“Did you hear about it?”
“Of course! It’s the only thing anyone has been talking about today!”
“Well, I haven’t heard about it yet. What’s all the fuss about?”
“You know that big celebration tournament that the royal family is holding? Apparently, the winner of the tournament can ask for anything they want, even Second Prince Lan’s hand in marriage!”
“What? The Second Prince? As in HanGuang-Jun himself? One of the Twin Jades of Lan?”
“What other Second Prince would we be talking about?”
“No way! Are you sure it’s not just rumors?”
“It’s true! HanGuang-Jun himself confirmed it when-”
Paying no mind to the whispers of the servants around him, Wei WuXian storms through the palace halls with an uncharacteristic frown on his face. Greetings of “General Wei!” from the nearby attendants fall on deaf ears as he advances with a single-minded purpose.
“Lan Zhaaaaan!” he exclaims as he throws open the doors to the prince’s private study. “What’s the meaning of this?”
Lan WangJi carefully lowers the brush he had poised over a scroll. “Loud noise is prohibited.”
Wei WuXian ignores this with practiced ease and slumps down in front of his desk. “Lan Zhan,” he wheedles. “You’re not seriously going to go through with this, are you? I mean, this is your marriage we’re talking about here!”
“The royal family does not go back on our words,” Lan WangJi intones.
Wei WuXian gives an annoyed huff. Stupid righteous Lans and their stupid righteous ways. “How did this even happen in the first place?”
“You were there.”
Wei WuXian groans when he thinks back to the series of events that had led to this.
It was supposed to be a simple victory tournament held to celebrate their recent victory over the Wen Kingdom. Though the Kingdom of Gusu managed to defeat the neighboring Wen Kingdom after a long and bitter stalemate, it was a narrow victory that came with too many losses of human life and public opinion was at an all-time low. The tournament was meant to be part of the celebratory festivities, a gesture of goodwill meant to raise morale and bolster popular opinion, especially with such a grand prize on the line.
“As long as it is within the power of the royal family, the winner of the tournament can ask for anything they wish for,” Crown Prince Lan XiChen, who was acting as interim Emperor ever since the last battle left their father, QingHeng-Jun, grievously injured, had announced as he read from the royal decree that QingHeng-Jun himself had drafted.
Murmurs broke through the crowd at this generous reward. Riches, titles, lands, recognition—anything was possible with such an open-ended offer.
“Anything?” a haughty voice spoke up. Wei WuXian glanced over and saw that it was that snake Su She, who was staring up at the thrones where the two princes sat with greed evident in his eyes. Looking back, Wei WuXian wishes that he could have decked the other cultivator and given him the beatdown he justifiably deserved before he opened his mouth to speak his next words.
“Even if what we want is one of the Twin Jade’s hands in marriage?”
Startled gasps and furious whispers broke out at Su She’s bold question.
“Impertinent!” Wei WuXian heard Jiang Cheng hiss next to him and he agreed. To spit on the Emperor’s generosity like this was a level of shamelessness that not even he dared to act upon. Wei WuXian was just about to deliver a biting retort to knock Su She down a few pegs when Lan WangJi’s smooth baritone voice cut through the din.
“Not my brother.” The crowd immediately fell silent when they heard the normally reticent Second Prince speak. “Crown Prince Lan XiChen already has a betrothed and that agreement will not be dissolved.” Lan WangJi paused for a moment. “But otherwise, as decreed by my father, the winner of the tournament can ask for anything else, including my hand in marriage if that is what they wish.”
The whispers started anew at this declaration, this time with an unrestrained air of excitement. The chance to become a prince’s consort! And more importantly, the consort of Second Prince Lan WangJi, the renowned HanGuang-Jun! Forget about riches and titles, becoming his consort would grant all that and more. His partner would never want for anything else in their entire life!
While the rest of the crowd was distracted by this piece of news, Lan XiChen shot his brother a startled look, only to quickly cover it up with a slightly strained smile after reading Lan WangJi’s expression. “Since it has come to this, it’s only fair to have WangJi himself decide on the parameters of the tournament,” Lan XiChen declared. “The exact details will be revealed on the actual day of the tournament. Until then, I wish you all the best of luck.”
Wei WuXian himself was reeling at this unexpected announcement. He had tried to catch Lan WangJi’s eyes, but the prince was staring resolutely forward. How did this spin out of control so quickly?
