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sixteen seasons

Chapter Text

“Lan Zhan. If I asked you to believe me, would you?”

“…”

He smiles, but it’s the kind that hurts him to see. It was sharp and sad all at once and Lan Zhan shudders.

“Lan Zhan, let me go.”

Wei Ying!

Lan Zhan sat up abruptly, the flustered look captured in his eyes.

The sun shone upon his room in the Cloud Recesses. Birds chirped as the leaves rustled along with the wind. Spring was finally here.

As a strand of hair fell from the back of his ears, Lan Zhan turned to stare at the scenic nature before him. Many years ago, he would not even bother looking at such a scene. He was the infamous Second Childe Lan, the cold and quiet young man who seemed to care nothing of the world except when the balance between good and bad was tipped.

It was ironic how things could change.

He looked away and turned his gaze to fix upon his hands. The more he looked; the more sadness seemed to pool around those clear onyx eyes.

But before he could think any further, he heard a soft thud at the corner of his bed.

Snapped out of his thoughts, he looked over.

On the floor, was a tiny ball of a human, curled up in deep sleep, as if the fall did nothing to him at all.

Ah Yuan…

Lan Zhan’s brows furrowed slightly before he reached out to pull the child back unto the bed in one swift move.

The child stirred but did nothing to show signs of waking up.

Lan Zhan let out an internal sigh of relief, and a soft look appeared in those eyes which were just a few seconds ago, clouded with sorrow.

Ah Yuan didn’t used to sleep with him.

It was about four days after… the incident, that Lan Zhan noticed something was amiss.

Lan Zhan, upon obtaining the approval from his brother (and his uncle, albeit begrudgingly), managed to adopt Ah Yuan as one of their own. That also meant that Ah Yuan was to stay with the other disciples of the Lan Sect, and was to be treated no different from any other disciple.

As Ah Yuan was sick on the first few days upon his arrival, Lan Zhan took it upon himself to care for the child. For Ah Yuan to recover faster and for his own convenience, Ah Yuan was placed in his room so he could continuously look after him without disturbing the others.

On the third day, Ah Yuan’s fever broke, and he was free to return to his designated sleeping quarters.

However, when Lan Zhan woke up on the fourth day, he felt something pressing on his thigh, and in alert, pulled open the covers with Bichen held tightly in his other hand.

…only to reveal the small bundle that was Ah Yuan, sleeping soundly as he wrapped his arms firmly around Lan Zhan’s leg.

Needless to say, Lan Zhan’s feelings were situated somewhere between confusion and helplessness.

From that day on, Ah Yuan would continuously come over in the middle of the night, and Lan Zhan would watch as the toddler groggily stumbled to his bed with saliva dripping down his chin before proceeding to wrap his tiny arms around Lan Zhan’s leg and falling asleep.

Even until today, Lan Zhan found it hard to rest when that time comes. Ah Yuan would continuously flip around, sometimes he would sleep between his legs, sometimes on top of his leg, and sometimes on the edge of falling off the bed. Nonetheless, his hands would still be tightly wrapped around his calf, as if it was a lifeline he was unwilling to let go of.

It certainly wasn’t something Lan Zhan would get used to, or ought to, actually. But since the child had just recovered, Lan Zhan figured it wasn’t all that bad to let him be for a short while.

On this night however, Ah Yuan had miraculously released his hold, though it ultimately caused him to fall off the bed.

As Lan Zhan observed Ah Yuan to see if he was hurt anywhere, a thought came into his mind.

Why did you let go?

Lan Zhan’s eyes widened.

It was a question Lan Zhan had yet to ask himself, for despite him being so immersed in his thoughts of what happened that day, he had never thought of asking himself the reason for letting Wei Ying go. His mind was filled with guilt, so much so that it clouded his usual sense of self-reflection.  

Or maybe that was just an excuse, because when he thought about the answer to that question, it was so direct that it hurt him more than all the blame he had placed upon himself.

Because you didn’t trust him.

A cold smile appeared upon his lips, and his expression turned to one of self-mockery.

Prior to this realization, Lan Zhan always prided himself for being the only one who understood Wei Ying.

When his uncle punished him, he spent his days by his side, listening, observing as Wei Ying tried his best to get out of copying all of Lan Sect’s rules.

When Wei Ying was in trouble, he would always be there to shield him.

When everyone thought Wei Ying had turned to the dark side, he was the one who wanted to pull him back.

When the world thought Wei Ying was dead, and the cheers of celebration filled the air, he was the only one who cried.

Yet when Wei Ying needed him the most, he wasn’t there.

The one time I didn’t protect him, he-

Lan Zhan closed his eyes, unwilling to recall that scene again, but the images of what happened continuously appeared in his mind in an uncontrollable manner.

What point was there, for all the things that he did, when at the point when Wei Ying called out to him, looked at him with those pleading eyes to just trust him, he did not?

