There is a discordant jangle as Meng Yao’s body slumps forward over his guqin, forcing Bichen’s hilt down onto the strings. The bloodied point of the sword is just visible, sticking out of Meng Yao’s back.
Nie Mingjue has one hand on his chest and the other on his throat, gasping, face mottled red from rage and lack of airflow. “Lan… Wangji?”
Lan Wangji, sword arm still extended in midair, turns to one of several besuited staffers who are converging on the Nie conference room in a panic. “Call 120,” he says. Nie Mingjue will be fine with prompt medical attention and some time for the evil energies to wane from his system.
He walks over to the still body and bends to retrieve Bichen. As he turns the body over, Meng Yao’s face is a mask of anger, surprise, and something like misery or maybe disappointment. Lan Wangji will never know the particular twisted story that led him to attempt his employer’s murder. Those details will no doubt be of interest to the Nie, but Lan Wangji has done his job. He was here in time to prevent the tragedy.
“How did you know?” Nie Mingjue splutters. “I never thought… How did you know?”
“He was instructed to perform ‘Clarity’ for you,” Lan Wangji says.
“Meng Yao began ‘Clarity’ as instructed, but then he played four bars of a different song. The song had a negative intention.” To a layman like Nie Mingjue, there would have been no problem. Meng Yao must have been unaware of the Lan family’s long history with spiritual music, or he never would have been so daring. Lan Wangji noticed the difference in the music instinctively - not just the melody but the feeling, the peacefulness curdling into spite.
Bichen comes out slowly, trembling a little from the waves of dark energy it cut through in addition to flesh. When Lan Wangji straightens with his bloody sword, Nie Mingjue is surrounded by a flurry of attendants, offering blankets, water, mobile phones. In the center of the commotion, he is staring at Lan Wangji, a bemused expression on his face, shaking his head slightly.
“Do your hands ever shake, Lan Wangji?” Nie Mingjue asks him the next day, handing him a long, slim envelope, which Lan Wangji slips into the inside pocket of his suit jacket. The hospital cleared Nie Mingjue only hours earlier, and he is already back at the office, firing off questions that sound like a challenge. The sheer aggressive energy of this man could power a small city. It essentially does, considering the number of industries in which Nie Enterprises is a significant player.
“Mn,” Lan Wangji confirms. “Sometimes. Adrenaline.”
Nie Mingjue shakes his head, like yesterday, and moves over to the liquor cabinet. He unstoppers a crystal container.
“I’d like you to stay,” Nie Mingjue says. The way he says it, it’s clear he wishes he could make it a command, but understands that Lan Wangji is one of the few people in this building that he cannot control.
Lan Wangji bows respectfully, deeply, an old-school gesture that not many people offer anymore. But gestures are important to Lan Wangji. Boundaries are important to Lan Wangji.
“I can’t stay, Nie-zongzhu,” Lan Wangji says. “I hope you understand.”
Nie Mingjue draws breath, then huffs out a slightly sour laugh. “I do,” he says. “Lan Wangji must go where the chaos is.”
Lan Wangji personally finds it a little unfair that he should be the only bodyguard to have gained this reputation, considering what the business is like, but he lowers his eyes in agreement.
Nie Mingjue pours himself a shallow glass and comes back over without offering one to Lan Wangji, which is appreciated. He lifts it in a toast and says, “To your next lucky client.”
Lan Wangji returns to the short-term apartment he leased for the duration of the Nie assignment. It’s above a tiny combination grocery and pharmacy, with a metal gate in front of the door and the constant thump of bass from one or more neighbors audible through the floor and walls at all hours.
He assembles a cold dish of vegetables from the fridge and eats it at his little table in the sickly neon light of the cocktail lounge sign across the street. Then he arranges himself on his meditation mat with Bichen and closes his eyes, settling himself into the deep state he will need to be in for the next several hours to cleanse the vengeful emotions from his sword and replenish his core. After a few moments, a few breaths, even the ever-present bass drops away into the dark.
The practice dummy at the gym near Lan Wangji’s apartment is rescued from his merciless attentions by a polite, female cough behind him.
Lan Wangji whirls around and straightens, panting a little.
A lovely woman in a tailored lavender dress stands in the gym doorway. She has perfect posture, shoulders back and level, with her hands clasped demurely in front of her. “Lan Wangji?” she asks, and her voice is delicate and lilting. Everything about her is feminine. Lan Wangji thinks he can even smell floral perfume. Something soft and powdery. Lotus?
“Guniang,” he says with a bow, breathing deeply through his nose to return his heart rate to normal and wishing he weren’t in sneakers and a drenched sweatshirt. “How may I help?”
To his surprise and pleasure, she bows back. “I’m Jiang Yanli,” she says. “I apologize for the interruption. My business is urgent, or I wouldn’t have troubled you at practice. You’re very good,” she adds, gesturing to the dummy.
