Wei Wuxian met his son - his son! - again just outside a small village to the north of the Unclean Realm. It was almost a surprise, to see A-Yuan grown into a cultivator in his own right, to see him with his Lan forehead ribbon still pristine despite how his robes had begun to stain with the dust of the road.
Wei Wuxian stared at him across the square, just for a second. For that moment, he looked so much like another Lan. The jade token in his inner pockets seemed to grow heavier.
And then Lan Sizhui - gods, who’d given him that courtesy name? - turned, saw him, and broke into such a wide grin that any resemblance to Lan Wangji had vanished into the growing shadows.
Wei Wuxian shook his head. “Unacceptable,” he said, slinging an arm around Sizhui’s shoulder as he approached. “You absolutely may not call me that.”
Sizhui blinked at him, startled. He tried to pull away, probably to attempt a bow, but Wei Wuxian merely held him tighter and tried not to think about all the years of growing up that he’d missed.
“I’m your dad, aren’t I?” he asked, and absolutely didn’t settle more into his bones just from the way Sizhui beamed at that.
“What would you prefer?” the boy - no, young man - asked, ever attentive to what other people wanted. Wei Wuxian loved him so much it hurt. “Xian-gege? A-die?”
Wei Wuxian tapped Chenqing against his chin. “No ‘baba’?”
Sizhui shook his head. “No, that’s what I called Hanguang-Jun when I was little.”
That’s what he called - no. That was too adorable. Wei Wuxian could not think of it in some random town square or he would burst into undignified tears. How much had he missed?
“Surprise me!” he answered, rather than having to decide.
Sizhui nodded politely, ever filial. “I’m here for the wandering corpses,” he said, and Wei Wuxian grinned, twirling Chenqing.
“You’re only a little too late. I finished that one off yesterday - someone had disturbed the graveyard, and the corpses were just unsettled, barely even fierce corpses.”
Lan Sizhui nodded.
“What are you doing near the Unclean Realm?” Wei Wuxian pressed, leading him into the tavern. “Aren’t you a Lan?”
Sizhui laughed lightly. “Yes!”
And oh, that hurt less than he thought it would. His little A-Yuan, who he’d buried amongst the radishes, who he’d fought sects for, who he’d given up meals for - he’d grown up loved. That was all Wei Wuxian had ever wanted for him.
Sure, it hurt that he hadn’t been there, that he’d missed A-Yuan grow into Sizhui, but Lan Wangji had done a fine job, probably better that Wei Wuxian could ever have done.
Ah, Lan Zhan , he thought, ever fond, our son has grown up so well.
Sizhui continued. “I’m out wandering because I’ve finished all my official training, but I want more practical experience so I can better help my sect.”
Wei Wuxian nodded encouragingly. That was very brave and selfless and Lan-ish . But there was more there, he could tell.
Sizhui blushed slightly. “And it’s what Hangaung-Jun did. Followed the chaos.”
Oh , Wei Wuxian thought. Like father, like son.
That one didn’t even hurt. Gods, even if he had raised A-Yuan, he probably would have constantly pointed to Lan Wangji as the shining example of a cultivator.
They went through the door of the tavern. Wei Wuxian sent a pulse of spiritual power, (because he had that now) along his robes, refreshing their existing charms and pushing the rest of the dirt off.
Sizhui smiled at him in thanks. “Oh! I’d forgotten to do that.”
Wei Wuxian laughed it off, the simple joy it brought him to be able to take care of Sizhui, even if it was just as basic an act as that. He tugged him down to a table. “What’ll you have?”
Lan Sizhui shook his head. “I’ll have whatever you’re having, but with a bit less spice.”
Grinning, Wei Wuxian clapped him on the shoulder. It was always a relief, to feel the grown-up version of A-Yuan as a solid thing beneath his hands. Gods , he looked almost like Wen Ning, so much like some of the other Wens, the ones who had -
He wasn’t going to think about that.
“It’s on me, tonight!” he said, brightly as he could. “I just got paid for that night hunt, so I’m no longer Brother Poor, okay?”
Sizhui chuckled at that, just lightly. Wei Wuxian placed their order, asking for a flask of the local alcohol on top of the meal.
He threw extra chilli oil onto his, but the meal Sizhui ate was still slightly orange, and the kid didn’t even have watering eyes. Wei Wuxian grinned, entirely unable to hold it back. That was his kid, right there, and the spice tolerance was absolutely proof.
“You’ve got better spice tolerance than most Lans,” he commented, just for the sake of saying it out loud.
Sizhui looked up from his food. Oh, right. No speaking during meals.
They finished their food, leaving just the jar of wine Wei Wuxian used to refill his small liquor cup, and then Sizhui answered the comment. “When I was smaller and Hanguang-Jun took me down to Caiyi Town whenever he went, he always let me get something from the street vendors. I liked the spicy things, but they were only spicy for Gusu. I can’t handle some of the hot things Jin Ling can.”
Wei Wuxian nodded, fixing the smile on his face. In this, of all things, Lan Wangji had been there. The jade token sitting inside his robes threatened to burn a brand into his skin.
They continued talking until Lan Sizhui yawned - a near-perfect indicator that it was past nine o’clock. They’d been eating and talking for longer than Wei Wuxian had thought.
“Let’s get rooms,” he said, and paid for two before Sizhui could protest. He bid his son goodnight, watched as he ducked his head politely, and then sat on his own bed, stewing in his thoughts.
He lay down. He tried to sleep.
Sleep didn’t come. By the time he sat up again, the moon was high in the sky.
He played that song on Chenqing. That didn’t help either. That made it worse, actually. Wow. Surprise.
He wasn’t even sure what he was feeling. It was just - he’d missed so much of Sizhui’s youth. He’d missed Jin Ling growing up. He’d missed his sister’s funeral. He’d missed his younger brother growing into an - admittedly angry - competent and commanding sect leader. He’d missed Nie Huaisang’s grief and anger and scheming.
