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Shouting (among many other things) is forbidden within the Cloud Recesses. The Lan sect have always observed these rules, ever since the first Lan, Lan An, made his home in Gusu – and on most days, the sounds that are the loudest on that mountain are that of practicing music, polite conversation, and perhaps, when there are disciples from other sects; stifled laughter. Wei Wuxian and Lil’ Apple contribute to the noise production the most, though Lan Jingyi comes a close third. But not on purpose. Never on purpose!

It’s just… He seems to have really bad luck. Ever since he was little, he was never like the rest of his family, or even his sect. “Sizhui… How are you more of a Lan than I am, even though you’re not actually a Lan?” Lan Jingyi asks one time.

Lan Sizhui smiles sympathetically, but doesn’t say anything, because there’s nothing he can really say.

Lan Sizhui, Lan Xichen, Lan Wangji, Lan Qiren – all these people are the ultimate Lans; they follow many rules every day, they speak quietly and do not show much emotion. Jingyi often wishes he can be like them, but no matter how hard he tries… Somehow, he is still the most un-Lan-like Lan to ever Lan.

One time, however, Jingyi messes up so badly, that for a moment, he thinks the world is going to end.

He breaks Lan Qiren’s favorite tea set.

Jingyi doesn’t mean to do it. But he’s making tea for his teacher to show that, actually, he does have some Lan qualities (among them, consideration and respect for one’s elders), and then he suddenly gets distracted by visitors from Lotus Pier in Yunmeng; the leader of the Jiang Sect and his nephew, Jin Ling.

“Hey!” calls Jingyi, forgetting that you can’t yell in the Cloud Recesses.

Jin Ling rolls his eyes, but waves back.

Sect Leader Jiang, Sandu-Shengshou, Jiang Wanyin – the wielder of Zidian (possibly one of the coolest, famous cultivators ever) stands a distance away, talking to someone in Lan Sect robes. His purple robes blow in the breeze, his back is straight, and his eyes are sharp. The ring on his finger glints in the sunlight.

So cool… Jingyi only realizes that he’s staring when Sect Leader Jiang turns to look back at him with narrowed eyes and an annoyed expression. Jingyi gulps but can’t look away. Their eyes meet, and Jingyi panics.

And then he realizes that he’s been pouring hot water on his boots for the past five seconds, panics more, and manages to brush the teapot, teacups, and tray crashing to the floor with the edge of his sleeve.

Jiang Wanyin raises his eyebrows.

Jingyi’s face turns entirely red and he ducks out of sight, under the window. Thankfully, no-one besides Jiang Wanyin notices. But that is probably the single most embarrassing moment of Lan Jingyi’s twenty-year-old life. Embarrassing himself like this in front of Sandu-Shengshou, the Sandu-Shengshou – this is inexcusable.

Jingyi makes a miserable facial expression.

/

It’s rather late at night when Lan Qiren discovers what has happened to his tea set, and when he does, Lan Jingyi runs. Running is also forbidden in the Cloud Recesses, but in that moment, Lan Jingyi embraces his un-Lan-ness entirely, and runs for his life. He sticks to the shadows, weaves in between buildings and trees, looking back occasionally.

He can see something white fluttering in the wind, out of the corner of his eye. Is that just laundry hung out to dry, or is that Lan Qiren chasing him down? Jingyi doesn’t intend to find out. He scales the wall of a building and ducks inside the first open window on the second floor. The room is dark, and Jingyi assumes it is empty.

He rolls in, then crouches in utter silence for a few moments, waiting to hear the sounds of approaching footsteps, or the sound of Lan Qiren’s enraged voice. But there is nothing, and he breathes a sigh of relief. “Oh, I thought I was dead for sure…”

And then-

It is as if lightning crackles with a sharp purple glare, shocking Jingyi’s eyes.

The next thing he knows, he is tied from shoulders to ankles, encircled in a glowing and popping bolt of energy that tightens around him. it emits a purple light, and someone stands over him.

Zidian, realizes Jingyi. Then, ohfuckohfuck I fucked up-

Sect Leader Jiang’s sharp face is eerily illuminated by the whip, and he holds the handle in his hand. He is in a single loose sleeping robe that falls carelessly open across his chest, and his hair is undone. But that doesn’t make him look any less scary.

“What the actual fuck?” Jiang Wanyin asks, as if talking to himself, peering more closely at Jingyi.

Jingyi’s jaw is clenched in fear, but he manages to say, something along the lines of, “Sandu-Shengshou- Oh my god- I didn’t mean to!”

“Who are you?” demands Jiang Wanyin.

“L-Lan Jingyi, sir!” squeaks Jingyi.

Jiang Wanyin narrows his eyes, then Zidian relaxes slightly around Jingyi, to the point where Jingyi can stand, even if his arms are tied to his sides. “…Right. You’re the staring-and-knocking-things-over kid,” Jiang Wanyin finally says. “You’re a Lan? A real Lan?”

Jingyi swallows. That’s how Sandu-Shengshou is going to remember him. As the kid who stared at him, knocked over a teapot, then climbed into his room at night… Ground, please open up and swallow me! “Sometimes I can’t believe it myself, either,” he sighs.

“So,” Jiang Wanyin says, sitting back down on his bed and crossing his arms, “What the hell are you doing in my room?”

Jingyi swallows again. “So, basically,” he begins, trying to remain calm in a terrifying situation, “I broke Master Lan Qiren’s favorite tea set. So when he found the pieces, I ran. A-and I didn’t know anyone was in here, I swear! I thought it was empty, ‘cause the lights were off!”

“I was trying to sleep, dumbass,” mutters Jiang Wanyin. “That’s what people do when they sleep – they turn the lights off.” He snorts. “And you pissed Lan Qiren so badly he chased you through the Cloud Recesses? No-one is going to bury your corpse.”

Jingyi sighs. “I’m probably going to die tomorrow,” he agrees, already resigned to a terrible fate. He looks up at Jiang Wanyin. “Sandu-Shengshou, can you please forgive me?” he asks. He makes a movement as if to bow, but Zidian is still wound around him, if slightly looser than before, so the bow is awkward and not very deep.

At that moment, there is a sound outside, of people talking. Jingyi goes silent, straining to hear. The voices waft up through the open window.

“…-and you have not seen Jingyi here?” asks the voice of Lan Qiren.

Jingyi freezes, eyes going wide.

The voice of Lan Sizhui is smooth. “No, I have not seen him, Teacher. Do you have need of him for something? If I see him, I will let him know you are looking.”

Jingyi’s wide eyes look from Zidian, to Sect Leader Jiang, to the open widow, and he falls to his knees. “Sandu-Shengshou! Please let me stay here!” he pleads. “If I leave now, I’m dead meat!”

Jiang Wanyin blinks. “You what?”

Jingyi is panicking. He would literally rather face an army of ghosts and fierce corpses than Lan Qiren in a righteous rage. “Please, Sect Leader Jiang, I’ll do anything!” he begs.

Jiang Wanyin snorts. “That’s not a good offer to make to the leader of a different sect,” he mutters, rolling his eyes. “What would you do if I held you to that, huh?”

“I might not be a perfect Lan, but I’m a man of my word!” Jingyi shoots back. “Besides, Sect Leader Jiang, I doubt you’d ask me for anything dishonorable!”

Zidian loosens just a little bit more, then flares with a bright purple light and retracts entirely back into a ring on Jiang Wanyin’s finger. Jiang Wanyin raises his eyebrows. “How about I don’t take you up on that offer, however enticing,” and his tone is very dry, as of to imply that Lan Jingyi’s ‘anything’ isn’t enough for him, “And you leave?”

Jingyi edges over to the window, peeks out, then throws himself back against the wall as he sees Lan Qiren pacing right underneath. Oh shit – danger on both sides – and at this point, I prefer death at Sect Leader Jiang’s hands. “Please don’t make me leave!” pleads Jingyi. “I’ll do an-”

“You’ll do anything – I got that part already,” Jiang Wanyin says with another eye-roll. “What if I do ask you for something dishonorable?” His voice is low, his eyes dark, and his ring crackles with tiny bolts of purple lightning.

Jingyi’s mouth goes dry, but his mind draws a blank. “Uh, like… Like what?”

Jiang Wanyin stares at him in disbelief, then puts his palm to his forehead. “…Oh my god,” he mutters, shaking his head. He gives Jingyi a sharp glare from between his fingers. “Get the hell out while I’m still in a good mood.”

Jingyi sighs, puts his linked hands out in a polite bow, then edges over to the door. Cautiously, he slides it a fraction open and peers out-

Only to dart out of sight, a hand over his own mouth to keep from breathing too loudly. Another Lan Sect instructor was pacing the hallway, and Jingyi knew with a damning certainty that if he was seen, he would be captured and taken back to Lan Qiren.

He looks at Jiang Wanyin with begging eyes, not daring to say a word. He shakes his head vehemently several times.

A vein throbs in the side of Jiang Wanyin’s head. “What? You like me? Is that it? Why are you so intent on staying in my room tonight?” he growls.

Jingyi blushes from his neck to the roots of his hair. “I-I do not!” he retorts. “I just don’t want to be skinned alive!”

Jiang Wanyin snorts. Zidian shoots out from his hand again, and Jingyi is bound from shoulders to his hips, arms pinned to his sides, then dragged forward until he’s less than a foot away from the Jiang Sect Leader. Jiang Wanyin glares and Zidian crackles. “And you don’t think I could do something worse than whatever handstand-rule-copying Lan Qiren has planned for you?” he asks.

Jingyi swallows, throat bobbing. His mouth is suddenly dry again and his heart beats wildly. “Um,” he says.

Jiang Wanyin raises an eyebrow. Zidian pulses with light, winding a little more tightly around Jingyi.

“U-um, it would be bad for diplomacy?” manages Jingyi finally a little breathless, for some reason.

There is a silence.

Then, Jiang Wanyin actually laughs. First, he snorts a little, as if trying to suppress the laugh, then throws his head back and truly laughs for a moment, raking his loose hair back away from his face as he leans back.

Jingyi’s brain is about to short-circuit. His face heats for no apparent reason. Zidian loosens slightly around him, but doesn’t release him, so he can only stand in front of Jiang Wanyin as the Sect Leader looks up at him from where he’s sitting on the bed, very close.

“For the sake of diplomacy,” finally says Jiang Wanyin, flicking his wrist so that Jingyi falls to the floor a few feet away from the bed with Zidian still wrapped around him, “I’ll let you be.” He yawns, stretches, then lays down, pulling his blanket over himself. “’Night,” he mutters.

And then the room is silent.

What just happened?! Lan Jingyi’s eyes are wide as he stares at Jiang Wanyin’s back. What?! Am I dreaming?

/

Lan Jingyi only realizes that he had been asleep when he wakes up.

A ray of sunlight falls onto his face from the open window. He’s sprawled on the floor of the chambers reserved for honored visitors to the Lan Sect, a blanket carelessly thrown over him. Zidian is not wrapped around him any longer. He blinks, reaching up to rub his eyes. What-

Then he sits up. “Oh shit!” he says, looking around the room. The bed is empty.

There is a piece of paper on the bedside table.

To Lan Jingyi,’ reads Jingyi, ‘Just so you know, you snore like a hibernating bear. You spent the night here, so I’ll hold you to that promise you made one day – can’t think of anything for now, but I’ll leave it hanging over your head.’ Signed, ‘Jiang Wanyin.’

There is the promise of Lan Qiren’s rage to deal with, but it’s a new day, and Jingyi is positive about the outcome. For some reason, his cheeks heat a little as he folds the note and puts it in the front of his robes.

/

 

Bonus?

 

/

Jingyi sighs. His arm is beginning to tremble, but he doggedly moves the brush across the paper. As promised, copying out two thousand Lan Sect rules while doing a handstand. Lan Qiren has left, and now it is Hanguang-Jun keeping track of him.

Lan Wangji’s face is perfectly blank, as usual, and he reads a book.

Jingyi sighs again, gritting his teeth as he starts another row.

“Hey!” comes someone’s cheerful call, and Wei Wuxian comes up the stairs, eating an apple. He plops himself down next to Lan Wangji, snuggling up to his side and waving a careless hand at Jingyi. “I heard you broke Lan Qiren’s favorite tea set and then disappeared for the entire night!” he says with no preamble.

Jingyi, who is trying very hard to stay concentrated, grunts once in affirmative.

Wei Wuxian leans forward, taking a crunchy bite of apple. “Just between us,” he says in a stage-whisper, “Where did you go to?”

Jingyi’s face is already red from blood rushing to his head, but he feels his cheeks heat, glowing even brighter at the memory of Jiang Wanyin’s sharp eyes and half-dressed state, even though it was nothing indecent.

Wei Wuxian’s eyebrows begin to wiggle. “Ooh, alright, this seems to be an interesting story!” he looks at Lan Wangji. “Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, don’t you think it’s an interesting story?”

Lan Wangji’s eyes rise from his book. He doesn’t say anything to agree or disagree, but his eyes flick down to Jingyi and alight on something poking out of his collar.

Wei Wuxian’s eyes light up, and before Jingyi can do anything, he darts forward and plucks Jiang Wanyin’s note from the front of Jingyi’s robes.

He tries to snatch at it. “Hey! Senior Wei! Give that ba- Oh shi-” Jingyi overbalances and falls onto his side.

Wei Wuxian reads the note once. Then twice. “No way,” he whispers. He looks up at Jingyi. “No way!” he repeats gleefully. He passes it to Lan Wangji, who reads it with no expression whatsoever.

Wei Wuxian laughs until he looks like he is going to burst.

It is only when Jingyi sees his senior’s shameless expression that he realizes what this might look like to an outsider. His face is still very red. “Senior Wei!” he snaps. “It’s not like-”

Trying to get his breath back, Wei Wuxian shakes his head. “Don’t worry, don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone,” he says, but then begins laughing again, falling to his side and rolling around on the ground. “I can’t believe it!” he gasps out, tears of mirth in his eyes. “Jiang Cheng – to you-”

“I told you, it wasn’t like that!” Jingyi yells.

Lan Wangji interjects with an even voice. “Raised voices are forbidden within the Cloud Recesses.” Suddenly, Jingyi’s mouth is sealed shut.

And Lan Wangji does not silence his cultivation partner, who is shrieking with uproarious laughter.

Chapter Text

Sect Leader Jiang’s stay in Gusu is a more-or-less short one, only a week; and for two days after ‘the incident’, Jingyi doesn’t see him at all, because he’s too busy completing his punishments. But even if he isn’t a proper Lan, he’s Lan enough to know how to write neatly and fast, he has the famous Lan arm strength passed through generations of the Lan clan, and he has memorized most of the rules – so he’s halfway done in one day, and entirely done in another.

The next time Jingyi sees Jiang Wanyin, the sect leader is sitting in the library pavilion with Zewu-Jun, drinking tea. Jiang Wanyin’s expression is stoic, Lan Xichen is smiling, and they are talking about something. Jingyi is currently carrying water, and he sets the buckets down to wave at the two sect leaders before he realizes what he’s doing. He quickly lowers his arm and wants to duck out of sight, before they can notice him, but they both look over.

Lan Xichen smiles warmly at him. Jiang Wanyin rolls his eyes, but his mouth moves slightly (is he trying to hide a smile, or trying not to snarl at Jingyi with annoyance?)

Jingyi represses the conflicting urges to apologize and to roll his eyes back, simply taking his buckets and moving quickly away before things can be awkward. I’m not restrained enough, Jingyi thinks, that’s my problem.

Always speaking his thoughts, never being quiet enough, being too open with his emotions – Lan Jingyi sighs. At least this time, he only embarrassed himself. Lan Qiren always says that he is capable of embarrassing his entire Sect – though Jingyi has always avoided being seen in that sort of context. If he’s on a night hunt, or with Sizhui; that can disguise his un-Lan-ness a little bit.

Nobody would ever guess that Lan Sizhui is not a real Lan. After all, he embodies every Lan characteristic, not to mention Hanguang-Jun is practically his father. And that’s why, he would probably end up being Lan Sect Leader at some point in the far future. Jingyi doesn’t want to be Sect Leader. It’s more responsibility, more consequences for a mess-up, more eyes turned judgmentally upon him. But even despite that, Jingyi can’t hep but feel a little bit jealous of his friend (though he mostly feels happy for him).

Just a little, though. Being envious of others is probably something that is forbidden within the Cloud Recesses, too. And the gods know, Lan Jingyi has done enough rule-breaking just by existing.

/

There are reports of water ghouls in a small river town west of Caiyi. Lan Jingyi is the first to volunteer to go and get rid of them, even though he still hasn’t gotten over his fear. He wants to show that he is capable of something – and that breaking teapots and being scolded weren’t the only things he could do. Lan Sizhui asks for permission to come with and smiles at Jin Ling, and Jin Ling says something along the lines of, “Hmf, well, I guess if you want me to come with you…”

Jingyi can’t help grinning. Just like old times.

And then Wei Wuxian says he wants to go and watch (though everyone knows that he wants an excuse to leave the Cloud Recesses to stock up on Emperor’s Smile). And because Wei Wuxian is coming, Lan Wangji has decided to as well. And then to top it all off, Jiang Wanyin shrugs. “Hunting water ghouls in Gusu? Brings back memories. I’m coming as well.”

Jingyi’s grin drops. Shit – I’m gonna embarrass myself so bad if he’s watching.

/

They fly on their swords to get there; taking a boat would take too long. Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji bring up the rear, Jiang Wanyin is avoiding them, while not catching up with the three younger men. Sizhui and Jin Ling fly ahead, as Jingyi flies circles around them, spinning and doing tricks. Usually, Jingyi is graceful. When Jiang Wanyin looks at him with those sharp violet eyes, however, Jingyi suddenly had two left feet and an extra arm.

