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Wrong Turn, Right Place

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Wei Ying had no idea where he had taken a wrong turn, but somehow without paying attention he had gotten lost on his way from the store. He did like taking unexpected routes every now and then whenever he had the time, for sure, but this amount of shift in the surroundings was pretty disconcerting.

Where did all the trees come from? Was he in a park? Where was there a park this fancy near where he lived? Wei Ying’s neighborhood could hardly be called  safe,  not to mention  high class.

That was why the extempore trip to the store was out of the ordinary, too. He hadn’t been mugged since moving in with the Wens a year ago. Yet. Around here, it was only a matter of time.

So he had been a little insane for going out at eleven pm! That was very in character for him. And in his defense, he had projects to finish and essays to write, and the deadlines were less creeping up and more whamming down on him, and there were only so many hours in a day, and Wei Ying could not, absolutely could not, drop out now!

For the last four nights, he’d kept himself going with one meal a day and four hours of very fragmented sleep. There was still so much to do, so he needed to stay up. That necessitated energy drinks.

Only now he was walking through a forest that could not have possibly existed in the general region of the ramshackle concrete hell where he lived.

One moment he’d crossed the street, glancing at the glowing ball of a street lamp. Then downward, where the paving was no paving at all, and instead a path, and when he looked right back up, the lamp was a luminous full moon.

And there were trees.

So, the stress of the year had clearly gotten to Wei Ying a little. He’d dissociated and walked past the familiar blocks into the prettiest mountain…park...place in all of Shanghai, and this was fine. Wen Qing would strangle him for taking so long and worrying her, but that was a problem for future him.

Current him was getting a little bit worried. The path led upwards, and distantly Wei Ying wondered whether he should turn back instead of continuing to climb up what seemed like an actual mountain. Next to his neighborhood. In urban area.

It took him a while, but after a while, the path opened into a courtyard, and Wei Ying could only stare dumbstruck at the intricate, ancient-looking buildings standing before him. God, had he stumbled into a monastery? These were definitely temples. Gorgeous, pretty temples that were totally a tourist trap that charged a fortune for a one-day ticket.

He squinted, wondering if there was a polite way to go knocking into a random monastery’s door at midnight and ask for directions. Was anyone up? Wait, no, did anyone even live here?

Like on cue, Wei Ying felt someone’s gaze on him. Immediately more alert, he turned around and searched for a pair of watchful eyes.

“Wow, what the fuck,” came out of his mouth unbidden.

Up a wall, against the shine of moonlight, was the most ridiculously handsome man Wei Ying had ever seen. Like, level ‘underwear model after two hours of photoshop’. Except that the man was very much clothed, and the glow of the white hanfu might have knocked all air out of him if the cold, expressionless beauty of that face already hadn’t.

Fuck, he had totally walked into a set, hadn’t he? The beautiful, ethereal-looking actor in his period piece outfit was pissed and waiting to tear him a new one if the expression was any clue.

One moment the man was up, and then, the next second, he had gracefully  jumped from the wall  in front of Wei Ying, who, only by the strength of his will, did not scream in alarm.

He did yelp a little. But very manfully.

“No entry after sunset,” said the man, and his voice was deeper than Wei Ying could’ve guessed. Now that he saw him closer, he noticed the little ribbon tied around his forehead. Cool. “How did you get past the wards?”

Wei Ying blinked at the guy. Wards? Was he a method actor or something?

“Good evening to you too! Pretty moon, isn’t it?” Wei Ying flashed a winning grin but was met with an impenetrably blank face. Huh. Usually, Wei Ying’s charms were a foolproof way to get out of trouble. In the frigid reserve of the man’s posture, Wei Ying had found his foil.

He was going to get stared into intimidation, wasn’t he?

The grin didn’t disappear completely but turned just a little self-deprecating. “Uh, well, I think I took a wrong turn somewhere? Honest to god, ten minutes ago I was walking between skyscrapers. I have no idea where the, uh, the trees came from. This was supposed to be a quick trip to get some energy drinks, not, like, accidental trespass into someone’s filming set. Or monastery! Is this a monastery? Are you a monk? Because wow, that face is wasted on celibacy. If you guys do that here.”

The rest of Wei Ying’s sentence trailed off, his usual tidal wave of words dying out when he noticed the man was very clearly not listening to him and instead just kind of staring at Wei Ying’s thighs where they peeked under his slightly too small basketball shorts. The man was exceptionally hard to read, but if Wei Ying had to guess, he would’ve said the look was horrified.

And then, like being unfrozen, the man jerked his face away. He seemed to have straightened his already rigid posture even more.

“Indecent,” the man hissed.

“I, wait, what?” Wei Ying turned to look at his outfit, and to him, despite the shorts being kind of short, it wasn’t improper. He had a t-shirt on. The night was very hot, besides. He’d had to put on his hair in a long ponytail to make it not stick onto his sweaty skin.

Still, maybe this was some kind of monastery rule. He’d been to Italy once, and you weren’t supposed to go to any churches without covering your shoulders. So.

Wei Ying lifted his hands apologetically. “Look, sorry I stumbled into your monastery with bare knees or whatever. But there’s no one to offend right now except you! So it’s fine, right? If you could just tell me where I am and then maybe point me to the nearest metro station, that would be cool.”

The man frowned but did not look at him still. “You do not know where you are?”

“No! I have no clue. I mean I’ve been pretty checked out lately, but this is the first time I’ve actually gotten lost two blocks from my apartment. It’s honestly insane.”

The frown deepened. “You are lost.”

“Yes! As stated!” Wei Ying let out a breath of relief. Finally, some progress. This conversation had been like walking through a thigh-deep puddle of mud.

“You are in the Cloud Recesses, Lan clan’s residence in Gusu,” the man said, then, eyes still staring pointedly away from him. Wei Ying, in turn, bored his eyes straight into that handsome profile.

“...Where?”

“Is there something wrong with your hearing?” the man asked, and Wei Ying could not tell if that was a joke. Normally he would’ve appreciated humor to lighten the situation. Now he didn’t find it really all that funny.

Where the hell were the Cloud Recesses? He’d never heard of that name. He thought Gusu was maybe a district in, like, Wuxi? Or Suzhou? But that couldn’t be it. They were completely different cities.

“I, uh, sorry, is Gusu somewhere in Shanghai?”

This made the man glance at him, but like burned, he immediately turned away again. Wei Ying was starting to worry.

“I do not know where Shanghai is. Down the mountain is Caiyi town. You must have passed it on your way here.”

“Caiyi town…?” Another place Wei Ying had never heard of. Fuck, what kind of tiny blackout had he experienced? He was pretty sure he would’ve known about a monastery close to his home. He was good at navigating the city, and he was good at remembering important places.

There was a moment of silence, where Wei Ying had a small, tiny mental meltdown. As a university student, he was used to those. The plastic bag he carried felt suddenly desperately heavy on his hand.

