The day Wei Wuxian was pulled back into consciousness from the dark depths of somewhere was the beginning of a life he never thought he would know.
Distantly, Mo Xuanyu’s anguished voice had woken him, begging for revenge and wishing pain on those who wronged him. Wei Wuxian had been utterly confused but he was gradually forced to understand the reasoning behind the young man’s request once he was on the receiving end of cruelty at the hands of the Mo family. He suddenly wished to protect this body, for it once belonged to a young man who had clearly done nothing to deserve such mistreatment.
He was content with this decision and made a silent vow to Mo Xuanyu, wherever his spirit wandered, to fulfill his desires for revenge.
It was simple. In another life, he was the Yiling Patriarch—feared by all, defeated by none.
At least, it was simple. Until the Lan Sect disciples arrived.
Seeing the young Lans, too young for him to recognize and yet so familiar all the same, sent aching pangs throughout his chest. How long had it been? Where was Lan Wangji after all these years?
The lead disciple—Lan Sizhui, he learned—reminded him of Lan Wangji so strongly that he was unable to hold the teenager’s gaze for more than a few moments.
Innocently, he thought this was the worst that the pain in his chest could possibly get. He was so very wrong. Sooner than he had intended, chaos broke out, shattering the calm silence of the night. The Mo family turned on each other so quickly that he hardly needed to lift a finger. All was well until suddenly it wasn’t. The Lan disciples had called for immediate backup as the resentful spirit rapidly became too much for them to handle.
Soon, their relieved calls of “Hanguang-Jun!” filled the restless night air.
Hidden from behind a pillar, Wei Wuxian watched in awe as Lan Wangji descended and single-handedly resolved the situation.
Familiarity ripped through his lungs, taking his breath with it. Lan Wangji always looked ethereal, but the visual changes he had undergone had done him well. He was broader than Wei Wuxian could remember—clearly he had gotten stronger. His cultivation had improved moreso, if such a feat were even possible. Lan Wangji had always been one of the strongest cultivators of their generation, and yet here he was, capable of subduing a particularly difficult spirit that had evaded all of the young Lan disciples combined.
Wei Wuxian sighed dramatically to himself. Lan Zhan would always be the greatest.
The following day, after the chaos in Mo Village had cleared and he set out in the general direction of Dafan Mountain, he saw Lan Wangji for a second time. Perhaps worse, he also saw Jiang Cheng.
The fierce tension between the two made his eyebrows rise toward his hairline. Jiang Cheng was always hotheaded and disagreeable, but he was impressively capable of dismantling Lan Wangji’s calm demeanor. Bitter hatred rolled off of Lan Wangji in waves. It surprised Wei Wuxian, causing him to wonder what had possibly happened during the years that he had missed.
When the Lan disciples, the Jiang disciples, and little Jin Ling all parted and went their separate ways, Lan Wangji had hesitated, lingering behind. As he slowly turned, Wei Wuxian caught an expression on Lan Wangji’s face that he would have trouble erasing from his memory for a very long time.
Lan Wangji looked… heartbreaking. He was utterly devastating, dressed head to toe in his delicate white mourning robes. His forehead was pinched in distress, as if his run-in with Jiang Cheng had set something off inside of him.
Wei Wuxian was not naïve enough to wonder if Lan Wangji was still mourning his death. Obviously he was not. Many years had passed since Wei Wuxian fell backward off the cliff in Nightless City, giving Lan Wangji plenty of time to stop mourning and perhaps forget his existence entirely.
The thought made Wei Wuxian’s heart ache, but he refused to acknowledge the feeling. Instead, he ducked further behind the tree, shielding himself from Lan Wangji’s line of vision.
Mere hours later, as he was whipped within an inch of his life by Jiang Cheng’s Zidian, he found himself wishing Lan Wangji had been present to protect him.
The Lan, Jin, and Jiang disciples had barely made a dent in the Goddess Statue that had ripped out of the cave temple at Dafan Mountain, so ultimately Wei Wuxian was left no choice but to try and control the statue with a hastily-crafted bamboo flute. He had accidentally summoned Wen Ning, who blessedly demolished the statue while simultaneously creating a whole host of new problems. Then, in the midst of his crisis, Jiang Cheng had arrived to make things exponentially worse.
“Who are you?” Jiang Cheng sneered, once Zidian had failed to reveal his true identity.
I’m not sure I know myself, Wei Wuxian thought as he lay flat on his stomach.
He tried to get up, fighting the pain caused by the whip. Before he could manage to stand Jiang Cheng reeled his arm back and whipped him again. And again. And again.
Black spots began to form in his vision. He remembered a time when he had received this same treatment from Yu Ziyuan, but she had been holding back. Compared to her, Jiang Cheng was using all of the energy he could muster up.
Distantly, he heard the cries of the Lan disciples begging for Jiang Cheng to stop.
The whip ceased but the pain remained. He was semi-unconscious, completely unaware of what was going on around him, until two strong arms under his knees and behind his back lifted him gently from the ground. His head lolled onto someone’s shoulder.
“We need to get him to a healer.” The soft voice of Lan Sizhui met his ears. So it was he who was carrying him, then.
“Should we take him back to Gusu with us?” Another Lan disciple asked. Lan Jingyi, was it? Wei Wuxian couldn’t quite remember anymore.
“I believe that would be safe,” Lan Sizhui replied.
As he was tenderly manhandled by Lan Sizhui, he surrendered consciousness to the agony searing beneath his skin.
When Wei Wuxian awoke, it was to the gentle feeling of a damp cloth being smoothed over his face.
“Mo Xuanyu? Can you hear me?”
He fought off his exhaustion, blinking awake slowly. A foreign, smiling woman hovered above him, a respectful distance away.
“Hello, Mo Xuanyu. Do you know where you are?”
He shook his head, wincing as a headache spread through his skull.
“You are at the Cloud Recesses. I am Lan Guang, a healer of the Lan Sect.”
He breathed in sharply. Was Lan Wangji here?
The healer, Lan Guang, mistook his intake of breath as one spurred by pain.
“Do not worry, Mo Xuanyu. You can remain here until you are fully healed. Sect Leader Lan already approved of that when the young disciples brought you in.”
He cleared his throat. “How long have I been here?”
“Three days,” she responded. At his shocked face, she continued, “I have been transferring energy to you occasionally, but your spiritual core is almost undetectable. Primarily I have been relying on traditional methods, treating the wounds on your back topically and administering liquid medicine.”
Wei Wuxian nodded, but he wasn’t really listening to her as she spoke. He was more concerned with how he could escape from the Cloud Recesses while being too injured to walk.
His longing gaze out the window must have given him away; Lan Guang stopped his train of thought before it could progress to a proper plan. “You need rest, Mo Xuanyu. Don’t even think about leaving here until you’re fully healed.” She draped the damp cloth over the side of the water basin beside his head. “I will be back to check on you later. For now, just rest.”
Between the pain and the exhaustion, he was too weak to argue with her.
The next time he woke he was face to face with Lan Sizhui. The junior disciple jumped back in alarm when his eyes fluttered open.
“Senior Mo!” he greeted with a gentle smile. “How are you feeling?”
“Sore,” Wei Wuxian groaned. “Tired. Annoyed.”
Lan Sizhui nodded in understanding. “I hope you’re getting adequate rest here.”
