The moment Wei WuXian returned from the night hunt he had been supervising, he was told to go see Lan XiChen in the Library Pavilion. The summons was unusual, and he hurried along, not even stopping by the jingshi first. When he arrived, it took him some time to find his brother-in-law, but eventually, he came across him in a section of the library that was off-limits to junior disciples, one that held information on various spells and curses and rare magics. He was seated at a table, pouring over an ancient scroll, expression unusually somber. Kneeling at his side was a child, silent and attentive, brows knit as he tried to read along with Lan XiChen. Staring at the child, who couldn't be more than six or so, Wei WuXian came to a complete halt with a faint gasp.
Looking up at him, Lan XiChen offered a grim smile. “You realized very quickly. As to be expected, I suppose.”
“Lan Zhan! Oh, look at you!” He hurried around the table and dropped to kneel next to the child who was most certainly his Lan Zhan and was currently regarding him warily. “Do you feel all right? Is your body okay?” His hands hovered out of an uncharacteristic uncertainty. There was no recognition in Lan WangJi's pale eyes.
“He's been cursed,” Lan XiChen said, somewhat acerbically. Wei WuXian winced.
“Obviously he's been cursed. That doesn't even merit asking.” He looked up, hands still not touching the child his husband had become as Lan WangJi shrank back toward his brother. “Is he all right, aside from that?”
Hesitantly, Lan XiChen nodded. “He seems fine. He is alert. The flow of his qi is undisturbed. Although he doesn't remember the details of his adult life, his mind doesn't seem to have been adversely affected. ...I should warn you, he seems to know people that were part of his life when he was this age, but he has yet to recognize anyone else. We've informed him that he's under a spell, but it's as if that information doesn't mean anything to him. Anything pertaining to his adult life seems to be entirely incomprehensible...although he apparently isn't bothered by how much I've aged.”
Wei WuXian released a huge sigh. “As long as he's all right, that's the important thing. We can figure out the rest.” He turned his eyes once more to Lan WangJi. “Just look at you,” he murmured. “Such an adorable child. Look at those round cheeks. I want to pinch them!”
Letting the impulse fly, he settled his hands on Lan WangJi's cheeks and pinched each gently. It brought a fierce scowl to Lan WangJi's face which remained even after he batted Wei WuXian's hands away.
“Come now, A-Zhan! Is that really any way to behave to your hus— to your Xian-gege?”
Lan WangJi looked to his brother, who nodded. “You can trust this person, WangJi.”
As he tried to grab Lan WangJi's hands, letting them slip free every time the reluctant child pulled back, Wei WuXian looked once more to Lan XiChen.
“ZeWu-Jun, what can I do?”
With a sigh, Lan XiChen rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Uncle and some of the elders are searching in the lower levels for any information that might be helpful in reversing this. I remained here, thinking I might find answers. If you would, please, keep an eye on WangJi. He was always a very well-behaved child, so I doubt he'll give you much trouble once he's used to you. ...And it is possible that spending time with you might help him remember.”
“Understood. Come now, A-Zhan. Let's go play while your brother works.”
He stood up and, before Lan WangJi had time to escape, scooped the child up and settled him on his hip. Immediately, Lan WangJi began squirming, trying to get down, but Wei WuXian merely bounced him, as if oblivious, and began to carry him away.
“My, you're a big boy! You'll be so strong when you get older! The very model of a cultivator! What are you struggling so much for? Do you know how many times you picked me up with no warning? Isn't this only fair?”
It was the first word he had spoken since Wei WuXian had arrived. In the lightness of his voice, Wei WuXian could hear an echo of his husband's tone, and he smiled, eyes crinkling at the corners.
“Down?” he asked. “You want to go down? Whoops!” Making as if to drop him, he ducked, firming his hold a moment after Lan WangJi's arms shot out to wrap around his neck.
“A-Zhan, you're so strong already! Clinging to me so tightly...aren't you happier being held, after all? Even as a child, you weren't honest about what you wanted, huh?”
“Down,” Lan WangJi repeated, frowning at him.
