Wei Wuxian had missed travelling with Lan Wangji.
Over the years he had so gotten used to straying around alone, with only his own voice to listen to, and almost forgetting how it felt to receive answers to his thoughts. Not that Lan Wangji was more talkative than Lil Apple, but his answers were decisively more useful.
There was more to it too, as it always was with Lan Wangji. It was the thrill of fighting back to back when the situation called for it. No matter if it was a foul tempered ghoul, upset lost ghosts or just a village-quarrel - whether it was Bichen or blue-pulsing melodies, Wei Wuxian’s blood boiled with excitement.
It was exploring new places, old places; exploration of the new in the old. A string of memories following wherever they went.
Travelling together had taken so much time in their life, the familiarity of it almost ached.
And then there were those nights in various inns, when Lan Wangji pressed him into the sheets and hushed his voice, wary of the many ears around them only separated by thin walls. It was when Wei Wuxian burned with everything and the silencing spell was the only solution for them, when Lan Wangji pressed so close to him he forgot everything - all of that was new. All these stolen kisses on the roads and behind market stands, it became part of their travels these past few weeks.
Wei Wuxian thought back to that constant hollow yearning for something he had felt back on their joint endeavors in younger years, and it didn't surprise him that now that hollow feeling had faded. He felt full instead, like flowers blooming inside his chest under the sun.
He felt spring in every inch of his body as they wandered through awakening land side by side. Lan Wangji's sleeve brushed against his own and everything was bright.
It would be their last stop before reaching Yunmeng.
It was a modest but tidy inn, and the owner immediately bowed with sincere admiration. Wei Wuxian smiled and gave a double tip, or rather Lan Wangji offered his purse generously. Seeing the grateful smile on the man's face, something in Wei Wuxian's chest tugged. Familiar scent of fresh water nearby, the gurgling melting streams rushing down from the mountains and accents that he fell so easily back into.
As soon as they reached their shared room, Wei Wuxian pressed Lan Wangji against the wooden screen-door. Caught the surprised sound from his lips greedily, kissing him hard and thorough. His heart soared.
When he pulled away, Lan Wangji's cheeks hat reddened faintly, eyes widened.
"Nie Huiasang should arrive soon and I want to seize the time we have before that." Wei Wuxian clarified, slipping his fingers into the folds of Lan Wangji's collar.
He’d watched him all day in the candid sunlight with blossoms quietly awakening around them and Wei Wuxian had only wished to pluck them all and shower Lan Wangji with them.
His lips had to be enough for now, as long as he had him to himself.
Nie Huiasang arrived when the sun was setting outside and they sat in the tavern for dinner. Wei Wuxian didn’t know when he had seen him the last time. It might’ve been a few months ago when he had passed Qinhe and visited for an evening, but even that seemed like an eternity ago.
When Nie Huiasang walked through the door, he struck him as always. Inconspicuous, slightly nervous, but attentive of his surroundings. Smiling a kind smile when their eyes met and his fan folded together in a flurry.
There were tiny differences too. His entrance was grounded but on second glance he exuded something he had missed during their years of studies. Something like nobility, something quiet. Deep waters rippling with something hidden.
“Brother Wei!” Nie Huiasang called across the room, leaving his entourage behind as he hurried over. His eyes caught on Lan Wangji and he immediately slowed his pace before stopping in front of their table, putting his hands together for a proper bow “Your Excellency.”
Wei Wuxian smiled and waved to the waiter for more wine.
“Have a seat with us, Brother Nie.” he said, patting the place behind him. “Are you faring well?”
Three more jugs of wine arrived and Wei Wuxian poured two cups. Lan Wangji caught his gaze and he grinned quietly, raising his eyebrows challengingly. Nie Huiasang accepted his drink with a grateful tilt of his head.
Wei Wuxian remembered a scene like that, back when the hunt for Yin Iron had seemed like fun, a quest to prove himself. When the future had lain far ahead still and the presence had only offered exciting adventures and challenges offered by the Second Twin Jade of Gusu. They had sat around a table, curiosity eating at them, unknowing of the blood-shed that awaited them in the same night. Nie Huiasang trembling behind his fan, Lan Wangji stoic as ever. Jiang Cheng had been there too and Wei Wuxian ignored the ache in his chest.
“I was surprised to hear that Clan Leader Jiang agrees to hold the conference at Lotus Cove.” Nie Huiasang wondered, swishing the wine in his cup. They had emptied a whole jar over catching up with smalltalk. Wei Wuxian appreciated the company that knew how to enjoy wine to its fullest. “I wonder if there’s a special reason.”
“Ah, I guess Clan Leader Jiang just wants to prove his integrity.” Wei Wuxian shrugged and jugged his drink.
Tomorrow night he would be at Lotus Cove and he would be lying if he said he wasn’t nervous. He wondered if Jin Ling would be there too. If Jiang Cheng hadn’t changed his mind after all and would stop him on the threshold.
It was a gentle touch on his knee that ripped him out of his thoughts. When Wei Wuxian looked up, his eyes met Lan Wangji’s; strong and grounding. Those worries should be spared for later, was what his gaze said.
“I will be retiring.” Lan Wangji said, fingers still curling around Wei Wuxian’s knees.
Nie Huiasang’s gaze looked interested behind his fan.
“I’ll stay a bit longer with Brother Nie.” Wei Wuxian nodded. When Lan Wangji pulled his hand away and stood up, he missed his touch already.
Quickly, Nie Huiasang scrambled to his feet and bowed, bidding Lan Wangji good night. They watched him go with breezing sleeves, Wei Wuxian unable to rip his gaze from him. His skin crawled hotly at the memory of Lan Wangji’s lips against his just an hour ago.
“So, Brother Wei.” Nie Huiasang put his chin in his hand and peered at Wei Wuxian with a curious grin. “Care to confide in me?”
Wei Wuxian couldn’t stop the heat rising to his cheeks. It didn’t matter how nonchalant he leaned against the table and drank his wine, apparently Nie Huiasang had eyes like a hawk. Wei Wuxian silently blamed it on all the lewd literature his friend was so fond of.
“What do you mean?” he asked innocently, pouring himself another cup. His mind felt fuzzy already.
Nie Huiasang raised his eyebrows and fanned himself, gaze not wavering.
“Alright, alright.” Wei Wuxian gave in, not fighting the smile on his lips. “You have keen eyes, Brother Nie.”
