Wei Ying is bleeding out in the slums of the city.
Lan Zhan’s normally stoic expression is absolutely shattered by the tears dripping down his cheeks, and the broken cries of Wei Ying’s name. The spiritual energy that Lan Zhan had tried to send him circles uselessly in his missing lower dantian, failing to connect to his splintered meridians.
Wei Ying’s vision is darkening at the edges. He thinks about A-Yuan and apologizes a million times over for leaving him too soon. He thinks about Jiang Cheng and A-Jie, wondering how they’d react when he doesn’t see them tomorrow for their monthly video call. He thinks about how shitty it is that he and Lan Zhan are fake-married, and they haven’t even shared a single fucking kiss.
And finally, he thinks about the ghost’s shriek of rage and jealousy before her clawed, shadow arm gored him right through the stomach. It’s what did him in, in the end; her words had caught Wei Ying off-guard, making his dizi’s notes falter and his concentration shot.
You’re in love with him! she’d screamed, stringy black hair floating in an unseen vortex and blood red eyes flashing like a storm. Life is wasted on someone like you! You don’t know how lucky you are!!
If Wei Ying was a braver man, he would’ve told Lan Zhan that he’d probably been in love with him since high school. The last few weeks they’d spent together had only made that obvious. But now he keeps those words to himself, knowing it’d be cruel if he says that before he dies.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says urgently, finally realizing that his spiritual energy is slipping through Wei Ying’s nonexistent core like a sieve. Within a moment, Lan Zhan stands up and pulls him close to his chest. Wei Ying can tell that his blood is staining Lan Zhan’s pristine white suit. It had looked so pretty a few hours ago, ivory-warm against the restaurant’s candlelight and complementing Lan Zhan’s gentle smile.
Lan Zhan mounts his sword and takes off, the wind whistling past Wei Ying’s ears and whipping his hair around with the speed they’re going. “Wei Ying, stay awake,” Lan Zhan begs, but the words sound like they’re underwater.
“Lan Zhan, you h’ve the prettiest eyes,” Wei Ying slurs. He wants to reach up and brush those glittering tears away, but his arm is a dead weight by his side and it’s getting harder to breathe. “Can—can you tell A-Yuan I’m sorry?”
Under the starlight, Wei Ying sees Lan Zhan’s mouth move in reply.
three weeks earlier:
“Wei Ying, you’re late.”
“Ah, but Mianmian—you know we don’t get much spiritual reception down where they stick all the pencil pushers!” Wei Ying replies cheerily, sending her a winning smile. “At least I’m here, aren’t I? What’s this meeting for anyway?”
Mianmian sighs. “Just sit,” she says, waving in the general direction of the empty chair in front of her desk. “I’ve already filled Lan Zhan in on everything, so I’ll tell you the basics to get you up to speed and he’ll give you the rest.”
The last part of her sentence goes right over Wei Ying’s head as he stills, attention caught on the name she’d spoken. “Lan Zhan?” he repeats. For the first time, Wei Ying stares at the room’s third occupant, and feels his breath catch. Because Lan Zhan—Hanguang-jun, the second most sought after cultivator in the five great agencies, who is supposed to be in Gusu right now—is staring right back.
What is he doing here?
What is he doing here with Wei Ying? Wasn’t this just another five-minute meeting to tell Wei Ying not to fuck up again so he could finally go back out in the field?
Lan Zhan had inclined his head when they made eye contact, and he’d looked impossibly graceful while doing so. He’d also gotten impossibly more beautiful since the last time they’d seen each other, which is a feat in itself; Wei Ying didn’t think Lan Zhan could get prettier than he already was, but his features make him look like a goddamn marble statue now.
“It is good to see you, Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan murmurs. “It has been a while since we last spoke.”
Lan Zhan has always spoken like he’s swallowed a grammar book, Wei Ying notes to himself. It’s interesting (and admittedly endearing) to see that part of him hasn’t changed since they were in school together. “Give or take a few years, right?” Wei Ying chuckles weakly, still stunned at the realization he and Lan Zhan are—once again—in the same room.
Lan Zhan blinks at him, cat-slow, then gives a small “Mm” before turning back to Mianmian.
Wei Ying still feels a little off-kilter after having Lan Zhan’s general being dumped into his vicinity. Somehow, he manages to pull himself together quickly enough to sit down in the other chair, while Mianmian starts to give him the run-down on whatever was urgent enough to drag Lan Zhan from Gusu.
And it turns out to be a nighthunt. A field mission. Something that Wei Ying’s been banned from after his last fuck-up.
There’s a ghost that’s been attacking couples. No concrete motive yet, but Mianmian says that the most likely explanation is that they suffered a tragic death in life, stayed attached to their relative plane because of the trauma, and is now attacking living couples out of jealousy.
“And since you two are our top ranking agents,” she concludes, meeting Wei Ying’s stunned face as she slides a manila envelope across the desk, “management’s decided to pair you for this case. They don’t want to take chances with anyone else.”
There’s a split second of silence before Wei Ying bursts into incredulous laughter.
“Me?” he wheezes, barely able to see Lan Wangji and Mianmian’s startled expressions through the force of his cackles. “I’m stuck filing paperwork for weeks while on probation, and they suddenly want me to go out in the field? Sorry, but—Mianmian, what the actual fuck. What happened to the months of pencil pushing I have left?”
In the time he’s been talking, Mianmian has schooled her expression back into her standard look of annoyance. Or at least, that’s what she usually looks like when dealing with Wei Ying.
“Like it or not, you’re taking this mission,” she says. “You can’t fight what the higher-ups want, and what they want is for you two to pose as a married couple. And—” She shrugs. “Look, I put in a good word for you. I still think you’re an idiot, Yuandao, but you’re decent at what you do. And granted everything goes okay, your probation period will end early and you’ll be back to your normal position.”