“Why are you not dressed properly?” the man asked, stopping Wei Ying’s silent fall into total insanity with a hearty amount of confusion.

“Look, dude, I don’t know when you last left this monastery, but outside people don’t wear robes all the time,” Wei Ying defended. He felt sort of offended for his thighs. Surely they weren’t  that  difficult to look at?

“I night-hunt frequently,” the man replied, tone cold. “This is the first time I have seen a man clad so scantily in public.”

Wei Ying, who had seen plenty of beer-bellies hanging about in the hottest days of the summer found this a little hard to believe. He, however, got hung up on the first part of the comment.

“What’s night-hunting? You shoot deer after dark?”

There was a pause. “You have not heard of cultivators?”

“Like, from the dramas or whatever?”

The look that was leveled at him seemed disbelieving, even when it also looked like the guy did not move his facial muscles at all. Wei Ying was starting to get tired of this conversation. He just wanted to go home, alright? The essays didn’t write themselves. Wen Qing didn’t have anyone to murder for worrying her if he didn’t show. Time was money.

When it seemed that the man would not answer, Wei Ying spread his arms. “Look, I don’t know where this is. Can I at least borrow your phone? I’ll just, just call my roommate to inform her I’m not dead in a ditch, and then I will walk back down the mountain and leave you alone. I’ll just…sleep under a tree or something.”

He was definitely being frowned at again. “I am not familiar with your vocabulary. What is a ‘phone’?”

Wei Ying stared. The handsome man stared back, eyes carefully on Wei Ying’s face and not an inch lower. Then Wei Ying brought his palms up to rub his eyes, sighing miserably.

“No phone, no clue about where I am. The world’s hottest monk is judging me for wearing shorts. Fuck, maybe I am a disaster.” His voice was muffled, but he could tell the hot monk had heard him.

The man hesitated for a moment. “It is not wise for a non-cultivator to wander around after dark.”

“Right, probably not,” said Wei Ying. He didn’t know about the non-cultivator part (because it was insane), but the thought of climbing down a mountain after midnight did not exactly inspire confidence. With his luck, Wei Ying would probably stumble and knock his head and drown in a mountain spring.

“...You may stay for the night. In the morning, you will be issued a punishment for breaking in after dark. Once that is done, you are free to leave.”

“Hey, woah, wait just a minute! A punishment? Isn’t that a bit unreasonable? I didn’t know about any such rules.”

“That will be taken into consideration when designating the punishment.”

How could such a handsome man be so stringent? Wei Ying was too tired for this. He nodded once, already making a plan about sneaking out come morning.

“Fine, fine. I’ll take the punishment. But isn’t it still a bit unfair to make guests follow your monastery’s rules? I’ve made no vows.”

“This is not a monastery,” the man only replied.

Wei Ying frowned. “It’s not? What’s with the rules, then? And the robes? No, wait, did you say Lan clan? Is this a cult? Did I stumble into a cult?”

The man glared at him. Wei Ying snapped his mouth shut. He definitely did not want to lose the privilege of staying the night.

“Follow me. And be quiet. It is after curfew.”

Wei Ying zipped his lips, but the man had already turned. He did not check if Wei Ying followed. For a split of a second Wei Ying entertained the thought of just going back the way he came from, his inevitable demise at the hands of a mountain spring be damned, but in the end, he submitted. Everything would surely make more sense in the morning.

 

-

 

Things did not make more sense in the morning. Actually, by the time Wei Ying finally woke up, it definitely wasn’t even morning anymore. The light was hitting the floor at an angle that meant more midday than eight am.

It took Wei Ying embarrassingly long to remember where he was, considering that his own home looked nothing like the elegant, minimalistically decorated house the hot monk had led him into. All the dark wood and flowy curtains gave an air of sophistication that Wei Ying was only familiar with from his childhood with the Jiangs.

In his apartment with Wen Qing, his room was cramped and messy, and the frame of his bed was always creaking. The bed he was lying on was carved from wood and probably cost more than Wei Ying’s tuition.

It took a while for his brain to turn on, but by the time he was squinting at the ceiling last night was already back on his mind. In the clear daylight, it felt like a fever dream. No matter; this was the first time in ages he’d gotten a good amount of sleep, so there would definitely be an improvement in his cognitive skills.

Had he actually blacked out for a while and accidentally traveled somewhere far? Brains could do weird shit when you slept too little. Wen Qing had told him all about that once when he’d been sure he’d seen Jiang Yanli on the other side of the street staring at him when he waited for the bus.

Well, grief and sleep deprivation.

Anyway. Wei Ying was in a not-monastery with an incredibly handsome not-monk, and he should probably start with his grand escape plan if he wanted to avoid the punishment. Which this not-monastery apparently was keen on issuing him.

Wei Ying dragged himself up just in time to hear a knock on the door. He quickly straightened his clothes, giving a long look at the robes neatly folded on the table next to his bed. The man had brought them without a word, and by context, Wei Ying could figure they were meant to be worn.

He would not wear limb-covering clothes in this weather. It was about a thousand degrees outside, even up here in the mountain.

“Are you decent?” asked a familiar voice from the other side of the door.

“Sure,” replied Wei Ying.

The door was opened, and after one betrayed, sharp look closed with a loud thud. Wei Ying probably shouldn’t have found that funny.

“Lying is forbidden,” came the admonishment.

Wei Ying glanced at a window, wondering if he could still manage to sneak out. The tiniest twinge of guilt gnawed at his chest. The man had, after all, helped him, so should he really pay it back with that kind of stunt?

Sighing, Wei Ying pulled a robe over his current clothing. It was a little too big for him, but he could feel the material was higher quality than he’d ever worn before. It was white, obviously borrowed from the man’s personal closet, and detailed in intricate white embroidery.

There were two other robes as well, probably to go under or over. Wei Ying was sure one was enough, and if not, he would just bear the scorn. The heat was less easy to tolerate than the cool glare of his handsome savior.

“Okay, I’m clothed now,” Wei Ying called out. “No indecent slivers of thigh in sight. No one’s virtue is getting besmirched.”

This time, when the door opened, Wei Ying was ready. Or so he thought. The man, when he stepped in, was wearing a kind smile on his face. His jaw dropped.

“What! He smiles!” Wei Ying gasped. The delight was quickly squashed, as another man stepped after the first one, piercing him with a familiar glare.

“Lying is forbidden,” the man hissed, and the other one, his twin perhaps, looked like he was stifling his amusement. “Dress properly.”

“How many layers does a man need?” Wei Ying couldn’t help throwing his hands up in exasperation. “You don’t even see any skin!”

The man kept glaring, but the other one stepped a little closer, smile again under control. “It would indeed be better if Young Master could wear the appropriate layers. Us Lans are particularly strict when it comes to the matters of propriety.”

