into the surrender of mouth on mouth and skin on skin – each touch, each brush of tongue against tongue, each stolen breath, each soft bite – all getting hotter, heavier, need building inside him until he was whimpering into every single movement, rocking up so he could feel more.

“Lan Zhan,” he whispered when he couldn’t take it anymore – when he just needed more. “Please.”

“Lube,” Lan Zhan said against Wei Wuxian’s lips, shifting to press his hand on Wei Wuxian’s hip, keeping him from arching up after him when Lan Zhan pulled back. “And condom.”

“Drawer by the bed,” Wei Wuxian said, wriggling against that hold, just to test it. His eyes widened when his brain caught up with his ears. “I – condoms though – I don’t think I have any. I don’t – but we don’t need to, right? We could just – “

“Won’t fuck you without one,” Lan Zhan said firmly, kissing him again. “Not until we’re both absolutely sure.”

“I’m sure.” Wei Wuxian’s voice was almost a whine – and Lan Zhan’s hand caught his before he could pull him back down and kiss him, stop Lan Zhan thinking so hard. Wei Wuxian arched up instead, deliberately provocative, shifting so Lan Zhan’s cock slid between his legs, against his arse. “Please.”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan said, strangled, shifting to press him down more firmly against the bed as he reached up to rummage inside the drawer for the lube. “We can do something else – oh.” There was a box of condoms in his hand along with the lube Wei Wuxian expected to be there.

Wei Wuxian blinked. “What.”

Very, very slowly, Lan Zhan plucked the post-it note stuck to the box off. He glanced down at Wei Wuxian, turning it around. “Be safe,” he read, enunciated each word far too clearly. “You’re welcome.”

Wen Qing.

“I – oh my god.” He had to actually cover his face in embarrassment. “Oh my god – oh god. I – I don’t know if I love her or hate her right now. I just – oh god.”

“Love her,” Lan Zhan said, and Wei Wuxian started laughing, uncovering his face so he could reach up and pull Lan Zhan down into another kiss, still laughing, against his lips. “I’ll bring a fruit basket tomorrow.”

Wei Wuxian just laughed harder, flipping them over so he could lean down and kiss that insanely, intensely incredible smile. It gave him the added advantage of being able to really rock down against Lan Zhan, rock back so Lan Zhan’s cock brushed against his arse again.

“Will you fuck me now?” he asked, reaching for the lube with one hand, Lan Zhan’s hand with the other. He squeezed out a liberal amount, coating Lan Zhan’s fingers, before moving their joined hands to his entrance – watching Lan Zhan’s face as he guided one of Lan Zhan’s fingers inside him.

They both made a small, helpless sound as Lan Zhan’s fingers pressed inside, Wei Wuxian’s trailing higher as he rocked back onto it, taking it further into him, feeling the intense intimacy of someone – of Lan Zhan – touching him like this, qin-roughened fingers easing deeper, careful with him even though Wei Wuxian knew he must be making it difficult for him to be.

Wei Wuxian squeezed around the digit, desperate, wanting, rocking back, trying to get Lan Zhan to hurry up. “Lan Zhan,” he moaned – moaned again louder when Lan Zhan finally – finally – moved his finger in time with Wei Wuxian’s movements.

“So beautiful,” Lan Zhan was saying, murmuring soft praise as Wei Wuxian felt his body relaxing with each movement, relaxing enough that the stretch of the second finger surprised him – blunt and intrusive, making him gasp out loud – and then whining – loud and high and demanding – when Lan Zhan stopped.

Lan Zhan shifted under him – slid his fingers out – which was not at all what Wei Wuxian wanted, and Wei Wuxian’s eyes fluttered open – when had he closed them? – about to protest, when Lan Zhan flipped them back over, pressing Wei Wuxian back into the mattress and leaning in to kiss him. Wei Wuxian whined against his lips instead, bending his knees, legs spreading wider in invitation or demand or both.

He felt a pillow being eased under his hips, felt Lan Zhan nudge his legs up a little higher – then felt those two fingers press carefully back in.

“Wei Ying,” he heard Lan Zhan say, looked up to find Lan Zhan watching him, all heat and want – and god, he wanted him so badly – and he could tell, just from looking at him, from nothing but the way Lan Zhan was touching him that Lan Zhan wanted Wei Wuxian. Wei Wuxian reached up and pulled him down into another kiss as he rocked back onto his fingers, working with Lan Zhan’s rhythm instead of trying to urge him to go faster.

“That’s it,” Lan Zhan said, and Wei Wuxian felt Lan Zhan’s fingers curl inside him – felt him hit something that sent pleasure rocketing through him, sent Wei Wuxian flying, a keening sound leaving his lips without him even realising it.

“There,” Wei Wuxian gasped, rocking back, searching for that feeling again – and he needn’t have worried, because Lan Zhan’s fingers were already there, already rubbing against his prostate, sending waves of pleasure through Wei Wuxian’s body. “God – there, yes – Lan Zhan, please. Please.” Felt his body relaxing as Lan Zhan played him like an expert, and by the time Lan Zhan eased in a third finger, Wei Wuxian felt like he was already mindless with want – welcoming it, wanting it, craving it.

More,” he moaned, reaching out to clutch at Lan Zhan, trying to get him closer – closer – needed him inside him. “Please. Now. You – your cock – Lan Zhan, fuck me. Please.” And then his cock was right there, nudging at Wei Wuxian’s entrance – pushing in, past the resistance – and sliding home in one slow stroke.

Wei Wuxian let out a cry at the utter perfection, the feeling of fullness and completion – or Lan Zhan, as close as another person could get, leaning down to kiss him as he let out a soft, breathless sob – arms and legs wrapping around Lan Zhan before he could pull back, pull away, take that sound as anything but the utter relief and happiness that it was. So close Wei Wuxian felt all the broken and missing pieces of his heart and soul sliding into place – felt whole and real and safe.

The feeling doubled, tripled, quadrupled – kept multiplying over and over as Lan Zhan started to move, at the slip-slide of body against body, at the sounds of their voices and their pleasure wrapped around them – Wei Wuxian felt everything being filled until it was overflowing, until it encompassed the past and present and future – until it filled his entire world with nothing but this – him and Lan Zhan – and LanZhanLanZhanLanZhan echoing into his very soul – louder and louder – surrounding him – in him and around him and everywhere, exploding into a constellation of stars as he felt Lan Zhan’s hand on his cock, stroking in perfect time to his thrusts – and then the wave crested and Wei Wuxian came, crying Lan Zhan’s name – hearing his own name echoed back as Lan Zhan followed him over the edge, just as he’d promised to follow him anywhere.

Complete and utter perfection.

He wasn’t sure anything could be better than that, but when he opened his eyes to find Lan Zhan watching him, somehow having maneuvered them so they were lying on their sides, still locked together. One hand was stroking his cheek gently as Wei Wuxian came back to himself, eyes so full of love it made Wei Wuxian want to cry, he knew that this – this right here – this was what bliss felt like.

“Hello,” Wei Wuxian said, turning to kiss Lan Zhan’s hand, reaching up to catch it with one of his own and thread their fingers together.

Lan Zhan smiled back at him – that soft, secret smile that had always – always – been just for Wei Ying. “Hello.”

They stayed like that, just watching each other, smiling stupidly at each other, for another few minutes before Lan Zhan moved, carefully pulling out. He leaned in to press a soft kiss to Wei Wuxian’s lips. With a soft, “I’ll be right back,” he slipped out of bed. When he came back, he was carrying a glass of water and a flannel. He sat on the edge of the bed and helped Wei Wuxian to sit up carefully, moving to let him lean against his shoulder, cradling him close – so, so gentle as he ran the flannel over Wei Wuxian’s body.

Reverent. As if Wei Wuxian was precious. As if he was something to be worshipped. Adored.

He offered him the glass of water, and Wei Wuxian couldn’t help the smile that tugged at his lips – one that came so naturally, so easily, Wei Wuxian didn’t even need to think about it.

“Thank you,” he said softly, taking careful sips of water before handing it back. Lan Zhan settled Wei Wuxian back under the covers – and Wei Wuxian only had a momentary flash of panic, thinking Lan Zhan might leave – before Lan Zhan was sliding in beside him, pulling Wei Wuxian in close again. He all but melted into Lan Zhan’s side, tucking his face into the crook of Lan Zhan’s neck.

He hesitated, but after a moment, he finally gave voice to his one fear, “Lan Zhan,” he said softly. “Tomorrow – please… if you’re going to – if you have to leave, please don’t go without waking me.”

“I’m not going to leave,” Lan Zhan murmured in response, kissing Wei Wuxian’s hair softly. “You said you’d let me take care of you; let me take care of you.”

“Mm,” Wei Wuxian agreed, already relaxing at Lan Zhan’s reply – feeling that relaxation go bone deep – soul deep – at the reassurance. He felt another kiss on his forehead, heard Lan Zhan murmuring something else, but he was already asleep before he was able to process whatever it was Lan Zhan had said.

--

Wei Wuxian woke up to fingers stroking his hair, tugging gently. He turned, half-opening his eyes, lips curling into a slow, happy smile as Lan Zhan’s face came into focus.

“Hello,” he said, voice still sleep-filled and heavy. Lan Zhan kissed him softly.

“I’m going to make breakfast,” he said, brushing Wei Wuxian’s hair from his cheek, tucking his behind his ear. Wei Wuxian turned into nuzzle against his head and nodded sleepily, still boneless against the sheets. Lan Zhan smiled, eyes soft, leaned down and kissed him again – once on the lips and once on his shoulder, before he withdrew.

Wei Wuxian drifted, mostly still asleep, body relaxed and aching in all the right places, and just basking in the sense of the deepest calm he’d felt in so long.

He heard footsteps in the corridor, smelled coffee and congee, and pushed himself up so he could turn over and look. Lan Zhan was framed in the doorway, carrying a breakfast tray, very obviously taking in Wei Wuxian.

Wei Wuxian gave him a bright smile, stretching on the bed – felt his smile growing as he watched Lan Zhan track the movement, watched him swallow hard – could see him actually needing to tell himself to move from the door and into the room, closer to Wei Wuxian.

“Like what you see?” Wei Wuxian asked. From the look in Lan Zhan’s eyes, he didn’t quite manage to keep all his quietly ignored insecurity out of the question.

“Very much,” Lan Zhan said seriously. He set the tray down on the bedside table, sitting down on the bed beside Wei Wuxian – leaned in for another soft kiss before offering him a bowl.

It had smelled amazing from the door, but it looked amazing as well – perfectly cooked pork congee, the egg looking bright and mouthwateringly perfect. And there was just enough red there to know Lan Zhan had added chili powder for him as well. Wei Wuxian beamed at him, taking a bit and moaning in pure appreciation.

Perfect.

“That’s – wow, that’s good.” A thought occurred to him, and he glanced over to where Lan Zhan was picking up his own bowl. “Wait – I have nothing in the kitchen,” he said slowly. “Except A-Yuan’s cereal and some bread. I’ve been forbidden from cooking breakfast – especially congee. Where….”

“I went downstairs and asked Wen Ning,” Lan Zhan said matter-of-factly, and Wei Wuxian felt something go warm and soft inside him, felt his heart grow, felt like maybe all this joy was too much for his body to handle. Wei Wuxian didn’t really know what he’d been expecting – he’d known people who were shy about mornings after, who didn’t want other people to know – and maybe he’d been expecting that from Lan Zhan – but he didn’t know why either.

Of course, Lan Zhan wouldn’t hide, wouldn’t pretend the Wens didn’t known he’d stayed over and exactly why he’d done it. Of course, he wouldn’t. But it was still a pleasant surprise to know it anyway.

Wei Wuxian gave him a grateful, only slightly watery smile. Lan Zhan was going to think he was crazy if Wei Wuxian kept crying at everything he did, but he couldn’t help it. It was just… so thoughtful, so unexpected. Everything Wei Wuxian had never even dared to dream of. “Thank you.”

“I’m glad you like it,” Lan Zhan said, and his gaze was just unbearably fond. Wei Wuxian smiled back, felt his cheeks heating, dropped his eyes to focus on eating his breakfast.

Once they were done, Lan Zhan put the tray away in the kitchen and came back to sit on the edge of the bed and… well, he didn’t quite fidget but there was definitely a strong sense of fidgeting. Something Lan Zhan was hesitating to say or do or….

Wei Wuxian felt his stomach sinking. “You have to go,” he said. It came out more of a statement than a question. “Don’t you.”

Lan Zhan looked up quickly, shaking his head. “No, that’s not – I don’t.” Which Wei Wuxian suspected, judging by the slight shiftiness that was still there, wasn’t entirely the truth.

“Then what is it?” Wei Wuxian said through the lump in his stomach. Something was wrong, and it was really starting to worry him. “Come on, Lan Zhan, you’re starting to make me nervous.”

Lan Zhan took his hand and squeezed hard. “Don’t be. Not between us.” He stroked his thumb over Wei Wuxian’s hand lightly, touch comforting. “It is just – yesterday, I sent a picture of your painting to my team. They published it today as the final artwork for my performance and for the rest of the project.”

Wei Wuxian bit his lip. “Okay. And…?” Well, that was – that was huge. That was – that was really, really big. Because if it wasn’t just a random poster or something to be auctioned off but – but something for Lan Wangji’s entire project – that was… insane. But that was all just in the back of his mind for now – whatever fame or exposure or whatever – because that clearly wasn’t what was worrying Lan Zhan.

“I received a message from Jiang Yanli. Or, well, several messages.”

Wei Wuxian’s breath caught, eyes widening, and his next breath was almost too shallow to count as breathing. “From shijie?”

Lan Zhan nodded, reaching for his phone and, with a few taps, played the message for him. His shijie’s voice – something he’d heard only in his dreams – rang out in his small, lonely bedroom.

“Lan Wangji,” she said, voice shaking, wet with tears – too loud for his shijie, too uncontrolled. “If you don’t tell me where he is right now, I swear – “ A soft sound that almost broke Wei Wuxian’s heart. “I swear – Lan Wangji – please. Please. I know that painting is from him. Where is Wei Wuxian?” Voice softer, barely audible on the phone’s tinny speakers. “Where is my baby brother?”

Wei Wuxian looked up at Lan Zhan, trying to find enough breath to say something, feeling the tears rolling down his cheeks. He reached out a hand for the phone, hesitated before he could touch it, looked up at Lan Zhan again.

“Can I – I – “

“She has been looking for you,” Lan Zhan said quietly. “Just as I have. She’s never stopped looking.”

Wei Wuxian bit his lip, swallowed down a sob. “Can we – can we call her?” he asked, feeling small – and sounding it too, even to his own ears.

“Of course,” Lan Zhan said. He shifted, moving to sit more comfortably on the bed, pull Wei Wuxian almost into his lap, silent support – and Wei Wuxian was so grateful for every single part of this that he could cry.

Well, he was crying anyway, but he could have cried more.

The phone rang – once, twice – and then her voice – his shijie’s voice – rang out, clear and impatient and anguished. “Where is he?”

