Lan Xichen stands next to his little brother’s sickbed, clutching the paperwork he had promised himself he would finish, and he feels as useless there as he’s always felt.
“It doesn’t seem to be anything too serious,” The imperial physician insists, “This servant admits that it’s unusual for a sickness to get worse over time in the body of a cultivator of Hanguang-wang’s strength, but Hanguang-wang is well known for overworking himself. I’m not sensing anything but a bad fever, some infection, and a tangle in his spiritual energy caused by the illness.”
Lan Xichen looks down at Lan Wangji with his ragged breath and squeezed shut eyes, and he asks; “You’re certain that we can’t do anything but let him rest?”
“I’ve prepared tonics to ease his energy,” The physician says, “Most important is to lower his fever before it harms him, but I’ve already given him medicine and some spiritual energy for that, so it should ease in an hour or so. Other than that, he only needs to rest.”
“I understand,” Lan Xichen sighs. He drops the paperwork at the end of the bed before he goes to sit by Lan Wangji’s side. He brushes careful fingers across the ostentatious forehead ribbon that’s a mirror to his own, more to comfort himself than his little brother. “Ah… Wangji. Don’t make your big brother worry too much and get better soon, alright?”
As if he has heard him, Lan Wangji chooses that moment to shudder on the bed, dragging his damp hair across the sheets as he curls over himself. He makes a nearly inaudible, unhappy sound.
“Wangji?” Lan Xichen blinks, leaning back.
Lan Wangji squints his eyes open. He can’t seem to focus on Lan Xichen, his gaze is glazed with the fever. He looks around, past Lan Xichen, past the physician, trying to find something in the room.
“Didi,” Lan Xichen says, and his voice prompts Lan Wangji to turn back towards him, “What’s wrong? How are you feeling?”
“…Ge,” Lan Wangji murmurs in a hoarse voice, once again looking around the room, “Where—”
Then he starts pushing himself up on his elbow, trying to get up.
“Where… where is..?”
“Hey, no no, Wangji, you need to rest,” Lan Xichen hurries to push him back down back into the bed, feeling guilty when Lan Wangji stares up at him accusingly, “You have to rest. Whatever you want, brother can get it for you, okay? Here— tell me what you want and I’ll have someone bring it right away!”
Lan Wangji obediently lies back, understanding this. Lan Xichen relaxes.
“Alright then. Tell me, Wangji, what can I get you?”
“Mmn,” Lan Wangji whispers, scratchy, eyes slowly falling closed, “Want…”
He falls asleep before he can finish his sentence.
Lan Xichen’s head turns to stare at the imperial physician, who shrugs a little. “Powerful medicine, what I gave him. This much is normal. Let your brother rest, Your Majesty. I’ll be staying in the Silent Wing until this illness is resolved, so I will be right here if he gets any worse.”
“Are you trying to chase me out, Laoshi?” Lan Xichen asks, narrowing his eyes. It’s mostly done in jest; Physician Zhao is the head of all imperial physicians, and has been serving Lan Xichen and Lan Wangji since their father was Emperor. Even for a charge so large as dictating what the emperor should do, nobody would dare suggest punishment.
“His Imperial Majesty should take care not tire himself out caring for the sick,” Physician Zhao nods easily, “This old servant is honoured to assure Hanguang-wang’s health, but doesn’t wish to see another instance of His Imperial Majesty collapsing at his bedside.”
There, Lan Xichen winces. When he looks back down, Lan Wangji is sleeping fitfully with a pained expression on his face, and that too reminds him of the terrible time during Lan Wangji’s recovery after… after. Lan Xichen had more often fallen asleep and woken up by the side of Lan Wangji’s bed than he did in his own rooms, those first few months.
The Emperor cannot be soft, he hears echoing in his mind, lessons and books and adages and the voices of people mixing together until they’re all one inescapable blur.
The Emperor cannot be partial to family.
The Emperor cannot be unjust.
The Emperor cannot be lenient on traitors and criminals.
The Emperor cannot be weak.
A firm, thin hand lands on Lan Xichen’s shoulder, startling him out of his thoughts. “Please put a wet cloth on Hanguang-wang’s face, Your Majesty,” The imperial physician says with sympathetic eyes, and the hand on his shoulder squeezes tightly, “This servant cannot touch Hanguang-wang’s forehead unless in an emergency, and anyway has to go and fetch some materials. Would that be acceptable?”
“Yes,” Lan Xichen says, nodding slowly, then with greater determination. “Yes, of course.”
“Good.” The physician smiles at him before bowing deeply and leaving the room.
Lan Xichen reaches for the basin of cold water that a servant brings him, and wets a cloth to wipe Lan Wangji’s heated face. It allows him a brief moment of peace where his mind is empty and his heart is free of the guilt that haunts his every waking moment.
That is the reality, after all:
The Emperor has always been weak.
If one doesn’t count Wen Ruohan’s brief stint on the throne, then the last time that an Emperor had the real power was in Lan Yi’s time, when she took over the country after her brother’s death. She ruled with an iron fist, killing dissidents and weeding out traitors by the dozens, and the stories claim that her infamous guqin was covered in fresh blood day and night. During the brief period of her rule, the entire court is said to have changed more than five times due to the sheer number of dead nobles and elders.
They don't teach this in the history books: Lan Yi’s vilification over the centuries was a direct result of the Emperor’s loss of power. After all, nobody wants a puppet ruler to learn from their bloodthirsty, powerful ancestor.
Considering all that, Lan Xichen has always felt justified in being happy that he was born before Lan Wangji. Lan Wangji is rigid, unfaltering in his convictions. Lan Wangji isn’t suited to smiling and lowering his head when he has to. Lan Wangji will break before he bends, and he will take the entire country with him if it becomes necessary to do so.
At Lan Xichen’s behest, Lan Wangji learnt Chord Assassination in secret, behind closed doors and from hidden manuals, because Lan Xichen knew that if something ever happened to him and Lan Wangji became Emperor, he could only emulate Lan Yi and no one else.
Lan Wangji isn’t suited to being a weak ruler.
Between them, only Lan Xichen is.
And yet every time he remembers Lan Wangji’s punishment, remembers the Siege, remembers the dying light in Lan Wangji’s eyes as he told his little brother haltingly, fearfully, Wangji… Wangji, Wei Wuxian is dead, Lan Xichen can’t help but wish that he wasn’t so very suited.
It’s only these last few years with Jin Guangyao taking over his father that Lan Xichen has come to enjoy a modicum of agency. As a young prince, he had dreaded a future under Wen Ruohan’s thumb. And then, as a young emperor, he had suffered through being pushed around by Jin Guangshan and the Imperial Elders and their various houses, wondering if Jin Zixuan would be better or worse.
Thankfully, those days are long past now. A-Yao is by his side, the court is peaceful, the elders are satisfied, the nobles are obedient, and Lan Xichen’s life is wonderful.
These days, his only heartache is his little brother.
Lan Xichen sighs as he puts the basin to the side and pulls the blanket higher over Lan Wangji’s restless form. He’s already been worrying for years about Lan Wangji’s insane amount of duties, and now he has finally been vindicated. It doesn’t feel the slightest bit satisfying but hopefully he’ll be able to convince Lan Wangji to take it a little easier from now on.
While he’s still lost in thought, a voice calls out. “Your Imperial Majesty, Prince-Concubine Mo is here, shall I admit him in?”
“Ah,” Lan Xichen says, he clears his throat; “Yes, of course.”
The doors open soundlessly. Mo Xuanyu enters through the shadows with small steps, carrying a tea set in his hands. Thankfully, he has dressed up from the dishevelled and indecent state they found him half an hour prior. Lan Xichen never wants to see what his brother’s concubine looks like in his inner robes ever again.
But then again, knowing that it was because Mo Xuanyu had rushed to Lan Wangji’s side, worried enough that he forgot propriety, Lan Xichen looks back at it with a fond sort of relief.
Mo Xuanyu is a slight, delicate-looking man with soft expressions and an unassuming, quiet temperament, but it’s clear just how much he cares for Lan Wangji. Lan Xichen can’t help but hope that with Mo Xuanyu around, Lan Wangji will finally move on from Wei Wuxian and achieve happiness with someone that actually cares for him.
Perhaps those hopes are the reason why Lan Xichen is so shocked when Mo Xuanyu walks closer into the lantern light and it reveals the vibrant colour of his robes. They’re lavish robes of concubine silk, embroidered and layered and flowery, but all of it is in crimson and black with barely any other colour.
Lan Xichen feels like a stone statue where he’s sitting at the side of the bed.
“This concubine greets His Imperial Majesty,” Mo Xuanyu whispers, bowing over the tray.
Lan Xichen has to swallow deeply to be able to respond. “Yes, ah, no need to stand on ceremony,” He says haltingly, before; “Xuanyu, your robes… the colour, it is a bit different?”
Black and red— it’s the mark of those wishing to identify themselves as followers of Wei Wuxian. Maybe, Lan Xichen thinks faintly, maybe it’s because Mo Xuanyu is a demonic cultivator. That must surely be why. Mo Xuanyu is simply used to wearing black and red due to his previous life, and Lan Xichen will simply tell him to be more careful with his alliances, and that will be it.
And then, neither Wangji nor he will ever see black and red ever again.
“Ah. Yes, Your Majesty, it is,” Mo Xuanyu says. When he raises his head, there is an amused but soft smile on his face. “My maids have a misconception, it seems. They think Wangye’s favourite colours are these. Now that Wangye is ill, I believe they’re trying to cheer him up through me.”
The maybe you should change gets stuck in Lan Xichen’s throat, an immovable lump.
Mo Xuanyu seems to find his maids’ actions endearing, because he shakes his head with a fond sigh. “Wangye is well loved here,” He says, truly happy on Lan Wangji’s behalf.
The words in Lan Xichen’s throat die a slow death.
When Lan Xichen nods faintly, trying to agree but not knowing what to do about his expression, Mo Xuanyu realises that the subject has closed. He gives one last small, muted smile to Lan Xichen, and he turns around to place the tray down on the bedside table.
Mo Xuanyu’s eyes fall as he looks at Lan Wangji sleeping under the sheets. When he’s close enough to do so, he puts a gentle hand on Lan Wangji’s cheek to check his temperature, and he purses his lips when he notices that it hasn’t dropped yet.
He looks worried.
“My best physician checked over him,” Lan Xichen says quietly, and Mo Xuanyu turns to glance at him, “It’s nothing too serious; just exhaustion and overwork. Nothing that won’t pass with some rest and medicine.”
“Yes, I was told,” Mo Xuanyu says quietly, his eyes sliding back to Lan Wangji’s face as if pulled there by a strange gravity. “Zhao-laoshi was the one that gave me this tea to feed to Wangye. It’s just… odd. To see Wangye so sick. He is such a powerful cultivator…”
“I know, Xuanyu,” Lan Xichen says, “I know.”
There is silence for a while, broken only by Lan Wangji’s breaths, and eventually Mo Xuanyu sighs quietly and turns away. He busies himself with pouring a cup of the medicinal tea for Lan Wangji. Then, inexplicably, he slowly raises the cup to his lips. He drinks a sip of the tea.
