The first time Wen Qing meets A-Li, she is struck by the fact that Wei Wuxian is clearly trying to keep the child's parentage under wraps.
She supposes that it's possible, given how much Zhenli resembles Wei Wuxian, and supposedly not his other parent.
Still, the way Wei Wuxian introduces them to his son, without mention of a family name, using mostly the diminutive of his name instead- it is painfully obvious that he does not want his son's parentage to be known.
Wei Wuxian is Zhenli’s mother, in the end, and she will respect his choice.
(Or at least, she had planned on respecting it.)
It takes a good few weeks for Wen Qing to realise that A-Ning knows who Zhenli's father is, and that is when her curiosity starts to rear its head.
She knew her little brother idolised Wei Wuxian, knew that Wei Wuxian was probably the closest thing A-Ning had to a best friend, so the knowledge that Wei Wuxian would share something so obviously private to him is… well, somewhat pleasing.
The fact that A-Ning knew, while she did not- well, it is hardly a surprise, but she is a curious person by nature, and she cannot help herself wondering. She cannot help but want to know, despite the fact she knows she should respect Wei Wuxian's boundaries, if for nothing but the fact that her clan owes him a life debt many times over.
So she does not question, does not dig for the truth.
Still, it is not within her nature not to observe, so observe she does.
Zhenli is- he is a beautiful child, as cute as Wen Yuan and twice as well-behaved. He is hyperactive when given free reign, but obedient when Wei Wuxian calls for him, and she would have to be blind not to see the way Wei Wuxian treats the child like he is his entire world.
Sometimes, after long nights being kept up by screams -the kind that only came from night terrors- echoing from the Demon Slaughtering Cave, Wen Qing finds herself wondering if Zhenli is a child of rape.
But other times she sees the way Wei Wuxian looks at his son, with laughing eyes and carefree smiles, and knows that Zhenli cannot be anything but a child of love.
Nonetheless, despite her promise to not pry, she finds herself trying to draw conclusions anyway. It is… well, fortunate, for Wei Wuxian, that his son resembles him so much. Other than Zhenli's eye colour, the slant of his nose, the tilt of his lips when he smiles, the boy is all Wei Wuxian.
Still, it does not help Wen Qing in her quest to find out who Zhenli's father is.
(Did she say quest? Clearly, she wasn't trying to solve the mystery, she had promised herself that she wouldn't pry.)
The gold of Zhenli's eyes makes her suspect someone from LanlingJin, but she, above all people, knows how much Wei Wuxian resents that sect.
It is doubtful that Zhenli's father would be from Lanling, unless… there was a reason Wei Wuxian hated the sect?
Probably not, but she knew she shouldn't rule it out just yet.
And it most likely wasn't GusuLan either- she didn't need to be from Wei Wuxian's age group to know how much the man had hated his three months of study there. The fact that he had only studied there for three months, instead of the supposed year, really spoke for itself.
That left… QingheNie and YunmengJiang, or some other small sect, unless Wei Wuxian had gotten it on with someone from Qishan before he'd massacred them.
Okay, that was a morbid thought. And Zhenli's age didn't match up to that macabre theory anyway.
It was likely an alpha from YunmengJiang, Wen Qing knew. Likely, because Wei Wuxian had grown up there, and most likely had some kind of childhood sweetheart.
She wants to rule out Jiang Wanyin, and Jiang Yanli, because, well, firstly she knew Wei Wuxian only saw them as siblings, and secondly because- well, Jiang Yanli was married with a child on the way.
Wei Wuxian was many things, but a homewrecker? No, that he wasn't.
Still, Jiang Wanyin was a candidate, gross as it would be.
And she can't rule out QingheNie, mostly because she doesn't know enough about Wei Wuxian's interactions with that sect in particular. She knew Nie Mingjue didn't approve of his demonic cultivation, and knew that the younger Nie brother was Wei Wuxian's age mate, and that they had been friends. Still, Nie Huaisang wasn't an alpha, so the odds were slim to none.