At Lan Zhan’s careful nod, at the soft press of Lan Zhan’s lips to his temple, Wei Wuxian said softly, shakily, “Shijie.”

A-Xian,” she breathed, and Wei Wuxian heard the sob in her voice. “Xianxian – it’s you. It’s really you – god, A-Xian, how are you? Where are you? Where have you been? I – Xianxian, I’ve been so worried. I’ve missed you so much.”

“’ve missed you too,” Wei Wuxian said, trying to brush away the tears that were just constant now, trying hard to keep his voice steady so he wasn’t just sobbing through this call. Beside him, Lan Zhan held the phone steady, kept his arms around Wei Wuxian, offered him all the silent support he needed to get through this without breaking apart from the weight of everything pressing down on him.

He was perfect, and Wei Wuxian loved him so much.

“You’re with Lan Wangji? How did he finally find you? What happened?”

“An accident,” he answered with a soft laugh, slightly disbelieving – he couldn’t quite believe it, couldn’t quite wrap his head around the fact that this was real. This was happening to him. This wasn’t some dream he’d wake up from and find himself still so far beneath them, find them so out of reach. “He walked into my café by accident.”

“You have a café?” She asked, laughing, but he could still hear the tears. “A-Xian – I need to – can I come and see you?”

“Yes,” he said immediately, barely able to breathe through the disbelief. This couldn’t be real. This was just – it was too perfect. It couldn’t be real. “Yes – please, god, yes. Please.”

“Tell Lan Wangji to send me the address,” she said, and there was an echo of that same stunned pleasure in her voice. Maybe she’d dreamed of this too. “And I’ll come over – this afternoon? Can I come over this afternoon?”

“Yes,” Wei Wuxian said again. His hand was shaking where he’d gripped Lan Zhan’s wrist.

“Okay – okay,” she said, and he could almost see it – the way she used to brace herself, put herself together, ready herself to face whatever she needed to. He could almost, in his mind’s eye, see her doing that now. “I’m going to go and get ready – clear everything – and – I’ll see you this afternoon, Xianxian.”

“See you later,” he said. There was a moment of hesitation before she finally hung up, and Wei Wuxian glanced up at Lan Zhan, smiling through the tears, entire body shaking – and let Lan Zhan gather him up into his arms and hold him as the emotions rushed through his body, too much, too soon, too big for him to be able to hold it all on his own.

“Thank you,” he whispered after some time had passed. He pulled back, wiping his eyes with the back of his hands, before he smiled at Lan Zhan, put everything he was feeling – all his gratefulness, his love, his adoration for this man in front of him – into that smile, those words. “Thank you so much.”

“Whatever you need,” Lan Zhan promised, steady as the very earth Wei Wuxian stood on and, inexorably and impossibly, Wei Wuxian felt himself fall even more deeply in love.

Chapter Text

“Welcome to Y – ” The name died on Wei Wuxian’s lips as he turned to door and found Jiang Yanli standing there, Jiang Cheng an anxious shadow behind her. It felt like everything – the world, the universe, life itself - stopped for a single silent moment that lasted only a second and yet felt like a lifetime, and then – suddenly – they found themselves crashing into each other, clinging.

His arms were around Jiang Yanli. His shijie was here. And Jiang Cheng’s arms were around them both, clutching hard, breathless and all of them sobbing into each other as Wei Wuxian felt his world click into place. It clicked in more solidly with each breath taken together, shijie’s fingers digging into his back, Jiang Cheng’s hand alternating between hugging him and hitting him.

“You bastard,” Jiang Cheng kept saying. “You’ve been here. You’ve been here all along.”

“Why didn’t you ever call?” Jiang Yanli murmured over and over. “A-Xian, I was so worried. I’ve been so worried. We tried to find you.”

But we couldn’t went unspoken, but Wei Wuxian heard it all the same. He’d heard it from Lan Zhan too. That was, Wei Wuxian suspected, a whole story that might have been worth digging up if he’d cared about anything other than the fact that he has his sister and brother here in his arms and in his life again, and Lan Zhan – and Wen Ning and Wen Qing and A-Yuan – his whole family.

Together.

By the time he pulled away from his siblings, he found the café’s patrons all carefully paying attention to something else that was not them, giving them some illusion of privacy, and Wen Qing at the counter, serving coffee.

It might have been minutes, hours later. He didn’t know. He wasn’t sure he cared.

Jiang Yanli was still holding on tightly to his hand.

He wiped at his eyes with his other sleeve, tried to get enough breath to call out, “Wen Qing, Wen Ning,” and when they arrived, “This is my – Jiang Yanli and Jiang Cheng.”

“His sister and brother,” shijie said firmly, and Wei Wuxian gave her a watery smile.

“Wen Qing and Wen Ning are – they – their family took me in,” he tried to explain, not really knowing how to put into words all the things that this family encompassed, all the things that it was to him. He should have remembered he’d never needed to explain much of anything.

“They’re your brother and sister,” shijie repeated quietly, looking up at Wei Wuxian. “Your family.” She let go of his hand to bow deeply to the Wens. “Thank you. Thank you for being that to Wei Wuxian when we could not.”

Wen Qing and Wen Ning bowed formally back.

“He’s family,” Wen Qing replied quietly. “Of course we take care of our own.” Underneath the politeness, Wei Wuxian heard steel – and judging by the way Jiang Cheng stiffened beside him, Wei Wuxian supposed Jiang Cheng heard it too.

“What do you – “ Wei Wuxian’s hand shot out and grabbed Jiang Cheng’s wrist, squeezing, letting out a laugh to dispel the tension, shifting his weight to drag both Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli to the table in front of the lotus pond he’d painted in a fit of homesickness a few years ago. It was one of his favourite places in the whole café, and just thinking about his siblings sitting there made him want to cry all over again.

“Sit, sit, sit,” he said, pushing them into their seats, and falling into the one beside Jiang Yanli when she refused to let go of his hand. Wen Ning drifted a small distance behind them, and Wei Wuxian found Wen Qing back behind the counter, watching them out of the corner of his eyes.

Their concern was palpable – and Wei Wuxian felt his heart grow three sizes, even if he knew there was absolutely no reason for any concern – just so much joy he didn’t even know how to contain.

His family. All here together.

Even if they weren’t getting along quite yet, the fact that it was a possibility… that made Wei Wuxian’s happiness feel endless.

He squeezed shijie’s hand, settling in beside her, Jiang Cheng on his other side. “Tell me all about you,” he said, breathless with pleasure. “What’s been happening with you two?”

“I think we should be asking you that question,” Jiang Cheng said, hitting him on the shoulder again, and Wei Wuxian laughed, shoulder-checking him right back. Typical Jiang Cheng, not knowing how to deal with his emotions through anything but violence. Wei Wuxian had worn the occasional bruises of Jiang Cheng’s particular displays of affection with pride throughout their childhood no matter what anyone had said about his brother.

Wei Wuxian didn’t think he could love him any more if he tried.

“In a minute,” he promised. “Soon. I’ll tell you everything.” But he didn’t think he could get through it without crying. He didn’t think Jiang Yanli and Jiang Cheng could either, and he wanted to stay here, basking in their happy glow, not tell them something that might end up with the three of them wrapped in guilt and regret and anger.

“We’ve got time,” Jiang Yanli agreed, her own voice trembling, soft and strong and beautiful, and Wei Wuxian knew there was no force on earth that could tear her away from him again.

With every moment they spent together, Wei Wuxian felt his impossible dream solidifying into reality – and he let the happiness flow through him, let the hope bloom and embraced it. He knew that the joy radiated off him, simply too much to be contained, when Wen Qing made her way over several hours later, when the café’s patrons were all settled with their drinks, and sat opposite them with Wen Ning beside her, asking questions of their own, filling in the gaps to Wei Wuxian’s stories.

He knew he was smiling so hard and so wide it hurt, and there was nothing on earth that could have made him care.

When Jiang Yanli and Jiang Cheng finally had to leave for the evening, they clung to each other for a few more minutes before any of them could convince themselves to let go – and it was only with promises that the two of them would be back soon, that the three of them would be in contact always, and with a picture of the three of them – Wen Qing and Wen Ning and Yiling in the background – saved carefully onto Wei Wuxian’s phone.

“I’ll close up,” Wei Wuxian told Wen Ning, still smiling helplessly as they cleaned up for the evening. “You guys go and get dinner ready. I’m waiting for Lan Zhan anyway.”

“He should join us for dinner,” Wen Qing said, and Wei Wuxian made a small noise of agreement. If Lan Zhan was back on time – he’d promised he’d try to be – he wouldn’t refuse, especially since Wei Wuxian knew A-Yuan was also waiting for him, and Lan Zhan seemed completely unable to say no to him.

She was half-way through the door before she turned around and said, “I like your sister.”

Wei Wuxian let out a soft laugh. “She’s amazing, isn’t she?”

“Mmhmm,” Wen Qing agreed. “She loves you a lot.”

Wei Wuxian laughed again, walking over and, ignoring her disapproving glare, pulled her in for a hug – reaching around her and tugging Wen Ning into it as well. “So do you.”

“I do not,” Wen Qing huffed, but she hugged him back, just as he knew she would.

“Admit it, or I’ll keep hugging you.” He’d used that threat a lot around the time he’d still been trying to find a place in the family and she’d been prickly as hell. She’d been mad about it back then, had actually given in to the threat more than once because her then-girlfriend had hated Wei Wuxian and how close he was to the family.

There was no threat of any kind in the statement anymore, but Wei Wuxian still found endless amusement in throwing it out there.

From Wen Qing’s other side, Wen Ning snorted. “Maybe she’ll let you keep hugging her just for today.”

“I hate you both,” Wen Qing said, muffled in Wei Wuxian’s chest.

They stay like that – because she hadn’t admitted it yet – but also just because it was that kind of day.

“Thank you,” Wei Wuxian finally said.

“For what, dumbass?” Wen Qing asked, tugging on his hair. “And let me go. You’re suffocating me.”

“Admit you love me.”

“Nope.”

“C’mon, admit it.” He glanced over at Wen Ning and grinned. “You love me, don’t you, Wen Ning?” It was meant to come out teasing, but Wei Wuxian spotted an edge on Wen Ning’s smile. “Wen Ning?”

“You’re – you’ll stay with us though, right?” Wen Ning finally asked, voice quiet, eyes down, looking at Wen Qing’s head rather than Wen Wuxian’s eyes. “Now that you’re – now that you have your family back….”

Wei Wuxian was stunned into silence, let it go on for a beat too long – felt Wen Ning start to pull away and reached out to grab his hand and pull him back in close for a fierce hug. “Don’t be stupid,” he said, his voice thick with emotion. “You’re my family too. Of course, I’m going to stay. We take care of our own, remember?”

He felt the tension drain from Wen Ning, felt Wen Qing relax in his arms. He hadn’t realised how much tension had been in both of them until that moment.

“We’re family,” he repeated again, pulling back so he could meet their eyes, one by one. “We take care of our own.”

Wen Qing snorted. “So original.”

“You said it first.”

“Whatever – anyway,” she said, like her eyes weren’t slightly red-rimmed and as overly-bright as both Wei Wuxian and Wen Ning’s. “I like her. Your brother’s okay too, I guess, once you get over the weird prickly vibe thing he’s got going on.”

Wei Wuxian snorted. “Hmm, I wonder why that’s so familiar….”

“Shut up,” she said, and hit him on the arm. His grin grew, and she rolled her eyes, hitting him again. “Shut up. Get rid of the last customer and then come in for dinner before we decide to eat without you and you have to live on takeout again.”

“Lan Zhan cooks,” Wei Wuxian said, laughing at the roll of her eyes and her fake retching. “I’ll come in as soon as I close up.”

The two of them disappeared inside, and Wei Wuxian turned his attention on closing up for the evening, humming quietly to himself as he went about finishing the last of the cleaning.

He caught his reflection in the mirror, hand going up to touch the very, very clear love bite on his neck, teeth marks almost visible – the other littered marks against his skin – shoulder, jaw, wrist – that were all proof of Lan Zhan’s claim. His lips tugged up into a small, helpless smile, and he had to bite his lower lip to control it.

He was just so, so happy.

He was still smiling brightly when he approached the one remaining customer in the shop. He’d often seen him lingering in the evenings, engaging Wei Wuxian in conversation, which Wei Wuxian had always been happy enough to have whenever the café wasn’t too busy. He hadn’t spoken much to Wei Wuxian today – or over the last few days, Wei Wuxian supposed; he’d been a little bit busy, attention very much elsewhere, and he felt a little guilty for that, but he would have time to make it up to his regulars when he wasn’t being so overwhelmed with reconnecting with his past.

He was also, maybe, a little too happy for the guilt to last long, especially when hope and the future and all the things that were possible stretched out before him.

“Ah, I’m sorry sir, but we’re about to close up for the night,” he said to the gentleman, bowing politely.

“Of course,” he said, picking up his things and standing. Wei Wuxian gave him another smile, his own happiness still overflowing.

He started walking him to the door, but just as he was about to open it, the man’s hand came up behind him and pressed it shut again. He felt the customer’s presence right behind him. Wei Wuxian went cold. “Sir?”

“How much does it take?”

Wei Wuxian’s hand tightened on the door handle, trying to pull it open again, but he didn’t have the momentum for it – not with the man pressing in closer, a line of surprising weight keeping him pinned to the door.

“I don’t know what you mean,” he managed. He tried to push back but was met only with a hard chest and hard muscles. He took another slow, steadying breath, trying to stay calm. “Step back, please.”

“You’ve been flirting with me for weeks,” he said, breathing right against Wei Wuxian’s ear – far too close, and with every word Wei Wuxian felt himself getting closer and closer to panicking. “But you flirt with everyone. I didn’t know anything was on offer until I saw you last night.”

“Nothing is on offer,” Wei Wuxian said, resting his head against the door, trying to think instead of panic – panicking wouldn’t help. It would probably just make things worse.

“I don’t think that’s true.” The man’s hand eased down the sleeve of his shirt where the bruises left by Lan Zhan’s fingers were visible. Wei Wuxian felt his other hand come up and brush aside his hair, felt breath closer to the love bite on his neck – and used the lessening of the pressure against his back, used the man’s shift of stance to push roughly away from the door, skitter out from between the man’s arms and into the café, backing away, trying to pull his wrist out of the man’s hand where the grip had automatically tightened.

The guy twisted, and Wei Wuxian let out a cry of pain, own body curling to keep that pressure on his wrist from hurting even more.

Wei Wuxian found himself pressed up against the counter, found the guy’s hand drifting decidedly southward, touch far, far too intimate. “It’s not true, is it? That man from last night had you pressed against the door and practically dry humping him before I’d even left, moaning like the wanton little slut you clearly are.”

Ohgod, ohfuck – he was in so much trouble. He tried to push the guy away again – but he still had a grip on his hand, and it hurt – so he tried to change tactics, sucking in a breath to call out to Wen Ning – found a hand shoved against his nose and mouth, holding him still and quiet.