“Down? Okay....” He pretended to drop him again, delighted when he felt those small arms clutch at him. “Are you sure you want down?” he teased. “It doesn't seem like it! How about this? You just tell your Xian-gege where you want to go, and you'll be carried there, swift as a sword! How does that sound?”
Beaming at the child in his arms, Wei WuXian was unprepared for his response.
He froze, only keeping his smile in place through long years of habit. Lan WangJi stared at him, an all-too-familiar determination in his youthful face. Distraction was the key, here.
“You want to see your mother? Why don't we let her rest for just a little longer first? In the meantime, wouldn't you like to see the rabbits?”
Lan WangJi looked as if he wanted to say no, but his curiosity got the better of him. “Rabbits?”
“Yup! A whole meadow of them!”
“...Cannot have pets.”
“Who said they were pets? These are special rabbits. Do you want to go see?”
After a moment's hesitation, Lan WangJi nodded. He didn't even squirm as Wei WuXian set off again, still carrying him.
It was a beautiful, sunny day. A crisp, cool breeze was blowing, offset by the warm rays of the sun. The grass was vibrantly green, sprinkled with tiny white flowers. The rabbits were out, hopping contentedly around their meadow, practically begging to be picked up and cuddled. All of it was made surreal by the fact that a six-year-old Lan WangJi sat in the middle of the clearing, silently petting a black rabbit that had made itself comfortable on his lap.
Wei WuXian sat nearer the edge of the meadow, legs crossed at the ankles, chin in hand, and his elbow resting on his knee. He stared at Lan WangJi, searching for happiness in him. Lan WangJi almost never spoke of his childhood. Most of what Wei WuXian knew had come from ZeWu-Jun. It hadn't been a happy story. Having had a tough time in his own childhood, his heart had gone out to Lan WangJi. This...whatever spell had been cast upon him...was a chance to give him something that had been denied to him. At least for as long as Lan WangJi remained a child, Wei WuXian would do his best to be sure he was happy, and had a chance to have some fun.
Lan WangJi looked up at the sound of footsteps. Glancing back, Wei WuXian saw SiZhui coming up the path, looking concerned.
“Senior Wei,” he said, once he was close enough that he didn't have to raise his voice. “I heard from ZeWu-Jun. Is it true...?” Even as he spoke, he was staring at Lan WangJi, and when he trailed off, Wei WuXian knew there was no need to confirm it.
“He's all right,” Wei WuXian reassured him. “Just a little bit small at the moment.” He stood up, dusting grass off his robes. “Come on. He doesn't remember anything about being an adult, so I'll have to introduce you.”
Lan WangJi watched them approach, but there was none of the wariness in him that Wei WuXian had seen earlier. Obviously, he had gotten used to Wei WuXian, and he was probably reassured by the fact that SiZhui was clearly a member of his sect.
“A-Zhan? This is your SiZhui-shixiong. Say hello.”
Without taking his eyes off of them, Lan WangJi nodded his head and offered a soft: “Hello.”
“Good morning, ahh... WangJi...shidi....”
Wei WuXian snorted, then burst into laughter. “SiZhui! No need to be so nervous! Come now. Have you ever seen such a cute child before? I've only seen one even come close to being so cute!” Reaching out, he pinched SiZhui's cheek. The gesture left Lan WangJi staring at SiZhui with a look that clearly said: 'So you have to put up with that, too?' Wei WuXian doubled over laughing.
When he had himself under control again, he straightened, wiping tears from his eyes. “Oh, both of you are so good for my heart.” He glanced between the two, then felt his smile grow even wider as a thought occurred to him. “SiZhui. Help me with something. Grab as many rabbits as you can!”
The rabbits tolerated Wei WuXian, liked SiZhui well enough, but adored Lan WangJi. Apparently, they recognized him even in a smaller body, because as Wei WuXian and SiZhui brought them by the twos and threes to pile on top of him, few of the rabbits hopped far away. Soon enough, Lan WangJi was practically buried in them. Wei WuXian was giggling almost continuously. SiZhui was unsuccessfully trying to hide a smile, his eyes warm with nostalgia. Lan WangJi sat quietly, eyes wide with wonder, and hands busy gently petting every rabbit he could reach without disturbing them.
