A cool breeze passing by, pushing along the clouds in the clear blue sky. A soft tinkle of a bell in the distance, playfully dancing from where it hangs. The Yunmeng brothers stroll up the path towards Gusu with unhurried steps, bantering and joking with each other with familiar ease. After the Guanyin Temple incident, both Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian eloped from the place to continue with their adventure. Months later, they return back to their hometown to settle their clan affairs while trying to find ways to meet up with each other as much as they can.
“I wonder if Lan Qiren knows that I’m coming over. He didn’t seem too happy to see me when I visited a while back.” Wei Wuxian ponders as he walks with his arms crossed behind his head.
“Of course he doesn’t seem too happy to see you.” Jiang Cheng scoffs, “What do you expect for stealing his precious Hánguāng-jūn from underneath his nose?”
“It seems unfair though,” Wei Wuxian pouts, “How is it that he is okay with the arranged marriage between you and Zéwú-jūn but is entirely against me and Lan Zhan being together.”
“It’s simple,” Jiang Cheng smirks, “He likes me better.”
The reason why the brothers are on their way to Gusu is because of a certain letter written to Jiang Cheng by a certain someone. That someone is his arranged husband-to-be, Lan Xichen. When they were young, the Gusu clan and Yunmeng clan decided to get the two of them engaged to be married once they reach a certain age as a way to unite both prestigious clans into one. The people of both clans will be able to do trades in each other’s province and are given the permission to do business with each other. The clans kept the engagement a secret from others for fear of their own safety from the Wen Clan. The wedding would have taken place soon after the demise of the Wen Clan but Jiang Cheng insisted on having to rebuild his clan from scratch to bring dignity back into his family name. And then came the incident at Guanyin Temple, which drove Lan Xichen into seclusion following the deaths of his two sworn brothers.
After months of seclusion, the two clans decided that it is time to prepare for the wedding. After three months of preparation, Lan Xichen wrote a letter to Jiang Cheng, requesting for a meeting to talk about the marriage with him. Jiang Cheng has received multiple courtship gifts by Lan Xichen throughout the years and for him to receive just a letter was odd. After discussing with Wei Wuxian about the situation, Jiang Cheng sent a letter to Gusu about their arrival in two day’s time. And now, Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian are on their way to meet with the two Jade Princes.
“Are you sure about this, Xiong-zhang?” The younger Lan asks.
“Mn, Wangji.” The elder Lan sighs wistfully, “It’s the proper way.”
The Two Jades of Gusu stood under the one magnolia tree with low hanging branches, surrounded by the hundreds of pine trees in the area, watching the scenery around them. The winds pick up the loose magnolia petals, playing with it, occasionally dropping one or two on them before floating away. Rabbits hop and munch happily on their carrots at their feet, nibbling on their robes and dozing off in the cool breeze.
They didn’t have to wait long as they heard the tinkling laughter of Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng’s grumpy nagging coming up from the path below them. Lan Xichen’s lips tilt a little at the end when he hears Jiang Cheng’s voice. Lan Xichen took a deep breath and sighs out slowly. This would make it harder for him.
A few minutes pass by and they see the two brothers head towards them. There’s Wei Wuxian, aloof and jovial. And there’s Jiang Cheng, stoic and professional. The Twin Jades greeted their guests with a formal bow, receiving one back from the Yunmeng brothers. When they straighten up, Lan Xichen smiles at the two of them with his hands behind his back.
“I hope your journey to Gusu hasn’t been a bother for the both of you,” Lan Xichen inquires.
“Having Wei Wuxian as your travelling companion is a bother by itself. The times we had to stop our journey for him to sample all kinds of wine is countless. I may have to put a leash on him whenever we are out and about.” Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes at Wei Wuxian.
“Hey,” Wei Wuxian pouts, “I’m not a dog. I don’t need a leash, I’ll be good. You can ask Lan Zhan about the times we went on an adventure together.” Wei Wuxian turns his focus on the younger Lan with a smile on his face, “I was a good boy. I behaved well, didn’t I, Lan Zhan?”
The tips of Lan Zhan’s ears tinged red as he nods solemnly at his Wei Ying. He was, indeed, a good boy.
Lan Xichen looks at Wangji and smiles softly, seeing his reaction to Wei Wuxians words affect him so much. Lan Xichen is happy to see his brother have the life that he can have. He sighs again before turning to his guests.
“I apologize for the lack of explanation in the letter, Jiang-zongzhu, as it is a message sent at the last minute. There is something I have to discuss with you in private.”
Jiang Cheng frowns at the formal tone Lan Xichen used to talk to him and nods in response. “Shall we retreat to Hanshi then?”
Lan Xichen bows slightly for his guests to walk with him. Jiang Cheng walks alongside Lan Xichen while Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji proceed behind them. Wei Wuxian sidles closer to Lan Wangji, sticking a tongue out and making all sorts of faces at his soulmate, his hands hooked behind his back. Lan Wangji ignores him but a slight upturn of his lips shows that he is amused by Wei Ying’s antics. Jiang Cheng and Lan Xichen kept a respectable gap between them as they walked the path up to Hanshi. Neither of them knew what to say or do to break the tension between them.
“You look well, Jiang-zongzhu,” Lan Xichen says passingly.
“And so do you, Zéwú-jūn. Seems like seclusion did something good for you.” Jiang Cheng replies.
Jiang Cheng had his eyes on the path and so he missed the wry look Lan Xichen had on his face when he mentioned seclusion. Once again, they ended up in an awkward silence as they continued on the path.
Lan Xichen opens the door to Hanshi and gestures for his guests to enter before him. As he shut the door, the three of them sat around the table, waiting for the host to settle down himself. Lan Xichen smoothes out his clothes around him as he sits down while Lan Wangji pours tea for the four of them.
“I apologize once again for the last minute request, Jiang-zongzhu.” Lan Xichen bows slightly at Jiang Cheng, “It is about our wedding.”
“What about it?” Jiang Cheng frowns.
Lan Xichen hesitates for a while as he eyes Wei Wuxian sitting beside Jiang Cheng. “It is something that we need to discuss privately. Maybe Wei-gongzi would like to spend some time with Wangji?”
“If it is about our wedding then we can discuss it in front of Wei Wuxian and Hánguāng-jūn. Do you not trust them enough, Zéwú-jūn?” Jiang Cheng asks.
“Ah,” Lan Xichen falters, “It’s not that. I—” He sighs out loud before nodding, “If it’s fine with you then I will discuss it with you now.”
There was a moment of silence except for the occasional chirpings of the birds and the gentle breeze. The tree branches dance lazily on the windblown, lush gardens.
“I am sorry to say this to you now, Jiang-Zongzhu, but I can’t marry you.”
Lan Xichen had lowered his gaze when he uttered the foul words, not wanting to see the disappointment and rage brewing in Jiang Cheng’s eyes. He knew that if he were to see those eyes, he would falter even more and be rendered speechless by him. Lan Xichen took in a deep breath, steeling himself for the upcoming outrage from the Yunmeng Brothers, and gazed loftily at Jiang Cheng.