Lan Xichen blinks, befuddled. “Xuanyu?”
If Mo Xuanyu’s that thirsty, surely he can get a servant to pour him tea?
But while Lan Xichen is still wondering if he should ask someone to bring some tea, Mo Xuanyu glances over at him with a smile that curves his grey eyes.
“Just checking the taste, Your Majesty,” Mo Xuanyu says quietly, still smiling, “After all, Wangye will be drinking so much it.”
“Oh,” Lan Xichen says. He considers mentioning how Lan Wangji is extremely particular about his food and drinks, but then he thinks better of it. If Mo Xuanyu tells him that Lan Wangji doesn’t mind it when it’s him, Lan Xichen will die of embarrassment. He has already seen way more than he has ever wanted to see about his little brother’s lover.
With that cup of tea, Mo Xuanyu sits down on the bed and touches a light hand to Lan Wangji’s shoulder.
“Wangye,” Mo Xuanyu murmurs, and the loose lower half of his hair drapes over the bed, hiding his face and Lan Wangji’s head entirely from Lan Xichen’s view. “Wangye. I have medicine for you to drink. Wake up, Wangye.”
Lan Wangji makes a small noise, just an unwilling and sleepy mrrmm sound that makes Mo Xuanyu let out a laugh.
“Wangyeee,” Mo Xuanyu says again, “Wake uuup…”
“Mmh,” Lan Wangji says, as if he is ensuring them that he has indeed woken up, even though he most certainly hasn’t.
Mo Xuanyu shifts back from where he’s leaning over Lan Wangji, revealing Lan Wangji’s pinched face. “Wake up, Wangyee…” He says, “The tea is going to get cold, and then it’s going to taste even more terrible.”
“…not…” Lan Wangji mumbles through his croaky throat, but his eyes are starting to squint open, “…s not five yet.”
“In a way, it really isn’t!” Mo Xuanyu huffs with a smile audible in his voice, and this cadence of his voice feels oddly familiar to Lan Xichen in a way that Mo Xuanyu’s usual quiet politeness doesn’t. “But it’s also way past five. Plus, I’m not telling you to wake up fully! Come on, Wangye, just drink the tea and you can go back to sleep.”
Lan Wangji stares up at Mo Xuanyu with bleary eyes. His face is set, tellingly, into a firm pout.
For a single second, tears burn in Lan Xichen’s eyes. Feverish Lan Wangji is cranky and pouty and just childish enough that it makes you want to spoil him, and Lan Xichen hasn’t seen this expression on him for more than an entire decade.
After the punishment (after Wei Wuxian died) Lan Wangji was feverish many times. Each and every time, the fever had stripped his placid mask off of him and revealed the flayed, bloody insides that he hid from them all. And Lan Xichen remembers his expressions clearly; confused and deluded by the fever, searching for something he wouldn’t find, an open wound of inescapable pain.
The wounds on his back had healed; slowly, torturously, inch by impossible inch, but they had healed.
That expression of agony that appeared whenever a fever cracked open his calm was there each and every time.
Or, it seems, it was until now.
“Good morning, Wangye!” Mo Xuanyu says cheerfully, shuffling forward to help a sleepy Lan Wangji sit up with his back against the pillows, “Sit, sit. I’ll give you the tea.”
Lan Wangji watches Mo Xuanyu as he reaches for the teacup and brings it over. There is a soft, overtaken expression on his face and it’s nothing at all like the absolute agony that even a reminder of Wei Wuxian would have caused Lan Wangji. Lan Xichen delights to see it.
And that’s it. Lan Xichen decides right then and there that even if Mo Xuanyu one day decides to be an actual violent madman, he’s never going to be forced away from Lan Wangji’s side. Lan Xichen won’t allow it and A-Yao will surely back him up on this matter. The court will simply have to deal with a small bit of injustice within the walls of the Palace.
“Here,” Mo Xuanyu says, holding out the gently steaming teacup. Lan Wangji doesn’t make any motion to move. “Wangye?”
Lan Wangji continues watching Mo Xuanyu, pouting more and more obviously.
“Wangye??” Mo Xuanyu blinks, and he pushes the teacup closer to Lan Wangji’s lips, “Come on, you have to drink your medicine. Don’t tell me the ever-stoic Hanguang-wang is going to be difficult about taking medicine?”
The ever-stoic Hanguang-wang is most certainly going to be difficult about it.
Lan Xichen expects, with the surety of experience, a long back and forth where Lan Wangji refuses to drink any of the bitter medicines of the Imperial Palace and Mo Xuanyu tries to convince him, only to inevitably succumb to the temptation of bribing Lan Wangji into compliance however he can.
But then, Lan Wangji looks at Mo Xuanyu, looks at the teacup held under his chin, looks back at Mo Xuanyu, and his face lights up. Lowering his eyes, Lan Wangji leans forward and puts his lips on the teacup. He takes a sip.
Mo Xuanyu looks absolutely befuddled. “…what, you want me to feed you?”
Lan Wangji’s face communicates an empathic YES.
“I really wish you would speak sometimes,” Mo Xuanyu grumbles, seemingly to himself, but he nonetheless offers the tea to Lan Wangji’s lips. “Alright, fine, let’s try it this way, Wangye.”
The servants all seem to be looking desperately at their own feet, acting as if they can’t see anything, and Lan Xichen wonders if he should be leaving the room at this point. He can still hear Mo Xuanyu murmuring encouragement as he feeds Lan Wangji the medicine by hand, and embarrassment is burning bright in his belly. He really wants to go.
But no, his little brother is so sick, how can Lan Xichen leave before absolutely has to? For all that Mo Xuanyu is a breath of fresh air, he also barely knows Lan Wangji. Lan Xichen could hardly leave his little brother to him while Lan Wangji is incapable of taking care of himself. He’ll just have to watch the walls and ignore the two for some time.
Outside the window, the dark clouds that have been brewing since last night have finally started dropping rain, and the gloom of a storm has settled over Lan Wangji’s gardens.
Silently, Lan Xichen watches the raindrops fall. The sound of it, rushing water and rumbling clouds, is incredibly soothing. If he didn't have any work, if he weren’t Emperor, Lan Xichen would love to spend hours simply sitting and watching the rain from a window.
“Good, good,” Mo Xuanyu whispers, pleased, and when Lan Xichen glances over, the young man is patting gently at Lan Wangji’s chest to indicate he should lie back on the bed. “You can go back to sleep now, Wangye! Have good dreams.”
“Mmn.” Obediently, Lan Wangji slides into the bed, curled on his side, watching as Mo Xuanyu leans over to place the empty teacup on the tray. Lan Wangji truly does look like he’s falling back asleep. Whatever medicine he was given, it must have been really strong. Or perhaps his fever is more draining than Lan Xichen first assumed.
Mo Xuanyu must be wondering the same thing, because he shifts to plaster his palm on Lan Wangji’s forehead —boldly touching the ribbon; Lan Wangji must truly value him as a spouse— and Mo Xuanyu’s lips twitch into a small frown before he pulls them back up in an almost natural smile. His hand slides up into Lan Wangji’s bangs, and Lan Wangji leans into the motion like a cat.
“Wangye should rest,” Mo Xuanyu says as he pulls away, “This concubine will get the kitchens to prepare some light food for later.”
“Hmm,” Lan Wangji says, voice scratchy, and closes his eyes.
“Will His Majesty be staying here for now?” Mo Xuanyu asks, cleaning up the tray of medicinal tea. He glances over at Lan Xichen’s lap, where there is a stack of paper. “It’s perhaps that I am sentimental… but Wangye shouldn’t be alone, while he’s sick. If the Emperor will be here, then this concubine will feel much more at ease when checking the kitchens.”
Lan Xichen’s heart warms. “Of course. I will stay with Wangji until you’re back, Xuanyu.”
Bowing in thanks, Mo Xuanyu takes the tray and gets up from the bed. “Then, this concubine will be off.”
Mo Xuanyu takes one step forward. He stumbles over his feet when he’s tugged back.
Baffled, he turns around to look.
Lan Wangji is leaning up on one arm and he has grasped the edge of one of Mo Xuanyu’s long sleeves with his fingers. He looks barely conscious, blinking slowly and still spread in disarray, but his fingers are pinching the fabric firmly, refusing to let go. “…come back,” Lan Wangji whispers quietly, his eyes trained down at the floor, probably pouting again.
“Um, Wangye…” Mo Xuanyu hesitates. “It’ll just be a minute. I’ll be right back, I promise.”
“No,” Lan Wangji begs, holding tighter. “Come back.”
Outside, the storm clouds rumble.
Mo Xuanyu looks a bit helpless. He glances at Lan Xichen before focusing back on Lan Wangji. “Wangye, I really won’t take that long. Please let me go.”
“No,” Lan Wangji’s voice shakes. When he looks up at Mo Xuanyu, his eyes are glazed again, half out of his mind with the fever. “Don't.”
“I’m not doing anything,” Mo Xuanyu says reasonably, “I’m just going to pop into the kitchens, check what they’re doing, and come back right away. If it’s— that, I won’t leave the Silent Wing without you, Wangye.”
Lan Xichen shifts on the bed, uncomfortable.
When he receives no further answer, Mo Xuanyu takes a step back, and the hem of his sleeve slides from Lan Wangji’s hand. Mo Xuanyu turns around to walk out of the room, his expression clearly indicating that he will be making the most hurried kitchen run that has ever been made in history. “Just a minute okay? One minute. I’ll go, check, come back.”
It’s debatable whether Lan Wangji has heard anything from what he just said. He has pulled his now free hand to his chest and is clutching his own inner robes in an iron grip. Curled towards Mo Xuanyu with his hair trailing the sheets, Lan Wangji’s bowed form looks desperate, almost supplicant. His shoulders are shaking.
“Don't,” Lan Wangji breathes out again, choked, “Don't go.”
Lan Xichen has an odd, foreboding feeling in his stomach, sort of as if he has already seen this scene before.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji sobs, “Wei Ying.”
Mo Xuanyu freezes entirely.
The entire room —the servants, Lan Xichen, even the raging storm outside— freezes.
It feels like Lan Xichen’s mind is a line of static, and he looks wide eyed at the tense back of Mo Xuanyu, trying to force his mind to form at least a single thought. He can’t.
Slowly, Lan Wangji’s concubine turns around to face the bed again.
His expression is tight, completely unreadable.
“Ah,” He says, his voice painfully still, and his hands are clutching the tray so hard that his knuckles have turned white. “…Wei Ying?”
A moment passes. Thunder booms, somewhere in the distance.
“…the Yiling Patriarch, Wei Ying?”
At the question, Lan Wangji looks up from the bed, wide-eyed, and he’s met by Mo Xuanyu’s blank expression.
Lan Wangji’s face crumples.
It’s an exact replica to the one that Lan Xichen got used to seeing whenever his little brother had a fever.
“…” Lan Wangji whispers something, his expression wretched, before he lowers his head and his hair covers it all. “…ut.”
“Wangji…” Lan Xichen puts his stack of paperwork to the side so he can approach his brother, gently, as if approaching a maddened animal, “Are you—”
“Get out!” Lan Wangji’s arm lurches across the bed, a sharp gesture that encompasses them all, “OUT!”