Wei Ying mouthed the words ‘young master’, his mind momentarily blanching. Seemed like the fever dream had not ended. He went back to the ‘clan’ thing, wondering if he’d actually really gotten mixed in with some kind of a cult.

It wouldn’t do bad to at least attempt to be polite. The smiling man seemed like an important person. Wei Ying bowed slightly, saying, “Yeah, okay, I’ll put on the robes. Don’t want to shock any, uh, Lans, I guess. Oh, and just call me Wei Ying.”

This made both of the men blink and stare at him. Wei Ying got the distinct feeling he had stepped in the wrong again and got a confirmation when the smiling man’s smile turned a little stiff.

“Ah. I’m honored. This one is Zewu-jun, Lan Huan, courtesy name Xichen,” he said, bowing back. “My brother here is Hanguang-jun, Lan Zhan, courtesy name Wangji.”

Wei Ying laughed. “What, no way! Titles? Courtesy names? Very cool. Are your parents, like, super traditional?”

He was met with a silence so ringing that after a while it started to become too awkward even for him. But before Wei Ying managed to disturb the quiet with nonsense chatter, Lan Xichen turned to his brother.

“I see now what you meant, Wangji. Very curious, indeed,” he said. Then, to Wei Ying, “You do not have a courtesy name?”

“No, I’m just Wei Ying. Originally from Wuhan, recently moved to Shanghai. Well, a year ago. A business major, if you couldn’t guess! Don’t you just see me in a suit, haha?” Wei Ying flashed a grin, turning back to the robes to do something with his hands. Pulling one on seemed like a worthwhile pursuit, at least to get Lan Wangji – Lan Zhan – to look at him properly.

The pause was long as the brothers digested his words.

“A business...major. Merchant, then?” asked Lan Xichen, and his voice was unsure.

Wei Ying let out a burst of laughter at that. “Merchant! Oh, I love that. Makes it sound like I’m studying to become a humble little tea seller instead of a cog in the capitalism machine.”

Surprisingly, another layer of cloth didn’t feel all that worse in the end. It was a light and silky piece of fabric, after all. Wei Ying pulled on the third one, turning back to Lan Xichen and Lan Wangji, who were now staring at each other, having some sort of wordless conversation.

“I know what you’re thinking! Surely this man is way too handsome and intelligent to become a slave to corporations? Yes, you are right. I would be a great technical engineer slash underwear model, but I’ve made a promise I intend to keep. Speaking of which-- can you give me the punishment now, so that I can leave? I have deadlines.”

The men’s attention turned back to him, and somehow the look in them made Wei Ying just a bit wary.

“Master Wei, you mentioned you are from a place called Shanghai,” Lan Xichen said. “Which sect overlooks that area?”

Wei Ying, now clad in three layers of white silk, stared. He could not even start to comprehend that question. “I...the government, I guess? What do you mean, which sect?”

Lan Xichen and Lan Wangji glanced at each other again. There was a sense of dread, then, like the brothers were seeing something that he wasn’t, that he was no in on whatever was happening, and it made him uncomfortable.

Lan Xichen, clearly the more sociable of the two, turned back to him with a gentle look in his eyes. “Would you perhaps answer a few questions, Master Wei?”

Wei Ying frowned. “Sure.”

“You live in China.” This was phrased like a statement, but Wei Ying nodded anyway.

“Yeah.”

“Who is the emperor?”

Wei Ying wanted to ask if that was a joke, but the brothers didn’t seem like the type to goof around at a moment like this. Or ever.

“We’ve…we’ve got a president? The last emperor was Puyi like a hundred years ago. We watched a documentary about Xinhai revolution in history class when I was like, fifteen. Wait, was that a trick question? Are you testing if I’m insane?”

Yep, that was definitely concern in the kind eyes of Lan Xichen.

“I think we will need to relay this to Uncle,” Lan Xichen said to his brother. “Wangji, will you...”

Lan Wangji nodded, then turned his eyes – wow, had they been that kind of golden the whole time? – to Wei Ying. Lan Xichen left without another word, leaving the two of them alone.

“Do not be alarmed,” Lan Wangji told him stiffly, and Wei Ying, for all that he tried, could not help feeling like his heart was going to double over.

 

-

 

“Where are you going?” Lan Wangji asked, two steps behind him, no matter how fast Wei Ying walked down the path.

“Well, seeing as I’ve stumbled into a monastery of insane people , away  is my first priority. Then, perhaps,  far away,”  Wei Ying said. His hands were shaking. The plastic bag full of energy drinks rustled against him and his stupid, stupid robes. “This has been fun! Please don’t prank the next innocent lost wanderer like this.”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji said. “The world down this mountain is not the one you came from. You may get hurt.”

Wei Ying stopped, his grip on the handle of the plastic back tightening. His heart wanted to jump out of his chest. “Is that what you tell people to make them not leave? God, is this actually a crazy cult? Am I being brainwashed right now? Tell me you don’t actually believe I’m going to trust you after that thing about magic?”

“Cultivation,” Lan Wangji corrected.

“Flying swords,” Wei Ying hissed. “That’s magic! It’s stuff that’s believable to kindergartners!”

“I do not know what a kindergartner is.”

Wei Ying groaned, rubbing his eyes again. This was a nightmare. This was worse than the time he accidentally ate a painkiller from Wen Qing’s first-aid bag that definitely was not a painkiller and also made Wei Ying’s reality shatter.

He continued walking. There was a moment he thought Lan Wangji had stopped following, but then, on the periphery of his vision, a flash of white appeared. Higher than it should have.

Wei Ying stopped again, mouth agape. Lan Wangji was-- the guy was levitating on a piece of metal. No, a sword, that was definitely a beautiful sword with a carved handle and-- and the mean-looking, beautiful man was standing on it and staring at him with an intense look like he might just grab Wei Ying and fly him back up to the stupid mountain full of insane people.

Insane people who could fly on a sword.

Wei Ying was maybe, sort of, panicking a little.

“Stop. That is a trick. This is-- am I in a prank game show? Please, it’s not funny anymore. I...I have deadlines,” he said. And maybe his voice kind of broke.

“Do you want me to take you down the mountain?” Lan Wangji asked. His voice sounded neutral, and his face looked just the same, but Wei Ying might’ve imagined some kind of pity in the amber of his eyes.

“You know what? Sure. Pick me up on your sword and fly me to the-- to the ancient village at the bottom of this mountain, and show me that this is actually some sort of gruesome, cultivator-filled xianxia universe.”

Lan Wangji nodded, then pulled him up onto the  flying sword.  His hold on Wei Ying was stiff and painfully impersonal, but for the time it took for them to fly down, Wei Ying was thankful for it.

Even more so, when the town at the bottom of the mountain turned out to be just that; a town, bustling with people who looked like period drama extras, selling their fruits of labor, laughing and chattering, and all the while Wei Ying’s brain sort of turned itself off.

