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Lost in Diplomacy

Chapter Text

The flow of time was an everlasting mystery, an enthralling conundrum that can never be resolved. There is a form of charm in the way that one moment would slip through time like water through fingers, while another would scrape like sand clinging to dry skin. It was engaging, as much as it was baffling. That aspect of time left Wei Wuxian feeling bewildered, disoriented all while his mind filled with questions that no one could answer.

Why was it that the ride passed in what felt like hours when he was promised days? What made the time fade away, out of his reach before he could seize it, yet the instant he hopped out of the carriage, the seconds slowed down, gliding back into its fundamental pace?

Perhaps, there was a blessing to the passage of time that was beyond his comprehension. Wei Wuxian loathed being confined in one place; it left him unsettled; with energy to drain. At that second, there was no urge for him to run, no force compelling him to scale the high walls of the forbidden city. It was as if no time had passed since his excursion started.

It seemed that he wouldn't be disgracing the Jiang Dynasty with his first step into Cloud Recess. The inventible has dawdled, and Wei Wuxian accepted it with a beaming smile that challenged the gleaming sun in its radiance.

"Wei Wuxian, you better not be planning anything." Jiang Cheng's voice rang vociferous, loud among the bustling movements of the servants around them. His intense gaze followed their actions to assure their care as they unpacked the diverse components of the dowry before his eyes shifted to rest back on his adopted brother, his cousin in blood. "Remember why we are here, don't go stirring trouble and ruining everything, or I'll break your legs."

Wei Wuxian's smile appeared to grow at Jiang Cheng's words, a promise of mischief that reflected in his eyes and fed his brother's agitation. "But what's the fun in that? This place seems way too orderly. Some jokes will do them good, Jiang Cheng."

The Crown Prince's lips parted, another warning on the tip of his tongue when a figure clad in Gusu's traditional white robes entered their vision. His clothes spoke of money and status, sewed and traced with silver and blue threads that highlighted the clouds patterned on his outer robe. There was no mistaking the soothing smile on his face, nor the majestic sword at his hip. The charming man was none other than the Emperor's brother, the first prince of Gusu and one of the Twin Jade of Lan.

He was as graceful as stories foretold, every movement executed with a design. Lan Xichen was an image of serenity that belonged among the beauty and nature of Cloud Recesses. Wei Wuxian wouldn't have disputed his words had he proclaimed himself an immortal.

He couldn't help but wonder if the rumours were true. Did Lan Wangji, Emperor of Gusu, the Son Of Heaven and one of the Twin Jade of Lan look like his older brother?

"It seems Young Master Wei is truly as lively as they say." Lan Xichen was the first to bow, lowering his head with his hands folded in front of him. His movements were subtle and fluid, fitting of a prince of his ranking. The brothers reflected his action, bowing in return. "Your Highness, I hope your journey was comfortable and safe."

The radiance of his smile as they straightened their backs was infectious, easing the agitation that flared within Jiang Cheng's blood and supplying the sparkle of Wei Wuxian's grey eyes.

"We've had an uneventful journey. We thank your highness for your concern." There was no trace to be found of Jiang Cheng's intensity in his voice, no signs of playfulness. As he conversed with the first prince of Gusu, he spoke as the heir to Yunmeng's throne; he was the image of the perfect Crown Prince. Wei Wuxian wouldn't have been happier with any other escort.

That moment was the perfect chance for Wei Wuxian to exhibit his talents, to flaunt his abilities, to stop the progress of what was guaranteed to be a dull conversation. His lips lifted at the corners, eyes brightening, the world in his vision reflected in the greyness of his pupils. "Your Highness, I heard that the alcohol in Caiyi is the best in the world, rivalled by no other drink; do you think the ceremony can wait long enough for me to run into town and try it?"

The First Princ's chuckle was as soothing as his smooth voice, his posture neutral and unchanging in the face of Wei Wuxian's words or the rage that radiated from the purple-clad figure standing beside him. Wei Wuxian couldn't decide whether to roar with laughter or flee his brother's reach. "Young Master Wei, perhaps you'd like to wait until after the ceremony to try the wine, you wouldn't want to be late to your wedding, and I fear the emperor wouldn't approve."

The hope that was slowly growing inside of Wei Wuxian dissolved the instant the words were spoken, and for the first time since he wore the ceremonial robes, he was reminded of their weight. The layers of the Hanfu were no longer just garments to clothe him, not when he recalled their design, a purpose that was gradually shackling him, coiling around him and snatching the breath out of him.

Red was an auspicious colour, a shade that embodied happiness and joy, a warm hue that painted the sky throughout the rise and set of the sun, but he couldn't view it as such. The red of his wedding robes was vibrant in its intensity, a shade he eternally preferred, and regularly lined his clothes with. As Wei Wuxian stood clad in it, he wondered if it was the red of the life that this marriage would drain him from, the joy that Gusu's rules would steal from him.

He refused to be another victim of life in the Emperor's inner palace.

Wei Wuxian's smile didn't falter, his gaze didn't waver, and the laugh that rang around them was as cheerful as any other.

He consented to this, to wed the righteous son of heaven, to be the empress of Gusu. It was a small price to pay for Yunmeng, a meagre endeavour to repay the mercy of his uncle. He owed Jiang Fengmian his life for taking in the son of his disgraced sister and raising him as his own, as a prince of Yunmeng and not as the son of a servant.

Whether it was a hand, his body or his life, it didn't matter. Wei Wuxian was willing to pay any price for the prosperity of Yungmeng; even if the cost was his freedom, the sole treasure he valued above all.

"Well, I wouldn't want to offend my husband to be before the wedding. That won't be any fun."

He wondered if Lan Wangji could be as gentle as Lan Xichen appeared to be. He questioned whether the righteous Hanguang-jun was as strict and as rule bidding as the rumours conveyed. How amusing would it be to taunt the rigid Emperor of Gusu?

"Would you like a moment before stepping into the sedan chair, Young Master Wei?" There was a taste of patience and gentleness in Lan Xichen's voice, a mask of serenity on his face; as if they had all the time in the world to wait for Wei Wuxian to be ready and sit on the wooden chair that would carry him to his fate.

"We thank your highness for your understanding." That same tenderness and indulgence could not be deducted in Jiang Cheng's voice. He motioned for Wei Wuxian's servant to fix his hair, rearranging the various golden hairpins decorating the raven locks. The servants finished by setting a phoenix coronet on his head, the weight of it settling on his neck and shoulders, the burden joining the shackles of the robes wrapped around him. The red beads dangling around his face delighted him as they sang with the wind, and he couldn't withstand the appeal to reach and flick them, making them dance to a soft melody.

It was a magnificent piece of jewellery, far beyond what his status merited. Wei Wuxian may be the son of a princess, but his mother was deposed, disowned for shaming the Jiang royal family and fleeing with a servant. It was only the late Emperor's affection for his daughter that spared the couple's lives, and it was the current Emperor's fondness of his sister that saved Wei Wuxian.

The caress of the red paint as the lotus was drawn on his forehead was gentle, the fleeting kiss of a lover, but it was the last step to completing his attire, and as the brush was given to another servant, Wei Wuxian knew that he was equipped to meet his husband.

"How do I look, Jiang Cheng? Am I too beautiful for words? Do you think Lan Wangji would fall in love with me at first glance?" He was immune to his brother's piercing glare, as well as a master in dodging his blows. "Come on. You don't have to be jealous; you should be pleased that I'm getting married! Now that I'm gone you might have a chance with the ladies, try to tone it down, or you'll frighten them, alright?"

"Wei Wuxian, you..." Jiang Cheng's voice boomed more resonant than Wei Wuxian's reverberating laughter, but as he strode closer to his brother, reaching strike him in the arm, there was a rare tenderness in his eyes that left Wei Ying stunned, the sound of his joy dying down. "Try not to shame us and bring ruin to Yunmeng; if you do, no one will save you from me."

"You say this now, be prepared to eat your words, Jiang Cheng."

Jiang Cheng's calloused fingers flicked his forehead, above the red-painted lotus; the gesture uncharacteristic coming from the gruff Crown Prince. "This is not Lotus Pier. It will not be Mother or one of the courtiers you're annoying. Father and I won't be able to save you if you offend the Emperor." His words were whispered, hushed and faint, a secret exhaled between them, uncarried by the breeze to the prying ears of those who surrounded them. "You need to be careful. You'll be the foreign Empress of Gusu; all eyes will be on you; they'll be waiting for a stumble to target your life."

"I know, I understand. You don't have to worry; I'll be fine. I can't be eliminated that easily."

Jiang Cheng could do no more than exhale, moving away from Wei Wuxian to look at his servant. "Mo Xuanyu, get his veil." He turned his gaze back to his brother, his signature scowl back on his face. "You, get in the sedan chair, now."

"A-Yu, the veil is in the carriage." There was no mistaking the lightness of Wei Wuxian's tone, no denying the playfulness that radiated from his restless body. Jiang Cheng knew him adequately, understood him enough to recognise the signs of a brewing prank. There was no chance to inquire about his brother's questionable attitude, no opportunity to investigate the peculiar excitement before Mo Xuanyu appeared in front of them, twitchy and frightened, prostrating himself on the dirt at Jiang Cheng's feet. There was no mistaking the black piece of fabric presented above the servant's head.

"Forgive me, your highness. This servant could not find the veil. There was only this black piece fabric in the carriage." His voice was wavering, the words broken, and the tone apologetic. "Please punish this servant; it is my carelessness that caused this."

Wei Wuxian's cackling could be heard behind him, drowning the muffled chuckle of the Prince of Gusu, and not for the first time since the journey began, Jiang Cheng wondered why the universe was punishing him, what crime did he commit to be chosen as the escort of the heedless Wei Wuxian's wedding procession.

"Mo Xuanyu, get up! If anyone is to be punished then it's unquestionably not you, it's your thoughtless master." There was no hint of softness in his voice, no kindness in his stance, and as he turned to fix his gaze on the cackling Wei Wuxian, there was burning rage in his eyes. "Wei Wuxian, where is your veil, and don't dare try to lie; you were wearing it when we departed from Lotus Pier."

"But, Jiang Cheng, I need another colour in my outfit, red on red is extremely boring." The whining tone that reached Jiang Cheng's ear didn't deter him from scowling at his brother, taking a step closer in the direction of the man clad in red. Wei Wuxian didn't miss the movement, dashing to escape and hide behind Lan Xichen. "Fine, fine, it's hidden under the carriage boards. I hate it though; it's so thick I can't see a thing through it."

"Wei Wuxian, how shameless are you to hide behind the first prince?" His arms folded in front of him, head lowered in a sign of difference to the older male. "Your highness, please forgive my brother."

"Not at all, we're to be family shortly after all, but please forgive me as I must rush you, we shouldn't keep the Emperor waiting."

There was no mistaking the dimming of the constant glow that shone in Wei Wuxian's eyes, no denying the stiffness in his shoulders; he noticed even if it vanished in the blink of an eye. Any other day, Jiang Cheng wouldn't have discerned this reaction, not when Wei Wuxian was an unyielding fool that refused to share his fears and burdens. If he weren't paying attention to Wei Wuxian's every move, he wouldn't have noticed the fleeting change.

Jiang Cheng could understand Wei Wuxian dread for the approaching union; he didn't need his brother's confession to realise it.

As Mo Xuanyu returned with the veil, Jiang Cheng took a moment to comprehend the grandness of the fabric. The cloth was decorated luxuriously, Lotus flowers embroidered in golden thread, jewels and beads were scattered all over the veil, reflecting the sun rays shining over them.

The veil as magnificent as it was, didn't exhibit the grandeur of the robes Wei Wuxian was donned in, the red a vibrant and rich colour, the fabric smooth and soft, the golden threads a shinning contrast to the shade of the cloth. The tail of the outer robe was spread behind him, lined with feathers that matched the ones decorating the shoulders and enhanced with identical jewels to the ones scattered on the veil.

His father hadn't spared any expenses preparing for Wei Wuxian's marriage, not in the size and quality of the dowry, nor the grandness of his wedding robes.

Jiang Fengmian was making a statement, a silent declaration that no one could miss. Wei Wuxian was the son of a Princess of the Jiang Dynasty and must be treated in a way that befits his status. It didn't matter that his father was a servant, nor that his mother was deposed, not when he was the favoured nephew of the Emperor of the kingdom of Yunmeng.

Fingers wrapped around the silky fabric, removing it from the servant's grasp before walking to where Wei Wuxian had moved to stand next to the sedan chair. He would undoubtedly yearn for that bright smile and the playful charm; he would miss his brother, his best friend, his companion. At 18 years old, after 13 years of being together; after years that passed faster than they would've liked, fate was leading them to different roads.

Time was a peculiar mystery; one Jiang Cheng wished to control, to give them a few years together.

They were old enough to understand that not every prayer goes answered, not ever fantasy comes true. Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian were princes of Yunmeng, born in a life of lavish; their existence was restrained by duty.

"After today, I'll be a Lan, but Jiang Cheng, Lotus Pier will always be my home." Wei Wuxian's voice was soft, a flutter, a whisper that could be a fragment of Jiang Cheng's imagination. As the veil settled atop his brother's head, covering his face; his features were hidden from view, there was no confirming the words.

No one saw as Wei Wuxian's smile slipped off his face, no one noticed as his fingers tightened in a fist.

He stepped into the sedan chair, his vision restricted, and his movements supervised by that of the servants' assisting him. It wasn't long before he was seated.

Time was an entity that transcended their knowledge, out of their reach, beyond their control.

As he was carried to the Palace of Heavenly Purity, time slowed down until the seconds halted, the clock stopped ticking. Wei Wuxian's head was held high, his thoughts running wild; distance separated him from his fate, and shortly, he'll be facing his betrothal, his husband to be.

Wei Wuxian was to be wed, whether he was prepared or not.

There was no escaping his duty.

For Yunmeng and the Jiang Dynasty, he will be ready.

Chapter Text

Time was a pilar of life, an essence of which humans survived. The passing of days, the changing of seasons; the birth of a child and their growth till they pass. Time watched upon them through every second of their lives; their cherished moments, and their despair. It witnessed their stories, recorded some in history and allowed the rest to vanish with the passing days.

Time was an entity that observed as the world advanced, as empires rose and fell.

For the first time in his life, Wei Wuxian wondered if the passage of time was their discipliner and not their protector. How farfetched was that thought when the time was every humans' biggest enemy? How absurd was it when death was one's biggest fear?

There was nothing scarier than a man who didn't fear death, an individual that didn't fear the passage of time. Wei Wuxian knew that the trip to the Palace of Heavenly Purity should take no more than thirty minutes, but as he sat there, the seconds ticking away at a snail pace, it felt as if a day had passed with nothing to entertain him beside his thoughts and his worries.

Time was not kind to him; not when it stole his parents from him, not when it sped up and slowed on a whim, leaving Wei Wuxian breathless, disoriented and worst of all; bored.

"Are we there yet?" He had lost count of the number of times he had asked the question, turning it into a game, a way to test the guards' patience. He expected the answer he heard countless times so far; expected the attendant to tell him to be patient and that it shouldn't take much longer, but it was different. The answer he received was muffled, the words drown out by the music of the booming drums.

It was the response Wei Wuxian sought to receive, the sign that they had reached their destination, and that within moments he'd be carried through the entrance, honoured as the Empress.

The central gate was reserved for the use of the Emperor; an entrance that no one was permitted to pass through it. It was an honour to enter through the majestic gate, a once in a lifetime homage reserved for the legal wife of the Emperor; preserved for the Empress.

Reality is sometimes more peculiar than fiction. Who would've imagined the boisterous and unruly Wei Wuxian would be the Empress receiving that sacred honour?

Lan Qiren must be living his worst nightmare.

The music came to a halt as the sedan chair shifted and touched the ground. The world stopped spinning, for a mere frozen second, there was no movement, a fraction of a broken moment that ended as the time came crashing down; life resumed in an explosion of tones, a melody of drums and fireworks.

There was no turning back now.

He never entertained the thought of backing down, not after a year of preparations; a year filled with nothing but lessons and lectures equipping him for the moment his fate would be sealed by marriage. A year of his life spent under Empress Yu and Lan Qiren's watchful eyes.

Did the Emperor fire the three arrows to drive away evil? It was such a shame that he would not be able to witness it, particularly with how skilful the tales proclaimed Lan Wangji to be. No matter, he'll have a chance to observe it one day.

"Young master, if you please." A hand was extended, blurry and dyed in a red hue, but the voice was a comfort he welcomed. His skin brushed the callused palm, accepting Mo Xuanyu's assistance. Wei Wuxian stepped out of the shadows of the sedan and into the warmth of the gleaming sun.

The world came into view, out of focus and washed in red. Even though the thick veil, Wei Wuxian could see the figures of the statesmen and courtiers standing to the sides of the red carpet. He could feel their eyes on him, studying him and watching his every move.

Their eyes will forever remain upon him.

Wei Wuxian raised his head, a gesture of defiance and pride. Look at me; he wanted to shout. I'm the bride you fought so fiercely against, the son of a servant you scorned with a passion. You looked at me with disdain, despised me for my birth and status, yet here I stand.

He never could've cared less. Not for his lower status, not for the hate of the nobles around him. He didn't aspire to be an Empress. He never sought the influence they all craved.

Power made people cruel, stripped them of their humanity. Status fed their arrogance until no humility could found within them.

He hated the arrogance of the powerful toward the powerless.

They were no better than the dogs that chased a feeble and ravenous child, no better than the animals who bit at the orphan boy that could not retaliate. They watched, and they laughed; entertained by the anguish of the frail. He resented the tyranny of monsters that believe they rule the world, taking and stealing and never giving.

Would his status strip him of his sympathy as well? He was prideful, full of vanity. He loved to show off his talents, his skills. Would his pride one day become arrogance?

He would never allow such a thing. He will not turn into another withering flower of the inner Palace, nor another beast of the court.

No word left his lips; no sound escaped him. As much as he desired to taunt those watching, to play tricks and pranks, it wasn't time yet, not when he was still betrothed and not wedded. Not when they could pin his faults on Yunmeng.

No one would believe it, but even he knew when to hold back.

He could feel the world around him, tense, anxious and heavy with emotions. He could perceive the animosity levelled at him.

It fed his determination.

The breeze ruffled his clothes, tousled his veil, and how he wished it brushed his heated skin. His first step was hesitant, the second more confident and the rest followed at a leisurely pace; measured and weighted down with the layers of clothes and jewellery he was donned in.

Time was toying with him, leaving him with no sense to tell the passing seconds, not when in an instant, he was standing in front of the Emperor.

"Remove the veil." The attendant's voice rang loud into the area, clear and boisterous, heard by all and Wei Wuxian had no more than a fraction of a second to smile as the red hue cleared away and the world came into view. The breeze brushed his skin, a gentle and refreshing touch against his cheeks. The world, in his view, was grand, the Palace behind him a majestic building fit for the wedding of an Emperor.

The gaze that met his was intense, piercing. The colour shining like liquid gold and Wei Wuxian was captivated by the beauty of the eyes. The Emperor was named the Jade Emperor, and as Wei Wuxian looked upon him for the first time, he believed every tale of his beauty.

The rumours told much truths, one of which alleged Lan Wangji was a jade sculpture in his beauty, cold and untouchable. Lan Wangji was a handsome man, a rare delicacy, yet it was his eyes that Wei Wuxian fixated on. How did they fail to mention that his eyes were the core of his grace?

"Bow"

Wei Wuxian wasn't one to be bound, to be shackled and held down. He loved his freedom, loved to test the boundaries and cross the limits. It was a rush, an addiction of his that left him reaching for more, a neverending hunger. It wasn't defiance that inspired him, but it was what defined him: the rascal, the troublemaker.

He's so much like his mom; they'd say, without care whether he heard them or not.

It made him proud to know he had something from her, a part of her spirit.

He didn't hate the dullness of ceremonies and rules more than at that moment. He couldn't have despised it more than when the Emperor of Gusu curled his hands and lowered his head in a low bow. He wanted the tedious part to be over and the banquet to begin.

Did his mother know that he was marrying into the forbidden City? Would she mourn his lost future, or would she rage that he willingly strolled into the world she fled?

For Yunmeng, he reminded himself.

The Emperor levelled his back, his head once more held high, and there was no missing the anguish that was painted across his face. Wei Wuxian's smile widened, genuine proof of his delight. He bowed, placing one palm on the back of the other hand and lowering his entire body, words rushed past his lips; whispered for the notice of his husband's and no one else. "Lan Wangji, why do you look like your wife just died when I'm standing right in front of you, shouldn't you look happier?"

There was no reaction, no change in the stoic features and Wei Wuxian found a new challenge, a need.

The first words left his lips, and a flood followed, rushing through with no care from him. The Emperor was now standing to his right, his steps matching Wei Wuxian, a token of tolerance, perhaps. He never hastened him, was it consideration for Wei Wuxian? Or was it the weight of his own robes? Either way, he was grateful for the reprieve; thankful for a chance to breathe under the shackles slowing him down. Either way, Wei Wuxian was not going to complain, not when every step must be measured. He was no more hesitant than he was when they departed Lotus Pier, but there was a weight on his back, a pressure resting on his neck. He was being scrutinised with every breath, every step.

Wei Wuxian was a storm, a hurricane that left disaster in its wake; who would've thought that mere ceremonial robes could hinder him, could slow him?

The stairs stretched far and wide, every flight a step closer to the moment when he'd be named Empress when he'd have fulfilled his duty.

The sound of the drums was a loud melody around them, muffling the sounds of the people; of their movements. The beat of his heart matched the rhythm; every pulse met with a bang. Wei Wuxian ignored the symphony in favour of looking at the majestic man walking beside him; how much he wanted him riled. "Lan Wangji, Lan Zhan, Your Majesty, Hanguang-jun, Lan Er-Gege. Hey, Lan Zhan!"

There was no verbal reply, no apparent reaction, but their gazes eventually met anew, and Wei Wuxian's smile brightened, his face radiating his happiness.

"Have you fallen in love with me yet?"

"Pathetic."

There was no holding back his laughter, no stopping the cackle that escaped his lips and stole his breath. He was pleasantly surprised, taken aback by the word spoken with no emotion to back it up.

Wei Wuxian could hear Lan Qiren's voice through the sounds of the festivity and his boisterous laughter, uncaring of what he was saying, but comprehending the messages nevertheless. As dull as the Emperor seemed to be, Wei Wuxian hadn't expected it to be much enjoyment to pester him, not when he didn't exhibit any outward reaction.

"Walk." The word caught him off guard as his laughter died down, and it was then that Wei Wuxian noticed the velvety texture of the Emperor's voice, the deep tone that could be either overwhelming and soothing. It was a waste that he didn't seem to speak much, just as much as it was a devastating loss that he spoke in such a monotone pitch.

"Walk? Hmm, yes, alright."

The rest of their ascension was performed in pleasant peace, escorted by the melodic sound of music; it was a festive ambience undeterred by the nervous energy assaulting the air, nor the heat of the blazing sun. The wind swirled around them, grazing their clothes and their skin, a delightful contrast to the warmth of the sunrays and a tender caress that urged them ahead.

They were soon standing at the entrance of the Palace, their backs to the crowds. There was a flash of peace, a pause in time as they stood there, listening to the world around them as it rejoiced in their matrimony. He wondered what was running through the Emperor's mind, yet wasn't given a chance to dwell on the subject as they took the first step into the hall of the Palance.

It was a magnificent room, fit for the wedding of a ruler. The sun streamed through the open windows, painting the hall in a yellow hue and brightening the lit space. The room was fitted in silver, and the blue of Gusu and Wei Wuxian could imagine the place to be a calming reprieve. He wondered how enthraling would the room look without the red and gold decorations that painted the walls and hung from the ceiling.

It was indeed an auspicious room.

The wind chimes sang with the breeze, a soft melody that was distinct to the one played beyond the palace doors, yet just as mesmerising.

An ache pulsated in his chest, nostalgia and homesickness crashed over him. How he missed the purple of Yunmeng, how he yearned for their silver bells and the smell of the Lotus that covers the water, just as he craved the taste of Jiang Yanli Lotus root and ribs soap.

His home was no longer a reality, his home had turned into a fantasy; past his reach, beyond his grasp.

His home was a memory that he could only treasure, never experience; an ache that will never be soothed.

People started to file in after them, The Lan royal family and the highest ministers of the court, more importantly, his only family in Cloud Recess.

The Emperor stopped at the stairs of the raised dais, dropped to his knees with a silence grace. Wei Wuxian opened his mouth, a vulgar remark on the tip of his tongue, but was silenced by the peculiar gold of Lan Wangji's eyes. If not for the fire burning in the depths of the jewelled gaze, he would've been mistaken as a carved jade, fit to decorate the Palace of an emperor "Kneel." There was no change in his tone, but the words were backed by the aura radiating off him, the air of a monarch expecting to be obeyed.

His knees touched the ground, the impact softened by the layers of his garments and in a synchronised symphony of playful breeze and musicals chimes, they bowed. They moved as one, unaware of the captivating charm of their attuned movements.

They kowtowed, to heaven and the earth, to their parents and each other. They touched their foreheads to the carpet; moving to the sound of music and drums and the patter of the headpiece's beads.

They rose as a singular entity, standing to full height as the Emperor and Empress of Gusu, as Heaven and Earth.

Only as they took their first step together did Wei Wuxian realise that their skin never brushed, their hands never touched. They were married, but they were not linked. Perhaps, they will never be.

The life of an empress or a concubine was not one to be envied, not when Emperors switched favours like they changed clothes. The world of an Empress was a lonely and cold one, devoid of love. Wei Wuxian was prepared for the loneliness.

He was ready for the life of a caged bird, never to leave the forbidden city.

He was prepared, that didn't mean he was equipped for such life.

Wei Wuxian's smile never faltered, not as they sat at the table on the raised platform, not as his gaze met the sharpness of Jiang Cheng's eyes and saw the emotions swirling in their depths. He smiled, grinned and rejoiced, his delight never a facade, but a familiar friend that eased the ache in his heart.

His smile never melted off his face, a diverse expression to that of the man sitting beside him. The servants stood at each end of the table, ready to serve them under the watchful eyes of the direct Lan descendants, the minister and the keen gaze of his brother.

They were served as per the wedding ritual, directed by the booming voice of an attendant.

The food tasted like cotton on his tongue, dry and tasteless, as repulsive as smoke in his body. Wei Wuxian hated the lack of flavour, the lack of texture.

They ate as the servants served, tried the millet, swallowed the soup, tasted the sauce and consumed the dumplings. Neither of them complained, nor did their expressions change; Wei Wuxian with a bright smile and Lan Wangji with a solemn look.

It wasn't yet over; they hadn't shared a drink.

The pottery set was a sublime piece of art, painted in silver and decorated in the blue clouds that symbolised all that Gusu represented. It was as serene as it was mesmerising.

They turned to face one another, Lan Wangji's gaze never meeting his and Wei Wuxian couldn't ignore the sting of that disregard. Their arms entwined; he could smell the sandalwood on the Emperor, could detect the trace of herbal tea on his breath.

Their skin never touched.

Wei Wuxian was someone who relied on human contact, sought the touch of another's skin on his. He grew up with Jiang Chang, who was used to his embraces and Jiang Yanli who never denied him her gentle caress. He could not imagine a life without the heat of another's, nor the velvety feel of another's skin under his.

The wine tasted like water on his tongue, dull, and with no burn as it travelled down his throat.

"This is not wine." His exclamation broke the tranquillity of the hall, his movements abrupt, knocking the porcelain cups against each other with a loud clang that echoed around them.

"Alcohol is forbidden in Cloud Recesses."

Wei Wuxian's voice grew louder, a pitch of despair and a hint of a whine in his playful tone. "Even on our wedding day? I've been cheated, Jiang Cheng, it's not even tea. It is water, water. Who drinks water at their wedding?"

The chatter of the people rose, louder than the spirited note that belonged to Wei Wuxian's voice. He scanned the room with glistening eyes, the grey sparkling like a gemstone as it met the burning rage of Jiang Cheng.

Wei Wuxian understood Jiang Cheng as thoroughly as he knew himself, comprehended the boiling force of his anger, how it blazed until it threatened to consume him and burn the world around him. Even knowing that there was no denying that as charged as his anger was, Jiang Cheng never pained him, never intentionally.

"Wei Wuxian, stop being a child and settle down, you know their rules." His words rang loud, a strike of thunder that silenced the chatter of the ministers, that swallowed Lan Qiren's speech and fed the mischievous beast slithering under Wei Wuxian's skin, urging him on.

Jiang Cheng should've foreseen Wei Wuxian would react negatively to such an order.

"But Jiang Cheng, it's water. Water! Shouldn't you be on my side? You should be offended on my behalf."

Realisation flashed through Jiang Cheng's eyes, a charged current that eliminated the smouldering rage with an inaudible release of breath. His shoulders dropped, his body relaxed and had Wei Wuxian not known him his entire life; he would've believed him a doll with broken strings.

Wei Wuxian allowed the outraged chatter to swarm around him, to stifle the music and the chimes of bells as he lowered his head to the table, pillowed on his clothed arms.

"We can have tea." Lan Wangji's voice was soft, calm, a breath of words that reached no one's ears but Wei Wuxian's, yet it silenced the insulted murmur of the people.

They were Lan Wangji's subjects, his people. They were now his, by extension.

He doubted they'd ever welcome him as one of them. He raised his head, arched his neck to meet the captivating golden gaze. He waved his hand, fanned the air in careless regard. "Too late now, the ceremony is over, so what's the point? Unless you're offering alcohol, then let's drink some Emperor smile."

A melodious chuckle reached their ears, ending a banter that had yet to start. "Congratulations to the Emperor and Empress." There was a charm to Lan Xichen that compelled people to follow, that enforced them with no words to impersonate him, his actions and speech.

There was no denying the power of the Twin Jade of Lan, their ability to lead. They were frightening as individuals; one who could command the room with a gaze while the other could rule with a word. Wei Wuxian hoped never to witness the force of their skills combined. Or perhaps he desired to observe their ability with his own eyes.

To command people so easily, to be admired so greatly; it was a feat that many rulers never achieved. How powerful, how skilful were the young brothers to command the respect of men much older than they were?

The room bowed, some with a deeper dip than others, but all of them illustrated the same fluidity of movements, the same tone of respect.

Wei Wuxian doubted any measure of their deference was intended for him.

Chapter Text

Sometimes, it is easier to forgot that the world is beautiful. Sometimes it is easier to remember that the world is cruel.

The world is astonishing, filled with greeneries and blues, packed with life, but nothing is perfect. Everything has a price, and the cost of an extraordinary world was a precarious existence, perhaps even a harsh life.

A beautiful rose has its thorns, and nothing is more dangerous to a man than a gorgeous woman.

Wei Wuxian was willing to face any woman, challenge the world and take it on, instead of remaining in this place that destiny led him to. He disliked the softness of the quilt under his hand, yet found comfort in the scent of the incense and the moonlight shining through the room, casting it in a soft glow.

The sound of footsteps was loud in the silence of the room, softer but a familiar cadence that warned him of his visitor's identity. "Oh Mo Xuanyu, it's you, and here I thought my husband has finally decided to join me." He stood with a flourish, a bounce in his steps and a smile on his face. The beads danced with his movements, clattering in a soft melody that echoed in the silence of the night.

It was too quiet for his taste, too serene for a wedding night.

He was married, yet he sat there waiting for a husband that never showed, a partner that left him stranded.

Must he wait for an eternity?

