Despite arranging to meet somewhere extremely casual and low-key for lunch, Wen Ning had dressed nicely for reasons Wei Wuxian didn't understand. He'd even done his hair slightly differently. Nie Huaisang was his usual self, so Wei Wuxian couldn't quite work things out. Maybe Wen Ning had something on later that day.
They sat down at one of the few outdoor tables after having ordered their noodles.
"So, Wen Ning," Wei Wuxian began, "You said you had some news?"
Wen Ning shook his head. "No, no, it's nothing important," he said meekly. "You go first! I'm more interested in what you have to say, Wei Ying."
Nie Huaisang gave Wen Ning a look that Wei Wuxian couldn't exactly place.
"I'll wait until we've finished eating, then!" Wei Wuxian grinned. "Don't wanna get us too hooked on a conversation and forget about our food, y'know?"
"Is it really that big of a deal?" Nie Huaisang sighed, propping his elbow on the table and resting his head in his hand. "Did you finally get a proper job or something?"
"Nope!" Wei Wuxian replied. "You guys'll never guess! Just wait until I tell ya! You'll fall outta your seats you'll be so surprised!"
Nie Huaisang sighed again. "If you say so, man."
The three of them talked about day-to-day things while they ate. Wei Wuxian enjoyed being able to converse normally with people who actually fucking talked and reacted to things he said. He'd missed the banter back and forth and the laughter he got in response to his shitty jokes.
Wei Wuxian was the first to finish eating. "Can I start, then, guys?" he asked his friends.
"Sure!" Wen Ning chirped. Nie Huaisang nodded with a mouthful of noodles.
Wei Wuxian cleared his throat. "So... you two remember how, a couple of months ago, my mother signed me up for that arranged marriage thing?"
"Yeah," Nie Huaisang said, "And you dumped him a few dates in because being with him was like watching paint dry even though he was really hot, right?"
"Yep, that's the one!" Wei Wuxian said. "Anyway... I ran into him again a few weeks ago."
"And?" Nie Huaisang asked, raising an eyebrow. "Did he beg you to take him back because he'd completely fallen for you and didn't want you to leave him or some shit like that?"
"Pretty much, actually!" Wei Wuxian smirked.
Nie Huaisang's eyes widened in response. "Seriously?" he snorted. "That's like something out of a shitty romance novel!"
"You're telling me!" Wei Wuxian laughed. "To be fair, we were both a bit drunk when we saw each other, but we talked it out once we were properly sober aaaaaand to cut to the chase, I'm dating him again."
Nie Huaisang stared at Wei Wuxian in shock. "Wei Wuxian, you--"
He was cut off by a soft clang to his left. Wei Wuxian and Nie Huaisang both turned to look at the source of the noise: Wen Ning. Or, more specifically, Wen Ning's chopsticks, which he had dropped onto the table.
"...Wen Ning?" Wei Wuxian asked slowly.
It was almost as if Wen Ning was frozen in place.
"Psst," Wei Wuxian tried again. "Wen Ning?"
Wen Ning blinked a few times. "Huh? O-Oh, Wei Ying..." He picked up his chopsticks and cleaned them with his napkin, his hands severely shaking. "S-Sorry, I just... s-spaced out for a second there. W-What were you saying?" He smiled at Wei Wuxian, but Wei Wuxian could tell it was forced.
"I was saying that I've started dating that guy I got hooked up with again. You know, the rich one."
"R-R-Right..." Wen Ning's voice was trembling as much as his hands were.
This is weird, Wei Wuxian thought. What kind of reaction is this? Wen Ning normally would be super happy for me and congratulate me and stuff. Does he not like the Lan family for some reason? But he's never said anything before, so that makes no sense.
Nie Huaisang had placed a hand on Wen Ning's back and was gently patting it. "Calm down, Wen Ning," he said.
Wen Ning looked up at Wei Wuxian, still forcing himself to smile. "S-Sorry," he mumbled. "I'm.. I'm just r-really..." Wen Ning covered his mouth with his hand as tears started running down his cheeks.
Really what? Happy? Sad? Shit, I'm no good with people crying.
"W-Wen Ning, are you okay?" Wei Wuxian asked quietly.
"Y-Yeah," Wen Ning nodded, although he glanced away. "I-I'm f-fine..."
"Why are you crying?" Wei Wuxian knew that that wasn't the right question to ask, probably, but he never knew how to react to people who were upset.
"...You seriously can't work it out?" Nie Huaisang glared at him.
Wei Wuxian stared blankly at both of his friends. What was going on? What had he missed?
"...No, I can't," he said through clenched teeth. "People cry for any number of reasons, Huaisang," he added.