On their way back, Wei Ying started laughing, and couldn’t stop until they were right back in Lan Wangji’s house, the one he called Jingshi. Then Wei Ying promptly announced he was going to take a nap and deal with this afterward.

 

-

 

“Ugh, Lan Zhan, did you bring me an authority figure?” Wei Ying whined, groggy and sleep-addled still.

There was a man standing next to Lan Wangji,  Lan Zhan,  and he looked old and haughty and just the type of person that would have an objection to Wei Ying’s general existence. He’d had those sort of people as teachers before. Needless to say, he wasn’t a fan.

The old man’s eyes were sharp as they narrowed at him. “Do not address my nephew so familiarly.”

“Why? Isn’t it fair, since he calls me by my given name?” Wei Ying asked, climbing out of the bed.

This was followed with outraged splutter and swift turning of the head from the old man’s part and aggravated sigh as well as closed eyes from Lan Zhan.

“Shameless!” spat the old man, while Wei Ying picked up his discarded robes and started pulling them on.

“Not to stomp on your Victorian purity standards but my bare knees are not going to steal your chastity.” Despite this, he made sure that the robes were fastened appropriately. “Besides, isn’t it bad conduct to just walk in someone’s bedroom while they’re still sleeping?”

“Bedtime is from nine to five,” Lan Zhan stated, stilted. “Furthermore, I had not realized Wei Ying had stripped again.”

“Oh, so it’s fine to barge in on a sleeping person when they’re under three layers. Gotcha.” Wei Ying tied the final belt. “Okay, the danger is over, no one has to take responsibility now if they open their eyes.”

Wei Ying was beginning to feel the main communication tactic between Lans was glaring. The old man’s eye twitched, while Lan Zhan looked more exasperated. Maybe. It was really hard to tell with the guy.

“Ah. Perhaps it would be prudent to sit down for a conversation,” came Lan Xichen’s voice behind them. The man soon appeared behind his brother in the doorway. “Wangji, why don’t you serve us some tea?”

A moment later Wei Ying was sat at a low table between Lan Zhan and Lan Xichen, the old man on the other side still glaring at him. Wei Ying glanced at the bag with his energy drinks but did not say anything when he was being served tea with the same amount of grace and dignity as in traditional tea ceremonies.

Wei Ying stared at Lan Zhan’s long fingers as they held his full sleeves out of the way while he poured the tea. His hands were big. Probably to complement the broad shoulders.

The old man cleared his throat. “You may address me as Grandmaster Lan, Lan Qiren. While your...background explains the flaws in your conduct, it does not excuse them. During your stay in the Cloud Recesses, the rules apply to you as well.”

Wei Ying sipped his tea, wondering whether this was hell. If he had accidentally taken a wrong turn and instead of crossing realities, he’d crossed at the wrong part of the street and gotten hit by a truck.

“Wangji and Xichen have explained what has happened, and as per the clan’s rules suggest, we will attempt to rectify this unfortunate situation and send you back to wherever you came from as swiftly as possible,” Lan Qiren continued, voice almost deceptively impassive.

They were going to help him back, at least. The cultivators with their magic swords. Wei Ying took another sip of his tea, wondering if they could send him back in time as well. So that he wouldn’t fail another course with missed deadlines.

“As is only proper of us Lan, the matter should be settled with no excess tardiness. Xichen and I shall consult our vast archives. Meanwhile, Wangji has promised to make sure you will not further trouble the peace we much value here in Gusu.”

“Cool. Great. Awesome,” Wei Ying said, and then because he couldn’t help but push, “I promise I won’t seduce anyone with my knees.”

The stare Lan Qiren leveled at him was unimpressed, to say the least. “There are punishments, should you happen to forget yourself.”

“Right, like, cleaning duty?”

“Disciple paddle, for one,” said Lan Qiren with an evil glint in his eyes.

Wei Ying bristled. “What, for hitting? You guys are medieval!”

“The punishment matches the crime. Often it is not needed.”

Wei Ying had a whole speech about retributive vs. restorative justice at the tip of his tongue, but before he could start spitting facts at the self-important goat on the other side of the table, he happened to see the expression on Lan Zhan’s face.

Now that he thought about it, Lan Zhan had really been a huge help in all of this, no matter how much the helpfulness didn’t show on his cold, unperturbed face. And this dude was his uncle.

Wei Ying held himself back, swallowed, and nodded. Took a sip of the tea with the most tolerant smile on his face he could muster.

Then, he cleared his throat. “So, you guys have any theories? Do people often cross realities around here? Where I come from, that stuff happens only in sci-fi movies.”

At the blank stare of the others, he clarified, “Kind of acted stories. Theater. About futuristic stuff.”

“Yes. Well. Not as of yet,” Lan Xichen said. “This is the first time something like this has happened, as far as we can tell. It is highly unusual. Our library holds great amounts of knowledge, however. I’m sure we will find an answer.”

Lan Zhan had mentioned his brother was a sect leader, which made him important. It figured his general presence would inspire reliability.

“Okay. Good. Thanks for letting me hang around in the meantime.”

The smile on Lan Xichen’s face seemed genuine. “Of course. Helping in these kinds of situations is our duty as cultivators.”

“Cool. So let me know if you need any help with that.”

 

-

 

Wei Ying was frankly pretty relieved once Lan Qiren and Lan Xichen left. The entire day had him emotionally drained.

At the best of times, Wei Ying was not great at expressing negative emotions. He was generally good at adapting, and things didn’t really get to him whenever they were expressly affecting only himself.

But it had been a long few years. And it had been even longer thirteen months. So this whole thing where he accidentally found himself in a cultivation world full of demons and monsters and sect business was kind of a breaking point for him. Personally.

So he didn’t mind at all that the mean old man left him in peace, and while Lan Xichen seemed kind and helpful, there was a distance of politeness that created a familiar wall he knew intimately from the childhood spent in the social circle of Madam Yu’s rich friends. He’d felt every forced courtesy back then.

Lan Zhan, it seemed, didn’t hide behind courtesy. No, the guy was openly annoyed at and confused by him whenever he managed to get a crack in the mask, which, in addition to being hilarious, felt refreshingly honest. This added to the fact that Lan Zhan was the least expressive, coldest ice statue of a person made the whole thing kind of feel like a challenge to him.

And while accidentally crossing dimensions was a problem, a hot person who was exasperated by Wei Ying was a challenge. And challenges were a great way to keep his mind from going into self-destruct mode.

“So,” Wei Ying stated into the sudden quiet of the Jingshi. “All alone, just the two of us. You want to do something fun?”

Lan Zhan didn’t dignify that with an answer, which made Wei Ying laugh.

“Too bad! I have energy drinks with me. From the, you know, future. Kind of. Different reality future? Do you think that this is the same world, but like, magic just stops working at some point?”