Therefore, he does his best not even to look in the Jiang Sect Leader’s direction as he flies loops around Jin Ling, just to annoy him.

“Stop showing off!” Jin Ling snaps. “Anyone can do that!”

“Oh yeah?” Jingyi shoots back. “I’ll take you on!”

Sizhui smiles placatingly. “Maybe you shouldn’t,” he suggests. “After all, Hanguang-Jun and another sect’s leader is watching us. We must make a good impression.”

Jin Ling rolls his eyes. “Uncle doesn’t care. He’d love to see me beat you in a competition.”

“Well, it’s a shame that Sect Leader Jiang isn’t going to get to see that!” Jingyi laughs and spirals away, flinging his arms out. “Try and catch me, Young Miss!”

You!” Jin Ling growls.

“A-Ling…” says Sizhui softly, flying closer and laying a hand on his arm.

Jin Ling’s entire face turns red. “D-don’t look at me like that! W-with those eyes… How am I supposed to not listen to you i-if you do that, huh?!”

Jingyi is too far away for Jin Ling to hear him laughing. He looks back at the three who came to watch, and sees Wei Wuxian rubbing his cheek against Lan Wangji’s arm like a cat. Jiang Wanyin looks murderous, and is pressing a hand to his forehead, actively avoiding looking at them.

He sees Jingyi looking back, and flies forward, coming even with him. “Do you put up with that every day?” he grumbles, jerking his thumb back to point at the lovey-dovey cultivation partners.

“Oh my god, every day,” Jingyi begins, about to begin complaining about how if one passes within several hundred meters of Lan Wangji’s jingshi at certain times at night or morning, Wei Wuxian’s screaming is heard – but he quickly stops himself for two reasons. One, that’s embarrassing. Two… “Um, talking about other people is prohibited,” he says, dipping his head and looking away.

Jiang Wanyin snorts. “Remind me,” he says dryly, “Is climbing into people’s rooms at night forbidden, also?”

Jingyi’s cheeks flare red. “Sect Leader Jiang! Please don’t bring that up!”

“It’s a question,” Jiang Wanyin says mercilessly. “I studied in Gusu back when I was a kid, but I never memorized every single rule. Besides, you Lans keep adding more. Tell me, is that one of those rules?”

“I-” Jingyi’s eyes flick from Jiang Wanyin’s face (is he glaring or is he smirking?) to his surroundings, looking for something, anything, but then his eyes alight on something up ahead, and he beams. “Oh! We’re right there!” He uses the half-moment of confusion to escape and glide to the forefront of their group.

/

Wei Wuxian stays true to his promise of coming to watch – as Lan Wangji sits down on a flat stone, looking dignified and composed, Wei Wuxian lays his head in his lap, eating loquats. “Put on a good show, alright?” he calls. “Hanguang-Jun and I are cheering you on!”

Jiang Wanyin stands a short distance away, glaring at them. “Don’t mess up,” he says shortly to Jin Ling, who nods once.

Jingyi, Sizhui, and Jin Ling fly out over the water. The plan is easy; Jin Ling brings them out and frustrates them with arrows, weakening them. Jingyi acts as bait, flying around and distracting them as Sizhui lands powerful hits. It’s a good, solid plan, fitting with their individual fighting styles, Jin Ling is good at long-range, Sizhui has strong frontal attacks, and Jingyi… Is good at flying? (Jingyi tries not to feel bitter about his role, but it’s really hard. He doesn’t say anything, though, because he doesn’t want to be called out on his fear of ghosts.)

Jin Ling fires arrows into the water, and soon a massive water ghoul rises out of the water, much bigger than they expected.

When Jingyi flies just a little closer, he realizes that it isn’t just one ghoul; it’s many, around ten or so, all clumped and tied together with loops of hair and… Seaweed? Isn’t this river of fresh water? And they stand in one large humanoid shape. They open hungry mouths and let out shrieks like one single unit.

Jingyi shrieks a little too, but clamps his mouth shut quickly. Jin Ling’s eyes widen. “What the hell?” he demands.

Sizhui is perfectly composed as he sweeps down from above. “Keep to the plan!” he says, swinging his guqin down from where it hung across his back. He strums, and the monster trembles.

The clear sound of Sizhui’s guqin brings Jin Ling and Jingyi back, and Jin Ling fires two arrows at the same time.

The monster lunges at him, oddly fast, but Jingyi skims right by it, even grazing it with the point of his sword. He ducks as one of its arms (entwined ghouls reaching for him with many hands) tries to grab him and spins out of reach.

Jin Ling fires several more arrows in rapid succession, and they glow with the bright fire of spiritual power.

The monster thrashes and jumps at him again, and before Jingyi can fly in and distract it again, Sizhui plucks his guqin’s strings.

The sound rolls out across the water, sending waves crashing and the monster stumbling. Sizhui looks regal and composed, standing on his sword, his eyes cold and sharp with fierce concentration. Like Hanguang-Jun, can’t help thinking Jingyi.

Jin Ling grins triumphantly and fires several more arrows at the unbalanced monster, sweeping too close to it. His arrows connect, but the monster was faking being more injured than it was. It rears up, and its many mouths scream viciously. Jin Ling’s eyes widen and he jerks back, but it isn’t enough-

“Watch out!” cries out Sizhui.

Shit. Jingyi is about to shout a warning, but he acts before he can even think.

He swoops in front of Jin Ling, shoving his friend backwards, and as the monster reaches out for Jingyi with both arms in a frightening embrace, he forgets to be scared. He jumps off his sword, backwards into the water, and his sword pierces the monster through its writhing ‘head’.

Jin Ling yells something-

And then Jingyi hits the water, the breath is driven out of him, and he sinks.

Jingyi fights against the water pressing on top of him, eyes wide and bubbles tearing from his throat. Then, he feels the handle of his sword, sees the bright glare, and with a force of willpower, bursts from the water with a desperate gasp for air. He rises up, hanging on to his sword with one hand.

He hears the sounds of two guqins strumming in unison.

He coughs, blinking water out of his eyes as he flies up higher. Sizhui and Jin Ling, see him and look extremely relieved.

Wait, how long was I under? is his first thought. Because the monster is entirely subdued, stuck full of arrows like a pincushion, its ‘head’ torn in two, and huge chunks ripped out of it with what looks like fire-

Oh.

Jiang Wanyin’s Zidian tears the whole thing in half before Jingyi’s astounded eyes. The Jiang Sect Leader stands on his sword, and watches Jingyi’s ascent. He shakes his head a little, and is he grinning?!

Jingyi’s breath catches, and he grins breathlessly in answer, water dripping down his face.

On the shore, Lan Wangji still has his guqin out, but he has stilled the strings. He nods once with approval. Wei Wuxian is clapping his hands and jumping up and down.

Jingyi falls onto the shore in an undignified heap, his legs giving out almost immediately after he sheathes his sword. Sizhui wraps an arm around his shoulders, helping him stand. “Are you alright?” he asks softly.

“Yeah,” says Jingyi.

Jin Ling grabs the front of Jingyi’s robes. “Lan Jingyi! You stupid, stupid, stupid- Dumbass!” he yells.

“A-Ling-” begins Sizhui, trying not to smile.

“You’re welcome,” mutters Jingyi.

Jin Ling hugs him tightly for half a second, then darts back, glaring. “I could’ve dealt with it myself- Ow!”

Jiang Wanyin alights, smacking Jin Ling on the back of the head. “He means, ‘thanks’,” he says. For a moment, his mouth curves in a crooked smile. “That was good flying.”

Jingyi wants to accept the compliment with grace and calmness. Instead he can only smile so widely that his face is in danger of splitting, eyes lighting up and cheeks flushing, wanting to shout with joy. His heart rises in his chest until it’s a little hard to breathe for some reason. Sandu-Shengshou praised me, maybe I’m not such a hopeless case, after all! “Thanks!” he says, a little breathless laughter spilling up from within him as he meets Jiang Wanyin’s eyes.

Jiang Wanyin blinks.

Before he can say anything, Wei Wuxian dances up, slinging an arm around the Jiang Sect Leader’s shoulders. “You had us worried for a second,” he says, “But you all did so well! Hangauang-Jun and I are proud!”

Lan Wangji nods silently.

Sizhui bows politely, but he smiles softly. Jin Ling looks a little uncomfortable.

Jiang Wanyin shakes Wei Wuxian’s arm off, rolling his eyes. “Don’t get all touchy-feely, you weirdo,” he growls.

/

No, I’m a hopeless case after all, thinks Jingyi, the happiness of earlier today entirely forgotten. Comportment with grace, dignity, and propriety mark a Lan just as easily as the blue and white sect’s uniform, or the white forehead ribbon. And while Jingyi may look the part, once he opens his mouth, well… In the words of Lan Qiren, “…-Embarrassing the Lan Sect! Many times, I have told you – think before you speak and have no word be a waste.”

Jingyi watches Lan Qiren’s beard as he talks, instead of his eyes. It moves with his chin, the tip whisking back and forth, until Lan Qiren begins to stroke it in aggravation. It’s a little bit funny, and a technique Jingyi learned from a young age to keep Lan Qiren’s words from feeling too sharp. Lan Qiren would probably look better (and like, ten years younger) without a beard, but would anyone recognize him if he took it off? This is the idle thought that Jingyi has.

“You break rules one after the other, and you do not seem to try and mend your ways – I can only assume you wish to be reprimanded!”

All this is something Jingyi has heard many, many times over and over again. What people don’t understand is that he tries! But if someone told Wei Wuxian he wasn’t allowed to smile, or told Lan Wangji to keep grinning, or Jin Ling to be honest about his feelings – it would be an impossible thing. Don’t get upset, don’t get upset, Jingyi tells himself. Jingyi knows, deep down, that Lan Qiren scolding him like this means that he cares, and knows to expect a lot from Jingyi, that he believes in his ability, and that he wants Jingyi to turn out well, because he sees potential. But… Somehow, it doesn’t make the sharp words sting any less.

“I’ve told you time after time, and yet you still seem to disregard this; you are a Lan. Act like one. You are the legacy of an ancient and noble clan of cultivators. Your ancestors and relatives headed the sect-”

Suddenly, Jingyi can’t stand it anymore. “I won’t,” he says, and his voice shakes a little. “I won’t head the sect. You know I won’t, Master. If Zewu-Jun retires, he’ll definitely choose Sizhui as his replacement. I might be a Lan, but not as much as he is. Why can’t I just stay out of the way? I’ll go on night hunts, but I can’t represent the Lan Sect. I try, please believe me, Teacher, I really try!” he says, refusing to cry, clenching his fists and looking eye-to-eye at Lan Qiren. “But it’s never enough, and I- I can’t live up to any of the expectations, so can’t you just give up on me?!”

Lan Qiren stares, and suddenly Jingyi can’t keep down tears, so he bows, turns, and very deliberately walks out instead of running (which is what he truly wants to do). As soon as he’s out of sight, he rubs a sleeve across his eyes and stumbles into the gardens.

He crosses the bridge, then climbs down the bank down to the stream where a willow tree hangs over the water.

“Damn it!” he yells, suddenly angry; at himself, at everyone, at everything – at the sun for shining. Jingyi whirls and hits a tree with his fist.

He’s crying more, but with every punch, he scrubs his eyes again. Not enough, not right, don’t fit-

“Is this some kind of Lan cultivation technique I haven’t heard of?”

Jingyi turns, shaking slightly, rubbing his eyes again.

Jiang Wanyin has his arms crossed, standing on the bridge as he looks at Jingyi.

Jingyi isn’t even in the mood for Jiang Wanyin. “No,” he says moodily, not looking at him.

“Thought not,” Jiang Wanyin says. “So, I have another question. Did that tree do something to you, or are you just ruining the ambience for no reason?”

“What do you want?” snaps Jingyi. He falters a little as he realizes he’s said it, and looks quickly away. “Apologies, Sect Leader Jiang.”

“I wanted to relax,” Jiang Wanyin says dryly, shooting a momentary glare at Jingyi. He leans his elbows on the bridge’s railing. “Also ask you a question.”

“What question?” Jingyi rubs his knuckles, which are bleeding.

“Jin Ling wants you and the other kid, Lan Sizhui to come back to Lotus Pier for a few days. For diplomacy.” Jiang Wanyin snorts, and Jingyi interprets the expression as Jiang Wanyin knowing that his nephew would never admit that he wants to spend time with his friends.

Jingyi sniffs, then nods.

Jiang Wanyin lets out a heavy breath as he relaxes against the railing. He jabs carelessly at Jingyi’s sensitive emotions, saying; “So if you come back, are you going to abuse the trees at Lotus Pier, too?”

Jingyi is about to snap something, but holds himself back and sits down in the grass, crossing his arms, pressing his lips together. “Sect Leader Jiang, could you kindly leave me alone?” he snaps again, and his voice cracks. Which is embarrassing all on its own, but then Jingyi does the thing that is his biggest problem, he says what he’s thinking; “Sect Leader Jiang wouldn’t know anything about being like this anyway!”

“Being like what?” Jiang Wanyin asks.

“Not being… Right,” Jingyi says quietly looking down at his battered knuckles. “Not fitting.”

There is a silence and a breeze stirs the thin curtain of green willow branches, the leaves rustling slightly. It stirs Jingyi’s curls, blowing them into his eyes as he glances up at Jiang Wanyin. Jiang Wanyin doesn’t look at Jingyi, he looks into the distance with an expression as if he is not seeing it. Jingyi isn’t sure what his expression means, but it could be a little sad. It seems to be a rare thing, but he doesn’t look annoyed or angry.

“Who the hell said you had to fit?” Jiang Wanyin finally snaps, glaring down at Jingyi.

“H-huh?”

“You’re a Lan, aren’t you? You have the name, you have the robes – you fit enough already!” Jiang Wanyin growls, crossing his arms and shaking his head. “People are going to give you shit no matter what. Things change. People change. Or they don’t. But that doesn’t mean that you’re any less of a Lan just because you don’t walk around like you have a stick up your ass, or act like you’re special because you hide what you think. Some people don’t fit at all, and they become the leaders of powerful sects!”

The words are vague, a little awkward, Jingyi thinks distantly, but he stares up at Jiang Wanyin with wide eyes, because the meaning within those rough words, spoken with annoyance; the meaning within Sect Leader Jiang’s sharp, violet eyes – it is a really important one. Such a thing hasn’t been said to Jingyi before. He only realizes he’s crying when his tears drop down onto the back of his hands, but he finally finds the strength to smile brightly up at Jiang Wanyin. “Thank you, Sect Leader Jiang!”

Jiang Wanyin blinks.

There is a definite pause.

“Wipe that snot off your face, dumbass!” snaps Jiang Wanyin. “What the hell are you thanking me for, huh?”

Chapter Text

Bonus-pre-chapter thing

Jiang Wanyin is annoyed. When he tells Lan Jingyi to wipe away his snot (though, firstly, there is none – and secondly, if he rubs any more at his eyes, they’ll get enflamed or something) Lan Jingyi can only smile as if Wanyin has handed him a bowl of lotus-pork-rib-soup and a bag of gold. Lan Jingyi laughs helplessly, looking up at Wanyin from the stream’s bank, his curly hair waving in the breeze.

He is all bright energy, sparkling eyes, and bruised knuckles – and when he smiles, it’s just… Unnecessarily endearing. In this world, there is only one reason things are cute; it’s so that large animals think twice before eating them. No-one’s going to eat Lan Jingyi, so why does he have to overdo it, huh?!

“Hmf,” Wanyin says, then turns on his heel.

“See you later, Sect Leader Jiang!” calls Lan Jingyi after him.

As he walks away, Wanyin carelessly waves a shoo-ing hand, without turning around.

“Sect Leader Jiang wouldn’t know anything about being like this anyway! …Not being… Right. …Not fitting.” Lan Jingyi had muttered this, putting his head down in embarrassment. It’s obvious he didn’t mean to say it out loud.

Better than you know, Wanyin thinks wryly. He is suddenly taken over with an urge to go back and ruffle Lan Jingyi’s curly hair, but he mentally smacks himself.

Wanyin decides that Lan Jingyi is a little bit of a dumbass. Lan Jingyi can switch between glaring right back at Wanyin, and stammering and calling him Sandu-Shengshou within the space of a few seconds. He breaks tea sets and into people’s rooms at night, smiles when he’s happy and cries when he’s sad, and just generally is surrounded by the chaotic, but pure aura of a cheery puppy.

I like puppies, thinks part of Wanyin. …Shut up, thinks the other part.

Wanyin also decides that Lan Jingyi is a very good person. He risked his life to save Jin Ling (and if Wanyin didn’t like Lan Jingyi before then, which he sort of did – then he liked Lan Jingyi a whole lot more after the event), he obviously has a tough time fitting with his sect, and yet he manages to be a cheerful and kind person – and he’s also a constant source of entertainment.

Therefore, Wanyin decides that he can stand Lan Jingyi’s company (not that he didn’t before, but now he has an official opinion about it, which is important to have).

As he exits the gardens, he comes face-to-face with Lan Qiren. The bearded Lan looks a little troubled, and he bows slightly to Wanyin. “Sect Leader Jiang,” he greets.

Wanyin also bows.

“I heard you and your nephew accompanied two of our disciples to exterminate a water ghoul?” Lan Qiren asks.

Wanyin nods. “It wasn’t a water ghoul, it was something else. It must’ve come down from the sea where there’s lots of resentful energy. Resentful energy breeds resentful energy and… It turned out to be some weird monster made out of water ghouls.” He pauses. “Your disciple… What’s his name…” Wanyin pretends to have forgotten, just to save himself a little face, “Lan Jingyi. He was instrumental in bringing it down. And he risked himself to save my nephew. He flies well.” Wanyin doesn’t mean to sound combative, so he tries not to glare at Lan Qiren.

