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love thy neighbor

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There is someone new moving into the vacant house on Lan Wangji’s street.

The aging couple who owned it before had finally moved out, pursuing the greener pastures of assisted living. The “FOR SALE” sign on the front lawn had weeks ago been plastered over with a bold red “SOLD”, the gleeful script pasted messily and diagonally across the real estate agent’s name. Now there is a moving truck in the long-empty driveway, chock full of what looks like a mass of second-hand furniture, and a man with a very high ponytail, a black hoodie, and jeans is posing with the sign as a second, distinctly grumpier looking man points a camera phone in his direction.

Lan Wangji is not spying, but his peonies are in need of watering, and it is impossible to miss the ensuing commotion as he stands on his front lawn with the hose. He does his best not to notice the goings-on across the usually quiet road, but the ponytailed man is very loud.

“Do you think there are many places to eat around here? I’m already starving. What do you want for dinner, Jiang Cheng?”

“Get over here and help me unload your furniture! I didn’t come here to do all the work for you.”

The man with the ponytail laughs, but he bounces over to the truck, climbing inside to begin unloading. There don’t seem to be many possessions--a battered three-seat couch, a recliner that has seen better days, a round dining table with four mismatched chairs, a dresser and a bed. If this is all of it, Lan Wangji’s new neighbor will soon need to purchase more furnishings.

Throughout the entire unloading processg, the man with the ponytail talks. He seems incapable of stopping himself, even when the other man, Jiang Cheng, swats at his head. He only ducks away, laughing. The sound rings across the street, filling the quiet neighborhood with joy.

The man turns, making to follow Jiang Cheng inside the little house, the last of his possessions in the box braced on one hip. He catches Lan Wangji’s eye from across the street, and Lan Wangji starts. He hadn’t meant to stare.

Shameless, he chides himself, scowling. The man raises a hand in greeting, his smile bright enough to span the distance.

Lan Wangji swallows, his eyes darting back to his peonies. They look a little overwatered. He shuts off the water and painstakingly winds up the hose. When he darts a cautious glance over his shoulder, the man has gone inside, the screen door swinging shut in his wake.

*****

The next morning, the moving van is gone, replaced by a battered red car which has clearly seen better days. He notes this with detachment as he spoons congee into a bowl for A-Yuan, who has seated himself obediently at the breakfast table.

“Baba,” A-Yuan asks, “who is that?”

Lan Wangji follows his son’s finger, out the window and across the empty street to where the ponytailed man is exiting the house, a bag slung hastily over his shoulder. The ponytail is distinctly disheveled this morning, and he appears to be rushing, a piece of toast shoved hastily in his mouth as he runs to the little car.

“That is our new neighbor,” Lan Wangji says, placing the bowl in front of A-Yuan. “No speaking during meals.”

A-Yuan dutifully clamps his mouth shut, reaching for the spoon Lan Wangji passes him. He finishes quickly, and stands to take his bowl to the sink, the chair scraping beneath him as he clambers down from it.

“What is his name?” A-Yuan asks curiously.

Lan Wangji shakes his head; he doesn’t know. A-Yuan frowns.

“It is good to meet your neighbors. It is polite.”

Lan Wangji takes another mouthful of congee. He can find no fault in the words, given he is the one who had imparted them to his son in the first place.

“After school,” he says, when he, too, has finished his breakfast. “Now, go get ready.”

He gives no thought to the neighbor for the rest of the day. He sees A-Yuan off to school, sees himself to work. But when he returns home, A-Yuan is waiting, excited and eager. His teacher has provided him a recipe for cookies, he says. They have to make the cookies for their new neighbor.

Lan Wangji is a fair cook and he follows the instructions to the letter. The cookies, once plated and cooled, look nice and uniform and golden brown as he carries them across the street. A-Yuan is clearly excited, but he reins himself in, clinging to the seam of Lan Wangji’s pants and refraining from skipping, as he so clearly wants to.

The well-used red car is back in the driveway, parked crookedly and with the doors still unlocked. Lan Wangji frowns as he makes his way past it. A-Yuan darts to the front door of the house, knocking excitedly, and Lan Wangji can see the slight bounce in his little legs as he waits.

It is several minutes before the door swings open to reveal their new neighbor, surprise written across his face beneath the messy fall of hair that has slipped from its moorings. His gaze finds first Lan Wangji, then A-Yuan. He smiles, his eyes bright and curving as he opens the screen, bending to greet A-Yuan on his level.

“Hello there! And who might you be?”

“I am Lan Yuan,” A-Yuan says importantly. He glances up at Lan Wangji. “We brought cookies!”

The man’s grin widens. “Thank you, A-Yuan! I am Wei Ying, Wei Wuxian. Are you my neighbors?” He waits for A-Yuan’s nod, then straightens, meeting Lan Wangji’s gaze. “ And this must be your dad?”

“Lan Zhan--Lan Wangji,” he introduces himself.

“Come in, come in!” He gestures them inside. “Are those for me?”

“Yes! Baba and I made them.” A-Yuan tugs at his pant leg and Lan Wangji obligingly presents Wei Wuxian with the tray of cookies.