“A romance in front of me never escapes me.” Nie Huiasang answered, raising his chin.
Wei Wuxian laughed, raising his cup for a toast. “Oh no, it never does.”
Nie Huiasang returned the gesture and after they both respectively downed their liquor, his smile turned dreamy.
“Who was first to confess? Brother Wei is my guess.”
“You guessed wrong.”
Wei Wuxian giggled, enjoying the surprised expression on his friend’s face. Something like admiration settled on his features, eyes wide and lips parted.
“Hanguang-jun is full of surprises.” Nie Huiasang said in awe, fanning himself a bit harder.
“He is.” Wei Wuxian sighed, feeling his eyes drop low with wine and affection.
Wei Wuxian had never actively shared his feelings for Lan Wangji with anyone. The realisation hit him like a blow.
There had never been anyone to confide in, to tell about the chaos in his heart. Wen Ning and Lan Shizui witnessed their changing relationship, but Wei Wuxian had never spoken about it. On his occasional visits to Mian Mian and her family, he had been too busy playing with her little daughter to share much more of his life.
And Jiang Cheng hadn’t been there. He wasn’t sure if Jiang Cheng even knew what had changed, but Wei Wuxian tried not to dwell on it. There would be time for everything, eventually.
In Cloud Recesses, it had been always Nie Huiasang he turned to in regards to his admiration for the second Twin Jade of Gusu. His friend who had giggled and shared so much with him, despite hiding behind his paintings and pretty words.
Watching Nie Huiasang in all his familiarity now, Wei Wuxian wondered how much trust was actually left between them. All this time he had thought him for someone else, and yet he couldn’t define whether his view had actually changed. Nie Huiasang still smiled with unspoken words in the corners of his lips, fingers fumbling in their restlessness. And Wei Wuxian still sensed the sincerity, no matter how clouded.
Maybe sharing all this could be an exception to the reality they lived now. They could never go back to those times in the Cloud Recesses, but Wei Wuxian allowed them to be close again just for this evening because in the end, he returned Nie Huiasang's bittersweet smile that held so many unspoken regrets.
Much later, when they finished the bottles of wine and Wei Wuxian stumbled into their room, he felt like floating. His heart swelled three sizes at the sight of Lan Wangji laying bare of all propriety in the sheets. Forehead exposed, hair tangling in pillows and robes slightly askew, exposed to Wei Wuxian’s eyes only. He always loved seeing him undone and slightly dishevelled.
A heated rush gripped him whenever he slipped his fingers through his hair unkempt, adored spotting those creases in his robes and colour on his skin. Ink stains on his fingers, dark and inviting. Rosy bruises Wei Wuxian had left the night before, tiny birthmarks and other blemishes. Anything that proved the realness of Hanguang-jun, that he was more than just a silver ray of light.
Wei Wuxian leaned over him and peppered him in a thousand tiny kisses, unable to stop himself. Giggled when Lan Wangji stirred with sleepy confusion and captured his lips in return. Deep and relentless, because the years of not being able to do so still lingered in his bones.
After Wei Wuxian managed to free himself of his outer robes and nestled against Lan Wangji’s chest, his entire body tingled with drunken bliss.
“Lan Zhan…” he mumbled contently when Lan Wangji wrapped his arms around him securely, dropping a kiss into his hair.
Warmth hugged him like a cocoon and Wei Wuxian let himself be carried up into the stars and the comforting darkness beyond.
Lan Wangji woke with Wei Wuxian trembling beside him. His breathing was fast and irregular, fingers clenching into sheets. In his sleep-heavy drowsiness, Lan Wangji sat up, running a hand through Wei Wuxian’s hair.
In the dim light, he could see Wei Wuxian’s lashes fluttering like unsettled butterflies. His heart pounded violently against his palm when he brushed over his chest.
“Wei Ying.” Leaning down, Lan Wangji pressed a soft kiss to Wei Wuxian’s temple, releasing comforting energy into his skin.
When Wei Wuxian finally ripped his eyes open with a gasp, his gaze shone haunted in the blue light.
“Senior sister -”
His voice was breathless and Lan Wangji cradled him closer, heart clenching. It took a while until Wei Wuxian’s breathing calmed down. A violent shiver took over and his fingers clawed into Lan Wangji’s robes desperately.
Lan Wangji hummed quietly, hand gliding over his back and and into his hair, soothing his tremors.
“Lan Zhan, I’m awake, right?”
“Senior sister…” Wei Wuxian’s voice choked and another shiver gripped him.
“It wasn’t your fault, Wei Ying.”
Something wet dripped down his collarbone and Lan Wangji’s throat tightened. Gently, he kissed the tears off Wei Wuxian’s cheeks. Whispered soft assurance of safety, of the realness that held this moment. The massacre of Lotus Cove lay far behind, and so did Nevernight.
Yunmeng summoned that glow inside Wei Wuxian, like sun dancing over waves. But it also reached into his mind and soul, dragging out everything that was buried there.
Parents sacrificed, sister lost, brother captured behind a wall of ice.
Lan Wangji could only offer his company and hope for Wei Wuxian’s mind to ease, to find peace with itself.
During their early departure the next morning, Wei Wuxian looked pale and skittish. He smiled wide as always but something in his eyes told Lan Wangji that he was torn between hope and nervosity.
The mood changed slightly with Nie Huiasang joining them on their last stage to Lotus Cove. Lan Wangji observed them joking around and chatting lightly, but the light tension between them didn’t escape him. Nie Huiasang’s eyes strayed more than they used to and Wei Wuxian’s expression turned thoughtful whenever his friend turned his back.
When they boarded their ship as three and were greeted by the sun that finally rose over the mountains, their conversations had died down.
Quietly they floated over silver wisps of mist rising from water, like clouds gathering around the bow. The air was still chilly with the memory of winter, reaching into their clothes, trying to flee from the sun.
Lan Wangji watched Wei Wuxian as he leaned over the edge and dipped his hand into the water, a distant smile forming on his lips. The awakening sun painted his profile rose and golden, and Lan Wangji wished it would take the shadows from his eyes too.
It had taken Lan Wangji a few more persistent kisses than usual to rouse him from sleep this morning. Wei Wuxian had stayed silent about his nightmare and had barely spoken a word until they set off on the road with Nie Huiasang beside them.
