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What You Lack as a Cultivator

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Wei Ying didn't understand how it was that he had ended in the Cloud Recesses of all places, and on top of that being simultaneously reprimanded by his father, Uncle Jiang, and Uncle Lan.

'Wuxian! How could you have said such things to Sect Leader Jin?' Lan Qiren asked, while looking ready to have a heart attack.

'A'Ying, that was so rude! I didn't think I raised you like this.' His father seemed to be on the verge of tears.

'That was so inappropriate, A'Ying.' Jiang Fengmian sided with his father, as always, and looking very troubled too.

'You're all exaggerating.' His mother said, sitting next to him and taking his side as expected. 'Plus he didn't say anything that wasn't true.' Despite being on his side, she still had him looking down and bowing low in apology while he took in all that the three men in front of him had to say to him.

Lan Qiren was ready for a qi deviation at the words of his mother, though. 'How can you still say that!?''

'Calm down, Qiren.' Cangse laughed. 'Think of your blood pressure.'

Wei Ying pouted as he stared at the ground and his father and two uncles started reprimanding him again. Their eyes glued to the top of his head in strict and worried glares. In his opinion, everyone was overreacting. He had done nothing wrong.

 

Wei Ying had been traveling alone for almost a year now, after getting permission from his parents to do so. They had agreed to meet each other in the Discussion Conference in the Unclean Realm and resume traveling together from then on.

Wei Ying had been allowed to participate at the last minute as a guest disciple with Jiang Fengmian's endorsement. He had been told Nie Mingjue had heard much of his mother and therefore was curious about his supposed prowess. Because of that, he had ultimately allowed his participation, despite the unorthodoxy of the whole thing. Wei Ying was not one to look at a gifted horse in the mouth and so accepted graciously to join in the archery competition as a guest disciple.

His gratitude had not impacted his conduct though. He had arrived late, rushed in, shot more targets than anyone ever, and turned to leave to look for his parents. A few elders called him rude behind his back when they thought he was far away enough not to hear their, truthfully, loud whispers.

He was leaving through a less used road when he heard a distressed girl. As a cultivator, and ultimately, as a strong person, he had a duty to help those in trouble, so he didn't hesitate for a second and went to help. He had no idea those two were Jin Zixuan and Jiang Yanli, and that they were betrothed since birth. When Wei Wuxian had found the couple, Jiang Yanli had looked on the verge of tears. The only logical thing to do was stepping in and defending her honor as well as demand that Jin Zixuan kept his distance. And that’s what he had done!

Maybe he had really overstepped when Jin Guangshan and Madam Jin had appeared and asked him to leave and not meddle in their business.

'This is not a place for one like you.' Jin Guangshan had said, the distaste in his tone unhidden.

'There is a young maiden being bullied by a man in an obviously advantageous situation. This is exactly the place for one like me!' He was quick to answer. 'Who are you exactly to be harassing this young maiden?' He had asked then, because he honestly didn't know.

The old man and his wife scoffed, but did not have the opportunity to confectionate a response.

'This is Sect Leader Jin, and you'll bow to him.' Another boy their age also in bright yellow robes had stepped in from behind the adult couple.

Wei Ying looked convincingly surprised. 'Oooh, so you're the guy who's got bastards scattered all over the land! No wonder your son is bothering this lady here. I've heard the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.'

The shocked expressions were quickly followed by reddened faces in both shame and fury.

 

In retrospect, maybe that had been… a tad bit too much. His mother was right though! Wei Ying hadn't said anything that was false, and it was them who had been rude first too.

Lan Qiren sighed then. 'How could you not recognize Sect Leader Jin?' He asked, worry overtaking all his other emotions, which were mostly rage at this point.

Wei Ying was allowed to raise from his bowing position and shrugged. 'Never seen the man before?'

'He was wearing the usual yellow golden robes that identify the Jin sect and his clothes have the white Sparks Amidst Snow Peony in the very chest!' Lan Qiren pointed at his own white clad chest in more anger and disbelief.

Wei Ying arched an eyebrow. 'A what peony?'

Lan Qiren covered his face in defeat. 'And what about all that gloating you did? Improper! Gaudy! not to mention completely unnecessary.'

Wei Ying pouted. 'But I won…'

'Aren't you being a little too cocky, son?' Wei Changze asked. 'You did very well, but you should always be humble about your merits.'

'Don't be so hard on the boy for being happy about winning.' Cangse countered. 'It's only harmless fun. Plus, he's right…. He did win.'

Wei Ying beamed proudly and his three male parental figures groaned with different intensities. Still, he thought back… and maybe there was some merit to what they were saying. Mom was right, it was harmless fun in and off itself, but it ended up getting him undesired attention.

 

Actually, Wei Ying hadn't looked for his parents quite so immediately after finishing the competition. He had stayed back to hear the results.

When the Nie Elder in charge of announcing the results read his name first, he had cheered for himself. Maybe he had spent too much time alone these past few months, but the truth was no one else would do it for him.

A boy older than him had approached him as he had his little victory dance in front of everyone and asked him who he was.

'Wei Ying, courtesy Wuxian.' He said plainly, crossing his arms over his chest. It was not enough of an answer it seemed because the boy didn't seem satisfied.

'What sect are you from? You should be embarrassed of that shameless display!' The red clad cultivator reprimanded him.

Wei Ying arched an eyebrow. 'I am shameless, yes but, do not worry, as I come here on my own. I belong to no one but myself.'

The boy's eyes widened. 'You're rogue…?'

'Indeed I am, Young Master.'

He then narrowed his eyes at him in suspicion but, after a few long seconds of staring, he spoke. 'Join my sect.' He said- no, ordered him.

Wei Ying laughed in his face and waved his hand dismissively. 'No thanks.'

The boy’s expression turned into something between shock and outrage at the rude rejection. 'Do you know who I am? You can't talk to me like that!'

It was Wei Ying's turn to narrow his eyes at him and arched an eyebrow, then shrugged. 'I don't know who you are, Young Master. It was you who didn't introduce yourself. And I can talk to you however I please. In fact, I just did.' He finished with a blinding grin.

The boy's gaze had darkened with angry offense. 'I am Wen Xu, sect heir of Qishan Wen.'

Wei Ying oohed in realization and then smiled brightly again, completely ignoring the threatening aura of the other boy. 'Well, Young Master Wen's offer is gracious, but I remain uninterested. Have a good day.'

'You-.'

But Wei Ying was already bored of Wen Xu and that pointless conversation and had started to walk away, effectively leaving the boy with his words in his tongue. He had other things to do, after all.

 

'You offended Wen Xu.' Jiang Fengmian sighed. 'It's bound to get to Wen Ruohan's ears.'

'So? He's nothing of mine. What can he do? Ask mom to discipline me?'

The three men in front of him looked remarkably unimpressed with his glibness.

'What about Yu Ziyuan? She could definitely take matters into her own hands.' Wei Changze asked, almost threatening.

Wei Ying grimaced. That had also happened.

 

After offending all the main Jin Clan, Wei Ying had still insisted on escorting Jiang Yanli to her parents. Her distress had been real, because she accepted his offer and his elbow when he offered it to her, and clung to him while they walked away.

Explaining the issue to Madam Yu had been a strange thing as Jiang Yanli grew more and more scared as he progressed until the part he called out Jin Guangshan for being loose.

Madam Yu, who Wei Ying had only met there and realized she was the fearful Violet Spider that Uncle Jiang had married, was so angry at him and his interruption that she wielded her famous Zidian at him.

Wei Ying was so impressed with the purple lightning whip that he had taken the attack as a challenge. This was a one in a lifetime opportunity after all! He coated his hand in spiritual energy and let it out in controlled fashion, making a protective glove around it, and grabbed the whip with his bare hand. Both Jiang Yanli and Madam Yu had been so surprised, they forgot about what had just happened. Madam Yu recovered quickly though, and took the whip away and managed to land a good two lashes, one on his back and the second on his left arm.

 

'She already whipped me!' Wei Ying complained. 'Isn't that enough punishment? And how was I supposed to know that was an engaged couple? Uncle Jiang, Yanli-jie looked very distressed!'

Jiang Fengmian sighed. 'That's not an issue for you to solve, A'Ying, but I appreciate your intentions nonetheless.'

'The problem still stands, A'Ying!' His dad insisted. 'Don't you realize this is your first public event in cultivation society and you offended a complete main clan, a sect heir, and a Madam, all from prominent sects. This is three out of five! You can't expect to go on like this.'

Wei Ying frowned and looked down. When put like that… he couldn't deny his father had a point. If every time he met other cultivators his dad would get this stressed, maybe making the effort to learn some names and colors was only a little price to pay.

'C'mon, Ying'er!' His mother said then, patting his head softly. 'You can make friends your age for once. All young masters from prominent clans will be here this year. I'm sure the Cloud Recesses will have lots of fun things to learn and discover.'

Wei Ying smiled back tenderly at his mother and finally nodded. 'If mother wishes it, then how can this son deny her?'

The three men in front sighed in different levels of defeat. In the end, Wei Ying would always do what Cangse asked of him. They didn't even need to convince him beforehand of the merit of the idea.

And thus it was decided that Wei Ying would stay the whole year in the Cloud Recesses along with the other young masters.

'If you do not pass after the end of the year…!' Lan Qiren threatened. 'I won't let you leave for another whole year.'

'Ah-!?' Wei Ying was ready to start complaining when he was silenced. It had been some time since the last time his uncle had done that. 'Mhmmhmhmh!' He tried to regain speech, but his lips just wouldn't part. How annoying. Wei Ying felt he was entirely too old for this treatment.

'It's late. Go rest. We'll discuss the details of your stay and start with your education tomorrow morning, since you know less than a ten year old about etiquette and lineage.' Lan Qiren instructed.

Wei Ying pouted but relented and nodded.

'We'll see you tomorrow, Ying'er.' Cangse said with a chuckle. Clearly, she thought this was funny.

Wei Ying bowed for a change and walked outside and away towards the room he had been shown earlier, when they had just arrived. He took a few turns and waited a bit. The place was deserted, already way past curfew but Wei Ying was nothing if not a perfect combination of hunter and prey instincts all bundled up together. He used the shadows to hide his presence and went back to the room where his parents were still talking with his uncles. Choosing a good spot under a window and nicely protected by a bush and the shadow of a big orchid tree.

'Wuxian may need more than a year-long stay, considering the amount of things you have not taught him.' Lan Qiren's voice sounded stern and judgemental even from his spot under the window.

'Well, he has faced different challenges than the other young masters.' His mother defended, as always. 'Who's who and what colors and symbols they wear makes no difference out there in front of a beast or corpse. He needed to be good at survival. My Ying'er is a great cultivator. Everything else is just chattel.'

Three tired sighs followed and hadn't Wei Ying and Cangse heard them a lot when his four guardians met? The three men really thought alike. Wei Ying wondered for a moment if that was what his mother tried to avoid with him by keeping him away from sects. He remembered his mother refusing invitations to study on their sects from uncle Lan and uncle Jiang on various occasions when he was younger.

'I agree with you, dear.' Wei Changze was the first to try and placate her. 'But now, A'Ying is 15, he needs to know how to act in society or he'll become a danger to himself.'

Wei Ying could hear the agreement from the other two and frowned. Was the pride of a few old men such a delicate thing? Would they really try and harm him just because he was a little bit brash with his words?

'I believe me and Qiren managed to diffuse the situation with Sect Leader Jin and his wife, and my own also, at least partly. Now, Sect Leader Wen I don't know what he'll make of that, but he will not be easily placated if he takes offense.'

Cangse huffed in annoyance. 'Enough of that! I already agreed to leave Ying'er under Qiren's tutelage for a year. He is the finest teacher of the cultivation world, is he not? What else can be done now? Plus those ridiculous old men should be mature enough not to react so pettily at a young boy's words.'

Wei Ying smiled fondly and shook his head at the pleased hum he heard from uncle Lan. Mom's compliments always pleased him so.

'Let's discuss the terms of Wuxian's stay, then.' Lan Qiren said, changing the topic and wordlessly granting his mother the reason.

A strong affirmative hum left his mother.

'Wuxian will join us as an honorary member of the sect.' Lan Qiren said, not a question.

Wei Ying frowned and moved slightly, trying to get the top of his head past the window's edge so he could see inside without leaving his hiding spot or giving himself away.

'I'm not sure about that…' His father said then. 'It's not that I think it's a bad idea.' Wei Changze was quick to say. 'But A'Ying will not like it one bit. He is very proud of his status as a rogue.'

Lan Qiren huffed in annoyance. 'Of course he is! Most likely Cangse's influence, no doubt.'

'He has a healthy amount of self esteem, as any person his age should have.' She argued without missing a beat. 'And here, living with all these pompous Young Masters, he'll need it more than ever.'

'Well, that is true.' Jiang Fengmian conceded. 'Young Master Jin is… a lot. My own son is also very proud.'

'That is also no doubt the influence of your wife, Fengmian. She dotes on him too much.' Lan Qiren was reprimanding Jiang Fengmian now.

Jiang Fengmian sighed in defeat, giving Wei Ying the impression this conversation was old. 'That's why I'm sending my daughter and son to you for a year. They will both benefit from your tutelage, friend.'

Lan Qiren once again looked infinitely pleased.

'Well, what about A'Ying's being part of the Lan sect?'

'I think it's a good idea.' Cangse said then, surprising all the people present, including Wei Ying. 'It is as you say. He's proud of being rogue. I believe that being held accountable as part of the sect will make his education here make more sense to him and feel more personal.'

'That's exactly why I feel this is important. I'm glad you agree. I'll have a disciple prepare his robes and a forehead ribbon.'

Wei Ying groaned silently, sliding down the wall back to his crouched position behind his bush. He had never said it, but he found the lan sect ribbon unbearably stupid. He was glad he had a thick face, but still felt reluctant to wear it.

'And he'll have to abide by the rules of the sect.' Lan Qiren declared.

'All three thousand of them?' Jiang Fengmian asked doubtfully. 'Maybe you're setting yourself up for failure, Qiren.' The Jiang sect leader pointed out. Wei Ying only followed Cangse's famous commandments, that were a set of about ten or so rules anyone should follow during a hunt. Wei Ying sometimes even disobeyed his father without a single regret.

Wei Ying huffed silently. He didn't want to listen any longer. If he was to be a prisoner in uncle Qiren's sect, following their terrifying amount of rules, then he'd take the chance to enjoy his last night of freedom. The Cloud Recesses may have gone to sleep, but it was still relatively early and finding an open tavern would be no challenge.

 

He scurried silently and covered by the darkness of night and the tree shadows, he left the Cloud Recesses with no difficulty whatsoever.

Chapter Text

Wei Ying had no trouble leaving the Cloud Recesses. In fact it was worryingly easy. He briefly entertained the thought of telling uncle Lan about it, but quickly discarded it. He would then have to bypass the new upgraded security everytime he wanted to leave; and he'd much rather have an easy way out.

When Wei Ying had left, the Cloud Recesses was a ghost town, but on the other side of the wall, Caiyi was still alive. The lanterns were lit in every street and vendors were still out selling their wares; restaurants, inns, and bookshops open through the whole length of the main street.

Wei Ying loved little towns like this one and was quick to immerse himself in the city life. He talked with the vendors and flirted with the young people in the market, bought some wine and shared casual conversation with a couple of older fishermen before deciding to go back, stomach full and two brand new flasks of Emperor's Smile, the best alcohol he had ever tasted, in his hand.

Going back inside the Cloud Recesses was a whole different matter.

Wei Ying walked around the border, looking for the same place he had used to jump out. He found it just as unprotected as he had found it on his way out and jumped happily up the wall, landing comfortably on the tiles in a crouched position. He was ready to leap down and disappear between the shadows when movement caught his eye.

Wei Ying unsheathed his sword and attacked on instinct in response. When his eyes focused on the person at the tip end of his sword, he found a boy most likely his age, white clad, a ribbon proudly on his forehead. His inky black hair framed his beautiful face and Wei Ying gave himself a second to feel impressed. This was surely the most beautiful person he had laid eyes on.

'You scared me there.' Wei Ying spoke in a friendly tone, his best charming smile curling the ends of his lips. He didn't take away his sword, though and instead moved the tip carefully to raise the boy's face, the flat end barely gracing his chin. 'Moving so silently like that.'

The Lan boy narrowed his eyes at him before moving at incredible speed and unsheathing his sword to push away Wei Ying’s.

Wei Ying's smile widened. His body moving before he could even think about it, pure instincts taking him out of the blade’s range and quickly turning to both protect his wine flasks and his sword to parry the attack. They stared at each other, no intention of relenting the fight on either side. The other boy moved first, making a series of attacks, one after the other. Wei Ying defended himself swiftly, their swords meeting with each blow. Wei Ying’s smile never left his face.

'Entering the Cloud Recesses after curfew is forbidden. You must return tomorrow morning.' The boy finally spoke.

Wei Ying's eyes widened in surprise and then sniggered. 'Aiya, Pretty Brother, if I pretended to obey the rules I wouldn't be climbing walls. Don't you think?'

Pretty Brother furrowed his brows in response and moved to attack again.

Wei Ying countered easily. 'You're good.' He piped appreciatively as they exchanged blows, which only seemed to make his opponent more angry. Wei Ying felt rather entertained, though. It had been a while since he trained with someone. He parried the other boy’s hits one after the other. Soon enough, though, the fun ended. Wei Ying could see from the corner of his eye how other white clad disciples arrived at the scene. He blew on his own bangs in frustration. He had wanted to keep the game a little longer.

'You're as good as you’re pretty, Gege.' Wei Ying happily complimented again as he fixed his sword and threw a counter and a quick swing, making the other boy lose hold of his sword. 'But you lack killing intent.' He told and winked at him before jumping outside and running away as fast as he could and using the shadows to disappear in the forest, protected by darkness.

 

*

 

Lan Qiren had discussed with Jiang Fengmian and Wuxian's parents about how to address his stay in the Cloud Recesses until he was almost falling down from sleep. Cangse seemed to know exactly what she wanted for her son and definitely knew what things were acceptable and which ones would only get them a runaway Wei Wuxian. Wei Changze had kindly volunteered to take note of those and left Lan Qiren a nice and very orderly book on how to better manage him. Yes, the boy's father had made a front and back cover and tied the pages into a booklet. The way it was written, it could very easily be called a manual. A How To Handle Your Wei Ying Manual. Very useful, Lan Qiren hoped.

Lan Qiren had woken up at the usual five in the morning the next day and had gone straight to study the text as his memory of the discussion was not as clear as he would have liked. He decided after reading the first third of the book that it was better if he delivered the uniform and ribbon personally. That way, he could explain the meaning of the ribbon and the importance of keeping oneself clean.

He retrieved both items and went to the room lent to Wei Wuxian.

Once there, he heard absolutely nothing from inside and wondered if the boy was still sleeping. It was almost 7 by now. Lan Qiren decided to knock on the door, but there was no immediate response, nor was there any response five minutes later either, when he knocked again.

Lan Qiren frowned. He remembered the boy being able to raise early, even if it wasn't his preference. He was also aware that Wei Wuxian was a very light sleeper. Worry started to take over. Lan Qiren took a hold of the screen and slid it open with determination, only to find the boy in question slipping inside through the window at the back to the room, two alcohol flasks in his hand.

The teacher felt his blood boil, but stopped himself from shouting, as it was forbidden. He took a deep breath and glared hard at his new disciple.

‘Good morning, Wuxian.’ He greeted him coldly.

'Uh… g- good morning, uncle Lan!' He greeted the older man with a huge smile, trying to finish sliding in through the window with as much elegance as he could manage, which was not much, really. 'It looks like it will be sunny today.' He added for good measure, as he quickly stood up from the floor where he had unceremoniously fallen. Wei Wuxian was still wearing yesterday’s clothes and they looked quite worse for wear than last time they had met. The boy caught his eyes and quickly dusted and rearranged it as best he could, even taking a few leaves and twigs from between the folds of his robes.

Lan Qiren felt ready to smack this new disciple of his, his anger only increasing with the shame he felt at having been worried about this unruly child! He took another deep breath. It was clear the boy had gone out the previous night and then bought, drank, and brought back alcohol inside the Cloud Recesses. 'Get dressed.' He said instead and offered the white robes he had prepared for him.

'Right away, uncle Lan.' Wei Wuxian said as he grabbed his bundle and went behind a privacy screen. He didn’t even look hungover, the little monster.

Wei Wuxian emerged soon after, clad in white. His usual black robes hung from the screen.

'How do I look?' He asked twirling around, smiling cheekily.

Lan Qiren turned his eyes to the heavens and asked for patience. 'Come here. Turn around.'

Wuxian did as it was asked of him and waited. Lan Qiren was quick to take out the ribbon he had prepared for Wuxian from inside a sleeve and swiftly tied it around his head.

'Huh?' Wuxian exclaimed, hands quick to touch the fabric covering his forehead. He turned around to face him.

'I have told you about the Lan sect forehead ribbon, Wuxian.' Lan Qiren started. 'The first and most important lesson I wish to impart on you is that of self regulation. For that reason, I've deemed it necessary that you have your own. Remember to always wear it when in the presence of others. Only your family and partner may touch it.'

Wei Wuxian looked like he was making a great effort not to groan. 'Uncle… could I possibly learn this without wearing the ribbon, maybe?'

Lan Qiren glared at him. 'No.'

'But it's so embarrassing…' Wei Wuxian mumbled.

'There's nothing embarrassing about it!' Lan Qiren declared. 'And you'll wear it proudly as long as you're my disciple.'

Wei Wuxian sighed in defeat, which Lan Qiren counted as a good sign in his books. 'Understood.' He said with a notorious pout and shoulders sagging. .

'Now, follow me. We'll be having breakfast with your parents.'

Wei Wuxian looked up, eyes shining. 'Breakfast? I'm famished!'

Lan Qiren sighed but couldn't help a little smile at how easily the boy’s mood would improve. 'Let's go then.'

Lan Qiren led him towards a little pavilion. By the time they got there, Wei Wuxian was almost bouncing in place. So much so, that he jumped ahead and opened the door for them himself, revealing Jiang Fengmian, Wei Changze, and Cangse already there and the table set and ready.

‘Mom!’ Wei Wuxian exclaimed with a wide grin before striding towards her and sitting by her side, where a space obviously left for him was waiting.

‘Good morning.’ Lan Qiren greeted everyone with a slight bow and sat at the head of the rectangular table.

‘Good morning, Qiren.’ Wei Changze greeted back politely as he reached for the teapot and filled everyone’s cups.

‘You look so handsome with your Lan robes and forehead ribbon~.’ Cangse cooed, eyes fixed on Wei Wuxian and fixing the perfectly placed ribbon on his forehead.

Wei Wuxian immediately grimaced and tried to shoo her hands away. ‘Mom, don’t make it more embarrassing than it already is.’

‘It’s not embarrassing!’ Lan Qiren reprimanded again. He emphasized his annoyance with a flick of his sleeves.

Jiang Fengmian and Wei Changze nodded in agreement while Cangse hummed earnestly. ‘Just a tad silly. Nothing you won’t recover from, though.’ She said happily, clear mirth in her voice.
Wei Wuxian whined in response and covered the front of the ribbon with both his hands, his cheeks coloring a charming red. ‘Mom.’ He mumbled. ‘I have to wear this now… don’t be mean.’

‘Mean!’ Lan Qiren huffed. ‘Disrespectful, I would say.’

Wei Changze cut them with a chuckle. ‘Let’s be at peace.’ He said, interrupting the oncoming argument. ‘The food and the tea will get cold, let’s eat.’

Wei Wuxian and Cangse were effectively distracted, their eyes focusing on the beautifully presented and very warm looking foods laid for them on the table. They took their chopsticks, ready to dig in.

Lan Qiren glared weakly at the pair before following suit. Wei Changze and Jiang Fengmian, sitting side by side looked like the picture of peace and calm, completely comfortable and accustomed to the other two’s antics.

The peace was brief though. The moment the first mouthful touched the mother and son pair’s tongues, their happy demeanors paused. They grimaced and swallowed with difficulty in scary coordination.

‘What… is this…?’ Wei Wuxian asked weakly, looking at his food.

Cangse sighed deeply. ‘I had forgotten how terrible the food was in the Cloud Recesses.’

Wei Wuxian’s eyes widened alarmingly as he looked up from his bowl and looked at his mother and then at Lan Qiren. ‘This is the standard breakfast!?’ He almost squeaked.

Lan Qiren closed his eyes in an attempt to calm his anger and not scream at the two of them. He took a deep breath. ‘It is.’ He spoke through gritted teeth.

‘Don’t be rude to our host.’ Jiang Fengmian said then, seeing the tensions rise in between the three spitfires of the family. ‘The food is nice, Qiren. Please thank the kitchen for us.’

As usual, the always mediator and pacifist Wei Changze nodded along with his best friend, but quickly took out a little pouch from inside his sleeve. ‘I went early to Caiyi to get this ready for you, A’Ying.’ He put it on the center of the table.

Wei Wuxian reached for it and opened it once it was in his hands. ‘Spices!’

Wei Changze nodded. ‘You may use them on the food.’

Lan Qiren huffed but guessed it was better this way. Otherwise he would have to deal with an eternally whiny and displeased Wei Wuxian.

‘Ah~, my dear husband is so considerate and thoughtful.’ Cangse sighed, looking tenderly at Wei Changze who after almost 16 years of marriage still blushed. ‘Now share some with your mother, Ying’er.’

Wei Wuxian was quick to put the pouch away from his mother. ‘Nuhuh! You’ll leave soon! Me? I’ll be stuck here for who knows how long! I have to save this!’

Lan Qiren sighed again and continued with his breakfast. Not without adding a last comment. ‘No talking while eating.’ He grumbled out.

Jiang Fengmian and Wei Changze were quick to follow the rule and went back to their food.

Cangse, on the other side, wrestled the pouch out of Wei Wuxian’s hand and put spices on both their breakfasts. Before Wei Wuxian could wrestle it back, she closed it and put the pouch inside the boy’s robes, who only pouted at being bested by his mother and went to eat as well.