Lan Zhan didn’t reply and instead walked to one of the shelves, pulling a thick book from it. Although, with the grace and dignity of an immortal, which he apparently was, the walking was more like gliding, and the pulling the book was more like making the book levitate into his hand, and the silence that hung around him felt only awkward in the sense that it left Wei Ying to hear the rapid speed of his own heart against his ribs.

Lan Zhan settled at a desk, opening the book from the very start.

“Sit,” the man said, and sounded very hot and authoritative, so Wei Ying did.

“What’s this? A rule book for reality travelers?”

“It is a rule book,” Lan Zhan confirmed, turning it around for Wei Ying to see. “Of our clan. Start copying from the first page.”

“I...what? The entire book?”

“Yes,” Lan Zhan said. “This is your punishment for breaking through wards after sunset. Like I said, after your punishment, you will be free to go.”

“What? You can’t be serious! Lan Zhan, I will die! Do you know that in the future no one even writes with a brush anymore? Or actually, even with a pen? We have keyboards! We type, like regular people,” Wei Ying whined. “How many rules are even in here? There’s no way someone could live by all of these!”

“Three thousand,” Lan Zhan replied. “What is a keyboard?”

“You know what? I’m not going to tell you.”

“That is fine.”

Wei Ying huffed but took the brush and the paper that were placed before him. So, this was practically like free calligraphy practice. With your friendly neighborhood other-reality old-timey cultivator.

He wished that later there would be more hands-on studying. If not only because sitting next to the most handsome, most disinterested man in the world, Wei Ying was starting to feel like the meditative qualities in writing characters was not what they cracked it out to be.

 

-

 

“Do not rise after 5 am,” Wei Ying groaned from under the blankets. “It says so in the book. I read it. It’s after 5 am-- I will not rise.”

“You are deliberately misunderstanding the rules,” Lan Zhan stated, the heartless man.

“Do not make assumptions,” Wei Ying countered. “How do you know I’m not just stupid?”

There was a sound that might’ve been a soft sigh. “The breakfast is being served. Yours will get cold.”

Wei Ying pressed his face into the pillow, a moan of agony pushed into the fabric. He’d gone to bed with the smallest hope of waking up on his own couch with the knowledge to never try any of Wen Qing’s pills again. No such luck.

This wasn’t a bad trip. This was a very improbable dimension traveling.

He might’ve wanted to cry, but that was starting to become difficult as well. Wei Ying wasn’t really one to wallow. Bouncing back was probably in his DNA, considering that his entire life so far had been nothing but getting his ankles broken and continuing walking.

Lan Zhan was waiting at the table when he finally dragged himself out of the room, robes a little loose and askew, but on all the same. He yawned loudly, stretched, ignored the devastatingly cold look Lan Zhan sent his way.

Despite looking that way, wasn’t he just a little bit softhearted for letting a stranger camp out in his personal dwellings? Wei Ying could’ve been a thief. Or a murderer. Then again, Lan Zhan had magic and, uh, those shoulders. And, like, a few inches on him. So he probably wasn’t seriously worried about him being a threat.

Wei Ying knew he was an inconvenience, though. That, also, had been static in his life. Madam Yu didn’t need to expressly state it, though sometimes she did, but it had been evident from the, well, everything in his childhood.

It was very hard feeling bad about it in Lan Zhan’s presence. Whenever Wei Ying got a reaction out of the guy, the fun of it was ten times more intense than the discomfort of his being here.

“Do not slouch,” Lan Zhan corrected immediately after he settled down to eat.

“Aiyah, Lan Zhan, I’m putting all of my effort on not falling over. I’m never up this early. I mean, I’ve often been up this  late , but this would normally be the time my roommate would force me to sleep.” Wei Ying eyed the food in front of him. Yesterday it had become evident that these people did not, in fact, know about the existence of spices, or the enjoyment one could get out of food. It seemed his long lecture about Sichuan pepper had not been received appropriately.

“No talking while eating,” Lan Zhan said, and this was one other thing that Wei Ying had definitely not agreed on.

Still, he’d learned that Lan Zhan would not react to anything he said no matter how he tried while they ate. It was honestly impressive. Although, now that Wei Ying thought about it, Lan Zhan didn’t seem to react to anything much at all. He clearly wasn’t a talkative man by nature, and the rules enforced here probably didn’t help with that.

Wei Ying decided to start the day without giving Lan Zhan a reason to kick him out just yet. He didn’t quite manage to be completely silent for the entire duration of the meal, but he did pretty well in his own estimation.

Half an hour later Lan Zhan had only reminded him of the rules twice.

“You know, this is the first time in...” Wei Ying squinted. “My entire life, probably, that I’ve slept and eaten according to health books for more than a day. Two days in a row, I might just start living up to my potential!”

Lan Zhan didn’t look at him, gathering the empty dishes on a tray.

“Wen Qing – my roommate – keeps nagging me about it. Like, ‘please eat a carrot, Wei Ying. You won’t live to see your thirties if you don’t stop pulling all-nighters like this, Wei Ying. Do not eat that rice cake, holy shit, it’s growing mold, are you stupid, Wei Ying’. You know, doctor stuff.”

This earned him a blank stare with a kind of concerned tilt of an eyebrow.

“Oh, she’s in medical school. Like, to make people not sick. Healing and such,” Wei Ying said, and immediately got the vibe that Lan Zhan was somehow judging him again.

“You share an accommodation with a woman,” Lan Zhan said, very judgily.

“Sure.”

“Whom you are not married to,” he continued with the same tone.

“Yu-huh,” Wei Ying replied, fully knowing where the judgment was coming from and yet undecided on whether he should start blowing this ancient dude’s repressed mind with some progressive views of the future.

“Are you,” Lan Zhan said, pausing for a moment before continuing, “planning to.”

“Oh, wow, no. Definitely not. We’re friends. Also, both of us play for the other team.” Wei Ying stifled a snort at the look from Lan Zhan. “No, I’m not going to explain that one. Anyway, you should know that it’s normal in the future. Or in my reality.”

“I see,” Lan Zhan said, still sounding judgmental. Less,  I see, that sounds reasonable,  and more,  I see, you are a man of debauchery and ill morals, and I shall treat you accordingly.

Wei Ying couldn’t help the burst of laughter that escaped him. “Lan Zhan! You totally think I’m sleeping with her, don’t you?”

His face stayed still, but the tips of Lan Zhan’s ears brightened into redness, and the angle of his eyebrows sharpened slightly. “Shameless!”

“What, you totally do!”

“It is abundantly clear to me that--  promiscuity  is unthinkably prevalent in your time,” Lan Zhan hissed, and while he looked like he was going to continue, he instead snapped his mouth shut and turned away.

“Haha, is this about my shorts again?”

Lan Zhan did not answer.

“Oh my god, I’m getting slut-shamed,” Wei Ying stated, kind of wonderingly. Was this how women felt whenever they got comments about wearing a skirt outside?

A piercing glare. “Your vocabulary is obscene.”

