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Pretty Things

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng crossed his arms and leaned one shoulder against the frame of the open bathroom door. Although his frown showed clearly in the spotty old mirror above the sink, the bathroom's occupant—his brother and roommate, Wei WuXian—didn't acknowledge him in the slightest. Feeling his frown deepen into a scowl, he watched as Wei WuXian closed his right eye and—carefully and precisely, trying to match the left—drew an eyeliner pencil along the very edge of his eyelid. Even in his sleep, Wei WuXian was restless and prone to rambling. It was only at times like this, when he had a focus for all that energy bottled up inside, that he could be still and quiet. It would be a relief if he wasn't ignoring Jiang Cheng so thoroughly.

“You're dressing up like that again?”

Frustratingly, he finished up with the eyeliner before answering. “I get better tips like this.”

He turned his head back and forth, eyes fixed on his own reflection as he checked for symmetry. Satisfied, he capped the eyeliner and dropped it back into the small pouch which sat on the counter. As his brother rummaged around in the bag, the cosmetics rattled together with a sound that Jiang Cheng instinctively categorized as feminine. Still mostly ignoring him, Wei WuXian pulled out a tube of mascara and applied it with an expert hand. It wasn't exactly a new hobby, although, in the past, he had usually only gotten...dressed up in such a fashion for bar hopping or clubbing. The fact that his manager actually allowed this was still hard for Jiang Cheng to believe.

“I thought this bar was a more upscale place. They're really okay with you showing up like that?”

“Why wouldn't they be?” Wei WuXian finally met his eyes in the mirror, looking honestly perplexed. “It suits me, don't you think?” He grinned, bright and earnest, and twirled, still holding the mascara.

The thing was...he was right. It did suit him. Jiang Cheng took in everything—from the lively red of his nails, to the way he had braided and wrapped his hair in twin buns, leaving his bangs to curl becomingly over his cheeks, to the red silk of his calf-length silk cheongsam with black chrysanthemums blooming over his right shoulder and down the split on the left side of the skirt, to his shapely, shaved legs. And what tied it all together was the way he carried himself. Wei WuXian smiled impishly, pleased to know he was right, that he looked good, and that others would agree. Doubtless, he would be out drinking until the early hours as patrons vied to buy him drinks after the end of his shift.

Seeing that Jiang Cheng wasn't going to answer him one way or the other, Wei WuXian once again turned his back. He traded out his mascara for lip gloss, and leaned in close to the mirror, lips parted as he applied one of his more conservative choices—a petal pink more noticeable for its shimmer than the faint hint of color it added.

“You're going to end up attracting weirdos again,” Jiang Cheng warned.

Wei WuXian laughed. It made his nose scrunch up and his eyes sparkle. “Who am I going to meet that could be weirder than me?” Still smiling, he gave his makeup another once-over, fluffed his bangs, then paused, a considering look on his face.

“Oh. But there was one weird customer last night....”

Feeling his lip curl, Jiang Cheng uncrossed his arms and took a step forward, all the small space would allow. “I can come pick you up tonight. If the guy comes back—”

Again, Wei WuXian only laughed at him. “Jiang Cheng, you're too serious! The only danger from this customer is being completely disapproved of! I don't think I'll ever see him there again. He'll probably go out of his way to avoid me even on campus!”

“Wait...this was someone you know?”

“Yup!” He tossed the lip gloss back into his makeup case and shoved it into its resting place in the back corner of the sink, then turned with laughter bubbling just beneath his smile. “You know him too. Guess who it was.”

“You and I have too many friends in common,” Jiang Cheng groused. “Just tell me.”

“He would be furious to hear you call me his friend!” As delighted as if he'd just heard the most hilarious joke, Wei WuXian clapped his hands together and laughed. “It was Lan Zhan!”

Him?”

Jiang Cheng didn't much care for the guy, but he winced in sympathy. Wei WuXian could be hard on anyone's sensibilities, but the Lan family was particularly strict, and none were as strict as the youngest son of the clan leader. Even as he realized that it must have been a huge shock to Lan WangJi's mind, Wei WuXian burst in on his thoughts with another bout of laughter.

“You should have seen the look on his face! I've never seen his eyes go so wide! Poor Lan Zhan was seated in my section, so of course I made sure to give him extra special attention!”

Jiang Cheng groaned. “You idiot. The way you're always flirting with everyone, if you tease him like that you'll probably push him over the edge. How would someone like him know how to respond?”

“Ugh! He really doesn't have any idea what to do. He's so stiff!”

Wei WuXian slipped past him out of the bathroom, and Jiang Cheng followed the scant few steps to his tiny bedroom. The apartment they shared was cramped, and would be completely unsuitable if they hadn't spent their entire lives at each other's side and learning to live with each other's temperaments. As Wei WuXian began searching around the bottom of his closet, Jiang Cheng stood near the door, listening to him go on.

“I made sure to stop and chat with him often. He can't complain the service was lacking! But all he ordered was the simplest dish on the menu, and a glass of water. Just water! We're a bar, Jiang Cheng! People come to us to drink! Yes, the food is tasty, and yes, it's upscale and we have a nice atmosphere, but a bar is a bar!”

At last, he found what he was looking for. With one hand braced on the wall, he bent over and tugged on a pair of black, two inch heels. He added a trio of black and red glass bangle bracelets that tinkled around his wrist, then tugged on a well-worn black hoodie a size too large for him. The total effect of the baggy hoodie over the clinging silk made him seem smaller, almost delicate. Jiang Cheng grimaced.

“I feel like I'm looking at a trap waiting to be sprung. I take back my concern about you running into any weirdos. Anyone foolish enough to try something with you won't know what hit him.”

Wei WuXian might be pretty, and he might enjoy wearing heels and dresses every now and again, but he had a tongue like razor wire, and was a skilled martial artist far stronger than he looked. Although his get up screamed 'cute and defenseless,' anyone looking to take advantage would certainly be taught a swift and painful lesson.

Still....

“If you run into anyone especially weird, call me.”

“Ha ha. I think I'll take my chances with the deviants rather than wake you in the middle of the night.” As he brushed by on his way out, he laid a hand heavily on Jiang Cheng's shoulder. “Don't wait up!” he whispered, and gave him a peck on the cheek.

“You—!” Feeling an unpleasant chill run down his spine, Jiang Cheng would have thrown something had there been anything at hand to throw. He settled for shouting: “Get lost!” as Wei WuXian hurried out the door, laughing.

 

Chapter Text

Wei WuXian hadn't been working for more than ten minutes when he saw that a familiar face had been seated at one of his tables. He froze in his tracks, gaping. Lan WangJi had actually returned!

While The Lotus Pier was a bar, it wasn't anything like the dives Wei WuXian was used to actually drinking in. The entire restaurant was gold and glass and soft shadows, open and expansive with a glossy, dark wood bar running along two walls, and small tables set out with creamy linen and glittering tealights. Amidst the warm, low lighting, Lan WangJi's usually icy appearance was softened somehow, from cold jade to ivory. His pale eyes were fixed on the menu, but as Wei WuXian started to hurry off to bring the drinks one of his other tables had ordered, he could have sworn that Lan WangJi's gaze had risen to settle directly upon him. He felt it between his shoulder blades, sending a shiver down his spine.

The table he was bringing drinks to cheered his arrival, reaching out both for the glasses he handed around, and to welcome him into their already tipsy circle. More than one glass was thrust back in his direction as they urged him to drink with them, but Wei WuXian merely laughed and teased and suggested that he would be free to join them for a drink or two at the end of his shift...if they would still be celebrating by then...?

His response was greeted by cheers and accepted as a dare, and he grinned as he left them. This table would be spending quite a lot before they were done, and tipping big. He liked groups like that—full of high spirits and compliments—and he saw such customers nightly, both male and female. Wei WuXian would flirt and grin and laugh, and the time until the end of his shift would fly by.

Lan WangJi on the other hand....

What is he doing back here again? Wei WuXian wondered. Wasn't the shock bad enough last time that he shouldn't ever have wanted to set eyes on me again?

Thinking that, since the opportunity had presented itself, he wouldn't hesitate to have some fun, Wei WuXian grinned as he approached Lan WangJi's table.

“Lan Zhan! Welcome back to The Lotus Pier! Was the food so good that you had to have it again so soon? Or were you charmed by the service?” He batted his eyes as Lan WangJi looked up at him, but there was no change in that serene expression.

“I will order.”

“Yes, yes!”

Wei WuXian moved to press close beside him so that his warmth bled through their clothes as he peered at the menu. Unsurprisingly, Lan WangJi jerked away, and Wei WuXian had to be quick not to let his stumble become a fall. He played it off, even as he caught Lan WangJi looking at him from beneath his lashes.

“What would Second Brother Lan like to eat tonight?”

“This,” he said, indicating the same dish on the menu that he'd had the night before. “And water.”

“Lan Zhan! Don't be so boring! Haven't you already tried that? What about the special for today? What about this dish here? I can personally guarantee that it's really tasty. The chef adds lots of spice.”

“This,” he said again, pointing.

“At least order a proper drink to go with it. We're a bar, after all.”

“Alcohol is forbidden.”

Wei WuXian could not help rolling his eyes. “Maybe that's only when you're at home? Shouldn't you be allowed to drink when you go out? What about for celebrations?” A suspicion struck him, and he leaned down far enough to grin up into Lan WangJi's face. “Could it be that you aren't supposed to be here at all? Lan Zhan, I'm impressed! Congratulations on this rebellion! I'll go put your order in now, and I'll tell the chef to make it extra special for you!”

He whirled, feeling the dress flutter around his legs, and rushed off toward the kitchen before Lan WangJi could make any protest.

Aside from dropping off a glass of water, Wei WuXian allowed his other tables to keep him occupied until Lan WangJi's food was ready. It wasn't that he was avoiding Lan WangJi...it was just that the other tables were more fun. Lan WangJi was probably grateful to be spared his presence, anyhow. What in the world had brought him back a second time? Unless he was simply gathering complaints about Wei WuXian's conduct. Was he going to pass down stories so that all the descendants of the Lan clan would shun Wei WuXian and any descendants he might have?

Carrying the steaming dish of food and a pitcher of water to refill Lan WangJi's glass, Wei WuXian put a bit more sway in his hips, and a hint more glee in his smile as he approached the table once more.

“Here you are, Lan Zhan!”

The food he set down was most definitely not what Lan WangJi had ordered. Wei WuXian had requested one of his own favorites, a dish heavy with meat and spicy with peppers. Surely a sumptuous delicacy like this would be a rare treat for the strict second Lan brother.

“Are you sure you don't want even one little drink? Since you've already gone so far as to—”

He broke off as one of his other tables, growing rowdy with drink, started calling for him and waving him over. As he smiled for them and waved to show he was on his way, Lan WangJi reached out suddenly and caught him by the wrist. Wei WuXian blinked at him.

“Lan Zhan?”

“Schedule.”

“What? You have to say more than that if you want people to understand you.”

Lan WangJi looked vaguely affronted, but he said calmly: “What is your schedule?”

Immediately, Wei WuXian's faint smile grew into a smirk. “Trying to make sure you come here when I won't be around? Lan Zhan, you can't complain about the service since you stayed even after seeing me here. And I tried very hard to be so attentive last time, too! You really can't say I ignored you. And here I even upgraded your dinner for free tonight!”

When Lan WangJi did nothing but stare expectantly at him, Wei WuXian finally heaved a sigh and gave in.

“Come only on Mondays and Tuesdays. I work every other night, from afternoon to evening.”

With a nod, Lan WangJi finally released his wrist and turned to his food. He paid no more attention as Wei WuXian hurried off to the group beckoning him.

He really is too strange, Wei WuXian thought. What is it about this place that he likes so much?

He decided not to think too hard about it. It was Sunday already, so after his shift was over, he would only see Lan WangJi during class, and it wasn't as if Lan WangJi ever had attention to spare from the lecture. It was a pity, but it seemed Lan WangJi would soon be back to keeping him at arm's length. And after Wei WuXian had been trying so hard since high school to be friends with him, too!

 

Chapter Text

Friday morning, Jiang Cheng got a call from their sister while Wei WuXian was in class, and was asked to relay her news to him. Friday afternoon, after having texted Wei WuXian the basics right before turning off his phone, Jiang Cheng found himself once again watching as his brother painstakingly applied his makeup.

The bathroom counter was littered with cosmetics and brushes. Wei WuXian had done something to lighten his complexion and bring out the planes of his face. He had painted his lips a striking crimson, and drawn thin lines of a red so dark it was almost black along the edges of his upper eyelids. He was currently adding a lighter red along the lower outside corners of his eyes, scowling at his reflection as he carefully applied the color just so. The gray of his irises was flinty with barely repressed anger.

“She's too good for him,” he said.

“I know.”

“He doesn't deserve her! Not after what he did in high school!”

“He's a rat-faced bastard, I know, but—”

“Our sister deserves someone who will treat her like a goddess! Not that...that...!”

“I know. Believe me, I know. But she loves him, and—for whatever reason—he's gone and proposed, and they are getting married next year. We have to come to terms with that.”

“The hell we do,” Wei WuXian muttered. He practically flung his eyeliner onto the counter. “Where the fuck is my mascara?” His nails were bloody flashes of red as he searched through the scattered cosmetics.

Jiang Cheng sighed. This was why he had turned off his phone immediately after texting Wei WuXian the news that their beloved sister was now engaged to Jin ZiXuan. He'd only turned it back on once his brother had gotten back home, already ranting about the situation. There had been five messages, twice as many missed calls, and too many texts to count—all from Wei WuXian.

“I'll make him sorry he ever looked at shijie the next time I see him,” Wei WuXian swore.

“Don't pick fights,” Jiang Cheng said tiredly.

In his ire, Wei WuXian turned on him. He was righteous fury in an ankle-length cheongsam of black silk that lightened to charcoal and then dove gray at the bottom, embroidered with black plum blossoms, and accented with crimson frogging. He had pulled back only a few locks of hair into a bun tied with a red silk ribbon at the back of his head, but left the rest to hang loose down his back. The red makeup lent even more ferocity to his expression as he demanded: “You think I can't win against him?”

“I think fighting at all would make shijie sad. Think of others' feelings for a change, would you? I'm not happy, either, but you don't see me preparing to rip the man's eyes out.”

Wei WuXian's anger sputtered like a fire splashed with water. He turned back toward the mirror and began applying his mascara.

“Do you see me actually attacking him? I'm getting ready for work, aren't I? It isn't as if I could fight him very well in this, anyhow.”

“Right. Instead of letting your customers buy you drinks tonight, come back home as soon as you're finished. If you're late, I'll come find you. I don't even want to think of what you might do if I leave you unsupervised.”

“Even if I do drink, you don't have to worry about that,” he mumbled, sweeping his cosmetics back into their bag.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

He saw Wei WuXian flinch, and scowled, wondering what secret he was keeping now.... For just a moment, Wei WuXian's shoulders slumped. Then he turned back around, fixing a smile in place, and clasping his hands behind his back.

“Jiang Cheng, did I forget to tell you who I saw again the other night? And then also last night and the night before?”

“Apparently it slipped your mind,” he ground out, just knowing he wasn't going to like what he was about to hear. “Who was it?”

Cocking his head to the side, he batted his eyes with ill-feigned innocence. “You don't want to guess?”

“Just tell me!”

