“Sect Leader Lan, you don’t have any daughters, do you?”
Jin Guangshan’s voice dances in the air as he quietly sips his tea, eyes lidded as he maintains his gaze with Lan Qiren.
“No.” He grumbles as he restrains the urge to rub his temple. It would be unbecoming to fidget in front of their honoured guest, but Jin Guangshan is making it awfully difficult not to. “No, there are no female cultivators or next of kin within the Cloud Recesses.”
“Well then, I’m sure we can figure something out.” The man opposite places his teacup down with a smile. The sparks amidst snow covering the fabric of his clothing is somewhat garish to the eyes. Then again, the entirety of Lanling Jin always announce their presence with the loudness of their appearance. “I’m sure the various sect leaders have daughters that would suit your nephews’ taste. And with their good looks and well behaved manner, whichever fair maiden we find should count her stars.”
Masking a sigh as a contemplative exhale, Lan Qiren brings his own cup of tea to his lips. As much as wishes that were the case, he knows the situation may not be so easy-flowing with his younger nephew. Lan Wangji has been blessed with an attractive face, and he is Lan Qiren’s best student, always devoted and adherent to his strict upbringing; but he’s lacking in the charming softness that his brother possesses, and as such, has not quite mastered the nuances of courting a lady. In fact, Lan Wangji never even seems to try. Which, in all honesty, Lan Qiren takes no issue with. He would much rather this than the alternative of Lan Wangji frolicking around with women by his side, or worse, some wretched vixen ruining his good name altogether.
He grips the tea cup tighter.
Alas, Lan Wangji’s sub-par social skills result in every attraction towards him being purely superficial, and Lan Qiren does not wish for that, either. Lan Xichen will easily find a sweet, mild woman who will accept every facet of him, but where in the world will they find someone who is willing to look past Lan Wangji’s cold demeanor? Where in the world will they find someone that Lan Wangji, the ever-disinterested and studious boy that he is, will take a liking to?
Taking advantage of the congregation of disciples from multiple sects all over the land, Jin Guangshan had travelled to speak on this matter to Lan Qiren personally, putting forth his proposal of a mass-arranged marriage agreement between the five major sects to strengthen their bonds. It’s a novel concept, with most sects usually choosing to continue their lineage within the clan. But somehow, Jin Guangshan being Jin Guangshan, he had swayed most of their fellow sect leaders already, and decided that while the disciples are familiarising themselves with one other, it would be a good opportunity for families to mingle and arrangements to be written.
His guest seems to have picked up on his silence as a sign of musing. “Ah, Sect Leader Lan, don’t worry. We have so many unorthodox children here, but I assure you, they will all definitely find a match. Is it Second Young Master Lan you are concerned about?”
It seems even Jin Guangshan is aware of the situation. “Yes, somewhat. He is a very particular person.”
“Indeed.” Jin Guangshan openly sighs, his lips upturned. He takes a second to survey his surroundings, listening to the gentle sound of water cascading in the distance. The air is cool, and peaceful. As the Cloud Recesses should always be. He looks back to the table and opens his mouth. “That hot-headed Young Master from Yunmeng Jiang.”
“Young Master Jiang?”
“No, the other one. The dogged and flippant one. He seems to get along with Second Young Master Lan, from what I’ve heard. Perhaps a political marriage would be good for relations between Yunmeng Jiang and Gusu Lan?”
Lan Qiren stares with a furrow in his brow, before the implication sets in and he abruptly slams his teacup down. “You don’t mean.”
“Young Master Wei Ying, was it?”
“Shi-jie deserves so much better than that pompous, smug… brat. He’s a brat. There, I said it.”
“Wei-xiong, don’t be so loud.” Nie Huaisang hides his mouth behind his fan as he walks alongside him. “You’ve already gotten in trouble for fighting with Jin-xiong once. Don’t let anyone hear you again.”
“He’s right. Wei Wuxian, you can’t do anything about it now.” On the other side of him, Jiang Cheng huffs in annoyance. “They’re betrothed. And at least shi-jie seems to like him. Usually in a political marriage, neither person has any strong feelings on the matter.”
“But why does she like him in the first place? He’s so… ugh. I just don’t understand political marriages.”
“Heh. Is that so?” An arrogant voice cuts through the air behind him, and he freezes, as do Nie Huaisang and Jiang Cheng. Nie Huaisang’s fan stops fluttering.
Not you, not now…
Nie Huaisang leans over, whispering into Wei Wuxian’s ear behind his fan. “At least address him formally, Wei-xiong!”
He whispers back, though he makes little effort to conceal it. “Why should I bother when he didn’t?”
“You were saying something about political marriages? Very timely.”
