Twenty exams deep into his fifty-exam stack, Wei Wuxian can feel his eyes starting to droop. He looks down at the current problem he’s grading, a calculation problem worth 40 points out of the entire 200 point exam.
In shaky pencil; Mr. Wei I’m really sorry you have to grade this but I don’t know what the question is even asking and I think I’m just gonna give up now. Under that, an incredibly realistic rendering of the live action version of Sonic the Hedgehog.
Wei Wuxian notes it down as another reason to talk to the professor about the difficulty of the exams, caps his grading pen, and stretches backward in his chair, feeling his vertebrae pop one by one. In the time he’s spent hunched over the exams, the sun has dropped low on the horizon, and the last of the day’s weak amber light streams in through the window, projecting warped shadows on the wall.
Lan Zhan must have left a couple hours ago. He should be back soon.
Just as he’s thinking about getting up to refill his coffee mug, his phone lights up.
1 attachment from Nie Huaisang
pls tell me WHY this is hanging in the MUSEUM??
👀 👀 👀
Curiosity piqued, he clicks the attached picture, and it expands to fill his screen.
It’s a beautifully inked portrait of a young man, night-dark hair cascading down to brush against white robes, face devastatingly handsome. Despite the stern set of his mouth, his golden eyes are creased gently, as if with fondness.
There’s a small plaque to the right of the frame, and he zooms in to read it, hands abruptly sweaty. Unknown artist, early 13th Century. Found in the home of the Yiling Patriarch.
With mounting horror, Wei Wuxian realizes exactly why it seems so familiar.
I DREW THAT
WTF WTF WT FF
I KNEW THAT STYLE LOOKED FAMILIAR!!!!!
and i dont think its urs anymore lol
its like, what? a thousand years old??
thats basically 🌟public property🌟
THEY STOLE?????????MY ART??
FROM MY OWN HOME???
u rly shouldnt leave ur own possessions scattered around ur own home
basically just asking for it wei-xiong 😔
told u so many times to stop being so messy
old habits die hard i guess!!
HOW COULD YOU SAY THAT TO ME
im being robbed!!!actually!!!
i just got possessed by a museum curator
askdlkkdsfkAHHAHAHA no rly im sorry
like i feel bad for u but this is hilarious
they just TOOK my painting?????? and were like “this is mine now”????
and put it on display for PROFIT!! stolen goods!!
LAN ZHAN IS THERE WITH YOU TOO
Calling Nie Huaisang…
DO YOU WANT ME TO DIE
Calling Nie Huaisang…
Just as he’s about to leap to his feet and start pacing, his friend picks up the call. “Oh my god,” Wei Wuxian wails down the line in lieu of a greeting, “Why did you take so long to pick up—”
“Well it’s a museum, I had to find someplace more private to talk—”
“Actually I don’t care! Just tell me Lan Zhan hasn’t seen it, Huaisang, Nie-xiong, please, you have to drag him out of there for me or I’ll go into hiding again, I swear I’ll do it—”
Originally, the three of them had planned to visit the new museum exhibit together, after Nie Huaisang had won a set of four tickets in an office raffle. Jiang Cheng had already begged off on account of his absolute lack of interest in art—which was expected—but then Wei Wuxian had to cancel as well, after his fellow TA had fallen sick and he had been assigned her portion of exam-grading at the last minute.
Nie Huaisang had complained—Wei-xiong, why an immortal would willingly choose to go through school again is beyond me, you’re like ten times older than the university why are you grading papers for them, just don’t do it —and Lan Zhan had worried—Wei Ying, we do not have to go if you cannot make it, there will always be other exhibits—but in the end, he had convinced them not to waste the tickets.
“Just go, Lan Zhan,” he’d said as he’d practically hip-checked his roommate out the door, “you can tell me about your favorites when you come back! But don’t have too much fun without me, okay, gege?”
Now, he realizes that might have been a mistake.
