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The True Story of How Concubine Mo Deviously Deceived The Entire Imperial Family

Chapter Text

 

It hasn’t even been a day since Wei Wuxian arrived at the Imperial Palace.

He wakes up for the first time in his new rooms in the Silent Wing, pushing himself up with one hand on the bed, and before he has even cracked his eyes open to observe the noon sun in his airy bedroom, he is swarmed by flustered servants and attendants.

“Eh, ah— good morning?” Wei Wuxian tries to stammer, but while he’s still wondering what’s happening, the chief-most maid tasked with serving him ushers him out of the warm soft bed, and to be dressed.

“Good morning, Master Mo!” She replies dutifully, sitting him down at the vanity and starting to brush Mo Xuanyu’s long hair. “Wangye ordered us not to wake you up, so we must hurry so that you’re not late.”

“Late? To what?” Wei Wuxian asks, and he winces when the comb pulls at one of the many tangles in Mo Xuanyu’s hair. “How come there is still something I need to do after passing the test— ouch!”

“Sorry, sorry, Master,” The head maid says, and then she continues demolishing tangles with just as much fervour as before, “Master shall I choose which hair oil to use?”

Wei Wuxian is trying not to let slip his real identity, so he demurs and lowers his eyes like he’s seen the less bold of the women do when he was trying to flirt with them, and he says; “Whatever you believe is appropriate.”

The head maid nods hurriedly and starts applying the oil; something expensive that leaves the taste of orchids at the back of Wei Wuxian’s mouth. Will Wei Wuxian ever be able to pay Lan Wangji back for everything that’s being used on him in the misconception that he’s actually a concubine? It’s getting less likely by the second. Sadly, he’s in no position to protest; especially not if he’s going to continue deceiving everyone.

“There will be an honoured guest arriving today,” The head maid explains to him as she works on arranging his hair, “Master must take care not to offend him or shame Wangye. Master, you know the etiquette of pouring tea right?”

“Yes,” Wei Wuxian smiles, watching through the bronze mirror how the maid combs the hair up into an elaborate hairstyle with too many braids. “No need to worry, I know how to act.”

The head maid lets out a big sigh of relief. “Other than that, there shouldn’t be anything else to do,” She says, “Master just needs to sit to the side silently and look good.”

What a terribly boring job.

But Wei Wuxian is a dedicated actor, and he won’t be the reason Lan Wangji gets accused of harbouring a fugitive. If he’s really going to live on Lan Wangji’s kindness until he can form a proper golden core so he can finally become a rogue cultivator travelling the lands, saving people and never being known by any name, then he needs to make sure his disguise is perfect.

And honestly, it’s kind of funny seeing all these people react to him being such a perfect concubine when he’s also a man.

“Jiejie, of course he knows! Our master is so knowledgeable and accomplished!” A younger maid says cheerfully from the side where she’s choosing out robes and fabrics from Wei Wuxian’s new wardrobe, “Didn't you see how Yu-gonggong boggled when Master Mo recited him the classics! And he’s already memorised more than three thousand of the rules! And he knows calligraphy, and how to sing, and draw, and even play the dizi and erhu! There’s nothing he can’t do!”

Example one right there. The imperial eunuch that arrived immediately to evaluate Wei Wuxian for his new position had been continuously stumped at how Wei Wuxian had been capable of fulfilling everything the old man had thrown at him. He had started giving out increasingly more obscure questions to the point where Lan Wangji was visibly glaring at him.

Wei Wuxian had taken great pleasure in hiding his face behind a sleeve and fluttering his eyelashes as he crushed the questions into pieces.

“Alright, alright,” The head maid says good-naturedly, “You’re happy you got transferred here, we know. Did you finish picking out the robes?”

“Yes, Jiejie!”

For the next hour, Wei Wuxian finds himself feeling less like a human being and more like a life-size doll. He moves with the hands dressing him and closes his eyes for the brushes to pass, lowering his still too tall head to allow the much shorter maids to slide needle-sharp accessories with silver tassels and elegant jade flowers into his hair.

By the end of it, he’s starting to doubt his decision to act like an obedient little concubine. Surely he could have chosen to be the lunatic Mo Xuanyu was rumoured to be? At least lunatics can run around in a single layer of robe if they want. He could have left his hair loose, maybe run around barefoot and kick mud onto the pristine robes of any servant that dared to stop him…

No doubt that the reactions of the people around here would still have been funny.

Ugh. What a waste. Is it too late to change personas? Maybe construct some story; Prince-Concubine Mo Xuanyu who was so terribly treated by his own family, the honourable Hanguang-wang agreed to take him in, but who knew that Mo Xuanyu had already been driven insane! He still rages around the Silent Wing, bullying servants and noblemen alike!

“There! Done,” A maid says, pulling away from Wei Wuxian to stand respectfully at a distance. “Very nice, if I do say so myself.”

Wei Wuxian turns curiously towards the mirror. He’s dressed in silk robes of pastel blue and sea-foam green with enough layers to somehow soften the wideness of his shoulders, its collar high and delicate. His hair is pulled into a ponytail with too many thin braids and loops, and his eyes are lined on the corners with makeup to make them seem long-lashed and almost wistful.

With great effort, Wei Wuxian manages to hold in the snort that tries to escape. Mo Xuanyu’s body looks good like this, but it also looks very much like the servants can only mourn the fact that they can’t actually turn him into a woman. Wei Wuxian lowers his eyes and smiles a small, close-lipped smile in the mirror, and his reflection looks like it wouldn’t be out of place in a drawing of the Heavenly Palace.

Oh, this is hilarious, Wei Wuxian thinks, snickering, Lan Zhan is going to freak out when he sees me.  

“You didn't use the black and red robes Wangye sent?” The head maid asks, and Wei Wuxian blinks, turning his gaze from his reflection and towards the younger maid who’s pulling up a black robe by the collar. It’s cut in a distinctly male design, and it looks athletic and comfortable rather than decorative, something Wei Wuxian might have worn back in his old body for sword training or for a day out.

“They’re too… plain,” The maid grumbles, and Wei Wuxian snickers once again into his hand. “There’s no way Master can wear this and impress Wangye. And they’re too big for Master anyways! They all need to be adjusted! Why did he send these anyways? Is he trying to tell Master to grow taller? Should we consult a physician?”

“A-Xu! What are you saying,” The head maid scolds, “Is the relationship between Master and Wangye something you can comment on? I should send you to be punished!”

The young maid pales and starts bowing rapidly towards Wei Wuxian, and Wei Wuxian just waves it off quietly. “It’s fine, A-Xu, I don’t mind,” He says, and then with fake consideration; “If that’s what Wangye wants, then maybe I should try to grow a few more inches. Do you think I should take these off and go try to stretch myself taller?”

“No!” The head maid cries out with great panic, “Master there’s no time! You have to go serve Wangye and his guest at their lunch!”

“But I haven’t even had breakfast yet,” Wei Wuxian whines, just before he remembers himself. Right. Obedient concubine. Ugh. “Ah, I apologise,” He says, lowering his head in a shallow, elegant bow, “I was only overtaken by my hunger for a moment. I’ll of course serve Wangye first.”                                                      

The maids look sad and distressed now. “Master, maybe I can arrange the kitchens to make some snacks before Wangye’s lunch?” The young maid says, hesitant, “Maybe some fruits at least?”

“There’s no time…” The head maid says, obviously guilty, “Wangye has already headed to the dining hall. The honoured guest should arrive soon as well...”

“It’s fine, it’s fine, don’t concern yourselves with it,” Wei Wuxian says, smiling, “Isn’t it just one skipped meal? I’ve skipped much more than that before!”

Thinking back to it, it had always been Wen Qing who dragged him away from his research when he got in too deep and didn’t feel like stopping to do anything as banal as eating. Wei Wuxian looks at his reflection, feeling a muffled pang of bittersweet nostalgia. How many radishes and potatoes could he have bought with just these trinkets in his hair right now?

Well…

He supposes that it no longer matters, at this point.

“Master...” One of the maids sniffs behind him, sounding despondent.

“Anyways,” Wei Wuxian shakes his head, and the chains and tassels in his hair tinkle when he turns to face the head maid with a smile, “Who’s this honoured guest visiting the Silent Wing? I didn't know Lan-wangye received guests here.”

“…it’s been a little more than five years, I think?” The head maid says, “He’s been visiting so diligently every month that we’ve gotten used to it. It’s presumptuous for a servant to evaluate their masters’ thoughts but if I may be so bold, I do believe Wangye is friends with him.”

Wei Wuxian blinks.

Friends? With Lan Zhan? That Lan Zhan? Wei Wuxian had tried so long and so hard to endear himself to him, to acquire even a smidge of his attention, and even he hasn't once been called friend by Lan Wangji; it has always been “not close”, “not close”.

Wei Wuxian suddenly really wants to know who it is that managed to do what he failed at. “So which great personage could such an important person be?” He asks, widening his eyes as if in innocent curiosity, “As Wangye’s concubine, I should get to know him better shouldn’t I?”

“Yes, yes, Master is correct,” The head maid smiles, as she gestures for the door, “Shall this one tell Master all about it while we head to the dining hall? It is not wise to make Wangye wait.”

Wei Wuxian starts walking in dainty small steps —as he only can in these decorative, restrictive clothes— with the long tresses of his hems dragging behind him. He should probably start considering what he’ll do if he suddenly needs to run or jump. Maybe cut a slit open with one of those unnecessarily sharp hair accessories?

“Master Mo should retain caution while serving today,” The maid says, “It’s only Master’s first day here, and not many of the honoured people will hesitate before taking advantage of Master’s unfamiliarity with the Palace.”

“It’s that bad?” Wei Wuxian asks offhandedly, paying more attention to not ripping his robes as he walks.

“The honoured guest is a connoisseur of the arts, he can easily spot any mistake made in insufficient knowledge, and he’s also a mighty person, the leader of a Great Clan!” The head maid takes in a hesitant breath before saying; “Border General Nie Huaisang really isn’t someone Master can afford to offend.”

Wei Wuxian trips on his trailing hems.

Border General, who???

 


 

The dining hall is just as Wei Wuxian’s room is: lavish and luxurious, but in an understated, airy way. The table sits in front of the raised platform of the head seat, and covered tableware has already been set; one in front of the head seat for Lan Wangji, and one next to him, for the guest. A branch of magnolia blossoms sits in a vase, which makes Wei Wuxian wonder. He hasn’t seen a single magnolia tree since they left the Mo Estate.

The sunlight is still bleak and breezy from the recently-ended winter, but it fills the room in a way that brightens everything. The gauzy curtains flutter in the faint wind.

Then there is Lan Wangji. Wei Wuxian enters the room with quiet steps, and he stops near the table where Lan Wangji is serenely drinking a cup of tea. He looks as strikingly beautiful as he ever did back when Wei Wuxian had still been alive, but he’s become even more regal, even more awe-inspiring in his elegant, funeral white robes and tall silver hair crowns. Back when he was yet still a junior prince, he had at least looked approachable. Like this, he’s a jade immortal.

His head maid tugs at Wei Wuxian’s sleeve with great panic, and Wei Wuxian remembers his role.

“Good day,” He calls, bowing with exaggerated humility, and Lan Wangji looks towards him. “This servant greets Wangye.”

There is a silent pause.

Then Lan Wangji drops his teacup.

The servants all freeze for a moment, shocked, before they burst into motion; cleaning the spill, collecting the shards of porcelain, bowing to Lan Wangji as they bring him another cup of tea. And through it all, Lan Wangji is completely still, staring at Wei Wuxian with all the intensity a blazing fire.

Wei Wuxian doesn’t laugh at his reaction, but it’s a near thing. After all, little in life has ever delighted Wei Wuxian the way teasing Lan Wangji does.

“Is Wangye dissatisfied with this servant?” He asks with his sleeve lifted to hide his grin, flicking his eyes downwards as if embarrassed. “Wangye is looking so intently, this servant is embarrassed… Does Wangye not like this servant’s choice of clothing?”

Lan Wangji turns his eyes sharply away, no longer looking at Wei Wuxian. His hands are shaky with what can only be anger around his new cup of tea.

Wei Wuxian can’t help himself. “Could it be..? Is it that they’re not revealing enough for Lan-wangye’s taste?”

“You…” Lan Wangji says, hesitating for a moment as if he doesn’t know what to call him now that he can’t call him Wei Ying, which is unexpectedly cute.

Wei Wuxian grins cheerfully. “Yes, me!”

“Master, what are you doing?” His maid whispers from behind him, a nauseous, frightened tone to her voice, “Don’t antagonise Wangye!”

Ah. Wei Wuxian forgot, again.

He immediately lowers his head, blinking with wide eyes. “Wangye, this servant didn't mean any offence, please forgive this servant his presumption.”

Lan Wangji once again looks at him. His brows are furrowed as he opens his mouth, but he doesn’t say anything for a long time. Wei Wuxian raises one brow in a silent question when he feels his head maid’s vibrating anxiety at Lan Wangji’s silence.

Right as Lan Wangji breathes out like he will finally say something, the doors bang open and someone comes careening through them. “Your Highness! You will not believe what I heard! They say you took a concu— con— concubine?!”

Nie Huaisang freezes in the middle of the room when he spots Wei Wuxian. He looks at Lan Wangji, then at Wei Wuxian standing to the side, then back at Lan Wangji, his mouth opening and closing in an exaggerated shock.

“Duke Nie,” Lan Wangji says, tilting his head in greeting. He then glances towards Wei Wuxian. 

At the cue, Wei Wuxian lowers himself in a flourishing bow. “Good day,” He says quietly with a close-lipped, pleasant close-lipped smile, “This Prince-Concubine Mo Xuanyu greets the Border General, Duke Nie of Qinghe.”

“Ah, ah— um, this duke greets Prince-Concubine Mo,” Nie Huaisang manages to say, turning to him with a shallower bow. “I hadn't expected… to think that I would see the day that Prince Wangji would take a lover… Wow! Good thing I brought gifts just in case, huh, Your Highness?”

“Mn.” Lan Wangji nods.

Nie Huaisang looks stunned at the easy agreement.

With the commotion finally calming down, they all head to their places. Wei Wuxian walks slowly towards the table and stands to the side, lowering his eyes demurely. He’s not too bad at this, if he does say so himself. Apparently he can be polite when he wants to.

Nie Huaisang, meanwhile, sits one seat below Lan Wangji on the right side of the table, with his own one attendant standing at his back.

The servants all bustle to bring out the food; multitudes of trays filled with various dishes. Some of them are the obviously tasteless medicinal food that Wei Wuxian is familiar with from Lan Qiren’s time of regency in the Imperial Palace, but the rest of it look mouth-watering. While they’re all still vegetarian, some of them are so brightly red that Wei Wuxian can barely hold back from lunging forward and stealing a few bites. His lack of a breakfast is very much working against him. 

Then, with the meal spread over the table, the servants bring out the tea set. One of them glances over to Wei Wuxian with an obvious question on his face. Wei Wuxian’s head maid nudges him from the side, and when he glances back at her, she gestures him to the table.

Wei Wuxian steps forward with his eyes still lowered, lips still smiling faintly.

He bows, once to Lan Wangji and then to Nie Huaisang, before kneeling by the side of the table. He starts brewing the tea, and the two others watch him in silence as he works; wets the tea leaves, pours the first brew away, pours more water, all without once misplacing a single frill of his hems. Madam Yu has taught him all too well, and it’s not that different to do it with the subservience of a minor concubine than the honour of a lord-son.

“Prince-Concubine Mo is very refined and cultured,” Nie Huaisang says finally, as Wei Wuxian pours the tea into the two cups. When he’s handed his own cup of tea, he takes a deep breath of it, and grins to Wei Wuxian.

Wei Wuxian bends his head as if shy, and hides his smile behind his long sleeve while he observes Nie Huaisang above it. “Duke Nie flatters me,” He says, lowering his lashes.

“To be honest, I’m quite surprised!” Nie Huaisang turns to Lan Wangji, who’s already drinking his tea, “Prince-Concubine looks a bit like Wei-xiong, so I thought he would at least act like him too!”

Wei Wuxian nearly falls over. Wei-xiong? What the heck? Is Nie Huaisang onto him? Is that why he’s suddenly mentioned Wei Wuxian all of a sudden?

He only manages to bow and pull away through sheer force of will, keeping his head down and his face still.

If he needs to start running—

“But thankfully, I must have overthought about that. They couldn’t be more different in temperament,” Nie Huaisang seems a little hesitant as he looks at the frozen Lan Wangji, “Ah, Your Highness, as your friend I admit I was concerned that you might have been trying to replace him, so I hope—”

“Nie Huaisang.” Lan Wangji says, his voice filling the room with freezing ice. “That’s enough.”

Nie Huaisang immediately opens a fan and flutters it in front of himself. “I’m sorry! Of course you wouldn’t want to discuss this in front of Prince-Concubine—! I really don’t know why I didn't think… I don’t know, I really don’t know. Hold on, I can make up for it!”

“Duke Nie,” Lan Wangji starts, but Nie Huaisang waves his fan at him.

“Just wait for a minute Lan-xiong!” He says cheerfully, before he turns towards the attendant he’s brought with him; “Go get A-Bai to bring those gifts, okay? All of them!”

“Yes, my lord,” The attendant bows and scurries away.

They’re left in silence.

“Your Highness, about what I said about replacing—”

Lan Wangji’s brows twitch. “No talking during mealtimes.”

“Right, right, let’s eat!” Nie Huaisang waits only long enough for Lan Wangji to take a piece of cabbage with his chopsticks before he starts stuffing himself. It’s almost as if he’s trying to run away from the awkwardness of the atmosphere that he himself created.

Wei Wuxian, on the other hand, has no such buffer. He desperately wants to know what that had been about. Why his real name had suddenly popped up out of nowhere. Why Lan Wangji hadn't been surprised about it popping up. What there was to replace.

He’s so deep in thought, in fact, that he startles when Nie Huaisang jumps up with a muffled scream of pain.

“Hot, hot, hot!!” Nie Huaisang fans his mouth, teary-eyed, and he lunges for his tea and swallows it in one go. Wei Wuxian remembers to go refill it for him this time, and Nie Huaisang drinks that too. He’s gotten terribly red in the face.

“Is Duke Nie alright?” Wei Wuxian asks softly, as if anxious not to disturb the silence of mealtimes, “Do you require this one to go call a physician?”

“No, no, Prince-Concubine Mo is too kind,” Nie Huaisang says with a wobbly smile, tears clinging to his bloodshot eyes, and his voice is oddly cottony like his lips are numb. “I just wanted to try this eggplant stew, but I suppose I should have guessed what it would be like from its colour.”

Wei Wuxian looks at the eggplants. They’re a red so bright that they shine. It’s close enough to Wei Wuxian that he’s able to smell its divine, burning smell, spicespicespice, and he’s made drastically more aware of how hungry he is.

“I guess I’ll just stick to the browner food from now on,” Nie Huaisang says to Lan Wangji, “I didn't know Your Highness liked such spicy dishes!”

“Mn.” Lan Wangji says, and then he resumes picking at his tasteless, steamed tofu pieces.

Wei Wuxian notices that Lan Wangji’s teacup is empty, and he goes to refill that. Is doing just this really okay? His purpose here seems to be very limited. He tries to remember the constant warnings his head maid had given him on the way to the dining hall; pour tea, smile, answer if spoken to, serve food if asked to, just generally do what Lan Wangji says, be unobstructive and decorative.

His stomach growls. This is very boring.

When Wei Wuxian starts pulling away from the table, a hand grabs his wrist. He pauses on his halfway crouch, looking up to find Lan Wangji’s golden eyes narrowed onto him.

Wei Wuxian covers the confused tilt of his lips with his free hand’s sleeve. “Wangye?” He asks, “Does Wangye need something else from this servant? Shall I fetch a dish from across the table to serve?”

Lan Wangji doesn’t say anything for a long moment.

Wei Wuxian glances around to find everyone watching them intently, but thankfully, all of them too far away to hear. He covers his lower face fully with his sleeve and leans closer, whispering, “Lan Zhan? Is something wrong?”

Lan Wangji slowly, slowly, lets go of Wei Wuxian’s wrist. He turns back to face the table. “You haven’t eaten,” He says abruptly, for no discernible reason.

Wei Wuxian blinks, pulling away from Lan Wangji. “Yes..?” He says, in an audible voice, “This servant couldn’t find the time yet. With Wangye’s permission, I will eat after Wangye’s meal is over.”

“Sit down,” Lan Wangji says, and while Wei Wuxian is still staring at him, he glances at the servants lining the room; “Set another place at the table.”

Wei Wuxian hears his head maid gasp. When he glances back curiously, she’s still staring politely down, but he’s sure that it was her that he heard. Shaking his head, Wei Wuxian follows along and sits down where the servants set a third pillow across Nie Huaisang, on Lan Wangji’s left, at a lower ranked seat.  

He looks at the empty plate in front of him, at the chopsticks, and at the teacup that one of Lan Wangji’s attendants hurries to fill with the tea that Wei Wuxian made. He looks up at Lan Wangji who’s already begun to eat again.

Shrugging internally, Wei Wuxian starts piling his plate with the reddest dishes he can see. As expected of Lan Wangji, he doesn’t want anyone to ever go hungry. He’s really an exceptional man.

The meal passes in another bout of silence as Wei Wuxian eats with as small bites as he can force himself to eat. Every single dish is heavenly. He loves them so much. He can’t believe they can actually make good food in the Imperial Palace— he had thought that they only ever ate bitter, medicinal soups and broiled vegetables. Apparently at least Lan Wangji has the good sense to have his kitchens make proper food.

It’s so good, in fact, that Wei Wuxian rues the fact that Mo Xuanyu’s starved body already feels stuffed full by the time Wei Wuxian gets halfway through the bright red foods. He’s only nibbling to avoid putting down his chopsticks before Lan Wangji, since he does actually know some etiquette, when he sees from the corner of his eyes Nie Huaisang’s two attendants entering the room.

The two men walk in steadily, each carrying a big box in their hands and they wait on the side for the meal to finish. Ever graceful, Lan Wangji glances once at Wei Wuxian and then at Nie Huaisang, and he puts his chopsticks down. Nie Huaisang and Wei Wuxian follow, and the servants immediately start clearing the table and serving an after-meal tea.

“Alright!” Nie Huaisang says, “Time for gifts! The first one is for His Highness; the usual.”

One of the attendants comes forward with a wide box covered by an embroidered cloth. He hands it to one of the servants, and the servant places the box in front of Lan Wangji. Wei Wuxian watches curiously as Lan Wangji nods and the servant pulls off the cloth, revealing an iron cage with a small blue bird inside.

“You’re welcome!” Nie Huaisang grins, “She’s a beauty, isn’t she? Sings just as beautifully too.”

“Thank you for the gift,” Lan Wangji intones, no particular change on his face, gesturing for a servant to take the cage away.

“Don’t thank me just yet, Your Highness, I also brought somethings for Prince-Concubine Mo!” Nie Huaisang says, and he waves his fan in a vague gesture as his other attendant comes forward. “I dug into my personal collection to find proper gifts on time, so I hope Prince-Concubine Mo doesn’t mind the variety. Here, here, just casually use whichever one you like! I painted them myself.”

An ornate lacquered wood box is brought in front of Wei Wuxian. It has seven layers, and Wei Wuxian opens them one by one; in each layer, there is a fan of the highest quality painted with beautiful designs. Dark blue silk with the waves of the deep sea, forest green with dark bamboo and a single silver deer, peach pink with thousands of tiny blossoms… Time has clearly only improved Nie Huaisang’s craft.

In particular, Wei Wuxian eyes a pure black fan with crimson spider-lilies and golden clouds, with a blood-red tassel hanging down it, and another, too-pale blue fan that practically screams Imperial Clan with its pure white flowers and snowy landscape, the handle decorated with a jade ornament.

“Wangye, which one do you like?” Wei Wuxian raises the two fans, the black and the blue, tilting his head bashfully down, hiding his teasing underneath the poise of a dutiful concubine; “This servant will use the one that pleases Wangye.”

Lan Wangji turns towards him with a flat stare that says he knows exactly what Wei Wuxian’s doing. Despite the casual nature of their conversation, an instant tension fills the room, and the servants are practically vibrating in place the longer Lan Wangji stays silent.

 Wei Wuxian waits eagerly to receive at least a glare and a Shameless! just like old times.

“The black one,” Lan Wangji says finally, nodding to himself.

Wei Wuxian doesn’t pout, but it’s a near thing. Not a single reaction! Maybe Lan Wangji really has grown up.

When he puts the blue fan and the other five back into the box and snaps open the black and red one over his face, Nie Huaisang is staring at him with a pitying face. “Your… Your Highness,” Nie Huaisang says, hesitantly, to Lan Wangji, “Really it’s not good to project the dead onto—”

“Duke Nie,” Lan Wangji says, looking like he really wants to sigh, “Stop it.”

“Aaah… I don’t even know anymore,” Nie Huaisang whines, and he turns to Wei Wuxian with a weary sort of apology, “Prince-Concubine Mo should keep all of the fans! It’s a gift. Please use any of them as you like.”

Wei Wuxian fans himself slowly, seriously wondering what the fuck this is all about.

“This one thanks Duke Nie most humbly for the generous gifts,” He says.

Even though you’re confusing as fuck, He doesn’t say. Wei Wuxian is of the firm opinion that this proves his enormous restraint and wondrous acting abilities. Lan Wangji better be grateful.

 

Chapter Text

 

The Silent Wing is one whole corner of the Imperial Palace that the Emperors have historically gifted to important personages and beloved family members, as well as, on one notable occasion, the entire family of the Emperor’s married lover. Wei Wuxian has a hazy recollection of it from Lan Qiren’s lectures and the poems he’d made them memorise:

It was built during the reign of the first emperor of the Lan Dynasty, Lan An, to house one of the esteemed monks he knew; designed to promote quietness and serenity and absolute stillness. Reaching into the tall mountains behind the Imperial Palace, it was covered in rustling green bamboos, elegant orchids and camelias, and clear brooks with dark bridges over them. The tiled roofs would stand a stark blue above the thin mist that lingers late into the day around the courtyards, giving rise to a dim melancholy— or so wrote Lan Xiumeng, in his poem Autumn Recollections.

Wei Wuxian can no longer remember if he ever saw the Silent Wing before, but he’s always considered the idea of it to be very suitable to Lan Wangji’s stately temperament. Calm, silent, dignified, with a lot less liveliness than should probably dwell in a house or a person.  

…At least he’s pretty sure it was supposed to be unlively.

He stands on a bridge in one of the gardens, watching the uncountable number of fluffy rabbits bouncing under the dappled sunny shadows and drinking from the gentle stream, watching the flashes of colour in the tall trees as songbirds chitter and whistle and flutter, and he wonders at the sheer life here.    

It is not silent. It is much, much too loud to be called anything near silent.

“Were these rabbits and birds… always here?” Wei Wuxian asks the maids and servants standing at his back, “I was of the impression that pets and animal noise were both prohibited in the Imperial Palace…”

In response, the servants seem to give the impression of a shrug.

“Ah, the rabbits have been here for as long as I’ve been working in Imperial Palace, Master,” Says the young maid from the morning, A-Xu, if he remembers right, “It should be at least six, seven years I think. The birds were a newer addition, though.”

“Hmm,” Wei Wuxian says, playing with the handle of the soft green paper parasol that he’s been handed. “That’s odd. I must be remembering wrong, then.”

His head maid, who has been quiet and pensive since they left that lunch meeting with Nie Huaisang, shakes off her contemplative mood and speaks up. “The birds are from Duke Nie, Master Mo,” She says, “If you would glance to the left?”

Wei Wuxian obediently turns to look towards the left. He sees one of the attendants from the dining hall standing under the shadow of a hall. The attendant has the cage bird that Nie Huaisang gifted Lan Wangji in his hands, but he reaches down to open the cage, allowing the blue bird to escape into the air, and leaves with the empty cage.

“What’s he doing?” Wei Wuxian exclaims. His eyes track the bird as it flies, flies, flies— and lands onto a branch one of the pine trees. It perches there and starts singing with the rest of the many birds.

“Wangye dislikes keeping anything caged,” The head maid says, a tilt of pride in her voice, and then she shakes her head, “Unexpectedly, however, Duke Nie has proven himself all too good of a bird trainer. They leave their cages, but they never fly away from the gardens, so the Silent Wing is covered in birdsong from day to night.”

“And the rabbits?” Wei Wuxian asks.

“The rabbits are wild animals, they’re just friendly,” The head maid says with a straight face.

Wei Wuxian pauses for a second. “…because pets are forbidden?” He manages to ask.

“This servant wouldn’t dare presume to speak for Wangye,” The head maid says now, not meeting Wei Wuxian’s eyes, “Master should also take care not to imply anything untoward about the wild rabbits plaguing the Silent Wing.”

