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The Gift Exchange

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The sign-up list goes up in the staff room on the 1st of December.

It has a gold, glittery border. There is an actual piece of holly pinned to the bottom left corner. 

“Wangji,” Xichen says, “Are you joining in the gift exchange?”

It is a strangely open and leading question from his brother. Lan Wangji glances past him to see that, yes, indeed, his brother has signed his name onto the gift exchange list currently pinned to the staff notice board, above Meng Yao’s.

Meng Yao is not actually a staff member. Lan Wangji gets caught on this little detail and forgets to respond. 

“Wangji,” Xichen says, in that way he does sometimes, with that look in his eyes, the I’m concerned about you look, mixed with, I just want the best for you. 

Why he thinks Lan Wangji buying one of his co-workers a present will achieve this, Lan Wangji has no idea. 

He’s using the look though. Lan Wangji thinks back over the last week, wondering what event might have prompted his brother to be concerned. There is every chance that Xichen just wants him to take part because he thinks it will be fun but… Lan Wangji knows his brother. 

(Well enough to know that if he doesn’t sign-up, his name will mysteriously appear on the list anyway. The non-denominational winter gift exchange exists in a liminal space, where it is both official and sanctioned by the senior leadership team, and optional to sign up for. Optional in the sense that it is, clearly, not optional at all.)

“Fine,” Lan Wangji says. He is reasonably confident that he knows all of his co-workers at least on an acquaintance level and will therefore be able to purchase something aligned with their tastes for the exchange. If not, he can always buy them a notebook. Everyone appreciates a good notebook. 

He heads over to the noticeboard. There is already a pen very thoughtfully dangling from a piece of string pinned to the board next to the sign-up sheet. Because it is close to Christmas, someone has wrapped a strand of metallic red ribbon around the string so it resembles a candy cane. Lan Wangji picks up the pen and signs his name. Simple, done. 

Before he can step back and away, a hand plucks the pen out of his grip. 

Ah.

Lan Wangji very carefully does not flinch and instead takes a single step to the side as Wei Ying steps past him to add his own name to the sign-up sheet. Wei Ying scribbles his name with the worst penmanship Lan Wangji has ever seen - worse than several of their younger students, who are still learning how to hold a pencil - and finishes it off with an entirely-unnecessary flourish that basically crosses his own name out. 

Wei Ying drops the pen unceremoniously, causing it to clatter against the notice board and leave a little splatter of ink, and turns to grin up at him.

Lan Wangji’s heart clenches. He ignores it.

He has been ignoring this inconvenient thing his heart has decided to do whenever Wei Ying is near for some time now (three months, two weeks, four days, two hours and 27 minutes) and as a result he is quite good at it.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, and smiles. 

* * * 

Three months, two weeks, four days, two hours and 32 minutes ago, Lan Wangji met Wei Ying for the first time. 

Lan Wangji had been walking across campus at an entirely appropriate speed, carrying a travel mug of green tea and reading through a report that had been handed to him on a spiritual disturbance in nearby Caiyi Town. It had been a crisp autumn day, the sky pale blue like the surface of a great lake covered in ice, and Lan Wangji had been on schedule to be exactly fifteen minutes early to his first lecture of the day.

Wei Ying… had not.

As Lan Wangji found out later, Wei Ying should have started his first lecture ten minutes earlier. Instead, he had woken up late, taken a detour to get himself a four-shot espresso on the way in to work to make up for it, and had ended up running across campus, dodging around the ornamental bushes and cutting across meticulously-kept lawns. In his haste to get to his first lecture at least not catastrophically late, he had jumped a low stone wall and collided with Lan Wangji. 

The cultivation report papers went flying into the air. They scattered in the breeze, hopelessly out of order, and fell like rustling rain around them.

They’d fallen to the ground, Lan Wangji landing hard on his back, Wei Ying on top of him. 

Looking up at him, Lan Wangji had a flash of long hair and a devilish smile and for a second his heart forgot how to beat. 

And then Wei Ying spoke.

* * * 

Wei Ying looks up at him now with the same smile. It doesn’t make Lan Wangji’s heart forget how to beat like it did that first time, but the traitorous thing still skips. A little. He ignores it. 

“A gift exchange, huh?” Wei Ying says. “Sounds fun!”

It most decidedly does not sound fun. It involves social interaction and surprises. Two things Lan Wangji would be happy to never experience again in his life, ever.

“Mn,” Lan Wangji replies. 

Wei Ying’s gaze softens. “Who are you hoping to get?” 

Lan Wangji is not hoping to get anyone. Was not — he recognises now it’s too late for that. He glances past Wei Ying at the list again, scanning through the names. So far, there’s no one who will really pose any difficulty, he doesn’t think: his brother, Meng Yao, Su She, Xiao Xingchen, Song Lan, Wen Ning.

I’m hoping to get Su She,” Wei Ying says, grin widening. “I was thinking I could buy him some taste. Maybe an actual personality.”

For a second Lan Wangji nearly forgets himself and smiles. He quashes the impulse, keeps his expression flat. “It is not possible to buy taste,” Lan Wangji says, and doesn’t deny Su She has none. 

Wei Ying laughs. It sounds like sunlight sparkling over frosted snow. Lan Wangji’s heart skips another beat, it’s terrible. “I have to go.”

When he turns, his brother is still standing by the coffee maker, watching their interaction. He smiles in that encouraging way he does whenever Lan Wangji talks to anyone. Lan Wangji ignores him and heads out of the room. 

* * * 

“Officially non-official non-denominational winter gift exchange assignments,” Nie Huaisang says, non-sequitur, as he enters Lan Wangji’s classroom the following Monday. 

Lan Wangji, who had forgotten completely about the holiday gift exchange, blinks.

Huaisang is holding a garish sequined santa hat in his hands, which he shakes ominously in Lan Wangji’s direction. A little bell jingles on the point of the hat. “Pick one.”

Lan Wangji puts his pen down, very carefully does not sigh, and reaches into the hat to pull out the first piece of paper he can find. 

Huaisang pulls a face. “You’re meant to make more of a show of it,” he says, “Swirl your hand around, make a joke about whose name you don’t want.” Lan Wangji moves to put the piece of paper back in. “No,” Huaisang says sharply, pulling the hat back away and clutching it to his chest. “You’ve chosen now! No swaps.”

Lan Wangji frowns down at the folded piece of paper in his hand. Why does it feel so ominous?

“What’s up?” Huaisang asks. He trails his hand along the items on Lan Wangji’s desk, casually picking up a glass paperweight in the shape of a cloud and inspecting it idly. “Do non-denominational winter gift exchanges not fill you with excitement and seasonal joy?”

