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Steps to healing (let’s cross that bridge when we both get there)

Chapter Text

There are things that Shen Jiu has, after he escaped from the beast, decided that he’d never do again: he’d never again join a sect, never again teach, and most importantly: he’d never take a disciple under his wing again.

Of course, that idea did not account for the possibility of ever finding another fox spirit, and it definitely did not account for him bumping into a pitiful, small little cub in the middle of Yiling.

It happened too fast for him to even remember the details, but the gist of the situation is something like this: as he travelled to Gusu, where there had been reports of a fox sanctuary, he decided to buy some food. In between getting lost after eating and walking around trying to find a talisman shop, he ended up entering an alleyway, where to his surprise he saw a small cub. The poor thing was bleeding, already bitten and harmed by the stray dogs that were close by. So, against his own best judgements and trying to supress the voice that whispered that this had nothing to do with him, he decided to pick up and heal the little one. He’d find its parents and let it go later, wouldn’t he?

Shen Jiu brought the cub to the inn where he had eaten early, only stopping on the way to buy medicine. He of course could heal the fox if he needed to, but it was something too intimate to do with a child he didn’t know, so he decided against it. He’d heal it later if the medicines weren’t enough.

Snapping himself out of his thoughts, he picked up one of the vials and dabbed it into the bloodied orange tail. The extremities were white, but had been stained a pale pink by the injuries. Shen Jiu also noticed that the fur had been missing some tuffs of hair, and sighed as he tried his best to dress the injuries.

In between the cleaning and dressing of the wounds, the little fox seemed to wake up, large grey eyes looking directly at Shen Jiu with curiosity. Surprisingly, the cub had not tried to attack him yet, instead only studying his expressions.

“You passed out on an alley after you were bitten by dogs, I found you and used some medicine so you wouldn’t catch an infection” he explained quickly. The little fox nodded, and he quickly realized that, due to exhaustion and blood loss, it could not turn into its human form.

“Where are your parents?” He asked, with the gentlest voice he could possibly give, trying not to scare the little fox even further. Immediately, the cub seemed to pale, and after a few seconds, gave its answer through a single shake of its head: it had none.

This was bad. This was terrible. He had signed up to heal the child, not to take care of it.

He could, of course, just leave it there and go on his merry way, but the part of himself that had once been in the little fox’s place - the too humane, too sentimental, too invested in the life of a fox he didn’t know part of himself - refused to, and pleaded him to care for the weak, wide eyed fox in front of him.

“You’re coming with me from now on” he said, and waited for the little one to follow, trying to ignore the still sane part of his brain that screamed repressed memories of a human child with the same shining eyes as the one gingerly raising from the bed.

 

The first year the little cub - Wei Ying, according to what the fox remembers - spent with him, he was still shy, spending most of the time curled up somewhere, only coming near Shen Jiu to eat and drink. It was almost as if the cub was trying to make his presence as less invasive as he possibly could out of fear that Shen Jiu would get mad and throw him away, which was all in all a valid fear: Shen Jiu had yelled at disciples and hit them with the ruler for less, although he never outright sent them away. He had learnt more or less to be patient with the little demons, otherwise Yue Qingyuan would have reason to come and talk to him about it. But this is not the same Shen Jiu as before, nor is Wei Ying one of disciples; he has none.

It takes Shen Jiu assuring him more than a couple of times that he won’t leave him (without a reason) for the cub to begin to open up and stop being so cautious around him. He still flinches when Shen Jiu tries to raise his voice, but he changes into his human form more often, even daring to talk sometimes.

It is, surprisingly, a welcome change. Shen Jiu doesn’t necessarily enjoy talking to others, but a-Ying seemed so uncomfortable that he almost sighs out of relief once he begins to be more like himself.

Raising a fox cub is, in theory, a great job: It’s a way to make sure the population keeps going by taking care of the vulnerable infants, and it’s a way to get unconditional love from the little one you raised. In practice, raising a fox spirit is hell.

The problem itself is not even with Wei Ying: the little cub is curious and energetic (sometimes resembling too much a certain someone) but he’s not annoying or hyperactive, and usually listens to Shen Jiu once he strictly tells him no; the problem is, however, with the ridiculous amount of time it takes for a fox spirit to mature and be able to live completely by themselves. Shen Jiu has been with the little one for over one hundred years and the little thing barely looks older than when he found him.

“Jiu-ge” Wei Ying calls him, the way that he had taught him to -even now, over three hundred years since he had left that life behind, he’d not let anyone call him shizun, not anymore- “Why can’t we talk to humans? They seem interesting”

Shen Jiu’s breath hitches, and for one second he almost lashes at the kid, but then he quickly reminds himself that A-Ying is, at the end of the day, a curious and innocent child, one that has barely talked to humans, and one that hasn’t been harmed by them yet. He can’t possibly understand the harms that becoming closer to humans will bring, and it’s Shen Jiu’s duty to explain to him.

“The humans from this place grow up quickly and die young, a-Ying. They’re not like us; they will not stay with you for a long time. I don’t want you to end up attached to one only to lose them after some time goes by.” he ends up replying. When Wei Ying is old enough to understand things like anger and malice, he’ll teach him about the dangers of humans. But for now, this should be enough to keep him from asking to meet humans again.

The little cub thinks about his answer, nods his head, then never asks about humans for the next two hundred years.

