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(6)

.

The first time Lan Wangji meets Nie Huaisang, his first impression is… surprise.

He had met Nie Mingjue before. Lan Xichen had already introduced his brother and best friend to each other. Nie Mingjue is… impressive. Lan Wangji understands why his big brother admires the older boy so much - Nie Mingjue is tall, strong, confident and already a promising young cultivator and sect heir.

Nie Huaisang, in comparison, is a tiny boy wearing too-colorful clothes with a too-cute backpack, standing half-hidden behind Nie Mingjue. Nie Huaisang looks shy, but he brightens up when Lan Xichen introduces himself. His big brother has that effect on others, Wangji knows. By the time Xichen is introducing Wangji, Nie Huaisang is already bouncing on his feet, eager to meet a new friend.

Wangji bows, introduces himself formally, and just... stares back at him. Nie Huaisang’s expression then turns to confusion.

Wangji sees Nie Huaisang reaching out to cling to his older brother again, but then a Lan disciple told the older boys that their parents were calling for them, and then Xichen is telling Wangji to not be so formal, and Mingjue is telling Huaisang to not bother Wangji too much, and then… they’re alone.

Nie Huaisang and Lan Wangji are left with no one but each other, and no idea what to do about it.

Nie Huaisang, unfamiliar with Gusu, looks around warily. Lan Wangji watches him fiddle with his sleeves, before he finally decides to say, “Walk.”

Nie Huaisang jumps, then blinks at him. “Y-Yes?”

“We will walk.”

Nie Huaisang tilts his head, curious. “To where?”

“Around.”

“Hm.” Huaisang hums, then smiles shyly. “Okay, Lan-xiong. Can I call you Lan-xiong?”

Lan Wangji nods.

And so they walk, Nie Huaisang eagerly trailing after Lan Wangji around the Cloud Recesses. Wangji makes sure to tell him where they were - the main hall, the library pavilion, the Lanshi, the dormitories - all the while reminding him that Shouting is not allowed , and Touching the “pretty cloudy ribbon” is not allowed , and Running is not allowed , and Taking pictures is-

“-not allowed too? But they’re just pictures! The trees are so pretty!” Huaisang whines, voice too high and loud -

“No shouting.”

“Ah-! S-sorry…”

Lan Wangji looked at the sticker-riddled polaroid camera that almost looked too big on the other boy’s hands. Was there a rule about pictures? No, he doesn’t remember there being any…

“Pictures are fine.”

“Great! Can we take a picture, Lan-xiong? Together?”

Lan Wangji stares.

Then, he steps back, as if tiny and meek Nie Huaisang was about to attack him with his camera.

To his surprise, the boy gives in easily. “Aw, okay. Can you take my picture, Lan-xiong?”

That… well. That, he can do.

.

(An hour later, their big brothers find them hunched over a table in the Library Pavilion, doodling on polaroid frames with bright-colored markers.)

( “You can use other colors, Lan-xiong… Not just blue…” )

(“Mn.”)

.


.

(8)

.

The second time Lan Wangji meets Nie Huaisang might as well be the first all over again. He is surprised, this Nie Huaisang is far from the one he remembers.

Admittedly, he didn't have a lot of memories of Nie Huaisang besides that one afternoon helping him take pictures, with quite a few of the said pictures ending up in Lan Wangji's care, but he remembers enough to know that Huaisang wasn’t so… active, and talkative… and did he look a bit tan?

It’s been more than a year since they last saw each other, and this time when the Lan brothers arrive in Qinghe, Huaisang greets them without hesitation, already asking them about their travel and chattering about everything fun they can do in town.

So, in a way, it is almost like meeting a whole new person.

"A-Sang is very energetic." big brother says, looking quite amused.

Nie Mingjue sighs. "Yeah, those Jiang boys are really rubbing off on him."

"Ah… Did you enjoy your time in Yunmeng,  A-Sang?"

"Yes! Yunmeng is very beautiful, and the Jiangs are very nice to me and Mama." Huaisang says, all smiles. "And Mama is very successful in business!"

"I'm sure she is." Lan Xichen laughs, in that way he did whenever Wangji did something he claimed was 'adorable'. Then he turns to his own brother. “Wangji, do you want to hear about A-Sang’s stay in Yunmeng?”

Lan Wangji shakes his head.

He really did shake his head.

So why did he end up being dragged around the Nie manor by a boy one head shorter than him?

In an afternoon, this New-Energetic-and-Talkative Nie Huaisang introduces Lan Wangji to his turtle named Turtle, to the birds named many weird names that were impossible to recall, and to random Nie Disciples they met on their way, all while telling him about Yunmeng and his adventures with one Wei-xiong and one Jiang-xiong.

It sounds like they got into a lot of trouble and mischief. Lan Wangji disapproves.

The next day, it looks like Huaisang hasn’t run out of stories just yet, this time also talking about a poodle named Meimei who is the cutest dog in the world, and a Yanli-jie who cooks the most delicious soup and who Huaisang really wants his da-ge to marry one day because he really wants a big sister just like her.

She sounds like a very nice person, and Wangji could understand why one would want her as their big sister, but he already has his big brother and he is fine with that.

The day after that, Huaisang, probably running out of stories to tell Lan Wangji, clings to Lan Xichen instead because he “wants to paint with Xichen-ge instead of studying boring cultivation” . Nie Mingjue is not happy, Nie Huaisang is very clingy , and Lan Xichen is being too nice as usual, trying to appease both brothers at the same time.

Lan Wangji, facing this dilemma for the first time in his young life, does what he is most used to doing.

He snitches.

“Oh, Wangji…” Lan Xichen says, sighing.

Meanwhile, Nie Huaisang is practically in tears. “Wangji, you traitor! I thought we’re friends now!”

“Training is important.” is all Wangji says. Because it was the truth.

He gets a pat on the head from Mingjue-ge.

“Good boy, Wangji!”

A pat on the head. From Mingjue-ge.

“Mn.”

So cool.

.


.

(10)

.

Wangji is ten years old when he meets Not-As-Energetic-But-Still-Talkative Nie Huaisang.

The Nie brothers are spending a weekend in Gusu just because, and Wangji is once again stuck with Nie Huaisang while their older brothers went off to… he doesn’t know what they do, exactly. At least they weren’t stuck in the cold mountains of Cloud Recesses this time, though. Instead they are strolling around the streets of Caiyi Town.

