- 1 -
“Goooood morning, Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian said, bounding through Lan Wangji’s office door. He was juggling two cardboard cups and a sheaf of papers and grinning wildly.
Lan Wangji looked up from his computer screen. “Wei Wuxian,” he replied. He should not already be feeling so tired; he could feel a headache starting in his temples.
Wei Wuxian grinned and set one of the cups down. “Tea! For you!”
“I have my own, thank you,” Lan Wangji said. He gestured towards the mug which he always made when he arrived in his office at the Cloud Recesses Public Library. He had a routine. After he arrived every morning at 8:30 am, he put his lunch away, unlocked his office door, made tea, and sat down to plan his day and read his email. His job duties as the Children’s Librarian varied from day to day, but unless there were special circumstances, he worked until 4:30 pm, and then locked his office door and went home.
“Oh, are you sure?”
Wei Wuxian had arrived at the library three months ago. He was hired by Lan Xichen, who was the Director of CRPL and Lan Wangji’s brother, to fill the newly created position of Teen Librarian. He did not seem to believe in routines.
“I’m quite sure.”
Three months ago, Lan Xichen introduced Wei Wuxian by bringing him to Lan Wangji’s office and saying, “Wangji, this is our new teen librarian. I’m sure you’ll be happy to show him around since you’ll be working closely together.” Lan Wangji did not and does not feel that this was in any way an adequate introduction to Wei Wuxian.
(Lan Wangji refused to use his other name, which was Wei Ying. He felt sure that just the shape of the words in his mouth would be too revealing to anyone who knew him well.)
“Only, now I have two teas, haha,” Wei Wuxian said. He sighed and sat down in the chair opposite Lan Wangji’s. “Okay, can I get your opinion on my program proposals before I submit them? It’s my first time here and I’m a little nervous.” He shoved the papers he was holding across the desk at Lan Wangji.
Lan Wangji inspected the paper clip when he picked them up, ignoring Wei Wuxian’s questioning look. The last time he went to check his office mailbox, he discovered a box of rabbit-shaped paper clips with his name on it. He did not know who had left them for him and the mystery itched at him. The fact that he was out of paper clips and liked rabbits only made it worse. But the one holding Wei Wuxian’s program proposals was completely ordinary.
He read Wei Wuxian’s proposals, and then read them again. They were clear, thoughtful, innovative. They would reach new groups of teens and support the library’s stated mission and goals. He said, slowly, unwillingly. “These are very good, but they will never be approved.”
Wei Wuxian’s head jerked up. “What? What do you mean? What did I do wrong?”
Lan Wangji shook his head. He touched the titles with his finger. Anti-Prom, Teen Library Advisory Board, Comic Book Club. “There is nothing wrong,” he said. “At another library, they would be very well received.”
“But--not here?” Wei Wuxian asked. “I mean, I thought the point of hiring a Teen Librarian was to, you know, provide services to teens.”
“I know,” Lan Wangji said. He did. He had wished there was a separate Teen Services department for years. He himself couldn’t provide adequate support for the entire range of youth, aged birth through 18. Not with only two assistants and no time.
“Okay,” Wei Wuxian said. “But--look, here.” He turned his phone around so Lan Wangji could see. “The Teen Programming Guidelines from YALSA. ‘Create programming that reflects the needs and identities of all teens in the community.’ ‘Develop interest-based, developmentally appropriate programs that support connected learning.’ Like, inclusion and innovation are really important, Lan Zhan.”
Lan Wangji found himself at a loss. Wei Wuxian had just taken his own frustration with the way things were run here and reflected it back to him. It was not an entirely comfortable feeling.
The truth was, Wei Wuxian had spent the past three months antagonizing Lan Qiren, who was the president of the Library Board and Lan Wangji’s uncle. Lan Qiren distrusted innovation and inclusion. Lan Wangji himself had recently suggested that they implement a community survey, which he had thought was an innocent enough idea. But Lan Qiren said, “Wangji, we are the ones with training. We know what’s best for the community.” And that was that.
“You’re right,” he said now, to Wei Wuxian. “But being right doesn’t mean the programs will be approved.”
Wei Wuxian’s face fell. “Okay,” he said. “I guess I shouldn’t rock the boat too much. Crap. Haha. Sorry. Now I have to think of some new program ideas. Uh, well, thanks for the advice, Lan Zhan. I’ll get out of your hair.” He left, taking both of the cardboard cups of tea with him.
Lan Wangji was definitely getting a headache.
At least his familiar pattern at home was unaltered. When he arrived, he unpacked his lunch box. Made himself dinner while listening to music, or a podcast, or an audiobook. Ate that dinner and fed his elderly cat, Bunny. Cleaned up and did any other chores he needed to. Read for a while. Sometimes he talked to his brother, sometimes he went for a walk, sometimes he watched a movie. He packed his lunch for the next day and went to bed at a reasonable hour. Whenever work was chaotic, he clung even more to this pattern. It grounded him. He currently felt that if he did not have it, he would fly straight off into space and never return.
On Thursday mornings, Lan Wangji had preschool storytime.
This month, his theme was weather, and this week he was focusing on rain. He had his timeline arranged so the children could see what was going to happen next. He had a robin puppet hidden in his bag so they could guess the puppet of the week and then talk about the sound that 'R' makes. They would do “The rain is falling down” as a fingerplay, and “Rain on the grass” as an action rhyme. They would sing “What’s the weather,” and he would work in his early literacy aside to the caregivers, to remind them that talking about the world around them helps children learn observational skills. He would read Puddle by Hyewon Yum, and Rain Fish by Lois Ehlert before the children made their own rain fish from recycled materials. At the end, they would do the parachute song together, and then sing the goodbye song, like every other week.
Everything was designed to reinforce the five practices of Every Child Ready to Read: read, write, sing, talk, and play. He sometimes felt like a bit of a fraud talking about the importance of early literacy skills, because he had no children and his own childhood had not been full of the kind of warm, nurturing experiences that he advocated for. But he reminded himself that none of these ideas were about his personal opinions. They were the best practices of his profession, and he believed in them deeply.
He was hanging up the flyers for the other children’s programs happening this week when Wei Wuxian burst through the door.
“Help me, Lan Zhan, you're my only hope,” he gasped.
“Lan Wangji, please.”
“Lan Zhan ,” he gasped again. “Did you not get the Star Wars reference? Anyway, you’ll never believe what your uncle is doing now!”
Lan Wangji gave him a look. He had to be doing this on purpose. "I did understand the reference. Are you implying that my uncle is Darth Vader?"
"Well, if the shoe fits," Wei Wuxian said, thoughtfully.
Lan Wangji sighed. "My program is in fifteen minutes. Can you come back after it's done?
"Aw, but you always love hanging out with the kids afterwards! And it's not going to take fifteen minutes for me to tell you what's going on, Lan Zhan, my god."
Lan Wangji, now familiar with Wei Wuxian's time management skills, had his doubts. But he did love spending time with the children after his program. They were the only people in his life who loved him without complication or expectation. He thought they probably believed that he lived at the library, and this did not bother him at all. Once, Lan Jingyi saw him at the grocery store and his eyes, already large, grew to be nearly plate-sized. It was extremely gratifying.
Usually, Lan Wangji spent the last few minutes before his program running over the songs and books he had chosen to fit the week's theme, to be sure that he was comfortable with them. Instead, today he listened to Wei Wuxian rant about how Lan Qiren didn't understand the limits of the board president's powers and how he wasn't supposed to have any influence over policy anyway. At this point, Lan Wangji could barely remember what his storytime theme was this week, although he had announced it at the end of last week's program as usual.
"Can we come in, Lan Wangji?" one of the parents asked from the door, and Lan Wangji started. It was one minute to 10, and he usually opened the door at five minutes till. He gave Wei Wuxian a vexed look.
"Of course," he said to the parent. "Please forgive me. Wei Wuxian was discussing a personnel issue."
“But we still need to talk!” Wei Wuxian insisted.
Fortunately, all the preschoolers came running in, and Lan Wangji had to greet them and ask how their week had been while they settled into their spots on the big rug. Wei Wuxian hung around in the back of the room even though he had once freely admitted that anyone under the age of six made him nervous. "Call me later," he mouthed when he caught Lan Wangji's eye.
Lan Wangji gave him a flat stare and then smiled at the children. "Good morning," he said. "Are we all ready for our program to start? Good. And what is our first activity at storytime?"
"This is Big," they said, in a ragged but enthusiastic chorus. And then they were off, even though Lan Wangji still felt a little unprepared, which he never did. He could, at least, recite "This is short, short, short, / This is tall, tall, tall," in his sleep.
The rest of the day was a busy one, and Lan Wangji did not think much more about Wei Wuxian and his problems. After his program, he spent some time working at the desk and had two excellent readers’ advisory interactions along with a number of more mundane questions about programs and the location of the bathrooms.
He ate lunch at his usual time, although he was somewhat disconcerted to find a set of pens with caps shaped like small rabbit ears when he checked his office mailbox on the way to the staff lounge. Once again, his name was attached, so he couldn’t even deny that they were for him.
He asked his brother, the most likely person, but Lan Xichen shook his head. “Not me, Wangji,” he said. “But they’re adorable! If you don’t keep them, I’ll take them.”
“I didn’t say I didn’t want them,” Lan Wangji replied. He did want them; he just also wanted to know who was mysteriously leaving him gifts.
He had a programming committee meeting in the afternoon and chose his usual seat under the stained glass window. Cloud Recesses Public Library was a grand old building, and Lan Wangji had practically grown up there. He had his favorite places scattered throughout the staff and public areas alike. If he had to be part of a committee, he was going to sit where he wanted. He defiantly took notes with one of the rabbit pens, even though his uncle tutted a little bit, and Wei Wuxian laughed.
The rest of the work day, he spent looking over his latest order for non-fiction materials. Several of the more popular sections were outdated, and he had recently gone through and weeded the dinosaur and shark books. He repurchased some titles and added some newer narrative non-fiction books as well. He said goodnight to the children’s assistant at 4:30 pm, turned off his office lights, locked the door, and went home to make his dinner.
Wei Wuxian next appeared in the Children's Room a week later, when Lan Wangji was attempting to interest a group of mostly-bored third graders in a macrame project. The project was not truly important, but the social-emotional development required to take turns picking out yarn and beads was.
"Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian said, right behind Lan Wangji. "Lan Zhan, you won't believe it. I can't believe it! Lan Zhan."
Mo Xuanyu, a tiny third-grader with a wicked glare, asked, "Who is that guy?" He sounded very unimpressed with Wei Wuxian’s existence, but then he sounded very unimpressed about almost everything.
"The new teen librarian," Lan Wangji said, hoping this interruption would be enough to convince Wei Wuxian to leave.
"Your uncle wants to go through the teen collection and make sure it's 'age-appropriate,' Lan Zhan. Age-appropriate! Does he not realize that's censorship, or does he just not care?"
"Wei Wuxian," Lan Wangji said, through his teeth. His patience was unraveling, much like Mo Xuanyu's macrame. "I am in the middle of a program. "
"How many programs do you have?" Wei Wuxian demanded. Lan Wangji glared at him. He had six programs a week, as Wei Wuxian well knew, and not enough staff to help with them, and not enough time to do everything. "Fine! I'll come back later, but I'm not dropping this one! I'll go to the Office for Intellectual Freedom if I have to. Age-appropriate!" He scoffed once more and headed to the teen room, probably to hand out contraband snacks and play Mario Kart.
Mo Xuanyu and his tatty macrame went home. Lan Wangji locked himself in his office and took a deep, centering breath. His morning program on Friday was a mindfulness storytime, and he was very grateful for that at this moment. He felt he needed the lessons as much as anyone else.
How had it come to this? Wei Wuxian did not seem to realize that flaunting the authority of library leadership would only lead to difficulties. His heart might be in the right place, but Lan Wangji had spent ten years quietly biting down his own opinions and disagreements. If Wei Wuxian kept speaking up, who knew what the cost would be?
It was true that in the 21st century most public libraries were embracing their changing role as community centers and information hubs. Not the Cloud Recesses Public Library though. No, Lan Qiren and Lan Xichen would lead by tradition, as they always had.
When Lan Wangji was young, he thought that this was simply the way things were done. He liked the rules and the order and the way that his family was at the center of things. Then he went to grad school and found the wider world of Youth Services and critical librarianship. He realized that his uncle’s insistence on the values of intellectual freedom and neutrality hid the fact that Lan Qiren was happy with the status quo and wished to uphold it.
Lan Wangji took electives on Multicultural Services and Community Data. He read articles that were not assigned because he wanted to understand more than just the rules that he had grown up knowing.
Then he finished his degree and faced a small crisis. He could look for another job, at a library whose overall philosophy was more in line with his own. But he had a place waiting for him at home, with his family, with all the expectations that entailed.
In the end he went back to Cloud Recesses, even knowing that he would gain nothing by challenging his uncle. He kept his head down, stuck to the rules he did believe in, and did the best he could. He found a quiet satisfaction in helping children learn how to identify and respect their emotions, in a way he had never been allowed to at their age. He joined Storytime Underground and read Fobazi Ettarh. But that was the extent of his outward rebellion.
