The child’s wails filled the air, amidst the thundering and the pitter patter of rain. The child’s mother looked at her daughter rather helplessly and glanced over at her husband, who was already tired from a long day of work. She turned away to comfort the child elsewhere, but was surprised when her husband pulled her back in.
“Where are you going?”
“Yan’er is being too loud,” she said timidly. “You’ve worked hard today.”
Her husband let out a helpless sigh. “Aren’t we husband and wife? She is my daughter too. I have a responsibility to take care of her.”
The child’s mother appeared to be touched as she allowed her husband to sit her down at the tea table. She watched as her husband clumsily tried to coax their daughter. He let out a long sigh.
“Yan’er, do you want to hear a story?”
The child’s cries stuttered a little to a stop. “St…story?”
“Mn! But this is kind of a scary story. Do you still want to hear it?”
The child’s mother handed her over to her husband. Her husband carefully seated his daughter on his lap and comforting patted her.
“Mm…Before you were born, a long time ago, there was a promising youth, named Wei Wuxian. He was known throughout all the cultivation world as one of the most talented, charismatic, and powerful. He was gifted in the Four Arts, his cultivation level exceeded those of his generation. He was great at swordsmanship, archery, horseback riding, and he was handsome and had a sweet mouth—perfect for currying the favor of beautiful maidens and the trust of the elderly. Many thought that, when he grew to be older, he would certainly stand at the helm of the cultivation world. The younger generation would take him as their example,” the man’s eyes seemed to glaze over as he recounted this tale—as if he personally knew Wei Wuxian at one point.
However, the man sighed. His daughter and wife looked at him curiously.
“But…this promising youth…wasn’t destined to have a promising future. During the Sunshot Campaign, many things happened and Wei Wuxian disappeared. When he returned…his hair had turned white.”
His daughter inhaled sharply.
The man carefully fixed her hair. “Yan’er, do you know what it means when a person’s hair turned white?”
His daughter whispered so quietly that it could barely be heard over the sound of rain. “Demonic cultivation.”
“Mn,” the man let out another pitying sigh. “Precisely. It was demonic cultivation. No one knew why such a promising youth had turned to such dark arts. And for one’s hair to turn white, he had to have reached a certain level…people became scared of him, but because he was in the Yunmeng Jiang Sect. They dealt with him. That is, until he sided with the Wens and betrayed his own brother, Jiang Cheng.
“From the dragon that soared the skies to a white-eyed wolf—public opinion changed about him very fast. And, in the end…”
“In the end?” his wife prompted curiously.
“A siege was laid upon his Burial Mounds, after he had killed his senior martial sister. And then he died,” the man said.
Silence filled the room. The child no longer cried.
“But there’s still a legend,” the man said, a creepy smile creeping onto his face. “That if you aren’t a good child, then the white-haired ghost of the Yiling Patriarch will come and eat you!”
The child laughed and pushed her father’s face away from him as he teased and tickled her.
About an hour later, the child was put to sleep and the couple laid sleepily in their bed.
“That story about the Yiling Patriarch…is it true?”
“Of course, he won’t come to eat children,” the man chuckled. “Under all those spells, how could he possibly come out to start trouble. But the rest of it is true…and there have been rumors of people seeing a white-haired ghost.”
But legends were only legends. They couldn’t be relied on at all.
Within the large room, a small child was jolted awake by a loud clap of thunder. He shrunk into the sheets and clutched them tightly. The smallest whimper escaped his lips, but he didn’t move. He didn’t leave to search for a father or a mother. He obediently laid in bed as another clap of thunder startled him out of his wits further. His small knuckles were nearly white and his thoughts ran a mile a minute.
If he left the room now and ran, he would make it over to that handsome older brother’s room perfectly fine. But that handsome brother had trouble sleeping. The Sect Leader had told him not to bother the handsome older brother at night…
The child’s small face wrinkled as he tried to keep tears from rolling down his cheeks. No. He couldn’t cry and he couldn’t run. Crying would be an excessive showing of emotions. And running was not allowed in the Cloud Recesses. Besides, if he left now, it would be—
The child inhaled sharply and threw the covers off of himself. He stood shakily, but quickly, slipped into his shoes and ran out of his room.