Wei Wuxian can’t keep down the twitching amusement in his smile, so he chooses to employ Nie Huaisang’s tried-and-true method by opening his black fan and hiding it that way.

Aaah Lan Zhan! He thinks delightedly, You’ve actually learned to skirt the rules!

He seems to remember gifting Lan Wangji a pair of rabbits and being refused on the grounds that pets were forbidden in the Imperial Palace. But Lan Wangji had taken them eventually, hadn't he? Had that pair also been added to this herd of rabbits? How truly adorable of him.

Clearly, Wei Wuxian had been correct in his choice of gift, if Lan Wangji likes bunnies so much.

“So does anyone come and feed these…” Wei Wuxian swallows back his laughter. “…wild rabbits? Am I allowed to bring them treats? Pet them?”

Secretly pinch their little cheeks and tug their fluffy ears?

“Oh no! No, no, only Wangye and Wangzi—”

“You are.”

There is silence, and then a flurry of hurried bowing and greeting from Wei Wuxian’s cluster of attendants. “Wangye!” They exclaim, lowering their heads.

Wei Wuxian leans over to see Lan Wangji walking sedately on the path through the gardens, approaching the small bridge. When Lan Wangji is close enough, Wei Wuxian tucks his fan into his sleeve and bows, parasol wobbling as he tries to execute the action with too little knowledge of bowing with anything but a sword in his hands. He’ll have to ask his maids about the more intricate details of playing— ahem, being a good concubine.

Lan Wangji nods back, and when he comes to a stop next to Wei Wuxian, he glances towards the many servants. “Leave us.”

The head maid glances hurriedly once at Wei Wuxian’s face, as if checking to see whether he’s fine with this, and Wei Wuxian smiles softly at her. Her face clears in relief at his agreement. “Then we will be taking our leave, Wangye. We will wait outside the garden for any amenities you may require,” The maid bows deeper and leads the servants away with her.

Soon enough, Wei Wuxian finds himself alone with Lan Wangji in the noon-bright garden. He twirls the parasol as he lets out a coquettish giggle. “Oh, what did Wangye want with this servant?” He asks with his head lowered and eyes wide. “Could it be… that Wangye wishes to take this servant on a romantic stroll?”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, disapproving. “Do not tease.”

Wei Wuxian laughs. “Alright, alright. Lan Zhan never lets me have my fun.”

Lan Wangji doesn’t answer that, but he does let out a small exhale —the distant cousin of an exasperated sigh— and it makes Wei Wuxian feel sufficiently satisfied with his teasing Lan Zhan quota of the day.

Around them, the birds sing loudly. The breeze rustles through the colourful wildflowers and carries the scent of the same incense that Lan Wangji always smells like. Sandalwood, Wei Wuxian thinks. He can see why they use it so often in the Silent Wing; it’s a very calming smell. Across the brook, there is a pair of fluffy rabbits stretching over each other.

With no one but Lan Wangji around, Wei Wuxian no longer has to act the innocent demureness of Concubine Mo and can take up as much space as he wants. He can lean casually against the fence of the small bridge, looking up at the blue sky above.

Inexplicably, Wei Wuxian finds himself relaxing.

“Hey Lan Zhan?” He wonders, tilting his parasol to the side to glance up at Lan Wangji, “Why is Nie Huaisang giving you birds?”

Lan Wangji’s eyes turn to him, staring steadily in silence. “I do not know,” He says, eventually, “On his first visit, he gave me a bird in return for a favour in the future. It seems, however, that he changed his mind soon after.”

“Changed his mind, huh,” Wei Wuxian says, before laughing, “Well that’s Nie-xiong for you! Whatever help he needed, he probably got it from his Dage, alright!”

“…Nie Mingjue was already dead by then,” Lan Wangji says.

Right.

The Border General, Duke Nie of Qinghe; Nie Huaisang.

It was apparently too much to hope that Nie Mingjue had retired peacefully.

Wei Wuxian’s smile twitches and falls from his face, but he pulls it back up with a huff. “Ah, Lan Zhan, Lan-er-gege, my good Wangye, can’t you have mercy and tell me that before I make a joke? Now I seem like a bad guy! Warn me next time!”

Lan Wangji nods easily, as uncharacteristically agreeable as he’s been since Wei Wuxian came back to life.

“But why the birds then?” Wei Wuxian wonders, “Are you really friends with Nie-xiong? I’m shocked you became friends with him before me! Shouldn’t he wait for his turn?? Even though I tried so hard, you wouldn’t look once at me, now that I’ve died you go and become friends with Nie Huaisang! Betrayal, I tell you! Betrayal!”

Lan Wangji meets his eyes. “I was always looking at Wei Ying.”

Wei Wuxian almost drops his parasol. What?

Wait, wait, wait, what!

This—! Lan Zhan, this guy, he’s become really good at deflecting teases! Wei Wuxian thinks a touch hysterically, He can even say this sort of outrageous sentence with a serious face!

While Wei Wuxian is trying to calm the frantic shock in his heart, Lan Wangji starts speaking quietly. “The birds…” He says, “Duke Nie felt… pity, I suppose, after he visited here. Called it too silent.”

“Well! Well, it is called the Silent Wing.” Wei Wuxian manages to say.

“Too lonely, then,” Lan Wangji amends. Wei Wuxian glances over at him, but he doesn’t know what to do with that expression on Lan Wangji’s face.

If asked, he wouldn’t even know how to describe it.

Decidedly, Wei Wuxian snaps his gaze towards the birds.

“It’s good that they’re gifts,” He says, with too much cheer in his voice, “Here I was starting to think that maybe Nie Huaisang owed some great debt to you that he couldn’t find a way to repa—”

The garden over the hall ahead of them explodes in a massive cloud of resentful energy, echoed by shrill screams.

Wei Wuxian jumps down the railing immediately, the instinct of years guiding him, but the ground rocks in place and bridge shakes this way and that. When he steps wrong, his feet get tangled in the tight robes and he slips. He’s falling backwards down the bridge, has all the time to think oh fuck—

And then he’s caught in two strong arms.

He doesn’t fall. The parasol lands on the bridge and rolls down.

Wei Wuxian takes a deep breath, a lungful of that sandalwood smell that clings to Lan Wangji’s robes, still half dipped over the railing as Lan Wangji’s arms tighten around his waist and shoulders. Lan Wangji hefts him back onto the bridge in one powerful motion that leaves them pressed chest to chest, his forehead touching the bare skin on a warm neck where Lan Wangji’s pulse beats rabbit-quick.

Wei Wuxian’s heart shakes strangely, more shocked at the catch than the fall, but he forces it to still, makes his mind refocus on the situation.

The earthquake has stopped, but the screams are continuing. Lan Wangji is facing the commotion, and Wei Wuxian can sense the rapidly-growing shroud of resentful energy behind himself. Before he can even turn to take another look, Lan Wangji has pulled Bichen out of its sheath, ready to fight.

“Wei Ying,” He whispers, “That is...”

“I don’t know,” Wei Wuxian says instead of it’s not mine, though surely that’s what they both mean. He shifts to look over his own shoulder, but he can’t see anything but a single crack on the wall of the garden. “It's a very, very strong malevolent entity. I need to look closer to know what exactly it is.” Wei Wuxian pauses, and admits; “You’re going to have to carry me if we’re going to make it in time.”

Wei Wuxian will swear up and down forever that for a split second, as Lan Wangji scoops him up and leaps towards the rampaging evil being, he sees a trace of amusement in those golden eyes.

“Yeah, yeah, laugh all you want,” Wei Wuxian huffs, both aggrieved and a touch amused himself, “You’re definitely thinking Wei Ying brought this onto himself, aren’t you? I’d love to see you try and jump around in concubine robes! Hanguang-wang let me tell you, how exceptional you’d look has no bearing on how fast you can run in it.”

Lan Wangji doesn’t respond, but Wei Wuxian is curled close enough to see his ear turn pink at that.

Since Wei Wuxian can’t stop grinning like a maniac even as they land in the middle of the chaos, he’s forced to hide his face in Lan Wangji’s robes and then he has to cry a little that he’s too scared to let go when the guards try to take him to safety. Seeing Lan Wangji’s impenetrable face neither agreeing nor disagreeing with Wei Wuxian’s dramatics, the guards give up and return to evacuating the servants.

Throughout, Lan Wangji doesn’t scold him once; not when he teases him, not when he acts the crying maiden, not even when he uses a sneaky few bursts of resentful energy to lure their attacker towards Lan Wangji’s sword.

Wei Wuxian doesn’t mention it, but every time he notices, his chest clenches somewhat helplessly around his lungs.

Despite his best efforts, he finds himself wondering.

 


 

The rooms that Wei Wuxian was given are lit by the dimming sunset, orange and pink and lavender. Someone has lit an incense that smells faintly flowery, and the maids are bustling around the room, preparing it for sleep, helping Wei Wuxian take down his unnecessarily elaborate outfit.

He hasn’t had so much help from servants since he grew out of wanting to be a perfect lord-ward after he was adopted, so it feels truly strange now. In Lotus Pier, they all knew that Wei Wuxian wouldn’t let servants arrange him into proper attire. It was a cold day in hell that Wei Wuxian arranged himself into proper attire, let alone making anyone else do it for him.

But in the Silent Wing, Wei Wuxian is Prince-Concubine Mo, and he lets servants do as they must.

“A-Xu, I was so scared,” He cries dramatically in response to the question that one of the servants asked him, “Thank the Heavens, Wangye was there to protect me from that evil thing! I don’t know what I would have done otherwise.”

From behind where he’s sitting in front of the mirror, A-Xu nods rapidly, still undoing Wei Wuxian ponytail. “Master we prayed for your safety,” She says, “When I heard that a ghost attacked the West Gardens I was so worried! They’re saying that it appeared where Wangzi and Jingyi-gongzi were training, and Duke Nie was injured trying to get them out of there!”

“How terrible!” Wei Wuxian says, widening his eyes, “Were the young masters hurt?”

“Thankfully, no, I think Wangzi only sprained his wrist,” A-Xu says, “I heard that Duke Nie had his leg broken! Was he able to walk, Master?”

“He was,” Wei Wuxian says, and he almost smiles when he notices through the mirror that all the maids are peeking in to listen to him, “Wangye took me with him to show Duke Nie out, and although Duke Nie seemed to be in great pain, he was very much able to walk on his own. I believe that the rumours of his injury might have been exaggerated.”

“It’s good that he wasn’t hurt too bad, protecting Wangzi and Jingyi-gongzi,” A-Xu sighs, “He didn't stay to get treated? Surely the imperial physicians are the best care one can receive?”

“He said that he was very busy and had to return to the Nie Estate,” Wei Wuxian says, shaking his head, “I suppose it’s not easy travelling to and from the Unclean Realm when it’s all the way at the borders. It must be a lot of work, being Border General.”

Especially for Nie Huaisang, he thinks with a bit of pity. He really hadn't wanted to do it at all.

“Master,” The head maid pipes in from the side where she’s laying out Wei Wuxian’s sleeping robes, “Actually, Duke Nie stays at the Nie Estate in the capital year round. He doesn’t really… go to the Uncleam Realm. He can usually be found in playhouses and banquets around Caiyi City.”

Wei Wuxian gapes. “But— what about the borders?”

The head maid shakes her head. “I wouldn’t know, Master. It is not our place to think about the politics of state.”

Wei Wuxian takes that as the gently-worded admonishment that it must be. As a Prince-Concubine, it seems that Wei Wuxian will newly have to deal with the same things that Jiang Yanli so often had to. No talking about the state. No having an opinion on politics. No asking officials and other people of the government about what the hell they think they’re doing, eschewing their duties so heinously.

Of course, Jiang Yanli would never have to be told that last one, but Wei Wuxian understands himself well enough to know that he probably will.

“But to injure such important personages! What if that ghost had hurt our master?” A-Xu complains, changing the subject tactfully and with enough emotion that Wei Wuxian can tell she must have been keeping these complaints suppressed until they burst. “How could such a thing enter the Imperial Palace? What are the guards even doing! I hope His Imperial Majesty punishes whoever is responsible for this heavily!”

“A-Xu,” The head maid warns, “What did I say about speaking above your station?”

“Sorry Jiejie! Sorry Master Mo!”

“It’s okay, really,” Wei Wuxian says softly, and he smiles when he meets A-Xu’s eyes in the mirror, “A-Xu, I’m sure Wangye will handle this accordingly. There’s no need to worry about justice being served when Hanguang-wang is around!”

“Hmm,” The head maid says, with an odd tone that Wei Wuxian can’t seem to place, “Master trusts Wangye so much?”

“Of course,” Wei Wuxian says. After all, the issue between Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji had never been Lan Wangji’s unrighteousness and evil. Wei Wuxian has never doubted how good Lan Wangji was— only what he thought of Wei Wuxian, official evil incarnate.

“Hmmm,” The head maid says.

“What’s wrong?” Wei Wuxian asks, surprised. “You don’t trust Wangye?”

“No, no, no such thing... It’s just that this servant has made an error,” The head maid says slowly, “In my ignorance, I was deceived by those malicious rumours about Master and Wangye. It was this servant’s mistake.”

“Rumours?” Wei Wuxian asks, “What rumours?”

“Ah, I shouldn’t even dirty Master’s ears by recounting them,” The head maid sighs, “Look at how much consideration Wangye affords Master, who would believe some hearsay?”

“Um… no, seriously, what rumours?”

“Nothing too overt, Master,” A-Xu finally chimes in from the side, as the head maid sighs again, “Just some things that some maidservants were talking about. Like Master took advantage of Wangye’s pity and begged to become his concubine or how Wangye’s not actually interested in Master. It’s clear that they’re completely wrong! Those servants are just jealous, Master, in this entire estate, which pretty maid hasn’t tried to warm Wangye’s bed? But Wangye has never shown them any ‘pity’! Hmph! They should go see if the problem is them or not first!”

“Aiyah, enough A-Xu,” The head maid chides, “Haven’t you spoken enough? Look you made Master so sad… Master don’t listen to that nonsense, it’s obviously only Master that has ever been named Wangye’s person. That alone is enough proof!”

A-Xu looks at Wei Wuxian with his hunched, trembling shoulders and covered face, and promptly starts bowing and apologising. “Master, Master don’t cry! This servant apologizes! Tomorrow, I’ll go get those maids all beaten! Show them who’s more important in Wangye’s heart, them or Master!”

“No, no,” Wei Wuxian manages to say through the insuppressible laughter that just bubbles out of him even as he tries to muffle the sounds, “Don’t— don’t punish anyone for talking, ah. It’s— it’s not their fault that… that Wangye pitied me and took me in.”

“Master!” A-Xu cries, desolate, “No, Master, it’s not like that! Don’t believe their nonsense!”

“Don’t worry Master Mo,” The head maid agrees, “We’ll do our best so that Master can keep Wangye’s favour for the years to come!”

“Pfft,” Wei Wuxian hides the sound in his palm, turning away, “Th-thank you…”

“It’s our privilege! Those people will never be able to talk like that again when you have Wangye’s heart in your grasp!”

Aah, Lan Zhan, what kind of maids have you found for me? They’re trying to get me to seduce you!

“Pffft!” Wei Wuxian’s shoulders start shaking again.

“Master..! No, don’t cry!”

 


 

Lan Wangji’s study is sequestered between his private rooms and the warded room used for volatile spiritual items and summoning spirits. In the darkness, it’s lit only by a candle on the desk, and Lan Wangji himself is writing a report on expensive paper. His hair has been let down from his usual tall ornaments and tied into a loose ponytail, making him look gentler.

A night wind blows into the room from outside the window, bringing with it a couple of leaves.

“So what are we going to do about our resident demonic arm?”

There is a moment of silence.

Lan Wangji continues moving the inkbrush softly across the paper, writing in beautiful calligraphy. He answers; “Emperor-brother sent fifteen imperial cultivators to cast Evocation. They are currently attempting the ritual to summon the spirit and ask it about its murderer.”

“Hmmm? That might be good!” Wei Wuxian says, humming contemplatively. “But the one who committed the murder and the one who brought the arm here might not be related. Will it reveal the evil-doer who so blasphemously dropped an evil creature in your backyard and messed up your flowers? Oh, but then again, whoever murdered our friend and cut his arm off might also have some clues as to who brought it here.”

Lan Wangji turns slowly to look up at Wei Wuxian where he’s sitting on the windowsill, head propped up by his hand on his chin. When he keeps silently staring, Wei Wuxian gives him a cheery wave, grinning.

“You’ve changed,” Lan Wangji says softly.

“Lan-er-gege, I don’t know how to break this to you, but I’ve been dead and resting for thirteen years so obviously—” Wei Wuxian pauses. “Oh, you mean my clothes. Well, as pretty as they are, I can hardly sneak around in bright blue concubine robes, can I? And I don’t know, I’m kind of attached to black and red!”

Wei Wuxian raises one of his arms, showing off the black sleeve of one of those athletic, clean-cut robes that A-Xu had so cruelly rejected in the morning.

It slides a little over his hand, too long.

Wei Wuxian huffs as he pulls the sleeve back up to his elbow. “It just can’t stay folded up, though,” He complains, “Maybe I should cut it?”

Lan Wangji puts down his brush and turns fully on the pillow to face Wei Wuxian. “Wei Ying,” He says, holding out his hands.

Wei Wuxian looks at him.

Lan Wangji looks back.

“Oh. Um, okay,” Wei Wuxian says, jumping down the windowsill and approaching the desk. Lan Wangji keeps kneeling on the pillow with his hands raised, and Wei Wuxian stands blankly in front of him for a few seconds before offering one of his arms to him.

Lan Wangji lowers his eyes to cup the back of Wei Wuxian’s hand in his own hand. Wei Wuxian can feel the bumps of a thin scar across the middle of Lan Wangji’s palm brushing against his knuckles, and he watches quietly as Lan Wangji reaches up with his other hand. His fingers slide a little into the gap between Wei Wuxian’s narrow sleeve and his night-chilled skin, before he starts folding the sleeve meticulously back.

The skin over Wei Wuxian's wrist tingles everywhere.

“What does this mean?” He asks as Lan Wangji continues folding his sleeve, mostly to distract himself from the strange warmth in the distance between them. “Are you telling me not to cut your robes, Lan-wangye, Hm? Are you worried I’ll cut it badly and someone will see, and it’ll ruin your house’s reputation? I’ll have you know that I’ve adjusted many robes over the years! The extra fabric I’ve cut off alone could pile up into a mountain!”

“Mn,” Lan Wangji says.

“Glad that we’re agreed,” Wei Wuxian says. Then he realises that he doesn’t exactly know what they’re agreed upon, only that they’re agreed. It’s an odd feeling. Maybe he should stop talking so much.

He looks down at Lan Wangji, and finds that he is already looking up at him. Lan Wangji’s eyes are a pale orange in the candlelight, and from this angle, his lashes are impossibly long and sweeping. He turns back to the sleeve, folding it further up, and Wei Wuxian watches, enraptured, as the single clear jewel hanging down the centre of Lan Wangji’s forehead ribbon glimmers in the candlelight. It sways in the air when Lan Wangji bends his head slightly down and to the side, as tempting to Wei Wuxian as a bird to a cat, as tempting as it was when they were children and Wei Wuxian hadn't known what it meant to give up.

He's always felt this insatiable, unreasonable urge to grasp that bejeweled ribbon in his fingertips. It's only experience that keeps him from reaching now; not any loss of desire. The desire itself hasn't diminished one bit.

While Wei Wuxian watches, Lan Wangji folds the black sleeve, and his graceful fingers brush lightly on Wei Wuxian’s forearm, then up, over the thin skin inside his elbow, grazing the side with pink fingernails—

Lan Wangji pauses, glancing up at Wei Wuxian.

The sleeve is already folded.

Wei Wuxian’s mouth is dry. He lowers that arm and offers his other, which Lan Wangji takes without a comment, folding its sleeve back just as meticulously as he did the first one. His gaze is focused like fire on Wei Wuxian’s skin, making him jittery and nervous. He is uncomfortably aware of the fact that Hanguang-wang, noble and radiant and pure, is on his knees in front of him while he’s just standing here, letting the Crown Prince serve him.

Wei Wuxian breathes out through parted lips, hiding his words in the exhale. “...I need a fucking drink.”

Lan Wangji glances up at him once again before he allows Wei Wuxian’s arm, and the perfectly folded second sleeve, to fall down to his side.

“Wait here,” Lan Wangji says, and he gets up with a lift of his white robes.

Wei Wuxian is helpless to do anything but obey, standing right there in one corner of Lan Wangji’s study while Lan Wangji walks out of the room. He looks down at the folds of his once too-long sleeves, now resting firmly above his elbows, and finds that his mind is so full of churning thoughts that it’s practically blank.

... For some reason, his life ever since he’s been resurrected doesn’t feel very similar to the one before.

Even the people he used to know don’t feel very similar to what he remembers.

Wei Wuxian doesn’t really know what to do with that.

He stands there for a long time, just watching the flame flicker on the candlewick. It’s not until after quite a few minutes have passed that he realises it’s been way too long since Lan Wangji went away. Where did he go that’s taking so long?

Wei Wuxian only has the chance to furrow his brows, turning towards the door—

And something slams against the adjacent wall with great force.

A bell starts ringing in the next room over, and Wei Wuxian knows enough about the Imperial Palace to recognise the signal for danger in a warding room.

He’s out and running before he’s even aware of it.

It hasn’t been long enough for the cultivators to gather, so Wei Wuxian finds the doors of the warding room uncrowded, manned only by the couple of servants that came to see if they were needed. The doors are firmly shut, and the servants are panicking. “We should call the guards!” One of them says, “Wangye could be in trouble!”

A maid at the fringes of the crowd notices Wei Wuxian coming towards the door. “Prince-Concubine Mo, what are you doing here?” She exclaims, shocked, “Has Wangye called upon you to serve him? You mustn’t approach, it’s dangero—”

Wei Wuxian steps right past her, parting the crowd, his eyes focused on the doors.

“Prince-Concubine—!”

“What’s he doing?!”

“Open!” Wei Wuxian commands, pushing with his hands, and the doors bang open for him to step through, only to slam back closed right behind him.

The cacophony of confused servants is a background noise to his blade sharp, systematic assessment of the room. There is resentful energy bucking against the restraint of the wards, three odd closed jars lying on the floor at one corner, fifteen Lan disciples on the ground bleeding from their every orifice, the demonic arm from the morning flying around—

The arm freezes mid-air.

A low, reverberating note of the guqin hangs in the air like crystallized energy.

The arm can no longer move, struck as it is by the guqin’s power. Even the resentful energy seems dull and faint in comparison to the overbearing might of the spiritual energy grasping the room. Wei Wuxian turns slowly to the source of the sound.

—and there is Lan Wangji, sitting on the ground on one side of the ritualwork with his fingers held above his guqin, watching the demonic arm with placid eyes that Wei Wuxian cannot read, as usual.

Lan Wangji looks once at Wei Wuxian, and Wei Wuxian nods.

Wei Wuxian pulls out the makeshift wooden dizi that he’s been carrying everywhere and walks around the ritual work to sit across Lan Wangji, the demonic arm still frozen between them. Lan Wangji raises his hand in one graceful motion and starts playing Evocation, so Wei Wuxian follows his lead.

Unexpectedly, even after two tries with increasingly more energy, Evocation still doesn’t work.

There can only be one reason why the likes of Yiling Patriarch and Hanguang-wang cannot call a soul through a part of its body. One terrible reason.

Soul cut up into pieces! Wei Wuxian sucks in a shocked breath. Truthfully, he really wasn’t expecting to meet someone who had died even more miserably than him. Wei Wuxian might have been eaten alive, but at least his soul wasn’t pieced apart!

As both Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji come to the same conclusion at the same time, the sinister, urgent notes of Evocation flows into serene lullaby of Rest. Right now, they can only suppress the corpse and not liberate it; they will need for it to be put back together if they wish to ask the spirit any questions.

The shaking and raging arm slowly calms down, as if it’s starting to go to sleep, but its fist remains clenched angrily with a finger pointing at one wall of the room.

As the arm calms down, so do the wards. One by one, the shining circles and symbols etched on the ground turn faint, and the room falls into a softer darkness relieved only by their dim blue glow. The panicked bell of the warding room stops ringing.

The moment Wei Wuxian lowers his dizi, meeting Lan Wangji’s eyes across the room, the doors part open.

“Hanguang-wang!” Calls Lan Sizhui, his voice properly quiet but still harried as he hurries into the room, and while his wrist is bandaged, he seems perfectly fine otherwise. That’s good. The demonic arm must not have hurt him too much. “Is everyone alright?”

“The wards shut us out, Hanguang-wang, we brought cultivators and healers as backup for you!” Lan Jingyi exclaims with much less quietness than Lan Sizhui, and he does a doubletake when he spots Wei Wuxian at the side, “Senior Mo, you are here too! Oh, were you helping Hanguang-wang with— ow, ow, Sizhui! Why!”

“I’m sure Senior Mo was only providing moral support,” Lan Sizhui says with a too-peaceful smile as he pulls his foot away from where it was crushing Lan Jingyi’s toes. “As a non-cultivator, it must have been difficult for him to be stuck in this room with such danger, when he himself cultivates nothing at all, right Jingyi? We should appreciate his dedication to supporting Hanguang-wang, when he’s so powerless. Right, Jingyi?”  

Lan Jingyi pales when he notices the other cultivators flooding the room and checking up on the injured Lans on the floor. “Uh, yeah!” He says nervously, “Right, right. Good job, Senior Mo!”

Wei Wuxian watches with amusement as Lan Sizhui starts berating Lan Jingyi this time for being rude to his superiors. Around them, the cultivators of the Imperial family help the healers support and carry the injured disciples, while a couple few carry in a big copper bell to suppress the demonic arm better. Two white boots come to a stand behind him.

“Your son’s my new favourite,” Wei Wuxian whispers just loud enough for one person to hear, “See how he’s trying to defend me? Simply the best.”

There is the quietest, smallest sound of an amused huff, and Wei Wuxian’s head whips up to stare at source of the voice. Lan Wangji is watching Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi bicker as if nothing has happened, but there is a trace of pink on his ears as he avoids Wei Wuxian’s gaze.

Wei Wuxian’s heart grows softer.

So Lan Wangji could even learn how to laugh at jokes, huh.

“Hey Lan Zhan?” Wei Wuxian whispers quietly as the healers and cultivators flit around the room, and he sees from the corner of his eyes Lan Wangji glancing down at him. “When you take a new wife, I promise I’ll leave without a fuss okay? Don’t worry about it. I wouldn’t cause trouble to your wife.”

Lan Wangji’s stance grows a little tenser. “What new wife?” He asks.

“Lan Sizhui didn't appear out of nowhere, after all,” Wei Wuxian laughs hesitantly, looking away. “There must have been someone, no? They said that I’m the only that’s ever been in your household, but I was thinking, maybe something happened to his mother. I couldn’t imagine you having a child out of wedlock, but…”

But then again Wei Wuxian couldn’t have ever imagined Lan Wangji being so mild in front of his teasing, so accepting of his demonic cultivation either. He’s even started doubting whether he was remembering Lan Wangji hating him correctly.

13 years.

It’s a very long time.

“Sizhui—” Lan Wangji begins, but then he pauses, looking at the cultivators around them. “I will tell you. It’s not as you think.”

Wei Wuxian shakes his head with a grin. “Aah, you don’t have to tell me anything, Hanguang-wang, you don’t owe me! I just wanted you to know that I will definitely leave when you take a wife.”

“Then I will not.”

Wei Wuxian blinks. He glances up at Lan Wangji, who’s looking across the room with tight eyes, very deliberately not meeting Wei Wuxian’s gaze. “What?”

“I will not.”

“Will not what?”

“Will not take a wife.”

“Lan Zhan, you—”

“Would it not be easier,” Lan Wangji says, “If you were ranked higher?”

Wei Wuxian pauses, blinking in confusion. “What? What are you talking about?” He asks, then, he seems to understand, although he really doesn’t, so he asks; “Ranked higher, like, in your household?”

“Yes.”

“I guess..?” Wei Wuxian says, “I don’t really know what would be easier but if you want to change my rank, that’s fine to me. What rank concubine am I anyways?”

Cefei,” Lan Wangji replies.

“Right, right,” Wei Wuxian nods, “And what rank concubine is that?”

Lan Wangji breathes out a dry, exasperated breath. “You are the highest rank concubine.”

“Um? Then how am I supposed to get a higher rank??” Wei Wuxian asks, completely lost, “Don’t tell me you want me to go become your emperor-brother’s concubine? No offence but I’d honestly rather be your servant than his Empress, so I’m good like this.”

Lan Wangji sucks in an audible breath at that.

Wei Wuxian doesn’t know what he said that deserves such a drastic response.

“…Wei Yi—” Lan Wangji starts to say, but he closes his mouth when a few cultivators hurry up to him to ask about what to do with the arm.