“Thank you for bringing me here, young Lan disciple.”
“Please, Senior Mo, just call me Sizhui.”
Wei Wuxian grinned brilliantly. “Alright. Sizhui it is.”
Something about the teenage boy was so familiar. He wondered which Lan disciple had raised him—his mannerisms were so polite and precise. Beyond his actions and words, Lan Sizhui’s face itself was painfully familiar, but Wei Wuxian couldn’t quite place why.
Unaware of his internal musings, Lan Sizhui offered his hand. “Would you like to get up? The healers have been repositioning you with pillows to prevent bedsores, but I can help you if you’d like to walk around for a little bit. Maybe you’d like to step outside for some fresh air?”
Wei Wuxian merely nodded and grasped his hand, cautiously pulling himself up into a sitting position. The pain in his back protested against his every move, but it was gradually becoming duller. Either he was healing, or the Lan healers had some immensely effective medicine. He wasn’t complaining either way.
When he managed to stand from the bed, Lan Sizhui supported him with an arm around his shoulders, careful to avoid his healing wounds. He hissed audibly as his back screamed in torment, but when Lan Sizhui paused and asked if this was a bad idea, Wei Wuxian shook his head.
“Don’t worry, Sizhui. A little exercise won’t hurt me.”
Together, they slowly made their way to the door of the healing clinic where he had resided for the last few days and nights. Wei Wuxian primarily leaned on Lan Sizhui for support, practically dragging his feet along, but as they stepped outside and the warm sunlight danced on his pale skin, he felt more energized than he had since Mo Xuanyu resurrected him in the first place.
Briefly, he panicked. Would any of the Lan disciples recognize him? Not as Wei Wuxian, since he clearly wore Mo Xuanyu’s face, but as Mo Xuanyu himself? He knew far too little about the young man’s history—aside from his banishment from the Jin Sect—to feel comfortable.
Fortunately, as various Lan disciples of young and old passed him by, nobody acknowledged his presence.
“How are you feeling, Senior Mo? Should we stop?” Lan Sizhui’s voice pulled him from his worries.
“No no, I’m okay. Please, keep going,” he requested.
Despite his concerns, Lan Sizhui proceeded forward. The two traversed the level paths of the Cloud Recesses, careful to avoid bumping into anybody.
It wasn’t until they turned a corner that Wei Wuxian thought that perhaps this was a bad idea after all.
There, walking directly toward them, was Lan Wangji.
Wei Wuxian hoped, begged, prayed that Lan Wangji was too busy to notice or care, until—
“Hanguang-Jun!” Lan Sizhui used his free arm to wave. Shit .
Lan Wangji carried himself over toward them. “Sizhui. Mo Xuanyu.”
Wei Wuxian awkwardly tried to bend into a formal bow, but the pain prevented him from doing so properly. “Hanguang-Jun,” he greeted.
“How are you feeling?” Lan Wangji asked.
“Better. Definitely a lot better. The wounds are still healing, but little Sizhui here has gotten me out of bed, so they can’t be too bad!”
Being so close to Lan Wangji and being unable to tell him who he really was felt frustrating. From such a short distance, Wei Wuxian could see the barest hint of wrinkles along the sides of the other man’s eyes. His face had thinned out, highlighting his prominent cheekbones. His shoulders were definitely broader and Wei Wuxian firmly believed that underneath the delicate fabric of his white robes, he had likely bulked up and gained some muscle in the years prior. If the young Lan Wangji, Second Jade of Lan, was known as being one of the most beautiful men in all of the land, this older Lan Wangji still maintained that title; Wei Wuxian was sure of it.
“Senior Mo seems to be healing nicely under the care of our healers.” Lan Sizhui beamed from beside him.
“I will be sure to thank them,” Lan Wangji promised.
Wei Wuxian piped up. “Please thank Sect Leader Lan for letting me stay, as well!”
Lan Wangji nodded. “Mn.” Then, he turned to Lan Sizhui. “Will you accompany myself and my brother for dinner tonight? We would like to go over the events you witnessed once more before we try to extract the sword spirit.”
Wei Wuxian’s brain shut down. Father? Father? Lan Wangji was Lan Sizhui’s—
No, that couldn’t be. It wouldn’t make any sense. There was no way Wei Wuxian had been dead for that long. Unless… was he? Lan Sizhui was, what, sixteen? Seventeen? If Wei Wuxian had been gone for that long, it would be logistically possible for Lan Wangji to have born a son. And yet, Lan Wangji was always so reserved. Wei Wuxian simply couldn’t imagine him falling in love. And… to have a child? Lan Wangji barely tolerated when Wei Wuxian touched him, let alone actually having…
He felt his face gradually beginning to flush red. Heat crept up his ears.
“Senior Mo, are you alright?”
“Y-Yes!” he stammered, “I was merely unaware that the esteemed Hanguang-Jun had a son.”
“Mn,” Lan Wangji confirmed.
Wei Wuxian stared longer at Lan Wangji than was appropriate, but he couldn’t help himself. Lan Wangji, a wife, and a child? It was unbelievable.
Caught in the piercing gaze of those golden eyes, he felt anxiety bubbling in his chest, worsened by a deep ache that he had never felt before. I need to leave, he thought. Fast.
Suddenly, he hissed dramatically, pinching his face into a picture of pain. “Ah! Ah!” He bent at the knees, as if becoming weak.
“Senior Mo! What happened?” Lan Sizhui tightened his grip around his shoulders.
“Sorry, Sizhui! Just a wave of pain.” He grimaced.
“Sizhui, get him back to the healers. Let them take care of him,” Lan Wangji instructed.
“Yes, Father.” Lan Sizhui carefully turned Wei Wuxian in the opposite direction, slowly walking him back toward the healer’s pavilion.
The walk back was a blur. The anxiety made Wei Wuxian physically dizzy, so feigning illness was an easy task. Once Sizhui handed him off to Lan Guang and the two of them helped him get settled back into bed, he was lulled to sleep by a particularly strong medicine before he could even think about which lucky woman Lan Wangji had married.
Hours later—in the middle of the night, based on the darkness outside—he woke, hazy from both the medication and his brief panic attack.
Alone in the silence of the night he let his mind wander back to Lan Wangji.
His wife must be devastatingly gorgeous. Or perhaps not, as Lan Wangji seemed like the kind of man who would prioritize a woman’s personality over her looks. He was gentlemanly like that.
Still, something about the entire situation struck him as odd. He had not heard any mention of a Madam Lan, despite being in and out of consciousness for days. Additionally, Lan Wangji had asked Lan Sizhui to accompany him and his brother for dinner. There was no mention of a wife being present.
Based on what little Wei Wuxian knew of the Cloud Recesses, he scrubbed his admittedly poor memory for any women he had remembered seeing here, both in his previous life and now. Aside from Lan Guang, he was almost positive that he had never even seen a woman in the Cloud Recesses. Was there a Lan Sect rule preventing women from living among the inner disciples? Possibly, to prevent the male disciples from being too distracted from their studies and training.
But if there wasn’t a rule against women…
Suddenly he remembered Lan Wangji’s heavy, intricate mourning robes. Each time Wei Wuxian had seen him, he had been wearing a freshly laundered set. So Lan Wangji was mourning—
Oh. Oh no.