The heavy sheets of rain did well to mask the sound of his running.
He was nearing that handsome older brother’s room when lightning flashed out very close to him. The child flinched and stepped back. He was about to keep going, but something stopped him short.
There was a person in the rain. And the person did not have an umbrella. And he only wore a straw hat with a silky veil.
The child froze and stared.
The man seemed to pull his gaze from a room and looked upon the child.
His eyes were a deep, crimson red.
The child stepped back but the fear that clenched his heart didn’t come from seeing this strange man, but from seeing and hearing the thunder and lightning.
Besides, the man was getting wet. He…he was going to get sick, wasn’t he?
“U-um…Mister,” the child’s voice trembled and was nearly overpowered by the rain. “M-Mister, you…”
The man smiled.
The child found that a smile looked quite good on the man’s face. If the child looked past the strange red eyes, he could see that this man was very handsome. If it wasn’t for his slightly hallowed cheeks, he would be even more so.
“May I come closer?” the man’s clear voice pulled through the loud sounds of rain. “It is distasteful to yell like this.”
The child nodded multiple times. Excessive noise was forbidden in the Cloud Recesses.
The man walked over. Or, rather than walked, he seemed to float. His steps were quite light. The veil of his hat flowed behind him, revealing more of his face.
He had white hair.
“What are you doing out here so late, child?” the man asked with a quirked eyebrow.
The child was shivering. “Mm…um…”
“I hear that lying is forbidden in your sect,” the man hummed.
“…I was afraid of the thunder and lightning.”
The man chuckled. A lovely sound in the ears of the child. “Is that what it is?”
“Mn. I was going to…find an elder,” the child continued.
“Did you find one?” the man asked.
The man laughed once more. “Child, what’s your name?”
The man’s eyelids seemed to flutter, betraying an emotion that Lan Yuan couldn’t quite place, but he soon recovered. “Lan Yuan, huh? My name is Wu Gui.”
The man laughed again. “Is this how your teachers taught you?”
Lan Yuan blushed.
“The ‘wu’ in the word ‘bored’ (Wúliáo) and the ‘gui’ (Guīlái) in the character ‘return’,” the man said with an amused smile pasted onto his face. “Understand?”
“Mn,” Lan Yuan nodded.
“But if you wanna call me Turtle-gege that’s also fine,” the man said. “I’m quite cowardly.”
“No! Older brother isn’t cowardly.”
“Mn! Older brother can stand out in the rain and won’t feel scared…in my opinion, older brother isn’t cowardly at all.”
“Ah, is that why?” the man smiled. His eyes seemed to have dimmed. “But this older brother is quite cowardly…He can’t even bring himself to talk to the person he likes one last time.”
Lan Yuan frowned. He was just about to say something else when he felt the man’s cold hand against his back. He felt himself get nudged back towards the direction of his room.
“C’mon, A-Yuan, let Turtle-gege keep you company tonight.”
Lan Yuan was still in a state of shock. This older brother had come out of nowhere, and was suddenly acting so familiar. Even though he was young, he still felt that there were some things that weren’t quite right with this situation. However, Hanguang-jun needed his rest. And so, Lan Yuan closed his mouth and allowed this…Turtle-gege to lead him back to his room.
Once they were there, Turtle-gege tucked Lan Yuan back into bed and grabbed a stool to sit down on. He pulled the straw hat off of himself and set it to the side to allow it to dry. When he looked back down, he found Lan Yuan’s round eyes staring up at him.
“Why not? Haven’t you heard scary stories about people with white hair?” Wu Gui asked with a quirked eyebrow.
“Hanguang-jun said all those stories are fake,” Lan Yuan replied.
“Hanguang-jun said, not everyone with white hair is bad. Elderly people have white hair and they’re not bad. Just because you have white hair and red eyes, you shouldn’t be looked down on. People with white hair and red eyes are also people,” Lan Yuan intelligently recited.
“Is this what Hanguang-jun taught you?” Wu Gui asked, his voice quite soft.
“What a strange man.”
Lan Yuan’s cheeks puffed out. “Hanguang-jun isn’t strange.”
