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a lot can come from being in love with your captain

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The only person that hates away missions more than Nie Huaisang is the Chief Medical Officer, Wen Qing. Wen Qing is senior enough that she can make someone else do the away missions for her. Nie Huaisang almost considers gaining seniority so he wouldn’t have to go planetside, but that would mean spending less time cultivating his greenhouse. He loves his greenhouse. Going on a five year exploration mission was the easiest way to get his own xenoplant greenhouse – it’s a lab he converted into a garden, fully stocked with plants native to non-federation planets – and it has the added benefit of letting his brother keep an eye on him from his position as Chief Security Officer. He’s pretty sure his brother hates away missions as well, because Huaisang is often asked to go with the preliminary group to make sure the native plants and atmospheric pathogens will not be harmful to the crew, and Mingjue doesn't admit it but he is very protective of his brother. Huaisang just wants to grow his plants and make his greenhouse look nice. Putting himself in the path of hallucinogenic roses, man eating flytraps, and plant diseases that would wipe out half the crew is not something he’s especially keen to do, but he’s seen all of those.

He has to go to the planet they’re circling today. It’s called Qishan 4. The surrounding area was a Cardassian stronghold about five years ago, but all living things on the planet and on the planets in the area were wiped out. There has been no explanation for this, and long-range scans turned up nothing so Captain Lan requested he do a survey before they send an away team for real. Knowing protocol, it will be him, his brother, and Meng Yao, because Wen Qing would rather send her second in command than go to a planet herself. She’s apparently busy with the many cases of flu onboard at the moment.

Huaisang is so jealous.

Meng Yao and Nie Mingjue will no doubt bicker the whole way there, then when he’s giving his report to Captain Lan, Meng Yao will stand there on the bridge and smile and make doe eyes at Captain Lan, calling him “Lan Xichen,” like that’s not a major breach of protocol.

The worst part is Captain Lan doesn’t seem to mind.

They beam down, Nie Huaisang and Meng Yao begin to take samples. They walk aimlessly towards a nearby forest area, doing air samples first. Mingjue is scanning the rocky ground they’re standing on, looking for any sign of life. Huaisang is just about to pluck a pine needle off a tree when the ship loses power.

 

 

The ship never loses power. It’s impossible. There are backups of backups of backups, and Wei Wuxian’s inventive influence on the Engineering department means their backups will work even if every wire on the ship is destroyed.

Lan Xichen stands on the bridge as every single display goes blank. The only light is the from reflection coming off of the planet and the stars behind that. Wangji, sitting at the navigation station, looks around and narrows his eyes.

“Wei Wuxian doesn’t start his shift for another thirty minutes.” Wangji says in Standard.

Xichen nods, he turns to Wen Ning sitting at the communications desk. “Can you contact engineering? Why don’t we have backup power?”

He addresses the last question to the bridge as a whole. People love to blame Wei Wuxian’s exploits in engineering for the power failing randomly, but he would never put lives in danger for his experiments. The last three times something similar had happened it had not been due to Wei Wuxian, and the crew needlessly blaming him had caused two people to die.

Xichen has warned the crew not to jump to conclusions in these situations.

Wen Ning’s eyes are mostly black, as if his irises have swallowed the light from his eyes. They almost don't look like they're moving as he presses a series of buttons. There is no response.

“It’s like every circuit has overloaded at once, but there was no power surge.” Commander Luo says as she presses the turbolift door release button which doesn’t rely on ship power, but that doesn’t move either.

A few minutes ago Song Lan had finished upgrades to the bypass circuits for the navigation unit, and carefully fixed the casing back in place. Wangji has already removed the external casing again, but for the bypass unit to be at fault it would have to be a melted wreck. Song Lan leans over and looks in. “This would have blown if there was a surge,” and taps a thin wire in a glass tube, about a centimetre long. “It’s fine, so there hasn’t been an overload.”

Xichen nods, and Wangji looks up at him from where he is still poking around the interior circuits of the ship. “The planet’s gravity will cause us to enter the planet’s atmosphere in twenty-seven minutes. This should be enough time for me and Song Lan to reach the warp core.”

Commander Luo presses the door release button again, then shoves the turbolift door open with her hands. Every minute will help. If they are pulled into the planet’s atmosphere they may have to crash land. This ship was built in space and never designed to take off from atmosphere.

The turbolifts won’t work, but the shaft is connected to a Jefferies tube and the Jefferies tube network reaches engineering. Wangji and Song Lan are both Vulcanoid – Song Lan is part Romulan. The memories of Vulcanoid species is better than any other, and they should be able to find their way in the dark via memories of the Jefferies tube map while the lights are still out. Wen Ning hands Lan Wangji a radio communication device. Wangji has seen these in engineering textbooks and heard Wuxian talk about them, but never seen one in person. Wen Ning blushes as much as Wen Ning can blush. “Wei Wuxian made them.”

Wangji assumed as much. He follows Song Lan into the Jefferies tube.

 

 

The party on the ground notice something is wrong when Nie Mingjue tries to contact the ship and is met with silence. Huaisang starts slapping his tricorder, and Meng Yao is pressing buttons on his.

“My tricorder turned off.” Meng Yao says.

“Mine went blank but I thought I crashed it,” Huaisang turns to look at Meng Yao, “your suit has gone out.”

“Gone out?”

“The lights aren’t on right here.” Huaisang points to the indicator on his chest which shows the available oxygen level and whether the respiratory filtering systems are online.

“Is the air safe to breathe?” Meng Yao asks.

“I don’t know, I really don’t know,” Huaisang slaps his tricorder again.

Mingjue is still trying to contact the ship.

“I think the first report said yes, but I don’t know what toxins could be in the air. We should keep our helmets on because the mechanical air filtering is better than without, but I can’t say if the toxins in the air will make it into our suits… I just don’t know.” Huaisang pokes the air filtration light on Meng Yao’s chest again, just in case. Nothing happens.

Just over the small hill, something explodes.

Meng Yao is thrown by the blast onto Huaisang, and his helmet smashes against Huaisang’s as they crash to the floor. His ears are ringing.

Meng Yao tries to push himself off of Huaisang, but his arm gives out under his weight and he knows for sure that it’s broken. He glances at it to confirm his suit isn’t ripped.

He pushes himself onto his other arm and looks at Huaisang.

Huaisang’s helmet is cracked.

He looks around, searching for Mingjue. Mingjue is picking himself up off of the ground about thirty meters away. He looks fine, but you never know with Mingjue.

Meng Yao rolls off of Huaisang and pushes himself to his feet. Huaisang is whimpering like a big child, but he is not projecting the kind of pain that comes with a serious injury. Meng Yao stands still for a few seconds, trying not to pass out from the mix of adrenaline, pain, and low blood pressure rushing through his body. He thinks his eardrums will be fine. Mingjue hauls Huaisang to his feet.

Their suits still don’t have power.

Huaisang’s helmet is cracked, which means if there is a toxin in the air, he will be exposed first.

“We’re going over there.” Mingjue points to where the cloud of smoke is billowing.

 

 

Somewhere on the USS Yunmeng, inside a Jefferies tube, a young man materialises.

The ship’s power is still out.

He finds a console, and it switches on. Power returns to the data stores of the USS Yunmeng.

There is a single room allocation for someone who did not come aboard. In the darkness, the single room again becomes occupied by the previous owner, although his age in the databases has been changed from “23” to “19”.

Lan Sizhui is back on board.

 

 

Song Lan drops from the Jefferies tube hatch in the ceiling into engineering. It’s pitch black, not even the emergency lighting works. He moves out the way so Wangji can drop down behind him. The radios given to him by Wen Ning are also out, but the communications system will take time to regain power throughout the whole ship without overloading any circuits, so the radios will respond fastest when the power comes back.

“Hey who is that? Was that people jumping in here? A-Qing can you do the thing again?”

A-Qing starts to emit an eerie green light. Her species is semi-cave dwelling and can emit light as a predatory mechanism. A-Qing has not had to use this much in her life, so it costs her a lot.

Wei Wuxian is standing with her, one hand on her shoulder. He looks up, sees Wangji, and smiles. Wangji is fleetingly annoyed that he can be half-lit by a sickly green glow and he’s still the most gorgeous person Wangji has ever seen.

“A-Qing, you can stop. Why are you not in school, is Xiao Xingchen not there?” Song Lan asks. The room goes dark again.

“A-Chen didn’t want to leave the classroom when it went dark so he let me go and look for you. I met Senior Wei on the way here.”

Song Lan says nothing. In the dark no one can see his lips tighten. He knows he is more useful in engineering, but every part of him wants to take A-Qing back to where Xiao Xingchen is and protect them both. He addresses Wei Wuxian instead.

“Have you found why there’s no power?”

“Nope!”

“Can you get the power back?”

“Nope!”

Song Lan sometimes really hates him. But he’s the best head of engineering Song Lan has ever worked under despite his youth, so he doesn’t complain much.

“What can we do?” Lan Wangji asks.

“Well we can’t jump start the power because we have nothing to jump start it with. Even the backups and the escape pod power isn’t working. I’m relatively sure something else is causing this, so we need to prepare to evacuate or just wait for the power to come back.”

“You think the power will come back?”

“No idea. But it didn’t start immediately when we got here, so it’s not something the planet is causing. Either whatever is draining the power will stop and let power return to the system, or we will crash. We didn’t pick up anything significant on the scanners, and I’m pretty sure something capable of draining this much power would have shown up on scanners if it was biological, so we just have to wait until it exhausts itself.”

Wangji puts his hand out in the dark and holds Wuxian’s wrist. If he is injured, his Trill physiology makes it much harder to treat him than anyone else. Wangji needs to know where he is so he can put himself in the path of danger instead. He hears Wuxian take in a sharp breath, and decides he doesn’t care whether Wuxian is shocked or not. His protective instinct is stronger than the Vulcan culture pressuring him to take three steps away and keep his hands at parade rest. He is still careful not to touch any skin, because touching skin would mean hearing Wuxian’s thoughts, and he has never cared to invade anyone’s privacy that much.

 

 

The smoke doesn’t look like it will let up any time soon. Meng Yao walks carefully, trying not to jostle his broken arm. It’s hard to see what has been laid out on the ground through the clouds of smoke, but he can see some kind of massive array made of random stretches of wire – no, the more he looks, the more he sees that they are not random at all. There is some kind of circuit, a sigil patterned on the floor using wire, but each stretch of wire is made of a bundle of many kinds of wire, each stretch of wire is the same length, and each bundle contains the same number of each type of wire: some thick, some thin, some naked metal. The wires are not consistent along their length; someone has solded thick wire to thin wire and all different kinds of wire to each other. There is a very specific amount of resistance to current going through this sigil, and it looks like it is grounded directly into the earth with the naked metal bundles, but he doesn’t know enough about electrical engineering to confirm it. These are smoking and worn out in some areas, and one section of the sigil exploded. This area is still producing clouds of smoke, the whole array is about 50 meters wide, and the smoking area can’t be more than 3 meters square. It looks innocuous but their suits are still not working, and he’s pretty sure this is what is draining their power. Some part of it must be the part that can remotely drain power from their suits.

He wonders about the ship for a second, then dismisses it. If the ship is falling, they will see it enter the atmosphere.

There is a part of the array that looks out of place, with wires running out in a straight line to where there are boxes attached. It is hard to see through the smoke, so Meng Yao walks carefully around the sigil, not getting close to any of the wires or dislodging the ground at all. Mingjue follows him closely. Huaisang is trying to angle his head to see the pattern clearly through the crack in the glass. He notices them walking away and runs after them, calling “Wait! Wait! Wait for me!”

The boxes are old computers. He probably has as much computing power in his tricorder as there is in five of these. There are three old computers linked together, hard drives corded together, and they all seem to be plugged into a classic tricorder, which is then connected to the sigil. Meng Yao looks at the tricorder screen, which has been modified to show the command line of operations running in the tricorder. The same command is looping indefinitely, and it appears as “Sink.”

Meng Yao takes a risk. If it doesn’t work, all three of them will be dead and no one can prove that he was being stupid. He picks up the keyboard attached, and presses Ctrl then C.  

The tricorder screen enters a blank line.

The tricorder displays a new blank command prompt, ready for the next command.

Their suits come back online.

He’s so glad that worked.

“What did you do?” Mingjue asks.

“Well it was running from the command line, so I cancelled the command. And it stopped.” Meng Yao explains. He thought coding was a required part of becoming a Commander, let alone a Chief of any position on the ship.

“Not that. That.” Mingjue points.

The naked metal wires in the sigil are on fire.

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“We should gather these computers, I don’t know which one has the base code stored on it.” Meng Yao says. The tricorder is just the terminal, it’s unlikely the base code for whatever the sigil was doing was also written and operating on it, not with that many hard drives hooked up to it.

Two of the boxes are on fire. They look like they caught fire from within. Knowing Meng Yao’s luck, the vital code is probably on one of those.

He gathers the boxes he can without getting burnt, and drops one accidentally when he puts too much pressure on his broken arm. Huaisang rushes over to gather some and help him.

 

 

On the ship, the warp cores are generating power, but there it is none getting to the rest of the ship. The person who stole Lan Sizhui’s identity and Lan Sizhui’s quarters drops from a Jefferies tube in a corridor outside his allocated living quarters. He forces the doors open, and pulls the door controls out of the wall. He replaces the security protocols with his own, and as he enters the last command, he is suddenly slammed with the energy of an entire ship. The doors slide shut, the lights come on, and he passes out.

 

 

Wei Wuxian looks at Lan Zhan’s hand, still on his arm despite the lights being back on.

“I’ll take A-Qing back to the schoolroom and check everything is okay there. You report to the Captain.” Song Lan says to Lan Zhan, picking A-Qing up despite her being 11 now and definitely not needing to be carried by a man who is not her father, nor dating her father. She puts her arms around his neck anyway. She’s the bravest person Wei Wuxian has ever met, and she held herself together in that situation better than most adults he knows. He’s going to ask the Captain to give her a commendation or something, because she was invaluable. He thinks she deserves to get some comfort now, even though she would rather die than admit she wants it.

He also wants to see if he can make a light source that doesn’t rely on electricity or ship power so she doesn’t have to put herself in danger if that happens again.

Wei Wuxian puts his hand on Lan Zhan’s and gently pushes it off with a little smile.

“I need to check the power is returning correctly and won’t cause any faults while it does.” He says.

Wangji knows, because when Wuxian put his skin on Wangji’s skin, Wangji got a rush of worry about the ship, pride towards A-Qing, and affection towards him. He’s a little overwhelmed by everything, but he has a job to do, so he nods and heads back towards the bridge. He tries his communicator, and when that doesn’t respond, he presses the “connect” button on his radio.

“Power is back in Engineering, Wei Wuxian says it won’t short anything else out and we will be back to full power in 20 minutes. Life support systems and universal translator are back online and the temperature is returning to normal.” He says.

Wen Ning replies “Do we know if the power will go again?”

“He doesn’t think so, but we can’t be sure. I suggest we beam the others up and leave as soon as possible.”

His brother’s voice comes from the radio next. “Noted. Go to the transporter room next, we will try to restore communications with the landing team as soon as possible.”

“Yes Captain.”

It still feels strange to call his brother Captain. It still feels strange to be the First Officer and have the staff refer to him as their senior, but he’s getting used to it. He didn’t want much to do with command, wasn’t incredibly interested in the science, and has always been better at fixing than innovating so he took a tactics, security, and command route through Starfleet academy, and it suited him perfectly. He gets to explore, he gets to walk on new worlds, and he doesn’t have to write reports unless they get into a battle.

Most of the battles they get into in this part of space are with Cardassians. After they abandoned the quadrant, they send ships back sporadically to scavenge. They’ve never encountered a scavenger ship because they are fast and usually avoid Federation ships at all costs, but the war ships that the scavenger ships return to are brutal and uncompromising. They’ve apprehended several trying to scavenge from pre-space flight civilisations.

By the time he reaches the transporter room, comms are back online.

“Commander Lan to Lieutenant Commander Wei.”

“Wei Wuxain here.”

“Can you restore power to the transporter room first? We need a decontamination field.”

“On it.”

Wei Wuxian works fast. In less than three minutes, a containment field is active, and Nie Mingjue has contacted with a request for non-emergency medical aid to meet them in the transporter room. 

