Jin Ling was about ready to throw something. At the wall most likely, certainly not at any people, but he'd heard more than enough polite back talk and the Gusu Lan delegation, while happy to negotiate with him on equal and fair terms and had come with the bonus (upon hearing that he had no intention of inviting either the new Chief Cultivator or his jiujiu who he had no intention of inviting outside of necessary functions) of both Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji coming along at his request to at least assist in the negotiations and perhaps take him far away from this place on a nice, long nice hunt.
He could even leave Fairy behind for a while too, that wouldn't be a hardship if it meant getting to spend time with his shishu.
But currently they were nowhere to be seen, and the last servant who had seen them had reported Hanguang-jun almost dragging Wei Wuxian out of the room so he assumed he wouldn't see them any more tonight. Lan Jingyi was right, they were great to hang out with but sometimes they just disappeared and then it was just awkward because everyone knew exactly why but were too frightened of annoying either the peerless Hanguang-jun or the fearsome if happily married Yiling Laozu who had never quite lost that edge of always having a situation under control even if he were standing back and watching them all run around like headless chickens, to say anything about it.
So he'd resigned himself to losing out on an evening with them and going back and playing fetch with Fairy until he'd calmed down enough to sleep when he heard Wei Wuxian's light laugh just further down. “No, those are still the kitchens, Lan Zhan,” he said with the doting air of someone who has repeated themselves several times. “Are you sure you don't want to ask someone where to go?”
“No.” came the...oddly petulant response. Jin Ling frowned as he kept walking down the hall. It didn't seem like he was interrupting a moment between them, and he had been hoping to see them. “The ponds.”
“I don't think the ponds are in the kitchens,” Wei Wuxian said as he rounded the bend and saw them standing in the hallway, a matched pair in white robes and forehead ribbons, smiling helplessly at Hanguang-jun, who was staring at him with the utmost intensity. “Oh, A-Ling!” he called as he glanced over. “Could you help us out a little? Lan Zhan wants to see the koi ponds, but we're a little turned around.”
He resisted the urge to pout as he crossed his arms at them. “I can, but they're really nothing to look at in the dark...” he trailed off as Hanguang-jun turned a very intense stare on him, eyes narrowed and utterly terrifyingly serious.
The effect was mitigated only somewhat by Wei Wuxian pursing his lips at him and lightly whacking him on the shoulder with the edge of his sleeve. “Stop scaring him, you were the one who suggested we come.” he told him, any sharpness in his words mitigated by the fondest smile. “'We should go see Jin-zongzhu,' remember?”
Lan Wangji nodded slowly, then walked over to Jin Ling with still the most solemn expression even for Hanguang-jun he could recall having ever seen, then reached out and patted him on the head twice. “We should.”
He felt his face heat and scowled and ducked his head. “What's with you, Hanguang-jun?” he demanded, stepping out of head patting range before it could happen again. He looked helplessly at Wei Wuxian, who was being terrible and unhelpful by leaning on the wall and laughing. “Wei Wuxian? What's wrong with your husband?”
Hanguang-jun, apparently uncaring of any insult only wandered back across the hall to pat Wei Wuxian on the head as well, as if he were worried he were feeling left out by only Jin Ling being tormented that way. “Wei Ying, the ponds.”
“Yes, yes, the ponds,” Wei Wuxian said with an odd pinkness to his cheeks as Lan Wangji took one of his hands into his own, then pulled him across the hallway to grab Jin Ling's own hand before he could react, pulling the both of them along in the wrong direction again. “Lan Zhan, why don't you let Jin Ling lead?”
Lan Wangji seemed to consider that for a moment then keep going. “Wei Wuxian,” he hissed under his breath, “what is going on?”
His shishu made a half skip to keep up, looking utterly unfazed by the turn his evening had taken, “Lan Zhan was not looking at which cup he picked up at dinner and stole mine,” he said calmly, gently tugging on his arm to lead him in another direction at Jin Ling's nod. “So now the time for being drunk has arrived.”
He gaped at first the man who had never batted an eye in any of the various battles he'd seen him in, nor hesitated to silence and discipline a disciple of another sect, then back at Wei Wuxian. “He's drunk? Off of one cup of wine?”