Albeit taking care of a cub is a lot of work, there is good in it too. Wei Ying proves himself to be hardworking, and tries his best to help Shen Jiu around. It’s been a short while since they moved away from Gusu, now staying in Yiling definitively. Fox hunting and breeding is strictly prohibited around these areas, so he can feel relaxed enough to let the cub run errands and buy him supplies. Surprisingly, the fox is also a decent cook, if Shen Jiu locks up the spice before asking him to make him something (he had let Wei Ying make spicy congee once, and the broth had been so spicy that he couldn’t feel his mouth for the next day or so.)

A-Ying is also surprisingly smart, and knows to leave him alone once he starts working. He will, though, call Shen Jiu if he spends too much time working and forgets to take care of himself, something that happens far too often for Shen Jiu to fault the child for it.

Of course, although the help is welcome most times, it isn’t always that he’s working; sometimes he’s healing the ends of his tails, trying to make them grow a little more. It doesn’t always work, and sometimes he’s left bitter and full of hatred for the one who made him this way, and also for himself. Had he not mingled with humans, foolish believing they weren’t as bad as Wu Yanzi had told him (the only valuable advice his old teacher had left, and even then he had been too naive to follow it) he wouldn’t have met the little beast.

His thoughts are interrupted by the sound of steps. A-Ying came back home, and now walked in on him, walked in on his vulnerable, damaged self, which he had tried so desperately to keep hidden from the child’s sight before.

“Jiu-ge” the cub started, seemingly scared by the face he must have been putting on, he notices “I didn't want to interrupt your work, but it’s been hours and you haven’t eaten anything. I made some soup, and I was wondering if I could serve you some?”

He blinks, fully expecting the child to question what he’s doing, but Wei Ying seemed to sense his discomfort. It shouldn’t be such a surprise to Shen Jiu; It’s easy for anyone to read the expression on his face, especially Wei Ying, who had become used to him by now. But it’s perhaps the idea that Wei Ying outright tried to ignore the situation, or the idea that the cub was considerate of his invisible boundaries, that made him quit his snarl and calm himself.

“Can you put some on a bowl and bring it to me, A-Ying?” He asked, and watched as the child immediately smiled, nodding and running to grab the food.

Whether one day he would trust Wei Ying with the secrets of the past was something he didn’t have the answer to yet, but he now knew that his judgement wasn’t completely flawed.

Chapter Text

Shen Jiu is not looking forward to the beginning of Wei Ying’s cultivation. It is, of course, something inevitable: Foxes largely depend on cultivation to survive, and one that hasn’t cultivated much will end up weak and unable to take a human form for more than a few years at a time. However, the idea of teaching someone cultivation is too similar to the thought that he’s once again a teacher, and brings up too many unwanted memories of disciples and a sect he has wished to forget.

He tries to snap himself out of it and and stop thinking about the past, but the rain outside and the faint smell of bamboo seem to beg him to reminisce about a time long gone. It is A-Ying, and his ever so-loud voice (one that Shen Jiu has repeatedly tried to control by telling the pup to talk quieter when inside of the house, but all he does is be quiet for a little while before yelling again) that snaps him out of it, excitedly telling him about the kite he has found in the middle of the woods. He’ll confront himself about the shadows of the past another day, but for now he’ll let it go in order to care for the smiling pup in front of him.

The first few lessons of a-Ying’s cultivation go much better than Shen Jiu expected: His student, albeit too young to actually practice properly, grasps the basics with an agility that he hasn’t seen in anyone else. The little cub is fast and dedicated, and seems to eat up all the advice Shen Jiu gives.

Wei Ying is also innovative: as soon as he truly learns something, he thinks and rethinks about ways to use it, and makes up plans and plans about how to improve a certain way of cultivation. Although he wished the cub did not like to cultivate so much, Shen Jiu is undeniably proud of him for being so hardworking.

“Jiu-ge,” A-Ying calls, and Shen Jiu can almost feel that the cub is anxious and excited. Oh no. “I was working around with talismans, but since my cultivation is low I can’t test them. Can you test them for me?” He asks, making his best replica of what is supposed to be a puppy face, and Shen Jiu can almost feel the alarms going off in his mind. The last time a-Ying had asked him to test something Shen Jiu had lost his beautiful, fluffy tails and gained feathers instead. Turns out the talisman didn’t work for foxes, and while there was no way a-Ying knew, Shen Jiu and his tails still haven’t forgotten it.

“Is there any chance I’ll get an unwanted side effect?” Shen Jiu asked, and, to his credit, a-Ying seemed to look a little guilty at the mention of the previous disaster.

“I don’t think this talisman has any potential to give you unwanted side effects, Jiu-ge. I tried my best to keep it more concentrated on what I actually wanted to do.” By that, Shen Jiu thinks, a-Ying must mean that he actually had a set plan on what characters to use, and didn’t just throw in the ones he thought worked.

To a-Ying’s credit, this one did work better than the previous ones, although Shen Jiu was decidedly not amused by the fluffy, pure white tails he was now sporting.

“Wei Ying,” he started, and the child looked at him, seemingly a little scared at what he was going to say. “If you need help inventing a talisman, you know the easiest way will always be to ask me about it, right? I won’t be angry at you if you ask me for help.”

The cub nodded, but didn’t ask him about the talisman again.

Perhaps because a-Ying has kept him company for so many years, or perhaps because he has started to become fond of him, it’s rare that he and the younger fox argue. A-Ying rarely ever goes against his guidance, but now, as he tells him once again to stay away from humans, all the little kid does is argue and ask him why.

