Lan Xichen grinned widely at his audience of two, looking far more pleased with himself than anyone who had been raised with Lan Qiren's strict adherence to humility had any right to be, and certainly more than a person with his highly unremarkable (read: terrible) magic skills should be. In spite of this, his audience applauded with gusto. That is to say, Nie Mingjue rose from his seat and cheered for his boyfriend, while Lan Wangji clapped half-heartedly at his brother's pitiful display. It wouldn't do to encourage this behaviour any more than he already had.
Lan Xichen bowed low, the pineapple still clasped in his gloved hand. Lan Wangji inched forward to grasp the spiky fruit before his brother could pull another sub-par magic trick out of his cheap synthetic sleeve. When Nie Mingjue had mentioned the pineapple more than half an hour ago, Lan Wangji was certain it had been with the intention of them actually eating the fruit. Instead, Lan Xichen had insisted on dressing himself in the ridiculous magician's attire, and had spent the next excruciatingly long minutes pretending to make the pineapple disappear up the sleeve of his cloak and then reappear in his hand.
Lan Wangji took the pineapple to the kitchen and began cutting away at its spiky outer layer. His appetite for the fruit had faded within the first five minutes of Lan Xichen’s magic show. Lan Wangji loved his brother dearly, but he was not at all partial to his endless list of hobbies, not least because whatever Lan Xichen’s interest du jour was, he was liable to obsess about it until he moved onto something else.
The candle-making had been bad enough, as had the equally messy hydro dipping, not to mention Lan Xichen’s other forays into the realm of paint-related arts. The skateboarding had been a complete disaster that had resulted in a visit to the emergency department.
His venture into the world of baking had been palatable because Lan Xichen was actually a decent cook, but he'd inevitably become disinterested in the hobby and moved onto something else (bonsai, if Lan Wangji remembers correctly). Of course, his proficiency in music had never been in question, and Lan Wangji once again found himself wondering why his brother couldn't be content with that as a singular hobby.
The truth, Lan Wangji reflected, was that everyone around Lan Xichen was liable to be fed up with each of his hobbies much sooner than the man himself would tire of them, and Lan Wangji could only pray that his brother would soon find another interest to capture his fancy. His magic tricks (if they could be called such) were embarrassing to say the least.
The shadow of Nie Mingjue's burly form appeared in the doorway of the kitchen, and Lan Wangji sighed. "You enable him," he said to the chopping board.
He felt Nie Mingjue shrug, and watched from the corner of his eye as the man's large hand snuck across to pluck a slice of mango from the platter. "I love him, Wangji," he simply said, "I just want him to be happy."
Therein lay the problem, Lan Wangji thought wearily: he and Nie Mingjue cared too much for Lan Xichen that they were physically incapable of denying his ridiculous whims. The pair of them were doomed to put up with his increasingly obscure hobbies in their bid to keep him happy. Lan Wangji would have to just grin and bear it, and... maybe plant the seed of interest in another possible pastime that could take the place of his current one.
Some weeks later, Nie Huaisang was holding them all captive in the sun room, having lured them there under the pretence of an afternoon tea. Lan Wangji was internally kicking himself for having ignored his instinct that the younger Nie sibling was up to something. He was ashamed to admit that he'd been too easily swayed by the temptation of delicious-looking pastries that Nie Huaisang had procured from someone he referred to as Yanli-Jie.
It was too late to escape now; Nie Huaisang was steadfastly barring the room's only viable exit, short of Lan Wangji leaping off the porch. Not that any one of them couldn't easily take Nie Huaisang out, but what the diminutive man lacked in stature was made up for by his mere essence, and none of them dared attempt to tackle him. No one messed with Nie Huaisang who didn't live to regret it.
Still, Lan Wangji eyed the doorway with intent, as Nie Huaisang continued his spiel. The man's monologue was as tedious as one of Lan Xichen’s magic shows. Well, almost. At least with his brother’s hobbies, Lan Wangji was confident that Lan Xichen would never expect him to be anything other than an audience or a critic. Whenever Nie Huaisang was scheming something, his friends and family would inevitably be suckered into participating.
Case in point: the man was assisting in the organisation of a charity event, and was expecting all of them to contribute. Nie Mingjue had already attempted to sweet-talk his way into offering monetary contribution, but it had been in vain. The younger Nie brother would accept nothing other than their physical presence at the festival.
Fortunately for Nie Huaisang, but unfortunately for the rest of them, Lan Xichen’s latest hobby had yet to lose its appeal. Nie Huaisang had a face as thick as they come, and he was more amused than embarrassed by Lan Xichen’s antics. The older Lan brother’s magic show, Nie Huaisang promised, would be the perfect addition to the line up he had planned for the festival.
Lan Wangji sighed audibly, and allowed himself to be pressured into presenting a display on musical instruments. He had yet to get one of those tempting pastries in his mouth (Nie Huaisang having prohibited their access to the treats until after he'd gained their acquiescence with his plan), and his tea was getting cold. When it came to Nie Huaisang, it was easier to submit than fight against him.
Lan Wangji consoled himself with a raspberry mille-feuille (which was as delectable as its appearance suggested) and told himself that the festival was for a good cause. If he also added to his mental tally of future favours he could redeem from Nie Huaisang, nobody but Lan Wangji needed to know.
