He wakes to a woman’s voice humming a gentle song and a large callused hand stroking back. His head is laying on something warm and firm, and someone brushes his hair from his forehead.
Opening his eyes, Wei Ying is greeted by an open field. He looks up and sees a woman wearing white robes, red rouge on her openly grinning lips. He was lying on her lap. The hand on his back belongs to a gentle faced man wearing dark robes, hair in a ponytail. They are sitting under the shade of trees.
“Sleep well A-Ying?” she said while the man gets up to fiddle with traveling packs strapped to a donkey not further away.
“Yes?” he says uncertainly. “Who?”
“What, are you saying you forgot Mama and Baba while you slept?” the woman, no- Mama says dramatically, eyes full of mischief like his. “Changze, look at our unfilial child! Easily forgetting his parents after a short nap! Ah! How will I live on?!” she clutches at her chest, falling back down the blankets.
“Mama?” Wei Ying asks, as things slowly come back to him. Yes, this is his mama, Cangse Sanren, and that quiet man is his baba, Wei Changze. He is five years old, and they are traveling around, his parents helping out whenever they are needed in wherever place they end up in.
“Yes Baobei?” she says from her place below. Baba comes back with a basket of dumplings, and gives one to Wei Ying before urging his wife to rise and eat.
“Where are we?”
“Hmmm… I don’t know!” she says cheerfully as she bites down on her dumpling. “Where are we husband?”
“We are in Yingchuan. There’s a village nearby.” He says, eating neatly in contrast to his wife and son devouring their dumpling. “Slow down A-Ying, you’ll choke.” He rebukes lightly, wiping the edge of Wei Ying’s mouth clean from the mess. The child grins cheekily, and continues eating happily.
They finish soon enough and set to head out. Cangse and Wei Ying are seated on the donkey while Wei Changze walks, holding the reins.
There’s a strange feeling in A-Ying’s chest. He feels really, really happy, for some reason. Like his heart is about to burst out of his chest from too much happiness. At the same time he feels awfully sad. Like there is a giant stone sitting on his chest.
Mother and son fill the air with innocuous chatter, with the father occasionally humming in agreement, holding out a hand to catch their wayward son when he leans out too far. Cangse would talk and tease their son in turns, pinching his cheeks, tickling his sides to make him laugh.
Wei Ying looks at his parents’ faces, and sees love in their eyes whenever they look at him and each other. It makes him feel giddy, to see how they care and adore him and each other. He can’t help but wonder, when he’s all grown up, if he’ll ever find something close to what they have.
Something in him eases with the thought, but Wei Ying doesn’t know why.
- - - - - -
They reach the village just in time for lunch, Cangse enters the nearest inn with A-Ying while Changze gets the donkey settled outside. There are a few customers seated, barely sparing them a glance as Cangse seats A-Ying and rattles off her order to the waitress.
As the food arrives, Wei Ying looks to his Mama, who arranges the food on the table, a smile ever-present on her face. Then he looks at Baba who sits down, gentle eyes catching his gaze.
“Is there something you need A-Ying?” he asks.
A-Ying shakes his head, “I’m just hungry.”
He digs in enthusiastically, but stops when he gets a taste. It’s not wrong, but he feels like something’s missing. He looks around and spots a bottle of chili oil on the table next to them.
“Mama, can I have?” he says, pointing to the bottle. His parents share a look, “You want chili A-Ying?” she says, already reaching for the bottle.
He nods, and proceeds to pour oil until a hand grabs it from him.
“Woah, A-Ying. I don’t think you can handle this much spice. Let’s start slow, okay?” Baba says, and allows a pinch to drop from the bottle, before popping the cap in and putting on the table behind him. He then mixes A-Ying food.
“You need to start small with spices A-Ying, so you won’t burn your tongue off.”
They continue eating, but Wei Ying can’t help but think that maybe he could handle more chili oil. Maybe even the whole bottle.
He finishes his plate.
- - - - - -
The family takes a walk through the town, asking around for strange occurrences for a nighthunt. Wei Ying’s eyes wander round, taking in the bright colors and various knickknacks on the market. Holding his parents’ hands, he once again feels the strange combination of happiness and sadness tide over him.
They always hold hands when they walk together, but something makes him grip tighter.
Cangse comments on how they need to get him new robes, and they try to inquire to the nearest clothing shop. They pass by a small alleyway, and Wei Ying sees a huge black dog.
It’s staring straight at him.
