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shades of grey

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“Did you even warn Lan Qiren you were leaving?” Nie Mingjue wondered as they walked the smooth stone halls of the Unclean Realm, Lan Xichen’s hand tucked around his bicep. He’d refused to let Nie Mingjue stray out of reach since they’d left the bed, had eaten a late breakfast halfway in his lap while serenely ignoring Nie Mingjue’s half-hearted grumbles as he struggled to eat around Xichen’s tall, broad frame. 

Lan Xichen flushed, biting his lip with a vaguely guilty expression. “I left him a note?” 

“Am I going to be accused of kidnapping the Lan Sect Leader, then?” He asked, mouth curling at the corner in a fond, crooked smile. 

“Perhaps,” Lan Xichen said, teasing. “But I suspect he won’t be surprised. I’ve been rather distracted the past few days.” 

Nie Mingjue glanced at him, trying to keep the worry off his face. “Nervous about the wedding?” 

To his relief, Lan Xichen shook his head. “Impatient, mostly. And… I keep looking for you when you aren’t there, to tell you something or touch you or just to see you. My uncle thought I’d been hit with a twitching curse, I did it so often.” 

Nie Mingjue slowed, pulled him around with a hand on his waist, and kissed him in the middle of the hallway. After that confession, how could he not? 

“Get a room!” Nie Huiyin shouted from down the hall.

Nie Mingjue lifted his head, Xichen’s face a burning pink, to suggest instead: “Go away!” 

She just cackled and bounded off, more than likely to consult with A-Xian about blowing something up on their next night hunt. He was starting to regret letting those two work together without someone reasonable supervising. 

Unfortunately, the number of reasonable disciples in the sect who would argue against explosives was limited to single digits. Huaisang, surely, and maybe Meng Yao, but he was entirely too useful to let a couple of heathens scare him away. 

Nie Mingjue released Xichen, who was still a little dazed and a lot red from the impromptu kiss in the middle of the hall, and led them outside, where they’d been heading for before he’d sidetracked them. 

The sun hovered above them, spearing down bright rays of light through the soft, scattered clouds. The mountain breeze kept the heat from becoming overwhelming, and it looked as though most of the sect had emptied into the training grounds to enjoy the weather. 

“Oh,” Lan Xichen said, bemused. “That didn’t take long.” 

Nie Mingjue followed his gaze, wondering at the odd note in his voice, and found Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji in the midst of the Dafan Wens. They were playing aside with the little boy-- Wen Yuan, he vaguely recalled-- with Wei Wuixan’s usual amount of excessive noise. 

Wen Yuan appeared to be having the time of his life as he chased A-Xian around on his stubby little legs, near breathless with laughter at Wei Wuxian’s dramatics. Every so often, though, Wen Yuan would pause to collect something-- a leaf, a shiny object, the ribbon from A-Xian’s hair-- and scamper back to Lan Wangji’s side to present his findings. 

Lan Wangji, the only one not making a nuisance of himself, accepted the gifts with solemn appreciation and an openly fond gaze that made Xichen make a sound of consideration. Wen Yuan, clearly thrilled with such approval, bounded off again to chase Wei Wuxian, starting the cycle all over again. 

Nie Mingjue remembered abruptly his half-joking words to Xichen during their quiet conversation at Lotus Pier: “We have three brothers between us, surely one of them will find a kid somewhere.” 

Joke’s on him, apparently, he thought wryly, noting how Wei Wuxian watched Lan Wangji interact with Wen Yuan with his heart in his eyes. They were a little young to be parents of an orphan, but Nie Mingjue had been responsible for raising A-Sang and A-Xian at only eighteen. 

Besides, the tattered remains of the Dafan Wen branch would be there to help raise Wen Yuan. Many of them might even appreciate a formal adoption for the boy-- most of the branch members were far too old or frail to keep up with a young child and, well, A-Xian had enough energy to match a toddler, and Lan Wangji enough patience to wrangle them both. 

“Interesting development,” he muttered. “I’ll let you know when A-Xian clues in to what’s happening and they decide to do something about it. Hope Lan Qiren’s ready for a grandchild.” 

“Hm,” Xichen agreed, and then, thoughtful, “Wangji and I have a rather rambunctious cousin about the boy’s age. Perhaps I could bring him along the next time I come here.” 

“A rambunctious Lan?” Nie Mingjue marveled. “This I have to see.” 

“A-Sang!” Wei Wuxian shouted as Nie Huaisang stepped through the gates, back from his shopping trip with Wen Qing and Wen Ning, who carried a tower of bags and parcels. “A-Sang, come play with us!” 

Huaisang shook his head but meandered over to them, fluttering his fan absently as he squinted at A-Xian. “Aren’t you supposed to be resting?” He asked. Behind him, Wen Qing made a beeline for Nie Wenji, the Nie head healer who’d taken the young Wen doctor under her wing with a fierce protectiveness that surprised no one who knew of her own story. Wen Ning staggered after her, loaded down with all of their purchases. 

“I’m fine, A-Sang,” Wei Wuxian chirped. “Stop fretting, would you?” 

“I will once you’re capable of using more than one brian cell at a time,” Huaisang said waspishly, flicking a speck of dust off of his soft green dress with a petulant scowl.

