"You'll catch a cold if you keep sitting here."
Lan Xichen smiles when he hears the instant click of a Glock 45 - another borrowed gun from another dead fool - levelled to his head the moment he speaks. Instinct over anything else, he deliberates as he steps forward when pretty sapphire eyes recognise him in the dimly-lit rooftop and the gun is lowered. "Ah, Young Master Jiang. No meeting with you is ever complete until a deadly weapon has been pointed at my head in greeting."
"Don't sneak up on me then." Jiang Cheng mumbled, eyes turned away as he slides his gun back into its holster resting high on his waist. "I will not hold back my bullets every time."
Zewu Jun joins the other at his perch on the ledge, following his observing eyes to where two familiar faces are seen in a distant restaurant, a warm glow of mellow orange bulbs and fairy lights draped across the ceiling tapestry of its outdoor seats in the alleyway the eclectic eatery was tucked away in. Shanghai's winter months have been long and arduous this year, and a fine coat of snow lines most of the city. Jiang Cheng is unseen in the night, nothing more than a mere cloud of vapour on his breath and a quick gleam of his gun holster's buckles, camouflaged with the deep grey of his oversized sweater, lean legs wrapped in black tapered denim paired with equally dark, tightly laced leather boots.
"Do you still think that Wei Wuxian is in imminent danger in the company of my brother?" He asks, as they both watch the four guards patrolling around the fringes of the garden seating; cordoned off completely as the couple share their meal. Even from the distance of his vantage point, Xichen can see the trademark grin on Wei Wuxian's face as he speaks candidly to Lan Zhan.
A small huff of air, and Jiang Cheng's voice is mocking. "You think I'm here to ensure my brother's safety? I assure you, Young Master Lan - it is everybody else around him that will need my help."
Zewu Jun files that interesting comment away for another day, and maintains his silence as they continue their observation.
Attentive eyes glance up at Zewu Jun, taking in the details of his burgundy tweed suit, tailored perfectly to the accentuated lines of his body. A matching coat finished with a velveteen collar, long, heavy and undoubtedly warm as it drapes over him like a cape, clasped hands gloved in black leather with a single brass cloud buttoned over each wrist. Jiang Cheng spots twin dots of emerald jade holding the tapered French cuffs of his sleeves, ironically delicate. A scarf flutters at his elbow, sliding off his neck as his gloved fingers undo a single button on his black shirt, loosening the oxblood tie.
Jiang Cheng blinks to look away, and resist the urge to pull his torn sweatshirt closer to his body, the thick cotton frayed at the hem and sleeves much too long for his compact body.
He startles out of his thoughts - lips curled in a snarl when an arm reaches out to him, the expensive, dark scarf fluttering in the cold wind of their high ground.
"I apologise." Zewu Jun hurries to murmur. His arm stays outstretched with the offered scarf. "You look cold, and I only wanted to offer you my scarf."
Scowling, Jiang Cheng steps away from it in a silent refusal, accepted easily with an understanding smile from the taller male. Both pairs of eyes return to their gaze on the restaurant, Jiang Cheng steadying his breathing silently, mind a scramble.
"It is already their third - no, fourth - dinner." Zewu Jun points out. "Surely your need to prowl along rooftops to observe them should be abated by now."
"I do not prowl, Young Master Lan." Jiang Cheng drawls. "Are my actions under your jurisdiction as well?"
Smiling, Lan Xichen turns to face the wary gaze of the killer casually seated on the narrow ridge, legs folded comfortably and boots dangling over the parapet separating them from the streets 15-floors below. Swallowed in a flimsy sweater with jeans so skinny they cling to every curve of his hips and legs, the professional assassin looks deceptively younger, less dangerous, with purple hair bundled high and hands tucked under the excessive fabric on his sleeves.
"Would you like to be under my jurisdiction?"
The killer snorts, turning his gaze away as he feels a familiar heat along his neck crawling up his ears at the tonality behind the question. At the restaurant, his brother is now leaving with Lan Zhan, guards following at a respectable distance as they walk side by side down the quiet street - not close enough to touch, but yet, not far enough to be out of reach.