Wen Qing meets Lan Wangji in the transporter room with a medical tricorder and a crease between her eyebrows.

The crew beams aboard, and drops their armfuls of computing material. Decontamination takes half a minute while Meng Yao explains what happened. Wen Qing asks for them to be decontaminated again after they take off their suits, and the suits ventilation systems will be fully replaced if Huaisang finds something harmful in the samples he kept hold of.

Lan Wangji comms Xichen to ask that they take detailed scans of the sigil on the surface before they move away from the planet.

When the containment field drops, Wen Qing moves forward with her medical tricorder and scans Huaisang, then Mingjue, then Meng Yao.

“You should all come to medbay in case of contamination from the planet. I can’t find any trace of anything wrong yet, but Mingjue you have a cracked rib, and Meng Yao your wrist is broken and you strained your neck.”

Mingjue shoots a look at Meng Yao. He hates it when his team don’t disclose their injuries. Meng Yao smiles serenely back. He’s one to talk, given the broken rib he didn’t mention.

In medbay, Wen Qing directs staff members to begin scanning Mingjue and Huaisang. She brings Meng Yao to a table and starts scanning him herself.

Meng Yao is a unique mix of Betazoid, Orion, and human physiology, so she usually treats him herself.  His father was human, and his mother was a mix of Betazoid and Orion. Although Orions have green skin, Meng Yao only looks green in specific lighting or when he is sick due to the human and Betazoid parts of him being much stronger. He has the pure black irises of a Betazoid, and while full Betazoids can hear other people’s thoughts, Meng Yao can only feel their emotions. He’s invaluable in Medbay because he knows immediately who is in most pain, and can usually talk them through it because he can tell immediately what kind of effect his words are having, and from that, what words his patient needs to hear.

Wen Qing stares at the scan showing his bloodwork. There doesn’t appear to be any toxins in his bloodstream, but any virus will need time to incubate before he begins showing symptoms.

“Do I need to store some blood?” Meng Yao asks.

His blood is a mix of Betazoid and human, so he usually provides the blood for his own transfusions, although Betazoid will do in a pinch. There are no other Betazoids on board. If he needs a transfusion, now is the best time to take blood. Wen Qing shakes her head.

“We have enough in stasis, you should be okay.”

Captain Lan strides through the medbay doors, and directly to Meng Yao.

“Are you feeling okay?”

Natural for Xichen to check he is feeling okay before he asks any further questions.

“I’m okay, we can’t find any pathogens or toxins in my blood, so I think I might have been lucky. Huaisang’s helmet cracked, so if anyone inhaled toxins, it will be him.”

Xichen puts his hand on his arm, and Meng Yao gasps and goes pale.

Xichen pulls his hand away like he’s been burned and his eyes go wide.

Meng Yao regrets causing Xichen any worry, but he can’t complain about the obvious worry on his face. He still can’t come to terms with Xichen honestly caring about him, but every little act that proves it just a little more makes his heart swell and his hands shake.

He’s aware that he’s in love with his Captain. He is the bastard son of a Betazoid Orion slave and the human who bought her for a night then threw her onto the street. He wants to be more than his origins, but he is weighed down by them every time a patient flinches away when they learn his name.

Xichen has never hesitated to touch him or treat him like any other human being.

He had thought Xichen’s politeness was customary, but he realised around the seventh time Xichen sought him out to spend time, drink coffee, eat a meal, that maybe Xichen genuinely likes him for him.

That had never happened before.

Wen Qing likes him because he is a good worker, and good with patients. Mingjue likes him because he is efficient and will stop at nothing to get a job done, even if he uses underhanded methods. Huaisang likes him because he cleans up his messes and lies to his brother for him. Wangji likes him because he doesn’t talk much.

No one has ever liked him because he is who he is.

He feels a little guilty for falling for the first person to show him basic kindness, but Xichen inspires love in all kinds of ways. It has been years since they first met, and he has only fallen further with every brilliant thing Xichen does. He is endlessly kind and patient, and Meng Yao does not deserve him. He is more than his beginnings, but he has taken dark paths to be where he is. He values every second that Xichen will give him, but he knows he will taint Xichen’s brilliance if Xichen knows him any deeper.

He hates it, but the choices he made led him here.

He ruins everything he touches. He will not ruin Xichen.

That doesn’t mean he can fall out of love, though.

Wen Qing taps the medical tricorder positioned at his wrist. “His bone will be healed soon. Be patient, Captain.”

Captain Lan’s ears go green. He is unlike every other Vulcan Meng Yao has ever met. He smiles, he is expressive, he wears his hair long. He laughs often. He holds Vulcan principles in eating and in his actions, but he displays emotion freely and is never ashamed of it. His mother was human, and he would think Xichen has more human in him than his brother if he had not personally felt the way Lan Wangji projects his all too human emotions whenever he is around Wei Wuxian.

Xichen is an excellent captain.

“Tell me about the sigil.” Captain Lan says.

Meng Yao recounts everything he can remember about the setup of the wires. The device repairing his bone beeps.

“Okay. You will have to tell Lieutenant Wei this as well. He’s currently looking at the equipment you brought back, but he says the hard drives were corrupted as soon as the operation stopped, so we still know nothing.”

“Did the suits start recording when the power came back?” Meng Yao asks, massaging along his arm to make sure the bone has healed correctly.

“Yes, but through the smoke there’s very little to be seen.”

“What was the thing on the floor?” He asks, trying to sit up. Wen Qing shoves him back down and continues scanning near his left foot. If anything is in his blood, it will have entered near his lungs. She’s being too thorough, but he’s touched she’s this protective of him. Or maybe she just doesn’t want her crew to get sick.

“The sigil? We don’t know because we can’t see the whole thing, but Wei Wuxian has some theories. When you are cleared, come to the conference room and we will discuss more.”

Meng Yao nods. Wen Qing scans the inside of his wrist. Lan Xichen touches his shoulder, smiles, and moves to talk to Nie Huaisang, presumably to tell him the same. He sighs and Wen Qing shoots him a look. He tries to limit his pining around her because she can’t stand it, but sometimes he’s got to let the self-pity flow. He can feel she is not truly annoyed, but she projects a specific feeling of impatience whenever he is around Xichen. She’s told him many times to just confess, but he can’t.

For one, he wouldn’t do that to Xichen. Xichen deserves better than him. And for another, he can’t be sure Xichen returns his feelings. Xichen is half-Vulcan, so his mental shielding is better than anyone else’s aboard, even his brother. Xichen prefers to express his emotions through his words and his actions, and he likes to touch people. He keeps his shields up constantly so he is not invading anyone’s privacy. He told Meng Yao once that he debated not allowing people to touch him so he can relax his shields, but he prefers to be able to comfort people with a touch to the shoulder or a gentle nudge if possible. If he can feel his crew are physically okay, he gets a more robust trust in his leadership abilities. Meng Yao thinks it is very stupid to keep shields up constantly, and Xichen probably gets headaches like no other, but he can’t fault his dedication to leadership.

Xichen puts other people first, every time. Meng Yao does not want to ruin him.

Wen Qing finishes her scan. “I think you’re fine, but if you feel anything wrong you come to me immediately, okay?”

Meng Yao smiles genuinely at her. “Thank you Doctor Wen.”

 

 

Wen Yuan collapses on the bed. It is not made, and the room is bare. He will have to steal some supplies from around the ship. He is beyond exhausted despite his energy reserves being uncomfortably full. The ships lights are back on which means his sigil has been destroyed or deactivated, and he wonders whether they found the transporter he pulled out of an old Cardassian vessel and crudely repaired. It left his head spinning and his guts churning, but it worked.

He thinks he has succeeded. He is on board, and he is safe. The ship will recognise him as Lan Sizhui. The only thing he is missing is a way to get off the ship. If he is scanned by any tricorder or transports using a Federation transporter it will immediately be obvious that he is not who he says he is.

He is one of the Dafan. His people were wiped out by the Wen branch of the Cardassians, and only a few small villages are left on periphery planets. He is not welcome there because he was raised in a Cardassian colony. He cannot emigrate to another planet because if the Cardassians know he is alive he would be killed before he could beg for asylum. He has been waiting for a Federation ship to come by so he can stow away. There are no Cardassians in the Federation. If he can get to another star system, he can live anywhere. Living by himself off a dilapidated cruiser he uses to scavenge metal from the city on the planet one star system over is no life. He has never known comfort like the softness of the bed he is lying on. His back hurts a little.

He drags the blanket and the cushion to the ground and falls asleep. His problems can wait until he has slept.

He doesn’t wake for 14 hours.

 

 

In the conference room, everyone settles. Wei Wuxian starts.

“I can’t see enough of the sigil design or the wire setup to say how it works or what it is. We know it drained our power, but we were in orbit for 10 minutes before the drain started. Either it took time to start, or someone activated it who took 10 minutes to find out we were in orbit to make other preparations. On the ground all that was discovered was the sigil and the archaic computers where the power draining program was used. The power draining program was automatically corrupted beyond comprehension when the power drain stopped.

“There are three possibilities. One, this is an automated program that started when we entered orbit but was faulty. Two, someone set this trap for us then ran away. Three, someone used our power to do something. The third option is the most likely.” He finishes, still holding the old tricorder from the sigil.

Commander Luo taps the table, and she says “There were no life signs on the planet when we scanned. But then again, this is one of the most advanced pieces of technology I’ve ever seen, capable of draining a Galaxy class ship. Cloaking technology would be nothing next to that.”

Captain Lan nods. “We also have not seen this sort of device anywhere else. This planet is a random one to choose to put a trap on.”

“The people here were wiped out five years ago. We don’t know how that happened. It could have been with a virus or toxin, or it could have been using something like this sigil. Or it could be left by the people of the planet for the Cardassians, or by the Cardassians for passers-by so no one who investigated would find the proof of the massacre.” Mingjue says.

Wei Wuxian gets an odd look on his face. “The people here were not rich, and this took a lot of metal and equipment.”

Commander Luo speaks again, “There’s a junkyard on the outskirts of a city a few planets over. If they had transport there and back, it wouldn’t be hard to get the materials for cheap.”

Wei Wuxian’s face doesn’t lose the odd look.

Meng Yao speaks up. “Something exploded, which is why we were injured. The sigil still worked after the blast, so whatever exploded was either being fuelled by the sigil or not part of how the sigil worked. I think our power was used for something.”

Mingjue nods. He has a brilliant tactical mind in fights, but misses the obvious when it comes to deception. He’s all about honour and plain fighting. If not for Huaisang being born from the same parents, Meng Yao would think there’s some Klingon in him.

Captain Lan’s gaze searches Meng Yao’s face. “Nothing has happened. If our power was used for something, it has failed, or it hasn’t happened to us yet.”

“Or we haven’t found it. Or it was to make our suits fail so we get infected by the toxin and poison everyone on the ship.” Huaisang is radiating nervous misery.

Meng Yao struggles not to smile. “If it was just to infect the ship, they really overshot. Only our suits needed to fail to infect us.”

Huaisang’s misery doesn’t lessen, but the anxiety does. He continues after a look from Captain Lan. “Oh yes, yes, yes, the air I sampled didn’t contain any toxins known to any of the species on board, but we know the species that lived on this planet was one we haven’t got record of. There are rumours they fed off electricity, but I don’t know how that could work. There are a lot of virus and pathogen particles in the air but none are life threatening to humanoids. I didn’t get a very long time to analyse the effect of each one, though.” Huaisang pulls out a padd and scrolls through the list of identified virus and pathogen particles. It’s long.

Captain Lan’s eyes are smiling, even if he is trying to keep a professional straight face for the sake of the meeting. “We will run more detailed scans of the area to see if someone is living there. When the smoke clears we will take more detailed photos of the sigil so you can figure out what it does,” Wei Wuxian nods, “and we will not be sending anyone else to the surface in case there are more traps waiting for us. We are operating under the idea that this is a Cardassian trap, and we will not enter into orbit of other planets until we have scanned for similar setups.”

Wen Ning looks up from his hands, and Captain Lan immediately looks at him and nods so he will speak. Meng Yao’s heart melts a little. Xichen has chosen his senior staff carefully, and Commander Yu has been phasing out her time at the communications station on the bridge and training Wen Ning. Xichen knows Lieutenant Wen doesn’t speak loudly and isn’t confident, but he is insightful and when he speaks his comments are always valuable. Xichen is always aware of the mood of the room, sometimes more than Meng Yao is, and Meng Yao can literally feel what people around him are feeling.

Wen Ning has been getting more confident with every chance he is given to speak. “The scanners were down during the power outage, so we don’t know what happened on the ship in that time. I started a diagnostic check to make sure everything is running before we travel too far.”

Xichen nods at him, pleased. “Any new developments, please come to me. Dismissed.”

Everyone gets up. Commander Luo asks Meng Yao if Wen Qing is still on shift, and when he responds that she is, he gets a burst of happiness mixed with mischievousness as she goes to spend some time distracting her. There’s not anything important happening at the moment, and as Chief Science Officer she can assist Huaisang with his scans while she’s there. Meng Yao lets her have her fun. He knows what it’s like to have a hopeless crush.

Xichen puts his hand on Meng Yao’s shoulder and smiles at him. Meng Yao feels a headache coming on. He’s been through too much today to be faced with Xichen’s endless warmth and not collapse into him. He smiles back.

From across the room, Lan Wangji’s emotions are the loudest, as per usual. He doesn’t display any of them on his face but the man feels more deeply than anyone else on board. Wei Wuxian laughs at something Wen Ning says and Meng Yao feels like he has been stabbed with an iron poker of jealousy. Meng Yao pulls Xichen towards the door, mumbling something about coffee.

 

 

Wen Yuan wakes up and has no idea where he is or what is going on. He still feels uncomfortably full of energy. He takes a shower, cuts his own hair with some scissors he gets from the replicator, and ties it into a low ponytail. His hair reaches halfway down his back – living by himself, why should he care about his hair? He finds some patterns of clothes in the replicator, picks the most muted and non-descript, and replicates some of them as well. He is clean, dry, well dressed, and well fed. He slept under a duvet, and even though the bed was too soft, the floor was nice.

He is basking. He thinks he will stay where he is for as long as possible. If he is discovered, it will be soon. If he manages to make it past the critical time where everyone is looking for him, he can stay for as long as he wants. He checks the time and notes it has been 15 hours since he boarded. If he hasn’t been discovered yet, they haven’t got around to looking for each individual person on this ship yet. The list of people aboard was over 4,000 when he was stealing his new identity. He wonders how easy it is to check each person.

There was a list of young people who are aboard for school. He opens the console in the wall, chooses a random user identity to use to log in, and begins to look through the ship schedules and details. He thinks he can replicate everything he needs for the room, so he will not have to steal anything. It also looks like staff members have jobs, but job hours are reduced for time spent volunteering in other places in the ship, including the bar (called Carp Tower for some reason) and the schools. He looks through the details in the schools sections, and wonders whether it would be more or less conspicuous to join classes at this point. He looks into the boarding records of new people and sees that four days previous they had docked at a space station and gained three new class members, so joining now and pretending he was ill for the first four days would not raise unnecessary suspicion.

He scrolls through the names of teachers and their classes idly, appreciating that this ship does old fashioned one on one teaching as well as standard computerised teaching, when one name makes the blood freeze in his veins.

Wei Wuxian.

 

 

Wei Wuxian heads to the school quarters after his shift. He restored the power to all the ship systems, and hasn’t stopped thinking about what could cause a drain so fast and thorough. He also hasn’t seen Jin Ling since the power went down and he’d like to make sure his nephew is okay seen as his Shijie and Jiang Cheng have another two hours on each of their shifts. He wouldn’t put it past Jin Ling to get knocked out by tripping over something in the dark then hide until the bruises faded so no one would know he did something stupid.

The school rooms are oddly subdued today. He guesses this is because they have no more information than they all do about what caused the power drain, and they’re worried. He trusts Xiao Xingchen to keep the calm, especially if Song Lan is helping out. Song Lan came back to engineering after dropping A-Qing off, but was so distracted Wei Wuxian sent him away after an hour. He didn’t really need the help anyway.