“Wei-xiong, calm down! I don’t think he’s seen it yet. And even if he does see it, maybe he won’t notice or something?”
Wei Wuxian’s voice tears out of his throat in what could generously be called a screech. “What do you mean he won’t notice? IT’S HIS OWN FACE—and you don’t think? Do you not know where he is?!”
“Well,” comes the sheepish reply, “I had to pee ten minutes ago, and then there was a mishap when someone tried to barge into my stall, and then when I came out I couldn’t find him but I’m sure he’s in the poetry section or something…”
Wei Wuxian puts his phone down for five seconds to scream into his hands, and then takes a deep breath to calm himself. “Okay. Maybe this can work. Get back in there and find him, and then all you have to do is make sure he doesn’t see it!” Yes, this could work. This is fine. Wei Wuxian is definitely not freaking out. “It’s one painting, how big can it be, maybe you could block it with your body or something when you pass by, or even better, maybe fake a qi deviation as a distraction! Lan Zhan’s so good, he definitely wouldn’t stop to look at art while someone is actively dying on the floor, maybe you could get some real blood for your eyes and mouth too, I can tell you how to make a talisman for that—”
“I really hate to break it to you,” Nie Huaisang’s voice is tinny with distance and what sounds like a combination of pity and amusement. “but it’s not just one painting.”
Apparently, Nie Huaisang explains over the phone as Wei Wuxian’s limbs slowly grow numb with horror, there is an entire section of the room covered with his yearning-induced artistic creations. A veritable wall of scrolls, plastered from floor to ceiling, of Lan Zhan, legs folded, soft gaze turned to a rabbit in his lap; Lan Zhan, hair loose and forehead bare, profile illuminated with candlelight; Lan Zhan, his scarred and muscular back turned to the viewer, waist-deep in water.
Wei Wuxian thinks he might actually melt with embarrassment. He’ll just turn into a little puddle and seep through the floorboards and the concrete skeleton of his apartment building, and when he makes it all the way into the earth he’ll just stay there and hang out with the worms until he overcomes his immortality and dies and never has to feel this sort of humiliation ever again.
“I mean, Wei-xiong, if you think about, it, this is really just a great validation of your artistic prowess—”
“Oh my god. Oh, god, I’m begging you, just go in there and make sure he doesn’t see it!”
“I got your back, don’t even worry!” The sound of footsteps, as Nie Huaisang hurries back into the exhibit. “Seriously though, these portraits are beautifully drawn, this is the best manifestation of pining horniness that I’ve ever seen—ah! There he is!”
“No, no, I got this, he hasn’t seen them yet, it’s okay.” Louder; “Wangji-xiong! Over here!” A rustle of cloth, like he’s waving his arms. “He’s coming over! He’s walking—oh no.”
The bottom of Wei Wuxian’s stomach drops out. He’s going to become a puddle. He’s going to join the water cycle.
“Okay, well, he’s going over to the wall, but maybe he’s just looking at the paintings right next to them? They’re really colorful, really eye-catching, lots of flowers and birds—nope, I was wrong, he’s definitely looking at yours.”
A long pause. Wei Wuxian makes a croaking noise. Dry like a desert, his throat. Nie Huaisang’s words come to him as though through water, muffled and warbled and forcibly cheerful.
“Hey, but he doesn’t know that you painted them, since he hasn’t read the plaque yet! I can still—ah, okay, he’s reading the plaque. Okay. Well, umm, I’ve...I’ve never seen evidence that Wangji-xiong can actually read! Maybe he’s secretly illiterate!” Nie Huaisang’s voice is getting weaker by the second. “Oh, he’s coming over now. Oh, wow, Wei-xiong, the look on his face is—”
A deep voice, uncharacteristically urgent. “Who are you calling? Is that Wei Ying?”
Nie Huaisang squeaks, “Who’s Wei Ying? I mean—uhh—”
Wei Wuxian hangs up.