A beautiful couple, through anyone's eyes.
Jiang Cheng's back straightens as he nods to nobody, and swings his legs back over to safety, dusting off the snow on his denim as he stands, stretching his legs. Lan Xichen still stands next to him, smiling and patient as ever, motives undeterminable as he watches the slighter man yawn as he rubs at his face.
"Have you had dinner, Young Master Jiang?" Xichen asks suddenly, hands clasped behind his back, tucked under his overcoat.
Frowning, Jiang Wanyin shakes his head minutely.
"Would you like to? I know a beautiful place not far from here, that does excellent Shanghainese cuisine."
The surviving heir to the Yunmeng Jiang group takes a step back and away from the elder leader of Gusu Lan at the invitation. His eyes cautious as always, filled with some type of anticipation and calculative even when the taut muscles of his body give nothing away. He runs a hand through his hair, undoing more strands from the messy top knot and finally sighs.
"I know you want to fuck me, Lan Xichen."
Surprise flits over Zewu Jun's face for a brief moment at the crude statement before he schools his expression effortlessly, even though his smile fades away.
"You like pretty things." Jiang Cheng says, his tone strained in a tight voice. "I know that. I read you the moment we met, when I asked you to turn around in your penthouse those months back."
"You are not a thing, Young Master Jiang." Zewu Jun immediately refutes, squashing the instinct to step forward and into Jiang Wanyin's space to comfort the furrow between his brows.
Nodding, the other man answers. "No, I am not. However, it seems that I have spent far too much time in my life reminding, fighting off people that seek to reduce me to a mere pretty thing for them to collect, to bed or keep by their side." His eyes avert as he withdraws his hands into the sleeves of his sweater, shoulders curling into his chest. "That I am like an ornament, who does not get to choose whether I want them to touch me or be near me."
Lan Huan feels his heart constrict at the implication behind those words, but he says nothing.
"When me and Wei Ying were growing up, it was a constant reminder to us. Men like you, with your endless money, within the walls of your expensive private offices, your pressed suits -", his eyes flicker up to meet Lan Xichen's coppery gaze, "- and your appetites for soft features like our pale skin, like Wei Ying's pretty eyes or my lovely mouth."
"Mother trained us hard - she beat it into us both to always protect our honour. Once our sister was married, my parents never let us out - kept us hidden away, wrapped us in clothes that swamped our bodies, trained us to be harder and faster. To never let these men and their appetites take us. We never took a drop of alcohol they served, refused every invitation to their fancy restaurants, to their private suites. Me and Wei Ying have spent our lives fighting - killed countless to keep ourselves safe from those with an appetite for pretty things."
"You are not -", Xichen tries again, as he steps forward, only for the other to step back again,"- if I have offended you, it was never my intention."
"What are your intentions, then?"
Jiang Cheng's eyes look impossibly tired, pleading for honesty. "Be truthful with me. If you want sex, tell me. If you want something else, just say it. I have listened to far too much bullshit in my life, and lost far too much to have anyone fucking around with me."
"Is that what you think, then?" Zewu Jun asks quickly, displeased. "Do you think I am just toying with you?"
A shrug, before Jiang Cheng crosses his arms tight against his body, bunches in further on himself as the toe of his boot scuffs against the fine dusting of snow around them. "It is impossible to tell with you, Zewu Jun. You and your brother are exemplary at everything."
Even lying, Lan Huan hears the words, even when they are not spoken and his stomach churns uncomfortably at the thought.
"I only wish to be closer to you." Zewu Jun finally concedes, tone neutral and bleeding sincerity. "That is all. I don't know what else I want from you, or what may or may not transpire in the future, but right now I simply want to be closer to you. I don't want you to think of me in the same light as the others, Young Master Jiang."
"As long as I am alive, you will not have to fight me off. You need only tell me, and I will heed you."
