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Let's Play Pretend and Live Our Lives

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Subject: HELP!!!!!
To: Nie Huaisang
From: Wei Wuxian

Hey Huaisang!

Question for you. The company picnic is this weekend—it looks really great this year! It's gonna be at Biling Lake Park and there's the volleyball tournament and they'll have a slip 'n slide for the kids and slime-making. How come they never had cool stuff like this at the Jiang Corp company picnics? Anyway, you know how I love the picnic every year—especially because Lan Zhan wears something casual! Not that he doesn't look good in his work clothes, because he absolutely does. He has the least boring business wardrobe of anyone I know and he looks beautiful in everything he wears. His ears even turn a little pink when I say so!

So. Here's the thing. We've become friends—I think?—since I moved to logistics management and we work in the same building now. I think I told you that we've been having lunch together a lot. I don't think he outright hates me for what happened in school. And even if he hasn't forgiven me for the stuff that happened in Yiling the summer before I went to college, he doesn't bring it up. He doesn't ignore me? He doesn't glare? He sometimes converses? It's hard to tell sometimes.

I've been trying really hard to not fuck things up this time. But I think I've fucked up.

You remember that kid I told you about, the one from two years ago when the volcanic eruption in Qishan wiped out Dafan? I adopted him. I fostered him for nine months before it went through and he's been my son for two months now. And I kind of haven't told anyone. Not Lan Zhan or my family or my coworkers, and now it's the company picnic and I want to bring him but I don't know how to tell anyone!

You see the problem? What do I do? Lan Zhan is going to hate me for keeping secrets, especially one this big! Jiang Cheng might actually break my legs, and I don't know what I'm going to tell Shijie because she actually asked about him since she knew I'd had him and I freaked out and didn't tell her I was halfway through the adoption process! I'm a terrible brother!

What do I do? Help me, Nie-xiong! You're my only hope! How do I tell people about my secret baby without them thinking I don't trust them?

Your pathetic friend,
Wei Wuxian


Subject: RE: HELP!!!!!
To: Wei Wuxian
From: Nie Huaisang

Wei-xiong,

WHAT THE FUCK

YOU HAVE A KID? YOU WERE FOSTERING A KID? IS THIS THE KID YOU MENTIONED ALL OF ONCE, A YEAR AGO, WHOSE COUSINS YOU HAD TRACKED DOWN AND WERE HOPING WOULD TAKE HIM?

YOU ARE TOO MUCH. YOU'RE BUYING ME LUNCH. EXPENSIVE LUNCH.

HAROLD CHAN'S, TWO PM.

Your Hope and Savior,
Nie Huaisang


Wei Wuxian puts on his best, most winsome smile when he arrives five minutes after two at Harold Chan's. He's already eaten lunch with Lan Wangji at noon as usual at work, covering the guilty feeling in his stomach with stupid jokes. He's taken an hour of leave to come meet Nie Huaisang.

Nie Huaisang has already been seated, and his eyes narrow when he catches sight of Wei Wuxian. He swats Wei Wuxian with his folded up fan when he comes within reach.

"Wei-xiong, I can't believe you!"

"I know, I know!" Wei Wuxian sits with a huff, his smile slipping as his anxiety rears its head. "But you'll help me right?"

"Only because this is the most ridiculous thing you've ever done!" He tries to hide it, but Huaisang is smiling, exasperated but also incredibly amused.

Wei Wuxian lets out the breath he's been holding, relief making him lightheaded. He grins, knowing that everything will be all right now with Huaisang's help. His friend is clever and knows how to deal with people without rubbing them the wrong way, like Wei Wuxian always seems to end up doing.

The server comes by, and Huaisang orders a glass of expensive wine for both of them and then the most expensive entree on the menu. Wei Wuxian winces a little, just ordering dessert for himself, but keeps his mouth shut. This is the price for getting him out of this mess.

"So the cousins couldn't take the kid?"

"A-Yuan," Wei Wuxian says, nodding. "One was badly injured and the other was taking care of him. She'd taken in some of the extended family already, too, and she's a doctor working for the Qishan relief effort. The aunties and uncles were not in great shape with the lung damage, and that part of the family hadn't met A-Yuan before. He was two when Dafan erupted, and by the time I'd found them, he knew me better than any of them."

"And you didn't tell anyone about him because..."

"I told people!" Wei Wuxian grumbles, but it's a weak defense and they both know it. "I didn't want to say anything in case we did find someone to take him. Even once I'd brought him back to Caiyi to foster him officially. Most refugee kids get reunited with their families or even someone from their town will take them. But he was the only survivor of his village." He shakes his head. "I had fifteen other kids to resettle, and I was able to place all of them with either relatives or former neighbors. There was no reason to think I wouldn't be able to find someone for him too."

He picks up his chopsticks and fiddles with them with the restless anxiety that often keeps him up at night. "Even after Wen Qing said she couldn't take him and I started the adoption process. He still could have gone to someone else. I didn't..."

He shrugs, unable to quite meet Nie Huaisang's eyes, not sure he can explain the certain feeling in his gut that if he said anything out loud he'd jinx things.

He'd worked diligently to trace A-Yuan's family. That was his job at the time, and as an orphan himself, one he took very seriously. But in his heart of hearts, the longer he had A-Yuan, the more he wanted to keep him.

"So now you have a secret baby," Huaisang says, sitting back in his chair.

"Well, he's four now." Wei Wuxian says with a sheepish grin, glancing up. "You want to see a picture?"

"A secret child you've had for two years!" Huaisang throws up his hands, so dramatic. "Yes!"

Wei Wuxian needs no further prompting to pull out his phone. He has lots of pictures of A-Yuan from the months he's been living with him, and he pulls up a recent one from the playground behind his building. A-Yuan is chubby cheeked and wearing a delighted smile as he goes down the slide.

"All right, I concede, he's cute," Huaisang says, another smile playing around his mouth. "Congratulations."

Warmth abruptly floods through Wei Wuxian, taking him by surprise. He grins broadly, unable to keep it or the happiness in his chest contained. "Thank you."

"Now, about this hole you've dug yourself." Nie Huaisang picks up his fan and taps his chin with it, his most pensive expression on his face as he looks into the middle distance for a moment. "I've had time to think through every possible scenario since your email this morning."

Wei Wuxian straightens up attentively.

Nie Huaisang's face is entirely serious when he looks Wei Wuxian in the eye, and says. "You have no choice but to gaslight everyone."

Wei Wuxian feels his eyebrows go up, feels his mouth open. But Huaisang's fixed gaze keeps him quiet as he explains.

"You have to act as if you've already told everyone and that they've known about A-Yuan all along. Be casual, mention him off-hand in regular office chat when it makes sense. If someone says they didn't know you had a kid, you're confused, oh so confused that they didn't know, for surely everyone knew because you are not a weirdo who spends two years going through the long process of adopting a baby and doesn't mention it."

Huaisang raises his eyebrows meaningfully, and Wei Wuxian chuckles self-deprecatingly. Laid out like that, he feels another layer of tension shed from his shoulders. This is definitely something he can pull off. It's not even the most outrageous thing he's ever tried to convince someone! That would be the successful two weeks that he had Jiang Cheng convinced that qilin were real animals.

His coworkers would be easy. The rest of his family would be a little bit harder, but if they heard it through the grapevine first—he was carefully not thinking about what Uncle Jiang and Madame Yu would say—he could probably swing it once he convinces Jiang Cheng. The one that makes his heart clench, though, is—

"And for Lan Zhan? He's not going to believe that I mentioned A-Yuan to him and he's the one who forgot about it."

Nie Huaisang lifts his wine glass and gestures with it a little, like a sage who has given his advice and now the rest is Wei Wuxian's problem. "You're just going to have to pretend very hard. Don't let him break you."