And out of a mix of frustration and resignation, Shen Jiu decides to finally tell him why humans are so dangerous.

“I used to be a nine-tailed fox, like your parents were. One day, because I had once angered a human, he cut two of them off. That’s why I am so powerful even though I only have seven tails.” He hears the unmistakable sound of sobbing and a sharp intake from the child, “Humans are spiteful things, they don’t care about your pain or your pleas. In their selfish minds, it doesn’t matter what kind of suffering you’ll experience; only what they will suffer matters.”

“Did it hurt?” The child asks, choking on his sobs.

“It did for the first few years or so, but the pain is nothing compared to the shame of having lost a tail. For beings like us,” - Shen Jiu refused to ever use the word people again - “our animal parts are what makes us special, and losing them means losing what makes us foxes.”

If the first time kept Wei Ying from asking for the next two hundred years, hearing Shen Jiu’s explanation about what happened to him made sure that Wei Ying would never bring it again. Perhaps he was just scared of making Shen Jiu upset, or perhaps it was just that Wei Ying had finally understood why it made Shen Jiu so agitated. Whatever the reason was however, it made him more than pleased to not have humans brought up again and again.

The cultivation world was not built for foxes. It was common for sects to outright ban fox spirits from ever becoming disciples, or only allowing them low, almost servant-like ranks. Although some sects did have more inclusive ranks and rules in place, they were still a far cry to acknowledging fox spirits as having equal rights to human cultivators.

Thus, the majority of fox spirits were like Shen Jiu: living alone or with a small family by a fox sanctuary, only cultivating in secret and staying away from the areas where fox mistreatment was encouraged.

While Shen Jiu and Wei Ying avoided Yiling for fear of accidentally bumping into fox hunters, Shen Jiu was forced to go all the way to Yunping city a couple of times each year to get ink and other stationery for his work. That would have been fine if the only roads to Yunping city didn’t come uncomfortably close to Lanling and Qishan.

Lanling was, of course, usually the lesser of the two evils: they allowed the hunting and breeding of foxes, but Qishan had sanctioned experiments, most of which involved cutting open and even removing parts of foxes. Being caught in Lanling meant becoming a slave or being killed for his fur, but it at least promised less pain than what Qishan would bring.

Although Shen Jiu had told him about humans before, living in Yiling and Gusu his entire life, Wei Ying had not actually met a human before.

Before he had been adopted by Shen Jiu, Wei Ying had been kept away from them by his parents, and then had spent the days after that hidden away in the alleys, not daring to come near anyone out of fear. Then, Shen Jiu had taken him in and prohibited him from ever talking to humans. Although, after Wei Ying heard what happened to his protector, he no longer wanted to meet one. And, if Shen Jiu could have prevented this, the cub wouldn’t have met one until he was at least strong enough to defend himself.

Of course, things weren’t as easy as Shen Jiu wanted them to be, and Wei Ying had to accompany him on this specific trip. Usually the child would stay at home and guard the house, but due to an increase of cubs being abducted in their own homes while the adults were absent, Shen Jiu no longer felt comfortable leaving a-Ying by himself.

The trip started out fine, with a-Ying being his usual loud self and asking Shen Jiu all sorts of questions about the things they saw as they walked together. It only really became dangerous once the two of them reached Lanling territory.

Lanling was tricky and full of grasses and forests, and it didn’t take long for Wei Ying to get lost and wander, looking for Shen Jiu. Before he could reunite with the older fox, however, he was found by a cultivator and grabbed, immediately trying to run away, but without much success.

Shen Jiu watched as the little pup made an aborted sound at being grabbed by the cultivator, and in a ruse of energy, threw himself at the human, switching into his fox form for a better chance at winning.

The man, surprised at seeing a bigger, stronger fox come to the child’s rescue, let him go out of surprise, and Wei Ying ran to safety. Paying attention to the child instead of the man he was supposed to be fighting, Shen Jiu let himself be hit in the stomach before finally getting his attention on the human and attacking him again. While he and the human fought, he could hear a-Ying’s panicked cries, probably due to the blood trailing after him. If this kept on, he realized, the damn human would take him with him, and all of the centuries he spent trying to make that child less messy would go down the drain.

It took a well strategized bite for the human to finally stop breathing and give up. Immediately as he stopped fighting, a-Ying ran to him and began a messy, panicked spiritual energy transference.

“Jiu-ge, I know you’re tired, but you have to stay with me okay? Remember what you told me that time I got stung by a snake? If you sleep, it’ll hurt more when you wake up, so just stay with me please? I promise I’ll clean you up and change your clothes, so please don’t leave.” The child pleaded, using all of his energy to heal Shen Jiu.

“I haven’t told you this yet because I was scared you would be mad, but I’ve always considered you family Jiu-ge. I know sometimes when I’m mad I say I’ll leave and join a sect instead, but the truth is that I don't want to be anywhere where I can't hear you complaining and telling me to write neatly, because it wouldn’t feel like home. So please, please be strong and stay here.”

“Silly child,” Shen Jiu said, cradling the little boy’s face “haven’t I told you that you’re not getting rid of me until you become an adult? I’m not going anywhere.”

A-Ying nodded, and kept transferring his spiritual energy onto the old fox. It was a little surprising for Shen Jiu, since he had not taught the cub how to do transferences yet, but the little kid seemed to be fine even after giving away a good amount of his spiritual power.