And then Lan Xichen finally convinced his uncle that they needed a teen librarian, hired Wei Wuxian, and upended Lan Wangji’s carefully crafted equilibrium, all in one fell swoop.
Wei Wuxian did not come back later and Lan Wangji did not go looking for him. He had plenty to do and he couldn't spend all of his time helping a new colleague who wanted to make sweeping changes the moment he arrived.
He's right though, the treacherous part of his mind pointed out.
It's not how we do things here , his uncle's nephew responded, with a desperate finality.
Moreover, his mailbox contained a package of blue sticky notes with small white rabbits. Lan Wangji took them out and felt mildly perplexed and extremely irritated. He was not friends with any of the people he worked with, and he didn’t want to be. But throwing the sticky notes away would be very wasteful, and also Lan Wangji liked them despite himself. So instead, he took them back to his office and tried to focus on his program planning for the next quarter.
However, when both Friday and Monday came and went without another appearance from Wei Wuxian, Lan Wangji had to admit to a slight tinge of worry. On Tuesday, he took his lunch break from 12:15-12:45, eating his food in the staff lounge while flipping through Kirkus Magazine absently. No one else ever ate lunch at this time, except for Wei Wuxian in his first week, when he had been trying to make Lan Wangji like him.
He packed up his lunch things at 12:30, a little earlier than usual. And instead of going back to the Children's Room, he walked across the library to the glass doors that walled off the Teen Zone!
(Lan Wangji had not been consulted when the name was chosen.)
Wei Wuxian was sitting at his desk, talking to a teen when Lan Wangji walked in, but he looked up and gave a brief nod of greeting. Lan Wangji knew that privacy was important, and that teens needed to feel they were in a safe environment at the library. So he stared at the book display and tried to avoid overhearing their conversation.
But he could see how attentive Wei Wuxian was. Lan Wangji had never quite realized that he took this aspect of his job so seriously; but here he was, taking the time to finish the conversation he had been having, listening intently and offering a few suggestions. After a few minutes, the boy smiled and said thank you. He nodded to Lan Wangji as he left the room, leaving Lan Wangji alone with Wei Wuxian.
Wei Wuxian came over to the display and frowned at it. He still seemed subdued. "Hi, Lan Zhan," he said. "Sorry to keep you waiting. He needed some help finding a tutor. What's up?
Lan Wangji looked at him. He wasn't quite meeting Lan Wangji's gaze. "You never came to find me the other day," he said.
Wei Wuxian looked puzzled.
"About the issue with the collection," Lan Wangji prompted.
"Oh...oh. That. Yeah, I, sorry, Lan Zhan, I forgot about it." Wei Wuxian laughed, weakly and Lan Wangji felt a stab of panic. Something was wrong. Something was really wrong.
"I only wanted to say that I have considered, and if you decide to take the matter further, I'll support you," he said stiffly. He wanted to say, Wei Wuxian, what's wrong? He wanted to say, I'm on your side . But he didn't.
"Uh, no, I'm dropping it," Wei Wuxian said. "I don't think--well, never mind!" He smiled. It looked ghastly. "Don't worry about it, Lan Zhan!"
Lan Wangji stared at him. "My lunch break is almost over," he said slowly. "But if you need anything, you know where to find me."
"Sure do!" Wei Wuxian said, too brightly. "Thanks!"
Lan Wangji walked back across the library, frowning. He did not exactly want Wei Wuxian to go back to interrupting his programs every five minutes. But this dampened version of him was...wrong. Wei Wuxian should be impudent and cheerful and not seem to care when Lan Wangji was rude to him.
It wasn't until Thursday evening, when Lan Xichen ate dinner with Lan Wangji, that he found out what had happened. Lan Qiren had influenced the library board to censure Wei Wuxian over the collection.
"He's still in his trial period," Lan Xichen said. He sighed. "I do hope I didn't make a mistake in hiring him. He seemed so perfect."
Lan Wangji thought of Wei Wuxian's passion. He thought of the patience and kindness Wei Wuxian had shown with the teen who needed a tutor. Many adults would have made the boy feel smaller, but Wei Wuxian had reassured him, treated him like he mattered. That was more important than disagreements about collections.
And Lan Wangji remembered his own teen years. He has wondered more than once if he would have been happier had there been a book that helped him understand himself. Had there been a story that he saw himself in.
Lan Wangji could imagine exactly what kind of books his uncle disapproved of.
"You did not make a mistake," Lan Wangji said calmly, as calmly as he could manage. "Wei Wuxian is an excellent librarian."
Lan Xichen gave him a surprised look over the rim of his teacup but said nothing further on the subject. They discussed the local author lecture series that Lan Xichen was planning for the fall, and some recent family news. They said goodbye before 8:30. Everything was exactly as it always was on Thursday evenings. There was no reason at all for Lan Wangji to feel unsettled.
For the next month, nothing particular happened. Lan Wangji worked on planning the Summer Reading Club and did his usual programs. His mysterious gift-giver left him a rabbit stapler, small rabbit-shaped thumbtacks, and a rabbit memo pad. He considered asking his brother if he could review the surveillance footage to find out who it was, but this seemed like an overreaction and at least a little bit unethical.
He went home every day at his usual time and made dinner and fed Bunny. If he read a little more poetry than normal during this month, no one was around to point it out. He saw Wei Wuxian a few times but did not speak to him about anything important. He dared to hope that his uncle had calmed down and that Wei Wuxian had decided not to provoke him any longer.
That hope proved false the morning after the monthly meeting of the library board. Lan Xichen sent out the minutes to the library staff as usual. Lan Wangji was in his office, reading them and frowning, when someone knocked on the doorframe. He looked up and saw Wei Wuxian leaning against the open door.
“Hi, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian said. “Can I talk to you?” Lan Wangji nodded. Wei Wuxian came in and sat down.
“Is this about the board meeting?” he asked, guessing the answer.
“Yeah,” Wei Wuxian said. He looked down and sighed. “Did you read the new policy?”
“Yes,” Lan Wangji said. He had read it and then read it again. He was trying to work out what he thought. How to react. He didn’t know what to say.
“It seems...questionable,” Lan Wangji admitted.
“I knew Lan Qiren didn’t like me,” Wei Wuxian said. “But wow. It’s one thing to know that and another to see it in print.” He looked like he was trying to smile, but it was not very successful.
Lan Wangji looked at him, wishing that he was better at expressing himself in ways that were understandable to other people. “I will make tea,” he said, buying himself a little time. He fussed with the small electric kettle he kept in the corner of his office. He poured them both tea and sat again. Wei Wuxian was slumping in his chair. He looked as if he had not slept at all.
Lan Wangji looked at the board meeting minutes again. The new meeting room policy began by quoting the American Library Association’s stance regarding the use of meeting rooms by community groups. It was a stance which seemed in line with the ideals of free speech and intellectual freedom. But it had proven very controversial with librarians. The stance made no provision for libraries to block hate groups from their meeting rooms. Lan Wangji had read all of the arguments in library journals and online discussion groups. He knew that he would not have included this statement in the new meeting room policy, or at least not without heavy caveats.
He also knew, because his brother had mentioned it, that Wei Wuxian had been a fiery critic of the ALA’s stance and had even mentioned his opposition to it in his interview.
The new CRPL policy then stated that teens were not allowed to use the meeting rooms, unless in the company of a responsible adult over 21. It stated that teen programs were only to take place in the Teen Zone! and that they could not take place in the general meeting rooms or other areas of the library. Since the Teen Zone! had only two small tables, it effectively limited the number of attendees for Wei Wuxian’s programs to only a few teens. It meant that teens weren’t able to reserve the meeting rooms for studying or playing board games, which had always been allowed in the past. Lan Wangji knew that teens in libraries were sometimes told that they could only use certain areas, which went against the principles of Youth Services as he understood and tried to enact them.
Lan Qiren had drafted the new policy to make a point. The fact that it came so soon after he had violated the standards of intellectual freedom by censoring the teen collection only made it worse.
“Unfortunately,” Lan Wangji said, “I’m not sure what can really be done. You and I can see the problem, but there is nothing outwardly inappropriate about the policy. I imagine the language has been carefully chosen from other, similar policies.”
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian interrupted, but Lan Wangji motioned for him to shush and he actually did.
“However ," he said pointedly. "The library should not be limiting the teen collection and at the same time claiming to uphold the 'marketplace of ideas.' I'll speak to Lan Xichen and Lan Qiren. They may understand the problem if I explain it to them. Only, please do not respond in the meantime.”
Wei Wuxian sighed and looked down. “It--might be too late for that,” he admitted.
Lan Wangji felt his heart sink. “What did you do?” he asked. He pulled out one of the rabbit sticky notes and began to write on it.
“Thanks, Lan Zhan, that’s very helpful.”
“ Sarcasm is not helpful,” Lan Wangji said, writing.
“It makes me feel better though,” Wei Wuxian said. “I just wrote an email and sent it to Lan Xichen. I figured he was better than Lan Qiren.”
“That, hm.” Lan Wangji stopped to think. “I don’t know his feelings on the subject. I will speak to him and find out.”
“Okay,” Wei Wuxian said.
“For now, don’t say anything to anyone else, please.”
“Okay, Lan Zhan.”
Lan Wangji looked at him and worried. Had he slept last night? Eaten? He considered and then went on, “Also, I don’t want to talk about this more at work.” He passed the sticky note across the desk. “Here’s my address. Come by tonight after work. I will make dinner and we’ll talk then.”
Wei Wuxian took the sticky note, looking baffled. “That’s fine, but why? I mean,” he laughed. “You don’t need to be so nice to me, Lan Zhan. I know I’ve been causing a lot of problems for you.”
“You haven’t,” Lan Wangji said firmly. “I will talk to my brother and we will decide what to do after that.”
Wei Wuxian nodded slowly and stood. “Thanks,” he said. “I mean, really, thank you. I was on the verge of quitting this morning.”
“In that case, I’m glad to help,” Lan Wangji said, and meant it.
Lan Xichen found Lan Wangji first, in the end. He came to the staff lounge while Lan Wangji was eating lunch and sat across from him. He had his own carefully packed bag. They did not speak while they were eating, the left-over habit of their youth. Then they rinsed out their containers and repacked them.
"Wei Wuxian spoke to me," Lan Wangji said when this ritual was complete.
"I wondered if he might," Lan Xichen answered. His tone was difficult to parse, even for Lan Wangji, who took a moment before continuing. He was trying to guess his brother’s opinion, but this was impossible without more information.
“I’m concerned about the situation,” he said.
Lan Xichen sighed. “So am I.”
“I know it’s a difficult position for anyone,” Lan Wangji went on, “but if you and I both support him, I think it could sway the library board.”
Lan Xichen flinched back and stared at Lan Wangji. “I’m sorry?” he said.
Lan Wangji felt sick to his stomach. He had guessed wrong. “The new policy is very pointed. Personally driven.”
“It’s needed,” Lan Xichen said. “Several of the board members, not only Uncle, are very concerned about the teens being disruptive in the library.”
“They are teenagers, and teenagers are often disruptive in age-appropriate ways” Lan Wangji said. “They have a right to access the library as much as anyone else.”
“No one is talking about denying access. But we have to make some accommodations. It’s not wise to cause difficulties for people who have authority and budgeting power.”
Lan Wangji took a deep breath. “I disagree.”
They stared at each other.
Eventually, Lan Xichen said, more quietly, “It may not be an issue for much longer. Wei Wuxian is very clearly unhappy here and I suspect he may be looking for a job elsewhere.”
Lan Wangji could not manage to respond to this. He had only just found Wei Wuxian. He did not at all want to lose him.
Lan Xichen sighed. "I'm sorry, Wangji. I didn't realize you had become attached to Wei Wuxian."
Attached! Lan Wangji thought indignantly. That made Wei Wuxian sound like a pet, which he most certainly was not. Aloud, he said, "I value him as a colleague and I respect and agree with his professional opinion. My lunch break is over. Goodbye." He escaped without making eye contact with his brother.
He had to take some deep breaths in his office again. He knew that his brother tended to defer to others, especially their uncle. But he had really expected that--given his own objections and the small matter of their shared professional ethics--Lan Xichen would reconsider. To find instead that his brother was firmly entrenched in Lan Qiren's way of thinking was more distressing than Lan Wangji could have guessed.
He managed to focus on preparing for his programs for the next week until it was time for him to leave for the day. It had started to rain, which suited his mood. He stopped at the store and bought ingredients for soup. After some reflection, he added a jar of chili garlic sauce, which he had seen in Wei Wuxian's lunch box.
He was slicing cabbage when he heard the knock. Wei Wuxian stepped in and took off his shoes when Lan Wangji opened the door, putting his wet umbrella in the stand in the entry. He still looked unusually subdued but he held out a little box for Lan Wangji.
"It's just silly," he said. "But…" he trailed off.
"Come in," Lan Wangji said, gripping the box hard. "I'm making soup."
Wei Wuxian looked around and laughed quietly. "This is nice," he said. "Do I remember right that your brother lives here too?"
"My brother and uncle both live in this building," Lan Wangji confirmed. "It's a family tradition."