“So you’re really willing to just let some stranger become your consort?” Wei WuXian demands, leaning over the desk to meet Lan WangJi’s eyes now that he is able to.
Lan WangJi blinks placidly. “My hand in marriage might not necessarily be what the winner of the tournament desires.”
Wei WuXian scoffs. “Ever since that stupid Su She threw out that suggestion, it’s the only prize that people are talking about. Maybe I should take a leaf out of Jiang Cheng’s book and break his legs or something,” he grumbles.
Wei WuXian doesn’t know why he is so hung up on this, but the thought of Lan WangJi being married off to a stranger didn’t sit right with him. “I know! Lan Zhan, just pick somebody and say that you’re already betrothed to them! There, problem solved!”
Wei WuXian visibly wilts. “But why not? You must have someone you like or at least someone you tolerate enough to pretend.”
To his surprise, Lan WangJi seems to hesitate for a moment. “Having someone in mind is not the problem,” the prince finally admits.
Wei WuXian ignores the odd pang in his chest at this admission and plasters a smile on his face. “There you go! Just ask them then!”
“Why not? You’re the prince, it’s not like anyone can stand in your way if you wanted to.” Wei WuXian’s eyes widen in shock when something occurs to him. “Wait, don’t tell me you’re afraid they will reject you or something.”
Lan WangJi doesn’t give a response, but his lack of an answer is telling enough. Wei WuXian gives an incredulous laugh. “Ahh, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, you can be surprisingly cute at times. But you’re worrying over nothing. You’re the Second Prince of Gusu, one of the Twin Jades of Lan, the esteemed and noble HanGuang-Jun—you can have anyone you want!”
A flicker of what appeared to be discontent flashes across Lan WangJi’s face for a split second before it smooths back into his usual impassive expression. “I do not wish to force anyone to be with me because they feel pressured to or due to a sense of obligation.”
“Force?” Wei WuXian repeats disbelievingly. “Lan Zhan, anyone would love to be your consort.”
Lan WangJi’s eyes narrow the slightest bit. “Do not say things you do not mean.”
“I’m not,” Wei WuXian huffs. “So you’re really going through with it? This stupid tournament where everyone will be clambering just for a chance to marry you? You’re really alright with marrying just anyone?” he stresses again.
“Not just anyone,” Lan WangJi clarifies. “There is only one person who I want to stand by my side as my consort and equal. That is the only person I will marry.”
“You do realize that will be impossible to guarantee since the prize is available to anyone who wins the tournament,” Wei WuXian point out. “Unless you have a way of weeding out the rest of the competitors with some sort of test or something?”
Lan WangJi inclines his head. “Originally, father meant to reward with that decree, but now that it has come to this, only that specific person may win the prize or none will at all.”
Part of Wei WuXian thinks that it isn’t really fair to the other tournament contestants for Lan WangJi to already have a clear winner in mind, but a larger, pettier part of him remembers that Lan WangJi didn’t ask for his marriage to be at stake and that he should use any and all methods available to him in order to ensure his desired outcome.
From his words though, it seems as though Lan WangJi already has a clear idea of who he wants as his consort. The strange pang in his chest had returned and Wei WuXian ignores it as best as he can as he wonders about the person who could have caught the esteemed HanGuang-Jun’s eye. Despite being royalty, Lan WangJi didn’t have many acquaintances and even fewer he could reliably call friend. Wei WuXian didn’t think Lan WangJi would fall for someone he wasn’t at least on speaking terms with, but, try as he might, he could not think of any instance where Lan WangJi has shown particular interest towards any specific person.
Lost in his thoughts as he is, it takes Wei WuXian a moment before he realizes that Lan WangJi is asking him a question. “Sorry, what?”
Golden eyes stare directly into his own, freezing Wei WuXian in place with their intensity. “Will you compete?”
Faced with the devastating force of those eyes, Wei WuXian can only let out an eloquent, “Huh?”
“Will you compete in the tournament, Wei Ying?” Lan WangJi repeats, voice strangely intent.
Wei WuXian only manages to tear his gaze away after several long seconds. A sly voice points out the possible implications of Lan WangJi personally asking him if he is competing, but he ruthlessly shoves down that train of thought. He forces out a light laugh instead. "Compete? Why would I compete? It’s not like there’s any particular award I want to ask for.”
