“You should ask Sect Leader Lan to come here,” Jin Guangshan announced very loudly. “If these rumors are true, then we should provide assistance to our friends.” The other cultivators, hanging around to try and curry favor, all nodded and murmured their agreement.
Jin Guangyao and Jin Zixuan exchanged a look.
“Whatever you say, Father,” Jin Guangyao smiled.
“There is no way,” Jiang Yanli seethed. “A-Xian would never do such a thing!”
Jin Zixuan looked in panic at his half-brother. “I believe you,” Jin Guangyao replied.
“You do?” she brightened.
“Of course, A-Li,” Jin Zixuan said immediately.
Jin Guangyao, by dint of long practice, successfully hid his eyeroll. “Of course we do, Sister-in-law,” he said. “And please don’t worry. I know for a fact that Zewu-Jun has no intention of storming the Yiling Burial Mounds.”
“I’m very sorry, Er-ge,” Jin Guangyao said a week later. “But you know how the Chief Cultivator is.”
Lan Xichen smiled at him with patient sympathy. “It’s not your fault, A-Yao. Please don’t trouble yourself on my account. Perhaps it’s best to lay this whole thing to rest.”
“What the hell is exactly ‘this whole thing’?” Nie Mingjue demanded. “What nonsense does this idiot Jin Guangshan have in his head now?”
He sent a challenging look at Jin Guangyao, but Jin Guangyao just smiled and kept his mouth shut.
“I understand there are some rumors going around?” Lan Xichen frowned slightly, and looked to Jin Guangyao, because of course Zewu-Jun would never concern himself with rumors.
“People are saying the Yiling Patriarch has kidnapped Hanguang-Jun and is holding him hostage in the Burial Mounds,” Jin Guangyao sighed. “Some are saying that Hanguang-Jun went up to challenge him to a duel, others that Hanguang-Jun was just passing by and managed to fall prey to the Yiling Patriarch’s… tricks? Wiles?”
Zewu-Jun snorted a laugh, which was the entire reason Jin Guangyao had added the wiles part. They exchanged looks full of amusement.
“And...I take it this is nonsense?” Nie Mingjue said.
Lan Xichen sighed. “Well, the part about Wangji going there is correct. He’s been there for a month. But there’s no way Wangji is being held there against his will. In fact,” he visibly brightened, “I’d say no news is good news!” Truthfully, Lan Xichen had expected Wangji back a lot sooner with a broken heart. That he hadn’t returned at least meant no broken heart. Xichen was starting to feel quite optimistic.
“I feel like I’m missing something,” Nie Mingjue said.
Jin Guangyao turned with evident surprise to Xichen. “You didn’t tell Da-ge?”
Xichen smiled at Nie Mingjue apologetically. “It didn’t seem like something he’d be interested in.”
“Tell me what?” Nie Mingjue demanded.
“A-Xian is...not good at his own feelings,” Jiang Yanli said. “Or other people’s feelings. But he definitely has them!” She wasn’t sure it was actually necessary to reassure Zewu-Jun, who seemed unbothered by the whole thing, but it helped her to hear it aloud. “And...they were definitely hiding in the bushes together at the night-hunt on Phoenix Mountain!”
“They did come out of nowhere,” Zixuan agreed, looking slightly haunted.
“They came out of the bushes,” she corrected, gently. “Together.”
Zewu-jun’s mouth twitched. “No wonder Wangji had hope.”
“I’m sure those of us who know them have no doubts about the matter,” Jin Guangyao said smoothly. “The difficulty lies in…”
“Father,” Zixuan said glumly. “I don’t know what he’s up to this time— or why he’s suddenly started caring about politics— but he never did let things go easily.”
“I’m sure there will be a way to resolve this peacefully,” Zewu-Jun said.
“He’s not going to want to resolve this peacefully,” Jin Guangyao whispered to Xichen. “I’m not sure why he feels like Wei Wuxian has offended him personally, but he’s acting like it. I will do what I can—“
“A-Yao,” Xichen stopped him, gently touching his wrists, fingers curling around to brush lightly on the tender skin of the undersides of his wrists. “I know you will. Please, don’t trouble yourself over me. I can take care of things on my end. You do whatever you need to do.”
Jin Guangyao made no effort to hide his slight breathlessness, or the flush on his neck, and his smile as he looked up at Xichen was soft and fond. “Whatever you say, Er-ge.”
