When the Council tells him that Prince Jiang Cheng, senator for the planet Yunmeng, is returning to Coruscant, Jedi Knight Lan Zhan tucks his hands behind his back. It has the effect of making him look highly dignified while hiding the way his hands are curled into fists. When the Council tells him that, due to recent attempts on the prince's life, King Jiang Fengmian has asked that a Jedi act as his son's bodyguard, Lan Zhan presses his mouth into a thin line.
"We know you do not quite get along with the Prince of Yunmeng," one of the masters says, completely misreading Lan Zhan's expression. A common error on the part of most. He can count on one hand the number of people who can accurately read him and none of them are in this room. Master Lan Qiren and Master Lan Huan left a few days prior on Jedi business and the third person isn't even currently on Coruscant.
"I will fulfill my mission," Lan Zhan says.
Another master smiles and says, "This is why we selected you for this assignment. You have the skills and the temperament needed to handle the situation." Normally they would be right. Lan Zhan can't stop his mind from turning to the image of a red ribbon wound into long dark hair and thinks that in this case the council has too much faith in him. He already knows that at some point over the course of this assignment he will neglect his duty and it will be for purely selfish reasons, like bright laughter and the teasing smile never far from those lips.
As if reading his mind, yet another master comments, "Not to mention, you're one of the few here who doesn't mind being around the prince's bodyguard." Brother, Lan Zhan wants to correct, he is not just the prince's bodyguard, he is his brother, but he doesn't dare, even with Master Qiren not around to give him that knowing, disappointed look. His master may not have any proof of the nature of Lan Zhan's relationship with the prince's brother, but he has his suspicions. That tiny, familiar bit of guilt lodges itself in Lan Zhan's chest. He knows giving into his feelings has ruined his chances at ever reaching his peak as a Jedi, but it's hard to care.
When Lan Zhan is dismissed, he forces himself to relax his tightened fists and smooths his expression as he bows, then leaves. He pauses outside the council chambers to release a long slow breath that shudders just the tiniest bit at the end. Then he straightens his posture, tucks one hand behind his back, and strides to his room to check his messages in private. There's one from a familiar contact apologizing for the late notice, as the king changed his mind at the last moment on allowing the prince to return to Coruscant.
Lan Zhan smiles, ignoring the guilt.
"Why are you here?" the prince grumbles, eyeing Lan Zhan with disdain.
"Ah, Jiang Cheng, we've been on Coruscant for five minutes and you're already picking fights," the prince's brother teases, slinging an arm around the prince's shoulders. "This is why someone keeps trying to kill you."
"Get off," the prince grumbles, shrugging the arm off. The prince's brother shoves him back, then turns to Lan Zhan. Some of the amusement fades, replaced with a soft fondness that makes Lan Zhan's heart ache with longing.
"Lan Zhan," the prince's brother greets, smiling. The sound of his name said by that familiar voice sends a shiver up Lan Zhan's spine.
"Wei Ying," he returns, inclining his head. He wants to run across the distance between them and take Wei Ying in his arms and never let him go again. Three months is far too long, though slightly more bearable than that year after Wei Ying left the Jedi Order. Lan Zhan had been convinced he could forget Wei Ying and move on with his life. His master had certainly approved of that attitude, never comfortable with Wei Ying's wild, untamed personality or the fact that he tended to ask an uncomfortable amount of questions about the dark side of the Force. It hadn't worked.
The guilt rears its head again, reminding him that according to the rules of the Jedi he shouldn't feel this intense yearning for another, much less someone as moraly ambiguous as Wei Ying. Lan Zhan shoves it away for now.
"Are you just not going to answer my question?" Jiang Cheng demands, breaking the moment. Lan Zhan blinks and looks at the prince. "I asked you before why you're here. Well?" Had he a little less dignity Jiang Cheng would be tapping his foot like a parent waiting for an explanation from their disobedient child. Lan Zhan just catches Wei Ying rolling his eyes at his brother.
"I have been tasked by the Council with ensuring your safety while you are on Coruscant," Lan Zhan says.
"I do remember Father saying something about that," Jiang Cheng says loftily. It would sound very refined and dignified if not for how he was scowling. Lan Zhan doesn't think he imagines it when the prince darts a glance at Wei Ying. "This better not just be the two of you flirting all day, every day while I'm trying to deal with important senate business." A jolt of panic flashes through Lan Zhan before he gets ahold of himself. Jiang Cheng doesn't care about the rules of the Jedi. He isn't interested in turning Lan Zhan in for breaking a pretty major one. His disapproval comes purely from the fact that, according to him, no one is worthy of his older brother's affection. At least, that's what Jiang Yanli says. Lan Zhan doesn't think she's lying, but he does know that she is very soft on her brothers.
