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Lotus Bloom

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“Since we finished the Nie sect’s role during the Sunshot Campaign, time to move onto the Lan sect,” Professor Shen said after he finished returning everyone’s papers on the last unit. Mianmian and Qing-jie exchanged a quiet giggle at the other side of the worn-out conference table and Wei Ying straightened a little more, side-eyeing Lan Zhan who appeared as utterly unenthusiastic about this as everything else, but Wei Ying caught the renewed glint in his eyes and couldn’t help but smile wide in return. 

The Lan sect were just so cool! 

“Yeah, yeah, I know what you all really want to talk about so let’s get that out of the way first. The two main actors from this sect are of course, the twin jades, Zewu-jun Lan Xichen and Hanguang-jun Lan Wangji.”

“Nice~” someone else said and there was a general titter that made Professor Shen sigh.

“Whatever ridiculous conception you got from all those dramas, get them out of your head. Reality is often less impressive than fiction,” a pause, “so as you might know, thanks to the somewhat ridiculous number of adaptations The Tale of the Twin Jades has gotten over the years, Lan Xichen, titled Zewu-jun, inherited the sect after his predecessor’s passing at the hands of the Wen sect, in what many consider as the first catalyst for the Sunshot Campaign: The Burning of Cloud Recesses. All sources are in agreement that he vanished completely after the burning, only to reappear during the secret alliance meeting that would lead to the official start of the Sunshot Campaign.”

“Teacher!” Mianmian raised her hand and Professor Shen nodded at her. “Is it true that he hid away in a brothel where he fell in love with a disgraced courtesan whom he had to leave behind in order to lead his sect to war and that she died of a broken heart?” 

Some people laughed, some groaned at the cheesiness of the story, Professor Shen only sighed.

“As far as we know, there’s no evidence of such a thing ever happening. There are absolutely no accounts of what happened during those months, not even by Zewu-jun himself, despite the large amount of letters and personal writings of him that have survived until our time, and since he is such a compelling hero, people have been… embellishing the details over the years.”

“But it is possible, right?” Mianmian’s eyes glinted with mischief and poor professor Shen took out his ever trusty fan to half hide behind it, giving her an annoyed look.

“Possible? I suppose. Likely? Definitely not. Now, I will continue, if you don’t mind!” with a huff, he snapped his fan close and returned to his notes. “As mentioned before, Lan Xichen was a prolific writer, keeping frequent correspondence with many of the people he met during the Sunshot Campaign. His contributions to the fighting are so varied and important that one could write several books about those alone. The one in the course bibliography: Tales of the Setting Sun: An epistolary collection by Lan Tian is the best collection of Lan Xichen’s writings at the time of the Sunshot Campaign itself. Also a friendly reminder,” he leaned on the table and looked sharply at them over the rims of his square-shaped glasses. “Read the bibliography, your final essay will be a lot less soul-destroying if you do so.”

“Maybe if you don’t set up a soul-destroying essay in the first place-” little Jingyi, the young wide-eyed first year who somehow managed to get into the class, muttered a little too loud and professor Shen scoffed.

“Keep dreaming, either you show what you learned or you fail. I take no prisoners.” A collective groan filled the small classroom and he waved his hand. “But that’s for the end of the semester. For now, let’s go back to Zewu-jun. Who, as you know from the previous unit, after the war became sworn brothers with sect leader Nie Mingjue and Jin Guangyao, who at the time went from a relatively unknown rogue cultivator to a respected war hero for his killing of Wen Ruohan.”

“Or so they say,” Mianmian said behind her hand but the professor still heard her and answered.

“Or so they say. I’m inclined to believe that he was earnest in his intentions at first and it was only being thrown into the cutthroat world of sect politics with no backing or education that truly twisted him.” He shrugged. “But that’s just me. Unfortunately, Jin Guangyao’s motivations were victim of the terrible habit people of that time period had of destroying all records of things they were uncomfortable with. If it weren’t for Zewu-jun’s own writings of what transpired and sect leader Jin Rulan’s efforts to not have his uncle’s entire legacy be one of shame. We wouldn’t even know he ever existed at all.” He shook his head sadly before flicking his fan and making his sticker-covered water bottle fly through the classroom and reach his hand, he took a sip before continuing.

“Zewu-jun’s writings of this time are our best insight into the events of this far away era, so read them carefully. That said, all the excitement of his early life led to a relatively peaceful existence after the war, except for the time when his sworn brother’s misdeeds were uncovered. But besides that, he lived long and well and died in his sleep at age one hundred and twenty, being the second-longest reigning sect leader that we have reliable records about.” 