This can’t be happening. He’s dreaming. He fell asleep while grading, and he’s going to wake up any second now, face-down and getting drool on some poor kid’s midterm; and Lan Zhan will never have left for the museum, will be cooking dinner in the kitchen and blissfully unaware of how Wei Wuxian has, over the course of the last millennium or so, made countless sad-horny paintings of his beautiful eyes and bare brow and impressive musculature—a dozen of which are now being displayed for public viewing for the entire city; he won’t have seen the evidence of how Wei Wuxian has been pathetically, embarrassingly in love with him since they met as teenagers, years before they’d even cultivated the golden cores that would grant them immortality into the modern age.
A ding from his phone. One new text message.
Wei Wuxian doesn’t want to turn around, at first, because it seems silly, over-optimistic; it seems too good to be true that Lan Zhan would be here, in the same city, standing on the same hard-packed earth as him, and not on the other side of the globe where they last saw each other.
And yet, there he is. Even in the crush and bustle of the crowd, Wei Wuxian’s eyes find him immediately. He’s as handsome as ever, no change in his appearance despite the decades that have passed.
Wei Wuxian’s face splits in a wide grin. He bounds forward.
“Lan Zhan! Is that really you?”
He almost reaches out to hug him in greeting, before he remembers. His hands drop down, and Lan Zhan’s eyes follow them. He looks...disappointed. Wei Wuxian decides not to think about it, and blathers on.
“Wow, it’s really—I really missed—I mean, wow, it’s been so long. I’m kind of surprised you managed to bump into me here, I’ve been kinda staying off the grid since—ever since—” He falters. The one thing he doesn’t want to talk about, and somehow he’s brought it up immediately. Typical.
“Mn. Almost sixty-one years now. Wei Ying—”
And Wei Wuxian braces himself for the onslaught; why did you leave, where have you been; who do you think you are, just disappearing like that; sixty years, and not a single word. Wei Wuxian, you really left a mess behind. Did you really believe you could do it. Did you really believe you could save them. Sixty years, Wei Wuxian, who do you think you are.
The onslaught never comes.
“—I am very glad to see you.”
Wei Wuxian blinks, taken aback. “Oh. Oh, you are?”
“Yes. Wei Ying, have you been well?” Lan Zhan’s eyes are intense as ever.
“Yes! Yes, I’ve been well, just travelling here and there, you know.” Someone jostles him from behind as they pass, and Wei Wuxian stumbles forward a few steps—Lan Zhan’s hands shoot out to steady him. He feels his touch keenly, the heat of Lan Zhan’s palm piercing even through the layers of his robes, like a brand. Like an ache. “Oh, thank you. Sorry, I’m a little off-balance with all this stuff!”
Lan Zhan eyes the pack of materials strapped to his back. “Are you going somewhere? I will accompany you.”
“I was going to do some painting...oh! Are you certain? You don’t have to, Lan Zhan is such a busy person, I’m sure you’re here on business—”
“I am sure. I will join Wei Ying.” His tone is firm.
And that was that.
He brings Lan Zhan to the local lake, a clear and gem-green stretch of water surrounded by hills. In the distance, mountain peaks rise high up into the sky and disappear behind wispy clouds.
He usually paints quietly, but it feels wrong to make Lan Zhan sit there and watch in silence, so he starts chatting away about what he’s been doing. Words come more easily than expected, and he’s reminded of how...lonely he’s been. It feels better now, with Lan Zhan at his side.
When he’s done with his landscape, he asks Lan Zhan if he likes it.
“Yes,” replies Lan Zhan, steady gaze unrelenting. “Anything Wei Ying paints is beautiful.” And then Wei Wuxian has to cough and turn away and pretend he isn’t turning red.
The day passes. Lan Zhan doesn’t say anything about leaving, so neither does Wei Wuxian.
