A-Yuan is getting bored. There is no doubt about that fact. Lan Wangji knows this because the child has not been subtle about it. He walks around the jingshi, picking one thing or the other, stuffs that Wangji has permitted him to touch and then abandons them when they fail to catch his interest. The jingshi hardly has anything to entertain the child, he picks up books and then throws them away, sometimes he brings them to Lan Wangji to read but old scriptures and poems can catch his attention only for a few moments before he is back at his hunt to find something fascinating again.
So Lan Wangji shouldn’t really be surprised when A-Yuan’s pitiful cry rings in the jingshi along with the indication of some mishap. He finds himself startled nevertheless.
Lan Wangji shifts his attention from the pile of books scattered in one corner to crumpled papers lying on the floor and settles on A-Yuan. A-Yuan who is soaking wet, a cup shattered at his feet looking extremely guilty. And Lan Wangji had only diverted his attention for a minute.
Sighing, he gets out of the bed and makes his way slowly towards the wet toddler.
“I was thirsty.” A-Yuan tries to explain once Lan Wangji has carried him away from the mess. You should have asked me, he wants to scold the child but this isn’t the first time Wangji has caught him trying to do something by himself. Despite Lan Yuan’s immediate attachment to him, there are moments when he hesitates, afraid to ask of too much. There are boundaries that the child has drawn for himself and even if Lan Wangji is the one he looks towards for comfort, there are also times when he finds the child living uncomfortably around him. He cannot blame him for trying to do everything by himself. After all, he is nothing but a stranger in A-Yuan’s eyes. Perhaps, it is the gaps in his memories that cause A-Yuan to feel afraid, makes him wary around new faces. Perhaps, it is because of him. Lan Wangji strongly wishes it is not the latter.
“It is okay.” He coaxes the scared child, fingers curling a little tighter, as tears start welling up in A-Yuan’s eyes. It was just a porcelain cup, I am more afraid that you could have hurt yourself, there are so many things that Lan Wangji would like to say to the little kid in his arms. Tell me, tell me what worries you. A-Yuan is barely four years of age; Lan Wangji wants this child to be happy. You are not alone Lan Yuan.
“It is okay,” Lan Wangji repeats, he puts the child down and crouches in front of him, “It is okay to ask for help.” He places a heavy hand on the child’s head, keeps it there till A-Yuan relaxes under the touch and they stay like that for a moment. A-Yuan’s eyes no longer hold tears, but his cheeks are still wet from those that have already escaped. Lan Wangji makes a quick work to wipe them away.
“Gege,” A-Yuan calls out, “Can I hug you?” He fiddles with his little fingers with shyness. Lan Wangji doesn’t think he’d be ever able to say no to the child. Lan Wangji doesn’t want to say no to him.
With a quick nod, he raises his arms, barely catching himself as the toddler throws his arms around his neck. He ignores pain that shoots down his back at the sudden movement and instead returns the hug with equal sentiment. It’s worth it, he knows.
“I’m here, A-Yuan.”
A-Yuan pulls back with a grin so wide that Lan Wangji can’t help but let a small smile grace his lips too.
A-Yuan, once in mood can talk nineteen to dozen if he wants to. The jingshi no longer retains its perpetual silence but is filled with the child’s chatter. Lan Wangji finds himself welcoming the change.
A-Yuan can also, Lan Wangji realizes, ask questions about things that he cannot find answers to. He is pretty sure that no books that he has ever read have explained to him about why water is wet or why one has two eyes and only one nose. Lan Wangji prefers to stay silent at those times, thanking A-Yuan’s constancy to jump from one topic to another in no time.
[“Why are you both so tall?” A-Yuan asks Lan Wangji and his brother while they are having lunch, his neck craning all the way up to look at them, a pout already forming at the supposed unfairness. The child had not so covertly pushed his dish full of vegetables away few moments ago, summing it all by throwing a hateful glance at it. This would not be the first time he has done this and yet Lan Wangji finds that he has been unable to admonish the child.
Lan Xichen noticing the toddlers attempt to get away with his stunt smiles with amusement. “I used to finish all the food given to me when I was little.” He whispers childishly as if sharing a big secret.
