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the world is but a stage for the two of us

Chapter Text

Lan Feng thinks it’s a bit unfair that he’s one of the junior disciples on duty tonight. Usually, the seniors only employ three or four, but tonight is special. Because tonight, disciples from various sects have arrived for the year-long lecture.

So Lan Feng is on duty even though his next shift should be a week from now. It’s just his lucky star to be chosen. 

But then, there is one disciple who volunteered for tonight’s shift.

And the whole cultivation world will be shaken if they found out who it is.

 

#####

 

If people ask Lan Feng what he has seen, nobody will believe him.

His mouth falls open as he sees Lan Wangji, famed for being cold and untouchable, vault over the veranda of the observation tower and land on the roof. There, the mysterious figure (a young man in purple robes... A disciple of the Jiang sect?) visibly perks up, raising both arms as if inviting Lan Wangji in for a hug. 

For. A. Hug.

Gulping, Lan Feng watches the next scene, riveted. Now, he doesn’t claim to know the Second Young Master as well as his immediate family, despite being in the same generation as him. But he swears; Lan Feng’s never seen Lan Wangji look as happy as he does. 

Before he knows it, Lan Wangji strides toward the mysterious man and—Lan Feng swears he’s not seeing things—accepts the hug. To his horror, Lan Wangji cups the face of the mysterious man and leans forward.

Their silhouette looks so romantic and sweet. If only Lan Feng didn’t know one of them belongs to the immaculate Second Young Master.

Lan Feng rubs his eyes as if doing so will get rid of the images in front of him. He’s absolutely sure he’s not on patrol for this.

Plausible deniability. Yes, that’s the only thing that’ll save Lan Feng’s sanity.

He absolutely refuses to acknowledge seeing the Second Young Master and his mysterious beau fly down from the rooftops as if they are descending angels. 

He absolutely does not see the mysterious beau (indeed wearing the Jiang sect’s signature purple robes) grab the Second Young Master’s hand and run with him, as if running isn’t one of the sacred rules of the Cloud Recesses.

And lastly, he absolutely does not follow them to witness the Second Young Master and his beau enter the Jingshi with murmured words and soft laughter.

Chapter Text

When Lan Xichen first notices that Wangji is different, it is during the morning meal.

The Cloud Recesses has a tradition of coming together to the banquet room for meals, whether one is a resident or a guest. The room in its entirety takes up one fourth of their land and is separated by at least twenty sliding doors. Usually, for the Lan clan, only five doors are opened to accommodate everyone. But every time the year-long lecture is held, more sliding doors are opened. 

The constant in both scenarios is the main Lan family table, placed at the forefront and served first. For more than a decade, the main Lan family members sitting there are Lan Qiren, Lan Xichen, and Lan Wangji.

That is why, this morning, Lan Xichen is seated, waiting for the meal to be served with Lan Qiren seated at the head of the table. Lan Wangji is missing from his designated seat on their uncle’s left.

Lan Xichen is not worried, until the food is served and Wangji is nowhere to be seen. Uncle, who started to become agitated when Wangji hasn’t arrived at his usual time, is now fuming. He turns to Lan Xichen.

“Xichen! Where is your brother?”

Lan Xichen has started to scan the tables where the Lan clan is seated, but finds no sign of Wangji.

“I don’t know,” Lan Xichen admits. “Perhaps he is not feeling well today.”

Lan Qiren scoffs. “It’s impossible for Wangji not to have breakfast, even if he’s sick. Just where is that child?”

Xichen doesn’t know either, but he will find out later. He promises so to his uncle. The servants are done setting food on the table, and both uncle and nephew focus on their breakfast. 

Just as he scoops a portion of his congee, Xichen notices a Lan disciple mumbling instead of eating. As someone with a high level of cultivation, he can perfectly hear him from this distance.

“No, Lan Feng, stop thinking about it. The Second Young Master is definitely not the person you saw. He definitely did not come to breakfast with his beau. And you definitely did not see them sneaking around. And why is the Second Young Master’s beau so good at sneaking around? If I didn’t see them last night… Ugh! If I didn’t see them last night, I wouldn't be like this. Argh! Plausible deniability, plausible deniability.”

Lan Xichen drops his spoon.

#####

Lan Xichen trusts his brother always, so he won’t allow rumors to reform his opinion of Wangji. Once the gong sounds signaling the end of breakfast, everyone stands up to leave. Because of the number of people, it is difficult to find Lan Wangji in the crowd. So he decides to head to the Jingshi to wait.

He decides to admire the gentians Wangji has planted in the back while he waits. Soon, he hears footsteps and chatter nearing the Jingshi.

Xichen pauses. Chatter? Wangji is talking with someone. His eyes widen. His brother is talking to someone who’s not him or uncle!

He crouches behind a tall bush and covertly observes, an act truly unbefitting for a senior cultivator like Lan Xichen. But this is more important than his image! Wangji is making friends!