The rest of the breakfast went by quietly. The two troublemakers ate with much more gusto after putting some flavor on their bowls and Lan Qiren allowed himself to let go of his petty anger. Once they were all finished and all the chopsticks were down, as well as all the bowls empty, Wei Changze spoke.

‘A’Ying, we will be leaving today, after breakfast.’ He quickly added the last part after a glance to Cangse.

‘So soon?’ Wei Wuxian pouted. ‘We haven’t seen each other in so long…’

Cangse sighed and smiled tenderly at her son, placing a hand on his shoulder and squeezing softly. ‘We will write to you often, Ying’er.’ She promised. ‘Plus, you ought to be a very independent young cultivator at this point. You traveled a year on your own! That is quite the feat.’

‘You were fourteen when you descended from Baoshan Sanren’s mountain, were you not?’ Jiang Fengmian mentioned then. ‘Maybe it’ll turn into a tradition for the Wei family to travel alone at fourteen.’

Cangse smiled at Jiang Fengmian at that. ‘It may be.’

‘Let’s not diverge from the topic.’ Lan Qiren quickly brought their attention back to the matter at hand. ‘Wuxian, your parents and Sect Leader Jiang are leaving today, after this. You may bid farewell and after, you’ll join me for your first lessons as a Lan disciple.’

Wei Wuxian pouted a bit at that, but didn’t seem like he would complain further. ‘Will I be allowed to leave the Cloud Recesses every now and then? To visit Caiyi? Maybe to buy some more spices?’

Lan Qiren nodded. ‘I will allow it.’ He declared mercifully. ‘But you ought to ask for permission first!’ Lan Qiren warned. ‘Each time.’

‘Yes, Uncle Lan.’ Wei Wuxian said in a singsong, sounding very pleased with himself.

Lan Qiren gave up and simply gave in the impulse of rolling his eyes at his adoptive nephew.

'Ying'er.' His mother called. 'We have discussed at length about your stay here and decided that a year time is appropriate enough, but Qiren may extend it if you truly need it.'

Wei Wuxian nodded. His guardians took turns to tell him the same things they had discussed in the conversation he had eavesdropped on the night before. Once it seemed like Wei Wuxian had no questions and was well aware of the terms and conditions, Cangse raised to her feet.

'I believe it's time.' She said.

 

While Jiang Fengmian and Lan Qiren followed Cangse, Wei Wuxian in tow as well, towards the main gate, Wei Changze went to retrieve Lil' Turnip. While they waited for Wei Wuxian's father to retrieve the trusty donkey, Cangse used her time to hug Wei Wuxian as much as she could.

‘You’ll wrinkle his robes.’ Lan Qiren told Cangse as he looked at the display of affection with soft eyes.

‘You can straighten them after I leave.’ Cangse answered easily, right before she planted a kiss right on the top of Wei Wuxian’s hair. ‘My son has grown so much.’ She sighed with a happy smile on her face and leaned her head to rest on top of Wei Wuxian’s head, right where she had planted the kiss.

‘Is everyone ready?’ Wei Changze’s voice made the mother and son duo to part and turn to look at the man.

Behind Wei Changze trailed calmly a grey donkey, nicely adorned with light purple coloured reins and a bell hanging around its neck.

‘Lil’ Turnip is all clean and rested, well fed too.’ Wei Changze told them as he patted the donkey.

The donkey leaned its head gently against the open palm and visibly enjoyed the caress.

‘Then, we’re ready to go.’ Cangse declared with some finality.

Wei Changze nodded and then turned to Wei Wuxian. He opened his arms and his son jumped into his arms. They shared a tight hug. Wei Wuxian then proceeded to jump from his father’s arms into Jiang Fengmian’s who looked startled for half a second before hugging back just as tight.

‘Good luck, A’Ying.’ Jiang Fengmian said as they let go. ‘Try and don’t kill Qiren while you’re here. You know his blood pressure is not well.’

‘I’m perfectly fine!’ Lan Qiren defended himself. ‘As if I hadn’t been dealing with this rascal since he was born.’

The three other adults couldn’t help but laugh. It was in that happy note that Wei Wuxian’s three other parental figures left the Cloud Recesses, leaving him in the trusty yet stern hands of Lan Qiren.

Lan Qiren and Wei Wuxian looked at the road until the rogue couple and the Jiang sect leader reached the bifurcation of the road. There, Jiang Fengmian said his own quick goodbyes and mounted his sword in the direction of Lotus Pier. Cangse and Wei Changze kept walking away calmly in the direction of Lanling.

Once their figures could no longer be seen, Lan Qiren turned to Wei Wuxian and patted his head softly. ‘Let’s go.’ He called and turned around to go back inside, Wei Wuxian in tow.

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian had been born in a meadow.

Jiang Fengmian had arranged for a midwife in a medium sized town close to the Yunmeng border with Qishan, but the previous doctor his mother had seen had given them too broad a range for the birth. Cangse’s water broke in the middle of the way. Wei Wuxian’s father helped her down her trusty donkey and laid her down over a bunch of open robes in the middle of the meadow they were crossing and she gave birth right there.

From then on, Wei Wuxian would only know the road and the occasional inn’s room. Home would be wherever he was and whoever he was with.

Most, if not all, of Wei Wuxian’s mountain of knowledge was from following his parents and uncles' example, learning from experience, and experimentation. Because of his peculiar upbringing, Wei Wuxian had amazing reflexes, incredible speed, and considerable strength, as well as notorious pain tolerance. At his young age, he was a more experienced cultivator than probably all the young masters and young disciples of the current generation. Not to mention his incredible innate talent, undoubtedly inherited from his parents, both peerless cultivators. Truly a monster.

A monster now Lan Qiren had to domesticate so the cultivation world didn’t fall over him and thwarted early such a young life, because, as Wei Wuxian was incredibly intelligent, he was also a great dumbass. And, to make it much worse, way too cocky.

‘I understand you’ve never had to stay still and quiet in a classroom before, Wuxian.’ Lan Qiren tried to make him understand the importance of this. ‘But you must make the effort.’

Wei Wuxian whined loudly for the fourth time that morning. It was barely 9. ‘Uncle, I’m really too bored! I’ll die from this. Die, I tell you!’

‘You’ll be the one to kill me.’ Lan Qiren groaned. ‘Now, from where we left. What is the symbol of the Nie Sect?’

'Uuuh… I dunno… they are the ones with the sabers, aren't they? Something fierce then, like the head of a beast? With horns and all.' Wei Wuxian answered, sounding almost absent minded. He even inspected his nails casually, to make it even more patent how little he cared about the topic of discussion.

Lan Qiren mentally pleaded for patience. 'Yes… that is correct.'

'It is? Wahooo! Now, can I leave?'

'Absolutely not! What is GusuLan's motif?'

'Uncle! That's so easy, you have it everywhere around here: clouds!' Wei Wuxian answered easily, waving his hand dismissively.

'The Jiang motif?'

'Lotus flower!'

'The Wen motif?'

'Uuuuh… those are the red ones right? Super rude by the way. Something to do with fire?'

'Yes… so what is it?'

'It's not fire?' Wei Wuxian scratched his chin, making a perfect show of being deep in thought.

Lan Qiren tried his hardest not to sigh again. It was way too early to feel this tired and hopeless. 'The sun, Wuxian. The sun.'

'Oh.'

Lan Qiren started then from the beginning, showing Wei Wuxian the symbols in neatly drawn papers. Wei Wuxian whined again.

It took Lan Qiren three absolutely wasted days to realize this was not working. Wei Wuxian had great trouble with Lan Qiren's teaching methods.

No, that was not quite correct.

When Lan Qiren had imparted brief lessons in the past, while they walked through the woods towards a night hunting location, Wei Wuxian had been attentive and receptive. The more practical and useful the piece of knowledge, the better he was at incorporating it to his fighting style or strategy. While changing his strategy was tempting, he still needed Wei Wuxian to be ready to take classes with the new crop of guest disciples. This year, most Young Masters would come study and Wei Wuxian would do good to make acquaintances with them at the very least.

He glared at Wei Wuxian while he doodled on the fine paper he had given him to take notes, classes completely forgotten. So much so, that he hadn't even noticed Lan Qiren was no longer speaking. He really needed to rethink his strategy, as for the moment it seemed they were just wasting time at best and being counterproductive at worst.

'Class is dismissed for today, Wuxian.' Lan Qiren said then, though the class had barely started. ‘Take the day off. Go to town today, if you want.’

'Yaaay! Finally! I’ll see you when I come back, uncle.' Wei Wuxian stood up without even picking his things up and left the room in a hurry.

Lan Qiren sighed deeply despite himself. He picked up all of Wei Wuxian’s stuff, making a neat pile before finally turning to leave the room as well. He urgently needed to do some thinking, preferably with some warm tea as company. Also not seeing Wei Wuxian for a few hours ought to give him some peace of mind.

 

*

 

Lan Xichen walked calmly through the almost empty hallways of the Cloud Recesses. He had always taken great pleasure in the peace and quiet of his home, as well as in it’s pale beauty, with its white walls and elegant and sparse decorations. He had been on the way to see some senior disciples about their latest night hunt, when he saw a Lan disciple sprinting through the hallways, the ends of his forehead ribbon floating behind and intertwining themselves with the ends of the red ribbon holding up his bouncing ponytail. It was that red ribbon that made him recognize the rogue cultivator that had swept the floor in the archery competition just two weeks before. He looked very different without his dark robes. Lan Xichen remembered then that Lan Qiren had informed him the young cultivator would be staying here for about a year, and would join the guest disciples when they arrived. Dressed in white, it was clear he had been taken in as a Lan sect disciple, so he should follow the rules as good as any other. With that in mind, Lan Xichen braced himself and was about to stop him when someone else did it for him.

‘Running is prohibited in the Cloud Recesses.’ Reprimanded the familiar voice of his little brother as he came into view, sounding especially bitter, Lan Xichen noticed with no little amusement.

Wei Wuxian had stopped dead on his tracks and turned to look at Lan Wangji with wide eyes. ‘What?’ He asked dumbly.

‘Running is prohibited in the Cloud Recesses.’ Lan Wangji repeated without hesitation, speaking slightly louder and very clearly.

Wei Wuxian narrowed his eyes slightly and looked at Lan Wangji from head to toe, as if sizing up an opponent before deciding to engage or not. ‘You’re Second Young Master Lan, Lan Wangji, are you not?’ The boy’s expression changed quickly into a blinding smile. ‘Aiya, It’s great to see you again so soon, but I must disagree with you once again.’ He said then, coming laughter evident in his face. ‘I was clearly not running.’ Wei Wuxian argued, leaving both Lan heirs stunned for a full two seconds. ‘I was sprinting.’ He corrected, his voice soon breaking into laughter as his smile had earlier betrayed.

Lan Xichen could see clearly from his place away from the two young masters, how his brother was losing his cool at unexpected speed. Lan Wangji was usually much more patient than this.

‘Come receive punishment.’ Lan Wangji said instead of answering Wei Wuxian’s senseless rebuttal.

‘Don’t be like that, Lan-er-gege.’ Wei Wuxian managed to wheeze out as his laughter receded. ‘I was just authorized to leave after being trapped here for days! I was just so excited, you see… Ah! I know! Why don’t you come along? I’m sure Lan-er-gege would do with relaxing and fun times the most.’

It was clear the playful tone was having some effect on Lan Wangji, just not exactly the one Wei Wuxian expected, Lan Xichen thought. While intervening seemed like the right thing to do... the exchange was way too entertaining to cut it short. So Lan Xichen just stayed there completely immobile and undetected by the two younger cultivators and watched as his brother was so easily riled up.

‘I’ll make Uncle reconsider.’ Was Lan Wangji’s answer. ‘Wei Wuxian should study the sect rules instead of wasting time outside.’

‘Ah!’ Wei Wuxian exclaimed in mock shock, his pretty smile falling from his face. ‘How mean, Lan-er-gege! And here I was, offering you to come along and enjoy my delightful company. I ought to tell Uncle Lan how rude his nephew is.’ He teased, a smile quickly coming back with a mischievous tilt.

Lan Xichen could see plainly in his younger brother’s face how Lan Wangji was making great efforts not to throttle Wei Wuxian.

In very Wangji fashion he only repeated himself. ‘Come receive punishment.’

Wei Wuxian laughed at that. No, he cackled. Lan Xichen couldn’t really understand what was so funny, but the man was leaning back and holding his stomach. It took him a few seconds before he could calm down and then shook his head.

‘I don’t think so.’

Lan Wangji sucked in on a breath. ‘It’s not up to you.’

Wei Wuxian laughed a bit more at that. ‘But is it up to you?’ He asked, the playful glint back, along with the disarmingly charming smile, the corner of his eyes crinkled to match.

‘Come receive punishment.’ Lan Wangji said more firmly even and reached to grab Wei Wuxian by the wrist.

At incredible speed, Wei Wuxian was out of reach. ‘If Lan-er-gege really wants to punish this one, then he will have to catch me.’

Lan Xichen saw with wide eyes how Wei Wuxian turned away and started running away at full speed while cackling, and then was left even more surprised when Lan Wangji dashed behind him, unrelentless and very, very angry.

 

It was much later that same day, when he found both Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji sitting on their knees outside of Lan Qiren’s room. He watched them for a moment until he realized this must be punishment for the encounter he had witnessed earlier that day. At the sight of them, it suddenly hit him that it was impossible they had been punished by kneeling outside the whole afternoon just for running. That surely meant...

‘Wangji, Young Master Wei.’ He greeted them, once he was close enough.

‘Brother.’ Lan Wangji said looking up with slightly wide eyes.

‘Ah!’ Wei Wuxian exclaimed, standing up immediately. ‘Zewu-Jun.’ Wei Wuxian greeted back with a very respectful bow.

It only took a quick glance towards his brother to see Wangji was as surprised as him. Still, Lan Xichen prided himself in his ability to remain calm and only smiled back.

‘Congratulations on winning the archery competition, Young Master Wei.’ Lan Xichen said.

Wei Wuxian smiled so bright it was almost blinding. Lan Xichen resisted the urge to shield his eyes from it. ‘Thank you! You were amazing yourself, Zewu-jun.’

‘Ah, thank you.’ Lan Xichen smiled sweetly. He hadn’t realized the boy had paid anyone any attention, least of all him. ‘May I inquire on the reason you’re both kneeling outside…?’

Wei Wuxian immediately changed demeanor and pouted in a cutesy manner, its effects not completely wasted on Lan Xichen, if he was completely honest. ‘Zewu-jun~.’ He whined and grabbed his sleeve to tug lightly from it. ‘Lan Wangji punished me for no reason!’

The familiarity of the act should have bothered Lan Xichen, but instead he felt quickly endeared to the boy. After all, Wei Wuxian was the same age as Wangji and just as talented. His easy going personality and bright smiles had already carved a soft spot for him inside Lan Xichen's heart.

Lan Wangji seemed to sense this somehow, and was on his feet in a second, righteous anger coloring his features. ‘Wei Wuxian broke several rules.’ He quickly interjected. To anyone else, Wangji would have sounded as if he was simply accusing Wei Wuxian, but to Lan Xichen it sounded distinctly like he was jealous.

Lan Xichen’s eyes danced from one face to the other. ‘Several…?’ He asked weakly. Wei Wuxian’s big grey eyes were shining and wide, like the picture of innocence. Plus he had been here for only a few short days… he surely couldn’t be expected to adhere to all the rules right off the bat.

Lan Wangji seemed ready to list the whole wall of discipline though. ‘Running, bribing, bragging, laughing too loud, drinking alcohol.’

‘I drank outside the premises.’ Wei Wuxian was quick to defend himself. ‘You can’t punish me for something, if you stopped me from doing it already! I even let you drag me back here way before curfew’

Lan Wangji turned to glare at the other boy. Wei Wuxian glared back and stuck his tongue out at Wangji.

‘Ridiculous!’ Wangji spat.

Lan Xichen blinked at the exchange and brought a sleeve up to cover his mouth, so his little brother didn’t notice how much he was enjoying himself at their expense.

‘Did you follow Young Master Wei all the way to town, Wangji?’ Lan Xichen asked behind his sleeve and hoped he had managed to school his voice enough.

Lan Wangji’s brow furrowed slightly and only silence followed, so Lan Xichen could safely assume he was right.

‘He did!’ Wei Wuxian was quick to confirm. ‘And instead of having fun and playing with me, he just followed along like some sort of dread spirit and stopped me from doing anything remotely interesting.’

Lan Wangji frowned and huffed. ‘Wei Wuxian wanted to bring back alcohol to the Cloud Recesses.’

‘And you stopped me from doing it.’ Wei Wuxian confirmed easily. ‘So why are you trying to punish me for it? At the very least let me drink if you’re going to have me kneel for hours anyways.’

'The night of your arrival. you were never punished for that.' Lan Wangji shot back.

'I remember leaving, as you told me to and coming back after curfew allowed it, so what is my crime?' Wei Wuxian argued expertly, a triumphant smirk in his face.

Lan Xichen interceded before his brother decided murder might be excusable in some cases and stepped forward, covering half their field of vision with his body. ‘You seem to have been kneeling for long enough.’ He said, dismissing the punishment.

‘Brother.’ Lan Wangji said, slightly surprised and clearly feeling betrayed.

‘Wangji, I’ll speak to uncle about this. You may go back to your usual schedule in the meantime.’ Lan Xichen excused him as well. There was no need to let petty resentment fester between these two.

Both Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian sent each other a last glare before they bowed to him and turned away to walk in opposite directions.

Once alone, Lan Xichen turned towards Lan Qiren’s rooms. Knocking on his door, he waited outside for permission to go inside.

'Come in.' Lan Qiren's voice answered softly from the inside.

Lan Xichen slid the door open and stepped inside before closing it again. 'Greetings, uncle.'

Lan Qiren nodded at him and then asked. ‘What was all that racket just now?’

Lan Xichen smiled, unable to suppress a chuckle at the memory of the childish spat between his little brother and Wei Wuxian. He narrated what he had seen that morning and then just before coming inside. His uncle didn't seem to share his amusement, though.

Lan Qiren sighed. ‘What am I going to do with that child, Xichen?’

Lan Xichen was surprised by this. His uncle always knew what to do and how to do it, therefore it was exceedingly rare to see him troubled. ‘Is Wei Wuxian that troublesome?’ He asked, worried. Could his judgement of the boy be wrong?

Lan Qiren shook his head, quickly dissipating his thoughts. ‘It’s just that his upbringing made him… unaccustomed to sitting still. He is most unsuited for simply taking lessons as I usually give them.’

‘Are you thinking about a new style of teaching, uncle?’

Lan Qiren shook his head. ‘I wish it was that simple. I still have much to do… I’m afraid I don’t have enough time as it is needed to dedicate to Wuxian. I may have underestimated the challenge in my wish to have the boy here.’

Lan Qiren poured tea for the two of them and Lan Xichen accepted the offered cup gladly. He sipped calmly from it, enjoying the floral aroma and light flavor. He exhaled, completely relaxed. ‘How about I take Wangji and Young Master Wei with me night hunting? I just took on a case not far from here… it would give you some more time to think it over.’

Lan Qiren’s tired gaze sharpened at the suggestion. ‘When would you be leaving?’

‘Tomorrow.’

Lan Qiren nodded. ‘It’s a good idea. It’d be good for those two to at least tolerate each other, too. As far as things go, Wei Wuxian may be staying here for a while whether I solve this problem or not.’

Lan Xichen only smiled at that. He hoped those two did much more than tolerate each other. From that brief exchange he had witnessed, he could already see how much the two boys would benefit from being friends with each other. Lan Wangji could learn to be more open and friendly, maybe be a little more lenient about the interpretation of the rules, while Wei Wuxian could certainly learn some discipline and self restraint from Lan Wangji, not to mention manners.

 

*

 

Lan Xichen stepped down his sword right before entering the little town that was their destiny. He was immediately followed by Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji. He turned to watch them briefly glare at each other as they sheathed their swords. The two looked strikingly opposite, despite Wei Wuxian donning their sect robes. It was as if the very essence of their beings was completely different. Yet somehow, they matched at the same time. Lan Xichen could only be more convinced the more he saw them together, that they would have a positive impact on each other.

'Let's go.' Lan Xichen gestured at the road ahead.

'What is the problem exactly, Zewu-jun?' Wei Wuxian asked, as he hurried his pace to walk by his side.

Lan Xichen waited a bit for his brother to follow suit and once Wangji was walking by his other side, he answered. 'Some corpses rose from their graves a few nights ago and have hidden in the woods.'

Wei Wuxian hummed, his eyes calculating. 'Something must have disrupted the graves then. Small villages like these usually take good care of their dead.'

Lan Xichen's smile widened at that. ‘I concur.’ He said with a nod and then turned to Wangji. ‘What should we do first?’

‘See the graves.’ Lan Wangji answered.

Lan Xichen nodded. ‘Then we should go there. Let me find the village’s elder so he can lead the way.’

Lan Xichen left Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji outside the biggest house of the little village as he talked with the village’s chief. As he stepped inside, he thought that they wouldn’t talk at all but when he walked outside not twenty minutes later, Wei Wuxian was already trying to make conversation.

‘Lan-er-gege.’ Wei Wuxian called.

Lan Wangji didn’t answer, eyes fixed on the horizon. It was as if Wei Wuxian had never spoken.

‘Wangji-xiong? Lan Wangji?’

Nothing.

‘Lan Zhan!' Wei Wuxian yelled at the top of his lungs, making Lan Wangji and even Lan Xichen from his place behind the door recoil a bit.

Lan Wangji turned towards him then, only to glare at him.

Wei Wuxian was not threatened in the least. On the contrary, his lips curved into a wicked smile. 'So that's what you'll answer to? Lan Zhan, ah Lan Zhan…' He sighed, a hand in his chest. 'If you wanted me to call you by your name you just had to ask.'

Lan Wangji only glared harder, to get once again no results. Wei Wuxian's absolute shamelessness protected him from Wangji's hateful glare.

'In return, and because I'm such a nice person, I'll let you call me Wei Ying.' He offered, his face turning to a more open, sincere look.

It was those little changes that made Lan Xichen sure that the teasing was all in good nature. He stepped outside, deciding it was time to stop things from getting out control.

'Let's go.' Lan Xichen told them. ‘The village chief’s son agreed to lead us to the cemetery.’

As if on cue, a young man in dark brown robes and a clean face, hair neatly tied into a topknot, came outside. They bowed to each other after the man introduced himself as Li Jiao and without wasting any more time, he started walking away from his home and urging them to follow.

The sun was still bright on the sky, but the light wouldn’t last much longer and as a good common person, the chief’ son didn’t want to be anywhere near the cemetery when the sun came down.

While they walked, Wei Wuxian picked up the pace and left both Lan brothers behind to walk next to Li Jiao.

‘So… is this the first time you have to deal with something like this?’ He asked the man.

Li Jiao nodded firmly. ‘It’s been terrible, really. We really can’t imagine what could have caused this…’

Wei Wuxian nodded back at him before softly patting him in the shoulder. ‘I’m sure it’s not any fault of the villagers. We’ll fix it in no time, don’t you worry.’

Lan Xichen observed carefully how Wei Wuxian went on to ask all types of questions about the village, they funerary rituals, people allowed inside the cemetery, if there was someone who usually looked over the graves, if they’ve had any other cultivators around recently, and a myriad of other questions that not only gave Lan Xichen a better understanding of the village, but also made Li Jiao relax.

Once they arrived at the cemetery, a patch of dark earth that was at some distance from the village for obvious reasons, they found exactly what they expected. A group of four graves, those which looked the most well kept, had been defaced. The earth had been clearly removed and the corpses were no longer there.

‘Who were these people? The ones buried in these lots?’ Wei Wuxian asked, pointing at them.

Li Jiao looked at them with clear distress and took a deep breath. ‘We recently buried a few of the village elders. They had been here since the village was first founded… it was a very sad thing that they all died within days of each other.’

Wei Wuxian hummed. ‘So they were important people… do you remember if they were buried with any valuables on them?’

Li Jiao gasped in horror. ‘You don’t think- you don’t think that... someone did this to… to rob them?’

Wei Wuxian nodded. ‘That’s exactly what I am saying.’

Lan Xichen intervened then, feeling like Wei Wuxian straightforwardness may offend their kind host. ‘We can’t be completely sure unless we confirm valuables are missing.’ Lan Xichen confirmed kindly. ‘We promise to make the utmost effort to return those objects if they’re indeed missing.’

Li Jiao seemed very placated by Lan Xichen’s earnest promise and nodded. ‘I remember Elder Shu, she was buried on this lot.’ He pointed to it. ‘She was buried with a golden hairpin with little red rubies encrusted. It wasn’t that valuable really… but it looked very expensive. It was her most prized possession.’ He sniffed at the apparent memory.

Wei Wuxian nodded. ‘Let’s search for it then.’

Before Lan Xichen could say anything else. Wei Wuxian jumped inside the hole in the ground and started digging with his hands.

Lan Xichen and Lan Wangji couldn’t help but look in slight distaste at how the white robes on Wei Wuxian turned to a light brown wherever they made contact with the freshly removed earth.

It took Wei Wuxian no more than fifteen minutes to emerge, after apparently having moved all around all the soft earth of the grave, opened the empty coffin box, and declared there was nothing left there.

‘Is there something else I can do for you, esteemed cultivators?’ Li Jiao asked them, once he had finished drying his face from all the sniffing he had done while Wei Wuxian played with the grave’s mud.

Lan Xichen nodded. ‘Corpses and other such creatures become active during the night. For the meantime, we would really appreciate it if you could direct us to an inn?’

Li Jiao was quick to offer his own home as accommodations during their stay. Lan Xichen accepted graciously, hoping their stay wouldn’t last more than a single night.

They followed the chief’s son back to the house. Once there, Lan Xichen immediately grabbed Wei Wuxian by the back of his robes before he could scurry gods knew where and asked for a bath.

‘Really?’ He asked as he made a weak attempt of trying to struggle out of Lan Xichen’s grasp.

‘You can’t be comfortable staying much longer in such a state.’ Lan Xichen told him.

Wei Wuxian shrugged. ‘I’ve been much dirtier for much longer.’ He confessed, almost proud.

Lan Xichen and Lan Wangji stared at him in silence.