Jiang Cheng inhales intently next to him, but says nothing, knowing Wei Wuxian already has the arrows of his words drawn. “Are you going to tell me more about your arrangement? I don’t want to hear about your opinions regarding your betrothal to my shi-jie, Young Master Jin.”
“You’re far too presumptuous, Young Master Wei. I was going to tell you nothing of the sort. Well, Sect Leader Lan had intended to tell you himself, but I believe he’s having a stroke somewhere, and my father told me to come fetch you.”
Nie Huaisang snaps his fan shut. His voice is trembling, though less out of concern and more out of entertainment. “E-Excuse me?”
Jin Zixuan crosses his arms, smirking. “Sect Leader Lan is fine, don’t worry. He’s just processing the arrangement put forward for you, Young Master Wei. I believe Sect Leader Jiang shall be arriving soon to officiate it.”
“Wait, huh?” Jiang Cheng sputters before Wei Wuxian has a chance to. “What arrangement?”
Wei Wuxian had been sincerely hoping he wouldn’t be swept up in the tumultuous matchmaking scheme that has infested the Cloud Recesses. From the sounds of it, it seems his fate has been decided for him already. Oh, well, as long as the young maiden doesn’t mind his love for fine wine and won’t ask too much of him in the way of house chores, he’s sure it won’t end too badly. He’ll be a better husband than Jin Zixuan ever could, that’s for sure. “Who’s the lucky soul that I’m engaging?”
“Unlucky soul, more like.” All three of them stare at Jin Zixuan with wide eyes, waiting for his answer. He snorts, looking off to the side. “Oh, what a coincidence, there he is.”
Wei Wuxian violently turns his head to see what Jin Zixuan is seeing. Over on the other side of the courtyard, Lan Wangji is standing before his older brother, and staring back at Wei Wuxian with an unreadable expression on his face. “What? But that’s just…”
Jin Zixuan’s haughty smile grows wider as he looks Wei Wuxian in the eyes. “You’re being engaged to Lan Wangji.”
“Lan Zhan, let me be honest with you. I think this is good. We can make a pact, okay? If you let me do whatever I want, I’ll let you do whatever you want.” Wei Wuxian shifts in his seat, propping his elbow on his leg. Lan Wangji, sitting poisedly opposite him, has perfect posture, of course. “Since this is only a political engagement, after all. It’s not a real marriage.”
“…” For a long few seconds, Lan Wangji doesn’t meet his eyes, staring with a honed focus at the tea table between them. They both know this discussion is just a formality. Wei Wuxian isn’t treating it with the professionalism that their elders hoped for. Well, it’s only a matter of time before he finds himself copying out scriptures with Lan Wangji as punishment yet again, and this little meeting is no different from that, really. Lan Wangji, though, doesn’t seem to see things the same way. He seems even more uptight and frigid than usual. Wei Wuxian didn’t think that was possible. Finally, Lan Wangji breaks the silence. “Wei Ying, if you are unwilling, then we will not go through with this.”
“Unwilling? Lan Zhan, when did I say that I was unwilling? No, actually, this is great for me, better than an actual marriage. I’m already this familiar with you, and you already know me so well. Ah-” He gravely puts his leg down, and tilts his head to see Lan Wangji’s face more clearly. “Unless you were hoping to be arranged with some amiable quiet girl, Lan Zhan. I bet you’re secretly a longing romantic, aren’t you? You’re so cold on the outside, but on the inside, you just want to find true love, right?” He swears he isn’t trying to tease Lan Wangji for it, but somehow, Wei Wuxian’s tone comes across as highly amused. Well, in truth, it’s because the thought of Lan Wangji being tender and affectionate to a young lady is far too amusing. This brooding innocent boy before him? He could never.
Lan Wangji doesn’t answer him, and catches his gaze instead. His eyes are stormy. Eventually, “Do not talk frivolously.”
“Ah, Lan Zhan, I understand if you’re unhappy with this. I’m quite a catch, but I won’t be offended if you want someone else. It isn’t fair of me to treat this marriage so flimsily if you want a serious relationship with someone.” Wei Wuxian tries so hard to maintain the same gravity of the atmosphere that exudes from Lan Wangji, but the words tumble out of his lips before he can catch them and swallow them down. “Is there a certain someone you have in mind? You can tell me. It’s okay. Which nice girl is it? I can put in a good word for you if I’ve seen her before. Not that you need my recommendation, esteemed Second Brother Lan.”
“There is no one else.” Lan Wangji closes his eyes, and sighs through his nose. “I am not unhappy with this.”
“Lan Zhan, that’s not what I want to hear. ‘I am not unhappy’ is very obviously different from 'I am happy’. If you aren’t happy, you should say so. I can’t do anything if you don’t say what’s on your mind.” He smiles for a second, then sticks his chin up and confidently proclaims, “Do not be of two minds. Do not tell lies.”
