In another universe, Lan Xichen sat by and did nothing at the Baifeng Mountain hunt while the Wen remnants were forced to be living targets for sport.
But this is the universe where everything works out, so Lan Xichen goes feral and brings them all to the Cloud Recesses instead.
(Because a lot can happen in a day, especially when the person behind all the chaos is the leader of Gusu Lan.)
⚜ ⚜ ⚜
In the end, it took only a split second before the decision was made.
Lan Xichen was staring down at his teacup, trying to keep his eyes from glazing over at the sheer boredom of the opening ceremonies, and when he looked up he saw a line of Wen prisoners being led onto the archery field, walking with chains around their ankles and a prison guard behind them, who prodded them along with a golden whip until they stopped in front of the five painted archery bosses.
“A-Yao,” he called, dropping his cup and leaning closer to Jin Guangyao. “What are those people doing there?”
“It’s an incentive to make the archers take better care with their arrows,” Jin Guangyao said, somehow managing to sound apologetic without condemning the idea at all. “Zixun thought of it, Er-ge―he said it would make the exhibition more interesting.”
Lan Xichen frowned again. On the other side of the field, Jin Zixuan was drawing his bowstring, and while he wasn’t likely to miss his shot, who was to say that the next archer―perhaps another Jin disciple, crueler than the first young master and far less skilled―would manage to do the same?
“Young Master Jin!” he shouted, jumping down onto the field. “Stop. Do not make that shot, Jin Zixuan. Lower your bow at once.”
Somewhat bewildered, Jin Zixuan did. “What’s wrong, Zewu-jun?”
“Your cousin ordered living people to stand between the targets, for entertainment, ” Lan Xichen told him. “You are the first sect heir, Jin-gongzi, and your authority surpasses his. Surely you could have put a stop to this―this―”
Unsurprisingly, Jin Zixuan’s eyes flickered in his father’s direction. “I did, but―you see, Sect Leader Lan, the thing is…”
“Ah,” Lan Xichen said darkly. “I do see.”
He thought for a moment, studiously ignoring the whispers echoing out of the stands around him―and not even deigning to look back at Jin Guangshan, who was being bodily restrained by his wife and second son. “There’s only one thing I can do, then. Wangji, come here.”
Wangji, faithful little brother that he was, did just that. “Xiongzhang?”
“Prepare enough transportation talismans to bring all these people back to the Cloud Recesses,” he ordered. “Get young master Wei to help you, and do it no matter who tries to stop you.”
And with that, he called out to the rest of the Lan disciples, who came running over with Wei Wuxian (who only restrained himself from accompanying Wangji out of courtesy, the first time) and Nie Huaisang jogging along behind them. “Half of you are to aid Wangji in transporting the Wens back home,” Lan Xichen announced, deciding that twenty disciples to accompany him and twenty to help his brother would probably be enough. “Huaisang, young master Wei―help them with the talismans. And the rest of you, come with me. We will go to the Qiongqi camp, and retrieve the prisoners there.”
“What?” one of the younger boys squeaked. “Clan Leader, if you will forgive my presumption―why?”
“Because all the Wens who were direct aggressors during the war were executed, or so I was told,” he answered. “Thus, the survivors must not be guilty of any crime, or at least not any serious one, because otherwise they would not have been permitted to live at all. Does my reasoning hold, Lan Fenglin?”
“It does,” Lan Fenglin said uncertainly, paling as Jin Guangshan finally ripped himself away from his wife and began storming down the field towards them. “We―we’d better be quick, I suppose?”
“As quick as you can,” Lan Xichen nodded, stepping onto Shuoyue and motioning the twenty eldest disciples to mount their swords in his wake. “Before it comes to bloodshed or open combat, A-Lin. Now, let’s go.”
⚜ ⚜ ⚜
By that afternoon, all the sect leaders who attended the opening ceremony (except Lan Xichen, who had taken twenty of his disciples and gone to Qiongqi Road) and all of the sect heirs (minus Lan Wangji, Wei Wuxian, and Nie Huaisang, all of whom seemed to have fled to Gusu via talisman with the Wens) took their leave from the hunting grounds and assembled at the Jinlintai to deal with the morning’s fallout. Sect Leader Yao was shouting about how everything was probably Wei Wuxian’s fault, and Sect Leader Qin was trying to get the congregation to calm down―and everyone else was simply attempting to process what had happened, along with the four things currently going on in the center of the room.
In the first place, Jiang Yanli was standing beside Sect Leader Jiang, who was fielding accusations about having planned the Wens’ liberation with Wei Wuxian and roaring at Jin Zixun about how he shouldn’t have used living people as targets if he didn’t want Lan Xichen to interrupt the ceremony.
