Wei Wuxian stood atop a lonely, deserted cliff sparsely covered with grass. Lil’ Apple had abandoned him when it couldn’t find enough to eat, and there weren’t apples or other kinds of summer fruits growing in the mountain tops either. There was nothing but barren rock faces and tufts of browns and greens on the ground, and the winds were especially cold during freezing, foggy days.
The man knew he probably fell ill after days of travelling alone - who knew that surviving alone in the wilderness could be so tough? In his youthful days, he was more capable and resourceful, his senses keen and sharp, and his movements nimble and unfettered like an uncaged feral beast; however, after having his heart silently broken when Lan Zhan said “I’m going this way” when he was intent on going the other direction - away from Gusu, away from what could’ve been a beginning of a new, warmer relationship with the man he’d called ‘confidant’, sometimes ‘soulmate’, and now, a Chief Cultivator who is probably too busy in picking up the pieces left by Jin Guangyao’s treachery, let alone go and look for him in the lonesome cliffs - Wei Ying had been so distracted by the sudden loss of companionship, the upheavals in his life post-resurrection in Mo Village after the revelations about what actually transpired sixteen years ago, after witnessing the secrets buried beneath the Guanyin Temple that brought closure to every accusation ever thrown at him before and after the resurrection, after being officially vindicated and feeling the greatest relief to wash over his entire being from the agony that gnawed at his heart for sixteen long years and from all the lives he did not take but was held guilty for--
“-- ahhh… and now, I don’t even know what I’m thinking anymore,” the man grumbled at the same time his stomach made similar noises. His thought process had been spiralling non-stop since he had too much unproductive time doing nothing else except to wander aimlessly around the borderlands of Gusu; his health deteriorated because he stopped hunting for food and ceased to care for himself regularly; his robes did smell rather ripe after being left unwashed for weeks even months - time was a blur when he wasn’t keeping track of his life anymore -, his complexion was pale and even sported a slight unshaven look because he never looked at his reflection since he hardly walked past a river, not to mention having enough to drink sometimes; he was always mired in depression from being left alone and neglected for too long, because he kept thinking about the “what if”s, such as, what if he stayed behind, and what if he said he’d follow the man who said that he was “going this way” - so much so, that a near-permanent frown was etched onto his brows, his lips perpetually curved downwards, he looked like a lifeless doll being dragged up the mountains and now, the cliffs, that anytime, a gust of frosty wind may blow anytime and send his shivering, feverish, frail body flying off the edge and into the deep ravines below.
Wei Ying sighed in resignation, and slapped himself lightly on the cheeks to clear his mind. Too many “what if”s and “I should have”s have dominated his mind lately, and it was very unhealthy - both physically and mentally. He decided to indulge in one of the few remaining pastimes that reminded him of happier times, and hoped to stave off any further depressing or, heaven forbid, suicidal thoughts over leaving the so-called confidant-cum-soulmate for petty reasons such as career options - comparing a glorious Chief Cultivator versus an anonymous jobless vagabond, is a no-brainer - and directions in life - Han Guang Jun has so much more going on for his future, compared to him, a man whose life ended sixteen years ago and he’d just closed the last chapters of his storybook and solved his mysteries, so there is really nothing else left to keep him moving forward… or, is there? So, he pulled out his favourite bamboo flute made by the man in question, his lips automatically found their place on the surface of the smooth wooden instrument, and his fingers immediately glided over a few holes that had been carved with loving attention, to produce a masterpiece written in the name of their undeclared love.
His flute-playing skills remained impeccable despite the trembling fingers from cold and hunger, and his garments were soggy, wet and chilled from passing grey mountain fogs. Each note was filled with his heartfelt feelings, sharp and shrill, pierced the heavy and choked cloudy atmosphere in the hopes that he may find a shaft of light to illuminate where he stood, perhaps an angel from the heavens to reach out and deliver him from this sad, miserable existence.