She was… getting nowhere, really. She didn't know enough about Wei Wuxian's life before he'd broken her clan out of the prisoner camps- in fact, she'd only heard of the man from Wen Ning's gushing after that one discussion conference, and had only seen him when she'd had to save him and his brother and A-Ning's bleeding heart.
Should she ask A-Ning? She would be able to get it out of him, given some dedicated prodding, but… she finds she doesn't truly want to know at the expense of making her baby brother that uncomfortable.
So she keeps silent, and just watches instead.
It is a typical night.
By typical, Wen Qing means that she is, once again, kept awake by Wei Wuxian's night terrors.
When they'd first started, she remembers her and her clan had been terrified, afraid that somehow those corpses that he'd been experimenting on had gotten loose, or that some experiment had gone terribly wrong, and Wei Wuxian was being ripped to pieces within his own shelter.
Only A-Ning had dared venture into the cave, and he had come out long moments later, eyes sad and robes damp, and Wen Qing's heart had ached.
The screams had quieted to sobs, and she knew what had happened.
Night terrors were no strange occurrence to her- they were a generation forged in war and blood, and trauma may not have been her specialty, but she knew enough.
But she does not know enough about Wei Wuxian to help, and he will not let her close enough to do so.
So she stands by, and lets A-Ning do the comforting, and pretends that she does not care.
Still, this time the screams die down without Wen Ning's presence, and they break into fractured sobs, echoing off the high ceilings of the cave and out into the open.
The uncles and Granny look concerned, saddened, and in Granny's arms, A-Yuan looks confused.
"Xian-gege sad?" He asks, and Wen Qing wonders what it feels like to be so unburdened by the truths of the world.
"Qing-jie," A-Yuan continues, clambering down from Granny's arms to tug at her robes. "Qing-jie help Xian-gege?"
Wen Qing shakes her head, rueful smile already in place. She is about to deny A-Yuan, about to encourage everyone to leave Wei Wuxian his privacy, but then the sobs die, turning into muffled cries for Zhenli, and- and this, this is something Wen Qing can do.
It isn't common for a child to sleep without their parent, but Wen Qing can understand why Wei Wuxian allows it. The cave is cold, and damp, and a child would quickly fall ill if they'd slept there every night.
Instead, Zhenli sleeps with A-Yuan and Granny instead, and the moment the child hears his mother call his name, he is already toddling forward.
Wen Qing cannot let Zhenli enter the cave alone- Wei Wuxian's inventions lay scattered everywhere, sharp edges and broken metal. It wouldn't do for a child to venture in unsupervised.
So she scoops Zhenli up into her arms, and gestures for the rest to return to their huts- there is no use to all of them milling about here, witnesses to Wei Wuxian's vulnerability.
She brings the child in to his mother, and lays him down beside Wei Wuxian, who is still asleep, albeit thrashing and in the throes of a nightmare.
Immediately, Wei Wuxian stills. Still unconscious, he curls around Zhenli's small form, pressing his face into his messy black hair, nuzzling scent marks over Zhenli's throat and wrists.
"A-Li," Wei Wuxian sobs quietly, and Wen Qing has to wonder at the tight grip that his dream has on him. "A-Li, don't go- your father- I'm sorry, I shouldn't-"
"Mama?" Zhenli says, his small voice confused. "Mama, A-Li here- Mama? Mama-"
"I'm sorry," Wei Wuxian continues anyway. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry-"
Wen Qing’s been told many times that she’s heartless, but this- this scene, she can feel her heart rend.
But it is not her right to be here, not her place, so she leaves.
She will spare Wei Wuxian his dignity- what she has seen here will not leave this place.
She catches Wei Wuxian burying Zhenli and Wen Yuan in the ground again .
For heavens’ sake, hasn’t she already threatened to murder someone if she saw him doing this again? And he’s dragged A-Ning into it with him too- what on earth was her ridiculously soft-hearted brother thinking?
A-Yuan and A-Li seem perfectly content to be buried in the ground, though, grinning up at Wei Wuxian even as he waters them like potato plants.
Who on earth decided that Wei Wuxian would be a good parental figure, she really wanted to know.