Sometime after he died, a wonderfully lucky young woman must have been capable of cracking through Lan Wangji’s impassiveness. They wed and conceived Lan Sizhui, whom they raised to be a perfect Lan disciple. Maybe she even had the power to make Lan Wangji smile sometimes.
Then, she must have died.
Wei Wuxian knew the anguish of loss. He had lost his parents, then his adoptive parents, and then his sister. He had also lost Wen Qing, Wen Ning, Wen Yuan… He knew so much grief and loss. He knew how it ate a person alive on the inside.
And yet, despite all of the losses he himself had borne, he found himself silently weeping over Lan Wangji’s deceased wife.
He spent the rest of the night with a steady stream of tears rolling down his face, anguished over the mere fact that such a good man must have had to suffer such a tragic heartbreak.
When Lan Guang came to check on him the following morning, she wiped away the remnants of tear stains on his cheeks with a damp cloth and decided to increase his medicine for the day. He was evidently in great pain.
Lan Wangji was far too busy to be occupied by a temporary guest to the Cloud Recesses. He had built up a reputation over the past decade—“wherever the chaos is”. There was a sword ghost being isolated in the Mingshi, thus far unable to be controlled successfully by any disciples. Embarrassingly, he himself had also tried and failed. He had more pressing matters to attend to than an injured Mo Xuanyu.
And yet, far past curfew in the Cloud Recesses, he unfortunately found himself quite preoccupied.
To his credit, Mo Xuanyu did not know the rules, as he had never visited the Cloud Recesses prior and he was not conscious enough to receive a truncated version of the rules upon his arrival.
So when Lan Wangji saw the young man wandering around past curfew, he ultimately chose to take it easy on him.
“Mo Xuanyu,” he spoke, barely loud enough to break the silent evening air.
The young man nearly leapt out of his skin.
“La-H-Hanguang-Jun!” he stuttered in surprise. He formed a rushed but polite bow.
“It is past curfew.” Lan Wangji pretended not to notice his nervousness.
Mo Xuanyu puffed out his chest. “Aiyah, Hanguang-Jun! Do you really follow all of these stuffy rules?” He gestured behind him toward the Wall of Discipline. In recent years, there was a new stone tablet placed alongside the original one that Lan Wangji had grown up with. This new tablet included an additional one thousand rules that primarily banned anything moderately related to demonic cultivation.
Among those, “do not gravely injure Sect Elders” was practically illuminated in Lan Wangji’s vision.
Mo Xuanyu was still complaining. “…I’m not sure if I can follow all of these, Hanguang-Jun! It seems like far too much to remember.” Then, a sly grin that made the tips of Lan Wangji’s ears burn red. “What is my punishment if I break any?”
Lan Wangji sincerely hoped Mo Xuanyu could not see his blush under the icy moonlight.
“Transcribe the disciplines,” he responded matter-of-factly.
Mo Xuanyu had the nerve to whine. “Hanguang-Jun! That’s so boring! Couldn’t you punish me another way?”
Aloud, Lan Wangji merely muttered, “Shameless.” Internally, his chest ached amidst a fiery battle. Mo Xuanyu reminded him rather painfully of his Wei Ying. The young man’s unabashed flirting, argumentation toward the disciplines, and overall body language sent Lan Wangji’s mind back in time to the night in which he had first met Wei Wuxian. His robes were illuminated by the moon, and the two bottles of Emperor’s Smile that he had carried cast beams of light that caught Lan Wangji’s eye. Lan Wangji remembered wanting to fight him, wanting to break him down, this impertinent Jiang Sect disciple who seemingly wanted nothing more than to grind on his nerves.
Surprisingly, Wei Wuxian had held his own in a sword fight. Lan Wangji struggled to fight back a smile at the memory of them sparring, perfectly each other’s equal. He would give anything to be able to fight with the man again, if he could have nothing else.
Oblivious to Lan Wangji’s internal struggles, Mo Xuanyu was still chattering away. “…I can’t imagine living here my whole life! You can’t honestly tell me that sometimes you don’t feel the urge to just up and leave, to break away from so many rules and rigidity and formality.”
Lan Wangji waited patiently for this small rant to end. No interrupting the speech of others. “Rules are meant to be followed.”
Mo Xuanyu broke out into boisterous laughter that completely shattered the silence of the night. “No, no, Hanguang-Jun! Rules are made to be broken!”
Heat began to rise in Lan Wangji’s face, this time out of anger as opposed to embarrassment. “Do not break the rules or else you will face punishment.”
Angering him further, Mo Xuanyu began to laugh harder at that comment. Clutching his stomach, the young man turned around and began to walk away from Lan Wangji, facing the direction of the healer’s pavilion. As he spun on his heel, Lan Wangji noticed for the first time that he wore a long, red satin ribbon in his hair. The very sight of a red ribbon against dark hair, something he had missed for so long, brought an immediate tear to his eye. Mo Xuanyu was still walking away and could not see as it ran loose down Lan Wangji’s right cheek.
He called over his shoulder, pale hands waving in the moonlight, “Goodnight, Hanguang-Jun! I’ll be sure to come to you if I break any rules!”
Lan Wangji was unsure of how long he stood there to watch the soft swishing of the red ribbon in Mo Xuanyu’s hair as he retreated. For a moment, it was not Mo Xuanyu. For a moment, it was Wei Ying, and they were both much younger than Lan Wangji was now. The satin ribbon arched through the air as he sprinted away, reminding Lan Wangji of why red was simultaneously his favourite and most hated colour.
Wei Wuxian was struggling, to say the least.
He had never particularly enjoyed his stay at the Cloud Recesses when he had stayed there to study in his previous life. Despite the beautiful sight of the great waterfalls that spilled out from the cliffs above, his memories of this place were typically marred by weeks of punishments. Being holed up in the library each day, transcribing the same unnecessary disciplines over and over again, never really left him feeling very pleased with the Cloud Recesses overall.
Now, he was struggling for a different reason.
He wanted to see Lan Wangji. He wanted to follow him around, chattering his ear off, and prodding the Second Jade of Lan into filling him in on what he had missed in the years of his death. How was Lan Xichen doing? Why did Lan Wangji and Jiang Cheng seem to hate each other? Was Jin Guangshan still alive or had he drank himself to death at some point? How did it feel to be a father?
He couldn’t do any of that. As Mo Xuanyu, he had no excuse to be following Lan Wangji around. The esteemed Hanguang-Jun was continually busy, taking care of practically every task—major or minor—that fell just below Lan Xichen’s radar. Every time Wei Wuxian saw him, he was either leaving on a trip out of Gusu or just returning. The junior disciples were constantly at his heels. On top of that, he caught wind of the fact that Lan Wangji was teaching lessons to the junior disciples now. Briefly, Wei Wuxian wondered if Lan Wangji’s lessons ever covered the life and death of the Yiling Patriarch, but he wished that idea away as quickly as it came.
Still, Wei Wuxian was barely given an opportunity to speak with Lan Wangji—and whenever he did, he felt as though he was going to burst. He felt an overwhelming urge to tell Lan Wangji precisely who he was. Multiple times he had to physically bite his tongue to cut himself off from blurting out the truth. Instead, he would stand there, the robust metallic taste of blood filling his mouth, mentally screaming, “It’s me, Lan Zhan! I came back, I’m here!”
