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Something Yet to Learn

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Spending the winter in Gusu had seemed like a good idea at the time of proposal.

Granted, there was little that did not seem like a good idea when his Lan Zhan was wrapped around him so tightly he could feel their heartbeats thundering in tandem, buried inside him and thrusting against that spot that made him see stars. He dared any person alive or dead to be able to refuse Lan Zhan anything while in such a state. Certainly Wei Wuxian had only been able to sigh, “Yes, yes, whatever you want, please…” when his husband whispered the request against his kiss-swollen lips.

Truthfully, there was no reason to use such underhanded methods to wrangle Wei Wuxian’s agreement. They are often at the Cloud Recesses, for weeks at a time. Lan Zhan’s duties as chief cultivator hardly allow for him to live a nomad’s life, and just because Wei Wuxian can fall asleep anywhere up to and including the bare, hard ground doesn’t mean he particularly likes to. The warmth and comfort of their home in the Cloud Recesses is very much appreciated. He has no problem wandering on his own (or with Sizhui and the others) when he gets to feeling stifled. It doesn’t even happen that often. The disciplines of the Gusu Lan sect still chafe, but his husband’s warm embrace is a balm that counters much irritation.

Besides.

The list of things he would deny Lan Zhan is just as comically small (nonexistent) as the list of things Lan Zhan would deny him. If Lan Zhan wants to spend the winter months in Gusu, spend the winter months in Gusu they shall.

All of which Lan Zhan is perfectly aware of. Really, he probably only did it to avoid Wei Wuxian’s (admittedly theatric) token protests and having to promise something extravagant in return. Such shamelessness! Such dastardly tactics! Driving him incoherent with pleasure before making such a request of him! Taking such advantage of him in a helpless state, totally at his husband’s mercy!

Wei Wuxian is so damn proud of him.

It hasn’t actually been as bad as he’d feared. He’s not ashamed to admit he’d been a little dismayed once he’d curled, sticky and sated, against his husband’s broad chest and realized what exactly he had just committed to. He doesn’t like winter—and even the height of summer in Gusu was cooler than it ever got in Yunmeng. And Gusu got snow almost every year. Still, despite the snow, and the eternal quiet, and the food…he can’t say he hasn’t been content these last couple months.

Sizhui and Jingyi are frequent visitors, despite both having increasingly busy schedules as their sect duties expand. Night hunting with his husband and their son (sons? He certainly hopes those strange looks on Jingyi’s face lately are him silently trying to muster the courage to ask the esteemed Hanguang-jun about courting his adopted son, otherwise the boy might need a visit to the healers for what must be truly terrible indigestion) is one of this life’s great pleasures. There are towns and inns aplenty in the area, and Lan Zhan never begrudges him a night out, whether he can attend or not. After the first time he came strolling back to the Cloud Recesses well after curfew, none of the guards bothered to make a fuss.

The guard who had made a fuss still won’t quite meet his eyes, even weeks later. He’s kind of curious just what Lan Zhan said to the poor thing, but he’s not sure he was supposed to realize his husband stepped in at all.

Still—curfew-breaking aside—he’s found ways to entertain himself while Lan Zhan attends to his duties. He’s been drawing and painting again: portraits, landscapes, silly little doodles he’d pushed aside for schematics and array designs in his desperate bids to make the Burial Mounds safer. He had almost forgotten the pleasure he took in painting. The rabbits are almost as affectionate with him as they are his husband these days. And there have been a number of very interesting cultivation treatises published in the years he was…you know…dead. Some of them have been extremely helpful in his efforts to start properly building up this body’s woefully neglected golden core. He’s spent almost as much time in the library in the last few weeks as he did in his entire stay at the Cloud Recesses as a teenager.

If only Lan Zhan were able to join him more often. A small, slightly wicked smirk curves his lips. Wei Wuxian would love to revisit some of those old attempts to fluster him to distraction. Alas, in the absence of his Lan Zhan, he’ll have to content himself with the new protection charm he’s working on. He shifts on the mat, slumping over the table in front of him to prop his chin up in one hand. It’s an idea that’s been knocking around in his head for a while now, something that had occurred to him on a night hunt.

An unfortunate group of travelers had been set upon by bandits and murdered, their corpses massed in a shallow grave on the outskirts of a far-flung farming village. Naturally, the poor souls had come back, clawing their way out of the sad excuse for a grave and seeking revenge. The bandits were long gone. The villagers had no idea what had been left on their borders. A tragic tale, but nothing they had not heard before, and nothing that was particularly challenging. He and Lan Zhan had used it as a training exercise for some of the juniors a few years behind Sizhui and Jingyi. Had the whole situation not been so unfortunate, it would have been a fun night, just lounging against his husband under the trees in a moonlit clearing. Calling out instruction and encouragement to the juniors. He hadn’t even had to pull out Chenqing. Then one of the juniors had lunged too close to a collapsing corpse, not covering his mouth when the thing started spewing out noxious fumes and corpse powder.

It had been a very near thing, but one of the other juniors had yanked their comrade back in time to avoid inhaling a healthy lungful of the poison.

Wei Wuxian chews on the inside of his cheek, tapping the end of his brush against his lips, considering. The table is scattered with reference books, scrolls, and piles of talismans. Some blank, some covered with his scribbles and symbols. He’s been trying to perfect a way to charm an item of clothing to create a barrier over the wearer’s nose and mouth, to prevent such accidents in the future. Or rather, the barrier is easy enough to create—the challenge lies in making it selectively permeable. It will do no one any good to slap their sleeve over their face and have it choke them unconscious for lack of air.

He thinks he’s almost got it…but he’s going to need to try a few different versions of the charm, see where the barrier needs fine-tuning. He’s sure Sizhui and Jingyi will be happy to help, and maybe they can test it out on a few hunts before the snows melt, and he and Lan Zhan start traveling again.

So absorbed is he in his plans, it takes him a few moments to register that he is no longer alone in the library.

A cold gust of air shivering against his face and his wrists where his sleeves have ridden up finally alerts him to the presence of other people. He looks up from his papers, blinking owlishly as the last of a small group of disciples file in, each clutching a writing set and a stack of talisman paper. They’re staring at him uncertainly, a group of nine of the Lan sect’s youngest disciples. The oldest one looks like he can’t be more than ten.

Wei Wuxian can’t help but grin—they’re so cute! Starched white robes and tiny forehead ribbons, those adorable cheeks still chubby with baby fat! He wants to pinch them. A few give him tentative smiles, before quickly schooling their expressions as a final person sweeps into the library, shutting the door firmly behind them. Instantly, the grin slides off Wei Wuxian’s face.

Lan Qiren stares at him, the snowflakes quickly melting in his hair doing absolutely nothing to lessen the severity of his appearance.

Inwardly, Wei Wuxian winces. Lan Zhan’s uncle does not like him, had not liked him even a little bit even back when he’d been a student here. Now? Now, the most that can be said is that Lan Qiren is no longer obviously fantasizing about running Wei Wuxian through with his sword every time he lays eyes on him. He knows that’s probably the best it will ever be.

‘Mutual pact of non-aggression’ is likely the best he will ever get from a lot of people. He’s accepted that. He can’t even blame them. A lot of the mud has been cleaned from his name, but he's never claimed to be completely innocent. And some things can't be forgiven.

He meets Lan Qiren’s eyes steadily, a thin thread of amusement shooting through him as the man’s clear desire to order him to leave wars with his ingrained sense of courtesy. After all, Wei Wuxian was here first, and he is not currently doing anything that would warrant him being kicked out. His supplies are even neatly stacked.

Well.

Compared to his usual mass of ‘organized chaos.’

Even so, he has no desire to sit in silence while Lan Qiren attempts to glare smoking holes in his head. He sighs and rises—a touch gracelessly, one of his legs has fallen asleep. “Master Lan,” he says, saluting with a bow that not even Madam Yu would have been able to find fault with, just because he knows it will annoy the man. “Forgive me, I was just leaving.” He sinks back down, begins gathering his notes.

Lan Qiren hrmphs to himself. “Unnecessary,” he says, in a tone that suggests the exact opposite.

Wei Wuxian bites his lips to hide his smirk, and continues shuffling his belongings. Lan Qiren does not protest again. He stacks the books and scrolls he’s been using up into perfectly neat piles, well aware that the servants prefer to re-shelve research materials themselves—particularly where he is concerned. You put a forbidden tome back in the general area once and you’re branded for life.

The small juniors have all arranged themselves at tables and are busily putting out their papers and inkstones. One of them, though, is watching him intently, a tiny thing that can’t be more than seven or eight. He flashes the boy a bright smile. He’s almost done straightening his work area when the door slides open again, and a harried-looking (as much as a member of the Lan sect ever looks harried) disciple almost dashes to Lan Qiren’s side.

The two confer quietly for a moment, Lan Qiren’s brow furrowing deeper and deeper as they speak. Wei Wuxian finishes collecting his notes and stands, quietly heading for the door while the whispered conversation reaches a fever-pitch. Lan Qiren makes a strangled noise in his throat, huffing out a breath of air as though he’s in pain.

“Wei Wuxian,” the man grits out, and he pauses with one hand reaching for the door handle. The disciple who had come in to speak to Lan Qiren brushes past him and exits the pavilion without a backwards glance. Wei Wuxian turns back to Master Lan, one eyebrow tilting up in question. “An urgent matter has come up,” Lan Qiren says, every word sounding like it’s being forcibly dragged from him. “His Excellency requests my presence.”

Instantly, Wei Wuxian straightens. “Lan Zhan? Is everything all right?” He takes a step forward, worry spiking through him, hard and cold, but Lan Qiren just waves him off.

