"Wei-qianbei, what are you doing?"
Wei Wuxian looks up from the uneven stitching he's started on his ragged hem. "Hello, Lan Jingyi. Hello, A-Yuan," he says, waving cheerfully. "I'm mending my robes– they've gotten a bit frayed, and I'd hate to shame poor Lan Zhan by showing up in tatters."
Lan Jingyi squints at him. "Why are you doing that?" he says. "There's a tailor in Caiyi."
Wei Wuxian smiles, a little indulgent. "Well, Jingyi, some of us are roving cultivators and don't have tailor money. Besides, it's good practice. What if I need to stitch up something that's more important than a robe, eh?"
Lan Jingyi's frown, rather than clearing, deepens further. "We have doctors here in Gusu, Wei-qianbei."
A-Yuan has been staring firmly at his shoes. He tugs on Lan Jingyi's robes. "We shouldn't bother Wei-qianbei," he says, then bows. "We're sorry to have interrupted you."
"Oh, don't apologize to me, A-Yuan." Wei Wuxian laughs. "This is possibly the least important thing you could have found me doing."
Lan Jingyi is already halfway down the path, grumbling, when Lan Sizhui turns back. "You know that Hanguang-jun would get you anything you asked for, don't you, Wei-qianbei?"
Wei Wuxian feels his broad grin stumble. "I know," he says. "I know he would," he says. "But I would hate to trespass on his generosity any more than I must."
Lan Sizhui bows again, his hands slipped into the long sleeves of his robe. "Wei-qianbei," he says, every inch Lan Wangji’s son, his face a smooth pool hiding some disturbance deep within. He hesitates, then turns back down the winding path away from the Jingshi.
Wei Wuxian makes a note to talk to Lan Wangji about how reluctant the juniors are to engage in any sort of menial task, then turns back to the task of picking out all his snaggletooth stitching and starting again. He is no tailor, and his path has never led him straight, but surely he can do better than this.
Wei Wuxian has been trespassing on Lan Wangji’s hospitality in the Jingshi for the past few weeks, ever since Wei Wuxian’s steps faltered on the mountaintop. A moment of weakness, perhaps, but Wei Wuxian knows himself too well to think he could have resisted that impulse.
Afternoon clouds are beginning to shroud the sun when Lan Wangji slides open the Jingshi's door and slips his shoes off. Wei Wuxian has given up on his stitching for the moment, and sits hunched over a half-finished array. He looks up to see Lan Wangji standing in the entryway, the cool gray light filtering in behind him. He looks like a dream, like something spun out of mist.
Wei Wuxian swallows it down, grins up at him, leaning back on his hands. "Lan Zhan! Welcome home, welcome home."
Lan Wangji does not smile, not really, but he allows his mouth to stretch from its usual firm and balanced line, and that is enough for Wei Wuxian.
They eat dinner together, as they do every night. Wei Wuxian chatters about his day as he steals mushrooms from Lan Wangji’s plate and Lan Wangji pretends not to notice. Lan Wangji very pointedly does not speak during his meal, but as soon as he has finished eating he gives Wei Wuxian a sparse update about the sect business, the cases that have been brought to him.
Wei Wuxian's heart is almost too full to bear. He turns away to tidy the dishes before Lan Wangji can get to them, stacking them in a haphazard pile and setting the tray outside the door. He'll carry it down in the morning.
He stands in the doorway for a few seconds longer, thinking.
Wei Wuxian has been here for weeks, but sect business has kept Lan Wangji occupied. He must have been too busy to have a room prepared for Wei Wuxian. And he cannot be sleeping well on a mattress on the floor, with Wei Wuxian selfishly occupying the only bed. So Wei Wuxian will find a room instead. After all, this is Lan Wangji’s home, and Wei Wuxian knows how much his privacy means to him.
He stands very firm in this resolve, and it remains unshaken even when he sees Lan Wangji soft and undone in only the inner robes he wears to sleep in. His hair is down, and it curls softly around his ears in the humid night air. His eyelashes brush his cheek when he tells Wei Wuxian goodnight.
Wei Wuxian sleeps poorly, even on Lan Wangji’s pillow-soft mattress. He keeps his back to the wall and lies on his side, instead of on his back the way a proper Lan disciple would. This is probably bad for his qi circulation, but when he wakes in the night he can see the doorway, so he can fall asleep again.
In the morning, he feels the mattress dip softly. He has a brief impression of a hand on his forehead, and another at his wrist. But by the time he blinks awake, there is no one there, and the Jingshi door is shut.
After breakfast, he sets out. Surely one of the Lan disciples will be able to set him up in a guest room. After all, he is a guest of the esteemed Hanguang-jun, even if he is also the Yiling Patriarch.
In the training yard, Lan Jingyi looks at him as though he has grown a second head. "No," he says. "Are you crazy?"
