Wei Wuxian had known about the discussion conference long before those who would be invited. They’d been discussing the incident of the Nanchang lookout tower over tea when Lan Wangji had first proposed it. Then Wei Wuxian had left to travel across Hugang just as Cloud Recesses was descending into the administrative madness of planning the event.
Wei Wuxian had no intention of attending. He had avoided all the discussion conferences ever since Lan Wangji had become Chief Cultivator and he saw no reason to attend this one just because it was being held at Cloud Recesses.
Therefore, he was reasonably shocked when he found himself waking up on the first day of the discussion conference in his own quarters at Cloud Recesses. “This cannot be right. I definitely went to sleep in Baisha last night,” he told Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi, who had been fretting at his bedside ever since he’d woken up. Not to mention, the discussion conference was not for another month. “Did someone put something in my drink? Was I cursed?”
“Something like that,” said Lan Sizhui, laying a hand on Wei Wuxian’s shoulder so he would settle back into bed. “You went night hunting with us two nights ago for a yaojing that fed on memories. We were so afraid you’d wake up thinking you were a child, like its previous victims. It looks like you only lost a few weeks.”
“I fell prey? To a yaojing?” said Wei Wuxian, affronted.
“You tripped over some loose rock.”
Wei Wuxian raised his eyebrow. “Lying is forbidden in Cloud Recesses.”
Lan Sizhui lowered his gaze, embarrassed. “I’m not sure what happened either. You were a bit distracted during the hunt.”
“By what?” Wei Wuxian asked. Did it have anything to do with the stacks of talismans sitting at the foot of his workstation? They didn’t look like the usual protection talismans. Each talisman had a different character at the bottom to ward off a different supernatural creature. What had he been doing?
Lan Jingyi shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe about the wedding?”
Wei Wuxian sat up. “Who’s getting married?” He hoped it wasn’t Jin Ling. He didn’t have a stable enough relationship with Jiang Cheng yet to guarantee an invitation and he really didn’t want to miss another family wedding.
Lan Jingyi’s face lost colour. “Hanguang-jun is going to kill us.”
Wei Wuxian blinked. “Lan Zhan is getting married?”
“Yes,” said Lan Jingyi. “To you.”
Wei Wuxian burst into laughter. “How dare you take advantage of your senior’s memory loss like that! Even so, you should come up with something more believable.”
“I’m getting Hanguang-jun,” Lan Jingyi cried and fled.
“That boy gets more dramatic every time I see him. But seriously, is someone getting married?” Wei Wuxian was startled by the frown Lan Sizhui leveled at him. Was it something he said?
“Jingyi was telling the truth. You and Hanguang-jun are betrothed,” said Lan Sizhui.
“A-Yuan, why are you teasing me too? No, don’t repeat that rule about lying. It wouldn’t be lying if you’re embellishing something I probably said myself. Maybe I called Lan Zhan my zhiji one too many times and you excitable children read too much into it or something.”
It’s not like Wei Wuxian hadn’t noticed the way Lan Sizhui and his friends have been looking at him and Lan Wangji; like they were watching a play down in Caiyi Town and their nails were digging into their palms waiting for the two leads to kiss and end the story. But he and Lan Wangji weren’t like that. Ouyang Zizhen could sigh all he wanted. He and Lan Wangji were not romantic partners.
“But… but,” said Lan Sizhui, looking upset, “we all know you like to joke so we asked Hanguang-jun directly and he confirmed it.”
Wei Wuxian’s smile froze on his face. Lan Wangji had done what now?
Lan Jingyi reported that as worried as Lan Wangji was over Wei Wuxian’s condition, he couldn’t come to him. The opening event of the discussion conference had begun and for the Chief Cultivator to leave in the middle of it for anything short of a disaster would be disrespectful. Slighting the sect leaders this early would make any negotiations down the line unnecessarily difficult.
Wei Wuxian understood this. Yet.
He chucked on his outer robes and marched towards the training grounds. Lan Sizhui dogged his steps, pleading for him to take it easy while Lan Jingyi lobbed steamed buns he’d stolen from the kitchen at him. Wei Wuxian caught them all and stuffed them into his qiankun pouch because he hated food going to waste.
“Eat them,” Lan Jingyi demanded angrily.
“You haven’t had any food in two days, Wei-qianbei. You should eat something,” Lan Sizhui entreated.
Wei Wuxian wasn’t hungry. He was curious. “It’s not that I think you boys are lying to me,” Wei Wuxian reiterated as he made his brisk way across the courtyard, the chill of the coming autumn nipping at the tips of his ears, “but I don’t think you have the full story either.”
If their estimates were correct, Wei Wuxian had lost about a month’s worth of memories. A month ago, Wei Wuxian had definitely not been courting Lan Wangji. If this betrothal was real, it would mean that Lan Wangji had agreed to marry him after a meagre few weeks of courting.
“What’s so strange about that?” Lan Jingyi wanted to know.
“Jingyi, lower your voice,” Lan Sizhui hissed.
“You think Hanguang-jun cares about appearances when it comes to you? Did you forget that he installed you in the Jingshi when he first brought you back? None of us even knew who you were at the time.”
“No, no, you’re conflating two different things,” said Wei Wuxian with an impatient wave of his hand.
“Jingyi, why don’t you go on ahead and tell Hanguang-jun we’re coming? I’ll accompany Wei-qianbei in,” said Lan Sizhui.
“I don’t need a babysitter.” Wei Wuxian winced when Lan Sizhui turned those big, sad eyes at him. Damn it. This was definitely a trick he had picked up growing up here because his A-Yuan had never used his cuteness to manipulate people like this. Well, not intentionally anyway. “Fine. As head disciple, you’re meant to sit in anyway, aren’t you?”
The opening event for discussion conferences were traditionally archery competitions. They demanded little in the way of physical exertion while allowing the sects to show off. Gusu Lan, however, has never been one for archery. So whenever discussion conferences were held at Cloud Recesses, cultivators were instead invited to show off their swordplay.
Wei Wuxian could not believe he’d forgotten. He walked forward towards the dais on which Lan Wangji sat, keeping to the outer edges of the courtyard and making sure that the display being put on was always in the corners of his peripheral view.
Dealing with his insecurities over his sword cultivation had been easier when he had first been reborn. He’d considered himself lucky to be in possession of Mo Xuanyu’s core, no matter how weak it was. When the immediate crisis had passed and Wei Wuxian had had time to consider his future, he’d envisioned training until he regained his former strength. Suibian had been returned to him. What was there to stop him?
And yet. Mo Xuanyu’s core was still weak. Despite practicing his sword forms and meditating daily, training more rigorously than he ever remembered doing in his first lifetime, Wei Wuxian still could not ride his sword. It was pathetic. Shameful, really.
Gritting his teeth, Wei Wuxian gave in and let himself look to the right. Low tables had been arranged around the training grounds where the sect leaders and their retinue sat, drinking tea and looking on appreciatively. In the middle of it all was the head disciple of Qianshan Mao crossing swords with a Lanling Jin cultivator. Mao Wenling’s form was impeccable; the way she parried against the Jin cultivator’s attacks elegant. No wonder she was a famed beauty.
Wei Wuxian gripped his flute.
“Is everything alright?” said Lan Sizhui softly.
Wei Wuxian cleared his throat as Mao Wenling and the Lanling Jin cultivator saluted Lan Wangji and returned to their seats. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen such excellent swordplay. Qianshan Mao has been hiding a gem.”
“She wasn’t hiding. She was at the previous discussion conferences.”
“Being smart-mouthed doesn’t suit you, Sizhui,” Wei Wuxian scolded jokingly.
Lan Sizhui was well aware why Wei Wuxian had avoided the conferences. Even if he wasn’t, it would be plainly evident now because word has travelled and now everyone on the training grounds was keenly aware that the Yiling Patriarch was in their midst. Those who were not staring suspiciously at him were outright glaring. A little further ahead, Jiang Cheng was frowning. At the table next to him, Jin Ling was pretending not to have noticed him.
Wei Wuxian chuckled to himself. He had avoided the cultivation gentry for so long it wouldn’t surprise him if some of them had genuinely forgotten he lived at Cloud Recesses when he wasn’t on the road.
“You know what would really be a display?” said Wei Wuxian. “If your Hanguang-jun would duel with Mao Wenling over there. She is not yet a match for him but both their sword forms are beautiful.”
“You were the one who keeps reminding us that Hanguang-jun cannot be used as a yardstick because that would not be fair to anyone,” Lan Sizhui reminded him.
“By that same reasoning, Wei Ying should not be used as a yardstick as well.”
Lan Sizhui lowered himself in a respectful salute. “Hanguang-jun,” he greeted.
Wei Wuxian’s mouth went dry.
Lan Wangji had always been handsome. More poems about beauty must have been inspired by him than anyone truly knew. But in these newly commissioned robes that accentuated his broad shoulders and these lines that exaggerated the effortless grace with which he moved, no one could be expected to pay attention to anything else. Perhaps that had been Lan Wangji’s plan. Maybe he meant to use his beauty to distract the sect leaders into being agreeable.
“Lan Zhan, you didn’t have to come down to receive us. We were going to you,” Wei Wuxian said.
Lan Wangji’s gaze was searching. “How are you feeling?”
Lan Wangji turned to Lan Sizhui, who said, “The healer had advised one more day of bed rest but Wei-qianbei could not be persuaded.”
“You told me I was unconscious for two days and it feels like it.” Wei Wuxian made a show of stretching. “You would not begrudge me this, would you, my good Lan Zhan? You know how I get when I’m restless.” He stifled the urge to laugh when Lan Wangji and Lan Sizhui exchanged restrained looks of alarm. He wasn’t sure if they were thinking of that time he’d taught the junior disciples how to customise talismans to speed up alcohol distillation or that time he’d attempted recreating the dyeing process he’d seen in Yunping City and had turned everyone’s robes pink. Both had caused Lan Qiren to go so faint with rage he couldn’t even shout. The second one, at least, had elicited a chuckle from Lan Xichen when a pink-garbed disciple had delivered his meal. That was the most anyone had gotten out of him since he’d gone into seclusion following Jin Guangyao’s death.
“Also, I thought I might as well start getting used to attending discussion conferences again since it won’t look good if the Chief Cultivator’s husband is always absent.” Wei Wuxian waited for Lan Wangji to tell him the betrothal was not real. That the children had obviously misunderstood. He even stepped closer so Lan Wangji could whisper it in case he didn’t want to tell Lan Sizhui yet.
This close, however, Wei Wuxian could see the intricate embroidery of Lan Wangji’s robe. Fine silver thread on white, it was near invisible. Swirling clouds that spilled down the shoulder line but making space around the lapel so that over Lan Wangji’s heart was a single, unmistakable nine-petaled lotus flower.
Wei Wuxian’s breath stuttered in his chest.
“Why is everyone standing here? Is something wrong?” said Lan Xichen, approaching them from behind.
“Zewu-jun!” said Wei Wuxian.
“Yes?” said Lan Xichen, surprised.
“Uh, nothing! It’s good to see you out of seclusion.” When had that happened? What else had happened during the month he no longer remembered?
“Ah, yes, of course. I’d heard about the yaojing. I’m sorry to hear that you were hurt. I hope you didn’t lose too much.”
“I don’t think I did. Sizhui said it’s only a few weeks. I suppose you know as well that Lan Zhan and I are betrothed?” said Wei Wuxian weakly.
Lan Xichen nodded, smiling in a way that indicated he was more amused that he was letting on. “Shufu came straight to me after the two of you told him.”
Wei Wuxian gripped Lan Wangji’s arm to stop himself from falling over. They’d told Lan Qiren? There was absolutely no way this was a joke. Wei Wuxian whispered, “We’re really getting married, Lan Zhan?” Despite it all, he still had a difficult time believing it. It didn’t make sense that he’d be this lucky.
“It’s best if we keep this news to ourselves for now,” said Lan Wangji.
“Wangji?” said Lan Xichen the same time Lan Sizhui said, “Hanguang-jun?”
“There is much that needs to be decided during this conference. I’d rather that my betrothal to Wei Ying not distract from that,” Lan Wangji explained.
Wei Wuxian gave a half-hearted agreement, still too distracted. Lan Wangji wasn’t looking at him or treating him any differently. Could it be that Lan Wangji was marrying him for non-romantic reasons? “If that’s the case, then maybe I should go,” he said.
Lan Wangji stopped him with a hand at his elbow. “You are already here. Stay with me for a while.” He guided Wei Wuxian up the dais where a seat had already been prepared for him thanks to Lan Jingyi having run ahead. “Are you comfortable?” said Lan Wangji.
More comfortable that he should be with at least three quarters of the people there staring at him. Wei Wuxian drank the tea poured out for him without tasting it. “Lan Zhan, what’s going on?”
“I’ll explain soon,” Lan Wangji promised.