It took around an hour or two for Shen Jiu to feel okay, and as soon as he could sit up, he made sure that a-Ying stopped giving him his spiritual energy. The child, clearly having spent too much energy, simply collapsed onto Shen Jiu, exhausted. Shen Jiu checked the little fox’s pulse, and found his energy was much lower than it was ever supposed to be. Once again, the little cub had tried to take on more than he could.

It took a few months for the two of them to be completely healed from the experience and, although neither of them mentioned it, they were both more wary of outsiders, humans or not. It also brought the two together in a way they hadn’t expected, their relationship now much closer to that of a family. Shen Jiu had started to tentatively allow Wei Ying to use a-die and baba, although the child was still a little unused to the change and, for the most part, still used Jiu-ge.

“A-die,”

“What is it, a-Ying?”

“I know that because of me you have been hurt recently, and because of my low cultivation I wasn't even able to help you. But I promise you that I will try my best and be strong so that I can protect a-die in the future, okay?”

“Silly child, I’m older and more experienced than you, how can you protect me?” Shen Jiu asks, and a-Ying pales, thinks about it, then tries to come up with an answer, frowning. Shen Jiu, looking at the adorable scene, merely laughs, and to his own surprise, picks the younger up. “Just promise you’ll grow up healthy and well, and that will be enough for me”

He’s still wary about losing the ones he loves, and still scared of the prospect that one day this might all come back and kick him in the ass. But since a-Ying has not betrayed or hurt him as of yet, he can’t see the problem with trusting the boy with a little more of himself.

Chapter Text

It’s quite understandable that, after such a traumatic experience for both of them, neither Shen Jiu nor Wei Ying are very fond of outsiders. While Shen Jiu still has to meet up with people sometimes for work, Wei Ying doesn’t, so he spends most of the time in the house or around in the garden. Shen Jiu also notices that Wei Ying has stopped wanting to explore the forests around their home, and attributed that to how badly scarred the little fox was after the incident.

Wei Ying is also noticeably more clingy now, treating Shen Jiu more and more like a parent and less like a mentor or a teacher. It’s a weird thing to get used to, Shen Jiu thinks, but it’s not something he’s uncomfortable with.

“Wei Ying,” Shen Jiu calls, knowing that the boy is probably hidden somewhere in his bedroom, “Come here, I need to tell you something.”

In an instant, Wei Ying is there, giving him one of his curious looks. “I’m going to Yunping soon, and I’ll have to pass by Lanling on my way there.”

Before he can even end his thoughts, Wei Ying is already making a displeased face and opening his mouth, “A-die, what if you get hurt when you’re in Lanling? Aren’t there a lot of cultivators around that area? What if one of them remembers you from that time?”

“I know it’s a risk, and I wish I wouldn’t have to, but it’s the easiest way to find the products I need for work.”

“Then, can I come with you to make sure you’ll be okay?”

“A-Ying, as much as I wish I could agree, you’re still a child who isn’t able to fight properly. Bringing you with me would make it even more dangerous, because they know you’re still a cub and weaker than a grown fox.”

Wei Ying still doesn’t look happy at the idea of Shen Jiu going alone, but nods and doesn’t ask about it anymore.

The next week, he tells A-Ying bye, before starting his journey to Yunping city. He hopes that this time it’ll be much calmer than the last one.

 

Shen Yuan is, decidedly, not the best person to transmigrate into a fantasy world: he has no idea of how this world works, and no idea of what on earth he’s supposed to be. He’s not human, for sure. He figured that out when he tried moving his legs, only for something else to move instead. He can assume, however, by the stares people around him are throwing at him, that he’s at least something vaguely resembling a human.

You see, he has barely any idea of how he ended up here either. All he remembers is eating something, feeling nauseous, and passing out. And then he woke up, in the middle of a busy city, with no memories of how he got there, much less who he transmigrated into.

After a few seconds spent trying to remember who the original person was- which resulted in no memories or explanations - he decided to walk around, trying to see if he would find something he knew, or someone who knew him.

Soon enough, as he crossed the wrong street and reached a particularly empty alley, he was met with a group of people dressed in yellow robes. Shen Yuan, having read some Wuxia and Xianxia novels, guessed that they were cultivators. Maybe the original guy was a member of a sect?

It soon didn’t seem so, as one of the cultivators yelled to the others to “go grab him” and, soon, they all pulled their swords and nets out.

To his credit, Shen Yuan did attempt to put up a fight, but soon found out that he had no idea how this body worked. He wasn't fully human, so the novels he read about cultivation seemed to not help at all. Due to his terrible fighting skills, he was easily captured and bound.

Not being able to change his fate, he sighed to himself about his unfortunate second ending, hoping that it would at least make him return back to the modern world. If he has to be buried, he wants it to at least be in his actual body, not in this new, foreign body where he still struggles to get his tails to stop moving at random.

He’s busy trying to figure out his last words when there’s suddenly a commotion, caused by a fox- a stronger, larger fox than he is- barging in and beginning to fight the cultivators. He finds himself brimming full with hope once he realizes that this fox is there for him, to help him. Or well, whoever he used to be.

The fox, he notes, is a seven tailed fox, signaling that it’s most likely very powerful and old. Shen Yuan has read some novels where fox spirits existed, but ones like the one in front of him were said to be rare and elusive.