Wei Wuxian’s confidence slowly deflated against the pressure of all that judgement and he gave up. ‘Fine… I’ll take a bath. But don’t have much hope for my robes.’

Lan Xichen had to agree. It had taken less than an hour of the actual night hunt to turn his pristine white robes to brown. And they hadn’t encountered a single corpse yet.

‘Wangji, I’ll go out for a moment. See that Young Master Wei does get himself as clean as possible.’

Lan Wangji didn’t seem thrilled by being in charge of such a task, so he let a reluctant nod and turned to go inside the room they were lent for the night.

Lan Xichen stepped out and hoped Wei Wuxian wouldn’t give Wangji too much trouble. He also hoped Wangji didn’t give in and simply murdered the other boy either.

 

Three hours later, with the sun setting on the horizon, with Wei Wuxian as clean as he could possibly get, and with his long sleeves tucked inside leather vambraces Lan Xichen got for him, they were ready to get to actual work.

‘You are very experienced in night hunts, are you not, Young Master Wei?’ Lan Xichen asked casually.

Wei Wuxian nodded enthusiastically. ‘I spent the last year on my own! I went everywhere helping people out.’

Lan Xichen smiled. ‘I have heard great things from Uncle.’

Wei Wuxian blushed slightly at that and turned visibly bashful. ‘Uncle Lan is surely exaggerating.’

Lan Xichen couldn’t help a chuckle at the same time he heard a huff from Wangji. He turned to look at his brother who was clearly pouting. ‘I think this is something the two of you can handle easily. I’ll wait here for you. If you need me, use your flares.’

Wei Wuxian’s bashful demeanor evaporated as he turned to look at Wangji, who only looked even more sour than before as he turned to look at Wei Wuxian.

‘Brother /Zewu-jun.’ They said at the same time, but Lan Xichen only raised a hand, palm open in signal of peace and quiet. They shut their mouths.

‘Go.’ He said pointedly and they turned towards the woods and walked away without another complaint. He really hoped those two became friends.

 

*

 

Lan Wangji looked slightly down and kicked softly at a rock on his path. Why would his brother make him go alone with Wei Wuxian? He knew they didn’t get along at all. And all that talking about Wei Wuxian’s experience… he already knew all that, there was no need to give the other boy space to be even more of a braggart. Annoying.

‘Say Lan Zhan… do you think the grave robber may still be close by? One would usually run as far away as possible from the place you stole from, no?’

‘There’s not enough information to say.’ Lan Wangji answered. Because there wasn’t. Wei Wuxian had told differently to Li Jiao, but it could easily be one of the villagers, as they knew what items the corpses were buried with and which graves would be the most profitable to steal from.

Wei Wuxian huffed. ‘I know, but you could take a guess.’

Lan Wangji ignored that.

Wei Wuxian rolled his eyes. ‘You’re so boring.’ He mumbled, a pout so big his lower lip protruded visibly, accentuating the sad curve of his mouth.

Annoying.

After that, they walked in silence, trying to catch sound or movement that could guide them towards the run away corpses. At first they thought nothing of the calmness of the forest, but after a bit more than an hour without seeing any signs of anything even remotely malevolent, they started to wonder if something else was going on.

As they moved further inside the forest it became denser in flora, but the lack of noise was suspicious. There was no apparent explanation for the lack of fauna, considering the health of the forest.

'Something's off.' Wei Wuxian voiced Lan Wangji's thoughts. He looked at the ground and then up but in the growing darkness there was little to see.

They kept walking at a slower pace, but still didn't find any sign of corpses. Until Lan Wangji took a step and heard a loud click. Lan Wangji didn't have time to even think. Wei Wuxian grabbed him firmly by the forearm and pulled him back, just in time to avoid a giant log to hit them. Lan Wangji watched with wide eyes how the makeshift bludgeon swung at incredible speed right through the place they had been standing only a second ago.

'A trap.' Wei Wuxian said. 'We have to be more careful.'

Lan Wangji only realised Wei Wuxian still had his hand tightly around his arm when he felt how he slowly released him. 'There must be something ahead.' He said.

Wei Wuxian's eyes flew to meet his own at this, slightly wide, before his mouth curved into a pleased smile. 'Good thinking, Lan Zhan!' He prized enthusiastically. 'Why else would anyone put this kind of trap here?'

Lan Wangji nodded.

They kept walking, even slower now. They dodged two more traps that were much poorly made than the first one and, finally, they stumbled onto something.

‘Hey, look! A little cave.’

Lan Wangji followed Wei Wuxian’s movement with his eyes as he pointed towards a spot between the trees. Indeed, they had arrived at the base of a rather tall hill and the dark mouth of a cave could still be seen, despite the darkness. Still, there was nothing about it that could make anyone think it was related to the problem at hand.

‘Let’s go check it out.’ Wei Wuxian decided, walking towards it without thinking twice. Lan Wangji followed.

The cave was minuscule. They could barely fit inside while crouching and it didn’t go too deep inside the earth, so when they looked inside, lighting a talisman to see, they found a recently abandoned bag lying there, by the looks of it.

They stared at it for a good few seconds before Wei Wuxian jumped in and grabbed it.

‘Be careful.’ Lan Wangji warned before Wei Wuxian simply opened it.

Wei Wuxian nodded and took it carefully, without moving it much and inspected it thoroughly to make sure it was not cursed, or didn’t have any kind of booby trap for potential thieves. Once they were sure the bag was safe, Wei Wuxian proceeded to open it. The first thing they recognized was a golden hairpin that perfectly matched the description of the stolen object Li Jiao had given them just a few hours back.

‘This has to be it!’ Wei Wuxian said out loud, confirming Lan Wangji’s own suspicions. ‘But why is it here? And where is the person who took them?’

Lan Wangji shook his head. There was no way of knowing without going through the contents of the bag, and even then they may not find anything that would point to the culprit.

Wei Wuxian sighed. 'We should return these, at the very least.'

'Mn.' Lan Wangji nodded.

They stepped outside the little cave, Wei Wuxian still with the bag in hand, when they heard the telling noise of a sword unsheathing. Wei Wuxian dropped the bag, unsheathing his own sword in the same movement and stepping in front of Lan Wangji just in time to parry off a flying sword.

The sword stumbled down and then rose up again to go back to its owner.

Lan Wangji quickly took out another fire talisman and threw it in the direction the sword flew away, illuminating the area and revealing their attacker.

'Lan sect juniors? What is a pair like you doing out here?' The man asked, sword in hand behind his back, yet his face donned a gentle smile.

Their attacker was obviously also a cultivator. The flying sword revealed as much, but this person was wearing dark non descriptive robes that were well worn. His hair was tied up in a simple topknot with no crown of any type.

'You're a rogue!' Wei Wuxian exclaimed, surprised.

Lan Wangji only eyed the man suspiciously.

'What is Senior Brother doing here, attacking people in the dark of night?' Wei Wuxian asked then, making his tone light and friendly.

'You kids should go back to your inn room. This is no place for you to be on your own.' He insisted, ignoring Wei Wuxian's question.

'We're here on a night hunt.' Wei Wuxian told him. 'Nothing too dangerous. Just some corpses that rose from their graves at random… would maybe Senior Brother know anything of this?'

The man's brow twitched, his smile turning tight and his eyes danced from Wei Wuxian's still unsheathed sword to the bag on the floor.

Lan Wangji unsheathed his sword as well, seeing easily that the man would attack. It seemed by what he had said, that despite being two on one he was seriously underestimating them.

'As a life lesson…' he said, making his sword visible and pointing it at them. 'You shouldn't meddle in things that are none of your business.'

With that said, the man attacked. It was painfully quick. Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji dodged in opposite directions and hit him on the sides with the blunt edges of their swords, disabling him for a good few seconds. Long enough for Wei Wuxian to give him a knocking blow on the back of the head.

'Aiya… I hoped to get a confession, but I guess attacking us like that was proof enough, right?' Wei Wuxian wondered, scratching his cheek with the hand that still was holding the sword, while he put the free one on his hip.

Lan Wangji frowned at that, but decided not to comment. 'Search him.' He suggested.

Wei Wuxian hummed and nodded. 'Nothing to lose.'

He sheathed his sword and took out a rope. Wei Wuxian tied the rogue cultivator tightly and then searched him. It seemed there was nothing to be found until Wei Wuxian fished a folded piece of parchment from inside his sleeve. He passed it to Lan Wangji as he kept on his search, but he found nothing else.

When unfolded it revealed a list of items.

'The stolen items?' Wei Wuxian asked out loud as Lan Wangji read it.

‘Only one way to be sure.’

Wei Wuxian took out the bag and went through its contents as Lan Wangji read the items on the list out loud. Everything was accounted for, including the hairpin.

'That's proof enough, I believe.' Lan Wangji said them.

Wei Wuxian sighed and kicked at the unconscious man lightly. ‘What is a rogue cultivator doing petty theft? Grave robbing at that…’ He frowned. ‘You’re one big loser.’ He said to the unconscious man.

Lan Wangji could only silently agree. ‘Only the corpses remain.'

They left the tied up and unconscious cultivator inside the cave and a protection talisman outside so the corpses wouldn't attack him if they came from another direction and they continued on.

In the end there was little to worry about. The four missing corpses were corralled a bit further, clearly no one had ever been in any danger.

At first they were surprised by the structure made to keep them inside a close perimeter, but at closer inspection, it was a weak thing that was about to break anyways and should be tended to frequently. It was when Wei Wuxian said that out loud that it hit him.

'That guy! He did all this! He was behind us because he needed to come restore these talismans!' Wei Wuxian ruffled his own hair in frustration. 'What a low scumbag!'

Lam Wangji frowned. 'Why would he do all this?'

Wei Wuxian huffed. 'He most likely wanted to appear in the village soon and offer his services to solve the problem he himself had caused.'

Lan Wangji understood. It was a scam. The cultivator would come early, cause some problem only he could solve and do so easily, since they had already fixed everything in their favor.

'He'd probably keep some of the stolen things and then ask for even more money in compensation.' Wei Wuxian elaborated. 'What an asshole!' He exclaimed suddenly. 'Then it's all rogue cultivators who get the bad rep!'

It was clear to Lan Wangji that Wei Wuxian was upset. It was understandable, he thought. Not only Wei Wuxian himself, but his parents were rogues, if such a story spread around they would surely be affected negatively.

'Wei Ying.' He called. 'Let's purify the corpses.' Lan Wangji said, his best attempt at distracting him from his distress.

Wei Wuxian nodded, still visibly affected.

They broke the seal and purified the weak corpses. They fell to the ground, limp and lifeless as they should be and they recovered them in qiakun pouches.

Having recovered all that they needed, they made their way back.

 

*

 

Two days later and back in the Cloud Recesses, Lan Xichen slid two reports towards his uncle, who eyed them suspiciously.

'They had excellent results, Uncle.' Lan Xichen spoiled, sounding very proud. Of what? Lan Qiren wasn't sure.

'Is that so?'

Lan Xichen nodded enthusiastically. 'They solved the problem with no great trouble and even found the culprit, who confessed and promised not to do it again. Wuxian and Wangji even came up with a way the man could make it up to the village.'

'I see…'

'And there's more, Uncle. I believe, after reading these myself, I have the solution to your problem.' He added, lightly tapping his hand over the parchments. The treatment the paper had received evidenced who was the author without needing to even glance at the starkly different calligraphies, Wei Wuxian’s much wrinkled and mistreated, while Lan Wangji’s looked barely touched.

Lan Qiren's eyes widened slightly. 'You have?'

Lan Xichen nodded again. 'We should have Wangji take over Wei Wuxian's lessons.'

Chapter Text

Wei Ying knew nothing good was going to come from being summoned to his uncle’s office by another disciple. The temptation was to skip the meeting entirely, but in the end, he couldn’t ditch his Uncle Lan like that and followed after the young Lan disciple anyways. He even did his best attempt at not showing how unwilling he was.

They arrived at the elegant room and the disciple opened the door for him before bowing and leaving.

‘Uncle.’ He greeted the older man with a bow.

Lan Qiren nodded his way and gestured for him to join him at the table. A humming pot of tea was waiting for them and, apparently, another two guests, judging by the number of cups on the table,

Wei Ying sat down as properly as he could manage, trying to remember the vague lessons his uncle had tried to impart some years ago with undetermined success. He was about to ask about anyone else joining them when the door slid open behind him.

‘Greetings, Uncle.’ Lan Xichen and Lan Wangji said in unison with twin bows and Wei Ying felt even more dread. Why was Lan Wangji here? He really had trouble dealing with him and was convinced the other hated him.

Lan Qiren nodded at them too and gestured for them to sit down as well.

Wei Ying turned his head slightly to see Lan Xichen donning his usual smile and with ease and sure step, take the space next to Lan Qiren. He looked up only to be met with the cold stare of Lan Wangji, who seemed to be stuck considering that the only spot left was next to Wei Ying. Feeling annoyed by this, Wei Ying decided Lan Wangji had earned some teasing fair and square and instead of glaring back, he smiled and patted the cushion next to him.

‘Come join us, Lan Zhan.’ He said, only to grate more on his nerves.

For some reason, whenever Wei Ying teased Lan Wangji, Lan Xichen had the opposite reaction his little brother had, making the game a win-win for Wei Ying.

Lan Wangji’s jaw tightened ever so slightly, but Wei Ying was slowly learning how to read him. He sat down in one swift motion without a word anyway and quickly looked ahead, meeting his uncle’s eyes.

‘Wuxian.’ Lan Qiren started, quickly gaining Wei Ying’s attention. ‘After our first few sessions, I have realized my lessons are not working for you as I had hoped they would.’ He made a long pause and somehow Lan Xichen got the cue to serve the tea for them. Lan Qiren took the cup his nephew placed in front of him and sipped from it.

Lan Wangji let out a soft huff of air through his nose and, to Wei Ying, it sounded very much like a laugh. Wei Ying tried very hard not to be annoyed by it.

‘What does that mean?’ He asked Lan Qiren instead. Surely not that he was being kicked out, Wei Ying hoped. He didn’t want to face his parents after being in the Cloud Recesses less than a week. His mother wouldn’t let him live it down.

Lan Xichen chuckled lightly in good humour. ‘I suggested Wangji to take over as teacher.’ He gestured at his little brother, as if there was any other Lan Wangji around.

‘What!?’ Wei Ying hit the table with both palms, making it jump slightly and the teacups sound.

Lan Wangji next to him didn’t make a sound but seemed just as upset, considering his narrow range of expressions.

‘Brother…’ Lan Wangji said, but didn’t really argue.

Wei Ying looked at Lan Wangji expectantly. When nothing else came from his mouth, he looked at Lan Xichen, hoping he’d break his posture and say “joking!”, then they would all laugh about this. That didn’t happen either, so he looked at Lan Qiren hoping he’d say it was a terrible idea and simply let him go.

‘I agreed with Xichen that it’s a good idea. I have great expectations of you both.’ He added at the end, tugging from his beard and opening a single eye to inspect both their faces. He seemed satisfied with his finding, and closed it again.

Wei Ying deflated then, falling back into a more relaxed sitting position. It had been clear before that he was troubling his uncle, and though he hadn’t been very thrilled with the idea of becoming an honorary Lan Sect disciple, he didn’t want to trouble his parents either. Wei Wuxian felt like he had to stay and do well enough so uncle Lan would deem him free to go by the end of the year. It was the only way he could put all his parental figure’s worries to rest. Also, he was no dimwit, he knew studying under his Uncle Lan was an honor and that he had high hopes for him, Lan Qiren had said as much. He would hate to disappoint Lan Qiren.

He shot a quick look at Lan Wangji by his side. If that meant dealing with this particular fuddy-duddy, he would have to then. Uncle Jiang always said it was as if he was meant to live under Yunmeng Jiang’s motto: attempt the impossible! If there had been a moment to prove his uncle Jiang right, it was now!

‘Fine.’ Wei Ying said. ‘If Lan Zhan agrees to, I’ll agree.’ He added, only to be petty. Now, whatever happened would be on Lan Wangji’s shoulders.

Lan Wangji’s slightly widened eyes and subsequent glare seemed to communicate he had caught on that right away. It took everything Wei Ying had not to laugh.

But instead of bailing them both out, Lan Wangji bowed deeply from his sitting position and accepted. ‘I’ll do my best, uncle, brother.’

Wei Ying now had to do everything in his power to hold a painful sigh. This was his life now, huh?

‘Excellent.’ Lan Qiren said, sounding as pleased as Lan Xichen looked. ‘You’ll start tomorrow. Wangji, you’re free to determine the schedule and order of the contents Wuxian must learn, I’ve detailed them here. I encourage you both to go further than only this list too.’

Lan Qiren passed Lan Wangji a rather thick scroll and Wei Ying felt himself pale. It seemed like a lot of studying… suddenly facing his mother’s teasing about his utter failure under the Lan sect didn’t seem so terrible anymore… Uncle Lan surely would love him no less if he remained uncultured and barely literate. Right?

‘I’ve great hopes for the two of you.’ Lan Xichen said then, sounding hopeful and incredibly proud already.

The two of them sent a look his way. For once since they knew each other, Wei Ying felt like he shared the same feeling with Lan Wangji. After hearing Lan Xichen say such things with such enthusiasm, they couldn’t possibly handle disappointing him.

 

*

 

Lan Wangji was… annoyed. No, he was very annoyed. His uncle had assigned him to watch over some bothersome miscreant that had Wangji not just frustrated but confused. His uncle had warned him about Wei Wuxian’s vices as a student, but he had been earnest on how confident he was that Lan Wangji was more than capable of handling him and that Wei Wuxian was fundamentally good.

Lan Wangji was… not so sure. So far, besides what he had heard of the other boy, he knew him as cocky, arrogant, disrespectful, untidy, and noisy. He also was always making watery eyes at his uncle and brother. The absolute worst part was that it worked! Even his uncle, a man known for his sternness and strictness, would soften at the sight of Wei Wuxian’s dangerous pout.

As a teacher, Lan Wangji would do his utmost to avoid falling for it as well. He shook his head lightly at the memory of it and how not even he could deny Wei Wuxian looked cute- No, he wouldn’t even think about it.

It was also quickly evident that Wei Wuxian was a terrible student. He knew almost none of the things he should know as a cultivator, his calligraphy was a big joke, he couldn't name a single sect leader besides Jiang Fengmian, and barely remembered the sect colors from sects that weren't the Lan and the Jiang sects. Lan Wangji was teaching him things that five year old disciples only starting their education were learning. Or he was trying to, at least. But what truly made Wei Wuxian a lousy pupil was the fact that he seemed to have only the barest minimum interest in learning any of it and was constantly distracted.

But as much as Lan Wangji hated his new role, he could not fail his uncle and brother. He would do his utmost to make Wei Wuxian a respectable cultivator. So, as his newly appointed teacher, he had started by quizzing Wei Wuxian on general (basic) knowledge only for the results to be even worse than his wildest and most depressing guesses. Starting by the fact that he could not read Wei Wuxian’s terrible calligraphy. When, in absolute shock and disbelief, he had requested the other boy read his own scratches out loud, Wei Wuxian also had trouble with it.

Lan Wangji sighed, understanding now why calligraphy was at the very top of the list his uncle had given him and marked as "urgent".

With the intention of killing two big birds with one manageable stone, Lan Wangji had decided that the first thing Wei Wuxians was to do was copying the rules. Lan Qiren's most emphatic instruction was to make Wei Wuxian familiar with all of them. He was now a Lan disciple after all, however temporarily. It was mandatory he at least knew the rules he was going to break.

That brought them to their second day together, sitting in the Library Pavilion.

‘I’m too bored, Lan Zhan!’ Wei Wuxian whined loud enough to win glares out of every other library visitor. ‘Let me take a break, some fresh air… the day is so nice outside…’

‘It hasn’t even been two hours.’ Lan Wangji pointed out and took from Wei Ying the paper sheets that he was using to copy the rules.

Wei Wuxian made a dying sound so annoying Lan Wangji was ready to kill in a second. He glared at this sole pupil.

‘C’mon, Lan Zhan…’ He pulled playfully from his long sleeve, pouting at him.

Lan Wangji felt even more annoyed, if that was possible. The little voice at the very back of his head that once again pointed out how cute he looked like that was quickly and violently silenced. That did not matter here at all! Lan Wangji would not relent. ‘Keep on copying.’ He almost hissed. ‘You have made absolutely no progress.’ He added, only to center Wei Wuxian on how terrible his current state was.

Wei Wuxian puffed up his cheeks and pouted even more powerfully at him, but Lan Wangji was impassive. After a few seconds, Wei Wuxian finally admitted defeat and reluctantly went back to copying.

Lan Wangji went back to the book he was reading. When close to an hour passed in complete silence, Lan Wangji felt positively surprised and thought of giving Wei Wuxian a short break, maybe they could take a snack, even. Wondering how to offer, he glanced towards his pupil only to find him doodling instead of copying. How dare he!?

'Wei Wuxian.'

Wei Wuxian almost jumped in his spot and was quick to cover the drawing with his sleeve. 'Lan Zhan.' He said with a nervous quiver and a big smile. 'Is something the matter?'

Lan Wangji pinned him in place with an icy glare and extended his hand. 'Your notes.'

'My notes? Wh- what about them?'

'Show them to me.'

Wei Wuxian looked around, fidgeted and finally relented, taking his now ink stained sleeve away, and showed him a now ruined portrait of the window right next to them. Lan Wangji was surprised at the clear show of talent and technique, despite the smudged ink. Lan Wangji was quick to suppress his admiration though. 'Please, take this seriously. What does rule 1029 say? Read it out loud for me.'

Wei Wuxian let his head down, letting his forehead against the table and took a deep sigh, as if he was the aggravated party here, and after a few seconds, he complied. Only to find he could not read all the characters. Lan Wangji almost wished to copy Wei Wuxian's gesture and slam his own forehead against the table.

Things didn't improve.

Wei Wuxian would start talking every half an hour. Would not retain almost anything of what Lan Wangji imparted and was quickly distracted by the most asinine things.

'Laaaaan Zhaaaan.' Wei Wuxian would whine. 'Spar with me?'

'No. Concentrate on copying, your calligraphy shows barely any progress.' Lan Wangji would answer without fail.

'Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, the day is so nice! Let's go to Caiyi, or fly to Gusu!'

'When I can read your characters I might consider it.' Lan Wangji pointed at his still horrendous writing.

'Lan Zhan, how can you stay still for so long? Are you maybe really made of Jade? I have never seen anyone quite like you before.'

Lan Wangji had slapped away Wei Wuxian's hand as he tried to poke his face and silenced him.

Wei Wuxian had made even more noise than Lan Wangji expected, sighing and making a fool of himself while pleading he released the bind with his still terrible calligraphy. The apology even had a mistake. Lan Wangji felt unrelentless.

Things didn’t change the days that followed and Lan Wangji was only more and more aggravated by Wei Wuxian’s lack of improvement. Was he even trying? He asked as much.

‘I am!’ Wei Wuxian assured. ‘But this is really hard and all these rules are neverending too.’ He sighed loudly. 'Is really a need for so many of them?'

'Disrespectful.' Lan Wangji couldn't help but utter. 'All the rules have purpose.'

'Do they?' Mused Wei Wuxian absentmindedly, once again distracted.

'They do.' Lan Wangji insisted. He took a silent breath and looked at his pupil. 'If there is one that truly doesn't make sense to you, we can talk about it.'

'Really?' Wei Wuxian visibly perked up. 'I'll hold you to your word then, Lan Zhan.'

Maybe it was that glint of interest and motivation that made the prank Wei Wuxian played on him at the end of the week so much harder to take.

They had spent another two days together with relative productivity and considerable less wasteful interruptions, and Wei Wuxian's inquiries seemed serious and honest.

And then, it happened. Lan Wangji had relaxed somehow around the other, and left the book of Lan An's poetry by his side, unguarded. It was only after a rather silly question that he went back to it only to find the usually beautifully written pages turned into lewd pictures.

He gasped and dropped the book like a hot potato, confused and angry. What in the-? And then Wei Wuxian's bumming laughter had hit his ears. He turned a furious gaze to the other boy who was clutching his stomach and barely holding up bouts of laughter.

'Wei. Ying.' He said between gritted teeth.

'I'm here, I'm here!' He repeated, clearly finding this absolutely funny. 'What's wrong, Lan Zhan? Seems like you've never seen a spring book before!'

Lan Wangji hadn't, and felt his ears heating up at the accusation. He shouldn't feel embarrassed, but here he was. He felt stupid too. He has thought- He had thought Wei Wuxian was finally taking things- him seriously. Apparently, he was wrong. This was all a big joke. The heat spread all over his face and neck and he gritted his teeth so hard they hurt.

Wei Wuxian was still laughing. And then, he tried to grab the book.

Lan Wangji couldn't allow such a thing in the Cloud Recesses. It was clearly against the rules. They had copied that one already too, so he knew for a fact that Wei Wuxian was doing this on purpose.

Their hands almost slapped against each other trying to grab the book and then they started tugging at it, unwilling to relent.

'Hey, hey, Lan Zhan! I thought that by how you threw it away you didn't want it. Or do you actually want to read it?' Wei Wuxian asked, trying to rile him up even further. This was clearly a game to him.

'I won't read it!'

Wei Wuxian laughed again, but the strength of his arm didn't waver. Recognizing a lost battle, Lan Wangji sent a burst of spiritual power and destroyed the book into a thousand little shreds.

'Ah! Lan Zhan, that one was so good. Was there any need to go that far?' Wei Wuxian moaned sadly as he looked at the scraps of his book fall down on him.

Lan Wangji had enough! 'Get! Out!'

'Huh?' Wei Wuxian looked at him now.

'Get out!'

'L- Lan Zhan, it was just a joke-.' Wei Wuxian said in an attempt of placating him.

'Out!'

'Lan Zhan, calm down…'

Lan Wangji was not going to calm down! 'You ungrateful, disrespectful, insufferable-' He had so many words coming at him now and he couldn't stop himself from letting them out. 'You don't deserve a ribbon or being part of the Lan Sect!' He yelled.

Even Wei Wuxian's soft remaining laughter stopped and only dead silence followed. Lan Wangji heard a faint echo of his own words and he saw Wei Wuxian's face scrunch up and then the boy turning to leave.