The children's festival turned out to be less tedious than Lan Wangji had been expecting, although far from how he wished to be spending his weekend. As a rule, he was not fond of people in general, and he particularly disliked interacting with them (with the exception of a very select few). But his morning had been spent mostly in the company of children, who Lan Wangji generally found to be the more tolerable humans, unlike their parents whom he could frankly do without.
His booth was meant to be a small showcase on traditional and modern instruments that allowed the children to explore the shape and sound of them. However, Lan Wangji found that some of the parents, who had clearly dragged their unwilling offspring to the stall, were keen to use the experience as a reminder of their childrens' obligation to excel in music.
He had flashbacks to his childhood music classes, where many of his peers had been pressured to take up an instrument, despite having little interest in the matter. Lan Wangji was lucky in that he had a deep passion for music from a very young age. Indeed, his family and teachers had faced quite the opposite challenge of him retreating too much into his music as an escape from social interaction.
Perhaps not much has changed, he thought, as he confiscated a xylophone mallet from a girl who was using it to hit her brother in the face. He gave the child a gentle reprimand, at which the parents, who had been ignoring their children in favour of their phones, were suddenly very interested in the welfare of their children. Apparently offended by someone else mildly disciplining their daughter, the couple grabbed their ill-behaved children and left the booth in a huff.
Lan Wangji still had twenty minutes left of his morning time slot, and his break couldn't come soon enough for his liking. There was only one family remaining in his booth (a majority of them chased away by the violent behaviour of the aforementioned girl). The young mother spoke quietly to her infant son, as she helped him interact with some of the baby-friendly instruments.
She turned to Lan Wangji with a warm smile, and he was shocked to see swirls of purple and blue paint across her cheeks and temples. The soft outline of lotus flowers were well-executed, and seemed to fit her calm demeanour as much as they matched her lilac outfit.
The woman noticed his interest in the painted pattern on her face. "My brother has a face-painting stand here today," she explained. "He wanted to paint A-Ling—" She jostled the baby in her arms. "But he's too young, so I offered my own face as compensation." She giggled, then looked surprised when she caught sight of the jade bracelet on Lan Wangji’s wrist. "Oh! Are you Lan Wangji by any chance?"
Lan Wangji blinked at her, before humming an affirmative. He gave a courteous nod, and watched her smile widen as though she was exceedingly pleased with this discovery.
"It's just that I've met Lan Xichen," she said, "And you look so much like him. Also, A-Sang—he's my brothers' friend, you know? He mentioned something about you maybe having a stall here today, and I think I recall hearing that you Lan brothers are particularly talented in music, so it seems reasonable that you would have a booth of this nature." She huffed a little breath, appearing proud of her deductive skills.
"Oh! Where are my manners? I've been babbling on without introducing myself!" She extended a slender hand, and Lan Wangji took it politely within his own. "I'm Jiang Yanli."
Ah, the provider of delectable pastries, Lan Wangji assumed, but his attempt to verify this theory was interrupted by the arrival of a Gucci-clad man with a scowl upon his face. The newcomer was undoubtedly of the Jin clan, as indicated by the golden peony pin upon his chest.
"I should've known better than to trust your brother," the man grumbled, pointing to his freshly-painted face. He paused in his mutterings to bestow a kiss upon Jiang Yanli’s forehead—the momentary show of sweetness clashing with his arrogant attitude.
Lan Wangji couldn't see anything untoward about the artwork on his face. The single peacock painted around his left eye was rather beautiful, and given the man's airs (and his lineage), the design seemed to be an apt fit; Lan Wangji surmised that perhaps that was why the man was so sour about the picture of choice.
Jiang Yanli patted Mister Gucci on his unpainted cheek, then turned to smile indulgently at the person approaching behind Lan Wangji. "A-Xian, really?"
"Jie, isn't it a pretty peacock?" came the blithe response, and Lan Wangji turned to observe the owner of the lilting voice.
Almost instantly, he felt his mouth slacken at the sight of the attractive man, and he clenched his jaw lest he stand there gaping like a freshly-caught fish. Lan Wangji was customarily disinclined to talk much, but if he was given to run his mouth, he suspected that he would've very much lost the ability of speech in this moment. As it was, he was struggling to form cohesive thought, let alone find the ability to construct verbal sentences.
Until today, he had always found the concept of 'love at first sight' to be completely preposterous. And it probably was preposterous, except right now, he found himself absolutely enraptured by the man with the endearingly cheeky grin, eyes bright as stars, and beautifully striking features.
He felt himself fall hard. Lan Wangji was uncertain he could pinpoint exactly what about this person had him so mesmerised, but surely he couldn't have fallen for him that easily? To be in love with someone mere seconds after setting eyes on them was simply absurd.
He reasoned that he was probably just horny. After all, it had been some time since he'd been with anyone, so perhaps his hormones were mistaking attraction and lust for something more. (He'd be lying if he said that he didn't very much want to fuck the other man’s brains out.) Yet, it was difficult to believe it to be anything other than love that had him so giddy that he was practically overcome by the force of it.
It wasn't just that the man was incredibly handsome; there was something almost magical about him, some ethereal aura that made him the most beautiful person that Lan Wangji had ever seen. He felt a tug on his soul as if he had found its missing piece. It was ridiculous.
He was so caught up in the man's twinkling grey eyes that he barely managed to hear Jiang Yanli’s introduction of Wei Wuxian, and only the fact that his good manners were akin to muscle memory, allowed him to catch Mister Gucci's name as being the woman's husband, Jin Zixuan. Lan Wangji felt proud that he managed to return their greetings with a semblance of calm politeness, and then felt incredibly foolish for being pleased at having accomplished such a basic action.