“Nothing to concern yourself with.” His lips go thin and bloodless, but then he grudgingly says, “A diplomatic matter only, no one is in danger.” Wei Wuxian heaves a sigh, his shoulders relaxing. Lan Qiren watches him a moment more before actually reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Their current instructor is ill, I was meant to take over classes for today,” he continues, gesturing towards the tiny juniors. He swallows heavily, and the next sentence sounds bitter. Choked. “I cannot leave them unattended.”

Wei Wuxian just blinks at him.

Lan Qiren sighs, and Wei Wuxian is suddenly quite sure that were the old master a lesser man, his eye would be twitching. “Would you…supervise the students until I can send someone to collect them?”

Wei Wuxian freezes, then slowly glances over his shoulder, searching for whoever has entered the library without him noticing because there is no way his husband’s uncle just asked….

“Please.”

Idly, he wonders if that was as painful as it looked for Lan Qiren.

There was a time when he would have played into every expectation he can see dancing in the old man’s eyes, drawn things out as long as he could just to get him worked up. He can’t help it! Needling people comes so naturally, and he’s never gotten such amusing reactions as he did in the Cloud Recesses. There’s just something about these Lans...and Lan Zhan is hardly ever even fazed by anything he says anymore. However. Lan Qiren said his husband has requested his presence, for a diplomatic matter. That means whatever is going on, it revolves around Lan Zhan’s position as Excellency. And Wei Wuxian would sooner cut out his own tongue than deliberately make trouble for his love in that arena. The work is too important to Lan Zhan, even if getting him to admit it is an exercise in frustration.

Besides…

Wei Wuxian chooses his battles carefully where his husband’s uncle is involved.

Even nearly a year after the events at the temple, after Jin Guangyao’s crimes have been laid bare for all the cultivation world to see, Wei Wuxian knows there are those who regard him (and especially his relationship with the illustrious Hanguang-Jun) with suspicion. Are waiting to throw anything back in Lan Zhan’s face as evidence of his terrible, terrible choice in partner. Lan Qiren is one of them. Not the loudest of the critics, not the most obvious in his desire for some crack to appear in the foundation of their relationship. But he is the only one whose attitude actually causes Lan Zhan pain.

In another life, Wei Wuxian would hate him for that alone.

In this life, the knowledge that people and their motivations are never simple and straightforward has been beaten into him down to the marrow of his bones. And much as he hates to admit it, Lan Qiren’s discontent stems from his love of his nephew. So, Wei Wuxian swallows the impertinent remarks that jump to his lips, and gives another textbook-perfect bow. “Of course, Master Lan.”

He cannot hate the man. However, part of picking your battles is knowing when to remind the enemy that you still have teeth. He widens his eyes and lets his smile go guileless. “Would you like me to review anything with them while we wait?” He turns to the nearest junior (ah, they’re all so small! Baby juniors!) and reaches for their neatly-stacked notes.

“You...” As expected, when he turns back to Lan Qiren the man is stabbing a finger towards him with a thunderous frown. “Absolutely not. You are not to review anything with them. These students are copying talisman strokes from prescribed texts. You will watch them until someone comes to relieve you. Is that clear?”

Lan Qiren does not raise his voice, though he looks like he dearly wants to. Out of the corner of his eye, Wei Wuxian sees some of the baby juniors exchange startled glances.

Satisfied for the moment, he hides his amusement by inclining his head. “Perfectly, Master Lan.” Lan Qiren narrows his eyes...suspicious, always so suspicious and seriously, does he think he will start teaching the children how to summon fierce corpses the instant his back is turned?

Probably. After all, it had not been that long ago that he had tried to forbid people from even speaking to Wei Wuxian.

Whatever Lan Zhan needs help with, though, it apparently cannot wait any longer. With a final, warning glare and a swish of wide sleeves, Lan Qiren sweeps out of the library. Wei Wuxian rocks back and forth on his heels a few times as the door closes, tucking his hands behind his back as he turns to face the baby juniors. The children stare back at him with varying degrees of curiosity, nervousness, and uncertainty. It’s...awkward.

He likes children. He’s good with them, too, whatever anyone else might say. It’s been a while since he’s been confronted with so many small faces, though, and he’s not sure if he should even say anything. A substitute teacher will surely be along as soon as Lan Qiren passes the message for one. They’ll probably break the rules against running in the Cloud Recesses in their haste to get these impressionable disciples away from his clutches. Which is a shame, really, because he could probably be of help. Talismans? Kind of a specialty of his.

For a moment...just a moment...the figures in front of him seem to blur, wavering into other features, different faces he can no longer quite recall the shape of. For a moment, he thinks he can hear the slap of water against docks, sees deep purple robes instead of stark white, remembers bright eyes that looked up at him with trust and adoration, and it aches. He swallows against the knot that wants to rise in his throat, resolutely refuses to blink until the sudden sting in his eyes subsides. Then he smiles his brightest smile at the children.

“So, what are you working on?” he asks, crouching down in front of the nearest junior’s table. The boy hesitates, shooting a questioning look at some of the others, who just shrug helplessly. Wei Wuxian tilts his head, makes an encouraging hum. Finally, the little Lan holds out one of his papers, upon which the outline of a simple talisman is taking shape. Wei Wuxian hums again, tapping his finger in the center of the paper once. “Wind gusts, very useful,” he says.

They’re not, really. A trifling trick; he and Jiang Cheng had mostly used them to dry their clothes faster when they were young, and a bout of wrestling had ventured too close to the edges of one of the lakes. What they are, though, is easy to make. Uncomplicated strokes, easy to memorize form. They take barely any spiritual power to activate, and it’s hard to do any damage with them.

Not impossible, Wei Wuxian may or may not know from experience (oh Shijie had laughed, and laughed, and laughed and he skitters away from the memory before it can fully form, before it can bite). But it’s hard.

They are almost universally the first talisman a disciple learns to create, an easy introduction to the things a cultivator can do with just a brush, some paper, and enough will. He nods and pushes the paper back towards the boy. For a moment, he considers introducing himself, asking their names. But honestly...there’s no way they don’t know who he is. And he will not be supervising them long enough for their names to stick to their faces with his sieve of a memory. He settles for smiling as he plops down on the floor in front of all of them.

“Well, you heard Master Lan. Does everyone have the text you’re meant to copy?”

A round of affirmative nods and a chirped, “Yes, Senior!” quickly shushed by one of the older children, and Wei Wuxian props his chin in his hands and settles down to watch them copy. He expects to be there for a quarter-hour, at most.

After twenty or so minutes, he bounces back to his feet and opens the door a crack to glance outside.

After half an hour, he finds himself pacing.

At forty-five minutes, he has the unthinkable thought that Lan Qiren had forgotten to send someone to collect the juniors, and wonders if he’ll be blamed for it. He dismisses the thought as preposterous in almost the same instant...but that makes room for him to wonder what could have delayed the old master in passing his orders. Has the “diplomatic matter” become worse than Lan Qiren thought? Has something happened to Lan Zhan?

Ruthlessly, he cuts that line of thinking off before scenarios can start occurring to him. They are in the Cloud Recesses, and there have been no major catastrophes, political or otherwise, for months. If something had happened, someone would have come and told him.

Well. Sizhui or Jingyi would have come and told him.

Another fifteen minutes crawl by, and Wei Wuxian sinks back down at the desk he had abandoned when Lan Qiren first swept into the library. He casts another look at the baby juniors as he drums his fingers on the stack of reference materials. Most of them are running out of paper, dozens upon dozens of perfectly-copied wind talismans stacked up on their desks. They are getting fidgety, shifting back and forth on their knees, tapping their fingers against their tables. The older ones (if you can call them that, the oldest can’t be more than ten) are doing a passable impression of the famously unbreakable Lan serenity, but the youngest faces are glazed with boredom.

For the past hour, the only sounds in the library have been the barely-there shhhh, shhhh of brushes smearing ink on paper, but now a few whispers reach Wei Wuxian’s ears. He rolls his neck a little, spots the culprits instantly, and nearly bursts out laughing when they immediately go ramrod-straight and focus back on their work with guilty flushes. The very idea that he, of all people, would inspire such a reaction…

He does laugh then, and barely covers it into a not-very-convincing cough. The baby juniors all look up, startled by the noise, and he clears his throat. “Ha, uh, uhm, yes...so...is everyone pretty sure they could write that talisman in their sleep, now?” he asks, and one of the juniors giggles before they can stop themselves. He flicks his eyes towards the boy, the smallest of these very small, baby juniors, and grins.

“Yes, Senior!” the little one says, and dares to return his grin with a smile of his own. The boy’s still in the process of losing his milk teeth, several gaps in the charming expression, and Wei Wuxian wonders if this is what his A-Yuan looked like at that age. White robes and tiny forehead ribbon and gaps in his teeth when he grinned.

He hopes his little boy smiled often.

For a moment, the air in the library seems to crackle with tension. The oldest children exchange wary glances again, and Wei Wuxian is sure Lan Qiren’s parting instructions are ringing through their heads. Baby juniors they may be, but they are Lan baby juniors. He can practically see the conflict playing out on their little faces.

In the end, though, they are children. The smallest is the first to get up and bring a few of his papers forward, holding them out shyly for Wei Wuxian to look at. Apparently emboldened by their tiniest comrade, the others hold the best of their copies up for him to examine. He leaps to his feet again and obliges, clicking his tongue and exclaiming over the drawings as though they are the very best he’s ever seen.

“Nice, very nice. Good, clean linework there,” he says, and “Ah, do you see where you made this character thicker than the others? Most of the power will be channeled there...good, strong gust, but it won’t last as long as you think,” he says, and “Very nice, come look at this one everyone! See how even the strokes are?”