Lan Qiren raises an eyebrow at Wanyin, but doesn’t comment. “I have heard. Lan Jingyi is an exceptional disciple. While he may be lacking in some areas, he is honorable and has a high level of  cultivation,” he says.

Wanyin nods, and they part ways.

/

When Jingyi climbs back up the bank, he almost bumps into Lan Qiren, who is standing over him. Oh shit, here it comes, he thinks, before bowing low. But before Jingyi can say anything to apologize for raising his voice and storming out, Lan Qiren simply says, “I refuse to give up on you.”

“W-wha…?” Jingyi blinks.

Lan Qiren looks composed and unbothered. “I will not give up on you,” he repeats. “You are not a hopeless case. Your sense of honor and your level of cultivation are beyond reproach – as I was going to tell you before you removed yourself from my presence,” he says dryly.

Jingyi looks down.

“Sect Leader Jiang was impressed with you – he told me so himself, very… Definitively. Your comportment leaves many things to be desired, but you are a Lan, of my blood, of an ancient bloodline, whether you wish it or not. Neither I, nor Zewu-Jun are going to sideline or remove you from the sect. Therefore, I will not give up on you,” Lan Qiren says. “There is one single person I have ever given up on…”

“Senior Wei?” Jingyi asks.

Lan Qiren sighs, stroking his beard. He doesn’t say anything; talking behind other people’s backs is forbidden, but it’s obvious. “Continue to try harder,” he says.

Jingyi grins, buoyed by Lan Qiren’s words, and Jiang Wanyin’s earlier annoyed exclamation, and he jumps forward, giving Lan Qiren a quick hug (before he can think on whether it’s a good idea or not).

(It’s not.)

/

It is the last day of Sect Leader Jiang’s stay in Gusu, and Jingyi is so excited to go to Yunmeng that he is already packed two days in advance. Sizhui seems amused, but doesn’t comment, simply observing in his natural, gentle way. After Wei Wuxian had found the note from Jiang Wanyin in the front of Jingyi’s robes, he kept reading it and laughing at it, until it seemed to have disappeared for some reason, only resurfacing a day later when Sizhui handed it back to him.

“Did you steal it?” Jingyi had asked, astounded.

Sizhui had looked scandalized. “No! You misunderstand – Hanguang-Jun left it for me to find and give back to you.”

And then Jingyi had told him what had actually happened, not the indecent things Wei Wuxian has assumed happened, and Sizhui wasn’t able to keep from laughing a little. “Sect Leader Jiang can be rather kind. I can see why A-Ling is the way he is.”

In his excitement to pack, Jingyi even offers to pack Sizhui’s things for him (which Sizhui politely declines), then rolls around on the floor of his room talking non-stop about what he’s heard of Yunmeng, of Lotus Pier, of the Jiang Sect. Sizhui drinks tea, listening and occasionally smiling. “…-And I’ve heard that their dialect is very rough, it sounds like they’re cursing each other out even when they talk normally!”

“Senior Wei has said that people from Gusu sound too polite even when they are cursing,” Sizhui says mildly. “I think it’s a matter of conflicting opinions.”

Jingyi rolls to his side, then to his other side. “Hey, Senior Wei says that Sect Leader Jiang has been blacklisted by all female cultivators, and that his love life is cursed. Senior Wei says things like this, but really, how can any female cultivator not like him? Hey, what do you think?”

Sizhui pauses. “Jingyi, you shouldn’t talk about people,” he says gently.

Jingyi lowers his voice. “Maybe he likes men!” he whispers, eyes lighting up.

Sizhui shrugs. (Is it Jingyi’s imagination, or does he look a little pained?)

“C’mon, work with me here!” Jingyi whines. “I’m not badmouthing him! If he likes men, that’s great! I’ve got nothing against that! I’m just curious…”

Sizhui sighs. “Jingyi… I have no idea,” he says. “Sect Leader Jiang’s love life is none of my business…”

Jingyi sighs, rolling to his other side. “Hey, Sizhui, do they night-hunt differently in Yunmeng? Do you know?”

“I would assume that different sects have different cultivation styles…” Sizhui says, a little relieved. “Perhaps you could ask Sect Leader Jiang about… Night-hunting techniques.” There is the slightest of pauses.

Jingyi gapes. “Sizhui… Was that an innuendo?” he asks, shocked, forgetting to be embarrassed over the sheer amazement. “I think Senior Wei is rubbing off on you!”

Sizhui chokes. “A-an innuendo? I- Jingyi, please get your mind out of the gutter!” he exclaims.

/

Jingyi likes boats. There’s something very pleasant about moving smoothly through the water with the sun shining down on you, the gentle splashing of the boat pole, the movement… It lulls Jingyi to sleep.

He only wakes up when Jin Ling nudges him in the side with the toe of his boot. “Hey, you snoring menace of a Lan, we’re almost there.”

“I do not snore, Little Missy.” Jingyi reflexively swats at Jin Ling’s leg and sits up.

Jiang Wanyin gives Jingyi a brief Look over his nephew’s shoulder, that means, ‘I know you are lying.’

Jin Ling wields the boat pole with skill, standing easily in the middle of the boat. Sizhui trails his fingers in the water, and they’re exchanging adoring looks (Jingyi reminds himself not to puke). Jiang Wanyin stands at the prow, his hands behind his back, and his gaze directed forward. The wind ruffles his hair and robes, but he looks slightly more relaxed even despite his straight back and resting expression of annoyance. As if he senses Jingyi looking at him, he turns back.

Jingyi grins and sits up.                        

Lotus Pier is truly lovely. Its graceful buildings with their purple banners fluttering in the breeze look pleasant and airy. The docks bustle, there are shouts and calls, and laughs, and boats move through the water further away. But at the Jiang Manor’s dock, the air is peaceful.

The boat moves through the lotuses, the closer they get to the dock, the more there are. The air is fragrant and the water glints in the sun. Small, red dragonflies alight on the petals. It is different from Gusu, but no less beautiful.

Jin Ling acts as a smug tour guide. “You know, people actually gather lotus seed pods right around this time of year, and eat the seeds inside.”

Sizhui smiles. “The water is warm.” He meets eyes with Jin Ling, and Jin Ling’s entire face goes red. “I think it is good weather for swimming. What do you think, A-Ling?”

Jin Ling’s gulp and rise in color is audible to the other three men in the boat. “I-if you push me in, you’ll regret it!” he exclaims.

“I-” Sizhui looks genuinely confused. “What? That’s not what I meant at all…”

Jingyi sighs and cuts in before things can get too awkward. Usually, it’s Sizhui who is the moderator between Jingyi and Jin Ling, but Jingyi decides that this time, it’s his turn to return the favor. A distraction to save everyone some face (except for him, but really, how much face has he got left? Not much.) Also, the water looks so inviting; nothing like the small pond at the Cloud Recesses (and the freezing-cold springs). “Jin Ling! Hey, do the lotus seed pods taste good?” he asks suddenly.

“Uh, yeah,” begins Jin Ling, his expression cautious.

“Great!” Jingyi exclaims, jumps up (which rocks the boat – Jiang Wanyin turns around with an annoyed expression), throws off his over-robe into Jin Ling’s astounded face and throws himself over the side of the boat into the water in an elegant-ish dive.

He sinks into the water, holding his breath and opening up his eyes. The water is clear, and shafts of sunlight come through from the surface in between the floating lotuses. Jingyi has seen a lotus pod before, and he swims up to grab one, before resurfacing next to the boat, leaning on the side with his arms.

He grins, dripping with water, shaking his curly hair out. He holds up the lotus seed pod for inspection to the astounded three men in the boat. “Like this, right?” he asks. The water is warm, the sunlight also, and suddenly Jingyi is in an even better mood than usual.

Sizhui looks a little bit shocked, but like he’s trying not to smile, Jin Ling mutters, “You’ve gone totally crazy,” at him, and Jiang Wanyin… Jiang Wanyin is staring at him with an expression Jingyi can’t quite place. And then he begins to laugh.

His shoulders shake slightly at first, and he lowers his head, holding a fist in front of his mouth, as if he really can’t believe he’s laughing, but then he shakes his head, laughing out loud, meeting Jingyi’s sparkling eyes. His features have softened, his violet eyes seeming a little lighter from the bright sunlight. It’s the second time Jingyi has seen him really laugh, and he wants to see it more and more.

Jingyi grins again, and laughs too, bubbling up out of him. Droplets fall, sparkling from his hair, his cheeks are suddenly warm for some reason, and Jiang Wanyin crosses his arms, looking down at Jingyi with a crooked smile. “Don’t get carried away,” he says dryly.

“Sect Leader Jiang!” Jingyi says reproachfully. “Are you laughing at me?”

“You make it hard not to.”

“Hey!” Jingyi exclaims. “I’m enjoying the prime of my life!”

“You’re ridiculous.”

“Sect Leader Jiang, you really don’t like me, it seems!” laughs Jingyi, because by that expression on Jiang Wanyin’s face, Jingyi is at least tolerated.

Jiang Wanyin rolls his eyes. Sizhui and Jin Ling exchange looks.

Throwing his sopping undershirt into the boat, Jingyi laughs again. Unfortunately, he hits Jin Ling in the face again.

Jin Ling peels the wet clothing off his face with an enraged and disgusted expression. “Lan Jingyi! You-” He tries to hit Jingyi with the boat pole, but Jingyi ducks back underwater. Both Sizhui and Jiang Wanyin exchange long suffering-glances.

/

Jingyi lays back on the dock, drying himself out in the sun. He’s breathing hard – Jiang Wanyin said that if he had so much energy, he could learn to pole a boat, gather lotus seed pods, and spar with Jin Ling on (and in) the water. He’s dripping wet, tired, he can’t remember where his undershirt and robe are, but he’s in a really good mood, and his throat is a bit sore from all the yelling he’s done without being reprimanded for it.

“So are you just going to lay here, half-dressed,” says the dry voice of Jiang Wanyin somewhere above him, “Or are you going to eat?”

Jingyi stands up, smiling and then bowing to the Jiang Sect Leader. He rubs the back of his neck. “Actually, I’m starving!”

Jiang Wanyin raises his eyebrows, and motions for Jingyi to follow. There is an open pavilion on the water within the bounds of the Jiang manse, two steaming bowls of soup, and a purple blanket. “Lotus-pork-rib-soup,” he says. “Eat it.”

Jingyi sits down across from him and looks at the blanket. “Is that… for me?”

Jiang Wanyin rolls his eyes. “No, I just have the servants leave blankets around for no reason,” he says dryly. He glares. “If you’re not going to put on a shirt, at least have the decency not to get ill in my house.”

Jingyi rolls his eyes a little also. “Thanks, for your consideration, Sect Leader Jiang.”

Jiang Wanyin snorts and doesn’t say anything.

Taking a spoonful of soup, Jingyi cautiously tastes it. “Wow!” he exclaims, his eyes lighting up, “This is amazing!”

“Damn well hope so,” Jiang Wanyin says around a mouthful. “That means you have taste, Lan Jingyi.”

They sit in comfortable silence as they eat, and Jingyi can’t stop smiling. The air is warm, the soup tastes heavenly, the scenery is beautiful, the company is superb. Yunmeng isn’t home, but it’s wonderful, and Jingyi doesn’t want this day to end.

“Where’s Jin Ling and Sizhui?” he asks suddenly, because he realizes he can’t hear Jin Ling’s indignant shrieking anywhere, and it’s frankly a little disconcerting.

Jiang Wanyin looks a little disgusted. “Braiding flowers into each other’s hair, apparently,” he says. “Don’t go into the west corner of the garden. It’s disturbing.”

Jingyi laughs a little. “Why? Sect Leader Jiang, you don’t want someone to braid flowers into your hair?” he asks suddenly, without meaning to. He backtracks. “I-I mean, like – flowers are-”

There’s a choking sound, and Jiang Wanyin glares up at him incredulously. “I’ll definitely fight anyone who tries,” he says with a burning determination. Zidian crackles ominously.

“I-it’s none of my business, I didn’t mean it!” Jingyi says quickly.

Jiang Wanyin shakes his head, rolling his eyes again. “You say the damnedest things,” he mutters.

Chapter Text

In retrospect, drinking wine was a terrible idea. In the present, however, Jin Ling is smirking, and Jingyi is going to show him.

They have just come in from a successful night-hunt – and while night-hunting in Yunmeng is really no different than in Gusu (the only difference really is that there is less music) Jingyi feels very satisfied that he has learned things. One thing is; Sect Leader Jiang is even cooler up close when he fights. Second thing is; Jingyi is still scared of ghosts but when he has to impress someone, he can scream and run at the thing instead of away, which is already more than he expected. Third thing; fighting together is fun.

“Wow that was amazing, Sect Leader Jiang!”

“Hmf. Watch yourself.”

“Thanks!”

“…Stop staring at my uncle and help me fight this thing, you dumbass!”

“I’m not staring, you jerk!”

“A-Ling, Jingyi…”

They come back to Lotus Pier a little more tired, having just fought well and cleansed a nearby forest of all resentful energy and resentful creatures. And that is when Jin Ling suggests going for a drink.

Sizhui pauses. “Alcohol is forbidden…” he says.

“…Yeah,” says Jingyi. “Right. That.”

Sect Leader Jiang snorts, looking over at Jingyi with an amused expression that says, ‘That was very unconvincing.’

Jin Ling smirks at Jingyi. “I bet you’re only saying that because you can’t drink.”

“I can too!” Jingyi retorts. (He doesn’t mention that in all twenty years of his life, he has not drunk a single cup of wine. How’s that for being a perfect Lan?)

Sizhui winces. “Jingyi, perhaps you shouldn’t…”

Jin Ling snorts derisively. “Lan Sizhui, if he wants to lose that badly, you shouldn’t stop him.”

And then, suddenly, Jingyi and Jin Ling are glaring at each other defiantly from across the table in a room in the Jiang Manor, a jar of wine between them. Sect Leader Jiang is sitting nearby, by the window, pouring himself a cup. A breeze ruffles his hair and he admires the scenery as he takes a sip. Jingyi also admires the scenery; the scenery which is inside, not outside.

Sizhui has brought a chair to the table that Jingyi and Jin Ling sit at, and looks on with apprehension and concern.

Jin Ling pours himself a cup and throws it back. He doesn’t even make a noise, the wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, grinning at Jingyi. “Your turn.”

Jingyi sighs. “Sect Leader Jiang, Sizhui, wish me luck, okay?”

“Good luck,” says Sizhui obligingly, though his expression says, ‘This is such a bad idea and I don’t want to endorse this in any way’.

“Why should I wish you luck when you’re competing with my nephew?” demands Jiang Wanyin.

“Uh…” pauses Jingyi. “Diplomacy?”

Jiang Wanyin almost smiles. “Nice try.” He glares at Jin Ling. “Jin Ling, I’m only gonna say this once; if a Lan drinks you under the table, I’m disowning you.”

Jin Ling rolls his eyes.

Jingyi pours himself a cup, looks down, sees his reflection in the wine, then throws it back like Jin Ling. For a second, the look on his face is utter shock because it burns what the hell-

/

And then his eyes roll back in his head and his forehead hits the table with a thump.

There is a shocked silence.

Jin Ling gulps. “Oh my god, is he alive?” he gasps. “Lan Jingyi, are you dead?”

Jiang Wanyin takes a step over, looking concerned.

Only Sizhui sighs and pats Jin Ling’s hand. “He’ll be awake soon,” he says tiredly. “Apparently this is how Lans get drunk. Senior Wei told me about this.” He looks up at Jiang Wanyin and smiles. “Please don’t worry, Sect Leader Jiang.”

“Hmf. As if I was worried. What the hell kinda competition was this anyway?” Jiang Wanyin crosses his arms and drags a chair over the table, beside Jingyi.

Jin Ling breathes a sigh of relief. “Oh, so he’ll be alright…”

/

Jiang Wanyin looks over with renewed interest as, a few minutes later, Lan Jingyi begins to stir. He lets out a sound that sounds halfway between a groan and a yawn, and when he sits slightly up, his cheeks are flushed and his eyes are unfocused. His speech, though, is less slurred than one would expect. “Did I win?” he asks.

Wanyin snorts. “You’re joking, right?”

Jin Ling glares at Lan Jingyi and slams his palm down on the table. “What the hell was that, huh? You drank one cup and passed out? Who the hell does that?!”

Lan Sizhui sighs and pats both Jingyi’s and Jin Ling’s arms. “A-Ling was worried. But really, I did tell you it wasn’t a really good idea…” he says mildly. Wanyin can only shake his head. How this guy can put up with both his nephew and Lan Jingyi, at the same time, is beyond him. He’s like a young Lan Xichen or something. That guy can put up with so much shit from all kinds of dumbasses and still be polite.

Lan Jingyi blinks, looking from Lan Sizhui, to Jin Ling, then back to Wanyin. He smiles dopily. “Sect Leader Jiang…” he says. “You look… You look really good today…!”

Wanyin blinks. He’s a flirty drunk? “I know,” he opts to say awkwardly, then turns away, refusing to be embarrassed. “Jin Ling, pass the rice cakes, now,” he orders, with more stiffness than probably necessary. Wanyin does not miss the glance that passes between Lan Sizhui and Jin Ling, but he doesn’t comment on it. He takes a bite out of a rice cake and a sip from his own cup. As Lan Jingyi edges closer, Wanyin glances over at Lan Sizhui. “Is he… Always like this when he drinks?” he asks carefully.

“As far as I am aware, Sect Leader Jiang, this is Jingyi’s first time drinking,” Lan Sizhui says with a smile that hides suffering.