He's right. Even if he never truly convinces Lan Wangji, he can't admit it. He must keep a thick face and maintain the façade, if only to preserve the veneer that he would never be so terrible a friend.

The server returns with their food. Wei Wuxian takes a sip of his own wine. He doesn't know what he'll do if Lan Wangji won't forgive him for this, and his thoughts shy away from considering it.

It'll be fine. He has a plan. It'll work. He puts the rest of his worries from his mind as Nie Huaisang asks after the rest of his non-secret life, and they spend an enjoyable hour catching up.


"Hands up!"

A-Yuan thrusts his arms into the air for Wei Wuxian to slather them with sunscreen, a big grin on his face. He's wearing a teal t-shirt that said Baba's Boy on the front with a pair of dinosaurs on it, which became his absolute favorite shirt when Wei Wuxian explained that the dinosaurs were a father and son just like them. It's Wei Wuxian's favorite shirt of his too.

"Okay, hands down, legs up!" he says next, getting a giggle from A-Yuan.

"Baba, no! Legs are for standing. They can't go up!"

Wei Wuxian makes an astonished face. "They can't!?"

"No!" A-Yuan is indignant.

"What if you stand on your hands?" Wei Wuxian asks.

"Baba, no!" A-Yuan pushes at him.

"What if I flip you over!" Wei Wuxian darts in and A-Yuan shrieks with laughter as he turns him upside down. He lowers him till his hands touch the ground and holds his ankles as he "walks" a few steps before lowering him to the floor again. A-Yuan lays there breathless for a moment, his face bright red, and Wei Wuxian takes advantage of his temporary stillness to slather sunscreen on his legs too.

"There. All done!" he says, even as A-Yuan is already scrambling to his feet and running to find his sandals, chattering about how they have to hurry or there won't be any water left.

He's been so excited for the company picnic since Wei Wuxian told him about it a couple days ago. A-Yuan keeps asking about the slip 'n slide, which he's never heard of before. He's completely uninterested in meeting Wei Wuxian's coworkers, but he did ask if other kids would be there.

Wei Wuxian on the other hand is a bundle of nerves. He has a reputation for being shameless, one he leans into, but he has to admit the audacity of this plan has even him on edge about how his co-workers will react.

Or okay, if he's honest, how one of his co-workers will react.

World Aid's corporate picnic takes place at Biling Lake Park every year in late spring. They rent out the whole South Lawn designed for such events with a giant picnic pavilion decked out with rows and rows of tables, four volleyball courts, and the large lawn for other games and a kids area. It's basically a carnival with speeches and awards thrown in, and once the stuffy part is done with, Wei Wuxian always enjoys himself.

The day is sunny and warm as he walks along the path toward the pavilion with A-Yuan's hand in his. Wei Wuxian is already feeling the heat on the back of his neck. He put his hair up in a ponytail so at least he gets a little breeze there, but his shirt is already sticking to the small of his back under his backpack.

"Is that it?!" A-Yuan points excitedly to where the slip 'n slide is set up. It's not running yet, but a cluster of older kids are nearby checking it out.

"Yep!" Wei Wuxian shakes A-Yuan's hand a little. "You'll get to try it out after lunch."

"Food first," A-Yuan solemnly repeats one of Wei Wuxian's oft repeated phrases that comes out nearly every day when he wants to go to the playground first thing in the morning or first thing after preschool. Wei Wuxian grins, his heart too full of love for his kid.

The feeling buoys him up and he's grinning when they reach the pavilion. The buffet is already open, so Wei Wuxian loads up two plates of bbq pork ribs, noodles, spring rolls, dumplings, and steamed buns. He gets A-Yuan to hold onto his shirt so he can free up another hand to balance everything and goes to find where his department is sitting.

When he sees them, he plasters on a smile and reminds himself that this will be no problem. There's nothing to be awkward about, after all. They've already heard all about A-Yuan.

He doesn't see Lan Wangji yet, but that could mean anything. There's 500 people in the pavilion, and he's probably sitting silently with his department until the awards are done.

Wei Wuxian takes care to plot his path to pass by Yao-jingli, one of the mid-level administrators who has an opinion on everything and everyone, and who liked to fancy himself the most important cog in the machine.

"Ah, Wei Wuxian! Good to see you, good to see you!" Yao-jingli bobs a bow which Wei Wuxian returns with a smile. He's wearing a bright Hawaiian shirt tucked into his khaki shorts. "How are you finding your transition to logistics management?"

"Good, good. It's been a very good fit," Wei Wuxian replies. He makes his smile wider and looks Yao-jingli in the eye. "It's been especially good for giving me more time with this one." He gestures with one of his plates down at A-Yuan who is faithfully holding onto his shirt and staring at Yao-jingli with big eyes.

Yao-jingli does a brief double-take. "And who is this?!"

Wei Wuxian affects a confused expression, still smiling. "My son, A-Yuan, of course. Surely, you remember me mentioning him at the last Department Happy Hour. He's why I couldn't stay long," he says.

Yao-jingli's eyes widen, then narrow in thought as if he's thinking back to the happy hour a couple months ago. It was even true that Wei Wuxian had left early to go pick up A-Yuan from preschool. He just hadn't mentioned that as the reason at the time.

But with the notion planted and Yao-jingli's ego rendering him incapable of looking a fool, Yao-jingli nods and smiles. "Of course, of course! How could I have forgotten! Ah, but he looked so much smaller in the picture you showed me!"

And done.

Wei Wuxian's smile relaxes into one more genuine. "He's grown! Haven't you, A-Yuan?"

"Yes!" A-Yuan throws his arms up in the air, taking part of Wei Wuxian's shirt with him. He's adorable, but a menace.

"Ayieee! Careful!" Wei Wuxian lifts the plates up, trying not to flash more skin than necessary at his superior. But Yao-jingli just laughs and helpfully takes a plate and offers to help him get to his seat so Wei Wuxian can take A-Yuan's hand. They make more small talk on the way about A-Yuan which Wei Wuxian happily indulges.

By the time they reach his co-workers and A-Yuan has been noticed by more than one surprised face, Yao-jingli has eagerly convinced himself that he has had half a dozen conversations with Wei Wuxian about the adoption process.

"I was so worried when I didn't hear from the ministry for three weeks after I turned in the adoption paperwork," Wei Wuxian says, ignoring his co-workers as he finishes conversing with Yao-jingli. "I took your advice about following up with a polite letter, and it turned out they were just behind. I should have known, I guess," he laughs.

Yao-jingli claps him on the back, chuckling with him. "You must have patience, Wei Wuxian. The grass will be milk soon enough!"

"Indeed, indeed. Thank you so much for your help." He sets their plates down and gets A-Yuan up on the bench. Mianmian is sitting on the other side of the table with her husband and six-year-old daughter. The two kids look at each other curiously. Next to A-Yuan are Bai Ying'ai and Mo Xuanyu, two of the younger members of Wei Wuxian's team.

"Wei Wuxian! I didn't know you were fostering anyone at the moment. Hello!" Bai Ying'ai leans down to greet A-Yuan.

"Foster! No! That's his son!" Yao-jingli says.

"Huh?" Bai Ying'ai looks up in surprise, her gaze bouncing from Yao-jingli to Wei Wuxian to A-Yuan, clearly not sure what's going on.

"Hey, stop giving me a hard time. I have a picture of him on my desk!" Wei Wuxian pouts. "Just because you keep getting him mixed up with A-Ling is no excuse not to know about my kid!"

This is technically true: Wei Wuxian has had a picture of A-Yuan on his desk for months. It was tacked up on the wall along with pictures of all the other kids he's helped in refugee camps or fostered in the short-term while they were in transition. It's a lot of pictures, and he only yesterday added a larger one of him and A-Yuan together that stands in its own frame.