“Ha ha. It was Lan Zhan. He came back Sunday night, and demanded I tell him my schedule. I thought surely he would want to avoid me, but he was back again on Wednesday, so I asked him: 'Lan Zhan, I'm certain I told you only to come on Mondays and Tuesdays, so why is it I find you here tonight? You have no one to blame if you don't like the way I'm dressed, because I told you very clearly—'”

“Is he showing up at your work to harass you?”

Lan WangJi had always been aloof and coldly superior, looking down on Wei WuXian for his unruly manner in a way that never failed to get Jiang Cheng's hackles up. Being annoyed with Wei WuXian was one thing. The way Lan WangJi looked at him was quite another. Even so, he hadn't expected Lan WangJi to ever stoop so low as to go out of his way to make trouble.

“Ah! No, no! You misunderstand! He is a...well, he isn't a model customer, because no matter what, he refuses to order a drink, but he sits quietly and eats his food and just....” Wei WuXian's smile faltered, and he sagged where he stood, fixing Jiang Cheng with an imploring look. “I feel like he's watching me! He always stays until I'm ready to go! These past two nights, he has even offered to drive me home. It's hard to drink and enjoy myself after work with him there, so I've been leaving earlier. So, you see, even if you don't show up, I think Lan Zhan will be there making sure I don't disgrace myself somehow.”

Jiang Cheng frowned at this bizarre story. It wasn't quite harassment, but....

“He hates you, doesn't he? I've always thought so, but this sounds almost like....”

But it couldn't be.

“Anyway, why don't you just have your boss tell him not to come back?”

Wei WuXian actually winced. “You see, the thing is, it isn't uncommon for guests to stay for quite a while and invite me for a drink after my shift.”

“...and? So what? It's not as if—” Jiang Cheng sighed deeply. “You encourage it, don't you? If you're going to dig your own grave, why do you still expect me to bother burying you? Handle your own mess!”

He stormed off to the living room and turned on the TV, ignoring Wei WuXian's accusations of heartlessness as they trailed after him and slowly faded out into put-upon sighs. He listened to the sounds of his brother moving through the apartment as he finished getting ready. Soon, Wei Wuxian was heading for the door, oversized hoodie hanging past his hips, and a backpack over his shoulder.

“What's in the bag?”

“A change of clothes, ski mask, bat with nails in it for when I hunt down that bastard Jin ZiXuan.”

“Just a change of clothes?” Jiang Cheng confirmed.

Wei WuXian rolled his eyes so dramatically that his head followed the motion as he slumped like a puppet with cut strings. “Just a change of clothes.”

“Stop pouting. You've got to learn to live with this.”

He grumbled, but made no argument as he left.

 

Chapter Text

Lan WangJi was already there when Wei WuXian arrived for work. He was waiting to be seated, despite the fact that there was no line, and a number of empty tables. Rolling his eyes, Wei WuXian called shortly to him to follow, and personally led him past the confused hostess to an empty table for two.

“Sit. This one is in my usual section. I'll clock in and bring you water.”

He thought he saw, just for a moment as he turned away, a look of surprise on Lan WangJi's face. A slight widening of his eyes, an easing of the set of his jaw.

I suppose he isn't used to waiters barking orders at him. He rushed to the back to clock in and slip off his coat. Before going back out, he took a moment to put on a smile. It wasn't going to be possible to banish the day's horrible news from his thoughts, but he could at least try to act like his usual self around the customers. He made a brief stop in at the kitchen to put in Lan WangJi's usual order before bringing him a glass of water, and then his night began in earnest.

Fridays were always busy, and this night was no exception. Wei WuXian found himself distractedly grateful for it, as it helped keep his mind off of the—he didn't even want to think it—the...engagement between Jiang YanLi and Jin ZiXuan. Thankfully, no one noticed that not everything was sunshine and rainbows as usual. Well, probably no one noticed. As he stopped by Lan WangJi's table to refill his water, he was caught when their eyes met.

“Wei Ying. You....”

“I...?” he prompted. When Lan WangJi didn't seem inclined to say anything more, Wei WuXian sighed and forced a smile. “I am very busy tonight, Lan Zhan. Forgive me if I pay you somewhat less attention than normal. Or perhaps that would suit you better? A bit of peace and quiet for once.”

He rushed off without waiting for a response.

Before he knew it, his shift had ended. The bar still had a few hours to go before closing, and a group that had come in long enough ago to be well on their way to roaring drunk was waiting for him to clock out and join the party. Ignoring Jiang Cheng's demand that he come straight home, as well as the feeling of Lan WangJi's eyes fixed on his back, Wei WuXian grinned and ordered a bottle of Emperor's Smile as he joined the group at their table.

“My sister's getting married!” He declared to a round of cheers. “Help me drink to forget!” This request was met with even louder cheers and an uncoordinated raising of glasses for a toast. Wei WuXian tossed back the first of many drinks with more bitterness than satisfaction.


 

“'m not drunk!” he slurred, much later, as someone tugged him off the barstool he was slumped on.

“Closing time,” said a voice near his ear, succinct and soft and undeniable in its command.

His eyes finally focused on the familiar face of the person currently holding him upright, and Wei WuXian slumped a bit more before gathering himself.

“Lan Zhan. I'm fine. I need to go get my things.”

He started toward the breakroom, ignoring the soft footsteps that followed him. Around him, the skeleton crew that closed were sweeping up and pulling registers. He trudged blearily to his locker and pulled out his backpack. Lan WangJi had followed him into the breakroom, but Wei WuXian gave him no warning before pulling out the spare clothes he had brought and beginning to change. Those soft footsteps shuffled hastily, and Wei WuXian laughed to himself as he glanced back to see that Lan WangJi had turned to face the wall.

“Nothing you haven't seen before, Lan Zhan! Just because I like pretty things doesn't mean my bits don't still match yours.”

He laughed at his own words, finding them incredibly funny. Across the tiny space, Lan WangJi muttered something that Wei WuXian didn't have to catch in order to recognize as disapproving.

“Your own fault for following me,” he mumbled.

Wei WuXian had to put out a hand and catch himself against the lockers as he nearly toppled over while slipping out of the dress. Damn heels. He kicked them off and stuffed the dress carelessly into the bag. In its place, he pulled on a pair of charcoal gray skinny jeans, faded down the front of the thighs, and a long sleeved v-neck shirt in a deep, garnet red. He snuggled into his hoodie, and pulled the ribbon out of his hair with a quick yank. Looking down at his bare feet against the cool tile, he realized he had forgotten something important and swore.

“Sneakers,” he muttered. “Damn Jin ZiXuan. 's his fault.”

“Wei Ying?”

“Yeah. I'm decent. You can turn around.”

Bent over, he reached for one of the heels and nearly tumbled face-first onto the floor. Only Lan WangJi's quick reflexes prevented it. Hands set firmly on Wei WuXian's shoulders, he pushed him down into a chair, saying simply: “Sit.”

As Wei WuXian looked on, Lan WangJi retrieved the heels and knelt before him. Gently, he took each of Wei WuXian's feet in turn and slipped the shoes back on. Then Lan WangJi stood and took him by his unresisting hands to draw him to his feet.

“I will drive you home,” he said.

“No thanks.”

With only a slight unsteadiness to his steps, Wei WuXian pushed past him. He picked up his backpack, and left. Lan WangJi followed him, a silent and unwanted presence.

It was cold out, but for the moment, the chill felt wonderful against his skin. Wei WuXian paused to breathe deeply, feeling slightly more awake. He started off opposite the way home, and listened to the sound of footsteps trailing behind.

“I'm not ready to go home,” he said, voice rising as he spoke. The threat of temper did nothing to dissuade Lan WangJi. “I'm fine,” he insisted. And when that didn't work: “Why are you following me?”

Lan WangJi only stopped when Wei WuXian whirled to face him, planting his feet and scowling, arms on his hips. They stared each other down for a long moment. For once, it was Lan WangJi who broke the silence.

“You are upset.”

Throwing his head back, Wei WuXian barked out a laugh.

“You're damn right I'm upset! Did you know...? Lan Zhan, did you hear? My shijie is engaged! She's going to get married, and move all the way across the country, and it's with that brat Jin ZiXuan! What part of him is good enough for her? Huh? He publicly belittled her in high school! Many times! And now he has a change of heart? I don't believe it! Lan Zhan, what can he want with my shijie? I can't believe his motives are pure!”

Having shouted out the troubles gathered in his heart, Wei WuXian spun on his heel and marched off, high heels clacking harshly against the sidewalk. Again, and as he had expected, Lan WangJi followed silently. He walked without a destination in mind, needing only movement to burn off the frustration that had built up once more when he had run out of distractions to smother it. He had always disliked Jin ZiXuan, but his sister's love left him powerless to chase the bastard away. It was too frustrating to bear!

Finally, angry and tired and tired of being angry, he came to a stop and flopped down on a bus stop bench. Lan WangJi paused a moment, then sat down beside him, posture rigidly correct.

Wei WuXian heaved a sigh and wished he had brought a bottle of Emperor's Smile. Now that he'd stopped moving, he just wanted to sleep.

“Maybe I'll move with her when she does...keep an eye on her. And him.”

“No.” Lan WangJi uttered the word with quiet command, and Wei WuXian sighed again.

“Right. You're right, Lan Zhan. It's her life. But why does she have to love him? She isn't blind to his faults, so why?”

There was no answer forthcoming. He leaned his head back, staring up at the roof of the bus stop without really seeing it.

“Lan Zhan...love is terrifying, don't you think?”

“It is...not so bad.”

“Hmmm? Have you ever fallen in love?” He laughed, eyes falling shut. “If you have, I'll be surprised. You know, Lan Zhan, Jiang Cheng once complimented you on your reliability. 'He's nothing if not reliable,' he said. 'You never have to worry about surprises.' Isn't that horrible? What a thing to say. You might not believe me, but I stood up for you, Lan Zhan. I told him that you're very surprising.”

The night air was cold, but the warmth of his hoodie and of Lan WangJi's closeness, the sweet lightness of his drunken state, and the way his body had molded itself to the curve of the bench beneath him all combined to sing to him of sleep, of rest and pleasant dreams.

“Lan Zhan...” he murmured tiredly. “Have you ever fallen in love, Lan Zhan?”

“Mm.”

“Was it scary, Lan Zhan? Were they there to catch you when you fell?”

“It is not scary. If they are well, that is all that matters.”

Wei WuXian felt his smile stretch. “See, Lan Zhan? You're very surprising. I hope they love you. I hope you'll be happy with them.”

“I am happy.”

Wei WuXian didn't respond. He barely stirred when warm, strong arms slipped beneath his legs and behind his back and lifted him from the bench. They had gone nearly a block before he woke from his doze enough to recognize that Lan WangJi was carrying him.

“Wait, Lan Zhan, wait. I can walk. It's embarrassing like this.”

Lan WangJi made no response.

“Lan Zhan....” With a soft sigh, Wei WuXian snuggled closer. “Should at least let me change back into my dress,” he murmured, half asleep. “Won't you be less embarrassed if I can be mistaken for a girl?”

“Wei Ying is Wei Ying,” came the soft response. It was the last thing he heard before finally falling asleep.

 

Chapter Text

“Jiang Cheng.” The whisper of his name was sharp and insistent, cutting through the peace of slumber. Unwilling to wake just yet, he groaned and rolled over, curling into a tight ball beneath his sheets.

Jiang Cheng.” There was more urgency this time, yet, again, he ignored it.

“Jiang Cheng, wake up! I was thinking a lot, and I might have realized something huge, but I can't tell if I'm right or if I'm crazy!”

Seeing that once again a peaceful night's rest was forfeit to his disaster of a brother, Jiang Cheng released his death grip on his pillow and lifted his head, glaring, with an effect, he hoped, like that of some eldrich horror rising from the depths of the sea.

Unsurprisingly, Wei WuXian was oblivious to the wrath held in check only by the last ropes of exhausted sluggishness that his very presence was fast wearing away. “I really need to talk to you about this.”

“Wei WuXian,” he ground out, fierce as a ghoul. “It is—” Glancing over his shoulder, he checked the time on his alarm clock. “—two fifty-two in the morning.” He spoke slowly, carefully enunciating each word in the faint hope that somehow the meaning would sink into his brother's underdeveloped lizard brain. “You do not need to talk to me about shit.”

“No, wait until you hear me out! You won't believe me, but I've been turning this over and over in my head all day, and I can't come up with any other explanation.”

Jiang Cheng deflated with a sigh. “Explanation for what?”

“Well, at first I thought it had to be bullying somehow, right? I mean, what else could it be?”

What are you talking about?” He rubbed his hands over his face rather than strangle his brother.

“Lan Zhan, of course. Keep up. Anyway, then I got to thinking about the rides home, and the other night he even helped me when I was so drunk. Jiang Cheng, I think...I think maybe Lan Zhan doesn't hate me.”

Jiang Cheng gave it a moment. He waited for the uncertain question that ought to follow, that potential realization which was so entirely unbelievable, and yet the only explanation that fit so neatly with Lan WangJi's recent behavior. He waited for Wei WuXian to voice that possibility himself. He gave it a good, solid half a minute.

It was three in the fucking morning, and he did not have the patience for this shit.

And?” he demanded, glowering at Wei WuXian.

“And...what? Aren't you shocked? Isn't that ridiculous? We used to fight almost every time we saw each other. Everyone knows he hates me! What changed? Could I finally be winning him over?” He gasped. “Jiang Cheng, do you think it was the dresses? Is he nicer to girls?”

“You aren't a girl.”

“Well, but, what if he just feels like he has to be a gentleman to match me?”

“Wei WuXian.” Jiang Cheng pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes. “Twenty-four hours ago, he drove your falling-down-drunk, dressed-as-a-boy ass home, and carried you up the stairs. If I hadn't stood in the way, I'm pretty sure he would have carried you to bed and tucked you in. All this despite the fact that you were drunkenly reassuring me that you still liked me best, you weren't running off with him, Jiang before Wang.”

“I said that in front of him?” Wei WuXian squeaked.

Enthusiastically. And he was still reluctant to set you down so you could stumble your own way to bed. I think. At this point. It is safe to assume. That he does not. In fact. Hate you.”

There was, for a glorious minute, blessed silence.

Then:

“But what if—”

“Wei WuXian! If you're so worried that he's just treating you like a girl, then test your fucking theory! Wear one of your regular suits when you go back to work, and see if he acts the same.”

“Jiang Cheng...you are brilliant! This is why I value your guidance so highly!”

“Bullshit!” he shouted as Wei WuXian dashed from his room. “And for fuck's sake, if you wake me up over this again, I'll donate all your favorite clothes to charity!”

 

Chapter Text

Once again, as was fast becoming the norm, Wei WuXian arrived at work only to find Lan WangJi in the reception area, waiting to be seated by him rather than the hostess. If he was surprised to see Wei WuXian dressed in the bar's usual uniform for its male waitstaff—black vest over a crisp, white button down and black dress slacks—it didn't show.

Overflowing with curiosity about how Lan WangJi would react to him that evening, Wei WuXian was all smiles and chatter as he led him to his usual table.