It was a lot.
It hurt to think about. How many times had his friends needed him and - and he hadn’t been there?
He didn’t want to unpick the thoughts and emotions he’d spent the evening ignoring. He’d be completely fine without doing it.
He’d be fine.
He shoved the emotions back into an imaginary box and lay down to meditate, even if he couldn’t sleep. Of course, meditation relied upon being in tune with oneself, and he’d - well, he’d never been that.
He got by, though. He’d always get by. He sank into the meditative state, and from there fell into a restless sleep.
“It’s all your fault!” Jiang Cheng yelled. He lunged for Wei Wuxian’s throat. Wei Wuxian’s vision flickered. Shijie was there, crying blood. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t breathe. Wen Qing burnt on a pyre. “It’s all your fault,” she mouthed as the flesh burnt from her skull. Wei Wuxian felt a scream claw up his throat. He couldn’t unlock his jaw. Wen Yuan was swallowed by the earth Wei Wuxian had buried him in. Who had done this? He would rip them apart. He would. He could. None of them had deserved this. Wei Wuxian’s hands were covered in blood. Lan Wangji’s back split open, red, red, red, on his hands, everywhere, black and red -
Wei Wuxian woke, panting, Chenqing pulsing with resentment in his grip and a yell halfway up his throat.
He swallowed it down, and then gave a dry retch. Fuck.
Anger trembled through his limbs. He unclenched the hand that wasn't holding Chenqing from the jade token that had been in his inner robes. There was no mirror in the room, but he was certain his eyes were bloodshot. He felt half a step from qi deviation. Anger pulsed through him - from somewhere, directed towards something he didn’t know - and stirred the resentful energy that lived in his chest cavity. His tiny (stolen, he tried not to think) golden core glowed pitifully in its harsh embrace.
He took a shallow breath, humming the only tune that had ever calmed the resentment that lived in him, letting it curl and settle sharply against his ribs. He breathed around it. This was okay. He’d lived through worse.
There was a knock on the door just as he finished pulling the cloud of resentment back into Chenqing. He cleared his throat, hoping it wouldn’t be too raspy. “Yes?”
“A-die?” came Sizhui’s voice. “Do you want to take breakfast together?”
He wasn’t sure when the room had gotten so dusty, but he had to scrub furiously at his eyes. Longing hit him so hard he almost staggered. What he wouldn’t have given to have been able to have heard that name in that voice for the past sixteen years...
The resentment in his chest curled tighter around the wanting. He wasn’t sure if that was a good thing.
“Yeah,” he managed. “I’ll be right there, A-Yuan.”
He threw on his outer robes, and took a deep breath around the lump lodged in his throat, pressing a hand to his sternum. He hoped he’d be able to eat. He didn’t want to miss any of the limited time he had with Sizhui just because he was feeling the echoes of the dream he barely remembered.
Chenqing refused to cooperate, thrumming resentment up to meet his hand when he gripped it. “No,” he told it softly. There was nothing he was angry at. Sure, that dream and the energy he controlled wanted desperately to rip something apart, which was a pretty clear indicator that somewhere, deeply, he did too, but last time he’d let something at that subconscious level happen, he’d thrust Wen Ning’s fist through Jin Zixuan’s chest.
The resentment curled in his chest scratched thin lines down the inside of his ribs. He winced.
He slid Chenqing and Suibian into his belt and met Sizhui just outside his door. Sizhui beamed at him, and something in him lifted at the sight. Something else turned leaden with loathing, sinking to sit in the pit of his stomach. He ignored it. Whatever it was for, it wasn’t about Sizhui, who was one of the people in the world Wei Wuxian didn’t think he could ever hate. He wouldn’t allow it to taint his interactions with his son.
He managed to choke down breakfast congee, but only after smothering it with chilli oil. Sizhui looked at him curiously, but didn’t talk during meals. Wei Wuxian wasn’t sure how to explain that he could trick his body into eating as long as it burnt on the way down.
They left the town as the sun climbed higher overhead. Wei Wuxian tugged cheerfully on Lil’ Apple’s halter. The donkey pulled back its lips, and he just laughed. Moving felt like he could leave the lumps of emotions behind him, like he could split his flesh and leave something of him behind. Couldn’t be that hard. He’d done it before.
Sizhui didn’t question him when he started whistling cheerfully. Neither of them rode. Wei Wuxian couldn’t stand the thought of his son walking while he rode, and Sizhui likely couldn’t stand the opposite thought, filial child that he was.
The road was packed dirt, baked warm by the sun. As always, Wei Wuxian couldn’t live long with just the soft silence of the whispering grasses. “So! A-Yuan, tell me about your travels.”
Sizhui smiled at him, bright and happy, slipping a woven butterfly out of his sleeves to play with it between his fingers. Wei Wuxian itched to do the same with the jade token burning a hole in his pocket. Sizhui launched into a story about lantern-makers and Wen Ning, and Wei Wuxian listened attentively, interjecting and reacting where he felt he should.
He was glad that Wen Ning had reconnected with his little cousin. They deserved to have some semblance of a happy family, after all.
“I visited Zizhen a month ago,” Sizhui chirped, seemingly content to keep talking for as long as Wei Wuxian wanted him to. Gods, Wei Wuxian loved him too much.
“Zizhen? The Ouyang boy?”
“Yes! He truly is the romantic you labelled him as, and we had a lot of fun hunting in the areas around Baling. He’s branched into talisman use - due to being trained in a smaller sect, his golden core isn’t quite as strong as Jin Ling’s and Jingyi’s and mine, but with the talismans he’s so useful on the field.”