Before he knew it, his hands were shaking, and a clear drop of tear fell from his glassy eyes.

Wei Ying, if time could turn back, I want you to know that I would choose to stand by you, no matter what.

Suddenly, a knock could be heard from the door.

“Wangji. It’s time.” Lan Xichen’s voice rang clear in this quiet dawn, though the tone was undoubtedly filled with traces of regret and sorrow.

After adjusting Ah Yuan’s sleeping position, Lan Zhan swiftly tucked the young boy in before leaving the room.

Wei Ying, give me strength to face what is to come. 

Chapter Text

“Hanguang-Jun, you called for me?”

Lan Zhan tore his eyes away from the guqin to look up at the owner of the voice who had just entered the Quiet Room.

With just one glance, it was enough for him to discern who it was, and the bits and pieces of memories came flooding in all at once.

Ah Yuan…

The moment Lan Sizhui heard that Hanguang-Jun, the Hanguang-Jun who had refused to see anyone, had summoned him, he dropped everything he was doing to rush over. It wasn’t anything significant anyway and he did ask Jingyi to fill in for him. He didn’t mind that he would be covered in snow either, for in his eyes, nothing seemed to matter more than where he was headed to at this moment.

So here he was now, slightly out of breath, but still appeared calm and composed as he bowed and greeted the infamous Hanguang-Jun.

Lan Zhan took in the image of the thirteen-year-old before him. He was dressed in light blue, as did all of Lan Sect’s disciples. His hair was longer, taller, and there was a rather matured look on his face, though the fats in his cheeks didn’t seem to disappear at all.

Lan Zhan recalled what his brother said about Ah Yuan when he had fully recovered.

“He reminds me of you, Lan Zhan.”

Lan Zhan took one final glance at him and looked back at the guqin, “Sit.”

Lan Sizhui obeyed, and sat on the cushion situated right across Hanguang-Jun.

Lan Sizhui could barely remember the last time he had been so close to this man. Unless he had to, Hanguang-Jun would never leave the Quiet Room, and even if he did, he would keep a distance from the disciples. Oddly enough, the moment Lan Sizhui entered this room, flashes of images went through his mind, mainly consisting of a blurry silhouette of a man patting a child to sleep. Dismissing it as something he had once seen, he quickly focused on what he was called here for.

Seeing that Hanguang-Jun had not replied, Lan Sizhui took the initiative and asked, “Why did you call me here, Hanguang-Jun?”

It was a brave move from him to ask, because clearly, Hanguang-Jun seemed to be deep in thought. But Lan Sizhui was a curious child by nature, and so far his inquiries haven’t gotten him into too much trouble, so he figured, why not just ask?

Lan Zhan looked up at the boy again, dull eyes locking with bright ones.

He reminds me of you, Wei Ying.

“Have you learned how to play ‘Inquiry’?” Lan Zhan asked with a solemn tone.

“We have just attended the first two lessons on it, Hanguang-Jun.” Lan Sizhui replied honestly.

Lan Zhan looked back at the guqin, his hands barely hovering over it, as if caressing a treasured object.

“Watch.”

Lan Zhan’s fingers plucked at the strings of the guqin gracefully. His fingers moved like ripples on the surface of water, soft, yet firm, as if its existence was not one to be ignored.

“What did I play?” Lan Zhan asked, his eyes unmoving from the string instrument.

“You played ‘Who are you?’, Hanguang-Jun.” Despite having just learnt it, Lan Sizhui had been practicing earnestly every day, so he was most certainly confident in his answer.

The emotions on Lan Zhan’s face did not change, though it did seem as if there was a slight glimmer in his eyes.

He then proceeded to play the second tune. The snow outside the Quiet Room was falling silently, forming a layer of snow upon the windowsill. Cold winds blew into the room, yet it seemed not to bother the two within at the slightest bit.

“That was ‘Who killed you?’, Hanguang-Jun.”

Lan Zhan nodded.

“I’m afraid these are the only two tunes we have learned so far, Hanguang-Jun,” Lan Sizhui confessed.

“No matter. I will teach you.”

What? THE Hanguang-Jun is going to teach me how to play ‘Inquiry’? I must be dreaming. Disbelief was evident on Lan Sizhui’s face.

Upon realizing that there was no answer from the other, Lan Zhan looked up, only to see the shocked expression on the disciple’s face. He knew that this was rather out of the ordinary, and he was taught never to favour one student from the other, but Lan Sizhui was…different. He was smart, keen to learn, and he was-

“Lan Zhan, this is Wen Yuan, or as we would like to call him, Ah Yuan.”

Lan Zhan’s eyes darkened, though it was so slight that it could barely be noticed by another.