Mianmian, who has known him longest, narrows her eyes at him suspiciously. "Really," she says, not buying his bluster.

Wei Wuxian only smiles wider and rolls his eyes at her. "I definitely told you about him," he lies with certainty. "At Nie Huaisang's party? After I transferred to logistics and you were promoted?"

Mianmian sits up a little straighter, her expression a little embarrassed, because as she knows and Wei Wuxian knows—but he's pretty sure her husband doesn't—Mianmian got uproariously drunk at Nie Huaisang's party. She refused to give up the karaoke mic for six songs about girl power and winning from behind when she was promoted over Su She to regional coordinator. She'd shown up at work the next day and powered through her hangover with the help of everyone who was relieved she'd gotten the position.

Mianmian doesn't look fully convinced, but she knows her memory of that night is compromised. Wei Wuxian decides to worry later when she corners him on his own.

For the moment, he focuses on the rest of his team. "You remember about A-Yuan, don't you, Mo Xuanyu?" Wei Wuxian tosses out to really sell it.

"What? Yes?" Mo Xuanyu looks like he's not sure but trying to keep up, and Wei Wuxian feels a little bad for preying on his insecurity. Mo Xuanyu has the tendency to agree with whoever's speaking, not wanting to be caught in the wrong.

Fortunately, before anyone else can throw questions at him, A-Yuan reaches for his spring roll and shouts, "Baba! Food first!" tired of the grown-ups talking. That does the trick.

Wei Wuxian helps him get settled with his meal, and Yao-jingli asks his co-workers about their families. When more of their department joins them at the table, the others do half the work for him of reminding the newcomers that A-Yuan is Wei Wuxian's son, don't you remember?

Once A-Yuan has gotten a little food in him, Wei Wuxian asks Mianmian's daughter if she's going to go down the slip 'n slide later too. A-Yuan gets very excited when she says yes, and then the two of them are off chatting in what quickly turns into a one-upmanship about how they're going to slide all the way to the lake and then swim across it, and maybe fight some sea dragons and pirates along the way.

Wei Wuxian bites into his steamed bun riding high on the glow of success.

Nie Huaisang is a genius, and his plan is going off perfectly. He chats with his co-workers, liberally throws in stories about A-Yuan so the details are out there, and keeps an eye on his wriggling son who starts getting antsy once he finishes eating.

Wei Wuxian promises him dessert if he sits quietly through the speeches and helps him by holding him in his lap and getting out the finger puppets from his backpack to entertain them both while the bosses talk and give out awards for excellent service.

At last, the mandatory work part is done and the event secretary announces the volleyball tournament and the games. Half the people in the pavilion seem to move at once, ready to get out in the sunshine and enjoy the rest of the day while the other half finish their meals and chat.

In the great shuffle, many of Wei Wuxian's co-workers head toward the lawn. While Wei Wuxian tosses their trash and contemplates whether it's worth taking A-Yuan with him to the crowded dessert line, A-Yuan suddenly jerks upright and bounces to his feet, his mouth dropping in a surprised "o" for a moment before he screeches and runs off.

"A-Yuan!"

Wei Wuxian is too late to catch him, scrambling to keep up only to stop short at the sight of A-Yuan happily hugging Lan Wangji's leg a little ways down the aisle.

The sight makes laughter bubble up from deep inside Wei Wuxian's chest, too delighted at the look on Lan Wangji's face and too in love with A-Yuan's enthusiasm for the one person at the picnic he has met before.

It was a brief meeting that took place just after A-Yuan had come back to Caiyi to foster with him. Lan Wangji had stopped by Wei Wuxian's apartment with groceries. Wei Wuxian had asked him to pick up food out of desperation because A-Yuan refused to leave the apartment and refused to let Wei Wuxian out of his sight. A-Yuan had been crying all afternoon, clinging to Wei Wuxian, and Lan Wangji—his face as startled as it is now—had pulled out the bag of sweets and given him one. A-Yuan had been so surprised he'd forgotten to keep crying.

Lan Wangji had asked about him once, around the time Wei Wuxian had tracked down A-Yuan's cousins, and after Wei Wuxian's terse answer, they hadn't talked about him since.

Now, at the picnic, Lan Wangji is Wei Wuxian's greatest test of Nie Huaisang's plan. He'd been nervous before, and he should be now, but seeing Lan Wangji always makes everything better in Wei Wuxian's life.

He's dressed for the picnic in a billowing light blue shirt with little buttons at the collar going toward his shoulder in a diagonal. It's very stylish. The sleeves are partly rolled up and the tails are neatly tucked into a pair of spotless white shorts that show off his toned calf muscles.

He's handsome and beautiful and Wei Wuxian's could stare at him for hours dressed down like this, but he won't because they're just friends. No matter how much Wei Wuxian flirts, Lan Wangji has never given him any indication that he wants to be more than friends, and Wei Wuxian values their friendship too much to push.

"Ah, Lan Zhan!" he calls out, walking over. Lan Wangji looks up from his bewildered examination of A-Yuan sitting on his foot, his brows knit together in confusion. A few people nearby are watching, wondering what's going on, and Wei Wuxian sees a few of his co-workers spread the news.

Wei Wuxian ignores them and instead laughs at the glare Lan Wangji is leveling at him, which only deepens into more confusion as his sharp ears no doubt catch some of the murmurs. Wei Wuxian manages to school his features as he approaches. He tsks in a put-upon show of disapproval.

"Don't look at me like that, Lan Zhan. What will our son think?"

He doesn't know why he says it. The words just come out of his mouth, in the usual way he likes to tease Lan Wangji by saying outrageous things. They've drawn a small crowd now, and Lan Wangji's head is starting to tilt in that way it does when he's really annoyed. Wei Wuxian just smiles wider and recalls Nie Huaisang's advice.

"I'm sorry we were late. I know I said I'd be on time, but you know what it's like getting him out the door," says Wei Wuxian before Lan Wangji can call him on it.

He bends down and pulls A-Yuan off of Lan Wangji's leg. But instead of pulling him into his arms, he hands him over to Lan Wangji, who takes A-Yuan automatically when the boy reaches for him.

"Hi!" says A-Yuan wrapping his arms around Lan Wangji's neck in a stranglehold of a hug. "I missed you!"

Lan Wangji's expression turns comically surprised for a moment before his expression softens. "Hi, A-Yuan," he says, settling the boy on his hip more comfortably.

"Wei Wuxian has a son?" someone's voice in the crowd rings loud with disbelief. It's a voice Wei Wuxian recognizes, and he rolls his eyes at Lan Wangji whose expression darkens as Su She makes himself known in the crowd.

"Who would give you a child to raise?" Su She asks snidely, staring down his nose at Wei Wuxian.

"The Ministry of Child Welfare," Wei Wuxian says easily.

"It happened months ago," Bai Ying'ai says breezily from the sidelines. "You didn't know?" she adds with a sweet innocence that does exactly what she intends it to by making Su She protest and bluster to save face.

"Impossible! Everyone would know if it happened months ago! He's making it up! And now he's trying to drag Lan Wangji into taking care of the boy for him! Shameless!"

Bai Ying'ai scoffs. "I think you were just out of the loop!"

"Months?" Lan Wangji says quietly, while they argue, his gaze intent on Wei Wuxian who feels pinned in place.

Wei Wuxian forces his smile brighter and doesn't look away. "It's only been two months since the adoption was final. We've had him much longer than that, of course."

The truth lies unsaid between them, like a line of tension that grows more taut as they stare at each other. Wei Wuxian wonders if Lan Wangji, who abhors lying, will call him out. But Lan Wangji hates Su She as much as he does, possibly more, and he might be petty enough to go with it rather than admit Su She is right.

