"It's the Ghost General!"
Lan Sizhui faltered, pulse skipping a beat. Chains rattled as the fierce corpse—the familiar fierce corpse—surged forward and tore the dancing goddess apart with terrifyingly ruthless efficiency. Above the carnage soared a haunting song, airy and out of tune but saturated with power.
How? Wasn't Uncle Ning burned to ash? And…
The hacked-off bamboo flute was no Chenqing, but Lan Sizhui found his eyes glued to it regardless, to its strange, supposedly lunatic cut-sleeve player who nevertheless manipulated resentful energy with practiced ease. Could it be a coincidence? Or something more?
Could it be that his father's Inquiry had never been answered because the soul he searched for no longer numbered among the dead?
Mo Xuanyu was too old to be a reincarnation, though, and Zidian's strike failed, so it wasn't a case of possession. Except, the way Hanguang-Jun acted around him was like nothing Lan Sizhui had ever seen. He insisted on bringing Mo Xuanyu back to the Cloud Recesses with them, and the fact that he actually faced off against Sect Leader Jiang about it…
Lan Sizhui kept his mouth shut and his expression composed, but inside, hope fluttered fragile as a butterfly’s wings.
By the time they made it up to the Cloud Recesses, Lan Sizhui only grew more certain of his suspicions. For all Mo Xuanyu played at dramatics, the utter change in his demeanor when he thought nobody was looking spoke of hidden depths. More tellingly, Hanguang-Jun allowed the way Mo Xuanyu shamelessly draped himself all over the other man at every opportunity. He even ordered Mo Xuanyu to be placed in the jingshi! The jingshi! Not even Lan Sizhui ventured there often, for all that he had a right to as family.
Arriving at the Cloud Recesses didn't dampen Mo Xuanyu's lunatic persona in the least, though. If anything, it exacerbated it. Mo Xuanyu didn't so much break the rules as shatter them, find the line and dance right over it. It was almost as if he wanted—
"Father," Lan Sizhui asked the first moment he could get Hanguang-Jun alone, "please, I need to know. Is Mo Xuanyu—is he Wei Wuxian?"
Hanguang-Jun was silent for a long moment. Then, he nodded, slow but unmistakable.
Lan Sizhui's heart stuttered in his chest.
"However," Hanguang-Jun said before he could speak, "Wei Ying is not aware that we know his true identity."
That brought Lan Sizhui up short. "What?"
"He doesn't know." Hanguang-Jun's jaw was stiff, the faintest hint of tension. "Based on your report of what happened at Mo Village and the events on Dafan Mountain, I suspect it was a body-sacrificing ritual that brought Wei Ying back, rather than true reincarnation or body possession. His memory may be affected."
(A-Yuan, A-Yuan, don't you want to grow big and strong? Here, let me give you some water, you'll shoot up faster than the carrots! )
Lan Sizhui swallowed, cold hardening in the pit of his stomach. Conversely, heat prickled behind his eyes. "So, he might not—he might not remember me?"
Hanguang-Jun looked sad. "I do not know. A-Yuan, I am sorry."
"It's—it's fine." Lan Sizhui blinked back his emotions, biting at the inside of his lip. "He'll remember eventually though, right?"
A sigh. "I hope so."
Lan Sizhui bowed his head and swallowed, hard. "Okay. Thank you for telling me."
There was a long pause. He didn't look up. Then, cloth rustled, and—
Oh. Hanguang-Jun didn't hug him often. This was nice.
Lan Yuan buried his face in his father's robes and clung on for dear life.
"Just what excuses are you still making for him?!” Jin Ling snarled, body canted forward, fury in every line of his form. His rant echoed in Lan Sizhui's ears, dripping with more venom than a viper, but every word was wrong wrong wrong. Wei Ying hadn't been evil, he had been kind, he had been smiling, he had been—
(Xian-gege! Play with me! )
Hands up his sleeves to hide how they curled into white-knuckled fists, Lan Sizhui drew on every bit of hard-learned discipline he had to keep his mouth shut. This wasn't the time or the place to get into an argument about Wei Wuxian. Not here. Not now.
