There are clouds in his dream, Wei Wuxian realizes with joy.
White and fluffy, floating, drifting, without care across a sky so pale, it could be completely white but for the shadows of said clouds. Still, the pale blue remains like a reminder of the cold mountain air. Wei Wuxian exhales, pleased to be able to see his breath hang in gossamer mist. As his lips curl into a smile, the sound of a guqin resounds sharply in the still air.
Wei Wuxian turns in circles, hunting for the sound. Another note cuts through the air and he Wei Wuxian runs off. Branches part for him, leaves flutter by in gentle caresses, and the notes continue.
A tune that has scratched at the insides of Wei Wuxian’s skull since his pre-teen years begins to assemble itself. Wei Wuxian knows this song. Has heard this song before.
He holds each note close to his heart.
He runs faster and faster. The trees around him thin and part until he finds a snow-covered clearing.
Dressed in robes that match the snow around him is another young man. His long dark hair bound with a silver hairpiece and a single white ribbon-like headband across his forehead. His skin is pale like white jade and his expression as stiff and perfect as if it was carved from it. But Wei Wuxian knows that if he were to touch such cold skin, there would be a surprising warmth beneath it.
The young man continues playing, unmindful of Wei Wuxian’s approach.
Wei Wuxian reaches out, wanting to touch that jade like countenance just once, before the world tumbles around him and he finds himself blinking blearily at his ceiling while his part-time servant, part-time assistant, part-time student, Mo Xuanyu, glares down at him.
“Get up!” Mo Xuanyu fervently tugs on Wei Wuxian’s arm. “You have a meeting with the king in an hour! And you know it takes that long just to shove you into appropriate dress, much less stuff some food down your throat.”
“Your majesty, we really must insist...” Wei Changze sighs as his advisors all bow and beseech him once more. “Crown Prince Wei has been of age for so long now. Surely it is time...”
“I can no more force my son than any of you. As well you know.” Wei Changze sets down his teacup with a bit more force than necessary to sell the point.
“Her majesty is set to return from her travels today, is she not? Perhaps if you both together-”
“Will do no such thing,” Cangse Sanren says as she gracefully strides in, still dressed in more worn traveling clothes, but looking no less regal and royal. “Now, what prompts such disregard for the wishes of our son?”
“It is not that we dare go against your son or your wishes, your majesties.” One advisor steps up to replace the other that has been scared into submission. “But we must think of the stability of the family. Surely, it must be time for Crown Prince Wei to start thinking about it...”
Cangse Sanren looks to her husband and her gaze is returned. The two nod and turn back to the advisors. “We will inform our son that he must pick a suitable partner,” Cangse Sanren says. All the advisors sigh in relief. “However...” The room grows still, realizing the double edged sword they are about to be handed. “We will allow our son to pick the qualifications of his partner. No more, no less.”
“I’m allowed to pick what?” Wei Wuxian walks in as Mo Xuanyu tugs on his sleeves.
“You’re supposed to let yourself be announced!” he hisses as Wei Wuxian waves him off. “You’re not the king or the queen!”
“I’m the prince, it’s the same thing.”
“Oh good, you’re here. It saves us time from trying to chase you down.” Wei Changze waves his hands and the doors to the meeting room are closed with the audible click of the lock which makes Wei Wuxian’s eye twitch. “Your mother and I have decided to heed the words of our advisors. You must get married.”
“What?! I’m still plenty young!”
“And... You will be allowed to choose the criteria of such a desired partner. But you must announce it publicly so that all potential suitors of adequate rank may have a chance.”
“Father, mother, why must you be so cruel?”
“How is offering you the choice cruel?” Cangse Sanren’s tone is polite, but Wei Wuxian sees the mirth in his mother’s eyes and knows that she anticipates his answer.
“Why, it is cruel to the people who seek to be chosen!” Wei Wuxian turns to face the advisors. His parents hold hands, hiding them behind Wei Wuxian’s back. “Great advisors to my family. I am honored that you are so concerned for me. So... Allow me now to announce my criteria.”
“Crown Prince, have you decided already?” Murmurs and whispers go up. “Have you been thinking about it?”
“Mm... Perhaps...” Wei Wuxian bites his lip and waits for the whispering to die down as a means to stall for thinking of his criteria. He already feels the glare of Mo Xuanyu on the back of his head. His young charge already knowing too well that his claim was more boldness than sense.
“In my youth...” Wei Wuxian starts slowly. “I once heard a song. To this day, I remember it still.” Wei Wuxian looks out the window to the mountains in the distance. “The one who brings me this song and plays it correctly, I will marry them.”
Wei Wuxian smiles openly as the entire room is thrown into an uproar. His parents squeeze each others hands, a smile without smiling. Mo Xuanyu groans, knowing his next, most arduous task, is the sorting and cataloging of all the songs his master will soon receive.
A year passes slowly and yet quickly.
Piles upon piles of music sheets are presented to Wei Wuxian, and as Mo Xuanyu had predicted, his task, thankfully with the aid of others, is the sorting and cataloging of them all. All of them are filed away in a room which quickly becomes two rooms. Then four rooms. Then an entire library.
The music collection of the Kingdom of Wei expands by the day.