Although the cultivators were quite strong in fighting him, they had almost no way of going against the seven tailed fox, who finished all four with only a small injury on his leg. Shen Yuan decided then and there that, no matter what happened to him, he would make sure to hug this fox’s thighs as best as he could.

After making sure that none of the cultivators would come back up, the seven tailed fox approached him, first cutting the rope that bound him, and then transformed into its human form and proceeded to check him for injuries. Shen Yuan did have some, but they were mostly scratches, and thus could be allowed to heal on their own. One of the injuries however, made the other shake his head a little, before turning to him

“What’s your name?” The fox asked, and Shen Yuan was caught off guard. This entire time, he expected the fox to know who he used to be, yet he genuinely sounded like he had never seen Shen Yuan before.

“My name is Shen Yuan, I’m new to this region. I didn't know the cultivators around here hunted foxes, so I got caught off guard by those guys.” He explained, hoping that the fox would take his explanation and not ask any difficult questions.

“I see, so you’re an outsider too, huh? Well, this zone right here is called Lanling. Here, fox hunting and breeding are considered legal, and even encouraged. If you want to live peacefully around here, you should avoid this area, and Qishan as well. Qinghe isn’t bad, but they do accept fox pelt, so hunters will just wait until you’re out of the protection zone to attack. Yunmeng, Yiling, and Gusu are the three places where you want to go, but especially Yiling, since the entire city is a fox zone.”

As Shen Yuan carefully listened to the explanation, a little voice in his head told him that some of those names sounded familiar. Maybe the original goods lived in one of those places.

“I have checked you over, and you seem to have had some sort of qi deviation, because your qi looks out of balance. You’ll probably not be able to be by yourself in those conditions, so I’d recommend you to go get treated at one of the sanctuaries around Gusu. I can also try to treat you, but I’m not as good at dealing with Qi deviations as they are.”

“If it’s possible, I’d like to stay with you. I’m still a little scared of the same thing happening to me on my way to Gusu, and I also don’t know how exactly I’d get there.”

Shen Jiu nodded, “Then we’ll go to Yiling for now.”

They then began walking to Yiling, where Shen Jiu lived. According to what Shen Jiu had explained, Yiling was almost a full fox town, with the only humans there being tax collectors and merchants. It was also a city where foxes had rights, so he wouldn’t have to worry about getting kidnapped or sold to a breeder.

“By the way, I forgot to mention something,” Shen Jiu started, and Shen Yuan froze for a second. What if he asked for payment or wanted him to do something weird?

“I don’t live alone, there’s an eight year old living there too. Because of something that happened recently, he’s quite wary of newcomers, so if he acts defensive, don’t worry. He’ll get used to you after a while”

“Is he your child?” Shen Yuan asked before he had the chance to stop himself.

“You could say that.” Shen Jiu said. Shen Yuan blinked, confused by what he said. “He’s not my blood child, but I’m his father figure,” he explains, and Shen Yuan nods. “His name is Wei Ying. I met him a few years ago when I was going to Gusu. From that day since, I’ve started to take care of him.”

After Shen Jiu’s explanation, they both walk in silence, Shen Yuan taking his time to look at the stunning scenery around him. This world, although similar to his own, wins easily in terms of beauty.

It takes them one shichen to reach Yiling. The city is much different from what he had initially expected. It’s beautiful and lively, with fox spirits of all sorts and levels of strength walking throughout the city. There’s all types of commerce around, and besides the fact that most of the inhabitants seem to be foxes, there’s almost no distinction between this city and Lanling.

“Do you live here?” Shen Yuan asks, enchanted by the beauty of the city.

“Me and A-Ying don’t live in the city. It’s too noisy and it would interfere with my work. We live in a house not too far away from here.”

The house, like Shen Jiu had explained, really wasn’t very far from the center of the city. It only took them another 20 minute or so walk to find the little house, surrounded by trees and with a beautiful garden next to it.

“I’m going in first, I need to prepare Wei Ying. If he sees you without an explanation first, he’ll end up getting upset and attacking you.” Shen Jiu explains, and Shen Yuan nods before patiently waiting for Shen Jiu to tell him it was okay to come in. It took around ten minutes for Shen Jiu to come out, looking visibly tired.

“A-Ying wasn't happy when he saw the injury, so he might be a little angry at you. Don’t worry, he’ll get better once he sees you’re not a threat.”

Shen Yuan knew there was a chance A-Ying wouldn’t like him- Shen Jiu had told him so, had said that he had a child with him and that the child was very protective of him.

Shen Jiu just never told him how protective Wei Ying actually was.

The little fox frowned at him as soon as he noticed him coming in, unhappiness clear in his silver eyes. Shen Jiu, observing the interaction, merely sighed, as if he had already resigned to it.

“Baba,” the child called, and Shen Jiu immediately turned to him, “Are you sure there’s no other way? What if he gets you hurt again? What if you meet cultivators because of him?”

“A-Ying, it’s okay, I promise you that you can trust him.” Wei Ying nodded, still frowning. After a moment of deliberation, he left his place beside Shen Jiu, and came in front of Shen Yuan. Suddenly, his expression had gone from unhappy to somewhat angry and annoyed.

“Baba got hurt because of you!” The eight year old exclaimed, fury evident on his little face. Shen Yuan has to stop himself from cooing at the sight. Baby foxes are truly adorable.

“Wei Ying,” Shen Jiu tries, “It wasn’t his fault, it’s because of the cultivators that I got hurt, not because of Yuan-ge.”

