Lan Wangji surveyed the pattern of red blooming across the forest clearing. The shape it was beginning to take was already more complicated than Wei Wuxian's usual experimental designs, with several curves coalescing in a hypnotic concentricity.
With a final touch, his husband sighed with satisfaction and straightened, stepping back and stumbling entirely too deliberately into Lan Wangji's arms. Nevertheless, he steadied him with a hand on his hip, and Wei Wuxian smiled up at him, moonlight igniting stars in his eyes.
"What purpose does the array serve?" asked Lan Wangji.
Wei Wuxian had been far too mysterious while dragging him away from their campsite, where their juniors were still asleep, so much so, that Lan Wangji had been shamefully disappointed when their clothes had remained on, and Wei Ying had pulled out talismans and cinnabar instead.
Wei Ying leaned into Lan Wangji, swaying them both playfully, and said, lightly, "I'm not sure how well it will work, but its objective is to manipulate time."
"Time?" echoed Lan Wangji.
"Hm, like a portal to the past."
"It sounds dangerous."
Lan Wangji exhaled, fond against his will. "Have you tested it before?"
"Lan-er-gege, of course! Do you think I would put my dearest husband in any danger?"
"No, but my dearest husband would certainly put himself in danger," said Lan Wangji.
Wei Ying tugged at his robes reproachfully, pouting. "I didn't! I swear it."
"I believe you." But it did not change the fact that the array was at present not without risk.
Wei Ying thumbed at the slight wrinkle between Lan Wangji's brows. "Lan-er-gege, aren't you curious? No matter where we end up, we'll definitely be alright if we're together."
Lan Wangji looked down at his husband's smiling face then at the array before them, clear as day under the sharp light of the moon. "Mn," he agreed finally.
Under Wei Wuxian's lead, they stepped into the smallest circle of the array and imbued it with a touch of spiritual energy. For a split second, there was nothing, only the loud chirp of a cicada. Then a blinding light flared up around them. In a split second the two had placed a cautious hand on their weapons, and clasped their other hands, holding fast onto each other.
When the light died down, Lan Wangji opened his eyes to a daytime blue sky.
Even without the sight of the familiar grounds and buildings, Lan Wangji would have recognised his childhood home by the scent of the air alone, familiar against his skin.
"Oh! Cloud Recesses," said Wei Ying, loosening his grip on Lan Wangji's hand but not letting go. "I didn't expect it to send us over distance as well. How exciting! I wonder what day it is."
Lan Wangji brushed his thumb over the back of Wei Ying's hand, simply glad that they were safe. By the soft fall of sunlight, it seemed still to be the early hours of the morning. Most disciples were probably taking breakfast in the dining pavilion, hence the emptiness of the surroundings.
Just as the thought struck him, a white-clad figure appeared in their line of sight. With a brief shared look, the husbands silently decided to stay in place.
While it would be inconvenient to be seen by someone and have to explain their presence—rather, their dual presence—the early hour meant that their selves of this past time, were undoubtedly engaged at the moment in their morning tussle of getting Wei Wuxian out of bed and to eat breakfast in the jingshi. Thus, it would be simple to convince the passerby that they had simply woken up earlier than usual and were strolling in preparation for the lectures.
But as the disciple grew closer, it became abundantly clear that the simple solution in mind did not match the apparent situation at hand.
"Lan Zhan!" gasped Wei Ying.
Lan Wangji's eyes widened. As did the disciple's familiar gold ones. He blinked at them in silence for just a moment, before bowing politely.
"Forgive me, qianbei," said the disciple, who was undoubtedly a young Lan Wangji. "I do not remember if we have met."
"Oh, we have," said Wei Ying, breathless with either shock or delight.
Lan Wangji—the younger, no older than sixteen perhaps—looked wary. His brows furrowed further in confusion when he looked up at the older Lan Wangji and a hesitant recognition alighted his eyes.
Seeing no other way out of this, Lan Wangji said, "We would like to request an audience with Grand Master Lan. It is an urgent matter."
Wei Wuxian squeaked. "Lan Qiren‽"
Lan Wangji squeezed his hand; a silent trust me . Wei Wuxian quietened. Young Lan Zhan's eyes fell for a moment to their intertwined hands, then glanced away, flushed.
"And how should I introduce you?"
"I am Hanguang-jun. This is my husband W–"
"Mo Xuanyu!" interrupted Wei Wuxian cheerfully.
"I see. Excuse me."
Wei Wuxian watched Lan Zhan head towards the Hanshi, an unconscious smile tugging at his lips. The Lan Wangji next to him pursed his mouth.
"Ah, Lan Zhan," he said, running a hand up to his elbow soothingly. "This Lan Zhan might have already met the Wei Wuxian of this time. We can't tell him who I am."