Wei Wuxian sighed and sat back to not-watch the swordplay. Not everyone who presented was as brilliant as Mao Wenling. In fact, Wei Wuxian was experienced enough to tell when the disciples had traded stable footwork for flashy attacks. The fact that they were not forced off their feet sooner told Wei Wuxian that the cultivators had rehearsed their display. Before Wei Wuxian could help himself, he heard Lan Wangji’s voice in his head, Boring. He snorted.
“What is it?” said Lan Xichen.
“Nothing, nothing,” said Wei Wuxian. “It’s been so long since I’ve attended one of these I don’t know how to behave properly anymore. I’m surprised Lan-xiansheng has not come to breathe fire down my neck for, I don’t know, sitting wrong or something.” It was only then that Wei Wuxian realised that Lan Qiren was not with them. He craned his neck and looked around. “Where is Lan-xiansheng anyway? He’s the last person I’d have thought would be late.”
Lan Xichen blinked quickly. “Um,” he said while Lan Sizhui hid his smile behind his teacup. That was how Wei Wuxian found out that the announcement of his betrothal to Lan Wangji had brought one esteemed Gusu Lan sect member out of seclusion and had sent another one into it.
Wei Wuxian had been having a pleasant dream when a hand shook him awake. He swatted it away. “Leave me alone, mister bandit. I have no money.”
“That’s how you dissuade bandits?” said a voice above his head. Then with more outrage. “Wei Wuxian, was that really what happened to your money pouch that time!”
“Jiang Cheng?” Wei Wuxian squawked, sitting up so quickly he fell backward.
But Jiang Cheng wasn’t there. Jin Ling stood before him with his arms crossed. The training grounds were now empty; Gusu Lan disciples scuttling about clearing the tables and carrying furniture away with ruthless efficiency.
Wei Wuxian rubbed his eyes blearily. “Did I sleep through the entire display?” He turned to Lan Wangji, who was holding him from behind by the shoulders. Wei Wuxian leaned back against him. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know how I managed to fall asleep. Why didn’t you kick me or something?”
“Wei Ying needed his rest,” Lan Wangji said.
Wei Wuxian really liked it when Lan Wangji looked at him like this. It felt like sunlight being poured directly into him. It was fortunate that Lan Wangji did not warm up to most people because if everyone found out he could do this, they would hang off him and Wei Wuxian would have trouble getting access.
“You should return to your quarters. You are still recovering,” said Lan Wangji. Though his words were directed towards Wei Wuxian, his pointed stare was for Jin Ling.
“Wei Wuxian,” said Jin Ling, “please tell me you had not been robbed that time you came to Jinlintai and asked me to feed you. Here I thought Gusu Lan just wasn’t giving you enough money when you go out and run errands for them.” Jin Ling returned Lan Wangji’s glare with one of his own.
Jin Ling had spent his first year as sect leader second guessing his every decision. After hearing too many side room complaints about how he was running the sect into the ground, Jin Ling had decided to heck with it and had begun treating the sect elders like Jiang Cheng; namely he did whatever he wanted and only stopped when he couldn’t get away with it. While Wei Wuxian appreciated his only nephew growing into the mantle he had to wear, picking a fight with Lan Wangji over personal matters was definitely something he could not get away with.
Wei Wuxian jumped to his feet, hands raised. “It’s time to eat, isn’t it? Let’s have some food before the discussions start. If these things are still the same, everyone will do nothing but argue the whole day and you shouldn’t have to stand that while hungry.” He offered the steamed buns from his qiankun pouch. They were cold and soggy now. Wei Wuxian winced. He should have put a stasis talisman on them.
Jin Ling sighed. “That’s why I was waiting for you to wake up. You’re having lunch with me.”
“I am?” said Wei Wuxian.
“Yes. I’ve got some concerns about the double enclosure but I need to know first how far you’ve got with the talismans.”
Wei Wuxian thought about the warding talismans by his workspace. “Those were for you? What do you need them for?”
Jin Ling looked on the verge of braining Wei Wuxian. “How bad is your memory that you can’t remember what we discussed two weeks ago?”
Wei Wuxian laughed nervously. “See, about that…”
Jin Lin stared at him for a long time after hearing the whole story. “Are you serious? I thought everyone was exaggerating because you’re you but you really do get into the most ridiculous of situations. A yaojing? When you’re accompanied by senior Gusu Lan cultivators?” Jin Ling sighed exasperatedly. “Whatever. It’s fine. You’re still coming to lunch. I’ll give you all the details again.”
Wei Wuxian wanted to coo. Jin Ling really had grown up. Look at him taking everything in stride. “You heard him, Lan Zhan. Let’s go.”
“I cannot. Wu-zongzhu of the Tongzhou Wu has requested a meeting. Xiongzhang is already waiting for me,” said Lan Wangji.
That statement alone was odd. Why would Sect Leader Wu need Lan Xichen’s presence as well? As far as Wei Wuxian was aware, the Tongzhou Wu sect had no business with Gusu Lan.
Whatever. He’ll ask Lan Wangji to tell all later if it was important. “Join us after you’re done then.”
“After that, Fang-zongzhu of the Sucheng Fang sect wants to see me.”
Wei Wuxian frowned. “It’s only the first day. You should take it easy.”
“It’s because it’s the first day that it’s so intense. Everyone wants a meeting ahead of everyone else,” said Jin Ling.
Has the format of discussion conferences changed after all? Were side deals made in unofficial meetings the de rigeur now? That didn’t sound right at all. It certainly didn’t fit with how Lan Wangji did things.
Lan Wangji touched Wei Wuxian’s elbow. “I will explain everything later.” He nodded curtly at Jin Ling and left.
Only when he had disappeared from sight did Jin Ling unclench and sigh. “He looks at me as if I’m going to stab you at any given moment. It’s been years. He needs to let that go.”
Wei Wuxian smiled wryly. “Good luck with that. Unlike me, Lan Zhan never forgets anything.”
It wasn’t until Wei Wuxian arrived at the courtyard that he realised Jin Ling had been leading them to the guest quarters that had been assigned to Jiang Cheng. Wei Wuxian stilled at the doorway. The last time he had met Jiang Cheng, Jiang Cheng had ignored him completely. While that was a marked improvement from the previous times when Jiang Cheng had issued physical threats, it was nowhere near the amicable stage where sharing a meal was a possible scenario. Sensing his panic, Jin Ling snatched his forearm and tugged.
“It’s fine,” he insisted. “If anything, the only thing he’ll be mad about is the fact that you don’t remember having gone back to Lotus Pier. Oh, maybe he’ll be mad about the talismans too because we’d been hoping to test it out after the conference.”
Wei Wuxian dug his heels into the ground and refused to move past the doorway “I went home?”
“That’s where I met you two weeks ago,” Jin Ling confirmed.
Wei Wuxian had to lean against the wooden doorjamb to collect himself. Usually years passed without anything noteworthy happening. Yet Wei Wuxian was beginning to feel that he had forgotten the most eventful month in history. He had gone back to Lotus Pier for the first time in years and by the sound of it, Jiang Cheng had let him in.
Jin Ling was right. Jiang Cheng wasn’t going to be at all pleased that Wei Wuxian did not remember.
Wei Wuxian meekly entered Jiang Cheng’s quarters, half expecting to be greeted by Zidian’s sting the moment he was past the threshold. While Jiang Cheng did look annoyed, it was not the murderous flavour of irritation Wei Wuxian was used to seeing on him. Still, Wei Wuxian cautiously chose to sit at the side of the table which was furthest from Jiang Cheng and closest to the door.
Jiang Cheng raised his right eyebrow. “You didn’t bring the talismans?”
“Er, no. I can go get them,” said Wei Wuxian.
“Wait, you finished them?” said Jin Ling.
“Depends on what you mean by finish. I don’t know what I promised you, after all.”
“What do you mean you don’t know? You said you could get them finished by today,” said Jiang Cheng. When Jin Ling relayed what had happened to Jiang Cheng, Jiang Cheng’s reaction was pretty much the same. “You are the fucking Yiling Patriarch. How did you let a yaojing get the better of you?” he snapped. Wei Wuxian lamented that all that differentiated Jin Ling from Jiang Cheng now was that Jiang Cheng had no compunctions against swearing. “So you don’t remember paying respects to mum and dad? To shijie? None of it?”
“You let me?” said Wei Wuxian. After all, Jiang Cheng had nearly taken his head off the last time he’d dared enter the ancestral hall.
Jiang Cheng clicked his tongue in the way he usually did when he was uncomfortable. “You were brave enough to come home. Shijie would have cursed me from the afterlife if I’d turned you away.”
“Shijie would never.”
“Jin Zixuan would do it on her behalf.”
“After you raised Jin Ling?”
“Wei Wuxian, do you want to get hit? Why are you back talking so much?” Jiang Cheng scolded.
Jin Ling watched all this, looking scathingly unimpressed. “I’m hungry, you know. Can we at least have the food brought out? A-Dong, A-Xu, please be quick before I eat one of them,” he said the the Jiang sect disciples waiting on them; disciples who no doubt knew Jin Ling more as Jiang Cheng’s nephew than as Sect Leader Jin because they did not react at all to being addressed so familiarly.
As they waited for the food to arrive, Jiang Cheng and Jin Ling explained the business of the talismans. It turned out that Jiang Cheng was planning to host the next night hunting competition in Yunmeng but he and Jin Ling had come up with a new format for it. Most night hunting competitions mimicked actual hunts by releasing the cultivators onto the land and letting them ferret out and trap as much supernatural prey as they could. Jiang Cheng, however, wanted something more focussed.
“We’re building a double-wall enclosure,” he said, tapping his finger on the water left on the tea tray and drawing two squares on the table; one within the other. He pointed at the outer square. “The outer wall will be papered with spirit lures to get a good variety of prey but this one,” he moved his finger to the inner square, “needs special talismans to make sure only the more harmless yao can get in. That way those who want to participate but aren’t confident enough in their skills can stay in the inner compound while the ones who want to show off can venture outwards. You,” said Jiang pointing his finger at Wei Wuxian’s face, “said you had ideas for those talismans.”
Wei Wuxian definitely did. Even as Jiang Cheng had been explaining, a couple of ideas had been bouncing around in his head which he could not wait to try. It was not exactly the talismans he had in his room. Maybe the ideas he had now had already been discarded as part of a failed prototype. Wei Wuxian couldn’t wait to go back and test out his theories. “Give me a bit more time. You’re planning on holding it in the early spring right? I’m sure I’ll have something that we can test out before winter comes.”
“You better because this is not something I’m going to do unless I’m sure it works properly.”
That sounded more like Jiang Cheng. Wary of even the slightest risk because he was constantly trying to live up to some internalised idea of what a Yunmeng Jiang sect leader should be. Coming up with a new format of competition did not sound at all like his style. Wei Wuxian glanced discreetly at Jin Ling, who had been sipping his tea with suspicious silence.
“If you want, I can show you what I’ve got now. Let me go get my work,” Wei Wuxian offered. He was halfway standing when Jiang Cheng pulled him back down by his arm.
“Eat first, idiot. All this was really heavy to bring.”
That was when A-Dong and A-Xu arrived with a few more disciples, bearing a veritable feast of Yunmeng cuisine. Braised minced pork and dry noodles with slices of chili on top. Broad beans still in their shell. Small bowls of thin lotus crisps set next to jars of Hefeng liquor. If there was a noticeable lack of a certain soup, Wei Wuxian certainly wasn’t going to mention it. Not when his brother had brought all his favourites all the way to Cloud Recesses.
Wei Wuxian launched himself at the dishes chopsticks-first.
Jin Ling threw him a look of disgust. “Didn’t Gusu Lan teach you any manners?”
“Why would I use manners here? There’s no one to impress,” said Wei Wuxian around a mouthful of noodles he had drenched in the spicy dipping sauce meant for the pork.
Jin Ling sighed, as if he bore a great burden. “Every time I see you, you get more embarrassing.” Jiang Cheng looked rather proud at Jin Ling for reaching that conclusion.
Wei Wuxian refrained from pointing out that by Gusu Lan standards, Jin Ling was not practicing his manners either by speaking during a meal. There was no way Jin Ling could not know based on how friendly he was now with Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi.
“How’s your head?” Jiang Cheng asked. “The healer cleared you?”
Wei Wuxian made a noncommittal noise of confirmation. “I still feel a bit tired.” Something felt loose in his head. It wasn’t too foreign a feeling. Wei Wuxian had always had a bad memory. But this felt different. Like someone had dipped muddy fingers in his head instead of the wispy organic fingers of time. Wei Wuxian scratched his head, wondering how long the sensation was going to persist. “Mostly it’s weird how much has happened in the last few weeks. This,” he said gesturing at the space between them. “Zewu-jun coming out of seclusion. Lan-laoshi going into it. And…”
“And?” Jiang Cheng prompted.
Lan Wangji had said not to tell anyone else. But Jiang Cheng and Jin Ling were family. They had made all this effort to chip away at the distance between them. Surely it would be alright to tell them. Right? Wei Wuxian swallowed his bite of noodles. “Lan Zhan and I are betrothed.”