“A-Zhan! Look how much they love you! They never would have tolerated me like that! Ahh, I'm so jealous! I want them to love me, too!”
“Be still,” Lan WangJi said quietly. He turned his little face up, looking at Wei WuXian with an earnestness that went straight to his heart. Gently, Wei WuXian settled a rabbit on top of his head.
“Zhan-er...when you're finished becoming one with the rabbits, would you like to play hide-and-seek?”
For some reason, the question made him look uncertain.
“A-Zhan? Everything okay?”
“...Lessons,” he murmured.
“Ah, don't worry, don't worry! No lessons for today! Everyone's taking a day off! So? Do you want to play with SiZhui and me?”
He nodded, his head shaking so quickly it was as if he was afraid Wei WuXian would rescind the offer. Bowing his head, he closed his eyes and began counting, softly, so as not to disturb the rabbits.
Laughing quietly, Wei WuXian ushered SiZhui out of the clearing. “Hurry, hurry! Hide!”
Smiling at him fondly, SiZhui did as he asked.
Lan WangJi counted up to twenty, then called out, louder than Wei WuXian had heard him so far, yet still barely above a normal speaking voice. “Hidden?” When neither of them answered him, he called out again: “Seeking now.”
More silence was his only response. He opened his eyes, a faint frown on his face, and carefully moved each rabbit to the ground so that he could stand up. The meadow was empty, except for the rabbits. No one was in sight on the path back to the buildings. Turning to look into the woods, he decided that was most likely, and walked into the trees.
He found SiZhui first, catching sight of his white robes peeking out from behind a tree. Something in his little heart eased to see that he hadn't been left alone, and Lan WangJi reached out to hold his hand as they searched for Wei WuXian. It was SiZhui who spotted him first, and tugged on Lan WangJi's hand, pointing upward to where Wei WuXian was stretched out on a tree branch high above their heads.
“Found,” Lan WangJi declared, pointing up at him.
“SiZhui, you cheater!” Wei WuXian exclaimed, jumping lightly down. “Just who was supposed to be doing the seeking?”
“You should hide where children can find you.”
“I play to win! Besides, A-Zhan's a smart boy. He would have figured it out eventually, wouldn't you, A-Zhan?”
Lan WangJi looked away with a huff that puffed up his cheeks even further.
“All right,” SiZhui said, reaching over to knock Wei WuXian's hands aside before he could pinch Lan WangJi's cheeks. “My turn to seek. You two go hide.”
As he closed his eyes and began counting, Wei WuXian took Lan WangJi's hand in his and quickly led him away.
“Want me to bury you in the ground?” he asked once they were out of earshot.
Lan WangJi gave him a blank stare, then pulled his hand free and walked away. Chuckling to himself, Wei WuXian went to find another hiding place.
This time, Wei WuXian was the first to be found, but only because SiZhui intentionally walked right past Lan WangJi at least three times before he worked out where Wei WuXian was hiding.
“You're it,” he said, peering into the hollow of a fallen log with an infuriatingly sweet smile.
“Look at you,” Wei WuXian grumbled. “So smug. Where did you get that from, I wonder. Certainly not from your father.”
“No, Dad,” he said, still wearing that smile. “Certainly not.”
“Ahh!” Wei WuXian cried, striding away from SiZhui. “The mighty and brilliant Yiling Patriarch has lost! Where, oh where could that expert hider be? Xiao Zhan! Where are you?” He made a show of searching, peering high and low as he crept closer to the bushes where he could just barely see a hint of white. “Could he be up in the trees? I don't see him! Could he be...” He nearly passed the bush, but then turned back lightning quick and knelt to reach past the branches, fingers itching to tickle. “...down here?”
The tickle attack didn't make Lan WangJi laugh, but it did make him squeak, which was absolutely adorable. He swatted at Wei WuXian's hands, and scrambled out of the bushes on the other side, emerging panting and glaring, with stains on his knees and leaves and twigs in his hair. Wei WuXian merely grinned and waved at him.
“Guess I'm it, this time. You kids better run and find really good hiding places!”
Lan WangJi fixed him with a frown. “No cheating.”
“I would never!”
“No cheating,” SiZhui repeated, as he hurried away into the woods.