“I cannot marry you, Jiang-zongzhu.”
Wei Wuxian sputters, “But why? I thought you both were—”
“Seeing as how Wangji and Wei-gongzi are involved with each other,” Lan Xichen interrupts with a smile, “It makes no sense for me to marry someone who will not be able to bear me an heir. It will be unfair for my Uncle, who brought us up with expectations of a future for the both of us.”
“Then what about Jiang Cheng?” Wei Wuxian retorts, “Isn’t it unfair for him too?! The wedding is less than a month from now! Three months of preparation had gone by and you didn’t think to call off the wedding back then?!”
“I don’t understand.” Jiang Cheng finally speaks with controlled anger, “There wasn’t any issue with our arrangement for years. Why now?”
“I don’t expect you to understand nor to accept the situation at hand immediately, Jiang-zongzhu,” Lan Xichen smiles, “but circumstances have made it that we are unsuited for each other and it is more logical for us to not carry on with the wedding.”
“Circumstances?” Wei Wuxian scoffs, “So you’re saying that my bond with Lan Zhan is the reason why you two cannot marry? So if we were to break our bond, the two of you can marry?”
Lan Wangji raises a panicked look at Wei Wuxian and then his brother when Wei Wuxian mentions the breaking of their bond. Lan Xichen subtly pats his brother on the knee before fixing his attention to Wei Wuxian.
“Irregardless of the fact that you are bonded with Wangji, Wei-gongzi, I still cannot marry Jiang-zongzhu.” Lan Xichen states firmly, “We are both clan leaders, the future of the clan rests upon us. I apologize, once again, for the lack of—”
Lan Xichen was interrupted by Jiang Cheng’s sudden movement. Jiang Cheng had gotten up to his feet and was striding purposefully towards the door when he stopped to regard Lan Xichen.
“I will return the gifts you have given me to you.”
“There is no need—”
“Since it makes no sense for me to even keep any of it because, obviously, we are not compatible with each other. You are right. I am a man and I am unable to bear you a child. You should give it to the women that your Uncle has chosen for you. It makes no sense for you to give me all those gifts for years, Zéwú-jūn, so I will return those gifts to you.” Jiang Cheng had balled his hands into fists as he faced Lan Xichen. “It makes no sense for you to court me all those years only to have you call off the wedding because of circumstances. It makes no sense for you to sit there and tell me that with a smile on your face because it is unfair to your Uncle.”
Lan Xichen maintains a stoic form as he stares at Jiang Cheng.
“I would have thought that being in seclusion would have cleared your mind and helped you make better decisions. Unfortunately, it has not.” Jiang Cheng sneered down at Lan Xichen, Zidian crackling slightly in his fists, “It would have made better sense if you were to perish with Jin Guangyao in the temple back then instead of having this brainless discussion.”
“Jiang Wanyin!” Lan Wangji’s voice rang out in the Hanshi.
Jiang Cheng turns his sneer at the younger Lan before stomping out the door. Wei Wuxian looks at the Lan brothers with concern before getting up to chase after his brother down the path.
Birds chirp happily in the gentle breeze, the trees dancing lazily around them.
Lan Wangji turns to his brother with concern when he hears the suppressed choking noises coming from him. Lan Xichen sat there, in the wake of Jiang Cheng’s parting words, clutching painfully at his abdomen.
“Sizhui!” Lan Jingyi grins happily as he sees their waiter bringing food over, “Our food is here!”
“I can see that.” Lan Sizhui smiles fondly at his friend’s enthusiastic response.
The waiter sets their bowls of dishes in front of them and tells them to enjoy themselves before leaving to take orders from another customer. Lan Jingyi automatically reaches for the chicken and brings it to his mouth, tearing it’s meat from the bone and humming his satisfaction from the taste it brought to his palate.
“Does it taste good?” Sizhui asks as he scoops mostly carrots into his bowl of rice.
“Ift dificiouth!” Lan Jingyi says with his mouth full of food.
“Okay, okay.” Sizhui cringe, “Don’t talk with your mouth full. If Hánguāng-jūn were to see that, he would have made you do handstands once you reach the front gate.”
Lan Jingyi pulls a face at Sizhui, causing him to giggle as they continue with their food. When a certain golden clothed boy enters the tavern, Jingyi raises a hand to wave him over to their table.
“What took you so long? Did you get lost along the way?” Lan Jingyi taunts the boy as he sits down on the opposite end of him.
Jin Ling rolls his eyes at Lan Jingyi, “I’m not the one with bad navigation.” He sneers.
“That’s enough.” Lan Sizhui raises a hand to stop Jingyi from sniping back at their friend. He turns to smile at Jin Ling, “We’ve already ordered for you. Help yourself.”
Jin Ling looks down at the table full of vegetables and balk. His eyes twinkle when he sees the plate full of chicken and reach out to pick one when a pair of chopsticks stops his hands in their tracks. Looking up at the hand holding the chopsticks, Jin Ling sees Lan Jingyi glaring at him.
“Get your own plate of chicken.”
“Jingyi,” Lan Sizhui chastises his friend for his greediness.
Lan Jingyi pouts dramatically as he pulls back his chopsticks and munch grumpily on his chicken. Jin Ling smiles haughtily at the boy and helps himself to a chicken.
“Anyways, how are things for you back home? We haven’t heard much from your side for quite some time and we were concerned.” Lan Sizhui asked.
Jin Ling scoffs, setting his bowl of rice and chopsticks down with a thump. “You mean after your precious Zéwú-jūn broke my Jiujiu’s heart? Things are going well,” He sneers again, “Jiujiu is as angry and fierce as ever, thanks to him. He’s not the benevolent despot people say he is, it seems.”
“You!” Lan Jingyi slams his bowl of rice and chopsticks down, “Your Jiujiu isn’t a good man either! What good man tells another that it would have been better if he died instead!”
“The kind of man who was rejected months before his wedding!” Jin Ling rebukes back angrily.
Both boys scramble to get out of their chairs only to be pushed back by the middle one.
“Alright, enough, That’s enough!” Lan Sizhui sighs heavily, “Stop making a scene, will you? You are both future leaders of the clan, please behave accordingly to it.”
Jin Ling and Lan Jingyi roll their eyes at each other. Picking up their bowls of rice, they ate without facing one another. Lan Sizhui sighs again.
“Jiang Zongzhu has been keeping himself busy, it seems? I heard new disciples are coming in to be trained under him?” Lan Sizhui inquired curiously.
Jin Ling’s expression of haughty attitude turns despondent as he sighs out his exhaustion. “Jiujiu has been training the disciples under strict hands when they arrived weeks back. Most of them are thinking of quitting the clan and joining Lanling Jin because of him.”
“Isn’t that good news for you?” Lan Jingyi says off-handedly.
“It’s good for Lanling Jin but bad for Yunmeng Jiang!” Jin Ling scowls, “People are already talking bad about Jiujiu and his foul temper, saying that he is not the good Leader Yunmeng Jiang needs. They are saying that they need a leader that knows how to treat their people right and Jiujiu is not the person!”
