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Two for the price of one

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Wei WuXian opened his eyes.

The world was blurry around him, shapes and silhouettes blending together, merging into a swirl of color and texture that made his dizziness even worse than it already was.

He blinked once, twice, breathing slowly while trying to rid himself of the nausea that assaulted his body, which felt like it was on fire, every muscle hurting beyond belief, chest heaving with exertion that he couldn't remember carrying out, left arm stinging like he'd been bitten by a dog.

He shuddered.

His eyes slowly came into focus, and the fog that had been clouding his mind vanished, letting the memories and the fate he'd brought to himself drench him whole, a myriad of emotions drowning everything else around him, shrouding him in silence.

He narrowed his eyes, fought back the rising tide of sorrow trying to take hold of his heart, clenched his fists tight, and with weak and frail arms, rose himself from where he lay on the floor, sitting with great difficulty.

He immediately caught sight of the blood red symbols on the dirty ground, and his heart stilled, breath stuttering for a second as his eyes took in the design, the runes, the lines-

He recognized them very well.

They were the ones he'd created back then, his own invention, something he'd done when he'd been too bored or anxious and needed a distraction, something he had never expected to see -

Not that he ever anticipated to see anything else ever again.

He'd been dead, after all, and planned to remain so for eternity. He had nothing worth coming back for, anyway, no one waiting for him, so he choose to hide in the darkest corner of the afterlife, away from any kind of contact with the mortal realm.

Until now.

He ran his fingers over the crimson lines with tenderness, tracing their form, and couldn't help the tears that slowly rose to his eyes, warm and heavy as they fought for release.

Images flew before his eyes; of a child left orphaned after countless hardships, of rought treatment, beatings and cruel words, of the person he held dear withering before his very eyes as he could do nothing but watch, praying for a gentle hand that would alleviate their pain even if just slightly.

Not for him; but for his dying mother.

Yet, no one would come, and the child's mother died, leaving him all alone with nothing but slander and hate coming his way, poverty and hunger and abuse making his heart darken until even his sanity was snatched away, leaving nothing but a shadow of his former self.

His world consisted of nothing but degrading sounds coming from other people's mouths, disgust at his self for something he could not control, a world devoid of any kind of kindness or reprieve, always on the edge of falling, every day getting closer and closer to a breaking point.

Until he couldn't take it anymore.

'This....just...' His eyes burned as images of the past made his heart clench, feeling the child's- Mo XuanYu's desperation as if it was his own, the way he suffocated under the pressure and the hate and how his mind was chipped at by other's until he couldn't discern reality from madness anymore.

'This...how desperate must this child have been, to use this ritual, this array that lets someone summon a calamity in exchange for one's body, mutilating oneself and offering their blood for a chance to have their desires be made a reality.' Wei WuXian traced the silhouette of the blood red lines once more, his sleeve riding up as he did so, showing the scars on his forearm that bind him to this world, the ones that wouldn't vanish until he'd fulfilled Mo XuanYu's wishes.

'It must have been so painful...he wasn't even sane enough to tell me what he wanted, he left nothing behind but a few scattered memories and his body. How could someone bring a child to this point, and feel no remorse?' Wei WuXian seethed, his fingers stroking the velvet line under his palm with a caress, his hand trembling as a desire to impart justice seemed to take over him, cold and merciless.

He rose his arm and watched the blood slowly drip to the floor, the four scars on his arm deep enough to see the bone, making him scrunch up his nose in distaste and regret.

'Mo XuanYu....you wanted to call forth a calamity to destroy your enemies....but you got it wrong, I am no such thing. I never wanted to return, neither to kill anyone ever again. Still...' He pressed his palm on his chest, feeling the beating of his heart and the warmth of his skin, the breath that was proof he was alive.

'Still....you called me forth, and I will make sure that the evil done to you doesn't go by unpunished.' Wei WuXian tilted his head in respect and a prayer altogether, ready to stand up and clean this mess so he could begin acting on his promise.

Something touched his thigh, and a questioning noise escaped his lips before he turned to the right, expecting some kind of rodent or small animal bothering him but instead-

Instead.....there was a baby there.

Wei WuXian felt like his eyes were going to fall from their sockets, wide open to the point of tears as he gazed at the black haired, blue eyed infant sitting in the middle of a pool of blood, gazing up at him with curiosity while his small hands patted his thigh as if to catch his attention.

"What....is a baby doing here? You..." The more Wei WuXian looked at the baby, the more uncomfortable he felt, as if something was nagging at the back of his mind, begging for attention. He fixed his gaze on the child's eyes, staring intently, then sought his reflection on the first shiny surface he found, wich happened to be the knife Mo XuanYu used to cut himself up.

He stared until something clicked and fell into place, making him drop the knife as he whirled around to face the infant again, mouth slightly open as the child continued to pat his leg, seemingly having fun without a care in the world.

Wei WuXian was incredulous and slightly horrified.

"Mo....Mo XuanYu?" The child looked up at him and giggled, sputtering and babbling, too young to even talk properly, he couldn't be more than two years old. Wei WuXian quietly thought of his life choices, then mentally got back to the time he created this array, and tried to remember if this was a side effect-

But he'd never meant to use this spell, neither guessed than anyone would use it in the future, it had been something he did to avoid being idle, to occupy his mind with something that wasn't sorrow. He hadn't been thinking clearly when he'd created it, had just finished his theory and written it down on a daze, archiving it within his tome of inventions and forgotten about it.

It was an unusually obscure and possibly well-guarded document.

Which made him wonder just how had Mo XuanYu gotten his hands on it.

But leaving those worries aside, he had no idea how this worked anymore than the person who used it, neither was he aware of what consequences would arise from it, but he was pretty sure this wasn't meant to happen. His memory was even worse than when he was alive, but he was certain only the death of the soul was the price to pay.

So that could only mean one thing.

He swept his gaze over the array, tracing the lines in his mind as if he was drawing them himself, and then- there. There it was, just as he'd thought.

One of the curved lines that was meant to connect to the outer circle had been erased. The array was already badly drawn, with shaky hands and dripping blood making the process even harder, and it seemed that on his haste to finish, Mo XuanYu had unknowingly brushed some blood away, messing up the original array.

He had no idea what that meant, for either him or Mo XuanYu, he didn't know how the spell was modified or what it did, but...

He turned his eyes away from the bloody floor, his gaze falling once more on the infant by his tight, who kept looking up at him with careless joy, not bothered by the smell of iron and decay that shrouded the place.

Their eyes met, and of one thing he was sure; this child right there was him, and he was now alone with no one to bear responsibility, reborn in the body of a small infant with no way to take care of himself.

Wei WuXian sighed and wondered why bad luck always waited at his doorstep, ready to mess up everything he ever did. He gently rose his arms, ignoring the pain from his wounds, and picked up the small Mo XuanYu, cradling him close to his chest, the baby babbling and sputtering nonsense as he seemed to enjoy the attention.

"Goodness, what am I supposed to do with you, ah? You could at least have told me what you wanted....I know you loathed the Mo family for what they did to you and your mother, but....Do you wish for their humiliation? Their demise? A little guiding would have been appreciated..." Wei WuXian bit his lip in thought.

He would have preferred not to kill, he wasn't bloodthirsty by nature, no matter what people said about him. But if he didn't fulfill Mo XuanYu wishes, then his soul wouldn't be able to remain, and he would perish once more.

He hadn't wanted to come back in the first place, was nothing waiting for him anyway. But now that he was here, he wanted to at least preserve his second chance, he didn't want to die again so soon and bring at least a little justice to this wronged Mo XuanYu.

But how was he going to do that? What did Mo XuanYu want?

....mily...

Uh?

Wei WuXian snapped his eyes open wide, a faint whisper of words caught on a choked sob making him shiver, a memory making it's way into his mind, fuzzy and blurry, but filling him with an overwhelming sadness that he knew wasn't his.

A boy, kneeling in a pool of his own blood, drawing the last lines of the array that would take his life, his soul already drained to the point his consciousness wasn't stable anymore, to the point where his hate was already ingrained into every trace, leaving his body empty of it.

What remained was a deep longing, and, with tears dripping from his bloodshot eyes, a fleeting plea left his lips. He didn't even seem to know he spoke at all.

'I just....wanted....a...happy...fa...mily....bro...ther...'

The image vanished just as the body fell, and with it, every trace of Mo XuanYu's memories left Wei WuXian's mind. But he could faintly remember a lack of a father figure, no brothers or sisters to care, a sick mother that was pushed into insanity and despair by her supposed family, leaving Mo XuanYu to take care of her until her body withered and she died.

He could remember the empty feeling of losing everything that had ever mattered to him, watching other families being affectionate with each other and wondering just how it would feel to be shrouded in that warmth and share that love. To be cared for, to be cherished and listened to, to just be a child and not having to bear responsibilities at such a young age, deprived of the most basic things as one strived to survive.

He understood those feelings very well. He had once felt just like that when he'd been young and alone, then once again when Lotus Pier had been burned to the ground... He and Mo XuanYu had far more in common than he'd thought, but those feelings made his purpose even harder.

He looked down at the cooing child, clicking his tongue even as he laughed inside.

"Mo XuanYu....don't tell me the array recognized you wanting a family as a wish....because if that is so, this brother is going to be very, very angry..." Obviously, Mo XuanYu didn't answer. He just rose his tiny hands in the air and made grabbing motions, asking to be held closer.

Wei WuXian complied, thanking the gods that he knew how to take care of children, somehow, and cuddled Mo XuanYu to his chest, watching the child settle and his hands grip onto his clothes in a strong grip. Mo XuanYu then looked up, eyes shining with happiness, and his hands that had been holding onto Wei WuXian as if afraid to let go rose, slowly reaching for his face.

Warm palms and small fingers rested on either of his cheeks, and he watched as a beautiful smile bloomed on Mo XuanYu's face, his eyes crinkling with joy as he laughed, patting Wei WuXian's skin softly.

He froze, and his breath caught in his throat, reminiscing about a small body clinging to his legs, laughs and cries and smiles being directed at him as a sweet voice called 'Mama' over and over again, the small family that he'd made for himself now out of his reach, forever lost, making his eyes moist.

He was Wei WuXian, the ghost child, destined to never having a family of his own, always picking up and getting picked up, never truly connecting, never feeling like he was a part of any of them, always feeling like he didn't belong, like he was an outsider, a burden.

But....

But this time was different. Now he had a chance to obtain what he'd always secretly yearned for; a family to call his own, to cherish and raise and love, to share everything with, the perfect future that he'd always envisioned for himself. A mother riding on a horse, carrying a child as the husband took the reins and guided their path, one of the few scarce memories he could recall from his own childhood.

They would hum a song as they walked through the woods, the atmosphere serene and ethereal, filling his heart with peace. As things stood, he would be a single mom, and he had no horse neither a sweetheart to take the reins; but he wasn't worried, he was more than enough to shower Mo XuanYu with all the love his own flesh and blood had neglected to give him.

Images of his past life passed through his eyes, his adopted family and their kindness making him freeze, recalling that the lack of blood ties had meant nothing for them, and how, in the end, he'd only brough them misfortune in exchange for all the love they professed him.

Wei WuXian felt the nostalgia invading his body, and the emptiness in his chest only seemed to grow, accompanied by a sorrow that was unexpected, but not surprising. He thought he was going to cry, but the small hands swept at his eyes and brushed away the moisture there, and he gazed down and into the clear eyes of the child in his arms, seeking for something even he didn't understand.

"Pa....papapa...pa." Mo XuanYu's voice was soft and sweet, and he kept on smiling and spouting out sounds that made no sense, his tiny fingers brushing the skin under Wei WuXian's eyes with a pout on his lips, as if he was telling him not to cry. In that moment, something that had been wound tight in his chest finally unraveled, and an invisible weight that had been suffocating him since a long time ago lifted and scattered in the wind, never to return.

Wei WuXian held the small child-his child, closer to his chest, and let the tears that he'd been keeping at bay for so long finally run free, his breath hitching as he tried to keep silent, not wanting to scare Mo XuanYu. But the child seemed to be immune to everything, and just held tighter onto his clothes and rubbed his chubby cheeks against Wei WuXian's neck, giggling softly and seeming at peace.

"This time...it will be different, you'll see. I'll protect you with everything I have. I....I don't know if this will be enough to fulfill your wish but....I'll be your family, and you'll be mine, we will never be alone again."Mo XuanYu stopped swaying back and forth while he babbled, looking up at his teary face, then hummed before latching onto Wei WuXian's neck, leaning away a second later to drop a wet, slobbery kiss on his cheek, laughing like he couldn't be happier.

Wei WuXian's heart swelled and he felt his chest tighten, recalling those times when he'd been a young adult, and how much he'd wanted to find a good bride that would give him a child he could raise, someone that would love him as much as he knew he could love. But all his flirtations had always been hollow, just for fun, to bring forth a smile from the ladies and lighten up their day with compliments.

Because he knew, deep down, that no one could ever love him for who he truly was, because he was the odd one out, the sore thumb, the revel and troublemaker that was no good, the one that would always mess everything up. He had no house, no lineage, no money nor properties neither a way he could honor his spouse, and as the times and traditions stood, no one would ever marry him for who he was, no one would cherish him with all his faults and mistakes and many flaws.

His personality, his core, the essence of his soul, Wei WuXian.

With his tendency to disobey and innovate, to defy authority and seek controversy, to venture where no man had ever ventured before, to pursue adventures and rise to challenges, to live life at it's fullest without worrying about things that seemed meaningless to him, knowing life was too short to bother about them.

He knew that better than anyone else.

Just as well as he knew no one would go through the trouble to try and understand him and see him for who he truly was, which was the reason he never intended to pursue anyone, choosing instead to remain alone and isolated from love, a mere onlooker that would support those he loved with everything he had.

But even that had gone wrong for him.

Yet now...

"Papapa...pa....papa?" He stood and brought Mo XuanYu up with him, brushing his unruly dark locks away from his face.

Now, he had someone that depended on him, someone that needed him, someone he could love without reservations, someone he could call his family. He smiled up at Mo XuanYu, watching as he flailed in the air, moving around without fear of falling, looking curiously at him from above.

"Ah, Mo XuanYu, we look so similar-this is your body after all, I could say you're my little brother and no one would suspect a thing, but- that wouldn't be fun, you know? If I tell everyone you're my son, wich, you will be from now on- I'm sure many people will lose their heads." He chuckled, and Mo XuanYu tried to imitate him, the expression on his face truly amusing and funny, brows slightly furrowed and mouth upturned.

"We are related by blood, no one can deny this. Today, i'll give you a new name, one worthy of a new life. Jiang Cheng always said I sucked at naming, but I'll prove him wrong. You'll be....uh...QingYu!! Wei QingYu, but that will be a secret between the both of us, I'll just call you Ah Yu in front of people." Mo XuanYu continued staring and looking around like nothing was wrong, and Wei WuXian took the opportunity to glance at the room too, noticing how everything was drenched in blood, including his own self.

He made a face at the stench of blood and wrinkled his nose, disgusted at the sight and the realization that he would have to be the one to clean it up, lest someone found the array and discovered what had happened.

Taking in his surroundings, he took QingYu and carefully let him sit on the bed near the wall, telling him to wait for a while and praying he would listen, then he sought some rags and water and cleaned the floor as thoroughly as he could. All the while, he would let his eyes wander to QingYu to make sure he didn't move, and he gradually found himself smiling again as the child rolled around and played with the worn out sheets, entertaining himself.

Finally, after what felt like hours, the room was finally clean, and he fell on the bed with a thud, tired beyond belief, now smelling like sweat on top of the blood.

"Ugh, this is extremely disgusting, I need a bath." Something crawled on top of his chest as he lay on the bed, muscles aching and burning slightly, and, as expected, he found QingYu climbing on top of him, crawling and gripping at his clothes until he lay completely horizontal, his ear right above Wei WuXian's heart.

Wei WuXian didn't dare breath, and watched, as if mesmerized, as Ah Yu slowly closed his eyes, drifting off to sleep like he was in the most comfortable place in the whole world, his breaths becoming deep and even, his face content.

It felt like his chest was set ablaze, bubbling with happiness, and Wei WuXian wondered just when he'd gotten this soft, or if this was a part of him that had always existed, but he'd never been able to discover.

Anyway, leaving those thoughts aside, he couldn't move now, if he woke up Ah Yu and he began crying....well, he'd taken care of Ah Yuan back then, but...his skills had left a lot to be desired, and one thing he really couldn't deal with was children crying....

He sighed and rubbed his forehead, knowing he would have to get used to it and many other things if he wanted to take good care of his newfound son, beginning with getting them a bath, food and water, and then finding out how to get rid of his curse so they could go away.

He closed his eyes and unconsciously hugged the small body cuddled against his chest, feeling warm and comfortable, then drifted off to sleep as the exhaustion caught up to him.

As the last of his consciousness faded away, he thought he heard a youthful voice whisper in his ear, full of gratefulness and relief with a tint of sorrow.

'Thank you.'

--

When he woke up next , it was to small, sticky hands tugging on his cheeks and something wiggling on his chest, demanding attention with loud sounds and harsh movements. He blinked his eyes open and glanced at Ah Yu, who seemed to be glaring at him, munching on the edge of his robe as if he was giving him a hint of what he wanted.

His stomach took the opportunity to growl and make it known that he, too, was hungry, so he quickly got up, Ah Yu on the crook of his arm, and searched the small hut for some food.

Unsurprisingly, there was barely nothing there but some bread and milk that looked about ready to go bad, but when he tasted it, the flavor was acceptable, so he nodded his head and took a broken plate from one of the shelves. He then sat on a chair and set Ah Yu on his lap, breaking the bread in tiny pieces inside the plate and pouring the milk, letting it soak before he caught a spoon and fed it to his son, who opened his mouth wide to much on it.

It wasn't much, and Wei WuXian really wanted to give him a good meal, but as of now, their situation was shaky at best, and he still didn't know many things. He first needed to gather information and learn what was going on and how to proceed to save his life, then he could treat his child to a nice, healthy meal and himself a cup of wine.

Ah, just thinking about it made him drool.

"Papa!" His eyes widened and he looked down at the pouting Ah Yu, who was waiting for him to feed him, looking wronged and teary.

"Sorry, sorry! Papa was just distracted, here, have some more." Ah Yu peacefully returned to his eating, and when he was done, Wei WuXian patted his back until he burped, then, let him cuddle on his chest while he thought about what to do next.

They needed a bath to get rid of all the blood and smell, and they really needed to leave this shack, it was ruined beyond belief. He wasn't sure if it was a house in the first place, it looked more like a stable that had been haphazardly put together with old wood to resemble a home.

Just the thought of Ah Yu living here made his blood boil.

He was pondering just going out when voices reached him through the door, they seemed to be talking about Mo XuanYu, and it looked like they didn't have good intentions.

"This is the last time this lunatic has made fun of me! Ah Tong, kick open this door!" The voices carried by the wind were filled with malice and vile, and they seemed to be enough to even rouse Ah Yu from his peaceful nap, his eyes tearing up and lips trembling as if he was going to cry.

He rapidly patted his back and sushed him, cooing and humming until he calmed down. It looked like his small body still remembered the ones that had inflicted him pain, and it made Wei WuXian narrow his eyes and his fingers twitch in search of Suibian or ChenQing, anything to make those people pay for their wrongdoings.

But he had nothing, nothing but his fists.

But he wasn't worried, he was good with those.

Suddenly, the door was kicked open, and an arrogant-looking, well-fed youth stalked in, a manservant following after him, both of them looking murderous and pompous.

"There you are, you lunatic! How dare you tell on me to father and mother? Whose land do you think you're living in? What food do you think you are-?" The youth's voice trailed off, and Wei WuXian watched as his mouth fell open, the manservant peeking at his lord to see what was wrong, then following his gaze to the child resting comfortably in his arms.

The manservant blanched. "You- you- lunatic!! To a- such a thing to - a child! How low can you fall? You better kneel and commit suicide to beg for forgiveness from the gods!" Wei WuXian blanked, wondering for a second what they were talking about before remembering a small piece of information about Mo XuanYu- He was attracted to men, he was what they would call a cut-sleeve.

Wei WuXian narrowed his eyes, and his fists clenched to the point of drawing blood, his arms carefully prying Ah Yu from himself and letting him rest on the bed before he got up, his hands itching to wring the necks of those before him.

"Just what are you insinuating? Repeat those words if you dare!" He took a step forward, and grinned in satisfaction when the others took a step backwards, obviously distressed by the murderous intent he leaked out.

"This right here is my son, and if your mouth dares spew more nonsense, I will not hesitate to cut off your tongue!" The manservant trembled in obvious fear, but his master was oblivious to the danger, gritting his teeth and sneering at him, walking ahead until he nearly touched foreheads with him.

"What lies are you speaking, you damned lunatic?! How could someone like you have a son?! Pretty sure you just kidnapped him from somewhere for a good time! How disgusting!" The lord wrinkled his nose, looking haughty and righteous.

"Although it wouldn't really surprise me if it was really yours- You probably tricked some poor woman and then left, just like your father did with your mother -" Wei WuXian gripped the youth's chin hard, staring into his eyes with a smile that looked demonic, teeth showing and pupils leaking of death, his nails digging into the greasy skin of the one before him.

"I warned you, did I not?" Wei WuXian didn't wait for a response, immediately kicking the master in between his legs then punching his face, feeling gratified when his body rolled on the ground as he yelled. The manservant's screams mingled with his master's ones, and Wei WuXian took the chance to grab Ah Yu and run away, not needing to collect anything since he'd already done so before.

He ran until his ears caught the noise of running water, and followed the sound to the mountain behind the town until he found a river, thanking the gods that it was the summer so they wouldn't freeze when they took a bath.

"Well, time to get clean, I guess." He glanced down at Ah Yu to see how he was faring, and was surprised to see that the child was just casually looking around, no longer scared or on the verge of crying. Wei WuXian thanked the gods for that.

He saw Ah Yu's rosy cheeks stretch as he caught Wei WuXian smiling at him, the child proceeding to clap his hands and mimic his expression as he swayed from side to side, obviously happy. Wei WuXian couldn't help but rise him in the air and laugh, watching his newfound son wiggle and flail as giggles escaped his lips.

"Well, aren't you a happy little bun." He brough him down and pinched his cheeks, chuckling when Ah Yu puffed them in a pout. He reached out and landed a tender kiss on his forehead, wrinkling his nose at the smell and sneezing once.

" We better take that bath, I really hope you are not scared of water." His bundle looked up at him, not saying anything, and Wei WuXian took that as a sign to go on. He sought a place within the river that was blocked by rocks so the current wouldn't take them away, and tested that it was swallow enough that it wouldn't be dangerous.

He then proceeded to strip and did the same with Ah Yu, cleaning their clothes first before setting them to dry on some branches, then walking ahead towards the river with his child in his arms. His eyes swept over Mo XuanYu's body -his body now- and saw the many scars and bruises that were proof of how hard and painful his life had been, but he also noticed that he was in good shape, which meant that he hadn't neglected his training even in his madness.

Wei WuXian smiled bitterly at that thought.

He slowly dipper his foot in the water, testing its temperature, then soaked in completely with Ah Yu in his arms, shivering slightly even when the weather was quite warm. He swept his eyes over the meadow then to his child, who looked quite adorable with his hair down that barely reached his shoulders.

He was fascinated by the fish swimming close by and didn't seem to be paying attention to anything else, his little hands splashing around as his feet moved underneath the current. Wei WuXian took the opportunity to begin washing Ah Yu's hair, then his own, being careful to take away all the grime and blood that had accumulated there, leaving both of them clean and comfortable.

As soon as he was finished, Wei WuXian rose from the lake and walked towards the place he'd left their clothes drying, but a sound made him stop and freeze, his hands clutching Ah Yu closer to his chest as he waited.

Soon enough, footsteps could be heard approaching, and before he'd had the chance to move from his place, a few corpses stepped out from the bushes, wobbling, their flesh decaying, bringing a smell that wasn't at all pleasant. He wished he had ChenQing right now so he could shoo them away and bathe in peace, but he didn't know what had happened to his flute -or any of his belongings really- and he had nothing to craft one with, so he was on his own.