Wei Wuxian grinned at him. “Ah, casual night hunts! I’m glad you have friends to enjoy yourself with.”
“Jingyi’s been my best friend for as long as I can remember,” Sizhui told him. “We practically grew up together. It’s been… strange, wandering and night hunting without him.”
Wei Wuxian could relate. He had constantly found himself looking to his side, expecting to see white robes and an austere expression, only to see the open road. Now, there were white flashes in his peripheral all the time, thanks to Sizhui, and he still had the sense that something was missing.
Sizhui had gone quieter, thinking about his friends. Wei Wuxian elbowed him lightly. “Where are you thinking of heading now?”
“I was going to head back home,” Sizhui said, as easy as breathing.
Wei Wuxian stumbled slightly. He didn’t flinch away from Sizhui’s steadying grip, but it was a near thing. “Home,” he said, softly.
“Cloud Recesses,” Sizhui agreed, in the same tone.
They walked in silence for a few minutes. Sizhui studied the road passing beneath their feet. Wei Wuxian studied him.
Sizhui - A-Yuan - had grown up so well, and he’d missed so much of it. That loss clung to his hollow ribs as much as any of his others.
Sizhui looked at him, briefly, and then looked away, shaking his head. Wei Wuxian, who was very observant if he could say so himself, wasn’t going to let that go.
“Sizhui, my little radish, come on! Spit it out!”
Sizhui looked at him, and then sighed. The road kept passing beneath their feet and Lil’ Apple’s hooves.
“A-die,” he said, and Wei Wuxian absolutely didn’t want to melt into a soppy puddle. “How do you know if you’re in love?”
It hit him then, that Lan Sizhui hadn’t finished growing up yet. He was still a teenager. He still had so many new things to discover, and he’d come to Wei Wuxian - Wei Wuxian, the disaster of a demonic cultivator, of all people! - for help. Warmth suffused through him, heady and light in his bloodstream.
The thing was, Wei Wuxian had no clue what to say in reply.
The only real experience he had with, ah, matters of the heart was that one time he’d asked his shijie why someone would like someone else in a romantic way, and he’d never actually gotten a proper answer. Aside from that, well… he didn’t think reading Nie Huaisang’s porn qualified him to say anything about love. The jade token pressed against his chest, and he jolted with the awareness of it.
Wei Wuxian did what he did best - deflected. “Ah, Sizhui! Has someone caught your eye?”
Sizhui blushed and ducked his head. Wei Wuxian resisted the urge to reach out and ruffle his hair.
“A pretty town girl? A skilled cultivator?” he pressed.
Sizhui shook his head. “I just… I don’t know how to tell if I like them like that.”
Wei Wuxian nodded. “Well, I’m far from an expert,” he joked.
Sizhui’s head jerked up. “What?”
Laughing, Wei Wuxian told him “What? You thought the Yiling Laozu had suitors coming from every corner of the cultivation world?”
Sizhui shook his head, begrudgingly. “But surely, beforehand...”
Wei Wuxian kept laughing, but he was no longer feeling light and self-deprecatingly amused. “Beforehand? I was younger than you were.”
Sizhui hummed, and Wei Wuxian could have cried with the familiarity of the sound.
Wei Wuxian tapped Chenqing against his chin. “Has your romantic of a friend Ouyang Zizhen been putting ideas in your head of some great romance involving the Patriarch of Demonic cultivation?” he asked, amused by the very idea.
Sizhui blushed and didn’t reply, and, well, that was as much of an answer as anything.
“Us juniors thought,” he said, eventually, but trailed off before finishing the thought.
Wei Wuxian was dying to know who they thought he’d had some wild romance with. Wen Qing? Mianmian? He opened his mouth to wheedle it out of Sizhui, but the boy was flushed slightly, looking at the ground as he walked, and so Wei Wuxian let the questions slip out of his mouth with a loud sigh. “But this is about you!” he redirected. “I guess you should think about how you feel about them compared to, say, your best friends.”
Sizhui’s blush deepened. Wei Wuxian could have crowed with delight. That rounded it down to about three, didn’t it?
“Well, your other best friends,” he amended, and Sizhui looked like he wanted to glare at him but was too polite to do so. Wei Wuxian was an expert at reading that particular expression on Lans.
Sizhui sighed, letting his annoyance go. “They make me happy,” he said, eventually.
Wei Wuxian grinned. “As they should!” Ah, what a wonderful thing, to be alive and present for his son’s first romance.
“I like talking to them,” Sizhui said. “They’re always kind to me, and I enjoy it when we do things just on our own, not with our other friends.”
Wei Wuxian nodded encouragingly. “It sounds to me like you have at least some romantic interest, then.”
Sizhui nodded, almost mirroring him. Wei Wuxian glowed with the knowledge of that. Their strides matched in the dirt road - left feet together, right feet together. It felt familiar in a way none of the towns he had wandered through did. He thought that, if home didn’t have to be a building, this would be the start of it, right there on a dirt track not far from the Unclean Realm.
They walked in silence for a few minutes, and then Wei Wuxian pulled out Chenqing. Sizhui watched him, bright eyed.
“Do you know that you teethed on Chenqing?” Wei Wuxian asked, conversationally. Sizhui choked.
He spun the dizi around his fingers. “Yep! If you look closely, you can still see the bite marks.”
He handed Chenqing to Sizhui, sighing in relief and wonder as the resentment that lived in the bamboo, the resentment that had once attacked his sister, sat still and steady at Lan Sizhui’s touch. Briefly, he wondered if Suibian would recognise Sizhui as safe and good, too. After all, Jin Ling wielded his father’s sword. There wouldn’t be a real opportunity to find out - he could hardly ask Sizhui to try and draw Suibian - but he still desperately wanted to know.