"There is nothing to hide," said Lan Wangji. "From anyone. No matter what anyone thinks, Wei Ying is precious to me."
With a whine, Wei Wuxian melted into his shoulder. "I know," he assured, "but…" He took Lan Wangji's hand and pressed it to the curve of his cheek, against Mo Xuanyu's face.
Lan Wangji caressed it, understanding, though unhappy about it.
Wei Wuxian gave him a sombre smile. "Some things about the future are best unexplained, mm, Lan Zhan?"
And so, when they stood before Lan Qiren and Lan Xichen, whose eyes widened when he walked in, Lan Wangji, simply and concisely, told them the partial truth:
"Shufu. Xiongzhang. I am Lan Wangji from the future. Please, meet my cultivation partner."
If possible their eyes widened further. Young Lan Zhan looked thunderstruck.
Wei Wuxian bowed. "Senior Lan. Zewu-jun. I am Mo Xuanyu of the Mo Village, former disciple of LanlingJin. Forgive us for the intrusion. We arrived here by accident."
Lan Qiren appeared at a loss for words. Lan Xichen had many questions, but he started with: "How?"
Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian glanced at each other. They rose to stand, Lan Wangji keeping a hand under his arm until Wei Wuxian got to his feet—out of courteous habit rather than necessity.
"Well… That would be my fault," said Wei Wuxian sheepishly.
"Not your fault," said Lan Wangji firmly. "We were both aware of the risks."
Wei Wuxian smiled at him, amused. "Perhaps, but I was the one who drew the array."
Wei Wuxian explained the circumstances that had led them there. "The array was only supposed to manipulate time in a short amount—days or hours—but here we are, decades in the past."
Lan Xichen asked, "Have you any idea what went wrong?"
"I'm not certain but I have a hypothesis. I thought it was the number of circles that determined the passage of time, but perhaps it was the points of intersection?"
Three pairs of eyes blinked at him, uncomprehending. Lan Wangji waited patiently.
"No…" continued Wei Wuxian, seemingly to himself as he began to pace. "That wouldn't explain why we traveled so many years. Hmm. Oh! I know! The circles represented years instead of days? Oh, how silly of me!" He turned to his husband. "Lan Zhan, you married a stupid, stupid man."
"I did not." Lan Zhan slowed Wei Wuxian's frantic pacing with a light touch to his waist, only resisting the urge to tug him flush against him because of the presence of his uncle—one who hadn't had years of long-suffering experience with their blatant affection.
"But Lan Zhan, you know what that means?" Wei Wuxian said, speaking to him as if they were alone, as he tended to when he was worked up.
Lan Wangji had an inkling, but he inclined his head.
"Since we've traveled an unforeseen amount in time, the time it would take us to return is unpredictable. To go back weeks or months in time, returning would take hours, but two decades…" He worried at his lip.
"We will find a way," assured Lan Wangji, "even if we have to draw another array."
"Ah, Hanguang-jun is generous in bestowing his faith!" Wei Wuxian teased.
"Hanguang-jun," repeated Lan Xichen, mulling it over his tongue. "When did you receive this title?"
In the Sunshot Campaign , thought Lan Wangji, but hesitated to put it into words.
Lan Xichen, still his perceptive older brother despite the odd imbalance between them at the moment, noticed his hesitance. "Ah," he said. "Nevermind the question. You must be hesitant to reveal anything of our future."
"Rightfully so," said Lan Qiren, deep in thought.
"Not long from now," said Wei Wuxian. Everyone looked at him. He clarified, looking at young Lan Wangji, "Lan Zhan will receive the title about two years from now."
Young Lan Zhan lowered his gaze.
"Mo-gongzi," said Lan Xichen, and it took a moment for Wei Wuxian to look away from the adorably shy Lan Zhan and realise he was the one being addressed.
"You seem to be aware of many unconventional things. Where did you come across an array such as this."
"Oh. I created it," answered Wei Wuxian.
Lan Xichen arched an eyebrow. "So you are an inventor?"
"Ah, I suppose. One could call me that, yes." Wei Wuxian brushed a strand of hair away from his face, hesitant under Lan Xichen's attention.
"W–" Lan Wangji stopped himself before his husband's name could slip, easy as a breath, from his lips. "Xuanyu has invented many things that have greatly benefited the cultivational world," he said.
And many that haven't, thought Wei Wuxian. Outwardly he gave an embarrassed laugh. "Hanguang-jun is biased. I simply tinker about and sometimes make myself useful."
Lan Xichen smiled at him good-naturedly. "I'm sure that isn't true. I shall trust Wangji's judgement."
Lan Qiren cleared his throat, having come to some conclusion in the midst of their conversation. "This is a most unprecedented situation. The elders must be informed. We will do our best to assist your safe return."
