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Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

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It’s only for a little while. A couple of days or weeks at most.

Wei Wuxian has no idea why Lan WangJi is making such a fuss about his departure. He’s already agreed to stay at Cloud Recesses like a good wife, though it irks him when the other leaders implied that he would be useless on this mission. So what if he’s not a healer? He can do something! Like carry the sick, fetch firewood to boil water for the victims or gather and distribute herbs or other precious medicines. Another helping body is what matters right?

But when he mentions this again to his husband, even now when he’s about to leave, “Are you sure I can’t come?” What does he get?

“I don’t want you to come.” Ouch. Have more sensitivity than that, Lan Zhan! Mind your words! Wei Wuxian’s heart squeezes and he tries to laugh it off awkwardly. In response, Lan WangJi’s brow becomes more furrowed. “I don’t want you among the ill. It’s not safe. Stay here.”

“Boo. What happened to our marriage vows? You know it’s rather hypocritical of you to say that to me when we especially promised to stick together in sickness and health. I could be there supporting you!”   

Lan WangJi’s face is a storm. His hands squeeze Wei Wuxian’s in his and he bites his lip. Of course, the Jade Twin is saved by his brother.

“Now, now. I do not think the vows quite apply when Brother doesn’t want you exposed to the miasma. Only our best disciplines in medicine are coming, which you already know, anyone else would be highly vulnerable so there’s no need for you to poke at your husband’s insecurities.” Lan XiChen intervenes with one hand on Lan WangJi’s shoulder. He smiles warmly at Wei Wuxian with a twinkle in his eye. “Besides with the two of us gone, who will care for Cloud Recesses in our behalf?”

“Oh, I’ll take good care of it.” Wei Wuxian promises with a smirk. Lan WangJi clutches his hands a little harder in reprimand.

Lan XiChen clears his throat to clarify. “I hope you mean to defend it if any crisis emerges.”

Wei Wuxian is a crisis. “I’ll take very good care of it. I’ll ensure everyone is happy and safe.” He does not promise that everyone will remain sane, however.

Lan XiChen sighs, “That will have to do. Brother?”

“Mn?”

“It is time to go.”

The two brothers stare at each other. The elder watching the younger step closer to Wei Wuxian, making the space between them as small as possible and Lan XiChen is filled with a year of sighs.

It’s too soon.

“I understand. I’ll inform the others to begin heading out, please do not tarry long. The longer your goodbyes, the harder it will be for you to join us.”

“...I know.”

Lan XiChen gracefully steps on his sword, “I beg you, do not harass my Uncle too much, Wei Wuxian. It would be disheartening to return and need to nurse another victim back to health!”

“I’ll keep that in mind just for you!” But Lan Qiren is a tough man, surely he can handle a good joke...and little vomiting of blood.

Wind whips through their clothes as Lan XiChen departs and they’re alone again. Lan WangJi’s hands slip under Wei Wuxian’s forearms to wrap around his waist, pulling him in. It’s reassuring, the thought that their hearts are close enough, even through layers and layer of cloth, to feel the other’s beat. Wei Wuxian lets his arms flop over Lan WangJi’s shoulders and play with the hair at the base of his neck.

“Will you be alright?”

“No, I’ll die.” Wei Wuxian laughs and laughs. Then he presses their foreheads together because he can. “Of course I’ll be alright! Why ask the question in the first place? Are you worried, Lan Zhan, just because this will be the first time we’ve been apart since we got married?”

“Yes.”

Wei Wuxian just snickers and lets his husband kiss him goodbye. It’s unfair how cute his husband is. Another grievance to keep track off for Jiang Fengmian later.

“I’ll miss you.”

“I’d miss me too,” he teases, words muffled now and then by lips. The arms around his waist are like brands and for a moment Wei Wuxian hopes they bruise. “So come back to me fast so you don’t die of heartache okay? It’s one thing to get respectfully divorced and another to become an unfortunate, but attractive young widow. With such an unlucky reputation I’d never get married again!”

Wei Wuxian hisses as his lower lip is bitten punishingly. “No remarrying. Ever.” The small hurt is then soothed by tongue as an afterthought. An apology.

“Then come back soon~” He sing-songs.

“I will.”

“I know you will.”

It’ll be fine.

Lan WangJi will be just fine.

Wei Wuxian will be just fine.

They’ll be fine.

After all, it’s only a couple of days.

 


 

The Nightless City has always been filled with terrible things.

Buildings black and dirty from the parade of fire pits that compete with the stars. People with searing pride and ugly sneers. Awful plans ordered with a laugh. Cruel deeds.

How strange that it takes just one more one to tip the scales.

Groans and sobs of the devastated punctuate the air in a terrible symphony. They are the ones alive enough to feel. How lucky. The pain doesn’t last long. There are too many infected, the end is truly nightless and Wen Qing hasn’t slept in more than brief catches for a week. Yet if she could, she’d need melted wax poured in her ears to get any peace. Wen Qing puts a hand to her head and digs her nails in her skull to stay focused. She needs to come up with something better to say.

“Please. Our people are dying.” Should she pray?

Some say it’s a curse.

Some say the gods are discontent. Some say that the jealous clans they’ve rightfully dominated sent it on the winds. Some say the fault lies in the last beast the heir Wen Xu killed, the one they cracked open their chest and feasted. The demon boar had been enormous. Black as coal, the girth the size of a house in its own right and its eyes burned and blazed even dead with the great spear planted in the center of its forehead. The smoke from the cooked meat could be smelt from one side of the city to the other.

The smell still lingers.  

Wen Ruohan that night had given a speech to the whole Qishan Wen Sect about the glory of his heir and how like the boar, none would stand in their way.

They ate.

They drank.

And in the morning the first lepers appeared.

Their mouths wide open in silent screams, their chalky white hands outstretched with black veins only for their flesh to shift, fingers falling to the tile the same way burnt incense does. After all...what else could remain after a fire? The first victims hobbled to and fro throughout the courtyard, body parts littering the streets as they seek any relief. That was the first mistake, they should have been apprehended, not shunned, not pushed for when they fall...the ash gets everywhere. The Qishan Wen Clan’s traditional wear of red and white have been stained grey. Even Wen Qing has too many handprints on her sleeves to wash out now. But they don’t matter. All that matters is the veil carefully drawn tight over her mouth. She tries again.

“Sir. This humble branch member could be more useful out there. Please allow me to personally supervise our forces directly.”

Wen Qing doesn’t care about the cause.

She cares that she’s not doing enough.

This is what she knows.

The epidemic is a parasite of air. If any inhale the dust from the dead, within the hour the first symptoms appear. It begins with smoke escaping nostrils and mouth from the embers formed in the victim’s lungs. The second stage has rivers of black streaking across the skin as the disease overtakes the blood veins. Once its dark network is complete all it takes is a final spark to set off a chain reaction from lungs to heart to the rest of the body.

The victim burns from the inside out.

They call it...The Scorch.