“I see.” Wei WuXian thinks that Lan WangJi sounded oddly disappointed though it is difficult to tell with his composed expression. It’s probably just wishful thinking on Wei WuXian’s part anyways.
A somewhat stilted silence falls between them.
Staying in the same room as Lan WangJi suddenly feels suffocating for some reason. Unable to withstand the strange mood that had settled over the room, Wei WuXian quickly blurts out the first excuse that pops into his head, “Haha, I suddenly remembered that I have to help Jiang Cheng with this...thing, so I have to go now see you later bye Lan Zhan!”, and beats a hasty retreat.
His hurried exit does nothing to quell the confused pounding of his heart.
“Seriously, how did it go from a simple tournament to a free-for-all contest for Lan Zhan’s hand in marriage?” Wei WuXian grumbles for the umpteenth time as he throws back a cup of tea like it was alcohol. “It’s all that stupid Su She’s fault, I swear I’m going to beat him up the next time I see him—don’t try to stop me.”
Jiang YanLi, with her ever patient disposition, gives him a sympathetic smile, but Jiang Cheng is at the end of his rope. “Why are you so bothered by it?” he exclaims. “It’s not like it’s your marriage on the line.”
“Because!” Wei WuXian gestures emphatically. “Lan Zhan’s my friend! I don’t want to see him married off to some stranger!”
Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes. “Are you sure there’s not another reason?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Wei WuXian demands even as he ignores the persistent voice in his head that suggests otherwise.
“Look, if it bothers you so much, just enter the damn tournament yourself,” Jiang Cheng snarks. “Or better yet, just directly ask for Lan WangJi’s hand in marriage and put an end to this whole farce.”
“Hahaha, why would I do that?” Wei WuXian deflects. “If I participate in the tournament, people will think I want to marry Lan Zhan or something. I don’t like Lan Zhan like that, what nonsense are you sprouting?”
“I fucking give up,” Jiang Cheng slams his own tea cup onto the table. “You refuse to enter, yet you become upset whenever anyone so much as mentions Lan WangJi and marriage in the same sentence. Ever stop to ask yourself why?”
“If I knew, I wouldn’t be here asking for your advice as a last resort, now would I?”
“Now, now,” Jiang YanLi interrupts with practiced ease. Both brothers reluctantly fall quiet.
She turns to give Wei WuXian a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry too much about it, A-Xian,” she says as she gives his hands a gentle squeeze. “You’re overthinking it. All you have to do is listen to your heart. I’m sure you’ll figure it out soon.”
“Unlikely,” he hears Jiang Cheng mutter under his breath.
“If you say so, shijie,” Wei WuXian says, unconvinced. Listen to his heart, was it? If only it can tell him why he is so hung up over this entire thing.
Before long, the day of the tournament had arrived.
The arena where the actual tournament was being held was packed to the brim as everybody wanted to watch or take part in the festivities. The tournament began with an elaborate performance and several preliminary events, including an archery contest, a horseback riding competition, and a sword-wielding exhibition that awarded monetary winnings and land deeds.
But everyone’s eyes were fixed on the central, largest stage where the main event was to take place.
Lan XiChen, who is sitting at the elevated booth reserved for members of the royal family, stands up to address the crowd. “Thank you to all those who have participated in the preliminary events. At this time, we will now move forward to the final and main event of the day.”
His words are met with cheers and applause.
“As decreed by my father, the winner of this challenge will become this tournament’s champion and can ask for anything they wish, including my brother’s hand in marriage, if that is what the winner desires,” Lan XiChen continues. “Since it is his consort that is being decided on, WangJi has chosen this to be the challenge.”
Right after these words, a lone figure walks calmly onto the stage. Clad in pristine white robes and holding an unsheathed Bichen in one hand, Lan WangJi cuts an intimidating figure as he stands cold and imposing in the center of the stage, a living statue carved from moonlight.
“Lan Zhan?” Wei WuXian whispers, shocked. He isn’t the only one who is taken aback by Lan WangJi’s sudden appearance. Around him, uneasy murmurs begin to break out as they wondered what the prince’s presence on stage meant for the challengers.