Lan Wangji doubted there would be any chance to talk about it before they reached Lotus Cove, and so he reached out instead, laced his fingers between Wei Wuxian’s. Surprise showed on his face when he looked up, but then the corners of his lips twitched gratefully. Beside them, Nie Huiasang hid his smile behind his fan and Lan Wangji’s heartbeat picked up.
The sky stretched above them in pale blue, a fresh breeze bringing green and sweet scents. More and more lotus pods gathered around them the closer they got to their destination. With the sun rising higher, their blossoms opened, pink heads nodding between lush green leaves. They winked invitingly and Lan Wangji felt his cheeks heat up when Wei Wuxian’s gaze caught his.
With a swift motion he reached for one of the stalks and before he knew it, Lan Wangji found himself with a lotus flower tucked behind his ear. Wei Wuxian’s eyes were too bright and he lowered his gaze quickly.
Remembered careful black lines on paper which had drawn flowers into his hair so many years ago. Who knew back then that something he ripped apart would be pieced together into his heart and soul.
Not even someone else’s presence hushed the euphoric feeling inside his chest. Lan Wangji was past caring what their entourage and Nie Huiasang thought, what any of them thought. The opinions of other people had been Wei Wuxian’s downfall and he had enough of them.
Wei Wuxian giggled when the flower tumbled from Lan Wangji’s hair into his lap. A momentary image of peace, lingering between rosy petals. Lan Wangji captured it in his heart, pressed the flower against his chest under his robes.
It was midday when they arrived at Lotus Cove.
Wei Wuxian’s shoulders tensed at the sight of lanterns swinging in a gentle breeze, of purple ribbons and white petals greeting them. A small crowd gathered on the pier, watching as they drew closer.
Lan Wangji slipped his hand from Wei Wuxian’s with one last affirming caress, before straightening his posture. Beside him, Nie Huiasang swayed to his feet, fan flapping quicker than before. Wei Wuxian remained seated, eyes searching the wooden docks. Lan Wangji didn’t have to guess what he was looking for.
A spokesman greeted them with a deep bow, eyes lowered all the while. He lead them through the crowd that hushed with excitement and curiosity. Some shouted greetings at Wei Wuxian, luring a crooked smile on his lips. His gait straightened with that, absorbing the welcome he received.
With clan leaders swarming in from the whole country to visit the conference, Lan Wangji was almost certain that the anticipation amongst the Yunmeng people had nothing to do with the gathering itself. He himself received deep and awed bows, but their gazes all flickered behind him towards their Young Master that had left them many years ago. The one that had walked the lands of the dead, but brought his smiles to their piers again.
Lan Wangji didn’t escape the relief on Wei Wuxian’s face when they were taken to their guest-houses first. Nie Huiasang bid them a polite goodbye before disappearing into his chambers, leaving them to themselves. Apparently word had travelled that they didn’t need their separate accommodations. Weight dropped from Lan Wangji’s shoulders when they stepped into their own four walls. Wei Wuxian looked worn and on edge, but his smile was sincere when he turned to Lan Wangji.
Once again he noticed how he fit into this space, into all the green and violet gathering around them. Water whispered all around and Lan Wangji almost felt like drowning. Drowning in that scent he had dreamed about for years, drown in Wei Wuxian’s past. Those parts that belonged to him like stars to the night-sky; a part that should not die and yet it wavered from time to time, losing a light.
“Is your Excellency ready to meet his inferiors?” Wei Wuxian asked conversationally, while his fingers travelled over the woodwork on the bed, over shelves and billowing curtains, as if rediscovering the moment to its core.
“No one is inferior.” Lan Wangji responded while lowering himself in front of the table readied for them. Hot steam rose into his face when he poured tea into a cup. It smelled sweeter than the one in Gusu. Like spring, like Wei Wuxian. “Are you ready to meet your brother?”
Wei Wuxian dropped his hand and turned towards him, leaning on the window-sill. Behind him, water stretched on like a dropped mirror, glittering almost blindingly.
“Jiang Cheng invited me to this conference personally the last time I was here.” Wei Wuxian said, fingers finding his flute almost instinctively. “I wouldn’t be here if it were any different.”
“And yet you fear he’s going to change his mind.” Lan Wangji observed over the brim of his cup, catching the slight twitch in Wei Wuxian’s lips. That hidden worry he buried under a smile.
“Is that so unreasonable?” Wei Wuxian retorted, shoulders dropping when he stepped away from the window, hands stilling.
When Wei Wuxian sighed, Lan Wangji felt it in his bones.
Ever since taking on the position as Chief Cultivator, it had been his duty to face Jiang Wanyin more often than he probably would’ve preferred. He felt those steely eyes on his skin for quite some while before they exchanged more than just polite etiquette. It was a slow process and Lan Wangji knew he had his part in the ice-wall that towered between them.
Knowing that Jiang Wanyin was finally open to letting Wei Wuxian back into his life was reason enough to give him leniency now. Wei Wuxian had visited Lotus Cove occasionally this past year. He had told Lan Wangji about these meetings with his brother, with the guilt and doubt that still troubled his nights. Lan Wangji could only watch from afar and hope for Jiang Wanyin’s acceptance. At those instances when he had visited Cloud Recesses, Lan Wangji had observed him carefully, tried to read his face.. Conversations had been sparse then, but Lan Wangji clung to every change that promised something more.
Wei Wuxian plopped down beside him, head dropping against his shoulder heavily. His hands curled around Lan Wangji’s wrists, lifting them to his lips gently. A shiver ran down his spine when he felt Wei Wuxian’s breath against his skin.
Wei Wuxian hummed, eyes fluttering shut as his lips never stopped exploring Lan Wangji’s skin, brushing against the hems of his sleeves teasingly.
“Don’t dwell on it. Ease your mind.” He knew it was easier said than done, and yet he couldn’t sit silently and watch Wei Wuxian tear himself up from the inside.
“Well then ease my mind, Hanguang-jun.” Wei Wuxian whispered before raising his eyes with a flash, lips curling into a smile.
The constant rhythm of waves against wood, leaves rustling in the wind and far-away voices surrounded them. Wei Wuxian’s lips were hard and persistent against his when Lan Wangji pulled him in his lap. Captured him with his arms and mouth, held him tight and wished he could absorb all the shadows into his own body, suck the darkness out of him.