Wei Wuxian expected a violent reaction since Jiang Cheng and Jin Ling still did not get along with Lan Wangji particularly well. What he did not expect was for Jiang Cheng to roll his eyes and say, “Fine if you don’t want to tell us, don’t tell us.”
Wei Wuxian gaped. “It’s true!”
Jin Ling frowned. “Are you sure?”
Wei Wuxian laughed. “What sort of a question is that?”
Jiang Cheng and Jin Ling exchanged looks, something Wei Wuxian couldn’t read. Eventually it was Jiang Cheng who said, “Look, I don’t know what game you’re playing but as we speak, your ‘fiancé’ is meeting with Wu-zongzhu and Fang-zongzhu to hear out their betrothal proposals.”
If Wei Wuxian still had his memories, there was no way he would not have known. He was a busybody of the highest order and always had one ear to the ground because more often than not, gossip helped him solve his night hunts. Even while traveling, even hundreds of li away from Gusu, there was no way Wei Wuxian would not have known what was going on. But since he did not have his memories and neither Jiang Cheng nor Jin Ling could satisfy his appetite for details, they went to the person Wei Wuxian trusted most to know things.
“There had been rumours that Jiyuan Cai’s Cai-zongzhu was going to offer his daughter’s hand in marriage during the discussion conference,” said Nie Huaisang as his servants set down the post-meal tea; a Biluochun brew that he’d definitely brought up somewhere else because the aroma was too strong for Cloud Recesses' taste. Even away from home, Nie Huaisang enjoyed the finer things in life. “He’d only meant it half-seriously. His daughter had just come of age and the topic of His Excellency’s bachelorhood had come up again.” Nie Huaisang gave a small, helpless shrug. “You know what the smaller sects can be like.”
Wei Wuxian did indeed know. They coped with their resentment of not being one of the more important sects by making sure their peers did not get ahead. Once the Xiamen Hu sect had thrown a two-day banquet. The Zhangzhou Dai sect had promptly hosted a three-day banquet. Both sects had bankrupted their coffers and had been struggling to regain their standing ever since.
Nie Huaisang continued with careful eyes on Wei Wuxian. “Then the larger sects thought marrying one of their own to His Excellency might make him more amenable, which is something they all want after what happened with the Nanchang lookout tower.”
The Nanchang lookout tower was the very reason Wei Wuxian had set out from Cloud Recesses three months ago.
The Yueling Shi sect had been responsible for manning it but their contempt for Jin Guangyao was such that their junior disciples had used the tower as a venue for drunken revelries with their friends. A villager had dropped in during one such party, begging assistance after his brother had been dragged into a lake by a snake-shaped yao. The group of young cultivators, bolstered by drink, had decided they could handle it themselves. Five of them had drowned.
Lan Wangji had sent missives to all the sects, warning that if they could not be trusted to run the towers in their territories, he would start sending people to check in on them. The sect leaders complained that this was too much like the Wen supervisory offices all over again. How dare Lan Wangji question how they manage their own territories?
So the sect leaders were hoping that settling Lan Wangji into marriage would mellow him; that whoever his in-laws would be, he would give in to them out of filial respect.
Wei Wuxian thought about the lookout towers he checked in on in the two months he could remember. Not all of them have been mismanaged but the ones that were… He sighed. “How stupid must they be that they think Lan Zhan would bend his morals for his in-laws. He didn’t do it even for the uncle who raised him.” The other three looked confused. That’s right. None of them knew how often Lan Wangji had been punished by Lan Qiren for standing up and speaking on behalf of Wei Wuxian. They’d never seen those whip scars crisscrossing Lan Wangji’s broad back. Wei Wuxian sighed noisily. “I suppose I can forgive the sect leaders their presumptuousness if it means Lan Zhan might meet someone he would like to marry.”
Jiang Cheng’s head snapped towards him. “Weren’t you insisting a while ago that you two were betrothed?”
Some of that expensive Biluochun tea went up Nie Huaisang’s nose and he spent the next few minutes wiping his face.
Wei Wuxian rubbed Nie Huaisang’s back helpfully and said, “People break betrothals all the time. If Lan Zhan meets someone more suitable for him, he shouldn’t hold back just because we had a prior arrangement.”
Nie Huaisang nudged Wei Wuxian’s hand away, alright now. “Wei-xiong, do you not want to be married to Lan Wangji?”
“Of course, he does! What other reason could there be for how shameless he acts around that jade statue?” said Jiang Cheng angrily. He rounded on Wei Wuxian. “Explain yourself. Now.”
Jiang Cheng looked just like he had years ago and he likely always would. Like Lan Wangji, Jiang Cheng’s cultivation was strong enough now that he’d stopped showing signs of ageing. Wei Wuxian doubted he would ever enjoy that privilege.
Mo Xuanyu had started cultivating his golden core much later than was advisable, when it was much more difficult. Furthermore there was the fact that Mo Xuanyu was physically weak, likely due to malnutrition when he’d been a child. Though Wei Wuxian trained, he could not tell if this body just refused progress or if improvement was so incremental as to be unnoticeable. In his first body with the golden core he had cultivated himself, everything had come so easily that Wei Wuxian had a difficult time estimating his progress or lack thereof. All this to say: what was going to happen to Lan Wangji if they married? Maybe they’d have a few good decades but then Wei Wuxian would surely die of old age and then Lan Wangji would be alone. Again.
The sect leaders were putting forward their best disciples for their proposals. Refined swordsmen, tireless healers, creative scholars. All strong cultivators. Even if Lan Wangji did not like them at first, it would be better for Lan Wangji to have someone who could stay with him; be his friend long after Wei Wuxian had passed.
“Stop it,” Jiang Cheng snapped.
“What? I haven’t said anything yet,” said Wei Wuxian. “You were the one who asked me to explain myself.”
“I didn’t like the look on your face. Wherever your mind was going, it wasn’t anywhere good.”
Wei Wuxian pouted. “I can be reasonable and rational.”
“You don’t know the meaning of either word.”
“Maybe he’s taking the meetings to tell those sect leaders that he’s already taken,” said Jin Ling.
“No, if he meant to do that, taking those meeting at all would be an insult since he’d be wasting their time,” said Jiang Cheng
Jin Ling added, “But, uh, who knows with Hanguang-jun. Maybe he has his reasons. Maybe these Lan clan cultivators even have a stupid rule mandating that they take all betrothal meetings. Don’t think too much about it. I’ll tell the other sect leaders you and His Excellency already have an understanding.”
“Don’t,” said Wei Wuxian, perhaps a little too quickly, a little too sharply. “Lan Zhan actually told me not to tell anyone. Only the Lan sect knows. But I thought since you’re family…” Wei Wuxian narrowed his eyes at Nie Huaisang. “I can trust you to keep your mouth shut for now, can’t I?”
Nie Huaisang folded his fan onto his lap, lips thinning. “Wei-xiong, you know what this sounds like, right?”
Of course he did. But Wei Wuxian knew Lan Wangji. It was unlikely he was hiding their betrothal because he was ashamed but he could not work out Lan Wangji’s reasons either. Not when he did not know the real reason he and Lan Wangji had decided to get betrothed in the first place.
‘I will explain later,’ Lan Wangji had said. It was likely that their betrothal was not the love match Wei Wuxian had hoped it was.
He’d suspected from the very beginning, sure. But that was because he had never believed himself capable of confessing his feelings to Lan Wangji. After all Lan Wangji had done for him, how loyal and understanding he’d been as a friend and zhiji, it felt greedy to ask even more of Lan Wangji.
Jiang Cheng’s expression tightened. “You better clear this up with him as soon as you can. Find out what he’s planning.”
Wei Wuxian nodded distractedly and joined his hands to salute Nie Huaisang. “Thanks for the intelligence, Nie-xiong.”
“Please, there’s no need for that,” Nie Huaisang said anxiously. “We’re friends, aren’t we? I want it to work out for you too.”
They finished up and left for the main hall together where the discussion would take place. The path took them past the Lanshi where they had once sat in as students. Wei Wuxian noted that Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang’s steps had slowed alongside his so they could stare at the empty classroom for a bit longer. It felt just like yesterday.
“If he breaks your heart, let me know. I’ll have a few jars of Emperor’s Smile set aside for you,” said Nie Huaisang. He wasn’t smiling and it was scary as anything.
“Don’t be stupid. It’s not going to happen,” said Jiang Cheng.
Wei Wuxian smiled. Neither one was convinced but they had to let it pass. The meeting was about to begin.
Jin Ling was younger, brasher and cared less about being late. He stopped Wei Wuxian at the door of the main hall. “I know the mood just now was terrible but you know that if Hanguang-jun married you tomorrow, none of us would be surprised right? Whenever you stop by Jinlintai, we always get a message butterfly from him soon after asking after you. It’s pretty gross.”
Wei Wuxian laughed. “Do I look so terrible that you need to cheer me up?”
Everyone always said that but what did they know about his and Lan Wangji’s relationship, really? Wei Wuxian sighed. He’d got himself into a fine mess and he couldn’t even remember why.
Zewu-jun looked tired, thought Wei Wuxian. He waved aside Wei Wuxian’s concern with a smile. “Sizhui is taking over if anyone requests a meeting for the next few hours so I will have time to rest.”
Wei Wuxian was shocked, to say the least. He wasn’t completely au fait with the way things were done in the Gusu Lan sect but surely it was too much to ask someone who was practically Lan Wangji’s son to oversee his betrothal discussions. The other party would take that as an insult. To begin with, Lan Wangji was the Chief Cultivator and more than capable of arranging his own betrothal. He didn’t need Lan Xichen to sit in, much less Lan Sizhui. Wei Wuxian wanted to prod further but Sect Leader Yao had begun talking so it was no longer appropriate to carry a conversation.
As expected of Sect Leader Yao, he jumped straight to the heart of his displeasure and made wild assumptions without conceding the floor for a long while. He railed against the request to continue running the lookout towers in his home province of Shanxi, even though Shanxi had considerably fewer lookout towers than the likes of Hunan and Shundong. He bristled against the idea of forcing his disciples to put effort into a holdover of that scoundrel, Jin Guangyao, even though to Wei Wuxian’s knowledge, Pingyang Yao had never sent anyone to the towers and had relied on the neighbouring sects to pick up the slack. The longer Sect Leader Yao huffed and the longer he puffed, the louder the voices who agreed with him became. Eventually, more people were seduced by the momentum and joined in. This was what Sect Leader Yao was good at. This was what he enjoyed.
Wei Wuxian was pretty sure Lan Wangji was imagining how Sect Leader Yao would have been punished had he been a Gusu Lan disciple; for using his words frivolously, for holding a grudge against a dead man, for riling up a room, for making excessive noise, for trusting baseless knowledge; and all that was just within the first fifty rules.
“I do not think the lookout towers are as bad as you say, Yao-zongzhu. It’s good experience for cultivators who have not gone on many night hunts,” said Jin Ling simply, breaking through the noise of Sect Leader Yao’s supporters, “and it nurtures good intersect relations. A few of my cultivators at the Tongling tower received word of a mo gui group that required a large number of people to subdue. Tongling was too far to send for quick reinforcements so Qianshan Mao kindly lent us a hand.”
The leader of the small Qianshan Mao sect inclined his head. To his right sat his eldest daughter, the one who had impressed all with her swordwork earlier that day, Mao Wenling. The men around her had been sneaking admiring and covetous looks all morning. Knowing what he knew now, Wei Wuxian understood why no one had tried to approach her.
“Is it not in Lanling Jin’s interest that the towers stay up?” said another sect leader. His sect was based in Mindong. He and his son had the swarthy complexion of those accustomed to living by the sea. Said son was diligently taking notes. His features were open and pleasant.
According to Nie Huaisang, the cultivation sects along the Fujian coast were known for their bookkeeping as much as their cultivation. Mindong had the juiciest longan and the sweetest pomelo and sometimes if Wei Wuxian was lucky, he found a vendor selling them in Caiyi Town.
The Mindong sect leader continued, “Lanling Jin would like to insist these towers have some benefit so they can say some good came out of Jin Guangyao’s tenure as Chief Cultivator. When really, all it does is remind everyone how we were deceived by him for so long.”
Jiang Cheng lifted an eyebrow. His left one. Oh no, thought Wei Wuxian. “Tricked you? Was it not because some villagers came to one of your towers asking for help that you had early warning of the tornado about a year ago? Was it not because of that early warning your son over there knew to grab your people and run further inland to save themselves? Or did I remember incorrectly?’
The sect leader gaped at Jiang Cheng, no doubt wondering how Jiang Cheng had known about that.
“That was what you’d told me, wasn’t it, Nie-zongzhu?” Jiang Cheng added.
Nie Huaisang raised his hands, looking nervously between the both of them. “Qinghe is so far away from Mindong so I really wouldn’t know.”