The inn is nearly full that night, so they end up sharing a room, and over dinner Lan Zhan tells him everything that happened after he left. They don’t talk about the Wens, for which he is glad—but he gets to hear about his family, and what’s left of his friends. The new changes in the cultivational world. The latest updates in Lan Zhan’s own life. They sit across from each other at the table, and each time Lan Zhan pours him a fresh cup of tea and passes it back over, their fingers brush.
Lan Zhan goes to bed at nine on the dot, just as he did when they were younger. His sleeping face is soft in the flickering candlelight.
Wei Wuxian takes out his paper, his ink, his brush, and begins to draw.
Wei Wuxian must black out, somehow, because the next thing he knows, he’s banging desperately at Jiang Cheng’s front door.
Just as he thinks he’s about to start pawing and whimpering like a dog (ugh), the door slams open. Jiang Cheng stands in the foyer, arms crossed. “Don’t tell me you forgot, Wei Wuxian, movie night with A-Jie isn’t until next Friday.”
He pauses to take in Wei Wuxian’s ruffled appearance and wide eyes. One eyebrow ascends toward his hairline. “Why the hell were you making so much noise? Aren’t you supposed to be at the museum?”
Wei Wuxian collapses forward. “Oh, thank god, you’re home. I didn’t go, I had work—it’s not important—Jiang Cheng, A-Cheng, please help me, I’m really gonna die this time! I mean it!”
Jiang Cheng staggers back against his sudden armful of squirming, anxiety-sweaty brother. “What the fuck? What are you talking about? And stop being so weird, stand on your own damn legs.”
“Nooo, Jiang Cheng,” Wei Wuxian whines, flailing violently. “It’s horrible, I can’t go back and face him, I don’t know what to do!” His breath hitches slightly. He admits that he was playing it up, just a little, because Jiang Cheng absolutely hates it when he gets dramatic, but now there’s a real thread of hysteria starting to edge into his tone.
Jiang Cheng must hear it too, because his brows draw tighter together. “You’re so annoying,” he huffs, even as he turns and heaves Wei Wuxian into his apartment.
Wei Wuxian ignores that. If Jiang Cheng really hated him, he would have dropped him on the floor outside his door, instead of dragging him along. He also wouldn’t have decided to move into the same city as him, into an apartment that was just a short ten minute walk from Wei Wuxian’s own place. He’s just a softie at heart.
One explanation later, Wei Wuxian is no longer feeling as charitable.
“You mean to tell me that you kicked up this whole fuss because of some paintings? You woke me up from my post-dinner nap because Lan Wangji found out you’ve been drawing him?” Jiang Cheng’s cheeks are flushed, partly from exasperation, partly from amusement; he spent the second half of Wei Wuxian’s frantic storytelling laughing at him, because he is Wei Wuxian’s meanest brother.
“Oh, you had dinner already?” No wonder Wei Wuxian’s stomach feels so empty. There’s a headache coming on, too.
“What, and you haven’t? It’s eight already—wait, that’s not the point! You’re really embarrassed about this?”
“Yes!” Wei Wuxian drags his palms down his face and then lets them drop on the table with a loud slap. “How am I supposed to look him in the eye now? There were like ten of them, A-Cheng, and he’s gonna come home and ask me about it—and I—oh god, I can’t even think about it, I’m gonna die.” He lets his head sink down, burying his face into the soft sleeves of his hoodie. This is nice. He’ll just live here in the darkness and be soft and warm, and there will be no little brothers judging him for his life choices, and no Lan Zhans coming to ask why Wei Wuxian has made half-naked paintings of him.
“So? I don’t get why it’s a big deal. You made some old-ass paintings, they finally turned up, you can laugh about how you were pining for him even back in the day and then, I don’t know.” Jiang Cheng makes a gagging noise. “You can kiss about it, or whatever.”
Wei Wuxian’s head shoots up. “Kiss—!” His cheeks instantly flame up. “Jiang Cheng, what the hell!”