She’s just about to storm forward to save the children when Wei Wuxian opens his mouth. “Ehh? Wen Ning, don’t you think we should bury the children in rabbits too? They’re so fluffy, A-Li and A-Yuan will adore them!”
Wen Qing pauses in her tracks. Rabbits? Rabbits? What in the heavens was even going through Wei Wuxian’s head?
She sees Wen Ning turn to look at Wei Wuxian, and consoles herself with the thought that at least A-Ning would have some sense.
“Ah, Young Master Wei-” Wen Ning begins. “I- I guess rabbits are pretty fluffy?”
Wen Qing blinks. She had raised Wen Ning better than this, damn it!
“But where would we find rabbits?”
Wen Qing takes a deep breath. Why?
Wei Wuxian shrugs then, reaching down to ruffle Zhenli’s hair. “Well… Around here, I’m not too sure, honestly. But there were always a bunch in the mountain back at Cloud Recesses! Ahh, speaking of, I gave Lan Zhan a pair of rabbits back when we were fifteen, I wonder what happened to them.”
The way Wei Wuxian’s expression lights up at the name- she had thought he didn’t get along with the GusuLan disciples, but clearly this Lan Zhan, whoever he was, was the exception.
Wei Wuxian is happier than she has seen him, and the smile on his face is more genuine than it has been since they’d come up this accursed hill.
Who exactly was Lan Zhan? Who could make Wei Wuxian smile this wide, just from the thought of them?
It was… nice, seeing Wei Wuxian this carefree.
Wen Ning looks up from where he'd clearly been trying to plant their potatoes. "Yes, jiejie?"
"Who is Lan Zhan?"
If Wen Ning had flowing blood in his veins, Wen Qing doesn't doubt that her little brother would have gone pale.
"I-" he starts, and Wen Qing watches as her brother lays his shovel gently down on the ground and begins to back away slowly. "I- um- I-"
Wen Qing arches an eyebrow, and Wen Ning visibly begins panicking.
"I- um- I- I don't… know? Yeah, I don't know, I definitely don't, why would you think Young Master Wei would ever tell me anything like tha- jiejie, don't look at me like that, please, I-"
Wen Qing sighs. "You're a horrible liar, A-Ning."
Wen Ning ducks his head, and scratches at the back of his neck. "I- I'm… sorry?"
It's really not A-Ning's fault, to be honest. Wen Qing knows her boundaries, and she knows better than to force her baby brother to reveal something that he obviously doesn't want to.
She's a harsh person, but she's not that bad.
She shakes her head, and offers Wen Ning a rueful smile, reaching up to ruffle his loose hair. "It's okay, A-Ning, don't force yourself if you've made a promise."
Wen Ning visibly relaxes, and she doesn't think she's imagining the sigh of relief that slips past his lips.
Besides, she can always interrogate Wei Wuxian himself.
"Ahh, Wen Qing! This is a surprise, you definitely haven't caught me burying A-Li and A-Yuan again-"
Said man grins wide, and promptly hides his hands behind his back. It doesn't stop her from seeing the dirt that cakes his fingers and gathers under his nails.
She makes a mental note to find the two children and free them once she's done here.
"I have a question," she says instead. "About someone you know."
Wei Wuxian raises an eyebrow, but the easy smile never leaves his face, and Wen Qing is almost sorry she has to do this. What sort of significance did the name - did the person - hold to him, for it to be a secret kept this close to his chest?
"Who is Lan Zhan?"
The smile freezes on his face, turning plastic, and he laughs in the manner that he always does when she tries to get him to submit to a health check. "Ahaha, where did you hear that name from? Lan Zhan? I don't know a Lan Zhan!"
He is evading the question, and not in a subtle manner, but she knows enough to confirm that she should not push, or he will run.
Why was whoever this Lan Zhan was so important to him?
And why was his existence such a closely guarded secret?
It takes everything in Wen Qing not to grab Wei Wuxian by the collar and demand answers. There is a panicked light to Wei Wuxian’s eyes that she has not seen before, and a tremble to his hands that she wouldn’t have noticed had it not been for the fact that the way he is tugging at his own fingers draws attention to them.