Wei Ying glances to his left to see if Lan Zhan finds this as ridiculous as he does, and finds that he’s already leafing through the print-out Mianmian gave to them. Professional as always. He’s not even complaining about having to pretend-marry Wei Ying, or prying into what caused his probation. Even though they’ve never seen eye-to-eye, Lan Zhan really is a good man.
“I see we are expected to live together,” Lan Zhan says suddenly, his voice quiet. “What will the arrangements entail?”
“We have an apartment set up for you in the ghost’s recorded attack range,” Mianmian explains. “It’s fully furnished, with enough groceries to last you for a month. We have the funds to keep you there for another month if need be, but best-case scenario is that you’ll help the ghost move on in a week or two, and you’ll be back on your separate ways.”
As Wei Ying finally registers where the conversation is going, something clicks in his head. Fake marriage means real cohabitation and—
“Hold up,” he interjects, and Lan Zhan and Mianmian both stare at him. “You—you remember I have a kid, right? I won’t bring him into whatever this is.”
No matter how eager he is to do anything else besides paper filing, Wei Ying would rather die than knowingly bring A-Yuan into any sort of danger.
Mianmian, as she should, softens at the mention of him. As with everyone A-Yuan meets, it’s clear that he’s really got his Luo-ayi wrapped around his little finger. “Don’t worry, we already took precautions against that,” she tells him. “We’ve built the strongest wards around the apartment, so nothing is going to touch A-Yuan if we can help it.”
Wei Ying drums his fingers against his thigh as he mulls this over. A-Yuan is in daycare for most of the day anyway, and the rest of the time is usually spent at home—which is also heavily warded. If Wei Ying took the mission (and he doesn’t seem to have much choice here), there wouldn’t be much change from their normal routine.
They’d just have one more person in their orbit! Yeah! No big deal!
“All right,” Wei Ying says, resigned. “When do we move in?”
Later that day, it takes A-Yuan a while to come to terms with the idea of moving out of their tiny apartment.
They’re walking back home, hand-in-hand, and Wei Ying takes advantage of the brief lull in conversation about A-Yuan’s friend A-Yi and flying bunnies to let him know about their new… living situation.
“Baobao, can I tell you something?” he asks, using his serious voice, and A-Yuan looks up at him. When he nods, Wei Ying gives him a small smile. “My friend from work will be living with us for a little bit,” Wei Ying says. “Baba’s bosses at work gave us a new job, so this means I have to stay together with him until it’s over.”
A-Yuan furrows his brows. “Oh.”
“He’s very nice,” Wei Ying tries, seeing A-Yuan’s uncertainty. Though Wei Ying has literally never seen Lan Zhan interact with a child before, he's also never seen A-Yuan’s charm fail to work on anyone. Hopefully those two factors would cancel each other out and they’d get along just fine. “You’d like him.”
A-Yuan hums nonsensically, already tuning out of the conversation, and Wei Ying resists the urge to sigh. “Baobao,” he says patiently, stopping them in the middle of the sidewalk and crouching down to A-Yuan’s level. “You know I won’t get mad if you tell me how this makes you feel. Is this upsetting to you?”
Because if A-Yuan isn’t okay with the idea of living with a random person—even if it’s Lan Zhan—then Wei Ying won’t go along with the job. Fuck what they say if he does.
A-Yuan is still frowning as he shakes his head. “Not upset,” he says. “Not upset. Bunny—Bunny is upset.”
Ah, now this is something that Wei Ying can work with. “And why is Bunny feeling that way? Is this about Baba’s friend?”
A nod. “Baba’s friend don’t—”
“— doesn’t have a bed. There’s only my room, and Baba’s room,” A-Yuan finishes, and Wei Ying finally recognizes the furrow in A-Yuan’s brows as confusion. He nearly sighs in relief.
Wei Ying has such a good kid.
“I can see why Bunny is confused!” Wei Ying laughs, straightening up and holding out his hand again so they can continue on their way back. “Our house is kinda cozy, right?”
(Cozy, not small, no matter what Jiang Cheng says.)
“It’s hard to play hide and seek,” A-Yuan says slowly, curling his fingers around Wei Ying’s.
“Very hard,” Wei Ying agrees. “We’ll be moving out for a while so Baba’s friend can have his own bed. It’ll be big enough for the three of us to have separate rooms, so you don’t have to worry!”
“Four, Baba,” A-Yuan corrects, holding out his bunny plushie, and Wei Ying nods vigorously.
“Ah, you’re right—there’s four of us now! How could I forget that we need plenty of room for Bunny?”
A-Yuan seems satisfied with this, and Wei Ying is internally celebrating his win. Score one for him! Maybe he isn’t such a shitty parent after all!
Then A-Yuan says thoughtfully, “I have two dads now.”
Wei Ying nearly chokes. “No, baobao,” he says hurriedly, thinking about how horrified Lan Zhan would be if they were actually married. “We’re just friends! You can just call him gege!”
…If you could call two people who hadn’t seen each other in years and who were basically always fighting up until their final hours in high school friends.
Wei Ying has to admit though, he may have been the one who had instigated every one of their little tiffs back then. Even if it made Lan Zhan definitely hate him by the end, it was still fun to see Lan Zhan’s face ignite with something other than that placid demeanor!
But when they were back in Mianmian’s office, Lan Zhan hadn’t even protested the idea of being fake-married to Wei Ying. If he didn’t know him any better, he’d think Lan Zhan felt more than just a long-suffering acceptance. So. Maybe Lan Zhan didn’t hate him?
If that was the case… then maybe they could end up becoming actual friends through this!
Wei Ying laughs to himself. Wouldn’t that be the day.