“Ah, thank you, thank you! My new neighbors are so gracious!”

Lan Wangji and A-Yuan follow Wei Wuxian into the house. Wei Wuxian directs them to the couch, which is well-worn but clean, and festooned with what look like handmade pillowcases and a lumpy knitted blanket in a riot of colors. He passes them each a plate and scoops up a cookie himself as he plops into the armchair which creaks beneath him.

Wei Wuxian takes a bite, and makes a delighted noise before shoving the entire thing into his mouth. A-Yuan’s eyes grow wide, and he looks up at Lan Wangji, taking in his frown before taking his own measured bite.

“Oh, Lan Wangji, A-Yuan! These are delicious!” He helps himself to a second cookie. “Such generous neighbors I have. Thank you!”

“No need,” Wangji replies, taking a small bite of his own cookie.

“Next time you should try adding some chocolate chips. Or maybe sprinkles!” Wei Wuxian pauses to chew. “Not that they’re not delicious already!”

A-Yuan looks questioningly at Lan Wangji, who shakes his head. “Not in the recipe.”

“Now, now, Lan Wangji! You have to learn to experiment a little! Maybe next time I’ll come over and help you! I’ve got lots of fun ideas!” Wei Wuxian laughs. and continues to talk, the topic of conversation straying from cookies to food in general, to the restaurants in the area, until finally Lan Wangji has had enough. He stands, brushing non-existent cookie crumbs from his fingers.

“Come, A-Yuan. It is time to prepare for sleep.”

A-Yuan stands obediently, but Wei Wuxian frowns.

“But it’s only eight!”

“We sleep at nine,” Lan Wangji tells him.

Wei Wuxian’s eyes widen incredulously. “Every night?!”

Lan Wangji nods succinctly. “Sleep is important.”

Wei Wuxian chuckles. “Well, don’t let me keep you then. It was so nice to meet my new neighbors! Don’t be strangers, okay!”

He sees them to the door, and Lan Wangji takes A-Yuan’s hand to cross the street.

“He’s nice,” A-Yuan says, as Lan Wangji lets them back inside the house. Their home is dark and blissfully quiet after the unending chatter he has just endured for the better part of an hour.

“Mmn,” Lan Wangji agrees noncommittally. He does not want to disappoint his hopeful son, but he doubts very much they will be seeing Wei Wuxian very often in the future.

*****

One evening the next week, Lan Wangji and A-Yuan are interrupted by a knock at the door. Lan Wangji frowns, pointing A-Yuan back to his school work where he is practicing his lettering as Lan Wangji goes to answer the door.

He is surprised to find none other than Wei Wuxian on the other side of the door. His shirt is wrinkled and his hair as disheveled as ever, flyaways pointing in every direction, but he smiles brightly and holds up two containers he has cradled between his hands.

“Hi, Lan Wangji! I brought over some dinner! As a thank you for the cookies.”

Lan Wangji pushes the screen door open, stepping back to admit Wei Wuxian. “Not necessary,” he says.

Wei Wuxian laughs. “I know it’s not necessary! I wanted to do it! You haven’t eaten dinner yet, have you?” He presses the food into Lan Wangji’s hands. “Come on, I insist. I’m a good cook, I swear!” He makes a happy sound, peering around Lan Wangji. A-Yuan is peeking around the doorframe leading to the kitchen and he smiles when Wei Wuxian catches his eye.

“Good evening A-Yuan! Are you hungry? I brought you dinner!”

A-Yuan looks imploringly up at Lan Wangji, who finally nods. “Thank you.”

A-Yuan reaches to tug on Lan Wangji’s pant leg. “Can Gege stay for dinner, too?”

Lan Wangji frowns, but he’s interrupted by Wei Wuxian’s dismissive laugh. “Oh no, A-Yuan, that’s very kind of you, but I wouldn’t presume. I know you and your dad are very busy! Your dad probably doesn’t want me interrupting your meal times!” He flips the tail of his hair over his shoulder, his smile never faltering.

“Stay,” Lan Wangji finds himself saying, his mouth moving before he’s decided to do so. “There is enough.” Wei Wuxian looks as surprised as he is, blinking blankly for a moment before breaking into a grin.

“Oh Lan Wangji, you’re so gracious. What a lovely neighbor, haha. I accept!”

He seats himself at the dinner table across from A-Yuan and beside Lan Wangji while Lan Wangji fetches bowls and chopsticks from the kitchen. When Lan Wangji opens the first container he finds it full of fried rice which is unnaturally and startlingly red.

“This one is for A-Yuan,” Wei Wuxian says, opening the second container which is blessedly brown. “You and I can handle a little more flavor, huh Lan Wangji?” He winks.

Lan Wangji knows his palate is very bland, but somehow he finds himself nodding. He lets Wei Wuxian serve him a bowl of the red rice and staunchly takes a bite.

His mouth burns. It is very possible his insides are shrivelling up into nothing. He doesn’t react.

Wei Wuxian is watching him. “What do you think, Lan Wangji? Is it good?”

“Mmn,” Lan Wangji manages, through the burning sensation. “No speaking during meals.”