“Woah, a hundred and twenty?” 

Professor Shen nodded with a smirk.

“Indeed, not bad for one of our ancestors, huh? Now, let’s talk about the younger, more mysterious and ironically more famous of the twin jades, Lan Wangji, titled Hanguang-jun. Unlike his brother, Lan Wangji’s whereabouts during the time between the burning and the official start of the campaign are well known, first being taken with other disciples to the Wen’s reeducation camp, where he killed the Xuanwu of Slaughter with the assistance of Wei Wuxian, although some sources claim it was Wei Wuxian who killed it while Lan Wangji did the assistance. We also know that afterwards he travelled the land for reasons long lost to time, but during his travels he ended up aiding a lot people who suffered under the Wen’s dominion, thus forming a bridge between many disconnected and hopeless sects who would go on to join the Sunshot Campaign. His deeds during this time earned him the title Hanguang-jun, before he had even come of age.”

“How dashing!” Wei Ying commented and joined the laughter after, ignoring Lan Zhan’s sharp elbow to his ribs. 

Professor Shen raised an eyebrow.

“Indeed. Unlike his brother, Hanguang-jun left almost no personal writings but for a single collection of guqin compositions. Thus, people throughout the ages have taken to aggrandizing and embellishing his story as they pleased, often turning him into a figure larger than life.” He shook his head with a small and resigned smile. “Truth is, there’s very little to go by when it comes to understanding who this man was, only brief descriptions from contemporaries, mentions of him in his brother’s many letters, and the short poems and phrases he attached to the songs he composed, ahem.” He cleared his throat and lifted a well-loved black book, brightly colored bookmarks sticking out of the pages. “This is Lotus Bloom. The fifty guqin compositions and about that many lines of writing that come directly from one of our greatest historical figures. This is part of the bibliography but I don’t expect you to read the actual musical scores, I’m more interested in the short writings. But if you can read the scores, I definitely recommend it.” 

He paused and threw a look Lan Zhan’s direction, since everyone knew he played guqin and could read the scores if he wanted to. “Of course, there have already been many studies and essays about the few things that are revealed from this book, entire thesis and dissertations written over a single line or song. But in the end, this is all speculation, all we truly know is that Lan Wangji was deeply sentimental, an excellent musician and possessed a surprisingly absurdist sense of humour that wouldn’t be out of place in a modern person’s twitter.” Cue laughter, but this time Professor Shen merely chuckled in return. “Laugh all you want, but if you read ‘Fried melon rinds taste terrible’ in your timeline, wouldn’t you think the author was a consummate shitposter?”

“Fried melon rinds!” Qing-jie grimaced in disgust and more laughter filled the table. Wei Ying was clutching at his sides while laughing, who even tried to eat that?

Besides Lan Zhan, that one time he tricked him into doing it. He was just too sweet and naive and Wei Ying was a bully at heart, he couldn’t help himself. 

He gasped for air as he looked at his boyfriend, who clearly also remembered that incident and gave him an annoyed look that made Wei Ying start giggling all over again. So cute.

“Surprising from someone often described by contemporaries as ‘beautiful as carved jade and just as cold’, isn’t it?” Professor Shen grinned with a glint in his eye before coughing in his fist. “Anyways, Lan Wangji is well known for many contributions to the development of cultivation in the years after the Sunshot Campaign, included but not limited to: the invention of new sealing techniques for malevolent forces, the development of a new branch of techniques to communicate with the long departed and his aiding in the purification of Burial Mounds.”

Wei Ying frowned slightly and raised his arm, waiting for one of the few professors he truly respected to acknowledge him.

“Wasn’t the purification of Burial Mounds the work of Lan Sizhui?” he asked, mildly confused, he was quite sure that was what he had been taught in highschool. 

“Indeed, Lan Sizhui was the main architect and executor of the ritual that saw that land cleansed once and for all. But such a thing could have never been performed by a single individual, and the entire Lan and Jin sects efforts were needed to fully neutralize the great concentration of resentful energy in the area. Besides, Lan Sizhui was Lan Wangji’s adopted and only son, and his own writings mention that Hanguang-jun was deeply involved in the whole process. There’s a book detailing the development and casting of the technique in the library, it was called, uh, can’t quite recall the title; but it was written by cultivation historian Xiao Qing. You shouldn’t have trouble finding it.” 

He hurried to note the name of the author and vowed himself to read about it. He couldn’t believe this, he had lived in Yiling his entire life and he had never even thought that Lan Wangji himself would’ve been involved in the purification of the Burial Mounds!