Frightened out of their wits, the servants all hurry out of the room with low bows and paled faces. Mo Xuanyu looks to the side for a long moment with pained eyes, but then he, too, bows and leaves.
Lan Xichen dithers for yet another moment, his hands raised uselessly towards his little brother who is panting and shivering with the effort of shouting around his raw throat. He doesn’t know what to do, to help. He doesn’t know how to make this all better.
He had been wondering. The clothes, the demonic cultivation, the way Lan Wangji is clutching him so close and tight... He had been wondering if Mo Xuanyu even knew whose replacement he was. Apparently, he didn’t.
Lan Xichen thinks that he probably hates Wei Wuxian. He has never truly hated anyone before.
“Emperor-brother,” Lan Wangji says tightly, “…get out.”
Helplessly, Lan Xichen nods. “Alright,” He tries to say, but then he realizes that his voice came out too croaked, so he clears his throat to repeat, “Alright, didi. Alright. Whatever you need.”
Lan Xichen reaches blindly for his stack of papers and shuffles out of the room while holding them tightly to his chest. When he reaches the door, he chances a glance over his shoulder. In the darkness of the storm, Lan Wangji is curled over himself on the bed, one hand still clutching at his chest, the other fisted on the sheets, his shoulders heaving.
Unable to do anything, Lan Xichen closes his eyes and leaves the room.
In the hall, Mo Xuanyu has pulled aside a vaguely familiar young girl in pink robes with her black hair braided into two buns. “—no matter what they say, do you understand, A-Xu?” He instructs her quietly, and the girl nods with a determined face, “Don't let anyone but me or His Imperial Majesty into the room. If anyone questions you, tell them to come to me and see if they keep their jobs.”
“Yes, Master Mo!” The girl says, her brown eyes blazing, “This servant won’t let anyone disturb Wangye’s rest!”
“Good. I’m trusting you to stand guard for Wangye until I’m back,” Mo Xuanyu says. His face softens from its previous distraughtness into something more smiling. “Wangye is sick, so we have to take good care of him.”
Lan Xichen’s painfully clenched heart clenches even more.
“Xuanyu,” He calls, and Mo Xuanyu looks up to notice him and immediately bows. “May I have a word?”
“Yes, of course,” Mo Xuanyu says, blinking as he trots up to Lan Xichen. He follows obediently when Lan Xichen starts walking down the hall. The silence persists for a long time, each thinking their own thoughts, but eventually it is too much.
“Xuanyu,” Lan Xichen says, and he clears his throat again. “About what Wangji said. Or well— on the matter of Wei Wuxian…”
Mo Xuanyu’s smiling expression goes blank and cautious. “Oh,” He says, “Um, yes. Please instruct this concubine.”
“I understand that you might be feeling angry. Wronged.” Lan Xichen says with a stab of guilt in his guts. “I don’t know how much you were told about… this… before Wangji brought you here, he is not very forthright on most matters. Especially those about Wei Wuxian. It must be very vexing to be, be expected to, ah…”
Replace him. Lan Xichen can’t even say it without burning with anger. Anger on Mo Xuanyu’s behalf, on Lan Wangji’s behalf, anger at Wei Wuxian that’s thirteen years too late. His fists ball on his sides without his permission, and Mo Xuanyu’s gaze flickers to them.
“Wei Wuxian,” Lan Xichen says, still trying to keep the anger buried so that Mo Xuanyu won’t notice, “He hurt Wangji. He hurt Wangji so much that the scars he opened never truly went away. In Wangji’s entire life— Wei Wuxian was the only mistake he ever made.”
Mo Xuanyu’s steps slow down.
“Although he hasn’t moved on just yet, I can see that he cherishes you greatly,” Lan Xichen says, trying to seem warm rather than desperate as he slows down to match Mo Xuanyu’s reluctant stride. “You look similar, but act very differently. If Wangji didn't appreciate you for your own soul, he would never be so comfortable around you. This is the happiest I’ve seen him in years. Please don’t give up on him, Xuanyu.”
“I,” Mo Xuanyu says, face lowered, and he lets out a shaky laugh, “I would never..! I would never.”
“Wangji won’t treat you badly,” Lan Xichen tries to comfort him, “You will never be hurt or mistreated in my Palace.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Mo Xuanyu says, an unexpected fierceness to his voice, “That kind of thing— it doesn’t matter how he treats me. I would never.”
And Lan Xichen suddenly knows.
Even if Lan Wangji loves someone else, even if he will never be anything more than something to make Lan Wangji happy, even if he will have to live his life acting like someone else, Mo Xuanyu won’t take this back. Lan Wangji won’t lose this one comfort he has.
Mo Xuanyu loves Lan Wangji.
The first thing Lan Xichen feels is relief. And then he feels guilty for having felt relief, because he realises that this is never going to be fair to Mo Xuanyu.
“This Mo Xuanyu is very grateful to the Emperor for his advice,” Mo Xuanyu says, and when he looks back up, it’s with a forced smile, “I will… keep it in mind. But if His Majesty won’t be offended, I have to go get Wangye’s food prepared in the kitchens, so…”
“Ah, yes,” Lan Xichen nods, trying to smile back, “Thank you for taking care of him, Xuanyu. I will come back again this evening.”
“Good day, Your Majesty.” Mo Xuanyu bows low.
Lan Xichen leaves with his heart heavier but steps lighter.
He desperately wants to talk with A-Yao.
In Wangji’s entire life, Wei Wuxian was the only mistake he ever made.
Wei Wuxian stands in front of the doors, head bowed.
He should go in. He checked the kitchen, checked the ones making the food, and nothing seemed wrong. If anything is going to happen, it will be in Lan Wangji’s room. Wei Wuxian has to be there. He can’t not.
“Master Mo?” A-Xu asks worriedly, “Is everything alright? I didn't let anyone enter, promise! Don’t be upset, Master…”
“I know you didn’t, A-Xu,” Wei Wuxian manages to say, “You’ve done well. Thank you.”
“Then why..?” A-Xua asks sadly, and Wei Wuxian can only shake his head at her.
“It’s nothing,” He says. He lets out a long breath and determinedly fixes a smile on his face, glancing once at A-Xu. “I’ll be going to Wangye’s side. Continue standing guard, alright?”
“Yes! Yes, of course.” A-Xu nods rapidly, before hesitating for a moment, “Master said not to let in anyone but the Emperor in, but… what about Wangye’s physician? Shouldn’t I..?”
Wei Wuxian bites his lips.
That’s the question isn’t it?
In this entire Palace, in this entire world, the only one who knows that Wei Wuxian is alive is Lan Wangji. And Wei Wuxian… the only one he truly knows, can truly trust, is Lan Wangji. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem. After all, the few days before he died Wei Wuxian had no one he could fully trust, so this is obviously a step up.
Wei Wuxian trusts Lan Wangji, and Lan Wangji has been living the Imperial Palace since he was born, so he knows almost every important person here. He would know which of them are completely loyal. On any normal day, Wei Wuxian could find dozens of trustworthy people this way, just by asking Lan Wangji who to go to.
But Lan Wangji is out of commission. And Wei Wuxian— Wei Wuxian doesn’t know anyone.
Without Lan Wangji by his side, Wei Wuxian feels once again like he’s alone fighting against the entire world. Anyone and everyone seems suspicious, seems dangerous, seems untrustworthy. Anyone and everyone could be the enemy.
The only ones that he is certain wouldn’t wish harm on Lan Wangji are the two juniors and Lan Xichen. Not even the imperial physician is spared Wei Wuxian’s suspicion. Unfortunately, though, Wei Wuxian doesn’t understand anything about medicine; he can’t simply inspect Lan Wangji and come up with a treatment himself. Wei Wuxian isn’t Wen Qing. Can never be Wen Qing. Lan Wangji needs the assistance of an imperial physician.
If only Wei Wuxian knew whether the physician is making him better or worse.
He could always go tell Lan Xichen about his suspicions, he supposes, but… a few days ago, it was Lan Xichen’s own family plotting against them. And Lan Xichen certainly wasn’t listening to him.
Wei Wuxian, admittedly, doesn’t trust Lan Xichen either.
He has to protect Lan Wangji, and he will do so. It’s just that it’s a shame Wei Wuxian doesn’t know any way to protect someone except to put himself between them and this scheming, cruel world.
“No,” He tells A-Xu, quietly, “I’ll be inside the room, so call for me if the physician arrives, alright?”
Wei Wuxian enters the room. It’s both very empty and very dark.
The falling rain and Lan Wangji’s strained breaths are the only sounds echoing inside.
In Wangji’s entire life, Wei Wuxian was the only mistake he ever made.
Wei Wuxian closes the door behind himself with a silent creak before walking slowly towards the bed.
Lan Wangji is asleep again, huddled under the covers, and his face is turned softly towards his hand. His cheeks are flushed and his breath is laboured, moving the sheets with every shaky inhale. Wei Wuxian sits on the edge of the bed, looking down at him, and he sees that the corner of Lan Wangji’s one visible eye is a harsh red as if it was rubbed violently.
In Wangji’s entire life, Wei Wuxian was the only mistake he ever made.
“…sorry, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian whispers. He can’t help but raise his knuckles to brush lightly over that red corner of one eye, where the bruised skin meets long lashes. “I’m sorry.”
Lan Wangji makes a small sound and turns on the bed, startling Wei Wuxian into jerking his hand back.
“Mmh,” Lan Wangji says. Wei Wuxian tries to keep still and silent, but Lan Wangji is clearly intent on dragging himself out of the sticky hold of sleep.
“Go back to sleep,” Wei Wuxian whispers, “There’s no need to wake up, Lan Zhan.”
It doesn’t work. Lan Wangji shuffles, squinting his eyes at Wei Wuxian.
“…ei Ying,” Lan Wangji mumbles, blinking slowly. Then, as he wakes up a bit more, Lan Wangji sucks in a short breath and struggles up on the bed, sitting against the headboard. His body is angled back, almost defensive, as he stares at Wei Wuxian. His eyes are still glazed and feverish. “Mo… Xuanyu?”
In the entire time since Wei Wuxian was resurrected, Lan Wangji has never once called him Mo Xuanyu. Not Mo Xuanyu, not Xuanyu, not even Prince-Concubine Mo— Lan Wangji has been so stubborn about this particularity that he has actively avoided calling out to Wei Wuxian in public places.
Since Wei Wuxian was resurrected, this is the first time that Lan Wangji has ever called Wei Wuxian anything but Wei Ying.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian sighs, grasping the blanket over Lan Wangji’s lap to be closer, leaning down to look up at Lan Wangji’s dazed face. He forces out a little laugh. “You really believed that? Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, it’s obviously not Mo Xuanyu! It’s Wei Wuxian. It’s me, Lan Zhan. Okay? Wei Wuxian.”
When Lan Wangji looks up again, his eyes are wide and uncertain. “Wei Ying?”
Wei Wuxian nods hurriedly. “Yes! It’s your Wei Ying! It was an act, it wasn’t real! It was just so that your brother wouldn’t throw me out, okay? Aiyah, how can you go and believe that? You’re too easy to tease! I’m offended, Lan-er-gege! Aren’t I so obviously Wei Wuxia—”
Then, he gets glomped so fast that his last words come out as a shocked yelp.