He stood there, anger slowly subsiding as Wei Wuxian left the library. Lan Wangji started feeling bad immediately, a terrible feeling as if he had eaten something that sat uncomfortably in his stomach. He had broken the rule of no loud noises, while in the library, the rule about excessive anger, the rule about keeping grudges, the rule about-

'Wangji.' His uncle's voice echoed and Lan Wangji raised his wide eyes to meet Lan Qiren's. How much time had passed since Wei Wuxian left?

'What happened here?' Lan Qiren asked.

Lan Wangji felt disoriented by the question and had to look around to realize what Lan Qiren meant. Their table was a mess, Wei Wuxian had abandoned his writing set, and all the little paper shreds were littering their space over the desk and on the floor. Lan Wangji realized he probably looked ruffled and tried to straighten his robes. He also realized he hadn't answered.

'Uncle, I-.' Lan Wangji realized he couldn't repeat what he had said. Shame filled him.

Lan Qiren sighed and started tugging his beard with a thoughtful look. 'I heard yelling from the Orchid Garden.'

Lan Wangji felt his ears heat up. 'I request punishment from Uncle.' He bowed.

Lan Qiren stood there for a bit in silence and then spoke again. 'Rise.' He placed a warm hand on Lan Wangji's shoulder.

'Uncle.'

'This is unlike you, Wangji. Explain to me what led you to such outburst.'

Lan Wangji lowered his head, avoiding his uncle's gaze as he narrated in a fewer words and little detail as he could manage, how Wei Wuxian had driven him up the wall and when he had thought they were finally going somewhere, Wei Wuxian had- had played a tasteless prank on him. He had, though, openly admitted to all the rules he had broken, and where he had gone wrong.

When he finished, his uncle only huffed. 'That rascal is bound to drive everybody crazy first.'

That's it? Wangji felt a bit annoyed again. Would his uncle not issue any judgement? Any punishment? Surely Wei Wuxian deserved some as well.

Lan Qiren met his eye and looked as if he knew exactly what was going through his head. 'He will receive punishment, Wangji. He ought to learn something out of this.' He made a pause. 'And so should you.'

Lan Wangji looked down again.

'You told me very well about all the mistakes you made and all the rules you broke. What should you do now?'

Lan Wangji bowed again. 'Accept punishment.'

Lan Qiren sighed. 'And?'

Lan Wangji pressed his lips together and blinked.

Lan Qiren waited for a few seconds and when he decided Lan Wangji was not going to speak, he did. 'Wangji, do you wish to forsake this task? I will take over again if it truly seems like you are not able to handle Wei Wuxian.'

'No, Uncle. I can do it.' Lan Wangji raised and looked at him in the eye.

Lan Qiren nodded, pleased. 'Very well then, what do you need to do now?'

Lan Wangji grit his teeth. 'Apologize to Wei Wuxian.' He finally admitted.

'Indeed. You also cannot continue if he doesn't offer a proper apology too. Do you promise to listen to it?'

'I… I promise.'

'Excellent.'

 

*

Lan Xichen found Wei Wuxian in his quarters. He could hear noise from outside, as if someone was hurriedly rummaging through the room and realized Wei Wuxian was most likely packing.

'Wuxian.' He called as he slid the door open, only to find the boy red handed, taking his dark robes out of a chest.

'Zewu-Jun!' Wei Wuxian squeaked, startled.

'What are you doing, Wuxian?'

Wei Wuxian looked away dejectedly, it was clear he felt bad. 'Leaving… Lan Wangji was very clear about me getting out of here.'

Lan Xichen grimaced. He had heard the shout clearly from the Orchid Garden right outside the library's window. He also noticed how Wei Wuxian had dropped the friendly way he called his little brother. 'Wuxian… you can't simply leave. I'm sure Wangji didn't really mean that.'

Wei Wuxian huffed and it sounded really sad. 'He looked very sure.'

Lan Xichen stepped inside the room then. 'Then he should apologize. It is not up to him to decide whether you are welcome here.' If you deserve to be here was implicit.

Wei Wuxian pouted. 'But he was right. I was rude, and didn't take his efforts all that seriously… maybe I'm really not cut out for this.'

Lan Xichen leveled him with a disappointed look. 'If you are aware of all that, what is stopping you from changing your attitude? It seems clear to me you care about this. Or am I wrong? Could it be that you don't really see value in what we can teach you here?'

Wei Wuxian's eyes widened at that. 'I do! I do see value in it. I am most honored Uncle Lan would have me as a disciple of this sect.'

Lan Xichen's face relaxed into his usual smile and sighed silently in relief. 'I am glad to hear that. Will you stay then?'

Wei Wuxian looked down. 'If Zewu-Jun would still have me.'

'Of course! But first… you ought to apologize to Wangji.'

Wei Wuxian's eyes flew up. 'I-.'

Lan Xichen raised his hand as a sign for him to stop. 'If you wish to stay, it is mandatory you apologize.'

Wei Wuxian deflated, but nodded. 'I will. I recognize I was in the wrong.'

Lan Xichen's smile warmed again. 'We should go then.'

 

*

Lan Xichen took Wei Wuxian back after giving him a few minutes to think over what he needed to apologize for. They met Lan Qiren and Lan Wangji at the bottom of the stairs that led to the Library Pavilion, and Lan Xichen found his little brother's face to mirror Wei Wuxian's reluctance. It only grew when they caught sight of each other.

For a moment they stood there, looking at each other with a good two meter between them, like two opposing factions and Lan Xichen felt his hope for their friendship wither. Until Wei Wuxian took a step forward, literally.

The boy stood there straight as a rod and looked Wangji in the eye before speaking.

'I am sorry, Lan Zhan. That joke was of bad taste, I shouldn't have made fun of you, nor use a book as precious to you and meaningful for this sect to do it.'

They stared at each other and it seemed the apology was not well received, if Wangji's frown was anything to go by.

'I am also sorry for not making more efforts in my studies, and not taking this opportunity seriously enough. I promise to be most dedicated from now on, if you'd still take me as a student.' Wei Wuxian finished and bowed to Lan Wangji.

Lan Wangji's frown melted and he waited for Wei Wuxian to rise. 'I should also apologize.' He said softly. 'What I said was out of line and false. I do not think you don't deserve to be here...'

Wei Wuxian blinked seeming to deflate. He opened his mouth to answer, but Lan Wangji spoke again.

'I was also inconsiderate of your circumstances and asked what you could not deliver. I ignored you and made it harder for you to be the student I wished you to be. I promise to make better efforts in the future... if you'd still take me as a teacher.'

Wei Wuxian's face bloomed into a beautiful smile that shone like the sun. Once again, Lan Xichen felt the urge to shield his eyes. Lan Qiren reflected some of that warmth from his place next to Wangji.

Lan Wangji didn't seem unaffected this time, eyes widening slightly at the sight of it directed at him maybe for the first time.

'Of course I want you, Lan Zhan! You're boring and stoic, but I think you're really cool too. Let's be friends!'

Lan Wangji's face tensed and the light frown came back. Now what a way of buttering someone up, Lan Xichen thought. He could see Lan Qiren looking up at the open sky, pleading for patience most surely.

Lan Wangji huffed. 'I accept your apology and agree to keep being your teacher.' He said, before turning around and leaving.

'Thanks Lan Zhan! I accept your apology too.' Wei Wuxian answered to Lan Wangji's retreating figure.

'Classes will resume the day after tomorrow.' Lan Qiren declared then, before Lan Wangji was too far away to hear. 'Tomorrow the two of you will meet me after breakfast for punishment.'

Lam Wangji turned towards Lan Qiren and bowed. 'Yes, uncle.'

'Whaaaat? Uncleee.' Wei Wuxian whined in absolute contrast.

This time, Lan Xichen couldn't help but laugh.

Chapter Text

‘It is a very nice day today.’ Lan Xichen commented casually, glancing around the garden under the Library Pavilion. The orchid trees had bloomed beautifully in both white and soft pink.

Lan Qiren next to him nodded, also enjoying the beautiful sight. ‘Indeed, a marvelous spring day.’

They were simply strolling around, enjoying the peace and quiet of a day that was unusually tranquil, all their duties mostly handled.

‘A shipment of Jasmine tea arrived in Caiyi yesterday afternoon.’ Lan Qiren shared, clearly pleased by the fact. ‘The disciples I sent for it were able to bring a good amount. Would you like some, Xichen?’

Lan Xichen agreed enthusiastically. ‘I would be delighted to-.’

’Get! Out!’

The shout echoed on the almost empty garden right from above them. They looked up at the open window of the Library Pavilion in shock.

‘Was that…’ Lan Xichen asked hesitantly, not even able to finish the thought of his little brother shouting.

’You don’t deserve a ribbon or be called a member of this sect!’

Lan Xichen and Lan Qiren looked at each other in shared shock and exclaimed in unison. ‘Wei Wuxian!’

There was no time to lose. They started walking as quickly as the no running rule allowed them, hoping to see what was going on. As they walked away from the open window, Lan Wangji’s voice became less clear and they could no longer hear everything that was being said. Lan Xichen did notice Wei Wuxian was not answering as loud, if at all.

To reach the Library’s entrance, they needed to cross the garden and take a rather wide turn that would leave them right at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the pavilion. They reached the end of the turn right in time to see Wei Wuxian rush past them without giving them any notice. They stopped to stare at him running away for a full second before reacting.

‘Xichen, go stop Wei Wuxian from doing whatever it is he is going to do. I’ll see what is up with Wangji.’

‘As you say, uncle.’ Lan Xichen was quick to nod at Lan Qiren and rush towards what he suspected was Wei Wuxian’s final destination: his quarters.

Lan Qiren on the other hand rushed up the stairs. Now what in the world had just happened?

Chapter Text

Wei Ying ate his breakfast among the little disciples, no older than ten, since he had joined the sect as an honorary disciple. They were sweet on him, and their innocence coupled with their attempts at respecting the rules were utterly adorable. Sometimes he would even try to speak to them only to be gently shushed. Adorable, all of them.

Today though, today was a sad day. He ate sadly, so much so, he barely remembered to spice his breakfast. The kids around him shared worried looks over their bland congee bowls.

‘Is Senior Wei alright?’ One asked, once they shoved their breakfast hurriedly down their throat. They even managed not to get dirty. Truly these children had excellent manners. Not without reason, Lan Zhan had suggested he learned from them once. He suspected Lan Zhan had said that out of pettiness and exasperation with him, but he was not wrong.

Wei Ying finished his own not-as-bland breakfast before answering. ‘I am… it's just that today I will get punishment from Uncle Lan… And you know how he is, I’m sure it’ll be very… intense.’

The kids shared a look again. They were too young to have received any type of punishment directly from Lan Qiren, their acting Sect Leader, but they could empathize.

‘I’m sure the punishment would only further Senior’s wisdom.’

‘Or enlighten him on past mistakes.’ Another little disciple added.

Wei Ying could only laugh against his sleeve, trying not to do it too loud, his mood considerably improved. Really, too adorable.

He took a deep breath and decided it was time to go present himself for punishment by the main gate, where Uncle had requested they meet. There was no point in delaying it. Plus, he didn’t want to arrive after Lan Zhan.

It was pointless to hurry too, he soon found out. As he made his way there, he could see Lan Zhan was already there and looking perfect and pristine as ever. Not a hair out of place. Wei Ying pouted briefly at his defeat, but decided not to dwell on it. He was still early, if the absence of Lan Qiren was anything to go by. He hurried to stand next to Lan Zhan. Suddenly remembering the previous day, and uncharacteristically enough, he felt a bit embarrassed with the whole ordeal. There was no point in dwelling on it, though. They had already apologized to each other and accepted the other’s apology. This was a new beginning.

‘Good morning, Lan Zhan.’ He decided to greet the other. Trying to be friendly and make good of his promise.

‘Mn.’ Lan Zhan answered drily, only nodding at him.

Wei Ying’s smile tightened in his face. Was it so hard to be nice back? What was that uninterested response!? He had to use what little self control he possessed not to huff in annoyance. Soon disappointment took over. He had held… some hope that Lan Zhan may also change his attitude a bit, but maybe a lifetime of eating bitter things made you unable to be nice? No, that was not true. Lan Qiren and Lan Xichen lived on the same terrible diet and they were only half as repressed as Lan Zhan and definitely not an ounce as bitter.

His time of pondering was cut short by Lan Qiren making an appearance with the appropriate level of noise not to be rude, but to communicate he was close and there. The two of them quickly focused on him.

‘Uncle.’ Lan Zhan greeted him and bowed.

‘Good morning, Uncle Lan.’ Wei Ying chirped happily, raising his hand up in the air and waiving as a greeting.

Lan Qiren stopped walking a few steps away from them and observed them with keen eyes. After a few seconds he cleared his throat before speaking. ‘Good morning to you two.’ He made a pause to observe them once again. This time it took a few more seconds as his eyes inspected them both from head to toe. ‘I have decided on a less orthodox punishment for today.’ He announced finally.

They waited in silence for a few seconds. When Lan Qiren didn’t continue, Wei Ying spoke.

‘Less orthodox, Uncle?’ He repeated.

Lan Qiren seemed to have been waiting for the question, because he answered readily. ‘I have been informed that our infirmary has run out of New Moon Root. We have high demand for this medicinal plant and require someone to retrieve some urgently.’

‘So… this someone… is us?’ Wei Ying asked, a bit confused. Surely the healers who used it would be much better suited to get some?

Lan Qiren, to Wei Ying's growing concern, nodded. ‘Indeed. Sadly, we had a very unsuccessful night hunt some days ago, and thought the creature was defeated, all four of the senior disciples we sent came back heavily injured. We can spare no healers for the moment.’

‘We will bring the New Moon Root, Uncle.’ Lan Zhan promised, before Wei Ying could complain any further.

‘Excellent.’ Lan Qiren declared, pleased. ‘Here.’ He took from inside his sleeve a thin scroll. ‘The Head Healer made this for you two, so you may recognize the plant and know how to correctly harvest it.’

As Lan Zhan was receiving the scroll from Lan Qiren, Wei Ying processed the words. ‘So it can’t be found in a store? Where does this plant even grow?’

Lan Qiren huffed. ‘If it was that simple I would have simply sent any disciple or servant to buy it! This is clearly a mission that requires more finesse and no little amount of prowess. The plant in question grows at the top of the neighbouring mountain.’ The man finally explained, pointing with his index finger at the general direction of it.

‘Oh~, so that’s what the punishment part is about.’ Wei Ying was almost relieved. Going to the top of the nearby mountain wasn’t so bad. And looking for the plant couldn’t be that hard either, surely.

But Lan Qiren sent a pointed look his way that meant bad things for him. ‘Since this is not simply an errand, I’ll add an extra challenge to the task. You’ll leave your sword with me. Both of you.’ He said, sending his look towards Lan Zhan at the last part.

‘What? You want us to go on foot!? I thought the matter was urgent?’ Wei Ying couldn’t believe it. It would take them most of the day to simply reach the top, nevermind hunt for the damned plant.

Lan Qiren extended a hand toward them, one each and with an open palm. Wei Ying sighed and put Suibian on his uncle’s hand, after seeing Lan Zhan easily surrender his own sword.

Then, Lan Zhan bowed. ‘We will be back soon.’

Lan Qiren nodded in acknowledgement and bid them farewell.

Wei Ying’s shoulders hung low as he followed Lan Zhan down the thousand steps down the Cloud Recesses.

Lan Qiren watched them go down with ease, tugging softly from his beard. He hoped very much they would be successful in finding and bringing the root, but also that the experience worked as a good bonding exercise.

‘Uncle. Here you are.’ Lan Xichen’s voice reached his ears and he turned a bit to meet his eye.

Lan Xichen was looking down the path and was just in time to catch sight of Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian going down, swordless. He immediately turned his judgemental eyes to him. ‘Uncle, what is the meaning of this? I thought they were to receive punishment today?’

Lan Qiren hummed in agreement. ‘Yes, I sent them on a mission as punishment.’

Lan Xichen eyed the swords in Lan Qiren’s hands and hummed with displeasure instead. ‘What… kind of punishment?’

‘Well…’

‘Did you send them to do the favor the Head Healer asked you to do, Uncle?’

Lan Qiren coughed a bit louder than usual against his sleeve. ‘Today’s a really busy day, Xichen. I must go.’ He turned around and started to fast walk towards his office.

‘Uncle!’ Lan Xichen exclaimed, quickly following after him. ‘Uncle, come back.’

‘Very busy day, Xichen.’ Lan Qiren hummed, walking slightly faster.

 

*

 

It took Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji a bit less than three hours to reach the foot of the neighbouring mountain that Lan Qiren had sent them to. It was much farther than it seemed at first, but Lan Wangji was pleasantly surprised by Wei Wuxian’s disposition to walk.

‘Rogue cultivators are always on the road, and we can’t fly our swords everywhere, obviously. I’m used to long walks, almost daily.’ Wei Wuxian told him, as they walked without taking any breaks, first down the Cloud Recesses’ mountain and then took the path that led to the one they needed to climb.

Wei Wuxian chatted with himself almost without pause and lost no breath. Lan Wangji was almost impressed. He was also surprised by how easily Wei Wuxian could hold an hours long conversation with himself, as Lan Wangji barely offered any input. While not ideal, Lan Wangji could easily deal with it and let Wei Wuxian speak to his heart’s content.

By the time they were starting the steeper part of the beaten path that led to the top of the mountain, Wei Wuxian took from inside his sleeve two apples and gave one to Lan Wangji. It was sweet and fresh and Lan Wangji could only appreciate that they were eaten in silence.

Once the food was over though, the brief silence was too.

‘Aaah! I have missed going on the road.’ Wei Wuxian exclaimed as he stretched himself and enjoyed the soft sunrays of the cold afternoon. It had been cloudy during the morning, but now they had parted around the sun and its rays could reach the face of the mountain. ‘The Cloud Recesses is nice and the bed is really soft and all, but really, the road life is the best.’

Lan Wangji thought about that briefly. ‘Have you never lived anywhere?’ He asked.

Wei Wuxian turned towards him, looking exaggeratedly shocked and Lan Wangji immediately regretted speaking. But no teasing comments came. Wei Wuxian schooled his expression into his usual smile quickly and nodded in response.

‘Nope, mom and dad have always been traveling from one place to the other, and with them me, obviously. I’ve visited most of the Kingdom’s territories by now.’

Lan Wangji nodded in acknowledgment. He had barely left Gusu himself, and it had been once. Junior disciples were not usually allowed to travel alone and not very far. ‘Uncle said…’ Lan Wangji hesitated.

‘Hm?’ Wei Wuxian encouraged.

‘Uncle said you were traveling alone during the past year.’ Lan Wangji said. He realized it was not a question so Wei Wuxian’s arched eyebrow didn’t surprise him.

‘Um… and… do you… want to know anything about that?’

They kept walking up the mountain, another silence between them, but just like the previous one it wasn’t uncomfortable. Wei Wuxian kept looking at him every few minutes or so, though.

‘I-.’ It only occurred to Lan Wangji when he spoke that Wei Wuxian was waiting for him to speak. He felt oddly flustered suddenly and looked away. ‘Weren’t you lonely?’ He finally asked.

‘Hm… a bit, a first.’ Wei Wuxian admitted quickly. He turned towards him and smiled widely, as if he was about to share a secret. Lan Wangji felt his chest give an odd pang. ‘But I went out there and made friends everywhere. In all the towns I passed by I met someone interesting. I did work for them, even if it didn’t have anything to do with cultivation and learned so many things I knew nothing about… I had such a good time.’

Lan Wangji tried to imagine that kind of life and had a hard time picturing himself living it.

‘Also… I had this!’ Wei Wuxian fished from inside his sleeve a little round wooden token and showed it to Lan Wangji.

Lan Wangji reached for it and Wei Wuxian deposited it into his hand. The token had a careful and intricate talisman carved on it and an iron nail encrusted on the center. It looked like an expensive craft and he could feel the clear imprint of spiritual energy.

‘Is this…?’

‘It’s a location token. When I put energy on it, its twin with my mom will send it out to her. If I’m ever in danger, I let her know that way. Also, the nail will always point towards the other token, so she can follow the direction until she finds me.’ Wei Wuxian explained, pointing at the nail, fixed in direction towards Lanling.

Lan Wangji looked at the wooden token in wonder. What an incredible device and if he inspected the array closely, it was not too overly complex, he could see how the intent and purpose were plainly stated, but the way the symbols were arranged made it particularly efficient.

‘I have never seen or heard of this artifact before.’ Lan Wangji told Wei Wuxian as he gave it back.

‘Of course not. I invented it and have made only this pair.’ Wei Wuxian told him casually.

Lan Wangji blinked in surprise. Wei Wuxian had… invented that? ‘Did you manufacture it as well?’

‘Yeah, completely from scratch.’

Lan Wangji narrowed his eyes slightly. ‘Yet you can’t write to save your own life…’

Wei Wuxian’s smile fell into a pout. ‘Aw, Lan Zha~n.’ He whined. ‘Don’t be mean… It’s really hard to practice writing on the road, and I know enough characters to read directions and notice boards…’

Lan Wangji guessed he was correct. It wasn’t as if Wei Wuxian was actually illiterate. The texts in cultivation were usually very advanced and used complex words and increasingly rare characters as one delved into even more complex topics. All cultivation sects educated their disciples with these tools, therefore they were usually very well above the common people in aspects such as this too. It was really no wonder they would be a challenge for Wei Wuxian’s much more basic level.

‘I will teach you.’ Lan Wangji said. ‘To write, and read the texts in the library.’

Wei Wuxian looked back at him and they met eyes. Lan Wangji held his stare, hoping to communicate his earnest desire to try again and succeed this time. Wei Wuxian’s cheeks colored pink and he looked away.

‘I’ll be-.’ He cleared his throat. ‘I’ll be counting on you then.’

They resumed their trek in silence this time. The plant they were looking for supposedly grew at the very top of the mountain, so there was no point in searching until they got there.

An hour later, their partially cloudy day turned into a fully cloudy one. Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji frowned at the sky as the soft, light coloured clouds moved away and darker, heavier looking ones took their place, covering the sun completely.

‘This looks bad.’ Wei Wuxian had to say, right before rain started pouring with violence. The air quickly turned humid and exceedingly cold. ‘We need refuge!’

Lan Wangji was wondering where they could possibly hide when Wei Wuxian grabbed him by the wrist once again and pulled him away from the road and towards the thicker part of the mountain forest. They tried to avoid the thickest of the downpour by staying close to the more leafy trees, until Lan Wangji spotted an oddly shaped three that had a big opening at its base and made a perfect little cave.

‘There.’ Lan Wangji said and Wei Wuxian’s eyes followed the direction he pointed at.

‘That’s perfect.’

To hide inside, they had to crouch and huddle close, shoulder pressing firmly against each other, but besides that it was comfortable.

‘Do you think it’ll stop raining soon?’ Wei Wuxian asked, looking worriedly at the dark sky.

Lan Wangji shook his head. There was no way of knowing.

Wei Wuxian shrugged in their tiny refuge. ‘We’ll have to wait for it to at least lessen a bit.’

Lan Wangji hummed in agreement.

Thirty minutes later, Wei Wuxian had fallen asleep with his head on Lan Wangji’s shoulder. The rain slowly started to get thinner, until it was only a light drizzle. He moved Wei Wuxian softly to rouse him.

‘Hm? Wh-? Lan Zhan?’

‘The rain has eased. Let’s go.’

Wei Wuxian rubbed his eyes and followed Lan Wangji slowly out of their three. It seemed rain would not completely stop, but like this they could still go on.

‘Ah! Wait Lan Zhan!’ Wei Wuxian exclaimed.

Lan Wangji stopped and watched him fiddle and search something inside his sleeves until he finally fished out a black and red quiankun pouch that had seen better days. ‘I had forgotten I had this!’

Before Lan Wangji could ask what was inside, Wei Wuxian opened it and manifested an umbrella.

‘You had this the whole time…?’ Lan Wangji received the umbrella and quickly used it to cover his head. He wasn’t sure if he should be glad Wei Wuxian was so well prepared or angry that he didn’t remember he had it earlier.

‘Sorry, sorry. I was sure I had left it in my old robes, but after I almost left yesterday I remembered about it and decided to carry it around in these ones…’ Wei Wuxian apologized. He fished a straw had from inside too and quickly put it on, shielding himself partially too. ‘Keep the umbrella. This way we can search separately. Faster, no?’

‘We should switch, you should take the umbrella.’ Lan Wangji argued.

Wei Wuxian laughed at that. ‘Don’t be silly. I offered it to you, let’s not waste time arguing over who gets to get the least wet, alright?’

Lan Wangji sighed, frustrated but finally nodded. Wei Wuxian was right. ‘Let’s go.’

They made the rest of the way as quickly as they could and once they were close enough to the top, they decided to start looking. They huddled close together under the umbrella to see the scroll with the detailed drawing of the plant.

‘Okay, so it’s a bush with little blue flowers with four petals, right?’ Wei Wuxian hummed.

Lan Wangji nodded in agreement and repeated the brief description in his mind. Surely there couldn't be that many plants in that very mountain that fit the same description.

‘Let’s split, then. Back here in an hour, scream if something happens or we need help?’ Wei Wuxian suggested.

Lan Wangji nodded again and they walked in opposite directions. Lan Wangji took both the scroll and the umbrella with him and walked deeper into the forest and away from the path.

When the hour was almost up, Lan Wangji began to worry. He had yet to find anything that looked even similar to the plant he was looking for and the rain was growing stronger again and loud thunder echoed from the distance. The possibility of an electric storm was not low this time of the year and it would be best if they were on their way down the mountain at the very least if it came. He was pondering on these risks and making his way back to the agreed place, when he stepped on softer ground, his foot going deep inside the earth and getting trapped there. Lan Wangji fell down face first on the ground, the umbrella on top of him, still loyally shielding him from rain. He allowed himself a second to feel defeated by circumstances before raising. Lan Wangji counted to three and supported his weight on his hands and knees to get up. He moved the umbrella to look front and maintain his head covered from the rain and saw it. Right in front of him, there was a patch of bushes with little blue flowers with four petals. Had he not gone through this same route deeper into the woods? How could he have missed them?