He was sure he must have misheard that, but Wei Wuxian nodded solemnly as they came on a darker hallway. “He'll be fine once he goes to sleep,” he said, reaching up and patting his shoulder soothingly, “but until then we're on an adventure. For the ponds in the middle of the night.”
Lan Wangji nodded seriously. Jin Ling spent a moment longer trying to free his hand, then giving them baleful looks before giving up. “Fine, but then you two have to take me far, far away from here. For at least a week.” he said begrudgingly, pointing ahead at one of the doors that led out into the gardens.
Wei Wuxian nodded as they were abruptly tugged forwards to the door, pivoting with ease as if he'd been expecting to be dragged around on some wild adventure. Jin Ling wished he could adopt his utter poise at situations going awry. It never felt like Wei Wuxian ever lost control of a situation. “We'll find some sort of fun trouble to get into.” he promised with a cheeky grin.
He was torn between the desire to smile back or roll his eyes, but Hanguang-jun's death grip on his arm dissuaded him from the latter as he finally discovered the way out of the building. “H-Hanguang-jun,” he protested, trying in vain to shake his arm free, “we're outside now, you can let go.”
Lan Wangji to his unending bafflement did not let go. “No.”
His shishu gave him a pitying look that was ruined by his lips twitching as if he were trying to not laugh again. “Nothing you can do about it, shizhi, Lan Zhan is taking us to the ponds.” he said too solemnly to be anything other than amused.
Jin Ling sighed heavily and tried not to slump too heavily. Now that they were out in the gardens, there wasn't anything he could throw or grab onto, so his only hope was that the apparently very drunk Hanguang-jun would have mercy on him and let go eventually.
At least this late at night there was no one to see their sect leader being dragged around, so his pride would only be a bit bent rather than mercilessly trodden on. He consoled himself with the fact that no one would believe the story because it already involved an impossible event just to get started.
At last they reached the koi ponds and he subtly rubbed his wrist when Lan Wangji finally let go, kneeling on the grass despite all of his white finery to look into the pond intensely and trailing his fingers on the surface. The fish probably immediately went to the bottom. If Jin Ling were a fish, he would too.
Wei Wuxian flopped onto the ground, patting the grass next to him. For a moment he considered going back inside. But all that was inside was more politics and smiles concealing knives and even though the Lans always met him with respect and dignity, it was still exhausting to be Jin-zongzhu all the time.
He sat down stiffly next to his shishu, shaking his long sleeves out from under him. In front of them, Hanguang-jun seemed to be almost smiling as the water rippled beneath his fingers. If he were smiling, then Wei Wuxian certainly matched him, looking at him with a look of such happiness that it almost made him flush from embarrassment.
Sometimes he wondered just a little bit what it was like to have someone like that, even though he still wouldn't need to marry for a while. The other juniors he nighthunted with definitely had ideas for what they wanted in their relationships now, Lan Jingyi in particular was very noisy about wanting a romance like the great Hanguang-jun.
He made the funniest noises if anyone suggested he should just marry Hanguang-jun instead. He snickered to himself just remembering it.
“Hmm?” Wei Wuxian said, turning to him as if he just remembered he was there.
“Nothing, just thinking,” he said, looking away quickly. “So even Hanguang-jun does stuff like this?” he rapidly changed the subject, gesturing at the man who now had his hands up to his wrists in the water, soaking his sleeves up to the elbows. “You seem to know what to do.”
“Sometimes,” he shrugged, “not usually places like this, but I'm here so he'll be fine.”
Jin Ling had to agree with that assessment. He couldn't imagine anything going wrong while Wei Wuxian was around either. Even if things were going wrong, he was the one to get them out of it. “I guess this isn't the worst way to spend an evening,” he muttered at the grass.
Wei Wuxian gave him a calculating look, then reached out and ruffled his hair. “Shishu!” he squawked as he threw up his hands to protect his poor head from even more affection. “If you're going to be like that, I'm going back inside.”
It was an empty threat, but even before Wei Wuxian could respond, Lan Wangji heard him and visibly frowned. Oh no. Nothing good could come out of Hanguang-jun emoting.
“No, stay.” Lan Wangji said, standing up to his full height. Even with wet sleeves slightly muting his appearance, he was still very tall and very serious and him being drunk had done nothing to lessen the fact that he was very, very scary.