He growls to himself in anger. “I have people coming up to me, begging me to talk to him, asking him for leniency but I can’t do much for him! Every time someone brings up Zéwú-jūn’s name and how it would have been better to be his disciple instead of Sāndú Shèngshǒu, Jiujiu would throw that person out and yell at him to go and train there instead. I bet you Zéwú-jūn is living the time of his life, flaunting off his new bride while my Uncle is in Yunmeng, suffering!”
Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi gave each other a troubled glance as they listened to Jin Ling rant about the rejected marriage of their esteemed Zéwú-jūn to Sāndú Shèngshǒu. Lan Jingyi opens his mouth to say something but stops when he sees Lan Sizhui shake his head. Lan Sizhui then turns to Jin Ling, giving him a supportive smile.
“We feel bad for Sāndú Shèngshǒu, we do. It is true, what Zéwú-jūn did was wrong but his act did not bear any good for him either. He’s been by himself for most of the time and hasn’t been to class either. He speaks about marrying for an heir but we hear nothing after the incident with your Uncle. There is no new bride to be flaunted at all.”
Jin Ling gave Lan Sizhui a dry look as he shovels the last of his rice and chicken into his mouth. “You should learn how to lie better because I don’t believe any of that.”
“It is true,” Lan Sizhui says sadly, “Zéwú-jūn hasn’t been well and we worry for him. I believe the incident has left him in a bad state of mind as well.”
Jin Ling once again slams his bowl and chopsticks down hard. “Well, he has no one else to blame but himself.” Jin Ling stood and threw a few silvers on the table. “It was great catching up with you. However, I have things to do like comfort my Uncle from your Zéwú-jūn’s stupidity. Goodbye.”
They watch as Young Mistress Jin stomps off from the tavern and out into the public. Lan Sizhui watches on sadly as Lan Jingyi helps himself to the chicken again.
“Annoying brat.” Lan Jingyi munches on his food, “Well, at least he paid for our food.”
The two boys walk up the path to Gusu, their stomachs full and their moods happy. Lan Sizhui stops by the grass patch where the rabbits roam and play and gives them some carrots and lettuces to eat. They then proceed on up the path to the school when they see Hánguāng-jūn exits the kitchen with a tray filled with bowls of food. They stop walking to greet him politely.
“Hánguāng-jūn,” Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi bow to the man.
Lan Wangji paused to tilt his head down to the two boys in return.
Lan Sizhui saw the tray and was curious, “Are those for Zéwú-jūn?” He asked.
“Mn,” Lan Wangji replies.
Lan Sizhui perks up slightly, an idea forming in his mind. “Hánguāng-jūn, since you are heading towards Zéwú-jūn’s place, may we follow as well? It’s been weeks since we saw him and we were worried.”
“We miss him, Hánguāng-jūn.” Lan Jingyi pouts.
Lan Wangji studies the two of them for a moment, his gaze shifting from Lan Sizhui to Lan Jingyi, thinking to himself. After a few moments of weighing the pros and cons, Lan Wangji nods his assent and walks down the path to his brother’s place. The juniors grin happily at each other before following Hánguāng-jūn to Hanshi.
The path to Hanshi was calm and serene, with the noise of the forest blooming around them. Lan Wangji makes his way down the path with slow, calculated steps. It is a bad idea to have anyone see his brother at the moment but he figured that he needs all the support that he can get.
Once they reach the entrance to Hanshi, Lan Wangji gestures for one of the juniors to open the door as his hands are full. Lan Jingyi rushes forth to knock on the door lightly before sliding it open. Lan Wangji gracefully enters with the two juniors behind him. Lan Wanji brought the tray of food towards Lan Xichen’s chambers and set it on the table side.
“Xiong-zhang,” Lan Wangji speaks in a low tone, “I have brought food. You have company as well.”
Lan Jingyi and Lan Sizhui could see that Zéwú-jūn was in bed, his body covered in his silken blanket, the smell of medicine permeating the air around them. Their line of sight was covered by Lan Wangji’s big form and had a hard time catching a glance of their Zéwú-jūn’s face. Anxious, they shift their bodies to the left and right, trying to look around Hánguāng-jūn but failed.
“Company?” A frail voice spoke, catching the two juniors by surprise.
When Hánguāng-jūn moved aside to show who their company was, Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi couldn’t help but gasp in surprise when the figure in bed turned his head to face them. It is when the figure smiled softly at them did they realize that the sickly figure in bed was none other than their clan leader.
The Zéwú-jūn they remember, all healthy and strong, looks nothing like the one in bed in front of them. He had a pallid complexion, yet there were spidery blue and green veins overlapping his pale skin. Zéwú-jūn had only his first layer of clothes on and yet, he seems to be drowning in his own clothes. He tried to sit up on his own, but he was too weak to do so, and almost fell backwards.Lan Wangji quickly sets the food down to help his brother but before could do anything, Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi rushed forth to help their leader sit up on his bed before sitting on the floor, in front of his feet.
“Zéwú-jūn…” Lan Jingyis’ voice trembled.
“Jingyi, Sizhui, how have you been?” Lan Xichen smiles weakly at them, “Are you doing well in class?”
“Zéwú-jūn, what is… what happened to you?” Lan Sizhui asks worriedly.
Lan Xichen snorts softly through his nose. “You are avoiding the question. Are you doing well in class?” He coughs lightly.
They nod their heads, looking up at him with worry in their eyes. “Classes have been good. We’ve just returned from a scheduled night hunt with the students. We had our lunch down at Caiyi Town with Jin Ling before returning.”
“Really?” Lan Xichen's sincere eyes twinkle lightly, “And how is our Jin-gongzi doing back home?”
“Well, he’s back to being Young Mistress Jin once again,” Lan Jingyi mentions off-handedly. When he sees Lan Wangji glare at him, he bites his tongue and scratches the back of his neck with a nervous laugh, “I mean, he’s doing good. Lanling Jin might be getting new disciples all thanks to Sāndú Shèngshǒu.”
Lan Sizhui pinches Lan Jingyi’s thigh when he sees Lan Xichen’s smile fade slightly when he hears the name.
“Oh?” Lan Xichen speaks airily, “And why is that?”
Lan Sizhui ignores the pinch and continues on. “Jin Ling said that Sāndú Shèngshǒu has been very strict with his disciples since they arrived weeks back. They mentioned that it would have been better if they were to train under you, Zéwú-jūn, and then Sāndú Shèngshǒu kicked them out of the clan. People have been talking about wanting to change their leader for Yunmeng Jiang too—”
“Jin Ling said that everything is fine back home.” Lan Sizhui interrupts, giving Lan Jingyi a stink eye, “Only a few rumors being tossed around, here and there.”
Lan Xichen stares at nothing, lost in his memories of the discussion they had. He takes in a deep breath before exhaling it out slowly. The juniors look at each other with wide eyes as they hear the rattling sound coming from Zéwú-jūn's body as he exhales.
It was the only way, Lan Xichen tells himself. It is not right.
“It would have made better sense if you were to perish with Jin Guangyao in the temple back then instead of having this brainless discussion.”