“The rules of this challenge are simple,” Lan XiChen says. “In order to win this challenge, you must take the forehead ribbon from WangJi, either by defeating him in battle or by providing the correct answer to this question: ‘Why do you think you are worthy enough to be a prince’s consort?’ If you answer correctly, WangJi will willingly relinquish the ribbon to you. Answer incorrectly, however, and you will have to prove your strength to my brother by defeating him and seizing the ribbon from him.”
Loud exclamations ripple through the crowd as soon as Lan XiChen finishes his announcement.
Initially, most of the competitors who were waiting along the edge of the stage shrank back when they heard what the challenge entitled, the prospect of having to face off against Lan WangJi daunting enough that most immediately wanted to forfeit. However, after Lan XiChen spoke about answering the question, most of the competitors became encouraged again. Most of the competitors knew that they stood no chance of defeating the Second Prince in combat—in the entire Kingdom of Gusu, there were probably only a handful of people at most who stood a chance of going up against Lan WangJi. But as long as they answered the question correctly, it was still possible to win!
Propelled by the thoughts of the reward, several braver competitors take a few tentative steps forward onto the stage.
From the group of competitors, Su She steps out first with a confident smirk. “HanGuang-Jun! I am worthy of becoming your consort because I am powerful enough to stand by you! I deserve to be part of the royal family!”
Wei WuXian can’t help the incredulous scoff that escapes his mouth. He thought that Su She was full of shit and if the slight furrow in Lan WangJi’s brows is any indication, he isn’t the only one.
“Incorrect answer,” Lan WangJi intones and with a flashing sweep of his sword, Su She is sent flying out of the tournament stage, instantly disqualifying him.
Lan WangJi levels his blade at the rest of the shell-shocked competitors. “Who is next?”
Come, his stance seems to say. Come and face me. Show me if you are capable of standing as my equal. Only one of you is worthy enough.
After a few stunned moments, the next several competitors finally manage to shake off their shock to step forward with their own answers.
“I am worthy because I have a noble heart.”
“I am worthy because I care about this kingdom.”
“I am worthy because I am a righteous person like you, Second Prince Lan!”
“Incorrect,” Lan WangJi proclaims again and in the span of a few heartbeats, they too were swept out of bounds.
A small group of competitors, likely incensed from the effortless way that Lan WangJi is dispatching them, suddenly rush in to attack all at once, but without batting an eyelash, Lan WangJi gracefully steps away from their sword swings, the ends of his forehead ribbon fluttering tauntingly at them as he easily dodges each of their attempts.
When one of the competitors attempts to blindside him from behind, Lan WangJi lashes out with Bichen and, with a few flashing strikes too quick for the normal person to follow, that entire group is suddenly unarmed, their swords each clattering onto the stage one by one.
“Next,” Lan WangJi says as he directs Bichen once more at the flabbergasted competitors, looking as unruffled as ever.
After that display, no one else dared to try to use force against Lan WangJi and so each challenger steps forward and attempts their own answer to the question. But no matter what answer each competitor gives, Lan WangJi continues to reject them all.
From his own seat in the audience, Wei WuXian watches these proceedings with his heart in his throat. Each time a new competitor approaches Lan WangJi, Wei WuXian unconsciously clenches his hands into tight fists, afraid that this will be the person that Lan WangJi will accept.
But why is he so bothered by this whole thing anyways? It has been several days since his conversation with his siblings and he still hasn’t figured out the answer to this question.
Is he bothered because he’s worried that Lan WangJi wouldn’t be happy with whoever he chooses as his consort? He imagines Lan WangJi bestowing his ribbon to some nameless stranger, pictures him smiling softly at them, spending time with them, kissing them, and immediately recoils from the sheer wrongness of the image.
Then is he bothered because he doesn’t want Lan WangJi to marry a stranger? Unintentionally, he replaces himself with the stranger in his mind. He pictures himself spending time with Lan WangJi like they usually did. Except, in this fantasy, Lan WangJi is smiling softly, fondly, at him before leaning in for what is unmistakably a kiss...
The realization hits him with all the force of a Zidian strike.
“Holy shit,” Wei WuXian says with feeling.
It is as though something suddenly clicks in place and Wei WuXian can’t stop the images that flood through his mind. Lan Zhan sharing a basket of loquats with him, Lan Zhan petting rabbits with a content look in his eyes, Lan Zhan moving through his sword forms with all the grace and elegance of an immortal, Lan Zhan shielding him from the dog that somehow got into the palace halls—his entire self was filled with thoughts of Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan.