Nie Huaisang, as usual, is equipped with stories and his camera. Once again, he complains about his Da-ge wanting him to train with the saber, but it soon turns into telling Wangji about what he and Wei-xiong and Jiang-xiong got up to during the school year. He isn’t as animated as the times before, but he still could talk plenty, even as they were passing Huaisang’s old camera between them to take pictures of things and scenery they found interesting.

“-and I was thinking, Jiang-xiong really likes animals and he’s good with them, maybe he could go and volunteer with me and da-ge! But when I asked him, he said he doesn’t want to go without getting his mother’s permission first, and Madam Yu is scary - like, so scary! What do you think I should do to help him, Lan-xiong?”

Lan Wangji had drifted off in the middle of all of that, so when Nie Huaisang looks at him, he just stares back, not knowing what to say.

“Ah… Lan-xiong, you weren’t listening, were you!” he pouts, poking Wangji’s shoulder with his fan.

He has a fan now. He seems very fond of it, and Wangji must admit that even if it was kind of strange, he handles the fan well. Quite elegantly, even, for someone as clumsy as Nie Huaisang.

“Wait, Lan-xiong, are you okay? You’re very quiet.”

Wangji shakes his head, looking down at the camera in his hands. “Nothing to say.”

“I know. You’re always quiet. But now you’re more quiet. You look upset. Are you upset?” the other boy asks, frowning. “Am I talking too much? I’m sorry for talking too much!”

“Not upset.”

“Are you sure?” Nie Huaisang asks, concerned. Wangji is surprised he hadn’t accepted that answer right away. He usually takes Wangji’s words as they are. “You don’t look okay. You’re frowning, see?” he pokes lightly between Wangji’s brows, causing the taller to flinch back. “Sorry! Maybe you’re tired. I can leave you alone. I can… find someone else to bother, as da-ge would say.”

Oh, but Nie Huaisang didn’t really know many people in Gusu besides Lan Xichen, Wangji and their uncle. He might not be Wangji’s first choice of company but Wangji didn’t want to leave the other boy alone either, especially in a place as crowded as the markets of Caiyi Town.

“I’m fine.”

Nie Huaisang, for some reason, still looks unconvinced. “Hm… Well, okay. You’re not tired, you’re fine, you’re not upset… Maybe… something is bothering you? I’m here if you wanna talk about anything, Lan-xiong. Mama says I’m a good listener! Or not, if you really don’t wanna. It’s okay.”

Wangji frowns slightly, considering. He waits until they’re in a spot with less people before he speaks up again. “Not upset.”

“Okay, if you say so-”

“Only a little.”

“Oh?”

“I…” he starts to say, still hesitant. He’d never really done it before, open up to someone other than his big brother. “I disappointed Uncle.”

Huaisang blinks, then shakes his head fervently. “Lan-xiong, you could never! You’re the best! You do everything right!”

“No.” he insists.

“What happened?”

“Played guqin for guests. Messed up.”

Nie Huaisang hums, but Wangji couldn’t really tell his expression behind his fan. “Lan-xiong, when you say ‘messed up’ , what do you mean?”

“Missed some notes. I got nervous.”

Another hum. “Was your Uncle angry?”

He shakes his head. “Surprised. Disappointed.”

“Aw, Lan-xiong, did he say he was disappointed?”

He shakes his head again. “I just know.”

Huaisang just stands there for a moment, looking like he was at a loss for words, then he sighs. “Ah, why are all my friends geniuses?”

Wangji looks up at him, confused. 

Huaisang takes a deep breath first before continuing. “Lan-xiong, I know you’re always right, but this time, you’re wrong, okay? I bet your Uncle was just worried because he saw that you got nervous! You’re playing for guests! Have you done that before?”

“No. First time.” he says, processing what his friend had just said. “Still learning.”

“See? It’s normal! You just started playing long pieces this year. Me, I mess up all the time over all the things, but I just try again so I mess up a little less next time.” he laughs. “Oh! Wei-xiong always says that failure is part of the process! You just try and try until it works!”

Lan Wangji nods. That… makes sense. His brother always says that too. But then again - “Isn’t he the one who almost burned all the clotheslines?”

Huaisang giggles, patting Wangji’s arm with his fan. “Ah! Lan-xiong, you listen to me after all! I knew you couldn’t have been ignoring me the entire time!”

“I was trying.”

“Noooo…” Huaisang whines. “How could you? I’m your best friend!”

“My best friend is big brother.” Wangji says, without hesitation.

Huaisang looks offended. He looks ready to stomp his feet. “A-Cheng’s like that too! And Wei-xiong! Who’s my best friend, then?

“Turtle.” he replies, finally passing the camera back to his companion. “Your turn.”

Huaisang pouts sulkily, taking the camera and fiddling with it, mumbling about how all his friends don’t want to admit that they love him.

“Huaisang.”

“Hm?”

“How did you know?”

“Know what?” Huaisang asks, but Wangji just looks at him, and he laughs awkwardly. “Uh... I… I have a friend who is very good at pretending to be okay when he’s not really okay. Mama told me some people don’t want other people being worried over them, but she says that’s not always good because you should let people who love you help you.”

“Mn.” Wangji nods. “Madam Nie is wise.”

“Right?! Mama is so good at talking and listening! I wanna be like her!”

“You are also good. Thank you for listening.”

“You’re welcome, Lan- Oh! Is it okay to call you Wangji?”

“Mn.”

“Will you still punish me for breaking Lan rules?”

“Mn.”

“Umm… Is that a yes or a no?”

“Mn.”

“Come on, Wangji, I thought we were bonding!”

.


.

(12)

.

They only meet a select few times a year, but Lan Wangji has learned to not mind being stuck with Nie Huaisang whenever their big brothers left them to do whatever it was they did together.

In fact, it proved quite nice. For some reason, it grew to be easier to come to Nie Huaisang when he was feeling down. It didn’t happen all the time, of course, but after that first time, Lan Wangji found that Nie Huaisang can tune in to his emotions quite well, and that meant his friend will never push him into an awkward conversation or make him do anything he wasn’t in the mood or temperament for - and thus, he was as good a company as Lan Wangji could get, other than his big brother or the bunnies at the back of the mountain.

Today, he decides to pay Nie Huaisang a visit. Mingjue-ge had told him that his friend is just being lazy in his guest room so maybe Wangji can be a good influence on him and “make him do something productive, anything.”