"Help me take this off, and perhaps change into something lighter." There was a storm brewing inside of him, restless energy that burned through him, fed from days of travel and hours of sitting, unmoving.

The need to move was extinguished as his young attendant came into view, his familiar gaze shining with emotions, flowing with unshed tears.

The smile on Wei Wuxian's face wasn't his mischevious smirk, but a gentle curl of his lips. His touch was tender as he reached to flick Mo Xuanyu's forehead, his smile growing as the younger boy reached to brush the spot with a trembling hand. "Did Jiang Cheng scare you again? I'm telling you, he's not scary, his face is just scary."

"Young master should be kinder to Prince Jiang, or one day he might make true on his threats and break your legs."

The laughter that echoed around them was anything but refined; loud and tumultuous, a cackle fit for its unruly owner. Wei Wuxian bent over with the force of his entertainment, hands wrapped around his abdomen. He looked out of place in the luxurious chamber, unfit in the magnificent jewellery and silken robes. He looked anything but the part of the Empress he was.

"Jiang Cheng is all bark and no bite, don't worry, don't worry." There was laughter in his words, joy in his movements. The greyness of Wei Wuxian's eyes was burning with his delight and the lit candlelight; he was a man born to smile.

"You say that, but you'll be the first to run if a dog barked, young master." There was a grumble to Mo Xuanyu's mumble, a curl to his lips. He turned with sluggish movements, staggering around the unfamiliar space, pulling items of clothing and reorganising things as he went; uncaring of the stormy eyes that followed his every step.

"A-Yu, come here." There was no undertone to the words, no bite or playfulness, and it alerted Mo Xuanyu; warned him to the devious glint in Wei Wuxian's eyes, hidden behind a mask of virtue that didn't belong upon his face. The wariness was reflected upon the boy's face, the suspicion burning in his gaze, and it inspired Wei Wuxian who waved his fingers in a beckoning motion. "Come on; I won't hurt you, come here."

Mo Xuanyu took a brazen step back, courageous in the face of Wei Wuxian's slyness.

Wei Wuxian was not his enemy, not one to hurt him, and there was no fear in Mo Xuanyu's heart towards him. Wei Wuxian was the guy that snuck out of Lotus Pier and found a young mistreated boy and took him in, not as a servant but as a brother.

Wei Wuxian was not the young Mo Xuanyu's Master; he was his saviour, his protector, and there was nothing the man could do to scare him, to implant fear into his heart.

It was that love that drove the younger to beg the older to take him to Cloud Recesses with him. It was that respect that made Mo Xuanyu disregard Wei Wuxian's desire for him to remain in Lotus Pier.

He didn't care how dangerous it could be; all he comprehended that it would be lonely for his young Master, as empty as it could be for him had he been left behind. Wei Wuxian was not his Master; he was the brother he never had, the family he always desired. Wei Wuxian was his home, and Mo Xuanyu was willing to follow him to the edge of the world.

It was that thought, that reminder which prompted him to retake his step and then follow it with another, never faltering until he was standing in front of Wei Wuxian whose smile grew broader, brighter, and his eyes softened with tenderness reserved for Mo Xuanyu.

He was beautiful like that, with stars sparkling on his skin, and moonlight bathing him in a softer glow, a celestial being that descended upon the earth. Wei Wuxian's complexion was warm under the streaming light, radiating under the candlelight and his touch was warm against Mo Xuanyu's cheeks.

The pinch came as a shock that drew a pained yelp from his lips. The pain gradually faded, dissolving away with the surprise, but an ache remained as Wei Wuxian pulled on his cheeks. "When did you grow to have such a smart mouth, my dear A-Yu? Shouldn't you be more respectful to your elders?"

The words that left his lips were slurred, a drawn-out garble, spoken in a weary mumble as if hoping not to be heard, an impossibility in their proximity. "Young Master, you can't expect me to be around you all day and have any semblance of manners left."

"Why you!" There was no hint of irritation in his tone, not a trance of indignation; not as he released Mo Xuanyu's abused cheek, nor as he brushed gentle fingers through messy raven locks, ruffling the strands into a more rumpled state.

Silence descended upon the room like a thick carpet of fog, a puff of smoke that clouded the air, heavy and weighted. Night had long fallen upon then, serene and quiet, shrowding the world in darkness lightened only by the brightness of the moon and the dying candles.

Wei Wuxian's smile never faltered, never diminished, but for a long moment, he was still. His gaze fixated upon the pair of dragon and phoenix candles, watching as the flames consumed the wax in a raging blaze.

The silence was never a constant with Wei Wuxian, never lasting and Mo Xuanyu had grown accustomed to the chatter. That moment was no different, a split second in time that shattered as the first word left Wei Wuxian's lips. The pitch was an unexpected loudness that didn't belong in the serenity of the night, not in the tranquillity of Cloud Recesses, but it was a welcomed melody that eased the growing tension on the younger's shoulder.

For a moment, he worried for his ever-smiling Master, for a fraction of a second he feared for his bright smile and happiness. For a long while, ever since they departed from Lotus Pier, he worried for the hidden notions that he never reveals.

He'd known Wei Wuxian for three years, for long months and short seconds, the happiest time of his life. In all this time, as he stood by his Master's side, taught with care, nourished with concern, his Master never lost his smile, nor his mischief.

He wondered how many wounds were hidden in the shadows of his heart, never to be revealed to the light.

He steered Wei Wuxian with a persistent touch, guided him to sit in front of the mirror. His touch was careful as he removed the precious ornaments and gems that decorated the raven locks. It took mere moments - short and filled with talks of random topics as if Wei Wuxian was speaking the first thought that jumped to mind - for them to fall into a familiar pattern.

It was comforting — relief blanketing the pair in a cloak of security.

They were no longer home, no longer in Lotus Pier and surrounded by familiar people and sights; that didn't mean that everything was different. Somethings would remain the same wherever they went.

Mo Xuanyu did not notice as the chatter died down, as silence descended upon them like the morning dew, replaced by a gentle hum, a soft, comforting melody, a nostalgic symphony that eased his worries. His movements synced to the rhythm of the tune, the comb brushing the inky black locks with soothing practised strokes.

It was a song ingrained in his subconscious, a memory of long nights and fevered dreams; a vision of Wei Wuxian fostering him through his sickness, never deserting him.

"Young Master, are you sad?"

There was a pause, a hitch in time where no sound came, where the hushed night was louder. Mo Xuanyu regretted the words the moment he spoke them.

The lapse resolved, the broken pieces of time mending together as Wei Wuxian turned around and draped his body across Mo Xuanyu, arms wrapped around his shoulders in a mockery of an embrace. "I'm so pitiful, A-Yu, I didn't even get to drink wine at my wedding! How unfair. The Lans are so strict, what's the harm in a sip of alcohol? And the food; it's a travesty! It shouldn't be called cooking. It's tasteless. Oh, how am I going to survive here with no spices?"

"I can cook your meals, young master."

Wei Wuxian pulled away from the smaller frame, waving a careless hand in front of him before standing up, long locks of raven hair cascading down his back with a healthy shine and wildness that could never be tamed. "No need, no need. A young boy shouldn't spend his days in a kitchen. Have fun and explore the palace instead." Lean fingers brushed through the hair, tracking the length until the end slipped through his touch, sweeping through unyielding knots with little regard.

"I'm going to town, please get me a lighter robe." His fingers were already at his sash, untying it and letting it drop to the floor with a muted rustle, the outer robe soon followed, falling with a resounding thud weighed from the feathers and the jewellery that covered the fabric. His body felt lighter with that trivial change, a load shed off his shoulders, and a burden eased.

It was a momentary relief, driven away with the reality of his existence.

He will have the burden of his status upon his shoulders for the entirety of his life; a weight that will forever remain, to never be relieved.

"Young Master, you can't go. It is almost curfew, and you're the Empress, you are not allowed to leave the forbidden city." There was no mistaking the edge of panic in Mo Xuanyu's tone, neither the sharpness of the words nor the apprehension in the gentle gaze. Wei Wuxian paid no heed to the warning, nor did he spare a second glance to the younger boy as his feet carried him around the room.

"What's the harm? I'll merely grab a couple of alcohol jars. I'll be back before anyone notices."

He was not willing to be a caged bird, nor was he going to sit as a storm burned inside of him.

He was not going to sit and wait for the Emperor to spare him a glance or a word.

"Young Master, this is not Lotus Pier, you can't go around breaking the rules." Even as the young servant spoke, he followed his Master's command, pulling a pair of black outer robes and red inner robes from one of the chests.

He knew better than most how obstinate Wei Wuxian was; with his choice made, there will be no changing his decision.

"It's okay; it's okay. I won't get caught, and if I am, the punishment can't be something new." He was vibrating with excitement, a grin on his face. Soon enough, he'll have a taste of the praised Emperor smile, and he'll experience the life of Caiyi town; if he gets caught, the punishment would be deserving of the reward.

 

 

There is peace in the hush of the night; a tranquillity that resided in every corner of Cloud Recesses. Wei Wuxian hated it, despised the silence that seemed to settle upon every surface. The world was still, unmoving, unchanging; it was eerie.

The moon shone radiantly in the dark veil of the night, the light shining down upon the lifeless world, highlighting the ghostly stillness of the inner palace.

Wei Wuxian scorned the quietness of the world, hated the absence of movement, the lack of life.

Lotus Pier had never been so quiet, so still. He could not comprehend how Cloud Recesses could appear so stagnant.

He admired the serenity of Cloud Recesses, could see the charm and wonder in every corner, but at the same time, he hated the quiet control and the inert rules. Home should not be so stiff, so still, so dead.

Cloud Recesses was not home; he reminded himself, it may never grow to be so dear to him.

The breeze whistled a soft melody that ruffled his untamed locks and stroked his skin, the gentle caress of a lover — an intimate touch in a lifeless night.

Would his husband ever touch him as gently?

Their skin never brushed.

Wei Wuxian raised the flute to his lips and blew, playing a duet with the breeze that fluttered around him, singing a song of no words. Music was his language, his brush and paper as he wrote a letter to the night, divulged truths he would never dare vocalise.

He played with a smile, the stars his audience, the moon his judge as his tune revived the lifeless world.

He performed as clouds immersed the world in darkness, played as the stars sparkled and glowed. Wei Wuxian's flute sang through the silence of Cloud Recesses, through the passing of the night.

He played until he was out of breath, played until his fingers gave out.

He never wanted to stop, not even to take a sip of wine from the remaining jar settled at his feet.

The world was his stage; the night was his patron, and there was no shattering the enchanting peace that settled upon his shoulders.

For a long time, there was nothing but him, wine and the melody of his song.

"Music is forbidden at night."

The spell shattered, the pieces falling around him, broken by a deep crescendo. The music halted as veiny lids fluttered open, unveiling stormy grey eyes.

The world was cruel, but Wei Wuxian never failed to find beauty in its brutality.

Standing among the shadows of the night was a figure donned in white, the wind blowing through his hair, flicking the silky strands and the soft robes in an intoxicating choreography that sought to capture his attention.

Lan Wangji was a portrait that embroidered beauty, covered in a veil of darkness that hid his features from prying eyes and contrasted with the lustrous snowiness of his attire.

He stood under the sparkling sky, the moonlight gleaming upon him, the only luminosity in the darkness of the night.

He stood at the entrance of the palace, golden eyes shining as bright as the sun in the morning sky, face as pale as the moon hanging upon them and Wei Wuxian saw no human, but a god. A marble statue of silken, fluttering robes.

He was a portrait worthy of sketching, with the stars sparkling above him and trees of white magnolias swaying behind him. The wind carried the leaves and petals to scatter around him, donning the ground in a carpet of natural leaves.

He was an alluring vision that could capture the attention of not only the living but also the dead. Lan Wangji was a man that didn't belong among the mortals.

"Lan Zhan, did you come here to listen to me play? Did you like it?"

The weight of the bamboo flute was a comfort in his grip, the jade coin and the red tassel dangling from the dizi swayed with the night breeze.

"Loud noises are forbidden in the Cloud Recesses. Playing music at night is prohibited. Venturing outside after curfew is forbidden." He recited the rules with detachment, his rumbling voice reverberating around them and immersed into Wei Wuxian's senses with an overwhelming force. Just as he believed the recital to be over, Lan Wangji's piercing gaze shifted to the treasured jar of alcohol, studying it for a fleeting moment that ceased as his gaze met Wei Wuxian's once more. "Alcohol is banned in Cloud Recesses."

Had Wei Wuxian known Lan Wangji, had he learnt his expressions; he would've seen the fire of irritation burning in his gaze, would've noticed the twitch of anger at the stiffness of his jaws.

He saw none of the emotions that threatened to consume the ethereal man in white, noticed nothing of Lan Wangji's determination to enforce rules.

He would take any punishment, would accept any discipline, but Wei Wuxian refused to be shackled by rules; not when fate had chosen to chain him down by status.

"Everything is forbidden in Cloud Recesses, Lan Er-Gege." His feet carried him through the short distance separating them, his steps hushed and his every move a graceful dance. He walked through the serenity of the night until he was standing under the shadows of the swaying magnolia trees.

There was no more distance between them, no space to separate them, but they weren't any closer than they were during ceremony.

Wei Wuxian could perceive the scent of sandalwood that wafted from Lan Wangji, etching in his nose, a sweet redolence that mixed with the aroma of the flowers surrounding them; it was a honeyed fragrance that belonged in a heavenly garden.

It was a scent that inundated the whiff of alcohol on Wei Wuxian's breath.

"How about we share that drink now?" Wei Wuxian was not a calm person, every bit of him boisterous and mischevious; full of life and wonder. He was the counterpart to the silent figure that watched his every move but spoke no words.

Wei Wuxian wanted to drive him to his limit, to hear that voice vocalise again and perceive emotions flickering across his vacuous face. There was a need swelling inside of him to rile the man who was designated the Jade Emperor.

He reached with poised fingers, shifted with bold and fearless movements to wrap elegant digits around a thick wrist. His fingers that were becoming stiff from playing the dizi encircled like a vice, unbreakable.

Their skin brushed, their first touch.

Did it count, when there was no outward reaction from the target of his attention?

He tugged, pulling a pliant Lan Wangji along with him, hauling him through the quietness of the night until the man stiffened and froze; unmovable, untouchable. "You broke the rules, accept your punishment."

Their connection shattered, the wrist tugged out of the grip like water slipping through cracks.

Wei Wuxian dared not to reach for the hand again, but his cackle sounded like bells; loud and unashamed. He was a man that lived by no rules, and he wasn't hesitant to advertise it.

"Come on, Lan Zhan, it's our wedding night, we deserve this much. You shouldn't be so stiff, let's have fun."

His words were a profession that went ignored, unheard.

"You'll copy the rules ten times and the book of virtue three times."

Wei Wuxian groan was a sound that didn't belong in the charm of the night, a loud protest that went ignored by the man in white whose strides carried him the remaining steps through the yard to the awaiting alcohol jars. The protest against the punishment died on the tip of his tongue, a stifled fire that never consumed nor burned. In its place rose horrification, a growing snake that slithered inside of him, leaving behind traces of urgency for the endangered jar of Emperor Smile.

"Lan Zhan, have you decided to join me for that drink after all?"

"Improper."

There was a second of confusion, a moment where he could not comprehend the meaning of the word; a passing beat that didn't last. There were not many preposterous aspects to his last statement, merely one that he refused to acknowledge, chose to push it instead.

"What's that, Lan Er-Gege?" The mischievious timber of his words was sharp, a blade that sliced the silence of the night, that ruined the peacefulness of their moment. It was an edge that stabbed, leaving them both riled.

"Don't call me that." The sharp note to Lan Wangji's words was the goal Wei Wuxian sought, an irritation that was reflected upon the captivating features and in the alluring voice. "It's improper to call me anything other than my title."

"What's the harm in calling you by name? We're married, so it should be alright."

Wei Wuxian's smile grew brighter with a radiance that reflected the sunlight in the darkness of the night. There was a blinding beauty to his happiness, to the joy that sparkled in his grey eyes. At that moment, with a smile that could challenge the moon and the sun, and with stars twinkling in his eyes, he could've been the sky, ethereal, everlasting; he was captivating.

Wei Wuxian was a storm, a hurricane, but he was also the sun in his warmth, the moon in his appeal. He was life incarnate, a being that breathed joy in the world.

Lan Wangji was fascinated, bewitched. He had fallen victim to the spell of Wei Wuxian's smile.

Spellbound, he did not notice Wei Wuxian advance, not until he felt his arm across his shoulders and the smelt the rich fragrance of Lotus in his nose.

While Wei Wuxian was a man who lived on human contact, Lan Wangji was one who lived a life deprived of another's touch. He recoiled away with a jerk, shoving the shorter man with a careless push. The Emperor watched with wide eyes as his Empress stumbled a few steps before regaining his balance.

They were both frozen at the moment, the world suspended, unmoving. Neither of them spoke, neither moved until the jarring sound of pottery crashing shook them.

"Oh no, what a waste. I wanted to savour that." There was no mistaking the whine in the tone, no disregarding the despair in the gaze that studied the soaked ground. Lan Wangji could feel the manacles of guilt wrapping around his throat, suffocating him with an emotion that he never experienced before.

He wished for the sunny smile to never disappear, for the radiance to forever remain; brightening his life.

The smile was back as soon as it was gone, with a shrug of board shoulders and a wave of a black dizi that sent the red tassel swinging, capturing a fallen petal through the threads.

"No matter, you'll just have to replace it for me."

"I'll escort you back."

"But Lan Zhan, it's a beautiful night, and it's too early to go back, how about we stay here, and I play for you." The rambling went on, the volume increasing as Wei Wuxian's enthusiasm grew, louder than their thoughts, more resonant than the night. It was full of life, of energy. "Or I heard you play; maybe we can play together. The dizi and guqin go so well together, it'll be incredible. Don't you think so too, Lan Zhan? Lan Wangji? Hey, Lan Er-Gege, don't ignore me. We should get to know each other as husband and wife."

Wei Wuxian was full of life, he was the sun in his brightness, in his warmth and his energy, but as his garrulous dragged on, Lan Wangji could feel the slither of irritation building inside of him.

Wei Wuxian was as dazzling as the sun, but he was as much of a nuisance as the heat.

"Loud noises and venturing out after curfew are forbidden in Cloud Recesses. I'll escort you back."

"Tell me the truth, Lan Zhan, are you trying to find your way to my bed? If that's the case, all you need to do is ask." The breeze carried the alluring whisper to The Emperor's ear, feeding the agitation that was planted in him.

"Shameless." The cackle that resounded was sharp, mischevious, and the gaze that met his sparkled as brightly as the stars decorating the sky above them. Wei Wuxian laughed like a man born to do so, with no remorse and no shame. His laugh was boisterous, loud and untamed; it was a sound that reflected his personality.

Lan Wangji could not help but detect a melodic nature to his joy.

The shadows of the night covered the blush burning his ear under a black veil; concealing his reaction to the brazen remark. He welcomed it, accepted the assistance of the night as he offered an arm to his Empress.

There was a pause in time as Wei Wuxian hesitated, but Lan Wangji waited with the patience of gods until Wei Wuxian blinked away his surprise, cleansed doubt from his heart with a smile and accepted the arm, intertwining his own around it.

They were standing close, with the fabric of their clothes brushing and nothing but the air separating them. Wei Wuxian could feel the warmth radiating from the other man, could breathe the scent of sandalwood into his lungs. It was a fragrance that he never thought to find comfort in, to covet, but with every passing second that the scent tickled his sense of smell, he was gradually finding solace in it.

As they walked, Wei Wuxian spoke of various topics, talked about Lotus Pier and Yunmeng, described his home, and Lan Wangji listened attentively, taking in every detail, every shift in his tone. They walked as a couple, leaving behind no evidence of their interaction, and Wei Wuxian could not help but think that perhaps life in Cloud Recesses wouldn't be so hollow after all.

The world was cruel, but Wei Wuxian never failed to find charm in its corners, in every part of it. As Lan Wangji left him inside of his bedchambers in the Kunning Gong, he couldn't help but think that that particular night was exceptionally remarkable.

Chapter Text

There is absolute peace in dreams, an escape from a world that was otherwise a caging ordeal. In the images of slumber, one could be whatever they wished to be; one could live whatever life they wanted to live; there was no status to dictate you, no shackles to cage you.

In dreams Wei Wuxian was as free as the wind, the world as open as the sky. There were nothing and no one to stop him from being whatever he wished to be; whether it be a warrior or a traveller that roams the earth.

The memory was his to create, to bend and adjust.

A hand on his shoulders shook him, waving away the images of a lively town, a weight that crushed his dream and banished him back to reality.

Grey eyes blinked open, the stars in them sparkling under the sunlight streaming through the window and Wei Wuxian flinched, pulling the red and gold silk over his face, shielding his gaze from the burning light.

"Young Master, you need to wake up, you'll be running late."

"It's too early, what could I be running late to?" His words were a slur, voice devoid of its usual musical quality, muffled by the silk covering his face. "Let me sleep; I was up till late. Lan Zhan was so cruel to his innocent wife."

There was a familiar scoff, a mockery of his lies and before Wei Wuxian could react the covers were pulled off him, stripping him off the warmth that had surrounded him and leaving him a victim to the assault of the sun.

"As if the Emperor touched you, everyone knows he didn't visit you last night. He was probably disgusted by your display during the ceremony. Have you no shame, Wei Wuxian?"

There was a pause, the duration of a heartbeat as Wei Wuxian blinked away his drowsiness, and it was over as the sound of his laughter resounded through the sleeping chamber, loud and offensive. Jiang Cheng's frown deepened, the blueness of his eyes darkening; a storm raging in their depths, reflecting the tornado that erupted inside of him. "It can't be helped, Jiang Cheng, it's their fault for giving me water. Anyway, what are you doing here?"

Jiang Cheng's sigh was swallowed by the rustle of fabric as Wei Wuxian stood up, stretching his arms above his head. Mo Xuanyu was the first to move, rushing to pull clothing out of chests and drawers. "Lan Wangji invited the two of us to have breakfast with him, Lan XiChen and Lan Qiren, so I decided to make sure you do wake up and not be late."

Wei Wuxian smiled, his features brightening instantly, the light reflected in his grey eyes. "Okay, you've done your part, you can leave now unless you wish to watch me get dressed. I'll be happy to give you a show if that's what you're into Jiang Cheng." The end of his words dragged into a whine, loud and abashed. His smile transferred into a guilty grin, hands rubbing the spot Jiang Cheng punched.

"Such a brute. I'm a new bride; you should be gentle with me, don't damage me. What if Lan Wangji doesn't want me after that?"

"As if he wants you now!" His volume grew louder, reverberating through the palace halls. With a scowl, he turned his attention to the young boy fluttering about the room. "Mo Xuanyu, I'm going on ahead, make sure your idiotic master isn't late. He's already on thin ice with Lan Wangji from what I heard."

"But I haven't done anything yet!"

"As if I'll believe that." There was no chance for Wei Wuxian to retort as Jiang Cheng turned around and stormed out.

"I seriously didn't do anything. You believe me, don't you, A-Yu?"

There was a moment where Mo Xuanyu didn't dare to speak, the words stuck in his throat, caged in his heart. It was a split second that ended with the chipper song of a bird. "I'm sorry, Young Master, but you do love to cause trouble."

"I ought to have you serve Jiang Cheng instead since you love agreeing with him so much."

"Young Master, you can't, you promised not to send me back to Lotus Pier." There was a cutting edge to his words, panic infused in his tone and reflected in his wide eyes. It left a bitter taste in Wei Wuxian's mouth even as his smile softened and he pulled the younger boy into a tight embrace.

"I'm just joking. You'll be much more fun to mess with if you would stop panicking."

Mo Xuanyu's reply was muted as he burrowed deeper into Wei Wuxian's embrace, trembling fingers clasping the soft fabric of the thin inner robes. Wei Wuxian didn't need to catch the words to comprehend their meaning, not when he had nurtured Mo Xuanyu from a sickly and fragile boy and into a gentle youth.

He was in Cloud Recesses, the forbidden city of Gusu. He was the new Empress of the Lan Dynasty; the unwanted wife of an Emperor. His husband might never care to touch him. Lan Wangji might find his touch poisonous enough to justify shoving him away, to recall away as if burned, but at least Wei Wuxian had Mo Xuanyu.

He had a boy who cared for him, a boy who would always welcome his touches and his embraces.

Wei Wuxian was willing to take whatever blessings the heavens bestowed upon him, and there was no denying that the boy in his arms was the most precious of miracles.

The Mo family didn't know what treasure they had abandoned, but then no one understood the idiom 'one man's trash is another man's treasure' better than Wei Wuxian.

 

 

There was a stillness to Cloud Recesses that never changed, a serenity that remained whether it was day or night. It was a quietness borne from rules carved upon a sacred wall and people readiness to obey the law. At that moment, as Wei Wuxian stepped into the pavilion with agile steps and a smile, there was an air of peace around him. It was as if the tranquillity of Cloud Recesses had seeped into his very blood.

It was unsettling. It was a change that left those seated under the shade speechless.

He dropped to his knees with grace, lowering his body and head in deference to the Emperor with respect rarely bestowed. Jiang Cheng could do nothing but look, wonder in his gaze and misgiving in his heart.

The troublemaker must be planning something, he thought, because why else would Wei Wuxian follow decorum?

The breeze danced around them as the Emperor gestured for his new Empress to rise, and Wei Wuxian did with fluid movements, his robes flowing to cascade down into their proper state. He lowered his head to the seated princes, greeting Lan Qiren and Lan Xichen with the suitable reverence and sticking his tongue out to Jiang Cheng.

The wind carried the scent of flowers, bathing the shaded square in the fragrance of spring. The sound of flowing water could be heard, muffled by distance and the gentle tones of a playing Erhu.

"This person is sorry for being late, getting dressed took longer than I'm used to. Please accept my apology, Your Majesty, your highnesses."

There was a smile from Lan Xichen, a tender lift of the lips that was reflected in his sparkling eyes and Wei Wuxian couldn't help but marvel at him, taking in every detail. There was an uncanny resemblance between the siblings, a compelling charm to their beauty. Even with their likeness, there was no denying the diversity in their appeal; while Lan Wangji's eyes enthralled, it was Lan Xichen's smile that captivated.

There was a snort from behind him, a sound so familiar that it brightened Wei Wuxian's smile, but he chose to ignore the source in favour of his brother and uncle in law.

"As the Empress of Gusu, you must set a supreme standard for others to follow. You cannot be late or disobey the rules. Waking up after five is unacceptable. How will there be order in the inner palace if the Empress - the ruler of the harem - is disorderly?"

There was a note in Lan Qiren's tone that never failed to trigger Wei Wuxian's demand for mischief and never failed to inspire him to do the reverse of what was instructed.

"But, uncle, you can't expect this person to be able to wake up so early after spending the night serving the Emperor. Let me tell you, Lan Zhan was insatiable; he spared me no moment of rest."

There was a flutter of excitement in his stomach as Lan Qiren straightened from where he was seated with a force that shocked the world into silence, the musical notes coming to a halt as unexpectedly as the vigorous reaction. "Wei Wuxian, how shameless and deceitful! How dare you stand there and spout lies about the Emperor?" The older male turned to the silent Emperor, undisturbed by Wei Wuxian's loud cackling, bowing his hand with his arms folded in front of him. "Your Majesty, this uncle urges you to punish the Empress for his blasphemy. I ask you to order the application of fifty strokes with a wooden stave to preserve your Majesty's reputation."

It was a declaration of war, a fight that Wei Wuxian never wanted to start, a spark he never wished to ignite. It was the notice of a conflict that was long overdue. Lan Qiren was eager for this battle, ready the moment Wei Wuxian was chosen, the moment he learned of his existence.

They were of different natures; they were fire and water, law and disorder, night and day.

It was a battle that they could not escape, one they must fight.

Wei Wuxian never wished for conflict, but he will fight if he must; he refused to stand by and be threatened.

Lan Xichen was swift to intervene with a gentle tone and tender smile. "Your Majesty, uncle, please do not be angry. I'm confident the Empress meant no harm. Please forgive his transgressions."

It was a war in the waiting, but the flames were extinguished before they consumed him, before they burned his world down.

"The Empress will copy the book of virtue two times." There was a pleasing timbre to Lan Wangji's voice, a musical note that left one wanting for more. There was a deep resonance that enthralled even when his pitch was devoid of emotions.

He ruled with a gaze and charmed with a word. Lan Wangji was unquestionably blessed by the heavens.

Were these the qualities that drove men to serve him wholeheartedly?

He hoped it was his righteousness and his character.

"But that makes it a total of five times; I'd rather take the fifty..." Wei Wuxian did not know when Jiang Change had proceeded to stand beside him, did not discern his proximity or his warmth until a brutal elbow disrupted him to his back and an abrupt call of his name in his ear.

The objection died down, consumed by the veil of worry that clouded Jiang Cheng's gaze. It was a rare look, a spark that Wei Wuxian always hated igniting and wished to never see in his brother's eyes.

He never cared for Empress Yu's punishments, never repented and always tested the limits of her tolerance and rule. Nothing could inspire him to stop his escapades, nothing except for the rare hint of apprehension from Jiang Cheng. Only upon seeing that extreme display of concern would Wei Wuxian realise how one step would send him tumbling down an edge.

He sank to his knees, remorse replacing the excitement that flapped in his abdomen, earnest with no hint of his earlier mischief. "I thank your Majesty for your benevolence and mercy."

"Mn, sit."

He took his seat next to an Emperor, found his place next to his husband; careful to leave some space between them. Wei Wuxian was never one to mind personal space, not if he wished to touch someone, yet at that moment, he didn't care to be rejected so vehemently again.

The soothing notes of the Erhu picked up, washing away the tension that lingered in the air, aided by the dancing breeze.

Nostalgia gripped his heart, reminded of Lotus Pier where the water encompassed the palace grounds, and Lotus blooms covered the ponds in greenery and pinks.

Lotus Pier and Cloud Recesses were anything but alike. Lotus Pier was a wild and free garden, growing strong and taking root among the still water; beautiful in its wildness. Cloud Recesses was an orderly haven of greenery and whites, pure and organised, captivating despite its stillness.

One was once his home, his refuge and his kingdom. He grew to be as resilient as the Lotus flowers, as wild and untamed as the clear water. Wei Wuxian was nurtured to attempt the impossible.

He strove to venture far, to reach the heavens and conquer the earth, heedless of the rules and Empress Yu.

Then life came crashing down, and he descended from the sky and back to the mortal realm, reminded of his place as nothing more than a mortal who reached for the sun and was burned.

"A matchmaker has approached us on behalf of the Lan Dynasty. They seek unity by way of marriage and asked for candidates descended from the Jiang family." He remembered Empress Yu's words with clarity that will never be erased.

Wei Wuxian didn't prod for any more explanations, not when he understood her meaning. He might be a male descendant, but there was no denying the unspoken truth of his nature; he was Yin while most men were Yang. He was a gentleman who mastered the six arts, but the world existed in synchronised harmony, and just as day and night, hot and cold, couples were made of Yin and Yang.

No one expected Gusu Lan to accept him, not even as a candidate, not when his father was no more than a servant. Not with how unruly the world knew him to be.

No one expected Wei Wuxian to be an auspicious match to the reputable Emperor of Lan.

Wei Wuxian would've accepted the proposal, even if he were to be ranked no more than a lowly attendant. He would've taken any fate for the prosperity of the Jiang Dynasty, for the safeguard against a Wen invasion. He never would've guessed to find himself seated next to the Emperor as his Empress.

