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Principles and Punishment

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In all his years, Lan Zhan had only been punished twice for defying the Lan Principles. Wei Ying had tried to prevent his punishment the very first time, insisting that it had been he who had forced Lan Zhan to consume alcohol against his will. But Lan Zhan had been adamant regarding his wrongdoing and had accepted the consequences. Three hundred hits with the wooden board had hurt, but Lan Zhan had never uttered a sound during the punishment.

It was nothing to the agony he was experiencing now. The triple bamboo poles bit into his flesh with each swing the disciples took, the pain sharp and radiating across his back. It only took a handful of swings before blood began to blossom, staining Lan Zhan’s white garments and headband a bright crimson. 

And still, he remained silent.

At thirteen lashes, Lan Qiren had asked him what the 52nd doctrine of the Lan Principles was. Lan Zhan had answered automatically, all three thousand principles ingrained in his memory from a young age.

At sixteen lashes, the inner disciple meting out his punishment was beginning to tire. The time between lashes increased as the strength behind the blows waned slightly. But Lan disciples were strong armed and determined, and the pain felt no less intense against already weeping lashes.

At twenty lashes, a strong metallic taste beginning to fill his mouth, Lan Zhan had asked his uncle who was truly black and who was truly white in the world. There was defiance in both his voice and his eyes despite the blood dripping down his chin.

At twenty-six lashes, a quiet resolve had stolen over Lan Qiren’s face as he voiced his disappointment in his nephew.

At fifty lashes Lan Zhan had a momentary reprieve as the disciples changed hands before the torment began anew. The ceaseless pain was beginning to dull his mind; Lan Zhan could feel his consciousness threatening to slip away at any moment, but he refused to give in. His fists tightened, knuckles popping audibly as his nails cut into his palms so deep they drew blood. He would not give anyone the pleasure of seeing him fall before the end of his punishment. 

Straightening his spine despite the excruciating pain, Lan Zhan did the only thing he knew to keep his mind going: he began mentally reciting the Lan Principles, one by one.

Be a filial child

His uncle might think otherwise, but Lan Zhan had and would always be dutiful. Even now, he respected his uncle despite current events. Even though he understood the reasons, knew well why Lan Qiren viewed the world in such a rigid way, Lan Zhan could no longer agree with his uncle’s ideals. He had seen enough of the world to understand that gray areas would always exist.

Honor good people

No one would disagree that Wen Ruohan and Wen Chao were evil men, the furthest one could be from good. To most of the cultivation world, having the Wen name meant you were like them; being a Wen meant having the capacity to do truly evil things.

But wasn’t that capacity in everyone? Lan Zhan wondered if that capacity existed in himself. Perhaps…perhaps not. Who could really say for certain? What he did know was that people like Wen Qing and the remaining Wen clan members Wei Ying had aided had been good people. They had been kind-hearted and caring. All they wanted was what anyone desired: to live freely and happily. They didn’t deserve the slander flung at them for the mere coincidence of a name.

Blood had begun to pool at Lan Zhan’s knees, flowing down the back and sides of his thighs. Not a single inch of his back had been spared, his clothing and hair sticking to the split skin and bleeding muscle. Behind him, the disciples exchanged hands for the fourth time. There was still one hundred remaining lashes.

The strength behind the next swing was enough to send his weary body forward. Lan Zhan landed hard on his palms, barely catching his fall. A pain laced grunt sounded from his throat, one of the few sounds had had made thus far. His vision was hazy, dark spots forming at the edges. Silence and stillness surrounded him as he breathed in a few strangled gasps of air, blood trickling from the corner of his lips.

Slowly and carefully, ignoring the protesting of his body, Lan Zhan righted himself. Pushing upwards, he relaxed his shoulders and stiffened his back as best as he could. He grit his teeth, hands forming tight fists once again, as he fixed his gaze on a point past his uncle and tilted his chin up. As the lashes began again and his mind returned to the task of naming the principles, he did not notice the gaze Lan Qiren pinned upon him, a measure of regret in his stern expression.

Shoulder the weight of morality

Right and wrong. It once has been so easy to tell the difference. His uncle had taught him that anyone who performed impure cultivation was wrong. By that reasoning, Wei Ying had been wrong. But there was no denying the evidence Lan Zhan had seen with his own eyes. He had seen Wei Ying, for the most part, using his demonic cultivation to protect people, to shield those who did not have the strength to shield themselves. Wei Ying had chosen to stand against the entire cultivation world simply because he believed himself to be morally right. And, truly, who was to say he wasn’t?

Believe sincerely

There was a tightness behind his eyes as Lan Zhan remembered the look - the last look - Wei Ying had given him as he fell. It was a look of complete and utter trust, a look that spoke of how deeply Wei Ying had believed in him even as death crept closer. Even in the end, even with the whole world turned against him, Wei Ying had only believed in one person. 

Lan Zhan would never forget that last look as long as he lived. 

Do not break promises

A memory, of happier times, tickled the back of his mind.

I, Lan Wangji, wish I can always stand with justice, and live with no regrets.

He had said those words, made that wish the day they released the lanterns. It was the same wish Wei Ying had uttered, the same familiar words ringing in their ears after the encounter in the Cold Pond Cave. Until the very end, Wei Ying had done what he had to in order to live by his promise. Lan Zhan had attempted to do the same, standing against his family and peers to protect the one person he trusted completely. 

He hadn’t broken his promise, and yet he was paying a high price for it. 

The last lash was the heaviest, striking across his shoulders. Lan Zhan’s body wobbled with the force of the blow, but he remained upright. Drops of sweat beaded on his skin despite the cool air; they slid down his face and skin, stinging where they encountered open welts. His breathing issued past his lips in ragged gasps, the sound loud in the following silence. He was aware of little but the never-ending pain and the sudden sting of a cold wind against his ravaged back.