Again, Lan Wangji takes a painfully long time to reply, seemingly distracted by the greenery just outside their pavilion. “I am happy if Wei Ying is happy.”
“Ah, what to do with you. Lan Zhan, I’m not stupid, you know. I can tell you don’t seem to like the idea. I get it, I’m the one person in all of the Cloud Recesses who you hate the most, right? Don’t worry about it anymore, I’ll talk to Sect Leader Lan myself.” Wei Wuxian starts to prepare himself to stand up and exit the pavilion, ignoring the slight disappointment in his heart. A marriage with Lan Wangji would have been easy-going, Wei Wuxian thinks. It would be no different from their friendship as it is right now, had Lan Wangji agreed to his initial terms. Clearly, though, the other boy has plans in mind. “I wish you all the luck in finding your true love, Lan Zhan-”
Before he can leave, a sudden rustling from the bushes outside turns into the shape of Nie Huaisang, who bursts the door open and looks incredulously between the two in the pavilion, leaves and twigs sticking out of his hair, dirt smudged on his face. “Wei-xiong, are you serious right now?”
From another bush on the other side of the pavilion emerges a mossy and disheveled Jiang Cheng, who looks at the Wei Wuxian in disbelief. “This is shocking. I knew you were an idiot, but for it to be this bad…"
"Wait, were you two eavesdropping? How rude, we were having a serious conversation just then.” Lan Wangji sighs again from behind Wei Wuxian.
Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang look at each other, knowing, yet equally pained. Then, they nod. Jiang Cheng continues. “Listen, Wei Wuxian, you know how jie-jie and the peacock have been engaged for a while, right?”
He grimaces at the reminder. “What about it?”
Nie Huaisang replies, “Wei-xiong, you know about Jin-xiong being unhappy with his engagement. He was so amused to bring you the news of your engagement, because he thought you would be unhappy about it, too.”
“Yes, and?” Wei Wuxian crosses his arms impatiently. “What about it?”
Clenching his dirt-ridden fist, Jiang Cheng manages to resist the urge to roll his eyes. “Don’t you think the ultimate revenge on the peacock would be if you and Lan Wangji have the most perfect marriage of all time?”
Wei Wuxian sets his jaw, turning to Lan Wangji. He can’t read the other’s face, but with Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang’s eyes on them, he’s starting to genuinely consider the idea.
He imagines a very annoyed Jin Zixuan, and that’s all he really needs before he makes up his mind.
He looks into Lan Wangji’s eyes. “The perfect marriage.”
Their guardians seem to be having a jovial enough time discussing his and Lan Wangji’s engagement, from the sounds of things. He would rather not stay in that room any longer than necessary. Madam Yu kept slapping his shoulder trying to get him to sit straight, and now he thinks his shoulder is going red. He found some excuse to escape, but there’s just one problem.
Lan Wangji is nowhere to be found.
Wei Wuxian walks around the Cloud Recesses, past the Library Pavillion, past the dormitory and even past the path leading to the back mountain. Left with nowhere else to look, he darts to the only place he hasn’t checked yet. The Jingshi.
With his nose in some boring book, silent and contemplative as ever, is Lan Wangji. His long hair gracefully flows over his shoulders, and it makes for quite an attractive silhouette. Really, if Lan Wangji just smiled a bit more and spoke more often, every girl in Gusu would fall at his feet. Good looks, a good sense of humour, and a good disposition - Lan Wangji’s engagement would be the talk of the town. Shame, then, that he has to be so sour sometimes.
The sun is setting behind the view, shades of orange and pink dancing off of the stark white and blue all around him. Without warning, Wei Wuxian casually walks into the Jingshi. Lan Wangji does not look up at him.
“Lan Zhan, our sect leaders are conversing and you’re holed up by yourself here. Look, I had to come seek you out. Are the Gusu Lan scriptures really so interesting that you won’t even partake in the celebration of your new engagement?”
Lan Wangji’s eyes stare fixedly at one spot on his pages. Either the book is a picture book, or Lan Wangji can’t read. Or, he’s choosing not to read, just to have a reason not to look at Wei Wuxian.
“Aiya, such a diligent student you are.” Wei Wuxian perches across from him, sitting improperly as always. “We are complete opposites in every sense. A perfect marriage, then, hm?”
Finally, the other boy looks up. “We should not do this only to spite Jin Zixuan.”
“Ah, Lan Zhan, but you don’t like him either, do you?”
“…” He looks back at his book.
“Besides, there is no one else I would rather marry.”
Lan Wangji is staring at a different spot on the opposite page, now. “You should not say things you don’t mean.”
“I meant what I said.”
“Wei Ying.” He looks up again, a torrent of anger coursing through his eyes. His voice is strained when he speaks. “Stop teasing.”