It takes all of ten minutes for the children to completely forget any nervousness or trepidation, and soon he is fielding question after question. He plants himself on the floor right there in the middle of the library and one by one, the children gather closer to him. Their questions are simple, naturally, but it quickly becomes obvious that their instruction thus far has been entirely on the how, and not the why of talisman construction. Copying the form is all well and good, and really for a wind talisman, form is all you need. Still...the children are curious! They’re interested! He gives each question due consideration and a thorough answer, and soon the little ones are poring back over their work, searching for flaws or redoing lines after Wei Wuxian has explained something.

Another half hour passes, and Wei Wuxian finds himself with nine very enthusiastic students, each of whom holds a stack of perfectly done, ready-to-activate wind talismans. They are beaming at each other and at him, and something warm settles into his chest. He’d forgotten this...the simple pleasure of sharing knowledge and watching little faces light up with understanding.

It has been over two hours since Lan Qiren left, and Wei Wuxian is starting to think they really have been forgotten here. The thought is still preposterous, but there’s no other explanation he can think of. And that’s a problem, because the baby juniors are completely out of talisman paper now, and he honestly has no idea where to get more. Even if he did, he can’t possibly make them go back to copying the same lines over and over...it’s a purposeless exercise at this point. They’ve got the wind talisman down.

He supposes he could teach them a few others...but Lan Qiren would probably spit blood, and he doesn’t feel like antagonizing his husband’s uncle to that degree. Yet. Besides, he has no idea the level of spiritual energy these children can produce, who among them has actually formed a golden core and whose energy is still shaping itself. More advanced tricks and talismans might prove dangerous. There is a reason people start with something as simple as these. He is about to reluctantly suggest they gather their things so he can start leading them around the classrooms until he finds someone he can turn them over to when another idea occurs to him.

He shouldn’t.

He really shouldn’t.

Lan Qiren may not spit blood, but it will definitely antagonize him. Wei Wuxian will have to hide in the jingshi for days.

He looks over the baby juniors’ faces, bright and happy and interested, and sighs. Ah well, it’s not like Lan Qiren isn’t aware that about ninety percent of Wei Wuxian’s impulse control is entirely bound to his husband. Surely, he’ll be expecting something like this once he realizes how long he has actually left these students in Wei Wuxian’s care.

“All right, you’ve done an excellent job copying these,” he says brightly, and gets to his feet with an expression that the citizens of Lotus Pier had once known to fear. “Who wants to go try them out?”

Chapter Text

“Who wants to go try them out?”

The question hangs in the air for a few heartbeats, and Wei Wuxian cocks an eyebrow, mischievous grin still firmly in place. A few of the children look from him to the piles of talismans in their hands and back again, and he can see the answer glowing in their eyes. Who wants to try them out?

Everyone. The answer is everyone.

But...children they may be, but they are Lan children. The oldest (or maybe just the tallest, kids do weird things when they’re growing--he and Jiang Cheng had had a whole year where they seemed to trade off who was tallest every few weeks) steps forward, his small face knitting into a frown. The boy has a pair of thick, black eyebrows and for a moment his expression looks so much like Lan Qiren’s haughty disapproval that it’s all Wei Wuxian can do not to dive forward and plant a smacking kiss right between those brows.

Ah, why hadn’t Lan Zhan told him there were baby juniors? Why haven’t they been introduced?

He knows why, and a familiar curl of wistfulness whispers through him.

The miniature Lan Qiren’s mouth works soundlessly, before the boy seems to mentally throw up his hands. “Here?” he squeaks, and his expression turns even more delightful. He looks scandalized. Like some maiden auntie happening upon a courting couple in a...compromising...position. Wei Wuxian bites back his laughter by sheer force of will and forces himself to look very serious.

“Of course not,” he intones gravely. “Setting off wind talismans in the library is forbidden.” And sadly, it probably is, somewhere in those thousands and thousands of rules. Wei Wuxian holds the somber expression for another heartbeat, and then grins, wide and joyous. "Besides, I've got something much more interesting in mind. Outside.

The children all freeze, nine identical expressions of sheer disbelief boring into him. The tallest (oldest? He’s going with oldest, there’s something in that little face that looks more mature than the others) baby junior looks torn, before shaking his head. “Are you serious?” An instant later his shoulders stiffen in horror at the transgression he’s just committed, and he bows so fast Wei Wuxian is mildly surprise he doesn’t injure himself. “Uh, I mean, forgive this disciple’s interpe-tence…”

“Impertinence,” Wei Wuxian corrects gently, squatting down so he can look the boy in the face, even a low as he’s bowed. “And you’re not being impertinent, don’t worry.”

He is, a little, but Wei Wuxian is fairly certain the heavens would strike him dead on the spot (again) were he ever to take someone to task for being impertinent. That would make Lan Zhan very sad.

The boy straightens hesitantly, licking his lips and reaching up to tug on a small curl by his ear.
“Impertinence, Senior!” he amends. “Just...Teacher Lan said we were to copy. Are you sure he’d want us to go and try them?”

Wei Wuxian is sure of the exact opposite, naturally. However, he does not miss the thread of hopeful excitement in the boy’s voice, nor the way the other children are exchanging furtive, sparkling looks, tiny grins threatening at the corners of their mouths. They have been so good this afternoon. They deserve a little bit of fun.

And if he himself wants to chase the warmth that had settled so sweetly in his heart at their eager questions, at the way they’d hung on to his every word, just a little longer? That’s no one’s business but his own.

He draws himself to his full height again, rubbing his chin with exaggerated thoughtfulness. “Master Lan did say you were to copy,” he admits. Then he waggles his eyebrows playfully. “Which you have. Admirably. He said I was not to review anything with you. Which I have not.” It only counted as review if he went over things they already knew, right? He’s been answering entirely new questions for the last half hour, right?

A voice that sounds suspiciously like his husband’s mutters in his head about following the spirit vs. the letter of a request, but he ignores it with practiced ease. The children are all nodding along with what he’s saying, and even the oldest looks significantly less conflicted. Grinning, he goes in for the kill. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

“And he said I was to watch you until someone came to collect you. Which I shall. I’ll just be watching you use these talismans to throw snowballs, rather than watching you copy lines.”

The tiniest Lan disciple--the one with the many gaps in his teeth and the most endearing dimples in his chin--straightens as though a lightning shock has raced through him, his bright brown eyes saucering. “Really?!” he breathes. “Really, Senior Wei?”

Ah, they do know who he is.

A ripple goes through the others, the Lan stoicism not quite trained into them yet, and Wei Wuxian is treated to the sight of a few more quicksilver grins. The air crackles with barely concealed excitement. Wei Wuxian taps the side of his nose and holds three fingers up, smiling brightly.

“On my honor,” he says. “But you all have to promise to listen to me and do exactly as I say.” He straightens his spine and puts his hands on his hips, meeting each set of eyes seriously. Instantly, most of the little heads are bobbing up and down.

“We promise, Senior!” the littlest one chirps. The holdouts--clearly the older ones in the group, including the boy with the curly hair--shift from foot to foot. They glance from him to the stacks of talismans in their hands, fretting silently.

But, and Wei Wuxian cannot stress this enough, they are children. And their teacher (for the moment anyway) is offering them permission to go throw snowballs with magic paper. The holdouts fold like cheap cloth. In seconds, Wei Wuxian has two perfectly straight lines of Lan disciples in front of him, arranged from tallest to shortest. There is a murmur of very un-Lan-like chatter that quickly silences when he claps his hands together once. He turns to the abandoned stack of his own notes and research to hide his delighted smirk. He thinks he might actually be more excited than the children.

Hastily, he scribbles a note out on one of his abandoned sketches for the protection charm just in case someone does eventually come for the children. He weights it down with an inkstone, leaving it hanging over the edge of the desk he’d been using, impossible to miss. Satisfied that no one will be able to accuse him of kidnapping the next generation of the Gusu Lan sect (and oh how he wishes that was a joke), he waits for the baby juniors to shrug back into their fur-lined cloaks and gloves, opens the library door with a flourish and leads the children out.

The sky is slate-gray, seeming to press down lower than usual, and there is a heavy wetness to the air that promises more snow later. For now, though, the wind has died down. The day is cold but not bitter, and even Wei Wuxian finds the crunching of snow under their boots pleasant. They walk down to one of the smaller practice fields, a circle of level ground where the younger disciples practice sword forms. The place is usually deserted this time of day, but it’s close enough to the main buildings that they should be easy enough to find. If anyone ever comes looking for them. Silently, he wonders if he and Lan Zhan might have to cut their stay in the Cloud Recesses short. Just what kind of “diplomatic issue” could have drawn Lan Qiren’s attention so thoroughly that he still has not sent anyone to get the children? It may require Lan Zhan’s personal attention.

“Senior Wei?” one of the children asks. He’s probably eight or nine, and a smattering of dark freckles dusts the bridge of his nose. He bites his bottom lip, holding up his stack of talismans. “How are we going to throw snowballs with these?”

“An excellent question,” Wei Wuxian says, and the truth is he’s not exactly sure.

He and Jiang Cheng had figured out every possible way such talismans could be applied to mischief when they were children...but such applications had mostly involved cheating at paper boat races and slicing the blooms off lotus plants. He lets himself drift a moment, ghosts of childish laughter echoing in his ears. He and his siblings, lying on their stomachs on the warm, sun-drenched docks of Lotus Pier as they watched crude little paper vessels cut through the glimmering water, urged on with flicks of their fingers and bursts of new power. Shijie cheering them both on, even as her own boat fell further and further behind. He and his brother taking turns “missing” their boats with their talismans and hitting hers, so that they all made it to the other side of the lake at the same time.