He thrashed, helpless, not able to get enough leverage to do anything – and then, just as he was starting to really struggle for breath, really started to panic because it wasn’t just moving – getting away – that he was struggling with, it was breathing - he found the weight abruptly gone from him – and Lan Zhan in front of him, pulling him in close with angry care.

Wei Wuxian gasped for breath, shifted to cling shamelessly, pressing his face into Lan Zhan’s neck and just breathing, gasping, desperate breaths. He finally managed to get himself under control enough to turn his head. The man was, unbelievably, still there, a mixture of guilt and shame and pure rage on his features.

“What the fuck?” Wei Wuxian demanded, cradling his hand close to him even as he curled in closer to Lan Zhan. “What the ever-loving fuck?”

“What the fuck?” the man echoed, and looked like he actually believed he had the right to be angry. “What the fuck – that’s a question I should be asking you, you little tease. You’ve been flirting with me for weeks – and he turns up and – what? He’s richer? Is that it? Who the hell is he that - ”

“His boyfriend,” Lan Zhan said, cutting him off. “Not some arsehole who just tried to sexually assault him.” He glanced at the door pointedly and glared at the man again. He didn’t ease his careful, protective hold on Wei Wuxian. “My lawyer will be in touch.”

“What – no, listen, I didn’t – “ The man floundered, and Wei Wuxian glared – but he wasn’t looking at Wei Wuxian anymore; he was talking to Lan Zhan. “He’s a complete and utter tease. If he’s your boyfriend, you really should be suspicious about what he gets up to when you aren’t around because – “

“My lawyer will be in touch,” Lan Zhan said again, voice cold as ice. “Now leave.”

He watched the man out the door, kept watching him through the window until he was sure he was gone, before he turned his full attention on Wei Wuxian – the coldness melted immediately into concern.

“Wei Ying,” he said, and Wei Wuxian felt the tension, the panic, the fear all drain away at the simple sound of his name from Lan Zhan’s lips. He offered him a shaky smile.

“I’m okay,” he said, still holding the wrist protectively against his chest. “I - thank you. That was – that was really not fun.” It had been decidedly going in an even worse direction if Lan Zhan hadn’t arrived just in time.

“Here, sit down,” Lan Zhan said, easing Wei Wuxian into a chair and kneeling down beside him, reaching to take his hand. “Let me see.” Wei Wuxian let him take it, let him slowly feel the bones, turn the hand around, wincing only a little as something pulled. “Bruised, not broken. Luckily for him.”

Looking at Lan Zhan, Wei Wuxian didn’t doubt it. The guy was already going to be in a hell of a lot of trouble, he suspected, just from what had happened. Which reminded him….

“Boyfriend, huh?”

Lan Zhan’s ears went pink. He continued to busy himself with checking Wei Wuxian’s wrist for another moment before he finally looked up at him. “If you want me to be.”

Wei Wuxian let out a soft laugh and used his uninjured hand to pull Lan Zhan up closer so he could kiss him. “Lucky me. Yes please.” He smiled against Lan Zhan’s lips. “Let’s go up to dinner. I think A-Yuan’s waiting up for you.”

Lan Zhan stood with him, helped him check the café was tidied and the door was locked, and followed him upstairs for dinner with his family, Wei Wuxian thought – apart from one tiny glitch, which he absolutely refused to dwell on in any capacity except gratitude at Lan Zhan's timely arrive, at his protection, at his love and care – it really had been the perfect day after all.

He’d got his brother and sister back, and his boyfriend was coming to dinner with his family.

It was as close to perfection as Wei Wuxian had ever hoped to achieve.

--

“When is your next day off?” Lan Zhan asked once they’d finished dinner and put A-Yuan to bed with promises that he could sleep in Xian-ge’s bed tomorrow. Wei Wuxian was about to apologise for that – very clearly feeling the implications of dating when he really did co-parent a child, and not entirely sure what Lan Zhan would make of it – when Lan Zhan interrupted that line of thought.

“Sorry?”

“Your next day off,” Lan Zhan said patiently.

“Oh – I er. I don’t really get them?” Wei Wuxian said, shrugging, and then continued when Lan Zhan looked a bit… confused? Maybe? Horrified? Possibly? Looked surprised in some way anyway. “I mean, as long as there’s two of us here during the lunch rush – after that, we can sort of manage on our own. So if it’s a whole day, then days when Wen Qing isn’t in classes.”

Lan Zhan nodded. “And afternoons?”

“After lunch? Well, as long as someone can take A-Yuan, Wen Ning could probably manage on his own. Why?”

“Everyone loved the artwork,” Lan Zhan said carefully. “They would love to meet the artist.”

Wei Wuxian froze. “Oh.”

Lan Zhan reached for him, pulling him closer. “And, if you would be willing, I’d like you to design and paint the stage for the show, as well as do the interior of the facilities for when we open it for the kids.”

That got Wei Wuxian moving, pulling back a little to glance at him, surprised. “Me?”

Lan Zhan nodded. “We would hire you, of course. The design expenses would go to you.”

Wei Wuxian frowned, shaking his head. “I couldn’t – Lan Zhan, I just. How could I take money from you?”

“Because my company would like to hire you to do the artwork for the project,” Lan Zhan said again calmly, tipping Wei Wuxian’s chin up so he could meet his eyes again. “Because your work is incredible. Not because you’re sleeping with me.”

“Lan Zhan, people will talk. Your uncle….” Wei Wuxian went cold just thinking about.

“We only hired this firm because Jin Guangshan asked my uncle for a favour in giving Jin Zixun’s company a chance,” Lan Zhan said quietly. “I’ve been fixing his boring, terrible work for years.” Clearly, the connection had been important enough to Lan Qiren to make Lan Zhan keep hiring him though.

“That’ll make your uncle hate me even more than he already does – if you stop hiring Jin Zixun and hire me instead.”

Wei Wuxian felt Lan Zhan’s hand slide under his shirt, rubbing at the small of his back. “I prefer your work,” Lan Zhan said. “And I won’t let him take credit for it, which he is already trying to do.”

“Ah,” Wei Wuxian said, arching into Lan Zhan’s hand as his fingers dipped under the waistband of Wei Wuxian’s trousers. “When did you become so persuasive?”

“Come and see the place with me,” Lan Zhan said, pressing Wei Wuxian closer, leaning down to trail kisses up Wei Wuxian’s now exposed neck. God, he was such a little cheat; how was Wei Wuxian supposed to think about anything when Lan Zhan was touching him like that. “Decide later.” He bit him, and Wei Wuxian’s mind went blank with pleasure.

“Ah – ah – yes, okay – okay.” The word trailed off into a low moan, fingers scrambling against Lan Zhan’s back, sliding up to find purchase in his hair as Lan Zhan continued to suck at the mark he’d already surely left on Wei Wuxian’s neck, and Wei Wuxian found himself clinging helplessly, Lan Zhan’s arms the only thing keeping him upright.

“You,” he said, once Lan Zhan pulled away form his neck. “Are getting way too good at that.” He continued to cling, letting out another soft whine as his legs failed to hold him up. “I don’t think I can even stand up straight.”

Lan Zhan picked him up. Wei Wuxian let out an undignified yelp, wrapping his legs around Lan Zhan’s waist as Lan Zhan walked them through to his bedroom and carefully deposited him on the bed, following him down when Wei Wuxian didn’t release him. “How are you so strong?” Wei Wuxian complained, whine in his voice far too breathless for him to be taken seriously – god, that was so fucking hot, he thought he might just burst into flames.

“Ah, Lan Zhan,” he said when Lan Zhan didn’t answer, only hummed some sort of soft agreement, and Wei Wuxian just – felt his entire heart clench with fondness. “You’re so perfect. I still don’t understand why you’re here with me.”

Lan Zhan shook his head and leaned in to kiss Wei Wuxian again softly. “I want you.”

Wei Wuxian laughed again, stretching out on the bed, arching up into Lan Zhan when he felt Lan Zhan’s hand follow his arm up, fingers curling around his wrist in a possessive grip. “You really do. I still can’t believe it.”

His entire body went still as he felt the unmistakable slide of a ring onto his ring finger, and his eyes snapped up to meet Lan Zhan’s. Lan Zhan continued to look at him, gaze unwavering. “To help you believe. To keep reminding you.”

He brought his hand down slowly, found the silver band circling his ring finger. A very specific silver band. He remembered it so clearly – how it almost never left Lan Zhan’s fingers; how he’d only taken it off when they were playing sports and he’d been forced to – how even when school hadn’t allowed them to wear jewelry, he’d hung it on a chain around his neck, under his shirt.

A simple silver band, embossed all the way around it, with a pattern of clouds. It was a Lan family ring. Every member of the family had one. As a close family member, Lan Zhan’s was more intricately decorated than the rest.

And it was on Wei Wuxian’s finger.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian breathed, speechless, looking down at it again and back up at Lan Zhan, who had curled his fingers back around Wei Wuxian’s wrist after slipping the ring onto his finger. “I….” Helplessly, he flexed his hand, felt the ring shift, felt his breath catch. “You – you can’t.”

“Do you not want it?” Lan Zhan said, soft and gentle, a little hesitation showing through.

“What? No – it’s not – no. I mean, yes. But – “ Wei Wuxian looked away from the ring again, back at Lan Zhan. “Lan Zhan….” He felt so overwhelmed. “Can you really – your family.”

“I don’t care,” Lan Zhan said once more. “If you want. If you’ll let me.” Lan Zhan released his wrist so he could run his thumb over the ring on Wei Wuxian’s finger, over his skin, threaded their fingers together again. “I’ll take care of you. This is my promise.”

Wei Wuxian squeezed the fingers between his as he felt the tears coming to his eyes, spilling over. He brought his other hand up to his face, hiding.

“Oh my god, you’re too much,” Wei Wuxian said, laughing through the breathless tears. “You’re going to kill me. You’re actually going to kill me, and I’ll die the happiest man on earth. How can you just say things like that?”

“Because I mean them,” Lan Zhan said simply, and Wei Wuxian let out an utterly incomprehensible noise – finally giving up and pulling Lan Zhan into a hard kiss.

“You’re impossible,” he said, breaking that kiss – and then kissing him again, harder. “You’re impossible.” Another kiss. “You’re impossible, and I love you. I love you so much I don’t think my heart can take it.”

Lan Zhan’s lips curled up into the brightest smile Wei Wuxian had ever seen from him, eyes bright with happiness, and when Wei Wuxian kissed him again, Lan Zhan gentled it, let it linger into the sweetest, softest kiss imaginable. “I love you too,” he said, and Wei Wuxian whimpered.

It felt like it might be too good to be true – but there was a ring now sitting comfortably on his finger, reminding him that it wasn’t. This was real.

The boy he’d adored and the man he loved – loved him back just as fiercely, perhaps even more fiercely than Wei Wuxian had ever, ever imagined.

This real completely real.

Wei Wuxian surrendered, smiling into that kiss. He rolled his hips up against Lan Zhan’s, pressed his body up into that warm, welcomed weight, and murmured, “Show me how much,” and he let Lan Zhan love him.

--

Death was imminent.

At this point, it was still a toss-up between whether that death was going to be Wei Wuxian’s or Lan Qiren’s. It was still anybody’s game.

For a moment, Wei Wuxian had thought he was going to be the first to go. He’d stepped out the car behind Lan Zhan, and had come to a complete stop as he came face to face with Lan Qiren’s glare – a glare that was so fierce, so full of hatred and resentment, that Wei Wuxian was actually surprised he hadn’t dropped dead from the force of it.

He’d been ready to bolt – but Lan Zhan had reached back and taken his hand, which had drawn Lan Qiren’s attention to their joined fingers.

More importantly, it had drawn Lan Qiren’s attention to the ring that was now sitting very comfortably and, probably, very glaringly noticeable on Wei Wuxian’s finger. Not Lan Zhan’s. His eyes had actually bugged, and he’d looked like he was on the brink of suffering an aneurysm.

Wei Wuxian had been legitimately afraid for his health.

Lan Qiren had spluttered out something – then finally managed, “What is the meaning of this, Wangji?” in his strictest tone, and Lan Zhan had just looked at him calmly and said, “Exactly what it looks like, uncle.” Then he’d pulled Wei Wuxian inside.

So, right now, Lan Qiren was still alternating between glaring at the ring on his finger and glaring at Wei Wuxian. Wei Wuxian wasn’t sure which of those was going to result in death first – the rapid spikes in blood pressure or Lan Qiren finally losing the famous Lan reserve and just killing him.

Though, to be absolutely fair, Lan Zhan wouldn’t let anyone hurt him, not even his uncle. So Wei Wuxian was probably safe.

It did continue to bother him a bit though, even as he tried to imitate Lan Zhan and just not think about it. He didn’t really understand why Lan Qiren hated him so much when Lan Zhan had forgiven him – or, even, if he really thought Wei Wuxian had made that bet and done – done whatever else he was supposed to have done – to harm Lan Zhan, surely… surely they could believe he’d been punished enough, right? He’d been disowned – he’d never tried to go back. He was only here because of Lan Zhan, and he didn’t think he was owed or deserved anything, not the job, not coming back into the fold, not being recognised by his family again – just… Lan Zhan wanted him here, so he was here.

He glanced over to Lan Zhan, found him watching him – smiled as Lan Zhan extended a hand in invitation. He smiled back, helplessly, and went, sliding his hand into Lan Zhan’s and squeezing softly.

“What do you think?” Lan Zhan asked. “Will you do it?”

“I – I think your uncle would rather I didn’t,” Wei Wuxian said, leaning into Lan Zhan’s warmth. Lan Qiren probably wanted him to go back to being a memory – far, far away from Lan Zhan.

“What do you want?”

Wei Wuxian sighed, lips curling up, and he shook his head. “Of course I want to do this. Designing for you…it’s – it’d be a dream come true, and if it would be helping you too…. Of course.”

Lan Zhan’s lips tugged up at the corners, an almost imperceptible smile. “I’ll get the contract.”

Which turned out to be harder than Wei Wuxian thought it would be. Or, perhaps, he should have expected it to be.

“Absolutely not,” Lan Qiren said, firm and resolute, looking like he was ready to spit blood. “Bad enough to turn up with him here. If you put his name on the contract…. Can you even imagine the scandal? Do you really think that people have forgotten what he did?”

Lan Zhan just stared back at him. “What exactly did he do?” he asked, each word crisp and clear and so sharp it could cut glass.

“He humiliated you,” Lan Qiren spat. “Humiliated us. Brought shame on his own adopted family through it. I haven’t forgotten, Wangji, what that news did to you – even if he conveniently has.”

Wei Wuxian actually took a step back at the venom in Lan Qiren’s voice – but Lan Zhan’s hand shot out, steadying him, then rested there, a warm weight against the small of his back.

“The scandal was hardly Wei Ying’s fault,” he replied coolly. “In fact, I think that was why we hired Jin Zixun. We thought, after that, he would be good at media and public relations. As it turns out, he’s only good at gossip.”