Jiang Cheng looks up to study the openness of Zewu Jun's expression, to find it guileless. He watches everything, from his intense gaze to the sharp angles on a handsome face as his expression shifts to sorrow, skin looking more ethereal as it is caught between moonlight and the wine-red of his suit. His hair is mussed from the winter breeze and even when black strands fall from the hold of its pompadour, it still looks flawless.
He studies the contemplation in those eyes watching him patiently, tersely dissecting his words as Jiang Wanyin's gaze flits, searching for any notion that he might be lying.
This time, when Zewu Jun takes a small, careful step towards the other, the slighter body only holds rigid at his movement, but does not back away.
"You may call me Jiang Cheng." The smaller figure speaks finally, with no malice. "And you may bring me to dinner."
Wei Ying hums, face half-tucked into the oversized scarf wrapped around his neck, cashmere warmth against the cold cheeks of his face as he steps into Lan Zhan's mansion. He breathes in deep against the softness, spies the blue emblazoned GS on a folded edge of the Burberry check and it hides his small smile, his toes curling a little at the scent.
Ah, it smells like Lan Zhan.
The other had kindly slid the scarf over him on their post-dinner walk to his lavish home, smiling a little at how the material had all but engulfed the leaner male. Stepping into the airy balcony overlooking the Huangpu River, Wei Ying leans against the steel railing to watch the choppy waters, beautifully lit by the insomnia of the city that flanks either side of it. Distantly, he hears Lan Zhan shucking off his coat and stepping into the cold balcony to join him, white shirt collar unbuttoned as he folds the sleeves of his shirt to his elbows.
"I used to make a living off this waterfront." Wei Ying said, his voice only slightly muffled by the scarf. "You'd be surprised how easy it is, to dispose of a body in these waters. Most days me and Jiang Cheng survived off petty crimes here so we could get something to eat."
The stoic male nods encouragingly for his companion to continue, handing him a lit cigarette. Smiling, Wei Ying takes it, enjoying a warm drag as he rubs at his chafed bottom lip, exhaling slowly and smiling slightly when he spies the way Lan Zhan's pupils dilate at his action - pale eyes reflecting a flickering flame as he lights his own cigarette.
With smoke bellowing around him, he asks softly, "Was that how you and Jiang Wanyin survived, after the massacre?"
Humming, the two sit in relative silence as Wei Ying contemplates. "We lost everything and everyone in the massacre. Jiang Cheng and I had to take any job we could to get by, no matter how cheaply paid or how difficult it was to get to the target." Recalling the freezing nights watching the Bund, waiting on freezing rooftops with hungry stomachs, he sighs as the cigarette is placed back between his lips to take another relieving inhale. "I was close to thinking I had to sell myself to survive. It never got to that, but it was an option I briefly entertained."
The thought of the beautiful man next to him selling his body almost made Lan Zhan crush the cigarette tin he held in his hands, but he keeps his silence.
"It would have been easy money for me. Jiang Cheng and I have always been accosted by most of the people we meet - what with our good looks and slender bodies. I never went through with it out of respect to the family who adopted me." Wei Ying speaks softly, honestly. "Jiang Cheng seems to take it more to heart. My brother is still very uneasy when we are around others."
"After our sister was wed, the both of us were never put in the public by his parents - locked away and trained until we knew to never allow anyone close enough to us to touch. It took me longer, more punishments and more beatings for me to be more careful, less precarious around others."
Pretty, grey eyes are faraway as he speaks, and Lan Zhan wants to know what memories are at the forefront of his companion's mind now. "No matter how badly we were beaten, it turned out to be a good thing. There have many occasions - when the both us were of age and allowed to take assignments - where we had to defend ourselves against some very grabby hands." Another drag of his cigarette, slow and sensual as his eyes narrow in recollection. "Many have died because they simply could not take a hint. We were unforgiving to those who did not listen to our warnings."
A bark of laughter as he turns to Lan Zhan with a playful smile. "That's all in the past now. Don't fret, Hanguang Jun - sadness is unbecoming on a face as lovely as yours. I much prefer the smitten look you always wear when you bring me to such lovely places for food. I haven't eaten this well in years!"