Lan Xichen suddenly breaks out into a coughing fit, his body hunched forward as he clutches his abdomen in pain, making the juniors jump up to their feet in surprise. In an instant, Lan Wangji was there to prop his brother’s body up, holding him tight against him.
“Leave,” He ordered without looking away from his brother.
The two juniors hesitate. It was when Lan Wangji fixed his glare on to the both of them did they leave the room and out the doors of Hanshi. Lan Wangji lets his brother drink the herbal tea Shufu had given him and pushes his brother back into bed lightly, not wanting to bruise his brother’s body any further. Lan Xichen’s breathing labored slightly as the move took a toll on his energy.
“Rest, Xiong-zhang.” Lan Wangji covers his brother’s body with the blanket. He picks up the tea cup and, after making sure that his brother is fully covered, leaves the room to get more herbal tea.
That night, Lan Qiren and Lan Wangji headed towards Hanshi with heavy thoughts in their mind. They had discussed with each other about the situation and figured that something has to be done soon. Or else…
Shufu taps his knuckles on the door lightly. “Xichen, it’s Shufu. Wangji is with me as well.”
Lan Xichen was sitting at his table, writing on a piece of paper when he heard his Uncle’s voice call out from outside Hanshi. He gingerly got up from his seat and was about to walk to the door when his abdomen began to clench hard. The pain was so strong, it forced him to collapse down to his knees as he groaned out his discomfort before blacking out entirely.
Startled by the noise, Lan Wangji moves past Lan Qiren,and slides the door open.
“Xichen!” Lan Qiren yells out just as Lan Wangji rushes in to check on his brother’s vitals.
When he confirms that Lan Xichen had only fainted and that his vitals were the same as this morning, Lan Wangji gathers his brother into his arms and heads to Lan Xichen’s bed chambers, where he deposits his brother into his bed carefully. Lan Qiren sighs sadly as he follows Lan Wangji into the bedchambers, watching his nephews in front of him with a heavy heart.
“His illness is eating him up too quickly.” Lan Qiren says, “We have to do something about it before it consumes him entirely, Wangji.”
Lan Wangji says nothing except to sit by his brother’s side and watch as the spidery veins creep further up his shoulders.
Wei Ying grins mischievously to himself as he climbs the Gusu walls in the middle of the night. He could have just walked up the path to Gusu like any other normal person would have done but Wei Wuxian is not normal himself.
He was in Yunmeng with Jiang Cheng a few days ago when Jin Ling came to visit them, all huffy and fluffed up in anger. When asked what was wrong, he told them about his lunch with Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi. Jiang Cheng had walked away once Jin Ling mentioned Lan Xichen’s name but Wei Wuxian stayed to listen more. When Jin Ling said that the junior Lan’s were worried about their Zéwú-jūn and that there was no bride to flaunt, he became curious. And when he gets curious, it doesn’t go away until he satisfies his curiosity. And that is why he is in Gusu in the middle of the night.
He sneaks down the path to Jingshi, giggling to himself when he passes by the students that were supposed to guard the area. Silently, he creeps up to the entrance to the Jingshi, looking around to make sure no one is around the place. He peeks in between the sliding doors and sees Lan Zhan sitting at his table, reading a book in his night attire. His hair was loose, strands of it hanging down his face from behind his headband as eyes focus on the book in front of him.
Giggling once again, Wei Ying slides the door open quietly. He slides his body in, looking back to see no one nearby and shuts the door. When he turns around to think of a way to pounce on Lan Zhan, he almost yells out in surprise when he sees the man himself standing right in front of him, his hands hooked behind his back.
“Lan Zhan!” He laughs nervously, “You scared me!”
“Why are you here?” Lan Zhan’s low voice asks.
“Ah, ahaha,” Wei Ying smiles, “I missed you. Am I not allowed to come visit you?”
Lan Zhan said nothing but to stare at Wei Ying for quite some time. He then turns away to go sit at his table, reading his book and ignoring Wei Ying.
“Lan Zhan~” Wei Ying pouts, “I said I missed you and this is your attitude towards me?”
Wei Ying goes to sit beside Lan Zhan, who was as still as a rock, and slumps over his table dramatically. “Are you mad at me?”
Lan Zhan says nothing.
“Is this about that time I said something about breaking our bond?”
A page was turned.
“Is it because I didn’t come to visit you after that discussion?” Wei Ying pokes Lan Zhan’s cheeks with his finger. It’s so soft.
Lan Zhan’s eyes continue to read the text.
“Lan Zhan~” Wei Ying whines, “Lan Zhan, talk to me, please~”
Lan Zhan continues to ignore the manchild beside him. Wei Ying straightens up from his slouch and grins at his soulmate.
“Lan Zhan, Can I ask you something? You don’t have to answer me at all. Just blink once for no and twice for yes, okay?”
Lan Zhan doesn’t blink at all.
“Fine,” Wei Ying harrumphs, “Did something happen to your brother? I heard from Jin Ling that the juniors say that they were worried for him. Something happened to him, right?”
Lan Zhan sets his book down and looks at Wei Ying directly in the eyes. Wei Ying grins expectantly at Lan Zhan as he waits for the blink. Lan Zhan continues to stare at him until he blinks slowly.
Wei Ying waits patiently.
Wei Ying’s jaw drops slightly before he scoots closer to Lan Zhan, practically almost climbing onto his lap. “What happened? Was it after the discussion? Is he heartbroken? He’s heartbroken, isn’t he?” Wei Ying smirks.
His smirk fades away when he sees Lan Zhan’s longing gaze trail upon his features, silently worshipping his eyes, nose and lips. For weeks, Lan Zhan didn’t get to see his soulmate and hold him in his arms. For weeks, he’s had nightmares from the time Wei Ying mentioned the breaking of their bond. Lan Zhan raises a finger to lightly touch Wei Ying’s lips, drawing a silent askance to its owner for a taste. Wei Ying smiles lovingly at Lan Zhan and dips his head for a kiss.
When their lips touch, it’s as if something flipped inside of Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan gathers Wei Ying into his arms, their passionate kiss undisturbed by the movement. He gets up and carries Wei Ying into his bedchambers, ignoring Wei Ying’s giggles and his begging for mercy.
If anyone were to walk past the Jingshi, they would have run away in fear due to the amount of animalistic noise the couple made that night.
The next day after breakfast, Wei Ying sat on the patio of Jingshi, just absorbing the scenery and playing with the rabbits when Lan Zhan approached him.
“Ah, Lan Zhan! Want to sit with me and do absolutely nothing?” Wei Ying smiles.
“Follow me,” Lan Zhan instructs.
Lan Zhan turns to walk away, not waiting to see if Wei Ying decides to follow him or not. Curious, Wei Ying gets up from where he sat and follows Lan Zhan. They walk for a few minutes down the path until they are a few feet away from the entrance. Lan Zhan stops walking, causing Wei Ying to almost crash into him, and points at something. Wei Ying leans over his shoulder to see what it is.