There are several school rooms, sorted by age group. There’s a nursery at the far edge, and classrooms and recreation rooms closer to the entrance. There’s one small laboratory tucked in for basic science experiments which Wei Wuxian always finds very funny. Some of the galaxy leading experts in every field of science you could imagine are aboard this ship, his siblings included, but they have a tiny laboratory in the school quarters just for making flames turn different colours.

He sort of wants to run a demonstration in there. It looks fun. The kind of science where you can blow things up for the sake of blowing things up.

Jin Ling isn’t in any of the rooms he’s supposed to be in, but the ship’s computer told Wei Wuxian he was here, which means he’s with the babies. He often spends time with the very young children after his classes end because Xiao Xingchen is stretched pretty thin after the rescheduling of volunteer hours put more hands in the labs and less in the school.

Jin Ling is standing with Song Lan, and he has a very small child in his arms that Wei Wuxian knows was taken from an orphanage on a planet about two months ago because the orphanage was about to be demolished and she was the only baby without a home. Xiao Xingchen took her in and adopted her immediately. A-Qing was delighted to have a baby sister, but she’s not so delighted at how tired Xiao Xingchen is all the time now. Song Lan has been spending every evening since Xingchen adopted the child in Xingchen’s quarters, under the guise of helping him out with the kids. Song Lan has never been so happy with such a heavy heart before.

Song Lan and A-Qing are standing beside them, and Song Lan has one finger in the tiny chubby hand of the baby. A-Qing is nearly asleep standing up, leaning heavily on Song Lan’s leg. Song Lan’s other hand is on her head.

Wei Wuxian wonders why Jin Ling is holding the child, and not Xiao Xingchen or Song Lan.

“Jin Ling!”

He rushes up to stand with Jin Ling and pats his shoulders as he inspects him, making sure he is not injured.

Jin Ling’s eyes go a little scared, and he tries to move away while not jostling the baby too much.

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone you’re cuddling the baby.”

“Uncle, you are the worst. She was upset and Song Lan wasn’t here yet, so I picked her up to stop her crying. Not because I enjoy cuddling her.”

Wei Wuxian pats his head gently. “Of course not.”

Song Lan has a faint smile on his face. “Thank you for helping, Jin Ling. I really appreciate it.”

“It’s empty in here today, what happened to all the kids?” Wei Wuxian asks.

“It happens every time something big happens on the ship,” Song Lan says, “parents get off shift early to come and pick their kids up. Xiao Xingchen is just clearing up the other room.”

Wei Wuxian nods. He hasn’t had cause to come to the schooling areas after a red alert before, usually he’s too busy repairing parts of the ship. Or he caused the red alert by accidentally exploding something remotely and someone overreacted and thought they were under attack.

“Is that Wei Wuxian? Jin Ling? Why are you still here?” Xiao Xingchen walks into the room holding a braille padd. His eyes are covered by a red piece of cloth today, and it is being used to keep his hair out of his face at the same time.

Jin Ling’s face goes bright red. He respects Xiao Xingchen a lot, and every time he is praised by him he blushes painfully. You’d think he would stop blushing after studying with the man for two years, but apparently not. Maybe he is less embarrassed about blushing because he knows Xiao Xingchen cannot see him blush. Xiao Xingchen’s species navigate with a mix of sonar and sight, but Xiao Xingchen lost his eyes and does not want a transplant, so he relies solely on the sonar echo-location.

Naturally, Xiao Xingchen cannot know Jin Ling is blushing unless someone tells him.

“Oh Jin Ling, you’re blushing!” Wei Wuxian pokes his cheek. “You are my cutest nephew! To be honest, if Xiao Xingchen praised me, I would blush too.”

Xiao Xingchen smiles. Song Lan reflexively smiles in response. He always smiles when Xiao Xingchen smiles. Xiao Xingchen is the most beautiful person Song Lan has ever seen, and his joy lights Song Lan up inside as well. Song Lan may be one quarter Romulan, but seeing Xiao Xingchen smile turns him into a hopeless romantic mess of a human every time.

“Thank you for looking after A-Qing and restoring power so fast earlier, Wei Wuxian. It was odd being the only one who was able to see.”

A-Qing wakes up slightly from where she is falling asleep against Song Lan, thumps Wei Wuxian in the stomach once and smiles at him, then goes back to dozing.

Xiao Xingchen’s heart swells at how comfortable his daughter is with Song Lan. When he first adopted her five years ago Song Lan was uncomfortable around both of them for a long while. After Xue Yang left he was more comfortable, but not at ease. Xiao Xingchen didn’t intend to run the school on the USS Yunmeng, but after Xue Yang took his sight in a fit of anger and left, he can’t do security as well as he used to. He’s still useful when they need a scout of a totally dark area, but he is a liability when he can’t tell what colours things are, or when he is in an environment that is moving too fast for him to process.

He likes working with the kids. He has a lot of knowledge to share, and it is nice to be needed and not have to justify his usefulness every time he wants to do anything. Before he started here, he was kept in his room, sent once a week to do useless menial tasks in the armouries that are better done by Ensigns looking to fill their time sheets.

He can’t even train in the holosuites now, because the holograms don’t reflect sound like they should, so he can’t see what he’s fighting. Nie Mingjue trains with him once a week. Lan Wangji trains with him whenever he can. He is fundamentally useful aboard the Yunmeng, and he is thriving. He also has a family, and he is glad his job doesn’t put him in danger.

If only he could find a way to invite Song Lan into his family for real. Song Lan is his dearest friend and closest companion. They have been through so much in their lives and Xiao Xingchen has fallen further for him with every new thing Song Lan does. But he has never made decisions for Song Lan, and he is afraid of Song Lan leaving the place he has carved out in their lives if he pushes for Song Lan’s love and Song Lan feels that Xiao Xingchen is being presumptuous and draws away.

Song Lan is too kind and does things out of the goodness of his heart. They have too much history.

He makes himself melancholy too much these days.

Wei Wuxian exclaims, “No problem! Jin Ling give the child back to her father, we should go and find your mother.”

Jin Ling is very careful in handing the bundle of blankets over to Xiao Xingchen. “Does she have a name yet?”

Xiao Xingchen’s head is tilted a little. His equivalent of staring adoringly at his child is getting the best angle for the sonar reflection. “Not yet. We’ll think of something.”

Song Lan’s eyes flicker across Xiao Xingchen’s face, and his expression softens.

Wei Wuxian idly hopes he has more control over his face when he looks at Lan Zhan.

“Senior Xiao, I would like to teach more in the next few weeks if you have time for me!” Wei Wuxian says.

“Of course, I always appreciate another teacher around here. I can organise some high level tutoring with the senior students, but you are always welcome to teach the younger students as well. I will send you the free slots in the timetable.”

“Thank you senior! We will leave first, enjoy your evening! You make a beautiful family!” Wei Wuxian tugs Jin Ling out of the room as he speaks, so the others don’t see Jin Ling hit him on the arm and hiss, “Shameless.”

Song Lan blushes but A-Qing is asleep, and Xiao Xingchen can’t see him blush anyway. He picks A-Qing up again and goes home with them.

 

 

Meng Yao’s headache only gets worse through the day. He’s used to headaches, especially when he hasn’t slept well. He runs into Jin Ling, Jin Zixuan, Jiang Yanli, Jiang Cheng, and Wei Wuxian in the corridor walking and talking and emoting too loudly for his head to handle. He wishes his shields would work better, but he just can’t get them to work at the moment. They quiet a little when he walks past. Jiang Yanli smiles softly at him.

“I’ve made some lotus root and pork rib soup if you’d like to join us for a meal, Meng Yao.” She says. She is one of the kindest people Meng Yao has ever met.

He smiles back. “Thank you, Lieutenant Commander Jiang. I have a headache, so I think I’m going to go and sleep instead. Next time, though.” His bad mood has lifted a little. He would feel awkward intruding on their family time, as big as their family is. He has a fleeting thought that if Lan Wangji finally told Wei Wuxian what he feels every time they’re in the same room, then the Lans would be part of this family too. He is always comfortable around Xichen, so if Xichen was there too, maybe… He stops himself from getting too deep into a pointless fantasy.

Wei Wuxian’s brows are furrowed, and he knocks his shoulder against Jiang Cheng’s. 

“Hey, I’m going to invite Lan Zhan. I haven’t seen him since the power went out, and he overworks himself when things like this happen.” Wei Wuxian says.

Jiang Yanli looks delighted. “Good, I made enough for about ten people. A-Cheng, you should invite Huaisang as well.”

Jiang Cheng goes bright red. Meng Yao doesn’t think he’s ever seen Jiang Cheng, who is usually pale and quick to anger, go quite this colour. “I already did. He’s waiting for us outside your quarters.”

Wei Wuxian’s smile goes mischievous and he bumps Jiang Cheng’s shoulder again. “Shameless! Eh, Jin Ling, when are you going to invite someone over for a meal?”

Jin Ling scrunches up his nose. He says to Meng Yao, “Goodbye Senior Meng.” Before walking pointedly away.

Jin Zixuan laughs at his son striding away. “I expect you to take us up on the offer next time, Lieutenant Commander Meng.” He pats Meng Yao on the shoulder and follows his son. The rest of the group follow, some waving or smiling to Meng Yao as they pass. Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng are still bickering, Jiang Cheng insisting he doesn’t have a crush on Nie Huaisang while Wei Wuxian lists all the things Jiang Cheng bought last time they had shore leave that he either hasn’t used or have mysteriously turned up in Nie Huaisang’s quarters.

Meng Yao longs for a family dynamic like that. He hopes the next time they invite him is soon.

 

 

After all the scans have been taken of the surface, Lan Xichen decides to direct the ship out of orbit and take detailed scans of the planets in the star system. Starfleet has not given them a lot of time to explore this system, and in a few days they should be moving on to a nearby system to plot some uncharted stars. Star charting is the dullest part of space travel, so he’s collecting as much data from here as possible to give the crew something to do when they’re stuck in the same place doing nothing for the coming weeks.

There is a planet with a small city population nearby. After the scans are done on this planet, if the data turns up nothing, they will head there to ask more information about what happened here. He’s intrigued by the idea that the Cardassians left traps for research vessels so their crimes would not be discovered, and he wants to ensure this isn’t true by talking to some locals. He has no idea who to send for this mission, because if they are obviously Starfleet asking about Cardassian war crimes, they will likely get no answers from Cardassian sympathisers.

He asked Wangji, who told him to ask Wei Wuxian, because he had lived in this area for a while after running from the Jiang family planet when the politics had fallen apart and the planet was being reclaimed. Wei Wuxian had assumed the political turmoil was because of him, and fled for four years, living in all kinds of places before he turned up at Starfleet academy. Wangji has not been able to get the full story out of him, but he knows some general locations. He tells him to ask Wen Qing and Wen Ning because they were both born in the neighbouring star system, even if they didn’t stay for long.

Wangji finally lets a glint come into his eye. “You should also ask Meng Yao. He is good at getting information out of people. He has finished his shift and has gone back to his quarters.” Wangji hands over the console he is using to the gamma shift Ensign. “I am eating with the Jiang family tonight. Have a good evening.”

Xichen hates when his brother makes fun of him because no one else can tell that he’s doing it, and it would be bad for a Captain to hit his First Officer while on duty.

He goes to see Meng Yao.

Before he buzzes the door, he takes a deep breath and reminds himself to keep his hands off of Meng Yao. His shielding is good, but skin to skin contact with another telepath is always dicey, especially when emotions are running high. Meng Yao’s pained face from earlier is still in his memory, and guilt flashes through him every time he remembers.

He buzzes. The door opens. The lights are low, probably at 30%.

Meng Yao is at the replicator, leaning a little against the wall, and although he is the best of the whole crew at acting there are pained lines around his eyes.

“Captain Lan, how can I help you?”

“I’m off duty, no need for titles here. A-Yao, are you okay?”

Meng Yao smiles slightly. “Er-ge. How can I help you? Sorry, I have a slight headache, so I am not up to much.”

Slight headache for Meng Yao means he must be in too much pain to see clearly. Xichen strides over to him and puts his hand on his forehead, which is burning up. The ‘no touching’ thing really lasted a long time. He sighs at himself, but his worry for A-Yao is overriding everything else.

“A-Yao you are burning up. Have you been to see Doctor Wen?” Xichen moves his hands from A-Yao’s forehead to his shoulders.

“No, I had thought this was just a migraine from not sleeping and everything that happened today. I was about to comm Medbay.” A-Yao’s careful façade breaks a little, and some of the pain he is feeling leaks onto his face. Xichen’s protective instincts nearly overcome him. A-Yao will work tirelessly to get an advantage for himself, but ignore his own basic needs. For such a clever person, he’s also the stupidest person Xichen has ever met. He doesn’t need to do all the things that he does to inspire friendship in others. If only he would let down the mask and let himself make real friendships with other people, he wouldn’t feel like he has to work so hard to get people to like him. Xichen has been trying to show him this since they first met, and with every inkling of the real A-Yao he sees, the one who will play music with him, the one who will talk with him about nothing while they watch the stars race by, the one who teases him about the green of his ears when people compliment his brother, the one who’s eyes can’t stay open when he laughs honestly, he falls a little more in love.

He’s not sure whether A-Yao values the persona he has crafted more than he values Xichen.

A-Yao is so obsessed with the person he could be that he never stops to see that people around him love the person he is.

Xichen guides him to sit on the bed, leaning back against the headboard. He smooths his hand over A-Yao’s forehead again, and cups his neck briefly. He goes back to the replicator and begins to plug in the code for simple vegetable broth and he comms Medbay. “Captain Lan here, can we get a medical tricorder and some painkillers to Lieutenant Commander Meng’s quarters.”

“On my way.” Wen Qing responds.

Her shift was meant to be up hours ago. He wonders if Commander Luo has been distracting her this whole time.

Xichen brings the broth to A-Yao.

“I’m not sick, er-ge, it’s just a headache. I don’t need the soup.”

“I know you’re not sick, but if it is just a headache you’re probably dehydrated. You need to eat anyway. Drink the broth.” Xichen hands him the broth and sits on his bed while he slowly takes sips. He wonders what else he can do for A-Yao here.

A-Yao keeps his eyes mostly closed. The light must be painful. “Did you need something, er-ge?”

“It can wait until tomorrow, I just wanted your advice. You haven’t been sleeping?” Xichen asks.

“I’ve been struggling. I never sleep well on my own, I’m used to sleeping with other people’s emotions near me, sleeping in silence is strange.”

Xichen blinks. He has never thought of this. Being Betazoid means very little privacy in your own head, but seen as it is a lifelong experience, having others’ feelings hitting you is as normal as feeling the breaths in your lungs. It must be like going to sleep without being able to feel the bed underneath you. Or like being forced to sleep in silence when you like the lull of white noise. Or maybe neither. He hasn’t experienced it, so he doesn’t know. For Xichen, feeling other people’s emotions means he has to be touching them. It is sometimes a little painful, because psi-null species have no telepathic abilities and don’t know how to soften their emotions. Sometimes it feels like a stab when a human touches him and their emotions slam into his heart, bright and overwhelming.

Xichen lowers his shields. Meng Yao glances up at him, surprised. He is earnest when he says, “I can sleep here, if that would make you more comfortable.”

“Wei Wuxian has been trying to make something to simulate emotions for me, you don’t have to make yourself uncomfortable for m-“

Xichen leans over, puts a hand on his arm, and interrupts him. “It wouldn’t be making me uncomfortable. If you trust me enough to have me here, I would be honoured to help you sleep.”

Xichen is filled with a longing that almost doesn’t feel like his own. A-Yao’s face is open. Xichen is always honoured when A-Yao shows him what he is truly feeling, but seeing his emotions written so plainly over his features is odd. He looks shocked, but also so touched that he doesn’t know what to do with it. Xichen can feel the echoes of these emotions through the hand on his arm. He’s barely touching any skin, just one finger missing the sleeve and laid over his wrist, so he isn’t getting very much. It’s enough though. A-Yao feels overwhelmed. The amount of pain he is in is upsetting to Xichen even though the channel of emotions is only going through one finger.

Vulcan kissing is different from human kissing. In Vulcan kissing they press two fingers against two fingers, and let a tiny surge of emotion run through the small contact area. Vulcan hands are especially sensitive in general and specifically sensitive to telepathy. He is almost kissing A-Yao’s wrist, but A-Yao doesn't know what this gesture means.