Lan Sizhui only looks disappointed when Wei Wuxian asks about guest rooms, but Wei Wuxian puts this down to his having a naturally sad face. He always had big round heartbreaking eyes, even as a child. "Of course, Wei-qianbei," he says, very softly. "I will have a disciple move your things this afternoon."
"Oh, there's no need for that!" Wei Wuxian stretches his arms above his head. "I don't have very much. Just let me know where to go!"
Lan Sizhui nods. "Mm." He sounds so much like Lan Wangji that Wei Wuxian is left breathless.
"Don't look like that, Lan Sizhui. I'm not going anywhere! I'll still be here to pester you, same as always."
"Good," Lan Sizhui says. He purses his lips, then speaks again, the words coming out in a rush. "Lan Wangji would miss you, if you were gone."
This boy. He grew up too long among the Lans! Wei Wuxian represses the urge to ruffle his hair and muss his neat topknot. "Of course," he says, very seriously. " Lan Wangji would miss me very much."
It doesn't take him long to gather his things; he really hadn't been lying to Lan Sizhui. His belongings consist of a few pairs of robes, his mask, Chenqing and Suibian, and a few keepsakes. A handful of rattling lotus seeds, a drawing or two. He can fit them all into a bundle– he hardly needs a qiankun pouch.
As an extra courtesy, he makes the bed, which he hadn't bothered to do in the morning. Lan Zhan will appreciate how nice and neat he's left it when he gets back– he'll have had a long day, with cultivators tugging at his metaphorical sleeves.
He turns and looks at the Jingshi, satisfied that no trace of his presence remains. No servants needed to tidy up after him! The light filters gently in over Lan Wangji’s pristine teaware, the long low table where he and Wei Wuxian eat, the gongshi rising craggy behind it. He is so glad, to have had Lan Zhan’s home open to him.
The room Lan Sizhui shows him is neat and bright, all clean, swooping lines. It feels hollow, somehow, although he can't put his finger on why. He sets his things down and begins to fold his robes into the chest in the corner. The room is going to be laughably empty when he's done.
He turns to get another robe and sees that Lan Sizhui is still hovering in the doorway, biting his lip. "Oh, I don't need any help, A-Yuan," Wei Wuxian says. "Thank you for finding me a room so quickly."
Lan Sizhui rushes to him and wraps him in a hug, his arms firm around Wei Wuxian's middle. "Ah, A-Yuan!" Wei Wuxian says. "What brought this on?"
"I'm glad you're back," Lan Sizhui says. "We all missed you."
Wei Wuxian feels his face soften. "I'm here, A-Yuan." He pats Lan Sizhui’s back.
After Lan Sizhui leaves, he busies himself with unpacking, and then throws himself back into his array. It's nearly dark by the time he remembers that he should eat something. The cooks will have closed up for the night, and he doesn't want to bother anyone, so he digs into his pack to find the last of the supplies he'd stashed away. His room doesn't have a hearth, so he walks out to the forest behind the guest quarters to build himself a little fire to cook over.
Shijie would laugh to see him camping out in the woods of the Lan sect like a commoner. And then she'd be proud, he thinks, of how much he's learned. Let it never be said that he can't stand on his own two feet.
He eats his rice with a few vegetables. For dessert, he has a loquat left over from their last dinner. It is a good meal, he thinks, although he'd give anything for some fresh fish, or chili peppers.
He doesn't put the fire out right away, but leans back on his hands to look up at the sparks dancing into the canopy above. It has been a long time since he had the leisure to watch a fire like this. He'd made plenty, sure, stoked them and stamped them out as soon as they finished their usefulness. Fuel had been too precious, and fire a beacon too dangerous to risk. When he hadn't been in immediate danger, he'd been so tired he could do little but stare blankly into the flames.
Even here in Gusu, he cannot stop the creeping feeling that everything is about to go horribly wrong. So when he hears a branch break, he snuffs the fire with a talisman and whirls around, Chenqing held to his lips.
A rabbit blinks back at him, its white fur gleaming in the moonlight that filters through the trees.
Wei Wuxian laughs, a little strangled. "Don't sneak up on me like that, Mr. Rabbit. I almost made you into soup, and then Lan Zhan would never have forgiven me."
The rabbit's nose twitches. It stares at him, then hops back into the forest.
After that, there is no point sitting in the forest waxing poetic. He buries his fire, gathers his pot and dishes, and hikes back down the mountain.
Night has truly fallen now. He nearly walks back to the Jingshi, his legs directing him without conscious permission, before he realizes what he's doing.
When he gets back to the guest quarters, he doesn't bother to light a lantern. It's easy enough to move around his room in the dark; he only stumbles once or twice, and chalks any resulting bruises up as the price of learning where the furniture is. He's getting ready for bed, taking down his hair and taking off his outer robes, when the door to the guest room slides open with a thwack.
