On the morning of his birthday, the Chief Cultivator, Lan Wangji, wakes up on time, as always, and finds his normally-fast-asleep husband wide awake and wearing nothing but a ribbon. He does not leave his bed for another shichen, missing breakfast; he will need to make it up to his family later.
He does not care. He knows it will be the only good gift he receives today.
The first gifts begin arriving at lunch: the political ones, the ones aimed at honoring the Chief Cultivator rather than Lan Wangji himself. Mediocre artwork that he would never allow to deface his walls, local ‘specialties’ so vile that even Wei Wuxian chokes on them, invitations to come view various local attractions that are so obviously requests for assistance that they can barely be described as being badly-hidden.
At least four different sects gift him with empty scrolls that are just the right size for him to write the Lan sect rules into and which are obviously designed for expressly that purpose. It is not subtle.
The more irritating Lan clan elders forgo even this obvious step and simply provide him with the sect rules themselves – again. There is a fairly obvious emphasis on the provisions that would suggest that his marriage to Wei Wuxian might not have been the wisest decision he’d ever made.
Lan Wangji accepts them all, and wants none.
In the afternoon, Lan Wangji opens letters. Some of them, blissfully, relate to actual work he has to complete in his role as Chief Cultivator. Most do not.
Several of them offer – in not especially subtle terms – their daughters or sisters or nieces to be his concubine, since obviously his current spouse will be incapable of bearing children for him.
Wei Wuxian finds those letters, and spends at least a shichen cackling, pretending to be pregnant. There is a brief interlude. Later, Wei Wuxian even suggests that Lan Wangji consider accepting the offers just long enough to go judge the quality of “the goods” that he is being offered before rejecting it as insulting and degrading to all those involved.
He stops only after Lan Wangji notes that the niece referenced in the letter he was holding is younger than Lan Sizhui. They both agree never to discuss it again.
Sect Leader Yao invites him to come around to a family dinner sometime.
This is, somehow, even more insulting than the concubines.
Shortly before dinner, Lan Wangji receives the gifts which have been categorized as personal.
His uncle gives him practical things, as he has always done – a new sheath for Bichen and replacement strings for Wangji, in this instance – and Lan Wangji supposes that he should appreciate them more than he does. It is only that his uncle often gives him practical things, and it does not feel as though any particular effort has been made regarding his birthday.
His brother sends him a painting. It is lovely. Lan Wangji would rather have seen his brother, who remains in seclusion.
Lan Sizhui has thoughtfully composed a small song for him, as he has done every year since Lan Wangji adopted him, and he and Lan Jingyi perform it together. Lan Wangji has not yet found a way to tell his beloved adopted son that his top-notch skills at musical cultivation do not translate into a talent for composing, and long ago resigned himself to taking the secret to his grave. The song does not cause his qi to deviate on the spot; that is already something.
Lan Jingyi gifts him with a rabbit. It might have been a good gift if it wasn’t one of his own.
When night falls, Lan Wangji receives the gifts which have been deemed ‘important’ – in other words, the ones from the sect leaders of the other Great Sects. Lan Wangji is not sure why these gifts are always presented at night, as it means he will not be able to write appropriate thank-you notes until the morning.
It occurs to him, not for the first time, that perhaps that is the reason.
Jin Ling sends him something from the Lanling treasury – a dagger, gilt gold. Lan Wangji would never use such a gaudy object. Wei Wuxian suggests pawning it on their next night-hunt, and Lan Wangji suspects that that may in fact be its intended use, beyond Jin Ling simply wanting to get rid of the thing.
Jiang Chen sends him a horrifically ugly statue.
“Did – did he go blind?” Wei Wuxian asked, staring at it with an expression of awe, and possibly fear. Lan Wangji does not blame him.
It is truly beyond the pale. Mere words cannot encompass its hideousness.
“No,” Lan Wangji said grimly. “He will insist on seeing it on his next visit. Politics therefore require me to place it in a public location.”
“…has he done this before?”
“There are sixteen in the closet.”
Wei Wuxian covers his mouth, but the motion is inadequate to conceal his laughter. Lan Wangji studies the statue – Jiang Cheng truly outdid himself this year, as Lan Wangji is unable to even determine what was the original subject matter the (potentially deranged) artist was attempting to depict – and mentally vows to himself that the hairpiece he invariably presents to Jiang Cheng in return will be even more grotesque than usual this year.
Possibly something that will make his hair stick up like a cockatiel.
“At least Nie Huaisang got you something tasteful,” Wei Wuxian comments, unrolling the artwork and holding it up against the wall. Lan Wangji hopes he is not planning on putting it there permanently. “This is a perfectly lovely cityscape! Nothing like those terrible ones from earlier.”
“It is pornography,” Lan Wangji says, and Wei Wuxian chokes.
“Are you sure?” his husband wheezes. “I don’t – it’s a cityscape.”
Lan Wangji is sure. He does not need to check to confirm it. It has always been pornography.
However, because he loves his husband, he walks over to the table and examines it briefly.
“The second window in the inn,” he finally says.
Wei Wuxian squints at the painting. “Which one is the inn..? The second – oh. Oh. Wait! That’s you and me!”
“Yes,” Lan Wangji says. “It usually is.”
“Usually – no, you know what, I’m not going to ask you which ones they are. I’m going to examine each painting you own until I find the rest of them.” He paused. “Can I hang this one up?”
“Not in the main room,” Lan Wangji compromises. Mentally, he swears revenge against Nie Huaisang.
He does not expect anything to come of that oath. Unlike Jiang Cheng, Nie Huaisang has proven irritatingly difficult to annoy, even when one is making a sincere effort.
On second thought, perhaps that is for the best.
“Well,” Wei Wuxian said, after he’s finished hanging up the offending item. “After seeing all those presents, I feel like I’ve fallen down on the job. All I have to offer you is more of the same thing I gave you this morning.”
It is nice, Lan Wangji contemplates, to be proven wrong in his assumption that he would receive only one nice gift all day.