Sizhui examined the dark flute, and embarrassment made itself clear on his face as he spotted the tiny teeth marks. He handed Chenqing back, and Wei Wuxian made an effort not to laugh at his expression. The resentment in the flute drifted tendrils out to float around Wei Wuxian’s wrist, as if making sure he was still there. He brushed it away as he brought the dizi to his lips. “Any requests?”
Sizhui blinked. “Do you know Hanguang-Jun’s melody?”
Wei Wuxian played the first few measures of the melody line of the song Lan Wangji had first sung him in the cave of the Slaughter Xuanwu. “This one?”
Sizhui nodded, and so Wei Wuxian played.
The tune flowed from him as easily as it normally did. As always, it sounded high and airy, like it would float away without the tether normally supplied by the deep, steady thrum of the guqin.
He finished, spent a moment staring at the horizon and trying to convince himself there was a white dot flying towards him, and then took Chenqing down from his lips. "It's better as a duet," he told Sizhui.
Sizhui blinked at him, politely. "It's a duet?"
Ah. Of course. He'd only heard the guqin part. "What, you think Hanguang-Jun would write a song that only involved one instrument when he could write it for two?"
Wei Wuxian laughed. "He first sang it to me when we were sixteen, just after a near-death experience. It's a duet. We'll play it for you some time."
And that, he trailed off. Would they? Could he really see Lan Wangji again, say "let's play our duet for our son?" Could it really be that easy, that simple?
The ball in his chest he'd named longing hummed brightly in the direction of Cloud Recesses. The jade token burned a hole in his robes. He sighed. "Or maybe not,” he murmured, just loudly enough for Sizhui to hear him and send him a look of concern.
They walked until the sun set. The constant walking was normal for Wei Wuxian, now. He wondered, briefly, if it was the same for Sizhui. He liked it, the motion. It made it easier to just… be useful, to not have to think about complicated, messy things.
They made a fire - it wasn’t quite winter, but the cold and the snow was approaching. “You could weather the winter at Cloud Recesses,” Sizhui suggested, and Wei Wuxian didn’t know how to properly explain that even the thought of that made something deep inside of him unravel and gape wide, hungry and wanting and raw-edged, so he just shook his head.
They warmed themselves by the fire, eating basic travel rations. It wasn’t much, but it made him happy , to look across the flickering flames and see white robes and an open face. He still turned, sometimes, to the side, but there was never anyone there. He had never really expected there to be anyone, but perhaps it was just something sewn deep into him, some kind of core-deep wanting. The resentful energy in his ribcage hissed at the thought. He soothed it by humming the first few measures of Lan Wangji’s song.
Sizhui watched him across the fire.
“It’s still hours ‘till nine,” Wei Wuxian reminded him. He nodded. “So…” Wei Wuxian wheedled. “About the boy you like…”
Sizhui sighed. “Do you have to?”
Wei Wuxian cackled. “I’m a parent! It’s basically my duty to try and get you a good match, eh?”
He nodded, looking long-suffering. “I’d rather not talk about it. Just until I’m sure.”
That was an evasion if Wei Wuxian ever heard one, but he wouldn't press. Sizhui deserved his secrets. Wei Wuxian was overjoyed enough to even be trusted with what he did know.
Still, if that was out as a topic of conversation… he filtered through the other things they’d talked about. Ahah! “So, tell me more about this fantastical romance Ouyang Zizhen thinks I had?”
It was almost certainly not the fire that was making Sizhui look slightly red in the face. He was going to have no trouble at all finding a cultivation partner, not with a face like that. Lan Wangji’s beautiful face would allow him to marry anyone he wanted, and Sizhui’s bright smile and features would allow him the same.
Sizhui shook his head. “I don’t think that’s the best topic of conversation, a-die,” and well. That wasn’t fair. The boy couldn’t just weaponise the familiar term. Wei Wuxian wouldn’t stand for it.
“Come on,” he wheedled. “If you tell me, I promise I won’t ask about who you like again!”
Sizhui met his eyes across the fire. “For half a year, at least.”
Aw, damn, the boy was a negotiator. Who’d he get that from? Lan Wangji didn’t have a haggling bone in his body.
“Four months,” Wei Wuxian bargained.
Sizhui held his gaze. “Promise?”
Wow, that must mean it was serious, if he wanted such promises. “On my soul,” he said, laughing. That hadn’t meant all that much, in his first life.
The resentful energy in his chest dug claws in, and he hissed, waving away Sizhui’s concerned glance. Right. Okay. No thinking about destroying his soul. Probably. Either that, or it was eager to destroy his soul, and that -
Haha. Not going to think about that.
Sizhui was silent, and it took Wei Wuxian a moment to realise that it was yet another evasive maneuver that still complied with the Lan principles. “You have to tell me now, A-Yuan,” he said, half-teasing.
Sizhui didn’t glare at him, but it was a near thing. He picked at the single grains of rice left in his lap. “My group of juniors thought,” he started, and Wei Wuxian grinned. Not even trying to separate himself from the incriminated group! What a good, honest son!
Sizhui fell silent again, smiling a smile that was all Lan Xichen which suggested they really didn’t need to talk about this, not now, surely it could wait for later?
Wei Wuxian prompted him as gently as possible. Really, he was dying to know. “Who, exactly, did the juniors think I had some fantastical romance with while out fighting a war?”
Lan Sizhui opened his mouth, and then closed it. Wei Wuxian smiled at him encouragingly, ignoring the growing concern and trepidation in his ribcage. The resentful energy there didn’t ignore it, snapping at it in a way that didn’t make him calmer.
“Don’t be mad,” Sizhui managed, eventually. Wei Wuxian laughed.
“What, was it Wen Ruohan or something? I promise I won’t be mad unless you juniors think I hooked up with Wen Ruohan or his spawn, because that implies I have awful taste.”
