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Mothers in Cloud Recesses

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In theory, Wei Wuxian is studying a forbidden text under his and Wangji’s supervision. In practice, Wei Wuxian is taking a lot of messy notes while telling them a funny story about his parents, and Lan Xichen thinks he’s going to have to accept that maybe the things Wei Wuxian say are true.

He’s never wanted someone to be lying in Cloud Recesses before.

“Your mother sounds nice,” Wangji says, his voice tinged with someone that might be wistfulness.

Xichen wants to reach out to him, wants to hug him or at least hold his hand, but while Wangi has excelled in many things, accepting comfort isn’t on of them.

“Oh,” Wei Wuxian says, wide eyed, and Lan Xichen braces himself, a forced smile already halfway on his face, ready to reassure Wei Wuxian not to worry about it, that it’s perfectly fine that their mother is dead. What will be worse than that, however, is that Wangji doesn’t like anyone’s pity and he’s especially not going to like Wei Wuxian’s. “I’ll share.”

That wasn’t what he’d expected. When he doesn’t explain further, Lan Xichen prompts, “Share?”

“My mom,” he says, taking a fresh sheet of paper and instead of taking more chicken scratch notes he starts writing a letter that’s only moderately more legible. “You need a mom, they’re important. Like drinking water and getting enough sunlight.”

“I’m pretty sure you’re talking about plants,” Lan Xichen says, because that’s the only part of his statement that he feels comfortable addressing.

Wangji doesn’t seem upset by this, at least. Instead he’s softened further, exasperation in the slope of his shoulders. “Wei Ying. You cannot give us your mother.”

“I don’t see why not,” he says, signing his letter with a flourish. “Don’t worry, she’ll love you. She’s a mom. Plus, you’re a lot better behaved than I am. You’re both totally going to beat me out for the favorite son.”

“We had a mother,” Wangji says, still not upset, but now fully exasperated, and Lan Xichen can’t help but be grateful for it. He can see this conversation quickly ending in Wangji’s version of a temper tantrum and he’d like to avoid that if possible.

Wei Wuxian seems genuinely baffled. Lan Xichen would assume he was playing with them except he’s pretty sure he’s seen Wei Wuxian when he’s trying to lie about something and he’s not great at it. “You can have more than one. Our kids are going to have two dads, after all. Do you think she would mind? If I died and left a son behind then I’d want him to have another dad.” Wangji’s ears are bright red and he’s silent, clearly struggling with which part of that to respond to. Lan Xichen wants very badly to no longer be having this conversation, but no matter how much Wei Wuxian encourages him to be rude, he can’t bring himself to say that. Wangji is the emotional one between them. If he’s not upset about this, then Lan Xichen shouldn’t be upset about it.

From a different person, this would be cruel. But if Lan Xichen knows one thing about Wei Wuxian, it’s that he’s not cruel.

When they don’t say anything, Wei Wuxian shrugs and continues, “She’ll be your mother once I carry you up the mountain to Aunty Bo anyway. And obviously your mother is Lan Xichen’s mother too. We’re just moving the time table up a little bit!”

“Wei Ying,” Wangji says, now mortified on top of exasperated, and there’s that, at least.

“That’s kind of you, Wei Wuxian,” Lan Xichen says, because of course Wangji isn’t going to be the one to put a stop to this. The one time he’d prefer his brother to be a brat. “But that’s not really how it works.”

That was clearly the wrong thing to say because Wei Wuxian’s spine straightens and his lips thin, and Lan Xichen hasn’t known Wei Wuxian for long, but now instead of joking – or not joking, exactly, because that would be cruel and Wei Wuxian is not cruel – he’s clearly decided to be stubborn about this. “Even if Lan Zhan won’t let me carry him up the mountain, it doesn’t change anything. It’s only fair, Lan Xichen. I have Uncle Qiren. You should get Mama.”

Is insisting that this is really not how any of this works rude? Is it worth the argument? He’s never met Cangse Sanren even though she’s apparently best friends with his uncle. This will probably never come up again.

“It’s going to be great,” Wei Wuxian has settled back into cheerfulness. “She’s a top tier mom, just like yours was.”

Wangji blinks, startled, and Lan Xichen asks, “What do you know about our mother?”