He only noticed the child upon Wei Wuxian’s shoulders when the man let the boy down to the ground—an oversight that made Lan Wangji feel idiotic all over again. What was wrong with him? The toddler, completely oblivious to Lan Wangji's inner turmoil, immediately set to inspecting the instruments in the booth.
"Ah!" Wei Wuxian exclaimed, snapping his fingers and bringing Lan Wangji out of his moment of introspection. Lan Wangji, who was generally a stickler for politeness, was so charmed by the man that he couldn't even bring himself to care that Wei Wuxian was pointing a finger at him in a manner that he would ordinarily have deemed rude.
"You're A-Sang's brother’s boyfriend's brother, right?" Wei Wuxian continued, cringing visibly at the ridiculous description of Lan Wangji’s relation to Nie Huaisang. "Wow, that was a mouthful!"
He thrust his arm out to Lan Wangji, who stared at it stupidly for a moment too long for it to be anything other than awkward, before finally taking the man's slender hand in his own. They then proceeded to stare at each other for an indeterminate amount of time, still holding hands until someone's cough had them breaking apart in embarrassment.
"A-Xian," Jiang Yanli’s voice was laced with laughter, as she cut into the weird moment between the two men. "We're going to go and set up the picnic. Are you coming with us?"
"We'll be along soon, Jiejie. A-Yuan wants to check out the instruments."
"I see," Jiang Yanli chuckled, watching as Yuan latched himself onto Lan Wangji’s leg, squeezing tight. Yuan looked up at him with the most adorable puppy eyes shining through the bunny whiskers painted on his face, and Lan Wangji didn’t notice the other trio leave.
"Aiya!" Wei Wuxian was quick to rescue Lan Wangji from the child's clutches. "Yuan-er, you can't just hug people like that!"
Yuan ignored him. "Music-gege show me some music?" he asked Lan Wangji.
"Oh my god, don't call him that! Are you trying to embarrass your poor Baba, is that it A-Yuan?" The sweetest tinge of pink coloured his cheeks.
Wei Yuan continued to ignore his father, and Lan Wangji also pretended not to pay him any attention despite being acutely aware of his every move. Wei Yuan was very interested in listening to Lan Wangji explain some basics about creating music and he asked questions about various instruments, paying rapt attention to every word Lan Wangji said. After a day of disinterested children, it was refreshing to finally find a kid who was eager to learn. Wei Yuan also seemed to have some natural talent, if his skills on the guitar were anything to go by, and Lan Wangji said as much to Wei Wuxian.
"Ah, my little radish is a natural musician."
"Mn," Lan Wangji agreed honestly. "Does Wei Wuxian play any instrument?" he asked, thinking it likely that the child must have picked up some skills from his parents.
"Well, I dabble a little," Wei Wuxian admitted self-consciously. "I'm not that great though."
Lan Wangji took him to be self-effacing. "I'm sure Wei Wuxian is very good."
Wei Wuxian blushed and looked shyly at the ground. "You can't just say things like that without warning," he muttered.
Lan Wangji watched the man's ears colour an endearing shade of rosy pink, and followed its heated path as it spread across his cheeks and down the slender lines of his neck. The desire to tip further forward into Wei Wuxian’s space and lick a long, wet stripe up the sinewy slopes, was deliriously strong; the intense need to sink his teeth sharply into the smoothness of his skin, was overwhelming; to leave dark bruises in the flesh with claiming marks that would remain for days and tell the world that this man belongs to Lan Wangji.
As if reading his mind, Wei Wuxian gulped, and his Adam's apple bobbed deliciously as he swallowed. He bit nervously at his lower lip, drawing Lan Wangji’s attention to the plumpness of his mouth and leaving him aching to ravage that beautiful mouth, forcefully lick his way inside and kiss him deeply until neither of them could breathe.
Wei Wuxian looked up, likely wondering at Lan Wangji’s silence, and caught the man staring at him intently. Instead of looking away, he met the fervent gaze with his own deep stare, as if it was Lan Wangji who had him under a spell rather than the other way around. Lan Wangji leaned in closer.
A shrill cry of Wei Wuxian's name broke through the charged atmosphere, and the two men sprang suddenly apart like guilty teenagers. The terse exclamation had come from a petite woman in a red jumpsuit. She was clearly displeased at whatever moment she had just interrupted. There was an impatient air to her, and she held her arms crossed in annoyance.
"We're all waiting for you to join us for lunch!"
"Oh!" Wei Ying exclaimed, looking at the time on his phone. "Lan Wangji! You should have kicked us out! We've totally hijacked your lunch break!"
Wei Yuan ran to the woman with a wide grin on his face, and she gleefully enveloped the boy in a hug, her attitude wholly changed from just moments before. When she smiled, there were enough similarities between her features and the child's, that Lan Wangji assumed she must be Wei Yuan's mother.
The realisation was a figurative splash of cold water in Lan Wangji’s face. He had been dreadfully close to hitting on a man who was very much spoken for! He was immediately overcome by a rush of emotions he had no right to own: disappointment, jealousy, guilt. Well, the guilt he was probably entitled to. He was so flustered that when Wei Wuxian invited him to join their picnic, Lan Wangji immediately declined the offer. Seeing them all together as one happy family would only cause him pain and remind him what he couldn't have, what he shouldn't wish for.