“I'll have you know, I could find the both of you while blindfolded!” He huffed, closing his eyes and muttering to himself: “No cheating.... Honestly!” Then began counting.
When he set out to search, he intended to look for SiZhui first. As he walked, however, the woods began to feel familiar. He'd been all over the Cloud Recesses, of course, but something about the area they had come to...
They had wandered quite a ways away from the rabbit meadow, he realized.
...seemed like a place he ought to remember. It wasn't until he spotted the first of the gentians—a bit of bright purple amid the green that drew the eye to more and more, growing thicker and closer until, in the distance between the trees, bright sunlight hit on a clearing flooded with their color—that he realized they had come around within reach of the gentian cottage. He approached silently until he saw a flash of white on the porch.
Turning back to the woods, Wei WuXian whistled two quick notes. In moments, SiZhui appeared, hurrying to his side.
“I think the game is over for today. Head on back. Lan Zhan and I will follow later.”
Although he didn't understand what was going on, SiZhui didn't argue, only left quickly and quietly. With a sigh, having hoped to spare him this, but knowing that it had been unlikely from the start, Wei WuXian made his way to the cottage.
Lan WangJi was kneeling in front of the door. He had taken pains to smooth out his hair and brush the dirt off his robes, but his appearance wasn't nearly as pristine as usual, although his posture was impeccable. He did not acknowledge Wei WuXian's approach.
“A-Zhan? Found you.”
He shook his head.
“What are you doing?”
“Waiting for your mother?”
This time he didn't even nod.
“Can I wait with you?”
For just a heartbeat, Lan WangJi's eyes slid away from the door to focus on him. His shoulders seemed to relax in that moment, but then he was staring straight ahead again.
“Mm.” he said, so quietly that Wei WuXian nearly missed it.
For once, Wei WuXian didn't try to fill the silence. He wasn't sure what to say. He couldn't sit completely still, either, though. As a compromise, he picked a handful of gentians then took a seat on the porch, within arm's reach of Lan WangJi, but facing out into the yard, and began weaving the flowers together into a crown.
Time crawled by. Even as a child, Lan WangJi was more patient than Wei WuXian. He knelt practically without moving, eyes trained on the door that would not open for him. Wei WuXian hoped that he was meditating, rather than being trapped in his head with his thoughts circling and circling. He knew what it was like for a parent to disappear without explanation.
Eventually, the time limit Wei WuXian had set ran out. The flower crown was finished. He placed it on top of Lan WangJi's head, and stroked his hair, picking out a few bits of leaves and branches the boy had missed. His hand paused mid-motion as he noticed a slight tremor in Lan WangJi's shoulders. Looking closer, he saw the way he held his fists clenched white-knuckled on his lap.
His voice was thick. Taking a closer look at his face, Wei WuXian saw the redness of his eyes and nose, the way his jaw was clenched and his lips quivered.
“No,” Wei WuXian said as gently as he could. “I don't think she's able to come see you right now.”
“Got dirty,” Lan WangJi said in a shaky murmur. “Skipped lessons. Was...loud.”
His voice cracked at the end, and with it, the grip he'd had on his tears. He hunched in on himself, shoulders shaking as tiny, squeaking sobs escaped him. He barely fought as Wei WuXian wrapped him up in a hug and pulled him onto his lap.
“Oh, A-Zhan, A-Zhan, no. No, it's not like that.”
“B-broke the ru-rules...!” he sobbed. He pushed his face against Wei WuXian's chest, smearing him with tears and snot, and Wei WuXian only held him closer.
“It doesn't matter, A-Zhan. None of those stupid rules matter. You're a good boy, and your mother loves you very much. She's so proud of you, and she would never, ever refuse to see you because of those dumb rules.”
“W-want m-my mo-mom!”
“I know, A-Zhan. I know. Go ahead and cry, it's okay. I won't tell anyone. It's okay.”
As Lan WangJi sobbed, still trying to muffle himself as best he could, Wei WuXian held him close and rocked him, heartsick over his pain. He stroked his back and hummed their song to him, and wondered why he had thought it would be simple to let him be a happy child.