Jin Ling had a right to be angry, Lan Sizhui reminded himself. He'd lost his parents to the actions of Wei Wuxian, if not the Yiling Patriarch's own hand. He'd been raised in part by Sect Leader Jiang, who hated Wei Wuxian with such vehemence that demonic cultivators dragged to Lotus Pier never came back. Of course he would have picked up on his uncle's beliefs.
Still, knowing that the man Jin Ling spat curses at had just saved them all in Yi City—knowing that Wei Wuxian was just upstairs, that he could come down and hear this at any moment—it hurt. The more time Lan Sizhui spent with Wei Wuxian, the more he could see the similarities between the person he called Senior Mo and the Xian-gege who'd hung him off trees and carried him around the market. Wei Wuxian was cheerful rather than bloodthirsty, kind in his own way rather than cruel. He made a surprisingly effective teacher, too, though Lan Sizhui was admittedly a bit rattled by his methods.
Still, that didn’t mean that Jin Ling’s words didn’t make Lan Sizhui want to bristle in Wei Wuxian’s defense.
Luckily, Lan Jingyi managed to defuse the situation, turning the conversation to other topics. Lan Sizhui kept his breathing even, maintained a smile, and pointedly ignored Lan Jingyi's worried looks. It was fine. He was fine. He was fine.
Then, Hanguang-Jun walked in with his forehead ribbon tied around Wei Wuxian's wrists, a declaration so loud and clear he may as well have shouted it from the rooftops. Lan Sizhui choked on his tea. Was his father possessed? Had he lost his mind? That was-!
After Hanguang-Jun all but dragged Wei Wuxian back up to their room, Lan Jingyi grabbed hold of Lan Sizhui's shoulders and cried, "Holy shit, since when did your dad and Senior Mo get married? "
Jin Ling, as well as the other non-Lan disciples, whipped their heads around to stare. "Married?!" Jin Ling screeched, pitch a hair shy of dying cat. "Mo Xuanyu—and Hanguang-Jun— married?! "
"Sizhui, did you know about this?" Lan Jingyi demanded, ignoring him.
Lan Sizhui gave a vehement shake of his head, putting his teacup down before it spilled. "No! I had no idea!"
He'd known his father was in love with Wei Wuxian, of course, but he hadn't realized that Wei Wuxian reciprocated. He certainly hadn't realized their relationship had progressed as far as—as that.
Lan Jingyi scrutinized him, visibly doubtful. Upon determining that he wasn't lying, though, a wicked grin spread across Lan Jingyi's face. "Hey, hey. Do you know what this means?"
Lan Sizhui stared at him. "What?"
"You have to call Senior Mo Mom now."
"…I really don't," Lan Sizhui said weakly, even as he felt his ears grow warm. Unbidden, the memory of latching onto Wei Wuxian and babbling Mama, Mama! long ago in the markets of Yiling rose up in his mind's eye. "I really, really don't."
"Wait, hold on." A Nie disciple leaned over, eyebrows making a break for his hairline. "What makes you say they're married? Was the forehead ribbon thing that significant?"
The Lan disciples shared an awkward glance. Right, they'd forgotten that other sects didn't always know the details about their customs.
Lan Sizhui cleared his throat. "Ah, the Lan forehead ribbon means 'to regulate oneself.' As such, it is very, very personal, and only your cultivation partner can touch it," he explained as delicately as he could. "To give your forehead ribbon to another is as good as a public declaration, and tying it around someone is—well." He coughed, heat rushing up his cheeks. "It is certainly. A statement."
"That's one word for it," Lan Jingyi snickered. "I mean, I guess they're technically not married yet, since we definitely would've heard about a wedding, but they may as well be. Did you see how many knots there were around Senior Mo's hands? Hanguang-Jun really staked a claim! Why—"
"Jingyi, for the love of all that is good and holy, please be quiet," Lan Sizhui groaned, dropping his head into his hands. "That's my father you're talking about, ugh."
"And your other father, now, too, apparently," Jin Ling muttered. His face was hilariously red, which Lan Sizhui probably shouldn't have found as adorable as he did. "I still can't believe Hanguang-Jun—and Mo Xuanyu of all people—" He shook his head in disbelief.