Hands were on him, attempting to pull him to a standing position. With great defiance, Lan Zhan shrugged the disciples off, biting down hard on his tongue to keep the groan of pain from sounding - but failing. He forced his trembling legs to move, first one then the other, until he was on his feet. The stubbornness he had exhibited since birth was on full display as Lan Zhan stood still and ramrod straight before his uncle while scarlet rivers of blood streamed down his back. As their eyes met, Lan Zhan knew nothing would ever be the same between them.

With a sigh and a disappointed shake of the head, Lan Qiren turned away from him and began to stroll off. The moment his uncle was out of sight, Lan Zhan felt his strength finally leave him. His knees buckled as his body collapsed in on itself. He was dimly aware of someone catching him, thought he heard his brother’s voice call him. The last image Lan Zhan’s mind registered before unconsciousness took him was Wei Ying, smiling as he took A-Yuan back to the Burial Mounds speaking words that spoke volumes to the man he had once tried to be - the man Lan Zhan loved and now missed.

“I’ll stick to my single log bridge till it’s dark.”

Chapter Text

It was near midnight. As was typical of him, Lan Zhan had long fallen asleep with his head pillowed on Wei Ying’s chest, bare brow pressed against the side of his neck. His face was relaxed, breathing even in slumber. Dark lashes fluttered faintly against his cheek as a soft sigh sounded in response to whatever dreams he may be experiencing. His arms were wrapped about Wei Ying, grip firm even in sleep. Lan Zhan’s hair was unbound, loose about his shoulders and back like a dark spill of ink. Only in sleep within Wei Ying’s presence did he seem to truly relax.

As was typical for him, Wei Ying was still awake. He hardly slept before midnight despite having become accustomed to the strict ways of Cloud Recesses. As the rest of the sect settled down precisely at nine in the evening, Wei Ying found himself with hours each night of stillness and silence. He was terrible at traditional mediation, but these hours were his own form of quiet contemplation.

He lay still and quiet so as not to disturb Lan Zhan, his head turned towards the open window and his gaze upon the summer green maple leaves gently waving in a night breeze. His mind wandered randomly, thinking about moments from the past - both distant and recent. Wei Ying’s hand moved almost unconsciously, gently combing through Lan Zhan’s hair. The hint of a smile tugged at Wei Ying’s lips as he turned from the window to look down at the man using him as a human pillow.

A beam of moonlight broke through the cloud cover, streaking its way into the room. The moonlight fell over Lan Zhan’s shoulder, illuminating pale skin that seem to glow, pearlescent and bright. It was the kind of luminescent feature Wei Ying had heard many women wish for. Yet, here was the esteemed HanGuang-Jun, who didn’t care about such things, displaying an almost unnatural allure.

Peerless beauty, indeed.

Wei Ying’s lips twisted into a smirk at the thought. Even before he understood the depths of his feelings, he had always found Lan Zhan to be a rare vision. The Gusu Lan Sect, particularly the direct members of the Lan Clan, had always been known for their almost otherworldly beauty; Lan Zhan was no exception to that rule. Perhaps Wei Ying was a bit bias, but he thought Lan Zhan outshone them all.

A moment later, Wei Ying’s face took on an expression of blankness, the amusement in his eyes dimming as his fingertips brushed against roughen skin. A sigh of resigned sadness whistling softly through his teeth before he pressed his lips together. No matter how many times he saw them, it never got easier for Wei Ying to come to terms with the existence of the whip scars on Lan Zhan’s back.

With a gentle sweep of his hand, Wei Ying brushed aside Lan Zhan’s hair to reveal the extent of his past punishment. Beneath the moonlight, some scars were bright and shiny, the newer skin slightly raised and smooth to the touch. Other scars were darker in color, like bruises that refused to fade, the texture coarse like sand. They criss crossed each other in non-sensical patterns, covering Lan Zhan’s back from his shoulders to the narrowest part of his waist. There were at least thirty of them, but Wei Ying knew the lashes that had created the scars were ten times more in number. 

My fault…this is my fault. If I hadn’t…if he hadn’t…

It was a thought that had plagued Wei Ying on more than one occasion. He knew that if he ever spoke it out loud Lan Zhan would, if he didn’t choose to remain silent, dispute vehemently. 

“You make your choices, and I make mine. This was my punishment for my choices.”

The ghost of a smile graced Wei Ying’s face. Lan Zhan had never spoken those words to him before, but he could just imagine him saying them, his voice low and his gaze level.

His hand was steady as Wei Ying laid it gently upon Lan Zhan’s back, pressing his palm flat and feeling the raised ridges the scars made against his skin. They never talked about them or about the punishment; only once had Wei Ying ever asked, that one time when he first saw them. He wouldn’t ever forget the look on Lan Zhan’s face, the closed off and tight lipped expression that Wei Ying hadn’t seen since they had first met. He never asked again, but sometimes - like tonight - when he saw them, Wei Ying couldn’t help but feel a sense of responsibility for the pain and suffering Lan Zhan endured.

Wei Ying was certain that for as long as he lived, as long as he loved Lan Zhan, he would always feel that heavy weight of blame in his heart.

With the back of his hand, Wei Ying smoothed away some wayward strands from Lan Zhan’s face. He leaned in close, dipping his chin slightly to press his lips against Lan Zhan’s brow. He felt the arms around him tighten for a fraction of a second, an incoherent low mumble reaching his ears. Wei Ying heard his own name murmured in a clear voice but Lan Zhan was still fast asleep. 

He gave a small pleased smile, dropping a kiss to his love’s dark crown of hair, before Wei Ying pulled him close, eyes fluttering shut as sleep finally claimed him.