If there was one thing apparent to everyone, it was that Lan Xichen loved his younger brother a lot. There was very little that he wouldn’t do for him. Seeing Lan Wangji happy made him happy; seeing Lan Wangji sad made him sad. It was as simple as that.
Therefore, seeing his brother so brokenhearted and despondent, chasing after a man who callously rejected him time and time again, filled his heart with anger and indignation. Lan Wangji didn’t deserve this heartbreak, not after he tried, time and time again, to love and protect Wei Wuxian. Lan Wangji’s feelings were so innocent, and pure, and Lan Xichen could see him break more and more as time passed.
In all honesty, perhaps he should have been relieved. Wei Wuxian was hardly a man you’d want to associate with these days, and if he had returned his brother's feelings, maybe it would only do more harm than good. Perhaps it would be better to allow Lan Wangji to deal with his disappointment and hurt, and hope that he might one day move past these feelings.
It was a nice thought, but Lan Xichen knew better. He knew his brother, his family, the way the Lans tended to love. They loved for life, whether it was good for them or not, whether it would break them the way it had broken his parents. And Lan Xichen knew that there was no way out for his brother, not now, when he had loved Wei Wuxian for almost as long as he had known him.
So it really didn’t matter that Wei Wuxian’s reputation grew worse by the day, that people called for his head, that he seemingly embodied the opposite of everything they represented — Lan Wangji loved him, and always would, and Lan Xichen couldn’t simply stand by and watch his brother’s pain.
A part of him, small and perhaps too foolish, remembered the bright, cheerful boy who had come to the Cloud Recesses all those years ago. Maybe that boy still existed in the vengeful demonic cultivator that had taken his place. Maybe his brother’s love wasn’t so unfounded.
The point was, Lan Xichen probably should have been discouraging Lan Wangji from his ventures, but he knew that it would be pointless. When Lan Wangji had his mind set on something he simply wouldn’t stop, whether it be as a tiny child, kneeling in the snow and waiting for his mother to open the door, or a man, desperately wanting to protect and cherish the one he loved. All Lan Xichen could do was stand by him, and do his best to protect him.
That was proving to be a little difficult with Wei Wuxian seemingly insistent on crushing Lan Wangji’s hopes and dreams.
“Wangji,” Lan Xichen said, when he saw his brother sitting amongst his rabbits, one of them curled in his arms, and staring off into the distance. Lan Xichen could see the barely restrained agony in his eyes (anyone else would have thought he was staring blankly at nothing), and felt an instant wave of concern.
“Brother,” Lan Wangji greeted, and then went back to patting his rabbit, and staring morosely at nothing in particular.
That, of course, could only mean one thing.
“Did you speak to Young Master Wei again?” Lan Xichen asked, concerned. There was no point in reprimanding his brother, or asking him to stop, when he knew that he never would.
“And it didn’t go well.”
Lan Wangji shook his head slightly. “Asked Wei Ying to come back to Gusu.” A slight pause. “He said no.”
He started to pat the rabbit at a faster pace; barely perceptible, but of course Lan Xichen noticed. Ahh, his poor brother was so sad right now. Lan Xichen barely restrained himself from going over and giving him a hug, knowing how much Lan Wangji disliked unnecessary contact.
Asked Wei Ying to come back to Gusu with me to Lan Xichen sounded like, “I asked Wei Ying, the love of my life, the man I adore most of all, the centre of my universe, to marry me, and live with me, and start a family with me, and all that good stuff.”
To anyone else, asked Wei Ying to come back to Gusu with me could mean a lot of different things. Most days, Lan Xichen seemed to forget that not everyone was an expert in understanding Lan Wangji.
“It will be alright, Wangji,” Lan Xichen told him, although he couldn’t see how. Once again, he felt a wave of frustration directed at Wei Wuxian, wishing his brother could love someone who was just a bit easier. Someone like…like…
…He really didn’t know many people like that, did he?
It wasn’t until he was unloading his frustrations onto A-Yao, that he understood that things weren’t as simple as he’d initially thought.
“ — and I just wish he would stop leading my brother on. Can’t he simply tell him, clearly, that he isn’t interested? Perhaps then Wangji would stop going back there.” He took a gulp of tea, and stared miserably at Jin Guangyao.
Jin Guangyao took a sip from his own cup, and hummed thoughtfully. “Perhaps Wei Wuxian simply doesn’t know?”
“How could he not know?! Wangji has been pouring his heart out for months now — it should be clear to everyone exactly how he feels! A-Yao, you know all about his feelings for Wei Wuxian, don’t you?”
“Yes,” Jin Guangyao agreed, “because you told me.”