"Remember when I was pregnant and didn't know how to tell you?" Wei Wuxian asks, his smile turning wry. He'd almost started that conversation a dozen times. The look he gives Lan Wangji is a mixture of apologetic and daring him to contradict him.

Lan Wangji finally breaks off his stare, looking again at A-Yuan who is watching Bai Ying'ai and Su She argue with a little frown on his face. He jostles him a little to get his attention. "Don't mind them," he says to A-Yuan. "They're talking nonsense."

"Nonsense!" Su She says, indignant, rounding on them once more. "Lan Wangji, this is clearly one of Wei Wuxian's stupid pranks and you can't stand for it."

"It's not a prank," Lan Wangji says, glancing at him. "A-Yuan is our son."

Wei Wuxian beams, joy setting off like firecrackers in his chest, followed by the urge to cackle with glee at the stunned look on Su She's face as his jaw drops unattractively. Lan Wangji is the best friend he's ever had; Wei Wuxian loves him!

"You should really pay more attention to your teammates' personal circumstances," Wei Wuxian scolds Su She with a wagging finger. Su She scowls, and it's beautiful.

"Indeed," says Lan Wangji. He turns and looks Wei Wuxian dead in the eye. "Wei Ying and I are married."

Wei Wuxian goes from the high of Lan Wangji playing along to the low of feeling his heart stop. His jaw drops as his mind goes utterly blank for a moment.

Lan Wangji—the epitome of the moral high ground, who once turned in both Wei Wuxian and himself in at school for breaking the rules when it had been a technicality on his part, who was terse and judicious with his words and known for his blunt truth-telling—that Lan Wangji just told a bald-faced lie.

Wei Wuxian thinks his brain might be broken.

Because when you have a reputation as pristine as Lan Wangji's, everyone believes you when you tell them you're married to your co-worker.

Around them Su She splutters, while others watching murmur amongst themselves in surprise, asking each other if they knew that too? Since many aren't either of their direct co-workers, none of them find it especially strange that it's news to them, especially when Bai Ying'ai lies through her teeth and tells Su She that she knew all about it too, and he would too if he wasn't so self-absorbed.

Amidst all the commotion, Lan Wangji stands calmly in the center of this new storm he's created, letting A-Yuan play with the buttons on his shirt. He raises an eyebrow at Wei Wuxian, who swears he sees the corner of Lan Wangji's mouth turn up in a smirk that seems to say, are-you-going-to-contradict-me-now?

So it's like that, is it? Lan Wangji wants to up the game.

Wei Wuxian can't believe him, but as his mind comes back online, his competitive spirit is secretly delighted. He grins. He wants to laugh. He wants to kiss that mouth. He wants the joke to be true in a sudden swelling of affection—but never mind that now, because most of all he wants to shut Su She up.

Wei Wuxian winks at Lan Wangji and turns to Su She, cutting him off. "Aiya, you really have no regard for us at all if you didn't know that. You think we would adopt a child without being married first?"

Su She's face turns bright red and he storms off. Bai Ying'ai waves after him with a grin. Wei Wuxian can't hold in his laughter anymore. It shakes his whole body, and he grabs Lan Wangji's shoulder for balance, cheeks hurting from smiling so wide.

The murmurs around them turn to how inconsiderate Su She always is and several congratulations on their marriage, which Lan Wangji accepts with a gracious nod. Wei Wuxian manages to get his laughter under control enough to wave in thanks, too.

"All right, all right," he says as people drift away. "We better make a break for it before more people start coming over. What do you think, A-Yuan?"

A-Yuan, who has been quiet throughout all of this—and isn't explaining what just happened going to be fun—raises his arms and shouts, "Dessert!" right in Lan Wangji's ear.

Lan Wangji jerks a little, and Wei Wuxian immediately feels bad and reaches for A-Yuan. "Here, sorry. I'll take him back."

But Lan Wangji turns A-Yuan away from him. "He's fine. Since he's my son too, I can carry him."

Both of Wei Wuxian's eyebrows go up at that. Lan Wangji's delivery is even and his face still, and Wei Wuxian can't tell if that was a dig or not. He's pretty sure Lan Wangji is waiting for him to admit this is all a joke, but Wei Wuxian refuses to crack first. He gives Lan Wangji a knowing look, but doesn't argue.

"Great!" He grins again. "I put his stuff over there. Since I'm such a good husband, I'll go get all three of us dessert."


Wei Wuxian has always been drawn to Lan Wangji. When they were teenagers it had started as a desire to poke his perfect exterior and try to ruffle the top student in their class. He wanted to get a rise out of him. If he's honest, the impulse has never gone away.

Lan Wangji was a hall monitor and Wei Wuxian was always late to something with his uniform a mess. Lan Wangji was always so mad at Wei Wuxian for not changing his ways, no matter how much detention he racked up. Over the years, Wei Wuxian managed to finagle Lan Wangji into having fun sometimes, and even into sitting with him and his other friends for lunch more often than not.

"To prevent you from causing trouble," Lan Wangji had said, setting his lunch tray down furiously the day after Wei Wuxian had flung peas at him with his spoon. By the time they began 12th grade, they were kind of friends.

Of course Wei Wuxian had fucked everything up that spring. The next year, his brother, Lan Wangji, and the rest of his friends went to university. He ended up a year behind at the backwater Yiling University, and they lost track of each other.

When Wei Wuxian came back to Gusu to begin working for World Aid in refugee resettlement, he'd heard through the grapevine that Lan Wangji was there but didn't see him much. They worked in different buildings, and Wei Wuxian was often off-site wherever the most recent disaster was. He honestly thought Lan Wangji preferred it that way.

Imagine his surprise when the first week after his transfer, Lan Wangji came up to his lunch table in the cafeteria and set his tray across from Wei Wuxian. After more than eight months of this, Wei Wuxian is pretty sure they're friends again.

It's still hard to tell sometimes whether Lan Wangji actually likes him or merely tolerates him. Lan Wangji is still a loner and still intimidates everyone. Wei Wuxian still loves trying to make him react, though these days he angles for a soft tilt of his mouth into a smile. He lives for Lan Wangji's flashes of dry humor and the subtle shade he throws at their annoying coworkers.

Wei Wuxian returns with three desserts to find Lan Wangji and A-Yuan seated side-by-side. A-Yuan is happily chattering at Lan Wangji, who listens attentively.

Wei Wuxian's breath catches to see them together. Yes, he did do a little coaching of A-Yuan about giving his candy-gege a hug when they saw him today, but at the time he suggested it, it had been more about telling A-Yuan what to expect and softening Lan Wangji up. He hadn't expected to be overcome with the need to hug both of them right then, his two favorite people in the world, getting along.

Because here's the other thing that Wei Wuxian realized when he and Lan Wangji started eating lunch together again, all these years later: Lan Wangji was still beautiful, still kind, still the smartest, most upstanding person in the room. Wei Wuxian is so lucky to have him back in his life.

"And Baba says that when you swim you have to hold your nose so it doesn't stink," A-Yuan is saying. "Because the water might smell up your nose."

Wei Wuxian is fairly sure that's not how he phrased it, but he doesn't have the heart to correct such an earnest explanation. He takes the open seat on the other side of A-Yuan and passes out the desserts, handing Lan Wangji his with a tentative smile.

Now that the spectators are gone, he's not sure how this is going to go. Will Lan Wangji demand an explanation? Will he keep pretending?

Fortunately, A-Yuan cheers about dessert, attracting both their attention. "It's good!" he says with a mouth full of fried dough.

Lan Wangji brushes his hand over A-Yuan's head. "Don't speak with your mouth full," he says.