But none of the songs are the one Wei Wuxian remembers. Hundreds of thousands of suitors all come and are just as quickly dismissed. Word gets out that perhaps it is a song on the guqin for those are the ones upon which Crown Prince Wei lingers the most. But none of them are satisfactory either.
At least, until one day...
“Ah! Look!” A young woman points with glee at a figure on the road. “It is the Second Prince Lan! Returned from his journey abroad!”
Lan Wangji rides on without acknowledging the fuss as he enters the capital of the Kingdom of Lan, Gusu. No servants accompany him, no excess of chests or goods do either. But all part way in respect and quiet dignity, short of some admirers who would rather break rules to cheer him than to stay quiet.
“Welcome home,” says Crown Prince Lan Xichen with a bow and warm affection. Lan Wangji’s expression does not change.
“Much has happened while you were away.” Lan Wangji only raises an eyebrow before waving off the stablemen who have come to take care of his horse. “Perhaps you will have heard on your way back. Do you remember Crown Prince Wei from ten years ago when the Kingdom of Wei had come to visit for the summer?”
Lan Wangji’s hands still as he removes his things from his horse. “Hn.”
“They say he is accepting suitors at last, after so long.”
Lan Wangji says nothing, but his motions are sharper and just a hair quicker as he unbuckles the saddle from his horse.
“Oh don’t be upset, Wangji.” Lan Xichen smiles. “He hasn’t picked one yet.”
“He... has not?”
“More like, none have fulfilled his criteria.”
Lan Wangji continues his work before starting to brush down his horse. “Which is?”
“A song.” For the second time, Lan Wangji freezes. “A song he remembers from his youth. The one who presents it to him is the one he will marry.” Lan Xichen’s smile grows a fraction wider. But even though Lan Wangji cannot see it, he feels it in his gut. “Some even say.. it is a song played on a guqin.”
“Do not fret. There is still time. Wash the dust from yourself. Rest well. And then... If you dare to risk it, make your way to the Kingdom of Wei. I think you’ll be well received.”
“Don’t worry. I will discuss it with Uncle.” Lan Xichen places a gentle hand on Lan Wangji’s shoulder. “You know... It means he remembers you.”
“We must not lie.”
“I’m not lying.” Lan Xichen walks away. “But you might be lying to yourself.”
Despite Mo Xuanyu’s hissing, Wei Wuxian continues to slouch in his seat as he dismisses another musician. “Do I have to listen to the next one?”
“It’s your challenge and criteria!”
Wei Wuxian turns to the side where his mother sits with her court and laughs. “Mother?”
“Stay put, my dear,” Cangse Sanren says without looking away from the attending ladies. “You did ask for it.”
“You told me to do it!”
“Hush, the next suitor approaches. And sit up.”
Pouting, Wei Wuxian sits up all the same and closes his eyes. He does not see the bright white robes. Nor does he care for the gasps of those also in attendance.
“For the Crown Prince,” is all the suitor says. His voice is deep, cool and calm with no inflection but at the end, as if he had bitten off one last word.
Wei Wuxian waves his hand and when the first note is struck, Wei Wuxian knows it is another person who thinks just playing the guqin will do. But then comes the second note. The third. And by the tenth, Wei Wuxian’s eyes fly open to see Lan Wangji. His robes the same brilliant white, edged in blue and silver. His headband still perfectly straight and even across the exact middle of his forehead. And the elegant white wood guqin of his memories laid out before him with gentle, but powerful fingers picking out the tune of ages ago.
Wei Wuxian sits in stunned silence for the whole of the song. And before he can say anything, Lan Wangji picks up his guqin and moves to leave.
“Wait!” Wei Wuxian says as he nearly leaps out of his seat. “Lan Zhan.” The tittering of the court increases at Wei Wuxian’s informal address. “It really is you, Lan Zhan?”
Lan Wangji turns to face him and bows. “Wei Ying.”
“Your song...” Wei Wuxian curses his disobedient tongue which fails to find words at this most crucial moment. “What is the name of your song?”
Lan Wangji blinks slowly. “If it is the song you desired, I will tell you the name.”
“If it is not?”
“Then... Wei Ying should forget about this song.”
Wei Wuxian bites his lip. “It is the song I have searched for.” A thousand excited whispers go up. Cangse Sanren clears her throat only once for the hall to fall silent. “Your song is the one I have searched for.”
Lan Wangji tilts his head. “My song, it’s called Wang Xian.”
“Wang Xian...” Wei Wuxian’s lips curl up in a smirk. “Did you really... Even all those years ago?”
Lan Wangji looks around at their audience and nods. “Mm.”
Wei Wuxian turns to Cangse Sanren. “Mother... I-”
“Oh of course it’s fine,” she snaps. “The Second Prince of Lan no less! I’d love to see the look on that old fuddy duddy Lan Qiren’s face right now... No! I will see it!” Cangse Sanren stands up. “Prepare my traveling clothes! I will go to Gusu myself to announce it! My son has chosen Lan Wangji, Second Prince of Lan, to be his husband!”
Over the cheers and shocked gasps, the eyes of Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian meet once more. And despite all the noise, the only thing they both hear is their heartbeats in tune to the song of their youth.