"Wei Ying," Lan Wangji says, his voice tearing out of his chest. His face is gray. "You're here."
"Lan Zhan!" Wei Wuxian tugs at his inner robes, securing the tie holding them closed. "What–" but Lan Wangji has rushed over and is clutching his upper arms with a viselike grip. It's a little painful, actually, because Lan Wangji is still holding a sheathed Bichen in one hand. The carving on the sheath digs into Wei Wuxian’s arm. And why is Lan Zhan holding Bichen like that, here in Cloud Recesses, where the biggest threat is over-curious rabbits?
"Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian says, tugging his arms free so he can wrap them around him. "What's wrong?" Lan Wangji's chest shudders against him. He is seized with a brief murderous desire to end whoever has hurt Lan Wangji in this way. Lan Wangji, who has known so much hurt, should never be hurt again.
"When I got back to the Jingshi, you weren't there."
Ice settles into Wei Wuxian's chest where his golden core once sat. "Lan Zhan, I would never leave you. Not without saying goodbye!"
Lan Wangji stiffens in his arms.
"Lan Zhan-ah," Wei Wuxian says. "Lan Zhan, look at me, please."
"Why did you leave the Jingshi?"
Wei Wuxian lets Lan Wangji pull away. He won't look at him. Everything is terrible. "I'd been there for weeks, Lan Zhan. You were so generous, but I couldn't trespass on your hospitality any longer! After you've already given me so much."
"The Jingshi was empty," Lan Wangji says. "Every trace of you erased, and I thought–"
Lan Wangji always finishes what he starts, but he does not finish this sentence. Wei Wuxian is grateful; he doesn't want to know what Lan Wangji had thought, returning to the home he'd so thoughtfully scrubbed clean of himself. He has hurt this man in ways he did not know he could hurt another person.
"I have mourned you once, Wei Ying," Lan Wangji says, and he finally looks at Wei Wuxian, with the kind of desperation he has only seen on that face twice before. "Please, I could not do it a second time."
Wei Wuxian is not made of steel. He rushes to him, catches him in a tangle of his arms and hair and babble. "Lan Zhan, forgive me," he says. "I've been so foolish, ah, you'll laugh at me." Lan Wangji's delicate silver headpiece is caught in Wei Wuxian’s hair. A problem for future Wei Wuxian.
"I didn't want to bother you, you see. You're so busy, and I'm just frittering around the Jingshi making a mess of things. You barely even have time to meditate, and when you do, I'm there chattering at you. I thought you'd want your own space back, you know." He pauses for breath, and maybe to let Lan Wangji get a word in, but there is only silence. A soft hitch of breath. Oh, Lan Wangji is crying .
Wei Wuxian can fix this. He can! "You've been so generous, you see, letting me stay in this place I know is so special to you. And I wanted to do something nice for you. No one ever does anything nice just for you. So I–" Wei Wuxian breaks off. "I cleaned up, and I packed up, and I left. It was stupid, I guess.
"Lan Zhan, please don't cry over me." He wipes a sleeve haphazardly over Lan Wangji's perfect cheek. Lan Wangji very kindly does not push him away. He seizes his hand instead.
"Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says. “Everything I have is yours.” He cries beautifully as he does anything else, his face crumpled like a silk robe tossed, artful, over one shoulder. Wei Wuxian is afraid to look at it, afraid of what he will see in Lan Wangji’s face. “Please, you must know by now."
Wei Wuxian had not known. He feels very stupid, all of a sudden, like he's back in Yi City stumbling at shapes through the fog. Wrong-footed. He had not known, and he has made Lan Zhan cry.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says again, tugging at Wei Wuxian’s hand. Gently, like he’s a rabbit to be coaxed from beneath a bush. “Will you come back to the Jingshi with me?” It sounds like he is saying something else.
“You love me,” Wei Wuxian says. He can hear his own heartbeat in his ears. “You love me. I didn’t know.”
Lan Wangji’s eyes are very soft as he nods. “I should have told you,” he says. “I thought—” he shakes his head. “I love you, Wei Ying. Zhiji.”
It is Wei Wuxian’s turn to tear up, and he knows he is not a lovely crier. “Oh,” he says, stupidly. “Zhiji.”
But Lan Zhan must know what he means, because he pulls Wei Wuxian closer to him, uncaring of his wet eyes or his snotty nose or the way his mouth trembles. Bichen clatters to the floor beside Wei Wuxian’s half-empty trunk, and Wei Wuxian feels a quiet thrill to hear it, before devoting himself again to the study of Lan Zhan’s lovely mouth on his. He has wasted so much time; he has a whole new facet of Lan Zhan to unravel, and he is determined to catch up as quickly as possible.