The reality was sometimes more peculiar than fiction.

A cup was placed in front of him, the liquid green and steaming. The consequence of the action left him bewildered, and Wei Wuxian turned startled eyes to the Emperor, his grey gaze meeting empyreal gold. "Should you be pouring me tea, Lan Zhan?"

"Promised."

His eyelids fluttered, blinking away the stars from his gaze, washing the clouds of confusion away. A windchime sang behind him, a silvery note that was as pleasing as the gongs of heaven. His gaze never left his husband's, not as he blinked and not as he titled his head to the side, his dark locks shifting with every passing breeze and every move of his neck.

"What did you promise?"

"Share tea."

Wei Wuxian's answering laughter was grating in the stillness of Cloud Recesses, tumultuous and boisterous. He will always be brash, so wild and untamed, but would he ever grow to belong in the silence of his newest home?

He was the sun in his brightness, just as he was like the wind in his wildness. Wei Wuxian was nature, open and free, captivating despite his brashness.

"You're truly worthy of being named a jade, Lan Er-Gege." His smile was as luminous as the sun shining in the sky, as astonishing as a warm day and clear skies. It was a smile of spring and summer, charm and compassion. Wei Wuxian was blessed with a radiant grin that could heal wounds and mend broken souls.

Lan Wangji was slowly crumbling, his walls disintegrating in the face of that lustre. He could do nothing to shield his eyes, to protect his soul and core except look away.

Wei Wuxian raised the cup of tea, fingers wrapped around smooth porcelain, feeling the heat slither to take root in his blood, warming him inside and outside. "It's not wine, but I'm drinking to you, Lan Zhan."

He could feel Lan Wangji's piercing gaze settle back upon him as he drank, eyes boring into his soul, studying him, dissecting him. Everyone was watching him as the ceramic touched his lips, and the warm liquid travelled down his throat.

Their eyes remained upon him.

The brother that he was gradually losing to fate. Jiang Chang who was stolen from him by distance and destiny.

The brother in law who was as gentle as the summer breeze and as kind as a mother's love. Lan Xichen who could grow to be his ally and refuge.

The Uncle in law who was set in time, unchanging. Whose believe in the rules was obsolete and absolute. Lan Qiren who would never approve nor accept him.

The husband who he could not decipher, could not understand. Lan Wangji who was still as jade, as unreadable as a status. Lan Zhan, who would never be more than the Emperor, would never see him as a partner, as a spouse.

How did past Empresses remain firm in the face of desolation and dismissal?

At least Lan Wangji was not ignoring his presence. At least he was kind even if he was cold.

At least he was not exiled to life in a chilled and desolate palace; alone with no one and nothing to entertain him.

The food was served, with fruits and rice and side plates lining the tables. With teacups refilled and the smell of cooked food wafting into their noses, empowering the floral scent of the air.

No one noticed the cunning glint that sparkled in the grey gaze; no one noticed the sharpness of the smile as it grew larger.

Lan Wangji was the first to eat, and they followed suit, raising bites to their mouths with graceful and poised movements.

No one spoke, not after the first bite, neither after the second. There was silence, disrupted by fragments of musical notes and chiming bells.

Wei Wuxian could only eat and wait, with rare patience and precious stillness.

Lan Qiren was the first to crush the peace, with cheeks painted red and eyes blurry with unshed tears. His cough was harsh, grating, muffling the soft symphony of nature and music.

Lan Xichen moved from his spot, rushing with swift movements and no hesitation to his uncle's side. Worry had painted his face white, his complexion pale and smile tense. His touch was firm and steady, pouring the tea with an unpanicked pace.

There was a pause, a breathless moment as all of them waited for the tea to wash down the cough, to ease the ache of Lan Qiren's throat. It was a moment that shattered into pieces, the peace dissipating into thin air to never return. "Xichen, find who made the tofu, it's extremely spicy."

A stormy gaze settled upon him, bright with an ever-burning rage. It watched him, studied him, scrutinising him. Had Wei Wuxian been a weaker man, he would've succumbed under pressure, would've confessed all his sins in fear of being consumed by that fury.

His confession was nonverbal, found in the mischievous spark of his eyes, and the radiance of his smile. He was a storm that left chaos in its wake, and everyone knew it.

"Wei Wuxian!"

The call of his name, scandalised, improper and provoked forced his laughter into the open. The sound loud, matched only by the echo of his hand slapping the solid surface of the table. He bent over with the force of his enjoyment; negligent of the rage that warmed the air, and the worry that fed the tension of the space.

Lan Wangji was the only one who's emotions were concealed, unprovoked; stoic.

"I'm sorry, uncle, I just gave the kitchen a few instructions on my way here."

The sound of shattered porcelain was soft, unheard, but seen. The shock travelled through the air in waves, consuming, ravaging; leaving them speechless in its wake.

Nothing could be heard except the drip of green liquid as it slid down pale fingers and dripped to marble grounds, dribbling and dribbling, bathing the world in a herbal redolence.

It was a battle of sentiments, of rules and wills. It was a game of control and status, one that Wei Wuxian didn't care to win, and Lan Qiren wanted to conquer.

"It's good."

The words, soft, unfeeling and stiff drowned the tension, leaving them with no will and no purpose. Wei Wuxian's grey eyes brightened, the sun rising in their depth and he turned his gaze to meet the mesmerising liquid gold of Lan Wangji's eyes. "Did you like it? Really, really like it."

The fire of war was extinguished once more, peace flimsy but cherished. Lan Xichen and Jiang Cheng released synced sighs of relief, the tautness leaving their bodies and blood as toxic air left their lungs.

"Mn, spicy, but good."

No one dared to interrupt the moment, to shatter a fleeting glimmer of détente between newlyweds, not when Lan Wangji never exhibited his favour, especially not when unseen stars sparkled in the depths of golden gems.

"Its made as per Yunmeng's method, maybe next time we can add fewer spices if you'd prefer that. Oh, and if you like this, then you'll definitely love the Lotus root and ribs soup, it won't be as delicious as Jiejie's, but it'll still be tasty. I'll make it for you."

"After your punishment."

The sound of shattering hopes was an illusion they could perceive, made more stringent as Wei Wuxian bent over the low table, his entire being slacking, a doll with cut strings. "But that'll take forever. That's so cruel, Lan Zhan. Hey, are you listening to me, Hanguang Jun? Let's make a deal, for every scroll I finish; I'll make a dish. I'm sure you'll love our Yunmeng Cuisine. It's so much better than your unedible food. How about it, Lar Er-Gege. Don't ignore me, Lan Zhan!"

There was no sound as Lan Wangji lowered his chopsticks to rest on their stand, his movements poise and graceful. There were no words spoken as the room collectively held their breaths, waiting for the Emperor's reaction to the vexatious rambling.

The piercing glare levelled at Wei Wuxian silenced his expectations of resuming his chatter. "Talking while eating is forbidden."

Wei Wuxian was the sun, but even the sun could be nothing more than a nauseous on summery days.

There were no more words spoken for the remainder of their breakfast, nothing beyond Wei Wuxian's mumbling that was effectively silenced by a look from his husband.

It was merely the first morning after their marriage. They were still no more than strangers. Their union was a promise between kingdoms, an oath of unity that didn't guarantee their happiness.

Wei Wuxian was prepared to live a lonely life, to experience an isolated existence, but all those notions were demolished, thrown to the wind in a heap of dust. He was captivated by a dull and kind Emperor, by a man who cared nothing for him. He was enthralled by an empyreal being.

He wanted to see all of the expressions hidden behind the stoic mask. He needed to know all the thoughts that swirled in that ingenious mind.

He hoped Lan Wangji would not deny him his presence and his friendship.

He didn't want to be tolerated, nor ignored. He wanted all of his husband's attention; at least, for now. At least, until the selection, until there comes a woman who would win his favour.

Wei Wuxian would never receive the Emperor's approval, not when he was everything the Lans stood against; not when he was loud, rebellious and didn't stand for rules.

Not when he was a man.

Some hopes were merely dreams that would never see the sun.

Some dreams were fantasies that would never bear fruit.

The world was cruel, but he was resolved to find value even in its most brutal moments.

 

Chapter Text

 Lean fingers brushed the silky strings, tracing and outlining, handling the cords with a touch that worshipped, with the gentleness of a lover. There was a moment of silence, a quietness that had long seeped into every corner of the room.

His fingers moved with expert familiarity, with efficiency, plucking the strings deftly. The silence was no more, shattered, destroyed, replaced by musical notes that discoursed secrets, told of unrevealed emotions.

He played and played, never stopping for a moment. He played a melody of longing, pain and love. He played as the breeze crept through the open window and brushed his hair. Lan Wangji played as the incense burned, bathing the room in a cloud of sandalwood that flowed into his skin, his blood and his very essence.

That was his escape, his reprieve. In the Jingshi - with the musical notes of the guqin surrounding him, wrapping him in a blanket of ease - he was at peace.

Through many years, the guqin was his companion, his comfort. Music was his escape, his release. It was a fact that didn't change even after he became the Emperor.

Music was his mother's gift to them, her legacy to boys who had yet to understand the tyranny of the world.

"Wangji." His brother's voice was soft, a whisper. There was a melodic note to his tone that calmed his irate emotions, that eased him beyond what music was capable of performing.

Music was his reprieve, but Lan Xichen was his safe haven, his protector, his brother.

Lan Xichen was the boy with a gentle smile who held his younger brother even when he wanted to cry. He was the boy who cared for his sibling when their mother was no longer there, and their father had turned his gaze away.

Lan Xichen was his refuge and his shelter, with a smile as gentle as the spring wind, and a spirit as warm as summer.

"You've been at it for hours, how about you take a break and join me for tea?"

The strings vibrated under his touch. They reverberated with a melody that faded into silence, into stillness, yet it lingered in their consciousness, just as it would always remain in their memory.

Lan Xichen didn't speak, didn't push and tug at his brother's strings. He sat at a low table with a pot of tea and two cups, waiting for his brother, always waiting, never rushing.

He waited as the breeze seeped into the room, cooling it. He remained patient as the wind played with the chimes and Wangji traced the strings with stiff fingers that didn't dare play anymore.

Lan Xichen's smile softened as Lan Wangji moved, abandoning the table with the guqin in favour of a brother that has always been more than a sibling, a brother than held him and cared for him more than a parent.

The tea that filled the cups was steaming, a rust-coloured pond with fog seeping from it to form clouds of vapour and an addictive aroma that had them coming back for more.

"What do you think of the Empress?" It was not a question that took Lan Wangji by surprise, nor one that shocked him. It was a question that left him speechless, with clashing thoughts and turbulent emotions.

They sipped at their drinks, the heat warming them from the inside out, a balm that eased a yearning ache that never dulled, a pain that prevailed against the passage of time. It was a drink of childhood, of rewards and promises. It was the tea that Lan Xichen perfected for him, the one he learnt for the sake of a demure younger brother.

It was a drink that came with a price, paid by pain and burns, funded by panicked servants and a frightened uncle. It was the first tea to please Lan Wangji, the first tea to lighten the burden of a heart that felt too much.

Lan Xichen would always make it when Lan Wangji needed it the most, whether it was to comfort or to soothe.

"Annoying."

Lan Xichen's chuckle was free of mockery, a gentle sound that resembled the whistle of the wind. Words faded away, giving place to silence, to quietness disturbed by nothing but the music of life and nature that existed outside of the walls of the Jingshi.

They drank their tea with no more words, relishing in their presence and the familiarity of the moment.

"A-Zhan, you must consummate the marriage soon."

"Talking about the matrimonial bed is forbidden."

He lowered the cup with soundless movements, placing it on the table to fold his hands and offer a shallow bow to his brother. The smile never dulled off his face, but Lan Wangji could read the seriousness in the darkness of his eyes and the rigid set of his jaw. "I understand, and I will accept any punishment, but I must say this. Empress Wei is your lawful wife; he's not a concubine that you can ignore and never call upon."

There was a second, a fleeting moment where disdain and discomfort burned in Lan Wangji's eyes, a moment that Lan Xichen could read in the stiffness of his shoulders. "Wangji, what's wrong?"

"Not wife, husband."

Lan Xichen's smile was sympathetic, a comforting lift of his lips that reflected in his eyes, in the momentary softness of his gaze. The relief was a hand that he would always shake, a blanket that he would always wear, and nothing could be more reassuring than his brother's kindness and sincerity.

"Very well, he's your husband, but you refuse to touch him, and soon the ministers will get restless. I know you do not wish to establish a harem and to avoid that you will need to reassure them of the Empress' capability to bear you heirs."

A glimpse of distress flashed through amber eyes, casting a shadow upon their golden shine and dimming their light. Lan Xichen was quiet for a long moment, busying himself with refilling their cups with the herbal drink, filling the room with a scent that could ease their anguish.

The incense had long burned out, consumed by fire and turned to ash. The scent of sandalwood had slowly faded away; dwelling as a fragrance that had seeped into corner of the Jingshi. It was a smell that was every bit the scent of the Emperor's residence as well as the Emperor's himself.

Lan Xichen would never be able to smell the aroma of sandalwood without thinking of his younger brother.

"It doesn't have to be now, but it must be soon if you wish to avoid deposing him. Perhaps, you should allow yourself to get to know Empress Wei. I can tell that you enjoy his presence."

"I do not."

Lan Xichen's amusement was hidden behind his cup, a smile that spoke of fondness and had Lan Wangji noticed, he didn't name it, preferring to raise his own cup to his lips.

"Maybe, someone earnest and bright alike Empress Wei is what Cloud Recesses needed."

Lan Wangji's life was as orderly as the ticking of time, never changing, never in chaos. He was a man of rules, of righteousness. Wei Wuxian was anything but restrained; he was an erupted storm that left everything in its path in disarray.

Wei Wuxian was a hurricane that left chaos in its wake, just as he was the sun that had risen to chase the eternal night out of Lan Wangji's life. He was a force of nature that could never be tamed, disorderly and chaotic. He was anything but what Lan Wangji stood for, so why was it that he could not look away from his radiance?

Wei Wuxian was chaos; he was a creature that didn't belong in Cloud Recesses, a monster that shattered the tranquillity of his home. Lan Wangji was defenceless against his charm, a prey caught in the enthralling webs of a predator.

Everything Wei Wuxian touched shattered into fragments of confusion, Lan Wangji's life was not an exception; the moment he unveiled the smiling face, his life turned into mayhem, a constant state of turmoil. He could not understand his husband nor his own emotions.

Accepting Wei Wuxian would be supporting the transformation of the very essence of Cloud Recesses, but Lan Wangji could not deny him, not with his slowly crumpling resistance, and his toppling hardness.

The sun had burned his walls, scorched them and left his defence to melt. He was wax that flowed, left in no shape or form.

He stood at a crossroad; he stood in front of the gates of hell waiting to be burned, and no matter his choice, life as he knew it would crumble.

Was Wei Wuxian truly what Cloud Recesses needed as his brother mentioned? Or was he the spark that would set fire to their lives and consume everything the Lan Dynasty stood for?

Lan Wangji could not choose, not yet, but soon he'll have to make a choice.

Would he choose his orderly life? Or would he accept the rising sun?

 

 

He ran.

Ran through nature and greeneries, ran through buildings he didn't know, through a city he hadn't explored. He ran until he was breathless, panting, his lungs burning for air.

He ran, racing the ticking seconds, chasing the fleeing time.

He ran, fighting the exhaustion that started to weigh him down.

He ran, challenging robes that shackled him to the ground, that wrapped around his body, restricting him.

He ran until his legs threatened to give in until his body threatened to collapse.

"Jiang Cheng." His voice was carried by the wind, a message, a plea. It was a prayer to the heavens to give him more time, to grant him a final moment with a brother he was losing to a cruel destiny.

His call was heard, the sky his messenger, the world his benefactor and Wei Wuxian could not help but smile through breathless huffs, flinging himself onto a stunned Jiang Cheng.

"Wei Wuxian, what the hell!"

His arms encased board shoulders, his ears ringing with the drums of his beating heart and the loud reply.

He gasped, sucking in the fresh air with greedy lungs, absorbing and absorbing until the organ protested, and the world was empty, void of air.

He breathed in the scent of nature, the restricting scent of Cloud Recesses. He breathed in the smell of water, fresh and clean; it was a fragrance that was so much Lotus Pier just as it was Jiang Cheng.

He inhaled it, etching the smell in his memory, in his heart.

He tightened his hold, a hug that caged the other boy, an embrace that spoke of their promises, their breaking hearts.

It was an embrace that discoursed of their story. It was the tale of cousins, of brothers and their struggle against the world.

It was the ending to a happy chapter and the beginning of another.

"Jiang Cheng, were you planning to leave without seeing me?"

The embrace was not reciprocated, a one-sided hug that was never returned.

For a long moment, they stood among the bustling movement of servants, in the same spot they occupied a day ago, a space that had survived no change, but witnessed their progression.

They were not the same as they were the previous day. They were no longer siblings embarking on a journey. They were brothers separated by time, by destiny.

Time had taken their former selves and reformed them, reshaped them. Destiny had stolen their dreams, shattered their hopes and left them with nothing. Fate had snatched their promises, replacing it by a distance that will never shrink.

Firm, stern arms wrapped around Wei Wuxian's shoulders, stiff with inexperience, and driven by grief.

They stood in the same spot that housed their former selves ready to bury their relationship, their friendship.

It was an embrace that lasted seconds, a single tick of time, a beat of their hearts before Jiang Cheng pulled away, replacing their closeness with a rift that was set to grow.

They stood at the edge of a cliff, ready to fall.

"What's there to see? I'm happy I won't have to see your ugly face anymore."

"Heh, what does that say about your face?" Fingers flipped his hair behind his shoulders, sticking his tongue out in retaliation. He wanted their banter to happen, the last tribute to their brotherhood, their friendship, but no such retort came.

The fresh breeze blew past them, cooling heated skins and burning chests, stroking wild locks of hair. Wei Wuxian's smile slipped, replaced by a pout, cheeks puffed. Had Jiang Cheng been anyone else, he would've fallen for the stricken look in his eyes.

Jiang Cheng could perceive the universe sparkling in the depth of those grey eyes.

"Tell JieJie that Lan Wangji is kind and that the Lans have welcomed me as one of their own. Tell her she doesn't need to worry. Tell her that I'm happy here."

Jiang Cheng wished those words were not lies, that they were the truth of Wei Wuxian's reality. He prayed that the stars wouldn't fade from the smiling eyes, that the radiance of his happiness won't dim.

H scoffed, showing his scorn in the set of his shoulders, in the darkness of his eyes.

Wei Wuxian was the water in his wildness. Jiang Cheng was the fire in his anger.

He wanted to burn the world, to burn the kingdom that had stolen his brother from him.

Jiang Cheng was a volcano that threatened to erupt, a looming danger in his protectiveness of a brother that belonged in Lotus Pier. Wei Wuxian didn't belong in the orderly nature of Cloud Recesses.

He cursed destiny, cursed the world that dared to steal his brother and trample on their dreams and promises.

Wei Wuxian belonged by his side as his brother and his loyal right hand.

"Don't you dare cause trouble and bring your problems to Lotus Pier or I'll come here just to break your legs."

He cursed his mouth, his inability to exhibit his emotions. Why couldn't he tell Wei Wuxian how much he was going to miss him?

The stars in the grey eyes sparkled, glowing brighter, a smile gracing Wei Wuxian's face, it's radiance warming the earth.

The sun had risen again.

He hoped life as an Empress wouldn't steal that smile away. He prayed to the heaves, pleaded that Wei Wuxian wouldn't ever have to sacrifice more than the freedom and future he'd readily abandoned.

His brother didn't belong in restricting robes. He didn't fit the image of a maiden donned in golden pins and jewellery, but there was no denying that Wei Wuxian was beautiful, a man born for a life of luxuries.

"He's just like his mother, and he'll disgrace the Jiang Dynasty just as she did. He'll be our ruin." His mother's words echoed in his head, a whisper that wouldn't cease, a monster that chased him in his dreams and his reality.

His mother's voice was a slithering venomous snake that was slowly poisoning his mind.

He refused to allow her virulent words to devastate his last moment with his brother.

"Of course, I won't. Who do you take me for?"

"It's because it's you that I'm saying it, stop playing around and start taking things seriously."

He wondered what'll become of them once he stepped beyond the gate, what'll become of the brother they were abandoning to a different world.

What'll become of him without his best friend, his brother?

"You'll never amount to anything while Wei Wuxian is around. Your father will never spare you a glance."

No one was happier to see Wei Wuxian go than an Empress that blamed an innocent boy for her lack of favour.

It didn't matter now whose fault it was, it never mattered.

Wei Wuxian was never stepping into Lotus Pier again. He was never going to find his way home.

Cloud Recesses was heaven on earth, a garden of miracles. It was a beautiful haven that would've pleased any maiden, but the rules had stripped it of life, leaving it inert, bare.

Wei Wuxian didn't belong in such a quiet place; he belonged among the water and lotuses.

If only he could snatch him back, take him home.

He could do no such thing; he could only curse the world, ask the Heavens why.

Why was Wei Wuxian born so differently?

Why was he recognised as a treasure when the world looked down upon him?

Why was fate so cruel to a boy whose smile was as bright as the sun?

"I'm taking things seriously! That's why I'm trying to liven things up, Jiang Cheng, they're so stiff and solemn all the time, it's so dull. Lan Wangji doesn't even talk, how boring is that?"

His touch was not gentle, nor was it forceful. His touch was vigorous, encouraged by his irate emotions; it was a touch that held his fondness for a man who was embarking on a treacherous route.

His touch was a punch that he'd delivered many times before. It was a hit that foreshowed his care, fueled by worry for a man that was careless of his own safety.

Wei Wuxian was the sun that burned to light the world. He was a star, his flames never diminished, burning and burning. Wei Wuxian was a man that would sacrifice himself for his ideals; he would give and give until nothing remained.

He sacrificed his family, his freedom, and his dreams; would his smile be the next tribute?

"Stop playing around, cease the unnecessary pranks and focus on gaining the Emperor's favour. At this rate, you'll be deposed and replaced by a concubine."

"Don't worry, don't worry. Lan Wangji won't be able to resist my charm for much longer."

Jiang Cheng could not help but sigh, releasing the frustration that burned in his chest with a puff of air. His hand felt clammy, repulsing with heat and sweet, with the desire to break a ruthless world and the need to hug the boy with the purest smile.

"What charm?"

Jiang Cheng could see the retort in Wei Wuxian's eyes, could see it in the curl of his lips and the nervous twitch of his fingers. He could taste the playful energy, could touch the anticipated reply, but it never came; instead, an interruption did.

"Your highness, everything is ready."

Their time was over; the chapter was coming to an end. The story of the Twin Heroes was complete.

"Very well, we will depart in a minute." He turned his attention back to the boy whose smile had dimmed, his gaze softening, shadowed by emotions that Jiang Cheng could not decipher but could only guess.

"I'll be alright, Jiang Cheng, I adapted to Lotus Pier once, I'll acclimate to Cloud Recesses in due time."

It was a lie; they both knew it wasn't the truth. Wei Wuxian will never get used to the rules, nor the restrictions. He will learn to accept his new home, but he might never belong there.

"Take care, you idiot. Don't cause trouble, try to gain Lan Qiren's support, you'll need it if you wish to live a good life in Cloud Recesses, and remember what A-Jie told you before we left, you need to find happiness here." His voice grew harsher, his eyes piercing and his touch rough as he gripped his brother's shoulder, a mask to hide his flowing emotions, to conceal his pain. "Don't disappoint my sister, Wei Ying!"

The mention of Jiang Yanli never failed to brighten Wei Wuxian's mood, never failed to paint a smile on his face and in his eyes. She was his goddess, and he was not above worshipping the grounds she walked upon.

Wei Wuxian loved no one more than the sister that never failed to protect him, that had been more than a sister to him.

Jiang Yanli was Wei Wuxian's shield, his armour and his guardian. He would've given the world, the moon and his heart to please her.

"I'll be okay, tell Jiejie that. I'm happy; she can marry that asshole of a peacock without worry." Wei Wuxian's touch was warm, skin calloused as his fingers wrapped around the hand weighing on his shoulders.

Soon, they'll never be this close, not physically, nor emotionally.

A weight settled in his open palm, heated from Wei Wuxian's warmth and as a stormy gaze lowered to the object, his vision blurred with tears that never dripped. "This is the only piece of your dowry that you've chosen personally."

"Give it to Jiejie." A golden Lotus sat in his palm, the metal reflecting the sunlight, the dangled beads swaying with the breeze, light and unweighted, yet Jiang Cheng could feel the burden of its purpose. "I can't make it to her wedding, but if she wore this, it'd be as if I never left."

Jiang Cheng tucked it in his sleeve, hiding it from their view. The weight slowly descended upon his shoulders, a strain that will never be removed; the pressure of his brother's sacrifice and broken dreams.

Fate had stolen their happiness, their relationships and Wei Wuxian's wish of attending Jiang Yanli wedding.

"I'll give it to her; she'll be happy to have it." He turned around, refusing to watch their relationships as it shattered, as the fragments scattered.

He turned his back on the space that beheld the ghosts of both their older selves and their newer version.

Jiang Cheng turned his back on the brother that he loved, the man that was no longer a part of his life.

He walked away with a mumbled goodbye, a whisper that was too heavy for the wind to carry. He walked away as the heat of a tear burned his skin, and the pain wrapped his heart in manacles that will never ease.

He walked away, cursing fate, destiny, but most of all, denouncing a brother that had consented to a union that'll take him away.

He walked away, condemning his best friend for choosing to leave his side.

Jiang Cheng walked away with Wei Wuxian's gaze following him, and no more words uttered between them.

 

Chapter Text

The silence was an essence of Cloud Recesses; it was a fundamental part of its nature and tranquillity. As inherent as it was, Wei Wuxian could not perceive it as profoundly as he did while in the Library Pavillion.

They were seated in a world of their own, in a peaceful haven that the Cloud Recesses could never compare to. It was their kingdom above the clouds; it was their castle in the sky.

The strokes of the brush were silent, the ink painting the scrolls in flowing lines. The wood was smooth under his touch, soft as he repeated the motions, copying lines upon lines, painting scroll after scroll with words.

The smell of ink was heavy in the air, mingling, mixing with the scent of the burning sandalwood.

There was a soothing peacefulness to the Library Pavillion, a presence that calmed his energy and soothed his nerves. It was a touch that comforted him, a freshness that could not be found in the stillness of Cloud Recesses.

Was it the presence of a stoic Lan Wangji? Or was it the serene minutes away from the watchful eyes of the Lans and the servants?

Wei Wuxian didn't know. He didn't care to know.

As peaceful as it was, it was dull, boring. A repetitive routine that he followed for five days and prayed for its end. He needed a change, needed the cycle to shatter; he needed to do something beyond copy rules.

Wei Wuxian wished it was the bamboo of his dizi in his hand.

"Lan Zhan, do I really have to copy it fifteen times? It's already been five days, and I didn't even finish copying it three times. Have mercy; I'm going to die from boredom." He breathed the words, a whine that expressed his emotions, coated in exaggerations.

There was no reply, the silence swallowing them, wrapping them in a thick blanket that threatened to suffocate them, leaving them gasping.

Wei Wuxian slumped onto the low table, uncaring of the drying ink, nor the state of his clothes. "Lan Zhan, look at me. Lan Er-Gonzi, don't ignore me! Huaguang Jun. Lan Wangji. Wangji. Lan Er-Gege. Lan Zhan!" His calls were a buff of smock that vanished, cleansed by the wind. His cries were a mantra that went unanswered, ignored.

As exciting as Lan Wangji's presence was, as fun as pestering him was, Wei Wuxian hated being ignored.

His lips curled, cheeks puffed with a pout that went unnoticed by Lan Wangji, just as unseen as the shadow of grief that flitted through Wei Wuxian's eyes.

The stars in his gaze were dying, fading away; their light diminishing, leaving behind nothing but darkness.

The anguish was a black hole, a monster that swallowed everything and spared nothing.

It was a monstrosity that threatened to haunt him, to overwhelm him. It was a monster that he fought and fought until his blood coated his clothes, painted his soul.

He missed the calming voice of Jiang Fengmian, craved the gentle touch of Jiang Yanli, and he yearned for the presence of his life companion, his brother.

He missed Lotus Pier, mourned for the home he'd lost.

The Library Pavillion had grown to be his kingdom, his reprieve and his refuge, but it was still not home. Wei Wuxian doubted he'll ever accept Cloud Recesses as his home.

The very nature of Cloud Recesses rejected him, deemed him unfit.

A spark of longing was burning in his chest. A fire of loneliness was consuming him, burning him from the inside out.

The rules were shackles that restricted him, wrapped around him until he was breathless, choking for air, for life, for freedom.

He banished the thoughts out of his mind, straightened with a smile that had not lost its warmth. He pushed the scroll with the drying ink away, replacing it with a blank paper. It was a blank slate, a page that would absorb his fears, his emotions.

The brush was a heavier weight in his grip, burned with the thoughts that threatened to devastate him, to consume him, to snatch his smile away.

His happiness was his to make, to create.

His smile was his sole weapon against the world, his remaining means of rejecting destiny.

Sitting there, in the serenity of the Library Pavillion, surrounded by fresh air breezing through the window, by the scent of sandalwood and ink, and by raws of scrolls and books; Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji painted a portrait of contradictions.

While Wei Wuxian was chaos, the state of turmoil with ink covering his face and fingers, and the long locks of his hair wild and free, ruffled by the wind and his own touch, Lan Wangji, was law and order, perfect and pristine with nothing tainting his image, not even a spec of dust.

One was a storm, and the other was serenity.

They existed at that moment, in the tranquillity of the Library Pavillion, in a kingdom of their own making, free of politics and expectations.

They existed together, the storm that breathed life into order, and the serenity that eased the intensity of a blast of chaos.

"Lan Wangji, I have a gift for you." For once the serenity didn't shatter, didn't break into fragments as Wei Wuxian's boisterous voice announced. For once, Lan Wangji looked from his scroll, with golden eyes empty of the fire of irritation.

Wei Wuxian's smile was blinding, more radiating than the sunlight streaming into the room, brighter than moonlight in the night. The spots of ink didn't take from his beauty, didn't steal from his charm.

Wei Wuxian was chaos, disorderly; someone Lan Wangji would never have expected to tolerate, but it was that charm that was destroying his resolve, just as it was that smile that captivated his attention.

Wei Wuxian was fresh air, and Lan Wangji was a man choking, gasping for more.

His golden gaze shifted, captured by the swinging paper and the enthusiastic movement of Wei Wuxian's hand, captivated by the vivid lines drawn on the page. He was mesmerised, enthralled by the striking resemblance of the painting.

His image was reflected on the page just as it was displayed in Wei Wuxian's eyes. It was fascinating in its likeness, just as charming as the painter's talent.

It did not compare to the beauty of Wei Wuxian's delighted smile.

"Do you like it?"

"Mn." No words would've sufficed; nothing could've described the turmoil of emotions raging inside of him.

Wei Wuxian's smile faltered, shifted and changed into a mischevious grin. It was no less of a beautiful smile, yet Lan Wangji could not help but crave the radiance of his husband's delight.

"I'll give it to you if you wave off the rest of my punishment."

The moment broke, burned, demolished by careless words and misconduct. The peace shattered into fragments, the pieces scattering around like dust, carried by the breeze and smoke.

"Bribery is forbidden."