One of them notices Wei Wuxian sitting on the ground and glances weirdly towards him, as if wondering why he’s acting so suspiciously calm. Wei Wuxian immediately swoons a little, teary-eyed with supposed fright, clutching onto the hem of Lan Wangji’s robes and burying his face there. With his dishevelled hair and crumpled figure, he’s certain he makes for a pitiful figure.

“Oh, Wangye!” Wei Wuxian cries, breath hitched as if he’s lost his voice, “This servant was so scared, Wangye! If it weren’t for Wangye, I would have been dead! Wangye is so heroic…”

From the corner of his eyes, he sees the cultivator shake her head, but she no longer seems suspicious. Success. Wei Wuxian hides his grin in the white cloth of Lan Wangji’s robes.

Meanwhile, standing in the middle of the room, Lan Jingyi and Lan Sizhui are observing the pinned demonic arm with subtle frowns.

“But if Evocation failed,” Lan Jingyi asks, “How are we going to find why the arm is stuck here? We won’t be able to cast Inquiry if we can’t summon its spirit here!”

Lan Sizhui also seems to be stumped. “…I’m sure Hanguang-wang will find a way.”

While the cultivators are all busy and looking away, Wei Wuxian pats down his robes and gets up to make his way towards the arm, and Lan Wangji follows. “Tsk, tsk,” He whispers to Lan Wangji as they approach the two teenagers, “Teacher Lan hasn’t even taught this to them yet?”

Lan Wangji doesn’t respond, but the side glance he throws Wei Wuxian is judgemental enough to speak for itself. He’s clearly a proud father and senior. Wei Wuxian hides another secretive smile at that. It’s very fetching.

Lan Wangji comes to a stop next to Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi. “Look at the arm. What does it say?”

“What could it say? It’s an arm!” Lan Jingyi scoffs, but then he realizes that the one who spoke was his beloved Hanguang-wang and his eyes grow huge; “Hanguang-wang! I didn't see—! Aaah, what does it say, what does it say? It’s just pointing!”

“It’s pointing…” Lan Sizhui says, furrowing his brows curiously, “Is it trying to communicate something to us?”

“Good,” Lan Wangji says, and Lan Sizhui beams.

“But what does it mean?” Lan Jingyi asks. “Does it want to go that way? Does it want us to go that way?”

“Close, Jingyi!” Wei Wuxian grins at him, gesturing forwards to where the arm is pointing. “It might be trying to show us the one who killed it, or the rest of its body. Either way, following it should show us a way to collect its spirit together and ask it a couple few questions.”

“Senior Mo… where it’s pointing, isn’t it the Inner Palace?” Lan Sizhui points out.

Wei Wuxian glances over at Lan Wangji. Lan Wangji is looking intently at the wall across them, as if he will be able to see through it and to where the arm is pointing. Wei Wuxian clears his throat. “Not necessarily,” He says, “It might be much further ahead, maybe in Caiyi City, or maybe in another county all together.”

Even as he says this, though, he doesn’t have much hope. Someone dropped such a malicious thing in the middle of the Silent Wing without anyone noticing, and now the rest of its body is supposedly in the direction of the Inner Palace; how likely is it that it’s stuffed in a grave in some nice, convenient city cemetery just waiting to be dug up?

Wei Wuxian blows out an exasperated sigh. “Well,” He says, trying to sound cheerful, “It’s probably not in the Inner Palace! Who could enter that place with a piece of a corpse? So we should be safe!”

 

Chapter Text

 

It’s in the Inner Palace.

Of course it is.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that this whole thing is connected to someone —someones, maybe— in the Imperial Palace.

So now not only do they need to search the Inner Palace for a hidden demonic body piece, but they also need to be careful of alerting the hidden instigator, whose identity they don’t know and who could be getting information from any number of people in the Imperial Palace. Getting the eunuchs to search for it is impossible, since they wouldn’t be able to supress the demonic arm long enough to follow it, and sending Lan Wangji would only make everyone suspicious.

Thankfully, there is Wei Wuxian. He was due for a visit to his dear sisters-in-law residing at the Inner Palace anyways. He only needs to be officially written down as Lan Wangji’s concubine after greeting the Emperor, and then he’s set to go investigate.

Which is why, the next afternoon, Wei Wuxian is dressed up in the finest blue and white silks A-Xu could find and kneeling with Lan Wangji next to him in front of the dragon seat in a grand tea room, as a eunuch reads a report of the result that Wei Wuxian got from his evaluation.

“He executes the proper etiquette perfectly and knows how to read and write remarkably well for someone of his previous station,” The eunuch says, faintly baffled, “Knows all too many classics and can compose poems. Can sing songs. Can play the erhu, the dizi and can paint rather masterfully. It’s only been three days, but he was able to recite the first three thousand of Imperial Palace’s rules without mistake.”

Wei Wuxian grins under the cover of his kneeling form. Hehe. No matter how many tests you do, this patriarch can ace them all! See how you like that!

“Crown Prince Wangji has also declared that he is satisfied,” The eunuch continues with that same baffled tone.

“Mn,” Lan Wangji says.

The eunuch pauses for a moment before continuing. “This lowly servant wasn’t able to spot any problems with Prince-Concubine Mo,” He says, “Other than the obvious, of course.”

“The obvious?” The Emperor asks, “Speak so that we know. What is the ‘obvious’ problem with our brother’s concubine?”

There is an audible thread of anger in Lan Xichen’s previously pleased tone, and Wei Wuxian sees from the corner of his eyes as the eunuch immediately falls to his knees. “This servant spoke improperly! Begging Emperor to administer punishment!”

“Get up and answer this emperor; what is this obvious problem with our brother’s concubine?”

“This servant meant no disrespect to Prince-Concubine Mo or Crown Prince Wangji!” The eunuch hits his head when he kowtows, “This servant only meant that it is unconventional… there has never been a male concubine before… This servant cannot imagine how a man will be capable of assuring the harmony of the household, or balancing the Crown Prince’s yang qi! Would it not be appropriate to at least assign some female attendants to Crown Prince Wangji, to counteract this problem?”

“Leave our presence,” Lan Xichen orders, face dark, “We do not wish to hear any more suggestions on how to manage our respected brother’s inner court! This matter is closed from now on.”

The eunuch is dragged away, and he leaves behind a highly awkward silence.

Lan Xichen clears his throat. “Wangji…” He starts as if he’s going to reassure,but  then he can’t seem to find what it is he should say. He eventually goes with; “Wangji, Xuanyu, you may both rise. Come, come; sit with me, let’s have tea. You can rest assured that there will be no more comments of that nature.”

Lan Wangji gets up first, and Wei Wuxian follows. “Thank you, Emperor-brother,” Lan Wangji says as he sits across Lan Xichen at the table. A servant immediately goes to pour them both tea.

Wei Wuxian keeps silent, his expression soft and head lowered as he sits a few steps behind Lan Wangji. He’s perfectly aware of the fact that this will be the greatest test of his hidden identity that they will face; Lan Xichen is supernaturally capable of reading his Great Wall of a brother. Wei Wuxian can only hope that this visit is short enough, and the idea of complete resurrection impossible enough, that Lan Xichen will not be able to glean enough clues to guess who the Prince-Concubine Mo Xuanyu really is.

“You must know that I have no reservations about this match, Wangji,” Lan Xichen says, smiling brightly as he takes a sip of his tea, “I would never, not when you look so happy.”

Wei Wuxian glances over at Lan Wangji. Nope. Still completely expressionless.

As expected of His Imperial Majesty, the Son of Heaven. Normal humans like Wei Wuxian truly cannot match him.

“And Xuanyu… ah, my condolences for what happened to your family,” Lan Xichen says.

Wei Wuxian bows behind his long sleeves with the softest smile he can manage, trying to look as little like himself as possible. “Many thanks to the Emperor for his care.”

“But perhaps I don’t need to say that?” Lan Xichen continues with that pleasant look still on his face, “I’ve been told that instead of condolences, ‘congratulations’ might be more appropriate? Please do keep in mind that demonic cultivation is forbidden in the Imperial Palace.”

Wei Wuxian’s smile cramps up.

Next to him, Lan Wangji is completely stiff. “Emperor-brother,” He murmurs, “You…”

“I do receive reports, Wangji,” Lan Xichen laughs slightly, and then he shakes his head, “I had a few people interview the Mo servants… The demonic cultivation was only a guess until you two confirmed it. It is distressingly common to find among the population these days.”

“It wasn’t him,” Lan Wangji says immediately. “He didn't kill them. He was trying to protect them.”

“I see,” Lan Xichen says, nodding. “Hearing that does indeed relieve me greatly, but it won’t matter if someone else hears that he practices demonic cultivation. I shouldn’t have to say that this should absolutely be kept a secret once he’s a part of the imperial clan. I’ve made sure that the Mo servants will not speak to anyone else. No one knows, not even A-Yao, and no one should know.”

Lan Wangji’s body relaxes so fast that even Wei Wuxian can see his relief, but he can’t fault Lan Wangji. He’s feeling the same. Lan Xichen doesn’t know who Wei Wuxian is, only that he’s a demonic cultivator, and he doesn’t want to have him killed.

He’s going to let Wei Wuxian stay.

Wei Wuxian hadn't realised how much he wanted to stay.

“Thank you so much, Your Imperial Majesty,” Wei Wuxian says quietly, bowing again. “I will do my best to do keep it under wraps.” He hesitates before blurting out; “Your Majesty, I… this servant would never have resorted to demonic cultivation if there was any other way. Truly.”

Lan Wangji shoots Wei Wuxian an intense look from the side, and Wei Wuxian knows he noticed that Wei Wuxian was being honest when he said that. The look almost says; What the fuck does that mean, Wei Ying? What are you implying to my emperor-brother that you didn't breathe a single word of to me, Wei Ying???

Of course, Wei Wuxian could be projecting slightly.

“I will trust my brother’s judgement,” Lan Xichen says, smiling brightly at Wei Wuxian, “Xuanyu must have had his reasons. And like I said; I wouldn’t begrudge Wangji anything that makes him so happy. Take good care of my brother please.”

“I promise I will,” Wei Wuxian says, firmly, and then he remembers himself and lowers his lashes in an expression that he feels is most befitting the quiet and mellow Prince-Concubine Mo; “This servant wants nothing more than to make Wangye happy, Your Majesty... It is my dream to one day see Wangye smile.”

He doesn’t know what Lan Xichen sees on Lan Wangji’s expression at that, but he bursts out laughing. “I can see that it will not be too difficult for you,” Lan Xichen says, still laughing.

Lan Wangji turns his face away.

“Then without further ado,” Lan Xichen declares, “I will give my blessings to you two. Be good to each other.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.” Wei Wuxian says, at the same as Lan Wangji.

“Emperor-brother,” Lan Wangji says, a moment later, “On the matter of the demonic arm…”

“Ah, yes,” Lan Xichen blinks, before nodding. “I understand that Xuanyu will be paying a visit to the Inner Palace soon? I will leave it in your hands, Xuanyu. Try not to alarm the people of the Inner Palace or let anyone know of your mission... not even I can be sure of their ties outside the Palace, and we should be careful to not alert the instigators to our movements. I’ve spoken of the matter to A-Yao, so feel free to ask him for anything you may need.”

A-Yao? Wei Wuxian blinks. He stares at the back of Lan Wangji’s head until Lan Wangji glances over and sees the question on Wei Wuxian’s face.

“Jin Guangyao,” Lan Wangji says shortly as Lan Xichen nods on with a proud smile, “Grand Chancellor Jin.”

The Grand Chancellor has changed too, huh? Wei Wuxian remembers Wen Ruohan, who had been the Grand Chancellor during the reign of Emperor Qingheng before he went and burnt the emperor alive and declared himself the new sovereign, and then Jin Guangshan, who had been the Grand Chancellor during the tumultuous times after the Wen Rebellion and during Lan Xichen’s ascension to the throne and still was when Wei Wuxian died.

He hopes that this Grand Chancellor will be a better one than those two. The bar… is actually pretty low.

“Ahem, hem,” An attendant makes noise from behind Lan Xichen, making them all turn towards him, “Your Imperial Majesty, your appointment with the His Excellency the Grand Chancellor is due. He has arrived. Shall I allow him in?”

“Just as we were speaking of him,” Lan Xichen smiles, and it is a warmer smile than almost anything Wei Wuxian has seen on him today, “Let him in, let him in.”

The door is opened, and in enters the vaguely familiar face of the man Wei Wuxian remembers seeing around the many Jin Clan banquets after the war. Jin Guangyao. He has aged too, but it’s hardly visible. His expression seems both pleasant and gentle, as well as incredibly happy to see Lan Xichen.

His face is, uh, oddly similar to the one that Wei Wuxian has been seeing every day in mirrors?

Oh.

Oh.

Oh no.

So what if your father was some important Duke? Mo Ziyuan’s voice seems to echo in Wei Wuxian’s mind like gongs of war, So what if he’s a cultivator? Your mother was still a servant, and you're a servant too! Don't get full of yourself!

There really aren’t that many dukes. There are three, now, and there were four once. At around the time of Mo Xuanyu’s birth, there was Jiang Fengmian, Wen Ruohan, Nie Mingjue…

…and Jin Guangshan, whose perverted, dishonourable, immoral ways are so notorious that everyone knows about it.

“This subordinate didn't know you had guests over, Er-g— Your Majesty,” Says Jin Guangyao, who might just be Wei Wuxian’s new body’s brother, “If you would like, I can return at some other time?”

“No, please,” Lan Xichen waves it off, gesturing for Jin Guangyao to come sit at the table, “There’s no need to be polite, A-Yao. We were just speaking of the demonic arm that appeared in Wangji’s courtyard, if you have any advice, I would greatly appreciate it.”

Just as Jin Guangyao agrees and sits down, Lan Wangji gets up. His eyes are colder than shards of ice. “We will return to the Silent Wing, Emperor-brother,” Lan Wangji says, bowing to Lan Xichen, “Good day.”

Wei Wuxian barely holds back from throwing him a betrayed look.

He was looking forward to listening in on their conversation! That guy might be his body’s brother! He needs information!

But there is a frosty aura convalescing around Lan Wangji, and he’s very deliberately not meeting eyes with Jin Guangyao, who also seems to nervously avoid looking at Lan Wangji, and Wei Wuxian sighs internally. Fine. He wasn’t that curious anyways.

“Good day, Your Imperial Majesty,” Wei Wuxian murmurs as he bows low with a small smile, before hurrying after Lan Wangji. He also makes sure to bow to Jin Guangyao —who Lan Wangji directly ignored— on the way out, “Good day, Your Excellency.”

As he steps out of the room, he hears a snippet of a conversation.

“Your plan for expanding the watchtowers was wonderful as always, A-Yao. Countless people’s lives have been saved thanks to you.”

“No, no, Er-ge is the emperor above all, how can I have achieved this without your support? It should be Er-ge that the people are sending their thanks to!”

“Humble as always,” There is a low, fond laugh. “So, about the arm—”

The doors shut closed.

Ahead, Lan Wangji is standing in the middle of the opulent hall, and his hands are clenched so hard they’re shaking. He stands with his shoulders straight and head held high, all the poise of a monk who has never felt anything in his life, but those hands give him away.

Wei Wuxian walks up to him with a small sigh.

Lan Wangji is silent as Wei Wuxian comes to stand next to him, and he freezes visibly when a hand touches gently on one of his clenched fists.

He turns his head to where Wei Wuxian staring intently at that one hand. Wei Wuxian moves carefully, hesitating once before he finally wraps his own hand around Lan Wangji’s. It stops shaking in his hold. In fact, it stops moving completely, becoming as still as a rock.

When he looks up, Lan Wangji’s face is so stiff that Wei Wuxian has to let out a nervous laugh. “Anger is still the only emotion you can’t hide, Lan Zhan,” He says, “Why do you hate that guy so much anyways?”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji whispers, lips moving as if he’s trying to say something far longer.

His eyes are so intent on Wei Wuxian, glaring, that Wei Wuxian starts wondering if maybe he shouldn’t have touched him. It seems that Wei Wuxian was too taken in by the role he’s playing, since his first thought wasn’t to put an arm around Lan Wangji’s shoulders or pat his back, but to hold his hand. He doesn’t even know why he did it.

Just as he starts hurriedly pulling away, an apology at the tip of his tongue, Lan Wangji moves his hand and grabs Wei Wuxian’s wrist tightly.

Wei Wuxian tugs his hand.

Lan Wangji doesn’t let go.

Okay then.

“Jin Guangyao, he,” Lan Wangji whispers, and he turns to face the hall rather than Wei Wuxian’s inquisitive eyes. When he speaks again, it sounds nothing but tired. “…If not him, then won’t it be my brother?”

It takes Wei Wuxian quite an embarrassing amount of time to figure out what Lan Wangji just said. But when he does, his entire body feels chilled.

If I don’t hate Jin Guangyao, Wei Wuxian hears. Won’t I have to hate my brother?

The hall is deathly silent while Wei Wuxian’s thoughts spiral, wondering just what the hell happened amongst the imperial family while Wei Wuxian was dead. The mood only goes further down the longer the silence stretches. Eventually, as always, Wei Wuxian can no longer stand it. He steps closer to bump his side to Lan Wangji’s arm, making him glance down.

“Well! Let’s go back to the Silent Wing, shall we, Wangye?” Wei Wuxian says loudly, pulling out his white fan and snapping it open to hide his grin behind it, leaving only a pair of crescent eyes above them. “Will Wangye bestow upon this servant the honour of being escorted?”

He pulls his hand away from Lan Wangji’s hand —easily, as it’s no longer gripping so tight— and worms it around Lan Wangji’s elbow instead. He looks up from behind his fan to dramatically flutter his eyelashes; “These halls are too long and complicated for this servant to remember… I might not be able to go back home alone… Does Wangye not want to help this poor little concubine back?”

Lan Wangji exhales a long breath. 

He crooks his elbow to allow Wei Wuxian to link his arm with it.

Somehow, despite being arguably the best at spotting anger on Lan Wangji’s features, Wei Wuxian doesn’t see a single trace of it during the entire way back. It’s simply too miraculous. Wei Wuxian magnanimously chooses to take the credit.

 


 

A-Xu is having the worst possible day.

First, her breakfast is burnt in a short moment of inattention and she has to eat it anyways because she’s about to be running late. Then, she remembers that Jiejie is gone this morning on some minor errand, and she has to lead the entirety of Prince-Concubine Mo’s dressing as the highest ranked servant. Even worse, it just has to be the day when Prince-Concubine Mo is supposed to visit the Inner Palace, so he has woken up early and is thus practically unconscious even as he stands and walks.

And then, as if her morning hasn’t been difficult enough, one of Hanguang-wang’s high-ranked attendants arrive just in time with a new set of robes in his hands, saying that it was commissioned specially for Prince-Concubine Mo. So obviously A-Xu has to get rid of the previous robes and matching accessories and once again help Prince-Concubine Mo dress, putting on the robes that Hanguang-wang has sent personally and even changing his makeup and accessories to match.

A-Xu is completely exhausted by the time Prince-Concubine Mo is dressed in those black and red, expensive silk robes embroidered beautifully to match Prince-Concubine Mo’s favourite fan, his hair and makeup done in matching splendour.

Those are nothing, though. By the end of her morning preparation, Prince-Concubine Mo looks so inhumanely radiant that A-Xu feels all of her stress wash away, rejuvenated at the hopes that Hanguang-wang will be so impressed, so enchanted, that he will elevate her master’s status even further.

When Prince-Concubine Mo gives out the new year bonuses, she hopes that he will remember her dedication fondly.

So, no. Those aren’t the real reason why A-Xu’s day has taken a sudden nosedive from tiring to fucking terrible.

“You think I don’t have the power to have you sent to the latrines? Your cushy job is easily taken away if I ever feel like it! It’s not so difficult what I’m asking of you, is it? Be reasonable.”

“I’m not going to!” A-Xu snaps, trying to get past the steward in charge of the expenses of the East Kitchens, an older man who keeps hounding her for information on Prince-Concubine Mo’s small matters. “I’d never betray my master! Now leave me alone, Master Mo is waiting for me to bring tea.”

The steward laughs, stepping closer to A-Xu with his nasty breath on her face. “Some shameless lesser noble that Hanguang-wang took pity on, he can afford to wait a few minutes. Look here, little girl. I’m not asking you to hurt your master or betray the household. I’m asking you for Mo Xuanyu’s sleep schedule or favourite foods, unimportant pieces of information that won’t harm anyone, okay? You’ll get paid, I’ll get promoted, and no one else will know. I’m starting to lose patience.”

A-Xu considers him. If he does ‘lose his patience’ or whatever, what he will receive will be A-Xu’s fist on his nose, but A-Xu would rather not be beaten for hurting a fellow servant of the household. She has avoided getting into trouble all this time, she doesn’t want to ruin her previous efforts.

“You’re being too inflexible, A-Xu—”

“Don’t call me that. It’s Maiden Xu to you.” A-Xu scoffs, “What if people mistake me to be close to you because you’re calling me so familiarly? I’d rather drown in a shallow swamp and have my body be eaten by birds!”

The steward clicks his tongue, his face growing cloudier with every word out of A-Xu’s mouth. He steps even closer with his lips twisted, growling; “Look here you bitch, if you keep being so disrespectful, I will have you beaten to death and thrown out of the household. So now don’t test me and—”

What is going on here.”

The kitchen, previously filled with a bustling cheer that seemed all too content to ignore A-Xu’s plight, now falls entirely silent. 

The owner of that deceptively soft voice steps through the doors.

“I had hoped that I was given a mistaken account,” He says, eyes cold and imperious as they gaze down from above a red-black fan, “To see that this sort of disgraceful trash can even exist in my Wangye’s courtyard, you have really broadened my horizons.”

“Master Mo!” A-Xu exclaims, and the shocked hush is broken. All around, the servants and cooks start bowing low with carefully schooled expressions, greeting Prince-Concubine Mo with the appropriate respect.

“Prince-Concubine!”

“Concubine Mo!”

“Ah, no need, no need. Everybody can return to their duties, please,” Prince-Concubine Mo waves one hand, as proper and soft-spoken as he always is, but his eyes are trained coldly on the steward who is starting to sweat. “A-Xu,” Prince-Concubine Mo says, without looking away, “Would you be so kind as to bring my tea to my rooms?”

“Master—” A-Xu starts, protesting, but she doesn’t even get to finish her words.

“Prince-Concubine, this humble servant greets you,” The steward says with a twitching smile as he bows, clearly trying to force his face into friendliness. “This servant has been away on an errand for Wangye, and hasn’t been able to come pay respects, it was my error. Please forgive me this slight, Prince-Concubine. Indeed, after reporting to Wangye, I should have first paid my respects to the new master of the inner household!”

A-Xu throws him an incredulous, angry glance. What? Is he really sucking up to Master in this kind of situation?? Not to mention, what ‘reporting to Wangye’? Isn’t this clearly showing off how important he is to Hanguang-wang? Isn’t he just trying to scare Master???

But with how timid and obedient Master is, it might just work! 

“Forgive you?” Prince Concubine Mo asks, before a strange smile alights on his face. “Aah, what a funny joke! I really can’t hold a candle. If I was as funny as you, wouldn’t I have made Wangye laugh a few times till now?”

…or not!

A-Xu watches as Prince-Concubine Mo snaps his fan shut and slips it into his sleeve, making his way through the kitchen with an arrogant heaviness to his steps that A-Xu has never seen him display. The expression on his face can only be called amused, but his eyes are chilling.

A-Xu doesn’t know this sort of Prince-Concubine Mo.

The Prince-Concubine Mo she sees every day is a somewhat lazy, somewhat good-humoured young man with a soft voice and a softer smile, someone who listens easily and doesn’t step out of line, though he does occasionally seem to eye that metaphorical line as if it’s the best joke he’s heard in years. 

The man currently walking towards them, on the other hand, looks like he’s filling every inch of that great height that falls only three, four inches shorter than that of Hanguang-wang. He normally only looks properly concubine-like next to Hanguang-wang, due to that height, but now A-Xu is pretty sure he wouldn’t look small or demure even if he stood next to a burly giant. The way he looks down his nose at the steward with those eyes that don’t see human as human, don’t see life as valuable, it wouldn’t be strange if he was the lord of the estate instead.

“Prince-Concubine Mo!” The steward says, growing angry now, “Aren’t those words leaving this servant without any face? Please consider all the years that this servant has worked tirelessly for the Silent Wing and judge the situation one more time! Will Wangye really be lenient on you if you punish me, a major steward, for the sake of your own maid girl?!”

That strange smile grows bigger as Prince-Concubine Mo comes to a stand in front of the steward. “There you go again, making jokes,” He says, laughing a little, a quiet hehe.

“I have been following Wangye since before His Imperial Majesty ascended to the throne!” The steward blusters, “Saying that I am not good, it is the same as saying that Wangye’s eyes are not good!”

“See, here’s what I don’t understand,” Prince-Concubine Mo leans forward with his eyes flashing, and the steward leans back, and only A-Xu overhears Prince-Concubine Mo’s whisper; “I’m right in front of you, so why are you still talking about Hanguang-wang?”

At that, even the steward is completely speechless. A-Xu can’t think of anything at all.

Prince-Concubine Mo steps back with a considering face. “Someone like you, you still think you’re worthy of being judged by Hanguang-wang’s eyes? Whether you’re good or bad, it says nothing about him.” Prince-Concubine Mo harrumphs, “I’ve heard all about your deeds; pressuring maidservants into your chambers, harassing my maid, embezzling money, selling information…”

A-Xu gapes. She hadn't known that the steward was doing so many things right under the nose of the masters. If she had known, she definitely wouldn’t have had to hold back from punching him! What a waste!

“There’s no reason for you to come work anymore,” Prince-Concubine Mo says, “A-Xu, you said that it’s the Ministry of Household Affairs that assigns the servants to the estates of the imperial family?”

“Y-yes!” A-Xu says, “Yes, Master Mo.”

“Wonderful,” Prince-Concubine Mo smiles, nodding. “Then mister important steward over here can report back there and tell them he’s got no morals, no work ethic, cannot obey the rules; our Silent Wing won’t keep him anymore so find work somewhere else.”

There is a sucked in breath that echoes through the kitchen, one that might have come from any of the servants there. Everybody here has been assigned by the Ministry of Household Affairs, and everyone knows this fact; servants that have been sent out by the Ministry of Household Affairs, and then sent back— if they don’t die under mysterious circumstances, then they will definitely die of sudden illnesses, and if not, then the next place they’re assigned will make them wish they had.

“Wait! Wait, wait— Prince-Concubine Mo—” The steward panics now, “That’s— it wasn’t anything serious! Just a few minor questions— no, I mean, I wasn’t really pressuring her— or rather, it was her that wanted to do business, please investigate clearly!”

Prince-Concubine Mo smiles serenely at the steward, as quiet and soft-looking as A-Xu had gotten to know him. “Lying and shouting are both forbidden in the Imperial Palace,” He says.

“Wangye— that’s right, if Wangye hears your schemes, won’t he be dissatisfied? Prince-Concubine is new here, but Wangye is a merciful and virtuous man!” The steward says desperately as he tries to run up to Prince-Concubine Mo and is grabbed by the burly arms of two opportunistic kitchen aids. “A man who was only taken in because of Wangye’s pity, a concubine who’s not even allowed to call Wangye husband, you still dare to mess with Wangye’s household? When he hears of this, won’t he make you regret it?!”

Prince-Concubine Mo continues smiling serenely. “This person is breaking the rules of the Palace. Someone please support him out.”

“Yes, Prince-Concubine Mo!” Says one of the kitchen aids with an almost unnaturally humble smile, “Right away!”

As the steward is ‘supported’ out, still spewing threats, A-Xu sees Prince-Concubine Mo turn around to leave the kitchen. She hurries after him, slowing to match his stride when she reaches a few steps behind him.

They walk through the wilder gardens surrounding the kitchen, heading towards the main courtyard.

“Master,” A-Xu asks quietly, and Prince-Concubine Mo glances back at her with a smile, “How did you know I was here? Why didn't you just send someone to fetch me?”

“Hmm,” Prince-Concubine Mo tilts his head towards the side, his smile taking on a secretive edge, “A good friend told me you were in trouble with a greedy traitor in our midst.”

Startled, A-Xu looks towards where Prince-Concubine Mo gestured. It’s the deserted corner of a hall, with some weeds and a small sapling growing under the morning shadows, but she can’t see anybody there.

“Well, don’t think too much about it,” Prince-Concubine Mo says.

A-Xu nods hesitantly.

A moment passes.

“But Master will it really be okay? With Wangye I mean! If, if this servant caused you trouble—”

Prince-Concubine Mo rolls his eyes, and A-Xu falls silent. “What’s with all of you, going Wangye, Wangye at every little thing?” Prince-Concubine Mo asks, “I’ll talk to him, it’s fine.”

“But will it— will it really be fine?” A-Xu asks, wringing her sleeves.