"Yeah," Wei Wuxian mumbled, with something akin to sadness flitting across his face. Lan Wangji didn't dare think the disappointment he saw in Wei Wuxian's eyes was anything other than his own hopeful imagination. "You seem like a quiet guy," he chuckled, "and we're probably too rowdy for you."
He flashed a devastating smile at Lan Wangji that nearly brought the latter to tears. "You'll stop by my booth later though, won't you?" Wei Wuxian continued, and how could Lan Wangji refuse the man when he was looking at Wangji with such a hopeful expression in those breathtaking eyes? "I mean," he added happily, "we're basically friends by association with A-Sang, right?"
Lan Wangji nearly cried again. Friends. The word stabbed sharply at him like a knife to the gut. As he watched Wei Wuxian walk away with his family, Lan Wangji felt as if he had been soaring high up in the clouds and had suddenly come crashing down hard upon the ground. Wei Wuxian would never be anything other than just a friend to Lan Wangji, no matter how much he might wish for something more.
Lan Wangji’s afternoon had passed in a succession of various irritations, dissolving into wonderful fantasies involving Wei Wuxian. He had to keep reminding himself not to get carried away, that Wei Wuxian was already spoken for, and that Lan Wangji had no right to even entertain the possibility of anything more than friendship with the man. And yet, he could have sworn that there was a moment earlier when—he mentally slapped himself. He was behaving like a fool, and it was most unbecoming for a man of his strict upbringing.
At this rate, it would probably be best if he avoid Wei Wuxian altogether, lest he dig himself further into this pit of misery. But he had distinctly agreed to the man's request to pay him a visit this afternoon. A promise is a promise, he told himself, firmly ignoring the excitement bubbling in his stomach at the thought of seeing Wei Wuxian again.
Finally done with his stall, he ran out of excuses to delay the inevitable, and went to find the face-painting tent. He took his time, looking at the various booths and displays as he ambled along and used the extra minutes to pull himself together.
He smiled to himself at the chaos happening in the mini battlefield that was Nie Mingjue's fighting arena. What was basically a glorified animal pen had been used to contain the children's sword fighting lessons that Nie Mingjue was offering. In theory, the children were to be shown fighting techniques through the use of foam or bamboo swords. In reality, the children were clambering all over Nie Mingjue as he gave them piggyback rides around the arena. The joyful squeals of children and Nie Mingjue's rumbling laughter followed Lan Wangji as he wound his way around various tents to the face-painting booth.
Wei Wuxian’s booth was obviously closed for business, as evidenced by the way it had been blocked off. As if that wasn't enough of an indication, the way the man in the purple hoodie had started snipping at Lan Wangji as soon as he approached the tent, left him with no doubt that his initial assumption was indeed correct.
Lan Wangji had heard enough about Jiang Cheng from Nie Huaisang for him not to immediately recognise the man when he saw him. Having met Jiang Yanli that morning, he could also see the resemblance in their features. Although they both wore purple attire, as was the custom of the Jiang family, the man wore a rich, deep plum, whereas Jiang Yanli favoured a softer lilac hue. Jiang Yanli’s features and demeanour also seemed softer compared to her brother’s sharp lines and gruff responses.
"Jiang Cheng," Wei Wuxian's face popped around a large board advertising Wei Wuxian’s face-painting skills, "that's Lan Wangji. Let him in for goodness sake!"
Jiang Cheng reluctantly let Lan Wangji into the tent. "Just hurry up, will you?" he said to Wei Wuxian. "Jiejie's waiting for us to go watch the magic show."
"Okay, okay," Wei Wuxian replied, "Let me just paint Lan Wangji’s face first, then we can go."
Lan Wangji froze at Wei Wuxian’s announcement. He was not one to draw attention to himself and the idea of having his face splashed with colour filled him with anxiety. He knew immediately, though, that he would be agreeing to the idea, however much he hated it. Lan Wangji was not a people pleaser. In fact, he could count on one hand the amount of people he struggled to say 'no' to, and the list did not include strangers. Yet, he found himself inexplicably unable to refuse this man. He wondered if anyone could ever deny Wei Wuxian anything.
As if to drive the point home, Jiang Cheng sighed and rolled his eyes Lan Wangji. "You might as well just let him paint you," he said. "He's not gonna let up until you do." Judging by the purple flames stretching across his cheeks, Lan Wangji was convinced that he was not alone in his inability to turn down the charming artist.
"A-Cheng," Wei Wuxian huffed, "why don't you go on ahead and tell Jie that we'll be there soon, huh?"
Jiang Cheng sniffed in reply, but left as Wei Wuxian had suggested. Wei Wuxian smiled winningly at Lan Wangji and gestured for him to take a seat upon a plastic folding chair. Lan Wangji looked at him warily, unsure if he could handle sitting that close to the man. Not to mention, having Wei Wuxian’s hands on him may very well give Lan Wangji a heart attack.
"It's okay, you can trust me," Wei Wuxian said gently, as if he was talking to a skittish animal. Lan Wangji quickly sat down, embarrassed with himself for being so dramatic.
To distract himself from Wei Wuxian’s presence, he offered a greeting to Wei Yuan. The toddler was set up next to him on a large rug with some paper and a bucket of crayons. A pile of drawings scattered about indicated that the child was trying to mimic his father's artwork. Lan Wangji could feel his lips turn up in a tiny smile at the sight of Wei Yuan happily scribbling away. Wei Wuxian caught his smile, and grinned at Lan Wangji in return.