"I won't get you in trouble?" Wei Wuxian asked, anxiously. "Coming over?"
Lan Wangji frowned at him. "Wei Wuxian. I invited you."
"Yeahhh." He trailed off and scratched his nose briefly. "I just don't think I can overstate how much your uncle dislikes me."
Lan Wangji did not know how to respond to that. Fortunately, at that moment Bunny emerged from her napping spot on Lan Wangji’s bed and came to complain about her tragic life. Wei Wuxian said, “Aw, who’s this?” He bent to try to pet her before Lan Wangji could warn him not to. Bunny hissed and swiped at him and leapt up on the couch to get away. “Oh.
“I should have warned you,” Lan Wangji said, apologetically. “That’s Bunny, who is very old and grouchy.”
“Bunny?” Wei Wuxian asked. “You have a cat named Bunny?”
Lan Wangji hesitated. He always felt vaguely embarrassed about this story. “When I was younger, I wanted rabbits, but our apartment wasn’t suitable for them. My brother convinced my uncle to get me a cat instead.”
“That’s so sweet!” Wei Wuxian said. “I love it, even though Bunny does not love me.”
Lan Wangji wasn’t sure that he had ever been called sweet before in any context. He wanted to ask what Wei Wuxian meant by it. He said instead, "The soup will be ready soon. Would you like water or tea?"
"No, no," Wei Wuxian said. "Honestly, you didn't have to feed me even."
Lan Wangji looked at his back. He was wandering around, staring at all of Lan Wangji's books, which he usually found intrusive. With Wei Wuxian, he didn't mind. "I wanted to," he said firmly. "You don't eat well."
"Wow, okay. Just stab a man, huh?"
Lan Wangji ignored this too. The soup was ready. He dished it up into two bowls and brought it to the table, which was already set. He always kept it set with two place settings, in case anyone else came to eat with him. It was rare but it had been known to happen.
Wei Wuxian was flipping through one of Lan Wangji's books of poetry, a newer edition of Feng Zhi's Sonnets. Lan Wangji watched him, enjoying the way he mouthed the words to himself. The way he looked when at rest. Then he looked up and caught Lan Wangji's gaze and blushed.
"Oh, sorry, Lan Zhan," he said, all in a rush. "Sorry, you should have said!"
"It's no problem," Lan Wangji said and gestured to the table. "Come and eat."
Wei Wuxian did not keep quiet while eating. But he finished two full bowls, exclaiming over how good it was and how he hadn't known Lan Wangji could cook. Lan Wangji answered because it seemed ruder to ignore Wei Wuxian than to break a rule he didn't even really believe in any longer. “I enjoy cooking,” he said. “It’s relaxing to me, even after a long day.”
This only encouraged Wei Wuxian to talk more. “I saw you have a lot of classics on your shelf! I guess that’s not a surprise. Do you really like poetry, though? I saw some of Feng Zhi’s stuff, and Jane Kenyon, but I couldn’t tell if they were gifts or things you like.”
Lan Wangji said, “No, I like them.” Then he gave into temptation and recited Feng Zhi’s Sonnet 16, his favorite, from memory.
“We are footpaths that crisscross on the plain / and are the people traveling on them,” he finished.
Wei Wuxian stared at him a little open-mouthed and then laughed weirdly.
Lan Wangji could feel himself flushing. It was strange to know poetry by heart. It was strange to live and work with your brother and uncle so closely. He had known that he was not quite like other people for a long time, and he had mostly made his peace with it. He tried to use it to fuel his commitment to taking care of other people who were also a little different. But he did not enjoy Wei Wuxian laughing at him.
"Oh, shit, no," Wei Wuxian said. "No, sorry. I wasn't laughing at you. Really." Lan Wangji glanced at him. He seemed perfectly serious, if slightly embarrassed. Fiddling with the napkin ring. "I just also really love that poem! Sorry." He looked down again, the vibrancy of his expression fading away.
This wasn’t what Lan Wangji wanted at all, but he wasn’t sure how to fix it. So he opened the box that Wei Wuxian handed him when he walked in. Inside were three small erasers, rabbit shaped. One grey, one white, one black. They had bows on top of their heads.
Lan Wangji stared down at them for a long moment. It was Wei Wuxian? It was Wei Wuxian who had been leaving him the little rabbit gifts. He should have guessed, but he hadn’t, and now he felt as if he had stepped off a cliff accidentally, his heart and stomach and mind all in free fall.
How had he even known that Lan Wangji liked rabbits? He had given Lan Wangji tea and sticky notes, and the little rabbit thumbtacks that Lan Wangji hadn’t been able to resist taking home to use for the bulletin board in his bedroom. It felt obvious now, that it was Wei Wuxian, trying to reach out. It made Lan Wangji wonder what else he had missed.
“It’s just silly, sorry,” Wei Wuxian said. “I shouldn’t have--” He made a move as if to take the box back and Lan Wangji snatched it away from him.
“You have apologized three times this evening,” he said. “You didn’t need to in any of those instances. If you’re uncomfortable, I am sorry. I like the gift very much.”
Wei Wuxian stared at him and blushed. “Um,” he said. “Okay. Well, maybe we should get down to business then?”
Lan Wangji looked at the erasers again and then closed the box. “I did speak to my brother this afternoon. It didn’t go as I hoped.”
Wei Wuxian’s shoulders drooped a little. “Yeah, I kind of figured.” He laughed. “Thanks for trying anyway, Lan Zhan.”
“He’s wrong,” Lan Wangji said. “But I don’t know if we can convince him or the library board in time to make a difference with regards to the policies.”
"It's okay," Wei Wuxian says. "Really. I, uh probably shouldn't admit this, but I've been...looking for other jobs."
Lan Wangji didn't expect to feel so bereft at this news. "Don't, just yet. Don't do anything drastic, please," he said, stumbling over his words. He was aware that he sounded too passionate. He was aware that he was asking Wei Wuxian to stay in a miserable situation. He was so selfish, but he wanted to fix this.
Wei Wuxian paused for a long moment. Lan Wangji looked at his empty bowl and did not speak. "I don't know if I can promise that, Lan Zhan," he said at last. "There are things that are more important than me keeping my job, you know?" Lan Wangji felt himself flush with embarrassment. He looked up and saw Wei Wuxian smile at him, small and a little sad. "But I'll try my best, okay? I should go now. It takes me a while to get home from here. Thanks for the soup!"
He stood and gathered his things. He waved goodbye from the door and left. Lan Wangji sat at the table with their two empty bowls and the box of bunny shaped erasers that Wei Wuxian had somehow known he would like. He felt oddly as if he had undergone some sort of test and failed.
After all of that, it was not quite a surprise when Lan Wangji arrived at work the next morning and opened an email from his uncle that said, briefly: Wei Wuxian is no longer employed at the Cloud Recesses Public Library. Not quite a surprise, but Lan Wangji still had to close the blinds of his office, and then the door, and then lean against the solid wood, before he finally let himself cry.
- 2 -
To all outward appearances, the familiar rhythms of Cloud Recesses Public Library were unchanged. The Summer Reading Program came and went. The start of the new school year brought middle school kids who tested their new freedom and boundaries (and everyone else’s patience). Class visits from all the kindergarten and first grade classes in town toured the library and received their very own first library card. Lan Wangji did his six programs a week and managed to launch a 1000 Books Before Kindergarten initiative.
Some things had changed, however. Su She, who had evidently been in Lan Wangji's grad school program, was installed as the new teen librarian. He talked to Lan Wangji a lot and borrowed several of his program ideas. "Teens are basically just toddlers, haha," he said. Lan Wangji hated him.
Lan Wangji himself was issued two verbal warnings for being disrespectful and one written warning for going outside the proper channels to address a complaint. His offences were that: when a group of teens complained that an adult was bothering them, he made the adult leave instead of telling the teens that they had to go to the Teen Zone!; he stood up in the middle of a staff meeting and said that the library should hire a lawyer to be sure their policies were in line with legal and professional guidelines; he wrote letters of complaint regarding Wei Wuxian’s dismissal to the library board, the town trustees, and Lan Xichen.
Lan Qiren said, "That boy was a corrupting influence and I am glad he's gone."
Lan Xichen shook his head and sighed and said, "Wangji, you're only hurting yourself really."
Lan Wangji did not care. He had read about the concept of vocational awe, but he had never fully seen the way it applied to his own life, until he stopped caring about trying to follow his uncle’s rules. He had intellectually understood that it was possible, and even necessary, to be committed to an institution and also be critical of it. But he hadn’t lived out that understanding. He hadn’t realized that despite his love for his work, he was also being diminished and hurt by it.
Until he began to take his own opinions and values seriously. Until he began to care about something--some one --besides his family, and Bunny, and the library.
He had believed that he would do more good following along, and that he could thereby prevent the worst from happening. But it happened anyway. And so he didn't care any longer about making people happy when they were people who he could never have truly pleased. He drank tea on his balcony and caught a cold. He used the rabbit pens in all of his meetings. He stayed up late reading poetry. He took a week off and did absolutely nothing that he did not want to do.
He missed Wei Ying fiercely.
In October, Lan Xichen sent out an all-staff email to ask if anyone was interested in attending the regional library conference next month. Lan Wangji responded that he was.
Lan Xichen came to find him within half an hour.
"Wangji, did you really mean that you want to attend?" he asked. "Of course we would be happy to send you, but…"
Lan Wangji had flatly refused to go to this conference several times. It was a good opportunity for networking, but he disliked networking. He had not been interested in another job. He read professional magazines and publications and was an active member of several library groups on social media. Conferences were all often about being self-congratulatory and it was rare for them to add anything truly thought-provoking or challenging to his understanding of librarianship. These were all excellent reasons, he had said, for him to never attend another conference so long as he lived.
"Yes, I want to go," he said, looking his brother in the eye.
"There won't be much for Children's Services," Lan Xichen objected. "You missed the division conference already."
"There are several sessions of interest," Lan Wangji said calmly, pushing the preliminary program across the table. "I've marked them. And it may be time to consider regional partnerships more than we have in the past."
Lan Xichen, who had tried to interest Lan Wangji in regional partnerships on more than one occasion, said, "Hm."
He made himself meet his brother's eye, but the truth was that they both knew Lan Wangji would not be asking to attend the conference if he did not think there was a possibility of running into Wei Ying there.
"Very well," Lan Xichen said, somewhat reluctantly. "You can be the official representative of the Cloud Recesses Public Library. We'll expect a full report at the next board meeting."
"Thank you," Lan Wangji said, as if it meant nothing to him at all, although truthfully his heart was hammering so hard he thought he could hear his own pulse.
The conference took place two hours north of Cloud Recesses, in a convention center in Golden Carp City. Lan Wangji took the train by himself. He had packed his bag two days before and he had everything he thought he might need. He still did not feel prepared.
It was quite possible that Wei Ying would not be in attendance. Possible that he had moved out of the region altogether, or that he had chosen not to go to the conference. Lan Wangji acknowledged the possibility, but he did not truly believe it.
He checked in at the registration desk and received his nametag with various optional ribbons to attach for committees, fandoms, and other affiliations. He chose one with his pronouns, one for members of the regional Youth Services Division, and one that read Literacy is Not a Luxury, and went up to his hotel room to put his bags away. The exhibit hall would open soon, but he remembered it being a very overwhelming experience and had no desire to be there at the beginning, when everyone was overly excited about free pens and the occasional snack. Instead, he sat at the desk and looked at the final program, marking various sessions that he thought would be of interest, or might contain helpful information to bring back for other departments.
The convention center's lighting managed to be dim and harsh simultaneously; the slightly dusty potted trees might be fake or real; the long hall with glass windows for walls showed the city they would not visit. Lan Wangji thought that he could transplant it into any other convention center and no one would ever be able to tell the difference. Was it somehow cursed? Was there an angry spirit that created convention centers and stocked them with over-priced hotdogs and coffee stands where the line was always slightly too long? And if so, why had Lan Wangji submitted himself to this malevolent spirit’s rule?
Wei Ying, Wei Ying, Wei Ying.
He got up and washed his face and straightened his collar. He checked his bag again to be sure he had everything he needed. Then he went to the first panel on his agenda: Getting Your Money’s Worth: Dealing with Budget Constraints.
The first day had only a few sessions. Lan Wangji skipped the last one in favor of going through the exhibit hall while most people were eating dinner or at networking events. He had a list of vendors whose booths he wanted to visit, including a new audiobook company and his favorite source for high-quality toys for the Children’s Room. He completed both these errands and somehow acquired three tote bags without intending to. He was considering his next steps when he heard a voice from the next aisle over.
“--and then I said, sorry buddy, I have no idea who you are! But he didn’t seem to believe me. Have I met him and just didn’t know it?”
It was Wei Ying. It was definitely Wei Ying. Lan Wangji discovered that his body, without conscious input from his brain, had already started to walk in that direction. He made himself stop for a moment and breathe deeply. Then he set off on his quest again.
He emerged from a cross-aisle as Wei Ying approached, talking to the people on either side of him. Wei Ying did not notice Lan Wangji. He was gesturing broadly, continuing the story he had been telling when Lan Wangji heard him.
