It started one day, of course, with a simple question.
“Hey, Jiang Cheng… do you think Lan Zhan likes me?” Wei Ying asked.
In the kitchen, Jiang Cheng yelped, pulling his away hand from the skillet where the hot oil had jumped from the pan frying the cong you bing onto his skin. Still, he turned and hissed at Wei Ying, “What the hell are you talking about?”
“I mean,” Wei Ying continued, blithely ignoring his brother, “we live together so obviously he likes me, but do you think he likes-me likes me?”
Jiang Cheng muttered something indiscernible but undoubtedly unflattering as he plated the last of the scallion pancakes. Crossing the threshold from the apartment kitchen into their adjacent dining room, he set the last of the plates down before sitting down himself and pulling out his phone, ignoring Wei Ying’s building existential crisis.
“Is this another one of your things? Because I don’t want to be involved if it is,” Jiang Cheng said, voice flat, not looking up from his scrolling. Wei Ying pouted. He had no clue what “things” Jiang Cheng was talking about. “Anyway, jie says that she’s on her way, and will be here in about 15 minutes, but we can start eating,” Jiang Cheng said, handing him a bowl to serve himself congee with.
Jiang Yanli had somewhat unexpectedly texted them earlier that morning saying she wasn’t feeling very well, but she was definitely still going to make their monthly get-together.
The Jiang siblings had a standing tradition of sharing Sunday breakfast once a month, started by Jiang Yanli sometime in Jiang Cheng and Wei Ying’s junior year of college. Having graduated, she explained to them, she just wanted an excuse to dote on her younger brothers. A few months into the summer, after greedily eating her cooking and with the weight of school finally lifted off them, Wei Ying had loudly declared that it was Jiang Cheng and his turn to treat their jiejie. That started a back-and-forth that had turned into a rotation of three after Wei Ying and Jiang Cheng graduated and moved into different places.
In the end, it had turned out to be a good way for the three of them to chat and stay close to each other, away from the sharp ears and prying eyes of their parents. Jiang Yanli’s annoying peacock of husband Jin Zixuan, who Wei Ying was begrudgingly coming around to, had joined them on a few occasions, as had Lan Zhan once, when Wei Ying hosted. But for the most part, it was a quiet morning reserved for the three of them.
It was Jiang Cheng’s turn to host this month; his roommate Nie Huaisang had begged off to meet his own brother before it could even become a question if he wanted to join them.
Wei Ying sighed as he loaded up his congee with pickled radish and chili oil that turned his bowl red.
Ever since he and Lan Zhan had moved in together after college, their relationship seemed… undefined. They were at least friends, Wei Ying was sure of now, but there were other things… too comfortable for Wei Ying to challenge. He was scared that if he started poking holes, Lan Zhan would notice how domestic they were being and the illusion would shatter.
Sure, Wei Ying had said “I love you” and heard it back more often than he expected (which was every time), but how did he know it wasn’t just that… Lan Zhan loved him back like a friend? And Lan Zhan never pushed him away when Wei Ying would cuddle up to him when they watched a movie, and when they were intimate… well…
Wei Ying felt his ears begin to heat up.
“Whatever you’re thinking about, please stop. It’s too early for this and you’re making me lose my appetite,” Jiang Cheng snapped.
Wei Ying sighed louder and even more long-sufferingly this time. “You don’t care about my woes at all.”
“What woes?” Jiang Cheng snarked.
Wei Ying pouted as he stabbed around the mess in his bowl.
Jiang Cheng’s eye twitched. “I don’t even know what you’re worried about. Your annoying husband has been harassing me of all people to make sure that you have your vacation days for your anniversary off, so this is your only warning from me. The two of you get more nauseating every time I see you together — I don’t know how anyone could like you more than he likes you.”
Anniversary? Wei Ying blinked. Annoying husband?!
“Ha, Jiang Cheng,” Wei Ying said, “Are you mixing me up with jiejie? You know she got married in August, right?”
Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes and shoved congee into his mouth. “Obviously,” he said, swallowing. “Your one-year anniversary. Next month. In June. You know, the month you got married.”
Wei Ying opened his mouth. Then closed it.
“I’m not married.”
Jiang Cheng stared at him.
“Yes you are.”
“N-no, I’m not?” Wei Ying stuttered, the statement coming out more like a question.
“What do you mean you’re not?! I went to your wedding!”
“W-what are you talking about?” How could Jiang Cheng have gone to his wedding if Wei Ying hadn’t had a wedding? Or at least, he didn’t remember having a wedding.