Underneath the magnolia tree, on one of the low hanging branches, sat a sickly and pale Lan Xichen. He had his legs crossed but his body was hunched slightly forward, his arms crossed on his knee. He was looking at something in his hands, the wind gently blowing his strands of hair in front of him. His chest rising and falling slowly, as if he would shatter into a million pieces if he were to breathe normally.
Wei Ying steps around Lan Zhan to look at Lan Xichen with unease. He turned to Lan Zhan for an explanation and was surprised to see a teardrop sliding down his cheek.
“Xiong-zhang is sick.” Lan Zhan says softly, “When Jin Guangyao died, when he pushed Xiong-zhang away in Guanyin Temple, he blocked Xiong-zhang’s Qi from flowing. When your Qi gets blocked, no bad flow will exit your body… and no good flow—”
“—Will enter the body.” Wei Ying finishes the sentence with a glance towards Lan Xichen. From afar, he could see the blue and green color of his veins sprawled across his hands and neck. It doesn’t help that his skin was pale, making the colors stand out even more.
“When there is no flow going in and out of your body, deterioration will occur to your core.” Lan Zhan continues.
“Your core gets rotten.” Wei Ying mumbles to himself, “And when your core is rotten, it can turn destructive.”
“We have no idea how to cure him. We have tried everything.” Lan Zhan frowned as he felt more tears fall down his cheeks but he remained impassive, “We’ve consulted every doctor we can find but no one has any questions as to what this is and how to cure it.”
Wei Ying’s face turns serious as he turns to Lan Zhan. “I can go look for more answers. If I can find a way to unblock his Qi—”
“Xiong-zhang told us to give up looking for the cure. He didn’t want us to look for an answer that no one has even heard of.” Lan Zhan turns to Wei Ying, “It is why he rejected the marriage with your brother. He didn’t want him to marry someone who is a certified dead man.”
Lan Xichen sits below the magnolia tree, thinking to himself as he grips on the charm he has in his hand. The sky had turned from a brilliant blue to the pastel orange of sunset as he sat there. Looking down at the charm in his hands, Lan Xichen smiles weakly to himself.
He had commissioned a craftsman to create a beautiful charm for Wanyin as a gift but didn’t have the chance to give it to him. He remembers experiencing the feeling of giddy happiness when the craftsman handed over the charm to him, his first thought being ‘I hope he likes it,’. He was about to have it couriered over to Yunmeng when the incident at Guanyin Temple happened.
Lan Xichen sees a slight glint reflecting from the charm and he looks up in surprise when he sees the full moon greeting him from above. He had lost track of time and didn’t notice that night had fallen upon them. He knew he should go back to his room and rest but he was tired.
He leans against the tree trunk, looking down at the charm again. It reminded him of the many other gifts that he had sent Wanyin throughout the years. He remembered meeting Wanyin for the first time when he was twelve, the day their marriage was arranged. Wanyin had stood behind his father with a slight pout on his face as he glanced at the Lan’s with indignation. His father felt that it was rude. Lan Xichen thought it was cute.
When he was fifteen, he had the chance to speak with Wanyin, alone. The conversation was stilted and awkward but Lan Xichen didn’t give up. He gave Wanyin a painting of a husky that he had drawn, knowing that Wanyin loves dogs, and was delighted when Wanyin showed enthusiasm in receiving it. When they met again a few weeks later, Wanyin was back to his sulky attitude.
When he was eighteen, he gifted Wanyin an amethyst hairpin. He overheard Wanyin telling his sister that his hairpin had broken when he was training and had asked for his sister’s hairpin as a replacement until he’s able to buy another. Lan Xichen went out to town and found the perfect hairpin for Wanyin and bought it for him.
Lan Xichen caught a glimpse of the hairpin in Wanyin’s hair a few days later and he couldn’t stop smiling for days.
It was years later when they met again.
When he saw Wanyin amidst the students that had chosen to study at Gusu, he felt his heart constrict a little. Wanyin had grown to be a handsome man yet his attitude hadn't changed at all. When he rolled his eyes at seeing his betrothed in front of him, Lan Xichen’s lips tilted up in a smile. He could feel himself falling further and further for his Wanyin and it scares him.
When Wanyin fought alongside him during the war, he was proud but at the same time, he was scared. He was scared of losing him. He was scared of hearing bad news about him. Whenever he hears Wanyin’s voice or sees him in person, the uneasy feeling he has in his chest loosens.
Lan Xichen remembers everything. He reminisces through it all. His smile turns sad when he remembers the last thing Wanyin had said to him.
"It would have made better sense if you were to perish with Jin Guangyao in the temple back then instead of having this brainless discussion.”
Lan Xichen frowns when he feels the familiar clenching feeling in his abdomen. He starts to cough when he slides off the tree branch to stand. He was about to walk back to his Hanshi when a sudden painful clench below his rib made it impossible for him to take another step. His barking cough became worse as he slid down the tree, clutching at his midriff, trying his hardest to breathe.
He coughs and coughs, his weak body trembling, trying to accommodate his coughing fit when a particular hack brought up a mouthful of blood. Lan Xichen horrifiedly glances down at his bloody hand, gasping for air before coughing again. It was harsh and deep in his throat. He could see spots in his eyes as he coughs and coughs, not noticing that the spidery veins have crawled up his neck. His mind panics. His body slowly gave up from all the exertion. Lan Xichen gasps for air as he coughs up blood, his vision slowly fading away into darkness. His last thought before he loses consciousness was of Wanyin.
The moon watches from above, shining a soft light on the magnolia tree.
Jiang Cheng grumbles slightly to himself as he heads up the Gusu path. He would have known that his brother would go to Gusu after hearing Jin Ling’s idiotic rambles. Jiang Cheng didn’t ask much but he knew that once Wei Wuxian is curious about something, nothing stands in his way to get the answer he was looking for. And now he’s going to Gusu to collect his idiotic brother and go back home. Hopefully, he doesn’t bump into the other idiot.
As he walks past the magnolia tree, he notices a glint of white near the base of the tree. Curious and pissed that a student had stayed out late after curfew, Jiang Cheng goes to approach them.
“Student?” He calls out, “No sneaking out after curfew. Do you not know of that rule?”
“Student?!” Jiang Cheng barks out. “Are you asleep?!”
Still no answer.
Jiang Cheng goes around the front to look at the person. If it was a student he knows, that student will be facing his wrath entirely.
When Jiang Cheng reaches the front, his attitude turns into annoyance when he realizes that it was Lan Xichen. Lan Xichen was slumped sideways, against the tree, his hair covering most of his face. Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes at the man.
“Fancy falling asleep outside after curfew. You made the rules and yet you are the one breaking it.” Jiang Cheng says spitefully, “Of course, you will go against your words, once again.”
Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes and was about to walk off when he frowned at himself. He looks down at Lan Xichen, not seeing any movement coming from the man.
“Zéwú-jūn.” He calls out, “Zéwú-jūn, wake up.”
The man remains impassive.
Jiang Cheng stalks angrily up to the man, sneering down at him. “Zéwú-jūn! Are you dead to the world?!”
