Lan Qiren is not given to lingering over his meals.
No Lan is, truly, but Lan Qiren has always found the concept most especially frivolous. For most of his life, there has been paperwork waiting, classes to teach, important figures to meet with; time is simply too precious to waste it dithering over porridge.
Nonetheless, he allows himself the indulgence of heating a second pot of water for tea after Lan Guihong excuses himself, returning to the healers’ pavilion when an apprentice is sent to make sure he is not overexerting himself.
The morning has…not gone the way he thought it would.
He is ashamed to admit it, but he had rather hoped Lan Guihong would immediately reject the notion of allowing Wei Wuxian to teach the novice class. It certainly would have spared Lan Qiren the headache he can feel lurking at the edges of his awareness. If Lan Guihong had refused to consider that troublemaker a candidate, Lan Qiren would not have had to devote any further thought to the matter.
Would have been able to ignore what he had heard in the practice room yesterday.
Would have been able to utterly disregard the insistent voice in the back of his head that demanded he acknowledge what he heard in that half hour or so was a class at least as successful as any he has ever taught, and far more successful than the few times he has been able to observe Lan Fang working with the novices. It is not that Lan Fang is incapable—it is simply that the man’s temperament is far better suited to their older disciples.
Lan Qiren could work the instruction schedule in the Cloud Recesses around Lan Guihong’s absence, if he wishes to. He can divide the novices’ lessons between himself, Lan Fang, and perhaps a few of the more talented junior disciples. He knows that would be an imperfect solution, at best, and one that would not provide the novices with the education they deserve. Not only would it deprive them of an instructor devoted solely to them, it would add unnecessary strain on his and Lan Fang’s already large workloads.
Lan Guihong is correct: he has a solution staring him in the face. But now that his old friend and mentor has refused to provide him with a convenient escape, he must also examine why he is so reluctant to accept it.
His gloomy musings are interrupted by a firm knock at the door of his quarters.
Frowning, he sets his tea cup back down on the table and rises. It is far too early yet for his meeting with Lan Fang, and he is expecting no other visitors. He nearly groans at the thought that some sect business the must be dealt with immediately has arisen, even as he is guiltily grateful for the prospect of a reprieve from the problem Wei Wuxian has (albeit unknowingly) presented him. When he opens the door, however, he is greeted by Lan Sizhui.
“Grandmaster,” the boy—no, not really a boy anymore, if not quite yet a man—says, with a deep, respectful bow. “Forgive me for disturbing you, but I came to see if you had decided on a suitable punishment for my actions yesterday.”
Lan Sizhui stands straight as he says it, hands neatly folded behind his back and his chin lifted proudly. There is no physical resemblance between him and Wangji, of course, how could there be? Yet, Lan Qiren is once again struck by how much this young man looks like his nephew. How he carries himself just as Wangji does, how his incredible spirit shines through in everything he does. Lan Qiren strokes his beard thoughtfully.
“Do you regret your actions yesterday?” he asks after a moment.
Lan Sizhui’s eyes widen briefly in surprise, before something shifts in his gaze. His shoulders straighten even more, and he takes a deep breath. “I regret any distress I caused you with my request. I understand that concealing our presence from Master Wei was dishonorable.”
“Hmm,” Lan Qiren murmurs. “Neatly sidestepped, Nephew. But I asked you a question. Do you regret your actions?”
Lan Sizhui glances downwards, his dark eyes flashing with an emotion Lan Qiren is hard-pressed to name. He just knows he has seen it more and more often since Wei Wuxian’s return to the living.
“I do not, Grandmaster,” Lan Sizhui says finally, his voice clear and honest. “You have my deepest respect as my teacher, my leader, and, if you will permit my familiarity, as a much-loved member of my family. But in this, I do not believe you would have given my fa—Master Wei the same consideration you would have given another member of the Lan Sect.”
“Then in your mind, you acted against an injustice?”
Lan Sizhui hesitates, looking into Lan Qiren’s eyes as his brow furrows. “I did, Grandmaster.” He bows again, and then rises, his back straight and proud. “This disciple will accept whatever punishment you deem fit.”
