Wei Wuxian is talking about nothing in particular. His whole body hurts—especially where he was shot by that panicked GusuLan cultivator and the still-blistering burn on his chest where Wang LingJiao had pressed the iron seal. Lan Wangji is even worse off with his now broken and chewed up leg. At least he’s not alone.
“Did you know I tried to raise a baby bird with my shijie before?” Wei Wuxian says. “But it really hated me. Like hated me-—even more than you do—well, you don’t hate me that much anymore, right, Lan Zhan?”
Lan Wangji never speaks much even on a good day, and under such circumstances, he’s being even quieter than usual. So Wei Wuxian is talking about anything and everything that comes to mind, trying to keep both their minds off the pain and how they’re probably going to die down here, which is, he’s pretty sure, one of the top ways Lan Wangji doesn’t want to go—stuck with Wei Wuxian in a dirty cave.
“Where are you going? Don’t leave,” Wei Wuxian blurts out and grabs his arm when Lan Wangji moves. “I’ll stop being so annoying.”
Lan Wangji gives him a look. “Is that possible?” he says.
Wei Wuxian laughs. “Is that a joke, Lan Er-Gege?” he asks. It hurts, but he moves closer to Lan Wangji, still holding onto his arm so he can’t get away.
Lan Wangji tries to move further, but he hisses as soon as he shifts his leg. In the end, Wei Wuxian wins, leaning against Lan Wangji’s side and smiling up at him. “Lend me some warmth, Lan Er-Gege. I sacrificed my robe for you, didn’t I? I know you hate to be touched, but Xian-Xian is cold too, you know.”
“Shameless.” Lan Wangji sends him a glare but stops trying to dislodge his grip.
Wei Wuxian grins and snuggles closer, holding onto Lan Wangji’s arm and ready to put his head on his shoulder. “That’s more like it, Lan Zhan, be good to m—OW!” Wei Wuxian yells when Lan Wangji suddenly and without warning sinks his teeth into his arm, cutting off any other thoughts he has. “Ah stop! Stop stop stop!”
Instead of letting go, Lan Wangji sinks his teeth in even deeper and Wei Wuxian starts getting flashbacks to all the times he’d been bitten just like this by the stray dogs on the streets he used to fight for food. “Ow! Ow! Ow! What are you a wild dog? Stop biting me!” Wei Wuxian shrieks. “I’m going to kick you—I’ll really kick you even if you’re injured! Stop! I’ll go away! I’ll go away! Stop biting me!”
His heart is pounding out of his chest when Lan Wangji has apparently satisfied himself and finally lets go.
Wei Wuxian immediately scoots several steps back to put himself safely out of reach of Lan Wangji’s teeth. “What was that for?” he demands, nursing his now-sore arm.
“Thanks,” Lan Wangji says as suddenly as the bite came. His voice is quiet and low, his handsome face half hidden in the shadows of the flickering fire. After a moment, he adds, “How is your arm?”
“How do you think it is? Do you think I’m not injured enough?” Wei Wuxian massages his sore arm. “This will leave marks for sure.”
“Let me see,” Lan Wangji says.
Giving him a wary look, Wei Wuxian slowly inches back over and holds out his hand.
Lan Wangji takes it, surprisingly gentle, and traces the clear imprints of teeth marks in the soft flesh of his arm. Wei Wuxian’s face begins to burn, feeling overly sensitive everywhere he touches. It takes every ounce of restraint to keep still.
Lan Wangji frowns. “Not deep enough,” he says.
Wei Wuxian snatches his hand back. “Just how deep do you want to bite me?” he demands.
“Until it’s permanent,” Lan Wangji says.
In hindsight, that’s probably the moment Wei Wuxian falls in love.
Over a week later, Wei Wuxian wakes up back in Lotus Pier with one hand gripped so tight to Lan Wangji’s sleeve that his fingers are cramping, and the other wrapped around a large, bumpy rock.
It takes a few minutes of chaos and confusion before Wei Wuxian stops yelling and kicking, and only because one of his kicks lands on Lan Wangji's leg, and his sudden hiss of pain shocks Wei Wuxian out of attacking everything within reach.
“Lan Zhan! Lan Zhan, are you okay? What happened?” Wei Wuxian says, eyes wide as he stares at Lan Wangji.
“A-Xian, you’re safe.”
Wei Wuxian turns so fast the room spins, and it’s only because Lan Wangji catches him and props him up that he doesn’t fall again.
Jiang Yanli’s face is in front of him when his vision stops spotting, and he blinks at her concerned expression. “A-Xian, calm down,” she says. “You’re home. You’re safe.”
“If they hadn’t kicked you out of GusuLan for giving Jin ZiXuan a black eye, it was only a matter of time before they kicked you out for sheer stupidity.” Wei Wuxian struggles to look around again and nearly elbows Lan Wangji in the stomach.
“What are you a wild animal?” Jiang Cheng snaps, peering around Jiang Yanli’s shoulder. “Stay still or I’ll break your legs.”
“Calm down,” Lan Wangji says. “We’re safe.” His voice, deep and pacifying, unlocks something in Wei Wuxian. With one of Lan Wangji’s hands running soothingly down his arm, Wei Wuxian finally slows his breathing and slumps back against him.
“What happened?” Wei Wuxian asks once his heartbeat has returned to a normal rate. They’re in his room back at Lotus Pier, he realizes, the sunlight streaming through the window in all the ways familiar to him.
“We rescued you both obviously.” Jiang Cheng looks down at the bed. “You held on to Lan Wangji so tight we had to bring you both back here. Just how long do you plan on holding his hand?” he asks, raising an eyebrow. “You might want to cut his sleeves, but I’m sure Second Master Lan would prefer we not.”
Wei Wuxian looks down at the filthy sleeve he’s holding and back up at Lan Wangji’s face. He lets go of the sleeve. “Shut up, Jiang Cheng,” he says, feeling the blood rush up to his face. “What happened to the xuanwu?”
“Wen Chao claimed credit for it,” Jiang Cheng says. “We got you two out right before they began trying to break into the cave to drag out the remains. You got your own piece of shit, though.” He gestures to the rock Wei Wuxian realizes he’s been clutching alongside Lan Wangji’s hand.
The rock is about the size of a melon and three times as heavy. It’s bumpy to the touch and warm from having been held in the cradle of Wei Wuxian’s arm this whole time.
He remembers finding this egg when he was inside the xuanwu’s shell, and thinking he might be able to hold it hostage or something to keep the xuanwu from attacking them. He’d forgotten all about it when he’d come across the old sword full of so much resentful energy he’d nearly passed out. Apparently, he’d lost the sword but kept the egg.
“Why’d you grab a piece of xuanwu shit anyway?” Jiang Cheng asks.
“It’s an egg,” Wei Wuxian says. “A xuanwu egg.”
Jiang Cheng raises an eyebrow. “What kind of egg looks like that?” he says.
“A-Cheng,” Jiang Yanli chides. “It’s a very nice egg,” she tells Wei Wuxian.
“I still say it’s shit,” Jiang Cheng says.
“You’re shit!” Wei Wuxian answers with such vehemence he feels dizzy, and Lan Wangji’s arm tightens around his shoulders where he’s still supporting him.
“A-Cheng, let’s let A-Xian and Second Master Lan rest,” Jiang Yanli says. “We’ll let the doctor know you’re awake.” She pauses at the door. “Please apologize when he comes in, A-Xian. You gave him a black eye when he tried to separate you two.” She gives Wei Wuxian a smile and then pushes Jiang Cheng out the door, shutting it behind them.
Wei Wuxian’s cheeks burns, and he lays down, curling up around the egg so he has an excuse to face away from Lan Wangji. “I’m tired,” he says which isn’t a lie. “Wake me when the doctor comes,” he mumbles and shuts his eyes.
As he’s drifting back to sleep, he thinks he feels Lan Wangji trace the still-sensitive imprint of the bite mark on his arm. It feels nice.