“Lan Zhan, aren't you getting tired of this place? You've been here almost every night, and you always order the same thing, and you always end up with me serving you! Should we try seating you in another section tonight?” Before Lan WangJi could protest—if he even would have—Wei WuXian laughed. “Just kidding, just kidding! See? Here we are at your usual table. I bet you're relieved tonight, aren't you? This place is pretty relaxed about who wears what, so long as it fits within the dress code. We have a few girls who prefer pants and vests, although I'm the only man who will come to work in a cheongsam! Does this suit me, do you think? Somehow, I'm more comfortable in a dress! Doesn't this seem a bit stuffy? Or do you prefer me in men's clothes, no matter if they suit me or not?”

The pause in the flow of his speech was long enough to signal that he expected a response. Eagerly awaiting the verdict, he watched as Lan WangJi's gaze flicked over him before dropping to the tabletop.

“It is fine.”

“From most people, I wouldn't accept such an answer, but since it's you, I'll consider it high praise! Do you even need a menu at this point, or are you having the same thing as always?”

“The usual.”

“Of course, of course! I'll be right back with some water for you, Lan Zhan!” He patted his shoulder and hurried off, greeting other regulars as he went.

There were a few comments about his clothes—joking disappointment from customers, and a few compliments from coworkers. For the most part, however, the night passed like any other. There were still tables that swore to wait for the end of his shift to buy him a drink, and Lan WangJi still ate his meal slowly and silently and waited patiently for Wei WuXian to be finished. Somehow, his presence wasn't quite as off-putting as it had been at first. Wei WuXian remained very much aware of him, but there was far more curiosity than discomfort now. Enough so that, after his shift ended and he had a few drinks with the groups that had been waiting for him, he wandered away from the bar and dropped with tipsy grace into the chair across from Lan WangJi.

“Lan Zhan...why don't you ever drink with me? And don't just say 'It's forbidden,' because I don't believe you. If you can come to a bar, you can definitely have a drink.”

He regarded Wei WuXian solemnly, then said: “It is time to go.”

Heaving a sigh, Wei WuXian leaned back in the chair, letting one arm dangle as he sagged. “You're no fun! Stay just a little longer!”

“You are drunk,” he said, starting to stand up. “I will drive you home.”

Laughter spilled out of Wei WuXian, and Lan WangJi froze in place, watching him.

“Who's drunk? Do you think I've had enough to be drunk yet? You're just trying to get rid of me. Don't feel like you have to wait for me. I can find my way home just fine on my own.” With a wink, he hopped up out of his seat.

“Wait!”

Wei WuXian was brought up short by a hand around his wrist. He looked back over his shoulder, surprised to see Lan WangJi staring at his hand as if unsure how it had come to be there. Hurriedly, he let Wei WuXian go, and was his usual composed self in the blink of an eye.

“I will have a drink with you.”

At once, Wei WuXian brightened up. “You will?” He snatched Lan WangJi's hand and tugged. “Come on! We'll go sit at the bar!”

Although Lan WangJi seemed to follow reluctantly, he did not pull his hand free. He allowed Wei WuXian to lead him from the semi-seclusion of his table to the bustling bar where he managed to snag them a couple of stools. Grinning as he sat, he leaned close to Lan WangJi. In his eagerness, he actually leaned so far forward that he nearly overbalanced, and had to brace himself momentarily with the tips of his fingers against Lan WangJi's thigh.

“What would you like to drink for this exciting first, Lan Zhan? Pick whatever you want! It'll be my treat.”

“Emperor's Smile,” he answered with no hesitation.

“Excellent choice! That one is my favorite!”

“Mm.” He nodded, but Wei WuXian was already turning away to shout the order across the bar.

When their drinks were served up and the bottle left between them, Wei WuXian raised his glass in an invitation to toast. “Since this is your first time drinking, don't go overboard,” he cautioned, secretly thinking that it would be a shame if he didn't get to witness Lan WangJi in a state of drunkenness.

They clinked glasses, and he tossed his back with relish. Lan WangJi took a far more moderate sip, barely a taste by Wei WuXian's standards. It must have been somewhat to his liking, because he followed it up with another small sip. Pleased to see that he might actually enjoy it, Wei WuXian poured himself a second glass. He noticed Lan WangJi frown and rub between his eyes. Then, by the time Wei WuXian had swallowed his wine, his drinking partner had apparently fallen fast asleep.

“Lan Zhan? Hey, Lan Zhan?”

Hardly able to believe his eyes, he set his glass down and reached out, carefully nudging his shoulder. Sure enough, Lan WangJi had dozed off. He snored faintly as he sat slumped on the bar stool, and Wei WuXian covered his mouth to keep a laugh from escaping.

To think that Lan WangJi snored!

“Well, this wasn't at all what I was expecting,” he said softly. “You've surprised me again, Lan Zhan!” Pouring himself another glass, he lifted it in a silent toast, then drank it down. “I feel like I ought to give you something as thanks....”

His wandering eyes caught sight of a pristine cocktail napkin, and he beamed. Pulling a pen out of his pocket, he slid the napkin over and began sketching.

It didn't take him long at all. Even so, before he could finish, Lan WangJi stirred. As he opened his eyes, looking groggy and confused—

Cute! Wei WuXian couldn't help thinking.

—his gaze came to rest on Wei WuXian, and the frown line between his brows smoothed away.

“Did you have a nice nap, Lan Zhan?” Quickly, he tucked the napkin he'd been drawing on into his pocket, planning to finish later. “You really shocked me! Do you know, for all the time I've worked at this bar, after all the people I've gotten drunk with, I've never seen someone who falls asleep right after such a small drink! Your tolerance really isn't good! I think if you'd had the whole glass, I would have had to wake you up like Snow White!”

Almost before he had finished speaking, Lan WangJi picked up his unfinished glass of Emperor's Smile, and drank it down. He then closed his eyes, still sitting perfectly straight on his stool.

“Ah ha ha...Lan Zhan?” When there was no reaction, he reached out and nudged him. “Lan Zhan? I know you aren't sleeping again. You were snoring earlier.”

“...snore. Snore.”

Wei WuXian snorted and then burst into laughter. “That isn't how you imitate snoring! Lan Zhan, didn't you ever pretend to be asleep when you were a kid? Or did you always strictly go to bed when your parents told you to? I bet I can guess which one. You're so serious now, it's no surprise you've always been that way. Open your eyes, Lan Zhan. You aren't fooling me!”

The glare he received was startlingly petulant, and set him off in fits of laughter once more.

“Ah, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan! Who knew you could make an expression like that? You really are secretly adorable, aren't you?”

Lan WangJi huffed and looked away. “Ridiculous.”

“Oh, come on, now! I didn't mean to offend you! How can I make it up to you? Look at me, Lan Zhan! I really want to apologize!”

Lan WangJi stared at him for a long moment as if gauging his sincerity, then said: “Have dinner with me.”

“But you've already eaten. And I had my dinner during my break. Oh! Did you mean next time you come in? Lan Zhan, you know I can't just sit down and eat in the middle of my shift! I can come out for a bit during my break, if you want, but—”

“Tomorrow,” he said, and Wei WuXian was so startled that he had actually interrupted that he fell silent. “You are free after class tomorrow.”

“I.... Yes, but—”

“Tomorrow. Promise.”

“Promise or you'll stay mad at me? Are you sure you aren't drunk, after all?”

Lan WangJi's serious expression didn't change in the least. He didn't look drunk, but the way he was acting was definitely strange compared to his usual self.

“Promise,” he insisted again.

“All right, all right. I promise.”

He had to be drunk. There was no other explanation. Wei WuXian grinned, shaking with quiet laughter. What kind of person took two sips, fell asleep, then woke up drunk, but looked normal? Only the exceptional Lan WangJi. He smirked at Lan WangJi, who was still watching him with an expression of placid contentment.

“You sure you'll remember this tomorrow?” he asked.

“I will remember.”

Lan WangJi's gaze felt very intense suddenly, and Wei WuXian had to turn away. He busied himself with pouring another drink, pleased to know that he had been proven right. Lan WangJi didn't hate him after all!

 

Chapter Text

As he was getting ready to leave for his night class on Monday, Jiang Cheng hesitated, then turned back to check on his brother. He'd been hearing a lot of chatter despite there being no one to answer except for Wei WuXian himself, and he wanted to see for himself what effect being asked out by Lan WangJi was having on his brother's mind.

As usual, Wei WuXian hadn't bothered to close his door all the way. Jiang Cheng knocked, more as a warning that he was coming in than a request for permission to enter, and pushed the door open wide.

Wei WuXian was frowning at his reflection in a mirror. He wore an ankle-length, broomstick skirt in a deep red, and a soft, black sweater that was a little too long in the sleeves. His hair was still loose, and mussed from what Jiang Cheng suspected had been—based on the amount of discarded clothes everywhere—a lengthy trial-and-error process leading up to his current outfit. He looked up at Jiang Cheng's entrance, and smiled with relief.

“Jiang Cheng!” Spinning around, he held out his arms. “Do you think if I show up like this he'll just tell me to get lost, and shut the door in my face?”

“I think it would take a lot more than that for him to chase you away. Do you have time to do your hair and makeup?”

“Why? What time is—?” He dug his phone out from beneath a pile of jeans and skirts and tops on his bed, and swore. “When did it get this late! Jiang Cheng, why didn't you warn me sooner?”

Hurriedly, he stripped off his sweater and yanked down the skirt, then began frantically digging through piles of clothes in nothing but his underwear and socks.

“Since when is it my job to keep your schedule?”

Wei WuXian didn't even respond. He tugged on a red flannel, fingers flying down the buttons, and over it went a black, long-sleeved top printed with a skeletal rib cage and a posy of flowers in place of a heart. “Simple is best, anyway,” he muttered to himself, pulling on a pair of black jeans long since faded to gray. In moments, he was dressed and combing his fingers through his long hair to tie it back in a loose half bun that left half of it falling down over his neck. He tied a bright red hoodie around his waist, then ducked into his closet, fumbling around until he found—

“Don't wear those stupid fucking heelies on your date!” Jiang Cheng groaned. He'd had the damn things since the beginning of high school. They were grungy, once-upon-a-time red monstrosities that made him somehow twenty-five percent more annoying when he wore them.

Startled, Wei WuXian whirled to stare at him for a moment, then collapsed in a fit of laughter. It took him a good, solid minute to collect himself enough to speak, and he was wiping away tears as he did.

“Jiang Cheng, I know I said he was drunk, but do you really think it's possible for that Lan WangJi to be drunk enough to ask me on a date? It's more likely that corpses would rise! It's more likely that I'd ever approve of Jin ZiXuan! Don't tell anyone I said this, but I think he might be lonely. I don't think he has many friends.”

He couldn't...he could not be this dense. Wei WuXian had come home last night at way-too-fucking-early-in-the-morning, and woken Jiang Cheng up to tell him the whole story. He could not have missed Lan WangJi's intentions. He couldn't have....

How in the hell had he not realized?

Jiang Cheng studied him for a long moment. Just when you thought there could be upper limits to how dense a person could be.... But Wei WuXian really didn't get it. He was a tease, yes, and a flirt, and an annoying little shit who couldn't stand being ignored...but he wasn't cruel. If he knew, he wouldn't be making light of it. Unable to even begin to deal with this, unwilling to step in and point out what had so quickly become glaringly obvious to him, Jiang Cheng glared witheringly at his brother, lip curling in irritation.

“How could it be someone like you? I actually feel sorry for him.”

“What? Jiang Cheng, why do you feel sorry for him? What did I do?” His bed was between them, and he launched himself onto it, crawling to the edge and leaning as far over as he could to call out as his brother walked away. “Jiang Cheng! Shouldn't you be feeling sorry for me? He's the one who made me promise! Why are you on his side? What about me? Jiang Cheng? What about Jiang before Wang!”

“You're adopted!” he shouted, slamming the door shut as he left Wei WuXian to his idiocy.

 

Chapter Text

Wei WuXian had known Lan WangJi long enough to know that 'early to rise, early to bed' was not generally regarded as a suggestion among his family. It had only recently occurred to him that Lan WangJi must be pushing himself to stay so late at the bar almost every night. So, not having been told when to meet up, he'd taken it upon himself to show up at five. That should be plenty early to hang out for a bit and have some dinner, right? And poor Lan WangJi could still get to bed on time.

Pleased with himself for his thoughtfulness, he hummed as he made his way from the bus stop up to the neighborhood where Lan WangJi's home was, alternately walking and gliding along on his heelies. He caught a few strange looks, and wondered if, perhaps, the skeleton shirt had been a bit much for this area of town. Should have gone with the skirt and sweater, after all, he thought with a wry smile. Less flashy.

Soon enough, he found himself walking up the driveway to the Lan house. Although it had been years since he had been there, somehow he had never forgotten the way. Probably because the month he had spent there every afternoon after school to complete a project he'd been partnered with Lan WangJi for had felt like the worst of punishments at the time. It had probably felt that way for both of them, although Lan WangJi had never complained. Maybe he'd considered it beneath him.

Oh, he'd been bossy as all get out, demanding silence and concentration and for Wei WuXian to sit still...but he had never complained, and had never once seemed worried that their grade might be less than perfect. He'd simply trusted Wei WuXian to do the work well...once he could focus on it.

Looking back...maybe it hadn't been that bad.

He was nearly to the door, when it opened unexpectedly, and the older of the Lan brothers, Lan XiChen, stepped out. He stopped when he saw Wei WuXian, equally as surprised.

“Oh!” He collected himself quickly and smiled. Although the brothers had been nicknamed the Twin Jades throughout school, seeing the soft, welcoming expression on his face made him look so different from his standoffish brother.

Although, Lan Zhan is still prettier, Wei WuXian thought. And his personality isn't really all that bad. He's just...awkward with people. But he's very considerate beneath that!

“Wei WuXian, wasn't it?”

“Uh, yeah. Long time, no see. I came to visit Lan Zhan.”

Lan XiChen's smile got brighter. “He'll be happy to see you. Please, come in.” He held the door open, then led Wei WuXian through the small foyer, down a hall, and into the dining room where Lan WangJi was sitting at the table, head bent over a book and a page of notes.

“Brother, you have a guest.”

Lan WangJi looked up, a touch of confusion in his expression, before his gaze settled on Wei WuXian. Astonishment widened his eyes, and he stood quickly and stepped around the table.

“Wei Ying.”

“Here I am!” he proclaimed with a grin. “Just like I promised!”

“Promised?” Just like that, the confusion was back.

“Yeah. Yesterday, you made me promise to have dinner with you tonight.” He cocked his head to the side. “Don't you remember?”

Into the silence that settled between them, Lan XiChen cleared his throat.

“WangJi, I'll be meeting up with some friends, and won't be back until late. You two enjoy your evening.”

He left, barely acknowledged by either. Wei WuXian held back with all his might until he heard the door close, then burst out laughing so hard that he doubled over with it.

“Lan Zhan...! Seriously, you...? You really don't...?”

It took him some time to finish laughing, and when he did, he sank into a chair and grinned up at Lan WangJi's stony frown.

“Ahh, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan...! You were so earnest last night! You reassured me so certainly that you would remember that I was sure this promise was something important! But after all, it was merely the whim of a drunk! Who knew you could be so fickle?”

“...What did I say?”

Wei WuXian gladly repeated the conversation for him, word for word, even going so far as to mimic the way Lan WangJi had leaned closer to him and stared him right in the eye.

“I thought it was strange, Lan Zhan! After all, we're already so close! No need to force a friend to promise to come have dinner with you, when all you have to do is ask!”