A-Yuan turns to him with his big eyes and nods, so serious that Wei Wuxian can't help but laugh again at the picture the two of them make. A-Yuan turns to him then, his lip starting to jut out with a frown.

"I'm not laughing at you," Wei Wuxian hastily reassures him, patting his back. "I'm just happy the two of you are getting along. And it's good advice," he adds when A-Yuan opens his mouth again. "Don't talk with your mouth full."

Over his head, Wei Wuxian grins at Lan Wangji again, and this time he gets that little smile he so loves.

"Why would we not get along?" Lan Wangji looks away first, trying to hide his smile, but it's too late. Wei Wuxian has seen it.

"Well, of course you would," Wei Wuxian says. "A-Yuan is the best. How could you not get along with him!?" He tickles at A-Yuan's side to make him giggle, and he squirms away into Lan Wangji.

"Wei Ying," Lan Wangji says with a sigh, lifting his arm so A-Yuan can rest against him and he can keep A-Yuan from flinging himself off the bench. "Not while he's eating."

"Not while I'm eating!" A-Yuan repeats sternly, looking at home in the circle of Lan Wangji's arm. He takes a big bite of his fried bowtie and chews with a cheeky little grin.

"Oh is that how it is now?" Wei Wuxian says playfully, his heart suddenly beating faster at the sight of the two of them so comfortable together. He keeps his voice light and teasing. "You get yourself an ally and leave your poor old dad out in the cold?"

"No, Baba!" A-Yuan says cheerfully. "It's not cold out. It's hot!"

Wei Wuxian laughs. He can't deny that, nor the rush of love for this kid that follows. "You're right! It is! Know what that means?"

"Slide!" A-Yuan raises his arms in the air, nearly clocking Lan Wangji in the chin.

"Hey, watch where your hands are going," Wei Wuxian catches them, sticky with sugar, and sends Lan Wangji an apologetic look.

He doesn't look bothered, though, instead gazing down at A-Yuan with something like fondness. Wei Wuxian has to bite down on another grin.

"Finish your dessert and then we'll get you ready to play." A-Yuan is happy to comply.


"You don't have to come with us, if you don't want to," Wei Wuxian says when he and A-Yuan exit the restroom and find Lan Wangji waiting for them. A-Yuan is pulling against his hold on his hand, freshly changed into his swim shorts and rash guard. He's been slathered with fresh sunblock and is ready to get on with having fun.

"Baba, baba, let's go!" he says, trying to drag him along.

"Since he's my son too, I'll help keep an eye on him." Lan Wangji has that look again, determined and daring Wei Wuxian to contradict him.

Wei Wuxian's not going to. He licks his lips, willing for the game to continue as long as Lan Wangji keeps challenging him. Lan Wangji has always been a challenge he's been willing to rise to.

"Then here. You can carry his bag." He hands over the backpack with A-Yuan's clothes and toys, and then turns to A-Yuan. "Race you!"

A-Yuan, to the surprise of no one, loves the slip 'n slide. Wei Wuxian goes with him to the line the first few times, but then he's off on his own, waiting with the other kids for his turn on the slide and then running through the sprinklers at the bottom of the slight incline. Wei Wuxian retreats to Lan Wangji's side near the other parents who are watching their kids. Every ten minutes or so, A-Yuan runs back over to them and hugs one or both of them, getting them damp before running off again.

Wei Wuxian starts chattering, the way he usually does in Lan Wangji's company, keeping up a running commentary on the kids playing and how excited A-Yuan was for today. He glances over from time to time to see how Lan Wangji is taking the kid-talk and if he's bored yet. Usually he's most engaged in conversations about books or intellectual problems or work-related stuff. Wei Wuxian wonders how domestic he can take their conversation before Lan Wangji gives up and begs him to stop. He's gotta give up on the joke sometime. Wei Wuxian certainly isn't going to be the first one to crack.

But Lan Wangji murmurs an encouraging "Mn," every once in a while, and even says, "Then what happened?" when Wei Wuxian trails off in the middle of a story, distracted by A-Yuan doing somersaults in the grass.  

"What?"

"What happened after A-Yuan caught the frog?"

"Oh! Right! Well, both the frog and A-Yuan were very surprised! The frog peed on him and A-Yuan dropped him and then told him what a bad frog he was! He told the frog he was supposed to go to the potty! Then he went to demonstrate in his baby potty, which he used and then tried to jump like a frog off of, which knocked it over and got shit, literally, everywhere." Wei Wuxian laughs at the memory, which had been truly spectacular at the time, and then catches sight of Lan Wangji's slightly furrowed brow which either means confusion or horror. He's hoping for the latter.

It's the third potty story Wei Wuxian has told, and so far Lan Wangji hasn't said a thing about how they're inappropriate or gross or how A-Yuan should be better behaved. He's starting to worry that Lan Wangji, the infamous keeper of decorum and manners, is sick or something.

"You're not regretting having a kid now, are you?” Wei Wuxian can't resist prodding.

The frown on Lan Wangji's face smooths out, and he turns to look Wei Wuxian in the eye. "No."

Huh. Wei Wuxian will just have to try harder then.

But as the afternoon progresses, Lan Wangji doesn't flinch from any of Wei Wuxian's stories of A-Yuan's misadventures. In fact, Wei Wuxian thinks he's enjoying them, his small smile quirking his lips every so often. It does something to Wei Wuxian's insides and soon he forgets to try to gross him out and instead tells stories to try and get Lan Wangji to smile more.

He's almost managed it when A-Yuan runs over to check on them and instead of running off again, he plops down in Wei Wuxian's lap. Wei Wuxian wraps his arms around him and rocks a little.

"Having fun, radish?"

"Yes!"

"Are you tired now?"

"No!" A-Yuan rolls his head to look up at Wei Wuxian and says very seriously, "I'm not tired!"

"No, of course not." Wei Wuxian agrees even as A-Yuan heaves a huge sigh and melts against him. "He's not tired at all," he whispers to Lan Wangji, who is watching him and A-Yuan with a soft look. Their eyes meet for a second, and Wei Wuxian forgets what he was going to say next.

Lan Wangji's expression holds that little smile, the one Wei Wuxian was trying so hard to find, but only for a moment before he's glancing away. Wei Wuxian feels like he's just had all the air sucked out of his lungs.

Flustered, Wei Wuxian looks down at A-Yuan again. The kid's eyes have drifted closed. Time to get going then.

Lan Wangji's face has returned to its customary calm, and Wei Wuxian reminds himself that Lan Wangji doesn't mean anything by it. He was just watching them. While pretending to be married to Wei Wuxian because Wei Wuxian was pretending he was A-Yuan's other parent.

He shakes his head at himself; he's being ridiculous.

With his help, Wei Wuxian gets A-Yuan out of his wet rash guard and into his shirt. He wraps a towel around his swim shorts. A-Yuan is mostly out of it, whining when Wei Wuxian lifts him into his arms.

"The bus is going to be fun," he says, not really looking forward to it. He reaches for the backpack Lan Wangji still holds.

But Lan Wangji doesn't hand it over. "Let me drive you."

"What? Oh no, you don't need to," says Wei Wuxian.

"Please," Lan Wangji's face is solemn. "Since we're married."

"Since we're married," Wei Wuxian repeats, eyeing him. He wants to give in. But now that the afternoon is done and he's got to get them home, the joke has gone far enough.

Except Wei Wuxian doesn't want to lose. And something in Lan Wangji's face makes him think that he doesn't want to win. Not yet.

"All right. Thanks."


When they get home, Wei Wuxian puts A-Yuan down in his room. The boy fell asleep during the car ride across town in Wei Wuxian's lap and he sleeps through Wei Wuxian getting him out of the rest of his wet clothes and into dry pajamas.