Sizhui laughed too, but it was strained. Horror sunk in Wei Wuxian’s stomach. “It’s not a Wen, is it?”
“No, no!” Sizhui assured him.
Wei Wuxian hummed. “Well, that rules out Wen Qing and Wen Ning too. So?” He dragged out the last word as long as he could, until the resentful energy clenched around his lungs and he had to take a startled inhalation.
Sizhui looked at the ground. “Hanguang-Jun,” he mumbled.
Wei Wuxian choked.
He stared at Sizhui in utter befuddlement once he’d regained his breath, and then he did what he always did when faced with something that made him want to hide; he laughed, long and uproariously. The resentful energy in his ribcage tugged at his lungs and his heart, whispering and swirling as it always did, enveloping his tiny golden core.
“I didn’t know you could play jokes like this, A-Yuan!” he said, after, wiping at his eyes. He didn’t feel like laughing. He felt hollow, which was ridiculous, because he had resentful energy and a golden core inside him, and sad, which was even more ridiculous, because he was talking to his son. He ignored the feelings, like he so often did.
Sizhui didn’t meet his eyes. “It’s not a joke,” he muttered.
Wei Wuxian laughed again. “Sure it’s not. Are you going to tell me the actual answer now?”
“I just did!” Sizhui insisted.
“Haha, yep, sure. You can tell me! I won’t even laugh; nothing could be more hilarious than me and Lan Zhan.”
Sizhui glared at him, mutinously. “It’s not a joke! We were dead serious.”
Wei Wuxian gaped at him. That… that didn’t make any sense. “Why would you think that? Did you all really think that Lan Zhan has such bad taste?”
“You made him smile,” Sizhui muttered, still glaring at him. Look, Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but make fun of the idea, it was just so ridiculous.
“You fought side by side, even when everyone hated you! You went back to Cloud Recesses with him! You’ve fainted into his arms before! Multiple times!” Sizhui said, halfway to desperate.
Wei Wuxian scooted around the fire to pat him on the arm comfortingly. “Some people just have friendships like that,” he said, consoling. “We’re just good friends.”
“He bought you alcohol,” Sizhui said, despairingly.
Ah, A-Yuan, Wei Wuxian thought. If only you knew all the things he’s done for me.
“He wrote you a song,” Sizhui continued, less despairing and more defensive. “It seemed like the logical conclusion to us!”
Wei Wuxian patted him on the shoulder. “Ah, we’re just good friends. It’s not like I want to… kiss him or something.”
Sizhui looked at the fire.
“Not that that’s a requirement for a romantic relationship,” Wei Wuxian added, hurriedly. “Just something I’d like in a relationship.” He’d read enough of Nie Huaisang’s porn as a teen to know that, anyway.
“You just looked like you were together and happy,” Sizhui muttered.
Wei Wuxian’s brain stuttered to a halt. They had looked - they had looked like -
He couldn’t even bring himself to properly consider the idea, because it was too outrageous. There was a hollow pain in his chest. He ignored it, and the resentful energy beside it that had started swirling faster, as well as the weight of the jade token. He snorted, loudly.
“Nah. Besides, can you even imagine family dinners if I was there? Lan Qiren would have a qi deviation before we even made it halfway through the meal!”
Sizhui laughed, slightly.
“And Lan Zhan would be too kind to tell me when I overstepped, so I’d end up bringing liquor in and making fun of the elders and trying to teach the juniors and -”
He swallowed the lump in his throat. “- and I’d make a mess of everything there,” he finished hollowly.
Sizhui patted him on the shoulder. “I’m sure you’re right,” he said, that wonderful son of his and Lan Wangji’s. “Besides, it doesn’t matter, right? You’re just friends. You don’t want to… kiss him or anything, like you said.”
Wei Wuxian didn’t want to kiss Lan Wangji, or hold his hand, or be held by him, or support him in front of all the sect leaders, or bring him his favourite tea - the bitter, fine-leafed Gusu stuff - when he had a headache, or see his own red and black robes mixed in the cupboards with Lan Wangji’s white and blue, or eat every meal beside him, or unwind his forehead ribbon at the end of a long day, or bow three times with him, or walk through Caiyi town with him, or try to persuade him to remain in their bed long after the morning curfew -
Oh. Well, fuck.
Well, he’d always been a brilliant liar, even to himself, but this truth shone like the sun - undeniable and unforgettable. He couldn’t bring himself to look away, to say look, this isn’t what Lan Zhan has always meant to me. Lan Wangji deserved all of this truth, and more.
Lan Zhan, he thought, I think I’ve loved you as long as the sea has washed up upon the sand, as long as the stars have shone above. It wasn’t a heavy thing to carry, this love, this bare truth. He had been carrying it for a long time before he recognised it, and now it settled in his chest like a firefly, bright and glowing. The resentful energy there hissed at it, and then, like a cat, sniffed once and curled around it.
No, loving Lan Wangji was not a hardship, Wei Wuxian thought. But his inadequacies - they were harder to bear.
“A-Yuan,” he said, suddenly desperate. “You know I can’t be allowed back into Cloud Recesses, right?”
Sizhui blinked at him. “What?” he asked, the most impolite Wei Wuxian had ever heard him. He must have just been sitting there, watching the emotions and realisations wash over Wei Wuxian’s face. Wei Wuxian flushed slightly with that realisation.
“I’m the founder of demonic cultivation!” he argued. “What could I do but bring ruin to Cloud Recesses? I’m noisy and loud and I’d glare at the Lan elders and distract Lan Zhan from his work and annoy Zewu-Jun out of seclusion and teach the juniors useless talisman tricks, and -”
“And?” Sizhui said, when he cut off, his voice no longer working easily in his throat. “None of those seem like bad things to me, a-die.”
Wei Wuxian glared at him, opening his mouth.