It’s only after he’s spoken that he realizes that the manner he’d asked that could be described as terse and he nearly apologizes before deciding that would make it worse. This conversation has put him all out of sorts which frustrates him and then just makes him feel worse. When Wangji is thrown off guard, he just goes stony and silent. Right now, Lan Xichen envies that.

Of course this is Wei Wuxian, so he just sails right past his tone of voice. He shrugs and scratches his chin. “I guess not much? Mama met her once before she got together with my dad but they weren’t friends or anything. There aren’t exactly a lot rogue cultivators around, so once you get to a certain point, everyone kind of knows everyone else. It’s really dangerous for most people, so they have to look out of each other.”

“You’re a rogue cultivator,” Lan Xichen points out, hoping that will distract Wei Wuxian from this. Wangji looks hungry, all of a sudden, but Lan Xichen doesn’t want to hear this. He doesn’t want to have another story about his violent, murdering mother. She wasn’t like that with them and that’s how he wants to remember her, not whatever terrible story Wei Wuxian’s mother told him. “It’s dangerous for you too.”

He pulls a face and then waves a hand. “Yeah, but only technically, you know? I’m practically Jiang, and Nie Mingjue lets me hang out in the Unclean Realms with his brother all the time, and Wen Qing and Wen Ning are – well, I can always go to them. Plus, you know, Uncle Qiren. It’s not dangerous for me like it is for other rogue cultivators, I have too many friends. If I get in over my head or need help or something, I have people I can go to. Most of us don’t have that. Your mother didn’t. When everyone went after her, she didn’t have anyone she could turn to. If she had, they wouldn’t have been able to make the whole thing her fault.”

Lan Xichen actually feels his mouth drop open.

Wei Wuxian winces, eyes widening faintly in the closest thing to panic he’s seen from him. “Uh. I didn’t say that. Don’t tell Uncle Qiren I said that. He’s already had this argument with Mama about a hundred times and he does not want to have to it with me, since I wasn’t even there. Or even, you know, born.” What argument? Someone besides their father had been on their mother’s side? The thought that he’d probably never meet Cangse Sanren had been a comfort a moment ago but now it seems unjust. “The point is I don’t need to know a lot about your mom to know that she was great, because she chose her sons over her freedom. She must have loved you more than anything, which is what moms are supposed to do, so. Top tier mother. Mine’s like that too!”

Lan Xichen has never wanted to leave a room more than he does right now. Usually he’s so good at knowing what to say, at how to guide conversation to where he wants it, but right now his tongue feels like lead in his mouth.

“Wei Ying,” Wangji says, and surely this is his breaking point, this is when he retreats behind his cold mask and Wei Wuxian finally figures out that he needs to stop talking about this. Except his brother just sighs a little and says, “She did not choose, precisely.”

Lan Xichen is expecting Wei Wuxian’s confusion or possibly even his embarrassment. What he’s not expecting is for him to roll his eyes. “She killed the then Head Teacher Lan, on her own, with her bare hands. She didn’t even use her sword. Unless she was kept under constant armed guard, she could have left whenever she wanted to. People have short memories for stuff like that. If she’d left after a couple of years, they probably wouldn’t have sent people after her. Or if they had, she’d been good enough that she could have hidden from them. But she couldn’t do that with two babies to take care of, and the Lan definitely wouldn’t have let her leave with the two clan heirs. If she’d left, she never would have seen you again. So she stayed. It’s sad, of course, that she was confined here. But it was definitely a choice, and she chose you. I think that was pretty awesome of her. I’d choose my kids over freedom too.”

“Ah.” There’s something wrong with his face. It’s too hot, his eyes burning, something scratching at the base of his throat. Maybe he’s getting ill.

“Xichen,” Wangji says, and he sounds alarmed. He must be, if he’s using his name rather than calling him brother. He doesn’t do that, usually.

He opens his mouth to say something reassuring, to curl a comforting smile over comforting words, but nothing comes out and for once he doesn’t know how to make it.

Wei Wuxian leans over and grips his wrist, squeezing it with just enough force that Lan Xichen can’t help but notice it, can’t help but shift his focus away from himself to the point of almost-painful contact around his wrist. “Everything I know about your mom I learned from my mom. So. You’re going to love her.”