Wei Wuxian grins, miming zipping his mouth closed, and takes a bite of his own rice. He makes it only five minutes before he begins to speak again. He asks about Lan Wangji’s job, about A-Yuan’s schooling, about the neighborhood and what’s fun to do around here? He doesn’t seem phased when Lan Wangji doesn’t answer, seemingly needing no encouragement, his grin widening as he chatters on. He just got a research position at the University, he says, and he hopes to make big strides on his study of H. Pilori bacterium soon. Lan Wangji eats in silence, his energy dedicated to maintaining his composure as the spicy food erodes the inside of his mouth, and so it’s not he who chides Wei Wuxian next.

“Gege, no talking during meals!” A-Yuan pipes up solemnly, shovelling some of his own rice into his mouth.

Lan Wangji swallows with no small effort, reaching for the glass of water to his right. “No talking during meals,” he confirms.

“You Lans are so disciplined, haha!” Wei Wuxian laughs, his own water untouched. “I can’t believe you won’t let your son talk during mealtimes. So strict!” His foot knocks against Lan Wangji’s beneath the table and when Lan Wangji lifts his eyes to glare warningly at him, Wei Wuxian only smiles wider, shooting him a wink.

Something warm billows inside Lan Wangji’s chest. He jerks his gaze away, turning his attention back to their meal. He lets Wei Wuxian’s chatter wash over him, and if Wei Wuxian’s foot nudges against his again, he makes a concerted effort not to notice.

*****

After that, somehow Wei Wuxian becomes a permanent fixture in their lives. Lan Wangji cannot remember ever having encouraged it, but Wei Wuxian lets himself in with all the audacity and daring and shamelessness that Lan Wangji soon comes to expect of him. It seems as though Wei Wuxian is everywhere--at A-Yuan’s soccer game where they discover his nephew Jin Ling is on the same team, at the grocery store buying a truly astounding variety of spicy peppers, and of course, appearing on their doorstep several nights of the week. He invites Lan Wangji and A-Yuan to join him for dinner as well, and Lan Wangji mourns the destruction of his tastebuds even as he treks across the road to Wei Wuxian’s house each time he is asked, A-Yuan’s excited hand clasped in his.

The first time Wei Wuxian calls him Lan Zhan, Lan Wangji frowns at the familiarity, the lack of formality. Wei Wuxian catches his expression, nudging him with one elbow and flashing him a teasing smile.

“Aww, come on, Lan Zhan!” (Lan Wangji frowns harder.) “Don’t be such a fuddy duddy! We’re already so close; it’s just natural!”

“Not close,” Lan Wangji tries, but Wei Wuxian only scoffs.

“Of course we are!” He slings an arm around Lan Wangji’s shoulder, resisting all attempts to shrug him off. Lan Wangji resigns himself to being tugged in close to Wei Wuxian, and tries hard not to think about the warmth of Wei Wuxian pressed up against his side, the curve of his lean arm draped around him.

As Lan Wangji learns more and more about Wei Wuxian, he finds himself telling Wei Wuxian about himself as well. Wei Wuxian tells him about the strides they are making on their research, and pries details of Lan Wangji’s job as a high school teacher from him in return. Wei Wuxian confesses that he was adopted by Jiang Cheng’s parents at a very young age; Lan Wangji tells him that he adopted A-Yuan himself many years earlier. Wei Wuxian has two siblings, Jiang Cheng and a sister about whom he waxes poetic for many minutes, and Lan Wangji tells him about his older brother, Lan Xichen.

He learns that Wei Wuxian is smart, and ingenuitive, and kind to A-Yuan, and an incorrigible flirt. He is ridiculous to the point of incredulity and equally as unapologetic of such. Lan Wangji also learns, on one warm summer night while they are walking with A-Yuan back from the park, that Wei Wuxian is deathly afraid of dogs, when they encounter a fat, leashed mutt, and Wei Wuxian tries with altogether too much success to climb Lan Wangji in order to escape.

The dog looks on, confused at the racket Wei Wuxian is making, and Lan Wangji stares stone-faced at both dog and owner, until both of them back away slowly.

(“My hero!” Wei Wuxian cries, no small amount of flirtation in his voice, once the dog has disappeared and he has climbed down from his perch atop Lan Wangji.

“Shameless,” Lan Wangji counters dryly.)

As the summer bleeds away into fall, leaves turning gold and then brown and gathering on the ground in a soft carpet, Lan Wangji sees him dutifully raking his lawn, gathering the leaves into a large pile. It’s cool outside, but not so much as to be uncomfortable, and Wei Wuxian’s long-sleeved t-shirt is stained dark with sweat, the lean lines of his back flexing as he drags the rake, his hair draping jauntily over one shoulder.

Finally, he stands back to admire his handiwork, leaning against the handle of the rake. He nods to himself, satisfied, and then, to Lan Wangji’s shock, tosses aside the rake and throws himself into the pile of leaves.

“Ridiculous!” Lan Wangji scoffs to himself, but his chest feels tight with a strange sensation. Wei Wuxian’s laughter rings across the road as he flails about in the pile, ruining all of his own hard work.