The door chimes.

He pulls his hand away and says, “Enter.”

The longing he is feeling doesn’t lessen, but he gets control over it before he turns to see Wen Qing enter.

“Captain, Lieutenant.”

“No titles here, Qing-jie. Has Huaisang made any progress?”

“He found some viruses that we don’t have vaccines for yet, but we’re getting to making those.”

She scans A-Yao, and Xichen sits with his hands in his lap, watching. A-Yao finishes his broth and leans his head back against the wall. Xichen takes the bowl and goes to the replicator to recycle it, glad of something to do.

Wen Qing finishes the scan and gives A-Yao the painkillers.

“You’ve contracted one of the viruses from the planet. As far as I can tell the headache and the other symptoms should pass in the next twenty-four hours, but your unique genetic makeup could make you react strangely. You should rest today and tomorrow, I’m giving you the day off of work. You also shouldn’t be infectious. It’s odd that you reacted so fast to this, when you feel better you need to come and have bloods taken so we can figure out why you reacted so strongly.”

She stands up.

“Thank you, A-Qing.” A-Yao says, and opens his eyes so he can smile at her. He is only getting paler.

Wen Qing turns to Xichen. “Stay with him tonight.”

Xichen was going to anyway, but he’s glad he has an excuse. A-Yao looked like he was trying to find a way to turn him down earlier. He hasn’t put his shields back up, so he’s sure A-Yao can feel his relief at being told to stay but he can’t bring himself to care. If he knows Xichen loves him, then he knows. Xichen wouldn’t ask him for more than his company and he hopes A-Yao knows that too. He also cannot tell A-Yao outright, because he is the Captain and A-Yao’s superior officer.

Wen Qing shoots an amused smile at A-Yao, who glares a little before closing his eyes and relaxing his head back against the wall. She leaves, nodding at Xichen.

Xichen gets some sleep clothes from the replicator.

“A-Yao, you will feel better if you shower before you sleep.”

A-Yao makes to stand up and sways so heavily Xichen has to catch him before he falls. He lays A-Yao on the bed and pulls the cover over him. Maybe he will not have a shower before he sleeps.

Xichen prepares himself for sleep, tying his hair back and changing.

He sits on A-Yao’s floor and meditates to the sound of his breathing for a while. Vulcans need less sleep than other species, so he is using this as an excuse to bask in A-Yao’s totally trusting and unguarded presence. He hopes his meditation helps to calm A-Yao as well.

He gets into bed next to the sleeping A-Yao and lies on his side, watching his face for any sign of discomfort. The painkillers look like they’re working, but he’s burning up.

Xichen’s skin is cooler than human skin so he lays his hand on A-Yao’s forehead again. A-Yao settles slightly. His dream thoughts are like anyone else’s thoughts while they are asleep; soft and fleeting and confusing.

Xichen feels exhausted the moment his hand touches A-Yao’s skin, and he is pulled into sleep almost immediately.

 

When he wakes, A-Yao is half on top of him, his head on Xichen’s shoulder and his arm and leg slung carelessly across him. He still feels asleep.  Xichen’s heart feels heavy, and he puts his hand on A-Yao’s shoulder and holds him close for a second, indulging his protective instincts. He leans his head onto A-Yao’s hair, and places a kiss on the top of his head.

He brings up his shields.

He gets out of bed and goes to start alpha shift.

Meng Yao is still asleep.

 

 

Wen Yuan enrols himself in school. He spent most of the day reading the curriculum he missed, and hopes the gaping holes in his knowledge won’t be obvious to the other students or teachers.

He hasn’t exactly had a traditional education.

And he must avoid Wei Wuxian at all costs.

He’s not sure if enrolling was the right idea. Is it more suspicious to occupy a room where no one ever leaves and risk being questioned or the room being filled, or be the Lan Sizhui who was meant to come aboard but didn’t? As Lan Sizhui he can be boring and in the background. Not memorable, ignored. Just another one of the many ship members instead of a glaring anomaly. His research on Lan Sizhui confirmed it will be easy to step into his shoes. He is a very peripheral member of the Lan family who has never come out of his corner of the galaxy. He’s not sure if Sizhui had met any of the other members of the Lan family, because they had not come out this way either.

The only person who could blow his cover is Wei Wuxian. And knowing Wei Wuxian, he’s going to be in all the most inconvenient places.

Maybe his face has changed enough since Wei Wuxian knew him to pretend he is not Wen Yuan. Wei Wuxian’s memory is awful anyway.

He walks into the school ten minutes early, trying not to jump at every person he passes, knowing his cover is secure but fundamentally unused to being around so many people.

A man with a pale grey piece of cloth around his eyes turns around to meet him as he walks through the school quarters’ doors.

A-Yuan coughs awkwardly. “Hello, I’m new and I- uh. I was busy, so I didn’t get to come for the past few days.”

The man with the blindfold smiles. “I’m Xiao Xingchen. Don’t worry, I know you’re there. I see with sonar.” He points to his ear. “So I can hear where you are. It’s hard to sneak up on me. What’s your name?”

“Lan Sizhui.” It sounds so odd. He hopes he gets used to it soon. “I’m here for the upper level classes.”

“First two rooms there. You’re a little early, but the others should be here soon. You can look around the rec rooms and the nursery while you wait; those are the doors marked 7 and N. There aren’t many other members of staff here but my-“ Xiao Xingchen pauses for a half second and corrects himself, “another volunteer, Song Lan, is in the nursery with my daughter. My other daughter is around here somewhere too. There are some other permanent staff members on board who will also be here soon, but you can meet them later. If you need anything, come and ask me.”

“Thank you. What do you teach?” A-Yuan figures it’s best to pretend he didn’t hack into the ship servers to find out the whole life story of all the staff members. He’s going to have to look up Song Lan later – he wasn’t in the list of school staff.

Xiao Xingchen smiles again. A-Yuan is briefly distracted by how perfect his face is. “I teach the lower level classes and upper level tactics. Sometimes history if there isn’t a more qualified teacher around. I also do traditional fighting – with swords and whips as well as martial arts – in the gyms occasionally. You’re welcome to join those as well although they are out of school hours. Is your family around?”

“I don’t have a family – it’s just me on the ship.” At least that’s something he didn’t have to lie about. Lan Sizhui and Wen Yuan are both orphans.

“Then you should definitely join us. There are lots of social activities on the ship. Song Lan can show you how to access the ship’s information about it.” Xiao Xingchen smiles at him again. “I’ll see you later, A-Zhui.”

A-Zhui.

A-Yuan nods. He goes to the nursery area, glancing in at the recreation rooms on the way. They have actual paper books, a small seating area, and toys and games scattered around. This place looks very well loved, and more used than the immaculate ships corridors he walked past. He likes this a lot more. There is a youngish girl sitting and scrolling through a padd, and she looks suspiciously at him as he walks by. Her irises are pale grey and she has no pupils. She glares then goes back to looking at her padd. She looks like she saw through his pretence with just one look. He’s a little terrified.

A tall man in black and grey is holding a whimpering child to his chest inside the nursery. A-Yuan doesn’t really want to interrupt him because he looks very at peace. He is swaying side to side, jostling the baby a little and humming gently. He turns as he sways, and spots A-Yuan.

“Hello. I am Song Lan.”

“Lan Sizhui.”

“It is good to meet you.”

“Does the child have a name?” A-Yuan has no idea how to interact with children, but he feels it’s polite.

“Not yet.”

Well. A-Yuan doesn’t know what to say to that. This man seems very polite, but like he doesn’t like speaking very much. “Senior Xiao said you could show me how to see what ship activities there are.”

Song Lan nods. “Get your padd.”

Shit.

“I don’t have a padd.”

He hopes that they are not assigned one per person. That’s an easy way to find out Lan Sizhui never got a padd because he never came aboard

“There are spares in the box over there.” Song Lan nods to a chest of drawers.

A-Yuan is so glad Song Lan doesn’t speak much.

He gets a padd and Song Lan sets him up with his user profile. A-Yuan has typed his unfamiliar name enough to be comfortable with it, although if someone asked him to write the characters he would likely be slow and uncoordinated and make it obvious that his name is not Lan Sizhui. He has not written with a pencil and paper in years.

By the time he has pretended to be unfamiliar with the ship’s interface enough for Song Lan to walk him through accessing the activity schedule, other people have started arriving. A-Yuan, wanting to be forgettable, gives Song Lan a small smile. “Thank you for your help. I will go to my classroom now.”

He exits. Song Lan watches him go, then puts the baby down to sleep now that she is settled. Lan Sizhui seems unnecessarily anxious, Song Lan thinks. He writes it off as being in a new place.

 

A-Yuan sits in the back corner of the room Xiao Xingchen directs him to. He focuses on his padd, flicking through the settings, finding the operating system and how he can modify it, and wondering whether he can use it for hacking or if it has a unique IP that will track back to him. Someone comes in and pulls out the seat next to him. He wonders why you would sit next to the only other person in the room when the entire room is empty and you don’t know the person. He looks up at the person.

“I’m Lan Jingyi.”

A-Yuan blinks.

“You’re new.”

A-Yuan thinks maybe being inconspicuous on this ship is impossible. He blinks again.

“I’m new too. I boarded when you did but I didn’t see you then. Xiao Xingchen said you were sick? Anway, it’s nice to have another new face here.”

A-Yuan nearly passes out from relief. Another new person! His cover will be more stable with him here, even if this kid is just a little too close to his face for comfort. He’d had an entire planet of personal space two days ago.

“I have already covered all of these lessons, but Uncle Wangji says I have to come to class anyway. What’s your name?”

“Sizhui.” A-Yuan prays he doesn’t ask about the Lan relation.

“Oh you’re Lan Sizhui? You’re like my third cousin.”

Shit.

“I thought you had decided not to come on board?”

Shit shit. School was a mistake. “Changed my mind.”

“Okay. Well, welcome aboard. I figure you haven’t had any classes or Starfleet education yet. Because you’re older than 18 they’re all electives and count in place of Starfleet academy modules. There are some language, medical, history, and computing things you have to take if you want to go to the academy, that’s what these classes are. Otherwise you can choose whatever from the course catalogue if it has a little star next to it. That means someone aboard will teach you what you need to know.”

Jingyi has taken his padd and brought up the course catalogue. He’s scrolling through it, occasionally saying “I want to take this one,” or “this one looks interesting, but I don’t want to be taught by the Chief Medical Officer. That’s terrifying. She scanned me when I came aboard and I thought she was going to tell everyone that I’d eaten nothing but bread for three days straight.” A-Yuan is pretty sure you wouldn’t be able to tell that from a medical scanner, but he doesn’t say anything. Lan Jingyi doesn’t look like he’s going to leave any time soon. The class is filling up slowly. There aren’t many people there, maybe around 15. For a ship this size, he guesses there aren’t many people with families who have children his age.

Someone is sitting right in front of them, and he has the most ornate band holding his hair back that A-Yuan has ever seen. The richness of this ship is shocking to him.

Jingyi makes a shocked noise next to him. “Look at this module! Xenobotany: survival guide? That’s crazy, is this laoshi going to drop us on a random planet and get us to find plants to survive on?”

A-Yuan thinks he sounds too excited at the idea. He leans over to look at the module. It sounds interesting.

The boy in front of them turns around, and glares. His face makes A-Yuan kind of sad. He has the most beautiful skin A-Yuan has ever seen, but his whole face is scrunched up. He’s going to get wrinkles. “Don’t say that! My mama teaches that module, and she’s brilliant.”

Jingyi gives him a sceptical look. “Is she going to leave us on a planet for survival though?”

The boy in front sneers at him. “Of course not.”

“What is her work on?” A-Yuan asks, partly out of genuine interest but mostly not wanting any unnecessary attention drawn to him because the two idiots who sat near him are getting in an argument.

Jin Ling looks taken aback. “She.. She’s a Xenobotanist, and she works with Lieutenant Huaisang. The Chief Science Officer, Commander Luo, is getting them to profile the ecosystems of the planets in this system. She said it’s different here but she can’t figure out why.”

A-Yuan has a sinking feeling. “Different how?”

“I don’t know, I got distracted by Uncle Wei before she could talk any more.”

She’s probably noticed that there’s a missing link in the ecosystem. The missing link that was wiped out by the Cardassians.

“What’s your name?”

This almost-man is very rude, A-Yuan thinks. He hasn’t spoken to another person in nearly two months, but he still has some manners.

“I’m Jingyi, this is Sizhui.”

“Jin Ling.”

Jingyi nods at him. Jin Ling twitches his eyebrows at them before saying to A-Yuan, “You don’t talk much, do you.”

A-Yuan splutters a bit, but he’s saved by Xiao Xingchen walking in.

The class is odd. He’s never had formal education like this, so he sits and doesn’t say anything, taking cues from the rest of the class. He knows all the mathematics concepts they’re covering, he’s familiar with language theory, but if they ask him anything about Starfleet history… He’s not going to be able to cover for that. There are only a couple of lessons that day, Jingyi tells him it’s because they are expected to do most their work in their own time. The younger classes get more lessons. As long as he keeps his grades up, he doesn’t even need to come to the lessons. That will make it easy to avoid Wei Wuxian’s classes.

They have a break after two hours. In the rec room, Jin Ling is sitting by himself. Jingyi takes this as a cue to drag A-Yuan along to sit with him. A-Yuan wants to die a little bit. He doesn’t know why Jingyi has decided to imprint on him, or why he should then also be attached to this other boy. He has a sinking feeling that he made a very big mistake, one that he can’t go back on. It would be strange if he were to drop out of school after one day.

 Jin Ling is impatient, rude, and snarky. He is also magnetic, with a fierce protectiveness over the people he loves.

A-Yuan thinks that maybe if he can get Jin Ling to like him, Jin Ling will protect him if he is discovered.

Jin Ling warns them off taking the electricity, conductors, and fields module, because his uncle Cheng teaches that one, “And his temper is the worst. He threatens to break my legs every other day, if someone is talking too much around him he’ll yell at them. He’s so mean, don’t do it.”

A-Yuan really wanted to take that module.

Jingyi is laughing. “Why does he threaten to break your legs?”

Jin Ling flushes a bit. “He’s grumpy, okay. He’s really grumpy, and he threatens me for everything! For talking too much, for slipping while fighting. Yesterday his friend Huaisang joined my family for dinner, and he misspoke and went bright red, and I compared him to a tomato, saying the tomato has a fairer complexion. I didn’t know he didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of this friend! Usually he gets me right back, but this time he just spluttered! I said the tomato was more eloquent as well, and then he threatened to break my legs. His friend found it really funny, so I don’t know why he was so upset!”

A-Yuan is looking incredulously at Jin Ling, a smile stretched over his face. It does feel good to be talking to people with inconsequential problems.

“You’re so rude, Jin Ling!” A-Yuan says.

Jin Ling grins a bit. “It’s my best quality.”

It startles a laugh out of A-Yuan. It is the first time he has genuinely laughed in years. He covers his mouth, and his face goes blank again. Low profile, he reminds himself. Being loud, laughing, making friends. These things are not low profile.

Jingyi throws his arm over A-Yuan’s shoulders and shakes him. A-Yuan has not been casually touched in a very long time, and he enjoys the warmth far too much. “Don’t cover up the laugh didi! You should make fun of Jin Ling, he is exactly as spoiled and rude as a young mistress!”

A-Yuan can’t hold back another laugh. He apologises to Jin Ling with his eyes, hand still covering his mouth. He hopes his new friends will still like him after they find out what he is.

Jin Ling is enchanted by how much Sizhui’s face lights up when he is smiling and laughing. He is so quiet, Jin Ling doesn’t know what to make of him. He seems to be a gentle at heart, just lacking care and attention.

Jin Ling silently decides he will give him this attention if no one else will.

“Sizhui, what do your parents do?” Jin Ling asks.

“I don’t have parents.”

“What?” Jingyi, hands still on his shoulders, looks alarmed. “Is that why you’re on this ship? I’m so sorry.”

“No, no, no, that’s not why I’m here. They died a long time ago, I’ve been on my own for a while now. I’m here to get an education and to be transported to Earth.” Sizhui says.

Jin Ling wonders how long he has been alone for. Maybe that’s why there’s an emptiness behind his eyes. He doesn’t ask.