Jiang Cheng placed both his bowl and chopsticks down, and then buried both his hands in his face. Wei Ying’s heart felt like it was racing at a hundred miles per hour, waiting for Jiang Cheng to finish having whatever emotional breakdown he was clearly having.
After a full minute, Jiang Cheng lifted his head. “Your wedding. To Lan Wangji. In June. Last year. Lots of red? Lots of food? Lan family present? Our family present? And then you got whisked off to some exotic place for two weeks?!”
Oh. Yeah, that.
And yeah, the Maldives were really nice.
“Um, that does sound familiar,” Wei Ying agreed.
Thunk. Jiang Cheng’s head hit the dining room table.
“Five more minutes,” Wei Ying moaned, burying his face into his pillow, and the voice behind him sighed heavily and closed the door behind them. Wei Ying nestled into his sheets, enjoying his extra bit of sleep.
Since graduation, he’d been exhausted, pulled in a dozen different directions: from packing to move out of the student apartment he shared with Jiang Cheng near campus into his new place with Lan Zhan, to making sure he had all his paperwork filled out for his job which was starting in a couple of weeks. There were also at least a dozen forms Lan Zhan's uncle insisted he sign to be allowed to move in at all, along with trips to too many stores to count to pick out furniture and paint swatches for their house. On top of all of that, Wei Ying had to make a bunch of decisions about this exorbitantly lavish graduation-slash-housewarming-slash-something-else-or-other party that the Lan family were insistent on throwing for him and Lan Zhan.
He had no clue how he'd managed to con his way into living with Lan Zhan, but the place the Lan family had secured for them was nice. Nice as in three bed, two bath with a massive soaking tub in the bathroom attached to the master suite, and a balcony with a gorgeous skyline view of the city. (Lan Zhan had looked at him particularly meaningfully when he pointed out the new bathtub on their first tour of the place.) Wei Ying had no clue what they were going to use all that space for.
It was located in an area of the city where much of the Lan family lived, and when prodded for details, Lan Zhan admitted it was property his family secured even before his own birth that had been rented out only a handful of times after it was decided it would be given to him.
Wei Ying’s own adoptive parents were more than financially stable, of course, with dozens of their own investment properties around the city. He and Jiang Cheng had greatly benefited from their family’s situation by living in one of their parents’ places close to the university, and his jie’s fiancé was even more well-off than them or the Lans. But Wei Ying had gotten through university primarily on scholarship, and even if he felt a little bad about taking advantage of Lan Zhan’s generosity, he really couldn’t bear to be a burden to Jiang shushu and Yu a-yi any longer, especially now that he’d graduated…
Plus, when he talked about his and Lan Zhan’s place at their last family dinner, Jiang Cheng had complained until Yu a-yi leveled him with a glare and told him he should quickly find himself a wife if he was so desperate to have his parents give him a house. Wei Ying had to work so hard to stifle his laughter that he almost fell out of his chair.
It would be too bad when Lan Zhan got married, though, and he would have to move out… Wei Ying twisted in his sheets. No, that was an unhappy thought pulling him out of his light doze… The twist in his stomach settled wrong, and—
“A-ah?” Wei Ying slurred, disoriented from being jolted awake with a pillow.
“It’s been fifteen minutes already,” Jiang Cheng scolded, trying to drag the blanket out from under Wei Ying’s hands. “Are you going to get up or not? How can you oversleep on a day like this? The next person who’s going to come get you will be mom and she won’t even be half as nice as I am!”
“I’m up, I’m up now,” Wei Ying said sliding off the bed.
Jiang Cheng handed him a towel. “Hurry up and shower. Jie is waiting to help you get dressed and do something with your hair.”
Wei Ying didn’t understand why it was such a big deal. Granted, he and Lan Zhan were having their move-in slash graduation slash whatever party (and not housewarming party because it was, weirdly, not actually in their house), and he had been staying with their parents until their place was ready. But he was kind of surprised even that Jiang Cheng, who had already moved into his new apartment with Nie Huaisang, was coming over to harass him about the party.
Wei Ying took a quick shower, not wanting to make Jiang Yanli wait for him too long, and when he stepped back into his room, Jiang Yanli was already there, sitting on the bed she had clearly made for him, next to a red tux laid across it. Wei Ying’s eyebrows crept up.
The tux was trimmed with gold embroidery down the shoulder and along the bottom edge, with phoenixes and dragons dancing down the left side and the Jiang family’s lotus crest lining the bottom. The inner lining and collar were both tipped with gold, and… that did not look like what Wei Ying had gone in for a fitting for a couple of weeks ago.
“Um, jie, isn’t this a bit… much?”