Since Wei Wuxian suffers no broken bones, the doctor says he should recover quickly so long as he stays indoors and drinks the medicinal broth he’s prescribing. Lan Wangji, on the other hand, gets sentenced to two months of bed rest.
“You’ll stay with us,” Uncle Jiang decides. “The roads will be snowed in soon and travel will get worse. I’ll inform your uncle,” he tells Lan Wangji who looks like he wants to protest but can’t when faced with a sect leader.
“Don’t worry, Lan Zhan, I’ll take care of you like you took care of me,” Wei Wuxian says. He’d been worried that Lan Wangji would return to the Cloud Recesses. With winter coming and the state of things still unstable there, Lan Wangji might not get all the care he needs. He justifies being weirdly protective of Lan Wangji as the natural result of having risked his life once to save him—he doesn’t want that to go to waste. “After all, we’re so close now,” Wei Wuxian says, beaming at him.
“We’re not close,” Lan Wangji says.
“Lan Zhan, I think almost being xuanwu dinner together is as close as two people can get,” Wei Wuxian says amiably. “We even have an egg baby together.”
“Can you call it something else?” Lan Wangji says.
Wei Wuxian grins and winks at Lan Wangji. “Egg baby. I’ll let you choose if you want to be mom or dad,” he says. “And if you don’t think we’re close now, just you wait—winter is coming, you have bed rest for two months, we are going to be so close,” he says. “By the end of winter, I guarantee you will be saying we're close! The closest!” he declares.
Lan Wangji winces.
“I’m going to build a fire for our egg baby!” Wei Wuxian announces.
“I’m glad you’re feeling better, A-Xian,” Uncle Jiang says, clapping a hand on Wei Wuxian’s shoulder. “Playing with your egg is fine, but don’t forget to take care of your guest.”
“I will!” Wei Wuxian says enthusiastically.
Wei Wuxian expects them to move Lan Wangji into his own guest room after it’s been decided he’ll stay. First, though, the main guest quarters get flooded thanks to a bad leak. Then, in the middle of repairs, one of the servants slips off the roof thanks to a patch of ice and breaks his arm. After that, the snows start in earnest and it’s too dangerous for anyone to go up to repair things so Lan Wangji’s stay in Wei Wuxian’s bedroom grows from a few days to indefinite.
Since it’s not supposed to be a permanent arrangement and his room is too small for it anyway, a second bed never gets moved in and Lan Wangji continues to share Wei Wuxian's bed. Wei Wuxian figures they’ve already seen each other at their worst by now, so it shouldn’t matter—an opinion enforced when Lan Wangji stops shoving him away every time Wei Wuxian drapes himself over him.
Lan Wangji is a near perfect patient too. Now that they’re out of danger and it looks like the QishanWen Sect is also snowed into Nightless City for the winter, Lan Wangji seems determined to recover as quickly as possible. He takes all the nasty medicinal broth without complaint, doesn’t move around unnecessarily, and keeps the splint on his leg while also exercising it every day to keep the muscles from atrophying. He spends almost all his spare time cultivating in meditation.
After a few days, their schedule settles into a routine. Lan Wangji is always meditating by the time breakfast is brought in and Wei Wuxian wakes in the morning—even later than usual thanks to his own recovery and the winter gloom. At first, he drags himself up to serve Lan Wangji since he shouldn’t move too much on his leg. But after a week or so, Wei Wuxian sleeps through the breakfast once and slowly comes to consciousness with Lan Wangji’s deep, soothing voice in his ear telling him to wake up.
When Wei Wuxian whines and buries his face in his pillow, he’s both surprised and a little touched when Lan Wangji helps him sit up in bed, wipes his face clean with the towel and basin of water, and dresses him, all without him having to lift a finger. It's maybe the most spoiled Wei Wuxian has ever been treated, and he likes it. Since Lan Wangji isn’t moving unnecessarily, Wei Wuxian relaxes and sleeps in more every morning, letting Lan Wangji take care of him until he’s ready to wake up.
Wei Wuxian’s not sure if it’s because they’re no longer at the Cloud Recesses or because Lan Wangji is nicer now that they’ve nearly died together. Either way, there are no rules to copy and Lan Wangji doesn’t try to silence Wei Wuxian anymore. Since Wei Wuxian has been excused from winter lessons on account of his injuries and his unofficial duties entertaining Lan Wangji, he has nothing to do but fill the hours talking about whatever he wants to lying next to Lan Wangji in bed, occasionally changing bandages or waiting for servants to bring them meals and medicinal broth.
Once his fever completely recedes, Wei Wuxian convinces a few servants to lend him a small coal stove—not because he's cold since they have heated floors in the winter, but so he can try hatching the egg.
“It won’t hatch,” Lan Wangji says when Wei Wuxian drags the stove in.
“You don’t know that,” Wei Wuxian says.
“Tortoises lay eggs in burrows to hatch,” Lan Wangji answers, watching from the bed as Wei Wuxian loads the stove with coal and carefully sets the blanket-swaddled egg nearby.
“But this is a xuanwu egg,” Wei Wuxian says. “It’s not really a tortoise. Anyway, Shijie and I hatched a baby bird’s egg when we were littler. I know how to do it.”
Lan Wangji just gives him a long look, but lets Wei Wuxian arrange the egg by the stove.
“We didn’t know what kind of egg it was,” Wei Wuxian continues once he’s done arranging and comes back to plop belly-down in bed. He props his head up on his hands and grins at Lan Wangji. “Actually, I accidentally disturbed a bird’s nest when I was climbing a tree and it fell off,” he admits. “It turned out to be a crow, and it didn’t like me,” he says, pouting.
“What did you do to it?” Lan Wangji asks.
Wei Wuxian flops onto his back, tilting his head back so he can keep looking at Lan Wangji. “Why do you assume I did something to it? I treated it perfectly nicely! I just wanted to feed it some food…”
When he trails off, Lan Wangji raises an eyebrow. “Spicy?” he says after a moment when Wei Wuxian doesn’t volunteer the information.
Wei Wuxian rolls over again and mumbles into the pillow. “How was I supposed to know it wouldn’t like it?”
Lan Wangji actually has the audacity to snort—just a small one, but a snort nonetheless.
“I was only eight or nine! I only just came to Lotus Pier!” Wei Wuxian says, rolling again so he can look at Lan Wangji. “Stop making fun of me!”
“I’m not.” Lan Wangji is looking down at him with a slightly raised eyebrow as though to say it serves you right.
“You’re looking at me like you are,” Wei Wuxian says. He's delighted at the discovery that although Lan Wangji’s expression barely looks any different from usual, he’s finally familiar enough with Lan Wangji to tell what he’s thinking.
As a high calibre cultivator, after two weeks pass, Lan Wangji’s injuries have healed enough that the doctor says he can walk short distances if he’s very careful, which means he begins joining the Jiang family at dinner as an honored guest.
Since Lan Wangji’s GusuLan uniform was completely destroyed in the cave, he’s given a set of purple YunmengJiang robes to borrow while he’s staying at Lotus Pier. Wei Wuxian swears he’s never seen anyone look so proper and handsome in a YunmengJiang uniform before. Since his forehead ribbon was equally destroyed during that incident and Lan Wangji can’t wear it, apart from the lack of a bell, he looks the perfect picture of an ideal YunmengJiang disciple.
Wei Wuxian thinks it might be the first time he’s ever seen Madam Yu approve of anyone.
“Look at how he wears the uniform. Not one wrinkle,” she says to Wei Wuxian almost immediately when they come into the dining hall. “That’s the proper way to dress!”
She also comments on Lan Wangji's perfect posture when he sits, how he doesn’t speak at all when he eats, how poised he is even holding chopsticks. She seems ready to adopt him and have him become her model disciple like he already is for Lan Qiren—apparently it’s a common sentiment among the older generation when they see Lan Wangji.
