Running through Cloud Recesses isn’t something Wei Wuxian makes a habit of these days— but Lan Xichen’s features had solidified until he looked like a jade statue in truth, and Lan Zhan’s expression had frozen as well. Urgency flits through Wei Wuxian’s soul and adrenaline keeps his feet light as he darts across the mountain, Chenqing clenched tightly in his hand.
No one stops him, though— aside from a few interested glances, Wei Wuxian is left alone in his haste. His feet lead him to the Library Pavilion and he comes to a halt outside of it to catch his breath, knowing better than to burst in like a hurricane even with Lan Xichen’s permission.
The truce between himself and Lan Qiren feels fragile, even though Wei Wuxian knows it’s not. The older man had— if not welcomed him to Cloud Recesses— at least grudgingly accepted his presence.
He takes a breath, then steps inside.
“Teacher Lan?” Wei Wuxian calls out, keeping his voice as respectful as possible as he steps down the stairs. “Xichen-ge gave me permission, I swear.”
A rustle from behind the stacks makes Wei Wuxian look over— Lan Qiren emerges, a brow raised.
“Then why has my nephew sent you?” Lan Qiren asks, and Wei Wuxian bows, then holds Chenqing up in answer.
“I have to play a song for you,” Wei Wuxian begins, and though he knows that Lan Qiren has doubts about his methods, there is no reaction to the dizi in his hand.
Lan Qiren hmphs. “Play,” he demands, and waits with his hands behind his back.
Wei Wuxian takes a moment to remember the tune, then lifts the dizi to his lips. The song— Clarity, Lan Zhan had called it— is difficult, but Wei Wuxian’s memory for music is good. The sound drifts through the forbidden section clearly, and some of the tension eases from Lan Qiren’s face as he listens.
Perhaps I should learn this, Wei Wuxian thinks, then watches closely as he begins the section that had made Lan Xichen and Lan Zhan turn to statues.
Lan Qiren goes still.
Wei Wuxian lowers the dizi from his lips.
“Again,” Lan Qiren demands, his face tight. Wei Wuxian obeys and Lan Qiren closes his eyes and listens intently, a frown on his face. It is hard to translate a hum to music notes but Wei Wuxian does his best and when he finishes, Lan Qiren stares at him. “Where did you hear this?”
“A-Jue said that Lan Zhan was playing Clarity wrong,” Wei Wuxian says truthfully, spinning Chenqing in his hand with his nerves. All three of them reacted badly— what is this? “Which we all know is impossible, but then Nie Huaisang agreed with him, and hummed what I just played.” Wei Wuxian shrugs. “Then I was sent to you.”
Lan Qiren’s lips tighten into a scowl, eyes distant. The older man is silent as Wei Wuxian watches him, then lets out a low sigh.
“Come,” Lan Qiren says, then turns back into the depths of the library. Wei Wuxian follows, curiosity surging through him.
Lan Qiren collects a slim tome from a shelf and settles himself at the guqin that Wei Wuxian has just noticed, then opens the book. He flips through the pages for a moment before he finds what he is looking for.
“Listen,” Lan Qiren says, then begins to play.
At first, all Wei Wuxian hears is music he is already familiar with— but Lan Qiren keeps playing, and his eyes widen in recognition.
“That’s it!” Wei Wuxian cries out, then darts forward and tugs the book from the stand. “‘The Collection of Turmoil’?” he asks, and when he looks up, Lan Qiren’s face could have been carved from stone.
Wei Wuxian offers the book back immediately, but Lan Qiren holds up a hand, then stands. “Come with me.” His voice has the chill of a winter wind, and Wei Wuxian shudders in response.
Wei Wuxian peers around Lan Zhan’s shoulder as Lan Qiren and Lan Xichen listen to Nie Huaisang’s story, A-Jue carefully tucked into Lan Zhan’s bed for his nap.
It is still shocking to see Chifeng-Zun as a child— Wei Wuxian had been terrified when Lan Xichen had first asked him and Lan Zhan to watch over the child who would become Chifeng-Zun. How had it happened? Could it be reversed? Would Chifeng-Zun remember his time as A-Jue if it was? Wei Wuxian had pondered those questions over and over, even as he’d treated little A-Jue the same way that he would have treated his own junior disciples.
But Lan Zhan is a solid presence in front of him, and Wei Wuxian rests his chin on a strong shoulder as they listen.
“Jin Guangyao said that it would be helpful for me to know Clarity too,” Nie Huaisang says, hiding his slight frown behind the ever-present fan. “Did I get it wrong? Did I hurt Da-ge?” His eyes dart between Lan Qiren and Lan Xichen, who are both thin-lipped in a way that Wei Wuxian has never seen before.