Jiang Yanli smiled at Wei Ying, bright and serene. “You’re going to look so handsome, A-Xian,” she said, picking up the inner button-up shirt to hand to him. “Mom is going to come check on us in a couple of minutes, so we need to hurry.”
Wei Ying had the foresight to put on his underwear in the bathroom, but then Jiang Yanli handed him something slinky and red and lacy and winked at him, and Wei Ying’s ears felt hot.
“Jiejie,” he whined, “I don’t know what you think we’re going to be doing…”
“Oh hush.” Jiang Yanli patted him on the head. “You don’t have to front with me. Of course Mama and Baba don’t want to think about their precious children like that, but it can be our secret, hm?”
Wei Ying ducked his head, his entire face hot, as Jiang Yanli turned around to give him some privacy. Sure, he and Lan Zhan had hooked up a couple of times… okay a lot, actually. Pretty much every time either of them visited each other during university. And the summer before college. Actually, he did tell Jiang Cheng about how he lost his virginity to Lan Zhan after prom and maybe that’s how his jie knew…
Wei Ying was startled out of his thoughts when Yu a-yi opened the door. At least he had managed to get the tux pants on, though he was only halfway done buttoning up the shirt. The buttons were so tiny and all of a sudden, he was so anxious.
“Still not ready? Are you trying to be late?” she snapped, grabbing the tux jacket off the bed. She tried to push his arm through the sleeve like he was an unwieldy child.
“Let me do it,” Wei Ying squeaked, and attempted to grab hold of the other side, except his limbs all became uncoordinated, and he ended up in a tangled mess of tux and arms.
As he tried to untangle himself to properly put on the jacket, Yu Ziyuan said, “And your hair is still a mess like this? You didn’t get it cut?”
“Ah, mama, sorry I haven’t had the chance to style it yet—” Jiang Yanli said at the same time as Wei Ying muttered, “Lan Zhan said it looked nice like this.” He suddenly felt self-conscious and ran his hand through the short waves that were curling at his nape.
Jiang Yanli excused herself out of the room to grab a comb and some products for Wei Ying, and Yu Ziyuan huffed and tapped him on the back.
“Stand up straight,” she said, and Wei Ying jolted up straight, squaring his shoulders. At twenty-two, he was now more than a half-head taller than her.
Yu Ziyuan fixed the last few buttons of his black undershirt, patting down the collar and smoothing out the lapels of the jacket. “My handsome son,” she said so quietly that Wei Ying almost missed it, and he jolted a little from the shock.
Yu Ziyuan stepped back to admire her work, making sure that there wasn’t a single wrinkle or misplaced thread on him, and Wei Ying felt some indecipherable emotion swell up in him as she met his eyes and found some type of approval he had not realized he had been seeking his whole life.
“Wei Wuxian, I am proud of you,” she said, with the same sternness she’d used to simultaneously appraise and dismiss his and Jiang Cheng’s grades or other accomplishments all their lives. “Never let anyone make you feel unworthy of being among the Lans when you have only brought us pride as a Jiang.”
Wei Ying’s throat closed, he squeezed his eyes shut.
“No crying now,” she still scolded, but much softer than she delivered her previous statement. Wei Ying shook his head to clear it when a knock came from his bedroom door.
“Sorry for the wait,” Jiang Yanli said as she walked in with the supplies. She cast a gentle smile towards her mother and then caught Wei Ying’s eye, and Wei Ying knew then that she had timed her return not to interrupt whatever exchange was happening behind his door.
The rest of the prep was a blur, and Wei Ying passed between his sister and his adoptive mother like a ragdoll to dress up. Before he knew it, Wei Ying was shoved into a car and well on his way to the restaurant that had been booked out for the party.
The tension in the car was thick — Wei Ying wasn’t sure why everyone else was so nervous. He was definitely nervous because they were nervous, his own leg jittering to relieve some of the tension. Jiang Yanli must be nervous because Yu a-yi was nervous, and Yu Ziyuan was nervous because she didn’t want Wei Ying to mess up any business relationship established between their families by fucking up his roommate situation. Yeah. That definitely was it.
Just when Wei Ying thought he was going to go crazy from the tension, Jiang Yanli patted him on the leg, and he stopped twitching and turned to her.
“You look wonderful, A-Xian. Your young master Lan isn’t going to know what to do with himself.”
“Jiejie looks beautiful as always,” Wei Ying said, almost reflexively, not that it wasn’t true because Jiang Yanli was the most beautiful woman he knew. “Jiejie is always the most beautiful person in the room.”
Jiang Yanli giggled into her hand and tried to pat down some apparently unruly strands on his head. “Don’t change, A-Xian,” she said softly before breaking into a wide smile. “Today of all days, I’m definitely not the prettiest in the room.”