Wei Wuxian winced in sympathy, watching the carefully thought out words find their mark.

“If it is really about me,” Lan Zhan continued quietly. “Then I have forgiven him. Others have no right to continue to hate.”

“And when it gets out you’re – you’re – “ Lan Qiren made a face. “Together. Do you really think the Jins will let that piece of news go once you have fired Jin Zixun? Do you think they won’t drag you through the mud with him again? Bring up his parentage and his past behavior – dig up what he’s been up to for the last nine years – and call you gullible for falling for his games again?”

“Uncle,” Lan Zhan said, low, warning clear in his tone.

“Wangji.”

There was no give in Lan Qiren’s tone - and god, Wei Wuxian had never, ever wanted to side with Lan Qiren, but every single thing he said was the truth – or, at least, was what reality was like.

They could live in the small bubble at Yiling, where Lan Zhan forgave him and loved him and accepted him, where Lan Zhan protected him from harm – but in the real world, people believed he was…devious, calculating, cruel. They’d all been so quick to believe that before, and they would be again. Nine years really wasn’t that long to anyone who hadn’t suffered through them.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian said quietly, eyes on the floor, tugging gently at Lan Zhan’s arm. “Maybe he’s right. I don’t think – I’m not – it’s not worth that.”

Lan Zhan shifted, turning his back on his uncle without a thought, lifting Wei Wuxian’s chin up. “You are worth that and more. They will have to get used to it. To you.” Lan Zhan glanced back at his uncle. “As a part of our production team or not, Wei Ying’s staying.”

“Is he,” said Lan Qiren – more statement than question. “You really think he’s going to stay with you once the media starts tearing his life apart?”

Wei Wuxian’s indignation rose and, before he could stop himself, he’d called out an offended, “Hey!” Lan Qiren turned his glare on Wei Wuxian – and this – this, he wouldn’t just take. “Don’t pretend you know what I will and won’t do. You don’t know me; you never did.”

“You – “

“Uncle,” Lan Zhan said, interrupting whatever it was he was about to say to Wei Wuxian. Probably better for all of them that he did, really, because Wei Wuxian wasn’t sure he’d be able to control his own mouth – and despite appearances, he didn’t really want Lan Qiren – Lan Zhan’s family - to hate him forever. “It’s simple. Wei Ying designs for me, or we just open the school.”

Lan Qiren turned his attention back to Lan Zhan. “What do you mean by that?”

“Wei Ying designs for me,” Lan Zhan repeated again calmly. “Or I do not play.” Then, without anything further, Lan Zhan handed Lan Qiren the pen.

Wordlessly, Lan Qiren signed the contract, his signature right next to Wei Wuxian’s.

--

The first article came out online two days later. Wei Wuxian only found out about it because there were new faces at the café – which in and of itself wasn’t new exactly – but there were a lot of them, and some of them were decidedly not friendly.

An entire table of girls turned up and spent the house they sat in Yiling actually glaring at him. He let Wen Qing deal with it and tried to ignore them. When they finally left, Wen Qing sent a glare so deadly after them that Wei Wuxian couldn’t help the curiosity.

“What?” he asked, coming over. She gestured at the table and huffed out an angry sound. On it were scrawled words like gold digger, parasite, leech – others along those lines, interspersed with slut and harlot and whore. Wei Wuxian felt his stomach drop, dread and trepidation trying to find a way in; he’d seen those words before – this wasn’t the first time anyone had called him any of those things.

It was just a shock to see it in Yiling. His home. His safe haven.

“Let’s get that off before A-Yuan sees any of them,” he said calmly, looking at the mess they’d made of the table. “I think maybe we’ll just paint over them.”

“Wait,” she said, and she’d snapped a picture of it before he could so much as try to wipe any of them off.

“What’s that for?” he asked tiredly. “It’s not like we’d be able to get them to pay for anything.”

She shook her head, glaring in the direction of the door again, before she looked back at him. “It’s for Lan Wangji.” He made a noise of protest, and she raised an eyebrow. “I knew it; you weren’t even planning to tell him.”

“What could he do?” Wei Wuxian asked, trying to wipe the table down to see how much he could get off without repainting it. “He’d just worry more, and that wouldn’t help anyone.”

“I think he should know if his so-called-fans are being horrible to his boyfriend,” Wen Qing said, and Wei Wuxian tried to ignore him, keep scrubbing. “Wei Wuxian.”

“It’s not the first time I’ve seen these things written about me, Wen Qing,” he said quietly. “It probably won’t be the last.” It would probably need a new coat of paint still, he thought, inspecting the table. It probably was safe enough to A-Yuan to be around, letters a little too faded to read clearly, unless you already knew what you were looking for, but they were clear enough to Wei Wuxian, who absolutely did not want those words anywhere in his home.

He let it be, hoped the next patron sitting there would just ignore it, and went back to work.

Lan Zhan came back before closing time, and Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but feel more aware of the eyes on them, watching them, judging them. It felt intrusive and strange, and it was why it took another moment for him to step out from around the counter to meet Lan Zhan, feeling suddenly self-conscious.

Lan Zhan’s eyes softened in understanding. He sighed, reaching for Wei Wuxian’s hand anyway, brushing his thumb over the ring there. “Have you seen it?”

Wei Wuxian shook his head. He hesitated, turned his hand in Lan Zhan’s to thread his fingers through Lan Zhan’s. “Is it really bad?”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan said, and Wei Wuxian nodded, offering Lan Zhan as bright a smile as he could manage.

“It’s all right.”

“No, it’s not,” Wen Qing said from beside him. “I present, exhibit A.” She showed him the picture of the table.

Wei Wuxian felt Lan Zhan’s breath catch, felt him go completely still beside him. He squeezed his hand again, throwing a dirty look at Wen Qing, who ignored it, and then a concerned look back at Lan Zhan.

“Hey, Lan Zhan.” He squeezed his hand once more, calling Lan Zhan’s attention back to him rather than the picture on Wen Qing’s phone. “It’s okay.”

“No,” he said quietly, echoing Wen Qing. “It’s not. Send it to me, please.”

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian tried to say, but Wen Qing had already shared the picture, and Lan Zhan was in the middle of sending it to someone else, anger clear even in the simple action of tapping at his phone.

“Wen Qing. Wei Ying. I’m s – “

“Don’t,” Wei Wuxian interrupted, shaking his head emphatically. “Don’t you dare apologise. It’s not your fault.”

Wen Qing snorted and shook her head, looking around the café. More than one person looked quickly away, pretending they hadn’t been watching the drama unfold. Wei Wuxian sighed, taking one step closer to Lan Zhan’s warmth.

“Why don’t you go upstairs?” Wen Qing suggested, turning back to them. “Stop by and get Wen Ning to come down and help me. We’ve got this.”

“Thank you,” Lan Zhan said before Wei Wuxian could protest, and lead Wei Wuxian upstairs. They stopped to call in for Wen Ning, pick up A-Yuan so Wen Ning wouldn’t have to worry, and went upstairs.

Once they’d got A-Yuan settled with his homework, legs crossed on the floor by the sofa, colours spread out over the coffee table, Wei Wuxian finally had to admit he’d run out of excuses. He turned to Lan Zhan and tried to smile. “Right. Right. Okay.” He put out his hand, hesitating only a little, not entirely sure he even knew how he’d react. “Let’s see it then.”

The words were familiar. Like looking back into the past, but now with a whole load of extra shame. Same song, different verse.

They’d dug out pictures of the two of them from somewhere, linked to those old articles from when the story had spread before, of the pranks he’d played, the person he’d been, the advantage he’d gained from the family he’d been given – the one, they said, he’d never deserved.

Dishonoured. Disgraced. Disowned.

There was speculation of the past nine years – of what he’d done, where he’d been, who he’d been with – enough that it was clear what sorts of things they were hinting at, but not clear enough to risk being sued for slander.

And pictures of now. Of Yiling. Of him in Yiling going about his day – pictures that insinuated something but never outright said it.

Flirt, it said. Tease. Manipulative. Scheming.

All contrasted with the beautiful, flawless Lan Wangji – their Hanguang Jun, so good and honest and kind, he was so willing to help even Wei Wuxian, who’d broken his heart beyond repair all those years ago and left him mourning, who was playing him again now, leading him on, using him for the money and the fame – and look, see? He got a contract out of it, and a ring, and an invitation back into the society that had seen through him once before.

At the bottom – links to other articles. Speculation about him and Wen Qing, which even had a blurry photo of them with A-Yuan. A gossip piece on the ring now on his finger. Analysis of how everyone else seemed to be treating the news – Lan Xichen, his siblings, Yu Ziyuan. An interview with Yu Ziyuan from nine years ago, when they’d disowned him.

His hand shook as he scrolled down to the comments – found Lan Zhan’s hand on his, stilling it. “Don’t.”

Wei Wuxian looked up at him, lips trembling, entire body shaking. “Oh my god,” he breathed. “Lan Zhan. It’s – oh god.”

It shouldn’t hurt – that was the thing. It shouldn’t because none of it was true and they both knew it, but it was just so – so stark, laid out there like a truth that Wei Wuxian felt ashamed just reading it.

Something pinged on the screen just as he was about to hand it back – a related article – and, before Lan Zhan could stop him, Wei Wuxian clicked on it.

It was an interview with the customer that had assaulted him. Wei Wuxian made a soft, wounded noise as the video – video – played.

“Yeah, he set himself on Lan Wangji as soon as he saw him,” the man was saying. “He’s always flirted, especially with the rich customers, but I guess he saw his chance when Lan Wangji came in, you know? I’ve never seen anything like it. Wrapped him around his little finger - and the acting. I don’t know why that man never made it on the stage or something, because he did the whole “helpless damsel in distress” particularly well when Lan Wangji caught us after he practically threw himself at me.”

Wei Wuxian dropped the phone, covering his face with both his hands as he felt the tears come, felt the horror drive all the warmth from his body, felt the humiliation and embarrassment and shame rise like an unstoppable tide.

None of it was true and yet there it was – with just enough truth to be undeniable.

Just like last time.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan said, voice tight, slightly panicked, the only clue Wei Wuxian had that this was probably not the first time Lan Zhan had called his name. “Wei Ying.” Wei Wuxian focused on the sound of Lan Zhan’s voice, on the hand against his where it rested, covering his eyes, Lan Zhan’s other hand in his hair, stroking softly. “Wei Ying.”

He took a deep, shuddering breath, and relaxed his hand enough to let Lan Zhan draw it away from his face. “Wei Ying. It’s not true,” Lan Zhan said, voice steady – voice speaking as much truth – more truth – than anything on that page could. “It’s not true. None of it. I know you. I know you.”

“Zhan-ge,” came another soft voice through Wei Wuxian’s haze of despair and self-hate. “Is – is Xian-ge – he’s not okay, is he?”

“No,” Lan Zhan said. “But we can help him. Here. Come here, A-Yuan.” Lan Zhan’s weight shifted on the sofa, and a moment later, Wei Wuxian felt small arms go around his waist, a small body pressed in against his back – and then Lan Zhan, slowly, carefully easing him out of the ball he’d curled himself into.

Wei Wuxian felt the darkness start to fade.

“Don’t be sad, Xian-ge,” he heard from behind him, voice small and wet with his own confused tears. “I’m here. And Zhan-ge’s here. And he said he’s not going to leave you, so you don’t have to be sad anymore.”

Wei Wuxian had to let out a soft laugh at that, uncurling completely so he could turn and pull A-Yuan into his arms, kiss his forehead softly. “Thank you, A-Yuan.” Lan Zhan’s hand was still in his hair, and he looked up to find Lan Zhan’s worried gaze on him. He tried a smile. “Thank you, Zhan-ge.”

Lan Zhan’s fingers brushed Wei Wuxian’s cheek softly. “The next time I see Jin Zixun,” he said, voice clipped with anger, “I will make him eat his words.”

“How do you know it came from him?” Wei Wuxian asked, kissing A-Yuan’s forehead again before letting him climb back out of Wei Wuxian’s lap. He shifted back to sit on the floor, keeping an eye on Wei Wuxian, but seemed to understand that the adults were talking, and he needed to just stay close but stay quiet, ready to help.

He was so perceptive, and so, so kind.

And Wei Wuxian was so, so grateful. Even if everything in the article was completely true, he could be absolutely sure he’d done one thing right; he’d raised this wonderful, beautiful boy. That was absolutely indisputable whatever else anyone might try to say about him and his own motivations.

It was a comfort.

As was Lan Zhan’s certainty. He shifted, and Lan Zhan seemed to understand his need to be closer, pulling Wei Wuxian into his lap, letting that ground him. Lan Zhan kissed him, warm and comforting – grounding him in the here and now.

“It did,” Lan Zhan said, finally answering the question. “There are too many details to have come from anyone else. And it fits the same pattern.” As last time.

As the last time Jin Zixun had ruined his whole life. It felt just like the last time, and Wei Wuxian could already see his entire world spinning out of control again.

But no – that wasn’t right. That wasn’t right at all – because Lan Zhan was right here. Last time, Lan Zhan hadn’t been here – he’d thought Lan Zhan hated him, blamed him – and maybe last time, Lan Zhan had. He hadn’t understood, hadn’t known until it was too late.

But this time – this time, he was right here. Even if no one else did, Lan Zhan believed him. Knew him.

Loved him.

Wei Wuxian felt the weight and shape and feel of the ring on his finger, of Lan Zhan holding him, solid and real and there, and let go of the darkness.

He wasn’t alone this time. His world wouldn’t end – not tonight, not tomorrow – not any time soon. Not with Lan Zhan by his side.

“What can we do?” Wei Wuxian asked, feeling a little bit more warmth coming back into his body, into his life.

“We fight,” Lan Zhan said, and Wei Wuxian let out a soft bark of laughter, suddenly feeling light. Lan Zhan’s lips curled up into a satisfied smile. “And we win.”

And, with Lan Zhan right here by his side, Wei Wuxian believed him.

--

Wei Wuxian half-opened his eyes when he felt the bed shift under him, already coming awake as he heard A-Yuan’s voice – before there was a quiet murmur from behind him, and A-Yuan dropped to a whisper.

“…hungry,” he was saying. Wei Wuxian could just see his hand hovering close to Wei Wuxian’s shoulder but not quite touching. He wasn’t paying attention to Wei Wuxian at all, but to someone behind him.

“Let’s find breakfast,” Lan Zhan said, intercepting A-Yuan’s hand before it could land on Wei Wuxian. “Let Xian-ge rest.”

A-Yuan went from hand outstretched towards Wei Wuxian to hands stretched up, and his weight – and Lan Zhan’s weight – disappeared from the bed. Wei Wuxian felt his throat tighten when he spotted their silhouette in the doorway as they walked out of the room, A-Yuan settled on Lan Zhan’s hip, arms curled loosely around his neck, and Lan Zhan murmuring to him as the door shut behind them.