He doesn’t know, but he unconsciously clenches his parents’ hands, who notices the death grip their son has on their fingers.
“A-Ying?” Cangse said, “What’s wrong Baobei? Mama still needs that hand you know.” She said jokingly, but she looks around, just in case.
Wei Changze follows his gaze and sees the dog in the alley. “Is it the dog Xiao-Ying?”
Wei Ying nods, eyes wide with hints of fear. Changze notices and kneels down, cupping his son’s cheek with his free hand to turn it to face him.
“A-Ying, you don’t have to be scared.” He says, with a firm yet gentle tone. “Mama and Baba are here, the dog won’t hurt you ok?”
Wei Ying looks back at the dog. It’s gaunt, all bones, and quite small, only reaching slightly below his waist, and A-Ying is already small to begin with. But he sees the wild eyes and sharp teeth, and thinks, ‘Getting bitten would hurt.’ He doesn’t know where the thought comes from.
He agrees anyway. As long as his parents are here, he is safe.
“Do you want to buy something A-Ying? We have plenty of time before sunset.” Cangse said, already pulling them to a nearby stall. “Hey mister! How much is this?”
Wei Ying smiles, looking at the colorful toys.
They spend the whole afternoon roaming, looking at various wares and conversing with different shopkeepers. They don’t buy much, rouge cultivators need to travel lightly, but they buy A-Ying small trinkets, placed in a small green pouch tied to his sash.
“Mama, can we buy the other bunny?” Wei Ying said, pointing to the small wooden carved rabbit, its twin already home in A-Ying’s hands.
“Alright, but why would you want two?” Cangse offhandedly asks as she pays for the second rabbit.
“So that they won’t be lonely!”
She ruffles her sons hair, “Aww, how sweet!” Pinching his cheek they thank the seller, and head to where Wei Changze is beckoning them by the entrance of an inn.
- - - - - -
A dinner and a bath later, the three are lying on the bed, A-Ying on his stomach, playing with his two rabbits.
“Ready to sleep?” Cangse asks, lying on her side, observing her son.
“Nope!” he says cheekily, and continues to play.
“Why you-!” she grabs him by the sides and tickles him mercilessly, and laughter reverberates through the wooden walls of the room. Her husband sits by the table, methodically cleaning their swords, watching the joyful proceedings with a bright smile on his face.
The tickle torture finally ends, with Wei Ying laughing breathlessly and Cangse cackling with mad glee.
She hugs him close. “We love you Baobei.”
Changze pads over and joins them, sitting on the other side of the bed. “I’m sorry A-Ying, we’ve only been given a day, and the day is almost over.”
Suddenly, everything dissolves. The walls, the furniture and the bed fade into nothing. They are standing atop a clear, endless lake, with nothing but the sky above them. Looking below, he sees his parents’ reflection in the water.
Abruptly, he realizes he’s no longer a five-year-old. He is all grown, the Wen brand itching on his chest, the body he remembers dying in.
He looks at his mother and father, drinking in their features. He has his father’s face shape, his brow and eye shape. He got his mother’s face shape, her cheeks, her jaw, and her eye color.
These are his parents.
“What? But how-?”
“Let’s say a merciful god was touched by what happened to you on earth, and granted us a day to spend it with you. Oh, my A-Ying, you have suffered so much.” Cangse said, holding him closer.
“We are so sorry,” Changze said, petting his head then cupping his cheek, reminiscent of what he did earlier in the market, “for leaving you all alone A-Ying.”
Wei Wuxian can feel tears gathering in his eyes. These are his parents! He laughs, “It’s alright Mama, Baba. You didn’t mean to leave me.” And he’s sobbing, almost collapsing if it weren’t for them supporting him with strong arms and a loving embrace.
“I’m sorry for putting that ridiculous thought in your head. Honestly what was I thinking? Remember the things others do for you, not the things you do for others, only-"
“Only when people don’t hold so much in their hearts would they finally feel free. That’s one of the few things I remember Mama.”
“Yes, and look at the good it did you! Thanks to that you have a terrible memory, easy to forgive misgivings, giving too much of yourself away…”
She kisses his forehead. “A-Ying, your father and I are so proud, your kindness and honor knows no bounds, but it pains us to see you suffer because of your magnanimous heart.”
Wei Ying thinks of his life, everything he did, everything he’d been through. There are plenty of painful moments, things he’d rather forget. But there are also memories with his loved ones that he holds close, memories that bring him joy on any rainy day.