So much had changed since he died. Lan Wangji was a father, and a widower, and a very busy man all-around. Perhaps it would be better for both of them if he kept his distance.
According to Lan Guang, he was almost back to full health, so soon he would be given no choice but to leave Gusu and wander elsewhere. The thought made him feel… cold.
Of course, he wouldn’t really want to stay in Gusu. There were far too many rules and far too many orders. Wei Wuxian was a wanderer by nature, eager to spread his wings and see what the rest of the world had to offer. He craved the ability to travel, to taste foreign foods and spices, to savour unfamiliar wine. He had never been the type to wish to settle down in one place and call it home.
However, as Mo Xuanyu, he did not have a home. He was banned from the Jin Sect for some ungodly reason, he could hardly return to Mo Village, and the Lan Sect would not tolerate the presence of an outsider beyond the length of time that was strictly necessary. The Jiang Sect was clearly not an option for obvious reasons, and was the Nie Sect even still around nowadays? He hadn’t heard anything about them at all.
It should be a gift, he thought. All of those years he spent throughout his adolescence, chasing his dream of being a lone wolf without a fixed address, and now he was being given the opportunity without any fuss.
Still, it would be nice to have the reassurance that there would always be a place to which he could return. Years ago, he had imagined himself travelling the land, bringing back souvenirs and memories from his journeys for Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli. In his mind, his sister would tsk at him in worry when he would tell her about how he ended up thrown into a lake after a nasty tavern fight, but she would throw her head back with giggles when he would tell her exactly how he had gotten his hands on so many different herbs and spices.
In the life that he had carved out in his imagination, he always had the comfort of being able to return home if necessary, even just for a brief rest.
Now, knowing he was given no choice but to roam without a home to return to, he felt downright lonely.
As if somehow sensing his worry, Lan Xichen arrived in his private section of the healer’s pavilion just in time for Wei Wuxian to have finished eating dinner. Lan Sizhui trailed behind him, looking somewhat sheepish, yet also a touch hopeful.
“Good evening, Mo Xuanyu,” Lan Xichen greeted. When Wei Wuxian scrambled to rise from the low table and bow, the Sect Leader stopped him with outstretched arms. “No need. Please, remain seated.”
Wei Wuxian smiled gratefully. “Good evening, Sect Leader Lan, and Sizhui. What brings you two to visit me?”
Subtly, Lan Xichen tossed a brief glance to Lan Sizhui who now stood beside him.
“If I may be honest, Mo Xuanyu, I am a bit concerned. Sizhui was just telling me that due to the events in Mo Village, he believes you have nowhere to go.”
Wei Wuxian rubbed the back of his head bashfully. “I hate to admit it, Sect Leader, but your junior disciple is correct.”
“I heard you had been practicing cultivation during your time at Lanling Jin.”
“W-Well, yes…” he stammered, taken aback.
Lan Xichen smiled softly. The familiarity of his expression threw Wei Wuxian back to the past for a moment. “Mo Xuanyu, I’d like to assure you that I am unaware of the events that took place in Lanling that led to your expulsion, therefore I am completely neutral.”
Based on the soft twinkle in his eye, Wei Wuxian wondered if that was wholly true. Regardless, he smiled in return and clasped his hands together. “Thank you, Sect Leader. I would like to leave my old life behind me,” he lied smoothly.
“Mn, I understand. That brings me to my reason for visiting.” Lan Xichen reached into his sleeve, pulling out a small object. He extended his closed hand forward, and when Wei Wuxian raised his own, palm facing toward the sky, Lan Xichen dropped a heavy jade token into his hand.
Wei Wuxian stared down at it in surprise. The elegantly carved token bore the symbol of the Lan Sect. The jade used to craft it was almost marbled in appearance, with soft white ripples throughout. It was soft to the touch, like a stone turned over for centuries by the tide, and Wei Wuxian marvelled at the simple beauty in his hands.
Lan Xichen continued. “I would like to extend the offer for you to continue learning to cultivate here in the Cloud Recesses.”
Wei Wuxian was nothing less than shocked. The opportunity seemed almost too good to pass up, but the thought of being bolted down somewhere permanently was anxiety-inducing—especially here, where there were far too many rules. At the same time, he was practically gifted a new golden core when Mo Xuanyu enacted the Sacrifice Summon, and now he was being given the chance to make it stronger. He was not naïve; he would probably never achieve the same strength that he had in his old body, but he would have something.
Lan Wangji always told him to cultivate the good path and Wei Wuxian only turned to demonic cultivation when he was given no other choice. With this opportunity, perhaps he could make something of himself in this new, foreign body.
Later that night, lying awake in the dark, he told himself that that was the reason he agreed to stay. He wanted to get stronger, and he wanted to have a purpose.
In actuality, it had been the fleeting thought of Lan Wangji that caused him to accept Lan Xichen’s offer with genuine graciousness.
Over the past few weeks, Lan Wangji had begun to take note of Mo Xuanyu’s increased presence in the Cloud Recesses. His brother had informed him, rather hastily one morning, that the young man had accepted his offer to stay and cultivate in Gusu. Lan Xichen neglected to mention several important things, including the fact that Mo Xuanyu would be privy to some of Lan Wangji’s lessons on meditation and musical composition.
The first time Lan Wangji saw him during a class, Mo Xuanyu had been throwing his head back with laughter at something Lan Jingyi had said. The moment Lan Wangji had entered the room, all of the disciples straightened their posture, ceased talking, and folded their hands delicately in their laps.
Except for Mo Xuanyu.
The young man seemed to have missed the cue. He was practically laying down on the floor in front of his table, having fallen over from laughing and clutching his stomach. Despite being the eldest ‘student’ in the room, Mo Xuanyu was far from studious and clearly had yet to grasp the Lan Sect disciplines. Perhaps he had not even read them.
Lan Wangji approached his table silently, staring down at him until the younger man finally acknowledged his presence.
“Ah, Hanguang-Jun! Good morning!” he greeted, seeming genuinely unaware of his disruption and lack of couth.
“No excessive noise. Do not smile foolishly. Do not laugh for ridiculous reasons,” Lan Wangji listed off Mo Xuanyu’s oversights.
“It wasn’t ridiculous, Lan- Hanguang-Jun! Would you like to hear the joke?” he beamed.
“No.” Lan Wangji left no room for argument. For good measure, he added, “Silence.”
Instructing that class had to be the closest thing he had felt to torture in over a decade. For a class on meditation and the healing powers of the mind, there were far too many questions. Mo Xuanyu was a constant disruption.
The second time he ended up in one of Lan Wangji’s lectures, it was during his teachings on musical composition. Quite literally during, as Lan Wangji had already started conducting the lesson when Mo Xuanyu stumbled in late, hair unbrushed and clothing unlaundered.
Slept in. Disrupted a lecture. Unruly appearance. Lan Wangji riddled off each of Mo Xuanyu’s broken rules in his mind as the young man scrambled to an empty table. Lan Wangji began to wonder if he would inevitably suffer a qi deviation before he turned 40. It seemed more plausible with each passing day.
For the most part, Lan Wangji had managed to avoid thinking much of Mo Xuanyu aside from his continual annoyances.
At least, until Mo Xuanyu selected his spiritual instrument to be the dizi.
The sight before Lan Wangji felt like harsh punishment from the gods, but he could not possibly understand what he had done wrong to deserve this.
