The sun was shining bright through the wide windows, Lan WangJi’s brush was making quiet soothing sounds when it touched the paper in soft, but confident strokes, the smell of old scrolls mixed with a weak one of sandalwood was filling the air of the spacious Library, and Wei WuXian was dying.
It was the thirteenth day of the punishment he had to endure being watched by The Most Boring Person Ever and the fourth hour of Wei WuXian not being able to produce a single sound out of his mouth, because it had been sealed by the aforementioned person after Wei WuXian had tried to brighten the day with one or two innocent jokes.
And now he was dying.
One might think, that Wei WuXian was dying of boredom, but it was not true. The Gusu Lan sect young cultivator was indeed boring. But Wei WuXian had never been bored when he got to engage with Lan WangJi in mostly one sided conversations. In fact, Wei WuXian was having the time of his life trying to break through that veil that made Lan WangJi this way. Truly, he probably was just too uptight trying to follow all those thousands of rules of the Cloud Recesses. He couldn’t possibly really be like that, could he? It definitely couldn’t be healthy.
So Wei WuXian was not really dying of boredom, but more because all the words he should’ve said during the last four hours were piling up in his throat having no opportunity to escape, and instead suffocating him with the almost unbearable need to speak.
Aside from the hours he usually spent on sleep this now was probably the most he had ever gone without saying a single word.
Wei WuXian had tried writing his apologies on paper, shoving them under Lan WangJi’s nose, but they all ended up being crumpled and thrown on the floor the same way it had been each of the previous days.
He had even sat through the whole hour straight filling in empty scrolls with the so hated ― and truly so unnecessary ― rules of the Cloud Recesses, as he had been sent here to do, hoping that Lan WangJi would see his hard work and release the seal on his mouth.
But it seemed like it was not enough for Lan WangJi to forgive Wei WuXian, and so there he sat, looking at the abandoned brush lying before him on the low table with the agony of a person, who had been forcefully left alone with all the words he had never liked storing on his mind and on his tongue for longer than it took to spell them out loud.
There still were hours until the day was over, Wei WuXian could no longer focus enough to hold a brush in his fingers, and Lan WangJi was doing a good job completely ignoring his desperate moans.
Wei WuXian sighed heavily through his nose, trying to convey all his disapproval of Lan WangJi’s coldness through this sound alone, and picked up one of the crumpled papers from the floor.
Lan WangJi’s brush stopped its movement for a short moment, a pair of light-colored eyes followed Wei WuXian’s hands, when he was straightening out the paper, but soon returned to Lan WangJi’s own writing.
Feeling inspired by the silent permission, that most likely was simply a disinterest to whatever Wei WuXian was doing as long as he was not creating noise or bothering Lan WangJi with his ridiculousness, Wei Wuxian quickly finished with ridding the paper of the most prominent creases, and started folding it now more deliberately. A few moments and skilled movements of the thin fingers later, and a paper rabbit was seated on the way of Lan WangJi’s brush, making it stop on its way.
Lan WangJi spared it a glance and then lifted his eyes to meet Wei WuXian’s. Wei WuXian smiled brightly and leaned back, holding himself by his palms set on the floor behind him.
“What is this?” Lan WangJi asked.
Wei WuXian waved his hand in front of his own face, pointing on his closed lips, and shook his head, bringing his hair to even more of a mess than it had been when he had been tugging at it and digging his fingers in it trying to rid himself of at least some of the frustration the inability to speak had brought him.
Lan WangJi frowned and moved his hand slightly. Immediately the seal on Wei WuXian lips was released and he gasped and laughed happily.
“How it is truly unkind of you, letting me suffer for so long, Lan Zhan!” Wei WuXian whined leaning forward. “You can’t really hate the sound of my voice that much, I have never received any complaints before!”
Lan WangJi looked at him in discontent and his eyebrows moved even closer to one another forming a frown.
“Lan Zhan, no girl will choose to love you if you keep frowning like that!” Wei WuXian went on, feeling as the tension was finally leaving his body with every word coming out of his mouth. “Such a waste of a pretty face such as yours.”
“I will make you stop talking once again, if you keep spilling nonsense,” Lan WangJi answered flatly, and tilted the brush in his fingers to poke the end of it against the paper figure standing in front of him. “What is this?” he repeated his question from before.