Lan Sizhui reached for his cup and knocked back the rest of his tea like a shot. "Gossip is forbidden," he tried, more a plea than anything else.
"We're not in the Cloud Recesses," Jin Ling retorted, and Lan Sizhui officially gave up. With a groan, he slumped in his seat (Bad posture is forbidden, Lan Qiren's voice snapped immediately, but Lan Sizhui ignored it) and pretended he couldn't hear the chatter.
"I'm never going to be able to look at either Hanguang-Jun or Senior Mo with a straight face ever again," Lan Sizhui mumbled as he refilled his tea. Beside him, Lan Jingyi snickered, face flushed with alcohol as the other disciples laughed around them.
All in all, though, even with the lingering embarrassment… it wasn't a bad night. They had all survived Yi City together, the company was good, food and drink flowed freely, and even Jin Ling allowed himself to relax.
When they parted ways the next day, Lan Sizhui found himself already looking forward to their next meeting.
Then, Hanguang-Jun barreled into the Cloud Recesses with Wei Wuxian bleeding out in his arms, and all Lan Sizhui could think was no no no Xian-gege don't leave me again—
Four days. Wei Wuxian was unconscious for four days, and they were among the most nerve-wracking of Lan Sizhui's life.
Everyone knew who Wei Wuxian was, now. It was impossible not to hear about what had happened at Koi Tower, and while gossip was forbidden in the Cloud Recesses, passing on important news of the wider cultivation world was not. Everyone knew that Wei Wuxian had accused Jin Guangyao of murdering Nie Mingjue, that he'd unsheathed Suibian (which had been sealed for thirteen years) and thus revealed himself. Everyone knew that Hanguang-Jun had defended him, that Jin Ling had stabbed him, that he—
Anyway. There was no gossip allowed in the Cloud Recesses, but that didn't stop people from talking.
By the third day, Lan Sizhui had probably spent more time than he should've hovering around the hanshi, helping his father tend to Wei Wuxian's wound. It hadn't hit anything vital, but the sheer amount of blood loss was no laughing matter, and the fact that it had been a through-and-through didn't help.
When Wei Wuxian woke up, though, Lan Sizhui was there. He wasn't conscious himself, but he was there, and it was Wei Wuxian's sudden shout that startled him to awareness.
Lying in the corner of the room, Lan Sizhui blinked, trying to get his bearings back. He'd been sitting at Wei Wuxian's side with Hanguang-Jun, but he must've fallen asleep. Had Hanguang-Jun moved him?
(…Wait. Was this the little mattress he'd used when he'd first come to the Cloud Recesses, before moving into the disciples' dormitories? He'd never stayed the night in his uncle's hanshi, but it wasn't far from his father's jingshi…)
Lan Sizhui sat up. A blanket slipped off his shoulders, and he realized someone had folded his outer robes neatly by his pillow and set his boots against the wall. Across the room, Wei Wuxian was clearly awake and talking, Hanguang-Jun close at his side, Suibian sheathed in his hand. Lan Sizhui's heart leapt at the sight, because only now could he convince himself that Wei Wuxian would be alright.
"Senior Wei," Lan Sizhui blurted out before he could stop himself, nearly dizzy with relief, "you're awake!"
Wei Wuxian jolted. His head whipped around, and oops, he clearly hadn't noticed Lan Sizhui was there. "Sizhui?! What are you doing here?"
"Sizhui has sat with you every day," Hanguang-Jun informed him as Lan Sizhui scrambled to his feet and pulled on his clothes. "He was worried about you."
Wei Wuxian winced, putting down Suibian. "Did you really?"
"It was no trouble," Lan Sizhui assured him, still shaking off the fog of sleep. Sinking down on the stool by the bed he'd spent every free moment on for the past four days, he couldn't help but reach out and grab Wei Wuxian's sleeve. He needed to show himself that this was real, that Wei Wuxian was awake, that Wei Wuxian was alive. He was alive.