Jiang Cheng glares back, cheeks also red. “What, like you don’t kiss? Stop acting all coy, it’s not like you aren’t all gross and sappy at home.”
“No, we aren’t!” Wei Wuxian splutters. “We aren’t even together, where did you even get that from, I—”
Jiang Cheng lifts his hand up. “Hold on, shut up, what? You aren’t together?”
“That’s what I just said—”
“But you started living together like a hundred years ago! You hold hands all the time, and I walked in on you practically cuddling on your couch last month, fucking gross.” Jiang Cheng looks aghast, and also like he’s this close to slapping him in the face. Wei Wuxian scooches back, just in case. “You—you tell people that you’re soulmates! I thought you got together ages ago! Everyone thinks so!”
“Yeah, well. Nie Huaisang knows fucking everything. Wei Wuxian, you’ve been obsessed with Lan Wangji since we were fifteen, how have you not sorted this out already?”
Wei Wuxian wails into his fingers. The throbbing sensation in his head doubles. “Jiang Cheng, I never confessed! We’re just friends! Everything is platonic and friendly!”
Jiang Cheng groans. “And here I was getting pissed because I thought you had some fucking secret wedding and didn’t invite your fucking family, what the hell. Okay, then why don’t you just be upfront? Now he knows that you’re all weird and horny for him, and he’s definitely all weird and horny for you, so get it over with and bang like everyone thinks you’re doing. There, happy ending.”
“That’s not going to work! If I tell him he’s gonna hate me, and then he’ll move out and never talk to me again—”
“Stop being so dramatic, he’s put up with your ass for this long—”
“—and then I’ll have to find another roommate, but I don’t want someone who isn’t Lan Zhan and I hate living alone, Jiang Cheng, you know that, and rent is so expensive now—”
“Just tell him you like him!” Jiang Cheng’s on his feet now, veins popping in his temples. “Just grab him and say it. What’s so hard about that?
Wei Wuxian‘s knuckles bleach as he clutches the ends of his sleeves.“I’m telling you it’s not gonna work! He doesn’t like me back like that!”
“And where did you hear that? Do you even see the way he stares at you? You’re too scared to even—”
“I’m not scared! He’s just—so good—”
“What, does he think he’s too good for you now? Did he say that? I’ll fucking kill—”
“He didn’t! Stop it, Jiang Cheng, you know he wouldn’t!”
“Then why won’t you try! Give me one reason why you think he doesn’t feel the same—”
“Because it’s me!”
Wei Wuxian lurches to his feet, his chair tumbling back. “It’s me, fucking Wei Wuxian! What do I have to offer him? What good am I? All I do is run away! I can’t even save the ones I’m supposed to protect! I can’t even be there when people need me! Maybe I tell him that I—that—but then what? You really think he’d stay after that? Do you think he’d really want me for me? Do you really fucking think anyone out there actually wants me?”
Humiliatingly, he can feel tears starting to gather in his eyes. He may be a thousand years old, but he’s still an easy crier. “And then what if he does stay? If he fucking pities me so he stays as my friend, and we just live like that—and he’d just see me every day and be reminded of it, and—and—” The tears are really coming now. He wipes at his face with his sleeves. “When I think of that it makes me feel awful, Jiang Cheng, I don’t want that to happen, I don’t think I could stand living like that.”
His voice falters. “I’m scared, okay? You’re right. Are you happy now? I’m scared! I don’t want him to leave.”
The end of his sentence breaks on a sob. He sniffles into the silence.
Jiang Cheng sighs. “Okay.”
The sound of Jiang Cheng’s stupid purple slippers shuffling across the floor, and then a hand, tugging at Wei Wuxian’s balled up fists, which are still scrubbing at his cheeks.
“Wei Wuxian, you’re gonna rub your skin away like that. Stop.” A firmer tug. “ A-Xian, stop.”