"Thank you, Shufu," said Lan Wangji, at the same time as Wei Wuxian said, "Thank you, Shu-gong." Both Lan Qiren and Wei Wuxian froze for a moment.
Wei Wuxian smiled awkwardly. "Sorry, Senior Lan. Force of habit."
"...It is no matter."
With Lan Qiren's exit, Lan Xichen, who had for a minute been silently conversing with his younger brother, called their attention to him again.
"Since it is unclear when you two shall be able to return, it is perhaps best to inform the other disciples. Would you accompany us to the lecture?"
Lan Wangji nodded his assent.
But the younger Lan Zhan broke his silence and said, quietly, "We would have to inform the visiting disciples as well."
"Visiting disciples?" asked Wei Wuxian. "Don't tell me! Lan Zhan, did you hear that?"
The younger Lan Zhan appeared to suppress a flinch, still as yet unaccustomed to the oddness of hearing his name called and not being the one addressed. "Mn," said the older Lan Wangji.
"Zewu-jun, are the disciples of Yunmeng Jiang here to attend the lectures?" asked Wei Wuxian.
Lan Xichen blinked, surprised by the question. "Yes. They are."
"I see, I see." Wei Wuxian crossed his arms, a glint to his eye. Lan Wangji sighed internally, well aware of what he was thinking.
"Wangji," said Lan Xichen. Both turned to him.
He paused. "Perhaps we should make the distinction clear so as to avoid confusion. Hanguang-jun, would you stay with me for a moment."
"Of course," said Lan Wangji.
"And… A-Zhan, would you be so kind to accompany Mo-gongzi outside? We will join you shortly." He added with an innocent smile, "I'm sure you would like to get to know your future husband."
Panic flickered in Lan Zhan's eyes, clear as day in front of the three men who knew him best.
Wei Wuxian cooed. "Don't be shy, Lan Zhan. Come, let's talk!" He tugged at his arm, and Lan Zhan struggled to maintain his comportment as he was dragged out.
Lan Xichen and Lan Wangji watched them leave, one with amusement, the other with some concern. After all, Lan Wangji knew better than anyone Wei Wuxian's expertise in pushing someone to his limit, especially when that someone was Lan Wangji.
Next to him, Lan Xichen laughed. "I'm rather curious to know how the two of you came to grow on each other like this. He is… unexpected."
Lan Wangji turned to him. "Whatever Xiongzhang asks, Wangji will answer."
"All I would want to know is if you are happy, and I need not ask," said Lan Xichen, smiling. "I don't think I've ever seen you smile this much in a single day, let alone a matter of minutes."
Lan Wangji's ears warmed. "Mn," he said shyly. "I am happy."
"Then I am fortunate," said Lan Xichen, "that I have much more to learn about my brother."
When they emerged out into the sunlight, it was to find young Lan Zhan on the furthest step away from the entrance, his ears a worrying shade of scarlet. Wei Wuxian hovered just above him, saying something in a melodic, teasing tone.
Lan Wangji sent a brief prayer for his younger self's patience.
It was beyond unusual for Lan Qiren to be late to a lecture. The Lanshi bustled with chatter, rising from whispers to a restless tide of speculation.
Leaning towards Wei Wuxian, Nie Huaisang whispered, "What do you think happened to old man Lan?"
Wei Wuxian shrugged, turning to Jiang Cheng, who looked as confused as him.
With a sudden hush, the noise around them extinguished. It was Zewu-jun and Lan Wangji who had entered, followed closely by two unknown cultivators.
Lan Wangji did not spare a glance his way, but that was to be expected. Wei Wuxian watched the guests curiously. One of them was undoubtedly a Lan sect senior; he had on the customary GusuLan ribbon and mourning-like white robes, though adorned tastefully with lace and powder blue cloud patterns. From the looks of it he was a powerful cultivator. The man next to him on the other hand—
"I'm sorry for the disruption, disciples," said Lan Xichen, in his calming voice. "An emergency has arisen and Senior Lan will be engaged for the remainder of the day. We will not be conducting the lecture today." He then glanced at the tall Lan cultivator at his side.
The disciples waited, curious.
"It appears that by some fluke," continued Lan Xichen, "these cultivators have traveled through time… into their past."
A sound of disbelief spread across the room.
"Zewu-jun," said Wei Wuxian. "You mean they're from our future?"
The unknown cultivators snapped their attention towards him and for some reason lingered.
Lan Xichen nodded, continuing, "allow me to introduce Hanguang-jun, Lan Wangji–"
Wei Wuxian was unable to hold back a gasp. This man was Lan Wangji! Well . He rested his chin on his hand thoughtfully. He certainly looked it, now that Wei Wuxian gave him his full attention: the neat robes, the flawless fall of his hair, and the sword—Ah, how had he not recognised Bichen? It had been drawn against him enough times.