There is evidence that a golden core only accelerates the process. The strong are not immune, instead...high cultivators are susceptible.

After all, Wen Xu died first.

Still, she cares and grits her teeth when the Sect Leader denies her request to dedicate her time to find the cure again.

“Your task is decided. Your first priority, your only priority, is to tend to me...and me alone,” Wen Ruohan says with a glint in his eye. To cross him is unwise. “Anything else is secondary, is that clear, Branch Head?”

“Yes, Sir.”

Wen Ruohan is not a good man. However, he is her sect leader and she has a duty as a member of the Wen clan and a healer.

A doctor’s mission is to heal.

Wen Qing repeats this over and over to herself and does her job. She keeps Wen Ruohan alive.

 


 

Wei Wuxian is having the time of his life.

Lan Qiren is not.

“This is going to be great.”

“Don’t. You. Dare.” Wei Wuxian giggles and the sound becomes the most terrifying cackle Lan Qiren ever endured. He has no idea how the delinquent got up the side of the mountain like that. Nor does he understand the forty-two firecrackers that Wei Wuxian has somehow procured and fixed into every large enough crevice between the carved words of their honorary rules. But if the man dares to light the giant tail mess of strings that connect to each one…

He’ll kill him.

Or the attempt will be half-sincere. Crippling is also acceptable. Lan Qiren will apologize as prettily as required to his unfortunate nephew.

But Wei Wuxian must be punished.

“Oh Master Lan Qiren, don’t you know that such an event needs to be celebrated? Why you’ve graced us with your presence for forty-two years, how could we not honor your birth? Your every wrinkle?” Wei Wuxian knocks down another sword blow from his precarious position at the base of the cliff face. His own sword should be wedged in the rock, a foothold for balance would be quite appreciated here, yet sadly he needs Suibian to defend against the volley of strikes the older man rains upon him.

“Miscreant.” Metal clangs, no sings. “Slanderer.” Their swords clash and scrape harshly across the rock. Wei Wuxian teeters but like a mountain roach, he stubbornly clings on to the cliff face, one hand reading the spell he needs for the job. “The only reason for such mischief is because the young masters are absent.”

“Now, now, you’re hurting my feelings!”

“Yet none of those feelings are a flicker of shame!” Lan Qiren roars.

Wei Wuxian smiles serenely. “This is true.” Then he sets the fuses ablaze.

In fascinated horror, the entire Lan sect watches. The mountain comes alive. This is different from the simple flares used to communicate and summon, no, this is a show. It’s loud. It’s bright. The sky is lit up in every color of the rainbow and soon they shall all go blind.

Wei Wuxian is having a moment.

It is a beautiful moment. His grin is gleefully demonic and honestly, one of the best thing about marrying into the Lan Sect is the money and he didn’t need to scrimp on the good firepower at all.

So fireworks go on for more than a half an hour.

The Lan Sect Elders are not having a good time. The flashing colors reflect on their solemn stone faces, though the maroon shade blooming over Lan Qiren’s is not from the display.

The Junior Lan Disciples also are not having a good time...at least that’s the demeanor they try to present. Yet the younger members start to crack. How can they not? The finale starts, the elegant symbol of their Sect emerges, a white shimmering cloud that rains down sparks while a coil of a red and orange become a dragon to dance underneath it. They point, their hands flap and gesture. There are too many ohhh’s and ahhhh’s that the booming crackle cannot muffle out. There are too many stars in the young eyes and Lan Qiren is not heartless enough to put them out.

Damn Wei Wuxian.

Damn him.

“Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday dear Master Lan Qiren!” The vile In-law croons nearby. “Happy Birthday to–Ah! Can’t you wait until the show is over to hit me! Stop! Fine, catch me if you can!”

Lan Qiren will catch that troublemaker if the last thing he does.

He will.

 


 

 

The audience hall is ornate with gold. From the ceiling, it drips and twists into heavy scenes of Qishan Wen Sect glory. It wraps around pillars to flare out in sculpted flames, but few dare to linger too close to those sharp edges. Such decorations are placed here and there to discourage timidness. Only the bold can survive here. Only the brave. Only those with hot personalities that rival the sun.

But these days the chamber is kept cold.

The padding of boots against the tile is soft, yet only when they stop in front of his throne does Wen Ruohan open his eyes.

He looks down his nose at the group of white.

“How ironic that only one that comes to our aid is the virtuous and righteous Lan Sect.” The disdain for such virtues drips, yet the Lan Sect volunteers have faces far too thick to respond to it. “To help those in need is your creed correct?”

"It is one of many, yes." Lan Xichen salutes to the man on the throne, the gauze over his mouth may cover up his smile so he does his best to convey the sentiment with his eyes instead. “We sorrow at your plight. For this tragedy, our finest healers are at your beck and call. Where shall we put them to work first?”

Wen Ruohan sneers.

The line of his mouth becomes a jagged line of absolute displeasure and for a breath, he imagines smearing the courtyard with them. Their eager nature to help mocks him. Yet. Perhaps for their assistance, their eventual subjugation shall be...less painful and punishing compared to those worms who have abandoned them and their powerful flag. They shall suffer. They shall all pay. Besides him, a slight figure shifts and reaches to firmly press on a meridian in his upper arm in warning. Ah, yes. He must not forget. Negative emotions hasten the spread.

Anger is not the only fire in his veins tonight. Above the collar, black trails up his neck and curls over his chin like a possessive lover.

“Wen Qing. Debrief them.” He orders with a finger.

Wen Qing rises from the plain wooden stool next to the elaborate throne.

“We have quarantined the worst of the outbreak. Most victims are kept in the inner layers of the city while unaffected family members have been quartered on the outskirts just in case if they need to be evacuated. The Wen Clan needs the majority of your forces to keep the rooms of the infected cool and the patients calm and sedated. Encourage trance-like meditations or even drug them into a coma if necessary. Such conditions buy our people more time as I look for a cure."

Wen Ruohan tilts his head to the side. Wen Qing feels Qi pressure compress, no squeeze her entire body. Her legs start to weaken but she maintains her posture stubbornly. The pressure thickens. Like a doll, her body falls backs to sit on the stool. "My...esteemed physician means to say that we also require your assistance in the discovery of the cure. She will advise you daily when you bring updates every sunrise. Is that understood?"

It's like that last sentence is not for the Lan Sect. Still, Lan Xichen answers politely, "Very much so, we will start immediately."

"Good." Wen Ruohan smiles. How obedient they are in servitude. Their sect will be a fine addition to theirs when the time comes. "My men will show you where you will be stationed. Now go."

Lan Xichen salutes once more and then turns, subtly tugging his brother's sleeve in passing. It is unwise to get in a dispute here. His brother's glare is too obvious.

“We are here to help.” He reminds Lan WangJi in the hall.

“I know.” His face is sullen and his eyes angry. “The Wen doctor…”

“We will do all that we can.” Each word is a platitude. “That will have to be enough.”