He shakes himself free of the past, not without effort. Right now he has nine very eager children that he has made a promise to. He narrows his eyes, thinking. The mechanics of what he wants to do are simple enough. The training dummies at one end of the field will serve perfectly well as targets. The hardest part will be getting the juniors to properly focus the energy of the talismans, a precise strike instead of just a wild gust of wind.

“The first thing we need...are snowballs,” he announces with a resolute nod. He looks down at the thick blanket of white that covers the ground, lifting one foot and wiggling his toes until it falls off his boot in a wet clump. Looks like the snow is the perfect texture to stick together. Still, he shivers at the very thought of picking any up with his bare hands. He looks at the juniors and affects a dramatic pout. “Sadly, I have never had occasion to make such things growing up in Yunmeng. Won’t you take pity on this poor, ignorant senior and show him the best method?”

The children light up.

There is not a mad scramble, per se, but there is certainly a very un-Lan-disciple-like dash as they immediately set their papers down in the snow and start scooping it up by the handful. Wei Wuxian tucks his cold fingers up under his arms and listens very seriously as several chattering voices trip over themselves to explain to him the art of making snowballs. Some of them are more adept at it than others. The ones from branch families or smaller sects who had been adopted into the clan, he suspects, the ones who haven’t spent all their lives in the quiet, ordered discipline of the Cloud Recesses. The smallest boy is the quickest of them all, and he darts to Wei Wuxian’s side with every new snowball he creates, holding it up for inspection with more of those charming, dimpled, gap-toothed grins.

In just a few minutes, there is a respectable pile of snowballs stacked up in front of them. Wei Wuxian claps appreciatively and nods to himself. “All right. Next thing, we have to establish some rules.”

He imagines the expression Lan Qiren would make at hearing him say such a thing. He does not cackle like a mad crone. Barely.

He crooks a finger at the freckle-faced Lan, beckoning him forward and reaching for his stack of talismans as he comes. This boy has the cleanest lines of all of them, the characters nice and even, the brush strokes firm without being too dark. Textbook technique.

“First thing,” he says, “how many of you have actually formed a core already? Doesn’t matter how strong.” Four of them raise their hands, the oldest of the bunch. Wei Wuxian nods to himself. “Excellent, very impressive!” He takes one of the freckle-faced boy’s talismans and pulls a worn nubbin of charcoal stick from one of his pockets. A couple of quick adjustments on the paper, and he tosses it out into the field stretching in front of their little group.

The children jump as the talisman bursts into a gale of wind that rushes over the ground, splitting into three bursts and kicking up ditches in the snow. When the power dissipates, there are three deep, straight lines about seven feet long dug into the snow in front of them, about five feet between each line. He winks at his assistant and then fixes all the juniors with his most serious expression.

“Everyone is to remain behind whatever line I tell them to at all times. Wind talismans aren’t very powerful, but anything can be dangerous if you have enough willpower to make it so. It’s very important that you all stand where I tell you to, in case I have to block one of them. I need to know where I can direct the energy safely, yes?”

Wide-eyed, the children all nod their assent.

“Secondly, you’re only to aim for the training targets. No throwing snowballs at each other.” He wags a finger at them chidingly, and is again met with nine little heads nodding gravely. A couple look like they are biting back giggles. He marks it a victory. “Now…”

He gestures them all closer, and the children cluster around him, the littlest ones actually jostling their peers to get a good spot. He crouches down in the center of them, holding out another of the freckle-faced boy’s talismans, as well as one he selects from the mini-Lan Qiren’s stack.

“See this character in the corner?” he says, pointing to the nearly-identical brushstrokes on each paper. “This controls the force of the gusts you create. See how this one is darker than the other one? More ink, more pressure on the stroke. One of these will be much stronger than the other, draw more spiritual energy to the force of it than the direction or how long it lasts. These talismans are actually really easy to adapt, you can change almost anything about them…”

He falls into the easy rhythm of talking, explaining, showing, spinning to and fro to meet each pair of eyes as he talks. He hands the talisman around and lets the juniors practice powering it up, sweeping the spritual energy away with a snap of his fingers before it actually had the chance to fire the wind gust. Judging by their exhuberence at even that, he gathers they have not had much opportunity for such things yet. Even the few golden cores that have formed in these juniors are weak, fluttering things. Like tiny birds just barely coming into their flight feathers.

He scratches his head and tries to remember the training regimens back at Lotus Pier...he’d had a hand in all of them as head disciple, but he’d mostly been relegated to working with juniors Sizhui and Jin Ling’s age. He’d taught archery to the youngest Yunmeng Jiang disciples, and their weapons master usually passed off the basic swordsmanship to him in the hottest months. As often as Madam Yu had punished him with her endless drills, his grasp of Yunmeng Jiang swordfighting had been flawless. He’d never been responsible for teaching talismans and spellwork, though. But it’s probably fine, even if he doesn’t exactly remember how old he and Jiang Cheng were when they learned this stuff. The children are glued to his every word, curious and questioning, and they are all understanding the mechanics just fine. A few of the youngest have trouble focusing their energy enough to feed into the talisman, but that’s not unusual.

Satisfied, he stands up and shakes a bit of snow from the hems of his robes. He grins at them. “So,” he says, drawing the word out with deliberate slowness. “Who wants to try first?”

Predictably, nine hands shoot into the air and he is sure only their nascent Lan decorum is keeping them from leaping up and down for his attention like pupp….like some small, cute, baby animal that is most assuredly not associated with the devil incarnate that is a dog. He waves the freckle-faced boy forward again, and nods at him to grab a couple snowballs from the arsenal.

“Everyone line up behind the nearest line,” he says, and is pleased when they obey immediately, shuffling in a group.

Already flinching at the cold, he takes one of them and tosses it from hand to hand a few times, before tossing is straight up. Not bothering with another paper talisman, he focuses his own spiritual energy as the ball falls back to Earth, sketching the shape of his command in the air before flinging it against the snowball right before it hits the ground again. A burst of wind kicks up a small spray of snow and the snowball arcs back up as though it’s been struck with a stick, sailing towards the training dummies at the other end of the field. It smacks wetly against one of the targets, and one of the juniors cheers as though he’s done something amazing. He doesn’t have to look to know it’s the smallest disciple.

He takes up position behind the freckle-faced boy, laying a hand on his shoulder as he holds up one of the talismans. “We’re going to go one at a time at first. Whatever happens, as soon as you have your turn, go back to the end of the line. It’ll probably take you a few tries to get it right. I’m going to move some of you closer or farther away from the target.” Here, he indicates the three lines cut into the snow. “Wherever I’m standing, I want everyone else behind the line behind me. Questions?”

The baby juniors shake their heads silently, and there is another not-quite-scramble to get into an orderly line. Wei Wuxian watches them a moment, then turns back to the freckle-faced disciple. He bends down and picks the other snowball up off the ground where the boy had dropped it. “Ready?” he asks, and tosses the snowball high when the boy nods.

The baby juniors are...not good at this. Snowball after snowball splats back to the earth while the children miss them again and again. Wind gusts kick out every which way but their intended direction, though Wei Wuxian carefully keeps everyone out of the line of fire. Sprays of snow fly up and swirl in the air like miniature blizzards, and he has to re-draw his boundary lines every five minutes.

It is a delightful way to spend an afternoon.

The children attack their task with the enthusiasm of the very young, and in any other place, Wei Wuxian knows the training field would be filled with shrieks of laughter. The juniors listen raptly to his instructions, preen under the praise he heaps on every try. Their cheeks redden and their eyes sparkle, and Wei Wuxian’s face starts to ache a little at how hard he is smiling. It’s been a while since he had this much unabashed fun. And slowly, the children find their footing.

The wind gusts become less erratic. More of the snowballs are tossed back into the air, though nowhere near the training targets. The children band together to gather up their fallen ammunition, packing the snow back into spheres and adding more. The first time one of the juniors (the mini-Lan Qiren, of course) manages to whack a snowball almost halfway to the targets, the others actually burst into applause, clapping their friend on the shoulder. Wei Wuxian wants to ruffle the boy’s hair and pinch his cheeks, but settles for saluting him with a wide grin. The boy’s flush of pleased surprise as he bows back is both adorable and hilarious.

Now that one of them has managed it, the others double down on their efforts. More and more snowballs sail through the air, successfully wind-blasted, and when the freckle-faced boy finally hits a target, one would think he’d managed to take down a high level demon all by himself for all the excitement of the juniors. The stunned pride when Wei Wuxian salutes him as well is even more adorable and more hilarious than the mini-Lan Qiren.

Wei Wuxian flicks a look up at the sky, and then back at the path they had taken from the library. Still no one has come for them, and the bell for the evening meal will surely be ringing soon. He flexes his own chilled fingers, wraps his cloak more tightly around his body. “Last round, everyone. You’ll still have to put your supplies back in the classrooms before supper.” Unsurprisingly, there are many slumped shoulders and looks of disappointment. “Ah, ah, ah such faces!” he chides. “You’ve all done so wonderfully! Truly the best snowball throwing I’ve ever seen.”

There is one figure, though, that doesn’t cheer up at all with his words. Wei Wuxian tilts his head slightly, his gaze zeroing in on the youngest disciple. The boy’s eyes are downcast as he toys with the edge of his cloak, gnawing on his lip as though he’s trying to keep from crying. The littlest junior has not even managed to fully power a talisman yet, his spiritual energy barely sputtering the direction he wants it to go. Wei Wuxian’s own delight dims at the thoroughly disappointed look on the little boy’s face.