“Okay,” he says, because he doesn’t think there’s anything else he can say.

Then he’s distracted all over again watching Wei Wuxian send off a Jin messenger butterfly. Only the main family is taught how to use them. So either Jin Zixun taught him, which is so unlikely as to be categorized as impossible, or Jin Zixuan did, which is slightly more believable but not by much. If Lan Xichen was engaged to Jiang Yanli, he’d want to get on Wei Wuxian’s good side, because he’s as good as her brother and there are a lot less political repercussions to Wei Wuxian beating up Jin Zixuan than if Jiang Cheng does it, so he’s the one that Jin Zixuan really needs to look out for. So Jin Zixuan might have done it to keep Wei Wuxian’s fist out of his face, but frankly he’s not clever enough for that. Besides, Wei Wuxian would rather cut off his hand than compromise his integrity and he would absolutely consider accepting bribery from Jin Zixuan to do such a thing.

Which leaves the last ridiculous, and somehow most likely, explanation.

Wei Wuxian saw them do it once and reverse engineered it himself.

Lan Xichen hates that he’s almost certain that’s what happened. He refuses to ask.

~

A week later he receives a letter addressed to both him and his brother, which is strange, but he doesn’t think much of it. He goes to the Jingshi so they can open it together, Wangji sitting by his side as he breaks the seal.

At first he thinks perhaps he’s dreaming, but no, even his subconscious wouldn’t be this ridiculous.

My darling boys,

I’ve heard so much about you from both your uncle and Wuxian that I feels as if I know you already. Of course neither of them think to tell me the important things, like if you’re remembering to sharpen your blade every night or if your socks are keeping your feet warm.

Your uncle has been so dear to me for so long (do not show him this, I’ll never forgive you) that of course you’re dear to me too.

Now that certain things are less of a concern than they were before, I’ll be coming to Cloud Recesses to meet you properly. Has Wuxian cooked for you yet? His father taught him how, although it was a bit of an uphill battle. I can’t imagine the food there has gotten better since I last visited. Do you like sweet? Salty? Lan Qiren loves spice as much as Wuxian and my husband, but I can’t imagine that’s a common Lan trait.

Do you even know what you like? Your uncle didn’t until he left Cloud Recesses. You’re so young that you mustn’t have had the time to do it often, if ever. Caiyi doesn’t count, you have to be just as buttoned up there as when you’re at home. I’ll just have to pick up a bit of everything and we can discover your favorites together!

I’ve been missing you terribly since you were born and I’m looking forward to missing you a little less once you’re in front of me.

Lovingly,

Mama

Lan Xichen reads it once, twice, a third time, but it remains just as unbelievable each time. Surely it wasn’t actually Cangse Sanren who wrote this. But who else could it have been, really? Wei Wuxian wouldn’t play a trick on them, not like this, not about this.

He turns to Wangji, hoping he’ll see his own feelings reflected on his brother’s face so he can figure out what they are, but Wangji is smiling.

“Wangji,” he says, startled.

His brother’s smile doesn’t drop when he looks at him. He reaches out, tracing Mama with his fingertips, then says, “She’s just like him, isn’t she? You can tell.”

“Yes,” he says, because that’s true enough.

“Well,” he starts, then pauses, licking his lips before saying, “well. Uncle likes her, and Uncle doesn’t like anyone.”

Not strictly true. Uncle likes them. And Wei Wuxian. And – that might be it, actually. “Yes.”

“So,” he continues, “maybe we’ll like her too.”

He looks back down at the letter, unconsciously raising a hand to trace the ending just like Wangji had, and says, “Maybe.”

~

Lan Xichen had wanted to warn Uncle about Cangse Sanren coming, but Wangji had pointed out that she’d asked them not to tell him about the letter, and it’s not like she’d be able to get in without his permission anyway, so Lan Xichen had agreed not to mention it.

They hadn’t considered the idea that Uncle had given her a jade token and actually she could stroll right into Cloud Recesses without alerting anyone at all.

Uncle really does like her.

“Oh A-Ren,” calls out an unfamiliar voice as they’re all walking to dinner.