Lan Wangji lowers his eyes in acknowledgment.
Jiang Yanli pauses only for a moment when she realizes that will be the sum total of his reaction, and moves smoothly on. “I’d like to hire you to protect my brother, Wei Wuxian.” She folds her hands and looks at him expectantly.
Lan Wangji can tell there’s a response he should be giving that he’s not. He’s used to the feeling. “Tell me a little bit about the client,” he says.
A small furrow appears between Jiang Yanli’s eyebrows, and her lips part. “Oh…” she says, and she’s clearly at a loss. “Wei Wuxian?” she inquires, enunciating the name a little. “I’m sorry - I understood that your family has a musical background.”
Wei Wuxian. Music. Lan Wangji thinks he might vaguely know who she means. “Classical music,” he clarifies.
Jiang Yanli’s expression clears. “Ah, that explains it!” she says with a sweet smile. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had the chance to introduce someone to my little brother. Wei Wuxian is a pop musician, one of the most famous.” She smiles again. “I don’t say that to brag, Lan-gongzi. My brother has won almost every award he’s ever been eligible for. All his albums are multi-platinum. He’s likely to be nominated soon for a Golden Horse for a starring role in his first movie. That’s why I say he’s very famous.” Her eyes are shining with gentle pride.
“Mn,” Lan Wangji says. He might have heard the name around, but it’s not ringing many bells. More importantly, “I don’t take celebrity clients.”
Jiang Yanli’s face falls. “You - oh. But Nie Huaisang spoke so highly of you. He said you were the best.”
So that’s how Jiang Yanli knew how to find him. “There are several good freelancers available now,” he tells her. “Have you asked Xiao Xingchen, or Song Zichen?”
“Yes,” she says. “Xiao Xingchen is interested. But I was told you are the best.”
There is no best, Lan Wangji thinks, but he can’t think of a way to say this out loud without seeming rude. He says nothing.
“Lan-gongzi,” Jiang Yanli says. A determined look has entered her eye. “My little brother is receiving death threats. He’s terrified. I’m terrified for him, and for his young son. Wei Wuxian asked for you, Lan-gongzi. I’ll pay twice your usual rate to secure your help.”
The money doesn’t matter to Lan Wangji, nor does the idea of a celebrity receiving death threats, which is almost always a lot of trouble for the professionals until it turns out to be nothing. But Wei Wuxian has a young son. Lan Wangji can’t help it; the idea troubles him.
“I’ll… come look the situation over,” he says reluctantly.
Jiang Yanli lets out a relieved exclamation and claps her hands together, suddenly girlish. “Thank you, Lan-gongzi! Let me give you our information. I’m so happy that my brother will be in your safe hands.”
Before his appointment at the Jiang house, Lan Wangji does his research. He watches videos, reads articles, and checks Twitter. Jiang Yanli hasn’t exaggerated Wei Wuxian’s fame in the least - if anything, she was too modest. The number of awards Wei Wuxian has won for songwriting, performance, and videos is staggering. His debut film, Master of the Night, has been number one in fifteen countries for over two months and it’s sweeping the early awards season.
Lan Wangji watches clips of screaming fans grasping, crying, a sea of hands reaching for a slim figure in black, and he feels instinctive revulsion. It’s not the crowd. Crowds are a large part of Lan Wangji’s job. It’s the fever pitch of the yearning in these people’s faces. It’s the possessive, annihilating quality of their attention, obvious even in low resolution videos. Lan Wangji sees it for what it is: dangerous. Disastrous. Lan Wangji wouldn’t be able to stand living in the center of that hurricane.
Wei Wuxian, on the other hand, appears to thrive on it. His public persona is high-energy, flirtatious, transgressive. Search results come back about shocking set pieces during concerts, or passionately controversial interview quotes, followed by social media posts implying or stating outright that he’s not sorry. Some of the loudest voices discussing Wei Wuxian online express disgust with these antics, and a not-inconsiderable number appear to genuinely view him as a menace to society. Lan Wangji suspects these last are the kind of people who can’t differentiate between a role - the seductively evil Yiling Patriarch in Wei Wuxian’s movie, for instance - and a real person. The sender of the death threats might well be such a person.
It’s not really Lan Wangji’s kind of music, but Wei Wuxian is also indisputably talented, a powerful, versatile singer, an excellent dancer, and - most surprising to Lan Wangji - a virtuoso on the dizi, which features on most of his songs and has become Wei Wuxian’s signature sound. A surprising number sources seem to take it for granted that Wei Wuxian’s dizi channels spiritual energies to enhance the experience at his concerts, which has to be incorrect - Lan Wangji has never heard of any techniques that can be used this way, not to mention it would be an extremely frivolous use of spiritual power.
