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prelude.

In his sacrifice, Mo Xuanyu left Wei Wuxian three gifts: a second chance at love, an inherited fortune, and a load’s worth of unresolved bodily issues.

The whole ordeal with solving the mystery of Nie Mingjue’s arm and uncovering Jin Guangyao’s crimes had not left Wei Wuxian much time nor thought to fuss over his appearance, too occupied with loving Lan Wangji and staying alive. But life has settled down. He has settled down, and in the wake of this peace, it’s given him time to consider the minor and major details that distinguish his past and present.

Upon their return from their three month honeymoon, Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian were promptly reprimanded for their escape, Lan Qiren annoyed at their spontaneous elopement. Ignoring Lan Wangji bristling at the sharp tone his uncle was taking with his husband, Wei Wuxian pondered over how much more enraged his uncle-in-law is with the fact that they had eloped than anything else.

Three days of tense silence and ignored acknowledgments went by before Wei Wuxian found the root of the problem. Forcing the two stubborn men in the same room, he pried the truth out of Lan Qiren’s stone-hardened hands and beamed at the realization that came to light. Soft-hearted this uncle-in-law of his truly is. At the part of the meeting, it was decided: a wedding was to be held. A year from that date, actually. A union between Hanguang-Jun and the Yiling Laozu.

How scandalous, truly.

Wei Wuxian hasn’t much hand in the planning, Lan Qiren taking most of the responsibility in organizing the celebration with the grumbling that “he would only make a mess, anyway.” Wei Wuxian can’t complain. It’s not like the old man is wrong in that sense. Besides, Wei Wuxian is to be wedded to the love of his life, to the man he pledged his entire heart and soul to, and he finds no qualms in the matter. Watching the gentle placement of Lan Wangji’s pale but strong fingers brushing over his qin and idly smelling the mixture of sandalwood and orange blossoms, his mind is at peace.

It should have ended there but Mo Xuanyu is a generous man, Wei Wuxian finds, even if the treasures offered aren’t necessarily in Wei Wuxian’s comfort zone. He’s never been one for riches and wealth, never needing nor craving the gratification of power. Yes, he grew up pampered as the sect leader’s ward, but excess has never been comforting to him anyway.

So when it came to light of the fortune left behind upon the eradication of the Mo family, Wei Wuxian had stumbled over himself to regain balance. A messenger had delivered the news, fancy scroll and all, and with that, Wei Wuxian became the owner of a massive wealth and the new master of the Mo estate.

Wei Wuxian hadn’t known what to do with it all. What was the purpose? He had everything he needed here in the Cloud Recesses—his husband, his son, his students. He had no want for more. But the matter was closed, and Wei Wuxian was left to figure out what he wanted to do with all that he inherited.

It didn’t take long.

It’s only through Lan Sizhui that they discovered the solution. By then, Wei Wuxian had determined what to do with the wealth left behind. Seventy percent would go to the Lan treasury and the rest alongside the local taxes collected from the villagers would contribute to funding orphanages, shelters, and other needs projects that put Wei Wuxian’s time at maximum capacity (he would be lying if he doesn’t feel joy in being needed). But that only left the estate, what to do with it.

Wei Wuxian’s body is fragile, too feeble to endure the ache the winter chill brings to his bones and muscles. After the fifth time he had fallen ill from the strength of the Cloud Recesses’s bitter winter, Lan Wangji began to grow weary with worry, stubborn in his resolve to attend to his husband than fulfill his duties as the Chief Cultivator. Conflict in Wei Wuxian’s name arose and by the time winter passed, Wei Wuxian’s head swirled with the arguments thrown back and forth between his zhiji and the elders.

One morning, during his weekly meal with his adoptive parents, Lan Sizhui, finally fed up, suggested a route that would benefit them all: move into the Mo estate.

“Baba, it’s all yours. What better use of it than to make a home out of it?” Lan Sizhui said, looking past his meal to his contemplating parents. Wei Wuxian wrinkled his nose in consideration and Lan Wangji remained gently thoughtful, a small smile quirking at the idea.

Wei Wuxian can’t say the decision was easily made. The Mo estate is not close to the Cloud Recesses, and Wei Wuxian truly did love staying in Gusu Lan; it was his home, their home. And what of Lan Wangji’s Chief Cultivator duties, Wei Wuxian protested, only for his husband to answer him by leaning and pressing a warm kiss to his forehead.

“They will come to me,” Lan Wangji said, caressing Wei Wuxian’s reddening cheek. “Wei Ying’s health is a more important matter.”

Fighting through the elders and Lan Qiren, Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji finally settled. They would live in the Cloud Recesses for the summer and spring and the estate for the autumn and winter.

At last, some measure of ease and peace.

Wei Wuxian is blessed with his second life. He knows that better than anyone else. He may not deserve it but he knows his gratitude.

Now, if he could just figure out what to do with his hair.

one.

Sometimes, when his husband has finally left the Jingshi and the sun rays strike just right, Wei Wuxian will pull himself out of his bath and stare at himself in the mirror, inspecting each new beauty spot and mark. Ignoring the water dripping on the floor, he’ll pull at his skin until red mars its complexion and the lack of stretch reminds him how obviously malnourished this body is. For all his years of abuse, Mo Xuanyu’s skin is a smooth expanse of porcelain blankness, mostly free of any scars, but neglect has tightened his exterior, sinking away any fat or muscle.

It’s still objectively beautiful but so painfully sad.

This is the body of strength, he thinks, poking at his belly, and sacrifice. Mo Xuanyu, I can never repay you.

He knows this, reminds himself every day that it is loss that brought about a second chance. He feeds the memorial for the boy whose soul will be forever lost and hopes that, in a slim chance, Mo Xuanyu may be salvaged.

So, yes, Wei Wuxian knows his gratitude but sometimes he feels like an unwanted intruder in his own body. Everything is so...different and peculiar that Wei Wuxian finds himself trying to leave reminders of where each distinction and part is. A fragile, more petite build whereas he had a lean, sturdy body from swordplay and swimming. Dotted ink where blank pages should be. Messy chestnut locks in place of straight, black hair.

He’s different, so dizzyingly different, and it hits him in a way that feels like the cling of fire ants crawling up his body. Every part nudges at him but it’s really the hair that he’s stuck on, the one that makes him the most uncomfortable. Where a smooth brush of black ink mark used to be is a state of what could have been sleek curls, beautiful and artful yet turned out thin and split from the lack of nutrients and care. This isn’t the hair his mother and father gifted him. This isn’t the hair that his shijie used to brush and braid for fun. This is the hair that of abuse and sacrifice, a blood history behind it. Like sweeping petals on a concubine's courtyard, Wei Wuxian tries to move past it, but the past continues to tug him back and he’s left in the same spot as before. It’s a depressing cycle.

“Ah, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, how do I even appeal to you?” he mumbles to himself, yanking at one of the knots then shifting his fingers through it in an attempt to detangle them.

It’s a loaded question that he wouldn’t dare ask his husband. It’s better to simmer in his anxiety in isolation, truly.

Night has fallen. The Jingshi is warm with the steam leftover from the bath. Wei Wuxian is yanking at his knots, battling with each section of hair as Lan Wangji combs through essays.

Wei Wuxian is tired, weary from the rough day he’s had and he really would like to get through his routine before he snaps. So, he tugs at each strand with vicious aggression.

“Wei Ying should not be so rough,” Lan Wangji murmurs, getting up from his place at his desk to hover beside Wei Wuxian.

“Then my hair should not be so difficult,” Wei Wuxian retorts, yanking his comb again.

This time the comb cracks in two, one part stuck in his hair. The two stare at the half in Wei Wuxian’s hand.

Without a word, Wei Wuxian flops down on the bed and plants his face down into his pillow, the piece of comb still in his hair. With a burst of spiritual energy, he extinguishes the flames and dwells in the darkness. Lan Wangji’s presence remains by his side.

“Wei Ying…” he hears his husband say hesitatingly, feeling the heat from his palm hovering over Wei Wuxian’s shoulder. Wei Wuxian feels his gentle fingers picking at the hairs to detangle the comb from his hair. His breathing is gentle and even in the night.