She supposes she can cut him some slack.
She sighs, and shuts her eyes briefly. “Okay.”
Wei Wuxian blinks, and she watches as he flinches. “Okay? Okay, as in, okay, you believe me, or okay as in okay, you won’t ask anymore but I’m a horrible liar? Or okay as in- as in okay, you’ve figured out the answer and you don’t need me anymore?”
He is nervous, anxious beyond what she has ever seen of him, and she would not be a doctor if she tried to force the matter. “The second one.”
Wei Wuxian blinks again, multiple times in a row, then she watches as a slow smile begins to spread across his lips. It is not the bright smile she is used to seeing on his face- no, it is wan and slight and just ever-so-slightly haunted, but it is genuine nonetheless.
“Not the best outcome, I suppose,” he murmurs lowly, and Wen Qing is unsure if she was meant to hear it. “But it’s better than it could be.”
Everything comes to a head when the second young master of GusuLan comes to visit.
Wen Qing is not unused to high profile visitors- Sect Leader Jiang and his sister are common visitors to Wei Wuxian, Jiang Yanli especially so.
Even then, a high profile visitor who came in peace, but didn’t hail from YunmengJiang- that was rare indeed.
So when Lan Wangji -Han Guang-Jun, beloved by all around the world, paragon of virtue and role model for cultivators everywhere- appears down the path that leads to the Demon Slaughtering Cave, a resplendent visage of unearthly white and blue, Wen Qing thinks that it is inevitable that most of her clan stops and stares.
Even A-Yuan drops his little handmade doll to look upon Lan Wangji, and Wen Qing is the only one that sees the panic that flashes across Wei Wuxian’s face, as quick to go as it came.
She is the only one who notices when Wei Wuxian immediately foists Zhenli on Granny, with harried suggestions to let him play on the other side of the mountain. Granny is confused, visibly so, but she obeys without asking questions.
Then Wei Wuxian plasters the brightest smile she has ever seen him fake onto his lips, and bounces up to Lan Wangji like he’s without a care in the world.
“Ahh, Han Guang-Jun! To what do we owe this visit?”
Lan Wangji inclines his head shortly. “My greetings to Wei Ying, and to the Wens of Burial Mounds.”
Courtesy dictates that Wen Qing, as the technical head of her clan, return the greeting. So she steps forward, folding her hands over each other, and bows at the waist. “Greetings to Second Young Master Lan.”
Lan Wangji looks upon her with that unnerving gaze of his, and dips his head once again. There is something familiar about that unwavering golden gaze.
Still, she pushes aside the thought and meets his eyes with an unwavering gaze of her own.
“Ahh, Lan Z- Wangji-xiong-” here, Wen Qing wonders if she’d imagined the quick jerk of Lan Wangji’s head as he turns to look at Wei Wuxian instead.
“How about we go take a seat in my cave, I’ll pour you a cup of tea- we can talk about what you came here for!”
“...Wei Ying?” There is a strangely lost quality to Lan Wangji’s voice even as Wei Wuxian grabs onto his sleeve and drags him away.
Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian have been talking in his cave for the better part of an hour now, and only A-Yuan has been brave enough to go into the cave uninvited.
When A-Yuan comes out, he is clutching another handmade doll in one hand, and what is clearly a GusuLan sect tassel in the other.
The doll is easy to identify- it was one of the ones that Wei Wuxian had cobbled together from straw and scrap fabric, one of the ones that he makes to entertain the children when he cannot.
The tassel, on the other hand, is almost like the one that hangs on Lan Wangji’s belt.
“A-Yuan?” she asks, fingers gently lifting said tassel. “Where did you get this from?”
“Zhan-gege gave me!” A-Yuan chirps proudly, holding up the tassel as if for inspection. “Qing-jie, it pretty!”
Wen Qing starts. Zhan -gege? Lan Wangji- Lan Zhan- could it be?
“A-Yuan? Who is Zhan-gege?”
