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Only a Matter of Time

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Huaisang is slurping termites out of a termite hill while Meng Yao on the top of a nearby rock munching on an occasional non-termite insect when he comes across one, since there is no fallen fruit to be found hereabouts.

“I wish you wouldn’t slurp quite so much,” Meng Yao says.

“I don’t get it,” sighs Huaisang, raising his head from the termite hill. “He’s diurnal.”

Meng Yao has to fight to keep his face straight and his voice even, because the statement comes completely out of nowhere.

Huaisang can only be referring to the okapi.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Meng Yao says. “You know that conversation is supposed to flow naturally, from one subject to the next, don’t you?”

“You know exactly what I’m talking about,” Huaisang counters.

Meng Yao glares, because he does know, but he doesn’t have to acknowledge that.

“I really don’t,” lies Meng Yao. “Because I’m not a mind-reader.”

“You stay up every morning just so that you can watch those two okapis munch on tree leaves for a bit before you go to sleep. I really have no idea who you think you’re fooling with the act.”

“Wait,” says the rock beneath Meng Yao’s feet. “What have you guys got against okapis?”

Huaisang and Meng Yao freeze and stare at the rock just in time to see a tiny head poke out, covered in fur that’s almost exactly the same sandy, brownish beige color as the rock.

“Also,” says the sleepy-eyed hyrax, “must you pace on top of my den in the middle of the night? It’s very loud, and some of us are trying to sleep.”

“The problem,” says Huaisang, “is that, like you, the okapis are diurnal.”

“So?” snaps the hyrax. “All normal animals are diurnal, you’re the weird ones. I mean, why do you have to skulk around in the dark? It’s weird, and creepy.”

“That’s so insulting,” snaps Huaisang. “It’s hot during the day and all the predators are out! It’s smart to be active during the night.”

Meng Yao sees the hyrax’s hackles rise. The furry creature is small compared to himself or Huaisang, but he has seen the flicker of sharp teeth.

“We’re very sorry we woke you,” he says with a pointed look at Huaisang. “We have nothing against okapis, or diurnal animals in general. Huaisang is in a bad mood because we couldn’t find him any ants or termites to eat yesterday.”

“Ants or—wait, is that all you eat?” asks the hyrax.

“Yes,” snorts Huaisang, dipping his head to take another loud slurp of termites. “So what?”

“Hangry,” interprets the hyrax with a sage nod. “I’ve been there. My sympathies.”

Meng Yao cringes at the butchering of language even as Huaisang perks up.

“Ooh, you say hangry too?” he says, and trots away from the termite mound toward the hyrax. “Yao-ge just doesn’t appreciate me when I try to make up words.”

“Make up?” asks the hyrax. “But that’s a normal word. Everyone says it.”

“See?” snaps Huaisang at Meng Yao. “See? I’m completely out of touch because of you!”

“So go find someone else to spend time with,” grumbles Meng Yao, who is keenly aware that he could be elsewhere in the forest, munching happily on fallen fruits. But no. He’s here, being berated instead.

“And let you go back to that horrible hyena?” scoffs Huaisang. “Nice try. You’re stuck with me.”

“What’s wrong with hyenas?” frowns the hyrax.

“What do you mean what’s wrong with them?” asks Huaisang. “They eat aardvarks. Don’t they eat you too?”

“Ah,” blinks the hyrax. “Come to think of it, you’re probably right.”

“Come to think of it?” demands Huaisang. “Why do you have to think about it?”

“Well,” says the hyrax, looking down, a little abashed. “See, I was actually raised by African wild dogs.”

Really?” gasps Huaisang, settling down on the ground in front of the hyrax, lowering his head so that their eyes are on the same level. Meng Yao swallows a heartfelt sigh. “Tell me everything. African wild dogs are gorgeous.”

“Really?” the hyrax cocks his head to the side. “I think okapis are prettier, personally.”

Meng Yao narrows his eyes at the back of the hyrax’s head and pretends not to notice Huaisang’s barely-suppressed giggle and knowing look.

The hyrax is right, of course.

But Meng Yao doesn’t have to admit it.

Huaisang sits around chatting with the hyrax until morning, when a grumpy-looking African wild dog shows up and freezes at the sight of the three of them.

“Jiang Cheng!” calls the hyrax. “Guys, this is my shidi I was telling you about.”

Jiang Cheng,” repeats Huaisang in a very…peculiar sort of tone, strutting right up to the canine like he has nothing to fear. “It’s lovely to meet you.”

“Wasn’t he just implying something insulting about diurnal animals earlier tonight?” Meng Yao grumbles to himself, but the hyrax, who is still within hearing range, gives a snort of agreement. They exchange a pained look as the hyrax’s shidi and Huaisang make eyes at each other, and Meng Yao decides that another friend isn’t the worst thing in the world.

One morning a week later, the four of them sit in the cover of the bushes watching the pair of (still frustratingly diurnal) okapis graze on the tree leaves.

“I understand your obsession,” says the hyrax—whose name is Wei Wuxian—in a very matter-of-fact sort of tone that sets Meng Yao’s teeth on edge. “They’re very nice to look at.”

“I am not obsessed,” says Meng Yao. He makes it three heartbeats before he is compelled to add, “Also, hooves off.”

“I don’t have hooves,” says Wei Wuxian cheekily.

Paws off, then,” snaps Meng Yao. “You get my point.”