Not for the first time, he is almost viscerally reminded of his A-Yuan. Not the wonderful young man Sizhui grew up to be...but the tiny child who had clung to his ‘Xian-gege’s’ legs and demanded stories every day and lullabies every night. Before he even realizes he is moving, he finds himelf crouching down in front of the boy, ducking his head so he can look in his eyes.

“Hey,” he says gently. “There’s no need to be sad. I know it’s disappointing not to be able to do something your friends can do, but that’s why you’re practicing! You have such good teachers here, soon you’ll be leaving us all in the dust I’m sure.”

The boy’s lips tilt into a tremulous smile, but he doesn’t look like he really believes what Wei Wuxian is saying. The disciple with the freckles steps forward and hesitantly shifts his weight from foot to foot, before grabbing the smallest junior’s hand.

“Lan Xin tries really hard, Senior Wei,” the boy says, squeezing his friend’s hand encouragingly. “But he has a hard time focusing his energy. Teacher even has him stay after classes sometimes to re-copy his notes so that he understands better, but nothing seems to work.”

The youngest disciple, Lan Xin apparently and Wei Wuxian thinks he will be able to remember that name after all, looks sadder and sadder as his friend speaks, and Wei Wuxian decides that will absolutely not do. He squints at the boy consideringly, tapping his fingers against his thighs before he stands up again.

“Lan Xin, will you try something for me?” he asks, holding out his hand. The boy looks up at him, startled, but after a few heartbeats he trustingly takes Wei Wuxian’s hand. He smiles and leads the boy a few steps away from the group, stopping by their discarded pile of snowballs.

Wei Wuxian swallows against a rush of memory, almost expects to hear Wen Qing’s voice calling after him to make sure he buys everything on her list and have A-Yuan back before dark.

“I’m going to power the talisman with you this time, okay?” he says, his plan forming even as he speaks. Of course, he has no idea why Lan Xin is having the kind of troubles the freckle-faced disciple talked about...he just has a suspicion.

And an older memory than the laughing child in the Burial Mounds, older and dimmer even than the sun-soaked docks and the paper boats.

He lets go of the boy’s hand and quietly guides his small fingers to his own wrist, pressing them right up against one of his meridian points. Gently, so gently, he lets his own spiritual energy pulse against Lan Xin’s. “Feel that?” he asks. At the boy’s confused nod, he smiles.

The memory rises in his heart--little more than images of Uncle Jiang’s kind smile, the warmth of his infinite patience. Wei Wuxian had been so frustrated, so far behind Jiang Cheng and the others, years behind where he should be in his training. He could feel the energy inside him and couldn’t get it to do what he wanted it to do.

Here A-Xian, feel that?

“I want you to just feel what I do...don’t try to power anything yourself,” he says, reaching for a snowball.

Just concentrate on what the energy feels like.” Smell of the water, sounds of it lapping against the docks, and Uncle Jiang’s big hand covering his, letting Wei Wuxian feel the pulse of his energy, what it was meant to feel like.

He throws the snowball in the air and barely waits for it to start its descent before he lets the talisman flare and burst forth. He hears Lan Xin’s sharp intake of breath as the snowball arcs out towards the training targets. When he looks down, the boy is staring at his fingers, his eyes shining intensely.

“Do that again,” Lan Xin breathes, forgetting his manners. Wei Wuxian grins at what he hears in the boy’s voice, though.

Uncle, again? Please?

This time, he doesn’t bother with the snowball. Just lets his energy flow into the talisman and kicks up a gust of wind that swirls around them, blowing a cloud of snowflakes up into the air. Lan Xin’s eyes fall shut, as though he’s listening to something.

“Once more!” he gasps, and then seems to remember himself. His eyes snap open and he grabs at Wei Wuxian’s sleeve with his free hand. “I’m sorry, I mean please, Senior Wei? One more time?”

Wei Wuxian cannot resist chucking the boy under the chin with a fond smile. “As many times as you need, A-Xin,” he says, the endearment slipping out.

Of course, A-Xian. As many times as you need.

Once more, he fires a talisman. Once more he watches something like understanding pass over Lan Xin’s small face.

“That’s what…oh that’s what…” the boy whispers to himself. As the wind dies down for a third time, Lan Xin let’s go of Wei Wuxian’s wrist and steps back. A determined look settles on his face, and he takes the talisman Wei Wuxian holds out to him. When the little boy nods, Wei Wuxian tosses a final snowball into the air.

Lan Xin’s eyes follow it, and Wei Wuxian swears he hears the entire rest of the class take a collective breath. As it starts to fall to the ground again, Lan Xin’s hand snaps out and the talisman actually flares, a perfectly aimed gust of wind shooting out and smacking square into the snowball. Wei Wuxian laughs out loud and claps joyfully as the snowball is flung, sailing in a perfect arc farther and faster out into the training field than almost all of the others. It hits one of the training targets dead center, and Lan Xin’s whole spine seems to straighten at the wet smack of it. There is no hint of even nascent Lan decorum. The other juniors burst into cheers.

“Wonderful! Magnificent! Well done Lan Xin, well done!” Wei Wuxian crows, clapping his hands on the boys shoulder and patting them proudly.

He is very nearly bowled over when the child suddenly lurches forward, wrapping his small arms around Wei Wuxian’s waist and burying his face in his stomach. Before Wei Wuxian can react, Lan Xin is already stepping back, ducking his head shyly as he wipes his sleeve against eyes that have a suspicious shine.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers. “We’re not supposed t’have outbursts. Thank you, Senior Wei...thank you very much.”

The ecstatic grin on Wei Wuxian’s face mellows to something sweeter as the rest of the baby juniors crowd around Lan Xin, congratulating him. “You’re very welcome,” he says.

He glances around the training field as the juniors get themselves back under control, flicking a few quick charms at their piles of snowballs to scatter them. The clouds are even heavier now, the promise of snow growing by the minute, but he probably shouldn’t advertise what they’ve been doing all afternoon. Not that he’s going to try and get the children to hide it or anything. Even if there weren’t about a hundred rules dealing with lying and secrets in the Cloud Recesses, he’s not going to ask children to be dishonest on his behalf. Besides, as long as he has Lan Zhan to hide behind, it might be amusing to see Lan Qiren’s reaction when he realizes what’s been going on.

As he turns to gather the students back into their perfect Lan lines to go get ready for supper, he realizes he's about to get part of his wish.

Chapter Text

Lan Zhan, courtesy name Lan Wangji, his Excellency the duly elected leader of the cultivation world, Hanguang Jun, Second of the Twin Jades of Lan is an extremely powerful cultivator. His restraint is legendary, his serene control of his mind and body are as near to perfection as a mortal man can hope to be. He is not being prideful. These are merely statements of fact. To deny the truth of them would be to disrespect and belittle his own abilities. He is…

He is…

He is above such petty things as a tension headache.

Even so, when the meeting that has occupied his attention for the better part of a day finally, finally draws to a close, he is relieved. A headache is nothing, a minor irritant easily brushed aside and cured by a cup of tea or a moment's quiet meditation, but he will admit that the frequency with which he finds himself doing so is...disheartening. He’d known that accepting the position of Excellency would change his life in ways he couldn’t predict. Had known it would be an incredible amount of work, and would require him to develop political skills he was, frankly, lacking in.

He had not anticipated it would involve this degree of--pettiness. Annoying pettiness.

Huge rifts in alliances and power vacuums created by the events at the Guanyin temple and Jin Guangyao’s scheming, he can navigate. Whether he wills it or not the cultivation world regards him as a pillar of righteousness, a steady, unyielding force for good. Even when some wanted to malign him...for his refusal to bend to the other sects’ will, for his support of Wei Ying, for his unflinching affection for a man they all hated...they found themselves with few allies. He can handle the big problems. He does not understand why he also must handle all the little ones. Today is merely the latest in a long line.

A territory dispute between two relatively minor sects, brought to his attention only because the disputed territory lay on a major trade route. Should the sects decide to settle their disagreement with battle, it could disrupt deliveries of food, supplies, and medicine for all of the surrounding areas, not to mention affect the economies of several large towns and cities. Lan Zhan has been listening to the two sect leaders argue and spit at each other like alley cats for the better part of the day. In the end, he had asked his uncle to join negotiations out of what he very firmly told himself was not desperation. Lan Qiren had taught both sect leaders in their youth, and had apparently been quite good friends with one of their fathers in his own.

They have not made much progress by the time the winter sky begins its early darkening, but Lan Zhan is at least confident that they are no longer on the brink of attacking each other. He will take the win.

He nods politely as the sect leaders bow to him, his back still perfectly straight, his hands resting gracefully on his knees. Only Wei Ying, his brother, and perhaps his son would be able to read the slight twitch of his fingers, the miniscule tightening of the corners of his eyes for the signs of pain they are. His temples throb, the pain thudding dully right against his eye sockets. He had meant to take supper in the dining hall tonight--Uncle will surely wish for him to put in an appearance. Wei Ying rarely suggests they eat there on his own, but is happy enough to spend time with the juniors in Sizhui’s cohort if Lan Zhan asks.

Privately, he suspects Wei Ying just enjoys pulling increasingly ridiculous faces at the juniors when Lan Qiren is not looking until someone breaks and shatters the quiet of the meal with a snort of laughter. But that is neither here nor there.

As he finally rises from his seat, though, he finds the idea of going to the dining hall unbearable. Especially as the arguing sect leaders and their attendants are likely to be there. The rules against speaking during meals are always relaxed when a large contingent of guests are present, and someone is sure to attempt to draw him into conversation. Perhaps the sect leaders will try to bend his ear further to their cause. And he doubts very much that Wei Ying will be able to hold his tongue (particularly once his love realizes just what the two are fighting over and how much it threatens the stability of the surrounding areas in the dead of winter), which would just draw Uncle’s ire. He does not want Wei Ying to have to deal with that.