A-Yuan smiles guilelessly. “Zhan-gege is blue-gege, of course! Pretty-gege, Xian-gege’s friend-”
“Do you mean Lan Wangji?”
“Yep!” A-Yuan cheers, offering her the tassel once again. “Yep, pretty-gege, Zhan-gege, Xian-gege call Lan Zhan so A-Yuan call Zhan-gege!”
So that was it, then. Lan Zhan was Lan Wangji. Second Jade of GusuLan. Han Guang-Jun. The alpha that everyone said hated Wei Wuxian, but yet, judging by today’s actions, did not.
Lan Wangji’s facial features really were familiar.
She had chalked it up to the man being famous, to her having seen drawings of him back when QishanWen had still been a powerhouse, back when she would see all the disciples of all the clans as and when there were sect matters to discuss.
But Lan Wangji’s features were too familiar. They were the kind of familiar that made you think you saw them everyday, the kind of familiar you only felt when you looked at your own reflection, or at someone you lived with and saw everyday of your life.
Those gold eyes really did look like something she should know. The slant of that nose and the strange bemused smile that had quirked Lan Wangji’s lip ever-so-slightly earlier were familiar too.
The eye shape was different, and the face shape and emotional displays, but-
It takes her long moments to place them.
She cannot remember the last time that she had held Zhenli for a prolonged period of time, but- she can recall the colour of Zhenli’s beautiful eyes from memory.
These- Lan Wangji’s were the same gold.
There was really only one explanation.
It was a mostly foregone conclusion, now that she thought about it. She didn’t really know how she didn’t see it before- of course there would only ever be one person who could make Wei Wuxian brighten up like that. She’d already noted that Zhenli was definitely a child of love, so of course that meant that Wei Wuxian had someone to love in the first place.
And for Wei Wuxian’s “Lan Zhan” to make him so happy just by the mere mention of his name… who else could he be but the father of Wei Wuxian’s child?
But that made… That would make Zhenli the sect heir of GusuLan by blood, at least until Lan Xichen deigned to marry and have a child.
Wei Wuxian was… Wei Wuxian was raising the heir to GusuLan in Burial Mounds? Wen Qing cannot see a universe where any sect would allow their heir to be raised in a place like the Burial Mounds, not if they had a choice, no matter the heir’s parentage. And the GusuLan sect in particular was fairly staunch about their bloodlines, she knew. They would not abandon one of their main clan to the tender mercies of Burial Mounds.
And it was obvious, to Wen Qing, that Lan Wangji did not know about his son.
How could he, if he came to visit Wei Wuxian but did not ask to see Zhenli?
So Wei Wuxian was raising the heir to GusuLan without anyone knowing who he actually was. GusuLan did not know that one of their own was here, just a small child, undernourished and lacking a parent.
What was Wei Wuxian thinking?
Why would he hide out here, with the ragged remnants of Wen Qing’s damned clan, when he could simply announce to the world who Zhenli’s father was, and immediately gain the protection of the most righteous cultivation sect?
With Zhenli’s looks, there was no denying the child’s parentage anyway.
And from the way Lan Wangji looked at Wei Wuxian- he wouldn’t try to deny it.
Why would Wei Wuxian throw all that happiness away? Why wasn’t the man married, happily, to Lan Wangji, living with his alpha and their son in the Cloud Recesses, never wanting for warmth or food or a comfortable bed?
Who would give up those things when they could have them?
Why wasn’t Wei Wuxian married to Lan Wangji, when both of them so clearly loved the other?
There are a great many things that she doesn’t understand, Wen Qing is just coming to realise, and she wonders if Wei Wuxian will always be on top of that list.
She will never understand Wei Wuxian, but she has enough respect for him that she will not doubt that he has his reasons.
She will never know if they are good reasons, but if there’s one thing she’s learned over the months she’s lived with Wei Wuxian- he always has a reason.
Perhaps, she thinks, it would be prudent to take a step back, and stop prying.
She has already solved the mystery of Zhenli’s parentage anyway, and now that she knows the answer, she knows that it is something she will take with her to her grave.
For Wei Wuxian, for the man who saved her family at the expense of his own, she can do that much.