Wu Gui’s crimson eyes looked down at the child. “You seem to care a lot about this Hanguang-jun. Is he nice to you?”
“Nice,” Lan Yuan nodded in affirmation. “Of course, he is nice. He is Hanguang-jun.”
Wu Gui smiled weakly. “Of course. Hanguang-jun is nice…A-Yuan, do you want to hear a lullaby?”
Lan Yuan shifted. He looked at Wu Gui with a bit of a frown. “Lullaby…”
“You have to wake up at 5, right? You should get as much sleep as possible,” Wu Gui said. He shifted so that he could pat Lan Yuan to sleep. “Listen to this lullaby and sleep as soon as possible, okay?”
Lan Yuan nodded. His entire body was relaxed. Despite the storm that still thundered and rumbled outside, Lan Yuan was no longer scared. It was strange, but this Turtle-gege felt safe. Almost…familiar. When Lan Yuan was with him, he felt as comfortable as when he was with Hanguang-jun. As if, once this person was here, nothing would go wrong in the world.
…And with this thought in his mind, Lan Yuan quickly fell asleep to the longing melody Wu Gui hummed.
Once Lan Yuan was asleep, Wei Wuxian stood from where he had previously sat. He carefully pulled Lan Yuan’s hands from the sleeves of his robes and he moved the stool back. He picked up his hat and glanced back at the peacefully sleeping child.
He really shouldn’t have come here to begin with. But he couldn’t help it…it had been five years. Nearly six years since…and he had just pulled the pieces of his soul back together. Before he left—whether it was to wander the world for the rest of eternity, or maybe cultivate into a corporeal form, he wanted to see Lan Wangji one last time. He wanted to, at least from a distance, say goodbye.
Obviously, he wouldn’t have allowed Lan Wangji to see him. Or allowed him to sense his presence. He just…Wei Wuxian just wanted to see him again. He wanted to see that stiff face that never showed a smile before he left for good.
He had already said goodbye to Jiang Cheng…and he had already gotten a peek of Jin Ling. He had gone back to Burial Mounds and seen the…nothing. The nothingness of Burial Mounds. All that was left was Lan Wangji—the person he couldn’t seem to bring himself to face in the slightest. Not even to glance upon his person.
Wei Wuxian drifted out of the room and thought back to that day, nearly six years ago. What were his last words to that man?
Wei Wuxian scoffed at himself.
He quietly closed the door behind him and continued down the hallway he had previously walked with Lan Yuan.
“Get lost”…why had he said that? Wei Wuxian couldn’t remember. He couldn’t even remember his last few moments. He had only felt something—a warmth—that was similar to Lan Wangji’s. He had vaguely…seen a crying face? But that was impossible. Lan Wangji hated him.
Until the end of his life, Wei Wuxian firmly believed that Lan Wangji hated him.
…But he still wanted to see him one last time.
Wei Wuxian felt himself growing nervous as he drew closer to the door that belonged to Lan Wangji’s room. He made himself invisible, dulled his sense of presence, and stepped through the door.
He stepped back from the scene inside.
Lan Wangji sat, leaning against the frame of his bed, staring blankly off into space. His eyes were rimmed red, but his face didn’t show any different expression than it usually did. In his hand was the familiar wine bottle that Wei Wuxian had drunk from many times before.
But Lan Wangji didn’t drink it. He only held it. He held it and…cried.
Wei Wuxian’s chest felt uncomfortable. He pursed his lips. He felt that he was intruding in on something personal. He saw something that he shouldn’t have seen.
He had expected to walk in and see Lan Wangji’s peacefully sleeping face but now, at two in the morning, what he saw a sense of loss.
“…I’m better,” Lan Wangji’s deep voice rang through the quiet Jingshi.
Wei Wuxian stepped a little closer to Lan Wangji.
“I should be able to move around as normal again,” Lan Wangji said. “…Everything…the world…it seems to have gone back to normal. Five years is all it takes.”
Wei Wuxian watched Lan Wangji curiously. He had never heard him speak so many words at once. He sat down at the step before his bed and stared up at him in silence.
“All that,” Lan Wangji whispered. “For it to be forgotten in Five years…”
“All what?” Wei Wuxian heard himself asking.