He couldn't control corpses that hadn't been raised by him without ChenQing, and although he could run and hope the corpses weren't fast, he didn't want to risk Ah Yu's safety, so maybe the best option was to fight. But that was dangerous too, he was at an impasse.

He slowly backed away, never giving the corpses his back, mindful of Ah Yu who had begun to tremble slightly but didn't make a sound. Something snapped under his foot, and, like called upon, the corpses froze for a second then threw themselves at him at rapid speeds - so much for them being slow.

Wei WuXian barely had time to take another step when a blinding white light took over the clearing, and from the sky, two figures descended, mourning robes making his breath hitch, the familiar hairband embroidered with clouds bringing back memories from the past.

The two figures dealt with the threat with astounding skill, and Wei WuXian watched their technique and movements, silently judging and appraising everything; from their strategizing to their sealing spells.

They were pretty good, and Wei WuXian couldn't help but smile. The Lan people had always been efficient and clean, following a set of stablished steps to acquire results, and it seemed like that hadn't changed. In a few minutes, the corpses were cleansed and their souls released, and the meadow regained it's peace and quiet once more.

Wei WuXian remained where he was, lightly patting Ah Yu's back in comfort as he watched the two figures slowly approach him, which made him want to run- It was like a reflex, as soon as he saw those mourning clothes, his first instinct was to flee, both because of the past, and because he really didn't want to meet with anyone he knew. Not now, at least.

He rested his gaze on Ah Yu's face, sighing in relief when his child seemed to have calmed down, babbling and humming once again without a care in the world, then glanced up when the two figures stopped before him. They were exceptionally young, and their faces had a trace of pink when they looked at him, their eyes looking at the ground instead as they saluted him- too well behaved, like always. Lan people never seemed to change.

"Greetings, young master, may we ask if you or your child sustained any injury?" The one who asked looked kind and sweet, his long hair tied up in a long ponitail that swayed with the breeze."We have medicine and bandages to treat any wounds." The youth gave him a smile, and Wei WuXian couldn't help but smile back, it was infectious.

He shook his head, opening his mouth to reply before the other youth interrupted him. "What were you doing here? Didn't you hear that this place isn't safe? You were asking for trouble, and brining such a small kid too!" The kind youth silently stared at his companion, and the other promptly stopped talking, looking bashful and on the verge of pouting.

Well, that was interesting, so not all Lans were calm and collected like he'd thought.

"Forgive my companion, young master. It is indeed known by the people of Mo Village that this mountain is very dangerous as of now, wich is why they called us here. We were just surprised to see people near this place, that's all." Wei WuXian nodded his head, brushing his wet hair back before answering.

"I see. I've been sick for a while now, unable to leave my home, so I didn't know about it. If so, I wouldn't have brought my son to such a place." The kind youth widened his eyes, looking troubled and switching his gaze between Ah Yu and himself, while the loudmouthed one wrinkled his brows and held a guilty expression.

"If that is so, then, will young master please allow us to guide you back to Mo Village? This one's heart won't feel at ease until I know young master and his son are safe back home." Wei WuXian acted as if he was thinking about it, while in truth he had already decided. He would've loved nothing more than never return to such a place, both for QingYu's sake and his own, but he still needed to lift the curse and set himself free, so he really didn't have a choice.

He knew he was supposed to be acting like a lunatic right now, too, but with little Ah Yu in his arms and his newfound responsibility over him, alongside the faint memories of all the pain he'd endured before, Wei WuXian couldn't bring himself to destroy Mo XuanYu's reputation even more.

So when he returned to the village, he was sure there would be questions and doubts, but maybe if he was with these Lans and gained their favour, the people around him would think twice before harassing him.

Not that Wei WuXian would have any trouble fending them off, but still.

"Sure. Then please lead the way for us, and stop calling me young master, my name's Mo XuanYu, and this is QingYu, feel free to use our names." The youth's eyes widened once more, and the kind one's posture became rigid as he approached and bowed slightly, while his companion just looked on, seemingly bored.

Wei WuXian couldn't wait to tease him endlessly, it was like an itch he desperately needed to scratch, he seemed like the kind of person he would get along with.

"Forgive us for our lack of courtesy, young master Mo -Wei WuXian rolled his eyes- this one is called Lan SiZhui, and my companion is Lan JingYi. If we had known you were the young master of the village we wouldn't have-"Wei WuXian cut him off, waving his hand as he turned away, seeking his and Ah Yu's clothes to dress themselves, wet as they were.

"No need. I am not the young master you're probably thinking of, I am but an outsider of that house, but I have some matters that need to be taken care of there, so I will take your offer and follow you back." Wei WuXian took a piece of cloth and tried to dry his hair while his child sat on his thighs, curiously glancing at the boys behind him with a tiny smile on his chubby face.

The boys didn't answer him, just patiently waited for him to get ready. It took barely a few minutes, and then he and Ah Yu were clean and dressed, all the blood and grime out of their bodies. Wei WuXian turned around and the youths nodded their heads before they walked towards him, and the three of them began the trek back to the village.

On the way, they talked little, but Wei WuXian noticed that JingYi was looking at Ah Yu from time to time, a twinkling in his eyes that made him look even younger than he already was. Wei WuXian decided to humor him.

"What is it, young JingYi?" The youth wrinkled his nose and hummed in thought before shaking his head once.

"I'm not that young, I'm sure you aren't that much older than me, ah? I was just thinking, your son- you must of had him when you were my age or so-" Lan SiZhui interrupted him, his voice chastising.

"JingYi. That is uncouth, don't be rude." Lan SiZhui's companion blushed slightly and lowered his head, a pout making way to his lips as he muttered an apology to Wei WuXian, the curious glint never leaving his eyes. Since there was still a little time before they reached the village, he decided to chat with the youths, see if he could get on their good graces so his stay in the village -short as it was going to be- would be less troublesome.

"I don't mind telling you. The truth is, I haven't been a father for long. Up until a few weeks ago, I wasn't...right on the head, I told you I was ill, remember?" Both boys nodded, attentive and focused on his words.

"I couldn't distinguish many things, and I often got confused and did things that were....less than pleasant. One such thing was meeting by chance with a young lady on the forest while I was gathering herbs and....well, you can imagine the rest." His traveling companions blushed, and he found strangely hilarious that Lan SiZhui's face remained impassive while his ears became bright red, it jostled his memory, somehow.

"I had just met my twentieth birthday back then - so, no, I wasn't as young as you when I helped bring Ah Yu into existence - but I separated from that lady after that day, and never saw her again, I think I even forgot she'd existed in the first place." Wei WuXian looked at his child and hummed a little, watching as Ah Yu's eyes closed ans he leaned against his chest, nearly falling asleep.

"How so?" Lan JingYi asked, looking eager for gossip or an entertaining story. Poor Lans were always bored out of their minds, he really sympathised with him, with so many rules to follow, it was no wonder they latched onto the first thing that seemed interesting.

" My memory was really bad, and I couldn't distinguish reality from illusions, most of the time, so I thought I made it up, then promptly forgot about it. Thankfully, my mind was slowly restored to a natural state with time, and my illness got cured. And then, a few weeks back, the lady I had neglected to remember came back to me." Lan JingYi leaned in close to him, nodding slowly, mouth slightly open as he waited for the end of the tale.

To his right, Lan SiZhui tried to look more composed -succeeding magificently- but he could still see the glint of interest hidden in his eyes, it was obvious he was listening intently.

"She told me she had received a marriage proposal, and that she couldn't deal with the child any longer, that it wasn't like she didn't love him, but her future was at stake, and she didn't want to ruin her life any further. She begged me to take him in, and since I've always wanted a family of my own, I agreed." Wei WuXian softly chuckled to himself. Spinning lies and making up tales had always been something that came naturally to him, he could exaggerate and spice things up and turn his dull life into a protagonist's story.

"I was surprised at first, because I didn't even know about my own offspring, but Ah Yu is a delight, and I've been taking care of him ever since." His companions nodded, and Lan JingYi hummed in thought before looking at Ah Yu again, his eyes becoming crescent moons as he smiled.

"Yeah, I can see the resemblance. I was just surprised at first because it thought you were our age, and having a child at fifteen is not unheard of but- I can't imagine having such responsibility as of now." To his right, Lan SiZhui laughed, the sound soft and sweet like chiming bells, his calm and composed demeanor making him seem ethereal while he shone under the canopy of trees.

"That's right, you can barely wake yourself in the mornings, it would be difficult for you." Lan JingYi made an offended noise, looking wronged as his cheeks flushed. Wei WuXian laughed to himself. It seemed like the Lans had acquired some good disciples in the last few years, it made him happy.

The three of them talked a little more as they descended the mountain, and Wei WuXian took the chance to apologize for delaying them, seeing as they could have arrived way faster flying on their swords, but had to go on foot since Wei WuXian couldn't ride with them with Ah Yu. He was gifted with smiles and reassurances that it was alright, and their earnest looks and sincere words made Wei WuXian want to adopt those children, too, steal them from GusuLan.

The thought made him pause for a moment. This impromptu parenthood had changed him more than he'd thought, it gave him the chills while also warming him inside out.

When he came back to his senses, they had already arrived at Mo Village, and as they trekked through the streets, he could hear the whispers of the people and their incredulous looks, their voices not being controlled at all as they badmouthed him.

"Isn't that the lunatic, Mo XuanYu? What is he doing with cultivators from the GusuLan sect?"

"I heard that he was under the tutelage of a great cultivator, once. But things ended badly, you know?."

"Is he carrying a child? Did he steal it? I fear for his life...should we do something? He isn't right in the head."

"We best not get involved, he brings nothing but trouble."

"I heard he was wandering the streets with ghastly make up not too long ago, screaming and laughing like a true madman."

"That's a common occurence, the moments where he's lucid are few and far between, he's a lost cause."

"Then maybe we should warn those cultivators. Make sure that small child is taken care of, lest it turns out to be like Mo XuanYu and-"

Suddenly, the voices stopped, and Wei WuXian looked up to see the uncomfortable and pale faces of the villagers, who all looked away and scattered after a few seconds. When he turned his head to the right, he found out why. Both Lans were glaring at the villagers with strong disapproval in their eyes, their mouths a tight line.

Lan JingYi's expression was filled with anger and a tint of scorn, his brows furrowed as he coldly looked at the people, while Lan SiZhui was sending a smile their way, so cold and drenched in contempt it made those that were under it freeze in their tracks and flee. It was a honestly terrifying look, scary in it's gentleness. Lan SiZhui was really an amazing fellow.

Wei WuXian couldn't help but feel his chest warm up at their anger for his sake, and a smile took over his face before he was conscious of it. "Ignore them, they are saying nothing but the truth, I told you I was ill, didn't I ?" Both disciples looked at him with surprise, then JingYi huffed and glared at Wei WuXian, his finger up in the air like a master that was ready to scold someone.

"That doesn't matter, young master Mo! They have no right to talk about you like that, an illness is not something to make fun of. Besides, you're okay now, they shouldn't hurt your feelings like this!" Ah -Wei WuXian thought- how cute, he thinks my feelings got hurt. He chuckled to himself. Far from being the truth, he couldn't care less about what these people said, their opinions meant nothing, but he still valued the concern these children professed towards his person.

"Thank you for your worry, JingYi, but it's fine, I don't care. They just talk like that because their own lifes are devoid of joy and they don't know that Ah Yu is my son. Ignorance is a sin, but it can be forgiven." Wei WuXian felt like cracking up. Talking all proper and formal was tearing him inside, it was far more difficult than he'd imagined. But he was pretty sure he'd left a good impression on the Lan disciples, and that they would help him should the occasion arise.

After all, if he wanted information on the years he'd missed and the state of the world, who better to know it all but GusuLan? They stood far up in the heavens, watchful of everything. Surely, they would know the happenings of the other sects and how everyone was doing, and besides, it never hurt to have good relations with people that were honest and pure, and he was really growing fond of these two disciples.

Maybe he was getting old.

He laughed inside while he took in the looks of adoration and awe JingYi and SiZhui were sending him, as if he was the pinnacle of maturity and calmness, someone to admire. Oh man, how would they react when he finally stopped acting and revealed his own self? Just thinking about it made tears come to his eyes, and he sniffed once, trying to keep them at bay alongside the cackles that threatened to escape his lips.

It seemed the disciples mistook his inner amusement with something else, their eyes never straying from his own teary ones as their own faces filled with determination.

"Do not worry, Young master Mo, we will not let anyone tarnish your name any further. If things escalate even more, you can ask GusuLan for shelter temporarily, I am sure HangGuang-Jun would approve." Wei WuXian's smile froze halfway as JingYi spoke, and a cold sweat began to fall down the back of his neck as he thought about that person.

No, nope, nono, definitely pass.

"T-Thank you, I will think about it." He had already decided. And the answer was no. He couldn't stand the thousands of rules in the Cloud Recesses, neither the thought of seeing Lan WangJi again. He just wanted a happy uneventful life being a nobody, that wasn't so hard, was it?

While trying to distract himself, he saw many vendors on the streets. One of them was trying to urge a donkey to move forward, but it was refusing to do so, and it was causing trouble to the point the vendor was getting increasingly mad. The image of the donkey seemed to trigger something in Wei WuXian's mind, and he had a sudden urge to get his hands on it, his feet unconsciously guiding him towards the small animal.

As soon as he was in close range, tiny hands began opening and closing in the donkey's direction, and he watched as Ah Yu babbled and tried to reach the animal, his eyes shining brightly like little stars.

"You like this donkey, Ah Yu?" His child looked up at him, beaming and nodding his head.

"Key, key!" Wei WuXian laughed, cooing at his soft little voice.

"Yes, it is indeed a donkey. Papa also likes it, so how about we buy it?" He looked at the vendor and his skeptical expression, eyes full of distrust as he seemed to recognize Mo XuanYu from the village, his doubt evident in his body language.

Wei WuXian suddenly remembered he had no money, and his pockets were empty save a few apples that he'd taken from the trees on the way back. He was as poor as a rat, had nothing he could sell either. He frowned in displeasure.

Before he could turn back and leave, however, a hand appeared in his line of vision, holding a small pouch that was shaken once, the sound of coins rattling loudly. Wei WuXian glanced at JingYi as he quickly bartered with the vendor, getting them a sweet deal in the end, with reins and a seat included in the price.

JingYi held the reins and gave them to Wei WuXian, all the while looking proud of himself and looking at him, as if he awaited the praise that was sure to come. Too nice, he is too nice! Was that his own money? Or GusuLan's? Anyway they were spoiling him too much! He needed to repay them somehow or it was going to look like he was a moocher!

Which was exactly what he was, but still.

"Ah, JingYi you didnt have to- I have no money as of now to repay you-" JingYi shook his head, depositing the reins in his hands.

"It's okay, you don't have to pay me back. It was really cheap, and you looked like you really wanted it. I dont know the appeal of a donkey, but hey, to each his own." SiZhui laughed softly, looking at his partner with mirth in his eyes.

"JingYi, that was the money uncle QiRen gave you, wasn't it?" JingYi seemed to freeze, his face gradually reddening until it was hot as a furnace. "What will you tell him when you come back?"

"I- I'll tell him it was used to help someone in need!" SiZhui chuckled even more, his calm appearance never wavering.

"JingYi, lying is prohibited in the Cloud Recesses." The way SiZhui said it made it obvious that he was joking and poking fun at JingYi, but the other still puffed out his cheeks and stomped his foot like a child throwing a tantrum.

"Well, we are not at the Cloud Recesses right now, so there." Wei WuXian looked down at his chest to hide the expression on his face, which he was sure was filled with amusement and laughter, his own cheeks feeling on fire because of the contained chortles.

Ah Yu was looking up at him, his hands playing with the wild strands of Wei WuXian's hair, even chewing on some of them. He took them out gently and chastised him softly before regaining his composure and sitting atop the donkey, Ah Yu secured in his embrace.

He moved the reins once and waited. And waited. And waited some more. Regardless, the donkey would not move, only looking at him with contempt and huffing like a child. Wei WuXian's luck was rotten.

He then thought about something, and took an apple from his bosom, throwing it up and down and watching as the donkey followed the movement with a wild glint in her eyes.

"Oho, so you like this, don't you? If you're obedient, Lil' Apple, I'll give you one of these, how about it?" As if the donkey understood, she began following his directions, and Wei WuXian was more than pleased when Ah Yu began yelling in delight and clapped his hands, the very image of happiness.

After than, it took them no time to reach the Mo's house, and Wei WuXian's arm began stinging as if reminding him that his objectives were close by, that he still had something he had to do. He didn't want to kill, if possible, but Mo XuanYu's hatred had been too strong as he died, and even if he'd changed his mind later, the curse was still in place. So if wanted to be free, he had no choice but to follow through with his wishes.

He booped Ah Yu's nose in frustration, watching as the baby scrunched it up before sneezing.

Troublesome.

Wei WuXian dismounted the donkey before giving her an apple, tying the reins to a tree and entering the house after the Lan duo, prepared for a very awkward situation.

As if listening to his thoughts, the youth that had previously badmouthed him in his own home appeared from behind the corner, and as his eyes found him, anger and hatred filled them with a burning fire, threatening to consume Wei WuXian.

Of course, this had no effect on him, but SiZhui and JingYi saw this, and immediately stepped to cover him, not understanding the situation, but not willing to let it escalate further, either. SiZhui spoke first, all smiles and calm waters, his presence a soothing balm to the tense atmosphere.

"Greetings. Are you the Young master of this house? We've come from GusuLan regarding matters of corpses walking free on the mountain close by. Would you be so kind as to guide us to the one in charge?" The rich-looking youth seemed to seethe for a while, then turned around without a word and screamed for his mother, leaving those present half deaf and stunned at his lack of manners.

Wei WuXian wasn't surprised, rich kids always thought they were exempt from following basic rules.

Soon, a woman sporting fine clothes and jewelry arrived, then proceeded to chew out her son for his disrespect before gushing about and around the Lans, guiding them to a lavishly decorated room and two seats specially prepared for them. She had completely overlooked Wei WuXian in her effort to cater to the two cultivators, praising them to no end and being, on Wei WuXian's opinion, annoying and overboard with her groveling.

But when her eyes finally caught sight of him, then began the fun.

Her eyes filled with hate and disgust, and she glanced at the child in his arms before sputtering and striding towards him, looking ready to beat him to death. He knew from experience that that was something that happened more often than not.

"You! What are you doing here? Quickly go back home! And just where did you get that child? Mo XuanYu, you are a disgrace to this family, not only acting like a lunatic, but even taking innocent children from the streets!" Lady Mo seethed, speaking through her teeth, her tone not overly loud, but enough to be heard by others. She gave him no chance to speak, and continued her tirade, seemingly fed up with him.

"I've been taking care of you all this time, even going as far as overlooking your tendencies and your lack of common sense, but this is the bottom line. You cannot be left alone, you are a danger to people, quickly give me that child and go back to the house, I'll deal with you later." She approached with all the intention of snatching Ah Yu away from him, but he was quick to dodge her hands, hugging his child close to his chest and preparing an act that would be worth praising.

"No! What are you saying? Ah Yu is my son, how can you think of tearing us apart?" Wei WuXian took a step back and held his son closer to himself, trying to look scared and pitiful.

"What kind of nonsense are you spouting? Son? What son? Stop your delusions and give me that child, or else." Lady Mo approached and her hands sought to snatch his child away, and Wei WuXian was quick to run away before facing her again, determined to bring trouble.

" How can you deny this? Just look at him!"He brought his child up and next to his own face, their eyes identical and their features as close as mirrors, making it impossible for anyone to deny the resemblance. " He has my eyes and face, and I know for a fact he has my blood, what more do you want?" He frowned at the Lady, who was grumbling and glaring hatefully at him before turning to the Lans and apologizing profusely for the scene he'd caused, even thought it was mostly her fault.

"Mo XuanYu, I won't say it twice, forget your fantasies and return to reality. How could you have a son if you're always inside your home? You're sick, so you must have imagined it, and that child has parents that need him back, do not be stubborn and be obedient!" She once more approached him, but this time, he chose not to move, convinced that one of the Lans would do something to help his situation.

He wasn't wrong.

SiZhui held the Lady's hand that was about to take Ah Yu, gently lowering it before standing between Wei WuXian and her, his look gentle but firm, looking regal and composed.

"Lady Mo, please be understanding of this situation. I understand your confusion, but it is undeniable that Young master Mo and this child are related by blood. Even if their looks were coincidental, they wouldn't be so close in resemblance, their blood bond cannot be denied, so I wonder why you keep insisting it is impossible." SiZhui and JingYi both narrowed their eyes, and Wei WuXian's own crinkled with joy, enjoying the pressure they were putting on the Lady, who stuttered for a second before closing her mouth.

She was smart, knew how to keep up appearances. Sadly, her son wasn't as intelligent.

"That is easy! This Mo XuanYu is sick in the head, getting close to anything that breathes! He was stuck in his house, and it was closed from the outside, so of course he couldn't have just gone out and have an affair with someone! And even if he did get out, no one would have approached him, because he's a lunatic!" Wei WuXian tried to keep in his laugh at the appalled face of the Lady, who looked close to smacking her own child for his stupidity.

The Lans send reproachful looks to the both of them, clearly disapproving of their actions.

"Ah, please do not listen to my child, his words are not chosen clearly. Mo XuanYu's house arrest was for his own good, he kept hurting himself and harassing people, so we had no choice but to leave him home. But we brought him food an water and anything he needed, we took care of him, he is family, after all." The Lady's smile was so fake it made Wei WuXian want to laugh, it was obvious she just wanted to leave a good impression on the cultivators, so she twisted words and events to her favour, making it seem as if she was a good person.

JingYi did not look convinced, one brow raised as he hummed in thought.

SiZhui nodded, then smiled. "Whatever the reason, it is clearly a fact that this young child is Young Master Mo's own offspring, so I ask the Lady to please leave this matter aside for a latter time, when this place has been cleansed of all evil." Wei WuXian saw as the Lady begrudgingly accepted, her face showing displeasure in his direction before she turned away, taking her son with her as they spoke in shushed whispers, the Lans behind them as the Lady quickly explained the situation with the corpses.

Choosing not to cause more mischief for the moment, Wei WuXian looked at Ah Yu, who was wrinkling his nose, and kissed his brow before looking around.

"While the boys are working, how about we go to the courtyard? You can play in the grass for a while." His child clapped and nodded his head, babbling a little. Wei WuXian began walking outside, not worried about the situation with Mo XuanYu's family at all, since he knew he had the Lans on his side.

The sky was bright and it was sunny when he stepped outside, the flowers and plants in the garden well taken care off, blooming wonderfully and giving off a pleasant scent. He set Ah Yu on the soft grass and watched as he rolled around once, getting on all fours before crawling towards some flowers, softly caressing the petals before plucking the whole thing off.

Wei WuXian laughed. He'd taken the roots and everything, it seemed his little arms had more strength than he'd guessed. His child frowned before snapping the roots away, leaving only a pretty red flower, then he turned around and tried to crawl back to him, but found out that, with one hand occupied it would be a little difficult.

Wei WuXian watched the emotions run through Ah Yu's face, frustration, disappointment, then- determination. He pushed himself off the floor with one hand, and, planting his tiny feet on the ground, tried to steady himself, wobbling like a piece of jelly that was about to fall.

And fall he did, a few times.

But he got up once and again and again, up until it looked like he'd gotten the hang of it and slowly took a step forward, then another, unsteady and shaky, but full of resolve.

Wei WuXian didn't know he'd been holding his breath until his chest began hurting, and he exhaled as Ah Yu slowly but surely made his way towards him, his big blue eyes never leaving his face. He walked until he was in front of Wei WuXian, then tripped and fell right into his arms, looking up with a proud face that was awaiting praise. And Wei WuXian could do nothing but smile, big and unrestrained, as his child held onto him, happy and proud of his accomplishment.