Jiang Cheng spit his wine across the table, which definitely made everyone else in the restaurant shut up and stare. “What did you say?” he demanded of the three men two tables over, who had been having a very loud conversation up until twenty seconds ago.
They nervously assessed Jiang Cheng’s appearance, especially the purple robes. “Err,” said the loudest man, “this one was just, uh, telling some nonsense overheard by gossiping women in the market, ha ha. Sir.”
“You seemed remarkably well-informed,” Jiang Cheng said coolly, clenching the hand with Zidian. “Please, share the wealth of your knowledge.”
“Ah ha, it’s just that… that some people are saying that the Yiling Patriarch has kidnapped Hanguang-Jun and is holding him hostage in the Burial Mounds for a nefarious dark ritual involving the blood of a hundred virgins.”
“That’s what I thought you said,” Jiang Cheng said. “Except then you kept talking and actually made it worse.”
“No no no,” one of the other men said. “You’ve got it all wrong, as usual. I heard that the Yiling Patriarch defeated Hanguang-Jun in battle and Hanguang-Jun was forced to pledge his life and sword to the Yiling Patriarch!”
That...might be a little closer to the truth, Jiang Cheng thought with a snort. He carefully refilled his wine cup.
“Don’t be stupid,” the third man said. “Could anyone defeat Hanguang-Jun in battle? Clearly the Yiling Patriarch used his ghost flute to bewitch and ensnare Hanguang-Jun up to the Burial Mounds so he can turn him into another Ghost General!”
Jiang Cheng held his wine cup in front of his mouth without drinking for a long, long time. It is none of your business, he told himself. We had a whole thing where we all agreed that whatever he does up there is none of your business.
Jiang Cheng drank the whole cup in one swallow. None of your business, none of your business…
“You’re all wrong,” the landlady said, bringing a fresh jar of wine to the loud table. “As if the great Hanguang-Jun would ever be swayed by evil! Clearly, he is up there to seduce the Yiling Patriarch away from demonic cultivation so that he will lay down his ghost flute and lay to rest his ghost armies once and for all!”
Nope, Jiang Cheng thought. I’m out. I’m done. “I’m leaving,” he said, slamming his cup down on the table.
Wei Wuxian had always figured sex would be good— it had to be, the way people went on about it all the time— but he honestly hadn’t expected it to be like this.
He still didn’t understand how something that was so filthy (the places his tongue had been!) made him feel so pure, or how getting split open made him feel whole. Lan Wangji took him like a tsunami, washing away everything extraneous and leaving him wrecked and shaking, leaving him bare and cleansed.
Partly it was the dual cultivation, he knew, balancing out all that Yin energy he had, leaving his head clear and his spirit settled; but the bigger, scarier part was how much of it was not that. How much of it was just them, together. Lan Zhan could tie him up and hold him down and Wei Wuxian felt safe; under Lan Zhan’s hands and mouth Wei Wuxian finally felt like he had everything he ever needed, and giving himself like that made him feel more like himself than anything else ever had.
Anyway, it was stupidly hot, and if he’d known it would be like this, he would have jumped Lan Wangji’s bones in the Cloud Recesses library.
Although it was definitely underlining that sleeping on stone platforms was not really cutting it. It was bad for your back, and now he’d discovered it was bad for your knees and elbows, too. Finger-shaped bruises on his hips were one thing, but his knees were purple. If Wen Qing found out, she’d have something to say, for sure.
On the other hand, the boulder that he used as a worktop was exactly the right height for Lan Wangji to push him over and fuck him from behind on, so that was definitely staying.
Wei Wuxian sat up, yawned, and pulled aside his robe to examine the bite mark on his shoulder. The sleeping robes were another consequence of living in a cave without a real door they could lock, because A-Yuan had a tendency to run in as soon as the sun was up and try to climb on the bed.That had been a horrifying morning. Lan Wangji was starting to make noises about building an actual house, and Wei Wuxian was pretty sure he was going to give in soon, because apparently Lan Wangji could make him do anything he wanted.
Wei Wuxian looked again at his purple and green knees and had to admit a real bed would be nice.
“LAN ZHAN?” he called, because he was too lazy to get up and look for him.
As he waited, Wei Wuxian idly thought that they could build an extra room on their house, for A-Yuan.