“Thank you, Hanguang-Jun. I will do my best.” Lan Sizhui, who had finally snapped out of his thoughts, quickly expressed his utmost gratitude at Hanguang-Jun’s offer. He did not know why he was favoured and did wonder if they were both going to get punished for it, but at this moment he just wanted to learn from the master he greatly respected.

The two of them continued to spend the rest of the day in each other’s company; one learning, the other teaching. Before they noticed, it was already night and the snow had stopped falling.

“Wangji.” A voice called out from outside the Quiet Room. It was his brother.

“Come in.”

The doors opened to reveal Lan Xichen whose robes were lightly dusted in snow.

“It is time for dinner. Sizhui, you as well.” Lan Xichen looked over at the both of them, his tone slightly stern.

“Yes, Zewu-Jun.” Lan Sizhui kept his guqin and got up, though not without stumbling slightly. In his haste, he gripped unto Lan Zhan’s guqin in order to stabilize himself. It was not a tight grip, but he still touched it nonetheless. When he saw this, Lan Sizhui’s eyes widened, and so did Lan Xichen’s. Lan Sizhui quickly retracted his hands and gulped. Oh no, I’m going to get punished for sure!

But what they didn’t expect was for Lan Zhan to stay…unmoving. The look in his eyes were pitch dark, but it was not one of anger, more so of sadness and pain.

Seeing this, Lan Xichen sighed, and caused Lan Sizhui to look over at him. The younger was still wondering if he was going to get in trouble and the look in his eyes said it all.

Lan Xichen smiled softly and dismissed Lan Sizhui, “You may go.”

Those words seemed to have done the trick as Lan Sizhui snapped out of his panicked thoughts. He turned to look at Hanguang-Jun, who was still not looking at him, and bowed.

“This disciple apologizes for his blunder.”

Lan Zhan did not reply.

“I… I will take my leave now.” Lan Sizhui straightened his back, the disappointment in himself evident in his expression.

But before he could step out of the Quiet Room, he heard Hanguang-Jun’s voice.

“Continue tomorrow at noon.”

Lan Sizhui wasn’t called smart for nothing, he understood that message clearly. If Hanguang-Jun was willing to say this, it meant that he was forgiven, or that it did not seem to bother Hanguang-Jun as much as he thought it would. Despite the fact that the question of he did so was burning in Lan Sizhui’s mind, he thought it was better not to ask and felt his mood lift up instantly.

He turned around with a smile and bowed in gratitude, “Yes, Hanguang-Jun.” He then left, leaving Lan Zhan and Lan Xichen in the room.

All this while, Lan Xichen’s eyes were fixated on his brother. Only when Lan Zhan made a move to stand up did he speak,

“Wangji, are you still asking?”

If this question was asked to stir some sort of emotion out of Lan Zhan, it was most definitely a failed attempt. Lan Zhan merely stood still; his expression blank. His complexion was white, and the corner of his eyes were red.

“It’s been 10 years.” Lan Xichen continued, seeing that there was no reply from his brother as usual.

“...”

“What are you hoping for?”

…what was he hoping for?

At first, Lan Zhan hoped for a reply, so he hoped for days.

Then the hope turned into prayers, so he prayed for months.

Finally, the prayers turned into begs, and the months turned into years.

It was only after the fifth year that he started to hope that there was no reply, because no reply meant that Wei Ying was still alive; that he was somewhere out there, playing his flute, living his life as he wished; free.

Lan Zhan walked past his brother to the wide-open door. The moon was hidden by the clouds, surrounded by a starless sky. It was a dark night tonight.

“Brother,” Lan Zhan started, but paused, as if testing to see if Lan Xichen was going to say anything.

Lan Xichen glanced his brother’s silhouette. Lan Zhan’s back which was once thought by Lan Xichen to be so small and frail had, in a blink of an eye, changed to one which was able to bear the heavy responsibilities that life had thrown at him. He could practically see the weight on his shoulders, but he could not imagine how heavy it was for Lan Zhan to carry.

“Who is evil; who is good? What is black; what is white?” Lan Zhan muttered, but the questioning tone in his words rang loud and clear.

“Lan Zhan, look at all these people. Who is evil; who is good? What is black; what is white?”

When Lan Xichen heard this question, he couldn’t help but to look away.

“Wangji, I- I do not know.“

“Since you cannot discern between them, then why are you asking me to forget him?”

What did Wei Ying do to deserve the erasure of his existence from everyone’s memories?

Lan Xichen let out a soft sigh. His younger brother had truly grown up now. But the process was too harsh and too quick; too rough and too rash, that it caused all the scars of his past to be left behind not only physically, but also mentally. He walked up to stand beside his brother.

“Wangji, I did not come here today to ask anything of you. I know that your mind is made up, and I will no longer stand against you. You are your own person now, you may, with your own thoughts, decide what is good and what is evil.”

Lan Zhan’s eyes widened ever so slightly, but it was something that Lan Xichen caught. They were brothers after all. Nonetheless, Lan Zhan said nothing in reply.