“It is a rabbit, of course, as if you can’t see it with your own eyes,” Wei WuXian answered with a smile, propping his chin on one of his hands he put on the table. He reached to the paper rabbit with his free hand and pressed softly on one of the folds with his finger. The rabbit made a short and sloppy jump and landed on the open inkwell, that resulted in the rabbit being half soaked with black ink almost the next moment.
Wei WuXian laughed seeing a displeased expression on Lan WangJi’s face, and chose to interpret it in a way, that would let him create more mischief.
“Don’t worry, Lan Zhan, I will make you a new one!” He reached to another crumpled paper on the floor ― there was no lack of them there ― ignoring Lan WangJi’s usual ‘Pathetic’. “I might even make more, if you ask me nicely!” Wei WuXian quickly folded the paper into another rabbit and placed it on the table. “We can make them together, sure it will be faster, and then we can both learn the names of our destined ones.”
Wei WuXian rose on his knees and crawled around the table to where most of the crumpled papers were lying. He missed the slight change in expression on Lan WangJi’s face, when he was collecting several papers at once, but heard the question said in a tight voice.
“What is it you are talking about?”
With an armful of crumpled papers, Wei WuXian contemplated for a moment returning to his own seat, and decided to stay where he was. He quickly started working with the paper, folding it in small rabbits one by one, setting them on the floor around him.
“Don’t tell me you don’t know the legend, Lan Zhan. Surely such an educated person should know all the legends of the world.”
Wei WuXian finished another rabbit, put it on his palm, flicked the fold on its back with his finger and sent it to a jump that ended on Lan WangJi’s lap. Wei WuXian laughed and slapped his own thighs at the look of surprise and displeasure on Lan WangJi’s face, when he lifted the paper figure from his lap by the hold of two of his fingers on the paper ears, and put it to the side with such a look, as if Wei WuXian had offered him to pet a snake.
“This legend says, that every soul came to this world along with the one matching it, and only if they find each other during their lives, will they find love in one another and achieve happiness together,” Wei WuXian declared. “And if one wants to learn the name of the matching soul, should they fold one thousand paper figures, and when the last one is done, the name will be revealed.”
Another rabbit landed on Lan WangJi’s lap, and he brushed it away with his hand.
“No such legend exists. You are lying.”
Wei WuXian finished folding the paper he gathered from this part of the floor, and he stood, walking past Lan WangJi and sitting down at the other side of him, picking up the papers from the floor there.
“But, Lan Zhan, I never lie. All I say I truly believe in. I thought, you should know that by now. We are already so familiar, after all.”
“We are not,” the usual answer followed, and Wei WuXian just laughed joyfully, not stopping the work of his fingers on paper.
“Wouldn’t you want to know the name of the one who is destined for you?” Wei WuXian asked, but Lan WangJi just turned abruptly from him and returned his attention to his writing.
“You are letting unimportant things distract you, instead of focusing on your studies. That is truly pathetic,” he said, taking his brush in his hand again, and not sparing Wei WuXian another glance.
Wei WuXian rose on his knees and crawled the short distance to Lan WangJi.
“How is it that being reunited with your true soulmate might be less important than anything else, Lan Zhan?” Wei WuXian leaned on the table, looking up at Lan WangJi’s face, holding down a laugh, that threatened to burst through his already wide smile. “Or are you not interested in love at all, hm, Lan-er- gege ?” he asked in a teasing tone and raised his palm with the last folded rabbit sitting on it right under Lan WangJi’s nose.
For a short moment and as an involuntary reaction on something appearing too close to the one’s face, Lan WangJi’s eyes focused on the paper figure in front of him, both eyes moving a bit too close to the middle, that resulted in Lan WangJi’s face making a look, that Wei WuXian found especially funny. He dropped the rabbit, and fell on his back on the floor, laughing and gripping his stomach with both of his hands.
The sound of the brush thrown on the table was his only warning, before the so familiar “Get out!” followed, and Wei WuXian practically rolled down the stairs of the Library, still laughing.
The next day, when he returned to the Library, the paper rabbits he had folded had been already disposed of and Lan WangJi was even colder than before. Wei WuXian kept folding rabbits every day he had to sit in the Library when he had a spare moment after finishing the necessary writing of the rules, but Lan WangJi ignored every and each of his comments on the matter.