Little Jingyi raised his hand. 

“Teacher! Teacher! What do you think of the theory that Lan Sizhui was a Wen orphan that Hanguang-jun took pity on?” 

Professor Shen rubbed the back of his head.

“I personally, and I emphasize this, personally, think it’s highly likely. The dates match up for Lan Sizhui to have been born around the end of the Sunshot Campaign. And there’s of course, ‘Sunlight among Clouds’ one of Lan Wangji’s compositions, the brief text before the score itself reads as follows.” He took the book and opened it on one of the many bookmarked pages. “As bright as the sun, the child you left behind has come of age,” he recited softly before looking back to the person who asked. “Some scholars theorize that Lan Sizhui, the only one in his generation to have a recorded significant relationship with Hanguang-jun, is the child referred to in the phrase, and that the name of the song is a hint about his roots. But as most things related to Hanguang-jun, this is all speculation.”

“Lan Sizhui also sealed Nightless City,” Qing-jie mentioned and several people nodded. It had been all over the news a few years previously, when a team of cultivator-archaeologists were finally able to unseal the famed ruins. 

“That he did, another reason why it is speculated he might have been a Wen by birth. In his own writings he mentions wanting to preserve what was left of the city and its history for future generations. My colleagues over at the archaeology department were drunk with joy when the city was finally opened,” he shook his head good naturedly and flicked his fan open again, toying with it as he spoke. “But Lan Sizhui is beyond the time this course is supposed to cover, so let’s go back and finish our brief introduction to the twin jades so we can move on to the Lan sect’s contributions to-”

He stopped, blinking in surprise before nodding.

“Yes, Mister Lan?” 

Wei Ying startled and turned around to look at his boyfriend, who had very uncharacteristically raised his hand to interrupt. 

“Would you lend credence to the theory that Lotus Bloom was written in honor of Wei Wuxian?”

Professor Shen groaned loudly at that and Wei Ying whirled back to him in surprise, there were not that many things that made their teacher make that noise. The fan closed and he impatiently tapped his other hand with it.

“Out of all people who it could be dedicated to, Wei Wuxian would be the very last in my list of candidates. The whole star-crossed lovers might be popular in fiction, but life does not work like that, and all sources agree on this subject: Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji were able to set aside their differences and work together when needed, but absolutely could not stand each other on a regular basis.”

Lan Zhan frowned slightly and Wei Ying tilted his head, surprised and curious about why he was so determined with this. “That’s outsiders’ opinions.”

“Outsiders who were there and actually saw them fighting. Don’t pay attention to The Untamed, Mister Lan. I appreciate good acting when I see it, Wang Yibo and Xiao Zhan have amazing chemistry, but the whole thing is fictional.”

Lan Zhan’s jaw did that thing where it tensed and relaxed several times as he worked through his temper, before he nodded and let professor Shen continue his lecture.

Well, that had been interesting. Wei Ying kept half his attention on the rest of the professor’s lecture and the other half on his boyfriend, who had gone back to taking notes but was definitely tenser than before.

When the seminar was finally done, Lan Zhan was already calm and unruffled but Wei Ying didn’t let it stop him from holding his hand and swing them playfully as they went to get dinner, willing a little firefly light to hover before them and illuminate their path as they walked. 

“Sooo, what was that about Hanguang-jun and the Yiling Patriarch? I thought you didn’t like The Untamed.” 

Golden eyes flickered in his direction for a moment before turning back to the path they were following. 

“I don’t dislike it, I just don’t think it’s very accurate.” 

“Well yeah, it’s just a fun little drama, no big deal. And you haven’t answered my question.” Was Lan Zhan avoiding it? Oh? Ohhhh, his ears were turning red! Wei Ying leaned a little closer, grinning as his cute boyfriend got all shy. 

Lan Zhan pressed his lips together, his thumb running over Wei Ying’s knuckles a few times before he gathered the courage to answer.

“Don’t laugh.”

“I won’t,” he promised, bumping their shoulders together. “It’s important to you, so it’s important to me too.” 

“When I was younger, I was a little… obsessed with Hanguang-jun.” 

“Pff!”

“Wei Ying! You said you wouldn’t laugh!” Lan Zhan stopped walking and tried to pull his hand away but Wei Ying held tight and waved the other hand in a hurry to placate him.

“I’m not! I’m not laughing! It’s just, well, everyone has a phase where they think Hanguang-jun was the coolest guy ever,” he explained with a chuckle, leaning closer to his Lan Zhan, who was pouting a little, just a little. “I think it’s cute you did the same.”