He leaves the door cracked when he returns to the living room. His apartment isn't huge, but it's comfortable enough with two bedrooms and a washer in the bathroom, where he throws A-Yuan's things. The living room and kitchen are definitely a step up from his university and graduate student housing in Yiling.

Lan Wangji has made himself at home in the kitchen while Wei Wuxian was busy with A-Yuan. Wei Wuxian startles a little at seeing him there, despite having invited him in. While they've gotten to know each other pretty well the last few months, this is the first time Lan Wangji has been inside his apartment. Work-friends with work-boundaries, and all that.

It never occurred to Wei Wuxian to invite him over. He didn't think Lan Wangji would accept, or if he did it would be uncomfortable. And even if he weren't hiding the fact that he was adopting a kid, he didn't think Lan Wangji would care for dealing with the mess that a small child generated. And okay, Wei Wuxian isn't the neatest person in the world either, which certainly doesn't help.

His living room floor is mostly covered in blocks and Legos, A-Yuan's discarded pants and socks, and half the blankets he owns piled into a nest by the couch. The coffee table holds about three months of mail and the dining table has the six months before that, plus Wei Wuxian's laptop, scattered papers, and A-Yuan's finger paints. His and Wei Wuxian's masterpieces are tacked haphazardly on the wall.

The kitchen is where dishes go to die.

But Lan Wangji has already emptied the strainer and has now started washing the pile in the sink. Wei Wuxian's stomach lurches in guilt.

"Lan Zhan," he says, but when Lan Wangji turns he's got one challenging eyebrow raised. Wei Wuxian stops in his tracks. In a few short hours he's come to recognize the eyebrow of "Since we're married..." that Lan Wangji has been using all day to get his way.

Lan Wangji seems to read as much on his face and turns back to the dishes without a word.

For some reason, that rankles. Wei Wuxian huffs, not about to be cowed into letting Lan Wangji do whatever he wants in Wei Wuxian's home. As if insisting they're married is all the leverage he needs, Wei Wuxian scowls.

Wei Wuxian is the one who started this. He shouldn't be the one on his back-foot here. Wei Wuxian has stores more shamelessness for this game if that's how Lan Wangji wants to play.

He strides into the kitchen and wraps his arms around Lan Wangji's waist from behind, hugging him close. Lan Wangji immediately goes tense.  

"Thank you for doing the dishes."

Lan Wangji's posture goes even more rigid, a feat Wei Wuxian wasn't sure was possible. "Wei Ying." His voice comes out a little strangled.

"What?" Wei Wuxian shuffles closer, his chest pressing firmly against Lan Wangji's back. "I'm your husband, aren't I? Can't I thank you for your hard work?

Dishes clank in the sink, and Wei Wuxian thinks this is it. This is when Lan Wangji will push him away, call him shameless or ridiculous like he used to in high school, admit they're not married, and go home. They'll see each other at work and Wei Wuxian will tease him and things will go back to normal.

What he doesn't expect is for Lan Wangji to relax against him.

He doesn't expect to suddenly feel the breadth and strength of Lan Wangji's shoulders, or the softening of his stomach muscles under his hands as he exhales. He doesn't expect Lan Wangji's head to tilt back the barest bit so that Wei Wuxian nose is pressed against the soft hairs of his neck. He doesn't expect the scent of sandalwood and sunscreen he inhales to go straight to his belly, lighting him up from the inside and making certain other parts of him start to pay attention.

He doesn't expect Lan Wangji to say, "It's no trouble. I like helping my husband," in his soft, deep voice, which goes straight to his heart.

Wei Wuxian's breaths are loud in the subsequent quiet. He may, he belatedly realizes, have miscalculated.

But he's committed now. And it feels really nice. So he holds on for another long moment before letting go.

Lan Wangji goes back to washing dishes without turning around. Wei Wuxian takes a deep breath to steady himself and just stares at his back for a minute.

That just happened, right? He didn't just hallucinate Lan Wangji escalating yet again?

Well then. Wei Wuxian recovers his determination. He is just going to have to escalate with him.


While Lan Wangji finishes washing the dishes, Wei Wuxian gets the rice cooker going and considers his options.

Of course, he could take a step back, put them back at friend level while still playing along with Lan Wangji's demands whenever he broke out one of his "Since we're married..." challenges. He doesn't have to admit they're not actually a couple out loud—that would still count as not losing. It would certainly be easier on his heart.

Because here's the other thing about Lan Wangji that Wei Wuxian tries not to ever think about: Wei Wuxian would very much like to rub himself all over him.

For obvious reasons, this is a terrible idea.

Foremost among them, Lan Wangji would probably kill him and then never speak to him again, which would be unbearable. Wei Wuxian has gone through that once in his life already, thanks. He knows how badly that would hurt, except probably worse now that he's had eight months of getting to know Lan Wangji all grown up. He is even more impressive and amazing than he was at eighteen.

But—Wei Wuxian glances over at Lan Wangji, bent over the sink and scrubbing at a difficult pot—since Lan Wangji seems just as determined not to give in first and call off their game, maybe this is Wei Wuxian's chance to see what it might be like. After all, Lan Wangji can tell him to stop whenever he wants. There's no reason he has to play along. He never had a problem telling Wei Wuxian "no" when they were younger. Just because he's stubborn, doesn't mean Wei Wuxian is making him do anything.

And Wei Wuxian is genuinely curious how far Lan Wangji will let him push.

He won't cross any lines, of course. But really the only option he has is to walk right up to them and see what happens.

So when Wei Wuxian goes to the refrigerator to see what kind of vegetables he has, he casually-not-casually places his hand on Lan Wangji's back as he passes, letting his fingers trail across his shoulders.

Out of the corner of his eye, he catches Lan Wangji jerk his head up to look at him, but he pretends not to see, hiding his grin behind the open refrigerator door. He pulls out a couple of zucchini, unearths a cutting board and sets it on the counter right next to the sink. His shoulder brushes Lan Wangji's.

Wei Wuxian watches out of the corner of his eye, and he sees Lan Wangji' sharp inhale. Lan Wangji pauses in his scrubbing for a second, but then he resumes without looking over.

"So," Wei Wuxian leans deliberately into him again, but Lan Wangji doesn't respond this time.

"Mn," he says without looking up when Wei Wuxian doesn't immediately continue.

"So," Wei Wuxian gives himself a mental shake and makes his tone casual. "Since we're married and you're eating dinner with us, I can do a curry or fry some tofu to go with this."

Lan Wangji does look over then, his face inscrutable once more. "How spicy will the curry be?"

"It will be properly spiced!" Wei Wuxian says, taking mock offense. "I do know how to make a curry, Lan Zhan!"

"Hmm." Lan Wangji looks skeptical. "I've seen what you eat."

"Lan Zhan!" A mortal hit—Wei Wuxian is so pleased.

Lan Wangji looks pleased with himself too, which only makes Wei Wuxian grin wider. He can't even deny the charge, because Lan Wangji has seen him put chili sauce on every cafeteria lunch they've eaten together and they've had this argument before.

"Don't worry. I'll make a bland version for you and A-Yuan before I make the good version for myself."

"Hm." Lan Wangji doesn't look entirely convinced, but when the dishes are done he goes to the fridge for the tofu and more vegetables. He puts his cutting board on Wei Wuxian's other side, not quite touching at first but close enough that when Wei Wuxian shifts his weight their shoulders press together again. Lan Wangji doesn't move away.

It's unexpectedly thrilling.

Wei Wuxian feels the warmth in his belly intensify and covers by talking. "This is one of my sister's recipes. When I first started fostering, she insisted on teaching me to cook so the kids wouldn't be eating take-out all the time."

Jiang Cheng had some unflattering things to say about that time Wei Wuxian had set the kitchen on fire, but Lan Wangji doesn't need to know about that.