Lan Wangji gives him a look.

“Well,” says Huaisang, “At least the fun isn’t mandatory. Not that, of course, the officially non-official non-denominational winter gift exchange is in any way mandatory.”

“Mn.”

Huaisang grins. He puts the glass paperweight down exactly two millimetres to the left of where it had been originally, and gives the hat a little shake again. The bell jingles. “Good luck.” He breezes out of the room as quickly as he entered, leaving the faintest smell of cinnamon wafting behind him.

Lan Wangji looks down at the piece of paper in his hand. How hard can it be? It’s just a present for a co-worker. With a sigh, he unfolds it to see who he has. 

The name on his slip of paper says Wei Wuxian.

Ah.

This may be a problem.

* * * 

It is not that Lan Wangji hates Wei Ying - no matter what the current rumours running rife through the student populace claim - he just… prefers not to be near him. Makes it his goal to be on opposite sides of campus to him, or at the very least at opposite ends of the staff room. Ideally, never in the same room. A mission he has kept to very rigidly, ever since that first meeting.

Lying on his back, winded and caught off-guard, Lan Wangji hadn’t been able to breathe, never mind speak. As a consequence, Wei Ying spoke first. 

“Wow,” said Wei Ying. “Is this what they call a meet-cute?”

Lan Wangji felt his ears heat up. 

There were students nearby watching. Staring. One looked as if they were about to reach into their pocket for their phone. Another was reaching for one of the scattered pieces of paper from the report Lan Wangji had dropped. 

“Get off,” Lan Wangji ordered, through gritted teeth. 

“What?” Wei Ying glanced down, only then realising how it looked that he was currently kneeling over Lan Wangji, with his knees bracketing his waist. “Oh—”

Wei Ying leaned back on his haunches and then pushed himself up to his feet. He held a hand out which Lan Wangji ignored, getting to his feet himself. The students were still loitering nearby, looking far too interested and whispering to themselves. Lan Wangji flicked a look in their direction and they immediately began to disperse. 

“Huh,” Wei Ying said, sounding both impressed and a little terrified. 

As the students dispersed, Wei Ying straightened his own shirt - the top two buttons undone, only half-tucked into his trousers, no tie in sight, a blatant violation of the staff code of conduct, how was he allowed - and then smiled again at Lan Wangji, holding out his hand. “Hi. I don’t think we’ve met. I’m the new teacher. Wei Ying.”

Lan Wangji looked down at his hand and then back up. “I am going to be late.”

He didn’t wait around to see Wei Ying’s expression, didn’t reach out to touch his hand - so casually offered, just right there, just the right size to be held - and instead used a quick burst of spiritual energy to gather up the report papers, grabbed his travel mug from where it had rolled across the ground, and headed straight to his first lecture. 

He arrived ten minutes early. 

(That night he dreamt of Wei Ying leaning over him, still on the grounds, still half-dressed with his shirt open at the neck, but now Wei Ying’s hands were linked with his, pushed down on the ground on either side of Lan Wangji’s head as he said, “You want me to get off?” voice low and heavy.)

* * * 

Things would have been fine if it had been a one-off, an isolated incident, Wei Ying just running late to a lecture, and if actually he was a fully-functioning member of society and a role model cultivation teacher. However, that was very much not the case.

Whoever had hired Wei Ying - and Lan Wangji is still not sure, as his uncle vehemently denies having had any say in the decision, acting as if Wei Ying just appeared on the payroll one day - must have been playing some sort of joke. Or been under the effects of some sort of curse. 

Because there is no other explanation for Wei Ying and his complete and utter inability to follow any of the school’s rules. 

Lan Wangji has mentally categorised his time as a teacher into two parts: before Wei Ying and after. 

Before Wei Ying, staff meetings were brisk, factual affairs. Lan Qiren set an agenda, he or Xichen delivered it, everyone else was mostly silent as they listened and took notes. Each minute of the meeting was ruthlessly accounted for, up to and including question time, which was allocated a perfectly acceptable five minutes at the end of every meeting to allow for any follow-up questions. 

Wei Ying, five minutes into his first meeting, had completely ignored this and (without putting his hand up, or waiting his turn, or even waiting for Lan Qiren to finish talking), asked “Why?”

Lan Qiren had nearly turned purple.

Before Wei Ying, theoretical lessons took place in classrooms and lecture theatres. Students were orderly and disciplined. They sat at desks and listened to instructions in silence, only raising their hands to ask questions or clarify a point. 

After Wei Ying arrived, he started taking classes outside in the grounds. Often for no discernable reason. His students lazed around on the grass, half of them not even writing notes, as Wei Ying sat on a nearby stone wall, metal railing, or even the grass with them, legs crossed and leaning back on his arms, his shirtsleeves rolled up to the elbow. Once, Lan Wangji even came across him hanging upside-down from a tree branch. 

Upon seeing him, Wei Ying had grinned. “Hanguang-jun! Hey! Hanguang-jun!” 

He’d waved at him enthusiastically, and almost looked as if he was going to fall.

Lan Wangji had taken a step towards him to pre-emptively catch him, then realised what he was doing and stopped, only now he looked as if he’d responded to Wei Ying’s call. The students turned their heads to look at him too.

“Settle a debate for us,” Wei Ying said. 

“No,” said Lan Wangji, and turned and walked in the other direction. 

* * * 

Wen Qing and Lan Wangji meet every other Tuesday for lunch in Wen Qing’s classroom. 

Partly this is habit, partly it is self-preservation, a need to escape from the inane chatter of the staff room, but mostly it is because Wen Qing wants to avoid people. 

Lan Wangji is not sure why he does not qualify as ‘people’ but as he, too, does not like people, he has not questioned this. He just enjoys having the peace and quiet, a place where he will not be asked ‘What did you get up to this weekend?’ or shown some photos and/or a video of someone’s child or grandchild (other people’s children: never as interesting as people think they are).

Their arrangement works because they both do not talk. Wen Qing sometimes marks essays as she eats - a bad habit Lan Wangji allows, if only because he knows that marking is endless - ripping into them with great glee. “What the fuck,” she will sometimes whisper to herself. 

Lan Wangji listens to Wen Qing’s analysis of her students’ (lack) of understanding in silence; he knows Wen Qing doesn’t actually want a reply from him. If she wants to actually talk, she waits until he’s finished eating. Like today.

