Wei Wuxian generally considers himself to be a fair-minded person. So he feels that the extreme prejudice with which he drops the innocuous little gift bag onto the table and pushes it away from himself says a lot.
“Another one already?” Nie Huaisang asks, already reaching for and upending the bag. A pair of black-knitted socks - with two little red pom-poms hanging off each ankle - fall out onto the table. They look handmade. They’re also adorable.
Wuxian hates them.
“This is the third one this week,” he says, and slumps into the remaining free seat, feeling uncharacteristically glum.
“The third pair of socks?” Wen Ning asks, looking startled, and Wuxian waves his hand in lazy denial.
“No, the third gift left next to my bag at the ‘centre,” he says. The centre housing the Chinese Cultural Society that his forebears established to provide Chinese migrants with community and a safe space in a foreign land - now safe no more, he thinks to himself sadly.
“Oh no,” Jiang Cheng says flatly, rolling his eyes. “Your hordes of admirers are leaving you gifts, boo hoo, let me get out my guzheng and play you the world’s saddest fucking accompaniment to the rain falling in your heart.”
“It’s not as simple as gifts!” Wuxian exclaims indignantly. “Gifts mean a build-up to a confession! A confession means another awkward meeting where I have to turn someone down and then ‘there there’ them afterward!”
He pushes forward into Jiang Cheng’s space.
“What if they cry, Jiang Cheng?,” he whines beseechingly. "You know how bad I am with people crying at me!"
Instead of showing any sort of sympathy, his brother plants a palm onto the side of his face and uses it to push him back down into his seat.
“Just accept and date them then,” Wen Qing says over Wuxian’s cries of “You’re so cold, Jiang Cheng!". She raises an unimpressed eyebrow. “There: problem solved, everyone wins.”
“Everyone does not win!” Wuxian splutters, whirling around to face her. “Dating someone just because they showed up is not a solution!”
“How will he choose between all of them, anyway?” Huaisang pipes up, which Wuxian both sort of appreciates and also ... doesn't. “There are so many.”
“Why are there so many?” Wuxian lets his head drop onto the table. “There didn’t use to be this many."
“Most likely because Jin Zixuan took himself out of the bachelor rankings by marrying your sister, and bumped you up to third,” Huaisang says bluntly, and Wuxian finds it incredibly galling that his friend can sound so reasonable about a situation that is so patently not.
“Bloody peacock,” he mutters, latching onto the first target he has for his resentment. “With his stupid, bloody face. I should’ve punched it again when I had the chance.”
“To be fair,” Huaisang points out, “it’s also partially your sister’s fault. Jin Zixuan didn’t marry himself.”
“You take those dirty words back!” Wuxian demands, although there’s no heat in his tone. “My sister is a perfect, blameless angel, how dare you? She’s as much a victim as anyone else in this, since she’ll be spending the rest of her life being married to him.“
Huaisang shrugs, but makes no move to say anything, so Wuxian just continues his ranting.
“Bloody Chinese people,” he grumbles. “Why do we have to like bullshit ranking lists so much? It’s a medium-sized cultural society, not a university entrance examination!”
“Who was it,” Wen Qing begins sweetly, “who couldn’t stop laughing when Lan Wangji made it to Bachelor #2?”
She assumes a vapid expression and taps a finger against her chin in mock-contemplation.
“I seem to remember the very same person also saying something about the Chinese penchant for ranking things being ‘the best’, and something about excellence deserving to be recognised? Now, do you remember who that was, Wen Ning?”
“Um,” Wen Ning says nervously, looking like the last thing he wants is to be dragged into the discussion at hand. “Should we order? Have we all decided what we want to eat?”
He tries to wave down a server, unfortunately with entirely too much hesitation to actually get anyone’s attention. Jiang Cheng looks at him, sighs loudly and gives an authoritative hand gesture of his own - which immediately has two servers heading towards them at once.
“I didn’t know it would be like this,” Wuxian whines, wriggling petulantly in his seat. “I feel really bad about teasing Lan Zhan so much now. This is the pits!”
Feeling bad, however, Wuxian thinks to himself, is not quite the same as actually regretting it.
(He’s a bad person, he knows; he’s terribly cut up about it.)
“These are really nice, though,” Wen Ning says admiringly, picking up one of the socks and playing with a pom-pom. “They're so soft! They look like they’d be really warm, too.”
“You like them?” Wuxian asks, barely bothering to spare the socks a second glance. “You can have them.”
“I can’t do that!” Wen Ning's eyes open wide in alarm. “Someone made them for you!”
“And that means that,” Wuxian explains patiently, “since I’m certainly not going to be keeping them, it would be a real shame if you didn’t, because otherwise they’re going straight into the bin.”
“But,” Wen Ning says weakly, and they all know it means that he’s running out of resolve. “Won’t whoever made them be sad if they find out?”
“Just wear them at home,” Wuxian tells him carelessly. "No one will see, so there'll be no problem."
Beside them, Jiang Cheng has foregone interrupting the conversation in favour of simply ordering for the whole table. But they've been meeting like this every week for at least a year and a half now, so it's not as if they haven't long learned what each of the others likes to eat.
As it is, the conversation pauses long enough for Wuxian to notice that Jiang Cheng is pointedly ordering dishes with no chilli in them. He turns towards his brother and pouts pitifully. Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes, but nevertheless points to a four-chilli-rated item on the menu and then asks for extra chilli on the side.
Meanwhile, Wen Ning, still looking a little torn, shyly reaches for the socks and tucks them into his bag.
"So what are you going to do?" Huaisang asks after the server collects the menus. He plants his elbows into the newly-cleared space and rests his chin on his interlaced fingers.
Wuxian considers the question.
"Dunno," he says after a moment. "Can I get myself disqualified from the list somehow? Bumped down?"
Jiang Cheng snorts.
"You punched then-number-three in the face on stage at the society Chinese Lunar New Year concert two years back, and that didn't affect your ranking at all. How far are you going to go?"
Wuxian opens his mouth to say that he's willing to go pretty fucking far, but before he can speak, Jiang Cheng hastily amends the question.
"No, don't answer that - how far are you going to be able to go before Uncle Qiren murders you? He's already banned you from public-facing society events."
"If he murders me, at least I won’t have to deal with anyone crying on me again," Wuxian mutters mulishly.
"Maybe you should start thinking about dating," Wen Ning suggests, and is immediately forced to start waving his hands placatingly when Wuxian shoots him his most betrayed expression. "Not a random! It's just - Jiejie's right; if you were dating someone, the admirers would stop like they did for Jin Zixuan when he started dating your sister."
"Yeah, that one's right out," he says, shaking his head (and why do Wen Ning and Huaisang both look so disappointed?). "What can I do that's not-that, but will still get these people to stop?"
"Lan Zhan!” Wuxian exclaims as soon as the door to Lan Wangji's apartment opens. “Fake-date me!”
The door slams shut in his face.
“Nonono , wait, wait, don't be like that," he begs when the door finally opens again (after five minutes of incessant knocking from him) and reveals Lan Zhan’s glowering face. “Just hear me out!”
The set of Lan Zhan’s mouth is one of extreme censure, but he nevertheless takes a step back, and Wuxian doesn’t waste any time getting himself inside before Lan Zhan changes his mind.
He ends up sitting at the kitchen table, holding the cup of tea that Lan Zhan sets in front of him - rather pointedly, Wuxian feels, because while everyone knows that Lan Zhan doesn’t drink, he usually does stock liquor for Wuxian’s visits.
Given his opening line tonight, however, Wuxian concedes that a little coldness is fair.
“Okay, so,” Wuxian says, taking a refreshing gulp after speeding through an explanation of his request and the events leading up to it (getting even faster every time Lan Zhan’s frown deepens, which is frequently ). “I had no idea that there’d be such a difference between being at number three and number four, and Lan Zhan, it sucks balls. I honestly don’t know how you’ve survived being at number two for so long. What are you telling people when they ask to date you?”
“There’s someone I already like,” Lan Zhan says, and Wuxian nods approvingly.
“I wish I’d known to go with that,” he sighs. Boy, how does he wish that. “But the first one caught me off-guard when she asked me if I was interested in anyone, so I said ‘no’, and word must’ve spread. I guess,” he says thoughtfully, tilting his chair back and righting it again with a grin when Lan Zhan’s expression turns disapproving, “I could just say that I’ve changed my mind, but that still leaves a risk that they’ll keep asking until I give them specifics.”
He peeks up at Lan Zhan, whose sympathy levels do not seem to have moved from their previous rating of net zero, and changes tack.
“However, ” he says with renewed enthusiasm, leaning across the table to better communicate his earnestness (Lan Zhan doesn’t move back exactly, but does blink at him in a way that implies that the violation of personal space boundaries has been noted),”if we pretended to date, that would all be done with. ”
“Lying is-“ Lan Zhan begins, and Wuxian hurries to cut him off in case the train of thought leads to further objections that he doesn’t have responses to.
“I wouldn’t ask you to say anything untrue,” he assures him. “I know you don’t lie, but maybe if we just … behaved in a way that would lead people to make assumptions, and afterwards didn’t correct them? It’d be enough for me if you were just around, being intimidatingly perfect in people’s faces, and I’d do the same for you. -Well,” he corrects himself, “it wouldn’t be being ‘perfect’ in my case, but maybe I could be intimidatingly annoying?”
“No,” Lan Zhan says flatly, face still frustratingly passive and free of any tells as to his feelings about the situation.
(And, more importantly, what angles Wuxian has the best chance of leveraging to win him over.)
“Come oooon, Lan Zhan,” Wuxian whines, reaching across the table to tug coquettishly on Lan Zhan’s sleeve. “It’d be perfect! I’ve been single all my life, you’ve been single all your life, and fake-dating would let us continue being peacefully single while protecting each other! We already spend heaps of time together - there’d be literally no difference, except that we’d maybe occasionally hold hands or pretend to kiss when someone’s looking!”
Lan Zhan is still frowning, but Wuxian thinks that there’s been an infinitesimal softening of the crease between his eyebrows. He seizes the opening.
“You wouldn’t have to do anything,” he cajoles, picking up Lan Zhan’s hand now and swinging it back and forth as he makes his case. “You could leave everything to me. And if you were to find someone you actually wanted to date, then we could have a fake break-up.”
He’s met with silence, pinned by Lan Zhan’s unwavering gaze, and Wuxian is just about to give the game up for a lost cause when-
“Who’s your backup?” Lan Zhan asks abruptly.
“What?” he asks, not quite following, before, “oh, you mean if you say no?”
Huh, he thinks to himself. That would’ve been an idea - why didn’t he think of it?
“I, uh, don’t have one?” he ventures, and then, not above using any and all of the resources presented to him, jumps straight back into wheedling. “So that makes it even more important that you say yes! Lan Zhan-”
“All right,” Lan Zhan says.
“Come oooon, Lan-,” Wuxian is still saying when the words register. “-wait, what? Seriously?”
Lan Zhan nods.
Wuxian’s answering grin is bright, wide and only slightly manic.
this is the worst idea you’ve ever had
Dude, what, no! It’s a GREAT idea.
I mean, yes, okay, LWJ is a perfect specimen of man-god
and I’m like, objectively trash, but
You’re not trash!
aw, thanks, WN!
dw, I’m not saying it out of low self-esteem or anything!
great things, trash-can, not trash-cannot, etc
but I’m also like, banned from public-facing cultural society events
and I also realised
when I went to the toilet this afternoon
that I had my underwear on inside-out, so
he does things like ask people to FAKE-DATE HIM, WN. he’s trash
but as I was saying in re LWJ, he still agreed to date me
so it’s not SO far-fetched that
he could agree to date me irl
I thought LWJ was the one with the brain cell
but I guess you two are just a brain-free zone
THANK YOU, WN
I’m glad SOMEONE appreciates what I’m trying to achieve here
don’t come looking for me when this all ends in tears!
dw I WON’T
bc my brilliant plan is NOT GONNA
do you have your affairs in order?
bc like, Uncle Qiren is gonna M U R D E R you
on the scale of ‘least to most acceptable people to be dating his beloved nephew’
in the bin
i am most definitely in the bin
not even the top of the bin
no, you’re at the v bottom
maybe slightly above JZX’s creepy dad
but you’re not wrong
Wuxian’s not here to waste time, so he goes straight to the cultural society centre after work the next day and makes a beeline for the room where Lan Zhan teaches the baby kungfu class.
The decision is an eminently strategic one - he knows for a fact that the baby kungfu class (and any class Lan Zhan teaches in a room with a window, to be brutally honest) has a regular crowd of cooing spectators that is not (by a long shot) limited to grandparents, parents and/or bored siblings. If Wuxian goes to pick Lan Zhan up after class and takes him wandering through the building before they leave (together) , they’ll be seen by that captive audience, Lan Zhan’s actual students, the students of any other society extra-curriculars scheduled for that afternoon, and all of their grandparents, parents and/or bored siblings.
If they also grab a bite at the nearest Chinese restaurant afterwards, they’ll see at least a quarter of those people again, as well as the restaurant staff who, throughout the course of any given week, probably see at least half the cultural society’s members come through their doors.
Chinese people being Chinese people, Wuxian has every expectation that the news will have spanned the whole community network by the end of the hour.
That he’ll also be able to watch Lan Zhan gently drill a group of 4-year-olds (maybe also 3- and 5-year olds? Babies.) who absolutely adore him in kungfu basics is just a bonus. The only thing cuter than Lan Zhan bending in half to correct a baby’s intensely earnest fight-me pose is when he takes his little herd to a different training room and sweeps silently down the halls with a trail of rapt ducklings following behind.
(Wuxian saw it by accident once after running a Chinese-language climate-change action education session for retirees, and he had to duck into a side room to squeal into his own jacket.)
To Wuxian’s great disappointment, he only arrives in time to catch the class running through one last form before Lan Zhan lets them out for the day.
Still, he thinks, watching 16 excited toddlers run out to their parents is pretty nice. (And it seems that the non-guardian half of the peanut gallery agree, if their continued presence is any indication.)
One little girl even runs back in towards Lan Zhan, clutching a crumpled piece of paper to her chest and presenting it to him with both hands. When Lan Zhan bends down (elegant even when he’s wearing an oversized T-shirt and loose pants, which is just unfair to humanity) to listen gravely as she explains the picture she’s drawn him, Wuxian is forced to spin around and clutch his chest to ensure his own continued survival. Beside him, a girl staggers and has to be held up by a companion who looks a bit stunned himself.
Wuxian knows the feeling.
After the last of the children have run out to their parents (and the danger is past), Wuxian steps into the open doorway and props himself against the frame.
“Lan-Er-gege !” he calls, and gives his cutest finger-wave when Lan Zhan looks up.
Lan Zhan doesn’t smile, exactly, but something about his face softens as he makes his way across the room.
("So,” Wuxian says, flopping against Lan Zhan on the sofa. “Are there any PDA boundaries you don’t want me to cross? Like, no kissing, or-”
“No,” Lan Zhan says.
“Right, no kissing-” Wuxian repeats, but is interrupted by Lan Zhan’s hand on his wrist, and a small headshake.
“No,” Lan Zhan clarifies, “no boundaries.”
“Um,” Wuxian says. He knows that there’s probably an implied “within reason” in that statement, and that (unlike him), Lan Zhan probably isn’t thinking that statement through to its logical extreme, but even so, that’s a heady thing to hear. “Are you sure?”
Lan Zhan nods once.
“Well,” Wuxian reasons out loud, “I guess there are in-built boundaries. I mean, it’s not like you’re at risk of me trying to have sex with you for the cause, right? So that’s cool, but you can change your mind at any time, okay? Just say the word.”)
As soon as Lan Zhan gets close enough, Wuxian reaches out and grabs his hand under the shiny, new, unlimited-PDA licence he’s been granted. To his credit, Lan Zhan only freezes for a second. Then he relaxes and turns his palm so that he can lace their fingers together.
Nice, Wuxian thinks, and rewards Lan Zhan’s hand with an approving squeeze.
(“And you?” Lan Zhan asks.
“And I what?” Wuxian asks, half-listening and half trying to get his laptop to play the rabbit video he’s just assured Lan Zhan that he has to see.
“What are your boundaries?” Lan Zhan clarifies.
Wuxian doesn’t want to say, “Well, I haven’t ever done anything, so I don’t think I really have any opinions at this stage”, so he just shrugs.
“I think I’m up for just seeing how far we’ll need to go, for now,” he says. “So we can put me in the ‘revisit later, if necessary’ box, as well.”)
So far, at least, there don’t appear to be any downsides to the warmth of Lan Zhan’s skin against his, and so Wei Wuxian remains 100% up for this.
“Come on,” he says, backing out of the room and tugging gently until Lan Zhan follows. “Let’s go get some dinner.”
Their walk past the lingering crowd is everything Wuxian could have either hoped for or dreamed. Lan Zhan nods to various people as they pass like they’re not staring at him open-mouthed, and, even better, like he hasn’t given them anything worth staring at open-mouthed. Phones are out and messages sent even before Wuxian and Lan Zhan have made it far enough away for plausible deniability. And this is all just because they're holding hands. It's great.
After the fourth double-take from an unsuspecting passer-by, Wuxian even starts to swing their joined arms, just feeling really satisfied with the success of their plan, Lan Zhan’s company, and life in general.
“So how was class today?” he asks, remembering vaguely that Lan Zhan had once mentioned having a morning Law and Society lecture to deliver before baby kungfu (“Junior kungfu,” Lan Zhan corrects him mildly and Wuxian rolls his eyes. “Look at them, Lan Zhan, some of them are still having trouble walking straight. They’re babies.”). “Have you shocked your students with the ‘justice is relative’ tale of three Chinese arseholes, yet?”
Lan Zhan sighs.
“That’s not what the case is called,” he says, but his voice is only slightly disapproving, which means that Wuxian is in the clear to continue. And so:
“It should be!” he insists as they turn a corner into the main part of the building. “A dude in Qing Dynasty China dies in a fist-fight, the killer offers to bribe the dude’s dad to pretend it was an accident, the dude’s dad agrees, they both bribe the coroner and the whole thing only unravels when the dude’s brother, the Last Just Man in the Village, comes home! And then,” he continues, voice climbing in indignation, “the judge punishes not only the corrupt arseholes, but also the brother because he was apparently ‘unfilial’!”