“Come to my quarters for dinner tonight. You can meet my parents! They’re both in engineering but they’re pretty interesting.” Jingyi says. Jin Ling is annoyed Jingyi asked before he could.

“You think they’re boring?” Sizhui asks. Jin Ling notices he neatly sidestepped the request.

“Too much maths! I want to do languages and communication. The communications expert on the Yunmeng is the best since Uhura! Her name is Yu.”

Jin Ling chokes.

“She’s my grandma.”

Jingyi looks enchanted.

“She’s even more terrifying than my uncle.”

Jingyi freezes. Jin Ling grins.

“Good luck!”

Jingyi frowns at Jin Ling. “You’re the worst.”

Sizhui smiles.

The conversation moves on, and Jingyi brings up the power outages.

“You screamed like a young mistress, Jin Ling. Don’t deny it.”

Jin Ling flushes. “I did not! How did you know it was me anyway?”

“So it was you?”

Jin Ling notices that Sizhui is smiling more and more with every exchange, but that still doesn’t make this humiliation worth it. Jin Ling smacks Jingyi. “It wasn’t!”

“What caused it?” Sizhui asks.

“The power outage? They don’t know.” Jingyi says.

“Some kind of sigil on the planet surface.” Jin Ling says. “Uncle Wei can’t figure out how someone managed to get the power drain to work remotely, and he says he hasn’t seen this sigil before, but he’s seen other sigils similar used for other things.”

“You uncle Wei is the head of engineering Wei?” Jingyi asks, looking shocked. “How come you are related to so many great people when you’re just you?”

Jin Ling hits him. How can Sizhui call him rude when Lan Jingyi is sitting right here, presumably related to Admiral Lan Qiren, Captain Lan Xichen, and First Officer Lan Wangji, but behaving nothing like them. He’s not even Vulcan.

“He is Wei Wuxian, but he’s not blood related to me. He was adopted by my grandfather.”

Sizhui is staring at him, eyes wide.

“Don’t believe the rumours. Uncle Wei isn’t as bad as they say. His inventions are genius and he’s only accidentally hurt one person in an explosion.”

Huaisang doesn’t go near the engineering labs any more. Sizhui looks like he is collecting himself. Jin Ling hopes he hasn’t believed any more of the rumours about his family. He likes Sizhui, but if he is easily goaded into believing rumours about the people Jin Ling loves, they’re not gonna get along.

He lets the subject drop as Jingyi turns to Sizhui. “So are you coming for a meal tonight?”

Sizhui smiles softly at Jingyi. Jin Ling is a little jealous. “No thank you, I need to go back to my room and prepare for more lessons.”

“I can help you!”

Sizhui and Jingyi look at Jin Ling. He feels like his face is on fire.

“Let me help you prepare for lessons. I need to do some homework, and I can show you how the software works. My parents are out this evening, so even if I go home I’ll be by myself.”

Jin Ling really wishes he wasn’t so awkward. Sizhui is frowning a little, like he’s looking to refuse.

“You can kick me out whenever if you don’t want me there.”

Sizhui sighs. “Okay, you can come. My rooms are a little empty though.”

Jin Ling smiles. “That’s okay!”

Jingyi huffs at them. “My mama is cooking tonight, so I’ll leave you two to it. Lessons don’t start until midday tomorrow, Sizhui you should come with me to the class in the gym. There’s one at 10 tomorrow, how about we meet in the mess hall to have breakfast, then we can do the class! Jin Ling, you should come as well!”

Sizhui nods. He looks a little nervous. Jin Ling knows it’s a beginner’s class, but he doesn’t mind helping Lan Wangji out with teaching the newbies. “Sure.”

Jingyi gathers his things and gets up to leave.

The day has passed faster than any other schooling day Jin Ling has had on this ship. He never got on with the other people in his class because they were all his relatives or people that knew him from when he was very young, and none of them are nice.

He likes Jingyi. He thinks he is funny, if absolutely terrible.

Sizhui is delightful. In just one day of knowing him, he has emerged from his reclusive shell. Jin Ling is dying to know him better.

It’s nice to have friends who aren’t his uncles.

He hopes they feel the same.

 

 

Meng Yao sleeps for the whole day. He wakes up to the sound of his door chime disoriented and with his head aching in the kind of “had a really bad headache like twenty minutes ago” way. He’s about to let the person at his door in when the door opens, and Wen Qing is standing there.

“I didn’t hear anything from you all day, and I was worried. If you had been awake you would have tried to come to work.”

She’s right about that. He works too much.

“When did you wake up?”

“When you got here.” He rubs his eyes, feeling crusty and slow.

She comes over and scans him with the medical tricorder. “You’re over the worst of the symptoms, and the virus is out of your system. Something has happened to your nervous system and I don’t know what it is, or how it will affect you. I’m going to fit you with a tracker that I spent today developing so I can monitor what’s going on.” She applies two patches to his chest, and one to his back. She had obviously checked on him earlier to know what tracker to develop for him. She must be worried. He feels terror flood through his bones.

Is he dying?

She shoves him towards the shower. “You’re going to be okay. I’m the best doctor in Starfleet, and we’re not going to lose you because of the Cardassians.”

Meng Yao goes to shower, deciding his questions can wait. He isn’t feeling any panic from her, and she doesn’t have the edge of heartbroken determination she gets when someone is genuinely dying in front of her. He trusts her. He doesn’t panic in the shower. It helps him to clear his head. He’s a medical professional, they can fix this.

He returns to his room wearing his civilian clothes and realises how hungry he is. Wen Qing is standing by the entrance, typing something on her padd. She throws his padd to him.

“Your data will appear on both these padds. You’re stable at the moment and nothing is deteriorating so I’m going to assume you will return to normal soon. If your vitals dip below a certain point or raise above a certain point I will be alerted, and we have a stasis chamber ready if it’s severe. No matter what, Meng Yao, you’re not going to die.”

Meng Yao feels tears come to his eyes. He has no control over his emotions right now, and he doesn’t know what to do with the genuine affection and gratitude that he feels. He thinks she wouldn’t appreciate a hug.

She puts a hand on his shoulder and smiles at him. “Lets go to the mess hall. Captain Lan is there, and he’s worried about you.”

The feeling sweeps over Meng Yao again, and he desperately tries to control his expression as he follows her out.

 

They walk into the mess hall and Xichen is there, sitting with his brother and Commander Luo, talking and smiling.

Meng Yao remembers him leaving, because he slept worse after Xichen left.

He can’t believe Xichen stayed, but he is so grateful his heart hurts.

 

Outside in the corridor, Jin Ling and Lan Sizhui are walking to Lan Sizhui’s quarters.

 

Lan Sizhui collapses, and the lights go out.

 

Meng Yao jumps in the sudden dark and is overwhelmed by the panic being projected onto him.

 

Lan Sizhui wakes up.

 

The lights come back on.

 

A-Yuan knows exactly what that was, and he knows he must get out of there immediately.

 

Inside the mess hall, Wen Qing and Meng Yao are checking on everyone, automatically going into medical professional mode.

 

Outside the mess hall, Jin Ling is holding Lan Sizhui, who pulls out of his arms immediately and laughs a little nervously.

“Sorry I’m… scared of the dark. Haven’t eaten anything today… took me by surprise.” A-Yuan says. Now he will have to pretend to be afraid of the dark. Great.

Jin Ling frowns. “Let’s get you something to eat then, you shouldn’t be passing out all over the ship.” He takes A-Yuan by the wrist and drags him along.

The further they get from the mess hall the more stable A-Yuan feels. He hasn’t eaten anything real in three years because he doesn’t take in energy through digesting solid food; he takes in energy through current. He can eat, and it does give him small amounts of energy, but in comparison to energy intake it is uncomfortable and unnecessary. He eats for essential nutrients and amino acids roughly once a week, and for these he has been making a broth infusion to drink. There are some things his body cannot create from nothing: minerals, protein, and water. He drinks water and drinks his broth. He is in perfect physical health, apart from when telepaths take him out at the knees and cause him to lose control of his energy intake and uncontrollably take in all the energy from nearby.

That only happens when… No, he thinks. It can’t be on the ship. He didn’t do that, did he?

Jin Ling tugs him past his door, and A-Yuan stops him, turns back and keys in his code to enter.

“You know you can make the ship recognise your voice, right?”

“Yes I know. I wanted the code, though.”

Jin Ling raises his eyebrows and steps inside. “It’s so empty in here.”

“I told you! They’re big quarters but it’s only me staying here, I don’t know what to do with all the space.” A-Yuan follows him in and the doors slide shut behind him.

“What do you want to do?”

“What?”

“I mean… what are you interested in? What do you do in your spare time? What colours do you like? What art do you like? Do you like swords or pots or stuffed animals? You can put any of them anywhere, it’s your space.”

A-Yuan had not processed this. It’s his space, and it will be for the foreseeable future. He can make himself a home without having to hide it. He smiles, wide and open.

Jin Ling’s breath catches in his throat.

“Will you help me?” A-Yuan asks, turning to Jin Ling.

Jin Ling nods. At this point, Lan Sizhui could ask him to do anything and he’d say yes.

They talk through ideas for what they can put in the room, and Jin Ling replicates them a stir fry with peanut satay sauce.

A-Yuan takes the first bite, and has to close his eyes. He has never tasted anything like this. It’s so strong and so delicate at once, there’s spice but it’s also creamy, and the water chestnut has a satisfying crunch when he bites through it. He’s overwhelmed from just one bite. He thinks he made a noise.

Jin Ling is staring at him.

From Jin Ling’s perspective, Lan Sizhui ate one water chestnut, made a noise like someone just stroked him off, and the tension in his shoulders melted away completely.

Jin Ling doesn’t know whether to be turned on or horrifically worried about Lan Sizhui’s wellbeing.

“It’s …good?” Jin Ling says.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever tasted.” Lan Sizhui says earnestly, and starts to shove more in his mouth.

A-Yuan knows he doesn’t need to eat this, but it tastes so good. He will not finish it all because he is so unused to eating anything, but what he can eat he will appreciate. He’s got enough energy to last for days, and this is so much better than his nutrient broth.

“Wait until you taste my mama’s cooking.” Jin Ling says, “If you think this is good, hers will make you cry.”

A-Yuan already wants to cry a little bit. It’s so good. He doesn’t know what a peanut is but he wants to try one by itself.

Jin Ling turns the conversation back to interior decorating as A-Yuan forces himself to slow down.

They don’t get any school work done.

 

 

In the mess hall, Meng Yao finishes his checkup, then checks his padd with his medical data. He’s fine, his telepathic field just expanded a little, then shrunk in shock when the power went out. He doesn’t usually project that hard, so maybe the virus affected his shielding.

Xichen is standing and is talking with Wei Wuxian over the comms.

“Yes Captain, I can see the power drain but I don’t know what caused it. I’ll see how similar it was to the other power drain and try to figure out common elements. I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. Wei out.”

Xichen turns his comm off and turns to Meng Yao, and he smiles. Meng Yao aches.

“Thank you for being there with me last night.” Meng Yao says.

“It was no problem, whenever you need it.” Xichen says, his eyes open and honest. He’s shielding, but Meng Yao trusts him.

Commander Luo walks up to Wen Qing and takes her by the shoulders. “Okay, A-Qing, I need to tell you something. I’ve liked you for months but I didn’t know how to tell you, but I can’t wait any more. I can’t keep pretending to be injured to spend more time in Medbay with you. I’m a scientist! I know when I’m injured! I have never needed you to scan me because I thought I had a sprain, I just wanted your attention. Please, Qingqing, will you go on a date with me?”

Wen Qing is smiling, small but absolutely radiant. Meng Yao has never seen her smile with so much genuine adoration, and he’s bursting with happiness for her. She is projecting adoration and happiness on a level he has never felt from her.

Wen Qing puts her hands on top of Commander Luo’s hands, and presses them down, keeping her firmly where she is. “Mianmian, of course. I would love to go on a date with you.”

Luo smiles even wider, Meng Yao is surprised it’s not hurting her face. She draws Wen Qing into a hug, then kisses her cheek, her other cheek, her forehead, then her lips. Wen Qing’s eyes are closed, and she’s holding on to Luo’s back like she might escape if she loosens her grip.

They’ve been doing their dance for so long it feels like forever. Meng Yao is so glad they have found each other.

Luo turns to Xichen, not letting go of Wen Qing. “Sorry to cut our conversation short, Captain, but I have a date.”

She pulls Wen Qing, who looks dazed like she’s just been hit over the head with everything she ever wanted, out of the room.

Xichen purses his lips.

Wangji continues eating his salad like nothing happened. Meng Yao wonders if he even stopped when the lights went out.

“Good for them. Although I have an unfortunate feeling Commander Luo will be running off to Medbay more than she used to.” Xichen smiles. “Anyway. When did you wake up?”

“About twenty minutes ago.”

Xichen’s eyebrows twitch, and he pushes Meng Yao into a seat. “Your usual?”

“Yes – I mean, I can get it myself, I-“

“I’ve got it.” Xichen says. “Let me take care of you.”

Meng Yao doesn’t want to get used to being waited on hand and foot, but he’s not complaining.

Wangji sends him a pointed look.

He doesn’t understand.

Xichen puts a bowl of chilli chicken and rice in front of him, and he smiles. Meng Yao has the idiotic thought that his smile could probably sustain him more than the food. He mentally shakes himself. hasn’t eaten in too long, and he’s being dramatic.

The meal is incredibly pleasant.

 

 

The next day, Jin Ling and Jingyi meet A-Yuan outside of the gym. A-Yuan thought about not showing up, but he couldn't think of an excuse not to come where he could avoid uncomfortable questions yesterday, and he can't think of one today either. Maybe he will be very mediocre and never come to another class. When A-Yuan arrives Jingyi is making fun of Jin Ling for bringing his own sword.

A-Yuan furrows his brows at them and goes inside. A tall Vulcan man dressed in all white is meditating in the room Jin Ling directs him to.

“Uncle Wangji!” Jingyi says.

“Good morning, Lan laoshi.” Jin Ling says.

Teacher Lan opens his eyes and looks at them. A-Yuan cannot understand his expression at all, but his eyes read A-Yuan like he is a book. Why are there so many people on this ship that feel like they can see straight through him?

“Name?” Teacher Lan asks, although it sounds more like a demand.

“Lan Sizhui.” A-Yuan says, feeling terror rush through him. His persona is related to this man. He waits with his heart in his throat as teacher Lan stares at him for a few seconds more. He desperately recalls all the backstory he had written for himself if teacher Lan asks him any hard questions about Lan Sizhui.

“Have you fought with a sword before?”

He nearly cries he’s so relieved.

“No.”

“Then I will show you the basic postures. Jingyi, you too.”

Teacher Lan stands up, and every movement is so graceful he does not look real.

He directs them through a series of poses, showing them where to keep their hands and how to angle their bodies. He doesn’t speak much, but he is a very good teacher.

Jin Ling is focused more on A-Yuan than Jingyi, and A-Yuan’s heart flutters uncomfortably when he gets too close.

A-Yuan has really screwed up being inconspicuous. Last night when Jin Ling left after helping him plan his new room layout he sat on his bed and let his stomach turn over and accepted that maybe he had the start of a crush on this boy. Jin Ling is the sum of 20 years of pride and fierce stubbornness, but right underneath the surface there is a deep well of kindness and love.

It helps that he’s beautiful.

Teacher Lan demonstrates some faster moves with Jin Ling, and their back and forth sparring makes A-Yuan’s heart leap into his throat. Their movements are so fluid and coordinated, he is enchanted.

He works with teacher Lan to go through the moves next.

“You are in school?” Teacher Lan asks.

A-Yuan is a little taken aback. He has been told Lan Wangji doesn’t talk to strangers well. This class is small, only them and six other people, so maybe he doesn’t mind when there aren’t so many people around, and they’re all busy stepping slowly through the routine. Or he’s trying to figure out why A-Yuan’s persona doesn’t match the description of a relative he has heard about. A-Yuan swallows nervously.

“I am.”

“Applying for Starfleet Academy?”

A-Yuan hadn’t thought about it. He couldn’t do it under his pseudonym, but he likes the idea of spending time on a ship like this one. The real Lan Sizhui is a couple of years older, and A-Yuan has no idea what he would want if he were the one on the ship. He figures the shortest answer will have the least follow up questions.