Suddenly Wei Wuxian looks up, and his eyes meet Lan Wangji’s. Lan Wangji feels his ears heat.

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian raises a hand and waves, his eyes curving into sweet crescents.

Lan Wangji tears his eyes away, letting himself back into the house and closing the door firmly behind him, refusing to turn even as Wei Wuxian calls his name again. He leans against the closed door, closes his eyes, and breathes.

*****
One night, after the weather has turned cold, Lan Wangji is drawn to the door by Wei Wuxian’s familiar, musical knock. He opens the door to admit Wei Wuxian, who sweeps in with a little more than his usual excitement, a shapeless bundle clutched under one arm.

“Lan Zhan! A-Yuan! I brought you gifts!”

“Presents?” A-Yuan perks up, bounding to the door. He pauses, looking to Lan Wangji, who nods, before pouncing to wrap his arms around Wei Wuxian’s legs. “Hello, Gege!”

Wei Wuxian laughs, reaching down to ruffle A-Yuan’s hair. “Ah, A-Yuan. How’s my favorite kid doing?”

“Good!”

“That’s good. And how’s my favorite adult doing?” Wei Wuxian looks up at Lan Zhan, and winks.

Lan Wangji’s stomach turns over. “Do not tease.”

Wei Wuxian laughs again. “Look, look!” He unfolds the bundle, revealing what appears to be a lumpy knitted scarf and matching hat, which he drapes around A-Yuan with ceremony. A-Yuan giggles as the scarf is wound around and around his neck, so long as to swallow him up in wool. “I brought these for you!”

A-Yuan beams up at him from under the trappings of red and white scarf and hat. “Thank you, Gege!” He turns excitedly to Lan Wangji. “Look Baba!”

“Mmn,” Lan Wangji says, his mouth turning up a little at the corners as he reaches to pat his son’s head. The knitting is knobby and uneven, but the wool feels warm and soft under his fingers. “Very nice.”

“That’s high praise, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says slyly. “Do you like them?”

“Mmn.”

“That’s good,” Wei Wuxian says, before lunging forward and dragging something over Lan Wangji’s head. Lan Wangji sputters, raising a hand belatedly to swat him away, but Wei Wuxian has already skittered out of reach, giggling to duck behind A-Yuan.

Lan Wangji turns to look in the mirror hanging beside the hall closet. His hair has gone fluffy with static, and on top of it perches a truly hideous knitted hat. It is striped with white and baby blue, a lop-sided pom pom drooping dejectedly to one side.

He turns to look at Wei Wuxian, still hiding behind A-Yuan. A-Yuan is too busy admiring his own hat and scarf to notice, but Wei Wuxian claps a hand over his mouth, trying unsuccessfully to stifle the giggles.

“Oh, Lan Zhan, I’m sorry! It looks terrible. Even your handsome face can’t make it better. I’m not a very good knitter.”

Lan Wangji’s heart leaps in his chest. “You made this?”

“Of course! A-jie showed me how; she’s been knitting since before Jin Ling was born. She’s much better than I am though.”

Lan Wangji looks back towards the mirror. The hat is very ugly, lopsided and lumpy. He raises a hand, touching it gently to the soft wool, before he turns back to Wei Wuxian.

“Wei Ying,” he says quietly. “Thank you.”

Wei Wuxian’s eyes widen, stunned into silence for the first time since Lan Wangji has known him. Then his eyes light up, his mouth splitting into its characteristic grin. “No need to thank me, Lan Zhan! I know you won’t wear it, but I had this extra yarn and I didn’t want you to feel left out.”

The hat has grown warm on Lan Wangji’s head. He removes it slowly, folding it carefully before tucking it into the closet. “Stay for dinner,” he says, smoothing down his hair.

“Oh Lan Zhan, you caught me! I can never resist your cooking!”

Wei Wuxian sweeps into the house, followed by a gleeful A-Yuan, who has yet to remove his own hat and scarf. Lan Wangji follows more slowly, swallowing down the warmth welling up in his chest.

*****

Wei Wuxian’s car is a loud, rattling, perilous beast, held together--as far as Lan Wangji can see--with duct tape and sheer luck. It wheezes tiredly at intersections, rattles as it goes over speedbumps, and squeaks as it turns into Wei Wuxian’s driveway. Over the past several months since Wei Wuxian had moved in, Lan Wangji and A-Yuan have grown accustomed to the sound, the familiar rattling rumble signalling Wei Wuxian’s arrival more assuredly than any herald. Lan Wangji has had the dubious privilege of having ridden in it only once, when Wei Wuxian insisted on driving them all to A-Yuan and Jin Ling’s soccer game. Afterwards, Lan Wangji had henceforth insisted on driving them himself.

It comes as a surprise to all, then, that it is Lan Wangji’s car that breaks down first.

Thankfully, it breaks down at a stop sign, shuddering to a stop and unwilling to start again as the line of cars behind him grows longer and longer. Heaving a sigh, Lan Wangji turns on his hazard lights, and digs out his rarely used cellphone to call a tow truck. Snow drifts down around him, gathering slowly on the cooling windshield.

It will be an hour wait, they tell him, and he settles in for the wait, ignoring the frustrated honking as vehicles wind their way around his stalled car on the narrow street.