As is the way with celebrities, Wei Wuxian is also very beautiful, which Lan Wangji can’t say he views as a plus. Part of the reason he never takes celebrity clients is because of the toxic mix of love, hatred, desire, and jealousy they inspire. There are enough variables to consider when ensuring someone’s safety under normal circumstances.
But he goes to the address Jiang Yanli gave him, a sprawling waterfront property called Lotus Pier. The grounds are gorgeous, expensively manicured, and also totally open to anyone that wants to drive their nondescript used car right up to the front gates.
Lan Wangji gets out of his car and sends a short gust of spiritual energy at one of the hinges of the gate. It whines and rattles ominously.
This doesn’t bode well for the general security of the house. Lan Wangji presses the intercom to the side of the gate. The return crackle is nearly unintelligible.
“Lan Wangji to see Wei Wuxian,” he says.
“What?” the static asks.
“Song Zichen to see Wei Wuxian,” he says.
Static. Crackle. “...Appointment?” the static finishes.
“The moon is 283,900 miles from Earth,” he says.
“All right,” the static says, there is a loud buzzing sound as the gate unlocks and swings wide for him.
None of this bodes well at all.
The property continues to be both beautiful and undefended as he drives through to the main house. Exquisite topiary and gauzy curtains obscure the view; low walls abound with corners and curves around which an intruder could hide.
He parks the car in the large garage, where a man with a slightly hangdog face is polishing the lotus blossom mascot on a limousine. His right arm is bandaged, and Lan Wangji can see dark tendrils under the skin of his neck, poking out of his collar. Was he hit with a curse?
“Hello,” the man says, waving a polishing cloth. “How may I help you, gongzi?”
“Are you the person I spoke to on the intercom?” Lan Wangji asks instead of answering.
“No, gongzi,” the man says with a little dip of his head. “But… how can I help you?”
“My name is Song Zichen, and I have an appointment with Wei Wuxian.”
“Oh,” the man says, and for a moment, Lan Wangji thinks that he’s just going to wave him on, but then he hesitates and says, “Excuse me, Song-gongzi, but… who arranged your meeting with Wei Wuxian?”
Finally, a little security, thinks Lan Wangji. “Jiang Yanli.”
“Ah! Okay,” the man says happily, having received an acceptable answer. “I hope your meeting is productive, Song-gongzi.”
“May I ask…” Lan Wangji gestures to the cast. “What happened to your arm?”
The man seems saddened by the reminder. He looks at his arm woefully. “A bomb.”
Lan Wangji looks at him sharply. Jiang Yanli didn’t mention a bomb. The man doesn’t elaborate, however, simply nodding at him a little and going back to polishing the limousine with an even more hangdog air this time.
With rapidly developing misgivings, Lan Wangji continues on to the house.
Title is from the English translation of "無羈/Wuji".
120 = ambulance number
“Little brother” - I made the decision not to use Chinese honorifics unless they are being addressed to the person.
Golden Horse = Basically the Chinese Oscars. Until Nov 2019, the Golden Horse was the biggest award in Chinese film, period, and the ceremony was hosted by Taiwan. Due to some political shenanigans last year, it’s now one of two recognized awards and two separate ceremonies, which is an ongoing situation, but we are pretending November didn’t happen so I don’t have to deal with it in-universe. :D
Did the distance from the moon to the earth in miles instead of li because the number in li would have taken even longer to say over the intercom!
Standing note: I am but a simple white Westerner, trying to jam this canon into an American movie from 1992 like a VHS tape into a cassette slot. If you see anything that is culturally questionable, please let me know!!!
Inside, the layout of Lotus Pier is like the rest of the property: open and decorative, with a soothing color palette and a focus on natural light. Lan Wangji isn’t challenged once as he makes his way deeper into the house, looking for his hosts. He passes one room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a glass butterfly house, the sight of which briefly takes his breath away. It takes him a moment to see the boy crouched amid the green and the scrolling floral metalwork of the domed ceiling.
He watches the boy leap toward a butterfly, stopping short of actually touching it, small hands extended in the air like a landing pad. Wei Wuxian’s son, perhaps.
Lan Wangji becomes aware of a thumping bass line coming from somewhere nearby, recognizable as one of the Wei Wuxian songs he heard online. He follows the sound.
The door he finds ends up being the rear entrance of a large rehearsal space. Lan Wangji’s first impression is of chaos - there are a lot of people in here, and furniture, and studio equipment. And noise. Wei Wuxian’s song is blaring through the room, and all of the people having conversations are cupping hands to ears to hear one another. The front half of the room is devoted to a dance floor, where dancers in dark clothing are energetically performing a routine. They are being filmed by a cameraman sitting on a large dolly, which moves smoothly this way and that.
All the furniture is facing the dancers, so it takes Lan Wangji a while to locate Jiang Yanli, bent in conversation with a woman who’s also on a mobile phone. Jiang Yanli sees him and raises a hand, smiling.