He kissed Ah Yu's cheeks and forehead, then his nose as the small one giggled. "You did so good, Ah Yu, can't believe you know how to walk already, such a good boy. You'll be causing trouble with papa in no time at all." Ah Yu giggled again, nodding his head before presenting the flower to him, a twinkle of delight in his eyes.

"Pretty, papa." His child held the flower up, beaming at him, and Wei WuXian didn't know if he was saying the flower was pretty, or if he was, but it was a gift from him nonetheless, and Wei WuXian was going to wear it with pride. It wasn't like he was insecure or cared about other's opinions.

He lowered his head, his hair that was still loose falling over his shoulders, and waited patiently as Ah Yu put the flower above his ear, humming happily once it was done, repeating the words from before. "Pretty, papa." Wei WuXian chuckled and held him close to his chest, letting himself fall backwards and looking up at the darkening sky, enjoying the soft breeze that caressed his skin.

From his position, he could see the number of arrays and preparations that the two little Lans were making to take care of the corpses, and, by the time the sun had already fallen, everything was ready and both SiZhui and JingYi were approaching him while he was entertained with another thing.

Showing Ah Yu one of his talismans.

"See -he whispered- this is something your papa created, it works to lure corpses so the sects can take care of them- It's hilarious, really, they said that I was dangerous, way 'too powerful' and my inventions 'evil'. But they have no qualms on using them to make their jobs easier, this is what is called hypocrisy, Ah Yu." His son squinted at the piece of yellow paper, then pouted.

"C-rissy." Wei WuXian smiled wide, patting his head.

"Indeed, hypocrisy of the worst kind. But this talisman is really well done, it looks like, at least, the person who did it put effort into it, and that kind of makes me happy." Wei WuXian looked at the symbols drawn, trying to find a mistake, but saw that it was for naught, and nodded, satisfied that there was no danger for anyone. Then he heard his name being called.

"Young master Mo- Ah, is that one of our talismans? Return it to where it was, please, it is dangerous." SiZhui frowned slightly, looking concerned for him.

"My apologies, I just wanted to check that it was secure. I know a little about talismans and arrays, and wanted to confirm that Ah Yu would be safe if we stayed here." He saw SiZhui's eyes brighten a little, then his smile trembled a bit before he spoke.

"And...what do you think? I- it was me who did that talisman, my...my father taught me." Wei WuXian could see the anxiety in his expression, how he was doubting himself and looked for someone else's opinion, someone who would not be biased because he was a cultivator from a famous sect, someone who would be sincere.

Honestly, this child was too good, Wei WuXian was tempted to bully him, but even he wasn't that cruel, and with SiZhui's personality, he would feel guilty afterwards. He turned the talisman in his hand, humming in thought.

"It is very well done, the strokes are crisp and clean, the symbols are neatly done and the array is perfect, it's actually one of the best I've seen, I'd say you made a pretty good job, SiZhui." He didn't know why, but his words seemed to cheer up the Lan way beyond what they should have, and he bowed and gave his thanks before returning the paper to its rightful place, all the while while JingYi pouted like he was throwing a tantrum.

"I did some of these too..." JingYi muttered, and Wei WuXian, feeling like a father whose's sons were vying for his attention, could only roll his eyes and chuckle, patting his head before he had a chance to react and reassuring him a little.

"I noticed. There were two different styles on these talismans. Your own are also really good, you only need to practice the strokes a little more and they'll be perfect." JingYi cheered up, but never stopped pouting.

" Come on, don't get discouraged. Did you know that the Yiling Patriarch had horrible caligraphy? He had to study and practice a lot to be able to draw and write good. Everyone begins somewhere, you just need patience and being diligent to succeed." At this point, Wei WuXian was just reciting something Jiang FengMian had told him many years ago, when he'd been frustrated because his caligraphy was horrendous.

It felt weird saying inspiring words, it wasn't like him at all, but they seemed to do their job, and JingYi nodded his head, suddenly more lively and energetic.

"I know that! I'll do my best and be even better than SiZhui one day, you'll see!" Wei WuXian could only smile and nod his head, watching as the youth's cheeks tinted pink before he left in a flurry of movement, loud and - like himself.

He had to wonder, though, did the Lans treat their children like they treated their disciples? If they were raised by them, did they have paternal figures and people that showered them with love? Wei WuXian had lacked that for many years, and always thought that it never affected him in any way.

Until Uncle Jiang took him in, and he'd realized the warmth and soothing feeling that being in his arms brought, the sensation that everything was alright in the world and he was safe, kept from the evils of a life in solitude.

He'd noticed just how important a family really was, and, although the Jiangs had never been able to replace his parents, that didn't mean he didn't love them as much, they had made him feel like he could take on anything, as long as they were by his side.

But he was beginning to feel like these children never had a father figure to begin with, except SiZhui, who said he had a father. They reminded Wei WuXian of his own self after meeting uncle Jiang, always trying to impress him, be good for him, be proper and act smart so as to not disappoint him. Of course, uncle had told him, in the end, to just be himself, because that was the thing that would make him happiest. And thus, his days of being a troublemaker had begun.

SiZhui and JingYi were like mirrors of his younger self, seeking reassurance and recognition, praise and affection from someone who was willing to offer it and be sincere about his words, giving them a warmth that Wei WuXian knew could heat up even the coldest crevices of one's body.

He had experienced it himself.

Well. Wei WuXian told himself. If GusuLan is not willing to pamper these children -because they are just that, children that deserve a good childhood- and they want to seek comfort somewhere else, who am I to deny them? I have more than enough of me to share with everyone.

He looked down at Ah Yu, who was glancing up at him with a strange look, almost as if he was jealous but also eager and happy. It was a strange combination, and he didn't know if a child this young could understand the happenings around him, but seeing how he came to be, anything was possible.

"Come on, Ah Yu, don't look at me like that, I'm just being nice, and they need it. Besides, wouldn't you like to have siblings? They could be your caretakers when I'm off doing stuff." His child groaned and put his forehead on the crook of Wei WuXian's neck, rubbing his cheeks against him and clutching him tight, his robes wrinkling from the force of his tiny hands.

Okay, jealousy it was.

Wei WuXian began laughing, bringing Ah Yu up in the air as he squealed in delight, batting his hands and feet around as his cheeks became rosy from the excitement, body bouncing up and down as Wei WuXian played with him.

He was so busy being childish with Ah Yu that he didn't notice a hand until it was too late, and his child was snatched away with a tight grip, making him cry out and his face become pale and terror stricken, eyes wide as he looked at Wei WuXian.

He turned around fast as lightning, and glared with malice at the Young Master behind him, the servant from that morning following after him like an obedient dog. He had clutched his child from the scruff of his neck, and he was holding him up in the air, making it difficult for him to breathe.Little Ah Yu's eyes were misty and wet, and he reached his hand towards Wei WuXian, looking on the verge of crying.

"Pa- papapa....papa." His soft voice sounded scared, and Wei WuXian had half a second of sanity to realize he had begun screaming to the heavens and threatening the Young Master- Mo ZiYuan- into returning his child, his voice growing increasingly louder as Ah Yu's tears began falling.

It looked like his screaming had brough forth the Lady of the house alongside the Lans, and they all stared at the scene as Wei WuXian continued yelling profanities and threats towards the pig of a Young Master, his anger almost suffocating as his child remained out of his reach.

Just when he was about to resort to drastic measures, two white-clothes silhouettes stood before him, blocking his way and the vision of his crying child that was making him burn with anger. He could only tremble and try to regulate his breathing, closing his eyes as if to calm himself and erase the image of QingYu's desperate look. The tranquil and soothing voice of SiZhui helped him regain his senses, and, as he listened, he felt his heartbeat slowly return to normal.

"Young master Mo, what is the meaning of this? This is extremely disrespectful, I ask that you please return Xiao QingYu to Master XuanYu, a son must be with his father." Wei WuXian couldn't see anything, but he imagined the look of utter refusal that Mo Ziyuan would have on his face right now.

It made him feel slightly better.

"I told you cultivators already, it is not possible that this brat is his real son-"

"Regardless -SiZhui interrupted- of your reasonings, this child is crying and reaching for Master XuanYu, it is only correct to let them reunite, blood relations aside." Wei WuXian felt himself smile despite everything.

"This matter can be talked in between the family with civilized means and without violence. I ask that you await for this dangerous situation to be over before solving this problem and reaching an understanding." No one spoke for a while, but then, Lady Mo, having some slight common sense left and wanting to leave a good impression on the Lans, chastised her child and tried to turn the situation around so Mo ZiYuan's words seemed to stem from worry, instead of jealousy and hate.

What a manipulator she was.

"Please, esteemed cultivators, forgive this child. He was just worried about this small one, he meant no harm at all. You are absolutely right, and we will discuss our problems in private when all the corpses and spirits have been taken care of, please forgive our insolence and for disrupting your work." Wei WuXian opened his eyes, and the next thing he heard was the Lady Mo whispering to her son to 'Return the child to your cousin' in a harsh voice, the Young Master immediately making a face at this, but knowing he had to listen to his mother no matter what.

The Lans parted to the sides, and Wei WuXian's eyes fixed themselves on the crying face of his child, his sobs choked and soft as he dejectedly held his hands towards him once he saw him again. He felt his heart break a little, and wondered just when he'd gotten this soft, if his acting was influencing him more than it should or he was losing sight of who he was.

But regardless of the reason, he walked ahead and snatched Ah Yu away from his cousin, cradling him in his arms and whispering sweet nothings in his ear until he stopped crying. He could feel something rising in his throat, and thought it could be vile or an imitation of a sob or something similar, but what came out once it escaped his mouth were nothing but more profanities, and a threat he knew he wouldn't mind carrying out would the situation ask for it.

"You seem to enjoy getting your hands in what isn't yours, cousin. You already stole all my possessions, now you want to steal my family? If I ever see your greasy hands near my son ever again, I will not hesitate to cut them off!!" The wronged face of Mo ZiYuan and his silent seething anger placated Wei WuXian to some extent, even more when his cousin had to be restrained by his mother then taken away, all the while glaring at Wei WuXian but unable to do anything.

He glared back until he disappeared around a corner, then directed his attention towards Ah Yu, who was holding a strand of his hair and a handful of his clothes, still whimpering and sniffing from time to time. He brushed his hair away and kissed his forehead, rubbing his back softly.

"It's okay, I have you, it's fine." It took a few minutes, but, eventually, Ah Yu calmed down, and he just held onto Wei WuXian's clothes, staring at his chest as if mesmerized by something, tilting his head in a way that made him look adorable- SiZhui had said so.

"Master XuanYu..." SiZhui began." I know this is not my business, and the Lan rules state that it is not proper to meddle, but...." He saw the youth bit his lip while JingYi hummed, rising an eyebrow as if he was telling his fellow disciple that thinking about the rules at a time like this was useless. A few seconds later, he actually said so.

"Come on, SiZhui, we are not at the Cloud Recesses right now, just ask what you want to ask. And if you still feel bad, think of it this way; you're not being meddlesome, you're trying to help a burdened soul, and that is within the teachings of GusuLan, so there." SiZhui smiled a little, eyes twinkling.

Wei WuXian was liking this JingYi more and more as time passed by. He tried to act proper and calm, but in reality, he reminded Wei WuXian of himself when he'd been young; a free spirit, saying whatever came to mind and trying to make the most of life, following the rules but being aware of the loopholes he could exploit so his existence wouldn't become dull.

Wei WuXian smiled wide, QingYu giggled, catching the attention of SiZhui.

"Ah, is master XuanYu...having family troubles? They don't seem very...welcoming." Wei WuXian sighed and hoisted Ah Yu a little higher, watching as his wide, blue eyes stared unmoving at the area near his heart, one finger pointing there as he babbled.

"Sssshiny. Pretty." Wei WuXian frowned, confused, listening as his child repeated the same thing a few times before growing bored and holding onto his neck, beginning to doze off as Wei WuXian covered him with his sleeves. He motioned for the Lans to follow him through the garden so they could talk as they walked, making most of the time as they waited for night to fall.

"It's kind of...complicated. I was once in a sect, training to be a cultivator, but my talent was lacking and my only resources were my intelligence and hard work. People usually say that that is enough to become someone in life, but, in that sect, others looked down on me for that and for....some personal reasons that I will not discuss now." Both boys glanced at him with frowns, probably wondering what sect could be so harsh and unpleasant.

But he had no intention on telling them, he wasn't about to badmouth anyone without having all the information, no sense in removing a past long gone for someone who couldn't even remember.

"The thing is, some rumours were leaked out, people began gossiping, and, in the end, I was forced to leave the sect with my mother, who was Lady Mo's big sister. The accusations towards me for something that I did not do followed me here as we returned home, and Lady Mo scorned my mother for her choices and my character, leaving her aside when she most needed help." JingYi seemed like he wanted to say something, but eventually nodded at him to continue, eyes cold as he glared at nothing.

"The Lady didn't want to dirty the family name with my mother's presence, neither did she want to tarnish her own reputation by mingling with us, so we moved into a small shack on the outskirts, and lived there." Wei WuXian stopped, some images, blurry and fading, passing through his eyes.

" My mother could not take the pressure of people's opinion on us, neither the badmouthing, scorn and shame that befell her because of me. In the end, she hanged herself, and left me alone to fend for myself. That was when my mind took a turn for the worst, and my life became a kaleidoscope of faceless people and madness that I cannot remember right." SiZhui and JingYi both stood with mouths wide open, and it was obvious with just a glance that JingYi was mad, his mouth opening to speak his thoughts before Wei WuXian could finish.

"That is just....terrible. How could they be so arrogant and selfish? Nevermind GusuLan, no sect would accept such immoral people, turning their backs to their own family like that." Wei WuXian nodded, feeling grateful at his sympathy, knowing that it came from the heart, as that child was honest as could be, something refreshing in a world full of lies and deceit.

"Indeed. I cannot remember much events from that time, and one of them happened to be the...meeting with this young lady that brought Ah Yu to me. My mind was broken for a long time, but as soon as I saw him, it was like a veil had been lifted and the mist covering my eyes vanished." He looked down at the bundle sleeping on his chest, feeling giddy and warm.

"I saw a lonely child, much like myself, alone in the world except for me, and I knew I had to take care of him, give him the family that he deserved, the one I couldn't get. That was actually only a few weeks ago, so these people do not know about it, which is why they still treat me like a lunatic." Wei WuXian laughed, speaking like none of those things concerned him, which they didn't. He just wanted them to know the pain Mo XuanYu had to go trough, wanted them to know the true story and how he lived, why people looked at him with pity and compassion as if he was the unluckiest person alive.

Although he wasn't, and neither was Wei WuXian. All the things that had happened to him, happened because he'd made his choices, and then had to deal with the consequences of them and the disasters they brought. So no, he wasn't unlucky, he'd just tried to protect those he loved and stop a war, and failed because he'd bitten more that he could chew.

Those were just facts, he'd walked the path that led to his end, and met the fate that he himself had webbed with his own two hands.

"Master XuanYu...?" Wei WuXian startled out of his reverie, jumping a little as he glanced at SiZhui's concerned expression, shaking his head to rid himself of thoughts of the past. It was no use crying over spilled milk, what was done was done, regret would only make him miserable.

"I'm okay, do not worry, just...reminiscing." The disciples didn't look convinced, but Wei WuXian turned his head away from their fiery and determined gazes with a big smile on his face, craning his neck so he could look at the moon that was slowly becoming visible.

"It is getting late, we should rest for a while." The Lans nodded their heads, although Wei WuXian knew they had no intention of resting, they had something to take care of, after all. SiZhui smiled as he approached, gently stoking Ah Yu's head with a gentle smile and cheeks tinted pink.

"Go ahead Master XuanYu, we will follow shortly. Also....we're very grateful you shared your hardships with us, if there is anything you may need, please, call for us. In the event that you cannot remain here....our offer to bring you back with us to Gusu still remains." Wei WuXian felt a cold sweat dripping down his neck, remembering the three thousand rules and his painful time in both the library pavilion and the hall of punishment.

Not good times, not at all. If Lan QiRen was still wandering around the Cloud Recesses, he wanted nothing to do with that place, his back hurt just thinking about it.

"I....am very grateful at your offer, I will...think about it." The blinding smile he received for his lie nearly sent him to heaven, and he quickly dismissed himself to his chamber -which JingYi pointed him to- crawling into the bed to let A-yu rest until something happened.

QingYu seemed to feel that they were now in a fluffy and soft surface, and rolled off him to sleep on the mattress, bouncing a little before settling down, looking at peace and happy. Everytime Wei WuXian tried to get up, though, he would clutch at him in a death grip and frown like he was angry, whimpering and pouting as if he was telling him to stop moving. Even when he was still as a rock, QingYu seemed to be able to tell when he had intention to leave, and he was stopped evertyime.

Wei WuXian wanted to cry real tears, the fearsome Yiling Patriarch, unable to do what he wanted because a small child was holding onto him and would sob if he wasn't near.

Too soft, too soft indeed.

--

In the end, he still didn't move from the bed for a few hours, and, by the time something happened, he hadn't even left his room, so he had missed the interesting part. He wanted to blame his son, but as he looked at him, with eyes wide open and a mischievous smile on his tiny, chubby face, he could only gape and begin tickling him mercilessly, listening to his every giggle and snort, seeking revenge for such treachery.

"Ah Yu, you sneaky, sneaky child, did you do this on purpose?" Ah Yu giggled and laughed, tears gathering in the corner of his big eyes.

"No-n-no papa!" Wei WuXian stopped, trying to see if he was lying, but Ah Yu only send him a sweet grin, looking innocent like he'd never done no wrong. Crafty. Just like his father.

"You're such a bad boy, and you're learning to talk real fast too, cannot wait to tell everyone what you think, uh?" Ah Yu burrowed his head on Wei WuXian's neck, curling like a little ball and sighing with relief as Wei WuXian held him in turn, both of them enjoying the peaceful atmosphere.

Until it was shattered by a piercing scream and a pitiful sob.

Wei WuXian sat on the bed, Ah Yu clutched tight to his chest, eyes shining red as he tried to feel for an enemy nearby. Thankfully, it seemed nothing was close to them, and whatever danger was around still hadn't reached that place of the compound. Wei WuXian relaxed a little, shoulders slumping and heart slowly slowing down.

But he'd relaxed too soon.

Not a second later, hurried footsteps neared his room, and the doors were opened with a ruthless motion, the wood creaking and banging the other side as Lady Mo, with a face full of tears and anger, strode towards him with her hands raised, screaming like she had forgotten how to utter words.

Wei WuXian didn't move, wanting to see just what she was going to do. She seemed to want to choke him to death, with the way her hands were nearing his neck, but just as she was close enough to fulfill her wish, a white-robed person stood before both of them, taking her hand away as she shouted like there was no tomorrow.

"Why are you stopping me!? He- he- Ah Yuan, my Ah Yuan, he killed my son!" Wei WuXian rose his eyebrows in surprise, just having learnt about this. So his cousin was dead? Then maybe...

He didn't dare think that it would be this easy, he hadn't done anything, after all. But maybe....

Wei WuXian held his left sleeve and slowly rose it, careful not to be seen. Of the four wounds on his arm, only three were left, still bleeding slighty, pulsating and hot as if to remind him of what he had to do.

But...how could this be? He had done literally nothing, even indirectly, he hadn't....

But there was a way. If he was right, then...

"Lady Mo, please. Master XuanYu has been sleeping here with Xiao QingYu all this time, he didn't even step a foot out since he came in. Furthermore, master ZiYuan's body looks drained of spiritual energy and life, something obviously done by a corpse. Why are you so intent on acussing him?" SiZhui stood proudly and unwavering before Wei WuXian, his back making him remember things from a past best forgotten.

"You saw it too, didn't you? You heard it too, what he said! My Ah Yuan, he was missing a hand! And this- this lunatic said that he would cut them off!! It was him, him who killed my son! He was just a child-!" The lady began crying again, then cursed and blamed the Lans for everything just as JingYi arrived, the both of them frowning and shaking but saying nothing.

Wei WuXian rolled his eyes. These children needed to learn how to speak up for themselves, honestly, rules and courtesy aside, they didn't have to take the blame for someone else's stupidity, and even less when they came to aid those same people.

Some individuals were just plain ungrateful.

"Auntie, stop being unreasonable."Wei WuXian spoke, voice firm and harsh, filled with an authority only someone full of confidence could have. He was trying to channel his inner Yiling Patriarch to shut her up and make her listen, he knew it would most likely work.

"I think I know what really happened, I knew how my cousin thought, sadly, so I have an idea of what caused his demise. Follow me." He hoisted AH Yu and cradled him to his chest before leaving, not even bothering to look if anyone was following him, reaching the courtyard and the place where his dear cousin lay, completely pale and gray, the life sucked out of him.

He was really missing a hand, and, just as he'd thought, there was a Spirit Lure Flag hidden in between the folds of his cloth, making Wei WuXian roll his eyes at his cousin's obvious attempt at killing him. Honestly, doing something without knowing the consequences....utterly foolish.

"Master XuanYu?" SiZhui's voice sounded behind him, and Wei WuXian stepped away so they could approach the body.

"Look on his clothes, SiZhui, I'm sure there will be something there. Your array wouldn't have failed and allowed something in without you noticing, unless it was tampered with." He nodded his head towards the Lan, and after receiving a nod back, SiZhui kneeled down and carefully opened the outer layer of Mo ZiYuan's clothes, exposing a Spirit Lure Flag folded in between the layers.

He could see the Lan's expressions of surprise, JingYi's quickly turning into one of exasperation, while SiZhui only looked mournful and slightly sad, clutching the flag tightly in his hand. Of course, they felt even worse when the Lady Mo continued her tirade of why everything was their fault and how Mo XuanYu had surely been the one to put that flag in his clothes, which made no sense, but she didn't care.

She screamed and blamed them for everything even when she'd been the one to call them for aid, and when he saw that they had no intention of defending themselves -some rule from Cloud Recesses, he was sure- Wei WuXian planned to take the reins and do it for them.

Someone unexpectedly got ahead of him.

"Wrong, wrong." A little sweet voice spoke, and Wei WuXian glanced at Ah Yu, who was pointing at the Lady Mo with a frown, repeating the same words before nodding and following up with his thoughts.

"Brothers good, papa good, Lady......bad." The Lan's eyes seemed to twinkle with tenderness and joy at being called brothers and their honor being defended by such a little fighter. And Wei WuXian felt his own chest set alight by the small child in his arms, righteous even in his innocence, speaking up for those that couldn't even when he himself could barely understand the situation besides the fact that someone was screaming, and it was wrong.

Little Ah Yu glanced at him with a frown, seemingly pleading with him, probably wanting him to articulate what his little mind couldn't process yet, to elaborate on his words so as to make others understand. Wei WuXian kissed his forehead, a proud smile on his face, then did just so, speaking his mind as he was going to do before his child interrupted him.

"Auntie, you still intent to call your son a child? Just how old was he? Seventeen, eighteen? He was already an adult, and very conscious of his actions, the cultivators warned us again and again against touching the array or the flags, and also told us to stay inside. So whose's fault is it, really? Theirs? Mine? Or his own, for being foolish and doing something dangerous?" The Lady Mo seemed to want to strangle him, her eyes oozing hate, but he was more focused on the grateful look of the Lans, and the small clapping of his child, who seemed content with his arguments, smiling wide.

He zoned out as the Lans began to talk about what to do to find the corpse that had done this, his mind elsewhere. He absent-mindedly looked at his arm again, seeing that one of the scars had definitely disappeared, which meant the curse had recognized Mo ZiYuan's death as his own doing.

It was strange, because he'd done literally nothing. The only thing that came to mind was, that the since he created the flags and they were the ones to summon the corpse that killed Mo XuanYu's cousin, it indirectly accepted that it had been Wei WuXian himself.

It was farfetched, but it was the only reasoning he could come to. That, or since the array had been faulty to begin with, even if he wasn't the one to cause the deaths of those Mo XuanYu detested, the curse would vanish anyway. But he was leaning more towards the first option.

He quickly pulled down his sleeve and held Ah Yu slightly closer, about to leave when he suddenly froze, feeling something pricking at the back of his neck, unsure of what it was. It was a familiar sensation, like black tendrils creeping in on him, reaching out like a warning, like a whisper, a faint breeze brining with it the smell of death.