Not once did Wei WuXian hush him. This pain wasn't one that he could heal, but at the very least, he could allow Lan WangJi to let some of it out so that it didn't fester. It took him a long while to stop crying, during which time Wei WuXian's anger toward his sect and those who had personally raised him only grew. Had none of them realized that Lan WangJi had blamed himself? That, somehow, this exemplary child could assume that his mother refused to see him because he had broken a few rules? The ease with which he had come to that conclusion left Wei WuXian convinced that it was not the first time such a thought had crossed his young mind. He hadn't asked if that was the reason, after all. He had automatically assumed.
“You're a good boy, A-Zhan,” Wei WuXian assured him, burying his face in flowers to kiss the top of Lan WangJi's head. “And you have a good heart. You're the best, most righteous person I know.”
Eventually, with a few false stalls, Lan WangJi stopped crying. He remained clinging to Wei WuXian, although by that point, the front of his robes was uncomfortably cold and damp.
“Are you all right?”
“Do you want your brother?”
“Mm-mm.” He shook his head, pressing his face firmly into Wei WuXian's chest.
“Are you hungry?”
Again, he shook his head, but his stomach rumbled, betraying him. Shyly, he nodded.
“They'll be serving lunch.... How about if I take you back to the jingshi, then sneak us some food out of the kitchen?”
Lan WangJi's hold on him tightened. “Stealing is forbidden.”
“Who's stealing? They make the food for you to eat, right? So if I'm only taking your portion and my portion, then it's not stealing.”
When Lan WangJi didn't respond, Wei WuXian bounced him gently. “Well? Sound like a plan? Or, if you don't want to eat in the jingshi, we can have a picnic with the rabbits. I'll ask if there are any spare greens to feed them. Which do you want to do?”
“Rabbits,” Lan WangJi whispered.
“Rabbits it is, then!” He stood up at once, adjusting his hold so that Lan WangJi was braced once more on his hip. “Letting me carry you, this time?”
In answer, he hid his face in the crook of Wei WuXian's neck.
“Ha ha! Zhan-er, you really are too cute! I'm glad I get to spoil you a little bit. It's only fair. All right, let's go get lunch. Should I drop you off with the rabbits?”
He shook his head, soft hair against Wei WuXian's cheek, and voiced a barely audible “No.”
“You want me to carry you all the way to the kitchens, then carry you and the food all the way back?”
Lan WangJi was quiet for a minute, then murmured: “Can help carry.”
“Ha ha! All right, all right. I'll carry you, you'll carry the food, is that it?” He laughed when Lan WangJi nodded.
The next few hours passed peacefully. Although the kitchen staff stared at Lan WangJi, none of them asked questions, and he was spared full awareness of their attention by simply keeping his face hidden against the crook of Wei WuXian's neck. After collecting their lunches and a small basket of greens for the rabbits, Wei WuXian carried Lan WangJi—who, as promised, held the food—back to the rabbit meadow. Settling on the soft grass, Wei WuXian served up lunch as the rabbits gathered around, perhaps curious, perhaps merely smelling that something had been brought for them. Still wearing his flower crown, Lan WangJi watched them with bright, avid eyes, so distracted that Wei WuXian had to encourage him to eat. Lan WangJi shot him a look and informed him that talking during mealtimes was against the rules.
“Lots of things are against the rules, A-Zhan. Don't worry so much about it. Life's better when you can just have fun!”
“Ha ha! You want to know a secret, A-Zhan?”
Although he didn't speak or nod, there was curiosity in the way he cocked his head to the side as he stared at Wei WuXian.
“I can say that to you because I know you'll still work hard and do the right thing.” He waved a hand vaguely in the direction of the Wall of Discipline. “All those rules are just up there for people who need reminders outside their own moral compass. And...well...there's a few that are up there because your sect is full of fuddy-duddies.”
Lan WangJi's eyes narrowed. “Should not gossip. Should not ma...malign,” he said carefully, “other sects.”
Wei WuXian took a bite of rice and said with his mouth full: “Should not talk during mealtimes.” He laughed as Lan WangJi snapped his mouth shut with a look like he'd tasted something sour, then swallowed and said: “Besides, joke's on you. I'm a member of the Lan sect. I married in. Broke a ton of rules here when I was a kid, but they still took me in.”