Shen Yuan blushes a little at being called Yuan-ge, even though he knows it’s Shen Jiu’s way of trying to get Wei Ying to stop seeing him as an outsider. Upon hearing the nickname, A-Ying’s scowl only deepens, and he gives him yet another glare.

“If it wasn't for him getting into trouble, you wouldn’t have gotten hurt, a-die.” Wei Ying explains, and Shen Jiu sighs, before gently picking up the child.

“A-Ying, Yuan-ge is like us, but he doesn’t have family and no one else could help him, which is why I saved him and took him in, okay? I know I ended up getting hurt and that’s why you’re worried, but it’s because I was the only one who could help him, just like I was the only one who could help you,” he reasons. The little fox doesn’t look the least bit happy about his explanation, but still nods, and fixes Shen Yuan with yet another glare:

“If you ever hurt or get a-die hurt again, I’ll personally make you pay.” he says, trying his best to sound and look threatening. After saying those words, the little kid turns back to Shen Jiu, and immediately latches onto him. Shen Jiu looks awkward, but quickly returns the hug.

It’s like this that the first week with Shen Jiu and Wei Ying passes, with Shen Jiu always busy at work and A-Ying making it a point to ignore Shen Yuan’s existence whenever he can. He has stopped complaining to Shen Jiu, but he makes the fact that he’s not pleased with Shen Yuan at all very clear.

It only starts to get a little better once he’s allowed to practice for the first time to try and get his unstable Qi fixed.

Shen Jiu had decided that it would be best to have him first try and use talismans, because those would be easier for him. He had also brought Wei Ying with him who, despite having an age similar to a small child in human years, was quite good at managing talismans.

Now looking at all the talismans in front of him, Shen Yuan realized that this was his best chance to explain to Shen Jiu that he had no idea of what he’s doing.

“Jiu-ge” he tried, immediately feeling a stare full of judgment coming from Wei Ying nearby, “I don’t remember how to use my Qi.”

Wei Ying, who had been annoyed up until now, immediately started laughing. “How are you an adult yet you can’t use qi?” He questioned, still in between laughs. Shen Yuan turned to Shen Jiu who, to his credit, was trying his best to not laugh at him.

“I must have known how to use it, that’s why I have three tails. But ever since I got captured, I’ve forgotten how to do it.” he explained, and the other two foxes immediately stopped laughing. Shen Yuan realized, belatedly, that the way he said it might not have sounded like he expected it to.

“It’s okay. You’re young, and since you’ve already formed a golden core, all you need to do now is remember and practice. Soon, you’ll be back to where you used to be.” Shen Jiu said, trying to soothe him. He was already aware of the possibility that, due to Shen Yuan’s Qi deviation, he would end up forgetting at least some of his cultivation techniques, but he wasn’t expecting this to be severe enough for Shen Yuan to forget even the most basic of principles.

“A-Ying, since we won’t be able to practice talismans today, you’re free to go and play for a while, okay?” Shen Jiu suggested. The cub, in a very uncharacteristic manner, simply nodded and left instead of whining or accusing Shen Yuan of bothering his baba.

After that incident, A-Ying seemed to be less judgemental of him, now merely ignoring him instead of throwing annoyed looks and accusations at him.

It was nothing to celebrate or write home about, but it made him feel like he was at least a little more welcomed by the child than before.

Chapter Text

Shen Yuan and Wei Ying’s learning behavior couldn’t have been more different if they tried. Even though Wei Ying was younger and not as strong as Shen Yuan, he usually mastered the concepts with only one try, while Shen Yuan needed to do it at least three times before he felt confident with it. Usually that would have meant Wei Ying mercilessly teasing and making fun of Shen Yuan’s lack of strength, but after their last conversation he had been giving Shen Yuan less of a hard time, and actually staying away and leaving him be. That didn’t necessarily mean Wei Ying accepted him, though.

With Shen Jiu locked in his room working, the two of them often spent time together, although they barely spoke, something that neither of them seemed to particularly care about. After all, Shen Yuan was still trying to figure out what he was and what exactly were his abilities, and Wei Ying was still not quite satisfied with the new addition to the house.

The only times they were required to interact were the ones where Shen Jiu was free and able to mentor both of them in their studies. So, for a shichen every week, they would have Shen Jiu correct their forms and teach them new arrays and talismans.

This, which was meant to be just like any other class he taught before, proved to be a big headache to Shen Jiu, once he realized just how bothersome having the two not interact would be.

At first, Shen Jiu had tried to accommodate them and allowed them minimum contact with each other, but once the questions became too many and too often- most likely due to a disgruntled Wei Ying seeing Shen Jiu paying attention to Shen Yuan’s questions and also making up something to ask- he had noticed that if they kept it that way, it would take years for them to finish the basics. The only way he could actually teach was if they finally started to depend on each other as well.

“Stop.” Shen Jiu had said as Wei Ying started to ask yet another question in the middle of Shen Yua voicing a problem, “I can answer some of your questions, but you two should first ask each other for help. For whatever concern you have, I can explain, but only after you two have discussed with each other. Otherwise it’ll be way too hard for me to keep up.”

They had, of course, tried to make him reconsider, but by the time they opened their mouth to voice it out loud Shen Jiu had already left the room, and now the two found themselves having to actually deal with each other.

“It’s your fault a-die left.” Wei Ying broke the silence.
“Before you came he used to only teach me, so he didn’t have to worry about giving time to someone else. Now you’re here and he can’t answer my questions like he used to.” he said, crossing his little arms in front of his chest, sounding not pleased at all with the other fox.