Wei Wuxian shot Lan Wangji a horrified look. Was this how it was all the time? Sect leaders sniping at one another? Lan Wangji remained impassive, sipping occasionally from his teacup as if he were at a flower-gazing party.
Lan Wangji looked so picturesque, even doing something as mundane as drinking tea. Wei Wuxian imagined Mao Wenling refilling his cup and him smiling at her in thanks. What a picture they would make. Wei Wuxian thought about the son from Mindong, helping Lan Wangji with the books, actually easing the burden of his responsibilities as Chief Cultivator.
Something inside Wei Wuxian’s chest burned. What was he even doing here?
Well, if he was going to leave, he might as well put in his two cents.
He stood up, easily drawing attention in the hall. “I found a little girl in the lookout tower in Banan. Her parents had sent her there because the rain had been heavy and the river was flooding. But the tower was empty.” There were a few cultivators who were still refusing to look at him. As if he would disappear if they ignored him hard enough. Well, tough luck. “She didn’t know what to do so she stayed there until the rain stopped. By that time, her village had been flooded and the ghouls in the water had killed a few people.” He reached into his collar and pulled out a talisman. It was a basic one that tamed floods. It was popular in small towns with plenty of travelers but rare in rural areas like Banan because there weren’t many cultivators around. “They need so little from you. How much less are you planning to give them?”
Sect Leader Yao went pale with rage. “You—”
“Wei Ying,” said Lan Wangji. Admonishment.
“Don’t worry. I’m going,” said Wei Wuxian, the burning sensation in his chest spreading.
That’s right. Mao Wenling could be Lan Wangji’s match in cultivation. The son from Mindong could help him with his responsibilities. But Wei Wuxian would only ever cause problems. Their ideals might be the same but Wei Wuxian was not a match for Lan Wangji in anything else. Wei Wuxian knew this. He had known this for quite a while now. But it had never hurt this much before.
Shortly after he left, Lan Wangji called for a recess. Wei Wuxian saw him coming after him, maybe to ask about Banan, maybe to ask him to regulate his words a little better for the rest of the conference. Wei Wuxian never found out because a sect leader he did not recognise intercepted Lan Wangji before he could get to him and asked for a meeting.
Lan Wangji caught Wei Wuxian’s eye over the sect leader’s shoulder. His gaze was soft with concern. Are you alright?
Even when Wei Wuxian expected him to be angry, Lan Wangji was kind. How unfair.
Wei Wuxian nodded at him. I’m fine. Go.
Lan Wangji acquiesced, leaving with the sect leader while Lan Sizhui followed behind them at a respectable distance.
“You don’t have to worry. Sizhui has helped speak on Wangji’s behalf for years now. He will be able to turn down Yong-zongzhu’s offer without unduly offending him,” said Lan Xichen.
Ah, thought Wei Wuxian. Suddenly, Lan Wangji having Lan Xichen sit in on his previous betrothal meetings made more sense. It would only take a misinterpreted turn of Lan Wangji’s cold countenance for any sect leader to think he was snubbing his offer and to start a feud. Having a mediator that could act as a translator as well was definitely necessary.
“But Lan Zhan will hear the offer out properly, right? He won’t reject anyone before the sect leader explains why they would be a good match?” said Wei Wuxian.
Lan Xichen regarded him with a puzzled look. “Well, it would be disrespectful to reject the offer without hearing it, of course.”
Wei Wuxian nodded. “Of course.”
Lan Xichen frowned. “You do not find it odd that Wangji is not using the fact of your betrothal to refuse these meetings?”
“Lan Zhan said he would explain it to me later.”
“Aren’t you being a little too permissive with him?”
Surprised, Wei Wuxian said, “Zewu-jun, I’m sure Lan Zhan has a good reason.”
Lan Xichen sighed. “I would like to believe so. His actions today confuse me.”
They walked a little way towards the bridge that would bring them to the waterfall. Wei Wuxian was glad to have the trees to look at. He had not spent a lot of time with Lan Xichen before. He had barely known him before he died and then did not have enough time to know him before the events of the Guanyin Temple had changed him. The air around Lan Xichen now was definitely different. It felt like he would bruise at the slightest touch.
“What happened to the little girl? The one you found in the Banan lookout tower.” Lan Xichen asked.
“She’s fine,” Wei Wuxian assured him. “I fed her and took her back to her village. Her parents thought I was the cultivator who was supposed to be at the Banan tower and I’d arrived too late to help them. So they chased me out. I snuck back at night to cleanse the area and make sure their dead were at rest.”
Wei Wuxian had also given the little girl his money pouch but there was no need for Lan Xichen to know about that.
“Do you think the lookout towers are really our best way of helping civilians?” said Lan Xichen. “I understand the other sect leaders’ reluctance. Ever since Lanling Jin stopped paying for their upkeep, it has been a liability for many sects. Most days, no one comes to the towers, especially to one as rural as Banan. The cultivators who guard it must feel they are wasting their time.”
These were reasonable words. The complaints of the other sect leaders explained clearly and concisely. But they did not sound like Lan Xichen.
Wei Wuxian cleared his throat. “If it’s money the sects want, I’m sure something can be worked out. And if the cultivators manning the towers are so bored then we can always look into installing a library or training grounds. Those aren’t good reasons, Zewu-jun. They are terrible excuses for being unwilling to do their civic duty.”
Lan Xichen’s eyes widened. Such undiplomatic words were definitely in breach of some other rule but Wei Wuxian couldn’t remember anything past the first ninety rules. He smiled to show he was being facetious.
“A life is a life. How does one justify not helping to save one because one is bored?”
“As you say.” Still, Lan Xichen remained distracted as if he was hearing another voice.
“That sect leader from Mindong is wrong. No ifs or buts. He’s wrong. Just because the towers were Lianfeng-jun’s idea does not mean they need to be erased,” Wei Wuxian insisted. “Not everything he touched is tainted.You understand that, right?” He didn’t say anything after that, hoping he hadn’t gone too far.
Wei Wuxian knew a little of what it was like to be haunted. How the voices can tell you exactly what you want to hear and then hurt you right when you think you’ve been forgiven. Being haunted by the memory of Jin Guangyao must be quite something, especially if his phantom retained even a little of his original gift with words.
They stopped at the bridge. If they went further it might take too long for them to walk back to the main hall. Wei Wuxian could already hear the roar of the waterfall, smell the clean scent of the river. If Lan Xichen persisted in this melancholy mood, Wei Wuxian might decide to hell with it and take him swimming.
“Wangji is very lucky to have you,” Lan Xichen said, apropos of nothing.
“I have not always thought that. I am happy to say that now I do.”
“I look forward to drinking the tea you serve and hearing you call me brother,” said Lan Xichen, his tone gently teasing.
Relieved that the sombre mood had broken, Wei Wuxian laughed. “It’s too early to think about that! Lan-xiansheng is still in seclusion.”
“Yes, but —“
Someone was yelling. Wei Wuxian saw Lan Xichen’s eyes twitch and wanted to laugh. No loud noises in Cloud Recesses, after all. But running towards them was Ouyang Zizhen, who clearly did not care.
“Wei-qianbei, come quick! His Excellency needs you.”
“What happened?” asked Lan Xichen.
“I don’t know. Sizhui just told me to get Wei-qianbei,” Ouyang Zizhen tugged at Wei Wuxian’s sleeve. “No, no,” Ouyang Zizhen said when Lan Xichen made to follow, “I’m sure Zewu-jun is much too busy. Just Wei-qianbei will do.”
Lan Xichen gave an amused huff.
Wei Wuxian couldn’t believe this. What were these children playing at? Still, he let Ouyang Zizhen drag him back, across two courtyards, down a covered colonnade and into a small clearing where Lan Wangji and Lan Sizhui were deep in conversation, heads bent.
“Your Excellency, Sizhui, he’s here!” said Ouyang Zizhen and shoved Wei Wuxian at Lan Wangji.
Lan Wangji caught him by the shoulders, eyes growing wide with surprise.
“I don’t know why I’m here either,” said Wei Wuxian sheepishly.
It really wasn’t fair that Lan Wangji was this handsome. This close, Wei Wuxian could see the texture of his lips; imagine what a kiss from would feel like. He straightened, ignoring the way Lan Sizhui and Ouyang Zizhen were smiling.
“Do you feel better now?” said Lan Sizhui.
“Mn,” said Lan Wangji.
Wei Wuxian burst into laughter. “Just how bad was the meeting?”
“Lin-zongzhu had made a list of reasons why Hanguang-jun should marry his daughter. He wouldn’t let us go until he finished reading it out,” said Lan Sizhui.
Wei Wuxian gasped in horror. “Why did you let him finish?”
“It would have been impolite to interrupt. She was standing right there.”
“Wait a minute, I thought you were meeting with Yong-zongzhu.”
“Lin-zongzhu accosted us once he saw that our meeting with Yong-zongzhu had ended,” said Lan Sizhui.
“Was Yong-zongzhu’s candidate not to your liking either?” Wei Wuxian asked Lan Wangji.
“Wei-qianbei?” said Lan Sizhui, startled.
Lan Wangji remained silent though he frowned at Wei Wuxian, as if he thought Wei Wuxian was up to something and was trying to puzzle out what it was. Wei Wuxian pouted at him. He was trying to be helpful here, okay! “Well, for my money, I think you should take a look at Qianshan Mo’s head disciple, Mao Wenling. Her kungfu is pretty good and by the sounds of it, her sect has a healthy relationship with Lanling Jin despite its size. I think you’ll find her very agreeable.”
“Who cares if she’s the most agreeable person to have ever lived? His Excellency already has you, Wei-qianbei,” said Ouyang Zizhen.
“Oh, I’m sure our betrothal is not quite as romantic as you think it is, Ouyang-gongzi.”
Lan Wangji leaned closer towards Wei Wuxian, his voice low. “You remember?”
Wei Wuxian leaned away from him. “Remember what?”
Lan Wangji gave a little sigh and stepped back. “You did not tell me about the girl in Banan.”
“Ah, is that right? You’ll have to forgive me because I don’t remember. Ha ha,” Wei Wuxian said awkwardly. Of course he wouldn’t have told Lan Wangji about Banan. He had difficulty keeping anything secret from him. If he’d told Lan Wangji about Banan, he would have known about the villagers’s misdirected anger and the money pouch and Lan Wangji worried enough about him whenever he left; Wei Wuxian should not have brought up Banan at all.
“You are hiding something from me,” said Lan Wangji.
Damn it. “No, I’m not.”
“Wei Ying.” Lan Wangji’s voice was a rumbling baritone. Wei Wuxian wanted to put his hands on Lan Wangji’s chest and feel it. “You know this is futile. You know I can make you tell me.”
Wei Wuxian gaped at him. Why did that sound weirdly sexual? It wasn’t just him; see, Lan Sizhui and Ouyang Zizhen were blushing!
“We should head back,” said Lan Sizhui, averting his gaze.
“Yes, good idea.” Wei Wuxian made to leave and then thought about how tired Lan Xichen had looked earlier and he had only attended two meetings that Wei Wuxian had known about. Lan Wangji has attended four. Wei Wuxian stepped into Lan Wangji’s space, peering up at him so he would be able to pick up on Lan Wangji’s tics. “You are feeling alright, right? Do you need more time to rest?”
Lan Wangji ran his hands down Wei Wuxian’s arms from his shoulders to his elbows. He was tired then. He would not need to touch Wei Wuxian otherwise. “Wei Ying,” he said and tingles went down Wei Wuxian’s arms and the back of his neck. He could listen to Lan Wangji say his name forever. “I am alright.”
Wei Wuxian smiled. “That’s good.”
Wei Wuxian did not return to the main hall. He knew his presence had put the others on edge. Lan Wangji had told him it was best to let the sect leaders argue it out. It was fine because Lan Wangji knew his own mind and had final say. But to sit in and say nothing was everything intolerable for Wei Wuxian, so he told Lan Wangji he was going to rest. Lan Wangji looked relieved. Because he could not spare Lan Sizhui, he assigned Lan Jingyi to him.
“Why does everyone think I need a babysitter today?” Wei Wuxian asked drolly.
“Don’t take that tone. Hanguang-jun knows you’d overdo it given the chance. You should be happy he cares for you so much,” said Lan Jingyi.
“Hah, I’m not special in that regard. That’s just what Lan Zhan does. He cares.”
Lan Jingyi grinned. It surprised Wei Wuxian to realise that Lan Jingyi did not smile as much as he’d thought. The boy smirked a lot but an honest smile was rare. “I knew you’d get it. So many of the guys are scared of him because they’ve never seen him smile. They’ve been spoiled by Zewu-jun.”
Wei Wuxian thought back on his first time coming to Cloud Recesses and Nie Huaisang warning him about Lan Wangji in a quivering voice and snickered. “Plenty of my own friends are probably still afraid of him. You should have seen him when he lopped off Lianfeng-jun’s arm.” At the time, Wei Wuxian had been relieved that Jin Guangyao had safely been neutralised but he’d also shivered at Lan Wangji’s ruthless decisiveness. “He did it without any warning. That was pretty scary.”