Lan WangJi closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath. If Wei WuXian hadn't known any better, he might have thought he was angry...but what was there to be angry about? When he opened his eyes, however, there was no anger there, not the slightest hint of frustration. They were as calm as pools of still water. And then Lan WangJi did something that Wei WuXian had not expected at all. He inclined his head and apologized.

“I am sorry for forgetting our promise.”

“Ah, Lan Zhan...! No, it's okay, really! It's no big deal!” For some reason, seeing him take it so seriously gave him a strange, fluttery feeling. He waved his hands, as if shooing away Lan WangJi's words. “If you have other plans, that's fine, I can easily go—”

No. No, I do not have plans.” He looked down, a frown tugging at his lips. “Not even for...” With a shake of his head, he returned to the place he had been sitting and closed his book. “I was about to begin making dinner. It is no trouble to cook for two.”

Strangely relieved, Wei WuXian couldn't hold back his smile. “Really? You're going to treat me to your very own home cooking?” He clapped his hands suddenly. “Let me help! We can make it together!”

“...you are a guest.”

“An unexpected guest, though! Don't shoulder all the burden yourself!”

Without waiting for permission, he headed for the kitchen, barely catching Lan WangJi's murmured: “Not a burden.” He started opening up cabinets, familiarizing himself with the layout and looking through the store of spices. He found that the kitchen was well-stocked so far as equipment went, but there was a distinct lack in a couple of important areas.

“Lan Zhan, where are the spices?” He peeked into the refrigerator, and called out in horror: “Where's the meat?” Closing the door, he stared at Lan WangJi pleadingly. “What were you going to make?”

Lan WangJi sighed. “We can go to the store.”

Saved! Wei WuXian cheered inwardly as Lan WangJi gathered his coat and keys and led the way out to his car.

The market was only a few minutes' drive away. When they arrived, Wei WuXian hopped out of the car, walking backwards toward the store so that he could continue joking with Lan WangJi. He kept it up inside as Lan WangJi took a basket and began to look for the items on the list they had made on the way over—consisting almost entirely of things Wei WuXian had requested. Every now and again, Wei WuXian tipped his feet up to coast along backwards, coming to abrupt stops anytime something caught his eye. It wasn't long before the basket was full, though they hadn't even gotten everything on the list yet.

“I can't believe your spice rack is so poorly stocked, Lan Zhan,” Wei WuXian said as he rolled slowly toward the end of the aisle. “That's the most important thing in the kitchen! Should I really be prepared to eat your cooking without any worry when you neglect that?”

Lan WangJi had no response. Feeling he'd won, Wei WuXian grinned wider and kicked off to get a bit more speed. Almost immediately, he saw Lan WangJi's eyes widen as he darted forward to grab his arm.

He was just a second too late. Wei WuXian bumped into someone just as Lan WangJi caught his arm and tugged. Stopped abruptly, tipped back onto the soles of his feet, he stumbled forward and collided with Lan WangJi.

“Watch where you're going!”

Wei WuXian looked over his shoulder to see an older man glaring at him.

“Ha ha. Sorry, sorry! I'll be sure to be more careful!”

It was only when the man walked off that he realized he was still pressed up against Lan WangJi's chest, and being steadied by strong hands on his arms. Looking forward, his eyes met Lan WangJi's instantly.

We're almost the same height, he thought absently, noticing, not for the first time, how strikingly pretty Lan WangJi's eyes were.

And then:

I wonder if Lan Zhan has ever held a girl like this.

“Wei Ying. Are you all right?”

“Huh? Yeah, fine.” He pulled away, laughing off his distraction. “Sorry. Didn't mean to throw myself at you like that. What else do we have left to get?”


 

In the end, they returned with far more than they had set out to buy. Lan WangJi paid for all of it, including the bottle of wine Wei WuXian had slipped into the basket. After putting away what they didn't need, they cooked dinner together. Lan WangJi loaned Wei WuXian an apron, and directed him on what to wash and chop as he began to prepare the meat and the rice. Lan WangJi cooked, and Wei WuXian seasoned, leaning around him to add a dash of this, a dash of that into the pan. And even though Lan WangJi was quiet, he seemed content, and even though Wei WuXian did all the talking, he felt welcomed to fill the silence that might otherwise have seemed so vast between them. All in all, it was much more fun than he had expected.

When the food was done, the old Lan WangJi—the inflexible one who was all bound up in rules—came back out and refused to let Wei WuXian take his plate into the living room to eat while watching TV. He insisted that they eat at the dining room table together, and Wei WuXian eventually gave in. The food they had made together was spicy and delicious, and he sang Lan WangJi's praises through the meal.

Afterward, standing shoulder-to-shoulder as they washed the dishes, he asked: “What now, Lan Zhan?”

“I...do not know. I did not plan this.”

“Who needs a plan to hang out with a friend? If you don't have any ideas, let's open up that wine and make some popcorn and watch a movie!”

The same expression he'd seen earlier crossed Lan WangJi's face. Not anger. Something else that passed too quickly for him to place. Wei WuXian took a guess at the cause.

“You don't have to drink with me if you'd rather not. I picked something mild this time, but I won't force you.”

Lan WangJi made a non-committal noise and continued scrubbing dishes.

Fifteen minutes later, however, as Wei WuXian was making himself comfortable on the sofa and browsing channels to see what was on, Lan WangJi carried in a tray with a bowl of popcorn, the bottle of wine, and two glasses. Wei WuXian sat up eagerly as Lan WangJi filled both glasses and offered one to him. He set his own aside, however, as if he hadn't entirely made up his mind to drink, after all. Wei WuXian resolved not to push him. Instead, he found a movie, pulled the popcorn into his lap, and settled in to watch.

“Turn off the lights,” he ordered, and smiled as Lan WangJi did.

It was cozy in the darkened room, comfortable with the sound of the movie taking the place of his chatter. He spoke up only occasionally, when a character said or did something that he couldn't let pass without comment. Lan WangJi neither shared his own thoughts, nor hushed him, but made quiet sounds of acknowledgement so that Wei WuXian would know he was listening.

Warm and full and comfortable, more at ease with Lan WangJi than he could ever have expected back when they had been in high school, Wei WuXian soon found himself beginning to yawn. He'd had another three refills of wine, and set his glass aside to rearrange himself on the couch. He ended up leaning against Lan WangJi, with his legs stretched out over the cushions. Though he'd half-expected to be pushed away, he received no such rejection. Instead, Lan WangJi actually wrapped an arm around his shoulders and shifted to make him more comfortable. When he peeked, he caught light eyes staring down at him, rather than at the movie, and, beyond the arm of the couch, Lan WangJi's empty wine glass sitting on the side table. Wei WuXian hadn't even seen him drink.

“Was the wine better this time, Lan Zhan? You're not drunk again, are you?”

“Not drunk,” he said, though what sort of drunk would admit to being so?

The way they were sitting, all Wei WuXian had to do was turn his head just a little, and his ear was pressed against Lan WangJi's chest. His heartbeat drummed strong and hurried, and Wei WuXian closed his eyes for a moment, listening to it and basking in his warmth.

“Lan Zhan...were you annoyed that I came tonight?”

“No.”

“Something was bothering you, though. What was it?”

“...watch the movie.”

“You should tell me,” he muttered. “It's not good, keeping things to yourself all the time.”

The movie seemed to run on and on and on. Wei WuXian was dozing long before it was over. He slumped down until his head was resting on Lan WangJi's thigh. Shortly afterward, he felt a hesitant touch against his head, and then Lan WangJi's fingers began stroking over his hair. He hummed in appreciation, and the motion halted.

“Lan Zhan, don't stop,” he murmured. “It feels good. You are drunk, aren't you? You're never nice like this.”

He let his eyes slide shut as Lan WangJi resumed petting his hair, and didn't fight the approach of sleep. He barely stirred some time later as Lan WangJi slipped away, and only curled into his warmth when, not long after, he was picked up and carried. Wei WuXian sighed contentedly as he was carefully set down onto a firm mattress, and curled up as blankets were drawn up over him. He thought he heard Lan WangJi wish him goodnight, but the words were slow to register. It was only after a pause and a faint, warm pressure at his temple, light as a kiss, that he responded sleepily: “G'night...Lan Zhan.”

 

Chapter Text

Wei WuXian was the most brilliant, vibrant, beautiful, wondrous person Lan WangJi had ever met. And he was currently curled up beneath Lan WangJi's sheets, head on Lan WangJi's pillow, nuzzling in to get more comfortable in the most adorable way as he fell back into sleep and was left

completely

defenseless.

Lan WangJi stood next to the bed, watching him for a long time. Wei WuXian trusted him. No. Well...it wasn't quite as huge a thing as his yearning heart wanted to make it seem. Wei WuXian had no idea about Lan WangJi's true feelings for him. Despite having made a tremendous effort over the past couple of weeks to finally get through to him, he kept missing the signals.

And they were no longer weak signals.

Truth be told, he had decided to drink this evening because—despite having no memory of asking Wei WuXian out on a date—his drunken self apparently had, as if it was easy. As if his years of struggling to find the words had been a waste. So he had handed over control of himself in the hopes that it would lead to a more aggressive approach.

He hadn't counted on Wei WuXian's natural tactile nature to act as a shield. He had come to with Wei WuXian asleep, head pillowed on his lap while Lan WangJi stroked his hair. Apparently, that closeness had been enough to satisfy him, even drunk. Not a missed opportunity, certainly, but not the results he had hoped for.

So, with the love of his life off to dreamland, and the possibilities for the evening waning, he had done the only thing he could think of: get him up and tucked into a proper bed.

The kiss...had been an impulse.

Touching his lips that still tingled faintly from their first small worship of this incredible person, Lan WangJi sank down until he was sitting next to the bed, watching Wei WuXian's face from mere inches away. He was so soft in sleep, still bright and beautiful, but more like the gentle moon than the blazing sun. Would he remember the kiss in the morning? He had spoken immediately after, a slurred 'good night,' but perhaps that had been more a delayed, reflexive response to when Lan WangJi had said the same words.

He sighed, very softly. This had almost been easier when they barely spoke.

Lan WangJi had been hopelessly in love with Wei WuXian since high school. The time they had randomly been assigned as partners for a project had been the most trying, wonderful month of his life, as Wei WuXian had invaded his room every day after school, and even on the weekends as the deadline drew near. All that time where it had been just the two of them, alone, together, and the weight of Wei WuXian's attention, so often like sunlight on his skin when there were others around to distract him, had burned and left him shaking inside and scrambling to find words where normally no words were needed. He'd had to turn that attention aside so many times, demand it be focused on their project, because it had been too much for him, too much to be alone with that breathtaking smile focused only on him, with bright gray eyes watching his every move.

Lan WangJi had never feared failure before, but he had feared being inadequate in those eyes, feared being dismissed, found boring and unworthy of that attention. As weighty as it was, as much as it made his heart race and his breath come too quick, he couldn't help but crave it. That need scared him too, but he would be lying to say he didn't secretly revel in it, didn't take selfish pleasure in seeing Wei WuXian break off conversations with his friends at school to wave and call to him.

See? He would think to them (to his fearful heart). I'm important to him, too.

But...he couldn't change his personality. He was outwardly cold, distant, strict. He was so very different from Wei WuXian, who laughed and cut class and wore girls' clothes sometimes because they suited his beauty and was too clever for his own good. Their differences drove a wedge between them.

Rather, as he could say now, with the clarity of hindsight, he had allowed their differences to drive a wedge between them.

So, as their years in high school had drawn to a close, and their college careers had begun, they had drifted apart, and Lan WangJi had made himself be satisfied in watching over him from a distance, happy if Wei WuXian was happy.

But then he'd heard about the bar, and, of course, hadn't been able to leave well-enough alone. And he had seen Wei WuXian flirt and drink and allow hands around his wrists, arms around his shoulders, his waist, and Lan WangJi couldn't understand it, could barely stand to watch it...except...

Wei WuXian was laughing. Always laughing.

And he never wanted to see that smile fade.

So he waited as the hours passed, and watched over the sun at the center of his orbit to be sure no one got too handsy, and to see that Wei WuXian made it safely home at night. Nothing more.

Nothing more until Wei WuXian himself had invited him for a drink, and Lan WangJi had lost a couple hours of his life, only to discover the next day that he had finally asked Wei WuXian out, then promptly forgotten about it.

But Wei WuXian had remembered. And he had thought it was sooo funny that Lan WangJi hadn't, and that he'd gone to such lengths just to spend time with a friend. And Lan WangJi's temper, harder to rouse than it had been in high school, had required a few moments of careful breathing to settle.

It was fine. Friendship had been fine for years. As long as Wei WuXian was well and happy, it was fine.

Now here Wei WuXian was, happily asleep in Lan WangJi's bed, his hand curled into the pillow, his hair spread out over the sheets like a spill of ink. The bed would hold his scent in the morning, Lan WangJi realized. How many times had Wei WuXian made himself comfortable on his bed that month back in high school, and left that particular imprint behind to wake wild thoughts when all Lan WangJi had wanted was to sleep?

This beautiful, thoughtless boy.

Reaching out, Lan WangJi carefully undid the ribbon that held Wei WuXian's hair in its messy bun. He allowed himself to run his fingers through the strands, catching on tiny knots and gently working them loose until Wei WuXian's hair slipped through his fingers like silk. He took the trust he had been offered, and crafted a tiny, special moment just for himself, something to lock away in his heart alongside the hope that shone as pure, if not as bright, as Wei WuXian himself.

He could not share the bed with Wei WuXian. He trusted himself not to go too far, but his thoughts would run rampant with unseemly ideas. Best not to add fuel to his unspoken desires. The couch would serve well enough.

Lan WangJi stood up, but he could not resist one last touch. He cupped Wei WuXian's cheek, freezing for a moment as he murmured in his sleep, then settled again without waking. He stroked his thumb over Wei WuXian's cheekbone, barely stirring the dark fringe of his lashes, then pulled his hand away, curling his fingers around the swiftly fading warmth. Gathering his sleeping clothes, he left, shutting the door soundlessly behind him.

 

Chapter Text

Praying that Jiang Cheng wasn't awake, or at least wasn't in the living room, or maybe wasn't even home, Wei WuXian eased open the apartment door and peeked inside. Clear! He slipped in, shutting the door without a sound, and began tiptoeing toward his room.

There wasn't actually any reason to be sneaking around, he told himself. The fact that he had dozed off at Lan WangJi's place—

On his lap.

—and spent the night—

In his bed.

—wasn't anything he needed to hide from Jiang Cheng. Yet he found himself creeping down the hall in his own apartment, hoping and praying that his brother was either asleep or out so that he wouldn't have to answer any questions about why, exactly, Lan WangJi had only just now dropped him back off at home when he'd planned to be back before ten last night.

Unusually, Jiang Cheng had left his door cracked slightly open, but just beyond that was safety. If he could make it a few...more...steps....

“How was your date?”

Wei WuXian nearly jumped out of his skin. Jiang Cheng was standing right inside the bathroom, nearly hidden in the shadows until he stepped out, smirking. Crossing his arms over his chest, he gave Wei WuXian—sneaking in earlier than he would usually be awake, and still wearing yesterday's clothes—a knowing once-over.

“Ah ha ha! Jiang Cheng! What are you doing, lurking in the bathroom?”

“Who's lurking? I was just coming out when I heard your key in the lock. So. Your date. How did it go?”