“I want to.”

“Which subject areas?”

Why is Lan Wangji speaking so much to him? He’s trying to focus on the routine they are completing while talking, and teacher Lan is making it hard. “Computing and engineering. Maybe languages.”

Teacher Lan steps out of range of his sword and bows. “You will do well. Your footwork is good but your strength is lacking. I would like to help you with the languages.”

A-Yuan is speechless. “You.. What languages do you speak?”

“Vulcan, Klingon, Terran Standard, Chinese, Hakka.”

A-Yuan is impressed. “I need three languages to get into the academy. I only know two, but I’m sure I will pick up another soon. Thank you for the offer laoshi.” He bows, and tries to back out. Teacher Lan is too perceptive, and he feels that if they spend any more time together he will be uncovered.

“I will teach you Vulcan.”

A-Yuan looks at him, surprised. He knows Vulcan is similar to his native language, but his native language is not officially recognised, so although he technically does know three languages, he will have to learn another. Growing up his village spoke Terran Standard and his native language, but had to use Terran Standard for coding and bargaining at neighbouring planets. He has been speaking in Terran Standard this whole time, worried the Universal Translator will take time to work on his native language.

Ever since the Universal Translators failed on a mission in deep space, three languages including Terran Standard have been a requirement for entering Starfleet Academy.

“I-“

“I can start lessons tomorrow. I will be in the school rooms.”

Lan Wangji really doesn’t take no for an answer. A-Yuan nods.

The lesson ends, and A-Yuan feels a little overwhelmed at how much everyone he meets seems to like him. He is a little addicted to the feeling, but he knows he should stop making friends because the moment they find out he has deceived them... he tries not to think about it.

He has spent his whole life being told his species is dirty and wrong, and him freeloading on this ship is only making that more true.

He is selfish to want more than safe passage and a place to live without threat of being killed, but.

He wants the easy affection shown to him on this ship.

 

 

Wei Wuxian is currently looking through ship schematics, trying to see what could be adapted into a sigil like the one found on the planet. The other option is that there is a Dafan aboard, but no single person could drain a whole ships power. The power had to be going somewhere. It would take a whole town’s worth of Dafan to consume a whole ship’s power, and he thinks he would have noticed that. It’s possible the sigil was to channel the power of the ship, but he still can’t figure out how that would work if the power was being transferred remotely. Even the Dafan have to be close to the source to consume power.

The localised power drains seem like they could be caused by a Dafan, but everyone on the ship is accounted for, and there aren’t any stowaways. It’s hard to stow away on a ship as intelligent as the Yunmeng. Even if there is a stowaway with cloaking technology, the lack of any environmental change in the cloaked spot would be as obvious as a sign saying “something is hidden right here!”.

He’s working on the theory that there are more sigils aboard, or it’s some kind of aftershock from the sigil.

He both hates and loves it when they run into the first documented case of something. It makes it so annoying to figure out, but so interesting.

There’s nothing in the schematics that could be modified to be the sigil, and he thinks they would notice if another one was drawn or constructed in the mess hall. He spent this morning inside the walls and Jefferies tubes of the mess hall, searching for recently changed or cut wires or systems.

He’s struggling to keep his emotions in check, desperately wanting something that can’t be real, leaping to conclusions that can’t be true.

He goes to see Wen Qing.

He stands in her office facing her and Wen Ning, who is obviously thinking the same thing as he is, because he has been keeping them both up to date on his findings.

“You think one of them survived.” Wen Qing says.

“It’s impossible.” Wei Wuxian says. “There’s no one extra aboard. There are no blind spots they could hide in. And anyway, how would they have survived?”

“There could have been a biogenic weapon on the planet, we just don’t know what it is. People can be immune to viruses, especially species-specific viruses. I don’t think it would harm any other species than the Dafan, the Cardassians are too smart for that. But Meng Yao has been affected by something.” Wen Qing opens the padd with Meng Yao’s data. “So far his telepathic field is behaving strangely, but I can’t tell if it’s severe yet. It’s almost like Zanthi fever, but he has none of the other symptoms.”

Wen Ning looks up from his hands. “What if one of them did survive though. What if there is someone on the ship?”

Wen Ning and Wen Qing had been fleeing for their lives when they first landed on Qishan 4. A group of Cardassians who wanted them dead for the crimes of their parents chased them across the galaxy, and they crash landed. They lived there for four months while Wei Wuxian repaired their ship, then flew it for them across the galaxy to Federation space where they could seek asylum and join the Federation. Wei Wuxian had been living on Qishan 4 for four years, since he ran from the Jiangs. On his return to Federation space, he was immediately accosted and returned to the Jiangs, who assured him of their forgiveness and begged him to stay. He stayed for a year, finished his time at Starfleet Academy, and by the time he tried to go back to Qishan 4 the Cardassians had murdered the whole planet. His whole family, dead while he wasn’t paying attention. Logically he knows he could not have done anything, but the guilt over not being there to at least try steals sleep from him every single night.  

He’s glad he ended up on a ship with Wen Ning and Wen Qing. They feel like part of the family he lost. But if there is any Dafan aboard, even if it is one he doesn’t know, he will protect them with his life. Wen Ning and Wen Qing feel the same. The Dafan showed them kindness like no other people, and they deserve to be repayed.

“I can start whole ship medical checks. But if one of the other staff members finds them before I do…” Wen Qing shakes her head. “I can’t personally check all 4,000 members of the ship.”

Wen Ning chews his lip. “Where can you hide on a ship like this?”

Wei Wuxian sighs. “It’s easy if you’re one of the crowd. We don’t even know that the events are linked.”

“If it is one of them.” Wen Ning looks so determined it breaks Wei Wuxian’s heart. “We have to help them.”

“We’ll protect them. We’ll find a way.” Wen Qing says.

They both feel like they have a debt to the Dafan. This is a step in the right direction for all of them.

“If there’s a power drain anywhere on the ship we will be alerted on our padds. We should get there as soon as possible with a tricorder and scan anyone in the area.” Wei Wuxian says.

“What do we tell the Captain?” Wen Ning asks.

“Nothing.” Wen Qing’s face is stony. “If they’re here illegally, we hide them. The Captain follows the rules too closely. Don’t tell Lan Wangji either.” She directs the last sentence to Wei Wuxian, who makes a face and nods. He’s not that stupid.

Wen Ning still looks sad. Wei Wuxian puts his hand on his shoulder and smiles. “If its true, if there’s a Dafan onboard, we’ll help them. If you find them, bring them to your quarters and call the rest of us.”

Wen Ning and Wen Qing nod at him. Wei Wuxian notices a bruise on the base of her neck.

“Hey, Wen Qing who gave you that?”

Wen Qing blushes, slaps a hand over the bruise and storms out of her office.

Wei Wuxian laughs in delight. “Mianmian finally confessed?! Good for her!”

Wen Ning frowns at him. “Jie could have confessed!”

Wei Wuxian shoots him a look. “Wen Qing would never have confessed.”

Wen Ning pouts at him and abruptly leaves.

Wei Wuxian is a little offended. When did everyone get this rude? No one says goodbye to him anymore.

 

 

Meng Yao volunteers to go to the school to check on the new child of Xiao Xingchen and Song Lan. He has been cooped up in Medbay feeling all of the pained emotions of all of the patients for too long. Going to the nursery for the child’s routine checkup sounds much nicer than staying here while his shields are still impaired. He’s part Betazoid, and Betazoids don’t believe in shielding. For him and the work he does, being able to block out some of the full range of pain is necessary so he doesn’t break down mid-shift.

Song Lan meets him at the entrance to the school where he is seeing off a young child to go and join her parents. Babies inexplicably love Song Lan. His gentle and steady calmness feels like it’s seeping into Meng Yao, so he does understand it a little bit. He doesn’t understand how Song Lan seems to be an engineering specialist when he spends what seems like all of his time in the school room with Xiao Xingchen. Wei Wuxian values him a lot, so maybe that’s why he hasn’t fully made the switch.

He checks on the child, declares her in perfect health, and tells Song Lan he has to name her soon. He smiles ruefully.

“It’s not up to me to name her, she’s not my child.”

Meng Yao walks out of the nursery with him, leaving her there to sleep. He can feel Song Lan’s longing and sadness, and understands more than he wants to.

Captain Lan walks out of one of the classrooms with a student, probably around 20 years old.

“You’re very impressive, you should come to the bridge to see some of the work we do on a daily basis. I think you’d fit right in up there.” Xichen says.

Meng Yao is astonished, and the boy looks like he is too. Xichen must really see something great in him.

“Thank you Captain, I will have to think about that.” The youth ducks his head a little, shy. Meng Yao wants to shake him just a little bit. “I have to get back to my studies.”

Xichen nods. “Tomorrow, at the beginning of beta shift. Be on the bridge.” Obviously he got the reluctance from the boy as well. Xichen is determined to encourage him. Meng Yao smothers his laughter, and walks up to Xichen as the boy stutters out an acceptance and flees into the rec room.

“Who was that?”

“His name is Lan Sizhui. A distant cousin. Wangji has already decided they should work together, and Jingyi has adopted him as his brother.”

Xichen’s boundless trust in his family’s judgement, his compassion and belief in other people and his commitment to being involved in every area of the ship including the school makes Meng Yao’s heart swell and compounds on the longing he was feeling from Song Lan.

Xichen continues, “He is excellent with computers, just as Xiao laoshi said he is. We think he should get some r- What was that?”

The lights had flickered.

Meng Yao feels a strong flash of panic. The lights go off.

 

The next room over, Lan Sizhui is barely clinging to consciousness as he staggers away and out of the school quarters as fast as he can.

Xiao Xingchen is heading to where Meng Yao and Lan Xichen are standing, and he sees Sizhui stagger past him and into the corridor.

The lights come back on.

Sizhui sprints to his room.

Xiao Xingchen faces Captain Lan. “What happened?”

“I don’t know.”

“That lasted less time than the last one.” Meng Yao says.

Xiao Xingchen realises the lights must have gone out again.

Lan Xichen looks at Meng Yao with narrowed eyes.

Song Lan goes to check on the other rooms, but all the teachers inside seem to have a handle on the situation.

Xiao Xingchen has come to the same conclusion as Lan Xichen.

“You were on the planet, in the mess hall, and here all the times when the power was drained.” Xichen says.

Meng Yao’s eyebrows furrow. “I was. You’re saying I’m doing this?”

Xichen raises an eyebrow. “You’re the only common element.”

Meng Yao smiles saccharine sweet at him and projects as much thinly veiled annoyance as possible. “Why would I do this? What would I gain?” He doesn’t mean to be defensive, but he can’t help it when Xichen assumes the worst of him.

Sometimes the way he feels for Xichen makes him do the worst things.

“I don’t think you have control over it. What was happening each time?”

“On the planet… nothing. I was helping Huaisang with the samples. The other two times…” I was looking at you and thinking about how in love I am, he thinks.

That’s embarrassing.

“I can’t think of anything I could have been doing that would have been a common element.” Meng Yao says.

Xichen narrows his eyes, but believes him.

Meng Yao loves him.

Song Lan stands next to Xiao Xingchen, and Xiao Xingchen takes his hand. Song Lan looks down at their joined hands, surprised.

Xiao Xingchen turns to face him.

“Stop me if you want me to stop.”

Xiao Xingchen kisses Song Lan.

Meng Yao thinks this is a familiar scene.

Song Lan makes a noise in the back of his throat and gathers Xingchen in his arms, crushing him against his body. One of his hands is holding Xingchen’s waist against him, and the other is almost frantically pressing against every part of Xingchen he wasn’t allowed to touch before, like he’s afraid that this is the only kiss he will ever get with Xingchen.

Xingchen doesn’t seem to be much more put together, one of his hands is fisted in Song Lan’s shirt, and the other is white knuckled on his shoulder.

Meng Yao wonders how many years of tension has been leading up to this kiss.

Someone clears their throat from behind them.

Song Lan and Xiao Xingchen break their kiss but keep their foreheads pressed together. Meng Yao thinks he can see tears in Song Lan’s eyes.

Jin Ling is standing there, holding a padd, looking like he wants to melt into the floor. “Sizhui left his padd. Where did he go?”

Xiao Xingchen says “He ran when the lights went off.”

Jin Ling’s eyebrows furrow and he leaves, Jingyi following behind him, silent for once.

Song Lan’s thumb is stroking across Xingchen’s cheek.

Meng Yao is a little overwhelmed by their affection for each other.

Captain Lan is smiling. “Gentlemen, I should remind you that you’re still on duty.”

Xiao Xingchen springs back, but Song Lan catches one of his hands. Meng Yao stifles laughter again.

“Congratulations.” Xichen says. Xiao Xingchen’s face is getting brighter and brighter red, but Song Lan is just smiling a little.

“I should return to the bridge. Lieutenant Commander Meng, with me.”

He sweeps out. Meng Yao sends Song Lan a little thumbs up as he follows.

 

They get into a turbolift alone, and Xichen is struggling to keep the smile off his face. He makes eye contact with Meng Yao who is looking at him with eyebrows raised, and they both dissolve into laughter.

“That was so dramatic! I’m not going to be able to look Song Lan in the eye for a month!”

“Jin Ling interrupted them! That kid has no understanding of social boundaries at all!”

Xichen tries desperately to get his laughter under control.

“So many people on my ship are getting together at the moment, I’m going to be Captaining the most romantic ship in the fleet if this carries on.”

“What a claim to fame!” Meng Yao hasn’t smiled this much in a long time, and he’s so genuinely happy that the little stab of jealousy at them finding their happiness together doesn’t bother him at all.

Captain Lan pulls himself together and walks onto the bridge. Meng Yao follows.

 

Wei Wuxian appears in the school quarters, sweaty and out of breath, half a minute after Captain Lan leaves. He doesn’t find anything in his scans of the people in the school.

He has confirmation that something on board is causing additional power drains, and it is too irregular to be sigil aftershocks.

 

 

A-Yuan is fighting the nausea that comes from being forced to consume too much energy at once when his door chimes. It chimes five times before he hears Jin Ling yell, “I’ll stay here until you open the door, I know you’re inside!”

A-Yuan opens the door.

Jingyi and Jin Ling come inside. Jin Ling throws the padd on the bed and rushes to where A-Yuan is sitting on the floor next to the bed. He kneels next to A-Yuan and reaches his hands out like he wants to help but doesn’t know what to do. Jingyi stands behind him looking down at A-Yuan.

“So this doesn’t seem like you’re afraid of the dark.” Jingyi says.

A-Yuan looks at Jin Ling. “You told him?”

“You ran away! I had to tell him something. But you’re not okay, what happened?” Jin Ling has finally decided to put his hand on A-Yuan’s wrist, and he’s grateful for the touch.

“I fell?”

Both of them look at him, their expressions completely flat.

“I can’t tell you.”

Jin Ling’s hand tightens on his wrist. “Why not?”

“Because it might put you in danger.”

“So you’re not dying?” Jingyi asks.

A-Yuan looks at him, confused.

“You were sick for the first few days, you’ve been miserable since we met you, you don’t eat, you seclude yourself, your quarters look like you threw everything away so no one would worry when you died, you haven’t been to Medbay at all.” Jingyi says.

Oh. He should have thought of that. That would have made disappearing at the end of this charade easy.

“You said we would be in danger. How would we?” Jin Ling demands.

“I can’t say, I can’t say. Just trust me, I’m not a danger to anyone else on this ship. I’m not sick. I really can’t tell you anymore, I’ll tell you when there’s no danger anymore, but right now I really can’t say.” A-Yuan desperately wants them to let it be. He wants desperately to tell them. He wants a lot of things he can’t have. At least that hasn’t changed.

“How can we know you’re not a danger?” Jingyi asks.

“Look at me.” A-Yuan says softly. “Every time the telepath comes near me I nearly black out. I don’t want anything but safe passage to the other side of the galaxy, then I’ll be good on my own.”

“What can we do?” Jingyi asks.

He wasn’t expecting that.

“Do for me?”

“To make it safer for you.” Jingyi is really the best friend he could have made on this ship.

“Who is the telepath?” A-Yuan asks.

“Meng Yao? He’s part Betazoid.” Jin Ling says.

A-Yuan nods. “Thank you.”

“Are you really afraid of the dark?” Jin Ling asks.