Lan Jingyi looked at him with wide eyes, probably learning this for the first time. The events of the Guanyin temple had been covered only in the broadest of strokes out of respect to all parties involved. Everyone was only told that Jin Guangyao died and very little of the struggle that had ensued in bringing him down.
“I’m sure he had a good reason for doing that. Had Lianfeng-jun been threatening you or something?” said Lan Jingyi.
“No, it was Jin Ling. My turn had been earlier that night.”
Lan Jingyi gave him a look. “I hope you know the fact that none of you will tell us what happened that night is so suspicious. I once ran into a bunch of conspiracy theorists who were convinced that Lianfeng-jun was still alive.”
The only reason Wei Wuxian was sure that couldn’t be true was because Nie Huaisang would not have let it be. “Let’s go to Caiyi Town,” said Wei Wuxian.
“You promised Hanguang-jun you were going to rest,” Lan Jingyi protested.
“Yes, I did. That doesn’t mean I have to do it in my room.”
Lan Jingyi did not need much persuading. Between helping organise the discussion conference and fretting over Wei Wuxian’s recovery, Lan Jingyi was eager to get away from it all. One quick ride on Lan Jingyi’s sword later, they were marching up towards Wei Wuxian’s favourite teahouse. The proprietor was sweeping the area by the entrance and called out to Wei Wuxian. “Back for more bingfen, Wei-gongzi?”
“Um, yes. That sounds great,” said Wei Wuxian as the older man ushered him to his usual table.
He hadn’t even known you could get bingfen in Gusu. He first had it in a village just outside Banan. He’d stopped a granny to ask if he could draw her some talismans in exchange for food and she’d given him a bowl because she’d just made some for her grandchildren. Wei Wuxian had been craving it ever since. Apparently, when he’d arrived back in Gusu, his first order of business had been to bully the teahouse proprietor into getting the ingredients and making it.
“This is really good,” said Lan Jingyi, scooping jelly and mungbean into his mouth. “No wonder you came here every day.”
Wei Wuxian stirred the sugary water with his spoon. Bits of leftover jelly and fruit swirled together. “Can I ask you something? It’s about something Jin Ling said.”
“You should never take anything that da-xiaojie says seriously. I don’t,” Lan Jingyi quipped.
Wei Wuxian wondered how many times Lan Jingyi had to copy out the Gusu Lan rules because of that mouth of his. “He said if Lan Zhan and I got married tomorrow, he wouldn’t be surprised.”
Lan Jingyi continued to look at Wei Wuxian, as if asking, so what is your question?
Wei Wuxian took a breath. “Were you really not surprised when Lan Zhan and I announced our betrothal? At the very least, the suddenness of it all is too improper for the likes of Lan Zhan.”
Lan Jingyi chewed thoughtfully. “The main Lan line has always done crazy things for love. Hanguang-jun was completely predictable for sixteen years. Then you came and suddenly, everything he did was surprising.” Lan Jingyi smirked. “It all made sense after we found out who you actually were, of course.”
Wei Wuxian drank a spoon of the sugary water, throat suddenly dry. “What was so surprising about the things he did?” he asked quietly.
“Are you kidding me? He went against everyone for you. He stayed and fought with you at that siege in Burial Mounds. He even raised Sizhui for you.”
“That’s not true.”
“You’re right. He raised Sizhui for himself,” Lan Jingyi amended. “Sizhui’s great.”
“No. I mean yes. I mean even the things you said before aren’t true. Argh, you’re conflating stuff again.”
Lan Jingyi finished his bowl and set it aside. “You said this before too. Just what do you think I’m conflating?”
Wei Wuxian paid for their dessert and they walked out of the teahouse and out of Caiyi Town towards a place where they can safely hop on Lan Jingyi’s sword without attracting fanfare.
“It’s like you said before,” said Wei Wuxian as they walked. “Lan Zhan cares a lot. He’s also righteous to a fault. Everything all of you keep giving as proof he loves me is actually just proof Lan Zhan is principled. If he thinks it’s the right thing to do, he will never back down. He stood up for me because he believed me when I told him I was being scapegoated.”
“Wei-qianbei,” said Lan Jingyi with a look of growing horror, “you don’t believe Hanguang-jun loves you?”
Crap. “No, of course he does. I’m sure he does.”
“You think he loves you in that he cares for you. Not in the sense that he’d want to get married and spend the rest of his life with you. That’s why you’re asking me these weird questions.”
Wei Wuxian didn’t like how upset Lan Jingyi was sounding. At this rate, he was going to blab to Lan Sizhui and Lan Sizhui was going to corner him with those big, sad eyes again. “You’re reading too much into this. It’s all fine, I promise.”
“What’s all fine? You’re not going to call off the betrothal, are you?”
“I would never turn away Lan Zhan if he wants to marry me. Are you nuts?”
“‘If’! You said ‘if’! You still don’t believe it’s happening.”
“Stop it, Lan Jingyi!” Wei Wuxian begged.
Wei Wuxian wasn’t quite sure what he’d expected would happen next.
For Lan Jingyi to keep his trap shut and all this to himself? An impossibility. He and his friends had a strange vested interest in Wei Wuxian’s relationship to Lan Wangji. Wei Wuxian supposed back-to-back life-threatening adventures together would do that to you. Lan Jingyi could often be found regaling his experience in Yi City and the Siege of Burial Mounds to junior disciples who listened with envious awe, as if they had been exciting field trips instead of veritable nightmares.
Did he expect Lan Wangji to hear all of Lan Jingyi’s worries and assure Wei Wuxian that yes, their betrothal was very much a love match; that in the month that Wei Wuxian could not remember, Lan Wangji had somehow divined Wei Wuxian’s feelings for him and instead of being disappointed, had decided to tie them together for the rest of their lives despite Lan Qiren’s clear disapproval and how this match would reflect badly on Lan Wangji as Chief Cultivator?
Wei Wuxian honestly was upset at himself. Despite all his efforts at rationalising this unexplained betrothal, despite promising himself that it would be fine if Lan Wangji decided to pick one of his new suitors, some part of Wei Wuxian had held onto the hope that Lan Wangji would say yes, I’m in love with you too. Let’s learn to love one another in new ways.
It was this part of him that bore the biggest wound when Lan Jingyi said, “Hanguang-jun, please reassure this silly senior that you are marrying him because you love him,” and Lan Wangji did not say yes, or no. He simply frowned.
“Wei Ying, we really need to talk,” Lan Wangji said in a tone that had never precluded good things.
“Your Excellency, a thousand apologies for interrupting,” said Sect Leader Mao, striding towards them with a confidence that was anything but apologetic, “but I was wondering if my daughter and I might have a moment of your time.” Mao Wenling hung back respectfully. The sect leaders who happened to be walking past narrowed their eyes. If anyone was betting on who would win Hanguang-jun’s hand by the end of the discussion conference (and Wei Wuxian was sure people definitely were), Mao Wenling was one of the strongest contenders. Even in the dim twilight she was beautiful. She smiled at all the right places when her father spoke. Wei Wuxian doubted she would ever have to bow out of a discussion conference for having riled up the sect leaders.
“I am not free to speak at the moment. We can speak after the banquet,” said Lan Wangji.
“Oh,” said Sect Leader Mao, “do you already have another meeting now?” It was clear he did not see Wei Wuxian as important enough for Lan Wangji to delay a meeting with him. Why would he? Lan Wangji could speak to Wei Wuxian any time he pleased.
Before Lan Wangji could say something to inadvertently offend Sect Leader Mao, Wei Wuxian interjected and said, “Mao-zongzhu, excuse him. His Excellency misjudged the urgency of our topic. He’s free to meet with you now.” Wei Wuxian craned his neck and sighed gratefully when Lan Xichen came into view. He didn’t care whose turn it was to act as Lan Wangji’s mediator. Lan Xichen was closest. “Zewu-jun, if you would be so kind as to watch over the proceedings,” Wei Wuxian said loudly enough that Lan Xichen could not have missed him.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji said in a scolding voice.
“It’s alright, I promise. Whatever it is, you can explain it to me after the banquet, right?” said Wei Wuxian, only distantly aware that Lan Jingyi had disappeared.
Halfway through the dinner banquet, Wei Wuxian left. He left in between courses when the servants were moving about so that his departure would less likely be noticed. Except perhaps by Lan Xichen who was probably wondering why his dinner companion had disappeared when they’d swapped out the bland sesame tofu for the even more bland cucumber salad. Really, eating Cloud Recesses food was enough to make Wei Wuxian cry sometimes.
Having lived here for years, Wei Wuxian knew how to avoid being seen when he didn’t want to be and right now, he’d very much prefer not to be found. So he meandered down barely trodden paths, timing his steps so he would not run into the Gusu Lan disciples on patrol, and eventually made his way to the hidden valley.
It was off the path by several minutes and beyond a steep incline which was more than enough to hinder the casual wanderer and the Gusu Lan gardeners. Which was why this valley was so unlike the rest of the tame and manicured Cloud Recesses. Bamboo trees grew as they pleased in every which way, sometimes suffocated by the boxwood shrubs that sprouted between them. Pale violet lilies sprung up where they were least expected. And if Wei Wuxian laid down in the long, long grass, no one could find him unless they knew he was there.
The evening breeze came, knocking the bamboo trunks together, adding a percussive layer to the crickets’ symphony. Wei Wuxian watched the sky above him darken into orange and pink near the horizon. He wanted to fall asleep here and ignore the turmoil in his chest.
Apparently, Lan Wangji’s robes had not been commissioned especially for this discussion conference, as Wei Wuxian had thought. According to Lan Xichen, he’d had them made years ago after he’d come out of seclusion. Lan Wangji had insisted on the lotus flower motif as his way of telling the cultivation world he still believed in Wei Wuxian. Even though Wei Wuxian had been dead three years by that point. Lan Wangji had worn those robes for every discussion conference ever since he’d become Chief Cultivator, which Wei Wuxian would have known if he’d been brave enough to attend one of these things before.
Wei Wuxian kept telling himself it didn’t matter. He’d misunderstood, that’s all. Yet he’d found himself unable to continue keeping a straight face and so he’d left the banquet.
He had always reminded himself that it wasn’t fair to ask even more of Lan Wangji. Not when it was more than clear that Wei Wuxian already was special to him. Still. Still, Wei Wuxian’s greedy heart had not gotten the message. It wasn’t fair. But Wei Wuxian still wished that Lan Wangji would fall in love with him.
“Wei Wuxian, come out!”
“Jiang Cheng?” Wei Wuxian squawked, jolting into a sitting position. This time it really was Jiang Cheng, standing atop a short ridge with his hand on his sword and looking distinctly disgruntled.
“What are you doing here? Why aren’t you at the banquet?”
“Why aren’t you at the banquet?” Wei Wuxian shot back.
“It got too noisy. Yao-zongzhu wasn’t happy after he realised that the lookout towers are here to stay. When I left it looked like your Hanguang-jun was about to kick him out.”
“Lan Zhan would never be so rude.”
Jiang Cheng’s face said, Oh really? “He once told a couple of Lanling Jin cultivators they weren’t qualified to talk to him.”
“He what?” said Wei Wuxian with unfettered glee.
“It was pretty awesome,” Jiang Cheng admitted begrudgingly. “So what’s going on? Jin Ling said you were having a crisis.”
“Did he send you?” said Wei Wuxian, horrified. He should have suspected something earlier. Jiang Cheng would not have left a shouting match in a banquet without provocation. Jiang Cheng loved shouting.
“No. He just said you were having a crisis and left. He and his little friends have been trying to find you for a while now.” There was pride in Jiang Cheng’s voice over the fact that he’d found Wei Wuxian so easily. This had been their hiding place back when they’d been studying. Not even Nie Huaisang knew about this valley.
“It’s nothing,” said Wei Wuxian. “Those children want to make sure I marry Lan Zhan, for some reason.”
“That does not sound like a crisis. What really is the issue here?”
“Wei Wuxian, do you want to go over again what happened the last time you hid the truth from me?”
Wei Wuxian pouted. “Is that going to be your response whenever we argue from now on?” He raised his hands to protect his head when Jiang Cheng made as if to hit him. “Okay, okay, I’ll talk.”
Jiang Cheng surprised him by making his way over to him to sit in the grass as well, rumpling and soiling the fine silk of his robe. “So talk.”
Wei Wuxian worried the inside of his lip. “Jin Ling and the other children…they’re so convinced that Lan Zhan wants to marry me for love. Do you know - I suggested that Lan Zhan could be doing it to make a political statement and Ouyang Zizhen looked at me like I’d dropped a baby.” He’d found out after that that Ouyang Zizhen had recently been dumped and had put all his faith in the existence of true love in Wei Wuxian’s apparent romance with Lan Wangji.