He pauses to take a much-needed breath.
“And there’s also something about mortgaging ancestral property,” he adds as an afterthought. “But I think I’ve forgotten how that connects to the rest of it.”
“Justice requires context,” Lan Zhan says, with the serenity of a bodhisattva.
“What kind of context,” Wuxian half-splutters, “explains giving part of a corrupt man’s punishment to his son, whose commitment to justice was the only reason the corruption was exposed?!”
“You’ve been influenced by Western concepts of individuality and freedom from State control,” Lan Zhan observes, no less calmly (although if he thinks Wuxian hasn’t noticed the corner of his mouth curving upward, he’s lying to himself).
“I know you think the outcome is unfair, too,” Wuxian says, giving Lan Zhan some serious side-eye.
“I, too, have been influenced,” Lan Zhan agrees, blissfully unconcerned.
Wuxian is laugh-shouting his offence when Lan Xichen and Jiang Yanli approach them from the opposite direction and Wuxian stops short, internally kicking himself for not being able to trot out an explanation he'd prepared earlier. Passing acquaintances are one thing, but their nearest and dearest are not going to just make their assumptions and leave.
He’s wondering if he should just let them in on the secret too, when Yanli-jiejie spots their linked hands and starts clapping delightedly.
“Oh, A-Xian!” she exclaims, smiling brightly, and Wuxian smiles uncertainly back. While she’s usually happy to see him, he has no idea what he could have done recently to make her this happy.
“Finally! I’m so happy for you both!”
Finally? Wuxian wonders, but his train of thought is cut off by Lan Xichen’s more muted - but no less delighted - smile.
“We all knew it was coming, but to be honest, I thought it would take you two at least another year,” he comments ruefully. “I shouldn’t have had such low expectations of you - I apologise.”
Wuxian glances at Lan Zhan, who has elegantly sidestepped the need to invent appropriate reactions to shocking comments by virtue of years spent conditioning the people around him to expect no reactions. Wuxian is passionately jealous.
It all feels, he thinks, eyes narrowing as he watches Lan Xichen have some sort of further speech-nod exchange with his brother, like two very different sets of exchanges are going on here, and that he’s privy to neither of them.
(Maybe Lan Zhan has already told his brother about the entire plan? That would certainly explain why Lan Xichen is playing along instead of subjecting them to a cordially brutal round of suspect interrogation. Which is great - Wuxian has absolutely no problem with Lan Xichen being in the know, but he probably should have thought to check beforehand.)
“So when can we expect to see you at a family dinner?” Lan Xichen asks, turning to Wuxian.
“Oh yes, and you with us, too, Wangji!” Yanli-jiejie says. “Mother and Father would love the chance to get to know you.”
“Uh,” Wuxian hedges awkwardly, smiling and hoping that it’s somehow convincing. “It’s a little new right now, so is it all right if we take a raincheck? Until we’ve had a bit more time to settle in?”
To his slight confusion (but great relief), both Lan Xichen and Yanli-jiejie seem to take his tenuous excuse at face value, and even go so far as to smile at him indulgently - possibly because they have a committee meeting to be getting to, possibly because Yanli-jiejie is a trusting older sister whom he should feel bad about deceiving.
“I just want to say that I’m happy for you, too,” Lan Xichen tells Wuxian warmly in parting. “But if you ever even think about hurting my brother, please keep in mind that they’ll never find your body.”
His face doesn’t shift one bit from its usual expression of gentle benevolence.
It’s mildly terrifying.
“So you told your brother about what we were doing?” Wuxian asks Lan Zhan after their siblings leave. “How did you convince him to play along?”
“No,” Lan Zhan says, shaking his head and looking mildly puzzled at the line of questioning. “I didn’t tell him anything.”
“Huh,” Wuxian says. "That’s - a bit weird, then."
He frowns, but then quickly decides that he shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth and sets off down the hall again, pulling Lan Zhan along with their still-joined hands.
“Well, whatever. Let’s go eat. I’m going to be so lovey-dovey to you that even your ancestors will be embarrassed.”
1Jiang Cheng's first name is 澄 (Chéng) and the word for orange is 橙 (Chéng) and I tragically think I'm funny, and therefore so does WWX when putting people into his phone contacts.[return to text]
Lan Xichen and Jiang Yanli absolutely saw their respective brothers together years ago and mutually decided that, since it was clear that they'd be in-laws someday, they should start building the relationship now.
I spent day 1 of the lunar new year eating, watching some gloriously over-the-top gala performances and writing, so here's a new chapter in record time :'D.
Happy New Year!
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Holding a finger to his lips in a silent request to any other patrons who might be watching (who is Wuxian kidding, it’s Lan Zhan reading - at least 5 of the 9 people sitting in the immediate vicinity are there so they can sneak glances at him over the tops of their books), Wuxian creeps up to the back of the sofa Lan Zhan is sitting on and, springing forward with one last burst of speed, claps his hands over his eyes.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan murmurs before Wuxian can even get his mouth open to say “Guess who?”
“Aw,” Wuxian says disappointedly and looks down at the sofa. It isn't very high, and it looks sturdy enough, so he decides that the quickest route from A to B is a straight line, braces a hand against the frame, and vaults himself over the back of the seat and directly into it. “I guess I should’ve expected no less from the great Lan Wangji, huh?”
Lan Zhan huffs softly, before returning to the wall of text on his phone, and his unshaken composure sets something off in Wuxian’s troublemaking heart.
(He never could settle for less than Lan Zhan’s full attention.)
And so (after slipping his shoes off first, he’s not completely unprincipled, no matter what Uncle Qiren says), Wuxian swings his legs up to the other side of the couch and (with a quick backwards glance to make sure he’s not going to brain himself on an elbow or something), plonks his head into Lan Zhan’s lap with a pre-emptive declaration of: “Boyfriend privileges!”
He braces himself for being shoved unceremoniously to the floor, but what he gets instead is a soft sound of agreement. And, after a moment, he also gets fingers settling into and carding through his hair.
Right, the fake-dating.
It’s - really nice, actually, Wuxian thinks, feeling himself soften into bonelessness as tingly contentment radiates out from his scalp. He should find a way to convince Lan Zhan to give him head massages more often.
“You’re good at this,” he mumbles, half-into Lan Zhan’s thigh, which is where his face has somehow become mashed in the course of leaning into Lan Zhan's touch. “You’d make a great boyfriend.”
The hand in his hair stills for a moment, before there’s a soft “Mn” and the gentle movement starts again.
It takes another moment for Wuxian to regain the higher brain function required to speak.
“You’ve always had this hour free between teaching classes, right?” he asks, and receives another soft sound of acknowledgment.
“And my Chinese Environmentalists group has been finishing at around this time for a while now, too,” he continues, biting back what would be a highly-inappropriate moan when Lan Zhan’s fingernails start to lightly scratch at the base of his skull. “In fact, I think this is right about the time when I usually start spamming you with messages and memes. Why haven’t we hung out here before?”
“You talk too much,” Lan Zhan murmurs and Wuxian laughs.
“Oh, that’s right - Uncle Qiren kicked me out last time because I was disturbing people who wanted to read. Well, then,” he says, reaching into his back pocket to retrieve his own phone, “I guess I’d better stop before he does it again.”
Lan Zhaaaaan ~ <3
Wuxian looks up from his screen to find Lan Zhan staring down at him and smiles beatifically, holding the expression until Lan Zhan turns back to his reading.
“What is it?” Lan Zhan asks, looking down at him again and Wuxian assumes a scandalised expression.
“Shhh!” he hisses reprovingly. “We’re in a library Lan Zhan, have some respect! People are trying to read!”
Lan Zhan’s eyes go flat with exasperation and Wuxian, doing his utmost to keep the smile off his face, rolls back over and unlocks his phone to find a message waiting for him.
nothing, I just wanted to say your name :D
your lap makes an excellent pillow, btw!
not too firm
not too soft
-Chat history saved-
why aren’t you answering?
LAN ZHAN ARE YOU SEENZONING ME?!?!
Stop being annoying.
The message is accompanied by an admonishing flick to Wuxian’s forehead.
“Ah!” Wuxian cries, and immediately covers the stinging patch of skin protectively with his hands, but they both know it was a gentle flick, and doesn’t actually hurt.
Rest. I know you didn’t get enough sleep last night.
Wuxian turns and squints suspiciously up at Lan Zhan. How does he always know?
well then I’m gonna nap
wake me when it’s time to go?
In the weeks that follow, Wuxian goes to pick Lan Zhan up after cultural society classes whenever his own schedule allows. There’s no lack of opportunity - in addition to baby kungfu, Lan Zhan also teaches guqin and Chinese calligraphy to a wide range of different age brackets.
How he does this, Wuxian thinks to himself while waiting outside yet another of Lan Zhan’s classes, in addition to his actual job as a law lecturer, and then still managed to be volunteering at the community legal centre when Wuxian got arrested for protesting at an international mining conference three years back, Wuxian may never know.
In any case, he’s certainly not complaining. Lan Zhan’s extensive community involvement means that their fake-dating ruse receives a huge amount of exposure in return for very little effort.
The many and varied things they encounter in the course of their not-in-your-face (but also not-not-in-your-face) PDA adventures include (but are not limited to):
- Jiang Cheng spotting them, turning an abrupt about-face and attempting to flee in the opposite direction, only to be caught by the elbow and expertly steered back by a determined Huaisang (he spends the entire conversation glancing back and forth between them, and having what appears to be a mini-stroke in his face, it’s great);
- Lan Xichen and Yanli-jiejie, multiple times, both separately and together (and whose comments each subsequent time are, frankly, every bit as confusing as the first);
- Wen Ning getting mobbed by a small gang of pre-schoolers, who pile onto him and refuse to let him go until he gives them all piggy-back rides (this is completely unrelated to the PDA - Wuxian just thinks it’s funny);
- A series of society elders whom Lan Zhan is uncharacteristically rude to (which is to say, he looks at them just long enough to make it clear that he’s noticed them before pointedly turning away). Wuxian finds out later from Huaisang that these are the elders who’ve been stopping Lan Zhan when he’s alone to upbraid him about his inappropriate relationship with “that unsuitable Wei boy”. As far as Huaisang can gather, their objections seem to centre on:
- Wuxian’s arrest record (which is for environmental activism!, but nevertheless is an understandable concern);
- the fact that Wuxian punched Jin Zixuan publicly and onstage at a concert (and while not sorry, Wuxian concedes that this is also fair);
- Wuxian’s job (which he suspects they don’t entirely understand, since it’s a perfectly legitimate 9 to 5 at the national Climate Council, lobbying government and orchestrating climate change action campaigns);
- Wuxian’s painted fingernails (which, when he looks at it from the perspective of a bunch of conservative Asian uncles and grandpas, is also understandable. But he just thinks it’s a weird thing to fixate on to the same degree as everything else, particularly because he’d thought that the DESTROY MY BUTTHOLE, NOT THE PLANET, T-shirt he forgotten he was wearing when he turned up to a fundraiser the previous year might’ve been worse?)
- Uncle Qiren, who sees them holding hands and stops, looking exceedingly pained, before putting his hand to his temples and muttering something that sounds suspiciously like, “I knew it was coming, but it still hurts”;
- Some guy, whom Wuxian has occasionally noticed watching Lan Zhan over the years, freeze and turn an alarming greyish colour.
- (Wuxian initially feels somewhat guilty about this, but then he finds out that the guy’s name is Su She, and that immediately after confirming that Lan Zhan and Wuxian were dating, he went from being Lan Zhan’s biggest fan on the society Facebook to the most prolific poster of complaints (mostly about Lan Zhan being “stuck-up” or “frigid”, and: seriously) and friendzone memes (seriously), and Wuxian immediately stops feeling bad.)
- ((Su She also starts sarcastically tagging every photo that Lan Zhan appears in with #Hanguang-jun after someone posts a picture of Lan Zhan holding a torch while his brother changes a lightbulb. Fortunately, Lan Zhan’s fanclub unironically takes it up as the perfect descriptor for the light of their lives, and so, to Wuxian’s supreme satisfaction, the incident ends in a spectacular backfire.))
- (((Wuxian eventually asks Lan Zhan about it all and receives a confused look and a “Who?”. When Wuxian pulls up Su She’s Facebook profile, Lan Zhan frowns and says, “I don't remember ever seeing him before” and Wuxian maybe feels a bit bad again.)))
Wuxian drifts off to vague plans of visiting elaborate, devastating, but non-attributable revenge on Su She if he tries to fuck with Lan Zhan again, and wakes up with Lan Zhan’s cardigan draped over him, and the man himself reading patiently in the next seat over.
He really would make an excellent boyfriend, Wuxian thinks, and immediately feels a twinge of - something. It surely can’t be jealousy, since they’re 1) great friends, and 2) currently pretend boyfriends, and there’s therefore literally no competition for Lan Zhan’s attention right now.
He rubs absently at his chest.
Must be indigestion.
“So,” Huaisang says at their next dinner meet-up. (Thai food this time - Wuxian’s gonna eat spicy things until his teeth are tingling.) “There’s a rumour going around in the society Facebook comments that your relationship is all for show because you’re only together at the cultural centre and no one’s ever seen you dating anywhere else.”
Wuxian spits out his mouthful of tomyum soup and narrowly avoids hitting Jiang Cheng.
“What the fuck?” he splutters, although the fact that he’s simultaneously wiping up the splash zone with his napkin might detract a little from his aura of righteous indignation. “Why? How? Where would a rumour like that even start?”
“Maybe from the fact that you’re not actually dating,” Jiang Cheng snaps, looking disgusted and pulling a handful of napkins out of the dispenser to throw at Wuxian’s cleanup effort.
“Well, yes,” Wuxian allows, taking them and giving the table one final wipe. “But fake-dating rumours don’t come up about anyone who’s not a celebrity."
He pushes his little mound of wet napkins to the corner of the table, decides that's that's as good as the situation's getting, and adds:
"Who people also think is secretly gay.”
Wen Qing purses her lips and nods like she’s at least willing to entertain the proposal.
“Couldn’t we say that Lan Wangji is kind of a celebrity, though?” she asks thoughtfully, pointing at Wuxian with the green bean currently held between her chopsticks. “A local one.”
“We could,” Wuxian agrees, “but he and I are also both men. Who are publicly dating. Who, exactly, is bearding whom here?”
“What does the rumour say?” Wen Qing asks Huaisang, who hastily chews and swallows his mouthful to say:
“That they’re trying to put off matchmaking parents or aunties.”
“That is ridiculous,” Wuxian thunders, completely outraged. “How do people come up with this shit?!”
“It’s the truth, though?” Wen Ning points out timidly.
“Yes,” Wuxian cedes grudgingly, “but what kind of person thinks it’s a reasonable truth?! That was the beauty of this plan, Wen Ning - the idea of us fake-dating was so stupid that no one would even consider that it was a possibility!”
There’s a moment of tablewide speechlessness.
“That is a very valuable, but also very disturbing insight into your decision-making processes,” Wen Qing says.
ok I’ve thought abt it
and I think the problem is that we have no photos
no social media presence!!!
we can take some couple photos next time we meet
but also we don’t have any lovey-dovey photos of each other
HOW CAN WE CALL OURSELVES (FAKE) BOYFRIENDS
when you have nothing to look at when you miss me????
so prepare yourself Lan Zhan
best fake boyfriend
am gonna send you S O M A N Y
I’m gonna FILL YOUR PHONE WITH PHOTOS OF ME
As soon as he makes his declaration, Wuxian realises that he should probably have curated the contents of his proposed photo barrage before throwing down, because, as it turns out, nothing in his picture gallery looks quite right. After lowering his standards and doing another sweep, he finds one or two that could do in a pinch, but it’s really not the level of quality he’d expect for Lan Zhan, who deserves no less than the very best.
So, naturally, Wei Wuxian decides that he'll just have to create some quality content anew.
He’s just putting the finishing touches on his selfie selection (which is to say, he's switching back and forth between the flower petal and sparkle filters, trying to decide which one is more outrageous), when his phone buzzes with a message notification.
Replying to: am gonna send you S O M A N Y
“So many” = Countless
0 =/= countable
0 = Countless
0 = “So many”?
are you throwing SHADE at me Lan Zhan
I genuinely don’t know how people can say you’ve got no sense of humour, Lan Zhan
Not wanting to keep his audience waiting, he quickly sends off the three cutest photos he has. And then sends another four, just to be safe.
When his phone buzzes again a few minutes later, the chat window opens to reveal a picture of Lan Zhan’s expressionless face.
what is that
I’m supposed to be your BOYFRIEND
can’t you send me something cute???
Another minute passes before his phone buzzes again, and when Wuxian clicks on the chat, he sees that Lan Zhan has re-sent him the same picture, now overlaid with pink text reading “Notice me, Senpai~”
Wuxian screams with laughter.
When he regains the ability to breathe, he sets it as his phone wallpaper and sends a screenshot to Lan Zhan, overlaid by a “<3”.
culture soc people go to your uni right?
we need to step up our game to defeat these rumours
P! D! A!
so I’m coming over to eat lunch with you
wait for me!
When he reaches the university food court, Lan Zhan is already sitting at a table waiting for him, two steaming bowls of noodle soup on the table in front of him, accompanied by a side platter of jiaozi.
“Aw, Lan Zhan, you’re too good to me!!” Wuxian exclaims delightedly, sliding into the seat opposite. “And you even got me spicy soup!”
He did, too - the liquid in Wuxian's bowl is eye-searingly red. In comparison, Lan Zhan’s simple, vegetarian option looks basically colourless.
They tuck in, and when he judges that the broths in their respective bowls have cooled down enough to risk it, Wuxian straightens his legs under the table and tangles their ankles together for the benefit of anyone who might be watching.
(He has some real suspicions about the group sitting two tables to his left).
Taking his cue from other Asian couples whose Facebooks and Instagrams he’s seen in passing ("seen in passing", maybe stalked. Whatever, it was for research), Wuxian picks up his phone and takes pictures of their food, the table and Lan Zhan eating (the photo of Lan Zhan delicately sipping broth from his spoon is immediately uploaded and tagged #尝汤君2).