He turned around just as a scream echoed within the garden.

"Ah Tong!!" The servants at the back began scattering as a figure jumped over them, nearing the place where Lady Mo had just approached Wei WuXian, still screaming and shifting the blame as she saw fit. But Wei WuXian ignored her, his eyes were fixated on the corpse that quickly leapt towards them, roaring with it's claws ready to tear them apart.

Wei WuXian had the fleeting thought of letting the corpse have its way with the Lady Mo, but he couldn't act like that before the disciples, neither did he want Ah Yu to witness something so gruesome. So he could only act on instinct and kick her away -gleefully so- while he himself backed away, the claws missing him for half an inch and leaving a cut on his cheek, the stinging sensation making his focus sharpen.

He couldn't maneuver right with Ah Yu in his arms, his weight throwing him off balance, and he misjudged the distance, tripping over the rocks on the garden and falling to the side just as the corpse attacked again. With the position they were in, the claws would hurt his child, and in a moment of panic, Wei WuXian turned around as he fell, clutching Ah Yu tight to his chest, then felt the burning hot sensation of flesh being torn apart, like an electric current running through his body.

There was something else there, something dark and resentful that tried to make way into his body, tainting his soul. But Wei WuXian was the Yiling Patriarch, once darkened by countless souls and in command of hundreds of them, the darkness couldn't overwhelm him, so even if he couldn't control it, he could reject it.

And so he did.

He pushed back the vile, vengeful presence with all his might, eyes flashing red as he kept himself and his child safe, willing the corpse away with the strength of his aura. After that, he just had to wait for the Lans to do their job. Thankfully, they didn't take too long, and once Wei WuXian saw them begin to try and seal the corpse, he relaxed and sat on the floor, gazing worriedly at the child in his arms.

QingYu seemed mesmerized by the blood on Wei WuXian's shoulder, but he couldn't make out if he was scared or curious, his mood was a mystery to him. In the end, though, QingYu's eyes misted over, tears getting caught on his lashes, and he patted Wei WuXian's shoulder softly, worriedly inquiring on his well being even as tears fell slowly down his chubby cheeks.

"Papa....hurt? Leave?" Ah Yu's expression was miserable, and his tremors made Wei WuXian hold him closer, wiping his tears with his sleeve and brining him up so he could rest his own forehead against his. He didn't know if QingYu was referring to his death when he mentioned leave -he probably didn't understand that concept yet-, but he could understand the fear of being alone, being left behind as life moves on but you're frozen, stagnant, not knowing how to advance.

Wei WuXian was very familiar with those emotions.

"It's fine, Yu-er, I'm not going anywhere. I promised to take care of you, so I will, besides, your papa could fight with his intestines hanging out and still be fine, so don't worry." He booped his nose, delighted at the little squeal and giggle Ah Yu let out, happy that his child was back into better mood. He refrained from saying that he was only so resilient in his orignal body, and that with this one, the one Mo XuanYu had gifted him, he could die quite easily if he wasn't careful.

Ah Yu didn't need to know that anyway.

Wei WuXian curled his legs in and let Ah Yu down on his lap, glancing at SiZhui and JingYi as they battled the corpse, seemingly about to win. Their movements were well trained and smooth, no useless maneuvers or openings in their defences. They had been trained quite good, he noticed.

In just a few more moves, the corpse was dealt with, and Wei WuXian remembered he'd been the one always hanging around Mo ZiYuan -Ah Tong, if he wasn't mistaken- so he rose his arm again to check the scars there, his eyes widening when smooth, mostly unblemished skin welcomed him.

There had been four scars in the beginning, and he'd been certain that three of them had been saved for three people in particular; Mo ZiYuan -who'd loved to steal from him and humiliate him-, the servant who followed him -who beat him and took his food away-, and then....The biggest one, the one that hadn't stopped bleeding even for a second, burning like it was a reminder of Mo XuanYu's pain; the one he was sure was left for Lady Mo.

And if it was gone, that could only mean...

His head whipped back so fast he had to swallow a scream of pain, his hair covering his sight for a second before he came face to face with the Lady, now completely transformed and lunging at him with a ferocity unseen before.

He barely had time to react, curling into a ball and turning away, trying to protect the precious bundle in his arms and be inconspicuous even as his aura emerged and his eyes bled crimson, ready to call out on the resentful energy to protect his child if the occasion asked for it. He wasn't about to let anyone cause pain to Mo XuanYu ever again if he could help it.

"Master XuanYu!!" SiZhui's voice came from somewhere behind, and he felt himself being whisked away, swept into the arms of someone as the dark presence gradually faded, the distance growing between them. Wei WuXian rose his gaze and looked at the smiling SiZhui, who looked more worried than he'd ever seen him, clothes askew and lips trembling like he was refraining from crying.

Wei WuXian tried to ignore the fact that he was being carried by someone younger than him, his brow twitching.

"That was really close, please be more careful, Master XuanYu, you have someone that depends on you now, you cannot risk your life needlessly." Wei WuXian knew those words were said from the heart, and saw a deep sorrow within SiZhui's eyes, making him think that he was probably talking to himself too. Maybe he'd wanted to say those words to someone in the past, maybe he'd experienced loss too, maybe he knew what it meant to be left behind.

"There is something really wrong with these corpses, we have yet to determine the cause, but...." SiZhui frowned, a complicated expression on his face. " But it has something to do with the left hand, it seems as it could be some kind of vengeful spirit, and it's really vicious. So please, stay safe and keep Xiao QingYu with you." He couldn't say no to him, what with his earnest expression and all his worry.

So he nodded his head and accepted the bandages that he gave him, then ducked behind the boulders where Mo ZiYuan's body lay, crouching down and watching as the fight continued on.

He looked down at Ah Yu, who was looking towards the bandages now stained red. He had tried his best at wrapping his wound, but Wei WuXian had never been too good at that, and always ended up doing a mediocre job, but as long as it was tight, it was okay. Ah Yu seemed to digress, though, and his tiny hands slowly patted the bandages, the warmth of his hands adding to the fire already burning his skin, but he didn't care.

Ah Yu hummed, frowning in displeasure, then quickly approached Wei WuXian's chest and kissed the spot that was slowly turning red, backing away after and looking proud of himself. Wei WuXian couldn't help the laugh that bubbled out of him at the sight of his lips tinted red, reminiscing of Mo XuanYu's original body, neither the warmth that took over his body at the child's actions and words.

"Heal. Pain, away." Wei WuXian wiped Ah Yu's lips with his sleeve, then hugged him closer, still chuckling.

"Thanks, Yu-er, it hurts less now." His child beamed and babbled for a while, and Wei WuXian sat on the grass after their litte exchange, uninterestedly looking at his surroundings, deciding to lay low until the corpse was dealt with.

Sadly, the matter wasn't as easily solved as he'd thought it would be.

The Lans were doing wonderfully, but Wei WuXian could see they were struggling, the aura of that corpse was extremely strong, that left hand was vicious like he'd never seen before, and it was giving those youths trouble. He told himself he wasn't going to interfere, that it had nothing to do with him, but....

But the razor sharp claws nicked JingYi's neck and sliced SiZhui's cheek, and Wei WuXian felt his heart speed up involuntarily and his chest contract. That, alongside Ah Yu's judging eyes, made his resolution dwindle to nothing, and he caved in, pouting even as he stood and walked towards the two corpses lying near.

"Ugh, I'm going, I'm going, no need to look at me like that. Aren't you liking those boys too much? I know they are nice and all, but..."Ah Yu merely spouted some nonsense and called for his 'Brothers' from time to time, seemingly already having adopted them. Which was fine with Wei WuXian, if he was being honest, he had pretty much done the same already in his heart too, and couldn't bear to see them hurt.

With a sigh and a mischievous smile on his face, he crouched down besides Mo ZiYuan and his servant's bodies, gathering his energy and whispering a command that they wouldn't be able to refuse.

"Wake up." The air trembled as the atmosphere grew dark and suffocating, although Wei WuXian was already used to it, so it didn't affect him. Both corpses gradually began rising and awaited for his orders, and Wei WuXian was quick to send them out, seeing as the Lans were struggling even more.

"You see that left arm on your mother?....Destroy it, and keep those boys safe." The corpses roared and threw themselves into the fight, and Wei WuXian dispersed the resentful energy that shrouded his body, peeking down to see if Yu-er had been frightened by his performance.

Once again, he found that his son pretty much didn't care about what he did, looking at the corpses with a twinkle in his eyes before his gaze landed on him and a toothy smile bloomed on his face, his forehead against Wei WuXian's neck as he nested there and didn't move.

It looked like the only thing that made him cry was being torn apart from Wei WuXian, or watching him get hurt. For anything else, his child was impassive and unable to be moved, watching everything with a critical eye, as if he was analyzing everything.

Maybe it was a side effect of the faulty array, but Wei WuXian noticed his son was too intelligent for being so small, for example, he'd gone from uttering a few garbled words in the morning, to speaking full on words and half formed sentences in the night. His growth seemed to be accelerated, but those were just conjectures on his part, and he wouldn't be sure until more time had passed.

Thankfully, they had a lot of that to spare.

Wei WuXian landed a kiss on Yu-er's head, and watched SiZhui and JingYi as they flew away after they failed at subduing the Lady's corpse, their expressions awestruck as the other two corpses began fighting with hers, relentlessly attacking and tearing her apart however they could.

"JingYi, call for reinforcements, this is too much for us to handle, this spirit....it is unusual, I am not certain we will be able to seal it. In case things go wrong, we need someone as back up." SiZhui spoke, his voice clear to Wei WuXian even with the distance between them.

"But....there are no elders or juniors within this area, it was a minor problem, so they only sent us."JingYi was already taking out something from his pouch even as he spoke those words, glancing at SiZhui with a raised brow, his clothes tattered and slightly burnt, making Wei WuXian's eyes twitch with an emotion he couldn't describe.

"Do not worry, there is someone." SiZhui smiled, and Wei WuXian felt a chill and a shiver ran down his spine at that word, some sort of foreboding festering deep within his gut and making him tremble, his hands clutching Yu-er tighter as he though:

'I can't be so unlucky, can I?'

As he was frozen in place, a flare lit up the sky, the symbol of GusuLan blooming beautifully among the stars as small pinpricks of light rained over them, the blue color illuminating the dark courtyard and bringing a sense of relief and hope.

Wei WuXian tore his gaze away from the fading lights just as the corpses were dispatched, the Lans now ready to try the sealing array on the Lady's corpse, the spell perfect in every way Wei WuXian could see, making him proud for reasons he couldn't name. SiZhui and JingYi performed the ritual flawlessly, and, for a second, it looked like it was going to work.

But that mysterious left hand was vicious and strong, and with a roar, it freed itself of the shackles trying to bind it, throwing the Lans off balance and launching another attack, too fast for the youths to react, leaving Wei WuXian little time to make a decision, his eyes flashing red in his panic.

The possessed hand approached SiZhui, and Wei WuXian's breath caught in his throat, his fingers automatically searching for ChenQing as a habit, forgetting it wasn't there. He opened his mouth to call forth whatever was lying near, anything to keep those disciples alive, and then-

Then, the world stopped moving.

A single drop of water got frozen in time, suspended in its fall. The wind ceased and sound seemed to have vanished, the courtyard eerie silent and empty, like a vacuum in the space that had swallowed everything, making the noise that came after loud and clear, like chiming bells.

It was the strum of a guqin, ringing incessantly in his ears.

The notes reverberated around him, soft but fierce, pinning down the Lady's corpse and making it unable to move. Wei WuXian felt as if the sound had worked on him, too, his body rooted to the spot, blood freezing in his veins as he looked with widened eyes at the majestic figure up on the rooftops.

Mourning clothes, a hair band around the forehead with patterned clouds drawn in it, long midnight hair flapping with the breeze, cold honey eyes that glared indifferently at his surroundings, a guqin in one hand, Bichen in the other.

It was....

"HanGuang-Jun!!" Both disciples yelled, and like a spell had been lifted, Wei WuXian called back the resentful energy and ducked behind a pillar, trying to sush Yu-er, who was babbling excitedly for whatever reason.

"Shhhh, calm down, if he discovers us...Oh man, no way. We were like oil and water, back then, and he was always trying to catch me. We....didn't exactly end up on a good note. Not with him, not with the rest of the world... We can't let him see us, let's run, Yu-er." Wei WuXian didn't wait for a response, taking one last look as the Lans began trying to seal that hand again before running towards the entrance, stopping when he caught sight of Lil' Apple.

"Ohh, here you are. We really need to get going, so run ahead, Lil' Apple." He sat on her, and, as expected, she didn't move. But he'd bestowed her name with a reason, and took out an apple out of his bosom, taunting her with it, seeing if she would react.

And react she did.

She took off after the bait he hung before her, and Wei WuXian looked back once towards the property where the disciples where, feeling a sense of loss, but knowing that he didn't have the will nor courage to face Lan WangJi as of now.

He silently apologized to JingYi and SiZhui in his mind, and told himself it was the best course of action and it couldn't be helped, then he focused his attention on Yu-er, who was excitedly swaying back and forth, his eyes taking in the scenery as they delved deeper and deeper into the forest.

"You're a curious one, aren't you?" Ah Yu looked at him once he heard him speak, his eyes shining with mirth. "I wonder...were you like this when you were alive? Before everything? I only got glimpses of the past, and they have already vanished....I hope your childhood was good, at least, I know mine wasn't." He laughed to himself, remembering the dogs and the fights, having to look for scrapes on the trash so his belly would stop hurting, withstanding the cold and the heat by himself and never knowing if he would wake up to see the light of a new day.

It hadn't been a good life, but then Uncle Jiang had found him...

Images of Jiang Cheng and Shijie, alongside Jiang FengMian and Yu ZiYuan passed through his eyes fast as lighting, and he felt a stab of pain and longing fill his heart, his breath quickening in his lungs.

Ah...better stop thinking about the past.

He shook his head to rid himself of those thoughts, focusing instead on the child in his arms, who was happily bouncing around in his lap as Lil' Apple continued her march, never once stopping.

It could have been his own distorted perception, but he swore she was going faster than before, and the ride that had once been smooth and comfortable was now bumpy and unstable, making him struggle to keep his balance. He clutched the reins in his left hand as his gaze rose, intent on finding just what was going on.

Many things happened at the same time.

His eyes widened in alarm, his heart stopping for a second.

Ah Yu screamed for him while clutching his clothes.

Wei WuXian tried to make Lil' Apple stop by tightening the reins, to no avail.

A cliff approached at rapid speeds, Lil' Apple with a foot already over the edge.

His reaction time wasn't fast enough. Mo XuanYu's body, with his low cultivation and strength, although it was slightly above average, it couldn't compare to the power Wei WuXian held before he'd died. He was used to moving fast and being nimble, he'd bled more than he could remember and still fought and won, he was resilient and sturdy, with the added bonus of being lithe, wich added to his speed.

But this body, normal in all shapes and forms, slightly malnourished and neglected, couldn't move like his mind wanted it to, couldn't jump from the donkey's back before the approaching danger, he didn't even have time to scream.

The three of them plummeted down the rocky slope with a cry, Wei WuXian instinctively cradling Ah Yu close to his chest, curling around him and protecting his small body from the many impacts and bumps as they rolled down, and still further down the slope, the fall seeming endless, until it finally stopped.

Wei WuXian hit the ground with a yelp, and couldn't help but groan in pain.

He lay there on the ground, breathless, feeling the many bruises that were surely about to bloom on his skin soon, his whole body hurting as he curled in on himself, gritting his teeth as he glared at nothing, thinking of the silly donkey that had been so enthralled by an apple she hadn't even seen a cliff ahead.

He resisted the urge to curse.

It had been his fault too, as he was too immersed in his own memories to pay attention to his surroundings. A mistake that he surely wasn't going to repeat. He wasn't the type to reminisce or regret about the past, after all, what was done was done, the only thing that mattered was the future, and his own now looked kind of bleak, if he was being honest.

Wei WuXian rolled onto his back, feeling his arms ache from how tight they were holding his child, loosening his grip so he could look at him, his big teary eyes making Wei WuXian's own twitch, an apology already on the tip of his tongue. Gods, he was so whipped.

"Hey, it's fine, don't cry, I'm okay." He tried to smile, but was sure it came out looking more like a grimace. Yu-er wasn't amused. He sniffed and his tiny fists curled on Wei WuXian's lapel, the grip astoundingly tight for a small kid such as him.

"Papa, hurt, careful." Ah Yu said those words with a trembling voice and tears already on the corner of his eyes. But Wei WuXian knew he wasn't going to cry. For some reason, Ah Yu was extremely stubborn, and it was like the world around him was just entertainment, his playground; nothing bothered him, nothing could faze him, he was detached from worldly affairs, and the only thing that could make him wail like a newborn was being separated from Wei WuXian, as strange as that sounded.

Maybe there was a reason for that, but he didn't have the time to think about it right now.

He brushed Yu-er's hair back a few times, smiling slightly, trying to appease his worry. "It's fine, it doesn't hurt at all, I'll get up now, okay?" He didn't wait for a response, trying to hold up his body with the arm that wasn't holding his kid, wincing when his wrist protested, burning like it had been scalded with hot water.

That was definitely sprained at least. Great.

He managed to sit upright after a few minutes, but by then, he was sweating, the cold droplets falling down his temple and onto his neck, making him frown in disgust. Specially so when his hair fell in front of his face and blinded him, the black strands thick like a curtain. It seemed his hair tie had vanished somewhere as he fell, he was sure he must look like a corpse right now.

There wasn't a part of him that didn't hurt, and he had to resist the urge to groan when his back began pulsating like a living heart and his ankle flared up, like thunder was running through his veins that very moment.

He couldn't look at his back right now, but he was pretty sure he was bleeding somewhere, and his ankle wasn't faring any better. Going up the slope was a no go, so he would have to look for another solution, maybe go ahead and try to find a way to round the mountain until they found a path.

But he couldn't walk, so...

His eyes swept over his surroundings, past the fallen leaves and the green bushes, looking for the figure that could take him out of this situation. Sadly, Lil' Apple was nowhere to be seen, and besides some marks on the mud that were proof she'd been there, she'd completely vanished, leaving him stranded.

'You traitor, see if I give you any more apples, ah.' Wei WuXian pouted and frowned, staying as still as a rock, not knowing exactly what to do, as Mo XuanYu's body was too weak and delicate, and he wasn't ready to die again, not when he'd just come back.

Looking down, Ah Yu seemed to have regained his usual cheer, playing with the leaves stuck in Wei WuXian's hair and enjoying the noises they made as he crushed them in between his chubby fingers. His elated expression to such a simple thing brough a smile to Wei WuXian's face, and he sighed in defeat, resigning himself to whatever fate awaited him, leisurely sitting in the middle of the clearing as if he had nothing better to do.

Which he had, by the way.

That is, running away from HangGuang-Jun.

Just remembering his appearance and the sound his Guqin made as he arrived gave him the chills. It was like a blast from the past, and the image of the Lan WangJi he remembered had superposed itself with the actual one, making him dizzy as he struggled to run away.

It was like a reflex at this point. He couldn't help it.

Wei WuXian was so absorbed in his musings that he didn't notice a presence approaching, but Ah Yu sure did, and he clapped his hands and beat his fists against Wei WuXian tights, wobbling around as if to catch his attention. In less than a second, Wei WuXian was on guard, backing away until his back touched stone, wincing at the way his wounds stung and his muscles ached, the tension coiling them tight as he awaited for the threat to appear.

When said threat burst out from the bushes, it turned out to be a golden child with a golden thread. In his hands were the reins of a very familiar donkey, and his robes held a pattern and design that he was very familiar with, one that made him shudder and close his eyes in anguish, the memories suffocating.

It wasn't until he heard a voice that he regained his breath and his senses came back to him.

"Stupid donkey, just why did you want me to come here-?" The voice was childish and sweet, although his words were harsh and direct. His shouts were halted midway, and Wei WuXian guessed that he had finally laid eyes on the both of them, curled away near the slope, clothes and hair in disarray, dirtied with mud and blood and dirt.

He was sure they cut a sorry figure, but if this person-child, was from the LanLing Jin Sect, he doubted he would have any pity towards them and lend a helping hand.

He didn't have much to compare him with and judge, but with Jin GuangShan and Jin ZiXuan as his references, his opinion wasn't too high, and his expectations were extremely low, regardless of the fact that the latter ended up as his brother-in-law.

Surprisingly, fate decided to be lenient today, and the child -he could be no older than thirteen- approached them after leaving the donkey tied to a tree. He took quick steps towards them and crouched with a frown and frantic eyes, although he was trying to hide it behind a brave face.

"A-are you alright? Did you fall down here?" The child moved his hands, as if unsure of what to do, and then his eyes glanced down and upon Ah Yu's dirty figure, his expression morphing into one of horror as he grew even more frantic, trying to get a response out of Wei WuXian.

As always, though, Yu-er was faster than him. " Papa, look, look. Pretty." Yu-er pointed at the kid, and he could see a slight blush on his cheeks at being called pretty, but that didn't dim the worry in his expression, which grew stronger the longer Wei WuXian remained silent.

He guessed, that with all that hair covering his face, the other couldn't see if he was awake, or even alive, so he was probably wondering what to do with Yu-er in case he'd just become an orphan.

What a good kid.

"Ah- yes, we fell, that stupid donkey didn't see the cliff, and we found ourselves in this situation. I don't mind about me, but, would this esteemed cultivator please take care of my child?" He prodded, trying to see just how righteous this kid could be, wincing at the hoarse tone of his voice that was milder and more soft-spoken than normal, probably thanks to all the screaming he'd done before.

That, and his chest hurt like a thousand needles were piercing his flesh.

The kid frowned, looking him up and down, then fixing his eyes on Yu-er before nodding his head as if he had arrived at some sort of resolution. He could see that the kid was slightly frightened, but tried to hide it away behind a strong façade, scrunching up his brows as his lips wobbled faintly.

It was....adorable, really.

"I can help you both. Can you walk?" Wei WuXian shook his head, feeling the burning ache on his ankle."Then, I'll carry you and you'll ride on the donkey with..." The child trailed off, his eyes shining with barely concealed curiosity as he glanced at Ah Yu. Wei WuXian smiled.

"QingYu. His name is QingYu. Say hi to this gracious cultivator, son." His child smiled wide and caught the kid's hand in between both of his, happily wrecking the word ShiXiong time and time again with joy. Wei WuXian wondered if his knowledge of that word came from the scattered memories of his previous life.

Whatever the reason, it made the other kid smile bashfully before he tried to cover it up with a tough expression. "I-Let's go, this place is not safe, there are all kinds of corpses roaming this forest, you know?" He knew, of course he did. He could feel them a mile away, roaming about on the edge of his senses.

They posed no threat to him, but the child didn't need to know that.

Without further delay, the child crouched down and, with one hand on Wei WuXian's back and another behind his knees, lifted his body with a bit of difficulty, huffing a little as he did so. Wei WuXian hissed when his injuries were jostled, but refrained from doing any other kind of noise, already used to enduring the pain from his previous life.

Ah Yu and the other child turned to look at him at the same time, and he found it quite hilarious that their faces both held the same expression, with furrowed brows and mouths a straight line, their eyes shining with worry and hints of an apology.

"Ah, I- I'll try to be more steady in the future." The golden child couldn't seem to utter an apology, and his stubborn and proud character brought Wei WuXian images of a past long gone that he quickly brushed away, speaking without previous thought to rid his mind of them.

"You two....making the same face, honestly..." Wei WuXian pinched Ah Yu's cheeks, inwardly giggling. " Just like if you were brothers." He watched his child's expression morph into one of content, and felt the arms of the golden child stiffen before his grip tightened and he cleared his throat, continuing onwards as if nothing happened.

But Wei WuXian could see from the corner of his eye the slight red tint on his cheeks. He was satisfied.