“Lan Wangji, I swear to you I am not teasing in the slightest at this very moment.” In a display of sincerity, Wei Wuxian puts his leg down to sit cross legged, as proper as he can manage. Then, he puts his hand over his heart. “I enjoy being around you, even if you are too much of a stickler for the rules. Of everyone that I know, if it had to be anyone, it would be you.”
Lan Wangji is speechless at his words, clutching onto his book tightly, before sighing and staring through Wei Wuxian vacantly. He bites his lip, and keeps stealing the occasional glance off to the side. “I spoke to my brother.”
“You did? That’s good. About us?”
“He told me to be more honest with you. That we should be more honest with each other. So, you should speak your true thoughts about this marriage.”
“Eh?” Wei Wuxian gapes. “I’ve spoken only my true thoughts since the day I was born. Your brother must have been referring to you, Lan Zhan.”
Lan Wangji chooses his next words deliberately, though he struggles to voice them clearly. “I also enjoy my time with you, Wei Ying.”
“You do?” He can feel his heart beating a little faster for some reason. “I mean, of course you do. I knew you secretly enjoyed making me take punishment. Detention is the best time of your day, isn’t it?”
“A-Ah?” Somehow, even though this is what Wei Wuxian wanted, it’s jarring hearing Lan Wangji being so frank, answering so earnestly at the things Wei Wuxian always says to rile him up. He isn’t sure if he prefers this. “Ah, Lan Zhan. Are you under some sort of spell? Or do you really like me that much?”
Through gritted teeth, like it pains him to admit it, Lan Wangji replies. “I really… like you that much.”
“Hah?” Wei Wuxian is nearly shouting, now. “Lan Zhan, have you always liked me?”
Having lost his ability to speak coherently, Lan Wangji simply nods. The book is being creased in his hands.
“But you never said that!”
“Because you… make it hard to say.”
“Lan Zhan, you never said anything? I like to tease you, but I never meant to stifle you! Do I make it difficult somehow?” These words are being spoken by his lips, not his head. He isn’t thinking twice before pouring his heart out. Maybe it’s because opposite him, Lan Wangji is finally doing the same.
“You make things difficult, but not consciously.”
“Of course not consciously! Why would I do that? I love it when your ears go red or you get annoyed at me. Teasing you is my favourite thing to do here, seeing you in a state that no one has ever seen the great Hanguang-jun before, knowing I’m the only one to get such a hilarious reaction out of you, that’s what I like the most. But I never meant to actually upset you. I still want you to talk to me.”
“Wei Ying.” Lan Wangji almost seems dejected, shoulders slouching in a manner very foreign on a Lan disciple. He parts his lips to speak, but only a sigh comes out, and he looks back at his book. “Nevermind.”
“Nevermind? Lan Zhan, if we’re going to be married, that simply won’t do.” Lan Wangji doesn’t look away from the book, engrossed by its contents, though his eyes are moving much too fast to be taking in any of the words written on the page. “Okay, you don’t want to talk about it. You’re sending me mixed messages here. You aren’t unhappy with the marriage, but you seem at ends about it. You said you like me, but I make things difficult for you. What’s a man supposed to do? Ah.” Wei Wuxian loudly sighs too, letting his chest rise and fall.
“Fine. Just wait, Lan Zhan. I’m going to be the best possible fiancé you could ask for. I’m going to figure out how to make things as easy for you as possible, and then you’ll talk to me freely. Mark my words. This will be the perfect marriage.” He briskly jumps up and starts to strut away, looking back at Lan Wangji just before he walks through the doorway, smiling when he meets the other’s eyes.
He’s already left the Jingshi when he realises he doesn’t really care about the Jin Zixuan thing, anymore.
“Shi-jie, did the peacock ever say anything like that to you?”
While she’s still at the Cloud Recesses with the rest of the Jiang family, he decides to run to Jiang Yanli for advice, rolling around on the grassy floor of the mountain path in his frustration. Her attempts to prevent him from soiling his robes are made in vain, so he just laughs from behind her hand instead. “No, A-Xian. Aren’t you thinking about it too much?”
“I do like to make things difficult for him, I’ll admit. I like to break his focus, or steal his attention, or ruin his studying and make him angry. But when he spoke so genuinely about it, I felt like I had done something wrong.”
She reaches out and strokes his hair, slightly damp from the dewdrops on the grass. “You haven’t done anything wrong. Boys always tease the person they like the most. That’s the only way they know how to catch their eye.”
The sky is already pitch black when Wei Wuxian is running around trying to avoid the disciples on night patrol, brain thoroughly scrambled. He’s never been to the Mingshi, and he doesn’t think he can stroll up inside quite like he can with the Jingshi. So he procrastinates as he paces around in front of the doorway, avidly ducking into the shadows lest he’s spotted and punished by Lan Qiren yet again before Wei Wuxian has been cordially engaged to his nephew. Perhaps his movements were too loud, or perhaps the shadows he cast were enough of a sign, because it isn’t long before Lan Xichen opens the doors and greets Wei Wuxian warmly, albeit confusedly.