“While it’s true, I suffered because I’d rather forgive and forget and be done with it,” he says slowly, thoughts rallying to be spoken, “It has also brought me happiness. I am very happy with my life right now. Everything that happened to me, led me to this time in the present. I now have someone who loves me very much, who always stood by me whenever it mattered.” Thoughts drift to Lan Zhan.
“We are thankful for Lan-er gongzi, for taking care of our A-Ying. Don’t forget to tell him, alright?” Baba said, eyes crinkling in delight. “Take care of each other.”
“Mama and Baba will always love you, A-Ying, don’t ever forget that, hm?” Cangse said. “We are proud of you, Baobei.”
Wei Wuxian swallows down a sob that almost tears from his throat. “And I am very proud to be your son. Thank you for bringing me to this world, for being my parents,” he smiles, a grin not unlike his mothers’, “thank you for loving me.”
They hug him close, and Wei Ying closes his eyes, savoring their solid warmth, as everything fades to nothingness.
- - - - - -
He wakes to the sound of a guqin, and the smell of sandalwood incense. He is lying on a comfortable mattress, wrapped in a soft, warm blanket.
He opens his eyes to the familiar ceiling of the Jingshi, and turns his head to find his husband playing the guqin by his bedside.
“Wei Ying.” From the way his mouth is a firm line and how his eyes scan over him, Wei Ying realizes that Lan Zhan is worried.
“Morning Lan Zhan.” He yawns, “What time is it?”
Lan Zhan reaches up to brush his fingers on his cheek. That’s when Wei Ying realizes that there are tear-tracks down his face.
“Huh, didn’t notice that.” He says, wiping them away.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t help.” Lan Zhan said, looking down on the guqin on his lap.
He must’ve been playing the Song of Clarity or something similar. He feels contentment seep into his bones from the gesture. His perfect, perfect husband, always taking care of him
“It’s alright, Lan Zhan, don’t worry too much about it, ok?” he grins, sitting up properly to get up, when he feels a slight weight on his lap. Looking down, he sees a small green pouch, looking awfully familiar.
“Lan Zhan, what’s this? My, my, you’re spoiling me too much husband!” with a little laugh he starts tugging the string open when a hand encloses his wrist.
“It’s not from me.”
“Huh?” he stares at the innocuous pouch on his lap. He doesn’t sense any resentful energy, and turning it on his hands, there are no visible writings on it. It’s simply a pouch.
“Don’t worry Lan Zhan, it looks safe.” Wei Ying says, already loosening the ties, and reaching in to pull out… a small wooden rabbit.
Peering inside the pouch, he sees small toys, and reaches in again to take out a second rabbit, a perfect match to the one in his hand.
And he remembers.
Gentle hands, soft smiles, and bright laughter. His parents’ faces, their voices, and the day they spent together.
“-Ying, Wei Ying. Wei Ying, what’s wrong?” he comes back to his husband who is now sitting beside him, gently shaking him by the shoulders.
“What is it?” golden eyes looking earnestly at his grey ones, concerned and loving.
Wei Ying threw himself to those strong arms that never failed to comfort him, crying.
He is not one dwell on miseries and sad moments. Wei Wuxian tried not to think much a bout his parents, to not miss much of what he cannot remember.
It’s only a day, a day compared to the decades he spent without them. But he got a taste of what his childhood had been, what their love felt like, how things would have continued if they weren’t cruelly snatched from him.
It hurts to know what he lost. A part of him maliciously whispers that it would have been better if he remained ignorant of what they were like. He couldn’t miss what he doesn’t remember after all.
But a large part of him is nonetheless happy with what was shown to him. It let him know that, once upon a time, two people loved him unconditionally with every fiber of their being. He knows now, that before the hunger and the cold in the streets, the feeling of being unwanted in Lotus Pier, and the hatred of many when he picked up Chenqing, there was simply Cangse Sanren and Wei Changze and A-Ying, travelling on their donkey wherever the wind takes them.
He’s forgotten what it feels like to be an innocent child, free from worries, holding onto someone’s hand for reassurance and safety.
A hand strokes down his back, and Lan Zhan hums their song. Wei Ying clutches tighter, basking in the comfort his husband gives.
He cries, for the child he’d been, for his loving parents, and all the memories he’d forgotten.
Their reunion of a sorts only lasted a day, a day in a dream from the grace of a merciful god.
But it was a day Wei Wuxian will remember and cherish for as long as he can.