He noticed that the man, this older Lan Wangji, was looking back at him, no hint of the contempt Wei Wuxian had come to expect, only a clear, searching gaze. Ah, I've been caught staring , he thought .
Never the type to get embarrassed, Wei Wuxian smiled at him. Unexpectedly, Lan Wangji's mouth curved upward in acknowledgement. Wei Wuxian nearly fell over in shock, his arm sliding out from under him.
Lan Wangji, he thought, you really change a lot in the future. Wei Wuxian was so eager to tease him.
So busy was he with thinking of ways to get older Lan Wangji's attention, that he nearly missed the rest of Lan Xichen's words, and they echoed belatedly in his mind:
"–is his husband, Mo Xuanyu."
His– "WHAT‽" cried Wei Wuxian. This time, there was no chorus to drown his voice. Everyone turned to look at him.
Wei Wuxian's face flamed. Somewhere behind him, Jiang Cheng covered his face with his hands.
Mo Xuanyu—the apparent husband in question—tilted his head, looking irritatingly amused by Wei Wuxian's reaction.
"Yes," he said, drawing eyes forward again. "Hanguang-jun and I are wedded." And Lan Wangji glanced at him with a look of such unconcealed warmth that Wei Wuxian gaped.
Was this some sort of prank? A test? That Lan Wangji was married was shocking enough—but could it be that Lan Wangji actually liked a man such as this?
Mo Xuanyu was small next to Hanguang-jun, handsome enough in a soft, understated way. He was dressed in nondescript red and black, with a peek of white inner robe. A simple sword was strapped to his hip, and what looked to be a dizi tucked into his belt. He didn't seem like anything special to Wei Wuxian.
He couldn't help wondering how such a union came about. He looked at Lan Zhan—his Lan Zhan—but he was looking resolutely away from everyone.
As they dispersed from the lecture hall, Wei Wuxian momentarily quelled his urge to question the older Lan Wangji ( Hanguang-jun , he reminded himself) and instead hurried to catch up with Lan Zhan.
"Lan Zhan!" he called. If anything, Lan Zhan only increased his pace, as much as he could while keeping his grace.
Not one to be evaded easily, Wei Wuxian pivoted in front of him, forcing him to stop.
"Where are you going, Lan Zhan? Don't you want to talk to your…?" He couldn't bring himself to say the word "husband", the word melting into a perplexing sour taste on his tongue.
"We have spoken enough," said Lan Zhan stiffly. He wouldn't meet Wei Wuxian's eyes.
Wei Wuxian made himself smile. "Lan Zhan, ah, aren't you excited! I would be, if I could meet my future wife!"
"You and I are not the same," said Lan Wangji, a tense bite to the words.
Wei Wuxian pouted. "I get that you're embarrassed, but why must you take it out on me?" he whined.
"Ah, what's this? Lan Zhan is embarrassed?" came the voice of Mo Xuanyu, bounding over uninvited and interrupting them. Lan Zhan's shoulders stiffened.
Mo Xuanyu laughed, loud and unrestrained, and Wei Wuxian stared as he patted the top of Lan Zhan's head. "Er-gege," he said over his shoulder. "You used to be so shy!"
Wei Wuxian found himself stepping back in surprise as Mo Xuanyu crowded Lan Zhan. He startled as the older Lan Wangji fell into step beside him, and watched his husband tease his younger self with a serene, fond expression.
Awkward, Wei Wuxian snuck a glance at him. Although this older cultivator was undoubtedly Lan Wangji, if bigger and having grown into a handsomeness as compared to Lan Zhan's pretty face, his expressions and behaviour were entirely alien to Wei Wuxian.
"You are not being subtle," said Lan Wangji, looking down at him, taller than Wei Wuxian was used to. He coloured, looking away, but could feel Lan Wangji's eyes still on him.
"Subtlety isn't his strong suit," said Mo Xuanyu, leaning against an uncomfortable Lan Zhan with an elbow on his shoulder.
Wei Wuxian felt a spike of irritation. "Do we know each other in the future?" he asked, mustering up politeness for the sake of his curiosity.
"Oh, intimately," drawled Mo Xuanyu, humour in his eyes and the twitch of his lips. Wei Wuxian didn't know what to make of that. He turned back to the older Lan Wangji.
"Lan Zha– Ah, no, Hanguang-jun… Does that mean the two of us are…" still friends? If Wei Wuxian asked that, Lan Wangji would surely laugh at him—this Lan Zhan certainly seemed capable of it. They were hardly friends now. Wei Wuxian would dream of it, but couldn't imagine it. "That we still know each other?" he asked instead.