“Zewu-jun, your brother is driving crazy.”
A flash of shock dissolves into a lilting laughter, before Wei Wuxian is invited in for a cup of tea. He’s going to have to get used to its bitter flavour. Between trying to hide his lips puckering at his drink and trying to be on his best behaviour for his future brother-in-law, Wei Wuxian laments to Lan Xichen as if they’ve been able to speak colloquially for years already, and surprisingly enough, Lan Xichen entertains him.
“Perhaps you’re just overthinking it, Young Master Wei. Wangji never expressed any disdain at the suggestion of this engagement, did he? It’s an arranged marriage, after all.”
“Well, no, he didn’t, but Lan Zhan never says much of anything. Normally, he doesn’t say any more than what needs to be said - but now, it feels like he isn’t even saying what needs to be said, either.”
“Give him some time, and he’ll come around. You’re both still so young, after all. Perhaps you’ve given this topic some thought before, Young Master Wei, but Wangji is new to this.”
Wei Wuxian wants to tear his hair out, but he can at least wait until he’s no longer in Lan Xichen’s presence to vent his anger in such an unsightly fashion. “He told me he’s fine with the marriage, but we shouldn’t do it just to spite Jin Zixuan. He told me he liked me, but-”
Lan Xichen nearly chokes on his tea, sputtering as he brings the cup away from his mouth. “He- he told you what?”
“He told me he likes me.” Is the thought that incredulous? He knows that he and Lan Wangji have a bit of a reputation for not getting along, but when even Lan Wangji’s own brother reacts like this, then…
Lan Xichen stares at him with a highly judgemental gaze. As if it isn’t intimidating enough, simply being alone with the heavenly Zewu-jun, now he’s being judged. “He told you he likes you.” Beneath his breath, he whispers. “Wangji actually did it.”
“Yes, he did.”
“So what’s the issue?”
“Huh?” Wei Wuxian can’t restrain the utter befuddlement on his face as he leans forward. “I don’t know what to do. What if he’s only admitting to enjoying my company because he doesn’t want me to feel bad about this engagement? He said I make things difficult sometimes. What if he won’t be happy marrying me? What if we just end up quarrelling all the time, or if he thinks he wants a genuine marriage with a nice, quiet girl, someone who I could never be for him?”
“…” Lan Xichen sighs, reminiscent of the way Lan Wangji had. His expression is impassive, but Wei Wuxian knows enough by now. He can gather than he’s burdening Lan Xichen a little bit too much at this point. “You really do make things difficult sometimes, Young Master Wei.”
“What? I do?” Is there some kind of joke he’s missing? Is his playful ribbing really that pain-inducing to Lan Wangji?
“Do you like Wangji?”
“Yes, of course.”
“And he likes you?”
“Well, that’s what he said, supposedly.”
“Then there’s no issue at all.”
“But Zewu-jun, what if-”
“When he said you make things difficult, he didn’t mean it like that. Have you never had the feeling of being nervous around someone you like? Even though you have affections towards them- no, as a result of your affections towards them, they become the single most difficult person to talk to.” Lan Xichen smiles lightheartedly.
“I’ve never felt like that at all.” If he wants to spend time with someone or talk to them, he’ll find a way to do it. Wei Wuxian has always been like that.
“Some people do feel like that, though. Go to sleep, Young Master Wei. In the morning, tell Wangji how you feel.” He places his empty cup down and starts to rise. “Come on now. It’s well past curfew. You have to see your family off early in the morning.”
“Ah, I’m sorry that I took so much of your time!”
He hardly gets any sleep that night.
He’s the best student he could possibly be the next day.
He still slouches over his table, and his penmanship is still sloppy, and he still nearly falls asleep from the boredom of it all. But if even those things disappeared, he would no longer be Wei Wuxian.
No, instead, he’s strikingly obedient, not acting up or making a fuss, staying as tight lipped as he can manage as he tries to diligently take his notes, emulating Lan Wangji. Everyone is shocked that for once, Wei Wuxian isn’t causing trouble, even though he clearly still wants to. Lan Wangji especially, seems distracted for the entirety of their classes, even being chided by Lan Qiren for his wandering focus. Occasionally, Wei Wuxian spots Jin Zixuan looking very pleased with himself, stifling his laughter.
After their classes, Lan Wangji disappears again, just like he had the day before. Wei Wuxian checks the Jingshi first, but it’s devoid of any sign of life. So again, he makes his rounds, nodding when he spots Lan Xichen in the Library Pavillion, and loitering in the Orchid room a little too long after being distracted by a pretty-looking scroll. There’s only one place left.
