The morning dawns clear and cold in the Cloud Recesses. Yet more snow has fallen through the night, leaving the grounds swathed in a pristine blanket of white that sparkles faintly in the weak, yellow sunlight. On most such mornings, Lan Qiren would enjoy meditating out in the small courtyard near his quarters, breathing deeply of the crisp, clean air and letting the soft winter tranquility soothe his mind. His mind desperately needs soothing. But he fears he is in no fit state for meditation.
He stirs his porridge for the third time, sets the utensil back in his bowl without eating a bite again. Lan Guihong, wrapped warmly in thick blankets despite the lit braziers in the room and under strict orders to have someone come and escort him back to the healer’s pavilion if he feels tired or starts coughing again, watches him over the rim of his teacup. The man looks entirely too amused for the turmoil that has been churning through Lan Qiren’s heart since yesterday afternoon.
“I can assure you it’s quite dead if that is what you are worried about, old friend,” he says after Lan Qiren goes to stir the porridge for a fourth time. He sets his tea cup down and levels a searching look at Lan Qiren’s face. “And as much as I enjoy your company, I assume you didn’t ask me here to watch you glare your breakfast into submission.”
Lan Qiren goes to stir his bowl again, pauses, and sits back with a sigh. “No,” he admits, stroking his beard. “No, I did not.” He pushes his uneaten breakfast—wasteful, some part of him automatically chides—aside and laces his fingers together on the table, tapping his fingers lightly. “I was…shown something yesterday, my friend. And I find myself unsure what to do about it.”
Slowly, steadily, Lan Qiren recounts the entire story. Finding that the novice disciples have apparently been going to someone other than their regular teachers for extra help with their lessons the past few days. Lan Sizhui’s impassioned plea for Lan Qiren to stay and listen to the impromptu practice session. The success the students seemed to be having—even young Lan Xin. The competence and thoroughness with which the children were taught, evident even in such a short time. By the time he is done, Lan Guihong is smiling and nodding, an excited gleam twinkling in his eyes.
“But this is wonderful news!” he exclaims when Lan Qiren is done speaking. “I agree, Lan Fang is an excellent instructor, but I had some reservations about putting him with such young children…if this disciple is as well-suited as you say, I would like to speak with them immediately.”
“Not so fast. This person—they are not a disciple of the Lan clan. Not as such.”
Lan Guihong deflates somewhat. “A visiting disciple of one of the other clans? A shame. Still, perhaps they might be willing to assist with instruction until a suitable replacement can be found. I will, of course, resume my duties as soon as I can if necessary, but…well. The heart is extremely willing, but I fear it may not be as strong as it once was. The children deserve someone who can keep up with them. Perhaps I could write to this disciple’s sect leader?”
Lan Qiren closes his eyes, and braces himself. “Also unnecessary. It is not a disciple, Lan Guihong. It was Wei Wuxian.”
Lan Guihong does not react with the horror Lan Qiren was half-hoping for—horror and condemnation that would have immediately absolved him of even having to think about the possibility that has been swirling in his mind ever since he left the practice rooms yesterday. He does not react with confusion or denial. His reaction is not any of the half-dozen or so that Lan Qiren has imagined. His old friend, the venerated and respectable teacher that has been a steadfast pillar of their clan and sect for almost a century, leans forward and strokes his chin, a frown further furrowing his wrinkled brow.
“Huh,” he says thoughtfully. “I can’t say I was expecting that. But now I wonder that I didn’t consider it myself.”
For a single, dumbfounded moment, Lan Qiren does a remarkable impression of a fish pulled from the water.
“Should have…should have considered…why would you think of that menace?! Teaching? Here?!”
Lan Guihong has the audacity to chuckle at him. “Drink your tea, Qiren, lest you have our esteemed head healer in here checking your meridians again.”
Lan Qiren sputters. There is no other word for it. He sputters and hisses like an over-boiling tea kettle, and Lan Guihong just smiles at him serenely. Lan Qiren is not fooled. He has the distinct impression that were excessive displays not forbidden in dozens and dozens of forms, Lan Guihong would be cackling at him like a hen. When he calms, the old man’s face turns serious, and he focuses contemplative eyes on his tea.
“You said Lan Xin was successful in the candle exercise, with Young Master Wei?” he says. His voice quiet and paper thin, some emotion Lan Qiren cannot name running through it.
“Yes,” he replies, and Lan Guihong’s shoulders drop.
“I’d nearly given up on the boy,” he says, turning the tea cup round and round on the table. “My most tried and true methods, my best lectures, nothing seemed to help. I had begun to wonder if I was wrong about his potential.”
Lan Qiren frowns, though not without sympathy. “From what you and Lan Fang have said, that was the consensus from all of the instructors.”