Lan Xichen frowned, shaking his head. “Yes, but they’re common knowledge by this point…how could anyone not know, when Wangji is passionately asking Wei Wuxian to move in with him…”
“He asked him to move in with him?”
“Yes! He asked him to come back to Gusu with him, and of course, his offer was refused.”
“He — ” Jin Guangyao frowned. “Er-ge, don’t you think that could be…misinterpreted?”
Lan Xichen raised his cup to his lips, and shook his head. “What else could he have possibly thought?”
“Wei Wuxian and your brother are at odds at the moment, are they not? I have heard about them arguing frequently. Is it possible that Wei Wuxian misunderstood your brother? Perhaps he thinks that Hanguang-Jun has other reasons for making that offer.”
“Wangji would never!” Lan Xichen cried, feeling indignant on his brothers behalf. “He is asking Wei Wuxian to come home with him out of love, and protection, and I simply can’t see how anyone could see any differently…”
And then he remembered exactly who he was talking about. There was a reason he had tried so ardently to become an expert at reading his brother when they were children, after all. As much as he loved his brother, Wangji had never been a master at communicating, and while he had always known exactly what Lan Wangji meant, perhaps Wei Wuxian, a man who had the entire world calling for his head, would have reason to doubt his offer.
‘Come back to Gusu with me…’ Oh yes, perhaps that could be interpreted a number of different ways.
“This is probably a good thing,” Jin Guangyao said, and Lan Xichen, preoccupied with his sudden realisation, missed the glint in his eyes. “Wei Wuxian is hardly the partner you would want for your brother. He is dangerous, and Hanguang-Jun’s reputation would certainly be affected if people knew…”
“Mm,” Lan Xichen said, barely listening. He needed to talk to his brother immediately.
He found his brother sitting in the Jingshi, carefully marking the exam papers of the younger disciples. Lan Xichen wasted no time in sitting beside him, and asking him, as clearly as possible, exactly what he had been saying to Wei Wuxian.
“I asked Wei Ying to come back to Gusu with me,” Lan Wangji said, and Lan Xichen could hear the quiver in his voice, and the passion that oozed through his words.
It also occurred to him that no one else was hearing this. And perhaps a blunt, ‘Come home with me,’ with no other context — especially directed at the man who was, at this precise moment, probably the most hated man in the world — may not be the best approach.
“Anything else?” he asked, trying to sound neutral.
Lan Wangji nodded. “Told him that it corrupts the body and mind.”
A beat of silence passed.
“Yes, very good Wangji,” Lan Xichen said, smiling in that indulgent way he couldn’t help but direct at his younger brother. “Anything else?”
Lan Wangji cocked his head to the side slightly. He was obviously confused.
“Wangji…have you actually told Young Master Wei that you have feelings for him?”
Lan Wangji ducked his head slightly, the tips of his ears turning red. “Mn. Told him that I am worried about him.” His fists tightened. “Wei Ying does not want to be locked up.”
Lan Xichen felt his head throb. “Wangji,” he said, gently, “I think that you should be…a bit more clear with your explanations for why you want him to return with you. Tell him that you want him to come here with you because you care about him, and that you don’t want to see him hurt.”
He didn’t know if he was doing the right thing here. Lan Wangji would undoubtedly be faced with scorn and vitriol if he pursued his feelings and Wei Wuxian accepted. Lan Xichen should be protecting him from that.
But…he knew his brother, and he knew it would bring him far more pain to be away from Wei Wuxian. Lan Xichen briefly thought about that bright, unruly teenager from all those years ago, and prayed that his brother’s love was directed at someone worthwhile.
A flash of emotion crossed Lan Wangji’s face, a mixture of discomfort and apprehension. Lan Xichen wasn’t sure if Lan Wangji would follow his advice, but he would support him nonetheless.
Lan Wangji, bursting with nerves, and uncertainty, and just plain terror, made his way to the Burial Mounds the following day. His brother was right, and as scared as he was at the thought of Wei Wuxian rejecting him, protecting him was far more important.
“I am worried,” he told Wei Wuxian.
“You’re worried?” Wei Wuxian repeated, his eyes narrowing. “And what does Hanguang-Jun think I’ll do?”
‘Remember what Brother told you…’ “Wei Ying, I care…” He found his voice failing, his words catching in his throat. “Please, listen to me.”
Wei Wuxian snorted. “Yes, I get it, you care about everyone else! Lan Zhan, you can hate me as much as you want, but I have people to protect. I’m not going to stop.”
“Not hate,” Lan Wangji denied.