“Wasn’t the same,” he mumbled, breathtaking honey-eyes looking away from him. “I learned all the songs, by memory.”

Wei Ying whistled.

“Wow, that’s impressive. Must take hours to play them all.” 

“Three hours and forty seven minutes,” Lan Zhan confirmed with a nod before reaching with his free hand to hold the strap of his bag and fiddle with it. “Did so much research, I came to the museum when they put the original Lotus Bloom on display ten years ago and drank in every bit of information I could find. I… I feel weird, when I think about him.”

“Weird how?” His Lan Zhan was usually so quiet and collected, it was odd for him to speak so much and in such a way that showed how much this subject mattered to him. Wei Ying wished to understand what it was that moved him so deeply.

“Like I can feel what he felt and think what he thought,” he shook his head, “It’s weird, but it’s the truth. For no reason I can understand, I feel like the person he wrote Lotus Bloom for, was the Yiling Patriarch.” He squeezed Wei Ying’s hand and started walking again, pulling him along. “Nevermind, it’s too weird.” 

“Well, yeah it sounds weird, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you or that you’re lying.” Then he chuckled and held his arm, slowing him down. “What if you’re his reincarnation?”

Lan Zhan scoffed and he playfully shook his arm a little.

“Really! How else can you explain it?”

“Father telling weird bedtime stories and me having no friends and too much imagination.”

“Now, now, don’t be like that.” He could tell Lan Zhan was repeating someone else’s words and he felt so angry and offended on his behalf. Who dared to dismiss Lan Zhan’s concerns like that?! Wei Ying was gonna give them a good piece of his mind if he ever met them! “You did your research, right? You wouldn’t have brought up the issue if you didn’t have at least some evidence to back you up. Will you tell me?” 

His boyfriend sighed and turned to leave a quick peck on Wei Ying’s lips before pulling back and looking at him with eyes soft and full of indescribable warmth. It made his heart pirouette inside his chest. 

“Thank you, Wei Ying.” 

“Lan Zhan! Warn me before you do that!” he whined as he hid his quickly reddening face behind his free hand. This man! Always toying with his poor heart like this!

“Hm, will do.”

“You always say that and you never do!”

“Hm.”

“Honestly!”

He complained but he still leaned close to hold onto his arm again, enjoying their slow walk towards the closest dining hall.

“The Yiling Patriarch was originally from Yunmeng’s Lotus Pier,” Lan Zhan said suddenly, startling him out of his soft daydreaming. Oh! That’s right, he did ask for the evidence he had gathered! “It would connect him to the Lotus theme throughout the book. There’s even a song called Lotus Picking, the comment in it says: ‘I pray we meet again in the Yunmeng of childhood.’ Another detail is that there are exactly fifty songs in the book, and Lan Wangji died exactly fifty years after Wei Wuxian.” He paused and took a deep breath. “Fifty years to the date.”

Wei Ying shivered, goosebumps rising on his arms, and leaned closer to his boyfriend’s warm body. Lan Zhan let go of his hand to put his arm around his shoulders and tuck him in closer. He traced a spell on Wei Ying’s back, and he immediately felt even warmer and comforted.

“I-I didn’t know that.” 

“Mn. There are many songs in the book that are nameless and have no accompanying comments or poetry, seventeen in total, each of them is… very sad, slow and mournful. The very last one has a comment, not at the beginning like the others, but at the end.” He swallowed and stopped walking, looking deeply into Wei Ying’s eyes before leaning close and whispering against his ear as if he were sharing a secret. ‘Wangji has lived too long in a world where the lotus doesn’t bloom.’

His words made Wei Ying’s eyes burn. 

“The original book has no title, Lotus Bloom was added in later copies, probably as a reference to this last message,” Lan Zhan added quietly as he reached out and gently wiped away a tear that escaped his eyes. “Don’t cry, I won’t talk about this anymore.”

“No!” he gasped, taking his hand and holding it tight against his face. His breathing was fast and his heartbeat even faster. Such words had somehow touched him deeply for reasons he did not understand. “Tell me more, I’m fine it’s just…” he pressed his lips against Lan Zhan’s wrist. “It’s just so sad, if you’re right… fifty years is a long time, Lan Zhan.” 

He could see Lan Zhan’s own eyes were a little wet. 

“In one of Zewu-jun’s last letters, sent to the then sect leader Nie Jingtao, he said that he only had two regrets in his long life: the first, putting his trust in a person that wasn’t worthy of it; the second... helping to kill the light in his brother’s eyes.”

Wei Ying sniffed and pressed himself close to Lan Zhan, holding him in a tight hug. He felt wretched, utterly and completely wretched.

