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the river is cold

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“I’ll wait for you.” Was the last thing Wei Wuxian told Lan Zhan while they stand before the security gate of Beijing South Train Station, breathing in Beijing's smog, two of them a still image in the flood of people looking to leave Beijing. Never had Lan Zhan arrived at the station less than two hours before boarding. He used to be the one to pull Wei Wuxian up at the blink of dawn, drag both of their luggage into the back of their car or an air conditioned cab booked the night before their trip.

But the last call for his ride back towards Suzhou was ten minutes ago, and he is still standing in front of Wei Wuxian with his own suitcases in hand and nothing else.

It’s the week before Wei Wuxian’s twenty fifth birthday. Two weeks before Lan Wangji’s wedding.

Lan Zhan hadn’t bought a one way ticket away from Wei Wuxian for the last three years they lived in Beijing together. He always came back for the other four years.

Wei Wuxian turns away first.

They are both intimately familiar with Beijing South Station and its cheap opulence. It had rarely changed on the outside, still proud white arches holding up the bright red characters printing Beijing South into the sky, but the stores and restaurants past the security gates changes every year. Wei Wuxian once bought a bright pink straw hat for Lan Zhan from one of the old uncles always standing outside. Beijing don’t allow them anymore. So - the only thing left in front of the Beijing South Station is the stench of cigarette smoke and cab drivers arguing with each other for passengers and parking spaces. There is a child wailing somewhere, piercing through the loud goodbyes around them.

Beijing South is efficient. It doesn’t take too long to board – it would take less than thirty minutes for Lan Zhan to go through security, find his terminal, board his train, and then possibly another thirty minutes (if there isn’t a delay) for them to take off. The train is fast too - has been for the last few years, ever since Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian's combined wages brought them out of decade old trains and into the gaotie. It would take less than five hours for him to reach Suzhou now.

Wei Wuxian takes one hour to find his way back to the black audi they bought together, parked ten minutes away in the closest parking lot Lan Wangji could find. Perhaps it was Lan Wangji’s last thing he does for him, choosing his flight to be on the same day that the roads are open to the license plate they won together from the lottery that has one in a thousand chances.

It’s the type of things Lan Wangji does for him – had done for more than seven years, after all.

*

Wei Wuxian had never stopped laughing at the way he had met Lan Wangji – he had always said it comes out of a shitty teen drama, the ones that used hire actors that look twice their age, but now they hire people that are twice their age but still look like high schoolers. “Lan Zhan, I’m prettier than those xiaoxianrou right?” He would whine, draped like a cat over his boyfriend’s shoulders.

“Wei Ying is worth more than all of them.” Lan Zhan would reply seriously.

They met on the first day of highschool – Wei Ying had been registered into this particular international school last minute. He had been about to reject it to go to the same school as Jiang Cheng, but Madam Yu had reminded him he can’t continue overshadowing Jiang Cheng into high school. It’s not like the international school was better or worse – Wei Wuxian had the capability to go into any high school he likes. His zhongkao score was thirty points higher than Jiang Cheng, narrowly beating him for the highest mark in their middle school.

Which made sense, in hindsight. If Wei Wuxian continued, then his gaokao scores would also be better than Jiang Cheng. He would get better university offers than Jiang Cheng, and that can not happen in Madam Yu's household.

So – this international school was the best choice. Suzhou is now a five hour train ride away from Beijing where Jiang Cheng studies, and also five hours away from Madam Yu in Wuhan. She can’t say anything.

Lan Wangji was an unexpected, but welcoming result of this choice.

No one wanted to be sat next to the cold and silent second son of the Lans, who own basically everything in Gusu. So – new and chaotic Wei Wuxian that seemed like he would become the blight on their class’s reputation became the scrap goat of this seating situation.

Lan Wangji ignores Wei Wuxian for the first month, because they did not meet in class. Lan Wangji caught him with lamb skewers and Qingdao beer five hours before school begins, and Wei Wuxian fled before he could be dragged to discipline. He never wanted Wei Wuxian for a seating partner.

Wei Wuxian gets caught, again, for bringing contraband snacks into their residence, so Lan Wangji becomes his supervisor for his detention for the entire second month. Wei Wuxian doesn’t stop bringing dry ramen into their dorm. He made Lan Wangji try the latiao on the second week of detention, and his face stayed flaming red for the entire day.