Then he picks up one of the dumplings, lovingly places it in Lan Zhan’s bowl, and takes a photo of that, too.
>Lan Xichen has reacted to your photo!
Wuxian blinks at the red love heart that appears below the picture of Lan Zhan drinking soup, barely two hot seconds after he’s posted it.
>Lan Xichen has reacted to your photo!
And also the one of the dumpling.
He looks up to a questioning look and mutely holds his phone out to Lan Zhan, who takes it carefully and glances down at the screen.
“Ah,” he says, sounding unsurprised. “Yes, my brother has become quite ... invested, in our relationship. Does that bother you?”
Wuxian quickly shakes his head.
“It doesn’t bother me. It’s just a bit - surprising?”
Lan Zhan blinks at him.
Wuxian bites down on an incredulous “What do you mean, ‘why’?”
Shouldn’t it be surprising that Lan Xichen has stepped out as captain of the WangXian ship? Then again, he thinks, from a different perspective, maybe not. Lan Xichen has always been his younger brother’s biggest supporter in everything, and given that Lan Zhan has never been in a romantic relationship before, isn’t it natural that his older brother be - excited about it?
Welp, and now Wuxian feels bad again.
“Actually, you’re right,” he says to Lan Zhan, taking his phone back. “It shouldn’t be surprising. I guess I just didn’t think about how all of this would look to people we actually know.”
And isn’t that an indictment, Wuxian thinks, wincing.
“Well, too late now!” he says, hoping Lan Xichen won’t be too cut up about their inevitable break-up. On the bright side, who knew when that would actually be, given that neither he nor Lan Zhan (to the best of his knowledge) were anywhere near finding actual partners? At any rate, there wasn’t really any point worrying about it now.
“More importantly," he says, after quickly checking the time, "there’s less than half my lunch break left, so before I have to go, we’d better get around to the other thing we came here for: couple selfies!”
Without waiting for Lan Zhan to respond, he drags his chair around to the other side of the table and scoots up close, leaning into Lan Zhan’s side and holding his phone out as far as he can, because the internet had informed him in no uncertain terms that it made for more flattering angles.
The first shot they take features Wuxian beaming at the camera, face angled towards Lan Zhan’s jaw while Lan Zhan wears his usual impassive expression, and Wuxian really thinks they can do better. So, always having been a fan of being the change, he waits until the last second before the shutter goes off during their next shot before impulsively learning in and planting a kiss on Lan Zhan’s cheek.
The result does not disappoint - Wuxian's humble phone camera captures the very moment where Lan Zhan registers Wuxian’s lips on his cheek, just before shock gives way to outrage - his mouth is slightly open, his eyes adorably wide.
“Ay, Lan Zhan!” Wuxian teases him when he frowns down at the screen with an otherwise-unreadable expression. “You can’t be like that! My boyfriend shouldn’t look this shocked by me kissing him!”
He's thrilled by how flustered Lan Zhan still looks, how long it’s taking him to recover his composure.
“We’ll have to re-take it,” he decides, already raising his phone again, though he’s careful to swipe past the photo instead of deleting it. They can’t use it, but it’s too cute not to keep.
They try again, but it’s a softer kiss this time, since Wuxian’s no longer trying to leverage the element of surprise. He waits for the click of the camera shutter, and then pulls back again to assess the outcome.
This shot is perfect - Lan Zhan is back to wearing his usual neutral expression, but he’s looking at Wuxian out of the corner of his eye, and his cheeks are - every so slightly! - flushed.
Ba-dump, goes Wuxian’s heart.
1For the non-Koreaboos (:'D): "Oppa" being the Korean term for older brother/male generational-peer - somewhat like gege, except that it's used exclusively by women/girls. It's also sometimes used by women when addressing their boyfriends
in Kdramas, which is the sense in which WWX is using it here, because his Chinese family, like my Chinese family, consumes a lot of Korean media.[return to text]
2尝汤君 (cháng tāng jūn), literally "soup-tasting lord", cf 含光君 (hán guāng jūn), the "light-bearing lord", because, again, I think I'm funny[return to text]
One headcanon that I forgot to mention last time is that I see WWX here as the kind of person who nicknames all the people he likes in his phone contacts, which is why the group chat is populated by Orange-Bro, HSBC and Ning-a-Ling. He initially attempted to nickname Wen Qing, but she saw it in his phone and just stared at him until he wordlessly changed it back. Prior to the fake-dating, Lan Wangji (蓝忘机) was "Forget-me-not", because of: 1) 绝对不忘 (jué duì bú wàng), or "never forget", and 2) WWX being latently gay for him.
It was a public holiday for me yesterday, so naturally I spent it watching even more Chinese galas and doing this.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It cannot strictly be said that Wuxian carries out a deliberate plan to fluster Lan Zhan by bussing him on the cheek at unexpected moments. But, given the way that he always seems to give in to temptation whenever Lan Zhan is focused on a task, looking in a different direction or otherwise distracted, it cannot be said that he doesn’t do that, either.
(It’s just - Lan Zhan’s face.)
In any case, during the rest of their time together, he continues taking all sorts of photos to post on Facebook. Most of them are taken around campus at lunchtime - in various local cafes, for example (#Bun-guang-jun on a picture of Lan Zhan ordering from the cake display), or Lan Zhan’s office (#DONE-guang-jun on a picture of Lan Zhan glaring at a particularly egregious student assignment) - but he also takes an occasional shot when they’re camping out in one of their respective apartments. And, since Lan Zhan has a Facebook account (even though he barely ever uses it; the last update on his wall is from five years ago, and is actually a photo that Lan Xichen put there) - Wuxian tags him in every single one.
He even posts something from their regular light-touch sparring practice - a shot of Lan Zhan afterwards with towel around his neck, rumpled and sweaty from exertion. He’s more dishevelled than he usually is, and that's 100% Wuxian’s fault: when Lan Zhan gets bitchy, he starts using a lot of leg sweeps, so Wuxian makes sure to be extra annoying with his goading, and, predictably, ends up on his back and/or pinned to the floor a lot.
He tags the photo #汗光君 and, at the last minute, finds himself feeling weirdly reluctant about clicking the “Post” button.
Also weird is Lan Xichen continuing to aggressively heart everything he posts. Yanli-jiejie joins in (which is moderately less weird since she likes most photos she sees), and, on one notable day, he also gets a flood of 30-odd likes from Jin Zixuan all at once (which is, Wuxian presumes, the latest in the long line of extremely transparent panics the peacock has had about doing things that make Yanli-jiejie happy. It’d be cute, if Wuxian didn’t hate him so much).
((He still takes a screenshot and sends it to his sister, though - since it will, in fact, make her happy.))
(((Some of his work- and other non-society friends see the rampant liking and start to circumspectly inquire after Jin Zixuan’s intentions and/or general emotional well-being, but while Wuxian attempts to explain, he isn’t sure if mere words could ever be sufficient to describe the situation to anyone who hasn’t seen Jin “PRAISE ME, YANLI” Zixuan in action.)))
Wuxian's pièce de résistance is a photo that Yanli-jiejie takes of them playing a duet in one of the ‘centre music rooms, and which he posts directly to the cultural society Facebook group. Lan Zhan had asked Wuxian to help try out a song he’d written (a really pretty one, too - if a bit melancholic. Is there anything Lan Zhan can’t do?) and Yanli-jiejie had taken the shot right after they’d finished the piece.
(She'd probably waited for half the song in order to do it, since she’s considerate like that.)
It’s actually a very nice picture - Wuxian had been half-expecting that he’d be caught wearing some terrible flute-playing duckface, but they look relaxed. Natural.
And since the music room in question is one with a full wall made of floor-to-ceiling glass (whether because it was originally designed for something else or because Chinese people don’t believe in soundproofing), Yanli-jiejie has also managed to capture the impromptu audience they’d attracted (because: no soundproofing), which makes it a picture of community and therefore an unimpeachable addition to the society wall.
Even better, Wuxian notes approvingly, as he crops Su She’s angry face out of the corner, he and Lan Zhan are sitting just a bit closer than strictly necessary, striking the perfect balance between 1) making sure proof of their relationship is seen by all the people who need to see it, and 2) not rubbing all the uncle/auntie faces in their PDA.
(But he tags it #traditional, #instruments, #chinese and #culture, just to be safe.)
As he takes further steps to make certain that the post is beyond reproach (by adding #practice, #impromptu and #concert), he’s suddenly struck by the urge to see what Uncle Qiren will do if he catches them in flagrante delicto.
Wuxian snorts to himself and immediately dismisses it as a shitty and ridiculous idea - even he wouldn’t make Lan Zhan go that far to piss Uncle Qiren off.
But, he thinks directly after, kissing, on the other hand - kissing would be possible.
Kissing would definitely be possible.
Wuxian waits until after dinner.
They’re in Lan Zhan’s apartment, having ordered in, and while Lan Zhan moves around the kitchen doing impeccable Lan host things, Wuxian is on his sofa, posting a picture of his impassive face above an empty dinner plate (#盘光君). Because Lan Zhan doesn’t watch television, he doesn’t own one, so the couch looks directly out the window, onto the nature reserve behind Lan Zhan’s apartment building. In the dark, all that’s visible of the trees and rolling hills is the occasional, shadowy suggestion of shape, but the city skyline behind it is glittering with hundreds of tiny lights.
It’s a very pretty, and very appropriate backdrop to what he’s about to suggest.
When Lan Zhan appears with a bottle of Emperor’s Smile and a cup, Wuxian puts his phone down and shuffles over to the end of the couch. Then, just as Lan Zhan bends down to place the items on the coffee table, he opens the conversation with a casual: “We should practice kissing.”
Lan Zhan’s hand jerks and the cup clatters loudly onto the table.
“What?” he asks hoarsely, righting the cup with uncharacteristic clumsiness before straightening hastily.
“Well, we can’t have you freezing again in public,” Wuxian says reasonably. “That’d make it obvious that we’d never done it before and then all our efforts would be wasted. So we’ll have to inure you.”
He pauses for a moment before adding, “And maybe get a good enough grasp of logistics so that we don’t miss or knock heads or something. I hear that can happen.”
Lan Zhan just continues to blink at him, and a terrible thought occurs to Wuxian.
“You haven’t … changed your mind about kissing being okay, have you?” he asks hesitantly. And then, because the last thing he wants to be doing is giving off Jin Guangshan vibes (gross), hastily adds, “not that that wouldn’t be totally okay, because it would be, of course it-”
To his great relief, Lan Zhan shakes his head.
“Well, then!” Wuxian says proudly, “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I even avoided ordering spicy food for you tonight, which was a great sacrifice on my part, so never forget how much I love you.”
Lan Zhan doesn’t respond, but a strange expression crosses his face.
“Is something wr-” Wuxian begins to ask, before realisation hits him. “Oh, yeah - don’t worry, of course I’ll wait until afterwards to drink. Otherwise you’ll go straight to sleep and forget any practice we do completely. Can’t have that.”
Lan Zhan shakes his head in agreement and very carefully puts the bottle down.
The jerkiness of his movements make him look a little out of it, but when Wuxian pats the seat next to him, Lan Zhan sinks down obediently, so maybe it’s just apprehension towards something he hasn’t done before.
(The face is a very soft, vulnerable area, Wuxian concedes fairly. If something were to go wrong, no doubt they could do a lot of damage to each other)
“Oh, wait a second,” he says in belated remembrance. He must look all over the place tonight. Geez Wuxian, he thinks to himself, not cool. “Gimme your phone first. There’s something I forgot to do last time.”
Mutely, Lan Zhan pulls it out of his pocket and hands it over. Taking it with a cheerful hum, Wuxian puts in the passcode and - oh.
He’d been intending to change the home screen wallpaper to something appropriately lovey-dovey (for instance, the picture he’d bullied Lan Zhan into taking of the two of them biting into opposite sides of the same bao), but it seems that Lan Zhan has gone and taken some initiative, because it’s already set it to a picture of him.
Wuxian doesn’t remember this picture being taken, though he certainly remembers the occasion. A year or two back, before the planning for Yanli-jiejie’s wedding had gotten really crazy, Uncle Jiang, Auntie Yu and a bunch of the other aunties and uncles had suddenly decided that a public holiday was the perfect time for everyone to go on a day trip to two-hours-out-from-the-middle-of-nowhere, to admire nature like true Chinese people and be amongst the trees, wind and water.
They’d summoned all their children, organised a potluck picnic spread that Yanli-jiejie had outdone herself in contributing the lion’s share to, and the entire group had gone hiking in a little rainbow caravan of fluoro Uniqlo jackets before stopping for lunch in a rest area at the highest point of the trail.
The picture is of Wuxian at the picnic table, for once not the mid-motion blur that he usually ends up being in candid shots. Instead, he's smiling contentedly, looking just slightly away from the camera as people laugh and talk around him. Wuxian doesn’t remember what he was smiling at - in fact, he can barely recall anything anyone had talked about that entire day. Mostly what he remembers about the picnic is that, after overeating, he’d snuck away from the crowd to take a nap in a tree and had woken to Lan Zhan gently shaking him (while also being up the same tree, which Wuxian still finds mildly impressive).
He remembers opening his eyes to Lan Zhan’s familiar face, feeling warm and content despite the discomfort of the tree trunk digging into his back. He remembers whining in a wordless noise of protest, wanting to go back to sleep and continue drowsing to the low rumble of Lan Zhan’s voice for just a little longer. He remembers being coaxed down and steered, Lan Zhan’s arm strong and sure around his waist, back towards their friends and families.
Breaking out of his reverie and returning to his examination of the photo, Wuxian notes that although he’s centred, he’s not quite in focus - like the picture had been cropped out of a wider group shot. That also makes sense - Uncle Jiang had been taking snaps left and right that day, uploading everything to Facebook in a massive dump-post a few days later. Lan Zhan must have found it there - precisely the kind of soft, sappy thing an appropriately besotted boyfriend would want to keep looking at.
When he glances back up, it’s to a questioning look, and Wuxian responds with a crooked smile.
“I was gonna change your wallpaper,” he explains ruefully, holding the screen up in demonstration, “but I see there’s no need. This is perfect - much better than the picture I had in mind. Overachieving again, huh, Hanguang-jun?”
“So instead,” he announces, bringing up the Contacts and scrolling all the way to the bottom, where he’s in as Wei Ying, “I’m gonna do this!”
When he passes the phone back to Lan Zhan, Wei Ying has been changed to Bae Ying <3.
Lan Zhan gives him a tight-mouthed stare.
He allows Lan Zhan enough time to set his phone down on the coffee table, and then he starts to shift closer, so that they're sitting side-by-side. He starts to reach out, but partway through, decides that he's still dissatisfied with the remaining distance between them and shifts closer again, so that he's almost in Lan Zhan's lap.
Then he sets his hands on Lan Zhan’s shoulders and leans in.
Close-up, Lan Zhan’s gaze is still as piercing as ever, but his breathing has grown quick and shallow, inordinately loud in the silence of the room. (Or is that Wuxian’s own breathing? It’s hard to tell.) At this distance, Lan Zhan’s eyes are intoxicating, and Wuxian is momentarily distracted from the task at hand; caught up instead in admiring the elegant upturn of the outer corners, the soft fall of Lan Zhan’s lashes against his cheek at the end of every blink.
When he finally comes back to himself, Wuxian grins again in apology and then whispers, “Okay?”
Lan Zhan gives an almost imperceptible nod.
Permission granted, Wuxian leans in and presses their lips carefully together. There’s a moment of tentative, stop-start movement as they both experiment with negotiating the fit of lip against lip, the bumping of noses and just what exactly this tongue business is about. And then, in the next moment, Lan Zhan is suddenly pressing up against him and Wuxian can’t stop the soft sound that escapes him as he’s pushed into the backrest by the force of Lan Zhan’s enthusiasm.
There’s no time to be embarrassed, though, occupied as Wuxian is with pressing right back, squirming to get better access, winding his arms around Lan Zhan’s neck to get closer, closer. The hands around his waist (when did they get there?) tighten and pull him in so that they’re pressed together, chest to chest, and Wuxian gasps into Lan Zhan’s mouth.
Wuxian makes a noise of complaint when Lan Zhan pulls back, and even tries to follow him before the heaving of his chest forces him to concede that he might need the break to catch his breath. At some point, he’s somehow climbed fully into Lan Zhan's lap, and, through the thin fabric that separates Lan Zhan’s chest from his palm, Wuxian can feel that his heart is racing, too.
It being his first kiss, and almost certainly also Lan Zhan’s, Wuxian isn’t surprised that the experience is a thrilling one. After all, there had to be something to it, to get everyone else raving about it all of the time. The problem is simply that they’re not used to it yet.
But they can fix that with more practice, Wuxian thinks, and leans in once more.
They have their next dinner meet-up as a group of three, because Wen Qing gets called into the hospital for an emergency and Wen Ning offers to drive her. With no one around to force them to be responsible, it’s only natural that they end up drinking on the floor of Huaisang’s apartment.
(“My brother’s going to be out all night with Guangyao-gege and Lan Xichen,” Huaisang says.
“Cool,” Wuxian replies, choosing not to think too hard about it.)
“So,” Huaisang says conversationally, while pouring them another round. “It turns out the rumour was started by some guy called Su She.”
“Jesus, really?” Wuxian exclaims disgustedly, and grimly makes himself a mental note to start the implementation of his revenge plan: For My Lord’s Honour.
“Who?” Jiang Cheng asks.
“Don’t you start,” Wuxian tells him.
“Yeah,” Huaisang says, quickly pouring Jiang Cheng another glass to nip any impending outburst in the bud. “But it doesn’t seem like it was intentional. More like he couldn’t handle the truth of Lan Wangji dating someone else and was desperate for it to be a lie. I assume that most of the others who jumped on the bandwagon were the same - and before you get too offended,” he adds when Wuxian opens his mouth, “some of them were from your fanclub, too.”
‘Why do we always end up talking about this?” Jiang Cheng asks his tumbler sadly, and takes deep drink.
“In any case, don’t worry,” Huaisang tells Wuxian reassuringly, “no one believes it anymore after the flood of pictures on the society Facebook. And also after Uncle Qiren caught the two of you sucking face in the car park.”