Agreeably, Lan Zhan nods slowly. He had only been quietly wooing Wei Ying for the past two months, and already used to the quick flip of his temperament. Since their first meeting, the young leader knew he would want no other person's eyes on him except Wei Ying's, and spending time together only concreted this. Jiang Wanyin had been distrustful, unwilling to let Wei Ying out of his sight since their first dinner together, always seated on a nearby rooftop with cautious eyes before eventually disappearing. Lan Zhan knows Wei Ying's brother maintains this practice, even when he is often hidden much too well from his own sharp eyes.
There was good reason for Jiang Wanyin's heightened doubts. The Yunmeng Jiang brothers had worked hard to stay out of the public eye, not wanting any attention on them after their entire lineage had been wiped out, particularly since Wen Ruohan's two sons were still alive and well. When news broke out, of a mysterious flute player who had somehow been invited to a private, quiet dinner with the formidable Hanguang Jun of Shanghai, it took more than a few deaths and threats from Gusu Lan to ensure the two names stayed hidden. If the Wen brothers heard anything, there was no sign of it.
Where Jiang Wanyin was cautious and silent, he evidently preferred to work with utmost precision; not fond of wasting time. Wei Ying, on the other hand, was still unfathomable despite how easily he blushed with piled compliments, a laissez-faire exterior easily lulling most into underestimating his true nature under those smiles. It was tricky, Lan Zhan found, trying to catch the warning gleam in pretty eyes or the small twitch of his fidgety hands when someone came too close to his shoulder or should a sudden movement catch his peripheral.
Lan Zhan knew that the man he so hopelessly found himself attracted to was no ordinary assassin trained in the Yunmeng Jiang group. While the other had always maintained his silence about his past prior to the massacre, it took little for both leaders of Gusu Lan to know there was a dangerous, lethal man on their hands. Lan Huan in particular, was intrigued to see what methods Wei Ying preferred, but despite the time they've spent together, the giggly, exuberant man had given nothing away.
As always, his elder brother had proposed the possibility of finding out.
Questioningly, the other turned with his face resting on his hands in a childish display, elbows splayed on the balcony railing.
"Brother has discussed with me an intention of offering you and Jiang Wanyin a position in our group."
Chuckling, Wei Ying lowers himself to fold his arms, his chin now tucked against his forearms with knowing eyes. "I think your brother has many positions he could think of for Jiang Cheng to fill."
Lan Zhan does not roll his eyes at the cheeky comment, and firmly he continues in spite of the small chuckle. "It is a matter of personal security. For me and brother."
"Personal security, you say." Wei Ying hums, as his eyes peer out at the waterfront. "Jiang Cheng will not be pleased with this offer, and I cannot accept on his behalf. We have kept ourselves away from the Wen sect well, and tagging two leaders as prominent as you and your brother will not keep us out of the spotlight."
"We'll have to convince Jiang Wanyin then."
The other comments as he lights himself another cigarette - elegant fingers languid in their movement. Wei Wuxian finds himself unable to look away, lazily observing the rounded bones on a pale wrist, the trinket of a cloud pendant fastened in blue silk hanging loosely and tucked under a Patek Philippe watch, pale blue diamonds customised to set within the silver chronographs. There have been little moments in Wei Ying's life where he felt possessive about anything, but there was something to be said about standing next to Lan Zhan that made him want to curl closer, so everyone knew the perfect specimen only had eyes for him.
Wei Ying plucks the cigarette away from pretty lips, and his smile is sly as ever, watching the copper eyes narrow in want as he licks the filter, before taking a slow, long drag from it.
Another cloud of smoke circles around the pair as he exhales from Lan Zhan's cigarette, their eyes still locked.
"I think we can convince him."
"You wish to give us an apartment."
Jiang Cheng scowls as he declares, resisting an urge to clean the ratty dining table he is seated at. He had returned home with a bag of groceries from a nearby supermarket, tired and hungry, to find not one, but two Gusu Lan brothers at his dining table, with a smiling Wei Wuxian serving them expired tea from the chipped mugs they kept at the back of their one kitchen shelf.