It’s only when they get to the first room of patients does his comforting attitude drop. It’s dark. Shadows of the disease crawl towards them until a Wen guard kicks one of their own people back from getting too close. Ash litters the ground and makes patterns as the sick drag it across the floor.

“Put these on.” A Wen sect member orders, throwing a pair of dark overclothes in their direction. “Unless you want to catch the scorch too.”

Lan WangJi and Lan Xichen snatch the garments in midair and to pull it over their robes quickly. With a nod to each other, they get to work.

They will not fail.

Meanwhile. In the Grand Hall, Wen Qing finds new reasons to gnash her teeth.

“I am not known for repeating myself. The Branch Head stays by my side.”

One of the two messengers wrings his hands helplessly. “Please Honored One, we’re doing everything we can! Even Wen Qing’s own brother is our esteemed Wen Chao’s bedside now, giving most of his spiritual energy to buy minutes! But we need the master physician to stabilize him.”

“The answer is still no.” Though the corner of his eye, he looks at Wen Qing where she was beginning to rise again, without his permission. His spiritual presence in the audience hall spikes. It’s cloying weight filling them with fear. Wen Qing sits down angrily, her stool screeching across the floor.

“But my lord, he’ll die! Why–” The messenger starts to choke. His fingers fly to his throat, nails digging at it as if he could remove the spell placed there. Fortunately, it seems like Wen Ruohan is in a gracious mood. The service of the Lan Sect perhaps? So the messenger gets to drop to his knees, the sound loud in the hall, his companion hovering as he coughs and wheezes but he can breathe. He can breathe.

“Then he will die. Do you need my words carved into your face to remember? Return to my son and leave us.”

The two messengers flee and Wen Qing closes her eyes. Her brother is a tender one...this will devastate him. Though Wen Chao has only given Wen Ning grief, the rude, humiliating bastard, her brother did not reject the man’s summons. Wen Ning worked hard to heal, to learn as many tonics and acupuncture points as possible on the nights Wen Qing could manage an hour away from their sect leader just to keep the new heir alive. But in vain.

Wen Ruohan generously allowed Wen Chao to take as many attendants and healers in his entourage as he wished. The only exception? Wen Qing.

She may only serve as Wen Ruohan’s doctor.

She’s his only one.

Her brother’s heart is too soft. His focus should be on their own branch members instead.

Still.

“He is your son.” She says quietly.

Wen Ruohan smiles at her cruelly. He gives her his wrist as a silent order to continue her work to stop the flow of decay. She takes it. “It does not matter. I can always have more. If a great tree always sheds new seeds every autumn then so shall I. New growth is possible. In addition, for the sake of the Wen Clan, perhaps it is necessary to graft the branch family back into the main.”

He pointedly twists his arm so his hand rests on her knee.

To her credit, Wen Qing does not cringe. The stream of her energy she feeds into this man remains a steady and constant flow. Her stare into his eyes does not break. Why would it? She knows every single conceptative in the land, every way to turn a man impotent.  Besides, there are few survivors of the disease. Who can say that such a condition would not be a result, no, a possible cost of recovery?

She will make sure Wen Ruohan’s line never bears fruit again.

“Are you not pleased?” Every word is more poisonous than the air outside. His thumb starts to rub the inside of her thigh.

“...The Wen Clan would be stronger if Main and Branch families are together.”

“Good.” His smirk is wicked with pride and the grip on her leg tightens.

Wen Qing does not bite her tongue.

But she does imagine ripping out his.

Many, many times.

 


 

The first couple days with the stuffy in-laws are a riot. Since Wei Wuxian has started four of those, they’re barely tussles really, in the disciple quarters. Without Lan Zhan here to keep him in check or exhaust him nightly so that mischief is barely a twinkle in his eye...Cloud Recess experiences its worst nightmare.

Wei Wuxian proves he’s the prettiest one.

He makes it a goal to break as many rules on the stone mountain as possible. All the frivolous ones about running, shouting, eating, etc...He breaks about 800 before he tuckers himself out.

And Lan Qiren catches him.

Still, even with all the new bruises on his back, it was worth it. It was. Yet thank all the heavens and Lan Zhan that he knows about the healing spring so he’s not absolutely crippled. If Lan Qiren had his way, Wei Wuxian would be beaten black and blue enough that he wouldn’t be able to lift a finger until the Twin Jades return.

The seventh day, however, is less fun. Wei Wuxian overcompensates, jokes and bad lewd poetry echo through pristine halls and he practically loses his voice in the progress.

The thirteenth day is bland.

The fifteen day is gray.

Lan Qiren no longer has to run to catch him anymore.

He doesn’t even need to.

Today, their bed is cold. Wei Wuxian shivers and pulls the covers over his head. The light garish and muted as it streams through the window. He doesn’t want to get out of bed today. Honestly, why bother? Who’s going to make him? No one. Why would anyone go through the trouble to coax him from his nest, help him get ready, lead him to where the steam rises in coils above a bowl of bland warmth when Lan Zhan isn’t–

Lan Zhan isn’t here.

Wei Wuxian curls into a miserable ball.

It’s 5:00 in the morning and he can’t go back to sleep. No matter how much he tightly closes his eyes. No matter how he contorts his pillow over his ears, he can still hear the sweet song of birds outside the Jingshi, the melody mocking him. Their bedding is smelling more like him and less like...He doesn’t like it.  Wei Wuxian pretends to sleep anyway, letting the thoughts, the wishes, the ‘I miss’...rattles in his head for a while. What’s the point of getting up?

Hours go by. Sometimes he dozes in and out if he’s lucky.

It doesn’t matter.

“Ingrate, enough is enough. I’ve come to retrieve you.” Says a stern voice. Wei Wuxian clutches the pillow harder over his face. Lan Qiren is the worst in-law. “It’s far past noon and you are not a bear or any other creature that hibernates. Stop wallowing like a dog and come out to eat.”

“Do I really have to?” Wei Wuxian points out sullenly. His head peeking out from the sheets at the voice. “Also isn’t there a Lan sect rule somewhere that even the great Master Lan Qiren must knock to enter one’s quarters?”

Lan Qiren regrets the oath he made to the twin jades not to let Wei Wuxian waste away. “You would know. Or next time you may discover the answer when I have you copy them blindfolded. Unfortunately, I will proceed to disregard your privacy and drag you out in the sun if you don’t show your face immediately. Come out, you ghoul.”

“Ha, ha. Be careful, that might be almost funny.” As a reward, he drags himself off the bed and onto the floor with a thump. He crawls. Overdramatic or not, it gets him out of his nest and Lan Qiren should be grateful. He even manages to shrug a coat over his inner layers and wash his face. He leaves his hair loose and wild though. He doesn’t feel like doing it. Wei Wuxian doesn’t need to look nice, it’s just his uncle-in-law when the man leaves he’ll...read in the Jinishi or something...he’s fine alone.

When he slides open the door, Lan Qiren scowls at him, both hands in his sleeves. “You look positively unkempt.”