Wei Ying wanted to protest but the car pulled to a stop at the elaborate doorway of the restaurant, and the car door opened. Before he knew what was happening, he was ushered through the private side entrance right off the main door. A slew of guests were already mingling in the private dining room, and Wei Ying craned his neck to look for—
Lan Zhan, who was privately chatting with someone from the Jin family, turned around and met Wei Ying’s eyes.
The world stopped around Wei Ying.
Lan Zhan was—
Lan Zhan was so beautiful. His hair was neatly styled as usual, but he was wearing a red tux, and like Wei Ying’s it was embroidered with gold dragons and phoenixes dancing down his shoulder and sleeve that really brought out the lightness in his mesmerizing eyes.
Wei Ying was so glad Yu Ziyuan and Jiang Yanli had put him through the rounds, dressing him up like this.
He wanted to touch. He wanted to— He wanted.
Wei Ying launched himself across the room and into Lan Zhan’s arms, burying his face into the crook of Lan Zhan’s shoulder.
Behind them, he could hear indistinct shouting from Jiang Cheng and Lan Zhan’s uncle yelling about propriety, but he couldn’t be bothered to care. His jiejie was right – he’d never be stupid enough to say it to her face, but Lan Zhan — Lan Wangji, second son of the Lan family — was definitely the most beautiful person in the room today.
“Lan Zhan! Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan,” he said, muffled into Lan Zhan’s shoulder and breathing in his calming, warm scent as Lan Zhan caressed his hair with one hand. He firmly held Wei Ying with the other, a warm and familiar weight at his waist.
After a minute (or possibly many) Wei Ying lifed his head up to look up into Lan Zhan’s eyes again, marveling at how beautiful he was up close. Jiang Cheng and Lan Qiren’s ire both seem to have abated or they were shooed off, not that it would have stopped him from lifting his hand to touch Lan Zhan’s cheek.
“Lan Zhan. Lan er-gege,” he cooed, and delighted at how Lan Zhan’s ears started turning pink. “Did you dress up just for me?”
“Mn.“ Lan Zhan nodded. It was something Wei Ying was still getting used to, after all these years, that he had transformed from the Lan Zhan who had rebuffed him at every turn to the one who would answer him so honestly and earnestly now.
“Always for you. Only for you,” Lan Zhan whispered, and he moved his hand so that his thumb gently wiped at an invisible speck of dust on Wei Ying’s chin.
“Lan Zhaaaaannn~” Wei Ying yelled before burying his face into Lan Zhan’s shoulder again.
There were a lot of speeches. More than Wei Ying can remember since the speeches started quite a bit after Wei Ying had let go of Lan Zhan with both of his hands so he could carry a glass of champagne in one while looping the other through Lan Zhan’s arms. Wei Ying was sure it also would’ve helped if his Lan er-gege wasn’t so handsome and distracting. What was the point of listening to speeches when he could look at Lan Zhan? Which was definitely what Wei Ying had done instead.
There were also a lot of tears. Not from Wei Ying, of course. Nope, definitely not. Not even when Lan Qiren had stopped in front of them and offered his own hongbao and congratulations, gruff and not quite friendly but accepting. That was definitely just some dust getting in Wei Ying’s eyes. Lan Qiren’s congratulations returned loud and enthusiastic and teary not even five minutes later, after he’d a sip of alcohol.
Also a lot of food. And drinking, which Wei Ying was almost surprised by, given the Lan family’s attitude about alcohol. Wei Ying was definitely fairly tipsy — but not drunk, no, except maybe from looking into Lan Zhan’s molten gold-colored eyes. Lan Zhan, however, had not had any, which Wei Ying recognized was probably for the best. The few times he’d goaded Lan Zhan into drinking had led to him passing out immediately before he woke up and gotten them both into all sorts of wacky situations. What immediately followed that tended to be memorable and very hot, though probably not appropriate to partake in at a not-quite-housewarming party. The memories, and the thought of Jiang Yanli passing that slinky, lacy, red piece to him, was making him hot under his collar…
Jiang Cheng grabbed at his elbow, gentler than he usually would have, though Wei Ying figured it was because his other hand was still tucked through Lan Zhan’s arms.
“It’s time for you to give your speeches now,” Jiang Cheng said, looking at Lan Zhan in the eyes.
What? Well, given the number of speeches and that everyone was here to celebrate Lan Zhan and him living together, it wasn’t that surprising, but still...