Lan Sizhui didn't know why he said what he said next. Maybe he'd been more shaken up by the whole affair than he'd realized. Maybe he'd still been half asleep, still exhausted from those terrifying four days. Maybe he'd just been sick and tired of pretending not to know, and he wanted the pseudo-parent he'd missed for so long to look at him like a son again.
Whatever the reason, Lan Sizhui found himself slumping with relief, forehead resting against Wei Wuxian's shoulder as he murmured, "Xian-gege, I'm glad you're alright."
Wei Wuxian went stiff. Hanguang-Jun breathed out, a long, controlled exhale.
Then, tentatively, a hand settled feather-light atop his head. "…A-Yuan?"
"Mm." Hanguang-Jun's voice was low, almost sad. "I am sorry we did not tell you. We weren't sure if you remembered."
Wei Wuxian let out a choked sort of almost-sob. "Remember? Of course I—oh, A-Yuan— "
All of a sudden, Lan Sizhui found himself yanked onto the bed with a surprisingly strong grip, pulled into a tight embrace. He couldn't help but squawk in surprise. "S-Senior Wei! Your wound!"
"Relax, I'm fine! Hey, what's with this 'Senior Wei' stuff? Aren't I still Xian-gege to you?" For all Wei Wuxian tried for levity, they could still hear the emotion laying heavy in his tone.
Lan Sizhui tried to wriggle free, but Wei Wuxian's arms wouldn't budge. "I—it's not proper—"
Wei Wuxian huffed a laugh. If it was a little watery, if his eyes were suspiciously shiny in the dim lamplight, Lan Sizhui pretended not to have seen it. "Proper? Ai-yah, Lan Zhan, you've really turned him into a complete Lan, eh?"
"Mn." Hanguang-Jun sounded pleased. "Sizhui is one of the most promising disciples in the Cloud Recesses."
Wei Wuxian laughed again, and Lan Sizhui was pretty sure his face was on fire. Groaning, he hid it in Wei Wuxian's shoulder, breathing in the weirdly comforting scent of sweat and ink.
(How was it that even after being dead for thirteen years and reincarnating into an entirely new body, Wei Wuxian managed to smell the same? Like contentment and family and home? )
"Lan Zhan, you really are too good." Wei Wuxian's hand stroked through Lan Sizhui's hair and he tried not to melt. He hadn't realized he'd missed how tactile Wei Wuxian was until just now. "I'm glad you're the one who found him. There's seriously no one better he could've been raised by. Right, A-Yuan?"
"I am very grateful to Hanguang-Jun for everything he's done for me," Lan Sizhui said, completely sincere. He tried to shift his weight to ease pressure off of Wei Wuxian, but all it did was make Wei Wuxian pull him closer. "Ah, seriously, your wound…"
Wei Wuxian waved his concerns away. "Ha, a little stab like that wouldn't kill me. Why, if this was my old body, I could've had half my guts hanging out and still been able to stuff them back in and keep fighting!"
Lan Sizhui winced at the mental image. Apparently, Hanguang-Jun's expression held similar consternation, because it prompted another snicker.
"You guys need to relax, I really am fine." Wei Wuxian tugged playfully at one of Lan Sizhui's long bangs. "Hey, I just realized, do you wear your hair like this because it looks like Lan Zhan? That's so cute!"
Lan Sizhui sputtered, face hotter than Wei Wuxian's spicy congee. That was it, he was officially dead, Xian-gege was the worst. He didn't know why he'd missed this person. "I—it's not-!"
Wei Wuxian cackled. There was really no other word to describe the noise he made, all wicked humor and delight. "You do! Aw, that's adorable. Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, aren't you flattered? Our son wants to look just like you!"
"Of course! You raised him longer than I did, after all. Surely that counts as shared custody at the very least." For all that Wei Wuxian's tone was teasing, it was also overlaid with no little amount of warmth and gratitude.
"Mn. Ours." Hanguang-Jun sounded ridiculously pleased.
Despite his embarrassment, warmth bloomed in Lan Sizhui's heart. At long last, he had both his parents together again, and they'd both chosen him. He was theirs.
Lan Sizhui was pretty sure that he’d never been so happy in his life.