Wei Wuxian smiles, “Not all of us can be as beautiful as you, Master Teacher.”

“Hmph.” Lan Qiren turns, his spine upright with snooty posture. He doesn’t beckon Wei Wuxian to follow, he expects it.

Well, Wei Wuxian doesn’t have anything better to do. He flops along. They don’t get far though with his bare feet slapping on the wooden floor.

Lan Qiren head jerks back with a glare. “Put your shoes on.”

Wei Wuxian returns the ugly look and grumbles, “What does it matter?”

“We are going out.”

Wei Wuxian begins to whine and drag his feet even more.

“Stop that.” Lan Qiren orders. “You need nourishment, sunlight and fresh air.”

“What am I? A plant?” Wei Wuxian grouses. Lan Qiren throws a pair of sandals at him. Then because he’s a vicious type of man, just like his former Sect leader’s wife, he slides open the door abruptly. The morning air is too refreshing, too chilly and Wei Wuxian hisses at it hits his skin.

“If only. A plant would be so much less difficult to tend to than you.”

“I bet. Do you garden Master Lan? What is your favorite flower to ‘pluck?’”

“In addition, plants are silent. Another advantage.” Lan Qiren inserts, avoiding the question. Every now and then he pauses on the stone pathway, one eye on the younger man until he catches up. The white coat with the cloud motif flutters in the breeze where it’s draped haphazardly over Wei Wuxian’s shoulders. Lan Qiren squints. Even if Wei Wuxian put on properly the size would be too big for him. So why–

Ah.

Disgusting. Newlywed couples are disgusting, especially the heartsick ones.

At last, they come to their designation and Wei Wuxian blinks at the sight of the open field instead of the hallowed halls of the dining pavilion. On a nearby rock, a black lacquered box rests with a straw mat beside it. Curious Wei Wuxian approaches and opens the box. Instead is the simple fare of pressed rice, flaked fish and the mildest pickles Wei Wuxian has ever had the misfortune of tasting...though his stomach gives a low growl at the sight of them, traitor.

“Sit. Eat.” Lan Qiren folds his arms and waits. Observes.

Wei Wuxian picks up the chopsticks, starts to pick up a pickle when he narrows his eyes. “Why are you being so...nice. Did you poison this?”

“Hmph. Would I even need to? Without your husband, you seem quite content to starve yourself to death. If I wanted you gone then all that is required of me is to do nothing and wait.”

“I’m not that bad.”

The old man quirks his lips, begging to differ.

“I’m not!”

The pickles are perfect. Argh. He can’t even mock the cuisine as normal, but just munch away as the light flickers through the trees. It’s peaceful.

Even the silence as a companionable nature to it.

Wei Wuxian thinks this might be the longest he’s been around Lan Qiren without the elder scolding him. They just stare at the view the mountainside provides. The mist whirling between the waterfalls nestled in the cracks of various cliffs.

It’s beautiful.

It just makes him think of other things that are beautiful.

Things that are not here.

Plop.

Did...the Master Teacher just toss something into his lap?

The creature’s beady eyes are curious, yet it doesn’t struggle, content to its new, strange placement. The rabbit makes him crack a small smile. Lan Qiren takes it as a cue to plop another one into his arms, giving the white one a friend as black fur burrows into the other. They nuzzle, cuddle under his hands, so soft and Wei Wuxian is so glad he shoved two of these into Lan WangJi’s face almost a lifetime ago. They are a multiplying scourge but Lan WangJi took such good care of them.

He takes good care of him too.

“Wei Wuxian…Stop that face.” This was never the elder’s intention. Yes, the miscreant is smiling, but there’s wetness in those eyes. That is not allowed. The scene was meant to raise the man’s spirits!

“He’s such a stick in the mud.” There’s something wrong with Wei Wuxian’s nose. He sniffs hard to clear it, his throat thick. He must be getting sick. “Lan Zhan too obsessed with rules, he barely lets me have any fun. He won’t even let me eat these guys!”

“They never should have been released within the compound in the first place.” Yet Lan Qiren wonders if it’s too late to free the poor rabbits before they become a convenient meal.

“Yeah, I know. But they’re so cute, and you should have seen Lan Zhan’s face when I pushed them at him the first time. Hopping around, pretending they don’t like you, when really they’d love for you to...stay. You know, they remind me a lot how my–” His voice cuts out, see he really is sick! Now his eyes aren’t working the way they should. Way too blurry for his liking. He shuts up. He tries really hard to shut up.

“Distance...is difficult for new married couples. Your feelings are to be expected.” Each word is dragged out slowly and reluctantly.  

Yet the awkward pat on his shoulder must be the cruelest act the older man can give. The common gesture of comfort almost causes him to bawl. He’s been barely keeping it together. He can do this.

“It’s only for a couple more days!” Wei Wuxian voice cracks, “I’ll be–I’ll be fine. I am fine. I don’t have to miss him at all.”

“...Lying is not permitted at Cloud Recesses.”

“Oh, shut up and give me another rabbit!”

Lan Qiren complies.

It takes fourteen carrots and eight rabbits to get Wei Wuxian to stop crying. Somehow their fluffy weight cures him for the moment.

This will do.

Lan Qiren supervises and keeps his oath to his nephew. Wei Wuxian will not starve and wilt under his watch. Their sect keeps their promises. Even for the benefit of whining, unruly, ungrateful personages such as his nephew-in-law.

Always.

 


 

“She’s not coming.”

“You don’t know that.” Wen Ning winces, the pull of his energy scrapes across his nerves as he does his best to slow the infection from burning the fat in Wen Chao’s limbs. The veins are already compromised. The only thing keeping him alive is is the small part of Wen Ning that’s stubborn in times such as these. He doesn’t want to give up.  He doesn’t want to admit that the young master is right.

His sister is not coming.

“Ha! I do know it. Don’t you dare mistake me for a fool! Admit it,” Wen Chao haughtily demands, “You think I deserve this, don’t you, you filthy branch member?”

“I don’t think anyone deserves this.” This end of ash and bone is for no one.

Wen Chao snorts and retorts, “That’s because you’re without an ounce of imagination. There are several sects I would personally deliver this miasma to if this body had the strength to walk. Maybe to the prideful Jiang Sect, or that Jin Sect that flaunts their wealth so much. It would the best sort of entertainment to watch them squirm when their gold and treasures won’t save them! Perhaps for my dying wishes, I shall write to Father that my ashes are to be passed on to a messenger and–”

Wen Ning plants one hand on Wen Chao chest, pushing him down in bed. Firmly. It breaks the young master’s tirade.

“No one deserves this.” Wen Ning says.

Wen Chao sniffs indignantly. “As I’ve said before. You’re just weak. Too weak and pathetic. It must a defect in your blood, you’re barely a Wen after all. What a lack on our part that we never burned that feebleness out of you.” Wen Ning looks to the side away from that stare.

Wen Chao scoffs. Humility is no virtue for the Wen Sect. If Wen Ning weren’t so pathetic, Wen Chao might have given the idiot the honor of being his personal attendant.

