Something is wrong with Wei Ying. Something is hurting him. Lan Zhan knows this, with the part of him that is attuned to Wei Ying as closely as a flower to the sun.
But Wei Ying cannot be pushed to speak. Lan Zhan knows this too. If Wei Ying is pushed, he will close down even more, and whatever is wrong will continue to fester inside him. So Lan Zhan abides this and waits, and holds Wei Ying as though he can squeeze the hurt out of Wei Ying’s body himself.
Wei Ying will tell him when he is ready. He always does.
Lan Zhan tells himself this until the night he comes home to Wei Ying huddled on the couch under the largest, softest blanket they own. Wei Ying’s face is pale, his eyes red. He doesn’t seem to notice Lan Zhan at all.
“Wei Ying,” he says, and Wei Ying jumps, enough to be seen through the blanket.
“Lan Zhan! Lan Zhan, you’re home.” Wei Ying smiles, but it’s a weak, faltering thing. It disappears as he scrubs at his cheeks with the blanket.
Lan Zhan is abruptly fed up with waiting.
“What is wrong?”
“What? Nothing’s wrong, Lan Zhan.” The blankets move as Wei Ying tries to wave a hand. “I’m fine.”
Fine. How many times has Lan Zhan heard that word? Wei Ying is always fine. Wei Ying would probably be fine if he was bleeding to death or falling off a cliff with no one to catch him.
“No,” he says. “No, Wei Ying, you are not ‘fine’. Please talk to me. I am- I am worried.”
Wei Ying makes a pained noise, sinking back into the blankets. “Don’t, Lan Zhan. Don’t ask me that.”
“You won’t… I’m not going to make you deal with this.” Wei Ying laughs weakly. “I’m just being difficult. I’ll get over it.”
Lan Zhan hadn’t moved from the doorway, but he does now, sitting down at the edge of the blanket pile, careful not to sit on any part of Wei Ying. He leans in, rests one hand gently where he guesses Wei Ying’s thigh to be.
“I do not want you to get over it. I want to help you ‘deal with this’, whatever it is.” Lan Zhan ducks his head to catch Wei Ying’s gaze. “I love you.”
Wei Ying flinches. “You won’t,” he whispers. Lan Zhan isn’t sure he was meant to hear it.
“Tell me, Wei Ying.”
Wei Ying closes his eyes. “You won’t like it,” he says quietly. “I know you won’t, I won’t be surprised. But I guess it’s not fair to not tell you.”
Tell him what?
“Okay. You know I’m your boyfriend? Or, I- well. Sometimes, I don’t... “ Wei Ying takes a deep breath. Wei Ying shifts under Lan Zhan’s hand, curling up into himself and tucking his chin against his knees. “Sometimes I don’t feel like a guy. Sometimes I feel like. A girl? Or like… neither of those? It changes. Like, right now, I don’t feel like either, but people kept calling me ‘he’ today when I feel like she and it- it sucked, and usually I can shake it off before I get home and nobody needs to kn- to worry, but I guess not today. I’m sorry. This is just- trouble. I’m just causing trouble, I know I am. You probably don’t want to deal with this. Nobody’s ever wanted to deal with this.” Wei Ying’s mouth closes abruptly, and Wei Ying looks at Lan Zhan with those wet, red eyes, waiting for Lan Zhan’s verdict.
Nobody needs to know, Wei Ying had said. Lan Wangji wouldn’t have needed to know, Wei Ying meant. Lan Zhan feels suddenly as though he’s been hit. This truth at the core of Wei Ying’s being, that she has been too afraid to share with him. As though the most important thing in this situation could ever be Lan Zhan’s comfort, rather than Wei Ying’s own need. Wei Ying’s identity.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says carefully. “Your identity is… not trouble. Your comfort is not trouble. If this is who you are, then it is who you are.” Lan Wangji wants nothing more than to bundle Wei Ying into his chest and hold her until she believes Lan Wangji isn’t going to let go. That would be impractical, however, so Lan Wangji must use his words.