Jiang Cheng’s sigh came deep from his stomach. “You still haven’t talked to Lan Wangji?”
“I - I’m waiting.”
Wei Wuxian didn’t know. Maybe he just wanted to live in this fantasy of being betrothed a little while longer.
Jiang Cheng made an annoyed sound. “Waiting isn’t like you. Jin Ling was right. You’ve been behaving very strangely. Your fiancé is taking betrothal meetings when he already has an understanding with you. You should be kicking up a fuss. I’d half expected you to tell everyone off in the main hall. Why are you acting so meek?”
“Because I want Lan Zhan to meet someone good.”
Jiang Cheng was openly gawping now. “You're giving him up?”
“I don’t think I ever had him.”
Jiang Cheng punched him in the arm. “How can you say that after all that has happened? Did that yaojing suck out what intelligence you had left? Or is it that you actually don’t want to marry him?”
“I want to,” said Wei Wuxian. “Of course, I want to. But I really cannot tell if Lan Zhan wants me the way I want him so I’m being cautious.”
Jiang Cheng rubbed his hands over his face like a man suffering. “Just talk to him. Tell him how you feel and get it over with. All this guesswork is stupid.”
Wei Wuxian laughed. “I know. I’m just scared.”
“Why do you have to be scared of? It’s not like he’ll chase you off for having - ugh - feelings for him.”
“When I tell him, everything between us will change. I don’t want to burden him with having to be careful with me if he doesn’t feel the same way.”
Jiang Cheng scowled. “Since when have you learned to be so cautious with someone else’s feelings? Since when are you so considerate?” There was jealousy in his bitterness. And a question. Why did Lan Wangji merit this consideration when Jiang Cheng himself had not?
“The last time I was careless, I lost a brother. Of course I’m going to be more careful now.”
Jiang Cheng was silent for a long time. For so long, they both had kept each other in amber; memories of the last time they’d been together; happy or otherwise. Jiang Cheng remembered the Wei Wuxian who held him in Lotus Pier and promised to be his right hand man. Wei Wuxian remembered the little brother who angered quickly but forgave him everything, even stealing the last piece of pork from his bowl. Jiang Cheng remembered the Yiling Patriarch who chose the Wen Remnants over him and then took Jin Ling’s parents. Wei Wuxian remembered Sandu Shengshou who tried to kill Wen Ning even after Wei Wuxian had begged him not to. They were neither of those people now and acknowledging that was more painful than thinking about the rift between them. What would shijie say if she could see them now?
The light was going. They had to leave the valley now or risk breaking an ankle making their way back. They stood up, brushing grass from the seat of their robes.
Eventually Jiang Cheng said, “A brother isn’t something you can lose. Stupid,” he added for effect.
Wei Wuxian swallowed and said tentatively, “The Twin Heroes of Yunmeng.”
“No,” said Jiang Cheng with a declarative shake of his head that nearly brought out Wei Wuxian’s defensive smile. “You’re not based in Yunmeng any more. We need a new name. I’ll think of something.”
Wei Wuxian made a noise of dismay. “Why you? You’re so bad at giving names you’ve somehow transmitted it to Jin Ling.”
“Oh yeah? Who came up with the Twin Heroes of Yunmeng, huh?”
“That was me!”
“You have a terrible memory. It was me!”
As the fight tapered off, Jiang Cheng said, “Go figure out what’s going on between you and Lan Wangji’s first. I cannot come up with a name until you settle that. I can’t let the Chief Cultivator’s husband have a stupid name.”
Wei Wuxian didn’t tell Jiang Cheng not to worry on that account. Lan Wangji had been saying all day that he’d explain everything to Wei Wuxian later and Wei Wuxian now suspected he knew what Lan Wangji was going to say. So the next time Lan Wangji caught him, Wei Wuxian did not try to deter him.
On their way to the Jingshi, Wei Wuxian spotted conference guests ambling along the paved paths and admiring the beauty of Cloud Recesses at night by lantern light. The shadows of the bamboo stalks swayed in and out of their footpath as if dancing to a slow melody only they could hear. Truly, everything within sight here had been tamed for meditative peace.
At first, it had grated on Wei Wuxian’s nerves. He’d spoken aloud to himself just to fill the silence. His own quarters was a riot of colours from the souvenirs he’d kept from various trips and woe betide the servant who tried to tidy Wei Wuxian’s mess because a day later, he’d be looking for the half-drawn talisman he’d kept between the pages of a book about omnivorism and qi flow, which he had left between the two decorative wall hangings he’d yet to hang up and where have you put it?
He eventually got used to it. The calm helped his thinking process when he got too frazzled and better yet, the calm reminded him of Lan Wangji. Wei Wuxian reflected that after all this, after Lan Wangji broke his heart, he might have to go away again for a bit.
“You must be so tired,” said Wei Wuxian, pouring tea out for the both of them. “You have to listen to those sect leaders all day and have those meetings. Still, you’re sitting so straight. You should lower your standards a little. Stop making the rest of us look bad.”
Lan Wangji waited until Wei Wuxian finished pouring the tea and settled down. A lesser man would probably have hesitated but Lan Wangji has always prized forthrightness. “There is something I need to tell you about our betrothal.”
Wei Wuxian raised his hand to stop him. It was difficult, after all, to hear it in Lan Wangji’s voice. Since he was confident he knew what was going on, he might as well say it himself. “It’s not real, is it?” Lan Wangji’s lips parted with surprise. “Everyone tried to tell me otherwise but I know you. More than that, I know myself. If I’d forgotten a whole year then maybe I would have believed it more. But based on what we were to each other a month ago…” He shook his head. “A month is too short for us to have decided to marry.”
Wei Wuxian held the teacup to warm his fingertips. He’s been in the Jingshi so many times but rarely did he give himself time to appreciate the beauty of Lan Wangji’s living space. The carefully pruned plant, the bamboo painted on the wall, the flat wooden screen depicting the river that ran through Gusu. Everything neat and in its proper place.
Wei Wuxian swallowed. He should stop putting it off. “Nie Huaisang said news has been circulating about how the sect leaders were going to try and entrap you in a betrothal during the conference. While I am more than confident in your ability to handle them, I knew you’d be exhausted by these overtures, and you couldn’t afford to be if you wanted to convince everyone to look after their towers. So I probably rushed back and said, ‘Lan Zhan, why don’t we pretend we are betrothed? That way we can head all the sect leaders off at the pass.’
“They’d probably ask Zewu-jun and the other Gusu Lan cultivators if we were telling the truth so we had to announce it to your sect and family. But until today, no one else knew. Then I lost my memories and you didn’t want me to misunderstand. So instead of using this story as we’d planned, you resorted to using Zewu-jun and Sizhui as your buffer. To contain the damage, you forbade me from discussing our fake betrothal with anyone who didn’t already know.”
Wei Wuxian smiled and crossed his arms. “Well, how did I do?”
Please tell me I’m wrong.
Lan Wangji huffed, impressed and amused at the same time. “You have always been good with puzzles.” Wei Wuxian’s heart sank. “I could not take advantage of you. Not when you could not remember our original arrangement. I did not want to mislead you either.”
Of course. Because Lan Wangji was kind like that.
Wei Wuxian forced himself to swallow past in the lump in his throat. It was alright. He had accounted for this. “I know some meetings didn’t go well but did you meet anyone you might actually consider marrying?”
“I have said before that I do not need to be married,” said Lan Wangji.
Despite the current betting odds, it appeared that Lan Wangji had not taken to Mao Wenling.
“It doesn’t hurt to keep an open mind. If you meet someone good, you should give them a chance. It’s be nice if you could get a lifelong companion,” said Wei Wuxian.
“I have Wei Ying.”
The pangs Wei Wuxian had been trying to hold back attacked all at once and with full force. It felt like being stabbed repeatedly in the chest. Wei Wuxian did his level best to modulate his voice. “I won’t always be around, you know. You should think long-term! Have you met with that sect leader from Mindong? His son looks pretty capable.”
“Wei Ying.” Lan Wangji had many ways of saying his name. This one was displeasure.
Wei Wuxian wrinkled his nose. “Not your type? That’s alright. I’m sure there are plenty more promising candidates that haven’t caught my eye yet.”
“What do you mean when you’re no longer around?”
Trust Lan Wangji to be able to cut through Wei Wuxian’s chatter. Yet another way in which he was completely unfair. Wei Wuxian tapped his fingers gently on the wall of his teacup. “It’s been years, Lan Zhan. I still can’t ride my sword. I still have to fight with talismans and rely on Chenqing because Suibian gets knocked away so easily. I don’t know if I can improve this golden core.”
Immediately there were fingers on Wei Wuxian’s inner wrist, measuring his pulse. Lan Wangji’s face was inscrutable. Most people thought he was inscrutable all the time but when he was like this, it usually meant he was hiding his feelings on purpose. Wei Wuxian lowered his gaze guiltily.
“You’ve always insisted on keeping these things to yourself. Why do you dislike telling me the things which worry you?” Lan Wangji asked.
“It’s not that,” Wei Wuxian insisted. “I don’t want to worry you.”
“Wei Ying.” Admonishment. Lan Wangji gave a small sigh and his features softened, no longer hiding. “Let me worry about you.”
Years ago, Lan Xichen had told Wei Wuxian of how Lan Wangji was stubborn in the way he worried about people, stubborn in the way he loved. Lan Xichen had said Wei Wuxian had worried Lan Wangji the same way their late mother had worried him. Lan Xichen had also told Wei Wuxian not to hurt Lan Wangji. To be careful with him because Wei Wuxian was dear to him.
Wei Wuxian knew all this. He knew he was special. He knew he was lucky to have Lan Wangji like this. And yet. His stupid heart.
Wei Wuxian slapped his thighs and stood up. “Enough dreary talk for tonight. You’ve already had to listen to too much of that today. You should go to bed now.”
Lan Wangji’s shoulders were drooping even though it was not even eight yet so he could only agree. “Thank you for being so understanding about the business of our betrothal. I have been worried.”
“About what? That I’d seriously believe it? I admit, I was nearly convinced at first. But if we’d really been betrothed, you’d never have asked me to keep it a secret. You’ve not been shy about me for a while now, Lan Zhan.” Wei Wuxian winked.
Lan Wangji huffed. Amusement again. “Would you like me to walk you to your room?” It was something of a running joke between them. They’d always taken their evening tea at the Jingshi and it made no sense for Lan Wangji to walk Wei Wuxian anywhere.
“Have a good rest, Lan Zhan.”
Wei Wuxian closed the doors of the Jingshi and walked out along the stone path, past the doorway that marked the boundaries of the Jingshi’s compound and thought, see? I was right. He went past the way that would lead him down to this quarters and instead marched towards Jiang Cheng’s room. Because Jiang Cheng kept normal waking hours, his room was still lit; the doors open to let in the night breeze.
Jiang Cheng jerked upright when he heard footsteps and rolled his eyes when he saw who they belonged to. “It’s late,” he said, returning his attention to the document he’d been drafting. “What do you want?”
“So I talked to Lan Zhan just like you told me to and I can confirm that I’m not going to be anyone’s husband anytime soon, so you can start brainstorming names.”
The muscles in Jiang Cheng’s jaw jumped. He laid his brush on the marble rest without cleaning it. “He broke off the betrothal?”
“There never was one in the first place. It was all just a prank, you see.”
“Huh?” said Wei Wuxian.
“A prank on whom?” There was thunder in Jiang Cheng’s voice. “Who were you trying to fool?”
“It wasn’t malicious!” said Wei Wuxian. “It was my idea that Lan Zhan and I pretend to save him some trouble.” Except it’d failed to do even that. Conversely, it’d given Lan Wangji even more to worry about. All because Wei Wuxian had lost his stupid memories. He was lucky his paranoia saved him from getting too invested in the lie because…
Because he’d warned himself about this and still, he felt wretched. The part of him that had hoped against hopes that the betrothal was real, that had already pictured what it would be like being Lan Wangji’s husband; that part had decided to collapse in on itself like a sinkhole, taking with it all of Wei Wuxian’s already tenuous control of his feelings.
“Hey, what’s wrong? Wei Wuxian, say something,” said Jiang Cheng.
In the end, it was the way that Jiang Cheng said his name that set him off. It had been so long since Wei Wuxian has heard Jiang Cheng say his name like that. Like they were brothers and he was worried.
The next breath Wei Wuxian took stuttered over a sob and just like that, there was no stopping the tears. He covered his face with his hands, gasping, “Ah, I don’t know why I’m like this.” Nie Huaisang had promised him liquor, hadn’t he? If he asked, would Jiang Cheng go over and fetch Nie Huaisang’s liquor for him?
Drinking over a heartbreak. Surely that was traditional.
“That bastard,” said Jiang Cheng. “You! Go fetch His Excellency now,” he said to the Yunmeng Jiang disciple standing guard by his door.
Wei Wuxian lifted his head. “What? No! Lan Zhan already went to sleep.”