He’d given him plenty of chances. Wen Chao gave him one at the Grand Discussion, where it the midst of shouts and yells of their most skilled, when that arrogant Jiang Sect member suggested that Wen Ning was a fair shot, Wen Chao let him make one.

He missed.

What a joke. Look at those shaky hands! That lowered head in defeat! How could Wen Chao not laugh? How could he not mock him further by letting him participate in the archery competition? Of course, this was after the stipulation that he, himself would compete to balance the disparity. The decision would have many purposes. One to bestow Wen Ning an opportunity to regain a sliver of honor from his gracious self. Another to demonstrate how much greater the Main family is to the Branch family. Proof that the only place for Wen Ning and his kin was under his powerful heel.

The boy should be grateful that his boot might be light.

Father had approved.

The stone forest rang with his shrill laughter when the Jiang and Lan sects were distracted by petty internal affairs. Who proposes during a competition? The flustered crowd of purple and white had been amusing. Especially seeing Wei Wuxian wail and scream that he didn’t mean it provided an abundance of vindictive joy. But most of all the commotion left all the more targets for him and his men. So the Sun triumphed. Wen Chao weaved in and out of the rock pillars, his arrows soaring and all over the training field, the sky was ablaze with Qishan Wen signal flares.

Though not all were his, many fired in the opposite direction of his location.

How could this be?

In the end, Wen Chao may have ranked number one on the archery competition. His father may have acknowledged his score with a rare quirk of his face that could be considered a positive expression. The words from the Sect leader were almost praise, “This was the only outcome from our sect, my son.”

But in the end, he finally got his hands on the final rankings. His shoulders shook before ripping the recording to shreds.

He had only beaten Wen Ning by one shot.

A shot Wen Ning didn’t even take when he noticed Wen Chao lining up his bow. The tart even dared to lower his weapon to salute him before the arrow flew at last feral ghost target. If they weren’t twenty feet apart he would have wrung Wen Ning’s neck.  

It was infuriating.

His fingers clench in the sheets. The top layers of his skin flake and fall in gray piles between the wrinkles.

“Please, stay calm. If you agitate yourself you’ll burn much faster and–”

“Don’t tell me what to do!” Wen Chao spits out. His eyes bulge with anger and the black veins pulsate and crack rapidly over his face towards his eyes. “I am the master here. I’m in control. Not you! Your status, your value barely rises above a servant, you fool, you imbecile, you–”

“I’m sorry.”

“Stop that.” Wen Chao hisses, he claws at the hand still at his chest. Tries to shove it way as far as his remaining strength allows. “I didn’t ask for your pity. Stop being so nice. Kindness gets you nothing.”

“I didn’t ask for anything, Young Master,” Wen Ning whispers. His long bangs fall across his face and Wen Chao wants nothing more than to cut them off. If this is to be his last sight then nothing should obscure it. At least this feeble fool has such a girlish face. It’s easy to pretend a beautiful, delicate maiden is attending his bedside. Though he would prefer those doleful, pitying cow eyes to be gouged out.

They disgust him.

“Stop looking at me like that.” He orders.

Those stupid eyes start to shine and glaze over. “I’ll...I’ll try? I’m sorry.”

“If you say sorry one more time...” His other hand comes up to viciously tug at the gauze over Wen Ning’s face. It starts to fall. Wen Ning jerks, his fingers frantically fly up to hold it in place. “I’ll give you a reason to be sorry for.”

“I’m s–” Wen Ning swallows. The apology gets caught in his throat. “It won’t happen again, Young Master.”

“Good.”

The dust lights the room in red. Wen Chao appreciates the way the light catches on the gold and silver decorations here and there.  

“Is there...Is there anyone you want me to call for?”

“Who is there left to summon? My bodyguard is dead and my whore fled the city days ago. No. You’ll do. Your bedside manner is enough and I don’t even have to order you to cry for me, do I?”

Wen Ning’s lower lip starts to tremble.

“See, you stupid boy. You’re already the perfect mourner. Perhaps you should just leave. Just like all the others.” The room is already a tomb. Every clan member that said, promised, swore they would stick with him until the end is gone. Not even the servants remain. “Your other efforts are pointless anyway. My nerves have burned through, I feel nothing, nothing now.”

The sunset makes Wen Ning’s eyes of jade glow.

“I-I could stay with you.” The fool even has the insolence to sit on the bed beside him. His weight making Wen Chao’s body sink and their sides knock together lightly as they settle.

“Ha! Why?”

“No one should die alone.”

Wen Chao’s mouth opens. Then closes.

Without the rejection, Wen Ning moves his hand to cover over Wen Chao’s. It’s hesitant. Like a dragonfly resting on a blade of grass. Wen Chao could shake it off immediately. Should do so immediately. He doesn’t need this kindness. This pity.

He doesn’t.

“I’ll stay with you.” Wen Ning repeats. This time firmer. This time with iron filling his quiet voice. “Until it’s over.”

Wen Chao’s fingers twist and worm themselves between Wen Ning’s. His nails dig grooves into the back of Wen Ning’s knuckles, ensuring the idiot can’t break his promise easily.

“...mark your words, Wen Ning and don’t you dare look away.” And then for his last order, he demands Wen Ning is to cut the flow of energy.

Wen Ning obeys.

Wen Chao doesn’t say thank you when the bedside curtains fill with smoke, the white fabric becoming charcoaled and stained with brown and black curls. Wen Chao doesn’t cry or beg or wail because like he said, there’s no pain, and he will not disgrace himself before this hopeless weakling. The weakling that will have to take care of the clan after him. So he bites his lips to keep them closed and let Wen Ning make all the noises instead.

Wei Ning does not look away.

In the morning when he seeks his sister’s comfort, she notices the burnt scar tissue wrapped around his fingers and the back of his hand like ugly pink snakes.  

He doesn’t ask her to heal it.

He never does.

 


 

Wen Qing learns to hate.

Learns to hate the long dark hallways to the bedchamber and how her shoes are so loud on the stone floor. Learns to hate the small closet of a room she must reside in that’s next to it, all in order to be close to her patient and her patient’s needs . Learns to despise the stifling nature that she’s unable to discern if the source is from dealing with the time-consuming disease or from the presence of Wen Ruohan himself.

Her only respite is the high arched windows she can perch beside when the disease finally ebbs.

Or when the beast sleeps.

“What gives you such amusement?”

But it’s never for long. So he’s awake. Of course he is. Why would he fall to sleep for more than an hour or two?

She sighs. The warm curling tones from the bedside curtains suggest their lord is in almost a playful mood. A mood that she must humor...or else. “The stars. I never knew they were so bright over the city.” Her eyes sweep towards the heavens, the spray of stars clustering together in a glorious line. The everlit lamps must have smudged the view them out before like a child’s dirty fingers, their smoky haze stealing the light of celestial sky.

“How charming. Take me to the window,” he orders.