Wangji and his friend finally come into view, walking up the pathway to the door. Of all the people he expects his brother to befriend, the senior disciple of YunmengJiang, Wei Wuxian, is certainly not the first to come to mind. If the rumors are true, by personality alone, he and Wangji should have gotten along like fire and ice.

But perhaps the rumors aren’t tru—

Xichen’s eyes zero in on Wangji’s hand. The hand now held lightly in Wei Wuxian’s other hand. As if to confound him further, the clasped hands start swaying between them.

Xichen stares at Wangji, then at Wei Wuxian, then back to his brother. There’s a voice in his mind suggesting something less platonic than friendship.

But no. Maybe Wangji is adjusting his boundaries...? 

Xichen tries to convince himself.

“I don’t get why we have to sneak around.”

Wangji reaches out and tucks a hair behind Wei Wuxian’s ear. By now, Lan Xichen can’t stop gaping.

“I told you. Now is not the right time.”

“Just imagine everyone’s faces if we went up to the main family table holding hands. Your uncle would’ve had a heart attack, hahaha!”

“Wei Ying,” Wangji admonishes, but it is obvious he’s not truly mad. And it seems Wei Wuxian can tell, too, as he only gives an answering grin and continues swinging their hands. 

Lan Xichen is both shocked and impressed. Impressed because he has never known anyone who can read his brother as well as him. Not even Uncle comes close.

Shocked because Wangji called someone by their given name.

“Hey, Lan Zhan.”

Out of the blue, Wei Wuxian leans in and briefly kisses Wangji on the lips.

Lan Xichen holds up a hand to his mouth to stop a loud gasp. His mind is currently in shambles, and all he can do is stare at the scene in front of him.

A blush appears on Wangji’s ears. “Wei Ying, someone might see.”

Wei Wuxian giggles. “Then why don’t we go to where others won’t see, hm?”

Before Wangji can react, the door to the Jingshi slides open as Wei Wuxian pulls his brother into the room. Once they’re inside, the door shuts ominously.

Lan Xichen stares at the closed door, hand still on his mouth, and feels his worldview starts to tilt.

His brother Wangji. And Young Master Wei… are together?

Not that he is not happy for Wangji, but he completely did not see it coming? Just when did they first meet?

Is this the start of Wangji’s romance? Xichen realizes as he walks back to his room in a daze, but not before tripping three times. (The Lan disciples notice and stare with wide eyes.)

Chapter Text

Nie Huaisang expects the one-year study program to be boring (as anything related to the Lan sect tends to be) until he hears the rumor.

Now, Huaisang may be weak and not so fortunate in height, but he’s considered friendly among his peers. Thanks to his friends (his eyes and ears everywhere), it’s only been twelve hours since he arrived in the Cloud Recesses but he already heard of this juicy gossip! After verifying with the sole witness, a jittery Lan disciple, Huaisang is convinced the rumor is a fact.

He needs to talk to someone about this pronto.

Preferably someone in purple robes.

For the hundredth time, he reels. Really? Lan Wangji’s close with a Jiang disciple? Did they get the correct Lan? Before, Huaisang would expect the world to end first before believing such a thing could happen. But now…

Just who can that Jiang disciple be?

He’s familiar the most with Wei-xiong. But since yesterday Huaisang hasn’t seen neither hide nor hair of him. 

Even earlier during breakfast, he was missing. When he asked an angry-looking Jiang Wanyin, he almost lost his life just mentioning Wei Wuxian’s name. Apparently, Wei-xiong has been missing since last night, which makes him a possible candidate!

Now, with a rescued sparrow in tow, he’s on his way to the lecture hall where Wei Wuxian will be. Huaisang resolves he’ll wring a confession out of him! 

Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji.

Who would’ve thought?

It is while he ponders that question that rain suddenly descends. Huaisang groans out loud because he’s still a couple buildings away from the lecture hall. Using his free hand as an umbrella, he dashes to the nearest building for shelter, bird still clutched in his grip.

He enters and realizes he’s in the Lans’ armory. After finding a flat surface, he places the bird and starts straightening his clothes.

“Wah, it’s pouring now. I can’t believe this. It’s so sunny but it’s raining. What a bad omen.” He looks at the hopping sparrow. “Don’t you think so, Chicky?”

Chicky the sparrow chirped.

Huaisang nods. “Glad you agreed with me.” While holding Chicky, he decides to explore the armory as he waits for the rain to stop.

He sees the sabre collection and goes over there. “If da-ge sees this, he’d go crazy, right?” He held up the sparrow who chirped again. Turning back to the sabres, he reaches over to inspect one.

Just then, there is rustling against the door. Thinking how people might get the wrong idea if he’s seen interested in a saber, Huaisang’s heart leaps in his throat and he scrambles to duck behind a shelf, perfectly shielding him from the new arrivals.

As whoever just came in closes the door behind them, Huaisang stares at Chicky and lifts a finger against his lips, hoping the sparrow cooperates. Luckily, Chicky only tilts her head, probably wondering why Huaisang is doing something stupid.