He does not want to deal with that; they have so far been having a very pleasant stay in the Cloud Recesses.

Really, it is best for everyone if he and Wei Ying take their evening meal together in the jingshi. Perhaps Sizhui will be able to join them. Wei Ying has been puzzling over some new bit of spellwork in the past several days, and he knows Sizhui and Jingyi are eager to begin testing it. Visions of a quiet evening in his home, perhaps reading, perhaps playing his guqin as his husband and their son bend their heads together and talk animatedly over a subject they are both passionate about are dancing in his head as he sweeps out of the meeting hall, Uncle close on his heels.

He is about to ask for someone to send word for Sizhui to come to the jingshi for supper if he wishes, when he spots his son already making his way towards him. Jingyi is at his side (as he ever is these days, even moreso than when they were children). Even at a distance, he can see a frown on Jingyi’s expressive face. Sizhui is much too polite to let his displeasure with something be known in public, but Lan Zhan also recognizes the tense set of his son’s shoulders. They appear to be coming from the guest quarters, where the visiting sect members have all been assigned rooms. The throbbing in his temples creeps down the back of his neck into the top of his spine.

“Hanguang-Jun, Grandmaster,” Sizhui greets as he and Jingyi reach them, both bowing respectfully.

Lan Zhan nods back, raising an eyebrow at his son. “What is wrong?” he asks without preamble.

Jingyi and Sizhui exchange glances, but the tension they’re carrying seems to ease. Sizhui smiles slightly, shaking his head. “A minor disagreement between some of the guests,” he says, to which Jingyi snorts inelegantly.

“If you call almost drawing swords minor,” he mutters. Almost immediately, his eyes dart to Uncle. In seconds, his posture is textbook-perfect and he bows his head, staring at the ground as though it is the most interesting thing he’s ever seen. “That is, Sizhui defused the situation.”

“You helped,” Sizhui says, his voice brooking no argument. Jingyi shoots him a small, pleased smile.

Uncle sighs heavily, and when Lan Zhan looks over at him, the man looks as though he is regretting every decision he has ever made. “Wonderful,” Uncle murmurs. “The sects are peopled with petulant children, and Cloud Recesses is reduced to a nursery.”

Were Lan Zhan not so thoroughly fed up with the state of affairs himself, he would be impressed that their warring guests have managed to arouse such a reaction from Uncle. Usually, his husband is the only one who can stir Lan Qiren to vehemence. He is fed up, though, and so he merely makes a noncommittal hum as Uncle smooths imaginary wrinkles from his sleeves. After a moment, he sighs again. “Excuse me, I had best go relieve Lan Fang of the novice class so that he may eat. I believe he is on the first patrol rotation tonight.”

At that, both Sizhui and Jingyi go absolutely still. Jingyi pales dramatically, and Sizhui’s lips press into a thin line. Lan Zhan tilts his head at his son, but Sizhui is staring at Uncle.

“Grandmaster,” Sizhui begins slowly, “forgive me, but I am afraid the novices won’t be with Lan Fang.”

It is Uncle’s turn to freeze, staring at the two juniors in unblinking surprise. “What?” he bites out. If possible, Jingyi goes paler.

“We were about to go get them when we heard shouting from the guest quarters,” he says quickly. Sizhui nods.

“We were the only ones around,” Sizhui adds, squaring his shoulders. He shoots a look at Lan Zhan, who dips his chin in a single nod. His son’s eyes brighten at the subtle show of support, and he continues. “We thought that the more important matter to attend to. The disciples seemed far less willing to argue in front of us; we’d hoped to prevent tempers from flaring until someone more senior could address the issue.” Sizhui’s expression remains as clinically polite as Lan Zhan’s own, but he hears the disapproval in his son’s voice. Indeed, Lan Zhan will be speaking on this matter. Such a shameful display by guests will not be tolerated.

“Mn, you did well,” he says. It is almost comical how quickly Jingyi relaxes.

Uncle, however, splutters. “Do you mean to tell me you have left our novice class with Wei Wuxian all day?” Uncle does not shout. Shouting is forbidden in the Cloud Recesses. He looks like he dearly wants to.

Both Lan Zhan and Sizhui stiffen at the way he says Wei Ying’s name.

Sizhui’s smile does not slip from his face, though, and he tilts his head in a gesture of what looks like genuine confusion. “Grandmaster?” he says, his eyes widening slightly. “Why...why would we not? Did we take Master Wei from something else you asked him to do?”

 

Wei Ying would fall to the floor laughing at Uncle’s obvious horror at the thought. Lan Zhan merely levels the older man with a cool stare, one almost perfectly matched by Sizhui. Poor Jingyi’s eyes keep darting between the three of them, and he looks like he can’t decide if he wants to stay and watch this play out or run screaming.

“In what world is trusting our youngest disciples to that...that…” Uncle breaks off with a sound close to a growl, and Lan Zhan narrows his eyes. He tries, he tries to stay out of his uncle’s conflict with his husband, tries to trust Wei Ying’s assertions that Uncle just has to get used to him, just has to have time to see that he is not going to hurt Lan Zhan, but he will not stand here and listen to his heart be slandered…

“Grandmaster,” Sizhui says again, and again his voice is filled with innocent confusion. “Just last month, Master Wei was the supervising senior on the night hunt near the eastern border. Lan Zheng’s class?”

Lan Zhan has read the reports. What had at first seemed to be a straightforward haunting along a lonely stretch of road had turned out to be a nest of minor demons. A large nest. That no one had been killed was incredible luck...that no one had even been seriously injured was a minor miracle. And that was largely due to Wei Ying’s quick thinking and ability to improvise spellwork, traps, and talismans. Some of the elders are still not sure what his husband did to those spirit nets.

Sizhui holds Uncle’s gaze steadily, maintaining a guileless expression, and Lan Zhan cannot help but be impressed. Because Uncle is just as aware of what had happened on that hunt as Lan Zhan is, and Sizhui has neatly left him with no other option than to abandon his complaints...or try to suggest that Wei Ying is somehow qualified to assist a group of juniors against a flock of nesting demons, but not to watch a class of novice disciples for a few hours in the heart of the Cloud Recesses. In front of two of the best disciples the sect has produced in a generation. And perhaps the best disciple the sect has produced in a generation. Who also now holds the title of Excellency. And is completely, irrevocably, hopelessly in love with the man Lan Qiren might make such an argument about.

Uncle subsides. Sizhui’s eyes flash with something that might be identified as satisfaction, were Lan Zhan inclined to do so.

Sometimes, Sizhui is such a perfect blend of him and Wei Ying, it is hard to remember he is not technically related to either of them. That Wei Ying had been...absent...for the better part of his life. The precious, precious child whose mere existence had held the shattered remains of Lan Zhan’s heart together in those first years after Wei Ying’s death is such a melding of the two of them. Lan Zhan’s unyielding honor and personal righteousness. Wei Ying’s nigh-unbreakable spirit and boundless capacity for kindness. His respect for duty and sense of responsibility. Wei Ying’s curiosity and determination. He likes to think that Sizhui’s bottomless heart, his endless ability to love comes from all of them--him, Wei Ying, the Wen remnants Lan Zhan had only barely come to know, even Wen Ning and Wen Qing.

He must admit, though, he has no idea where this frankly political astuteness comes from. Sizhui’s ability to maneuver people, to absolutely take stock and measure of a person in just a few short minutes will be an incredible asset to the sect. It almost reminds Lan Zhan of his brother...but Xichen’s diplomacy and politics have never had quite the edge Lan Zhan has observed. (If he had ever happened to mention it to his husband, he would know. He would know how Wei Ying’s throat tightens when he makes those same observations, his heart aching with the memory of the proud, fierce woman who had been one of his dearest friends by the time everything fell apart.)

Uncle subsides, looking as though he has just taken a drink of something foul, and Sizhui executes a perfect, respectful bow. “Jingyi and I will go now and relieve Master Wei. We’ll make sure the class gets to the dining hall in time for the evening meal.”

Uncle hrmphs and waves them away, apparently so discombobulated that he forgets that technically Lan Zhan outranks him now, and should really be the one dismissing all three of them. Lan Zhan cannot wait to see the expression on his husband’s face when he tells him. He thinks he sees Jingyi smother a grin as the two turn and bow to him as well.

“Wait,” he says. “I will walk with you.” He excuses himself from Uncle, bidding him a polite goodnight. He pretends not to hear his uncle still huffing angrily to himself.

The approaching evening is pleasant for the season--cold, but not harsh, and the air holds a heavy stillness that promises another snowfall. Despite some dark memories, Lan Zhan has always enjoyed winter. The quiet of the mountains around them, the sense that nature itself has curled up and gone to sleep under a blanket of smooth, tranquil white. He enjoys the peace.

Sizhui and Jingyi hurry ahead of him, chattering softly as they head for the library. He follows at a more sedate pace, taking a moment to clear his head of the turmoil of the day. From the context of what Sizhui had said to Uncle, Wei Ying has been left alone with the most junior disciples for several hours. Possibly since Lan Zhan summoned his uncle. He knows Lan Qiren would have left careful instructions...had probably forbidden his husband from doing anything but sitting and staring at the children as they copied their lessons.

He is not even a little bit surprised to find the library pavilion deserted when they arrive. He is a little bit surprised that his husband thought to leave a note.

Jingyi sighs, half-exasperated, half-amused. “I don’t know why I expected anything different,” he says. “What is he even going to do at the practice field?”