A-Yuan laughs. “No, I’m not. It hurts me to be there when it’s dark.” That’s nearly true. He just didn’t say that he’s what causes it to go dark and that’s why it hurts him.

Jin Ling nods.

“Anything else?” Jingyi asks.

“I just need to keep a low profile if I can.”

Jingyi outright laughs at that. “The Captain wants you on the bridge, and the First Officer is going to tutor you in Vulcan. I think you’re past that. You’re a Lan anyway, it’s not like they’ll kick you out. You could always ask them for help.”

A-Yuan blinks. They still think he is Lan Sizhui. They’re worried for their friend Lan Sizhui who as far as they know is from an upstanding family and has good connections. That’s why they trust him.

He doesn’t know whether to be relieved that they haven’t figured him out or absolutely devastated this his friends will probably still hate him when they find out the depths of his deception.

 “I can’t ask them, I can’t. I’ll tell you why later as well.”

“You didn’t disgrace the Lan family name did you? Because I don’t think you have to worry about that on this ship. Lan Wangji is already in love with Wei Wuxian, and neither of them will tolerate anyone looking down on anyone else for something they can’t control.”

Jin Ling looks up at Jingyi, shocked. “Lan Wangji is what?”

“In love with Wei Wuxian? Yeah, he’s subtle about it isn’t he. Apparently, he got drunk at the November celebration last year and spent the whole night with Lan Xichen asking him to get Wei Wuxian so he could confess his love.”

Jin Ling’s mouth is hanging a little bit open. Jingyi has moved to sit at the desk and they are suddenly just three friends gossiping, nothing heavy or life threatening weighing on their shoulders at all.

A-Yuan remembers Wei Wuxian talking about a Lan Zhan when he was living on Qishan 4 – is that the same person?

“Who would be in love with Wei Wuxian?”

“My Uncle apparently.”

Jin Ling’s nose scrunches up. A-Yuan can’t help but notice they’re still sitting on the floor together, and Jin Ling’s hand is still on his wrist. “But he’s so… Wei Wuxian… My uncle is such a mess and Senior Lan is so… not.”

Jingyi is laughing at Jin Ling’s shock.

A-Yuan lets his head fall back again, and he relaxes. He’s safe for now, and these two will cover for him, even if they don’t know what they’re covering for. He’s known them less than a week and they already trust him, even if it’s based on a lie. His heart still feels warm.

 

 

On the bridge, Meng Yao is speaking with Huaisang about the virus structure and how it could have affected him. Huaisang is draped over one of the science consoles, and his brother sporadically shoots him disapproving looks from the tactics station across the bridge. Today Jiang Cheng is manning the station one along from Huaisang, and Meng Yao wonders how much work they’ve actually paid attention to today. Huaisang tends to distract people around him, and while Jiang Cheng normally acts grumpy, when Huaisang is being his own specific brand of ridiculous he softens to a truly nauseating degree.

Not that he can talk, what with how he knows he looks when Xichen is being Xichen.

Jiang Cheng is an expert on fields. It’s like pulling teeth to talk to him without him getting annoyed, but he is probably the best person to ask about his telepathic field.

He shows Jiang Cheng the data his tracker has pulled so far, and Huaisang reaches the conclusion faster than Jiang Cheng does.

“Oh!” Huaisang is so loud. Meng Yao wishes he had thought to do this more privately, but he’s dug his own grave now. Xichen walks over and Meng Yao guesses he has also jumped into the metaphorical grave he dug. “It was you!”

Xichen smiles. “What was Lieutenant Commander Meng?”

“The power drains all happened when he was there!” Huaisang says.

“The later ones all happened when his delta waves increased in amplitude.” Jiang Cheng says. This is not very helpful. Jiang Cheng turns the padd around to show them a figure with several sine waves of different amplitude and frequency. “If you were emitting infra-low and alpha waves in phase, they would amplify to make an extra powerful delta wave.”

All three of them look at him blankly. Jiang Cheng sighs.

“Here, exactly three of the alpha waves fit inside one infra-low wave. These combine and create one massive delta wave. It feels like strong emotion, and because you’re still emitting infra-low, which is where your telepathy comes from, you push these waves which are projections of whatever you’re feeling onto everyone around you about ten times more powerful than you would usually be emitting.” Jiang Cheng explains. “You’re emitting in four dimensions as a field as well, so that’s amplified ten times in every wave you send out. If you plotted your telepathic field as a function of the emitted waves, you’re probably affecting everyone in a 40-metre radius. It still behaves like any other empathetic effect, so people will not feel the emotions you project unless they are already feeling them. You act as an emotional amplifier.” It still doesn’t make much sense to Meng Yao. He hasn’t done this kind of mathematics since he left the academy, and usually he doesn’t do graphs unless he’s reading a patient’s medical data.

Xichen is nodding.

“It wouldn’t cause a power outage unless someone modified the ship to respond to both infra-low and delta waves, or your specific telepathic field pull when you’re projecting exactly like this. Like a magnetic field generated during electrical flow. The ship doesn’t respond when the Vulcans touch it, and they’re in tune with infra-low, delta, alpha, and beta waves. Their telepathic fields are stronger and more localised, so the power shortages are probably not because of Lieutenant Commander Meng.  I don't know how you can stop it though. They're not dangerous, and they've been getting less powerful since the first one.”

“I get a headache every time I’ve been having strong emotions lately. I guess that’s because I’ve been projecting uncontrollably.” Meng Yao says.

“You didn’t tell me that.” Xichen says, accusatory.

“I didn’t think it was important.” Meng Yao mentally slaps himself. Everything is important.

“Unless this is because of the virus.” Huaisang says.

Meng Yao is pretty sure Huaisang is right. Usually he can shield to some extent, and he's never projected emotions like this before.

“Or maybe this is happening because Meng Yao is Betazoid and Orion, and this is how his mother got all her customers and made her cartel successful.” Lieutenant Ouyang says from where he is standing behind Nie Huaisang.

Meng Yao’s stomach feels like it just dropped through the floor. He is filled with insult and anger. He doesn’t know how to defend his mother in this situation. She is the best person he knows and she was sold to men who did not see her as anything but an object to be discarded when she was past her use. She deserves respect and admiration for going through all she did and still raising a son well. She does not deserve this old man sullying her name with baseless and stupid accusations.

She does not deserve this old man blaming her for being born into a society that would sell her as a slave.

Meng Yao is furious.

He is shaking. He cannot control himself.

Usually he can shake it off and smile and plot a worse fate for someone who would insult his mother. But he has no control over his emotions.

Xichen puts his hand on Meng Yao’s shoulder. If Xichen tries to pull him back, Meng Yao might snap.

Xichen makes to step towards Lieutenant Ouyang when Huaisang stands up.

Huaisang punches Lieutenant Ouyang in the face.

Lieutenant Ouyang goes down.

Huaisang stands above him, and hisses, “He is Lieutenant Commander Meng on duty. You will not disrespect him or his mother. You will not disrespect anyone’s parentage on this ship.”

Jiang Cheng is watching the padd track Meng Yao’s output.

The lights stay on.

Meng Yao breathes deeply and controls his anger.

There is a deep satisfaction from seeing Lieutenant Ouyang immediately put on the floor for his hateful words.

Huaisang gets control over himself and blushes deeply, and turns to Xichen. “Captain Lan I am so sorry, I don’t know what I was doing, it’s not my place to discipline your crew, I’m sorry.”

Xichen is barely hiding a smile again.

“Commander Nie, please inform Ouyang Zizhen that his father is in Medbay.” Mingjue barks out an affirmative and turns to his console. He is also barely hiding a smirk. “Lieutenant Ouyang, you will be reprimanded for your careless words. We do not tolerate discrimination. Lieutenant Commander Meng is a valued member of the crew. Please go to Medbay to have your wound treated.” Ouyang scrambles out of the way and into the turbolift. Xichen turns to Huaisang who is still blushing and staring at his feet. “Liuetenant Nie, you would do well to remember we use words and not fists to resolve arguments, although I understand under the circumstances it was difficult to control.”

Huaisang looks up from under his lashes. “Y- Yes, sir. I’m sorry sir.”

Jiang Cheng leans back in his chair to look around Huaisang. “With all due respect, Captain, the only reason I didn’t punch him first was that Lieutenant Nie was in the way.”

Xichen is doing very badly at hiding his laugh. Huaisang turns to look at Jiang Cheng. No one is looking at the padd. Meng Yao is full of appreciation at his crewmates for not tolerating discrimination, but now he has regained his utter apathy for what Lieutenant Ouyang says and does, most of what he is feeling is arousal creeping up his spine at Captain Lan confidently pulling rank.

Jiang Cheng looks Huaisang in the eyes. “That was really hot.”

Jiang Cheng takes a second, realises what he has said, and his face drains of all colour.

Huaisang is doing a good impression of a fish with his mouth hanging open a little.

Jiang Cheng jumps to his feet.

“Captain! Permission to be dismissed!”

“Granted.” Xichen looks like he is barely restraining himself from rolling his eyes.

Jiang Cheng sprints to the turbolift.

“C-“

“You may not leave, Lieutenant Nie. I have already lost two members of my bridge crew because of you this shift.”

Huaisang sits down, pouting.

If this is the only punishment he gets, he should be grateful, Meng Yao thinks. Then again, it was Meng Yao’s fault he punched Ouyang. Xichen won’t punish Huaisang unfairly, and this may actually be his only punishment. Meng Yao wonders how far Jiang Cheng will run while Huaisang is on duty, and thinks maybe it was a good punishment after all. Meng Yao picks up the padd and notices two instances of the wave formation Jiang Cheng had talked about. Well. His emotional projection has been playing matchmaker for the ship accidentally, apparently.

That’s embarrassing.

He decides to never let Xichen see this.

Xichen walks back to the Captain’s chair but turns around before he sits. “The lights didn’t go off.”

“It’s not because of me.”

Xichen nods. “Find another common denominator. I think Commander Wei is still working on it. He will be interested to know.”

As Meng Yao gets into the turbolift, he hears Nie Mingjue say to Huaisang, “Nice right hook.”

He smiles.

 

 

A-Yuan walks with teacher Lan to the bridge after their lesson.  He is good at teaching Vulcan as well as swordcraft. He had gently guided A-Yuan through the basic pronunciation and alphabet and taught him sentence structure. Their first lesson covered much more than A-Yuan thought they would. He guesses already being able to make most of the sounds helps.

Teacher Lan did not push him to reveal any more personal information, but he did ask about his studies again, in more detail this time. He asked A-Yuan what was holding him back from entering Starfleet academy, and A-Yuan answered honestly. No parents, no stable home to go back to.

Teacher Lan looked at him as though he was seeing directly through him again when he said that.

Jin Ling is also on the bridge when they get there.

“I asked for some experience, too.”

“You didn’t want to be left out, did you?”

Jin Ling’s ears go red. “Shut up!”

“No loud voices on the bridge.” Teacher Lan doesn’t look angry. He looks a little like he’s laughing at Jin Ling, if you can laugh without an expression on your face.

Captain Lan meets them on the bridge and smiles kindly at them. He tells them what each station does, and who the person manning it is. Today Madam Yu is at the communications station, and she raises a perfect eyebrow at Jin Ling.

“I’m glad you’re showing an interest in the bridge, Xiao Ling.”

“Grandmother, I have a friend who is very interested in you teaching him how communications works.”

“He’d best learn from Lieutenant Wen. He’s much more patient than I am.” She says, smiling softly at him. If A-Yuan didn’t know how terrifying she actually was, he’d think she was a regular doting relative.

He realises what she said and he jolts. “Lieutenant Wen?” He asks.

She looks at him sharply. “Don’t tell me you don’t like the Wens because of their surname, boy.”

“No, it’s not that, I just- What is the first name, Commander Yu?”

She eyes him suspiciously. “Wen Ning.”

A-Yuan can’t help the breath that falls out of him. Another person he knows on this ship! Has some cosmic joke been played on him? This is the easiest place for him to be caught out!

She looks very close to asking him what his problem is, but Jin Ling interrupts by asking how he can contact Wen Ning. She lets him redirect the conversation, but A-Yuan is going to owe Jin Ling even more after this.

They get shown all of the stations, and Commander Luo, the Chief Science Officer, says they can help with the star charting for Starfleet academy credits if they want to. A-Yuan thinks this sounds brilliant, and he struggles to contain his excitement as he says yes, bouncing a little on the balls of his feet.

Commander Luo smiles at him.

“I can show you engineering now, I’m meeting the head of engineering and a medical officer down there briefly, but the First Officer can show you around until we’re finished.” Captain Lan says.

A-Yuan is falling in love with the workings of the ship, although he’s trying not to. He’s going to enjoy every second of being aboard, even if he can’t go to the academy or join a star ship for real, this experience will be worth it.

 

He only remembers that the head of engineering is Wei Wuxian when they walk through the door.

 

He only remembers that the telepath is a medical officer when they walk through the door.

 

He only remembers that the whole ship is trying to figure out that he is causing the power drains when he walks through the door.

 

He locks eyes with the man from mess hall, the man from the school corridor, and he passes out.

 

The lights go out.

 

Meng Yao feels only shock and fierce worry.

Jin Ling catches Sizhui and presses his hands to his cheeks, shakes his shoulder, urgently saying “Sizhui, Sizhui, A-Zhui, Zhui-er, please, ge, wake up.”

Lan Xichen puts his hands on Meng Yao’s skin and shoves his shields over Meng Yao’s projection.

Sizhui wakes up.

The lights come back on.

Sizhui is shaking like a leaf. Forced consumption is only getting more painful. Jin Ling presses a kiss to his forehead and murmurs “You’re okay, you’re okay, I’ve got you, you’re okay.”

Sizhui doesn’t jump out of his arms this time.

Wei Wuxian appears from one floor up, leaning over a railing. “Did the lights go out? Nobody move!” He yells.

He doesn’t wait for an answer and runs in the opposite direction, to the stairs.

Lan Wangji takes Sizhui’s pulse. “Are you okay?” He asks.

A-Yuan’s mind returns to him and he starts to push himself up, needing to get away before Wei Wuxian can recognise him, before he’s exposed, before—

He is pulled back by teacher Lan. He has one hand on each of his shoulders. “No one will hurt you here.”

Captain Lan echoes teacher Lan. “Are you okay? Are you hurt?”

Meng Yao looks struck. “Am I hurting you?”

His emotions are coursing through Xichen and himself. He is full to the brim of worry and the guilt and pain of hurting someone innocent by accident.

Sizhui looks at him, his eyes wide. “I-“

Wei Wuxian barrels through the door and jumps over the metal barrier that separates the slightly higher level from the lower level. He crashes into teacher Lan, who catches him, still with one hand on A-Yuan’s shoulder.

A-Yuan tries one more time to get away, but teacher Lan’s grip is too strong.

Wei Wuxian is holding a bracelet and a padd.

A-Yuan wonders if he is going to be arrested, if the bracelet is some kind of shock collar.

The few days he had here were good. He’s sorry Jin Ling and Jingyi got attached to him before this. He didn’t want to hurt them by disappearing or being arrested so soon.

He probably could have done a better job at hiding himself, but he was greedy.

He always has been.

“A-Yuan?” Wei Wuxian whispers.

A-Yuan’s back is to him.

“Wen Yuan.”

He thinks he might start crying.

He turns to look at Wei Wuxian. Wei Wuxian’s eyes are full of tears.

“I’m sorry.” He can’t get his voice above a whisper. His throat feels full and his vision is blurry with tears. All he can do is repeat, “I’m sorry.”

Wei Wuxian does the most unexpected thing he could possibly do.

He pulls A-Yuan into a hug.

“Senior Wei, I’m so sorry.” A-Yuan clings to him.

He can’t say anything else, he can’t move away, he can only cling as if Wei Wuxian is keeping him afloat. He is crying, he knows. He pushes his face into Wei Wuxian’s neck, and he cries “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

Wei Wuxian is holding him just as tight. The padd and the bracelet are both on the floor. His face is drawn tight and covered in tears. Wangji is watching, and he has never seen Wei Wuxian look this anguished.

“Don’t apologise to me, A-Yuan, don’t apologise. I can’t believe you’re alive.” Wei Wuxian strokes A-Yuan’s hair to both comfort A-Yuan and to ground himself in the knowledge that A-Yuan is here and A-Yuan is alive and A-Yuan survived.