Lan Wangji opened his mouth, prepared to say something, anything to convince Wei Wuxian to return with him. Wei Wuxian was beautiful, as smart, and talented, and how could he ever believe that Lan Wangji hated him?! All he wanted to do was protect Wei Wuxian and keep him safe. Why couldn’t he see that?
Why couldn’t Lan Wangji just say that?
Instead, just as they had on previous occasions, his words failed him. Wei Wuxian was just too stunning, and perfect, and all Lan Wangji could manage was a weak, “Wei Ying, come back to Gusu with me.”
“Brother, it did not work,” Lan Wangji said, when he returned to the Cloud Recesses.
Lan Xichen sighed.
Convincing his brother to return to the Burial Mounds was incredibly hard. Lan Wangji, naturally, was very disappointed with his last attempt. He also looked miserable, and Lan Xichen knew that he would stay miserable until this was all cleared up.
That was how he found himself accompanying his young brother to the last place he ever imagined he would go.
The Burial Mounds loomed large and threatening, and when Wei Wuxian approached them, he did not look remotely happy to see them. Lan Wangji tensed beside him, and Lan Xichen lay a comforting hand on his arm, while once again questioning if he was doing the right thing.
“Zewu-Jun,” Wei Wuxian said, nodding in greeting. He turned to Lan Wangji. “Lan Zhan,” his voice sounded somehow softer, although Lan Xichen wasn’t sure if he was imagining that, “I see you’ve stopped by for another visit! And you’ve even brought your brother along this time. Should I be afraid?” His words were teasing, but Lan Xichen could hear the edge to them.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji said, and said no more. Lan Xichen winced.
“Young Master Wei,” he said, smiling politely, “would it be possible to continue this conversation somewhere a bit more…comfortable?”
Wei Wuxian stared at him warily for a moment, his eyes flickering towards the Burial Mounds, and then back to them. “Alright,” he said at last. “Come with me.”
They walked inside, Wei Wuxian remaining tense in front of them. His brother’s eyes were glued to Wei Wuxian’s back, and Lan Xichen could see the nerves that wracked his entire form. He found himself preoccupied with his surroundings. Somehow the Burial Mounds weren’t quite what he was expecting; he had been expecting more corpses and resentful energy, but Wei Wuxian seemed to have done an adequate job at making this place somewhat hospitable. At least as far as he could see.
He hadn’t seen any signs of the apparent Wen army that people spoke of with such certainty, and he doubted bringing it up with Wei Wuxian would be productive. Besides, he wasn’t here for that right now.
He led them inside a high, looming cave, and they sat on the floor around a low table.
“So,” Wei Wuxian said, looking at them expectantly, “what’s all this about?”
Lan Xichen turned to his brother. “Wangji?”
Lan Wangji said nothing.
Wei Wuxian blinked, looking confused. “Ah…would either of you like some tea? I think we might have tea somewhere…or not. Boiled water? Or maybe some of Uncle Four’s fruit wine…no, no, we finished that, boiled water it is.”
“That’s alright,” Lan Xichen assured him. Wei Wuxian smiled, and Lan Xichen could see the wariness in his gaze as he looked at Lan Wangji. Lan Wangji, who, even as the minutes passed, was still sitting stock-still and not saying anything.
“Wangji,” he said, softly, “isn’t there something that you want to say to Young Master Wei?”
Lan Wangji’s breath picked up pace. He ducked his head slightly, and said, “Come back to Gusu with me.”
Wei Wuxian’s gaze sparked with sudden rage, and Lan Xichen felt any hopes that this would be over quickly die.
“I told you to leave me be!” Wei Wuxian snapped. “Is it so hard for Hanguang-Jun to see that I can’t simply stop?! And — and Lan Zhan, you’ve seen the people here. How can you expect me to just abandon them?!”
Lan Wangji shook his head quickly. “No — the Wens may come too.”
Lan Xichen’s head jerked towards his brother, his eyes wide. What? That certainly hadn’t been part of the plan.
“So you would punish them too?” Wei Wuxian asked, with genuine outrage in his voice. Lan Xichen could feel a headache forming. “Lan Zhan — they are innocent! They’ve never even lifted a weapon in their lives, and you would honestly punish them for the actions of others?! Is this the way of Gusu Lan?”
“Not punish,” Lan Wangji said, and Lan Xichen could see the desperation in his voice. “Never punish.”
“Wei Ying — I — ”
Oh God, this was going nowhere. Lan Xichen could see the wreck that was fast approaching, as his brother struggled to say what he wanted to say, and Wei Wuxian misinterpreted pretty much everything that was being said.