There is, of course, only one way to find out. The three of them head down the path to the practice fields, and after only a few moments, he hears the cadence of Wei Ying’s voice carrying in the still of the afternoon. His love sounds happy, and curiosity unfurls in Lan Zhan’s chest. He’s not worried in any way, shape, or form; would trust his husband with the lives of anyone within the Cloud Recesses. As ridiculous as Wei Ying can be, he will have taken his care of the children seriously. He will admit, though, that he’s not sure what Wei Ying would have done with a group of children that small for as long as he has been left. He’s half-braced to find the practice field populated with snowmen, or the children burying each other up to the neck in drifts.

What he finds is his husband having... a class? Sizhui and Jingyi come to a halt at the head of the path, not stepping onto the field. Lan Zhan stops just behind them, watching. They are not hiding exactly, but it does not escape his notice that the corner of the building beside them effectively blocks them from Wei Ying’s line of sight.

His love stands in the center of the smallest practice field, three deep furrows dug into the snow behind him. The novice juniors range in a semi-circle before him, staring at him raptly as he speaks. Fond warmth blooms in his chest as Wei Ying’s hands dart through the air, gesticulating wildly. Even from this distance, he can see the smile that lights his husband’s face, hear the laughing delight in that beloved voice.

He could spend the rest of his life merely listening to the sound of Wei Ying’s voice.

As they watch, one of the children steps forward, holding up what looks like a piece of talisman paper. Wei Ying takes it and holds it out, pointing to the various lines and characters, nodding as the children answer whatever question he’s just asked. Then he hands it back to the junior and gestures for the others to line up behind one of the lines he’s dug in the snow. He and the junior step a little forward, the junior stooping to pick up...a snowball?

“What are they doing?” Jingyi asks. The young man is whispering, despite the fact that they are too far away for Wei Ying to hear. “Is Master Wei having a snowball fight?” The without us? is silent, but implicit.

“I don’t think so,” Sizhui says. “That class just started with wind talismans, didn’t they? But there’s no way they’ll be ready for…”

Wei Ying takes the snowball from the junior, tosses it high in the air. As it begins its descent, the child snaps his wrist forward and the talisman flares to life. A gust of wind bursts forth, connecting with the snowball and sending it flying out towards the practice targets at the other end of the field. The icy projectile doesn’t connect, falling short by a few yards, but Wei Ying applauds anyway, patting the boy on the shoulder and spinning to face the others.

“Apparently they are,” Jingyi says, elbowing Sizhui in the side.

Lan Zhan is no expert, but if he had to make a guess, that particular tone is: about to die from envy. Recalling his own lessons for such things, Lan Zhan cannot say it’s not a reasonable reaction. He remembers standing in a perfect line with a few other young disciples in one of the classrooms, stepping forward to power a wind talisman at a lit candle on the other side of the room while their teacher watched silently. They were not allowed to progress to the next lesson until they could activate the talisman and blow out the candle without harming the wick. It had taken Lan Zhan days to get it right. This...this looks far more interesting.

Wei Ying speaks to the children again, and Lan Zhan sees them slump in disappointment, start shuffling around as though they are getting ready to leave. His husband has apparently noted the time, and the fast approaching evening. One small figure remains still, though, and Wei Ying goes to crouch down in front of him.

Jingyi sighs a little, his own shoulders slumping. “Ah, is that Lan Xin? Poor kid.” He shakes his head sadly. “I don’t know how he’ll ever catch up.”

“Jingyi!” Sizhui chides.

“What? All the teachers are thinking it. Master Fang’s had me tutoring him for weeks, he’s not making any progress. He’s been here a year and he can barely focus his spiritual energy enough to meditate, forget forming a core! I think they’re probably going to shift him over to study with the healers or something soon.”

His voice is not without sympathy. The clan would never abandon one of its disciples, especially one so young...if the boy shows no ability for cultivation he will still be given an education and apprenticed with a suitable trade when he is old enough. The sect takes care of its own. Still, it is never an easy thing to realize you are not meant for what you thought you were, that the life you had dreamed of was not to be.

Wei Ying suddenly takes the boy’s hand and leads him a little ways away from the rest of the group. They stop by a pile of snowballs and Wei Ying kneels down in the snow. Lan Zhan’s brow furrows as his husband guides the boy’s hand to the pulsepoint of his own wrist. Sizhui and Jingyi are clearly curious as well, walking further down the path to get a better look. Lan Zhan follows. The three of them step onto the practice field unnoticed--the entire class is riveted by whatever Wei Ying is doing.

He watches as his husband flings a snowball into the air, expertly tossing it with a wind talisman. Beside him, the boy seems to jerk. He says something to Wei Ying, and Lan Zhan finds himself drifting closer, wanting to hear what they are saying. Wei Ying fires off another talisman, and then a third, before the young disciple finally steps away from him, taking the talisman paper Wei Ying offers.

Sizhui and Jingyi exchange startled looks, and Lan Zhan is no less surprised. If what Jingyi had said was true, surely his husband must know this will likely only end in more disappointment for the boy. Surely, his heart would not do something like that to a chi--

Wei Ying would not. Of course he would not.

The entire class in front of him takes in a collective gasp when the snowball Wei Ying has tossed starts to fall to the earth, only to be neatly caught by a gust of wind. It sails across the field and hits one of the training targets as Wei Ying’s joyous laughter rings out over the field. His husband applauds the boy wildly, and in an instant the other juniors have all joined in.

“Wonderful! Magnificent! Well done Lan Xin, well done!” Wei Ying exclaims, laying his hands on the boy’s shoulders proudly.

Warmth blooms in Lan Zhan’s own chest when the disciple flings his arms around Wei Ying’s waist, hugging him tightly before he seems to remember himself, and the restraint that is expected of a disciple of Gusu Lan sect. The boy whispers something, wiping at his teary eyes with his sleeve. Even from where he is standing, Lan Zhan can tell the child is regarding his husband with something close to worship as he is swarmed by the other juniors, all of them laughing and congratulating him, and not acting with even a little bit of propriety.

Lan Zhan cannot find it in his heart to even think of scolding them.

Especially not when Wei Ying has turned fully towards them, finally realizing the three of them have joined his impromptu class. That beloved face lights up with a wide grin, cheeks flushed with cold and hair dusted with snowflakes kicked up by all the wind. Lan Zhan can feel all the tension of the day melting away like sugar on the tongue.

“H-Hanguang-Jun!” one of the other novices gasps, following Wei Ying’s line of sight. As though they have coordinated it, the juniors flail briefly, before falling into two straight lines in front of him. Wei Ying can barely contain his laughter, biting his lips together as the children salute him solemnly, then bow to Sizhui and Jingyi as well.

Wei Ying stretches, catlike, and pulls his cloak more tightly around his body, tucking his bare hands up under his arms. He grins, blinking innocently.

“We ran out of talisman paper?” he offers.

Chapter Text

“We ran out of talisman paper?” Wei Ying offers, with a smile that is too innocent to be believable. His eyes glitter with mirth and he winks audaciously, well aware that Lan Zhan has no intentions of scolding him for not staying in the library. At least the children seem to have gotten something out of the afternoon.

The junior disciples watch the exchange between them with wide eyes, their awe of him a palpable thing in the cold air. Still, as Wei Ying teases him gently and slings his arms around Sizhui and Jingyi’s shoulders in delight, the children relax. Fractionally. Enough for the smallest of them to quietly scamper forward and tug on Jingyi’s sleeve. He flicks a nervous glance up at Lan Zhan, but his excitement overcomes his nerves.

“Brother Jingyi, did you see me? Did you see what I did?” he whispers, practically vibrating where he stands. “Senior Wei showed me how to make the talismans work...I see what you’ve been talking about now!”

Jingyi squats down to the child’s eye level with a bright grin, nodding. “I did see A-xin, and I’m so proud of you!” He looks up at Wei Ying slyly. “Senior Wei’s a really good teacher, isn’t he?”

The child nods so hard it’s a wonder his head doesn’t bobble right off his neck. “Senior Wei, can you come and teach our class tomorrow? If Teacher Lan isn’t better yet?”

Instantly, his husband is surrounded by young children, each of them looking up at him with wide, hopeful eyes. They don’t even notice that they are all now standing less than a foot away from the chief cultivator and arguably the most well-known disciple of their clan. Sizhui hides a soft laugh behind his sleeve and Jingyi looks entirely too pleased with himself. Wei Ying, though, chuckles nervously, rubbing the side of his nose and shooting a somewhat desperate glance at Lan Zhan.

“Ah, ah, ah I’m sure Master Qiren has planned your classes very carefully while your teacher is sick,” he says, twisting his fingers into the hem of his winter cloak. “I will always be happy to help out, but I wouldn’t want to mess up his schedule.” His husband shakes his head and pats the nearest child’s hair. “But we had great fun today, and you learned something, yes?”

“Yes, Senior Wei!” the novices chorus eagerly, and Wei Ying huffs out a laugh, his lips curling beautifully as the corners of his eyes crinkle.

“Now, I have to talk to your Hanguang-Jun for a moment--Sizhui, Jingyi, do you mind helping them get everything put back in the classrooms before supper?”

Their son agrees quickly, and with another set of very formal bows (and more than one childishly longing look at his husband), the juniors depart. The smallest one turns to wave at Wei Ying as they head back up the path to the library pavilion, which Wei Ying returns heartily. Lan Zhan feels a warm, fond smile curve his mouth--barely there to anyone else, but when Wei Ying turns to look at him, his husband’s whole face softens.