After that, Madam Yu stops comparing Jiang Cheng to Wei Wuxian all the time, and begins comparing Wei Wuxian to Lan Wangji instead. But since Lan Wangji’s level of perfection is unachievable by mere mortals, Wei Wuxian really just mentally agrees with her every time she compliments him.
Family dinners become much more peaceful.
One night, about a month in, Wei Wuxian whines to Lan Wangji that it’s too hot in the room.
“Put out the stove,” Lan Wangji answers.
“But our xuanwu won’t hatch then,” Wei Wuxian says and pouts. “I can’t sleep. It’s too warm.” He kicks the blankets to the end of the bed.
Earlier Jiang Cheng had pulled Wei Wuxian aside after he’d shamelessly draped himself on Lan Wangji on their way back from dinner and asked his Lan Er-Gege to carry him.
“Who’s the injured one with the broken leg?” Jiang Cheng lectured him when Lan Wangji had walked out of earshot.
“Lan Zhan knows I’m just kidding,” Wei Wuxian said.
“Are you?” Jiang Cheng said. “Anyway, stop flirting so much. Are you a girl? It gives me goosebumps every time you open your mouth around him.”
“We’re friends, Jiang Cheng,” Wei Wuxian said, rolling his eyes. “You’re just jealous you don’t have your own GusuLan friend—”
“Are you trying to tell me you’d do this with any random GusuLan cultivator?” Jiang Cheng demanded.
Wei Wuxian didn’t quite have a comeback to that because Lan Wangji has never been a random GusuLan cultivator to him—no other cultivator in the world could possibly compare to Lan Wangji’s deity-like appearance or his talent or his hard work or his inherent righteousness. He is literally the most perfect human being Wei Wuxian has ever met, and the only time he acts a little more reachable is when Wei Wuxian annoys him, which is most effective via flirting. Lan Wangji has the best reactions and teasing him is fun.
He told Jiang Cheng so, but the pointed snort he got was anything but satisfying.
So ever since he returned to their room, Wei Wuxian has felt the need to prove something.
“Let me lie in your lap,” Wei Wuxian whines, inching over.
“Won’t that make you feel hotter?” Lan Wangji asks.
“It will make me feel better,” Wei Wuxian says and without waiting for a response, puts his head down on Lan Wangji’s thigh.
Lan Wangji is, of course, right, and within moments, Wei Wuxian feels his face heating up. But Lan Wangji also doesn’t move away. Instead, his hand comes to stroke Wei Wuxian’s hair and then down his arm where the imprints of his teeth marks have finally faded.
Wei Wuxian drifts off to sleep too warm and still annoyed at Jiang Cheng.
Maybe because of the position, or maybe because of Lan Wangji’s touch, that night, he dreams about the Xuanwu Cave. In the dream, Lan Wangji doesn’t bite him like he did in reality, but he still cries because his father is dying, brother is missing, the Cloud Recesses are burned, the rest of the sect is in hiding. Although in real life at the time, Wei Wuxian had sat some distance away, arm throbbing from being bitten and unsure of how to comfort Lan Wangji, in the dream, his chest aches at seeing Lan Wangji this way and he pulls him into his arms. He kisses Lan Wangji first on his eyelashes, then down the wet tracks of tears on his face, then the corner of his mouth. Lan Wangji’s golden eyes stare at him, Wei Wuxian’s heart pounds in his chest as he leans in—and Lan Wangji bites him hard on the ass.
Wei Wuxian yells and jumps up.
For a moment, there’s total panic and confusion. Wei Wuxian elbows Lan Wangji in the gut, and Lan Wangji leaps out of bed, unsheathing Bichen as he goes.
“Who’s there?” Lan Wangji says.
Wei Wuxian, still in bed, has reached for Suibian though he hasn’t drawn it yet.
For a moment, in the dark of the night, Wei Wuxian can’t sense any enemies, and yet his ass still stings from where he was bitten.
Then, from beside the bed, Wei Wuxian hears a gravelly growl. Lan Wangji is already lighting a lamp before Wei Wuxian can reach for it.
When he looks down, by the edge of the bed, a small xuanwu about the size of a cat has its front legs propped up on the bed so its long, snake-like neck can reach the top of the blankets. Its big, shiny eyes blink up at Wei Wuxian, and it lets out a low, gravelly honk.
Wei Wuxian’s whole heart melts. “Lan Zhan, our egg hatched,” he breathes. “Look at it! It’s so cute!” He reaches out to pet it.
The xuanwu takes one look at Wei Wuxian, snaps out its neck, jaws opened wide, and chomps down on Wei Wuxian’s hand.
Wei Wuxian yells and scrambles to hide behind Lan Wangji, trembling from head to foot. “It’s just like a dog! Why is our baby just like a dog?” he demands.
The xuanwu seems to look consideringly at the two of them. First is Lan Wangji, dressed all in white with Bichen still drawn, as frosty as the snow outside. And then there's Wei Wuxian, cowering behind him.
It tries to reach around Lan Wangji to bite Wei Wuxian again.
Wei Wuxian shrieks and hides behind Lan Wangji. “Save me! Save me, Lan Zhan!”
“You hatched a what?” Madam Yu demands when news spreads of the xuanwu that has hatched in Wei Wuxian’s room during the night. She makes a rare visit to see them, and stares down at the xuanwu that tilts its head to look up at her, utterly unintimidated.
“Wei Wuxian, is it not enough that you have shamed yourself out of the Cloud Recesses,” she says, “That you have brought disaster to YunmengJing because you had to show off at the archery competition. That the QishanWen Sect is probably planning who knows what because of your rebellion at Dusk-Creek Mountain. And now you have hatched a xuanwu in Lotus Pier?”
Jiang Cheng coughs. “It’s not completely his fault, A-Niang,” he says. “We brought the egg back when we rescued them.”
“Because he wouldn’t let go of it!” Madam Yu shrieks. “Who asked you to hatch it?”
“Isn’t it kind of cute?” Jiang Yanli tries.
The xuanwu looks like a hideous mix between a tortoise and a snake, Wei Wuxian has decided after being bitten multiple times. Not one part of it could be considered cute by anyone apart from Jiang Yanli.
Madam Yu puts a hand to her temple and massages it.
“You hatched it. You take care of it,” she orders. “I better not see it around or causing any sort of trouble, or I’ll kick you both out like I should have done long ago!”
Wei Wuxian stares tearfully at the xuanwu that eyes him like it wants to take another bite, and shivers behind Lan Wangji. “I don’t want it,” he says.
Madam Yu narrows a glare at him. “Then kill it and eat it for all I care,” she says heartlessly and marches out of the room.
Of course they don’t kill or eat it.
Having spent over a month hatching it, even though Wei Wuxian breaks out into a cold sweat every time the little monster’s mouth opens too close to him, he can’t bring himself to actually get rid of it.
So instead, they have to figure out what it eats.
“We can’t feed it human corpses,” he decides right away.
“Why would you even consider that?” Jiang Cheng says.
Wei Wuxian shrugs. “That’s what its mom ate,” he says. “Maybe that’s why it’s already so evil."
The xuanwu narrows its eyes at Wei Wuxian as though considering where to bite him next.
Wei Wuxian edges a little closer to Lan Wangji. “What should we feed it?” he asks.
“Why don’t we each try something until it eats,” Jiang Yanli suggests.
Wei Wuxian feels horribly betrayed when she bends down and the xuanwu lets her pat it on the head and then scratch under its chin. It makes a pleased little clicking sound and its eyes close in satisfaction.
“Aww, you’re so cute, aren’t you?” Jiang Yanli coos.
“You may as well give up being mom now.” Jiang Cheng elbows Wei Wuxian in the side. “Looks like your child only likes A-Jie.”
Wei Wuxian stomps off to find something for it to eat.
When the four of them meet back in Wei Wuxian’s room an hour later, the xuanwu stares curiously at the array of more or less edible items. Jiang Yanli goes first, giving the xuanwu a few dried lotus seeds which it tastes but spits back out again.