“I want to be someone you like, though,” Wei Ying protests. She shakes her head, bites her lip until it turns white. “Someone you can want. And I know it’s hard enough for you to like me the way I usually am. I won’t do anything about this, Lan Zhan. I won’t change anything! You don’t have to… worry.”
Worry? Wei Ying believes Lan Wangji would worry more about his own desire than about Wei Ying’s comfort? Even if Lan Wangji could imagine a future in which he did not want Wei Ying in every possible way, he would choose that future in a heartbeat if it meant ensuring Wei Ying’s comfort and safety.
But such a choice will not be an issue here. The only thing that remains is to convince Wei Ying of this.
“I want Wei Ying in every way she will allow me to have her,” Lan Wangji says firmly, and Wei Ying’s eyes go even wider. “That includes being allowed to know her. I am glad you told me. I was worried, when you were sad and would not tell me why.”
Wei Ying peers at him through her lashes. “Are you sure?” She is worried. “We can just pretend I never said anything. That’s fine, Lan Zhan, that’s really fine. I never wanted to say anything-”
Whatever Lan Wangji’s face does at that is beyond his control. Wei Ying stops.
“You never wanted to tell me?”
Wei Ying pauses. “No. But not because of you! Lan Zh- Zhan, I,” a little stutter in Lan Wangji’s name, a quick glance at Lan Wangji’s face. “Just because I didn’t want you to have to deal with, with this. I know it’s too much to ask of you. It’s been too much for anybody.”
That is the second time Wei Ying has said this. “You say it is too much to ask of me. What do you think I am willing to give?” Lan Wangji asks.
Wei Ying frowns. “You signed up for me as your boyfriend,” she says. “I still don’t really know why you did that, but- boyfriend! Not girlfriend, not… ambiguous partner-friend. That’s not what you signed on for, and I know that. I do. Nobody wants their partner to suddenly change who they are!”
Lan Wangji is beginning to realize that Wei Ying must have had this conversation in her head already. Possibly a few times. She’s making quite a few assumptions of what Lan Wangji will say.
They are, all of them, false.
Abruptly, Lan Wangji finds that he cannot let Wei Ying’s assumptions stand.
“I signed up for Wei Ying as Wei Ying,” he says. Wei Ying opens her mouth, but Lan Wangji shakes his head and places one finger over Wei Ying’s lips. “Let me finish.” He smiles slightly when Wei Ying nods, staring at Lan Wangji with wide eyes.
Lan Wangji lets his finger rest over Wei Ying’s lips as he gathers his thoughts, trying not to become distracted by the softness of Wei Ying’s lips. He must pick each word carefully now, or Wei Ying will leave this conversation with yet more assumptions that will fester inside her, and which she will refuse to let Lan Wangji correct.
“I want you to be who you are around me,” he says. “As my partner, and as my friend. I would hope that we are both. I would hope that I have made a space where you feel you can be yourself. From what you have said, this is not a change. This is another layer of who you have always been.” Wei Ying sucks in a breath, and Lan Wangji presses his finger more firmly against Wei Ying’s parted lips. Wait, he means. Listen. “I do not want you any less now, in any way. You are my partner. My,” as Wei Ying says, as though the word holds the whole of their lives together, “my person. I want you in any way you will let me have you, and that has not changed. Thank you for telling me.”
Wei Ying is staring again, eyes wide and mouth gone slack under Lan Wangji’s finger. That is understandable. Lan Wangji has used… a lot of words. He feels slightly winded by it.
“Would you tell me what this means for you, Wei Ying?” Lan Wangji adds, after a beat, and drops his hand to rest on Wei Ying’s knee, buried under the blanket.
Wei Ying stares at him.
“That’s it?” she demands after a moment. “That’s all you-” She shakes her head. “Really? That’s all you’re gonna say?”
Lan Zhan raises an eyebrow. “What else is there to say?”