In hindsight, Wei Wuxian almost laughed at the irony of it all. How he had promised Lan Wangji he would pluck lotus flowers for him and show him around the Lotus Cove, when many years later it had been Lan Wangji to gift him said flower, right after having stained their piers with blood and tears.
Now he couldn’t even present it as is home anymore and introduce Lan Wangji to something that belonged to him. Instead he led him around, a stranger to his own past, trying to catch every fragment that lingered close to his heart.
There was the pier his sister had dwelled on for hours and watched the waterbirds in their play, the movements of the sun. Wei Wuxian felt it under his skin, yet it was like catching smoke trying to preserve the image in his mind.
The pond where the best lotus pods grew; the wooden plank they had to jump over cause it was moldy and rotten; the little hide-out under the small bridge where Jiang Cheng had hidden on numerous occasions.
Wei Wuxian led Lan Wangji through his life like a stranger himself.
They reached a small meadow in safe distance from all the houses. Birds called around them in an endless song, the first bees buzzing diligent around their ears. The ground felt soft and uneven under their boots, brimming with water and life. Everything around them was awakening from a long sleep and Wei Wuxian felt like he had stepped out of a dream. The familiar sun against his skin was real, the noises which used to lull him to sleep, the fresh comforting scent of water that filled his chest.
Lan Wangji beside him, clad in white and not just a fragment of his imagination.
“When I was ten, Jiang Cheng pushed me into this small pond over there.” Wei Wuxian pointed to the water sparkling under roots and rocks. Looking at it now, it wouldn’t even fit Wei Wuxian’s body. “Of course I pulled him along. I can’t even remember what we fought about. We fought so much back then.”
Turning his head, he caught Lan Wangji’s eyes that watched him instead of said pond. His gaze were calculating and attentive, crawling under his skin. Wei Wuxian shrugged, releasing the helpless laughter that gathered in his chest.
“It took Senior Sister almost an hour to find us. We weren’t supposed to be here, apparently we had strayed too far.”
Wei Wuxian hated the audible hitch in his voice. The way Lan Wangji lowered his gaze, expression guarded.
Back when they had been teenagers, Wei Wuxian had imagined all of this so differently. Had imagined introducing Lan Wangji as Hanguang-jun, Second Twin Jade of Gusu, to his parents. Introduce him as a friend, someone he had bonded with over adventures and heroic monster-slaying. Had imagined them smiling proudly with appreciation.
Instead, their shared visit at the Lotus Cove had begun and ended with rejection. With ugly words spat in sacred places and anger echoing over nightly water. He had introduced Lan Wangji to his parents that were silent for eternity now, never to look upon him again.
It had been nothing like Wei Wuxian had wished for and he doubted he could make up for it now.
“Thank you for showing me all this, Wei Ying.”
Wei Wuxian almost scoffed, but caught himself quickly. “I’ve always hoped for something more celebrative than this, Lan Zhan.”
His fingers clung to his flute. A constant in his life after everything that had happened.
“You are alive. Let the past rest.”
Wei Wuxian knew Lan Wangji was right. He just wondered how he could ever let the past rest when it ripped into him with fierce claws every time he set foot in Lotus Cove. Everytime he greeted Jiang Cheng with a formal bow, painfully aware of the dark pit between them. When he could’ve sworn a soft Xian had reached his ears and it just turned out to be the wind, whispering between lotus leaves.
Voice folded between faint memories forever.
A banquet was held that evening.
Not all clan leaders had arrived yet for the conference planned for the next day so the gathering was small; Wei Wuxian however wished the crowd had been bigger, that he could disappear between all these dazzling robes and keep out of sight. It didn’t help that Lan Wangji drew reverent greetings wherever he went, and it certainly didn’t help that Wei Wuxian would be remembered as the Yiling Patriarch forever. His image and reputation was branded into their minds and all he could do was raise his chin and let it happen.
Jiang Cheng appeared when everyone had settled on their seats, conversations dying down.
Once again, Wei Wuxian was struck by the air he carried. He walked the steps up to his seat as if he’d never been too young for it. As if he’d been grown up and ready all his life. The way he fixed the room with his sharp eyes, one could think fate had put him there with full intention. One could forget the blood and tears the seat was actually shaped out of.
For a second, their eyes locked. Jiang Cheng’s eyebrows twitched. Wei Wuxian wondered when he’d stopped being able to read his brother’s face. When he turned his gaze away however, it was very clear when he’d stopped knowing him. When they had become strangers to each other. Jiang Cheng thought it had been when his sword had slashed rocks, and Wei Wuxian knew it had begun way earlier.
After formal words of greetings and Wei Wuxian unable to stop fumbling around with his empty wine-cup, the banquet officially began. The tables were laden with all his favourite dishes and yet he could only take a few bites, fingers growing numb around his chopsticks. The lotus root and rib soup was bland against his tongue.
He felt Lan Wangji’s gaze on the side of his face but he didn’t meet his eyes. Instead he poured himself more Henfeng Wine and wondered how this piece of him could still be preserved in Lotus Cove after all these years.
On the lotus seat clad in royal purple, Jiang Cheng lifted his cup, expression unreadable as he downed his wine.
After dinner had been served, Wei Wuxian took the chance to slip the now chatty company. Quietly he squeezed Lan Wangji’s hand in passing, who had been cornered by two clan leaders and forced into conversation. Wei Wuxian gifted a pitiful smile before finally escaping into the cool evening air where he could breathe.
The moon had risen over Lotus Cove, just a slim silver crescent. Its shine barely reaching the water and yet everything glowed in soft dark blues and greys. The waves never slept. Leaning against one of the wooden railings, Wei Wuxian’s gaze slipped down to the gathering lotus plants, just shadows in the darkness.
Wei Wuxian turned around and something light settled in his chest when Jin Ling hurried over to him. The young man clutched his father’s sword still as tightly as before, but over the years his face had matured. He’d learned to not wear his emotions on his sleeves and there was something sharp in his features now. Wei Wuxian couldn’t deny the pride he felt when his nephew gave a deep bow.
“Your manners are getting better with every year, kid.” he greeted, unable to hide the teasing smile.
Instantly, something challenging flashed in Jin Ling’s face when he stepped beside him, raising his chin. Reverting Wei Wuxian’s words with cocky self confidence.
“And you’re getting sloppier every year, uncle.”