“We’re having breakfast together today, right?” Prince-Concubine Mo says, “I’ll tell him then.”

Prince-Concubine Mo doesn’t allow any more worried pestering after that, so A-Xu has to fret silently as she retouches his hair and makeup, fret silently as they walk through the halls, and fret silently as they’re admitted into the dining hall where Hanguang-wang is waiting. Then she frets silently some more while Prince-Concubine Mo and Hanguang-wang have tea before breakfast.

Then, she completely forgets to fret, because Prince-Concubine Mo just casually opens his mouth while he’s reaching for the teapot and says:

“Ah right, Wangye. This morning, I threw out a steward who was harassing my maid for information to sell. Shall I pour you tea?”

“Mn,” Hanguang-wang says, just as casually, moving his teacup to a position for easier pouring.

And that’s that.

Neither of the two men care about the way the entirety of the roomful of servants have frozen in place, completely rehauling their entire understanding of the household hierarchy and how much power Prince-Concubine Mo really holds within it. And suddenly, A-Xu seems to understand.

She hadn't been wrong when she said that the rumours are nonsense, it seems.

Just looking at Prince-Concubine Mo’s new black and red robes, it’s obvious how much thought and concern Hanguang-wang affords her new master. No, even before that, A-Xu watches the breakfast being brought out and doubts why she believed the rumours even for a single second. After all, the breakfast food is a mix of the usual dishes of the imperial family, and some blindingly red, clearly spicy monstrosities that A-Xu knows are made specifically for Prince-Concubine Mo.

Who else is there that can eat food made specifically to their tastes in the Imperial Palace?

A-Xu is overtaken by the sudden realization that everyone in the Silent Wing is very stupid.

There is silence as the two masters eat, as is in line with the rules of the court. The servants all stand respectfully to the sides, their heads lowered. But for some reason, whenever A-Xu peeks up, she seems to catch Hanguang-wang glancing over at Prince-Concubine Mo, who’s eating silently in small bites.

Then, finally, with the air of a war general ordering troops, Hanguang-wang puts his chopsticks down and says to the servants; “Leave the room.”

For a moment, no one can quite believe what they’re hearing, boggling at Hanguang-wang’s frosty face. But Hanguang-wang doesn’t tell them to stay and say that it was all a joke, that he’s not actually asking them all to leave so that he can have the room empty and private for— but it can’t be for anything else—

But— but now? A-Xu exclaims in her head, blushing from top to bottom. In the middle of breakfast?!

She peeks over at Prince-Concubine Mo, but his face is perfectly pleasant, showing nothing but some of that stifled amusement that sometimes shines in his eyes when he looks at Hanguang-wang.

Prince-Concubine Mo’s mental strength is so high…

The servants around the room all leave, even Hanguang-wang’s attendants, so A-Xu follows after them. It’s only because she’s the last to leave that, as she closes the doors behind herself, she hears a familiar voice speak up with another fully unfamiliar tone.

“Lan Zhan, you like spicy foods, right? This one is amazing,” Prince-Concubine Mo’s voice says, and then; “Here, say aaah~”

The doors close shut during the ensuing pause.

From behind them, she hears the muffled sound of loud, ringing laughter.

As… As expected of Prince-Concubine Mo… A-Xu breathes out in awe and shock. Too powerful! He can even call Hanguang-wang by his birth name! He can even feed him by hand!

As Prince-Concubine Mo’s only attendant here, A-Xu stays behind and stands in front of the doors to hear when she’s called back. Next to her is Hanguang-wang’s chief attendant, and he nods at her as he stations himself there as well.

They both know that it is scarce in the Imperial Palace for anyone to send out all of the servants, and that it’s usually done in only one case.

But in the middle of morning, during breakfast…

Prince-Concubine Mo… He’s too good at this!

There is another burst of laughter that comes muffled through the doors. Hanguang-wang’s voice seems to say something, and it’s answered by even more laughter, Prince-Concubine Mo’s voice echoing and delighted.

Too good, way too good! I really lucked out at being assigned to him!

“I’ve had people bring hot water and clean robes,” Says Hanguang-wang’s servant to her, distracting her from the awe she’s busy feeling. “Will Prince-Concubine Mo require anything specific?”

A-Xu freezes. She has never been alone in this sort of situation before— the lady she used to serve before Prince-concubine Mo had other favoured maids that all knew her preferences after providing service, and A-Xu was instead in the position of those servants fetching warm water and clothes for washing. She has never asked... Prince-Concubine Mo has never instructed her...

Jiejie!! Where are you when I need you! Didn’t you say this is just going to be a casual breakfast, and Hanguang-wang favours Master anyways so there’s nothing to worry about?? Liar!

It’s because Hanguang-wang favours Master that I’m troubled!

“Um, I...” A-Xu says, “Um...”

Just as she’s about to cave and admit that she has no idea what Prince-concubine would want after service, she’s saved by an unexpected commotion.

“Where is the Crown Prince!” A high-ranking imperial eunuch comes hurrying through the halls with an anxious look on his face and a paper scroll in his hands, “I’ve brought an imperial decree!”

Both A-Xu and Hanguang-wang’s attendant bow to the eunuch, and the attendant rises first to speak. “Is it urgent, Gonggong?” He asks, glancing meaningfully at the servants holding washing water and robes at the side, “Wangye is rather… preoccupied, at this moment.”

A-Xu’s heart leaps to her throat. She’s never heard of anyone making a messenger of the Emperor wait before. It’s preposterous. She wants to throw herself to the ground and beg for forgiveness just for being in the presence of such impropriety.

The fact that Hanguang-wang’s servants have this much daring… no wonder they say that Hanguang-wang is the most important subject of the empire.

Another burst of muffled laughter comes from the dining hall behind them, as well as a long set of words lilting with a teasing inflection, and A-Xu almost bursts with great pride. That’s her master there seducing the most important subject in the Empire! See if the other maids can ever say anything bad about her or her master again!

Meanwhile, the imperial eunuch looks between the doors and the servants carrying hot water with his eyes widened in shock. For a moment, he seems as if he’s unsure if he should stay and deliver the message or forget about the orders and run back to report the situation to the Emperor, but then he shakes his head.

“There is an emergency,” He says, “I was sent by Grand Chancellor Jin to inform Hanguang-wang.”

The attendant glances at A-Xu, and when she gives a helpless shrug, he sighs and turns to face the doors. He knocks. “Wangye?” He calls, “An urgent imperial edict has arrived!” 

There is a small shuffle, then footsteps approach the door and Hanguang-wang appears with Prince-Concubine Mo at his back. Prince-Concubine Mo looks as properly dressed as he had been, and so does Hanguang-wang— only, Hanguang-wang’s lips are puffy, and his eyes are visibly reddened.

A-Xu snaps her gaze down within a second of that realization, terrified and embarrassed in equal measure.

The imperial eunuch greets Hanguang-wang with a bow, then waits for Prince-Concubine Mo to be dismissed. And waits. And waits.

Hanguang-wang looks steadily at the eunuch. “The edict?” He asks.

“Oh, um— right!” The eunuch startles, “Yes, right away!”

While the imperial eunuch is relaying the words of the edict —something something demonic cult, goddess temple; something something disguised as monks, steal souls— A-Xu pulls away to her proper place behind Prince-Concubine Mo. She glances over at him, but he looks perfectly fine. Even his hair and makeup are all in place. She guesses that maybe they didn't get to go very far before the eunuch arrived, which is a shame.

“—and thus, Hanguang-wang is requested to investigate the reports of demonic cultivators in the temple,” The eunuch concludes, “The temple is in close proximity to the Imperial Palace, and has been rapidly gaining popularity amongst the nobles, so the case is greatly urgent and must be completed right away.”

“Emperor-brother said that?” Hanguang-wang says, eyes narrowed onto the eunuch.

The imperial eunuch sweats under the gaze. “That— this lowly servant is only a messenger and would not presume to know His Imperial Majesty’s words! However, the edict… the edict has the Emperor’s seal at the bottom, here, if the Crown Prince will please check?”

The paper scroll is handed to an attendant of Hanguang-wang, who himself hands it to Hanguang-wang. Hanguang-wang looks through the scroll. He hands it back with the impression of a frown on his lips.

“I must leave right away,” Hanguang-wang says, for some reason, to Prince-Concubine Mo.

Prince-Concubine Mo snaps open a fan to hide what looks from A-Xu’s side to be a sharp grin. “Is Wangye worried about this servant’s visit to the Inner Palace today?” He murmurs, as he meets Hanguang-wang’s eyes. “This servant is flattered at Wangye’s concern, but there is no need to delay important matters. Shouldn’t I be able to handle our friend alone for one time? I have complete confidence that Wangye will be able to come back before the evening arrives.”

Hanguang-wang looks at Prince-Concubine Mo for a long while, and then he nods firmly. “Be careful. I will be back soon,” He says. He reaches into his robes to bring out what looks like an ostentatious cultivator’s pouch which he hands to Prince-Concubine Mo with his brows furrowed, reminding him again; “Do not be careless with your limits.”

Prince-Concubine Mo smiles as he receives the pouch from Hanguang-wang, not saying anything in answer. Instead, he just says; “This servant will take his leave, then, Wangye.”

Hanguang-wang looks even more intently at Prince-Concubine Mo.

Prince-Concubine Mo doesn’t say anything more, smiling silently.

In the end, Hanguang-wang just lets out a small breath that might have been a sigh in anyone else. “Be good,” He says, “I will be back soon.”

“Yes, I know,” Prince-Concubine Mo nods, and now that A-Xu knows for a fact that he’s not the demure, timid person he seems to enjoy acting as, she thinks that he looks like he direly wishes to roll his eyes. “This servant will be waiting here for you, Wangye.”

That seems to do the trick. Hanguang-wang nods back without instructing him anymore, and he leaves with the imperial eunuch following behind him, stumbling to catch up to Hanguang-wang’s long strides.

“Alright then,” Prince-Concubine Mo says softly, glancing over at A-Xu and giving her a secretive wink, “Then we shall return to my rooms to prepare for visit to the Inner Palace.”

 A-Xu beams. “Yes!”

But she’s so, so glad that Jiejie is coming back for the Inner Palace..!

Chapter Text

 

The Inner Palace is quiet and sunny, and Wei Wuxian is led through stone paths into the beautifully arranged reaches of a garden decorated with small waterfalls and groups of bamboo. He has obviously never been to the Inner Palace before, but it seems only as prosperous as the rest of the Palace, and not like the secret paradise that he’s heard scholars saying it is.

Around a stone table that’s been set between a few birch trees, there are five women in ostentatious robes, their hair pulled up in various curving styles, chatting and drinking tea.

“The imperial concubines,” The head maid whispers from behind Wei Wuxian, her head held down. “There aren’t many, but there are still factions amongst them to look out for. Amongst them, the one Master must most definitely not offend is Imperial Concubine Qin, the highest ranked imperial concubine.”

When Wei Wuxian glances towards her, his head maid continues;

“Count Qin of Laoling has deep connections with the Lanling Dukedom and the Grand Chancellor, and the Emperor also treats Concubine Qin well on account of his friendship with Jin Guangyao. Imperial Concubine Qin is the most likely to become Empress.”

“Count Qin?” Wei Wuxian wonders, fan hiding his twisting lips as he murmurs to the head maid, “There was another Young Lady Qin?”

“Another? There is only one, only Qin Su, the daughter of Count Qin.”

Wei Wuxian blinks. “Huh.”

He tries to think back to what he remembers about the imperial harem. His memory is often spotty, even for the things that he had considered the most common of common knowledge before he died, so it might just be that he’s remembering wrong, but…

The Inner Palace back in Emperor Qingheng’s time, when Lan Qiren had still been practically ruling the country, was rumoured to be nearly empty, with no one but the Empress residing among the wide halls and countless rooms. Wei Wuxian had barely been a junior disciple when the Empress died, but he has a clear memory of how Madam Yu would periodically rage at the fact that there were never any events in the Inner Palace, that the Empress never attended anything, that Madam Yu never got the opportunity to create the connections that her mother and grandmother had created in their own times.

After that, during Lan Xichen’s reign… well, as far as Wei Wuxian remembers, Lan Xichen hadn't gotten the chance to get married before he ascended the throne what with the war and rebellion and that brief interlude to the Lan Dynasty when the Wens seemed like they really would end up taking over the country. And even afterwards, Lan Xichen had never shown any interest in women, citing his enormous workload for the reason he didn't take any imperial concubines, so the Inner Palace had always been left empty.

But no matter how many times Wei Wuxian thinks it through, he’s still pretty sure that before his death, Lan Xichen didn't have any women and —even more bafflingly— Qin Su had been engaged to Jin Guangyao.

Taking the risk, Wei Wuxian asks; “Was Imperial Concubine Qin not promised to another?”

“Oh, that was years and years ago,” His head maid makes a vague gesture, “The emperor requested her from the Qin family, and the engagement was dissolved immediately. Master it’s better not to talk about it.”

But aren’t Jin Guangyao and Lan Xichen friends…? What’s up with this stealing his fiancée thing? No, but they were so friendly yesterday?? Jin Guangyao, you really don’t mind?!

Wei Wuxian can’t seem to understand the minds of political men.  

“Other than that,” The head maid whispers, “See the one in purple over there, next to Imperial Concubine Qin? Concubine Zhao, a lower ranked imperial concubine, and she’s Concubine Qin’s supporter. Across them in blue robes is Concubine Rong, another major choice for Empress, and next to her are Concubine Bei and Yang— they’re mostly neutral, minor players.”

Wei Wuxian’s head is spinning. He tries to make sense of all the names he has just heard, but the more he thinks about them, the more they slip his mind.

Who is who? Concubine Yang, major player, Concubine Meng, neutral, Concubine Yao, supporter? Was there even a Concubine Yang? The only thing he has gotten from that explanation is that the woman in lavender next to Qin Su is her supporter. Everything else has already evaporated.

The head maid must see his panic, because she says; “Master, there is no need to worry! Hanguang-wang is so favoured, the Imperial Concubines would have to be stupid to offend you. They’ll most likely try to get into Master’s good graces so that they have a better shot at the Empress position.”

“How do you know all this?” Wei Wuxian asks his head maid, awed.

The head maid raises her face only to let him glimpse her smug grin before lowering it again. “This servant hasn’t gotten to this position by being unaware of what my master might require.”

“Haa, amazing,” Wei Wuxian lets out, and he steps forward towards the garden table with a renewed sense of confidence, “Then this concubine will depend on his most reliable head maid.”

“Yes! Please leave it to this servant!”

The women look up from their too-amicable conversations when they spot Wei Wuxian approaching, and Qin Su, as the highest ranked amongst them, leads the women towards him with a kind smile. “Prince-Concubine Mo,” She greets, “You’ve finally come visit us sisters. We’ve been waiting impatiently to meet our little brother.”

Wei Wuxian makes a graceful bow, and then he’s invited to sit at the table with refreshments. Qin Su sits across him and kindly pushes forward a sweet osmanthus cake for him to sample, while a servant pours tea. Wei Wuxian nibbles at the treats as the introductions start; as expected, he retains nothing remarkable from it. He’s only barely paying attention, acting out the dutiful concubine, sipping tea and snacking as he does. The women introduce themselves one by one, all of them friendly and polite.

But when the turn comes to the lavender-robed girl next to Qin Su, she makes a loud, derisive sound.

“You all can make yourselves play sisters-in-law with a disgraced cutsleeve, but I can’t make myself watch,” The girl says, slamming the table as she gets to her feet so abruptly that the flowers in her hair sway. She turns away and walks out of the garden with her hand being supported by her servant. “This little sister will take her leave first, hope no one is offended.”

There is a stilted, awkward silence.

Wei Wuxian blinks for a moment, hand still clutching his teacup, wrong-footed. “...ah. Right.”

One of the concubines, a blue-robed woman with sword-sharp eyes, laughs to fill the silence. “What good temper Concubine Zhao has,” She says a with a mocking smile, before glancing at Qin Su, “I admire Concubine Qin greatly, having taken such a free-spirited little sister under her wing, teaching her as an elder would.”

“Oh, Concubine Rong need not be so polite,” Qin Su replies, and her laughter is small and tinkling, “This one is in fact more admiring towards Concubine Rong— without any little sisters by your side and looking out only for yourself, your days must truly be lonely.”

The blue robed woman smiles warmly, and they start trading a rapid fire conversation of thinly-veiled insults.

Wisely, Wei Wuxian chooses to sip his tea with the two other concubines, all of them silent, all of them smiling small smiles. One of the two catches Wei Wuxian’s eye and tilts her lips ruefully, and Wei Wuxian has to hide his snort behind his fan.

“I must apologise, Prince-Concubine Mo,” Qin Su says, then, with a slightly embarrassed expression, “Lingling is… her words were inexcusable. If you would not begrudge my absence, I would like to speak with her and clear her head, make her apologise before Prince-Concubine Mo returns to the Silent Wing. I will certainly be back in a few minutes.”

Wei Wuxian blinks. “Yes, yes of course. Imperial Concubine Qin need not hurry, take your time.”

“Thank you,” Qin Su says, bowing and going after the lavender-robed woman.

The garden is left in another silence before the blue-robed woman snorts from the side.

“Clear her head?” She says, looking once at Wei Wuxian before she continues as if she’s talking to herself; “Surely Concubine Qin was joking? Who here doesn’t know that Concubine Zhao has hated Prince-Concubine Mo ever since she heard of him?”

“Concubine Rong,” One of the here-to-fore silent concubines says hesitantly. “I don’t think this sort of thing should be flaunted, maybe—” 

“No, no, I think Prince-Concubine Mo should hear this,” The blue-robed woman continues, turning to face Wei Wuxian with a pandering smile, “Prince-Concubine wouldn’t know. Concubine Zhao’s feelings for Hanguang-wang are so strong, how can they be hidden away? After all, Concubine Zhao was the Imperial Elders’ first choice for Hanguang-wang’s fiancée!”

Another one! Wei Wuxian exclaims in his head. Another stolen fiancée! Not only his friend’s fiancée, but he would even steal Lan Zhan’s woman?? Lan Xichen has gotten so outrageous!

One of the silent concubines sighs. “She’s too muddleheaded, that Concubine Zhao… She’s already a part of the Emperor’s household, why is she still thinking about others..?”

“I hope that Prince-Concubine Mo doesn’t take any offence to us sisters,” The woman in blue says with a regretful sigh, “Concubine Qin is kind, allowing Concubine Zhao to say whatever she wants, but we don’t agree with her. It’s all fantasies in her head— even when Zhao Lingling was being considered for a betrothal, Hanguang-wang never once looked at her.”

“Is that so?” Wei Wuxian says, suddenly interested, “Then, what kind of woman was Wangye inte—”

There is a rustle inside Wei Wuxian’s robes.

He pauses for a second, before hurriedly putting his hand over it to keep it still. He played Rest for the arm in the pouch this morning, but because Lan Wangji was taken away on an emergency mission, Wei Wuxian had to do it on his own and it wasn’t as effective as it usually was.

He has to hurry. There isn’t much time.

“I— I apologise,” Wei Wuxian exclaims, startling the three women, and he forces his eyes to tear up in his best pitiful expression covering his mouth with one hand, “This little brother has to excuse himself for a minute or two, please. If… if a servant could show me a place to refresh myself?”

“Oh no. Prince-Concubine Mo do you require us to call an imperial physician?” The woman in blue says with a worried face, “Do you feel alright? Somebody bring a doctor here!”

“No, no,” Wei Wuxian says, pressing harder over his mouth, and he sways to his feet as if he can hardly keep sitting at the table, “This one is, um, new to the Palace. I haven’t accustomed myself to the food here… If I could please be excused..?”

“Of course, of course! Mu Dong will show you the way,” The woman nods, gesturing for a maidservant at her side to lead Wei Wuxian away, “We will be waiting here for you to return.”

Wei Wuxian gives a purposefully shaky bow, and leaves following after the maidservant.

Soon enough, in a partitioned area where he can relieve himself in privacy with his head maid and the servants all chased out, Wei Wuxian pulls out the wriggling pouch in his robes. The pouch squirms, squirms, and finally bulges out towards his left. It stays like that.

“Alright,” Wei Wuxian whispers to himself, “Left it is.”

On the grand scheme of all the illegal things he has done, sneaking around in the Inner Palace is actually rather easy. Wei Wuxian just sheds the outermost five layers of his robes, loops the dangling parts of his hair up, and leaps out of the window. It would certainly be easier to sneak past the guards and servants if his new body had cultivation, but Wei Wuxian didn't get through an entire war in a broken coreless body to be caught by a teenaged maid while sneaking around in peace time.

Soon enough, his search brings him to a grand courtyard some ways away from the rest of the women’s courtyards. It’s empty, and the back doors are closed forbiddingly tight. There are guards patrolling around the entire courtyard, but no servants and no sounds indicating anyone being inside. Wei Wuxian looks one way and the other, makes sure that no one is watching, and jumps easily onto the walls and then into the courtyard.

He lands down on the side of the garden, but he can’t help but waste a few seconds looking weirdly at the unexpected scenery he finds there. For some reason, this courtyard doesn’t have one of those carefully arranged gardens that seem prevalent in the Inner Palace. Instead of fake hills and streams, there are trumpet-shaped, star-petaled blue flowers gushing out of every available inch of soil. The entire place is covered in a blanket of vivid blue under the sun.

It’s beautiful, and it’s completely deserted.

It feels less like a courtyard and more like a beautiful mausoleum.

Wei Wuxian steps hesitantly into the garden, watching the surroundings intently even as he pays attention to not crush the flowers underfoot.

Not just the gardens, but even the buildings are strikingly different from the others in the Inner Palace. The architecture is the same, but the tiles and woodwork are outdated; the style is all too obviously reminiscent of the previous dynasty. This place echoes strangely in Wei Wuxian’s memories, merging with the Imperial Palace from when he was still the noble adopted son of the Duke of Yunmeng, before Wen Ruohan burnt the Imperial Palace down and it was built again from ground up.

For some reason, only this courtyard hasn’t been renovated after the fires. Wei Wuxian can see the faint scorch marks on the woodwork where even the most insistent cleaning hasn’t been able to purge the damage out. This place must have been too far for the fire to have done that much damage, but it’s still odd that it hasn’t been renovated with the entire Imperial Palace.

If he entered the building and lost himself in the halls, if he closed his eyes and breathed in the lacquer-wood smell, would he find himself almost back in time, almost still the young boy he had been when he was at the Imperial Palace with Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang, bugging Lan Wangji and learning from the imperial clan?

Wei Wuxian’s steps fall silent when he stops in front of the ornate doors between the gardens and the rooms. The sunlight is spotty on the crosshatch design, leaving bright rays here and there, and he raises his hand to trace down the smudge of charcoal black on the carved wood. How many such doors had he leant against as he yelled outrageous compliments at Lan Zhan? How many such doors had he and Jiang Cheng roughhoused over?

The doors seem to loom over him from the shadows.

Wei Wuxian slowly pushes at the door with his hand, a distant curiosity tugging at him like a fishhook, what would happen if I— what could I do if—?

The qiankun pouch slams itself against his robes, trying to escape.

Wei Wuxian freezes. He lets out a small, shocked breath.

He can hear the chatter of servants outside the doors, the rustling leaves in the wind, chirping bugs loudly announcing their existence. The demonic arm is restless and angry, though it doesn’t have the power to hurt him, with the effects of Rest still dulling it, it's still a plenty capable reminder.

Wei Wuxian takes one step back. Then another. Then another.

He walks away from the building at the demonic arm’s direction. He doesn’t think. He doesn’t think. He doesn’t.

The memories of his past life...

It’s better not to think of them.

In the end it isn’t any more than two, three minutes before Wei Wuxian finally ends up next to a drooping willow tree amongst the blue flowers. The pouch is pointing downwards, towards the soil, and Wei Wuxian feels his mood brighten.

Gravedigging! He thinks, delighted. I haven’t personally dug a grave since the Wen Rebellion!

Wei Wuxian doesn’t bother being discreet as he digs up the garden. After all, he only needs to avoid making the servants and concubines suspicious. There is no one around here right now and Wei Wuxian will get Lan Wangji to warn the emperor and have someone put everything back into place before anyone is suspicious.

He finds a chained and locked wooden box, and hurriedly stuffs it into a qiankun pouch. The arm, previously wriggling, stills completely— satisfied.

There. Success.

Grinning brightly, Wei Wuxian runs back to where he left his head maid waiting for him.

When he sneaks back in through the window, there is a loud commotion happening right outside his door. He hears his head maid’s voice arguing politely with who he’s pretty certain is Qin Su, and he breaks out in cold sweat when Qin Su’s voice says, loudly; “Prince-Concubine Mo hasn’t responded in so long and you still dare say he’s fine?! Are you trying to kill your master? Let us in, I’ve brought the Imperial Physicians!”

“Honoured Imperial Concubine,” His head maid says firmly, “It’s not that this servant wishes to make trouble, but this servant heard Master Mo say that he was fine, not to enter. Entering at this time might besmirch Master’s honour, how could this servant dare step out of the way?”

“Heard? How can you have heard? There was no sound at all, nothing to hear.”

“Perhaps it is because Honoured Imperial Concubine Qin was standing a little further, and thus the sound did not reach her, but this servant clearly heard Master say not to enter.”

“Enough,” Qin Su says, voice cold, “Prince-Concubine Mo’s maid here is hysterical, cannot be trusted, someone come force open this door so that we can help Prince-Concubine Mo!”

The servants slam the doors once, twice, thrice and they bang open—

—just in time to reveal Wei Wuxian standing in the middle of the room with his hair dishevelled, his robes hanging indecently open and revealing his chest, his eyes wide in embarrassed shock.

Going sheet-white with fright, the servants immediately pull the doors closed. From the hall comes the muffled sound of people kneeling down with a bang.

“Hehe,” Wei Wuxian grins, pulling his robes back on, “Gets them every time.”

In a much better mood now, Wei Wuxian fixes his appearance and opens the door again. The airy, bright hall is covered in the servants still kowtowing, too scared to even say anything in apology, as well as Qin Su and his head maid behind them. Wei Wuxian huffs and smiles down at the kneeling servants.

“There is no need to kneel,” He says, waving, “This concubine knows that it was an accident. I won’t blame you all.”

“Thank you, Prince-Concubine Mo!” The servants say, bowing even further down, “Thank you!”

“It’s good that Prince-Concubine is feeling better,” Qin Su says, sighing in relief. “This jiejie was worried for you.”

“I apologise,” Wei Wuxian says with a purposefully weak bow, acting like he has just been sick, “I feel much better now, there won’t be any trouble going back to drink tea with Concubine Qin and others.”

“That’s wonderful news, wonderful,” Qin Su smiles, and it makes her small face look sweet and round, “Ah, before that though! I have spoken to Lingling —Concubine Zhao— and she understands her faults now. She would like to apologise, if Prince-Concubine Mo could find it in himself to listen. It is, of course, up to Prince-Concubine Mo! There is no need to force yourself to act virtuous, we are all family here. If you feel that you cannot ever forgive her, this big sister will understand.”

Wei Wuxian blinks, before nodding matter-of-factly. “If we’re all family, then this little brother will of course forgive her. No need for an apology.”

Qin Su seems to startle, hesitating for a moment before insisting; “But… Lingling insisted on seeing Prince-Concubine Mo and apologising personally. I don’t know the reason, but I think maybe she is worried that Prince-Concubine Mo might hold a grudge otherwise. If you don’t mind, shall I have a servant lead you to her courtyard?”

“Alright,” Wei Wuxian agrees with a shrug just as his head maid’s face peeks up to stare intensely at Qin Su. Wei Wuxian throws her a curious glance, and she opens her mouth as if she’s going to say something, but in the end she doesn’t say anything. She lowers her head back.

“Wonderful!” Qin Su exclaims. “Then allow A-Jun to lead you. I will wait in the garden for you to come back.”

“See you soon, Imperial Concubine Qin.”

“Yes,” Qin Su says, her brown eyes warm, “See you very soon.”

 


 

Wei Wuxian is lead to a small but expensively furnished courtyard.

Qin Su’s maid brings him to the entrance where one of the courtyard’s maids takes over. And Wei Wuxian is shown the way to one of the receiving rooms, entering when the blank-faced maid gestures him inside.  

Soon enough, he is seated at a low table, with his head maid at his back. Across from is the lavender-robed girl with her face turned down towards the tea she’s brewing, her own servants standing around the room. “Please wait a moment while I prepare the tea,” The girl says, toying nervously with the hem of her robes, “I shouldn’t eschew my duties as the host.”

“Um, yes,” Wei Wuxian nods, “Of course.”

Once the pot is ready, the lavender-robed girl puts an empty teacup in front of both of them, and she walks around the table, kneeling next to Wei Wuxian to pour him some tea.