“And yet, he has apparently gained something approaching proficiency in just a few days under Young Master Wei’s tutelage. Which tells me it’s not a question of potential, it is a question of instruction. There was a time when I would not have missed that.” He looks up at Lan Qiren, a sad smile on his weathered face.
“Your service and dedication to the youth of this sect is beyond reproach,” Lan Qiren says fervently.
“And part of that service and dedication is acknowledging that I can no longer do so to the best of my ability.” He smiles again. “I am an old man, dear friend, and I am ready to retire to an old man’s life. I look forward to it.”
Silence falls over the table as Lan Guihong takes a few bites of his own meal. Lan Qiren pours them yet more tea and stares into the steam gently wafting from the cups as though it holds the answers to the universe. After a time, Lan Guihong tilts his head, his sharp eyes catching Lan Qiren’s with a knowing glint.
“Why did you wish to speak to me this morning? Were you truly so hopeful that I would immediately forbid you from entrusting my students to Young Master Wei?”
Lan Qiren shifts, uncomfortable under the old teacher’s amused gaze, but finally nods. “It would make my life easier,” he mutters, shaking his head. “I realize I am not the most…objective…when it comes to him.”
Lan Guihong’s expression gentles. “You have reason. We all do, in truth. Make no mistake, I am not ignoring the young man’s past misdeeds.”
“And yet, you are not immediately forbidding me from entrusting your students to him.”
Lan Guihong nods thoughtfully, tapping his chin with one finger. “If you truly believed Wei Wuxian was a danger to anyone in the Cloud Recesses he would not be here, Qiren. Regardless of your nephew’s wants and wishes. Your service and dedication to our sect is beyond reproach as well. I know that.”
“Just because I do not believe he will start raising an army of the dead in the Orchid Room does not mean I think him a virtuous person.”
“And yet, you are considering allowing him to teach our novice classes—a position that requires virtue, as well as skill and knowledge.” Lan Guihong does not bother to hide his chuckle. “Forgive me, my friend, but your face. No one ever speaks of how burdensome honor and practicality can be, do they? You know you have an answer to our dilemma and yet it is not an answer you wish to have.”
“It is Wei Wuxian,” Lan Qiren grits out. “How can he be the answer to anything? A man who spurned the righteous path, who is antithetical to everything the disciplines of Gusu Lan stand for!”
Lan Guihong’s face grows solemn again. “Qiren…a man who never strays from righteousness is deserving of praise and admiration. As is a man who knows the temptation of evil, and resisted. Yet, I would argue that a man who gave in to those temptations, and yet found the strength to turn back is no less worthy.” He pauses, staring off into a point somewhere over Lan Qiren’s shoulder. “Your nephews’ generation had their youth stolen from them…whatever choices were made in the throes of war, I have no way of knowing if I would have chosen differently. And with what we’ve since learned about Jin Guangyao—” He trails off, shaking his head. For a moment, he looks even older than he is, his skin as thin and translucent as paper, his eyes sad. “These last decades have seen rivers of innocent blood soak our lands, Qiren. And the hands of the Yiling Patriarch are not the only ones stained with it. Perhaps it is time we were all allowed to move on.”
They finish their meal in quiet, thoughtful silence.
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.
Please excuse the lack of fluff in this chapter (though I hope Lan Sizhui continuing to be the Absolute Best Son In the History Of Sons makes up for it)...I am in a bit of an angsty mood tonight. Though this should end on a far more lighthearted note. Thank you as always to those who have followed this series, commented, and left kudos. You are my inspiration and are really keeping me motivated to write :)
Also, because a few people have asked in the comments...as far as I am aaware, Lan Qiren doesn't know about the golden core transfer in any of the versions. I may be wrong, but for the purposes of this story, no one knows beyond those who were present for the events in the temple, and Sizhui knows because either LZ and WWX told him, or Jin Ling did on one of the super-best-friend night hunts that the junior foursome go on at least once a month :)
So, I had thought at first that I'd follow the same format as the other two stories in this with two chapters from one POV and then two chapters from another, and was debating over whose POV the second half of this would be in. And debating, and debating, and after several false starts I finally realized that this wants to stay in the current POV. So, we remain a little longer in LQR's head (but as this is the biggest part he plays in my plans for this series, I guess I can't argue).
Thank you very much to everyone who has commented on this (and especially expressed support for my interpretations of LQR), and those who have rec'd this series on other sites. It blew me away when I found some of the lovely links people have put to this on their tumblrs! I am so grateful to everyone who takes the time to leave a comment or a kudos (or just silently read!). Writing in this fandom has really helped me get through these lockdowns and the uncertainty, and just missing my own students, and I'm so glad and humbled that other people are taking comfort and enjoyment in something I've written. Thank you!