He moves toward her as someone yells, “Cut!” and the ringing absence of music swells through the room. The dancers flock to a large screen, where their work plays for review. Jiang Yanli beckons Lan Wangji over and turns her head, looking for someone.
“Wei Ying,” she calls through the multiple conversations flying back and forth.
“I love it,” Lan Wangji hears a male voice say from a centrally placed high-backed armchair, thronelike and plush. “That’s going to work great!”
“Wei Ying!” she calls again.
“Jiang Cheng, what did you think? It’s great, right?” the voice inquires, and there is a noncommittal grunt from a handsome man with a strong jaw and a sour expression a few seats away. “That’s all? Ah, why did I even ask you? Jiang Cheng hates everything.”
Jiang Cheng gives an eloquent and obviously frequently employed eyeroll through the titters of laughter this produces.
“Wei Wuxian!” Jiang Yanli tries one last time, voice going strident in that older sibling way.
“Yes, shijie?” The voice has gone innocent, as though expecting to be scolded.
“Lan Wangji is here.”
Jiang Yanli glances an apology at Lan Wangji. “Lan Wangji. The bodyguard.”
“I think Wen Qing should be my bodyguard,” the voice says. “She’s very scary.” The woman next to Jiang Yanli lifts one hand in a rude gesture without pausing her phone conversation.
“A-Xian, that’s enough,” Jiang Yanli says. “Please come here and greet the gentleman.”
Perhaps it’s the nickname that produces results. Wei Wuxian rises at last from his armchair and turns around to face Lan Wangji. His hair is in a messy topknot, with pieces falling around his face. He seems a little smaller in person, dressed in casual clothes with no stage makeup on. Yet something in Lan Wangji snags at the sight of him, like an impurity against silk. This feeling - this must be what is meant by star power.
Wei Wuxian lifts one eyebrow and smirks at him. “Lan Wangji,” he says, enunciating the words in a faintly disrespectful way. “You don’t look like a bodyguard.”
Lan Wangji breathes himself smooth again. He makes his bow and says, “Wei Wuxian. What were you expecting?”
Wei Wuxian’s eyebrows scrunch together as he performatively thinks about it. “Some sort of tough guy,” he says, looking Lan Wangji up and down as if to add, which you obviously aren’t.
“This is my disguise,” Lan Wangji replies. He’s not sure why he says it, why he feels the need to respond to the challenge in Wei Wuxian’s tone.
Wei Wuxian’s eyes widen in surprise, and then he throws back his head and laughs.
“Well, he’s quick!” he says to Jiang Yanli, who is pink with embarrassment at her brother’s behavior. “Nice to meet you, Lan-xiong.”
Lan Wangji is still tingling from that laugh. “Nice to meet you,” he manages to repeat.
“That’s my brother Jiang Cheng, my manager Wen Qing, you met my sister Jiang Yanli, and Wen Ning is around here somewhere,” Wei Wuxian says, scratching his head unselfconsciously. “What do you drink?”
“Tea,” Lan Wangji says, and watches him turn and gesture at someone to fetch it, his movements easy, confident. Is this the young man who’s been living in fear?
“Honestly, shijie worries about me, but the whole idea of needing extra protection is a little silly, don’t you think?” The activity around them has resumed, as though everyone had paused to see the show. “I mean, Wen Ning is here and we’re always fine with him around.”
Lan Wangji’s misgivings are back, clanging loudly inside him. This attitude is not what Jiang Yanli led him to expect. But if Wei Wuxian isn’t afraid, why did he ask for Lan Wangji specifically?
The cameraman shouts his name from across the room and puts both hands up in the ten minute signal. Wei Wuxian turns, gives a big thumbs up, and turns back. Lan Wangji can feel the chaos sucking Wei Wuxian back in.
Wen Qing puts one hand over her phone and says, “Yanli’s right. You don’t think enough about your own safety.”
“There’s always more fan letters after a big magazine cover,” Wei Wuxian grouses back.
“Not these kind of letters,” Jiang Yanli insists.
Someone brings Lan Wangji a small cup of hot tea.
“Guys, relax, I said I’d do it! You see what I have to put up with?” This, to Lan Wangji, who is feeling more and more like a wooden post, now holding tea. “I said okay, as long as nothing about my life changes.” Wei Wuxian begins to pace, raising one finger as though he is giving dictation. “I’m safe here in the house, so I need you only when I go out. Also, I want some personal space. I have to be able to do the things I like to do! Also, A-Yuan must be totally unaffected by this. No changes to the house or the grounds. Ideally, he shouldn’t even know you’re here.” He looks over at Lan Wangji to see how he’s taking these demands.
Lan Wangji is beginning to understand. It’s clear now that Wei Wuxian didn’t send his sister to hire Wangji. Not only is Wei Wuxian not terrified for his own safety, he doesn’t appear to want a bodyguard at all. And there’s no way Lan Wangji can protect someone like that. It’s a recipe for failure.