“Hey, woah, aren’t you the one who’s implying that? How come you can suggest that I’m, like, a complete whore for having bare collarbones and a female roommate, and then when I call you out it’s me again who’s acting indecent?”

The ears were now completely red, and Lan Zhan definitely would not look his way. The guy was gripping his knees with undue force, guessing from the whitened knuckles.

Wei Ying was starting to feel kind of bad.

“Ah, hey, don’t be mad at me. I know I’m pretty shameless by modern standards,” he said, gentling his tone. “I figure from your framework I must seem like a lunatic.”

“...”

Wei Ying pulled up three fingers, placing his other hand over his heart in a pledge. “I promise nothing untoward is happening between me and my roommate. Our feelings towards each other are very, um, familial. Brother and sister type of way. And I’m not going to apologize for wearing period-appropriate clothing. So you’re just going to have to deal with the image of my naked skin in your brain for the rest of your life.”

After a long moment of silence, Lan Zhan nodded with what was not quite yet an appeased look. “Mn.”

“Don’t you have any female friends? It can’t be that uncommon here either,” Wei Ying asked despite himself. He probably should’ve let the conversation die its natural death, but sometimes he could not stop pressing.

“The sexes are separated in the Cloud Recesses,” Lan Zhan replied, still stiff.

Oh. That explained a lot.

“So do you think you won’t be able to control yourself once you see a woman?” Wei Ying asked gleefully.

He wanted Lan Zhan to say something stupid in reply, such as  ‘I’ve seen a woman before!’  but no such luck. The man merely glared at him, ever-enduring. “Ridiculous.”

“Sounds like that to me,” Wei Ying said. “If it’s so hard to believe I’m sharing an apartment in a completely platonic way with my female roommate. Who, by the way, is absolutely terrifying.”

“You have already stated you do not.” Finally done with the dishes, Lan Zhan stood up with the tray smoothly. “Lying is forbidden. Should something come up that proved the contrary, punishment would follow.”

“How could you even prove anything, though?” Wei Ying asked at Lan Zhan’s retreating back. “Besides, wouldn’t it be kind of insane to punish me for a thing I’m not even currently doing? I can’t be unvirtuous if I’m not currently practicing promiscuous acts. Do you punish people for past transgressions? How long is a crime applicable for punishment? Hey, Lan Zhan! Don’t ignore me, this is a serious question! Lan Zhan!”

 

-

 

The Cloud Recesses were kind of insane. Lan Zhan, as a man of few words, clearly found it easier to just show him around than to answer the thousand and ten questions Wei Ying had bubbling on his mind, so now Wei Ying got to see the nonsense first-hand.

He was ready to conform to the morals of a different time period, of course. He didn’t want to actually get thrown into a lake for his questionable ethics. But Lan clan, as stated before, was sort of insane.

Like the three thousand rules and segregation by sex weren’t enough, their enforcement of those rules was buckwild. Not only was there actually a discipline paddle, but that wasn’t even the most common form of physical punishment. They made the disciples stand on their hands.

Like, upside-down. While copying the rules.

They passed a bunch of red-faced teenagers serving their punishment, and Wei Ying couldn’t even comment because the sight was so bizarre.

The xianxia things he could easily absorb and even enjoy, as it was the part that fascinated him the most. Wandering around the beautiful courtyards he could pretend like he was actually visiting a set of some period drama. Something about romance and immortals and grave danger. Maybe something produced outside of the mainland, where there would be a lot of explicit scenes.

People here were all very graceful and ridiculously good-looking, so it was only expected his mind would stray just a little to that. All the repression around here didn’t help either.

That train of thought disappeared with no trace after they passed what seemed to be a class of tiny little Lans having practice sword fights, an older disciple correcting their poses and giving directions, and Wei Ying couldn’t help himself from cooing in delight.

At the wide-eyed, flustered looks the kids sent his way, Lan Zhan chastised him for being a distraction, and they continued on.

So, everything to do with the swords and magic and talismans and such was cool. Then there were other things.

Lan Zhan, he realized, was kind of a big deal around here. Now it had been obvious from the start that the guy was  insanely  good at controlling himself, from the way he held that posture perfect and walked with no movement wasted, to the way he rarely opened his mouth and whenever he did, it was with the gravity of an emergency announcement.

But outside the Jingshi, it seemed like he was unreachable. Untouchable. An emperor walking among peasants, gracing them with a nod of greeting whenever a disciple passed and bowed for their Hanguang-jun in an expressly reverential way, arms circled and eyes cast.

Wei Ying remembered the silent scorn he felt at Madam Yu’s parties when an older person said something stupid and Wei Ying had to keep his mouth shut out of respect. He wasn’t good with hierarchies. This place was a social nightmare for him.

He guessed the order of precedence went mostly so: at the top were elders and the main family, to which Lan Zhan belonged, and then there were other cultivators, and then, at the very bottom, non-cultivators and one time/dimension-traveler.

His luck was in that it was indeed the seemingly highly esteemed Hanguang-jun by his side. No matter how loud he was, or how many too fast steps he took, none of the Lan disciples did anything to him but stare, mouths slightly agape.

No one dared to criticize Hanguang-jun’s guest. Then again, Hanguang-jun managed quite well at that by himself.

“Do not disturb others,” the man reminded quite coldly after Wei Ying had managed to fluster a Lan disciple.

Who could’ve blamed him! The young man had not spared him a glance when greeting Lan Zhan, so Wei Ying had walked into his personal space to offer his own greetings with a bright smile. The guy had left swiftly after a red-faced, stuttered answer.

“Who’s disturbing someone, Lan Zhan?” His grin widened. “Wasn’t I just being polite?”

“Wei Ying acts familiarly,” Lan Zhan replied, not giving an inch. The stringent sense of propriety was giving Wei Ying hives.

“I would personally call it friendly,” he stated.

“Maybe Wei Ying should not be so friendly, then.”

“Ah, ah, ah! I distinctly remember a rule about being nice to people in the rules rock,” Wei Ying countered, and enjoyed twitch in the corner of Lan Zhan’s mouth pulling down.

The first night there he had somehow managed to miss the rules carved in stone near the entrance, but he’d seen that thing a few times by now. Terrifying thing. Kind of funny, when he thought about potentially going up there to carve some rules of his own.

After a while, it seemed Lan Zhan wasn’t planning to answer at all.

“Aiyah, Lan Zhan, I don’t think my greeting was even that friendly. Do you know, in the future in many places people shake each other’s hand as a greeting?” He carefully watched Lan Zhan’s profile, which didn’t show a sign of even having heard him. “And other places, people kiss each other on the cheeks. Twice or thrice even.”

“Is that what Wei Ying wants to do?” Lan Zhan asked, abrupt.

“That would be very cultured of me, wouldn’t it?” Wei Ying replied, but his attention was straying elsewhere.