Lan Wangji is tired - frustrated, really, he’d been studying how to create some more advanced talismans and he couldn’t quite get them right after so many tries. So he figured he’d heed Mingjue-ge’s advice for the day.

Wangji finds his friend in the Nies’ guest quarters, sitting by the table and painting his nails. Or more like, he is trying to. For how good he is with his brushes, he is very much struggling with his left hand.

“Hi, Wangji.” he says, only glancing up quickly before returning to his work. “Is nail polish allowed in Cloud Recesses?”

Wangji sits across from him and looks curiously at the items. “No rule about it.”

“Oh? That’s great, then.” Huaisang smiles, then wiggles his fingers at Wangji’s face. “What do you think?”

Lan Wangji looks at his friend’s work for a moment. One had all fingers painted neatly, while the other only had the thumb nail painted and it is... quite messy. The color is a pale yellow. “Pretty color.”

“Right? It’s from Yanli-jie! I helped her paint her nails and I said I really liked this color and she gave it to me!” he says, looking at his nails as well. “We put little flowers on hers, too. You can do that! I don’t have flowers right now, though, but this is fine. Though I can’t get my other hand right.”

Lan Wangji watches as his friend tries to continue his work. Nie Huaisang is trying to use his non-dominant hand, and it shows. He looks at the little bottle of nail polish. He’d never had to apply nail polish before, but it was a tiny brush and a colored liquid that looked like it dried fast. How hard can it be?

“I will help.”

Huaisang blinks at him. “Yes?”

“Will help you with the other hand.”

“You... wanna paint my nails?” Huaisang asks, eyes wide.

Wangji nods.

“Oh. Okay. Here you go.” Huaisang says, easy as that, sliding the bottle towards Wangji and scooting closer to offer his hand.

One minute in, Wangji concludes that applying nail polish is… not easy.

Five minutes in, he is ready to give up, but having lost one battle that day already, he just listens to Nie Huaisang giving him tips in between giggles and comments about how serious his face looks.

“Do you want me to paint your nails too, after this?”

“...Mn.”

“What color do you want?”

“You only have yellow.”

“Psh… Let me take care of that! We’ll borrow from the girls.”

“Girls?”

“Girls. There’s lots around, Wangji. They let you borrow stuff if you ask nicely.”

Wangji considers that. It makes sense. He knows, from growing up with Lan Xichen, that a lot can be done by asking nicely. He just never thought about applying that to nail polish, is all.

“Light blue.”

.

(“Wangji, I sent you to him so you can make him, I don’t know, study? Not so he can drag you on his usual-”)

(“A-Jue, look at Wangji’s nails! It has little clouds and bunnies! A-Sang, can you do mine too?”)

(“Xichen, not you too- hey, this looks good, actually.”)

.


.

(13)

.

Huaisang, after his mother passed away, reminds Wangji very much of Huaisang when they first met. Shy and uncertain Nie Huaisang. Stuck to his brother’s side, and even then he still looked lost.

Lan Wangji didn’t get to see much of him when the Lan Sect came to pay their respects. He was able to offer his condolences in person, at least. He was surprised when Huaisang hugged him in thanks. He wasn’t a hugger, but he gave it a pass. Between Huaisang being somber and Wangji being his usual quiet self, not much was exchanged, both of them just standing there while their brothers talked, mostly Xichen consoling Mingjue.

After that, the only other times he saw Huaisang, he was either with his brother or his father exchanging pleasantries to guests, or accompanied by two boys their age. Lan Wangji had never seen them before, but he spotted the clarity bells hanging from their belts - they must be those Jiang boys, Huaisang’s best friends that he had heard so many stories about.

The entire time, Nie Huaisang kept his face hidden behind his fan. 

The next time they meet is a few months later, during Sect Leader Nie’s formal visit to Cloud Recesses. Both Nie brothers are on either side of their father, though as usual on sect-related matters, Nie Huaisang keeps silent and only nods along to whatever his father and brother says.

It’s been agreed that the Nie disciples may join the Lans in their usual night hunt, to be led by Nie Mingjue and Lan Xichen, while the sect leaders had their meeting. On his way to prepare, Lan Wangji overhears two familiar voices talking.

“Maybe I should sit this one out.”

“A-Jue?”

“Ever since Mother-... Well. Huaisang hasn’t really been himself. Baba never lets him be alone at any moment, that’s why we took him with us this time. But tonight Baba will be busy with the meeting with your Uncle, and if I go with you…”

“Oh.”

“Our disciples can handle themselves. Zonghui is capable of leading them.”

“I understand. I’d rather you stay, too, if you’ll only be worrying over A-Sang.”

They both stop when Lan Wangji steps in front of them.

Xichen turns to his brother with his usual smile. “Wangji, hello. Are the others waiting for us already? We’ll be with you shortly.”

“I can stay.” he says, straight to the point.

Xichen blinks. “Wangji?”

This time, he looks towards Nie Mingjue. “I can keep Huaisang company.”

Nie Mingjue looks back at him, and Wangji holds his stare. Finally, the older lets out a sigh and reaches over to pat his head. “That’s a good idea. You’re not those Jiang boys, so I know you won’t get into trouble. Look after him for a bit, alright?”

Lan Wangji only nods, then he bows before he turns to go to his friend.

.

Nie Huaisang is sitting inside a pavilion across the guest quarters, looking up at the night sky. There were little balls of light floating all around him.

Fireflies? No, too big. Wangji squints, but does not let it distract him. “Our brothers will leave for their night hunt soon.”

Huaisang jumps slightly, then turns to look at Wangji.

“You’re not going with them?”

Wangji only shakes his head. “Another night.”

“Oh.” Nie Huaisang says, then shifts a bit to make room for his friend.

Wangji sits beside him. Only then does he notice that Huaisang is wearing a Qinghe High Lacrosse Team jacket too big to be his. It’s Mingjue-ge’s, he recognizes.

“Who asked you to babysit me, then? Da-ge? Baba?”

Lan Wangji does not lie - “No one.”

Huaisang is quiet for a moment. When he glances at his friend, he catches Wangji squinting at a tiny light hovering near his face, obviously fighting the urge to poke it. He giggles.

“They’re from a talisman. Wei-xiong made it himself and gave a bunch of them to me.”

Deeming it safe, Wangji pokes one, and it simply bounces off his finger and floats in a different direction.

“What is it for?” he asks, genuinely curious.