With a shrug, he walked past, head held high. “It wasn't a date. I helped him make a decent meal for himself, then fell asleep watching some boring movie.”

“You were too tired to come home, so you slept on his couch?”

Wei WuXian hesitated. He hated lying to Jiang Cheng, and didn't do it unless it was absolutely necessary. Smiling, he tried to sound as unconcerned as possible. “Like I said, I fell asleep there while watching a movie.”

He made it to the sanctuary of his room, but Jiang Cheng was right behind him, arms crossed as he leaned against the door frame. He wasn't buying it. He waited while Wei WuXian began to brush the knots from his hair, but after a minute or two his patience started to fray.

“You aren't very talkative this morning.”

“Aren't you the one always telling me to shut up?”

“Aren't you the one who never does?”

Wei WuXian laughed, watching his reflection as he brushed his hair. “What do you want me to tell you?”

“Are you going to see him again?”

The question caught him off-guard, and he blinked stupidly. “See him? Probably. He shows up at work all the—”

“That isn't what I meant, and you know it.”

“I wasn't 'seeing him' this time, not the way you mean. Lan WangJi isn't like that. What would he think if he heard you?”

“You didn't answer my question.”

Slightly annoyed that Jiang Cheng hadn't let himself be distracted, Wei WuXian puffed out his cheeks. “When he dropped me off, he said he'd make it up to me,” he admitted.

“Make what up to you? What did he do?”

Wei WuXian couldn't help smiling, although some small part of him was still disappointed for some reason. “He forgot. After he'd been so sure he would remember, too....”

“He was drunk,” Jiang Cheng muttered.

“Why do you say that like you're trying to make me feel better?” he asked with a laugh. “I know better than anyone that he was drunk. It's no big deal.”

“If it's no big deal, then why did he say he would make it up to you?”

He thinks it's a big deal. You know how his family is—they take everything too seriously. I told him over and over again that it was fine, but he wouldn't listen.”

“Sounds like it's important to him.”

“Heaven only knows why.”

“I could take a guess,” Jiang Cheng muttered.

Finally, Wei WuXian turned to look at him directly. “It isn't what you think. I don't even know where you got that idea from.”

“You really are absolutely hopeless. You know that, right?”

“Rude. You're the one making up slander about Lan Zhan.”

“I absolutely guarantee you he wouldn't think of it that way.”

“Oh? Are you sure?”

Jiang Cheng eyed him suspiciously. “What are you grinning about?”

“I'm grinning because I just figured out what's going on with Lan Zhan.” He set his brush down and began searching for something to wear to class.

“Oh, I have got to hear this. Go on. Tell me. What did you figure out?”

“That our straight-laced—” He ignored Jiang Cheng's snort at his choice of words. “—no-nonsense Lan Zhan is going through a rebellious phase!” Grinning triumphantly, he looked over at Jiang Cheng for his reaction. The deadpan stare he received was not at all what he had hoped for.

“What?” he demanded. “It makes perfect sense.” He ticked points off on his fingers. “He's started going to a bar, staying out late, he drank alcohol—Twice!—and he's wanting to hang out with me all of a sudden. That strict upbringing finally caused him to crack. He's probably just trying to get a rise out of that uncle of his.”

“You think he's doing all this as a big 'fuck you' to his family,” Jiang Cheng said flatly.

“Well...yeah. I mean...what part of any of that would they approve of?” He laughed, but Jiang Cheng's obvious and utter disdain for his deductive skills stole some of the mirth from it.

“Whatever you have to tell yourself so you can sleep at night,” he said, shaking his head as he turned away.

“Don't think I won't say 'I told you so' when it turns out I'm right!” Wei WuXian shouted after him. “Give it a week or two,” he murmured, once Jiang Cheng was out of earshot. “He'll be back to normal in no time.”

-----------------

Two days later, when Lan WangJi texted to ask if he was free Saturday morning, Wei WuXian wondered at the almost giddy feeling of relief that rose in him.

 

Chapter Text

[did he tell you how pretty you look?]

Even through text message, Wei WuXian could hear the smug, teasing tone of Jiang Cheng's voice. He sent back the only appropriate response.

[stfu!]

[aww and after you spent all that time making yourself look pretty for him]

What the hell?

[hey i look pretty 4 ME dammit!!!]

He'd outdone himself with this outfit, cobbled together from lucky thrift store finds and a couple of department store sales. A tunic-style sweater in a rich, garnet red fell to mid-thigh over dark jeans and black knee-high boots. He wore a short, denim jacket for extra warmth, and a pale, silvery infinity scarf twinkling with sequins. A pendant hung low against his chest: a silver hoop with a rabbit silhouette and a pair of stars clinging to the inner rim. His hair fell loose down his back, held only by a few locks caught up with a silver crescent moon barrette. For makeup, he'd gone with a touch of moon-pale pearlescent gray eye shadow, coal black eyeliner and mascara, and the shimmering pink lip gloss he liked so much. He was, if he did say so himself, cute as a button.

Sneaking a glance at Lan WangJi in the driver's seat, he confirmed that it was impossible to tell whether he had gotten dressed up. He wore white, as usual. Wei WuXian had never met anyone so obsessed with that most boring and difficult to keep clean of colors. White slacks, white wool coat, and an ice blue button down. He'd tied his hair back into a long tail with a white silk cord. There was no telling if he looked nice because he always did, or because he'd made an effort, so Wei WuXian chose to believe the former.

[he didn't get dressed up 4 me either so there goes yr date theory]

[i'm the one asserting a point. you're in denial by default.]

[THATS NOT HOW ARGUMENTS WORK!!!!]

“Wei Ying?”

Although Lan WangJi's eyes were firmly fixed on the road when Wei WuXian glanced up, it was obvious he had noticed something.

“Sorry. Jiang Cheng keeps texting me. I'll tell him to knock it off. I don't know why he's bothering in the first place.”

[he noticed that you're annoying me. SHUT UP]

[you're the one who keeps reading my texts and responding]

[y r u interrupting us anyway??]

[I thought there was nothing to interrupt]

[there isn't!!]
[shut up!!]
[but y?]

[because I have nothing better to do with my time, and the thought of you flirting with him while insisting that there's nothing between you two pisses me off]

[I DO NOT FLIRT WITH HIM!!!]
[okay but i flirt with lots of people he knows i don't mean it]

[harsh.]

[I'M HANGING UP ON YOU!!!]

[oh no don't please]

Wei WuXian stuck out his tongue, snapped a selfie, and sent it to Jiang Cheng, then tucked his phone away, determined to ignore his brother. Jiang Cheng was like a bulldog. Once he got an idea in his head, he wouldn't let go of it. It was baffling how he had come to this particular conclusion, but Wei WuXian was getting sick of hearing about it. What had started out as a hilarious misunderstanding had quickly become more irritating than he wanted to let on. He wished Jiang Cheng would just stop joking about it. There was no way anything like that could ever happen.

“So, Lan Zhan, you haven't told me where we're going yet!” Chipper was the way to go. Forget about stupid Jiang Cheng and his impossible nonsense. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and Wei WuXian was determined to enjoy it.

“Almost there.”

“Not even a hint?”

Lan WangJi glanced at him out of the corner of his eye, and...was that a smile? “There have been signs,” he said.

Wei WuXian's glee was quickly redirected as he looked outside, searching for these signs that would give away the destination that Lan WangJi had been so close-lipped about. He guessed any place that sounded even remotely interesting, despite the distance listed on the sign or billboard, until at last they passed a sign indicating that the Tanzhou Botanical Gardens were located straight ahead.

“The Tanzhou Gardens?”

There must have been something odd in his tone, because Lan WangJi seemed to hesitate before asking: “Have you been?”

“No. I'm curious now, though! If it's something that can catch the attention of Lan WangJi, then it must be something special!”

“Mm.” He glanced over and their eyes met. “Very special.”

Wei WuXian felt his cheeks heat up, and tore his gaze away. Even though he speaks so little, it's still so easy to misunderstand him, sometimes! The way he looked at me when he said that...if I had been a girl, I'd have been totally taken in! Lan Zhan is dangerous! If there was a lady he set his eyes on seriously, she wouldn't be able to resist him!

I wonder if that's why he started coming to the bar. Maybe he wants to meet someone, and is only killing time with me until he does.

The thought was not a pleasant one, and he shook off its melancholy influence. If Lan WangJi was only looking to kill time, he had plenty of other ways to occupy himself as opposed to spending time with Wei WuXian. Somewhere beneath that nearly expressionless exterior, he had to be enjoying himself.

“Lan Zhan, is being with me fun?” The question spilled out before he could think to stop it. “Are you bored? Annoyed? Happy?”

“I am happy.”

“That's good.” Relieved, he settled back in his seat. “I never even used to consider something like this in my wildest imagination. You used to be so cold to me. Even when we were working together, you never wanted to talk, only focus on the project. Remember that time your uncle kicked me out of the house because he said I was being too loud? The deadline was coming up in a week, but he had no mercy! Were you going to finish by yourself? Just because I needed a break doesn't mean I wasn't doing my part!”

“Mm.”

Grinning, he nudged Lan WangJi with his elbow. “We made a pretty good team, though, didn't we? Everybody was impressed. We got the best grade of the whole class.”

“Mm.”

Snared by memories, Wei WuXian chattered happily about high school until they arrived at the Gardens. Having never given the place much thought before, he was astonished to discover just how vast it was. The map listed several different outdoor gardens, paths, and trails, two ponds, and three greenhouses, all with areas that held different types of plants. It was too much to take in all at once, and Wei WuXian let Lan WangJi take the lead, as he was more familiar with the grounds. His only input was to suggest that they walk around outside before going to the greenhouses. It was still chilly out, and most other people seemed to be heading for the warmth first. Snug enough in his jacket and scarf, Wei WuXian thought that Lan WangJi might appreciate avoiding the crowds.

They picked a trail from the map and set off walking beneath a yellowing canopy. The early sunlight made the leaves luminescent, and Wei WuXian grinned up into them, swinging his arms as he walked. Every now and again, a breeze would send a shower of tiny, pale leaves down like confetti. The trail was a short one, circling the edge of the Gardens before coming to a small falls at the top of the river that fed into the water gardens. Broad, flat rocks emerged from the surface a small distance below the falls, providing a way across for those that didn't want to circle back.

Wei WuXian was quick onto the first of the rocks, turning back to offer a hand to Lan WangJi despite the fact that the gap between stone and shore was small enough even for a child. He grinned, expecting Lan WangJi to ignore his childishness. Instead, cool fingers wrapped around his own and held tight, and suddenly, Lan WangJi was across and standing almost chest to chest with him, face as inscrutable as always. The surprise caught Wei WuXian's breath in his throat, and it took him a moment to find his smile again. When he did, he turned, tugging on Lan WangJi's hand.

“Come on!”

Hand in hand, they made their way along paved paths, through ornamental gardens filled with sculpted topiaries and flowerbeds arranged to form pictures and words. Despite the season, the gardens were still a riot of color, with late-blooming flowers and ornamental grasses forming bold patchworks across the grounds. Wei WuXian took it all in, delighted by the color and the creativity. There was a floral sundial, a fountain with leaping dolphin shapes made of carefully trimmed bushes, a bed of flowers so carefully planted that they formed an image of a golden chrysanthemum with all its long, delicate petals, and much, much more. There was even a section planned especially for children, with fairy houses of topiaries topped with brilliant red and white flowers to make the rounded roofs resemble mushrooms.

Caught up in the displays, Wei WuXian didn't realize at first that he had laced his fingers with Lan WangJi's. Noticing it, his heartbeat sped up, and it seemed only a matter of time before Lan WangJi caught on, too, and yanked his hand away. Once he had become aware of it, the feeling of their fingers knit tightly together was never far from his thoughts, though Lan WangJi made no indication that he had noticed at all.

Do we look like a couple? Wei WuXian couldn't help wondering. Won't he be bothered if people misunderstand? And it isn't that hard to realize I'm not a woman. Won't people think he's strange, paired with someone like me? It doesn't matter what people think about me, but if it's Lan Zhan....

He told himself that he would let go. He told himself that he was just being spoiled, holding on for so long. Lan WangJi was just tolerating his childishness because he was patient. Wei WuXian tried and tried and tried, yet couldn't bring himself to let go of Lan WangJi's hand. The weight of it felt nice. The warmth and closeness was pleasant. He told himself that he would let go once they came to a more crowded area. That would be an acceptable compromise.

They worked their way in toward the center of the Gardens where the greenhouses were built, beautiful, towering buildings of crystal glass that shone in the sunlight. The whole place was gorgeous, and if it hadn't meant he'd have to pull his hand free, Wei WuXian would have been taking pictures to use for sketches later on.

I'll have to come back later, he thought. I wonder if Lan Zhan would come with me again. I bet this place is beautiful when it snows. And it must be incredible in the spring!

A pond sat between them and the approach to the main greenhouse, crossed by a covered wooden bridge that zigged and zagged across the surface. Baskets of flowers hung from the roof of the bridge, adding color in the absence of the lotus flowers that would have bloomed in their season across the water. Wei WuXian looked out over the brown and wilted stems wistfully, recalling childhood days at the Jiang family's Lotus Pier home.

“It's a pity we couldn't see the lotus flowers. Do you think we could come back again when they're blooming? Have you ever seen a lake of lotuses in full bloom, Lan Zhan? It's one of the prettiest things in the world. I never got tired of it.”

Lan WangJi squeezed his hand unexpectedly, drawing Wei WuXian's attention away from the flowers he could so easily picture above the water's surface, and up to his face.

“There is more to see,” he said quietly. After a moment, they continued along the bridge, and entered the main greenhouse.

The structure was easily three stories tall, and filled with all manner of flowers and trees. It smelled of soil and compost and moisture, of crowds of people and of green, growing things. There was a water feature inside, as well. Wei WuXian could hear the muted crash of a waterfall, although he couldn't see it from the entrance. As he had suspected when they arrived, inside it was far more densely packed with visitors than it had been outside. Keeping his promise to himself, he started to pull his hand free, only to be stopped when Lan WangJi tightened his hold.

“Lan Zhan, I....”

“This way.”

Without another word, he tugged on Wei WuXian's hand and led him further in, heedless of the crowds or the occasional glance at their clasped hands. Warmth flooded Wei WuXian's chest and face. Too hot in the greenhouse, much too hot. Unable to do anything else, he followed along, hurrying at the pace Lan WangJi had set. Whatever lay ahead, Lan WangJi seemed unusually eager to reach it.

The scent hit Wei WuXian first. Mingled with so many other smells, he hadn't noticed it until they were nearly at the source. In disbelief, he sped forward, outpacing Lan WangJi, and nearly losing his grip on his hand. Then, as he wove through the last few people in his path, the delicate pinks and greens of a lotus pond in full bloom opened up before him.

Wide-eyed, Wei WuXian could only stare, utterly consumed with delight. The waterfall he had heard was in sight far on the other side of the lotus pool, feeding into it and creating a slight current that stirred the stalks and made the flowers and broad, frilled leaves sway as if in a breeze. He drank in the sight, unaware of how broadly he was grinning until he turned back to Lan WangJi and realized his cheeks hurt. The impulse to hug him was almost too strong to ignore.

“It's beautiful! You knew this was here, didn't you? That's why you were in a rush after the bridge! Lan Zhan, thank you!”

Lan WangJi looked away.