“Why did you allow Sizhui to touch the guqin?”

Upon hearing that question, Lan Zhan’s eyes darkened once more.

“It might be…the first time in a few years that someone with emotions has ever touched it.”

The art of qin, as it had long been traditionally known, was one which required a spiritual bond between the player and the instrument. Only those who practiced the art would know that it was the guqin which chooses its owner, not the other way around. When it is played by the right hands with the right emotions, the sound it produces could  clean souls and mend wounds. It could call out spring amidst a cold winter, and most importantly, for the disciples of the Lan Sect, it could allow them to perform ‘Inquiry’ in perfect harmony.

After years and years of playing the same tune yet obtaining no answer, it made Lan Zhan’s heart sink. There was no longer any life in his fingers as he plucked, only indifference and routine. It hurt his soul and his guqin greatly. But he continued to play in the same manner, knowing that nothing but an answer could cure him of this plight.

However, he heard it a few days ago, the way Ah Yuan played his qin. It was young, wrong in many places and rushed, but it was alive. The way the notes seemed to jump right out of his guqin caused Lan Zhan to stare for the longest time. It was then he knew that this was perhaps, the only gift that Wei Ying had left for him.

When Lan Sizhui was learning from him by practicing on his own guqin, Lan Zhan listened, and so did his guqin. But despite hours and hours of playing, the way Lan Zhan plucked never changed, which was why he felt so disappointed to the point that he didn’t mind Ah Yuan touching it. At least the guqin might feel better upon receiving such a warm touch.

“You’re wrong, you know.” Lan Xichen looked at his brother.

Lan Zhan, in surprise, looked over at his brother as well.

“I saw the look in your eyes. It was different. It wasn’t a lot, but there was at least something in them. Life, perhaps, and I’m sure Sizhui saw it too.” The gleam in Lan Xichen’s eyes were suddenly so bright it seemed to brighten this dark night.

He pointed at Lan Zhan’s chest. “Somewhere deep inside, I know you feel that Wei Wuxian is still alive. So, my piece of advice is…”

“Don’t stop playing. But play with an honest heart. Listen to what it’s telling you. If it says that Wei Wuxian is still alive, then believe it, and play until he returns.”

What his brother said seemed to strike a chord in Lan Zhan’s heart.

For so long, Lan Zhan hoped, prayed and begged, but deep down inside, he refused to believe that what he wished could come true. After all, he had been let down again and again, all his life.

Until Wei Ying came. Wei Ying never broke his promises, never hurt him deliberately, and he had never left Lan Zhan’s side when he needed someone to lean on. Wei Ying was always so sure of what he had to do, and always had the bravery to do what he sets his mind on.

Wei Ying had always believed in himself, and it was time for Lan Zhan to do the same.

“I know it’s not going to be easy. But you have me, you have uncle, you have Ah Yuan. We’re all here for you, and we’ll be the living reminder that Wei Wuxian is alive, together.” Lan Xichen gave an assuring smile.

A long time ago, before he decided to make this trip, Lan Xichen had once questioned this advice.

What if Childe Wei never returns? Will his brother continue to play? Will the light in his eyes dull once more as the years wash away his hopes?

No. Wangji’s hopes never dissipated, not even at the least. Yes, he may have been playing ‘Inquiry’ in the worst manner and had always looked as if he was playing like the dead, but the slight hesitation before he plays, the quivering of the last note, the breath sucked in after every last tune showed that he was always waiting for a reply.

His mind may have forgotten, but his heart and body had not.

He could’ve told his brother about this a long time ago. But he knew there was no way Wangji would believe him. He would just take it as another ploy to get him to come out of the Quiet Room more often.

But when he heard that Lan Sizhui had been called to the Quiet Room, he knew that this was an opportunity gifted from the heavens.

Wangji needed something, a turning point, a change in his constant and routine life. And that change, was Lan Sizhui.

Seeing the stunned look in his brother’s eyes, Lan Xichen, for the very first time in a decade, let out a smile of relief. Knowing that he had done what he came to do, he nodded at Lan Zhan and took his leave.

Snapped out of his thoughts by his brother’s movements, Lan Zhan, not forgetting his manners, bowed before watching his brother’s leaving silhouette.

Thank you, brother, for believing in me.

But before he could return to his thoughts, Lan Zhan felt something nudging his feet.

Looking down, he saw a white rabbit, shifting around as it searched for warmth and light. Behind it, a dozen followed. Their ears were perked up, as if listening for any sign of impending danger.

Lan Zhan’s gaze softened before returning his attention to the little one at his feet. He bent down to pick it up gently, as if holding a precious object.

Wei Ying, it’s been 10 years already. When are you going to come back and take care of the beings you once cherished so much?

Wei Ying…

when will you come back to me?