“I saw you got roped into the gift exchange,” she says, her tone casual as she draws a thick purple line underneath a sentence and punctuates it with several question marks in the margin (red ink was banned four years ago, deemed too negative and mean for the students). “Who did you get?”

Lan Wangji looks up. Some people have been referring to their staff non-denominational winter gift exchange as a secret santa — for a reason, he assumes. 

Wen Qing does not look up from her stack of essays. “Who am I going to tell? Wen Ning?”

Lan Wangji considers this.

“Wei Ying.”

Wen Qing draws a sharp line across half the page of the essay. This time, Lan Wangji is not sure it was on purpose. 

“You—” she cuts herself off, takes a moment to compose herself, then finally looks up from her stack of essays. “You. Have Wei Wuxian. For the gift exchange.” Lan Wangji is sure there is not meant to be full stops in those places, but Wen Qing seems to be doing it for effect, rather than a lack of grammatical understanding. 

“Yes,” he replies. 

There’s a strange look on Wen Qing’s face, a bit like she can’t quite decide how to react. Like she’s waiting for the punchline, maybe. A little concerned, a little amused. There’s a sharpness to her smile that is both reassuring and terrifying. 

“I thought you didn’t like him,” she says, casual. So casual. The most casual.

Lan Wangji narrows his eyes. 

Wen Qing smiles beatifically back at him. 

“Well, I suppose this isn’t about you, is it?” she asks casually, returning to her essays. “Just what Wei Ying likes.”

Lan Wangji doesn’t reply, though his eyes remain narrowed. Wen Qing is clearly trying to get at something. Why she can’t just come out and say whatever she’s hinting at, he doesn’t know. 

“So,” she says, “Do you have any idea what to get him?” 

It’s the key question. The one that’s been stuck in his head ever since he opened the piece of paper to see Wei Ying’s name. 

What does a person even get Wei Ying? 

What does a person like Wei Ying want

* * * 

He has been thinking about this for the last few days in between his classes and lectures, considering and dismissing all the obvious ideas: some incense, paper for talismans, a book on cultivation lore, some nice stationery. He is sure Wei Ying would appreciate all of those things - particularly the stationery, seeing as he never seems to have a pen when he needs one, is always trying to borrow one from someone in the staff room, because he doesn’t keep them in a desk organiser like a regular person. Instead, he’ll tuck a half-chewed pen behind his ear, or poke it through the ponytail or messy bun he’s got his hair tied up. Like today, where he’s got a pen and a pencil in his bun, utterly useless because several strands of hair had already come loose when Lan Wangji last saw him at 10am, the strands dangling down to brush against the side of his throat and—

He’s off-track. 

This is happening an alarming amount, ever since he started thinking about what to get Wei Ying for his exchange gift. Thinking about what to purchase is obviously linked with the person he is buying for, and, inevitably, he then starts to think about Wei Ying himself and the things he likes, what might make him smile, what he would enjoy…

It’s a problem.

A problem he is fine to deal with himself, of course, does not need anyone else to know about ever. To figure out what to buy Wei Wuxian for the holiday gift exchange, he just has to find out what he likes. To do so, he will have to get to know him. Spend time with him. Be in the same room.

Appropriately horrified by this idea of willingly getting close to Wei Ying and the mortifying ideal of becoming known himself in the process, Lan Wangji instead decides to tackle the problem from another angle.

The students, Lan Wangji knows, think Wei Ying is an amazing teacher. His classes are always over-subscribed; there is always laughter coming from his classrooms; their favourite phrase for the first month of his employment was, ‘But Master Wei says...’ 

At first, Lan Wangji assumed this was because Wei Ying was the kind of teacher who just let his class get away with anything and so they saw his lessons as a free ride. Then, at the third staff meeting of the year when Xichen was assigning night hunts, Wei Ying had said, “Hey, so, can we just join in any that we want?” and when Xichen had replied in the affirmative, Wei Ying had immediately turned to Lan Wangji and said, “How about it, Lan Zhan?”

Lan Wangji had been aware that every pair of eyes in the room was then on him, but he could feel Xichen’s eyes on him the heaviest, that way that his brother's always were, because his brother was a horrible meddler and so Lan Wangji had just nodded his head - slightly, just the slightest, he didn’t want to give Wei Ying ideas - to indicate that, yes, it was fine. 

Wei Ying had smiled.

It had been the first smile that Lan Zhan had caused (inadvertently) and it had been stuck in his mind for weeks after: Wei Ying, slightly surprised, pleased, a little unsure exactly how to respond, his mouth slightly open on a breath and lips soft, soft, so very soft. 

However, to Lan Wangji's surprise, Wei Ying had been far more interested in the students with them rather than making conversation with Lan Wangji on the night hunt. He spent the majority of it chatting away to them about what their plans for the hunt were, what clues they’d noticed, what they planned to do when they inevitably came across the disturbance, actually seeming to be interested in their progress and wanting them to do well. 

At first, Lan Wangji just tuned out his chattering, his attention focused for signs of anything creeping up on them or doing something it shouldn’t, but occasionally snatches of conversation flitted in and he realised… Wei Ying actually knew what he was talking about — and, more than that, he cared about the kids. 

And, abandoning all rules of common sense and decency, Wei Ying shared far too much of his life with his students, telling them all about his past night hunts (daring, dramatic, legendary), his favourite colour (red) and sharing photos of a little bunny he had adopted (black, fluffy, so cute it makes Lan Wangji’s heart hurt when he glanced over at the screen on Wei Ying's phone, ugh)

This means there is a chance the students might have an idea what he can get Wei Ying. 

Sizhui is one of the school’s most promising disciples. He is never late to class, his homework is always on time, he is becoming quite proficient with the guqin and his exam results are exemplary.

Lan Wangji does not have favourites, teachers do not have favourite students, but if he did, it would be Sizhui. 

Sizhui has just been taken on as Wei Ying’s first dissertation student. This has given him something of a cult-like status by the rest of the student populace who, in the way of all teenagers, desperately want to know more about their 'cool' new teacher, Wei Ying, and have as a result been finding any and every opportunity to grill Sizhui about him. 

“Master Wei?” he overhears Sizhui saying, one lunch time. “Master Wei is…”

“Flawless,” Zizhen breathes.

They’re in the queue at the canteen to get some food; Zizhen is standing with Jingyi and Sizhui, who are in front of Lan Wangji. They have a ridiculous number of carbs and sugary foodstuffs on their trays. Jingyi and Zizhen also have lurid neon energy drinks. Sizhui at least has a bottle of water, but it’s offset by the blueberry muffin he has next to it. 

Lan Wangji’s own tray has a boxed salad and green tea.