He doesn’t respond for long enough that Wei Wuxian starts to look a little confused. “Wei Wuxian…”
“Wei Ying,” Wei Wuxian corrects, and smiles at him.
“There’s been a mistake,” Lan Wangji continues, pretending he doesn’t hear those words or see that smile. “I’ll show myself out so we can avoid any more misunderstanding.”
He bows, turns without waiting for Wei Wuxian’s reaction, and heads back the way he came.
“Oh! Lan Wangji, please wait,” Jiang Yanli calls from behind him.
“Jie, we shouldn’t have to chase him.” Jiang Cheng’s voice.
Lan Wangji hands his tea to the nearest person and lets himself out.
Jiang Yanli catches up to him in the butterfly observation room.
“Lan Wangji, please wait!” she says, and it would be too rude to keep walking, so Lan Wangji stops.
“I’m so sorry,” she says, slightly out of breath, as if she literally did chase him here. “I should have told you more about the situation. I was just so afraid that he wouldn’t go through with it! I thought if you spoke together, you would come to… an understanding.”
Mild irritation flares up at this. What could they possibly have agreed upon when neither of them knew the terms of the agreement? Wei Wuxian doesn’t even want him to be here.
“My brother isn’t a bad person, Lan Wangji,” Jiang Yanli says, a confusingly irrelevant thing to say - unless it’s an opinion she’s had to contradict often. “He just has a very free-spirited personality. He always has, since we were children. He doesn’t know it, but he really needs you.” She clasps her hands together. “Please stay a few minutes more. I have something to show you.”
He reluctantly assents, and she leaves to retrieve it. While he is waiting, the door opens and admits a very small person.
“Hi! I saw you through the window,” says Wen Yuan, Wei Wuxian’s son.
Lan Wangji looks at Wen Yuan. He’s probably about seven years old. His limbs are starting to lose their baby fat, but his face is still moon-round, and his eyes are bright and curious. All at once, Lan Wangji finds that he can’t locate any irritation he might have felt before.
“Hello,” he says.
“How are you today, shushu?”
“Fine,” Lan Wangji tells him. “How are you?”
“Very well, thank you for asking!” Wen Yuan rattles off in a single run-on phrase that he’s obviously been drilled on. “Do you like butterflies?”
“No,” Lan Wangji answers honestly.
Wen Yuan’s face falls. “You don’t? Why not?”
He’s said the wrong thing. “I don’t dislike them,” Lan Wangji tries to clarify. “No feelings about butterflies.”
Wen Yuan digests this and seems to come to terms with it. “Is there an animal shushu does like?”
“I… Rabbits.” Not that he’s had occasion to discuss the subject with anyone in a very long time.
“Rabbits!” Wen Yuan says happily. “Oh, that’s a good one. I like butterflies the most, though.”
“To each their own,” Lan Wangji says, feeling the faint desire to smile.
“You’re the bodyguard, aren’t you?” Wen Yuan asks him, cocking his head to one side.
Lan Wangji is surprised.
Wen Yuan shrugs at him. “I hear things,” he says.
“Mn,” Lan Wangji says. He’ll remember that.
Jiang Yanli comes back, accompanied this time by Jiang Cheng, who is holding a large manila folder. “A-Yuan, go find Wen Qing,” she says.
“Nice to meet you, shushu,” Wen Yuan says, waving his way out the door.
The folder is full of papers of every size and condition, all howling with depraved sentiments. Some include pictures of Wei Wuxian, printed out or clipped from a publication, scribbled on, highlighted, torn. Lan Wangji goes through each one carefully.
“This is just the last three months,” Jiang Cheng tells him.
“These are mostly fine,” Lan Wangji says. One of the letters, however, is heavy and sticky with glue. It’s been assembled character by character, like an old-fashioned ransom note, and though the language isn’t as extreme as some of letters, there’s a plain intensity that stands out to him. Sweet Wuxian, everyone is boring but you… we are exactly the same… people like you and I can never be alone… I’ll prove you belong to me with blood... “This one, maybe.”
When she peers at the letter he’s holding, Jiang Yanli sucks in a breath. “That one? Do you think the person who wrote this is the same person who - that is -” She stops, glancing at Jiang Cheng.
“Planted the bomb,” Lan Wangji finishes, putting her out of her misery. He guesses: “Wei Wuxian doesn’t know.”
Jiang Yanli and Jiang Cheng exchange a series of very loaded looks. “We told him there was an electrical problem while he was onstage,” Jiang Cheng admits awkwardly. “We… decided,” he continues, giving Lan Wangji the distinct impression that only the eldest sibling decided anything, “that he would be safer not knowing.”
“How?” Lan Wangji asks flatly.