Lan Xichen is looking right at Uncle, so he sees the way his whole face lights up before settling into a determined scowl before he turns around. “Cangse Sanren! Come to make a nuisance of yourself? Wasn’t sending Wei Wuxian here enough?”

Cangse Sanren is smaller than he thought she’d be.

Wei Wuxian is taller than average, nearly of a height to him and Wangji, but it’s clear he got that height from his father, the man standing next to Cangse Sanren who’s dressed in a black and purple robe remarkable similar to the one Wei Wuxian was wearing when he’d arrived. Cangse Sanren by contrast is dressed in all white, as is typical of Baoshan Sanren’s disciples, and the top of her head barely comes up to Wei Changze’s shoulder.

Standing behind Wei Changze is a beautiful boy who’s hair is braided in the Nie fashion but is wearing plain traveling robes. His eyes twitch like he wants to roll them but is holding himself back.

“Not everything is about you, A-Ren,” she says, suddenly right next to them when she hadn’t been before. Uncle leans his head back, but he’s not fast enough to prevent Cangse Sanren from yanking on his beard. “This is looking a little long. Since I’m such a good friend, maybe I’ll give it a trim before I leave.”

A-Ren, Wangji mouths next to him, raising an eyebrow.

“Wei Changze, can’t you do anything about her?” Uncle calls out.

Wei Changze laughs before answering, “Sorry, Qiren. You’re on your own.”

Qiren. That’s somehow even more surprising than A-Ren. Uncle doesn’t even flinch, just grumbles while edging away.

Cangse Sanren loses interest, instead turning to them with a huge smile that he’s more used to seeing on Wei Wuxian’s face. “Wangji! Xichen! I brought a feast with me, you’ll have to skip dinner to eat with me. We have so much catching up to do.”

He’s only slightly less horrified than he was when Wei Wuxian called Wangji by his given name, and he almost protests, for propriety’s sake if nothing else, but it’s the way that Uncle doesn’t react at all that stills his tongue. They call him A-Ren and Qiren and he lets them. If nothing else, they’re Uncle’s family, which makes them his and Wangji’s family too.

He thinks this means Wei Wuxian is going to end up getting exactly what he wanted. That seems to happen a lot.

“Wei Ying is here,” Wangji says, his lips pulled inward in a way that makes him look angry but Xichen knows just means he’s trying not to laugh.

They all turn, and sure enough Wei Wuxian is walking towards them while talking with Jiang Cheng, Nie Huaisang, and Wen Ning. Jiang Cheng notices them first, his face breaking out into a grin as he calls out, “Uncle Wei! Aunt Cangse!”

Instead of being happy, Wei Wuxian looks horrified. He turns to Wen Ning and starts whispering something, and Wen Ning gives him an uncertain look, but nods, then goes running in the opposite direction with surprising speed.

This is really the time to be greeting his parents, but instead Wei Wuxian looks to the boy standing besides his father and says, “A-Yao, you traitor, you couldn’t have warned me?”

The boy blinks. “I serve the Nie now. I don’t have to warn you about anything.”

“Oh, he’s not a rogue cultivator anymore so he doesn’t have any loyalty to the people who trained him,” Wei Wuxian complains, drawing talisman paper out of his robes. “I’m telling Aunt Shi on you.” He pauses, then turns to Nie Huaisang, “Wait, he told you and you didn’t tell me? A-Sang!”

Nie Huaisang snaps his fan out to hide his face and backs away, heading towards Wei Changze and the beautiful boy, who doesn’t so much as twitch when he ducks to hide behind him.

“Worry less about them and more about me,” Cangse Sanren says, a gleam in her eyes that sends a chill down his spine. “Walking around without your sword. What are you thinking?”

“We were going to dinner in Cloud Recesses!” he shouts. Jiang Cheng has taken several hasty steps away from Wei Wuxian, which is strange behavior, considering the circumstances.

Then Cangse Sanren is moving just as quickly as she had before, closing the distance between her and her son, and Wei Wuxian activates a talisman that sends her stumbling away from him with a bright burst of light. It’s only once it dies down that he sees that Cangse Sanren’s sword is unsheathed.

She’s swinging a live blade. At her unarmed son.

“Don’t worry,” Uncle sighs. “They’re always like this.”

Like what? Insane?