Past the first passage of the musical piece, he heard footsteps rustling through the grass from behind. He stilled and silence reigned once again atop the cliffs. He turned around; from afar, low-lying clouds billowed by and he thought he saw a shadowy image of a man - perhaps a mirage borned of his desperation and feverish state - but he smiled, oh, how uplifting he felt when he smiled, the first in such a long time throughout his soul-searching journey into loneliness.
He stumbled forward towards the imaginary image, which kept shifting in position, sometimes closer, sometimes further ahead, but he pursued the blurred figure that didn’t seem corporeal or solid to the touch. Soon, the grass beneath his worn-out shoes gave way to stony, sharp edges that sloped dangerously downwards, and he slipped on the damp, slippery rocks in more than a few instances, ignoring the sounds of fragments tumbling off steep gradients but never quite following up with a thud or splash, because the ravines were incredibly deep chasms, but Wei Ying kept chasing after the shadowy outlines of a man he believed to be--
Wei Wuxian, once known as the fearsome Yiling Patriarch, wielder of the greatest form of the Dark Arts, was said to have fallen off a high cliff one foggy day in the mountain ranges surrounding Gusu, was never found and even if he was, he would’ve never really recovered after that.
At least, according to the tales weaved within the walls of the Jingshi, that was how the story of Wei Wuxian ended. Wei Ying didn’t like it one bit because of the generally and reasonably Bad Ending for his character - still the anti-hero, from his perspective. His suspicions were fuelled by further clues - of how the er gongzi never looked at him straight in the eyes when he narrated the bedtime story, of how his tone or choice of words lacked conviction and emphasis, of how each time there were slight inconsistencies in the tale. This time, it was ‘footsteps’ that made the protagonist turn around while playing the flute - the day before, it was just ‘a footstep’, as an example.
“How can you be so sure that I was thinking of you when I fell? You weren’t even there when that happened. By the way, did I really fall off a cliff? I can’t remember what happened after we parted ways on that mountain, but I distinctly recalled pulling on Lil’s Apple’s reins and waving behind at you when I walked away. I even made an awesome poem about mountains and rivers at that time, do you remember that? Let’s see, that poem was...”
Lan Zhan dabbed a washcloth over a drop of soup trickling down the careless man’s chin, even when the latter continued to rant at his dissatisfaction about the whole setup of the story; real or not, Lan Zhan would never confirm its veracity, and he often responded with his typical silent treatment - which wordlessly told Wei Ying that he wasn’t getting answers anytime soon, not when he was still mostly bedridden and under house arrest, and could use a bit more downtime than getting riled up over bedtime stories narrated by a man whose brief sentences consist of less words than one could count using fingers.
“It’s just a hunch. You can believe it or not. Your choice.”
Wei Ying licked his chops and watched how Lan Zhan carefully spooned more old cucumber soup, plus a tasty, melt-in-your-mouth chunk of the gourd, and a strip of herbal chicken meat, then blew on it five times to cool it down, before serving. Mmm, delish.
No matter what happend, Lan Zhan will always be there to pull me out of trouble and save me, Wei Ying smiled thoughtfully and eyed at the man he called confidant, soulmate, may-----be boyfriend (he could imagine his detractors rolling their eyes or in their graves), and distantly, he wondered if they were married in a previous lifetime - because calling him ‘ lao gong ’ didn’t sound too far-fetched either. His heart swelled every time he noticed the meticulous care given since the day he woke up in the Jingshi (again, he vaguely remember chastising himself) and found himself incapacitated, but in a nice way.
According to the nameless servants loyal to the Han Guang Jun that periodically enter the Jingshi to help make the bed, sweep the floor and wipe the surfaces of the room’s decor and furniture, some time must have passed after his epic fall (that he could never remember, strangely); border patrols found him lying in a pool of blood near a riverbank at the foot of dangerously steep and high cliffs, and Wei Ying was said to have suffered brain-damaging concussions, multiple critical wounds and internal hemorrhage all over the body, nearly bled to death and broke all his bones, tendons and ligaments, qi meridians; even a tree branch found its way through the man’s rib cage but missed the heart - thus, his golden core was shattered beyond recovery. Wei Ying was horrified at the descriptions and checked his body - sure enough, there were many large but nearly invisible scars that were healing well, thanks to the incredible magical potions, herbs and healing treatments drawn up from ancient texts from the Library Pavillion of the Cloud Recesses.