Wei WuXian left the Cloud Recesses before he managed to fold one thousand rabbits, not that he really aimed for it.
Years later the YiLing Patriarch was killed by his shidi in LuanZang Hill.
More years later he opens his eyes to the unfamiliar surroundings and hears,
“Stop playing dead!”
Wei WuXian is waiting for Lan WangJi to return to his jingshi, mulling over the possible ways he might use to flee the Cloud Recesses as soon as possible, when he finds a hidden compartment under one of the floor panels.
It is filled with several jars of Wei WuXian’s favorite wine and numerous small paper figures that after a closer look turn out to be folded in the shape of flowers. Wei WuXian laughs breathlessly to himself at Lan WangJi being weird as he is and wasting the place that another one or two jars could fit in for such useless things.
He is too busy drinking the Emperor’s Smile the next moment to give the pile of paper flowers under Lan WangJi’s floor a second thought.
Days later they are in a small inn, sitting on a narrow bed, Wei WuXian’s arm is pressed to Lan WangJi’s chest in attempt to judge from the change of his heartbeats whether the man is lying to him, and he is asking the drunk cultivator all kinds of ridiculous questions, fighting against the laugh that is trying to escape his throat.
“Have you secretly tasted the Emperor’s Smile you hid in your room?”
“Do you like rabbits?”
“Have you ever violated any rules before?”
“Have you ever liked anyone?”
It goes uphill from this point, Wei WuXian attempts to figure out who the mysterious person might be, and laughs silently at the heated gaze Lan WangJi is directing towards the Bichen in Wei WuXian’s hands.
The unexpected answer to his last question reminds him of his joke from the days when they both were studying in the Cloud Recesses, and he presses the palm of his free hand against Lan WangJi’s chest, asking with a teasing smile,
“What were the paper flowers hidden under your floor? HanGuang-Jun, have you been trying to fold a thousand of them to learn the name of your beloved?”
Wei WuXian wants to tease the cultivator, but he is taken aback by a sharp look in the light eyes, when Lan WangJi raises his head to face him.
Wei WuXian jumps to his feet and slaps his thighs in amusement. What a romantic hides behind such an inexpressive face! And flowers, of all things! Lan Zhan, who could’ve thought!
“Tell me, Lan WangJi, was the name revealed to you?” Wei WuXian asks, attempting to sound serious, but a smiles sneaks its way on his face nonetheless. He holds his breath, awaiting an answer, and when Lan WangJi answers “Yes”, drops himself back on the bed.
He moves closer to Lan WangJi, pressing their shoulders together, and looks in his eyes with a teasing smile.
“And you treated me so skeptically when I was folding my rabbits, Lan Zhan! It was so cruel of you. Surely, you could’ve said something to me if you did believe in this legend. We could’ve been folding our respective figures side by side, wouldn’t that be fun?”
Lan WangJi doesn’t answer anything and just keeps looking at Wei WuXian with such a sharp attention, that Wei WuXian finds himself moving further away from the other man. Is Lan Zhan angry with me? No, if he was angry he would definitely says so, he always demonstrates it in a less subtle way.
“So, who is the lucky girl, Lan Zhan? Tell me the name, so I can congratulate her when I meet her.”
Lan WangJi keeps his eyes on Wei WuXian’s face for another moment, without answering anything. He then reaches inside his sleeve and pulls a crumpled paper out of it that only vaguely resembles one of the flowers Wei WuXian saw in the hidden compartment under Lan WangJi’s floor.
“Is it the final flower you folded, Lan Zhan?” Wei WuXian asks with interest, looking at the worse for the wear paper flower on Lan WangJi’s palm. “It looks like it has seen better days. How long ago did you fold it, Lan Zhan, and why are you keeping it on yourself? Is the name of your destined one written inside?”
It is too many questions for Lan WangJi in his drunken state to process, and he frowns deeply looking down at the paper flower, and his lower lip quivers a bit as if he is pouting, like small kids usually do. He turns to Wei WuXian again and tries placing the flower in his hair, as probably a little revenge for that flower Wei WuXian drew on top of Lan WangJi’s head in his drawing all those years ago, but the flower doesn’t hold, making Lan WangJi’s expression darken.