It had taken a long while until Jin Ling had accepted Wei Wuxian for what he truly wanted to be. Until he had seen that he wasn’t just a dark omen that had brought about his parent’s death, but that he was his mother’s brother who wished nothing more than to find his place in this family again. Make up for everything broken and lost.
Wei Wuxian thought back to when the news of his sister’s child had reached him, the overwhelming joy and heartbreak that had gripped him. How he’d lost his title as uncle the moment he had reached out, spilling blood over his nephew’s birth.
Wei Wuxian didn’t know if he deserved the title after almost twenty years, but his heart grew three sizes wider when Jin Ling used it. Because who else could better determine if he was worthy than his nephew himself?
“Is that how you treat your elders?” Wei Wuxian playfully nudged Jin Ling’s shoulder, clicking his tongue. “You’re going to be a clan leader soon, this is no way to carry yourself. Look at your uncle, have you learned nothing?”
Jin Ling rolled his eyes and yes, maybe he had matured over the years but it was almost painful how he truly was Jiang Cheng’s nephew too.
"Uncle persists I stay in Lotus Cove three weeks at a time, and two in Jinlintai." He complained, something stubborn forming in his jaw. "At least I get to take Fairy with me wherever I go."
Wei Wuxian scoffed and pulled a face. "I'm sure your uncle appreciates the company of your beast." He almost laughed at the offended frown that formed on Jin Ling's face.
"I can call her anytime, if you call her a beast again!"
"Ah, I am just teasing you. She's a pretty...lady." Wei Wuxian finished and raised his hands in surrender. The following satisfied smile on Jin Ling's face warmed his chest.
Where they stood their view opened up to the commotion inside. Bustling sleeves and cups being raised, toasting this and that. Wei Wuxian watched with delight that Nie Huiasang had joined Lan Wangji’s side, and judging by the look on his face, his situation had turned into more of a struggle.
The lotus seat stood empty and abandoned.
“Ah, it’s time for me to free Hanguang-jun from his suffering.” Wei Wuxian observed. “His Excellency has a big day ahead, he should get some rest.”
Before he left, he turned to Jin Ling and gripping his shoulder affirmingly.
“I trust you will do well to represent your clan tomorrow, A-Ling.”
The small smile that formed on the younger boy’s face warmed his chest. Maybe time could heal wounds after all. Slowly, like waves grinding mountains into sand, but relentless.
That night Wei Wuxian kissed and cherished Lan Wangji to the sound of water.
Maybe Lan Wangji noticed his reluctance to surrender to sleep, the way his body buzzed instead. Wei Wuxian couldn’t stop his hands from wandering, from finding all these delightful distractions and reactions that pulled him out of his head. Couldn’t stop the overwhelming warmth that numbed his mind when he brushed kisses against Lan Wangji’s stomach and hips, drinking in the sound of waves mingling with Lan Wangji’s sighs, one turning into the other.
This way he could forget the dreams lurking in his neck, waiting for silence to take over. Wei Wuxian didn’t allow the silence to come. Didn’t allow the sounds of Lotus Cove to wash ashore and drown him. Not when Lan Wangji lay with him, his heartbeat rapid under his fingertips and voice raspy from fatigue.
He was the only dream worth exploring. The nightmares would have to wait.
Lan Xichen arrived with the sunrise.
Pink and yellow clouds barely found its way over the mountain tops when the ship floated against the empty pier. Everything was quiet and calm, only birds that greeted the new day accompanied Lan Wangji on the docks. He listened to the wooden oars diving into water and gurgling to surface again, wind catching the flags.
“Brother.” Lan Wangji bowed deeply when Lan Xichen stepped onto the pier.
One look at him revealed his exhaustion. Shadows clung to his eyes and he was dressed entirely in white; something he had taken to ever since the Guanyin Temple had crumbled to ashes.
They walked side by side, watching the Lotus Cove wake up slowly with every minute the sun rose higher. Servants hurried back and forth, gathering their tasks for the day. Children brushed passed with kites fluttering behind them, a flurry of yellow, greens and purples.
Lan Wangji felt the anxiety exuding from his brother’s posture and led him to more secluded places, where Lan Xichen found the silence he needed.
“I was surprised you agreed to join me.” Lan Wangji admitted when they stood on a small bridge, leading out into the gardens behind the main palace.
Cranes spread their wings below them, silver feathers glistening in the rising sun. Lan Wangji watched them as his heart grew heavier.
“I thought this important.” Lan Xichen said at last.
When Lan Wangji glanced at him, he found his brothers eyes closed. Closed under the pale brightness that stretched over the water, shielded from the vastness of the horizon.
He didn’t find it in himself to question his brother’s motives. The conference today would be one of the lesser ones, not memorable or in any other way significant. It was one of those gatherings that happened every month and the only notable thing about it was Jiang Wanyin hosting it.
Maybe he wondered what importance Lan Xichen found in this occasion to leave the Cloud Recesses after such a long time, but whatever it was, he received it gratefully. He couldn’t even remember the last time he had stood with his brother under the sun.
“I am glad to see you, brother.” He offered instead of all the questions that lay on the tip of his tongue. And the gentle smile that stole its way on Lan Xichen’s lips was rewarding enough
“Me too, Wangji.”
“I hope your night of travel was not too tedious?” He asked carefully, choosing his words with intent.
His brother shook his head gently. Maybe travelling by night gave enough relief from the world crowding around him. Lan Wangji himself had preferred the gentle moonlight, the silent darkness, back when everything had been too bright and cut into his mind like sharp blades.
“How have your own travels these past weeks been?” Lan Xichen asked and Lan Wangji gathered the question close to his heart, like he did with every question coming from him.
“They reminded me of old times.” He said, thinking back to all the well-known places he had visited with Wei Wuxian by his side. Familiar, but traces of change trailing all over the land. “But also - “
“Different.” Lan Xichen finished.
Feathers fluttered in the early silence, water rippling below them, the awakening blossoms dancing with its movement. Lan Wangji’s gaze caught his brother’s hands tightening around his flute, knuckles white. He wondered when those hands would reach for Shuoyue once again.
“Nie Huiasang is here too.” Despite knowing his brother was aware of what awaited him, he couldn’t stop the worry clogging his throat. “If you prefer-”
“I promised I will join you, Wangji.” Lan Xichen’s voice was quiet but firm. Their eyes met and Lan Wangji lowered his head.