“I heard he got fired from his last job,” Jingyi replies. “You know, at the Lotus Pier academy. Unbecoming behaviour for a teacher.”

“I heard his hair is insured for ¥100,000,” Zizhen says.

“That’s why his ponytail is so big,” Jingyi says. “It’s full of secrets.”

It is at that moment that Zizhen glances over his shoulder — and sees Lan Wangji behind them. He flushes bright red. Seeing this, Jingyi turns too and his mouth drops open in surprise. 

Sizhui turns his head, sees Lan Wangji, and lifts a hand from his tray to place his fingertips under Jingyi’s chin, closing his mouth. Jingyi swallows.

Lan Wangji gives the three boys an utterly impassive, blank stare. One that could very well say that he has overheard every word and is about to throw them into detention for gossiping about a teacher — or that he hasn’t heard anything and he’s just wondering why they’re staring at him. Impossible to read.

After torturing them for a few seconds (the colour has drained from Zizhen’s face, he looks like he’s going to throw up), Lan Wangji glances to the left, an indication they should move. The three boys dart away instantly, nearly tripping over themselves in their haste to pay for their food and get out of his way as quickly as possible.

* * * 

Lan Wangji is thinking about the students as he stands in the Christmas aisle of his local supermarket. He is not seriously considering getting Wei Ying any of the presents there, he is simply looking for inspiration — but the World’s Best Teacher mug has caught his attention. 

The students certainly think Wei Ying is a great teacher. 

He picks it up off the shelf, turns it over a few times in his hands.

“Wangji.”

Lan Wangji looks up from the mug in his hands to see his brother and Meng Yao at the end of the aisle, walking towards him. 

He is not sure why his brother and Meng Yao are at the supermarket together at 8am on a Sunday. 

Meng Yao’s eyes flick down to the mug in his hands and then back up. Lan Wangji resists the immediate urge to put it back on the shelf.

Meng Yao does not actually work at the cultivation school. He is on the board of governors. Lan Wangji still does not quite know how this became a thing. Well-spoken, articulate, and too perceptive by half, Meng Yao always seems as if he knows too much about everybody’s business. 

(Honestly, Lan Wangi’s just surprised he’s not a school inspector.)

“Wangji,” Meng Yao says, eyebrows raised. “Are you struggling to think of something for your exchange recipient?”

Yes. “No.”

“You know I am always here for you, if you need help.”

Lan Wangji could not think of someone he would like to talk to less. He glances to the side. Xichen smiles back at him. “Have you thought about who — what your recipient likes?”

Lan Wangji’s eyes narrow. 

“I’m sure,” says Xichen, “If you get to know them, you will be able to think of many things.”

His suggestion sounds appropriately horrifying. Getting to know Wei Ying? Spending time with him? No, thank you. His brother’s words do give him an idea, however. Whilst Lan Wangji may keep his distance from Wei Ying for his own sanity and reasons of his blood pressure, other people are not the same. In fact, since arriving at Cloud Recesses only a few short months ago, Wei Wuxian seems to have made many friends. 

* * * 

The next day, Lan Wangji finds Wen Ning.

“Wen Ning.”

Wen Ning jumps, whirling around on the spot as if he is a naughty child who has just been caught skipping class and not a grown man responsible for teaching his own lessons. Wen Ning’s eyes widen. “Yes?”

Since Wei Ying arrived at the school three months, three weeks, eighteen hours and 13 minutes ago, Wen Ning has missed no opportunity to tell everyone in the vicinity that Wei Ying is the greatest cultivator he knows. Apparently they had studied together when they were younger and Wei Ying had helped him with his thesis. 

Therefore, as one of Wei Ying’s friends (?) Lan Wangji assumes that Wen Ning will know the sorts of things he likes (?)

However, it is at this point that Lan Wangji realises he does not know how to ask what he wants to ask. Being bold and forthright (I don’t know what to buy Wei Ying) is embarrassing; being obtuse and unreadable (I need you to tell me what someone likes) is a pointless waste of his time. In the end he settles for, “Wei Ying.”

If anything, Wen Ning’s eyes get even wider and he looks even more terrified. “Yes?” His voice has managed to rise another octave. 

“What does he like?”

There is a moment where everything seems to pause, where they seem to have frozen in time. Wen Ning does not even seem to be breathing as he stands there, his mouth just a little bit open, blinking rapidly. 

Lan Wangji waits.

“Um,” Wen Ning says eventually. “Apart from…” he trails off. 

There’s a meaningful look in his eyes that Lan Wangji can’t fathom at all. Wen Ning holds his gaze for a few more moments and then clears his throat, looking at the floor, the ceiling, the walls, anywhere but at Lan Wangji. 

“Um,” he says again. “Wine?”

Lan Wangji is actually aware of this, thanks to Wen Qing’s birthday party, which had taken place last month. 

* * * 

“I hate absolutely everything about this,” Wen Qing said, looking out at the party which was being held in her honour. There were a multitude of people in attendance, close friends, family and staff members alike. All dressed up, drinking, and attempting to do things like engage Wen Qing in conversation and tell her how wonderful she is. 

Lan Wangji had attended out of solidarity for one of the few people at the school he can tolerate on a daily basis. 

Wen Qing's birthday party was at a local bar in Caiyi town, some fancy hipster place with exposed brick walls and metal structural beams. The lights were all just… exposed lightbulbs dangling from fake copper wires from the ceiling. No one seemed to actually like the music but they all kept saying that they do. There was moustache wax for use in the toilets.

The drinks being served behind the bar seemed to be more about the theatre, with dry ice and edible flowers and things being set on fire. They seemed to take long enough to make that most of the patrons were sober by the time they were served, at which point they wanted to order even more. 

Lan Wangji does not drink, has never drank, and likely will never drink. 

Wei Ying did not appear to have the same worries or concerns or standards and had been helping himself to several extremely-overpriced cocktails all night, interspersed with glasses of a dark red wine. 

He had also somehow managed to get himself some tinsel from somewhere, despite it not yet being December, had it wrapped around his neck several times and tangled in his hair. Rather than looking utterly ridiculous and as if he was a child who has fallen into a Christmas tree in his excitement, the ruby-red shine on the tinsel set off the blood-red of the tie he was wearing with his white button-up and fitted black trousers, and occasionally caught and glimmers in the evening lights, making his eyes sparkle. 

It was absolutely stunning and Lan Wangji had very purposefully been attempting to avoid him for the entire night. 

Wei Ying did not seem to have got this memo. 