“I could only find dry ones in the storehouse,” Jiang Yanli says sadly. “Maybe it likes fresh ones like A-Xian.”
“It’s a xuanwu! It likes meat, A-Jie,” Jiang Cheng says and waves a bloody piece of chicken at it. The xuanwu hisses at him and turns its head when Jiang Cheng tries shoving the chicken at it.
“Maybe you should have cooked it, A-Cheng?” Jiang Yanli suggests.
“I cooked something!” Wei Wuxian says proudly and holds out his offering, which is so red it’s hard to tell what it actually is.
“Why do you try to feed every animal your horror food?” Jiang Cheng demands. “Didn’t you kill that bird you hatched last time?”
“It didn’t die!” Wei Wuxian says.
The xuanwu takes one look at the plate and turns beseeching eyes toward Lan Wangji.
“Ungrateful,” Wei Wuxian says and takes a spoonful of his own food to taste. “This is good! There’s nothing wrong with it!” he says after swallowing.
“There’s something wrong with you,” Jiang Cheng says.
Lan Wangji has many unfair qualities like being devastatingly handsome, having one of the highest cultivation levels of their generation, and being good at literally everything he tries to do. This, apparently, includes animal taming as they find out when the xuanwu eats out of the palm of Lan Wangji’s hand. Literally. Lan Wangji slowly feeds it big pieces of the lettuce he brought back, and the xuanwu chomps enthusiastically at the vegetables, making pleased little honking noises between bites.
“Lettuce?” Wei Wuxian asks. “How did you know it would like lettuce?”
Lan Wangji glances at him and pulls a thin book out of his robe. “Library,” he answers.
Over the next day, Lan Wangji teaches them all how to tame animals.
“Be patient,” Lan Wangji instructs Wei Wuxian from where he’s kneeling on the ground, a little distance from the xuanwu who is eyeing the four of them warily. “Wait for it to come to you.”
Wei Wuxian tries—he really tries to hold still, but asking him to hold still for more than five minutes is really asking the impossible. “My legs are going numb like this,” he complains.
Like it was waiting for the opportunity, the xuanwu darts out. Only thanks to quick action, Wei Wuxian saves himself from another bite by ducking behind Lan Wangji. “Keep still,” Lan Wangji says. “It takes time for it to get used to you.”
“I’m its mother, it should already be used to me,” Wei Wuxian says.
“Second Master Lan, how do you know so much about animal taming?” Jiang Yanli asks softly from her position where she’s kept so still that the xuanwu has started getting curious and is heading in her direction. Of course that’s hardly a feat since it took a liking to Jiang Yanli immediately, and she’s already pet it multiple times.
Lan Wangji coughs and Wei Wuxian would swear he looks embarrassed. “Wei Ying gave me rabbits,” he confesses.
Wei Wuxian stares at him and then breaks into a wide grin. “You kept them? Lan Zhan, I can’t believe you really kept them!” He throws his arms around Lan Wangji’s neck only for the xuanwu to startle at the noise and turn its beady eyes on Wei Wuxian again. “How did you convince your uncle to let you keep them? Ah, I want to visit the Cloud Recesses again!” he says and quickly ducks behind Lan Wangji when the xuanwu begins heading in his direction again.
“We should have raised bunnies instead of a xuanwu,” Wei Wuxian mutters into Lan Wangji’s back.
“You’d probably have found a way to annoy them too.” Jiang Cheng snorts. “You’re cursed with animals.”
As the days pass, they discover the xuanwu likes most vegetables, fresh lotus seeds but not dried ones, and really likes longan fruit although it’s too lazy to peel them by itself.
One week in and Jiang Yanli has named the xuanwu “Xuan-Xuan” and likes to call both “Xian-Xian” and “Xuan-Xuan” when she’s made snacks, which is often sweet longan soup since everyone, including the xuanwu, likes it.
They also discover the xuanwu hates being alone and will scramble after Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian whenever they leave the room. The first time they forget to lock it in the bedroom, it follows them all the way to the dinner. Although Wei Wuxian scolds it and tells it not to enter the dining hall or Madam Yu will have it for dinner, the xuanwu makes loud, sad honks until Jiang Yanli can bear it no longer and goes to open the door.
“So this is Xuan-Xuan?” Uncle Jiang looks amused at the xuanwu that comes scrambling inside, curiously looking around.
Madam Yu’s eyes narrow and she’s about to order the cooks to carry it off to the kitchens when the xuanwu chooses that moment to take a large bite out of Wei Wuxian’s thigh.
Wei Wuxian yelps and scrambles behind Lan Wangji.
Jiang Yanli and Jiang Cheng look nervously between Wei Wuxian and their mother.
Madam Yu opens her mouth, and everyone stares when she starts to laugh. “Finally someone here that wild animal will fear,” she says, and she’s not looking at the xuanwu when she says so.
After that, she seems to take a liking to the xuanwu even though she won’t admit it. But Wei Wuxian sees her secretly sneaking longans to the xuanwu every time it wanders near her, and she never tries to lock it outside during dinnertime anymore.
Like Lan Wangji said, though, slowly the xuanwu begins to accept Wei Wuxian.
As the days pass, Wei Wuxian patiently feeds it lettuce leaves in their room, rewarding it with scratches under its chin when it’s being good, and the xuanwu stops trying to bite Wei Wuxian all the time, settling for little nibbles on his fingers when it wants attention.
“Good girl, Xuan-Xuan. That’s more like it,” Wei Wuxian says when it tugs on his robe for Wei Wuxian to feed it a longan he’s just peeled. “Lan Zhan is the only one who can bite me after all,” he says and shoots a sly grin at Lan Wangji whose earlobes turn red. “Why are you looking so embarrassed, Hanguang-Jun?” he teases, delighted. “If you didn’t think it was proper, you shouldn’t have done it in the first place.”
“Be quiet,” Lan Wangji says.
Wei Wuxian laughs and falls back, landing in Lan Wangji’s lap. “Are you being shy, Lan Er-Gege? No, don’t look away,” he says. “Look at me, Lan Zhan. Look at your Wei Ying.”
He feels warm all the way to his toes when Lan Wangji does.
Thanks to overfeeding, the xuanwu grows by leaps and bounds. Before a month is out, it’s at double its originally size and no amount of closed doors can keep it out when it’s determined to get in. Wei Wuxian tries riding on its back one day, and although the xuanwu ignores every direction Wei Wuxian tries to give it, it does carry him all around Lotus Pier like a short donkey.
By then, Wei Wuxian is used to splitting his day between taking care of Lan Wangji and taking care of the xuanwu.
He likes spending time with Lan Wangji, and if sometimes he finds himself lying on Lan Wangji at night instead of his own side of the bed, it’s just because Lan Wangji is so much warmer and more comfortable to lie on. And if he’s caught himself staring starry-eyed at Lan Wangji when the light hits him just right, it’s because Lan Wangji is objectively gorgeous and Wei Wuxian really only has so long to enjoy such a view of perfect beauty. And if he’s increasingly relieved every morning when he wakes up and there’s still snow on the ground meaning Lan Wangji’s inevitable departure is put off for yet another day, it’s only because they’re friends now—maybe even close friends and being with Lan Wangji just makes him really happy.
It’s all perfectly normal.
“It is not normal,” Jiang Cheng tells him point blank when Lan Wangji is out one day. The weather has been mild for a few days now, and that afternoon, a letter came from GusuLan. While Lan Wangji goes to discuss potential departure plans with Uncle Jiang, Wei Wuxian drags Jiang Yanli and Jiang Cheng out to a private patio and has a minor meltdown.
“But it’s not not normal, right?” Wei Wuxian says. “It’s winter. It’s cold. Lan Wangji might look like he can freeze ice, but he’s actually very warm and comfortable. You should try it.”
“You want me to try cuddling with him?” Jiang Cheng says.
The mental image makes Wei Wuxian grimace for more than just one reason. “Okay, maybe not,” he says.
“Since when did you become a cutsleeve?” Jiang Cheng accuses him.