Wei Wuxian's laugh was loud, a grating sound after hours of silence. It was a boisterous chuckle that reverberated through the serene halls of the Library Pavillion. "Come on, Lan Zhan, don't be so stiff. It's not bribery if its a gift from your loving wife."

Wei Wuxian could detect the frown on Lan Wangji's face, could note the way the lines in his face deepened with disdain. It was a delightful surprise, a change in the stoic face, another reaction beyond annoyance or anger.

Wei Wuxian was starving, hungry for all of Lan Wangji's reactions. He wished to witness every change in his expression, his delight and his sadness, his anger and his annoyance. He wanted it all, needed to monopolise him, just as he wanted to possess all of him.

It was a farfetched fantasy, another dream that was swept by the wind, crushed by destiny.

An Emperors' time and heart cannot be monopolised, just as Lan Wangji would never belong to him. Wei Wuxian was another flower in the garden of an Emperor.

"Husband, you're my husband, a man."

Life stopped, the world coming to a standstill, a momentarily ending where thoughts ceased to exist, and silence settled upon Wei Wuxian's mind. It was a glitch in time, a hitch, a gasp and a missed beat of a heart; it was chaos in the Empress' world, a sudden shift that left him spent. It was a moment of silence with the air charged with shock, electrifying and dense.

The world was never his to dictate, nor was it his to control; but at that moment, he was the commander of his fate.

With a single statement, Lan Wangji had given him the keys to the gate of the heavens. He was the ruler of their kingdom in the clouds.

He deflated, a doll with no strings as he flopped over the low table, uncaring of the ink that stained his robes, that seeped into his blood, into his soul.

The wind was nowhere to be found, the breeze fleeing in an attempt to grant them privacy and there were no more witnesses to their story. The world, the wind and the sun were no longer there to observe their tale, to record their romance in time.

The heat had wrapped around him like a lover, embracing him in a blanket that left him sweating, blushing and the blood rushing through his veins.

The grey of his eyes had lightened under his delight, his nerves. The stars sparkled brighter, a constellation and a universe that revealed the plight of his emotions.

His fingers never unwound, never released the portrait of a god.

"Lan Zhan, don't spout stuff like that out of nowhere, warn a man before."

The world had shifted for Wei Wuxian, but never for Lan Wangji. Time hitched, the world halted, but Lan Wangji never reacted, with his gaze remaining frozen upon Wei Wuxian, watching him, observing his every move, every reaction.

Wei Wuxian's world turned, time coming to a standstill, but Lan Wangji was a Jade statue, alluring in his stillness, void of emotions.

The gold of his eyes burned with flames Wei Wuxian could not name but captivated his heart, his attention.

He was slowly falling into the abyss, tempted by molten amber eyes.

"Won't you have mercy on this fragile husband, dear? It's pure torture."

"Pathetic."

Laughter rang loud in the Pavillion, echoing off walls, off books and scrolls. It was a musical tone, full of joy, full of humour that was absent inside the walls of the inner city. It was a sound as soft as fog, as refreshing as a spring breeze.

It was a sound that Lan Wangji wanted to hear every day, to compose it in a song. It was a charm, a magical thread that wrapped around him, leaving him hopeless against a husband he had yet to love.

He shifted his gaze away from Wei Wuxian, turning his attention back to a book that held no threat to him, a book that didn't endanger his values and his ideals, that was not a risk to his way of life.

Wei Wuxian was the sun, enthralling, captivating, blinding, and Lan Wangji was fascinated, unable to look away knowing he'll get burned.

He didn't notice as Wei Wuxian straightened, as he stood up, a canvas painted in black, a portrait of chaos and disorder. Spellbound by his thoughts, he didn't discern his movement, didn't notice the mischievous stars in grey eyes until a paper was held in front of his eyes, tousled by the breeze and fog that crept back into the room.

"It's still a gift, Lan Er-Gege, you should accept it."

Unable to look away, vision blocked by inky lines, lean fingers reached to grip the papers with a rare gentleness, careful and thoughtful. Lan Wangji held the page like the treasure it was to him, with caution and warmth that sparked in his chest.

"I'll go on ahead, Lan Zhan." There was a note to Wei Wuxian's voice that never failed to confuse him, never neglected to leave him in a state of disarray. There was a delight in his voice that always captivated Lan Wangji, that left him craving more of that joy.

It was foreign, as it was bewitching.

Wei Wuxian was an enigma that Lan Wangji could not understand, a mystery that left him grasping for answers, that left him riled with questions.

As Wei Wuxian left, Lan Wangji remained, frozen in time, captive in their kingdom, a prisoner of his thoughts and the questions Wei Wuxian's presence inspired in him.

Lan Wangji was made of Jade, cold, unreachable and otherworldly. He was the son of heaven, a god upon the earth, but he was someone who felt so much and said nothing.

He was weak to his emotions, a warrior that fought a never-ending battle.

Was Wei Wuxian's presence going to be his downfall?

 

 

Cloud Recesses was the nation of order, a city that prided itself on rules and laws. There was never chaos amidst the people, never disorder or turmoil. Commands dictated their every move, experience and regulations composed their movements, their spirits. No matter the situation, the emergency, chaos will never echo through the heavenly garden that housed the Lan Dynasty.

They bowed as one, dropping to the ground soundlessly, elegantly, white robes fluttering around them, shifting like oil with their movements.
They moved in a flurry of composed dances, elegant, smooth, always in sync.

Lan Wangji didn't pause; his steps never haltered, never slowed. He walked with the grace of a god, with the form of a dancer. His every move, every action was as fluid as flowing water.

"At ease." His voice was level, a deep rumble; a blew of fresh air that flowed through the room, blowing away the tense current sparking in the space.

"Brother." No more words were needed, they spoke through movements, through years of experience, they talked through their eyes and emotions; Lan Wangji didn't need to say any more than necessary in the face of a brother that understood him like no one else.

Lan Xichen stepped out of the lines of ministers, his steps measured and unhurried, and as he stood in the middle of the hall, he folded his arms in front of him. "There is an envoy from Qishan, your Majesty."

The hall didn't erupt into chatter; chaos didn't manifest in the space, yet misfortune settled upon their shoulders, boulders of weight and worry that would not dissipate. A messenger from Qishan was a crow that bore nothing but calamity, a dark cloud that threatened to swallow them whole.

"Let him in."

There was no escaping what fate had planned for them, cornered with no option but to face the schemes of Wen Ruohan.

The envoy walked in, donned in white and red flames that burned on his robes. He walked through the hall, steps poised and measured, never faltering under the scrutinising eyes of the ministers and the Lan family.

He walked, leaving behind a trail of flames, death and misery. He was Wen Ruohan's messenger, his black raven, and whatever message he carried, it would be a poison that'll infect their lives, destroy their peace.

He dropped to his knees in a practised bow, head lowering with formality and decorum, yet he held no respect for the Emperor seated upon the throne. "This servant humbly greets your majesty."

He was a messager of death, a grim reaper whose loyalty belonged to cruelty and tyranny, to Wen Ruohan.

There was no doubt that every breath and every twitch would be reported to his sovereign.

"You may rise."

He rose with practised ease, straightening to his full height, careful not to meet the golden gaze of the Emperor. He was the image of the perfect envoy, with perfected behaviour and a mask of respect.

"Your Imperial Majesty, on behalf of the Kingdom of Qishan and the Wen Dynasty, we congratulate you on your marriage, and we wish you a prosperous life." He moved with exaggerated movements, a show of cheer and respect, an actor in a performance played for the entertainment of his audience.

The world raged on, the wind howling, the sky weeping, and the moon hiding behind grey clouds. It was the protest of nature to the presence of a demon in their realm.

Raindrops slid down marble walls, clung to green leaves and blooming flowers. The rain stood as witness to the chaos of humans, unaware of the schemes hidden in the minds of monsters.

The Cloud Recesses would always remember the repulsing scent of smoke and the heat of flames that demolished every corner of the inner city, that consumed with devastating hunger, leaving behind nothing but ashes and destruction.

They would always remember the crimes against them, the atrocities of a Dynasty that believed themselves above the world. They will never forget the transgressions of Qishan on Cloud Recesses, their people and their role in the demise of the late Emperor.

Lan Wangji would never forget.

He would always remember, would always crave to pass judgment, and would forever seek justice for his father and his kingdom, but he refused to endanger Gusu, to restart a war for revenge.

He refused to destroy the peace that the four kingdoms paid a steep price to achieve.

"Your Majesty, our esteemed Emperor wishes to nurture the good relations between Qishan and Gusu, and so we hope that you'd accept our Princess as your wife."

Qishan played their cards, revealing their real purpose, their schemes. There was no denying that their Princess would seek the Empress position, no denying the reality that she would be a spy living amongst them.

Lan Wangji could no refuse their offer, not without offending Wen Ruohan, not without facing consequences that could be as devastating as the fire that consumed Cloud Recessed.

"I will not depose my Empress."

"Your Majesty, we dare not interfere in the management of your harem. You're a righteous ruler, and we will accept whatever rank you bestow on our Princess."

There was a moment, a pause, a fragment in time where no more words were exchanged. It was a second where the only sound was the music of nature, the cries of the wind and the symphony of the rain.

It was a moment that represented the order of Cloud Recesses, the state of things in the inner palace. It was a second where chaos did not exist, where only nature prevailed.

It was a hitch in time, a split second that ended with the deep voice of the Emperor reverberating through his territory. Heard by all, obeyed with no protest.

None of the ministers would dare challenge him in the presence of a witness, none of them would dare contradict him.

He was the Jade Emperor. He was Hanguang jun.

"The management of the Harem falls under the rule of the Empress. No concubine of any rank will enter the inner palace without his knowledge. Anybody? Summon The Empress."

A servant slipped from the side, lowering his body into a deep bow that showed his reverence, and then he rushed out, heedless of the weeping sky.

"Your Majesty, would you like to meet her Highness as we wait for His Majesty, the Empress?"

He agreed without a sound, with a motion, fluid and graceful. He agreed with a roll of his fingers, elegant, measured.

He was water, calm and graceful.

The wind died down as the envoy left the hall. It settled down into silence, waiting, anticipating. It was a burden that poured upon the room, soaking them, leaving them breathless, itching for the weight to lift.

It was a broken second, a moment, a fragment of time that ended as a petite figure stepped through the entrance, donned in silks and jewellery that shifted with her every move.

The anticipation elevated, seeping out of the room, washed by the downpour in its place settled scrutiny and wariness.

She walked with small steps, slowed by the weight of robes that spoke of status and money, garments that embodied luxury. She glided through the vast hall, gaze lowered, never raised.

She was the image of obedience, the portrait of beauty. She was every man's dream.

She wore the mask of virtue, of humility.

A weaker man would've fallen in love at first sight, would've fallen prey into her webs.

She stopped past the line of ministers, below the steps to the throne. She was a princess of etiquette and propriety as she bowed with perfect poise, and trained composure.

She was the perfect wife, the ideal princess. She was everything that Wei Wuxian was not.

"Greetings your Majesty." Her voice was the sweet song of birds, the gentle whistle of the wind, captivating, and comforting.

She was the perfection that failed to capture the attention of the Emperor, was unable to enthral him. His gaze swept past her, uncaring.

"Your name."

"Wen Qinyang, your Majesty."

"Do you wish to enter my Harem?"

The pattering of the rain was loud in the silence, a calming symphony that washed the tension, that cleansed the air. The wind no longer howled, no longer cried, but the sky never ceased weeping.

Lan Wangji welcomed the raindrops.

The Princess raised her head, raised her eyes to reveal orbs rich in colour. They were eyes as dark as cinnamon, as vibrant as tea. They were eyes that reflected the world like a mirror.

They were not eyes that sparkled with the universe, that reflected the world's nature in their depth.

"It would be my honour to serve Hanguang jun."

Her words were as sharp as guqin strings, as soft as music. She was an instrument, dangerously alluring.

She was a Princess kneeling in his court, under the gaze of his ministers. She was a Princess that was a step away from entering his harem.

He never wished to take more than one wife.

Destiney was his discipliner, his enemy.

"His Majesty, the Empress, arrives." The attendant's voice rang loud, booming, reverberating, an announcement that was louder than the sound of the falling rain.

He walked in with the confidence of the youth, smelling of rain and Lotus. He marched with disregard to the bowing ministers; steps rushed, never faltering; his only obstacle was the robes constricting his movements.

Wei Wuxian walked like a man who had no fear, who owned the space, he walked with a confidence that irritated, that turned friends to enemies.

His gaze swept the room, glowing with intellect and perceptions.

He did not miss the figure in Qishan Wen's colours, didn't miss the kneeling body.

He halted past the kneeling Princess, dropping to a bow with grace rarely exhibited. "I, Wei Wuxian, greet your Majesty." He was chaos, untamed, burning with an energy that threatened to consume him.

"At ease." Lan Wangji's voice was closer, a breath that wrapped around him like a breeze, and as Wei Wuxian raised his head, he met the bewitching gold of the Emperor's eyes.

They painted a scene of courtesy, of an Emperor that loved his Empress. It knocked the wind out of Wei Wuxian's chest, left him breathless, left him in a state of disarray.

He could only assume it was an act, a play to entertain their guests, their audience.

Lan Wangji did not favour him, nor did he love him.

Wei Wuxian was nothing more than his Empress; he was nothing beyond a political piece.

He settled his hand in the offered palm, feeling the calluses under his touch, the skin thickened and hardened from swordplay and playing the guqin.

It was a hand as rough as his, abused and wounded, the result of years of training. It was the hand of a man, lacking in the softness of maiden.

Wouldn't Lan Wangji prefer someone as soft as the kneeling lady?

Lan Wangji's touch was warm, engulfing his hand in scorching heat that seeped through his skin, that wrapped around him, easing the cold that had settled in his bones.

He couldn't conceal the shiver that racked his body.

Lan Wangji's hand tightened around his, fingers leaving their imprints in his skin and Wei Wuxian found that he didn't mind it, only wished for more.

Fate was too cruel to gift him with warmth, to give him what he desired.

Lan Wangji would never touch him beyond this. He will push him just as he did on their wedding night.

His touch was nothing but an act played for the sake of dangerous guests.

He found himself seated next to Lan Wangji, gaze sweeping through the crowd of ministers who watched him, who followed his every move. It was a reminder; he was as welcome as the woman kneeling.

"Princess Wen Qinyang will enter the inner palace as a Daying. Empress Wei, as the head of the harem, I leave the rest to you to decide."

Wei Wuxian stood up, his smile never faltering even as his heart skipped a beat. His steps were slow, measured, a promise of chaos burned in his eyes, in his gaze as he studied the Princess' features and form.

"The rumours of the Wen beauties seems to be more than tales; after all, you're a vision of beauty and grace." He stopped in front of the Princess, his shadow casting upon her form, enveloping her whole. She was petite, dainty even for a woman and compared to him and Lan Wangji, she was a delicate flower. "You may rise."

She didn't move; remained kneeling, in defiance to Wei Wuxian and regards to Lan Wangji.

Had this been Lotus Pier, the court would've broken into chaos, the sound of chatter would've flooded the room, and the anger of Empress Yu would've burned them to ashes.

But they were not in Lotus Pier; they were in Cloud Recesses. Turmoil never erupted, the ministers and servants alike remained vigilant and silent.

Wei Wuxian could feel their scrutiny upon him, could hear them praising the manners of the Princess and denouncing his low birth.

He turned with a flourish, his robes dancing around him. He turned to meet the glowing gaze of Lan Wangji. Wei Wuxian's smile widened, his eyes sparkling with mirth. "May she rise, your Majesty?"

"Mn."

"Thank you, Your Majesty." He turned back around, the tail of his outer robe winding around his legs, around his form, restricting him, binding him in place. He despised them, craved his old clothes, craved to feel the weight of layers lift off his shoulders.

"You may rise, but if you wish to remain kneeling, then I won't stop you. Though I'd suggest at least breaking a rule to earn such punishment." He busied his hands with adjusting his robes, unbinding them, freeing his legs from the shackles.

"A-Yu." As his voice reverberated through the hall, echoed around him, he fixed his gaze upon the door, waiting for the figure of Mo Xuanyu, yet his attention remained upon the kneeling princess.

The Wens can never be trusted.

Mo Xuanyu came rushing through the door, trembling with nerves and Wei Wuxian's smile softened, a gentle curl of his lips that were meant to ease. "What can I do for you, Young Master?"

"Go to the Imperial Household Department, tell them to prepare The Palace of Eternal Longevity for attendant Qinyang, and have them send me a list of servants for her service."

As Mo Xuanyu bowed and turned to leave, the voice of one of the ministers halted his movements. There was no missing the disdain and belittlement in his tone. "Wen Qinyang is a second class attendant, someone of such low rank should not be made to live in such extraordinary lodgings such as the Yongshou Gong, alone nonetheless. Perhaps she should stay with the Empress in the Kunning Gong. What do you say, Your Majesty?"

Wei Wuxian's laughter sounded loud in the silence of the room, a shocking melody that drew a gasp from some of the ministers. He could not miss the contempt in their gazes, nor the anger that radiated from them, suffocating him, weighing upon him.

There will be no pleasing the ministers, no matter the choices he makes.

"My Lord, do you dare interfere in the management of the inner palace?"

"If your command is unreasonable, then I must speak out."

"I'm the ruler of the Harem, who are you to question my command? A-Yu, go to the Imperial Household Department and do as I said."

Mo Xuanyu bowed, lowering his head with reverence to Wei Wuxian, he turned to leave but was stopped by the looming figure of the minister that shifted to stand behind him.

Wei Wuxian could taste the panic seeping out of the younger boy, could see the shivers that threatened to consume him, wracking his smaller frame. He could feel the spark that ignited in his chest, a flame of anger and protectiveness. They can contradict him, undermine his authority and rule, but he refused to allow them to frighten the boy he swore to protect.

His touch was gentle, devoid of the turmoil of emotions that raged inside of him. His fingers settled upon Mo Xuanyu's shoulder, tugging him until he shifted to stand behind him, hidden behind his frame. "What is the meaning of this, my lord?"

His question was ignored, disregarded. To the minister, his presence was as insignificant as a servant's, irrelevant.

"Su Zhao, you undermined my order and The Empress' authority and interfered in the management of the inner palace. That's not the conduct of a Lan courtier; thus, you'll be suspended from court until you reflect upon your actions."

Lan Wangji's voice was a current of water that washed upon them, cooling the anger that burned inside of Wei Wuxian, washing away the spark of disorder that threatened to burn them.

"Mo Xuanyu, carry out your Master's orders. The court is dismissed."

They bowed in unison, the ministers moving as one, shifting their attention between Wei Wuxian and the Su Zhao that remained standing, unmoving.

"Wei Ying, join me for tea?"

"Okay, can we have those snacks we had last time and is brother Xichen joining us?"

"Mn."

Wei Wuxian settled his gaze upon the kneeling figure, shifted his attention to her buffed cheeks and silent tantrum. "Qinyang Daying, if you are set upon kneeling, then one of the servants can show you to the ancestral hall. It can't be comfortable kneeling on hard marble."

He turned his back on her, feeling the heat of her gaze on his back as he took Lan Wangji's offered arm, as he wrapped his arm around it.

Wen Qinyang challenged him without a single word, if she wanted a battle, then Wei Wuxian would give her one.

He refused to allow the schemes of a concubine to swallow him whole, refused to allow a pampered princess to destroy him.

He will survive. He will preserve against the schemes of ministers, and the plots of a concubine. He will fight and endure, even if it meant losing Lan Wangji's favour.

Wei Wuxian refused to surrender, refused to be consumed by the nature of the inner palace.

Chapter Text

There was no air, no wind and no breeze; the room was still, void of nothing but warmth. The heat was a pressure that settled upon Wei Wuxian's body, a heavy blanket that left him paralysed, that suffocated him. It was the heat of hellfire, the flames of retribution.

He didn't hate his bed more than at that moment. He didn't despise it more than with Lan Wangji's body resting next to his.

There was no relief, nothing but the heat radiating from his husband's body, nothing but the fever that left him sweating, panting, stumbling for an escape.

He staggered beyond the curtains that tangled around him, lurched beyond the manacles that threatened to imprison him.

He was not free until he stumbled out of the bedchamber, steps unsteady, gasping and gasping, panting for air until his lungs burned and his vision blurred.

Wei Wuxian did not calm down. He didn't allow his breathing to settle, not until he was away from the scorching heat. Not until he was seated upon a cushion in the main hall.

He could not forget Lan Wangji's reservations with him, could never disregard his inability to touch him.

How repulsing must he be for his husband to despise his touch, to roll around and sleep? How revolting was he for Lan Wangji to call on him, only to turn his back to him?

Wei Wuxian could see no hope for them, not when his presence was as insulting as poison.

He did not care that he was sitting in nothing but his inner robes, didn't care for the late hour. He needed the world to erupt into chaos, for the quietness to die and music to fill the halls.

He needed life to silence the thoughts swirling in his mind.

He wanted to feel the fresh spring air upon his skin, to smell the scent of water and Lotus blooms.

He yearned for Lotus Pier, missed the home that welcomed him, the place that held his parent's memories, that housed their ghosts.

How would Cloud Recesses ever welcome him when its Master could not withstand him?

The sound of footsteps was tumultuous in the silence of his thoughts; it was turbulent in the quietness of the night.

It was a slap that snapped Wei Wuxian out of his spiralling thoughts, that calmed his breath, soothed his fears.

"Young Master, is it finished?"

"A-Yu, why are you awake? A growing boy needs his sleep; I told you to go to sleep, didn't I?."

The boy peeked through the entrance to the room. He looked as young as he was, with a sheepish smile on his face, apprehension dancing in his gaze, and part of his wild locks pulled into a bun, leaving the rest of the inky strands to frame his features and cascade down his back.

His presence was a balm that soothed Wei Wuxian; it was a potion that relieved the bleeding of his heart, that healed the scars of rejection marring his chest. He was the remedy to a dying smile.

Mo Xuanyu was the remaining piece of the home he yearned for.

He held his hand out, palms scarred and calloused, skin hard and rough. His fingers were long, elegant and bony; his hand was the hand of a swordsman, a musician.

Was he still a warrior, was he a performer? Hadn't they reduced him to nothing more than a flower decorating the inner palace?

The hand that settled in his offered palm was soft, small with youth. It was no longer a hand that cradled reservation; it was a hand that enfolded affection, that accepted it without hesitation.

"I thought you might need someone to serve you since you dismissed the others."

He tugged at his hand, hauling Mo Xuanyu to the spot next to him with an ease that still worried him. No matter how much he pushed the boy to eat, no matter how much he fed him, he remained thin and small.

At least he was not as malnourished as the day he came upon him.

"Yu-er, how many times do I have to tell you to stop worrying about serving me? You are a boy; you need to worry about your studies. Let me worry about myself."

Mo Xuanyu tugged his hand out of the larger one, freeing himself from Wei Wuxian's grip only to wrap thin arms around a broad shoulder, borrowing into a muscular chest, seeking warmth and comfort in the welcoming embrace and the familiar scent. "You say that, Young Master, but you're a disaster when it comes to taking care of yourself, and I don't trust any of the other servants to serve you right."

Wei Wuxian's laugh could never be soft, never gentle. His cackle was as loud as his personality, as boisterous as he was. The sound was a melody that comforted Mo Xuanyu, that eased the worry that started to wrap around his throat, that began to suffocate him.

"It's just through the night; you need to sleep more; you hardly do."

"You don't either."

The fingers that started brushing through his hair were gentle, soft as they stroked wild strands. They combed his inky locks with a tenderness that left him aching for his mother, craving her warmth.

His arms tightened around Wei Wuxian as he burrowed deeper into the embrace, as he swallowed the warmth radiating from the Empress with a hunger that could never be sated.

"You're starting to take after me, and I can't decide whether to be proud or worried."

Mo Xuanyu didn't release his hold on Wei Wuxian, didn't unwind his arms from around his frame as he shifted to peek at him. The smile that was painted on his face was a reflection of Wei Wuxian's cheeky grin, a perfect replica that shone in Mo Xuanyu's eyes.

It was the smile that answered the spoken question.

As long as Mo Xuanyu grew up healthy and kind, as long as he refused to allow his past to shape him, to paint him with cruelty, Wei Wuxian would be proud.

"Young Master, is it done? Did you and his Majesty consummate the marriage?"

Grey eyes shifted, gaze focused upon the direction of the bedroom, sharpened upon the divider hiding the slumping figure from view. Mo Xuanyu could see the world turning in the grey orbs, the universe changing, shifting in the depth of Wei Wuxian's eyes.

The world settled down into silence, the stillness of Cloud Recesses seeping into the room, into their bones. Mo Xuanyu blinked, a flutter of pale eyelids, a lost moment where the world shifted, and he was once again gazing into grey eyes.

"As far as anyone is concerned, it is done." The hand combing through his hair paused, caught in a knot. It stopped, hesitated and then it slipped away, sliding like water, like silk, like ink, unhindered by the wildness of his strands.

The touch left his hair, fingers freed from the tangles, released from knots. It left his hair, but it didn't leave him as gentle digits brushed against his skin, stroking his cheek only to pinch it, tugging with a tender playfulness. "That is why, my dear, A-Yu, no one is allowed near the bed except for you."

"Okay, but I don't understand. Do you and the Emperor not want to consummate it?" The words were a slur, a soft breath of air, a whisper that was spoken with slowed caution, with the fear of being heard.

Wei Wuxian's sigh was quiet, a huff of kindness, a rustle of air. His smile was affectionate, a curl of his lips that composed patience upon his features, in his eyes. His fingers released the smooth skin of Mo Xuanyu's cheek, caressing the abused spot in a hushed apology.

"Sometimes, there are things you can't do, no matter what. Sometimes, it just doesn't happen. You can't force someone to do what they can't bear to do."

The words swirled in his mind, spiralling, circling. It was a mantra on repeat, spoken until the letters mixed and the meaning was lost. It left Mo Xuanyu staggering, his thoughts spinning.

They were words that left him thinking of days gone by, of nights lost to time, but not lost to his memory. They were words that reminded him of a family that shunned him, that blamed him for his misfortune, for their failures.

It reminded him of a father that discarded him.

Lean fingers brushed through his hair, pulled him back into a warm embrace, tugged him back into protective arms.

He listened to the song of a heartbeat; a rhythmic crescendo; it was a heart that loved him, that housed his memory. It was the cadence of a pulse that he memorised, that he learned after many nights of hearing it, allowing its song to calm him down.

"You do not have to worry about it, Yu-er, because I will not let it happen to you. You'll have the life you deserve."

He allowed the gentle voice to soothe him, to comfort him, to ease his fears, to silence his thoughts.

He did not need a family that shunned him, that left him to starve on the streets. All he needed was the brother that protected him that held him and cherished him.

Neither the Jin Dynasty nor the Mo clan was his family. His family was a boy who took him in and cared for him even when it brought upon him the wrath of an Empress, of an empire.

"You should go to bed now; you are going to be tired in the morning, and then you'll be drowsy and will sleep through your classes, and then you'll be crying about napping in class, and I'll be the one dealing with all of that."

Mo Xuanyu's fingers wrapped around the thin fabric of Wei Wuxian's inner robes, nails digging in the cloth, holding on to him as if holding to an anchor, and that is what he was, he was his support and defence.

"But you're not sleeping yet, should I go make you some tea?"

"This child! I can brew my own tea! And I was not asking. Come on, off you go, now."

Wei Wuxian's grip on his shoulders was not forceful, nor was it painful, but it was firm, solid with resolve and unwavering conviction. He was a parent in the face of his child's resistance; he was a fighter in a battle of wills.

Mo Xuanyu's hold wavered, his grip loosened. His determination staggered in the face of Wei Wuxian's will, tottered against the wave of exhaustion that crashed upon him, drowning him in tiredness that threatened to overwhelm him.

His eyelids blinked, clearing his wavering vision, absolving the blurriness that covered his bronze eye in a light veil of sleepiness.

Wei Wuxian's laugh was faint, quiet, a winning declaration, muffled by the tenderness that flowed through him. It was a melody, a lullaby that eased Mo Xuanyu, that facilitated him. It was a sound of compulsion, a spell of comfort that held him as a hostage, his body moving beyond his will.

"Do you need me to escort you?"

"I'm not a child, stop treating me like a boy. I'm a man." The whine in his voice was a contradiction, the pout a silent refute, and Wei Wuxian laughed again, a louder roar, a cackle.

"Kids these days hold no respect for their elders. You're a child until I say otherwise. I'll consider you an adult when you reach your sixteenth year. Come back with that argument in three years."

"You're not much older than me."

"Yes, yes, I'm still older, now off you go."

The pout never eased, never slipped off his face. It was an expression of opposition, a wordless rebellion that Wei Wuxian welcomed with an open heart. It was a balm that relieved his apprehension, that reassured him of Mo Xuanyu's growth.

He would not forget the boy who feared to show his emotions, who trembled at the thought of rejection.

The boy bowed, with folded hands and lowered head. He dipped his body, his posture radiating respect and love.

As he turned around to leave, he heard a whisper, a secret discoursed for his ears and no one else's, halting his steps, stopping his movements. "I'll brush your hair tomorrow; it has been a while since we've done that."

He turned to face a smiling Wei Wuxian, with his own face reflecting his joy, and his eyes glowing with his delight. "Thank you, Young Master."

"Ah, one last thing, before I forget. Trust no one, and be careful who you speak to, be diligent. We're no longer dealing with righteous Lans; we are dealing with a vicious Wen."

His smile didn't drop, but it was dimmed by the shadow of worry that flicked through grey eyes. It darkened by the weight of the warning that settled upon his shoulders, that sank in his heart.

"Okay. I'll be careful; I won't let you down."

His steps were sluggish as he walked, weighed by exhaustion and slowed by lethargy. As Mo Xuanyu left, Wei Wuxian found himself alone in the room, with nothing but the night as his companion, and the silence as his veil.

"Wei Ying."

He turned to find golden orbs boring into him, watching him with an intensity that shackled, and fierceness that silenced.

His smile was wide, lit by the burning candles, dimmed by the shadows of the night.

"Lan Zhan, did you miss me already?"

The silence was his answer, the stillness its argument. Wei Wuxian could not help but wonder if he was looking at an image of his mind's making, could not help but question if he was in the presence of a ghost from his dreams.

He didn't believe that Lan Wangji would seek him out, not his presence nor his company.

He blinked his eyes, squeezing them shut with a force that burned, that blinded and a vigour that stung, until his vision blurred with tears. He washed the dust from his eyes, the image from his view, yet it remained, unchanging and still.

"Did you need one of your attendants? I will summon them for you, or I can serve you if you needed something else specific."

"No need. Come to bed."

Wei Wuxian's smile widened just as his heart stuttered, just as his chest stung. The stars in his eyes twinkled, glistening with his joy, with his mischief and tears. He was driven by the demons in his mind, the pain in his heart.

He stood up, his thin inner robes shifting with his movements, with his steps. He moved with the grace of a dancer, with the melodramatics of a performer.

Every step was a play, every move a story foretold.

He was captivating in his elegance and his vibrancy.

Lan Wangji was spellbound, bewitched, compelled to stand still and watch as Wei Wuxian advanced until nothing separated them but thin garments and air.

He was frozen in time, suspended in place until arms wrapped around his neck, until fingers brushed through his hair, tickled the back of his neck. He was stunned until he felt warm breath against his ear. He was encased in an embrace, blanketed in a human's warmth and heat. "Do you wish for me to serve you, Lan Er-Gege? I'll make you feel so good; you merely need to tell me what you would like."