Lan Qiren values Lan Fang as both an instructor and a friend, though the man is only about fifteen years older than Xichen. He had been a tireless, stalwart figure during the rebuilding of the Cloud Recesses, a natural leader amongst the disciples at the time. It had only made sense that he would transition into a teaching role after the Sunshot Campaign. In the ensuing years, Lan Qiren’s appreciation for the man’s steady, thoughtful guidance of their students has only grown. He trusts Lan Fang’s opinions.
“Hmm,” Lan Fang says thoughtfully when Lan Qiren has finished explaining to him what has been going on in the novice class for the past several days.
He does not immediately recoil in horror at the mention of Wei Wuxian being left unsupervised with their youngest disciples.
He is not stricken at the notion that their youngest disciples have sought Wei Wuxian out on their own.
He is not bemoaning the fact that their youngest disciples have taken any instruction from Wei Wuxian, let alone been practicing the techniques they will have to demonstrate for their proficiency exams in only a few short weeks.
Lan Fang does not appear to be suffering from a head injury, or any form of malignant possession. Miserably, Lan Qiren acknowledges that his final escape route from having to consider Wei Wuxian’s merits as an instructor in the Cloud Recesses has been cut off.
“Hrmmm,” Lan Fang says again, even more thoughtfully, and thoroughly unaware that every moment he spends not outright dismissing Lan Qiren’s words is a moment in which the delicate lining of Lan Qiren’s stomach threatens to rupture. He can almost feel the ulcers forming. Somewhere beyond this plane of existence, he is certain that the soul of Cangse Sanren has paused in its journey towards its next life to fall over and howl with laughter.
“Well,” Lan Fang says, stroking the neatly trimmed patch of graying beard on his chin. “I can’t say it would have occurred to me to suggest such a course of action…but now I wonder that it did not.”
Lan Qiren feels an eyebrow climb towards his hairline. “You are the second person to say that to me today,” he grumbles.
To his irritation, Lan Fang’s mouth turns upwards in a faint smile. “You have already discussed this with the elder Teacher Lan, then.”
“Indeed,” Lan Qiren says curtly. “But enlighten me, please, why it should have occurred to all of us to ask Wei Wuxian to cover Lan Guihong’s classes when he fell ill.”
Lan Fang’s brow furrows. “I wouldn’t go that far, perhaps, but it is certainly true he has the time and the necessary skills. He was once Yunmeng Jiang’s head disciple. I know there were some…unsavory rumors regarding the reasons the former Jiang sect leader favored their ward so, but I cannot fathom that his wife would have tolerated Master Wei in the position were he undeserving of it. I’ve had the opportunity to observe him instructing Lan Sizhui’s class on several occasions, myself.”
Lan Qiren sighs.
He accepts defeat.
He mentally glares at the phantom of Cangse Sanren he is certain is still cackling in unholy glee somewhere, even as his conscience demands he silently wish her peace.
“And?” he asks, already sure of the answer he will receive.
Lan Fang’s face is not without sympathy. “It is this disciple’s considered opinion that Master Wei is a gifted instructor. The juniors listen to him, respect him even through his more—outlandish shall we say?—antics. I can find no fault with his knowledge of cultivation techniques and theory and…” Here, Lan Fang trails off, a sheen of hesitance glazing his features.
“Speak your mind, Lan Fang,” Lan Qiren says tiredly. Fate, it seems, has decreed this will be a day for Lan Qiren to digest many uncomfortable truths. What is one more, in the scheme of things?
“Respectfully, Grandmaster…I do not know that our disciples would not benefit from more exposure to Wei Wuxian’s way of thinking. Not,” he rushes to assure as Lan Qiren automatically bristles, “not his most unorthodox methods! No, of course not. But I cannot deny that our senior disciples are more—flexible in their methods since they started night hunting with him so often. Adaptable. That is not a bad thing.”
No. No, it was not. And it pained Lan Qiren to have to wonder when he’d lost sight of that.
“Grandmaster,” Lan Fang says after a moment, and the hesitance in his voice and expression are even heavier now. “I cannot help but wonder. Is it truly Master Wei’s ability to teach that you find so difficult to accept?”
“Are you saying you find it easy?” Lan Qiren counters, though he knows Lan Fang knows him well enough to see it for the deflection it is. Lan Fang casts his eyes downwards, frowning slightly.