Wei Wuxian wants to speak, to explain but exhaustion pulls at him and words remain bereft, so he simply mutters, “Bedtime, Lan Zhan.”

For a second, Wei Wuxian doesn’t hear any movement, simply the quiet between them, before Lan Wangji sighs and rubs his shoulder. “En.”

The bed creaks slightly as Lan Wangji settles down onto the mattress, on the open end of the space that Wei Wuxian just knows is some protective instinct of his zhiji. A shuffle, and his husband slides under the covers beside Wei Wuxian, a sudden but welcome heat that has Wei Wuxian already easing up.

They stay silent, nothing but the soft chirping of the crickets outside their window and the rush of the light breeze. Wei Wuxian doesn’t move, staring up at the ceiling, painfully aware of how strands of his hair annoyingly poke at his cheeks.

Then, he feels smooth but large fingers take a gentle grip of his hand.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji murmurs and places Wei Wuxian’s hand on his chest. Wei Wuxian blinks as he feels the rhythmic beating of his love’s heart underneath his palm.

He doesn’t answer but doesn’t pull away either.

Lan Wangji doesn’t repent.

“Wei Ying, come,” he says, patting his chest and tugging lightly on Wei Wuxian’s hand. “Please, xingan.”

Ah, Wei Wuxian thinks, feeling his cheeks reddening at the endearment. This man. How is he supposed to say no?

Relenting, he rolls over and shifts himself up to drape half his body over his husband’s torso. Then, with zero hesitation, he plants his head down onto Lan Wangji’s chest, his right cheek squished into the smooth silk of his night robe.

Wei Wuxian can just feel the smile on Lan Wangji’s face.

“Rest, Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji murmurs. “Be at ease.”

He begins humming a song, not Wangxian, but another distinct melody that eventually has Wei Wuxian shutting his eyes against his will, drifting into the embrace of sleep.

Morning come, and Wei Wuxian still feels the thrumming, leftover ache. The incident last night really shook him more than he realized, and now, sitting by the table and glaring at the spread of talismans across the glassy surface, he remains weary. Lan Wangji left him a few hours earlier to attend to his duties, leaving Wei Wuxian to the comfort of his work alone. He has no classes today, so he’s at the mercy of his tinkering and inventing. And that’s how he spends the day, hidden away from the sigh of others, hair a mess and robes askew. He does what he does best—work his problems into hiding.

Therefore, the cycle begins. Wei Wuxian begins styling his hair into a bun instead of his usual ponytail, stuffing as much of the tangled sections under his ribbon as possible. He hides his hair away like a secret locked underneath the guard of dragons, like exposing it would be an arrow in the heart of his loved one.

A broken comb, and he’s losing his mind.

Pathetic, really.

His students are worried, he knows, garnering the fact from the side looks and pursed frowns. They crowd around him more often, clinging onto him, and he welcomes it. A distraction from his over-dramatic distress.

But at night, while Lan Wangji is softly breathing, Wei Wuxian lies awake, cheek nestled on his chest as he examines the strand between his fingers. Tangled, unhealthy, alien.

His hair isn’t his own, and he doesn’t know how to move on.

There’s a sense of shame (which he can feel sometimes) in the stagnation. A mark in the road. Sometimes Wei Wuxian thinks it might be better to run away than stay in place, so that when he finally drifts off, he can dream something beside the shame of regret.

A week rolls by since the incident. Wei Wuxian somewhat managed to adequately tame his hair with Lan Wangji’s comb and a jar’s worth of argan oil, coating it until it hides under a layered cloak. It still remains thinned and dead but at least he can go about the day with it only mildly inconveniencing him. He avoids touching it more than possible just as he avoids looking at his body more than needed. Maybe he’s being over dramatic but so be it. Wei Ying will put on a show.

Wei Wuxian is settled on the bamboo mat, lazily scratching on his paper test designs for his new talisman when he hears the door ease open and a clinking of glass bottles behind him. He turns his head to see his husband entering the main room with a bulky, cloth sack, a placid expression on his face.

Setting down his brush, Wei Wuxian hops up and greets his husband with a peck on the lips and a cry of, “Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, you’re back!”

Letting go of the sack and wrapping his arms around his husband when he attempts to pull back from the embrace, Lan Wangji leans down to capture Wei Wuxian’s rosy lips in another kiss, deeper and slower this time, before pulling back to rest his forehead against Wei Wuxian’s. A smile quirks up at the sight of Wei Wuxian’s reddening cheeks and slightly quickened breath.

“Mn. Did Wei Ying miss me?” Lan Wangji asks, slowly running his large hand up and down Wei Wuxian’s back in a soothing manner. The warmth radiating from his husband’s strong body has Wei Wuxian tingling with pleasure, body sore from the ache of the chill. Even the insulated Jingshi cannot warm Wei Wuxian up during a Gusu winter.

Wei Wuxian wriggles his nose and pets the top of Lan Wangji’s head. “Wei Ying always misses his zhang-fu, especially when he greets him like that.”

“Then Wangji will avoid leaving his Wei Ying.”

Wei Wuxian grins even through his blushing and leans in closer. He boops Lan Wangji’s perfect nose. “Now, how does Lan Zhan expect to do that?”

“By holding Wei Ying in his arms from dusk to dawn, never to part,” Lan Wangji murmurs into Wei Wuxian’s ear, hot breath tickling it. “Should a kiss seal it?”

“Ah, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian lightly gasps, overwhelmed by the stream of affection. “You…”

“Mn. Me.”

Wei Wuxian darkens from the hue of sweet, strawberry juice to a sensual, pigmented cherry stain. With a light-aired laugh, he nudges his husband away, taking a step back. In front of him, Lan Wangji stares back serenely, neither a strand nor a breath out of place. The only thing that gives him away is the light, red tinge on his ears and the darkened dilation of his pupils, a contrast against the sliver of gold peeking through. A full-blown sign of his arousal.

Internally grinning at that, Wei Wuxian backs away even further. With the mischievous grace of a quick-witted huli jing, he slinks back in a mocking plea. “Lan Zhan needs to be more careful around his Wei Ying. He knows how fragile this poor husband is. Take responsibility!”

A corner of Lan Wangji’s mouth quirks up in amusement. “Wangji apologizes. He will take responsibility.”

Somehow, Wei Wuxian ends up back in Lan Wangji’s arms, shifted up so that his feet are lifted off the ground. Ignoring Wei Wuxian cackling in his arms, Lan Wangji marches them both toward the secluded privacy of their bedroom, ready to push them past the brink of ecstasy.

They’re tangled up in the bed, bodies breathing in rhythm with each other’s heartbeats, when Lan Wangji turns his head to look down at Wei Wuxian nestled up to his side and says, “I have a gift for Wei Ying.”

Lazily lifting his head, Wei Wuxian squints up at his husband. “Hn? A gift?”

“Yes. Wait here. I will go retrieve it,” Lan Wangji tells him and shifts Wei Wuxian off of him to rise from the bed.

Body protesting at the loss of its favorite source of warmth, Wei Wuxian wrinkles his nose and flops to the left, rubbing his sore waist. He hears Lan Wangji’s footsteps circling back to the front door and the slight clink of bottles against each other through shuffling sounds. Then, after a moment’s pause, back Lan Wangji comes, his hand gripping the cloth sack from before.

Wei Wuxian blinks as Lan Wangji stops before him, kneeling down to get at eye level, and offers him the sack.

“Open it,” Lan Wangji encourages, gesturing to the opening.

Even as often as Lan Wangji likes to surprise him with little trinkets and mementos from his travels, Wei Wuxian still flusters at the act of his husband spoiling him with frankly anything that comes to mind. And he does. A black rabbit figurine hand-painted by Wei Wuxian’s favorite traveling artist. A red silk ribbon from that little stand in Meishan Yu that Wei Wuxian once mentioned. Glittering stones that frankly attract Wei Wuxian’s whirlwind of a brain more than any ostentatious, gold commodity ever would. Lan Wangji has a tendency to pile him on with anything that comes to his mind, and Wei Wuxian is the one who ends up in stutters over it.