Wei Wuxian came out about half an hour later to find A-Yuan sitting at the table eating rice porridge with a small spread of quite impressive dishes, Lan Zhan sitting comfortably beside him, placing vegetables and meat into his bowl once he’d finished what was already there. It was painfully domestic. There was another place set out, and A-Yuan waved enthusiastically at him when he spotted him.

“Zhan-ge made breakfast,” he said proudly. “I helped.”

“Ah, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian said, finally managing to get himself to move, walk to the table and take his seat. Without a word, Lan Zhan passed over the chili powder, earning another happy smile from Wei Wuxian. “How do we even have this stuff?”

“I asked Wen Ning to stock up,” Lan Zhan said as if that was a completely normal thing to do. “Cereal and toast every day is not appropriate.”

Wei Wuxian laughed. “You’re going to spoil him, and then what will I do?” Teasing, of course – but also a sliver of real truth in that that he hoped they’d miss.

From the look in Lan Zhan’s eyes, he hadn’t missed it, but it was A-Yuan who spoke up, “Get Zhan-ge to stay so you won’t have to do anything.”

Okay, wow, this boy was really – just. Wow.

Wei Wuxian spluttered, and then laughed – a lot more real than the previous laughter. “And how, A-Yuan, do you propose I do that?”

“I don’t think you have to do anything,” A-Yuan said with all the confidence of a child, “I think Zhan-ge wants to stay with us.” Turning his attention back to breakfast, A-Yuan stretched to reach the meat. Lan Zhan dutifully placed another piece into his bowl. The tips of his ears, Wei Wuxian noticed, were red, and Wei Wuxian tried – and failed – to suppress a smile.

He was starting to wash up when he felt Lan Zhan’s arms go around his waist.

“He’s right, you know,” Lan Zhan said, nuzzling into the back of Wei Wuxian’s neck, teeth catching on his earlobe. Wei Wuxian melted back against him, feeling a shiver go through him.

“About what?”

“I want to stay with you.” Another flick of his tongue against Wei Wuxian’s ear – and fuck, when did his ear become this sensitive. It felt like a straight line connecting every movement to his cock.

Lan Zhan,” he hissed, hand clutching at one of Lan Zhan’s. “A-Yuan – “

“Is getting changed,” Lan Zhan said calmly, pulling back to press another soft kiss to the shell of Wei Wuxian’s ear. “We have a few moments.”

Wei Wuxian arched a little, felt Lan Zhan’s immediate shift to meet him, holding him more firmly, pressing him against the counter – felt also the tell-tale response that told him he wasn’t the only one affected by Lan Zhan’s teasing.

“Not enough time for me to deal with that for you.”

He heard a small huff of laughter and felt a very deliberate roll of Lan Zhan’s hips. “Never known anyone as tempting as you.”

Wei Wuxian laughed again. “You’re such a liar.” He’d just woken up, hadn’t even bothered to brush his hair or wash his face or anything. He’d thrown on a ratty t-shirt last night when he’d finally managed to stop fucking crying – and that probably meant his eyes were puffy as anything this morning – and Lan Zhan was right there, looking impossibly perfect. Tempting. He shook his head, turning a little for a kiss anyway.

“Not lying,” Lan Zhan said seriously, and he gave him that kiss. “What time will Wen Ning pick A-Yuan up?”

Wei Wuxian glanced past Lan Zhan to the clock on the wall. “Any minute now. Why?”

Lan Zhan slid his hands back a little from Wei Wuxian’s waist, gripped his hips, touch all the suggestion Wei Wuxian really needed, but the words – in Lan Zhan’s voice – was what made his knees go weak. “I’d really like to fuck you.”

Wei Wuxian bit back a moan, clutching at the edge of the sink to stay upright. “Fuck.”

“Help remind you all day,” he continued, and god, what the fuck. He’d never imagined Lan Zhan would be so fucking good at getting him worked up just by talking to him. “No matter what anyone says, I want you.”

“I think you want to kill me,” Wei Wuxian said, squeezing his eyes shut, trying to stave off the pure want for a while longer. He had to see A-Yuan off first.

As if reading his mind – though, truthfully, Lan Zhan was far too good at anticipating Wei Wuxian’s needs – Lan Zhan said, “I’ll take A-Yuan down to Wen Ning. Go back to bed, Wei Ying,” and the low hum in his voice made it very, very clear that he didn’t mean for either of them to get any rest from it.

There was a knock on the door.

“Or stay here,” he said, kissing the back of Wei Wuxian’s neck. Wei Wuxian wasn’t sure he could move even if he wanted to. “I’ll go see A-Yuan off.”

And it wasn’t fair that Lan Zhan could reduce him to this – could pull up inside him such a mixture, a jumble of emotion – pure blinding want, and so much love and gratitude and gentleness, Wei Wuxian wanted to scream. The emotions became a hundred times worse when he heard Lan Zhan’s soft goodbye to A-Yuan, turned to wave at A-Yuan only to see him pressing a kiss to Lan Zhan’s cheek before disappearing out the door with Wen Ning.

Wei Wuxian didn’t think he could want someone – love someone – this much, but he did – he loved Lan Zhan this much, and every moment that passed, Wei Wuxain thought he might love him more and more.

“I love you,” Wei Wuxian said helplessly, stepping forward to meet Lan Zhan, only to find himself backed against the kitchen counter again, Lan Zhan’s steady weight against him, Lan Zhan’s mouth on his. His kiss was like fire – hot and heated, and so warm, so comforting, Wei Wuxian felt his knees go weak again – and again, Lan Zhan was right there, supporting him.

Everything will be all right, Wei Wuxian thought dizzily, as he clung to Lan Zhan, as Lan Zhan’s lips trailed sensation over his jaw, down his neck, hands sliding under clothes to find skin, each touch like a brand, a claim – a comfort. Wei Wuxian felt it sear into his skin, into his heart, his soul.

Lan Zhan’s, he thought. He wants me. He needs me. He loves me.

And when they finally made it back to the bedroom, when they were as close as two people could possibly be, moving together, pushing and pulling each other higher and higher with each thrust of the hips, each arch of the body – all panting ecstasy – filling in and softening out each other’s wounds and sharp edges, their fingers threaded through each other’s – higher and higher and higher towards that moment of completion, Wei Wuxian thought it might have been worth it.

Everything might have been worth it – would be worth it – for this.

To be Lan Zhan’s, to be loved and worshiped and adored this much by this man – everything he’d ever been thought might have been worth it – was worth it – and everything that was still to come would be worth it too. They’d get through it because they had each other, and Wei Wuxian knew they’d fight tooth and nail to keep it that way.

This time, Wei Wuxian knew – knew it as certainly as he knew his own heart – they’d never let anything get in their way again.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian wasn’t sure the day felt entirely real. There was a dreamlike quality to the whole thing – mostly because there was no version of reality in which all the things that happened actually happened.

A veritable army of people trooped through Yiling.

It started with a pair of truly beautiful men, who arrived just as the café opened, looking like they’d stepped out of a fashion magazine despite the fact that they were only wearing casual jeans and a plain – one black, one white – t-shirt.

Lan Zhan introduced them as Song Lan and Xiao Xingchen, who were here as, basically, bodyguards for the residents of Yiling, especially Wei Wuxian, to make sure that no one caused any more trouble for them. They just lingered rather than loomed, which was not exactly intrusive, but a little bit strange. By the end of the day, they both could make a decent cup of coffee and were more than happy to help busk the tables – and the number of female customers had basically tripled. Most of them actually seemed to be ignoring Wei Wuxian, which made a very big change from the influx the day before.

Then, Jiang Yanli turned up like a very polite tornado. She swept in in a mass of love for Wei Wuxian, curses for all the “little shits” that had dared to speak ill of her baby brother, and then whirled away into the kitchen to cook lunch.

Once word got around that the Jiang Yanli, Michelin chef, was making a visit to this tiny café called Yiling because of Wei Wuxian, the number of visitors quadrupled.

Lan Zhan stayed at his usual table all day, typing on his computer, alternating with typing on his phone. He somehow managed to do the whole thing looking both perfectly serene and unaffected and radiating a furious sort of energy all at once – except when Wei Wuxian passed by, and Lan Zhan took a break to watch him work.

Jiang Cheng spent the entire day texting him a mixture of memes, emoji, gifs, and a detailed description of exactly how much trouble people were getting into because of the very calm, systematic rampage Lan Zhan was apparently going on.

Posts on his social media demanding people stop harassing his boyfriend, including the picture of the defaced table from yesterday, declaring with finality that anyone – anyone – who dared say any of those things about Wei Wuxian was no longer welcomed at any of his performances, on any of his social media, to call themselves his “fans” of any kind. The screencap he attached with made Wei Wuxian actually gape at his phone because Lan Zhan wasn’t messing around – direct, straightforward, to the point. He even offered refunds to those who felt they needed to return the tickets, and promised to match whatever he was refunding with a donation to the community center.

It was brutal.

That news was followed by updates regarding cease and desist letters that were apparently being sent to every single entity that had so much as implied anything dirty about Wei Wuxian’s past or his intentions, or anyone who had come to Yiling – anywhere near Wei Wuxian or A-Yuan or the Wens – to take pictures or spread rumours or anything else. Jiang Cheng managed to get a few from his contacts in the press, some of whom were very glad their dirty-gossip-stirring colleagues were finally getting what they thought was their due.

Even though the name on the messages to Jiang Cheng – screencaps of private chats, emails to company employees and the like – were blanked out (rather badly, in Wei Wuxian’s opinion), Wei Wuxian suspected they were from Nie Huaisang, who doing what he’d done best since their childhood; gossiping in the most political way possible, sharing the dirt and the story, and putting people quietly and firmly in their places. Wei Wuxian felt a wave of warm affection go through him at the thought, and hoped – maybe, one day – he’d get to see him again too.

And then Jiang Cheng texted him photos of the events unfurling at Wei Wuxian’s childhood home; a direct note, presented by a very serious Lan employee, arrived addressed to Yu Ziyuan. Jiang Cheng seemed to have no idea what it said, but the picture he’d sent of his mother’s face was probably enough evidence to know that whatever it was, it wasn’t subtle or kind or any of the things people - especially someone from a family as proper and prestigious as the Lans – should be writing to one another.

In the picture, she’d gone red, expression caught between mortification and anger.

Jiang Cheng (14.06) : She’s calling someone.

Jiang Cheng (14.06) : Lan Qiren

Jiang Cheng (14.06) : Oh she’s madddddd

Jiang Cheng (14.06) : She demanded Lan Qiren do s - omgwaitwait

Jiang Cheng (14.07) : [picture]

It was a picture of Jin Guangshan, his face the same crimson as Yu Ziyuan’s.

Jiang Cheng (14.08) : Holy shit, what did Lan Wangji do?

Jiang Cheng continued to report the uproar at home, the anger, the shouting, the phone calls – Lan Qiren’s arrival, his father quietly and pointedly leaving the room where the “adults” were talking to sit with him and let it go on around them before finally politely throwing everyone out, and shutting the door to finally – Jiang Cheng hoped – have a conversation with his wide.

Jiang Cheng (18.08) : When he’s done, I think there are a few things I want to say too.

As Wei Wuxian was trying to wrap his head around the full extent of Lan Zhan’s apparent protective wrath, very fancy looking lawyers arrived at Yiling with papers for Wei Wuxian to sign, and promptly disappeared again, after which Jiang Cheng sent a bunch of screencaps of websites withdrawing the articles they’d posted about him.

The website where the article had first been posted was being sued for defamation. The others who’d linked to it or done pieces based off it had also received notices for them to take them down or they’d join them in the lawsuit.

And the stupid, arrogant arsehole who’d tried to sexually assault him then gone on record saying it was Wei Wuxian’s fault… well, apparently, charges had already been filed against him.

It was all terrifyingly efficient.

After a while, when the flurry of updates and commentary seemed to be dying down, Jiang Cheng messaged him again.

Jiang Cheng (18.23) : at least I can stop hating him now.

Jiang Cheng (18.24) : that was fuckin comprehensive

Jiang Cheng (18.24) : I’m actually a bit impressed. Also terrified.

Jiang Cheng (18.25) : remind me to never get on his bad side.

WWX (18.25) : wait what do you mean stop hating him

WWX (18.26) : why would you

He glanced up to look at Lan Zhan while Jiang Cheng was typing his reply, frowning in confusion. They hadn’t mentioned this – neither Jiang Cheng or shijie – when they’d come here a few days ago.

Jiang Cheng (18.29) : He’s the reason you had to leave. He got so offended and his pride was so hurt or whatever, and he wouldn’t even listen to you.

Jiang Cheng (18.29) : All he had to do was listen. Then he realised something was wrong or he read your letter or something and had the balls to ask me where you were.

Jiang Cheng (18.30) : i mean, seriously. How am I not supposed to hate him?

WWX (18.31) : JC….

How was he supposed to respond to that?

Jiang Cheng (18.32) : doesnt matter now.

WWX (18.33) : you’re just scared he’s gonna fuck you up as well

WWX (18.33) : 〜( ̄▽ ̄〜)

Jiang Cheng (18.34) : haha funny

Jiang Cheng (18.35) : he’ll fuck YOU up

WWX (18.36) : fuck me sure but up – not sure yet

WWX (18.36) : (ʃƪ ˘ ³˘)

Jiang Cheng (18.37) : I hate u

Wei Wuxian laughed and sent him a flurry of heart emoji.

He looked over at Lan Zhan again and smiled, feeling warmth spreading through him, felt his heart grow, felt so much happiness he thought he might burst from it. For the first time, he felt so safe, so protected – and it had been so, so long since he’d felt anything like that.

Not knowing what else to do or how he could possibly express it to the man who’d made that happen, Wei Wuxian made him a cup of tea and took it over, sliding into the seat across from him and nudging his foot up against Lan Zhan’s gently.

“Don’t work too hard,” he said quietly when Lan Zhan looked up, giving him a smile that hopefully conveyed everything he wanted to say – everything that was so big, so vast, so great he couldn’t find words for it.

“Not too hard,” Lan Zhan promised, but he stopped typing and reached for the tea, offering Wei Wuxian a small smile of thanks over the rim of the cup – as if bringing tea could even come close to all that Lan Zhan had given him. “You’re worth it.”

Wei Wuxian ducked his head, still smiling, and then glanced back up through his lashes at Lan Zhan, trying to find a way to voice his thoughts. “Why do you – Why are you doing all of this? It’s – it’s so much. You don’t need to do so much. Just a fraction of it would have been… would have been more than enough.”

Lan Zhan put down the teacup and reached for Wei Wuxian’s hand, running his thumb over the ring there slowly. “I couldn’t protect you then. This time, I can.”

Wei Wuxian swallowed hard. “Lan Zhan… it wasn’t your fault, you know. I – everything that happened….”

“It doesn’t matter,” Lan Zhan said calmly, bringing Wei Wuxian’s hand up to press his lips against the ring there. “This time, I will protect you.”