Lan Wangji asks him, willingly, for chemistry help on the second week on the third month. They were the last one to come out of the classroom during the late self study session. The lights have extinguished in the hallway a long time ago; they couldn’t even see the cleaning ladies. The school had taken their phones at the beginning of the year – Wei Wuxian had a spare of course, but it was left in his dorm – so he whined and pouted for Lan Wangji to guide their way back to the dorm in the darkness. Wei Wuxian kept a tight grip on Lan Wangji’s sleeve for the entire time, and Lan Wangji doesn’t make him let go.

They finish the discussion about the last chemistry question along the five minute walk back to their shared dorm. Their other roommates had fallen asleep already, and Wei Wuxian slips into their bed silent, keeping a flashlight on under his blankets. Lan Wangji doesn’t stop him.

Their class reputation shot to top one in their grade, once Wei Wuxian solidifies their best friend relationship. They become the students other parents bring up as 'why can't you be like them?' Wei Wuxian became the class representative for math, and Lan Wangji became the rep for language class.

Wei Wuxian ended up choosing engineering, and Lan Wangji chose politics.

*

Lan Wangji leaves behind nothing for Wei Wuxian, other than memories and an oppressive silence Wei Wuxian does not allow himself to dwell in, because he doesn’t dare think about after.

What comes after?

Answer: nothing.

Wei Wuxian lets himself be afraid for the first time – of the after, of the years he has to spend like this. He wonders if he can last until then. He wonders if he will spend nothingness like this, unable to fall asleep but staring at a dark corner in his room, unable to think of anything he would want to pass his time with. He doesn't feel sad, per say, as he did when he first realized his parents are never coming back. He feels like that time he broke a tooth and they injected local anesthesia into the root while they stick the tooth back together, except that feeling of numbness is not restricted to his mouth this time, spreading through his body.

But there is a-Yuan that still needs someone to take care of him (unlike Wei Wuxian, Wen Qing still has a job in Beijing Tiantan Hospital, and Wen Ning is still lying in a bed somewhere in Beijing Sports Hospital on the other side of the city), Jiang Cheng still needs support in his first days as CEO, Madam Yu needs money for her hospital stay in Wuhan General too. Uncle Jiang needs a correspondence for Yanli-jie’s wedding in Hainan.

So he lets himself drown under the weight of responsibilities, now that he no longer has Lan Wangji keeping him afloat.

*

Perhaps if Wei Wuxian had not known Lan Wangji as well as he did for the last seven, eight, ten years, he would have believed him when he said his family does not approve of them. They had found him a suitable match for him in confidence, Lan Wangji told him. He doesn’t say if he found her suitable – which to Wei Wuxian, a hundred percent means he does not like her.

Lan Wangji has always used his one rebellious side for Wei Wuxian, and only ever for Wei Wuxian. Fifteen years old Lan Wangji told their class rep he would like to keep Wei Wuxian as his seat mate when their neighbouring class wanted him. Sixteen years old Lan Wangji let him stay in his apartment when Madam Yu decides she no longer wanted to pay for his flight back to Wuhan during the two summer months, and told him to stay in Suzhou to avoid disrupting Jiang Cheng's summer studies. So he spent two months lying stomach down on Lan Wangji's air conditioned ceramic floor, writing essays and solving equations together.

Seventeen years old Lan Zhan took him to the hospital in the middle of the night because stupid Wen Chao had hit him in the head with a baseball bat afterschool, and Wei Wuxian did not realize he had a concussion until there are two Lan Wangjis standing in front of his bed. Seventeen years old Lan Zhan stayed with him while emergency hummed and ahhed while the doctor takes his time getting to the hospital. The doctor only got to them after Lan Wangji tells front desk his name, shows them Lan Qiren’s phone number on his phone, ready to be called at the crack of dawn.

But the Lans wake up at five am anyways, even when they are long past the age of school. Lan Wangji told Wei Wuxian later it would not have been a bother if he actually needed to call Lan Qiren to get Wei Ying looked at.