He looked well. He looked happier. He looked as if he wasn’t fighting constantly to stay afloat.
Lan Wangji had, in some secret part of his soul, wanted to find Wei Ying and convince him to come back to the Cloud Recesses Public Library. He had known all along that this was not only very unlikely but nearly impossible. But nonetheless, until this moment there was a tiny part of him which had hoped.
Now he saw Wei Ying laugh, free and open, as he never had once. And he set aside that tiny speck of hope. Wherever Wei Ying had found himself, it was better. He was able to be himself in a way that Lan Wangji had never seen before.
“Lan Zhan!” It was Wei Ying’s voice, surprised and happy. Delighted? Perhaps.
Lan Wangji answered, “Hello, Wei Ying.”
“I didn’t know you’d be at this conference,” Wei Ying said. He looked around a little warily. “Ah, just you?”
Lan Wangji said, “Yes, just me.”
“Wow! Well, hey, look, come to dinner with us!” Abruptly, Wei Ying said, “Oh, I forgot. These are my new coworkers, Wen Ning and Wen Qing. We’re all at the Burial Mounds Public Library now.”
“I’m pleased to meet you,” Lan Wangji said, shaking their hands in turn. They were clearly siblings, now that he saw them closely, a tiny woman with a sharp expression and a taller man who smiled at Lan Wangji.
“Oh,” Wei Ying went on. “You probably have dinner plans already. And you probably wouldn’t want to come with us even if you didn’t. Sorry. I never learn to think first!”
Lan Wangji’s heart felt as if it was pounding out of his chest. “Wei Ying. No. I would be happy to come to dinner with you if you really meant it.”
“Sure!” Wei Ying beamed at him, happy again. “I mean, if they have a problem, they’ll go find their own food, but I hear there’s a good vegetarian restaurant not too far away.”
"If they have a problem," Wen Qing said to herself, sarcastically. But then she added, "You're welcome to join us, just don't mind this one's manners."
In fact, Lan Wangji didn't mind Wei Ying's manners at all.
He had an expense account and a healthy budget of his own. He had planned to go back to his hotel room and order room service and sit in the quiet for a while. But he found himself agreeing to Wei Ying’s plan and waiting with them until a ride-share arrived.
In the car, Wen Ning sat in the front with the driver while the rest of them squeezed into the back seat. Wei Ying was in the middle, but he kept leaning forward to talk to Wen Ning and Wen Qing about people they all three seemed to know. His leg was solid and warm against Lan Wangji's, but Lan Wangji sat and wondered why he had agreed to come on this outing. He felt a strange sort of bleakness take over his heart. He did not like it, but he blinked in the darkness of the car and said nothing.
At the restaurant, he took a chair at the corner of the table while the others piled into the booth. They ordered drinks, Wei Ying still chatting cheerfully to Wen Qing, flirting a little with the waitress. Lan Wangji asked for plain sparkling water and spent several minutes examining the menu. He should be grateful that Wei Ying remembered his dietary restrictions and took them to a restaurant where he had more than one option, but he was still feeling very out of sorts.
Someone kicked his ankle under the table and he looked up sharply. Wei Ying smiled at him from across the table.
“So, how’s Cloud Recesses, Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying asked. “I’m a little surprised to see you here, to be honest, but I guess they must let you get away sometimes.”
It sounded bitter. Lan Wangji tried to look past the tone to what Wei Ying was really asking. “Nothing has changed substantially. We have a new teen librarian, obviously. He says he was in my graduate school program, but I don't remember him and don't want to. He has very little insight into the age group he’s supposed to be serving. When he first arrived, he told me that teens are like toddlers and I've disliked him ever since."
Wei Ying choked on his beer. Beside him, Wen Qing abruptly smiled. It transformed her face from sharp lines to sudden warmth. “I think I like you, Lan Wangji,” she said.
“Thank you,” he said gravely, though he was still undecided on how he felt about the Wen siblings who had seemingly taken Wei Ying under their wing. He should like them, if they had been watching out for him. But he wasn’t sure.
"And--everyone else?" Wei Ying asked. He fiddled with a straw wrapper and didn't quite meet Lan Wangji's eye.
"My brother and uncle are well," Lan Wangji replied calmly. "They have been very disappointed in me lately, but I've managed to survive."
"Disappointed in you ?" Wei Ying asked, full of disbelief. "Why?"
Lan Wangji shrugged. He did not want to get into all of the family business, particularly in front of the Wen siblings. "I decided that I’m done hiding what I actually believe. And they haven't been very happy about that."
Wei Ying stared at him, mouth slightly open, as if he wanted to say something but couldn't quite manage it. Before he pulled himself together, the waitress came back with their food.
Lan Wangji ate his food and drank his water. Eventually he asked, “Did you have to travel far for the conference?” It seemed like an innocuous enough question, and he was aware that he’d been a bit sullen at the start of the meal.
“Oh, about four hours,” Wei Ying said. “I had to leave late because of a program, so I drove. It’s only about two hours for you, though, right?”
“Yes,” Lan Wangji agreed. “It’s an easy train ride.” Two hours in a different direction, which meant that Wei Ying was almost six hours away from Cloud Recesses now. He stopped before he got too tangled up in this thought and turned to the Wen siblings. “And what are your roles at the library?”
Wen Ning spoke up for almost the first time that evening. He had a quiet, pleasant voice, and Lan Wangji liked him instantly. “Local history and genealogy,” he said. “It’s an interesting region, with a lot of buried history, so there are always projects to keep me busy.”
“And the grannies love him!” Wei Ying interjected. “They’re always pinching his cheeks and telling him what a good child he is.”
“That’s true,” Wen Ning agreed, mournfully. “I try to tell them that I am an adult and a fully trained archivist, but this doesn't seem to matter.”
Wei Ying waved his fork around. “It’s just your energy .”
“Thanks, I guess,” Wen Ning said. "At least they bring me cookies."
Wen Qing rolled her eyes at both of them. “Library director,” she told Lan Wangji. “But I’ve worked in a few different departments in other libraries over the years.”
“She keeps us all on our toes!” Wei Ying said and elbowed her in the ribs. She shot him a glare.
“And you?” she asked Lan Wangji. “I know you’re at Cloud Recesses, but…”
“Lan Zhan is the best children’s librarian I know!” Wei Ying burst out, before Lan Wangji had a chance to say anything.
“Don’t exaggerate,” he said.
Lan Wangji finished his water and said, “Wei Ying is exaggerating, but yes, I'm the Children’s Librarian at Cloud Recesses.”
Wen Qing frowned. “It’s kind of a family affair over there, isn’t it?” she asked. “Not that we can really point any fingers when it comes to that.”
“Yes,” Lan Wangji agreed. “My brother is the director and my uncle is the head of the board.”
She leaned her chin on her palm and stared at Lan Wangji. “The brother and uncle who fired Wei Ying?”
“Hey!” Wei Ying cut in. “That wasn’t Lan Wangji’s fault.”
“Yes,” Lan Wangji said, ignoring him. “But I disagreed with that decision and the decisions which led up to it. I wish now that I had spoken up more directly, but I’m not sure if it would have made a difference.”
“Hm,” Wen Qing said, looking a little taken aback. But she dropped the subject and asked instead what kind of senior outreach they did at Cloud Recesses. Lan Wangji explained and by the time they were done with the conversation, the meal was over and the check paid.
Outside the restaurant, they established that the Wens and Wei Ying were staying at a different hotel than Lan Wangji, one which was further away and in the other direction. “I’ll walk you back,” Wei Ying offered.
“How will you get home, then?”
He shrugged. “I’ll call a ride. Not a big deal. Can’t have you wandering the city all by yourself!” He winked at Lan Wangji, who felt his insides go all funny.
Wen Qing said, “So Lan Wangji can’t protect himself but you can?”
“Hey!” Wei Ying looked mildly offended at this.
She laughed. “Look, maybe we should all walk Lan Wangji to his hotel, is what I’m saying. To make sure nothing goes wrong.”
“What exactly is going to go wrong?” Wei Ying asked, exasperated. They made intense eye contact for a long minute and Lan Wangji wondered what in the world was going on. Then Wei Ying sighed and said, “Oh, sure, whatever. We can have a drink in the hotel bar and then go back. Sound good?”
The bar was loud and crowded with guests, but they managed to find a seat in a relatively quiet corner. Lan Wangji ordered an herbal tea and Wen Ning asked for coffee. The other two split a bottle of wine and began to argue over whether spinach-artichoke dip was the greatest invention known to humankind (Wei Ying), or an abomination that should never be consumed under any circumstances (Wen Qing).
"I'm glad we've had a chance to meet you," Wen Ning said quietly. "Wei Wuxian talks about you all the time."
"Is he well?" Lan Wangji asked.
Wen Ning shrugged. "I think he's okay. Doing better, anyway. It sounds like he had a pretty rough time before."
Lan Wangji nodded and looked down, considering that. He swallowed and said, "It was a difficult time. Cloud Recesses is not--" He wasn't sure how to say what he meant in a way that wouldn't sound like an excuse, or on the other hand, wouldn't be disrespectful towards his brother or his uncle.
"I'll let my sister be the one to scold you about that," Wen Ning said. "But we understand family problems. So if you ever need to, you know, you could always find a place with us."
Lan Wangji stared at him, his sweet steady face. It was an extraordinary offer to make to someone you've only just met.
Then he glanced at Wei Ying, who was laughing and arm wrestling Wen Qing, and losing badly. Wei Ying looked up and saw him and grinned, bright as the sun. Additionally, he waved in an extremely silly way that gave Lan Wangji a pang somewhere near his heart. Wen Qing took advantage of his distraction to beat him and then had to defend herself against wild accusations of cheating.
"He's really happy you're here," Wen Ning insisted.
Lan Wangji cleared his throat, but he couldn't come up with anything to say. Wen Ning didn't seem to mind, but ducked his head and took another sip of his coffee.
Lan Wangji only lasted a few more minutes. Then he stood and said, "I have an early session to attend. Thank you for the invitation tonight."
"Oh! Wait!" Wei Ying bounced up. "I'll walk you up to your room."
Lan Wangji opened his mouth to say that there was no need and then he closed it again. "Good to meet you," he told the Wen siblings, who waved at him.
They were quiet on the walk through the lobby, and on the elevator, and down the hallway which had that weird muffled quality that all hotel halls seem to share.
"This is my room," Lan Wangji said, too soon. He should have pretended it was further down the hall. But no, Wei Ying was being a gentleman and would wait to be sure he was safely inside. That would have only been embarrassing for both of them, but mostly Lan Wangji.
"Okay," Wei Ying said, breaking in on these whirling thoughts with another of those bright grins. "Lan Zhan! I'm so glad you're here. I was hoping you would be. It's so nice to see you again."
Lan Wangji couldn't understand how he managed to say these things like they didn't cost anything. "I'm glad too," he said. "I don't usually attend these conferences."
"Really?" Wei Ying said. "I would have thought they'd be up your alley. So what, did you come on the off chance that I'd be here too?" He laughed at this. It was a joke.
"Yes," Lan Wangji said, seriously.
"I," Wei Ying said and then stopped. He looked a little odd and Lan Wangji wished he had gone along with the joke. "Lan Zhan."
"I've been worried," he said quietly. "I'm glad to see you are well."
"Worried about me ?" Wei Ying said, his voice high and tight.
"Yes," Lan Wangji said again. "I was very sorry that things ended as they did. I was very sorry I did not try harder to help you."
They looked at each other in the quiet hallway. Lan Wangji felt as if his world was shifting around him in some imperceptible way.
"You did plenty," Wei Ying said at last. "You really tried."
Lan Wangji shook his head. There was so much he should have done, beginning with speaking his own mind about the problems he saw with the way his uncle ran things, and ending with running away with Wei Ying in the night. Aloud, he only said, "You deserved more support and I am sorry that I didn’t provide it."
Wei Ying reached out and touched his arm lightly. "Lan Zhan…" He laughed quietly to himself and shook his head. "Listen, this is going to be weird, but I'm going to give you my phone number. If you ever feel like you need it, call me, okay? Or text anytime. Really." He pulled out a piece of paper and scrawled it down.
Lan Wangji looked at it. It said "Wei Ying! <3" and then listed his number in atrocious handwriting. "Is that a 5 or a 3?" he asked.
"Oh my god, Lan Zhan, it's a 3! Stop being mean to me and go to bed! I'll see you tomorrow, I'm sure." Wei Ying smiled at him again, helplessly, fondly. Lan Wangji wanted to see that smile again. He folded the paper and put it in his wallet.
"Good night, Wei Ying," he said.
The smile had faded, but it still lurked behind Wei Ying's eyes and Lan Wangji felt his own mouth turn up a little at the corner. "Good night, Lan Zhan."
It took him longer than usual to wind down. He felt as if his whole body had been asleep and was now coming to life with a painful tingle. He wanted--he wanted Wei Ying's smile, his easy laughter, his care. He wanted to say goodnight to Wei Ying and make him dinner again. He wanted to text him carelessly, whenever he thought of something he wanted to say. He tossed restlessly in the unfamiliar bed until he made himself be still, and breathe deeply and slowly, and finally, finally sleep.