“For nothing. They’re just there. Pretty. Don’t worry, they disappear in like an hour. It’s a test sample or something, some part of some more complicated talisman he’s been working on.” Huaisang answers, catching one of the tiny lights in his palm before tossing it back into the air. “Lately, he’s been trying really hard to make me laugh as often as possible. He won’t stop making jokes and he gives me all sorts of talismans that do random stuff.”

Lan Wangji keeps quiet, not knowing what to respond to that, why Huaisang was telling him this-

“Baba’s been buying me lots of pretty things, even ones I don’t ask for. Da-ge won’t let me out of his sight. Yanlie-jie texts me to check if I've eaten. Every meal. A-Ch-... Jiang-xiong hovers and glares at anyone who talks too loud around me. He's almost as bad as da-ge. And everyone in Qinghe treats me like I'm gonna faint just from walking around my own house. Even Xichen-ge... he talks to me like I'm a little kid."

Wangji doesn’t dare interrupt, feeling a twinge of guilt. If he hadn't been as inexpressive as he is… maybe he would have done something like those things, too. Everyone knew that Nie Huaisang likes being spoiled and coddled, so for him to tell Wangji about all this with a strained smile… It must be too much, even for him.

“You’re the only one who doesn’t treat me different.” Nie Huaisang says. "Or maybe you are. I just don't notice."

"People worry." Lan Wangji tells him, his own way of admitting that 'Yes, the fact that I volunteered to stay with you tonight is me worrying too.'

"I know. And I'm grateful." Huaisang says. "It's just… I don’t know…"

"I will give you space." Wangji looks at his friend, then back to the lights dancing around them. "But you can talk to me."

This time, Huaisang's smile is a little easier. "Thank you, Wangji."

They sit in the quiet, eyes in the sky, watching the distant green-gray and white shapes of Nie and Lan disciples on their swords disappear from their view.

"Wangji," Huaisang calls, voice small and shaky. "Will I ever stop missing her?"

This, Wangji can answer.

"Never." he says. "But it won't always hurt."

Huaisang nods, eyes still to the sky. His hands pull his da-ge's jacket tighter around him.

 "Okay."

.


.

(15)

.

“Huaisang.”

“Yes?”

“What... are you wearing?”

“A... hoodie?”

That makes no sense, Wangji thinks. People wear hoodies to be warm. The long sleeves and fitted hem keep one’s torso warm, and the hood is added protection for one’s head. What is the point of a hoodie if the bottom half of it is… not there?

“Aren’t you cold?” he asks. Because they’re going to a mall. With air conditioning.

“You sound like Baba, Wangji. Don’t worry, I’m not cold. If I was cold, I’ll wear a jacket.”

Isn’t a hoodie a jacket? Wangji wants to ask, and Huaisang must have seen it on his face because he waves him off.

“A jacket-jacket. You know what I mean.”

Well. At least Wangji liked these colors. The green and gray shades were familiar and friendly to his eyes, unlike that other shirt Huaisang wore last time he visited.

(He is a firm believer that a button-up should not be made up of six different patterns in six different colors. It is a shirt, after all, not a quilt blanket.)

(That time, Uncle Qiren was the one to ask Nie Huaisang “What are you wearing?” and the boy had simply beamed and said “Fashion!”)

(Lan Xichen was very amused.)

“I just didn’t want to waste such a nice hoodie.” Huaisang says as he tugs at Wangji’s sleeve to prompt him to start walking. “The edges just got ripped up from a night hunt, but most of it was fine, so I told Da-ge I’d upcycle it! Then he didn’t want to wear it anymore so now it’s mine.”

Wangji simply nods. So that’s why it looked familiar. He’d seen Mingjue-ge wearing that hoodie. The full, original version of the hoodie, and paired with pants instead of very short shorts.

He resists the urge to take his cardigan off and wrap Huaisang in it. He already saw someone staring at them and walking straight into a trash bin.

“So, where do you want to go?”

“The mall.”

“I mean, where in the mall?”

Wangji pauses.

“Wangji,” Huaisang asks, slow and steady. “Have you ever been to a mall?”

“Yes.” he answers, with certainty.

Then he curses the day Nie Huaisang learned to read him because his friend squints at him and says, “Let me rephrase. How many times have you been to a mall?”

Oh. Well, then - “Once.”

Huaisang takes a deep breath and then reaches over to pat his arm. “Okay. Calm down. We can do this.”

“I am calm.”

“What do we want to buy?”

“A new case for Liebing.”

“Specific! Xichen-ge would love that! Don’t worry, Wangji - I know the mall .”

Somehow, Wangji does not doubt that.

.

His big brother does love the birthday present that Wangji got for him, and he is even more thrilled when Wangji told him he went to the mall with Huaisang to buy it.

“That sounds fun! How was it? Did you enjoy your trip?”

“Nie Huaisang knows the mall.” is all he says, but Xichen keeps smiling at him, so he continues, “He bought many… many things.”

“That does sound like A-Sang. And you?”

“I bought your present.”

Xichen blinks. “Just the present?”

“And this.” He puts a tall, mostly-full cup of milk tea on the table between them. “I don’t like it.”

He bought it because Huaisang did, insisting it’s his new favorite drink but that Da-ge won’t buy it for him. Wangji figured he would try it, and… he did. Try it.

“Milk tea? It’s supposed to taste nice, though, isn’t it?” Xichen says, picking it up and shaking it slightly, watching the black pearls bob around the bottom of the cup. “Though I’ve never had one before either.”

Wangji shakes his head. “Too sweet.”

Xichen looks doubtful, so he takes an experimental sip. His eyes light up.

Wangji knows that face. “You can have it too.”

.


.

(17)

.

They’re seventeen when Lan Wangji realizes that he never had to share Nie Huaisang before.

Not that he has some sort of claim over his only childhood friend, not at all - it’s just that growing up, when Huaisang was with him, it was always just the two of them. They had their big brothers, of course, but besides that, they were just a pair. They weren’t the closest, but they had… some sort of bond.

He had always known that Huaisang had other friends beside him, and it didn’t really matter to Wangji until now-

When he is dealing with two of them without Huaisang.

“Nie-xiong always talked about how perfect and gentlemanly you are, Hanguang Jun! I guess he’s not exaggerating! That’s A-Sang, so reliable, eh, Jiang Cheng?”