“Lan Wangji isn’t a cutsleeve,” Wei Wuxian says.
“I didn’t say he’s a cutsleeve, I said you’re a cutsleeve,” Jiang Cheng says, narrowing his eyes.
Wei Wuxian really wants to deny that statement, but he also can’t stop thinking about how it had taken him a full hour to extricate himself from Lan Wangji’s arms that morning because it felt so nice, and how he’s not sure he can even sleep without Lan Wangji to hug anymore. “Shijie, I’m not a cutsleeve, right?” he asks the more sympathetic of his two siblings instead.
Jiang Yanli pauses. “A-Xian, do you like Second Master Lan?” she asks.
“Of course I like him,” Wei Wuxian answers. “We’re friends.”
“Would you like to be more than that?” Jiang Yanli asks delicately.
Wei Wuxian turns the idea over in his mind. “I’m not sure,” he decides finally. “I’ve never thought about you know...doing anything…” he says, conveniently forgetting that one time he’d dreamed about kissing Lan Wangji. Maybe even more than once by now.
“Why don’t you take him on a date?” Jiang Yanli suggests. “If you both enjoy it, maybe you can discuss the possibilities.”
Wei Wuxian hesitates. “But what if Lan Zhan doesn’t like...it?” he says finally. It’s hard to force the words out.
Jiang Yanli smiles. “We don’t know how much longer Second Master Lan will be able to stay here,” she says. “Besides, you’ve always wanted to show him around Yunmeng, right?” She reaches out and pats him on the hand. “It will be all right.”
“And if he breaks your heart, I’ll break his leg,” Jiang Cheng says. “Again.”
Wei Wuxian laughs.
Wei Wuxian doesn’t technically call it a date. He doesn’t technically invite Lan Wangji out either. After Lan Wangji comes back from talking to Uncle Jiang, Wei Wuxian doesn’t let him get a word in edgewise before declaring they’re going to visit Yunmeng, and drags him out.
The xuanwu, who had followed Lan Wangji to his meeting and back, continues following them all the way to the gate. It complains loudly when Wei Wuxian tells it that it can’t come.
“No, it’s too cold for you still, Xuan-Xuan. You’re a cold-blooded animal, after all. You’ll just freeze to death.” Wei Wuxian finds himself lecturing the xuanwu. “We’ll be back soon and we’ll see if we can bring you back a snack. Maybe candied ginger,” he says. “You liked ginger last time.”
The xuanwu makes makes another honk of discontent, but stops trying to follow them out.
“Wei Ying, about my discussion—”
“Let’s go, Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian interrupts him, grabbing Lan Wangji by the hand. “Do you remember when I invited you here back when I was studying at the Cloud Recesses? You probably don’t remember, but I really wanted to take you around Yunmeng.” He takes a deep breath and smiles up at him. “So let’s just enjoy today, okay?”
Lan Wangji looks at him. Wei Wuxian is very aware of the warmth of Lan Wangji’s hand clasped in his own. Finally, Lan Wangji nods. “Mm,” he agrees.
Having been granted permission, Wei Wuxian takes Lan Wangji to a small, rare frozen pond on the outskirts of Yunmeng.
“You said ponds do not freeze here,” Lan Wangji says.
“Did I say that?” Wei Wuxian asks, trying to remember when he might have told Lan Wangji that piece of information. “Well, I meant most of them don’t freeze—they’re too big or there’s a water source at the bottom, but sometimes we get lucky,” he says. “I made one of my shidi keep an eye out—you won’t believe how crowded a frozen pond can get when everyone finds out about it!” he says and steps out onto the thick ice, testing his weight on it.
Lan Wangji hovers by the side of the pond as though ready to pull Wei Wuxian to safety if the ice suddenly cracks.
“Come out, it’s safe,” Wei Wuxian says, jumping a few times to make his point.
Slowly, Lan Wangji steps out onto the pond.
“Don’t worry, I won’t let you fall,” Wei Wuxian says and reaches to hold his hand. As pale as his skin is, Lan Wangji’s fingers are warm when they wrap around his.
Wei Wuxian smiles at him and pulls him forward on the pond.
It’s not until a half hour in, when Lan Wangji steadies Wei Wuxian as he slips on a patch of ice, that he realizes Gusu is north of Yunmeng and far colder in the winter.
“Wait, you were never in danger of falling were you, Lan Zhan?” Wei Wuxian accuses him. “You let me hold your hand this whole time but you probably have so many frozen ponds and lakes up in Gusu. You’re a better skater than I am!” He wags his free hand at Lan Wangji. “You just wanted to hold my hand, didn’t you?” he says slyly.
“I have never gone skating,” Lan Wangji says but doesn’t let go of Wei Wuxian’s hand.
“Never?” Wei Wuxian asks. “Even Jiang Cheng said he went skating with other disciples when he was studying there! We have to go next time!” he says. “Skating in Gusu must be so much fun!”
“If you want,” Lan Wangji says.
“Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, look at me,” Wei Wuxian says, letting go of Lan Wangji’s hand so he can skate forward, dragging Suibian along the ice in the thinnest scrapes until he’s carved ‘Lan Er-Gege~♡’ into the surface.
He laughs as he skates back to Lan Wangji and is about to throw himself into his arms when he hears such a loud shout that he jumps and loses his balance for real.
Instead of landing hard on the ice, he feels a pair of arms come to wrap around his waist, and he faceplants into soft winter robes. When he straightens up again, he catches his breath. There, surrounded by the glittering white landscape, Lan Wangji is holding onto him, backlit by the sun and looking like a young prince in his purple robes. Wei Wuxian smiles automatically before he jumps again when his name is shouted.
“Wei Wuxian! What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Jiang Cheng shouts. “Lan Wangji’s injuries just healed! Do you want to break his leg again, you absolute moron?”
“You told me to take Lan Zhan out,” Wei Wuxian says. He can feel Lan Wangji’s eyes burning into the back of his head, but he refuses to turn around and explain himself.
“You’re supposed to help make him better not worse!” Jiang Cheng says. “Good thing A-Jie sent me to check on you after Liu-shidi said he told you about the frozen pond. Get your ass back here or I’ll break both your legs and see how you like it!”
Wei Wuxian is both pleased and amused to find Lan Wangji’s arms tighten around his waist as though intending to protect him from Jiang Cheng’s wrath.
“Fine, fine, we’ll stop skating. Happy? I’m going to take Lan Zhan to town.” He grabs Lan Wangji by the hand again, ignoring the look Jiang Cheng gives him, and pulls him off the frozen pond. “You can go home first,” he tells Jiang Cheng. “Tell your mom we’ll get dinner out so you don’t have to wait for us.”
“I’m not your errand boy!” Jiang Cheng shouts.
Since it’s been some time since he’s gone around the city, having been cooped up in Lotus Pier all winter, Wei Wuxian takes his time showing Lan Wangji all the places he likes to go. He shows him his favorite food stands, he points out the farm where he once convinced Jiang Cheng to steal chickens with him, and he shows him a tiny graffitied picture left on a wall from the last time Wei Wuxian had been dared by a younger shidi to carve a picture in.
Wei Wuxian stops beneath the tree where he’d accidentally jostled loose the bird nest so many years ago. It had been the same tree Jiang Yanli once found him in and promised there would be no dogs before he would come back down.
Since Lan Wangji has already heard the first story, he tells him the second one now as he crouches down, absently playing with the snow and making a small snow-xuanwu.
“I can’t believe the xuanwu takes after you and likes to bite me too,” Wei Wuxian says as he straightens up again.
Lan Wangji, who has been quietly listening to him, reaches for his hand to help him up. “Does it still hurt?” he asks after a moment.
Wei Wuxian blinks at him. “What? The bite? Of course not—that was so long ago,” he says, smiling.
Lan Wangji holds his hand, looking at it. “...I should bite again,” he says.
“What? Why?” Wei Wuxian tries to withdraw his hand.