Nie Mingjue chuckled as A-Xian made a loud sound of offense and staggered back like he’d been deeply wounded. Wen Yuan, who’d nearly been squashed by his antics, only giggled and tugged on A-Xian’s robes, wanting in on the game. Brave of him, especially when they started bickering at their usual volume.

He knew Huaisang kept a closer eye on Wei Wuxian than even Nie Mingjue or Wen Qing did, watching for signs that he’d pushed too far or was affected by the resentful energy and trying to hide it. But Huaisang knew his brother too well to fall for the diversions or lies, knew where and how to push to get the answers he wanted. And with A-Xian’s life at stake, he was merciless in his efforts. 

It let Nie Mingjue sleep better, if he was being honest. He made a note to buy Huaisang materials for a new fan or something for the thankless job of keeping his brothers alive and well. 

“Da-ge!” Huaisang shouted, beckoning him over, echoed shortly after by Wei Wuxian. He sighed but led Lan Xichen over to the little cluster of their family, mildly amused when Wen Yuan’s eyes went wide at the sight of them and he reached up to Lan Wangji until he obeyed, lifting him into his arms so Wen Yuan could cling to him.

“Tell A-Xian that he has to listen to me,” Huaisang complained. “He cannot be trusted to dress himself for your wedding.” He paused, taking in Nie Mingjue’s rumpled clothes and the tiny bloodstain at the collar where he’d cut himself shaving. “Actually, neither can you, what am I thinking?” 

“I just don’t see the problem with it,” Wei Wuxian said with a glint in his eyes that said he was absolutely fucking with Huaisang, who would catch on soon enough. “Black is my color, A-Sang. I know I have formal robes somewhere. Maybe buried at the bottom of my closet.” 

Huaisang drew himself up like a pissed off cat. Nie Mingjue interjected before he started swinging the surprisingly heavy war fan in his hands. “Huaisang gets to pick your clothes,” he said, mostly just so he wouldn’t have to spend the next three days hearing about wrinkles. 

“Fine, fine,” Wei Wuxian said, feigning insult. “But I still get to organize the night hunt before the wedding!” 

“You look entirely too happy about that.” Huaisang eyed him suspiciously. “What sort of trouble have you invented now?” 

“Don’t worry,” Wei Wuxian said, grinning wickedly. “But maybe you should let me choose your clothes for the hunt, A-Sang. You can’t wear one of your pretty dresses if we’re climbing the mountain.” 

Nie Mingjue just shook his head when Huaisang fired back. If there was one thing his brothers shared, it was the supernatural ability to be neck deep in trouble at any given moment. This particular talent could make even the most routine activities a chaotic disaster. 

To be fair, it was usually a pretty fun time. And his disciples learned to think on their feet, that was for sure. 

It would be interesting to see how that affected his wedding. As long as he and Xichen completed their bows in one piece, he didn’t particularly care what blew up. Or who ended up mortally offended, for that matter. 

Still, he sent out a mental warning to any budding troublemakers hoping for drama or conflict at his wedding. His version of knocking on wood, only with more potential for violence. He pictured setting one or both of his brothers on Sect Leader Yao or someone equally annoying at the wedding. It was an immensely cheerful thought. 

“They’re silly,” Wen Yuan told Lan Wangji, watching A-Xian and A-Sang argue. 

“They are,” Lan Wangji said gravely, stepping neatly out of the way when Huaisang finally snapped and lunged for Wei Wuxian. A-Xian just laughed, having clearly goaded him into it, and ducked out of reach with a playful grin. 

“I forget how fast Huaisang is,” Lan Xichen observed, an impressed note in his voice as he, along with the rest of the grounds, turned to watch them fight. 

“Of course you do, he refuses any physical activity unless it’s to bully A-Xian into compliance,” Nie Mingjue said, exasperated. Their fight was full of flashy moves and pulled blows, more playful than anything, even with A-Sang’s annoyance.

Nearby, Liu Rushi and Nie Huiyin called out encouragement for both of them and advice for Huaisang, playing both sides and appearing highly entertained. Nie Zonghui and Meng Yao sat together on the steps, shoulders pressed together, watching with fond amusement and wide-eyed interest, respectively. 

Lan Wangji quietly explained some of their techniques to an intrigued Wen Yuan, and behind him the Dafan Wens mingled with the Nie disciples to laugh at the spectacle. 

It was loud, and messy, and as chaotic as every other day in the Unclean Realm. Nie Mingjue glanced over, checking Xichen’s reaction. He was smiling as though thoroughly charmed, a pillar of serenity in the pandemonium. 

“Are you sure you want to be affiliated with this?” Nie Mingjue asked, raising his voice a little over the shouts and laughter. 

“Mingjue,” Xichen said, affectionate, and smiled up at him. “I wish for nothing else.” 

Something very heavy crashed behind him, followed by a loud whoosh that sounded like flames. He decided he didn’t want to know, and since no one was yelling for him he ducked his head to press his forehead to Xichen’s, winding an arm around his waist to pull him as close as possible. 

“Welcome to the crazy, then,” Nie Mingjue said, captivated, and kissed him to the sound of a realm full of life and laughter, his brothers happy and healthy, and his sect thriving and just a little bit on fire.