“If you had asked me a year ago—a few months ago, even, my answer would be very different. I would have told you exactly what I suspect you were hoping to hear from myself and Master Lan. That Wei Wuxian was entirely unfit to interact with the children of this sect, let alone teach them. That the very idea was madness.” He looks up again, his eyes dark. “Lan Sizhui, Lan Jingyi—all of the juniors. They love him. They do not merely respect his skill or the knowledge he can provide them. They love him, as they loved Lan Guihong. As they love me. As they love you, Grandmaster, even if I think none of you will admit that. And while children’s hearts can be fooled for a time, you and I both know they see more clearly than anyone cares to admit. That kind of love must be earned, and it is not earned lightly.”
“The children of Gusu Lan are not fools,” Lan Qiren sighs. And then, even more quietly, “My nephew is not a fool.”
“As you say,” Lan Fang says. “Which leaves us only the conclusion that Wei Wuxian has earned their regard.”
* * *
He declines Wangji’s offer to come with Wei Wuxian to his quarters for the requested meeting, replying that he will have their meal sent down to the jingshi. He would be more comfortable in his own home, of course, but something prompts him to cede the advantage of territory to his nephew and his nephew’s…husband. At the appointed hour, he straightens imaginary wrinkles from his robes, dons his winter cloak (trying very hard not to feel as though he is girding his loins for war), and sets off down the tranquil, snow-covered paths of the Cloud Recesses.
The facts are thus. Lan Guihong’s health will no longer allow him to serve in his capacity as the novice class’s main instructor. The ever-expanding influence of Gusu Lan has necessitated the reassignment of several dozen of their most senior disciples to various towns, cities, and villages in order to carry out Wangji’s ambitious outreach plans among the citizenry. These plans and programs are proving highly beneficial to everyone, not just Gusu Lan. Lan Fang is the only instructor who could possibly take over the novice classes—a position he has little to no interest in.
The facts are thus. Their novice class deserves the very best instruction their sect can provide. They owe it to their children, and Lan Qiren refuses to allow the education of their youngest disciples to suffer. There is a person in the Cloud Recesses that would be able to fulfill the role Lan Guihong is leaving open, with no disruption to the already-established instructors. One who, according to several people Lan Qiren has every reason to trust would not only be competent in the role, would actually excel.
The facts are thus. Wei Wuxian has proven on more than one occasion that he is not the same man who had presided over the slaughter at Nightless City, all those years ago. The revelations of the past year have proven that even if he was, that man had not been everything they were led to believe.
The facts are thus.
Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi, the junior disciples and the novice class do not know the truth of the power that Wei Wuxian wielded back then. Even Lan Sizhui, Wen Yuan, never knew who the Yiling Patriarch was. What he was. The junior disciples have never known war. The Sunshot Campaign, the atrocities and blasphemies that Wei Wuxian committed with that gods-be-damned flute and the Stygian Tiger Seal, they are all stories to them. Stories that even Lan Qiren will admit are hard to match with the figure that flits through the Cloud Recesses now, ignoring every rule of their clan with a bright smile and a loud laugh.
Lan Qiren knows the truth. Lan Qiren had watched the ruin that Wei Wuxian brought down on Wangji—his nephew, the child he’d raised, the child who was his son more than he had ever been his brother’s. Lan Qiren had stood by Xichen’s side as they argued, pleaded, and finally begged to have Wangji’s sentence reduced as far as it could be. Had been forced to stand witness as his nephew was whipped within an inch of his life anyway, flinched with every strike as though it was hitting him. His nephew had almost torn himself apart for love of Wei Wuxian, had suffered the worst punishment their clan could mete out for love of Wei Wuxian, and Lan Qiren…
Lan Qiren does not know how to get past that.
He pauses, the realization cresting over him with such breath-taking force, he wonders that the snow doesn’t fly up in a maelstrom around him. The turmoil that has swirled in his chest since he had first seen Wei Wuxian usher the novice class into the practice rooms reaches a fever-pitch, and yet he somehow feels more in control of it than he has all day. He resumes walking, faster than before, almost breathless with the thoughts tumbling in his head, and does not realize he has actually made himself arrive at his nephew’s home a few minutes early until he rounds a bend in the path and sees Wangji and Wei Wuxian standing on the steps of the jingshi.
They are waiting to welcome him, as is proper, but at the moment they are turned towards each other. It is clear that neither of them are paying the slightest bit of attention to the world around them.
Lan Qiren’s steps falter as Wangji says something that does not carry the distance between them, reaching up to smooth the collar of Wei Wuxian’s black robes. Wei Wuxian laughs, the sound seeming brittle somehow, quieter than usual…but then he nods and grins at Wangji. He tucks a lock of hair behind Wangji’s ear, his fingers trailing down to curl around the ends of Wangji’s ribbon, and Wangji leans forward, resting his forehead against Wei Wuxian’s.