The sun painted golden crowns onto the water, reflecting against their robes and skin. Slowly the mist disappeared into the day. With another reserved smile, Lan Xichen turned to him at.
“It’s time for me to greet Clan Leader Jiang, thank him for his hospitality. And I think Young Master Wei might be waiting for you.”
With these words and a tilt of his chin he left, hands folded behind his back and long white robes whispering over wood. Lan Wangji watched him walk the path towards the palace bustling with life, towards the oncoming day. Something tugged in his chest, unsettled and questioning.
When Lan Wangji returned to their guest-house, Wei Wuxian was lounging on the bed like an oversized cat, eyes barely open and hair a tangled mess. He looked almost unreal in the morning light that fell through the screens, painting intricate shadows on his skin.
“Lan Zhan.” He whined, voice dripping with sleep when he raised an arm towards him. “I missed you.”
Lan Wangji’s heart stumbled and he suppressed a fond smile. When he sat down on the edge of the bed, he immediately found himself with arms draped around his middle. Wei Wuxian propped his chin against his thigh when he looked up, blinking slightly dazed.
“I went to see my brother.” Lan Wangji said. His fingers curled into those long dark locks spilling over his lap.
“Ah…” Wei Wuxian’s face showed a hint of surprise. “So Zewu-jun really came to join you here?”
Lan Wangji hummed, heartbeat picking up when he watched Wei Wuxian’s eyelids droop with drowsiness. There were pillow creases on his cheek and his body exuded sleepy warmth.
Lan Wangji had always been consistent in his routines, but Wei Wuxian shook these habits by making it harder for him to stay focused. With the other man in his arms, it would be so easy to forget that he had a conference to prepare for and couldn’t actually slip back to bed and spend a few more hours there. When there had still been a deeply carved line between them, this had never been a temptation.
“Did you have nightmares again?” he asked quietly, hand travelling down to Wei Wuxian’s neck. He kneaded against the tension he found there, allowed a bit of calming energy to run through his fingertips. Wei Wuxian’s lashes fluttered with satisfaction and he nestled his cheek against Lan Wangji’s hip.
“No, no nightmares…” he mumbled, words slightly muffled. “I don’t know how much I actually slept though. I was awake when you got up, I guess it was only after that that I fell into deep sleep. It was getting bright, that I remember...”
“I’ve been gone for an hour.” Lan Wangji observed, worry tugging inside his chest.
Wei Wuxian stayed quiet, slipped from his lap and rolled onto his back, arms still encircling him. Sighing chidingly, Lan Wangji indulged him and allowed himself to be pulled closer.
“There’s still time before the conference starts.” Wei Wuxian pouted, tugging on the blue string that hung over Lan Wangji’s shoulder. His heart soared. “Lay down with me for a bit?”
With Wei Wuxian splayed out under him, tugging and fumbling around his headpiece, Lan Wangji found himself melting. Gently he pressed his lips against Wei Wuxian’s exposed collarbones, against the dip of his throat. Found delight in the way his warm skin erupted in shivers under his own cold lips.
“Only if you behave yourself.” He stressed before reaching for Wei Wuxian’s wandering fingers to lace them together in a tight grip.
Voices drifted inside, the sound of hollow footsteps against wood passing their house, back and forth, the day progressing into full swing.
Time crumbled around them when Lan Wangji kissed Wei Wuxian into his pillows, allowed his tongue to slip past greedy lips and lure out all these pretty notes. Shivered when Wei Wuxian’s hand curled into his hair, pulling him even closer.
Yes, time was so easy to forget with Wei Wuxian.
The conference passed slow and tedious. Rogue ghosts, land distributions, trade policies, and many other topics came and went, an endless string of opinions thrown into the room.
When he had taken the position as Chief Cultivator, Lan Wangji knew that there would be so much more to it. He didn’t dare to complain. It was his duty and he faced these smaller issues the same way he would bigger clan confrontations. He listened attentively and spoke to the other leaders with the utmost sincerity. His brother by his side eased so much by just being there and picking up the word when he sensed Lan Wangji wavering.
Despite all that, an eternity seemed to pass inside the conference hall. Just as he’d fallen out of time with Wei Wuxian in his arms, now he seemed caught in its webs and unable to move.
Wei Wuxian himself had left the hall fifteen minutes in, free of any duties as a leader to sit through it all. Nie Huiasang was constantly dozing off behind his fan and straightened quickly whenever he felt Lan Wangji’s gaze on him. Two clan leaders in the back apparently had more important issues to discuss amongst themselves, their whispering constantly breaking through Lan Wangji’s chain of thought. Jin Ling sat straight-backed by his uncle’s side and evidently tried to stay present to prove his worth as a clan leader, but his eyes had grown hazy an hour ago.
Even Jiang Wanyin seemed lost in thought, chin propped against the palm of his hand while he peered down from his lotus seat. Lan Wangji felt his gaze in his direction from time to time, but other than that there was barely any movement in his expression.
It was only at the very end when they discussed the date of Jin Ling’s inauguration as the leader of the Jin Clan, that the participation slightly lifted. Clan Leader Yao was especially enthusiastic about it and luckily, they had fixed the next meeting without much need for Lan Wangji’s input.
At the end of it all, Lan Wangji felt drained and his head pounded. He nodded thankfully when Lan Xichen put an affirming hand on his shoulder. Looking at his brother, he wondered what had determined his brother’s decision to join him. To sit in a room full of people after being closed off for so long, when even the sound of rustling leaves had been unbearable. Lan Wangji knew how his skin had crawled when he faced a crowd after such a long time. After being alone with his thoughts, with his memories.
“Thank you for joining me.” Lan Wangji said again, not knowing how to express his sincerity. “I know it must be exhausting for you.”
Lan Xichen smiled and shook his head gently. The shadows in his features betrayed his gesture but Lan Wangji let it pass. Instead he turned, slightly surprised to find Jiang Wanyin’s eyes fixed on them.
“Clan Leader Jiang.” Lan Wangji said and bowed. They had barely interacted ever since he had arrived at Lotus Cove, only exchanged the most needed formalities. “Thank you for your hospitality and offering your estate for the gathering.”
Jiang Wanyin tilted his head, expression closed, but there was something sincere in his eyes.