“Wei Wuxian, are you fishing for more punishments? By the time you get to wherever you’re going, you’re gonna be copying not five, but ten rules.”

Lan Wangji tries to ignore both of them even though they’re so loud - louder than Huaisang - and so distracting -...

Well. Wei Wuxian is distracting. He broke a rule on his first night, and has so many questions, and doesn’t stop talking and keeps smiling like… like whatever . Lan Wangji wants him to stop it. And who breaks five rules on the first day of lectures? This might be some sort of record.

Meanwhile, Jiang Wanyin is just sort of there, looking both angry and tired at the same time. At least he’s trying to reprimand Wei Wuxian as well - but does he have to be so loud too? And why is he following them- oh, right. This is the same path to their guest quarters, if Wangji remembers correctly.

“What? I’m just telling Hanguang Jun how impressive he is! Is giving deserved praise also forbidden in Cloud Recesses?”

Lan Wangji tries to compose himself to answer-

“Ah! Wei-xiong! Jiang-xiong!”

Then Nie Huaisang is there in his casual clothes and too many bags, and perhaps this is the happiest Wangji is upon seeing his childhood friend.

Maybe Nie Huaisang can tell these Jiang boys to stop being so loud.

But of course, that does not happen. All that happens is that Wei Wuxian’s chattering and attention shifts to Nie Huaisang when he gets a hug, and Jiang Wanyin looks a bit less angry when he is hugged next. They are still loud, though. Maybe even louder than before.

Lan Wangji gets a hug too, and that’s nice, but then Huaisang teases him and Wangji has a reputation and duty to uphold, so he firmly says that no, he will not be taking selfies with Nie Huaisang this summer.

But, he does need a favor from his friend, so he doesn’t confiscate the phone so blatantly being waved around in his presence.

‘Take them away from me.’ he tries to tell Huaisang with his eyes.

Huaisang either doesn’t catch it, or he has decided to leave Wangji to his fate, because he just tells them that he has to get settled now, kisses Jiang Wanyin’s cheek and then leaves just as fast as he arrived, all the while breaking rules on purpose.

"Hanguang Jun..." Wei Wuxian asks, blinking big eyes up at him. "Nie-xiong just broke two rules... Why is he not in detention with me?"

Lan Wangji looks toward the direction where Huaisang disappeared to, and he thinks, ‘Traitor.’

.

Wangji doesn’t really get any time alone with Huaisang during the week. He has many responsibilities as a Gusu Lan disciple during the lectures. What time he could spare was spent in the Library Pavilion because Uncle Qiren had assigned him to personally supervise Wei Wuxian in his punishments for breaking yet another set of rules.

Whenever he saw Huaisang, he was either doodling during a lecture, or accompanied by the Jiang brothers, or “off to somewhere with A-Cheng doing stuff, don’t worry, they’re probably just looking for birds or cuddling while my darling shidi complains about me” as said by Wei Ying.

Lan Wangji doesn’t know when exactly he started using ‘Wei Ying’ to address the other boy, but he… doesn’t really mind. What he does mind is that Wei Ying won’t stop smiling and pouting and laughing and blinking and making his eyes twinkle like so - Lan Wangji hates it. It’s truly distracting. Lan Wangji hates that he keeps seeing the boy’s smile in his head even after-

Ahem. Back to Huaisang. Wangji always knew that Huaisang is physically affectionate to his family and by extension Xichen. He should have known his friend acts pretty much the same with his two best friends. Wei Ying drapes his arms on both his brother and Nie Huaisang so easily. Nie Huaisang clings to Jiang Wanyin when walking. Sometimes Jiang Wanyin himself offers his arm when Nie Huaisang is moving too slow.

But Lan Wangji catches the smaller things, too.

Like how often Jiang Wanyin is just absently running his fingers through Huaisang’s hair while he listens to someone talk. Like how Huaisang can just sidle up and tuck himself into Jiang Wanyin’s side. Like how Jiang Wanyin will sometimes press his face against Huaisang’s head or shoulder, and one could almost mistake it for him dropping a kiss there. Like when Huaisang opens his fan, Jiang Wanyin knows exactly when to duck behind it as well so the other could whisper in his ear.

Wangji thinks about it, and he comes to a conclusion. He gets a chance to ask Huaisang himself, during a trip to Caiyi Town while the brothers were off buying something for their beloved big sister, leaving Wangji and Huaisang alone together, finally.

“I didn’t know you were dating Jiang Wanyin.”

But Huaisang only giggles and teases him about gossiping, and then says, “A-Cheng and I aren’t dating.”

Any further discussion is cut short because Huaisang rushes to extract his best friends from a crowd of overly-familiar strangers that were obviously making Jiang Wanyin uncomfortable, and then they were going back to Cloud Recesses.

So, Lan Wangji is back to the drawing board. Apparently his childhood friend isn’t dating this boy he’s very cuddly with. So they are friends, just very comfortable being affectionate with each other. That’s fine. Xichen is like that with his sworn brothers too. Wei Ying does call the two out for being ‘married’ and apparently being ‘parents’ to a bunch of rescue animals and woodland creatures, but it’s clear he’s only teasing.

Wangji takes Huaisang’s word for it. Huaisang has no reason to hide from Wangji, anyway.

He still wishes Huaisang would tell Wei Ying to stop smiling like that at him, though. It really is very distracting.

.

A few weeks after the lectures, on an errand for his uncle, Wangji gets a text from Huaisang inviting him to come to Lotus Pier to hang out.

Wangji declines. Lotus Pier means Wei Ying. Wei Ying means being distracted and frustrated and annoyed and reckless, and all sorts of things he’s not very familiar with.

Of course, as things tend to go with Wei Ying, he finds a way to be a menace anyway.

 

> Why is Wei Ying here?

oh he found you! nice 👍

> Did you send him to get me?

nooooo i didn’t!!!! he went off by himself!!! 😂😂😂 I PROMISE !!!!

> Make him go away.

wangji you should know by now that no one can stop wei-xiong when he’s determined to do something 😅
what are you two doing anyway

> Night hunting.

that should be fun. you like night hunting!
don’t worry he takes those things seriously. you should be okay. 👌

> I’ll take your word for it.

take care! 😘 use protection! 

> Stop.

.

.

The next time he meets the trio, Nie Huaisang and Jiang Wanyin are actually dating, and... nothing has changed.