“If noise and being loud brought ruin to the Cloud Recesses, Jingyi would have been thrown out long ago. Do you think that would be right?”
“Of course not!” Wei Wuxian said, because he loved Jingyi, the kid was amazing, “but-”
“The Lan elders are like elders everywhere, from what I’ve seen at the Jin, Jiang, and Ouyang sects,” Sizhui continued calmly, and Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but snort, remembering the Jiang elders in his youth.
“Everything else still stands,” he interjected, before Sizhui was forced to elaborate and disrespect his elders. It was Wei Wuxian’s job to take them down a peg or two, or three. Huh. Okay. Sizhui had more of a point than he’d thought.
“You can’t tell me Hanguang-Jun wouldn’t work past the point of unhealthiness, if he thought it was necessary,” Sizhui said, and, again, he was being reasonable . Lan Wangji would. Ugh.
“Zewu-Jun would likely benefit from being brought out of seclusion, and Hanguang-Jun would benefit from having the support of his brother.” and you, Sizhui didn’t say, but they both heard it anyway.
“And your talisman ‘tricks’ have saved our lives, and I even mentioned Zizhen earlier, and how much of a better fighter he is with the talismans. Our juniors would probably benefit from your tutelage.”
Wei Wuxian blinked at him. “You can’t be serious,” he tried, but it was weak, and he weakened further when his son smiled at him.
“Come back to Gusu with me,” Lan Sizhui said, and, that... that echoed through the years, through the resentment curled in his chest, through his very bones -
“Okay,” Wei Wuxian said. “Okay.”
Sizhui beamed at him. He thought about seeing Lan Wangji again, about being enfolded in those steady white-clad arms for as long as Lan Wangji could bear to hold him. He couldn't bring himself to regret his decision.
They arrived outside Gusu two weeks later, and Wei Wuxian very much regretted his decision.
"Sizhui," he said, tugging on the boy's sleeve only slightly frantically. "A-Yuan, I can't go up there."
Sizhui eyed the steps ahead of them, and then Lil' Apple, who had already started walking up the steps, the traitor. She absolutely knew Lan Wangji was at the top of the steps, somewhere, and would give her apples because he was so good like that. Something in Wei Wuxian's chest constricted at the thought.
"I don't think you have a choice, a-die," Sizhui said, and then he started up the stairs too.
Wei Wuxian spared a moment to scream into the cloth of his sleeves, and then he followed, dragging his feet.
When he reached the top, he found a stern-looking guard and an apologetic-looking son. "I'm sorry, Wei-qianbei," Sizhui said, reverting back to formalities in the presence of strangers. "My entry token only allows me entry, due to my ranking. I can't bring anyone else in. You’ll have to wait here until I bring the Chief Cultivator."
Wei Wuxian hummed. It really wouldn’t be great to disturb Lan Wangji from his important meetings and business. This had absolutely nothing to do with Wei Wuxian not trusting himself to behave once he saw him. "Entry token? I think I have one of those."
He made a show of patting his pockets, but in truth he was as aware of the jade token as he had always been, hyper-aware of what it meant - Lan Wangji's outstretched hand, a silent invitation for him to return.
He plucked it out eventually, and the warded barrier sparked as soon as it exited the qiankun bag he'd been keeping it in.
"Great!" Sizhui said, beaming. "We can go in now."
The wards seemed to recognise the token, and the resentment stirring in Wei Wuxian's chest didn't much like that thought, but it was certain they would let him through.
The guard wasn't quite as willing. "Wait," she said, holding out a hand imperiously. "Let me confirm your token is valid."
Wei Wuxian huffed. "The wards recognise it," he whined. "It was given to me freely."
She glared at him. Ah, Lans. He'd missed them. "You're the Yiling Laozu," she said, as if that explained her need to check the entrance token. Ah. Well, it kind of did. He did have a bit of a reputation.
"Fine," he groused, handing the jade piece over. He felt its absence as soon as the cool stone slipped from his fingers and clenched his fist instinctively.
The guard almost dropped it. “Hey!” he said, reaching forwards to snag it back. The resentment had boiled in his chest at the sight of the falling jade, spilling out of his fingertips and Chenqing. “Be careful! That was given to me by -”
“Hanguang-Jun,” the guard said, blankly. She stared at him.
“Yes! How did you know?” he asked, confused. She hadn’t seemed to recognise him before, and if she knew Lan Wangji had given him the token, she must know him.
The guard stepped in front of the gate, her hands not quite on her sword but not far from it either. He would have sighed, because this kept happening, but he didn’t think that would go down too well. The resentment woke and flowed through his fingertips, leaked out of the dark bamboo of Chenqing to form a menacing cloud around the dizi.
“Wei-qianbei!” Sizhui said, voice louder than allowed in the Cloud Recesses. Wei Wuxian raised a hand to calm him.
The guard glared at him. “Where did you get Hanguang-Jun’s personal entry token?”
Wei Wuxian blinked. “He gave it to me? Wait, what do you mean Lan Zhan’s personal token?”
“Lan Huangbi!” Sizhui said. “He’s fine. We can trust him.”
He sounded so much like Lan Xichen that Wei Wuxian’s chest ached.
Lan Huangbi blinked, and then looked at Sizhui. “You’re sure?”
Sizhui laughed. It barely sounded strained. “Huangbi, he’s my dad.”
Clearly, these two knew each other. Wei Wuxian raised an eyebrow at Sizhui, who avoided his gaze as Lan Huangbi stepped out of the way.
Lan Huangbi bowed to him. “Apologies.”
She looked stiff and awkward, even for Lan standards.
The resentment clouding around him filtered back into the flute. He relaxed, just slightly, to feel the normal pain in his chest. “You’re the most polite person to ever try to stop me!” (Actually, that would be Lan Wangji, but Wei Wuxian had never been afraid of little white lies before.)