They work well together in the kitchen. Wei Wuxian tries to anticipate what Lan Wangji might need next, getting bowls out for him for the chopped vegetables and tofu. Lan Wangji moves around him easily to set things up neatly by the stove, and hums periodically to show he's listening to Wei Wuxian talk about his sister. Slowly, the tension gives way to the comfortable company Wei Wuxian usually finds with Lan Wangji when they hang out at work.

That is until Lan Wangji puts his hand on Wei Wuxian's waist as he leans into his space and reaches past him into the back of the spice cabinet.

Wei Wuxian's whole body goes hot, a flush burning his cheeks. Lan Wangji's touch is light but searing through his shirt. He stutters over his next words, and while he's trying to regain his footing, Lan Wangji turns to look at him, curry powder in hand and that damn eyebrow raised.

He is such a fucking shit.

Wei Wuxian, still blushing, nevertheless meets his eyes and raises his eyebrows back. Then, taking a page out of Lan Wangji's playbook, he deliberately leans into the arm wrapped around his back without breaking eye contact. Lan Wangji's mouth drops open, just a little bit, and it is supremely gratifying.

He lets go and retreats to the stove.

Wei Wuxian takes a breath and stares down blankly at the canned tomatoes in front of him, wondering what the fuck he's supposed to be doing with them.

This is both the worst and the best idea he's had in a long time. He's going to get so burned by this, but with his skin still tingling from the phantom sensation of Lan Wangji's arm around him, Wei Wuxian doesn't care.


A-Yuan is adorably groggy but awake when Wei Wuxian goes to get him for dinner. He's got his arms wrapped around his two stuffed bunnies, one black, one white, and both wearing little t-shirts with hearts on them.

"Baba!" He smiles when Wei Wuxian comes in and that will never get old.

"Hey, radish," Wei Wuxian drops onto the bed beside him. "You hungry?"

"No."

"Well, it's dinner time."

"No! I want to play!"

"We'll play afterwards. Food first," Wei Wuxian says. A-Yuan's lip starts jutting out, displeased with this order of events, so Wei Wuxian tries heading him off. "Hey, Lan Zhan is staying for dinner tonight, and if you eat now, I bet he'll play with you after dinner."

"Will he give me candy?" A-Yuan wants to know.

"Maybe. If you're good."

"I'm always good!"

"You are," Wei Wuxian agrees with a smile. "You're always very good and eat your rice and vegetables."

"And then I get to play with Lan Zhan!"

Wei Wuxian ruffles his hair, wondering how to broach the next topic. He and Lan Wangji might be playing at being married in a weird game of chicken, but he doesn't want to confuse A-Yuan.

"Do you like Lan Zhan?" he asks to start with.

"Uh-huh!" A-Yuan nods decisively. "Do you?"

"Yes," Wei Wuxian smiles at the unexpected question. "I do. So he's going to stay for dinner tonight." He takes a breath. "You might have heard him saying some confusing things today."

"He said I was his son, too, but I'm your son." A-Yuan's expression goes serious the way it does when he's thinking hard.

"Yes. You are my son, and I love you very much and that will never change," Wei Wuxian tells him. "You will always be my son. We adopted each other, remember?"

A-Yuan nods vigorously. "Yes. I became yours and you became mine forever and ever and ever."

"That's right." Wei Wuxian thinks about how he wants to explain the pair of bald untruths that he and Lan Wangji have found themselves entangled in. "Lan Zhan is my friend, and I'm so happy with you that he is happy for me that I get to be your baba. He's not really your dad but it's like pretend. He likes you so much, too, that he wanted our friends at work to know that he likes you so much he could be family."

"But he's not," A-Yuan says with all the certainty of a four year-old.

"No, but we may say things that make it sound like he is. For pretend." Wei Wuxian is going to be cast down into hell and A-Yuan is going to need all the therapy after this.

"I want to play pretend too!" A-Yuan says, wriggling to sit up. "Hi Baba! Hi Lan-gege!" he says to the two stuffed bunnies he now holds in his lap facing each other as if they're talking. "Hi A-Yuan! We love you!" he makes the bunnies say, wagging them back and forth while they talk.

Wei Wuxian's heart might melt right out of his chest. He leans over and wraps A-Yuan up in a big hug, dropping half a dozen quick kisses on the top of his head while A-Yuan giggles and laughs, pushing at him to let go.

"Baba! You're squishing you and Lan-gege," he protests on behalf of the bunnies.

"I thought their names were Bai and Hei?" Wei Wuxian says, sitting back.

He gets a withering look as only a four year-old can give. "They're pretending to be you and Lan-gege."

"Okay." Wei Wuxian suppresses the smile that wants to come out. "So they'll go back to being Bai and Hei when they're done pretending, right?"

A-Yuan nods.

"Just like Lan Zhan will stop pretending to be part of our family sometime," he goes on carefully, watching A-Yuan closely to see if he understands. He's got his thinking frown on his face again and seems to be following. Pretend is a game he knows well, but he's also a boy with a big heart. "When it's done things will go back to the way they were, but Lan Zhan will still be our friend, okay? So you don't have to worry."

"Worry?" A-Yuan looks up at him, curiously.

Oops. Wei Wuxian probably shouldn't have put that idea out there. "You don't have to worry that he won't come back. He's our friend now while we play pretend and he gets to know you, and he'll be our friend later, too, once pretend is over."

"Okay." A-Yuan shrugs, bouncing his bunnies on his lap. "It's time for dinner," he makes the black one say. "I don't want dinner," he says as himself. "That's okay, we can play," he has the white bunny say. "Okay!" says A-Yuan and he tosses the black bunny to the side.

"Hey!" Wei Wuxian says, suspecting he knows exactly who is the black bunny in this situation. He grabs the black bunny and says for it. "Play time after dinner time, that's the rule!" But A-Yuan runs screeching from both him and the bunny into the living room yelling, "Play time! Play time!"

Wei Wuxian follows in time to see Lan Wangji standing frozen in the middle of the kitchen with bowls in his hands to set the table, looking like a deer caught in headlights while A-Yuan runs circles around him screaming.

He looks up at Wei Wuxian with clear alarm on his face, and Wei Wuxian laughs a little at the sight, rolling his eyes in solidarity, before darting out to catch A-Yuan and get him out of the tiny kitchen.

He flips A-Yuan into his arms and jiggles him. He's getting so big. "All right, all right, all right. Inside voice, now. No yelling."

"But I want to play!"

"After dinner," Wei Wuxian repeats for the millionth time. He waits a minute for A-Yuan to look at him and calm a little before setting him down. "Now go help Lan Zhan and get the chopsticks and spoons for the table."

The distraction works, and A-Yuan drops his white bunny on the floor and happily goes to do it. Lan Wangji watches A-Yuan for a moment with no little suspicion, and Wei Wuxian laughs again, bending to scoop up the bunny out of the way and toss toward the pile of toys in the living room.

"Bet you weren't expecting our kid to be so loud," he says.

Lan Wangji regards him for a long moment before resuming setting the table. "I should not be so surprised," he says, which—ouch!—but then he adds before Wei Wuxian can protest, "But he is clearly happy." He says it softly but with such certainty that it hits Wei Wuxian like the hardest rock and the softest flower, gentle and overwhelming both. For a moment all he can do is stare at Lan Wangji and try to remember how to breathe.

Wei Wuxian has been raising A-Yuan more or less alone, only talking to his fellow foster network online when he needs to vent or get advice. He never feels like he's doing enough, being what A-Yuan needs, making sure he's doing the things that will help him grow up well.

For Lan Wangji, unflinchingly honest Lan Wangji—except when he's telling a single giant lie to spite Su She, apparently—to see and say that A-Yuan is okay, that Wei Wuxian is doing okay. Well, Wei Wuxian isn't sure he believes it, but at the same time he has no choice but to believe it.