“Hey, what are you—”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, curled into Wei Wuxian’s chest with his hair trailing everywhere, a messy web across the sheets. His face is hidden in Wei Wuxian’s robes, so his voice comes muffled. “Wei Ying.”
Wei Wuxian’s expression of dramatic protest softens. Hesitantly, he puts one hand over Lan Wangji’s curved back. He strokes down the spine. “Yes, Lan Zhan?”
Lan Wangji’s breath makes a hitching sound. “Wei Ying.”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says again, and this time there’s a quiet, hoarse edge to his voice. His arms are squeezing Wei Wuxian so tightly that it hurts, but it’s a good hurt, an affirmation. An answer, even.
“Mhmm,” Wei Wuxian responds, and he tugs at a lock of Lan Wangji’s hair, “That’s me! What is it?”
Lan Wangji breathes out silently for a few seconds. His breaths are both impossible to hear and nearly ragged in the silent darkness of the room. “…hurts,” He whispers, quiet, “I’m tired.”
“Tired, huh?” Wei Wuxian says, looking up at the shadowed ceiling.
He strokes Lan Wangji’s back one more time, curving his palm from the neck then down the spine, an almost possessive feeling begging him to sink his claws into Lan Wangji and never let go.
“…yeah,” Wei Wuxian says to him, laughing again on a quiet exhale, “Tell me about it.”
Lan Wangji leans his weight further onto Wei Wuxian, his eyelashes brushing against Wei Wuxian’s neck with every blink. He doesn’t say anything. His skin, where it is pressed against Wei Wuxian’s own, is burning hot with fever. He’s probably going to fall back asleep soon.
“Hey Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian whispers, entirely against his own will, “…are you ever going to tell me what you want, Lan Zhan?”
Lan Wangji makes a confused, questioning sound against Wei Wuxian’s robes.
“You can tell me you know!” Wei Wuxian says in the most confident, reassuring tone he can manage right now. “Come on, here, I’ll go first. I’ve always liked donkeys, so I want you to get me a donkey! What about you? What do you want from me? Whatever it is, I'll get it for you. You can have it.”
Lan Wangji shakes his head. “No.”
“Why not? You can say it, I promise I won’t tease you,” Wei Wuxian says, and his grip becomes tighter, though Lan Wangji doesn’t make any complaints about it. “Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, I know that there is something! Haven’t I waited long enough? Why won’t you tell me?”
“…told already. Don't want,” Lan Wangji murmurs, almost inaudible. “Don’t repay me…”
“What does that even mean?” Wei Wuxian asks, halfway between laughing and crying. “What did you tell me? I wasn’t paying attention! Say it again, I really won’t forget it this time!”
Lan Wangji doesn’t respond to that.
“Hm,” Lan Wangji says.
“Come on, tell me!”
Lan Wangji doesn’t respond again.
“Are you acting like you can’t hear me?” Wei Wuxian realizes, “That’s so immature, Lan Zhan! Just because you won’t answer, it doesn’t mean I don’t know that you can hear me!”
Moving a little, Lan Wangji pulls his hands back from around Wei Wuxian and covers his ears with them.
And that… Wei Wuxian really does start laughing at that, loud and uncontrollable.
Lan Wangji shifts in surprise and Wei Wuxian doesn’t support them up this time, letting the shift send them flopping sideways onto the bed. Although he tries valiantly to stay up, Lan Wangji is also pulled along by Wei Wuxian’s tight hold on him. They both land on the fluffy blankets with a puff of a sound. When Wei Wuxian looks at Lan Wangji lying across from him, he sees that Lan Wangji is still stubbornly closing his ears.
There is an obvious space between Lan Wangji’s fingers from where he can surely hear everything perfectly well.
Wei Wuxian falls into another fit of laughter. “I know you can still hear me~” He teases, and Lan Wangji’s eyes blink slowly as if he cannot comprehend how this may be.
“Aiyo, Lan Zhan why are you so funny?” Wei Wuxian laughs, “If you would just tell me properly, wouldn’t that be so much easier? This is the time to ask me for favours you know? You’re not going to find me so generous next time when you want something!”
Lan Wangji shakes his head.
“No? Not even a little hint?” Wei Wuxian asks, bringing his fingertips close together to gesture out a very small amount. “Not even an itty-bitty tiny little hint?”
Lan Wangji shakes his head again.
“Alright,” Wei Wuxian says with crooked grin. In the midst of his silence, the sound of the pouring rain outside sounds inordinately loud the room. Lan Wangji watches him with big light eyes, hands still on his ears. Wei Wuxian whispers, his voice buried deep in the soft silence; “…alright.”
He gives up.
Moving on the bed, Wei Wuxian pulls at Lan Wangji. “Come on,” He says, “Let’s get you back in bed to rest, hm? It’s time to rest for all sick Lan Zhans!”
Lan Wangji lets Wei Wuxian prop him up without complaint— except, just as he’s shifting onto his knees, a short, pained breath escapes him. He immediately purses his lips tightly, but Wei Wuxian has already heard it.
Wei Wuxian gentles his hold as much as he can, letting Lan Wangji lean against his shoulder again. He asks sympathetically, “Still hurts?”
“Mm,” Lan Wangji says quietly. His hands land on his lap as his shoulders draw close in pain. His breath is puffing steadily against Wei Wuxian’s robes, in and out, in and out, in and out, an almost-meditation. Lan Wangji murmurs, “Burns.”
“Ah, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says, stricken. “It must truly be bad if you’re saying that.”
Lan Wangji backtracks with impressive speed at that, saying, “Not that bad,” but Wei Wuxian is hardly going to believe such a weak claim.
Wei Wuxian rubs his palm on Lan Wangji’s back, just a soft pressure between his shoulder blades, trying to remember the way Shijie used to do it. It’s difficult after having spent so long deliberately not thinking of her, but she would have wanted him to be able to comfort Lan Wangji.
I think A-Xian likes His Highness very much, she would have said, smiling that gentle smile that remains like a brand under his skin. Don’t forget what you learned from me, okay? A-Xian, it’s a blessing to be able to take care of those we love.
“I’ll be here,” Wei Wuxian says to Lan Wangji, trailing his hand up to brush through his hair, “I’ll take care of it, okay? Lan Zhan, I’ll make it better.”
On Wei Wuxian’s shoulder, Lan Wangji closes his eyes.
It’s not an answer, but Wei Wuxian wasn’t looking for one anyways.
“Don’t you worry one bit,” He says, this time quietly. He glances back down at Lan Wangji’s cheeks, flushed with fever and shadowed by the fan of his long lashes. He glances away to look directly ahead at the headboard instead, promising; “I’ll make it all better.”
He’ll make it all better.
After that, Wei Wuxian settles down in Lan Wangji’s room to hold a complete vigil. His maids try a few times to get him to return to his own bedroom to rest at night, to avoid getting sick himself, but Wei Wuxian refuses to budge with steely determination. Eventually, when he fears that he might fall asleep, he chases all of the servants out and only lets them back in when he needs them for something.
If it is just an illness, then Wei Wuxian will take care of his best —and only remaining— friend until he’s well again, and that will be that.
If it isn’t just an illness…
See, here is the thing: Wei Wuxian has always been difficult to anger. Wei Wuxian, ever since he experienced the true consequences of his own arrogance, has been especially careful to be difficult to anger.
But more than that, since he was resurrected, he has had Lan Wangji by his side. Lan Wangji, who gets angry for him, in his place. Lan Wangji, who argues and protests for him, in his place. Lan Wangji, whose mere existence exerts a sort of calming aura over anyone who so much as lays an eye on his luminous self.
Lan Wangji, who makes Wei Wuxian forget just how angry he can get.
And now, with Lan Wangji more gone than not, Wei Wuxian is rapidly starting to remember.
Bright and early with the morning sun, Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi come visit. Wei Wuxian welcomes them in with as much cheer as he can emit, but it’s for naught. The room feels empty with just the three of them and Lan Wangji, with the servants all gone.
Lan Wangji is sleeping again after his fever spiked late at night, high enough that the physician started looking visibly strained and they had to carry water from the Cold Springs at the back of the Palace to basically dunk Lan Wangji into it. Wei Wuxian has barely slept a single full hour the entire night. Exhausted energy is playing with his emotions.
Lan Sizhui is deathly silent as he comes in and sits down at the edge of the bed. He reaches into the blankets and folds one of Lan Wangji’s much bigger hands into both of his own, squeezing it tightly. Then he stays there like that.
Even Lan Jingyi doesn’t seem to be in the mood to do anything more than murmuring “Good morning, Senior Mo,” and standing guard by the door.
Wei Wuxian sighs. He’s not going to be able to cheer them up this time. It’ll have to wait until Lan Wangji is fine again.
“…he’ll be alright,” Lan Sizhui says, suddenly, “Father. He’ll be alright, right? What did the physician say?”
The physician didn't say anything. Didn't have to, really.
They all already knew that it wasn’t good.
But Wei Wuxian obviously can’t say that.
“He’ll be alright, it’s just a bad sickness! Nothing a strong golden core can’t defeat. Don’t worry, Sizhui, we’ll nurse him right back to health,” Wei Wuxian sits down next to Lan Sizhui and puts a friendly arm around his hunched shoulders to pull him close in a half hug, the way he used to comfort Jiang Cheng after a bad scolding.
Startled, Lan Sizhui freezes for a moment. A moment later, though, he’s slumping right onto Wei Wuxian’s side, his head buried in the black robes. “Jingyi,” Lan Sizhui calls out, muffled, “We should send word that we won’t be participating in the official nighthunt, right?”
“Probably,” Lan Jingyi says, before he huffs, “Little Mistress is going to be insufferable. He’s gonna think we chickened out just when they changed it into something a few levels above junior-rank! That prissy jerk.”
“Weren’t you two training so hard for that nighthunt?” Wei Wuxian asks, worried, “Maybe don’t cancel it just yet, Wangye wouldn’t want you to miss it on his account.”
Lan Sizhui shakes his head mutely on Wei Wuxian’s shoulder.
“Are you sure?” Wei Wuxian asks again, “You don’t have to stay here to keep watch. I’ll take care of Wangye, you can trust me.”
“No. No, it’s not,” Lan Sizhui says, sounding miserable, “It’s not that.”
Wei Wuxian squeezes him harder. “What is it, then?”
“It’s just…” Lan Sizhui says, “It’s been so long since Father was ever this ill. I don’t even remember my family before… If something happens to Father as well—”
“AaaAAH— Sizhui!!” Lan Jingyi interrupts, panicked, hurrying over to put his hands on Lan Sizhui’s shoulders and leaning in to whisper way too loudly; “You’re not supposed to be telling people that, aah! Sizhui, Senior Mo is going to figure out that you’re adopted and then—”
Wei Wuxian clears his throat.
Lan Jingyi turns wide eyes towards him.
“Jingyi,” Wei Wuxian says calmly, “I can hear everything you're saying.”
“…aaaaah!” Lan Jingyi lets out, “Forget it! Forget! Forget what I said! Right now! Forget it!!”