Bracing himself, Wei Wuxian takes the sack, peers in it, and then cocks his head in consideration. He looks up at his zhiji with a raised eyebrow.

“Ah...oils? Are you telling me something, er-gege? Cause we have plenty,” he says with a snort. Rummaging through them, he pulls out one of the amber vials and shakes it. The light liquid sloshes in the bottle. “Almond oil? I mean, I suppose we can spice it up.”

A slight smile forming amidst his red ears, Lan Wangji shakes his head. “Not just oils. Hair oils. For Wei Ying.”

“Hair oils?”

“Mn. I noticed Wei Ying cannot use mine because they are not fit for his hair.”

And that is true. The ingredients in Wangji’s hair oils are too at odds to be compatible with the thickness and curliness of his locks, but Wei Wuxian is skeptical any oil will ever revive the utter debacle that is his hair.

“Er-gege, you shouldn’t waste your money. I doubt there’s much you can do with this mess,” Wei Wuxian remarks, pointing to his hair.

“It is not a mess. It is a blessing. Wei Ying is a blessing.”

“Lan Zhan, you can’t just charm your way into me liking my hair,” Wei Wuxian deadpans, shooting his husband a disbelieving look.

Lan Wangji huffs out a small laugh. “Wei Ying sees what we do not. He looks at himself in a false perception.”

Taking Wei Wuxian’s thin hands in his own thicker ones, Lan Wangji keeps Wei Wuxian’s gaze and murmurs, “Wei Ying, your hair is a beauty of its own. You just cannot perceive it.”

“Ah...Zhan-Zhan is such a smooth talker,” Wei Wuxian says in a purr, moving his hand from Lan Wangji’s to stroke his husband’s knee.

Lan Wangji catches the hand and brings it to his lips in a kiss. “Mn, Ying-Ying should not deflect. Will my husband listen to me now?”

“How can I when xiansheng distracts me with his words and lips?

“Wei Ying.”

“Lan Zhan.”

Lan Wangji waits patiently. Silence ensues before Wei Wuxian sighs and says, “I highly doubt you’ll get it to be as straight as yours.”

“Hm. Does not need to be straight to be of worth. Your curves and curls are beautiful as they are, a show’s art in themselves.”

This isn't a hard take for Wei Wuxian, despite the flustering over his husband’s exaggerated poetries. Deep down, he knows he doesn’t care about the appearance of his hair. It was never about that. But how can he explain what it really is when he doesn’t know himself?

With gentleness in his golden eyes, his husband brushes aside a few strands of Wei Wuxian’s hair and tells him, “Your hair is a bloom dried from the drought but yet still hopeful for the rain. All we need is the nutrients to nurture it.”

Wei Wuxian tilts the vial side to side and watches the light reflect on the glass as the oil splashes back and forth. Despite it being sealed, the faint, earthy smell of milky almonds travels to his senses. He thinks, then looks back at Lan Wangji with a considering gaze before he relents with an amused sigh.

“Well, this husband thanks his zhang-fu,” Wei Wuxian says and clasps his fingers around the vial, letting the weight settle in his grasp. He doesn’t have much hope but he supposes he can indulge his Lan Zhan.

“And this husband thanks his Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji replies with a nod so unnecessarily formal it has Wei Wuxian stifling a giggle.

Lan Wangji rises. Wuxian admires the clean press and crease-free state of his robes, despite having been kneeling beside Wei Wuxian.

“Hm, where are you going, zhang-fu?” Wei Wuxian asks, grabbing at Lan Wangji’s white sleeve when he makes a move to leave.

“A bath. We will wash your hair.”

And, with that, he slips through the doorway, leaving Wei Wuxian flushing, legs and bottom still sore, underneath the bed covers.

The water is a wonderful warmth when Wei Wuxian eases into the basin. With a sigh, he settles down and tilts his head back to wet his hair. From behind the privacy screen, Wei Wuxian hears Lan Wangji puttering about, making the occasional noise as he sorts through something.

Wei Wuxian goes through his bath like usual. He soaps down his body thoroughly with the citrus bath bean soap, scrubbing away until the day’s filth is rubbed off his skin. Then, he foams up his soap and soothes it gently through his curls, using his fingers to tug through his tangle and rubbing the debris from his scalp.

With the heating talisman still in effect, he’s tempted to simply slide down and fall asleep into the warmth when Lan Wangji appears from around the screen. Through hooded lids, Wei Wuxian watches as Lan Wangji arranges the hair oils onto the shelf before settling on coconut oil.

Lan Wangji kneels down beside Wei Wuxian, swiping the baby hairs sticking to his forehead off to the side. His smile shines through despite its facade. “Wangji wishes to care for his xingan. Will Wei Ying allow him to?

“How can Wei Ying refuse his husband?”

With that, Lan Wangji unscrews the vials and pours some of the oil into the palm of his hand, careful not to let it drip. He pats the oil into Wei Wuxian’s thick curls, humming wangxian as he lovingly does.

Wei Wuxian closes his eyes and relaxes in contentment. With a smile, he melts into his tian-xin’s touch and accepts his love.

It’s nice, he thinks, to be so loved.

And, finally, he allows it.

two.

Wei Wuxian is not usually a coward. He’s braved a grueling war and a siege out for his death and made it through it all. People have called out for his blood and he’s stood against them without an ounce of fear

So, it’s slightly embarrassing to be hiding away under the cover of bunnies of all things. But if he’s honest, the elders are so annoying, they strike fear into his heart, and that means searching for cover is the only reasonable thing to do. So, to the bunny field he went.

He’s nestled behind a tree, sulking as he strokes the rabbit in his lap when a voice startles him out of his thoughts.

“Wei-qianbei?”

Wei Wuxian blinks at the sound of his son’s voice and turns to the side to see Lan Sizhui trotting over.

“A-Yuan! You’re back!” Wei Wuxian cries out, setting the bunny down and jumping up to grab the boy into his arms. He grins up at the head disciple, who already towers above him by a couple centimeters.

Aiya, he’s grown so fast.

Lan Sizhui hugs him back, snuggling into the paternal embrace. When he pulls back, he’s smiling, a kind, gentle one that always spikes Wei Wuxian’s urge to pinch his cheeks. “Hello, Wei-qianbei.”

Wei Wuxian raises an eyebrow and pokes his son’s nose. “What did I say to call me, you impossible child?”

“Ah, sorry, Baba.”

“Good, good. Now, how was your trip?”

Lan Sizhui urges them both to sit down, already sensing the stress in Wei Wuxian’s shoulders, and explains, “It was enlightening. I had a great time.”

He lowers his voice. “Ning-shushu taught me some Wen techniques.”

“I knew time with a-Ning would help you,” Wei Wuxian says with a grin and starts petting Lan Sizhui’s hair, messing with his ponytail. “Did he help you with your archery like I asked? The Lan sect might not emphasize it but it’s important.”

Eyes brightening up, Lan Sizhui nods. “I didn’t know there were so many different approaches!”

“Hm, tell me what you learned.”

For a while, they sit in the meadow, Wei Wuxian listening intently as Lan Sizhui recounts his lessons and trip across Jiangsu. It’s a rare chance he’s able to spend time with his son like this, often too wrapped up with his teaching and Lan Sizhui’s own classes.

Wei Wuxian wonders if he can persuade Lan Sizhui to join Lan Zhan and him for dinner.

“We stopped by Caiyi Town before going back to the Cloud Recesses,” Lan Sizhui finishes. “Oh, and I bought something for you, Baba.”

He reaches into his robe and pulls out a comb. It’s plain but built from sturdy red jade.

Wei Wuxian blinks and accepts the comb, holding it up to watch it glint in the afternoon sunlight.

“Ah, the last time I was in the Jingshi, I saw your broken comb...and I thought it would be a nice gift,” Lan Sizhui says, casting worried eyes at Wei Wuxian for his gesture. “Is it okay?”

“Oh, a-Yuan, it’s more than okay. I love it,” Wei Wuxian says softly, reaching over to pat his son’s cheek. “Aiya, my little radish. So considerate of his senior.”

“Father.”

“Eh?”

“Considerate of my father.”