Wanyin’s eyes widen a little. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he mutters, knocking back the rest of his cup as Lan Jingyi presses his side up against him.

“Sect Leader Jiang… Let’s drink more together, yea-ah…?” Lan Jingyi says, edging even closer, leaning his cheek against Wanyin’s shoulder.

Jin Ling is pressing a hand over his mouth and his shoulders are shaking. He grips Lan Sizhui’s shoulder to keep himself from falling over from the force of his silent laughter. Wanyin glares at him, daring him to say anything. Lan Sizhui takes a rice cake and eats it with no expression but a faint, uncomfortable smile.

“Let’s not,” Wanyin says definitively, glaring over at the Lan disciple and not ungently pushing Lan Jingyi’s head off his shoulder.

Lan Jingyi looks visibly discouraged. “Does… Does Sect Leader Jiang not like me?” he mumbles, sniffing. “What part of me isn’t… Isn’t good?”

Wanyin almost chokes. He curses within his mind several times. “Hey. You. Are you crazy or something?” Lan Jingyi looks even more miserable, and Wanyin rolls his eyes up to the sky, asking for help. He lets out a breath through gritted teeth. “Alright, fine, fine – I like you, alright? Alright?! Don’t you dare cry.” He pushes Lan Jingyi’s head back onto his shoulder and sighs loudly.

Lan Jingyi’s delighted smile is… Painfully adorable. “I like Sect Leader Jiang too…!”

Lan Sizhui seems to be hiding his expression behind his sleeve. Jin Ling is doubled over. Wanyin glares at both of them, pouring himself another cup of wine. “Don’t just uselessly sit there, deal with him!”

Lan Sizhui smiles politely. “How would Sect Leader Jiang have us do that?”

Wanyin’s glare intensifies. “Drag him upstairs or something.”

Jin Ling looks as if he is trying to gather himself. “But Uncle,” he begins, “He looks so happy there- Pfft!” He can’t help from starting to laugh wildly again.

Wanyin really wants to throw something at him, but wine cups are expensive. He settles for glaring even more, Zidian crackling on his finger. “Jin Ling, you little shit-”

Jin Ling quickly gets up and drags Lan Sizhui out with him.

Lan Jingyi doesn’t seem to notice his surroundings at all and rubs his cheek against Wanyin’s shoulder. “Hey… Sect Leader Jiang…!”

Fighting to stay perfectly calm, Wanyin rolls his eyes up to the ceiling again. “What?” he grits out.

“Hey, hey… Do you wanna… Do you wanna drink with me…!”

“No way.”

“But you… You said you like me… Is that true…?” Lan Jingyi’s chin is now settled on his shoulder and he leans closely. “Let’s drink lotsa wine, and… And I’ll give you my ribbon…”

Is that a euphemism for something indecent?! Wanyin wonders, then shuts his eyes very tightly for a second, feeling a headache coming on, also dispelling all sorts of other images.

Wanyin switches tactics entirely. If one way is not going to work, try another. He grips Lan Jingyi’s jaw with one hand, looking him seriously in the eyes. “Lan Jingyi, you once promised me to do anything for me,” he says.

Lan Jingyi’s eyes are wide, and he worries his bottom lip with his teeth. “Y-yes…”

What the hell are you doing with your face, you dumbass?! That is not the kind of face you should be making! he screams within his mind. “I’m going to call in that favor right now.”

Lan Jingyi’s throat bobs as he swallows audibly. He opens his mouth, but no sound comes out.

Wanyin tries for a kind smile, but it comes out as somewhat of a smirk. “No more wine. Go to your rooms. Sleep.”

He peels off Lan Jingyi’s questing hands from his arm and his collar, then quickly stands up. He doesn’t run out of the room – he’s too dignified for that – but he leaves very, very quickly.

“Sect Leader Jiang…! Don’t leave me alone…!” comes Lan Jingyi’s voice from behind the door that Wanyin is very heavily leaning against.

“Go the hell to bed!” Wanyin throws back at him, glaring at the carved wood of the door as if it had offended him.

“I’ll be lonely… All alone in my bed…”

“So am I, but I’m not being indecent about it!” snaps Wanyin. He pinches the bridge of his nose, takes a deep breath, then very quickly escapes the hallway before Lan Jingyi can figure out how to stand up and open doors.

/

Jingyi wakes up sitting at the table, his face resting on the table itself. The last thing he remembers is Jin Ling’s smirking face and the burning sensation of the wine running down his throat. He winces as the light coming in through the open window meets his eyes. His head is pounding, an oppressive headache coming in from all sides. He groans and sits up.

The doors fly open. Jin Ling is red in the face; enraged, indignant, and… Embarrassed? “So you’re finally awake!” he shouts.

His loud voice makes Jingyi’s head hurt. “I- What?” Jingyi sits up faster, and the room spins. “What the hell? A- Wait a second… Are you pissed off at me?”

Jin Ling’s face grows redder. “You don’t remember?” he demands.

“Remember what? Did I win the drinking competition?”

Sizhui appears in the doorway. “No, Jingyi, he is talking about what happened after that.”

Jingyi touches his pounding head and winces. “What?”

Jin Ling looks like he is going to burst. “Lan Jingyi, you bastard! I thought of you as a brother – how dare you try and become my aunt?!” he yells.

Who is becoming your aunt?!” two voices demand. Jiang Wanyin (who has just arrived) and Jingyi both try to make sense of Jin Ling’s words as Jin Ling’s face grows redder and he runs out of the room, soon followed by an apologetic Sizhui.

Jiang Wanyin’s arms are crossed and his eyebrows are raised. He looks like he hasn’t slept much, for some reason, notices Jingyi. “You’re awake,” he says flatly, glaring at Jingyi.

Jingyi sighs. “I’m regretting it,” he says honestly. “What happened, Sect Leader Jiang?” His cheeks heat of their own accord. “I-I didn’t… Do anything, right?”

“Do anything?” asks Jiang Wanyin. For a second, it looks like moments from his life are flashing before his eyes. He opens his mouth. Closes it. Looks interestedly out the window. Opens his mouth again, and there is a pronounced pause. “You… Said a few embarrassing things, I think. I don’t really remember well at all.”

“Oh, if you don’t remember, thank god,” breathes Jingyi. Judging by Jin Ling’s reaction, he may have said something absolutely ridiculous. He grins up at Jiang Wanyin, even despite his headache. “I wouldn’t want Sect Leader Jiang to think badly of me if I said something strange.”

Jiang Wanyin loudly clears his throat and doesn’t look at Jingyi. “As if I’d suddenly think badly of you if you said a stupid thing when you were drunk!” he snaps, glaring. “Hmf.”

Jingyi can’t keep from smiling again. “I’m glad!”

Chapter Text

“Sizhui, can I ask you something?” suddenly asks Jingyi as he cleans his sword. They are both sitting outside on the porch, the cool breeze of the Cloud Recesses ruffling their hair gently – it is their second day since they have returned from Lotus Pier.

Jingyi is never usually this tentative when it comes to asking things; his usual way is to simply say things outright, and Sizhui’s expression shows nothing but the utmost caution. “…Yes?”

“You and Jin Ling… How did you two manage to get together?” Jingyi sheathes his sword and lays down with his hands under his head.

Sizhui freezes. “Oh, we’re- We’re not-” he takes a breath. “A-Ling doesn’t…”

Jingyi chokes, eyes widening in disbelief. “Anyone with a pair of eyes can see he’s in love with you!” he exclaims. “You mean you didn’t know?”

Sizhui tries to smile. “Maybe he does…” he admits. “But I… Maybe it’s foolish, but I want him to say it. I’ve never hidden it from him, that I…” he clears his throat, “Like him, but… There are times when he seems like he will, and yet he never can. It can be… Difficult sometimes.”

Jingyi sighs. “And I thought you were the one who had his life together…”

“And what of Sect Leader Jiang, then?” Sizhui asks, he looks partially amused and partially annoyed.

“What about him?” Jingyi tries to say it in a nonchalant way, yet his cheeks betray him by deepening their color.

“Surely you don’t expect me to believe you don’t like him,” Sizhui says dryly.

Jingyi sits up. “Hey! Sandu-Shengshou is a famed and renowned cultivator! It’s an honor to-”

“An honor to flirt with him, yes I know,” Sizhui says, flicking a piece of nonexistent dust from the shoulder of his robe.

Jingyi gapes. “Senior Wei really is rubbing off on you…”

Sizhui looks as if he might defend himself for a moment, but he shrugs and smiles innocently. “Jingyi – I think it is best to be honest about your feelings,” he says simply.

Jingyi blushes to the roots of his hair. “I-I have a lot of feelings, but the biggest one is hunger! I need to eat dinner! Let’s go!”

/

“Uncle!” shouts Jin Ling suddenly across the hallway. It’s the middle of the goddamn night, and Wanyin has just blown out the last candle in his room and laid down.

What?!” he yells back, sitting up. There is a vein throbbing in the side of his head, a dark expression on his face, and Zidian is letting out a few sparks. “I swear, this better be good-”

“We need to go to Gusu again!” yells Jin Ling.

“Why the fuck do we need to do that?!” Wanyin snaps.

“There’s something I need to say to- I-I- I mean, I-” Jin Ling breaks off. “…Because diplomacy!” he yells eventually.

The word ‘diplomacy’ brings back memories of a dark room and a clumsy Lan disciple’s bright smile, but right now, the paramount thought in Wanyin’s mind is annoyance. “Deal with it by yourself!” Wanyin shoots back. “What, you’re a little kid whose hand I need to hold or something?!”

“It’s weird if I show up alone!”

“What the hell makes you think I want to be there when you confess your shittily-hidden feelings to Lan Sizhui! Do you know how awkward that would be?!”

“That’s- I’m- Uncle, you- It’s not- How can you- I- I mean- He’s not-…” Jin Ling’s stutters grow quieter with every word, and he cannot seem to get a coherent sentence out.

Shit, I think I broke him, Wanyin thinks. …Whatever.

He lays down again and pulls the blanket over himself, only to shoot up into a sitting position, clamping his hands over his ears at Jin Ling’s inordinately loud and ear-piercing shriek of; “I’ll tell Lan Jingyi you never want to see him again!”

Shut the fuck up!” roars Wanyin in response.

There is a silence that rings softly from the aftereffect of their yelling, and Wanyin takes a breath, raking a hand through his hair and shutting his eyes tightly as he begins to have a headache. He pinches the bridge of his nose. This is so stupid. So, so stupid. Goddamn it, this is so fucking stupid.

“Uncle?” tentatively asks Jin Ling.

“Fine, damn it!” snaps Wanyin. “Gusu – tomorrow. Now let me sleep, or you’ll regret it! And leave Lan Jingyi out of this – you’ve worn me down on your own, you absolute annoyance!”

Jin Ling’s sigh of relief is audible across the hallway. “Thank you, Honored Uncle!”

“Good. Night. Damnit,” grits out Wanyin laying down on his back and pressing his palms over his ears, so that if Jin Ling had any more inopportune ideas, they would not be heard. Though, as he drifts off to sleep, Wanyin comes to the realization that he is not exactly displeased that he can visit Gusu again, for vague reasons.

/

Concentrate. Concentrate. I’m almost there. I’m doing well. I haven’t messed up yet.

Pluck the strings in this order. Wow, I’m almost there!

Almost-

“Sect Leader Jiang and Young Master Jin have arrived!”

Sect Leader Jiang?

Jingyi’s hand begins to falter as he plucks out the last bars of the melody.

/

Lan Xichen seems entirely unsurprised to see them again – not that Wanyin has ever seen him truly surprised. If Lan Wangji always had a blank, stern poker-face, Lan Xichen’s gentle smile was the equivalent. It seemed to be a Lan trait, having either one face or the other. Lan Qiren had the stern face, Lan Sizhui had the smiling face. And Lan Jingyi… he was the exception to the rule. Lan Jingyi’s facial expression changed so often and so comically that often, when looking at him, it is very hard for Wanyin not to smile.

“Jin Ling has some unfinished business with one of the disciples,” Wanyin offers with a sigh, as Lan Xichen mildly watches Jin Ling leap from his sword and set off at a dead run through the Cloud Recesses (running is forbidden, Wanyin is pretty sure). He wants to grab Jin Ling by the back of his collar and make him greet Lan Xichen properly, as a matter of principle, but he’s already too far away.

“Ah,” says Lan Xichen. “Sizhui will be happy to see him.”

Wanyin sighs again. Lan Xichen opens his mouth to say something more, but suddenly there is an awful, loud sound, an undignified yell of something that sounds like, ‘oh shit!’ and somebody comes flying through the air, and then rolling down the steps to come to a rest at their feet.

“What the fu-” begins Wanyin.

Lan Jingyi brushes the hair out of his face and looks up at them from where he has rolled to a stop. There is a scrape on his cheek, and his nose is bleeding. Wanyin blinks. “You?”

“Sect Leader Jiang!” Lan Jingyi breathes. His eyes are wide. “Wha-”

Lan Xichen sighs. “Jingyi, were you practicing the guqin again?”

Lan Jingyi blinks, shakes his head a little, sniffs and rubs a knuckle under his nose to wipe away the blood. He looks apologetically up at his sect’s leader, offering a bow. “Yes, Zewu-Jun,” he says. He stands up and bows again, to both of them.

Lan Xichen smiles. “Please be careful,” he says, then takes his leave.

Wanyin glares after him. Why are you leaving me alone with him?! He turns to look at Jingyi who is grinning at him. “Sect Leader Jiang, you’re here again! Did you want to see me?” His light laugh, and sparkling eyes that curve up with a bright smile are just… So unnecessary.

“What the hell-” Wanyin breaks off, narrowing his eyes. “Hey. You. I’m a busy sect leader, alright? I’ve got important things to do with diplomacy that I’m doing!”

Lan Jingyi laughs again. “Ah, Sect Leader Jiang didn’t miss me, I should have known.”

Wanyin snorts, crossing his arms.

“Will you be visiting for a while?” Lan Jingyi asks, keeping down yet more laughter.

Wanyin almost falls for it. “Only today.” He snorts. “What kind of guqin practice were you doing, anyway?” he asks. “You look more like you were hitting yourself in the face with a guqin than actually playing it.”

Lan Jingyi blushes a little bit. Wanyin tries not to choke. “I mean, I was trying,” Lan Jingyi says defensively. “It was a relatively simple composition to purge unclean thoughts. But I ah, hit myself in the face with my own spiritual energy because I played the sequence wrong…” His face grows even redder and Wanyin pinches the bridge of his nose.

Wanyin thinks, Doesn’t that just mean you were having unclean thoughts…? The thought obviously shows on his face, because Jingyi ducks his head and bites down on his lips, still very red.

“A-anyway, Sect Leader Jiang,” he says, “I’ve always been curious about something. When you studied here, what was your favorite place?”

“That…” Wanyin pauses, then looks down, brows furrowing. There are memories that come to him now, unbidden, and he shakes his head to be rid of them. “The dormitory of the visiting disciples has a room that faces out to the wall. There’s a gable there that people sit on to observe the moon, or something.” Wanyin shrugs. He doesn’t say anything about why he would do something like climbing out onto the roof and watching the moon – because, really, it was never his idea – or who first dragged him out to do that, laughing all the while.

Lan Jingyi’s eyes widen. “Sect Leader Jiang also did things like that as a junior?” He grins. “My favorite place is the pools.”

“The pools?”

“Mostly only the Lan Clan use them,” Lan Jingyi says. “In the summer, when it’s hot like this, they’re really good to be in.”

Wanyin shrugs.

/

How the fuck did I get into this?! screams Jiang Wanyin within his mind. Lan Jingyi slips into the water first, dressed in nothing but a pair of cotton trews (he’s still wearing his ribbon, though, which seems a bit odd – but maybe it was something like Zidian, where there was no way they could take it off because it was like a weapon). He sighs, leaning back against the edge. “The water is really nice!” he says cheerfully.

Wanyin glares, then also slips into the water. He begins to curse. The water is fucking cold as fuck what the fuck-

“Why the fuck is it so fucking cold, huh?!” he snaps. He is shivering.

Lan Jingyi has the audacity to look genuinely confused. “Oh, is it that cold? I’m sorry, I guess I’m just too used to it-”

“There is no way you’re not a Lan if you can stand this,” Wanyin mutters, crossing his arms, teeth chattering.

“I guess I really am a Lan, then!” he laughs. But his eyes glow with an inordinate amount of happiness. Lan Jingyi smiles brightly pulling himself a little bit more out of the water as he stretches back like a bow, mouth slightly parted as his spine crackles – all entirely unselfconsciously. What an absolutely annoying-

Wanyin says, “Hmf,” and turns away, but the water doesn’t feel as cold for some reason.

/

Wei Wuxian’s sounds of mirth are ridiculously loud and Jingyi hisses at him to keep it down. “Senior Wei! It wasn’t like that!”

“No, you- Oh, I can’t!” He laughs again, bent over, leaning on a tree for support. “Within moments of his arrival, you dragged Jiang Cheng over to the pools alone with you?” He turns around. “Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, don’t you think that’s hilarious?”

Lan Wangji has no expression. “…Diplomacy is no laughing matter,” he says. “…Ties between sects. Useful.”

Wei Wuxian cackles.

“Hanguang-Jun! Not you too?” Jingyi lets out a sigh of frustration. “How do you even know these things, Senior Wei?!”

“Lan-da-ge has eyes too! The family talks,” Wei Wuxian says, in between gales of laughter.

“Zewu-Jun wouldn’t-”

Wei Wuxian says, “He’s not the gossipy type, he’s a Lan after all, but there are ways of saying things without saying them.”