Regardless of the healing, the servants said, it was obvious that Wei Ying knocked his head too hard and more than just once while falling - thus, explaining the loss of memory when he regained consciousness. Moreover, as demonstrated by the rather weak, uncoordinated and sluggish movements of his limbs - he had trouble rising up from the bed, feed and clothe himself, hold an ink-brush, let alone try to stand, even with a walking cane -, the doctors in the Cloud Recesses pronounced his body to be permanently damaged, and in cultivation terms, an invalid. Wei Ying could no longer practise cultivation and he had lost all capabilities to wield qi energy and magics.
Wei Ying was devastated at the news, and he was depressed and frequently cried in bed, hidden from the outside world by Jingshi’s comforting cocoon. Lan Zhan made all the difference despite Wei Ying’s seemingly doomed future - the er gongzi spent nearly his entire days and nights in the building, talking, soothing, accompanying the young man, with some rotation of duties with the servants, doctors and very few, very rare other visitors who were allowed to see to Wei Ying’s needs. Wei Ying had the impression that he wasn’t a celebrated guest of the Cloud Recesses, since everything was done in hushed tones, under the shadows of secrecy, plenty of warnings to ‘keep it down’ and not to disturb others, and the fact that access to the Jingshi was restricted and there was never a surprise visit, not even a peek, from typical young adventurous, curious disciples, so surely not everyone knew or was aware of his presence safely stowed inside the Jingshi.
Lan Zhan spent an inordinate amount of time playing healing music with his guqin in a room scented with sandalwood incense, so that Wei Ying could meditate and calm his shaken soul. He made sure Wei Ying followed a simple routine every day of:
Waking up in a nest of sleep-warmed pillows and blankets on double king-size bed (sometimes, if he was up by five in the morning, he would be greeted by the lovely view of the broad expanse of Lan Zhan’s chest snug against his face - he wasn’t sure why the er gongzi wanted to sleep beside him, or why there was a double bed in a room meant for a bachelor - but he wasn’t complaining because it’s the gongzi ’s room after all, and the man’s all-night presence was a welcome treat to ward off nightmares - plus, Lan Zhan smelled quite nice, mildly sweet, beneath the layers of sandalwood and incense-flavoured smoky odours),
Getting a wipe-down with a washcloth soaked in heated fragrant bathwater (it took several attempts, but eventually, the humiliated, red-faced Wei Ying stopped resisting and allowed the er gongzi to undress him - because he was kind-of disabled with his limbs still covered with bandages, and his joints ached badly and couldn’t bend that much anymore - and miraculously, Lan Zhan knew how and where to wash him, even in the most private areas. Lan Zhan never showed any look of horror or interest even while squeezing a washcloth around his soft penis, gently dabbing on his sensitive balls, or wiping soapy water off his hairy pubes - if there were any, the older man was a master of feigning disinterest and kept an impassive, stone-cold facade at all times),
Having his bodily needs taken care of (it was mortifying, the younger man admitted, to be carried to the outdoors to pee and poo under watchful eyes - but it was better than being incontinent on a soiled bed - and soon, Wei Ying was a natural at peeing and pooing with the er gongzi ’s help because logically, these were strictly physical, health-related and hygienic activities - pride and ego be damned, the younger man didn’t mind being held by those strong arms so that he could squat properly and safely, then release whatever that needed to be released, gases, solids, liquids and the ilk),
Having his hair trimmed, washed and combed (because for some unspoken reasons, men in that day and age had to keep long hair and it would be a concern if his hair became unruly, unmanageable or worse, became flea-infested for petty reasons such as not being able to comb one’s hair. Lan Zhan was a maestro at keeping Wei Ying’s hair in line, and there was always a neat topknot on his scalp, and never a stray piece of hair fell into his face, in which Wei Ying was grateful for),