It barely took a few minutes to reach Lil' Apple, and she stopped struggling as soon as Wei WuXian glared at her, the situation calling for drastic measures. With careful movements and steady hands, the Jin child settled him on the back of the donkey, making sure he wouldn't fall, then took the reins before addressing him once more.

"Can I ask where were the two of you going? This place is used to night hunt, so normal people usually follow the path." Wei WuXian tilted his head, trying to see from behind the curtain of hair that he still hadn't fixed, mostly because he was lazy and kind of tired. He remembered having heard something about a town called 'Buddha's feet' that was ahead, and decided that that would be the destination they had been going in.

"We were following the path, but I stopped paying attention for a second, and this donkey decided to run amok, making us fall down the cliff. We were headed towards Buddha's feet to visit someone." The Jin child nodded his head, beckoning Lil' Apple ahead as they finally began moving, something tickling at the back of his mind from the scene that he quickly dismissed when it was nothing but a fuzzy blur.

" I know that place, I was planning on going there after the hunt. I can take you, but your wounds have to be treated first. I'll inform my uncle, I'm sure he'll be able to help." Wei WuXian tilted his head, smiling at the way the child tried to act like an adult, all proper and responsible. But his eyes still darted around every minute, and any noise that fell near their vicinity made him jump and touch the sword on his waist, it's golden shine making Wei WuXian hum in thought.

'Where have I seen that sword before?' It seemed really familiar, but in between his own messed up memories, his lack of memory in general, and Mo XuanYu's own fragmented ones roaming his head, he was pretty much useless in that department. He gave up after a few minutes, and decided to try and use his free time to teach Ah Yu some things.

No son of the Yiling Patriarch would be illiterate, no sir.

"Okay Yu-er, let's begin with basic math..." Wei WuXian then proceeded to test his child with some questions and problems that a small kid should have been able to solve, silly things like one plus one, or pointing at a flower and have him say that it was as such, making him recognize the world around him.

Surprisingly, he found out that Ah Yu learnt quite quick, and the more he practiced speech, the clearer it became. He still couldn't make long, full sentences, but he was able to say what he wanted to say, and since Wei WuXian expanded his vocabulary, he now didn't stop babbling, his eyes shining with mirth every time he got something right, looking at him as if waiting to be praised.

His progress was too fast for that of a normal child, and Wei WuXian knew there was something wrong with that, but, for now, he stopped worrying about it and caressed Ah Yu's head, telling him that he'd done a good job.

"Good child, you're so smart, just like your papa, aren't you? Ah, if mama could see you now she'd be so proud..." Yu-er beamed and hugged his waist, sticking to him like a koala, giggling and repeating the same words over and over again, which made Wei WuXian sigh with fondness.

"Papa, love papa." Wei WuXian chuckled and winced when his chest burnt, annoyed at how delicate Mo XuanYu's body was, unable to withstand a few scratches and breaks. Ahh, it was at times like this that he missed his old body, strong and sturdy, already used to a rough life.

He sighed in remembrance, then quickly got out of his musings when a voice interrupted him.

"His....his mother is...gone?" The Jin child's voice was meek, and he watched Wei WuXian from the corner of his eye, his lashes trembling from the need to avert his gaze. Wei WuXian blanked, not sure what he was referring to until his brain caught up, remembering his previous words.

'Ah, if mama could see you now she'd be so proud...'

He had actually been referring to his own mother, ZangSe SanRen, who would have been extremely happy at having a grandson, no matter how he came to be, and would have pampered and spoiled him everytime he learnt something new, just like she'd done with Wei WuXian.

It seemed the Jin kid had misinterpreted his words, and thought that he meant Ah Yu's mother, who....you know, didn't exist. But this suited his just as well, it was a chance to settle his back story and stop people from inquiring too much about his past. He would just have to twist the tale he'd told the Lans a little, it was a chance he couldn't pass up.

"Indeed, she....left us a long time ago, and then I heard she'd died....I am the only thing he has left, and I know that even thought his mother had to leave, she loved Ah Yu a whole lot, and would have been very proud of him." He sent a sorrowful smile at the Jin child, who gulped and walked slower, seemingly wanting to get closer to them.

"She left you? Just like that?" The child looked slightly mad, watching Ah Yu as he happily looked around, full of life and joy, probably mad for his sake.

"It wasn't her fault, she had no choice. Our affair was born from passion, something done in the heat of the moment. I barely knew her, if you can believe that, but I knew she loved our son more than anything. But then...she was offered marriage from a good family, and she....she was forced to give our son away, so she sent him to me." He tried to look mournful and sad, but the need to laugh at such a tragic backstory was too strong, so he just lowered his head instead, hoping the mess of hair covered his lying face.

"I've been raising him since, and then one day I received news she died....It might sound cold, but I wasn't overly sad, I can count on one hand the number of times I met her, but I was sad for Ah Yu, because he wouldn't get to know her." He tried to catch a glimpse of the Jin child's face, and was surprised to see sorrow and understanding etched on his youthful features, his eyes shining as if tears were fighting for release.

"So she was....forced to let him go.." Wei WuXian nodded, sighing as if dispirited.

"Indeed. It was painful for her too, I can doubt many things, but a mother's love for her child isn't one. For a mother, being forced apart, not being able to see her child grow up...it is a pain that no one could be able to understand." Wei WuXian couldn't help but think of almond eyes and long, caramel hair swaying in the wind, the lotus flowers blooming around a figure whose smile lit up the space around them like the stars shining bright in the sky.

'Ah Xian...'

His heart gave a painful thud, and the sorrow he'd been faking became real.

"I...I can understand that. It's the same for those left behind. I...I never got to know my mother..." Wei WuXian's eyebrows rose in surprise, and his eyes showed a gentle light as his hand reached for the child's one, holding it softly before he spoke.

"I'm sorry to hear that, but....if I may be so bold.....I know your mother would be proud of you, you seem like an outstanding young man, both gentle and strong, with a kind heart that helps others. Wherever she is, I'm sure she's watching over you with a smile on her face, just like Ah Yu's mother is." 'Ah....' Wei WuXian thought. 'Since when have I become so soft? I'm not good at comforting, it's not in my nature to do so, but somehow..' He looked at the golden child.

'Somehow, looking at his dejected, pained face, I cannot help myself. Maybe I'm getting old.' He chuckled, shaking his head, feeling like the persona he'd adopted to fool others was getting more and more ingrained into his being, making him a hybrid between his usual playful ways and this...person who would like to adopt half the children he met.

'Three children are more than enough, don't you think?' He told himself, trying to steel his heart and stop being so...mushy and sentimental. But then he heard a sniff and his body froze. His eyes sought the figure of the child besides him and caught the tears on the corner of his eyes, the way his mouth tilted upwards and how his eyes shone with gratefulness and a hint of admiration that Wei WuXian didn't deserve.

And he knew he was done for.

"I....No one has ever said those words to me..." The Jin child stared at him with a beaming aura, looking like he'd given him the world.

With such starry eyes staring at him, and knowing that this child was an orphan too, Wei WuXian heard his own voice in his mind screaming loudly, stating his claim that this child was now officially adopted by him. It seemed like he couldn't win, the world was intent into throwing at him every single love-deprived child out there, and, since he'd gotten Ah Yu, it looked like he was incapable of saying no to those youthful, soft-looking faces full of eagerness to please and receive praise.

Goodness, if Lan WangJi could see him now, he would mock him endlessly.

The Yiling Patriarch, the famed Grand Master of Demonic Cultivation, feared and respected by all, reduced to a single parent taking care of orphaned children.

Hilarious.

"Well, you just have to believe they are true, having grown up to be such a strong cultivator and a kind young man, who wouldn't be proud? I know I would be." He remembered a small child, alone and crying, hugging his legs and looking up at him without fear, taking Wei WuXian's madness of burying him like a radish and many other things, weeping while he laughed.

If that small child had managed to grow to be an adult and have a nice life, then....that was more than enough for him. As long as he was alive, that was enough.

He wanted to believe that that was the same for any parent.

"Ah-" Wei WuXian startled at the yelp, looking up towards the path, only to see a big boulder blocking their way, the rock so tall and rough-looking that it possibly couldn't be broken by normal means. "The way is blocked? What the hell? This wasn't here before!" The child besides him seemed to have regained his fire, his voice strong and devoid of sadness.

"What could have caused this?" Wei WuXian wondered out loud.

" What else but the corpses here? Whatever the reason, we are going to have to take a detour, but your wounds..." The Jin looked at him worriedly, and although Wei WuXian didn't care about his injuries, he didn't want to stay here more than necessary. If he wasn't quick, Lan WangJi could cross their path at any moment, and he....he wasn't looking forward to that.

"Hmmn, don't worry, I'll take care of it." Before the child had a chance to open his mouth, Wei WuXian took a leaf of a tree and used his energy to imbue it with a deceased soul, sending it towards the rock, the leaf sticking to the surface.

A second later, the translucent shadow of a spirit appeared, lifting the rock and throwing it to the side, the figure disappearing immediately after with a cold breeze that rustled Wei WuXian's hair. He barely had time to smile in satisfaction when hands clasped his shoulders tight, making him yelp in surprise as the face of the Jin child appeared before his.

"What are you doing?" The child hissed. " Don't you know that demonic cultivation is strictly forbidden? Renounce of those arts right now! If my uncle sees you..." The child frantically looked around, and Wei WuXian couldn't help but tilt his head in confusion. He knew the dark arts were looked down upon, but, to look so scared for a mere beginner's spell....

"What do you mean? Who is your uncle anyway?" The child opened his mouth to reply, but then, a cold as ice voice echoed from within the depths of the forest, and a silhouette began emerging, softly illuminated by the the pale light filtering trough the leaves.

"I am." Purple robes. A bell with an engraved lotus hanging from the waist . A ring on his finger that crackled with lightning. A face that he would never be able to forget no matter how long he lived. It was.....

'Jiang Cheng...' Wei WuXian felt the blood freeze in his veins, and for a long while, he couldn't move at all.

"Uncle!" The Jin child moved to stand close to Jiang Cheng, his expression tight as he tried to explain himself. "Uncle, hear me out, this person- " Wei WuXian's brain was too muddled to make sense of anything, and for a second, he couldn't breathe, let alone think.

His mind was just filled with the echoes of the words 'Uncle', the fact that the child was from the LangLing Jin sect, that he hadn't known his mother, and the sword that twinkled on his waist, the golden shine suddenly blinding beyond belief.

"I do not care about excuses, Jin Ling. When crossed with such demonic cultivators..." Jin Ling....Jin Ling.....Jin...Rulan. He was- Shijie's- "...kill them and feed them to your dog!"

"No, wait!" Jin Ling's voice was frightened and loud, and it managed to take Wei WuXian out of his reverie, his gaze going up in time to catch sight of Jiang Cheng's sword as it flew towards him. The first thought he had was that he couldn't let Ah Yu get hurt, and his heart beat faster, gripped with fear when he realized he couldn't move, that he couldn't dodge.

In a desperate attempt to save his child's life, he threw him towards Jin Ling, barely catching sight of his terrified gaze and Ah Yu's frozen expression as Wei WuXian rolled away from Lil' Apple, crouching for a second before standing straight,wobbling on his feet. He threw himself to the left and evaded the sword, but his ankle was protesting and hindering his movements, so the next blow was impossible to duck, and he felt his shoulder being pierced, the pain sweltering hot and extremely intense.

As expected of the Sandu Master.

Wei WuXian fell back with a thud and curled into a ball on the floor, trying to look pathetic to see if he could instigate some pity from his old Shidi. From the sounds of a sword cutting the air, he hadn't managed it, and he clenched his fists as he prepared to summon his power, intent to escape, but then-

"Stop it, uncle!" A figure stood in between him and the attack, and he looked up at Jin Ling with a flabbergasted expression, his heart stopping for a second as he remembered a familiar scene, making him blanch and breath as tought something was stuck in his throat.

Jin Ling stood before him without fear, holding a sniffing Ah Yu in his arms as he glared at Jiang Cheng, making the other narrow his eyes in displeasure, the disgust and disapproval clear in his gaze.

"Can't you see that he has a child with him? I know how much you despise demonic cultivation, but do you intend to leave this child without a father?" Wei WuXian saw that that clearly struck a chord with Jiang Cheng, surely for the same reason it did with Wei WuXian, and his Shidi retracted his sword, glaring like he'd been wronged.

Did he hate him that much, that even now, anyone that practiced to imitate him was judged without mercy? That was....he didn't know how to feel. He could only get to his feet, swaying unsteadily, watching as the world blurred around the edges, trying to find his footing and inwardly cursing Mo XuanYu's body again for being so weak.

He wobbled dizzily until his body hit something sideways.

He thought it might have been a tree, but then a hand landed on his shoulder and he jumped, his senses slowly coming back. He could see white and blue, hear the calm voices speaking properly and respectfully, smell a scent that he'd recognize anywhere, the soft sandalwood wafting to his nose scaring him even more than his Shidi's appearance had.

Well, damn, his luck was really, really bad today.

"Young master Mo, are you alright?" Wei WuXian twisted his head to look at the side and saw Lan SiZhui watching him in concern, his hands slowly catching Wei WuXian's ones and slowly assessing his injuries, frowning as he did so. Then he felt a current of what could only be spiritual energy running through his body, warming him inside out and taking some of the discomfort away.

Wei WuXian couldn't help but smile.

But that smile was quickly erased from his face when a voice filled with disbelief spoke, echoing in the silent clearing, loud and clear.

"Young....what do you mean, young master Mo? You....are you....Mo XuanYu?" Jin Ling, still holding onto his child, was looking at Wei WuXian like he'd been betrayed, brows furrowed and teeth clenched together, a shadow of disgust and shame setting a flame alight in his eyes.

Wei WuXian didn't understand, but he said a quick thanks to Lan SiZhui, taking his hands away and proceeding to run his own trough his hair, brushing the strands back and showing his mud-covered, bloodied face. Jin Ling expression turned even more severe, and Wei WuXian thought that he did indeed recognize him, but couldn't understand the sudden animosity towards him, not until Jin Ling spoke again, at least.

"I- I thought you had lost it when you were kicked back home, or at least, that's what everyone said. Seeing as you acted like you didn't know me, it looks they weren't lying..." Wei WuXian widened his eyes in surprise. That meant...Mo Xuan Yu had been part of LangLin Jin sect? From what he could discern of his broken up memories and the tale of Mo XuanYu's mother...could it be, he was Jin GuangShan's son?

He was known for being a womanizer that had lots of illegitimate sons, so it wasn't impossible, but that meant he was Jin Ling's uncle, something he didn't expect.

"That may be so, my mind wasn't in its best state for a few years, which is why I didn't recognize you just now, but nothing of what I said to you was a lie. I'm trying to life an honest and simple life now, so please, return my child to me." He could see that Yu-er was growing anxious, wiggling in Jin Ling's arms and reaching towards him, tears already on the corner of his eyes.

"But, this child..." Jin Ling hesitated, his expression troubled.

"Look him in the eyes and tell me he is not mine." Jin Ling seemed to do just that, his face becoming even more filled with wonder and doubt, wavering. He took too long to make a decision, though, and so Ah Yu began to sob while reaching for Wei WuXian, his cries pitiful and heart wrenching.

"Papa...papa..." Wei WuXian unconsciously tried to walk ahead and reach for him, but the hand on his shoulder had never left, and he couldn't help but turn away, being rooted to the spot by that fierce golden gaze that never strayed from him. Only now did he realize he'd been leaning on Lan WangJi all the while, his pristine white robes stained with the blood and dirt that Wei WuXian had on him, making him frown since he knew Lan WangJi hated his clothes being sullied.

While he was pondering over small matters, Lan SiZhui walked ahead, saluting Jiang Cheng before addressing Jin Ling, always proper and respectful. "Master Jin Ling, we can assure you that he is indeed Master Mo XuanYu's son, and would be very grateful if you returned him." Wei WuXian looked at him, then at Jin Ling, who was frowning and trying to calm the crying child, to no avail.

He finally seemed to give up, and, ignoring the piercing glare of his uncle, walked forward until he was within reach of Wei WuXian, never once straying his gaze from Ah Yu.

His little chubby hands reached for Wei WuXian, and, as soon as he gripped cloth, he threw himself forward, falling into his arms, finally stopping crying, and sniffing while Wei WuXian patted his head, sighing softly.

"Honestly, you are always so well behaved, you never cry until we are taken apart, I cannot understand you..." He looked at his child, gaze soft and voice tender, a sight that wasn't missed by Jin Ling, who now looked troubled and indecisive, opening his mouth various times without saying anything until he finally spoke, his voice nothing but a whisper.

"The words you said before...did you really mean them?" Wei WuXian glanced at his nephew, watching the sorrow and confusion battle in his eyes.

He didn't hesitate. "I did, I do. Everything I said was the truth, from the bottom of my heart. I know you hate me, but...it was never my intention to deceive you or make fun of you, I just.....in my mind, I didn't know you. My past is blurry and unclear." Jin Ling seemed to ponder over his words for a while before nodding his head and going back to Jiang Cheng, who looked beyond angry and annoyed.

He was gazing intently at Lan WangJi, and the atmosphere was so thick and tense you could cut it with a knife, the only sound reigning in the clearing that of the rustling leaves and the tinkling of the YunMeng Jiang bells. No one dared break the silence, no one but a small, unperturbed, shameless little person.

"Papa, pretty, look." Wei WuXian looked down at Yu-er, who was pointing at Jiang Cheng, his eyes switching between the two various times, not understanding. " Shiny, pretty." Yu-er pointed at Jiang Cheng again before his small palm rested on Wei WuXian's chest, just above his heart, looking up at him with a proud smile, as if he'd guessed something no one else had.

Wei WuXian felt the sweat run down the back of his neck, and felt the need to run, for some reason.

Regardless, the ice had been broken, and finally, Jiang Cheng spoke.

"HangGuang-Jun, always appearing where there is trouble, indeed. Are you trying to make this difficult for me? He is a demonic cultivator." Jiang Cheng's glare was filled with hate, and Wei WuXian couldn't help but tremble, understanding his intent and inching back little by little, nearly hiding behind Lan WangJi.

Lan SiZhui looked at Lan WangJi as if asking for permission, then saluted once more before speaking, calm as the still sea, always smiling. " We are sorry to trouble Young Master Jiang, but Young Master Mo saved our lives a while back, we owe him a debt that we wish to repay. Regardless of his methods, his actions are righteous." From where he stood, Wei WuXian saw Lan WangJi nod in agreement, and felt like he didn't know this person who had changed so much.

But he supposed that was what happened when you didn't see someone for thirteen years.

Jiang Cheng seethed for a while, then turned to leave, only stopping to listen to Lan WangJi's warning about the demonic hand that had escaped, huffing and acting as if he didn't care, leaving with a flourish.

But Wei WuXian knew better, saw him speak to one of his Sect's members in quiet whispers before the latter left running, probably to warn the rest of his comrades and retreat.

Watching him walk away, his back as straight as ever, it felt to him as if Jiang Cheng was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders even to this day, even thought no one asked him to. It brought back memories of the last time they saw each other, the last time he saw his figure as he gave Wei WuXian his back, walking away with no intention of ever coming back unless it was to say their final goodbyes.

Jiang Cheng's back had always given him a sense of security when they were younger; being broad and hard, it had seemed to carry the power to protect those he loved, never wavering, never shrinking in fear or defeat, always standing tall and dignified, the complete opposite of himself.

Of course, as time passed by, he'd realized that his notions weren't realistic, and Jiang Cheng had been a child such as himself, with his woes and troubles, that felt deeper and stronger than anyone, always striving to improve and show his parents that he was worthy of being the next leader of YunMeng Jiang.

They had promised to be the two prides and fight together when that time came.

Wei WuXian hadn't managed to keep that promise.

Sighing with a smidge of annoyance, Wei WuXian tried to flee to greener pastures, leaving aside his own troubled thoughts in pos of the new life he was going to create for himself. When he rose his eyes, though, they landed smack on Jin Ling, who for some reason hadn't left yet, his eyes switching between his uncle and Wei WuXian, pondering over something.

Jin Ling nodded his head as if he'd come to a resolution and spoke to Jiang Cheng. " Uncle, go back first, im going to see if I can find that demonic hand and get rid of it." Jiang Cheng seemed to freeze, his fists clenching and a sound akin to a growl leaving his throat. He sent a glare at his nephew that made him tremble a little, but Jin Ling didn't back down at all, glaring right back, and, eventually, Jiang Cheng seemed to relent, walking away with evident anger.

"Do what you want! But don't dare come back to me until you've gotten a decent prey or I'll break your legs!" And with that, Jiang Cheng left, leaving behind a grumbling nephew and the Lans plus Wei WuXian, who bounced Yu-er a few times before approaching Jin Ling.

He couldn't help but wanting to console this child - his nephew, Shijie's son- so he knew that his uncle wasn't talking seriously, Wei WuXian knew him best, he understood his moods, but maybe Jin Ling didn't.

"Hey, Jin Ling, don't take what he said to heart, he always tries to sound aloof and cold, but I'm sure your uncle really loves you." Jin Ling turned around, his eyes wide as he glanced at him.

"I know that, what do you think I am, an idiot? He raised me, so of course I know when he's being serious. Right now he's just annoyed, and mostly because of you, he hates demonic cultivators the most." Jin Ling crossed his arms, looking him up and down like he was examining him. It made Wei WuXian slightly uncomfortable, but Yu-er was as lively as ever, giggling and reaching his hands towards the other, clueless to everything.

" What? You want your cousin to hold you, uh? He's called Jin Ling, c'mon, say it, Jin Ling." Ah Yu looked at Wei WuXian once before glancing at Jin Ling, his small hand on his chin as he seemed to think about it. Eventually, he pointed, and , with a smile as bright as the sun he said-

"GeGe."

He actually looked proud of himself, and Wei WuXian had to try hard to hold back the laugh that wanted to leave his lips at Jin Ling's face, his cheeks colored a deep red as he looked at his small little cousin.

"Well, I guess you have a brother now, Jin Ling." His nephew didn't look reticent to the idea at all -probably being lonely as an only child- and after ignoring what just happened, he looked back at Wei WuXian's face – Mo XuanYu's face- and sighed again, grumbling to himself before speaking to him.

"It looks like you've really changed, after all. The you I remember wasn't like this at all." Jin Ling frowned as if remembering something unpleasant, and Wei WuXian smiled wrily.

"Yeah, I... had a hard time in the past, but for Yu-er, I've been trying to get better. I'm not going to try and be your uncle now or something, because that would be creepy and we don't know each other, but maybe....we could be...friends? I mean, Yu-er likes you already, and someday I'm gonna need someone to babysit." He chuckled to himself, half in hope, half in self-hate, because he couldn't let go of the only remnant left of his Shijie, the only part of her that wasn't gone with the wind.

Family.

He wanted to be a part of his nephew's life, even if it was just as an acquaintance, even if he could never know he was the one that gave him the name Jin Rulan. As long as he could know he was safe and sound and happy, it was enough.

Jin Ling hummed in thought. "I mean....I guess? You're technically family, as long as you don't do anything creepy, we're okay." Wei WuXian felt like a weight had been taken off his shoulders. This way, he could keep an eye on this child and make sure he didn't do anything reckless.

With that out of the way, he turned around and saw Lan WangJi about to leave after speaking to Lan JingYi and Lan SiZhui, his profile as striking as ever, his golden gaze shifting to nod at Wei WuXian before walking ahead. He barely had time to do a salute -it was difficult with a baby in his arms- before the other left, and immediately it was as if he could breathe better, as if a overwhelming pressure had left and he finally felt light again.

Lan WangJi....he really was formidable.

"Young Master Mo." Wei WuXian turned to see SiZhui smiling up at him, giving him a salute."I'm glad that we meet again. After the happenings at Mo village, we couldn't find the young master anywhere, and we feared something had happened to you." From behind SiZhui, JingYi appeared, eyeing Wei WuXian up and down with a frown, his eyes sweeping over Yu-er before he took something out of his pocket.

"Yeah, and it seems something did happen. I mean, look at you, you're covered in dirt and blood, and even Xiao QingYu has gotten some on him." JingYi clicked his tongue and approached, carefully wiping Yu-er's face while the latter giggled, again calling Shixiong -or his butchered version of the word- making JingYi smile.