A blooming smile forming, Wei Wuxian thumbs the side of Lan Sizhui’s forehead ribbon, letting the comfort of his son’s love settle the ache in his stomach. “Ah, my Yuan-er…”

With a hum, Lan Sizhui leans into his touch, warm and soft. It’s more than Wei Wuxian could have ever imagined.

They stay silent for a moment, just relishing in each other’s company when Lan Sizhui interrupts by asking, “Why are you hiding?”

“Who says I was hiding?”

“Baba…”

“Aiya, okay, okay, the Elders are just driving me crazy about the wedding. I had to escape somewhere.”

Lan Sizhui tilts his head in curiosity. “What’s the problem?”

“It’s just...it’s not really my wedding, is it? Everyone else has a say, and I guess I just want space to make my own decisions,” Wei Wuxian explains with a sigh, twirling a curl around his finger. “It’s a mess, all a mess.

He points to his bun. “Look, even my hair is a mess.”

“It’s pretty,” Lan Sizhui says.

Wei Wuxian purses his lips. “Eh?”

“Your hair. It’s pretty. Not a mess. Just like everything else. Baba, you’re anything but a mess. You’re so...great. And the wedding will be just as so. Speak with Hanguang-Jun. this is your wedding, Baba! You both make the decisions.”

“Ah, I’m just tired of fighting,” Wei Wuxian says, thinning his lips.

“It’s yours, Baba. Make it.”

“Aiya, okay, okay. I’ll think about it.”

A smile curves on Lan Sizhui’s lips. He points at the comb in Wei Wuxian’s hand. “Can I?”

Wei Wuxian furrows his eyebrows but hands it over anyway. Lan Sizhui unties the bun and allows his father’s hair to fall out of the hold in a shower of chestnut curls. They bounce and reach down to his hips, lackluster and tangled.

Lan Sizhui takes the comb and begins tugging it through each section, gentle and careful to avoid tugging too hard through the tangles. After a while of combing, Wei Wuxian feels him beginning to move parts of his hair, twisting them over each other. His son’s fingers are quick, as if practiced in the matter, and before long, a thick braid is pushed over his shoulder.

Wei Wuxian touches it lightly. A couple curls have escaped the hold of the braid but for the most part, everything is intact, secured by his red ribbon, a demonstration of skill.

“Wait here, Baba,” Lan Sizhui says before jumping and heading off to the further parts of the meadow.

Wei Wuxian watches as he kneels down and begins picking at the ground before trotting back over with a handful of light pink peonies. Lan Sizhui sits back down behind Wei Wuxian and begins placing the peonies into parts of the braid.

“There. All done,” Lan Sizhui murmurs, securing the last bloom into the bottom of the braid and pats it one last time.

With a smile, Wei Wuxian pats his son’s cheek. “Thank you, Yuan-er. It’s much better than anything I could have ever done. But how did you learn to braid?”

“I would often do it for Hanguang-Jun when I was younger,” Lan Sizhui explains. “It made him happy, and I want to make you happy.”

Wei Wuxian taps Lan Sizhui’s button nose. “I’m very happy, my little radish.”

“Sizhui is glad. Now, you can face the Elders.”

“Ah…”

Lan Sizhui gives his father a look. “Baba, take control of the situation. I want you to have the wedding you want.”

“Hm, when did you get so stubborn,” Wei Wuxian says with a laugh. “You must have gotten it from your Fuqin.”

“From both of you,” Lan Sizhui replies.

“Fine. I’ll try. Now, be a good radish and head to class.”

“Mn. No class at this time. Can I just stay with you for a moment?”

A smile curves on Wei Wuxian’s lips, and he nods, urging Lan Sizhui to rest his head on his lap. He pets his hair as they settle there, watching the bunnies jump around in the distance, content and warm.

three.

Jin Ling is waiting for him, Fairy missing from his side, when Wei Wuxian arrives at Jinlin-Tai, saddled on Little Apple. His nephew’s face twists into bewilderment when Wei Wuxian comes to a stop.

“What the fuck is that?” Jin Ling blurts out, eyes trained on the dirty, gray ball of fur lazily looking at him from Wei Wuxian’s arms, and takes a step back.

Wei Wuxian laughs and climbs down from Little Apple, careful not to jostle the animal in his arms too much. “Ah, a-Ling, you don’t know what a cat is? My, my, what do they teach you children in Lanling?”

“Is that what it is?” Jin Ling says, wrinkling his nose. “It looks like an oversized rat. Maybe that’s being too generous.”

“Hey! Leave Mao Mao alone!

Jin Ling shoots him an unamused look, crossing his arms and pouting. “Mao Mao? Really?”

“Yes,” Wei Wuxian says and gently picks up Mao Mao’s paw to wave at Jin Ling. “Mao Mao, meet my nephew. A-Ling, meet Mao Mao.”

“Ugh.” Jin Ling rolls his eyes. He eyes the cat in suspicion. “Where did you even get it?”

“A village a couple miles away from here. I found her while it was raining, all huddled in the middle of the road with a broken leg. I managed to find her a doctor nearby,” Wei Wuxian explains, idly stroking the cat’s crusty fur. “According to him, she’s too well-kept to be feral and must have been abandoned. She must have survived days out there alone. Can you imagine? Poor Mao Mao.”

“Well…” Jin Ling trails off, considering the calm feline in front of him. Her fur is matted by mud and dirt but still had evidence of previous care in the hidden glossiness of her coat, and she’s plump and obviously tamed. Eyes like cooked honeycombs stare back at him in an indolent gaze. “She seems to tolerate you.”

Wei Wuxian grins and shifts Mao Mao further up his chest, shifting his robes around her to warm her up. A rumble comes from her. “Doesn’t she?”

“And what do you expect to do with that information?” Jin Ling wonders, raising an eyebrow. “The Cloud Recesses don't allow pets, remember?”

“Leave that up to me, a-Ling!” Wei Wuxian says with a wink.

Jin Ling just rubs the bridge of his nose in annoyance, a faint gesture of his jiu-jiu, and simply ignores Wei Wuxian in favor of ordering the servants to take care of Little Apple.

As they walk through the corridor toward his regular room, Wei Wuxian chatters on about his journey here to Lanling, describing the brief detour to solve a haunted well at a small town near here. He talks about the use of his growing core, the mechanics of the investigation, the new talismans he’s writing. Like a thirsty bloom in a desert, Jin Ling soaks up the information, feigning disinterest even as he leans in closer with each word.

Wei Wuxian’s finishing up his story when they arrive at the room he always resides in whenever he visits Jinlin-Tai. It isn’t really his “official” room but he feels like he can claim it as such, informal as it is, since Jin Ling never puts him anymore but there.

Wei Wuxian enters the room with Jin Ling trailing after him. He sets down his traveling bag onto the ground and releases Mao Mao to roam around the new territory. She darts to the bed and disappears under it.

“There’s paperwork I need to attend to,” Jin Ling says reluctantly, hovering by the doorway. “But I’ll have a servant get you when it’s dinner’s time.”

Wei Wuxian smiles. “Go to your duties, a-Ling. Your daijiu will be fine on his own.”

Jin Ling just lets out a humph before nodding and leaving,

The door closes behind him, leaving Wei Wuxian alone with a hidden Mao Mao. A knuckle under his chin, Wei Wuxian smiles as he admires the growth in his nephew. There’s a newfound maturity in his mannerisms and speech, and Wei Wuxian takes in that information like he does chilli oil: eagerly and enthusiastically.

Wei Wuxian yawns, stretches, and looks around the room. This room is probably his favorite place in Lanling, besides by Jin Ling’s side. It’s the least ostentatious quarters in Jinlin-Tai with just a grand bed and some simple furniture decorating the room.

He pulls some paper and a brush out of his bag and settles at the table. There’s not much to do without Jin Ling with him, so he figures he might as well get some work done while he’s at it. He stares at the half-finished design of a protection charm and gets to work.

A few hours must have passed by because Wei Wuxian eventually startles out of his work trance to the sound of a knock at the door. He gets up and opens it to a young boy, probably in his early teens standing before him, dressed in humble garments.