Wei Wuxian let out a soft, helpless laugh, trying to let out some of the emotions inside him, covering his face with the hand not in Lan Zhan’s. “Ah – Lan Zhan. You are getting far too good at making me go all weak at the knees. How do you just say things like that?”

Lan Zhan hummed soft agreement, lowering Wei Wuxian’s hand back to the table. “You should get used to it,” he said calmly, and then went back to typing, but Wei Wuxian could see his eyes flick up to him over the edge of the laptop – and he could see that wonderfully playful little smile on Lan Zhan’s lips.

--

The grand opening of the art and performance center came sooner than Wei Wuxian had expected – mostly because everything passed in such a dream-like blur – and every day, Wei Wuxian woke up thinking that he would really wake up from this too-good dream any time now, and he’d still be the Yiling Laozu, master of coffee art, running a café that mostly catered to students and eccentrics; obscure, unknown, and miles and years and unmeasurable distance away from his childhood friends and family.

Instead, he was now Wei Wuxian – Wei Ying – designer, artist, boyfriend of the incredibly famous and wealthy Lan Wangji – and still running a café that mostly catered to students and eccentrics – and fans of Lan Wangji, gourmands who wanted to try Jiang Yanli’s cooking, and girls here to stare at Song Lan and Xiao Xingchen.

And Wei Wuxian’s art was everywhere.

All the pieces he’d previously had on sale went so fast, he hadn’t even realised they’d sold until someone had come to pick them up. He’d only realised that it had happened almost directly after Lan Zhan had revealed the artist for the designs that were being used for his performance, and shared a few more bits and pieces of Wei Wuxian’s work on his social media.

It was a little overwhelming. So Wei Wuxian mostly just… pretended it didn’t exist as much as he could, focused on running the café as usual whenever he could and whenever he was needed, usually for the lunch rush – and spent the afternoons at the arts and performance center, finishing up the design and interior, as well as finalising and personally creating the set for Lan Zhan’s performance.

He still hadn’t seen the performance in its entirety, though he’d been privileged to spend time with Lan Zhan while he dutifully practiced every day. He’d added a few new pieces since the last time Wei Wuxian had seen him perform live, and they sounded even better with the beautiful Hanguang Jun practicing in his art studio as opposed to playing down on the stage, far away and far out of Wei Wuxian’s reach.

Hanguang Jun, who had basically moved into his small, dingy apartment.

Wei Wuxian had asked him once, when he’d realised that so much of Lan Zhan’s stuff had migrated to his place since Lan Zhan slept over every night, whether it wouldn’t be comfortable for him to sleep at his own apartment, which was no doubt much bigger, better furnished and just… likely much more luxurious than this place. Lan Zhan’s answer had been a simple, “but you are not there,” which had ultimately ended the conversation.

Wei Wuxian had made space for Lan Zhan’s things in his closet, given him a drawer for his clothes, and created a corner just for Lan Zhan in his art studio.

“Where were you sitting?” Lan Zhan asked one day, when they were both using the studio at the same time, Lan Zhan plucking a melody that seemed very familiar to Wei Wuxian, though he couldn’t quite place it.

Wei Wuxian looked over from his painting. “Hm?”

Lan Zhan gestured to the picture on the wall. “At the concert.”

“Nosebleed seats,” Wei Wuxian said with a soft smile. “Right in the back.” The cheapest ones, which had been the only ones Wei Wuxian had been able to afford, and even then, he’d got some really judgmental looks from the well-dressed people around him. He’d been wearing his best shirt and trousers, but he’d never needed a suit and couldn’t have justified spending the money on it anyway. He’d spent that money borrowing a camera good enough to take pictures he could paint from. Then he’d come home and painted this so he wouldn’t forget the details.

Looking at it now, compared to the real thing, Wei Wuxian could see the wistfulness in every stroke of the brush, could feel the distance he’d felt then.

So beautiful, and so untouchable.

But here was the real thing, sitting in the corner of his studio that had become their studio, hair down, expression unguarded, wearing one of Wei Wuxian’s t-shirts.

There were days when Wei Wuxian still couldn’t believe it was real.

Lan Zhan looked from the picture, back to Wei Wuxian again and sighed softly, reaching out one hand towards Wei Wuxian, who went to him at the invitation, humming happily as he slid into his lap.

Still beautiful, but definitely touchable now.

“I wish I’d known,” Lan Zhan said, tucking a strand of hair behind Wei Wuxian’s ear, and the look in his eyes told Wei Wuxian that he wasn’t just saying that for the sake of it.

Wei Wuxian kissed the corner of his mouth softly. “I know,” he said gently. “I wish I’d known you would have wanted to see me. At least then maybe… but you know, I’m not sure if I’d have had the courage to go and see you even if I’d known.” Even now – even after months of this, of them, Wei Wuxian still couldn’t quite believe he deserved it.

If Lan Zhan hadn’t made that first move, maybe Wei Wuxian would never have dared. He hadn’t thought – didn’t think – he had that right.

As if reading his mind, Lan Zhan said, “You know what happened wasn’t so unforgivable – whatever you think you did – “

“What I did do.” He wouldn’t let Lan Zhan pretend he didn’t.

“A lie of omission,” Lan Zhan clarified, “if it was anything.”

“I broke your heart.”

“Which wasn’t worth your entire life.”

“I thought it was a fair enough trade,” Wei Wuxian said, and almost laughed when he heard a huffed-out breath of frustration from Lan Zhan. “Sorry, sorry,” he said, leaning in to kiss Lan Zhan. “I know – I do. Logically. But it’s easier sometimes, I suppose, to blame myself and blame this one thing – because it really – it’s something that I can take the blame for, that I can understand why I’m being blamed for – than it is to think about…all the other things. The other reasons – the things I couldn’t control.”

“You should have been angry,” Lan Zhan said, and Wei Wuxian smiled because he could hear the anger in Lan Zhan’s voice on his behalf. “At them. At me.”

Wei Wuxian shrugged a little. “I was too sad to be angry.” And too scared. But he didn’t really want to voice that – didn’t want Lan Zhan feeling worse than Wei Wuxian was guessing he already did. “And I could never be angry at you.”

“Why? I’ve been angry at myself,” Lan Zhan said. Wei Wuxian shook his head, but Lan Zhan went on before he could interrupt him. “I should have been with you. I should have fought for you.”

“Lan Zhan….”

“I kept thinking,” Lan Zhan said. “If I’d listened. If I’d noticed something was wrong sooner. If I’d read that letter earlier….”

“I’d probably have been disowned anyway,” Wei Wuxian said, catching Lan Zhan’s hands and holding them in his. And it was the truth – one he’d tried to avoid, tried not to think about, but it was probably glaringly obvious.

Yu Ziyuan had just wanted an excuse; “high society” had always wanted him gone. He’d never belonged.

“Let’s stop this,” he said gently. “Let’s not think about it anymore. We’re here now. Whatever we went through, it’s brought us here now.” Wei Wuxian smiled again, leaning in to kiss Lan Zhan softly. “Yeah?”

Lan Zhan’s expression softened. “How are you so good?”

Wei Wuxian laughed. “I’m not. You’re the one who’s so good, sweeping in like a prince charming, giving me everything I’ve ever wanted, and then some more on top of that. Loving me.” He kissed him, a light brush of lips. “And loving my family.” Another soft kiss. “And loving my entire life even though it’s so far what you probably imagined for yourself.”

“Not far,” Lan Zhan insisted. “All I’ve ever wanted was you.”

Wei Wuxian let out another soft laugh. “See? So good. I have basically nothing to offer and you’re just… this.”

“Stop,” Lan Zhan said, brushing his thumb over Wei Wuxian’s lips. “Stop saying that. You have everything to offer.”

“Such as what?” Wei Wuxian said, exasperated. “Not that I’m complaining, Lan Zhan, but you’re basically bringing everything into the relationship at this point. I don’t have a lot of excess money to spare.”

“Yet you have not asked me for anything.”

“Instead of your penthouse suite or whatever, you’re living in this run-down apartment,” Wei Wuxian continued.

“Comfortably so.”

“You’re working out of a café rather than a spacious, shiny office.”

“I like the café.”

Wei Wuxian let out an exasperated huff of a laugh. “You have to get up early every day to make breakfast.”

“I get up early anyway.”

“And you don’t even get to fuck me every day because half the time, there’s a child sleeping in our bed.”

“I love the child.”

That got Wei Wuxian to shut up, jaw snapping with an audible click. “I – Lan Zhan….” Four words that made him absolutely speechless. They left him breathless.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan said, gentle. “Stop. Stop this.” He kissed him softly. “Have you considered it from my perspective?”

Slowly, hesitantly, Wei Wuxian shook his head.

“I’ve been welcomed in without any expectations – into your home, your work, your life – even into your child’s life – as though I have any right to be here.” He brushed his thumb over Wei Wuxian’s cheek. “You opened up every part of yourself to me without any hesitation or expectation. Do you even know how incredible that is?”

Wei Wuxian shook his head again, slowly, stunned. Lan Zhan smiled at him, small and warm and private. “I have a lot of money – more than I know what to do with. I neither need nor want any more.” He placed his hand gently over Wei Wuxian’s heart. “I’d rather have this.”

Lan Zhan really had a way to rendering Wei Wuxian completely speechless, emotions making it hard to think, to doubt – and all he could do was… accept it. And let all of it warm his soul.

“And you’ll be happy?” Wei Wuxian asked. “Out there. With people watching, talking, judging? You’ll be happy with me on your arm?”

“Yes. Speaking of which,” Lan Zhan said, meeting Wei Wuxian’s eyes, hand going back to take Wei Wuxian’s again. “I wanted to ask you whether you would sit with my family for the performance.”

Wei Wuxian’s brain came to another screeching halt. “Wait. What?”

“Sit with my family,” Lan Zhan said again. “If you would like to.”

They already had VIP seats, including A-Yuan, even though it would be well-past his bedtime. This was a whole different level though – the family’s seats would be right at the front, and in the immediate area, all the other major families. The whole place was already going to be packed with wealthy donors to a point where they – the tiny, slightly mismatched family that they were – were going to stand out anyway, but sitting Wei Wuxian with his family….

“Your uncle?” Wei Wuxian asked, still floored by the idea. He couldn’t quite wrap his head around sitting there next to Lan Qiren, whose glare he could still sometimes feel at random moments – or Lan Xichen, who was as serene and regal as his brother, even more so in some ways for the steady smile on his lips. If Lan Wangji was the Ice Prince, then Lan Xichen was some kind of king. The last time he’d seen Lan Xichen, he’d been the impenetrable wall between Wei Wuxian and his brother. “Your brother?”

“I have already told them I will ask you.” Both Wei Wuxian’s eyebrows went up, and Lan Zhan gave him an exasperated look. “They will both have to get used to you, Wei Ying.”

That got a laugh, bright and surprised, and Wei Wuxian leaned in for a helpless kiss, hopelessly fond. “You,” he said, shaking his head, “are a menace. Yes, Lan Zhan, if you want to cause a stir, I will sit with your family.”

“I don’t want to cause a stir,” Lan Zhan said, sliding his hand down Wei Wuxian’s back slowly. “I want my family together where they should be.”

Wei Wuxian arched into that touch. “You and your words,” he said, a little breathless just thinking about the implied permanence – always and always, that permanence in every single of Lan Zhan’s actions – and the bone-deep sense of security it brought with it, steady and exhilarating all at once. “As quiet as you always were – as you are, I never thought you’d be so good with your mouth.”

Lan Zhan raised a single eyebrow and moved his hand around to start undoing Wei Wuxian’s trousers. “Let me show you.”

And, Wei Wuxian had to admit – hands tangled in Lan Zhan’s hair, just holding on, moaning his name over and over and over – there really were many ways that Lan Zhan’s mouth could make him weak at the knees.

--

His hands are shaking so hard he can barely pick up the pen, and each word is a struggle. There’s too much going through his mind, too many things fighting for prevalence, too many images and words and feelings and so much fear, Wei Wuxian wants to scream – but there’s so much that no sound wants to leave his lips.

He has to go. He’s being thrown out. He’s being disowned. He’s never coming back. Those thoughts repeat like a mantra in his mind, over and over and over and over.

How do you pack when you’ve got one bag, one chance, and no sense of what might be in the future?

So he doesn’t pack. He starts with the letter.

One chance, he thinks. He’s got this one chance to explain himself; even if Lan Zhan – Lan Wangji, he supposes – never reads this, at least… at least he got to write it.

“Dear Lan Zhan,” it says.

“I know there’s nothing I can say that will make this all right again, but there are just a few last things that I need you to know before I say goodbye, so if you’re reading this – thank you. Thank you for giving me this chance.

“I want to say I’m sorry. Sorrier than you’ll ever know. I did the one thing I never meant to do, and that was to hurt you. I just – I didn’t think. I guess it’s true what everyone says – I never do, and now we’re here, and I’ve gone and really done it. So I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.

“I won’t make excuses. There’s no justification that can excuse or make up for what I’ve done – but I just wanted to say that I love you.

“I do.

“I think I loved you before Jiang Cheng made that stupid bet. I’m pretty sure I did. I’m pretty sure everyone knew it too, and that was why Jiang Cheng made the stupid bet and I just… It was a bet I’d win either way. I think – I know – I really wanted to try, with or without the bet. He just - he said those words out loud and I wanted to make it happen so much. I couldn’t stop thinking about it so... so I took the bet. I did it. I think I already loved you then.

“Before you ever gave me chance to, I think I loved you.”

Wei Wuxian’s been trying to pin it down, trying to figure out when it started, when he’d fallen in love because he wants to say, wants to prove it, wants Lan Zhan to know this wasn’t some stupid bet, some attempt to hurt him, some game to make him lose face or pride or sense of self.

He thinks about how he’s loved Lan Zhan for at least a few years, how he’s never really looked at any of the other girls or guys even though their embarrassing-as-anything biology lessons have all been pointing at puberty and sex and attraction, and all he could think was “I wonder what Lan Zhan’s thinking?”

He thinks about earlier, before that, when he’d try to partner up with Lan Zhan for class or sports even when Lan Zhan wasn’t interested.

He thinks about earlier – when they’d been seven, and Lan Zhan had hit him with a toy sword because Wei Wuxian wouldn’t stop prodding him with his own.

He thinks about being five or six, and at a petting zoo, watching pure wonder in Lan Zhan’s eyes as he’d pet a rabbit, and he thinks maybe – maybe, it’s always been there. Maybe he’s always been in love.

“I loved you before I knew what love was,” he writes, because it’s the only thing he knows how to say. “And it was so natural, so normal, as much a part of me as breathing that I didn’t realise it was different and bigger than anything else I felt for anyone else until… you really let me love you. And you – god – you were so beautiful with it.

“I was so stupid – so careless. I was so wrapped up in you, I didn’t even think about that bet or that people might have heard or that you didn’t know. But I told you I wouldn’t make excuses so – no excuses.

“Just… please,” he writes, and his hands shake so much he’s not even sure Lan Zhan will be able to read it. “Let someone else love you – someone more deserving than me.