Nie Huaisang scoffed. "I can't believe you," he seethed. "You still haven't--"
"P-Please stop, Nie Huaisang," Wen Ning sobbed. "I don't want you two to argue..."
"C'mon, Wen Ning," Nie Huaisang sighed. "This is why I'm telling you to be more assertive! Wei Wuxian's never gonna have any clue."
Wei Wuxian angrily stood up. "Alright," he glared, "So I'm a fucking idiot who can't work out what people are feeling! Tell me what's going on then!" he demanded, trying not to raise his voice.
"You know what?" Nie Huaisang sneered. "You don't deserve to know."
"STOP!" Wen Ning shouted, his eyes puffy and his face red.
They both stared at him again. Wen Ning was a quiet man. He never got angry. He never yelled at anyone.
Nie Huaisang drank some of his tea. "Sorry, Wen Ning," he mumbled in apology.
"...Sorry," Wei Wuxian also apologised, sitting down again.
The three of them sat in silence as they attempted to calm themselves down.
"So what was it you wanted to tell me?" Wei Wuxian asked Wen Ning softly.
Wen Ning shook his head. "It's nothing," he said.
"No," Nie Huaisang seethed. "It's not nothing, Wen Ning! Tell him! Right now!" He pointed an index finger at Wen Ning. "You said you were going to tell him, didn't you?! Do it!"
Wen Ning took a deep breath. "...W-Wei Ying," he began, turning to face Wei Wuxian properly, his voice still shaking. "I'm... Well, what I was going to tell you was something that's been nullified by your news. So it doesn't mean anything. But Nie Huaisang's right, and I still want to tell you."
"A-And?" Wei Wuxian urged, feeling nervous all of a sudden.
"I... like you, Wei Ying," Wen Ning said quietly, tears starting to fall again. "As in... more than just as a friend. I always have." He paused. "I-I never said anything because I was scared that you'd think it was weird or that you'd push me away for some reason. So I tricked myself into thinking that I was fine so long as I was by your side supporting you." He took a sip of water. "But when you said you'd started a relationship with someone... I realised that, despite what I said, I wasn't actually happy for you. I harboured awful feelings of jealousy. I wanted to be the man who took you out to dinner. Why wasn't it me who kissed you on the way home? I cursed myself for not speaking up earlier." He paused again, wiping his eyes on a napkin. "I know it's selfish to say something now. Now that you're back with him. Because I know you're happy. And, as your friend, I don't want to take that happiness away from you..."
Wen Ning drank some more of his water. "S-So even if... even if it's not entirely true, I want to support you. Knowing that I can't be the person who makes you the happiest in the world is painful, but thinking that is incredibly selfish of me. I'm sure he's a wonderful person. You wouldn't trust just anyone enough to start dating them, after all. Above anything else... above my own feelings, no matter what they may be, I trust your judgement, Wei Ying. I trust you, and I trust whoever you fall in love with. I know he means a lot to you -- that this relationship means a lot to you. And I... I really do hope it all works out for you, even if I didn't initially." Another pause. "Um... But most of all, I'm sorry I couldn't even tell you properly. But even now, I still really, really, really like you, Wei Ying. A lot."
Wei Wuxian sat there in complete shock. This was the last thing he'd ever expected to hear in his life.
Wen Ning... liked him?
Was this some kind of prank?
No, it couldn't be, he told himself.
Wei Wuxian really didn't know what to say or what to do. He feared that the wrong reaction would make this the last time he ever spoke to Wen Ning.
Wei Wuxian slowly stood up and walked over to Wen Ning. He did the only thing he could think of: he hugged him. Squeezed him as hard as he could.
"I'm sorry," he whispered into Wen Ning's ear, fighting back a sob. "I... I honestly never realised. I don't know what to say to you to apologise for being so dense. I'm truly sorry, Wen Ning."
Wei Wuxian felt Wen Ning shaking beneath him, silently crying into his chest. He now knew why Nie Huaisang had been so frustrated with him, and he completely agreed. He really should've noticed.
Eventually, Wen Ning's crying stopped, so Wei Wuxian pulled back.
"Please don't apologise," Wen Ning said quietly. "If you didn't notice at all, then I was doing a good job at hiding my feelings all these years, wasn't I?" He gave Wei Wuxian a sad smile.
"You're a champion, that's for sure!" Wei Wuxian grinned at him. "Also... Are you sure you're okay with me dating Lan Z-- Lan Wangji?"
"Of course," Wen Ning nodded. "I do want you to be happy, Wei Ying," he said. "And if... you don't mind, I'd like to keep being your friend. Is that alright?"