Realizing suddenly what he must look like, Wei WuXian's grin faded and he yanked his hand back.

Really! He scolded himself. Getting too excited! People are going to get the wrong idea, and after Lan Zhan was good enough to bring me here. I should at least be able to express my thanks without embarrassing him.

“Ha ha. Lan Zhan, sorry for embarrassing you like that!” He tucked his arms behind his back, lacing his own fingers together to keep them out of any potential mischief. Jiang Cheng always says I'm like a little kid. I really appreciate this, though! Actually, I think I'll take some pictures! Don't mind me, if there are other things you want to look at!”

He pulled out his phone, needing anything to focus on that wasn't Lan WangJi. There was a new text from Jiang Cheng.

[have you fucked up and gotten into a fight yet?]

He closed the message without responding, and started taking pictures.


 

The rest of the afternoon was quiet. Even spending almost the entire day at the Tanzhou Gardens, they weren't quite able to see everything. They finished exploring the main greenhouse, had a late lunch on the grounds, and toured the secondary greenhouses, one of which was almost solely dedicated to cacti and succulents. It was late afternoon before they returned to the car, and Wei WuXian filled the space between them with chatter, fearing an awkwardness that would set in alongside silence.

Not far from home, Lan WangJi asked if he wanted to stop and have dinner, but Wei WuXian shook his head, insisting that he could fix something at home. He wasn't entirely sure why he had turned down the offer. It was just that being alone with Lan WangJi was making him feel strangely nervous, as if waiting for the other shoe to drop. Lan WangJi hadn't said anything about the way Wei WuXian had clung to him and gushed his thanks, although it must have been embarrassing, such a thing happening so publicly and in a way that was easy for people to misunderstand. The lack of consequences tied his stomach in knots for some reason. He'd spent much of the rest of the day awaiting a much stronger rejection, the end to their newly budded friendship, as he had predicted to Jiang Cheng.

He dreaded that happening.

Finally, they pulled up at Wei WuXian's apartment complex.

“Lan Zhan, thank you again for showing me the Gardens! I'm definitely going back sometime! Maybe I'll take Jiang Cheng with me, or shijie, when she comes to visit! You should definitely come along when we do, ha ha, unless you think it'll be too rowdy.”

“Let me know. I will come.”

He hadn't expected that answer, or the quiet earnesty in Lan WangJi's words. He hesitated, one hand on the roof of the car as he leaned over to see inside. His free hand strayed to his pocket. Maybe he shouldn't...but he'd brought it along, and he'd been meaning to give it to Lan WangJi since that night....

Throwing caution to the wind, Wei WuXian pulled out a folded cocktail napkin and held it out to Lan WangJi.

“A gift for you,” he said, grinning. “I drew it the night of your first drink! Enjoy!”

He backed up and slammed the door shut, then bolted for home before Lan WangJi could unfold the napkin to find the careful sketch Wei WuXian had done of his face, peaceful in sleep, and with a blooming peony in his hair.

 

Chapter Text

Wei WuXian had only just given up on pacing the living room, and thrown himself down on the couch—again—when the doorbell rang. He was on his feet in an instant, hand on the doorknob almost before the chime had faded. Flinging the door open, he startled Wen Ning who stood just outside.

“Um. You said it was urgent?”

“I think I might be well and truly fucked. Just a second.”

He dashed back inside and grabbed the closest jacket at hand, which happened to be an eggplant purple parka Jiang Cheng had left on the back of a kitchen chair. Zipping it up over his bright red shirt, he huddled in it against the wind as he joined Wen Ning outside and locked up.

“Let's go take a walk through the park. Just in case Jiang Cheng comes home early.”

“Have you done something that will offend him?”

From anyone else, such a question would have been at least partially an accusation. From Wen Ning, it practically carried with it a promise to help him out of any trouble he'd gotten himself into, with no judgment attached. Whatever good karma Wei WuXian had accumulated in his last life must have come back to him as the blessing of Wen Ning's friendship.

“It's definitely the other way around. If he heard what I have to say, his only possible response would certainly offend me! Let me fill you in on what's been happening. I don't think my predicament will make sense, otherwise.”

The park was less than a ten minute walk from Wei WuXian's apartment, and in that time he only just barely managed to summarize the events of the past couple weeks. Wen Ning listened attentively, used to the way Wei WuXian's explanations often tended to ramble. By the time they passed beneath the wrought iron arch that marked the entrance into the park, he was caught up through Wei WuXian's hasty retreat after the gift of the cocktail napkin sketch.

“After that,” Wei WuXian said as they followed the sidewalk between two rows of trees crowned in coppery leaves, “I called in sick to work.” He covered his face with his hands. “I always thought my face was thick enough for anything, but somehow, I just couldn't go knowing he would be there. I thought about it all last night and all this morning, to the point where I couldn't sleep. I haven't even done any of my assignments for class tomorrow, and I'm supposed to go back to work tonight! What am I going to do?”

“I don't know if I would be of any help with your assignments, but...why are you so distressed by the thought of seeing Lan WangJi?”

Wei WuXian halted in his tracks. Like a shifting kaleidoscope, his face ran through several different expressions before he finally settled on a sheepish grin that seemed liable to fall at any moment.

“Ha ha...the thing is...I think I might...like Lan Zhan. Just a little.”

Although he was so nervous to admit it that he could feel himself trembling, Wei WuXian found that it felt good to say the words out loud. The more he had thought about things since Lan WangJi had dropped him off after their trip to the Gardens, the more this discovery of his feelings felt like noticing something that had always been there. Instead of being completely new, his feelings for Lan WangJi were familiar. Maybe they had been there for years, mixed up in his need to tease, in his admiration. Now that the two of them had reconnected, those old feelings were simply growing up from the cracks in his heart, seeking the sunshine. The seeds had been there since long ago, after all. They had only needed some attention in order to bloom.

Wen Ning was watching him, head cocked to one side. “I'm sorry, maybe I don't fully understand, but...I don't see how liking him is a problem.”

“Because.” He sighed, crestfallen by the reminder that his interest had come too late. “Lan Zhan already has someone he likes. He told me, himself.”

“But...the way he looks out for you, the dinner, the date at the park.... Aren't you the one he likes?”

Wei WuXian could do nothing but gape. That obviously couldn't be right! It was ridiculous! Those things were...! Lan WangJi had said...! At any rate, it was unrelated!

“How could it be me? He's had plenty of chances to say something and didn't. What kind of man would tell the person they love that they like someone, but leave it so ambiguous?”

“You would surely know best,” he said, although there was doubt in his tone. “Still, I think you ought to tell him how you feel.”

“How can I? These feelings might be fleeting. I might just be overthinking because he's been a bit nicer to me than he was before.”

More than that, deep down, where he could barely admit it to himself, Wei WuXian was scared. He had always flirted and joked and teased people. It came naturally to him to laugh and bask in the attention he received. Anything more than that, though, was territory he had left unexplored. He hadn't even given away his first kiss yet. How could he let go of it so easily, and without any sort of grand romance? Would Lan WangJi appreciate it? If he even was in love with Wei WuXian, who was to say that wouldn't change? Surely, he would become irritated and lose interest soon enough.

Seeing that his friend was in turmoil, Wen Ning laid a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

“Don't think too hard about it. Who says you have to make a decision right away? Can't you just let things go on as normal for a while? Take this at your own pace.”

Wei WuXian laughed hollowly at those words. Right now, his pace involved edging back from what felt like a precipice. If he went at his own pace, things would soon be as bad between him and Lan WangJi as they had been by the end of high school. He wasn't sure yet just what he wanted from Lan WangJi, but it wasn't that cold silence. He never wanted that to settle in between them again.

They walked the park for a bit longer. Wei WuXian changed the subject, talking about whatever crossed his mind, but his deeper thoughts were never far from Lan WangJi. Could Wen Ning and Jiang Cheng have been right? It felt too prideful to even consider such a thing. True, he could remember his high school self boasting that there was no one who truly disliked him, even if they wouldn't hesitate to call him annoying...but Lan WangJi was different. He'd always been different.

Eventually, their steps led them back around to the park entrance once more, and from there, it wasn't long before they were nearly back at Wei WuXian's apartment. They said their goodbyes across the street from the complex, and Wen Ning went on his way, slightly flustered by Wei WuXian's enthusiastic thanks, which had included a tight hug.

As he waited at the crosswalk for the light to change, Wei WuXian turned to call out his thanks once more. That was when he noticed the dog.

His brain didn't register the leash or the woman who held it, oblivious to his sudden, mind-numbing panic. All he saw was terror on four legs, trotting toward him with its hideous maw agape, tongue lolling over sharp teeth. He took a step back, then another, and suddenly he was falling backward. Fear had shrunk his world down to nothing but the approaching dog. He didn't realize that he was falling because he had stepped off the curb, didn't register the voices shouting for him, didn't notice the oncoming car that had sped up to make it through the yellow light.

Suddenly, his view of the dog was cut off as Wen Ning appeared in front of him, grabbing his wrist and yanking him roughly forward. He overbalanced, and they landed painfully in a tangle on the sidewalk. The dog was still all that mattered. With a gasp, Wei WuXian pushed himself up, looking frantically for the monster. Scrambling to get his feet beneath him, it was as if all his coordination had fled. Wen Ning was talking to him, trying to calm him down, but he was clutching at Wei WuXian's arms and that dog was coming closer, it was getting closer and Wen Ning wasn't letting him go and the dog, the dog...!

Wei Ying!”

Unexpected and out of place, Lan WangJi's voice broke through his panic. As Wei WuXian looked up at his miraculous appearance, Lan WangJi stooped to scoop him up into his arms. Briskly, he strode off down the sidewalk, carrying Wei WuXian away from the dog.

“Keep it away! Keep it away!”

Face hidden against Lan WangJi's neck, Wei WuXian repeated those words continuously. He clenched his fists around Lan WangJi's coat, heedless of the scene he had just caused. All that mattered was getting away from the dog. Gradually, Lan WangJi's steps slowed, then stopped. He tightened his hold on Wei WuXian and hushed him gently. Just as he was starting to surface from his fright and realize with embarrassment that he was shaking, Wei WuXian felt a pressure against the top of his head.

It was undoubtedly, undeniably, the feeling of a kiss.

Shock jerked his head up to meet Lan WangJi's gaze. His eyes, which had been blazing when he had appeared, were less frantic now, though still full of such an intense mix of emotions that Wei WuXian could barely begin to interpret what he saw in them. As Wen Ning came hurrying up to join them, Lan WangJi carefully set Wei WuXian down. The aftermath of terror had left his knees shaking, and he clutched Lan WangJi's sleeves to hold himself up, even as Lan WangJi sensed his unsteadiness and held his waist to brace him.

Wen Ning reached them. He was touching Wei WuXian's shoulder, asking if he was all right, but Wei WuXian barely heard him. He'd had too many shocks in too short a time, and his heart was racing like crazy.

Staring into Lan WangJi's impassioned eyes set in that impassive face, Wei WuXian blurted out the only question that his whirling mind was able to form.

“Lan Zhan...do you love me?”

 

Chapter Text

Wei WuXian was in shock. Completely unaware of the fact that he had nearly been struck by a car, he could only gape at Lan WangJi. He barely even noticed Wen Ning grabbing his shoulder, and paid no mind to his words. His world had shrunk down to Lan WangJi's pale eyes, fixed on him and so full of feeling that Wei WuXian felt he could sink into them forever, that he could drown in their depths. Lan WangJi's face was as expressionless as ever, as beautiful as a statue carved from fine jade, and about as changeable. Only the intensity of his stare betrayed the depth of his feelings. Only the way he gripped Wei WuXian's waist so tightly hinted at how shaken he was. Only the fading sensation of lips against Wei WuXian's hair spoke the words Jiang Cheng and Wen Ning had both tried to say in his place.

“Lan Zhan...” Wei WuXian's voice held a tremor as it slipped out on a shaky breath. “...do you love me?”

Lan WangJi held his gaze for only a heartbeat longer, then turned his face aside. Reflexively, Wei WuXian dug his fingers in tighter where he held Lan WangJi's sleeves.

“I will walk you home,” Lan WangJi said, letting his hands fall away from Wei WuXian's waist.

“You'll...?” He looked around, finally remembering that the rest of the world existed, and spotted Wen Ning who had taken several steps back. Still not caught up, he looked back and forth between Wen Ning and Lan WangJi. “What happened?”

“Are you all right?” Wen Ning asked. “I'm sorry that I was so rough. You should probably bandage your hands.”

“My hands?”

As if they had been waiting for that moment, Wei WuXian's palms suddenly began to burn and sting. Wincing, he let go of Lan WangJi's coat and saw that he had skinned his palms against the sidewalk. They were smeared with dirt and blood, and his attention immediately jumped to Lan WangJi's formerly pristine coat.

“Lan Zhan, I'm so sorry!” He started to grab for him, then thought the better of it and held up his hands so that he didn't dirty Lan WangJi any further. “Come with me. Maybe we can get it cleaned up before it stains permanently.”

Gently, Lan WangJi took Wei WuXian's hands in his own, careful not to touch his palms or squeeze too tightly. “Treatment first.” He glanced at Wen Ning, and let out a tiny sigh. “Thank you,” he murmured, bowing his head.

His words were clearly sincere, and clearly a dismissal. Wen Ning did not need another hint. He bid Wei WuXian to take care, and left him—literally—in Lan WangJi's hands.

Feeling extremely slow as his brain was having difficulty coming fully back online after its shutdown, Wei WuXian only belatedly reacted to Lan WangJi holding his hands. He tried to pull free, but only halfway succeeded. Lan WangJi kept his grip on one hand, and used it to lead Wei WuXian back toward his apartment complex. He was so very careful about the way he held Wei WuXian's hand, but he would not be shaken off, even as it seemed like more and more people were staring at them. Although Lan WangJi seemed not to notice at all, Wei WuXian felt himself becoming flustered.

“What are you even doing here, anyway?” he asked as they came back to the crosswalk and waited for the light to change.

“...You called in sick to work last night.”

“And? So?” He could feel himself shaking and could not seem to stop his words. “What does that have to do with you? Can you really not get enough of me?”

Lan WangJi's calm gaze came to rest upon him. “Ask me your question again.”

At that, Wei WuXian's words dried up. He quietly allowed himself to be led across the street and up to his apartment. Thoughts of the dog still made him shiver, but he was remembering now how he had started to fall backward, and the movement from the corner of his eye that must have been an oncoming car. He'd been so afraid of the dog, that he'd had nothing to spare for the greater threat, but now his brain was catching up with the near miss.

Inside the apartment, Lan WangJi led him to the kitchen table and sat him down. He disappeared for a minute, then returned with the first aid kit. Without a word, he sat down next to Wei WuXian and began seeing to his injuries. Still trying to come to terms with the fact that he had been so scared and so careless that he had nearly gotten himself killed, Wei WuXian silently let him do as he pleased, only wincing at the sting of the alcohol on his abrasions as Lan WangJi cleaned his hands.

Slowly, his thoughts changed track, though his rushed heartbeat did not slow. He watched Lan WangJi work, studying his graceful, long-fingered hands, his glossy hair and clear skin, the way his eyelashes were long enough to hide his downcast eyes. Longing swelled in Wei WuXian's chest. It was a heavy feeling that he didn't know what to do with. He had never felt this way about anyone before. For all his flirtations, he had never gone beyond trading pretty words, winks, and smiles. Certainly, he had thought sometimes about what should come next, but he had never found anyone he had wanted to chase to that next step. With Lan WangJi, though....