“-and it’s funny because they’ve been so cuddly all this time and they were all like ‘wait, maybe we’ve been dating for like twenty years now?’ ” Wei Ying sniggers, clearly having a lot of fun at his best friends’ expense.

Across him, Jiang Wanyin grumbles. “One year. Singular. And we’re seventeen .”

“Whatever, still funny. You think so too, right, A-Sang?”

“Hm…” Huaisang hums, eyes contemplative.

Lan Wangji does not miss the way Jiang Wanyin, looking absolutely done , idly fiddles with the tassel on the charm hanging from Huaisang’s fan.

“You’re right, Wei-xiong.”

Lan Wangji also does not miss how, while he’s supposed to be responding to Wei Ying, Nie Huaisang is looking at Wangji, one brow raised. Wangji bets he’s also smirking behind his fan.

What is he trying to tell Wangji?

Then Huaisang’s gaze shifts just a bit, and Wangji follows it. He’s looking at Wei Ying now, and it’s only then that Wangji realizes that Wei Ying is leaning on his shoulder, cozy and comfortable.

“It really is quite funny how these things turn out.”

Wangji looks back to Huaisang, and Huaisang giggles.

What- Oh.

Oh, no.

.

.


.

(17.5)

.

> The Gusu Library has an initiative to update its knowledge base with new cultural traditions and literature of places of historical importance this year. The Lan sect is largely in charge of this information gathering.

wangji i love you but why do you text like a boring network advisory?
i almost ignored it!!! 🤣🤣🤣
anyways why exactly do i need to know this?

> Disciples will be assigned to go to these places as part of training.
> Disciples who are still students will be in an exchange program so their studies remain undisrupted.

wow that’s so cool! 😭😭😭
ohhh wait that’s like when er-ge went to study here in qinghe for like a year!

> Yes.
> I’ve been assigned to Yunmeng.

😳
WHAT
NO WAY

WANGJI 👀👀👀
ACHENG AND AXIAN ARE THERE 👀👀👀

> I am aware.

😳😳😳😳😳😳😳
OMG NOW I WANT TO TRANSFER BACK TO YUNMENG

JUST TO WATCH YOU STRUGGLE AHAHAHA

> I don’t struggle.

lol sure you don’t 👀

wangji

did you die

wangji it’s been 5 minutes pls come back 😭😭😭😭😭

> Huaisang.

oh thank god
are you okay

> Help.

HAHAHA

> Not helpful.

.

.


.

(19)

.

Wangji is upset. Wangji is possibly drunk - only possibly - but perhaps he is simply upset. The upset part is more important. And more probable. Because how could Wangji be drunk?

Wangji realizes he had said all of that out loud when he hears someone say, “Oh, Wangji. I’m sorry, but you are drunk. And upset, of course. That’s valid too. Hey. Hey, are you hearing me? Wangji?”

It takes Wangji a few moments of squinting to recognize Nie Huaisang, who is worriedly patting his cheek.

“Huaisang.”

“There you are!” Huaisang smiles, and Wangji thinks he is being made to sit down, so he does. “Are you okay?”

“Your hair looks bad.”

Huaisang takes a deep breath, obviously trying not to take offense. “Well, you woke me up from my nap, so-”

“Your shirt is too big.”

“Oh. Um. It’s A-Cheng’s. I borrowed-”

“Bad shirt.”

“Hey!”

“Why don’t you have your own clothes?”

“I assure you I do have my own clothes, Wangji. I just… uh. This one is comfy. For sleeping. When I miss my boyfriend.”

Wangji is quiet for a while before he speaks again. “Jiang Wanyin.”

“Yes. Jiang Wanyin.”

Wangji looks straight back at him and says, “Wei Ying.”

Huaisang blinks. “What about Wei Ying?”

Then Wangji stares at him.

“Wangji?”

And Wangji just… stares at him still.

Huaisang sighs. “Okay, Wangji. Why are you drunk? Can you answer that? Were you drinking by yourself?”

Wangji shakes his head. No.

“So… you were drinking with someone?”

Again he shakes his head. No.

“But you’re drunk. Did someone make you drink?”

“Wei Ying.”

Huaisang frowns. “Wei Ying made you drink?”

“Looking for water. Wei Ying gave me his bag.”

For a while, Huaisang looks confused, but then he seems to realize something. “Ah… Did he tell you which bottle to drink from?”

Wangji frowns, then shakes his head.

“Mm-hm... Did you drink from the white bottle, Wangji?”

Wangji nods. “I like white.”

“I see, I see. We should really tell Wei-xiong not to put Emperor’s Smile in misleading containers, huh?” Huaisang says, laughing lightly. “And where is Wei-xiong now?”

“Got a call. Left.”

“Huh. I guess it must have been important. Is that why you’re upset? Because Wei-xiong left?”

Wangji doesn’t answer.

Huaisang yawns and looks at him tiredly. Now that the panic with his friend just barging into his room without preamble and talking in full sentences has worn off, he just wants to go back to his nap.

Maybe they should just nap, both of them, since Huaisang didn’t know what Wangji would get up to if left to his own devices while drunk. Yes, that’s probably the most sensible-

“Huaisang. Come.”

“H-Huh?”

He looks up to see Wangji with his arms stretched out towards him. “Come.”

“Ohhhh... You need a hug?” Huaisang looks like he can’t believe what he’s seeing, but he pushes down the urge to tease. It’s one thing to tease Wangji for being drunk , but he’s also upset , and Nie Huaisang may be a menace but he’s not a jerk. He just smiles and moves towards his friend. “Okay, buddy, I got you-”

Huaisang is cut off when Lan Wangji does not hug him, but instead lifts him up and props him up on his shoulder like a sack of potatoes.

“W-Wangji?!”

“Come.”

“W-What are you- What are you doing?!” Nie Huaisang shrieks, latching on to the other’s white robes for purchase. “Put me down! Wangji!”

“Will help Huaisang.”

“How?!”

“No shouting in the Cloud Recesses.”

“But-!” Huaisang squirms, but Wangji just shifts his hold on him. “Fine, I’ll go with you, you don’t have to carry me-”

“Mingjue-ge said Huaisang is small for travel convenience.”

“Oh my God...” Huaisang groans. There is no reasoning with drunk Wangji, it turns out. “C-Can you at least get my fan? And my phone?”

To his credit, Wangji does retrieve the fan and the phone, and then he exits the room, carrying his friend with ease. He is the most coordinated drunk person that Huaisang has ever met.