His second call, then, is to Wei Wuxian.

“Lan Zhan! You never call.” Lan Wangji imagines Wei Wuxian’s teasing pout and he finds his mouth wanting to curve up at the corners. “What did I do to earn your attention Lan er-Gege?”

Lan Wangji swallows against the heat in his stomach at the pet name, fallen so easily from Wei Wuxian’s flirtatious, teasing lips. “Wei Ying,” he says. “I am sorry but I will be unable to have dinner tonight.”

Wei Wuxian makes a soft sound of dismay. “Lan Zhan,” he whines, “you’ll break my heart!”

“I am sorry. My car has broken down and it will be an hour wait.”

“Why didn’t you say so!” There is a rustling in the background, the jingling of keys. “Is your heat working? I’ll come pick you up! You must be freezing!”

“No need,” Lan Wangji tries, but Wei Wuxian blows right on by him.

“Just stay right there, Lan Zhan!” He pauses, giggles to himself. “Of course, there’s nowhere you can go. Wait--what about A-Yuan?”

“I will call my brother,” Lan Wangji says. “A-Yuan can wait with Xichen until I can pick him up.”

Wei Wuxian makes a discontented sound. “No, no, I can pick him up! That is--if that’s okay with you.”

Lan Wangji’s chest grows tight. “You would?”

“Of course!”

“All right. I will call the school.”

“Okay! Send me a pin!”

“Wei Ying--” Lan Wangji pauses, hears Wei Wuxian pause too. He waits, expectant, while Lan Wangji swallows, the words catching on the emotion in his throat. “Thank you.”

There’s a moment of silence, and then Wei Wuxian’s voice, soft and warm. “See you soon, Lan Zhan.”

Lan Wangji only has to wait fifteen minutes before Wei Wuxian’s battered car is rattling up behind him. It creaks to a stop, and Lan Wangji watches in his rearview mirror as Wei Wuxian reaches to bundle A-Yuan tighter in his lumpy scarf where he’s seated in the back seat before leaping out. He cheerfully flips a middle finger to the first car that dares honk its horn at him, skittering over to Lan Wangji’s car and opening the driver’s side door.

“Lan Zhan! You must be freezing! Come get in the…”

Wei Wuxian freezes, his eyes going comically wide. Lan Wangji’s eyebrows furrow as he waits.

“Wei Ying…?”

Wei Wuxian reaches slowly, his hand coming up to Lan Wangji’s head. Lan Wangji feels himself still as Wei Wuxian’s fingers reach out to trail slowly over the side of his face.

“You’re wearing the hat I made you,” he says wonderingly, then chokes out a laugh. “You didn’t have to, Lan Zhan. I know it’s ugly.”

Lan Wangji reaches up to adjust the hat subconsciously. “I wear it every day.”

Wei Wuxian blinks. “Every day?”

Lan Wangji nods. “I like--it.”

He doesn’t say what he really means--that wearing the hat reminds him that Wei Wuxian’s hands themselves had knitted it. That it doesn’t matter how ugly it is, that Wei Wuxian had made it for him, thinking of him as he did so. That it makes him think of Wei Wuxian, that the thought of him keeps him warm in a way the hat does not.

Wei Wuxian smiles then, the expression slow and soft until he plasters it over with his usual teasing one. “Ah, Lan Zhan, you’re so pretty it almost looks not bad on you. Maybe if I keep practicing I’ll get good enough to make you something nicer!” He giggles and reaches to pull Lan Wangji from the car. “Come, come! A-Yuan and I brought you hot chocolate!”

His hand is cold in Wei Wuxian’s warm one, and Wei Wuxian chafes it between both of his to warm it before letting go. Lan Wangji’s fingers tingle under the touch, Wei Wuxian’s calloused skin brushing rough and warm against his. Wei Wuxian turns to lead Lan Wangji toward his own car, and Lan Wangji stops him with a hand on his arm.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says. “Thank you.” He’s sincere, his eyes finding Wei Wuxian’s under the fall of his unruly bangs.

“Of course!” Wei Wuxian grins. “We’re friends, Lan Zhan! That’s what friends do!”

“Friends,” Lan Wangji says, testing the word as he follows Wei Wuxian to his car. It’s not the word he wants, though he’ll accept it, if that’s what Wei Wuxian is offering. He’ll take whatever Wei Wuxian will give. He opens the passenger door of Wei Wuxian’s car and slips quietly inside.

He takes the hot chocolate Wei Wuxian passes him, sipping gingerly and letting the warmth fill him up.

“Are you warm enough, Baba?” A-Yuan pipes up from the back seat.

Wei Wuxian turns to him, concern in every line of his face. “Yeah, are you Lan Zhan? Do you want my gloves? You can have my coat!” He starts to wiggle, struggling to free himself from the sleeves of his jacket, but Lan Wangji stops him with a hand on his shoulder.

“I am fine,” he says, and lets the corner of his mouth tick up, ever so slightly.

Wei Wuxian looks stunned for a moment, and then he grins. He tears his gaze away from Lan Wangji to turn in his seat, looking between them at A-Yuan.