That, or he was always coincidentally just there, at the edge of Lan Wangji’s vision, chatting with his friends (Wei Ying is always surrounded by people), throwing his head back when he laughs, or encouraging others to dance with him. Occasionally, he would catch his eye across the crowded room. He had to know what he was doing, he had to. They don’t go near each other, they avoid each other, and yet

Lan Wangji couldn’t look away. 

It was a little bit distressing. Why couldn’t he look away? It was just Wei Ying. Forever breaking rules, never doing what he should be doing, a bright spark of life and laughter that makes Lan Wangji feel all sorts of emotions he would rather not, thanks.

He was able to avoid Wei Ying for most of the evening, right up until he was at the bar waiting for a bottle of water, when Wei Ying just brazenly slipped through the crowd to stand next to him.

Lan Wangji fought back the instinct to flinch as Wei Ying rested one elbow on the bar’s surface, body angled towards his - too close, too close, too close - and smiled at him. “Hey, stranger.”

Lan Wangji tore his eyes away from Wei Ying’s mouth. 

His dark, wine-red mouth. 

“We are not strangers.”

“Hey colleague?” Wei Ying suggested. “Workmate? Partner? None of these have the same ring to them, you know.” Then, realising that Lan Wangji had turned away from him and was instead focused on getting the attention of the barman, Wei Ying droped his voice, “Hey. Hey. Hanguang-jun. Professor Lan. Lan Wangji. Lan Zhan.”

Lan Wangji felt his ears go pink at the implied intimacy of his name. He yet he didn't chastise him, determinedly continuing to not look at Wei Ying. 

“I’ve seen you,” Wei Ying said. “Across the room. Watching me.” Lan Wangji wanted to die.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying said his name again. Lan Zhan remembers thinking, There’ll be no stopping him now. He leaned slightly into Lan Wangji’s orbit as he spoke, looking up at him, wine-red lips and dark, dark eyes. “Do you want to dance?”

Yes, a traitorous part of Lan Wangji’s mind said, as his mouth formed the word, “No.”

Wei Ying looked disappointed for a second, the light dimming in his eyes, his smile getting a fraction smaller, and then just as quickly he brightened again, “Maybe that was the wrong question. Will you dance?”

Again, the traitorous part of Lan Wangji’s mind immediately said yes

“No,” Lan Wangji said again, and finally got the attention of the barman. He ordered two bottles of water and the barman said they were on the house with an expression that Lan Wangji couldn’t read and made Wei Ying tense at his side, which he assumed was because Wei Ying was drunk and the barman was just feeling charitable. Lan Wangji shrugged and handed one of the bottles of water to Wei Ying, careful to pull his hand back quickly so their fingertips wouldn't brush. 

“Have a good evening,” he said. “Wei Ying.”

* * * 

He’s not going to buy Wei Ying wine for his exchange gift. 

Wen Ning must see this on his face, because he says, “Or, err, um. Not?” He blinks a few times, looking more and more distressed with each passing moment.

Then he jumps and says, “Oh! What about Mianmian?” and Lan Wangji very carefully does not break something. Wen Ning is smiling at him, nervous but hopeful. “She and Wei Ying are close, I think! He likes her.”

He likes her. 

The words hold weight. They leave an ashy taste in the back of Lan Wangji’s throat. He breathes through them. Blinks away the sudden sting in the back of his eyes and says, “Thank you.” 

“You’re welcome!” Wen Ning says. He smiles, genuine. He thinks he has helped.

Lan Wangji nods his head. 

Wen Ning hesitates for a second and does the same in return. For a moment they just stand looking at each other, and then Wen Ning goes, “Oh! Right, um, well. Have a good day!” and quickly hurries off, leaving Lan Wangji with the words he likes her reverberating around in his mind. 

* * * 

Luo Qingyang is one of their best teachers at Cloud Recesses, able to both nurture the students and be firm with them. After Wen Qing, she is possibly the cultivator Lan Wangji respects the most.

She was recommended to the school originally by Jin Zixuan, who spoke highly of her; she had been a tutor at the ultra-exclusive Koi Tower private school for her first few years after qualifying to teach. 

She has a particular talent for standing up to unruly boys, teenagers who think that they know best and are arrogant to a fault. Within a week Luo Qingyang had the most difficult class at the school eating from the palm of her hand. 

Maybe her time with the Jins had been worthwhile.

Surprisingly, considering Luo Qingyang is firm and sensible and Wei Ying is the complete opposite, they get along very well, Wei Ying even calling her Mianmian after just three days at the school. 

Lan Wangji is aware that this is an absurd reason to dislike someone. 

He has, very pointedly, told himself this. Many times. 

Yet— 

Lan Zhan will see Wei Ying walking down the corridor with Luo Qingyang, watch Wei Ying throw back his head as he laughs at something she’s said, tactile hands resting on her arm for a moment, and Lan Wangji just wants to. Break things.

He is not proud of himself.

When he approaches Luo Qingyang it is with no small amount of trepidation. He does not, personally, want to approach someone he knows so little, but if she is the focus of Wei Ying’s… affections… then he will endure.

Luo Qingyang is in the midst of teaching a bunch of twelve-year-olds how to fly on their swords when he finds her. On the surface it’s an easy-enough class, but the twelve-year-olds have recently started to get phones and so, the online drama has started with the group chats and douyin posts. There is all sorts of group chat drama about who is invited, who is not invited, who has the most popular post and the importance of not losing face in front of one's peers, which always results in a few months where the pre-teen disciples are 'too cool' to do any sort of school-related activity proficiently.

Lan Wangji has no doubt there will soon be photos and videos circling the internet of the students on their swords, attempting to show off and look the coolest, and inevitably someone will break an arm or a leg. 

It happens every year. 

Lan Wangji waits until Luo Qingyang has dismissed her class before making himself known, stepping out of the shade of the trees onto the lawn. 

“Luo Qingyang,” he greets. 

She turns and smiles when she sees him, genuine (there is something about her that is always genuine, Lan Wangji thinks, bitterly) and finishes tidying up her things. “Lan Wangji. To what do I owe the pleasure? Is this about Jingyi?”

Lan Wangji blinks. 

“Oh, hm,” she says. “What’s up?”

Part of Lan Wangji wants to know what Jingyi has been up to - this time - but he can’t afford to get sidetracked. There are only two weeks left until he has to give Wei Ying his present. 

“It is about Wei Ying.”

Luo Qingyang’s eyebrows rise, almost to her hairline. “Oh?” 

“I need to know what he… likes.”

“Do you not already?”