"Mn," said Lan Wangji, and he smiled at him, warm and gentle. Unused to the beauty of a smiling Lan Zhan, Wei Wuxian was helpless to control the flutter in his chest.
Just as a smile pulled at his own mouth, a bitter thought stilled it—that the one who had invoked this side of Lan Wangji; this warmth and gentleness; was probably his husband. Wei Wuxian wasn't sure why the thought made him sullen. Surely it was because the man seemed all wrong for someone as proper as Lan Wangji, no other reason!
"Tsk," said Mo Xuanyu, watching him with a strange look in his eye. "As I said. No subtlety."
"Be kind," said Lan Wangji.
Mo Xuanyu wrinkled his nose. "Must I?"
Mo Xuanyu sighed gustily. "Fine, fine. I shall go easy on the young and ill-witted."
Wei Wuxian wasn't quite sure what was under discussion but he frowned, sure that he was being made fun of.
Something about their easy, well-practiced manner with each other bothered him too. He couldn't help but wonder if Lan Wangji had that kind of comfort in him , in the future. He didn't, at least, seem like he disliked him anymore.
"How did you two come to marry?" he asked, not making any effort to keep the disbelief out of his tone. It would have been more polite, perhaps, to ask how they had met, but Wei Wuxian had no interest in being polite while seeking answers.
"Mm. Well." Mo Xuanyu tugged at the end of Lan Zhan's ribbon and the boy reddened, looking as shocked as if he had undone his waist sash.
"Hanguang-jun dragged me, kicking and screaming, to Gusu until I submitted to him. And here we are, a year later, happily married and very much in love." He grinned widely at them in the aftermath of this repugnant statement.
"You–! As if Lan Wangji would do something like that!" cried Wei Wuxian. Across from him, Lan Zhan looked like he could faint, going from red to a concerning shade of plum.
Wei Wuxian whirled to face the Lan Wangji next to him, eager to hear his refusal. Instead–
"Airen," said Lan Wangji, only the softest note of caution in his voice.
Mo Xuanyu caught his eye and held fast. "What, er-gege? I didn't lie, did I? Lying is forbidden in Cloud Recesses."
A pause. Then Lan Wangji exhaled. "Mn."
Wei Wuxian's mouth dropped open, but no sound came out. Surely Mo Xuanyu was lying! Yet Lan Wangji did not rebuke him. And if he wasn't lying—no, he wouldn't think of it. His face felt hot with embarrassment, yet Lan Wangji, so thin-faced as long as he had known him, looked unphased.
Mo Xuanyu fixed his eyes on Wei Wuxian, his eyes dancing with glee. Wei Wuxian got the uncanniest feeling that the man could read his thoughts.
Lan Zhan attempted to regain some control of the situation while Mo Xuanyu's mouth was mercifully closed. He cleared his throat delicately and spoke, "We should go to the library. There must be something within the texts that will aid your return."
Mo Xuanyu clicked his tongue. "Lan Zhan is so eager to get rid of me."
Both Wei Wuxian and Lan Zhan relaxed their shoulders as Mo Xuanyu moved to his husband's side.
"Er-gege," he said. "I'm in no hurry to go back. Are you?"
Lan Wangji lightly held Mo Xuanyu's hand in his, and the tenderness of the gesture made Wei Wuxian look away. "We can stay longer. but it would behoove us to prepare for when we leave," he said.
"Hanguang-jun is precautious as always. Then, if my dear husband says so, let's go to the library."
Wei Wuxian had had quite enough of the two, so he excused himself. Mo Xuanyu again glanced at him with that strange knowingness, but said nothing as Lan Zhan, stone-faced once again, led the pair to the library pavilion.
Lan Wangji was living a nightmare.
On arriving at the library pavilion, Hanguang-jun—his apparent older self that Lan Wangji had difficulty reconciling with himself — had led them without pause to the restricted section. With a familiarity that he envied, the older cultivator had swiftly pulled out the texts that they now pored over.
Calmly and keenly, Lan Wangji went through the manuscript in his hands for any information that would prove useful, the task serving to clear his mind of the chaos of the day's events.
"Lan Zhan!" called Mo Xuanyu then, appearing at that moment to needle his patience. He gritted his teeth and ignored him.
"Hey, little Lan Zhan! I'm talking to you."
"One works best in silence," said Lan Wangji, allowing himself the tiniest glimmer of pride for keeping his voice devoid of agitation.
"Knowledge can be aided by working in conjunction with others," said Hanguang-jun mildly. Lan Wangji looked at him, betrayed.
"Twice the Lan Zhans, twice the precepts, huh?" said Mo Xuanyu, entertained. "The price I must pay for the pleasure of two husbands."
He draped himself over Hanguang-jun's arm. Lan Wangji tightened his hold on his papers, holding them up as if to shield his eyes. Then, fearing what Mo Xuanyu would do were he not looking, he lowered them again. Hanguang-jun however, did not appear to have batted an eye.