Having three square meals a day, two snacks and one supper, made of simple but nutritious and mostly liquid-based meals (he always thought the servants of Gusu Lan cooked the dishes that could be picked-up by anyone during mealtimes - much like a take-out -, but after watching the er gongzi regularly leaving the Jingshi at predetermined times, usually after asking Wei Ying what he wanted to eat, then returning half an hour later with a tray full of steaming-hot goodies of exactly what he stated that he wanted to have for his meal - Wei Ying realized the secret behind the er gongzi ’s actions and was mind-blown at the possibility of ordering anything off the menu - including spicy dishes, though he was discouraged at having too much of those due to his delicate recovering stomach, and Wei Ying had to agree, after suffering a bout of diarrhea just after one ambitious try),
Having his muscles and joints exercised in a similar manner as a professionally-prescribed and well-planned physiotherapy rehabilitation (Wei Ying enjoyed being challenged to move his limbs and a chance to walk around the immediate vicinity of the Jingshi for some fresh air, and he would obey the er gongzi ’s instructions to return, especially when he was covered with a bit of sweat and his muscles started to complain, or if it started to rain),
Having some time for reading and anything else that could keep Wei Ying’s mind off his condition (which was essential for his recovery, since feeling useful and productive meant that his mental state improved, which also contributed to his physical energy levels and intrinsic motivation to do more and thrive even in such challenging and formidable situations),
And, to save the best for the last - Wei Ying received very personal, sometimes suspiciously affectionate, attention from the er gongzi in the form of unsolicited and unexpected full-body massage (Lan Zhan’s fingers worked magic even better than the doctors’ acupuncture or potions from the healers’ cauldrons), scratching (on the back and anywhere else where his useless limbs couldn’t reach), and ear-cleaning (he was squeamish at first, but he found his favourite slice of heaven by lying on the er gongzi ’s lap, and he always fell into a wonderful dreamless sleep after the first, intimate excavation works in each tenderly serviced ear).
At this rate, Wei Ying thought he wouldn’t mind staying or hiding in Gusu forever, as long as Lan Zhan was by his side. The man giggled at the idea of settling down - finally - and starting over as an ordinary peasant - which wasn’t quite as insane as it sounded, because he was, in fact, already disqualified from all manners of the supernatural and the superpowered, had to end his days of adventuring into unknown lands, fight off bandits and awesome monsters, or hunt for exciting treasures - but he could still wield a shovel in a farm, or earn a pretty piece of gold with his gift of gab if he sharpened his selling skills - probably.
That was three months ago, six months after they parted ways on the iconic mountains outside of the Cloud Recesses.
Returning to the present, Wei Ying’s health and mood had vastly improved - as seen with his appetite, which included five emptied bowls of congee, soups, vegetables, fish and fruits on the tray, plus a chicken drumstick bone picked clean by Lan Zhan’s fingers and fed mouthful by mouthful to Wei Ying like a mother bird would do for its chick -, and he had become very close, dependent and clingy to the said man - in a good way, at least as seen on Lan Zhan’s soft and barely visible smiles each time the younger man whined his name in an endearing manner - though, such intimate and saccharine sweet acts were reserved only when they were the only ones in the Jingshi, and when Lan Zhan had his eyes on and only on Wei Ying.
As the older man took the tray and bowls to the entrance of the Jingshi and placed them on the doorsteps - servants would come and take them away later - Wei Ying checked his abdomen to see if the meal had caused his thin frame to fill out a little bit more. It was a preposterous notion, of course, but he couldn’t help but to wish that he’d gain back the state of his former body - which the doctors already dismissed as impossible. He sighed in disappointment and leaned against the bed frame, pillowed by a cushion against his back.