Eighteen years old Lan Zhan confessed to Wei Wuxian the minute they step out of gaokao together, the first ones to step out into the crowd of anxious parents. Neither Lan Zhan’s uncle nor Madam Yu was here to pick them up, so Wei Wuxian took Lan Wangji to his favourite Wuhan noodle place beside their highschool, and Lan Wangji paid for their cheap bill. The auntie doesn’t even blink.

It was not the last time they go to that particular stall – Wei Wuxian had gone back to Suzhou many times through university, only because Lan Wangji chose the philosophy program in Suzhou University, and Wei Wuxian had gone to Qinghua because Jiang Cheng had gotten into its economics program.

They order the same things every time – every time Wei Wuxian picked the minced meat out of Lan Wangji’s bowl carefully, gathering clumped pieces of spicy sauce the auntie never remembers to keep out of Lan Zhan’s order. Lan Wangji never complained. He eats after Wei Wuxian removes most of the dark red sauces, and then gave him one of the stalk of cabbage and a chicken leg.

They lasted through the four years. The last time Wei Wuxian rode to Suzhou alone, Lan Wangji had announced their relationship as it is to his shufu and his brother, and then went back with him to Beijing.

*

He lets himself send one last text to him, after he braves through Beijing traffic. It takes almost thirty minutes to reach their home in Yizhuang. Lan Wangji would be at Tiangjin by now. Faraway, untouchable.

“I’ll wait until we are thirty five. If you can’t come back –“

He doesn’t finish that text before he presses send. One last act of cowardice, before he changes their wechat profile picture to a random photo of a cat and logs out of it. He throws his phone onto the couch, letting it sink between the dips of the cushions. They had been meaning to change that couch once upon a time – neither of them wanted it, but the grandma that had rented this apartment to them had insisted and Lan Wangji did not want to refuse.

If Lan Wangji can not come back – there is no one else for him.

*

“I don’t blame him.” Wei Wuxian says, the second or third or countless times Jiang Cheng drags him out to drink. It’s his first birthday since the wedding. “It’s not his fault. The only fault is I still love him.” Jiang Cheng almost stabs him with the handful of skewers in his hand.

*

Wei Wuxian only went to Suzhou twice in their final year in university. Once, the day after Chinese New Year – the first day Lan Wangji begins to wear his red socks and underwear that mark his twenty fourth year. The first thing Wei Wuxian did was peel them off Lan Wangji. He bought more than enough for him.

He goes back to Beijing alone, but more sated than he had felt in the last five months.

The second time was the weekend before graduation – he had bought Friday night's ticket on a whim, arrived at Suzhou three hours after Lan Zhan's curfew. Lan Wangji took him to his uncle, told him he is going to Wei Ying’s graduation on Monday, and left before Lan Qiren could kick them both out.

They go back together, disregarding the pings on Lan Wangji’s phone the entire time, absorbed in their bodies, sitting next to each other.

*

On his twenty seventh birthday - Wen Ning had woken up three months ago - he tells Wen Qing over hotpot. “I don’t know if I can wait until we are both thirty five.”

Wen Qing had smacked him on the head, somehow harder than Jiang Cheng ever had. “I don’t know why you ever did.” She tells him, as if it is as easy as Wen Ning waking up.

*

Lan Wangji had caught him once, when they were both children still fresh out of their nest. It was the last day of military training, both of them still clad in oversized camouflage and drenched in sweat from standing in the courtyard for the entire day. Wei Wuxian's curls are sticking to his forehead, rivet of sweat running into his eyes. Wei Wuxian had just seen Lan Wangji dance in front of the entire school, some good bye performance for their commander. Even in mud stained camouflage Lan Wangji looked ethereal, his still child like features gaining some unidentifiable edge in movement. He looked like some sort of god Wei Wuxian would have bowed down to, untouched by the tortures of summer heat and hormones.

Lan Wangji walked into their shared dorm just as Wei Wuxian pulls his sticky hands out of his pants; what he was doing undeniable to them both. They had both frozen – before Lan Wangji had crowded him into the thin mattress, fucking both of them into his hand, the other hand covering Wei Wuxian’s mouth so no one would hear them. Thank god their other roommates came back much later – after Lan Wangji cleaned up their messes, nothing revealing what had happen between the two of them.

They didn’t speak about it, not until the summer Wei Wuxian spent in Lan Wangji’s apartment.