Jingyi sighs, leaning his forehead against the tree trunk. “It’s all a really big misunderstanding…” he says.

“You’re even denser than Jin Ling…”

“No-one’s denser than Jin Ling!” shoots Jingyi back.

“Hmm… No, I guess you’re right. But you’re almost there.”

“Hanguang-Jun, why is Senior Wei being mean to me?”

Lan Wangji says, “…The truth is hard.”

“C’mon, Hanguang-Jun!” pleads Jingyi.

Wei Wuxian is in stitches again.

Chapter Text

Jingyi stuffs another dumpling into his mouth. Jin Ling and Sizhui’s interactions haven’t seemed to change, except in that they’re sitting closer, and Jin Ling’s arm is carelessly thrown over the back of Sizhui’s chair. Although, judging by Sizhui’s genuinely soft smile, whatever diplomatic reasons Jin Ling came here to discuss went well. A couple. Yet another couple. At this point, it would be just Jingyi and Lan Qiren who were single in the Lan Sect. (Lan Xichen didn’t count, he was still in mourning.) And being the same as Lan Qiren for anything is a bit… Odd, to say the least.

“You’re pretty short, for a Lan,” Jin Ling comments as Sizhui takes a careful sip of tea.

It’s true – the Lans are known for tall height and jade-like perfect looks, and while Sizhui has the latter, the former is lacking. Though Jin Ling is quite tall, Jingyi has overtaken him by an inch (and if Lan Wangji and Lan Xichen are anything to judge by, he’s going to be even taller if he’s not done growing yet, at twenty.) And Sizhui is shorter than both of them.

Jingyi deflects the conversation quickly, swallowing down the dumpling. “Hey, Jin Ling, how tall is Sect Leader Jiang?” he asks.

“I’m taller than him, but only a little,” Jin Ling says. “Why?”

“T-that- That makes me…” Jingyi suddenly chokes. “I’m taller than him?!”

Sizhui takes another sip of tea to hide a laugh.

It’s actually quite probable, the more Jingyi thinks about it. After all, he doesn’t recall a time when he’s been on even ground with Jiang Wanyin – or when they were, they were sitting down.

“Oh my god,” says Jingyi, staring into the middle-distance, “I’m taller than him.”

Jin Ling and Sizhui exchange glances. “You’re… Kind of creeping me out,” Jin Ling says.

Sizhui pats his arm. “A-Ling, I think he’s having a crisis.”

“Look, Sizhui – my uncle’s height should not have an effect like that on him.”

Jingyi blinks, then turns to snap at Jin Ling, “He just… Feels taller than me! It’s weird, okay?”

"Jingyi… What do you mean, he feels-"

Jin Ling’s mouth moves. “That- Too much information,” he says, squeezing his eyes tightly shut. He pulls a face.

Sizhui blinks in confusion. Jingyi also. And then Sizhui puts a hand to his mouth. “Oh no…” he says softly.

Jingyi jumps up. “That’s not what I meant!” he yells loudly, face flaring red. “What the hell is wrong with you huh, Jin Ling?! It’s not my fault the Young Missy has a dirty mind!”

“No shouting within the Cloud Recesses! It is the evening, and you should be readying yourselves for bed,” someone outside the door says. “Lan Jingyi, is that you?”

“Oh shit,” Lan Jingyi says.

It’s Lan Qiren.

Jingyi glances around the room, then dives for the open window, putting a finger to his lips with a look of pleading at his two best friends. Jin Ling rolls his eyes. Sizhui sighs, getting up to open the door and greet their teacher as soon as Jingyi ducks out of sight.

He hangs from the window ledge before dropping to the gable below, then gathers his strength and leaps for the roof of the next building over. And can’t help smiling.

Which window was it?

Either this one, or… No, it’s that one. Jingyi knocks on the window frame.

The ornate shutters are pushed open, and he is met with the sharp, violet-eyed glare of Jiang Wanyin. It is the right window! The chambers for honored guests to the Cloud Recesses. “What the hell are you doing?” he snaps.

Jingyi can’t help grinning. “Escaping punishment!” he says cheerfully. “Sect Leader Jiang… Can I come in?”

Jiang Wanyin rolls his eyes. “At least your manners are better this time,” he grumbles and steps away from the window.

Jingyi takes it as an invitation and slips inside, straddling the windowsill, one leg in, one leg out. He leans back against the window frame and grins. “Jin Ling said I was taller than you!” he says cheerfully.

“He’s obviously lying,” Jiang Wanyin snorts.

“Is he taller than you?” curiously asks Jingyi, swinging his leg.

“Only by this much,” Jiang Wanyin says, holding out two fingers very close together.

“I’m taller than him by this much!” Jingyi says, doing the same.

Jiang Wanyin looks thoughtful for a moment before he raises his eyebrows, folds his arms, and then glares. “Alright, besides escaping punishments and bothering me about being a too-tall Lan, what do you want?”

Jingyi makes a face at him. “Do you not want to spend time with me as much as I want to spend time with you, Sect Leader Jiang?”

You absolute-” Jiang Wanyin stares at him, until it looks like he can’t bear to look any longer, covering the bottom half of his face with a hand. “You! Hey, how can you say things like that and not be embarrassed, huh?!”

Jingyi blushes. “That’s- It’s not embarrassing!”

“The hell it isn’t!” snaps Jiang Wanyin in answer.

“Don’t try to stop my diplomatic relations, Sect Leader Jiang!” throws back Jingyi, not exactly sure what he’s saying. “It’s- It’s bad diplomacy!”

Jiang Wanyin pinches the bridge of his nose. “The word ‘diplomacy’ has entirely lost its meaning at this point…” he sighs.

“Uh, what do you mean?”

“I mean, going around and calling love confessions ‘diplomacy’ is not-”

Jingyi almost falls into the room. “I- What?!”

Jiang Wanyin looks up at him, and he’s glaring full-force. He’s about to say something, when a window in the adjacent building opens and Lan Qiren pokes his head out.

When he sees where Jingyi is sitting, he looks scandalized. “Lan Jingyi!” he exclaims. “What on earth are you doing?”

Jingyi freezes. “Oh shit…” he whispers.

And then Jiang Wanyin strides up to the window, leaning out beside Jingyi. “Discussing diplomacy,” he says flatly. “Please don’t mind if I borrow him for some time.”

Lan Qiren’s eyebrows rise into his headband. He looks like he might start choking from the indecency of it all, only a few steps away from the expression he gets when he sees Wei Wuxian throwing himself into Lan Wangji’s lap during an important conference. “Very well,” Lan Qiren says finally.

Jiang Wanyin pulls Jingyi in and shuts the window. He returns to glaring at Jingyi. “You! Making problems!”

Jingyi’s cheeks are flushed. “I-I- It isn’t- I wasn’t-” I really am taller than Sect Leader Jiang!

“You owe me a favor again,” Jiang Wanyin says flatly. His hand is still on Jingyi’s upper arm from when he pulled him inside the room, and Zidian sparks on his finger.

“A-again? I thought-”

“You payed it back. I told you to shut up and go to sleep and you did. Eventually,” Jiang Wanyin says quickly. He turns away slightly, as if he’s embarrassed. “Anyway,” he clears his throat, “What I’m saying is – you’re bad for diplomacy.”

“Am not!” Jingyi says defensively. “I’m the one trying to be diplomatical here!”

Jiang Wanyin pauses. “That’s… Not a word, I’m pretty sure.”

“Close enough,” Jingyi says dismissively. “You can guess my meaning, right, Sect Leader Jiang?”

“You’re saying all sorts of things – I don’t understand at all.” Jiang Wanyin steps away with a huff, folding his arms and glaring Jingyi down. “Getting me into the fucking coldest pool of water in all the realm, climbing into my room, and then trying to make me embarrassed by it…” He glares harder. “And your ribbon is crooked.”

That last statement makes Jingyi blush harder than ever before as his hands fly up to his forehead to adjust it, pulling it tighter at the back of his head. “Sect Leader Jiang… You’ve been looking at my ribbon?” he asks in a choked voice.

Jiang Wanyin pauses, brow furrowing, as if he’s confused, but then he rolls his eyes. “It’s right there on your head, I can’t help seeing it.”

“Oh,” says Jingyi. He clears his throat, looking away to hide his reddened face. “So uh, diplomacy!” he says quickly, trying to think of suitable topics to discuss in a dimly-lit guest bedroom. He straightens his back. “Is Gusu enjoyable to visit, Sandu-Shengshou?” he asks with as much formality as he can muster, the toe of his boot embarrassedly scuffing at the floor.

“Just as enjoyable as your trip to Yunmeng, Lan-gongzi,” Jiang Wanyin says dryly, with just as much formality.

What does that mean? Why is he saying it like that?! Why are his eyes so- For some reason, Jingyi blushes harder. “That’s, uh, really fantastic,” he manages to say. He clears his throat, straightens his back a little more, and desperately tries to channel Sizhui, or Lan Xichen. “I hope your stay has been comfortable so far, Esteemed Sect Leader?”

Jiang Wanyin pulls out a chair and sits down as Jingyi tries to maintain his perfect posture. “Comfortable indeed,” he says slowly. “But Lan-gongzi – refresh my memory – what do the Lan Sect rules say about climbing into the rooms of visiting sect leaders?”

Jingyi gulps. “Sandu-Shengshou- I- They- T-there isn’t any rule like that.”

“Odd. I suppose that means it’s allowed then, isn’t it,” Jiang Wanyin says dryly.

It’s too much for Jingyi to stand. “…Please stop teasing me, Sect Leader Jiang!” he begs, shoulders slumping forward and hands clasping together.

Jiang Wanyin smirks, eyes just as sharp as ever. “Must you not endure it for the sake of diplomacy, Lan-gongzi?”

Jingyi makes a pitiable expression, face flaming.

Jiang Wanyin’s shoulders twitch. He turns away for a moment, covering the lower half of his face with his hand – and Jingyi realizes that he’s laughing. “Ah, seriously,” sighs the Jiang Sect Leader. “Are you even real? What kind of face is that, huh?”

Jingyi’s tone is cautiously playful as he takes a slightly more relaxed breath in. “It’s just my face,” he says, trying really hard not to smile, but failing.

“What am I supposed to do with you?” mutters Jiang Wanyin.

Ahaha, all sorts of things…! momentarily thinks Jingyi. And then grows very red.

Senior Wei, get out of my mind! Jingyi admonishes, putting both hands to the sides of his head and shaking it.

Inappropriate, shameless, foolish! Go and copy Virtue, grumbles one that sounds like Lan Qiren.

Be honest about your feelings, Jingyi, gently says one that sounds like Sizhui.

Don’t hit on my uncle, you weirdo, I’ll break your legs! shrieks one that sounds like Jin Ling.

Hm, says a voice that sounds like Lan Wangji – mildly contributing to the clamor of conversation inside Jingyi’s head.

Jingyi groans and presses his palms harder to the side of his head, slapping it a few times as if to reset a faulty compass.

Jiang Wanyin says, “…What are you doing?”

“Ah- I- I just-” Jingyi clears his throat. “Purging my mind,” he says firmly, trying to grin nonchalantly.

“Of impure thoughts?” wonders Jiang Wanyin idly, looking at the back of his hand as if admiring his ring. “Last time, as I recall, that didn’t go too well.”

“Sect Leader Jiang…!” Jingyi begs. “Why do you tease me so much?”

“You make it too easy.”

“I do not!” retorts Jingyi. “I’m just honest!”

The corner of Jiang Wanyin’s mouth twitches a little, as if hiding a slightly bitter smile. “Most people are liars, Lan Jingyi.” His voice lowers until it is rather quiet. “But you… The things you say – I don’t dislike it.”

Jingyi’s heart stutters a little, cheeks flaming again for no discernible reason. “I- W-what?”

Jiang Wanyin glares. “I said, I get annoyed every time you open your mouth!” he says, very loudly. “Are you deaf or something?”

Blinking, Jingyi tilts his head to the side. “But… That wasn’t… What you said… The first time…” his voice grows quieter with every word as Jiang Wanyin’s glare increases, Zidian sending out purple sparks on his finger. Oh my god, thinks Jingyi, no wonder Jin Ling is the way he is! Jingyi can’t help smiling, meeting Jiang Wanyin’s sharp, violet eyes. “Thank you, Sect Leader Jiang!” he says, trying not to sound too breathless.

“The hell? I just told you that you’re annoying,” mutters Jiang Wanyin, but he’s trying to hide a smile.

Jingyi can’t help grinning wider, chest swelling with a strange, light feeling. And then he realizes what time it is. “Oh shit!” he exclaims. “It’s past curfew! I should… Probably go.” He sighs, opening the window a little. “Oh god, I’m gonna get caught, aren’t I…”

Jiang Wanyin snorts. “If you insist on sleeping here, I’m keeping you bound with Zidian,” he warns.

Laughing, Jingyi turns around. “Is Sect Leader Jiang offering to let me stay for the night?” he wonders out loud. And then his voice dies in his throat. Why the hell did that sound so suggestive?! I swear I didn’t mean it that way! Argh, I’m dead – I’m so dead! His light smile twitches and drops off his face as he sees Jiang Wanyin’s hand tighten into a fist, Zidian flaring brightly, not shooting out yet, but soon. Jingyi laughs nervously. “Ah, well, on second thought, I think I might risk it,” he says quickly.

Jiang Wanyin gives him a dark look.

Jingyi waves goodbye and takes a flying leap.

/

Jingyi is caught just before he enters the building within which his bedroom is. Lan Qiren materializes in front of him like a vengeful spirit, with disapprovingly set brows and perfectly-combed goatee – and Jingyi shrieks and jumps back. “Oh shit!”

“Breaking curfew, raising your voice, speaking improperly,” Lan Qiren counts. “Copy Virtue and Conduct tomorrow.”

Jingyi bows. “Yes, sir…” He can do nothing but sigh.

His room seems empty at first, but then there is a clatter and cursing coming from the dark corner. Jingyi yells a little bit, but then the candles are lit with one burst of spiritual energy, and Wei Wuxian stands, grasping a rabbit firmly. “Little bastard ran away,” he explains.

“Senior Wei… Please keep track of Hanguang-Jun’s rabbits,” Jingyi sighs. “More than that, why did it come into my room?!”

“Maybe you had something tasty there,” shrugs Wei Wuxian. He looks Jingyi over with a grin. “You look relatively… Undebauched.” He claps Jingyi on the shoulder as he walks by. “Ah, well, better luck next time, I suppose,” he says cheerfully.

Jingyi stands frozen for a moment, long enough for Wei Wuxian to disappear away. “Senior Wei! You-!”

/

Bonus:

“Here’s the thing – grumpy people just don’t get laid enough! That’s their problem! I mean, look at yourself, Lan Zhan. Ever since we’ve started doing ‘everyday’, you’ve become so much milder – you don’t get angry just by looking at me. Now, when you look at me, you want to kiss me.”

“Hm,” agrees Wangji. He cannot suppress a rare smile, running his fingers over Wuxian’s hair, leaning down to press a kiss to Wuxian’s forehead to prove the point. True. So true.

“See, so my theory is that grumpy people need to get laid to stop being grumpy. And these grumpy people are everywhere, making people’s lives miserable. So, the way I see it, it’s the people’s civic duty to help those people get laid.”

Civic duty? Wei Ying, what even- Wangji lets Wuxian speak. He does not endorse Wuxian’s ideas, but it is amusing, and the way Wuxian’s chest trembles when he laughs, or the way the candlelight glints off of his eyes, or the way he comfortably drapes himself over Wangji – this Wangji does endorse.

“Therefore, after Jiang Cheng gets laid, I propose we continue with this project.”

“…’We’?” inquires Wangji. Wei Ying, what are you including me in?

“Aiyoh… Lan-er-gege, are you abandoning me?” playfully asks Wuxian. “Of course, ‘we’. Anyway, the second phase of this plan is going to be your uncle.”

Wangji pauses, and his hand stills in Wuxian’s hair. “…My uncle?” he asks cautiously. Please, leave my uncle out of this, Wei Ying, my love. I think he’s suffered enough at this point.

“Of course! He’s super grumpy! And he’s forever single – just like Jiang Cheng! There’s a correlation here, I’m telling you. So we need to get your uncle a woman. Or even a man, if that’s what he’s into.”

Saying nothing, Wangji has several thoughts on this subject – foremost being, Do you need to find a bigger reason for my uncle to dislike you? and, God, I love you, Wei Ying, you absolute fool among fools. When you say foolish things like this, how can I not want to kiss you? True to his thoughts, he leans down and presses a kiss to Wuxian’s lips.

“So what do you think, Lan Zhan?” Wuxian wonders, turning from his back onto his stomach, facing Wangji.

“It’s a terrible idea,” Wangji says with no inflection whatsoever. He kisses Wuxian again, tucking stray, waving strands of hair behind Wuxian’s ear.

Wuxian laughs lightly, bumping their noses together. “You’ll come around,” he says, “I promise.”

Well, if you look at me like that- Wangji kisses him again, but harder. The strategy here is distraction, and it is successful, judging by Wuxian’s flushed cheeks when they draw apart, gasping for air.

Chapter Text

Jiang Wanyin wakes up the next morning and is more-or-less ready to leave. Jin Ling still hasn't come out of his quarters yet, and it's decently early, so Wanyin decides to take a stroll around the Cloud Recesses in the cool, misty morning before the sun has time to beat down harshly.

Ridges and peaks of mountains stand out around him, the sides green with artfully fnarlwd trees and shining waterfalls. The mist winds around these in loose, pale curls, settling in Wanyin's hair with little droplets. It is very different from Lotus Pi, and very beautiful – bringing back bittersweet memory. He stands still and watches the scenery.