"Focus," he said to Mo Xuanyu, in that low, soft voice Lan Wangji could not have imagined coming out of his own mouth.
"Ah, Lan-er-gege," whined Mo Xuanyu. He closed the sole book he had perused in the time that both Lan Wangjis had gone through four (each) and slumped. "It's terribly difficult for me to read here rather than the jingshi."
"The jingshi?" Lan Wangji couldn't help but echo, foregoing thought before speech. In hindsight, it should have been obvious.
"It is our home," replied Hanguang-jun simply, as he wordlessly shifted some of the pile in front of Mo Xuanyu towards himself. Lan Wangji stared once again at his apparent acclimation to this nuisance that he had– he had– married.
"Lan Zhan," said Mo Xuanyu again, and Hanguang-jun made an enquiring sound, knowing somehow that it was meant for him.
"It's too bad we can't have some fun with little Lan Zhan while we're here," Mo Xuanyu continued, tone conversational. Though he was speaking to his husband, his gaze was sharp on Lan Zhan, and he prickled under it.
Hanguang-jun did not respond, but rose spread to the tops of his ears.
Lan Zhan's coloured as well, once Mo Xuanyu's vague implication settled into his mind as a vivid picture. He shook his head, divesting himself of the line of thought. There were some things he was impatient to ask his future self; others, he was keen to ignore.
"Behave," said Hanguang-jun, having found his voice.
"Or perhaps…?" Mo Xuanyu grinned. "Lan Zhan is only interested if it involves Wei Wuxian?"
Lan Zhan's lips parted in shock. He nearly dropped the manuscript in his hands, a vehement denial getting caught on its way up his throat.
"Airen," Lan Wangji cautioned.
"Fine, fine. I won't cross that line. I'll leave that to you instead."
Having done his damage, Mo Xuanyu decided suddenly to leave. After a brief, hushed exchange that excluded Lan Wangji, and a wink his way that he determinedly ignored, he left them.
His exit left with it a heavy silence that hovered, suspended above their heads.
Lan Wangji coughed to clear the catch in his throat. "So he knows," he said, his voice coming out weak.
So Mo Xuanyu knew of his feelings for Wei Wuxian. So then…? Lan Wangji's head swam with questions. Primarily: what had changed?
He frowned down at his hands, unable to meet his own eyes. "You said that you… that we still know him in your present," he voiced hesitantly.
Lan Wangji struggled to understand, if Wei Wuxian were still in his life, how could he be content to marry someone else? While he was under no delusions of some deep, consuming love as yet, he was forced to admit to himself that he could not conceive harbouring the kind of feelings that Wei Wuxian sparked in him, for anyone else.
Moreover, he had seen the way the older Lan Wangji had looked at Wei Wuxian, with tenderness and a touch of melancholy in his eyes, so he could not believe so easily that such feelings had passed with time.
Hanguang-jun shook his head, giving him a kind but firm look. "It is best not to ask questions."
"Why can't you answer me?" he asked, feeling petulant.
"Patience is a virtue," Hanguang-jun reminded gently.
"Seeking clarity is not a sin," Lan Wangji said, his eyebrows drawing together in frustration.
"It is not," agreed Hanguang-jun. "But some things are better discovered than foreknown."
"Where have you been?" demanded Jiang Cheng, as Wei Wuxian glumly trudged up the back hills of Cloud Recesses to where he and Nie Huaisang were sprawled on the ground.
When Wei Wuxian did not answer, Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes. "Off annoying Lan Wangji, then."
"Oh? Wei-xiong, how bold of you to go after a married man," said Huaisang, fanning himself with a look of mischief.
"Who's going after any man?" snapped Wei Wuxian, settling down beside them. "Why would I go after Lan Wangji, married or not?"
Jiang Cheng nudged him with his foot. "What's got you being so unpleasant? It doesn't suit you."
Nie Huaisang nodded. "That's Jiang Cheng's job."
Jiang Cheng turned the full force of his glare towards him. "You want to fight?"
"Ah, no no…" Huaisang said with immediate regret, opening his fan as if to defend himself.
"What does he see in him?" mused Wei Wuxian out loud, halting their quarrel.
"What? Who?" asked Jiang Cheng with a frown.
"Lan Zhan's husband," Wei Wuxian replied. "Doesn't he seem rather annoying?"
Jiang Cheng scoffed. "Do you have the right to call anyone else annoying?"
"Why do you think so, Wei-xiong?" asked Nie Huaisang curiously.
"Why were you annoying Hanguang-jun's husband?" Jiang Cheng cut in. "Were two Lan Wangjis not enough for you?"