"Relax, Jiang Cheng," Wei Ying says, shoving the prince's shoulder. "We'll be far too busy looking out for assassins and keeping up appearances to flirt in public. I make no promises about the level of flirting in private though." Jiang Cheng shoves him away and starts towards the shuttle waiting to ferry him to his Coruscant residence. Wei Ying follows a few steps behind and as he passes Lan Zhan easily falls into step with him. He wants to reach out and take Wei Ying's hand, but he can't. Not out in the open like this.
"We should definitely go check out the guest room you'll be staying in," Wei Ying says, but he hesitates and that's how Lan Zhan knows the situation is more serious than he first assumed. He moves over to Wei Ying and takes his hand, relishing in the feeling of their palms pressed together. This is how it should always be. Not for the first time, Lan Zhan pictures a future in which the rules of the Order no longer dictate whether or not he's allowed to display his affection for the one he loves. He pushes the thought aside for now.
"How bad has it been?" Lan Zhan asks.
"Three attempts so far in the last six weeks," Wei Ying says, looking away. "The second attempt almost succeeded. If I hadn't-" Wei Ying's mouth forms a thin line and Lan Zhan can see in his tense shoulders that he blames himself.
"A good thing it didn't succeed," Lan Zhan says.
"It almost did."
"But it didn't."
Wei Ying releases a slow breath and some of the tension leaves him. He smiles at Lan Zhan. "It'll certainly be nice to have someone else helping keep Jiang Cheng out of trouble," he says. Lan Zhan considers pointing out that Wei Ying finds plenty of his own trouble, probably far more than his brother. Wei Ying isn't the heir to the throne though.
"Isn't that what the Royal Guard is for?" Lan Zhan asks. He starts pulling Wei Ying back towards the bedrooms.
Wei Ying wrinkles his nose and says, "Them? They couldn't find an assassin if one walked up and slapped them on the ass." The mental image is amusing. Lan Zhan doesn't linger on it though. He can hear exhaustion in Wei Ying's voice now that they are alone. If the assassin is as good as they sound then Wei Ying likely hasn't had much rest in the past six weeks. Though there are other things Lan Zhan would love to be doing with the privacy they've been offered, he puts that from his mind for now, instead finding the room that belongs to Wei Ying.
"Ah, finally," Wei Ying says, a hint of his usual teasing returning to his tone. "Alone in my bedroom, together." He winks, but his exhaustion is still shining through clear as day, along with an underlying tension that comes from always being on the lookout for a threat. No doubt Wei Ying is being careful to keep an eye on the rest of the residence through his senses, especially Jiang Cheng's room down the hall.
"Sit," Lan Zhan instructs, gesturing to the bed. Wei Ying waggles his eyebrows in an exagerated fashion. Ignoring him with practiced ease, Lan Zhan kneels behind him and starts to massage his shoulders. Wei Ying groans.
"Oh that feels nice, Lan Zhan," he says. "You should leave the Order and move to Yunmeng with me so you can give me massages all the time." It's said casually, but there's the hint of a serious offer there. Ever since they found themselves back in each other's lives Wei Ying has hinted that he wants Lan Zhan to leave the Jedi and their restrictive rules behind. He just can't though, not yet. He loves Wei Ying and he even thinks that someday he will leave the Order for him. Just not yet.
"Do you have any leads on who is behind the attempts?" Lan Zhan asks. Wei Ying glances over his shoulder and Lan Zhan thinks he catches a hint of disappointment in his eyes.
"No. Whoever is behind this is clever and their assassin is skilled. I'm hoping to learn more while we're here on Coruscant. It's the whole reason I convinced Uncle Jiang to send Jiang Cheng back here, despite the danger."
"Bait?" Lan Zhan guesses. Wei Ying nods.
"I figured the Council would assign you, since no one else is really willing to work with me," he says. "I've already talked it over with the rest of the Guard and Jiang Cheng. We should discuss-"
"Later," Lan Zhan interrupts because he can feel Wei Ying tensing up again as he reminds himself of the danger his younger brother currently faces. "The residence is well guarded. You can relax for a bit, Wei Ying." A moment passes. Wei Ying glances towards the door and Lan Zhan can imagine him biting his lip as he deliberates.
"I suppose," Wei Ying reluctantly admits. Lan Zhan abandons his massage to sit beside Wei Ying on the bed and turns his face with gentle fingers on Wei Ying's jaw.
"You'll be no use to your brother if you exhaust yourself with worry," Lan Zhan says softly. Wei Ying huffs a tired laugh and slumps against Lan Zhan.
"I know. But it's my job to keep him safe."
Lan Zhan wraps his arms around Wei Ying, pressing a kiss to the crown of his head. "Then I suppose it will be my job to ensure you do not overwork yourself." He feels the curve of Wei Ying's smile against his neck.
"Ah, Lan Zhan, you take such good care of me," Wei Ying says. When you're around, Lan Zhan hears and he pushes away the ache it brings to his heart.
"Someday," Lan Zhan promises, arms tightening around Wei Ying. Someday the galaxy will be able to bear witness to his love for Wei Ying. Not today, but someday.