"Ah, so I have a little Shidi now, uh? You better behave, then, the Lans don't condone unruliness." JingYi chuckled in mirth, as if he'd said a joke only himself could understand. By his side, SiZhui's eyes crinkled with humor, too, but his gaze quickly turned sour after he caught sight of Wei WuXian's injuries.

"Young Master Mo-"

"Just call me by name, please, we are already familiar with each other, aren't we?" SiZhui seemed to hesitate for a second.

"Master XuanYu -Wei WuXian sighed- your wounds, they need to be treated right away." Wei WuXian hummed, oblivious to his concerns. He had paid no mind to his own aches and bruises, seeing as the situation was dire and he was more concerned with being able to remain alive than uninjured. But now that SiZhui mentioned it, he was really itchy everywhere, and some places were burning, which really distracted him.

"Yeah, I mean, what the heck happened to you?" JingYi interceded." You look like you fell down a ravine or rolled down a mountain, there are even leaves stuck in your hair." To prove his point, he took one out, grimacing in disgust when he realized it was covered in blood.

"Well...that's exactly what happened. After HanGuang-Jun arrived, I left to attend to some matters, and also because I didn't want to bother you. But this idiot of a donkey took the wrong route and threw us down a cliff." Wei WuXian glared at Lil' Apple in the distance, feeling like she had done it on purpose just to spite him, even though she fell, too.

"It just happened that Jin Ling was there and he helped us come back, so nothing too bad happened." From behind, he heard a harrumph, and he could imagine without even looking the prideful expression that the child was making, he was too much like his uncle Jiang Cheng.

"Is that so?" SiZhui said, slowly walking towards Jin Ling, bowing slightly in gratitude with a smile that could calm storms and scatter clouds. "Then, I have to thank Young Master Jin for his help. Without your aid, who knows what would have become of Master XuanYu." Wei WuXian wanted to cackle so bad. Jin Ling looked like he wasn't used to receiving compliments, and his gaze remained fixated on SiZhui with a panicked tint, his cheeks growing rosy as his eyes darted everywhere.

Eventually, he crossed his arms and humphed, averting his eyes, clearly embarrassed and pleased in equal measures, trying to show a thought façade even though everyone could clearly see through it.

'Oh god, Jiang Cheng, what have you done? You've raised such a tsundere! What the hell have you been teaching him?' Wei WuXian seethed in his mind, weeping tears of delight and also horror at the hilarity of the situation. He knew Jiang Cheng had the emotional range of a rock -and understandeably so- but to know he raised Jin Ling to be this way...it was good, but also not good.

"Anyway -JingYi said with an annoyed tone- come here and take off that tattered piece of cloth, I'll treat those wounds for you. You have a kid to take care off, you can't be so careless." Wei WuXian nodded, taking off the outer layer of his clothes. But he didn't throw it away, instead, he tore it into even strips and tied them together, intent on using them to create a makeshift cradle to tie Yu-er to his chest.

His arms were beginning to hurt.

It took JingYi barely five minutes to treat his wounds, expertly wrapping them with gauze and medicine before telling him he was done. All the while, Yu-er had been sitting idly by his side, eyeing the white bandages and the way JingYi's hands carefully moved, as if entranced.

Wei WuXian poked his nose and laughed at the way Yu-er scrunched his brows.

"What are you looking at, ah? You want to wrap me up, too?" His child's answer was to crawl over his lap and hold a piece of cloth that had fallen, slowly twisting it around one of Wei WuXian's fingers before making a knot, then tapping that place once before turning around.

"I help cure papa. No more hurt." Wei WuXian widened his eyes. Yu-er was already making full phrases that could be understood without trouble. His pronunciation was still slightly off, but such development wasn't normal, and he was sure, now more than ever, that the array and how he came to be had something to do with that.

He just hoped he hadn't retained any of his older memories. The chances of it happening were close to none, though, since most of them had ended up in Wei WuXian's own brain, sandwiched between his own grievances and troubles and the fuzzy-muddled last years of his first life.

"Aren't you a smart little bun. Such a good child, papa feels much better already." He smiled, and his child smiled in return.

"JingYi, we should go scout like HanGuang-Jun told us, that demonic hand fled to this area and it is not safe, we need to find it soon." SiZhui's solemn voice broke the pleasant atmosphere, reminding the people present of the reason why they'd come there in the first place- besides Wei WuXian, who had only being running from Lan WangJi.

JingYi frowned with displeasure. "I know. It's really annoying, though, how strong can one demonic hand be?"

Wei WuXian saw Jin Ling approach, eyeing the Lans with an indecipherable expression. "Since my uncle is looking for that thing, I'll go with you too." Immediately, JingYi made a face, surely about to refuse. But Wei WuXian was curious about that wretched spirit that was unable to be purified, and this was also a chance to spend some time with these children and find more about the years he'd missed, so he quickly interceded and spoke for everyone as if he was the one that called the shots.

"If we go together, it will be safer." The three juniors looked at him with surprise, and he knew what they wanted to say before they opened their mouths. "Of course, I'll be coming along too. You just heard it earlier, I'm a demonic cultivator, so I can take care of myself just fine. And if I see any danger that I can't fight....I'll just run!" He sent the kids a grin, quickly turning back and fastening the clothes he'd tied together before around his chest, keeping Yu-er in place.

He was sure it was an hilarious sight, and that he didn't look very threatening right now, but it wasn't like he had anything to carry his child around with, and he wasn't about to trust Lil' Apple after that stunt she pulled before.

He still brought her along, though. Just in case.

The juniors didn't protest much more after he promised to keep on the back and leave the fights to them, and even Jin Ling showed some concern -in his own special way- telling him not to get in the way. After getting over their akward introduction and the strangeness of being family but not, the kid actually started to talk with him, asking questions about his own family and what had happened when he was at LangLing Jin Sect.

His answers were vague, of course, and by the end of the tearful and dramatic tale he had half-made up, the three youngsters were subdued and looking at him with pity, but also awe and a hint of pride, like they idolized him for being able to rise again after all the pain he went through.

If only they knew.

Jin Ling actually looked guilty at some point, and he revealed that he hadn't know the whole story of what happened, and just believed the rumors and things he heard. Then, seeing as Mo XuanYu had really been insane when he met him a few months back, he had resolutely bought those statements as the truth.

He hadn't apologized, of course not. But the lingering coldness and distance that he had unconsciously held towards Wei WuXian vanished like mist, and they could now interact like acquaintances getting to know each other. It was actually quite fun, watching the three kids bicker and argue over concepts and techniques and what not.

SiZhui was always the level headed one, although he always let his opinion be known by the end, never letting people trample his sweet, serene voice.

JingYi, on the other hand, was loud and fast paced, letting others know what he thought without reserve, being boisterous and bright, always moving and refuting and fighting for his beliefs. Truly an unruly fellow.

And then there was Jin Ling, always used to being pampered and spoiled, to be told he was right and his opinion was valued and treasured even if he was wrong, always growing fierce and flustered when other's voices would drown his own. He would yell and fight and try to find the words to express what he wanted to say, learning from his mistakes if he knew he was wrong, but never admitting to it.

Watching them interact made Wei WuXian soften. With such a scene, peaceful beyond comparison, he could almost believe that nothing was wrong with the world, could almost forget what he knew he never would.

"Master XuanYu, what do you think?" A voice startled him out of his thoughts, and he jumped a little in place, glancing at SiZhui, who was the one who asked.

"Eh?" Wei WuXian tilted his head.

" We just said, that this cave feels strange, and we were thinking if we should go in or not. What do you think?" JingYi supplied, his feet tapping the ground with impatience. It was obvious he was going to go in whether Wei WuXian said yes or no, and it was true that a strange presence seemed to linger inside, so he nodded his head, and urged them to investigate.

"Do go in, but be careful, alright? I'll wait here, call for me if something happens." The three juniors earnestly nodded before rushing inside, excitedly talking amongst themselves. Wei WuXian heaved a sigh and smiled fondly, their cheerfulness and vigour reminding him of when he was younger and unburdened of the weights of the world.

It was nice, though, to see Jin Ling interacting with the Lans, it was obvious he didn't have many friends, and he was sure Jiang Cheng had something to do with that, probably investigating anyone that dared come close to his nephew and scaring them within an inch of their lives in the process.

Wei WuXian chuckled.

"Papa?" Tiny hands tugged on his loose hair, and he glanced at the toddler pouting up at him.

"What is it?" Wei WuXian tilted his head, amusement making the corners of his mouth rise as Yu-er pouted, looking around once before replying.

"Papa, bored." Yu-er paused for a second." I- I'm bored." Wei WuXian's smile widened, happy that his child was finally speaking with property, learning from his mistakes to the point of correcting himself.

"Ohohoh, you're so smart, already learning to speak right, that deserves a reward." He made as if he was thinking about it, watching Yu-er's eyes as they filled with stars and anticipation. When he thought he'd made his child wait long enough, he told him the prize. "Do you like music, Yu-er?" The other nodded without hesitation, and Wei WuXian wondered if he didn't care as long as it was something that distracted him, or if he was genuinely answering his question.

Wei WuXian walked towards some bamboos nearby, chopping a segment with the back of his hand. "Believe it or not, I once played the flute, and I was really, really good at it. So good, even, that I could..." He leaned to whisper. "....rise the dead with my tunes." For a moment, Yu-er looked creeped out, but it lasted barely a breath, and then he was just urging Wei WuXian to continue, acting as if that piece of information wasn't disturbing at all.

Did he even understand? Yu-er should be about two or three years old, if his guess was right, but even though he seemed highly intelligent for his age, he didn't know to which extent. He would just have to wait and see, he supposed. He had time now, if nothing went wrong.

Of course, he just jinxed himself, seeing as, when he was making the holes in his makeshift flute, and explosion nearby occurred, and he soon heard screams and yells and the echoing footsteps of many people running. Among the many voices talking, he heard three people calling for him, a worried tint to their voices.

"XuanYu! Where -shit- where the heck are you?" Oh, wow. That unruly mouth could only belong to Jin Ling, he sure took after his uncle, cursing left and right. Wei WuXian darted out of the small bamboo forest in time to see the three juniors dodge an arm that seemed to be made of rock, each of them running in a different direction.

Coincidentally, it was Jin Ling who ended up running towards where he was, and as soon as he laid eyes on him and Ah Yu, he snatched him by the hand as they darted away as fast as lightning, Wei WuXian stumbling from the force of his pull.

"He-Hey! What's going on? What-?" A rumbling sound, deafening in it's intensity, made him turn momentarily, and he caught the figure of a goddess-like statue, her eyes drifting around until they landed on him, a disturbing smile lighting up her sinister features.

Wei WuXian laughed nervously.

"Jin Ling, what did you do!?" The disciple running before him huffed and growled, but Wei WuXian could see a faint redness coloring his cheeks.

"And what makes you think I did something?" His voice was filled with shame and guilt, he couldn't be more obvious.

"Oh, well, no idea, maybe the fact that there is a giant demon statue trying to -oh, I don't know- kill us?" Wei WuXian tried to channel his inner Jiang Cheng, sending disapproving vibes towards his nephew alongside a look that said 'Really? You're really asking me this?'.

When Jin Ling turned slightly and saw him from the corner of his eye, he immediately squeaked and turned back, his steps even quicker, if that was possible.

"W- well, I just- Okay, so maybe I called it a stupid, ugly rock and tried to cut off one of it's arms but- But how was I supposed to know it was possessed by that demon hand? And then it began moving and attacking me!" Gods, this child was even more impulsive than him as a youngster. 'Jiang Cheng, what have you done?' Wei WuXian lamented as he sighed, feeling the soil tremble under his feet, tightening his grip on Yu-er to make sure he wouldn't fall.

"Okay, that's fine, we can deal with that. Just, send a signal so your fellow sect members come to aid you, and make SiZhui and JingYi do the same!" Jin Ling seemed to freeze for a second.

"Dont....don't tell me you have no flares!?" Wei WuXian asked incredulously, gaping.

"W-well I had some but- but I forgot them back on the camp -Jin Ling!- and SiZhui said he didn't know if they have any, either."

"You cannot be so unprepared in a night hunt! What are we supposed to do now!?" Wei WuXian screamed this, but he already knew the answer. He doubted HanGuang-Jun and Jiang Cheng had left the mountain, and they would undoubtedly be lured by the chaos caused by the demonic hand, sooner or later. All he had to do was stall it, keep it occupied and protect the juniors until any of them arrived.

Now, as for how to do that....

Wei WuXian looked down at his poor excuse for a flute, missing ChenQing terribly, and wondered if the sounds emitted from that monstrosity would be enough to protect what remained of his family, and the new addition he'd gained. He looked down into Yu-er's eyes, big and dark, filled with stars evertyime he gazed at Wei WuXian, then at the golden clothes of the youth before him, brown with dust and grime, losing some of their shine, and knew he had no choice.

His resolution came a little too late, though, as the tremors that had been far away suddenly sounded closer, and before he had time to react, Jin Ling had pushed him to the side, rising his sword -Jin ZiXuan's sword- to block the attack from the demonic hand as Wei WuXian rolled on the ground, coming to a stop near the foot of a tree.

He watched his nephew struggle for about a second before he found himself with a flute on his lips, the familiar notes filling the air with an eerie melody that seemed to silence all life and sound inside the forest, the thundering of his heart the only thing louder than the song he played.

Tiny hands caught the edge of his robes, and a faint tremble shook his chest, but his eyes determinedly never wavered from Jin Ling; not even as the Lans appeared, with wide eyes and striken expressions, or when JingYi complained about how terrible his playing was, prompting a chastising look from SiZhui.

He prayed, asked, for whatever was close, whatever held a thread of resentment still in its body, to show itself and keep safe the only thing that remained of his Shijie, the only family Jiang Cheng had left, someone so precious that he wouldn't forgive himself should he be hurt.

He didn't have to wait long.

From beneath the soil, the rustling of chains made him blanch, and when the earth crumbled and a figure appeared, exactly the same as he remembered him, Wei WuXian felt himself turn into stone, his hands falling away from the flute as he stared, uncomprehending, at the person before him.

His friend. His comrade. His ally. Someone he had failed more than once. Someone who'd never left his side. Someone that was supposed to be gone.

'Wen Ning?'

He couldn't think, couldn't understand the sight before him. But then Wen Ning fastened his chains on the statue's arm, taking it away from Jin Ling, and the latter fled away towards SiZhui even as he stared, filled with an unreadeable look, at the fierce corpse that had just appeared, making Wei WuXian come back to his senses.

Jin Ling was fine, it was okay, just an unexpected encounter, nothing else....

He hoped.

"Keep away! Regroup, and, if you can, send a signal for backup!" Wei WuXian screamed at the juniors from the other side of the battlefield, still keeping an eye on Wen Ning who was....wild, to put it mildly.

"We can't!" JingYi yelled back. " We don't have any more!" Wei WuXian felt the need to lecture these children with safety measures and preventive planning -Jiang Cheng would laugh at him if he heard this- but settled with just muttering profanities and telling the juniors to back away and find a safe place while he inwardly planned how to get rid of that hand.

"But what about you, Master XuanYu, what about Xiao QingYu?" SiZhui, always kind, always worrying for others even when he, himself, was full of bruises and dirt, exhausted and distressed.

"We'll be fine, I can take care of ourselves, just go!" SiZhui looked conflicted, Jin Ling gritted his teeth and barked some kind of curse while JingYi outwardly frowned, clearly not happy with his order. He prayed they would just listen and flee, leave him ground to unleash Wen Ning at his fullest and be done with this threat without worrying about their safety.

Sadly, Jin Ling was as headstrong and stubborn as both his parents and his uncle to boot, and he brought out his bow and arrows and began trying to weaken the demon, all the while glaring hatefully at Wen Ning, but never attacking him.

Wei WuXian soon found out why.

If Jin Ling decided to unleash his hate and spare no effort in bringing Wen Ning down, the Goddess' path would directly converge to Wei WuXian's own location. His nephew was probably trying to protect both him and Yu-er -although he'd just told him it wasn't needed- swallowing his rage and working together with the source of all his tragedies, if only to keep him safe.

"Ah..." Wei WuXian averted his gaze, melancholic, looking down at his child. "He's such a good child, isn't he? If only Shijie was here to see him, she would be so proud..." He muttered to himself while Ah Yu blinked up at him, looking towards the battle going on while he pointed, saying Gege and Shixiong, eventually catching Wei WuXian's attention.

Indeed, both his 'brothers' had decided to join the fray, aiding Jin Ling into his efforts to suppress the demonic hand alongside Wen Ning, making Wei WuXian sigh in frustration.

"Didn't I just tell you to retreat!?" Jin Ling made a backflip and rebounded off a tree, unseathing his sword and chipping at the stone's surface, his attacks relentless.

"Yeah, well, we decided not to listen!" Jin Ling screamed.

"Obviously!" Wei WuXian rubbed his forehead, groaning when both JingYi and SiZhui, notorious for following rules and respecting their elders' wishes, completely disregarded his advice and rushed towards their enemy, swords drawn and incantations at the ready to subdue.

"Honestly, what am I supposed to do with them, ah?" His only answer came from the bundle on his arms.

"...Help?" Wei WuXian was not amused, and sent a glare towards his son, who made an innocent face that said 'I'm a child, you can't hurt me', before showing him a toothy smile.

"Yeah, sure, why not, at this point." Wei WuXian shrugged and brough the flute to his lips once more, sending just one command towards the unresponsive Wen Ning.

Obliterate.

His call was answered with a roar, and like a hurricane unleashed, Wen Ning tore at the statue with the force of a thousand men, ripping the arm away and throwing it, the appendage running away and hiding in between the bushes.

The silence that followed was only broken by the statue's remains breaking and crumbling into dust and the boots of the juniors as they made contact with the ground, softy landing, glancing around apprehensively for the demonic presence that hadn't disappeared yet.

Wei WuXian didn't lower his guard, knowing that it would attack soon, and, when it eventually did, he sicked Wen Ning onto it, and subdued it with all the strength he had.

"SiZhui, quick, use the spirit sealing pouch to seal it!" The Lan disciple quickly followed his orders, and soon, the demonic hand was no longer a problem, but he had another trouble to take care of. That was, restraining Jin Ling from killing Wen Ning, who was pretty much out of it.

Thankfully -or not- a lot of clutivators had been lured by the noise and the fight, some of them even joining back then on the cave, and the area they were in was soon flooded by people, all of them settling their eyes on the biggest prey nearby: Wen Ning.

He was sure if his general could feel all the hungry stares boring into his form, he would be wiping cold sweat and hiding behind Wei WuXian for safety, like he did in the past.

Right now, though, veins appeared on his forehead and neck, and a deafening roar shrouded the clearing, together with the sizzling of flames, Wen Ning's angry and wild eyes staring off into nothingness as he swatted away the hordes of cultivators that wanted to capture him.

'Shit, this is not good, I need to get him away!' Wei WuXian brought the flute back to his lips, playing a shooting tune that came to him unbidden, each note making his chest tingle as far away whispers seemed to reverberate inside his mind, a long lost warmth seeming to fill his heart.

As he played, he walked backwards, watching intently to make sure his dear general was following his lead, wich he was. He led him deep within the forest, ignoring the junior's stares and the heat of Jin Ling's gaze, who was being restrained by the other two.

From his chest, through the corner of his eye, he could see QingYu with his hands risen towards Wen Ning, moving back and forth as if beckoning him to follow while he hummed the song Wei WuXian was playing, laughing from time to time. He got distracted by the strangeness of the whole situation, and didn't pay attention to his surroundings for a few seconds.

That proved to be a fatal mistake.

His back collided with something, his wrist was held in an unyiedling, tight grip, and as he turned around, white filling his vision, he heard a voice that imbued him with dread, filled with an emotion he couldn't place.

"You-" Lan WangJi stared at him with a kind of disconcert he'd never seen in him before, his brows furrowed and mouth slightly open, the hand he was using to grip his wrist trembling slightly, even as the force of it never once wavered.

'Ohhh, bad timing, bad timing! This just complicates things!' He spared Lan WangJi a startled, surprised look before he focused on the voices growing near, and his hands skillfully gripped the crude bamboo flute once again, following up with the song from before.

Lan WangJi's hold grew tighter and tighter the more he played, and it came to the point his hands couldn't keep up anymore, and the flute fell with a dull thud among the burnt grass at his feet. Thankfully, that string of notes had been enough to send an order to Wen Ning, and he jumped towards the treetops, quickly disappearing from sight and making Wei WuXian sigh in relief.

Although that relief vanished as quick as it came when he remembered the situation at hand.

And talking about hands....Lan WangJi had yet to release his, and when their gazes crossed, he was met with an intensity that left him breathless for a second, unsure of what to do next. Just as he was thinking of spouting some nonsense to force Lan Zhan to react, a chorus of voices mingled together, approaching at fast speeds, and the juniors and cultivators arrived in a hurry, all of them heaving for breath and looking around wildly.

Lan Zhan released him, but didn't move. Wei WuXian was confused.

"HangGuang-Jun!" Lan SiZhui called, closely followed by JingYi and Jin Ling, whose gaze ran over the area, giving it a once over before settling on the floor, his brows furrowed in displeasure, his hands clutching his forearms to the point of tearing cloth.

Both Lan disciples ran to Lan WangJi, explaining the situation, and, at the same time, Jiang Cheng appeared from in between the trees, walking straight towards his nephew with murder in his gaze as they proceeded to argue and bicker, the fight prompted by Jiang Cheng's inability to show worry or affection in any way that didn't involve shouting and misinterpreted words.

It took Wei WuXian way to the past, when he was in the receiving end of such though love.

His nostalgic happiness didn't last long, though.

"Jin Ling, just what happened?"

"I- well, Wen Ning suddenly appeared-"

"What suddenly, young master Jin Ling?" A cultivator yelled. " He was summoned, by him!" Fingers pointed in Wei WuXian's direction, and he laughed nervously, backing up a step.

"Oh?" Jiang Cheng slowly turned to stare at him, and Wei WuXian felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, the need to flee overwhelming him. He recognized that smile on his brother's face, and it was nothing but bad news to whoever was on the receiving end. " So you've come back...after all." Jiang Cheng fiddled with the ring on his finger, and Wei WuXian had half a second to gasp before Zidian appeared, purple lightning enveloping it's owner as the whip reached towards it's prey.

"Wei Wuxian!!" With a scream of his name, Jiang Cheng brought down the whip that was rightfully his, and Wei WuXian had to roll to the side to avoid getting hit -not for him, he didn't care, but for Yu-er, who was beginning to grow upset in between his arms and couldn't defend himself.

The edge of the whip scratched his cheek, and he hissed, the wounds from before still burning when he moved around. But he pay them no heed, looking instead at QingYu, whose eyes were wet with unshed tears as he clutched at Wei WuXian's clothes, whimpering softly.

"What are you doing?" Jin Ling voice screeched. " Xiao QingYu, remember the child! What if you hurt him!?"

"Humph, I'm sure that child is nothing more than another one if his creations, it wouldn't be the first time." A sneer followed up his comment.

"Uncle!"

Wei WuXian felt like he couldn't breathe. He knew that Jiang Cheng hated him and all he'd ever done in the past, everything he stood for. But to go as far as to punish anyone that dared practice demonic cultivation, and even accuse him of rising a child's corpse to play with....that.....

That hurt more than he'd ever imagined.

He clutched Yu-er tighter and, as he'd always done in the past when his heart couldn't take it, he turned tail, and ran away. Slipping in between the trees, with the voices of those that were trying to protect him calling both his name and QingYu's, warning him of danger.

But his senses were focused only on the donkey on the other side, his means of escape, so he didn't hear the sparks following after his trail or the snap of leather until it was too late. And as he caught purple from the corner of his eye, he curled protectively around the child in his arms, and let Zidian slash his back.

'Ouch, damn, Jiang Cheng isn't holding back at all.' He thought, rolling forward on the floor until a tree stopped his momentum, making him wince and groan at the impact.