The servant’s eyes widen at Wei Wuxian’s sudden appearance and he takes a small step back. He fiddles with his hands before bowing respectfully.

“A-ah, Wei-gongzi, hello,” he says, cheeks reddening for some reason as he stares up at Wei Wuxian. “Jin-zongzhu has called you for d-dinner.”

Scratching his nose, Wei Wuxian says with a grin, “Lead the way then!”

With that, the servant nods vigorously and falls slightly behind Wei Wuxian’s side as they walk. Wei Wuxian tries to encourage him to stop trailing after him and walk beside him but eventually relents when the servant turns so red he looks like he’s about to pass out.

At the arrival at Jin Ling’s living quarters, the open door and Jin Ling sitting at the ridiculously grand table greets them both. Wei Wuxian’s about to enter the doorway when the servant stops him with a timid, “Wei-gongzi?”

Wei Wuxian turns around and tilts his head at the servant in curiosity. “Hm?”

The servant pauses for a second before blurting out at such a speed that Wei Wuxian barely understands, “I just wanted to tell you you’re absolutely beautiful and Hanguang-Jun is incredibly blessed.” Then he squeaks and rushes off as if a dog is chasing after his heels. Wei Wuxian blinks, and he and Jin Ling stare at the spot the servant previously was in.

“Ah…”

“Why are you seducing my servants?” Jin Ling deadpans with a wrinkled nose. “Stop it.”

Wei Wuxian sputters, flailing his arms. “Seduce! The accusation, Jin-zongzhu! He’s probably just scared of the Yiling Laozu. He looked so frightened.”

“Sure, frightened,” Jin Ling says, rolling his eyes. “Frightened that Hanguang-Jun will somehow find out about his little confession. Oblivious, that’s what you are.”

“A-Ling, when did you get so bold?” Wei Wuxian teases before flopping down across from his nephew in a sprawl.

Jin Ling flushes red and frowns, nose wrinkling as he sideyes his disheveled uncle. “It’s not bold to state the obvious. Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Hm. Well, who is this servant to argue with Jin-zongzhu?” Wei Wuxian says with a snicker. “This lowly one apologizes.”

This only seems to deepen Jin Ling’s frown. He glares down at his rice for a moment before looking back up and saying point-blank, “I don’t understand.”

Wei Wuxian raises an eyebrow, resisting the urge to reach over and poke away the frown lines marring his nephew’s forehead. “Ah?”

“You’re not a servant anymore. Why act like it?” Jin Ling states. “You always act so—so below your status. You’re Hanguang-Jun’s cultivation partner! My uncle!”

He pauses, eyeing his daijiu before saying in a softer tone, “You’re jiujiu’s brother. Your place is secured. You should act like it.”

For a moment, Wei Wuxian looks at his nephew, at the baby fat still packed in his cheeks and the eyes that reflect his shijie back to him. Jin Ling has his arms crossed, his frustrated, almost pouting expression unbefitting a sect leader. Wei Wuxian wants to pinch his cheeks so badly.

Ah, shijie, you’d be so proud. He’s a protective one, this boy, he thinks as he considers the boy in front of him.

“And how exactly should I act?” Wei Wuxian questions.

“Not like you’re below me! Not like some servant!” Jin Ling exclaims, cheeks burning red with indignation. “Command more respect! Befitting your station!”

Wei Wuxian just smiles and leans his chin on his palm. He wriggles his nose. “There’s no shame in being a servant.”

“Uh, a servant is a servant.”

“Hm but what’s class compared to character? I’m not ashamed, a-Ling. I know my past and maybe it’s not what the rules say I am now but we make more choices about ourselves than you would think. My father was a servant. My mother was a rouge cultivator. Why would I want to disregard that? I am who I say I am. There’s no wrong in acknowledging that.”

Jin Ling doesn’t say anything, staring back at Wei Wuxian with a confused frown. In the silence, Wei Wuxian notices Jin Ling absentmindedly rubbing the bulky ring on his right index finger, as if soothing himself.

“Just...speak to me like normal,” Jin Ling finally says. “You’re my uncle. Act like it.”

With a laugh, Wei Wuxian picks up a piece of salted fish with his chopsticks and sets it down on Jin Ling’s rice. “Okay, okay, your daijiu concedes. Lan Zhan’s been bugging me about the same thing anyways. I stand by what I say though.”

Jin Ling rolls his eyes at the thought of Hanguang-Jin actually bugging, but a slight smile peeks out as he takes the fish and plops it in his mouth.

“Just eat.”

“Aiya, alright, alright. Here, have some more chicken.”

Wei Wuxian may be married to a Lan and he may be a Lan now but he is a Wei first and love is noise and laughter among food. He brushes away the silence for elaborate stories about his travels, diligent in packing more and more food in Jin Ling’s bowl as he listens intently, even through his complaints. They pack their way through marinated beef, steamed crab buns, and chicken egg noodles, and by the time night casts over Lanling, the dishes are cleared of food.

Chewing on a piece of fish cake, Wei Wuxian starts to feel his hair crying out for freedom, and with a sigh, unties the ribbon from its bun, letting his locks fall down over his shoulders. He tilts his head to the side, letting his lids shut as he shakes out the curls along with a day’s worth of headaches. When he opens his eyes, he sees Jin Ling staring back at him, or more rather, his hair.

“My hair doesn’t look like that.”

Wei Wuxian blinks and pats down the staticky stray hairs. “Well, I don’t think it comes from the Jin side. It’s probably all Mo-nushi. What? Don’t like it? This is it on its better day. You should have seen it a couple months ago.”

Jin Ling furrows his eyebrows and mildly glares at Wei Wuxian. “I’m not saying it looks bad. It’s just different. I’m just trying to imagine you with Jin hair. I mean you’re a part of us. You should look like it.”

Wei Wuxian really doesn’t want to say how very glad he is that he is not a Jin, trying his hardest to be on his best behavior. Eh, Jin Ling is more Jiang than Jin anyway.

“But…” Jin Ling trails off for a second. “It suits you. Speaking of…”

He then jumps up with his hands on his hips and a determined expression on his face. “I see you wear the same ribbon everytime. It barely holds it up. Look at it. It’s falling to pieces. Your hair is thicker so it needs stronger fabric.”

Wei Wuxian snorts. “Now, when did you become so knowledgeable about hair?”

Jin Ling just gives Wei Wuxian an annoyed look. “Common sense, daijiu. Come on. It’s past sundown. We’ll commission something for you. On me.”

“I have my own money, dear nephew.”

“Hanguang-Jun’s money.”

“Shared assets, Ling-er, shared assets.

“Whatever. Let’s go.”

Wei Wuxian allows himself to be dragged out of the room by an unrelenting Jin Ling, internally grinning as he’s guided through the halls, out of Jinlin-Tai, and into the bustling, colorful loudness that is the Lanling night market. Wei Wuxian doesn’t know much about it, never having spent much time there before this, but he knows that it stretches halfway across Lanling City, considered one of the largest in China and bursting with unrestrained activity. In contrast to Caiyi Town and Lotus Pier, there’s a different air to the Lanling night market, both heavy and light in clashing vibes. The stall owners are louder and more forward than ones in Gusu but more docile and prim than the aunties and uncles in Yunmeng.

A middle ground, Wei Wuxian considers.

Glowing lanterns hang from the overhead banners, lighting their way through the tight crowd. Jin Ling, walking exactly next to him in some stubborn agenda about Wei Wuxian’s worth, leads him through each curve and bend, fast enough that no one seems to bother a glance their way, until they reach an obnoxiously grand store in the lighter part of the market. There’s no display or sign, simply a carving of a crane nestled in the front.

“Here,” Jin Ling says as they slow to a stop. Wei Wuxian stares at the crane. “They cater to me. Their ribbons are the best quality.”

Wei Wuxian hesitates. He considers the lavishness and feels discomfort creeping up on him.

“Ah, a-Ling…I’m not sure.”

Taken back, Jin Ling crosses his arms and attempts to mask a hurt look with a heavy frown. Wei Wuxian manages to catch it anyway. “What do you mean? I’m just trying to give you a gift. Is there something wrong with that?”