“Hey, how about we grab some dinner after the tow truck comes? Jiang Cheng and I just discovered a great hot pot place around the corner from here!” He turns back to Lan Wangji. “It’ll warm you right up.”

Lan Wangji doesn’t say that he’s already warm. A-Yuan is already smiling hopefully at Lan Wangji from the back, trying to contain his eagerness and largely failing.

Lan Wangji turns to Wei Wuxian. His heart is full.

“Mmn,” he says, and Wei Wuxian smiles back.

 

*****

Winter passes, giving way to new green buds and fresh grass. With spring comes sign-ups for A-Yuan's soccer team once more. He is excited to play again with his cousin Jingyi and his friend Jin Ling, the latter of whom he hasn't seen since the previous season's wrap-up party.

The three of them are thick as thieves at the season-opener barbeque, held at the community center and attended by the families of all involved. Wei Wuxian insists on going, proclaiming to anyone who will listen that he is both A-Yuan and Jin Ling's number one fans. He's even wearing a team jersey that he had somehow acquired in his size and he's swapped out his usual red hair tie for a blue one to match the team uniform.

“I would wear a cheerleader uniform if I could,” Wei Wuxian says, tossing his hair over his shoulder. He turns to Lan Wangji with a wink. “Don’t you think I would look good in a skirt, Lan Zhan?”

Lan Zhan turns away, feeling his ears flush. “Shameless!” he says, and he tries to block out Wei Wuxian’s teasing laugh.

Also in attendance is Jiang Cheng, who has somehow been roped into co-coaching the team, and Jin Ling's mother, Jiang Yanli. Wei Wuxian hurries to introduce them.

"Ahh, it's lovely to meet you, Lan Wangji," Jiang Yanli says, her voice soft and sweet as her eyes slide to Wei Wuxian at Lan Wangji's side. "A-Xian has told us so much about you!"

"A-jie!" Wei Wuxian protests, laughing. "Only good things, I swear, Lan Zhan."

"Mmn." Lan Wangji extends his hand to shake Jiang Yanli's proferred one. He wonders what Wei Wuxian could have said about him, wonders why he would have occasion to talk about Lan Wangji at all. "I have heard much about you as well."

Jiang Yanli laughs, her smile fond. Jiang Cheng appears at her side, scowling. "All we ever hear about is Lan Zhan this, and Lan Zhan that," he grumbles. "Lan Wangji, I apologize for my brother. I know he can be a nuisance."

"Hey!"

"It's true," Jiang Cheng says, swatting at the back of Wei Wuxian's head. "Lan Wangji is clearly just too polite to tell you off. You should find something better to do than invading his space all the time."

Jiang Yanli elbows her brother sharply to silence him, and Jiang Cheng breaks off with a grunt, but Lan Wangji is not looking at them.

"Ah, sorry Lan Zhan." Wei Wuxian laughs, but the sound is somehow empty. "I know you think I'm—annoying."

For the first time since Lan Wangji has known him, Wei Wuxian looks tentative under the façade of his broad grin. He's looking anywhere but at Lan Wangji, and Lan Wangji feels a cold anger wash over him. No one should make Wei Wuxian look like that, no one should put words in his mouth. His natural reticence will not serve him now.

"No," Lan Wangji says.

Jiang Cheng frowns, turning back to Lan Wangji. Wei Wuxian blinks, and finally meets Lan Wangji's eyes.

"No?"

"No. Not annoying." He takes a deep breath and turns to Jiang Cheng. "Wei Ying is—a very good friend. He is intelligent and kind and funny and good with A-Yuan. I enjoy spending time with him." He turns back to Wei Wuxian, where he makes himself meet Wei Wuxian's wide-eyed expression of shock. "I enjoy spending time with you."

The words come out softer than he intends, heat burning in his ears. At his side, his hands clench into fists.

"Lan Zhan…" Wei Wuxian's voice is quiet and disbelieving, and at his side his siblings are openly gaping at Lan Wangji.

Wangji is uncomfortably aware that he may have been too clear. His feelings now cannot be mistaken. He knows Wei Wuxian doesn't feel the same way, that he teases because that is his personality, because he enjoys getting a rise out of Lan Wangji, and not because of any particular interest. He has shown his hand, and no one can possibly mistake what he meant.

So Lan Wangji finds the only reasonable course left to him and flees.

*****

Lan Wangji has long been aware that his feelings for Wei Wuxian encompassed more than just friendship. He's known, for months now, that the warmth that fills his chest whenever Wei Wuxian laughs, or does something ridiculous, or deigns to tease him, is more than what one should feel for a neighbor. He has known that the longing he feels for Wei Wuxian is more than anything he has felt for anyone before.

He knows that he's in love with Wei Wuxian. And now, he thinks, everyone else knows that as well, and he's ruined everything.

He extracts A-Yuan from where he had been playing in a corner of the park with Lan Jingyi and Jin Ling, and something of his mood must show on his face because A-Yuan doesn't put up any fuss or question him at all. The ride home is silent, but halfway through A-Yuan reaches across to take Lan Wangji's hand. He's silent, as though he knows Lan Wangji will not want to talk. Still, he's grateful for the comfort, A-Yuan's small hand clasped in his as they drive the few minutes back to their little home.