Lan Wangji blinks. If he knew what Wei Ying liked, then surely he wouldn’t be asking her? Does Luo Qingyang think Lan Wangji knows Wei Ying?

* * * 

At Wen Qing’s ill-fated birthday party, Luo Qingyang arrived with Jin Zixuan. 

This had not stopped Wei Ying from flirting with her all night. Which would have been fine, it’s not like Lan Wangji cares who Wei Ying decides to bestow his affection on, he can like anyone he wants to like, that’s fine, it’s fine, he doesn’t care, but then it led to The Fight.

It had started with Wen Chao, Wen Chao’s date who may or may not have actually been a paid escort, Wei Ying standing up for Luo Qingyang and possibly (probably) saying something that he shouldn’t, Jin Zixuan getting haughty, Su She putting himself in places no one wanted (like even being at Wen Qing’s party in the first place) and wine being thrown at Luo Qingyang. 

Only — the wine had ended up all over Wei Ying as he’d heroically jumped in front of Luo Qingyang, at which point Lan Wangji himself had somehow ended up intervening, curling a hand around Wei Ying’s arm and pulling him away. 

Wei Ying, who had attempted to clean wine stains out of his pristine white shirt in a sink in the toilets, with a combination of hand soap and tepid water, and babbled away to Lan Wangji about how he was just doing the right thing and really it was Wen Chao’s fault and couldn’t he take a joke and anyway , he wouldn’t have stepped in if Jin Zixuan hadn’t made a move first because there was no way he was letting Zixuan look better than him, and his shijie would never forgive him if he didn't get involved—

Lan Wangji knows he should remember more from that conversation in the white-tiled bathroom with its leaking taps and cracked mirror, but he’d instead been caught on Wei Ying, just Wei Ying, only Wei Ying, as he’d tilted his head towards him as he leaned over the sink, hair falling over his shoulder as he looked up at him.

* * * 

He brings himself back to the present. 

“He certainly likes getting involved in things he shouldn’t,” Luo Qingyang says. Lan Wangji hums in agreement, still thinking about the fall of Wei Ying’s hair over his shoulder.

Then he shakes his head.

“What would he like?” he changes his question, clarifying his point.

“Oh,” Luo Qingyang says, and an expression flits across her face to show that she knows what he means, has made the link to the gift exchange. “Besides a new shirt, maybe? Wine stains are pretty difficult to get out.” She smiles. “Perhaps a mouth that won’t run away with itself and say things it shouldn’t?”

Wei Ying’s mouth, Lan Wangji thinks. That is a thing he tries not to think about. 

Luo Qingyang is looking at him still, the same kind of heavy look that his brother gives him sometimes. “Someone to stop him from doing stupid self-sacrificing things.” 

Lan Wangji bites back a sigh. 

This is not something that he can buy for Wei Ying, even if he does so desperately actually need it. Besides, who would be willing to intervene when Wei Ying needs it most? What person could he find to do that? 

Lan Wangji looks at Luo Qingyang. Notices, for the first time, that she is wearing a wedding ring. Oh.

The well-hidden, deeply repressed feral part of him that rears its head whenever she is near - especially so when Luo Qingyang is with Wei Ying - goes suddenly silent, relaxed and unconfrontational. Like it's just gone to sleep. Huh. 

"Thank you," he says, though Luo Qingyang has not actually been of much help. A person? Honestly. Where would he find a person for Wei Ying?

He goes back to the drawing board.

Lan Wangji will not admit defeat. It has become a point of pride now that he will not settle for getting Wei Ying a gift card, some novelty Christmas socks or some sort of generic bath and/or body set. Whilst he is still no closer to figuring out the perfect gift for Wei Ying, his investigations into what Wei Ying likes have yielded some extra information: he likes wine, getting involved in other people’s business, and has a bunny.

... A bunny, he thinks.

* * * 

Three days before the gift exchange, Lan Wangji finds himself in the local pet superstore, wondering what is the best present to buy for a rabbit. Carrots seem ridiculously obvious, a giant hot pink plastic bunny palace with three floors and four bedrooms seems over-the-top. A cute little bunny winter jumper with little snowflakes on it could be sweet, but Lan Wangji has been distracted by the rabbits in the glass display case next to the seasonal clothes. 

There is one in particular, a snow-white fluffy one whose nose twitches in the most ridiculously endearing way Lan Wangji has ever seen and he just about wants to die. What even. This is awful, why is it so cute? He reaches in to pet it and it is so velvety and soft he can’t imagine ever wanting to let go. 

(Abruptly, he suddenly understands people who share photos of their children in the staff room.)

Lan Wangji curls a hand underneath the white rabbit and lifts it up into the curve of his arm, which is of course when a too-familiar voice says, “Lan Zhan?”

Lan Wangji’s head shoots up to see Wen Ying, a shopping basket hooked over his arm filled with hay and pellets, presumably for his own rabbit. He’s wearing an over-sized hoodie, sweatpants, sliders and his hair is messily tied back; it looks as if he literally just rolled out of bed. Lan Wangji wants to climb him like a tree. 

Why is that attractive? Lan Wangji is horrified by his own biology. 

“Wei Ying,” he says.

“I didn’t know you had a pet,” Wei Ying says, making the logical conclusion, having come across Lan Wangji standing in the middle of a pet store on a Saturday morning.

“I don’t,” says Lan Wangji, standing in the middle of a pet store on a Saturday morning.

“Are you going to…” Wei Ying looks down at the rabbit Lan Wangji is holding in his arm and then back up at him. The question hangs in the air between them, unvoiced.

“Maybe,” Lan Wangji admits, surprising himself. He’s quite sure he’s never loved anything as much as he loves this little bundle of fluff in his arms and the idea of putting it back in the glass display cabinet so someone else can have them makes him want to burn the whole place to the ground.

The rabbit in Lan Wangji’s arms snuffles closer into the crook of his elbow. 

“I think he likes you,” says Wei Ying. 

He’s not looking at the rabbit. 

* * * 

At Wen Qing’s birthday party, after he turned down Wei Ying’s offer to dance, Wei Ying immediately then went and danced with what felt like everybody else in the bar. 

Lan Wangji isn’t sure who suggested shots - most likely Wen Qing - but everything is kind of blurred in his memory afterwards, a kaleidoscope of people and words and feelings, resolving itself into a star-studded sky and a stone balcony somewhere, the music of a club distant, as if underwater. 

Wei Ying standing on the balcony with him, body turned towards him. Lan Wangji leaning against the wall, not quite sure that he could stand without it. Wei Wuxian’s right hand, resting on the low stone wall between them, looking so much like it just needed to be held. 