In the second place, Madam Jin had announced that the idea of having the Wens stand in front of the archery bosses was entirely her husband and nephew’s doing, and that neither she nor Jin Zixuan nor even Jin Guangyao had any hand in the matter at all.
In the third place, Nie Mingjue was trying to recall if he had ever seen Lan Xichen look quite so furious before during the two decades they had known each other, and steadily flushing redder than a rose as he realized that no, he hadn’t. He was also worrying about Huaisang, but it was slightly difficult to think about Huaisang when the only thing he could focus on was the memory of Lan Xichen, dressed in blue silk and silver brocade with a dragon guan in his hair, and storming down the archery field like an avenging fury.
And in the fourth place, Jin Guangshan was throwing a fit, because of course he was.
“I will not stand for such disrespect!” he shrieked, spittle flying from his mouth as he looked around for someone he could punish for the morning’s chaos―which he couldn’t, because the whole Lan contingent was gone and Wei Wuxian and Nie Huaisang had gone with them. “It was agreed that the Wen-dogs would be given to Lanling Jin for trial, and for Lan Xichen to come and remove them from their allotted justice―”
“To be fair, we never decided that,” Sect Leader Jiang called, interrupting his screaming match with Jin Zixun to glare at Sect Leader Jin. “You said you wanted the prisoners, and we agreed because Lanling Jin is the only sect with enough room and coin to house them all except for Qinghe Nie. Lotus Pier and the Cloud Recesses have only just been rebuilt, and Chifeng-zun is governing Qinghe alone since so many of his generals were killed during the war―so we never agreed on it, Sect Leader Jin. The rest of us just didn’t have a leg to stand on if we wanted the prisoners, so no one said anything when you claimed them for yourself.”
“Do you agree with this?” Jin Guangshan snarled, turning around to look at Nie Mingjue―who was still lying flat on his back in a quiet corner of the banquet hall, completely unresponsive to the world at large as he dreamed about Sect Leader Lan. “Chifeng-zun, answer me at once!”
“I don't think he can,” Jiang Yanli observed, crouching down beside Nie Mingjue and laying a hand on his forehead. “Nie-zongzhu, are you all right?”
“Xichen,” Chifeng-zun said desperately. “Jiang―Jiang-guniang, I must go to Xichen!” And then he pushed himself up to his feet and did exactly that, flinging himself out of one of the windows with Baxia in his hand before speeding off in the direction of the camp at Qiongqi Road.
“What just happened?” Jin Zixuan whispered, watching Nie Mingjue’s back grow smaller until it was nothing more than a speck among the clouds. “What has this day even been? ”
“It probably is my brother’s fault somehow,” Jiang Cheng muttered, before remembering that he was supposed to be shouting at Jin Zixun instead. “Now look here, you slimy, overdressed, son of a toad, I’ll―”
“A-Cheng,” Jiang Yanli chided him. “He used living people as targets. You can do a lot better than that, given the circumstances.”
Jiang Cheng frowned. “Oh, right,” he said. “I was trying to spare your ears, A-Jie, but I suppose you’d be used to it anyway.”
And then he launched into a tirade that could have come straight from his late mother’s lips, silencing the room and everyone in it as he tore into Jin Guangshan and his nephew so viciously that Yu Ziyuan would have wept with pride to hear him.
⚜ ⚜ ⚜
By the time the day was finally over, three more very important things had happened after the disastrous opening ceremony.
All of them were Lan Xichen’s fault, because of course they were―but foremost among them was the relocation of the Wen remnants, who arrived in Gusu shortly after sunset before being whisked away for hot meals and medical attention if they needed it.
“Some of you can live in this wing over here,” Lan Xichen told them after everyone had eaten, leading the Wens through the Cloud Recesses to show them around their new home. “We rebuilt the compound to its previous specifications just a few months ago, but we lost so many disciples during the war that there’s more room than we know what to do with. Does it look suitable, Maiden Wen?”
“Considering that we were sleeping ten to a hut at the slave camp, I think it’ll do well enough,” Wen Qing said dryly, examining one of the pebbled courtyards with an approving glint in her eyes. “We’ll need somewhere suitable for a baby, though.”
Everyone turned to stare at the toddler nestled in Wei Wuxian’s arms, cooing like a turtledove against the boy’s neck as Wangji gazed at them both with the most open look of yearning the Wens had ever seen on anyone. The child (A-Yuan, if Xichen remembered correctly) was reaching up for Wei Wuxian’s red ribbon, and Wei Wuxian was laughing and kissing A-Yuan’s tiny fingers in an attempt to keep them out of his hair.