She apologised again. “I just saw you holding the token Hanguang-Jun had before he became Chief Cultivator, when they gave him a new one, and… and you’re Yiling Laozu...”
Wei Wuxian blinked. This… this had been the token Lan Wangji had carried while Wei Wuxian had been dead, while he had roamed in and out of Cloud Recesses following the chaos, further earning his title. This was the token he’d carried, and it had always brought him home.
And he’d given it to Wei Wuxian.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian murmured. The resentful energy that lived in his chest hummed, and his golden core sparked slightly. He felt barely put-together, like at the slightest move he would crumble to dust.
Lan Huangbi flushed slightly when she heard the familiar name, and then turned to Sizhui. “He’s your dad? Weren’t you adopted by Hanguang-Jun?”
Sizhui beamed. “I have two adoptive dads,” he said, proudly. Wei Wuxian wanted to hug him, and so he did, even though his brain was still partly whited out on the knowledge that Lan Wangji had carried the jade token he currently held for more than sixteen years.
“Oh,” Lan Huangbi said, somewhere in the distance. “So he’s Hanguang-Jun’s…”
“Soulmate,” Wei Wuxian said, even more distantly, and then every particle of him turned, like the needle of a compass, to the white-clad form coming towards them from inside Cloud Recesses at a pace just slightly too fast to be called walking.
“Lan Zhan,” he breathed, and then, a second later, “Oh, fuck.”
He ducked around the corner and tried to calm his breathing, like the fool he was. He didn’t trust himself to know that he loved Lan Wangji and not exist in a space with him without betraying that fact. He couldn’t. Lan Wangji would take one look at him, and he’d know , and then he’d be so uncomfortable -
“Sizhui,” Lan Wangji’s familiar voice said, and Wei Wuxian sighed, sinking back into the stone pillar.
“Baba,” Sizhui said, voice choking up, and Wei Wuxian, to his eternal disappointment, felt tears well up in his eyes. He stuck his head around the corner, and yep, Sizhui had his arms wrapped around Lan Wangji, who was clearly reciprocating the hug. Lan Huangbi looked distinctly uncomfortable.
The pair stepped away from each other, looking every inch the father-son duo in their white robes. Lan Wangji’s had gained extra shiny ornamentation, but Wei Wuxian couldn’t stop looking at his face, at the beautiful curve of that half-smile. He’d fallen into the equivalent - a huge, painful grin - without even noticing.
Sizhui bowed. “Hanguang-Jun,” he said, formally, as though he hadn’t just been clutching those pristine white robes.
“Lan Sizhui,” Lan Wangji said, and if Wei Wuxian didn’t know him as well as he did, he’d think it was in his normal, impassive tone, and not a soft and emotional one.
“Did -” Lan Wangji said, pausing in his speech for perhaps the first time in recent memory. His head turned slightly from side to side. “The wards felt like -”
Sizhui rolled his eyes. “A-die! Stop hiding.”
Ah. Shit. Called out, and using a weaponised familiar term, too. Wow, his son really had taken after him.
Wei Wuxian stepped out. “Lan Zhan,” he said, helpless to say anything else.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji breathed, and then they were clinging to each other, Wei Wuxian in his travel-stained, donkey-smelling robes, Lan Wangji in pristine white and always, always smelling like sandalwood incense.
There was the scuffling of feet, and Wei Wuxian had the presence of mind to note that Lan Huangbi had vanished into Cloud Recesses.
“I’m not crying,” Wei Wuxian insisted, ignoring how snotty his voice sounded.
“Mn,” Lan Wangji said, and held him closer. For the first time in a long while, he didn’t hurt. The resentful energy and the golden core inside him curled tightly around each other, co-existing.
He pulled back, slightly. Lan Wangji didn’t move his arms from where they were wrapped around Wei Wuxian’s back. He was very close.
“Ah, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian said, in an attempt to lighten the atmosphere. “I’ve made your robes all dirty.”
Lan Wangji’s lips twitched up into a full smile. “I don’t mind.” Wei Wuxian wasn’t sure he was breathing properly.
“You don’t?” Wei Wuxian asked, just to make sure. That smile was a very short distance from his own. He really, really didn’t trust his own self control if Lan Wangji kept holding him this closely.
“No,” Lan Wangji confirmed. “Wei Ying is here.”
What an absolutely useless fact to state, Wei Wuxian thought, but that didn’t stop him from burying his head in Lan Wangji’s shoulder and making his robes even more tear-stained.
Sizhui collided with them both, to wrap his arms as far around them as he could reach and hold them tight. Wei Wuxian let out a watery laugh, and Lan Wangji’s smile lit up by another degree. It was probably a good thing Wei Wuxian had already been holding on to Lan Wangji, because there was no way his own legs would be able to hold him up now.
“I’m going to go see Jingyi now,” Sizhui said, after a moment. “And a-die said he’d be staying for the winter at least!”
Wei Wuxian laughed. “Yeah, go do that.” Lan Wangji nodded, and with two sets of permission he took off, moving at the fast walking pace all the younger disciples of Cloud Recesses seemed to have perfected.
Lan Wangji still didn’t let him go. Wei Wuxian didn’t let Lan Wangji go, either. He was perfectly happy to stay like this, to cling together until they dissolved into each other.
“You’re really staying?” Lan Wangji asked, a cracked sort of vulnerability present in his voice.
Wei Wuxian nodded. “Until you get sick of me,” he promised.
Wei Wuxian choked.
“Wei Ying may stay as long as he wants,” Lan Wangji continued.
“And if I want to stay forever?” Wei Wuxian asked, oddly breathless.
Lan Wangji took in a sharp breath. Wei Wuxian could feel it in his own chest. “I would not object,” he said, eventually.