Lan Wangji cleared his throat and avoided Wei Wuxian’s gaze. The other man didn't seem to mind his silence, as he began happily talking at a mile a minute. He sanitised his hands, and scooted his chair closer until their knees were almost touching. Lan Wangji could feel the warmth radiating from his skin even through the fabric of their clothes. His breath caught in his throat at the near-contact and the way that the air around them felt electric all of a sudden. Wei Wuxian must have felt it too, if the way he awkwardly cleared his throat was any indication.
"Can you, um, close your eyes for me?" he mumbled. Lan Wangji did so, and let out the breath he had been holding, trying to calm the rabbiting beat of his heart.
"It's okay," Wei Wuxian said soothingly, as he also took a deep breath. "As I said, you're safe in my hot little hands. I've been doing this forever." Lan Wangji didn’t have the heart to tell him that it was actually the very thought of having those 'hot little hands' on him that had him so flustered. Thankfully, Wei Wuxian carried on talking as if the uncomfortable moment had never occurred.
"I started experimenting with makeup when I was pretty young," he said. "In high school, I used to do my friends' makeup whenever we'd go out. Not sure I was so great at it back then though," he chuckled, "but it was good practice."
It was easier for Lan Wangji to deal with Wei Wuxian when he didn't have those silver-grey eyes staring at him like they were looking into his soul. Wei Wuxian continued babbling, barely pausing for breath as he chattered on. "Once, an ex even had me do his makeup for his first date with another guy," he told Lan Wangji and two things about this statement stood out to the other man: 1) That Wei Wuxian had to have at least some romantic interest in men; and 2) He was exceptionally kind (perhaps abnormally so) if he was willing to do something so generous for someone he had broken up with.
"I'm pleased to say that they are currently very happily married," said Wei Wuxian, and alhough he couldn't see his face, Lan Wangji could tell he was smiling. "I like to think that my artistic skills had some part in their relationship, but I think they were fated to be together," Wei Wuxian added. "Do you believe in fate?"
Lan Wangji wanted very much to say that he did indeed believe in fate, except that it had a cruel approach for making him fall for someone he couldn't have. However, he didn't think that his answer would be would be appreciated. In any case, Wei Wuxian continued talking as if he hadn't expected a response.
"Anyway," the man continued blabbering as he worked. Lan Wangji wondered fondly if Wei Wuxian ever shut up. "I even did the makeup for their wedding. They both looked incredible, if I do say so myself. Well, Xingchen designed their outfits, so of course they looked amazing."
Wei Wuxian segued into a spiel about how he had started his foray into face-painting, and Lan Wangji let the delightful cadence of his voice wash over him, only partly listening to what Wei Wuxian was actually saying. Lan Wangji found that he was content to listen to Wei Wuxian ramble, and thought that he would happily listen to him talk for hours.
"Lan Wangji," Wei Wuxian suddenly broke through his trance, "you're so quiet. How can you sit so still?" Lan Wangji could tell that he was smiling again. "I don't think I could ever sit that still in my life. I know A-Yuan is the same."
Lan Wangji just hummed. He'd always been a quiet person.
"Anyway," said Wei Wuxian. "I think we're done. You can open your eyes now."
He gazed at his reflection in the mirror, unsure if the image in it was really him. Wei Wuxian had created some sort of magic on his face, turning Lan Wangji into an ethereal prince of the moon. His eyes were smudged with a smoky blend of blacks and purples and blues, like a mystical night sky where Lan Wangji's irises shone like twin moons. His nose and cheeks were dusted with the faintest tinge of colour and speckles of silver stars, while some larger stars had been painted just below his brows and the corners of his eyes.
He exhaled deeply, his awe of the man before him escaping in a release of breath.
"Do you like it?" Wei Wuxian sounded so unsure of himself, but Lan Wangji was too speechless to offer him any assurances. He could only nod his approval.
What Wei Wuxian had created was more than basic face-painting, it was a work of art. He continued staring reverently at his face like a complete narcissist until Wei Yuan stopped him with a tug on his arm.
"Music-gege is pretty," he said seriously.
"Eh, Yuan-er, I told you not to call him that! His name is Lan Wangji."
"Lan Zhan." It was suddenly very important to Lan Wangji that these two people use his formal name.
"Call me Lan Zhan," he asked.
"Lan Zhan?" said Wei Yuan, picking up the name immediately, "Zhan- gege?" Lan Wangji was sure he could feel the very moment when his heart melted. Was it possible to fall in love with a man and a child in the space of only a day?
Wei Yuan thrust a drawing in Lan Wangji’s face. "Zhan-gege, do you like my drawing?" he asked.
It was a pretty picture. Despite being little more than colourful scribbles, Lan Wangji could make out the distinct shape of various red and pink rabbits.
"I like it," he said truthfully.
"Ah, Yuan-er has a bit of an obsession with bunnies," Wei Wuxian explained. "You should have seen him earlier, Lan Wangji. They have a petting zoo with bunnies here today, and I think he was in absolute heaven when I took him to see it! It took me so long to drag him away!"
Lan Wangji thought it was a very cute story, but he was displeased at Wei Wuxian’s continued use of his courtesy name.