Wuxian grins smugly over the sounds of Jiang Cheng's melodramatic dry-retching. Uncle Qiren hadn’t even been able to throw the “setting a bad example” rant at them, since there’d been no cars left except his and Lan Zhan’s. But his manic, enraged air-jabbing and repeated bleats of “SHAMELESS!” had been a thing of real beauty.
Wuxian wants to do it again.
“What the fuck,” Jiang Cheng complains, when he’s finished his display. “Is there no limit to how far you’ll go?”
“When I commit,” Wuxian replies primly, “I fully commit.”
“What did you commit to,” Jiang Cheng mutters, “having no brain cells?”
Wuxian ignores him in favour of turning back to Huaisang and saying, “Also - ‘flood’, really? I know I posted a lot of photos on my own wall, but on the society page it was like, three tops.”
“Oh, I wasn’t talking about your photos,” Huaisang says, shaking his head.
“What?” says Wuxian.
“Although, don’t get me wrong,” Huaisang continues, sipping from his glass with a beautiful lack of concern, “that picture of your duet is like, super, amazingly popular. It’s got over 250 likes. Are there even that many society members?”
“WHAT?” says Wuxian, who’d turned off notifications after the first twenty.
He pulls out his phone and hastily navigates to the page. There are 378 likes on the picture now. A good half of them are heart reacts. There are 831 comments, and the top thread is an exchange of theories on how Wuxian and Lan Zhan had finally ("finally"?) gotten together.
He scrolls down, and a good 70% of the posts he sees are pictures of them taken and uploaded by other people. Each with a similarly extreme number of likes, comments and abuse of heart-eye emojis.
“WHAT THE FUCK,” says Wuxian.
“OH MY GOD,” shouts Jiang Cheng, who’d been looking over his shoulder, reeling back in disgust.
“Mmm,” Huaisang agrees mildly. “Fujoshi.”
Still staring at his phone, and thinking back over his many (god, so many) “fanservice” initiatives, Wuxian is forced to confront the possibility that the situation might be mostly his fault.
As a community-minded Chinese person, Auntie Yu naturally involves herself in many projects aimed at the betterment of life for those less fortunate than her, and so, when she receives a call for donations to some old people’s home in rural somewhere, she organises a society screening of The Farewell to raise funds for it. As her son and adopted son, Jiang Cheng and Wuxian are naturally threatened into attending on pain of broken leg, and so on a Saturday evening, Wuxian (who has seen the film before, but who wishes to both support worthy causes and avoid broken legs) finds himself milling around the 'centre’s performance hall with Lan Zhan (who has also seen the film before - had gone to see it with Wuxian, in fact - but who probably attends because of duty, responsibility, Buddhahood or something.)
Jiang Cheng is there as well, but he’d declared very loudly that if Wuxian and Lan Zhan were going to be “gross in public”, he wanted no part in it, and so has been refusing to come within five metres of them the whole afternoon. About ten minutes ago, he'd even parked his glowering self behind the AV desk to use “helping” as an excuse to avoid talking to them. (Or anybody else.)
And so that leaves Wuxian standing with Lan Zhan and one of his teenage guqin students, half-listening to them discuss guqin brands and half-scanning the room (without looking like he’s scanning the room) in a high-stakes game of “Spot the Fujoshi”. He’s not entirely sure what he intends to do if he does spot one - avoid them, or play up the (fake) relationship for their benefit?
Wuxian is halfway through making a mental list of the respective pros and cons when Lan Zhan’s tudi (“Stop calling them that,” Lan Zhan sighs) gets called away by her mother and leaves him with Lan Zhan all to himself.
Wuxian takes full advantage of this by leaning in as Lan Zhan is exchanging nods of greeting with the mother and whispering, “Wanna sit up the back and cuddle?”
Lan Zhan’s ears turn red, but that’s not a no, so Wuxian takes his hand and leads him to the back of the room, swinging their joined hands as ostentatiously as he dares with Uncle Qiren and an untold number of fujoshi watching.
(Which is, actually, very ostentatiously. He’d briefly entertained the idea of going easy on Uncle Qiren while he was recovering from shock and perhaps feeling especially emotionally fragile and tender, but then thought ... nah.)
He’s pretty sure he sees Uncle Qiren’s face twitch.
It’s super great.
Lan Zhan chooses a chair at the very end of the back row, so Wuxian slides in beside him and they settle in to wait for the movie to start.
They don't wait long - in hardly any time at all, Auntie Yu is calling everyone to their seats, and almost immediately, the lights dim and the opening scene starts to play (with full credit to angry AV man Jiang Cheng). As Awkwafina reunites with her grandmother on-screen, Wuxian admits that he’s feeling a little tired (after facilitating a retiree climate-change action discussion earlier in the afternoon in Chinese: so not only do his mouth and brain feel hurty, but his shoulders are also sore from carrying his anxious tension throughout the entire session - which didn't actually turn out to be that bad, in the end).
He’s not so tired that he’s in danger of falling asleep during the movie (especially not with Auntie Yu sitting within noticing-distance), but he’s also feeling increasingly unenthused about sitting up straight. He glances surreptitiously at Lan Zhan-
-who'd basically agreed to cuddle, hadn't he? And everyone knew that Lan Wangji never fell through on his commitments.
Satisfied, Wuxian lets himself tilt gently into Lan Zhan’s side and is rewarded by Lan Zhan immediately shifting to accommodate his weight. Deciding to go for broke, Wuxian rests his head on Lan Zhan’s shoulder, and, when an arm comes up to rest against the back of his chair, gives a happy sigh and relaxes fully into him to watch the movie.
When he looks back later, Wuxian thinks he would have expected this to be the moment he realised he was in love - cuddled up together; warm, cosy and content.
But, because he’s Wei Wuxian, it actually happens a few nights later when he’s out grocery shopping and sees Lan Zhan’s favourite tea on sale. He picks up a box, already picturing the way that Lan Zhan’s fingers curl around his teacup and the satisfied curve of his mouth as he inhales before drinking. Not quite a smile, but also not-not one either.
He’s thinking about how happy that not-smile makes him, how much he’d like to see it there, across the table, for the rest of his life and OH-
He drops the tea.
“I’M IN LOVE WITH LAN ZHAN!” Wuxian announces in a panic as soon as he bursts into the restaurant.
“Jesus Christ,” Jiang Cheng says.
Side Story: The Resentment of Qiren
Lan Qiren is heading to the quarterly governance meeting when he sees it.
“Uncle?” he hears from behind him, but he doesn’t turn, because right there, on the far side of the corridor, that Wei boy is - is -
“Ah,” Xichen says, coming to a halt beside him. “Yes, it seems they started seeing each other sometime last week.”
The meeting agenda crumples in his suddenly-clenched fist.
“You seem tense, Uncle,” Xichen comments mildly, and of course he’s tense, Wangji has been - with that - for a week -
“Were you not expecting it?”
This is what finally has Qiren turning around, so that he can fix his elder nephew with an appropriately reproachful glare. Of course he’s been expecting it, he’s not blind.
He was just hoping it would take longer, happen when the boys were older. Maybe when they were 80.
“So it’s just that it’s Wei Wuxian, then,” he says. It’s not a question; Qiren raised the boys better than that. He grunts in acknowledgment and Xichen laughs softly.
“I know that, as his family, it’s hard to think that anyone would be good enough to date our Wangji,” his nephew continues, turning back to watch as Wei Wuxian holds a finger next to Wangji’s cheek and then laughs when Wangji turns and pokes himself in the face.
Honestly, he’s just like his mother. Qiren’s chin tingles in remembered outrage.
“But he is third on that eligible bachelor list, now that Jin Zixuan is married.”
The cheeky brat even has the nerve to smirk at him, because he knows that Qiren stopped having anything truly critical to say about that list once his nephews became numbers one and two.
“He’s literally the highest ranked boy Wangji could have chosen. And can you honestly think of anyone else you would prefer that he date instead?”
Qiren bristles. Of course he can, there are countless other single boys in the society, literally any of them would-
Except that actually, no, he wouldn’t like Wangji to date Jiang Wanyin - that temper wouldn’t be an easy thing to live with (Qiren remembers what Yu Ziyuan was like in her younger days - hell, he remembers what Yu Ziyuan was like last week), and the last thing he wants to see is his nephew become a second Jiang Fengmian.
And, now that he thinks of it, Nie Huaisang isn’t anything to aspire to, either. In the days when Qiren was tutoring them all after school, the boy had shown the occasional glimpses of promise, but he’d eventually turned all his energies into being a flighty dandy. And imagine having Nie Mingjue as an in-law, he thinks, shuddering, hovering over his brother like a chicken with one egg. No, that wouldn’t do at all.
Nie Mingjue himself is dismissed before he can even be considered, along with Jin Guangyao - Qiren isn’t sure whether Nie Mingjue is dating Jin Guangyao, Jin Guangyao is dating Xichen or Xichen is dating Nie Mingjue - but he’s not going to ask (because the answer almost certainly will not make him happy). Therefore, it’s safer to just write them both off.
Now, Wen Qionglin on the other hand, he thinks brightly, is a good boy. Honest, kind, hardworking - the self-confidence issues are less than ideal, but things could be worse (things could be Wei Wuxian), and his sister would be a capable woman to have on-side. Wen Qing takes care of her own.
The only problem is that if Wangji and Wen Ning got married, they’d be related to Wen Ruohan, and Qiren does not want to be related to Wen Ruohan.
(Similarly, if Jin Zixuan were single, the match would mean being related to Jin Guangshan, which - no.)
As for the other boys …
Unable to recall even a single one notable enough to be worth considering, Qiren turns his gaze back to Xichen’s knowing one.
And that's how Lan Qiren ends up spending the entire governance meeting glaring at each of the members in turn for their failures in parenting.
“Qiren?” Jiang Fengmian asks him afterwards, even going so far as to put a concerned hand on his shoulder. “You seem tense. Is something wrong?”
“No,” Qiren says shortly, still glowering. Because there isn’t anything wrong with him.
He’s not the one who raised a substandard child for other people's children to marry, after all.
1汗光君 (hàn guāng jūn), or "The Sweaty-glow Lord"[return to text]
2盘光君 (pán guāng jūn), or "The Empty Plate Lord"[return to text]
3徒弟 (túdì) - apprentice. WWX's being facetious.[return to text]
4"What do you propose that other people's children do now?!", but particularly indignantly.[return to text]
-The tune LWJ wrote is, of course, Wu Ji.
-I'm, uh, unreasonably attached to the idea of Tsundere!Parent Uncle Qiren. I have nothing else to say for myself.
I realised while idly reading over Chapter 3, that I'd completely forgotten that Jiang Cheng and Wen Ning had courtesy names (whether because I got too used to writing-as-WWX or because I just had the dumb that day), so I've fixed that. I also took the chance to fix an assortment of small things that have been annoying me (because I failed to properly proofread :'D), so for anyone re-reading, things should be better now!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"Okay, so," Wuxian says, swallowing his last bite of naan before getting down to business. "The first step is obviously to find out if he likes me back."
Wen Qing opens her mouth and promptly closes it, before opening it again and saying, in a funny tone of voice, "Obviously."
"Mm," Wuxian confirms, glad they're on the same page, despite Wen Qing's (extremely unnecessary!) sarcasm.
Huaisang flicks his fan open, closes his eyes, and begins to quickly fan himself.
("We've decided to do a xiangsheng routine for the end-of-year performance," Huaisang says by way of explanation. "I thought I could use a folding fan for added flavour, but I need to practise because I keep dropping it or accidentally whacking myself in the face."
He waves the fan a few times in demonstration.
"What do you think?"
"It's dumb," Wuxian answers immediately.
"Shut up!" Huaisang says without rancour, and takes a half-hearted swat at Wuxian's arm. "It's cultural and refined."
"It's dumb," Jiang Cheng agrees, and yelps when he does get smacked.)
"So you're saying," Wen Ning begins carefully, "that you're … unsure if Lan Wangji likes you?"
"Of course I know he likes me as a friend," Wuxian says dismissively. He's not basic. "I need to know if he also like-likes me. Romantically!"
"Right," Wen Qing says with a business-like nod. "So you want to know how best to ask him."
And that's what Wuxian likes about her; solutions-focused, so efficient, but-
"I'm not going to ask him!" he exclaims, appalled. "You don't just walk up to someone and ask if they like you! You've got to - you know, sound them out, look for signs-"
Jiang Cheng drops his head onto the table and sighs. Huaisang makes sympathetic noises and pats his shoulder a few times with the hand not holding the fan.
Honestly, Wuxian's brother is so extra.
"My parents are both capable people," Jiang Cheng moans. "How did they raise such a dumbshit?"
With the ease of great practice, Wuxian ignores him. "So, I came up with a plan and I-"
"Did you Google 'How to tell if someone likes you?'," Wen Qing interrupts flatly.
"No," he says with dignity, "I Googled 'How to make them like you back' as well."
He's met with total silence.
"The results weren't super helpful, though," Wuxian continues, because he really does need the advice. "Which was a little disappointing. Maybe this is one of those 'If it's worth something, don't give it away for free' things. Should I buy a book, do you think?"
"Wen Ning," Wen Qing tells her brother very seriously. "Don't grow up to be like Wei Wuxian, okay? Or Jiejie will be forced to break your legs."
Wen Ning shakes his head emphatically, looking more than a little alarmed.
"No?" Wuxian asks as if they'd addressed him directly, because he's a generous guy like that. "You're probably right - I wouldn't have time to read it, anyway."
It's pretty much the conclusion he'd come to himself (with an extra side of judgment, but that's okay, he's good with spicy food), but it's nice to have external validation.
"Instead," he announces with appropriate ceremony, "I would like to introduce this humble trash-panda's plan to win over one Lan Wangji."
"This is gonna be good," Jiang Cheng mutters, but he's sitting upright again, so he's at least a little interested.
"It's called," Wuxian says, beating his own drumroll on the table with his hands, "Out of the Bin, and Into Your Heart!"
"Fuck this, I've had enough!" Jiang Cheng shouts, throwing his used napkin down onto the table as Wen Qing buries her face in her hands. He leaps to his feet and points a trembling finger at Huaisang, who hiccups.
"He's your problem now - and he can be your brother, too, I am done!"
"Oh, what the hell," Wen Qing sighs wearily against the background of Jiang Cheng yelling "NO!" and Wen Ning and Huaisang taking turns to drag him back down into his seat. "I'll bite. Show me the plan."
"Great!" Wuxian says brightly, like he wasn't going to do it anyway, even if no one had invited an explanation. It’s a sad reality, but he's used to his plans taking a while to gain popular support.
He opens a document on his phone and slides it across the table:
Stage 1: OUT OF THE BIN
a.k.a. How deep in the bin am I?
- Mirroring (More is more)
- Asking Questions (More is more)
- Personal Space (Less is more)
- Eye Contact (More is more)
- Emotional Attentiveness (More is more)
"I got the criteria from one of the How to tell if someone likes you articles," Wuxian explains, "but I need your help in judging Lan Zhan's behaviour against them, because I think I'm a little biased."
Wen Qing picks up his phone and takes charge of the evaluation process, which Wuxian is grateful for because it's starting to look like the other three, who are continuing to just stare at him (which: not super helpful, guys), will take a little longer to get on-side.
"First up, mirroring," she says, and, referring to his explanatory notes, adds, "Which is, apparently: mimicking the behaviours of people you're with because you like them or want them to like you."
"So I'm not sure about this one, but ... I don't think so?" Wuxian hazards, glancing at each of them in turn in case someone has a different take. "Lan Zhan just sort does what he wants."
Huaisang pulls a face.
"What does mirroring even mean in the context of Lan Wangji?" he asks, tapping his fan (closed again) against his other palm. "He's so … still. Let’s say he doesn't mirror Wuxian, but ... can you imagine him mirroring anyone else?"
The table is silent as all five try and fail to do this.
"Let's just disqualify that criterion," Wen Qing suggests eventually, shaking her head as if to clear it. "We'll count it as neither for nor against. Next up: asking questions. Lots of questions mean attraction, no questions mean disinterest."
"Um," Wuxian says. "He doesn't … not ask questions?"
"He asks you more questions than he asks anyone else," Wen Ning offers. He pauses, frowning dubiously. "I think."
"You're not really the kind of person who needs to be asked questions," Jiang Cheng says frankly. Wuxian wants to object, but it's sort of true, so.
"I'll allow it," Wen Qing decides, and motions to her brother, who obediently raises two fists; one finger held upright on his left hand, none on the right. "One for 'Attraction'. Now: personal space? Where, obviously, 'none' indicates attraction and 'heaps' indicates revulsion or that Wuxian smells."
"Oi!" Wuxian squawks, placing a hand over his wounded heart, and Wen Qing smirks.
"It has to be ‘none’, doesn’t it?" Huaisang asks immediately, lifting his fan (open again) and giving it a few emphatic waves. “He hates being touched by people, but he’ll let you hang all over him.”
“But is that something he enjoys,” Wuxian asks, giving voice to something he’s been giving considerable thought, as of late, “or something he puts up with, because it’s easier? I mean, I’m pretty annoying. I wonder if he just decided that fighting me wouldn’t be worth it?”
Jiang Cheng looks at Huaisang. “It’s not like we haven’t all been there,” he concedes, shrugging.
“And, look,” Wuxian adds reasonably, because it’s not like Lan Zhan has a phobia or anything, “let’s not exaggerate the aversion to touch - Lan Zhan doesn’t hate it. He lets Lan Xichen hug him sometimes.”
“Yes,” Huaisang says mildly, “and that’s all good and well, but he let you make out with him in public.”
“That was for the fake-dating,” Wuxian replies dismissively, waving the point off because Huaisang should know better than to try to include compromised data points like that. “That was a friendship-favour he was doing me. Clearly doesn’t count.”
For a moment, Huaisang looks like he desperately wants to argue, but he eventually sighs.
“Strike it off,” he tells Wen Qing mournfully, and it’s rather sweet, how much he wants this to swing in Wuxian’s favour.
“Struck off as inconclusive,” Wen Qing duly says. “Eye contact, then?”
“Another yes,” Wuxian replies, thinking of Lan Zhan’s unflinching gaze (and then forcing himself to stop thinking about it before he can get distracted), “but he also makes a lot of eye contact with … well, everyone.”