Wei WuXian laughs lightly and reaches to grab the flower, but Lan WangJi quickly moves his hand to press the flower to his chest, adding even more creases to the already worn out figure, his eyes widen as if in fear, and he stands up abruptly, walking away from the bed and Wei WuXian, and stops, turning his back to him, as if to protect the flower in his hands.
“Oh, please, Lan Zhan, don’t be like that!” Wei WuXian stands from the bed and walks to the other cultivator. “Aren’t we familiar enough that you can share such pleasant news with me?”
Lan WangJi doesn’t answer or react in any way, and Wei WuXian tugs his sleeve lightly.
Lan WangJi seems to hunch himself even more, and Wei WuXian walks around him trying to catch his look.
“I will die of my curiosity killing me, Lan Zhan, if you don’t tell me. I died once, I sure don’t want to repeat that. Do you want me to die, Lan Zhan? You can’t be so cruel, and here I thought you missed me.”
Lan WangJi flinches lightly, but his face is still impossible to read. He puts the flower back inside his sleeve and throws a glance at Wei WuXian.
“You haven’t finished the rabbits.”
“You haven’t finished folding one thousand rabbits.”
Wei WuXian understands suddenly.
“You want me to show you my final rabbit with the name of the one destined for me and you will show me your flower in return?”
“But it is one thousand rabbits! It will take me so long, Lan Zhan. The curiosity will kill me before I finish!”
“Not one thousand. Only forty seven.”
“What? Why forty seven?”
Lan WangJi’s expression changes slightly and he looks at Wei WuXian almost with disappointment.
“You have folded nine hundred fifty three already. So only forty seven.”
For a short moment Wei WuXian finds himself in the uncommon state (for him) of being at a loss for words. Did Lan Zhan counted all the rabbits I was folding back then? And he even remembers the number! I couldn’t possibly have folded that many of them, could I?
Wei WuXian smiles, squeezes Lan WangJi’s shoulders briefly and walks to where his small travelling bag is lying on the floor in the corner.
“Then I will do it now! And you will have to show me the name of your soulmate, HanGuang-Jun! I even have some empty scrolls I can spare for such a task. It won’t take much time, just give me a moment.”
“What? Why not?” A hand grabs Wei WuXian by the back of his robe and tugs him toward the bed. “What are you doing, Lan Zhan, I must fold the rabbits!”
“It is nine. You must sleep.”
Lan WangJi shoves him on the bed tapping that place on his back again, and Wei WuXian freezes, his body is numb and not able to move.
“But I won’t be able to sleep, Lan Zhan!” Wei WuXian whines, but Lan WangJi ignores him, arranging his body in a position appropriate for sleeping and lies down beside him after carefully tucking in the blanket on Wei WuXian’s side.
“You will. Rest.”
Wei WuXian tries to argue more, but after Lan WangJi almost unties his clothes, misinterpreting his pleas, he forces his mouth shut and after some struggle finally falls asleep.
He dreams of rabbits and flowers.
Wei WuXian doesn’t get a chance to fold the remaining forty seven rabbits after this. He gets just a few done the next day and then they are once again on a move. He almost forgets about the rabbits and the flower, hidden in the folds of Lan WangJi’s clothing, but days later Wei WuXian again finds himself in the already familiar situation of tending to a drunk Lan WangJi.
Except that this time it is even more ridiculous and confusing than the first time, Wei WuXian’s wrists are tied together with Lan WangJi’s forehead ribbon, they are playing hide-and-seek like small children, and Lan WangJi demands of him to place small licks and kisses on his hands.
Wei WuXian asks him questions again. “Have you burnt any paper money for me?”, “How did you know it was me?”, but doesn’t receive any answers. Lan WangJi is not looking at him, his half-lidded eyes are fixed on the hand Wei WuXian is still holding in his own. “What is the name of your soulmate?”
No answer. Lan WangJi tugs his hand from Wei WuXian’s grip and closes his eyes.
After that it is a blur of a sudden short kiss, two pairs of wide eyes, attempts to loosen the tight knots of the ribbon on Wei WuXian’s wrists with his teeth, and some time spent on flattening the ribbon, ridding it of the creases, all the while Lan WangJi is lying unconscious or in sleep on the bed.