He hadn't answered Wei WuXian's question earlier, and Wei WuXian hadn't been able to bring himself to ask it again. He kept hearing Jiang Cheng and Wen Ning's voices in his head. He kept replaying all that had passed between him and Lan WangJi over the past couple of weeks. Wei WuXian could almost make himself see it, but something stopped him each time he was nearly ready to accept the idea.

Wasn't Lan WangJi simply too good for him? He couldn't fathom what there was in him for Lan WangJi to have fallen in love with. He was clever, yes, but Lan WangJi was correct. He was beautiful, but Lan WangJi was traditional. He was friendly, but Lan WangJi was self-contained. What about them was compatible? If Lan WangJi could be...if he already was...someone special to Wei WuXian, what exactly was there to tie them together?

“You don't need to do this,” Wei WuXian said dully, though he didn't pull his hands back. “I've been patching myself up all my life. I can handle it.”

Lan WangJi didn't even look up at him. “Let me do this for you.” He had already cleaned the wounds and dabbed them with healing salve. Now, he pulled out a roll of gauze and carefully began wrapping Wei WuXian's hands.

“You should not go to work this evening,” he said as he started on the other hand.

“How can I not go? I called out yesterday. These are only scratches, and you're wrapping them so well. I'm sure it will be fine.”

Briefly, Lan WangJi's fingers tightened around his hand. His lips pressed together, and Wei WuXian had a fleeting impulse to kiss that disapproval away. Shocked by the thought, he nearly pulled his hand back.

“I will drive you.”

The offer wasn't surprising in the least. “Sure,” Wei WuXian said, turning away to look anywhere but at him.

After Lan WangJi finished bandaging, he waited while Wei WuXian got ready for work. It didn't take very long. Confused and wanting and a little bit afraid of wanting, Wei WuXian didn't feel particularly beautiful just then. He felt like a mess. His pretty things wouldn't suit him that evening, so he pulled out the plain, pressed suit of pants and shirt and vest and got himself ready. His hair hung loose, and his face looked pale, and his hands were obviously injured. He did not look like the most popular waiter at the Lotus Pier. Staring into the mirror in his bedroom, he tried to smile, and flinched back from how fake it looked. He slapped his cheeks and shook his head, wincing at the pain in his hands and telling himself to get it together.

Jiang Cheng came home shortly before they left. He frowned to see Lan WangJi sitting on the sofa, but one look at Wei WuXian, and hearing him mumble: “He's taking me to work,” in explanation and not a word more, convinced him not to ask questions for the moment.

The evening did not get any less awkward. Lan WangJi was given his usual table, but Wei WuXian found that it was hard to look at him. All the thoughts in his head, all his memories and perceptions and wants and fears and everything Jiang Cheng and Wen Ning had said to him, and everything Lan WangJi hadn't said tumbled together in his mind with every glimpse of Lan WangJi's calm face. For someone who might be in love with a person who had done nothing but aggravate him since high school, Lan WangJi was frustratingly tranquil.

Despite all his own turmoil, Wei WuXian found that he couldn't keep his gaze from straying to Lan WangJi. It made him absentminded and clumsy. He spilled more drinks and got more orders wrong that night than he had in the entire past year. Halfway through the night, he was heartily sick of apologizing, and yet he still couldn't keep his eyes away from Lan WangJi.

Worst were the times when he would sneak a glance only to find Lan WangJi already watching him. When that happened, he would hurriedly tear his gaze away, feeling his face heat up and his lips turn down. It felt as if Lan WangJi was categorizing every mistake he made and counting it against him. Maybe after tonight, he would be shaken back to reality and realize that Wei WuXian could only make a mess of his life.

Maybe. But somehow...somehow, Wei WuXian doubted that.

That had been Sunday. After his shift had ended, Wei WuXian had let Lan WangJi drive him straight home, and as he got out of the car, he had asked for some time to think about things. They had seen each other in class over the next couple of days, but hadn't spoken. On Wednesday, still feeling anxious and out of sorts, Wei WuXian had put on one of his older cheongsams: a pale blue one with golden frogging and lotus leaves and blossoms floating serenely at the bottom hem and over his chest. He coiled his hair into a bun and tied it with a pink silk ribbon that trailed down his back. For his makeup, he added a touch of gold eye shadow to his lids, and glossed his lips with petal pink. Finally, he slipped on a pair of pink flats, and stole one of Jiang Cheng's thick, down coats, then left for work.

Lan WangJi didn't show up.

 

Chapter Text

Wei WuXian wore his heart on his sleeve, so it really didn't require having grown up with him for Jiang Cheng to notice that something was wrong. The sighing was a clue. The way he restlessly wandered the apartment but didn't want to go out anywhere was a clue. The fact that he wasn't blithely talking Jiang Cheng's ear off about any thought that popped into his head was a major fucking clue.

Usually, if something was bothering him, Wei WuXian would work through it on his own. He wasn't a fan of sharing his troubles, not if it was anything serious enough to actually weigh on him. Trivial complaints might spill from his lips without a thought, but the bigger and more important a problem was, the more likely he would keep it to himself. Generally, things seemed to work out all right, so over the years, Jiang Cheng had gotten out of the habit of trying to pry Wei WuXian's troubles out of him. He would talk if he wanted to talk, or solve the issue himself if he didn't.

He did not, however, have the patience to ignore nearly a full week of Wei WuXian haunting their apartment like a restless ghost.

He ambushed Wei WuXian after class on Monday, sat him down at the kitchen table, and took the seat across from him. Frowning, arms crossed, he studied his brother, who was looking honestly surprised at having been grabbed as soon as he'd walked in the door and shoved into a chair.

“Jiang Cheng?” He tried to smile, but the expression faltered and wouldn't stay up. “Is something wrong?”

“Pretty sure I'm the one who's supposed to be asking that.” He sighed, thinking that maybe he should have known better, that he should have seen something in Wei WuXian's behavior to make him ask earlier. What was done, was done, however, and he was asking now. “What have you been moping around about for?”

“Who's moping? Aren't you just imagining things?”

“Want me to beat it out of you?”

“Like you could.”

“So you admit there's something wrong.”

“What? No! I...! That was...! Nothing's wrong!”

There was something in the way he emphasized 'wrong' that got Jiang Cheng's hackles up. He braced his palms on the table and leaned forward, glaring at Wei WuXian.

“You are going to tell me what has been bothering you, or I am going to get shijie on the phone, and you can tell both of us.”

Wei WuXian stared at him, aghast. “Jiang Cheng! That's blackmail! Extortion! Making threats! You can't do that to me, that's illegal! I can call the cops!”

“Would. You. Shut. Up! Just tell me what the hell Lan WangJi did!”

“Why are you blaming him? Lan Zhan didn't do anything wrong!”

“This all started that day he was here to take you to work when your hands were all bandaged up. He's got something to do with it.” He paused, using the last of his patience to calm his voice. “Just tell me.”

Heaving a sigh, Wei WuXian seemed to deflate. “Lan Zhan hasn't done anything.”

“Wei WuXian—”

“I mean it! Since Sunday, he hasn't done anything! He hasn't spoken to me, he hasn't shown up at the Lotus Pier, he hasn't even looked at me in class! He hasn't....” He sagged where he sat, bottom lip caught in his teeth. “It's like I don't even exist for him,” he murmured at last.

“What the hell? I wouldn't have figured him for the type to play around with someone.” He scowled suddenly at Wei WuXian. “What did you do?”

Me?” he squeaked. He seemed to have regained some of his spirit, for he sat up straight, looking almost ready to fight. “What makes you think I did anything wrong? I haven't done anything! I'm innocent!”

One of you did something. Walk me through it, so I can tell you which, and what, and hopefully fix things so you'll go back to your normal, annoying self, instead of your sad annoying self.”

Wei WuXian stuck his tongue out, but he did explain in great, if wandering detail. Even so, it wasn't until he got to the end of the night that everything clicked neatly into place. Jiang Cheng stood up, stepped around the table, and swatted the side of his head.

“You idiot!”

“Oww! Jiang Cheng, what was that for? You asked me to tell you what happened, so I did! Just what did I say to deserve that?”

“You told him you needed time, and then you got upset when he stayed away from you? What kind of top tier moron are you?”

“I said I needed time, not that I wanted him to ignore me to the point where I questioned my own existence! How am I supposed to think he likes me if he won't even look at me?”

“Maybe it wouldn't be so hard to believe if you weren't so unreasonable!”

Wei WuXian flinched at that, making Jiang Cheng think perhaps he had gone too far.

“Rather than me being unreasonable, I think he's the unreasonable one. Did I say he couldn't talk to me? Did I say I didn't want to see him anymore?”

“Who knows how he thinks? He's probably just trying not to put any pressure on you.”

“Well if that's the case, it's not working! I can't think of anything but him!” Reaching up, Wei WuXian tangled his fingers in his own hair and tugged. “I call out to him after class, I keep looking for him at work even though I know he isn't there....” He looked up from beneath the tangle of his bangs. “Is this how he felt when I thought he hated me?”

Jiang Cheng sighed and took pity on his brother. “Look, just talk to him. I'm sure if you reach out and tell him it's okay, he'll be back to clinging to you in no time.”

That got a smile out of him, even if it was only a small one. “Lan Zhan doesn't cling.”

“No, he just follows you to work like a duckling, and waits for you to finish so that he can have a few minutes of your time when he drives you home. He probably hates this as much as you do. He just has more self-restraint.”

“Ha ha. You aren't wrong about that last part.” Stretching, he laid his head on the table. “He's so stuffy.”

Jiang Cheng saw the way his brother smiled when he said that. Even without all the other things Wei WuXian had said, that soft, fond expression was more than enough to tell him where his brother's heart lay.

“I'll wait to say 'I told you so' about everything until after you get this fixed,” he said by way of offering his blessing.

Wei WuXian huffed and smiled. “Gee, thanks.”

 

Chapter Text

It was nearly nine PM on Monday night, and Wei WuXian was standing on the porch of the Lan home, uninvited and dressed for battle. He wore plain sneakers (no heelies to skate away from this problem), the lucky jeans he'd had since high school, a sweatshirt emblazoned with the logo of his college, and his high school class ring. He wore one of Jiang Cheng's jackets (not technically stolen this time, since he had seen Wei WuXian take it and hadn't stopped him), and had tied his hair up with a red silk ribbon shijie had given him years ago. In one hand was a bottle of Emperor's Smile.

After the trip over, his courage was beginning to flag, but he took a deep breath and remembered the texts he'd sent Lan WangJi after Jiang Cheng's pep talk, and the answers he'd gotten.

[lan zhaaaaaan!! how r u?]

[I am fine.]

[what ru doing?]

[Studying.]

[youre really fine?]

[Yes.]

[lan zhan]
[laaaaaaan zhaaaaaaaaaaan]
[are you really really fine? youve been weird lately]

[Do not dwell on things that trouble you.]

And with that, he had stopped responding. The rejection had hurt. He'd been trying to reach out and resolve things, but Lan WangJi couldn't even spare him a few minutes to talk? What was there to salvage between them if he wasn't even worth Lan WangJi's time?

Then, in the space of a few minutes and several unanswered texts, the hurt transformed into anger. If Lan WangJi didn't want to talk about his feelings, then fine. They were his own to do with as he pleased. He could just keep quiet about them the way he had all this time! Wei WuXian, on the other hand, had no interest in keeping quiet. He'd spent the better part of a week doing that, and it was killing him! Better to spill everything and risk being rejected if Lan WangJi had come to his senses and was trying to get over him, than to keep it all bottled up and risk exploding.

So Wei WuXian had gotten dressed and made his way to Lan WangJi's home to unburden himself. He had made only one detour in order to pick up a bottle of Emperor's Smile, because this felt like a needing-all-the-courage-he-could-get sort of situation.

Steeling himself, he rang the doorbell before he could change his mind.

It was Lan XiChen who opened the door. He looked startled to see Wei WuXian at first, but that changed quickly into something far more complicated.

“Was my brother expecting you?”

“No, but I have something very important to tell him, and it couldn't wait.” He fidgeted under Lan XiChen's scrutiny. “May I come in?”

“Wei WuXian....” Whatever Lan XiChen might have been about to say, he discarded it with a shake of his head. Stepping back, he held the door open. “He is in his room. You remember the way?”

With a nod, Wei WuXian hurried past. His feet remembered the route to Lan WangJi's room, and when he reached the door, he threw it open and barged in without slowing.

Lan WangJi was already about to go to bed. He was in his pajamas, turning down the covers, and looked up with a frown when Wei WuXian let himself in. Seeing who it was, his eyes widened in surprise.

“What are you doing here?” he asked as Wei WuXian shut the door.

Before answering, Wei WuXian opened up the bottle of Emperor's Smile and took a long drink straight from it. He gasped afterward, and wiped his mouth on his sleeve, then fixed Lan WangJi with what he hoped was a steady look.

“We need to talk,” he said.

At the nonplussed stare he got in return, he felt his face heat up. Wei WuXian crossed the room, and thrust the bottle out toward Lan WangJi.

“You drink too,” he ordered.

Lan WangJi studied him a moment more, then, rather than argue, he accepted the bottle and drank. The thought that maybe he felt like he could use the extra shot of courage, too, was somewhat reassuring. Taking the bottle back, Wei WuXian took another drink, then dropped to sit on the edge of Lan WangJi's bed. He leaned back, bracing himself on his hands and staring up at the ceiling.

“Do you always fall asleep after drinking, and then wake up drunk shortly after?”

“I do not know.” He frowned slightly. “You are the only one I have shared a drink with.”

In spite of the nervousness eating away at him, Wei WuXian smiled. “Aww, Lan Zhan. That's kind of sweet.” His grin grew as he teased, and he turned it onto Lan WangJi. “Does that mean you trust me?”

“Yes.”

Not prepared for the immediacy or sincerity of that answer, Wei WuXian was taken aback. He looked away, even as Lan WangJi swayed where he stood, then sank down, in control enough to take a seat on the floor, rather than on the bed beside him. Hesitantly, Wei WuXian reached out and laid a hand on his head.

“I'll keep that in mind.”

Absently, he stroked Lan WangJi's hair as he waited for him to wake up. Then, as the silence began to bother him, he started talking.

“Maybe I shouldn't have made you drink. I'm nervous, though. I'm not used to this.” He laughed self-consciously. “Want to know a secret, Lan Zhan? I'll tell you since you're asleep. All that experience I've bragged about? It doesn't exist. Not a bit of it. You're the first person I.... Ha ha. Isn't it funny, Lan Zhan? I came here to tell you how I feel, but I can't even say it when you're asleep. Lan Zhan, I.... I really.... I li—”

He couldn't get the words out. It was beyond frustrating. Before he knew what he was doing, his fingers had curled into a fist around a lock of Lan WangJi's hair. It was only when he felt the strands go taut that he realized he had started to tug, and he hurriedly let go.

“Oh, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan.... I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking.” He slipped off the bed to kneel next to Lan WangJi, and ran his fingers gently over his hair again and again. “You say you trust me, and then I go and pull your hair. I really think you made a poor choice, Lan Zhan.” Eyes downcast, his fingers carded once more through the inky fall of Lan WangJi's hair, then stilled, coming to rest on his shoulder. “Maybe it would be for the best after all if you changed your mind about me.”