“The Twin Jades of Gusu are always welcome in Lotus Cove.”
They watched each other for a few silent seconds, in which Lan Wangji wondered what had caused this change of heart. All he had ever hoped for was Jiang Wanyin’s acceptance towards Wei Wuxian. But he had never seen himself included.
Back when he had been expelled from the ancestor memorial, he had easily accepted it if that meant Wei Wuxian was free from blame. It was the Jiang family’s business after all.
A lot of time had passed since then but he was still caught off guard by Jiang Wanyin’s words. Despite being the Chief Cultivator, he doubted the other clan leader would use these words as mere polite formalities. An offer to visit Lotus Cover no matter the occasion wasn’t to be spoken lightly.
“Your gesture is deeply appreciated, Jiang Wanyin.”
To Lan Wangji’s surprise, his brother stepped forward. A faint change flickered over Jiang Wanyin’s face and Lan Xichen smiled. Maybe his gaze seemed slightly less clouded now.
Once again, Lan Wangji wondered and watched. Something intangible hovered in the air between them.
“I will take my leave now.” He declared and bowed again, sending one last examining gaze towards his brother. Something told him Lan Xichen would linger a while longer.
Lan Wangji had returned worn out and tired from the conference. Nothing in his posture revealed his exhaustion but Wei Wuxian saw it in his eyes.
Sometimes he wondered how healthy all of this actually was for him. Lan Wangji had always preferred keeping to himself instead of presenting in front of people. But Wei Wuxian also knew that Hanguang-jun never wavered in his vow. And who was Wei Wuxian to scold him for that?
Lan Wangji did not let him to take off his headpiece that must've weighed down on him, but he did place his head in Wei Wuxian's lap and allowed him to massage his temple.
Wei Wuxian watched the movements of his closed eyelids, the scattered light catching in his lashes. A warm bubble rose in his chest when Lan Wangji's mouth parted slightly, relief forming under Wei Wuxian's fingers. He wished the sun wouldn’t wander over they sky, but stay still instead, allow this moment to never die.
A while later however, when Lan Wangji sat proper and steady with his tea and guqin, he pulled Wei Wuxian back to reality.
"I believe your brother might be waiting for you."
Wei Wuxian watched the steam curl around Lan Wangji's features, dissipating in the afternoon light, growing golden the nearer the sun slipped towards the horizon. He allowed himself to breathe and listen to Lan Wangji’s melody for a few more minutes. Just a bit longer without worries that invaded his thoughts.
They had done this a few times in the past year.
Incense curling around them in heavy smoke as they bowed, a sharp reminder. Candles flickered with every movement of their bodies, a whisper of recognition. They bowed in silence, eyes clinging to the only remains of what was lost in ash and dust. Their memories caught in whispering water, a sliver of eternity.
The silence continued when they stepped into the golden afternoon light, incense still clinging to them. Their boots thumped over wood and water gurgled beneath them. Children laughed, servants called, ladies bowed and greeted their leader.
Wei Wuxian’s mind paced frantically, yearning for sound that was more than just life continuing. He looked at his brother and wished he could stop his mind from tumbling so helplessly. Everything under Wei Wuxian's skin itched and crawled, but the idea of filling the empty space between them with even emptier words clogged his throat.
Jiang Cheng caught his gaze and so they walked side by side, closemouthed.
They passed the small pond where they used to catch frogs. Almost hidden by reeds and overgrowing patches of lotus plants, a sanctuary for tiny creatures before two young boys had tumbled in. Wei Wuxian averted his gaze. They passed the gazebo where their lessons had been held, passed the water fountain that sparkled as bright as Jiang Yanli had done, followed the tiny path that led to ragged hills that had raised them, sword and bow thrusted into their hands.
A few children gathered in a colourful crowd, their kites high and vivacious. The sun caught their colours like diamonds lost to the sky.Laughter and delighted calls reached their ears as they stood in safe distance, watching the spectacle before them.
Wei Wuxian almost felt the string cutting into his palms, the rush of adrenaline when the kites jumped bravely.
He also remembered its fall, the fire and blood that had followed after.
“A-Ling will take over his position as a clan leader soon.” Jiang Cheng broke the silence, eyes fixed on the children. Wei Wuxian followed the kites instead. “You should visit more often, before he’s bound by duties. It would make him happy.”
Screams erupted before them when one of the kites crashed into green canopies. Finally, Wei Wuxian dared to glance at the man beside him. Dared to interpret the twitch in his brows, the tight line of his lips. Dared to think of him as his brother.
“I’m always happy to visit him.” He finally answered.
Always happy to see you again. Jiang Cheng wouldn’t like to hear it and so he let it be at that. It wasn’t his place to make demands, to reach out and try to grasp what he had left behind years ago.
Maybe it was enough to stand like this, side by side. Wei Wuxian watched his thoughts scatter like birds into the sky. Inky black dots against pale blue until they disappeared.
“Maybe we should give a hand?” He suggested when the helpless voices grew louder. The children bustled around the tree and looked up with hopeless faces, trying to catch a glimpse of their battered kite.
Jiang Cheng nodded shortly. They wouldn’t allow more kites to get lost.
That evening the farewell banquet was held. Strung up lanterns glowed into the pale evening air, awaiting the fall of night. Ribbons and banners fluttered in colours of the Lotus Cove. The gathering was merrier than the previous evening, all clan leaders bustling and chatting amongst each other. Dancers caved their circle in the middle, lilac sleeves painting intricate patterns into the air.
This time, Wei Wuxian didn’t try to hide behind the commotion. He greeted everyone with a smile that stopped by him and freed Lan Wangji from any painful small-talk. Jin Ling sat with them for a while, sharing his thoughts on his upcoming inauguration in Jinlintai. Wei Wuxian watched him with growing pride, the way his chin lifted confidently but his eyes showed hesitation.
Jiang Cheng joined them after a while. Posture stiff and expression guarded, but a smile slipped him when Wei Wuxian offered him a cup of Henfeng Wine. Wei Wuxian raised another cup to that.
Their circle grew bigger when Lan Xichen joined his brother’s side, looking weary but smiling as politely as always. Wei Wuxian bowed deeply.
He saw the hopeful shine in Lan Wangji’s eyes and his heart swelled at the sight of the Twin Jades of Gusu standing tall and proud, pearls among dark gems. Maybe their light had been dimmed over the past three years, but Wei Wuxian knew it hadn’t died. Not when Lan Xichen took these brave small steps to face the world that was so brutal.