“That’s all I want to really say. I know how hard it is for you to open up to people and let them in. Don’t let me, inadequate as I’ve been, ruin that for you.

“I hope, one day, you’ll marry someone you love. I hope whoever the lucky person is, they’ll know just how fortunate they are. I hope, the next time you give your heart away, they’ll know its value and they’ll cherish it.

"I hope they’ll love you exactly how you deserve to be loved.

“So – that’s it,” he writes, and his whole body is shaking – because this is it. This is all that’s left. “I’m sorry, Lan Zhan. I’m really, really sorry. I wish I could tell you just how sorry I really am but words will never be enough. So, instead, just….

“Thank you for everything. For loving me anyway.

“And goodbye.

“Your Wei Ying.”

He folds it into a rabbit – something that had always managed to coax a smile from Lan Zhan, something he’s less likely to burn before reading – and tucks it away to give to Jiang Cheng.

Then he packs. He doesn’t remember what he packs; in the end, it doesn’t matter. No matter what he puts into his bag, he’s going to have to leave all the important things behind anyway.

--

The tuxedo he wore was possibly one of the nicest things he’d ever owned. It was almost certainly the most expensive. It was, outwardly, a standard tux – but with small red detailing peeking out to make it just different enough to catch the eye.

Lan Zhan had had it perfectly tailored for him when he’d had his own fitting for his performance outfit, but it had turned out even more beautiful than Wei Wuxian could have imagined.

“I made a mistake,” Lan Zhan said, as soon as he came out of the bathroom and spotted Wei Wuxian.

Wei Wuxian spun around immediately, ready to adjust, reassure, call for back up – whatever was needed. The performance was only a few hours ago, and while Lan Zhan did not look even a little flustered, he was also far too good at hiding any nervousness away behind that indifferent façade.

But he was staring at Wei Wuxian.

“What mistake?” he asked tentatively. “Can I help?”

“That,” Lan Zhan said, gesturing at Wei Wuxian. “That’s my mistake. How can I focus when you look this good?”

Wei Wuxian laughed and walked over to straighten Lan Zhan’s bowtie – and was promptly pulled into a heated kiss.

“Lan Zhan,” he said breathlessly as they broke apart, and he had to fight the urge to lean back in for another kiss because fuck, Lan Zhan also looked amazing – even better with his lips reddened and his eyes dark with desire. “You’re going to be late.”

“We,” Lan Zhan corrected, leaving his hand on the small of Wei Wuxian’s back and guiding him towards the door. “We’re going to be late. You’re coming with me.”

“I thought I was going with the Wens,” Wei Wuxian said, but followed where Lan Zhan was leading him anyway.

Lan Zhan shook his head, keeping Wei Wuxian close. “With me.”

Xiao Xingchen met them at the door of the café, sliding into the front seat of the car that was picking them up.

“He stays with you all evening, okay?” Lan Zhan said, turning to look at Wei Wuxian as the car pulled away from Yiling. “If I’m not with you, he is. Promise me.”

“I promise,” Wei Wuxian said, offering a reassuring smile. “Are you expecting trouble?”

“Not trouble,” Xiao Xingchen said calmly, and Wei Wuxian got the feeling that trouble for Xiao Xingchen would probably be a whole disaster for other people. “But a lot of people.”

And he was right. There were a lot of people.

Wei Wuxian froze as he got out of the car after Lan Zhan, stunned by the flashes and cameras and noise. Lan Zhan stepped closer immediately, hand back on the small of his back, gentle and steadying. He moved a little bit more, blocking the view of the people and the entrance, and giving Wei Wuxian a moment to recover.

“Okay?” he asked, and when Wei Wuxian finally nodded, he moved aside again. He didn’t take his hand away, just very serenely walked to the entrance of the new art and performance center, keeping Wei Wuxian close the way they had done for the months leading up to the event – as if he didn’t even notice the crowd or the cameras.

They were at the official backdrop – Lan Zhan pulling him closer when Wei Wuxian was about to move out of the way and let the photographers take pictures of Hanguang Jun – when he felt Lan Zhan tense beside him, face going still and furious. He shifted, a small movement, but it put Wei Wuxian closer, the hand on his back now a protective arm around his waist.

“Lan Zhan?” he asked, but before he’d even finished saying Lan Zhan’s name, he spotted the reason for Lan Zhan’s hostility. “Lan Zhan,” he said again, soft warning. And it was definitely something if Wei Wuxian was the one having to keep Lan Zhan calm.

The Jins had arrived – and with them, Jin Zixun.

Lan Zhan did not move, waiting for them to approach. When they were finally close enough, he said very evenly, “Master Jin Guangshan, you and your family are, of course, welcome. I am glad you are able to make the performance today.”

He did not move to allow them entry, and Wei Wuxian saw the sidelong glances that the Jin family were giving him – sidelong glances, some of which were flavoured with clear disdain, others, envy. A couple more curious than anything else. Jin Zixuan’s lips twitched up, smile almost conspiratorial, surprisingly friendly, when Wei Wuxian caught his eye.

“Hanguang Jun,” Jin Guangshan said in response, sounding just as calm – but Wei Wuxian and, he was sure, everyone else could probably hear the tension in the undertone of his voice. “We would not miss this. It’s said you have some new surprises lined up for us. It should be a fantastic show.”

Lan Zhan inclined his head – but he still did not move. “It will be.” Then, very pointedly, Lan Zhan glanced over to Jin Zixun. “I believe, however, we were quite clear in our invitation with regards to certain limitations of the guest list.”

Jin Guangshan’s eye twitched, but he smiled. “Now, now, Lan Wangji – let’s not make a big deal out of this, hm? Our families have been friends for generations, and I have the greatest respect for your uncle and brother.”

“If you had great respect for our family, you would have complied with our very simple request,” Lan Zhan said, voice gone cold.

Jin Guangshan’s eyes flashed fury. “Lan Wangji,” Jin Guangshan said, warning now clear in his voice. “Let’s not make a scene. Not for this reason.” His eyes flickered to Wei Wuxian, and Wei Wuxian felt Lan Zhan’s arm tighten, bringing him a little closer to Lan Zhan’s side.

“I have not yet made a scene,” Lan Zhan said – but the warning there was also clear. Wei Wuxian slid a hand just under Lan Zhan’s jacket, stroking his hip – a silent warning of his own. He didn’t want them to cause any sort of scene here – didn’t want to get Lan Zhan into any more trouble – didn’t want to bring scandal down on the Lan family once again. He absolutely did not want that. Lan Zhan, however, ignored him. “But if you’d like me to spell it out for you right here, I will.”

“Lan Wangji,” Jin Guangshan said, a soft huff of irritation in the syllables. “Don’t be a fool.”

“Jin Zixun,” Lan Zhan said, each word crisp and clear, falling into the silence of the crowd around them, who had, inevitably, noticed the tension, “is not welcomed here.”

“Hanguang Jun, you have worked together for years,” Jin Guangshan hissed, anger finally flaring to the surface. “You would insult him – insult us – for him?”

“He insulted Wei Wuxian first,” Lan Zhan said, and this time, his voice was fire. “So unless he is willing to apologise here and now, he is not welcomed here. I believe I have made that perfectly clear.”

“Apologise?” Jin Zixun said, laughing, stepping forwards. “To that lowlife? Oh Lan Wangji, are you infatuated with him that you don’t even see the ridiculousness of that statement? Me? Apologise to him? For what.”

“Your slander,” Lan Zhan said, taking a step forward, and Wei Wuxian fisted a hand in the back of his shirt to keep him going further. “These past few months – and all those years ago.”

Jin Zixun jeered. “Slander? If it’s all slander, why was everyone – you included – so quick to believe it then?” He scoffed. “It’s because it was never slander, Lan Wangji. He never belonged with us – he doesn’t belong with us.” He glanced at Wei Wuxian again, a slow considering look, and then slyly back to Lan Zhan. “He must be good in bed if he’s got you so wrapped around his little finger, you’re willing to make a fool of yourself for him. I guess that’s all you can expect from a whore - “

Lan Zhan moved so fast, Wei Wuxian didn’t even fully register that Lan Zhan had shaken him off until the punch landed with a solid thwack – and then it was all he could do to pull Lan Zhan back, stop him from hitting Jin Zixun again.

“Lan Zhan! Lan Zhan, wait – Lan Zhan, stop – Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian shouted desperately as everyone started shouting, and Jin Zixun lay in a crumbled heap on the floor. He put his hand on Lan Zhan’s, holding tight. “Don’t – don’t – you’re going to have to play in a minute. Stop – stop – you’ll hurt your hand! Lan Zhan!”

He was in front of Lan Zhan, both hands on his chest, between him and the rest of the Jin family, completely focused on his boyfriend. “Lan Zhan,” he said more gently. “C’mon – c’mon. Let’s go inside. C’mon, let’s go. Xiao Xingchen,” he said, turning, finding the man in question already beside him – then in front of them – parting the crowd that had surged forwards and making way for them to come through.

Wei Wuxian pulled Lan Zhan, who was still absolutely fuming, along with him. “Ah, your uncle will kill me,” Wei Wuxian said once they were inside, stopping to turn to take Lan Zhan’s hand, stroking his fingers lightly over the split knuckles.

“He won’t,” Lan Zhan said quietly. “You did nothing wrong.” He turned his hand and caught Wei Wuxian’s fingers, bringing them to his lips, then guided his hand up, encouraging him to put his arm around Lan Zhan’s neck. Lan Zhan used that to pull Wei Wuxian closer, in for a soft, lingering kiss. “He doesn’t get to say those things about you anymore, and he is not welcomed into our circle until he apologises. We’ve made that clear.”

“You just assaulted him in front of a really big crowd. And a lot of cameras.” Lan Zhan shrugged, a careless movement that had Wei Wuxian laughing helplessly. “I have been an awful influence on you,” he said. “Awful. No wonder your uncle wishes I’d stayed away.”

“He does not,” Lan Zhan said again. “He cannot. If he wants me to be happy….”

Wei Wuxian laughed again, kissing him. “A terrible influence. Even if it makes you happy.”

“You make me happy,” Lan Zhan said again, and he kissed him, softly – and then harder, hotter, more possessive – lost in the moment – until there was a small, unobtrusive but pointed cough from behind them.

“You should go and get ready,” Wei Wuxian said as they parted; he was trying very hard not to pant. He brushed his lips over the corner of Lan Zhan’s jaw. “I’ll go break the bad news about the Jins to your uncle, shall I?”

“No,” Lan Zhan said, reeling Wei Wuxian in for another soft kiss, and then keeping his arm around his waist. “Stay with me until closer to performance time. I don’t want you facing them alone.”

“I won’t be alone,” Wei Wuxian pointed out, although he was happy enough to follow Lan Zhan back towards the dressing rooms. “Xiao Xingchen….”

“I don’t want you to have to face them without me,” Lan Zhan corrected. “And I will focus better with you close.”

Wei Wuxian let out a soft, helpless laugh, hiding his face in Lan Zhan’s shoulder. “Lan Zhan, ah, Lan Zhan,” he said, warm and full of wonder. “What am I supposed to do with you?”

He heard the smile in Lan Zhan’s voice when he replied, “Whatever you like, Wei Ying,” and Wei Wuxian pressed the answering grin into the crook of Lan Zhan’s neck.

--

If Wei Wuxian had thought, having seen most of the preparation up to the performance and being a part of the production team making the entire thing happen, he’d have been prepared for just how amazing Lan Zhan was up there on stage, he had been wrong.

He had been so, so wrong.

Wei Wuxian was as mesmerised by Lan Zhan as everyone else in the crowd, felt the music touch his very core, the same as the first time – the only time – he’d seen a real performance of Lan Zhan’s – but perhaps hitting him harder now, pulling at something deeper because he was so close, so real – and yet so beautifully ethereal and incredible all at the same time, and Wei Wuxian was so overwhelmed by the thought that this incredible, astonishing man wanted him.

This beautiful, wonderful man, at the center of the stage Wei Wuxian had designed for him, the symphony around him beautifully in sync, allowing the sound of the qin to ring true and beautiful, the centerpiece to every musical score.

It was so, so beautiful.

He felt tears come to his eyes as Lan Zhan reached the climax of one of his favourite pieces – still so close to his heart, so achingly familiar, and yet so on another level, Wei Wuxian felt absolutely, completely moved by it, and he joined in with the furious applause that met the end of the piece.

When silence fell, Lan Zhan glanced over in Wei Wuxian’s direction – at Wei Wuxian – and offered him a look so full of emotion, Wei Wuxian felt his lower lip tremble, those tears threatening to leak.

“Something old but new, written over the course of nine years, but played for the first time today,” Lan Zhan said, voice echoing in the hall – and Wei Wuxian realised he was moving the microphone closer to his lips as he shifted in place, hands going to the strings of the qin. He heard the hushed, surprised murmur ripple through the crowd before it fell silent again. “This is Won’t Forget.

And if Wei Wuxian thought watching Lan Zhan play the qin was devastating, he was not quite prepared for what Lan Zhan playing the qin – and singing – would do to his heart, never mind the lyrics, the wistfulness in every word sung, every note plucked.

The way Lan Zhan looked his way, caught his eyes and held his gaze.

How clear it was that this song was written with him in mind. For him. Over the course of nine years.

He’d missed him for nine years. Wei Wuxian hadn’t known it then – all those years, when he’d felt abandoned and alone and forgotten, Lan Zhan had missed him. Lan Zhan had loved him.

For nine hopeless, helpless years.

The tears did come, and Wei Wuxian let them, blinking them away as he smiled back at Lan Zhan the next time he glanced over, trying to convey everything and not sure there was any way on earth he would ever be able to – but more than willing to spend his life trying.

The applause this time was absolutely thunderous, and Wei Wuxian joined the rest of the crowd in getting to their feet and clapping enthusiastically, wiping at the tears and laughing happily when Lan Zhan looked over at him again, gaze so devastatingly fond – and Wei Wuxian didn’t care who knew how fond he was in return, didn’t care who might look his way because Lan Zhan was all that mattered.

But Lan Zhan had still not moved. As everyone settled once more, as if he hadn’t just set fire to Wei Wuxian’s soul, he said quietly, “The final song for tonight, I composed even before that.” His eyes found Wei Wuxian’s again. “It’s a love song written before I knew what love was.” The smallest twitch of a smile – one that sent the entire auditorium humming again – but Wei Wuxian didn’t care, only had eyes for Lan Zhan, just as he knew – knew – that he was all Lan Zhan was looking at.

“It is not complete, but I’ll play it anyway.” Wei Wuxian couldn’t look away. “Because I am hoping for – I am asking – someone who sees its imperfections but cherishes it anyway to complete it with me.” That grin tipped up just a little more, wicked and playful and all Wei Wuxian’s. “It’s called Wangxian.”

Wei Wuxian’s heart, not putting up any kind of fight, gave itself completely – without any restraint – to Lan Wangji, note by beautiful note.