“Let’s go to our room and order take out instead.”

“Mn.”

They walked the rest of the way in silence, ordering a pizza and going to their shared dorm room to cuddle on their joined beds.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan said softly as they watched a mindless comedy neither of them was paying much attention to. 

“Hm?”

“Next month, the museum will put the original Lotus Bloom on display, as part of an exhibit celebrating Hanguang-jun’s life, since this year is the twelve hundreth anniversary of his death.”

Wei Ying blinked and looked up from his place on Lan Zhan’s chest, blinking at the sudden return to the heavy topic.

“I… yeah, I think I recall something about that in an email from the university at the beginning of the year.”

Lan Zhan nodded and took his hand, interlacing their fingers and bringing it up to press a kiss to his knuckles.

“The Dean of Performing Arts requested that I play some of Hanguang-jun’s pieces for the early viewing where the trustees and donors will be invited.”

“Holy shit,” Wei Ying’s eyes widened before a wide smile made them wrinkle. “That’s wonderful news! You’ll get to show off to all the money people!” he laughed and leaned close to kiss his lips. “I’m so proud, I bet they’ll be so impressed by my Lan Zhan~”

Lan Zhan huffed against his lips and kissed him again. 

“I asked the museum director if you could come, for moral support.” 

“You hardly need me to perform, you are always so calm.”

“But I want you there.”

Wei Ying’s smile widened and he wiggled until all of his body was on top of Lan Zhan’s. Ignoring the laptop that Lan Zhan hurried to put on the floor before his arms curled around Wei Ying’s body.

“Then I’ll be there, saving you from boring old people’s conversations and shamelessly eating all the snacks and drinking all the wine.” He tickled Lan Zhan’s chin and giggled when he responded by holding the back of his head and kissing him deep. 

“I think you’re right, by the way,” Wei Ying whispered a couple of hours later as they got comfortable to sleep, exhausted and half-wrapped around each other. 

“Hm?”

“About Hanguang-jun and the Yiling Patriarch, and I’m not saying this because you’re my boyfriend. I really do think you’re right, I feel it here,” he whispered, taking Lan Zhan’s hand and pressing it against his chest. “Although, it might just be my inner romantic talking,” he admitted with a shy smile. Lan Zhan kissed his forehead in response. 

The following month saw Wei Ying arguing very effectively that there had been something going on between Hanguang-jun and Yiling Patriarch, and he was always good at debating his points, good enough to sway most of his classmates to their corner, even if professor Shen insisted they had no proof. 

The day of Lan Zhan’s presentation, Wei Ying dressed in his best button-up shirt and slacks and went to the museum to watch his boyfriend dazzle all the old snobs. He had yet to see him wearing the traditional clothes of the Lan clan, Lan Zhan had been very secretive about the whole thing and he was looking forward to enjoying the surprise.

He thought he had mentally prepared himself enough for seeing the love of his life in traditional clothes. He had not.

“Woah,” he whispered, entranced, as he entered the large atrium and his eyes instantly found his beloved, all the way to the end. Kneeling with perfect posture before a guqin that most likely was worth more than Wei Ying’s childhood home.

But he paid no attention to the no doubt astounding instrument, he couldn’t.  

All of him was enchanted by Lan Zhan. His heartstopping boyfriend was dressed in long, exquisite white silk robes delicately embroidered with silver cloud motifs. A thin, equally embroidered ribbon crossed his forehead and his golden eyes matched the tassel on the jade piece that hung from his belt. 

He had read Lan Wangji being described as ‘an immortal descended from heaven’ but had always chalked it up to exaggeration and people wanting to show off their poetic streak. He had not thought…

Lan Zhan came from that same bloodline and he looked… he looked…

He swallowed, unable to come up with an appropriate description for the beauty, the breathtaking elegance, he was witnessing. 

Lan Zhan’s eyes found his and he couldn’t help but give him his biggest smile, which Lan Zhan returned with a small one of his own. Ah, his heart was beating so fast, he clutched at his chest like a highschooler experiencing love for the first time. 

But could anyone blame him? He felt as if he were falling all over again, so deep he could never again get out. But he had no intention of ever falling out of love with him. Not now, not in a hundred years. 

His beautiful Lan Zhan nodded slightly at him before settling his hands on the strings. He plucked a single, low note, that reverberated through the large space and quickly called the attention of the people that had been hanging around, talking and gossiping. 

The museum director came to stand next to Lan Zhan with a wide smile on her face.