‘Lan Zhan!’ Wei Wuxian’s voice reached him then. ‘Lan Zhan? Where are you?’

‘Wei Ying!’ He called back.

Wei Ying appeared between two threes with wide eyes and worry written all over his face when he finally saw him. ‘Lan Zhan! What happened? Are you alright? You were not in the agreed place and I knew something had happened-.’

‘The bushes.’ Lan Wangji cut him and pointed at the patch.

Wei Ying looked at him and then to the side. He quickly realized it was the plant they were looking for.

The rain was slowly growing stronger.

‘We gotta get out of here as soon as possible.’ Wei Ying vocalized Lan Wangji’s thoughts. ‘Can you stand?’

Lan Wangji realized he wasn’t sure. He finally looked at the offending foot that made him lose balance and fall. He had stepped on a hole of some kind. The rain and mud had hidden it from sight, but not filled it. He slowly took his foot out and when he looked up to stand, Wei Ying was there, offering a hand to help him up. Lan Wangji took it.

Once up, Wei Ying nodded at him and let go of his hand. He hurried towards the bushes and crouched down to inspect them, the straw hat keeping the rain away from his face and the back of his head, but not much else. Lan Wangji took a step closer and realized he would not be able to crouch. The offending ankle hurt and wouldn’t be able to resist his full weight. Still, he couldn’t simply wait. With the umbrella well in hand he walked carefully to stand by Wei Ying’s side and help protect him from the rain while he harvested the roots.

‘How did the scroll say we had to take them out?’ Wei Ying asked, already combing through the leafy bushes.

Lan Wangji fished it out and spread it. ‘If the earth is soft, grab the bush by the origin, as close to the ground as possible and pull up.’ Lan Wangji read out loud.

‘Ha! At least the rain helped with something.’ Wei Ying said in good humor. He fumbled for a few minutes and finally pulled up from a shrub, extracting a muddy, round, and white tuber, not unlike a small sized potato. ‘This looks like it tastes terrible.’

Lan Wangji opened a qiankun pouch to gather the roots and offered it to Wei Ying.

‘Thanks.’ Wei Ying cleaned the root and deposited it inside.

Once Wei Ying had learned the trick to take the root out, it was more or less fast. After twenty minutes they had close to thirty.

‘We shouldn’t take out all the bushes.’ Lan Wangji said as Wei Ying was wrapping his hand around another shrub, ready to pull it out.

‘Oh… you’re right. I didn’t find any on my side either…’

Lan Wangji nodded. ‘This will have to suffice.’

Wei Ying nodded and stood up as Lan Wangji closed the pouch and put it away inside his robes.

‘We’re ready to go down, then.’

Lan Wangji nodded again. They stayed in place.

Wei Ying looked at him firmly in the eye and then at his injured ankle. ‘You can stand, but can you walk? I saw you limp when you walked closer.’

‘I can walk.’ Lan Wangji assured.

Wei Ying looked unconvinced. ‘Down the mountain? Up to the thousand steps to the Cloud Recesses?’

Lan Wangji pressed his lips into a thin line. It was sort of humiliating, this situation. Not to mention his robes were completely brown and even some of his hair had gotten mud on. Now his ability to walk home was put in doubt. He put his full concentration on making his spiritual energy go to his injured ankle, hoping to speed up the healing process.

‘Ah- Ah- Ah- What are you doing? Lan Zhan, I’m sure Uncle Lan told you that speeding the healing process too much on sprains or broken bones may leave sequels.’

‘What do you propose then?’ Lan Wangji looked up, glaring at Wei Ying.

But instead of glaring back or nag him again, Wei Ying smiled at him. ‘I’ll carry you home, of course!’

Lan Wangji blinked. Was that a joke? He waited for a few seconds, hoping Wei Ying would start laughing like he did when he replaced his poetry book with porn, but it didn’t happen. Instead, Wei Ying turned around and offered him his back.

‘C’mon. Didn’t we agree we had to hurry down? An electric storm may be well on its way here. You heard the thunder didn’t you?’ Wei Ying moved his hands goading him to climb up his back.

Lan Wangji stared at Wei Ying back in growing horror and increasingly burning ears. He bit his lower lip, hesitating.

‘Lan Zhan. Hurry up.’ Wei Ying told him softly and turned to look at him with an easy smile.

Lan Wangji realized Wei Ying was not laughing at him again, but offering honest help, free of judgement. He took a deep breath of humid, freezing cold air, and leaned to pass his arms around Wei Ying’s arms. In that position. Wei Ying had little trouble to pass his arms back and grab his legs, hoisting him up.
‘Hold the umbrella?’ Wei Ying requested and, giving a little jump to accommodate Lan Wangji’s weight on his back, he started walking with ease.

Lan Wangji observed his weight didn’t take too much of a toll on Wei Ying, who was barely inclined further for equilibrium.

Wei Ying quickly found the path, since it wasn’t too far from where Lan Wangji had tripped and started going down the mountain at a fast and steady pace. He didn’t complain once, but made the way down mostly silent and paying special attention to the soft, muddy ground.

Wei Ying carried Lan Wangji in his back up to the Cloud Recesses, and then followed Lan Wangji’s directions to reach the infirmary, where they guessed they should deliver the roots and also request for attention for Lan Wangji’s ankle.

‘How did this happen?’ The Head Healer asked with wide eyes at seeing Lan Wangji filthy and sitting on one of his beds, next to Wei Ying who was dripping wet from the hip down and covered in mud.

Wei Ying was quick to explain. Lan Wangji gave the man the pouch with the roots too.

The Head Healer, a man much older than Lan Qiren, named Lan Minglei, eyed the pouch and at the sight of his content immediately ruffled. ‘Qiren sent you two to retrieve this?’

They both nodded.

‘That boy! I explicitly told him to go himself!’ Lan Miglei was quick to fish out a root and was immediately relieved at the sight of it. ‘Ah… but you did a great job taking them out. They’re all intact and fresh at that… well it’s the season.’

‘Is there enough?’ Wei Ying asked.

Lan Minglei emptied the pouch on a basquet and nodded pleased. ‘More than enough. Thank you, Young Masters. Now… let’s see about that ankle.’

Lan Minglei had only taken Lan Wangji’s boot off when Lan Xichen went inside the infirmary, sliding the door open with violence. ‘Wangji!’

‘Ah, Sect Leader Lan.’ The Head Healer hummed in greeting, focusing fully on the foot in front of him. It was red and mildly swollen.

‘What happened?’

Wei Ying repeated the story a bit less enthusiastically. It was the second time already, after all.

‘An you carried Wangji all the way here?’ Lan Xichen asked, eyes softening infinitely and making Lan Wangji’s ears heat up again.

Wei Ying only nodded.

Lan Minglei let Lan Wangji’s foot softly back on the bed with an approving humm. ‘Since there was no pressure made, the ankle is in perfect shape. I’ll apply a cold compress and Second Young Master Lan should be able to walk normally by tomorrow, no problem.’

The three young cultivators sighed in relief, Wei Ying the most expressive of the three.

‘Aren’t you glad, Lan Zhan? You’ll be in top shape tomorrow to start our lessons.’

Lan Xichen nodded, pleased by the energy in Wei Ying’s voice. ‘Well, I’ll take care of Wangji from here on.’ He said. ‘You may go back to your room and ask for a bath, Wuxian.’

‘Oh, right. We should also be clean for tomorrow.’ He laughed at himself and stood up. For the first time since he arrived, his robes, though still dirty, were cleaner than Lan Wangji’s.

He bowed in goodbye to them and then to Lan Minglei and left the infirmary.

Lan Wangji watched him leave and only when Wei Ying disappeared from sight, he realized his brother was looking at him.

‘Uh oh.’ He said, a twinkle of mirth in his eyes.

‘What?’ Lan Wangji asked, feeling oddly exposed.

‘Is someone nursing a little crush, maybe?’ Lan Xichen asked, smiling complicitly but obviously laughing at him at the same time.

Lan Wangji frowned. No he was not nursing a crush, little or otherwise.

Lan Xichen laughed as if Lan Wangji had said something particularly funny, making him frown even deeper.

‘Brother.’ Lan Wangji called, ready to ask him to leave.

‘Ah, don’t worry about it Wangji. As long as you don’t lose sleep over it, then it’s all fine, right?’

Lan Wangji nodded. He had never lost sleep over anything, ever. Whatever was going through his brother’s mind clearly didn’t apply. Whatever it meant. A little crush . Him? On Wei Ying? Not possible.

Hours later and way past curfew, bathed, and wearing sleeping robes, Lan Wangji was trying to fall asleep on one of the infirmary’s beds with little success. He realized, maybe, what Xichen was on about. All the events of the day hit him like the ground when he had fallen down on his face and at the end of it, his mind was full of Wei Ying. When had he even started to address him like that? He wasn't sure. Wei Ying’s smile, the worried look in his eyes when he offered him his hand to stand up, and all his other little expressions danced behind his closed eyelids. He felt overly conscious of the broadness of his shoulders, the warm imprint his hands had left around his upper thighs while he carried Lan Wangji back home, the press of Wei Ying by his side and Wei Ying's head against his shoulder when he fell asleep under the tree. The pleasant sound of his laughter and how his name sounded coming from his lips ringed in his ears… He had said it so many times today: Lan Zhan. Just a few weeks ago no one ever called him that anymore, and now it seemed like it was Wei Ying's exclusive right to call him Lan Zhan.

‘Uh oh.’ Lan Wangji sighed softly as he stared at the darkness of the infirmary’s roof.

Chapter Text

Today was Wei Ying’s second first day studying under Lan Wangji. And Lan Wangji had had to cross the Cloud Recesses in pijamas to reach his own room from the infirmary, so he could be dressed up and ready in time to start lessons.

He never expected to meet Wei Ying half way there, a tray with food in his hands.

‘Lan Zhan.’ He said, his face turning from his usual resting smile to a much brighter one. ‘I was just going to the infirmary. What are you doing here?’

‘Going to the Jingshi.’ Lan Wangji answered, eyes going from the tray to Wei Ying’s face and back.

Wei Ying followed the movement and laughed a bit sheepish. ‘Xichen-ge went to see me after he left you last night and he asked to get you breakfast today and since I was already going to get it for you… I also got my own portion? Ah, I guess I didn’t think… maybe you like to eat alone? Since you’re never in the main hall with everyone else.’

Lan Wangji found it unusually hard to keep up with the rambling. It was very early and he had not slept as many hours as he should have. He was still in his nightwear. ‘Wei Ying. The Jingshi.’

‘Oh, right! Let’s go.’

They walked together the rest of the way and once inside, Lan Wangji selected a set of robes from a closet and ducked inside a privacy screen. He changed in a bit of a hurry, yet careful to not miss any details or leave any wrinkles. Once Lan Wangji deemed his fully dressed reflection in the mirror presentable enough, he walked from behind the privacy screen to find Wei Ying sitting down at his table and the food spread, ready for him to join.

‘Let’s eat, Lan Zhan.’

Lan Wangji blinked at the sight. Breakfast was usually a lonely experience for Lan Wangji, and he had never minded, used to it. He sat down in one swift motion and grabbed the chopsticks left for him.

Wei Ying smiled at the gesture, always friendly and welcoming, despite everything that had happened between them. Lan Wangji took his first mouthful and saw how Wei Ying sprinkled dark red spices over all his own dishes. He observed as Wei Ying started his food, now heavily seasoned. Would Lan Wangji be able to be as open and good to someone who said such terrible things to him. It was true they had apologized to each other, and accepted the apology the other gave, but Wei Ying had never meant any harm with his prank, and his lack of interest and enthusiasm was partly Lan Wangji’s fault. He, on the other hand, had spoken with the intent to drive Wei Ying away, to hurt him. He felt shame all over again.

With those thoughts plaguing Lan Wangji’s mind, he and Wei Ying shared breakfast in silence.

Once finished, Wei Ying spoke. ‘What are the plans for today, esteemed teacher?’ He asked with a light teasing tone.

At this point Lan Wangji could tell most of Wei Ying’s teasing was only playful and well meant, so he took it lightly too. ‘Let’s go to the Library Pavilion. There we will discuss the schedule.’

Wei Ying agreed. They put their dishes back in the tray and left it behind, outside the Jingshi, so it would be taken away later, and left for the Library Pavilion.

 

‘We will start from scratch.’ Lan Zhan announced once they were sitting across each other on a desk in the library. ‘I consider you have learned nothing from our previous attempt.’

‘Ouch.’ Wei Ying couldn’t help but express. That was rather harsh…

Lan Zhan was not moved though. ‘I recognize it was partly my fault, so for this new attempt, I’ll set milestones for you. Wherever you reach one, a reward will be given.’ He explained.

‘A reward?’ Wei Ying perked up. Now that was interesting. ‘What kind of reward?’

‘What would you like?’ Lan Zhan asked.

Wei Ying blinked. ‘Are you asking me?’ He asked, surprised. Lan Zhan had been the opposite of accommodating since they’d met. What was this change of pace?

‘Who else better suited to assign motivating rewards?’

Wei Ying hummed in agreement. It was very sound after all and it wouldn’t surprise him if what Lan Zhan thought of as rewarding was instead punishing for him. ‘Well… In that case…’ What would be a proper reward? Wei Ying could think of a few things. ‘Can I chose different things or does it have to be always the same for each milestone?’

Lan Zhan shook his head. ‘You may choose something different each time. I retain the right to refuse if it is against the rules, though.’

Wei Ying nodded in agreement. That sounded perfectly reasonable and fair to him. He quickly formulated a list of things he wanted to do and hadn’t been able to, because first Lan Qiren and now Lan Zhan had kept him captive with studying.

‘You don’t have to choose now either.’ Lan Zhan said. ‘As for the study schedule, we will start again with copying the rules. It is mandatory you know them.’

‘And also will work as calligraphy practice right?’

Lan Zhan nodded.

‘Very well… I promise not to slack off this time. Please guide me, teacher.’ Wei Ying smiled sincerely and Lan Zhan couldn’t help but smile back, however little.

‘We will start with the book of Conduct… and stroke order.’

‘Yes, teacher~.’ Wei Ying said in a singsong.

 

They had a very productive morning, to Lan Wangji’s relief. A tiny part of him still was distrustful of Wei Ying, despite his promise to try and do better this time. The reality though, was beyond his expectations. They started with the rules, going through them together, so Wei Ying would not only know how to read and write them, but understand the meaning behind the sometimes poetic wording of the restriction. Wei Ying had been interested enough to ask about how the rules came to be. Lan Wangji gave a brief explanation on how each generation, through their experiences, left them lessons in the form of rules, hoping their descendants wouldn’t repeat their mistakes.

It was only close to lunch that Wei Ying got distracted.

‘Say, Lan Zhan, why do you eat alone in your room? Isn’t it lonely?’ Wei Ying asked, seemingly out of the blue. ‘I’ve never seen you in the main hall during breakfast or dinner. Only lunch, and even then, you’re alone at your own table.’

Lan Wangji let down his brush and looked at his pupil. His eyes were clear and earnest. ‘Sometimes Brother joins me.’

Wei Ying hummed. ‘Not lately though.’

Lan Wangji sighed silently. ‘It would make the other disciples uncomfortable.’ He admitted. ‘Uncle has me in charge of punishment, so I must enforce the rules and punish those who make infractions worthy of them.’

‘What? For real?’ Wei Ying raised slightly in his place, as if his muscles were tensing under him. ‘Aren’t you my age too? Shouldn’t an older disciple be in charge of that?’

Lan Wangji felt oddly defensive. He had considered quite the honor when his uncle had said to the Lan Elders that Lan Wangji was, among his disciples, the one who knew and understood the rules the best. The subsequent role as rule enforcer and head of punishment had been… unexpected, but after such a high prize from his uncle, he could not refuse.

Wei Ying opened his mouth to say something and then shut it, as if he had thought better about whatever it was he was going to say. Lan Wangji was suddenly both curious and ready to get offended. When Wei Ying opened his mouth again, what came out was nothing Lan Wangji expected.

‘Let’s have breakfast together from now on, then.’ He smiled at him. ‘The girl that usually takes it to you seemed really relieved when I asked to do it this morning.’ He added with an easy laugh.

Lan Wangji looked down at Wei Ying’s notes, already some ghost of improvement appearing in the strokes, after having corrected him time and time again the whole morning. Wei Ying hadn’t complained once. ‘There is no need.’

Wei Ying’s smile left his face. ‘You’d rather eat alone?’ He asked, and the slight curve of his eyebrows made his look sad.

Lan Wangji felt a pang. This was the second time he said something that made Wei Ying’s smile disappear into sadness. ‘I do not mind having breakfast alone. You don’t have to bring breakfast or stay.’

The sound of Wei Ying snort had been annoying just a few days ago, but now hearing it brought relief to Lan Wangji. When he looked up to meet his eyes, Wei Ying was smiling again.

‘Don’t be silly, Lan Zhan. I’m offering because I want to.’

Lan Wangji felt his ears heat up and butterfly wings fluttering at the pit of his stomach. He berated himself to be calm at the same time he heard his brother’s words from last night echo in the back of his mind. He swallowed through a dry throat. ‘If- If that’s the case then, I’ll be expecting Wei Ying tomorrow.’

Wei Ying’s smile widened impossibly. Lan Wangji didn’t remember having seen something so bright before.

‘I’ll be there every morning, Lan Zhan. Promise.’ He said and raised three fingers.

 

*

 

Wei Ying hit his first milestone the next day, having perfectly copied and understood the first fifty rules depicted in the book of Conduct. Lan Wangji couldn’t deny he was impressed.

‘Have you thought of your reward, Wei Ying?’ He asked, once he had given a full grade to Wei Ying’s first partial test.

Wei Ying smiled smugly at the sight of the result, but quickly relaxed into his usual more friendly smile at the question. ‘I want you to spar with me. Uncle Lan mentioned the Cloud Recesses’ training grounds many times, but I have yet to see them.’

Lan Wangji couldn’t help but smile back. Such a simple reward. He had not known what to expect, really, as Wei Ying was not flashy or had ever asked for much besides freedom, but now that he had heard his request, he could only find it endearing in its simplicity and austerity. ‘Very well. I’ll show you and we can have a spar.’

Wei Ying skipped in the air. ‘Oh, Lan Zhan, I can’t wait! Let’s go, let’s go!’ He jumped up and grabbed his sword and once Lan Wangji was up and with his own sword in hand, he grabbed him by the wrist and pulled him out of the library.

 

Lan Wangji led the way to the training grounds.

To him, the training grounds were probably the least interesting part of the Cloud Recesses. The different pavilions, the gardens, even the disciple’s quarters were elegant and beautiful despite their austerity in embellishment and color, just like the pathways and the great halls. The training grounds had the most utilitarian design and lacked any of the aesthetical consideration of other spaces in the Cloud Recesses. Still, when they arrived, Wei Ying was awed.

‘And you spar here with other cultivators often?’ Wei Ying asked at the sight of the many sparring circles drawn in a large empty space.

Lan Wangji nodded.

‘This is amazing and so wide, there’s so much space. I can’t even imagine that many people our age sparring at the same time.’

It occurred right then to Lan Wangji that such a common sight for him was something Wei Ying had never seen. With that in mind, Lan Wangji let Wei Ying gawk at the sight and ran around for a few minutes before they took position in one of the sparring rings. Since they had already used real swords against each other in their first unfortunate encounter, it seemed silly to use practice swords now.

‘Get ready, Lan Zhan! I won’t go easy on you just because you’re my teacher now.’ Wei Ying warned playfully.

Lan Wangji huffed. Like he would ever expect something like that from an opponent, even less Wei Ying of all people.

They bowed to each other, as Lan Wangji had instructed it was accustomed and started. Wei Ying stared at him intently, looking very much like a predator, his sword glinting with spiritual power in his hand. Lan Wangji stared back as they seized each other. It seemed like an eternity ago when they had fought on the rooftops of the Cloud Recesses now.

They unsheathed their swords, both blades bright with spiritual energy and very opposite in design. Where Bichen was elegant and with an elaborate design, a tassel hanging from its handle, and completely made of silver, Wei Ying’s blade was forged out of a darker steel and made simple in its design, both its handle and scabbard were bare and black.

‘It’s an impressive blade. What is its name?’ Lan Wangji asked.

Wei Ying snorted at the question and shrugged. ‘Suibian.’

Lan Wangji narrowed his eyes slightly, annoyed at the nonchalant answer. A spiritual blade was a serious thing. ‘You should treat your sword with more respect.’

Wei Ying giggled behind his fist at that, but quickly composed himself. ‘It’s not out of disrespect. It’s name is Suibian. When I got it, I didn’t know what to name it at all. I thought up to twenty names, but I couldn’t decide on any, so when Uncle Jiang asked for one to make the engraving, I just said to pick whatever… and he did!’

How annoying. How could Jiang Fengmian do such a silly thing when dealing with a spiritual tool so important for Wei Ying? But… after more consideration, it was oddly suitable for Wei Ying to have a powerful yet foolishly named sword.

‘C’mon, Lan Zhan. Let’s begin.’ Wei Ying goaded.

Lan Wangji narrowed his eyes at that and attacked first. Wei Ying dodged with impressive speed and sent a counterattack Lan Wangji was easily able to parry. Lan Wangji repeated the sequence while increasing both speed and strength with every blow, but Wei Ying managed to be faster every time to dodge him and then his own strength also increased on his next retaliation. After a few tries, Wei Ying changed strategies and went on the offense more aggressively, forcing Lan Wangji to retreat and stay in defensive position, as Wei Ying sent one hit after another. Lan Wangji maneuvered Bichen to change their position and place Wei Ying close to the ring, hoping to push him out and win. Wei Ying noticed and jumped back and away from Bichen’s range. Lan Wangji lunged after him and their blades met again in the middle.

They continued for what felt like hours, until finally Wei Ying dealt a last well aimed blow and made Bichen fly out of Lan Wangji’s hand. Suibian’s tip ended its arch right in front of Lan Wangji’s Adam's apple.

Wei Ying was breathing hard, but not nearly as hard as Lan Wangji, and his smile was all tooth and sharp edges. It made Lan Wangji’s heart beat even faster. ‘Yield.’ He said, and it sounded like an order.

Lan Wangji inhaled silently and had to take a second. ‘I yield.’ He admitted after a few beats.

 

After that day, Wei Ying started to bring him breakfast and stayed to eat with him every day. It also meant they would walk every morning together to the Library Pavilion.

 

Wei Ying hit his second milestone two days later, after quite some hard work, but Lan Wangji could only think a reward was well deserved. ‘What would it be this time? Do you wish to spar again?’

Wei Ying shook his head. ‘This time I want the afternoon off to go to Caiyi Town.’

Lan Wangji found himself a bit disappointed by this and realized he had been expecting to spend whatever would be Wei Ying’s choice of reward with him. Wei Ying needed a sparring partner and truly the only person he knew that was available in the Cloud Recesses was Lan Wangji. This time, there was no need for him to follow.

‘Lan Zhan, you know Caiyi right? Wanna come with me and show me around?’ Wei Ying asked, as if somehow he had read Lan Wangji’s mind.

It was maybe a sign of weakness. Maybe Lan Wangji had fallen too for Wei Ying’s charming grey eyes and his disarming smile, but could only nodd, looking forward to the trip and subsequent afternoon in Wei Ying’s company.

 

For his third milestone, a week later, Wei Ying had greatly improved his calligraphy and was halfway done with copying the rules.

‘Let’s do archery today, Lan Zhan.’ Wei Ying said once Lan Wangji asked the question, once again including him in his reward activity.

Lan Wangji took Wei Ying to the open grounds behind the training grounds, where a shooting range was permanently set. Bows, arrows, and the targets were all there, ready for use. Wei Ying had his own bow, also black with little red embellishments painted in the wood, but beyond that rather simple. He took the quiver full of arrows Lan Wangji offered.

‘Let’s see who gets the most bullseyes, Lan Zhan.’ Wei Ying dared. ‘Xichen-ge couldn’t beat me in Qinghe, maybe you’ll have better luck?’

Lan Wangji could only huff. Wei Ying had won an intersect archery competition where senior disciple participated. He seemed very proud and had gloated about it when it came up, but never brought it up himself, except now. Lan Wangji understood it was to get a raise out of him.

‘Maybe it was luck that allowed you to win in Qinghe. We will see if you can repeat the feat.’ Lan Wangji challenged right back.

‘Lan Zhan!’ Wei Ying exclaimed in mock offense. ‘I’ll prove to you it was pure skill on my part.’

Wei Ying took his forehead ribbon off and covered his eyes with it. Lan Wangji saw him take five arrows from the quiver, place them on the curve of the bow, and spin on his place with an elegant twirl, shooting all five arrows at the same time. Lan Wangji blinked in surprise, lips slightly parted as he watched all five arrows draw perfect arcs and land each in their respective bullseye.

Next to him, Wei Ying rearranged his forehead ribbon, uncovering his eyes. When Lan Wangji turned to look at him he was looking smugly back.

‘See?’

‘Wei Ying is indeed a peerless archer.’ Lan Wangji recognized easily. He was sure neither him or his brother could easily imitate such a trick, and even then, it would take a lot of practice.

Wei Ying on the other side seemed surprised by the freely offered compliment and, to Lan Wangji’s great satisfaction, turned as red as an apple. ‘L-Lan Zhan! Don’t say things like that without warning!’

‘Mn.’

‘Lan Zhan, are you laughing at me?’ Wei Ying asked, still flustered.

‘I am not.’ Lan Wangji said, but their eyes met and Wei Ying got even redder.

‘You are! I thought lying was forbidden too.’ Wei Ying huffed, crossing his arms over his chest, once again mock offended. ‘And here I was going to offer some lessons, since you’ve taught me so many things in these past few days.’

Lan Wangji felt the tips of his lips rise. ‘And what guidance would Master Archer Wei offer this disciple?’ He asked.

‘Ah! Teasing me again!’ Wei Ying exclaimed. ‘You’ve got your own sense of humor buried under all those stuffy rules, haven’t you Lan Zhan?’

Lan Wangji simply looked away, not deigning to answer such a question.

‘Fine, tense your bow and I’ll give you pointers.’ Wei Ying said, dropping his offended facade.