“Young Master Wei,” Lan Xichen said abruptly, “I think you have the wrong idea here. My brother isn’t trying to punish you.”
Lan Wangji’s eyes widened, and he nodded hurriedly.
“Wangji came here to tell you something. Isn’t that right?” Lan Xichen turned to his brother, and smiled encouragingly.
Lan Wangji nodded again, this time more stiffly. “I am…concerned,” he said at last. “Demonic cultivation may cause damage — ”
“And why is that any of your business?” Wei Wuxian demanded. “Maybe I’m willing to pay the price!”
“Wangji, that wasn’t what you came here to tell him,” Lan Xichen reminded him, trying to hide the strain in his voice. Was this how all of their conversations went? “Why don’t you tell him what you were planning to say?”
Lan Wangji seemed to pale slightly, and averted his gaze, staring at the floor. Wei Wuxian watched him with wide eyes, the hostility quickly being replaced with concern.
“Lan Zhan?” he said, his brow furrowed slightly. “Are you okay?”
They sat in silence for a moment longer.
“…Are you sure you don’t want any boiled water?”
“Wangji,” Lan Xichen said, his voice low, “why don’t you tell Young Master Wei about the thing that has been greatly troubling you for the past few weeks?”
“Greatly troubling…Lan Zhan are you sick?!” Wei Wuxian lurched forward suddenly, startling Lan Xichen. He almost looked like he wanted to grab onto Lan Wangji’s hands, but held himself back at the last minute. “Lan Zhan!” he cried. “If you’re sick, please tell me.”
“Not sick,” Lan Wangji said, sounding like he was going to be sick.
“Maybe he should see Wen Qing,” Wei Wuxian fretted. “Zewu-Jun, should I go and get Wen Qing for him?”
“My brother is not sick,” Lan Xichen assured him, while making a silent prayer to the Heavens for his sanity. “He simply has something to tell you.”
“That he came all the way over to the Burial Mounds to tell me?! Obviously something is going on here!”
“Wangji,” Lan Xichen urged.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji said, his voice shaking. “I — I have feelings…”
“Yes,” Wei Wuxian nodded quickly. “Yes, you do. We’ll have you feeling better in no time, Lan Zhan, I promise.”
Lan Wangji’s brow furrowed slightly.
“He has feelings for someone,” Lan Xichen said, stressing each syllable. “He is here to tell you about those feelings. Isn’t that right, Wangji?”
Lan Wangji sat frozen for a moment, before nodding his head jerkily.
Wei Wuxian blinked, and glanced between the two of them, a slight look of bewilderment on his face. Something indiscernible passed across his face, and he almost looked disappointed. “You came all the way here to tell me that you had feelings for someone? Why?” He then stiffened slightly, his eyes widening in realisation. Lan Xichen prayed that he had finally figured out what was happening. “You want to ask my permission?”
“Your permission?” Lan Wangji repeated, sounding confused.
“I’m not really part of Yunmeng Jiang anymore Lan Zhan, you’re asking the wrong person. I won’t stand in your way though, I promise! Honestly, I can’t imagine you or Jiang Cheng together, but I’m happy for you if — ”
“What?” Lan Wangji uttered. Lan Xichen sat by his side, feeling just as stunned.
“It’s okay, really!” Wei Wuxian assured them, though there was a strange note in his voice. “I’m happy for you, really! You both deserve to be happy!”
“I — I am not here for Jiang Wanyin.”
“Huh? Then who, my Shijie? Lan Zhan, I would much prefer you to the Peacock, but she is a married woman now — ”
“Neither of them!” Lan Wangji’s eyes were wild. “I want neither of them!”
“Huh?” Wei Wuxian looked bewildered. “Then why did you come all the way to tell me that you have feelings for someone, if it wasn’t to ask for my permission? No offence Lan Zhan, but it’s not really any of my business.”
“Young Master Wei,” Lan Xichen interjected, because his brother looked like he was on the verge of Qi deviation, and Lan Xichen himself was starting to very much regret coming here, “my brother isn’t coming here to ask your permission to court your siblings. He is asking permission to court you.”
Wei Wuxian froze. “What?”
“Wangji,” Lan Xichen urged softly.
“You — what?” Wei Wuxian’s head whipped towards Lan Wangji, his eyes wide with shock. There was almost a vulnerable note in his voice when he said, “Lan Zhan, what did he just say?”
Lan Wangji swallowed. “Mn.”
“A little more, Wangji,” Lan Xichen said, trying to hide the note of desperation in his voice.
“Lan Zhan? Really? Is that true?” Wei Wuxian sounded like he could hardly believe what he was hearing.