Lan Wangji holds tight to him, refusing to let him go. “It’s my oath to you,” he says quietly.
It takes Wei Wuxian a few moments to remember the saying and understand. “Oath...an oath through a bite of the arm?” It’s an idiom that means an “armed alliance”—in other words, complete loyalty to the oath of alliance for life. He laughs. “Can’t you use your words instead of actions sometimes? Are you a wild animal? You could just say it.”
“Words are the source of misunderstanding,” Lan Wangji says. Instead, he raises Wei Wuxian’s hand to his lips. Wei Wuxian’s hands are so cold from playing in the snow that he can only feel the slightest pressure as Lan Wangji bites down gently on the tip of his finger. “No matter what,” he says, a strange intensity burning in his eyes. “I...to you…” He can’t seem to find the right words to say, but Wei Wuxian thinks Lan Wangji might be right about actions, because he can feel the warmth spread from his thawing fingers right up to his ears.
“Ah, my hands are so cold. Let’s go somewhere indoors!” Wei Wuxian says, heart thumping hard and holding tight to Lan Wangji’s hand as he pulls him into a nearby restaurant. He orders two portions of the spicy wonton soup he wants Lan Wangji to try there.
It’s definitely not only the cold that stains Wei Wuxian’s cheeks red—he can admit at least that much to himself as his hand stays in Lan Wangji’s steady grip.
By the time they return to Lotus Pier late that night, Wei Wuxian has confirmed that he is definitely, undoubtedly, more than a little in love with Lan Wangji, and he is completely sure that he wants to do all sorts of things with him particularly in bed. It is extremely convenient that they already share one, he thinks, as he pushes Lan Wangji and follows him down, sitting in his lap. Lan Wangji doesn’t push him away. Instead, his hands settle on his hips, and Wei Wuxian feels like his whole body is aware of everything as he tilts Lan Wangji’s face up so he can look into those beautiful golden eyes.
“Lan Zhan, you don’t hate me, right?” Wei Wuxian blurts out.
Lan Wangji’s eyebrows furrow. “No,” he says.
“No you don’t hate me or no you hate me? I know you don’t like to talk, but sometimes I need words too, you know,” Wei Wuxian says, heart pounding as his hands slide down to fist in Lan Wangji’s outer robe. “Don’t just answer my question like that—can’t you be more clear? I’m so nervous, I’m—”
“I like you,” Lan Wangji says firmly.
“Oh thank god,” Wei Wuxian says and kisses him.
Wei Wuxian learns many new things about Lan Wangji that night. He finds out that this is Lan Wangji’s first time kissing anyone, and his first time going to bed with anyone. He finds out that for all that Lan Wangji looks perfectly composed on the outside, he is absolutely not composed at all when Wei Wuxian whispers to him that it’s also his first kiss and his first time. He can’t help laughing and gasping at the same time when Lan Wangji gets even bigger inside of him. He finds out that Lan Wangji’s level of cultivation is apparently in direct proportion to his stamina, because three rounds later, Wei Wuxian is begging for mercy, but Lan Wangji is still insatiable as he twists two fingers inside Wei Wuxian. It’s making his dick jump at the same time as he’s so exhausted he really can’t go anymore no matter how much he wants to continue with Lan Zhan.
His ass is only saved when the xuanwu barges in and honks for treats, completely ignoring Lan Wangji’s glare as Wei Wuxian scrambles to the side of bed to reach for the candied ginger they bought on their way back.
“Good girl, Xuan-Xuan,” Wei Wuxian tells it, nudging away Lan Wangji’s hand that’s creeping lower on his back as he feeds the xuanwu another piece of ginger.
The xuanwu makes a happy noise and plops its head, now as big as a grapefruit, on Wei Wuxian’s knee.
Lan Wangji sighs and drapes himself behind Wei Wuxian, arms circling around his waist. Wei Wuxian leans back into him, smiling as he kisses him on the cheek, and thinks he really can’t imagine life being any better.
After that, the weather quickly warms. The snow melts and the lotus ponds all come back to life. The xuanwu is now so big that it’s a relief for everyone when it takes enthusiastically to the lake and can often be spotted swimming around Lotus Pier, casually eating lotuses by the mouthful as it goes.
Wei Wuxian finds out that Madam Yu has been spending more time than she’d like to admit with the xuanwu when he discovers she’s secretly trained it to hiss at any disciple caught loafing around Lotus Pier. In her free time, she can be seen standing on its back, holding a parasol over her head to shield from the sun, and ordering it to patrol the piers for slackers.
It gets so none of the disciples dare to play anywhere visible from the lake, much to Madam Yu’s delight.
Wei Wuxian doesn’t really care. Every one of Madam Yu’s criticisms of him roll of his shoulders even moreso than usual because he can’t be anything but effervescently happy with Lan Wangji. They’re together all of the time, reluctant to let go of each other even to bathe or get dressed.
Madam Yu seems torn between getting mad that Wei Wuxian is in a loving, happy relationship, or if she wants to approve of it because securing ties with GusuLan—particularly after Wei Wuxian’s fiasco studying there—could be nothing but good news with the unrest amongst the cultivation territories.
“If it strengthens ties with GusuLan, it might be a good thing, but if Lan Qiren thinks Wei Wuxian is harassing his star pupil, it might make things worse when he has to return to the Cloud Recesses,” Wei Wuxian overhears Madam Yu saying to Uncle Jiang one afternoon. He and Lan Wangji happen to be walking a few pavilions away, but sound travels clearly over the calm lake. “Lan Wangji has already stayed with us all winter—they don’t need to be in a relationship for us to secure ties with GusuLan after this favor.”
Wei Wuxian tightens his grip around Lan Wangji’s hand and his footsteps stall.
“A-Xian and Second Master Lan are the ones who will have to spend their lives together,” Uncle Jiang says gently. “Let them decide who they like.”
“Unlike us, you mean?” Madam Yu says.
“San-Niang, you know that’s not what I meant,” Uncle Jiang says.
Madam Yu stands at the pavilion. “All you’ve done ever since he came here is to protect him, spoil him rotten—well, it’s about time he made some sacrifices for YunmengJiang, or isn’t he the head disciple?” she says.
“I won’t allow you to come between them if they love each other,” Uncle Jiang says, also getting to his feet.
Something falls from the table and Wei Wuxian hears a sharp crack.
“My hairpin!” Madam Yu says. She lets out a bitter laugh. “So now because of him, you’re even breaking my things.”
“San-Niang!” Uncle Jiang calls, but Madam Yu is already walking away.
Wei Wuxian pulls Lan Wangji into the shadows with him before Madam Yu turns their way. He has one brief moment where he wonders if what she said was right—if he’s the one whose been harassing Lan Wangji all this time, if Lan Qiren might be so angry that he refuses to ally with YunmengJiang because Wei Wuxian corrupted his favorite disciple. But with Lan Wangji right here in front of him, Wei Wuxian realizes it doesn't matter. He has everything he wants already within his grasp, and he has no intention of ever letting go. “I don’t care,” he tells Lan Wangji. “I don’t care if everyone thinks I’m a bad influence on you, if I’m not good enough for you, if you’re better off without me—I’m crazy about you,” he says. “You made me crazy about you, you spoiled me so much I don’t think I can live without you anymore. You tamed me so you have to take responsibility.”
Lan Wangji takes Wei Wuxian’s hand and bites gently on his finger. “I’ll take responsibility,” he promises.
“You better,” Wei Wuxian says fiercely and pulls him in for a kiss.
Uncle Jiang leaves the next morning for official sect business. Madam Yu is in a worse mood than usual and gathers all the disciples for extra training “while Jiang FengMian can’t baby them,” she claims. Wei Wuxian is the only one left alone since his job is to keep Lan Wangji company, which works out fine. He can escape Madam Yu’s bad temper, and since she isn’t riding Xuan-Xuan that day, Wei Wuxian spends the morning packing a lunch with Jiang Yanli’s help, and takes Lan Wangji out on the back of the xuanwu for a cruise and picnic.