‘Mn.’ Lan Wangji obeyed, if only to humor him. He was sure he needed few to no pointers, but Wei Ying was a better archer, so there was no harm in it.

‘Where are you aiming?’ Wei Ying asked, softly and Lan Wangji realized he had taken a few steps to stand closer to him.

‘To the bullseye in the middle.’

Wei Ying nodded in adknowledgement and stepped behind him. Lan Wangji willed himself to relax when Wei Ying’s arms passed around him to adjust the angle of his arms and the tension of the string. ‘You’re a bit stiff Lan Zhan.’ Wei Ying mentioned, his breath tickling Lan Wangji’s ear as they let go of the arrow together in the slightly corrected posture.

It flew beautifully and landed right in the center, splitting the arrow already embedded there in half.

Lan Wangji waited, frozen in place, for Wei Ying to take a step back. When he did he couldn’t help but turn his head and search for his eyes. Wei Ying was still close, too close, and looking back as if searching something in Lan Wangji’s eyes too. They stared at each other for a few seconds in complete silence.

‘Lan Zhan…’ Wei Ying breathed out his name.

Lan Wangji felt his heart start to beat up faster. Were his ears red too? What- what was going on? Just a second ago they were teasing each other…

‘Wei Ying.’ He called back, as if the other’s name was the answer to his own.

Wei Ying took a deep breath. They were still looking each other in the eye. Wei Ying hadn’t made any more distance between them.

‘You look a lot like Uncle Lan.’ Wei Ying said, now smiling like always. ‘Have you thought about growing a beard too? It’d be funny if you had the same facial hair.’

What…? Lan Wangji blinked, trying to suppress the coming anger, but it was not working. Was he an idiot? What was he hoping for here? This was Wei Ying, silly, simple minded Wei Ying, who was always on the lookout for a prank or a joke, and was currently laughing his ass off at this discovery that yes, Lan Wangji looked like his uncle. Lan Wangji huffed in annoyance and threw his bow inside the quiver that still had some arrows, taking it and walking away.

‘Lan Zhan, where are you going? Are you bored from archery already?’ Wei Ying asked between bursts of laughter. ‘D-don’t leave yet.’ He almost wheezed.

Lan Wangji put the quiver away and left Wei Ying behind. He needed some time alone urgently.

 

*

 

Lan Wangji had meditated on the archery incident, as he had come to call it, and decided not to think on it anymore. Wei Ying didn’t mean anything, and really, it’d be childish to get angry about such a harmless comment.

Wei Ying hadn’t forgotten about it, it seemed.

He arrived to the Jingshi like every day with breakfast for two and set it out on the table, but before they could start eating, he stopped Lan Wangji.

‘Hear me out a bit first, Lan Zhan.’ Wei Ying looked remarkably sheepish, no unlike when he had asked for forgiveness for the prank with the poetry book.

Lan Wangji waited, looking at him in silence.

Wei Ying fidgeted a bit before taking out of his sleeve a rolled sheet of paper, tied up with a pretty red cord. ‘For you.’ He extended it to Lan Wangji. ‘I wanted to apologise for what I said yesterday… it was clear it bothered you, so I’m sorry and I promise not to do it again.’

Lan Wangji looked at the little roll and then at Wei Ying, and then back again at his present. He took the cord out with delicate movements and spread the sheet to look at its content. Their previous interaction had Lan Wangji a bit on the defensive side again and a part of him was prepared for another prank, but when he laid eyes on the paper, he found one of Wei Ying’s beautiful drawings, with dark ink and skilled strokes, he had made Lan Wangji’s likeness in paper. He was pictured sitting by the Library Pavilion’s window and a flower was resting by his topknot. He blinked at the sight and passed delicate fingers by the edge of the drawing, fearful of ruining it.

‘For me?’ He asked.

Wei Ying nodded. ‘You’re really beautiful Lan Zhan, what I said yesterday was a tasteless joke. I’m really sorry.’

Lan Wangji didn’t think his uncle was ugly, nor had he taken offense at the comparison. He did think the beard was… an interesting choice. He did not wish to grow one, now or in the future. Lan Wangji had been mostly annoyed with himself than anything else, but his outlet had made Wei Ying think he was the offending party.

‘I was not offended. I should apologize for having left like that.’ He said.

Wei Ying didn’t look convinced. ‘You seemed upset.’

Lan Wangji shook his head. ‘Thanks for this gift.’ He said. There was no need to discuss things further. The incredible portrait had definitely had the intended purpose, having soothed Lan Wangji’s annoyance at himself. Lan Wangji refrained from calling it beautiful, since it was his likeness in the page, but it was and he was really happy Wei Ying had called him so, and also made him such a thoughtful gift with his own hand. ‘I’ll treasure it.’ He couldn’t help but add.

Wei Ying blushed again, from the roots of his hair to his chin, and started eating. Lan Wangji noticed he hadn’t even spiced his food yet.

 

*

 

Three weeks later, Lan Qiren sat across them on the table in his office. In front of him was a little stack with all of Wei Ying’s tests. They were neatly marked as passed, with barely any mistakes pointed out. They were the proof and evidence that both Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji had done their work.

‘I see you have passed Wangji’s lessons, Wuxian.’ Lan Qiren said, giving a last quick review of the tests.

Both Wei Ying and Lan Zhan bowed on their seats next to each other across Lan Qiren.

‘I have, Uncle Lan.’ Wei Ying said neutrally.

‘Do you deem this pupil of yours ready to attend my lessons, Wangji?’ Lan Qiren asked Lan Wangji.

‘I do.’

Lan Qiren hummed and tugged from his beard. ‘Very well. I accept your judgement. Wangji and Wuxian will join the guest disciples from next week onwards in my classroom. I hope it provides a learning experience for the both of you.’

They bowed again. Lan Qiren nodded in approval and dismissed them.

Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian stood up to leave then, when Lan Qiren spoke again.

‘I’m proud of you both, well done.’

Wei Ying’s face turned into a huge smile. Lan Wangji felt his own mouth curve slightly. They bowed once again and finally left.

‘Lessons with the guest disciples!’ Wei Ying exclaimed once they were far enough from Lan Qiren’s office. ‘I’m so excited, Lan Zhan.’

Lan Wangji nodded. ‘You’ll have to keep working hard, with Uncle as your teacher.’

Wei Ying nodded enthusiastically. ‘Of course! I can’t put the esteemed Second Young Master Lan’s reputation in danger with my slacking off.’

‘You’re also part of this sect, Wei Ying.’ Lan Wangji reminded him. ‘Uncle’s reputation is also on the line.’

Wei Ying sighed dramatically. ‘You’re right… so much pressure.’

‘You’ll be up to par.’ Lan Wangji declared without a sliver of a doubt.

Wei Ying turned to look at him and smiled, the curve of his lips turning tender. ‘Thanks, Lan Zhan. I had a great time with you as my teacher. Let’s keep on being friends.’

Lan Wangji’s heart did a little somersault as it had taken to do every time Wei Ying did… anything really. They were friends. He felt warm all over.

‘Mn.’

Chapter Text

Lan Xichen poured tea for him and his little brother, enjoying the refreshing aroma coming from inside the pot. Wangji took his cup from Lan Xichen as he offered it to him and once they both had their cup in their hands, they took a sip in coordinated motions.

‘Ah, really a great blend.’ Lan Xichen sighed, greatly satisfied with the infusion.

Lan Wangji nodded across the table as any answer.

Lan Xichen couldn’t help but smile at his stoic little brother, so fun to tease, especially now that he was nursing a huge crush on their esteemed honorary disciple Wei Wuxian. Lan Wangji had managed to spend a whole month teaching the other boy and though their relationship started with the wrong foot, it seemed the two were able to make amends and now had grown quite close. Lan Xichen could tell just by looking his brother in the eye that he had enjoyed the past month with Wei Wuxian greatly, and they had spent most of it in the company of the other. Which reminded him of the topic he wished to discuss on this particular evening.

‘Wangji.’ He called, his little brother immediately lifting his eyes from the table to look back at him. Lan Xichen smiled softly at him. ‘Guest disciples will start arriving tomorrow.’

‘Mn.’

‘I’m sure this will be a great opportunity for you and Wuxian to make more friends.’ Lan Xichen dropped casually, focusing all his attention on Lan Wangji’s face.

His little brother’s face may prove a mystery to many others, sometimes even for their uncle, but for Lan Xichen it was an open book.

‘Wei Ying is sociable.’ Lan Wangji said with a slightly constrained voice.

Lan Xichen hummed in agreement, nodding along. ‘Of course. He is also very likeable, wouldn’t you say? Wuxian is always smiling and very friendly, if a bit crass at first.’

Lan Wangji’s eyebrows furrowed with every word.

‘Ah, you’re right, Wangji.’ Lan Xichen sighed in relief. ‘I’m sure he’ll make many friends right off the bat.’

‘Many friends.’ Lan Wangji repeated weakly.

Lan Xichen hummed again and sipped his tea again. He gave himself a good minute of silence to enjoy the warm drink. Lan Wangji was simmering across the table, clearly deep in conflicting thoughts. Lan Xichen couldn’t let him go back to his room like this, so he spoke again.

Leaving his cup down on the table, he smiled at his little brother once more. ‘Wangji, have you thought about being honest with Wuxian?’

Lan Wangji blinked out of his own thoughts and looked at his brother. ‘Honest?’

Lan Xichen looked at him with a knowing look and then eyed his reddening ears. ‘Yes. Honest, Wangji.’

Lan Wangji looked away, trying to escape Lan Xichen’s all knowing eyes. ‘There’s nothing to say.’

'Isn't there?' Lan Xichen wondered out loud.

Lan Wangji narrowed his eyes, visibly irritated by Lan Xichen's unsubtle teasing.

A minute of silence passed between them, until Lan Wangji's eyes focused on something past Lan Xichen's shoulders.

'Brother, is that the hairpiece Sect Leader Nie gifted you for your birthday last year?' Lan Wangji asked.

Lan Xichen almost dropped his teacup and turned to look behind him. Right over his vanity and in plain sight was the famous hairpiece. It was made of a darker metal and the craftmanship was exquisite. It also mixed clouds with little elements that reminded of Qinghe if one looked very very closely. Lan Xichen had been too embarrassed to even take it out of the box it came in, but having left it over his vanity revealed his intention of wearing it. Tomorrow. When Nie Mingjue was expected to arrive with the guest disciples that would attend their uncle's lecture this year.

'What about it?' He asked, managing to school his voice and recover his grip on the cup.

Lan Wangji looked away from the hairpiece, as an elegant way of shrugging. 'Maybe Brother should practice his own advice.' He mused in an inedit show of glibness.

Lan Xichen blinked at his little brother as the colors went from his ears to his cheeks. The only thing that kept him from sputtering was their strict upbringing. 'Wangji!' He finally exclaimed.

Lan Wangji didn't answer. Instead, he took his cup and downed his tea in one gulp. 'Thanks for the tea, Brother. I'll take my leave now.'

'Wangji.' Lan Xichen repeated, stunned.

Lan Wangji stood up and bowed to him before turning around and simply leaving the room.

'That boy…' Lan Xichen sighed, the blush slowly leaving his face. He turned around to see the hairpiece again and sighed a second time. 'Maybe he is right.'

*

Lan Wangji walked away from his brother's room, after being rude to him for the first time in his life. Not even as a baby had he ever reacted that way. At the same time… none of their conversations before had involved Wei Ying. Not like this, at least. Lan Wangji took a deep breath as silently as he could manage, trying to calm his hammering heart. Being honest? And tell Wei Ying what exactly? And to what end?

The younger Jade of Lan shook his head at his own jumbled thoughts and kept walking towards his own room, hoping tonight Wei Ying wouldn't rob him of sleep again.

Chapter Text

Nie Huaisang looked at the perfectly blue sky and sighed deeply. He had wished for a terrible storm,so they would stay in Caiyi at least one more day, but the climate today was unusually pleasant.

'Hurry up, Huaisang.' His brother called from the foot of the mountain, where the stairs to the Cloud Recesses started. 'The climate is perfect for making the trek up the mountain. We will reach the Cloud Recesses midmorning.' Nie Mingjue predicted with great accuracy.

Nie Huaisang sighed again. He wondered if begging and crying would make a difference now. It certainly hadn't back home. Right before they left the Unclean Realm, Nie Huaisang had unleashed his loudest and wildest tantrum yet, but he had only managed to give his older brother a good excuse to chaperone him personally. Nie Huaisang, mastermind extraordinaire, had forgotten to take into account Nie Mingjue's huge crush on the eldest Jade of Lan. So here he was, unable to escape the prospect of another terrible year under Lan Qiren's supervision.

Just like the previous year, a team of six juniors had come to participate from Lan Qiren's lectures. Only, this year the Qinghe party was made out of all different faces, with the sole exception of Huaisang.

'You better pass this year, Huaisang. Or else.' Nie Mingjue threatened weakly as they walked up the mountain path. It was clear the prospect of seeing Lan Xichen once again made him quite cheerie.

Nie Huaisang could only look down. His brother had threatened him in all imaginable ways already and had never made good of any of them, so Huaisang was not particularly scared. He would prefer not to get yelled at, though.

As it turned out, wishing amounted the same as throwing a tantrum. They ended up at the gate of the Cloud Recesses before lunch time, despite Nie Huaisang's efforts to walk as slowly as possible.

When they reached the end of the mountain road, Lan Xichen was waiting for them by the gate. Nie Huaisang's eyes sharpened as he noticed his hairpiece. It was the one he had designed for his brother to commision, hoping to gift Zewu-Jun a peerless birthday present. It seemed he had done a good job, because it looked radiant and elegant on top of Lan Xichen's head. Nie Huaisang couldn't help but smile when he heard his brother's deep inhale at the sight of the first Jade of Lan.

The two sect leaders stood in place, staring into each other's eyes. As happy as their relationship and obviously reciprocated feelings made Nie Huaisang, he was not above using Lan Xichen as a distraction to escape his brother's next lecture. He counted to three and ran away and inside the Cloud Recesses, right past Lan Xichen.

 

*

Nie Huaisang knew his way around the Cloud Recesses so he went directly to the guest quarters. He was quick to find what -or who- he was looking for.

'Jiang-xong!' Nie Huaisang exclaimed, raising the hand with the hand and waving it, at the sight of the Jiang sect heir.

Jiang Cheng, courtesy Wanyin, turned around to look at him and nodded back, so Nie Huaisang took it as permission to go closer.

'Jiang-xiong, I'm so glad you're here this year! The past one was torture. Torture, I tell you!' Nie Huaisang said right away as they hurried to bow to each other and get rid of formalities.

'Nie-xiong. And here I thought you had passed.' Jiang Wanyin said, giving him a crooked smile.

Nie Huaisang immediately deflated. Maybe ditching his brother for Jiang Wanyin was not the right choice. 'I clearly didn't.' He admitted easily. 'Why else would I be here again…?'

Jiang Cheng huffed and gave him an exasperated smile. 'I can see that.'

'Jiang-xiong~, don't be mean! Help me pass this year or my brother will send me again next year as well.' Nie Huaisang begged pitifully.

Jiang Wanyin frowned. 'Just study and you'll pass. I know you're not dimwitted at all and much better at cultivation than you pretend to be.'

'Jiang-xiong.' Nie Huaisang whined, trying his best pitiful look. 'This place is boredom incarnate! And not to mention Lan Qiren's lessons. It's torture!' He repeated.

Jiang Wanyin didn't look convinced. 'I'm sure it's not that bad. Plus, apparently, there's someone really colorful that's already here for the lecture.'

'Is there? And who is it?' Nie Huaisang asked, confused. He had not heard anything of the like.

Jiang Wanyin was about to answer when his eyes focused away from Nie Huaisang.

'Second Young Master Lan.' Jiang Wanyin said and bowed, making an arch with his arms.

Nie Huaisang jumped to the side and followed Jiang Wanyin's example. 'Wangji-xiong.' He said.

They rose and Nie Huaisang was met with the ice cold glare of Lan Wangji. 'Young Master Jiang. Nie Huaisang.' He bowed back.

Nie Huaisang felt cold shivers go down his back when he met eyes with Lan Wangji.

'You're back.' Lan Wangji said mildly. It was probably the worst insult Nie Huaisang had received in his underachieving life.

'I am…' Nie Huaisang agreed with a sigh. 'Brother mentioned you'd be joining the lessons this year.'

Lan Wangji nodded. 'Uncle asked me to tell you Young Master Nie should put more effort in his studies this year.'

'Oh no~.' Nie Huaisang whined behind his now open fan. 'Lan Qiren will be on the out for me.'

Jiang Wanyin huffed. ‘Don’t flatter yourself. I’m sure Grandmaster Lan has better things to do.’ He declared mercilessly. ‘Second Young Master Lan, may I ask about a rogue cultivator staying here for the lessons? His name is Wei Wuxian.’

Lan Wangji’s eyes sharpened. ‘He is here.’ He said simply and bowed again, before turning to leave.

‘Ah, he left.’ Nie Huaisang pointed out the obvious as the two of them watched Lan Wangji’s white clad figure walk away.

Jiang Wanyin and Nie Huaisang looked at each other and shrugged, unable to interpret such a short answer.

‘Maybe they dislike each other.’ Jiang Wanyin speculated.

Nie Huaisang hummed. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Lan Wangji hated someone, whoever they were. As long as he knew the younger Jade of Lan, which was… since they were little children, Lan Wangji had never seemed to like anybody besides his older brother.

 

*

Nie Huaisang had almost forgotten how terrible it was to rise at five in the morning. Almost. His brother had left late in the afternoon, but before curfew hit and Nie Huaisang had been a good brother and scrammed for long enough for him to suck face with his favorite Lan. But today, it was a new day and the Cloud Recesses was unforgiving with its mandatory schedule.

He walked out of his guest quarters and met the Jiang siblings for breakfast in the common hall.

‘What are you looking around for?’ Asked Jiang Yanli in her soft voice and always polite tone.

Nie Huaisang often wondered how two siblings could be so different, and then was quickly reminded of both him and his brother and the two Jades of Lan. It seemed pairs of siblings came in all shapes and forms. ‘We were hoping to catch a glimpse of the famous rogue cultivator who’s staying here this year for lessons.’

‘Ah… he doesn’t seem to be here.’ Jiang Yanli told them with a little sigh, as if she too was disappointed.

‘Have you met him?’ Nie Huaisang asked, unable to hide his curiosity quite so early in the morning.

Jiang Yanli smiled sweetly and nodded. ‘He is very kind.’

Nie Huaisang wanted to ask more, but they were loudly shushed by other disciples much younger than them, making the three of them turn red and hurry to eat.

Once finished, Nie Huaisang guided both Nie and Jiang parties to the Orchid Room, where Lan Qiren gave his famous lecture. Despite their rather slow pace in waking and eating, the two groups of disciples managed to get to the classroom in time, judging by the lack of a teacher present.

‘We should go inside and get some good seats, Brother Jiang.’ Nie Huaisang proposed. He would simply die if he ended up in front. ‘It seems the Jin disciples have yet to arrive.’

Jiang Wanyin looked inside the classroom and nodded. ‘Let’s go.’

‘Ah.’ Nie Huaisang exclaimed softly. Once inside, they realized there were two people already there, sitting in the front row of the right side, closest to the teacher’s desk. They were two Lan disciples, unmistakable by their white robes and forehead ribbons. It took only a second for Nie Huaisang to recognize one of them as Lan Wangji. The other though, he had no idea who this person could be.

Jiang Yanli, on the other hand, knew them right away.

‘A’Xian!’ The older Jiang exclaimed in delight, and walked ahead of the group towards the unknown Lan disciple.

Both Lan Wangji and the boy next to him turned to look at her and rose from their seats as she approached.

‘Yanli-jie.’ The boy said back, recognizing her in turn.

‘Lady Jiang.’ Lan Wangji greeted as well.

The three of them bowed to each other, but Jiang Yanli was quick to focus all her attention on the other boy.

‘A’Xian, how have you been? My father mentioned you were sent here, but he never said you became a Lan disciple.’

This A’Xian laughed lightly. ‘I’m just an honorary disciple.’ He said, whatever that meant. ‘Uncle Lan is keeping me here so my parents won’t worry to death about who I will insult next.’

Yanli laughed softly behind her sleeve, managing to look charming and elegant. ‘I am glad you’ve been safe. I have been meaning to thank you, for what you did for me.’

A’Xian’s eyes widened and his cheeks turned a rosy color. ‘There’s no need, Yanli-jie. I did it because it was the right thing to do… there’s no need.’

‘I insist. A’Xian, let me cook you something as a token of gratitude.’

‘Gratitude?’ Jiang Wanyin interrupted. ‘What is going on? I have not heard of any of this.’

Jiang Yanlin turned towards her brother and Nie Huaisang, who had approached too, behind her.

‘Ah, A’Xian, these are my little brother and Young Master Nie.’ Jiang Yanli introduced them.

They bowed again and finally, they got a name to the face.

‘This one is Wei Ying, courtesy Wuxian.’ The mysterious Lan disciple finally said. ‘It’s a pleasure to meet you.’

Jiang Wanyin and Nie Huaisang introduced themselves too and Jiang Wanyin was quick to repeat his inquiry.

‘So? From where do you know my sister?’

Nie Huaisang raised his fan and covered his face to hide a silent sigh. Since they knew each other, Jiang Wanyin had been doted on immensely by his sister and he loved her very much. He had always been very protective, if not territorial, especially when they were younger.

Wei Wuxian smiled sheepishly. ‘Well… it’s quite the story, though I didn’t really realize who anyone was at the time.’ He started, letting out a nervous laugh.

‘He insulted me and all my family.’ A familiar voice interrupted their conversation, barging in rather rudely.

The whole group turned towards the invader only to meet the almost glowing golden robes with the Sparks Amidst Snow peony. It was no other than Jin Zixuan, heir to Lanling Jin, who was now pointedly avoiding to look directly at Jiang Yanli.

‘Young Master Jin.’ Lan Wangji greeted politely, yet sending quite a cold glare his way.

Even though it seemed Jin Zixuan didn’t wish to give them any courtesy, Lan Wangji’s formal greeting and subsequent bow forced them all to follow suit, including the Jin heir. Otherwise they risked appearing very rude.

‘That sounds rather harsh.’ Wei Wuxian was quick to defend himself once the courtesies were done with. ‘You were clearly making Yanli-jie uncomfortable.’

Jin Zixuan puffed up like a blowfish and sputtered, slowly turning red as a cherry as his eyes went from Wei Wuxian to Jiang Yanli and back. ‘I- I- I did not!’

Nie Huaisang thought he looked very discouraged under all his ruffled feathers when Jiang Yanli didn’t deny Wei Wuxian’s statement.

Standing next to Lan Wangji still, Wei Wuxian looked rather unimpressed with the whole show, which Nie Huaisang considered pretty remarkable, considering how amusing it was. Nie Huaisang also noticed how Lan Wangji moved closer to Wei Wuxian and kept his usual glare fixed on Jin Zixuan.

‘Sit down.’ Lan Wangji instructed then.

Nie Huaisang found it rather anticlimactic for a second, before he remembered they were in a classroom, waiting for no other than Lan Qiren himself. He turned towards the entrance just in time to catch a glimpse of the old man walking inside. He hurried to sit down as far away from the teacher’s desk and was quickly followed by Jiang Wanyin, once he realized what he was on about.

Only when everyone settled down and Lan Qiren was reaching his desk, Nie Huaisang was able to make an account of where everyone was. Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian were sitting where Nie Huaisang had first seen them, right at the front. Next to Wei Wuxian, was Jiang Yanli. At the other side of the classroom was Jin Zixuan, right in the middle of his little army of Jin disciples. Jiang Wanyin had followed him fast enough to land the seat next to him, at the very last row. In the rest of the seats, their fellow disciples were scattered around, the Jiang and Nie disciples mixing well enough.

Despite how much Nie Huaisang dreaded it, Lan Qiren started his lecture of the day without wasting a second and sparing no mercy. It was as boring as he remembered if not more, as the Grandmaster found nothing more appropriate than starting by reading them the three thousand rules. In his attempt to not fall asleep, Nie Huaisang redirected his attention towards the front row. More specifically, to Wei Wuxian, who seemed engrossed taking notes. Notes of the rules? Who would do such a thing? The rules were written in the face of the mountain and the library had many copies.

Lan Qiren seemed to share that thought, because he sent a glare his way and called for him.

'Wuxian!'

Wei Wuxian jumped up his feet. 'Here!'

'Recite the next three rules.'

Wei Wuxian blinked and recited them easily, not missing a beat.

'Perfect.' Lan Qiren hummed, visibly pleased. 'Refrain from doodling so much, though.'

Wei Wuxian nodded and sat back down, bumping shoulders with Lan Wangji and throwing a smile his way. To Nie Huaisang's further surprise, Lan Wangji gave Wei Wuxian the smallest smile ever, yet the only one Nie Huaisang had ever seen in the Second Jade’s face. Now, this ought to be interesting for sure…

Or not. Despite Wei Wuxian’s presence, classes went on and were as boring if not more than Nie Huaisang remembered. A quick glance in Jiang Wanyin’s direction showed his friend was not unaffected by Lan Qiren’s invincible somniferous power. He was struggling to keep his back straight and his eyes open. Other disciples were also struggling with more or less success. Jin Zixuan was also visibly struggling, but the girl sitting next to him kept hitting him with her elbow to keep him awake.

‘Teacher Lan.’ Wei Wuxian interrupted the class around mid morning, raising his hand as high as it would go.

Lan Qiren turned to look at the Lan clad student and nodded. ‘What is it, Wuxian?’

‘Teacher Lan mentioned the three ways of dealing with a resentful soul, but what about the resentful energy? Could it be used too, like we do spiritual energy?’ Wei Wuxian asked, speaking clearly and with a serious face.

Lan Qiren’s brow twitched at the question and his usually calm and reflective expression turned sour. ‘Wuxian… have you been wondering about such topics?’

Wei Wuxian nodded without a hint of doubt. It was clear he held no fear of discipline. ‘I hadn’t known how to ask before, but after hearing the lesson so far, it suddenly became clear. Does Teacher Lan have any wisdom to offer?’