Someone clears his throat.

Wanyin turns. Then gulps, suddenly feeling as if he has returned to his fourteen-year-old self that was studying in Gusu. That childish fear of Lan Qiren returns to hit him in the face.

Lan Qiren is standing and glaring at him, standing very straight and radiating disapproval.

Wanyin fights to look unbothered, after all, he is a sect leader. I’m a grown-ass man, damn it! Why the hell are you looking at me like that, Lan Qiren?! I didn’t even break any rules! "Master Lan," he says. "Good morning."

"Sect Leader Jiang. May I speak with you?" says Lan Qiren, his expression saying that he will definitely not take no for an answer.

Unable to think of a reason not to, Wanyin nods, internally sighing.

"This is a matter of great importance. Please answer me honestly," Lan Qiren says, the implication of 'or else' hanging heavily in the air, "What are your intentions with my great-nephew?"

The world stutters for a second. "Who?" asks Wanyin, genuinely confused. His great-nephew? Wait, Lan Xichen and Lan Wangji are his nephews, then… Wait, that Lan Sizhui kid? Is that Lan Wangji’s kid? Or is Lan Qiren talking about the other side of the family… Argh! You Lans! Why are there so many of you?!

"Lan Jingyi,” says Lan Qiren.

Oh. That one. “What about him?” asks Wanyin, trying hard not to smile at the image of Lan Jingyi that appears in his mind. Definitely like a puppy. An overgrown puppy.

“Will you take responsibility?" demands Lan Qiren.

Wanyin feels as if he has begun reading a book from the middle instead of the beginning. He can understand the words, but not the underlying meaning, and definitely not the context. What does he mean what are my intentions?! What responsibility?! What on earth- "Say what, now?" he chokes out. "Lan Jingyi… What did he do that I have to take responsibility?” He thinks more clearly. “Oh. Is this about Jin Ling? I thought that Sizhui kid was-"

"Sect Leader Jiang," says Lan Qiren, and his tone is icy, "I do not know how things like this are done in Yunmeng, but the Lan Sect do not take matters such as this lightly."

That sounds very serious. And Wanyin has absolutely no idea what is happening. I’m a sect leader and an adult, damn it! Why the hell do I never know what’s happening?! "I- What? Did he get into a fight or something?! Why is this my business?" Wanyin is confused as hell, and the stress-inducing glare of icy, righteous rage coming from Lan Qiren's eyes really isn't helping his mental state.

"If you are not serious, then just reject him!" snaps Lan Qiren, drawing himself up with dignity the size of an iceberg.

"Wait, what? Why do I have to reject him?" Wanyin says desperately. "He hasn't even offered me anything!" And besides, if I reject something he gives me, he’ll probably get sad – and that would be a massive pain in the ass.

"Is such a thing nothing to you?!" An angry vein is throbbing in the side of Lan Qiren's face, and his face's color is quite red with anger.

Wanyin is getting angry, also. "Master Lan, I have no idea what you're talking about!” he snaps, folding his arms defensively. “Why are you angry at me?!"

"What kind of relationship is between you and Lan Jingyi?"

The world spinning in confusion screeches to a halt. There is perfect silence as Wanyin’s confusion reaches peak – but he seriously considers the question. "Uh, I don't really…" Wanyin thinks hard, out loud. "Wait, if Lan Sizhui and Jin Ling are together, and Lan Sizhui is Lan Jingyi’s brother, or something…”

“He’s not his brother."

“…Oh thank god he's not Lan Wangji's kid too… But he's your great-nephew, and if Jin Ling and Lan Sizhui work out well together, then…" Wanyin pauses. "Our relationship is… Future in-laws?" he looks cautiously up at Lan Qiren.

“Is there any talk of joining the power of the Yunmeng Jiang and of the Gusu Lan?” asks Lan Qiren.

“Jin Ling is my nephew,” Wanyin says. “If this thing with Lan Sizhui works out well, then, yes, I… Suppose.”

The glare from Lan Qiren is getting stronger and icier. Wanyin wants to climb a tree and never talk to the old stick-in-the-mud ever again. “Sect Leader Jiang, are you misunderstanding my words on purpose?”

“Master Lan – I really, truly have no clue what the hell you are talking about,” growls Wanyin, a vein of frustration throbbing in his temple. “What does Jin Ling and Lan Sizhui's relationship have to do with Lan Jingyi – and most importantly, what does this all have to do with me?”

“Ah! Uncle! Sect Leader Jiang! What a nice thing it is to see the two of you,” comes a cheerful, smooth voice – and Wanyin thinks that he has not been so happy to see Lan Xichen, ever. He had come out of seclusion last year, and Wanyin had had tea with him a few times – but it had always been a little awkward for some reason – but Wanyin would take awkwardness with Lan Xichen over tension with Lan Qiren any day.

“Xichen – perhaps you can explain,” says Lan Qiren. “The future of our sects is at stake.” There is a certain way he says this with a certain tug of his beard and a sharp look – as if he’s explaining without words.

What the fuck is happening?!Please get to the point,” says Wanyin though his teeth, muscles straining from the effort of remaining civil.

Lan Xichen smiles. “Uncle, I think I could explain. Perhaps you would wish to take tea in your quarters?”

Lan Qiren bows stiffly and leaves, glaring all the while.

Wanyin tries not to look too relieved. He turns to Lan Xichen. “What is the problem?”

“Intentions of courtship are shown differently depending on where one is from, how they have grown up, and even what kind of person they are,” says Lan Xichen with a sigh, smiling mildly.

What? That… Is not going in the direction I expected.

“Usually, it is customary to ask the guardian, or the sect of an individual before pursuit – but bonds between people can form too quickly for such proprietary actions to be taken. And some people… Do not have the benefit of experience in such areas. My uncle did not mean to offend or confuse you – he cares for his sect and for his charges very dearly.”

Oh. That’s what this is about! Why was Lan Qiren talking about Lan Jingyi, then?

Wanyin takes a breath in through his nose. “I can accept all of the things you just told me – Sect Leader Lan – I have no problem. I will tell Jin Ling to go and sit down with Lan Qiren to have a talk about his future with Lan Sizhui so that Master Lan’s heart will be put to rest. But I can tell you right now – Jin Ling is a good kid, and he’s a sect leader in training.” Wanyin crosses his arms and sticks his jaw out stubbornly. “There’s nothing wrong with his origins or rank, and he’ll definitely treat your disciple well. I’ll break his legs if he doesn’t.”

Lan Xichen stares at Wanyin, the smile frozen on his face.

Wanyin freezes also. Shit, did I just break some major rule? Is there a rule about talking about breaking legs within the Cloud Recesses? I’m not actually going to break them! I’ve threatened him like this for years, it slipped out naturally! If anyone actually even tries to touch a hair on his leg, I’ll kill them! Why is Lan Xichen staring at me like that?!

“Sect Leader Jiang…” quietly says Lan Xichen, “You thought this was about Sizhui and Jin Rulan?”

What?! What?! What?! Why the fuck is everything so confusing?! I’m gonna get angry again!

“It isn’t?! What else could it be about?” Wanyin pauses. “Did one of my sect’s disciples behave badly towards one of yours, or something? I’m not kept appraised of the courtships of every single shi-di and shi-mei of my sect. But if I find out something going wrong, I’ll reprimand whoever it is, rest assured.” His brows furrow. “Wait, your uncle was talking about Lan Jingyi…” A striking and oddly unpleasant thought strikes Wanyin. “Don’t tell me Lan Jingyi is being courted by one of my sect’s disciples?!” he suddenly snaps, Zidian sparking on his finger. He pauses. Wait, why the fuck am I this angry? That’s fine, isn’t it? As long as he’s happy- “Not that I mind, or anything,” he adds, for Lan Xichen’s benefit.

Lan Xichen is staring. “I… I think both my uncle and I have misunderstood greatly,” he finally says. “Your relationship is…”

“With Lan Jingyi? Probably future in-laws, right?”

Heavens, help me…”

“Excuse me?”

“Oh, nothing!”

/

"I'll miss you!" calls Lan Jingyi down the steps, as he jogs down towards Wanyin. Wanyin and Jin Ling are ready to leave, but Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi have arrived, along with Lan Wangji, Wei Wuxian, and two Lan Seniors that cannot be seen clearly. Jin Ling talks to the PDA couple and his new partner – but Lan Jingyi’s bright smile and enthusiastically loud voice are like arrows of warmth to Wanyin’s stomach and chest.

"You, ah? Aren't you embarrassed?" yells Wanyin, trying to save himself face by crossing his arms and furrowing his brows as if he is angry.

"No yelling in the Cloud recesses, Sect Leader Jiang!” yells Jingyi in response. “And why should I be embarrassed?" he finishes as he comes to a stop in front of Wanyin.

"Saying things like that – with that kind of face!" Wanyin isn’t sputtering, but he will be soon. Why the fuck are you asking a question like that, don’t you have any sense or any ears to hear yourself?!

"Why shouldn't I say things if they're true?" curiously asks Lan Jingyi.

"Because it's embarrassing!" snaps Wanyin.

"If Sect Leader Jiang is going to get embarrassed when I say something nice, what am I supposed to do?" Only then does Wanyin realize that Lan Jingyi is teasing him. Maybe he deserves it after yesterday night, but he has to cover his embarrassment with more anger – otherwise how is he going to cope with this guy?!

"Hey! You! I'm not the one getting embarrassed! You should be!"

"But… I'm not…"

Wanyin sighs at having to bring out the trump card this early in the game. "You're not embarrassed when you climb into people's rooms at night, either – you really have no shame."

"S-sect Leader Jiang!" chokes Lan Jingyi.

Wanyin regains some of his equilibrium, allowing his voice to become even and his eyebrow to rise. "Yes, Lan-gongzi?"

Lan Jingyi laughs. "Hm, Sect Leader Jiang, will you miss me?” He sees Wanyin’s shocked expression that is entirely lacking in any thoughts and mistakes it for anger. “Ah, I guess probably not…"

"Why the hell would you ask me a question like that?!" Wanyin snaps. No. His face is not flushing. No. He is a grown-ass man.

"Why are you getting angry at me?" demands Lan Jingyi, crossing his arms and looking defensive.

"Why would you ask me a question you already know the answer to?" shoots Wanyin back, not even pausing to think (which is a mistake).

"I… What do you mean, Sect Leader Jiang?" Lan Jingyi looks lost and curious.

"Don't be dumb, dumbass!" Shouldn’t you just know these things? Why do I have to say it?! Someone like you, why are you trying to embarrass me?!

"Why are you so mean to me, Sect Leader Jiang…?" pouts Lan Jingyi.

Wanyin stiffens. He’s actually sad?! "…Hey. You. Don't make that face."

"What face?"

"Don't make that face,” Wanyin says, pointing at Jingyi. The expression changes from pouty sadness to something cute and confused. “Or that one.” It changes again, to something annoyingly cute and amused. “Or that one either.” Wanyin sighs and rolls his eyes to the sky. “…Ugh, such a pain…” He glares at Lan Jingyi and gives him an honest answer to his question, though he actually feels physical pain in his soul. “Yes."

"Yes, what?" Lan Jingyi is adorably confused, and Wanyin gets angry.

"Yes, I'll miss you, damn it! Who else is going to be an insufferable, diplomatic dumbass?!" he snaps, taking a step forward.

Lan Jingyi’s face lights up with a smile so bright it’s almost painful to look at. His eyes are sparkling lightly, his cheeks are flushed, and that grin tears the words straight out of Wanyin’s mouth. Why the fuck does he look so happy?! What the fuck?! Stop it?!

"Oh, Sect Leader Jiang!" Lan Jingyi exclaims.

And then he leaps forward with all of his muscle-bound, freakishly-tall Lan body, and hugs Wanyin, hanging off him like he thinks he’s much smaller than he is.

Wanyin is strong. But this is a bit much – a frontal attack not just on his body but on his heart! Who the fuck do you think I am?!

Instinctively his hands fly up to Lan Jingyi’s back as he stumbles backwards under the sudden weight. His words are difficult to get out from rage(?) "…You! You absolute-"

Lan Jingyi retreats to a safe distance and waves, cupping his hands around his mouth, yelling, "I'll write to you! I promise!"

"You better," mutters Wanyin, stepping onto his sword.

Jin Ling sighs loudly, disengaging himself from Lan Sizhui’s arms and (ugh) lips. "Oh my God, can you two stop flirting right in front of me?"

"Do you want to die?!" roars Wanyin. “Fucking hypocrite,” he adds under his breath.

Chapter Text

To my dearest Sect Leader Jiang,

How are you doing? I already miss you a lot! I’m not really used to writing letters, so I’m not sure of the proper things to say… I hope you’re doing well – I heard of your great feats on the night-hunt you had right when you came back – I’m really, really impressed! Who would have thought that such a small forest in such a rural part of Yunmeng would have so much resentful energy and ghosts – and for you to take it on alone – it’s really amazing!
You really are amazing, Sect leader Jiang!
Sizhui tells me that I should write a poem for you as a part of the letter, but I’m really bad at poetry, so here’s a sprig of jasmine from the Cloud Recesses instead! It’s really fragrant!

Deepest regards, Lan Jingyi

/

To Lan Jingyi,

It’s literally been two days, what the hell do you mean, you miss me. Also, no SHIT you don’t know the proper things to say. Who starts a letter with ‘my dearest Sect Leader Jiang’?! Are you writing a love letter or a business proposal?!
If you come to Yunmeng again next year, we can go on a night-hunt again, if you want. It’s a bit of a hassle, but it’s my duty as a host. I wouldn’t mind all that much.
I can only imagine what the hell kind of poem you’d write would be – I guess I’ll have to accept the jasmine. It does kind of smell nice. I can’t exactly send you an entire lotus, but here’s a petal. To be fair. Eat it, burn it, frame it, I don’t care.

From Jiang Wanyin

/

To my dearest Wanyin,

Is this any better? I was debating on simply putting nothing your name at the top of my paper, but then it just looked so lonely there…
Do you like the drawing? I tried to paint you from memory, but it really doesn’t compare to the real person at all. Sizhui is better than me at drawing, but I don’t think I’m too bad!
I would love to come to Yunmeng next year! And Sect Leader Jiang has to come to Gusu too, to make it fair, right? I love night-hunting with you, you always look so cool! Zidian is a really formidable weapon! Actually, I've been practicing the xiao, and somehow, I'm not as bad at it as I am the guqin! When I get better, maybe I'll play it for you!
I kept the petal! I had to press it to keep from wilting because even after I put it in water for a long time, that wasn’t enough…

Warm feelings, Lan Jingyi

/

To the Lan Dumbass,

Are you fucking kidding me?! I opened your letter and almost had a stroke!! What the fuck?! ‘To my dearest Wanyin’?! How the fuck is that better?! Now Jin Ling can’t even look me in the face anymore!! It’ll teach him not to open people’s mail. Who’s your ‘dearest Wanyin’, huh?! Try calling me that again and I’ll bind you with Zidian until you repent!!!
The drawing isn’t bad, though. I decided to keep it, I guess.
Zidian really is a good weapon, it has many uses. You’re not a bad flyer yourself – and one thing I can say about night-hunting with you: it’s never boring. Because you’re a dumbass. But you’re also a good fighter. And a fool. When you play the xiao for me, you better play it well.
Jin Ling wants me to tell you he’ll break your legs. He misses you and that Sizhui guy.

From Jiang Wanyin, wielder of Zidian

/

To the exalted Sandu-Shengshou, honored Leader of the Jiang Sect,

My deepest apologies for the trouble this unworthy one has caused you. I promise I’ll never call you ‘my dearest Wanyin’ ever again – after all, ‘my dearest Wanyin’ is not an appropriate way to address a famed cultivator that I deeply admire, such as you, my dearest Wanyin honorable Sect Leader Jiang.
If you want to bind me with Zidian, I would deserve it.
I’m glad you kept the drawing, though!
When Sect Leader Jiang compliments me, I am grateful, though this one feels that your kindness is too great for one such as myself.

From the second young master of the Lan Clan, Lan Jingyi

/

To Lan-gongzi

Apology accepted.
We’ll see about Zidian.
Of course I kept it, what the hell else do you think I would do with it, huh?!
It wasn’t a compliment, dumbass – do you think I just throw compliments at people, or something?!

From Jiang Wanyin

/

To Jin Ling, the young mistress of the Jin Clan,

Sizhui misses you! He’s writing lots of letters, but he keeps crumpling them up and writing new ones because he thinks they’re not good enough. Just send him something and don’t make it awkward to start. Then he’ll have to write back.

From Jingyi

/

To Jingyi, the biggest pain in the ass of the Lan Clan,

Don’t meddle!
Does he really miss me? What kind of things should I put in the letter?
Also if you’re going to court my uncle, do it properly, at least!

From Jin Rulan

/

To the young mistress,

You don't have any idea how hard I'm TRYING!!!

From Lan Jingyi

/

To Lan-dumbass-Yi,

TRY HARDER IT’S A NIGHTMARE I HAVE TO LIVE WITH THIS GUY, YOU KNOW HE SAVED ALL YOUR LETTERS IN A BOX AND HE WON’T STOP TALKING ABOUT HOW MUCH YOU PISS HIM OFF IF YOU’RE GONNA COURT HIM AT LEAST LET HIM REJECT YOU

From Jin Rulan

/

To Lan Jingyi,

There’s a conference in a month, and this time I have to host (it’s honestly kind of a pain but it’s good for all our sects. In the future, you should probably take note that there’s always more people than you expect, and the least famous cultivators eat the most, so you really have to go all-out on catering), all the major sects will be there. You better be there too. Watch and learn.