“Baba!” Wei Wuxian calls out frantically. “Come on, help me!”

Wei Changze rubs his chin. “I don’t know. It seems like you should have known better than to go walking around without your sword.”

Wei Wuxian has to duck away from a blow his mother had aimed at his head. “BABA!

“Alright, alright,” he laughs, unsheathing his sword. Lan Xichen assumes he’s going to join the fight, but instead he just throws his sword spinning through the air.

Wei Wuxian jumps up to catch it, the hilt landing solidly in his palm, before he twisting and raising it just in time to stop his mother’s blade. Then they’re fighting in earnest, Wei Wuxian seemingly wielding his father’s blade just as easily as his own. Which is unusual, of course, but perhaps not all that strange. Up until Wei Wuxian manages to send Cangse Sanren’s blade flying and she nearly tackles him, bending back his wrist until he drops Wei Changze’s sword. Wei Wuxian doesn’t try to hold onto it, just rolling out of the way and scooping up his mother’s blade. He fights slightly differently using her sword, but he’s still able to wield it. It’s one thing to know that Wei Wuxian has a strong golden core. It’s another to know it’s powerful enough that he’s able to wield the blade of Cangse Sanren, even if she is his mother.

Wen Ning finally arrives, clutching Suibian. Wei Changze waves him over and Lan Xichen almost isn’t surprised when he unsheathes his son’s sword and joins the fight. They’ve amassed quite the crowd of horrified and impressed disciples. Jiang Yanli has arrived and is standing next to her brother. They’re whispering to each other. Lan Xichen thinks they may be betting on the winner.

“Apparently,” Uncle says dryly, “being able to use one another’s sword in a useful skill for when one of theirs gets stuck in a monster’s body, or swallowed, or stolen by a ghost.”

Wangji doesn’t look away from Wei Wuxian, but he does raise an eyebrow. “Does that happen often?”

“Apparently,” Uncle repeats.

That’s ridiculous. That shouldn’t even happen once never mind enough for them to develop a contingency plan about it.

“Mercy!” Wei Wuxian cries out. He’s using his father’s sword again, who’s using his wife’s, who’s using Suibian. “Okay, okay, I give up, you’re right, I’m out of shape. There’s no need to kill me over it.”

Both his parents sheathe their swords and everyone hand their sword back to its respective owner. Cangse Sanren reaches out to push Wei Wuxian’s hair away from his sweaty forehead. “I have three sons now. You’re expendable.”

“Mama,” Wei Wuxian whines, but he’s grinning too. “You brought food, right? You wouldn’t visit without food. That would be mean. You know what everything tastes like here.”

They both make identical disgusted faces that makes Uncle huff an amused breath next to him, quiet enough that he probably wasn’t supposed to hear it.

“We brought food,” Wei Changze confirms. “You mentioned there being a good spot to have a picnic.”

Wei Wuxian beams and runs back over to them to yank on Wangji’s sleave excitedly. Anyone else would lose their hand doing that, but his brother just looks fond. “Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, let’s show them the bunnies, okay? They’ll love it!”

“Okay,” he says, his mouth curving into a smile around the word.

Wei Wuxian turns to where the Jiang siblings and the Nie were a moment ago, presumably to invite them as well, but they’re gone. The fact that they’d felt the need to make themselves scarce seems highly ominous to Lan Xichen. Wei Wuxian pouts, but says, “Okay, whatever. Let’s go!” He begins dragging Wangji away, who lets him.

Cangse Sanren sighs, then turns to him, back to being warm and friendly and not looking like she’ll try and cut his head off. “Well, Xichen? Are you going to show me the rabbits?”

There’s no polite way for him to refuse. He doesn’t think he’d want to even if there were. “Yes,” he says, then offers her his arm, which she takes with a delighted grin.

Behind them, Wei Changze and Uncle fall into step with one another. “Wei Changze,” Uncle mutters, “what’s happening?”

Wei Changze laughs and claps him on the back. “Clearly we’ve been apart for too long if you’re asking that.”

Cangse Sanren is telling a story about the journey here, her cadence as quick and engaging as Wei Wuxian’s, and he finds himself relaxing into the familiarity of it.

If Cangse Sanren likes to greet her sons with a spar, he’s going to need to brush up on his sword forms.