Lan Qiren is struck by the intimacy of the moment, looking away as though he has stumbled upon something much more private. Wei Wuxian stands calmly, quietly, and Wangji…
It has been years since Lan Qiren has seen Wangji radiating such peace, such joy.
Perhaps he has never seen it.
The facts are thus.
Wei Wuxian had nearly broken Wangji, completely ignorant that he was doing so. The man had turned away from all that was right and proper, cultivating a path that was at best heretical, and at worst a path of evil. He had killed innocent people, and done so without remorse.
The facts are thus.
Wei Wuxian had been wronged in ways that Lan Qiren still had trouble believing. Had been a victim of Jin Guangyao’s scheming at least as much as he had been a villain. In his heart of hearts, Lan Qiren cannot help but wonder how many of the terrible things Wei Wuxian had done could have been avoided if Jin Guangyao had not so skillfully cut off every other avenue available to him.
The facts are thus.
The siege of the Burial Mounds had killed innocent people. The great sects had killed innocent people, and done so without remorse. As Lan Guihong had said, their lands had been soaked by rivers of blood. Wei Wuxian was not the only one who had spilled it.
The facts are thus.
There was no way to go back and change the past. Right the wrongs that had been done to so many. Bring back the innocent and punish only the guilty. All they could do was move forward. Lan Qiren lifts his eyes again, takes in the picture that his nephew and his nephew’s husband present. Wangji is loved. Wangji is happy—truly happy, in ways that Lan Qiren had feared he would never be again.
He thinks of everything that Lan Guihong, Lan Fang, and most especially Lan Sizhui have told him. He thinks of what would be best for his sect, his clan, his family. All the members of his family.
He spares one, final thought to hope that the spirit of Cangse Sanren is at least enjoying this last chance to laugh at his expense.
And Lan Qiren makes a choice. To let the past stay in the past, and open the way for a better future.
He clears his throat loudly enough for Wangji and Wei Wuxian to hear him, and walks towards his nephews’ home.
Phew! I am so sorry for the lateness of this chapter. I meant to get it out last week, but life kind of interfered. Hopefully I will be back to a more regular update schedule on this series and my other work going forward.
As always, my sincerest thanks to everyone who has left comments and kudos on this work. Some of your comments have actually brought tears to my eyes (the good kind, lol!). I just...I'm so pleased people have been enjoying this work. Things are so wild in the world right now, just the thought that something I wrote can make people happy for even a little bit of time--it just means more to me than I have words for. So thank you from the bottom of my heart for your feedback and your continued kindness :)
“Welcome, Uncle,” Wangji says as Lan Qiren walks the final few steps to the jingshi. Beside him, Wei Wuxian bows politely.
“Good evening, Grandmaster,” he murmurs, voice far quieter than Lan Qiren is used to hearing. He raises an eyebrow but returns their greetings, permitting himself to clasp Wangji’s shoulder briefly as they usher him into the jingshi. He had already informed Wangji he did not mean this to be a discussion in Wangji’s capacity as Chief Cultivator, and the atmosphere is more informal than his meetings with his nephew have been in months.
(Wei Wuxian would beg to differ. Loudly. And possibly with several helpful diagrams illustrating why even family dinners amongst the Lans are in No Way, Shape, or Form relaxed and informal. But he had promised his husband he would be on his absolute best behavior.)
He is offered the seat of honor at their small table, and Wei Wuxian is the one to pour tea for both him and Wangji, his movements as flawlessly graceful as any aristocrat. Lan Qiren can admit he had been fearful Wei Wuxian would embarrass and shame them at the many—many—formal banquets Wangji had to attend as Excellency, but Wei Wuxian has impeccable manners when he chooses to. Only when he chooses to, granted. Fortunately, he seems to have deemed events at which his behavior will reflect on Gusu Lan as a whole, and Wangji in particular, just such occasions.
They drink their tea in silence—comfortable silence for him and Wangji, familiar and fitting as a well-broken in pair of shoes—but Lan Qiren does not miss the way Wei Wuxian’s sharp eyes dart between him and Wangji. The way his spine is straight as an arrow, shoulders slightly hunched as though he’s braced for a blow. He does not remark upon it in the hopes that Wei Wuxian will eventually settle down, and a moment later there is a quiet knock at the door.
Wei Wuxian springs up as though he’s been launched by a slingshot and hurries over to open the door to a pair of servants carrying two large, covered trays. He chatters at them for a moment, asking after children and spouses, and Lan Qiren feels a jolt of surprise as the servants answer with genuine smiles and warm looks. He hadn’t realized Wei Wuxian has become so familiar with members of the staff at the Cloud Recesses.