Jiang Yanli looks pained. “A-Xian is very confident,” she tells him. “If he knew there was a bomb, he wouldn’t have let the professionals handle it. He might have even tried to disarm it himself.”
Lan Wangji looks to Jiang Cheng, who grimaces and shrugs like, yeah, that’s true. So Wei Wuxian’s daredevil persona isn’t just an act. Lan Wangji turns to back Jiang Yanli. “Why ‘that one’?” he asks.
“That one… we found that letter on Wei Ying’s bed,” she says.
“Someone was in the house,” he repeats. Every detail he learns about this job is worse than the last. “Does he know that?”
Reluctantly, the siblings shake their heads.
Lan Wangji hardly knows where to begin. How can he make these people understand the precariousness of their situation? “The house is wide open.”
“Excuse me?” Jiang Cheng demands.
“The house is wide open,” Lan Wangji repeats coolly. “I gave a false name at the door and spoke nonsense to the guard. He let me through. No one questioned my credentials or stopped me from walking all the way into the same room as Wei Wuxian.”
Jiang Cheng starts to respond, but Jiang Yanli lays a hand on his arm. “We’ll do whatever you tell us to do,” she says. “Please. We haven’t handled this well on our own, and we want A-Xian to be safe. Tell us what you need and you’ll have it.”
Lan Wangji should definitely walk away from this mess of a job, from this property full of weak points and these people with no real idea of what security requires. But he thinks about that slender young man in the other room, surrounded by chattering people, none of whom have told him how much danger he’s in. My brother isn’t a bad person, Jiang Yanli said, like everybody thinks so. He really needs you. Unwillingly, Lan Wangji thinks that that might be true. He thinks about Wen Yuan’s small wave goodbye.
Firstly, Wei Wuxian needs to be told what’s happening. His life is about to change dramatically, and he needs to know why.
Lan Wangji tells them what he needs to happen next.
If you thought we were letting the Harper’s Bazaar photoshoot go, you were deeply wrong!!!
Shijie = older sister
Xiong = “brother”/male friend
Shushu = “uncle”/much older man
He moves in the next day, to a small room close enough to the family wing to hear it if something terrible happens down the hall. The man from the garage turns out to be Wen Ning, whose role in the household is some combination of personal assistant and chauffeur. He helps Lan Wangji bring in his few belongings with placid good spirits, keeping up a mostly one-sided patter of small talk.
“Lan-gongzi, why’d you say your name was Song Zichen?” Wen Ning asks him while hanging his dry-cleaning bags in the closet. There’s no judgment in his tone, only curiosity.
Lan Wangji is unpacking one of his boxes of traditional texts and placing them on the bookshelf.
“To see how hard it would be to get in.”
“And it wasn’t hard, right?” Wen Ning asks knowingly. He’s silent for a moment, and then he says, “Gongzi, I’d like to help, if I can. My family owes Wei Wuxian a lot.”
Lan Wangji stops unpacking and looks at Wen Ning appraisingly. He doesn’t know what Wen Ning owes, but his face is open and honest. And he carried all of Lan Wangji’s heavy books in here with only one hand.
Wen Ning’s face breaks out into a childlike smile when Lan Wangji nods his assent.
All the locks in Lotus Pier get changed. An updated surveillance system is installed. The front gate is knocked down entirely and a manned station is built to replace the fragile intercom. Wen Ning and Lan Wangji walk the circumference of the whole property, which takes almost two hours, with Wen Ning pointing out areas of interest and Lan Wangji pointing out areas that don’t meet his standards, to be addressed by the crew he’s hired. There are many.
The property has thick layers of existing wards, which are helpful, but muddled; each generation of the Jiang family obviously wanted to make their own lasting contribution to the magical protection of their home, a noble idea that has led to a fairly confusing tangle of conditionals and outdated phraseology. Lan Wangji spends quite a bit of time picking them apart, modifying and updating and closing loopholes as he goes. It is unhelpful to pass judgment, but he does think wistfully of the elegantly written, seamlessly intertwined wards at Cloud Recesses, none of which require much maintenance.
Like before, there are a lot of people going in and out of the property. This time, Lan Wangji knows all their names, schedules, phone numbers, and personal IDs. Anyone that wants to get in touch with Wei Wuxian or the Jiangs now has to make an appointment through household security, not just the household. All of Wei Wuxian’s fanmail is submitted to Lan Wangji for daily review before Wei Wuxian sees it.
There are a lot of personal habits to rewire at Lotus Pier, which has been operating in a friendly, relaxed manner for who knows how long. Lan Wangji has a recurring issue with staff and household leaving doors and windows unlocked, even outside-facing, even on the ground floor of the building. He takes to doing random surveys of the house’s entrances and exits, marking down where he finds transgressions and who is responsible for that location.