Lan Wangji's first session was in a small room at 7:30 am. Always an early riser, he wasn't particularly bothered by this. But many of the other attendees were yawning or gulping down coffee in a frantic attempt to wake up.
Lan Wangji had chosen the session because the topic, the value of music in storytime, sounded interesting, useful, and applicable. But the speaker was not particularly well-informed and seemed to not realize that most of the librarians in the room were already including music and singing in their plans. They also included too many of their personal opinions for his taste, putting down parents who didn't follow the guidelines they suggested without taking into account differing circumstances.
He wished that he could leave, but he was trapped in the middle of the row and would have had to climb over several people to get out. So he stayed until the end and only escaped when the question and answer segment began.
His next session, on management within Youth Services, proved more valuable and certainly more interesting once Wei Ying appeared, ten minutes late with two take-out cups in his hands.
“Tea,” he mouthed, handing one to Lan Wangji. Lan Wangji wanted to ask how Wei Ying knew he’d be in this session, but instead he took a cautious sip. To his surprise, given the general standards of conference beverages, it was a decent herbal tea. He drank it slowly and took notes on the speakers’ points.
Lan Wangji had never asked a question in an unmoderated question and answer session in his life. The very thought filled him with a species of horrified embarrassment. But he was vastly unsurprised when Wei Ying bounded up to the microphone and asked a thoughtful question about meshing different personalities within a department. Lan Wangji had not realized that Wei Ying was particularly interested in management, but he thought that it made sense as a career goal. That in a supportive environment, he would likely shine.
Wei Ying smiled at him when he sat down again and whispered, “What’s next for you?” Lan Wangji tipped the list of sessions he had written out in his notebook so that Wei Ying could see.
“Ah, I’m off to board games,” he said.
“Oh,” Lan Wangji responded. It was silly to be disappointed. They would hardly be in the same exact sessions all day.
Before he could feel too sad, Wei Ying said, “But we have lunch scheduled at the same time! Want to meet up?”
Lan Wangji nodded. He noticed the person beyond them giving them a dark look, so he whispered, “I’ll wait for you at the main food court.”
Wei Ying nodded and grinned. Lan Wangji left, having learned from his error and chosen his seat in order to facilitate easy access to the exit.
He sat through his next session, which was moderately interesting and would most likely yield some good information for their community outreach efforts. Nonetheless, he felt impatient.
He bumped into Wen Qing in the hallway outside the session. She was just coming out of the room next door and waved at him when she noticed.
"How was yours?" she asked.
"Mm, so-so." He hesitated for a moment, wondering how to say this without crossing professional boundaries. "Wei Ying seems to be thriving with you," he said at last. "I'm glad that he's found somewhere that suits him."
"My brother said you told him something similar," Wen Qing said. Her voice was sharp but not unkind. "And he said that he told you you'd be welcome to join us."
"You seem undecided, Lan Wangji."
He shrugged a little bit. "It's not easy for me to take any big steps." He wasn't sure how to say this either. "I've grown up knowing I'd become a librarian at Cloud Recesses. If the things I object to can change, then I don't necessarily want to leave."
She nodded but then asked, "And if they can't?"
He shook his head. "I don't know."
"All right," she said. "Well, you think about it and we'll take care of Wei Wuxian for you in the meantime. Deal?"
He nodded automatically. Only after she laughed and walked down the hall did he realize just what he had most likely comfirmed to her.
Then it was finally lunch time and he was free to talk to Wei Ying for a whole hour.
He waited for Wei Ying outside the food court. He looked over his notes from the previous sessions as he did so, and looked over the upcoming sessions he was planning to attend.
"Lan Zhan!" Wei Ying said brightly. "Here you are!"
"Here I am," he said back, gravely. "Your colleagues aren't joining us?"
"My--Oh, Wen Qing and Wen Ning! No, they're doing some sort of fancy lunch thing together." Wei Ying didn't seem to mind that he was here instead. He led the way into the food court, buying pizza and chips and a soft drink. Lan Wangji, considering this, bought an extra apple and a small salad. He pushed them across the table when they sat down. Wei Ying stared down at them and then looked up at Lan Wangji.
"You should eat a vegetable," Lan Wangji said.
"There are vegetables on pizza!" Wei Ying objected.
Lan Wangji blinked at him. "Wei Ying."
Wei Ying sighed and picked up the fork. He pouted until he noticed that the salad came with a packet of ranch dressing, which he divided between its intended purpose and using as a dip for his pizza crusts. Lan Wangji watched in transfixed horror.
Really? the part of him that was his uncle's nephew asked. Really? Him?
Yes, definitely , the rest of him answered.
Lan Wangji had never felt this way about anyone. He had been mildly attracted to several people in the past, but the attraction faded as he lost touch with them. It had never been strong to begin with. By contrast, Wei Ying felt like a lodestone, pulling Lan Wangji into alignment, rearranging the whole compass of his heart.
In other words, Lan Wangji would very much like to kiss him, ranch dressing and all.
But this would be inappropriate in this setting. They were both professionals at a professional event. Lan Wangji had lines he would not cross and that was one of them.
Afterwards, though. He would not lose touch with Wei Ying again. He had his number now. He knew his colleagues' names. Something tight and desperate in Lan Wangji's core unknotted at this thought. He had time.
So for now, he ate his own lunch and talked to Wei Ying. He asked about his new home and whether he had settled in. His favorite aspect of his new job. Wei Ying answered willingly. Then he propped his chin on his hand and smiled at Lan Wangji. "What about you?" he asked. "I know we talked some last night, but has anything changed in your life?"
Lan Wangji shrugged. He wasn't sure how to convey it. Nothing looked different outwardly, but everything had changed. "I am not hiding what I think any more," he admitted finally. "And... I was resigned, I think, to my situation. It seemed ungrateful to complain about a steady job in a profession I love, and a nice home and a...a serene relationship with my family. I know many people are not so fortunate." He met Wei Ying's gaze, soft and dark across the table. "But I suppose that now I know I want more than that."
"What do you want now, Lan Zhan?" Wei Ying asked.
His voice was so soft, so quiet. It made Lan Wangji lean forward a little, pitch his own voice to match. "Happiness," he said. "And I think if I find it, I won't want to let it go." He didn't know if Wei Ying understood his meaning, but he couldn't say more than that right now.
Wei Ying smiled at him. It was a sweet, serious smile. He said, "That's good, Lan Zhan. I hope you do find it."
"I think I will," Lan Wangji said, still looking Wei Ying in the eyes.
The moment passed. Wei Ying draped himself over his chair and slurped at his soft drink while they discussed an article on equity in Youth Services which they had both read. Lan Wangji was glad that he set a timer to remind him of his next session, because he would have forgotten. They both startled a little when it went off and Lan Wangji said, "Ah, I should go."
"Okay," Wei Ying said. "Thanks for the salad! I'm glad we had lunch together." He stretched and Lan Wangji had to look away. He was afraid that he was blushing. "I don't know what our dinner plans will be, but maybe I'll text you later and see what's going on?"
Lan Wangji nodded. "I have two more sessions and several stops at the exhibit hall planned, but after that I plan to rest." His timer went off again and he sighed. "I really have to go now." He gathered his belongings and took his tray to the return pile.
Wei Ying waved goodbye to him cheerfully and Lan Wangji walked on to his session, wishing that he could simply turn around and walk back.
He made himself pay attention in his last two sessions, and even stayed to chat with one of the other librarians in attendance in the final session. She had some interesting thoughts about the role of public libraries in school readiness which ran counter to much of what Lan Wangji had previously considered reasonable. It was good to discuss another point of view and to work through some points of contention with someone who also cared deeply about these issues. They exchanged business cards before he left.
As he made his way back to his hotel room, however, he realized that he had the beginnings of a headache. He got them from time to time. He didn’t think they were migraines exactly, but they were certainly unpleasant and this was going to be a bad one. With a sinking feeling, he admitted to himself that he would be in no shape for socializing. For spending time with Wei Ying.
In the room, he lay down and turned on only the one low light by the bedside. He plugged his phone in and considered. At last, he sent as clear and simple a message as he could. He didn’t want to distress Wei Ying.
Wei Ying, I apologize. I have a headache and should rest. I won’t be able to join you tonight for dinner.
He hit send and closed his eyes for a while. Eventually, he roused himself enough to drink some water and eat a small snack so he could take some medicine. When he had finished this task, he allowed himself to look at his messages. To his slight surprise, he had several waiting for him already.
Oh no! Lan Zhan!!!!
I’m sorry it must be really bad to fell you this way
Can I do anything???????
Lan Wangji stared at his phone, and then at the ceiling, and then at his phone again
No need to worry about me. Have a good dinner.
The answer came before he even set the phone down again.
There is need! I must take care of poor abandoned Lan Zhan!!
What’s your room no again???
I’m in lobby
Lan Wangji sent the room number and waited. In a few minutes there was a knock at the door. He would have expected a loud volley, but it was quiet. He padded over to open it, his socked feet silent on the carpet.
Wei Ying was leaning against the doorframe. “Hi Lan Zhan,” he whispered. He held out a bag. “I won’t bother you, but I brought you a sandwich and some soup and water, and some ibuprofen. I wasn’t sure what you had.”
Lan Wangji took the bag, strangely touched. It had been a long time since anyone tried to take care of him.
“That’s very kind of you,” he said. He knew he sounded stiff and awkward, but his head was throbbing more now that he was standing up.
“It’s okay. My sister used to get awful migraines so I’m used to it from taking care of her.”
Lan Wangji wanted to ask about the past tense in that sentence, but he really didn’t have the emotional capacity at the moment. “Thank you, Wei Ying. Please tell the Wens that I said hello and I’m sorry I couldn’t join you.”
Wei Ying bounced on his toes a little. “Sure, of course. But are you sure you don’t need me to stay? I don’t mind! I can be quiet, I promise.”
Lan Wangji wanted so much to say yes. He wanted Wei Ying watching tv while he rested, or maybe even rubbing Lan Wangji’s forehead for him. But that was all too much right now, when nothing else between them was settled. So he shook his head. “I appreciate it, but I just need some sleep, I think.”
“Oh, sure,” Wei Ying said. “These conferences can be draining, huh?” He smiled at Lan Wangji. “I think next year I’m going to try to present, though! We’re doing some neat stuff at Burial Mounds, and it would be fun to put together a whole panel of teen librarians. Do you think the Cloud Recesses guy, what’s his name? Would he be interested?”
Lan Wangji, head aching, was not diplomatic. He snorted. “He would be interested, but he is not competent enough to be included,” he said.
Wei Ying’s mouth dropped open. “That...was the meanest thing I’ve ever heard you say. Uh.” He reached out and patted Lan Wangji’s forearm gently. “Why don’t you get some rest, Lan Zhan?”
“Yes,” Lan Wangji agreed mournfully.
“I’ll text you in the morning!” Wei Ying called over his shoulder, as he made his way to the elevators. Lan Wangji waved in response. Then he went back to the little seating area at one end of the room and ate the food Wei Ying brought for him, drank the water even though it was in a cheap plastic bottle and he hated the taste. He did not need the medicine, but he put it in his bag anyway. There was a little box lurking at the bottom of the bag with a note attached. Lan Wangji opened it and found a small rabbit-shaped enamel pin. The note read, “Hopefully this bunny will help you feel better!”
Lan Wangji carefully attached the pin to the shirt he was going to wear the next day. Despite the headache, he did indeed feel a great deal better.
Unfortunately, in the morning Lan Wangji’s whole weekend was nearly ruined by a call from his uncle.
“Wangji? I am in Golden Carp City. I will be at the convention center in half an hour and I will see you there.”
Lan Wangji clutched his phone. “I’m sorry?”
His uncle was silent for a moment. “Did Xichen not tell you? I am attending the last day of the conference.”
Lan Wangji could feel his entire neck tense up. “I had a headache last night and am moving slowly this morning,” he said. “I may not be there in half an hour.”
His uncle sighed down the phone. He had spent most of Lan Wangji’s teenage years attempting to convince him that he could overcome his headaches by sheer willpower and meditation. It had not worked; it had been one of the few times that both Lan Wangji and his brother simply defied him.
“Very well,” he said grudgingly. “I will expect you shortly.”
Lan Wangji went through his morning routine, but even the familiar patterns did not seem to comfort him. He packed his bags. It was the last day of the conference and he had been intending to linger as long as he could, but now he simply took his things with him and checked out of the hotel. Some people would stay another night, but his uncle would abhor the additional expense. Would want to get back to Cloud Recesses straightaway.
His headache was already back, throbbing against his left eye. He pressed a discreet finger to it on the shuttle ride to the convention center. He was already so tired.
His uncle was waiting by the registration table, pacing impatiently back and forth. Lan Wangji went to meet him. “Uncle,” he said, by way of greeting.
Lan Qiren gave the rabbit pin a dubious glance and nodded at Lan Wangji. “Ah, here you are at last. We will have breakfast together and then attend the session on grant writing. I suppose you may have another session you wish to attend after that?”