“He does do that,” Wen Qing concedes. “I’ve often wondered if staring is his first language. So you want to strike this one off, too?”
“Strike it off, strike it off,” Huaisang urges her, with a listless wave of his fan (closed again. He’s getting quite good at this). Wuxian spares him a quick glance - he sounds a bit too deflated, even for someone who is hoping that his friend will score a promising result.
Perhaps it’s added disappointment in the reliability of the rubric? Not a great explanation, Wuxian admits to himself, but he can’t think of anything better. It might be, he muses, that Huaisang thinks that too many disqualified criteria will their entire result, and then this entire exercise would have been for nothing.
He’s starting to wonder if he should buy that book, after all.
“Is he emotionally attentive to you?” Wen Qing is asking, when he turns back to the conversation.
“Yes,” Wuxian replies decisively, because it’s Lan Zhan, but also precisely because it’s Lan Zhan, he feels compelled to qualify, and adds, “but that could just be an extension of Lan-style Chinese courtesy. I mean, just look at Lan Xichen-”
“Nope,” Huaisang interrupts hastily, raising his voice over Wuxian’s, “nope, nope, NOPE. He’s definitely extra emotionally attentive to you, because he’s not emotionally attentive to me AT ALL.”
Expression not changing from the dark glower it’s been for almost the entire conversation, Jiang Cheng silently lifts his hands in the angriest 'word' sign Wuxian has ever seen, while Wen Ning nods furiously along in agreement and lifts a second finger on his left hand.
“So that’s two points for ‘Attraction’, and three of five criteria disqualified,” Wen Qing reports, hitting the screenlock button on Wuxian’s phone and slapping it down into his waiting hand. “That’s … promising?”
Even she looks unconvinced.
Wuxian raises an eyebrow at her.
Jiang Cheng coughs.
“Let’s call it an optimistic neutral,” Huaisang suggests, putting his fan down and fixing Wuxian with a determined smile. “And then do something about finding out what Lan Wangji is actually attracted to. So you don’t want to ask him if he likes you specifically, fine. But what about asking what kind of person he’s attracted to in general?”
The problem isn’t that Wuxian thinks this is a bad idea - in any other situation, he would have already pestered Lan Zhan with a thousand questions and hypotheticals about his ideal partner. The problem is-
(“-Say, Lan Zhan,” Wuxian says, leaning back against the railing and looking up at the night sky.
Yanli-jiejie and the peacock are still doing the last rounds of greeting their eleventy million wedding guests, but by and large, the wedding is over; the ceremony was beautiful, all eight courses of their disgustingly lavish reception banquet have been consumed and everything is agreed to have been a great success.
Desperate to find somewhere quiet to sit and just breathe, Wuxian has found a (suspiciously, considering how nice it is) secluded balcony and dragged Lan Zhan out with him to take the night air like the Regency heroines they are.
It’s an odd thing, to know that Yanli-jiejie is well and truly married, and that she’ll be going home with the peacock instead of coming with them to crash at Uncle Jiang and Auntie Yu’s. That the family carpool that set out as a group of five for the wedding in the morning will be returning with only four.
It puts him in an odd mood; not sad enough to be mopey (not with Yanli-jiejie looking as radiant as she does. And, he concedes grudgingly, also with the way the peacock keeps turning to look at her, shell-shocked, or to gently touch her sleeve as if to make sure that she’s really there; that he’s not dreaming), but also not content enough to be truly whimsical.
Wistful, maybe - but not for anything he can identify.
“Mn,” he hears from Lan Zhan when he lets the pause drag on for too long. A wordless prompt for him to continue, or perhaps just letting him know that Lan Zhan is still listening, will continue to wait until Wuxian is ready.
“What kind of person do you think you'll fall in love with?” Wuxian asks, eyes on Yanli-jiejie as she tries to decline another glass of wine, watching as the peacock intercepts and downs it for her, as he hiccups but still beams at her, completely besotted.
Lan Zhan doesn't answer, but Wuxian has never let that stop him in his quest for answers, and so he continues with:
"It doesn't have to be a complete picture, you can say anything that comes to mind - basic traits, wishlist items? Even deal-breakers," Wuxian tries when he's still met with nothing, and turns his head.
"Just give me something to work with he-"
The last thing he's expecting to see in response to his idle questioning is Lan Zhan staring at him with an expression of raw hurt in his eyes, wounded and almost angry, and it sends Wuxian spiralling into abject panic.
"You don't have to answer if it upsets you," he almost shouts, reaching towards Lan Zhan but abandoning the gesture part-way (because what if it upsets him more?) and ending up hopping from side to side in a half-dance, half-hover like a complete maniac. "I'm so sorry - I'm so, so sorry, I didn't mean anything by it, I was just being dumb, oh no, Lan Zhan, don't cry - oh God - do you want to eat? Do you want to drink?"
He never asks again.)
“Nah,” Wuxian says aloud. “That’s for wimps. Let’s just assume that I’m a neutral value and work from there.”
Wen Ning chokes.
"So, onto Stage 2," Wuxian says cheerfully, after Wen Qing has finished pounding on her brother’s back.
He opens up a second document on his phone and slides it into the centre of the table again.
Stage 2: INTO YOUR HEART
"Any suggestions?" Wuxian asks.
Wen Ning lets out a nervous giggle.
"I shouldn't be surprised," Jiang Cheng says dully, like he's watching the last bit of hope he didn't even know he still had fly away into the distance. "Why am I still surprised? I suppose we should just be grateful that it isn't anything more ridiculous. Why don't I feel grateful?!"
Huaisang, on the other hand, picks his fan back up, flicks it open and starts fanning himself thoughtfully.
"Since we know he already likes you as a person," he says thoughtfully, “the critical thing is getting him to think about you in a romantic light. And since you already spend so much time together, especially with the fake-dating thing-”
“-I should leverage that,” Wuxian says slowly, mind already running over the opportunities he can use. “Lean harder into the romance so he can’t help but think about the possibility-”
“Right?” Huaisang asks, nodding excitedly and leaning forward across the table. “And if you do it well enough-”
“-he might even see how good it could be!” Wuxian finishes for him, clapping his hands together and starting to feel pretty excited himself. “How much of a downgrade it’d be to go back to being just friends-”
“Right?” Huaisang repeats, slapping the table in emphasis. “It’s like acting in a higher-duty role at work. Do it well enough and-”
“-maybe he’ll give me the job!” Wuxian exclaims with a double thumbs-up.
God, they make an excellent planning team, he thinks as he pumps Huaisang’s hand enthusiastically in thanks. Operation: Out of the Bin and Into Your Heart has officially begun.
He’s so got this.
“Lan-er-gege~” Wuxian sings out, flinging open the door to the music practice room and sailing inside. “It’s cold outside and the heating hasn’t fully kicked in yet, so your worried boyfriend has brought you his jacket because he knows you only have a cardigan!”
Lan Zhan looks up from his guqin.
If Wuxian had to justify this (which he doesn’t, but which he did to Huaisang anyway just to prove he could, because detailed planning is important), the primary grounds would be showing Lan Zhan what a caring, attentive boyfriend he would be. The secondary grounds are a vague notion that he should get Lan Zhan up close and personal with his scent in the hopes that Lan Zhan might realise that he’s attracted to it.
(Wuxian half-remembers watching a documentary about smelling T-shirts and sexual attraction, and while he can recall almost nothing beyond the importance of smell, he has spent a lot of time selecting a jacket that smelled enough like him without being actually smelly, and then spraying it with just enough of his best cologne.)
If there’s a third grounds that involves the possessive thrill he gets at the thought of Lan Zhan going around wearing clothing that obviously belongs to him - well, that’s neither here nor there.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, lifting his hands off the strings and placing them in his lap.
Because he can, Wuxian crosses the room and kneels behind him, hooking his chin over Lan Zhan’s shoulder, ostensibly so he can look at his sheet music.
“Oh,” Wuxian says, when what he sees actually surprises him. “Is this your performance piece for the end-of-year concert?”
“Yes,” Lan Zhan replies, even though they both know that Wuxian doesn’t need the confirmation. He hasn’t heard this one before, and if Lan Zhan is learning something new at this point in time, there’s almost nothing else that it could be for.
“Cool,” Wuxian says leaning back onto his heels because, as much as he’d like to, he can’t stay here forever. He’ll have to ask for a private performance some time, being the concert persona non grata that he is. “I won’t bother you, then, just let me-” he drapes the jacket over Lan Zhan’s shoulders, “and now I’ll be out of your hair.”
He takes a few steps back to admire his handiwork. The hilarious clash of styles between Wuxian’s superabundantly-zippered, black synthetic jacket and Lan Zhan’s muted, organic everything makes the situation immediately clear to anyone with eyes. Wuxian feels a surge of precisely the possessive satisfaction he may or may not have foreseen, and feels a little bad about indulging it. But, well - perks of the (acting) job, and all.
Lan Zhan frowns and puts a hand to the jacket collar. “What will you wear?”
“I’m leaving early today,” Wuxian says in his most reassuring tone, because keen as he is to demonstrate his value as boyfriend material, he’s also ready for Lan “Self-sacrifice” Wangji.
“Family dinner with Uncle Jiang and Auntie Yu, and I’ll be hitching a ride with Jiang Cheng. Straight into the car, straight from there into the house, no exposure to the cold air, see?”
He spreads his arms and smiles winningly.
“Don’t worry, you definitely need it more than me.”
Not least because I’ve got a backup jacket in Jiang Cheng’s back seat, he doesn’t add.
“Anyway,” he continues, because if Lan Zhan’s not convinced, then Wuxian’s best bet is to get out before he can find the opportunity to refuse, “enjoy your practice! I’m definitely gonna sit in next time, you know I love listening to you play.”
Lan Zhan looks like he’s still thinking about giving the jacket back, but then finally nods in acceptance and puts his hand back into his lap.
“Will you be coming?”
“To the concert?” Wuxian asks, startled out of his mental victory dance. “I’m banned, remember?”
It doesn’t actually bother him much. As always, he’s a little miffed at missing out on Lan Zhan’s performance get-up, which is sometimes suits, which make Lan Zhan look amazing, and sometimes hanfu, which also make Lan Zhan look amazing, since everything Lan Zhan wears makes him look amazing (And maybe that’s not as objective an assessment as Wuxian had previously thought he was making, but at least he knows now). But he’ll see the photos and videos later, and it’s literally no problem getting Lan Zhan to play for him at any time, so all in all, it’s not a huge issue.
“Not anymore,” Lan Zhan says.
“What?” Wuxian asks, sounding dopier than is ideal for the boyfriend-image he’s trying to project, but you can’t win all the time. (Two days ago, someone’s off-lead dog had approached them on the street and Wuxian had vaulted straight into Lan Zhan’s arms, so it’s possible that he’s also not winning most of the time, but that just means he has room for improvement. Unlike Lan Zhan’s reflexes, which are A+.)
“You can come,” Lan Zhan clarifies. “The ban has officially been lifted.”
“It what,” Wuxian says, more statement than question, because he’d been fully prepared for the concert ban to last until, like, he had children performing in it. “How’d you get Uncle Qiren to agree to that?!”
“It’s unsightly to have a concert music director unable to invite his partner to attend his performance,” Lan Zhan replies tightly, the clipped quality of his words suggesting that he's been dissatisfied with the situation for a while now.
Wuxian - there’s no other word for it - melts.
“Aww, Er-gege,” he coos, pressing his palms to his cheeks in a way that’s only slightly hammed-up, visions of frocked-up Lan Zhan dancing through his head. "If that's how it is, then of course I'm coming!
“Prepare yourself," he warns, knowing that he's wearing a very unattractive grin, but unable to do anything about it. "I'm gonna be the most obnoxious stage boyfriend! I'll bring you flowers; I'll send a bouquet of them to your dressing room and I'm gonna throw them onstage - do you want panties? Because I can totally throw some of those, too.”
"Shameless," Lan Zhan says, but his fond smile goes straight to Wuxian's heart.
Wuxian feels his face begin to heat.
"Wei Ying?" Lan Zhan asks, and stands, immediately concerned.
Fuck, Wuxian thinks, taking deep breaths to try to slow the rapid thumping in his chest, he’s really not okay.
He babbles something about needing to run (or at least, he thinks he does), darts in to buss Lan Zhan on the cheek and then flees before he can further embarrass himself.
The problem with being aware of his feelings, Wuxian is beginning to realise, is that situations that he used to think of as great fake-dating chances have now become a series of increasingly difficult trials for Wuxian’s heart, libido, self-control or various combinations of the three.
For instance: the Society Children’s Holiday Programme.
Wuxian is going to die.
He’s not sure how it happened, and he can’t decide whether it makes him want to murder Lan Zhan’s brother or send him fruit baskets, but Lan Xichen somehow sucked Lan Zhan into helping supervise this year’s activities, and that’s why Wuxian is stuck here, in this doorway, watching Lan Zhan sit at a tiny, child-sized table with his knees practically around his ears, seriously playing Chinese Checkers with a group of primary school-aged children.
He even has one particularly tiny one in his lap, who is currently reaching to move a marble, prevented from overbalancing by one of Lan Zhan’s arms around her waist.
“Stop perving,” Jiang Cheng tells him grumpily and elbows him in the side.
Wuxian opens his mouth to defend himself, because his interest in this (unlike his interest in Lan Zhan’s shoulders when he was helping to set up in the morning) is actually pure, okay, but Jiang Cheng is no longer listening, already raising his voice and yelling, “Okay kids, it’s soccer time! I want two lines by the door!”
Inside the room, Lan Zhan sets the little girl down, straightens her clothing for her and rises elegantly to his feet.
God, Wuxian adores him.
Jiang Cheng and the kids stampede out, and the clean-up team (a mix of the university students who staff the majority of the holiday programme and the randoms like them who only help out on Saturdays) floods in to rearrange the room for the next activity.
Wuxian takes this opportunity to saunter over to Lan Zhan, who’s moved on to packing game pieces and cards back into their boxes, and kiss him on the cheek.
“Heard you were taking the board games session,” he says by way of greeting, “so I came to help pack up because I’m such a great boyfriend.”
Lan Zhan nods and wordlessly hands Wuxian a stack of games before turning around to pick up another armload for himself. He straightens again, and Wuxian is just about to ask where the board games need to be taken when Lan Zhan simply hipchecks him into the direction of an open box, and Wuxian guesses that’s one way of showing someone where to go.
(He’s started to play a game he’s nicknamed Friend or boyfriend?, which mostly involves him examining Lan Zhan’s actions to try and determine whether his opinion of Wuxian is starting to shift. But, as with the hipcheck, the fact that they’re fake-dating has rendered most things inconclusive.)
“Oh my god!” Wuxian hears from the other side of the room, as he passes games over one-by-one for Lan Zhan to tetris-slot into the storage box.
“Chinese Checkers! I haven’t played that for years! Let’s leave it out and do a quick round after we’re done.”
A whirlwind of cleaning and moving furniture is begun and completed while Lan Zhan organises the game box in accordance with some secret set of exacting Lan standards. When he finally pushes the last game into place (leaving one free space that’s exactly the size of the Chinese Checkers box, Wuxian notes), it’s just in time to coincide with the other volunteers descending upon the checkers table.
Lan Zhan rises from his crouch to take a final scan of the room.
The thing is, Wuxian is fundamentally a boundary-pusher. It’s not like he had much of a personal space bubble to begin with, but now that he knows that he likes Lan Zhan, he’s gotten even worse about pushing himself into Lan Zhan’s space, finding excuses to touch him at every opportunity. Naturally, part of it is for the sake of either fake dating or trying to determine Lan Zhan’s romantic interest and receptivity. However, if Wuxian is being honest with himself, it’s also partly bullying Lan Zhan for not obviously liking him back, and partly trying to soak up as much physical affection as he can while he still has the chance.
(He tries not to think about the relative proportions made up by each of the three.)
So he drapes himself over Lan Zhan from behind, wraps his arms around his waist and hooks his chin over its customary shoulder. Lan Zhan barely jumps, and, after a quick backwards glance, even relaxes further into Wuxian.
(Friend or boyfriend?!)
“Wangji-gege! Wuxian-gege!” one of the students calls to them. “Come and play with us!”
Lan Zhan shakes his head regretfully.
“I have to go and prepare for the Calligraphy class,” he tells her, by way of apology.
“Come on, Wangji!” Qin Su says cajolingly, adding her voice to the pleas of the students. “Just one round - it’ll be fun! You have plenty of time before the children will be done with Wanyin!”
Wuxian is intending to back Lan Zhan in whatever he wants to do up until, out of the corner of one eye, he spots Su She (who’s supposed to be helping Jiang Cheng herd children) glaring at him through the windows. And - well.
There’s that decision made.
“Come on, Fun-guang-jun,” he says to Lan Zhan, steering him towards the table the others are already seated at, and into his own (thankfully adult-sized) seat. “Let’s go one round before we have to go back to being responsible.
“And don’t worry,” he purrs, leaning against the back of Lan Zhan’s chair, “if you lose, I’ll comfort you with my body.”
Cries of disgust immediately erupt from the people they know (the young’uns, Wuxian is amused to note, seem to still be a little too awestruck to be vocal about it), and Mianmian throws her scarf at him.
Wuxian throws it back and laughs, and is actually about to go and retrieve his own chair when there’s an “Mn” of agreement from beside him, and an arm hooks around his waist and tugs him into Lan Zhan’s lap.
Well, Wuxian thinks to himself from his new position perched atop one of Lan Zhan’s thighs. Guess he’s watching the game from here, then. May as well get comfortable.
No one’s really taking the game seriously; most of the group just seem satisfied with taking the trip down memory lane. A small side-competition starts up between some of the players to get in the highest number of consecutive jumps (regardless of which direction it takes them in), suddenly there’s a group of others trying to enable them, and the game quickly descends into an escalation of some truly ridiculous manoeuvring.
Eventually, Mianmian wins (more incidentally than anything else). She celebrates with a victory dance that turns into some sort of play- (maybe? hopefully?) fighting situation with the guy sitting next to her, and this is the sign everyone else takes to start packing up.
Wuxian doesn’t want to leave Lan Zhan’s lap, but he has no further reason to stay and doesn’t actually want to see if Lan Zhan is willing to take their fake lovey-dovey-ness so far as to lift Wuxian bodily and carry him out (although, if Lan Zhan is, Wuxian is into it). So he reluctantly heaves himself to his feet and holds a hand out to help Lan Zhan, despite their both knowing that he doesn’t need it.