"Wei Wuxian may also call me Lan Zhan," he clarified.
"Okay, Lan Zhan," he said quietly, and if Lan Wangji’s heart had melted at hearing Wei Yuan's use of his name, the sound of it from Wei Wuxian’s lips turned his entire body into an absolute puddle of nothingness. "Lan Zhan," the man repeated. "Then you have to call me Wei Ying."
Lan Wangji awkwardly cleared his throat lest he do something he would regret. "I did not think that other families were so invested in upholding tradition as much as mine. You have a courtesy name too?"
"Ah, nothing so glamorous. Wuxian was the name chosen by my adoptive parents. My biological parents named me Wei Ying."
Lan Wangji vaguely remembered hearing about the Jiang family adopting a child but he'd never paid the story much attention. It must have been difficult for Wei Ying, being forced to give up a name that was the only remaining connection to his parents.
"My parents passed away too," Lan Wangji said stupidly, and he cringed at his inelegant comment.
Wei Ying merely smiled at him—a mixture of wry commiseration and shared pain. Lan Wangji felt his mouth curl in what he knew was a mirror of that smile. It wasn't a pleasant smile, and Lan Wangji was immediately overcome with the immense desire to kiss that awful shape from Wei Ying’s lips and continue kissing him until he forgot about all the pain and heartache, focusing on nothing but pure and blinding pleasure.
The moment was interrupted by Wei Yuan's impertinent, "Wei Ying!" His frown and impatient stance were such a likeness to the red jumpsuit woman, that Lan Wangji was jolted from his inappropriate thoughts with burning shame. Wei Yuan stomped his foot in toddler-sized exasperation. "We'll be late for the magic show!" he huffed.
"Aiya, A-Yuan! My cheeky radish!" Wei Ying looked embarrassed at his son's antics. "It's Baba to you, mister! You've been spending too much time with Qing-jie!" He shook his head fondly. "I s'pose we should go though, or Jiang Cheng will have my head." He turned expectantly to Lan Wangji. "Are you coming to watch the show, Lan Zhan? I s'pose you've seen it a million times already."
Lan Wangji should say no. Not because he had indeed seen his brother’s act many, many times before, but because he felt himself walking a dangerous line.
They were halfway to the magician's tent (Wei Yuan skipping between them, swinging from the arms of both men) before Lan Wangji realised that he was most definitely incapable of refusing Wei Ying anything the man asked of him.
It was absolutely crazy and more than a little pathetic to be pining for a married man that he'd met just hours ago. But the longer he continued in Wei Ying’s presence, he became more and more enchanted by Wei Ying’s everything, that he felt himself fall harder than ever before, and there was not a thing he could do about it.
As Nie Huaisang would say, Lan Wangji was well and truly fucked.
The tent was abuzz with the jovial noise of families conversing, and the excitement of children eager to see a magic show. Lan Wangji, not comfortable with crowds, stood at the back of the throng, Wei Ying by his side, as Yuan ran off to sit on the ground with the other children, directly in front of the stage.
He spotted Wei Ying’s siblings in the mass of families, as well as Jin Zixuan, and the lady in the red jumpsuit. There were a few there who Lan Wangji didn't recognise, including a skinny tattooed man, and a tall round-faced beauty, but they were clearly part of the same group. The Nie brothers also stood amongst the group, and Nie Mingjue gave Lan Wangji a small wave in solidarity for the upcoming suffering of Lan Xichen’s act.
Lan Wangji noticed, with a smile, that even Nie Mingjue had evidently been unable to resist being cajoled by Wei Ying: the paintwork, a splattering of rainbow colours across one cheek, and tiny dots of white that looked like stars glowing in the dim light of the tent.
When his brother took the stage, Lan Wangji could appreciate the artwork on his face was similar to Nie Mingjue's, only the bright colours were mostly smudged around his eyes. Little mutli-coloured dots covered his cheeks like rainbow freckles—the overall look of it harmonious with his magician persona.
Lan Xichen warmed up his audience with a few basic tricks that even he had managed to master. What followed were more tricks of varying degrees of difficulty and none of which Lan Xichen was able to execute successfully. Lan Wangji loved his brother very dearly, but he could not comprehend the man's recurring confusion at being unable to effectively complete a stunt that he had never mastered to begin with.
More worryingly, there were tricks that were neither riveting nor clever that Lan Xichen nonetheless seemed to take pride in. Lan Wangji was not pleased to admit that he was embarrassed by his brother’s antics. What shamed him further was how desperate he was to save face in front of Wei Ying regardless of the fact that he never even stood a chance with the man to begin with. He tried not to allow bitterness or jealousy to tarnish his admiration. He really was proud of his brother for having the courage to follow his dreams in a way that Lan Wangji could never hope to.
Despite Lan Xichen’s obvious lack of skill, the kids actually loved him. They seemed to find his nonsensical act to be hilarious. The reaction from the adults in the crowd was much more varied, ranging from incredulous to amused; some evidently assuming his unsuccessful and pointless tricks to be deliberately absurd. Jiang Yanli’s fond amusement was the kindest reaction (sans Nie Mingjue's steadfast support), although her husband looked thoroughly confused, shaking his head in answer to Jiang Cheng mouthing "what the fuck is this?" at him.
It was Wei Ying’s delight that was the most pleasing to Lan Wangji. "How wonderfully avante garde!" he exclaimed in a whisper, curling a hand around Lan Wangji’s arm. "Lan Zhan, your brother is a genius!"