When he sees that his shouts did nothing to the man, he knelt down beside him, concerned.
“Lan Xichen? Lan Xichen, can you hear me?” He tries to shake the man only to fall back on the grass when Lan Xichen falls sideways from the tree and down onto the ground.
There was blood, everywhere. Down his mouth, on his clothes. His sunken eyes, closed, against pale skin.
“Lan Huan?! Lan Huan!?” Jiang Cheng tries to shake him awake, hysterically calling out his name. “Lan Huan?! What happened?! Help!! Somebody help!!”
“Lan Huan!?” Jiang Cheng’s voice echoed through the forest of Gusu.
The flower petals bloom and fall, the wind gently picking it up and bringing it along for an adventure in the air. The students chatter and discuss with each other about their grades as they pass by. The clacking sound of the bamboo water fountain breaks the silence of the forest.
Lan Xichen opens his eyes, feeling disorientated for a moment as he tries to remember where he is. When he sees the familiarity of his room, he relaxes further into his bed. He notices that he’s in his inner clothes once again. The last thing he remembered was him losing consciousness, and a voice calling out his name. He knew that it was Wanyin’s voice but that can’t be right. Wanyin is in Yunmeng, he is not in Gusu. Lan Xichen closes his eyes slowly.
He is not in Gusu.
The sound of the door slide open followed by it closing soon after. Footsteps walking from the door to his bedside, the sound of a tray being lowered onto his side table. Lan Xichen frowns a little. Usually when Wangji comes to bring him his food, Wangji is silent and careful about making any loud noises in Hanshi. Maybe…
Lan Xichen opens his eyes and turns it slightly to see who his visitor was. When he saw purple robes wrapped around a fit body, he felt his heart clench in his chest. His eyes trail upwards, following the robes silhouette to the beautiful face of his visitor.
His visitor who is currently glaring at him with folded arms.
“You’re stupid.” Jiang Cheng scowls at him, “You’re the most idiotic and brainless person I’ve ever known in my entire life and I grew up with Wei Wuxian. That says something.”
Lan Xichen swallows faintly as he continues to look at Jiang Cheng’s face. He was afraid that he could be trapped in a hallucinating dream and that his subconscious mind conjured up a realistic version of Jiang Cheng standing in front of him, so he kept his mouth shut and just watched. Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes, uncrossed his arms and flick Lan Xichen on the forehead lightly. Taken aback, Lan Xichen touches the spot that Jiang Cheng had flicked.
“I’m real. If that flick is not enough for you,” He raises his right hand in front of Lan Xichen’s face with zidian crackling on his ring finger, “Would this do?”
You can’t really blame the man. He had just woken up after how many days, disoriented and confused, and he saw Jiang Cheng’s beautiful hand in front of him. Lan Xichen reaches out for the hand, clutching it with both of his own. The crackling from Zidian sputtered and stopped entirely when Lan Xichen pulled it close, his thumb caressing the bare skin with a purpose. When Jiang Cheng sees the spidery veined hands against his own, Jiang Cheng swallows hard, trying his best to not smack Lan Xichen on the head for being so stupid.
Lan Xichen continues to run his thumb over all of Jiang Cheng’s fingers, a soft look on his face as his eyes trail over every little spot and marks on Jiang Cheng’s hands, rubbing it once in a while. He pulls it even closer and hugs the hand to his cheeks, breathing out a soft contented sigh as he did so, not seeing the way Jiang Cheng was looking at him with sadness. The hand on his cheek moved from rubbing against his cheek to holding it softly. The thumb caresses his cheeks with such tenderness, it filled Lan Xichen with such warmth and fuzzy feelings amidst the illness he had. He lifted his head, looked up at Jiang Cheng, and smiled at him. Jiang Cheng huffs a smirk, lets his hand stay there for a moment before pulling it back, ignoring Lan Xichen’s moue of discontent. Jiang Cheng turns to the tray and sets the bowls out of the tray and onto the table.
“Lan Qiren gave me permission to bring your food over to you today instead of Hánguāng-jūn. I think he’s making Hánguāng-jūn distract Wei Wuxian from getting into trouble here.” Jiang Cheng turns to the man, “You’ve been out for a few days. I think it’s better if you bathe before having your food.”
Lan Xichen lets Jiang Cheng continue with what he’s doing, just watching his elegant hands move things around for him. He tries to get up slowly but the cramp in his middle caused him to fall back into bed, groaning softly.
Jiang Cheng tsked under his breath when he saw Lan Xichen struggling to get up. He goes over to put a hand behind his back and the other, on his arms, slowly pushing him up to a sitting position. It was only a short time of movement but Lan Xichen’s laboured breath shows otherwise.
“Such a bother trying to sit up,” Jiang Cheng mutters, “Imagine the trouble of going to the bathtub for a bath.”
Lan Xichen shys away from Jiang Cheng’s hands, wrapping his inner clothes around his body while leaning forward so that his hair will cover his expression from him. This was why he didn’t want to marry Jiang Cheng. For him to find it an inconvenience to care for someone who is weak and useless, he didn’t want Jiang Cheng to have that life. It is unfair for him to do so. Jiang Cheng deserves so much better.
Lan Xichen tries to push himself up from the bed, grunting to himself as his weak legs struggle to hold his weight. It was when he felt an arm wrap around him to lift him up, did he let himself go.
“Stop being so stubborn!” Jiang Cheng chastises him, “I was worried for you since it’s taking such a toll on you just to sit up! It’s not that I was saying that you were the bother! You stubborn man!” Jiang Cheng lifts one of Lan Xichen's arms to hook over his shoulder, giving support to the older man.
Lan Xichen huffs a laugh as they walk to the tub. “I learned it from the best.”
“Say one more word and I’ll dump you in the tub and leave you there.”
Lan Xichen turns to Jiang Cheng with a questioning look. Jiang Cheng took the opportunity to ignore Lan Xichen and walk towards the bathtub, occasionally stopping for Lan Xichen to gather himself before continuing on.
The tub was low leveled, filled with steaming hot water, slightly cooled from the time past. The smell of lemongrass oil permeates the air, leaving the room smelling fresh. There was a stool by the tub where Jiang Cheng brought Lan Xichen over to. With a long sigh, Lan Xichen sat down and slowly raised his arms to untie his clothes but was halted by Jiang Cheng’s hands.
Lan Xichen looks up to see Jiang Cheng blushing slightly as he steps forward to slowly untie his clothes. Jiang Cheng was frowning but it did not hide the trembling of his hands as Lan Xichen watched him with tender eyes. Slowly, Jiang Cheng pushes the layer off one shoulder, taking in a deep breath when he sees the spidery veins all over his body. Jiang Cheng traces one of it with his finger, from the shoulder all the way down his chest, stopping at his heart. Lan Xichen shudders at the feeling, his eyes closed as he gives in to Jiang Cheng’s soft caress. Jiang Cheng continues to trace the veins around the chest, up his neck and then stops on his pale lips. Lan Xichen’s eyes fluttered open, a slight heated look in his eyes as he saw Jiang Cheng stare at his lips.