Wei Wuxian ignored his shidi. "I don't know," he said in response to Nie Huaisang. "He's just so– so–"
"Shameless," said Wei Wuxian, unable to articulate why else the older man irritated him so much.
At the resounding silence, Wei Wuxian looked up to meet two identical unimpressed expressions.
"What?" he asked indignantly.
"Wei-xiong," Nie Huaisang spoke tentatively, "I don't understand."
"He's shameless? Be grateful you haven't met yourself," said Jiang Cheng impatiently. "Why does it bother you anyway. It's not like you're the one marrying him."
The mountain breeze rustled around them as Wei Wuxian pouted in silence. It seemed unjustified to say "because he doesn't deserve him"; after all, he knew nothing about Mo Xuanyu. But somehow still, the words rang in his head. He felt deeply unsettled.
"He just doesn't seem right for Lan Wangji?" he tried to explain.
Jiang Cheng blinked. "Wei Wuxian," he said slowly, with the air of someone who was coming to a disturbing and unwanted realisation. "How would you know who would be right for Lan Wangji?"
"I know him!" defended Wei Wuxian. "We're well on our way to becoming friends!"
Nie Huaisang snorted. "I don't think it's possible to become friends with someone against their will."
Wei Wuxian deflated at that. Nie Huaisang and Jiang Cheng exchanged a look.
"Who would you think is right for Lan Wangji?"
Wei Wuxian hesitated. Trying to lift his tone, he said, "You know what I mean! Wouldn't you see someone so proper and perfect like Lan Wangji with someone as quiet and beautiful?"
"Would that have made a difference?" asked Nie Huaisang. Both Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian looked at him in surprise.
"Had Hanguang-jun shown up with someone quiet and beautiful, as you say, would you have been unbothered?" Huaisang finished, blinking at him with uncharacteristic solemnity.
Wei Wuxian opened his mouth to voice agreement but his "of course!" faltered before it reached his tongue. Thinking about anyone else receiving Lan Wangji's devoted gaze—now that Wei Wuxian unfortunately knew how to picture it—or thinking of anyone's hands on him, like Mo Xuanyu's easy touches, made him feel just as uneasy. He stayed silent, pondering.
Nie Huaisang whistled. "As I suspected."
Jiang Cheng groaned.
Wei Wuxian had no time to make sense of their strange reactions, before a voice called out to them: "he's very obvious, isn't he?"
"Ah! Mo-qianbei…" Huaisang said, in a loud exaggerated voice that had Wei Wuxian jolting up.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, before he could reign in his impoliteness.
"Wei Wuxian!" Jiang Cheng hissed.
Mo Xuanyu simply smiled, souring Wei Wuxian's mood further. "It's no matter, Jiang Cheng. Ah! Forgive me. Jiang Wanyin."
Nie Huaisang spoke, "Jiang Cheng, didn't you say you'd help me with something?"
"What?" asked Jiang Cheng.
"You did, you did. I think we should leave for that."
"What are you–?"
Nie Huaisang began to tug Jiang Cheng down the hill. Jiang Cheng shot Wei Wuxian a warning look before he was pulled away.
Wei Wuxian exhaled. He looked up to scowl at Mo Xuanyu but was surprised to see him watching the space where Jiang Cheng had disappeared out of sight with an indisputably fond expression.
"Do you know Jiang Cheng?" asked Wei Wuxian. "In the future I mean."
"I do. Though not as well as you do," said Mo Xuanyu. He lowered himself to the ground, leaning on an elbow and glancing at him with a smile that had lost its mocking character.
Wei Wuxian fidgeted, uncomfortable. "How did you find me?" The back hills were mostly unfrequented by disciples. Yet Mo Xuanyu had found him in such a short amount of time.
"How bold of you to assume I was looking for you. What if I found you three by chance?"
Wei Wuxian only looked at him.
"Alright, fine. I was looking for you. Cloud Recesses is my home, after all—Though, there was a time when I hated it like you do—I know my way about."
That didn't explain how he knew where to find Wei Wuxian, particularly.
"You're still wondering how I knew that you would be here, though. Right?"
Wei Wuxian startled.
Mo Xuanyu laughed. "I know you very well, Wei Wuxian."
"No, you don't," Wei Wuxian grumbled, though, of course, he couldn't speak for his future self; one who apparently knew Lan Wangji and his husband well.
"Oh, I do," Mo Xuanyu insisted. "Better than you'd believe."
"...are we friends?" Wei Wuxian asked with some suspicion.
Mo Xuanyu looked amused, an oddly faraway sheen to his eyes. "Not quite."
Wei Wuxian wasn't sure whether he felt strangely relieved or even more confused.
"But I know you. So well that I know what you're feeling right now."
"You can't." Wei Wuxian didn't know himself what he was feeling.