Wei Wuxian’s lips twitch with a supressed grin, and even Lan Sizhui breathes out a small chuckle, shoulders moving under Wei Wuxian’s arm.
“You— you are both making fun of me!” Lan Jingyi squawks like an offended chicken, “You are mocking me! Even though I’m trying to save Sizhui’s position in the imperial family! You’re laughing at me!! Sizhui, you ungrateful cousin! Unfilial friend!”
“I’m sorry Jingyi,” Lan Sizhui says, pushing himself out of Wei Wuxian’s embrace to smile apologetically at his friend— although, from this angle, Wei Wuxian can see that Lan Sizhui hasn’t been able to erase the amusement entirely from the tilt of his lips. “Thank you for always protecting me. You know how much I appreciate you.”
“As you should!” Lan Jingyi says grumpily, but he’s clearly been mollified by Lan Sizhui’s sweet apology, and he’s soft enough that he lets it go to ask worriedly; “Will Hanguang-wang be angry that you told Senior Mo? You know the Emperor said not to let it slip…”
“I didn't let it slip,” Lan Sizhui says, turning to look at Wei Wuxian with hesitant eyes, “I wanted— I thought Senior Mo should know. Senior Mo wouldn’t tell anyone. Right?”
Wei Wuxian’s throat burns at that easy admission of trust. “Of course not,” He manages to choke out, “What a silly child, asking me such ridiculous questions! This is better than what I thought, you know? I thought maybe Hanguang-wang had had a child out of the wedlock after the Wen Rebellion! Can you imagine Wangye doing that? What a stupid head I have!”
Lan Sizhui lets out a quiet huff. “Father would never.”
“Exactly! Clearly, your dad has much better means of getting himself a son,” Wei Wuxian beams, “He has plucked himself a kid out of some plant! What would I tell anyone? All I know is that you’re Wangye’s son, which is as true as ever. I just need to keep it silent that you also have another family from before.”
There is a moment’s pause, Lan Sizhui looking wide-eyed at him, and then Wei Wuxian finds himself with an armful of teenager. It’s the second time he has been glomped by a Lan these two days, which probably merits some sort of celebration or official documentation, considering how great of an achievement it must be.
While Wei Wuxian is still sitting there with his arms raised hesitantly in the air, Lan Sizhui whispers; “Thank you.”
Wei Wuxian sighs and puts one arm back around the boy. “Aiyo, there’s no need for any thanks. Or hugs.”
“I, sorry— just one more moment please, Senior Mo,” Lan Sizhui says with his voice kind of choked, squeezing Wei Wuxian once, and is that wetness he can feel soaking his shoulder? Oh no. Wei Wuxian hates people crying. “It’s, it’s been a hard day. This is— it’s strange, but this... it reminds me of something nice.”
Well, who is Wei Wuxian to argue with that? He hugs Lan Sizhui tightly and ignores the wetness on his robes.
Then, however, Wei Wuxian glimpses from the corner of his eyes that Lan Jingyi is dithering nearby, looking between them with something unreadable on his face. Alright, he thinks with a sigh. Fine, fine! Everyone knows that two children are always better than one.
“Come on,” Wei Wuxian says to Lan Jingyi, opening his free arm. Lan Jingyi gapes. “There is something someone very very wise used to tell me. Can you guess what it was?”
Lan Jingyi shakes his head.
Wei Wuxian chuckles, somewhat helplessly. Ah, but Shijie always knows best, doesn’t she Xianxian?
“She used to say that group hugs make everyone feel better,” Wei Wuxian says, firmly, “And she always knew best. Now, come on, come on! Don’t you want to make your friend feel better, Jingyi?”
“Um,” Lan Jingyi says, glancing at Lan Sizhui once, “Alright, I guess…”
With that, Wei Wuxian gets two armfuls of moody Lan teenagers.
These two kids are the best kids ever, and if Lan Wangji doesn’t get back to health soon to reassure them both, Wei Wuxian is going to be very angry.
After a few minutes of just sitting with his face pressed into the crook of Wei Wuxian’s shoulder, Lan Sizhui sniffles one last time and pulls away with a wobbly smile on his face. Seeing his friend pulling away, Lan Jingyi also steps back, his cheeks completely flushed with embarrassment. Both of them are looking away from each other and Wei Wuxian.
Is it really that difficult to hug for like three minutes? Wei Wuxian despairs at the way these Lans are raised, all long-distance and free-range and unfailingly polite.
“Thank you, Senior Mo,” Lan Sizhui says bashfully, “That was, um— wildly inappropriate! But it really made me feel better, so, thank you. Senior Mo didn't investigate it out on his own, so I’ll make sure to take responsibility and apologise to Father for telling Senior of my adoption…”
With that, Lan Sizhui glances over from the corner of his eyes at where Lan Wangji is still unconscious on the bed, and he seems to wilt a bit.
“When Father wakes up, that is,” He says despondently.
“Sizhui,” Wei Wuxian says, and he smiles when Lan Sizhui turns back to look at him. “Trust me, alright? Everything will be alright. Lan Zhan will be alright.”
Wei Wuxian will make it so.
“…Mn,” Lan Sizhui says, neither agreeing nor disagreeing, a polite-non-answer. Truly, he is Lan Wangji’s son.
Wei Wuxian feels fondness rise so high in his chest that he might be choking on it.
Before he can say anything, though, there is a knock at the door. “Prince-Concubine Mo?” A servant calls. “I’ve brought the porridge for Wangye. May I enter?”
“Oh,” Wei Wuxian says, “Yeah, come on in.”
As the servant opens the door and walks inside, Wei Wuxian gets up to prepare the medicinal tea to go with the food.
He will have to wake up Lan Wangji, which won’t be easy considering the fact that they made such a commotion right at his bedside and he still didn't even squint open a single eye. But the physician said medicine three times a day with each meal, and so Lan Wangji will have to deal with it.
Quietly, while no one is watching him, Wei Wuxian takes a small sip of the brewed tea. Closing his eyes, he feels for his body. He can’t seem to sense the tea doing anything to him except what it’s supposed to do, which is to regulate Lan Wangji’s spiritual energy and sooth his fever.
Wei Wuxian barely has enough cultivation to feel out the state of his own body. But he is one, weaker than Lan Wangji, and two, already suspicious of any changes that might occur. So hopefully, he should be able to sense if there is any poison in Lan Wangji’s food that is strong enough to affect a cultivator of his level.
As usual, though, there seems to be no problem with the physician’s medicines. Nothing poisonous, at least. Wei Wuxian sighs in relief and puts the cup of tea back on the tray. Then, looking down, he rummages through his sleeves to pull out a crumpled talisman that will keep the tea hot.
Wei Wuxian has just put the warming talisman on the teapot when his hands pause.
He raises his eyes.
The servant is placing the tray carefully on the table at the side, his head lowered respectfully. He’s an unassuming man, not young but not old either, his black hair in a common knot at his nape, his servant’s robes smudged at the hem with a bit of charcoal from an oven.
“You’re from the kitchens, right?” Wei Wuxian asks as he pulls his hands casually away from the teapot, walking over to the table. “Are you one of the cooks?”
“Responding to Prince-Concubine, this servant isn’t.” The servant salutes with a bow. “I was sent as a temporary replacement by the Ministry of Household Affairs when someone from the kitchens fell and broke his legs. I am only helping around, doing deliveries.”
“Ah, I see, I see, you're new as expected,” Wei Wuxian smiles brightly, “I was wondering why I didn't recognise you, that’s why. When were you assigned here? How have you been finding it?”
The servant’s stance grows a little bit more relaxed. “I am very well treated, Prince-Concubine Mo, thank you for your concern. It has been four days since this servant was assigned to the Silent Wing.”
Exactly as long as Wei Wuxian had expected.
Nobody else would have noticed. This is what Wei Wuxian keeps thinking, again and again, almost obsessively. Nobody else could possibly have noticed. If Wei Wuxian wasn’t Wei Wuxian, if he was anyone else, even another demonic cultivator, he wouldn’t have noticed.
Wei Wuxian reaches up to touch the elaborate half-bun of his hair, now rumpled after pulling an all-nighter by Lan Wangji’s side. He hooks a finger around the jewelled camellia at the end of the hairstick holding his hair together.
“Then, I will be off now…” The servant says hesitantly when Wei Wuxian doesn’t speak for a long minute, pulling his hands off of the tray to step back and bow once again. “If anything is insufficient, please feel free to call for me, Prince-Concubine Mo.”
“Sorry but you’re not going anywhere,” Wei Wuxian says quietly.
The servant’s eyes flicker to Wei Wuxian’s face, cautious. His feet shift on the floor. “Is there something else that Prince-Concubine requires of me?”
“Yes,” Wei Wuxian says, sliding the hairstick out of his hair and letting it fall loose. The endless cruelty that he keeps asleep by sheer force is yawning awake in the back of his smile, and he’s afraid that nothing could quite hold it back at this point. “I require you to tell me exactly what you put into this porridge.”
It takes a single second, maybe less.
The servant lunges for the doors. Wei Wuxian grabs his wrist and stabs the sharpened hairstick through his hand, into the thick wooden table, pinning him in place.
Unwittingly, the servant’s first response to that is to try and jerk his hand away— and blood spurts high, splattering everywhere; on the table, over the servant, across Wei Wuxian’s face.
“A— AAAAH!” The servant screams in pain, doubling over and grasping his wrist in his free hand. “Stop— dammit— ah, ah it fucking hurts!”
There is a pair of shocked gasps behind Wei Wuxian. “Senior Mo?!”
The servant still hasn’t given up on trying to get away, but it is effortless to keep the hairstick in place, even for Wei Wuxian’s minor cultivation. When the man tries to grab his hand and pull the hairstick out that way, Wei Wuxian catches his free wrist and squeezes it hard enough to hear a satisfying crack. The servant gurgles out another scream.
At that, the stuttered questions and exclamations coming from the two juniors fall silent. The servant’s pleas, on the other hand, are like passing water through Wei Wuxian’s ears.
After all, now that Wei Wuxian has sensed it once, he can’t stop sensing it anymore.
There is resentful energy lingering inside the servant, twisted in the tell-tale purposes of demonic cultivation. The tiny, altered trace of resentful energy that lingers inside the porridge, on the other hand, is clearly the poison that Wei Wuxian has been searching for in anything and everything that has been given to Lan Wangji this past day.
It’s the breakfast meal, Wei Wuxian realizes with a silent burst of rage. Wei Wuxian didn't find out before it was almost too late because he hasn’t woken up early enough to take his breakfast with Lan Wangji since he visited the Inner Palace. It’s just bad luck. It’s just pure, common bad luck that they chose to hurt Lan Wangji at the one meal where Wei Wuxian wouldn’t be around.
With every breakfast, Lan Wangji has been eating an undetectable, untraceable poison, and Wei Wuxian hasn’t been able to stop it because he was sleeping in.
The last time Wei Wuxian was this furious, they had just burnt Wen Qing and Wen Ning alive.
“Sizhui, Jingyi,” Wei Wuxian says with his voice carefully scrubbed clean of emotion, glancing once over his shoulder even as he keeps the struggling servant in place. “Lock the door on your way out, please.”
Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi are both wide-eyed with shock as they watch Wei Wuxian, but that can’t be helped. They haven’t seen war, haven’t witnessed the noble clans cannibalising each other for a meagre shred of power, haven’t even been taught how to kill a man, only how to kill ghosts and yao. Wei Wuxian can’t soften the fact that someone has been very slowly trying to kill their beloved Hanguang-wang.
But he can, and will, keep them away from seeing what the consequences will be.
“S-Senior Mo,” Lan Jingyi manages to stammer, and his hands are shaking a little before he crosses them together, “What are you doing! You can’t just, Hanguang-wang would be—”
“Jingyi,” Wei Wuxian says firmly, “Listen to your senior. Sizhui, you too. Come on, I’m trusting you two not to let anyone in.”
Lan Sizhui sways up to his feet, but he pauses at Lan Jingyi’s side. “Um, Senior Mo, that servant…”
“I can sense resentful energy, even if it’s a very very small amount,” Wei Wuxian says, his expression growing fangs as rage bubbles inside his chest. “In people. And in food. Don’t worry about him— this dog just tried to poison our Wangye.”
“But Senior Mo—”
“Kids.” Wei Wuxian says, and when he accidentally clenches his hand, the servant cries out in pain, “Your elder is telling you to get out. Right now, Jingyi. Sizhui. Everything is going to be alright, but I need you to be calm about this for now.”
After a few silent seconds, Lan Jingyi is the one who nods shakily and pulls Lan Sizhui out. “Be careful, Senior!”
The doors close behind them with a clack.
And then, Wei Wuxian and the servant are alone in the room with no one but the unconscious Lan Wangji beside them.
“You know,” Wei Wuxian says offhandedly, looking down at the shaking servant with crimson eyes, “If you hadn't impaired Lan Zhan on the stupid road to killing him, then he would have been right here, awake, stopping me from what I am about to do to you.”
“I—” The servant exclaims instantly, “I don’t know anything! I, I really don’t know!!”
Wei Wuxian sighs in a most commiserating way. “Look here, man,” He says, pushing the hairstick forward and ignoring the strangled yelp that elicits, “How painful this will be rests entirely upon you; it can be very painful, or very little, but either way I’m eventually going to get what I want from you.”
The servant’s sweat is pouring out in trembling rivers.
“I once made a man eat his own legs,” Wei Wuxian says nostalgically, remembering Wen Chao’s screams, “But I don’t think you’re going to give me that much trouble, are you? Have you ever tried to bite your own toes off? It’s not very easy, let me tell you. People are never as flexible as they think they are.”
Wei Wuxian tilts his head as he smiles down at the servant, his eyes red and blood still lining the bridge of his nose. “Sometimes, you have to break a few bones to get to the right elasticity.”
The servant whimpers.
It’s going to be much easier than Wei Wuxian feared, getting everything out of this guy.
On some level, it seems, Wei Wuxian was right. It takes barely twenty minutes before the guy is ready to spill everything. He babbles out how much he was paid to put the poison in Lan Wangji’s breakfast, the fact that he was only relayed orders through a contact, how he really truly doesn’t know anything about the poison, it was all his contact that brought the bottle of poison and told him what to do, he really shouldn’t have done it, it was his bad, please forgive him, he’ll tell the name of the contact, it was—
And they come across an unexpected obstacle there.
The moment the servant tries to name his contact, the air sizzles.
The servant’s breath wheezes in his throat. The back of his neck glows demonic red.
“Shit!” Wei Wuxian curses, hurrying forward to stop the array —whatever it is— from activating, but he’s too late. By the time he manages to grab the servant’s shoulder, the man is already dead.
He died the moment he tried to name his contact.
Fucking annoying, really.
They were finally getting somewhere too.
Huffing, Wei Wuxian crouches next to the body and swipes aside the servant’s hair. At the back of his neck is a circular array burnt deep into the skin, still emitting resentful energy. At first glance, Wei Wuxian easily spots the components that stand for ‘rapid, certain death’. There are a lot of those in demonic cultivation.
“…this must be the resentful energy I sensed on him,” Wei Wuxian murmurs to himself. Apparently, the servant really wasn’t a demonic cultivator. He was poisoning Lan Wangji on someone’s orders for money, though.
Whoever was using this guy must either be a demonic cultivator or have a demonic cultivator on their payroll, as evidenced by this array and the modified poison. And not only that, but the demonic cultivator has to be someone who’s actually good at this, creating instead of ineptly copying Wei Wuxian’s most basic experiments like all the other copycats used to back when Wei Wuxian was alive.
Whoever it is, they’re dangerous.
This entire chain of conspiracies is dangerous.
Wei Wuxian rises to his feet and hurries around the room, grabbing a small piece of paper and the inkbrush from the desk to come back and draw an inactive likeness of the array on the man’s nape. He walks up to the doors and steps out.
Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi are both there as expected, looking jittery with nerves. When they see him, they immediately go sheet-white. “Senior Mo,” Lan Jingyi blurts, “You’re out! What happened, is it over? Are you okay? Can we come i—”
“No, you can’t come in,” Wei Wuxian says immediately, before thrusting the paper into Lan Jingyi’s hands, “Take this. Don’t lose it.”
“What?” Lan Jingyi says, hurriedly grabbing the paper. “What’s this?”
Lan Sizhui also seems confused and scared. “Senior Mo, what about that servant?” He asks, “Just what happened there? Should I, ah, call a physician..?”
“It’s dealt with, no need for you kids to worry,” Wei Wuxian shakes his head, thinking of the bloody, half-mangled corpse that he most certainly doesn’t want to show to children. “If you do want to help, please go tell all of the servants to gather at the gardens. If they don’t listen, I’m giving you the authority to throw them right out of the palace. When they’ve gathered, you must check every single one to see if anyone has this array inked at the back of their necks, okay? Every single one!”
“O-okay?” Lan Sizhui hesitates, “Senior Mo… even the women?”
Wei Wuxian pauses. “Uuh, ask for two volunteers and if they don’t have the array on them, get them to check the women. I can think of a few that will volunteer just to help, don’t worry. Now hurry up, shoo shoo! Everyone with that array on them is a suspect criminal, okay? Be careful and let the imperial cultivators help you detain them.”
“Yes, Senior Mo,” The two say, bowing their heads.
“Ah, but before you go!” Wei Wuxian says, and Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi both pause to look at him. Wei Wuxian smiles at them. “Your Hanguang-wang will be alright now, kids. I’ll handle it.”
Lan Sizhui glances at Lan Jingyi, and Lan Jingyi beams. Lan Sizhui shakes his head. “Senior Mo is the saviour of our lives and Hanguang-wang’s concubine. If Senior Mo says so, us juniors will of course believe him.”
“Alright, politely doubtful it is then,” Wei Wuxian snorts, “Fine, fine. Come back when you’re done and I’ll tell you all about this senior’s greatness.”
With that, they’re off, and Wei Wuxian closes the doors once again to head towards the tray of steaming porridge on the now bloody table. The heavy, curdling smell of blood and other stuff fills Lan Wangji’s bedroom to the brim— admittedly, Wei Wuxian regrets that part. But it’s not like he could have carried the servant away to some other room so easily.
And anyways, there are more important things to focus on.
Wei Wuxian looks down at the bowl of translucent, bitter-smelling herbal porridge. He dips the porcelain spoon into it.
A poison made of resentful energy, huh.
This doesn’t even count as a light snack compared to the feast Wei Wuxian had in the Burial Mounds.
Wei Wuxian swallows the entire spoonful of poisoned porridge.
The thing is, Wei Wuxian has never heard of a poison that uses resentful energy. Considering that spiritual cultivators can manufacture spiritual poisons, it stands to reason that demonic cultivators can manufacture demonic poisons as well. Demonic cultivation just hasn’t been around long enough for it to be a known fact. It had simply never occurred to Wei Wuxian to make a resentful energy poison, he never had any use for it, and thus nobody knew that it could be made.
The imperial physician had claimed that the strain in Lan Wangji’s qi occurred because of his illness, and why would anyone think otherwise? Who could have guessed that it was actually the opposite, that the illness was caused by the strain?
If he wasn’t Wei Wuxian, he wouldn’t have been able to sense such a tiny, altered form of resentful energy. He would have personally fed Lan Wangji more of the poison that has been wrecking his body.
The servant is already dead, and the masterminds hidden, so Wei Wuxian has no one to take his anger out on.
So while he waits for the poison in his body to go into his meridians, he busies himself with wiping his hairstick on the one clean hem of the servant’s robes —it’s a loaned item! He has to take good care of it!— and gazing despondently at the ruined table.
No way will they be able to buff that deep of a hole out of the table. And the blood has already seeped into the grain too. Thankfully the floors weren’t nicked, so at least those should be salvageable. The same sadly cannot be said for Wei Wuxian’s robes and satin slippers, which are so badly soaked that his feet make squelching sounds whenever he takes a step on the bloody floors.
He came out looking like this in front of Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi! No wonder they were so pale!
Wei Wuxian hurriedly crosses the room, shedding off his robes and shoes as he does. The clothes land in some puddles and some dried stains, but it’s too late for them anyways. Wei Wuxian, on the other hand, has a reputation to maintain as someone sane of mind.
As expected, Lan Wangji’s robes are lined orderly in the closet, just waiting to be borrowed. Wei Wuxian picks out the darkest fabric he can see —a navy blue silk— and pulls it over his inner robe which is only stained brown at its bottommost hems. With Lan Wangji’s robe just as long on him as those black and red training robes whose sleeves Lan Wangji folded a few days ago, none of the hems are visible anyways. Wei Wuxian ties it carefully at his waist and pulls the too-long sleeves up, even as he keeps wishing mournfully that Lan Wangji was awake and well to do it properly for him.
Wei Wuxian shakes his head. Now is so not the time.
With his robes changed, Wei Wuxian washed his hands in a basin of water and then goes to call for some servants. He tells the unfamiliar man that responds from behind the doors to fetch two of Lan Wangji’s attendants for him, hoping that —being Lan Wangji’s closest servants and long-time assistants— they must be loyal to Lan Wangji.
When the two arrive, Wei Wuxian snaps open his fan while they enter the room to take the corpse and keep it in a locked room somewhere, so that Lan Wangji can interrogate his spirit with Inquiry when he’s better.
The two attendants look at Wei Wuxian’s half-hidden face and smiling eyes, look at the bloody room, look at each other, and then one of them whispers to the other: “In the absence of a spouse, the highest ranked concubine is the master of the inner household.”
They obediently clear off the corpse and promise to store it somewhere safe, saying that they will return with people to clean the room up.
Wei Wuxian shows them out with a polite smile, wondering silently at their petrified faces.
Lan Wangji is sleeping in the bed, breathing raggedly and almost fragile looking, so Wei Wuxian sits down at his side and crosses his legs, closing his eyes to see if the poison inside him has started moving yet.
Luckily for Wei Wuxian and his non-existent patience regarding everything Lan Wangji, the poison is finally out of his stomach and burrowing through his meridians. It’s not attacking or gathering strength, though. All it’s doing is catching onto strands of Wei Wuxian’s minor spiritual energy, tangling briefly before his qi slips through and continues on its peaceful way.