Lan Xichen considered the yearning look, and then made his―third? fourth? he wasn’t really keeping track, by that point―next split-second decision of the day and turned to Wen Qing and Wen Ning.
“Who is A-Yuan’s guardian?” he asked. “You said he was kin to you, but his parents…”
“He’s our younger cousin, Zewu-jun,” Wen Ning explained. “Our great-aunt has been looking after him, but her age...she was hurt, you remember, and even Jiejie couldn’t treat her because we didn’t have any supplies.”
“Would she agree to let him be adopted into the main clan? He would live near all of you, of course, and come back to visit whenever you and Madam Wen wish it.”
Wen Qing blinked in confusion. “I suppose?” she said, glancing at Wen Ning and then back at Lan Xichen. “But why?”
“He would be brought up as a Lan,” Xichen clarified. “Unless you would rather he keep the name Wen, but he will be my adopted heir either way.”
“No, it would be better for him to be a Lan, but I don’t understand why you would want to adopt him in the first place.”
“Wangji!” Lan Xichen called. “Young Master Wei, come here.”
They hurried over at once―such good children, he thought, smiling at them both as A-Yuan seized a fistful of Wangji’s hair and put it into his mouth. “What is it, Lan-zongzhu?” Wei Wuxian asked. “Do you need us to go fetch something?”
“No, I don’t. Now, Wei-gongzi, have you ever thought about getting married?”
“What?” Wei Wuxian said blankly. “I’m only nineteen, why―what? ”
“Plenty of people have married younger,” Xichen encouraged him. “You are of age, after all, and my father was married at twenty.”
All the color drained out of Wangji’s face, and he reached out to touch Lan Xichen’s long sleeve before pulling back and wincing as A-Yuan tried to eat some more of his hair. “Xiongzhang, no―”
“Wangji is in love with you,” Lan Xichen said, cutting him off. “He wrote a love song about your adventures together, and he plays it and sighs to himself every night when he thinks nobody is looking. Please put me out of my misery and marry him, Wuxian, so I may attend to my own courtship without feeling guilty, and accept Wen Yuan as your son so that the two of you can spend the rest of your days in tender, familial bliss here in the Cloud Recesses.”
“Lan―Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian croaked, looking absolutely gobsmacked. “You...is, is Zewu-jun joking? You love me?”
Wangji turned three shades whiter, and Lan Xichen closed his eyes and winced as Wei Wuxian visibly wilted. “Of course he was joking, don’t worry ab―”
“Do,” Wangji said, sounding as if he was trying to get the words out through something stuck in his throat. “Love Wei Ying, always. I have dreamed of marrying you since that night in the Cold Pond, when I gave you my ribbon to shield you from Lan Yi’s zither. And I dreamed of little ones with you, too.”
“Oh!” Wei Wuxian exclaimed. “That’s good, then! I love you too, Lan Zhan, and if you married me I would be the happiest person in the world.”
“Is that it?” Wen Ning whispered. “Are they engaged now?”
Lan Xichen, however, frowned. “You gave Wei-gongzi your forehead ribbon in the cave, Wangji? You never told me that.”
His brother’s ears turned crimson. “It was an emergency, Xiongzhang. I would not have done such a thing without Wei Ying’s permission, if there was any other way.”
“But what about using Bichen?”
Wangji turned away and refused to answer, studiously prying his hair out of A-Yuan’s tiny mouth as Wei Wuxian threw himself forward and planted a kiss on his cheek. Some of the Wens broke into laughter, and A-Yuan reached up to wave at them before babbling at both his new fathers so loudly that Wangji let him have the end of his ribbon to keep him quiet.
“Zewu-jun,” Wen Ning asked again. “Are they, um...”
“No,” Lan Xichen said slowly. “He gave Wei Wuxian his ribbon, in front of a Lan ancestor, and then they both bowed to her―they’ve been married since they were seventeen, and there’s nothing anyone can do to part them now. Ah, well. I suppose poor Jiang-zongzhu will just have to deal with it.”
And with that Lan Xichen turned on his heel and marched towards the hanshi, eager to settle the last matter at hand before finally getting some sleep.
⚜ ⚜ ⚜
“Mingjue-xiong,” Lan Xichen said, stalking into his private quarters to find his first sworn brother sitting on the ground with Huaisang kneeling awkwardly beside him. “Come, let’s go sit at the table. I have something I must tell you.”