He wonders why himself. 

But when he hears a voice he knows why.

“That’s surprising. I don’t remember it raining the first time I was here,” comes the amused voice of Wei Wuxian.

It’s Wei-xiong!” he mouths to Chicky, before craning his neck to the side, trying to take a peek. And what does he mean by first time? Did Wei-xiong already visit the Cloud Recesses and rendezvous with Lan Wangji before? Maybe Huaisang could interrogate him now—

“Dry your hair properly, Wei Ying.”

Huaisang freezes.

A laugh. “You do it for me then, Lan Zhan.”

Like he’s struck by lightning, Huaisang rears back quickly. He lifts Chicky until she’s at eye level and tries to convey his disbelief with his eyes.

That’s Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji, all right! And what’s with the casual use of their given names?

Remembering the rumor about the hug and kiss, he almost gasps.

It’s time to confirm!

Inching slowly to the side, Huaisang spies on the young couple with the focus of a hawk locked on its prey.

They’re standing facing each other, their side profile and every interaction visible to Huaisang. Lan Wangji is patting Wei Wuxian’s forehead with a white cloth he got from who-knows-where. Wei Wuxian is beaming at Lan Wangji as he does the same with only his palm.

Meanwhile, Huaisang can’t believe he gets to be the second witness.

Suddenly, Wei Wuxian drops his hands, pulling Lan Wangji’s hands away from his face as well. “Ai, we can’t do this anymore, Lan Zhan. We promise to be subtle from now on.”

“Mn. When in public.”

“We are in public right now! Technically. We’re in the armory, which is a public place. Anyone can walk in on us.” Wei Wuxian gestures around to prove his point.

“Wei Ying, stop moving.” Lan Wangji keeps Wei Wuxian still with one hand on his shoulder as he continues drying (cradling) Wei Wuxian’s face. The lovestruck look on Wei-xiong’s face is too obvious.

Oh my gods! Am I looking at a budding young couple or a pair of newlyweds? Huaisang thinks incredulously.

After a while, Lan Wangji sighs and takes a step back. “Wei Ying is right. I shouldn’t keep teasing.”

Wei Wuxian looks like he’s about to laugh when suddenly there’s a twit! twit!

Swiftly pulling back, Huaisang’s eyes widen as he glances down at Chicky who’s looking at him smugly. You’re supposed to be on my side!

“What’s that? Is there somebody else here?”

“Wei Ying.”

“I know, I know.”

Footsteps approach Huaisang’s hiding place, and the feathered culprit in question sits innocently on his palm. What is this bad luck? He got here first because of the downpour! He’s hiding because he wants to see the truth for himself! Da-ge, save me! 

Twit! Twit!

Lifting his hands, Huaisang glares at the menace of his life, but Chicky is hopping around in denial. Huh?

There is more chirping but the sound is coming from the opposite direction of where Huaisang and Chicky are. 

He hears Wei Wuxian coo. “Poor bird. He might be looking for cover too. He looks so small and cute… and fat.”

“Wei Ying, don’t eat him.”

“I won’t eat him! Lan Zhan, I’m hurt; why would you think that?”

“Stop teasing. The rain stopped. Let us head to class.”

“Fiiine.”

The sound of the door opening, footsteps, door closing, then nothing.

Huaisang slowly stands up until his eyes are over the shelf, glancing left and right. Coast is clear.

He meets the beady eyes of Chicky. “That’s strike one.”



When Huaisang arrives at the lecture hall, class is about to start and almost everyone is there. Good thing he made it on time or else his brother would kill him.

Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian already made it back, seated in their assigned seats.

Class starts and as expected, it is boring.

Something must have transpired while he was gone because Lan Qiren is looking distastefully at Wei Wuxian as he drones on from his perch at the forefront. Huaisang wonders why, but honestly he’s more interested to see the lovebirds seated so far apart. Lan Wangji is in his respective seat in front while Wei Wuxian is on his right, four seats behind. 

At least they can finally be subtle.

But when Huaisang sits down right beside Wei Wuxian, he realizes how utterly wrong he is.

While Lan Wangji has no choice but to focus his attention on the hallmaster, the same does not apply to Huaisang’s seatmate.

Wei Wuxian keeps looking in Lan Wangji’s direction and sighing deeply. Even when Huaisang distracts him with Chicky, sharing excited whispers with him, his eyes immediately slide back to Lan Wangji’s back. 

Huaisang stares so hard at Wei Wuxian he almost burns a hole through him, but the besotted man ignores him. Wei-xiong? We are in the middle of class and you’re thinking of Wangji-xiong as if you didn’t see him all morning?

Lan Qiren notices, like the nosy old man he is, and asks a question about a ghost, demon, whatever, calling on Wei Wuxian to answer. As expected of Wei-xiong, he answers Qiren’s barrage of questions perfectly.

When asked about a situation with an executioner who dies, Wei Wuxian suddenly goes silent. And it is only because Nie Huaisang is looking closely at him and Lan Wangji that he notices Wangji-xiong’s shoulders go rigid. Huh.