A-Yuan dutifully follows Lan Wangji back into the house and heads up the stairs to prepare for bed without being prompted. Lan Wangji seats himself at the kitchen table, closing his eyes and trying to will away the evening that had just passed. Maybe if he apologizes, tells Wei Wuxian it didn't mean anything…maybe then everything can return to normal. He dismisses the thought as soon as it comes; he will not lie to Wei Wuxian. Wei Wuxian deserves better than that.

Suddenly, the door to his house bangs open. Lan Wangji startles to his feet as none other than Wei Wuxian himself comes barreling into the kitchen.

"Lan Zhan!"

Lan Wangji feels his eyes go wide. Wei Wuxian looks more disheveled than ever, his hair coming loose from its usual high ponytail, his eyes wild and breathing hard.

"Wei Ying--?"

"Lan Zhan—did you." Wei Wuxian takes a deep breath and straightens. "Back there…did you mean everything you said?"

Once more, Lan Wangji considers lying. He considers telling Wei Wuxian that he meant it literally, that Wei Wuxian is a friend. But the fact remains that Wei Wuxian is his best friend, the person he wants most to be in his life, aside from A-Yuan. And Wei Wuxian deserves the truth.

Lan Wangji closes his eyes, and nods.

Wei Wuxian lets out a shaky laugh, the sound leaving him with gusty sigh of what could be relief. “I told off Jiang Cheng, by the way. He says he’s sorry. Or, well.” He pauses, thinking. “A-jie made him say sorry. But he really was sorry, I could tell.”

He pulls his hair forward over his shoulder, playing with the ends of his long ponytail. “Lan Zhan,” he says then, the teasing creeping back into his voice. “What you said back there…it sounded an awful lot like a confession."

Lan Wangji opens his eyes, and though he can feel his ears burning, he doesn't back down or break Wei Wuxian's gaze again. He nods again.

Wei Wuxian smiles, slow and sly. "I had no idea you liked me so much, Lan Zhan."

Lan Wangji swallows. "I do."

"How much?" Wei Wuxian's smile broadens into his sparkling grin. The joy on his face makes Lan Wangji's heart thump painfully against his ribcage.

He watches Wei Wuxian approach like a stalking cat. "Very much."

Wei Wuxian reaches him and he tilts his head up towards Lan Wangji. His eyes are bright, his face open and inviting, and Lan Wangji feels himself sway forward into Wei Wuxian's space. He grits his teeth, curling his hands into fists against the urge to touch.

"Wei Ying," he manages. "Please do not—do not make light of my feelings."

Wei Wuxian's smile melts into something softer, something open and vulnerable. He shakes his head slowly, disbelieving. "Lan Zhan, what do I have to do to make you realize I like you, too?"

Lan Zhan blinks. He watches as Wei Wuxian's hands come up slowly to rest on his shoulders. He tilts further into Lan Wangji's space. Lan Wangji can feel the heat of him, his lean body pressing into Lan Wangji's space. His hands clench tightly at his sides. "You do?"

"Lan Zhan… Lan Wangji… Lan er-Gege." Wei Wuxian smiles up at him, his slender fingers brushing aside a strand of Lan Zhan's hair. "I love you. I want to be with you. I want to cook for you and curl up with you and sleep with you. I want to wake up to you every day, even if it's at ass o'clock in the morning—mmph!"

He's cut off when Lan Wangji lowers his head to capture Wei Wuxian's lips with his own. His clenched hands release from their tight fists, uncurling to reach hesitantly for Wei Wuxian's hips where they rest, tentative and gentle as they kiss. Wei Wuxian sighs into the kiss, his eyes sliding closed as he folds his arms around Lan Wangji's neck, rising up on his toes to press even closer as Lan Wangji's hands slip around his waist.

“I love you,” he breaks away to say, before Wei Wuxian claims his lips again.

Wei Wuxian’s mouth is hot and eager, his fingers slipping into Lan Wangji’s hair. Lan Wangji finds the hem of Wei Wuxian’s shirt, then the warm skin and the small of his back. Wei Wuxian makes a delighted sound, pressing in closer, and the graze of Lan Wangji’s teeth on his full lower lip makes him melt. Lan Wangji wants to touch him everywhere, he thinks, to feel his skin with his hands and his lips and his tongue, to learn him in ways he’s never dared to hope for before.

He’s trailing a line of biting kisses down the taut line of Wei Wuxian’s neck when a commotion on the stairs startles Wei Wuxian away. He steps hurriedly out of the circle of Lan Wangji’s arms, ducking away when Lan Zhan chases his mouth.

“You want to kiss me in front of your son?” Wei Wuxian whispers as A-Yuan appears in the kitchen, all ready for bed in his pajamas. “Who’s shameless now, Lan er-Gege?” With the way he whispers, low and hot into Lan Wangji’s ear, the answer is clear to all.

Lan Wangji feels himself smiling, and he takes Wei Wuxian’s hand as he turns to bid A-Yuan goodnight.