“Young Master Nie,” Lan Qiren replies slowly, watching as Lan Xichen stares down at the sleeping child. “What Jin Guangyao taught you was not the Song of Clarity.”
Nie Huaisang goes still. “What was it?” he asks, and Wei Wuxian has never seen the resemblance between this man and his older brother more than he does at this moment. Lan Qiren turns to Wei Wuxian and holds out his hand.
“It is a passage from this,” Lan Qiren begins, taking the Collection of Turmoil from Wei Wuxian. “A slow acting poison when played with spiritual power.”
Wei Wuxian feels Lan Zhan’s spine go rigid and leans heavily against him in reassurance. After a breath, Lan Zhan relaxes.
“...poison,” Nie Huaisang murmurs, staring down at the musical notations. “And he made me play it for my brother—” The man’s voice cracks and Wei Wuxian blinks and looks away.
But his gaze lands on Lan Xichen, and Wei Wuxian sucks in a startled breath.
He has never seen such naked agony before— Lan Xichen sits heavily on the edge of the bed and sighs, and it is a low and terrible sound.
“I did this,” Lan Xichen whispers, and Wei Wuxian wonders if he knows he is speaking aloud. “I taught Jin Guangyao the Song of Clarity—”
“Xichen,” Lan Qiren snaps, his face tight with anger. “It is as impossible for you to teach Clarity wrongly as it is impossible for Wangji to play it wrongly. What Jin Guangyao did is not your responsibility.”
“This book—” Nie Huaisang looks up, stares from Lan Qiren to Lan Xichen to Lan Zhan. “It was in the Forbidden Section, right?”
Lan Qiren inclines his head, and Nie Huaisang’s shoulders draw up to his ears.
“How could Jin Guangyao have reached it, then?” Nie Huaisang looks between them all desperately, and Wei Wuxian can see the way the other man is trying to find a different answer, a better one.
But he clears his throat, and suffers the weight of every eye in the room.
“Jin Guangyao went undercover in Nightless City,” Wei Wuxian says softly. “And he was very successful. He was able to find Wen Ruohan’s hidden chamber and memorize maps to send to Carp Tower—” Wei Wuxian breaks off as Lan Xichen’s eyes close. But he takes a breath and continues. “After that, this chamber would have been easy to access.”
There is silence in the Jingshi as Wei Wuxian’s words ring out. Nie Huaisang is pale, hands white-knuckled where they grip the Collection of Turmoil.
“Then when Da-ge said that Jin Guangyao was laughing at him,” Nie Huaisang began slowly, staring from the book to his brother and back, “and refused to help him—” Lan Xichen makes a soft sound and Nie Huaisang cuts himself off.
“Jin Guangyao had orchestrated the qi deviation, and was pleased to witness its effects.” Lan Xichen’s words drip like ice from his lips and Wei Wuxian is suddenly, deeply grateful that he has never incurred Clan Leader Lan's true wrath. Lan Xichen stands in a rush of motion and Wei Wuxian is stunned at how quickly all emotion is removed from the other man's face.
“Wuxian, Wangji,” Lan Xichen begins, a polite smile on his lips, his amber eyes as hard as flint, “please continue to watch over A-Jue.” Wei Wuxian inclines his head wordlessly. “Uncle, A-Sang, come with me.”
The room empties quickly, and Nie Qiuyue sticks her head inside once they're gone, curiosity written on her face.
“What happened?” she asks, and Wei Wuxian lets out a low breath, then sinks onto the bed at A-Jue’s feet.
“I think Xichen-ge might be about to commit murder,” he says lightly, but Lan Zhan’s gaze scorches into his side and Wei Wuxian grimaces. “Ah, fine.” He looks up as Nie Qiuyue kneels at the side of the bed, her hand on A-Jue’s forehead. “They have the proof that Jin Guangyao caused the deviation.”
Rage courses over the woman's face before it is locked away and Wei Wuxian understands. No one deserves to have a deviation thrust upon them— and though Wei Wuxian had overheard enough conversations over the past month to realize that Chifeng-Zun’s deviation was almost inevitable, for Jin Guangyao to have purposefully sped it up… He shakes his head.
A-Jue sleeps on, peaceful and unaware.
Everything happens quickly after that.
A-Jue is left with Lan Zhan and Wei Wuxian more in the following days; Lan Xichen and Nie Huaisang deep in letters to Carp Tower and the Unclean Realm, Cloud Recesses bustling with activity for the first time in a long time.
Wei Wuxian tries to distract the child as much as he can— Lan Zhan’s rabbits are usually a successful diversion, but today A-Jue is tired and sad, and upset, and trying his very best to hide it.
“What’s wrong, A-Jue?” Wei Wuxian asks, worried. Lan Zhan has covered the boy in rabbits and there has been no answering giggle, no uncontrolled wiggling as the noses tickle his skin— A-Jue lays there, then turns his face away.