“I’m not going to follow all the rules,” Wei Wuxian said, and Lan Wangji huffed out air in a way that, in anyone else, would have been considered a snort.
“I would not expect you to,” Lan Wangji said. He was still smiling. Wei Wuxian’s heart was too weak for this, it really was.
“But, Lan Zhan, you have to tell me if I do something really wrong, alright?”
Lan Wangji’s eyes narrowed slightly, and then he nodded. “Mn.”
Gods, why was thinking so hard when Lan Wangji was this close? He really was going to have to struggle a lot with his self control, wasn’t he?
“And you’re going to have to forgive me for doing something stupid,” he said, all in a rush.
“Promise me, Lan Zhan. Please.”
“I swear it, if there is anything to be forgiven.”
“Right,” Wei Wuxian said faintly. “Right. Well. That’s just great.”
“Wei Ying, what -”
Wei Wuxian kissed him.
There was a horrifying moment where Lan Wangji merely tensed against him, and Wei Wuxian was fully prepared to pull back and apologise for the rest of his life, because, really, what had he been thinking? - and then Lan Wangji relaxed into the kiss, and one of his hands slipped into Wei Wuxian’s hair to tilt his head and adjust their angle slightly.
Wei Wuxian’s brain got stuck on what that could possibly mean, but that didn’t stop him from pressing himself against Lan Wangji enthusiastically, and then Lan Wangji did something with his tongue and Wei Wuxian gasped, and they startled away from each other, panting slightly.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji said, ears pink and eyes wide.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian said back to him, voice slightly shaky.
“Wei Ying. Why did you…?”
Wei Wuxian giggled. He couldn’t help it - this whole thing was just ridiculous. “Oh, you know,” he said, airily, “because our son somehow helped me realise I’ve been at least half in love with you since we were teenagers, and I figured I wouldn’t be Wei Wuxian if I didn’t go for it at least once.”
Lan Wangji stared at him.
Lan Wangji blinked. Once. Twice.
Wei Wuxian smiled up at him. He felt warm and content. No matter what Lan Wangji said after he finished thinking, they’d be okay. “I’m not going anywhere,” he said, half to reassure himself and half to reassure Lan Wangji.
“You meant it,” Lan Wangji said, at last.
It wasn’t a question. He nodded anyway.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji said, like it was torn out of him. “I have loved you for as long as I have known how.”
Wei Wuxian frowned. How long could that possibly be? Since he’d stood with him at Jinlintai? Since he’d grabbed his hand to halt that terrible, awful fall?
And then he realised he was focusing on the wrong thing. “Oh,” he said, small and breathless. Lan Wangji loved him.
And Lan Wangji, Lan Wangji who had always expressed his feelings through his actions - a song in a cave, a hand on a wrist, three hundred strikes to a back, a jade token for a traveller - kissed Wei Wuxian again.
Wei Wuxian absolutely hadn’t spent a long time thinking about how Lan Wangji would kiss. But if he had, he would have guessed that he would kiss how he fought - controlled, powerful, and shattering. That wasn’t exactly true. Yes, the kiss was filled with Lan Wangji’s raw strength, and Wei Wuxian was holding onto him because he felt like he would fall apart if he didn’t, but Lan Wangji kissed like he’d been starving and Wei Wuxian was a feast, devouring. Lan Wangji kissed Wei Wuxian like he’d been wanting this forever. There was no control in that kind of hunger and desperation.
Eventually, the kiss sweetened, less of a need and more of a promise. Wei Wuxian pulled away, feeling overly delighted at how Lan Wangji leant towards him, chasing his lips. “Lan Zhan,” he breathed, taking in how Lan Wangji’s lips looked well-kissed, how his eyes were dark and his breathing heavy, how his forehead ribbon was slightly tilted. He’d done that. Lan Wangji had welcomed him doing that.
He felt overcome by that alone.
He moved a hand from where it had ended up in Lan Wangji’s hair to straighten his ribbon, heart swelling at how Lan Wangji leaned his head into the touch, eyes sliding closed, Wei Wuxian’s fingers on his forehead ribbon. They stood like that for a minute, sharing the same breath, the same contentment, and then Lil’ Apple snorted behind them, and Wei Wuxian laughed.
“We better take her to the clearing,” Wei Wuxian said, stepping back. Lan Wangji nodded, smoothing out Wei Wuxian’s robes. Wei Wuxian figured his hair was probably beyond repair, and he pressed a hand to his collarbone where he was pretty sure Lan Wangji had left him a collection of marks. He shrugged. Let them see.
“You’re okay with everyone seeing?” he asked, just to confirm. Lan Wangji’s fingers tugged his robes up over the bruises, but he made no effort to fix his hair. Wei Wuxian understood. Lan Wangji did not want to hide what they were. But there were some things that were for them, and just for them.
Wei Wuxian grinned at him, and could have died from the smile he received in return. “We’ll go settle Lil’ Apple in, and then…?”
Lan Wangji inclined his head, the headpiece there still centred and neat. “If Wei Ying wishes, he will stay in the Jingshi.”
Lan Wangji knew Wei Wuxian wasn’t leaving. That meant -
Everything inside his ribcage glowed with the knowledge. “Wei Ying does wish,” he said, grinning helplessly. “Wei Ying would like nothing more.”
Lan Wangji nodded, joy written in his every feature. He took Lil’ Apple’s bridle.
Wei Wuxian located the jade token from where it had ended up - a pocket in his sleeves - and tied it to his belt. That was statement enough. He thought about how Lan Sizhui had said Cloud Recesses and home in the same way. He thought he would like to do the same.
The resentful energy in his chest was calm, humming slightly around his vibrant golden core. He took Lan Wangji’s unoccupied hand, and grinned helplessly at how their fingers slotted together.
“Take me home, Lan Zhan,” he whispered, and Lan Wangji did.