*

He doesn’t know when he had started loving Lan Wangji. Perhaps it was when he realized the perfect xiao-er-gongzi wasn’t as good at English as him. He didn’t love him for the money, as Madam Yu had sniffed haughtily. The Jiangs in Wuhan is as rich as the Lans in Suzhou – not that Wei Wuxian gets any of it.

Perhaps it was the first time Lan Wangji wore Wei Wuxian’s tattered red and black bomber instead of his white pressed wool jacket to their date, and then bought a pair of adult rabbits Wei Wuxian could not stop looking at because, “Look how sad they are, Lan Zhan! No one would buy adult bunnies.” And then stared at him expectantly for him to reject his proposal, but instead Lan Wangji had pushed open the doors of the sketchy pet store without hesitancy and paid the upfront price of the bunnies.

Perhaps it was because he is the only to get Lan Wangji. Was.

*

He wanted to be cruel, when Lan Wangji had told him.

It was a normal dinner – like any other nights they had spend together for the last three years. Lan Wangji cooked the fish Wei Wuxian bought from the market on his way back from visiting a-Yuan, added glass noodles and potatoes and tofu skins. It was something new he had learned – from neither of their heritage, from the countryside of Beijing. A grandma from Huairou had taught him when they went together once - Lan Wangji drove east, out of central Beijing, for fives hours until they reached the town. They had stayed the night in her house without running water and light, but she had let them watch while she throws fish and meat into the large metal pot.

While the fish bubbled in dark soy sauce and bay leaves, Lan Wangji poured greens into clear water in another pot, added pinches of salt and sesame oil. He stir fried eggplants in garlic and spicy soybean sauce. Wei Wuxian waited, his chin on Lan Wangji’s shoulders, moving with him for every single step he takes, talking nonstop of the things he had seen today and the new job offers he is looking at.

He wanted to tell him – I know you can’t live without me. He wanted to say –

Instead he says: “Look at you, saying you love me and then making me so sad.”

They eat dinner like nothing had happened, and Wei Wuxian helped him pack after.

*

The first time Wei Wuxian goes to Suzhou in eight years is for the high school reunion Nie Huaisang forced him to, repeatedly telling him don’t worry, wei-ge, Lan Wangji wouldn’t be there. He’s out of the country right now – fucked off somewhere in Europe apparently. Wei Wuxian stopped him before he could mention his wife, because Lan Wangji had always said he would take Wei Wuxian to France and Italy and Spain and then marry him in Canada.

Its been five years since Lan Wangji came back to Suzhou.

He gets ass drunk, opens a hotel room with someone with a face he should recognize, and then dips right as his former classmate gets his hand on his dick. He flees with his fly barely zipped up, pays for the room, and texts for Nie Huaisang to pick him up.

“I never thought I’d be back here.” He slurs from his position on the curb, cigarette smoke curling between them. Nie Huaisang is still tiny comparing to him, only sharper angles of his face, his arms still twigs.

Nie Huaisang complains and grunts as he pulls Wei Wuxian into the cab, away from the hotel. It takes them to back to Nie Huaisang’s apartment – a spare he kept from highschool, now he just rents the rooms out to students. The cab goes through streets Wei Wuxian walked through for three unforgettable years; corners he always turns with Lan Zhan. The little noodle stall has lights now, the name of the brightly lit restaurant flashing in the night. The tables are all occupied – he sees one flash of the auntie that had given him extra servings every time, before she disappears to the kitchen and the cab carries them far away from memories.

*

Wen Qing had told him – give it time. He had refused to listen then. He paid the last rent of their apartment by himself, the money Lan Zhan left for him untouched in his savings account. The grandma tried to ask where his nice quiet roommate had gone – but he could only smile and tell her he can’t stay anymore. He moved in with Wen Qing because she offered, found a job in some start up right away with some blessing he never asked for.

He wakes up at five am to take the subway to his job in Haidian, stays until he is the last to leave. Goes back to something like home with Wen Qing and a-Yuan. He finds a kindergarden for him in the area he used to live, finds him an elementary school closer to home. His hours change because the startup expanded and he gets authority now, people under his department. He takes a-Yuan to school and back, learns to cook for him and Wen Qing (if he is still awake when Wen Qing comes back from the hospital).

He goes forward slowly, lets time smooth out his edges.

 

*

 

“Wei Ying.”