“I — yes,” Lan Wangji said, his voice shaking. “Have feelings for Wei Ying. Want you to come with me, so that I can protect you.”
Wei Wuxian’s lips parted in shock. “Lan Zhan,” he whispered. “Oh — oh, I don’t even know what to say — I — I — all this time, that’s what you were trying to tell me?”
Lan Wangji ducked his head slightly. “Mn.”
“Lan Zhan I — ” He shook his head. “I — no.”
Lan Wangji seemed to wilt in his seat, and Lan Xichen closed his eyes, feeling a deep pain at the realisation of how much a rejection would hurt his brother.
“I can’t do that to you,” Wei Wuxian continued, his voices trembling. “I am hated all over — it would damage your reputation.”
“I do not care,” Lan Wangji said firmly. “Protecting Wei Ying is the most important thing.”
Wei Wuxian shook his head. “This isn’t — you must be wrong about this, you must be misunderstanding these — these feelings somehow — ”
Lan Xichen opened his eyes and leaned forward, intent to tell Wei Wuxian that no, Lan Wangji was certainly not misunderstanding anything, that his brother had these feelings for a very long time; but Lan Wangji beat him to it, learning forward with a determined look in his eyes.
“Not wrong,” he said firmly. “There is no misunderstanding. What I feel for you...I could never be wrong about that.”
Lan Xichen shot his brother a surprised look, because whatever trepidation Lan Wangji may have been feeling before, it seemed to have faded away in the face of Wei Wuxian’s distress.
Wei Wuxian’s eyes widened, and there was a wet sheen in them. “Lan Zhan!” he cried, lurching forward. Lan Xichen moved quickly out of the way his brother soon found himself with an armful of demonic cultivator. “Lan Zhan, you’re so — you’re so handsome, and smart, and talented, and perfect, do you know that?! I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with you!”
Lan Wangji’s arms curled around Wei Wuxian, and Lan Xichen could see the stunned look in his brother’s eyes, as if he could hardly believe what was happening.
“I really thought something was wrong when you came here!” Wei Wuxian continued to babble, burying himself closer. “Yes I accept, if — if you’re really sure — ”
“I am sure,” Lan Wangji said firmly.
“Then yes! I accept, court me, do what you want with me — ”
“And…Wei Ying is sure?” There was a slight tremor in Lan Wangji’s voice as he spoke.
Wei Wuxian nodded. “Yes, I’m sure. I never expected this, but — but Lan Zhan, you’re amazing, you know that? And I’ve loved being around you for as long as I’ve known you, but I never thought…well, I was pretty sure you hated me, but apparently not…”
“I never hated Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji said firmly. To Lan Xichen’s relief, it was as if the confirmation of Wei Wuxian’s feelings had finally allowed his brother to actually talk about his feelings. “I have loved Wei Ying for…a very long time.”
Perhaps this would be a good time to leave them to it.
And then Wei Wuxian was throwing himself forward, and they were kissing, and then they were still kissing, and Lan Xichen decided that yes, this would definitely be a good time for him to leave.
Lan Xichen exited the cave, and found himself face to face with a crowd of elderly people, all looking like they had just received the best news they had ever heard. He paused, staring at them, taken aback by their unexpected presence.
“What are you all doing here?” Lan Xichen turned, and saw Wei Wuxian standing behind him, his hands posed on his hips. His lips looked slightly swollen, and Lan Xichen averted his gaze.
“Listening to your conversation,” said one of the men, a large grin on his face. Wei Wuxian scowled slightly, and none of the crowd seemed particularly bothered by this.
“Congratulations, Young Master Wei!” called out another man, and excited murmurs and calls came from the group.
“Xian-gege!” A little child — a child, why was there a child here?! — came running forward, and latched onto Wei Wuxian’s leg. Wei Wuxian smiled broadly, and reached down to pick the child up, cradling him in his arms. “Xian-gege, Uncle Four said you’re going to marry Rich-gege now! Rich-gege, is that true?”
Lan Wangji’s eyes widened, and he ducked his head slightly. Wei Wuxian let out a loud laugh, holding the child close, and Lan Xichen could see the fond look his brother shot the both of them.
Lan Wangji would be alright, he thought, turning away from them. It wouldn’t be easy, what with Wei Wuxian’s current reputation, and the ire of the cultivation world only growing by the day, but he knew his brother was more than capable of dealing with it.
As he looked around at the gaggle of elderly civilians, at the little child cradled in the supposed fearsome demonic cultivator’s arms, and it occurred to him that there didn’t seem to be a single member of the supposed Wen Army that were amassing here, Lan Xichen realised that there might be more pressing matters for him to deal with.