Lan Zhan takes it anyway.
“Lunch before your calligraphy thing?” Wuxian asks.
Lan Zhan nods, murmurs their excuses to the rest of the crowd and then leads him out, never once letting go of his hand.
The thrill of that, pretend or not, makes Wuxian feel somewhat better.
After two weeks of Friend or Boyfriend? yielding absolutely no results, Wuxian changes tack again, this time to a physical-affection-focused game of gay-chicken. While aggressively saying nothing about it, he expands his personal space-invader campaign to when he and Lan Zhan are alone as well, eventually reaching the point where there’s almost no difference between how he acts when they're "fake-dating" and when they're not.
The point: to force Lan Zhan into saying something once they obviously cross the line between fake-boyfriends to suspiciously-like-real-boyfriends.
The problem: he does it so gradually that even he’s unable to point to the day he crossed the line and Lan Zhan should therefore have snapped.
At some point (that Wuxian is also unable to identify, probably because he was too busy trying to deal with an awkward boner or, even worse, the urge to swoon), Lan Zhan stops being startled by Wuxian’s touch completely, and (in either the best or worst part of all of this - Wuxian can’t decide), starts initiating his own small personal-space violations. He fixes the crumpled collar of Wuxian’s jacket while they’re walking here, wipes food from the corner of his mouth there, brushes fallen eyelashes off his cheeks, adjusts his scarves so that they sit more snugly - and he does it all while saying absolutely nothing. Wuxian is ready to tear his own hair out.
(And each time Lan Zhan does it, something inside Wuxian howls, “Don’t touch me like that! Not if you don’t mean it!”, while something else begs, “Don’t stop touching me like that, even if you don’t mean it!” and the clashing of the two leaves his chest a hot, conflicted mess.)
It’s at this point, after an afternoon of Wuxian helping him run through his xiangsheng routine in the ‘centre’s performance hall (his partner turns out to be Jin Guangyao, who’s off on a weekend trip with Nie Mingjue and Lan Xichen that Wuxian is, again, Not Thinking About), that Huaisang asks:
“Got a verdict on whether Lan Wangji likes you or not, yet?”
“No,” Wuxian replies, slumping down onto the stage and feeling suddenly glum.
Huaisang lets out a deep sigh of disappointment, and while Wuxian is grateful, he’s still not entirely sure why Huaisang is this invested.
“So what are you going to do?” Huaisang asks, sitting down next to him and setting his folded fan down on top of his crossed legs.
(He’s still pushing through with using it, and Wuxian admires the persistence, especially given Nie Mingjue’s very loud opinions on the topic.)
“Well?” Huaisang asks, and Wuxian is just about to ask him for his opinion on the new, tactile Lan Zhan when the doors burst open and Uncle Qiren strides down the aisle towards them.
“Hi, Uncle?” Wuxian says uncertainly, and hears his words echoed even more apprehensively by Huaisang, who half-rises to his feet and scrambles to pick up his fan. “Can we help you with something?”
Looking like it’s killing him to do it, Uncle Qiren approaches the side of the stage where Wuxian is sitting and slams a piece of paper down in front of him.
Huaisang’s newly-retrieved fan goes flying.
Wuxian looks down at what looks like the end-of-year concert sign-up sheet that was circulated a month or so back. Having picked up his fan from wherever it’d ended up, Huaisang shuffles meekly back to peer over Wuxian’s shoulder.
“...concert...sign-up?” Huaisang reads, sounding as confused as Wuxian feels, and Uncle Qiren clears his throat.
“If you’re going to be there,” he tells Wuxian gruffly, “you may as well perform.”
“Hasn’t everyone already formed groups and started practising?” Wuxian asks, glancing at Huaisang, who shakes his head in equal confusion. “Since … more than a month ago?”
“Are you saying this is too short-notice for you?” Uncle Qiren asks, tone suddenly turned menacing, and a fear-driven reflex held over from their tutoring days has Wuxian backpedalling immediately.
“No, no,” Wuxian assures him, waving his hands in emphatic denial, “that’s not what I’m saying at all! I’ll see if one of the music groups can work me in - or I could even cobble something together myself, yup, I could do that, and - and I’ll have the form back to you ASAP?”
Qiren gives him a terse, approving nod, spins on his heel and leaves.
“Out of the bin!” Huaisang hisses frantically, shaking his fan at Uncle Qiren’s disappearing silhouette, “out of the bin, OUT OF THE BIN!!!”
1Xiangsheng is a traditional type of Chinese standup comedy, usually featuring dialogue between a straight man/funny man duo. They usually wear changpao, which are the mandarin-collared robey things, and which, unrelatedly, are not uncommonly pictured with fans - hence NHS's artistic choices. [return to text]
AND IT'S FINALLY DONE!!!
Thank you so much to everyone who came along for the ride, got invested in these dumb boy antics and yelled all about it with me in the comments (come and yell with me some more!). It's been a lot of fun!
Ending with a mega-chapter because I misjudged my own pacing, but at least that means no cliffhangers, amirite :'D
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
To his great relief, Wuxian doesn’t end up having to put together his own act because there’s a dance group who are happy to have him play a flute accompaniment for them instead.
“It’s essentially a hip-hop routine,” A-Qing explains, while a small group of dancers run through their steps behind them. Xiao Xingchen stands next to her, alternating between calling out advice and noting down adjustments on a clipboard.
“But we'll be adding a little fusion flavour by sampling some traditional-sounding music over the top. We were going to use a recording, but if you can play live, that’d be even better.”
“Actually,” Xiao Xingchen says, suddenly turning towards them with a thoughtful expression (and a dancer’s poise - Wuxian, for one, has not missed the turn-out on that leg). “Do you think Lan Wangji would be willing to let us use that song the two of you were playing together in the music room last week?”
Wuxian in fact does think, because Xiao Xingchen is a really nice guy, and Wuxian knows for a fact that Lan Zhan thinks so, too. More importantly, however, Wuxian has a real stake in playing a song that he already knows (and that he has been regularly playing with Lan Zhan, besides), since it would make his life much, much easier, and so:
“I’ll ask,” he promises readily, and receives a grateful smile in return. “I don’t think he’ll say no.”
-not least because Wuxian is prepared to beg, borrow and steal to make sure he doesn’t.
None of his creative back-up plans (and some of them are really creative) end up being necessary, however, because Lan Zhan doesn’t say no. Which means that Wuxian moves directly on to both practising in earnest, and making frequent “earnest” requests for “opinions” and “feedback”.
(In his defence, Lan Zhan did write the song. On the other hand, Wuxian doesn’t strictly need for them to be pressed together, back-to-back while Lan Zhan is playing to “really understand the feeling of the melody”, but whatever, he’s not hurting anyone.)
He’s so focused on mastering his part and making up for the time disadvantage that Wuxian pays exactly no attention to anything about the performance beyond the music. Xiao Xingchen has already assured him that the dancers will move around him and that he won’t be asked to do anything more complicated than sway a bit, so Wuxian doesn’t ask any questions about the choreography or artistic vision, and assumes that he’ll either be given something appropriately mandarin-collared to wear, or that he’ll be able to make-do with something from his own wardrobe.
He immediately regrets this when he’s told that while he will be given a standard mandarin-collared shirt, sash and pant set from the costume wardrobe, he’ll need to tie the sash, peel the unfastened shirt off his shoulders, and then tie the sleeves around his bare waist for “edge”.
“Do my nipples really have to be showing for ‘edge’ ?” Wuxian complains, because while he’s not precious about his body or anything, it still seems a little unnecessary. He’s not even a dancer.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” A-Qing says impatiently, holding the shirt against his back to make sure she has the right size (though why that matters when he’s just going to be tying it around his waist is beyond him).
“No one wants to see your nipples. You’ll be facing the back of the stage the whole time - just do as you’re told and play your dizi. ”
“So it’s my sexy back you want,” Wuxian says, but he still turns around obediently when she taps his shoulder, and takes the proffered shirt.
A-Qing rolls her eyes.
“Calm your literally-unasked-for tits, all right?” she tells him, before she loads him up with his pants and sash as well. “We’ll be painting Chinese characters on you - maybe some peonies or something, too - for flavour when you’re in the spotlight.”
“Oh? ” Wuxian raises his eyebrows at her. “The aim was‘edge’ then, but it’s ‘flavour’ now?”
“To be brutally honest,” A-Qing says frankly, turning around to close the cupboard door, “the aim is to give Uncle Qiren a rage-aneurysm.”
“You know what,” Wuxian says, turning a beautifully-rapid 180 degrees - figuratively and literally - and following A-Qing out of the room, “I can totally get behind that. Do you have anything specific planned? Do we all have to look the same?”
She holds the door back to the ‘centre’s main area open and ushers him out with a small wave. “As long as they’re all roughly the same style, it’ll look better if they’re different.”
“Cool,” says Wuxian, already getting out his phone. “In that case, I have some definite ideas for mine.”
Because, as it turns out, he happens to know an excellent Chinese calligrapher. And while Wuxian might not want him painting on the bare skin of the other (very fit) male members of the performance team for reasons he will not discuss at this point in time, he can think of no one better to draw Chinese-characters-and-maybe-peonies on him.
That it would also be an excellent opportunity to see if Lan Zhan gets flustered by Wuxian’s naked body is just a bonus.
He suppresses the urge to rub his hands together in true cartoon-villain glee.
If only because he needs them to type.
Hey Lan Zhan!
I need a favour
And that’s how he ends up in Lan Zhan’s apartment for a trial run the week before the concert.
The plan had made perfect sense when Lan Zhan had first proposed it - he needed to work out character spacing, how the ink would run on skin, the shape of the flowers around the writing. Wuxian needed to get used to the feeling of getting painted so that he didn’t inadvertently twitch and ruin the design on the day when they wouldn’t have time to start again. And afterwards, they could take a photo of the finished trial product and send it to A-Qing for approval.
("Any poem?” Lan Zhan asks.
“Yeah, or song lyric,” Wuxian says absently, preoccupied with trying to convince Jiang Cheng via text that getting drunk and watching the film adaptation of Cats would, in fact, be a great idea. “I think it’s got to be a bit loved-and-lost-y - you know how we Chinese people love us some tragic pining. Maybe keep it to two lines and a picture? So that the characters aren’t so small that all the audience can see is dots.”
“All right,” Lan Zhan agrees easily.)
It feels much less faultless now that Wuxian is here and about to get half-naked.
The really galling part of it is that, before he’d gone and walked through the door, he’d even had ideas (really fucking dumb ideas) of taking his shirt off seductively, and maybe even treating Lan Zhan to a mini-striptease (which Wuxian has never done before, but he’s seen porn, and how hard could it be?). But now that he's standing, in his socked feet, in Lan Zhan’s living room, having trouble even breathing through his hyper-awareness of Lan Zhan’s gaze while being still fully-clothed, Wuxian is starting to worry that he might not even make it through taking off his jacket.
“So,” he begins with forced casualness, hooking his thumbs into his pockets in order to surreptitiously wipe his suddenly-sweaty palms against his jeans.
Regroup, he thinks, taking slow, deep breaths. He needs to regroup and then get back on track with the plan.
“Where are we doing this? The couch? The floor?”
Lan Zhan doesn’t say anything and simply nudges Wuxian gently towards the open door of his bedroom.
“Um,” Wuxian says, brain short-circuiting.
It takes another nudge from Lan Zhan for it to reboot, at which point he digs his heels into the carpet, because heck, how have they already made it halfway across the room?!
"No, seriously, the couch is fine," Wuxian babbles a little desperately, balking at the thought of lying half-naked in Lan Zhan's bedroom, in Lan Zhan's bed , where he sleeps, and also - also probably (unless he uses the shower, which would be cleaner and also - wet, ohgod)-
"Not enough room to work," Lan Zhan says with a dismissive shake of his head.
"Okay, fine, that's - that's fine," Wuxian agrees, nodding jerkily. "Then how about the floor? The floor is also very fine, and then your bed won't get dirty-"
"I've covered it with an old sheet," Lan Zhan tells him (because of course he has), swiftly shooting down that suggestion as well, and oh ho , Wuxian really did not think this through, did he?
Story of his life.
Defeated, Wuxian allows himself to be herded the rest of the way through the living room and into the bedroom.
Lan Zhan's bedroom is much like the rest of his apartment - simple, tasteful and kept painfully neat. Wuxian has been in here before, of course, and has sat on this very bed to read or watch movies on one of their laptops, but just - just not since he'd started indulging fantasies of Lan Zhan pushing him down on it.
So he's understandably a little tense.
Sure enough, as Lan Zhan had said, there's a faded sheet spread over the top of the quilt-cover, and there's a small collection of calligraphy supplies already waiting on the bedside table.
"No notes?" Wuxian asks and immediately thinks better of it. "Oh, of course not - you've probably memorised a million poems by now, huh, Lan Zhan?"
Lan Zhan responds with a noncommittal "Mn."
Which means "yes". And also that Lan Zhan's waiting for Wuxian to get a bloody move on. Right.
Recognising that he’s come too far to back out now (and both loving and hating himself for ending up in this situation), Wuxian stands in front of the chair Lan Zhan has helpfully brought in for him and strips off first his jacket, then his jumper and then his shirt.
(He doesn't want to let the strip-tease dream die completely, so he gets in a luxurious, naked stretch and even rolls his shoulders a few times. However, he also doesn't want to risk exposing how red his face is, so he's too afraid to glance backwards at Lan Zhan's reaction, which makes the whole exercise pretty much all for nothing.)
Then, still trying not to let Lan Zhan see too much of his face (while also not looking like he's trying not to let Lan Zhan see too much of his face), Wuxian crawls up the bed and carefully lowers himself onto his stomach, sternly telling himself that he's not going to press his face into the bedding and inhale.
"Are you warm enough?" Lan Zhan's voice comes from somewhere behind him, breaking him out of his shameful reverie.
“Yeah, it’s fine.”
Although he answers without thinking, Wuxian realises in the next moment that it actually is. Lan Zhan’s apartment isn’t normally this warm, so he must’ve turned the heating up before Wuxian arrived, because he’s thoughtful like that.
(The thought makes Wuxian feel even warmer. Damnit.)
As he occupies himself with getting comfortable (while also doing his best to not be a total creep about being on the bed), Wuxian can hear the soft sounds of rustling as Lan Zhan moves around and does whatever he needs to do to get ready.
He’s just started wondering what could be taking the man so long when suddenly there are hands on his waistband.
“Whoa,” Wuxian is unable to stop himself from yelping, and is similarly unable to prevent his hips from jerking reflexively.
“Don’t want your clothes to get dirty,” Lan Zhan murmurs, and oh, right , he’s tucking a towel into the top of Wuxian’s jeans
“Oh,” Wuxian says weakly, “thanks,” and immediately jumps again when a hand lands on the small of his back.
“All right?” Lan Zhan asks, rubbing small circles into Wuxian’s skin in a way that he probably thinks is soothing, but is in fact the polar opposite.
Wuxian suppresses a shudder.
“Yeah,” he whispers, trying desperately to get his heart to slow.
Lan Zhan’s hand keeps rubbing for a moment longer, and then Wuxian feels the bed dip and oh god, Lan Zhan is straddling his hips. It makes perfect sense logistically: Lan Zhan needs access to his back for drawing, and it’s not like they don’t both know that Wuxian can take the weight. But that knowledge that does nothing for the fact that Wuxian’s heart was not ready for this reality, especially when Lan Zhan relaxes fully and his weight presses Wuxian’s hips into the bed.
He chokes down a whimper.
“Not too heavy?” Lan Zhan asks, sounding completely, utterly, unfairly unaffected.
“No,” Wuxian manages hoarsely. “No, you’re good.”
“Then I’m starting now,” Lan Zhan tells him, and presses down right between Wuxian’s shoulders with his left hand. “It will be cold, but try not to move.”
It is cold, and the bristles of the brush tickle as Lan Zhan paints stroke after deliberate stroke across Wuxian’s right shoulderblade .Nevertheless, Wuxian is grateful for having the small discomforts to focus on, because otherwise he’d be facing some serious problems.
(More serious problems - he already has a pretty fucking dire one pressing uncomfortably into the fly of his jeans, but maybe it’ll have gone away by the time they’re finished, if he thinks really hard about the cold and the itching. And Uncle Qiren’s beard. And Jin Guangshan - oh yes, that’s done it.)
Then Lan Zhan starts to blow lightly on the ink to dry it and nope - nope, nope, NOPE, Jin Guangshan is not enough, Wei Wuxian is not going to make it.
Gritting his teeth, he pushes his face deeper into the bedding and faintly hopes that he’ll just suffocate and die.
He doesn’t die, but it’s a near thing. By some utter miracle, he also survives the following week of repeatedly waking up, hot and frustrated, from disjointed dreams about a familiar weight on his hips, breath hot on his skin, hands pushing down on his back.
(His sheets certainly take a beating, though.)
And then, finally, the evening of the concert arrives.
When Wuxian makes his (awkward and self-conscious) way from the changing rooms to the makeshift green room, he finds Jiang Cheng and Huaisang standing together in a corner. Huaisang, who has gone all-out for his performance with a perfect side-part, deep red changpao and now-ubiquitous fan, uses said fan to wave Wuxian over. Wuxian goes, making sure to turn and wave to A-Qing first, so that she knows where to find him if she needs to.
Presumably, that’s when they see his back.
“He’s pissed in a circle around you,” Jiang Cheng says as soon as Wuxian is within hearing distance.
“And hello to you too, little brother,” Wuxian says, raising an eyebrow.
“No,” Huaisang disagrees, with a thoughtful shake of his head. “Lan Wangji is too elegant for that. He’s pissed in a circle with a flourish at the end.”
“What are you two talking about?” Wuxian demands exasperatedly, putting his hands on his hips before deciding that it makes him feel way too exposed. He crosses his arms over his chest instead.
“Um,” Huaisang replies pointedly. “Have you seen what he’s written on your back?”
“Yes?” Wuxian says because Lan Zhan had shown him a photo, and he’s not the kind of person who’d pull a switcheroo and secretly draw a dick instead.