Huaisang resigns himself to his fate, letting himself be carried to wherever Wangji’s drunk brain is planning to take him, wearing nothing but an oversized shirt and pajama bottoms with tiny turtles printed in it.

.

Wangji puts him down when they reach the bunny meadow.

“Uh… Wangji-”

“Quiet.” Wangji says, then leans down to pick up one of the bunnies that approached them, perhaps thinking their keeper came to feed them as usual.

He offers the bunny to Huaisang. “Hold.”

Huaisang groans, getting impatient. “Lan Wangji, you barge into my room, insult my boyfriend’s shirt, and my hair- only to bring me all the way here… I want answers!”

“Hold the rabbit.”

Huaisang pouts, but he couldn’t possibly deny a little baby rabbit- “Okay! Fine, give it here.” he accepts the rabbit easily, all too used to small animals in his hands from years of volunteering in a shelter. “Now, answ- WANGJI!”

Huaisang squirms, holding the rabbit to his chest as he is once again propped up on his friend’s shoulder.

“Really, why can’t you just tell me where we’re going? I’ll walk with you! And-... And what about this rabbit?”

Wangji just resumes walking and repeats, “Hold the rabbit.”

“You are simultaneously the easiest and most difficult drunk to deal with.” Huaisang sighs, and once again resigns to being carried.

.

Huaisang asks for his phone, so Wangji gives it to him, then returns to his work.

Wangji is doing important work. Wangji is helping Huaisang. Huaisang is not helping Wangji help Huaisang, but Wangji is fine with that. Wangji can do this by himself.

“Er-ge…” he hears his friend whine at the phone. “Wangji is drunk and upset.” Wangji could hear his brother’s voice over the phone, but couldn’t make out the actual words. “Oh, he’s okay! - … - Yes, he’s with me. - … - No, no he’s fine, uh, physically. He’s just… uh, he came to me and right now he’s very determined to... do stuff.”

Wangji frowns. There is absolutely no need to call his brother over this. “I am fine.”

“Yes you are, Wangji. Yes you are.” Huaisang reassures him, then returns to his call. “He’s drunk, er-ge! I’m pretty sure it’s an accident, though. - … - Well, he didn’t do anything reckless, besides literally carrying me all over the place. - … - How upset? Well… Uh… Gimme a minute.”

Huaisang turns to look at Wangji, which makes Wangji furrow his brows - Huaisang shouldn’t be moving so much , or Wangji will not finish his work!

“Wangji, why did we need to bring the rabbit?” Huaisang asks. He sounds like he’s talking to a child.

Wangji looks at the rabbit in Huaisang’s lap. “Rabbit sparks joy.” 

“I see, I see. Okay.”

Huaisang nods indulgently, and returns to his previous position, back facing his friend. He speaks to his phone again.

“So, remember when we were kids? Whenever Wangji’s upset or frustrated, he does something nice for others to keep himself distracted and to feel nice because he’s being helpful? - … - Yeah, whenever he goes and just, I don’t know, paints my nails or something? - … - Yes, that! He gave me an emotional support rabbit, er-ge. And now he’s doing my hair. With the braids and all! And he said he has robes for me, like nice robes. I think he’s very upset-... - Yes. Yes, er-ge, he’s playing dress-up- Wait.”

Huaisang turns again, and this time, Wangji does pout when his work is once again interrupted.

“Wangji, why do you think doing my hair and dressing me up will help me?”

“Huaisang likes to look nice.” Wangji says, already reaching for one of the braids again to redo it.

Huaisang sighs. “You know when I say I like to look nice, I mean like, maybe a bit of makeup and some cute shorts, right?”

“Robes are nice. No cute shorts in Cloud Recesses. Too cold.”

“Okay. Copy that.”

Huaisang goes back to his phone. “So, apparently he’s dressing me up in traditional robes because that’s what he knows how to do. And he doesn’t want me to be cold. - … - Hold on.”

Wangji braids, and focuses on braiding. He is quite annoyed when a phone is shoved in his face.

“It’s er-ge.”

“No. Busy.”

“Wangji.”

“Huaisang.”

“Wangji, please. Or I’ll cry.”

Wangji takes the phone and straight up says, “Hello. Wangji is busy.”

Huaisang chokes.

Meanwhile, Xichen’s voice on the other end is gentle and patient. “I see. Sorry for disturbing you, Wangji. I just want to check up on you. Are you having fun playing dress-up with A-Sang?”

“Mn.”

“Are you okay?”

“Mn.”

“Are you upset?”

“Mn.”

“But you’re okay?”

“Mn.”

“When you’re done, let A-Sang take care of you, okay? And drink lots of water before going to bed.”

“Mn.”

“Promise?”

“Mn.”

“Are you sure you just don’t want to talk about it? A-Sang is a good listener.”

“No. Huaisang is friends with Wei Ying.”

“Ah. Is it about Wei Wuxian?”

“Goodbye.” Wangji hangs up and hands Huaisang his phone back. “No more talking.” Then, he grabs Huaisang’s shoulders and turns him around so he can focus on his braiding.

Huaisang groans, but thankfully he stops complaining, petting the rabbit on his lap with one hand while he taps his phone with the other. Wangji braids, and braids, and braids. Besides himself and his brother, Huaisang is the only other person Wangji knows with hair this long, so it takes a while.

There are funny sounds coming from Huaisang’s phone. Wangji thinks he might be playing a game. But he doesn’t pay attention to it as he puts Huaisang’s braids up in a nice bun, trying to make it look as nice as the one his big brother and Yao-ge do for Mingjue-ge. It even looks nicer, in Wangji’s opinion - probably because Huaisang’s hair is longer.

“Robes.” he says.

“Okay.” Huaisang lifts up the rabbit from his lap and lets himself be dragged.

Huaisang is not complaining anymore as Wangji wraps him up in white and blue robes he got from… somewhere. Wangji just knows he has them. The sleeves are a bit long, but Huaisang liked long sleeves, right? Right. Huaisang even giggles when Wangji struggles with some ribbons, so he’s probably enjoying this. Huaisang always enjoyed clothes. Wangji once went clothes shopping with him and never wanted to go clothes shopping with him ever again afterwards.

“Wangji?” Huaisang asks, while Wangji tugs at his robes here and there. “You said you don’t want to talk about… this... with me, because I’m friends with Wei-xiong, right?”

Wangji does not answer.