“Hm,” Lan Qiren says again. On perhaps any other day, he would simply assign Lan Sizhui to copy the disciplines a number of times, perhaps have him kneel in the courtyard and reflect upon the importance of respecting one’s elders.
On perhaps any other day, he might not be so painfully aware that there is more than a little truth to what his nephew’s son has said. He sighs, before stepping to one side and holding out his arm towards the table with his still-steaming cup.
“Join me,” he says, and is not above a small thrill of satisfied amusement when, for the first time, Lan Sizhui’s calm and collected expression cracks into confusion.
“I find myself at a crossroads this morning, Nephew. And it would appear there are eyes in the Cloud Recesses that see things more clearly than mine. I would take advantage of that.”
* * *
“You are considering asking Master Wei to take over for Master Lan Guihong?” Lan Sizhui repeats in disbelief when Lan Qiren is finished explaining the situation—why he had left so abruptly the previous day. He keeps his inner turmoil to himself, not wanting the young man to see how unsettled he is by the whole situation.
He suspects Lan Sizhui sees it anyway.
“In the short term, yes. At least until more of the senior teaching staff has returned from their current assignments.”
He ignores the traitorous voice in the back of his mind that whispers doubts as to whether any of said senior teaching staff would do any better with the novice class than he had heard Wei Wuxian do yesterday. He is facing enough hard truths for the day, thank you very much.
“Master Wei. You think to offer a teaching position to Master Wei,” Lan Sizhui says again.
“Please stop saying it out loud,” Lan Qiren grumbles.
“But that would be wonderful!” Lan Sizhui bursts out, a decidedly un-Lan-like grin nearly splitting his face. “Jingyi and I merely thought he might like to tutor the novices sometimes—the way he helps out with our night hunts.” He sobers briefly, his smile fading. “I will be sorry to see Master Lan stop teaching…he was always so kind and knowledgeable. But Master Wei would do very well in his stead.”
“Then you have found Wei Wuxian to be a satisfactory instructor in your interactions with him? Speaking as a disciple of this sect, Lan Sizhui, not as the man’s—” He hesitates, and Lan Sizhui tilts his head.
“Son,” he says, firmly but not unkindly. “He and Hanguang-Jun are my parents, Grandmaster, in every way that means anything.”
Lan Qiren inclines his head, dipping his chin in acknowledgement. No, definitely not a boy anymore. “As you say.”
“But to answer your question, yes. Master Wei is an excellent teacher—sometimes even when he doesn’t mean to be.” Lan Sizhui smiles again. “I will not pretend that he’d be anything like the other instructors…though I suspect you know that well enough yourself. But he cares for people so much, Grandmaster. He gives so much. He would take the responsibility seriously, and he would treat the novices well. They already like him very much! You heard that for yourself.”
Lan Sizhui folds his hands in his lap, and for the first time since he knocked on Lan Qiren’s door, he looks uncertain. “And…I think it would be good for Master Wei. Extremely good. To have something he can dedicate himself to, here, really dedicate himself.”
Curious despite himself, Lan Qiren raises an eyebrow. “Meaning what?” As near as he can tell, the only things Wei Wuxian has dedicated himself to in his life are causing trouble and behaving shamelessly around Wangji.
Lan Sizhui sighs, his gaze going distant and a little sad. “He doesn’t truly have a home, Grandmaster. Every time he’s had one, it’s been destroyed. Father and I, we are his home. And we are happy to be so, but that’s not…there should be more to the foundation of someone’s life.” Lan Sizhui swallows heavily, shaking his head a little. “Master Wei would be a wonderful teacher. And it would make him happy. I…perhaps it is selfish, but I would like both my parents to be happy, here. I would like Master Wei to know there is more for him here than just me and Father.”
Abruptly, Sizhui snaps his mouth shut, a light blush staining his cheeks as he raises his own tea cup to his lips. Clearly, he has not meant to say so much.
And in doing so, he has given Lan Qiren even more to consider.