Wei Wuxian’s brows furrow.
He opens his eyes and reaches over for Lan Wangji’s limp, sweaty arm. When he puts his fingers on Lan Wangji’s wrist and searches through his meridians, he finds an enormous, tangled blockage of spiritual energy in a minor meridian. The physician dispersed the greatest parts of Lan Wangji’s tangled spiritual energy last night, so this must have built up in the short few hours since then.
Wei Wuxian suddenly realises exactly what it is that this poison reminds him of.
The poison is like strands of a sticky web that move unfettered through the meridians, not foreign spiritual energy but not exactly resentful energy either, not living nor dead, akin almost to living corpses. It accumulates with every dose, tangling into the spiritual energy over and over, until one day there is enough of a tangle to block the meridian entirely. Like a spider’s cocoon, it ensnares the passing spiritual energy, and the more the energy fights and resists, the more tangled it becomes.
With one of the meridians blocked completely, it would only take a few days for the qi of a cultivator as strong as Lan Wangji to deviate. Of course, the blistering spiritual energy during a qi deviation would immediately incinerate the delicate resentful energy, getting rid of the blockage and the threat of death, as well as the traces of poison— but even with the greatest luck, Lan Wangji would be in bedrest for weeks, possibly months.
If he wasn’t lucky, though, he might be permanently injured.
He might even have his cultivation crippled.
Wei Wuxian has to breathe through his nose for a few minutes, just focusing on the fact that that’s not going to happen, because Wei Wuxian is not going to let it. It’s not going to happen, he won’t let it. It’s not. He won’t.
There is no use getting angry at this point. He just needs to stop getting angry.
Eventually, Wei Wuxian manages to calm himself down enough that he can focus on using his own resentful energy to interact with the poison. If he can touch it, he can tame it, and if he can tame it, then he can use it, pull it out of Lan Wangji. It will be easier to move it through the same way it was designed to enter, but even that would necessitate Wei Wuxian to be fully in control of this new strange poison.
But in the end, Wei Wuxian is the Yiling Patriarch, the Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation.
It doesn’t take him any more than a few hours, and when he once again opens his eyes, the room is cast in darkness, faint moonlight streaming through the windows in lines and squares, and Lan Wangji is still asleep.
The attendants have cleaned the room from top to bottom. There’s only a faint smudge of blood on the floor nearby, but Wei Wuxian assumes that must be because it’s too close to Lan Wangji’s bed and Wei Wuxian would have noticed it if anyone had approached that close. Likely, they hadn’t wanted to disturb Wei Wuxian’s meditation.
Wei Wuxian glances at the moonlit sky outside. It’s time.
Closing his eyes, he grasps the poison inside of himself. He moves it, pulls it around, ties knots and shapes into the strands of it, and eventually, when he’s certain that he can control it well enough, he burns it entirely away from his meridians.
It works. The poison disappears.
There is no reason left to delay healing Lan Wangji any longer.
“Alright,” Wei Wuxian says to himself, watching Lan Wangji’s squeezed shut eyes. “Let’s give this a try.”
He moves to sit next to Lan Wangji’s chest before leaning over him with one elbow beside his head, looking down at his sleeping face under the dim blue light.
Wei Wuxian takes a deep breath to fortify his mind, and splays his free hand on the blanket over Lan Wangji’s abdomen. The poison is right there, clutching at a meridian like sticky tar, hiding behind the brilliance of Lan Wangji’s tangled qi.
When Wei Wuxian tugs and pulls at it, the poison resists fiercely. However, Wei Wuxian is a person and the poison is a mere remnant of design, and he manoeuvres it carefully out of the tangle. He pushes his hand from Lan Wangji’s chest up, up over his throat, and draws the poison out the way it entered.
“…don’t be mad at me for this, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian murmurs, before leaning close and hovering over Lan Wangji’s lips. His splayed hand reaches Lan Wangji’s jaw, pulling at the poisonous energy underneath it. “Here we go...”
Wei Wuxian reaches down to hold Lan Wangji’s jaw in place. He forces the mist of bruised-purple poison out of Lan Wangji’s parted lips and breaths it in.
As soon as he has the energy inside of himself, Wei Wuxian closes his eyes and gets to burning the poison away; there’s still a chance that if he lets even the smallest part escape, it might snap right back into Lan Wangji’s meridians, and Wei Wuxian refuses to play with it. Thankfully, it doesn’t take as long to destroy it as it took to move it through Lan Wangji’s body, and soon enough, Wei Wuxian can let out a sigh of relief.
It’s done. Lan Wangji will be alright from now on. Wei Wuxian breathes, relief streaming down his body like a pail of cool water. Lan Wangji will be alright.
Lan Wangji will be alright.
With that thought, Wei Wuxian slowly blinks his eyes back open.
He finds Lan Wangji looking up at him with wide golden eyes, completely frozen.
“Um,” Wei Wuxian gives a little awkward grin. “Hi! Feeling better?”
Lan Wangji, hesitantly, tries to nod. Only he’s still held in place by Wei Wuxian hand grasping his jaw, so it comes as a minute shift of his head. “Wei Ying…” Lan Wangji says, barely audible over the hoarseness of his voice, “…you..?”
“Oh, right!” Wei Wuxian scampers back on the bed, pulling away from Lan Wangji’s moonlit face, “Sorry, sorry, you were— I was— the poison! I was pulling the poison out, uh, resentful energy you know? Anyways, you should be good now, right? How is your spiritual energy?”
Without waiting for an answer, Wei Wuxian puts his fingers on Lan Wangji’s wrist, gauging the man’s meridians.
“Good, good,” Wei Wuxian says, and he can’t help the relieved smile from alighting on his face, “The blockage is gone, the poison is gone, everything is as it should be. Your spiritual system is so orderly, Lan Zhan! The tangles are already unravelling!”
Lan Wangji still seems dazed. It takes him a long while before he manages to say a single, silent, “…mn.”
“Ah, you must still be tired,” Wei Wuxian says, apologetic, “You should rest now, I’ll go get Zhao-laoshi to do another check-up. You’ll be all better now!”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, sitting up on the bed to touch Wei Wuxian’s face with light fingers, a ticklish brush across his cheeks and nose. “What is this?”
Wei Wuxian blinks, reaching up to trace the top of his nose. There is a crusty residue there, and when he lowers his hand, his fingers are covered in brown flakes. Dried blood. “Oh!” Wei Wuxian says, “I forgot to clean my face. Aiyah, how embarrassing, your attendants all saw me like this!”
Lan Wangji’s brows are furrowing. His eyes are much sharper now, clear of the fever that had persisted doggedly for the whole night, and Wei Wuxian guesses that Lan Wangji’s now freed spiritual power must already be working to heal him up. “Are you injured?” Lan Wangji asks.
“I’m fine, it wasn’t a fight,” Wei Wuxian assures him, “Just an, uh, interrogation. I’ll tell you everything later, just rest for now. I promise I’m completely fine, okay?”
Lan Wangji subsides at that. He relaxes a bit back on the bed. “Mm.”
Wei Wuxian nods and gets up to call the physician, but he can’t help but sneak a hurried pat on Lan Wangji’s head as Lan Wangji looks up at him with uncomprehending eyes. “Get well soon!”
And then Wei Wuxian runs off.
The physician checks Lan Wangji’s health over and over again, but finally, Lan Wangji is declared to be fully healed.
When informed about the sudden turn of events, Lan Xichen hurries to the Silent Wing despite the late hour to speak to them himself, and after he has been told the full story, he takes Wei Wuxian’s hands in his own and bows down as he thanks him. After the last conversation they had, Wei Wuxian feels mightily uncomfortable with this and escapes as fast as he can.
Just when Wei Wuxian thinks he has managed to get away, he comes across Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi, who have completed their investigation. He sends them off to go see that Lan Wangji is perfectly fine now, and they leave with tearful smiles while Wei Wuxian ruminates on their reports.
Apparently, there are no other servants who bear that array-tattoo inside the Silent Wing— not unexpected, considering the fact that the man Wei Wuxian caught was transferred in, likely for the exact purpose of poisoning Lan Wangji. If whoever is behind this already had a man inside, they wouldn’t have had to go through such trouble.
What is unexpected, however, is the fact that before even a minute has passed, Wei Wuxian is accosted at the halls by his head maid. She ushers him into a private-ish room lit by a lantern and whispers; “Master, I heard something.”
Wei Wuxian raises his brows. “Heard what?”
“There is something strange going on in the Palace,” She tells him in a hiss, “People are dropping dead all around; maids and eunuchs and even low-ranked officials. A-Yun said, on their necks they all had—”
“Demonic arrays,” Wei Wuxian finishes sombrely. The maid nods with a surprised expression on her face. “Thank you, you were right to come to me with this.”
“Master already knows of this?” His head maid asks, before sighing, relieved, “Master already knows. Good, perfect. If there is anything that this servant can do, please let me know.”
With that, she bows and leaves the room. Wei Wuxian stays and listens to the night bugs buzz outside the windows. As expected… the mastermind behind this all is already several steps ahead of them. Wei Wuxian only just told Lan Xichen about the array tattoo, and Lan Xichen only just agreed to search the Palace for any servants bearing that mark— and now they’re already all dead.
Wei Wuxian would bet his prized new dizi that they won’t find a single living person bearing that tattoo in the Palace anymore.
So, rightfully, Wei Wuxian is completely exhausted by the end of the day.
It’s really no surprise that he just drops off at Lan Wangji’s bedside in between reading through Mo Xuanyu’s remaining few scrolls. He wasn’t able to convince himself that this unknown mastermind wouldn’t try another sneak attack while Lan Wangji was still weakened after their recent attempt at his life, and he was planning to stay up and keep watch. Unfortunately, it seems that he expected too much from Mo Xuanyu’s weak body.
Before he realizes it, in between glances at Lan Wangji’s face and at Mo Xuanyu’s looping handwriting, Wei Wuxian falls asleep on the edge of Lan Wangji’s bed.
Then, he’s groaning as he wakes up to a persistent ray of sunlight that hits right on his face. He’s on a bed, comfortable and soft, and there is a wide, pale blue robe spread over him to keep him warm. Even his hair is loose and unadorned, the hair accessories having been taken out.
Wei Wuxian looks up at the ceiling for a few moments too long, sleep-dazed and confused. He doesn’t understand where he is and why for a long while before he realises that this is Lan Wangji’s bed. And Lan Wangji is not here.
There is a clink of porcelain.
Someone walks over to the bed on soft steps, and a cup of steaming tea is presented in front of Wei Wuxian’s face. He follows that cup to elegant hands to wide shoulders to a face that’s putting the brilliance of the early morning sun to shame. Loose, long black hair; a forehead ribbon, that blue gem turned sheer in the white light; two limpid, golden eyes that curve infinitesimally when Wei Wuxian keeps staring silently.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji murmurs, “Tea.”
Wei Wuxian feels like he has been struck stupid.
What is that expression on Lan Wangji’s face right now? What the hell is that...
What the hell—
Is Lan Wangji—
Lan Wangji’s impossible expression becomes even softer. “Good morning, Wei Ying,” He says, as if to highlight the fact that Wei Wuxian has certainly not woken up yet. “Tea.”