He would have laughed, except the two Gusu leaders had not even flinched, even taking sips from the offered mugs.
Now he found himself seated between them and his beaming, insolent brother, a contract laid out in front of him on the dirty, scratched surface of their table, looking at way too many zeroes in the salary and way too much fine print in the pages upon pages stapled together. The elder brother had kindly and patiently summarised it for the scowling man, and Jiang Cheng had found even that tedious to listen to, even if he usually did not mind the soft droning of the elder Gusu Lan kingpin.
Rubbing his temples, Jiang Cheng sinks deeper into the creaking chair under him as he sighs.
"You wish to hire me and this birdbrained idiot to be your personal bodyguards." As he opens his eyes, he sees two nods and a sulk from his insulted brother. "I am to believe that you two -", he points menacingly at the two men seated to his right, "- need personal bodyguards? You two could probably benchpress a small car while having your morning tea."
A smile, and Jiang Cheng narrows his eyes at Zewu Jun. "We are well-versed in all manner of combat, that is true. Yet it is imperative, that we do not do the work ourselves unless we are forced to. Being in our position greatly requires us to be extremely stringent with our personal safety, and self-defense is something we would rather not have to partake in." Behind him, his younger brother simply nods in agreement, and Jiang Wanyin grumbles under his breath, looking at the mess of words on the stack of papers again.
"What then? I sign this, and we become your personal bodyguards, get paid, a new apartment, nice suits - all that fancy Gusu Lan shit?" Jiang Cheng scoffs, squinting down at the words. "I know exactly what you two are trying to do, keeping the both of us onboard and close by. Your true motives are fucking clear."
A whine, as Wei Ying rests his chin on Jiang Cheng's arm on the small table. The Yunmeng Jiang heir groans at the doe eyes presented to him, complimenting a soft pout. "Jiang Cheng, this is an excellent opportunity for both of us. We get paid and finally afford to get some clothes that aren't from the dump. You can afford to get your hair dyed properly, in the purple just like you always wanted, and we get money to buy actual food! Think about it, we could even save up enough money to buy back Zidian."
Lan Huan files that name away for future use, as he sagely nods along, happy to lett Wei Ying do the convincing.
"Ge, this is another route for us to avenge our family." Wei Ying whispers, voice small with his eyes wide and imploring.
Jiang Cheng does nothing to push off the pouting sibling on his arm and instead he leans closer, eyes solemn. "Di, this is not exactly under the radar. How will we exact our revenge on the Wen brothers if they can actually see us and know who we work for? How are you suddenly this eager to work for someone full time? You know Hanguang Jun is just looking for ways to keep you by his side until you put out."
A smack, and Jiang Cheng hisses at the slap on his shoulder as Wei Ying turns to bury his blushing face petulantly into his shoulder. "You are so rude, Jiang Cheng! Our guests are still here, and Lan Zhan and Zewu Jun are gentlemen."
If they disagree, the pair of brothers from Gusu say nothing and bid their silence as they simply wait, continuing to sip peacefully at stale tea.
"The nearer we seem to the Wen clan, the easier it is for them to overdo their security. You know paranoid Wen Chao is when it comes to revolt, he's just like his father, but fucking weak. The tighter the lid, the more the jar breaks under pressure." A whisper against the softness of his blue hoodie, as grey eyes peek up at him with all humour gone in those grey asphalt-eyes. "We have waited in the shadows long enough. Ge, this might just be the break we need to finish them once and for all for all they've done to our clan."
Mulling over the cold words, Jiang Cheng allows Wei Ying to fidget; the other playing with the rings on his fingers as he huffs against his hoodie to his elder brother's silence.
"This is still dangerous, Wei Ying. There are far too many unprocessed risks."
To his surprise, his brother agrees easily before he refutes gently. "Yes, but the difference is we have Hanguang Jun and Zewu Jun now. They can help us."