Lan Qiren paced briefly and harrumphed rather loudly. It was clear he disliked the question very much. ‘While it can be done…’ He started, sounding doubtful.

Nie Huaisang was on his toes! What was this development? Five minutes ago he could barely keep awake and now he felt so much tension sweat almost formed on his brow. This Wei Wuxian fellow was truly something else. And why didn’t Lan Qiren simply reprimand him into shutting up? Instead of giving a harsh lashing, he was entertaining such an unorthodox topic.

‘All attempts have been unsuccessful.’ Lan Qiren continued. He looked very much as if he was fighting and imaginary foe in his mind. ‘It also presents many downsides, as any entanglement with resentful energy will result in damage to the cultivator's golden core, plus a deterioration of their mental and physical health. It is strongly ill advised to try.’ He finished with a warning.

Wei Wuxian bowed. ‘This disciple understands.’

Lan Qiren nodded, notoriously relieved. ‘You may sit.’

Wei Wuxian did exactly that and after a brief pause, Lan Qiren continued where he had left off. It took quite some time of more boring dissertation for the suffocating atmosphere to reestablish, and even then, Lan Qiren’s lecture didn’t fully recover its narcotic quality. Wei Wuxian kept asking questions too, and writing the answers hurriedly once Lan Qiren had given them to him. Non made quite the same impression, but made the class somehow lighter to bear.

Once the class was over and they were finally dismissed. Nie Huaisang witnessed yet another entertaining event, courtesy of Wei Wuxian.

Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji walked out calmly at the very last, but once they stepped out of the classroom, Jiang Yanli approached them again.

‘A’Xian, will you come for dinner later today?’ She asked with an infinitely friendly smile on her pretty face.

Wei Wuxian once again blushed lightly, round tanned cheeks turning rosy. ‘Aiya… How can I refuse Yanli-jie anything she asks of me if she smiles like that? Of course I’ll go.’

The tone Wei Wuxian used was friendly and a bit shy, but his words were clearly flirty. Jiang Yanli giggled behind her sleeve and blushed lightly as well, her sunny face looking even more charming for it.

‘I’ll be waiting for you in our pavilion, then.’ Jiang Yanli bowed to both Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji. 'Second Young Master Lan, please join us as well.' She added before turning around and leaving with the rest of the Jiang disciples.

Nie Huaisang looked at the scene and noticed two very interesting things. Both Lan Wangji and Jin Zixuan, who had stayed back and clearly witnessed the exchange, had dark looks on their faces. Jin Zixuan looked very much like he had swallowed a sour plum, Lan Wangji’s already icy look made one think someone had insulted his mother. What was even more interesting, was the direction those looks were pointed at. While Jin Zixuan glared daggers towards an unsuspecting Wei Wuxian, Lan Wangji sent his own icy glare towards the retreating back of Jiang Yanli.

‘Lan Zhan, wanna spar?’ Wei Wuxian asked, turning to his friend.

Lan Wangji’s glare subsided noticeably even to Nie Huaisang and, to his surprise, he nodded.

‘Let’s go.’

Wei Wuxian hummed in agreement next to him and they walked away in the direction of the training grounds.

Nie Huaisang hummed from his own corner. His interest was definitely picked. He bowed silently to keep an eye out on whatever was going on between these four people.

 

*

'Lan Zhan, you've been improving a lot! No wonder everyone calls you peerless.' Wei Ying complimented easily from the ground, it was the first time Lan Wangji managed to win a match so cleanly. Usually when he did, it was by a hair.

Lan Zhan smiled at him. 'Wei Ying is the one who is slacking off.'

Wei Ying pouted. 'So mean, Lan-er-ge.'

'Another round?' Lan Zhan asked, walking inside the sparring ground again.

Wei Ying wanted to, very much. Sparring with Lan Zhan was so fun and challenging, he felt every move made him improve, every exchange taught him something new. He shook his head though.

'Gotta go and clean up or I'll be late to visit Yanli-jie.' He said.

Lan Zhan visibly stiffened before relaxing again. 'I see.' He said, tone a bit clipped. He sheathed his sword.

Wei Ying hurried to do the same and stood up, quickly dusting his white robes. He had also slowly become more proficient at keeping them clean. 'Hey, Lan Zhan, will you come?'

Lan Zhan looked at him in silence for a second and then shook his head. 'It was clear the invitation was for Wei Ying alone.'

Wei Ying pouted at that. 'Yanli-jie invited you too.' He mumbled, but Lan Zhan was already walking away. Could it be he disliked Jiang Yanli? That sounded odd. Who in their right mind would dislike her?

'See you tomorrow then, Lan Zhan!' He yelled after him.

Lan Zhan stopped and turned to look at him and nodded before continuing to walk away.

Wei Ying leaned back, supporting his weight in his shoulders and sighed. He felt he had missed something somewhere but wasn't sure what it could be. Finally he shrugged and stood up. He really needed to at least wash his hands and face before meeting with Jiang Yanli.

 

Wei Ying skipped happily through the Cloud Recesses, careful to keep the tray in his hands straight. He had such a great time with Jiang Yanli... Jiang Wanyin and Nie Huaisang had also joined them and the four of them had spent the afternoon together. It was so much fun! The only thing that could have improved the experience was if Lan Zhan had come along.

He arrived at the Jingshi, eager to share the tale with Lan Zhan.

‘Good morning!’ He greeted cheerfully, simply barging in and equilibrating the tray in one hand.

‘Good morning, Wei Ying.’ Lan Zhan greeted from inside. He was dressed up already, looking as pristine and elegant as always.

Wei Ying smiled. Seeing Lan Zhan always made him happy. Or happier in this case. ‘Let’s eat our first meal of the day, Lan Zhan.’ Wei Ying beckoned him toward the table, where he quickly started to place the dishes.

Lan Zhan walked closer and they sat across from each other as they did every day. Wei Ying took his own chopsticks and waited for Lan Zhan to do the same before starting to eat. He put the first mouthful inside his mouth and winced. He had forgotten to spice it. While he reached for the nearly depleted spice pouch and sprinkled his food with the mix, he thought of how delicious everything Jiang Yanli cooked for him had tasted.

‘So, Lan Zhan! You missed big time yesterday. Yanli-jie is an excellent cook. The peacock is really lucky to be betrothed to her. Anyone would be happy married to her, I’m sure.’ Wei Ying told him eagerly, once they had finished eating. Jiang Wanyin and Nie Huaisang had told him about how their engagement had been decided by the frightening Madam Yu because she was Madam Jin’s closest friend, but Jin Zixuan had always been sour about it. Wei Ying frowned at the memory but soon put it aside. That’s not what he wanted to share with Lan Zhan. ‘Jiang Wanyin and Nie Huaisang were there too. It was really fun! I sparred with Jiang Wanyin and he’s really strong as well and Nie Huaisang is obviously so much smarter than he tries to appear. I bet that’s why Uncle is so irritated with him.’

‘Mn.’

Wei Ying looked at Lan Zhan. He was hoping for more of an answer than that. Lan Zhan looked a bit angry even. Wei Ying wondered if he really disliked Jiang Yanli so much he didn’t even want to hear from her?

‘It would have been even more fun if you’d come.’ Wei Ying said anyways, because really that’s what he wanted Lan Zhan to know above all.

Somehow that seemed to soften Lan Zhan again and he nodded. ‘Let’s go to class.’

They walked together like usual, but after that strange reaction, Wei Ying didn’t know if he should keep telling Lan Zhan about yesterday. Instead they simply walked in silence.

After that, Wei Ying tried to establish if Lan Zhan really disliked Jiang Yanli or maybe some of the others. Apparently, Lan Zhan and Nie Huaisang knew each other since they were young because their older brothers were friends, but there was no such connection with the Jiangs so Wei Ying could not possibly guess what was wrong.

A few days later he tried to spend time with all of them again.

‘Lan Zhan, Wanyin and Huaisang will come along as well.’ Wei Ying said, once Lan Zhan had already accepted to go shoot some arrows.

Lan Zhan had a strange look in his eyes and then shook his head. ‘Then, there’s no need for me to go.’

Wei Ying blinked and gaped at him. Need? That sounded like Lan Zhan hadn’t really wanted to come from the beginning. ‘... You sure?’ He asked, trying not to look as disappointed as he felt.

Lan Zhan looked at him briefly and then nodded. ‘I have things to do.’

Wei Ying felt very sad suddenly and not at all like doing archery, but he went anyway.

After that, it was hard to try again. It really felt very sad to have Lan Zhan reject him. After all they had gone through he had thought they were friends but now that Wei Ying had other people to play with, Lan Zhan seemed to be less and less interested in him. After the fourth time of Lan Zhan walking away from him, he stopped trying, afraid he was importunating him.

Nie Huaisang noticed and tried to cheer him up.

‘Wangji-xiong has always preferred to be alone.’ He had said when Wei Ying had told him and Jiang Wanyin about Lan Zhan suddenly avoiding him. ‘I’m sure it’s nothing personal.’

That had not made Wei Ying feel any better.

‘Ah, don’t make that face, Wei-xiong.’ Nie Huaisang had sighed behind his fan. ‘If you’re really worried, maybe you can ask Xichen-ge about it? He will surely know if something is wrong with Wangji-xiong.’

Now that was a good idea. Surely Xichen-ge would know something. Wei Ying smiled at Nie Huaisang. ‘See? You’re much smarter than you try to look.’

Nie Huaisang had blushed and sputtered and then, behind his fan, had pouted. ‘Are you saying I look dumb, Wei-xiong?’

Wei Ying and Jiang Wanyin could only laugh at that.

 

*

 

It had been a bit more than a month since the guest disciples had arrived at the Cloud Recesses and much of Lan Wangji’s expectations were destroyed. Short from sitting next to Wei Ying during classes and sharing breakfast together, he had gotten nothing done and instead, he had spent less and less time with him.

He looked down from the window of the Library Pavilion at the group gathered in the garden. Wei Ying smiled brightly as he showed Jiang Wanyin a sword maneuver, swinging Suibian expertly. Jiang Yanli and Nie Huaisang watched contentedly from a bench, cheering them on.

Lan Wangji observed wistfully how after Jiang Wanyin failed five times, Wei Wuxian started to coax the other two into joining. After a bit of puppy faced encouragement, they agreed to try as well.

’I would be able to pull it off right away.’ He thought, unexpectedly bitter. The bitterness was directed as himself though. It was his own doing that he and Wei Wuxian were no longer spending time together after class and their breakfast together were at the brink of stopping, Wei Wuxian having offered to stop going to the Jingshi two times already.

He couldn’t help but frown in envy at the sight of Wei Wuxian’s new colorful friends. He frowned even harder at the sight of Jiang Yanli patting Wei Wuxian’s head again. Wei Wuxian received them so graciously too… he leaned down so the shorter Jiang Yanli could reach the top of his head easily.

‘Ah, Wangji. Here you are.’ His brother’s voice took him out of his aggressive staring.

Lan Wangji turned to look at his brother, surprised. He had not heard or sensed him coming, so focused on Wei Wuxian and their decaying friendship.

‘Brother.’ Lan Wangji greeted back not unkindly, though he still felt a bit ruffled by the sight he had just witnessed.

‘Wangji, why that face? Could it be that you also wish for headpats?’ Lan Xichen asked, his face friendly and only lightly teasing. ‘Let your older brother help you with that.’

Lan Wangji shook his head lightly, denying the headpats being the source of his sourness, though he kept still and received them without complaint.

‘If not for headpats, then what ails you, Wangji?’ Lan Xichen asked, his voice soft and tender.

Lan Wangji looked down once again to catch the sight of Wei Wuxian and Nie Huaisang mock sparring. The flower petals falling down the threes in the garden around them made a charming picture. For a brief second, Lan Wangji imagined himself in the place of Nie Huaisang and couldn’t suppress a sigh.

‘Wei Ying is…’ Lan Wangji felt his ears heat up what was going to come out of his mouth, but his brother only looked atent and expectant. ‘Wei Ying is special to me.’ Lan Wangji confessed, the burning in his ears spreading to his face and neck.

Lan Xichen nodded. Lan Wangji took a silent breath. Lan Xichen already knew and Lan Wangji knew his brother knew. The real confession was yet to come.

‘I want to be special to him too.’ He finally admitted, just like his brother had tried to get out of him in previous occasions.

Lan Xichen hummed thoughtfully. ‘I must wonder, Wangji… special how?’

Lan Wangji’s whole face had already turned red, so it didn’t change when he spoke again. ‘Special.’ He repeated, with a determined tone.

Lan Xichen, as usual, looked like he understood exactly what he meant. There were no more words needed. There was a pause before he spoke. ‘I believe this to be true already.’

Lan Wangji perked up again, taking his eyes away from the garden outside and looking at his brother expectantly. What made Lan Xichen think that?

Lan Xichen understood the unspoken question and smiled indulgently at him. ‘You see, Wangji… While you were in charge of Wuxian’s tutoring, Uncle asked me to keep an eye on him.’

Lan Wangji frowned in confusion. Lan Xichen had not once come to visit them during lessons or asked Lan Wangji about them, beyond what little Lan Wangji freely shared with him.

‘I scheduled weekly afternoon tea with Wuxian.’ Lan Xichen shared. ‘It went surprisingly well, as you may imagine. Wuxian is friendly and shared a lot with me without any encouragement from my part.’

Lan Wangji understood then. He looked expectantly at his brother, face heating up with renewed vigor and his stomach doing somersaults again.

Lan Xichen smiled knowingly and continued. ‘Wuxian spoke only good things of you and didn’t complain once! Instead he was always gushing about you. I’m confident in saying he likes you very much, Wangji and in his own words, he finds you “really cool, amazing” and “so smart”.’

Knowing that made Lan Wangji all kinds of happy. He also thought the same, and so much more, of Wei Ying. Still, that was not the same as an admittance of tender feelings. Wei Ying had called Lan Wangji a friend, so Lan Wangji safely assumed he was liked as a person in the general sense. He was talking of… something else.

‘He also told me over tea a few days ago that he missed you a lot.’ Lan Xichen added after letting Lan Wangji process the information. ‘And that he was afraid you no longer wanted to be around him. He was very sad.’ He said the last part pointedly, clearly suggesting that Lan Wangji had to clear up the issue.

Lan Wangji felt… he felt bad. Again he had hurt Wei Ying because he couldn’t properly communicate how he felt and what he wanted. Uncle had warned him while he grew up that he couldn’t rely on his brother to always translate for him, and even less for others to understand him as well Lan Xichen did.

‘I understand.’ Lan Wangji said, agreeing with his brother that he couldn’t simply keep staring from the distance and inadvertently hurt Wei Ying’s feelings.

 

*

 

Lan Wangji was ready. He had spent the rest of the day meditating, so he would have a clear mind for this moment. He had tried to be a bit more friendly during breakfast, but Wei Ying didn’t seem to notice, his eyes a cast down during the whole meal. He tried to break their silence on the way to class, but Wei Wuxian didn’t answer much to any of his weak attempts at conversation.

But no matter. Today, he would spend the afternoon with Wei Ying, even if it was only revising for the upcoming tests. He waited anxiously for the day’s lesson to end and for Wei Ying and him to remain alone in the classroom, but like all his previous plans, it failed from the start. The moment Lan Qiren dismissed them and had left the room, Wei Ying jumped up and hurried to meet his friends outside.

Lan Wangji saw dejectedly how Wei Ying walked away without barely casting a glance his way. It hurt, but he had done that himself, by suddenly turning cold to him and ignoring or diverting all of Wei Ying’s attempts at including him in their merry group. He couldn’t let today pass without fixing this, though. Lan Wangji steeled his resolve and stood up, quickly following after Wei Ying.

Fortunately Wei Ying had remained closeby. Unfortunately, he was already making plans.

‘You’ve gone to Caiyi town before right?’ Jiang Wanyin asked casually.

‘Since we have tomorrow free, we should take the rest of the afternoon and go now.’ Nie Huaisang proposed easily, eager to leave the Cloud Recesses even for an afternoon.

Wei Wuxian shrugged, a smile on his face. ‘Sure I have gone before. We can go.’

Lan Wangji felt his hopes wither as the group started walking away, but still called after him. ‘Wei Ying.’

Wei Ying stopped and turned around. ‘Lan Zhan?’

Lan Wangji walked towards him, but still at a certain distance. He felt unsure if he could cross a barrier he had unwittingly put there himself. Lan Wangji looked at his friend and now that he had his undivided attention, didn’t know what to say.

Wei Ying waited for a few seconds and then looked around and behind him. Jiang Wanyin and Nie Huaisang were looking at their exchange, expectant but with neutral faces. Wei Ying turned back to look at him and smiled a bit unsure. ‘Lan Zhan.’ He took a step back towards him.

Lan Wangji took one too, reducing the distance between them considerably. ‘Wei Ying.’ He hesitated briefly and then steeled his resolve. ‘May I come along?’

Wei Ying’s eyes widened before his lips curled into a huge smile. ‘Lan Zhan!’ He exclaimed and jumped closer to him. ‘Yes! Come with us, it’ll be so much fun! You can take us to that store that sold those cakes I liked so much, do you remember where it is?’

Lan Zhan smiled back, infinitely relieved. ‘I do. I’ll take Wei Ying there.’

Wei Ying’s smile was so bright. He whooped cheerfully in the air before grabbing his arm, as he sometimes did. ‘Let’s go, let’s go.’

Nie Huaisang and Jiang Wanyin looked curiously at the exchange but shrugged. They didn’t seem to mind too much Lan Wangji’s company and together the four of them walked out of the Cloud Recesses and rode their swords to Caiyi.

Chapter Text

Lan Xichen was very happy. It had only taken a little nudge in the right direction for Wangji and Wuxian to make up and now they were simply part of a bigger friend group. He was also very happy to see Wangji grow closer to Huaisang. He had always hoped the two would become friends.

Wangji and Wuxian had spoken to him on separate occasions and told him they had spoken with each other and cleared things up. Wangji had even apologized for leaving Wuxian alone. Apparently, they had also cleared a misunderstanding Wuxian had, and Wangji had assured him he had no particular dislike for Jiang Yanli.

What he hadn’t expected to come out of this was a complaint from the kitchen staff. Well, maybe complaint was a strong word. But they definitely wanted him to intervene.

So , that day, even earlier than he usually rose, he walked towards the kitchen to assess the issue.

Just as the letter he had received detailing the situation at hand, he found Lan Wangji inside. One of the cooks was apparently teaching him how to properly peel cucumbers.

‘Wangji.’ Lan Xichen called, a bit surprised. Somehow he had expected this to be some sort of mistake, but there he was. His little brother was cooking alongside the kitchen staff, sleeves rolled up and hair held back with the free strands of his forehead ribbon. He was even wearing an apron.

‘Brother.’ Lan Wangji’s head moved up, eyes wide. He almost cut himself.

Lan Xichen greeted the kitchen staff with a nod of the head and quickly went to stand next to his little brother. ‘What are you doing, Wangji?’

Lan Wangji looked at his now fully peeled cucumber. ‘I’m learning how to cook.’ He answered curtly.

But Lan Xichen knew him like nobody else and narrowed his eyes. Behind Lan Wangji’s bangs, he could see the tips of his ears were bright red. It didn’t take much more than that to realize this had one way or the other, to do with Wuxian.

‘Ah… I see.’ Lan Xichen said then and smiled. ‘Is this because Wuxian is dining almost every day with the Jiangs?’

Lan Wangji’s blush spread to his cheeks and looked away from his brother before nodding once. ‘Wei Ying said-.’

Lan Xichen waited a few seconds but finally couldn’t resist. ‘What did Wuxian say?’

Right in front of his eyes, Lan Wangji turned completely red. ‘Wei Ying said that delicious food was the way to his heart.’

Lan Xichen raised his sleeve to his face to laugh behind it. Really, his little brother was too cute. ‘I’ll speak with the kitchen staff then, so they know you’re allowed here… but, a piece of advice, Wangji?’

Lan Wangji looked at him expectantly.

‘Maybe, Lady Jiang could give you some good pointers as well.’

Chapter Text

Wei Ying bumped shoulders with Lan Zhan next to him before turning to look at him with a mirthful grin. ‘Who’d have said you Lans had such a romantic ancestor.’ He giggled close to his ear.

Lan Zhan turned his eyes towards him briefly but didn’t answer. Solid as rock, Wei Ying thought. He looked back at the front of the group where a senior Lan disciple was narrating the story of the founder of the Lan sect, Lan An. Wei Ying hummed, both surprised and underwhelmed at finding out this mythical man was a monk and a musician and also that love had been his main motivator in doing most of the things he was remembered for. If he thought of Lan Qiren, or Lan Zhan, it was a bit strange to merge the images and yet… oddly fitting.

‘You didn’t tell me this story or referred any texts to me while you were tutoring me, Lan Zhan.’ Wei Ying suddenly said, realizing that beyond naming him, Lan Zhan hadn't gone into any more details. He looked towards his friend once again and was met with a reddened ear picking out between Lan Zhan’s dark strands of hair. He stifled a chuckle behind a cough and looked ahead again, expecting only more silence from Lan Zhan. Of course he would be embarrassed to tell this story himself. That was probably the same reason uncle Lan wasn’t giving this particular lesson either.

The lesson came to stop with the sad end of Lan An’s story back into monkhood after the death of his lover. With that, the senior Lan disciple left them to observe the murals that represented Lan An’s life in four stages.

‘What does Jiji and Xianxian think about cultivation partners?’ Jiang Yanli asked once the lesson had ended and low murmurs had started among the students.

Wei Ying smiled widely at her. For some reason, after the strange episode of a few weeks ago, where Lan Zhan started avoiding him had cleared up, he and Jiang Yanli had started to get along. At first it was very tentative but the two of them were so polite and good, it was only a matter of time for them to drop some honorifics and become closer. Jiang Yanli was only a year younger than Lan Xichen so she started addressing them tenderly like that.

‘Of course I’d want to find someone who I’d be able to have that connection with.’ Wei Ying was quick to say. The image of his parents was quick to come in his mind. ‘But I guess one can have a good life without one too?’ He added as his other two parental figures came to mind. Lan Qiren had never married, or had someone romantically by his side, as far as Wei Ying knew. Uncle Jiang on the other hand… was always on his own, despite having a sect, a wife, and two children. Wei Ying doubted the fearsome Purple Spider was mild tempered and kind hearted uncle Jiang’s cultivation partner.

Both Jiang Yanli and Lan Zhan had seemed surprised by that last part, but they seemed to think of the very same figures Wei Ying was thinking of himself and they nodded lightly in agreement.

‘What about you, Yanli-jie?’ Wei Ying was quick to ask back. Lan Zhan’s red ears revealed him as flustered enough, so Wei Ying would not put him in the spotlight.

Jiang Yanli blushed lightly then and looked down, but didn't have time to say anything before someone spoke loudly in the group of yellow robed cultivators not too far from them.

 

‘Zixuan-xiong, who would you like to have as a cultivation partner?’ One of the youngest Jin disciples asked.

Jin Zixuan didn’t deign the disciple with a look but frowned at his daring question. Who would he like? As if anyone really cared. As if he could ever choose. He was mulling these bitter questions inside when other disciples, a bit more experienced rushed to answer in his stead.

‘What a stupid question!’ One said, with quite some authority. Jin Zixuan was only half in agreement. ‘Young Master Jin already has a betrothed. It would obviously be her.’

Jin Zixuan’s face turned even darker. Was it? Her? He dared take a brief glance towards her, always next to Wei Wuxian as of late. That ill-bred rat who dared exist amongst his betters and hung from Jiang Yanli’s skirt at every chance like a leech. To make it worse, now Lan Wangji was also always by her side. Gentlemanly his ass! It was obvious he was interested, why else would Lan Wangji seek her out? And even knowing she was engaged to him he dared to! Shameless! These Lans and their supposed righteousness was nothing but a bunch of bullshit. He scoffed loudly, unable to stop himself and that was enough for his fellow disciples to start speculating.

‘Don’t be so loud.’ Another said. ‘Don’t you know? Young Master Jin’s betrothed is the eldest Jiang...’

‘Are you saying he doesn’t like her?’ A third guessed right, yet so unnecessarily loudly. To make matters even worse, he turned to look at her. Jin Zixuan couldn’t help but follow the movement and seek her eyes with his own, but instead he found the familiar sight of Jiang Wanyin’s powerful frown at him, now followed closely behind by Wei Wuxian’s enraged face and Lan Wangji’s frozen glare.

‘Well, she’s not very accomplished in cultivation and her looks are quite plain…’

Despite the loud -and frankly unnecessary- commentary on Jiang Yanli, Jin Zixuan only stayed silent. This conversation was well beneath him after all. It’s not as if he had any choice or anything. He would have left things as they were too if it wasn’t for Jiang Wanyin.

‘Jin Zixuan, won’t you say anything to that?’ Jiang Wanyin asked, looking as terrifying as his famous mother.

Jin Zixuan looked away from him. ‘What is there so say?’

Jin Zixuan meant that there was no need to address the stupid gossiping of his fellow Jin disicples. What Jiang Wanyin heard was “those are all true, there’s nothing else to add”. As his only brother and future sect leader, Jiang Wanyin could not possibly tolerate such a slight.

‘Jin Zixuan!’ Wei Wuxian and Jiang Wanyin exclaimed in unison.

Jin Zixuan was quick to take a step in defense. He had been attacked before in regards to this topic. Fortunately, he noticed with a brief glance, Lan Wangji had managed to stop Wei Wuxian from jumping forward. Jiang Yanli and Nie Huaisang though didn’t have a strong enough grip on Jiang Wanyin and the brash boy went in for a good punch to the face.

Jin Zixuan managed to dodge the first attack but not the one that immediately followed. Jiang Wanyin hit him right in his left cheek and Jin Zixuan was not about to let it go unanswered. He quickly tried to punch back.

He didn’t notice Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji approaching, too busy fixated in finally giving Jiang Wanyin the beating he had always needed to calm down and start minding his own business. It was then when Lan Wangji pulled Jiang Wanyin out of the way and instead of hitting him, Jin Zixuan hit Lan Wangji in the face. It was not a strong punch, barely a graze to the jaw really, but it would probably bruise.