Wen Qing does. She rises from her seat to approach the bed. Offering a hand, the man grabs her wrist to pull himself upright slowly, his fingers proprietorial as they trail down her forearm for a better grip. She clenches her teeth, then clenches harder, at unnecessary touches continue at the small of her back to her hip as they hobble to the window. At least the cover of night is enough to hide her expression.

“Ah. You are correct.” He states as they settle next to the intricate lattice work of the window. The shadows of it lash over their forms as they peer up.

She doesn’t know if Wen Ruohan plans to make her into a wife or a concubine, but she does know that the wing of his palace where they used to be kept is empty. All of his claimed beauties died during the first two weeks of the epidemic.

If she scars her face, will her body stay empty?

Wen Qing feels his breath on her skin. He’s too close besides her. One hand checks her veil to make sure she doesn’t inhale his smoke. Almost in her ear is a dark chuckle.

“Fear not, my dear Branch Head, I am far too careful to accidentally kill the doctor that keeps me alive.” Together they lean against the windowsill. He demands, “How soon until the cure is completed?”

Reluctantly she replies, “The Lan Sect administered the newest batch to willing volunteers yesterday. The sect will see the results of their test tomorrow.” It is not the first test they’ve conducted. If Wen Qing was with them, it could be. Instead, after each trial, the Lan Sect bows and acts as silent sentinels for the mourning when hope turns to ruin.

Failure wears on them all.

“What a shame. Without a definite cure, the plan cannot proceed.”

Wen Qing is not the only one without sleep but at these words she tenses up. “What plan, Sect Leader?”

His side presses into hers firmly and scoffs as if her incompetence amuses him. “Why this disease may be a blessing in disguise, my ignorant healer. The perfect instrument to bring those insubordinate, arrogant sects to heel.”

“Forgive me my lord, I do not follow,” she says numbly.

The light is mininual, but Wen Ning does not need much to see that smirk. “You’re far too clever to be daft to the possibilities. This curse of ours could be our greatest asset. Once a cure is provided, we will need to prove our Sect’s might. To provo that we are not fallen. That a weakened sun can still scorch its enemies.”

Wen Qing’s heart pounds loud in her ears. No. No . From her memories pictures flood her mind of the empty courtyard, the marketplace, of grey wraiths drifting by.

“The only way to rise in the sky is to burn those that fly?” she questions with a careful blank face.

A palm almost crushes her shoulder. The scourge has done nothing to Wen Ruohan’s strength.

“Do you honestly believe the other sects will not take advantage of our current state?” he hisses. “That they will not circle like the vultures they are? That they won’t descend and feed upon our carrion and wealth?”

Or escape now that the Wen Sect’s stranglehold is slack. Or worse...that the previous subdued, dejected clans will find courage to retaliate . These things, these concerns are real.

Wen Qing knows that.

“No,” the Sect Leader says scornfully. “Surely, you cannot be this foolish.”

She is no fool. Still, she attempts reason. “Some sects are more than scavengers. The Lan Sect for instance has thrown themselves into danger for our aid. And others will not throw away the chance to strengthen favors between–”

“The Wen Sect does not do favors.” Wen Ruohan tightens his grip enough to hurt. “The Sun may bless, but it doesn’t owe . I grow tired of your responses.”

“Then I will speak no more.” She will not even warn him that their conversation is definitely affecting Wen Rhohen’s condition. She makes no mention about the veins that have conquered another centimeter on his face. Soon they will enter his eyes.

“Good. No one is fond of talkative women. Once the cure is made, our preparations will begin. First…”

Wen Qing turns back to the window, looking at the stars as he outlines his plan. How the ashes of their dead will be used instead of wetted down and buried as they have been. How something so horrible can be innovative , a new weapon among flying swords and powerful seals. How the disease will be kept alive in ash cakes strategically placed for the wind to tear apart in Lotus Pier, the Golden Tower, the Unclean Realm...Cloud Recesses.

With each sentence, she steels herself. There is a thought that keeps echoing in her head, a thought she keeps rejecting because she is a doctor. She helps people. She heals them. But the idea grows with quiet persistence.

“–As for the Lan Sect, we must detain the members here immediately. Only when the Scorch has spread, will they be allowed to return home. Of course, they will be so frantic to heal their own they will not think to help others with the same plight.”

“You would thank them like this?” The words escape her.

So does her breath when Wen Ruohan slaps her.

The smack is loud in the silent bedchamber. Her head forced to the side from the blow. When she turns it back, they stare at each other and Wen Qing doesn’t bother to lift a hand to cheek. Yes, she spoke out of turn. She can’t believe she forgot to tread lightly here.

“Do not question my mercy,” he says in low tones. It’s not exactly an apology but his finger is gentle as it traces over the veil, right on the red mark he made. “Unlike the rest, the Lan Sect will already have access to the cure. That is gracious enough. The others will have to come forward and might be able to buy it from our cultivators if they beg prettily enough.”  

Wen Qing holds her breath.

“I simply can’t wait...to tell several of them no . He ends with his thumb tenderly rubbing over her new bruise, his nails catching at her hair as the rest of his fingers frame the side of Wen Qing’s neck. “Yes, the Lan Sect should be grateful. As should you.”

She says nothing.

Wen Ruohan is the last member of the main family. A few days ago, he had alerted the rest of the elders of his intention to merge Main and Branch families of the Wen Sect. Either way, after him, she is second in power.

After him.

She is a healer. Her whole life, she’s sought only to help, to stop death, to restore life. Her  succession hasn’t ended with Wen Ruohan. But if he lives–how many will die? If he dies...if she rises as leader, how many will live?

“Bring us back to the bed, I am ready to rest a bit longer.” Wen Ruohan murmurs, his eyes are heavy and when he comes close enough, Wen Qing doesn’t flinch when their lips touch through the veil. It’s his favorite way to take spiritual energy from her. She sags a little in his hold. “Shall we rest together?”

He won’t force her. Wen Ruohan is too prideful for that, but if she says yes she’ll be close enough to ...the fingers in her hair tighten in stages, the pain makes her wince at the admonishment. Oh that’s right, he asked her a direct question. and weariness makes him impatient.

“...Just for rest.” Wen Qing answers.

He laughs at her. “Yes. Just for rest, ” he mockingly repeats as they return to the bed and slide over the sheets. Only then does he unravel his hands from her hair and clothes. They stay on top of the covers with about a foot or two between them for health and propriety’s sake.

Is one life worth the trade? Will she ever forgive herself?

Does it matter if she never does?

Wen Qing fiddles with something in her sleeve. She takes a gamble, “My Lord, would you like to be sedated as usual?” She pulls out an acupuncture needle that gleams in the dim light.

“Hmph. Only for pain. Do not go too deep.” He tilts his head towards her.

Wen Qing keeps her hold on the needle steady, business-like and professional in her every movement. “Of course, Sect Leader.” She places the tool at the point between his eyes and sinks it in carefully, slowly. The Wen Sect Leader whole body goes slack.