The whisper sent a cold shiver up his spine, goosebumps rising along his flesh, yet his skin burned fiercely hot where Wei Ying’s hand touched his arm through his shirt sleeve. It took all of his self control to hum a broken response to Wei Ying instead of taking the man into his arms the way that he wished to.
While 'genius' would not be the term that Lan Wangji would use to describe bis brother's act, but he didn’t have the heart to correct Wei Ying, nor did he wish to expose Lan Xichen to any further ridicule. It was a brother’s prerogative to teasingly criticise Lan Xichen’s antics, but Lan Wangji would fight anyone who made fun of his older sibling.
Lan Xichen was beaming under the enthusiasm from his audience. Perhaps it was their eager excitement that allowed him the boldness to choose one of the most ambitious tricks in his repertoire. "And now for my next trick," he said with aplomb, "I will need an assistant from the audience."
He scanned across the audience and, either by fortune or by design, Lan Xichen’s gaze settled upon Wei Yuan. Lan Wangji was grateful that his brother had picked Yuan from the crowd, especially when Wei Ying elbowed him in his excitement at seeing his son picked out from the crowd. Lan Wangji felt equally delighted, in spite of the pain in his ribs from Wei Ying’s bony elbow.
Wei Ying fidgeted giddily beside him, and Lan Wangji found himself paying much more attention to the man next to him rather than the one on the stage. He forced himself to focus on the act, and watched as his brother spun the empty cabinet as indication that there were no evident trap-doors that would allow for escape. Wei Yuan climbed into the cabinet as a jaunty tune played from somewhere off-stage. Lan Xichen spun the cupboard around in another show of false transparency, then pulled a bedazzled curtain over top of it before spinning it yet again.
With much fanfare, Lan Xichen led the audience in repeating some nonsense words as he tapped the covered cabinet with his plastic wand. As the last magic term was shouted into the semi-darkness of the tent, Lan Xichen tugged the curtain from the cupboard. There was a momentary silence of anticipation from the entire audience as a drum rattled a suspenseful beat.
Lan Xichen finally threw open the cupboard doors to reveal... nothing. Wei Yuan was not inside the cabinet. The whole audience seemed to gasp as one before exploding into awed applause. Lan Xichen seemed just as shocked as anyone that the trick had evidently been a success. He turned an astonished grin to the crowd and exclaimed a terribly cringe-worthy "ta-da!"
When the audience calmed, he replaced the curtain on the cupboard and conducted everyone to repeat the magic words. The drumroll sounded again as the curtain was removed and the cupboard doors flung open.
The cabinet was still empty, so Lan Xichen closed it again and had the drummer replay the rattling tune. When the second opening of the cabinet did not return the child, Lan Xichen and the audience began to look concerned. By the third reveal, it was clear to everyone that Wei Yuan had really disappeared.
"Uh…" Lan Xichen froze in his position in front of the empty cupboard. His panicked gaze met Nie Mingjue's concerned face from across the room.
Nie Mingjue jumped up on the small platform at the same time that Jiang Cheng took to the stage. Wei Ying’s brother ripped the cloth from the cupboard and flung it open, practically tearing the doors off their hinges. He jabbed and prodded at the contraption, trying to determine what could have happened to Wei Yuan.
At this stage, much of the audience had really begun to fret and some of the children were crying loudly. The tension was not aided by the violent shouts coming from Jiang Cheng. He gripped tightly at Lan Xichen’s collar and shook him with great force.
"What the hell did you do to my nephew?"
Lan Xichen gaped blankly at him, looking unsure how he should respond. Nie Mingjue moved to intervene before things got more physical, and Jiang Yanli also tried to calm her brother.
"A-Cheng! Please, the children…" Many of the kids looked petrified.
With a shove, Jiang Cheng let go of his rough hold on Lan Xichen, although he still stood threateningly in front of him. The woman in the red jumpsuit (Wei Yuan's mother?) decided to join the fray. Jiang Cheng was roughly jostled aside by the slight woman as she climbed the stage, coming to stand toe to toe with Lan Xichen.
If Lan Wangji was worried for his brother’s safety in the face of Jiang Cheng's anger, it was nothing to the severe outrage shown on the woman's face. An uncle's ire paled in comparison to the murderous fury of a frantic mother. "You!" she snapped, jabbing at Lan Xichen with sharp red nails. "Idiot! We leave my baby cousin in your care for five damn minutes, and you manage to lose him!"
What? Lan Wangji fixated on the way the woman had addressed Wei Yuan. As if he had short-circuited, his mind blanked, only a single word reverberating in his head. Cousin? Not mother? The woman is Wei Yuan's cousin? She's not Wei Ying’s partner? He was so befuddled by this information, yet a spark of hope ignited within him at the idea that Wei Ying might actually be single.
"Babe," said the taller woman with the pretty, round face, as she also mounted the stage and wrapped an arm around the smaller, red-clad female. "As much as I'd like to see you kick this guy's butt, I don't think killing him would be very helpful right now." She rubbed the woman's arms and—Oh! Definitely not Wei Ying’s partner then—nuzzled at Red Jumpsuit's ear as she whispered soothing words to her.
Nie Mingjue also wrapped his boyfriend in a comforting hug. Lan Xichen was sobbing almost as much as the children.