"Help us? We are dragging them into the mud with us." Jiang Cheng sighs as he watches Wei Ying push a silver band around his thumb. "The Gusu Lan group may rule the underworld but why put them into our mess? Just because you're pretty, and Hanguang Jun wants to carry you away into the sunset as his husband does not mean they should put their entire neck on the line for us in our feud with the Wen dogs."
A slight cough, as Lan Huan clears his throat to draw attention. "If I may. The Qishan Wen group has been unable to negotiate with Gusu Lan since their formation years ago. After the territorial wars broke out, there has been no further talk between the two clans - it is a stalemate that the Wen group has always detested, since their numbers are low and they are unable to wage a way directly with us."
"Even if Wen Chao attempts anything, it will be well within me and Wangji's estimation. Every coup he has tried so far, every attempt of an assassination sent our way has been in our foresight." Jiang Wanyin finds his chest rumbling with a growl at the thought of the Wen dog trying to take Zewu Jun's life with his despicable hands. "In any regard, having his two worst enemies next to the two worst threats in his life may just be the incentive he needs to end this between Qishan Wen and Gusu Lan once and for all."
Pale eyes are studying, as Zewu Jun states with finality, "However, Wei Ying is right, we can help you. I wish to help you with retribution - the Sunshot Campaign took too many victims, and the extinction of the Yunmeng Jiang group was always something that weighed heavily on our father's mind, even up to his death."
As the silence stretches, Jiang Cheng keeps his eyes firmly locked onto Wei Ying's hands on his twitching fingers.
He finally grounds out, voice only slightly wavering in emotion, "I cannot be bought, Zewu Jun."
"I do not intend to buy you. I intend to earn you." Lan Xichen replies breezily, and Wei Ying laughs at the blush he sees on his brother's ears, earning him a painful flick to his forehead. "You must know by now that I have always been honest with you, Jiang Cheng. This offer would not be on the table unless me and Wangji fully trusted both your talents."
Wei Ying whines again, prodding his brother gently at his considering silence.
Rolling his eyes, Jiang Cheng knows his sibling is all too aware that he has won again, with his impeccably well thought-out arguments and pouting expressions. Huffing, he takes the pen and waits for a smiling Lan Huan to direct him to where his signature should be, only muttering under his breath slightly when he sees Wei Ying's own name scrawled like some child's handwriting on the second line, already signed with drying ink.
"Traitor." He hisses, and Wei Ying beams in delight, tucking himself tight into his Jiang Cheng's willing arms for a soothing, reluctant cuddle. "You are a child and I am tired of you."
Nodding in agreement, his brother smiles still but says nothing.
As the contract is filed away, the twin Jades stand from the flimsy chairs, and even slide their cups back into the dirty sink close by, their politeness grating to Jiang Wanyin. As Hanguang Jun tucks the papers smoothly back into a folder and slides his glasses back into the pocket of his soft blue blazer, his elder brother turns with an expectant, perhaps even joyous gaze at two squabbling brothers still seated at the small table.
"This calls for a celebratory dinner, don't you think?"
A whoop rings out from beside Jiang Cheng at Zewu Jun's words, as his traitor of a brother gleefully leaps up to grab a jacket, joining an endlessly fond Hanguang Jun at the apartment's open door. Briefly, Jiang Cheng wonders if one can vomit on an empty stomach, as he too stands, tone woeful as he eyes his plastic bag of cheap groceries. "It seems like I've gotten all these groceries for nothing then."
"Ah." Lan Huan says, stepping forward and into Jiang Wanyin's space easily, sliding the flimsy plastic bag into his hand. The thin, cheap bag of wilted leaves and dodgy pork belly looking completely out of place against his distinguished suit, sleek hair and smiling face. "We can always have our personal chef cater to us at Wangji's mansion instead. No food wasted then."
Rolling his eyes, Jiang Cheng says nothing and simply stumbles along as his brother pulls him insistently out their dingy apartment doors, and towards the even more dingy elevator doors where the two Gusu leaders stand, guards holding the doors open in wait.
"Our new apartment better fucking have separate rooms for both of us." He snips quietly, and Wei Ying chortles into his shoulder.