“Well? You don’t know the answer?” Lan Qiren tsks.

Wei Wuxian hums before breaking into a bright grin. “I don’t know. Can I ask Second Young Master Lan to help me?” he asks in a sweet voice.

Excuse me, Wei-xiong? Where is the subtlety?

These two may as well announce to the whole cultivation world they’re married with how affectionate they are!

Silence fills the hall. Huiasang can feel the realization dawn on every disciple who’s heard the rumor.

Huaisang doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Whatever doubt he has vanished after all the things he witnessed today, and it’s only noon.

He can’t wait to see what they’ll do next. This will be fun.

Chapter Text

“I don’t know. Can I ask Second Young Master Lan to help me?”

Jiang Cheng’s neck almost breaks with how fast he turns around in his seat to glare at Wei Wuxian.

His head is already aching from the idiot’s disappearing act. He has snapped at anyone who came talking with him about that stupid rumor he knows better than to believe. And then today, turning up at the last minute, Wei Wuxian sat behind him as their sect’s head disciple as if he didn’t just spend the night outside his assigned quarters. If it weren’t for the audience around them, Jiang Cheng would’ve strangled him already.

Get this. Jiang Cheng comes to the Cloud Recesses. He is responsible for representing the YunmengJiang sect. He promises his mother to study and behave… 

All bets are off when Wei Wuxian gets into trouble.

Jiang Cheng just wants his task to be done in peace and quiet!

He should have seen it coming when Wei Wuxian dragged his feet and whined all the way to Gusu. He should have known something was up when Wei Wuxian suddenly paled and froze once they entered the Cloud Recesses. He should have suspected something like this when his martial brothers told him Wei Wuxian excused himself to his room at nine—nine!—last night under the pretense of sleep.

And now he’s pulling something like this?

Wei Wuxian seems to finally sense his gaze because he glances at Jiang Cheng (fucking finally you noticed me!), only to freeze in shock, as if he’s seen a ghost.

Jiang Cheng raises a brow, as if to say what, scared? though inside he is taken aback, because nothing fazes Wei Wuxian.

Wei Wuxian blinks and gives an uncharacteristic wobbly smile, looking at Jiang Cheng like he is a long lost son who finally returns home. What the fuck? Jiang Cheng stares in bemusement.

The sound of Lan Qiren’s hand slamming on the table brings their attention back in front.

"Ahahaha. It was just me being impudent." Wei Wuxian says in his usual playful tone, and even though Jiang Cheng can no longer see his face, he can tell it is another fake attempt. "Forgive me, Master Lan."

"..."

The whole room is filled with stunned silence again. Wei Wuxian, the notorious troublemaker, apologized!

Lan Qiren also does not expect the easy apology. He stares suspiciously at Wei Wuxian before saying, "Hmph, if you do not know the answer then stop saying nonsense. Be seated. Wangji, answer the question."

When Lan Qiren’s attention shifts to another student, Jiang Cheng resists the urge to turn around until the gong echoes in the great hall, signalling the end of the lecture.

Which is a fatal mistake, because when he turns around, Wei Wuxian is gone.

Jiang Cheng faces Nie Huaisang with a scowl. “Where’s Wei Wuxian?”

Huaisang looks up from—is that a bird!?! No, he shouldn’t get distracted by Huaisang!and gives a mysterious smile like he has resolved all the cultivation problems he incurred for the last fifteen years. “Jiang-xiong, can’t you figure it out?”

Or maybe Huaisang just lost his mind. Very likely considering the four-hour lecture they had to sit through.

“What?” He can’t keep the confusion out of his voice.

Huaisang just sighs, looking at Jiang Cheng pityingly. Like he's the weird one in this conversation! “He and Lan Wangji went somewhere together.”

“Lan Wangji? Why would he be with Lan Wangji?” Jiang Cheng asks with raised eyebrows.

This time, Nie Huaisang rolls his eyes at him. “I know someone like you is hopeless when it comes to these matters but not to this extent! Jiang-xiong.” Huaisang snaps his fan open and waves it to his scowling face. “Didn’t you see what just transpired in class? Ahh, forget it. It’s better if you see it yourself. Go on and find Wei-xiong!”

Jiang Cheng can’t help but say, “Why did I ever ask you?” before he dashes out of the hall in search of one missing Wei Wuxian.


Jiang Cheng’s been searching for hours. The sun begs to differ since it still shines brightly overhead. Perhaps that’s what it just felt like because Jiang Cheng can’t. See. The. Idiot. Anywhere!!!

He is walking along the forests near the waterfalls when he finally, finally hears them.

Then he freezes.

Wei Wuxian is moaning. Jiang Cheng suddenly feels worried about Wei Wuxian—something he will deny until his last breath. He is about to come out from behind a humongous rock formation when he hears an unfamiliar, cool voice.

Wei Wuxian’s moans get louder. He doesn’t sound like he’s in pain.