“Lan Zhan.” The cold springs. There, of course, standing in the tranquil waters, so still as to barely instigate a single ripple, is Lan Wangji. His spouse-to-be. What a thought. His dampened hair clings to Lan Wangji’s back, his milky white skin and well defined muscles dripping with glistening water. The bottom half of his figure disappears into the body of water, and Lan Wangji takes no notice of Wei Wuxian’s arrival at the springs.
So, Wei Wuxian disrobes himself entirely, and gently steps in.
The cold shock from the water sends a rattling shiver up his spine, but he bites his tongue and stays silent, swallowing the yelp that he would have otherwise loudly shouted out. Trembling while his body acclimatizes, he slowly makes his way across the pool until he’s next to the other man. He can feel the bottom tips of his hair start to get wet. He doesn’t care.
The two of them stand there in pensive silence for what feels like an eternity. Wei Wuxian’s body finally isn’t shivering anymore, having gotten used to the cold by now. Instead, he focuses on trying to steal glances at Lan Wangji when the other isn’t looking at him. I said I wouldn’t make things difficult for him, after all.
Lan Wangji is the one who breaks the silence. “What are you doing?”
“Hm? I’m clearing my mind in the cold springs. Can’t you see that?”
Lan Wangji looks at him disapprovingly, looking like he’s struggling to decide what to say in response. “And earlier today?”
“Earlier today? I was being a prime disciple of the Cloud Recesses.”
“Because you did not want to face punishment in the Jingshi after?”
“Wha-” His facade drops. The water makes small waves around him as he thrashes, turning to face Lan Wangji fully. “I was trying not to make things difficult for you! Isn’t this what you wanted?”
Something in Lan Wangji’s face drops, eyes innocent and clear. Melting into a subtle softness, he turns to face Wei Wuxian fully too, and responds in a quiet tone. “This is not what I meant.”
“Then what did you mean? What more am I supposed to do?”
“I never wished for you to change yourself, Wei Ying.”
Perhaps it’s the climate of the cold springs taking its effect on him, but his heart is beating faster. “Good, because I didn’t know how long I could keep that up. I was afraid our marriage would end in tatters, Lan Zhan.” He’s still twitching from the endless motionless from before, like all his bottled up energy is spilling out now. “Then what should I do instead?”
“There is nothing you need to do, as long as you are happy.”
“Lan Zhan, just be honest with me. I’m seriously so confused. What if you just want to be left in peace, reading your books with nothing but your incense keeping you company, and I’m coming around making you miserable? What if I just want to spend my youth drinking and lounging around and shooting pheasants, all things that are banned in the Cloud Recesses? Don’t you think we need to sort these things out?”
“Wei Ying, you-”
“It’s so confusing, this marriage business. We couldn’t be more different from each other. Look, we’ve only been engaged a day and we’re already having our first lover’s spat. I don’t understand! If this is what marriage does, then what’s the point in it?”
“I don’t get it. I like you, and you like me, so-”
“Wait.” Lan Wangji stares at him, eyes widened uncharacteristically. “What did you say?”
“I…” He thinks back on yesterday, what his sister told him, what Lan Xichen told him. “I like you. You like me. So why is this so confusing?”
“…” The second of hopeful anticipation in Lan Wangji’s eyes fades away, and some sense of designation settles in instead. “You do not understand.”
“What do I not understand?” Wei Wuxian takes a step closer, and puts his hands on his hips. He tries his best to keep his eyes on Lan Wangji’s face, but considering their proximity, it’s a challenging feat. You make things difficult for me, too, Lan Zhan.
“What I said yesterday. What you say now. They don’t mean the same thing.” His hands are balled up into fists.
Wei Wuxian takes another step. Lan Wangji does not step back. The distance between them is so small that Wei Wuxian thinks he can feel Lan Wangji’s body heat. “Lan Zhan. Do not be of two minds. Do not tell lies. Do not talk frivolously.”
“You, also, do not be of two minds.”
“Never once in my life have I been of two minds. I like you. You like me.” He inches even closer. Any closer than this, they would be skin against skin.
Lan Wangji’s response is barely above a whisper. “You do not feel the same way as I do.”
“New rule: do not presume things about others.” Wei Wuxian brings his hand up, sending a few water droplets scattering, and softly touches Lan Wangji’s cheek. The other goes completely still, but does not flinch away. “Lan Zhan, why don’t you show me exactly how you feel?”
“…” Is Lan Wangji even breathing? His ears are bright red already.
“I already said that I like you, didn’t I? Do you need me to say it another way?”
Shi-jie, Zewu-jun, I sincerely hope you’re right.