In fact, Lan Wangji had not been planning to attend the grant writing session at al. He was opening his mouth to say this, when a cheerful voice called his name from across the room. He turned, thereby revealing Wei Ying and his uncle to each other at the same time. Both recoiled in horror.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji said. He wasn’t sure what he meant by this. He only knew that Wei Ying looked--looked sad. Almost frightened. Certainly not as happy as he had been a moment ago.
“Wangji, explain yourself!” his uncle burst out.
He ignored this. “Wei Ying, I will see you shortly,” he said. He had made up his mind. He would not go to the grant writing session. But he would have to settle this with his uncle and having Wei Ying present for that conversation would only make it go even more poorly than he was already anticipating.
“It’s okay, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying said. “It’s okay.” He backed away. Lan Wangji started to go after him before his uncle grabbed his arm.
“What are you doing?” he demanded.
Lan Wangji looked at his uncle’s hand and then at his uncle’s face. “Please let go of me,” he said, careful to speak quietly and politely. “Unless you would like me to resign here and now.”
His uncle let go of his arm at once and stepped back. “What do you mean?”
“I’m not going to stay at Cloud Recesses for much longer,” Lan Wangji said. “I've decided. You taught us that the library is a living organism, but we have failed to live up to that ideal. We've stayed stagnant for too long.” In fact, he had not consciously known he was leaving until he said the words. But it had the weight of utter inevitability; without knowing it, he had been walking away for a long time.
“How dare you quote that to me! Me! ” his uncle spluttered. “Wangji, I refuse to allow--”
Lan Wangji interrupted. “I am sorry, Uncle, but this is not a discussion. I’ll notify the library when I have solidified my timeline for leaving. I hope you enjoy your session this morning.”
He turned and walked away before his uncle could react any further. He felt sick to his stomach. No, that was inadequate. He felt sick everywhere: his head, his heart, his lungs. How could he walk away from his entire life like this?
Because it was never exactly his. Because it was always conditional on following his uncle’s expectations. Because he wasn’t happy any longer.
He stopped at the entrance and pulled out his phone. Wei Ying, where are you? he texted.
He waited, scanning the crowd. He didn’t see Wei Ying’s familiar mess of hair anywhere. He didn’t see either of the Wen siblings either. He wanted to find Wei Ying; he equally wanted to find somewhere quiet to sit for a moment until he recovered.
His phone buzzed, but it was his brother. Wangji, what happened? Uncle is very upset.
He sent back, I’m sorry for the distress, but I can’t go on trying to keep quiet any longer. I hope you are not too angry with me.
His phone buzzed again.
Hey Lan Zhan. Sorry about earlier. I didn’t know
Anyway, I’m going to drive home early. I was leaving this afternoon anyway, so just moving up my plans a bit
Don’t worry about me!!
Lan Wangji was up and walking before he had consciously decided to do so.
Are you still at your hotel?
Please don’t leave yet. I’d like to say goodbye.
He walked down the sidewalk, faster than he remembered moving in quite some time.
Yeah, I’m here for a few more minutes
But don’t worry about it!!
I’m on my way
He found Wei Ying in the hotel lobby with his bags around his feet. He was waiting for someone to pull his car around, it seemed.
“Wei Ying,” he said, as he approached. “You don’t have to leave.”
“I already checked out,” Wei Ying answered. “I have everything packed. I was going to leave in a few hours anyway.” He stopped and bit his lip. “It’s not your fault. I just--” He stopped speaking and Lan Wangji waited, but he did not say anything else.
“I’m sorry,” Lan Wangji said. “Perhaps I should have said instead that you shouldn't have to leave. I didn’t know my uncle was coming until this morning, but I should have let you know as soon as I did.”
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying said, on a sigh. He sounded tired, almost exasperated. “Lan Zhan, it’s not your fault. I said that already.”
“It’s not yours either,” Lan Wangji said.
Wei Ying’s gaze slid away. “Oh, there’s my car,” he said. He picked up one of his bags and Lan Wangji grabbed the other one before he could reach for it. They stared at each other, an oddly combative look, before Wei Ying crumpled and led the way out of the lobby.
The bags were in the trunk, and Lan Wangji was trying to decide exactly how to bring up what he really wanted to suggest, when Wen Qing appeared with a large box. “Hey, thanks for taking these back so I don’t have to lug them on the train,” she said cheerfully. She put the box in Wei Ying’s trunk and straightened. “Can I talk to you for a moment, though? In private?”
Lan Wangji’s heart sank, but he stepped aside. The conversation looked tense, but she patted Wei Ying’s shoulder a couple of times, so he didn’t think that he was in any actual trouble. It seemed strange, though. “Just think about it,” she said, a little louder. “Okay, I’ve got to get back, my lunch break is almost over. Lan Wangji, nice to meet you!”
“You as well,” Lan Wangji replied automatically, and then wondered why she seemed to be saying goodbye to him . He thought she winked at him as she said goodbye to Wei Ying and disappeared.
“Well,” Wei Ying said. “You have my number.”
“Yes,” Lan Wangji said. He was trying to think of something else to say. Then he realized that he had not told Wei Ying what happened after he left. “Wei Ying,” he said. “Please do not share this yet, but I’m leaving Cloud Recesses.”
“What?” Wei Ying said, startled, loud. “What? Why?”
Lan Wangji shrugged a little bit. “I decided this morning.”
“But you love it,” Wei Ying said. He looked almost upset. “You love it there.”
“I have loved it,” Lan Wangji said. “Or parts of it. I have loved parts of my job for a long time. But it’s time for me to go somewhere else.”
“Did you tell your uncle?” Wei Ying asked. “Is that why he was so upset to see me?”
Lan Wangji shook his head. “I told him after you left,” he said.
Wei Ying stared at him.
“I didn’t decide because of you, or because of the way he treated you,” Lan Wangji said. “But that was, hm, part of it.”
“What are you saying?” Wei Ying asked. He sounded a little raw now, a little desperate. Much the way Lan Wangji felt. Oddly enough, that made it easier for him to take a deep breath and respond calmly.
“I suppose I was wondering if I could visit the Burial Mounds,” he said. It was what he had been wanting to ask all along. But somehow he couldn’t manage it earlier and now it felt easy. Now it felt like they understood each other. Like Wei Ying would say yes.
Wei Ying made a noise. He said, “You want to come back with me?” He was looking at Lan Wangji as if it would tear him apart to look away.
Lan Wangji nodded. “If you’re comfortable with that.”
Wei Ying looked at him for one more moment. Then he smiled and said, easy and light, “Put your bags in the trunk, then! I think the hotel people are going to come yell at us if we spend any longer blocking their entrance.”
- 3 -
The car ride was mostly silent. To Lan Wangji's surprise, Wei Ying put on a quiet, ambient sort of classical music which sounded like something a nice restaurant might pipe in. Not at all what he would've thought Wei Ying would enjoy listening to. He was a good driver, if a little fast sometimes. He hummed along to the music and watched the road and didn't speak.
Lan Wangji leaned back against the headrest and closed his eyes. He was tired, after the upsetting beginning to his day. He wasn't sure what to say to his brother. He wasn't sure how to explain himself to his uncle. But even though the car was quiet and Wei Ying wasn't paying attention to him, he was glad he was here. He liked taking the train places, but he had to admit that there was something appealing about the autonomy of a car: the enclosed feeling of being together as the world went by.
He thought he might have slept for a bit. By the time he blinked and came back to his surroundings, they were far outside of Golden Carp City. He watched the landscape change around them as they descended from the hills to the plain and the river. Wei Ying turned off the highway and drove through a small city, to a house on the outskirts. Close enough to the river to see it glinting behind a screen of trees.
The building was an older place, divided into three apartments. Wei Ying led the way to the top floor. "Sorry you have to walk up all these stairs," he said, the first time he'd spoken in an hour. He unlocked the door, not waiting for Lan Wangji's reply, and gave it a shove. "Come on in," he said.
The apartment was painted in a bright creamy yellow. Although the slanted ceilings were low, it gave the impression of airiness somehow. The skylight over the living area or the glass balcony doors that opened from the kitchen, perhaps.
All of the furniture was simple, a little old, a little worn. The kitchen and the living area were one space, crammed with a small table and a long island with one stool, a couch and low coffee table, and bookshelves jammed full with books and magazines. A fern, slightly droopy, hung from a hook by the balcony. Two closed doors and a tiny bathroom. A small place, but a happy one, Lan Wangji thought.
He was just standing there in the door while Wei Ying put his bags down and poked at the soil in the fern’s pot.
"So, water? Tea? I think I have some good stuff left." Wei Ying said.
“Tea would be nice,” Lan Wangji answered. “Where should I put my bags?”
“Oh, that door’s my study, but it has a futon.” Wei Ying pointed. “Unless you’d rather take the bed or the sofa.”
Lan Wangji shook his head and opened the door. The study was small and dim, but he set his bags down anyway. He pulled out his phone.
Uncle seems to think you are leaving, but that can’t be correct. Please call me! I'll be in my office all day.
Lan Wangji did not want to call his brother, but he sat on the futon, dialled his office number and waited for the click on the other end.
“Wangji, what is going on?” Lan Xichen sounded distraught, which is what Lan Wangji had been afraid of.
“I am sorry that everything came out in this way,” he said. “I had hoped to do things in a more straightforward manner.”
His brother made a noise on the other end. “Do you mean you did this on purpose? You were really planning to leave Cloud Recesses?”
“Yes,” Lan Wangji said. “I’ve been considering it and now I’ve decided.” He was clenching the edge of the futon with the hand that wasn’t holding the phone. He could feel the cheap wood frame, still solid under his palm. Something to hold onto.
“But--but why? ”
Lan Wangji wasn’t sure how to answer this in a way that would be satisfying to his brother, because he had barely arrived at an answer himself. “I haven’t been happy for some time,” he said. “I’m sorry I have not expressed it before, but I didn’t think it would do any good.”
He heard a long sigh. Then his brother said, “Truthfully, I have not always been happy with the decisions that have been made either.”
“Then why haven’t we done anything?” Lan Wangji asked. “There are so many small ways we could have made a difference. I could have made a difference.” The regret felt like choking on bitter air. “If I can’t change the past, I can at least change the future.”
A long silence. “Have you secretly been a revolutionary all this time?” his brother asked. “I’m sorry, Wangji. I don’t have an answer for you, or at least not one that you’ll be satisfied with.”
“I’m sorry too,” Lan Wangji said. It was partly the truth. “At least for the distress I’ve caused.”
“Well. We will talk more when you come home. You are coming home?”
“I’ll come back at least for now. I will leave for Cloud Recesses tomorrow evening,” Lan Wangji promised. He had already decided this. He would take the overnight train home. He did not want to overstay his welcome here.
“Very well.” His brother hung up with a click.
He went out to the kitchen. Wei Ying was sipping his tea and flipping through a magazine. He looked up. “Everything okay?”
Lan Wangji shrugged. He never shrugged usually, and now he was doing it all the time. “I spoke to my brother.”
Wei Ying straightened. “Are you going home?”
Lan Wangji shook his head. "Tomorrow evening."
“Okay.” Wei Ying gave him a glance. “We can take a walk downtown, if you want. It’s pretty this time of year, and we can stop by the library. There’s not a ton to do otherwise. This area’s pretty rundown, unfortunately. We’re working on some outreach ideas, but they all take money. Anyway. Tea, then walk?”
He was talking a mile a minute, which is what Lan Wangji was used to in Wei Ying. But there was an edge of nervousness there too, as if he thought that Lan Wangji would judge them for not being Cloud Recesses; for not being old and well-funded and treasured.
“I like your apartment,” Lan Wangji said, instead of anything more sensible.
“You do?” Wei Ying asked. Lan Wangji nodded. “Oh. Uh, thanks. It’s mostly all secondhand stuff, nothing fancy.”
“It suits you,” Lan Wangji said.
Wei Ying looked back at him with that heavy gaze and then glanced down and pushed his tea across the counter. “I hope you like this one,” he said. “I have other options if you don’t.”
Lan Wangji tried a sip. It was green tea, light and floral, but with a hint of something richer beneath the surface. “It’s very good,” he said.
“Oh.” Wei Ying bit his lip and looked up at Lan Wangji again, briefly. “I’m glad you like it, Lan Zhan. It’s local, I can show you the shop today. If you want, you can buy some more to take with you!”
Lan Wangji thought that his uncle would in fact like this tea quite a bit, but it seemed like a cheap shot to bring some back for him. He was still tempted.
Wei Ying fiddled with his own teacup. Finally, he asked, “Lan Zhan, no pressure, but how serious are you about looking for another job?”
Lan Wangji set his tea down. “Very serious,” he said. “Didn't I make that clear?”
“Well. I mean you said so, but I just really have trouble picturing you anywhere but Cloud Recesses.”
Lan Wangji swallowed. “Do you think I would be unable to adapt somewhere else?” he asked. He had been concerned about that, but not seriously. He had thought he could still learn how to thrive, the way Wei Ying had here.
Wei Ying looked at him at last. “Lan Zhan, did you really think I meant it that way? No, you’re a great librarian. It’s just--there are people who really find their place and I always thought that was you. Your apartment, your library, your family.”