Lan Wangji felt his blood flare, heating up and colouring his ears in red and fire. He felt the fever of bashfulness as it flowed through him, blinding him.

His touch was not gentle, not considerate as he wrapped his fingers around the arms embracing him. His touch was bruising, fingers digging into pale skin with an uncontrollable force that was not intended to wound. "Shameless." One word was his only reply, his answer to a brazen question, the response to his embarrassment.

Wei Wuxian's cackle was loud in the face of their detachment, in the face of Lan Wangji's innocence.

"Shouldn't it be okay, Lan Zhan? We're married after all."

He didn't reply, allowing silence to settle upon them, to suffocate the echo of the laughter that reverberated around them. His touch relaxed, softened, stroking the spot in a silent apology, brushing the bruises that were yet to form.

"Bed."

One last word, one final gaze before he turned around, marching to the bedroom, unaware of the chaos he left behind.

Wei Wuxian was a storm of chaos, while Lan Wangji was the water in his order.

Wei Wuxian had forgotten the deadliness of water; he had overlooked the danger of raging waves.

Lan Wangji was water, and Wei Wuxian found himself caught in the storm.

 

 

He was awakened with fear permeating the air, with tension as thick as a cloud, and panic a fog that slithered into the room. He was roused with trembling hands and shaking words.

He was shaken and prodded, and his blankets pulled off him, leaving him vulnerable against the cold, against the sounds.

He was weak to the voice calling his name, to the beseeching tone and the tears he could hear in whispered words.

Wei Wuxian blinked open bleary eyes, his vision blurred by drowsiness, clouded by shadows of his dreams. He blinked away the veil screening his eyes, blinked the sleepiness from his gaze.

The drowsiness was washed away by the look of terror upon Mo Xuanyu's face, expelled by the trembling of his smaller frame.

He was awake with worry shackling his heart and concern waving around his throat, choking him, suffocating him.

"A-Yu, what's wrong?"

He smiled; a curl of his lips, a grin to comfort and sooth. He smiled with stars in his eyes and the sun in his warmth. He smiled even as he felt panic stifling him, worry drowning him.

"Attendant Qinyang collapsed in the Ancestral Hall. The physicians say she overworked herself. His Majesty went to check on her, and now you're summoned to the Yongshou Gong."

The fear slipped away, carried by air, leaving his lungs with his sigh. The concern and worry dissolved away like a vapour. The shackled eased, the threads loosened and his body relaxed.

He could breathe, could laugh at the tension mingling in the air, at the tears glistening in bronze eyes.

The sun was shining in the sky; its light was radiating in his smile.

"That's okay; you don't need to panic, I'll just get dressed, and we can go."

Mo Xuanyu's panic didn't ease, didn't dissipate. It grew, cultivated into a ghost that lingered between them, a weight that settled on the smaller body.

"You don't understand, Young Master! The guards said she shifted the blame on you, and that his Majesty and Prince Lan Qiren are furious."

He expected schemes against him, foresaw plots to replace him, yet he did not expect the first of many trials to begin so soon.

Had he fallen in a trap of his own making?

His smile didn't drop, his heart hardening against the cloud of panic that threatened to consume him. "You don't need to worry, A-Yu, help me get ready so I can answer his Majesty's summon."

"But, Young Master, what if you can't get out of it? What if she demands something unreasonable."

Wei Wuxian's hand settled upon his head, feeling the softness of glossy hair under his touch. He ruffled the strands with no regards to its proper state, scratched the scalp. His hand was a reassuring weight on Mo Xuanyu's head, a blanket of warmth that shielded him from the fear that threatened to crush him.

"It'll be alright, Yu-er. Come on, help me get dressed."

 

 

Wei Wuxian's arrival was announced, the words booming loud, echoing through the palace grounds, through the garden and the hall. A declaration, a warning.

He took his time crossing the entrance, walked at a leisurely pace, his momentum restrained by the weight of his robes, by his desire to leave them waiting.

The palace smelled of nature, of the fragrance of flowers, a sickly sweet scent that itched in his nose, stuck in his throat.

It was a scent that followed him to the hall; it was a smell that chased his trail, clung to his robes until he smelled of spring and florals.

He was led to the bedchamber, directed to enter the privacy of the attendant's sleeping quarters to find it flooding with people, with servants and physicians, but mostly with the members of the main branch of the Lan dynasty.

He could not help but notice Lan Wangji's presence, could not ignore his proximity to his concubine. Wei Wuxian could not decipher the strangeness of the bitter taste that filled his mouth, nor the sting in his heart.

He stood there, with his head held high, with pain in his heart. He stood under the gaze of the Lan family, his family, refusing to kneel, but lowering his head in a formality that he could never escape.

He was shackled by destiny, by rules and status. He was bound, but he refused to surrender.

"Greetings, your Majesty, your Highnesses."

He didn't miss the fact that Wen Qinyang did not move to greet him, did not attempt to show him the reverence bestowed to his station, to his rank and status.

"Empress Wei, how reckless are you! How irresponsible. You're accountable for the lives and safety of everyone in the inner palace, so how could you endanger the life of Attendant Qinyang?"

Wei Wuxian should have expected this reaction, should have foreseen the backlash and regression.

Lan Qiren never liked him, never approved of Wei Wuxian, not of his wild nature nor his disregard for rules. But his Uncle in law was a man of righteousness, a man who valued the good above the evil, who never approved of corruption.

It was why Wei Wuxian respected him, why he valued his wisdom and relished in his teachings, even if he would never understand his inclination for rules.

"Uncle, I did not push, nor did I force her to kneel. I merely suggested that she does it in the ancestral hall instead. I mean, it can't have been comfortable for her to stay kneeling in front of an empty throne. I know I would rather kneel in the ancestral hall."

"That does not excuse you! As per attendant Qinyang, her fear of disobeying you is what caused this."

His gaze shifted to her, following her movements, scrutinising her reaction. His eyes focused on her, watching her act unfold as she cowered under his attention, as she pulled the sheets higher on her frame, trying to shield herself from his view.

He could not stop the cackle that left his lips, could not stop the laughter that echoed around them as it resounded louder in the proximity of the bedchamber.

His reaction seemed to be the wrong one, a poor display of manners as it fed the flame of anger burning in Lan Qiren's chest, cultivated the rage that swirled in the air, that threatened to suffocate him.

"Wei Wuxian, how unruly are you? You broke multiple rules with a single sentence; you took your words lightly and weren't you careful with them. You were uneasy on attendant Qinyang, you created damage and caused another concubine harm. To not cause injury or destruction is one of our most important rules, yet you dared to break them. You should be punished for your carelessness. What do you say, Your Majesty?"

Wei Wuxian could feel the iciness of shock settling in his chest, cooling him, freezing him. He could feel the anger burning in his blood, thawing away at the building ice.

There was a battle raging inside of him, brought on by the shackles of rules, by the judgment of others.

It was fed and nurtured by the intense gaze of Lan Qiren, by the piercing eyes of Lan Wangji as he watched him.

His lips parted, a protest on the tip of his tongue, a whine in his throat, but he was not given a chance to speak, silenced by piercing gold, quieted by a proclamation.

Lan Wangji was the Emperor, his words laws, his decrees orders, and there was no escaping the outcome of his judgment.

"You will receive twenty strikes, and you will copy the book of virtue an additional five times." Lan Wangji's voice was calm, void of judgement, clear of emotions. It was the voice of an executioner, of a judge and a discipliner.

An axe was to his neck, a sword to his throat, and Wei Wuxian was a victim to rules, to the nature of Cloud Recesses.

"Once Wen Qinyang is deemed healthy, she will receive fifteen strikes, for her disregard of her own health, for causing damage, and for not being easy on others."

She froze in place, stunned by the words, by the declaration. She blinked, eyelashes fanning her cheeks, she blinked until the meaning registered to her, the decree wrapping her in a blanket of misery.

She dropped off the bed, sank to her knees at Lan Wangji's feet, gripping the end of his robes with trembling hands.

She didn't flinch as Lan Wangji's piercing gaze settled upon on her, void of emotions. She didn't recoil as the molten gold of his gaze met with her glistening with tears eyes.

She clutched his robes with force, clung to him like a lifeline; her world was trembling, her plans coiling around her throat, suffocating her.

Lan Wangji was her last chance.

"Your Majesty, please, I meant no harm, and I didn't wish to cause any problems. Please forgive me; it will not happen again. I beg you, Your Majesty."

"Wei Ying neither."

Wei Wuxian was not prepared to be dragged into the conversation, was not ready for the revelation as Lan Xichen intervened to explain Lan Wangji's words to the confused princess.

"What his Majesty is saying is that Empress Wei meant no harm either and that he didn't wish to cause you any wrong, yet you insisted he is punished, so should you not be punished for breaking the rules as well?"

Lan Wangji didn't wait to witness her reaction, standing up from where he was seated on the bed, he walked until he was standing in front of Wei Wuxian. "Recieve your punishment."

He walked on ahead, not waiting for Wei Wuxian to follow but expecting it nonetheless, and Wei Wuxian obeyed, turning to chase Lan Wangji's trial as he made his way to The Empress' residence.

"Lan Zhan, she's a maiden, even if she broke the rules, isn't that punishment too harsh? Make her copy the rules or something. Lan Zhan, are you listening to me?"

"Listening."

"I'm a man, I can take a thrashing, but she's a lady, Lan Zhan, If you won't change your mind, then at least let me take on her punishment."

"No."

He could not help but frown, could not help the tightness in his chest. Fear was a demon born inside of him, thrashing to erupt, but it was not terror for himself, but for a girl who must have never experienced hardships in her life.

Terror wrapped around him, a snake that squeezed and squeezed, choking the life out of him.

He imagined Jiang Yanli in her place, faced with hardship in her new home, waiting for punishment exceeding her crime.

Not even a Wen girl deserved that, not when she was thrust into a new home, with no allies, and no friends.

Not when she had yet to harm someone, not when her crime was pettiness.

"Lan Zhan," He moved to stand in front of him, intercepting him, blocking his path, heedless of the gasps of their entourage. He sank to his knees. He dropped into a bow on the hard terrain, feeling the coolness seeping through his clothes into his bones, feeling the roughness of the ground under his knees. "Please, Your Majesty, it's her first crime, not even that; she did nothing beyond lying, nothing worth fifteen strikes."

He didn't move, didn't shift as the seconds ticked away, as the minutes passed. He didn't stir as the breeze blew by, stroking his wild locks, playing with the jewellery adorning his hair. Wei Wuxian didn't flinch, nor did he recoil under the scrutinising gaze, the piercing eyes.

He waited in silence, as the stillness settled upon them.

Time moved on, a cycle that never ended, a journey and a passage that never stopped.

He bowed, frozen in place, never shifting, a status recorded in time, a portrait painted in the stars.

"You would defend someone who wronged you, beg for them, knowing she will aim for you, your life and your reputation?"

Wei Wuxian smiled, a sunrise, a full moon, his face lit up, more radiant than the sun, brighter than the moon. He smiled, and the earth shifted, the time stilled, missed a beat. He smiled, and the world surrendered.

"She had not done anything yet; why should she be punished for a crime she didn't commit?"

They stood under the bloom of a magnolia tree, with the leaves and flowers swaying above them, casting them in its shadow. They stood under the tree, with the scent of spring around them, lingering in their noses, sinking into their robes. They stood under the blooming magnolia with flower petals descending upon them.

With a soundless huff, Lan Wangji reached for him, offering his hand. It was not an apology, nor was it an admittance of defeat, but it was an oath. It was a promise of compromise, of understanding.

It was the gift of partnership, of shared wisdom and exchanged opinions.

It was the understanding of the meaning of their union, the purpose of their marriage.

"No strikes." He directed his words to his attendant, delivered his decree to be announced. "Attendant Qinyang's allowance is halved for three months, and she will copy the rules fifteen times."

His smiled widened, grew with his joy, with his happiness as he accepted Lan Wangji's hand, as he rose to his feet to stand close to his husband.

It was a step, the first track in their marriage. They held no love for each other, harboured no profound feelings of affection, but they regarded each other with respect, and with admiration.

They did not need love, not yet, but no marriage could prevail without acceptance, without respect.

It was their first step to understanding each other, to comprehending their union and their relationship.

It was a small step, as much as it was monumental.

It was no victory; it was no defeat, either, but it was the start of Wen Qinyang's downfall, her first mistake against Wei Wuxian, her first grievance.

It was not a victory, but it was a win, and Wei Wuxian welcomed small triumphs.

One thing was guaranteed, one thing confirmed. It was a war that Wen Qinyang wanted, it was his head, his position she was after, and Wei Wuxian refused to back down.

He will fight for his marriage, will strive to understand the man he wedded, to honour their union, and no concubine will steal that from him, not without a fight.

Chapter Text

Memories were a peculiar thing; they were visions and dreams that remained in one's mind. They were the moments that defined a person, moments that altered one's life.

Memories were the flashes of happiness and the moments of sadness that could never be forgotten.

Wei Wuxian's earliest memories were of frost eating at his skin, of a cold that left him shaking, seeking warmth that could not be found. They were of fear that caged him, enslaved him until tears burned down blush coloured cheeks. They were of hunger that left him aching, never full, never sated.

His earliest memories were of dogs chasing him, overpowering his smaller body, taking what little he had, and leaving him bloodied and in pain.

Wei Wuxian earliest memories were of his life on the streets, of the cruelty of the world to an orphan boy. They were the memories of the hardest moments of his life.

His earliest memories were not of his mother's warmth; they were not of his father's smile. As much as he wished they were, the passage of time had stolen their recollections from his mind.

The pain of punishment, the sting of discipline will never amount to the agony in his memories.

He stood in the courtyard of his palace, surrounded by magnolia blooms. He stood as the breeze danced around him, as the sun shone above him. He stood under the clear sky with the eyes of servants and discipliners upon him. He stood under Lan Wangji's gaze, unwavering and resolute.

"Lan Zhan, I understand that you enjoy watching me strip, but do you really want your retainers to get a show? I don't mind stripping in front of them if that's what you're into, I'm happy to serve any way you'd like."

His fingers were already moving, unlacing the knot on his sash, letting it fall to the ground with a rustle, the jade ornament tinkling as it hit the dusty earth.

"Shameless."

Wei Wuxian's smile widened, eyes sparkling like stars as servants obeyed a soundless command, as they started piling out, deserting the palace until it was void of life, empty of the buzzing of humans.

No one remained to breathe life in the Kunning Gong, no one except for the Imperial couple and a discipliner. He was standing at attention, unblinking, unmoving; he was as still as a status, as noiseless as stone.

"That's me; I have no shame. We make the perfect couple, don't you think, Lan Er-Gege? Me shameless as well as a troublemaker, and you shameful, and the pristine Hanguang-jun. "

His laughter resounded around them, loud, reverberating, it was a sound full of life. It was a musical note that breathed life back into the deserted palace.

"Once this is done, let's share a drink, alright, Lan Zhan? We can enjoy some tea since there is no alcohol, you should seriously reconsider banning liquor, my dear husband, it's a travesty, not merely to me but also everyone living here. Anyway, I promise not to add spices to the food or meddle with your tea, so you must join me, okay?"

Wei Wuxian didn't care for the lack of response, didn't mind the silence that stretched around the palace, continuing with his chatter, filling the quietness with his words, with his thoughts.

He spoke without a purpose, spouting nonsense and complaints, uttering his first thoughts. He talked as the weight of his robes eased off his shoulders, he chatted as the fabric fell to the ground with a weighted thud, muffled by his words, by his voice.

He talked as he was left standing in nothing but his inner robe, bared of his Dachang, stripped of his outer robe, free of the ornaments decorating his hair.

The silent descended upon them, a slithering snake that crept and slinked until they were caught in its trap, as they fell prey to the quietness of Cloud Recesses.

Wei Wuxian sank to his knees, dropped to the ground with no care to the watchful eyes upon him, with no regard to the dirt and soil that clung to his white undergarments.

He dropped to his knees with a smile that never faltered. He sank to the ground with stars in his eyes and warmth in his gaze.

He knelt under the clear sky. He bowed with the warmth of the sunlight on his back, and the coolness of the breeze on his skin.

He breathed in the clean air, inhaled the scent of spring, the fragrance of flowers and trees, the smell of Cloud Recesses. He gasped, sucking air into his lungs, willing his body to relax, waiting for the first hit.

He could still smell the rain in the wind, could see the lingering raindrops across green leaves.

Wei Wuxian shifted, twitching in place, teasing remarks on the tip of his tongue, a spark of mischief in his eyes. The words never sounded as he stilled with a gasp, the impact of the stave leaving him breathless, silencing his voice, quelling his thoughts.

There was no sound after that, not of pain. There was nothing but the song of the stave's swing, nothing except Wei Wuxian's huff.

It didn't compare to Empress Yu's punishments, didn't compare to the bite of her whip as it struck his back.

The hits came in a rhythm, a beat that matched the song of his heart, a cadence that never changed, never faltered.

The hits landed with moments of reprieve between them, with seconds he embraced, a break to catch his breath, to silence his protests and complains.

The hits came in monotone, as steady and resolute as Lan Wangji's presence. They came in success, with Wei Wuxian counting the hits, with him breathing through each strike.

He stood firm, unwavering, with quelled words, counting every hit, every strike with his knees digging in the ground, with the spring breeze biting at his skin.

He counted and counted, never anticipating the end, never waiting in fear of time slowing down, in dread that it will never end. He marked the strikes without flinching, accepting each blow with silenced patience until he wavered, flinching.

He lost count, his scarce patience stolen by pain. Time had long escaped his grasp, slipped away from his consciousness, leaving him with a fragmented world, in a timeless moment that never ended.

He lost his balance, lost his strength with an impactful hit that left him gasping, vision blurring with tears, body shaking, hands trembling. He went plummeting with heavy limbs and an unresponsive body.

The ground never greeted him, dust and sand didn't fill his senses, and as Wei Wuxian blinked away the blurriness, blinked away the pain, and washed away the tears, his gaze met molten gold.

It was only then that he felt the firm grip on his shoulders; only then did he notice the warmth that wrapped around him, the scent of sandalwood that filled his senses.

"Okay?"

There were no emotions in Lan Wangji's voice, no change in his tones, but Wei Wuxian could see worry burning in his gaze, could feel the conflict in his grip, in the beat of his heart.

He could not help but wonder if he was hallucinating or if it was concern he could see on Lan Wangji.

He wanted to witness all of Lan Wangji's reactions, but he hoped never again to see the concern clouding his gaze, his heart.

"Of course, Lan Zhan, who do you think I am? This is nothing; I'm ready for the rest."

"It is done."

It was a second, a moment in time flowing with confusion, with uncertainty. It was a fragment of chaos in Cloud Recesses, a remnant of a turmoil in an otherwise perfect world; it was a relic that didn't last.

It was the last second in a time that slipped through his grasp like water, a second that left him disoriented, with time sliding beyond his perception.

His smile widened, filled with warmth that fought off the crispness of spring's breeze, that heated the chilling silence drowning the palace, that threatened to suffocate him.

Wei Wuxian was as loud as the sun, as eager as the wind, and Lotus Pier was not any different, his home was always buzzing with life, with conversations. There was never a moment of silence.

It was the contrast of Cloud Recesses where noises were forbidden, where life could be seen, but could not be perceived.

He hated the silence, despised the stillness and quietness.

It was a heavy blanket that he could not shake, that he could not remove no matter how loud he laughed, no matter how energetic he felt.

It was a blanket that covered his palace, drowning him and Lan Wangji in a stillness that threatened to suffocate him.

"Lan Zhan, how about that tea now? And maybe I can play for you, would you like that?"

The hand on his shoulders remained, a weight that grounded him, that settled him. It was an anchor in a moment of chaos, a lifeline that secured him to reality, that prevented his thoughts from consuming him, that shielded him from the silence smothering him.

It was Lan Wangji's presence that his cognisance clung to, it was the scent of sandalwood that his senses coveted, it was that warmth that his body yearned for.

It was a terrifying realisation, a piece of intimidating knowledge and Wei Wuxian could not help but wonder when Lan Wangji had grown to be his shield in the face of Cloud Recesses' stillness.

He wasn't supposed to rely on anyone, wasn't supposed to trust anyone, but how could he not, when Lan Wangji showed him nothing but support? How could he not believe in the integrity of the Jade Emperor?

How could his feelings have grown so profoundly in the face of rejection?

Was Lan Wangji's touch his salvation, or was it the infection that would bring his demise?

He pulled away from the touch, pushing himself to his feet, straightening to full height only to fall back down like crumbling bricks, with shaky limbs and terror in his heart.

He collapsed back into the embrace, crumpled into the warmth with tense muscles and an ache that spread through his body, that permeated his sense.

"I'm okay; I just need a moment to regain feeling in my legs."

The scent of sandalwood wrapped around him, bathing him in the warm aroma, leaving him aching for more, yearning to breathe in the spiciness of Lan Wangji's redolence.

It was a scent that warmed him up. It was a heady fragrance that left him drunk on solace, that left him addicted to it.

Wei Wuxian leaned into the embrace, seeking more of the scent, breathing in the fragrance before he realised what he was doing, pulling away with a disconcerted chuckle.

"Lan Zhan, oh, Lan Zhan, if you hold me like that, I will want more, who knows, maybe next time I'll ask you to hold me in bed." His laughter resounded loudly, a boisterous chuckle, a deafening roar that was cut short as Lan Wangji shifted an arm under his knees and picked him with an ease that left him speechless.

"What are you doing? Lan Zhan, you can't carry me around, I can walk, I swear I'm alright, my legs just fell asleep from kneeling. Lan Zhan, put me down, your servants will assume I'm bullying you. They were only twenty strikes. Lan Zhan!"

His panic was a tangible presence with a soul of its own; it was a force that spread through the air, weighing it down, filling the space with tension and dread. His arms wrapped around the board shoulders, fingers brushing through the silky locks.

His words fell upon deaf ears, words that were carried away by the wind, never to be heard, nor obeyed.

He was carried through the open courtyard, led under the blooming trees and the open sky; he was held in Lan Wangji's arms as if he measured nothing. He was not released as they stepped through the main entrance of the Palace, Lan Wangji shouldering his weight until he was lowered onto the softness of the bed.

"Oh I see, so that was your plan all along. I didn't know Lan Er-Gege was so crafty. If you wanted to get me into bed, all you had to do was ask, my dearest husband." The smile on Wei Wuxian's face shifted, spoke of mischief. It was a smirk that exhibited none of his warmth, a grin that displayed all of his playfulness.

He shifted on the bed, pressed his back to the cold wall, mindful of the flowers of purple and blue he expected to form on his skin and spread his arms in a mockery of an offered hug. "Don't be shy now, come, come."

Wei Wuxian could perceive the flame of rage as it burned in the amber gaze, could feel the heat of his anger as he shook his sleeve and turned to leave. His cackle sounded loud in the quietness of his room, sounded like ringing bells in the face of Lan Wangji's anger.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry."

It was the apology of a demon who caused demise, a plea of a storm that brought chaos; it was an apology that lacked remorse, that was void of sincerity.

It was an apology that fell on unhearing ears, that was ignored, heard but not addressed.

As Lan Wangji didn't halt, as the sound of his steps faded into the silence that marked the nature of Cloud Recesses, Wei Wuxian was left alone with his thoughts and the pain of bruises on his back.

He was left with the shackles of fate; with the manacles of destiny restraining him.

The pain was a reminder of his reality, a remembrance of his lost dream. It was the reminder of the restrains wrapped around him, limiting his choices, controlling his life.

Was his fate to be prey to the solitary existence of an Empress? Or was his destiny a quiet, soundless life that would kill his laughter and smother his voice?

"Your Majesty, his Majesty, the Emperor, asked me to assist you in getting dressed."

The questions swarming his thoughts settled, silenced by the presence of another being, and as Wei Wuxian turned his attention to the figure kneeling at the entrance of the bedchamber he blinked, washing the drowsiness that was starting to overwhelm him out of his gaze.

"Didn't Lan Zhan leave?"

"No, your Majesty, The Emperor had called for breakfast and tea and is currently waiting for you in the main hall."

"And who are you?"

"Huan Zhe, your Majesty, I'm his Majesty's attendant."

He sat up with reluctance, fought to straighten himself against the shackles that restrained him, against the weight of his dying thoughts and his spirit. He struggled with a smile on his face that didn't drop. He shifted with a flourish to his movements that left him burning with pain that reflected in his heart, but never his face.

"Huan Zhe, you can drop formalities around me."

Huan Zhe straightened with a graciousness that displayed his elegance and his reverence. He moved with the grace of royalty and the elegance that was a signature of the Lans. His every step and movement spoke of his talent, of his expertise and told a story of his time as an attendant to a sovereign.

There was no questioning Huan Zhe's rank, nor his place by the Emperor's side.

He sat in front of the vanity, releasing his inky locks from the high bun and allowing the strands to cascade down his back like a black waterfall. His touch was irritable as he brushed his hair, the hairbrush a heavyweight in his hand that was discarded with a beat of his heart.

His reflection stared back at him, smiling with a joy that burned in his gaze, with a warmth that filled his heart, yet he could not recognise himself. Wei Wuxian looked in the mirror, and all he could see was a smiling stranger.

His identity was slowly seeping away, drained by his station, marriage and loneliness. His individuality was exhausted by rules and silence.

He was no longer Wei Wuxian of Yunmeng; he was no longer a nephew and a brother, no longer a swordsman, and he was no longer free to do as he wished.

The world had closed its doors in his face, leaving him a prisoner in a world that was suffocating him, killing him.

He missed the weight of a sword in his hand, yearned for the thrill of releasing an arrow; he craved the chance to fight, to defend himself.

His fingers were slowly losing their strength, his muscles dying away, and his talent with the sword was being swept by time and destiny.

Wei Wuxian yearned for a time where he wore simple clothing and had no fear of sullying his robes. He missed the days he spent his days sweating under the sun, with the sounds of clashing metal resounding around the open field.

Were those days truly lost to him?

He pulled his hair into a ponytail with little regard to priority, pulled the locks into the style he missed, hoping to recognise his reflection in the mirror.

He didn't dare look, turning instead to find Huan Zhe waiting for him to help him dress.

Time passed with no form, with the seconds ticking away at a speed that left his grasping at nothing, and as he blinked, time slowed back down. The scent of food wafted through the palace, brushed through his senses and Wei Wuxian realised that he was dressed in light robes, that his clothes were loose, not constricting.

For a moment, he felt like himself. For a second he was free of the shackles, free of the restraints.

"Thank you, Huan Zhe."

His smile was never fake, never a mask, never a persona. His smile was his identity, part of what defined him, and as Wei Wuxian made his way to the main hall, with lighter steps and a luminous smile, he knew his grin was the happiest since he stepped into Cloud Recesses.

He didn't remember much of his parents, could not retain their faces nor their lives together, but Wei Wuxian would never forget his father's smile. How could he forget when he'd see it every time he'd look at his reflection in the mirror?

At that moment, he was not an Empress. With his father's smile on his face, with his mother's eyes and her legacy in his heart, he was Wei Wuxian, he was Wei Ying.

"Lan Zhan, I've decided. I'll transfer all my servants to the Yongshou Gong to serve attendant Qinyang."

Lan Wangji was ethereal, captivating, glowing with the sunlight streaming through the open windows, with clouds reflecting on his robes and skin. He was bewitching, and as he raised his head, as his gaze met Wei Wuxian's, the latter fell victim to his charm, a prisoner to the golden spark of his eyes.

Heaven was reflected in the gold gaze, the sun in his eyes.

"Only two."

He rushed through the remaining space, bouncing with every step, every move until he flopped down on the same low table as Lan Wangji. His smile came easier, lighter, brighter, and it soothed the demons that were flopping through his heart, through his chest.

"But I don't want any of them, A-Yu isn't comfortable with them, and I don't trust them. Please, Lan Zhan, I'd rather not deal with them or with choosing new servants for her."

He dropped his head to the table with a pout on his face and a whine in his voice, heedless of Lan Wangji's servants as they buzzed around them.

"Assign two, send the rest to the imperial household department, ask for newer servants."

Wei Wuxian leapt in his spot, raising his head and straightening his back. "Thank you, Lan Er-Gege."

Time passed, the seconds ticking away, and the day progressed as they ate. It was a moment of reprieve, a reproduction of their time in the Library Pavillion. Time passed as they ate, with Wei Wuxian chattering, uncaring of Lan Wangji's gentle reprimand, nor the Lan Rules.

It was a moment of serenity, a moment of comfort that facilitated the doubts in Wei Wuxian's heart, soothed the fears in his mind, but it didn't ease the yearning for freedom, didn't alleviate his need for a resemblance of a time long gone by, stolen from him by fate and choice.

He will never regret his choice, never reject the decisions that guided him to this point. He will never regret the sacrifices made for Yunmeng, for the family that welcomed him and raised him, not when it would protect them, not when it introduced him to Lan Wangji.

"Say, Lan Zhan, how about we go to town? Just you and me."

The moment shattered, the serenity fragmented into pieces of dust, into fragments that could not be touched, that could not be recalled. The moment was over, but the peace in Wei Wuxian's heart remained, lingering, a part of him.

"Dangerous."

"Come on; it can't be that bad, we'll dress as commoners, besides I was the best swordsman in Lotus Pier, and you're Hanguang-jun if we can't protect ourselves, who can?"

There was a fraction in time, a second where the world stopped evolving, where life froze, and spring lingered. It was a moment of anticipation that burned through Wei Wuxian's veins, that weighed in Lan Wangji's mind. It was a second that was filled with Wei Wuxian's begging, filled with arguments that could not convince nor influence Lan Wangji's opinions.

It was a moment of consideration, a moment of change, of transition. It was a moment that would shape their future, their lives.

"Very well, but only after your back is healed."

"Mark your words!" Wei Wuxian's exclamation was a cry of joy, of delight that glowed in his eyes, in his smile. It was a portrait of happiness that seized Lan Wangji's attention, that left him enthraled.

Wei Wuxian was spring flowers; summer sky, autumns orange leaves and winter snow. Wei Wuxian was the beauty in the world. He was the morning dew and the night stars; he was everything, a force of nature and Lan Wangji was hopeless in his face.

Wei Wuxian was a seed that was planted in his heart, a plant that had taken root in his soul and Lan Wangji could do nothing against the emotions flowing through him.

He was a victim to Wei Wuxian's charms, a prisoner to his grace.

Lan Wangji could not escape his fate, nor did he wish to fight it. He would cherish the bloom in his heart, nurture the warmth in his soul.

He would care for Wei Wuxian, would protect his smile, even if the cost was Lan Wangji's own happiness.

For the first time in his life, Lan Wangji could comprehend what his father felt for his mother, what it meant to cherish someone.

Wei Wuxian had destroyed his walls, decimated his defence with nothing but a smile.

Lan Wangji didn't care to fight.

Chapter Text

Power had many forms, many moulds. Most were a poison that would taint the mind, paint sanity with darkness and drive one to madness while others were a shield, an armour that could protect and guard. 

Wei Wuxian had witnessed the way power would eat away at people, the way it'll consume all their humanity until they remained as nothing but a shell of cruelty. He had both seen and been a victim to the demons of power. 

Wei Wuxian despised power, wished never to wield it, but he was armed with the highest of authority, supplied with means to bring a kingdom to its ruin. It left him with a sour taste in his mouth, with fear in his heart. 

Wei Wuxian never cared for power, but destiny was his enemy, and he was left with a crown on his head and the weight of duty on his shoulders. 