And he remembered being sixteen, sitting under a tree, sketching Lan Zhan furiously, trying to catch this moment as Lan Zhan plucked note after note, slowly building a melody – this melody – on his qin in front of him.

“What’s that called?” Wei Wuxian had asked. Lan Zhan had just given him a small, private smile that distracted Wei Wuxian enough he didn’t mind that he never got an answer.

Wangxian, he thought. Oh Lan Zhan. I never even stood a chance.

--

“The answer, by the way, is yes,” Wei Wuxian said, once Lan Zhan was close enough to hear – once his arms were around Wei Wuxian’s waist and Lan Zhan was done kissing him breathless.

Lan Zhan had come into the auditorium and made straight for Wei Wuxian and no one, not even Lan Qiren, had tried to stop him along the way. Wei Wuxian was only distantly aware that they were being very, very carefully watched by every single person in the room – and probably a whole lot more not in the room, thanks to online streaming and whatever else might be happening around them.

He really didn’t care – not when Lan Zhan was looking at him like that.

“To which question?” Lan Zhan asked, and Wei Wuxian laughed, resting his forehead against Lan Zhan’s gently.

“Any of them,” he said honestly. “All of them.”

“Even if the question is will you marry me?” Wei Wuxian’s breath caught, and the entire room went completely and utterly silent. Wei Wuxian let out a soft, delighted laugh, sliding his hand up into Lan Zhan’s hair and pulling him into a kiss that was all giggling happiness.

“Oh Lan Zhan,” he said against his lips, pulling back to meet his eyes. “You do want to cause a scandal with me.”

“It’s a serious question,” Lan Zhan said, but Wei Wuxian could see the answering joy in Lan Zhan’s eyes; they both already knew the answer Wei Wuxian would give.

They’d always known the answer. The asking was really just a formality.

Wei Wuxian let out another laugh, joy too great to be restrained. “Then yes,” he said. “Even if that’s the question, my answer is still yes.”

The silence turned into a mixture of applause and murmuring, and Wei Wuxian laughed again, kissing Lan Zhan, soft and warm and so, unbelievably happy. Then – the moment Lan Zhan let him go – Wei Wuxian found himself stumbling forwards as two bodies hit him from behind – one pair of arms around his waist, another slinging an arm around his neck, pulling him down so the other hand could rub at his hair, a tangle of flailing limbs.

Jiang Yanli and Jiang Cheng.

“Congratulations, Xianxian,” Jiang Yanli said, once they’d finally sorted themselves and their limbs out into three separate but entangled people again. She was looking up at him, smile brighter than the sun itself. “Finally, your childhood dream come true.” At Wei Wuxian’s look, she laughed again, patting his cheek. “Don’t you remember? When you first met Lan Wangji, you came home and told me all about the new boy in your class who’d hit you with a toy sword. Then you declared, very decidedly, that you would marry him one day.”

“I did not,” Wei Wuxian said, but he was laughing again, harder now. “I didn’t.”

“You did,” she said. “Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes so hard he almost fell over, and then he bet that you wouldn’t because Lan Wangji didn’t even like you, and you started crying.”

“I didn’t! You’re making that up!”

Jiang Cheng was laughing in his ear, tugging him closer and messing up his hair. “I learned from that bet. Never bet against you getting what you want from Lan Wangji; he’s weak when it comes to you. Fucking knew it was a bet I was always going to win.”

That sobered them up, laughter stopping, but none of them let the other two go. Instead, they pulled closer together, and Wei Wuxian closed his eyes as past, present and future settled around them.

They were together, which was the most important thing. They were together, and no one could ever tear them apart again.

The sound of a throat being cleared behind him, soft and hesitant – and familiar – had them pulling away from each other, and Wei Wuxian turned very slowly to see Jiang Fengmian standing there, looking awkward and uncertain. Wei Wuxian could see Yu Ziyuan behind him, watching the interaction, disapproval clear in her eyes but she didn’t make any move to approach them.

Whatever had been said, it was clear she had no say in what was happening now. And she was, Wei Wuxian suspected, socially smart enough to know that she wouldn’t win any favours by lashing out against Wei Wuxian tonight.

She’d never win favours lashing out against Wei Wuxian again.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Lan Zhan notice Jiang Fengmian’s movements, or perhaps he noticed Wei Wuxian’s sudden tension, and Wei Wuxian felt himself relaxing a little as he saw Lan Zhan move towards them – but Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli were already there, Jiang Cheng very slightly in front of him, Jiang Yanli still with one arm around his waist. Protective. Supportive. Ready to be whatever Wei Wuxian needed.

He was safe tonight. He was loved.

He found his courage and offered Jiang Fengmian a soft smile and a formal bow. “Sir,” he greeted respectfully.

“Wei Wuxian,” he said, voice almost steady. “I….” He seemed to run out of words. Or maybe, he’d run out of courage.

So Wei Wuxian drew up his own courage up again. “It’s good to see you again, sir.” Which was mostly true. It was good to see him again. Despite everything – despite not stopping Yu Ziyuan from throwing him out, or the verbal abuse she’d always thrown at him, despite him being a shadow to the manipulation that happened around him, despite his favour of Wei Wuxian, his old memories of Wei Wuxian’s mother clouding his interactions with both his sons – Wei Wuxian had loved him like a father. Jiang Fengmian had, Wei Wuxian believed, loved him too the only way he’d known how.

“Ah, my sweet boy,” Jiang Fengmian breathed. “To still be so kind even after everything we did – everything I did – to you…” He took a hesitant step closer. “You truly grew up into a wonderful man. I… I am sorry I missed it. I am sorry for so much more than that.”

Jiang Yanli moved slowly – slowly enough Wei Wuxian could have stopped her from moving if he’d wanted to – to the side, letting her father approach him. She didn’t move far away, and Wei Wuxian still felt her presence there – hers and Jiang Cheng’s and, more distantly, Lan Zhan’s – at his back.

“I – “ He couldn’t find words, couldn’t figure out what to say. It wasn’t all right. This wasn’t – he wasn’t sure it could be forgiveness – not yet – but it was something. Wei Wuxian swallowed hard. “Thank you,” he said finally, because that much was something he could say.

Gently, Jiang Fengmian put a hand on Wei Wuxian’s cheek. “I don’t think I could ever make it up to you, but – I would – you’re here,” he said softly, relief clear. “You’re here, you’re happy. You grew up so beautifully. I’d like to be a part of your life. I have so many regrets, Wei Ying. I don’t want to die regretting I didn’t take this chance to try to make it up to you.”

“I – “ Wei Wuxian looked over at Yu Ziyuan, who was watching the interaction, separated from the crowd, unwilling to step closer. He looked back at Jiang Fengmian again, and tried to summon another smile. “I don’t think there’s anything anyone can do to make up for lost years, sir. But,” he added, before Jiang Fengmian could deflate further. “I’d like to try to make something of the future.”

Jiang Fengmian was about to respond when Wei Wuxian was distracted by a very clear and very distinct cry of “Zhan-ge!” He turned just in time to see A-Yuan collide with Lan Zhan’s leg and cling.

“Sorry,” he said to his family – his childhood family, his old family, one that might still be his family if he wanted them to be –and then started towards Lan Zhan, trying to figure out how to extract A-Yuan without causing a scene. He wasn’t certain what people would make of the familiarity, and definitely did not wanting to cause a bigger commotion than they’d already caused or bring even more notoriety onto the Lan family tonight – but before he could do or say anything further, Lan Zhan calmly picked A-Yuan up and settled him onto his hip, not missing a beat in the conversation he was currently having.

It was the donor standing with him – Mr. Yao, if Wei Wuxian’s memory served, a man who had quite recently built his business into a large conglomerate and was making the most of his new found status – who lost his train of thought, stuttering out an, “Oh. Er – sorry.” When Lan Zhan offered no explanation, he managed, “Ah – what was I saying – yes, about your playing…. Sorry, Hanguang Jun – it was perfect, as usual – but you’re saying this center is….”

Wei Wuxian bit back a giggle, watching Mr. Yao and others around Lan Zhan struggle to find their footing again, all darting curious looks at Lan Zhan and A-Yuan, who both seemed oblivious to the attention they were garnering or the discomfort everyone else was feeling. He turned to find Wen Qing waving at him from just outside the barrier.

“Sorry,” she mouthed, gesturing towards A-Yuan. Wei Wuxian gave her a small shrug, lips twitching, fighting the urge to let his amusement show too obviously. Because god, it was funny watching everyone react – and when he noticed the slight twitch of Wen Qing’s lips in response to his shrug, he started to suspected that, perhaps, his new family were all kinds of evil and this was possibly planned.

A-Yuan had to get that devious streak from somewhere, and he looked far too comfortable and far too innocent tucked in against Lan Zhan’s side like that. Over Lan Zhan’s shoulder, A-Yuan gave Wei Wuxian an angelic smile.

Wei Wuxian spotted Lan Qiren watching Lan Zhan from a short distance away, distracted from his own conversation, and had to bite back a laugh at the expression on his face. He looked like he was about to spit blood.

His little family was evil. And absolutely perfect.

Eventually, feeling like he should probably save people – other people, because Lan Zhan looked perfectly comfortable with A-Yuan’s hands clutching at the lapels of the very expensive suit, no doubt creasing the material – from having a seizure or something from the surprise of the Ice Prince with a small child, he approached Lan Zhan’s group.

Conversation stopped and they all turned to stare at him instead. “Here,” he said, trying to ignore the curious gazes and just act normal. Even though none of this was normal at all. Lan Zhan turned his attention to him, shifting his weight naturally to let Wei Wuxian get to A-Yuan more easily and – oh. Maybe this was the most normal thing in the world. Everyone else would get used to it. The smile he gave Lan Zhan was he reached for A-Yuan felt natural, and Wei Wuxian felt the tension bleed out of him. “Let me take him.”

“No!” A-Yuan said stubbornly, clinging to Lan Zhan’s neck. “I want to stay with Zhan-ge,” he declared loudly, as if the clinging wasn’t demonstrating his desire to stay with Lan Zhan enough. “He was so good, wasn’t he, Xian-ge? I wanted to tell him he was so good.”

“A-Yuan,” Wei Wuxian sighed. “You’ve told him. Now come on, leave him to work.” His voice came out a little impatient, a little brusque, and A-Yuan’s lower lip wobbled dangerously. Wei Wuxian was abruptly reminded that it was well past his bedtime, and therefore he was probably more irritable and emotional and exhausted than usual.

“A-Yuan,” he tried again more gently, coaxing, stroking his hair softly before trying to extract him from Lan Zhan’s arms again. A-Yuan continued to cling. “Come here.”

“It’s all right, Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan said calmly, hitching A-Yuan up more comfortably against his hip, no longer trying to move him into Wei Wuxian’s arms. As he was shifted, A-Yuan tucked his face into Lan Zhan’s neck, relaxing against him, clearly familiar. “Let him stay.”

Wei Wuxian gave them both an exasperated look before he laughed again. “A scandal,” he said to Lan Zhan. “You’re loving this, aren’t you?”

He got a blank look in response, but he could see the light in Lan Zhan’s eyes. He was enjoying the discomfort of the others, the confusion, the whispers, far more than he was letting on. He was loving the effect on the crowd as much as he was just genuinely happy to keep holding onto A-Yuan if A-Yuan wanted to stay with him.

Evil, the lot of them – his entire family. And Wei Wuxian loved them so much.

“Now that,” Jiang Yanli said, once he’d rejoined the Jiang family where they were still standing, “seems like a good man to marry.”

Wei Wuxian glanced over at Lan Zhan, then back to grin at her, soft and endlessly happy. “Oh yes,” he said.

He glanced over to where Wen Qing had struck up conversation with a young woman who looked like she might be from the Jin family, to Wen Ning, who was talking to Song Lan and Xiao Xingchen, back to Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli, right next to him, Jiang Fengmian still standing close by – at Lan Qiren, who looked resigned to his fate, and Lan Xichen beside him, hand on his uncle’s shoulder, lips curved into a satisfied and slightly too amused smile – and then back at Lan Zhan with A-Yuan in his arms.

As if feeling Wei Wuxian’s gaze, Lan Zhan turned to look at him, expression softening into something unbearably fond. “Marrying Lan Zhan,” he said to his sister, meaning it perhaps as much today as he did all those years ago, “is definitely somewhere near the top of my to-do list. It’s apparently been on there for long enough.”

Jiang Yanli laughed and wrapped her arms around him, leaning against his shoulder. “Are you already planning your wedding? Is it going to be the one you’ve always dreamed of?” she teased. Wei Wuxian assumed it was because he just couldn’t tear his eyes away from Lan Zhan, couldn’t wipe the stupidly happy smile from his face.

“If you’re talking about when I was five, it probably involved a lot of rabbits,” Wei Wuxian said with a soft laugh of his own. He hugged her back gently, his voice a little shaky as he admitted, “I don’t know, shijie, I’ve never dreamed of my wedding before.”

He’d never let himself really dream about much.

He felt her laughter subside into something a little more heavy. “A-Xian….”

He shook his head, squeezing her. “It’s not – no. Don’t.” He gestured around them. “This – you and Jiang Cheng and Lan Zhan – having this again – this was everything I never dared let myself dream of. It’s more than anything I could have ever imagined. I’m not even sure I’ve even processed the fact that Lan Zhan just proposed to me yet.”

Jiang Cheng made a choked sound beside him. “It’s because you’re already practically married.” He sighed, long and suffering, “I’m not surprised at all, by the way, that he proposed, and that it was so stupidly soppy,” he said, making a face of pure, childish disgust. “You guys have always been so embarrassing. I think it’s just got worse with age.”

Wei Wuxian snorted, feeling the joy bubbling up inside him again, helpless and bright, overshadowing any of the previous edges of darkness. “We’re making up for lost time.”

Jiang Cheng made another noise of disgust and, as if on cue, Lan Zhan walked over to them, and Wei Wuxian turned to him like a flower to the sun, felt himself brightening, shining, felt like pleasure must be radiating off him – didn’t even care. He leaned up, careful not to jostle A-Yuan, for a kiss.

“He’s asleep,” Lan Zhan said quietly, shifting A-Yuan in his arms. “We should take him home.”

“I can – if you want to stay – ” Wei Wuxian started to reach for A-Yuan again. “I mean, it’s your event. You don’t need to leave yet. I could take him back and – ”

Lan Zhan shook his head. “It’s okay. I’d like to go home.”

Ignoring Jiang Cheng’s noise of disgust behind him, and Jiang Yanli’s little aww and about a million other different reactions from the people around them, Wei Wuxian leaned up to press his warm, unbearably happy smile against Lan Zhan’s lips. “Okay,” he said, and for all that the words came out quiet, he thought they might express his entire world. “Let’s go home.”

He’d never allowed himself to dream any of this would be possible – and that was probably a good thing, because he knew there was no dream in the world that could ever live up to this reality.

Ever since he’d been thrown out, he’d never let himself hope – and now, he didn’t need to.