“Oh my god,” Wei WuXian says. “I’m an idiot.”
“That’s nothing new,” Jiang Cheng snarks. He frowns when he sees Wei WuXian stumbling out of his seat. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“I have to go,” Wei WuXian blurts out.
Jiang Cheng takes one look at him and scoffs. “About damn time you realized.”
Wei WuXian pauses long enough to throw him a betrayed look. “You knew and you didn’t tell me?”
“Anyone with eyes can tell,” he shoots back. “And there was no point if you didn’t realize it yourself. Well, what are you waiting for?” Jiang Cheng gestures toward the arena impatiently. “He’s waiting to hear your answer.”
By this time, Lan WangJi has finished off the last few competitors and is once again standing alone in the center of the stage. He turns to face the crowd before inquiring, “Are there no more contenders?”
“Just one, Lan Zhan.”
A sudden silence falls over the crowd as Wei WuXian steps onto the stage.
Lan WangJi whirls around to face him. This close, Wei WuXian is able to see the way that Lan WangJi’s golden eyes widen slightly when they take him in and the way that the hand holding Bichen develops the slightest tremor.
His sudden appearance has thrown the crowd into an uproar.
“It’s General Wei!”
“General Wei? As in the legendary Yiling Patriarch?”
“Yes! It was through the combined efforts of him and Second Prince Lan that gave us the vital victory against the Wens in the Sunshot Battle.”
“Do you think he can win against Second Prince Lan?”
“Both of them are formidable fighters. It will be a pretty close battle.”
To the crowd’s confusion, however, Wei WuXian keeps Suibian sheathed as he approaches Lan WangJi.
‘Why do you think you are worthy enough to be a prince’s consort?’
“I’m not,” Wei WuXian meets Lan WangJi’s eyes directly as he delivers his answer. “Worthy, I mean. I don’t think I’m worthy enough to stand by your side as your consort. I don’t have much to offer you in terms of titles, riches or status. All I can truly offer you are my feelings.”
“I love you, Lan Zhan,” he declares in front of the entire kingdom of Gusu. “I probably have for a while now, even if I didn’t realize it until recently. You’re the only person I ever want in this lifetime. If you would have me, I want to spend the rest of my life doing anything and everything with you.”
For a long, heart-stopping moment, Wei WuXian thinks he has misread Lan WangJi’s intentions when all the prince does is stare blankly at him.
But then he sees Lan WangJi visibly compose himself with a deep, shuddering breath. He then sheathes Bichen and bows towards Wei WuXian. "I concede."
In front of the eyes of the disbelieving crowd, Lan WangJi reaches for his forehead ribbon and undoes the knot. He gently takes Wei WuXian’s hand in his own and carefully ties the ribbon in a neat knot around his left wrist.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei WuXian whispers breathlessly. “Does this mean-”
“Wei Ying,” Lan WangJi’s voice is impossibly gentle. “You have always been more than enough.”
The stadium explodes into wild cheers. “Congratulations, General Wei,” Lan XiChen announces warmly. “You have won WangJi’s hand in marriage.”
Stunned whispers break through the crowd.
“No,” Wei WuXian repeats more firmly, steeling his heart against the glimmer of hurt and confusion he can see in Lan WangJi’s eyes. “You said that the winner of this tournament can have anything they wish for, right? That’s not what I want.”
He takes a deep breath. “For my reward, I want Lan Zhan to be able to choose for himself who he wants to marry, without the fear that he is pressuring them into accepting.” He turns back to face Lan WangJi, who is staring at him with a mix of amazement and wonder. “So, Lan Zhan,” he says lightly, with only the slightest tremor in his voice. “Who do you choose?”
Lan WangJi reaches out to gently cup his cheeks, cradling Wei WuXian in his palms like he is something precious. It is such a tender gesture that Wei WuXian feels himself leaning into his hands without conscious thought. “You, Wei Ying,” Lan WangJi murmurs. “It has always been you.”
Wei WuXian feels a large smile break across his face. “You have me. So what are you going do about it?”
In response, Lan WangJi leans down to capture his lips with his own. As the crowd breaks into cheers and applause, Wei WuXian leans deeper into the kiss with a giddy smile, knowing in his heart that he has already won the greatest prize of all.