“There you are!” He yawned and slumped forward into Lan Wangji’s chest, sighing happily as those really remarkably strong Lan arms wrapped around him. “Why are you always dressed?” he sighed.
“My brother is here,” Lan Wangji said.
It took a few seconds for the meaning to percolate through Wei Wuxian’s brain. Then he jumped. “What the fuck!?” In a panic he looked over Lan Wangji’s shoulder, convinced he was going to see Lan Xichen ready to run him through for destroying Lan Wangji’s honor.
“He’s outside.” Wei Wuxian was 99% sure Lan Wangji was laughing at him. “I know what you are like in the morning,” he added, and ran a soothing hand through the tangle of Wei Wuxian’s bedhead.
Wei Wuxian sniffed and pushed himself upright. “Outside the Burial Mounds or outside the Demon-Slaughtering Cave?”
“Outside the… cave.”
Wei Wuxian spared a moment to glare. One thing he did not appreciate was the way Lan Wangji and Wen Qing teamed up to continuously make fun of what was a perfectly good and appropriate name for a cave.
Wei Wuxian hurried to dress with Lan Wangji’s help, and then left the cave. Zewu-Jun was being entertained in the least-decrepit house. A-Yuan had already attached himself to his leg, and Zewu-Jun and Wen Qing were exchanging friendly smirks that Wei Wuxian had a bad feeling were at his expense. Wen Ning was hovering nearby anxiously, and Granny was plying everyone with more tea than they could possibly drink.
“Zewu-Jun!” Wei Wuxian bowed. Zewu-Jun started to rise but was held back by A-Yuan. “No, no, please,” Wei Wuxian hurried to say. “Don’t get up! A-Yuan is surprisingly strong and you’ll tip over.”
“Xian-Gege,” A-Yuan acknowledged.
“Good morning to you too! Is that all you have to say to me?”
“Yes,” said A-Yuan.
Wen Qing snorted. Wei Wuxian hurried to sit down, and Lan Wangji sat down between him and his brother. A-Yuan immediately crawled in Lan Wangji’s lap. Lan Xichen’s face became noticeably soft as he looked at them.
“I know,” Wei Wuxian said fondly. “They’re so cute, aren’t they?”
“Well,” Lan Xichen turned a very reassuring smile on Wei Wuxian. “I’m glad to see things are working out.”
Wei Wuxian flushed bright red. He shot a glance at Lan Wangji, and was pretty sure his ears were turning red.
“Brother,” Lan Wangji said. “Is there a reason you’ve come?”
“Ah,” Lan Xichen’s smile faded to be replaced by a slightly more strained look. “I’ve just come from Lanling,” he said.
Wei Wuxian’s heart froze in his chest. ”Shijie! Is she—“
“In excellent health, Young Master Wei, please don’t worry about that. She sends her regards.”
Wei Wuxian took a deep breath, tried to slow his pounding heart.
“It’s more that certain… disconcerting rumors have been heard, and the Chief Cultivator wished to investigate. I thought I would be the best person for the task, so I volunteered.”
“Rumors?” Lan Wangji asked.
“I was never concerned about them myself,” he said, with a reassuring smile at his brother. “I came more because I missed you than because I was worried.”
Lan Wangji lowered his eyes slightly, and Wei Wuxian’s heart sunk. “Sorry,” Lan Zhan said.
“Please don’t be, Wangji.” Lan Xichen leaned forward to catch his brother’s eyes, and sent him the full force of his reassuring smile. “I could not be happier to find you so happy.”
Wei Wuxian was sure he was blushing again.
“This is all very heart-warming,” Wen Qing said, and almost sounded like she meant it. “But what are these rumors? Are they anything we should be concerned about?”
“No, no, please don’t worry yourselves. No one really is taking them very seriously except...Jin Guangshan.”
“Chief Cultivator Jin Guangshan?” Wei Wuxian asked, just to check.
“But A-Yao and myself will make sure no further troubles come from this. This visit really was more for me to say hello than anything else. And now I can go back and tell Jin Guangshan there is no problem and no situation to deal with.”
“Brother…” Lan Wangji said.
“What exactly is this rumor?” Wei Wuxian said.
Lan Xichen smiled his bland, professional smile. Lan Wangji went a little tense. “There are several rumors, but the one with the most traction is that the Yiling Patriarch has kidnapped Hanguang-Jun and is holding him in the Burial Mounds for nefarious purposes.”
