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Better With You

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Wei Ying loves banquets. He loves the atmosphere, the food, everything. Normally he would have to be on his deathbed to miss such an event, but today, by the time Jiang Cheng finally tracks him down, he's resolved himself to sulking in the woods just outside Lotus Pier until the whole thing is over.

"You're not even dressed and the banquet starts in less than an hour!" Jiang Cheng complains, taking in the robes Wei Ying had been training in that morning. He was unusually vicious when sparring with the other disciples until Yanli showed up and gently pointed out to him that one of the juniors was about to cry. After that he'd done his best to avoid everyone, mostly succeeding except for that painful hour in which Madame Yu had cornered him and made it clear that she would not tolerate him ruining this betrothal.

"I'm not going," Wei Ying tells his brother, continuing to lounge on the grass. "Tell everyone I'm sick or something."

"Are you out of your mind?" Jiang Cheng demands. "Do you know how pissed Mom is gonna be if you skip out on this?"

Wei Ying sits up and glares at the nearest tree trunk. "I don't care. I would rather kneel for a hundred years in the ancestral shrine than marry a Lan." He's shocked it's even happening in the first place, considering his behavior back when he was studying in Cloud Recesses. He's positive that Lan Qiren hates him, but apparently not enough to pass up an alliance through marriage. It says something about the threat everyone feels the Wen clan presents. They haven't done anything yet, but it's commonly agreed that it's only a matter of time. Wei Ying doesn't care. He lived in Gusu for several months, thank you very much, and he doesn't care for it. There's too many rules, they expect him to get up at five in the morning, the food is horribly bland, he could go on. It would be one thing if whoever he was marrying would be coming to live in Yunmeng, but it's already been agreed that Wei Ying will be living with his new spouse in Gusu. Madame Yu probably made that a non negotiable part of the deal.

"Mom will probably do worse than make you kneel if you skip meeting your own fiance," Jiang Cheng says. He sits down next to Wei Ying. "It won't be that bad. You can always come back and visit." He sounds like he's trying to convince himself as much as he's trying to convince Wei Ying and Wei Ying can't help but smile, just a bit. It disappears immediately when he thinks about how much he'll miss his little brother once he's married. And his sister.

"You'll get to have all of Shijie's soup to yourself once I'm gone," Wei Ying sulks. In the grand scheme of things it's a small matter, but at present it's a very important one, as far as Wei Ying is concerned.

"Of course we'll bring you some in Gusu," Jiang Cheng says, shoving his shoulder. He gets up and starts tugging on Wei Ying's arm. "Come on, we still need to get you looking all pretty for your future spouse." Wei Ying throws a handful of leaves at his brother.

"Oh my god, shut up!" He stays where he is on the ground. "And I already told you, I'm not going to the stupid banquet."

Jiang Cheng doesn't hesitate to pull out his secret weapon. "A-Jie is worried about you, since you disappeared after this morning. She knows you're upset about this so she wants to make sure you're doing okay." Wei Ying's resolve immediately crumbles at the thought that he's worrying his sister.

"Okay, okay, I'm coming!" Wei Ying gets to his feet, brushing dead leaves and grass from his robes. Fine, he'll suffer through the banquet. For Yanli.

-

The banquet is worse than he imagined. The moment he tries to join a few other disciples at one of the tables, Madame Yu's glare bores into his back. She continues to glare at him until he reluctantly slinks over to the table where she's sitting with Uncle Jiang, Yanli, and Jiang Cheng. As he looks around, Wei Ying notes that there's a semblance of order to the seating that doesn't exist at banquets in Lotus Pier.

"We never have arranged seating," Wei Ying complains.

"Don't talk back," Madame Yu snaps. Wei Ying almost argues that it can't be considered talking back if she didn't say anything in the first place, but Yanli reaches over under the table and pats his leg sympathetically. When he looks at Jiang Cheng he just catches his brother rolling his eyes.

"The Lans live very differently from us, A-Xian," Uncle Jiang says diplomatically. "It isn't unreasonable for us to make a few changes to our usual etiquette to accommodate them for one banquet." Wei Ying glances at the unusually stilted atmosphere in the outdoor training grounds and just barely stops himself from scoffing.

"I expect your best behavior," Madame Yu says, as if she hadn't spent an hour earlier in the day lecturing him on exactly this subject. "And for you to keep your clothes clean. Dirty robes are a bad impression." Wei Ying makes a face as he glances down at the brand new robes he found in his room after Jiang Cheng talked him into attending this stupid thing. They're beautiful, a mix of purple and blue with hints of a light, airy green that state loud and clear he's a member of the Jiang Clan and he hates them. Just like he hates the silver ornament Yanli carefully put in his hair earlier. It would've been pulled out immediately if not for the fact that his sister was the one who did his hair. He feels like he's being put on show at the market.

It's several dull minutes of desperately wanting to do anything but sit quietly before the Lans arrive. Lan Qiren is at the head, of course, as stern and imposing as Wei Ying remembers him at the front of the classroom in Cloud Recesses. He observes the outdoor banquet with an air of what Wei Ying is tempted to say is discomfort, but it's hard to tell. Certainly, he can't imagine Cloud Recesses hosting any banquets like this.