Wei Ying opens her mouth, closes it. Waves a hand under the blanket. “Tell me what you think! Tell me you only want a boyfriend. Tell me I can’t do this.” She ducks her head. The blanket bunches as she pulls at it from inside. “I promise, Lan Zhan, if you aren’t comfortable, then I, I won’t do anything. I don’t have to.”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan protests. If you aren’t comfortable, echoes Lan Zhan’s brain. Not for the first time, Lan Zhan hates everyone who taught Wei Ying that her own comfort was so easily dismissed. “Wei Ying. Beloved. Look at me. Please.”
Wei Ying shakes her head, staring down at the blanket. She draws her knees in even closer, dislodging Lan Zhan’s hand, and tips her head down to rest on her knees again. She looks exhausted, pale.
Lan Zhan’s heart twists. He takes a deep breath, schools his face into stillness as he breathes out. “Sweetheart, look at me. I will tell you what I think, if you look at me. Can you do that for me?”
Wei Ying makes a small noise in her throat, and Lan Wangji sees her eyes close. “Can’t,” she mumbles. “Jus’ tell me.” Her eyes are closed, curled in on herself like she’s expecting to be hurt.
And in every way but physical, Lan Zhan thinks, she is. His beautiful, brave Wei Ying is waiting for Lan Zhan to tell her she cannot be all of who she is. She will listen, if Lan Zhan says this. If Lan Zhan even looks uncomfortable, Wei Ying will take this back and never mention it again. Will pretend that this is not her truth, perhaps until she believes it herself.
And Lan Zhan will never get to fully see Wei Ying for who Wei Ying is.
“I love you,” Lan Zhan says. To him, this is everything. I love you, I want you, I would hold you and listen to you tell me about yourself for the rest of our lives, if we could. But Wei Ying has always needed more words, more assurance, and for her Lan Zhan will find the words. “I did not lie earlier. You are not trouble, and your identity is not an imposition upon me. I am glad you told me, because I love you and I want to know you. Whatever I can do for you, I will. I would not like to think that there was something you needed or wanted, that you could think I would not give.”
Wei Ying makes a noise of protest, muffled where her face is pressed into the blanket and her own legs. Quietly, she says, “You’d give me whatever I want. Even if you didn’t want it too. I don’t want you to resent me.”
Lan Zhan’s heart aches. Surely someday he will grow used to Wei Ying’s willingness to hollow herself out for the sake of others. Grow used to it, or finally manage to uproot it like the toxic thing it is and pour his own love into Wei Ying in its place.
“I would never resent you for being honest, Wei Ying. You do not have to believe me now,” he can tell that Wei Ying does not, that this will take time, “so I only ask that you trust me. Allow me to prove it to you.”
A quiet, hitched breath muffled in the blanket, then, slowly, Wei Ying lifts her head, tears in her eyes as she searches Lan Zhan’s face. Lan Zhan wipes the tears from under Wei Ying’s eyes with his thumbs, smiling when Wei Ying nuzzles into his hands.
“There you are. My Wei Ying. Will you tell me now?”
“You really mean that?” Wei Ying’s voice is ragged, scratchy from crying.
“I mean it. I am more familiar with the spectrum of gender identity than you seem to think, but I meant it when I said I do not know what that means for you. I would like to know.”
Wei Ying laughs softly. “Ah, Lan Zhan. You’re always so good to me.” She gives Lan Zhan a weak little smile. “I’ll tell you, if we can cuddle while I talk.”
Lan Zhan opens his arms immediately, and Wei Ying gives him a real, bright smile. She flounders forward into Lan Zhan in a pile of warm body and blanket, and Lan Zhan lets her momentum take them back into the couch as he wraps his arms around Wei Ying.
With some fumbling, and Wei Ying almost kneeing Lan Zhan in the stomach, they end up curled together on the couch. Wei Ying’s head rests on Lan Zhan’s chest, where Wei Ying has told Lan Zhan that she loves listening to Lan Zhan’s heartbeat. Lan Zhan kisses the top of Wei Ying’s head, as easy and familiar as anything, and he hears a smile in Wei Ying’s voice when she starts talking.