And Jiang Cheng has a gut feeling he should not come out if he values his sanity!

Wei Wuxian whines, “Lan Zhan, where did you learn to do this?”

“From a book.”

“A book? Oh, that feels so nice. There, there.

At those words, Jiang Cheng can feel the blood rush to his ears, and he finally gets it.

No way. 

No way .

Jiang Cheng desperately wants Zidian to strike him down at this moment and end him.

“Wei Ying, does it hurt?”

“Mm, no, it feels nice. It feels sooo good.” His words end with another loud moan.

Okay, Jiang Cheng is out of here.

If only he stayed longer, he would have heard Wei Wuxian say, “This is the best massage I ever had in my whole life! And I lived twice before this one.”

Wei Ying.”

“Hahahaha!”


Jiang Cheng stares into the distance as his mind analyzes everything that transpired. Wei Wuxian’s reactions when he sees him. His disappearance. Huaisang’s cryptic words. 

Oh.

“Oh,” Jiang Cheng says out loud. Then he looks to the direction of the waterfalls where Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji are doing unspeakable things. “You idiot.”

When he sees him, Jiang Cheng will tell that stupid idiot. 

Now he just needs to stop that idiot from running away.


It is a beautiful night. Jiang Cheng doesn’t expect to spend his second night at the Cloud Recesses hiding high above the tree branches and waiting impatiently for Wei Wuxian. If only Huaisang could hurry up and get Wei Wuxian here right now!

Soon, footsteps near his hiding place and Wei Wuxian and Nie Huaisang emerge from the direction of the dorms. They are on their way to dinner, Huaisang lying to Wei Wuxian about Jiang Cheng being too busy with homework to grab something to eat. Like hell Jiang Cheng would let his food be spoiled by a disappearing Wei Wuxian, but he needs to have this talk right now.

Finally, Huaisang makes some excuse about forgetting his fan and leaves. Wei Wuxian is all alone.

Jiang Cheng jumps down from the tree.

And barely avoids a sword to his face.

His wide eyes meet Wei Wuxian’s equally shocked ones. “J-Jiang Cheng?” Wei Wuxian asks uncertainly.

“Finally decided to talk to me?” Jiang Cheng says coldly. Wei Wuxian tenses and Jiang Cheng decides to cut to the chase.

"I know why you're like this."

Wei Wuxian’s eyes almost bulge out of their sockets. "Y-you do?"

He scoffs. "Of course. I'm not an idiot like you!"

Wei Wuxian looks troubled, and Jiang Cheng hates it. "Then you..."

“It might seem impossible at first, but it can happen,” Jiang Cheng says seriously.

Wei Wuxian snaps his mouth shut, lips thinning. “You know I tim—”

“Yes, I know you’re in a relationship with Lan Wangji, all right?” Jiang Cheng snaps at the same time. He just can’t bear to see that defeated look in Wei Wuxian’s face.

For a moment, the only sound comes from the cicadas. Jiang Cheng keeps on his grave look while Wei Wuxian blinks, then goes through shock, bewilderment, and finally disbelief.

Jiang Cheng tsks. Is this idiot doubting him? "Look, I don’t care if you dally with a man or a woman. Just... stop doing things in public, idiot!” Jiang Cheng’s face flames as he remembers what he heard that afternoon. “I can’t believe someone like Lan Wangji would ever want to be with you.”

Wei Wuxian’s mouth drops open, and for a moment, Jiang Cheng worries (again, in denial) that he says something wrong, until the idiot starts cackling. 

Jiang Cheng is unimpressed in the face of Wei Wuxian’s laughter. Isn’t he supposed to be grateful for Jiang Cheng’s support?

“Jiang Cheng!” Wei Wuxian calls out merrily, like he always does, and slings an arm around him. Jiang Cheng shrugs him away, grumbling, and finally feels a little embarrassed by what he’s done.

“I had enough. Get lost! See if I care next time!” Jiang Cheng seethes, but his burning face reveals him. He stomps his way to the dining hall, Wei Wuxian chortling behind him.

Jiang Cheng sits down heavily, ignoring the way their martial brothers relax when they catch sight of him and Wei Wuxian together. Wei Wuxian sits beside him and engages in a loud, joyous conversation with the others. Huaisang even goes over and joins them. Looks like everything’s back to normal.

Finally, dinner starts and Jiang Cheng, completely over with today’s dramatics, is starving.

The food arrives, and Jiang Cheng blanches at the blandness of the spread. Brown rice, stir-fried vegetables, and bitter vegetable soup that tastes like medicinal soup. What is he, a rabbit?

Wei Wuxian feels the same, obviously, only picking at his food and looking sullen. Now things are fine between them, Jiang Cheng can freely roll his eyes at him.

Just then, a servant appears and serves a covered plate to Wei Wuxian.

“What’s this?” Wei Wuxian asks, confused.

“Second Young Master Lan asked this one to serve this to Young Master Wei.”