He never wanted to rule, never cared for it. Wei Wuxian despised the darkness of power, of authority, and that didn't change as Wen Qinyang kowtowed in front of him. 

"Wen Qinyang greets your majesty." 

"Please rise." 

The tea he was drinking prior to her visit tasted bitter in his mouth, the sweetness of it dissolved as if it was never there. It brought back memories of Yunmeng's flavour, brought back the ghost of his favourite tea, reminded him of the sharp taste of his home's food and drinks. 

He missed his home, missed the familiarity and the freedom just as he missed the absence of responsibility. 

He never wanted to look down on people as they kneeled, never wanted to sit above anyone. 

With every passing day, he would understand more about his mother, her motives, her burdens and her grievances. 

No one should crave to hold so much authority over someone, not when it was a load that would weight one down, not when it was a shackle that would restrain and constrict. 

Freedom was a gem, a gift that fate had torn from his grasp. It was his most valued possession, and it was snatched away by necessity and the spark of war. 

It was a sacrifice made for a kingdom that was his home. It was the price paid in exchange for the love of the family that raised him. 

"Your Majesty, I heard about what you've done for me, and I wanted to thank you." Her voice was as soft as wind chimes, as gentle as smoke and it stroked Wei Wuxian's nerves, easing his growing agitation, feeding his smile. Her voice was gentle, her smile sincere, and there was gratitude in her eyes. 

Wei Wuxian could not help the shadow of animosity that lingered in his heart, nor the doubt that swarmed his mind. "Please accept these humble gifts to show my gratitude." 

He could not trust her, not the innocence of her face, not the sincerity of her words, nor the grace in her gaze. She was a demon that lingered in the darkness waiting to strike; she was a monster wanting to destroy; she was a threat that needed to be extinguished. 

He eyed the trays carried by her servants, inspected the fabrics and jewels with no apparent disdain, but there was no concealing the doubt in his heart. 

"This is too much, Meimei, I can't possibly accept it. I did nothing to warrant such a grand gift."

"No, no, you spoke on behalf and eased my punishment, please accept this humble attendant's gratitude, your Majesty." 

Wei Wuxian could not smile at her, not with the apprehension swirling in his heart, not with the image of her and Lan Wangji burned behind his eyes. 

She was a poison that was threatening his life, a danger to his rank. 

Wei Wuxian hated authority. He never wished to be someone with power, to have control over anyone's life and future. It was a poison that would kill all sense and humanity; it was a toxin that would leave behind nothing but cruelty. 

He hated power, never desired it, but he knew that a Wen princess that coveted a position of authority should be the last person to wield it. 

He doubted her sincerity, questioned her humanity, and motivations. 

She was Wen Ruohan's precious sun. She was his most precious jewel, and yet he sent her to be nothing more than a concubine to a Lan Emperor. 

Wei Wuxian could not trust her smile, could not believe in her words nor her eyes. 

His hands were tied, and he could not refuse her gifts, not without offending her. 

He didn't wish to poke the snake's nest, not yet. 

"Then I'll accept it. Thank you, Meimei." 

His tea had long gone cold, his smile never vanished, and every move caused his robes to stroke the blue and green bruises marring his back. Wei Wuxian wished to slip away, to ask his guest to leave, to find his flute and play his doubts away. 

He could do nothing but sit and listen to the princess spout nonsense; he could do nothing but wait for her to excuse herself and slip away. 

"Your Majesty, we're both his Majesty's wives, and we should help each other serve his Majesty better, don't you agree?" 

He did not agree, could not agree. Wen Qinyang was a danger to him, to Lan Wangji and both Yunmeng and Gusu. She was a danger that should never be armed with the Emperor's favour, that should never be shielded or assisted. 

She was a threat, and Wei Wuxian refused to feed her, to empower her. He refused to help her. 

"Attendant Qinyang needs to understand something," His voice was void of mirth, devoid of any emotions. His voice was an icy current, a cold breeze and falling snow. His voice was the winter wind as it sent a chill down her spine, left her trembling. "I am his Majesty's husband, and you are nothing but a low ranked concubine. Don't presume to compare yourself to me." 

Wei Wuxian hated power, hated that poison that would strip one of their light and leave them with nothing but darkness. He despised power, but it was still a weapon as mighty as a sword, and he would not hesitate to wield his authority and his arrogance to cut down the menace that threatened to destroy him. 

He didn't falter as the princesses flinched, didn't recoil as she rushed back to the centre of the main chamber and dropped to her knees in front of him. He didn't react even as her forehead touched the ground with a faint thud. 

"This attendant has overstepped, please forgive me, your Majesty." 

He hated watching people from above, hated watching someone prostrate themselves to him. He despised the rules and the restrictions, craved freedom and independence.

Wei Wuxian hated it but refused to acknowledge Wen Qinyang. He left her defeated, bowing on the ground as seconds ticked by, as humiliation coloured her cheeks and boiled her blood. 

He left her kneeling as he sipped at his cold tea, watching the shackles slowly wind around her body, snakes that restrained her. 

Wei Wuxian hated power, but it was his only weapon against the schemes and plots of the Wen's pride. He despised it, but it was his sole shield in the face of the plots targeting him. 

"You may get up." 

She straightened to full height, her legs trembling and she would've collapsed back to her knees if not for the servant that rushed to steady her.

"A-Yu, escort Attendant Qinyang out." 

He did not wait for her to speak any more words, didn't wait for the shadow of her presence to consume him, turning his back to her and leaving the main chamber. 

He hated power, and he feared that it'll consume him, that it'll poison him until Wei Wuxian didn't exist anymore until all that was left was the Empress of Gusu. 

He feared that Cloud Recesses was slowly stripping him off his self, baring him, leaving nothing but a stranger. 

 

 

The serenity of Cloud Recesses was a rope wrapped around his neck, tightening and tightening, cutting off his air, killing him slowly. It was a quietness that was destroying his essence, shattering his identity. 

The air of Cloud Recesses was a fresh breeze, unpolluted, carrying the scent of blooms and spring, but it was void of freedom, empty of life. 

Cloud Recesses was a haven, a garden of beauty filled with greenery and blooms. Cloud Recesses was a kingdom of nature, a realm from a myth. It was a delightful cage that could never compare to the simplicity of the free world. 

The wind carried the scent of water and the smell of food, the world was buzzing with life, filled with the sound of people going through their lives. 

Cloud Recesses was heaven on earth, but in Wei Wuxian's eyes, it could not compare to the portrait of lively people, with the sound of life echoing around them. 

He stood in the centre of the street, people passing him buy, some browsing others stopping at a stall or two. He stood in the centre of the road with the weight of his sword at his hip and the heat of Lan Wangji behind his back. 

He stood there with fascination in his eyes, with the sun shining above their heads, the clouds swimming in the sky, and he found his smile crawling back on his face. 

He was slowly dying, suffocating under pressure, under the weight of the shackles of his destiny and status, but as he watched the people of Caiyi town buzz around him with life, the world breathed life back into his soul. 

He felt like himself more than he ever did since his betrothal was announced. 

"Lan Zhan, Look!" The water was a carpet of sparkling gems, a mirror reflecting the stars in the night sky. It was a blue blanket with jewels shimmering upon its surface. 

Gusu was not Yunmeng, and Caiyi town was not Lotus Pier. They were two different cities, with various marks and numerous distinctions. Caiyi town was not Lotus Pier, but the sparkling water left him mesmerised, wrapped in a nostalgic dream. 

Caiyi town was no Lotus Pier, but it was the closest thing to home, and Wei Wuxian could not help but fall in love with the city, could not help but feel at ease surrounded by water and chattering merchants. 

They spent the day under the shining sun and the blue sky, with Wei Wuxian leading the way and Lan Wangji following behind. They spent the day with a veil of comfort covering them, with Wei Wuxian excitement warming them. 

They spent the day going through the different stalls, watching the people live their lives. 

It was a day of normality, a day of freedom. It was a day void of worries and schemes, empty of the weight of politics. 

It was a day spent in their own world, in their kingdom. A day that would forever be etched in their hearts, and would always linger in their memories. 

"Wei Ying, we should head back." 

The universe could be seen in Wei Wuxian's gaze; the stars reflected more brightly in his grey gaze than in the black carpet of the night. There was beauty in his vision, a scene of wonder and fascination. 

Lan Wangji could spend the night stargazing into Wei Wuxian's eyes. 

"No, we said a day, my day isn't over yet. We're spending the night in an inn, and I'm going to drink, and you can't stop me because the rules don't apply here." 

It was a prideful proclamation, words filled with satisfaction and confidence that shattered Lan Wangji's protests, his arguments. 

There was beauty in Wei Wuxian, there was radiance to his smile, and Lan Wangji could clearly see how empty his previous smiles were. 

Wei Wuxian was the sun, and he could not help but wonder if Cloud Recesses was suffocating his light, his flames.

Wei Wuxian did not wait for his response, didn't give him the chance to argue or agree as he marched ahead, leaving behind a Lan Wangji who could do nothing but follow. 

"Why are you lagging behind, Lan Zhan? Are you tired? You can't be tired. We haven't done anything for you to be tired. Don't be an old man and hurry up. Come on, Lan Zhan. There is an inn right ahead, and I'm hungry, so you need to hurry up so we can book a room and ask for food to be brought up, or we can eat downstairs. Don't worry; we can also bath; I brought you a spare change of clothes. Don't look at me like that, dearest husband. I knew you wouldn't pack any, so I asked Huan Zhe to get them for me. I didn't go looking for them through your palace if that's what you're worried about, but as a couple, there should be no secrets between us."

Lan Wangji prided himself on his patience, prided himself on his ability to sit through morning court and listen to ministers bicker and drag each other down, but as Wei Wuxian spoke, uttered the first sentence coming to his mind, he could feel his endurance diminishing, could feel irritation bubbling through his chest. 

"Wei Ying." He didn't care to be polite, interrupting the stream of words, watching as realisation dawned on his husband, and a boisterous laugh replaced his chatter. It echoed around them, loud, a roar that captured the attention of passersby, that struck Lan Wangji's heart. 

He watched Wei Wuxian with stars of wonder in his eyes. He watched him as the moon shone upon him, watched his pale skin glow under the moonlight. 

He was the night sky, his skin made of moonglow, his eyes of stars and his hair the dark veil that is the sky. Wei Wuxian was a painting of nature, a celestial being that had descended to capture the hearts of mortal men. 

Wei Wuxian was the night sky; he was the universe; he was nature incarnate. 

Lan Wangji was defenceless against his smile. He was helpless in the face of Wei Wuxian's ringing laugh. 

Cold fingers wrapped around his wrist, unashamed and unflinching. He was a prisoner to Wei Wuxian's excitement, a willing hostage that didn't resist as he was pulled by a firm hand. 

The fingers were cold, but the touch was scorching, a heated shackle that would brand, leaving behind a mark that was only for Lan Wangji to feel and see. 

It was a brand of fire that he would wear with pride. It was a heat that he wished never to be cooled. 

He allowed Wei Wuxian to drag him along, listening to the chatter with renewed patience. 

He allowed Wei Wuxian to drag him along, his gaze never leaving the other's back, burning the moment in his mind, in his heart. 

 

 

Wei Wuxian grew up in luxury, surrounded by gold and silver. He grew up with beauty all around him, with majestic and grandeur marking his every step and every corner of his life. 

Luxury and richness were an aspect of his life, part of his character that could be perceived in his comfort at being surrounded by treasures and wealth. 

He grew up to know the world from a palace of gold, his life painted by wealth, yet he never felt as at ease as at this moment, never felt as comfortable as he was sitting in a humble room. 

Wealth could never compare to the pleasure of freedom, to the warmth of monopolising his husband's life.

His fingers moved with ease, lips blowing air as he played a song of joy. The musical notes danced around them in a show of delight, the sound carried by night. 

He played a song of happiness, a story of joy, with the moon peeking through the open window, the stars reflecting in his eyes and Lan Wangji as his audience. 

He played to a man who listened, to a man who never complained. He played a song that captivates, that mesmerises, played to capture Lan Wangji's attention, to ensnare his heart. 

He played as the seconds ticked, as his lungs screamed for air and as his fingers stiffened and trembled. 

Wei Wuxian played through tiredness, through exhaustion for the pleasure of one man, for the delight of an attentively listening Emperor. 

A knock on the door disturbed the moment, the sound jarring compared to the soothing symphony. The song came to an end, the musical moment was broken, their bubble shattered, and they were brought back to the living world. 

The bamboo flute was discarded, dropped on the cushioned bed with a hushed rustle before Wei Wuxian made his way to the door, bouncing with every move, every step an exhilarating dance. 

"Forgive the disturbance, Young Master. Here are the drinks you requested, two jars of Emperor's smile and a teapot. Please enjoy and call for us if you require anything else." 

"Thank you." 

The sound of the door closing didn't register, a silent sound muffled by Wei Wuxian's voice, by the words echoing around the inn room, by the enthusiastic tone. "Lan Zhan, my Emperor smile is finally here. I can finally have my alcohol. Ah, how I missed my liquor." 

"Hmm." 

He placed the tray on the low table with a severity that caused the cups to clink, that threatened to drop the jars and teapot. He set it in front of Lan Wangji with movements controlled by excitement, dramatic and animated. 

"Oops." His cackle resounded around them, loud in the quietness of the night, carried by the wind, heard by the moon. "Anyway, Lan Zhan, I can't believe you asked for tea. All you drink is tea. How about you share a drink with me? One drink. Only one. To make up for our wedding drink. Please, Lan Zhan." 

He was already moving, shifting to pour the transparent liquid into two cups, pushing one in front of Lan Wangji with no regard to the man's reply or preference. 

Lan Wangji's glare was ignored, unacknowledged by Wei Wuxian as he raised his cup and downed the drink. Few drops slipped down his chin, leaving behind a trial against the fare skin. 

"Alcohol is forbidden." 

"We're not in Cloud Recesses, Lan Er-Gongzi. And one drink won't hurt you." The hesitation was painted in the golden orbs, evident in the clench of Lan Wangji's jaw, in the slight twitch of his hands. "Please, Lan Zhan. Just one, if you drink it, I'll try not to cause trouble for a whole week; no wait, that's too long. For two days, I will do my best not to break any rules." 

For a few seconds, there was no outward reaction; for a long moment, they sat in silence. The air crackled and sparked with tension, the room sizzled with anticipation, and soon the hesitation was washed away by determination. 

Wei Wuxian watched with fascination in his eyes and with excitement heating his blood as Lan Wangji raised the cup to his lips and downed the liquid with no more thoughts. 

"How was it? Did you like it? Lan Zhan, you had Emperor smile for your first sip of alcohol, nothing would ever top that." 

Silence greeted him; it was his answer and response. 

He waited with impatience wrapped around his throat, choking him, suffocating him. He anticipated with patience that threatened to shatter. 

"Lan Zhan?"

The moment of expectation fragmented, ending with a thud as Lan Wangji's collapsed, dropping lifelessly to the low table. 

Wei Wuxian could taste the panic as it smothered him, could feel the fear as it coiled around him. 

It can't be poison, he thought, not when he drank from the same jar. 

He can't be dead, he thought, watching his back fall and rise with each breath, and it was that thought that calmed him down, that anchored him back to reality, that carried the panic away. 

"You can't be drunk, Lan Er-Gege, not from a single cup." 

For a long moment, with seconds passing by and clouds shifting in the sky, Wei Wuxian did nothing but sit and watch Lan Wangji as he slept, grey eyes glowing with fascination and curiosity. He watched him as the night passed by, observing the candle reflected against the jade-like skin. 

He watched him for a broken moment, observed him as time went by, counted the stars in his skin as the seconds ticked away. 

There was an ethereal beauty to Lan Wangji, a charm that captived the hearts, that left people envious, burning with jealousy and tingling with desire. He craved to track the sharp features, to touch his jaw and lips, desired to stroke his fingers through the silky strands. 

He wanted to touch, but could only look. 

Flames burned through his blood, heating his skin, painting his cheeks and neck in red.

He turned away from the sleeping statue, walked away from the source of the flames burning through him. Wei Wuxian turned around, creating a rift between them. 

There was no escape from the heat, not in the room. There was no escape, so hid behind the partition, hoping to find cooling relief from the wall he leaned against. 

He stood there for a broken moment, stood there as the moon hid behind the clouds, as the stars blinked in the sky and as breeze seeped into the room. He remained there, waiting for the fire to be distinguished, waiting for the images of Lan Wangji to vanish from his mind. 

"Wei Ying." The call of his name brought him back to the present, calmed his senses, and he peeked behind the partition, glanced into the room to find it void of life, empty. 

There was no trace of Lan Wangji, no sign of his presence beyond the deep, compelling tone of his voice as it called for Wei Wuxian. There was no sign except the shadow of his frame painted on the wooden floors. 

"Lan Zhan?" 

No answer came, no reply, the only response was the dance of the shadow that reflected Lan Wangji's movements. 

"Lan Zhan." He repeated, voice shaking with laughter, tone filled with mirth. 

There was a flash of gold as Lan Wangji peeked from the pillar he was hiding behind, a blinding glow that was covered as soon as it appeared. 

"Lan Zhan, what are you doing?" 

There was a fleeting second of silence, a moment of calm and tranquillity that belonged in the Cloud Recesses and not in a humble inn room. There was a passing moment of quietness where Wei Wuxian waited for an answer he didn't expect to come. 

"Hiding." 

The laughter that resounded in the small room was loud, a sound of amusement that delighted Lan Wangji, and left Wei Wuxian gasping for breath. 

There was an innocent simplicity in the truthfulness of the answer. There was a delightful comfort in the sincerity of the reply. 

Their moments in the Library Pavillion could not compare to the purity of that moment. The peacefulness could never compare to the playfulness of that particular second. 

Happiness tasted sweeter in the presence of Lan Wangji's playfulness; the joy felt warmer wrapped in a layer of freedom. 

An eternity in the golden cage of the inner city could never compare to that moment. 

"Why are you hiding?" 

"Playing with Wei Ying." 

Confusion took shape in his heart; in his mind, curiosity flooded his thoughts and enthusiasm wrapped around his frame. 

He was filled with fascination, appeal taking root in his chest, tangible, within his reach; it was a force that he could not ignore, could not deny. 

He was intrigued by the uncharacteristic playfulness of Lan Wangji, charmed by his drunken state. 

There was no other explanation to the transformation, no other reason behind it. 

It was a state that would be recorded in Wei Wuxian's memory, never to be forgotten. 

He walked with purpose, aiming to reach the pillar, to catch the hidden figure of his husband, to participate in the peculiar game of hide and seek. His steps were soundless, the noise muffled, swallowed by the thick fabric of his socks. 

Wei Wuxian moved with a purpose, with an aim. He moved like a predator stalking prey, but even in his drunken state, Lan Wangji was not a victim, was not hopeless as he darted faster than Wei Wuxian could react to hide behind the partition. 

"Ayah, where did Lan Zhan go? And here I was planning on kissing him when I catch him." 

A snicker accompanied his words, the sound loud and offensive, lacking any manners, lacking elegance and charm. It was a laugh that Wei Wuxian expected to repel Lan Wangji, a sound that along with the words, was supposed to disgust the Emperor, to offend him. 

He didn't expect Lan Wangji to slip from his hiding spot, didn't foresee the Emperor stepping in front of him. 

What he expected were disgust and repulsion, when he anticipated was being pushed away, what Wei Wuxian received was a surprise that left him breathless, that stole his sanity and his words. 

"You caught me." 

He expected Lan Wangji to push him, to reject his touch, to reject him. Wei Wuxian didn't foresee for kisses to be demanded, for fingers to brush down his cheeks, leaving a trail of fire burning in their wake. 

"You caught me." Lan Wangji repeated, and Wei Wuxian could do nothing but stare at him with wonder in his grey eyes, with flames in his blood and red painting his skin. 

He wanted to feel Lan Wangji's heat, needed his touch to warm his skin, yearned for his lips to mark his skin. 

"You're drunk, Lan Zhan." 

There was a smouldering fire in the amber gaze, there was molten gold in his eyes, and there was an intensity that captivated and ensnarled, that left Wei Wuxian mesmerised, captive to Lan Wangji's whims, to his demands. 

"Not drunk." 

Lean fingers were tracking his face, the shape of his nose, the edge of his jaw, his cheeks and lips. Long digits touched his face, exploring, memorising. Elegant fingers stroked his skin, stealing his breath, marking, draining him of strength. 

A protest was on the tip of his tongue, soundless, never uttered. A protest was on the tip of his tongue, but the beat of his heart was louder. 

"You don't want this, Your Majesty, you never wanted to touch me. This is just the alcohol speaking." 

"Want Wei Ying." 

Silence greeted him, heavy and weighted, adding to the building tension that filled the room, that screened them from the moon's view. Silence greeted him, and hesitation sparked in Lan Wangji's chest, burned in his eyes, his touch faltering, his hand dropping to his side. 

Silence greeted him and Lan Wangji could not help but think that he had crossed a line. 

"You don't." Lan Wangji spoke, never a mumble, never with a stutter. He was a man of few words, quiet and reversed, and his words always came in the same tone with the same confidence. 

He pulled away as if burned, a frown in his eyes, a sting in his heart and he could not help but wonder if this is what Wei Wuxian felt after every rejection, after every denial. 

He wanted Wei Wuxian, wanted to touch, to feel and hold. He desired Wei Wuxian, his scent, heat and taste, yearned to burn every single detail in his memory. 

He stepped away, putting space between them, shifting away from the inviting heat, from the intoxicating scent of Lotus. He stepped away, planning to give Wei Wuxian his space when fingers wrapped around his own, halting his stride. 

"Heavens, how can you say that with a straight face." Blood rushed through his veins, painting his cheeks in red, leaving him flushed. Lan Wangji wanted to lean in and kiss the blush, feel the heat under his lips. "I do want you, Lan Zhan, I want you more and more every day, it's terrifying. I want it, but I'm afraid you'll regret everything in the morning." 

Their fingers interwind, their hands linked like lock and key, entirely in sync. Their fingers joined, cradled in each other's palm. Their fingers interlaced, and Wei Wuxian's smile returned, as radiance as the sun, as charming as the moon. 

Wei Wuxian was the sun, and Lan Wangji was the stars concealed in his presence. 

He was tugged against a muscular chest, pulled into a warm embrace, drawn into a cloud of smoke and vapour, a fog of fantasies and need. Wei Wuxian was brought into Lan Wangji's arms, pulled by a firm hand and a puff of sandalwood. 

"Mine." Was breathed against Wei Wuxian's lips, the air leaving him tingling, leaning in for more. It was whispered into his skin, voice a deeper octave, a deep rumble of want. 

The first brush against his lips was a mirage, an illusion of what he desired, a vision of what was to come. The first brush was not a kiss, but a taste that left them both craving more, a feeling that will never sate their desire. 

His heart beat faster, louder. It beat and beat, with the rush of blood in his veins, with the flood of heat under his skin. He can hear every pulse, the sound deafening in his ears. 

There was heat under his skin, warmth around his frame. He was in a cloud of sandalwood. He was standing in the shadow of desire. 

"Lan Zhan, don't regret this." 

There were no more thoughts in his head; he was drowning under a stream of passion and lust. There were no more words before he was burning in desire, the scent and taste of Lan Wangji.

There were no more words, no more thoughts as they drowned in each other, burned with passion, overflowed with pleasure. 

As time passed, the world did not exist. As the seconds ticked away, there was nothing but the slide of skin against skin. As the night advanced, they lost themselves in lust, lost themselves in emotions they couldn't contain, lost themselves in the taste, the feel and smell.  

In the secrecy of the night, there was nothing but love and desire; there was no one but Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian. 

The night passed as the stars died away, the moon turning away. The night passed with light chasing away the darkness, with the sun taking its rightful place on the throne in the sky. 

The night passed, stealing away the heat and lust, bringing them back to reality. The night passed, and they were whisked from their kingdom, dropped back into the small inn room. 

The morning came, and with it came reality. The light seeped through the open window, elevating the cloud, the haze, the smoke. Morning came, the sun rose, and as Wei Wuxian blinked open grey eyes, he was met with a golden gaze clouded with horror. 

"Wei Ying." 

It was a soft call, a call of his name heavy with horror and guilt, quiet with questions that could not be answered. 

It was the same voice that had called his name hours ago, with the same deep crescendo, with the seem hushed tone. It was the same voice that filled him with desire, yet this time it left him stumbling with dread. 

Wei Wuxian found himself grasping at smoke, had been grasping at fog all along. He was never pulled into warmth, never tugged into reality. He was drawn into a cloud of smoke and vapour; he was dragged into a fantasy that had come to an end. 

He should've known better. 

Chapter Text

He could hear his heart beating, playing a loud song of despair. He could hear his heart beating, thundering, thrashing in his chest, wanting to escape its confinement. He could hear his heart beating, a symphony that grew louder as the seconds ticked by, as the horror spread in the golden orbs, stealing their shine away. 

Wei Wuxian could hear his heart beating, and he wished it would stop. 

"Wei Ying." 

He could feel his heart bleeding, could feel the phantom pain of a sword piercing through his chest. He could feel the thick liquid of his blood as it trickled from his heart, dripping and dripping until it filled his lungs, and he was left gasping for breath. 

He could detect the pain in the call of his name, could hear the sound of shattering glass and could only imagine Lan Wangji's heart as it broke, as it shattered to pieces. 

He should've known better, should've done better. 

Lan Wangji never wanted to touch him, never desired him. He pushed and pushed, shoving against the rejection, knowing he wasn't fancied. 

He had managed to destroy all they've built; he had managed to shatter what they've strived to achieve. 

He could not help but want to weep. 

A ghost of a smile crawled to his face, a weak attempt at reassurance, a feeble effort at normalcy. 

He would strive to spare Lan Wangji the weight of regret.

If only he could spare his heart.

"Lan Zhan, why do you look at me like that? I promise it's not that bad. You are such a cute drunk, Lan Zhan, were you hiding that from me? How dare you never show me that side of you. I demand more drunk Lan Wangji." 

His chuckle echoed around the silent room, loud and abrasive, unapologetic. His laugh resounded around them, the sound dying as he noticed the frown darkening Lan Wangji's face. 

"Lan Er-Gege, stop looking as if you're in mourning and let's get cleaned up and get breakfast. I'm starving." 

He could feel the flowers of passion marring his skin with every movement, could feel the evidence of Lan Wangji's desire on his body with every shift. Wei Wuxian could still feel the heat in his blood, in his very core. 

"Wei Ying, what did I do?" 

He pulled the sheets around his shoulders, hiding his skin from view, chasing away the coldness that threatened to freeze him. He wrapped the cover around his naked frame, hiding the evidence of Lan Wangji's passion under the layer. 

"We played hide and seek; you made me chase you around late in the night. You were so playful and cute, Lan Zhan, I can't believe you hid that side of you from me. So mean." 

There was a whine to his words, a tone of complaint. It was a pitch that covered the pain from leaking into his voice just as the sheets covered his frame. 

He moved with every intention to plant space between them, to escape the inviting heat radiating from Lan Wangji's body, to avoid the fragrance of sandalwood that threatened to consume him. 

He moved to stand, escaping the horror in the golden eyes, escaping the guilt and pain that choked him up. 

His legs were unsteady, shaking under the weight of his body, trembling with every step. He didn't look back, not as he heard Lan Wangji shuffling on the bed, not as he listened to Lan Wangji call his name. 

He walked around the room, fingers grasping the sheets around his frame, hiding his body, hiding the shame that was crawling across his skin, slithering, tingling, leaving him repulsed. 

He walked around the room, collecting the layers of his clothes, gripping them like a lifeline as humiliation covered his skin like instincts, as it threatened to consume him. 

"Wei Ying, did we consummate the marriage?" 

Fingers wrapped around his wrist, seizing him, claiming him as a captive. Fingers wrapped around his wrist and the touch was freezing, the cold slipping through his veins and bones, leaving him drowning in snow, leaving him shivering. 

Fingers wrapped around his wrist and Wei Wuxian was a hostage, suspended under molten gold, a prisoner to the terror in Lan Wangji's gaze. 

He wished he never saw that look in his eyes, wanted never to see any more of his expressions. 

"We didn't. Nothing happened." 

The lie was easy to utter, but it was hard to swallow. The lie tasted sweet in the open air, but it was bitter in his mouth. 

Fingers pulled at the sheets hiding his skin, tugging until his shoulders were revealed and flowers bloomed on his skin, decorating his body in blues and greens. 

The lie died, shattering like glass. 

"I'm sorry, Wei Ying." 

'Are you sorry you never wanted to touch me?'  He wanted to ask. ' Are you sorry you did?'  He didn't want to know.

It was his fault, his alone, he pushed and drove Lan Wangji into a corner, forced on him what he never desired. 

Wei Wuxian could taste bile in his throat, could feel his heart dying in his chest. His vision blurred with stinging tears that he refused to shed, and the grief silenced his thoughts. 

He had experienced pain all his life, lived through the grief of his parents, through the agony of living on the streets, he survived sacrificing his home and endured the misery of rejection. Nothing could compare to the heartbreak he felt at the moment.

"Why?" He wanted to scream, to punch and hit and cry, but he settled on smiling through the anguish, resolved to turn his back to his husband. "You have no reason to be sorry, if anything, I'm the one at fault. Forgive me, Your Majesty; I will accept any punishment." 

He tugged at his hand, trying to free it out of the imprisoning grip. He tugged and tugged to no avail, the hold caging, the gaze ensnarling and Wei Wuxian could do nothing but stand there under the securitising view of Lan Wangji. 

"Wei Ying," He started but was interrupted, the words pushed down with a glare from Wei Wuxian. He started but could not finish under the growled retaliation of his husband.

"Why do you have to make it so difficult? Let it go, will you? I don't want to hear anything more. Can we get dressed and have breakfast, already?" 

He tugged again, with less resolve and more anger burning through him, with shame and guilt choking him. He pulled his grip, and his imprisonment was lifted, his wrist freed. 

He took a few steps away, adding to the space between them, taking from their relationship until nothing but a gaping hole remained between them. 

The spring breeze seeping through the room was harsh against his skin, freezing his blood and the tears burning behind his lids. 

"At least, it is consummated, so you do not have to worry about touching me ever again." 

They could hear the tears in Wei Wuxian's words.

The rest of the morning crawled by, time dragging on, cultivating their pain, their wounds. Time passed by with Wei Wuxian's smile a relic of his past grin, and the chatter lacking its usual charm. 

The morning passed with regret and grief diffused into their blood, with sorrow as their companion. 

The morning passed with the rift growing, tearing them apart. 

Wei Wuxian could no longer taste freedom in the air. The world was closing in upon him, caging him in a fate he could not escape. He could not find relief, could not draw air into his lungs, not until he stepped into the inner city, not until he escaped Lan Wangji's side. 

The world was his cage, destiny his jailer and Wei Wuxian would never seek to escape his restraints, not with the taste of Lan Wangji's passion etched in his memories, not when the heat of his skin is still burned in his thoughts. 

The world was his cage; Cloud Recesses was his prison, and Wei Wuxian's love for Lan Wangji was his warden. 

Wei Wuxian no longer cared to escape. 

 

 

There was a new familiarity to Cloud Recesses; there was a slowly growing fondness for the greenery of the trees, for the dancing leaves and falling petals. 

There was a familiarity to Cloud Recesses, to the smell of nature and the sound of wind chimes. 