There was a long moment of silence.
“Pfffffffft,” Wen Qing burst out with a bubble of laughter. Wei Wuxian wasn’t sure he’d actually heard her laugh before. He wasn’t sure he was too happy about it now.
Lan Wangji’s ears were red again.
“Wait, wait,” Wei Wuxian leaned forward again. “What do they think I’m doing?”
“No, no! I want to know what these nefarious purposes are— ahh!!”
Wen Qing was twisting his ear. “Behave,” she said, and held on an extra second before letting go.
Wei Wuxian rubbed his ear and scooted away from her, feeling very hard-done by.
“The rumors, ah, are not very clear on what the nefarious purposes are,” Lan Xichen said, tactfully moving them all along. “But as long as I can reassure everyone that no one is being held against their will, I think the rumors will fade quickly. So you see, nothing to concern yourselves with.”
“No one’s being held...against their will,” Wei Wuxian confirmed. He shot a guilty look at Lan Zhan’s forehead ribbon.
“Thank you for helping us with this matter, Zewu-Jun,” Wen Qing said, because she still had manners.
“Brother,” Lan Wangji nodded, relieved.
Lan Xichen’s smiled turned very warm and genuine again. “There’s just one more thing. I saved the best news for last.”
He brought out a letter and passed it to Wei Wuxian. He took one look at the seal and eagerly tore it open. He scanned it rapidly, then had to read it again, more slowly. “Shijie’s pregnant!” He shouted. He waved the letter around, tears springing to his eyes. “I’m going to be an uncle!”
There were a great deal of congratulations, and Wei Wuxian had to jump and hug Lan Wangji and A-Yuan and Wen Ning. “I’m so happy!” He gasped. “And...I also kind of want to break Jin Zixuan’s knees! Is that normal?”
“For you?” Wen Qing said. “Yes.”
He laughed giddily. “Thank you, Zewu-Jun, for bringing me this great news!”
He scooped up A-Yuan and whispered “You’re going to have a cousin! What do you think of that?”
A-Yuan gently patted him on the head, and Wei Wuxian nearly burst into tears again.
“I can assure you all, I spoke to Wangji myself,” Lan Xichen said. “And as grateful as we all are for your concern, he is absolutely not being held against his will. He’s there of his own free will, as is everyone on the Burial Mounds. Speaking of which… I spent a significant amount of time there and observed the entire settlement. Aside from Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji, there is no one there who is not a woman, child, or elderly person. The only other cultivator is Wen Qing, who of course is well known as a doctor, rather than a warrior.” He paused, to let the words sink in. “I really don’t see how the Wen remnants are a threat to anyone.”
“So the only person of concern is Wei Wuxian?” A-Yao asked.
“Who will only attack if he is attacked,” Xichen confirmed.
“And that ghost general,” someone muttered.
Lan Xichen thought of poor, shy Wen Ning, who had barely managed to speak two words in his presence. “Wen Ning was present,” he acknowledged, because he had to. “But he very much was not a threat to anyone.”
“And what does Wei Wuxian intend to do?” Jin Guangshan asked, eyes narrowed.
Lan Xichen thought carefully about the possible answers. There were things he didn’t particularly want to make public, raise a child with my brother foremost among them. “I believe he just intends to live quietly,” he finally said. “They spend all their time on agriculture. He hasn’t founded a sect. There aren’t enough cultivators there for that. As long as no one bothers them, they won’t be a problem to anyone else.”
It was another half an hour before they wrapped up, and Lan Xichen could escape to give the news with considerably more personal details to Jin Zixuan and Jiang Yanli.
“I still don’t understand what his game is,” Jin Guangshan said. “And what Zewu-Jun’s part in this is now.”
Jin Guangyao allowed himself to look up at the heavens for strength. “It means the old plan will have to be changed,” he said, apologetic and humble as always. “But I’m afraid there’s now no way the Burial Mounds or Wei Wuxian can be attacked directly, not without breaking the alliance with GusuLan. And with that, YunmengJiang would certainly not stand by idly.” He was pretty sure Jin Zixuan might lead an internal revolt at Koi Tower, and if he didn’t, his wife certainly would.
“YunmengJiang,” Jin Guangshan scoffed. “A half-dead sect run by a child.”
“Nie Mingjue will side with Lan Xichen in all disputes,” Jin Guangyao reminded him, without any trace of bitterness on his face or in his voice.