“Welcome! Welcome to all of you, our esteemed trustees and donors. To this ‘Hanguang-jun in the minds of the people ’ anniversary exhibition, curated by our senior curator mister Nie Feng. Let’s please give a round of loud applause to his efforts and those of our junior curators and interns that put all their expertise and love into this lovely display!” 

Wei Ying clapped politely as a middle aged man, stepped forward a little and gave a couple of bows before going back into the crowd.

“Today we have a special treat for our esteemed guests. I introduce to you one of our most gifted students and a direct blood descendant from Hanguang-jun himself, mister Lan Zhan!” she signalled to Lan Zhan, who stood up and gave a most proper bow. “Who will be delighting us with a short recital of some of Hanguang-jun’s own compositions. Afterwards, the display will be opening for your perusal and our staff will be available to answer any questions you might have. For now, please enjoy!”

Lan Zhan returned to his knees and waited for the applause to fade out before he started playing. 

As soon as the first quick, jumpy notes played, Wei Ying and several of the guests smiled and a quick look to the program he had snatched up confirmed his thoughts. The first song was one of the most famous of Hanguang-jun’s compositions, a short, cheerful tune that had inspired many lullabies and children’s stories since then and was playfully named “Rabbits Amidst Snow”

He chuckled as he remembered the line that accompanied this tune in the book: ‘Greedy rabbits ate the students’ homework.’ 

Mostly he kept his eyes on his boyfriend as he played the guqin with long, bewitchingly slender fingers, tapping his own in time with each new tune, happily enjoying the delightful vision he was being offered. It took him almost three full songs to realize there was a large traditional painting right behind Lan Zhan. A painting that depicted Hanguang-jun playing his guqin and which showed a startling similarity to his boyfriend.

He blinked in surprise and studied the painting for a moment before smiling to himself and shaking his head. The similarities were mostly due to the clothes and the elegant posture they both shared, in truth, the man in the stylized painting barely even resembled Lan Zhan.

The donors and trustees were all as bewitched as he himself felt, and he couldn’t help but be smug at how skillfully Lan Zhan played his audience, as skillfully as he played the guqin. His boyfriend was truly a man among men. 

But Lan Zhan was not scheduled to play the whole night long, and soon he reached the final piece of tonight’s recital. The first song in the Lotus Bloom collection: Wangxian.

Wangxian was the most famous of all compositions and Wei Ying had heard all kinds of arrangements for it, from opera to ballads to pop and even a weird synthetic rock version that had made Lan Zhan wrinkle his nose when he listened to it. 

What Lan Zhan played right now was none of those, and indeed didn’t resemble any version Wei Ying had ever heard. 

A slow tune, moving but not sad, calming and comforting. A memory of warmth and safety, of light in the darkest cave, of hope in the coldest storm. A promise of dawn after night.

His chest hurt, his eyes hurt, and his throat closed up as Lan Zhan’s fingers tenderly and lovingly played each string as if each note were a whispered confession between lovers hidden from the world. 

The final notes spread through the atrium and faded into a deep quiet, only interrupted by soft sniffling and the crinkling of tissue packets being opened. Wei Ying was no different, taking out a handkerchief to dry his tears. Truly, Lan Zhan’s skill must be as good as Lan Wangji himself. 

His boyfriend bowed to the crowd, who applauded loudly if not as enthusiastically, still too taken with the beautiful rendition of Wangxian they just heard, and walked off the raised platform to join Wei Ying.

“Hey,” he sniffled and laughed when Lan Zhan held his face softly, a worried look in his eyes. “I’m fine, I’m fine. That was just too tender and you know I’m a secret sap.” 

Lan Zhan’s lips twitched. 

“Hm, I know.”

“But never mind me, look at you!” he gasped, stepping away and looking up and down at Lan Zhan. Standing up like this, the sleek lines of his robes were even more eye-catching, the pure white really bringing out the warm gold of his eyes and the deep black of his hair. “You look breathtaking!”

Lan Zhan looked away, the reddening of his ear the only indication of the effect of Wei Ying’s words. He chuckled and reached out to pinch it, it was very warm.

“Wei Ying!” Lan Zhan hissed, stepping away and covering his ear with a wide-eyed look. It took all his self-control to not jump on him and kiss him senseless, he looked so sweet and innocent. 

“I’ll behave, I promise,” then he winked, “for now.”

A deep sigh answered him and he laughed, taking Lan Zhan’s arm and pulling him along, quietly marvelling at the softness of the cloth under his hand. 

“Come, come! I want to see the display!” 