“Jin Ling isn't going anywhere,” Wei Wuxian gently intervened, leaning back on his hands. “Weren't you having fun with the fish?”
Lan Wangji stopped and considered this for a moment, then several more as the alcohol evidently got in the way of his train of thought. “Yes, the fish were swimming around,” he said at last, looking back towards the pond.
As if something occurred to him, he studied the now calm pond again before pulling off his boots one at a time, dropping them gracelessly on the earth. Next to him, Wei Wuxian had one sleeve in front of his mouth as if he were holding back laughter again.
Undeterred by things like reputation or the fact that he was still fully dressed, Lan Wangji walked right into the pond until it came up to his neck, near the center. Jin Ling gaped at him, but this had no effect on him whatsoever. Nor did Wei Wuxian's stifled gurgles of laughter like he was dying.
Lan Wangji turned around slowly to look at them, disturbing the delicate lilies and getting them caught in his hair. If his poor koi weren't disturbed before, they definitely were now. “It's nice.” he informed them seriously and Wei Wuxian broke down even further, clutching at his stomach as he failed to produce any actual sound. “Come in.”
Jin Ling shook his head and put up his hands in protest at the same time. “No, no there's not enough room in there for all three of us,” he blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “I don't want to stand on the fish.”
“They will not mind,” he said with conviction. Then he looked over at his husband curled up on the grass and wiping his eyes, “Wei Ying, come in.”
He didn't think it was possible, but somehow his shishu managed to pull himself together. “Is it cold?” he said as he pulled off his own shoes and stockings and tied up his outer robes around his waist so they didn't catch on his legs. “You have to tell me if it's as cold as the cold springs.”
“Not cold,” Lan Wangji said, gently pushing one of the water lilies out of the way. Jin Ling resigned himself to being the most mature person of the group again as Wei Wuxian walked straight into the pond and his husbands arms, yelping in surprise.
“Liar! You said it wasn't cold,” he exclaimed, loudly enough that Jin Ling winced and looked back towards the entrance to the gardens. “It's freezing.”
Lan Wangji apparently wasn't convinced by this. “It is not as cold as the cold springs.” he said in confusion. “Do not disturb Jin Ling's koi.”
Wei Wuxian spluttered. Jin Ling agreed. He used to wonder how such a straight-laced person as Hanguang-jun enjoyed spending time with Wei Wuxian who routinely made them look at ghosts and run around solving the problems themselves, but clearly his shishu was actually the sensible one of the two!
He still would much rather be out here with the two of them rather than back inside. He couldn't think of the last time he'd had this much fun in Jinlintai.
Sometimes he really wished that Wei Wuxian had been around when he was growing up. He couldn't imagine any of the uncles he'd grown up with ever doing this with him.
Lan Wangji appeared content enough now that his husband was in the pond with him, trying to straighten his forehead ribbon and then frowning when it only ended up more crooked for his efforts. Wei Wuxian waved at him, sodden sleeve dragging through the water and the lilies that were meant to look beautiful and not have sleeves dragged through them.
He thought they would respect it if he still said no to coming in with them. They understood his need to keep up some face.
Dignity was for politicians and formalities and people he didn't actually like all that much. None of those applied to this.
He still took off his boots first, then waded into the pond before he could lose his nerve, both of the men reaching out to steady him as the cold water ran up and dragged him down into the silt grinding into his stockings.
Everything he was wearing was ruined beyond repair. He didn't care. Something tickled in the back of his throat and it turned out to be laughter as first Wei Wuxian smiling, then Lan Wangji with the utterly serious face that he was starting to think might be his version of the same, ruffled his hair beyond redemption.
Something whacked him in the ankle and he jumped before he realized it was one of the very distraught fish with nowhere to go with them all standing in a relatively small pond. “There really isn't enough room in here for all of us,” he muttered, but it was only a token protest.
Wei Wuxian splashed him rather than take his mutterings lying down, then made a betrayed noise and swam behind Lan Wangji when he returned fire. Only the esteemed Hanguang-jun could take pond water directly to the face and look unruffled all the same.
If anyone came out to investigate the sounds of three grown men swimming in a tiny pond and splashing each other, he didn't care. The only ones who mattered to him were the ones in the pond with him.