“All because… what? I still don’t understand what Hanguang-Jun is doing up there.”
“It’s best to consider it a marriage alliance,” Jin Guangyao said. “Between GusuLan and Yiling,” he added, when his father still looked baffled.
“A marriage alliance? But who’s married who?”
Jin Guangyao almost laughed. “Hanguang-Jun and Wei Wuxian.”
“Hanguang-Jun and Wei Wuxian are cutsleeves?” Jin Guangshan had to sit in considerable shock for some moments.
Jin Guangyao just waited, his impatience, as always, kept on a low simmer.
“Huh,” Jin Guangshan said eventually. “Goes to show you never know, do you?”
“Indeed you don’t,” Jin Guangyao said.
“Well!” Jin Guangshan laughed and slapped his thigh. “More for the rest of us, then!”
Jin Guangyao allowed himself a moment to stare into the abyss.
“Well everyone knew that,” Xue Yang scoffed. “But what the hell do you mean, we aren’t going after the Yin Tiger Seal?”
“Shut up,” said Jin Guangyao. “I’m...giving the matter some thought.”
Xue Yang groaned. “Well, think faster! I’m bored.”
Jin Guangyao was strongly tempted to send him after Nie Mingjue. Someone was sure to get cut into pieces, and he wasn’t terribly fussed about who.
“But I really, really want to know what they think I’m doing to you up here,” Wei Wuxian said. “Should I be insulted? Flattered?”
“Nefarious purposes,” Lan Wangji said thoughtfully.
Wei Wuxian grinned. “Do they think I’m torturing you? Using you in experiments?” His grin turned, if it was possible, even more lascivious. “Do they think I’ve made you my sex slave?” Then he giggled. “That’s so unfair! If anything, it’s the other way around!”
Lan Wangji stared at him for a long moment, during which Wei Wuxian found it difficult to breathe, and then he pushed Wei Wuxian down on their (ow, still too hard) bed.
“Perhaps they think you’ve captivated me,” he said. “Which you have.”
Wei Wuxian hid his face in his hands. “Lan ZHAAAAN. You can’t just say things like that!”
“Hmm,” said Lan Zhan, who was merciless. “Are you my sex slave?”
“Hanguang-Jun! I can’t believe you said—“
Lan Zhan nearly fell on top of him, pinning his wrists and setting his mouth to Wei Wuxian’s neck, a hot slide of tongue followed by the sharp pinch of teeth.
“Ahhhh, Lan Zhan! Hanguang-Jun, have mercy! I can’t believe everyone thinks I’m the one with nefarious purposes!”
Wei Wuxian slid his hands, with Lan Zhan’s hands still wrapped around his wrists, up above his head, until they were neatly together and Lan Zhan could hold them there with one hand.
“Everyone thinks I’m up here having my way with you but you’re up here having your way with me… are you going to fuck the demonic cultivation out of me, Hanguang-Jun? You’ve got the Yiling Patriarch at your mercy. You can do anything you want to me, I can’t resist...”
Lan Wangji rolled their hips together and Wei Wuxian groaned. “You should...take me apart,” he gasped. “And then I’ll take you apart…”
Lan Wangji made a very agreeable noise and fused their mouths together, one hand holding Wei Wuxian’s wrists pinned above his head, the other pulling at their robes.
“Please,” Lan Qiren said, in the careful way that meant he was on the verge of a very un-Lan-like explosion. “Explain it to me one more time.”
“Of course, Uncle,” Xichen said, although he was starting to think he’d rather not. A qi-deviation was starting to look like an increasingly likely possibility.
His uncle, however, did not wait for him to start talking. “You left your brother up there, with that...that… that Wei Wuxian…”
Exactly where he wants to be and you know it.
“In an unhealthy environment full of resentful energy…”
That was true, but it couldn’t be helped.
“Surrounded by enemies…”
“You liked Wen Qing,” he pointed out mildly.
“You should have brought your brother home! You must return and convince him to come back. Remind him his family and duty are here.”
“Wangji and Wei Wuxian seem to have adopted a son,” Xichen said.
For a long moment, Lan Qiren gave no reaction.
“He’s very cute,” Xichen tried. “His name is A-Yuan.”
Lan Qiren began pulling at his beard in an almost frantic manner, eyes still fixed a thousand li in the distance, and Xichen decided enough had been said.