Wangji rises as Wei Wuxian takes one of the trays, and glides over to take it as Wei Wuxian passes it back without looking. Wei Wuxian takes the other with polite thanks, and the servants bow respectfully to Lan Qiren, Wangji, and Wei Wuxian before exiting. Lan Qiren finds himself watching as the two efficiently lay out the meal—bean curd and steamed root vegetables, bowls of rice and freshly-made noodles, mushrooms and winter greens cooked in a rich broth.
They move around each other without thought, without needing to speak. Wei Wuxian collects their plates and begins filling them, politely asking after Lan Qiren’s favorites. Wangji goes to gather a small crock from a cabinet on the wall. Wei Wuxian grins up at his husband as the crock is deposited on the table and the lid removed, revealing a thick sauce that smells strongly of ginger, garlic, vinegar, and chilis. A lot of chilis. Lan Qiren doesn’t want to think about how many spices must have gone into the mixture to produce that shade of red. Wei Wuxian’s grin widens in delight and Wangji’s eyes go soft and fond, his lips tilting upwards in the bare hint of a smile.
“Ah! Sizhui brought me more of that dipping sauce?”
“Mn. Assigned a patrol in the area. Jingyi insisted they stop at the inn and buy some.”
Wei Wuxian mimes wiping a tear from his eyes. “Such good boys we have! Such kind, thoughtful boys!”
“Indeed,” Wangji says, and the soft look does not leave his eyes.
Lan Qiren busies himself with his tea and so nearly misses the way Wangji brushes his hand over one of Wei Wuxian’s as he moves around his husband to take his seat. It’s a quick, barely-there motion, the lightest slide of his thumb over Wei Wuxian’s knuckles, but some tension Lan Qiren hadn’t even noticed seeps out of Wei Wuxian’s shoulders. When he offers Lan Qiren the first of the dishes, he does so with a smile that almost looks genuine.
Lan Qiren thinks to return it for a moment…but then he can only watch in horrified fascination as Wei Wuxian reaches for his chili sauce, scooping out a dollop nearly the size of a hen’s egg and stirring it into his own plate of perfectly-cooked bean curd and vegetables. He is vaguely surprised the food does not immediately start hissing from the sheer amount of spice. He can smell the heat in the sauce.
Wangji just looks besotted and indulgent.
Quiet descends over the table as they eat—as properly and appropriately quiet as any meal Lan Qiren has taken in the dining hall. He is used to watching Wei Wuxian fairly vibrate in his seat when he and Wangji eat with the disciples, as though all the words that usually spill from that chattering mouth are physically knocking against his teeth to get out. Now, though, he keeps his eyes on Wangji, and the two seem to be having a full-blown conversation made up entirely of Wangji’s micro-expressions and Wei Wuxian’s far-more-exaggerated reactions to them.
He has known for years the depths of Wangji’s devotion to this man. If pressed, he knows he would have to admit that he has little reason to doubt Wei Wuxian’s devotion to his nephew runs just as deep. It may have taken him longer to realize and understand his feelings, but Lan Qiren had been able to take some small comfort in the fact that Wangji’s love was at least returned in equal measure. Watching the two of them now—away from the ever-watchful eyes of the Lan disciples, absent the trappings of Wangji’s duties as Chief Cultivator—Lan Qiren cannot help but be surprised by the ease between them. The comfort.
The privacy screens have been set up to completely conceal their sleeping space, but the rest of the jingshi is open to observation. Everywhere Lan Qiren looks, there is evidence of a complete melding of two lives. Half-finished talisman designs in Wei Wuxian’s truly terrible calligraphy sit in a pile next to Wangji’s neatly-ordered reports and paperwork. Shelves that have only ever held a few books of poetry and music theory are now crowded with texts on a wild array of subjects that only Wei Wuxian’s magpie-like mind would alight on. Wei Wuxian’s ghost flute sits innocuously on a stand next to Wangji’s guqin, its polished surface gleaming.
He had feared…oh how he had feared Wangji would follow down the same path his father had. Would throw himself headlong into a love fashioned out of fire, fueled by all the passion that could run in a Lan’s heart. And like fire, it would consume him, leave him a hollowed-out husk. A prisoner to a love that had withered into something dark and poisonous, something that could never be healthy. Such had been the fate of Wangji’s parents.
But Lan Wangji is not his father. And Wei Wuxian’s character, Lan Qiren is realizing, bears little resemblance to Wangji’s mother.
There are the beginnings of a life in the jingshi. The foundations of a home. And Wangji and Wei Wuxian move around each other like they have lived together their entire lives. Like their own bodies are just extensions of each other. Lan Qiren knows his nephew’s marriage does not lack…passion.