Lan Wangji took another sip of tea to give himself a moment to think. “You mean, that you assumed I was so attuned to Cloud Recesses that I wouldn’t want to leave?”
“Yeah! You’re just so--” he broke off and waved at Lan Wangji, as if this was supposed to mean anything coherent. “Elegant and proper and...and lovely.”
Lan Wangji could feel himself blushing and couldn’t stop it. It swept across his whole body like a tidal wave. No one had ever, once in his life, described him as any of those things. If anything, they usually said old-fashioned and boring and shy.
“I’m sorry. I embarrassed you,” Wei Ying said.
Lan Wangji cleared his throat. “A little.”
“No need to be sorry. It was very kind. And I can understand your assumption. But--I decided to become a librarian because it was my family pattern and it was easy, or I thought it was. It turns out to be much more difficult than I had ever thought, and there have been times when I wish I’d chosen another path. But I chose the path I did because it meant something to me. It gave me something I valued. It was a chance to make the world a little bit better. I can give the children I encounter a little bit of respect and care. I can try to reach people with support they need, in large and small ways. Even though we can’t and shouldn’t fix everything, what we do still matters. ”
He stopped. He had never said any of that to anyone. He wasn’t even sure he had known it before it came out of his mouth.
“I don’t think that’s the same approach your uncle takes,” Wei Ying said. He was trying to make it a joke, but his voice was a little shaky.
“It's not. And that’s why I want to leave.”
Wei Ying closed his eyes and sighed for a long time. “Lan Zhan, that was really unfair,” he said at last. “I’m supposed to be the thoughtful, rebellious one.”
Lan Zhan gave him a look. “There are many kinds of ways to change the world, Wei Ying.”
Across the counter, Wei Ying swallowed hard. “When--when did you start calling me that?” he asked.
Lan Wangji traced the mouth of the teacup with one finger. “After you left,” he admitted. “I regretted so much how cold I was to you.”
“Lan Zhan.” Wei Ying looked like he was near tears. “Lan Zhan, I keep telling you, you didn’t do anything wrong.”
Lan Zhan shook his head.
Wei Ying huffed at him. “You’re so stubborn. Fine. I’ll stop arguing about it. Want to take a walk?”
Walking through the downtown area, Lan Wangji could see the ways the city had stultified over the years. The buildings which were decades out of style, a little dingy, a little worn. There were some small shops which had evidence of greater care, but they couldn't quite lift the entire city beyond the overall sense of slow decay.
Lan Wangji could see why Wei Ying liked it here, which sounded strange. But he thought that perhaps Wei Ying did best with something to fight. And there was ample ground here for him to fight for the right things, for the right reasons.
It was colder here than in Golden Carp City, and Lan Wangji was glad he had brought a warm jacket. Wei Ying was wearing a thick blue sweater although he still complained about being chilly until Lan Wangji insisted he take his hat. “It’s really fine,” Wei Ying protested, but he wore it anyway, huddling into his sweater like a little turtle.
They stopped in the tea store, where Lan Wangji bought the green tea Wei Ying had made for him, and after some deliberation, an additional quantity for his uncle. He saw Wei Ying eyeing a smoky black tea and then putting it back, and quietly added it to his own basket. He chatted with the shopkeeper for a few minutes, asking about the process of making the tea blends. She was very knowledgeable and he enjoyed it. But he could tell Wei Ying was getting impatient.
Out on the street again, Wei Ying said, "The library is down this way." He pointed and started to cross the street, not looking. Lan Zhan reached out without thinking and grabbed his upper arm. Wei Ying turned and gave him a startled, wide-eyed gaze. "There was a car," Lan Wangji said, a little strangled. It felt strange to be touching Wei Ying after all this time. It felt strange to feel the coarse sweater and the solid warmth of his arm underneath. They stared at each other and Lan Wangji realized he was still holding Wei Ying's arm. He dropped his hand quickly.
The rest of the way to the library, he thought he could sense Wei Ying's gaze on him. But he couldn't summon the courage to look until the very end of the walk, at the base of the steps that led up to the library doors. Wei Ying was looking back at him, eyes dark and thoughtful. "Children's room first?" was all he said, though.
Lan Wangji nodded. Wei Ying led them inside, waving to the people at the circulation and reference desks, which sat side by side in the center of the main room. The building was clearly overdue for a renovation, but Lan Wangji thought that they were using the space they had thoughtfully.
The children's room was a disappointment, though. It was on a second level and the long room with wide windows should have felt light and welcoming. Instead, it gave off a dingy air. The shelves were crowded with books and Lan Wangji could not tell where the various age groups were gathered.
"Hm," he said.
Wei Ying laughed. "I'll go say hello. Look around as long as you want."
Lan Wangji did look around, quite thoroughly. Whenever he set foot in another library, he kept a running list of things he would like to borrow and try himself and things he would do differently. There was very little here that he would like to try. His fingers nearly itched with the desire to weed the entire collection, to purchase child-friendly furniture, to make the space warm and inviting. The rest of the library had managed it, he thought. What was happening here?
He found Wei Ying eventually, leaning against the desk and chatting with the assistant there. "Ready to go?" he asked Lan Wangji, who nodded.
They visited the Teen Center next, which showed Wei Ying's influence. It was much better than the children's room, in Lan Wangji's opinion. He said as much and Wei Ying laughed. "Yeah," he said. "The children's librarian and Wen Qing do not get along at all. I think she's hoping she'll retire soon. But, you know."
Lan Wangji wasn't quite sure he did know, but he nodded.
"You were thinking about all the things you'd change, weren't you?" Wei Ying's eyes were dancing with mischief.
Lan Wangji wanted to disagree, but instead he burst out, "The collection should be weeded heavily, and the room should be zoned by age. Also, why is all of the furniture adult sized? And why are all the colors so dark? There are no dedicated internet computers for the children. And why are the chapter books arranged by reading level? And there’s no play area at all." He stopped. “I hope what I was thinking wasn’t so obvious to the assistant.”
Wei Ying laughed, bright and happy. "It was a little obvious, but mostly because I know you."
Lan Wangji was used to people not being able to read his expressions unless he chose, and he generally preferred that. But for Wei Ying he would make an exception.
As they left the library, the autumn day was drawing to a slightly gloomy close. Lan Wangji walked alongside Wei Ying and wondered what to suggest.
When they reached the main street again, Wei Ying said, "There are a few restaurants down here, if you're hungry."
"More tired than hungry," Lan Wangji admitted.
"Me too, honestly," Wei Ying said, sounding relieved. "We could get carryout and go home?"
Lan Wangji nodded, so they walked to the restaurant that had the best vegetarian options and ordered. The meals came in a cheerful paper bag. Lan Wangji took it because Wei Ying was in the middle of telling him a long story about an adventure he had with Wen Ning just after moving here, and it required a lot of gesturing. They spilled out into the darkening street with the cheerful warmth of the restaurant behind them.
At the apartment, Wei Ying turned on all the lamps and found plates and utensils for them. Poured water. Made Lan Wangji sit down at the table while he fussed around with lemon slices for the drinks. Lan Wangji remembered how he had made dinner for Wei Ying. How he would like to do so again. He wondered, for the first time, if Wei Ying would like taking care of him too.
The food was still hot and good. Lan Wangji found himself hungrier than he had thought and finished his full portion. Wei Ying, who had moved onto a story about his childhood which sounded extremely improbable, was still working on his own food. Lan Wangji drank some water, tart with lemon. He watched the lights across the river come on, dance across the water.
"Lan Zhan, there's something I've been wanting to ask you," Wei Ying said, drawing his attention back into the room. "But I'm going to be so embarrassed if I'm wrong about your answer."
Lan Wangji's heart tried to climb out of his throat. This was it, then. "Do you really think you're wrong?" he asked.
Wei Ying made a little equivocal gesture. "Fifty-fifty?" Then, seeing Lan Wangji's expression. "Seventy-thirty?"
"Ridiculous," Lan Wangji said.
Wei Ying stopped and bit his lip. "Oh," he said, quiet. "Okay. Well."
Lan Wangji blinked twice, confused by this reaction. Then he sighed. "Wei Ying. The opposite of whatever you're thinking."
Wei Ying put his head in his hands. "Can we use actual words now? I'm so confused."
"And whose fault is that?" Lan Wangji asked, slightly annoyed.
Wei Ying looked up. "So was that a 'sure, I'd be interested in maybe going on a date,' or a 'please let me never see your face again'?"
Lan Wangji could not help the entirely exasperated noise which left his mouth. "It was an 'I’ve been wanting to kiss you for the last two days.'" He watched Wei Ying's face flood with color.
"Wei Ying, if you ask me if I'm joking, I will be forced to scream," Lan Wangji interrupted.
Wei Ying stopped short and stared at him. "Then why didn't you?"
"We were in a professional context and it wouldn't have been remotely appropriate."
Wei Ying laid his face down on the table. Lan Wangji barely managed to snatch his plate away in time.
"Lan Zhan," he said into the table, muffled.
Lan Wangji waited but that seemed to be the extent of communication which Wei Ying was currently capable of. So he reached out and, feeling very daring, slid his fingers through Wei Ying's hair, from the silky longer strands at the top to the shorter stubble at the nape of his neck. Wei Ying shivered under his touch. Lan Wangji said, quietly. "One hundred percent, Wei Ying."
Wei Ying finally looked up and met his eyes. He looked a little wild. "You don't mean that."
"I very rarely say things I don't mean," Lan Wangji pointed out.
Wei Ying closed his eyes again. "But." He stopped.
"You make me happy," Lan Wangji said, still quiet.
Wei Ying made a noise like a dying swan and tugged at Lan Wangji's wrist. "Okay, we're going to talk about this more. But, come here," he said, breathlessly. "Right now."
They made it to the couch somehow, collapsing into a tangle of arms and legs. Lan Wangji pulled Wei Ying down to him and kissed him everywhere he had been longing to: the palm of his hand, the corner of his jaw. His soft earlobe, his eyelids. The corner of his mouth. He could hear Wei Ying saying something garbled, but then his lips opened under Lan Wangji’s and he turned his head just a little. Just enough. His mouth was hot and open; he had been trembling in Lan Wangji’s arms this whole time.
He ran his hands up Wei Ying's sides, caught the strip of skin at his waistband where his shirt was riding up, felt him gasp at the touch. He felt as if some strange emotion was unfurling inside of him, opening like the bud of a flower: hungry and aching and true.
Wei Ying kissed Lan Wangji’s neck and clutched at his shoulders, and hid his face against Lan Wangji's collarbone. He said, “Okay, wow, okay, shit," a statement which was nonsense and which Lan Wangji entirely agreed with.
"Wei Ying," he said, into his hair. Wei Ying lifted his head and smiled at Lan Wangji, bright and certain.
"Lan Zhan, I know I should be sad we never did this before," he said. "But honestly, I don't know if it was the right time. I'm glad we're here now."
Lan Wangji reached up and ran his fingers through Wei Ying's hair again. He liked the feeling so much, the way it made Wei Ying close his eyes as if it was too overwhelming to bear. "Yes," he said.
Wei Ying laughed shakily. "I'm still not sure this isn't a dream," he said.
“It isn’t,” Lan Wangji said, and kissed him again, to show him it was real. And then once more, because he wanted to. He thought he could lose himself entirely, kissing Wei Ying.
At last, Wei Ying pulled away and grinned at him. “You're so good at that,” he said, leaning back. Lan Wangji kept his hands on Wei Ying’s waist, lest he fall.
"At...kissing?" he asked, slightly baffled.
"At kissing me, specifically. Just me from now on, okay?" Wei Ying smiled at him again and then, suddenly, yawned. “I guess all the driving and everything is catching up with me.” He yawned again and laid his head down on Lan Wangji’s shoulder.
"Bed," Lan Wangji said.
"Ughhhh, I don’t want to move,” Wei Ying complained. He snuggled himself a little closer to Lan Wangji, who didn’t disagree at all. They sat like that for a while, until Wei Ying straightened again. “Do you want to share, or do you want the futon?"
Lan Wangji said. "What do you think?"
He laughed and said, "Bathroom is right there. See you soon."
In the dark, Wei Ying's voice was quiet. "Lan Zhan, what makes you happy?'
Lan Wangji reached out until he found Wei Ying's hand and looped their smallest fingers together. He thought. "Cooking. Answering a satisfying reference question. Poetry. Bunny.” He didn’t say you , but he thought it very hard.
“Hmm,” Wei Ying said. Then, “I can’t believe we were at the conference just this morning. It feels like about three years ago.” He yawned and curled up beside Lan Wangji. “Was that the most unprofessional thing you’ve ever done, leaving early?”
Lan Wangji huffed a silent laugh. “Entirely,” he said. “My brother would probably be within his rights to fire me.”
“But he won’t, right?”
“No. He can be stubborn on occasion too.”
“When it comes to you,” Wei Ying guessed.
“Hm,” Lan Wangji agreed.
They were silent for a minute. Lan Wangji thought maybe Wei Ying had fallen asleep. But then he said, “Lan Zhan.”
“I keep worrying that I’m moving too fast. I--the thing is, now that I have you, I don’t think I’ll want to let you go. I mean, I don’t think I can be casual about this.”