“Frivolous,” came the disdainful reply, but Wei Ying was already running to what was clearly a practice field. A selection of swords and bows were placed under a tree, probably waiting for the start of a class.

A newly polished sword with a black hilt caught Wei Ying’s eyes, bringing him back to the happier parts of his youth. Jiang Cheng wiping sweat off his forehead with a sleeve, Shijie on the sidelines smiling at them, eyes twinkling. A burn of strain in his arms, his legs, yet a grin on his face.

“Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, won’t you fight with me?”

Wei Ying ran to pick up the sword, testing its weight. It felt good in his hand. He gave a little swing, delighting in the fact that his muscle memory could pick up right where he’d left off back then.

“It is not wise,” Lan Zhan replied, eyeing his movements with consideration. “My golden core puts me at a distinct advantage.”

Wei Ying guessed that it wasn’t probably entirely about the magic thing. From the way Lan Zhan had been treated with the utmost respect and admiration, his status as a high-class cultivator, Wei Ying figured Lan Zhan was probably a genius with a sword.

Despite this, he sent a challenging smirk at the other, eyes crescenting in glee.

“Ah, Lan Zhan, can’t you just not fight with your golden core? Humor me?”

“Wei Ying has fought with a sword before?”

He shrugged. “A little.”

The silence rang for a while as Lan Zhan measured him. His smile widened just a bit, but he wouldn’t stand down under that stare, and indeed, after a while, Lan Zhan nodded.

He pulled out the sword by his hip, elegant and white, just as the man himself.

Lan Zhan didn’t give him a warning when he attacked, but it wasn’t like Wei Ying needed it. He’d done this his whole childhood, fought with Jiang Cheng in their personal gym, one of the only hobbies Madam Yu had approved for them.

She’d loathed that Wei Ying was so good at it.

The look in Lan Zhan’s eyes, when he parried with ease, was not that of loathing. It was perhaps surprise, or even something more pleased.

“No need to go easy on me,” Wei Ying quipped with a laugh.

Lan Zhan attacked again as an answer, and this time Wei Ying had to put some effort into dodging. Pearls of laughter were the only music they danced to, now, with the push and pull of the fight.

Wei Ying took a step back, Lan Zhan followed easily. A side-step lead to an opportunity that would inevitably miss, because Hanguang-jun was fast, maybe as fast as Wei Ying, maybe even faster. He gave with the same intensity with which he took, answered Lan Zhan’s swings with some of his own.

He hadn’t fought with a sword in over a year. Not since Shijie.

The exhilaration that came with surrendering to instincts only was enough to make him dizzy. Lan Zhan was-- he was insanely good. Better than anyone Wei Ying had ever fought with. He’d once thought there wouldn’t be anyone like that, so sure of his own skill. So young and stupid.

Lan Zhan didn’t even seem to sweat. Like all the swirling and swinging and controlled parrying was effortless. Like he too had learned to fight first, everything else next.

And then Wei Ying got mischievous, as he often did. With a quick swerve he managed to change directions mid-move, and instead of moving away from Lan Zhan, he was suddenly in his personal space, kissing the air next to his cheek.

Lan Zhan’s eyes, in a fraction of a second Wei Ying managed to glance at him, were widened. Then, from the corner of his eyes he saw the instinctive swing of the sword, almost panicked. Wei Ying’s own sword came up to block it without him even registering it, but the angle was awkward. He was sent flying.

Like, seriously flying. As in, he crashed into a three, air punched out of him through the impact. The sword had slipped out of his hands, and for a while, Wei Ying saw nothing but stars.

“Wei Ying!”

Lan Zhan’s voice could’ve almost been described as frightened. One moment Wei Ying could feel nothing but the pain in his back and the dizziness, and then, suddenly, there were strong hands sliding into the small of his back and behind his head.

Weird feeling like electricity was easing the ache where Lan Zhan was touching him. He sighed in relief, blinking away the stars and taking in the frown on the handsome face before him.

“Ouch,” he said, even though the pain had now disappeared into almost nothing. The frown deepened.

“Wei Ying.” Lan Zhan’s voice sounded strange. Tentative. “You said there are no cultivators in your world.”

His hands were still on Wei Ying, doing the weird fuzzy thing, which made thinking a bit hard. Still, Wei Ying nodded. “Yeah. No demons or monsters, either, so it’s fine.”

Lan Zhan’s stare was unreadable again. “We should go to brother.”

“Sure. Why?”

“Wei Ying. You have a golden core.”

Wei Ying snorted, but the look on Lan Zhan’s face stayed serious. Wei Ying blinked. “I….wait, what? I have a what now?”

 

 

“A golden core.” Lan Xichen nodded, fingers on the inside of Wei Ying’s wrist. Checking his meridians. “Exceptionally strong. How curious. You said you fought toe-to-toe?”

“Wei Ying’s skill was considerable,” Lan Zhan confirmed, and Wei Ying would’ve preened under the praise had his whole worldview not been knocked upside down just now.

“I have a golden core? What does that mean?” He looked between the brothers, then to his own chest. Like he could feel something by staring. Mostly, he just felt normal. “Wait, could I become an immortal?”

“Technically, you are one already,” Lan Xichen said. “But only through continued cultivation does one take care of the golden core.”

“How is this possible? Our world doesn’t have immortals. Or cultivators.”

Lan Xichen considered him. “You mentioned you have been practicing sword forms from a young age?”

“Yeah, me and my brother. But that was, like, a hobby. We did it for fun. There are no monsters in the future. Or in our dimension. Madam Yu-- ah, my, my foster mom, she hired us a teacher who practiced traditional sword fighting.”

He thought about the warm feelings that the nod of approval from the man caused. He’d been energetic and eager to learn, and maybe just a bit of a prodigy, which culminated into long practice hours throughout his youth.

There had never been any flying on swords or huge leaps or magic of any kind.

“I see.” There was the tiniest bit of frown on the sect leader’s face. “Well, my working theory is this; you have been practicing traditional cultivation in a world with no spiritual energy. Once you crossed realms, your body adapted to this world in an appropriate way.”

Wei Ying nodded like he understood. He very specifically did not. “Right. Well. Anything else you want to tell me about my body that I don’t know about? Any weird birthmarks? Am I carrying a child?”

At the concerned silence of the two Lans he laughed.

“Oh, come on, it’s kind of stupid. One day I’m just a dude studying business in Shanghai and the next I’ve become some kind of powerful immortal cultivator. I’m allowed to be a little funny about it.”

Lan Xichen smiled gently. “Master Wei..”

“A child,” said Lan Zhan. “Is that a real concern?”

It took him a moment to understand.

“What, pregnancy?” Wei Ying snorted. “Lan Zhan! Do I not look like a man to you?”

With bright red ears and indignation, Lan Zhan replied: “You have told me many ludicrous things about the place you come from.”

“Oh my god.” Wei Ying doubled over in laughter, unable to look at Lan Zhan’s ruffled, embarrassed face. “Oh my god, Lan Zhan! It was a joke! I can’t have kids! I mean, not like that, hahaha!”