Wei Wuxian closes the gap, and the distance vanishes. He forgets to lick his lips before, so they’re a little chapped and dry, but when they make contact with Lan Wangji’s own, it somehow doesn’t matter anymore.
They stand there, unmoving, his hand against Lan Wangji’s cheek and their lips smushed together, until the water goes still. Wei Wuxian pulls away, licks his lips this time, and whispers against Lan Wangji’s mouth. “Is this what you meant when you said you liked me?”
Lan Wangji answers him by cutting him off, kissing him gently, carefully at first. But then, his hands travel up his back, his spine, and Wei Wuxian leans his weight into Lan Wangji’s arms as his knees buckle beneath him, deepening the kiss and clinging into Lan Wangji’s wide shoulders for dear life. He can’t find a moment to breathe, but he would rather continue the kiss and willingly deprive himself of air. Lan Wangji’s lips are so pliable, so warm, yet so fierce and passionate, coaxing his own to part ways. He can barely think straight in his delirium. I never knew kissing could be like this. The feeling of Lan Wangji’s wet muscles tensing and relaxing against his skin, the water of the cold springs encircling them, Lan Wangji’s lips working mysterious wonders practically sucking the life out of Wei Wuxian, it’s all getting to his head.
He still hasn’t had a breath in a long while when he realises things are fading away, but he stays determined, sloppily chewing on Lan Wangji’s lower lip. The other man is starting to pull away, though, and is calling out his name in concern.
The last thing he registers is Lan Wangji holding him in his arms, and saying his name.
He awakens to the smell of incense, woody and fragrant.
“Mm…” There’s a weight on his forehead, and it feels like a wet towel. There’s another weight coming from inside his head, though. It feels heavy, throbbing against his skull. His chest feels stuffy, and he blearily blinks his eyes open to the sight of a worried Lan Wangji leaning over him.
His voice comes out thick and groggy. “Lan Zhan?”
“You have a fever. Rest; you will be fine.”
“Ah, Lan Zhan. I haven’t fallen ill in years. I can’t believe it.”
“Do not talk frivolously.”
“Lan Zhan, I’ll go back to resting quietly, and I won’t bother you, I promise. But my memory is a little hazy.” Lan Wangji freezes. Wei Wuxian continues without a care in the world. “I’m not sure if the things that I’m remembering actually happened or if they were just part of my fever-induced delusions. Can you help me figure it out?”
“…” He relaxes, then removes the towel from Wei Wuxian’s forehead, preparing to replace it. “Okay.”
“Did I faint in the cold springs?”
“And you brought me back here?” And fully clothed him, by the looks of it.
“And the thing we were doing right before I fainted…” Before I could get to the good part, as well. Of all the times to pass out. “What was that again?”
“If you would rather show than tell, that’s okay, too.” Preferable, in fact.
Lan Wangji shuts his eyes and sighs, and Wei Wuxian looks up at him with his typical cheeky smile. When Lan Wangji starts to bring his face closer, Wei Wuxian screws his eyes shut, too, and parts his lips, but it never comes, and for a second he wonders if it really was just a hallucination.
Then he feels a gentle, small, but deliberate kiss placed on his forehead.
“Lan Zhan. That’s not fair.” His skin is faced with the dampness of a newly wetted towel being gingerly placed atop where the feeling of the little kiss still lingers. Even that kiss, as light at the wings of a butterfly brushing against his skin, it’s sending him into a dizzying frenzy. Or maybe that’s just the fever, because he has no energy to fight Lan Wangji’s rejection of his request any further. He should probably refrain from passing his fever on, in any case. “Fine, I’ll rest.”
“I’ll be right here.”
Only in this moment does he fully realise what he meant by the words ‘I like you.’ He closes his eyes, letting his senses focus on the smell of the incense. “Don’t leave, Lan Zhan.”
“I won’t, Wei Ying.”
The next day, Wei Wuxian is completely back to normal.
Lan Qiren grumbles under his breath while Wei Wuxian ignores his teachings and doodles on his parchment without a second thought, “I knew it was too good to be true…”
In the gap between their lectures, Wei Wuxian doesn’t have to scour through all of the Cloud Recesses to find Lan Wangji. No, they leave the classroom together, disappear, and arrive together, too.
At the moment, they’re just walking through the hallways, Wei Wuxian clinging onto Lan Wangji’s arm and gazing up at him with a shine in his eyes. Jin Zixuan spots them from a distance away. They’re quipping back and forth with each other. The sight isn’t exactly rare, because Wei Wuxian was always like this from the start - but the fact that Lan Wangji has a hint of a smile on his lips is new.
Wei Wuxian starts. “Do not be unreasonable.”
Lan Wangji answers. “Do not skip class.”
“Do not be of two minds.”
“Wei Ying, we’ve been through that one already.”