Lan Wangji turned to face him, although he couldn’t make out more than a vague outline. “Wei Ying. I meant it. One hundred percent.” He pulled Wei Ying closer, so he was lying in Lan Wangji’s arms, kissed his forehead and his eyes and his mouth. Like this, in the dark, it was easier for both of them to speak, he thought. He said, “I’ve been waiting for you for so long. And then waiting for the right time. Do you really think I want to be casual either?”
Wei Ying sighed. Lan Wangji could feel it all down his own body. “No,” he said, quiet and sweet. “I guess not.” He reached up and found Lan Wangji’s face, ran his fingers down his cheek. “Okay. I just wanted to be sure we’re fine.”
“We’re fine,” Lan Wangji reassured him. “We’re wonderful.”
Wei Ying laughed, still quiet. He pushed himself up on one elbow to kiss Lan Wangji. It felt like another kiss when he whispered, “You make me happy too.” And then, “Good night, Lan Zhan.”
Lan Wangji whispered back, “Good night, Wei Ying.”
Lan Wangji woke up at his usual time, feeling more rested than he had in months. Years, maybe. Wei Ying was draped halfway on top of him, warm and close. Lan Wangji lay there as the room lightened with the sunrise. Then he managed to extricate himself from under Wei Ying without waking him and made his way to the bathroom. He showered and dressed and wandered out to the living area.
He hadn’t had the chance to look thoroughly at Wei Ying’s bookshelves the evening before, so he took the opportunity now. He was surprised by the amount of science fiction and fantasy, including a long row of battered Pratchett paperbacks, Octavia Butler, Samuel Delaney, most of the Vorkosigan series, and Deep Secret . He spotted a few titles he didn’t recognize: The Winged Histories, Lifelode, Always Coming Home . There were a few books of poetry, mostly Emily Dickinson. A Separate Peace, several Sayers paperbacks, and On a Sunbeam rounded out the fiction section.
Then there was an entire bookshelf stuffed with non-fiction. Many of them were clearly purchased in the throes of a momentary interest in wildly varying subjects such as houseplants, backyard chickens, mountain dulcimers, Chinese brush painting, and natural dyes. But there were some long-term interests represented as well: Braiding Sweetgrass, Second Nature , and Farm City ; well-worn copies of Not Free, Not For All and Among Schoolchildren ; a scattering of memoirs, some in graphic novel format, many about trying to find your place in the world.
He picked out Always Coming Home , because he had always been meaning to read more Le Guin, and settled in a sunny spot on the couch. In the quiet morning light, everything felt strange and clear and full of possibility. Lan Wangji was exactly the person he had been the day before, but he felt at ease with himself in a way that he couldn't remember ever feeling. It wasn't only kissing Wei Ying. He had stood up to his uncle. He had let himself consider a different future. He was learning how to be happy.
Wei Ying emerged a little later and curled up with his head on Lan Wangji’s shoulder, his legs tucked up on the couch. He wasn’t dressed for the day yet. Lan Wangji had not fully registered this last night, but now he was confronted with Wei Ying’s oversized t-shirt slipping off of his shoulder and his sleep shorts riding up his thighs. Considering he had only ever seen Wei Ying in work-appropriate clothing, it was a lot to take in first thing in the morning.
Wei Ying smiled up at Lan Wangji and poked his leg gently. “Breakfast?”
Lan Wangji gave into temptation, put his hand on Wei Ying’s knee and tugged. Wei Ying moved willingly enough, sprawling himself over Lan Wangji. He laughed down at him. “I thought you were reading!” he protested.
“I was,” Lan Wangji said. He put his book aside and put his hands in Wei Ying’s hair.
“Hnngh,” Wei Ying said, and kissed him. It was warm and slow and careful. Lan Wangji kissed him back, one hand on his neck, the other on his waist. Wei Ying kept shivering at Lan Wangji's touch, leaning into him, until Lan Wangji had almost lost the sense of where his body ended and Wei Ying's began. Except for the solid grounding of his weight; the place where his knees pressed close against Lan Wangji’s thighs.
After a while, Wei Ying propped his chin on Lan Wangji’s chest. “I’m hungry,” he said. “Want me to make you something too?”
Lan Wangji remembered how last night he had wondered if Wei Ying would like to take care of him as well. He smiled and said, “Yes, if you want.”
“Okay!” Wei Ying bounced up and bounced into the kitchen, where he started humming tunelessly. Lan Wangji closed his eyes again. He didn’t quite sleep, but he felt entirely at peace on the couch, in the warm sun, in Wei Ying’s apartment.
They ate at the table and Wei Ying kicked Lan Wangji, and then ran his toes up Lan Wangji’s leg, which was quite overwhelming for both of them. He propped his chin on his hands and said, “Okay, so we’ve established that I’m not moving too fast so far, but how open would you be to moving here?”
Lan Wangji set down his tea and looked at Wei Ying.
Wei Ying said, “Well, I don’t know, Lan Zhan! Maybe you really love your apartment.”
Lan Wangji sighed.
Wei Ying said, “Is that a yes?”
Lan Wangji said, “I don’t know what we'll do about bookshelves.”
On the train back to Cloud Recesses that night, Lan Wangji missed Wei Ying already, a fierce ache that he could actually feel in his chest. He had to leave to be able to come back. He had to go through the proper motions of winding up his life in Cloud Recesses. He had to try to find a way forward with his brother and uncle. He leaned against the window and closed his eyes, making a list of all the things he would need to do before he left for good.
But part of him was still back in Wei Ying's apartment, remembering the afternoon they had just spent together. He sat and read and Wei Ying sprawled out on the couch, his head on Lan Wangji's thigh. It was raining outside, and the view from the window was dreary. Lan Wangji couldn't remember being happier.
Lan Xichen picked him up at the train station. He didn’t say much, but he hugged Lan Wangji, so that was a relief. When they reached their apartment building, Lan Xichen turned off his car, but made no move to get out. “Are you ready to talk about it, Wangji?” he asked.
Lan Wangji didn’t feel especially ready, but his brother had been quite patient with him. So he said, “There is not much to discuss. I am going to move in with Wei Ying and look for another job.”
Lan Xichen jumped. “Isn’t that moving a little fast?”
“No,” Lan Wangji said.
His brother sighed deeply and closed his eyes. “Wangji. I know you’ve been frustrated and upset lately, and I can understand why. But you’re upending your entire life for this. Are you sure?”
Lan Wangji opened the car door and said, “I am very sure.” He retrieved his bag from the back seat. “Do you want breakfast?” he asked.
His brother hesitated and then nodded, so Lan Wangji led the way back to his apartment. He greeted Bunny, who offered a rare show of affection to him before hissing at Lan Xichen and hiding in the bedroom. He set his bag down and made tea for both of them. He pulled out some frozen shaobing and reheated them. He always had some on hand, made using the recipe that their mother used when they were very young. This wasn’t the same as Wei Ying’s apartment, as eating breakfast with him at the small table. But it was still good. He could be happy about the things he had always loved, about the people he had always cared about.
They ate and quietly discussed library business, as if Lan Wangji wasn’t leaving. The grey light of a cloudy day spilled over Lan Wangji’s breakfast nook. After their plates were both empty, Lan Xichen took them to the kitchen. When he came back, he sat and sighed again and said, “All right, Wangji.”
“Hm?” Lan Wangji asked. He had just received a message from Wei Ying which read miss you!!!!!!!
“I will admit it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so happy.”
Lan Wangji looked up, a little startled, and met his brother’s gaze. “I am,” he said.
“One month,” Lan Xichen said. “To give us all time to get used to it.”
That sounded like a very short time and a very long one all at once. Too short to wrap everything up at work, too long to spend apart from Wei Ying. Lan Wangji held onto the shreds of his professional dignity and nodded.
On Lan Wangji’s last day at Cloud Recesses Public Library, his storytime theme was “Goodbyes.” The parents cried; he cried; the children mostly did not understand what was happening but, infected by the general atmosphere, they cried too.
He received a card from the staff members with everyone’s signature and a gift card to a restaurant. He would have been more touched had he not known that this was exactly what every other employee who was leaving received. He had given a solid decade of his life to this place, and in the end it was easy to walk away. He wasn’t sure what that meant about him, or them. But at the end of the day he gathered the last of his personal belongings, turned off the lights and locked his office door for the last time, and felt free.
He went home and made dinner, listening to a podcast about a mystery series he liked. He fed Bunny. Then he kept sorting and packing his things. He was in the bedroom, trying to decide if he really needed to bring both of his comforters, when his phone buzzed.
Wei Ying <3
So, funny story
Guess who announced their retirement today??
Yep, we’re down a children’s librarian in a month
Lan Wangji stared at the phone. Could it possibly be this simple? He had been prepared to search for a job within a certain carefully selected radius of Wei Ying’s apartment. (“We could also move,” Wei Ying had pointed out. “No,” Lan Wangji had said.) Then he thought of the children’s department at the Burial Mounds library and mentally made a list of the top five things he would do if he worked there.
Wei Ying <3
Wen Qing is going to open up the position
But you could prbly get it without even interviewing
Wei Ying, of course I’d interview.
That’s only fair.
Wei Ying <3
Haha, I knew you’d say that!!
So predictable :)
Still. Lan Wangji bit his lip a little bit, trying not to let himself get carried away. Trying not to imagine a future where he lived and worked with Wei Ying, where he could build a Children’s Services Department that was really good . Where he could do all the things he had wanted to try here for years.
He failed. He was already imagining it. Leaving work together, talking about their day. Making dinner and eating together. Feeding Bunny and giving her the three pats she allowed during dinnertime. Reading or taking a walk by the river. Sitting on the balcony if the weather was nice. Falling asleep beside Wei Ying.
I’ll submit my application as soon as it opens.
Wei Ying <3
Hey, guess what
I love you
Lan Wangji smiled, a warm wave of fondness breaking over him. They had been saying it sometimes, both still a little tentative. Mostly over the phone or text, which made it easier somehow. It still felt like a sunburst every time. Maybe someday he would be accustomed to it, to loving Wei Ying and being loved in return. But not to date.
I love you too.
Wei Ying <3
One whole exclamation mark from Lan Wangji, noted exclamation mark sceptic!!!!!
Don’t get too excited.
It was a one time occurrence.
Wei Ying <3
I can’t wait
Your under-use of exclamation marks and my over-use cosmically balance each other out
Just another sign that we were meant to be!
Lan Wangji smiled again and went back to his packing. He wouldn’t bring the second comforter, he decided. If they didn’t have the right bedding, they could get what they needed, together.
When Lan Wangji moved, Wei Ying met him at the train station. Bunny was sleeping the sleep of the slightly sedated in her carrier, but Lan Wangji had several other bags to juggle. He had arranged shipping for his other belongings. He dropped all the bags (though not the carrier) when he saw Wei Ying; Wei Ying grinned, bright as the sun, and ran to meet him.
“Oh my god, I missed you so much,” Wei Ying said, flinging his arms around Lan Wangji.
Lan Wangji, who had been silently afraid that Wei Ying was having Regrets, kissed the top of his head several times and then had to say, “Wei Ying, too tight.”
Wei Ying laughed and let him go at last. He said, “Is this all your stuff? Let me get a cart so we can load it up in my car and go home. I made dinner!”
The apartment was as warm and cozy as Lan Wangji remembered. They ate Wei Ying’s dinner and talked about Lan Wangji’s upcoming interview with Wen Qing. “You’ll be great, of course,” Wei Ying said, with extreme confidence. Then he winked. “Plus, she already likes you.”
Bunny woke up when they were cleaning up and demanded her own dinner. She was hesitant to explore the new space, until Wei Ying said, “Oh! I got her something” and bounced up. The something turned out to be a catnip toy, which he dangled outside the carrier until she emerged, sniffing it tentatively and then pouncing on it.
Wei Ying looked up at Lan Wangji and laughed and Lan Wangji could not believe that he was really here: with Wei Ying, with his stiff and elderly cat licking a catnip mouse, with his things ready to put away in their new places. He smiled at Wei Ying, who made his dying swan noise again and leaned against Lan Wangji so he could be praised for his forethought and kissed until their lips were warm and soft against each other. When they went to bed, Wei Ying pulled out Lan Wangji’s comforter, and curled up beneath it, in Lan Wangji’s arms, warm and safe and happy. Exactly where he ought to be.
On Lan Wangji’s first day at the Burial Mounds Public Library, he walked in with Wei Ying, who waved and left for the Teen Center. They would have lunch together and Lan Wangji would make dinner when they got home. It was his night to cook. Wei Ying would probably lie on the couch, texting furiously and trying to convince Bunny to be friends. He was already smiling a little bit, picturing it.
He walked to his own office, with his new nameplate on it. He unlocked the door, and turned on the lights. He sat down at the computer and turned it on. He took out one of his rabbit sticky notes and stuck it to the computer, so he would always be reminded of his own five laws of library science:
- The library is a living organism
- Libraries are not neutral
- Libraries are for everyone
- Literacy is not a luxury
- A book is not information; it is relation.
Then he pulled up his bullet point list of long and short-term goals for the department and the library’s strategic plan document. It was time to get to work.