Wei WuXian silently curses himself for stepping over the line and being that disrespectful to Lan WangJi. He fishes out a couple of empty scrolls from his bag, and tears the paper in smaller pieces, almost absentmindedly starting to fold them into familiar forms. Lan WangJi gave me the condition, but I ignored it and still pried into his personal matters. Surely he would be angry with me now. His soulmate is waiting for him somewhere, and I am mocking him with the kisses. This was too much even for me. What was I thinking?..
He folds one rabbit after another, not counting and not bothering to put them in any order, and just letting them fall out of his hands on the floor as soon as he is finished with each of them. This is the least I can do in such a situation. I will finish the rabbits and will give Lan WangJi the one with the name of my soulmate. Good thing that he won’t remember what happened, but it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do anything to make amends for what I did.
Wei WuXian finishes another rabbit, and starts working on the next. He wants to drop it as soon as he is done, but the paper figure in his hand suddenly flashes with blue light, and Wei WuXian can see the edge of hanzi , mostly hidden in the folds of paper, that until now was completely bare of any writing.
He hurries to unfold the rabbit to read the name, but stops himself. He still feels guilty, so he takes the rabbit and walks to the bed, putting it and the ribbon beside the pillow. He fixes Lan WangJi’s position to the official one of the Lan Sect, and lowers himself on the floor, leaning with his back to the bed.
He doesn’t want to sleep, but he dozes off finally.
He has no dreams this time.
Wei WuXian wakes when someone lifts him up and places him on the bed. He opens his eyes slightly and sees Lan WangJi’s face. The ribbon is on its rightful place around his forehead, and Wei WuXian turns his head to look at where he placed the paper rabbit near the pillow last night. The rabbit is still there as if no one has touched it, and Wei WuXian takes it in his hand and sits on the bed, facing Lan WangJi.
“There, HanGuang-Jun, I finished my rabbits, this one is the one with the name.” Wei WuXian holds the rabbit on his palm and hands it to Lan WangJi, but the man doesn’t make any move to take it, just looks at it with a slight frown between his eyebrows. “Take it, Lan Zhan, you can do the honors and be the first to see the name of my destined one.”
Lan WangJi’s eyes widen and he meets Wei WuXian’s gaze.
“You haven’t opened it?”
Wei WuXian smiles widely and shakes his head. “I trust you to do it for me, Lan Zhan.”
Lan WangJi is looking at him with his light eyes, and for a moment Wei WuXian feels as if this gaze is reaching his very soul. He shivers and blinks, and the feeling is gone.
“No,” Lan WangJi says simply and turns away.
“What? Why not, Lan Zhan? But you promised to show me yours if I show you mine!” This sounds bad even for Wei WuXian’s ears, and he is not even surprised to see a faint blush on Lan WangJi’s face.
“I have no idea what you are talking about.”
Lan WangJi is now looking sharply at Wei WuXian, and he belatedly remembers, that this promise was given when Lan WangJi was drunk, and he must have no memories of the agreement they had.
Wei WuXian slaps his own forehead with his free hand. “You were drunk, Lan Zhan, you don’t remember. You showed me the flower with the name of your soulmate that you carry on you, and I offered to tell you the name of my soulmate in exchange of you telling me the name of yours. It is a fair trade, isn’t it, Lan Zhan? See, I haven’t even looked at the name revealed to me myself.”
“I showed you the flower?!” Lan WangJi stands abruptly from the bed and walks aways, stopping in almost the same pose he was in last night ― his back to Wei WuXian, and the hand pressed against his chest.
“You did. I was surprised you would carry this flower on you, and there are so many flowers under the floor of your jingshi. This girl must mean so much to you, Lan Zhan. Have you met her already?”
Lan WangJi doesn’t answer, and the hand on his side clenches into a tight fist.
“You should open it yourself,” Lan WangJi says quietly.
“Will you tell me what is written on yours if I do?”
There is a moment of silence, and Wei WuXian wants to call for Lan WangJi again, but the man turns and says in a suddenly soft voice,
Something flickers in Wei WuXian’s heart at the sound of it, but he dismisses it. He jumps to his feet, suddenly excited and brings the paper rabbit in his hand closer to his eyes. Sure, he wanted for Lan WangJi to open it, but he doesn’t really mind doing it himself. It feels like unwrapping a present, a special one that is meant for him only, and he is laughing quietly in his joy when he is unfolding the rabbit to see the hanzi hidden inside.