Hanguang-jun in the minds of the people ’ was a display of paintings, poems and various artifacts that displayed the view of Hanguang-jun that people had throughout the ages. The variety was large and it was a good show of the museum’s impressive collection. There were things like movie posters from the very first movie dedicated to the Twin Jades, as well as a painstakingly done replica of Hanguang-jun’s guqin, the mythical Wangji, which had sadly been lost to a fire five centuries ago. A mannequin dressed in the traditional clothes of the Lan clan stood in one corner, the robes so similar to the ones Lan Zhan was wearing that more than one guest did a double take at seeing them standing near to each other. 

Wei Ying just had to make him stand next to the figure and take a picture of both, and his boyfriend indulged him of course, because he was the best boyfriend ever.

“Oh! Oh! Is that it?” he whispered as he dragged Lan Zhan to a smaller and colder room with only a handful of hovering lights to ensure people didn’t trip on anything. 

“Hm, the book is too fragile so temperature and light have to be controlled,” Lan Zhan explained as they waited in line for their turn at taking a look at the famous book. 

“Is it weird that I’m so excited? It’s just a music book, not even a cultivation scripture, but I’m really excited! Last time I got this excited over writing was when the Yiling Historical Society managed to borrow a page from one of the Yiling Patriarch’s manuscripts.”

“I was unaware of that.”

“Mn! Some very rich collector got his hands on the page and asked them to verify it was genuine. Once they did, they asked to be able to display it for a couple of weeks. It was definitely genuine, and the museum was full of people through the entire time it was housed there. They had a room much like this for it, except it had containment arrays all over the floor and walls, and there were cultivator guards standing on all corners. As if the paper was about to come to life and eat the guests, haha,” he laughed quietly at all the fanfare they got for a single piece of paper.

Then the people in front of them stepped aside and they were able to take a look at the famous book. 

“Ooohh, his writing is so neat! I can still understand the characters despite how old it is!” he gushed excitedly, shaking Lan Zhan’s arm.

“Hm, calligraphy was one of the arts all wealthy young men had to master,” Lan Zhan answered quietly as they read the page that was left opened.

Emperor’s Smile

‘Memories fade, scars do not.’

“Aw, they left it on one of the more somber ones.” Wei Ying was a little disappointed, he had been hoping for one of the funny ones, like the one about melon rinds.

“Mister Nie told me it was because this was one of the better preserved pages,” Lan Zhan whispered in return and Wei Ying hummed, leaning a little closer.

“The edges are a little charred.”

“It somehow survived five different fires, it’s to be expected.”

“Yeah, we are really lucky this is more or less intact,” he said with a nod before they stepped away to let the next people look at it. “Not like the Yiling Patriarch’s, it is said that he wrote a lot, but not a single full manuscript remains, only a few scattered pages and all in terrible condition.” He shook his head sadly as they walked out of the room but then chuckled. “You know? There was a plaque on the outside of the room where they displayed the one I saw, where it explained how the page was tested for authenticity and stuff, and there was a part that said that the small reddish-brown stains on the side of the page were originally thought to be blood but after chemical analysis it was determined to be spicy sauce.”

Lan Zhan huffed softly and Wei Ying sniggered, bumping their shoulders together.

“Right? Right? Everyone thinking something so ominous when it turns out the guy was just a messy eater, haha. After the display, someone changed Wei Wuxian’s wikipedia page to add: Like a true son of Yiling and Yunmeng, the Patriarch knew how to enjoy a good spicy meal.”

Lan Zhan gave him a look.

‘Someone’ , Wei Ying?” 

“Hehe, it might have been me,” he winked and giggled again as Lan Zhan shook his head fondly. “But they didn’t take it out! Well, they did edit it to make it sound a lot more boring, adding things like ‘analysis of the chemical components revealed’ and ‘as a native of yunmeng’ and ‘the region’s cuisine is known for its generous use of spice’. But the meaning is the same! So I contributed to the world’s collective knowledge!” he stuck his tongue out and Lan Zhan smiled at him.

“You did.”

They stopped in a quiet corner where a small drawing had been hung under soft lighting. Wei Ying blinked as he looked at it and then blinked again, then he let go of Lan Zhan’s arm and rubbed his eyes before looking at Lan Zhan and then at the painting.

The brush strokes were light and precise, only a few lines were needed to shape the long robes, the slender hands holding a book and the elegant face looking down on it, silky dark hair was detailed with long strokes that flowed down the figure’s back, and a large flower had been put right on top of the head, almost as if added as an afterthought.

“What the fuck?” 

“Language.”

“Lan Zhan, this painting looks just like you!” he hissed as he kept looking from one to the other. The resemblance was truly uncanny, he couldn’t help but feel a little freaked out by it. All he had to do was imagine Lan Zhan with long hair and tah-dah! It’d be him right there.