*****

It is hard to find time to be alone.

They both work long hours, Lan Wangji grading papers at the high school, and Wei Wuxian putting in extra time in the lab where he thinks he might have made a breakthrough in his trials of the vaccine he has been working on. And there is A-Yuan to contend with, and while they are not shy of showing their relationship in front of him, they try to keep their physical affections to a minimum.

(“Impressionable minds,” Wei Wuxian had said sagely, before reaching out to surreptitiously pinch Lan Wangji’s behind.)

They spend as much time as they can together, their meals spent together at one another’s homes, and weekends in each other’s company. In fact, very little changes: Wei Wuxian is still there on the sidelines at soccer games, cheering on both A-Yuan and Jin Ling, and soon Lan Jingyi as well, and walking with them on warm nights, and barging into their home, uninvited but welcome. But now when he does those things, he greets Lan Wangji with a kiss, and it is rare that their hands aren’t clasped between them.

They steal kisses whenever they can, and it is more than once that they have been interrupted by a gleeful A-Yuan, who seems to more than approve of their relationship. Lan Wangji is happier than he ever thought he could be, with this man he loves in his life, who loves him and his son both.

But there are times, when they are kissing and Wei Wuxian’s fingers creep teasingly into the waistband of Lan Wangji’s slacks, when he is pressed in a line of heat against Lan Wangji’s front, when Lan Wangji longs to throw him down, to tear the clothes from his body and learn him in a way he’d never wanted to with anyone before.

So when A-Yuan is invited to Jingyi’s home for his very first sleepover one friday night, Lan Wangji finds himself hurrying across the quiet street, knocking hastily on Wei Wuxian’s door.

The door swings open moments later, and Wei Wuxian breaks into a grin when he sees Lan Wangji on his doorstep. His hair is still down around his shoulders following his post-lab shower, and he is so beautiful that Lan Wangji thinks he feels his own heart stutter in his chest.

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian says cheerfully. He pauses, finally taking in Lan Wangji’s ruffled appearance. “Are you all right? You look--”

“A-Yuan has gone to Jingyi’s house for the night,” Lan Wangji interrupts breathlessly.

Wei Wuxian’s mouth drops open and he blinks, surprise written all over his face. Then he snaps his jaw shut, his lips curling into a truly devastating smile, his eyes sparking. He reaches out and seizes Lan Wangji by the front of his shirt and drags him inside, slamming the door hastily behind him.

The door is barely closed before Lan Wangji is on him, capturing Wei Wuxian’s mouth in a fierce kiss. He presses Wei Wuxian up against the wall, feeling the way Wei Wuxian’s body bows into his, the way his hands fist in the fabric of his clothing. He tangles his fingers in Wei Wuxian’s hair and yanks, baring his throat where he bends to suck a dark mark ringed with teeth at the junction of his neck and shoulder.

“Lan Zhan--ah!” Wei Wuxian writhes against him, clinging. “Lan Zhan, bedroom. Hurry!”

It has been a long time since Lan Wangji found himself able to deny Wei Wuxian anything. He bends to scoop Wei Wuxian into his arms, kissing along the arch of his neck as Wei Wuxian clings, giggling, to him, legs going around his waist. Lan Wangji carries him all the way to his bedroom, and Wei Wuxian makes every step a challenge, grinding his hips into Lan Wangji’s and nipping at Lan Wangji’s flushed earlobes.

That night is the first that Lan Wangji can remember ever having missed his usual bed time, and he cannot find it in himself to regret it. Wei Wuxian is beautiful, his body arching into the movement of Lan Wangji’s, begging with every motion. He makes the most stunning sounds as Lan Wangji thrusts into him, clinging with legs and hands and begging to be kissed and bitten and fucked. Lan Wangji leaves a string of marks down his neck and chest, along the arch of his hip bone and the inside of his thigh. The marks of Wei Wuxian’s nails decorate his back, the sting of them setting him on fire with every new motion.

They make love long into the night, only to wake up in the morning and do it all again, soft light spilling through the gap in Wei Wuxian’s curtains and painting him golden under Lan Wangji’s hands.

Afterward, Wei Wuxian lies sated and drowsy in Lan Wangji’s arms, dozing. Lan Wangji checks the time and stretches, nudging at his sleepy lover.

“Get up,” he says.

Wei Wuxian makes a noise of protest. “Lan Zhaaaan,” he whines, clinging tighter. “It’s too early to get up. Stay in bed a little longer won’t you?”

“Have to pick up A-Yuan,” Lan Wangji reminds him, and Wei Wuxian sighs.

“Fine, fine. But you owe me.”

Lan Wangji extracts himself with some difficulty from Wei Wuxian’s arms. “Get up,” he says again.

“Er-Gege, I can’t move. You fucked me too well last night!” Wei Wuxian flails about in his bed, his face pressed into his pillow. One eye blinks cheekily up at Lan Wangji. “You’ll have to carry me.”

“Shameless,” Lan Wangji says, but he smiles and presses a kiss to Wei Wuxian’s forehead. He reaches one hand under Wei Wuxian’s knees and the other under his back, scooping him into his arms and carries him, giggling, to the shower.