“What?” Mingjue replied, looking at Xichen’s face so dazedly that Huaisang threw an arm out to steady him. “Xi―Xichen, you’re home.”
“Yes, I am. And I have a proposal to make, so listen closely.”
Nie Mingjue tried to look a little less stunned and folded his hands in his lap. “What is it, Lan-zongzhu?”
“I want to marry you,” Xichen said bluntly. “I have been in love with you since I was four and you were seven, since that time you nearly drowned when I tried to teach you how to swim in the ornamental lake at the Bujing Shi, and if you feel the same...”
“I do!” Mingjue cried, launching himself to his feet and taking Xichen’s hands in his. “I―Lan Huan, since we met, I―I’ve always ―”
“There are, of course, some conditions that must be met before I can be married. Three conditions, to be precise.”
“I’ll fulfill them all,” his beloved vowed, pulling Lan Xichen into his arms and kissing the top of his forehead. “If there’s anything you want, Lan Huan, I’ll walk the whole world over barefoot to give it to you. I swear it.”
Lan Xichen held up a finger. “I think, between the both of our brothers, Wangji will be better at managing a sect on his own,” he said, looking apologetically at Huaisang―but the younger boy only shook his head and threw up his hands, relieved at the assurance that his brother’s marriage would not bring his days of fan-painting and hunting for birds to an end. “We will spend one season here in Gusu and the other three in Qinghe for the first few years, and then I will move to the Unclean Realm for good and let Wangji take over as Sect Leader Lan with our uncle to help him. Are you all right with that, Mingjue-xiong?”
Nie Mingjue nodded. “More than all right. The seasons we spend here in the Cloud Recesses will make sure that Huaisang looks at something other than his birds for once, and it will take the burden off Wangji’s shoulders for a while until he is used to the change in his duties. What about the second condition?”
“You will let me play Cleansing and Clarity for you every day, after we are married,” Lan Xichen told him. “The war worsened Baxia’s saber spirit, and your temper has been worse of late, too. I do not wish to see Huaisang or our little ones suffer like you did when your father died if the spirit cannot be controlled, so you must listen to me play, my love.”
Mingjue leaned forward and kissed him again at the mention of children―full on the mouth, this time, and with none of the shyness he used to have when he held Lan Xichen’s hands back when they were children themselves. “Granted, A-Huan. And the third?”
“If the healing songs do not work, you will seal Baxia away in the Hall of Sabers and cultivate with a Lan-made sword in its place.”
At that, Mingjue’s jaw dropped open. “A-Huan, be reasonable, you know I can’t―the Nie clan has always cultivated with sabers, and I’m sure your healing music will prevent anything from going wrong!”
“If you disagree, Mingjue-xiong,” Lan Xichen said loudly, “I will send a letter to Lanling Jin this very night, announcing my intentions to marry A-Yao instead.”
There was a beat of silence, after that.
Huaisang’s eyes went wide. “Xichen-ge, you can’t really mean you would...”
“Over my dead body,” Nie Mingjue growled, hugging Lan Xichen so close that he could scarcely breathe. “I’d rather die than see you marry him of all people―I’ll put Baxia away if it gets too bad, Xichen. Just say you’ll marry me.”
“Yes,” Xichen laughed, wrapping his arms around Mingue’s neck and leaning up to kiss his nose. “A thousand times yes, my darling. Now let’s go announce our engagement to Shufu, and watch him lose his mind.”
“Can I come, da-ge?” asked Huaisang. “I need to see this. I’m going to live on the look on Lan-laoshi’s face for the rest of my life.”
⚜ ⚜ ⚜
After everything was said and done, the upshot of it all was that two weddings were held in the Cloud Recesses the next winter, first the one between Wangji and Young Master Wei―who had both adopted A-Yuan by then, and embraced marriage and young fatherhood so wholeheartedly that it embarrassed everyone who had the misfortune of being acquainted with them―and then Lan Xichen’s, which took place on the day just before New Years’ with Nie Mingjue as his bridegroom. Three months after that, Wen Qing announced her engagement to Sect Leader Jiang, and their wedding was held at Lotus Pier that summer while Wei Wuxian and Wen Ning sobbed in the background and showered the couple with flowers―and with A-Yuan toddling about and enchanting all the guests, which made Mingjue reach out to hold Xichen’s shaking hands with a smile that could have meant only one thing.
As for Jin Guangshan, however, he was not invited to any of the weddings, nor to Nie Chunhua’s full-moon ceremony a year and a half later, when the long-awaited heir to Qinghe Nie finally arrived.
In Lan Xichen’s opinion, it served him exactly right.