Mo Xuanyu, with his red satin ribbon, sat at his low table and twirled the dizi between his fingers. The action was achingly familiar, so much so that Lan Wangji wanted nothing more than to walk out the door and never return.
He watched with a bleeding heart as the young man traced over the intricately carved details with a soft fingertip, gingerly holding the instrument and smiling down at it as though it held the secret to something bigger.
Lan Wangji had to physically tear his gaze away, but it did nothing to settle the pain in his chest. The feeling rooted itself there and remained throughout the rest of the day. Minor distractions lessened it a little, but the moment he was left alone with his thoughts, the aching returned. The longing will never go away, he gently reminded himself, although it did not help in the slightest.
That evening, he was trying his best to keep his mind occupied for as long as possible. He was watering the vibrant gentian flowers outside of the Jingshi, inspecting each little bud to check its growth. He took care to avoid disturbing a particularly determined bumblebee while it drank the sweet nectar from the flowers.
He was so occupied with his ministrations that he almost missed the sound of someone approaching on the walkway behind him. Almost.
He assumed it was Sizhui, or perhaps Lan Xichen, so he initially did not react very quickly. But as he glanced over his shoulder to greet his guest, his heart began to hammer against his ribs. The deep ache in his chest bloomed, desperate to make its new home in his garden.
There he stood, the living reminder of Wei Wuxian’s existence, cradling his brand new dizi in his hands.
“Mo Xuanyu,” Lan Wangji said, trying desperately to remain calm on the outside. “How can I help you?”
The young man blushed softly. “I wanted to see Hanguang-Jun. A-About the musical composition class today!” He emitted a few small, nervous giggles. “I had some questions and Zewu-Jun told me I could find you here.”
Lan Wangji wracked his brain for any suitable way to deny this request, but he simply could not.
“Of course,” he spoke quietly. “Please come inside.”
Walking behind him was a terrible decision. From behind, Mo Xuanyu was practically identical to Wei Wuxian, albeit slightly shorter and scrawnier. His red ribbon stood out starkly against his long, dark hair, and the soft saunter of his hips was so familiar that Lan Wangji could almost—for a brief moment—imagine that he was back in the past again.
He watched as the man who bore a striking resemblance to his only love swept his sparkling eyes around the interior of the Jingshi, enraptured by all of the minute details and designs. If he closed his eyes, Lan Wangji could savour this image, storing it away in the part of his brain wholly dedicated to never forgetting Wei Wuxian. But Wei Wuxian had never gotten to see the inside of the Jingshi and he never would.
Opening his eyes again was almost too painful.
Mo Xuanyu was staring back at him innocently, twirling the dizi between his fingers in that way that made Lan Wangji feel as though he was spiralling down. He breathed deeply, regaining what little was left of his composure.
“You have questions?” he asked.
Mo Xuanyu smiled sheepishly. “Well, I’m having a bit of trouble imagining what it will feel like when I can fully utilize this as a spiritual tool. You told us in your lesson to channel our energy into the instrument and feel for the tug as it pulls energy from our golden cores.”
“Well… I’m struggling with that part. My spiritual core is so small, almost invisible. I can barely feel it myself unless I really concentrate on it.” He stared down at his feet, a picture of shyness. “I know how to play the dizi already, but I’m having trouble linking the two together.”
Lan Wangji was not surprised by that information at all. “I agree.”
Mo Xuanyu raised his head again. “Huh?”
“You are very skilled at playing. Only minor improvements necessary. But,” Lan Wangji was unsure of how to word his next sentence politely, “you play like a mediocre person, not a cultivator. You lack strength.”
Mo Xuanyu chuckled meekly. “I was afraid you would say that.”
“Keep practicing your instrument, but in order to make it your spiritual tool, you must focus your efforts elsewhere. Cultivate a stronger golden core and you will start to feel the difference.”
Mo Xuanyu nodded graciously. “Thank you, Hanguang-Jun.”
A calm silence filled the air between them as they stared at each other, neither one moving nor speaking.
Lan Wangji sensed that there was an alternate purpose behind Mo Xuanyu’s visit.
“Do you have any more questions?”
“N-No, that was it! Just… feeling sort of frustrated because of it, that’s all.” Mo Xuanyu anxiously rubbed the back of his head.
Lan Wangji clearly did not believe him, but he let it slide. “Some frustration is normal when cultivating a new core, but do not let it consume you. Avoid distractions.”
“T-Thank you, Hanguang-Jun!”
And with that, Mo Xuanyu fled from the Jingshi, but not quite fast enough to be considered running.
Lan Wangji watched him go until his red ribbon was no longer in sight.
Wei Wuxian had come to a sudden realization.
It was a highly inconvenient realization, one that could potentially get him kicked out of the Cloud Recesses entirely. It distracted him from his practice, his lessons, his meditation. Even the minimal act of eating his meals each day was disrupted by this new awareness. He was also struggling to be subtle about his new problem; Lan Wangji had begun to notice his lack of focus and was taking extra steps to ensure Wei Wuxian was paying attention during the scattered lesson he taught. The Second Jade of Lan called upon Wei Wuxian more frequently, and even went out of his way to speak to him after a couple of lectures wherein Wei Wuxian had appeared uncharacteristically distant.
This had the opposite effect entirely, given that Lan Wangji was the problem.
Wei Wuxian was hopelessly, madly, painfully, terribly, wildly in love.
Most nights, he lay awake in endless frustration, head full of thoughts of Lan Wangji. His small, temporary home—a guest house just outside of the student dormitories, as he was slightly too old to reside with the junior disciples—was far too quiet in the dead of the night. Without distractions, he was forced to think about his problem, often staying awake until it was nearly daybreak and he had to rise again.
Lan Wangji was slowly killing him, he decided.
He had also come to a secondary realization: he liked men. Or, at least one man. Initially he blamed this entire issue on Mo Xuanyu’s biology—the man had been known to be a cut-sleeve, after all. Perhaps, because he was inhabiting Mo Xuanyu’s body, he reacted physically to men in the same way that Mo Xuanyu would have.
Of course, he was terribly wrong.
With each passing sleepless night, as he mulled over his minimal interactions with Lan Wangji and compared them to his memories from his previous life, his third—and perhaps most significant—realization practically smacked into him like a fierce corpse: he had been in love with Lan Wangji back when they were teenagers as well.
The way he felt now was eerily similar to the way his heartbeat used to pound when he was around the other man. Back then, he had brushed it off as merely close friendship. Lan Wangji had been the only person who remained steadfast by his side through all of the grief and turmoil. His unwavering loyalty had been one of the few constant things that Wei Wuxian was able to grasp onto, and when he died, he selfishly took it with him.
It was only natural for Wei Wuxian to have fallen in love with him back then, but he was too distracted by the fact that the entire cultivation world wanted him dead to realize it. Any opportunity to act on his feelings was severed the moment he stepped off the cliff at Nightless City.
Wei Wuxian could only hope that Lan Wangji hadn’t mourned him for long.
One night, when he was feeling particularly fond, he shed quite a few tears thinking of how Mo Xuanyu had given him this second chance at life, somehow steering him right back to Lan Wangji’s path as if he knew. It was impossible, of course; Mo Xuanyu had been only a child when the Yiling Patriarch died. Indeed, it was a cosmic coincidence of the highest degree and Wei Wuxian silently vowed to not waste it.