When Jiang Cheng finally snaps out of it and realizes what he was doing, he clears his throat and backs away from the man sitting in front of him. He peels off Lan Xichen’s clothes and kneels down to help with his bottom wear. Lan Xichen panicked and stopped his hands from pulling it down, watching him with wide eyes.
Jiang Cheng again rolled his eyes and stood up, crossing his arms in front of him. “I’ll let you take it off yourself since you’re so shy. But it’ll make no difference whether I’ll see it or not since I’ll be helping you into the tub and wash you.” He scoffs, “Not that I would want to see it anyways.” He mumbles.
“Wash me?” Lan Xichen spoke in a raspy voice.
“Of course,” Jiang Cheng lets out a sigh through his nose, “You can barely hold yourself up let alone walk a few feet to the bathtub. What makes you think you can wash yourself?
His eyes shining, Lan Xichen tilts his head a little as he asks in a vulnerable tone, “You’ll wash me?”
Jiang Cheng loses his attitude stance in an instant and leans down to cup Lan Xichen’s face in his own hands. He gave the man a soft smile, nodding. He then brings Lan Xichen up to his feet and tells him to hold on to his shoulder tightly as he unties the strings to his bottom. Lan Xichen’s eyes did not leave Jiang Cheng’s face even once, admiring him with all his heart. Jiang Cheng lifts his gaze to Lan Xichen's own gaze, letting the bottom fall without looking at it, respecting the older man’s privacy as he helps Lan Xichen into the tub with no incident.
“Tell me if the water is too hot for you,” Jiang Cheng says, “I’ll adjust it for you.”
Lan Xichen steps into the tub slowly, testing the water temperature before fully immersing himself into it, the water enveloping his entire body to the top of his head. Jiang Cheng quickly leans in to pull Lan Xichen back out, afraid that the water was too hot for him, only to click his tongue when Lan Xichen comes back up with a smile on his face.
“I guess the water is fine, then?”
Lan Xichen nods before waving his hands around in the water. He hears rustling happening behind him, so he looks over his shoulder only to blush when he sees Jiang Cheng disrobing himself down to his inner clothes. Jiang Cheng sets his clothes aside, folds his sleeves all the way up to his biceps and sits down on the stool by the tub. He sees Lan Xichen looking at him and pauses for a moment.
“Why are you so red? Is it the water?” Jiang Cheng asks.
Lan Xichen shakes his head, gulping a little. “You disrobed?”
“Well, I don’t want my clothes to be wet. Come here. I’ll wash your back.” Jiang Cheng picks up a cloth and soaks it in the water.
Lan Xichen turns around to face the front, backing up slowly to where Jiang Cheng sat and stops when his back hits the end of the tub. He hears Jiang Cheng wringing the water from the cloth and holds his breath.
“I’ll wash you now.” Jiang Cheng warns.
When Jiang Cheng lifts his arms and begins washing, Lan Xichen closes his eyes tight as he feels the tears forming. This sharp spoken, ruthless leader is sitting behind him, washing him with a caring and attentive touch. He would scrub lightly at an area and then move on to the next. He would massage the fingers as he pays special attention to his hands, cleaning the dirt under his nails and such.
Jiang Cheng would then move to scrub on his back and shoulders, lifting his hair to let it fall in front so that he wouldn’t pull it by accident. The blue and green veins sprawled across his body made Jiang Cheng feel helpless as he cleans the man. Why was he so stubborn? Why would he think that this was the right thing to do?
Lan Wangji told him the reason why Lan Xichen had decided to call off the wedding and it made him shed tears of anger. There was no bride, there was no issue with an heir. The only issue was his core slowly decomposing because of his blocked Qi and no one has the answer to why it is happening. Jiang Cheng suggested the core switch like he and Wei Wuxian had done but Lan Qiren said that it is too dangerous for him to do so. Even if the core transplant they did was successful, it would still corrode because of his blocked Qi.
Jiang Cheng had stormed off to the nearby forest and destroyed almost a few hundred trees with his zidian before Wei Wuxian had found him to comfort him. He blames himself for not investigating the real reason as to why Lan Xichen had called off the wedding. Lan Xichen had gone his way to court him for years, gifting beautiful and thoughtful gifts to him only to have him call it off? Knowing now that Lan Xichen did it to not get Jiang Cheng involved with his dying self made him feel worthless. As he cried in anger and sadness, Wei Wuxian told him that now is the time to pull himself together and be there for him. They can try to find the reason why and unblock his Qi before time runs out. Jiang Cheng agreed to Wei Wuxians plan and extended his stay in Gusu in order to help with the situation.
Thinking about the situation now, Jiang Cheng couldn’t help but tear up a bit more as he tries his best to stop the trembling of his hands as he scrubs Lan Xichen’s back. He grits his teeth tight, his head dropping forward as his chest constricts painfully from the thought of Lan Xichen dying.
Lan Xichen felt something hot fall on his back and he squirms a little. Turning back, he sees Jiang Cheng curled up behind him, his eyes tightly shut with tears falling down his face and Lan Xichen’s heart broke at the sight. Reaching out, he gathers Jiang Cheng into his embrace, none of them caring that the other is wet. Jiang Cheng sobbed and sniffled into his own hands, leaning forward into Lan Xichen as the man feeble hands rubbed him on the top of his head and his hair.
“I’m sorry,” Lan Xichen rasped.
Jiang Cheng sobs for a while before shaking his head. He sniffles, wiping his eyes with the back of his hands before pulling back, giving his full attention to the man.
“No, don’t be sorry. I should be the one to apologize to you for—for being mean— and rude— and just…” He grits his teeth again, trying to tamp down the sobs and wanting a proper conversation instead, “I just accepted your reason without asking more about it. I just took it and said those words to you, without knowing—” He covers his face with his hands again, gnashing his teeth and groaning his frustration out. “I’m the one who should be sorry. I’m the idiot—”
Lan Xichen tightens his hold on to the man, kneeling in the tub so he could hug him better. He didn’t care that he was naked and his butt was showing to the wide opened window. All he cared about at that moment was that Wanyin needed him and that it was his fault that his Wanyin was crying.
“We’re both idiots. That’s why I had to call off the wedding.” He rasped with a smile.
Jiang Cheng snorted, his sobs turned into laughter. He pulls back from Lan Xichen’s arms and smiles at him, Lan Xichen doing the same with him, their eyes full of love as they look at each other. Lan Xichen wipes Jiang Cheng’s tears off with his thumb, softly caressing his cheeks with his pale hands.
“If the situation was different,” Lan Xichen utters softly, “If I was not… If you and I were healthy… would you have married me?”
Jiang Cheng cups his hands onto Lan Xichen’s face, their foreheads touching each other. “Healthy or not,” Jiang Cheng paused to take in a deep breath, “I would have entered this place as your spouse no matter what the situation was.”
Lan Xichen’s relieved smile filled Jiang Cheng with a sense of happiness and awe. This man, this selfless man, is so simple and so perfect, it hurts.