"J-Jie, please don't hit him," said the tattooed man in a voice much softer than Lan Wangji would have suspected from him, but his words had the desired effect of placating Red Jumpsuit.
"It's okay, A-Ning." She smiled kindly at her brother before sending another icy glare in the direction of Lan Xichen.
"Let's all just calm down," said Nie Mingjue, ever the voice of reason. "The kid can't have gone far. Let's go find him, hm?"
Everyone seemed to move at once, directed by Jiang Yanli and Nie Mingjue. Some went off to search for Wei Yuan, while others stayed behind to help calm the crying children and run interference with annoyed parents. Wei Ying stood forgotten in the middle of the chaos, completely frozen in shock. Thankfully, Lan Wangji had long-ago learnt how to remain cool under pressure, having dealt with more than his fair share of emergencies at the hand of his accident-prone brother. It was to his advantage that he could think clearly enough in this moment to be able to guess where Wei Yuan might have wandered off to.
Lan Wangji had not been able to stop thinking about Wei Ying’s likely single-ness (shamefully so, given the circumstances) and how he might be able to successfully woo the man. Regrettably, his brother’s part in the disappearance of Wei Ying’s son was quite unfavourable to his cause. By helping Wei Ying find his son, perhaps he could turn things back in his favour. Besides, he was genuinely worried for Wei Yuan's safety and felt a sense of urgency in locating the child.
"Wei Ying," he said softly, placing a hand upon the other man’s arm. "You said that A-Yuan likes rabbits and that you had a difficult time persuading him away from the petting zoo. Perhaps he went back there to see the rabbits again," he suggested.
Wei Ying broke from his daze and his eyes lit up. "Lan Zhan, yes!" he exclaimed, and immediately took off in the direction of the petting zoo with Lan Wangji rushing after him.
"A-Yuan!" Wei Ying vaulted over the low fence, rabbits scattering as he landed in their enclosure. He grabbed his son, heedless of the bunny cradled in the boy's arms, and pulled him tightly against his chest.
"Baba!" Wei Yuan squeaked, barely audible with his face squished into his father's shirt.
"Haven't I told you not to run off like that? Do you know how worried I was? You scared me to death! I thought something bad had happened to you!"
Wei Yuan started crying loudly, displeased at having been scolded. Wei Ying also looked like he was on the verge of tears. An attendant came to ask them to leave.
"I don't want to leave!" Wei Yuan wailed, edging toward tantrum mode as the bunny in his arms was relinquished to the surly attendant. "I want to play with the bunnies!" he screamed.
"A-Yuan, be reasonable," said Wei Ying. "You can play with the bunnies another time." But Wei Yuan would not be persuaded.
Lan Wangji had an idea. "A-Yuan," he coaxed, "I have my very own rabbits at home. Would you like to see some pictures of them?"
"Zhan-gege has bunnies?" Wei Yuan sniffed.
Lan Wangji nodded and showed the boy some pictures of Bai and Dai on his phone. "If you're good," he offered, "maybe your dad will bring you to visit them one time."
Wei Yuan's transformation was instantaneous. "Okay," he said pleasantly. "I be good. Let's go."
Wei Ying shook his head in loving exasperation. "Thank you," he sighed at Lan Wangji.
"No need for thanks between us," Lan Wangji replied. "It's the least I can do. I really must apologise on behalf of my brother for what happened earlier."
"It's okay, Lan Zhan. No need for sorry between us either. My little radish is notorious for running off like that. It's just a shame that your brother's show was ruined."
Lan Wangji didn't bother to tell him that the show had been doomed from the start.
The walk back to the show tent was relaxed, now that the urgency and stress had passed. The trio were able to look at the variety of stalls as they went. The Wei duo particularly liked the food stalls, pausing to look or taste at every one of them.
Lan Wangji stopped at a flower stand. He wondered if he ought to buy something for Jiang Yanli to thank her for the calm way on which she handled the crowd earlier. He already had plans to purchase some of Nie Mingjue's favourite whisky on his way home. The thought of these two people reminded Lan Wangji that they had better hurry and return to the show tent so that their family and friends could stop worrying. He said as much to Wei Ying, and they picked up the pace as they headed back.
Wei Yuan skipped along happily, as if he hadn't just caused a whole lot of fuss. "A-Yuan did a great magic," he said proudly.
"You did," Wei Ying begrudgingly admitted. "Just don't do it again. I think I've had enough magic tricks for one day."
"That's a shame," Lan Wangji told him, "Because I have a few tricks of my own." He pulled a colourful bouquet from behind his back and presented it to an adorably shocked Wei Ying. Next, he turned to Wei Yuan with a wink, and pulled a single, bright gerbera from his sleeve to give to the boy.
Wei Yuan shouted and bounced with delight, while his father looked amusedly baffled. "How did you—when did you—?"
"A magician never reveals his tricks," said Lan Wangji.
Wei Ying laughed. "Well, I have a few tricks of my own," he repeated Lan Wangji’s words. "May I have your phone please sir?" He took the proffered phone and tinkered with it a little. His own phone buzzed, and he held up the screen to show Lan Wangji. "Hey presto!" he said. "Your number is now in my phone."
Lan Wangji couldn't stop his smile. "That's a very good trick. I look forward to the next one."
"How about you come to dinner with us and I can show you what else I've got up my sleeve?"
"I'd like that very much."
Wei Ying flashed one of his breathtaking grins, and Lan Wangji decided that his smile was the most magical thing he had seen all day.