Wei Wuxian becomes ecstatic and excitedly takes the proffered plate. He opens the lid with a grin and finds—

Dumplings.

Jiang Cheng gapes. He feels his mouth water.

“They’re vegetable dumplings,” the server explains.

Wei Wuxian has a sappy smile on his face. Jiang Cheng has an urge to strangle him. “Thanks! Tell Lan Zhan I said thank you.”

Jiang Cheng bristles, offended at the injustice of it all.

The server blinks and stutters an affirmative before leaving.

"Wei Wuxian—!" 

Unfortunately, Wei Wuxian isn't paying him any attention. His neck cranes left and right, trying to look past the heads of his fellow cultivators, clearly searching for something. 

Jiang Cheng wants to hit him in the back of his head and shout what the hell is wrong with him (and can he maybe share his dumplings with him?). 

Wei Wuxian visibly perks up when he finds what he's looking for. Jiang Cheng traces his gaze and is unamused to find Wei Wuxian making sappy eyes at Lan Wangji. Wei Wuxian giggles and gives a little wave. 

Jiang Cheng assumes Wei Wuxian is seeking his early death and raises a hand to really hit him in the head. His eyes worriedly go to Lan Wangji, afraid that the immaculate second master Lan would be angry at Wei Wuxian’s public display.

What Jiang Cheng sees makes him pause.

Far and wide, the cultivation world has described Lan Wangji as an ice cold beauty. A peerless jade that never cracks. No one can find faults in him, and no one dares get close to him out of fear. 

In short, Lan Wangji is talented, good-looking, and anti-social. 

No one has ever seen or made him smile.

So what the heck is Jiang Cheng looking at now? 

Sitting prim behind the table, an almost imperceptible smile graces Lan Wangji's face. 

He hears Wei Wuxian coo. “His smile is like snow melting during spring.”

The two are tables apart but they keep on staring at one another as if they're the only ones in the room. 

Jiang Cheng glumly mutters, "Really? Right in front of my bland vegetables?"

Chapter Text

Lan Qiren’s priority in life consists of only two things: the Lan sect and his nephews.

The Gusu Lan sect must meet all expectations while maintaining its integrity and principles. As the figurehead and acting sect leader, he has a lot of responsibilities on that front.

As the only living blood-related uncle of Lan Xichen and Lan Wangji, he has to make sure they are safe and equipped with all the necessary skills and knowledge in order to be an upstanding cultivator and capable of inheriting the title of sect leader. Perhaps chief cultivator in the distant future.

Unfortunately, Lan Qiren’s balancing with his two priorities shatters in the most unexpected ways.

Therefore, it is in the best interest of Lan Qiren’s two priorities that the lectures with the visiting disciples go over smoothly. The students will learn. Lan Wangji and Lan Xichen will set an example for everyone. The cultivation world will be at peace.

Little does he know, his wishful thinking will never come true.

 

#####

Several weeks into the lectures, Lan Qiren concludes that Lan Wangji is acting… odd. 

Odd is a word he never imagined to describe Lan Wangji. But there is no other way to explain his behavior.

If he remembers correctly, the first time Lan Wangji started acting odd happened during breakfast, on the first day of the disciple study retreat thing. Lan Wangji never arrived and dined with him and Lan Xichen. Lan Wangji is notable for his strictness and discipline, the way he holds himself and everyone around him to the highest standards. Later on, he found Lan Wangji waiting for him by the door of his study room, offering him a five inch scroll of punishment sutras impeccably written in Lan Wangji’s handwriting. Head bowed, he apologized for not being able to attend breakfast with them.

Lan Qiren cannot fathom why his nephew would ever do something so irresponsible. When he asked him where he dined for breakfast, Wangji hesitated before saying that he ate with one of the visiting disciples. At that, Lan Qiren’s brows almost reached his hairline. A warm feeling suddenly spread throughout his heart. 

Lan Wangji, his perfect, disciplined nephew, is finally learning how to socialize.

While Lan Qiren is happy with this development, he still reprimanded Lan Wangji. Meal times are for the family. He cannot tolerate rule-breaking. From Lan Wangji’s actions, his nephew understands.

That’s not all Lan Qiren observes. 

As they say, children mature in the blink of an eye. Lan Wangji is a perfect example. He had the air of a stubborn teenager before, but now he holds himself with a certain confidence and poise. As he oversees the classes once again, Lan Wangji seems like a different person. Or rather, like an improved version of himself. His understanding of the lessons deepens. His swordsmanship became sharper and faster. His eyes, already serious-looking most of the time, appear mature and knowing. 

Unbelievably, he even helped Lan Qiren with a sect matter! 

When he called Lan Wangji over to have tea with him, they were interrupted by an urgent matter from the Ouyang sect. Lan Qiren had no patience for it, having been pestered for a long while by the sect leader already, when even he ran out of ideas. Lan Wangji was quietly observing the agitated conversation when he spoke up and politely offered the perfect solution to the problem.