Lan Wangi’s fingers brushed against the wine jug. “…It’s suffocating.”
“…This sense of normalcy,” Lan Wangji murmured. “Maybe…it’s different out there.”
“Not by much,” Wei Wuxian mused. “I was out there for a bit and nothing felt very different. Oh! There’s that story about the white-haired ghost of the Yiling Patriarch eating children though. Funny, isn’t it?”
Lan Wangji didn’t respond. He couldn’t hear Wei Wuxian, after all. “Wei Ying…”
His name was called out in such a longing, sorrowful tone. It made Wei Wuxian straighten his back and stare at Lan Wangji. The stuffy feeling in his chest returned and he watched as fresh tears spilled from his lips.
“I miss you.”
Wei Wuxian stood abruptly and stumbled back a step. He hadn’t watched where he was going and had accidentally knocked over a few scrolls that hung a little too far out from the bookshelf.
Lan Wangji’s head whipped in the direction of the sound and he stood. His steps were a little shaky, but he moved forward rather swiftly.
Wei Wuxian pursed his lips and took another step back as Lan Wangji only moved closer. If he moved anymore, he would knock into something again or step on something and cause it to roll.
He…wasn’t that good at controlling himself quite yet.
“Wei Ying, is that you?” Lan Wangji was standing right in front of Wei Wuxian now, but his eyes looked right past him.
Before Wei Wuxian was a frantic man, calling out to the person he had supposedly hated with all his guts. Hated. But then why say “I miss you”? Did he miss arguing with Wei Wuxian? Did he miss Wei Wuxian frustratingly scoff in his face and pick a fight? What was this “I miss you”?
Lan Wangji reached out and Wei Wuxian dodged his hand. He took a careful side step, but Lan Wangji felt something against his fingertips.
Lan Wangji stared down, frozen for a moment. He reached out again, but Wei Wuxian had stepped even further out of reach.
The look of devastation dug its way into Wei Wuxian’s heart.
“…An illusion again,” Lan Wangji murmured.
Wei Wuxian watched as Lan Wangji’s eyes dulled again and he turned to walk back to his bed. He laid down and sloppily throw the blanket over himself without any sort of thought. He closed his eyes and fell asleep.
Wei Wuxian frowned. What was with this man? This wasn’t the Lan Wangji he knew! The Lan Wangji he knew would never sleep so sloppily. Could this even be counted as comfortable for someone like him?
But Wei Wuxian didn’t move. He stayed where he was until Lan Wangji had fallen asleep. He then stepped forward, appearing to have solidified, and bent down to fix the blankets on Lan Wangji.
Just as he was about to step back, he felt a hand grab onto him and pull him forward.
Wei Wuxian’s eyes widened in horror. He looked up at the pair of amber eyes that gradually filled with warmth. Wei Wuxian tried to shift away, but felt his waist become tightly grasped by a strong hand.
“Lan Zhan…” Wei Wuxian attempted to pull himself away, but Lan Wangji only sat up with him.
“I’m not alive.”
“Ghost. I’m a ghost,” Wei Wuxian said, though he couldn’t seem to manifest his powers in front of Lan Wangji’s eyes. His heart, that had stopped beating when he died, seemed to have revived just for this specific event.
“…Ghost,” Lan Wangji’s grip on him tightened.
“Mn,” Wei Wuxian tried to pull away again, but ceased when Lan Wangji’s brows furrowed. “Have you been well?”
The word slipped past Lan Wangji’s lips rather breathlessly. Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but turn away from the man’s intense gaze.
“Oh…that’s…that’s not what I was expecti—”
“Where have you been?”
“Me? You want to know where I…” Wei Wuxian laughed a little and shook his head. “Well, uh. You know, here and there.”
“Everywhere,” Wei Wuxian laughed at his brutal little joke. “Um, no, uh. You know. My soul kinda…scattered and I still kept a bit of a consciousness so I spent a few years pulling myself back together. Nifty, right?”
Wei Wuxian watched Lan Wangji’s brows furrow deeper. It was not nifty.
Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but reach out and rub the canyon between Lan Wangji’s brows. “What’s with this face? Not happy that I’m back? Do you really hate me th—”
Wei Wuxian’s next words were stuck in his mouth. Lan Wangji pressed his hand against Wei Wuxian’s lips, refusing to release him until Wei Wuxian resigned to not talking.
“What are you planning on doing next? Why are you here? Did you need me?”
“What…? I…” Wei Wuxian tried to think of an excuse. “I was just checking up on all the sects. Seeing how they are. Seeing what other kind of chaos I needed to—”
“I came to say goodbye.”
“Well, not actually. I just wanted to see my old…I just wanted to see some people before I left,” Wei Wuxian shrugged.
“Where are you going?”
“Here, there. A bit of everywhere. But definitely not staying here,” Wei Wuxian said. “I’m going to try to cultivate a corporal form or maybe wander the earth until I go insane. I don’t think I can reincarnate, since my soul has already scattered once.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to cause havoc or whatever else you think I’m going to do. I’ll be a good ghost! So, just let me go—”
“Wei Ying, don’t leave.”
Wei Wuxian halted in his actions. He paused a moment and awkwardly looked at Lan Wangji. “What?”
Lan Wangji’s grip tightened again. “Don’t go. Stay here.”
“…Stay here? At the Cloud Recesses?”
“Or allow me to go with you.”
Wei Wuxian stared down at Lan Wangji, whose eyes seemed to scan his face desperately, trying to take in every last detail. “You…Lan Zhan, you can’t…run away with a ghost. You can’t harbor one either. You’re Hanguang-jun! Especially not a ghost that’s me!”
A pang of hurt appeared in Lan Wangji’s eyes, though his face remained rather cold. If it wasn’t for the distance, Wei Wuxian would have missed it entirely.
“…It’s not that…you…I…just…” Wei Wuxian pursed his lips. He reached out and carefully fixed Lan Wangji’s hair that had grown messy from Wei Wuxian’s thrashing. “You can’t do that.”
“Because it’s against the rules.”
“…You do not want me?”
“What? No, that’s not—Lan Zhan, I’m sure there is some type of rule where you shouldn’t hang out with a ghost. Especially the ghost of Yiling Patriarch.”
“There is not rule.”
“No? You are certain there isn’t a rule on that wall that says ‘Do not fraternize with ghosts’?”
“No sane person would.”
“Lan Zhan, release me.”
Lan Wangji pulled Wei Wuxian closer to his person and buried himself against Wei Wuxian’s cascading white hair. “No.”
“Lan…Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian tried pushed Lan Wangji off him again, though his actions had lost all their momentum from before. His entire body felt weak and his throat even felt slightly parched, as strange as that was. He shifted slightly and allowed his arms to rest over Lan Wangji’s shoulders.
“…won’t let you go again.”
Lan Wangji looked up. “Wei Ying, let me leave with you.”
“You…you really are very stubborn, aren’t you?” Wei Wuxian asked. His mind reeled as he tried to find a way to get rid of Lan Wangji. For all the brilliance he was praised with when he was alive, Wei Wuxian seemed to have lost the ability to think once he was entrapped in Lan Wangji’s embrace.
“Huh?” Wei Wuxian pulled himself out of his reverie.
“What…did you just say?”
“What did I just say?”
“I…? I said,” Wei Wuxian thought for a moment longer. “Didn’t I say that I like you?”
Wei WUxian found himself growing confidence. For sure, Lan Wangji would feel disgusted. Perhaps, in the spur of the moment, Lan Wangji had grown excited and embraced him, but once he realized the man he was hugging liked him, he would definitely leave him alone! He wouldn’t dare press any further.
“Say that again.”
“Lan Zhan, I like you.”
“Weird, right? Are you disgusted? I like you. I’ve liked you for a while now, that’s why you can’t come with me! If you come with me, I don’t know what I’d—”
Wei Wuxian felt a pair of warm lips press against his. His eyes widened and his fingers subconsciously curled into Lan Wangji’s robes. The kiss was clumsy and hurried, giving Wei Wuxian little time to realize what was happening and when he responded, his response was met with desperation. When the two pulled apart, Wei Wuxian could only stare down at Lan Wangji. He didn’t even have the strength to shift away.
“Let me go with you.”