Wei Wuxian stood and watched them gather around; his nephew, his brother, Hanguang-jun and Zewu-jun by his side, leaders that determined the future. Some time ago he hadn’t dared to even imagine taking a place among them again.
But it seemed there was a place for him in the Lotus Hall after all. He wondered if Jiang Yanli would be proud of him.
It was when Nie Huiasang passed them, that Wei Wuxian turned away. Lan Wangji caught his gaze questioning. Wei Wuxian nodded shortly, before excusing himself from the company.
“Brother Nie, are you well entertained?” He asked when he joined his side. Didn’t miss the way Nie Huisang’s fingers gripped his precious fan tighter. A polite smile appeared on his face.
“Clan Leader Jiang’s hospitality is excellent.” Nie Huiasang tilted his head towards Jiang Cheng appraisingly which lured a short laugh from Wei Wuxian.
With their mutual past of smuggling alcohol into the Cloud Recesses and getting punished for it, the formality between them was almost absurd. And yet, the absurdity of it all had been brought around by the passing of time. Back then, he’d thought there would always be easy laughter and chatter found in Nie Huiasang’s company.
Almost everything Wei Wuxian knew about Nie Huiasang was self-observed.
Back when they had studied in the Cloud Recesses, they had talked about shared dreams and goals. He had known about Nie Huiasang’s interests, his love for everything beautiful, his opinions on general topics.
But never had he talked about his homelife and family, had mentioned his brother just in passing. Wei Wuxian had known nothing about the insecurity that showed on Nie Huiasang’s face in Nie Mingjue’s presence, couldn’t have guessed those heavy bearing words thrown at the younger brother. Despite wearing his anxieties on his sleeves, Nie Huiasang had never spoken about it. Wei Wuxian had to witness it himself to see past his friend’s facade.
Nie Mingjue who had been feared and admired simultaneously, who towered over him with great expectations while his younger brother didn’t even carry a blade. Like sun and moon, Nie Mingjue had burned while Nie Huiasang hid behind his white fan, whose love for poetry and calligraphy was bigger than for blades and fighting techniques. Nie Huiasang who rather cared for his colourful birds than the future of his clan.
Years later and Nie Huiasang stood before him with the fate of his clan thrust upon his shoulders. Not only that. Everything Wei Wuxian had known - and not known - unravelled itself before him. Maybe this would always be Nie Huiasang, observing and catching everything from the side while saying something completely different. Only showing trivialities until his image was made of unknowing nothings.
Nie Huiasang was cowardice and foolish poetry, he was an airhead with no direction like the birds he still rescued as if he’d never grown up. And he played that part to perfection.
Watching him now, Wei Wuxian questioned who the real fools were in the end.
“Brother Nie.” he began while waving for a servant to pour them more wine. “You’ve never answered my question if you’re faring well. Are you happy in Qinhe?”
The other man’s face twitched.
He had played opposite of Jin Guangyao for over a decade, had used Wei Wuxian and everyone that was dear to him in his own game of revenge, used them as pawns to bring down the murderer of his brother. Maybe that made him a hero, or maybe it made Jin Guangyao and Nie Huiasang as bad as each other.
All Wei Wuxian wondered was if success felt as sweet to Nie Huiasang as he had imagined. Glancing at Lan Xichen’s wavering shape in some distance, he wondered if Nie Huiasang ever looked at him and felt victory.
“I am living well, Brother Wei. I appreciate your concern.” Nie Huiasang finally answered, bowing lightly. His fingers had stilled around his fan.
“That’s good to hear.”
Wei Wuxian held his gaze for a second. Nothing was clearer and maybe that’s how it always would be with Nie Huiasang. Clouded, grey and distant, like the images he held in front of his face to hide. For some reason that was easier to accept than the idea of reconnecting over poetry and scandalous literature for amusement.
They parted after two more cups of wine.
Wei Wuxian felt dizzy, but oddly calm. The night breeze bit his skin with cold teeth when he stepped outside, Lan Wangji by his side. It would take hours for the gathering to die down but Wei Wuxian had tasted enough. He was glad knowing Lan Xichen smiled with his brother by the fountains, was glad to escape Jin Ling’s affectionate attention he gave Fairy. Was glad to see them still breathing and not swallowed by shadows.
Wei Wuxian was ready to go back to silence, now that he had held on for as long as he could. His temples throbbed with exhaustion and lack of sleep. The journey to bed was a blur, all he could feel was Lan Wangji’s touch, his warmth and voice guiding him. When he finally laid in bed and the ceiling turned above him, he sighed deeply, feeling the tension seep out of him.
“Lan Zhan.” He whispered when Lan Wangji finally joined him and pulled him against his chest. Shivered under warm breath hitting his neck, hair curling between his fingers. “Will you stay at Lotus Cove with me? Just for a few days?”
When Wei Wuxian shifted, he could feel Lan Wangji’s heartbeat against his own chest. Slowly, he ran his hand over his back, followed the sharp line of his spine.
“I will gladly stay with you if that’s what you wish for.”
Wei Wuxian smiled into the darkness, catching the silent question.
“It is. A-Ling is leaving to Jinlintai in three days time and Jiang Cheng -” He didn’t finish, words slipping away from his mouth when Lan Wangji kissed him. Firm but gentle and Wei Wuxian let it melt him, pull him deeper into the sheets and let the whispering water fade.
His limbs felt deliciously heavy and warm, like honey dripping from Lan Wangji’s lips and into his veins. The brightness of the day slowly blended to comforting darkness that enhanced Lan Wangji’s caress, silver moonlight reaching through the windows timidly. Every breath grew louder, every touch burning against his skin.
Scattered thoughts of snakes winding around wrists, of lotus flowers pressed against skin, of a red dot glaring like a third eye - all of it disappeared in gentle mist. There were no white folds that whispered secrets, the penetrating scent of incense fading under sandalwood and jasmine.
“Good night, Wei Ying.”
Lotus Cove whispered and murmured around him, a song that echoed under his skin all his life. Like a dream he always returned to, a dream that would always wait for him and maybe accept him back.
The world finally drifted into distance, falling silent around him. Deep gentle waves reached for him for a comforting embrace, pulling all thoughts away from him.