The laugh dies on his lips and his eyes widen in shock at the look of two hanzi for ‘Lan Zhan’ in the middle of the unfolded paper. He scratches the hanzi with his nail, even licks his finger and rubs it across the writing, but the hanzi don’t even look like they are written with ink, but more like burnt into the paper. And he did see the blue light coming from the inside of the paper figure with his own eyes yesterday, and the hanzi appearing on the empty paper.
There can’t be any mistake. But it can’t be right either, can it?
He raises his eyes to look at Lan WangJi standing before him, and he is instantly taken aback by the look on the man’s face. The light eyes are piercing through him, searching his face, lips are closed tight, fingers of both hands are clenching around Lan WangJi’s robes by his sides.
Lan WangJi looks nervous. Wei WuXian can swear he has never seen him like that.
Despite the quivering of his own heart and the limbs that suddenly feel like boiled cake , Wei WuXian smiles widely and hands the piece of paper to Lan WangJi. The man takes it, throws one look at it and closes his eyes. The crease between his eyebrows is deep, so that he looks even angry, and Wei WuXian can’t really judge him for that.
If this legend doesn’t allow any mistakes, than it should be Wei WuXian’s own name inside the folds of Lan WangJi’s paper flower, and the man never liked Wei WuXian, just seemingly starting to tolerate him recently compared to how their interactions went before Wei WuXian died. Not to mention Lan WangJi is not a cut-sleeve . Wei WuXian has never considered himself a cut-sleeve either, but who knows how much effect Mo XuanYu’s body he is occupying now can have on his mind. Perhaps… No, no, it doesn’t matter. And Lan WangJi looks so gloomy now, it is probably safer to place a bit more distance between them.
Wei WuXian moves to step farther from Lan WangJi, but the man opens his eyes, and reaches inside his sleeve, taking out the paper flower from it.
“Wei Ying.” His voice is quiet and soft, when he hands Wei WuXian the flower, and Wei WuXian’s heart does this flipping movement again, and he blinks in confusion.
Wei WuXian takes the offered flower, and without trying to prolong the inevitable, carefully unfolds it, and sure the hanzi for ‘Wei Ying’ are written inside in the same burnt-in manner as the ones he saw on the paper that is now in Lan WangJi’s hands.
“Look, HanGuang-Jun, I know you used to hate me and you probably still dislike me now―”
“No.” This is the first time Lan WangJi has ever interrupted him, and Wei WuXian looks up in surprise only to discover that Lan WangJi somehow already crossed the distance between them and is now standing just a step away from him.
Wei WuXian laughs nervously and tries to take a step back, but is caught by hands gripping both of his wrists in a soft but firm grasp, and the paper with his name falls out from his fingers and slides to the floor. Wei WuXian follows its slow fall with his eyes, anything but to meet the disgust that is most definitely pooling now in Lan WangJi’s light eyes.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei WuXian whines and tugs at his hands, but to no avail. He finally raises his eyes, and his own widen at the soft and warm expression on Lan WangJi’s face.
“I do not dislike you, Wei Ying.”
Wei WuXian blinks, and tries to dismiss that weird feeling in his chest again, but this time it doesn’t go away, and Lan WangJi’s fingers burn against the skin on his wrists. I am probably going down with something. Do I have a fever? I must have. This body is probably much weaker when it comes to health than mine was.
“Lan Zhan, I―”
Wei WuXian blinks in surprise, and then blinks again, when Lan WangJi leans a bit down, and the smell of sandalwood fills Wei WuXian senses along with the feeling of fingers around his wrists, thumbs slowly brushing against his pulse points back and forth, the light, almost shining, eyes looking at him warmly, and how is it possible to have such long pretty eyelashes? And is it a smile? It is a smile! He looks so beautiful when he smiles, I wish he would smile more for me… What? No, not for me, I meant it just in general, just smile, yes…
Soft lips touch Wei WuXian’s, and somehow it feels different from that chaste kiss last night, perhaps because this time it is Lan WangJi who is licking against his lips and not the other way around.
Wei WuXian doesn’t remember when he closes his eyes, but he doesn’t need to see.
He tastes of something sweet. It is nice. I might get used to it.
“I have never hated you.”
“Tell me. Have you burnt any paper money for me?”
“I have folded one thousand paper flowers for you.”