Lan Qiren and the messenger stared at Lan Wangji. All Lan Qiren could think at the time was why didn’t I think of that and how did Wangji come up with that.

Overall, Lan Qiren is quite satisfied with Wangji’s adolescence. He thinks Lan Wangji has even surpassed Lan Xichen.

Until one day.

While taking care of business in Caiyi town, Lan Qiren catches sight of Lan Wangji. He thinks his eyes are playing tricks on him. Lan Wangji has never stepped foot in Caiyi town outside missions.

With the stealth of a seasoned cultivator, he follows Lan Wangji until he ends up in front of a music shop, watching Lan Wangji survey the array of xiao and dizi. At first Lan Qiren thinks his nephew is purchasing a xiao for Lan Xichen. 

Apparently not! Lan Qiren makes a confused noise as Lan Wangji bought a dizi. Is Wangji going to start playing the dizi? Isn’t he studying the guqin

When he asks Xichen about it, Xichen is equally confused. “Wangji has been diligent in his guqin studies, Uncle.” 

“Then why did he purchase a dizi?”

“... I don’t know.”

How curious. But if Lan Wangji wants to further his musical cultivation studies, Lan Qiren has no problem with that.

He puts the matter to rest until the next instance when he goes down the mountains, he sees Wangji in a liquor store.

A. Liquor. Store.

Buying Emperor’s Smile!

Lan Qiren almost has a heart attack. He is about to confront Wangji, but his companion (a dignitary from the Jin clan) demands his attention, so he cannot follow after Wangji this time.

(Unbeknownst to him, Lan Wangji heads back to the Cloud Recesses and gifts the alcohol to his beloved.)

 

#####

Due to the emergency inter-sect matter forcing him to leave Gusu, Lan Qiren never manages to confront Wangji about the Emperor’s Smile matter. It also leaves his mind, until he receives a report from Lan Xichen about the impeccable performance of the visiting disciples this year. 

Lan Qiren has returned to the Cloud Recesses and met up with Xichen to receive updates on the disciples’ studies and progress. Then Xichen mentions that the Biling Lake issue was resolved. 

Lan Qiren has been complacent nothing could ever go wrong after putting Lan Xichen in charge while he was away from Gusu. Thus, when he receives the latest night hunt report, he almost spits out his tea.

“The Waterborne Abyss has been exorcised?!” Lan Qiren’s incredulous tone does not cover the shock he is feeling. “That’s impossible!”

“It is now, Uncle,” Lan Xichen says with a pleased smile. “And the full credit for such a feat goes to Wangji and Young Master Wei.”

“Wangji? Wei Wuxian?” Lan Qiren feels like his eyes have popped out of his head with how wide they are.

“Yes, Uncle.” Lan Xichen keeps smiling, like he’s thoroughly enjoying Lan Qiren’s reaction.

Coughing in his sleeve, Lan Qiren skims the report, mind blanking at the detailed description of Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian’s collaborative efforts, and resolves to find out the heart of the matter.

Just what is that troublemaker doing with his nephew?

Suddenly, he remembers Lan Wangji’s visits to Caiyi town, including his questionable (dizi) and forbidden (liquor) purchases.

Then he remembers Wangji telling him months before about having breakfast with a fellow disciple.

Wangji is consorting with Wei Wuxian?!

Lan Xichen is blushing and clearing his throat. “Uncle, that wording is a bit… cough cough.” 

But Lan Qiren does not notice his odd reaction and shouts, “Bring Wangji to me. NOW!!!”

“Uncle, calm down…”

A moment later, Lan Wangji is called in his Uncle’s visiting room, frowns bemusedly when he sees Lan Qiren seething with Lan Xichen placating him. “Uncle. Brother,” he greets.

Lan Qiren points a finger at his nephew. “You! What are you doing?!”

“... I don’t understand.”

“Wei Wuxian! You are consorting with Wei Wuxian! I cannot allow this to happen. Stop hanging around with him.”

Suddenly, Lan Wangji gets a steely look in his eyes. Never has Lan Qiren seen Lan Wangji looking like he’s about to wage war with the world. Lan Qiren is taken aback. Isn’t this a simple matter?

“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Uncle,” Lan Wangji says firmly, tone brooking no argument.

Lan Qiren’s mouth drops open in shock. This is the first time Wangji ever openly defied him.

“Talking back to your elders… I see Wei Wuxian has already imparted his bad influence on you. And that Emperor’s Smile! Drinking is forbidden by our sect!”

Lan Wangji blinks. It doesn’t show in his face, but Lan Qiren can tell he is confused. “I never drink alcohol.”

“Then what were you doing in the liquor store? Don’t try to get away from this! I saw you enter it a while back!”

Wangji looks down, an admission of guilt. “I did enter the liquor store but I did not drink alcohol,” he explains

“What did you do there, Wangji?” Lan Xichen interjects. His question is more curious than angry.

“I… I bought a jar of Emperor’s Smile.”

“You bought a jar but didn’t drink it? What did you do with it?” Lan Xichen prods gently.