It felt like time froze and then kicked into action again and when it did, Lan Wangji’s hand had moved and was now resting over Wei Ying’s, which was palm up, fingers interlaced with his. 

“Ah,” says Wei Ying. “You’re not going to remember this, are you?”

Lan Wangji frowns at him, not sure what it is that he is supposed to remember. He’s finding it hard to think about anything other than how close Wei Ying is standing to him, how cold the night is, how warm his hand is. Below them on the street they can see several cars driving by, the bright lights of the city. 

Above them there are stars, but nothing shines as bright as Wei Ying. 

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says, and his eyes are dark and endless. “I like—”

* * * 

Maybe he should just talk to Wei Ying himself, Lan Wangji thinks later that evening, as he feeds his new bunny lettuce leaves back in his apartment.

He didn’t buy the giant pink bunny palace but he did buy the cute snowflake sweater, which his bunny is now wearing as it sits snuggled up on Lan Wangji’s lap, the absolute cutest thing he has ever seen, ever, including Wei Ying's own cute black bunny rabbit. There are already at least thirty pictures on Lan Wangji's phone of his new pet, along with seven videos. 

Talking to other people hasn’t helped him figure out what to get Wei Ying for the gift exchange, which really only leaves one other option.

How hard can it be? They’ve talked before, have had actual conversations. They’ve even survived night hunts together. It can’t be that hard to talk to him in person, on purpose, and figure out what to buy him for the officially non-official non-denominational winter gift exchange. 

Fate conspires against - or perhaps with - him the next day.

One of the students has put mistletoe up above the entrance to the dining hall. 

Lan Wangji does not entertain any possibility other than it being Zizhen, who is too romantic for his own good, no doubt egged on by Jingyi, who is too mischievous for his own good. Likely watched over by Sizhui, who is too forgiving of his friends, for his own good.

Lan Wangi is standing looking up at the mistletoe, wondering how best to remove it when a voice perks up from beside him. 

“What are you looking at — oh my.”

Lan Wangji goes very still. 

Wei Ying has managed to creep up on him without him realising and now they are both standing underneath the mistletoe. Something in his own expression must alert Wei Ying to this, because Wei Ying lets out an awkward little laugh and attempts to take a step backwards. 

Something stops him. 

Wei Ying’s brows draw together in a frown and then tries again, lifting his foot to step backwards. But, when he puts it down, his foot returns to the exact place it was before. He glances up sharply, meeting Lan Wangji’s gaze. 

Lan Wangji’s insides feel as if they have just dropped out. There is a hole in the pit of his stomach. 

He looks up again at the mistletoe, eyes narrowed. Someone has managed to bind it in place with a talisman. 

He is going to throw Zizhen into detention for the rest of his school life. And Jingyi. And maybe even Sizhui, who likely stood by and allowed this to happen because they are his friends and he is a terrible enabler when it comes to the people that he loves.

“Well,” says Wei Ying. 

Lan Wangji is not sure how long they have been standing there in silence. It’s possible that a few minutes have gone by since he started thinking about suitable punishments. He blinks, drawing himself back, and looks down at Wei Ying, still at his side. Still under the mistletoe. Still smiling at him, a little hesitant, a little unsure. 

Still making Lan Wangji’s heart clench, four months, two days, seven hours and 11 minutes since they met for the first time. 

“I think I can probably break it,” Wei Ying says, gesturing with one hand up at the mistletoe, “As I may have,” he coughs, “Inadvertently given them the idea during a lesson.”

Lan Wangji frowns. 

“Aha, ha, not that there’s any need to go into that, anyway—” Wei Ying begins rolling up his shirtsleeves (bare arms! a voice shrieks in the back of Lan Wangji’s mind, Skin! ) and starts to do something with his own spiritual power. His eyes slip closed as he concentrates.

Wei Ying is shorter than him, a part of Lan Wangji notes. 

His eyelashes look very soft.

So does his bottom lip. 

“So, how’s your new fluffy friend?” Wei Ying asks. 

They’re the greatest thing Lan Wangji has ever bought in his life. He cannot imagine life without his new fluffy little friend. “Good.”

“Your new fluffy friend can go on a bunny play date with my fluffy friend,” Wei Ying offers, “If you want.”

Lan Wangji does very much want that.

“Hey, Lan Zhan, give me your hand,” Wei Ying says, and Lan Wangji moves without thinking, offering his hand. For a second he genuinely thinks Wei Ying is going to hold it but then he puts the tips of the first two fingers of his left hand over the pulse point in Lan Zhan’s wrist. “It’s affecting us both,” he explains. “We need the connection.”

“Mn,” replies Lan Wangji, who’s having a bit of an internal crisis over the featherlight feel of Wei Ying’s fingertips pressed against the inside of his wrist. 

This is as good a time as any, Lan Wangji thinks, to ask Wei Ying what he likes, but all conscious thought seems to have escaped him. 

He’s sure it is very important to ask Wei Ying right now what he likes, that there’s something he has to do and it’s very important - there is a deadline - but all of that urgency has been muted under the feeling of Wei Ying’s fingertips.

“You know,” Wei Ying murmurs, eyes still closed, “I’m sure there’s one simple way to break the talisman.”

Lan Wangji ruthlessly quashes his body’s instinct to blush, fighting it back as hard as he can. He has taken on an ancient yao all by himself, has put to rest an entire village of resentful corpses, has survived being almost-drowned by a waterborne abyss. He is not flustered by the merest suggestion of a… 

a…

...what he thinks Wei Ying is suggesting. 

Lan Wangji makes the mistake of keeping his eyes on Wei Ying; when Wei Ying opens his own, they’re looking straight at each other, under the mistletoe. Lan Wangji’s heart thumps in his chest.

“Will it work?” he finds himself asking. 

“Only one way to find out,” Wei Ying says. He still hasn’t said the word, what he intends to do, what he’s hinting at. Say it, Lan Wangji thinks. Say it

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says. His gaze lowers for the briefest of seconds, catches on Lan Wangji’s mouth, and it’s then that he loses his internal battle and feels his ears heat up. “Can I—”

There’s a yell from nearby, a thud, and then three junior disciples come running towards them. 

“A thousand apologies, Hanguang-jun!” Sizhui announces, bowing his head multiple times. “Jingyi was just trying something out—”

“We didn’t think it would actually work,” Zizhen says, immediately followed by an offended, “Hey!” from Jingyi. 

With guidance from Wei Ying, the juniors manage to unbind the talisman from the mistletoe, freeing Wei Ying and Lan Wangji from its effects. There is no need for them to do anything in particular to break out of the talisman by themselves. 