Immediately after, rapid footsteps approached, clad in purple boots, definitely Jiang Cheng- But golden and white ones blocked his vision almost a second later, and a white clad figure crouched before him -it was SiZhui- his gentle hands helping him sit down, carefully prying Yu-er from his hands to search for any injuries. Wei WuXian saw him sigh in relief when he found none, and relished in the sweet smile Yu-er sent the Lan disciple, softly calling for him now and then, making SiZhui smile back.

SiZhui patted Yu-er's head, and his eyes then landed on Wei WuXian, his frown growing deeper with worry as he took in his sorry state. He guessed it was understandable that he looked...less than proper, all scratched and dirty, possibly bloody and pale from exertion.

Mo XuanYu's body was really, really frail. Or maybe he'd been too used to his nearly-unable-to-die one from when he was still alive and, in comparison, he felt that this one was weak. But he wasn't going to criticize no matter what, it was a gift, after all.

"Master XuanYu, are you alright, can you stand?" SiZhui lend him a hand, and Wei WuXian grasped it, pulling himself up and whining about his many aches and bruises.

"Ouch, ouch. Oh man, it must be great being the leader of a prominent sect. You can even judge someone like this and get away scott-free. How nice, how nice." Wei WuXian sent a whitering look towards Jiang Cheng, smirking inside. From his left, JingYi glared, agreeing with him that his treatment towards Wei WuXian hadn't been fair.

Jiang Cheng, meanwhile, wore a surprised expression, which quickly turned into annoyance, then fury.

"Sect leader Jiang." SiZhui said. " I understand by your actions that you thought Master XuanYu was possessed, which was why you lashed out with Zidian. But as you can see, there is nothing wrong with him, and your actions put an innocent life at risk. We ask you to please let this matter go, as everything has been resolved peacefully." Damn. Those Lans really knew how to talk. If it was him on the other side, by the tone of his voice alone, Wei WuXian would have already agreed to whatever it was SiZhui had said without a second thought.

"That's right, uncle. This time you went too far. Even Xiao QingYu could have gotten hurt..." Jin Ling wore a conflicted expression.

Meanwhile, the person in question looked towards Jin Ling, unaware -or uncaring- of the dangers around him. "Gege -he pointed at Jin Ling, then moved his finger towards Jiang Cheng, his brows furrowed, smile now gone-.....ugly." Great! Good way of making your uncle burn with fury! Weren't you calling him pretty before? What kind of wishful way of thinking was this? Are you actually this fiddle? It's okay if you're mad, but hold it down!

Wei WuXian had to bit his lip to stop the laughter from coming out, rising his arms to take back his child. "Now, now, be a good boy and stay quiet for a bit." Yu-er pouted, showing his displeasure, and his eyes darted around as if looking for something, eventually landing on SiZhui again.

QingYu rose his arms and called out to this 'brother', and he didn't stop until the Lan disciple had taken him into his arms. As he gazed back at Wei WuXian, his big blue eyes seemed to hold contempt, as if he was saying 'Well, how do you like this? I don't love you anymore.'. It was like he was smirking, and the expression on his chubby little face was amusing as it was adorable.

Wei WuXian let him be for the time being, enjoying SiZhui's frenzied look.

He made sure to wave his hand in dismissal to vanish his worries, then came back to the present situation, which had been deteriorating more and more as he didn't pay attention. It had gotten to the point that Jin Ling was arguing with Jiang Cheng about his decisions, and JingYi interceded at times to input his own opinion on the matter.

But Jiang Cheng wouldn't be swayed, at least not until Jin Ling brough up a fair -albeit kind of superfluous- point.

"Uncle, you know it was said -you said so yourself- that Wei WuXian loved to flirt with maidens, and that he was known for his attractiveness and his charm. But although Mo XuanYu has a son that is his flesh and blood....he is a well known....." Here, Jin Ling lowered his voice, sending an apologetic look at Wei WuXian before continuing. ".....cut-sleeve. Everyone knows this, just like the fact that he wasn't right in the head for a long time. Do you really think, that if he had to snatch a body away, the Yiling Patriarch would choose him? Honestly?"

The seed of doubt planted -thanks to Wei WuXian's old habits when he was alive- Jiang Cheng seemed to falter, although the piercing look in his eyes never wavered, going through Wei WuXian as if he could see his soul. He, meanwhile, tried not to think too much about....Mo XuanYu's tendencies. He was not one to judge, and, although he didn't share his interests, he respected his choices, no matter how much pain they brough to his life.

Maybe that could be the reason he would be saved from Jiang Cheng today, even.

Some Jiang disciples followed up with Jin Ling's thoughts, and eventually, it seemed everyone was sharing their own opinions at the same time, a cacophony of noises that began giving Wei WuXian a headache.

The discussion, though, ended with Jiang Cheng's next words, his tone bathed in finality.

"He is a demonic cultivator anyway, we cannot let him leave. Take him back." And with that, his brother sealed his fate, and the disciples of his sect approached menacingly, their hands ready to snatch him away to goddess knows where. To be tortured for his secrets, probably.

To confess who he was.

Which was not going to happen.

Forced between a rock and hard place, cold sweat pouring down his neck, Wei WuXian did the only thing he could think of to save himself.

He hid.

Behind Lan Zhan.

And proceeded to bullshit his way out of the less-than-favorable situation.

"Sect leader Jiang, please, you're greatly bothering me." Jiang Cheng stopped, stiffing." It's not as if I will fall in love with whoever waves at me, you know? I have standards. And while it is true I want a father for my son sometime in the future... your insistence pains me. Since....you're really not my type." Wei WuXian made sure to make his voice sweet and languid, infused also with a bit of the mischievous spirit that always prompted him to annoy his brother.

"Ohhh? And what would be your type, then?" Eyebrows raised, Jiang Cheng looked ready for murder.

"Ah- someone like- " He looked up. "HanGuang-Jun! He is completely my type! He would surely help me raise my son and take care of us!" He gave a brilliant smile to his brother, who made a disgusted, irked face. Great, now he just needed Lan Zhan to do the same, and he could go on his merry way towards wherever the wind would carry him.

Only-

Only.....that didn't happen.

No disgust rose in Lan Zhan's face, neither did he shy away from Wei WuXian's hold on his arm. Instead, Lan WangJi's fingers tenderly caressed his guqin, his golden eyes narrowing and his mouth tilting up the slightest bit, enough for Wei WuXian to see. Then, with a voice as calm as a millpond, he spoke as his gaze pinned Wei WuXian to the ground, an intensity there that made him unable to move.

"Mark your words." Wei WuXian sucked in a breath. Lan WangJi looked up at Jiang Cheng. "I will be taking him back to the Cloud Recesses."

Uh.

Uh?

UH?!!!

And with that, matters were settled. Jiang Cheng turned away and left, his disciples following along, leaving behind only Jin Ling, who approached Wei WuXian whose's brain was still as frozen as the tundra.

"Hey..." Wei WuXian finally blinked, looking at his nephew with a dumb look on his face. "I'm gonna go now, so uh....goodbye I guess? Try not to attract too much attention to yourself, and behave! The Lan Sect is even more strict than other sects, so at least, for QingYu's sake, try not to get thrown out, okay?" Jin Ling said this trying to sound cold and disdainful, but Wei WuXian could hear the not-so-sublte undertones of worry in his voice, and could see it in the way his eyes shifted towards Yu-er now and again.

Honestly, he was so much like his father...

"I know. Why don't you go say goodbye to your little brother, ah?" He didnt have to say it twice. Jin Ling left and spoke a little with Yu-er, the latter holding his hand within his tiny ones, biding him farewell with a beaming smile. He saw SiZhui, all smiles and gentle words, speak a few minutes with him too while JingYi seemed to quarrel and poke fun at him, like a cat enjoying playing with a new toy.

They argued back and forth, with SiZhui standing in between like some kind of mediator, but the atmosphere was serene and cheerful, and Wei WuXian felt warm at the notion that his nephew was enjoying himself. It had been pretty obvious he'd needed some friends, it wasnt healthy to be surrounded by people who only spoiled him rotten, after all.

SiZhui and JingYi would take him out of his rich-kid shell and show him some humility -on SiZhui's side- and how to relax and let go -on JingYi's side.

By the time Jin Ling had finally done what he wanted and he followed after his uncle, the sky was already beginning to brighten, and Wei WuXian thought he saw a beautiful smile lighting up Jin Ling's features, bathed by the golden rays of the sun, looking as captivating as the sight of dawn creeping over the mountains.

It made his chest burst with warmth.

Until SiZhui reminded him what was going to happen next, that is.

"Master XuanYu, let's go, the way back to the Cloud Recesses will take some time." Lan WangJi, who had been an unmoving wall by his side all this time, held his arm in a vice like grip, guiding him towards Lil' apple and forcing him to mount. He then settled his disciples around him as escorts, pinning him with a gaze that dared him to try and flee, making sure to keep Yu-er within SiZhui's arms as a last resort to make him comply.

'NO! I don't want to go back there! Gods, why do you hate me so much!? What did I do to deserve this? I died once already, what more do you want, ah?'

His cries went unanswered and his pleas for reprieve unheard, and their little entourage with extra baggage began the trek back home, with HangGuang-Jun at the rear, never taking his eyes off Wei WuXian's back.

By the time they arrived at the Cloud Recesses, Wei WuXian felt like he'd lost ten years of his newly gained life.

--

"No! I don't want to go! Give Yu-er back!" Wei WuXian pouted and held onto the big tree that stood proudly at the entrance of the Cloud Recesses, stubbornly refusing to let go, eyeing Lan WangJi who was holding onto his child.

The juniors were looking at him with frustration and disbelief -in JingYi's case- and concern and patience - in SiZhui's case. The latter was bent slightly forward, an expression as if he was trying to placate a child taking over his features, his voice soft and calm as he explained the situation.

"Master XuanYu, please understand. HanGuang-Jun brought you back here because Sect Leader Jiang wouldn't have let you go otherwise. He was trying to protect you. If you do not come in, it is outside our jurisdiction, and we won't be able to help you." SiZhui frowned, his brows knitted in worry, looking extremely pained, which in turn made Wei WuXian feel slightly guilty.

"I get it...I really do but- I don't want to go!!" He wailed.

"Why are you so adamant about it ah?" JingYi interceded, his tone curious.

"Yes...why is that?" SiZhui tilted his head, innocently, earnestly asking for his motives. Wei WuXian sputtered and blabbered nonsense, knowing his reasons were, if said out loud, completely silly and unreasonable. To others, at least.

"That....rules....food..." Wei WuXian muttered under his breath, his mind filled with the dull life in the mountain; the long lectures, the three thousand rules, the bland food....Everyrting was boring and stagnant, and if there was something Wei WuXian couldn't stand, it was monotony and an unchanging style of life.

It made him restless.

"Actually, it's four thousand rules, as of now." Wei WuXian froze, nearly screaming in his fright.

He seemed to have let out a few words without noticing while whispering to himself, getting an answer to something he really didn't want to know.

"What?" He cried.

"Yeah, from what I know -JingYi leaned in closer to him - most of those rules were set after the Yiling Patriarch left the Cloud Recesses when young. I heard he drove Lan QiRen crazy for many seasons, and some of those rules were specially created to restrain people like him." Wei WuXian felt sweat fall down his neck, both amused and terrified and....slightly proud?

"....Did it work?" JingYi smiled, mischievous and free, reminding Wei WuXian of himself.

"Not really. As of now, I've broken four hundred out of those new rules, I think I broke Wei WuXian's record." JingYi giggled, puffing out his chest as if he was proud of his accomplishments, while SiZhui looked at him with some sort of pity mixed with fondness.

"JingYi, you shouldn't be proud of that." The other had the decency of looking ashamed at SiZhui's admonishing tone, and, in his enjoyment of the situation, Wei WuXian nearly forgot what they were doing.

Lan Zhan kindly reminded them.

"If he wants to cry, then let him cry. When he is finished, bring him in." Lan Zhan turned, intent on climbing the steps back to his home, carrying Yu-er in his arms. Wei WuXian quickly jumped from the tree and ran close, yelling at the top of his lungs.

"This is abduction! You're kidnapping my child! Why won't you give him back? I said I won't go so I won't go! Why do you try to force me? Is this how the GusuLan Sect does things now?! " Lan WangJi turned, humming, serene like always, unwavering in his decision.

"If you want him back, you just need to follow. If you do not, I will take him with me, and he will stay. For protection." Wei WuXian stilled, the finger that he was using to point at Lan Zhan shaking slightly, his breath catching in his throat at the obvious prodding at his inability to stay out of trouble.

His chest stung from the implications, and a thought slowly slithered into his mind.

Staying in the Cloud Recesses.....

That....that would be ideal, wouldn't it? He....what had he done until now? Had he ever thought coldly and seriously about it? A toddler....a child of two or three at most, going nearly without food, falling down a cliff, exposed to corpses, bathing in a cold river, his life risked because of him...

Wei WuXian knew, to some extent, that bad luck and danger always followed him, that now that Jiang Cheng knew he was a demonic cultivator and suspected his real identity, he wouldn't have respite, neither would he be able to settle down. He had skills that he could use to survive -by himself, but taking care of a child while on the run....QingYu didn't deserve a life like that.

Wei WuXian and his parents had lived like nomads, and he knew it wasn't a bad way of living, but this was different. His parents had been an harmonious couple, both of them could fight and take care of anything that needed to be done, they took turns to be with him and ensure he wouldn't be alone. He was never hungry or cold, never lacking anything. What he remembered of his childhood was filled with warmth and happiness, never sorrow.

But he wasn't like that, couldn't be. He was alone, barely knew how to take care of himself, let alone a child, his abilities as a cultivator were scarce, and if he used demonic cultivation he would be ostracized and find difficulties high and low, unable to live freely.

He was unreliable, his future unpredictable, he couldn't assure that there would be a meal on the table the next day. And, as much as he didn't want to separate from Yu-er, his conscience was screaming at him that the best course of action was to leave the child in the Cloud Recesses, that he would be happy and well taken care of, and Wei WuXian would be able to go away and do whatever he wanted.

The Lan disciples and masters would become Yu-er's family, granting this way the wish Mo XuanYu never knew he had, and he would never be alone again, surrounded by many brothers and sisters, having an education and living in a safe environment.

It was really the best choice, Wei WuXian knew how to be objective, his feelings aside.

So he glared at Lan Zhan, humphed and turned away with a flourish, looking one last time at his child from the corner of his eye before walking away. "So be it, then, you can take him, I'll just go." His strides long, sleeves flutering after him, he decisively walked towards Lil' Apple, intent on leaving before he could regret his decision, telling himself time and time again all the reasons why this was a good idea, and why taking the child with him was a bad one.

It felt like he was trying to convince himself, and he couldn't discern when he'd become so attached to the little bun of a child; to his bright smile and his sweet voice as he called his name, the unconditional love for someone he considered family, the laughter and sincerity in those eyes that held no malice, no secret motives.

Just affection and warmth and a desire to stay together.

It'd been a long time since he'd last been the receiver of such pure love.

It hurt, leaving it behind.

Wei WuXian reached for the reins, about to jump up and leave. But then-

"Papa? Papa, where.....going?" He froze, trying to restrain himself from instinctively turning back, trying to ignore the plea in that small voice, the uncertainty and fear etched in every word. "Papa? Papa?" His tone becoming more and more choked and filled with dread, Wei WuXian could hear when Yu-er had begun tearing up, the desperation in his voice making him feel like the worst of scum, like he was really abandoning his child to go live a life of debauchery, free of restraints and dead weights.

His hands fell from the reins, still.

'But you are not a restrain, you are not a dead weight, you're not a shackle that ties me anywhere, but rather a thread that keeps me tethered, connected to reality, with my feet on the ground and my mind balanced. A reason to hope, to believe that fate can be changed, that not everything is set in stone. You are not a burden, but a gift, a miracle only for me.' Wei WuXian felt his own eyes becoming hot, the sensation feeling alien after such a long time of enduring, of holding back.

'Can I....be selfish for once? Can I believe that this was just for me? Can I keep holding onto you? For the family I always wanted? Is it.....alright, to wish for happiness?'

"Papa!!"

Wei WuXian sniffed and swallowed whatever tears he had left, then turned around and ran like the wind towards Lan WangJi, his eyes narrowed and his arms open, ready to tear his child away from him.

But he didn't need to.

Lan WangJi carefully deposited QingYu in his arms, and he closed them around the teary eyed child, feeling a void being filled, his anxiety vanishing like mist and his heartbeat returning to normal. He looked up and glared at Lan Zhan, who completely ignored him and walked up the steps leading to the Cloud Recesses, calm as ever, like he had expected this outcome.

Wei WuXian turned and looked at SiZhui and JingYi, who were smiling softly.

"Why didn't you do anything? Why not try to force me to go?" Both disciples chuckled, their eyes crinkling with joy.

"It was obvious, -JingYi said- you would never leave Xiao QingYu behind, so there was no point." SiZhui nodded his head, his expression soft.

"Yes. We knew Master XuanYu would never abandon his child." Wei WuXian rose an eyebrow.

"You couldn't have know that, I was really ready to leave, you know?" Only soft laughter answered him.

"With the way you look at him, we knew it was impossible for you to leave. You only say that because you can't look at yourself, so...." JingYi trailed off, looking amused, walking towards the entrance.

"So -SiZhui followed up- you cannot see the warmth in your gaze as you glance at your child. It is filled with the filial kind of love only family can profess, there is no way of faking that." SiZhui's voice sounded melancholic, longing, and he softly caressed Yu-er's head before climbing the steps back to his home.

Defeated by the children and unable to go back, Wei WuXian followed, feeling like he'd been bested in his own terrain, crushed by his own emotions.

"Papa?" He looked down, feeling blinded by Yu-er's sorrowful smile. "Don't go." They were just a few simple words, but they weighted more than he could've ever imagined. It was a promise. He was asking for something that not even Wei WuXian was sure he could accomplish, he was asking for reassurance, for compromise.

It was kind of scary.

"Hmmm, papa will try his best, I can promise that, at least." QingYu seemed to think it over, then smiled and snuggled on his chest, curling up and happily taking a nap, clutching at his clothes like he always did.

"Ah, you're so much trouble....what am I supposed to do with you?" He smiled. 'When you said you wanted a family, I didn't know it could only be me, I didn't know you would get this attached to me. Is it because of the ritual? Because of your body?.'

He pinched Yu-er's cheeks, then brushed his hair back.

'I won't think about it for now. Since it's your wish, I have no choice but to fulfill it. You're mine now, there's nothing I can do about it.'

Sighing to himself, and eyeing the wall of rules in disdain, Wei WuXian climbed the steps with a mischievous smile, already plotting his escape. Nobody knew how to mess with the Cloud Recesses and its masters like him. Give him a few days, and they would throw him out on their own.

That, he was sure of.

--

Okay, so he may had been a bit too...hasty, on his assumption, seeing as he found himself completely alone, trapped in the jingshi, with no one around to bother except Yu-er, who was walking around having the time of his life.

He couldn't remember ever having been in Lan Zhan's private room when he was alive, which made sense, since it was private after all, so no one was allowed inside. Which was precisely why he couldn't understand his presence there at the moment. It was confusing, and he was bored.

If he'd been allowed to roam around freely, he would have broken at least twenty rules already, provoking the elders' rage and beginning to hoard resentment so he could be thrown out in a few days, maybe even earlier.

He had plenty of confidence in his ability to be annoying and overbearing.

But here, alone in the room and unable to go out, he could do nothing but admire the pristine stance and neat decoration, rolling to and fro on the bed as he thought of ways to entertain himself. As he fooled around, his eyes caught Wanji, sitting quietly on the table under the window, the suns' rays making the strings shine with silver light, looking quite ethereal and immaculate, totally fitting for the Second Jade of GusuLan.

Just then, Yu-er approached the table, his small hands holding the edges to pull himself up as Wei WuXian looked on in amusement. The child managed to stabilize himself on his tip-toes, humming as he looked at the instrument, tilting his head and reaching chubby fingers to try and touch one of the strings, prompting Wei WuXian to chide him in a soft tone.

"Yu-er, you can't touch things that aren't yours without permission, you know?" The child looked at him, retracting his hand with a pout.

"Can't touch?" He whined.

"Can't touch. Besides, those strings are really sharp, you could cut yourself, and get hurt." Yu-er seemed to ponder over it for a bit, then asked.

"If ask permission, can touch?" Wei WuXian chuckled, shaking his head.

"Sure, as long as they let you. But don't say I didn't warn you, I don't want you crying to me when you get hurt." He was bluffing, obviously. He would still comfort him and take care of his wound if he really did get hurt, which wasn't going to happen on his watch.

But still, better discipline him now, so he would learn from his mistakes, something Wei WuXian seemed to have a lot of experience in doing, willingly or not.

His smile turned bitter, his mind going elsewhere until something heavy plopped onto his lap.

"Don't hurt. If I hurt, papa will be sad. I'll be good." A beaming smile greeted him when he looked down, and the dark clouds scattered as QingYu wiggled and played, clinging to him like a monkey and saying whatever came to mind, like how pretty the curtains where, how nice it smelled in there, how soft the sheets were, how warm it was and other inconsequential things.

But they were things Wei WuXian hadn't even paid attention to. Such simple things, but they were things he hadn't experienced in a long time, things he didn't know he missed; like contemplating the scenery from the window as the breeze blew past, or relishing on the feeling of silky sheets over his skin, the smell of sandalwood a refreshing scent that filled the room with a calm atmosphere, making him sigh.

The warmth of the sun caressing his face as he listened to the sounds of birds and nature outside, the feeling of a heartbeat thundering against his chest as he held another human being, the tilling of a bell echoing with reminiscences of spring and flowers in full bloom, the world reduced to the space around him, bright and peaceful.

It made it seem like all the darkness he'd suffocated in in the past had been nothing but a dream, a nightmare. Made it hurt a little less. Never fading, but diminishing.

He didn't notice when he'd fallen asleep, holding QingYu while he rested under the comforting warmth of the sun, but, when he opened his eyes again, the sky was dark, and incense was being burnt close by, a quilt covering both him and the child in his arms as they now lay on the bed, curled close.

Well, there goes his plan of annoying the Lans to death on the first day.

He'd wanted to bother them as soon as possible, so much so that not even Lan Zhan could do anything to stop them from throwing him out. But maybe he had been going at this the wrong way, wasn't the fastest way of being kicked out to offend Lan Zhan himself? With how reserved he was, touching his bottom line wouldn't be difficult, and with how much everyone at GusuLan venerated him, offending Lan Zhan and causing trouble for him was the easiest way to gain his freedom.

Or he could just take his token of admittance and run away but, where was the fun in that?

That was just his last resort.

Nodding to himself, and seeing the opportunity given to him on a silver platter, he got up, QingYu yawning on his chest, looking up at him with a somehow skeptical expression.

"Hey, don't look at me like that, you don't even know what I'm going to do." Yu-er just burrowed closer to his chest, completely ignoring him. "Fine, be that way." He whispered, taking away his hairpin and opening his robe slightly, laughing inside like he was a child again, wondering what kind of expression Lan Zhan would make.

Tip toeing to the doors separating him from Lan Zhan's bed, he softly opened them, sticking his head in and smiling when he noticed the other was already asleep. Careful not to make a sound, he left QingYu on the edge of the bedside, telling him to hush with a finger on his lips -and action that his child mimicked- then began to throughly search the near vicinity for the token, just to be sure he had a plan b in case it was needed.

Crouching over Lan Zhan with the utmost care, he stretched his hand to look on the other side, and nearly screeched when a hand held his wrist, making him tumble and become close to falling off the bed.

"What are you doing?" Lan WangJi's voice was as calm as ever, not a trace of agitation on his tone, but Wei WuXian thought he was just keeping his composure, acting. He'd been caught off guard, but he was good at improvising and spewing nonsense without shame, so he quickly adapted, jumped to straddle the man under him, and smiled with as much wickedness as he could muster.

Which wasn't difficult, honestly. It was in his character to be a troublemaker.