“Prince-concubine Mo is much like what I expected,” She says quietly, as the tea flows thinly into the cup, “Demure, elegant, obedient, and with a gentle, scholarly presence… I wonder if that is Hanguang-wang’s preference, or if it really was only because of pity that Hanguang-wang took you in.”

Wei Wuxian startles at the unexpected words, but before he can open his mouth to say anything, the girl continues talking.

“Prince-Concubine Mo must have received many hair accessories after becoming Hanguang-wang’s concubine, has he yet noticed anything special about them?” She asks as she reaches up to pull out a silver hairstick covered in cheerfully pink jewelled blossoms out of her hair, rubbing it absently in her hands. “They’re all sharpened to a blade-edge. It was the emperor himself who handed Concubine Qin her first sharpened hairstick, and every other Lan family has followed this trend. It is in honour of the late Empress Dowager, I hear.”

“I… see,” Wei Wuxian says. He remembers his confusion at how deadly sharp his hair accessories were when he first got them, and he can’t help but be baffled. “But what does that have to do with the Empress Dowager?”

“There is a rather ill-kept secret in the imperial family, I suppose that you don’t know yet,” The girl says. When she looks up, there is a nasty smile at one corner of her mouth. “The members of the imperial family are all forbidden to drink, because when they drink, they reveal their basest, most well-hidden selves, inflict upon others their most sordid desires. These hair sticks are a guarantee; the Emperor’s decree to defend ourselves if necessary. Defend ourselves, and receive no punishment.” 

Something is happening.

Something is happening, and Wei Wuxian’s well-fed paranoia has reared its head up in preparation for battle, but he has absolutely no idea what is going on.

“Master Mo,” His head maid says from the back, “Master, this servant thinks that it’s time to return to the garden—”

“You will be returning to face the Emperor!” The girl laughs, and then she lunges snake-swift with the sharpened hair stick for Wei Wuxian’s arms.

Wei Wuxian rears back immediately, of course, and the hair stick doesn’t stab through his arm as it was initially positioned to do— but it cuts across his forearm and rips the sleeve open.

Her face set in vindictive satisfaction, the lavender-robed girl sweeps her sleeve across the table, throwing everything onto the floor. “Lunatic!” She yells, her voice sounding terrified even as her lips pull into a smirk,  “He went crazy, he’s attacking me! Help! Lunatic!”

Wei Wuxian is still sprawled back, mind blank with confusion, when the woman grabs the pot of boiling hot tea on the table.

“Wait, you—!” Wei Wuxian exclaims as he scrambles forward, alarms blaring in his mind, but he’s too far away. He sees from the corner of his eyes that his head maid also leaps for the woman, only for one of the servants to grab her and push her down.

His head maid struggles, yelling; “Master, she’s going to—”

Sssssssssssssh.  

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!” The purple-robed girl shrieks in pain as the boiling tea that she upended on her own legs releases thick steam.

“Help! Help, someone, quick stop him!” One of the maids yells, “Mistress! He’s attacking Mistress!”

From outside the room comes the muffled sound of boots running closer.

Two servants rush up to Wei Wuxian with their hands outstretched, catching him and pressing him down. “Hey!” Wei Wuxian protests, but doesn’t resist; thinking that anyways, won’t he seem more like a criminal if he’s found struggling? He scolds the servants; “This is all Hanguang-wang’s property you know? You can’t touch it so casually! You want to lose your hands?”

The servants hesitate for a moment, but eventually they decide to ignore him and restrain him fully. One of the servants even takes care to first dishevel his hair and robes as he’s held down, making him look properly like a raging lunatic.

This all reminds Wei Wuxian somewhat of his time in the Mo Estate.

It seems that whether he is in the Imperial Palace or the estate of a noble or even in a distant mountain of death, there will always be someone out there who goes out of their way to make him seem like a crazed madman. Truly, if Wei Wuxian claimed to be the second at being framed as a lunatic, then no one in this world would dare claim to be the first.

Soon enough, the entire play starts bearing its fruits.

A group of imperial guards enter the room with swords in their hands, and they find the concubine crying softly by the table, clutching tightly at her bloodied hair stick. The terrified-looking maids are around the concubine, trying to patch up her burn wounds and clean the room from the mess of plates and teacups on the floor. The messy, scratched form of Wei Wuxian and his head maid are restrained to the side.

It’s a very convincing scene that Madam Mo could never have hoped to plan out, and that the Yiling Patriarch was too scary for people to apply. Perhaps this bitter admiration in Wei Wuxian’s belly might even be called impressment. Life is nothing but a series of unexpected happenstances.

As expected, the guards take one look at the concubine, at Wei Wuxian, at the state of the room, and then they start dragging Wei Wuxian through the twists and turns of the Imperial Palace, while the concubine is escorted kindly.

Wei Wuxian can’t help but think that this is shaping up to be a very long day.

 


 

They’re taken to a room so opulent and grandly decorated that it cannot possibly have any purpose other than to intimidate people with the might of the imperial family. A few carved columns stand around the hall, dropping deep shadows over where they’re prostrating on their hands and knees in front of a raised platform.

The emperor’s face is brightly lit by the burning lanterns, but his expression is dark and forbidding. He doesn’t speak, and doesn’t seem like he has any plans to do so in the near future. Qin Su is below him on her own seat, being the highest ranked imperial concubine and thus the ruler of the Inner Palace until an empress has been chosen. She looks at Wei Wuxian with visible disapproval, seemingly certain that he’s the guilty party.

“I didn't do it,” Wei Wuxian says right away, but not only is there no response, the guards’ hands tighten painfully on his arms until he can’t help but let out a cry, “Ow! That hurts! Look, I’m really innocent, really.”

“How— how can you even say that?” The lavender-robed girl sobs as she’s supported by two maids to be able to kneel next to him with the festering burns on her legs, “You lunatic! Evil man! Because of you, I will always— always bear these scars on my skin!”

“You did that to yourself!” Wei Wuxian gapes at her, eyebrows raised, “Your acting skills are really top tier, lady.”

Shaking her head, the concubine continues sobbing pitifully.

“Oh come on,” Wei Wuxian says, “I didn't do anything, stop playing the victim!”

No response again. No matter what he says, how loudly he says it, no one ever hears him.

Often times, Wei Wuxian finds himself feeling as if he exists in a dimension separate from everyone else. Like a fish in a glass bowl, able to be seen but never heard, flitting uselessly from one side to the other as people knock on the walls and rock the water without listening once to his bubbled yelling.

“This is a set up,” Wei Wuxian tries once more, and seeing that he’s not going to be making any sudden movements, the guards step back to let him kneel on his own, let him bow his head as he says; “Your Majesty, please, listen to me. I’m innocent.”

“You’re still—” The lavender-robed girl cries, almost choking on her words, “You’re still—! Jiejie, please say something!”

“Don’t worry Lingling. Justice will surely be served,” Qin Su comforts her, before glaring down at Wei Wuxian, “Why do you keep making noise over there? Allow the Emperor to think! Haven’t you spoken enough already?!”

Somehow, from the guards to Qin Su, it feels as if no one is willing to even listen to his side of the story. Wei Wuxian really doesn’t know why he expected any differently.

…he really has spoken enough, hasn’t he?

Aah, whatever! At worst, he will be sent to the palace dungeons until a complete judgement can be made, and he’ll just escape from there. It will be much less convenient than his current life, but he’ll have to take living as a coreless rogue cultivator to staying in a dark, dirty dungeon cell. 

“You have made us greatly disappointed,” Lan Xichen tells both Wei Wuxian and the lavender-robed girl, no longer any of that previous familiarity and casualness in his tone. “We did not expect that our concubine and our brother’s concubine would take such great lengths to hurt each other.”

Wei Wuxian rolls his eyes when the concubine weeps softly next to him.

“We only wished for there to be harmony amongst our family and that of our brother’s,” Lan Xichen sighs, “Why must you dirty the halls of our palace with violence?”

“Emperor… Emperor, this servant really wished to get along with Prince-Concubine Mo,” The concubine says, sounding nearly devastated, “I don’t understand why he would..! I simply mentioned his departed family, and he went completely crazy!”

I didn't, Wei Wuxian thinks. I didn't.

But he has already spoken enough, so he doesn’t speak any more.

The lavender-robed girl bows deeply towards the Emperor. “Your Imperial Majesty, please judge that evil-doer swiftly!”

Lan Xichen shakes his head. “We will wait.”

“W-wait?” The concubine pauses, hesitant, “…what is the Emperor waiting for, if this servant may ask?”

“For— ah.” Lan Xichen’s expression eases a bit when the doors open with a loud noise and someone steps in. “Wangji. You’ve returned with quite the haste, there was no need for such hurry.”

“Your Majesty,” Comes Lan Wangji’s voice, and clear white boots step past Wei Wuxian and towards Lan Xichen, into the lanternlight. Wei Wuxian raises his head and sees Lan Wangji bow deeply to the emperor, his long hair sliding across his back. From the shadows, his shining form looks nearly resplendent. “I have made Emperor-brother wait.”

Wei Wuxian feels himself relax for a few blissful seconds before his body tenses up even worse than before.

His first thought is that Lan Wangji’s here, and Lan Wangji will listen to him. Lan Wangji will hear his side of the story.

Lan Wangji will— believe him.

But then he remembers who he is.

Wei Wuxian. The Yiling Patriarch. The demon that massacred over three thousand cultivators because they killed two people he considered family.

What had the concubine claimed? I simply mentioned his departed family, and he went completely crazy!

Doesn’t that sound so much like him? In fact, it’s lenient! Most would say that the Yiling Patriarch would do so much worse than simply spill some tea and wreck a table at the mention of his departed family.

Where he is still bowed over on the floor, Wei Wuxian lets out a quiet laugh, shoulders shaking. Why is it that the idea of Lan Wangji not believing him feels so much worse than the fact that everybody else already doesn’t?

It’s really very funny. Has Wei Wuxian really gotten that soft in a single week spent in the luxuries of the Imperial Palace? Has he really been so easily soothed into trusting again, just because Lan Wangji is willing to shelter him, just because Lan Wangji hasn’t yet tried to punish him for his cultivation, just because Lan Wangji has looked at him with those ever-steady eyes and said Wei Ying, as if it really was okay that he was Wei Ying, Wei Wuxian, the Yiling Patriarch?

How truly ridiculous.

Wei Wuxian is really, truly ridiculous.

“…and while Prince-Concubine Mo’s maid claims that it was all a setup, the rest of the servants that were in the room have given matching stories of how Prince-Concubine Mo went crazy in response to Imperial Concubine Zhao mentioning the deaths of his family,” Qin Su explains, and Lan Wangji stands without a word as he listens, “I am not experienced in matters of investigation, but the case seems clear to me. After all, Prince-Concubine Mo’s previous reputation as… someone not of sound mind… is widespread.”

“Everyone in the room has given some proof for their side of the story, but for Prince-Concubine Mo,” Lan Xichen says slowly, and everyone turns to look at Wei Wuxian, “Does Prince-Concubine Mo have anything to say?”

Wei Wuxian straightens up from his bow and onto his knees to be able to speak, but what comes out is a bitter chuckle, just a little heh, and he pulls his gaze away from Lan Wangji’s narrowed eyes.

“So many people have already spoken,” Wei Wuxian whispers, unable to stop his lips from tugging up in a wrong smile, “What use is it to claim my innocence now? Just one voice amongst the many…”

Whether it was house arrest or imprisonment or even an execution, they’d have to see if they could keep Wei Wuxian from disappearing first. It wouldn’t do to make it so easy to subdue the Yiling Patriarch, would it? He wouldn’t be himself if he didn't give them a good challenge.

Qin Su sighs from her seat. “It seems that Hanguang-wang’s concubine will have to punished,” She says to Lan Wangji, “I hope that Hanguang-wang will not take offence on this matter. If necessary, this imperial concubine would be thrilled to find another suitable candidate for Hanguang-wang’s inner court—”

“No.” Lan Wangji says.

Qin Su falters. “…No?”

Lan Wangji takes one step, then another, and finally he comes to a stand in front of Wei Wuxian’s kneeling form, between Wei Wuxian and the two seats looking down on him. “There will be no punishment.”

“Wangji,” Lan Xichen sighs, and he just looks tired now. “I understand that you’re fond of him, but now is not the time to re-enact old mistakes. If Prince-Concubine Mo is liable to attacking people on the odd provocation, then if nothing else, he must be limited to staying inside the Silent Wing for the safety of everyone. Surely that is not punishment.”

No.” Lan Wangji says with such vehemence that Lan Xichen startles.

Wei Wuxian looks up at Lan Wangji with wide eyes, so focused on the man that he jumps when a hand grabs at him roughly by the arm.

It’s the lavender-robed girl, and she’s pulling his arm to show the hair-stick-wound more clearly towards the Emperor. “Emperor, please look! Didn’t this happen when he attacked me?!”

Her fingers clench so hard around his arm that her nails dig painfully into his skin. Wei Wuxian jerks his arm out of her hand and skitters away, ducking behind Lan Wangji with his hands bunched in the back of his white robes. Lan Wangji doesn’t move away or push Wei Wuxian back down, so he assumes it’s fine.

When Wei Wuxian peeks out from the side, the concubine is looking at him with a fierce, burning gaze.

“Your Imperial Majesty!” She yells, indignant, “Mo Xuanyu’s attack has injured this concubine so, my legs will permanently bear scars! How could it be that he won’t even be punished?! He will only be put to house arrest?! Isn’t this unjust towamm mmmh mmmph! Mmmph!”

Lan Wangji sends one freezing glare towards the concubine before turning away, and the silencing spell that he cast keeps the concubine’s mouth shut, not lifting even when tears gather at the corners of her eyes and she starts staring at Lan Wangji with a pitiful face. Going by the way Lan Wangji looked at her, as if she’s dirt smudged on the corner of his best white robes, it’s very much not working.

“There will be no punishment,” Lan Wangji says softly towards the emperor. “This is a false accusation.”

Lan Xichen closes his eyes on his next exhale, sinking from tired to downright exhausted. “Wangji, all proof points to Mo Xuanyu’s guilt. The witness statements are in line with each other. Mo Xuanyu has history of such behaviour, and you know as I do who —what— he is. Wangji… Imperial Concubine Zhao’s legs are severely injured; surely you’re not claiming she did this to herself?”

Still plastered to his back, Wei Wuxian is in the exact right place to see Lan Wangji’s hands fold and clench into familiar shaking fists.

“Do you have any reason why you believe this isn’t what went on in that room?” Lan Xichen asks, looking at Lan Wangji with strained eyes, almost begging; “Didi… give me something here. It cannot be done like this, you know this. Give me something. Anything.”

Lan Wangji doesn’t say anything.

Wei Wuxian thinks that perhaps even Lan Wangji can’t say the words, ‘He wouldn’t do that’.

After so many things, so many arguments and secrets and so many deaths between them, can even Lan Wangji, who once knew Wei Wuxian best the entire world, still claim to know him?

He can’t.

“I do believe that Mo Xuanyu should be grateful for such a lenient sentence,” Qin Su says quietly, and when she turns her eyes towards Wei Wuxian behind Lan Wangji, there is something smiling in her expression. “If it is indeed too lonely staying in the Silent Wing, perhaps he can convince Hanguang-wang to stay with him? Surely His Imperial Majesty wouldn’t begrudge his brother a month of break.”

Lan Wangji shifts and his arm moves so that a long white sleeve falls in between Wei Wuxian and Qin Su’s gaze, hiding Wei Wuxian from view. “No,” He says.

Because, it seems, Lan Wangji doesn’t feel the need to know anything before he moves to protect Wei Wuxian.

Wei Wuxian bows forward to press his forehead on the fabric between Lan Wangji’s shoulder blades. His fingers relax from where they were bunched into Lan Wangji’s robes, fingertips pressed against his back, ten points where the fabric sinks in.

Self-ridicule bubbles in Wei Wuxian’s chest, and he suddenly feels that the him who agonised over whether Lan Wangji would believe him was unprecedentedly foolish. Lan Wangji clearly doesn’t even have Wei Wuxian’s own claim of innocence to believe in, but he’s still standing between him and the emperor, isn’t he?

If the world said that Wei Wuxian was guilty, and Wei Wuxian also said that he was guilty, would Lan Wangji still stand before him?

Wei Wuxian laughs quietly into the fabric of Lan Wangji’s ostentatious robes.

Really, would he?

“Wangji… if there is no word against it, I’m going to have to judge this fairly,” Lan Xichen says, his voice almost silent.

The concubine on the floor throws them a triumphant smile through her plastered lips. Lan Wangji’s hands clench even tighter.

Wei Wuxian taps Lan Wangji’s back with a light palm.

When Lan Wangji turns over his shoulder to glance at him, his brows still furrowed, Wei Wuxian smiles at him. Lan Wangji’s expression smooths out a little. “What is it?” He asks.

“It was a set up,” Wei Wuxian says in a whisper, “I’m innocent.”

“Mn,” Lan Wangji says and his eyes get even steadier. “Don’t worry. I will protect you.”

“I hadn't known that Hanguang-wang could be so trusting of mere words,” Qin Su sighs, “It’s almost as if Hanguang-wang is biased… Where is the righteousness and objectivity that this concubine heard so much about?”

Wei Wuxian frowns at that. How dare she? This is Lan Zhan she’s talking about! Lan Zhan! Of course he’s perfectly righteous and objective!

There has to be a way to prove his innocence, there has to be. Something that can show what happened in that room so they can see it with their own eyes, or if only there was a way to find a witness that can’t lie—

Ah.

But there is a way, isn’t there?

“Imperial Concubine Qin need not worry,” Wei Wuxian pipes up from behind Lan Wangji, pulling out the fan from his sleeve to hide his smile, “There is irrefutable proof of this concubine’s innocence, so of course Wangye believes in me!”

Qin Su blinks at the same time as Lan Xichen. “There is?” Lan Xichen asks, much brighter than before, nearly hurried, “What proof is it?”

Inquiry,” Wei Wuxian says.

Inquiry? To ask what spirit?” Qin Su asks slowly, “Prince-Concubine Mo must be confused; it’s not possible for any spirits to be in the Imperial Palace when it is purified so often.”

Lan Xichen looks considering. “It’s not that they can’t be here, it’s just that they don’t wish to. There’s no resentful energy here and any hauntings are dealt with rapidly, so even if they’re summoned, spirits leave soon after. For there to have been a spirit to witness what happened in Concubine Zhao’s rooms would be… surprising.”

“There was one,” Wei Wuxian says, bowing as he speaks, “This concubine is sure of it.”

“I see,” Lan Xichen hums, eyes sharp as he looks at Wei Wuxian. He’s probably thinking that since Wei Wuxian is a demonic cultivator, it wouldn’t be that odd for him to have some evil cards up his sleeve. “And what is this reason why you’re so certain, Prince-Concubine Mo?”

“A week ago, this concubine’s friends and family were all killed by evil spirits,” Wei Wuxian says, shaking his head, “I'm sure that everyone here already knows that there was no love lost between me and my family. However, there was one friend that had always been by my side, and although she’s already dead, her spirit is benign and accompanies me. If Hanguang-wang plays Inquiry to ask her what she saw, she will not be able to lie.”

“Preposterous!” The concubine next to Wei Wuxian cries, having gotten herself out of the Silencing Spell, “How could you bring something like a ghost around the Imperial Palace?! You should be executed for your daring, you—”

“Silence!” Qin Su orders, now glaring at the concubine instead of Wei Wuxian, “How is it your place to decide who will be executed? The Emperor is right in front of you! Imperial guards, silence this suspect!”

One of the imperial cultivators guarding the room moves his hand to cast the Silencing Spell again, and the concubine writhes in fury as she falls unwillingly silent.

Lan Xichen asks; “Did you know about this, Wangji?”

Lan Wangji hesitates for a moment, before he nods.

Wei Wuxian is surprised. He hadn't realised that Lan Wangji knew Wei Wuxian was bringing his spirits with him into the Imperial Palace. But Lan Wangji surely wouldn’t lie, so he must have noticed after all.

“I see,” Lan Xichen says, “And it will give an accurate recount of what happened between Prince-Concubine Mo and Imperial Concubine Zhao? There is no chance of the spirit lying..?”

“Emperor-brother is aware of my attainments with the guqin,” Lan Wangji says succinctly, and everyone seems to nod at this. Of course, no spirit could ever lie to Hanguang-wang. Of course, Hanguang-wang’s Inquiry could never go wrong.

Wei Wuxian hides his grin behind the barrier of his fan.

Now that there is an obvious chance that Wei Wuxian’s innocence will be proved, both Lan Wangji and Lan Xichen look calmer, while the concubine that accused Wei Wuxian is near hysterical. She keeps moving, making muffled, incomprehensible accusations through her sealed lips, pointing around as if she’s trying to spell out her words. She glares at Wei Wuxian occasionally, but for some reason, her spiteful stare is more focused on Qin Su who’s sitting across her with a serene smile.

Nobody cares to glance at her as Lan Wangji kneels down on a pillow provided for him, pulling out his guqin. Silently, Wei Wuxian settles next to him, sharing the edge of the pillow and not receiving a single complaint.

The first notes of Inquiry play out amongst silence, and the moment the song ends, the blue shell of a spirit appears on top of the strings.

Then comes the questions:

Lan Wangji plays a short sequence. One of the imperial cultivators at the side translates for all the non-cultivators and non-Lan in the room; “What is your name?”

The spirit jumps, and three notes ring. “Chong Meiyue,” The imperial cultivator says.

Lan Wangji plays. “Were you present in Imperial Concubine Zhao’s receiving room when she was inflicted with her current leg injuries?”

The spirit; “Yes.”

Lan Wangji; “What did you see?”

The spirit lunges from one string to the other, strumming out a long, curving melody smoothly and without any resistance. Wei Wuxian promises himself to burn a lot of incense for Meiyue later, maybe send her an offering of her favourite foods. She truly deserves it. The best ghost friend ever.

“Imperial Concubine Zhao invited Prince-Concubine Mo into the room to apologise, then started pouring tea for him as they conversed,” The cultivator translates, obviously summarising and changing a few words to be more appropriate. If Wei Wuxian’s minor knowledge of qin language isn’t deceiving him, the original testimony certainly includes the choice words; ‘that bitch’, ‘fucking’, and ‘two-faced cunt’.

“Imperial Concubine Zhao then—” The cultivator pauses, eyes wide in shock, “Then, then she proceeded to stab Prince-Concubine Mo with a hair ornament while he was distracted, before shouting for help and pouring the boiling tea on her own legs!”

There is silence in the room.

It’s odd, but Wei Wuxian doesn’t seem to be feeling any of the pleased vindication he had been expecting to get out of this. He’s not feeling much of anything, in fact. Just a passing bitterness, there and gone the next second.

But then he glances to the side, and he finds himself fighting laughter. Wei Wuxian has never seen Lan Wangji actually, visibly, look smug before.

“Yes, Wangji,” The emperor laughs, a softness to his bearing that speaks of relief, “I was wrong, and you were right.”

“Mn,” Lan Wangji says.

“It seems that I’ve committed a great offense against Prince-Concubine Mo,” Qin Su sighs, looking at Wei Wuxian and lowering her head in apology, “To think that it was Zhao Lingling that set this whole deceitful play up… My deepest, most sincere apologies, Prince-Concubine Mo. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive this Qin Su for her blindness.”

Wei Wuxian bows back, smiling. “Do not concern yourself with it, Imperial Concubine Qin. You couldn’t have known.”

“Still…” Qin Su looks dejected. “It’s this concubine’s duty to keep the Emperor’s household in order. To think that I’ve failed to this degree…”

“A-Su, Prince-Concubine Mo is right. We were all deceived,” Lan Xichen says reassuringly, putting a gentle hand on Qin Su’s arm. He smiles when Qin Su raises her head to look at him, and she smiles hesitantly back. “I know it isn’t easy to manage the Inner Palace all on your own. It’s understandable to have a snake or two that slithers in while we are unaware. Do not blame yourself on this.”

“Yes,” Qin Su nods, looking up through her lashes at the emperor, her smile sweet. “Yes, if Emperor says not to, then this concubine will not.”

“Good,” Lan Xichen says.

Meanwhile, the concubine who has just been offhandedly labelled snake is squirming and glaring at Qin Su in a truly snake-like fashion. “MMMMPH MMPH!! MMMM! MPHHMMM!” She says loudly, and one of the imperial cultivators hurries to restrict her when she jumps towards where Qin Su is sitting. “HIINN HMMUU!!! MHU MIHMH!”

“Ah, guards, please take her away,” Qin Su says, shaking her head, “Even I can no longer bear to see her jumping around here, how can I let Prince-Concubine Mo keep looking at her?”

Wei Wuxian tries to keep his face schooled to a polite smile. “Thank you, Imperial Concubine Qin.”

“It should be me who is thanking Prince-Concubine Mo for his patience and open mind,” Qin Su says, completely ignoring the concubine as she’s dragged out kicking and screaming. “If this concubine can do anything to make it up to you, please feel free to tell me. After all, I am your sister-in-law, we’re family.”

“Yes,” Wei Wuxian says, hesitating for a moment before he nods, “Family.”

From next to him, Lan Wangji almost smiles.

Chapter Text

 

 

The open training ground of the Silent Wing is paved in white stones and kept impeccably clean, nothing at all like the dusty, sweaty training grounds of Yunmeng that were always full of noise and chatter where Wei Wuxian first learned how to wield a sword and build up his spiritual energy.

In a way, the stark difference of it helps. Wei Wuxian is more used now to lacking a golden core than having it, and he can’t remember anything but snapshots of his training in Lotus Pier with Jiang Cheng and his other shidis and shimeis. It feels right that establishing his new core should happen in a way that stands alone, singular and separate, unable to melt into the memories of his past life and merge with them.

Then again, it’d be a new experience either way, what with Lan Jingyi’s consistently loud and distracting additions.

“Senior Mo what are you doing! You’re shifting your feet too much! That’s not how that form goes!”

Wei Wuxian lets out a strangled sigh, but he doesn’t respond, continuing to move from the rigid, strength-based Imperial Forms into the flowy, speed-based steps of the Yunmeng Forms in a shift that he had perfected back when he was still learning from Lan Qiren. It looks more or less as if he’s wobbling through the Imperial Forms, he knows, but he can’t do anything about that before this new, frail body of his gains some actual weight and muscles.

“Jingyi, we’re not supposed to make comments about our seniors’ training,” Lan Sizhui says from the side, because he’s the best child and Wei Wuxian loves him.

“But it’s terrible!” Lan Jingyi protests, “If he’s going to learn how to cultivate shouldn’t he ask Hanguang-wang to teach him? Hanguang-wang would never let him make so many mistakes! Senior Mo, you should get a teacher before you try to train!”

Wei Wuxian ignores him and once again swings his practice sword with shaky, exhausted arms. Seriously, just how much did they starve Mo Xuanyu? This is terrible. But he’s going to get this body into shape one way or another, now that he actually has the ability to cultivate a golden core.

“Senior Mooo! It’s not safeee!”

Wei Wuxian closes his eyes as slows down.

He reminds himself that he can’t yell his frustration into the air, because he’s a soft, quiet concubine, he’s not Wei Wuxian the evil Yiling Patriarch. He’s going to be calm. He’s going to be collected. He’s going to smile and—

“Senior Mo are you finally going to go ask Hanguang-wang for instruction?” Lan Jingyi says happily when he sees Wei Wuxian slowing down, “He’s a really great teacher! And the best cultivator in the Empire to boot! You are super lucky that you’re his— err, that you’re close to him! There’s no one else that knows as much as him about cultivating!”

Wei Wuxian’s smile twitches. He pauses with the sword still pointing up, turning to where Lan Jingyi and Lan Sizhui have stopped their own practice in favour of watching him. He tries to make sure he looks as benevolent and virtuous as a zen monk as he looks at Lan Jingyi. “I am aware, Lan-gongzi. Thank you for the advice,” He says, smiling, smiling, smi—

Lan Jingyi pales.

Oops.

Thankfully, Lan Sizhui comes to the rescue. “Senior Mo, have you received sword training before?” He asks. “Your last form looks somewhat familiar!”

Seeing that Wei Wuxian is no longer looking at him, Lan Jingyi regains his cheer rapidly, and he wonders aloud; “Yeah! Now that I think about it, doesn’t it look a lot like that unnecessary flourish that the Jin Heir always does during banquet duels? Senior Mo do you know any Jiang forms?”

Wei Wuxian sweats a little, and not from his training. “Uhh, yes, when I was young, my cousin used to have sword trainers come from the Yunmeng Dukedom, that’s where I learned a little! And Hanguang-wang taught me a bit of the Lan forms too,” He bullshits, “I’m a genius like your Hanguang-wang, you know?”

“Like hell,” Lan Jingyi scoffs, “How can you and Hanguang-wang be compared! You can’t even hold the sword straight without it shaking!”

“Aiyah, what a rude child,” Wei Wuxian says, as if disappointed, and he turns around to continue stepping forward and swinging his sword, stepping back and pulling it up, then repeating the most basic form. “Isn’t that clearly because I’m too thin? It’ll stop shaking when I have actual muscles!”