Shen Yuan kept himself from answering the taunt, and after being ignored for more than a minute, Wei Ying huffed and walked away, leaving the room with a resounding thud at the door.

This should have been the end of it. Certainly, after finding out how their few minutes alone went, Shen Jiu would just give up on having them studying together and just teach them separately.

He didn’t.

As soon as Shen Jiu figured out they had left the practice room instead of helping each other like he asked them to, he called them into his office.

“Since you two didn’t listen to me at all and instead decided to end practice, I won’t be teaching either of you for now.” Wei Ying was about to retort, but Shen Jiu merely shot him a glance and continued, “My directions were very clear, I wanted you two to bond and start relying on each other, yet not only did you two not listen to what I said, you also disobeyed me by ending practice early instead of training like I asked you both to. I can’t teach indisciplined students, so I won’t resume practice until both of you finally do what was asked of you.”

It was unusual for either of them to see Shen Jiu genuinely disappointed, so not even Wei Ying managed to stop him as he left the two behind.

“I know that you dislike me and that you think I’m here just to create trouble and steal your baba’s attention, but the earlier we both do what he asked for, the earlier he’ll be back to teaching.” Shen Yuan reasoned, and almost felt a pang of relief as he saw Wei Ying immediately start thinking about.

“Fine.” Wei Ying agreed after a few minutes of consideration. “But don’t forget, I’m not doing this because I trust you or because I want to be your friend, I’m doing this because it’s what baba asked me to do.” He said, and although Shen Yuan couldn’t see him, he could imagine the little boy putting one of his hands on his hips, while the other one pointed at him.

Now, 15 minutes later, both Shen Yuan and Wei Ying are ready to start practice.

Wei Ying continued to sport his rather disastisfied expression.

At least he agreed to train.

“So, what are you having trouble with?” Wei Ying asked suddenly, caughting Shen Yuan off guard. “I need to know what you’re having trouble with so we can go over it. Baba said we had to help each other with our weaknesses.” He clarified, sighing a little.

Albeit generally looking like and behaving like an actual child, sometimes Wei Ying acted almost like a little human, which was undoubtedly due to his fox years being so much longer than a normal human’s. Other times, on those rare moments where Wei Ying controlled his tail and ears enough for them to both disappear, Shen Yuan would find himself completely forgetting about the fact that he wasn’t indeed a human child.

“Shen Yuan?

Caught more or less daydreaming in the middle of class, Shen Yuan quickly caught himself and responded, “My arrays seem to work as they should, but whenever I try to use talismans they feel underwhelming, and I don’t know why. Jiu-ge told me to try and focus on my strokes, but even when I do they don’t send as much strength as I wished.”

Wei Ying nodded at his explanation, looking like he was in deep thought. Then after a few seconds, his expression seemed to light up, as he had probably found the cure.

“Shen Yuan, can you try and write a talisman for me? I want to see how you’re writing them.” He asked, coming closer to where Shen Yuan stood.

Shen Yuan nodded and tried his best to write one of the more simple talismans, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to do the more complex ones successfully. Upon watching his form, Wei Ying immediately stopped him, seemingly figuring out what he had been doing wrong.

“You’re putting the energy into the wrong spots. Usually when you write this particular talisman, your energy should be directed on stroke 2 and 5, yet you write it solely on stroke 1. That stroke is just a base, so it doesn’t need that much energy onto it.” Wei Ying explained, gesturing with his hands how the talisman was actually supposed to be written.

Shen Yuan tried again, writing it the way Wei Ying suggested, and found immediately that the talisman seemed much more effective now. He rewrote it a few more times again to test, and each time it worked better and better.

When, after a week-or-so of punishment, Shen Jiu asked them to demonstrate what they were helping each other with. Shen Yuan presented his new talismans, and Shen Jiu seemed pleased to find that his disciple had indeed figured out a better way to conjure talismans.

He praised both of them before giving them yet another light scolding, “You should both be each other’s supporters. Although I’ve been a teacher for many years, I can’t help you two with everything. Sometimes, when I’m busy or when I have to be outside Yiling for work, you two should try working together and perfecting what I teach in class.”

Both Wei Ying and Shen Yuan nodded, happy that Shen Jiu seemed pleased enough with their work to go back to teaching them.

 

After a month had passed, and it had become clear that Shen Yuan wouldn’t leave in the foreseeable future, Shen Jiu had decided to delegate him tasks. Namely, trying to help Wei Ying in the kitchen.

Now, although Wei Ying is a disaster when it comes to spices, he is considerably adept at cooking when that risk is eliminated. Shen Yuan, however, is a complete disaster no matter how you slice it.

Back in his original world, he had never really been required to cook, so his knowledge of cooking was limited to cracking eggs and making ramen. Which meant Wei Ying had to basically babysit him through the process.

“How come you’re an adult and you still don’t know how to cook?”’ Wei Ying had asked while teaching him for the fifth time how much water was needed to make rice, and what seasoning was required.

“I never needed it before.” Shen Yuan had answered, and then wished he had punched himself in the face instead once Wei Ying eyed him suspiciously. Noble and rich foxes were almost unheard of, with a lot of people refusing to make business with them or to pay them the price they’d pay a human. And even then, most of the well off foxes were the consorts of noblemen, having fortunes but being unable to enjoy or even use them.