(And, let’s face it, Wuxian, too.)
“Do you know what it means?” Huaisang presses, and quite frankly, Wuxian is a little insulted by the question. His Chinese is not that bad.
“Something about united hearts making pining worth it or something?” he says, because his ability at putting together elegant translations is also not that good.
“Look, they’re all like this, okay? I’ve seen 唯不变此情悠悠 (the only thing that remains unchanged is this steadfast love) and 流沙退尽我依然在等你 (the shifting sands have retreated, and still I wait for you) and 看客散去唯你我不忘 (I watch the people disperse, but only you will I not forget), and do you know how many people are going around with Jay Chou lyrics on their backs?”
Wuxian hears the click of a camera shutter, and then Jiang Cheng is in front of him, waving his phone in Wuxian’s face. He looks at the picture of his back, and, sure enough, the text written on it is exactly what Lan Zhan had showed him earlier:
(Only hoping for your heart to be as mine)
(Then my pining will have been well spent)
“It’s from a famous poem about pining, Wuxian,” Jiang Cheng growls, jabbing at the screen in emphasis. “He’s also drawn fucking cape jasmines. Do you know what those mean?”
“No?” Wuxian offers, because - honestly, why would he?
“Eternal love ,” Jiang Cheng hisses, eyes wild. “There, look, mystery over, congratulations and many happy returns because Lan Wangji has fucking declared his love for you in front of God and Uncle Qiren. ”
“Jiang Cheng,” Wuxian says admiringly, miming a small round of applause because: first things first. “How did you know about all of this symbolism and culture?”
Jiang Cheng mutters something about accidentally finding Things that the peacock had sent their sister in her desk when he was looking for a pair of scissors to borrow and Wuxian recoils.
“ENOUGH!” he squawks, hands waving fervently in vehement rejection. “THAT’S ENOUGH!”
“Look,” Jiang Cheng bites out through gritted teeth, “It's not like I wanted to find out about it either-”
“Back to the point!” Huaisang reminds them both shrilly, and Wuxian remembers that he does, in fact, have better things to do than dwell on the complete lack of proportion in the peacock’s courting of their sister.
(It’s not that she doesn’t deserve to be extravagantly loved, because she does; it’s just that Jin Zixuan’s idea of a small token to let Yanli-jiejie know that he was thinking about her used to be a singing telegram of a power ballad and a teddy bear that was bigger than her. It was a lot to deal with, and Wuxian still hasn't fully recovered.)
“Right,” Wuxian resumes, “which is that Lan Zhan has created a classier, more literary version of what everyone else is doing for this soppy romance of a performance. So unless you’re suggesting that every other guy in this dance number has also been the recipient of a love confession-”
Jiang Cheng makes a garbled sound of frustration and claws at the air near his face.
Huaisang puts his hands around Wuxian’s neck and mimes shaking him, which Wuxian finds deeply unfair, because it’s not like it’s his fault their argument was full of holes.
Isn’t there a saying about shooting and messengers?
This year, unlike the last time Wuxian was at one of these things (which was admittedly many moons ago now), some tech-savvy person has set up a live video feed so that the performers in the green room can actually watch the other acts.
This is an excellent development, because it means Wuxian can watch Lan Zhan’s baby kungfu class shout their little hearts out while punching the air to the soundtrack of Hero, Jiang Cheng’s whip demonstration (every time Wuxian thinks about riling him up with a suggestive comment like “Kinky!” , he remembers that his brother learned the art from Auntie Yu and - can’t ) and a dance number by a group of grannies that is, quite frankly, adorable.
Huaisang’s xiangsheng performance is a great success (which is to say that even Uncle Qiren laughs, and no one gets brained by the fan), Wen Ning shows off his terrifying aim with some crazy dart-throwing at Wen Qing, his apparently-fearless assistant, and soon it’s Wuxian’s turn to stand under some truly oppressive lighting (he really hopes the ink on his back hasn’t started to run due to either the heat or his buckets of sweat, but there’s no way for him to tell) and blow a few notes while A-Qing and Xiao Xingchen do their thing.
(And Song Zichen and Xue Yang stand in opposite wings to each have a Moment because it’s just too beautiful.)
When their performance is finally over, Wuxian runs straight backstage to Lan Zhan’s dressing room with an armload of water bottles, snacks and, naturally, the promised flowers.
“Lan Zhan!” he calls, pushing down on the door handle with an elbow and slowly backing the door open because that’s what happens when you don’t think to leave yourself with a free hand.
“I couldn’t find someone to send your bouquet with,” he lies shamelessly, and starts to turn around, “so I had to bring it myse-”
The words dry up in his mouth.
The thing is, he’s seen Lan Zhan wearing changpao before - many times, thanks to Uncle Qiren’s traditionalist sensibilities (no, seriously, Wuxian is very thankful) - which is why he got arrogant and never even considered that it might be an issue. And had it been another standard white or dove grey one, Wuxian thinks (insofar as this is possible when most of his brain is a 404 Page Not Found error with the words HOT HOT HOT HOT HOT HOT HOT HOT repeating all the way down the page), he might have been all right. Those are colours Lan Zhan wears every day - Wuxian has built up some resistance.
What he hasn’t built up any resistance to is navy blue against a white inner shirt. The blue does things to Lan Zhan’s pale skin, and with his hair brushed back from his face like that, he looks like a young master from 1920s Shanghai, and he’s standing so straight and tall and Wuxian just wants to asdfghjkl.
“Wei Ying?” Lan Zhan asks, sounding mildly concerned.
“You look so handsome!” Wuxian squeaks, and hastily clears his throat so he can modulate his voice back to something that would come out of a grown man’s mouth.
“I mean, you always look good in the concert photos - or, really, you always look good full stop, let’s be real here - but I guess it must be one of those things,” he’s babbling, why can’t he stop babbling?! “You know: you gotta see it in person to get the full effect - or is it just that this year’s is particularly-“
Wuxian slams his mouth shut before he can embarrass himself further and mutely holds the bouquet out between them.
Lan Zhan takes it, looking amused.
“Thank you,” he says, and sets it gently down on his dressing table.
“Just let me,” Wuxian says, following him back and reaching out to smooth down the front of Lan Zhan’s pao - not because there are any wrinkles, just because he wants an excuse to touch (and a moment to recover).
“I can’t believe this outfit got approved,” he says, stepping back and shaking his head in mock concern, which earns him a politely raised eyebrow and now they're back in familiar territory. “You can’t go out there looking like this - there’ll be a riot! Your fans will mob you; have you thought about what you’re going to do when that happens?”
“My boyfriend will protect me,” Lan Zhan says calmly and Wuxian slaps a theatrical hand over his chest and staggers, mostly to hide the fact that he really is feeling a bit weak at the knees.
“Lan Zhan, ” he whines, collapsing back against the nearest wall and sliding halfway down, “you can’t just say things like that - my heart can’t take it!”
Lan Zhan doesn’t respond, just shakes his head tolerantly and takes one last drink of water before starting for the door.
“Ugh, fine,” Wuxian says, waving him off while letting himself slide the rest of the way down to the floor (Never let it be said that Wei Wuxian doesn’t know how to put on a show). “Go out there, then. Get mobbed! I don’t care anymore.”
“You won’t protect me?” Lan Zhan asks, hand on the doorframe, letting the slightest of plaintive notes creep into his voice and what is Wuxian supposed to do about that?
“Of course I’ll protect you ,” he almost-shouts, leaping to his feet and hustling Lan Zhan the rest of the way out the door. “Now quick, get out of here so that I can also go and find the best spot in the audience to snipe all the worst offenders from.”
Before he’d been asked to perform (or, rather, railroaded into performing) by Uncle Qiren, Wuxian had had grand plans of arriving early and camping out in the middle of the first row, in prime panty- (and, flower-) throwing position. Once he becomes a performer, however, that idea goes hurtling out the window, replaced instead with a fervent hope that he’ll be able to get to a seat at all.
(It’s doubly unfair because the need to practise for his act had also left him with no time to get a preview of Lan Zhan’s.)
Wuxian doesn’t want to eat his own words, but passion alone is probably not going to be enough to let him throw panties onto the stage from the back wall of the concert hall.
So he’s very, very grateful when, just as he starts to scan the dark room for a free seat, someone four rows from the front (in a centre aisle seat, no less) gets up to make an early exit.
Wuxian is down the aisle and in the seat before anyone else even has time to blink.
He sits through Qin Su’s very pretty piano playing, the peacock playing guitar and singing along (eyes fixed on Yanli-jiejie the whole time, blegh) and notices a surprisingly high number of baby-kungfu faces sticking it out in the seats around him, waiting patiently for their beloved teacher to appear on stage.
(Wuxian looks down at the armful of loose flowers he’d brought just in case and has an Excellent Idea.)
If anyone asks about the lack of panties hurled from his direction, his story is going to be that he manfully refrained for the sake of the pure and innocent eyes around him. But the truth is that the moment Lan Zhan walks out, there is no room left in Wuxian’s head to think about anything else.
There’s nothing on stage save for Lan Zhan and his guqin, but to be honest, he’s never needed anything else to hold an audience. He bows once, seats himself behind his instrument, and without further ceremony, begins to play.
It’s not the soft, melancholic music that Lan Zhan plays in his spare time, nor is it one of the classics that he usually trots out for performances. As the song moves beyond the first few stanzas, Wuxian begins to suspect that he’s heard it somewhere before - perhaps in someone’s car or at Uncle Jiang and Auntie Yu’s, when the Chinese radio has been on.
As it is, Lan Zhan's playing sounds like nothing so much as a declaration - there isn’t a single moment of hesitation as he expands the simple melody into cascading ripples of plucked notes, underscored by the clear, steady thrum of the bass string. His expression is serene, but determined, every movement of his fingers is absolutely sure, and the strings sing an unwavering statement of feeling, an honest outpouring of emotion in a style that is thoroughly, quintessentially Lan Zhan - unflinching, sincere, direct.
As the final note rings out into silence, Lan Zhan straightens, looks straight across the audience to Wuxian, and smiles.
And Wuxian forgets how to breathe.
Lan Zhan stole the air from his lungs with his guqin-playing, and half an hour later, Wuxian feels like he still hasn’t managed to get it back.
It’s probably, he thinks to himself, time to admit that he’s taken things too far. He’d thought he’d be able to wait Lan Zhan out, keep his affectionate offensive up as long as it took for a boundary to come up or Lan Zhan to give in, but now the thought of continuing as he has been, suspended in uncertainty, is unbearable.
He doesn’t even think he can bring himself to continue with the fake-boyfriend plan, never mind the fake-it-’til-you-make-it boyfriend plan.
He tells Jiang Cheng and Huaisang as much during the concert afterparty (at Yanli-jiejie ’s house, which only when pushed will Wuxian admit she shares with Jin Zixuan), when they find him sitting outside, staring at his open beer bottle because he’s feeling too gloomy to drink (and isn’t that just peak sad bastard?).
But while he wasn’t expecting either of them to stroke his brow and ply him with apples or anything, Wuxian is not expecting their actual reactions either.
“You IDIOT,” Jiang Cheng explodes, gesticulating wildly with the unhinged air of a man who has been goaded beyond all endurance (and okay, maybe Wuxian should have been expecting that, at least a little bit). “I have been very patient - we have all been very patient! - but enough is enough! I’m going to give it to you straight, so open your big, dumb ears and listen very carefully: Lan Wangji loves you. He LOVES YOU. He . Is. In. Love. With. YOU! The only one who doesn’t know it is you, because you insist on being dumb !”
“You should stop being dumb,” Huaisang agrees, brandishing his fan in at Wuxian to punctuate his words while Jiang Cheng takes a moment to lean on his own knees and catch his breath.
“Your fan is dumb,” Wuxian says childishly, because it’s easy for them to make big, sweeping declarations like that and expect Wuxian to just go with it when they're not the ones with extremely vital friendships hanging on the line.
But he can’t exactly explain that without sounding - well, dumb , so.
“Excuse me,” Huaisang says, drawing himself up with great dignity, “my fan is the pinnacle of gentlemanly refinement, thank you very much.”
He waves it even harder.
“All right, fine, then.” Wuxian concedes, open to at least entertaining the idea. “Tell me: what exactly about his behaviour says ‘This is a man in love’ to you?”
He climbs to his feet and spreads his palms (well, one palm and one beer bottle) expectantly.
“Because let me tell you -he still responds to my texts in monosyllables! And that's after I push multiple times! He has never, in the history of our entire friendship, initiated a WhatsApp conversation!”
“I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even read other people’s messages, bro,” Huaisang gets in before Jiang Cheng gets his second wind and launches into another tirade.
“Not a man in love?!” he splutters indignantly, jabbing an outraged finger at Wuxian’s face for Huaisang’s benefit.
(For people who grew up with him, the “Can you believe this guy?!” is practically audible).
“Wei Wuxian, he got Uncle Qiren to un-ban you from public events! Do you know how he did that? No? Dad says that he threatened not to perform! He held Uncle Qiren’s favourite part of the entire thing hostage for you, and don’t even get me started on what he actually played tonight! He went along with your unbelievably stupid fake-dating plan! Oh - and he’s the one who does all the translations for your Chinese People Climate group, did you know that? All of them! He wrote a fucking classical love letter on your fucking naked back and you're telling me that he's not a man in love?!”
He grabs the beer bottle straight out of Wuxian’s hand and takes a long, bracing swig.
“What we’re saying,” Huaisang says to Wuxian sweetly, stepping back in, “is that it would be a good idea for you to go and talk to your boy before we snap and do it for you. Which could be any moment now.”
Numbly (it's a lot to digest), Wuxian goes.
He finds Lan Zhan, still wearing his changpao, standing at one of the refreshment tables and looking out at the rest of the room, an untouched drink sitting on the table beside him.
“What’s this?” Wuxian murmurs, coming to a stop at Lan Zhan’s elbow, which is the exact moment that one of the catering team aunties beelines over with a tray and thrusts another glass into Wuxian’s hand.
“We poured too many!” she shouts over her shoulder, already moving onto the next group of people. “Drink up! Don’t let it go to waste!”
Wuxian takes a tentative sip, and - ah, it’s a gin and tonic, that’d explain it..
“Did she forget about you not drinking?” Wuxian asks, raising an eyebrow at Lan Zhan, who shrugs.
“My brother will be back in a moment, I’ll give it to him. Mingjue-dage will probably take it - my brother’s driving him home tonight.”
Wuxian nods and takes another sip of his own drink because he doesn’t have anything better to do with it (he's certainly not going to ask Mingjue-dage to drink it as well), and it’s not like he drank his beer.
“I couldn’t get to you before you got mobbed by your kungfu babies,” Wuxian remarks conversationally, because he feels like he should say something to explain why he’s only showing his face to Lan Zhan now. “But I thought those were some adoring fans that you maybe didn’t need protecting from.”
Lan Zhan smiles fondly, and yeah, his kungfu babies had been pretty cute, running over as a little flock, each with their single flower clutched in a chubby fist and waving in the air.
“But that performance sure was something,” Wuxian continues, nudging Lan Zhan’s shoulder with his own. “You really outdid yourself this time. The Facebook hit count is gonna be insane.”
Lan Zhan hums noncommittally, though his expression when Wuxian turns his head is serene, content.
Smug bastard, Wuxian thinks fondly.
“Not your usual style though,” Wuxian remarks, turning back to their people-watching. “Have I heard it before?”
“Light Years Away ,” Lan Zhan replies. “By G.E.M.”
“That doesn’t answer the question, Lan Zhan,” Wuxian says, glancing sideways.
From the not-quite-smile hovering around the corners of Lan Zhan’s mouth, he knows it, too.
“The Chinese soundtrack for Passengers,” Lan Zhan adds as a concession, and a light goes off in Wuxian’s head.
“Right, ” he says, because he remembers now. He doesn’t really keep up with the C-Pop scene, but someone had sent him a YouTube link and he’d been intensely confused by what looked like either an unbelievably-professional-quality fanvideo, or a copyright violation so blatant that even China shouldn’t have been able to get away with it.
(It hadn’t been either, but the song was nice, so he’d showed Lan Zhan anyway.)
“So it was a love song, then. I’d thought as much.”
“Mn,” Lan Zhan says.
More than anything, Wuxian wants to ask: “Was it a love song for me ?” Really for him - not for fake-relationship appearances, but because given a stage and an audience, this was the statement that Lan Zhan wanted to make, and that smile at the end was him making sure that Wuxian had understood it.
But when he goes to open his mouth, he just - can’t.
DO YOU LOVE ME, LAN ZHAN? seems like a supremely unfair thing to demand without the “I love you!” he hasn’t been able to get out first. Especially if Lan Zhan had meant for the song to be a declaration to him - how selfish, how cowardly would it be for Wuxian to ask that he make himself even more vulnerable when Wuxian hasn’t done anything even close, when Wuxian hasn’t taken even a single step towards meeting him in the middle?
He needs to find another way into that conversation.
“The fujoshi are really gonna go crazy now,” he says instead, and studiously fixes his eyes on the condensation beading on the side of his glass so that he can force the second part of the question out. “Which, actually, brings me to something I wanted to talk to you about. But maybe this isn’t the best place, so do you wanna-”
He looks to his left and finds Lan Zhan in the process of chugging his entire glass.
“Um,” Wuxian says eloquently.
Lan Zhan slams the empty glass back into the table, turns to face Wuxian and promptly tips forward into his shoulder.
“Um ,” Wuxian says, just managing to land his own glass on the table before Lan Zhan’s dead weight sags against him and he has to scramble to keep the both of them upright.
He manages it, but only just, and eventually succeeds in bracing Lan Zhan against his side with one arm, so that he can use the other to wave off the concerned looks they’re getting from the people around them.
“I think he forgot he had alcohol in it,” Wuxian explains, pointing at the empty glass on the table. “I’m gonna drive him home. Can someone tell his brother where we’ve gone?”
Lan Zhan chooses this moment to lurch back upright and rock slightly on his feet, frowning at Wuxian’s chin.
“You good now, buddy?” Wuxian asks, and Lan Zhan lifts his gaze to meet Wuxian’s with the too-careful concentration of the completely sloshed.