Looking as if he wanted to say something, Lan WangJi stopped, then stared down at his bowl. Hurriedly, he gobbled down the rest of his food while Wei WuXian looked on, amused.
“Who am I married to? Ah, well, that's.... They aren't someone you've, uh...met, so.... Don't worry about it. You'll find out one day.”
Although he did not look at all satisfied with that answer, Lan WangJi did not ask again.
After lunch, they watched the rabbits. Lan WangJi knelt among them, paying rapt attention to every little ball of fluff that came within reach. Wei WuXian made himself comfortable leaning against a tree. He watched for over an hour, filling his heart with the sight of his Lan Zhan so small and innocent and content.
Eventually, though, the peaceful afternoon, the warm sunshine and soft, rustling sounds of the rabbits, the gentle breeze, all combined to lull him toward sleep. He was just drifting off when footsteps approached, so quiet and calm that Wei WuXian didn't immediately stir. He only opened his eyes when he heard Lan XiChen speak their names in greeting.
“It seems likely,” he said, kneeling down. He held out his hands toward his brother, who, instead of coming to be hugged or picked up, brought him a rabbit to hold. Lan XiChen stroked it absently, staring at the crown of flowers before shaking his head, banishing the thoughts they'd summoned. “I believe we found the spell that was cast upon him.”
“Spell?” Wei WuXian asked. “Not a curse?”
“So it would seem. The elders are still studying it, but it appears to be benign. Surprising, certainly, and inconvenient, but he should return to normal in a few days, and there should be no lasting effects.”
“A spell to turn a person into a child for a few days?” He laughed. “Whoever wanted to get out of classes that badly must not have heard that he'd been planning to go traveling! I really thought he had told everyone, though. We were supposed to have left today.” He turned his head to gaze back toward the buildings. “...Is there any way to find out who did it?”
“I'm not sure. To be honest, it seems unlikely. I'd like to ask you to leave the investigation to us, please.”
Surprised, Wei WuXian looked back to Lan XiChen. Slowly, he smiled. “What? Worried that I might call down the legendary vengeance of the Yiling Patriarch on the guilty party?” He shrugged and tucked his hands behind his head, leaning back against the tree once more and closing his eyes. “You said it shouldn't do him any harm, right? I'll wait till he's back to normal and let him decide about the punishment. I don't mind putting off the trip for a little bit.”
Everything was quiet for a few moments. Wei WuXian could practically feel Lan XiChen's attention on him. Then, finally:
“You seem remarkably calm about all of this, Young Master Wei.”
“Do I? I guess I could try to go help those geezers look for a way to undo the spell, but you and I both know they wouldn't listen to a thing I'd have to say. And who do you suppose would volunteer to have the spell cast on them so that I could test out a reversal? I'm not about to try something like that on Lan Zhan without knowing it's going to work first.” He opened his eyes and fixed Lan XiChen with his stare. “I'm staying close to him. If anything happens, I'll be the first to know. If he's unhappy, or if he needs anything, I'm here. If you have anything more useful I could be doing, I'd love to hear it, but Lan Zhan's been through worse than getting a second chance at childhood, and panicking never helped anything.”
Lan XiChen bowed his head in acquiescence. “It is as you say.” He drew in a deep breath and sighed it out, then smiled at his brother. “Is there anything you need?”
Lan WangJi glanced at Wei WuXian, then looked down, hands clenched around his robes. “Can look after myself,” he said quietly.
Wei WuXian sat straight up with a shout of surprise. Even Lan XiChen looked startled. “You dislike spending time with Young Master Wei?”
He shook his head, not looking up.
“WangJi...what is it?”
“...traveling,” he murmured, so quietly that Wei WuXian almost didn't hear him.
“Traveling? Oh! Because Young Master Wei said that he was supposed to be traveling?”
When Lan WangJi nodded, Wei WuXian scrambled to crawl across the small distance between them.
“Aww, A-Zhan! Are you trying to be considerate of me? You'd be lonely without your Xian-gege, though, wouldn't you?”