At the light flush of embarrassment on his nephew’s neck, Wei Wuxian internally sighs and shakes his head. “No, no, your daijiu is just being weird. Lead the way.”

Brightening up at that, Jin Ling pushes him through the entrance and into a luxurious waiting room. Wei Wuxian blinks in awe. From the top of to the bottom, hair accessories of all styles line the walls, suspended with golden binding and glinting in the dim lantern light. To his side, a jade hair stick with dangling azure pearls hangs, paling in comparison to its neighbor, a curved, silver headpiece decorated with glinting, deep rouge rubies. It’s all bright, bold, and so incredibly intimidating.

No wonder they cater to the Jins, Wei Wuxian thinks, staring at a particularly intense golden drop. Only they could afford this.

Wei Wuxian’s attention is pulled away from the merchandise when Jin Ling starts speaking. Turning his gaze back to where his nephew is, he notices the stocky woman listening intently to Jin Ling. Arms crossed behind her back and stance poised, she presents a firm presence, both calculating and gentle.

“—needs to be thick, as you can see,” Wei Wuxian manages to catch Jin Ling explaining to the woman. His nephew gestures to his uncle, and the woman’s gaze flickers quickly to Wei Wuxian. Her fox-like eyes roam over his locks, as if burning his strand into her memory.

Jin Ling glances between them and says, “Wei Wuxian, this Liu-taitai. Auntie, this is my daijiu.”

“Hm. Your hair is rather thin,” Liu-taitai remarks, gesturing to his curls with a straightforward tone.

Well, she gets right to it, doesn’t she?

Wei Wuxian scratches his nose and lightly touches the side of his locks. “Ah...we’re working on it but it's slow progress. Starvation does that to you.”

Liu-taitai doesn’t even look taken back. Instead, she merely cocks her head in consideration, eyes narrowing in thought. Then, she claps her eyes and regards Wei Wuxian carefully. “I can see. There is some shine evident in it. Not all is lost.”

She circles Wei Wuxian, making him feel like some kind of prey to her hawk. She twirls a painted finger in Wei Wuxian’s direction. “It’s wonderful, truly. I rarely see such volume and curve. Magnificent, really. Blooming will certainly do it justice.”

“Ah...thank you?”

Jin Ling rolls his eyes at Wei Wuxian and says to Liu-taitai, “We’d like a custom order. I have the look in mind, and I need it as quick as possible.”

“Hm, it depends on the design,” Liu-taitai says. She hands Jin Ling an inked brush and a piece of paper. “If you could show me?”

Jin Ling takes it and eyes Wei Wuxian suspiciously.

“You can’t look,” he says stubbornly, eyeing. “It’s a surprise.”

Wei Wuxian laughs and turns around. “Okay, okay. I won’t look, Jin-zongzhu.”

As Jin Ling draws, Wei Wuxian takes the time to roam his gaze across the lined accessories, wrinkling his nose at the ostentatious display. Most of the products are so...outrageously rich that Wei Wuxian couldn’t imagine wearing them everyday. They’re beautiful, truly, but too gaudy to find the worth in them.

He’s ruminating over all the donkeys he could buy with one hair stick when his eye catches a hair piece resting toward the back. It’s a simple, silver guan that curves into a blunt point on the top and with no distinct design on the piece, simply a blank slate of metal. An outlier. Wei Wuxian imagines it holding up a silky smooth topknot, imagines clasping the guan around the topknot himself. He shifts through his money pouch, counting the coins, and considers.

“Done.”

At Jin Ling’s sudden voice, Wei Wuxian turns back around to see his nephew handing the drawing to Liu-taitai. The madam takes it and examines the design with silvery eyes. She moves her gaze over the paper for a moment before finally looking up.

“It’ll take a week,” Liu-taitai says with a hum.

“A week?” Jin Ling repeats with a slight frown and eyes Wei Wuxian with hesitance. He coughs and regards his uncle. “Could...you stay that long?”

Wei Wuxian smiles and reaches over to ruffle his nephew’s ponytail, who accepts the affection with a rare zero complaint. “Hm, of course I can. Anything for my Ling-er.”

Not even his horrible memory could ever prevent Wei Wuxian from remembering the beaming smile that appears on JIn Ling’s lips at that.

They don’t daddle much longer. Jin Ling pays the madam (with an uncomfortably large quantity of gold coins) before he and Wei Wuxian finally step out of the store and into the cool, autumn night.

“Ahh, the weather’s nice,” Wei Wuxian comments, taking in the fresh breeze. “I could get used to it.”

Jin LIng humphs, not looking at Wei Wuxian. “Well, visit more often and you will.”

Wei Wuxian just laughs and pats Jin Ling on the shoulder. “Yes, yes. Now, come on. Let’s get something sweet.”

Nibbling on red bean cakes, they roam through the crowd with Jin Ling leading and chattering on about his favorite parts of the market while Wei Wuxian listens intensively. He jots down the conversation in his memory, taking note of the random slips of personal information as Jin Ling talks, carefree and light like the gentle rise and fall of the ocean.

It’s nice, Wei Wuxian thinks, to have the privilege of being around his nephew. He didn’t think it would be that possible, and now, to be gifted a chance? It’s more than he ever expected. Wei Wuxian touches a healing curl and makes note to visit Mo Xuanyu’s memorial again.

They are nearing the entrance when Wei Wuxian is interrupted mid sentence by spit falling down near his boot. He pauses, causing Jin Ling to stop with him and turns his head with furrowed eyebrows. Standing before them with a cruelly twisted face is a burly man dressed in a commoner’s robes. His hands are curled into fists as he glares down Wei Wuxian. Next to him are three other men with similar expressions.

“Can I help you, gongzi?” Wei Wuxian asks carefully, testing the situation and grabbing onto Jin Ling’s wrist in a warning. Beside him, Jin Ling bristles but stays quiet through sharp eyes.

“Yeah, by getting out of here! The Yiling Laozu is not welcome in Lanling,” the man spits out. Like stringed puppets, his friends nod and mumble in agreement.

“And who are you to dictate that!” Jin Ling snaps, ripping his wrist from Wei Wuxian’s grasp to grip the handle of his sword with stiff fingers. “What is a commoner’s word to a sect leader?”

The man steps closer in an attempt at an intimidating stance, allowing Wei Wuxian to sense the stench of alcohol on his person. “Bah! A disappointment of a sect leader, associating with a demonic cultivator. Everyone knows how much of a failure Jin Rulan is!”

At this, Wei Wuxian places a hand on Chengqing, stroking her with his thumb as he stares down the drunkard.

“I suggest you take that back,” he murmurs in a snake-like voice, deep and tinged with red. “Apologize to Jin-zongzhu.”

The drunk man merely barks out a laugh and rolls his eyes. “As if I would listen to you, Wei Ying.”

With a sharp and quick slide of metal, Jin Ling unsheathes his sword and points the tip at the man. He glares with clenched teeth and demands, “Shut your mouth! Take my daijiu’s name out of your mouth!”

“Of course, a boy like you would defend evil. No mother or father as guidance! No wonder you turned out the way you did.”

This strikes hard. Jin Ling doubles back. He looks between the group of men and Wei Wuxian with a twisted expression. With wide eyes, Jin Ling mutters something indistinguishable and, without another word, storms off.

Considerably angrier now, Wei Wuxian unsheathes Suibian and glares down at the drunkard with hard eyes. “Oh, now you’ve pissed me off.”

He’s not sure exactly what he’s going to do next because at that moment, a feminine shriek rises from the crowd formed around them. At that, the drunk man freezes.

Stumbling into the open center is a small woman dressed in pink.

“What exactly do you think you’re doing, a-Hong!” she cries out. “I can’t believe you!”

“A-ah, laopo—” the man stutters, holding up his palms in defense.

“You promised me no more alcohol! And how dare you bother Wei-gongzi!” the woman shouts at her husband and points in the direction behind her. Her emerald eyes glint indignation in the night. “Get back home. We’ll discuss this later.”

“But, dear—”

“Now!”

The man immediately rushes through the crowd, his friends following after him. The woman watches her husband go with a glare before turning back to Wei Wuxian with tears eyes.