“You should go talk to them,” says Huaisang helpfully, with an obnoxious amount of confidence where he’s sitting curled up in the circle of Jiang Cheng’s body.

“Do you two have to cuddle in front of me?” whines Wei Wuxian.

“We’re not cuddling,” snaps Jiang Cheng, but makes no move to put distance between himself and Huaisang.

“Yes,” says Huaisang, and cuddles even closer, nuzzling his snout into Jiang Cheng’s neck.

“Why are you even here?” Meng Yao mutters.

“I have to protect you from that stupid hyena so-called-friend you had,” says Huaisang without raising his face out of Jiang Cheng’s fur.

“Hello,” says a voice, gentle and deep and far too close, and Meng Yao nearly jumps out of his skin. He’s aware of Wei Wuxian doing the same. Huaisang and Jiang Cheng jerk their heads upward, but otherwise don’t move.

It’s the taller of the two okapis.

It’s Meng Yao’s okapi.

“Hello,” says the okapi with eyes that are beautiful as the sun and clear as a cloudless sky, in a voice that is smooth and kind and makes Meng Yao want to close his eyes and never stop listening. “I think I’ve seen some of you around before, and I just wanted to introduce myself—I’m Lan Xichen. That over there is my brother, Lan Wangji.”

The other okapi has not moved from their usual feeding spot. He’s glaring their way quite furiously. Most particularly he seems to be glaring at Wei Wuxian, who appears to have frozen in place, Meng Yao notes with a sideways glance at the hyrax.

“I’m Meng Yao,” says Meng Yao, and he’s about to introduce the others, really he is, but the okapi—Lan Xichen—repeats his name in such a reverent tone of voice, his eyes fixed on Meng Yao’s, and suddenly Meng Yao has no idea how to speak anymore.

“You’re the most beautiful animal I’ve ever seen,” Meng Yao blurts, and he doesn’t even have the chance to be embarrassed about it, because Lan Xichen lights up like the stars as the clouds part in the middle of the night.

“That’s fortunate, because you’re the most beautiful animal I’ve ever seen,” says Lan Xichen. “Would you…care to spend the day with me?”

“Oh,” says Meng Yao, his heart sinking. “I…I’m actually nocturnal. I mean, I would love to, I don’t want you to misunderstand, but I…really do need to sleep.”

“He gets cranky if he doesn’t get enough sleep, and nobody likes cranky Yao-ge,” Huaisang chimes in helpfully. Meng Yao turns around to glare, but Huaisang’s eyes just sparkle delight back at him. Jiang Cheng is nuzzling the back of Huaisang’s head, and seems to have no interest in shutting him up.

“Oh,” says Lan Xichen. “Oh, of course. How foolish of me. I…well. I am diurnal, but I can stay up at night. If you would be up for some company, that is. I don’t mean to—”

“Yes,” says Meng Yao, his heart racing too fast to remember that it’s rude to interrupt. “Yes, please. I would love to spend time with you.”

“Oh,” says Lan Xichen. “I’m…so pleased to hear that.”

“I’m pleased that you’re pleased,” says Meng Yao. He’s vaguely aware that there’s a part of him that ought to be horribly embarrassed by the things he’s saying, but he seems to be high on some powerful emotion, and that part of his mind is completely inactive.

“Where can I find you when the sun sets?” asks Lan Xichen.

“Here would be good,” says Meng Yao. “I’ll wait for you.”

“Then I shall arrive early, so that there’s no need for you to wait.”

“Then I’ll have to wake up earlier than usual, so that I don’t keep you waiting,” says Meng Yao.

“Oh, please,” says Lan Xichen, and suddenly, bewilderingly, he looks genuinely distressed. “You must get enough sleep. Please, let me wait as long as you need—I will be awake anyway, and it would put me at ease to know that you’re getting the rest you need.”

“I can’t imagine why I’d rather sleep than be with you,” says Meng Yao. “This is already the best dream I’ve ever had.”

“And I thought the hyena was bad,” Huaisang mutters from behind Meng Yao, and he hears Wei Wuxian swallow a giggle.

But before he can turn around to glare at them, Lan Xichen is already looking past Meng Yao at them. He isn’t glaring, but it is the most disappointed look that Meng Yao has ever seen.

“I am sorry to say anything when we’ve only just met and I do not even know your names,” says Lan Xichen, and genuinely sounds sorry, “But I am having a life-changing moment meeting your friend here, and I hope that he is too. Your mockery is very much not appreciated.”

“Marry me,” Meng Yao blurts out, and Lan Xichen’s attention is suddenly fully on him once again. Meng Yao blinks, processing what he’s just said a few moments too late. He opens his mouth to…take it back, or turn it into a joke.

“Yes,” says Lan Xichen. “Yes.”

“What the hell?” says Wei Wuxian from behind Meng Yao, but Lan Xichen is leaning his head down, and Meng Yao is reaching up with his own head, and they are nuzzling.

The touch is a sky full of sparks, every spark a world of possibilities, of futures and happy endings. There is no animal but Meng Yao and Lan Xichen right now, and there is no world but theirs. Everything else can wait.

Eventually, Wei Wuxian will learn that Lan Wangji was not, in fact, glaring at him out of hatred as he has assumed—as he will continue to believe for a long, long time. He will learn it was not hatred, and then he will begin to wonder what it was, and will at last begin asking the right questions to arrive at the truth. Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji will have their happy ending, too.

It is only a matter of time.