Wei Wuxian skips a step, delighted. “That’s not a rule, Lan Zhan. That’s a point for me! I hope you’re keeping track. Okay, I’m starting. Do not criticise other people.”
“Discipline your words and behaviour.”
Wei Wuxian giggles. “Honor good people.”
“Be strict with yourself.”
“Be easy on others.”
Jin Zixuan has had enough. “What are you two doing?”
“Ah, Young Master Jin.” Wei Wuxian comes apart from hanging off of Lan Wangji’s side, and they both greet him with a bow, which he returns, albeit irritatedly. “It’s just a game of ours. I say a rule that I think Lan Zhan isn’t abiding by. If Lan Zhan can think of one I am not abiding by, he says it in response. If one of us hesitates, they have to do something for the other.”
“Is that so.” He smiles stiffly. Wei Wuxian has managed to get the great Hanguang-jun to play games with him between classes. Only Wei Wuxian would dress up something like the three thousand sacred rules of Gusu Lan into a game. “Young Master Wei, I heard you fell ill last night. You did not return to the dormitories.”
“I appreciate your concern, Young Master Jin. I’m all better now. No need to worry about me.”
“Well. I suppose I shall pass you by and allow you to continue with your… game.” He frustratedly stomps away without bowing goodbye, and just as he turns a corner, he hears Sect Leader Lan call out to Wei Wuxian. Good, I wasn’t sure how much more of that I could take. He can still feel Lan Wangji’s possessive glare on him, and he can still see the way Lan Wangji’s gaze melted when he looked at Wei Wuxian.
This wasn’t supposed to end up like this. Sigh.
“So.” Lan Qiren strokes his beard as the steam from their cups to tea rises up into the air between them. “You are no longer unwell.”
“This one is completely recovered, Sect Leader Lan. I appreciate your concern.”
“Hm.” Lan Qiren doesn’t seem pleased at that fact. “Perhaps I should start sending you to receive punishment with Young Master Jin Zixuan.”
“Jin-” Wei Wuxian spits out the name like it’s bitter tea, then lowers his voice from the outrageous volume he shouted at. “Sect Leader Lan, forgive me, but what am I receiving punishment for this time? And why should it be with Jin Zixuan?”
Lan Qiren is used to Wei Wuxian’s sputtering by now, ignoring his woes and quietly sipping his tea.“No particular punishment. I am saying this preemptively. You and I both know you’ll be sent to detention sometime again in the future.”
“But… but why Jin Zixuan?”
“Wei Wuxian.” He takes another long sip. The poor old man looks harrowed, eyes lidded and face weary. Do I make things difficult for you too? “I very obviously cannot send you to detention under Wangji’s guidance any more.”
“You are…” Lan Qiren grits his teeth, and his grip on the teacup tightens. He looks ready to throw the ceramic against the floor, shattering it into a million pieces, but he manages to restrain himself. “You are Wangji’s be-” He swallows.
Wei Wuxian grins, sitting up straighter. “I am Lan Zhan’s…”
“Wangji’s betroth-” He chokes on nothing. The tea wobbles in its cup.
“Yes, Lan Zhan’s…”
“Considering your current arrangement with him.” Lan Qiren found a way out of having to admit it. He still looks like he might spit up blood at any second. “Detention under him will no longer be effective.”
“Sect Leader Lan, that’s not true.” His tea is untouched. “Lan Zhan is very disciplinary. He won’t be partial to me. Please don’t send me to Jin Zixuan.”
“You claim Wangji won’t be partial to you?”
“He won’t. Detention will be very effective. I hate detention with Lan Wangji. It’s the worst time of my day. I totally detest it.”
“Detest, Wei Ying?”
“Yes. It’s the worst punishment ever.” He falters. “I mean, it’s the best punishment ever, because it’s very effective. I feel very punished. But it’s the worst because I really completely hate it. But it’s good punishment. Ah.” His hands are on his knees, and he’s scrunching up the fabric of his robes between his fingers. “Sect Leader. Please.”
Lan Qiren closes his eyes, and takes a long, resolute sip of his tea. Wei Wuxian is quivering at the thought of being put alone in a room with Jin Zixuan for any sustained period of time, quietly waiting for his strikingly calm teacher to hopefully take pity on him.
The teacup is empty when he finally puts it down, and speaks.
“You… you will be good to Wangji. Okay?”
He’s visibly in anguish, but the words are still spoken. Lan Qiren strokes his beard for something to ground himself with. “You must not be promiscuous. You must not engage in debauchery. You must not be haughty or complacent. And you must not argue with your family. Within familial matters, winning and losing are irrelevant. Okay, Wei Ying?”
He’s talking to me about family. “Okay, uncle.”
He abruptly stops stroking his beard with his hand at the new title. Under his breath, Lan Qiren mutters. “I think I should stop having tea with guests…”