"Ah," he says, with no real idea how to respond, feeling a blush steal over his face. "He's a good kid. Here, I'll get the rice."

Dinner is nice. Like during lunch at work, Lan Wangji is mostly quiet, letting Wei Wuxian and A-Yuan carry the conversation, which mostly consists of rehashing how much fun the slip 'n slide was and can they do it again tomorrow, with a detour into how A-Yuan found butterflies and rainbows in the water forest at the end of the slide—which Wei Wuxian takes to mean the sprinklers—where the pirates weren't allowed, but sometimes the water dragon was allowed to play if he was good.

Lan Wangji listens attentively, with the same solemn focus he used to wear in school and that he no doubt wears to presentations and meetings at work. A-Yuan soaks it up like a little flower, explaining earnestly about the water dragon as if he were giving a presentation about it. He even eats without protest when Lan Wangji prompts him in the middle of his story, which almost never happens for Wei Wuxian.

Watching them together, Wei Wuxian is hit by another terrible realization: Lan Wangji would actually be an excellent parent. It is a thought that is simultaneously unexpected and hot as fuck.

Wei Wuxian really, really didn't think this through.


After dinner, A-Yuan gets his wish to play, and Lan Wangji obliges when A-Yuan demands he help build a block tower. Wei Wuxian does the bare minimum of clean up in the kitchen before coming to sit beside them, but he gets told in no uncertain terms that he's not allowed to help.

"It's our tower, Baba," says A-Yuan. "Mine and Lan-gege's."

Wei Wuxian isn't going to lie; it hurts a little to hear, but it's counteracted by the way Lan Wangji's face softens, his mouth dropping open just a tiny fraction in surprise.

Wei Wuxian thought he knew Lan Wangji's facial expressions pretty well, from the closed-off frowns and judging eyebrows he always engendered when they were young to the tiny focused or amused expressions Lan Wangji wears when they talk at lunch.

Today he is seeing a whole new layer of expression he never suspected Lan Wangji possessed.

Wei Wuxian blinks and forces himself to focus on his son instead of his pretend husband. He pouts at A-Yuan. "Well, what am I going to build then?"

"Another tower!"

Lan Wangji, recovered to his more reserved mask, shoots him a little worried look, like he doesn't want Wei Wuxian to be left out, which is sweet but ridiculous because it's blocks with a four year-old.

"All right then," Wei Wuxian says. "I'll build my own tower out of Legos and we'll see whose is better."

So they build their towers, and A-Yuan bosses Lan Wangji around and Lan Wangji lets him. Wei Wuxian's tower is more of a sprawling house with see-saws that get you from room to room because that's more fun than doors. It's nice and companionable, and not all that different from how Wei Wuxian and A-Yuan pass the evening sometimes. Lan Wangji fits right in.

He startles a little when the towers are done and A-Yuan raises his arms in triumph and then immediately destroys theirs. Wei Wuxian guards his from destruction while A-Yuan valiantly tries to get around him, which ends with A-Yuan in his lap and Lan Wangji knocking over the single tower element by mistake when he tries to move out of the way of their flailing arms and catches it with his elbow. He looks mortified at first, but A-Yuan cheers and then slumps happily against Wei Wuxian's chest, a warm contented weight.

Wei Wuxian glances at the clock and jostles A-Yuan a little. "What's this, a boy or a sack of potatoes? I think it's time for bed, huh?"

"Baba, noooo! I'm not tired!"

"Uh huh." Wei Wuxian gets them both to their feet, and even though A-Yuan pouts about it, he goes easily enough. "Say good night to Lan Zhan."

A-Yuan runs and hugs Lan Wangji around the middle, grinning. "Good night!"

Lan Wangji freezes but after a moment of hesitation he pats A-Yuan's head. Wei Wuxian herds him off with a quick look over his shoulder to find Lan Wangji watching them go.

Half an hour later, he returns to the living room to find all the blocks picked up and put in their basket and the free Lego pieces tidied into their box. Wei Wuxian's creation has been set out of the way with its spire reaffixed. Lan Wangji straightens up from where he kneels in front of the coffee table, stacking the mail and papers there into neat piles.

"Lan Zhan, what's this? You don't have to do that." Wei Wuxian says, embarrassed, though he never has been neat in his life and it usually doesn't bother him what other people think. Who has time to clean with a little kid running around?

"It's almost nine," Lan Wangji says instead of an explanation. He stands, and for once he looks uncertain. Maybe—Wei Wuxian could be reading him wrong, but he looks like he wants to say something. But in the end he just stares at Wei Wuxian like he hopes he'll read his mind.

"What happens at nine?" Wei Wuxian asks.

"I go to sleep at nine."

"Oh. Are you going, then?" Wei Wuxian smothers the little flash of disappointment. Of course he's going. The game's the game, but he doesn't expect Lan Wangji to upend his life over it.

But Lan Wangji is still regarding him with his unnerving stare, looking like he wants to say something. Finally, he exhales. "Since we're married . . ."

Wei Wuxian waits for the rest, balancing on his toes like he's balanced on the edge of a cliff. Whatever Lan Wangji says next could push him either way.

But that's it. Lan Wangji's mouth firms into a stubborn line, leaving Wei Wuxian in suspense.

"Since we're married," he prompts.

"Mn," says Lan Wangji with a little nod, his hesitation disappearing. He moves around the coffee table, walks past Wei Wuxian, and disappears into the bathroom.

Wei Wuxian's head is spinning, feeling like he's missed two-thirds of the conversation and not sure what to do about it. Should he ask? Should he break the unwritten rule about the game? If he does, will Lan Wangji leave? If he leaves, will things go back to normal? Will Lan Wangji be mad at him for breaking the spell of their make-believe? Is he waiting for Wei Wuxian to break first? Does he want Wei Wuxian to tell him to go home?

Because that's not happening. Wei Wuxian firms his resolve. Lan Wangji is not a talker and while he's not a pushover, he doesn't give a lot of cues for what's going on in his head, either. This is one time when he's going to have to, Wei Wuxian decides. If Lan Wangji wants out of this game, he's going to have to be the one to call it off. Out loud. With words. Not just the expression of outrage on his face when Wei Wuxian does something egregiously shameless.

With that thought propelling him, Wei Wuxian grins and goes to his closet to find some spare clothes for Lan Wangji to sleep in—if he dares.

He gets into his own sweatpants and T-shirt, even though it's way too early for him to go to bed. When Lan Wangji comes out of the bathroom, Wei Wuxian is waiting. He breezily hands him the clothes and slides past him to take his turn brushing his teeth.

When he comes out, Lan Wangji will probably still be standing awkwardly in the hallway, maybe blushing, maybe furious, but either way ready to throw the clothes back in Wei Wuxian's face and leave. Of course that's what Lan Wangji would do, he scoffs at the kernel of disappointment in his chest. There's no way he'd keep this up overnight.

Except when he leaves the bathroom, Lan Wangji isn't in the hallway. He's not angry or embarrassed and ready to call the whole thing off.

He's in Wei Wuxian's bed, flat on his back, covers pulled up, and eyes closed. To all appearances he's asleep or close to it.

Wei Wuxian stands in the doorway for a minute, his heart pounding a hundred beats a minute. He honestly doesn't know what to think. Worse, he doesn't want to think about how he feels seeing Lan Wangji in his bed like that. That way leads to madness.

He thinks about sleeping on the couch. That's what he should do. That's what a good friend would do. But he doesn't.

Despite the early hour, he slides into bed next to Lan Wangji with plenty of space between them and plays games on his phone, ignoring the man beside him and his own pounding heart until at last sleep claims him.