Jin Zixuan didn’t expect Wei Wuxian to jump in and push him away with enough force to make him take a step back.

‘Watch it, peacock.’ Wei Wuxian sneared at him.

‘Watch it? How dare you touch me?’ Jin Zixuan answered, completely ruffled.

‘Jin Zixuan.’ Lan Wangji called, commanding him to stop.

It didn’t work. Jiang Wanyin was still unsatisfied and jumped back into the fray trying to hit him. Jin Zixuan was ready to fight back this time. Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji once again tried to stop things from going any further with little success. The truth was they were relatively matched.

When the senior disciple who dictated the lesson came back to look for them, the four of them were in an all out fight. Jin Zixuan felt rather proud of himself, because he had been one against three and he had managed to land a punch on each face. Nevermind that Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian hadn’t really tried to hit him back.

‘What is going on here?’ The senior disciple asked, visibly scandalized and with his intervention, Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian managed to stop the fight.

The sense of victory was short lived. The intervention of the senior disciple meant that the four of them ended up in Lan Qiren’s office looking like cattle lined up to the slaughterhouse.

 

‘What in the world happened?’ Lan Qiren looked like the only reason he hadn’t shouted was because the rules were ingrained in his soul at this point. He glared at them for a full half minute each and where Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian looked sorry and like they had disappointed someone they respected greatly, Jiang Wanyin and Jin Zixuan only looked away in defiance.

It seemed that reaction gave Lan Qiren enough information though, because he took a deep breath and looked at his nephew. ‘Wangji?’

‘Jin Zixuan insulted Lady Jiang.’ Lan Wangji started, relentlessly and unforgiving. Jin Zixuan turned to look at him so fast he almost snapped his neck but before he could rebut anything, his lips glued together and they simply wouldn’t part. ‘Jiang Wanyin demanded he apologized and upon his refusal to do so, he attacked.’

Lan Qiren sent his chilling glare towards them. ‘And why are you two bruised as well?’ He asked, turning back towards Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian.

‘We got hit while trying to stop them from fighting.’ Lan Wangji said. ‘And may have hit back.’ He admitted after a brief pause.

Lan Qiren sighed again and looked up. ‘Young Master Jin.’ Lan Qiren started. ‘Speaking ill of your betrothed is unworthy of you and is understandable that Lady Jiang’s brother took offense. Still, Young Masters such as yourselves should be mature and wise enough not to make such a situation escalate like this.’ He directed the last part for the whole group. He made a long pause as he tugged from his beard in thought. ‘Young Master Jin, Young Master Jiang, I’ll call for you parents to deal with this issue. It’s clear this requires more discipline than what I can provide.’

A quick glance towards Jiang Wanyin revealed he felt as pleased as Jin Zixuan with the outcome of their fight.

Lan Qiren stepped out and left them kneeling in his office, waiting for him to come back. Flying by sword, their respective sect leader would be here in a matter of hours and the old teacher had no problem leaving them there to wait it out.

‘Aiyah, Lan Zhan, your jaw is already bruising.’ Wei Wuxian sighed, voice sounding surprisingly soft.

‘Your lip is also swollen.’ Lan Wangji answered back.

Jin Zixuan witnessed in silence how the two looked at the other’s bruises. Wei Wuxian had gotten quite the good punch from Jin Zixuan directly on the mouth and his lower lip had split. It wasn’t a big injury by far, but it bled quite a bit at first.

‘Here, use some of this.’ Wei Wuxian said, fishing from inside his sleeves a little wooden flask. He uncapped it and showed Lan Wangji a light green paste. ‘It’ll help sooth some of the irritation.’

Lan Wangji looked at the paste in Wei Wuxian’s hand and instead of refusing, as Jin Zixuan would have done in a heartbeat, nodded. ‘Wei Ying can help me with it.’

Wei Wuxian took a second to get it and smiled at his friend before nodding and dipping his fingers in the paste and applying a little bit of it on Lan Wangji’s bruise.

‘Will it help with your wound?’ Lan Wangji asked once Wei Wuxian finished applying the medicine to his jaw.

‘Sure.’ Wei Wuxian said.

Before he could do it himself, Lan Wangji dipped his own fingers inside the flask and very carefully, placed some of the paste around his lip wound. Wei Wuxian’s face turned a stupid shade of red.

Jin Zixuan blinked at this display and felt his brain trying to reach some conclusion. Could this be…? No, it wasn’t possible. Or was it…? No. Impossible. Two men could be close friends too. Yes, best friends. That was it. Next to him, Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes at the three of them and loudly refused when Wei Wuxian offered him some salve for his own bruise.

 

After a few hours of kneeling in punishment, Lan Qiren returned with Jin Guangshan and Jiang Fengmian in tow. Silently the three sect leaders looked down on them and took seat across from them. Lan Qiren sat between the other two and harrumphed loudly once they were all in place.

‘Wangji. Repeat what happened for Sect Leader Jiang and Sect Leader Jin.’ Lan Qiren instructed.

Lan Wangji didn’t hesitate and repeated what he had told Lan Qiren before almost word for word. Jin Guangshan and Jiang Fengmian zeroed on their respective son each, with rather cold eyes. It didn’t last long though, because once Lan Wangji had finished and once again confessed his and Wei Wuxian’s participation, Jin Guangshan turned his gaze on them. It seemed vacant for half a seconds before recognition glinted in his eyes.

‘You-!’ He suddenly exclaimed, pointing at Wei Wuxian and turning quickly red as if something wasn’t letting him breath. ‘You disrespectful trash! You dare hit my son?’

Jiang Fengmian and Lan Qiren seemed to remember something at the same time. Suddenly it was obvious to Jin Zixuan that they were all thinking of that time back in Qinghe when Wei Wuxian insulted all the Jin Clan with that same thick face he was wearing now. Jin Zixuan took a brief look and his eyes widened. Wei Wuxian even dared to look confused! Had he already forgotten about them?

‘I demand the highest punishment, Qiren! A hundred strikes! No- A hundred lashes! And he should be expelled! He has no right to be here-!’ Jin Guangshan demanded, sounding as outraged as he had sounded when they were back at their private tent, right after being insulted so freely by a nobody rogue cultivator.

‘Ah! You’re that guy who-.’ His mouth sealed shut just like Jin Zixuan’s had done before.

‘Enough.’ Lan Qiren said, sounding tired already. ‘Sect Leader Jin, you have no authority over my disciples. It is your son’s punishment you ought to discuss with me.’

‘And since we’re all here too…’ Jiang Fengmian spoke as well. ‘Maybe we should take this chance to discuss the marriage arrangement between our children, Sect Leader Jin.’

Jin Zixuan’s eyes flew towards his future father-in-law. His father sobered immediately as well and turned to him too.

‘Fengmian… you don’t really mean that…’ Jin Guangshan said, changing his demeanor completely, going back at impressive speed to his usual pleasing smile and negotiator’s voice. ‘Our wives have made this promise since they were young girls, we can’t simply disappoint them like that.’

Jiang Fengmian sighed and looked pained at Jin Guangshan. ‘We both know too what is to be engaged at so early an age. It seems your son is not pleased with my daughter and I will not leave her to hear cruel words from the man she will have to marry.’

Jin Guangshan’s smile faltered. ‘I- I understand but…’

Lan Qiren sighed loudly before intervening. ‘I have to agree with Fengmian myself, Sect Leader Jin, but I also believe this topic is better discussed in other circumstances and surely not before consulting with your respective offspring.’

Jin Guangshan’s smile went back to its usual pleasing brightness. ‘Of course. Qiren is right, Fengmian. Let’s discuss this again on another occasion, after I have had time to discuss the issue with Zixuan first. I’m sure Lady Jiang will have things to say on the topic too.’

Jiang Fengmian looked down, placated and nodded. ‘Very well, but first I must request on behalf of my daughter’s honor that Jin Zixuan is appropriately disciplined.’

Jin Zixuan flinched at that and looked down.

‘Of course! I promise it’ll be done.’

‘On my part…’ Lan Qiren spoke again. ‘I will have the four of them copy the entirety of the Lan Sect Rules four times.’ He said with emphasis. It was clear he wanted everyone to know he had not forgotten the part Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji played in the fight. ‘I’ll have Lan Wangji, as my head disciple, also in charge of the other three’s punishment.’

Jin Guangshan and Jiang Fengmian nodded in agreement.

‘My son will kneel the rest of the day in penance too, for having started the fight.’ Jiang Fengmian added, sending another cold look at Jiang Wanyin.

‘Excellent idea.’ Jin Guangshan was quick to add. ‘Jin Zixuan will follow suit.’

Lan Qiren nodded, somehow satisfied and instructed them to leave. Jin Zixuan and Jiang Wanyin would have to wait for their respective father outside kneeling as it was instructed. Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji could go and start copying right away. The other two would join them once they were finished kneeling.

The four of them hurried to get out of the room and leave the adults to discuss their punishment.

‘It's unfair.’ Jing Wanyin mumbled. ‘Why should I kneel too?’

Lan Wangji only sent an unimpressed look his way before grabbing Wei Wuxian by the arm and fast walking away from them in the direction of the library. Wei Wuxian, still silenced by the spell, could only half turn and offer Jiang Wanyin a friendly wave and an obscene gesture to Jin Zixuan, who scoffed.

‘Whatever.’ He said under his breath and walked away, picking one side of the door to kneel on.

Jiang Wanyin glared at him for at least a whole minute before taking the other side of the door and kneeling there. They had yet some waiting to do.

 

About half an hour of kneeling later, Lan Qiren emerged from his office followed by the two sect leaders. Lan Qiren declared Jin Zixuan would receive 20 hits with the paddle for speaking ill of others and returning the hit. Jiang Wanyin will receive 10 for starting the physical altercate.

Jiang Cheng counted this as a total victory, especially when he was over with his hits and Jin Zixuan was only halfway done with his. When Jin Zixuan looked at him get up to leave, he looked back and smirked, making Jin Zixuan’s frown deepen.

Still, he was not mean enough to stay and watch. Once his paddle hits were over, he decided to get a headstart on the copying part as well. His feeling of victory would be short-lived if then he was the only one left copying and Jin Zixuan was free to use his afternoon as he pleased while he was locked up in the library.

Jiang Cheng walked with a straight back, ignoring the pain still pulling at the muscles of his back and feeling rather proud of himself for it. Thinking he had finally one upped Jin Zixuan, Jiang Cheng made his way as fast as it was allowed towards the library feeling relatively happy.

He stopped right before taking the corner that would make the Library Pavilion visible, when he heard the voice of his father.

‘A’Ying, how have you been?’ Jiang Fengmian asked, voice soft. Jiang Cheng could hear him smiling.

‘It was rough at first, with Lan Zhan.’ Wei Wuxian answered easily. ‘But now we’re great friends! Mom was right, meeting people my age has been great. Jiang Wanyin is also really cool, uncle.’

Jiang Cheng heard his father chuckle and he couldn’t resist leaning forward, just to see what was happening. Keeping most of his body hidden, he leaned in and froze in place. His father was right in front of Wei Wuxian, who was animatedly speaking still about what he had done and who he had met during his stay. Jiang Cheng heard none of it, instead, he could not take his eyes away from his father’s face. He looked- he looked so proud and happy. He observed them for a few seconds and had to stop himself from gasping when his father shushed Wei Wuxian softly and proceeded to pat his head. Jiang Cheng hadn’t gotten such an affectionate touch from his father since he was a child, and even then it had been so rare he remembered each one of them.

‘I’m glad you’re having fun, A’Ying.’ Jiang Fengmian said with a sigh. ‘But you heard Jin Guangshan, he still holds a grudge, didn’t you hear? Please take this seriously and learn as much as you can from Qiren, alright?’

Wei Wuxian nodded enthusiastically. ‘Lan Zhan and Xichen-ge are great examples to follow, aren’t they? I’ll be a perfect Lan disciple by the end of the year, I promise. After Uncle Qiren lets me, I will never insult someone without wanting to!’

Jiang Fengmian’s smile widened and he laughed. Laughed. Jiang Cheng didn’t remember the last time he had heard his father laugh. ‘You really promise?’

Wei Wuxian nodded again.

Still smiling, Jiang Fengmian offered his pinky to Wei Wuxian, who didn’t hesitate in raising his own and linking them.

‘I super promise.’

Jiang Fengmian nodded and they let go. ‘I have to go back now, A’Ying. Take care of yourself and try not to give too many headaches to Qiren.’

Wei Wuxian laughed at that. ‘I’ll try my best at that as well, uncle Jiang.’

Jiang Fengmian nodded and to Jiang Cheng’s absolute shock, he hugged Wei Wuxian, who hugged back easily, like this was something that happened frequently for him. They let go of each other soon enough and with a last headpat, Jiang Fengmian took his leave.

Jiang Cheng felt cold. Inside and out, he felt absolutely frigid. What had he just witnessed? The man that had just left didn’t even seem like his father. It was as if someone had possessed him, taken control. It was someone else…

‘Jiang Wanyin?’ Wei Wuxian’s voice called for him.

Jiang Cheng blinked from his stupor and looked up. Wei Wuxian had come to stand close to him.

‘Is something the matter? Are you done with the extra punishment? Let’s walk to the library together.’

Jiang Cheng opened his mouth but for a second nothing came out.

Wei Wuxian started looking worried at him and was about to grab his wrist when Jiang Cheng came to his senses. He moved his arm quickly to his chest and away from Wei Wuxian’s hand.

‘You know my father.’ Jiang Cheng said, his voice sounding more like a hiss and as if someone else was speaking instead of him.

Wei Wuxian arched an eyebrow. ‘Yes?’ He answered, now looking confused. ‘Since forever. Uncle Jiang was there when my mom gave birth to me. Didn’t you know?’

Jiang Cheng bit his lower lip. The voice of his mother echoing on the back of his head, that his father had been out on a night-hunt during both times she gave birth.

‘Jiang Wanyin? Are you alright? You’re worrying me. Should I get help? Do you need to go to the infirmary?’

‘Why.’

‘Why what?’

‘Why- how do you know my father?’

Wei Wuxian narrowed his eyes and looked around for a few seconds, as if gathering his thoughts. ‘My mom and dad… they’re uncle Jiang’s friends since they were teens. My dad used to be a member of his sect, when they were our age.’ He made a pause. ‘You… didn’t know?’

Jiang Cheng could have howled at that, but instead he spit. ‘No! I did not know! How could I? My father barely speaks to me!’

Wei Wuxian’s eyes grew wide and he took a step back.

‘Nor with my sister for that matter! And you- who even are you!? You’re not his son, are you? The son of a woman he loves, not like my mother-.’

Jiang Cheng’s mouth sealed shut and he choked on the words he wanted to say. The words his mother had yelled at his father so many times. That had his father’s easy smile banish and look so, so tired. They tasted terribly bitter, unsaid in his tongue.

‘Uncle Lan!’ Wei Wuxian exclaimed.

Lan Qiren appeared then, looking sad. Jiang Cheng wondered briefly what that was about. He hoped it was not pity, but it looked a lot like it, so he turned his face away from the old master.

‘Jiang Wanyin, loud noises are forbidden in the Cloud Recesses.’ Lan Qiren said, but it had none of the usual bite. ‘Reflect on this transgression as well, while you copy the rules.’

The silencing spell was dispersed when Jiang Cheng nodded, but he didn’t have it in him to say anything else. He bowed to Lan Qiren and walked away without looking at Wei Wuxian and went straight for the library.

 

‘I should have known something like this could happen.’ Uncle Lan said with a heavy sigh.

Wei Ying turned to him with wide eyes. ‘Uncle Lan… what-?’ Wei Ying didn’t even know where to start asking. He felt… guilty, but wasn’t sure of what and confused and sad. Looking into Lan Qiren’s eyes, it seemed as if he knew what was going on. Or at least understood more than Wei Ying did.

‘Come with me.’ Lan Qiren said, a warm hand squeezed his right shoulder and let go before Uncle Lan turned around and started walking back to his office.

‘Sit down.’ He instructed Wei Ying after he closed the doors behind them.

Wei Ying did and waited for Lan Qiren to join him in the low table. Once he did he couldn’t stop himself from speaking, as if all the things Jiang Wanyin had said were exploding out of him too now.

‘Uncle Lan, why did Jiang Wanyin think I’m Uncle Jiang’s son? What does he mean he loves my mom? I mean- he does! But- but- not like that, right? And- and- does he not talk to his children? What does he mean by that? Does Uncle Jiang really not talk to him? But he was here! He came to see him when you called!’ Wei Ying heard again all the terrible, awful things that had come out of Jiang Wanyin’s mouth and his eyes watered inevitably. ‘Uncle Lan.’ Wei Ying let out a sob.

‘Wuxian.’ Lan Qiren called, trying to call him down and make him stop.

‘What does Jiang Wanyin mean I’m Uncle Jiang’s son? Tell me it’s not true.’ Wei Ying heard himself beg.

Lan Qiren stood up and walked around the table to sit next to Wei Ying and placed a hand in each shoulder. ‘Yingying. Look at me.’ He said, softly. Uncle Lan hadn’t called him that since his parents decided on his courtesy name, when he was eight. Wei Ying blinked some tears away and looked at his Uncle Lan in the eye. ‘It’s not true.’ He said.

Wei Ying felt light the weight of the world had lifted off his shoulder and he could breathe again. Uncle Lan patted his head in comfort and Wei Ying relaxed.

‘What about the rest?’ He asked.

Lan Qiren sighed again and carefully dried Wei Ying’s eyes. ‘Fengmian has… a complicated relationship with his wife. You know this.’

Wei Ying nodded. He had heard and uncle Jiang had openly told him when he had asked, that he wasn’t on good terms with Madam Yu and they had trouble getting along. Still, Wei Ying had never thought- he never imagined it could affect the relationship he had with his children. Uncle Jiang spoke of them every now and then and always said good things about both Jiang Yanli and Jiang Wanyin. ‘I do.’ Wei Ying confirmed.

Lan Qiren nodded. ‘They were betrothed when they were very young. Younger than you are now, even. By then, Yu Ziyuan had already shown great promise as a cultivator and everyone could tell she would turn into a beautiful woman. Many families wished to engage her to their sons, but Jiang Fengmian was not interested.’

Wei Ying swallowed. This was sounding familiar somehow…

Lan Qiren looked at him and Wei Ying had that feeling Uncle Lan always made him feel, that he knew what he was thinking about. ‘Yes.’ He said. ‘Not unlike Jin Zixuan.’

Wei Ying looked down and then up again. ‘Then why would Uncle Jiang let Yanli-jie be betrothed?’

Lan Qiren shook his head. ‘He did not want any of his children to be promised like that, but Madam Yu had promised with her best friend and sworn sister to marry their children. It was apparently a very important promise for the two of them so then went through with it anyways, despite not having Fengmian’s approval.’

‘What about Yanli-jie’s?’

‘She was a toddler back then, and Young Master Jin a baby. Even if they had an opinion, they would not have been able to speak it.’ Lan Qiren explained. ‘That was one of the first big fights those two had… and from then on, it only got worse.’

‘So they really dislike each other?’ Wei Ying asked. How terrible. It was somehow much worse than he could have ever pictured.

‘I don’t know how Madam Yu feels about her husband, but I can understand why she wouldn’t be too happy, even if they don’t love each other.’ Lan Qiren said then.

‘What do you mean?’

‘Jiang Fengmian has many duties, as Sect Leader, and also as a husband and a father.’ Lan Qiren told Wei Ying, his voice turning a bit harsher. ‘But he ignores and neglects all of them to go travel and hunt with your parents.’

Wei Ying looked down at that, but once again Lan Qiren spoke before him.

‘That is only Jiang Fengmian’s responsibility. Neither your parents or you are at fault. Especially not you, Wuxian.’ Lan Qiren squeezed his shoulder again in comfort. ‘Whatever problems he has with his son… are reflections of his own decisions and not only are they not your responsibility, this is also something you cannot fix.’

Wei Ying felt really bad for Jiang Wanyin then. He also felt really fortunate and selfish. ‘Not even if I try really hard?’ He asked with a little voice, still looking down.

Lan Qiren patted him in the shoulder and let go of him. ‘No. Let Young Master Jiang deal with his feelings on his own. If you two are meant to be friends, he’ll come back on his own.’

There was a long pause and then Lan Qiren sighed. ‘Now go finish copying. Don’t think I forgot about the punishment I just gave you.’

‘Ah! Uncle Lan you’re so mean!’ Wei Ying whined. ‘Fine, otherwise Lan Zhan will be alone with Jiang Wanyin and Jin Zixuan and that’s just too much punishment when he did nothing wrong to begin with!’ With that said, Wei Ying sprung up on his feet and after a quick bow to his uncle, left his office and hurried to the Library Pavilion. He also really really needed Lan Zhan.

Chapter Text

Wei Ying turned on his bed, feeling cozy and warm. Last night, Lan Zhan had told him he would bring breakfast to his room from now on. Wei Ying had insisted he didn't mind bringing their food to the Jingshi each morning, but Lan Zhan insisted in turn that Wei Ying had been doing it for months now and Lan Zhan wanted to return the gesture. Wei Ying couldn't refuse when put like that. Also, it meant he got a little extra sleep, so he couldn't really complain.

He miscalculated the amount of extra sleep though, because he was still deeply asleep when Lan Zhan's voice woke him up.

'Wei Ying.' Lan Zhan called from right out of the door.

Wei Ying moved to the other side and covered his head with the blanket, moaning in protest. He was so cozy, so warm.

'Wei Ying… I brought breakfast.' Lan Zhan called again.

Wei Ying pressed his eyelids tightly shut, almost falling asleep again before realizing Lan Zhan could not open the door with both hands holding a tray. Lan Zhan was always ready and waiting and opened the door for him before he even arrived, so he could go inside without trouble. Remembering this, Wei Ying's eyes opened wide and he jumped out of the bed.

'I'm sorry Lan Zhan!' He exclaimed from inside as he rushed for the door. 'I overslept!' Wei Ying explained as he slid the door open to let Lan Zhan in.

Lan Zhan looked at him, eyes a little wide and mouth slightly open.

'Come in, sorry I left you waiting outside.' Wei Ying gestured with his hand so he would come inside as he retreated from the door to leave space.

Lan Zhan visibly swallowed and stepped inside. He was quick to find the table and place his heavy tray there.

Wei Ying closed the door behind Lan Zhan and sniffed the air. The smell of the food filled the room and Wei Ying couldn't help but notice the scent of spices and fried food.

'What's that? It smells great!' He said quickly.

'New menu.' Lan Zhan said.

Wei Ying smiled at the food. It looked so much better than the usual. 'A new menu?' Wei Ying repeated, pleased with the change. 'What? Uncle Lan didn't fire the chef over my complaints did he?' He asked in jest. It was very doubtful the Cloud Recesses would change personnel over him not liking bland food.

Lan Zhan shook his head, but didn't say anything else. Wei Ying sat down across from him by the table and took a pair of chopsticks. 'Let's eat then.'

Lan Zhan was looking everywhere except him though and had not taken his own chopsticks.

'Lan Zhan?' Wei Ying asked. 'Something wrong?'

Lan Zhan's ears picked out from between his hair as he looked down. 'Will you not dress before eating?'

Wei Ying blinked at him and then looked down. His eyes opened wide again. He was only wearing trousers! He was barefooted and his chest naked, his hair was down too. He felt the colors go up his face and let his chopsticks down.

'Ah- I- I- will put on some clothes first!' He stood up and almost threw himself behind the privacy screen.

'Mn.' Lan Zhan agreed quietly from the table.

Wei Ying emerged not five minutes later fully dressed and hair in his usual ponytail, and tying up the forehead ribbon.

'Sorry about that Lan Zhan. You always waited for me dressed and ready to go.' Wei Ying pouted as he sat down again. 'I will be ready tomorrow, I promise.'

'Mn.' Lan Zhan nodded, but Wei Ying could still see his reddened ears. He hoped he hadn't made Lan Zhan uncomfortable with his nakedness. He was always so proper…

'Let's eat then.' Wei Ying smiled, once again tempted by the delicious aroma of the food.

Lan Zhan nodded and took his chopsticks this time and they started eating at the same time.

Wei Ying put the first bit of food inside his mouth and his taste buds exploded in pleasure. 'This is so good!' He couldn't help but moan. 'What truly happened in the kitchen? I don't believe this was made by the same people that made our usual breakfast.'

Lan Zhan looked at him for a second and then shrugged, closing his eyes.

Wei Ying ate some more with gusto. 'Are you sure you don't know? Maybe Xichen-ge said something?'

Lan Zhan shook his head. 'No talking while eating.'

'Oh, right!'

They continued eating in silence. Wei Ying had learned to live with the usual breakfast spiced by him after it was done, but having breakfast cooked with spice was infinitely better! He was sure the whole day could not be bad after having such a delicious start, no matter what happened later. He finished in record time and didn't leave a single crumb behind.

'How was it?' Lan Zhan asked once he was finished as well.

'So yummy. I wish I could have breakfast like this everyday.' He sighed, content. 'Ah, but the usual is fine too.'

Lan Zhan shook his head. 'I'll arrange for this to be everyday's breakfast.'

'Really?'

Lan Zhan nodded.

'That's great! You're really the best Lan Zhan.'

Lan Zhan ducked his head away in a gesture Wei Ying had begun to read as embarrassment. He chuckled at that and fell silent, feeling very happy and relaxed after such a nice meal.

'Wh-.'

'Hm?' Wei Ying said, refocusing his attention on Lan Zhan. 'Did you say something?'

Lan Zhan looked down before speaking. 'Which food would you say was more delicious?'

'More delicious? Between this and… what else?'

Lan Zhan shrugged with one shoulder, seeming very nonchalant. 'Lady Jiang's, for example.'

Wei Ying hummed in thought. 'Breakfast was really yummy, but I wouldn't go as far as to say it's better than Yanli-jie's cooking.'

Lan Zhan didn't say anything to that, but to Wei Ying he looked a bit pouty. Before he could ask what was wrong though, Lan Zhan stood up.

'It's time for class already?' Wei Ying wondered out loud as he hurried to gather the empty dishes in the tray.

'Mn.'

They walked out of Wei Ying's room a few minutes later. Wei Ying left out the tray and they walked to class.