“Ah… look at my body, it’s wasted, bony and soft, with a bit of flab on the tummy because I’ve been sitting and lying down almost the whole day. I can’t feel my golden core anymore, my muscles are unresponsive, I can’t even clothe myself properly or take care of my basic bodily needs,” he whined, and illustrated his inability by stretching one hand to the other side - a basic pose needed to tie some button knots, and he winced at the pain throbbing from scars on his arms. “Lan Zhan, you promise you’ll look after me for the rest of your life right? Don’t back out on your words, because I’m an invalid now! I rely entirely on you from now onwards!” he called out, not too loud, lest outsiders hear his voice. He always did that - telling the other man that he was handicapped and needed extra tender loving care - perhaps it was a (bad) habit borned out of a deep-seated anxiety or a need for reassurance - in which Lan Zhan never hesitated to give, to promise, to guarantee, without ever raising a tiny bit of discontent on his part.
“Mn. I’ve resigned from my post. So that I can live here and focus on what is important to me. Since we’re staying in the Cloud Recesses, the servants and I will see to your needs. You’ll be able to live here as comfortably as possible. You’re safe with me, Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan replied casually and returned to the bedside with a washcloth to wipe Wei Ying after every meal.
Wei Ying stared hard at the approaching man, and in mock anger. “Ah… your actions and words are very cheeky, I’m blushing even as we speak! Stop doing that!” and he crossed his arm and looked away petulantly, trying to hide his embarrassment from such flirtatious exchanges - unbelievably, coming from the former standoffish er gongzi .
Lan Zhan ignored Wei Ying’s exaggerated antics, and sat on the bed - the mattress dipped at the welcoming weight. He proceeded to peel Wei Ying’s hands away from the chest and started cleaning each finger with the cloth. Wei Ying felt frustrated, red-faced and very, very loved - simultaneously - that he responded in the only way he knew best to get the other man to do nicer things for him, and make him feel better from the lovey-dovey-ness. A sneak attack, of course.
“L… Lan Zhan! T-These undergarments are very thin! Even after having the hot meal, I still feel cold! Do something about it!” he complained - a little half-heartedly, because he started feeling guilty and additionally, more embarrassment, the moment he puffed out his chest to show the man how little he wore while indoors; due to the amount of healing salves, patches and whatnots all over his body, and the skin on some parts of his body was still sensitive from the treatments, Wei Ying insisted to wear as little as possible. Moreover, the Jingshi was sometimes a little warm as windows tended to remain closed even at daytime, so thin garments were a must; and at nights, Wei Ying secretly relished partial skin-to-skin contact when he deliberately rolled into Lan Zhan’s arms and faked a few snores.
The older man was perfectly in tune with Wei Ying’s wants. “Mn. Come, let me hold you, keep you warm,” he said calmly, patiently, then put away the washcloth and spread his arms invitingly. Wei Ying nnnnh’d like a spoiled child, turned around, and effortlessly, without thinking twice, leaned back and let his body fall into a comfortable human bed called Lan er gongzi , with great firm yet pillow-like pecs (and a nice, strong, reassuring heartbeat beneath), six-pack abs that seemed to have sunken into a bit of paunch on the abdomen, brimming with perfect body heat, a strong embrace from the sides that hooked themselves around his navel like the best seat-belt ever, and the most desirable baritone voice and arousing sounds of breathing echoing the room from behind his ears.
“Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying mischievously chanted on the bed and rocked himself a bit to the rhythm of the beloved name. He yawned at the end, unexpectedly, because Lan er gongzi had become Wei Ying’s one and only source of comfort in life, throughout a full spectrum of turbulent to peaceful times, and he could completely relax into Lan Zhan’s embrace and feel his soul replenish with that man’s gentleness and kindness.
“Mn. I’m here, I’m here, I’m here.”
Three feather-light kisses, one on the nape, one on the earlobe, and one on the shoulder. Wei Ying giggled instinctively at the ticklish feelings, and for that moment, believed that everything in his upended world will turn out to be perfectly fine.
Somewhere in the distance, a guard from a watch tower beat some drums to announce the time, and to inform everyone in the Cloud Recesses of the return of Sect Leader Lan Xi Chen from the Carp Tower in Lanling. Preparations to welcome their leader back to the Gusu Lan headquarters are well underway.