After attending another of Lan Wangji’s lectures, Wei Wuxian had gone out of his way to speak to the Twin Jade privately to discuss the content in greater detail. During their conversation, he had made a convenient pun that he was particularly proud of, but he never expected Lan Wangji to react beyond his usual irritated expression.
So when Lan Wangji’s face cracked into a small smile in response, Wei Wuxian felt a corresponding crack in his heart.
Tonight, he lay awake suffering from the pain of a fourth and final realization: Lan Wangji did not smile for him, he smiled for Mo Xuanyu. Lan Wangji cannot see him. Lan Wangji will never see him, as he was, again.
He craved Lan Wangji’s attention like a good wine, something to dull the noise when his thoughts were too loud. Something to take the edge off from the longing that he has endured for weeks on end.
He wanted nothing more than to burst through the doors of the Jingshi in the middle of the night and beg Lan Wangji to truly see him, the real him. Not Mo Xuanyu but Wei Wuxian, the man Lan Wangji had once believed to be his lifelong confidant.
But there were multiple reasons why he couldn’t possibly do that. First, Lan Wangji would never believe him. Wei Wuxian had been dead for years now and Lan Wangji had evidently forgotten all about his old friend. Second, Lan Wangji was still mourning the loss of his wife, endlessly adorned in his mourning robes. He would be a dreadful friend to create more problems at a time when Lan Wangji was already struggling. Third, the pain of knowing Lan Wangji would never reciprocate his feelings would be far too much to bear. He would rather fall off the cliff at Nightless City ten times over than face that reality.
So instead, he carried on with strengthening his core and improving his cultivation with a new end goal: as soon as he was strong enough, he would leave Gusu, destroy his jade token, and never look back.
It was what Lan Wangji deserved.
Lan Wangji was beginning to believe the fire in his chest would never be extinguished.
Every time he saw Mo Xuanyu, it flared to new heights. When the young man smiled and laughed, his eyes crinkling softly around the edges, Lan Wangji’s heart began to beat noticeably faster. When he asked to speak with Lan Wangji privately, asking a never-ending repertoire of questions, Lan Wangji had to constantly tear his eyes away from his mouth, watching as his soft lips curled around each syllable. On the rare occasion that he visited the Jingshi, Lan Wangji had to steer Mo Xuanyu far away from his bed, as the closer he got to it the greater Lan Wangji felt the urge to lay him down onto it.
This is betrayal, a stern voice in his head reminded him.
But when Mo Xuanyu flirted with him, openly and without abandon, Lan Wangji found himself wishing it were in his nature to reciprocate. To show this man that he felt it too—that exhilarating spark of joy and the craving for more.
Far past curfew, he sat up at the low table. He was surrounded by darkness aside from a small tealight candle on the table in front of him. He started down into it, watching the flame flicker back and forth as the air shifted with his breath. Despite his best efforts, he could not sleep.
He was being tortured by his own guilt.
He reached forward, warming the tips of his fingers with the heat from the candle.
“Wei Ying,” he whispered into the night, “I’m sorry.”
Like a brittle dam obliterated by the force of a fierce river, he shattered instantaneously.
“He reminds me so strongly of you. I cannot get past it. I think that is why I feel this way, but…”
A deep breath.
“Am I selfish? I must be selfish. To want excessively is forbidden, yet here I am.”
A shaky exhale.
“As Lans, we only love once. Once. How could I possibly do this to you? I don’t understand…”
He repeated those words as his lips quivered, tears rolling in steady streams down his cheeks. Defeated, he rested his head in his hands. “I don’t understand, I don’t understand…”
“I don’t want to feel like this, Wei Ying. I could never replace you, so why is this happening?”
The tealight burned out as too much candle wax had melted to support the wick any longer. He was plunged into complete darkness.
“He provokes the same feelings in me that I had around you. I long to cherish him and protect him, to shelter him from the harsh world. But the thought of acting on these feelings, betraying you…” A wave of nausea rolled in his stomach. “I cannot stand myself. I can only love you for the rest of my days.”
Perhaps if he spoke it into existence, Mo Xuanyu would just disappear. The pain would linger, but Lan Wangji would eventually heal. He had dealt with far worse in the past.
He knew that could never happen.
“Wei Ying, I…” he paused, swallowing hard. “Please don’t hate me, wherever you are. Please don’t look down on me with hurt and anger, thinking I’ve moved on. I have never and I will never move on. I don’t understand why this is happening, but I refuse to let it consume my loyalty for you.”
He wished to close his eyes and then reopen them to see Wei Wuxian, happy and whole and alive, sitting before him. But when he tried, desperate for something, he was only met with the darkness.
His fingers itched to play his guqin, to send out a call that he knew would go unanswered. It would be a waste. He had tried for over a decade without any change. Still, he just wished for a sign. Something solid and sure that could just tell him how to feel.
All he received was the unsettling silence of the night.
Wei Wuxian was going crazy and he needed to leave the Cloud Recesses, fast.
He was slowly being driven insane by his own heartbreak. How poetic, he thought.
The past few days had been utter torture. Lan Wangji was growing visibly uncomfortable whenever he approached, so he tried to his utmost ability to restrain himself. During the moments when his resolve broke, speaking to Lan Wangji only left him with the ghostly feeling of an empty hole in his chest, as though the Second Jade of Lan had reached in and ripped his heart out, carrying it with him as a trophy.
Lan Wangji would never be so cruel.
Agonisingly, Wei Wuxian found himself daydreaming during his lectures, wishing for nothing more than to connect his body to Lan Wangji’s from their lips to their toes. To tangle themselves together into a permanent knot. To waltz slowly under the glow of the moonlight, whispering their love for each other. To take their bows while decorated in red and gold.
Loving someone hurts more than he could have ever imagined.
Each day, when he watched Lan Wangji walk to various destinations around the Cloud Recesses, Wei Wuxian was smacked with the constant reminder that Lan Wangji is still mourning. His snow-white robes reflect the brightness from the sun, illuminating him such that Wei Wuxian cannot look away.
He was starting to despise those mourning robes, he realized. Then, the following second: I need to end this.
How cruel was he to feel bitter toward Lan Wangji’s robes? A clear symbol of his undying love for his late wife, the mother of his child…
Wei Wuxian felt more like a monster now than he ever did toward the end of his previous life.
It would be best for everybody if he removed himself from the situation entirely.
Of course, he could try to stay and resolve his feelings himself. He could try to fully embody the life of Mo Xuanyu, leaving his old life behind along with any attachment he felt toward Lan Wangji.
He could throw himself into cultivation, remaining in Gusu just long enough to feel strong and confident in his abilities before fleeing.
He could remain in the Cloud Recesses but spend the rest of his days carefully planning out his route to avoid Lan Wangji.
Or, he could quite simply up and leave before dawn, travelling as far away from here as possible. Perhaps he could walk far enough to discover a new world and leave this one behind.
He was packing up his few belongings past curfew before he even realized he had made a decision.
In the back of his mind, creeping like a virus, there was another possibility: he could come clean and tell Lan Wangji the truth about everything. Maybe Lan Wangji would reciprocate his feelings, maybe not, but at least he could have his company in the form of a friendship if nothing more. He believed the longing would eventually subside once they established a fixed routine, cultivating and night hunting together as friends.