There was a familiarity to Cloud Recesses that embraced Wei Wuxian, that wrapped him in a warmth that eased the anguish in his chest, that bandaged the wound in his heart. 

It was not home, not when it's been a mere month. It was not his home, but it was slowly growing to be. It was a seed that was planted in his heart, a flower that was blooming in his chest. 

Cloud Recesses was not his home, but Wei Wuxian was slowly growing to love it as one. 

He breathed in the fresh air, allowed the scent of nature and earth to ease his pain, to calm his senses. 

He breathed in the fresh air with every step, took his time, slowed his stride until the grief was buried beyond his reach, and the heat and passion was a memory beyond his grasp. 

He walked under the swaying trees, strolled among the blooming flowers, breathing in the fragrance of spring, allowing the tranquillity to seep under his skin, into his blood. 

He walked claiming the fragments of his shattered self until he stood in front of his palace, whole and unfragmented. He walked until the Wei Wuxian from the inn was whisked away, a ghost of a memory that no longer existed. 

He walked until his path was blocked, a broom held as a makeshift barricade barred his entrance. Amusement danced in his core, and entertainment rushed through his blood as a chuckle bubbled past his lips. 

"Please stop. This is the Empress' palace." 

"I know it is, am I suddenly banned entry?" 

There was a hitch in time, a pause at the moment where both of them waited, and neither spoke. There was a fragment of a second, broken, uneventful. 

There was a second before the peace shattered, and an arrow of apprehension was aimed in Wei Wuxian's direction. It was a long moment that ended as the young man launched at him with a broom as his weapon and distrust as his commander. 

He moved with the speed of a practised fighter, with the elegance of a swordsman. He moved with a purpose, shifted with a body-powered by determination and malice. 

He launched aiming to strike, leaving flames burning in his wake, giving life to a fire that ate away at the peace and essence of Cloud Recesses. He moved with a purpose, and Wei Wuxian could do nothing but dodge, his sword heavy at his hips as if imploring him to strike back. 

There was a playful charm in watching the boy come at him. There was a joyful reality to a newcomer attempting to protect him. 

It was a game to Wei Wuxian, a match of catch that he was effortlessly winning. It was a game of dodge that he played willingly, watching a boy try to strike him with the skill of a proficient swordsman. 

It was a game that left Wei Wuxian laughing with joy, that washed away all other thoughts, that calmed his beating heart. 

"Who are you?" The boy asked, and Wei Wuxian didn't answer, choosing to flip away instead. 

"Forgive me, but I can't allow you to proceed, not when you could be an armed threat." He mumbled, and Wei Wuxian chose to laugh instead, resting his hand on the hilt of his sword as he found himself standing on a stone bench. 

"My my, The Empress sure knows how to pick them. Such a loyal guard." 

The air seemed not to exist; the breeze seemed to have vanished, leaving the boy gasping, with a drop of sweat brushing down his face, with confusion burning in his gaze, 

"Tell me, who are you?" 

"I'm her Majesty's servant." 

Laughter bubbled out of his lips, loud, boisterous. His cackle sounded around them with a rowdiness that caused resting birds to fly and the wind to breeze by. 

"Interesting, and where is this Empress of yours?" 

"She's out. Please leave before I call for the guards." 

His laughter didn't die down, didn't disappear into the air, didn't evaporate into the silence of Cloud Recesses. The sound grew, louder than the quietness, louder than the world around them. 

His laughter sounded around them like bells, ringing and ringing until it died down, leaving him breathless. 

"For your information, your Empress is a man." 

He leapt to the ground, landing with a graceful leap. The thud of metal against wood was loud in the open air, the sound echoing as he repelled the hit with his sword. 

The clang of the wood as it fell to the ground rang louder than the boy's exclamation, louder than Wei Wuxian's laughter as he bypassed the fair boy with ease. 

"And someone who wishes me harm wouldn't just stroll in, of course, there are trivial exceptions." The words registered to the boy with a soft gasp, and an apology that was never uttered as Wei Wuxian proceeded with his chatter, interrupting the plea on the tip of the boy's tongue. "Of course, it's my fault for not introducing myself. It's nice to meet you, mystery guard. I'm the Empress of Gusu, Wei Ying, courtesy name, Wuxian." 

A body collided with him, smaller and weaker but with a force that knocked the breath out of Wei Wuxian's chest. He stumbled for a few steps, almost falling along with the body wrapped around him, a frame clinging to him with a force that couldn't be shaken.

"Young Master, you're back." 

"Such a grand welcome, I must say. Did you miss me, Yu-er? What am I saying? Of course, you did. How fortunate I am to have such a filial child. I missed you too. Lan Zhan makes for poor company, next time, I'm taking you instead. Imagine how fun that'll be." 

There was no missing the gaze that followed their movements, no missing the apprehension of the eyes on their back. 

"I see we got new additions to our household, how many?" 

"Fourteen in total, four women and ten men. No one older than you, young Master."

"That's a big number. Hmm, well, call them over, I need to talk to all of them." 

Mo Xuanyu was fast to obey, bowing before rushing through the open courtyard and into the palace. Wei Wuxian watched him with tenderness in his grey eyes and warmth in his heart; he followed him until the smaller frame slipped out of view before turning his attention to the white-clad boy standing behind him. 

"What's your name?" 

"Xiao Xingchen, your Majesty." He dropped to the ground, sank to his knees heedless of the dust on the ground and the dissatisfaction of Wei Wuxian. "Please forgive this servant; I meant no offence." 

There was no longer any mirth in Wei Wuxian's smile, there was no longer softness in his eyes, but there was honesty in his words and kindness in his heart. 

"Rule number one, don't kneel, I dislike it. Get up, get up." There was gentleness in his voice, a smile in his eyes and Xiao Xingchen looked upon him with wonder in his eyes. "You did nothing that could offend. I found it entertaining, and I find it worth rewarding, your intentions were good, and that's what matters, Xiao Xingchen. Though it was naive, and naivety can kill you. You can't go attacking anyone who walks in here, not if you want to keep your head attached to your neck." 

He turned around, turned his back to the elegant boy to settle his gaze on the flurry of life, on the buzzing of movements as servants filled the courtyard. "I like you, Xiao Xingchen. You were willing to defend the master you couldn't even recognise, and that's a loyalty that I value." 

Any more words died down as Mo Xuanyu rushed to Wei Wuxian's side, steps confident and eyes shining with the radiance of his smile. "They're all here, young Master." 

His grey eyes looked darker under the shade of the tree, his hair swaying against his back in sync with the swinging of the blooming branches shielding him from the sun. His eyes swept across them, studying them, watching them with a smile on his face that was not reflected in his eyes. 

His smile was slowly dying, suffocated by grief and heartbreak. His joy was gradually fading, leaving behind a hollowness and loneliness that threatened to consume him, to leave him a shell of what he once was. 

'A-Xian you were born with a smile. Don't allow anything to take that from you.' 

Jiang Yanli's voice echoed in his mind, her words a mantra that broke his heart, that left him yearning for her gentleness, filled him with fear of breaking the promise he once made to her. 

How could a single person and place have such magnificent effect on him? How could a man and a kingdom threaten his promise to the most important person in his life? 

'Jiejie.'  He thought, a prayer and a promise.  'I miss you. I wish you were here.'

"Well, aren't you a well-behaved group. Not a single word for a whole minute. How boring. And here I had high expectations for all of you, but I shouldn't have expected anything less from servants of the Lans." 

His sword was back in its sheath, hidden from view, a weight at his hips that anchored him to the moment. 

It was a lifeline that would soon disappear, stolen from him by rules and status. It was the armour that he refused to give up, refused to surrender. 

"Well, I'll be honest with all of you. I lost his Majesty's favour, and there is a slim to no chance that I'll ever regain it. Life won't be easy on those who decide to remain and follow me, even as the Empress, a lack of favour is fatal. So this is your chance, if you do not wish to endure hardships, you can leave now, and I'll make sure you're reassigned with no hard feelings. But, if you remain, I expect dedication. This is your only chance."

The magnolia tree swayed above him, bathing him in white petals and the aroma of spring. It swayed above him in a graceful dance with the wind. The branches followed his movements, shielding him from the sun through every step. 

The floral scent itched in his nose, in his heart. It was a scent that was slowly poisoning his senses with its sweetness, a fragrance that left him craving the fresh aroma of water and Lotus blooms. 

There was a charm to the garden of Cloud Recesses. There was a natural beauty to it that could never be rivalled, but it still couldn't compete with the fondness of Lotus Pier in his heart. 

He leaned against a tree trunk, carless of the roughness and sharpness of the wood. He leaned against the tree, relying on the firmness to remain standing as he watched the servants, following their movements, their bows and strides. 

Leave. He wanted to say. 

Go. He wanted to encourage. 

Wei Wuxian did not need servants with no loyalty; he did not need those who would sell him with no second thought. 

He watched them leave with satisfaction in his eyes and peace in his heart. 

It was one less burden to worry about, more weight off his shoulders. 

You still can't trust those that linger. He thought and knew it was the truth.  Why would they remain knowing it'll only cause them suffering?

"This is your last chance; there will be no other opportunities and betrayal won't be taken lightly." 

Four remained standing, steadfast, unwavering. Four stood in the courtyard with determination sparkling in their eyes. Four persisted, refusing to leave even with the chance that was presented. 

"And then there were four. Very well. I know Xiao Xingchen, but the rest of you should introduce yourselves. I do not care about who you were before, your past and your lineage don't matter to me, tell me why you are so adamant on serving me." 

There was a pause, a moment with shared glances and broken patience. There was a hitch in time where the clouds covered the sky and birds cried in the distance. There was a second where no one spoke; no one moved except for Mo Xuanyu who leaned into Wei Wuxian's side, coveting his attention, his warmth. 

"I'm Xue Yang, courtesy name Chengmei." The youngest started with a voice that lacked hesitation and a shadow of viciousness in his eyes. "I'm the best, and I only serve the best. You're Wei Wuxian, Yunmeng Emperor's prized swordsman, and now you're the Empress of Gusu, so why wouldn't I follow you?" 

There was a demon in his core, a monster that was feasting on his soul. There was a fiend living in his heart, swallowing all that was in its path; leaving behind arrogance and cruelty. 

There was a demon in Xue Yang's heart that poisoned his soul, filled his gaze with brutality.  

"Then leave. The best is subjective, and I do not need someone who will realise I'm not the best and betray me." There was a pause, a moment as he gauged the boy's reaction, a moment where he allowed his words to sink in. "I value loyalty and kindness the most, Xue Chengmei." 

"I'm not leaving." 

Wei Wuxian's gaze was filled with clouds of uncertainty, with a shadow of doubt filling his lungs, choking him. He had half a mind to unsheath his sword, to test the boy's resolve. 

He smiled instead, a smile of resolution, a smile of determination. He smiled, choosing to give the boy a chance to provide him with an opportunity to rise above his words and his heart. 

The tension drained away, carried by the wind, taken by the breeze. 

The tension drained away, swallowing the shadow that filled his lungs, easing the doubt in his heart. 

The acceptance was painted on his face, flowing in his heart. The approval was sparkling in his eyes, in the radiance of his smile. 

Another boy stepped forward, with an air of winter and eyes of snow. He stepped forward and winter had come, cold and freezing, painting the world in frost. 

"This humble servant is Song Lan, courtesy Zichen. I humbly greet your majesty." He moved with fluidity, moved with an elegance that lingered even as he dropped to his knees. 

"Get up." Wei Wuxian's words were spoken in a playful tone, filled with mirth. He spoke as if singing, with joy weighing every word, but there was no missing the sense of his words, the value of his command. "I do not want any of you prostrating yourselves. No one is to kneel; no one is to kowtow. If you must do it for the sake of formality, then it can't be helped, but think before you do it. Avoid it when you can." 

He stood up with a mumbled thank you, straightened to full height, bathing the world in winter with every move. It was mesmerising; it was captivating. 

"So Song Zichen, why didn't you leave?" 

"I heard you defended the Wen Princess even when she had offended you, that's what I'm willing to serve." 

"Hmm. I thought gossip was forbidden, so how come the word spread?" 

Excitement coloured his tone, elation filled his voice, and his words resounded around the open courtyard with animatic joy. There was no denying his enthusiasm, no ignoring his vibrating interest and it left the group with confusion wrapped around their hearts, and questions in their mind. 

A girl stepped from among the three boys, with an air of confidence that was disguised under her nerves. "I'm sorry, your Majesty, I didn't mean to spread gossip, but when I transferred from his majesty's entourage Xiao Xingchen asked about my reason, and I told them of what happened. I'll accept any punishment for breaking the rules." 

Wei Wuxian's laughter was a sound of delight, a song of joy and mirth that eased some of the girl's nerves, that supported her frame as she stood straight. 

"I ought to reward you. I shouldn't encourage rule-breaking, but I do, so you don't need to worry about those stupid rules around me. Break them and come boost about it to me. Now, fair lady, I understand why you're still standing here, but may I have your name?"

"Luo Qingyang, your Majesty." 

"Fine name, for a fine lady, but I'll call you Mianmian. Much cuter, don't you think?" 

"Absolutely not. Please don't call me that." 

"It's decided then, Mianmian it is. Well, I have high expectations for the four of you. Welcome to the Kunning Gong." 

He turned away from them, silencing their words, quieting the spoken protest. He turned around, feeling the world collapsing on his shoulders, the hands of grief wrapping around him in an embrace that drained him, and phantom exhaustion weighing him down. 

He turned away, seeking sanctuary in the familiarity of his palace, escaping the shackles as they wrapped around him in a chain of mystery that restricted him. 

His smile never dropped, the grief a shadow that lingered in his heart but never reached his eyes. 

"A-Yu, please prepare a bath for me. I want to get out of these clothes."

The peace and tranquillity had drained away, washed by conversations and worries, by memories and thoughts until no calmness survived.  

The scent of sandalwood lingered in his nose, a fragrance that he craved and dispised at the same time. The smell of sandalwood remained on his clothes, itching his senses, driving him mad. 

The scent remained, stuck to his skin and the memories persisted in his mind, burned behind his eyes. 

Time passed as warmth slowly seeped out, drained from his blood, from his life, leaving behind nothing but a freezing ache and a yearning that couldn't be satisfied. 

The memories, the heat, and the taste prevailed; a constant in his life, an itch that he couldn't scratch, and as the days passed, his life remained empty of the presence of the one person who could chase the coldness away. 

He couldn't complain, didn't mind the loneliness and the ache. It was his fault, after all. 

You reap what you sow.

Chapter Text

The sun cast down upon them, rays of golden light reflecting on their skin, pleasantly warm and not scorching. 

Summer in Cloud Recesses had a charm to it, with a cool breeze and cloudy days. Summer in Cloud Recesses didn't compare to the heat of Lotus Pier's season. 

The sound of clashing metal was loud in the open courtyard, reverberating around them, muffling the groans of exertion and the huffs of breathlessness. 

The training ground was buzzing with movements, with battles and instructions, with life that didn't spread to the rest of the serene Cloud Recesses. 

"A-Yu, stop tensing up when you go for the strike, it lowers your range and slows your mobility. Use your size and your speed." 

Grey eyes followed their movements, tracked every shift, every glide and strike. Wei Wuxian watched with scrutinising eyes, with a focus that could not be broken, heedless of the sun above his head or the watchful eyes on his back. 

"You opened yourself to an attack; your vital is hit. Start over." 

Mo Xuanyu's huffs were loud, muffled by the sounds of fighting that never halted, softened by the frown that shadowed his face, and darkened his gaze. 

"Young Master, please have mercy, we've been at it for hours." 

"Alright, do you want to stop here?" 

An eager nod was all it took for Wei Wuxian to relent, exhaustion washing over his frame as Mo Xuanyu rushed out of the training field. 

"Lan Xichen greets your Majesty." 

He turned around to find Lan Xichen standing behind him, bowing at the shoulder with a reverence fitting of Wei Wuxian's station, but wasn't deserved. 

A smile graced his lips, wide and bright, as radiant as the sun shining above them, as joyful as a child's laugh. "Brother, you should drop formalities around me as I keep telling you. We're a family. Were you watching them train?" 

He straightened to his full height, with a polite smile on his face and a spark of joy in his eyes. "I was. Mo Xuanyu has good form, with practice and experience he would make a great swordsman."

Wei Wuxian's sigh was loud, a huff of grievance and complaint. He turned to face the open field as Lan Xichen settled beside him. "If only that boy would practice, he hates training with the sword, no matter how important it is. What young boy hates fighting, brother? It's fun, absolutely joyous. What could be better than fighting all day?" 

There was longing in his voice that could not be disguised, there was a yearning in his eyes that could not be shadowed, and there was a hunger in his heart that could not be sated. 

He missed the weight of a sword in his hand, missed the coolness of the grip under his calloused skin, and missed the rush of fighting with the sound of clashing metal drowning his senses. 

He missed being a swordsman, missed standing in the field surrounded by soldiers that would challenge him but offer no challenge. 

He missed the heat of his brother's body standing next to him. 

He missed his life free of restraints, with the Yunmeng summer heat suffocating him and the sun burning above their heads. 

He craved the life that was lost, with no responsibilities nor burdens, surrounded by people who cared for him. He yearned for a life free of loneliness, an existence where he didn't miss the warmth of his people. 

"Forgive me for speaking out of turn, your Majesty, but why don't you join the training?" 

Wei Wuxian's smile lost some of its light, its radiance dimmed, and his eyes were screened with a need and desire that would never be fulfilled. 

He smiled a smile that didn't reach his eyes, a smile of loss. 

"The soldiers refuse to raise their swords against their Empress; it seems. No matter, would you care to join me for tea?" 

The smile returned, filled with excitement and joy as Lan Xichen accepted, and they found themselves making their way to the Empress' palace. 

They filled the walk with the chatter of irrelevant subjects, with a comment on the beauty of the blooming summer flowers and the pleasant heat of Cloud Recesses compared to Yunmeng. 

There was a grandeur to the Kunning Gong, a magnificent that could not be compared, a majestic that exceed all but the Emperor's palaces. There was a beauty to it, with open windows that filled the chambers with light and wind chimes that filled the silence with songs. There was an elegance to the Empress' pavilion that was perfect for the charming Empress filling the halls.

"Are the preparations for the wedding ceremony going well?" 

A pot of tea settled between them, as warm as the summer heat, and Wei Wuxian didn't hesitate to pour the green liquid in the teacups, bathing the chamber in the scent of herbs and flowers that eased their minds and settled their hearts. 

"Yes, everything is ready, and all that's missing is my betrothed. A letter came from Lanling, the Third Prince's wedding procession have departed from Koi tower, and they should arrive in time." There was a moment of silence, a stretched pause where Lan Xichen raised the teacup to his lips and took a sip. "I've been told the Crown Prince is escorting the procession, and his new bride, the Crown Princess, is accompanying him." 

Wei Wuxian's excitement was evident in his screech, loud and deafening, but it was a song of joy. His movements were careless, heedless of the teacup that was knocked over, covering the table in a green pond, dripping down the edge to the ground. 

It dripped and dripped as Wei Wuxian collected his bearing, his robes a sponge that sucked the liquid it touched, leaving behind nothing but scent and warmth. 

"Jiejie is coming." 

His smile was a sunrise and a sunset; it was sunny days and rainy nights. His smile was the moon in a moonless night and the sun burning in the sky. It was a smile of joy that could not be dimmed, a flame of happiness that would forever burn. 

His prayers were answered, his dreams came true, and his wish was fulfilled. 

His prayers were answered, and the person whose presence he needed the most was making her way to him. 

His prayers were answered, and Wei Wuxian could not wait for the day he could feel Jiang Yanli's warmth. 

Luo Qingyang wiped the tea, erased by his clothes and a rag. The tea was cleaned, and his cup was refilled, with an apology to the first prince on the tip of his servant's tongue that was never uttered on his behalf. 

He was the Empress, he was the master, and the master never apologised. 

Wei Wuxian didn't care for that, didn't care about status or rank, didn't bother to apologise or confess, not when his heart was drowning in joy, not when warmth was flowing through his veins. 

An apology came anyway, spoken in the face of a patient smile, mumbled in the face of a gentle chuckle. "I'm sorry, brother, but I truly missed A-Jie." 

His apology was brushed away, as an unnecessary as the formalities. His apology was swept away, but accepted with an open heart. 

"Your Majesty, please do not forget about my bride when you greet her highness. I do wish to get married." The words carried a hint of mischief and playfulness and the eyes darker than the gold of his brother shone with jest. 

"Ayah, I'll try my best, but I'm forgetful, I can't promise you to remember anything in the face of my Jiejie's beauty." 

Lan Xichen's laughter was full of mirth, empty of ill-will. It was a tone of entertainment that lacked grievance. "As long as you try your best, Wei Wuxian." 

There was a moment of comfortable silence between them, a second of peacefulness that was spent sipping on floral tea and allowing the warmth to wash over them, the sweetness of the taste to fill them. It was a second that was broken by a worried inquiry and a denied question. 

"You've been rather lethargic lately, have you been feeling better?" 

"Hmm, it's the heat, I think. It's making me rather sluggish, but it should pass once summer is over."

"And Wangji still haven't called upon you or visited you?" 

Silence greeted him, heavy and weighted, lacking the radiance that was a signature of Wei Wuxian. The silence was his answer, a hitch in time where no sound existed, where his question was never answered. 

The answer was wordless, but it was loud, an explicit declaration a screamed response. 

Lan Xichen didn't need a verbal confirmation, not when Wei Wuxian's averted gaze and his uncharacteristic silence was his answer. 

The wind chimes sang with the summer breeze, a soft melody that eased his train of thoughts. The wind chimes sang in the quiet room, louder than the ruckus of the Empress' servants. 

The sweet floral taste of the tea was a soothing flavour, an anchor that ground him to the moment, a lifeline that tied him to reality and protected him from slipping into his thoughts. 

It was the shield that protected him from his worries, that stopped them from spiralling. 

How could he not worry when his brother was drowning in guilt?

How could he not worry when it had been almost two months since his brother was seen near the person he loved?

How could he not worry when his brother-in-law looked paler with every passing day? 

The heat of the tea burned down his throat, a silky glide that left a fire in its wake.

The tense silence shattered, fragmented into pieces that collapsed and grained into dust. The quietness was crushed by a fair boy who rushed into the room, saluting Lan Xichen with graceful decorum before turning to his master. 

"Your Majesty, Attendant Wen is here and is asking for an audience." 

"Tell her I'm unavailable."

There was a pause, a twitch, and a moment of hesitation before the boy spoke again, voice softer, gentler. "She's holding Mo Xuanyu; she's saying he offended her." 

He watched the light fade from the grey eyes, witnessed the stars falling from his gaze until nothing but a cloudy sky remained behind. He saw the ghost of fear in his eyes, the flame of anger that burned in his heart. 

Wei Wuxian no longer looked like a boy donned in silk; he was no longer a boy with the weight of the world on his shoulders and worries in his eyes. Wei Wuxian was a protector that was aggrieved, a monarch that was angered, and an Empress that hungered for blood. 

"That child worries too much to offend anyone. She better not have hurt him. Show her to the main chamber. I'll be there in a moment." 

He turned his attention back to Lan Xichen with a nervous smile, and it was in that moment, with a promise of death in his heart and darkness in his eyes that the First Prince noticed the dark circles marring the perfect skin and the greyish undertone to his skin.

For a moment, he looked sickly, thinner, and weaker. For a moment, he looked like a boy who needed to be shielded from the world. 

He was a boy who was fighting a sole battle against the world. 

It was that moment that reminded Lan Xichen that Wei Wuxian was a boy of eighteen, younger than both of the Twin Jade of Gusu. 

It was that moment that reminded Lan Xichen that Wei Wuxian was thrust into a world with no allies and no family, alone. 

"I'm sorry, brother Xichen, it seems Wen Qinyang is set on not giving me a moment of rest. You're welcome to enjoy the rest of your tea. Please excuse me." 

There was no longer a sign of the boy crowned with stars. There was no longer a trace of the boy with the universe in his eyes and the sun in his smile. 

"Please allow me to join you, your Majesty." 

Wei Wuxian paused in his steps, halted at the words that caught his attention, that caught him off guard. He stopped in his track, looking small in the layers that enveloped his frame, but with strength in his eyes. 

"Of course, you're welcome to." 

He did not wait, giving Lan Xichen a chance to back off, to change his mind. 

His steps were slowed by the weight of the world on his shoulders. His pace stalled by the restricting layers of his robes.

There was no concealing his regality, no hiding his status. He was an Empress in all of his glory, with a jade crown and jewelled hairpins adorning his hair, donned in robes of Gusu's white and blue. 

He was a majestic sight even with the tea stain colouring his outer robes. 

He followed him, watched as everyone in the room dropped to their knees, watched as he walked, with the tail of his outer robe pulled behind him, a slithering snake that followed his every step. 

"Everyone rise, except for Wen Qinyang." 

He was seated upon the raised dais, the cushion soft under his knees, the low table a barrier, a shield that defended Wen Qinyang, that protected her from the rage that burned through him, that threatened to consume his spirit and burn the world around him. 

"I wish to understand, what authorised you, a mere concubine to restrain my personal servant? Do you believe you have the right to discipline my staff? Perhaps, you're not satisfied with how I run my palace. Perhaps, I've been too lenient on you." 

There was an iciness to his tone, a freezing coldness to his voice and nothing of the boy remained; in his place was a ruthless empress, a protector. 

There were no stars in his eyes, but a black hole that threatened to swallow the world. 

"Your Majesty, I mean no offence, but I'm thinking of the wellbeing of the kingdom, and it's future." 

"And that is related to my servant? Choose your next words carefully, Wen Qinyang." 

She stood her ground with confidence that shone in her heart and faith that lingered in her spirit. She held her ground and met Wei Wuxian's gaze, heedless of the consequences. 

"Let's wait for his Majesty, the Emperor." 

Laughter sounded around them, loud and void of mirth. It filled the hall, echoed through the chamber and the palace. It rang out like bells of war, threatening and dangerous. 

The smile on his face was a shadow, a promise of death, a promise of pain. It was a painting of the devil. 

It was a smile that didn't belong to the boy with the universe in his eyes and stars on his skin. 

"Very well, we'll wait for him, but if Mo Xuanyu is harmed, not even Wen Rouhan will save you from me." 

 

 

"The Emperor has arrived." 

The words were carried through the palace, clear to all, heard and never ignored. The words echoed around them in a mantra on repeat, a forewarning and a silent order. 

They rushed to their knees, dropping into a bow with different degrees of grace. They rushed to kneel as the Emperor walked in, carrying the air of monarchy, the aura of a leader. 

His presence could never be ignored, never unnoticed. He was the ruler of all, the son of heaven. 

No one could ignore Wei Wuxian who remained seated, unshifting, unmoving. No one could ignore the Empress who discarded decorum and remained seated. 

They were each formidable, one a silent ruler that was respected by all and the other a boisterous Empress that could not be ignored. 

"At ease." 

"Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan! I missed you. Did you miss me? You missed me, right? I know you did, Lan Zhan." 

The Emperor found himself seated next to the Empress, with his warmth easing the anger burning inside of Wei Wuxian and his calmness painting a smile on his face. 

"Mmmm" 

The radiance of his smile countered the summer sun, bright and blinding, scorching in its heat.

It was a smile void of the heartbreak that painted his heart the last time they spoke; it was a smile empty of the anger and sadness that filled his soul when they argued. 

"Then come visit me, okay? Don't leave me waiting."

"Mmmm"

It was a moment in their kingdom above the clouds; it was a moment of peace and tranquillity. It was a moment beyond the watchful gazes fixed upon them, beyond the envy that threatened to consume them. 

It was a moment beyond their last moment, beyond the grief and heartbreak. 

It was a moment of ease of longing and yearning — a moment between two prideful lovers. 

It was a moment that ended as Wei Wuxian's gaze settled on Wen Qinyang's frame, that vanished as his smile slipped off his face, and the joy was drained from his heart. 

The ice slithered back into his blood, cooling his temperature, turning him blue. 

"Start talking." 

There was a shadow of connivance in her eyes, a flash of victory in her heart; it was a demon hidden in her soul, turning her blood black. 

"Your Majesty," She started with a voice so sweet, a tone so gentle. She sounded like the wind, a blow of fresh air, a brush of cool breeze. She was bewitching, compelling. "Did you know that Mo Xuanyu, the Empress' personal servant, is the 4th Jin Prince? He was exiled along with his mother for plotting against the Crown Prince, Jin Zixuan." 

The world stopped spinning, the seconds stopped ticking, and his life came crashing down just as the realisation crashed atop of him, as her words suffocated him. 

"I'm thinking about the future of Gusu, Your Majesty. We can't harbour a criminal and offend the Jins, not with his Highness' upcoming wedding, especially since the 3rd Prince is his betrothed." 

There was a long moment where Wei Wuxian could feel everyone's gaze on him, where he could feel the tension building in the room, weighing on his shoulders, threatening to crush him.

The world ceased to exist.

"Wei Ying." Lan Wangji's voice was ever calm, ever void of emotions. Lan Wangji's tone was the same, never changing, a grounding anchor that settled him to earth, that calmed his nerves and eased his thundering heart. 

"He was five, Lan Zhan, he was a child that had no say in his family's plot, and yet A-Yu was punished, it's unfair to penalise a child for his parent's crimes." 

There was no hint of the fear that threatened to consume him in his tone, no trace of the worry and stress that coloured his heart and burned his soul. Wei Wuxian looked calm in the face of scrutiny and judgement, appeared confident in the face of a threat.

"You can't banish him. He deserves better, and he's my servant. He's no longer Jin Xuanyu, he's a Mo, and he was a child when it happened, no Jin would recognise him." 

"Your Majesty," Lan Xichen's voice was as calming as ever, a voice with a smile. It was the voice of an older brother trying to placate his younger sibling in the face of a parent's punishment. "We can't risk losing an ally for the sake of a servant, losing Lanling could harm our military and political standing." 

His voice and words ignited the spark of anger in Wei Wuxian's heart, filled his soul with resistance, replaced the fear with a rage that burned through him, left him gasping for air, for a breeze. 

"You banish that boy. You banish me with him." 

Needles were piercing his skin, prickling through his entire body, leaving him in pain. It was the fear, it was the anger, and it was the tension that threatened to drown him. 

Needles didn't compare to the threat of taking his last family away. The pain tingling through his body stood no chance against the fear of leaving him friendless. 

"Forgive me, for saying this, your majesty, but the Empress seems quiet close to Mo Xuanyu, and there are rumours that they might be lovers. I dismissed them before, but now I worry for the Lan Dynasty. The Empress is the mother of the nation; we can't risk him birthing a bastard child." 

"He is thirteen years old, a mere child. A child! Do you know what nonsense you're spouting?" 

There was a moment of silence, a moment where his anger burned them, where his rage consumed them. It was a moment where the boy crowned with stars died and in its place rose a demon that promised death, that breathed fire and brought the end. 

There were no stars in his eyes, no sun in his smile; there was only darkness and rage. 

He would burn the earth to protect a boy who had once lost his smile, a boy who gave him joy. 

"Young Mistress, please reconsider your words, this is a grave accusation." 

His anger set the world on flames, burned them and scorched them. His rage was a fire that left nothing behind, a blaze that feasted on their flesh and consumed their souls. 

His anger was a hunger that could not be sated, a vacancy filled with the need for vengeance, that consumed everything and nothing. His rage was a parasite that even he could not escape. 

His anger was a demon that abolished all, leaving behind nothing but ashes.