Uncle Jiang and Madame Yu rise to greet their guests, Wei Ying going with them when Uncle Jiang gives him a significant look. As Uncle Jiang exchanges pleasantries with Lan Qiren, Wei Ying finally takes note of the familiar figure standing silently at his uncle's side and sucks in a breath. Lan Zhan meets his eyes and offers a salute. It takes Wei Ying a moment, during which Madame Yu coughs pointedly and Lan Qiren frowns at him, before he returns the salute. Wei Ying thinks he can hardly be blamed. When he was first told he was marrying a Lan of course Lan Zhan had immediately popped into his mind, but he'd dismissed that thought quickly. Wei Ying knows, despite what Jiang Cheng thinks, that he and Lan Zhan were friends by the time he left Cloud Recesses, but that didn't mean Lan Zhan had any interest in marrying him. And even if he did, why would Lan Qiren allow it? But as Wei Ying takes in Lan Zhan's obviously new robes and the way the hand not hidden behind his back is clenched into a nervous fist, he gets his hopes up, just a little. Because if he has to pick a Lan to marry, he would pick Lan Zhan.

They move back to the table and Wei Ying takes a moment to be amused by the Lan disciples awkwardly standing by the entrance to the training fields before the Jiang disciples take pity on them and start dragging them over to various tables. The chatter finally starts up then and Wei Ying is jealous. At what has apparently been designated the head table for this banquet, things are stiff and formal and quiet. Wei Ying wants to talk to Lan Zhan, ask him if his hopeful suspicion is right, but not with the adults making polite conversation right next to them. Wei Ying listens to the conversation with half an ear, fidgeting as he tries to come up with a way to talk to Lan Zhan in at least somewhat privacy.

"It was a decision that required much thought," Lan Qiren is saying and Wei Ying realizes they're discussing the marriage. "But I believe it is the correct decision. An alliance between our two families will be strong." Families, Wei Ying thinks, darting a look at Lan Zhan as his stomach does a strange little flip. Not clans, not sects, but families.

"We are certainly happy that you feel A-Xian is a good match for Lan Wangji," Uncle Jiang says. Wei Ying looks down, trying to suppress his smile. He's not sure why he's so happy about the fact that he's marrying Lan Zhan. Yes, he certainly prefers a friend to someone he's never met before, but there's no reason for his heart to pound quite so hard in his chest. He meets Lan Zhan's eyes again and sees that the tips of his ears are pink. It's right then that it's announced the food is ready.

"I'll get you some food, Lan Zhan," Wei Ying blurts, ignoring the looks he gets from around the table. He's feeling flustered all of a sudden for reasons he can't identify and food is the perfect excuse to leave the table. He's in the process of figuring out which foods are the most suited to Lan Zhan's tastebuds (i.e. the blandest flavoring) when he hears someone approach. He turns, expecting to see Jiang Cheng or a Jiang disciple. It's Lan Zhan. Wei Ying feels his face grow warm.

"You didn't have to get up," Wei Ying says. "I'm making sure to find you the least spicy food. In fact, I think the cooks went out of their way to tone it down on the spices, since you guys don't really use much spice at Cloud Recesses. Or any spice, really. Not that it's a bad thing! Your food is- is- it's..." He tries desperately to come up with words that aren't 'bland', 'bitter', 'awful'. "It's good," he settles on.

"Wei Ying," Lan Zhan says before he can start rambling again and the sound of his own name shouldn't make him feel like his heart just skipped a beat, but Wei Ying has other things to worry about right now. Like how good Lan Zhan looks in the flowing blue and white robes he's wearing or how Lan Zhan is standing awfully close right now.

"Yes?" Wei Ying finally manages to answer.

"Are you... alright?" Lan Zhan asks.

"Am I alright?" Wei Ying parrots, then seriously considers the answer. He feels flushed, his heart won't stop pounding, his stomach keeps doing weird little flips, but underneath it all he thinks... he thinks he's happy. Yes, he's happy. The whys of his happiness aren't entirely clear, but that's okay. What's important is that this marriage isn't going to suck as much as Wei Ying first thought it would.

He's so wrapped up in his own thoughts that he almost misses what Lan Zhan says.

"You seem anxious," Lan Zhan says carefully. He hesitates and Wei Ying almost fills the silence, but something tells him he should keep his mouth shut and wait for Lan Zhan to gather his thoughts. He's vaguely aware that the other disciples have left a very obvious bubble around them.

"When my uncle told me Clan Leader Jiang and Madame Yu wished to arrange a marriage between you and a member of our clan, I thought perhaps you would be happier if-" Lan Zhan cuts himself off, but even with how oblivious he can be Wei Ying knows how that sentence was meant to end. I thought perhaps you would be happier if your marriage was to me. "It seems I may have assumed wrong."

"What? No!" Wei Ying almost forgets about the half filled plate he's holding as he reaches out and grabs Lan Zhan's wrist. He smiles and his voice is soft when he says, "You assumed right. I am happy that it's you, Lan Zhan." His stomach does another of those weird flips when Lan Zhan's mouth curves upwards just slightly into a smile. Cloud Recesses still has too many rules, an unreasonable wake up time, and bland food. But it also has Lan Zhan and that's definitely worth a lot to Wei Ying.