From Jiang Wanyin

/

To Jiang Wanyin,

That’s really great! I’ll really look forward to seeing you again – I’ll definitely make sure Zewu-Jun takes me with him!
Thank you for your advice, I’ll tell Sizhui that for whenever he becomes Sect Leader!
Here’s a sprig of plum blossoms from the Cloud Recesses – they’re really beautiful and I wish you were there to see it with me, but this will have to do for now! I heard that on summer nights at Lotus Pier, the moon is golden, and there are red dragonflies. I want to see that with you, some day!

From Lan Jingyi

/

To Lan Jingyi,

I didn’t know what the hell kind of flower I should send you in answer, since I already sent a lotus petal – so here’s a sachet of tea instead. It’s only sold in Yunmeng, two streets down from Lotus Pier itself. My sister liked the flavor a lot – I like it too. It’s not too bitter., so I wonder what you’ll think. so your childish taste can probably stand it.
Maybe you’ll be able to see the dragonflies – I don’t know about the moon turning gold, though.

From Jiang Wanyin

/

To Jiang Wanyin,

The tea tasted really good. I thought about you when I drank it, and I think it tasted even better because of that! I’ll send you a sachet of tea too! This is the tea that Teacher likes to drink – and if he drinks it enjoyably, then it must be really high-class and admirable tea. I know you’ll like it! It has a very pleasant smell of jasmine. He says that it’s best to steep it for a long time.
I’m sure any scenery will look good if Sect Leader Jiang is by my side!

From Lan Jingyi

/

To Lan Jingyi, an absolute fool,

What the hell kind of tea was that?! It was so bitter! I drank it and my soul exited my body!! How can anyone drink something like that, huh?! What is up with Lan Qiren?! It was so bitter!!! I’m choking as I write this!!!! I still can’t get the taste out of my mouth and it’s been TWO DAYS!!!!!
Also what the hell?! Don’t say things that cheesy – it can be misinterpreted!!!

From Jiang Wanyin

/

To Jiang Wanyin,

I’m sorry!! Are you alright now? I guess in the Cloud Recesses we’re all used to the taste – there’s no weak tea in our house! Sorry again! Enclosed with this letter is a sweet flat rice-cake! The sweet taste will counteract the bitterness, and please think of me when you eat it!
I’ll see you soon at the conference and I will be happy when I see your smiling face.

From Lan Jingyi

/

To Lan Jingyi,

At first I was cautious, because what if you poisoned it with something like pepper, but I guess it tasted good.
Who the hell is smiling at you?! You’ll be lucky I even look in your direction, Lan-gongzi.

From Jiang Wanyin

/

Intermission:

“Wei Ying. Please reconsider.” If Lan Wangji had been anyone else, he would currently have his head in his hands. But since he was none other than Lan Wangji, all he does is stare with imploring eyes from a blank face.

Wei Wuxian pouts. “Lan Zhan, ah, Lan Zhan! Come on-n! Where is your sense of vigilantism? Of civic duty? Of spreading happiness to the people?”

“My uncle has suffered enough.”

“You keep saying that. And so we’ll go through with a plan that will make his sufferings end with happiness and contentment! The plan is foolproof, Lan Zhan!”

Wangji sighs. “Wei Ying…”

“Don’t look at me like tha-at, Lan-er-gege…!

The one secret weapon I have against him. My arsenal has only one equipment: Disappointed Look, and even that has a fifty/fifty chance of working at any given moment, thinks Wangji. “Like what?”

“Like tha-at!”

“Hm.”

“You’re not stopping it!” Wuxian sighs. “I’ll make you a deal.”

Wangji’s curiosity is piqued. “Hm?”

“We’ll observe him, and if within the span of one day, he smiles once, then I’ll call this whole thing off.”

“…Deal,” Wangji agrees, then realizes how difficult this will be.

/

Stalking his uncle by Wuxian’s side is proving to be quite difficult. Wangji wants to scream and cry internally that he had managed to get roped into this, but on the other hand, he would do anything for his cultivation partner – and this is simply another opportunity to show it.

But… Wangji has to admit, Lan Qiren lives a life quite lacking excitement. He wakes at a proper time, eats breakfast at a proper time, teaches, eats a mid-day meal, writes in the library pavilion, eats dinner, and then goes to sleep at a proper time.

At what point would there be an opportunity for a smiling appearance? Wangji doesn’t know, and honestly, he doesn’t think his uncle does either. The number of times he’s seen his uncle smile within his entire life, he can count on the fingers of his hands.

And yet, Wangji has his moment of triumph.

It happens like this: Lan Qiren has finished teaching the most junior of the Lan disciples. A young boy rushes forward, then trips on the hem of his robe, knocking over an ink-filled brush from a low table nearby. The ink splatters across several clean pages.

The child’s bottom lip begins to tremble, and he looks up at the stern face of Lan Qiren with watery eyes, expecting to be chewed out. But Lan Qiren only sighs, looking annoyed. He picks up the dirtied pages and the brush, then sighs again.

“Sorry…” mumbles the boy.

“Copy the rule: ‘No running in the Cloud Recesses’ fifteen times,” Lan Qiren says, not ungently. “We have rules for a reason. There is no need to rush, a gentleman with the name Lan must always hold himself with grace and comportment.”

“I’m just clumsy,” sniffles the boy. “Maybe I’m not a Lan…”

“Lan Yi,” says Lan Qiren, “How can you not be a Lan if you have our name? One of my best disciples is clumsier than you, and yet he is a cultivator definitely worth of our lineage. You must learn. That is all.” He tugs at his beard in a habitual motion.

The little boy nods, wiping his nose with the back of his hand, then quickly rubs the back of his hand on his sleeve.

Lan Qiren winces with mild disgust. “Composure,” he admonishes. “Go copy the rule. Fifteen times, remember?”

“Yep! Thanks, Teacher!” The boy begins to run off, then quickly stops, and very deliberately walks in the direction of the library pavilion, brow furrowed in concentration.

And then Lan Qiren unsuccessfully hides a smile as he strokes his beard, shaking his head slightly.

In the bushes right under the classroom window, Wangji and Wuxian are peering over the windowsill, having seen and heard everything. If Wangji was a very different person, he would have whooped out loud, fist-pumped, and gotten in Wuxian’s face, saying, ‘I told you so, I told you so, I won, I won our bet!’ But because he is himself, Lan Wangji, he remains silent.

Wuxian, however, sighs. “Ah, you got me, Lan Zhan…”

Well, maybe Wangji can gloat a little bit. “That I did.”

Intermission End.

/

The conference arrives, and Jiang Wanyin has the exact opposite of the time of his life coordinating everything. Sect Leaders and their entourages need places to stay, he has to pretend to be personable and greet people, he almost gets into a fight with five people in order to get access to good catering – and all in all, the highlight of this stupid function is going to be sleeping at the end of the day. And seeing Lan Jingyi, something traitorous whispers.

Shut the fuck up, me, he mentally growls right back.

He stands at the pier, greeting sect leaders, and when he sees Sect Leader Ouyang, he goes over to talk with him. It’s an awkward conversation, mentioning the weather way too often.

Wanyin’s eyes wander past the other man’s shoulder, and over the water, where more boats are pulling up to the dock. Then there is the shine of sunlight on white robes, and he looks more closely.

Lan Xichen stands at the prow of the boat, looking calm and regal. This is his first time exiting the Cloud Recesses for several years, and Wanyin is impressed to see him out and about at a conference like this. Behind him there is Lan Sizhui, who looks almost like a mirror image of his sect leader, down to the serene smiling expression on his face. And then, on the other side-

Wanyin sees Lan Jingyi.

And then Lan Jingyi sees him.

Lan Jingyi's face lights up with a huge, bright smile full of an excited and happy emotion that he doesn't hide and that Wanyin can't quite place. His eyes glitter in the sunlight, but he wears his hair differently, long down his back, there is a xiao hanging at his belt – and yet, that bright smile that it almost hurts to look directly at is still the same. Wanyin can't really hear what Sect Leader Ouyang is saying to him right now, and the air seems to slow down its flowing.

He takes a step forward almost instinctively, no thoughts coming to his mind except for a crushing realization that had been repressed for almost a year; I missed him. I missed Lan Jingyi.

He takes another step forward, and another, and the wooden boards of the dock sound hollowly beneath his boots. There is sunlight in Lan Jingyi's eyes, in his curling hair, in the smattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose that Wanyin didn't notice until today. The breeze picks up the wide sleeves of his white robes, the edges of his long ribbon with its patterns of clouds mirroring the reflection of the water that reflects the sky.

A voice that he only later recognizes as his own says, "Lan-gongzi," and it’s too hoarse, too full of wonder.

A breath of a laugh bursts from Lan Jingyi's grinning mouth. "Sect Leader Jiang!"

And then he runs at Wanyin, arms open for a hug.

The world that felt as if it had stopped, resumes its quick course once more. Wanyin's eyes narrow. You won't get me like this twice, he thinks vengefully, remembering a day when Lan Jingyi had hugged him before, muscles tensing as he braces himself for impact. This time, I'm prepared.

"Sect Leader Jiang! I missed you so much!" Just as Lan Jingyi enters Wanyin's range, the sect leader grins, then grabs Lan Jingyi's arm and executes a perfect shoulder-throw, the younger man hitting the dock with a whoosh of air exiting his lungs and a thump.

There is a marked silence as the entire cultivation world pauses to stare at this bizzare display of affection between them. Sect Leader Ouyang covers his mouth with one hand, and his adult son’s eyes with the other.

Lan Jingyi laughs, winded, looking up at Wanyin with those same sparkling eyes. "I guess Sect Leader Jiang didn't miss me that much, huh…" he pants, raising himself up on one elbow with a wince.

Wanyin rolls his eyes, and offers him a hand to pull himself up. "What do you think," he mutters.

Lan Jingyi takes his hand in a firm grip, and rises to his full (too-tall) height in front of Wanyin, his smile not fading at all, his eyes unashamedly taking all of Wanyin in with an enthusiasm unmarked by propriety. "I think you missed me a li-ittle bit," he says.

Rolling his eyes again, Wanyin doesn't try to quickly let go of Jingyi's hand. "Hmf. Maybe."

“Sect Leader Jiang!” gasps Lan Jingyi. “Y-you could admit it? I thought you would deny it and hide it away! I’m so happy!” He grins and leans in (and to his credit, Wanyin doesn’t lean back, not succumbing to the intimidation tactic). “You’ll probably deny it if I ask you whether you like me as much as I like you, right?” His breath ghosts over the back of Wanyin’s hand as he speaks, pulling it closer.

Wanyin raises his eyebrows and grabs him by the front of his robes to fix him with the sharpest glare in his arsenal of sharp glares. Faking a terrifying smile, he says in an undertone, “If it wasn’t for diplomacy, I would strangle you right now.”

Lan Jingyi’s smile falters a little, and his cheeks flare with red as the reality of his situation sinks in. He quickly jumps back, letting go of Wanyin’s hand. He laughs shakily. “It was a joke, I was joking!”

“No shit,” mutters Wanyin. Lan Jingyi – you and your shitty sense of humor… Giving me too much hope is an annoying thing. You might have fallen for me for a short time, but I’ll definitely give you time to get your priorities straight. When you stop thinking you like me for whatever the hell reason you do now, you’re going to be so embarrassed.

There is the clearing of a throat, and Wanyin feels way too embarrassed when he sees Lan Xichen standing nearby with a polite smile. “Sect Leader Jiang.”

“Sect Leader Lan. Hey. Uh, nice to have you here. Welcome to Lotus Pier,” Wanyin says, clearing his throat, and tugging at the edges of his sleeves, straightening his back. Lan Jingyi hides behind Lan Sizhui, looking painfully embarrassed (as he well should be, damn it, it’s only fair!)

“Thank you for having me,” Lan Xichen says serenely. “It is as beautiful and lively as always.”

“Yep,” says Wanyin. “Sure is.”

Chapter Text

Jiang Wanyin watches as Lan Jingyi and the other people from the Lan Sect go to their assigned quarters, and misses someone sneaking up behind him, only recognizing Nie Huaisang when the man smacks his butt with a folding fan, then immediately apologizes. “Ah! Sorry, sorry! It was an accident!”

Turning on his childhood friend, Wanyin glares intensely, Zidian letting off sparks. “Do you want to die or something?” he asks.

Huaisang unfolds his fan over his lower face and awkwardly rubs the back of his neck, his shoulders sinking forward. “Actually, I wanted to ask you, who was that Lan Sect person who you threw on the ground earlier today?”

“A fool,” Wanyin answers shortly.

“He seemed very adept, actually,” Huaisang says mildly. “But no matter. There have been… Rumors.” He clears his throat. “Not that I’ve been exactly listening, but there are things one can’t quite help overhearing…” He leaves a delicate silence, during which Wanyin wants to punch him, but restrains himself.

“Get on with it,” he growls. “What kind of shit are people making up about me?”

Huaisang laughs a little nervously. “Well,” he begins, “Quite simply, your nephew and a certain Lan Sect member have a certain bond that may end in marriage. Rumors say that it’s Hanguang-Jun’s son, even. Is this true or not?”

“That little jerk better marry A-Ling, or I’ll break his legs. He seems like a sensible type,” adds Wanyin. “Calm and kind. And since Jin Ling is way too much like his late father for his own good-” Here Huaisang chokes and coughs for a long time, these coughing sounds sounding almost like words, ‘He takes after you!’ “So someone with a head on his shoulders would be good,” he finishes, glaring.

“Oh! What good news! I won’t gossip, of course, such things are best kept under wraps,” Huaisang says, smiling brightly. “And there have been other rumors… Rumors a bit closer to home. Also to do with the Lan Sect.”

“Just say it – if you say it slowly, I’ll still hit you, I’ll just be more frustrated,” Wanyin warns.

Huaisang sighs. “I’ll just ask you a question. What kind of relationship is between you and a certain Lan Jingyi?”

Wanyin huffs. “What is it with everyone asking me that? First Lan Qiren, then Lan Xichen, now even you? Future in-laws, future in-laws damn it! If his distant relative is marrying my nephew than we’re going to be in-laws, and that’s all!”

“Oh, I thought you were getting married,” says Huaisang with disappointment. “A pity. That would have been interesting.”

Wanyin chokes on nothing. “You fucking what-?!”

Huaisang cowers, lifting his fan as a shield between them. “I don’t know! I seriously don’t know! It was just a rumor!”

“Whoever is saying things like that is going to get their legs broken,” Wanyin says grimly. “He hasn’t proposed, and neither have I – he hasn’t even properly confessed yet – so there is no way to tell if he’s genuinely serious… Which would be ridiculous since there is nothing between us!”

The corner of Huaisang’s mouth twitches and a drop of sweat rolls down his face. “Mixed messages,” he mumbles under his breath, “I mean, wha-at? No, yeah, great!”

Wanyin glares.

/

It’s the middle of the night when Jiang Wanyin hears the creak of his door that wakes him up, and he immediately blasts the person with spiritual energy to throw them across the room onto the floor, very reflexively.

There is a shriek and a thump, and then the dark shape of a man gets up again. Still half-asleep, Wanyin throws the person across the room again, and the dark shape tumbles and swears, then exclaims brightly, “Sect Leader Jiang, that must be you!”

Wanyin rubs his eyes and yawns, then releases Zidian for some light.

On his floor is Lan Jingyi, on his back and panting, dressed in the now-disheveled purple robes of a Yunmeng Jiang disciple. Form being thrown around, the front of his top robe is coming loose. His throat bobs as he swallows. “Sect Leader Jiang, hey, uh, good evening.” His forehead ribbon is tying up his ponytail.

Wanyin’s mind blanks. This has got to be a dream. “What the fuck.”

“It’s me, Sect Leader jiang,” Lan Jingyi says, getting his breath back and swallowing thickly. “You see, I was out partying in town, and then I swapped clothes with this certain disciple on a dare, and the party was over, so I was sneaking back in – but I got lost and I wanted to hide because I thought I saw someone coming, but I got into your room, and then you threw me!” he says, all in one breath. “I’m also not drunk.”

“Are you like a homing pigeon?!” snaps Wanyin standing over him and glaring. “How do you always end up in my room, huh?”

Lan Jingyi smiles awkwardly. “The red string of fate?” he suggests. He is definitely drunk, despite not showing any of the signs he showed before – he just has to be, no-one says that kind of shit when they're sober.

“Do you want to die?”

“I’m joking, I’m joking!” Lan Jingyi holds up his hands in mock surrender, laying back on the floor, chest heaving. “My proposal to Sect Leader Jiang will have to be much better than that.”

“Of course,” immediately agrees Wanyin, then blinks. “Wait, what-

Lan Jingyi makes a loud groan and stands up. “Please forgive me?” he says, blinking with shining puppy-eyes. The effect is spoiled by his height and musculature, but all in all… Actually, no, the effect is not spoiled at all, it’s even magnified! thinks Wanyin with disproportionate terror. This man’s puppy-eye power is too great! Wanyin feels himself become blinded, and cannot look anymore.

“I’ve forgiven you way too much before,” he grumbles. “You’re getting presumptuous. What’s next, you’re going to ask to sleep with me next?” He pauses. “Sleep with… In the same room. Sleep. In bed. Sleeping. Snoring. You snore. Loudly,” he corrects. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! I am fucking up! damn you, Lan Jingyi, this is your fault!

Lan Jingyi beams. “I’m so glad that Sect Leader Jiang suggested it first!”

Wanyin blinks. “What-

Throwing his boots off and climbing onto the bed, Lan Jingyi smiles at him, face already on the pillow, reaching out a beckoning arm. His hair is all messy, as are his Jiang Sect robes. “It was your idea, Sect Leader Jiang! Let’s sleep well tonight.” Immediately, he closes his eyes and lets out a long exhale that turns into a snore.