“Yeah, I didn’t think so,” Wuxian mutters, and takes Lan Zhan by the shoulders so that he can turn and steer him towards the door.
It’s a mild night, which Wuxian is grateful for, because it takes him a while to locate Lan Zhan’s car on the dark street, especially with the man himself constantly making drunken breaks for freedom. When he finally finds it (and narrowly avoids losing Lan Zhan to a neighbour’s apparently-fascinating garden pond on the way), he’s immediately confronted by the not-inconsiderable issue of the lock on the door.
“Hey, Lan Zhan, you’ve got your car keys on you, right?” Wuxian tries hopefully. He really doesn’t want to have to go back to retrieve them if they’re still in the house.
When he turns around, he finds Lan Zhan busy squinting up at the night sky.
“All right, arms up,” he says, and when Lan Zhan lifts them obediently, proceeds to systematically pat him down for pockets and rummage around in each one he finds.
The keys turn out to be in one of the side trouser pockets (which Wuxian is especially grateful for, since the next pocket up for searching was going to be the back one), so he’s able to get Lan Zhan safely buckled into the passenger seat with no further issue.
Lan Zhan remains pretty sedate for the duration of the drive (which Wuxian is also grateful for, because he did not want to know what driving while wrestling a Lan Zhan who suddenly wished to be free of his seat belt - or worse, the car itself - would be like), so the next major hurdle is what to do with him once they’re safely inside his apartment.
Which turns out to be “getting him ready for bed”, because Wuxian clearly hates himself.
It is with great self-sacrifice (and every expectation of a sainthood) that he wrestles Lan Zhan out of his clothes and into his pyjamas (telling himself that it’s not like Lan Zhan’s got anything that Wuxian doesn’t have, so-), washes his hands and face for him, and even brushes his teeth.
(Wuxian tries to get him to do that last one himself, but when he holds out the toothbrush, Lan Zhan just stares at it, and when he holds it up, Lan Zhan opens his mouth obediently, so.)
((Wuxian must really hate himself.))
At this point, he’s starting to think the worst might be over, and even finds himself enjoying turning down the covers, so of course, that’s precisely when Lan Zhan gets chatty.
(Chatty for Lan Zhan, anyway.)
After Wuxian coaxes him under the covers, Lan Zhan flops back against the pillow and sighs gustily.
“Something wrong there, Er -gege ?” Wuxian asks, not bothering to hide his smile because he has earned this, okay?
“Sad,” Lan Zhan replies and Wuxian’s smile widens, because the last time this happened, Lan Zhan was sad about bunnies not being able to understand either English or Chinese because it meant they might never know how much he loved them.
“And why are you sad, hm?”
“Like someone,” Lan Zhan sighs, turning to look up into Wuxian’s face. “Love them.”
“...Isn’t that a happy thing?” Wuxian asks after a moment of hesitation, stomping ruthlessly down on the IS IT ME? because this is not the time.
“It is,” Lan Zhan agrees, nodding once. “But also not.”
“Okay,” Wuxian says carefully, mind whirring madly to find a direction he can safely take this in. “So how is it happy?”
Lan Zhan smiles foggily.
“He’s - good,” he murmurs, pushing his cheek deeper into his pillow. “Warm. And bright. Like the sun. When I’m with him, I feel - happy.”
“Okay, good, good,” Wuxian says, because that means they’re not dealing with an unhealthy relationship here, and also because none of those things point to the person being clearly not-him.
“That sounds pretty nice to me. So how is it not-happy, then?”
“He doesn’t love me,” Lan Zhan whispers sadly and Wuxian’s breath catches in his throat.
“How do you know?”
“Told him,” Lan Zhan murmurs, closing his eyes, “but-”
He shakes his head and the bottom drops out of Wuxian’s world.
“Okay,” he says hoarsely, telling himself to get yourself the fuck together, Wuxian. Even though it does feel pretty damn shitty to find out that the person you’re in love with isn’t in love with you, it's not about you right now. “Okay, that sucks, Lan Zhan, that - really sucks. He’s clearly an idiot or a dick, then, because no one in their right mind wouldn’t want you.”
Lan Zhan opens his eyes again, blinks up at Wuxian and his lower lip wobbles.
“It’ll be okay,” Wuxian says quickly, desperately grabbing Lan Zhan’s hand and patting the back of it because oh god, what is he gonna do if Lan Zhan cries? “It hurts now, but - but you’ll get over him.”
And Wuxian will put his feelings on hold like a good friend, like someone with basic fucking human decency, and won’t even think about raising the issue until Lan Zhan is good and ready. He takes a deep breath. Plan Bs, he’s good at Plan Bs. He can do this.
Lan Zhan shakes his head.
“Won’t,” he says softly. “Won’t ever be over him.”
“Okay, okay,” Wuxian says helplessly, and his eyes are hot and his tongue feels thick, but he cannot afford to fall apart in front of Lan Zhan. “We’ll get through this. Don’t be sad. Why don’t you try and get some sleep now? It’s time for me to go-”
Lan Zhan’s fingers suddenly catch on his sleeve.
“Don’t go!” he says, eyes wide and earnest. “Stay.”
“I can’t stay,” Wuxian tells him, gently disengaging his fingers and placing his hand back down on the quilt. “I have to go home to sleep in my own bed.”
“Room in mine,” Lan Zhan insists, shifting over and taking hold of Wuxian’s sleeve again, tugging him towards the newly-created space.
“Believe me, Lan Zhan,” Wuxian says, unable to stop the bitter huff of laughter that follows it. “There really isn’t.”
Not for him and his broken heart.
He starts to step away and Lan Zhan sits up, alarmed.
“Stay!” he repeats urgently, and pushes the covers back, moving to get up. "Don't go - stay-"
“All right, all right, I’ll stay,” Wuxian agrees quickly, crowding Lan Zhan back down onto the mattress and even sitting on the edge himself when Lan Zhan continues to watch him suspiciously.
“I’ll stay until you fall asleep, okay?” Wuxian says soothingly, taking him by the shoulders and easing him back down onto the pillow, being careful not to make any sudden movements. When Lan Zhan doesn’t show any sign of resisting, he draws the covers back up again to tuck him in.
“So don’t worry, go to sleep, I’m here.”
Lan Zhan smiles and finally relaxes again.
“You’re here,” he murmurs contentedly, and even snuggles in with a little wriggle. “It’s good when you’re here.”
“Sleep,” Wuxian tells him softly, and, because he’s a masochist, brushes Lan Zhan’s hair back off his forehead and continues to stroke it until he does.
Then Wuxian goes home to drink himself into oblivion.
Wuxian gives himself three days to lick his own wounds, and even invents a work emergency to use as an excuse for avoiding Lan Zhan, the dinner crew and everyone else from the cultural society.
It doesn't make him feel better.
And even at his mopiest, he knows they have to have this out sooner or later, and he’s never been the kind of person who puts things off just because they’ll be unpleasant. So when his three days of wallowing are up, he sends Lan Zhan a warning text and takes himself down to his apartment.
When he arrives, Lan Zhan is waiting at the door with a worried expression, which means that he didn’t buy the work excuse. Wuxian should probably have expected that.
“I bet you’re wondering what these last three days have been about, huh?” Wuxian asks as soon as the apartment door closes behind him, figuring that he should just rip the bandaid off in one go.
Lan Zhan continues to watch him silently.
“Do you remember what you said the night of the concert, after you got drunk?”
Wuxian doesn’t wait for an answer before continuing, because they both know the answer is ‘no’.
“Okay, so full disclosure: you told me you were in love with someone who didn’t love you back. You didn’t say anything incriminating about it, so don’t worry.”
He clears his throat and carefully turns so that he’s looking just to the left of Lan Zhan’s face, because he doesn’t think he’ll be able to get through the next bit otherwise.
“I just want to emphasise that what I’m about to say is not because of that-” Wuxian is not going to put it on Lan Zhan, because he’s not an arsehole. “It’s absolutely not because of anything you said, but - I guess - because what you said got me thinking ... I need us to stop the fake-dating. For reasons relating to me, not to you! So we’ll tell everyone that you broke up with me because - I don’t know, I did something stupid or got to be too much to handle, it won’t be hard to-”
“No,” Lan Zhan says resolutely, cutting Wuxian off. “That’s not believable.”
Wuxian gapes at him.
“What do you mean ‘not believable’,” he splutters, “the alternative is me breaking up with you!”
“Mn,” Lan Zhan says.
“How is that more believable,” Wuxian demands incredulously, not least because, of all the things he thought they were going to end up arguing about, this had been at the bottom of the list. “Are you high? Nobody’s going to believe that I was the one who wanted to stop dating you! You breaking up with me is the only thing that makes sense!”
“It doesn’t,” Lan Zhan says stubbornly. “Because if we were dating, I would never break up with you.”
Wuxian throws his hands up in the air, completely at the end of his rope. “Well, we’ve gotta break up somehow!”
“Why? ” Lan Zhan demands savagely, gaze hard and keen. “Is this not working for you anymore? Is it because you-”
“It’s because otherwise I won’t be able to stop!” Wuxian shouts and Lan Zhan jerks back, looking stunned.
“Stop?” he asks uncertainly and Wuxian takes a shaky breath.
“Are you really going to make me say it?” he asks softly and gives a resigned nod when Lan Zhan simply watches him expectantly. “Fair enough.”
He owes him that much.
“It’s just,” Wuxian says, suddenly feeling defeated and - tired, weighed down by bone-deep exhaustion. But it's, strangely, somehow freeing, having nothing left to lose because he’s already been wrung dry. “You’re perfect. You’re a good friend - the best, really, to put up with all my bullshit - and such a good person. And you’re the perfect fake boyfriend - I mean, of course you are, I don’t know why this came as any sort of surprise. But that's what it is: fake, and you let me take all these liberties, you literally don’t stop me ever, and Lan Zhan, if you let me keep going, I’m gonna get the wrong idea.”
Wuxian stops, inhales against the burning in his eyes and the stinging in his nose, swallows against the closing of this throat so that he can continue, so that he can finish this.
“I’m gonna start believing that this is something I’m allowed to have, even though it’s not and - you know me, Lan Zhan, I don’t have any self control-” (especially not when it comes to you ), “-I can’t stop myself, but I have to, so-”
“Why?” Lan Zhan asks hoarsely.
“Because we’re not actually dating,” Wuxian yells, pulling his own hair in frustration.
“We could be.”
“No, we really couldn’t,” Wuxian says, laughing because the alternative is starting to cry, “because I love you, but you don’t love me- ”
“Who says?” Lan Zhan demands. He takes a half-step towards Wuxian, grabs his wrist and Wuxian’s mind stutters to a halt.
“What?” he asks, unable to even muster up the presence of mind to move back in self-preservation when Lan Zhan takes another half-step forward.
“Who says that I don’t love you?” Lan Zhan asks, almost an accusation, and suddenly it’s like something just clicks; like all the pieces of a puzzle Wuxian had arranged in order, but never fully pushed together, are slotting into place all at once. Every tiny thing he’d ever noticed or not-noticed - hoped, but never dared fully believe in - finally aligns in overlay to show a united whole that he'd missed while examining each in part.
All of it suddenly makes perfect sense, each piece giving added meaning to the others, except for-
“Wait,” Wuxian says, frowning and tugging on Lan Zhan’s hand. “You said that you told the person that you lo-” God, he can’t believe he can’t say it, is he five? “-l-liked them, but you didn’t. You didn’t tell me anything like that.”
“I did,” Lan Zhan says, tugging right back before letting go of his wrist completely.
“You did not!” Wuxian cries, gesticulating wildly with his newly-freed arm before a single possibility occurs to him and he adds, hastily, “the concert song doesn’t count.”
“I did,” Lan Zhan insists stubbornly. ”You’ve just forgotten.”
“I would not forget something like that!” Wuxian exclaims with equal certainty, and lifts his chin in a challenging: “When?”
“Phoenix Mountain Reserve,” Lan Zhan replies without hesitation and-
“The photo on your phone?”
Wuxian frowns, half-pointing towards said phone, which is sitting innocently on Lan Zhan’s kitchen counter.
“Yes.” Lan Zhan nods.
“WHEN? ” Wuxian demands, frantically replaying the events of that day in his mind, searching for anything that could even come close to- “When we were in the tree?!”
“I WAS ASLEEP ,” Wuxian screeches, emotions firing in every direction to produce an aggregate effect of “manic” on a scale of one to ten.
“It was after I’d woken you,” Lan Zhan explains patiently (although the dumbarse is clearly implied). “You opened your eyes, and when I asked if you were awake, you said ‘yes’.”
Wuxian has a vague memory of firing off random answers whenever there was an expectant pause in the conversation because he hadn’t wanted Lan Zhan to stop talking, but had also wanted to continue sleeping.
“Afterwards, you thanked me,” Lan Zhan continues mercilessly, “and told me I was very sweet.”
“That was for coming to WAKE me,” Wuxian howls, because the entire situation is terrible and exceedingly stupid and completely and utterly his fault. “Why didn’t you try again?”
He knows as he asks it that this is a bit unfair, but - still. Lan Zhan has known him for years, and it’s not like his idiocy is new.
“You weren’t ready to hear it,” Lan Zhan replies and, faced with incontrovertible proof of his own lack of emotional awareness, Wuxian is forced to concede that this is probably true.
“Then,” Wuxian says, with a horrible creeping guilt, “Yanli-jiejie ’s wedding-”
Lan Zhan nods evenly. “I thought you were being cruel.”
And Wuxian closes his eyes for a moment because fuck, he was - just not knowingly.
Which is almost worse.
“Then why did you agree to the stupid fake-dating thing?” he asks quietly, suspecting that he already knows the answer.
Lan Zhan just looks at him.
Unable to think of a suitable response, Wuxian shoves him lightly in the chest. Lan Zhan allows it, and Wuxian hates that, because he doesn’t deserve it, for Lan Zhan to never take and just give, always give, to still be giving even now-
Wuxian steps closer and lifts a shaky hand to Lan Zhan’s cheek, suddenly struck by the need to touch, to ground himself with something more concrete than words.
“Then, the Song of Divination ?” he asks. “The Light Years Away? ”
“For you,” Lan Zhan says, closing his eyes and turning his face into Wuxian’s palm with an expression that breaks Wuxian’s heart. “All for you.”
Wei Wuxian closes his own eyes for a moment, and accepts that he is, without a doubt, the highest of morons.
“It must have hurt,” he whispers when Lan Zhan’s eyes blink open again, setting his other hand against the side of Lan Zhan’s neck and stepping in closer, so that they’re standing toe to toe.
“Doesn’t matter,” Lan Zhan whispers back, tilting towards him like he's helpless to do anything but.
“It should,” Wuxian breathes, and they’re so close now that their lips are almost touching. “It matters to me.”
Lan Zhan doesn’t say anything, just continues to stare into his eyes, so Wuxian gives the lock of hair beside his cheekbone a gentle tug.
“Not gonna ask why?” he asks coyly and Lan Zhan swallows.
“Why?” he asks, almost inaudibly, and Wuxian can’t hold it in any longer.
“I love you,” he says, unable to stop from breaking into a smile, even as he starts to punctuate his words with kisses peppered all over Lan Zhan’s face. “I love you, I love you, I love you so much. Date me for real?”
“Yes,” Lan Zhan exhales and, ever the man of action, leans in to seal their agreement with a kiss.
Just before their lips touch, however, he stops, eyes fixed on Wuxian’s and waits, waits even now, is always waiting and Wuxian doesn’t want him to wait anymore.
So he closes the distance between them, presses their mouths together and grabs Lan Zhan’s hands so that he can plant one firmly on his own waist and the other up his shirt. His own hands move to Lan Zhan’s chest, his shoulders, his neck - touching everything because Wuxian can now, without needing excuses or an audience or any sort of purpose. He’s allowed to touch Lan Zhan just because he wants to and the feeling is intoxicating.
He uses his hand to cup Lan Zhan’s cheek again, strokes little circles against that sharp jawline with his thumb, scratches lightly against the hair at the base of his neck, and Lan Zhan, miracle of miracles, lets him.
Not only lets him, but moves his own hand up Wuxian’s shirt; runs his fingers along Wuxian’s spine, traces the line of a shoulderblade. He splays the fingers of the other possessively across Wuxian’s hip, digs them in and Wuxian shudders, pressing closer, crowding into Lan Zhan until his back hits the wall. Heat flares in Lan Zhan’s eyes, and oh, he likes that, Wuxian notes, telling himself to remember it for later.
His friends are going to be unbearable, he thinks as he slides his hand into the back pocket of Lan Zhan’s trousers and very seriously considers never taking it out again. But it doesn’t matter - Wuxian’s pretty sure he’s going to be worse.
OUT OF THE BIN AND INTO HIS HEART <3
WTF WWX, that is GROSS
FUCKING FINALLY. PAY UP, WN!!!
what Jiejie means to say is that we’re also very happy for you both!
Look at our son, JC.
did you ever think you’d see this day
no i did not
bc i didn’t think our “son” would be sending us FILTH LIKE THIS
r u being homophobic, JC
is that what this is
i’m not disgusted bc it’s dudes you nitwit
I’m disgusted bc my BROTHER sent me a pic of him GRINNING while his boyfriend MAULS HIS NECK
he’s technically not biting me
are you srsly gonna argue semantics w/ me
i hate you.
you’re so gross
Mum wants to see him at the next family dinner.
Wuxian's back-poem is an excerpt from the Song of Divination (卜算子) by Li Zhiyi (李之仪).
For everyone who made it this far:
I see the final photo as being WWX mid-laugh, face JUST staying inside the corner of the frame while LWJ lunges towards him, teeth about to close on WWX's jaw in a mock-bite.
In re: WWX's mental note about LWJ liking being pushed up against things, I had a whole headcanon about WWX revisiting this later, maybe even escalating to wrist-pinning, looking up expecting to find some sort of heavy-lidded stare, but instead getting open-eyed adoration, like WWX could do or not-do anything and LWJ would be content just to be there and WWX cAn'T. He ends up with his face buried in LWJ's shoulder, clinging to his neck and wailing about how "you can't lOOK AT ME LIKE THAT, LAN ZHAN, IT'S NOT ALLOWED" while LWJ pats him comfortingly on the back of the head. But it didn't fit in with the fic timeline so it got cut :'DDDD