“Was I bad?” he asks softly, and Wei Wuxian’s heart shatters in his chest.
“Oh, no baobei,” he replies instantly, and it doesn’t matter if this child is Chifeng-Zun or not, Wei Wuxian gathers him up in his arms and hugs tightly. “Of course not. Why would you think that?”
Wei Wuxian meets Lan Zhan’s gaze over the untidy tail of A-Jue’s hair and sees his own concern mirrored in golden eyes.
“Lan Huan hasn’t come to see me,” A-Jue mumbles against Wei Wuxian’s shoulder, arms tight around his waist.
Wei Wuxian goes still, because— Lan Xichen and Lan Qiren have been locked in discussions concerning Jin Guangyao, and Nie Huaisang has returned to Qinghe—
A motion catches his eye as Lan Zhan sends off a messenger butterfly.
Wei Wuxian loosens his grip on A-Jue and pulls back to aim a smile towards the boy. “Ah, don’t be upset,” he says lightly, then flicks the tip of A-Jue’s nose. “Xichen-ge is the Clan Leader, that’s all. He’s just busy right now.”
A-Jue wrinkles his nose at Wei Wuxian, but his expression lightens. “So…” he says slowly, glancing between the two of them. “He’s still my friend?”
Wei Wuxian gasps, mock-offended. “He better be!” A-Jue tumbles off of his lap and scatters the unsuspecting bunnies as Wei Wuxian attacks him, reaching out to swat at the hands tickling his ribs. “Or else I’ll have to become your best friend!”
“No!” A-Jue cries out, finally laughing. “I don’t want you to be my best friend!”
“Oh?” Wei Wuxian replies, merciless in his attack. Lan Zhan watches them fondly, but makes no move to protect the child. “Who else would it be?”
“A-Sang!” A-Jue says, giggling. “Or Wangji-xiong!” He sticks his tongue out. “Not you!”
“The disrespect!” Wei Wuxian laments, and pulls back to put a hand over his heart. “I have cooked for you with my own hands and this is how I’m repaid?”
“Wangji-xiong is a better cook,” A-Jue says primly, then darts out of range of Wei Wuxian’s reach, hiding on Lan Zhan’s other side. “It’s true!”
Wei Wuxian chuckles quietly, settling back and allowing A-Jue to get away from him. “Oh, fine,” he says carelessly, “I see how it is.”
A-Jue peeks out from behind Lan Zhan, then comes closer once he realizes that Wei Wuxian is done chasing him. He collapses between them, head propped on Lan Zhan’s knees.
“Tired?” Lan Zhan asks, and A-Jue hums in reply, then yawns. “Do not sleep yet,” Lan Zhan warns, and A-Jue sits up with a frown. But Lan Zhan inclines his head to the edge of the field, and Wei Wuxian and A-Jue both turn to look.
Lan Xichen comes towards them, a slight smile on his lips as he takes in the picture the three of them make.
“I must apologize for my lateness,” Lan Xichen begins, then bows solemnly to A-Jue. “May I still join you?”
The smile that bursts across A-Jue’s lips makes Wei Wuxian’s chest hurt from the sight of it— A-Jue launches himself upright and grasps Lan Xichen’s hand.
“Yes,” A-Jue says forcefully, then drags Lan Xichen to the tree they have been leaning against. “Come and sit with us.”
Wei Wuxian can see the strain in Lan Xichen’s eyes, the lines of exhaustion that frame his mouth; he glances towards Lan Zhan, who meets his gaze evenly.
Of course he’s exhausted, Wei Wuxian thinks to himself, turning back to watch as Lan Xichen allows himself to be manhandled by a child. His best friend tried to kill Chifeng-Zun… and almost succeeded. A-Jue climbs into Lan Xichen’s lap like it is his right and Lan Xichen laughs; a bright, lovely sound of surprise that rings through the field.
Lam Xichen draws his knees up and wraps his arms around A-Jue’s thin form, his body forming a cage around the child as A-Jue buries his face into Lan Xichen’s neck. A slender hand passes over A-Jue’s hair gently and Wei Wuxian turns away, then scoots closer to Lan Zhan.
He reaches out and twines their fingers together, pleased when Lan Zhan pulls his hand into his lap.
“Xichen-ge?” Wei Wuxian asks; a soft hum is his response. “Have you decided what to do?”
Lan Xichen sighs, but meets Wei Wuxian’s gaze when he looks over. A-Jue is sound asleep— he sleeps so much, Wei Wuxian worries momentarily, I think he’s sleeping more now— his hands form little fists in Lan Xichen’s robes.
“It is done,” Lan Xichen says heavily. “The order to arrest Jin Guangyao for plotting to assassinate a Clan Leader was sent out by Jin Guangshan this morning.”