“Read the plaque.”

Wei Ying did as told, eyes shifting from the painting to the plaque to the side of it.

‘Sketch by unknown artist - c.a. Sunshot Campaign’

‘This sketch was discovered through the most recent X-ray analysis of Lotus Bloom. It was stuck between the back cover and last page of the book, and had to be carefully peeled away by our museum’s most experienced restorers. 

It presents fire damage consistent with the book’s own damage and carbon dating and chemical analysis attest it was drawn near the time of the Sunshot Campaign itself. It is believed to depict a teenage Hanguang-jun reading one of the many books that would’ve been lost during the Burning of Cloud Recesses. 

Despite having been found within the book, expert calligraphers have studied the brushstrokes and concluded this is not the work of Hanguang-jun nor that of his brother Zewu-jun. Therefore, it can only be speculated to be the work of a friend or admirer who spent enough time with him to be able to depict him in such a casual pose.”

“A friend or admirer,” he read aloud and rubbed his chest. It hurt a little, although he didn’t know why. “A beautiful drawing like this, undiscovered for so long,” he commented with a sigh before turning to Lan Zhan.

Wei Ying’s small smile dropped as he looked at his boyfriend, whose soft, sad eyes were glued to the painting, his mouth downturned.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” he whispered, taking his hand and squeezing tightly. Lan Zhan sighed and looked at his feet.

“I don’t know, looking at this makes me feel…” he shook his head again. “Nevermind.”

“Please tell me. This is one of those times when you feel things you shouldn’t be feeling, right? I want to know, maybe I can help.”

“It’s too much,” Lan Zhan answered softly, bringing their joined hands up and kissing Wei Ying’s knuckles before looking back at the painting. “Angry at myself, wishing this painting got more recognition, and so, so painfully sad.”

Wei Ying let his hand go and curled his arms around his waist instead, kissing his cheek and resting his head on Lan Zhan’s shoulder. 

“I feel sad too,” he admitted, rubbing his boyfriend’s back. “But also oddly happy? I feel like this painting was very important to Hanguang-jun, otherwise it wouldn’t have ended up hidden inside the only book he ever wrote. I’m happy it was treasured like that. Also,” he snickered, “that flower looks so stupid.” 

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan warned him off but he could feel how his little joke made him relax.

“Well, it’s true! Whoever the artist was, I want to shake his hand,” he giggled and kissed Lan Zhan’s neck before pulling away. “It takes a truly ballsy guy to poke fun at Hanguang-jun of all people!”

“What if it was a woman?” Lan Zhan asked with a raised eyebrow but Wei Ying shook his head.

“Nah, it was a guy, I can feel it,” he insisted with a wink. “Maybe it was Wei Wuxian himself! He was known for being rather unimpressed with Hanguang-jun, right? And his brushstrokes are very light too, like this painting’s. Reading his manuscript was such a pain, they had to put a transcript next to it so people would know what it said, haha.”

“Hm, maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t.”

“We’ll never know. But it’s fun to think about it!”

After wandering through the galleries and looking at all the different depictions of Hanguang-jun, they eventually left the museum and started making their way to their dorm.

“Say, Lan Zhan,” he said as they walked slowly, enjoying the light of the full moon and the quiet that signified the middle of exams week. “Aren’t those robes heavy? How many layers does it have?”

“I’m used to it, and it has five.”

“Hmm, must be hard to put on. What about moving with it?”

“I’m used to it.” 

“Soooo,” he lowered his voice teasingly, biting his lower lip and letting his eyes wander up and down Lan Zhan’s striking figure. He looked far, far too good for Wei Ying’s poor heart. “If I said I wanted to have fun while you wear those…” he let his voice trail off, suggestively tracing his boyfriend’s chest with teasing fingers. Lan Zhan’s eyes darkened.

“Woah! Lan Zhan!” he yelped as he was grabbed and thrown over Lan Zhan’s shoulder, suddenly feeling weightless as he jumped off. “No Qinggong on university grounds!” he reminded with a laugh as Lan Zhan landed on a tree branch and launched off again. “Lan Zhan you are terrible! Hahaha!” he laughed and laughed as they flew through the night, Lan Zhan had no intention of slowing down. “I was just making a suggestion ! You pervert!” he playfully hit Lan Zhan’s back but his boyfriend didn’t even flinch. 

Really, if these clothes were ruined later it would be entirely Lan Zhan’s fault! Wei Ying absolutely would not be responsible for any clothing damage!