“Wei Ying.”

Hearing his name spoken in that low, calm voice, his head jerked up automatically to meet Lan WangJi's gaze. He felt a hand settle on his own, and smiled crookedly.

“Did you just wake up, Lan Zhan, or were you listening to me the whole time? That would be just like you. It isn't fair, you know. I feel like you know much more about me than I know about you. That's my fault, isn't it? Because I talk too much and don't ask you enough questions. But I do know some things about you, Lan Zhan! I do pay attention. I know that you're smart, but that you still work hard. I know that even though you look cold and uninterested, you're actually quite kind and thoughtful. I know that you believe in doing the right thing because it's right, not because you'll be rewarded. And I know you hold yourself back from so much. I know you used to watch my friends and me, and you'd never come join us, no matter how often I waved to you or called you over, but I know—I know—you didn't just want to be by yourself. Did you?”

“No.”

Such a simple answer for all the intensity burning in his eyes. Wei WuXian felt a sharp jab in his chest. Had he always been an idiot?

“Lan Zhan...where have you been these past few days?”

“You asked for time.”

“Just because I need time to think, that means I don't want to see you? Don't you know me better than that? I was worried, you know? You never even said that you like me, so how am I supposed to know how much, or for how long?”

Lan WangJi was staring at him, eyes wide, seeming speechless rather than reticent. Leaning closer, Wei WuXian's hesitant smile grew into something brighter and more hopeful.

“But you know what, Lan Zhan? I made up my mind.” His grin bloomed full force as the words he'd struggled to say only a few minutes ago refused to remain unspoken any longer. “I like you, Lan Zhan! I like you a lot! And even if you get tired of me, or if you like someone else more, that's fine, because I'll still love you!”

As the words left his lips, Lan WangJi surged forward, crashing into him and driving him backward, down onto the floor where Wei WuXian found himself pinned beneath the warm weight of his body. He had no time to question or even let out a startled laugh before he felt the press of lips upon his, soft and startling, sending tingles running along his nerves. One of Lan WangJi's hands was cupping his cheek, the fingers of the other were tangled in his hair.

Wei WuXian's thoughts were racing as fast as his heartbeat, faster, even. They tumbled and spun, coming so quickly all at once that he might not have had any thoughts at all, for all the focus he could give to any single one. Gradually, they slowed enough for fleeting impressions. Weight. Heat. The scent of sandalwood. The taste of mint. A tremor in the hand against his cheek. A sweetness in the movement of lips against his. He felt crushed and cherished all at once.

Unexpectedly, Lan WangJi's tongue swiped across the seam of his lips. Wei WuXian gasped, providing him an opportunity that Lan WangJi was only too eager to take advantage of. The kiss deepened, turning wet and desperate. Wei WuXian was clinging to Lan WangJi long before they broke apart, both breathing hard, staring at each other close enough that their noses brushed with every gasp.

“Again,” Lan WangJi demanded.

“What?” Head spinning, Wei WuXian could barely process the word, though he was tilting his chin up for another kiss even as he breathed the question between them.

“Say it again.”

“Say...? Say that I like you?” He laughed breathlessly. “Do you need to hear it again?” Grinning, he released his grip on Lan WangJi's nightshirt in order to twine his arms around the back of his neck. “Lan Zhan. Lan Er-gege.” Wei WuXian felt him shiver. “Should I tell you how much I like you? Should I show you?” He pulled Lan WangJi down to speak those last words against his lips.

Lan WangJi's eyes slid shut. “Tell me.”

Giddy with delight, Wei WuXian laughed again. “Just tell you? Tell you that I like you so much that simply seeing your face makes me happy? That I haven't known what to do with myself this last week? That I like you so much I've been imagining where else you might take me? That I like you so much I've been dreaming about what we'll do after you bring me home?”

Abruptly, Lan WangJi got to his feet. Wei WuXian barely had time to feel the loss before he was lifted up off the floor and laid down on the bed. Lan WangJi crawled in next to him, and Wei WuXian's heartbeat, already drumming far too quickly, went even faster. His face was burning up, and the warring of anxiety and anticipation within him made his skin feel extra sensitive.

“Lan Zhan, you're so bold suddenly! I don't know if—”

Lan WangJi pulled the blankets up over them. He kissed Wei WuXian's forehead, then settled in with an arm slung over his waist.

“Say it again,” he murmured. “Simply.”

“I like you, Lan Zhan. I love you.” The only response was the arm around him tightening. “Lan Zhan...? Are we...are we only going to sleep?”

“It is nine. Say it again in the morning.”

Wei WuXian couldn't help it. He laughed. He squirmed in Lan WangJi's hold, turning to hug him back.

“I can't believe you, Lan Zhan!” Tucking his head beneath his chin, he asked quietly: “Do you love me, too?”

“Mm. I love you.”

“Will you tell me again in the morning?”

“Mm.”

“You won't remember.”

“I will remember.”

Wei WuXian laughed softly. It would be fine. If Lan WangJi forgot, he would simply have to remind him.

 

Chapter Text

It was half past six. Lan WangJi had just finished getting dressed and was tidying up his room. He closed the closet door that Wei WuXian had left open, and picked up the torn jeans and bulky sweater he'd discarded on the floor. For a moment, Lan WangJi held the clothes, caught up in a sense of rightness that hadn't faded a bit over the few months since Wei WuXian's confession. He put the clothes into the hamper to be washed along with his own.

He had made them a dinner reservation at a fancy restaurant that he knew Wei WuXian had been wanting to try. They needed to be leaving soon, but as he went to remind his boyfriend of this, he found that he wasn't actually in any particular hurry.

Wei WuXian was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, his collection of cosmetics spilled out over the counter in front of him. He had chosen a cheongsam to wear, a brilliant red one embroidered with large peonies down the long skirt. It had a high collar, but the back was cut away from the knob of his spine to just beneath his shoulder blades. The way he had his hair tied up in a careless bun left nothing covering his back save the trailing red ribbon he wore. Lan WangJi stood just outside the door, watching every tiny movement, appreciating the shape of his body, remembering the feel of his skin beneath fingertips and lips. It took an act of will to remain standing where he was, rather than to close the few steps between them, take Wei WuXian in his arms, and kiss his way up his exposed back.

Adding to his desire was a prickling of jealousy at the thought that others would see him this way, that Wei WuXian would grin and flirt and effortlessly, thoughtlessly, leave them wanting him. He meant nothing by it, and would never stray, but watching always set something alight in Lan WangJi. Tonight, after dinner, after whatever diversion Wei WuXian found for them in the city, Lan WangJi would bring him back here and claim him all over again, mark his skin, worship him with kisses and caresses, shower him with all the attention and affection and desire he could want and more....

He wondered if Wei WuXian knew. He had always been such a tease that it was difficult to tell.

From where Lan WangJi was standing, he could not be seen in the mirror. It hadn't taken him long, once Wei WuXian had begun gradually leaving his things here, to realize that, if he was quiet, and if Wei WuXian was deeply focused, it was possible to watch him without being noticed. Watching him apply his makeup was endlessly fascinating. Perhaps it was the contrast that made it so: seeing him standing so still, being so precise with the small movements of his hand; seeing the way he was suddenly careful and delicate, where normally he was all impetuous motion; seeing his masculine beauty tamed into loveliness, his features enhanced and sharpened so that his eyes seemed larger and brighter, his lips more eye-catching. Perhaps it was in the change in his movements: the careful way he held himself, the flick of his slender wrist, the arch of his fingers on whatever brush or tube he held. Perhaps it was his expressions: now sharply intent, now forcibly relaxed, now wide-eyed and open mouthed with hilarious exaggeration, now oddly sensuous with lips parted and lashes shadowing his delicate skin.

And, perhaps, it was simply him, Wei WuXian, confident and content in the choices that he made for himself. The beautiful dress and careful makeup which should have been so at odds with his character somehow suited him. Wei WuXian was a fighter, in more ways than one, the type to defend others from bullies no matter if he knew them or not, the type who could smile through his pain to keep others from feeling it. He was rowdy, easily distracted, too fond of alcohol, and didn't care for rules that got in the way of his fun. He was careless and carefree, and so very, very beautiful in ways that had nothing to do with his appearance. In Lan WangJi's eyes, he shone. He was captivating.

He must have made some noise to betray his presence, or maybe Wei WuXian simply felt the weight of his stare. Either way, he turned suddenly from the mirror, mascara held in one hand. His lashes were dark and full, his eyelids shimmered with pale gold and traces of red along the outer edges. All Lan WangJi cared about was the way he grinned, bright as the sun.

“Lan Zhan! You're already done? Reliable as always! I know I'm always making us late. I'll hurry, I'll hurry. I promise!”

“No need.”

Something about that made Wei WuXian laugh. He did that often, and his delight kindled a warmth in Lan WangJi's chest.

“You let me get away with too much, Lan Zhan! I'll get spoiled.”

He stirred and stepped away from the door. “Do you need restrictions?”

“No, no! Spoil me, spoil me!”

He laughed again, capping the mascara and turning back to the mirror. When Lan WangJi stepped up right behind him and wrapped one arm loosely across his collarbone and the other over the top of his stomach, he hummed happily and wriggled back against him.

“You're so warm, Lan Zhan! It feels so nice. I have a wrap to wear, but I'd rather stay just like this all night.”

“We can.”

“What, and miss out on this dinner? Lan Zhan, don't make me choose! Let's eat first. We can take a walk in the park, after. If I get cold, you can warm me up.”

He smiled impishly, eyes locked on Lan WangJi's via their reflections. Lan WangJi merely tightened his hold in answer. He didn't let go even when Wei WuXian began picking through the cosmetics again, clearly not quite finished. Out of the pile, he selected two lipsticks and held them up.

“Lan Zhan, which do you like better? Red or pink?” He brought each close to his lips briefly as he asked.

“Either.”

“Lan Zhan! You have to have a preference!”

Closing his eyes, he buried his face in the crook of Wei WuXian's neck, breathing in his scent. He nuzzled against the silk, trailing his lips up until he could place a kiss on the bare skin beneath the corner of his jaw. Mouthing kisses along the way, he moved up until he could nibble on the lobe of his ear. “Either,” he murmured again.

Wei WuXian shivered against him. “Lan Zhan, this dress is just a little tight, and if you keep that up, I might not be decent for dinner.”

“We can go another night.” He pulled Wei WuXian even closer.

“No, I want to go! I definitely want to go!”

“Finish, then.”

Groaning in indecision, he finally sat the pink lipstick back down with the rest of his makeup. “The red, then. Since you're being bold tonight, I will be as well.”

He leaned toward the mirror, just a bit, careful not to pull away too far. One of his hands came up to rest on Lan WangJi's arm as he expertly applied the lipstick. Lan WangJi couldn't help but stare as he pressed his lips briefly together, then separated them with a soft pop. He couldn't help but imagine those red, red lips on his skin, leaving smeared evidence of Wei WuXian's desire.

Even as he thought this, Wei WuXian turned in his arms, and reached up to wrap his own around Lan WangJi's neck. He lifted his chin and brought their lips together in a chaste kiss. He smelled of makeup, that peculiar, powdery smell that Lan WangJi still didn't quite care for. He would get used to it, though. It made Wei WuXian happy, so he would get used to it without complaint. When he pulled back, he could faintly taste the lipstick, could practically feel it waxy on his own lips. From the way Wei WuXian's grin scrunched up his eyes and left them twinkling, he could guess that there had been some transference.

“Oops. Got a bit smudged.” Wei WuXian ran his thumb over Lan WangJi's lips, and there was a definite hunger in his expression, in the way his lips parted, teeth catching on the bottom one as he stared at Lan WangJi's mouth. “You'd better wipe that off. And can you bring me my wrap? Let me fix this, and I'll be ready to go. Pity I can't kiss you without mussing this one. I'll have to find the color in a better brand. Or maybe not.” His smile grew sharper. “The color looks good on you.”

“Ridiculous,” Lan WangJi murmured fondly. He took a tissue to wipe his mouth, and went to fetch the wrap, a black, lacy thing Wei WuXian had left lying across his bed that would do nothing to protect him from the cold. He selected one of his own coats, a cream-colored wool peacock coat which was the warmest one he owned, and returned to the bathroom.

Wei WuXian was just finishing up, hastily pushing his scattered cosmetics to the back corner of the counter, the space he had claimed for himself, making the Lan home just a little bit theirs. When the semester was over, Lan WangJi planned to move out, to find a place to live with Wei WuXian, and Wei WuXian only. He settled the wrap over Wei WuXian's shoulders, covering the opening in the back of his dress, and was not at all surprised when he immediately shrugged it down so that it hung in the crooks of his elbows, draping across his lower back as if to underscore the cut out.

Turning, Wei WuXian beamed at him. “Well? How do I look? Am I beautiful, Lan Zhan?” He spun, causing the hem of his cheongsam to flare, and displaying a fair amount of leg at the slit up his left side.

“Mm.”

It wasn't the answer Wei WuXian had been hoping for, and he heaved a sigh, shoulders sagging.

“We need to work on that, Lan Zhan. You need to say more than just 'Mm' when I'm asking to be complimented! Do you even care at all about what I wear?”

In all honesty, he didn't. Wei WuXian was always beautiful: be it at night, dressed up to go out to a fancy dinner, or first thing in the morning, naked beneath the sheets, nose crinkling up as he curled closer to the fading warmth when Lan WangJi got up before him. He had always thought Wei WuXian was beautiful. It was an inextricable part of his nature, of his ready smiles and easy laughter and his way of always being ready to reach out a hand and accept Lan WangJi's. His clothes made no difference. He was entrancingly brilliant.

Because Wei Ying was Wei Ying, and it didn't matter if his face was made up or not, if his hair was sleep-tousled or silky-smooth, if he wore t-shirts and faded jeans, pressed slacks and a button down, or dresses and delicate jewelry. Lan WangJi was entranced by the person, not his looks, and he had no way, between the depth of his feelings and his difficulties expressing himself verbally, of putting that adoration into words.

“Wei Ying....” He got that far and stopped. How could he say it all? How could he make Wei WuXian understand? For lack of knowing what to say, he lifted Wei WuXian's hand and kissed his knuckles, staring into his eyes and willing him to see the depth of his devotion.

Something must have gotten through. Color that had nothing to do with powders and creams rose in Wei WuXian's cheeks, and the look in his eyes changed, grew warm and fond and so full that he suddenly looked away, blinking rapidly.

“Lan Zhan, you're going to make me blush!” He was trying to turn it into a joke, but his voice was husky, and his eyes gleamed. It took him a moment to compose himself, and Lan WangJi held his hand the whole time, relieved that something of the depth of his feelings must have gotten through.

“We should go,” he said. He held up his coat, helping Wei WuXian into it.

As they prepared to leave, Lan WangJi thought that perhaps he would not call his boyfriend's attention to the lovebite just peeking out from beneath the back of his collar. He smiled to himself, the barest easing of his expression which nonetheless left Wei WuXian grinning and pestering him to explain what was so funny. He refused to answer. If Wei WuXian knew the mark was there, he might try to cover it up. Such effort hardly seemed necessary. Let people see it when he took off the coat at dinner, this beautiful man in his beautiful dress. Lan WangJi loved Wei WuXian with every ounce of his being. Let the world see it. Love was a beautiful thing.