The brain of Jiang Wanyin short-circuits. Then Zidian flares with power.

With a crackle, the spiritual whip wraps around Lan Jingyi and yanks him from the bed, onto the floor, and remains around him, crackling. “You really have a death wish!” roars Wanyin, hoping that the heat in his cheeks is only on the inside. “What kind of shameless things are you saying?!”

“I didn’t mean anything shameless!” groans Lan Jingyi from the floor. “I just wanted to sleep, just like you said Sect Leader Jiang – not like that!”

Wanyin leaves him tied up, and climbs into bed. “Think well on your mistakes,” he says vaguely and pulls the covers over his head.

There is a silence.

“Sect Leader Jiang?”

No answer.

“Sandu-Shengshou?”

Ignored.

“Jiang Wanyin?”

Still ignored.

“Wanyi-in…!”

“…What the fuck do you want?!” Wanyin roars, sitting up again.

“Wanyin, ah, are you going to leave me tied up all night?” mumbles Lan Jingyi.

Yanking the blanket off himself and dropping it over Lan Jingyi, Wanyin grumbles, “Yes, now shut up and go to sleep.”

“Alright, good night, my love…”

“You’re fucking kidding me, right?” snaps Wanyin, sitting up.

“I like you! Did I not say it before? I’ve confessed to you so many times, Sect Leader Jiang, and you haven’t made any response but death threats!” Lan Jingyi complains.

“Too much to be believable.” Wanyin frowns.

"What will make you believe me, Sect Leader Jiang?" Lan Jingyi asks, and he's so earnest, eyes shining in the dark and brows seriously drawn together, that Wanyin can barely breathe.

Lan Jingyi can see right through him, Wanyin has always known it, and he's made no effort to change that – he knows that no-one can flustered him like Lan Jingyi, and Lan Jingyi knows it also. And those times, when Lan Jingyi smiles at him, says something ridiculous, even begins to tease him – Wanyin will just snap something about death wishes, and he can see in the young man's eyes that he understands. But something like this… Being approached with what seems like a genuine heart from someone he cares about – Wanyin doesn't know what to do. After all, the people he cares about will all leave eventually. Promises are made to be broken. And words are just that. Words.

Maybe Lan Jingyi means it now. But in a few days, in a few weeks, maybe even a few months, he won’t. After all, he’s charming and cheerful, kind and open – the kind of person that many people must be pursuing. What kind of interest would a bad-tempered older man with no relationship experience like Jiang Wanyin hold for him?

So Wanyin says, with more gentleness than he has before, "…You should go to sleep, Jingyi."

Jingyi sighs defeatedly. "…I won't stop, you know," he mutters, wriggling within Zidian's bonds to lay on his side, back turned to Wanyin. "Not until you tell me you don't want to see me again, that you don’t like me at all. I'll keep telling you, showing you, all the time, until you can believe me. I like you. I just like you."

Wanyin sighs. "Ah just go to sleep already, damn it."

"Won't." Jingyi yawns.

"Are you just being stubborn?"

"…Maybe?"

"Goodnight, dumbass Lan."

“’Night, Sect Leader Jiang.”

/

“Ah, Sect Leader Jiang…” Jingyi complains as he comes down to breakfast the next morning. “Last night, did you have to be so rough?”

Jin Ling chokes on his rice, and Sizhui pats him on the back, his eyes wide as he looks from Jingyi to Jiang Wanyin.

Jiang Wanyin snorts derisively, taking a sip of his tea. “You brought it upon yourself,” he throws back. “You could have stayed down, but you kept coming back for more.”

Sizhui’s expression is wavering between horror and confusion, and Jin Ling is still choking.

Jingyi sigs. “Still, throwing me on the floor? Wasn’t that a bit much?”

“Would you have rather it been the wall? I didn’t want to break my dresser.”

“Sect Leader Jiang! You care about your dresser more than me?!”

“Hmf. What do you think.”

“My poor waist is never gonna be the same again!” whines Jingyi. “Sect Leader Jiang…! Mustn’t you compensate me?”

“Compensate?” Jiang Wanyin smirks and is about to say something more, when Jin Ling stands up so fast the knocks over his chair.

He is red in the face and shaking with rage. “Have you no shame?!” he screeches, glaring at his uncle and his friend. “Talking about such things!”

Both Jiang Wanyin and Jingyi exchange slow, confused glances. “Uh,” says Jingyi, “What are you talking about?”

Jiang Wanyin’s eyebrows draw together. “Are you getting upset? Nobody died, so it’s alright. And mind your own business!”

“There are things I definitely don’t need to hear, Uncle!” yells Jin Ling. “This kind of atmosphere is even worse than Wei Wuxian and Hanguang-Jun!” He takes several deep breaths in as the echoes of his voice return to him, and then turns on his heel and bolts out the door.

Sizhui gapes after him, then arranges his features into a calm, smiling expression, though a bead of sweat still runs down his cheek. “I… I think A-Ling may have misunderstood.”

Jingyi blinks. “Misunderstood what? Sect Leader Jiang and I had a sort-of fight last night. I got lost, and then he mistook me for someone else, and then we fought by accident. He kind of… threw me across the room,” he explains quickly. “Everything is alright, though, don’t worry!”

Jiang Wanyin snorts, pouring himself more tea. “At least you didn’t come through the window, this time.”

Jingyi grins guiltily. “Ah, sorry about that, alright? …But we built diplomatic relations, though!”

“…Hmf.”

Sizhui’s eye twitches. “A-ah, is that so,” he says, his smile becoming more strained.

Jiang Wanyin sighs. “Although, if you dare enter my room at night again, you’ll receive the same treatment.” He glares harshly at Jingyi. Jingyi shivers a little.

Sizhui chokes a little, coughing into his closed fist.

“Sect Leader Jiang! I told you, it was an accident – I got lost!” Jingyi pleads, but quickly adds with a shy smile, “Though, your Zidian was really impressive…”

Jiang Wanyin smirks. “Well-” he begins.

Sizhui stands up very suddenly, catching his chair before it falls (unlike Jin Ling). He bows politely. “Please excuse me!” he says quickly, in between coughs. “I must go!”

Jingyi and Jiang Wanyin are left staring after him. “What’s got into everyone today?” mutters Jiang Wanyin.

“No idea,” says Jingyi with an equally confused shrug.

“…By the way, don’t make this a habit,” Jiang Wanyin says. “I won’t be so kind next time.”

"A habit? Sect Leader Jiang! We've only slept together twice, and both times I was tied up!"

"Don't make it sound indecent, you sorry excuse for a cultivator!"

"S-Sect Leader Jiang!"

“Get out! Or should I unleash Zidian again?!”

“I didn’t mean it that way, what was Sect Leader Jiang thinking?!”

“I will strangle you with my bare hands.”

“That’s not good for diplomacy!”

Fuck diplomacy and fuck you!”

Please, yes-”

What?!”

“Ah, maybe I spoke too fast?”

Jiang Wanyin pinches the bridge of his nose, and his Zidian glints with purple sparks as he takes several deep breaths to keep himself from becoming fully enraged. Jingyi blinks innocently at him, his arms folded on the table and his chin leaning on his arms, looking up through his curly bangs at the sect leader.

Chapter Text

Jingyi’s laughter dies down, as do Jiang Wanyin’s death threats. Jingyi smiles and scoots closer. “Sect Leader Jiang,” he says softly. “You know I like you. Is your answer really no? I wasn’t drunk yesterday – I just panicked – so please believe me when I say it.” He makes sure to enunciate very clearly, to look Jiang Wanyin straight in the eyes. “I. Like. You.”

Jiang Wanyin’s facial expressions seem to change slowly, eyes becoming wide, then brows furrowing, and gaze darting away, jaw becoming tight – and then an emptiness descending – a purposeful absence of expression. “Lan Jingyi,” he says, then in an oddly careful way takes hold of Jingyi’s shoulder. “Don’t you dare do something you’ll regret,” Jiang Wanyin says, his grip on Jingyi’s shoulder tightening.

Jingyi is entirely confused. “Regret? Like what?” Is he threatening to murder me if I kiss him? Jingyi wonders with a sort of detached terror. I mean, itd be worth it, but… “I just like Sect Leader Jiang!” he exclaims, again, his mouth several steps ahead of his brain. “I just want to be good to you!”

Jiang Wanyin’s dark expression falters. “Have you ever even liked someone before?” he demands. “It’s not like in some fairy story where once you fall in love, it’s happily ever after. You’ll get sick of me. You’ll hate me. I’m not a nice person. Go and like someone else. There are lots of even-tempered and pretty maidens who would jump at the chance. Not someone like me.”

“I don’t want an even-tempered and pretty maiden!” Jingyi bursts out, batting Jiang Wanyin’s hand off his shoulder and standing up. “I want a terribly bad-tempered, lonely, old cultivator who never says what he’s feeling!” he yells. “I’m not someone who can fall in love lightly – I might not seem like it, but I’m still of the Lan Clan! Once my heart is set, how can it change?”

There is a silence as Jiang Wanyin stares at him. One of his hands is curled into a white-knuckled fist around the arm of his chair, but he is perfectly still, seeming to be barely breathing.

Jingyi gets his breath back. "So, I just like you, Jiang Wanyin," he says, voice almost cracking. "If you say you don't like me, I’ll go away. I won’t bother you. You won’t even have to see me again.” He swallows. “So, say it,” he says. “Say you don’t like me.”

/

“…So, say it. Say you don’t like me,” Lan Jingyi says, jaw set. And there are tears glittering in his eyes. Wanyin watches one fall and it’s like the last drop needed to break the dam on a river.

Wanyin stands up so sharply that the chair falls over behind him, but he seems to pay it no mind. “Shut up! Why the hell would I say that?!” he snaps. “I won’t say it!”

And then Lan Jingyi smiles at him, eyes sparkling, mouth trembling just slightly, and oh, right its that face. So, Ill be selfish, for now because if I cant see that face again-

Jingyi takes off his forehead ribbon and winds it around Wanyin’s arm many times, tying it in a small bow. “I think Sect Leader Jiang looks best like this,” he says.

Wanyin glances down at his arm. “Why?”

“Because I like you the best. And I won’t stop liking you,” Jingyi says with a shrug. He loops his fingers through Wanyin’s and brings up Wanyin’s arm to admire the slightly crooked wrap with the cute bow tying it off. “This looks nice,” he says, then glances up into Wanyin’s eyes, bringing the back of Wanyin’s hand to his lips.

Wanyin mentally makes a muffled screaming sound, but out loud only clears his throat. He’s a grown man, a feared cultivator, but why is this overgrown Lan Clan puppy making him feel like his cheeks are too warm?! Really, he is too shameless! Wanyin’s heart can’t handle this! He refuses to look away like some blushing maiden, though – facing Jingyi head-on.

From now on, that’s what he decides he will do. He won’t turn aside, or turn his back again. As long as they can keep facing each other head-on, then maybe even, they can have a happy end. A truly happy one – something rare, but possible.

So, instead of snapping something at the young man, to keep him from getting too close, he just grumbles; “What kind of ridiculous things are you saying – just come closer.”

“Does Sect Leader Jiang want to kiss me, perhaps?” Jingyi asks shamelessly.

Wanyin does not choke. He just hooks his arm around Jingyi’s waist and drags him closer. “Shut up,” he says, but he realizes he’s grinning.

Jingyi leans down to kiss him.

/

Sizhui is glad to see Jingyi later that day, glowing with health and happiness, grinning more widely than ever. Unless he’d just eaten a yard full of chickens, something else good must have happened. But Sizhui’s sharp eyes also detect something that looks very much like a bite mark in the junction between Jingyi’s shoulder and neck, and an obvious crookedness to his forehead ribbon.

Ah, he thinks. Im not sure whether I should congratulate Jingyi or feel bad for Sect Leader Jiangs health.

At the sound of Jingyi’s skipping footsteps, Jin Ling sits up from where his head had been resting in Sizhui’s lap.

“Why does he look like that?” he asks.

“He seems very happy, I suppose something good must have happened,” Sizhui says carefully. There seems to be no possible way of delicately and courteously saying, ‘I think he may have just ****ed your uncle,’ so Sizhui just stays quiet.

Jin Ling, however, is an intelligent man, and when Jingyi plops down comfortably beside them on the pier, still aimlessly grinning, Jin Ling mutters; “So, should I be calling you ‘Aunt’ now?”

“If you call me ‘Aunt’, I’ll beat you up!” Jingyi exclaims.

“Like you could,” shoots Jin Ling back. “I’ll beat you up.”

Sizhui smiles. “Alright, alright. We’re all happy, let’s not threaten each other.”

“It’s alright,” Jingyi says. “Threats are how we express love in this family.”

Jin Ling hits him in the arm, but not too hard, and Sizhui sighs. “Yes, we all need to work on that,” he says under his breath.

/

“…And I think that is why we should hold this competition in the next summer,” finishes Jin Ling. “Also, to foster a feeling of goodwill, it should be the five or so top disciples from each sect, and be split into mixed groups with a disciple from different sects. So the teams aren’t sects competing against each other, but rather with each other.”

“Sect Leader Jin truly has a good idea,” Lan Xichen says. “I assume Sect leader Jiang is of agreement?”

Jiang Wanyin blinks. “…Absolutely,” he says, a little belatedly, then shifts in his chair to sit up more straight, spine audibly crackling as he does so.

Nie Huaisang raises his hand as if he’s in class, and there is quiet tittering. “Um, this isn’t to do with that – but Jiang-xiong, I think we could all benefit from chairs with more back support,” he says.

Jiang Wanyin goes pale, then red. “There’s nothing wrong with my back!” he snaps. “Someone, get him a pillow.”

Lan Xichen’s eyebrows rise and he takes a sip of tea. Lan Jingyi, who is standing behind his sect leader’s seat, winces apologetically. Beside him, Lan Sizhui accidentally meets Jin Ling’s questioning stare. To avoid explaining, he just bows his head and offers several silent prayers. One for Jin Ling’s sanity, one for Sect Leader Jiang’s back, and a final one for his own sanity.

/

The conference is over, but after a conversation with Lan Xichen, Lan Jingyi is allowed to stay behind for a month or two in Lotus Pier. The conversation, which is had over tea, goes a little something like this;

“Zewu-Jun, I, uh…”

“…Yes?”

“Can I stay here for a while?”

“In Lotus Pier? Shouldn’t you ask Sect Leader Jiang whether he’ll have you here or not?”

“He, uh, agreed.”

“In that case, very well.” A clearing of the throat. “Are you… Diplomatically developing your relationship as future in-laws well?”

Jingyi blinks. “Excuse me?”

“Ah, never mind. Sect Leader Jiang said something last year…” Lan Xichen waves a hand. “It matters not. More tea?”

“Thank you, Zewu-Jun!”

/

Among his things, Jingyi finds a piece of paper, a poem he had written a month or so ago, but had forgotten to mail to Wanyin.

Jingyi remembers frowning in concentration, tongue poking out from the corner of his mouth as he wrote. The brush had glided with the deceptive ease of practice over paper, each character beautifully calligraphed – even Lan Qiren would have proud of his form. The content… Not so much.

My love for you is like a big tree
Because it
s big and grows every day
Among the clouds, I miss the scent of lotus blossoms
And I
m hungry for lotus-pork-rib soup
Your heart is like a wall
But until you kick me away
I
ll just keep breaking my head against it

“I’ll just give it to him now, then,” he decides with a grin to himself, and puts it into his sleeve.

Within his mind’s eye, he imagines Jiang Wanyin taking the paper from his hands, reading it, and then immediately falling into Jingyi’s arms, or opening his arms for Jingyi to fall into – Jingyi isn’t picky.

/

Jingyi only remembers about the poem much later, on the morning of the next day. Wanyin is already awake, but hasn’t bothered to get dressed yet, idly tracing the stripes of light from the window on Jingyi’s side. “Good morning, Sect Leader Jiang,” he says, blinking away the last traces of sleepiness.

“Now you’re finally having a normal sleep schedule,” Wanyin says. “When you used to wake up at five next to me, do you know how much I wanted to strangle you?”

“We can try that next time,” Jingyi says distractedly as he rolls over and reaches off the edge of the bed for his robe that is laying crumpled on the floor. One of the sleeves crackles and he pulls the folded paper from it. “Ah! Found it!”

Wanyin sits up. “What did you find?”

“I wrote a poem, a while ago,” Jingyi explains, flattening out the paper. “For you, of course.”

There are traces of smugness as Wanyin says, “Hand it over.”

Jingyi grins to himself.

Wanyin reads the poem with an entirely blank expression. Reads it again. And then a third time.

And then he covers his face with his hand, sits straight down in the grass, shoulders shaking, and making an odd strangled sound.

Jingyi panics. Is he crying?! Overcome by emotion?! Should I have toned down the raw feeling within the poem? Did I overwhelm him with my love and intense use of similes?! “Wanyin, ah?” he asks cautiously.

Wanyin looks up at him, and Jingyi realizes that the sect leader is full of helpless, silent laughter. He shakes his head and covers his face again, shoulders trembling. “Jingyi, you really…”

/

Somewhere in the Cloud Recesses, Lan Qiren feels like he’s getting a headache. “Xichen, you say he stayed behind?”

“Yes, it seems so, Uncle.”

“In what capacity?”

“Officially, as a diplomat.”

Lan Qiren grits his teeth and tries not to cough up blood. “And… Unofficially?”

“Ah…” Lan Xichen spends some time trying to figure out a way of saying it. “They are both very happy,” he finally says. “It warms my heart.”

Lan Qiren sighs and shakes his head. “It could be worse,” he says to himself, as he often has to remind himself. “It could be worse.”