“Yes.” His brother quickly picks up the chopsticks discarded by A-Yuan and hands it to him. “Young boys should finish the food given to them to grow tall.”
A-Yuan’s eyes widens with comprehension and his little hands quickly grabbed the chopsticks from Lan Xichen, making a quick work to finish the rice in his bowl.
“Slow down.” Lan Xichen chuckles.
Lan Wangji watched the scene with mild fondness before clearing his throat. “Speech during meals is forbidden.” He glances at A-Yuan who nods obediently and goes back to finishing his food, even asking for seconds once his bowl is empty.
“Will I be tall enough to touch the clouds?” He asks at the end of the meal.
Lan Wangji gives his brother a thankful look. Lan Xichen, he sees, looks a little ‘too’ proud with his accomplishment.]
Today, A-Yuan’s question comes when the sun is just beginning to set. Lan Wangji is lying on the bed, his wounds aching and demanding rest. A-Yuan sits by the window, his face aglow with the last of the sun rays that decorate the sky, before the first of the stars appear, twinkling. His eyes are wide, moving from one point to another; he is clearly engulfed in whatever he is thinking.
“The birds are going somewhere.” He says, and the corner of his eyes crinkles as he scrunches up his nose. He doesn’t divert his eyes away from the sky though, eyes never leaving whatever has caught his attention. Lan Wangji watches him from the angle of his bed, waiting for him to continue. Distinctly, he hears the cry of some bird.
“Hanguang-jun, where are they going?”
He raises an eyebrow at the odd question but answers nevertheless. “Back home.”
Lan Wangji nods lightly, the sun has already made its leave from the sky, he notices; but the last bit of daylight still remains in the air as though, accidentally left behind.
A-Yuan shifts his eyes away from the rapidly darkening sky and gets up, “Hanguang-jun,” his timid voice asks again, Lan Wangji waits for the five year old to finish.
“Where is my home?”
A-Yuan’s small smile looks as if he wants to ask a dozen more questions. He doesn’t.
It should have a simple answer, really, Lan Wangji thinks. Here, he wants to say but then he also remembers how the Cloud Recesses no longer feels like a home to him too. A-Yuan walks over to him with eased steps and sits down at the foot of Lan Wangji’s bed, no longer a stranger to the large stretch of silence.
Lan Wangji thinks about little A-Yuan surrounded by his actual family. The tilting huts of Burial Mounds and the dry fields he had seen A-Yuan running and playing. A cry of ‘Xian-gege’ always present at every other sentence he spoke. He rarely sees the child running now. He’ll never hear him utter the words ‘Xian-gege’ again.
“Jingyi said that his home is the cottage he lives in with his parents.”
Lan Wangji closes his eyes instead of answering. He remembers the warmth of staying in his mother’s arms and how he had always felt that he belonged there than any other corner of cloud recesses. He remembers walking down the battered and burnt corridors of his sect and the ire he had felt at his home being destroyed; how empty the entirety of the place looked without his brother and the knowledge that his father no longer resided in any of the secluded cottages. He senses the throbbing ache in his chest now, always present, a reminder that he has to live while Wei Ying doesn’t. The scars decorating his back itch, Lan Wangji rolls his shoulders so that they hurt more.
“Home is,” Lan Wangji opens his eyes to answer. A-Yuan is already staring back at him. “Home is where you have people you care about.”
A-Yuan makes little to no sound. The jingshi has already succumbed to darkness, Lan Wangji attempts to get up to light the candles when little fingers pulling at his sleeves stop him.
A-Yuan looks up at him with those wide eyes, smiling brightly. As if Lan Wangji had given him the exact answer he had been looking for.
“You are my home then.” He says and it is not a question this time but a declaration and oh Lan Wangji stops breathing for a second.
“Yes.” He says breathlessly, he places his hand on A-Yuan’s head, keeps them there. “Yes.” He repeats. The ache in his heart dulls a little, and isn’t this happiness that he is feeling?
The darkness of the jingshi doesn’t bother them at all. A-Yuan shuffles closer to him and promptly places his head in his Wangji’s lap and Lan Wangji lets him stay there. His hand doesn’t move from where it is placed on A-Yuan’s head.
The stars are twinkling a little brighter today, he notices.
In the darkness, Lan Wangji finds hope.