When he finally lifts his head, his brother is standing in front of him. He feels his lip wobble, like a child. “I really really love him, Jiang Cheng.”
“I know, I know.” And then Wei Wuxian’s head is pulled down onto a warm shoulder, and he’s immediately wrapped into a hug. Wei Wuxian clings back. For all his acerbic personality, Jiang Cheng gives amazing hugs—but they don’t happen often, so he’s gonna milk this one for as long as he can. Plus, he’s still crying.
“I’m only gonna say this once, so shut up and listen and don’t make me repeat myself.” Wei Wuxian nods into the warm shoulder, simultaneously smearing snot and tears all over the cloth. Jiang Cheng twitches slightly but continues on. “I don’t know where you got this idea in your head that nobody will want you, or whatever, but I don’t fucking care for it. You’re stupider than I thought if you can’t see your own worth.”
Wei Wuxian makes a little noise of protest.
“Shut up, A-Xian, what did I say? You’re a fucking genius, so use your brain. Everyone has been watching you and Lan Wangji dance around each other since day fucking one. I’ll bet my entire golden core that he feels the same. And…and if I’m wrong and he rejects you, then fuck him. I’ll break his legs and you can come live with me, or whatever.”
Wei Wuxian feels a fresh surge of tears. “Love you too, A-Cheng,” he sniffles. He peeks one eye out and sees Jiang Cheng’s neck, flushed pink.
“Yeah, yeah. Stop crying, crybaby, don’t make me call jiejie.”
They stand there, Jiang Cheng patting his back gently, until Wei Wuxian’s stomach growls. He chuckles wetly. “Oops.”
“And you didn’t have dinner, did you.” Jiang Cheng heaves out another deep sigh before finally letting go, and begins to move toward the kitchen. “Well, you’re here anyway. Eat something before you fall down, I’m not gonna catch you this time.”
With his tears dried and belly full, Wei Wuxian doesn’t have an excuse to stay any longer, and Jiang Cheng kicks him out with one last hair ruffle and a succinct, “Just talk to him, dumbass.”
Night has well and truly fallen. Wei Wuxian drags his feet as he meanders from streetlight to streetlight, listening to the faraway rush of evening traffic, before he remembers his phone in his pocket. After he’d received that last text message, he’d immediately powered it down and shoved it away.
The screen glows softly as his phone turns back on. Immediately, a flood of notifications come through.
im so sorry i tried my best
he left so fast i couldnt even talk to him or anything
but i dont think hes that mad?????
Wei Ying, I’m coming back now.
I would like to talk to you.
Missed Call (1)
Where are you?
You weren’t at home when I returned.
Missed Call (3)
It’s getting late, Wei Ying.
Will you be staying out tonight?
Please let me know when you see this.
When he finally arrives at his apartment, he spends a good five minutes just standing in front of the door. He’s not scared or anything stupid like that—he needs a moment, that’s all. It’s well past nine, anyway. Lan Zhan’s probably sleeping already. He’s being silly.
When he finally pushes the front door open, the living room is empty and dark. Good. He’ll just—not sneak—he’s not sneaking in his own home, he’s just putting his feet down more gingerly than he usually does, just trying to move as soundlessly and as fluidly as the alley cat that he sees outside sometimes. One careful little step, then another, and he’s almost to his bedroom, and then all he’ll have to do is close the door behind him and then in the morning he can leave through the window instead of the front door and avoid any—
Lan Zhan stands in the entrance of his own room, door half-opened, back-lit with a golden glow.
Wei Wuxian edges back. One step. Two steps.