Wei Wuxian gets up on the bed to take the tea. He drinks the tea. Lan Wangji nods at him.
“You… look well,” Wei Wuxian says, voice still sleep-deep. He clears his throat. “Good morning, Lan Zhan! Are you okay now? Already healed?”
“Mn,” Lan Wangji says, sitting on the edge of the bed. “Woke up better.”
Wei Wuxian drinks more of the tea.
“Sizhui and Jingyi came by,” Lan Wangji says. “They said it was poison.”
Wei Wuxian’s hand clenches immediately around the cup, but he makes it loosen. “Yeah,” He says, “Do you remember anything? You seemed out of it most of the time.”
“A bit,” Lan Wangji says, and for some reason, he glances to the side at that, his ears pink. Then he adds as if he isn’t exactly sure; “You were there?”
“Of course,” Wei Wuxian says, “Where else would I be? Some asshole was putting resentful energy in your breakfast without even me realising, the least I could do was take care of you! I’m not sure how helpful I was but...”
Wei Wuxian laughs at that, a little awkward, but Lan Wangji shakes his head.
“I was on the cusp of qi deviation the whole time,” Lan Wangji says, the same way anyone else would say ‘I was in excruciating pain’, and when he looks at Wei Wuxian, it’s with that same impossible expression from before. “You told me you would make it better.”
“Ai, Lan Zhan, but that’s nothing!” Wei Wuxian huffs, terribly vexed with Lan Wangji for reasons unknown. “Anyone can say that! How could that be helpful?”
Lan Wangji looks steadily at him. “I believed you.”
Well. Okay then.
What could Wei Wuxian ever say to that? He wouldn’t know. The last people that believed in Wei Wuxian were the Wens. Before that was his Shijie.
Now, Lan Wangji.
“Sizhui said you would need me to play Inquiry for someone,” Lan Wangji says, mercifully interrupting Wei Wuxian’s spiralling thoughts.
“Yeah,” Wei Wuxian says, pushing away the dry heat still clinging to his chest so that he can focus on the subject at hand, “I caught the servant poisoning you, and there was an array on him that— ah, but you know this already? Sizhui must have told you everything I told them last night.”
“Well, there’s not much to add really,” Wei Wuxian admits, “Apparently the same array was on several other people in the Palace, but they’ve all died. I haven’t been able to inspect it yet, so I thought I could do it while you played Inquiry to the servant.”
“Mn.” Lan Wangji pauses for a moment, looking down at Wei Wuxian’s hands where they cradle the empty teacup. “Wei Ying,” He murmurs, “All of this…”
“It connects, doesn’t it?” Wei Wuxian says, displeased. “They all connect to each other.”
Wei Wuxian shakes his head. “A case that has already been around for more than a month suddenly being brought to you like it’s urgent, just when I was about to visit the Inner Palace? How suspicious is that? They probably didn't know that I can play Rest too— if I couldn’t, then you leaving before we could calm the demonic arm would mean that I couldn’t take it to the Inner Palace with me. And after that, the poison… someone has obviously been trying to keep us in the Silent Wing.”
“Zhao Lingling as well,” Lan Wangji says, “Emperor-brother said she committed suicide in the cell, but…”
“Someone was using her, and they probably killed her to tie up loose ends,” Wei Wuxian finishes. He lets out a loud groan. “You’re right, Lan Zhan. Now that I think about it, if I hadn't hurried to get the demonic legs, if I did it even a few minutes later, I wouldn’t have had the chance to go search before that woman framed me. And now this poison that supposedly won’t kill you, but put you to bedrest for months…”
“The demonic limbs,” Lan Wangji declares, his face cold as ice, “They’re trying to stop us from gathering them.”
There is a moment of silence.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, “The one who sent the order for the soul-theft case…”
Grand Chancellor Jin.
“I know,” Wei Wuxian says, already exhausted, “I’m with you Lan Zhan, you know I am. You’ve hated that guy from day one. But it could be someone working under him too. It’s just a gut feeling for you, isn’t it? We don’t have any proof to show.”
“Alright,” Wei Wuxian sighs, “Fine then. I’ll go get clean and dressed, and then we can go check the servant’s corpse. I hope we find something there.”
After Wei Wuxian gets clean and dressed, Lan Wangji insists on eating breakfast together. With the recent trauma of people poisoning Lan Wangji every day during breakfast because Wei Wuxian wasn’t near him to notice, Wei Wuxian doesn’t dare decline.
When breakfast is finished, the two of Lan Wangji’s attendants to whom Wei Wuxian had entrusted the corpse lead them to an empty, locked warehouse. Handing the key to Lan Wangji, one of them asks; “Do you need anything else, Wangye?”
Lan Wangji shakes his head, opening the door and entering it.
The attendants turn to Wei Wuxian. “What about Prince-Concubine Mo? Can us servants bring anything for you?”
“Hm?” Wei Wuxian smiles, snapping open his fan to act all innocent behind it, “Why are you asking me? I’m just here to watch over Wangye in case he gets sick again.”
The attendants look weirdly at him. “Right. Of course.” One of them clears his throat, “Then we will be waiting here if you ever do need something.”
Wei Wuxian nods in thanks. He follows after Lan Wangji.
The warehouse is airy and clean, illuminated by the bright sun outside. That means that the mutilated corpse is also highly visible, so Wei Wuxian will be able to inspect the array in good lighting. It also means that as Lan Wangji stands in front of the corpse, he can see it in all of its mangled glory. Whatever the sight of it evokes in him, there is an expression on his face that is neither good nor bad.
Wei Wuxian wonders if Lan Wangji is remembering the Yiling Patriarch’s victims from the Wen Rebellion, but he doesn’t dare dwell on it. Lan Wangji will think whatever he thinks, and Lan Wangji will do whatever he pleases.
Wei Wuxian will just have to accept it.
So while Lan Wangji stands there doing nothing, Wei Wuxian walks around the corpse to turn it over and pull its hair out of its neck. The array is still there, clear as day, and the symbols thankfully haven’t blurred after being burnt into the skin. He fishes out papers and ink from his qiankun pouch and starts noting down the components he can read.
By the time Wei Wuxian has identified three of the symbols in a halfway meaningful manner, Lan Wangji also settles down on his knees. He starts playing the opening sequence of Inquiry.
Wei Wuxian works out the first component. Lan Wangji plays the opening sequence once again.
Wei Wuxian works out the second component. Lan Wangji plays again.
Wei Wuxian works out the third component and suddenly realises what purpose all of these are connecting into. Lan Wangji finishes playing again, and he stills the strings with a flat palm.
“The soul is not responding to—”
“Lan Zhan, fuck, don’t bother anymore—”
They stop and look up at each other. Wei Wuxian blows out an explosive sigh and says; “You first.”
“The soul isn’t responding to Inquiry,” Lan Wangji says, his brows furrowed.
“Yeah, that’s what I expected,” Wei Wuxian says as he throws the paper down, rubbing his temples angrily, “It’s not gonna work. Summoning the soul with Evocation won’t work either. This array wasn’t just there to kill people when they start babbling, apparently. No, that wouldn’t be evil enough, would it? So of course it also has to destroy the soul so they can’t be summoned for questions!”
Lan Wangji’s face grows frost-cold, an icicle of clear, deadly sharpness. “Meticulous,” He says, simply.
Because he always knows when Lan Wangji is angry, Wei Wuxian knows that Lan Wangji is just as furious as he himself is. Whoever these spy servants may serve, they at the very least did not deserve to have their immortal souls destroyed. Did they even know the true purpose of the arrays on them when they started working for that fucker? Wei Wuxian doubts it.
“Let’s go,” Wei Wuxian says, shaking his head, “There’s nothing we can learn from this anymore.”
Lan Wangji nods, and they leave the warehouse.
Outside, Wei Wuxian smiles weakly at the two attendants. “If you don’t mind, please deliver the body to the Emperor’s men, to be stored with the rest. Wangye won’t be inspecting it any further.”
“Of course, Prince-Concubine,” The attendants bow. “Right away. Anything else?”
“No, no,” Wei Wuxian starts leaving, following after Lan Wangji, but then he pauses. “Um, actually! Do you know if Wangzi and Jingyi-gongzi are at the training grounds? I need to let off some steam.”
The attendants glance at each other. “Prince-Concubine, did you forget? Wangzi and Jingyi-gongzi left this morning for the nighthunt at the Dancing Goddess Temple.”
“Oh right, the official nighthunt they kept training for. So they went after all,” Wei Wuxian nods and nods, not thinking too hard about what he just heard.
Then he thinks about it and freezes in place.
“The what? The nighthunt at the what?”
“The Dancing Goddess Temple,” The attendant repeats slowly, blinking at Wei Wuxian’s sudden vehemence.
Wei Wuxian panics. “Lan Zhan!” He calls, and Lan Wangji pauses to turn back around, looking at him questioningly, “Lan Zhan do you know where Sizhui and Jingyi went?!”
“An official nighthunt for juniors,” Lan Wangji says, walking sedately back towards him. He glances once again at Wei Wuxian, seemingly confused by this line of questioning. “They said this morning that they wouldn’t go, but I told them to. Is there something wrong?”
Yes! Obviously! But Wei Wuxian tries to pull himself back from the edge of histrionics. “Do you know where the nighthunt is?”
“A ghoul cave in Guangling,” Lan Wangji says.
“It’s not!” Wei Wuxian says, “It’s at the Dancing Goddess Temple!”
Lan Wangji freezes too.
By now, the attendants have caught onto the fact that something very wrong is going on. “Wangye,” One of them says hesitantly, “The goal of the nighthunt was changed recently, from hunting the ghouls in Guangling to investigating the deaths happening at the Dancing Goddess Temple.”
“That is a case of uncoventional mass soul-theft,” Lan Wangji says harshly, “It isn’t suitable for juniors alone.”
“Wangye, this is another one, it has to be,” Wei Wuxian realises, before he curses; “Fuck! It’s a checkmate, Lan Zhan. They’ve been trying to get us to focus on the temple from the very start, and now they completely got us.”
Lan Wangji nods, furious. “We cannot leave juniors there alone.”
“That’s how they’re going to force us to go there,” Wei Wuxian groans, “So now we know that we’re being distracted, but we can’t do anything about it.”
“Mn,” Lan Wangji says, immediately marching off to get ready. “Prepare. I will call for a carriage to be brought.”
“Alright.” Wei Wuxian nods once, and he grins, “Let’s go save our kids, Wangye!”
Lan Wangji stumbles on his feet. The glare he sends Wei Wuxian over his shoulder when he rights himself is both offended and wronged, and Wei Wuxian can’t help but laugh.
“That’s not my fault, Lan Zhan~” Wei Wuxian says playfully, “I’ll see you at the gates!”
He leaves with a pep in his steps.
After all, no matter what, he’s going to be nighthunting with Lan Zhan again! There is very little in this world that Wei Wuxian likes as much as he likes nighthunting with Lan Zhan. And if he saves a couple of children that he has taken a liking to, all the better!
Wei Wuxian is not going to let a minor matter like the fact that they’re playing right into the hands of a mastermind ruin his mood.