Wei Wuxian cried out in shock as Mo Xuanyu reached out and flicked his forehead. "It's really quite simple, you idiot."
He spluttered and rubbed his forehead, glaring at him. "Why don't you tell me what it is, then?" he retorted.
Mo Xuanyu sighed, head in his hands. "Lan Zhan would tell me not to meddle."
"Do you listen to everything he tells you to do?"
Mo Xuanyu laughed. "Not always. I never used to. But I learned that he would never restrain me or ask me to do something that I did not want to."
Curiosity winning out over his dislike, Wei Wuxian asked, "not even to follow the clan rules? Surely there are some you disagree with."
"Oh, plenty! But it isn't important to him whether I follow the rules or not."
Wei Wuxian thought of all the punishments Lan Wangji had remorselessly inflicted on him for merely breathing in the wrong direction. "I suppose love changes people," he said unhappily. Perhaps, Wei Wuxian had just not been allowed into the orbit of Lan Wangji's affection.
"It will." Mo Xuanyu reached out and rested a palm against his cheek. Wei Wuxian froze.
For a beat of silence Mo Xuanyu simply studied him, and Wei Wuxian was too stunned to speak. Then, without explanation, he withdrew his hand, and said, "Wei Ying."
The intentness of his tone kept Wei Wuxian from bristling at the casual address.
"I will only tell you one thing for the future," said Mo Xuanyu. "Treat Lan Zhan kindly."
When Wei Wuxian returned to the library, his younger self in tow, they were greeted at the doors by a conglomerate of GusuLan elders; and in their midst, Lan Qiren and the Lan Zhans.
"Lan Zhan!" he called out to his husband and was surprised to find his words echoed.
Aish, he thought, looking at the younger Wei Wuxian. It's fine for me because I'm his husband, but it's really embarrassing for you to be like this.
He gravitated towards Lan Wangji and his husband met him halfway. Beside them, his younger self and Lan Zhan took a step in each other's direction, then paused and looked at each other with surprise. Seeing this, the two husbands shared an amused look.
It appeared that while Wei Wuxian had been antagonising himself, the Lans had been fruitful in their search for a solution to their problem. Because of course they couldn't stay here forever. And so, they found themselves confronted with bidding goodbye to their past selves.
Wei Wuxian allowed himself one last indulgence and brushed a kiss to Lan Zhan's forehead. "See you soon," he told him. The younger cultivator blushed and bowed to him.
Wei Wuxian turned in time to see a shell-shocked Wei Ying being gathered into Hanguang-jun's arms. In the background, the elders were stupefied. Wei Wuxian laughed internally. They would have to get accustomed to far more in the future.
With a quiet whisper, Lan Wangji pulled away. He turned to his uncle. "Shufu," he said, clasping his hands and bowing.
"Wangji, Mo-gongzi. Return safely. And Wangji?"
"I anticipate watching you grow into the cultivator you are today."
Lan Wangji smiled and inclined his head, the Hanguang-jun equivalent of a beam.
"Lan Zhan," said Wei Wuxian as the two worked together to draw the array the elders had located for them in a worn manuscript. It wasn't the same as the one that had transported them here, but it bore enough similarities in structure that they had reason enough to trust that it would work.
"Wei Ying," said Lan Wangji. Wei Wuxian closed his eyes for a moment, pleased to hear his name from his husband's mouth again. It had only been a little less than a day but it had been long enough. He said as much out loud.
"Lan Zhan, you must never stop calling my name ever again," he said.
"Mn," said Lan Wangji easily.
"You have to make up for today all of tomorrow and the rest of the week!" said Wei Wuxian, testing the limit of his indulgence.
"Mn. Wei Ying. Wei Ying. Wei Ying," said Lan Wangji, for the limit did not exist.
"Okay, enough, enough!" Wei Wuxian threw his head back and laughed, cheeks burning from the attention.
He remembered what he had been trying to ask, and said again, "Lan Zhan. Do you think we somehow nudged them—us—closer together?" Even in avoiding the ugly truths and hardships of their future, had they still somehow changed something?
"Perhaps," said Lan Wangji thoughtfully, his robes pristine even while he knelt over the array. "We cannot know."
"Could this have affected our future?" mused Wei Wuxian.
Lan Wangji straightened, letting go of the sleeve in his hand so it fluttered back into place. "There is little one can conclusively determine on the subject of time travel. Presumably, our presence would either be forgotten, dismissed as a dream or create an alternate timeline."
"Of course, you're right," said Wei Wuxian. "Surely there have been others before us who've attempted it—judging by this." He waved the paper with the array they had found. "And if every time someone had done so, the future shifted, the world would be a mess!"
"Even if it did, it would not make a difference," said Lan Wangji with conviction. "Because we would still be together."