Wei Wuxian flinched slightly. "W-Why wouldn't it be?" he asked. "I don't think it's weird or anything! Wen Ning, you're... I think if you as a really important friend. You're my best friend, and I owe you a lot. You've helped me out more than I could ever repay you. I should be asking you to stay, if anything..."
Nie Huaisang coughed loudly. "Damn right you should," he remarked, glaring at Wei Wuxian again. "Wen Ning's always been quietly watching over you, you know. He's devoted to you."
"...I know that," Wei Wuxian replied. "And I'm very aware of that right now, actually."
"Hmph," Nie Huaisang scoffed. "So long as you get it."
Wei Wuxian had an idea.
"Wen Ning, I thought of something!" he announced.
"W-What?" Wen Ning asked.
"I deserve some kind of punishment for being such an ass to you," Wei Wuxian explained, "So... do you wanna punch me in the face?"
Wen Ning blinked a few times before he started laughing softly. "D-Don't be ridiculous!" he giggled. "I'd never hurt you like that! You know me, I hate physical violence!" He smiled again.
"Aww, c'mon!" Wei Wuxian grinned stupidly. "Just once! Or, if you don't wanna punch me in the face, it can be anywhere else on my body!"
"Can I punch you in the face?" Nie Huaisang asked, amused by the offer.
"No way!" Wei Wuxian laughed. "You'd actually hurt me!"
"That's the idea!" Nie Huaisang smirked.
Wen Ning stood up. "Um," he said, standing in front of Wei Wuxian. "J-Just once, okay?"
"You're actually gonna do it?" Wei Wuxian gasped. "Hold on a sec!" He posed defensively. "Ready!" he called at Wen Ning.
"H-Here goes!" Wen Ning said as he lifted his fist in the air.
And landed it squarely on Wei Wuxian's right cheek.
"OW!" Wei Wuxian exclaimed, rubbing his cheek. "That wasn't too bad!"
Wen Ning laughed again. "I went all out!" he said. "And hey -- I feel better now!"
Wei Wuxian smiled at him. "Great," he breathed, reaching for his iced coffee and downing what was left of it. "Sorry that that's all I can offer you."
Wen Ning shook his head. "It's okay," he insisted. "I really do feel a lot better now that I've finally told you, even if... I didn't get the response I was after."
Nie Huaisang stood up, having now finished his lunch. "Well," he said, "Is that all sorted and the three of us are still friends, then?"
Wei Wuxian and Wen Ning exchanged glances and nodded at each other. "Yeah," Wen Ning said. "Thank you, Nie Huaisang."
"Huh?" Nie Huaisang asked as he collected his phone and wallet. "I didn't do anything!"
"Yes you did," Wen Ning corrected gently. "You're the one who encouraged me to confess. I owe you something. Shall I buy you a drink sometime?"
"Hmm..." Nie Huaisang responded. "Sure, yeah, we can do that!" He gave Wen Ning a pat on the shoulder. "I've always got your back."
"Does that apply to me?" Wei Wuxian asked, smirking.
"Depends on the day, really," Nie Huaisang smirked back, mockingly. "But anyway, I should head off," he added. "I'm meeting my brother soon for some boring business-related discussion."
"Ew," Wei Wuxian grimaced. "Good luck, Huaisang!"
Nie Huaisang laughed. "I'm not worried about it," he said. "It's nothing too intense today, hopefully..."
They waved goodbye to Nie Huaisang as he left.
"Wen Ning..." Wei Wuxian took a deep breath. "Are you gonna be okay?"
"Yeah," Wen Ning nodded. "I'm fine now, I promise," he said. "I need to get home soon so that I can help my sister cook dinner. She's having a couple of her friends over tonight."
"Have fun," Wei Wuxian told him. "And... let me know if you need someone to talk to, okay?" he added. "I'm always here to help you, no matter what."
Wen Ning gave Wei Wuxian a warm, wide smile. "Absolutely!" he grinned. "Same to you, Wei Ying."
Wei Wuxian was then the only one still there.
He slowly made his way home, mulling over what Wen Ning had said to him.
What did he do to have someone as kind and selfless as Wen Ning in his life? Wei Wuxian still wasn't entirely sure how he felt about the whole situation, other than that he, once again, hated himself and his inability to pick up on things.
What else had he missed over the years? Was it too late to start noticing things?
Maybe he could ask Lan Wangji about it the next time they hung out...
Once Wei Wuxian got home, he shut himself in his room and watched the video of Lan Wangji playing the guqin over and over to calm himself down and take his mind off things.
He wanted Lan Wangji to play the guqin for him again.