Lan Zhan led him up to the front. Everyone had stopped their chatter and were turned towards them. Wei Ying had always thrived on attention, but it was suddenly a lot. He wondered how Lan Zhan was feeling, as someone who was used to being so quiet most of the time. Wei Ying knew he had to go first then, to give Lan Zhan some more time to think.
Wei Ying cleared his throat. “Thank you all for being here today. It really means a lot that you came to celebrate this occasion with us.” He paused and turned to look at Lan Zhan, whose eyes were just slightly twinkling. Suddenly, all the other things Wei Ying had been planning to say, about his parents who’ve supported him this entire time, everything else he wanted to thank people for, died in his throat. “I couldn’t have found a better person to share my life with. You make me want to be a better person every day, Lan Zhan. You’re wonderful. You make me so happy, and I want to spend each day and each night making more memories with you.”
The room was so quiet that you could hear a pin drop when Wei Ying finished, and— oops. He probably just embarrassed himself, didn’t he? There was quite a lot of loud applause when suddenly everyone realized he was done. Well. Wei Ying sighed and let his shoulders sag. As long as Lan Zhan was okay with it...
Lan Zhan’s eyes had grown progressively wider over the course of Wei Ying’s speech. He hadn’t turned even when Wei Ying attempted to avert his gaze, after.
“Wei Ying…” Lan Zhan whispered, before he turned to the crowd.
“I too want to thank everyone for coming today,” he said. “You might not know, but Wei Ying and I share a word quota, so I must keep this short,” he continued and squeezed Wei Ying’s hand. A few hearty chuckles arose from the crowd, and Wei Ying smiled, pleased. Not enough people appreciated how charming and funny his Lan er-gege was.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan said, looking at him, and Wei Ying lifted his gaze again to meet Lan Zhan’s eyes. “You’re the best person I know. You make me better every day.” Wei Ying could feel his eyes start to prickle. No, no he couldn’t cry. He tried to blink away his tears and Lan Zhan squeezed his hand again. “I can’t imagine not sharing my life with you. Can’t imagine my life without you. I will protect your happiness, each day and each night.”
Wei Ying wasn’t even sure if Lan Zhan’s speech was done, but he threw himself at him, pressing his lips against Lan Zhan’s. He had a half-second realization that he probably shouldn’t be doing that before Lan Zhan took his cheeks in both hands and kissed him back, not quite heated, but definitely short of chaste.
Wei Ying sighed into the kiss but before he could deepen it, Lan Zhan had lifted him into his arms, carrying Wei Ying out of the restaurant to the uproarious cheers of everyone around them.
“In fairness,” Wei Ying said slowly as he came out of his memory, though there really not much he could do to defend himself now that he really thought about it, “I thought it was to celebrate moving into our place together. And a graduation party.” He continued matter-of-factly, “Our parents had a party for us when we graduated high school, and I didn’t even know we were having one until half way into the party.”
Jiang Cheng lifted his head again, incensed and his face bright red.
“That was a normal party! Why would you plan a graduation party with someone who wasn’t your family and then invite both your families? And wear a ton of red?” he yelled. After a pause, his face started to turn purple. “We didn’t get married!! There was no— AAARRRGGHHHH!”
Jiang Cheng made elaborate but extremely vague hand gestures, and Wei Ying had to agree. Whatever the vague-gestures-things was, was definitely not something he’d probably want to think about doing with Jiang Cheng.
“I hadn’t realized we were dating,” Wei Ying whined. Though in retrospect, there were a suspiciously large number of photos of only the two of them in their condo, now that he thought about it. And on his phone. Like his wallpaper. From the “party.” Which, after further clarity, he realized would actually be one of his wedding photos.
“Well, clearly you’re not dating if you’re married.”
“I meant,” Wei Ying pouted, “that I didn’t even realize Lan Zhan and I were dating. Before we were married. I didn’t know he even liked me like that. I can’t believe I missed the chance to date Lan Zhan.”
Jiang Cheng looked as though he were able to launch himself over the table and strangle Wei Ying with his bare hands. Wei Ying was trying to decide if he should run for his life or not when they were interrupted by a sharp knock and the door handle shaking.
“I’m here!” Jiang Yanli said, opening the door to Jiang Cheng’s apartment that had been left unlatched in anticipation of her arrival. She toed off her shoes as she entered.
“Sorry for being late, but I had some—”
“Jiejie!” Wei Ying yelled, throwing himself at her, “When did I start dating Lan Zhan?” while simultaneously Jiang Cheng screamed, “Jie! This idiot didn’t even realize he was married until five minutes ago!”
There was a long pause as the three of them stared at each other.
“I see I’ve missed a lot so far,” Jiang Yanli summarized.