The xuanwu is now so large that both of them can sit comfortably on its back with their three-tiered lunch box. And as long as they remember to toss a longan in its mouth every once in awhile, it's happy to remain steady as it swims around the lake.
Wei Wuxian spends the afternoon basking in the warm spring sun with his head in Lan Wangji’s lap, opening his mouth every once in awhile for Lan Wangji to drop a peeled longan in at the same time as he tosses one to the xuanwu.
“I like you, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian tells him. “I like you so much. I love you. You’re the only one I ever want.”
Wei Wuxian laughs when Lan Wangji leans down to kiss him until he can’t breathe anymore. When Lan Wangji straightens up again, Wei Wuxian smiles, staring up at his handsome face haloed by the afternoon sun, and wonders how he ever got so lucky. He reaches up to touch his face and Lan Wangji catches his hand, entwining their fingers.
Wei Wuxian kisses him again. “I want to be with you forever,” he says.
The xuanwu honks and Wei Wuxian laughs, reaching over to pat it on the head. “Yes, yes, we like you too, Xuan-Xuan,” he says.
So much happens that winter that Wei Wuxian completely forgets the reason they ended up this way in the first place until a few days later, when Wang LingJiao shows up with a group of QishanWen Sect cultivators, and demands Madam Yu discipline him.
Lan Wangji makes a move to step in front of Wei Wuxian who shakes his head. It will only make the whole situation worse if Lan Wangji tries to defend him—he can take a stroke or two from Zidian if it will appease Wang LingJiao and keep Lotus Pier safe.
Madam Yu whips him until his vision goes spotty, but when she stops, Lan Wangji is there to catch him. Wei Wuxian hisses with pain, wanting nothing more than for Lan Wangji to take him away.
Wang LingJiao laughs. “This is wonderful! I didn’t think the Violet Spider would be so cooperative, but since you are, I’ve decided that Lotus Pier will have the great honor of becoming QishanWen Sect’s Supervision Office after all,” she says.
Madam Yu’s fury, previously centered on Wei Wuxian, comes down on Wang LingJiao. “QishanWen’s Supervision Office? Who do you think you are?” she says.
Although everything hurts so much Wei Wuxian is only staying conscious by sheer willpower, he feels almost as shocked as Wang LingJiao looks when Madam Yu slaps her so hard across one cheek that her neck snaps to the side. Then she grabs her by the hair and backhands her other cheek so hard she falls back.
Wang LingJiao begins screaming for help, which is when Wei Wuxian realizes what’s happening.
“It’s an ambush,” Lan Wangji says, his voice low, but Wei Wuxian can tell from the intensity of it that he's worried.
“Stop her,” Madam Yu orders as Wang LingJiao makes a break for the outside, still screaming as she runs. “She cannot leave Lotus Pier!”
But as soon as the door opens, they can already tell it’s too late. In the dim horizon, there are countless Wen Sect boats floating around Lotus Pier, readying for ambush.
Wen ZhuLiu flies down, heading straight for them.
“Save me!” Wang LingJiao screams at him. “Hurry and save me!”
“Raise the barriers!” Madam Yu orders as cultivators scramble to obey orders. But magical barriers take time, and even as they’re being erected, Wei Wuxian can tell they won’t get them up in time.
Wen ZhuLiu has already passed the boundary and has his hand outstretched with his core-melting power sparking in his palm. If it hits anyone, their golden core will melt. At all costs, that hand has to stay away from Madam Yu.
Lan Wangji shoves Wei Wuxian behind him, Bichen already unsheathed.
Madam Yu stands, Zidian sparking as she readies herself to meet Wen ZhuLiu.
But before Wen ZhuLiu can get to Madam Yu, a thick, long neck suddenly darts from the still lake water.
The xuanwu clamps its enormous jaws around Wen ZhuLiu’s waist. The cultivator’s surprised shout is cut off when it drags him under water.
Wang LingJiao is so shocked she stops screaming.
Bubbles rise up from the lotus pond, but a few minutes later, the xuanwu is the one that raises its head. Beneath it, Wen ZhuLiu’s drowned body floats to the surface and bobs there silently.
Xuan-Xuan swims over to Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji and makes a pleased, clicking noise. It bends its neck so Wei Wuxian can give it a few pats on the nose. “Good girl,” he says faintly, still too shocked by the sudden turn of events.
The xuanwu makes another pleased click. It noses at Wei Wuxian’s hand and then gives him a gentle bite on the arm.
Wei Wuxian sighs and looks over at Lan Wangji. “Is this another armed alliance?” he asks.
Lan Wangji raises an eyebrow.
Wang LingJiao is the first to recover. “Wei Wuxian has tamed a xuanwu!” she screams.
“Of course he has,” Madam Yu says. “Don’t you know our sect’s motto? Attempt the impossible,” she says and then points to her. “Xuan-Xuan, attack!” she orders.
Wang LingJiao’s eyes are so wide they’re nearly entirely white as she stares up at the xuanwu. Then her eyes roll back in her head and she faints dead away.
After that, it’s total pandemonium.
The xuanwu takes enthusiastically to tossing QishanWen Sect cultivators up in the air before dragging them into the water several at a time. Madam Yu’s Zidian sends cultivators flying. Jiang Cheng, Wei Wuxian, Lan Wangji, and all the other YunmengJiang disciples take to the battlefield.
Even with the xuanwu, it’s a tough fight because the QishanWen Sect has come prepared at least in terms of sheer numbers. But when Jiang FengMian and the rest of the YunmengJiang cultivators return a few hours later, it decisively turns the tides of battle. By the time the sun has risen, what few QishanWen Sect cultivators are left have fled, and Lotus Pier is littered with corpses.
“What a good girl you are, Xuan-Xuan, the best girl,” Madam Yu praises the xuanwu nonstop. “Give her as many longans as she can eat,” she orders Wei Wuxian.
Uncle Jiang has been standing a bit awkwardly to one side as he watches Madam Yu praise the xuanwu. “‘San-Niang, how about encouraging the other disciples,” he says after a moment.
Madam Yu sweeps a glance over at the other YunmengJiang disciples. “You’re not as soft as Jiang FengMian would have you be,” she says, which is high praise coming from her. “But you,” she says to Uncle Jiang. “You’re late. If Xuan-Xuan hadn’t been here, you might have come back to us all—”
Uncle Jiang suddenly pulls her into a hug.
Jiang Cheng’s mouth actually drops open in the most comical way.
Jiang Yanli, seeing her parents embrace, begins to tear up.
Wei Wuxian grabs Lan Wangji’s sleeve, staring wide-eyed at the scene. None of them have ever seen such a blatant show of affection from either Jiang FengMian or Yu ZiYuan.
“W-W-What are you doing?” Madam Yu stutters, her face going a splotchy red.
“Thank god you’re okay,” Uncle Jiang says.
“Let go,” Madam Yu hisses. “We’re in front of everyone!”
Uncle Jiang loosens up only enough to kiss her on the forehead which spreads her blush right down her neck. Then he pulls a hairpin out of his pocket and hands it to her.
“M-My hairpin?” Madam Yu says, staring at it.
“I had it fixed,” Uncle Jiang says. “Do you like it?”
Madam Yu holds it up to the light, and Wei Wuxian sees her jade hairpin, now veined with shining gold. She bites her lip, but Uncle Jiang waits expectantly for an answer. “It looks more beautiful than before,” she says finally.
Uncle Jiang smiles and hugs her again.
It takes awhile to clean up Lotus Pier. Wei Wuxian has to keep a strict eye on Xuan-Xuan to make sure it doesn’t try to eat any of the bodies and turn into another Xuanwu of Slaughter, but Xuan-Xuan just seems content being fed as many longans as it can eat.
Although the QishanWen Sect cultivators dispatched to YunmengJiang only makes up a small portion of their forces, YunmengJiang’s reputation spreads far and wide as having a terrifying new watchdog.