"What do you think?" He leaned closer. " You should have known, that as long as we slept close by something like this would happen." Wei WuXian whispered, running the fingers of his free hand through Lan Zhan's hair, trying to be as affectionate as possible, causing the other to feel disgust.

"I told you, didn't I? That I wanted someone to take care of Yu-er and myself....who is it going to be but you?" He moved even closer, trying to hold back his laugh at the other's frozen face, thinking that he was so disgusted he couldn't even move, let alone react.

"Are you sure this is what you want?"

"Mmm? Aren't I making myself clear right now?" Wei WuXian tried out a breathy tone, drawing even closer to the body under him, chests touching, his loose hair a black curtain that made the scene look even more improper than it already was.

Hidden, secret, immoral.

He waited for the loss of patience that was bound to happen.

But unexpectedly, Lan Zhan just hummed, and his hand slowly traveled from Wei WuXian's shoulder blades down his spine, making him shiver, his eyes widening, ready to jump away in fright and dread. But Lan Zhan's hand rested on his waist, and before he could yell in disbelief, his fingers had pinched hard, making an electric current travel through his body, and he immediately fell forward, like a puppet with it's strings cut, unable to even lift a finger.

"W-...what...?" Even his mouth felt like it was filled with cotton, unable to talk.

"It's late, sleep." He could only watch as Yu-er crawled on Lan Zhan's other side, snuggling under his arm and resting his head on his chest, smiling happily as Wei WuXian screamed like a madman inside his head.

Lan WangJi reached down, then rose the quilt until it covered the three of them , then rested his left hand on Wei WuXian's back, running back and forth, the movements kind of soothing if his mind wasn't in such turmoil.

'What the hell? Since when is Lan Zhan so permissive? Didn't he hate closeness to people? Wasn't he antisocial and a loner? How come he can tolerate this kind of attitude!? What happened to the awkward, rule-abidding teenager? What is going on? Help!'

Wei WuXian weeped inside his mind, feeling the rise and fall of the chest under his ear, the hand rubbing his back like a baby being put to sleep making him feel humiliated and frustrated, but also extremely sleepy and comforted. How could he fall asleep like this ah? It was impossible!

But the more he focused on the warmth around him -just as warm as the sun and the breeze on a summer day- and the soothing motions of the hand patting his back -soft and calm- the more his eyes dropped and the more his mind became muddled and hazy. And, in the end, without noticing, he fell asleep, for the first time in a long while, without nightmares to accompany him.

--

Wei WuXian felt like he was floating on clouds, soaring through peaceful skies. He hadn't been so comfortable in a long, long while, boneless and unconcerned, relaxed to the point of bliss. He curled in on himself and sighed in pleasure, but felt something missing, immediately frowning and reaching for the warmth that he was so used to hold in between his arms.

But his hands met an empty space, the sheets cold, and his mind woke up as if doused with cold water, his eyes opening as he sat in a flash, hair going everywhere as he turned, looking for the small bun that was his child.

But the room was completely empty save for himself, and he felt a rising panic that felt too familiar, like dark tendrils wrapping around his limbs, freezing him in place, cutting his breath short and making the world spin and shivers rake his body.

Suddenly, the room didn't feel warm and comforting anymore, instead, it loomed over him like a giant, unfamiliar and cold, devoid of life or sound, flashing between clear white walls and grey, muddy ones, red dripping slowly to the floor as grime and ash filled the air, and his lungs.

Feeling like he was going to suffocate, and uncaring of his state of dress, he jumped from the bed, opened the door with a bang, and ran away like demons were chasing him, like ghosts were about to catch up to him, ghosts of a past that felt as fresh to him as the morning air he wasn't able to breathe.

He ran through the familiar bridges and stone paths, unconsciously retracing steps from a past life, and didn't stop until a few voices cried out his name in concern, making him stop.

"Master XuanYu!" Wei WuXian turned towards the voice, his vision slightly blurry, heaving for breath, and waited until the mist left his eyes, finally seeing who was speaking to him.

"SiZhui...." The smile the junior sent him was filled with apprehension, and as Wei WuXian just stood there, not moving for a while, his mind seemed to finally regain it's clarity, and he had to restrain himself from smacking his own face, sighing at his little 'episode'.

'So....annoying.' He looked down at his body, noticing the white underclothes barely covering his body, his bare feet and the undone hair. Add to that that his face probably looked like he'd seen a ghost, and he could only guess what the juniors were thinking.

Nonetheless, this actually worked according to his plans. How many rules had he broken just now? Three? Four? He was sure he made a scene and shocked many people -he could hear whispers of 'shameless' and 'disrespectful' from far away- but he really didn't care, his objective for leaving the room still stood. He was missing a sweet small bun, and he had to find it.

Putting on a pitiful expression, he approached the stammering, blushing SiZhui, and quickly held his hand, trembling a little. "SiZhui, it's terrible, QingYu, my xiao QingYu is missing! I woke up and he was suddenly gone, I was in such a frenzy to find him that I..." The junior looked up at his words, seeming to understand the situation.

He carefully squeezed Wei WuXian's hand before taking out his outer robe, draping it over his shoulders before calling JingYi over, who seemed torn between laughing at the awkward situation and hiding from the disappointed elders.

"Well, that's one way to begin the day, I guess."SiZhui sent JingYi a disapproving look, the latter not even affected by it.

"JingYi, Master XuanYu is distressed, don't be insensitive. Do you know where Xiao QingYu is?" JingYi blinked a few times, then let out a 'Oh', clapping his hands in understanding.

"Yes I know, ah. Xiao QingYu is with HanGuang-Jun on the garden, he took him out to play. I thought he left a note in the Jingshi?" JingYi tilted his head, amused.

'Ah.' Wei WuXian thought, suddenly remembering a scrap of white paper fluttering to the floor in his haste to leave the room.' I didn't even notice.'

SiZhui nodded, looking at Wei WuXian again. "Let's go back to the jingshi first so you can get dressed, Master XuanYu. The elders are beginning to glare." The junior's tone was playful, with a hint of laughter, as if he was already used to the behavior of the elders at the Cloud Recesses, as well as how to deal with them.

Wei WuXian nodded, and together, they made the short trip towards the room, where Wei WuXian proceeded to quickly dress while talking to the others through the closed doors.

"So, why did your esteemed HanGuang-Jun take my child? Any ideas?" He tied the sash around his waist, looking for his hairpin in the process. He just now realized that he'd been striped to his inner clothes and his hair had been let down sometime in the night, probably done by Lan Zhan who couldn't help it, what with his proper nature and everything.

"Mmn, he didn't say anything." JingYi answered him. "But I wouldn't worry, Xiao QingYu seemed to be having fun."

"That's not the point." Wei WuXian pouted as he muttered, struggling to tie his long hair in the usual ponitail. Once he was done and he deemed himself presentable enough to not cause heart attacks to the majority of the GusuLan elders, he left the Jingshi, returning SiZhui's outer robe with a thank you.

Said disciple smiled at him, taking the robe. "It was nothing, Master XuanYu. Now follow me, the garden is really close by, it'll only take a moment." With a nod of his head, he followed his lead, passing through the bridges that still remained fresh in his memory, smiling at the remnants of laughter and mischief as he, Jiang Cheng and Nie HuaiSang chatted and frolicked around, no trouble in sight.

He remembered those days fondly, gazing at the cloudless sky as the breeze swept past.

"We're here, Master XuanYu." Shaking his head as thought to rid himself of the past, he turned around and walked to stand besides the juniors. Before his eyes, a expanse of green blooming with color opened up, the tree leaves swaying softly with the wind as petals of a myriad of shades floated, carried by the current as they rained down after.

The sun shone down upon the white figure sitting on the grass, their long hair billowing as the headband fluttered in a curve, the colorful petals sprinkling over their form making the scene seem ethereal and otherworldly, worthy of an immortal. Squinting his eyes through the brightness, he could see something held in his embrace, along many small things, both black and white, fussing about at their beside, jumping and frolicking.

As he squinted even harder, he distinguished long, pointy ears and a fluffy round tail....

Wei WuXian gasped without meaning to.

"Bunnies!" Both juniors startled and jumped up, but he took no notice, running forward until he stood a few meters behind Lan Zhan, watching the many bunnies running around happily, eager to play with Lan WangJi. He could feel the laughter building in his chest, threatening to escape, remembering a young Lan Zhan's face as Wei WuXian suggested killing a couple of buns because the other didn't want them, his bluff working to provoke and sway Lan WangJi, who eventually relented to keep them as pets.

Who would have thought he'd raise them and even make a whole herd of them?

Wei WuXian felt like dying all over again, this time in elation.

The scene before his eyes was....extremely cute.

But not as cute as the little one crawling alongside the bunnies, dressed in light blue and white clothes, his hair tied into a small ponitail with a white ribbon as he played and laughed, cheerful and filled with life. It made Wei WuXian's heart swell, his chest feeling warm and filled to the brim with a kind of happiness that was familiar and nostalgic, the feeling of those he cared about being carefree and shrouded with joy, bringing him the utmost delight.

He wanted to go there and join them, share the joy, but always felt like he couldn't do that, neither before nor now, feeling like his very soul was way too dark for the sunshine to even pass through and bathe him in light. It made him hesitate for far too long, and, as if hearing his thoughts, Yu-er looked in his direction, crawling a bit forward then waving at him with a beaming smile, calling for him.

"Papa, papa, come!" QingYu then turned towards Lan WangJi, tugging on his sleeve. "Papa, ask papa to come play!" Wei WuXian spluttered and choked on his own spit, his eyes wide as he tried to breathe. Lan WangJi just turned around, holding Yu-er in his arms and looking expectantly at him, as if he was waiting for Wei WuXian to do exactly what his child suggested, completely ignoring the implications of Yu-er's way of calling him.

' Yu-er, what in the heavens-? You have two dads now? When did this happen? And more importantly, who is supposed to be the wife? Is it me? Is it, is it?'

Wei WuXian grieved in his mind, pouting as he yelled. "Yu-er, you traitor! I take my eyes off you and you already replaced me!? Is this how much you love me? Well, you can stay with him, see if I care!" With that said, he turned around, arms crossed and head hung low, still blaspheming in his mind and cursing his child for the weird images now crossing his brain.

'Lan Zhan should be the wife- I mean, his hair is longer? And he looks way more delicate than me? But...his eyes are always cold and his appearance is aloof and serene....is that more fitting of a husband? Did Yu-er see him as a way more reliable father figure and thus replaced me with him? Is that it? Unfair! So unfair! I'm manly too! I mean...I was?'

Drowning in his turmoil over the degree of handsomeness of himself and that of Lan Zhan, thinking hard as if to decipher a difficult puzzle, he didn't hear the snickers of the juniors, neither the soft cries of his child's voice calling for him.

It wasn't until a hand touched his shoulder that he snapped out of it, jumping in place and turning to the side to gaze at the figure before him.

"Zewu-Jun!" The juniors exclaimed, saluting politely to their senior before he dismissed them, saying that they could relax while he talked with 'Master XuanYu'.

Wei WuXian felt his hair stand up on end for no reason, feeling like a rat being cornered by a snake, awaiting his demise. The smile on Lan XiChen's face was extremely gentle and soft, but he felt that it was hiding something indecipherable, and although the expression was not fake at all, it still gave him goosebumps and made him stand with his back straight.

'Is this.....why does this feel like the wife meeting the mother in-law? Why is it like this? Yu-er, you made me have these strange thoughts, I'm blaming you!'

"Greetings to Master XuanYu, my name is Lan XiChen, Lan WangJi's older brother, it is a pleasure to meet you." Wei WuXian rushed to salute, strangely flustered.

"Ah, the pleasure is all mine, I'm called Mo XuanYu, I'm deeply grateful for, uh..." He blanked for a moment, thinking of what to say, the stuffy polite way of speaking getting lost to him the more he talked. His vocabulary was limited, okay? He wasn't used to it.

Lan XiChen chuckled softly. "Please, no need to be so polite, talk freely. I just wanted to chat with you, since WangJi rarely brings guests over, if ever. I was curious to see what kind of person caught his attention." Wei WuXian twirled around and opened his arms in a 'Well, here you have me' manner, laughing while he kept an eye on the other's reactions.

"Well, now you've seen me. Disappointed?" Lan XiChen merely smiled wider, enigmatic, not saying a word for a while and making Wei WuXian break in a cold sweat.

'Well, this is uncomfortable. Am I being....judged?'

"Not at all, WangJi is agood judge of character, if he has decided to befriend you and keep you safe, you must undoubtedly be a good person." Even thought he said that, Lan XiChen's eyes narrowed into slits, his mouth curling in a ruthless smile, slaying enemies with kindness. And Wei WuXian heard the words unsaid loud and clear, like an arrow through the heart.

'If it turns out you are not such a good person and hurt my brother....well, you can guess what will happen.'

"Ah, many thanks I...uh, I think my son is calling me, you know? That little bun over there, I...uh, I will be going, haha." Riding the wind, Wei WuXian jumped and flew away, feeling eyes boring into the back of his neck and snickers filling the air.

'Scary, scary! Older brothers are scary! I felt as though he could see right through me! I mean, I can understand him, I did the same for Shijie but...' He shivered, feeling like this was karma for all the times he was overprotective of his big sister, causing trouble for everyone.

'It was within reason, though.'

"Papa!" Wei WuXian looked down, Yu-er casually standing before him, gripping his pants to steady himself as he beckoned for him to join in their fun. Crouching down, he held his small child and pinched his cheeks, ignoring his squirming.

"Oh, now you want me to play? I thought you already had a new dad?" He tilted his head at the same time Yu-er did, his big eyes going from Lan WangJi to Wei WuXian and back again. He rose his little finger and pointed at the white-clad man before him, cheerfully blurting:

"Papa." Then he pointed at Wei WuXian, nodding his head as if assuring himself. "Also papa." And Wei WuXian pretty much lost it, pinching his cheeks even fiercer, pouting and wondering just what passed through this child's mind.

"You want two fathers now? Aren't you a little selfish? Aren't I enough? Besides, shouldn't there be a mama besides your papa? What is this double-papa nonsense?" Yu-er pouted back at him as if he didnt understand why he was so distressed about his claims, and he crossed his arms in an imitation of his earlier movements, annoyed.

The bunnies at their feet quickly scattered away when Wei WuXian approached, and Lan WangJi stood and nodded in his direction before walking towards his brother, leaving him alone with an unruly and mischievous child that surely learnt his bad habits from himself.

In other words, he'd dug his own pit.

"Ah, senior Mo, he is most definitely your child! Just look at him, imitating you like this, so cute." Suddenly out of nowhere, JingYi appeared, happily meddling. "His little angry face really resembles yours, truly born from your own flesh, even the pout is the same." Laughter followed his comment.

"I don't pout! Stop slandering me! And of course he is my son, I told you thousands of times, don't tell me you still doubted me?" It was SiZhui who answered him.

"We didn't, Senior Mo, but some...incongruecies were brought to our attention, and we were told to investigate. In the end, there is nothing proving that he isn't your flesh and blood, and watching the two of you interact is more than enough to know your relationship." SiZhui smiled softly at him, kneeling to take the flower that QingYu was offering him, JingYi following suit and teaching the small child how to make a flower crown.

Which his kid then proceeded to butcher, but it was the thought that counted.

"Ah, I've gone from Master to Senior, finally relaxing around me, are we?" Wei WuXian smiled with mischief, watching the dark blush taking over SiZhui's cheeks in delight. JingYi didn't have the same reaction, since he was nearly as shameless as Wei WuXian when he'd been alive, and he just took his words in stride and shrugged his shoulders.

"Eh, you told us to be more informal with you, and I'm not one to keep up pretences unless necessary, I already get enough of that here at home." SiZhui looked disapprovingly at him.

"JingYi, don't be rude."

"I'm not being rude, just honest."

Wei WuXian appreciated honesty, so he was really fond of JingYi and SiZhui. Even though their personalities and behaviors were as different as fire and water, both were sweet and caring, righteous and just, and their sincere words were like a gust fo fresh air in this world filled with hardships.

'Definitely didn't make a mistake in adopting them.'

"By the way, Senior Mo, why.....are all the bunnies keeping away?" JingYi, holding QingYu on his shoulders, pointed his gaze at the cowering animals, his expression amused.

Wei WuXian just laughed, feeling pity for himself.

"Animals don't like me, it's as simple as that."He received awkward stares for that, but his words were soon forgotten when QingYu did a somersault on the grass, prompting laughter and mindless conversation until a scream broke the peaceful atmosphere.

Leaving Yu-er in the arms of JingYi, Wei WuXian ran towards the source to find out what happened.

--

Turns out, the deal with that demonic hand was way more complicated than it looked at first glance, and after suppressing it and temporary sealing it -with the combined efforts of Lan WangJi's guqin and his own, crude bamboo flute- they were now planning ways to deal with it and purify it's existence.

And of curse, somehow, Wei WuXian had been dragged into it, because of course his bad luck would strike again, and he now found himself with an armful of crying child, tears and snot as he refused to let go of him.

Wei WuXian was still -inwardly- laughing madly at Lan QiRen's reaction to his playing, and his brain was full of all the information regarding the demonic hand and how many things had changed in thirteen years and the like, so, emotionally, he was a little stunted.

But the tears his child shed were able to break both his reverie and his heart, and the joy at Lan QiRen's hilarious overreactions -enough to bring him back from unconsciousness to let his opinion be known- faded away like mist, his focus only on the weeping toddler crawling in his arms.

"QingYu....come on, don't cry." His child didn't listen, shaking his head and clutching his clothes tighter, to the point Wei WuXian though they were going to rip.

"You....going...away...Don't....wanna." Stuttering and heaving for breath, his words were choked and pitiful. "Don't....wanna be...alone again." His wailing increased, and Wei WuXian couldn't help but hold him tighter, fearing that his words stemmed from the remnants of his past life, the thing he dreaded the most being loneliness, much like Wei WuXian did.

They were really cut from the same cloth.

"I'm not going to leave forever, I promise. There are just....some things that papa needs to solve, so the world can be a peaceful place where QingYu and I can wander without fear. Papa is going to make sure we can play outside without being scared, you understand?" Yu-er looked at him through teary eyes, denial evident in his eyes, shaking his head from side to side, sniffing pitifully.

It made his heart ache, but he had to be firm in his decision, this wasn't only about him anymore, many people were in danger, and there was an undertone of evil and darkness surrounding the recent events. It made something in himself itch incessantly, like a prickling on the back of his mind that told him he had to go, that it was important.

He glanced down at the toddler in his arms and frowned, his voice chastising as he spoke. "C'mon Yu-er, you know I wouldn't leave you unless it was truly necessary, I know you understand this. I know you're smarter than you let on, too, why resist?" Yu-er's pout lessened, and his eyes gained a glint that hadn't been there before, an understanding that made his chubby face look grave and severe.

His fingers pointed at Wei WuXian's chest, mouth a straight line. "Gold.....light, here." Then his hand rested on his own small chest, above his heart. "And here. Both, same. " Even through broken words and gaping holes, Wei WuXian got the meaning of what QingYu wanted to convey, and although he couldn't really fully understand, he knew.

One golden core.

Two people.

Were they.....linked, somehow? Was that why Yu-er was always so clingy, wanting to be close by and crying when they were torn apart? Would he feel any discomfort at all if he wasn't near, causing him pain?

He....didn't know all the intricate paths and meanings of the mistake Mo XuanYu made in the array, nether the effects it caused beyond the obvious. He just knew that he was there, that he was his, that they were two sides of the same coin, and that he had to fulfill his last wish for him to finally be at peace, and gain the happiness he so deserved.

For both of them.

If something happened to him because he was too far apart...or if he got hurt and Yu-er got affected.....that.....

A hand touched his cheeks. Blue eyes gazed at him with unbridled affection and admiration. Yu-er seemed to mull over something, his gaze never straying from Wei WuXian's own, carefully breathing as if he was getting ready for something. And then...

"QingYu.....understands. I will...wait for papa...to come back." Wei WuXian's eyes widened, and QingYu smiled, big and bright, like a ray of sunshine lighting up the dusk sky, making everything gleam and glitter like starlight.

"Ah....will you really...be alright?"

"En."

"Oh, you learnt that one from HanGuang-Jun, didn't you?"

"En."

"Oh gods, please, not you too! I can't take so many one-word sentences!"

Giggle. "En!"

Wei WuXian proceeded to tickle him in revenge until his face was red and both of them were out of breath, then held him tight in his embrace until he was satisfied. After a while, he stood up and looked around, searching for a white clad figure, eagerly running towards him as soon as he found his profile.

"Zewu-Jun." Said person turned around and looked at him with a smile.

"Hm?" Wei WuXian hesitated for a second.

"I....Lan WangJi and the juniors will leave tonight to try to unveil the mystery of the demonic hand, and I will be joining them, so, uh....My child...." Before he continued, hands pried Yu-er from his arms, the child sending him a longing stare before nestling in the white robes of the Sect leader, comfortably snuggling like it was nobodies' business.

"Do not worry, I swear on my name I will take care of him. No harm will befall this child as long as I have breath within me." Wei WuXian bowed down and expressed his gratitude, approaching Yu-er slowly and dropping a kiss on his brow, trying to appease his sorrow.

"I'll come back, I promise." QingYu smiled sadly.

"I know. I know...." Touching his chest as he said those words, Yu-er glanced at him, and Wei WuXian knew, but said no words, just caressed his head and rubbed foreheads with him before running to join Lan Zhan, who stood before the entrance with JingYi and SiZhui, the three of them waiting patiently for him.

"We're leaving already?" He asked, wondering.

"Yes -SiZhui, always attentive, answered him- getting down from the Cloud Recesses takes some time, so we're leaving a little ahead of time, to keep with the schedule." Wei WuXian nodded, and, as the three Lans walked the few steps down, he couldn't help but turn back, glancing at the small child that, even now, was waving his hand at him in goodbye, his eyes never straying from his form.

He rose his hand to wave back, and quickly turned away so his resolution wouldn't dwindle. It felt like yesterday when he felt no strings attached to anyone or anything, when being carefree and unrestrained was like breathing for him, his way of life.

But now....the thread that tied him to Mo XuanYu, the strings of fate that gave him both a second chance and the opportunity to have a family of his own....he wouldn't snap them even if he could.

He looked down at his sleeve-covered arm, caressing the cloth as if to feel the wound underneath, the one that would vanish when Mo XuanYu got his wish. But as he rubbed and probed, he couldn't feel an itch, neither the usual burn of the gaping wound paining him.

When he rolled up the sleeve, instead of bandages covering his arm or inflamed flesh tainted with blood, what he saw was a smooth expanse of skin, white as snow, without the slightest blemish or trace of a scar, looking as soft as before it was cut mercilessly with that knife.

The corners of his mouth upturned, and he felt his chest fill with warmth.

Mo XuanYu had given him a second chance, and a family for him only, and he was grateful as could be, willing to return the favor, willing to offer the same back someday. But it seemed his wish had already been fulfilled, and the mismatched family of brothers and seniors and his weird resurrected dad was enough for him to be sated, enough for him to be happy.

Mo XuanYu already rested in peace, his heart was satisfied, and the soul that now inhabited Yu-er was finally purified, able to sleep and begin anew with a better prospect for his future.

A future that Wei WuXian hoped to be a part of.

"Senior Mo, why the sudden smile?" SiZhui asked him, radiating joy.

"Ah, something good happened, that's all."

"I bet you were thinking something indecent, right?"

"JingYi!"

"What? You know I'm right SiZhui! That smile looked creepy and strange! And his face was red!"

"Well, well, fellow cultivator, if you really want to know, I could show you...."

"What? No! SiZhui, help me!" JingYi ran away, flustered and scared, his clothes trailing behind him as he reap what he had sown, Wei WuXian running after him after sending a smile towards Lan Zhan, who just hummed and looked at them with indulgence, acting as if he saw nothing even thought they were obviously breaking the rules of the Cloud Recesses.

Their laughter echoed all throughout the mountain as the sun rose, lighting their way as if to guide their path, seemingly a sign of good things to come.

Wei WuXian's smile stayed put, and he moved forward.

Whatever may come, he was not alone anymore.