“You know, I’m friends with you too, Wangji.”

Wangji looks at him.

“No.”

“No?” Huaisang blinks. “No, you don’t know? Or no, we’re not friends? Wangji-”

“Different.” he says, looking down again, adjusting layers that don’t really need adjusting anymore. Huaisang is Wangji’s friend, he supposes. But Huaisang is a different friend with Wei Ying. Wangji doesn’t know how to say it, but he hopes Huaisang gets it.

Huaisang is a Level 50 friend, after all.

Huaisang hums, tapping his fan to his lips as he peers at Wangji’s face. “Hm… Wangji... you like Wei-xiong, right?”

“No.”

“Lying is forbidden.”

Huh. Well, then. “Yes.”

“Oh, okay. That’s easy. Wow, you’re the nicest drunk.” Huaisang laughs. “Do you think Wei-xiong likes you back?”

“No.”

“Lying is-”

“No.” Wangji repeats, annoyed.

Huaisang rolls his eyes. “Fine. So why do you think Wei-xiong doesn’t like you back?”

“Wei Ying likes Miss MianMian.”

Huaisang stares at him.

Huaisang stares at him for quite some time.

Wangji feels like he wants to go to bed now. It’s probably almost 9 PM.

He realizes he said that out loud again, because Huaisang tells him it’s barely 6, then he reaches over and grabs Wangji. He’s surprisingly strong, Wangji thinks.

Who?

“Miss M-”

“Miss Luo? Luo Qingyang?”

“Mn.”

“You do know she doesn’t even like men- Wangji?”

Wangji heads towards the bed.

“Hey, Wangji - no, noooo, where are you going?”

There is no bed. The floor, then - “It’s nine.”

“It’s barely six!” Huaisang grabs his sleeve and tugs. Wangji just frowns. “Wangji, no, I can’t carry you to your room- I mean, I can, but I don’t want to! And you have to drink water!”

“Drink water in the morning.”

“No, you’ll feel terrible, trust me, drink water now ! You promised Er-ge!”

He’s right. Wangji did promise his big brother that he will drink water. Pouting, he let Huaisang drag him towards… wherever… Wangji doesn’t know where. Huaisang gives him water, so Wangji drinks water. Huaisang pulls him to the bed so Wangji goes to the bed. He thinks it’s his bed. It’s probably his bed. Huaisang places the bunny beside him so Wangji pets the bunny.

“Okay, you can sleep now.”

Wangji blinks up at him and says, ”Huaisang looks like a Lan.”

“I think so too, I’m just missing the ribbon, huh? It’s all thanks to you. Good job.” Huaisang says, tucking him under a blanket. “I feel pretty.”

“Wei Ying is pretty.”

Huaisang sighs. “How dare you put me through all this trouble and still say another man’s name, Lan Wangji. Say ‘Thank you for your time, A-Sang’ .”

“Thank you for your time, A-Sang.” Wangji tells him, though his eyes are already closed. “Wei Ying should be a Lan.”

“Good luck with that, buddy.” Huaisang pats his head. “You’ll need it.”

Then, Wangji goes to sleep.

.

.


.

coda

.

Nie Huaisang is walking back to his guest quarters when he hears a familiar laughter followed by another familiar scolding voice. Cursing the heavy robes Wangji put him in, he tries to quicken his pace as best as he can.

“-so I told him it sounded beautiful! It’s really beautiful, Jiang Cheng! And then! Then Lan Zhan said he only plays that song for the person he likes! So I said ‘Oh! That’s one lucky girl!’ I told him I think it’s MianMian. They get along so well. Do you think it’s MianMian too, Jiang Cheng?”

Nie Huaisang stops. He stops so he can bury his head in his hands and take a deep breath.

That explains so many things

“H-Huaisang…?”

Nie Huaisang looks up to see his two best friends looking at him, obviously not expecting him in his… attire. Jiang Cheng is just staring at him, mouth opening and closing as if he wants to say something but couldn’t quite put his words together - and at any other time, Huaisang would be flattered , but then there’s Wei Wuxian, the complete opposite, biting his lips as if he’s just dying to say something-

Of course, he doesn’t last long. Wei Wuxian, in true Wei Wuxian style, beams and greets, “Why, good evening, Madame Lan!”

Nie Huaisang scowls. He does his best to use his Angry Nie voice as he says, “Don’t you ‘Good evening, Madame Lan’ me, Wei Wuxian! This is your fault!”

...and he doesn’t claim to be an expert, but he’s not Second Young Master Nie for nothing.

“Whoa, okay, I’m sorry?” Wei Wuxian blinks. He does look mildly terrified. “Wait, what… what did I do?”

Huaisang sighs. “Nevermind.” he says, picking up his robes as he walks up to the brothers. He looks at Jiang Cheng. “Hi, A-Cheng.”

Jiang Cheng musters up enough self-consciousness to say, “Hi.”

“Please tell me I look pretty.”

Jiang Cheng's cheeks are pink as he nods, “Y-You look very pretty.”

“Thank you.” Huaisang takes a deep breath first, and then he swats Wei Wuxian’s arm with his fan.

“Ow!” Wuxian whines, blinking hurt puppy eyes at his friend.

“That’s for Wangji.” Huaisang declares with conviction.

“For Lan Zhan? What did I do? Whatever it is, I know it’s probably my fault but I at least wanna know what-”

“I’m too pretty to stay mad. Figure it out.” Huaisang huffs, then walks past his best friends. “I have stuff to do. I’ll see you guys tomorrow.”

“But, A-Sang~” Wei Wuxian fake-sobs. He usually uses this move on Jiang Yanli, but it doesn’t work this time. Nie Huaisang only looks back at him with narrowed eyes, which makes him shut up.

Then Huaisang turns towards Jiang Cheng and smiles sweetly. “I love you, A-Cheng.”

Jiang Cheng looks truly confused, but he answers anyway. “I love you too. What-...?”

“Okay, bye!” Huaisang opens his fan and waves at them before hurrying off in a flurry of blue and white robes.

Watching him go, Wei Wuxian nudges his brother. “A-Cheng, your boyfriend is weird today.”

Jiang Cheng scoffs, crossing his arms across his chest. “Shut up, Wei Wuxian, I bet it’s your fault.”

“I know, right? I mean, I don’t know, exactly, but I think it’s my fault too, haha! That’s so funny.”

“No, it isn’t!”

.

.

.

fin.

.