“....”

“You!” Lan Qiren starts, clutching his nape in anger as his blood pressure increases. “You gave it to Wei Wuxian, didn’t you?! See! What did I ever do to lead you astray like this?”

“I am not led astray, Uncle.”

“No! From now on, you cannot befriend Wei Wuxian.”

“Uncle!”

“Uncle.”

Both Lan Wangji and Lan Xichen object, with the former looking pained and stubborn and the latter shocked and uncertain. He averts his gaze.

“No more reasoning!” Lan Qiren orders.

Lan Wangji’s jaw is set stubbornly. “I understand and appreciate your concern, Uncle. However, I cannot do as you wish.”

His nephew, his righteous and obedient nephew, stands up and leaves!

Lan Qiren cannot take that behavior. “Wangji! Wangji!”

“Ah, Uncle, please, Wangji is upset. I don’t think it is wise to talk to him right now,” Lan Xichen placates, hands raised in front of him.

“Him upset?! Then what am I?!” Lan Qiren throws himself down in his seat, huffing and clutching his nape. “Gods. What is Wangji thinking?”

 

#####

After that event, Lan Qiren returns to supervising the lecture classes and decides to keep a close eye on Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian. 

Except there is nothing for him to do.

In all the lectures, sword training, and talisman classes, he never sees Wei Wuxian go near Lan Wangji. He thinks they’re putting up an appearance and are still meeting in secret, but Lan Wangji has always stayed in the library or in the Jingshi during his free time. He knows this because Lan Xichen reports it with a distraught expression.

Lan Qiren harrumphs and wonders if the discomfort in his stomach is because he ate too little. Certainly, knowing Wei Wuxian’s personality, that brat is up to something.

Despite his worst fears, Wei Wuxian disturbingly grows subdued. His usual antics in class are gone. All he does is stare absentmindedly into space. He’s acting like a normal, obedient student, even his martial brothers from the Jiang sect are giving him wary looks. When Lan Qiren asks him a question, he gives the correct answer, so Lan Qiren can only grumble and continue with the lesson.

As for Lan Wangji, his nephew seems to have deflated. The collected maturity he gained has now vanished. Nobody dares approach Lan Wangji with the aura of coldness and desolation emanating from him. Even Lan Qiren finds himself hesitating.

Wait a moment. Why is Lan Qiren unhappy with this development? This is his wish! Lan Wangji stayed away from Wei Wuxian despite what he said.

Right? 

“Ah.” Lan Qiren clutches his middle from the sudden discomfort while he is having tea one afternoon. “Did my body find the food disagreeable?”

Is this guilt?

During one class, a visiting disciple makes a mistake with the talisman he is working with. The disciples scramble to put out the cursed fire with water talismans, to no avail. Lan Qiren sighs in disappointment. Weren’t these disciples listening to his lecture at all? 

He is about to step forward and take care of the matter until Wei Wuxian activates a cleansing talisman then a water talisman in quick succession. Everyone is stunned, including Lan Qiren.

The disciple who makes a mistake, that younger brother of Nie Mingjue apparently, clutches at Wei Wuxian’s robes and wails, “Wei-xiong, thank you so much! You’re amazing!” The other disciples go forward to offer words of astonishment. Lan Qiren glances at Lan Wangji and doubletakes at the small, proud smile on his face.

Wei Wuxian doesn’t see this and just gives the disciples near him a strained smile. “Don’t worry about it.” And goes back to staring off silently into space.

Loathe is Lan Qiren to admit it, Wei Wuxian performed spectacularly. “What Wei Wuxian performed is the correct remedy against a cursed fire. All of you better remember it.”

At that, Wei Wuxian snaps out of his reverie and stares at Lan Qiren in surprise. He gives a smile and continues his work. Lan Qiren pretends not to notice.

Maybe this Wei Wuxian isn’t so bad after all.

The pain in his stomach lessens. Lan Qiren ignores the implication.

 

#####

He is discussing the ending lectures with Lan XIchen over tea when Lan Wangji joins them.

“Uncle. Brother,” Lan Wangji greets politely.

Meanwhile, Lan Qiren hides his shock and nods before distracting himself with his tea. This is the first time Lan Wangji seeks him out after their “fight.” Lan Wangji has not been disrespectful towards him, but it is obvious that he was avoiding Lan Qiren. Yet after that talisman incident with Wei Wuxian, his nephew loses some of the unapproachable aura but still does not initiate interactions with Lan Qiren like before.

He wonders what changed.

Lan Wangji sits beside Lan Xichen and keeps his head bowed as he says, “Uncle, please permit a wish of mine.”

Seeing Wangji with the most serious expression he has ever seen and wanting to end the cold war between them, Lan Qiren nods, indulging. “Tell me your wish.”

“I want to take Wei Wuxian as my betrothed.”

“!!!!”

This time, Lan Qiren keels over and almost qi deviates.

“Uncle!”

“Uncle.”

How wrong of him to think positively of Wei Wuxian!