He pouted, cheeks puffing out so that Wei WuXian couldn't help but pinch them. “No.”
“No? Zhan-er, no? Really?” Every time Lan WangJi tried to turn away, Wei WuXian moved to be in front of him. “You wouldn't be lonely without me? You wouldn't miss me? Not at all?”
Lan WangJi turned imploring eyes onto his brother.
“I don't think I'm going to be much help to you, here,” Lan XiChen said apologetically.
Without warning, Wei WuXian lunged forward and caught Lan WangJi in his arms, dragging him back until the child was sitting on his lap, squirming in vain to get free. Laughing, Wei WuXian hugged him, and rubbed his cheek against Lan WangJi's head. The flower crown fell to the ground.
“A-Zhan! Let's you and me go on a trip together! Tomorrow, let's go to Caiyi Town! We can spend the whole day there—I'll take you out on a boat, we can walk around the market, find some good food to eat.... It'll be fun! What do you say?”
Lan WangJi didn't say anything, but he had stopped struggling, as if considering the suggestion.
“It might not be a good idea to take him out of the Cloud Recesses. We don't know when he'll change back.”
“You said the spell was meant to last for a few days, right?”
“According to the text, it can last up to a week. The speed of the recovery depends upon the spiritual power of the one affected.” He stared at Lan WangJi, now a calm, warm weight in Wei WuXian's lap. “My brother was always very strong.”
Wei WuXian considered that. “Will it be all right if I bring a change of clothes for him in case he goes back to normal?”
With a sigh, Lan XiChen looked at his brother. Lan WangJi was sitting contentedly in Wei WuXian's lap, his small hands resting lightly on the arms crossed over his chest. “WangJi. Would you like to visit Caiyi Town tomorrow with Young Master Wei?”
Hesitantly, Lan WangJi nodded.
“All right.” He smiled at Wei WuXian, although the expression was somewhat strained. “Please try not to let Uncle find out.”
“Thank you!” Wei WuXian hugged Lan WangJi tighter, grinning and rocking side-to-side in his excitement. “We're going to have a great time, aren't we, A-Zhan?”
“He must remember something,” Lan XiChen said as he watched them, “judging from the way he's taken to you.”
Lan XiChen left soon after that, returning to his duties as sect leader. His mention of Lan QiRen had put the old man on Wei WuXian's mind, however, and left him wondering when Lan WangJi's uncle would be putting in an appearance. Either he was furiously trying to come up with a counter-spell, or was rigidly continuing on with his scheduled classes. Either way, Wei WuXian wasn't entirely surprised that Lan QiRen had yet to show himself, but he felt that the peace couldn't last much longer. He'd been around long enough to realize that the man did genuinely care for his nephews in his own way.
Sure enough, shortly after the hour when regular lessons ended, who should appear in the rabbit meadow but Lan QiRen, barely sparing Wei WuXian a glance as he headed straight for his nephew.
Unlike with his brother, when Lan WangJi spotted his uncle, he immediately got to his feet and hurried to neaten his clothes. The flower crown he'd put back on as soon as Wei WuXian had released him earlier was quickly removed and set aside. He remembered too late about the stains on his knees, and flushed pink as he brushed uselessly at them. When Lan QiRen was close enough, he saluted, bowing his head and not meeting his eyes.
“WangJi. How are you feeling?”
“I am well.”
“What have you been doing? You look like he's rolled you down the side of the mountain.”
Lan WangJi flinched, and that was more than enough for Wei WuXian. He was on his feet in an instant, stepping in so close that he was practically between the two of them.
“We were playing hide-and-seek earlier, but SiZhui had to leave. Will you play with us? You can hide first. I bet you're good enough to keep both of us searching for hours!”
It anything, Lan QiRen's withering glares had only increased in power over the years. “You have always been a terrible influence on my nephew. He should be studying, not wasting his time with frivolity, and making more work for others by soiling his clothes. WangJi. Come with me.”
About to tell him that Lan WangJi was bright enough not to be called to heel like a dog, Wei WuXian closed his mouth when he felt a tug on his robes. Looking down, he saw that Lan WangJi had grabbed a fistful of fabric just below his sash.