“Like I care. Go fetch him,” Jiang Cheng ordered the disciple. The disciple saluted him and left at once.
Wei Wuxian jumped to his feet. “Are you serious? You can’t go waking him up for no reason.” He managed to stop the disciple before he left the compound for the guest quarters but Jiang Cheng himself had gotten up and marched past him.
“Fine, we’ll bring this to him,” said Jiang Cheng.
Which was how they arrived at the doorway of the Jingshi compound with Wei Wuxian hissing at Jiang Cheng to be quiet and go elsewhere because the Jingshi was Lan Wangji’s private residence and he couldn’t just barge in as he pleased. Jiang Cheng grabbed a Gusu Lan disciple on patrol and told him to get Lan Wangji. The Gusu Lan disciple was reluctant but the thunderous look on Jiang Cheng’s face convinced him to knock timidly on the Jingshi’s doors.
Lan Wangji met them at the doorway, eyes drooping, hair down and in his sleep clothes. He lacked the usual defences of his headpiece and formal robes and Wei Wuxian wanted to shield him with his own body.
“What is the matter?” Lan Wangji asked.
To Jiang Cheng’s credit, he did not beat around the bush. “You think you can treat Wei Wuxian any which way you want just because you defended him back then? I know the stupid plan was his idea but did you have to step all over his feelings and agree to it?” Wei Wuxian felt like crying all over again. What was Jiang Cheng thinking, coming to yell at Lan Wangji about this? Wei Wuxian was already considering how he should knock out Jiang Cheng when Jiang Cheng added, “If this is how cheaply you regard him then I’m taking him back to Lotus Pier.”
Wei Wuxian blinked. Had he heard that right? For a moment, he forgot to breathe. The memory of lakes crowded with pink lotus blossoms and wide leaves assaulted him. Of young disciples clad in dark blue and older disciples in purple calling out to him to demonstrate some archery. Of coming out of warm lake water onto a pier where shijie had once laid out mooncakes. Wei Wuxian would get to see it again. He would get to go home.
But that moment of reliving the Lotus Pier of his dreams was quickly broken by the glacial tone of Lan Wangji’s voice.
“Jiang Wanyin, you would dare?”
Jiang Cheng growled, “Of course, I dare! You think you can make my brother cry and I’d let that stand?”
Lan Wangji looked over at Wei Wuxian, too surprised to maintain his anger. “I made Wei Ying cry?”
“Who else would he be crying over?” And because Jiang Cheng never knew to stop while he was ahead, he added, “I’m taking him back. See if I let you see him again.”
And Lan Wangji’s glare was back, turning the already cold night positively frosty. “That is not your right.”
Jiang Cheng was not the least bit fazed. Wei Wuxian wondered how often he’d been on the receiving end of Lan Wangji’s glares to have built up such an immunity against them. “Do you know how many times I’ve ever seen Wei Wuxian cry?” he said.
This put Lan Wangji on back footing again. “Wei Ying.” Hurt and confused. They had spoken barely a half an hour ago and Wei Wuxian had convinced him all was fine then.
And everything was fine. Wei Wuxian just needed time to deal with his feelings but then Jiang Cheng had to lose his temper and make a liar out of Wei Wuxian.
“Wei Ying, what feelings is he talking about?” said Lan Wangji.
This only incensed Jiang Cheng more. “How can you not know when he’s so careful with you? There is no way you are this oblivious.”
“Jiang Cheng, shut up!” cried Wei Wuxian.
Because it was not yet hai shi, because it was not yet the normal time the Gusu Lan cultivators retired to bed, they were attracting an audience. And because many of the conference attendees had chosen to stay in Cloud Recesses’ guest quarters instead of finding accommodations in Caiyi Town, that audience was growing.
Wei Wuxian wanted to push Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji out of the public eye but didn’t know where to go. He didn’t want to shove Jiang Cheng into the Jingshi when Lan Wangji so clearly did not want him there, and now the amount of people who were stopping to see what was happening was boxing them in.
“What is all this? What do you think you are doing, Wei Wuxian, causing such a ruckus so late in the day?” said Sect Leader Yao. “What do you think you’re achieving by causing His Excellency trouble now?”
Wei Wuxian wanted to groan. There were very few constants in his life but Sect Leader Yao was unfortunately one of them. Whenever something was going badly for him, he could always trust Sect Leader Yao to make it worse.
“I didn’t realise you fretted this much over giving His Excellency trouble, Yao-zongzhu,” said Jin Ling. The teasing edge of his sarcasm made his voice knife-sharp. “I would not have been able to guess it by the way you kept disagreeing with him today.”
“You - you little whelp!”
Jiang Cheng was about to bite off Sect Leader Yao’s head but Jin Ling got there before him. “So what if I’m a whelp? I’m surprised you have enough energy to scold people this late into the night since you’re so old now.” Wei Wuxian badly wanted to laugh. He’d once told Jin Ling he should beat up people he wanted to beat up while he still could. It looked like Jin Ling found his own version of doing that.
“I should scold you if you’ve been reduced to defending this demonic cultivator. He might not have been responsible for your parents’ death but he’d still killed so many of our disciples with his unnatural ways. As far as I’m concerned, he and Jin Guangyao are as bad as one another.” Sect Leader Yao visibly froze up when he heard the first few notes from the dizi.
Wei Wuxian lowered Chenqing. “Enough of that now. Any disagreements, you can settle elsewhere. Better yet, you can settle tomorrow. This is His Excellency’s home and you are disturbing his rest.”
“You were the one who first —” Sect Leader Yao quickly reached for his sword when Wei Wuxian lifted Chenqing to his lips again.
Wei Wuxian did not start a new melody, smiling patronisingly. “I am growing impatient. Either you all go now or I will summon some corpses to drag you all back.”
In the ensuing silence, Lan Jingyi’s whisper was as loud as a scream. “Damn, Wei-qianbei snapped.”
Lan Sizhui had a faraway look on his face as if suddenly remembering all those times Wei Wuxian had lost his temper with him at the Burial Mounds.
Next to them, Ouyang Zizhen’s lip was trembling. “Wei-qianbei, you’re so protective of His Excellency even though you don’t believe he loves you? Shouldn’t there be a limit to how selfless your love is?”
“A-Zhen?” said Sect Leader Ouyang, confused as to why his son had such a passionate opinion on this spectacle.
“It’s fine, isn’t it,” said Jin Ling, irritated by Ouyang Zizhen’s overt sentimentality, “since they’re betrothed.”
The gathering group then exploded in noise as if someone had cast a curse of confusion over them. Lan Sizhui managed a strangled, “Jin-zongzhu!” while Lan Jingyi said, “I swear, da-xiaojie, do you know how to keep a secret?” and then Sect Leader Mao said, “Your Excellency, am I to understand that you and Wei Wuxian are already betrothed?”
“We are not,” said Wei Wuxian before Lan Sizhui and his friends could say otherwise. Sect Leader Mao still looked suspicious so Wei Wuxian bumped shoulders with Lan Wangji. “Go on, tell him. He’ll believe you since you don’t lie.” It took Lan Wangji a strangely long time to confirm that they indeed were not betrothed. Perhaps it was because he’d anticipated the hurt noise from Lan Sizhui, which admittedly made Wei Wuxian want to curl up with guilt too. Wei Wuxian cleared his throat. “You shouldn’t believe the things children say so easily. Lan Zhan has so many fine cultivators vying for his hand. Why would he be betrothed to me?”
“Obviously because you would love him best!” said Ouyang Zizhen in loud protest.
Wei Wuxian wished Ouyang Zizhen would stop speaking already. He was a sweet boy but he needed to look for someone new to court instead of projecting onto Wei Wuxian. “You know, it’s not nice of you to curse Lan Zhan into partnering up with someone who is so weak in cultivation. Look at him. He’d likely reach immortality within the next decade. If we marry, what would you recommend he do when I die, huh? Are you that comfortable condemning Lan Zhan to an eternity of being alone?”
“That’s not what I’m saying at all,” said Ouyang Zizhen, distressed. “Yi-xiong, help me out here.”
With the gut feeling that whatever Lan Jingyi would say would only make things worse, Wei Wuxian cut in, “Come on, it’s late. I wasn’t joking earlier. You all need to go somewhere else. If you want to argue, there are some taverns in Caiyi Town still open. The last thing you want is your Chief Cultivator to be sleep-deprived and cranky when he has to arbitrate your cases tomorrow. Now, shoo!”
The Gusu Lan disciples helped usher the guests back to their assigned quarters.
Wei Wuxian made to leave as well because he knew the nosier guests would try and stick around if they saw him still standing there. But Lan Jingyi blocked his path. Wei Wuxian tried to sidestep him but Ouyang Zizhen stopped him. Wei Wuxian sighed. “I’m sure whatever you children want can wait.”
“As if we’re doing this just for you,” said Lan Jingyi, looking past Wei Wuxian at Lan Sizhui who was standing behind him, cutting off Wei Wuxian’s final escape route. His only path now was towards the Jingshi, towards Lan Wangji.
Wei Wuxian couldn’t deal with this. Not right now. “Jiang Cheng, see how these children are bullying me?” Wei Wuxian whined theatrically but Jiang Cheng was nowhere to be found. If Wei Wuxian strained his ears, he could hear Jiang Cheng’s annoyed protests mixed with Jin Ling insisting that ‘those two idiots can sort this out for themselves.’
“Wei-qianbei, will you really be leaving us for Lotus Pier?” said Lan Sizhui.
“You have to ignore what Jiang Cheng says sometimes. He was angry when he said it,” said Wei Wuxian even though going to Lotus Pier for a while after this would be a good idea. He had so many of his own ghosts there that he wouldn’t have time to think of Lan Wangji too much.
“You didn’t answer my question,” said Lan Sizhui.
Why must Lan Sizhui take after Lan Wangji in this? Wei Wuxian didn’t want to lie. Not to his A-Yuan.
Lan Wangji stepped forward, further trapping Wei Wuxian in. “Is this what you were really worried about when you spoke about your golden core earlier; why you suddenly want me to marry someone?” In a graver tone, he added, “Is this why you told me it would be good for me to have a lifelong companion as if I don’t already have you?”
Ouyang Zizhen looked like he was about to burst into tears again. Even Lan Jingyi’s eyes looked bright and shiny.
Wei Wuxian really didn’t want to do this right now. “I only said that to convince Sect Leader Mao you hadn’t been lying to him. If he’d thought our betrothal was real, he and everyone else you took a meeting with today would be seriously insulted.”
“It was not the most obvious rebuttal you could have used yet you offered it so quickly. Clearly, it has been bothering you,” said Lan Wangji.
“That’s because earlier…” Wei Wuxian stopped himself, realising that what he was about to say wasn’t appropriate at all. But it was too late. Lan Wangji was a dog with a scent. He was not letting go. Wei Wuxian swallowed. “Earlier, when I was asking myself why you would take betrothal meetings when you already had me, I concluded it must be because your suitors could live longer than me. Since you were doing it so obviously, I must have been okay with it. I - I am okay with it. You’re so good, Lan Zhan. You deserve to have someone who can keep you company for your whole life.”
At this, Ouyang Zizhen lost all control and blubbered. “Wei-qianbei, please value yourself more!”
Lan Jingyi was making angry noises. “You think Hanguang-jun would be so disrespectful to his fiancé? How could you believe he would do something like that to you?”
Faced with this wall of noise, Wei Wuxian backed away into Lan Sizhui, nearly trodding on his foot. He made a noise of dismay and apologised, backing away from Lan Sizhui and ended up backing into Lan Wangji instead. “Ah, sorry, Lan Zhan! This is what you get for standing so close to me. I -” He tried to leave Lan Wangji’s personal space but Lan Wangji’s hand had shot out and grabbed his wrist, holding him in place. His grip was like iron and Wei Wuxian felt weak under it. He really couldn’t deal with Lan Wangji when he was this close.
“Xian-gege,” said Sizhui, which should have put Wei Wuxian on high alert, “was Jingyi right earlier? Do you believe that Hanguang-jun does not love you?”
What a thing to ask when the person in question was a hair’s breadth from Wei Wuxian’s back! Wei Wuxian tried shuffling forward and felt the fingers around his wrist tighten painfully. It reminded him of the cliffside at the Nightless City. Lan Wangji’s grip had hurt then too. His fingers, the blood sliding down his wrists, his silent plea for Wei Wuxian to continue living. They had all hurt. Yet, it had saved him.
“Of course I know he loves me.” Wei Wuxian covered Lan Wangji’s fingers with his free hand. Here was someone who had wanted to save him in spite of all the ways he had failed. “He’s my zhi—”
“Not just as zhiji,” said Lan Sizhui, brazenly breaking the rule about not interrupting. “Do you think he doesn’t already love you as one loves their cultivation partner?”
Wei Wuxian’s mouth dropped open. “A-Yuan!” These children were definitely too invested in this. He had to come up with a way to punish them somehow on their next night hunt.