They lean into each other, smiling yet their hearts thump fast in nervous anticipation. When their soft lips touch, the spark they felt made them pull back in surprise before delving further into the passionate embrace, the need to devour each other growing urgently in their thoughts. Their lips met in a sensual need to touch one another, to feel more than what they can, to taste more than what is given.
Jiang Cheng pulls back a little, panting into Lan Xichen’s mouth as he tries to compose himself. Lan Xichen took advantage of the pause to kiss and nibble down Jiang Cheng’s face. When he reached the neck, Lan Xichen sucked hard and bit on his neck, feeling himself grow hard when Jiang Cheng moaned beautifully. “We shouldn’t do this. You’re not feeling well, you need to—mmph!”
Lan Xichen had pulled Jiang Cheng back into another heated kiss, wanting to feel more. When Jiang Cheng moaned deep into his mouth, Lan Xichen shivered with pleasure coursing through his body. He feels Jiang Cheng’s hands sliding into his hair, pulling his head closer to his own as Jiang Cheng tentatively let his tongue touch his own. Lan Xichen slid his tongue against Jiang Cheng’s, sucking and nudging it back and forth, pulling back once in a while to catch their breath.
Their embrace turns passionate with so little holding them back. The heat between them grew further when one decided to take it further, causing the two of them to leave the tub and fall back into bed, not caring about the wet sheets and body. The sounds they make, repetitions of names called spread the room. The gentle breeze brings the echo of love making, filling the air with hope.
Jiang Cheng lifted the top off to smell the porridge. He nods approvingly to himself and walks out of the kitchen with the tray of porridge in hand. He had left Lan Xichen in bed that morning, not wanting to wake him up after seeing the peaceful look on his face. Before they went to sleep that night, while cleaning each other up, Jiang Cheng insisted on Lan Xichen to wear his clothes so that he won’t catch a cold. Lan Xichen suddenly announces that he was unable to move and Jiang Cheng had to dress him up while Lan Xichen smiles playfully at him. They fell asleep in each other’s arms and then the sun rose.
Jiang Cheng had slid out of bed, put on his clothes and silently left the room, fully intending to cook for Lan Xichen Yunmeng Jiang’s family recipe. He blushed to himself when he remembered the night before and berates himself silently for having those thoughts all of a sudden.
As he walks to Hanshi, he sees both Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian walking down their path from Jingshi. “Good morning.”
“Ah! Jiang Cheng! Good morning!” Wei Wuxian greets while Lan Wangji only tilts his head down in turn, “Is that food for Zéwú-jūn?”
“Yes,” Jiang Cheng continues his walk with the other two following behind, “I thought I could give him the porridge A-Jie made for us last time.”
Wei Wuxian brightens at the mention of Jiang Yanli, “Right, that porridge! I swear her food has magic in them. We always feel better whenever we eat them.”
“That’s right,” Jiang Cheng says, “He didn’t get to eat his food last night so I’ll make sure he’ll eat this time.”
“Mm hmm,” Wei Wuxian grinned, “And why wasn’t he eating his food yesterday? Did something happen?”
Jiang Cheng blushed almost immediately as memories of yesterday flit through his mind. “We were otherwise occupied.” Jiang Cheng clears his throat, “He had a bath and I helped. After that he fell asleep.”
“Mm hmm,” Wei Wuxian teases, “He fell asleep on top of you?”
“That’s a nice looking bruise on your neck. Did you guys fall asleep violently?” Wei Wuxian pokes on the bruise, causing Jiang Cheng to flinch out of the way.
“Shut up,” Jiang Cheng growls, “Go away, don’t disturb me.”
“We’re heading towards Hanshi anyways. It’s been a while since we saw Zéwú-jūn and we wish to see how he fares.” Wei Wuxian smiles mischievously, “I think he’s doing well, seeing that big bruise on your neck.”
Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes and hurried on, leaving the two gremlins behind. Jiang Cheng quickly heads to the door and uses his leg to slide the door open. He walks into the bedchambers and smiles to himself, seeing Lan Xichen laying there with a smile on his face.
“Zéwú-jūn, I brought porridge for you.” Jiang Cheng puts the tray of porridge on the table at the corner of the room, “You didn’t eat anything last night so you need to eat these. It’s a special recipe A-Jie made for us when we were kids.”
Jiang Cheng goes to open the windows and clear the area up a little bit. “After breakfast, we can have a little walk. Exercise is important, no matter what. You need to build your stamina up a little.” Jiang Cheng folds a few sheets and sets them aside, “You only took a few steps to the tub and it felt like you had just finished a night hunt.” Jiang Cheng smiles.
When he hears nothing, he turns to see that Lan Xichen was still asleep in bed. He puts his hands on his hips, clicking his tongue. “Lan Xichen, if you do not wake up, I’ll pour water on you.”
“He would!” A voice playfully rang out from the front porch.
Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes and walks up to the bed, looking down at the sleeping man.
“Lan Xichen?” Jiang Cheng’s voice shook.
Jiang Cheng sat down beside the man, his hands trembling as he pulled back Lan Xichen’s collar and saw that the veins had risen higher and into the back of his hair. His lips were unnaturally pale but the smile on his face made Jiang Cheng worried. He places his finger on the pulse point on his neck, trying his best to focus on finding something. He waited.
His fingers move to find a better spot.
Jiang Cheng was already breathing harshly by this time. He puts his ears on Lan Xichen’s chest, praying to hear something, anything. A soft beat or—or something! Anything!
Pulling back, Jiang Cheng felt his tears pooling in his eyes as he cups his hands on Lan Xichen’s face. It was cold.
“Lan Xichen?!” He calls out, “Lan Xichen, please—”
He hears footsteps rush into the room and then a pair runs out. Jiang Cheng didn’t know who it was. His focus was on the man laying in front of him, cold and unresponsive.
“Lan Xichen—Huan… A-Huan—” Jiang Cheng sobs as he pats on Lan Xichen’s face, “A-Huan, can you hear me? A-Huan, please—”
Lan Wangji stood by the bed, frozen to the bones as he saw his brother not responding to Jiang Cheng’s calls. The pale skin with spidery veins, the smile on his face, the serene look he has as he lay there. Lan Wangji tilts his head down and closes his eyes for a prayer. He felt numb and cold but it was the only thing he could do for now.
Wei Wuxian came running back with Lan Qiren and a few medicinal doctors in his stead, rushing into the Hanshi and pushing Jiang Cheng aside to aid their Clan Leader. Jiang Cheng took a few steps back and fell when his knees gave way, staring at Lan Xichen’s body with shock. Jiang Cheng thought of yesterday, about what they had spoken of.
“If the situation was different, if I was not… If you and I were healthy… would you have married me?”
“Healthy or not, I would have entered this place as your spouse no matter what the situation was.”
Jiang Cheng sobbed. He sobbed his heart out. He felt his heart clench painfully in his chest and he sobbed into his hands.
Lan Xichen is gone. Lan Xichen is no more.
A cool breeze passing by, pushing along the clouds in the clear blue sky. A soft tinkle of a bell in the distance, playfully dancing from where it hangs. A mournful sob filled the air, a loved name called out in sadness.