He cut that thought off before it could spiral into something shaped like hope. It would be impossible. Lan Wangji would never forgive him for lying over the past few weeks. And what about his outright manipulation of Lan Sizhui and Lan Xichen? What about the fact that the Yiling Patriarch was living in Mo Xuanyu’s body? They would separate his head from his body before he had the chance to blink.
After stuffing his belongings into a small bundle, he flopped down helplessly on his bed. He would grasp at a few pitiful hours of sleep and then flee before anyone else had time to wake, barely beating the rising sun.
In hindsight, he probably shouldn’t have tried to rest at all.
Each time he closed his eyes, he was met with some of the most vivid dreams he had ever experienced. Dreams of Jiang Yanli, both alive and in death. Dreams of Jiang Cheng, plunging his sword into Wei Wuxian’s chest with an anguished cry. Dreams of Wen Yuan, poor little A-Yuan, crying out in fear for his Xian-gege while the Jin Sect silenced his pitiful wails with a noose around his neck.
Out of all of the horrors his mind forged under the cover of darkness, arguably the worst was a nightmare in which Lan Wangji had taken his place that day at Nightless City. He was forced to bear witness, over and over and over again, as Lan Wangji plummeted to the earth below. He woke up multiple times to the sounds of his own cut-off screams. He chased sleep, but the violence never ended long enough for him to be at peace.
Nightmares were far from unusual for Wei Wuxian, but tonight they were begging him to accept their torture.
He hauled himself out of bed, seeking the comfort of his intricately carved dizi and grasping for it. He squeezed it tightly in his fist. It could never replace Chenqing, but perhaps it could provide some solace under the cover of darkness.
After casting a brief glance to his bundle of items, he fled the guest house.
Outside, the Cloud Recesses were eerily quiet. He knew that the quickest route to the back hill would require climbing on top of buildings, but he stuck to the empty paths below to avoid the watchful eyes of potential night guards. Aside from his own near-silent footsteps, not another sound could be heard throughout the night.
He broke past the surrounding gate with ease, vaulting over it the moment he knew he would be out of sight.
Wei Wuxian had a very specific destination in mind.
In the dark, everything looked slightly different and unfamiliar. He proceeded, pushing away the dark licks of anxiety in his stomach as he went.
Eventually he stumbled upon the rabbits.
He knew Lan Wangji had kept the rabbits from all those years ago, as Lan Sizhui frequently let it slip over the previous weeks that he was to be busy feeding the rabbits in the early mornings. However, he was unaware of the sheer amount of them that had accumulated during his absence.
Alerted by the sounds of his footsteps, multiple rabbits scrambled out of their burrows to inspect their midnight intruder. They had evidently grown comfortable with visiting humans.
“Sorry, little friends,” he whispered with a smile, “I don’t have any food for you.”
They didn’t seem to mind, but he was far from an expert in understanding rabbit behaviour. A few of them hopped innocently past the tall, dark stranger that had disturbed their slumber.
He cautiously navigated around them, careful to avoid disturbing any of their burrows. As the rabbits adjusted to their visitor’s presence, Wei Wuxian settled in at the base of a towering tree. He shimmied until he was comfortable and then remained deathly still, allowing a few particularly bold rabbits to settle in alongside his knees.
The dizi in his hands was barely illuminated in the moonlight. Without hesitation, he lifted it to his lips and began to play the first and only melody that came to mind.
Wei Ying… Wei Ying!
Lan Wangji woke with a start, pulled from the gentle hold of sleep. His heart beat rapidly from the nightmare that plagued his dreams, but he could barely remember the context—just a name, bellowed out into the night.
Slowly, as the pounding of his heartbeat became background noise to his ears, he became increasingly cognizant of his surroundings.
Off in the distance, barely audible beneath the nocturnal noises of the cicadas and the trickling river behind the Jingshi, Lan Wangji could hear the unmistakable call of a dizi. It played a song that sounded unfinished, as though it required an accompaniment to become complete. He focused his hearing, straining to hear the notes—
It was his song. Their song.
He leapt out of bed and hastily threw on his robes, otherwise uncaring about his appearance.
He made it to the back hill in record time.
He followed the distant call of a song that only two people in the world knew. Something began to brew in his stomach—hope, anxiety, anger, nostalgia, or grief, he was unsure. Perhaps a cocktail of them all. The music grew closer, and as he rounded the corner toward the rabbits’ private hideaway, he saw—
Mo Xuanyu sat before him, his back pressed gently against a tree trunk. Soft moonlight cascaded down through the breaks in the trees above, illuminating him in speckled light. Along his legs, multiple snow-white rabbits had curled up and fallen asleep, lulled into slumber by the warmth of another body.
His eyelashes fluttered delicately against his cheeks as he continued to play the dizi, unaware of Lan Wangji’s presence.
It wasn’t until he finished the song that he finally glanced up and met the eyes of the Second Jade.
“L-Lan Zhan, I…” he stammered, tongue darting out to lick his lower lip.
“Wei Ying…” he whispered, almost too quiet to be heard over the ambient noise of the night.
“Lan Zhan, please—”
“Wei Ying!” he roared.
Mo Xuanyu—Wei Wuxian—shuddered at his thundering voice. He scrambled to stand, disturbing the bunnies beside him. They scattered and made for their burrows, half in agitation and half in fear.
Mo Xuanyu—Wei Wuxian—reached out a hand to close the distance between himself and Lan Wangji, but the latter flinched away and took a step back.
Lan Wangji’s head spun. He felt like he was about to be sick. “Do not touch me,” he hissed.
“Lan Zhan, I’m begging you, please just listen—”
“Who are you?” he demanded.
Wei Wuxian closed his eyes, breathing in deeply, meditatively, before responding. “Wei Ying… Wei Wuxian. The Yiling—”
Lan Wangji was mere inches away from losing control. “No, you’re not! I watched Wei Wuxian fall to the bottom of a cliff thirteen years ago, so who are you ?”
Tears sprang to Wei Wuxian’s eyes, welling up and sparkling in the moonlight.
“I am Wei Ying, Lan Zhan, I promise you.”
“You cannot be.”
Lan Wangji shut his eyes, unable to bear witness as Wei Wuxian’s tears rolled down his cheeks in two small, gleaming rivers.
After gathering the strength to reopen his eyes, Lan Wangji spoke slowly. “All of this time, you’ve lied.”
“I have! I’ve been lying to you, to Sizhui, to Zewu-Jun, everybody! But I promise I’m telling the truth to you now.”
“Wei Ying, that’s not the point! Why have you lied? To us, to me?” Lan Wangji wanted to claw at his insides, physically fighting back the urge to cry or shout. He felt overwhelmed with heat and knew that his face must have become an angry shade of red.
“I couldn’t say anything! You wouldn’t have believed me, and I would have made things so complicated…”
“I would always believe you!”
Wei Wuxian whined. “Well, I didn’t know that for sure!”
Lan Wangji sighed heavily and took a step forward. He watched as Wei Wuxian stiffened, and then his heart shattered at the thought that the other man was probably bracing to be assaulted. Lan Wangji would never even begin to think about hurting him—he had filled his heart with nothing but love for him for almost two decades.