“No… I think Jingyi, you were right,” Lan Sizhui seems to wonder, muttering, “It’s shaky, but the stand is very consistent. Exactly the same as Jin-gongzi’s. We can observe it again at the official nighthunt in a few days, see if it really matches. Perhaps Senior Mo really is a genius, if he can master the form so fast just from watching his cousin’s training!”

Wei Wuxian sweats a bit more. Why is this boy so focused?

Wei Wuxian hurries to find some way to change the subject. “Speaking of cousins,” He says as offhandedly as he can make it, focusing hard on his sword, “I’ve been wondering something for a while, Wangzi, Jingyi-gongzi, may I ask?”

He sees from the corner of his eye as Lan Sizhui glances at Lan Jingyi, who glances back with a shrug.

“Of course, Senior Mo!” Lan Jingyi says curiously, “What is it?”

“I understand that Wangzi is here because he’s Wangye’s son,” Wei Wuxian says, and he completes the form before letting out a breath and lowering his training sword to his side. He turns to face Lan Jingyi. “But what about Jingyi-gongzi?”

“Huh?” Lan Jingyi blinks, “What about me?”

“Jingyi-gongzi is Wangye’s little cousin, a distant member of the imperial family, is he not?” Wei Wuxian asks, “You must have your own title and territory. Why are you also staying in the Silent Wing?”

“Oh! Well, that’s obvious, isn’t it?” Lan Jingyi says, a proud grin surging on his face, “It’s because Hanguang-wang is the best, of course!”

Wei Wuxian raises his brows, confused.

“When I was young, I was a bit shy and withdrawn and Jingyi was my only friend,” Lan Sizhui explains with a small smile, and then he shifts little, leaning in so that his shoulder presses against Lan Jingyi’s. “So, of course, Father got to know Jingyi from all his visits to the Imperial Palace. Then, when Jingyi’s parents passed away while he was still too young to fully inherit their title, he needed a regent and a guardian, so Father took Jingyi in as his ward.”

“Hanguang-wang is my teacher!” Lan Jingyi declares brightly, “He taught me everything I know.”

There’s not a single trace of bitterness on Lan Jingyi’s face about his rather pitiful past, about the uneven difference in status that he and Lan Sizhui must have grown up with, and not a single trace of shame. Wei Wuxian feels an abrupt, overwhelming fondness for him.

Perhaps Lan Sizhui isn’t the only best child in this household after all.

Wei Wuxian opens his mouth to say this, in a teasing enough way that the boys will fluster and protest so that he can laugh, but he is interrupted by the arrival of a harried maid that Wei Wuxian recognizes as one of those assigned to him.

“Master Mo,” The maid exclaims, beaming, “Master, Wangye was looking for you! I’ve taken the liberty of telling him to wait in your rooms so I could lead you back, he’s there now!”

Then she stops talking and looks up at him with shining eyes, vibrating in place as if she’s waiting for him to praise her for her great deed of keeping Lan Wangji in Wei Wuxian’s rooms.

Wei Wuxian nods hesitantly at her strangely bright countenance. “Uh, right,” He says, “Thank you.”

“Of course!” The maid says, “Shall I bring you some fresh robes and a basin of water to refresh yourself, Master?”

“Please,” Wei Wuxian says, and then he watches Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi blush and avert their eyes as the maid leads him somewhere he can change privately.

Soon Wei Wuxian is dressed again, much cleaner, and the maid finishes pinning up his hair from the casual ponytail he had put it in and into something much more elegant. She hands him a pair of boots and ushers him to go to his rooms.

When Wei Wuxian goes back outside, it has started raining, a spring shower that casts the cheerfully coloured flowers in a strange darkness. A servant hands him an umbrella and Wei Wuxian thanks him with a nod before walking out into the garden. Everything smells of soil and flower and freshwater. Even though they’re usually everywhere in the gardens, there’s not a rabbit to be seen, all of them probably taking refuge in their hutches.

Wei Wuxian walks across the softened grass on the path, his boots sinking with every step, rain tap-tapping against the oilpaper of his umbrella, and he feels a tight knot in his chest unravel.

No wonder they say that the Silent Wing is a haven for meditating on one’s inner peace.

When he enters the building that houses his own rooms, the servants and maids all have enormous smiles on their faces. Looking at them, you’d think each and every one of their families had received a windfall of riches. They greet him with lower bows than usual and hurry to tidy him up, even though he has only just been tidied up, and then they lead him into the receiving room next to his bedroom.

Lan Wangji is kneeling at the table with a pot of tea in front of him, as lofty as ever. Since the afternoon is dark with clouds, a few candles have been lit around the room, and they cast shifting lights over his snow-white robes and pooling black hair.

When he notices that Wei Wuxian has arrived, he gestures Wei Wuxian to sit across him, and Wei Wuxian fulfils the rituals of apparently paramount importance when greeting a member of the imperial family (cupping his hands, bowing, smiling, murmuring Wangye, waiting for permission to rise) and obeys.

Honestly, if there were so many important things to do before interacting with an imperial prince, it’s a miracle that Wei Wuxian didn't get executed within three days of meeting Lan Wangji for the first time. No wonder Jiang Cheng had looked like he was being strangled very slowly to death each time Wei Wuxian spotted Lan Wangji and immediately launched himself at him.

…Wei Wuxian kind of misses spotting Lan Wangji and immediately launching himself at him.

Oh well.

“Wangye,” One of Lan Wangji’s attendants —a familiar one from the Mo Estate, Wei Wuxian notices— says quietly when Lan Wangji continues watching Wei Wuxian and not saying anything, “Shall us servants leave?”

“Mn,” Lan Wangji nods.

Wei Wuxian relaxes as the servants all file out of the room, which is probably why Lan Wangji sends them out so often. Just as she’s about to leave, he spots from the corner of his eyes A-Xu grinning at him, but then she’s also gone and the doors close.

Wei Wuxian lets out a long sigh of relief and sprawls over the table.

“Aiyah, Lan Zhan, I don’t know how you sit up so straight all day, my spine is killing me!” Wei Wuxian complains, spreading himself even more comfortably across his side of the table and then looking up at Lan Wangji who’s watching him with inscrutable eyes. “You can slouch too, Lan-er-gege! I promise I won’t tell!”

Lan Wangji shakes his head with a small huff. “Wei Ying.”

“Hm? What is it?” Wei Wuxian asks.

Lan Wangji’s face softens a bit.

“Seriously, what is it?” Wei Wuxian raises his brows at the lack of an answer. “Lan Zhan?”

“Mn,” Lan Wangji says, and then he pauses a moment. He asks; “Have you chosen?”

Wei Wuxian blinks. “Chosen?”

“If none of them are sufficient, we can go out to have one commissioned,” Lan Wangji pauses again, before continuing on, “Or I can order for materials to be brought to you, if you wish to craft your own.”

“Um?”

Lan Wangji adds on with an almost uncharacteristic speed of speech; “I could petition Emperor-brother to have Chenqing taken back from Duke Jiang, but it would be… indicative. Of your true identity.”

“Lan Zhan I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about,” Wei Wuxian says honestly, raising himself on the table to lean against his elbow instead, and he waves one hand in a vague gesture to say; “Chenqing? Choosing? What are you even talking about?”

“The flutes that I had people take to you,” Lan Wangji says, his eyes sliding a tiny bit to the side, “You should have a proper instrument before we play for the demonic body.”

“I haven’t gotten any flutes though,” Wei Wuxian hums, curious, “Hang on, lemme check— A-Xu!”

The doors open. “Yes, Master Mo?” A-Xu asks, peeking in, “How can this servant be of assistance?”

“Wangye had someone send me some flutes,” Wei Wuxian explains, “Do you know if they got here?”

“No, we haven’t received anything from Wangye today,” A-Xu says, then she realises with a horrified gasp; “Wangye’s gifts to Master were lost! I will immediately go check, Master please don’t worry!”

The doors close, and there’s the pitter-patter of slippered feet hurrying down the hall.

Wei Wuxian chuckles. “That girl. She’s so dramatic all the time. Well, so you see, Lan Zhan! Your gifts will be found!”

When he turns back to look at him, Lan Wangji has a strange new expression on his face; something with his eyes mellow and lips tilted, watching Wei Wuxian. “Mn,” Lan Wangji says, quieter than he normally is. “They’re good to you?”

“Of course,” Wei Wuxian grins, “Why, my good Wangye, just yesterday they were trying to give me advice on how to better seduce you! Do you want to hear it, hm? Or better yet, experience it?”

Lan Wangji’s ears, under his hair, bloom pink. “Do not tease,” He says with a frown.

“You’re no fun, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian rolls his eyes. “If I don’t tease you, who will?”

Lan Wangji doesn’t answer that. Wei Wuxian raises a brow in question, but Lan Wangji doesn’t notice. Instead, he stares at the table. His index finger moves in small lines on the wood, forwards and backwards, forwards and backwards. It feels like hours before Lan Wangji opens his mouth to, finally, say something.

“Is it… better, Wei Ying?”

For a moment, Wei Wuxian stills. In the blank space of his mind, he hears the wind hitting the windows and whistling through the eaves, the rapid, muffled fall of water over the roof.

Then he remembers that he has to give an answer.

“Better, Lan Zhan?” Wei Wuxian asks, laughing, “You’re really making no sense today! Is what better?”

“This,” Lan Wangji says, and his eyes glance around the room to fall once again at the table, “Them.”

There is a moment of pause.

“If they’re good to you… If this place is good to you…” Lan Wangji says. His finger moves again, forwards and backwards, making a tiny scratching sound. “Wei Ying, can here be better?”

“Better.” Wei Wuxian’s voice has no inflection whatsoever.

Lan Wangji moves his head in an infinitesimal nod. He doesn’t say anything else, which is just so characteristic of him. As always, it answers nothing of the building riptide of questions in Wei Wuxian.

Wei Wuxian feels restlessness shoot through his body. He lurches to his feet, and the table clatters when his foot hits the edge. Lan Wangji’s head startles up to watch him, wide-eyed and shocked.

It takes Wei Wuxian controlling every single muscle in his body to be able to move step by step across the room, to avoid lashing out, but holding in the tension feels like holding a crackling Zidian in his embrace. When Wei Wuxian finds the window, he practically slams his entire body weight on the windowsill, shoulders hunched.

He looks outside the window. His blood is roaring through his body.

The falling rain mists around a bush of shock-blue hydrangeas. A snail crawls slowly, painstakingly across a leaf. A weak stream snakes down the stone path. The world feels inordinately slow, inordinately big compared to the shaking jitter under Wei Wuxian’s skin.  

“Really,” Wei Wuxian says around a laugh, and his fingers dig painfully into the wood. “Really, you’re making no sense whatsoever! Better. Better than what, Lan Zhan? What are you asking me? What do you want from me?”

Lan Wangji’s hesitation this time speaks of how much Wei Wuxian’s reaction has disturbed him. “…Wei Ying?”

“Better than what?” Wei Wuxian repeats, lightning inside of him crackling, crackling, crackling and finally snapping out in a viperous strike.

“Wei Yi—”

“Better than the Jiang Estate, Lan Zhan?” He demands, “Better than the Burial Mounds? It’s not very hard to be better than the Burial Mounds. How can the Imperial Palace not be better than anywhere else? It has always been so!”

Silence.

Lan Wangji doesn’t say anything. Possibly, he’s letting Wei Wuxian take the time to put his chaotic thoughts back into some semblance of an order; or possibly, he himself doesn’t know what to say. Wei Wuxian doesn’t understand him anymore, not in the way he thought he did once upon a time.

He doesn’t know what Lan Wangji thinks anymore.

Doesn’t know what Lan Wangji wants.

He hadn't cared, before. Yesterday, he hadn't cared. The day before, too, he hadn't cared. Thirteen years ago, he hadn't—

Ah, but that one is a lie, isn’t it?

Thirteen years ago, Wei Wuxian would have done anything, would have gone to any lengths, to know what Lan Wangji wanted. Today too. 

It seems that Wei Wuxian truly is an animal of beaten loyalty.

“Wei Ying…”

Wei Wuxian forces his hold of the windowsill to ease out one finger at a time, until he’s only leaning somewhat against it like a normal person. He says; “Don’t, Lan Zhan.”

And Lan Wangji doesn’t.

After another moment of stilted silence, Wei Wuxian is already feeling guilty. He forces himself into a lighter tone. “Ai, you wouldn’t force this servant to answer such confusing questions, would you, Lan Zhan?” He asks with an airy laugh, “I’m too tired to think so much right now, way too tired!”

For whatever reason, that seems to affect Lan Wangji. “…My apologies,” He says, and he actually sounds contrite, though Wei Wuxian wouldn’t know why.

“Ah, Lan Zhan, no need to apologize,” Wei Wuxian says, still looking out of the window, and he changes the subject with all the violence and subtlety of a cannon ball, “Hey, I’ve been thinking, you’ve got our friend’s pieces with you, right? Have you opened the box I dug up yet?”

After a long pause, Lan Wangji replies. “Not yet.”

Outside the window, the soft rain peters out into a heavy stillness, all burdened clouds and blowing winds, foretelling of a storm to come.

Slowly, Wei Wuxian’s heart calms down. His chest eases, letting in a proper breath of fresh air. The jitteriness under his skin slides back into whichever depths of his body it rose from, back into a harmless slumbering state where Wei Wuxian cannot feel it.

“It’s better to have someone on standby in case it wakes up as murderous as the arm was, right?” Wei Wuxian says, “And I wanted to see what’s inside anyways.”

“Mn.”

“Then I suppose we’ll have to wait until I have one of those proper flutes you were talking about before we play Rest,” Wei Wuxian sighs, and he relaxes fully onto the windowsill, watching the clouds float across the sky, “Do you think A-Xu will take so long that the limb will burst out of the box itself?”

“No,” Lan Wangji says, “It would have earlier, if it could.”

“Serious as always!” Wei Wuxian finally lets out a real laugh, and he turns twinkling eyes to grin at Lan Wangji, who seems relieved to see Wei Wuxian’s cheer return. “Though considering how I found it, you might be more right!”

“Mn,” Lan Wangji says, before blinking, “How you found it?”

“Yes, it was completely inert; probably had been underground for a long time without any movements. Didn't I tell— Oh!” Wei Wuxian’s stare becomes one of dismay. “Oh no, I completely forgot to tell the Emperor that I had to dig into a garden in the Inner Palace! He needs to have someone close it back before anyone sees! I told myself to remember, but I still forgot.”

Lan Wangji hums in consideration. “Understandable, with all that happened. Where was it?”

“There was this locked up, empty courtyard away from all the other buildings,” Wei Wuxian explains, “The main gate was on the other side of the courtyard so I didn't see the nameplate, but you can’t mistake it; the building was still in the previous Emperor’s style and the garden was completely buried in blue flowers.”

Lan Wangji’s eyes widen. It’s the most obvious emotion Wei Wuxian has seen on him, other than anger, and he really doesn’t think it’s positive.

“Do you know of it?” Wei Wuxian hesitates, “The courtyard?”

“Yes,” Lan Wangji says quietly, turning to look at his own fingers steepled together on the table, “It belonged to my Empress-mother.”

“The late Empress Dowager? Someone actually dared to hide something like this in her courtyard?” Wei Wuxian exclaims, gaping, “They’re so fucked once we discover who it was! I can’t even imagine what the punishment would be for something like that…”

“Mn,” Lan Wangji agrees, something hard in the shape of his lips, “Emperor-brother will be furious.”

Wei Wuxian leans his back against the windowsill and watches Lan Wangji fume silently, visibly as furious as he says his brother will be. That’s to be expected, though. Wei Wuxian doesn’t remember it exactly; he was very young, only newly made a ward of Duke Jiang when the entire capital was hurriedly buried in white decorations and cloths to mourn the death of the Empress, so Lan Wangji must have been a kid too. 

To have someone take advantage of the place she had spent her life in, it must be terrible.

It’s probably only because it’s the ever-good Lan Zhan that it only takes a minute of silent anger before Lan Wangji shakes his head, lets out a breath, and the fury on his bearing subsides.

“I will tell Emperor-brother,” Lan Wangji says, reaching for the teapot with the warming talismans sketched imperceptibly over it, “Come. Sit down.”

Sensing that the mood has softened, Wei Wuxian makes his way back to the table. As he lowers himself cross-legged onto his pillow, he changes the subject towards something they can both speak of without trouble. “So yesterday morning, what did it end up being, that whole demonic monks stealing souls issue? In the, uh, what was it— singing goddess temple?”

“A temple for a natural goddess statue,” Lan Wangji explains, pouring out tea into his own cup before putting down the teapot. “Not singing; Dancing Goddess. Despite the urgent missive, the monks were not demonic cultivators.”

Wei Wuxian automatically grabs his own cup, entirely oblivious, raising it to his lips and trying to take a sip only to realise that it’s empty.

Lan Wangji has just casually forgone Wei Wuxian’s cup.

“Hey, what about me, Lan Zhan?” Wei Wuxian exclaims when he realizes what happened, pouting dramatically, “Are you snubbing me, Wangye? Is our relationship losing its spark? Lan Zhan, is this your way of chiding this servant for not being a good enough host to pour you tea? Am I being punished?”

“Hm,” Lan Wangji says, noncommittal, as he reaches down under the table to bring something out, and place it between them with a small clack.

It’s a white jar of Emperor’s Smile.

Wei Wuxian is completely stupefied.

“The monks didn't know. They were surprised that some visitors were losing their souls,” Lan Wangji continues in a casual voice, as if the fact that he’s grabbing a jar of Emperor’s Smile— ah no, he’s opening it now, leaning forward with a shift of his long sleeves— and he’s pouring wine into Wei Wuxian’s cup— as if this is all completely normal and not unusual at all. “A bad reputation might harm the growth of their goddess; she is newly deified. So, they provided a list of frequent visitors. Wei Ying, do you not wish to drink?”

“Huh? No? Yes! I mean— I want to drink!” Wei Wuxian scrambles to grasp his cup of wine (poured personally by Lan Zhan!) and swallow it down in one go. The alcohol burns pleasantly as it goes down his throat, and the aftertaste it leaves, something refreshing and sweet and faintly flowery, is as wonderful as he remembers.

It really is Emperor’s Smile, can’t possibly be anything else.

“Oh Heavens,” Wei Wuxian groans happily as he closes his eyes to savour the taste left lingering on the roof of his mouth, putting the cup down. “Lan Zhan, ah, I’ve missed this so much… It’s been so long since I’ve had Emperor’s Smile!”

Lan Wangji doesn’t respond, but when Wei Wuxian opens his eyes again, his cup is once again filled with clear liquid glistening in the candlelight. Wei Wuxian raises his head to find Lan Wangji watching him from across the table, golden eyes serene, and his gaze catches inadvertently onto the jewel under Lan Wangji’s ribbon, framed by softly curling locks of dark black hair. Every time that jewel sways, swirling with candlelight, Wei Wuxian feels it thread featherlight across his heart.

Wen Qing always used to compare Wei Wuxian to the crows and magpies haunting their fields, fixating on anything shiny that they could hoard for their nests. Now that he thinks about it, those comments had only started after Lan Wangji’s visit to the Burial Mounds, hadn't they? 

Perhaps he hadn't been as successful at keeping his gaze from wandering as he had thought.

“Aiyah, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian huffs, eyes half lidded, taking the cup of Emperor’s Smile and just tasting it this time, enjoying it slowly, “I don’t suppose the rules of the imperial family have changed so much while I was dead, have they? Isn’t alcohol prohibited in the Imperial Palace?”

“It is.” Lan Wangji’s nod is measured.

Wei Wuxian looks deeply at the wine for a long minute, thinking.

“The investigation was left unfinished when I had to return,” Lan Wangji picks up where he left off, quiet as if he’s sensing that Wei Wuxian’s mood has once again turned off, “The monks were innocent, so it might be a soul-devouring beast or a demonic cultivator.”

“I suppose,” Wei Wuxian says, raising his cup once again to sip at it, “Demonic cultivation is pretty rampant these days, huh? It’s been around a long time after all. Hey Lan Zhan, do you also drink now?”

“I do not.” Lan Wangji pauses again. “It’s not necessarily a demonic cultivator, Wei Ying.”

“Guess not,” Wei Wuxian says, far more interested in the other side of this conversation, “If not for drinking, then why else would you be buying wine? Tell me honestly, have you really never drunk any wine since I died?”

“Focus on the case,” Lan Wangji says with a very convincing seriousness, staring intently across the table, “The loss of souls is important. It might be necessary to set aside the demonic limbs.”

“Whatever Lan Zhan wants is good to me,” Wei Wuxian agrees without much thought before he prods further; “You’re trying to change the subject because you’re not allowed to lie, am I wrong? You’ve definitely drank before. Admit it! You definitely drank wine.”

Lan Wangji’s expression is perfectly blank, and his nod comes after a long period of silence. “…yes,” He admits finally, “Once.”

“Then you’ll drink some with me too, right, Lan-er-gege?” Wei Wuxian asks, growing more cheerful, “Come on, come on, accompany me tonight, Lan Zhan. You won’t leave me to drink alone, will you?”

The members of the imperial family are all forbidden to drink, seems to whisper the woman that accused Wei Wuxian so, her voice dark, curling, tempting. Because when they drink, they reveal their basest, most well-hidden selves, inflict upon others their most sordid desires.

Wei Wuxian’s fingers clench tight around his winecup.

...inflict upon others their most sordid desires.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, tugging him out of his thoughts.

Wei Wuxian looks up, but Lan Wangji doesn’t say anything else. He seems to be wavering, unsure of whether he should drink or not.

Capitalising on his hesitation, Wei Wuxian flashes him a bright grin and moves his winecup forward with his fingertips, making it scratch the wooden surface as it slides. “If you absolutely don’t want to I’ll let it go. But just one sip, Wangye,” Wei Wuxian says intently, “If you hate it, I won’t ask again. How about that? Great deal, I say!”

Lan Wangji swallows visibly.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian coaxes with his voice lilted, almost quiet, tilting his face to peer up into Lan Wangji’s eyes, “Drink with me, hm?”

After a minute pause, Lan Wangji shifts the long sleeve of his elaborate robes, and, slowly, slowly, he reaches for the winecup, and slowly, slowly, he brings it up to his lips.

He lowers his face, hair sliding over his shoulders, about to take a sip—

“I found them, Wangye’s gifts! Here, here, see! There’s so many boxes!”

“Shh! A-Xu! You’re going to bother the masters!”

“Aah! Sorry!”

—and a muffled commotion from outside the door makes him drop the winecup back onto the table as if it’s a venomous snake in his hands. The cup tilts and spills a little on the wood, and Lan Wangji’s fingers glisten with the wine. Lan Wangji looks at them as if they got covered in deadly poison, and not something he had just been about to drink.

Wei Wuxian starts laughing, helplessly. He leans onto the table to support himself up, cradling his face in one hand, feeling both incredibly amused and incredibly pathetic.

Lan Wangji glares at him.

“Sorry, sorry, I’m not laughing at you, promise!” Wei Wuxian laughs, flicking away a single tear from his eye, looking up to give Lan Wangji his best crooked grin. “Aah, but what a reaction! I’ll drink all the wine alone, come on, give it here. More for me! Aiyo, it’s fine if you don’t want to try it, Lan Zhan, no need for such dramatics.”

Lan Wangji’s eyes slide past Wei Wuxian’s face, up at where Wei Wuxian’s unnecessarily decorated hair is pulled into a half-ponytail covered in sharpened hairsticks, then looks back down at the table. “…later,” Lan Wangji says quietly, and before Wei Wuxian can say anything about it, Lan Wangji calls out to have A-Xu bring in the gifts.

Letting out a long, dramatically despondent sigh, Wei Wuxian takes back his cup and swallows the remaining wine in one go, before making sure to straighten up and sit with his long, silky robes all in order. When A-Xu enters, bringing with her two menservants that are balancing tall heaps of jade boxes in their arms, Wei Wuxian is still patting down one of his frilly, embroidered sleeves.

“Wangye,” A-Xu greets, bowing low to each of them, “Master Mo. Where shall this servant place these gifts?”

“Just bring them here, please,” Wei Wuxian smiles softly, ‘Concubine Mo mode’ fully activated. “I will open them now.”

“Yes, Master!” A-Xu says as the menservants place the boxes carefully onto the table, and when their hands are finally empty, the servants also make low bows.

“This servant has completed her investigations,” A-Xu reports cheerfully, “It seems that Wangye’s order to have someone deliver the gifts to Master was delegated at some point to Bo Yao from the kitchens, but this morning he fell down the stairs and broke both legs. And since the temporary replacement sent by the Ministry of Household Affairs didn't get the chance to be informed of the delivery, the boxes were still sitting in Wangye’s rooms.”

“I see. Thank you A-Xu,” Wei Wuxian smiles before turning to look at the boxes. There are so many of them.

Curiously, Wei Wuxian pulls a dark green jade box one closer to himself and slides the lid open. Inside the box, there is a dizi carved from a lacquered black wood and decorated with silver etchings of a blooming lotus flower.

It looks…

Really expensive.

Wei Wuxian reaches for another box. It reveals a mutton jade dizi with a poem written so intricately at its side that he only needs a single moment to know that it was written by a master calligrapher.

Another box. A bamboo dizi that’s made of the weirdest bamboo, somehow naturally a powder-blue colour, attached to an elaborately woven silk tassel of the same colour.

Another box. A crimson-lacquered dizi painted with gold dust in curling patterns.

Another box. A marble dizi etched with glittery pink lines that Wei Wuxian is genuinely afraid to ask the material of.

Another box. A light-coloured bamboo dizi with carved ivory at both sides of it.

“A… A-Xu,” Wei Wuxian asks, and when he looks up with wide eyes, A-Xu is also looking at the boxes with her mouth hanging open in shock. “…how many boxes… did you say there were?”

A-Xu’s voice trembles when she says; “Fif— fifty three boxes, Master.”

“Lan Z— Lan-wangye,” Wei Wuxian says, his own voice unsteady, “It’s too much. I can’t take these.”

There’s no answer.

Wei Wuxian turns slowly towards where Lan Wangji is, his hands still clutching at the ivory-bamboo flute, ready to argue if he has to, but he immediately forgets his arguments when he sees the expression on Lan Wangji’s face.

Lan Wangji is pressing at his temples, bowed just the slightest bit forward, and his eyes are squeezed shut as if he’s in pain.

“Wangye?” Wei Wuxian asks immediately, “What’s wrong? Are you alright?”

Lan Wangji nods, letting out a long breath through his nose and pulling his hand away. “I’m alright,” He says.

“…are you sure?” Wei Wuxian asks, and Lan Wangji nods again.

He truly does seem to be better than before, so Wei Wuxian just purses his lips and watches as he breaths slowly and gradually blinks his eyes open. He’s sitting as perfectly straight as always, but now that Wei Wuxian is paying more attention, he can see that Lan Wangji’s shoulders are hitched tad bit tighter than they reasonably should be. 

“What just happened?” Wei Wuxian asks, frowning. “Were you hurt on the nighthunt?”

Lan Wangji shakes his head. “A minor headache,” He says, “It’ll pass.”

A minor headache. How can it be just minor?

After Wen Ruohan overthrew the Emperor and burnt down the Imperial Palace, Lan Wangji, at age fifteen, the only remaining heir to the Lan Dynasty, had been able to walk for miles to Dusk Mountain and participate in nighthunts on a broken leg without a single grimace. At the very least Wen Chao hadn't realised Lan Wangji’s injury for the entire duration of the indoctrination— because if he had, he would have been forcing Lan Wangji to use that leg at every opportunity.

Lan Wangji’s tolerance for pain, his endurance and pokerface, they’re all at such a high level that a truly minor headache shouldn’t even cause a single twitch of his muscles.

Wei Wuxian hopes his expression is showing all of that, because propriety decrees that Concubine Mo do not interrogate his wangye, but if Lan Wangji doesn’t receive the entire force of his incredulity Wei Wuxian will be forced to break character to tell it to him very loudly and very physically.

Thankfully, Lan Wangji seems to receive it. He tilts his head in acknowledgement. “It’s been there since this morning,” He admits, “It might be a strain of my qi, from when I hurried back to the palace. The imperial physicians should be able to tell.”

“I understand,” Wei Wuxian nods slowly, smiling, “Will you be going now?”

For a moment, Lan Wangji seems like he’s going to shake his head, but then he looks at the sweet smile on Wei Wuxian’s face and he hesitates. Good. Wei Wuxian can’t yell at him, but he can still communicate.

“I…” Lan Wangji says.

Wei Wuxian looks straight at him.

Lan Wangji nods. “I will be going now.”

“That’s good!” Wei Wuxian chirps, bowing his head, “Then if Wangye doesn’t mind, this concubine will accompany him.”

Lan Wangji nods again.