“Please. Answer the question.”
“You ought to know that your Hanguang-jun and I were never really betrothed. We only said we were so he would have a reason to turn down all those meetings.”
Both Lan Jingyi and Ouyang Zizhen made betrayed noises but Lan Sizhui remained undeterred. “And why do you think Hanguang-jun agreed to such a plan even though he knows very well that lying is forbidden?”
“Because —” Wei Wuxian hesitated, realising he did not know the answer.
Lan Sizhui continued, “It might have been a prank - and forgive my impertinence - but if you asked him properly now if he would marry you, I think he would say yes.”
Wei Wuxian swallowed. Or at least he tried to. His mouth was too dry. He was too terrified to look behind and see what kind of expression Lan Wangji was wearing. “Why are you so confident, A-Yuan?” Wei Wuxian asked because all these people had thought they knew him and Lan Wangji and they had been wrong before.
Lan Sizhui gave an indulgent grin. “Because Rich-gege is in love with Xian-gege. Everyone has always known that.”
It felt like an eternity before Wei Wuxian could fully grasp what Lan Sizhui was insinuating. There had only been one period when Lan Sizhui called Lan Wangji Rich-gege. A period of time so long ago and precious that most days, Wei Wuxian could not bear to think on it. He swallowed thickly. “Granny? Uncle Four?” Lan Sizhui nodded. “Wen Qing too?”
“Ning-shushu said that everyone talked about it even though Hanguang-jun had only visited once. Because you had so many friends but only Hanguang-jun had come to see you.”
“He went to Yiling even though he knew he was going to be punished with kneeling for a day and a night and holding up the correction ruler! Zewu-jun told me, okay?” Lan Jingyi added defensively. “I was given the same punishment and he told me Hanguang-jun had received it before too. I kept bugging him until he told me why.”
Wei Wuxian jerked in Lan Wangji’s hold. “Is that true?”
“Which part?” said Lan Wangji. He was stalling, which meant…which meant…
Wei Wuxian sagged against him, sapped of all energy. Lan Wangji caught him by the elbows. “Lan Zhan, why? For me…”
Lan Jingyi made a derisive noise. “Do you still have to ask?”
“Yi-xiong, wait,” said Ouyang Zizhen.
It was alright, wasn’t it? This was permission, right? For once, could it possibly be alright to let his heart be greedy? Wei Wuxian turned so he could look at Lan Wangji’s face; that too handsome face with the tremulous lower lip which was the only sign that this was affecting Lan Wangji at all. It was more than enough.
“Lan Zhan, I’m in love with you. Will you marry me?”
“Wei Ying.” There was too much emotion in that for Wei Wuxian to parse. “Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji said again and. Oh. It wasn’t that there was too much but too different. Wei Wuxian had never heard Lan Wangji say his name like this before. Perhaps Lan Wangji had never allowed himself to say it like this before.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian said because he had always liked the shape of Lan Wangji’s name in his mouth. Because he didn’t know what else to say. Because a part of him was still waiting for the rug to be pulled from under his feet. “Please say yes.”
Tired though he was, Lan Wangji did not go to sleep for a long time after that. He thanked the juniors for their help, rewarded them all with a smile that froze them to the spot with shock, and swept Wei Wuxian into the Jingshi, where he spent a long time combing his hair and kissing him.
“You were truly afraid I would be alone,” said Lan Wangji. “So worried you would encourage me to marry someone else despite your own feelings?”
“I already worry about you when I’m not here so of course I would worry about you more when I’m no longer here. You’ve had too much to be sad about already. The last thing I want is to be the reason you become sad again.”
“It already hurts me that I made you cry tonight.” Lan Wangji ran a thumb down Wei Wuxian’s cheek.
Wei Wuxian pushed it away. “Ugh, please forget that bit. Jiang Cheng overreacted. He’s so dramatic sometimes.”
“What was it that made you cry?”
“Lan Zhan! I just said forget about it,” Wei Wuxian whined.
“Jiang Wanyin threatened to take you away because of it. How can I reassure him it won’t happen again if I do not know the cause?”
“Do you have to be this reasonable?” Wei Wuxian said. “Fine. It was because I was too sad at the thought of us not actually marrying, okay? I know it sounds silly now but it’s been a confusing day for me and --” There must be something in the water because now Lan Wangji was the one interrupting him. Lan Wangji lips were so soft, he thought. His kisses made Wei Wuxian so hyper aware of his own lips. Wei Wuxian shivered as Lan Wangji brought his hand down his chest and spread his palm over his lower dantian. He should be more afraid, Wei Wuxian thought. The last time he’d allowed someone to touch him there, it had been Wen Qing. Wei Wuxian shivered.
“It scares me too,” Lan Wangji admitted, “the thought of what I would do if I lost you again.”
Wei Wuxian straightened and tangled their fingers together. It sent a zip of pleasure up his arm. All this freedom to touch Lan Wangji; Wei Wuxian felt like a wealthy man. “You’ve done it before. You can do it again.”
“But you said you worry about me being lonely. I only want company if it’s yours.”
Wei Wuxian ducked his head. Where in the world had Lan Wangji learned to speak such sweet words?
Lan Wangji tucked fingers under Wei Wuxian’s chin and lifted it so he could kiss him. Wei Wuxian blushed into the kiss. He wondered distantly if Lan Wangji was feeling like a wealthy man too.
“We will find a way,” Lan Wangji said. “We have time. I have heard that dual cultivation is very effective for improving one’s golden core. Once we are married, we can test that.”
Wei Wuxian’s mouth opened and closed like a goldfish. “Did you just-?”
Lan Wangji smirked.
“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian cried, heat blooming across his cheeks and all the way to the tips of his ears. “How dare you! I’m going to report this lewd behaviour to your brother. To your uncle even! Unbelievable!” When the heat on his face abated a little, he asked shyly, “Every day?”
“To make Wei Ying strong. So he can stay by my side forever. That is what you want?”
Lan Wangji was stroking his fingers. It was very distracting. “Yes,” Wei Wuxian croaked. “Yes, it is.”
“Every day then.” Lan Wangji brought Wei Wuxian’s hand to his lips and kissed each fingertip.
Wei Wuxian swallowed, his chest so tight it felt like he would die there and then. “Every day.”
The following morning, Jiang Cheng nearly threw Wei Wuxian out of his quarters when he told him how everything had gone. “This is why I kept asking you to talk to him and you said you did!”
“I really had!” said Wei Wuxian, dodging Jiang Cheng’s strikes. In retrospect, Wei Wuxian had talked a little too much and had not allowed Lan Wangji to explain more of his perspective. But ah, well. It was alright now. “It wasn’t the betrothal part that I’d misunderstood.”
Jiang Cheng snorted. “So what if he’s been in love with you for years? He’s not off the hook.”
“For what? For making you cry!” Jiang Cheng said as if that was completely reasonable. When Wei Wuxian tried to explain that it wasn’t, that Wei Wuxian actually cried a lot more than Jiang Cheng realised, Jiang Cheng landed a painful strike on his shoulder. “Jin Zixuan made shijie cry once and we hated him for it forever, remember? Your Lan Wangji will not be the exception.”
Wei Wuxian bit the inside of his cheek.
“You’re sure about this, right? You want to marry that jade statue?” said Jiang Cheng.
“We’ll have a wedding ceremony in Lotus Pier,” said Wei Wuxian.
He knew it was presumptuous. After all, he’d only found yesterday that he was allowed back at all. But since the children had worked so hard to prove him wrong, since Lan Wangji had given him more kisses than he’d dare dream of, Wei Wuxian thought it might be alright to presume a little.
“Of course you are. What do you take me for?” Jiang Cheng snapped.
Every time Jiang Cheng reminded him he was part of the family, his family, Wei Wuxian’s chest did funny things. He wanted to sling his arm around Jiang Cheng and laugh at Jiang Cheng’s put upon expression. He wanted to go home and kick lake water at Jiang Cheng’s face. He wanted to tear open a lotus head and toss fresh seeds at Jiang Cheng’s head until he fell off the boat. After so long, it finally felt alright to want.
“But before that, can you show me and Jin Ling how far you’ve got with the talismans already? We really want to do a test run before winter,” Jiang Cheng said.
Wei Wuxian laughed. “Okay, okay. I’m going to help you make the best night hunting competition ever.”
It was evident by the constant low-volume murmurs that pervaded the main hall that the other sect leaders wanted to discuss the commotion that took place outside the Jingshi last night. Lan Xichen took his seat and leaned towards Wei Wuxian, confused. “They are calling you the Chief Cultivator’s guard dog now. What in the world happened last night?”
Wei Wuxian snorted. Guard dog. That was not a moniker he ever thought he’d wear. He was trying to figure out the quickest way to explain everything to Lan Xichen since the discussions were about the open when Lan Wangji stood up, calling attention to himself.
“I would like to announce that I have accepted a proposal yesterday and therefore will not be accepting any more meetings. Thank you all for your patience.” Succinct and taciturn as ever, that was all Lan Wangji said before resuming his seat.
The main hall erupted.
“Who is your new bride-to-be, Your Excellency?” asked Sect Leader Cai, the one who had started this mess.
“Yes, to whom else should we offer our congratulations?” said Sect Leader Mao, whose daughter, Mao Wenling looked particularly relieved at the news.
The sect leaders were all throwing looks at one another, trying to spot which among them was looking particularly smug and must therefore be enjoying his new status as the future father-in-law to the Chief Cultivator.
Wei Wuxian got to his feet and waved at them. “It’s me.”
Sect Leader Mao blinked uncommonly fast at him. “But yesterday you said —”
“Ah yes. I actually proposed to His Excellency after you all left. So really, I did not lie to you,” said Wei Wuxian.
Sect Leader Yao tried several times to say something before he finally found his voice. “This is absurd! The Chief Cultivator cannot marry the Yiling Patriarch. It isn’t done. Is this what the Gusu Lan sect has become? A sect where fugitives hide and corrupt our best and brightest?”
Lan Wangji sighed. He actually sighed in front of a room full of sect leaders. “Yao-zongzhu, I allowed you your dissatisfaction yesterday. I have let you slur my zhiji, who is now my fiancé. If you insist on continuing in this uncivilised manner, I must remove you. If not, I will indeed have shamed my sect and family.”
Wei Wuxian exchanged open looks of gleeful awe with Jiang Cheng. It was actually happening. Lan Wangji was threatening to kick out Sect Leader Yao!
The cacophony of voices that was usually so ready to back up Sect Leader Yao and build a momentum for him during the debates were markedly absent. The Chief Cultivator had spoken and he had left no room for argument.
“So,” Wei Wuxian said because he’d never denied that he was a little shit and that he enjoyed riling a room up, “aren’t you going to congratulate me?”
“Wei Ying,” said Lan Wangji. Fond exasperation.
“Congratulations!” said Nie Huaisang with a wide grin, lifting his cup of tea.
“Congratulations,” said Jiang Cheng with a blank face though his eyes were soft.
“Congratulations,” said the other sect leaders begrudgingly. They had known about Wei Wuxian’s existence in Lan Wangji’s orbit but had hoped it was only a platonic bond. Well, at least they had tried.
“Congratulations, Xian-gege,” said Lan Sizhui in a hushed voice when Wei Wuxian sat down.
Wei Wuxian reached out and gave his cheek a light pinch as he had done when Lan Sizhui had been much, much younger. “Thanks, A-Yuan.”
Beside him, Lan Xichen, though happy, was still mystified. “Yesterday? I thought the two of you got engaged last week?”
“Don’t enquire further, Zewu-jun. It would only give you a headache,” Jin Ling promised. Wei Wuxian had hugged him this morning to thank him for his help and Jin Ling still hasn’t forgiven him for it.
Lan Xichen chuckled. “Well, whatever happened, I am glad to see your spirits lifted, Wei-gongzi. You left the banquet so suddenly yesterday I worried about you.”
Wei Wuxian thanked him. It had not even occurred to him that there would come a day that Lan Xichen would worry about him. In the past, Lan Xichen had extended concern largely due to his friendship with Lan Wangji. This development was…this was nice, Wei Wuxian decided. An older brother, Wei Wuxian thought, flushing.
“I’d already toasted you when you made your first announcement last week but since you do not remember it, let me do it again.” Lan Xichen raised his teacup towards Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji. “Congratulations, my little brothers. I am so happy for both of you.”
Wei Wuxian thought he could be forgiven for tearing up a little again.
Since Lan Wangji sat on a dais raised a little higher, their position was awkward. Still he insisted on taking Wei Wuxian’s hand and kissing the back of it.
Lan Jingyi, who was standing guard at the door of the main hall, made a gagging motion. Ouyang Zizhen, who was sitting beside his father, cupped his face with both hands and was grinning from ear to ear.
Wei Wuxian felt so lucky. Despite all that had happened, all he had been through, he was lucky that these were the people who loved him. Naturally, when the wedding invitations were ready, they were among the first to receive them.