“Hey, Lan Zhan! Didn’t realize you were still up, haha, sorry, I was trying to be really quiet so I wouldn’t wake you up. I was at Jiang Cheng’s just, y’know, hanging out, haven’t seen him in five days so I thought he might be getting lonely, but turns out he’s fine! So I ate dinner there and then came back, and I guess you’re back too! From the museum. Wish I could’ve gone but work is work, can’t help it. You must’ve had fun though, even if I wasn’t there, cause Nie-xiong’s always interesting company! Uh, hope you didn’t hear—you probably didn’t see anything weird—”
Shit, Lan Zhan is staring. Wei Wuxian’s voice squeaks up another octave.
“I mean, of course you didn’t, nothing weird about art, right? Um, um, you must be tired, it’s really late, gege, way past your bedtime! I’ll just let you go to sleep now, good night!”
“Wait, Wei Ying. At the museum—I saw—”
Wei Wuxian diligently avoids eye contact. He read something online once, some psychology fact about how staring at people during a conversation will make them keep talking to fill the silence, and he knows it’s true because every time Lan Zhan looks him in the eyes Wei Wuxian is this close to spilling out every single thought and emotion he’s ever had. “It’s late, tell me your favorites in the morning, Lan Zhan—”
“Wei Ying, the paintings. I know you made them.”
Wei Wuxian’s hand stops on his doorknob. His mouth opens without permission from his brain, because he's the worst. “What paintings? I paint a lot, you mean the ones in my room?”
“Wei Ying, do not pretend. I know you talked to Nie Huaisang about it. There were paintings of me, in the museum. Many of them. The plaque said they were from your home. Some of them were...Wei Ying, why?”
Lan Zhan’s tone is weird. If he didn’t know better, he’d say it sounded almost hopeful. But Wei Wuxian isn’t a fool. He knows not to expect that.
“Wei Ying. Please.” There’s a hand on his elbow, turning him around, and then there it is. That fucking eye contact.
Wei Wuxian is strong. He can do this.
“Wei Ying. Do you—”
“I like you, okay! I like you, I love you, I’ve been—god—I’ve been pining after you for a thousand fucking years! I made those paintings because I’m in love with you, because I missed you, because I wanted to see your face, I wanted to see you without your forehead ribbon and your billion layers of clothes. Because I wanna kiss you, that’s why! There!”
Lan Zhan stands there, frozen. Eyes wide.
Wei Wuxian is frozen, too, until he realizes what just came pouring out of his mouth, and then he whirls around, escapes into his room, and slams the door shut behind him.
His knees buckle, and he slides down the wall. Damn it, he’s ruined everything.
A gentle knock. From the other side of the door: “Wei Ying.”
He ignores it. The knocking becomes more insistent. “Wei Ying! Please open the door.”
Wei Wuxian buries his face in his hands, cheeks hot, and mumbles out from between his fingers, “Go away, Lan Zhan! I’m really embarrassed, don’t talk to me!”
“I’m sorry, okay! Leave me alone.”
A pause, then the sound of footsteps, moving away from the door. Wei Wuxian thinks, well, this is it then, guess I’ve ruined our friendship forever, and he has one hand over his phone screen—ready to call Jiang Cheng and tell him to start prepping his apartment for Wei Wuxian to move in—when the footsteps come back.
A thin sheaf of papers slides in under the door, right next to his legs. “Wei Ying. If you won’t open the door, please at least read these.”
Wei Wuxian eyes it suspiciously, then picks up the first page. He feels a hum under his fingers. It’s old, magically reinforced. Without that, the paper would have crumbled away with age.
He reads the first line.
Wei Ying, are you well? It has been sixteen years since we last met. I miss you.
He blinks, picks up the next paper.
The snow is getting heavier. I hope you are warm.
I passed by a lotus pond today, and thought of you. Wei Ying, you are so good. You did not hear it enough. I regret not telling you.
Wei Ying, where are you? Is it peaceful there? You were so sad, when I last saw you. I hope you are happier.
The night is dark. I miss you still. Please let me know that you are safe.
Wei Ying, I have finally found you again. Your paintings are beautiful. You are beautiful.
You told me you want to see my home again. I will take you there. I will take you anywhere.