Wei Ying steps forward, crowding in close to wind his arms around his waist and resting his weight against Lan Zhan’s chest. Lan Zhan can feel the chill radiating off his love, how icy his fingers are even through the layers of cloth at the small of his back. “Mmm, you’re always so warm,” Wei Ying says with his eyes closed in bliss, tilting his face up expectantly.

As he ever has (and ever will), Lan Zhan obliges.

He kisses his husband lazily, one hand cupping his cold, wind-chapped cheek, until Wei Ying pulls back with a happy hum. He leans up to peck Lan Zhan on one cheek, then his nose, before finally stepping back and releasing him.

“Hello,” he says, his eyes still sparkling impishly. “I’ve missed you today.”

It has been less than eight hours since they saw each other over breakfast...but Lan Zhan nods anyway, and takes his husband’s hand. He frowns slightly at how cold those fingers are, quickly gathering the other hand and briskly chafing the skin. Wei Ying lets out a happy sigh, staring at their joined hands with a tiny smile.

“Your gloves?” he asks, a touch of exasperation coloring his words. He himself has bought Wei Ying no fewer than three pairs of gloves in the past month, and he knows Sizhui has loaned him his spares on at least two night hunts.

“Still on the table where you laid them out for me last night. Probably,” Wei Ying says, his smile turning sheepish and apologetic.

“Ridiculous,” Lan Zhan murmurs, but does not stop rubbing his love’s cold hands.

“In my defense, I’ve never actually lived in a place where gloves are a necessary part of your wardrobe in the winter.”

“Hmm.”

“Anyway, do you want--” Wei Ying begins, and is interrupted by a voice from further up the path.

“Your Excellency! Excellency, you’re needed...your uncle requests your presence in the guest quarters,” a disciple calls, and just the fact that he has raised his voice to get Lan Zhan’s attention tells him he is not going to like what he finds.

Instantly, all of the tension comes rushing back to his shoulders, and he cannot help a small grunt of impatience. Wei Ying presses his lips together and turns his hands over to squeeze Lan Zhan’s hands in sympathy. “Duty calls,” he whispers, leaning up to kiss him sweetly one more time. “I’ll get supper for us and take it back home? Invite the boys to join us?” he says, reading Lan Zhan’s mind for all intents and purposes.

As it had earlier, the idea sounds wonderful.

“Mn, please,” he says, regretfully disentangling their hands as the disciple calls for him again.

The snow that has been poised all day long finally starts coming down, heavy, fat flakes like clouds in the air. Wei Ying looks up at the sky, grinning as they land on his face, his hair, his eyelashes. He’s beautiful even in the flat, gray light of the winter afternoon, dusted with crystalline white and flushed from the cold. He’s always been the most beautiful thing Lan Zhan has laid eyes on, no matter what face he wears. He turns away, reluctantly.

He’s having a pleasant evening with his family. He doesn’t care if he has to cause a diplomatic incident to get it.

*

He does not have to cause a diplomatic incident.

But it is a near thing.

Still, he doubts very much that any of their guests will have the nerve to test his patience tomorrow so hopefully they will be able to solve this whole affair sooner rather than later. They had better. It is still fairly early in the evening, but night falls swiftly in the mountains, moreso in the winter. The snow has thickened considerably, coming down in a steady fall that shows no signs of letting up. He makes a mental note to check their supply of firewood before he enters the jingshi and call for more in the morning...the cold has never bothered him, but he knows his love feels it keenly.

He makes his way down the winding path that leads to the home he shares with Wei Ying, but as it comes into view...he stops. He always does.

The windows are covered against the cold and the snow, but gentle golden light seeps out of every crack and seam. The smoke of a fire puffs out of the clay chimney along one wall, and he knows the fireplace will be roaring merrily, inviting warmth ready to wrap around him as soon as he steps through the door. As he stands there, Wei Ying’s laughter rings out from inside, piercing the evening stillness like sunlight piercing a cloud.

Sixteen years.

For sixteen years, there was no light or warmth waiting for him here. For sixteen years, his beloved’s laughter was a distant memory, a ghost he could neither clutch close nor let go of. It hurt to remember that sound. It hurt more to think he might forget it. For sixteen years he’d existed on the very edges of life only his duty and his desperate love for his son--their son--keeping him tethered to a world that Wei Ying no longer existed in.

And now he has this. All of this.

A home, spilling over with laughter and love and light. The heart of the man who has owned his since he was a teenager. Days and days and days filled with the chattering voice he had thought silenced forever. Nights and nights and nights with Wei Ying in his arms--his to hold, to kiss, to desire, to make love to whenever they wanted. Wei Ying here, and alive, and always looking at Lan Zhan like he has just finished hanging the sun, the moon, and every star for Wei Ying’s personal enjoyment.

The life he had ached for, for so long. The life he had never dared to think he could have.

He regrets the way things ended up, a lifetime ago. For the rest of his life, he will regret the people who should not have died. The betrayal and questions his brother must now learn to live with. The pain and suffering his love had endured. The pain and suffering he endured. So many of them did not deserve the fate that had been dealt them. But he cannot regret this. If the pain of the past was the price he had to pay to have this life with the man he has loved longer than he has known what love is...he would pay it a thousand times over. He is moving again, opening the jingshi’s door. The small room is pleasantly warm, especially after the walk from the guest quarters, and Lan Zhan relaxes minutely. He slips his cloak off and hangs it to dry, turning to find Wei Ying is already up and bouncing across the floor towards him.

“Lan Zhan!” he calls, as though they had not just seen each other less than an hour ago. Sizhui and Jingyi politely hide their faces as Wei Ying throws his arms around him, kissing him far more soundly than he’d ever do out on the paths of the Cloud Recesses.

He lets his love drag him over to their small table. Supper is already laid out and steaming, and his sinks down into his seat beside Wei Ying. Their son and his best friend (perhaps more? He is not sure he buys into Wei Ying’s theories about a change in their relationship, but they are sitting much closer than they usually do) wait for them to serve themselves before digging in, and Lan Zhan sits back to savor his tea. Wei Ying’s voice washes over him in a soothing wave as he draws Sizhui and Jingyi into animated conversation, the juniors long since used to the fact that Wei Ying refuses to allow the ‘no talking during meals’ within these four walls. This, he thinks, is contentment. This is happiness.

And later, when Sizhui and Jingyi have bade them goodnight and headed for the juniors’ quarters, when he has his husband in his arms and they are spent and sweaty and sated beneath the blankets, he decides that this is joy.

“Thank you for assisting with the novices’ class today,” he says finally, breaking the gentle quiet of the room. Wei Ying’s head is pillowed on his chest, and he is slowly carding his fingers through his love’s long hair. Wei Ying snorts a little, turning his face to press a sloppy kiss to Lan Zhan’s still-heated skin.

“‘Course,” he mumbles. “Not like I mind, you don’t have to thank me.”

Lan Zhan hums, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. He does not have to thank his husband, but he knows his uncle will not...and Wei Ying could not have been expecting to have the care of several small children for hours on end today. “Jingyi was correct,” he says after another few moments of quiet. “You are an excellent teacher.”

This time, Wei Ying rolls over to half lie on top of him, crossing his arms over Lan Zhan’s chest and resting his chin on top of them. He is blushing faintly, his face twisting into something that is half-pleased, half-uncomfortable. “Ah, I don’t know if I’d go that far. You’ve only seen me supervising night hunts and explaining talismans. That stuff’s easy, not much different from what I did at--” His voice hitches slightly, before finishing a little softer, a little sadder. “At Lotus Pier.”

Lan Zhan tightens his arms around his husband. He had not meant to bring up bad memories. “Not easy,” he says quietly. “Not for many people.”

Wei Ying huffs out a laugh. “Ridiculous,” he says, in a fairly decent impression of Lan Zhan’s usual tone.

“Would you want to? Not just take the juniors on night hunts...teach classes here?”

The laughter is louder this time. “Can you see me writing lesson plans and grading papers? Lecturing all day?”

Lan Zhan does not point out that his husband usually ends up grading half of the juniors’ night hunt reports anyway, and that a lesson plan would have just involved him writing down what he was going to do with the novices before he did it. He also does not miss the wistfulness that fills his love’s eyes before he blinks it away. Admittedly, he cannot see Wei Ying being happy lecturing...but somehow he doubts any class Wei Ying taught would stay strictly in the realm of lecture anyway. The more he thinks about it, the better he likes the idea.

“You would be good at it.”

“Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, you have too high an opinion of me. You’re my husband, you have to think I’m good at everything.”

“Not good at cooking,” Lan Zhan says immediately. Wei Ying laughs again, burying his face in his arms. “Cannot put things away properly,” he muses, and Wei Ying smacks his chest lightly.

“Can so, I just don’t see the point of putting my things away if I’m just going to use them again.”

Terrible at picking up wet towels.”

This time, Wei Ying pinches him, still laughing helplessly. “All right, all right, you win. You don’t have to think I’m good at everything. I still think the idea of me teaching actual classes is ridiculous.”

Lan Zhan just tilts his head slightly, brushing his lips over the crown of Wei Ying’s head. He thinks of the way the young disciples had all gravitated towards Wei Ying in Coffin Town, hanging on his every word and trusting him implicitly after even such a short time. He thinks of the way Sizhui is usually surrounded as soon as his cohort is assigned a night hunt, the juniors furtively encouraging him to ask Wei Ying to accompany them. He thinks of the young novice that Jingyi said had had so much trouble in his classes, staring up at his husband with wide, worshipful eyes.

He thinks of how happy Wei Ying had looked, standing on the practice field with the novices. How he fairly bounces with delight when he is set to accompany Sizhui and the others, even if Lan Zhan cannot go with them. How freely his shares his knowledge and experience, with no other expectation than to share something useful.

Not ridiculous. Not ridiculous at all.