He doesn’t see Wei Wuxian often for the first few days, but then, he doesn’t need to, now that he has access to his schedule, his phone lines, and a camera feed of wherever he might be at any given moment. Taking their first conversation to heart, Lan Wangji has resolved to give Wei Wuxian some personal space so he can adjust to all the changes at home before they go out in public and the constant shadowing begins in earnest.
Which is why he stops short when he comes through an (unlocked) outside door into a small music studio and sees Wei Wuxian, crouched by the inside entrance, doing something with the door.
Wei Wuxian also stops, freezing at the sight of Lan Wangji. He recovers quickly, however, standing up in a fluid motion and moving his body in front of whatever he was just doing.
“Lan Zhan!” he says cheerfully, like they’re the closest of old friends. Some of Lan Wangji’s startlement and suspicion must be visible, because he adds, “You’re not the only one who can look up information, you know.”
His hair is loose today, and tucked behind his ears, brushing the shoulders of the stretched-out purple sweater he’s wearing. Lan Wangji can see his collarbone.
“So…” Wei Wuxian says. “Were you looking for Jiang Cheng? This is his private studio. I’m not allowed in here, usually. Ha ha,” he adds, going a little red in the cheeks as he acknowledges what he’s said. “Jiang Cheng used to be a singer too, did you read that in my file?”
“What are you doing?” Lan Wangji asks, before Wei Wuxian can lead him down a conversational rabbit hole.
Wei Wuxian laughs that fake laugh again, putting a hand behind his head. “I don’t think you’ll approve,” he says, and if he doesn’t think so, Lan Wangji almost certainly won’t. “But here you go!” He does a dancing shuffle to one side, revealing some kind of canister duct-taped to the wall. Lan Wangji doesn’t understand what he’s seeing.
“It’s an air horn,” Wei Wuxian explains. “Jiang Cheng always flings doors open like he’s angry with them. He’s literally always angry about something! I keep telling him that blood pressure is a silent killer. Anyway, when he flings the door open…” Wei Wuxian demonstrates carefully, pulling the door open until the handle is centimeters away from the bulb of the airhorn. “Ta-da! He’ll get a terrible surprise!” He does a little flourish, eyes sparkling with glee. “I only wish I could see his face! What do you think?”
Lan Wangji is rendered momentarily speechless. There’s a weird sinking feeling in his chest, like he’s been condemned and he’s hearing the sentence read out. What’s happening to him?
“That’s extremely unsafe,” he says. “Take it down.”
Wei Wuxian pouts at him, like an actual child. “Aw, Lan Zhan! It’s not going to hurt him, just scare him a little bit! You don’t understand - no, no, no, wait, Lan Zhan!”
Lan Wangji is already moving. Through Wei Wuxian’s protests, he rips the duct tape off the wall. Some paint comes off, too, which makes him even angrier. He thrusts the sticky mess into Wei Wuxian’s hands. “Irresponsible,” is the only word he can force from between his teeth. He’s thinking about what it would be like to hear this noise from across the house, run flat-out with Bichen in hand, and find… nothing. He’s thinking about what it would be like to get used to noises like this, to dismiss them, and to not even turn his head the one time it matters.
Wei Wuxian is annoyed but also laughing, eyes still sparkling with mischief, and that makes Lan Wangji angry too, in ways that make sense and in ways that don’t. “I knew you were serious, but this is extremely serious, Lan Zhan! Fine! Next time I’ll think up something that doesn’t make noise, how’s that?”
“No next time,” he grits out.
Wei Wuxian huffs out another laugh, but then he seems to realize exactly how serious Lan Wangji is. He sobers up and, infuriatingly, gives a three-fingered salute. “Yes, sir. Sounds good!”
Lan Wangji has absolutely nothing to say to that obvious lie.
Wei Wuxian gives him a grave nod, holds up his handful of trash in an exaggerated bow, and backs out of the room.
It takes Lan Wangji a very long moment to get his composure back. It’s not like he hasn’t dealt with irresponsible clients before. He’s dealt with clients whose fear made them belligerent and accusatory, clients who cried at the drop of a hat, clients who barely acknowledged his presence so they could convince themselves their situation wasn’t real. None of his problem cases have ever been able to get to him like Wei Wuxian just did. It makes him feel irresponsible. Unprofessional. What kind of bodyguard can he claim to be if he loses composure during one conversation with an immature celebrity?
When at last he feels calm enough to type, he digs out his phone and adds Jiang Cheng to his list of people in the house who have left a door unlocked.
As work on Lotus Pier progresses, the job transitions into the part that Lan Wangji most enjoys: silent observation. He is present for rehearsals, meetings and interviews, watching the patterns, noting who enters and leaves, what they want while they’re there, and how they speak to one another. Wen Qing is always doing at least two things at once, and she is sharp with everyone, but when Wei Wuxian is onstage, she glances at him every so often with pride in her eyes. Jiang Yanli makes sure everyone is comfortable, distributing snacks and smiles and shoulder-touches, but on conference calls, her gentleness falls away, and her tone brooks no argument. Jiang Cheng really does seem to be angry about something all the time. His role is wisely outward-facing, directing that temper at overcurious journalists and fans instead of Wei Wuxian, with whom he doesn’t seem able to get through a single civil conversation. Wen Ning does a little bit of everything, all with the same even-tempered cheer: driving the family wherever they need to go, loading equipment in and out, letting Wen Yuan climb him like a jungle gym.