Wei Ying, you are asleep on my shoulder. I would not mind spending the rest of eternity like this.
Page after page of messages, inked carefully and neatly—Wei Wuxian flips through them one by one, ears burning, until he reaches the last sheet.
He recognizes this stationery. It’s from the pack he bought for Lan Zhan three days ago.
Wei Ying, you cooked dinner for me tonight. It was too spicy. I still wanted to kiss you.
The paper shakes in his hand. He puts it down gently, reverently, and finally finds his voice. “Lan Zhan? Did you...did you write all of these?”
The shadow on the other side of the door shifts. “Yes.” A pause. “There are more. They wouldn’t fit under the door.”
“You wrote to me all these years? You were thinking of me, this whole time?”
“Then. So you really...”
“Yes.” Lan Zhan sounds like he’s smiling. “I like you. I love you. I too have been pining for...a thousand fucking years, as you put it.”
Wei Wuxian’s heart jack-rabbits straight out of his chest. “Lan Zhan!! You—!”
“So please, Wei Ying. Let me in. I can’t kiss you through the door.”
In an instant, Wei Wuxian is on his feet. He rips the door open and Lan Zhan is there, closer than he imagined, eyes intent. Wei Wuxian melts. He reaches out.
“Gege, I like you so much I could die,” he says, and then Lan Zhan’s mouth is on his.
Later, as Lan Zhan moves between his thighs and sucks bruises into his neck, Wei Wuxian lets his mouth run.
“I could, I could paint us, Lan Zhan,” he gasps, tightening his arms around Lan Zhan’s shoulders. “You and me, like this, just—ah!—just let them put that in a museum, right next to everything else. Let them know you’re taken—”
Lan Zhan bites at his shoulder. “No. Not for others’ eyes.”
Wei Wuxian chuckles, eyes creasing, baby hairs plastered to his forehead. Lan Zhan gazes at him softly, then surges up to press kisses all over his laughing mouth.
“Silly Lan Zhan, I was just joking! Okay, not in a museum—ah, harder, harder! Then, what about just for your eyes? I could do that too. A special one just for you, fuck, big strong Lan Zhan and his delicate beauty~”
“Hm. The real Wei Ying is better.”
“Ha! You’re right—but imagine having a painting! Your poor little Wei Ying under you, legs over your shoulders—mm—gege, would you like that? Something to look at when I’m not there?”
Lan Zhan hums. Thrusts in deeper.
“Ah! That’s not a no, is it?”
“...It is not.”
Wei Wuxian pulls him down for a long kiss. When Lan Zhan finally lets him up for air, he pants against his mouth and grins.
“Then give me something worth painting, gege.”
“The key’s under the mat, please hurry, I need to hand the exams over in half an hour!” Wei Wuxian’s frantic voice blares out from the phone Jiang Cheng has pressed between his ear and shoulder.
“Well,” he grouses, “you shouldn’t have left all of them at home then, should you?” The apartment door clicks open, and he strides in. Lan Wangji doesn’t seem to be home, which is good—Jiang Cheng doesn’t particularly want to see the person who gave his brother all those hickeys, right now.
“Sorry, Jiang Cheng, you’re the absolute best, I’ll buy you dinner—”
“Yeah, whatever. They’re in your room, right?” Wei Wuxian’s bed is unmade—typical—but just as he thought, there’s a stack of papers on the desk next to the window, all of them marked up with red ink.
He’s just about to grab them all and leave when he sees something sticking out from the bottom of the stack. The quality of the paper is different, and the ink is dark and thick and all curved lines and shapes. Probably another one of Wei Wuxian’s sketches, he thinks, and pulls it out without any further thought.
He flips the paper over to see what it is.
“What the—GOD DAMN IT, WEI WUXIAN, I DIDN’T WANT TO SEE THAT! KEEP YOUR NASTY PAINTINGS SOMEWHERE ELSE!”