The Second Jade’s mind ran, trying to process his emotions in his typically linear, categorical way, but this new influx of information halted his system. He had fallen so hard, so fast, for Mo Xuanyu. He had been feeling nothing but guilt in the weeks prior, believing he was betraying Wei Wuxian with his feelings for Mo Xuanyu, and yet…
The Lans notoriously fell in love only once throughout their lifetimes. Despite Lan Wangji’s worst fears, this fact remained true.
Still, he felt a pang of betrayal. “Wei Ying… do you know what you’ve done to me?”
Wei Wuxian snivelled. “I’m so sorry, Lan Zhan.”
“I’m just… hurt. Betrayed. Overwhelmed.”
“I know… I’m so sorry. I wanted to tell you so badly, but…”
“Why didn’t you?” Lan Wangji questioned.
Wei Wuxian fidgeted where he stood, spinning the dizi between his fingers in that nervous way that Lan Wangji remembered so fondly.
“I… I can’t… I’m sorry, Lan Zhan, but I can’t tell you.”
Lan Wangji squinted. “You owe me the truth.”
“I do, I do! I know I do, it’s just…” he trailed off, continuing to fidget.
“Will telling me put you in danger?”
Wei Wuxian startled. “No! It won’t, I’m just…” He sighed. “I’m scared.”
The anger that lingered in Lan Wangji’s chest softened ever so slightly.
“You can tell me the truth, Wei Ying. I would never hurt you.”
“I’m afraid that you’re going to have to,” Wei Wuxian whispered. At Lan Wangji’s confused expression, he continued to speak. “I know all of this has probably already made our friendship irredeemable, Lan Zhan, but what I’m about to tell you will make things even worse.”
Complicated, Lan Wangji remembered him saying earlier. Still, he nodded, encouraging the other man to continue.
Wei Wuxian breathed deeply. “Lan Zhan… Lan Wangji… Hanguang-Jun… I like you. I mean… I’ve gone and fallen in love with you. I want to be with you, and around you, and…” A soft shrug of his shoulders, trying to mask the pain he felt. “I love you.”
Lan Wangji felt as though his heart was trying to burst out of his chest. It hammered aggressively against his ribs, as though begging to be released from its cage, to leap out and reach the object if his affections.
On the outside, Lan Wangji maintained his composure. “Continue.”
It was Wei Wuxian’s turn to look confused, and rather heartbroken. “Continue? That was it, Lan Zhan.”
Lan Wangji returned his expression with a similar one, both of them staring at each other with furrowed brows. “Why… Why couldn’t you tell me that?”
“I would have been such a terrible friend to do that to you, Lan Zhan! You’re clearly still mourning the death of your wife, and trying to raise Sizhui alone, and you’ve always got so many duties to take care of inside and outside of the Sect, I merely couldn’t burden you with my silly feelings.”
Lan Wangji barely heard anything past the word “wife”. Overwhelmed with emotions, his chest started to rattle. His shoulders shook.
Wei Wuxian watched on, helplessly bewildered, as Lan Wangji actually started to laugh.
“Lan Zhan!” he blurted out, indignant, “It’s not funny! I’ve been so worried about you!”
Attempting to school his emotions back into some semblance of appropriateness, Lan Wangji’s laughter gradually faded out into a couple of lingering chuckles.
“I’m terribly sorry, Wei Ying.” He cleared his throat, willing away the urge to grin. “I believe there has been a significant misunderstanding.”
Lan Wangji took another step closer. “Who informed you that I had a late wife?”
Wei Wuxian gulped, refusing to meet his eyes. “W-Well, nobody did, I figured it out myself. You’re constantly wearing your mourning robes even though the Gusu Lan Sect forbids mourning excessively. And you’re raising Sizhui as a single father.” Quickly, he added, “You’ve done a fantastic job, by the way! I’m sure she would be very proud…”
Lan Wangji raised his hand between them, using the tip of his index finger against Wei Wuxian’s chin to tilt his head up, forcing the shorter man to look into his eyes. Wei Wuxian inhaled sharply at his touch.
“Wei Ying, I’ve never had a wife.”
“I’ve never had a wife, nor have I ever been interested in a woman.”
A delayed response. “…What?”
“I promise you, I have not been mourning the loss of a wife.”
Wei Wuxian was visibly struggling with this information, blinking rapidly. “Then how do you have a son? Don’t tell me the esteemed Hanguang-Jun had a child out of wedlock.”
Lan Wangji glared at him, but his gaze held no malice. “Has Sizhui told you his birth name yet?”
“No.” Wei Wuxian shook his head. Curiosity marked his expression.
Still with his hand on the other’s chin, Lan Wangji smiled softly before whispering, “Lan Yuan.”
He was watching so closely that he could practically see the moment that Wei Wuxian began to make the connection.
“Lan Yuan… Lan Yuan… A-Yuan…” He gasped. “A-Yuan? Wen Yuan?”
Lan Wangji nodded.
Tears welled up in his eyes once more as Wei Wuxian grasped Lan Wangji’s shoulders tightly with both hands. “Are you serious?”
Again, Lan Wangji nodded.
A sob bubbled its way out of Wei Wuxian’s chest and he quickly began to break down, clutching onto Lan Wangji for support. Lan Wangji grasped him securely in response.
“A-Yuan’s alive? You saved A-Yuan?”
Another nod, which only served to make Wei Wuxian weep even harder. He shook violently in Lan Wangji’s arms.
Out of the corner of his eye, Lan Wangji watched as a few lingering rabbits scampered away at the shrill noises coming from Wei Wuxian’s mouth.
Lan Wangji was unsure if he had ever witnessed someone cry so much.
Sniffling, Wei Wuxian met Lan Wangji’s eyes once more. “So, the mourning robes…”
“Lan Zha-a-an!” He hiccupped out another sob. “You can’t just say something like that!”
Unperturbed, Lan Wangji continued. “It’s true. I’ve worn them for thirteen years.”
Wei Wuxian noticeably weakened, letting his forehead come to rest against Lan Wangji’s collarbone. Lan Wangji’s arms kept him upright.
“Wei Ying,” he began, “I’ve mourned you for thirteen years and loved you for even longer.”
“Lan Zhan.” Wei Wuxian sniffled wetly, raising his head to meet his eyes once more. “I’m sorry it took so long for me to make my way back to you.”
Lan Wangji shook his head. “No need for apologies. What matters is that you’re here now.”
They remained there for what felt like hours, holding each other tightly beneath the moon. Around them, some rabbits hopped, some nibbled on the dew-covered grass, and the others slept. The river trickled on beside them, unaware of their presence. The cicadas continued to chirp through the trees.
When they became too tired to keep standing, they walked away from the rabbits, the river, and the cicadas. They navigated through the trees, hand-in-hand, until they returned to the Cloud Recesses. They snuck back inside the Jingshi, concealed by the darkness.
Enveloped in each other’s arms, they rushed into bed, kiss after heated kiss exchanged between them to make up for lost time. Lan Wangji pressed Wei Wuxian into the bed and Wei Wuxian arched his back to meet him there. Enraptured with one another, they chased pleasure together until it reached them in vibrant bursts beneath their burning skin.
Sticky and sated, they held each other close and succumbed to slumber, lulled softly to sleep by the sounds of their synchronous heartbeats.
When Wei Wuxian roused from sleep in the morning to the gentle hum of music from the guqin and the warm beams of sun that danced along his naked back, he was more content than he had ever felt before.