The Discussion Conference calls for each Sect Leader to bring their best disciples for an open discussion among seniors and juniors—a new practice suggested by Nie Huaisang, after he rightfully, uncharacteristically, pointed out the disciples’ decisive actions at the Demon-Slaughtering Cave.
It’s held at the Cloud Recesses this year, and Jiang Cheng steps into the unearthly estate with clenched teeth and shoulders raised, memories clinging to him like a shadow. Sent by the Lanling Jin sect, Jin Ling trails after him in silence, though his eyes dart from the ground, to him, and back to the ground again, questions hanging in the air between them.
With Lan Xichen in seclusion, the responsibility must fall on the younger Twin Jade to play host. Sure enough, Jiang Cheng spots the snow-white robes of Lan Wangji from afar, saluting to every guest that enters the hall. Heart in his throat, he expects to see the familiar robes of black and red by Lan Wangji’s side, the high ponytail, the reckless grin he’s had to tolerate for the entirety of his childhood.
But there stands another figure instead, dressed in the pristine Gusu Lan robes, a half knot secured at the top of dark hair that flows like a silken waterfall down their back. The figure’s face is turned as they greet a guest with Lan Wangji, but it’s clear from their mannerisms that it’s not him.
Instantly, Jiang Cheng sees red.
He’s not surprised that Lan Wangji has taken a second lover—the man holds a sort of ethereal beauty that is not of this world. But to love another, after reciting vows of eternal devotion and loyalty? And to have this vixen by his side at the annual Discussion Conference, in place of his—albeit idiotic—cultivation partner?
Jiang Cheng will not condone such shameless infidelity.
Shoving through the crowds (“Uncle, wait up—!”), he forces his way to the entrance, Zidian sparking purple on his forefinger.
“Lan Wangji, you cheating bas—”
When the pair turn to face him, Jiang Cheng chokes on his next word.
“You came,” Wei Wuxian says, face lighting up in a smile.
It’s all that white, Jiang Cheng reasons, twitching. Even a fucking corpse would look elegant in patterned robes that are white as freshly fallen snow.
Unaware of Jiang Cheng’s internal turmoil, Wei Wuxian moves, hand raised to slap Jiang Cheng’s back in greeting, before he stops short. And then, as Jiang Cheng stares at him, he dips his head, bringing a fist to his palm in a proper—impossibly proper—salute.
“Sect Leader Jiang,” he says.
Wordlessly, Lan Wangji salutes Jiang Cheng in turn. The younger Lan’s face remains impassive, but there’s something smug about the stone-cold features, enough to make Jiang Cheng’s blood heat, his hands curling into fists.
They’re making fun of him, that’s what this is. A fucking prank.
“What the hell do you think you’re—”
“Uncle!” Jin Ling crashes into him from behind, sword clanking, chest heaving with exertion. “Uncle, you need to tell me where you’re going so I—” He halts mid-sentence, eyes growing wide at the sight of Wei Wuxian. “You! What are you—Why are you wearing that!?”
Wei Wuxian shrugs. “I promised Lan Qiren I’d be on my best behavior for Lan Zhan’s sake, and before I knew it, I’ve agreed to dress in their robes for the conference.”
Oh. That explains the proper greeting etiquette, too.
As Jiang Cheng’s anger fizzles away, Lan Wanji rests a hand on Wei Wuxian’s waist. “You didn’t have to,” he says, softly.
“I want to,” Wei Wuxian declares. “For you, I will endure flavorless food, four thousand and nineteen—no, twenty-two—rules of madness, and Lan Qiren’s endless tirades!”
The man had effectively insulted the very foundations of his sect, yet Lan Wangji turns to Wei Wuxian and looks at him as if Wei Wuxian had promised him the moon and the sun and every star in between.
Exhaling through his nose, Jiang Cheng whirls around to leave before he’s forced to witness a scene he’d rather not be around for. (To think he thought Lan Wangji would take a mistress; the fool was a lost cause.)
“Jiang Cheng,” Wei Wuxian calls out.
Against his better judgement, Jiang Cheng looks back over his shoulder.
“Thank you for defending my honor,” Wei Wuxian says, head tilting, eyes crinkling at the corners.
Jiang Cheng’s chest tightens. And the thought strikes him as he marches off without a word, Jin Ling scrambling after him—
His sister would have been so pleased.