If nothing else, the sheer number of red-faced disciples who have come to him the morning after their patrol shifts and tried to find a way to tactfully ask him to remind his nephew to check the strength of the jingshi’s privacy wards would clue him in to that fact.
He watches Wei Wuxian refill Wangji’s teacup and spoon the choicest bits of Wangji’s preferred dishes into his bowl before Wangji can do it himself, his mouth quirked into a half-smile that is a thousand times softer than his usual grin. He is pleased to see that his nephew’s marriage also does not lack warmth. Care. Trust and gentleness. When the meal is finished, Wangji and Wei Wuxian work together to clear the dishes away. More tea is poured, dishes of peanuts and dried fruit are offered (and politely declined), and Lan Qiren finally has no more excuses to put off the conversation he has been bracing himself for. In all honesty, he has been bracing himself for it since Lan Sizhui had first convinced him to listen in on Wei Wuxian and the novices.
“What did you wish to speak about, Uncle?” Wangji asks finally. Wei Wuxian plasters what Lan Qiren is sure he thinks is an expression of polite interest on his face. In truth he looks almost as pained as Lan Qiren feels.
But. He has decided on a course of action. For his sake, for his nephew’s sake, for the sake of the sect’s novice disciples…and even for Wei Wuxian’s sake…he must forge ahead. Lan Guihong is right. It is time they were all allowed to move forward.
“You know Lan Guihong’s health will likely remain fragile for several months. Perhaps for the rest of his life,” he begins. This is not news to Wangji, of course. Lan Guihong is beloved by many in the sect—the whole of the Cloud Recesses has followed the head healer’s reports with much interest. As expected, Wangji nods. “He and I have decided it is time he step down as the primary instructor for our novice class.”
“I will be sorry to see Teacher Lan retire,” Wangji says sincerely. “But of course, his health and comfort must come first. I presume Lan Fang will be taking over?”
“No, actually. Lan Fang is an excellent instructor…but Lan Guihong and I believe, and Lan Fang agrees, that his talents are best utilized where he is.”
Wangji’s brow furrows minutely. “You—wish me to recall one of our senior teachers?” he hazards finally.
Lan Qiren has been many things in his life, but a coward is not one of them. Enough of this.
“I do not,” he says shortly. “We…no, I believe I have already found a suitable replacement. If he is willing.”
Wangji is staring at him, that small furrow still between his brows. And then his whole face smooths, emotion flickering lightning-fast through his eyes. Once, he might have been able to read them all. Once he had been nearly as good at deciphering Wangji’s thoughts as Xichen is. He is not anymore, but he can still see the confusion that shines in his nephew’s eyes, followed by realization, and finally…hope?
Wei Wuxian, meanwhile, glances between the two of them, his mouth pulling into a frown as he comes to his own conclusions. Perhaps Lan Qiren will not have to actually say it out loud, after all.
“Wait...you want Lan Zhan to take over the class? With all his duties?” Wei Wuxian asks incredulously.
Lan Qiren sighs. “Do not be ridiculous, Wei Wuxian.”
Incredibly, Wei Wuxian only looks more confused. “Who then? You can’t possibly mean any of the juniors—I mean, our Sizhui would be wonderful in any capacity, naturally, but he’s far too young! Your Lan juniors are the best of the best, to be sure, but even their maturity has limits!”
For the second time in as many days, Lan Qiren is struck with the feeling that were he even a little less disciplined, his jaw would be hanging by its hinges. “You cannot possibly be this dense,” he says, before he thinks the better of it.
Wangji and Wei Wuxian speak at the same time, Wangji laying a quieting hand on Wei Wuxian’s shoulder. Wei Wuxian subsides, still looking mulish, indignant, and Lan Qiren passes a hand over his face. He is going to have to say it.
“You, Wei Wuxian. Myself, Lan Guihong, and Lan Fang all believe that you would be able to take over Lan Guihong’s duties.”
There is dead silence in the jingshi.
“If you are willing,” Lan Qiren continues, and reaches for his teacup the way a drowning man might reach for a lifeline. He takes a sip, and then another, his eyes fixed on the rim of the cup with dogged determination.
The silence continues. When Lan Qiren finally dares to look up, Wangji is simply sitting with his hands neatly folded in his lap. A smile adorns his face—a real, true smile, the kind Lan Qiren has not seen so openly in years. It has been far longer since such an expression was directed at him. Wangji meets his gaze squarely, that same hope lighting them. Hope, and happiness, and a warm gratitude that loosens something in Lan Qiren’s chest. Wei Wuxian…
Wei Wuxian is gaping at him. And he is certainly not disciplined enough to keep his jaw from dropping.
“I…you…me? You want me to take over the novice class? The novices?”