Then she pushes the needle deep.

Deeper then she has ever gone before with him.

The body jerks once, but it’s too late. Wen Ruohan falls unconscious immediately.

The time for deliberation is over. Wen Qing’s made her choice. She sits up and gets to work. Her hands fast to place more and more needles. Needles to numb, needles to immobilize, needles, more needles as if she can’t trust the comatose state, Wen Ruohan’s cultivation is so high, what if he wakes up, what if he wakes up…

He won’t. Wen Qing stabilizes her breathing. The shaky quality of it shameful.

The last thing she does is release the seals she’s painted on Wen Ruohan skin to stop the progress of the Scorch. Like greedy snakes, they race for new terrority to conquer.

And then...she watches their sun go out.

 


 

It’s a new dawn and Lan WangLi never intended to kidnap a child. Nor did he intend for a two-year-old to be thrust at him until said child latched onto his leg.

The boy refuses to let go.

“Take him. Get him far away from this awful place.” A knapsack of possessions is shoved at his arm until he takes it. Lan WangJi does not believe this is how adoption works. The tiny arms around his leg tighten and when he glances down it’s hard to break the gaze between him and those huge round eyes.

He swallows roughly. “Madam. I cannot–” He starts out with but he doesn’t get far in his excuses due to a bony finger. It stabs into his chest. Repeatedly. The old woman is half his size, her spine crooked and frail but there’s fire in those eyes and Lan WangJi has never been so intimidated.

“Yes. You. Can.” The finger jabs. “You are just the guardian he needs. I know this because you did not ignore his tears. You saw a child in need and did not abandon him in his distress.”

No. Instead Lan WangJi had just quite awkwardly stood there in front of the child. For five minutes. His head whipping back and forth to scan for aid in the empty marketplace. The few survivors that scurry on the outskirts barely gave the scene a tired glance or a sniff before continuing on their way. Only when the child’s sobbing grew even louder did Lan WangJi remember the fresh lotus seeds in his pouch.

The lotus seeds his husband had prepared for this trip.

The seeds that were specifically prepared for him.

They’re bland, barely salty. His favorite. His heart hurts. If he lingers on the hole in his chest, where his husband belongs and fits so well, he’ll be inconsolable until his brother finds him. However, Wei Wuxian would forgive him if he gave a few seeds to the boy. Or maybe half the bag. Lan WangJi may confess he had been stressed at the time and grabbed at the chance of respite when the cries had halted the moment he pulled one from his bag. If the shiny whiteness of it was what distracted the child, then there’s no shame for Lan WangJi to pull out handfuls more. He pushed one seed after another into that small mouth.

That happy munching was very much preferable to lonely tears.  

“The boy belongs with his clan.” He attempts to argue. Lan WangJi remembers the speech the new sect leader made yesterday. Another rather intimidating Wen Sect woman to be honest. Her white robe stark in the morning light when they announced that Wen Ruohan was dead.

“Many have forgotten the Sun gives as well as takes. Release any clan that wishes to leave our subjugation. Let them find out if they can live without our light.” It is an answer the surviving Wen Elders can accept. Especially since their focus should be on recovery and stabilization. They also feel pacified when Wen Qing says, “Only let them come back if they beg.”

She will be a strong leader. Lan WangJi doubts the sect will have any trouble with her around.

“No, the boy belongs with someone who can keep him safe. This is no place for a child. You think everything will be fine now that the disease has been stopped? Ha.” The crone crows. “You think we don’t know how much the other sects talk about us? How much the other sects hate us? Our burning time isn’t over yet. No, with restoring the clan and defending against attacks, this is not where our A-Yuan can grow.”  

“His parents–”

“–Are dead.” She answers with steel. “And I’m already one foot in the grave myself. We of the Qishan Wen clan don’t ask for favors lightly, young man. If you require payment, there‘s plenty of funds in the bag…”

“No. That’s not it.” His brow furrows. The hands on his pant leg begin to shake and quietly he rests a hand to softly pat the top of that small head.

Her features soften minutely. “Please. Please be A-Yuan’s guardian, even temporarily, Young Master Lan.”

“I know nothing about the care of a child.”  

The old sect member observes the gentle way the Lan Sect member untangles A-Yuan’s fingers from his clothes. How he bends down, kneels at A-Yuan’s level before wiping the corner of his mouth with a clean sleeve. “I think you’ll do just fine. So will you take him?” She asks.

The toddler smiles a toothy grin in gratitude. Lan WangJi is weak. Terribly weak to expressions like that.

“...Mn.”

 


 

It’s as if Wei Wuxian was a plant, a neglected one, that once watered with the news that his husband was returning sprung back up with a vengeance.

Truly Lan Qiren regrets giving him the paper missive.

“Is he here?” Wei Wuxian rocks back and forth on his heels and Lan Qiren is this close from pushing him off the mountain. The man paces in front of the entry gates, the elder perched in a meditative pose, weary from the excited energy the Wei Wuxian alludes. “Is he here yet?”

In his grip, the paper with his husband’s handwriting flutters as his arms wave about. Lan Qiren had given him that message three days ago. Wei Wuxian has not put it down once. Perhaps tucked it into his robe when he eats, but Lan Qiren has caught him unrolling it to reread the lines, mouthing the words as he stares at it with the most disgusting of fond smiles.

‘I’m coming home.’

“No. I told you once, I told you a thousand times, when our absent Lan members return the outer wards of Cloud Recesses will chime.”

“But they haven’t chimed yet. I haven’t heard them go off once.” Wei Wuxian whines worse than the biggest brat Lan Qiren has ever had the misfortune of teaching. Perhaps because Wei Wuxian has been that brat. Beyond Lan Qiren’s comprehension that trait of his has only advanced.

Wei Wuxian may be the master of vexation.  

“Yes, because he isn’t here.” He grits out with his eyes to the heavens, begging for patience.

“But whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?” Wei Wuxian continues in the most irritating way possible. “He said he would hurry back as soon as he was able. He’s able. He’s skilled. He should be here by now!”

One must understand that Lan Qiren has put up with the same behavior for three days.

He explodes.

“If you cannot wait then leave! Go out to meet him!” Lan Qiren shouts.

Wei Wuxian twists to him in surprise. “Wait, I can do that?”

“I do not see why not!” The veins in his face bulge. Wei Wuxian is an ever threat to his blood pressure.

Those eyes widen and sparkle, his lips stretch into a disbelieving grin of news too good to be true. “I can do that. I can go see Lan Zhan right now! Thanks for the brilliant idea, Master Teacher! Who knew you could still impart knowledge to a troublemaker like me!” He draws Suibian to jump on it for flight.

“A feat I’m not sure to be proud of.”

But that frustrating charge of his is already gone. A figure in black already high in the sky and racing through the mist and clouds. A chime sounds signifying that their magical barrier has been crossed. Lan Qiren shakes his head.

Newlyweds. Hopeless, idiotic newlyweds.