Hm. Maybe silent communication does have some merits.  

 


 

The imperial physician declares Lan Wangji to be of the highest health, and agrees that it is only a small illness that has led to an equally small instability in his qi, just meditate a bit and when the qi is unstrained he will heal. He is, the physician assures them, perfectly capable of playing Rest to a few demonic limbs and investigating a potential-soul-eater case.

As it’s still raining in sporadic showers, they head to Lan Wangji’s study for the rest of the afternoon, and Lan Wangji meditates to the side while Wei Wuxian rifles through the books he brought. Actually, Wei Wuxian is supposed to be meditating as well, but he gave that up in three minutes flat when he realised that it wasn’t going to happen.

It’s never been easy for Wei Wuxian to slip into meditation. Back in the Yunmeng Dukedom, Wei Wuxian had all of his greatest leaps of cultivation during sword training, even though his teachers had all insisted on him spending at least half the time in deep meditation, which he could never truly achieve. The closest he got to a trance was the focused calm that repetitive moment and exertion brought over him.

Uncle Jiang used to say that that is Wei Wuxian’s own personal meditation, but Wei Wuxian doesn’t think so. Meditation is supposed to feel like an empty mind full of peace and calm, he thinks, and not the way Wei Wuxian’s trance does; like a churning lake pouring into a single stream of pressurised water, his mind condensing until there’s only a single line of thought that runs blade sharp into any direction it so well pleases.

…when Wei Wuxian is done inspecting this book, maybe he’ll go train some more with the training swords.  

The outside is darkened with clouds, but Lan Wangji’s study is well-lit, and Wei Wuxian tilts the nearby lantern over the book to be able to see it better.

It’s one of the dozen books that Mo Xuanyu had kept hidden under his old mattress, and Wei Wuxian has been going through them, trying to glimpse at the current shape of the demonic cultivation scene. So far, it has all been a major disappointment— Mo Xuanyu had been a neglected, shut away servant without any cultivation or real access to the circles of the more prolific demonic cultivators, and he definitely didn't own anything recent or expensive.

However, Wei Wuxian has a weird feeling about this one book. It’s more a leaflet than a proper book, honestly. A thin thing of few pages and a singular, specific focus on the idea of sacrificing one’s body to summon a spirit into it. Weird, especially considering the fact that it doesn’t actually tell you how to achieve this, only why you should and from what books to learn how.

Wei Wuxian hums quietly as he reads and rereads the middle paragraph, trying to understand what it is that’s pricking at the back of his mind.

It is most appropriate to choose a dead spirit of great strength, the book says. Recently dead, famously powerful personages who might have had a violent death (suicides, qi deviations, and murders are examples of this) would make good choices.

And then it continues; Furthermore, selecting accordingly for one’s purpose is of utmost necessity. Although some rituals (for more detail, check out Variations of The Body Offering Ritual by Yiling Laozu) are able to threaten the newly resurrected spirit into compliance for your needs, there is always a considerable possibility that they will simply choose not to comply and thus void your sacrifice. For righteous purposes, justice or protection or otherwise, one would best choose the spirit of someone known for their righteousness; for purposes unjust, revenge against innocents or otherwise, one would best not choose anyone known for righteousness. On exemplar figures according to possible purposes, this author lists:

Nie Mingjue, the previous Border General, Duke of Qinghe. Highly powerful, highly respected in the cultivational world, an unshakable position in the Nie Clan. Righteous and known for his sense of justice. Died recently in a violent qi deviation seven years prior. Likely to be a very strong spirit that would be of great use to prove one’s innocence or protect one’s loved ones.

Jin Zixuan, the previous Heir to the Lanling Dukedom. Moderately powerful, a strong position in the Jin Clan. Died recently in a clash against the Yiling Patriarch twelve years prior. Possibly a strong spirit that has a rich, influential family who can support one’s cause.

Jun Baizhong…

Wei Wuxian stops and closes his eyes, thinking. As far as he can guess, Mo Xuanyu probably read this book first and got the idea of sacrificing his body, but he couldn’t find the “Variations of the Body Offering Ritual” book that’s being recommended here. So, he made up his own variation; one that would automatically choose the strongest, most violent spirit without any input from Mo Xuanyu being necessary.

Except… Wei Wuxian is really not getting one thing.

Why would someone write such a helpful, meaningless book? It doesn’t even have any real demonic cultivation inside, just an endless list of recommendations! Worse, it’s not handwritten. It’s been printed out, which means that it was mass-produced, which means that someone has spread this book around the country and into the hands of anyone who might be contemplating suicide.  

“Wei Ying?” Comes a low question, and Wei Wuxian opens his eyes to direct his frustrated gaze to Lan Wangji who is staring at him.

“Ah, nothing, nothing, Lan Zhan.” Wei Wuxian waves the book in front of him, dismissive. “It’s just this book I found in Mo Xuanyu’s room, I guess. A weird one for sure.”

“Hm,” Lan Wangji says without much interest, before his eyes catch onto the book in Wei Wuxian’s hand. His face immediately sharpens. “Wei Ying, that book.”

Wei Wuxian’s hand pauses. He raises a brow. “You know about it, Wangye?”

“It’s a forbidden book,” Lan Wangji replies, “Endorses demonic cultivation to the masses.”

“Ah, yeah, that’s what I got from it,” Wei Wuxian huffs, “Just can’t decide why. Hey, Lan Zhan, do you know of a book named Variations of the Body Offering Ritual? Apparently written by me?”

Lan Wangji nods and rises gracefully up to his feet. He walks past a few bookshelves. He stops in front of one, reaching up, and pulls out a bamboo scroll bound with a red ribbon that he then turns to hand Wei Wuxian.  

Unbound, the scroll professes proudly to being a study on the Variations of the Body Offering Ritual by Yiling Laozu.

And truthfully too— the fifteen minor notes and three completed rituals listed down on the scroll were all written by Wei Wuxian, although he most certainly never compiled them into a manual. Someone must have read his diary, taken the scattered pieces on resurrection by sacrifice, and put them together.

And then, somehow, Lan Wangji must have gotten the scroll and decided to keep it in his study.  

“You have a copy?” Wei Wuxian asks, incredulous, “Of a demonic cultivation manual?”

Lan Wangji tilts his head to look at the section of the shelves that he took the scroll out of; a section covered entirely in books of black covers and scrolls bound by red chord.

Wei Wuxian wonders at the selection. “Is this like a ‘know yourself, know your enemy’ kind of logic..?”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, almost exasperated, as he sits back down on his pillow. “Meditate.”

Wei Wuxian sighs.

He’s never going to get a straight answer from Lan Wangji, probably.

With nothing else to do, Wei Wuxian puts the heap of books aside and closes his eyes. He’s definitely not going to be able to enter deep meditation, but he can at least circulate his qi and assess this new, strange body that now belongs to him.

He can feel that the strand of pure qi in his dantian has almost tripled in size from the day before, despite a proportionally minor amount of training. It is not yet a core, there’s still some way to go for that, but Wei Wuxian brings his hand up, pushes the qi to the tips of his fingers, flicks—

—and a candle on Lan Wangji’s desk goes out. The top half of its burnt wick falls down.

Wei Wuxian feels his heart soar.

“Lan Zhan! Did you see?” He exclaims, turning to the side.

Lan Wangji is watching him from his seat, visibly surprised. “Wei Ying?” He says, “Was Mo Xuanyu a genius?”

“It seems like that doesn’t it?” Wei Wuxian laughs, shaking his head as he stares down at his hand. “But I don’t think that’s it, Lan Zhan… It’s all the Soul-Offering Ritual. Remember what I said?”

“You said that his soul was made into nourishment,” Lan Wangji says, a note of realization in his tone.

“Quick as ever, Lan-er-gege!” Wei Wuxian says and he twirls his hand in a vague gesture, “A soul’s a powerful thing. Using it as an ingredient— the things you could do are honestly endless! Though of course, even I, the heretic Yiling Patriarch, would never permanently obliterate a soul to use it like that.”

Lan Wangji hums. “Mo Xuanyu’s soul was used to improve your body’s spiritual being.”

“Yeah. Well, not entirely.” Wei Wuxian says, somewhat in thought, “I think if it was entirely used to nourish the body, then I would have been able to form a core by now. My best guess is that around half of it was used on my spirit or ghost or whatever I was.”

It takes a long moment before Lan Wangji gets it.

His expression becomes completely unreadable.

“You…” Lan Wangji says, his eyes looking up into Wei Wuxian’s own. “For months, they tried to summon your spirit. And for years, Inquiry, I… You never answered. Wei Ying, you…”

“I don’t remember.” Wei Wuxian murmurs, watching his own blunt nails as they scratch along the embroidery on his sleeve. “It doesn’t feel exactly like a decade long nap, I’m not the same as I was when I died, but. It doesn’t not feel like a decade long nap either. But if I really never answered any summoning…”

Wei Wuxian leaves that open-ended, not needing to explain any further.

“How,” Lan Wangji asks in a shaky breath.

Lan Wangji doesn’t extrapolate, he never does, so Wei Wuxian doesn’t know if he’s asking how did it happen, or how did it feel, or how did you do it, or how badly hurt was it

But. If he had to answer one…

Wei Wuxian chooses to take the last question.

“The closer a soul is to dust, the way Mo Xuanyu’s became,” He explains, “The more souls it would take to heal them up. Exponentially. That’s why it’s impossible to heal a completely shattered soul; you would need an infinite number of other souls. To be fixed with one single half of a soul… Mine wasn’t that bad.”

Lan Wangji doesn’t answer. Just as well, Wei Wuxian doesn’t really want to talk about it, so he toys with the edge of his books and watches the falling rain outside the window. After a moment, it feels more appropriate to speak. “Wangye,” Wei Wuxian says, “Your meditation is done, right?”

“Mn,” Lan Wangji says quietly, “The strain is gone.”

“That’s good,” Wei Wuxian says, before tipping his head towards the doors, “Then, Rest? We can finally check out what we’ve gotten in that chained box.”

Lan Wangji nods, and they’re off.

The demonic arm and the chained box have both been stored in the warded room next to Lan Wangji’s study when they’re not going out, so Lan Wangji instructs the servants that he has important matters to study in the ward room and to not let anyone enter.

Wei Wuxian makes sure to look like he’s a very supportive concubine who will be providing him moral support in a supportive manner and no other support whatsoever, and follows after Lan Wangji.

The ward room is lit by the dimly-glowing arrays sketched all around the walls and the floor. The shelves on the sides are still as sparsely filled as before, so Wei Wuxian immediately spots the two qiankun pouches that he carried yesterday.

Lan Wangji takes the pouches and walks towards the containment array in the middle of the room to put them down in its centre. The grey pouch contains the demonic arm, and the purple one houses the chained and locked box that Wei Wuxian found in the Inner Palace.

Nodding to him, Wei Wuxian also sits down next to the array, right across Lan Wangji.

Lan Wangji reaches to take the chained wooden chest out of the purple qiankun pouch. Although he carries it one hand as if it is lighter than a single feather, when he puts it down it thunks heavily against the floor, and it’s bigger than his leg is long. The imperial arm strength is sure as great as the legends claim it is!

“I hope it’s the head,” Wei Wuxian says idly as Lan Wangji puts his hand into the sword sign and uses Bichen to cut the heavy metal chains one by one. “Do you think it’s a head? That would make it super easy to find out his identity! I think it might be a head.”

“Focus, Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says with a sharp sigh.

“Alright, alright, sorry!” Wei Wuxian says. He reaches into his robes to pull out his dizi. It’s the black-lacquer one that came out of the first jade box, the one with the silver lotus flower, and he’s only compromised to use it on the condition that Lan Wangji takes back the other fifty boxes, because all of it is truly too much for him.

Honestly speaking, Lan Wangji agreed so easily to the deal that it felt less like a compromise and more like a defeat, but the man had good reason in claiming that Wei Wuxian having a superior dizi would be beneficial to all of them and so Wei Wuxian had to give up on arguing.

…and, yeah, it’s a really nice dizi.

It will probably never be as great at channelling resentful energy as Chenqing was, but then again that’s an unfair comparison. Chenqing was made of bamboo grown in the Burial Mounds. It was literally made to channel resentful energy.

Certainly, this one is much better than Wei Wuxian’s subpar wallwood dizi.

The last few chains fall of with loud clangs and Wei Wuxian puts the dizi to his lips, ready to start playing in case whatever is inside the box comes out in a rampage. Thankfully, he needn’t have worried. When Lan Wangji finishes cutting off the last chain and opens the box, there are enough calming talismans covering the inside that even a fierce corpse of Wen Ning’s calibre would need months to erode them. A simple body part could have stayed inert for decades, had Wei Wuxian not found the box and brought it out.

Although…

“Aw, it’s not a head!” Wei Wuxian complains, pulling his dizi away as he peers into the chest.

Two muscular, scarred legs have been stuffed into the box like meat to eat, with just as little consideration afforded to the dignity of the dead person. They, too, are covered in calming talismans pasted over the skin.

“Just a pair of legs,” Wei Wuxian pouts, “What do we do? We can’t even attach them all together!”

“It is better not to attach,” Lan Wangji says, “Their resentment shouldn’t be allowed to merge together.”

“I know, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian rolls his eyes, “I’m just saying that casually, don’t you know not to believe everything I say? I didn't mean it, I’m just joking around like always!”

Lan Wangji lets out a tiny, audible exhale. “Yes,” He says, “I am aware.”

“Then, Rest?”

Lan Wangji nods, and they play the song for the arm and the two legs. After missing one session of Rest with Lan Wangji yesterday morning, Wei Wuxian has realized that he finds playing duets with him —the harmony of the dizi and the guqin, the smooth transition from low to high, high to low, always following each other— incomprehensibly enjoyable.

Wei Wuxian resolves to keep this realization to himself. After all, what if he embarrasses Lan Wangji out of playing with him? That would be completely counterproductive!

When the duet is done, Wei Wuxian leans back against his arm to watch Lan Wangji put the box back into the qiankun pouch and tie the strings tightly. “Prepare for an outing tomorrow,” Lan Wangji says, “Before lunch, if possible.”

Wei Wuxian blinks. “What? Outing where?”

“To Caiyi City,” Lan Wangji says as if it was obvious, and when Wei Wuxian still looks clueless, his lips twitch. “You were not listening to me.”

“No, no, how can that be? I always listen to Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian protests, thinking furiously all the while. Whatever it was, it was probably said during that talk a few hours ago because admittedly, Wei Wuxian really had been more focused on the idea of getting Lan Wangji to drink with him and hadn't been listening all too much. “To Caiyi City— ah, to investigate the Goddess Temple right?”

“Mn,” Lan Wangji nods, “To interrogate the victims’ families.”

“Alright! A proper nighthunt! It’ll be great!” Wei Wuxian cheers up immensely when he thinks about going out to Caiyi City; going around in a marketplace and seeing crowds mill about, talking to strangers and not getting recognised. “Let’s eat out, then! The Sichuan restaurant that was popular back when we were studying under your uncle, is it still around? Ah, but you never came along with us, do you even know which one I’m talking about?”

“Yes,” Lan Wangji says. “It’s still here. I know of it.”

Huh, Wei Wuxian thinks, before shaking it off. He’s too cheerful to be confused. “Their food was so spicy, even I have to eat slowly,” He reminisces, licking his lips, “Ai, Lan Zhan, you’ll love it, you didn't even blink when you ate the spicy eggplant yesterday morning so this one will be properly challenging for you!”

Lan Wangji swallows visibly at that, and Wei Wuxian takes it as a confirmation of his appetite for spicy foods.

“It’ll be great!” He has to repeat, bubbly with excitement.

“…mn,” Lan Wangji says in a very small voice. “Great.”

 

Chapter Text

Wei Wuxian wakes up late once again, near lunchtime in the Imperial Palace. He hasn’t woken up early enough to have breakfast on time since he had to get up early to go to the Inner Palace. But no one has yet berated him for his illegal sleep schedule, so he continues to break this one specific rule repeatedly and without shame. After all, he’s busy each night after curfew reading up on Mo Xuanyu’s books and Lan Wangji’s collection, trying to acclimatise himself to the new era he has found himself in.

After he forces himself out of his warm bed, he cleans up and scoffs down some snacks. Then, delightedly, he runs off to the training hall. Since he got back his ability to cultivate spiritual energy, he’s been training with such diligence that even Jiang Cheng, diligence personified, would have been impressed. That is, of course, if he didn't hate Wei Wuxian to death.

Sadly, before he can really get into the right headspace, Wei Wuxian is ushered back by his excited maids to dress and prepare for the outing.

At the beginning, everything goes well and normal. Wei Wuxian bathes and has his hair combed by cheerfully chatting maids, answering questions about what he and Lan Wangji will be doing outside in the vaguest possible ways: Oh, Wangye’s taking me out to browse the market street and eat lunch while he investigates something, nothing much, I only just mentioned to him that I was feeling bored in the Silent Wing and he was kind enough to bring me along to his outing…

And then the time comes for his attire to be chosen.

“Wangye sent so many black and red robes, he obviously prefers for Master to wear those!”

“He’s going out for the first time, he has to wear white and blue! How will he represent that he’s part of the Imperial Clan otherwise?!”

“Don’t be ridiculous! Doesn’t silver clearly bring out his eyes? He has to look his best!”

And after that, even more heatedly:

“He has to wear a veil. A Prince-Concubine going stroll amongst the commonfolk, of course he has to wear a veil!”

“What? That makes no sense! He’s a man, he’s never worn a veil when going out before, what’s the point in wearing it now?”

“You’re just going to let any random scum or riffraff ogle Hanguang-wang’s man?!”

“No veil!”

“Veil!”

“No veil!”

“Veil!”

Wei Wuxian sighs from where he’s sitting on the side of the bed, still in his inner robes with his hair loose, and the maids immediately stop arguing. They all look apologetically towards him, and one of them bows before speaking up. “Sorry, Master Mo… What do you think we should do?”

“What’s the most proper way, do you think?” Wei Wuxian asks his head maid, as she seems to be the most knowledgeable in these matters.

“There is no protocol for a male Prince-Concubine,” The head maid sighs, thinking out loud, “When Master first arrived, Wangye instructed everyone to treat Master exactly as they would any other concubine. The Emperor allowed it, so Master was given female attendants and no chaperone despite many claims of impropriety. In my humble opinion… it is best to proceed with the appropriate attire of any other Prince-Concubine instead of branching out, considering Wangye’s wishes.”

“So, veil?” Wei Wuxian is sort of hoping veil. He gets chills whenever he thinks of going around people with Mo Xuanyu’s face that is so distressingly similar to his own original face (except more Jin, ugh). It would be an especially bad idea considering that the capital city is full of nobles and cultivators, the two social circles in which the true face of the Yiling Patriarch is known.

“So, veil.” The head maid nods. “As well as robes in imperial blue and white, at least for this first outing. Maybe next time we can go with Wangye’s preferred black and red. A-Xu, I leave the coordination to you.”

“Alright then!” A-Xu’s face steels in determination. “I won’t let you down, Master, Jiejie!”

It takes a long time, but eventually Wei Wuxian has been dressed and groomed and made-up, his hair half held up by tasselled and bejewelled silver-blue hairsticks. Wei Wuxian leans down so that his head maid can carefully, reverently attach a misty white silk veil over his face, and when the maid steps back he sees her nod in satisfaction.

His vision isn’t impaired much, thank heavens. He had been worried it would be as thick and opaque as wedding veils, but it seems that it won’t be so bad that the meagre cultivation he has won’t allow him to see perfectly out of his veil.

Just in time, there is an unfamiliar servant at the door, asking; “Is Prince-Concubine Mo ready? Wangye is waiting at the gates, but asked this servant to say that there is no rush.”

“No, no, I am ready,” Wei Wuxian says, “Let’s go to Wangye.”

They walk through the halls of the Silent Wing. The servants bow deeply as Wei Wuxian passes by, and is it just him or are they bowing deeper than before? Wei Wuxian frowns at a pair of laundrywomen who are nearly bending themselves half bowing at the side of the path.

When they reach the gates, Lan Wangji is there with a carriage at his back, waiting for Wei Wuxian. It is a strange turn of life, that Wei Wuxian has gone from starving slowly on radishes to mounting a carriage out of the Imperial Palace, when only the owner of the Silent Wing —Lan Wangji— and the owner of the Palace —the Emperor— are allowed to ride a carriage through the Palace.

They enter the carriage. The door closes and the horses start trotting, click-clack, click-clack, rocking the carriage as they walk.

“Good morning!” Wei Wuxian says, pulling up his legs to cross them improperly on the seat across Lan Wangji. He leans on his hand, elbow on knee, before gesturing out of the curtained window. “So, Lan Zhan. What’s our itinerary here?”

“Question the first five victims’ families,” Lan Wangji replies, “Eat at the Sichuan restaurant. Return.”

Laughter bubbles out of Wei Wuxian.

Lan Wangji raises a brow.

“Nothing, nothing,” Wei Wuxian shakes his head, still chuckling. “I just finally see why you saw it necessary to bring me along, Lan Zhan! After all our Wangye is good at everything but speaking to people. How would you even question them? No, more importantly, how do you question people when you go out nighthunting alone?”

Lan Wangji glances quietly at him, and then turns his gaze away.

His face doesn’t so much as shift, but somehow a slow realisation washes over Wei Wuxian. Nothing in particular hints at it, but like hesitantly, uncertainly recognising a familiar silhouette in the morning mist, Wei Wuxian suddenly knows that Lan Wangji is embarrassed.

Embarrassed, specifically, because he probably doesn’t question people when he goes nighthunting alone. They must blurt everything out at a single glance from the mighty Hanguang-wang, and if not, then an attendant can be arranged to do the questioning.

And clearly, Lan Wangji thinks this is embarrassing.

“Aah, Lan Wangji, Lan Wangji,” Wei Wuxian chuckles, fond and self-proud, feeling like he’s regained something that he hadn't even realised he’d lost, “Alright, Lan Zhan! Leave questioning witnesses to me. I’ll do my duty well, no worries!”

“The attendants can do the questioning,” Lan Wangji says, huffing, “You should focus your expertise on the case.”

His… expertise?

“What expertise,” Wei Wuxian scoffs, “I’m sure demonic cultivation isn’t that necessary for a casual investigation.”

“This is a case of serial soul theft.” Lan Wangji says, slowly, blinking, “Wei Ying is the foremost expert on souls.”

Then he pauses and adds:

“Wei Ying is the foremost expert on most things.”

Wei Wuxian flushes so hard that there might be steam billowing out of him. He couldn’t be sure.  “You— you— don't say such things, heavens Lan Zhan, what are you saying?” He manages to ask, nearly incoherent with fluster, “What would people think if they heard you say that!”

Lan Wangji’s face grows frosty. “Anyone who denies this should be beaten for lying.”

Wei Wuxian gapes at him for the remainder of the journey, completely speechless. It takes him all the way until they’ve rode out of the palace and into the main market street of Caiyi City to regain his ability to speak. Lan Wangji is completely unstoppable. Incredibly destructive. Killing Wei Wuxian.

While he was dead, Lan Wangji has clearly cultivated himself into a natural disaster. Wei Wuxian isn’t sure if he’s delighted or horrified.

The carriage stops at the mouth of the wide street, and Lan Wangji steps out with one hand at his back, stately and graceful as if he hasn’t just dealt a psychological blow at his own concubine. The crowd parts away to allow him to stand on the street in his own bubble.

Wei Wuxian follows after him with a pout, putting one hand on Lan Wangji’s elbow when offered.

Thankfully, Wei Wuxian’s veil is blocking everything, so he doesn’t have to school his face into something properly demure. All he has to do is walk sedately behind Lan Wangji’s dazzling form and avoid attracting attention, which is easy as can be. Lan Wangji, as mentioned previously, is simply dazzling.

Surely no one would ever look at Wei Wuxian in his blue robes and white veil when Lan Wangji is right there, being his usual objectively breathtaking self.   

The people milling about the marketplace stare at them, but they’re clearly familiar with Lan Wangji. There is only a stream of murmured, reverential ‘Hanguang-wang, Hanguang-wang’s before everyone makes way for Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian to pass. A few of them throw curious, wondering glances at Wei Wuxian, but the pair of attendants that Lan Wangji brought along glare them into turning away. Wei Wuxian suddenly feels like he has really become a part of the imperial family.

It’s a beautiful day, the sun bright and shining, the wind smelling of street food and spice and a distant flowery spring freshness. The stalls that they pass by are all selling things of high quality; even the marketplace wares are expensive this close to the Imperial Palace. After all, they cater to nobles and cultivators first and foremost. The gems on the jewellery are all at least semi-precious and the food is served in porcelain. The toys are carved intricately, the silks painted in an array of colourful dyes.

Wei Wuxian walks slowly on the cobblestones, eyeing everything with a curious wonder. It’s been so long, since he has been to Caiyi City. A lifetime and then some. The stall owners that see his veiled gaze immediately smile subserviently and bow, gesturing him closer, but Wei Wuxian always just shakes his head and moves on.

“If there is anything Prince-Concubine wishes to buy, he only needs to say it to this servant,” One of the attendants chimes in, walking closer to be able to speak, “This servant shall go buy it for Prince-Concubine.”

“Ah, thank you,” Wei Wuxian nods. His awkward smile is hidden by his veil. “I don’t need anything right now.”

“If you want anything, buy it,” Lan Wangji says, unexpectedly.

“No, no,” Wei Wuxian hurries to say, patting Lan Wangji’s arm with an exaggerated fondness, “What more could this concubine want when he has the illustrious Hanguang-wang on his arm? There is no need, no need at all. I am grateful enough that Wangye humoured me and took me along to his nighthunt!”

“Hm,” Lan Wangji says dubiously, but he lets it go.

Seeing that he’s not needed, the attendant bows and steps back out of hearing range, trailing behind them with the other servant.

Wei Wuxian takes advantage of the fact that everyone is distant enough from them and leans in closer to Lan Wangji’s ear. “So what are we looking for?” He whispers, “Don’t tell me we really stopped to shop?”

Lan Wangji’s eyes turn to him, then turn back to the people milling ahead of them. “Zheng Yan was the first known victim,” He says, “Her father’s forge is there, at the third street on the left.”

“I see,” Wei Wuxian says, looking at the street Lan Wangji indicated and finding nothing strange about it, “So we’re going to speak to the father?”

“No,” Lan Wangji says, “Blacksmith Zheng was the second victim. The magistrate was alerted by his wife.”

“Oh. She’s running the shop in Blacksmith Zheng’s absence, then? Well, let’s go!”

They head to the third street on the left, and the Zheng Smithy is immediately obvious, a sprawling shop of elegant design that nonetheless looks like it has seen better days, with a middle-aged woman in good robes waiting anxiously in front of it. She spots them coming and hurries towards them, smiling a wan smile.

“Hanguang-wang, you’ve arrived!” She says, showing them to the shop, “Please, please, allow me to pour some tea for you and— and this young master?”

Wei Wuxian sees her looking hesitantly at him, and he bows with his hands cupped together. “Prince-Concubine Mo. Please pay no attention to me, Madam Zheng, I will not obstruct the investigation.”

“Ah, no such thing, no such thing! Please, Hanguang-wang, Prince-Concubine, come inside,” Madam Zheng leads them through the inside of the smithy, past the shopping area where pre-made items are displayed, across the hall where they pass the warm doors of the forges, and into a too-bare sitting room.

On the way, they come across a couple of young men with soot stains on their faces that watch them with wary eyes, but Madam Zheng shoos them away, throwing an apologetic glance at Lan Wangji.

“My husband’s apprentices,” She explains. “It’s been hard on them too. They are only wondering if this won’t be another false hope. After all, it’s been more than a month since the first cultivator came and yet there’s been little progress. We haven’t been free of misfortune since my A-Yan’s betrothal…”

“Mn.” Lan Wangji lifts the hems of his robes and kneels down at the table, and Wei Wuxian sits next to him, keeping his presence muted.

“But of course, when I heard that it was Hanguang-wang coming this time, I could finally sigh in relief!” Madam Zheng hurries to assure, “It’s only that those boys are young, they don’t know anything yet.”

Lan Wangji nods silently, and one of his attendants takes over.

“Madam, could you tell us more about this misfortune?” The attendant asks, “You came to the magistrate to request for an imperial cultivator about a month ago, yes? It was to investigate your daughter’s ailment, if I remember correctly.”

“Yes, that is correct.” Madam Zheng pours tea into two cups as she sighs, and an attendant takes the cups to bring them to Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji. “The misfortune, ah, it’s not related to this but— a few months before the marriage would happen, A-Yan’s fiancé was killed in a fire. And then, a few days later, A-Yan was… I didn't expect it to be anything other than a minor curse or some unlucky haunting when I asked for a respected cultivator…”

As she speaks, Wei Wuxian investigates the logistics of raising his veil in the correct way while still managing to drink his tea, and he feels marginally successful when he doesn’t spill anything. He’s been told that the act of revealing one’s chin to eat is very alluring and mysterious, but Wei Wuxian doesn’t seem to be feeling any of those right now. He mostly just thinks it’s inconvenient.