“I apologize sincerely!” the madam pleads in desperation, falling to the floor in a deep bow, hands trembling. The crowd titters around them.

“Ah-ah, please get up,” Wei Wuxian says, urging the woman to rise. The madam doesn’t move, still trembling in her kowtow. “Really, please rise.”

“I’m so sorry for my husband,” the madam cries out from her position on the ground. “My apologies to you and Jin-zongzhu!”

Wei Wuxian sighs. “Look, get up and I’ll forgive you.”

It takes a few more tries before the woman finally relents. With a last apology, she hurries away, leaving Wei Wuxian to consider the situation.

Aiya, what a mess.

———

Jin Ling is kneeling in front of a stone tablet when Wei Wuxian enters the ancestral hall. His head is bowed as he pays his respects. Wei Wuxian glances at the tablet and thins his lips as he reads the engraving.

Jiang Yanli.

Shijie…

With a sigh, Wei Wuxian kneels down beside his nephew and lights some incense. He bows and murmurs greetings to his shijie before placing the lit incense by the tablet.

“You know, you truly are like your jiujiu,” he says without looking at Jin Ling, staring at the curves that carve out Jiang Yanli’s courtesy name.

For a moment, Jin Ling doesn’t say anything, keeping his silence before he barks out a scoff. “Everyone says that.”

“Hm, I don’t think you understand what I mean,” Wei Wuxian murmurs, tilting his head to look at his nephew.

Jin Ling scrunches his eyebrows and remains his stare on his mother’s tablet.

Wei Wuxian takes this as a hint to continue. “When I first arrived at Lotus Pier, I wasn’t...accepted well. This strange kid suddenly shows up, all dirty and foreign? It didn’t help that Uncle Jiang would fuss over me so much. People didn't...like that all so much. It’s not so much that anyone bullied me but more that I was ignored. But one day, this shixiong decided he was fed up with playing niceties and cornered me where no one else was. I don’t really remember what he said but I do know it wasn’t all that kind. I was trying to figure out how to get away when Jiang Cheng suddenly appeared out of nowhere and just jumped the kid. Madam Yu made us kneel at the ancestral hall for a day without food but I never forgot it.”

Jin Ling is finally looking at Wei Wuxian.

“People eventually got around to accepting me but Jiang Cheng fought them until then. He protected me until I could protect myself,” Wei Wuxian says with a tilt of his head. “You are your jiujiu.”

“It’s just...frustrating,” Jin Ling finally says. “I get so angry, seeing how people treat you.”

“Silly boy,” Wei Wuxian says, cupping Jin Ling’s cheek, still plump with the final remains of baby fat. “You can’t pull out your sword at every person who insults me.”

“Well, I can try!”

Wei Wuxian huffs out a laugh. “Hm, perhaps you can. It doesn’t make it okay though and it doesn’t mean everything will just be erased. Pain doesn’t cease just like that. Hurt leaves scars that sometimes never fade away. I’ve made my mistakes and I need to accept that.”

Wei Wuxian sweeps away some loose baby hairs from Jin Ling’s temple and smiles, kind and gentle like a mother’s embrace. “Love without blindness.”

“Hmph, whatever,” Jin Ling replies, pursing his lips. But he doesn’t reject Wei Wuxian’s touch, instead leaning into it subtly like a stubborn cat. “I still want to fight them.”

Wei Wuxian laughs. “You wouldn’t be you if you didn’t.”

For a while, they stay silent, while Wei Wuxian pets his nephew absentmindedly, stroking his hair in a soothing motion.

It’s much more straight hair, he thinks, compared to my own. So much easier to manage, I bet.

He’s startled out of his thoughts when he hears a light snore and blinks, looking down to see Jin Ling asleep against his shoulder.

He lets him sleep.

———

The week passes without much happening. When he isn’t with Jin Ling, Wei Wuxian spends his time terrorizing the young disciples and working on his projects. It’s a nice break, a well deserved one.

He’s packing up on the last day, stuffing the trinkets for Lan Wangji carefully into his bag as he hums a familiar melody.

Jumping up the table, Mao Mao stares at Wei Wuxian with pale yellow eyes, as if calculating this strange man who kidnapped her. Then she meows and rubs her side up against Wei Wuxian’s arm, purring as he laughs and holds out a hand to let pet her back. Mao Mao arches into the touch and nibbles on a strand of his hair.

Letting her be, Wei Wuxian imagines Lan Qiren’s face when he brings the feline past the gate.

A knock comes from the door.

Wei Wuxian shifts through his notes. “Come in.”

The door creaks open as Jin Ling enters the room, a satchel in hand.

Wei Wuxian smiles. “Jin Ling, off to see your daijiu before I go?”

With an eye roll, Jin Ling just says, “You wish. I’m here to bring your present.”

“Ah, that.”

Wei Wuxian watches as Jin Ling opens the satchel to pull out a long, thick black ribbon with shimmering red embroidered lotus blossoms, gold trimming on the sides. The material is sturdy looking, evidence of good craftsmanship.

“Tie it for me?” Wei Wuxian asks softly, tilting his head back, shaking out his curls.

Without a word, Jin Ling steps behind Wei Wuxian and begins pulling up his hair into a standard ponytail, one that Wei Wuxian hasn’t worn in ages. He loops the ribbon around the ponytail and secures it in a tight bow. “There.”

“It’s beautiful,” Wei Wuxian murmurs, touching the end of the ribbon lightly. “Thank you, a-Ling.”

Jin Ling just hums and crosses his hands behind his back.

“Ah, before I go,” Wei Wuxian starts, slipping his hand into the inner flap of his robe.

“A wedding invitation? Aren’t you already married?”

“Formalities, Jin-zongzhu. Formalities.”

They don’t dally any longer and once packed, Jin Ling sees him off at the gates, just as he always does. A week has been the longest Wei Wuxian has been gone from Gusu, and he’s beginning to become agitated with the need to be by himself. So, with a final wave and Mao Mao in his arms, Wei Wuxian begins to head for Gusu, ready to fall back into his husband’s arms.

four.

“You look awful.”

Wei Wuxian stops in the midst of his struggle with the comb and whirls around at the sudden voice. Standing at the open doorway is Jiang Cheng with his arms crossed behind his back and an unreadable expression on his face. He steps through the entrance.

Wei Wuxian raises an eyebrow. “You really know how to flatter, a-Cheng.”

Jiang Cheng snorts. “Why should I lie? You’re so pale and blotchy. What even happened?”

“I didn’t sleep much,” Wei Wuxian admits with a sigh. He tugs the comb out of his hair and sets it down on the table with a slight tap. Brushing aside stray hairs, he eyes his estranged brother with a weary look. “What are you doing here?”

“What do you think? To help you get ready, idiot. Or did you forget tradition already?” Jiang Cheng says with a scowl.

Wei Wuxian blinks with wide eyes and remembers that Lan Wangji is probably in the company of his brother, being assisted in the dressing process. He figured he would have to do this alone, just as always...but it figures matters would change. “Ah, a-Cheng…”

With half-hearted irritation, Jiang Cheng waves behind him. “I can leave, you know.”

“Ah, no, no. Come here!”

Jiang Cheng just snorts and strides over to Wei Wuxian, stopping barely an inch behind him and dropping down onto the floor with crossed legs. He eyes his brother’s half-combed hair.

“Your hair is so curly,” Jiang Cheng mutters, tugging at a curl. He picks up the comb and begins working through the locks.

Wei Wuxian sighs. “I know, I know, it’s a wreck.”

“I didn’t say that,” Jiang Cheng says, tugging the comb through even harder. Wei Wuxian yelps. “It’s...nice. Just unusual. Jin Ling doesn’t have it.”

“We already went there. Mo Xuanyu obviously didn’t get any looks from Jin Guangshan, thank gods.”

“Hm, it’s not bad. It suits you,” Jiang Cheng admits, combing through the sides, more gentle than Wei Wuxian has ever experienced from his brother.

A couple weeks before the wedding date, Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji managed to pass through Yunmeng, a quick trip that they expected to leave in a day or two. They rented a room in a nearby inn before heading out at sunset to roam about the market. They wandered through the stalls, picking up trinkets and tokens before retiring by the lake, cuddling against a tree trunk.