“Did you not enjoy working with them last week?” Wangji asks, reaching across the small distance between them to take his husband’s hand.
“What? Yes…yes, of course, they’re wonderful kids. But Lan Zhan! I can’t just—I mean…” Wei Wuxian snaps his mouth closed so hard his teeth click audibly, and takes a deep breath. “Master Lan, you hate me.”
The way he says it pulls Lan Qiren up short.
There is no anger in Wei Wuxian’s voice. Neither is there sadness, nor even resignation. He says it so simply. As though Lan Qiren’s hatred is something he should take as his due…is simply a fact. The sky is blue, water is wet, Wei Wuxian is hated by the man who raised his husband from childhood. A year ago, it might even have been true.
A year ago, he did not know the things he does now. He had not seen the things he has seen, and listened to the people he’s listened to over the past few days.
One must always strive for honesty in all things. Most particularly with oneself. “I do not care for you. Not in the way that I always thought I would care for the person my nephew chose to spend his life with.” He sets his teacup down carefully, more for the few seconds it gives him to gather his thoughts than any fear of breaking it. “But I cannot lay the blame for that entirely at your feet.”
Wei Wuxian startles at that, meeting Lan Qiren’s eyes in shock. He squares his shoulders, his grip on Wangji’s hand tightening. “You are well within your rights to hate me,” he says, still in that same even, factual tone. It is perhaps the most serious he has ever seen the man—there is no hint of laughter in his face, now.
They sit there, the three of them, the weight of the past pressing down on them, and Lan Qiren suddenly sees all the ways that this can go stretching out before him. All the ways he can simply withdraw from this, and let things go back to the way they’ve been for the past year. But he can also see all the ways that they can go forward. The ways they can finally, finally drain wounds that have been festering for decades.
“I do not hate you, Wei Wuxian.” He cannot hate someone that Wangji loves so dearly. That Lan Sizhui loves so dearly. Not and still be worthy of their love in return. “And I do not wish to be at odds with you.”
Wei Wuxian barks out a disbelieving laugh. “So you decided to ask me to teach your junior…er…juniors?”
“I decided to ask you to teach the novice class because you are the best person we can currently ask.” It only stings a little to admit that truth out loud. He may be getting better at this. “The children are already fond of you. Lan Fang and Lan Sizhui cannot find fault with your instructional abilities. If you do not wish to—”
“I…I didn’t say that,” Wei Wuxian interrupts, and there is something as fragile as spun glass in his voice. “But...”
“Wei Ying,” Wangji says finally, drawing Wei Wuxian’s attention to him. He holds his husband’s gaze for a moment, and another silent conversation unfolds between the two of them. After a moment, Wei Wuxian dips his head, closing his eyes briefly.
“If you are sure, Master Lan…then, yes.” His voice goes quiet, hesitant in a way that Lan Qiren has never heard from him before. “This one would be honored to take over the novice class.”
Lan Qiren lets out a breath he hadn’t realized he’s been holding, suddenly as tired as if he’s been doing sword drills all day. He feels wrung out, his nerves scraped raw—and yet there is something inside him that feels suddenly lighter.
“Excellent,” he says, and finds that he means it. “Then I will expect you at the healer’s pavilion during tomorrow’s study period so that you may be formally introduced to Lan Guihong. He will consult with you during the transition, help make sure everything goes smoothly. If all goes well, you may begin next week. Do keep in mind that classes in the Cloud Recesses begin at seven.” There is much to discuss, and even more to arrange, but he has taken enough of their time for the evening. No doubt they will have much to discuss between themselves.
They both rise to see him out when he takes his leave. He does not think he is imagining that Wangji bids him good night more warmly than he has in months. Wei Wuxian bows to him respectfully, but pauses as he straightens.
“Master Lan,” he says, and Lan Qiren never thought he might actually miss the impertinence Wei Wuxian usually addresses him with. But this seriousness does not quite suit him, all the more so because Lan Qiren suspects the reasons behind it are extremely complicated…and painful. “Thank you for this opportunity. For trusting me with it. I will endeavor to be worthy of that trust.”
Lan Qiren rather thinks this is as close to a peace offering as either of them are capable of at this point in time. He nods. “See that you do,” he says. With only a fraction of his usual brusqueness.
He turns and begins walking up the path that will take him back to his own quarters, his breath frosting in the air, fresh snow crunching under his boots, his heart feeling less burdened than it has in years.
“Wait, classes start at what time?!” Wei Wuxian’s voice suddenly rings out in the evening stillness of the Cloud Recesses, indignation and dismay dripping from every word.
And if Lan Qiren chuckles to himself as he keeps walking, well. That’s no one’s business but his own.