When he looks back up, Madam Zheng’s face is twisting despondently as she sits down across the table, folding her hands together on her lap. “My A-Yan went to sleep one day, and then she never woke up again,” She chokes out, “Her eyes open, body cold… other than being able to breathe, she was no different from dead, she was…”

“Her soul was stolen,” The attendant finishes.

“That’s what the respected imperial cultivator said, when she diagnosed A-Yan,” Madam Zheng nods. “And then, afterwards, after my husband fell into the same condition… A-Yan woke back up again, but she’s been— different.”

“Different..?” The attendant asks, “Different how, if I may ask?”

“She’s—”

“Ah! Young Missus! The Young Missus escaped again!”

A crash and a giggle resound in the hallway, and the door crashes open. A girl twirls as she slams her arms wildly at the broken door, entering the room with a jerky leap. It takes Wei Wuxian a long moment to realise that she’s dancing. There is an odd expression on her face; calm and serene and smiling, but completely empty.

Zheng Yan, Wei Wuxian assumes. This must be what Madam Zheng meant when she said that Zheng Yan became different.

“A-Yan,” Madam Zheng chokes out, hurrying to catch her daughter’s uncontrollably dancing form, “A-Yan, oh dear! Honourable Hanguang-wang, Prince-Concubine, my daughter’s state is as you can see, could I trouble you to wait at the shop while I—”

She cuts off when Zheng Yan makes a one-legged twirl and kicks a vase down.

“Yes,” One of Lan Wangji’s attendants says, wide-eyed, “Yes, of course. There is… no hurry.”

With difficulty, Madam Zheng and a harried matron that comes running after Zheng Yan manage to herd the still-dancing girl towards the side so that they can pass through the door.

They leave, and Wei Wuxian gets up with his brows furrowed. He can’t decide what he finds more troubling about this; the state of the girl or the fact that her soul was returned. A soul-devouring beast is unlikely to want to, or be able to, return a soul that it has already eaten.

“Wangye,” Wei Wuxian starts to say, turning back towards Lan Wangji, “Do you think—”

Lan Wangji is frozen halfway to rising to his feet, leant against the table to hold his weight up, curled over himself. His breathing is laboured. His free hand is shakily covering his mouth. 

He looks terrible.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian breathes out, shocked, before he rushes to Lan Wangji’s side and supports him up. When Wei Wuxian pulls him to lean against his shoulder, slipping his arm around Lan Wangji’s waist, Lan Wangji wavers on his feet but doesn’t resist. He slumps onto Wei Wuxian’s side with the entirety of his weight.

This, more than anything, alarms Wei Wuxian.

“What’s wrong? Are you sick?” Wei Wuxian demands, before shaking his head and focusing on the more important matter. “Come on, we’re going back to the Imperial Palace. You need a doctor.”

Lan Wangji has to take in two careful breaths before he manages to reply, “The case.”

“The case!” Wei Wuxian exclaims, disbelieving, but then he notices Lan Wangji wincing and he makes an effort to quieten his voice. “Be reasonable, Lan Zhan! You can’t work like this. What case? You need to rest.”

“It’ll pass,” Lan Wangji says very certainly, “Within minutes.”

Wei Wuxian glares at him. “I’m supposed to be the reckless one, Lan Wangji. Come on, we’re going back. Your attendants can question the victims. Right?”

The attendants look panicky and confused, and when Wei Wuxian tilts his head tellingly at them, they only look at him with wide eyes.

Right?” Wei Wuxian repeats, and when there is no response he just shakes his head. “Right. One of you, go have the coachman bring the carriage here! And the other will help me support Wangye out.  Then you’ll go question the victims and write down a report. Come on! Wangye’s wellbeing depends on you!”

That manages to startle one of the attendants out of his statue-impression so that he bursts into motion, running out to fetch the carriage. When he gestures at the other attendant, the other attendant also blinks back to life. He comes to take Lan Wangji’s other arm, helping support him out of the room.

In his actual body, Wei Wuxian would have easily been able to lift Lan Wangji into his arms to carry him out, and he rues the fact that this weak untrained body can’t even hold the man up alone. He can’t wait for the day when he has muscles again. The very day he cultivates his core, he’s going to prove himself by princess carrying Lan Wangji around.

For now, though, additional manpower serves the same purpose: the purpose of taking Lan Wangji back to the Imperial Palace with or without his consent.

In the end, Lan Wangji gives up on resisting and lets Wei Wuxian bundle him up and drag him home. As far as Wei Wuxian is concerned, that right there is enough proof that he should indeed be worrying.

On the way back, he collects even more proof: Lan Wangji squints when there is too much light. He swallows often when the carriage rocks too much, as if he’s queasy. His shoulders are tightly wound, and his face twitches just the tiniest bit whenever someone talks too loudly outside.

Wei Wuxian raises his hand to put it gently on Lan Wangji’s arm, whispering to avoid causing him any pain; “You can lie down, Lan Zhan, you know? That’s what laps are for! And I distinctly remember that I owe you a lap-pillow from the last time we rode to the Palace. No reason to feel awkward about it!”

Lan Wangji gives a tight shake of his head. That’s all he gives.

“Okay— okay, if you don’t want, that’s fine too,” Wei Wuxian assures him, even as he hates this feeling of helplessness. Give him a demon or a ghost any day. Even imperial scheming, he can deal with. But a sickness? He’s completely useless. He can’t defeat a sickness and he can’t talk his way out of a sickness, especially not someone else’s sickness.

He misses Wen Qing with a sharp ache.

They reach the Silent Wing in record speed, but Wei Wuxian still feels like it’s taken them days to arrive. When they enter through the gates, an imperial physician is already waiting for Lan Wangji in his rooms, having been alerted by one of the servants. Wei Wuxian had only thought of it at the last second, but thankfully the physician must have hurried.

Lan Wangji settles down on the bed, and the physician immediately pulls up Lan Wangji’s sleeve and reveals one graceful wrist to take his pulse.

“Please describe your symptoms, Hanguang-wang.”

“Nothing drastic,” Lan Wangji says, and he does indeed sound like he got much better after a few minutes, “A minor headache and nausea.”

Wei Wuxian, having ripped off his veil, narrows his eyes at Lan Wangji. “He almost fell over, and couldn’t stand without support,” He tells the physician, “Winced at loud sounds and was bothered by bright lights. This concubine humbly believes that while Wangye’s symptoms may have been brief, they were strong.”

The look Lan Wangji shoots Wei Wuxian is almost betrayed.

“Hmm,” The physician says, eventually, “Well, whatever it was, it has clearly passed. A small illness might have caused the tangle in Hanguang-wang’s spiritual energy, which would explain why he couldn’t heal himself properly. I’m surprised, though; Hanguang-wang, have you not meditated to clear the knot? It should have disappeared easily with meditation…”

“I have,” Lan Wangji replies, after a moment’s pause, “It seemed to have cleared.”

“Have you been overworking perhaps? It’s not impossible for cultivators to experience common maladies if they’re stressed or tired,” The physician says before pulling out a small basket from a qiankun pouch. “Have a servant brew this and drink a cup every day before meditation, and try not to work too much. If your symptoms persist or change, make sure to call for me immediately.”

“Yes, Laoshi,” Lan Wangji bows, “Thank you for coming so quickly.”

“Of course. Hanguang-wang is my long-time patient, how can I not hurry to his side?” The physician’s smile is wry. “Please rest well and meditate.”

With that, and a low bow to both Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian, the physician leaves the room.

“The case…” Lan Wangji begins with a quiet voice, but Wei Wuxian shakes his head.

“Your men can do the questioning, and we can review the reports from your room,” Wei Wuxian huffs, “Just focus on getting better you ridiculous man. A cultivator of your level getting sick because of overwork! Seriously, Lan Zhan. It’s ridiculous! You're ridiculous! If you keep trying to work, I’m going to be very angry!”

Lan Wangji looks at him for a long time. When he nods this time, it seems almost like his face has lost several edges, getting squishy at the corners of his features. Wei Wuxian frowns. That expression on Lan Wangji’s face, it really makes one feel like he’s not taking Wei Wuxian seriously!

“You will rest and get well,” Wei Wuxian repeats, putting his hands on his hips the way Wen Qing used to, “Okay?”

“Okay,” Lan Wangji says, softly.

The expression only grows squishier when Lan Wangji gets scolded, but Wei Wuxian has to admit defeat on that front.

It’s not like he can tell Lan Wangji to stop looking happy.

 


 

For the rest of the day, Lan Wangji visibly feels better and his headaches pass fast and easy when they do come. Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi come visit when they hear that their beloved Hanguang-wang has gotten sick, but they leave looking much less worried after they see that he’s looking no different from usual.

Everyone involved is convinced that it was a passing cold after all.

Then, the next day, Lan Jingyi comes running to Wei Wuxian’s rooms where he’s having his training-ponytail deconstructed. Both running and entering a concubine’s rooms are probably against several rules. Lan Jingyi hardly looks like he cares.

“Senior Mo!” He exclaims, face pale and eyes wide, still panting from his run, “Come quick, Senior Mo! Hanguang-wang— it’s Hanguang-wang!”

Wei Wuxian pushes himself up, shaking off his maids’ hands. Lan Jingyi immediately catches his sleeve to drag him through the halls. “What happened?” Wei Wuxian asks as he follows after the boy, trying to both be quick and sound soothing so that Lan Jingyi stops freaking out gives him a sufficient report. “Calm down Jingyi. Take deep breaths with me, come on.”

Lan Jingyi takes two deep breaths.

“Alright, good enough,” Wei Wuxian says, “Now tell me, what’s wrong with your Hanguang-wang?”

“He— this morning— he was supervising our training for the official junior cultivators’ nighthunt this week,” Lan Jingyi manages, and then he takes another gulping breath to say; “And then he collapsed. Sizhui said to go get you so I ran but wasn’t it just a cold? Senior Mo I’ve never seen, Hanguang-wang never just falls over! That’s for inferior cultivators! This is Hanguang-wang!”

“Jingyi. Calm down, Jingyi. I get it,” Wei Wuxian says. “I understand.”

“What do we do?” Lan Jingyi asks, plaintive.

Okay, Wei Wuxian thinks. Lan Zhan is out of commission. Everyone else is either kids or servants. That makes Wei Wuxian the only adult ranked high enough to order people around.

Fuck.

“Has someone sent for a physician?” Wei Wuxian demands. The sharp and snap attitude that they all ended up cultivating during the Wen Rebellion starts taking him over. When Lan Jingyi nods in response, Wei Wuxian asks; “Is there anyone with Hanguang-wang right now?”

“Sizhui and the servants went to carry him to his room,” Lan Jingyi says, his own voice steadying a bit at Wei Wuxian’s cooled, calm response. “And the physician is coming too. I sent a servant myself!”

“Okay,” Wei Wuxian says again, and they round a hall to finally get to Lan Wangji’s quarters, where two harried servants immediately let them in. “Okay. You did well, Jingyi. Come on, let’s see how Wangye’s doing.”

They enter Lan Wangji’s bedroom.

The room is hushed despite the many people standing at the sides, waiting upon the sick master of the household. The windows have been covered by thin curtains, and the room is lit grey by the shadowed sunlight. The wide canopy bed in the middle seems to be exerting all the weight of a mountain over everyone inside the room. 

Wangye is doing, it seems, not that well.

Wei Wuxian crosses the room with silent steps and stops next to where a miserable-looking Lan Sizhui is sitting at the edge of the bed.

Lan Wangji is lying under the covers, still dressed in his day clothes and forehead ribbon, though it seems that someone has at least taken off the embroidered and jade-encrusted outer layers. His hair is loose around his head, softening the already vulnerable image of his unconscious face; his pursed lips and trembling eyelashes, his laboured, hoarse breaths.

It’s been so long, years upon years, since Wei Wuxian has seen Lan Wangji anything close to vulnerable. Maybe in those cracks and crannies of the Wen Rebellion that no one ever speaks of, when they were all tired and hungry and in pain, and it felt less like they were supressing a rebellion and more like they were waging one of their own, and even Lan Wangji had seemed to be breaking apart where he stood. Maybe not even then. Maybe just that one time, after the Wen indoctrination, when they were stuck in that water cave with only each other and the demon Xuanwu.

Wei Wuxian leans over the bed to put his palm gently over Lan Wangji’s cheek. It’s hot and clammy, a light sheen of sweat on that soft skin that didn't appear even when Lan Wangji was fighting against hundreds of spirits in the Mo Estate. “A fever.” Wei Wuxian murmurs to himself, exasperated. “Really, Lan Zhan?”

Lan Wangji does not reply. Of course he doesn’t. He’s unconscious.

Wei Wuxian sighs.

There is a shift next to him, and Wei Wuxian turns to look at Lan Sizhui. The boy has burrowed his fingers into the blanket, clenching his hands so tightly that he might rip the sheets at any time. He’s watching Lan Wangji with the most shaken expression on his face, and Wei Wuxian remembers Lan Jingyi —I’ve never seen, Hanguang-wang never just falls over. Lan Sizhui is probably completely unused to seeing Lan Wangji so weakened; even more so than Wei Wuxian.

Obviously, this cannot be allowed to stand.  

“Aah, how can this be!” Wei Wuxian exclaims loudly enough to startle Lan Sizhui out of his morose contemplation, and he continues to complain; “Wangye has caught a common cold. This concubine will have to do such terribly difficult things to heal him of his minor illness, things like feeding him porridge and placing wet cloth over his forehead! Oh, woe is me.”

“Senior Mo!” Lan Sizhui whispers urgently, making hushing motions, “Senior Mo, Father is sleeping, you mustn’t be so loud!”

“Oh no!” Wei Wuxian whispers, recoiling back in a dramatically horrified manner. “How could I have forgotten that! Ah, Wangzi, you must stay by my side and remind me these things while we nurse Wangye back to health, alright? Otherwise, I might truly worsen Wangye’s illness from a small cold to a medium cold, and then we would have to not only feed him porridge, but even soup!”

Lan Sizhui’s tightly downturned lips twitch. If there ever was an expression between brooding and suppressing-laughter, then surely this expression on Lan Sizhui’s face would be it. “I don’t believe it’s possible to worsen a small cold by making some noise, Senior Mo,” He says, and his shoulders seem to loosen as he says the words ‘small cold’.

“I see, I see. Wangzi is so knowledgeable,” Wei Wuxian nods along, “Have you caught many colds, to be so wise in the ways of sickness?”

Lan Jingyi, from where he’s standing unobstructively by the doors, bristles. “Senior Mo, that’s rude! You’re really asking Sizhui how many colds he’s caught?”

“I am seriously asking him.”

Lan Jingyi’s face is fallen in bewildered anger. “It’s none of your—”

“It’s fine, Jingyi,” Lan Sizhui shakes his head, before smiling at Wei Wuxian, “When I was really young I got a terrible fever and after that, I was a bit of a weak child and caught colds very easily, at least until I managed to form a core. So it is true, that I’ve caught many colds.”

“Then,” Wei Wuxian says grandly, as if he has decided a matter of great import, “Wangzi will instruct us on how to care for Wangye’s cold until he’s gotten well. What are your orders, Wangzi?”

“Uh. My orders?” Lan Sizhui hesitates, “Wait for the physician to arrive?”

“Wonderful decision!” Wei Wuxian beams, and he sits down next to Lan Sizhui on the bed, “And what shall we do in the meantime?”

“Um… Senior Mo should probably finish dressing,” Lan Sizhui says awkwardly, looking everywhere but at Wei Wuxian. “Before the physician is here at least. The servants are having difficulty averting their eyes.”

Wei Wuxian blinks, and with a sudden realization, he raises his hand to touch the loose hair spilling down his shoulders and off the bed. It’s half-damp with sweat at the roots, not washed after his sword practice. He’s still in his inner robes.

“Oh,” He says, “Yes. I should—”

Lan Sizhui makes a sound of assent.

“I’ll get going then.” Wei Wuxian scampers back to his room.

 


 

It’s probably indicative of Wei Wuxian’s luck that he exits Lan Wangji’s bedroom, crosses one hall, and he immediately comes across Lan Xichen walking with a horde of attendants, bringing along the imperial physician from yesterday.

“Ah,” Wei Wuxian says. He bows. “This concubine greets His Imperial Majesty.”

He’s still in his inner robes with his hair loose.

But the way Lan Xichen and the servants are all trying very hard to look at the walls and not towards him… it’s kind of funny. Wei Wuxian forgot to bring his fan with him though, unfortunately, so he has to make sure to supress his amusement.

“Uh, yes,” Lan Xichen manages to say, still looking at the walls, “Good afternoon, Xuanyu. You are very…”

undressed. Wei Wuxian swallows back his laughter.

“My greatest apologies, Your Majesty,” He says, bowing again, and his loose hair trickles down without his permission. “I failed to notice my state as I left my rooms. This concubine has been improper.”

“Oh.” Lan Xichen says. There is something surprised to his tone. “You were coming from Wangji’s rooms.”

“Yes. Jingyi-gongzi alerted me that Wangye collapsed before I had finished getting dressed,” Wei Wuxian nods ruefully, “I apologize for my inattention.”

Lan Xichen’s face warms in a smile. “You must have been worried,” He says.

“I… yes,” Wei Wuxian breathes out forcefully. “Wangye is resting in bed if His Imperial Majesty wishes to see him, but he’s unconscious with a fever. If it will not offend Your Majesty, I will hurry to return and serve tea in his place.”

“The servants can do that. I’ll be staying with my brother, there’s no need to entertain me,” Lan Xichen shakes his head. He looks worried, which is as it should be. Wei Wuxian feels worried too. “I won’t keep you any longer, Xuanyu, please feel free to go get changed.”

“Of course, Your Majesty. Thank you,” Wei Wuxian says, and he bows again, waiting for Lan Xichen to lead the imperial physician away. The two of them and all of their many servants disappear into the hall in front of Lan Wangji’s rooms.

Speaking of Wei Wuxian’s luck:

“Prince-Concubine Mo!” Comes running a servant just as Wei Wuxian is turning around to go on his own way. “Prince-Concubine, there is an important guest at the doors! Please instruct this servant on what to do.”

Wei Wuxian swallows back the strangled sigh that arises within him. He once again turns around with a sweet smile on his face. “I don't understand why you came to me with this? Please do as you normally do.”

“No, no, how can that be? In the absence of a spouse, the highest ranked concubine is the ruler of the inner household!” The servant says, bowing, “Wangye is unable to answer, so this servant cannot make a decision without Prince-Concubine’s opinion. I told the guest that Wangye is ailing, but he insisted that his errand was short and of paramount importance. We didn't dare turn him away. Shall we let him in? Or should we send him away?”

Wei Wuxian huffs out a long breath. Fine.

“Who is it that’s being so inconsiderate?” Wei Wuxian asks, crossing his arms over his chest, “Wangye is sick, so we obviously can’t let guests in! That should be common sense.”

“It’s the Border General,” The servant says, shaking his head, “He says that he has forgotten something in the Silent Wing that he absolutely cannot delay reacquiring.” The servant pauses, and then he leans close to hiss; “It’s the border reports!”

Wei Wuxian feels something mixed between dread and amusement. Nie Huaisang, that fool. This country is clearly doomed if Nie Huaisang continues to be left to rule the borders.

“Alright, you invite him in,” Wei Wuxian says, “I’m going to get dressed and greet him in the receiving hall. Serve him tea and whatever else he wants, and also send someone to search for those reports.”

“Yes!” The servant says, bowing again, “Thank you, Prince-Concubine Mo!”

Wei Wuxian shakes his head and leaves.

When he returns to his room, he is —as expected— scolded thoroughly by his maids. They make it up to him by letting him wear his black and red robes even though the Emperor is going to be around, instead of the white and blue it-represents-the-imperial-family,-Master! robes that they usually insist upon. Although it could also be because of their mistaken impression that Lan Wangji likes red and black and they’re hoping to cheer their sick wangye up.

With that done, Wei Wuxian’s led to the receiving room where Nie Huaisang was told to wait.

Nie Huaisang… well he certainly looks anxious. He’s tapping his fan to the table at an extremely quick pace, and he clearly hasn’t touched his cup of tea. Every once in a while, he turns to glance at the darkening weather outside, the roiling clouds and the increasingly louder wind. The receiving hall seems to be covered in a stressed, ditzy energy.

“Duke Nie,” Wei Wuxian greets with a small smile, and Nie Huaisang’s eyes snap to him.

“Ah, Prince-Concubine Mo!” Nie Huaisang says, clearly trying to smile back, and he gets up to bow back. “Thank you for taking the time to meet me.”

“It’s no trouble at all, Duke Nie,” Wei Wuxian says politely, and as Nie Huaisang sits back down, he also sits across the table, folding his hands together. “I’ve asked several servants to search for your… belongings. It’ll be found soon I’m sure, don't worry.”

“Thank you, ah, thank you so much,” Nie Huaisang says, crying a little, “Ah, you couldn’t believe how scared I was when I couldn’t find it. What would His Majesty say, if he heard that I lost the border reports? Oh but— did Lan-xiong hear? He will go tell the Emperor right away!”

“No, no, there’s no need to cry,” Wei Wuxian insists, waving his hands in front of him to make Nie Huaisang calm down. “Wangye is sick with a cold, Duke Nie, so he didn't hear anything. It’s only me and you who know.”

“Oh, thank Heavens! Mo-xiong— can I call you Mo-xiong? Mo-xiong, I was so worried,” Nie Huaisang babbles, and he hurriedly pulls out a handkerchief to blow his nose as he makes a big gesture with the other hand. “I don’t know how I left those behind, I really don’t know. You see, I just get like this sometimes, I completely forget what I was doing and focus on whatever else is happening. And with that super terrifying arm flying around, believe me when I say that I couldn’t even remember my own name. Let alone the border reports or such!”

“I… see,” Wei Wuxian says. “Yes, well. It was quite scary, wasn’t it?”

“Mo-xiong is the only one who understands me,” Nie Huaisang complains, “And anyways, don’t you think it’s so unfair? None of the other dukes don’t have to write so many reports all the time, I bet. You know, today while I was in the playhouse, I heard some people say about Duke Jiang and his reports; that he’s always so busy hunting down and torturing demonic cultivators—” He gasps, “Ah, but I shouldn’t say it, I shouldn’t say it!”

Wei Wuxian is completely frozen for a moment. His whole body feels weird, like he has swallowed his own heart whole, big and nauseating. Hunting and torturing, hunting and torturing, hunting and torturing. Wouldn’t the perfect example to hunting and torturing be what Wei Wuxian had done to Wen Chao?

And isn’t that a funny coincidence? Isn’t it funny, that Wei Wuxian had hated Wen Chao more than anyone else in this world, more than he had thought he was capable of? Isn’t it funny that to Wei Wuxian, Wen Chao’s sins against his family had been immeasurable, impossible to repay? Isn’t it funny that Wei Wuxian would chase Wen Chao to the ends of the Earth, wouldn’t let him take a single peaceful breath for the rest of his life, if he ever found that Wen Chao has magically returned to life? Isn’t it funny?

It’s practically hilarious.

Demonic cultivators are all an extension of Wei Wuxian’s existence on this world. They are Wei Wuxian’s reflections cast on otherwise real, breathing people.

They are perhaps… reflections that, to Jiang Cheng, might even be close enough.

Wei Wuxian rips away that line of thought and manages to force out a laugh of his numb lips. “Ah, you stopped just in time,” He jokes, “Duke Nie must have suddenly remembered that it’s forbidden to gossip in the Imperial Palace!”

“I really just forgot for a few seconds, Mo-xiong, don’t tell Lan-xiong,” Nie Huaisang begs, but there’s a lighter, relieved thread to his voice. “Oh but more importantly, I think you said that Lan-xiong is sick? How can that be? He’s such a powerful cultivator! How is he feeling?”

“He just has a fever,” Wei Wuxian replies, “It’s nothing too bad, no need for Duke Nie to be worried.”

“Worried? Of course I have to be worried! Lan-xiong is one of my bestest friends,” Nie Huaisang says, and he turns big, wide eyes to Wei Wuxian. “Mo-xiong, you’re sure it’s just a sickness right? I was at the playhouse just now— ah I said that already. Well, what I mean is that I was watching a play, maybe you’ve heard of it? The Death of the Duke?”

“…yes,” Wei Wuxian says, raising his brows, “I’ve seen it.”

The Death of the Duke. Back when he first heard of it, it was a Lanling-based play that was getting more and more popular after the Wen Rebellion was supressed, to the point where even Wei Wuxian, who spent most of his time after the war all the way in Yunmeng, drinking his days away, eventually got the chance to see it.

It was a comedic story about a lecherous, greedy duke from some imaginary country. Said lecherous duke had clearly been modelled after Jin Guangshan, but no one dared to say it outright in fear of enraging the man. Long story short, as the play progressed the duke became increasingly more brazen and out of bounds until he finally killed himself trying to bed thirty women at once.

It had been pretty funny. Even more funny was the fact that apparently Jin Guangshan went out of his way to fulfil it, actually going and dying in bed with too many prostitutes.

Wei Wuxian has no idea what it has to do with Lan Wangji’s sickness.

“But this was a different version!” Nie Huaisang says, leaning closer until he’s able to whisper urgently to Wei Wuxian, “In this one, the duke is poisoned slowly to death by the many illegitimate children he had mistreated, and then his death is framed as if he died taking too many women! What if it’s like that?”

Wei Wuxian’s brows go even higher up. “So… Duke Nie is afraid that Wangye isn’t sick, but being poisoned?”

“It’s possible!” Nie Huaisang cries, looking almost comically scared, “I don’t know, I really don’t know! What if it is?”

“But Duke Nie,” Wei Wuxian pauses, “Ah, this one hasn’t been in the Palace for a long time, but couldn’t an accomplished healer easily identify the symptoms of mortal poisons? I understand that perhaps the play was taking a bit of a creative license?”

“I don’t know, don’t ask me,” Nie Huaisang shakes his head, drawing himself back, “Maybe it was a spiritual poison, maybe, how could I know? It— it was just a question, okay? I’m worried about Lan-xiong…”

“Yes, I understand,” Wei Wuxian says softly, trying to sound calming, and he smiles; “But Duke Nie need not worry! Wangye is so strong, where would there be a cultivator that could create a spiritual poison strong enough to affect him? I’m sure it’s just overwork, like the imperial physician said.”

“But, but—”

“Prince-Concubine Mo, Duke Nie!” A servant calls from the doors, beaming. He bows down low enough to bend his body, showing the stack of papers in his hands. “This servant has found the papers for Duke Nie!”

“Ah, um,” Nie Huaisang says, and he looks between the servant, Wei Wuxian, the servant, Wei Wuxian again, before letting out a small breath. His shoulders unwind, and he hurries to his feet to get the papers from the servant. “Ah, right, right. Thank you so much!”

“Is that all the papers, Duke Nie?” Wei Wuxian asks, only somewhat dubious, “Perhaps you should check to see if anything is missing…”

“No, no, no need!” Nie Huaisang laughs, already scampering off. “I have to go now if I am to catch the next play before it starts! Thank you again, I’m so sorry for the inconvenience. Please send my best wishes to Lan-xiong! I hope he gets well soon!”

And then he disappears with his attendants.

Wei Wuxian sits at the table, watching the closed door. He turns to look at Nie Huaisang’s cooled down, untouched cup of tea and the untouched plate of sweets on the table. Outside, the storm is picking up, wind howling through the trees.

“He was acting weird,” Wei Wuxian whispers to himself, quiet enough that even he can barely hear it. “…he was acting weird.”

It seems that despite appearances, even Nie Huaisang hasn't stayed the same.

Evidently, nobody has.

Wei Wuxian shakes his head and takes the sweets and the tea as he gets up, opening the doors with his foot. The servant there startles when Wei Wuxian dumps those in his hands. “Throw all of this away,” Wei Wuxian murmurs, “Don’t let anyone eat them.”

“Uh— yes! Yes, of course.” The servant bows his head. “Can this servant do anything else, Prince-Concubine?”

“No, thank you,” Wei Wuxian says, before something occurs to him. “Oh actually, please get someone to tell Wangzi and Jingyi-gongzi that I would like to take my meals with them for a while, at least until Wangye is better again. I want to make sure they aren’t too lonely. And ah, tell my head maid to come to Wangye’s chambers to speak to me about an important matter. I’ll be there to take care of Wangye.”  

As a good concubine, he obviously has to keep a proper bedside vigil until Lan Wangji is fine again, doesn’t he?

Chapter Text

 

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?”

“Yes!”

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.”

“Hm?”

“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.

“Lan Zhan?”

“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.

Oh no.

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.

Spider silk.

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.”

Oh.

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.”

“Mn.”

“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.”

“Mn.”

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.”

“Mn.”

“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.

TBC