“How come you never needed it before? How did you make your food then?” Wei Ying asked, and Shen Yuan froze before stuttering out a hastily explained response:

“From what I remember, I lived in the streets for most of my life. Since we pick our food from trash and other places, we don’t need to worry about making them.” He prayed that Wei Ying didn’t find any fault with his story. Except, rather than poking holes in the story, Wei Ying’s facial expression froze, and he immediately stopped what he was doing, only coming back when Shen Yuan called his name, asking him if he was okay.

“I’m fine, let’s finish the meal before Jiu-ge comes down to eat.” He had responded, before going back to the task at hand. For the rest of the meal prep, Wei Ying didn’t try to bother or tease Shen Yuan again, and he immediately went up to his bedroom after he finished his dinner, bowing and giving Shen Jiu a quick goodnight rather than staying down and trying to get more of Shen Jiu’s attention like he usually did..

“Did something happen? A-Ying isn’t usually this quiet unless he’s upset” Shen Jiu had asked him, sounding quite worried for the boy.

“He was fine when we were preparing food, but after I mentioned something about my past, his expression changed, and he even stopped criticizing what I was doing.” Shen Yuan said, rubbing the back of his neck as he explained the situation. He hoped Wei Ying hadn’t caught onto his lies and was about to tell Shen Jiu the truth, or he’d be in serious trouble.

“What did you tell him?” Shen Jiu asked, and Shen Yuan sweat a little, before answering:

“He asked me why I couldn’t cook well, so I told him that I didn’t need to cook when I lived in the streets.” he explained, and the expression on Shen Jiu changed immediately as he mentioned living in the streets.

“A-Ying is an orphan.” Shen Jiu said, “When his parents died, he didn’t have any family nearby, so he had to be in the streets to try and find food. When we met, he had just gotten hurt again, and was lying by an alley. I took him to an inn and helped heal his injuries”

Shen Yuan, who had not been expecting this type of backstory from Wei Ying, mentally slapped himself as he realized that he had just lied to a child who had actually lived in the conditions he described. Nice, now he was also someone with very questionable morals.

“That’s also part of the reason why he didn’t like you, you know? He’s very wary of strangers because when he was living in the streets, most of the adults didn’t help him at all. We also had another incident where we ran into cultivators, and that made him even more wary of others.”

Shen Yuan nodded at the explanation, not knowing exactly what to respond. He was both feeling guilty for lying to Wei Ying and awkward because he hadn’t expected this from him. He knew, of course, that the boy had his reasons for not liking him, but he didn’t expect them to be something like this.

 

The cooking incident, as Shen Yuan likes to call it, brought him and Wei Ying closer, but still not close enough for the little fox to actually trust him completely like he trusted Shen Jiu. But, if what Shen Jiu said before has any indication, it must have taken quite a while for Wei Ying to develop such a big feeling of trust in him as well.

Well, as long as he didn’t look he was about to murder Shen Yuan where he stood or give him one of his snarky remarks, Shen Yuan was pleased with the result.

Their increased trust of one another also made their weekly practice together much easier, with Wei Ying helping Shen Yuan more and even making sure that his explanations were easy for him to follow.

They were now having yet another of their review sessions, with Wei Ying trying to help Shen Yuan with yet another talisman.

“This particular talisman requires more strength on a few of the characters than others, let me show you” For now, Wei Ying was helping him with a particularly hard talisman, showing exactly what and where he should write if he wanted it to work as intended.

Although Shen Yuan had been improving, his knowledge and proficiency with talismans were always his downfall. The talismans were solely written in traditional Mandarin, and he had to keep himself from not simplifying some of the characters.

Wei Ying, on the other hand, was a monster at talismans, seamlessly mastering them, and even creating new ones as the occasion called for it. Shen Jiu had mentioned before that Wei Ying could possibly fight with only talismans if he wanted to, because his aptitude for them seemed to be pretty high.

Ironically, Wei Ying seemed to have an easy time remembering the characters, but a hard time writing them. Shen Yuan could almost feel the pained aura coming from Shen Jiu whenever he had to read the child’s essays.

Shen Yuan, despite being older, wasn’t much better. He had never learned calligraphy, so the traditional characters were rather confusing to him. Reading the books Shen Jiu assigned to him was also near impossible, so once they started reading more often he had to ask Wei Ying to explain some of the passages for him.

Shen Jiu, although not pleased, was understanding. It was indeed hard for fox spirits to learn how to write and read without human help, and most of them would rather never learn to than having to trust humans. For Shen Yuan, who had mentioned living in the streets, it would indeed be hard to find someone who could teach him how to write and read.

It took three years of constant tutoring and practice for Shen Yuan to be able to start reading the manuals and writing essays without feeling completely confused. Now, his handwriting was better than even Wei Ying, which, while not something that can exactly be celebrated (Wei Ying had one of the worst handwritings he’s ever had to read, and if Shen Yuan didn’t need extra notes on some of the lessons he would never attempt reading whatever hieroglyphs those things were.) All to say, Shen Yuan had finally, more or less, grown used to this world. It was still strange to him how years almost went on like months, but he was much less confused about other aspects of this world than he used to be when he first joined the two other foxes.

If Shen Yuan was being honest, he had even acquired some sort of fondness for this world. Although he still wished sometimes to go back to his own world, (particularly when Shen Jiu had given them a hard time in class) the thought of staying here no longer seemed to be as scary as it was when he had first opened his eyes in this new dimension.