“Xian-ge is minding me,” he said quietly.
“Wei WuXian has no business being around children.”
“Hey! I used to watch SiZhui all the time, and he turned out just fine.”
“From my understanding,” he retorted stiffly, “you buried him in a field, and watered him like a radish.”
“And he grew quite well, didn't he?” Even Lan QiRen shouldn't be able to find fault with SiZhui.
“That is due far more to my nephew's influence than yours. I should say he's lucky to have gained an appropriate role model to replace—”
“Should not speak ill of others,” Lan WangJi put in. His fist was practically trembling with the strength of his grip on Wei WuXian's clothes, but he stood straight and faced down his uncle with all the assurance his tiny body could muster.
Lan QiRen looked taken aback. “You....”
“Ha ha! He's right, you know! That's one of the rules up on that wall of yours!” Wei WuXian glanced down with a questioning tilt of his head when he felt a sharp tug on his robe.
“Do not plant children,” Lan WangJi admonished him.
“That's not a rule,” Wei WuXian shot back. He looked back up at Lan QiRen, determined to remain the victor. “That's definitely not one of your Lan sect rules.”
“Perhaps it should be,” he muttered.
With a sigh, Wei WuXian knelt down, gently loosening Lan WangJi's grip on his robes as he did. “A-Zhan? Your uncle and I are going to have a quick talk, okay? Wait here just a minute.”
Lan WangJi let him go, watching the entire time as Wei WuXian led a frowning Lan QiRen just far enough away so that they could talk without being overheard.
“Uncle.” Wei WuXian bowed his head. “Please go easy on Lan Zhan.”
Whatever Lan QiRen had expected to hear, that certainly wasn't it. He spluttered, searching for words, before he settled on a response. “I think not. It is not our way to be slack in our studies, or to cease striving to better ourselves.”
“But don't you see? That doesn't matter right now. He'll only be this way for a few days. This isn't a second chance for you to raise him so that he won't fall for a person like me. Lan Zhan's already grown up. This is nothing a dream. So what does it matter if you aren't so strict?”
“That's—! You're merely looking for an excuse to slack off,” he huffed.
It was lucky he'd had so much practice ignoring accusations and insults flung at him. He didn't even bat an eye at that. “I'm not. My word on it. All I want is for Lan Zhan to have a few days where he can be a happy child.”
The question sounded more like another accusation. Wei WuXian bit his tongue and didn't rise to the provocation. Instead, he asked: “What kind of child never smiles?”
That gave Lan QiRen pause. He peered around Wei WuXian to look at his nephew, and something softened in his flinty eyes. The six-year-old was kneeling patiently in the grass, hands outstretched to the rabbits that gathered around him. Although his eyes were wide, all of his feelings were locked up behind them—none showed through in his indifferent expression. Lan QiRen sighed shortly.
“He was a serious child.” Glancing at Wei WuXian, he asked: “You will not dissuade him from attending lessons if he wishes to?”
“I just want to see him happy.”
Lan QiRen nodded, then grimaced. “I'll leave him to you, then. Seeing you this serious ought to reassure me, yet....” He shook his head. “Take care of him.”
Wei WuXian bid him a polite farewell, then returned to Lan WangJi, dropping down to lay out on the grass next to him.
“Ahhhhh!” He groaned loudly once he was sure Lan QiRen would be out of earshot. “Even when he's no longer my teacher, dealing with him still makes me want to run away!”
Next to him, Lan WangJi shifted the tiniest bit. Reaching out, he plucked pieces of grass and bark off of Wei WuXian's clothes and out of his hair.
“Zhan-er, are you comforting me?”
“Ah, it's fine, it's fine. I'll take a bath later. Oh!” A thought had occurred to him, and he sat up hurriedly. “A-Zhan, is it all right if I stay with you tonight?”
The question seemed to surprise him. He stopped picking bits of debris off Wei WuXian to fix him with a wide-eyed stare.
“Yeah! Like a fun sleepover! Of course, if you'd rather not share your room, I can always go sleep with SiZhui—”
“No?” Wei WuXian grinned, amused by how emphatic his answer had been.
Lan WangJi shook his head. “Stay.”