Wei Wuxian is loud, insouciant, and incapable of staying on the same topic for more than thirty seconds. He always seems to be moving, even on video calls when the other parties can definitely see him, tapping his fingers or playing with his hair or full-on draping himself backward over his chair like a schoolboy. All that restless energy funnels directly into his music, which he works on surprisingly hard for someone with such a cavalier attitude. Rehearsals go until Wen Qing announces the cut-off time, a routine the others have implemented for Wei Wuxian’s benefit, as he will apparently rehearse until he drops of exhaustion otherwise. Even exhausted, he is always smiling, always laughing, and it’s always like a small wound to Lan Wangji when he does.
They don’t interact much, through Lan Wangji’s choice. He doesn’t like to get close to his clients. He doesn’t like to get close to people who confuse and frustrate him, either, and Wei Wuxian is conveniently both. He learns what he needs to learn, sees what he needs to see to keep Wei Wuxian safe, and feels obscurely safer himself.
They are leaving an upscale brunch restaurant, where Wei Wuxian told extravagant stories to his brother and a handful of beautiful celebrity friends and drank a slightly worrying number of mimosas and Lan Wangji leaned against the wall, watching people move around the dining room.
On the cobblestone path that leads to the street, a little girl runs toward the group at full speed. Lan Wangji is in front of Wei Wuxian without thinking about it, hand extended to keep some distance between them and the stranger. The little girl skids to a stop, looking unsure, and then Wei Wuxian’s warm hand is taking his own and guiding it gently to one side.
“I think we’re okay here,” he says dryly, and then he turns on the charm, flashing a dazzling grin at the girl’s mother as he squats down to sign a little drawing of a figure in black and red with a flute. The mother hands her camera to Jiang Cheng, who takes it with the resigned air of someone who’s used to taking photos for others and snaps a few of the whole group smiling.
Lan Wangji rubs his thumb over his palm where Wei Wuxian touched it and watches him exclaim at the little girl’s drawing.
“So talented, meimei!” Wei Wuxian says, and the girl giggles at him as he stands back up. They all wave goodbye and Wei Wuxian lets Lan Wangji lead the way to the car. He leans over Lan Wangji’s shoulder and murmurs, “I thought you were going to take her down!”
Lan Wangji endures both the teasing and the warm shiver of air in his ear. Possibly it was an overreaction, but he would rather overreact than not. That’s the job.
“How was brunch, gongzi?” Wen Ning asks from the driver’s seat when they get in the car.
Wei Wuxian starts telling him about each dish, ranked by how delicious it was, with frequent interjected disagreements from Jiang Cheng. They both pull out their phones to do some social media posting, still arguing. Lan Wangji glances in the rearview mirror and sees that a plain black car has pulled out, right as they did.
“Turn left,” he tells Wen Ning.
Wen Ning puts on his signal right away. “Any problem, Lan-gongzi?” he asks quietly.
Lan Wangji shakes his head, not sure yet. “Go slow.”
They take the long way back to Lotus Pier, the black car behind them all the time. Wen Ning drives just under the speed limit and the car still follows them, even though they earn honks from drivers who can’t take it. When they proofed the house, he had Wen Ning go through all the cars in the garage, replacing the plates, sometimes replacing the cars themselves if they were too uniquely memorable. The black car behind them can’t recognize their vehicle; the driver has either been following them for a long time, or he knows Wei Wuxian’s schedule. Neither idea makes Lan Wangji very happy.
Before they pull into the front gate, Lan Wangji has Wen Ning slow down even more.
“Why are we stopping?” Jiang Cheng asks from the back.
The black car, sensing something about the delay, takes off in a squeal of tires.
“Take them back to the house,” Lan Wangji says, and he lets himself out of the car door over surprised exclamations in the backseat.
Lan Wangji kicks one heel off the ground and is in the air, flying through the trees at an angle that he hopes will take him to the main road before the black car gets there. Bichen leaps into his hand, carving a few obstructing tree branches from his path. This side of the property slopes sharply down to a stone wall before reaching the road, and down the hill he can see glimpses of the car through the foliage, driving flat-out. Too fast. And too far ahead of him. He isn’t going to make it.
He floats feet-first down the rest of the hill and stands atop the wall, scanning the retreating car for details. No plates - there weren’t any in front, either. It’s a Volkswagen, a few years old. He hisses through his teeth and turns back toward Lotus Pier.