And that’s where Jiang Cheng found them. Wei Wuxian was feeding his husband candied lotus seeds when his eye caught his estranged brother’s figure from a distance. The man was alone as he strode toward them with hardened eyes.

Wei Wuxian tugged on Lan Wangji’s sleeve and, upon being granted his husband’s attention, murmured, “Jiang Cheng is here.”

Muscles tensing up, Lan Wangji’s expression tightens in a manner typical when faced with his brother-in-law. He began to stand up, only to be stopped by Wei Wuxian, who urged him back down.

“Ah, ah no. Er-Gege, behave, please? For me?” he said as sweetly as he could, making sure to give the added bonus of honey-dewed eyes. Lan Wangji hesitated before settling back down with a sigh.

They both watched as Jiang Cheng came to a stop in front of them.

The sect leader rolled his eyes and crossed his arms. “It figures I would find you here. How shameless can you be, not even bothering to pay your respects.”

Wei Wuxian blinked. “I didn’t think—”

“Of course, you didn’t think,” Jiang Cheng snapped.

At that, Lan Wangji bristled in all his elegance and warned, “Jiang Wanyin, mind your tone.”

“Ah, ah, let’s not do this,” Wei Wuxian sputtered, waving his arms between the two men in his life. He grabbed Lan Wangji’s wide sleeve and tugged it in an attempt to redirect his attention. Holding on tight to his husband, he tilted his head at Jiang Cheng. “I assumed you wouldn’t want us there.”

“You always assume,” Jiang Cheng said. “Yet, you’re never right.”

Rubbing Lan Wangji’s shoulder, he soothed his tempered husband. To Jiang Cheng, he responded, “Should I have not assumed?”

“What do you think, idiot?”

At that, Wei Wuxian smiled. It’s a small one, still weary of his estranged brother in a way he never expected to be but a smile nevertheless. “I should have visited. I’ll make sure to next time.”

“Make sure that you do,” Jiang Cheng said in a snappish tone. Then, he looked away. “I received your invitation.”

He paused before proceeding. “Will you really disgrace yourself without a family to pour tea to?”

Lan Wangji’s eyes flashed with indignation and he pushed Wei Wuxian’s hand away as he immediately stood up to face a stance against his brother-in-law. “Jiang Wanyin! Do not speak to him like that.”

“Is it not the truth?”

Standing between the two men in his life, acting as a barrier between the fuming two, Wei Wuxian sighed and finally understood. “Aiya, you two. Calm down.”

He turned to Jiang Cheng with a tilt of his head. “Will you be a part of my wedding?”

Jiang Cheng pursed his lips and didn’t meet Wei Wuxian’s eyes. But he still said, “Fine. Only because you’ll look stupid up there all alone.”

Now, here they are, estranged siblings kneeling in the middle of the Jingshi in awkward tension. Wei Wuxian stares at the wall as Jiang Cheng combs through his hair with surprising gentleness.

Wei Wuxian rarely gets a moment of calm with his brother, so he indulges in it, relishing in the subtle affection.

Even with Jiang Cheng’s attempts at being tender, Wei Wuxian’s hair is too easy to tangle, too thick to easily comb through, resulting in rather creative swears coming from his brother.

“Your hair is frustrating,” Jiang Cheng mumbles, yanking at a particularly stubborn curl.

“I know, I know,” Wei Wuxian says. He hesitates for a moment before continuing. “But I suppose it’s not that bad in retrospect.”

“It’s not bad, just difficult,” Jiang Cheng mutters, patting down the stray baby hairs. “It makes it harder to work with.”

“Ah, if you can’t, it’s fine. I’ll figure something out.”

“Who said that? I’ll do it, idiot.”

With a small chuckle, Wei Wuxian relents and leans back to allow Jiang Cheng to do his thing. He doesn’t exactly know what he’s doing but can still feel his brother’s hand twisting sections of hair around in some complicated hairstyle.

A while passes in silence before Jiang Cheng says, “Done. Go look.”

Wei Wuxian turns himself toward the mirror and blinks. He touches his hair lightly.

Oh.

The top half of his hair is pulled up into tiny braids, forming around a small bun while the rest of his curls fall down his back in a thick wave of dark chestnuts. Wei Wuxian’s locks have healed rather well since the first couple months of his second life but it’s still impossible to deal with and probably will always be. But Jiang Cheng managed to attempt the impossible and tamed them in a way that didn’t hide but accentuated their shape and beauty.

For once, Wei Wuxian feels some pride in his curls.

“It’s perfect,” he says in a soft voice. “Thank you, a-Cheng.”

“Hmph,” is all Jiang Cheng says before he turns to rummage through his robe. He pulls out a gold embroidered box from the side flap and presents it to Wei Wuxian. “Here.”

Surprised, Wei Wuxian takes the box and gently slides it open. Then, his eyes widen in shock.

Resting on a bed of cotton is a small bridal crown carved from solid, glinting gold. Curled around the edges are tiny lotus blooms amidst dangling red jade jewels.

Jiang Cheng gestures to the crown. “Let me?”

Wei Wuxian nods, still unsure what to say and leans forward to let Jiang Cheng insert the crown on the top of his head, nestled against the bun and braids.

“It’s made from Yunmeng directly, commissioned by me…I ordered it a while back,” Jiang Cheng admits, adjusting the crown to fit better.

He touches Wei Wuxian’s curls lightly and murmurs, “There. You’re beautiful.”

Wei Wuxian doesn’t say anything and just leans into his brother’s touch.

They go about the rest of the dressing in a calm, comfortable quiet. When done, Jiang Cheng leads Wei Wuxian out the Jingshi and down the path by the ribbon to where Lan Wangji waits with a crowd of guests.

Wei Wuxian barely manages not to stumble as he’s caught with the sight of his husband adorned in deep red wedding robes. The intricately embroidered fabric hugs his broad figure, casting strength and safety. Glinting underneath the sunlight is a stark gold crown, engraved with tiny gentians.

Wei Wuxian has never seen anyone more beautiful.

Gold meets silver and with that, Wei Wuxian takes a step forward across the lotus blooms and into his husband’s arms, knowing nothing else matters more than stepping forward into a future together.

epilogue

The wedding night truly means nothing to Wei Wuxian since he’s already been so thoroughly defiled of any innocent virtue. But it sure is fun anyways.

Their marital duties over, Wei Wuxian is sitting up on the bed. His hair falls down his back in a waterfall of orange blossom-scented curls. Lan Wangji kisses the back of his neck and just rests against his back, strong arms wrapped around Wei Wuxian.

They stay there for a moment before Lan Wangji interrupts the silence by saying, “I am dismantling the Chief Cultivator position.”

Wei Wuxian blinks and whirls around in shock. “What?”

“And we will be taking a break for a honeymoon. I have already arranged it. We leave in a week.”

“A honeymoon!”

Knowing Wei Wuxian all too well, Lan Wangxian reassures his husband, “It is what I want. Wei Ying knows I am not much for politics. I wish to spend more time together, with Wei Ying and Sizhui, to attend night hunts and eat dinner with you both. I have missed too much.”

“Are you sure, Lan Zhan?” Wei Wuxian asks, nibbling on his bottom lip in worry.

“Absolute.”

“Then, I support you.”

Wei Wuxian grins up at his husband and rubs his chest. He turns and leans back into his embrace, closing his eyes in joy like a satisfied cat.

Lan Wangji begins stroking his curls and humming wangxian as he does so. He guides them back onto the bed and adjusts Wei Wuxian so he’s draped across his chest as normal. His heartbeat is steady underneath Wei Wuxian’s head, a calm and normal rhythm that never fails to comfort Wei Wuxian and lull him into a serene state.

“Isn’t my hair so much better now?” Wei Wuxian says, nuzzling Lan Wangji’s neck. “Much healthier.”

“It is beautiful,” Lan Wangji murmurs. “You are beautiful.”

And with that, they both fall asleep, meeting the embrace of dreams together.

Thank you, Mo Xuanyu.