Lan Wangji has been saved from utter embarrassment in front of the student populace and no doubt several of his colleagues, it is a good outcome. 

So why does he feel disappointed?

* * * 

The next day, he finds Wei Ying leading a class for their younger students, out on the grounds as usual, rather than inside where it is warm. It’s not quite snowing but there is definitely a frost on the air, sharp on the lungs and crystallising in the air when he breathes out. 

There are currently five of their most junior disciples - ages ranging from 4-6 (and a half) - clustered around Wei Wuxian, holding up wooden practice swords almost as big as they are and swinging them around with abandon. 

Wei Wuxian, holding his own junior wooden sword (tiny in his hands, absurd) is fending them off with a series of dramatic twirls and feints and dodges and is giving the impression that he is very much about to lose to these babies. 

The baby juniors are full of concentration, brows furrowed and expressions serious and Wei Ying is — there is — at the edge of his mouth — the curve of an —

Oh no

* * * 

Fine, so maybe Lan Wangji does like Wei Ying. 

He is loud and he does break the rules and he looks at Lan Wangji for too long and smiles at him and, and —

He’s a good teacher, the students love him. He’s full of ideas and isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo, suggests new ways of doing thing and is the first to try them out, and

He is full of life and energy and always talking to other people, bouncing ideas off them and dragging them on night hunts with him. He’s like a bright star in the night sky, impossible to ignore, burning its own path.

“How’s the gift exchange going?” Wen Qing asks idly, at their next Tuesday lunch meeting. “Have you figured out what Wei Ying likes yet?”

Lan Wangji takes a break from having a very efficient and very quiet internal panic over his own feelings for Wei Ying to consider the question. What does Wei Ying like?

The colour red, Lan Wangji thinks. His students. Luo Qingyang and Wen Ning. Wine. Dancing. Standing up for others when injustices are happening. Rabbits. Holding hands under the night sky. Talking to Lan Wangji. Teasing Lan Wangji. Smiling at Lan Wangji. 

“Oh,” says Lan Wangji.

* * * 

On the day of the officially non-official non-denominational winter gift exchange, Lan Wangji finds Wei Ying in his office, in the middle of wrapping his own gift to give to someone. Badly. There are tears in the paper already and far too much tape holding it together. It looks a little bit like a notebook.

Wei Ying looks as if he’s having a terrible time and like this is the most difficult task he has ever had to do, and he was once buried alive by a mountain demon on a night hunt, if student rumours are to be believed. When he hears Lan Wangji walk in, he looks up, and attempts to hide the present, but the amount of sellotape currently on it keeps it stuck in place on the table.

Defeated, Wei Ying looks up at Lan Wangji,  eyes wide and pleading, and whines, “Lan Zhan.”

Lan Wangji’s heart goes so abruptly soft he’s surprised it doesn’t stop beating altogether.

“I came to give you your gift,” Lan Zhan says. 

Wei Ying brightens, abandoning his attempts at wrapping his present altogether. “Oh! You’re my gift-giver?” He glances down at Lan Wangji’s hands, which are conspicuously empty of any sort of gift. Then he looks past him at the door, as if expecting a present to be waiting behind him. When he sees nothing, he looks back at Lan Wangji, head tilted in a question.

Lan Wangji takes a breath. Wei Ying, he thinks, I like you.

Then Wei Ying’s eyes widen. 

“Lan Zhan,” he says, “Are you my gift?”

“I…” Lan Wangji trails off; gives in to the inevitable. “Yes. I am.”

Wei Ying grins. He pushes his present off to one side of his desk and stands, reaching across it for Lan Wangji’s tie (which - unlike Wei Ying’s, which is missing in action, again - is always properly knotted around his neck) and uses it to pull him close. Lan Wangji steps forwards, the tops of his thighs hitting Wei Ying’s desk.

"Finally," Wei Ying breathes against his lips, and kisses him. 

* * * 

They arrive late to the staff room for the gift exchange. 

Lan Wangji has lost his tie, Wei Ying looks even more dishevelled than normal. His hair very clearly looks like someone has just spent fifteen minutes running their hands through it and there's a lovebite on the side of his neck, just peeking out of the top of his collar. Even so, Lan Wangji thinks they may have got away with it, had they not walked into the staff room holding hands. 

"Wangji, there you a-" his brother turns and, in catching sight of them, drops his mug on the floor. 

"Congratulations," Meng Yao says. He stands leaning against the counter with a glass of red wine in his hand. Putting aside the fact he doesn't even work at the school, how does he have alcohol?

"We were just waiting for you both," Luo Qingyang says. "Everyone else has already given out their presents. Sorry."

"Oh, we exchanged presents already," Wei Ying says, waving his free hand through the air to show it's fine. 

"I'm sure you did," Wen Qing murmurs into a mug of what Lan Wangji is sure is also wine, even though she is meant to be teaching. There's no other reason to explain why she would willingly be spending time with people in the staff room.

"It was great," Wei Ying says, ignoring her. 

"Mn," Lan Zhan says, thinking of the notebook he has back in Wei Ying's office with its black and white bunnies on the cover. 

"Did you like your presents?" Wen Ning asks, genuinely curious and totally oblivious to the tone of the room. 

"Yes," Lan Zhan says, right as Wei Ying lets out a little oh and turns to face him, squeezing his hand. 

“Lan Zhan," he says, looking up at him with his kiss-reddened lips. "You are the best officially non-official non-denominational winter gift I’ve ever received.”

It is the worst line Lan Wangji has ever heard.

He absolutely loves it.

He presses a finger underneath Wei Ying's chin, tilts his head up, and kisses him in front of everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

(A month earlier, the day after Wen Qing’s birthday party:

“And then,” Xichen says, “He woke up and didn’t remember any of it! They held hands, A-Yao.”

“Oh, no,” says Meng Yao, dutifully sympathetic and also very glad they are on a voice-only call as he buffs his nails.

“I don’t know what to do! I can’t take much more of them both making big eyes at each other and then doing nothing about it! Even the students have picked up on it. I'm almost sure I came across a few of them planning something the other day, some sort of intervention.”

“Teaching would be much easier,” Meng Yao agrees, “If there were less sexual tension.” He examines his nails, turning them in the light.

“If only they were some way to bring them together,” Xichen sighs sadly into the phone. “Some way to get to know each other better.”

“Yes,” Meng Yao agrees, “If only there were something that brings people together at this time of year, some sort of assignment where people have to get to know one another.”)