After this battle, they also know that QishanWen will be preparing for war, and an attack won’t come by surprise again.
And that’s when Lan Wangji decides to leave.
“You can’t leave,” Wei Wuxian says, frowning, when Lan Wangji announces his decision after dinner that night.
“Be quiet, Wei Wuxian,” Madam Yu says. “Let him finish.”
“Now that YunmengJiang has openly rebelled, QishanWen Sect will return,” Lan Wangji says. “I will return to Gusu and speak to the elders about a formal alliance against QishanWen.”
Uncle Jiang nods. “QishanWen sect has already burned the Cloud Recesses and now ambushed Lotus Pier. We looked to the side when they only attacked the smaller sects, but it’s only a matter of time before they suppress all of the sects one by one,” he says. “Unless we make a stand.” He turns to Lan Wangji. “I give you my blessing,” he says. “San-Niang,” he says to Madam Yu. “We too must discuss battle plans. I will visit the QingheNie Sect tomorrow as well. I know Nie MingJue has long hated Wen RuoHan.”
“Visit Koi Tower as well then,” Madam Yu says. “Tell Jin GuangShan of our plans. If that idiot doesn’t agree, I’ll talk to Madam Jin.”
Uncle Jiang nods. “Will you be all right here?” he asks.
“Of course we will,” Madam Yu says, but in a distinctly softer tone than usual. “I have Xuan-Xuan here after all.”
Uncle Jiang smiles at her and they all know something has changed between them, because for the first time, Madam Yu smiles back.
Even though he knows it’s for a good reason, Wei Wuxian is not at all happy about Lan Wangji leaving. He’ll be going by himself for maximum speed. Now that he’s fully recovered, unless Wen RuoHan himself is coming after him, Lan Wangji should be able to protect himself against any cultivators who might try to attack him before he reaches the Cloud Recesses. But Wei Wuxian still worries, although he tries to keep it contained when he’s lying with Lan Wangji in their bed that night.
“Do not worry.” Lan Wangji is the one to bring it up in the end, taking Wei Wuxian’s hand and pressing a kiss to his fingertips.
“Of course I’m going to worry,” Wei Wuxian says, snuggling closer with his head pillowed on Lan Wangji’s shoulder, probably the last time he’ll get to do this for awhile. “Even if you get there safely, there will be plans for war. I might not see you again for a long time." He turns to bury his face in Lan Wangji’s chest.
Lan Wangji lets go of his hand so Wei Wuxian immediately fists it into his shirt, and finds himself being tugged closer into the warm safety of his arms. He feels Lan Wangji press a kiss to his hair and hold him tighter, and Wei Wuxian can’t help the stray tear that leaks out of his eyes.
Lan Wangji’s hands run down Wei Wuxian’s back, soothing, which makes the tears worse. He knows Lan Wangji has to go back to his own sect. Wei Wuxian himself has his own responsibilities to YunmengJiang as the head disciple. It had only been the circumstances that kept them together for so long, and Wei Wuxian should be grateful they had this much time.
“I love you,” Lan Wangji says.
Wei Wuxian cries harder.
In the morning, Wei Wuxian is bleary-eyed and miserable when he walks Lan Wangji out to the edge of the docks.
“Did you bring everything?” he asks. “Do you have enough to eat?”
“I’ll reach the Cloud Recesses by midnight,” Lan Wangji says. “I have the meals you packed me.”
The xuanwu has followed them over, but it seems to understand and blinks soulfully at Lan Wangji.
“Take care of yourself,” Lan Wangji says to Wei Wuxian, and then looks up at the xuanwu. “Take care of him,” he adds.
The xuanwu gives a mournful honk.
Wei Wuxian is reluctant to let go of his hand, but finally can’t find any more excuses to hang on.
He watches as Lan Wangji steps up onto Bichen and in a flash, has disappeared into the sky. He watches until he can’t see even the smallest silhouette anymore before he finally turns to go back inside.
The xuanwu continues to look at Wei Wuxian and nudges at him with its head. Wei Wuxian pats it absently a few times, but even though the xuanwu swims slowly beside him, it doesn’t really help the acute absence he feels with Lan Wangji gone.
Jiang Yanli makes him his favorite lotus rib soup for dinner. Jiang Cheng even puts one of the bigger pieces of meat on Wei Wuxian’s plate, but it’s a somber affair with both Jiang FengMian and Lan Wangji conspicuously missing.
In the end, it’s Madam Yu who puts her chopsticks down with a clack and pins Wei Wuxian with a look.
“Some look you have as YunmengJiang’s head disciple,” she says.
Wei Wuxian glances up at her and then back down at his soup, stirring around the pieces of meat and lotus root.
“Absolutely useless,” Madam Yu says.
“A-Niang, don’t be angry. it’s only A-Xian’s first day without Second Master Lan,” Jiang Yanli says.
“Well, if he’s going to be completely useless while Lan Wangji is gone, he may as well go with him,” Madam Yu says.
The words don’t sink in right away until Jiang Cheng elbows him in the gut.
“Ow, what’s that for?” Wei Wuxian says.
“Hurry and thank A-Niang,” Jiang Yanli says. “She just gave you permission to go with Second Master Lan!”
Wei Wuxian's head whips up. “She did?" he asks. "You did?”
“How did we end up with such a stupid head disciple,” Madam Yu says. “I pity GusuLan when you cross the threshold.”
Wei Wuxian leaps up. “Thank you, Madam Yu!” he says. “I’ll be back as soon as I can!”
“Don’t you dare shame YunmengJiang,” Madam Yu says. “Or I won’t be the one trying to talk Lan Qiren into accepting you.”
“I won’t! I promise I won’t!” Wei Wuxian says, beaming at her. “Take care of Xuan-Xuan for me!” he shouts and sprints out of the room.
“Xuan-Xuan is more useful than you anyway,” he hears Madam Yu say.
Wei Wuxian doesn’t stop to pack anything. He just grabs Suibian, waves goodbye to the xuanwu, and flies out. He’s never been so happy that Suibian had been forged for speed and agility, because flying as fast as he can, it takes him a few hours journey before he catches up to Lan Wangji just outside of Gusu.
“Lan Zhan!” he shouts as soon as he sees the familiar white-robed figure. Lan Wangji is flying more slowly on his sword a little distance ahead of him. “Lan Zhan, look at me! Lan Zhan, wait for me!” he shouts.
The figure up ahead pauses, and Wei Wuxian speeds up. When Lan Wangji turns to look at him, Wei Wuxian takes a deep breath and throws himself into his arms.
Lan Wangji’s eyes are wide and startled, but he catches Wei Wuxian anyway, Bichen wobbling up and down before he can steady them. Wei Wuxian beams at Lan Wangji, arms locked tight around his neck.
“Wei Ying?” Lan Wangji asks.
“I’m here!” Wei Wuxian beams at him and kisses him right there in midair.
Lan Wangji quickly flies them down to the ground before he’s so distracted he loses control. It takes some time before Wei Wuxian is ready to pull back again, but continues to hug Lan Wangji, beaming up at him. “I missed you so much, Lan Zhan,” he says. “Even though it was only one day.”
“Mm,” Lan Wangji agrees, his hands tightening around Wei Wuxian’s waist.
“Madam Yu gave me permission to come,” Wei Wuxian tells him. “She has Xuan-Xuan now anyway. Can you believe she likes the xuanwu more than me?” he says. “You would never like Xuan-Xuan more than me, right? You prefer your Xian-Xian?”
“Always,” Lan Wangji says.
He leans in to kiss Wei Wuxian, but Wei Wuxian leans back, dodging it and smiling. Instead, he holds Lan Wangji’s hand up, lowers his head, and sinks his teeth into Lan Wangji’s forearm.
Lan Wangji tenses up all over and hisses.
“Don’t blame me. You said it yourself—you prefer actions to words, right?” Wei Wuxian says when he pulls back. He smiles at Lan Wangji—the one he's tamed, and the one who's tamed him. “The oath of a lifetime.”