Lan Zhan let out a breath that in most people would’ve definitely been an offended huff, but in Lan Zhan it mainly sounded like the smallest little exhale. Lan Xichen shook his head.

“Well, I am glad you two came here, in any case,” the man said, turning to a scroll by the table. “Uncle and I have limited the causes of Master Wei’s predicament to a few possibilities. Neither of them is a quick fix, but...”

Immediately Wei Ying straightened, all ears. “Yeah? What do you think happened to me?”

“There are few records of these kinds of things happening, and the ones concern mostly people who have once left and come back later with stories of places quite different from ours. Often they mention different spiritual objects that grant wishes.”

Wei Ying squinted, staring somewhere past Lan Xichen. He wondered whether he’d been accidentally making wishes to any spiritual objects a few days ago, but could not recall doing any such thing. He didn’t really spend time wishing, anyway. There was so much to do, in his regular life.

He’d been really struggling with school. With his motivation. And ever since he’d lost his cleaning job for falling asleep during a shift, he’d been behind on rent as well. Only through Wen Qing picking up where he fell short did he even have an apartment. If anything, he’d wished he could just…

Wei Ying shook his head. “No, I don’t recall any wish-granting objects. Or even making any wishes.”

“That’s fine. That was not the more likely option, in any case,” Lan Xichen said. “As you’ve mentioned, these things do not happen in your reality. In ours, they might be rare, but...”

“What is the other option?” Lan Zhan asked.

Clearing his throat, Lan Xichen replied, “Ah. Well. There was a full moon the night master Wei wandered into the Cloud Recesses, yes?”

“Yeah,” Wei Ying confirmed. “I mean, once I got here, there definitely was a moon.”

“Some of the stories mention full moon. And, ah. Fated Meeting.”

Ha, a what? Wei Ying blinked, glancing quickly at Lan Zhan who was definitely still staring at his brother. With a very blank face.

“It seems that sometimes certain events should take place, and some meetings should happen, despite everything,” Lan Xichen continued, and didn’t even sound like he was pulling this all out of his ass. “Under the moon, people who are fated to meet see each other the first time. The universe arranges itself to do this.”

Wei Ying snorted. “Wow. Okay. So that’s all very good and even kind of romantic, but let’s be real here; highly unlikely. What’s the third option?”

The sect leader of Lan, in all his grace and dignity, leveled him an exasperated look.

“There’s no third option.”

“Right. So it’s either genie in a bottle or, like, the universe making sure I get laid.”

“Fated Meeting does not necessarily have to mean a romance,” Lan Xichen said, then, weirdly, glanced at his brother. “It merely means that it is important for these people to meet. Often this prevents undue misery.”

Wei Ying flashed back to his life in Shanghai and felt a pang of guilt for it. What he had back then was nothing else but the consequences of his actions.

“There was a mention of a woman who could not bear a child. Then, one day in the moonlight, she traveled to somewhere where she met her soulmate, and he brought her to a healer. Once their son was born they came back, but only to visit.”

“He probably took her to a fertility clinic,” Wei Ying said, and then, “No, wait, hold up! They went back and forth?”

“Indeed. It appears that every year on the day they first met, she could travel between the dimensions, even take her loved ones with her.”

Wei Ying’s brain felt currently like scrambled eggs. No way, this was so dumb. So ridiculous. Extremely funny, but also so stupid.

“So what you’re telling me is,” he started. “I’ve been brought here by the universe, because it’s important that I, like, have tea with Lan Zhan or whatever, and now I have to spend a year here so we can test if this theory holds up?”

Lan Xichen looked like he was battling between amusement and compassion, and the compassion was winning only by a hair. Lan Zhan, again…

Lan Zhan wasn’t even looking at him. The man’s face was entirely blank as he stared somewhere through the window, so far off into the distance that his presence in the room was only physical. Wei Ying felt a lurch in his stomach.

“It is often the case that whatever meaning we give to a subject, it is self-fulfilling,” Lan Xichen said gently. “A Fated Meeting merely means a meeting that is fated to happen. It is an even out of our hands, and thus we should not reflect anything about ourselves on it.”

Wei Ying thought about the bright moon that night. He’d thought it was a street lamp. So dumb.

“Besides the moonlight and the crossing of dimensions, there was one common point between the accounts in the texts. All of the people this happened to were better off afterward.”

And while the words were kind and meant to be comforting, Wei Ying couldn’t help the heaviness settling in his stomach.

“I’m...I’m really going to be spending a year here,” he said,  asked,  and his voice had turned weirdly small.

Lan Xichen nodded. “If there is another explanation, it is something to which our library does not hold an answer. And by all the details of this, it really does seem likely that…”

“Right. Yeah, okay.”

There had been a deadline for an accounting course last night. The completed assignments were supposed to be downloaded to the server by 23:59. Wei Ying had failed that course once already-- it had been a month after Shijie. He was going to fail it again.

Distantly he wondered what kind of mess would await him in Shanghai a year from now. Some aching, ugly part of him was relieved that it had been taken out of his hands, that it was blown for him in a way that had nothing to do with his own shitty choices.

That he could finally stop hanging onto the hope that maybe Jiang Cheng would forgive him if he did this one thing right. That one thing he had promised.

He wouldn’t graduate, he realized now. He would not become a stupid business major, and Jiang Cheng would never forgive him.

“Ah, fuck,” he sighed. He could feel the wetness in his eyes, but he refused to blink and let it overflow into tears. Turning away from Lan Xichen and Lan Zhan, he rubbed it away onto the crisp whiteness of his sleeves.

“Master Wei,” Lan Xichen started, and the awful edge of pity was enough for Wei Ying to force his mouth around the shape of a smile.

“I’m fine, I’m fine, no need to get all sad for this,” he stated, managing to keep his voice stable. “It’s a year, right? A year is a short time. No time at all, in fact. Plenty of things to do in the meanwhile.”

He turned back to the brothers, both of whom were now searching his face for...something. Lan Zhan’s mouth was a thin line, the gold in his eyes tinting dark. His hands were held behind his ramrod-straight back.

Wei Ying let out a laugh, and if it sounded a little weird even to his own ears, that was fine. “Ah, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, this is bad news for you, isn’t it? You have to play house with me for a year.”

After a momentary pause, Lan Zhan replied: “I do not mind.”

That, out of all things, got Wei Ying feeling a little choked up. A little better.

“Cool,” he replied, and while the smile was a little wobbly now, it was at least genuine.

So, what was a year? Wei Ying straightened, dusting his robes a little like it would do anything to the grass stains he’d obtained during the sword fight. A year’s worth of free lodging, sword fights, and no business school. He very resolutely did not think about how worried Wen Qing, and by now, Wen Ning definitely were.

A year off his shitty life in Shanghai? Sounded like a dream to him.