A-Yuan pulls away suddenly and holds Wei Wuxian at arms length. “I’m sorry I survived. No one else did.”

Wei Wuxian’s face crumples. His body heaves with a sob and A-Yuan is the one to pull him in this time.

They stand there, clinging to each other. Xichen, Meng Yao, Jin Ling, and Wangji form a sort of protective circle around them. Wangji’s heart is breaking, watching Wei Wuxian cry like this. He wants desperately to reach out and comfort him, but Wei Wuxian is busy in his own emotions right now.

He looks at Xichen. Xichen nods.

“We should go to a conference room.” He says.

Wangji picks up the bracelet and padd, and puts a hand on Wei Wuxian’s back, praying he accepts the comfort. Wei Wuxian pulls away from A-Yuan, smiles a watery smile at Wangji, and doesn’t let go of A-Yuan as they walk to the conference room. A-Yuan looks unwilling to let go as well.

Wei Wuxian sits, and A-Yuan sits next to him. Wei Wuxian’s hand is tight around A-Yuans wrist.

They fill half of the table. Wangji wonders if he can move his chair closer to Wei Wuxian’s.

Xichen has not let go of Meng Yao. Meng Yao is trying to feel as little as possible.

Wei Wuxian looks away from A-Yuan, and notices Xichen’s hand tight around Meng Yao’s wrist.

“Oh right, the shielding. Wait, lets see if this works.”

Wangji hands him the bracelet, which he puts around Sizhui’s wrist.

Xichen lets go of Meng Yao.

Sizhui doesn’t pass out.

“It should block the harmful waves from getting to you and impairing your intake control.” Wei Wuxian says.

Sizhui’s eyes are wide as he looks at the bracelet. “You made this to save me? You didn’t even know who I was.”

Wei Wuxian squeezes his wrist. “A-Yuan. I would have saved any Dafan on this ship. I owe my life to the Dafan, and I want to repay that any way I can. I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”

A-Yuan’s eyes fill with tears again. He gets the feeling he’s going to be crying a lot.

“Oh, I should-” Wei Wuxian hits his badge to open a communication link. “Wei Wuxian to Wen Ning and Wen Qing, come to conference room 3.”

A-Yuan breathes in a little. “Qing Jie is here?”

Wei Wuxian smiles at him. “We’re going to protect you.”

Captain Lan clears his throat. “As touching as this is, I’d like to hear who you are and why you’re here before you start to make my crew break Starfleet rules.”

A-Yuan can’t meet his eyes. “Before I start, Captain Lan, I’d like to say that I’m sorry, I love it on this ship, and I don’t want to leave.”

Xichen’s eyes soften, but that’s probably only obvious to Meng Yao and Wangji.

“My name is Wen Yuan. I-. I was living on Qishan 4 when the Cardassians put their virus into the atmosphere to kill my people.”

Meng Yao sits straighter. Wei Wuxian and Wen Yuan’s feelings of relief and grief are battering him so much he can barely feel for himself. “Am I going to die?”

Wen Yuan shakes his head. “No. It’s only lethal to my species. It makes telepaths lose control of their shielding so they project all their emotions onto everyone else. I think you’re a low-level telepath, because when telepaths are infected, for two weeks afterwards the emotions they project cause my species to lose control of our power intake, and it kills us. Like burning out all of our circuits. You have only affected me when you’re feeling very strong emotion. In the school rooms, I was near you for a while before you hit me hard.”

Xichen’s brow furrows and he leans in a little. Meng Yao swears inside his head. He really hopes Xichen doesn’t put the galaxy’s most obvious 2 and 2 together.

“Why were the Cardassians trying to kill you?” Xichen asks.

“They weren’t trying, Captain, they succeeded. My whole town was infected and they died. It’s just like a regular virus for us, but when we get sick we can’t control our power intake. Some people starved, some people over-consumed and died. Three of us were immune. The other two were accidentally killed by telepaths in the days afterwards. I think the telepaths died of starvation afterwards. I went into the woods and survived on the natural energy flow of rivers and trees. In fact, my town had survived on mostly natural energy flow for most of our lives until Senior Wei arrived when I was 11. We had some small engines and devices, but the Cardassians wouldn't give us much, and we didn't have our own space craft. He had a space craft, and he got us materials from the local scrapyard planet to help us build a power station when he found out. Natural energy flow is slow, so we must spend a lot of the day taking in energy. With the rudimentary electricity systems Senior Wei and I built, we could do much more in the day, and we built up our town. We were still a small settlement but life was smoother after Senior Wei came. Senior Wei stayed with us for four years, until I was 15. A-Ning and Qing jie arrived then. They were running, and Senior Wei had to go with them because their repaired space craft was faulty and needed constant repairs. I wanted to go too, but my Grandmother was on the planet, and she wouldn’t make it. Senior Wei said he would come back. That didn’t matter because a month later the Cardassians dropped their virus.

“There were more powerful settlements and cities nearby. I think we were the test town, and something went wrong because the planet didn’t get any Cardassian scavengers. Everyone was dead, and Yiling was like a huge burial mound. I scavenged all the material I could and built myself a house near the clearing nearby. I had no idea what to do, but I had Senior Wei’s notes and his old ship.

“I burned the town. We usually burn our dead, but there were too many to burn individually this time. I made my first cloaking devices so no one would find the ruins of Yiling, then another for my house. If the Cardassians found me they would kill me immediately. Dafans are not permitted to live. We are a parasite species, they say. We don’t do anything that could cause harm to nature or the flow of energy because we are part of the ecosystem. We didn’t want to participate in their war or colonise with them, or be colonised by them. The only thing we did was consume their power and refuse to let them mine our planets. So they killed us.

“I’ve been trying to leave my planet for years. Cardassian cruisers are the only ones that come this way, but I heard people talking about Federation vessels charting space in this area, so I started to plan. I have been building and coding machines to keep myself alive, so it was not hard to build it, but it was hard to get all the materials.

“I built the sigil. It’s a huge resistor, and using myself as an intermediary device, I could remotely drain your power into this planet via myself. I had an old Cardassian transporter I repaired but couldn’t generate the power to run. All my power was hydroelectric, built by me and Senior Wei. All my knowledge came from the books he got me and the notes he made. I channelled the power from your ship into me, and then into the transporter and the ground, and set it to fail half an hour after I got aboard.”

Wen Yuan pauses at this point. His gaze has been on the table constantly, but now he closes his eyes.

“I transported onto your ship. Something on my sigil broke, because I had to take that power into me instead of into the ground. It was odd, having all that power burning through me but not using any of it. Like standing in a waterfall and being beaten by the flow of the water into the ground. I got a console and restored power to the administration system of the ship, and found that Lan Sizhui hadn’t come aboard. I changed his age to my age, and changed his room allocation to be occupied by him. I barely made it to his room before I passed out. I thought I was going to drown.

“I was going to keep a low profile and just wait to get to somewhere way out of Cardassian space, then transport onto a planet. I.. I thought hiding in plain sight would be better than being an oddity locked in my room constantly, but people made friends with me.”

Jin Ling blushes.

Wen Yuan’s face is twisted. Tears have been falling down his face inconsistently.

Meng Yao leans forward. “I’m sorry.”

 

A-Yuan hadn’t been expecting that. He looks up and makes eye contact for the first time since he started talking. “For what?”

“For causing you harm. If I hadn’t made you locally drain power you would have lasted longer.”

A-Yuan huffs a watery laugh. “I really didn’t do very well at infiltration, did I?”

Jin Ling sniffs. “Me and Jingyi kind of ruined it for you…”

A-Yuan smiles. “I haven’t been as happy as I was this past week for years, Jin Ling. Please don’t blame yourself.”

He wonders if Jin Ling still likes him as a person. He wonders if Jingyi will still like him after he finds out about this. He shouldn’t push his luck.

The door opens.

“Wen Ning! You took a while.” Wei Wuxian exclaims.

A-Yuan gets to his feet, and watches Wen Ning recognise him, then stride forward and hug him.

“I’m sorry, A-Ning. I’m the only one that survived.”

Wen Qing follows him in, and puts her hand on the side of A-Yuan’s face.

“Jiejie, I’m s-”

“Don’t apologise to me. Someone survived, and that’s all that matters.”

A-Yuan pushes himself and Wen Ning closer so he can wrap an arm around Wen Qing as well.

They don’t say anything, just stand there hugging. Wei Wuxian looks like he wants to join, but also like he wants desperately to say something.

Lan Wangji beats him to it.

“I will adopt him.”

A-Yuan tears himself out of the embrace and turns to look at Lan Wangji, shock all over his face. “L..laoshi?”

“He is already a Lan in name. Lan Sizhui has contacted me to tell me he is not coming to Federation space. He can be Lan Sizhui.”

Captain Lan scrutinises his brother. “I take it you have thought this through?”

“Lan Sizhui is a Vulcan. I knew he was a stowaway from the moment I met him. I was going to ask him anyway.” He turns to A-Yuan. “You should be able to go to Starfleet academy. I can make that happen for you.”

A-Yuan is completely speechless. Lan Wangji really did see through him all those times A-Yuan felt his gaze pierce his soul. “You knew? And you didn’t care?”

“You said you wanted to get as far away from this part of space as possible. I assumed you were running, and I would have hidden you. I don’t care where you’re from.” A very small smile appears on his face. “You are very much like a Lan anyway. I would be delighted to welcome you into my family.”

A-Yuan blinks at him.

“You’ve known me for a week.”

“I’m a good judge of character. I fell in love after a week of knowing someone, and I’ve loved him for fifteen years.”

Wei Wuxian stares at Lan Wangji, eyes wide and alarmed.

A-Yuan still can’t blink the shock out of his mind. “Okay, I- Okay.”

 

In this short time he has got his family back, gained a new one, and his friend is not running, or even looking disgusted at him.

Maybe it’s good that he is terrible at subterfuge.

 

Captain Lan stands. “You are promising. I will not report you to Starfleet command. I expect you to work hard in your studies and help out Commander Wei in all the ways you can. You are even more ingenious than we thought, none of us could figure out how the sigil worked. Your real identity does not leave this room. From now on, you’re Lan Sizhui.”

A-Yuan goes red. He’s not used to being praised. He’s not used to getting everything he wants on a silver platter.

“Yes, sir.”

“Dismissed.”

None of them move. Wei Wuxian, Wen Ning, and Wen Qing all look like they don’t want to let Wen Yuan out of their sight for a second. He gets it, he still doesn’t believe he’s not being delivered to either the Cardassians or the prison. He’s still waiting for the catch.

Jin Ling walks over to him. His breath catches in his chest. He fears the worst.

“Come and talk to me when you’re done catching up with your family.” He looks around, sees everyone watching them, goes bright red, and says “I really like you, Lan Sizhui, Wen Yuan, A-Yuan. Please come and talk to me.” Jin Ling runs out the door.

For some reason, Wei Wuxian is grinning.

Wen Qing takes hold of his shoulder. “Come, we’ll go to my quarters to catch up. Wen Ning can cook, and you can meet Mianmian.” She guides him out, and Wen Ning, Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian follow.

 

Meng Yao stares at the door. “Emotions have been running so high this week, I really hope that was the end of it. I don’t think I can take any more.”

Xichen turns to him and gives him a look that makes his heart sink. “Wasn’t that your fault?”

“What?”

“Emotions running high. Huaisang punching Ouyang. Jiang Cheng confessing to Huaisang. Commander Luo confessing to Doctor Wen. Xingchen confessing to Song Lan. Wasn’t that all because of you?”

Meng Yao has his eyes squeezed shut. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.” He gets up, and Xichen catches his hand and stands up with him.

“A-Yao.”

Meng Yao faces him, and looks him in the eye.

“I can’t ask you out.”

Meng Yao makes a confused face.

“I am your superior officer. It would not be appropriate.”

Oh.

“What would be appropriate is if you asked me out. Or you could just kiss me. That would work as well.”

Meng Yao isn’t sure he can kiss Xichen without ruining Xichen.

“It’s all I’ve wanted since I met you.”

He puts his hands on Xichen’s cheeks. “Please stop talking.”

He kisses Xichen. He decides with Xichen’s lips pressing against his, Xichen’s hands on his waist, Xichen’s scent enveloping him, that any time with Xichen is better than none. If Xichen decides Meng Yao is too broken, at least he will have this memory.

Xichen’s emotions rush into him as they kiss, and he realises the depth of longing that Xichen is pouring into him.

He really has wanted this.

His thoughts brush Meng Yao’s consciousness. Meng Yao is not a thought telepath, so this is all Vulcan tricks.

Just you. Just the way you speak, the way you make me feel. You don’t need to be more than that, I just want you like this.

Meng Yao has never been so in love. He kisses Xichen harder.

 

 

 

 

Epilogue

Wen Qing, Wen Ning, and A-Yuan are in the kitchen area of Wen Qing’s quarters. She specifically requested one with a kitchen so Wen Ning could cook, and so she could make herbal medicine properly. The replicator doesn’t do it right. A-Yuan doesn’t need to eat, but he has started to enjoy it. Jin Ling has been programming new things for him to try, but Wen Qing insists a homecooked meal is the best.

Wei Wuxian sits with Lan Zhan on the sofa near a window. He’s trying to figure out how to ask Lan Zhan about the person he’s in love with. He knew Lan Zhan before he ran away and he’s known him since. He doesn’t know if he knows the person, but he’s dying to find out.

He’s horribly jealous, and he doesn’t know if he can hide that.

“Lan Zhan… You’re too kind, you know I would adopt A-Yuan, you don’t have to do that.”

Lan Zhan looks at him. “He is already a Lan. Easier this way.”

Wei Wuxian smiles. “Ah, you’re so selfless! Won’t the person you’re in love with want to know why you’re adopting an adult child?”

Lan Zhan blinks at him. Wei Wuxian admits that wasn’t very smooth.

“He wouldn’t mind.”

“You’re so sure?”

“Yes.”

Wei Wuxian pouts. Obviously asking around the issue isn’t going to make Lan Zhan change who he is to offer him answers to questions he hasn’t asked. The other three are distracted, so Wei Wuxian with his heart in his throat guesses now is as good a time as any.

“You know Lan Zhan, I’m a bit jealous of whoever you’re in love with.”

Lan Zhan inhales sharply and turns to look at him.

“Who could make you fall in love for so long?! I bet you are the most devoted partner.”

Lan Zhan’s ears are green. He is looking incredulously at Wei Wuxian. Wei Wuxian doesn’t understand.

“You are asking…”

“I’m asking you who you’re in love with, Lan Zhan!”

Lan Zhan stares at him a little more.

“Wei Ying doesn’t know.”

“I don’t know what?”

“It’s you. It’s always been you.”

Wei Wuxian isn’t sure if he heard that right.

“You… love me?”

“Mn.”

“Like.. romantically?”

Lan Zhan stares at him again. He takes Wei Wuxian’s hand.

They have touched skin before, but this time Lan Zhan is projecting what he feels through the places where they touch.

He feels so much devotion for Wei Wuxian. Wei Wuxian tries his best to project his own feelings back to Lan Zhan, letting his adoration and relief wash over him and saturate all the spaces in his chest.

He has never felt so full of emotion.

Lan Zhan’s eyes are wide. “You..”

“I love you.” Wei Wuxian says.

Lan Zhan’s hand tightens on his, and he blinks a few times. He repeats, “I love you…” almost in disbelief.

Wei Wuxian is tired of waiting, and he closes the gap between them and kisses Lan Zhan with all the pent up emotion he’s been storing for the past few years.

“I love you, I like you, I fancy you, I whatever you.” Wei Wuxian whispers into his skin. Lan Zhan repeats it back to him, his hands grasping at Wei Wuxian’s shoulders, both of them unwilling to separate, pressing kisses to each others faces.

Today he has experienced more emotions more intensely than he thought possible. He thinks his chest might collapse with the happiness forcing its way through his ribcage.

A-Yuan turns and makes a noise when he sees them kissing. They don’t break apart.

A-Yuan sighs. At least this way Wei Wuxian won’t get jealous that Lan Wangji has welcomed him into the family, because he is a part of the family too.

 

Wen Ning looks at them, then looks at the plate he is holding.

“Can I eat now?”