Wei Wuxian urges Suibian faster. Faster. How could he not think of going out to meet Lan Zhan himself? And he supposed to be the clever one! See? This is another reason why he should stick to Lan Zhan’s side always, without the man to match wits with, his brain dulls significantly when he’s gone.

His hair whips behind him as he searches the horizon for any sign of white that’s not a cloud or snow-capped peak. The wind making his eyes sting and water as he presses to hurry. To find him. His heart beating in tune to the thought, a mantra, when time stretches for far too long.  

Find him.

Find him.

I need him.

I want him.

I love–

There!

“LAN ZHAN!” Wei Wuxian screams. That blur of white better not be a flock of birds. Oh gods, please don’t let that be just his imagination messing with him. He sends up a signal just in case, firing up the Cloud Recesses symbol though it barely shows with the sun directly overhead.

He gets an answering flare.

So he screams some more. His joy bursting as he flies harder, flies quicker until the blur becomes plain to see. Becomes definitely not a flock of birds, but a group of white robes and one of them passes something to another before breaking away from the rest.

Racing to meet him halfway.

Racing to collide into him.

They crash and it hurts. It hurts in the best of ways when Wei Wuxian launches himself off his sword into arms that snap open to catch him.

It doesn’t quite stop them from falling.

But somehow they make it to the forest floor in one piece, somehow between desperate kisses that pepper over every inch of skin they can reach, Wei Wuxian going for cheeks, forehead, eyes while Lan WangJi struggles to keep Wei Wuxian’s face still long enough with one hand on his jaw because he hasn’t tasted his husband in weeks.

Bichen is a talented weapon. It keeps both fools alive and gets them to land on firm ground.

With a wise hand gesture from the other Twin Jade, the group above keeps moving. They don’t need to be around for this.

“You look horrible.” Wei WuXian says happily. His hands carding through Lan WangJi’s hair, messing the silken strains up even more. “Whatever happened to my neat and pristine husband?”

“Sorry,” is murmured against his mouth.

It’s as if Wei Wuxian’s looking in a mirror. There are bags under red eyes and parts of his clothing rumpled. It’s a gleeful consolation that Lan WangJi looks as harried as he. It serves him right for leaving him. Wei Wuxian fingers move to fix Lan WangJi’s crooked forehead ribbon. They linger there. No one could dare peel off the digits if they tried. His hands belong there now. On his husband's skin, and Lan Zhan is just going to have to deal with that for the rest of his life. Tough luck.

He married him.

Yet since strong arms move to his hips, pulling them flush together, and perhaps it’s not that much of hardship to the other man at all.

He sure as hell doesn’t mind. Not when Lan WangJi pushes him up against a tree. The rough bark scraping his back means nothing when he finally has his legs around Lan WangJi’s waist again. Their bodies still fit together like two pieces of a puzzle and as Lan WangJi attacks his neck, he laughs. This feels so right.

“I didn’t miss you.” We Wuxian uses his grip on Lan WangJi’s hair jerk the head up from the impressive kiss mark his husband is in the process of making. But too bad. He wants another kiss. Needs another kiss right now.

“Mn.” His husband provides. He answers his wish by sucking in his bottom lip between his teeth for a bite.

Wei Wuxian hopes it bleeds. A little pain is fine if it proves this isn’t a dream. “I knew you were coming back.”

“Mn.” Lan WangJi loosens his robes, longs to feel that skin he’s missed for so long. He has too many ‘everydays’ to catch up on.

“But don’t—“ Wei WuXian pulls back, unforgivable, to hit his own chest to clear it, to stop that wobbly sound. “Don’t ever leave me behind like that again.”

“I won’t.”

“I didn’t like it. I hated it. I was so...bored.”

“I was bored as well.” Lan WangLi chews on the phrase. It’s not quite right but it’ll have to do. He presses their foreheads together and attempts more words. He knows they’re important but they’re so much more clumsy than actions.  “Your company is pleasant. I missed your voice. I missed your face next to mine when I wake. We should not part again.”

The ‘stay with me’ is crystal clear in his golden eyes.

“Ha! You’ve done it now. Now you’ll never get rid of me! I promise I’ll be stickier than rice. Are you prepared for that Lan Zhan?”

“Yes. Always.”

And when Wei Wuxian snickers and burrows deeper into his embrace Lan WangLi can finally breathe again.

He’s home.

 


 

Later...much later.

“Husband, mine. Why is there a child in the Jinishi?” Wei Wuxian puzzled and confused gawks at the new addition, the new souvenir, in their home.

“...He’s ours.”

Wei Wuxian blinks, the child looks up at him and raises his arms. “Up!”

Wei Wuxian picks him up automatically. Not that there would be any other option. Not with those chubby cheeks that just beg for a pinch and a squish and a kiss...maybe two. “Since when? I don’t recall giving birth. Despite your various consistent efforts.”

The tips of Lan WangJi’s ears go red. Not necessarily for this purpose but those efforts had been very, very thorough.

Of course, Wei Wuxian can’t help but play up the drama, he gasps, “Did my Lan Zhan have an affair? Is this your child from another lover? Oh, woe is me, now I do have cause for divorce!”

“What other lover? I would not stray.” Lan WangJi states with cold eyes. Wei Wuxian snorts and buries his face in the boy’s hair, his whole body shaking with suppressed laughter because Lan WangJi looks so offended.

“Did you kidnap him?” He teases.

“No. Present.”

“A toddler was given to you for a present?” Wei Wuxian screeches. Flustered Lan WangJi spins away from the pair. When Wei Wuxian tries to walk around him, to see his face, his husband turns away again. Oh, this man is so cute. Hopelessly entertained, Wei Wuxian decides to give him some mercy...for now. “And how did that happen?”

“I was asked to be his guardian.” The explanation is stiff, awkward.

“And you forgot to consult your dear spouse if we were ready for kids? I’m shocked, Lan Zhan! How dare you! I’m far too young to be a father.” His ire all pretend.

Lan WangJi can somehow sense that, it turns the tide into a direction Wei Wuxian has no control over. Tucking his hands in his sleeves, he finally faces the two. “Is that so?”

The boy makes a small sound of discomfort. Distracted, Wei Wuxian bounces the child up to hold him more securely. “Hmmm I’m sorry, what was that?”

“I think you have all the characteristics of a great father.” And then Lan WangJi smiles.

Is Lan WangJi going to win every argument by smiling at him?

Dumbfounded and red Wei Wuxian sputters. The kid muffles a giggle into his neck and fuck, fine Wei Wuxian has a small one now. This is fine. Instant child, fine, he can work with this.  

It’s going to be much harder to divorce Lan Zhan, oh ho, was that his cunning husband’s plan? To trap him with a child? So he can’t even think of breaking up a happy family dynamic? How diabolical!  But he can work with this.

He’s not alone anymore.

Not with Lan Zhan by his side.

Not with his l-lov–he can’t say that L-word….not in his mind or out loud.

Not yet.

Not yet.

Not yet.