"Wei Ying." Lan Wangji's voice was a gentle call, a nudge. His touch was a calming balm, a flood of water that killed his flames and eased his wound. Lan Wangji was an anchor, but he was not the cure, and the pain lingered even when the fire no longer existed. 

"Lan Zhan, he's a child I picked up from the streets and raised. He's a good, gentle, and sweet child that never meant any harm, but the world did him wrong. What she's saying is disgusting, Lan Zhan, and it holds no ounce of the truth." 

A curt nod was his answer. A touch to his hand was his blanket, a squeeze his defence and slowly, Wei Wuxian could feel himself relax, could feel the tension seep away, and the panic dissipate. 

At that moment, their last moment in the inn never happened, the touch didn't burn them, didn't drown them in agony. 

He could trust Lan Wangji to be fair; he could believe in him to be just and not to punish an innocent boy for a crime he didn't commit. 

"Do you have any evidence to support your accusations?" 

He could feel the panic in the air, could smell the fear as substantial as the piercing pain that shot through his back, that struck through his waist. 

He ignored it all, chose to focus his attention on Wen Qinyang as she dropped to her knees, pleading with her eyes and words. 

"Your Majesty, I did not mean to accuse the Empress of anything. I was merely stating my concern." 

"Gossip is forbidden, lying is forbidden." 

"I'm not gossiping, nor lying. Your Majesty, I beg you to believe me, I'm merely worried for the sake of the Lan Dynasty." 

Wei Wuxian's snort was loud, undignified, a sound of no mirth but repugnance. 

"Princess," His tone was not mocking, but his gaze sparked with ridicule and his smile twitched with a challenge. "Your care for the Lan Dynasty is moving. Lan Zhan, maybe we should hand over the management of the harem to attendant Wen, she already acts as if she is the ruler of the harem." 

A hush descended upon the room, silence and quietness that never belonged to Wei Wuxian, that didn't fit in his life nor his palace. It was a stillness filled with a tension that left the chamber bare of air, weighing on their chests and souls. 

"I wouldn't dare. The Empress is the ruler of the harem." 

"But that's what you want, isn't it? To be Empress." 

"Of course not, your majesty. Please don't jest." 

His laughter sounded loud, a sound that regularly filled the palace walls, but at that moment, it was foreign, alien and not familiar. It was a mocking chuckle, a song of ridicule. 

It was a sound that muffled his pain, that screened his hurt. 

"Can we just go back to A-Yu's case." 

There was a long moment, a pause, a hitch of time. There was a long second where the world stopped and anticipation coiled around his neck, tightened around his throat and threatened to chock him. 

It was a long moment where scenarios played in his mind and hope threatened to resurface. 

It was a long moment before Lan Wangji finally spoke, with a voice as calm as ever. 

"Mo Xuanyu will be released until his case is discussed with the ministers. Wen Qinyang is to be confined to her palace for a month and will receive ten strikes for gossiping, and acting beyond her position. The Empress retains his management over the harem but must copy the book of virtue two times for antagonising Attendant Wen and concealing the background of his servant." 

Wei Wuxian wanted to protest, wanted to disagree and oppose. 

Wei Wuxian wanted to protect, wanted to shield Mo Xuanyu from the Lan ministers' disagreement and cruelty. 

He wanted to dismiss the words and convince Lan Wangji of his thoughts, to explain and to understand. He wanted, yearned and desired to discuss their situation, to solve their disagreement; to apologise and make amends.

He wished to speak, but no words left his lips. 

The world spun, the earth rotated, and his vision blurred as piercing pain flashed through him, stabbed him through the bank, threatened to sever his abdomen. 

A moan sounded, soft, muffled heard by Lan Wangji and no one else. 

"Wei Ying?" 

"I'm okay." 

Sometimes, Wei Wuxian wonders what death feels like, what it feels like to know your time is running out and your body is failing, feeling the seconds slipping from your grasp. 

Sometimes, Wei Wuxian wonders what's beyond death, is it eternal darkness? 

More often than not, Wei Wuxian wonders when his luck will run out, and he would taste the kiss of death. 

As the world was dyed in black, and his vision gave on him. As he felt control slipping through his fingers, a cloud of smoke that he could not grasp, Wei Wuxian could not help but wonder if that is what death felt like. 

He could taste bitterness in his throat, in his mouth, revolting and nauseating before his body collapsed, a doll with no master. 

He could not remember if that is the taste of blood before the darkness swallowed him whole, consumed him and left him as nothing but a shell. 

The thud of his body as he fainted was loud, reverberating around the chamber, driving people into a frenzy of movements. 

"Get an imperial physician now." Lan Xichen's tone held no chance for argument, authoritative and absolute. At that moment, he was not the first prince; he was a general, an advisor and a leader. 

He rushed to his brother's side, watched as Lan Wangji's fingers shook, as he trembled while he checked Wei Wuxian's pulse. 

He did not miss the panic that painted his brother's features, did not miss the fear that clouded his golden eyes, nor the shadow of grief that filled his heart. 

He didn't miss the light of relief in the liquid gold as Lan Wangji pulled his hand back. "Wangji, we should get him to a bed, and perhaps loosen his robes. A physician will be here soon." 

There was no verbal reply; no sounds nor words were exchanged between them. They were in a bubble, a small family trying to protect and save one of their own. 

Lan Xichen never wanted to see the ghost of fear that painted his younger brother's golden eyes, never wanted to witness the stillness that should never belong to his brother-in-law. 

He watched with a reassuring smile and a beating heart as Lan Wangji picked Wei Wuxian up, careful with the still frame, mindful of the noiseless body. 

He watched as his heart played a song of fear, as his heart sang a tune of despair. He followed, his steps in sync with his heart, every step for every beat. 

His heart stopped, the song stilled as his gaze settled on a cushion, blue and tainted, painted in a red that didn't belong to the soft seat. 

His heart stopped beating, and his lungs stopped breathing as horror filled his chest, travelled through his blood and blanketed his thoughts. 

The smell of iron was sharp in his nose, etched in his memories. 

"Wangji, there is blood." 

They could taste the fear in the room as it filled the air in a cloud that could not be cleared away. 

They could taste the bitterness of the fear as tangible as the scent of iron that wafted through their senses. 

Lan Xichen didn't need to ask for the source of the blood, not when he could see it painting his brother's robes, dying the white in red. It was a trickle, a drop of blood that stained the white snow, beautiful, yet frightening. 

It was a drop that painted their senses just as it coloured Lan Wangji's and Wei Wuxian's robes. 

There was one question, one mystery that he could not verbalise, could not answer. 

It was one question that played through his head like a mantra, loud and ringing. 

It was one question that he could not ignore, not as he watched his brother lower the Empress to the bed with a gentleness that was foreign to the Emperor. 

It was a question that he could not ignore as he saw the red taint his brother's pristine robes, paint his skin in a liquid that could never be erased. 

'Was Wei Wuxian pregnant?' 

He did not dare ask the question aloud, but as he met his brother's eyes, he could see the question in his heart. 

They could do nothing but wait for the physician. They could do nothing but pray for the safety of Wei Wuxian. 

They could only hope they were not late. 

Chapter Text

Fear was a demon, a monster that fed on people's emotions, that sucked them dry.

Fear was a demon, a parasite that swallowed their sentiments, consumed their concern, growing and growing until it was a tangible ghost they could not escape.

Fear was a demon that peeked above Lan Wangji's shoulders, added to the weight of his anxiety until it threatened to consume him.

Fear was a demon they could not escape but could ignore.

Time no longer existed, the seconds no longer ticked and the moment lingered, frozen and unchanging. They were left counting the seconds; they were left waiting for the physician, hopeless as they watched the still Wei Wuxian.

"Imperial Physician Xi greets your majesty, your highness."

His bow was perfect, with head lowered and words spoken with absolute regard. There was no rush in his movements, no haste in his tone. At that moment, his biggest concern was following decorum, showing his respect to his royals, to his monarch.

It filled Lan Wangji with a wave of anger he never felt before, ignited a fire inside of his heart that he never wished to extinguish. It was a reminder of Wei Wuxian's value in the courtiers' hearts; it was an awakening, a slap in the face.

It left him burning with the desire to protect a boy he failed to shield, to cultivate the love in his heart until it was a garden that could rival the beauty of the Cloud Recesses, and a river that flowed through the forbidden city.

They all failed to see the charm of the Empress; they all failed to see beyond the mischievousness and rebellion.

He was silent, unable to form words beyond the fire that burned in his heart. He was quiet, drowning in his worry.

He was thankful for his brother's presence.

He listened to Lan Xichen as he updated the physician on Wei Wuxian's condition, listened to him as he gave orders to prioritise the Empress' health above priority and formality.

Lan Wangji listened, wordlessly watching Wei Wuxian's covered form, fingers gently brushing through the raven locks, feeling the texture under his skin, stroking the wild hair that was slowly being soaked by sweat.

Lan Wangji could do nothing but watch and pray to the heavens to protect his husband.

Wei Wuxian looked frail under the red and gold sheets, sickly with a pale complexion that stole the colour from his skin.

He was a delicate sight with robes and layers engulfing his thin frame, and beads of sweat coating his sickly pale skin.

Lan Wangji stepped away, away from the warmth and heat of Wei Wuxian's body, slipped away as the physician stepped closer. He stepped away with nothing but darkness and the distance separating them, with fear caging him, watching as physician Xi checked the pulse at Wei Wuxian's wrist.

It was a fleeting moment, a passing second filled with silence, anticipation and worry. It was a short moment that felt like an eternity, every ticking second a year that was drained from his life, filling his heart with dread.

It was a long moment that ended as the physician straightened to full height, eyes shining with determination, movements clearing away the darkness. He rushed to the basket he brought with him, pulling out herbs and medician.

He counted and calculated as the seconds ticked, measured every ingredient and every element, ensuring the perfection of the prescription before calling for a servant, ordering them to boil the tonic.

It was a long moment that coiled around Lan Wangji's patience, that stripped him of layers of tolerance and endurance and left him as nothing but an anxious husband.

It was a long moment before the physician returned and dropped to his knees in front of the standing Twin Jade, it was a more prolonged moment before his words sounded out, filled the chamber with promises that Lan Wangji grasped onto with a vigorous need.

"Congratulations, Your Majesty, the Empress is with child."

Lan Wangji could not feel the joy behind the words, could not sense the happiness that they should've planted in his heart. Lan Wangji could not experience the elation, not when Wei Wuxian did not hear the same words, not when his husband was laying in a bed, sickly and unconscious.

He could not feel the delight washing through him, not when he remembered how he'd taken advantage of Wei Wuxian, not when the pregnancy was not a gift, but a curse.

How he wished it was a blessing, how he wanted to see happiness paint Wei Wuxian's smile and colour his eyes.

"The Empress is experiencing a Qi deficiency, both of his emotional and physical states are effecting his energy. This servant fears that if the Empress' current state remains a miscarriage will be inevitable and unstoppable. The lowly servant prescribed a tonic that should stabilise the pregnancy and halt the ongoing abortion, but his Majesty will need to remain calm and comfortable at all times, as well as off his feet."

There was a pause, a moment of silence and quietness as they processed the words, as understanding dawned on them.

Lan Wangji could do nothing but nod, accepting the words and instructions for what they were, and the physician took that as his sign to proceed.

"His Majesty seems to have lost weight, it could be due to nausea or lack of appetite, neither of which we can identify without his Majesty's confirmation, but the fact remains that the Empress will need to gain weight and restore his energy. If it pleases the Emperor, I'll continue to monitor the Empress' state daily and adjust his medication as his pregnancy progress."

It was another silent nod, another wordless response.

It was an acknowledgement and agreement, given freely, accepted with the need to ensure Wei Wuxian's safety and happiness.

His steps carried him through the room; back to the bed that cradled the body of his beloved, to the corner that engulfed his love.

Golden eyes lingered on a still body, too quiet, too silent, void of life. Golden eyes watched, observed, followed every shift and movement with focus and care.

His touch was gentle as he brushed the wild strands away from the pale face; his contact was tender as he wiped away the sweat shining on Wei Wuxian's face.

He waited for his eyelids to flutter open, waited for them to reveal eyes the colour of rainy clouds and moonlight. He waited, wishing to see the stars, the universe through his eyes. He waited and waited, but they never opened, remaining shut.

"Huan Zhe," He called, knowing his attendant was waiting for any orders, for his call. "Announce my decree. Physician Xi is from this moment the Empress' personal physician, his dedication and service will be to the Empress' health and wellbeing as well as the imperial heir."

He didn't listen as Xi Fu bowed, uttering words of gratitude and thanks. His attention remained on a still Wei Wuxian, his eyes straying to his abdomen, studying his profile and his unsmiling face.

How he wished to see that smile, how he missed the radiant sun of his grin and laugh.

"Ensure Mo Xuanyu's release, inquire about Wei Ying's favourites and inform the kitchen to prepare them. Also, I'll be dining with the Empress from now on, arrange for that."

It was not enough, not nearly enough, but it was a start, and Lan Wangji would need to be the first to take a step, to work to mend his mistakes.

Wei Wuxian was driven into a corner, pushed and pushed until his body collapsed and his Qi deviated. He was drowned in stress and anxiety, attacked by ploys and schemes.

He was driven to madness, and Lan Wangji had surely played a part in his fall.

Had he miscarried, Lan Wangji would've had to live with the guilt of taking part in ending his unborn child's life.

"Wangji," His brother's voice was soft, a gentle call, a nudge for attention that Lan Wangji could not deny him. "It's not your fault, nor is it the Empress', but it is about time you two talked. Things will not improve if you're not on the same page."

He didn't expect anything else from his brother, could not expect anything else from the man who can read him, his expressions and emotions.

He did not need to speak any words, did not need to spill his worries and reveal his heart, Lan Xichen would always understand.

"Congratulations, Wangji, to you and Empress Wei as well."

There was still no guarantee that Wei Wuxian would not abort, that his body would respond to the tonic and the pregnancy will stabilise, but Lan Wangji could only accept the congratulations and pray for the safety of both his husband and his child.

He prayed to the heavens and gods, to his ancestors, to please protect his family.

 

 

The Kunning Gong was surrounded in a blanket of silence, a quietness that fallen upon the Empress' residence like snow, covering every surface in a carpet of tranquillity.

It was a silence that dragged on for hours, a stillness filled with anticipation, with expectation as they waited with held breathes for Wei Wuxian's eyes to blink open, for his awareness to return.

It was a silence that seeped into every corner, into every room, taking root in the palace as the seconds ticked by. It was a quietness that didn't belong, that should've instead been filled with laughter and joy, with the warmth of a smile as blinding as the sun.

It was a silence that Lan Wangji grew to know as dearly as a friend, as dearly as a brother, but dreaded all the same.

The first note sounded out, hesitant, broken by the silence. The first note echoed in the sleeping chamber, peacefully followed by other pitches, mingling and mixing until the music of the guqin filled the palace, drowning the silence and easing the soul.

There was no audience to his performance, no witness to the song that echoed around them, a song that portrayed his emotions louder than words. It was a song of yearning and longing, a song of regret and heartbreak.

It was a song of hope and new beginnings, tranquillity and joy.

It was a song of winter nights in a lover's arms and rainy days with cups of tea. It was a song of dreams and hopes, a song that wrote a story of his love.

It was a song that revealed Lan Wangji's heart to a still Wei Wuxian, a tune that unveiled his secrets and fears.

It was a prayer and a whisper.

His fingers plucked at the strings with practised ease and confidant expertise, playing a song that was for no one's ears, that was for Wei Wuxian's heart and memory.

It was a wordless plea.

The notes played at Wei Wuxian's awareness, tickled his senses and echoed in his soul. It was a song that eased the fog in his mind, that washed the pain away and awakened his consciousness.

Veiny eyelids fluttered open, weighed by exhaustion and dread, heavy by fear and pain. He blinked, blinked away the weariness, blinked away the blurriness in his gaze and the world fell into place like puzzle pieces coming together.

He laid there, with his eyes open, suffocating under the heated blankets, but he didn't dare move. He remained still, listening to a song that cut the strings wrapped around his heart, that broke the shackles tightened around his body.

It was a song that lingered in his consciousness, burned into his memory and he wished he could raise his flute to his lips, play a duet of love as the red tussle swung in the air.

"Lan Zhan."

It was a soft call, uncarried by the breeze, muffled by the musical notes, but it was a call heard, answered by the dying music.

As the notes died down, as the music stopped and silence descended back upon the palace, Lan Wangji was at his side, calling his name, fingers gently cradling his face, and it left Wei Wuxian disoriented with confusion and dread.

It was a calm, peaceful moment that died as fast as the music, that ended as abruptly as the song, that shattered with a loud gasp from Wei Wuxian.

"Mo Xuanyu."

His voice sounded louder, a call of outrage, a cry of alarm that echoed as loudly as the musical notes, a noise that broke the silence, shattered it into fragments of dust.

He rushed to sit, straightening to race out of the palace, to find his servant, his friend, his child. He rushed to sit up, and the world around him spun, whirled and turned until he was dizzy, until he was left as disoriented as when he awoke.

Lan Wangji's hand settled on his back, a warmth that he couldn't shake, a lifeline that held him to the world, an anchor that eased the panic feeding off his soul.

"In the courtyard." He repeated, not once but twice, a mantra that didn't break until Wei Wuxian calmed down, and he sagged against the hand supporting him.

"Lan Zhan, don't send him away, don't punish him. I kept quiet on his identity, I hid the truth, but he never did any wrong. He's a sweet and gentle boy. Please, Lan Zhan."

"Will not punish. Wei Ying, be calm."

There was a stab of pain, a strike that went through his back, a reminder of the shock that flashed through him, that paralysed him before he blacked out.

It did not matter. The pain didn't matter, not in the face of Mo Xuanyu's safety.

"Lan Zhan, please." He began with another plea, an appeal and an argument that died down as the words registered, as relief washed through him like a flood, crushing him under the waves.

He collapsed against a muscular chest, crumpled like a fallen leaf. Wei Wuxian burrowed deeper into the warmth, into the cloud of sandalwood that drugged his mind, eased his thoughts.

The relief was a drug that slipped through his veins, leaving him in a haze he never wished to escape.

"He's safe, Lan Zhan?" He whispered, words and voice giving out on him, as weak as his crumbling body.

"Mmmm, but Wei Ying must stay calm as not to lose the baby."

The words were a bolt of lighting, a shock that went through him, awakened his senses, cleared the haze. It was a storm of confusion and elation, a tornado of happiness and fear.

His emotions clashed, fighting an endless battle.

"You're saying I'm pregnant?" He asked, not a question, but a statement, a reassurance and a confirmation. It was a whisper of a fantasy, a dream he never thought he'd grasp.

Wei Wuxian turned in the embrace, coming to face the expressionless Lan Wangji, watching his reflection in the golden gaze. "My my, Lan Zhan, what a man, at this rate we'll have a dozen princes and princesses running around. You'll have to take responsibility."

"Hmm."

There was a smile of spring on his face, a smile of joy and delight, a smile that foretold stories of treasures and life.

The sun was in his smile, and the future was painted in the grey eyes.

Lan Wangji had fallen in love with a storm, nature and life. He had fallen in love with the promise of a smile and the sparkle of mischief. He was a prisoner to his love, a willing captive and a man with a stolen heart.

He slipped away from Wei Wuxian, leaving his heat behind, leaving the warmth and the promise of the future to drop down to the ground. He sank to his knees, as a man in love, as a husband yielding to his spouse, he bowed, and his forehead touched the warm ground, feeling the roughness under his skin, under his touch.

He ignored the outraged cry of Wei Wuxian, stopped his advance with a clumsy apology and the love in his heart.

"Wangji's apologies for taking advantage of you, for forcing himself on you."

His eyes remained closed, his vision that of a world of darkness and the hopes in his heart. His eyes didn't flutter, didn't open, and he missed the look of disbelief that decorated Wei Wuxian's face.

"As the son of heaven and the Emperor of Gusu, as Hanguang-Jun, We offer you our sincerest apology."

Wei Wuxian's laugh sounded as warm as the shining sun, a sound of disbelief and acceptance, a sound of masked offence. It was the chime of the dancing wind and the beating of a heart.

It was a sound that captured Lan Wangji's heart, took his spirit and soul a prisoner.

"Lan Zhan, who do you think I am? You can't take advantage of me. I wanted it, wanted you. Can't I desire my husband?" There was a moment, a pause as Wei Wuxian gazed through the open window, followed the movement of the clouds with his eyes, tracked them with longing in his eyes. "You have no reason to apologise; if anyone took advantage of anyone, it was me. You were intoxicated, and you never liked me, I shouldn't have expected you to feel anything towards me. Will you forgive me?"

Lan Wangji raised his head, disbelief clouding the pure gold in his eyes, colouring the doubt burning in his heart.

A spark of anger ignited in his soul, a glitter of rage at his inability to talk, to form words and speak his heart.

"No apologies needed. I want Wei Ying; I like Wei Ying. Always love Wei Ying."

The wind chimes sang with the summer breeze, the sun sang with the passing clouds, and the world stopped spinning, frozen into the moment.

A bead of sweat slid down Wei Wuxian's back, a distraction and a diversion that washed the shock away.

A smile crowned his face, made of stars and heavenly glow, a smile of joy as he rushed to his feet, hurrying to drop to his knees, meeting Lan Wangji's bewildered gaze, mimicking his stance.

"Why are you so bad at this, Lan Zhan? Did you have to make me wait two months to hear that? And here I thought you hated me."

Lan Wangji's touch was scorching, leaving his brand on pale skin. His grip was gentle, restricting, but a firm guiding hand around his wrist, pulling him with care into a warm embrace.

"Careful, Wei Ying."

There was a moment where neither moved, neither talked before Wei Wuxian chuckled and shifted in the embrace, leaning into the heat and warmth that engulfed him like a blanket, that cradled him.

He could feel Lan Wangji's breath against his skin, could feel the beat of his heart against his chest, thumbing and thumbing as if urging Wei Wuxian's own heart to follow the same rhythm.

He felt the emotions, the turmoil inside of him settle, soothed by the melodic song of Lan Wangji's heart.

"I like Lan Zhan too."

It was no more than a mumble, muffled by silk and a broad shoulder, but it was heard, carried by the erratic beat of his heart, by the heat of the blood painting his cheeks.

His heart beat to the rhythm of Lan Wangji's, their hearts sang a duet of affection of love, delight and joy. It was a song that died down as reality struck, as the fantasy shattered, but Wei Wuxian's smile remained, lingered on his face, not a shadow, but a grin of joy that could not be stolen by destiny.

He refused to allow fate to steal any more of his life and happiness.

"I can't share you; I won't share you. I don't want there to be a harem, I won't stand for it, and Wen Qinyang can't stay either."

"Can't kick Wen Qinyang out."

Fingers brushed through his wild strands, swept through the knots, stroking the locks with a gentleness that calmed him, that eased him until he was buried in the embrace, hidden from peeking eyes.

The summer heat did not matter, didn't exist at that moment. Nothing mattered except for the warmth of Lan Wangji and the fragrance of sandalwood that invaded his senses.

The sun was their audience, watching upon them through the open window, a guardian and a protector.

"If she keeps at it, I'll punish her. If she harms anyone, I'll banish her. And you can never call upon her."

"Mmm."

Wei Wuxian's smile grew, its radiance challenging that of the glowing star and he leaned deeper into the embrace, satisfied, placated.

They remained like that, relishing in each other's warmth, in their touch. They remained still for a moment, frozen in the second until Wei Wuxian leaned back to gaze at Lan Wangji, his grey eyes lit with adoration and darkened with a shadow of mischievousness.

"You have to see me every day, and you have to eat with me as much as you can."

"Mmm."

"You can't send Mo Xuanyu away. Ever. "

"Mmm."

"I get to practice the sword and archery, tell your soldiers they can fight me. They can't beat me anyway."

"After the baby is born."

"Acceptable. Also, I get to go to town anytime I want, no one can stop me."

There was a moment of hesitation, a moment of uncertainty and a shadow of doubt darkening the golden gaze. It was a moment of scepticism that dragged on, never-ending.

Wei Wuxian's cheeks buffed, his lips quivered, and unsatisfaction coloured his cheeks, painted his lips in a pout that pierced through Lan Wangji's heart, that shattered his resolve, crushed his walls.

"After the baby is born, and only if you have the royal guards with you."

"Two guards only."

There was no verbal reply, no words and no answer. There was only a nod of approval, a look of surrender in his eyes and Wei Wuxian accepted the victory for what it was. His smile returned, blinding, bewitching, and Lan Wangji could not look away.

Lan Wangji's lips twitched, and his eyes smiled, as bright as a bar of gold reflecting the light and Wei Wuxian was charmed, captivated by eyes of pure gold and a man of jade.

Warmth spread through his body, heating his blood, painting his skin in a blush as red as a bloody Chrysanthemum. He was a prisoner to the golden gaze, a captive to the warmth and his sanity decayed as lips brushed his skin, as Lan Wangji kissed his forehead, his touch a caress as gentle as the wind's.

"Warn a man before you attack, Lan Zhan. My heart can't take this."

There was a smile in the golden gaze. There was a worry in Lan Wangji's chest as panic wrapped its claws around his heart, as fear took root in his soul. "Wei Ying must remain calm, for you and the baby."

The laughter that resounded around them was a song of joy, a promise of happiness and delight. It was a tone that washed away the fear, that cleared away the panic and planted cheer in their hearts.

It was the sound of singing birds, the song of flowing rivers and falling rain. It was the laughter of passing wind and the giggle of moving clouds.

It was a sound of nature that stole Lan Wangji's heart.

It was a sound he wished to protect.

Wei Wuxian shifted out of the grasp, moved to stand up, to straighten up only for arms to cage him back against a solid chest, to hold him in an imprisoning embrace. "Lan Zhan?" He asked, with confusion in his grey gaze and questions in his tone.

"Physician said to stay off your feet. Pregnancy not yet stable, and the risk of miscarriage is high after earlier's threatened one. Wei Ying needs to take care of yourself and the baby."

"But, Lan Zhan, I can't just not move. I'll lose my mind from boredom. This place is already boring."

"Wei Ying."

His tone was firm, with a gentle reprimand and warming. It was the call of his birth name, spoken as if admonishing a child for his faults that agitated Wei Wuxian, that washed away the smile. "No, Lan Zhan, I can't stay in bed all day. I can't."

"Not in bed, but no walking."

"And how am I supposed to get out of bed if I can't walk, Lan Zhan? This is so boring. I can't stay in one place all the time."

"Ridiculous."

"I know! I know!" His voice was a shout, a song of excitement that reverberated through the palace, carried into the courtyard by the summer breeze. It was a tone that was too loud for the serenity of the Cloud Recesses. A high pitch that broke the rules of peace and quietness.

Wei Wuxian did not care for the rules, didn't care for the quietness or the silence. He was loud, noisy and boisterous, and he refused to allow the regulations of Cloud Recesses to strip him of his personality.

"You can carry me around, can't you, Lan Zhan? You're so strong, and you did it before, I know you can do it again. Let's test it out? Let's go to the main chamber, and we can maybe eat. I'm starving. So how about it? You'll carry me, won't you, Lan Er-Gege?"

There was excitement in his voice, happiness and joy that Lan Wangji could not deny, could not destroy, even as he mumbled, "Ridiculous." There was a gentleness to his tone, a masked playfulness that Wei Wuxian did not miss as the arms around him shifted and he was cradled against Lan Wangji's chest.

Wei Wuxian's arm wrapped around Lan Wangji's neck, his grip tight with nerves and excitement, his hold caging but not restricting as his husband carried him through the palace with an ease that should not be possible.

"Wei Ying needs to gain weight."

Wei Wuxian did not delight him with an answer, didn't response or comment. His thoughts were spiralling, images of his life and future clashing, and he sought to escape them by hiding his face in the crook of Lan Wangji's neck, by inhaling the deep scent of sandalwood.

There was a shadow of fear in his heart, a growing demon that hid in his chest and terrorised his soul. It was the dread of losing the happiness of this moment, the concern for the lives of his loved ones, the worry for his unborn child living in the dangerous and golden cage of the inner palace.

His fear was a demon that fed on his thoughts, growing and growing until it threatened to consume him, to break through his heart and swallow his life.

It was a demon that he could not escape, not when Wen Qinyang was a monster hiding in the shadows waiting to strike, not when the Lan ministers were beasts chasing their prey.

He feared that the inner palace would never be safe for his child.

His grip around Lan Wangji's neck tightened, choking, suffocating, but his husband didn't protest, didn't complain even as he shifted him around, even as they were lowered to the ground.

He remained in the embrace, seated in Lan Wangji's lap, hiding in his warmth. Wei Wuxian remained still, refused to move even as his husband brushed his fingers through his hair.

"Lan Zhan, no one can know about the baby. Not yet." It was no more than a whisper, a mumble, a plea.

It was a muffled request, one he never expected Lan Wangji to hear.

"Wei Ying, I'm here." He answered, a promise, a vow, and it eased Wei Wuxian's heart, soothed the fear, a balm that calmed his nerves. "I will protect you and our child." He said, and Wei Wuxian trusted him to do so, to shield him from the horrors of their world, from the nightmares of their life.

He trusted Lan Wangji to protect him, to defend him against those who seek to harm him.

He trusted Lan Wangji, but he could not trust himself not to fail his child as he almost failed Mo Xuanyu, could not trust the demons hiding in the dark waiting to strike.

He refused to fail, refused to sacrifice any more of his happiness.

Wei Wuxian was ready to fight a battle that would never end. He was willing to shed blood.

He was willing to sacrifice the world, to watch it burn for the sake of his child's happiness.

He resolved to destroy Wen Qinyang, vowed to destroy her world and end her life.

He vowed to burn Cloud Recesses down and build it from the ground, swore to raise a world where his child can smile with no reservation and qualms.

Wei Wuxian was the son of a servant, the son of a princess.

Wei Wuxian was the son of the Jiang Dynasty.

Wei Wuxian was a fighter, a rebel.

Wei Wuxian was the Empress of Gusu, the ruler of the Harem; for the sake of his family, his loved ones, his child, and his love, he chose to rule.

There were no more chances to give, and Wen Qinyang had no one to blame for her imminent demise but herself.

Chapter Text

He hated anger, hated feeling the fire that would churn in his abdomen, heating his blood, hated the flames that would burn through him, leaving him panting for breath, itching for blood. 

He hated anger. 

It was not an emotion he experienced much, as fiery as his temper could be. Rage was not a fire that would regularly burn inside of him, not when he saw the way it would consume at one's sanity until they could not distinguish between friend and foe. 

Anger was an emotion he witnessed through his childhood, lived through the flares of Empress Yu's rage, lived through the pain of humans' temper. 

Anger was a ferocious monster he hated, wanted to slay. 

It was a monster that was slowly taking root in his heart, growing and growing with every fit and every spark. 

He did not want to turn into another hostile Empress, did not want his children to live through the fear of poking the beast. 

He did not want the rage to take root inside of him, to reside in his heart, to darken his soul, but it had latched onto his spirit, and he could not escape its claws. 

The life in Cloud Recesses awakened the beast, poked at its until it roared. 

Wen Qinyang fed the beast until it grew unstoppable and hungered for blood. 

Anger was an emotion he rarely dwelled on, rarely fanned. Rage was an emotion he rarely experienced, not unless someone mocked his family, not unless an innocent was hurt. 

Anger was a flame that burned through him, hotter than the summer sun. It was a fire that hungered for fuel. 

"Where else did she strike?" 

He wanted to witness Wen Qinyang's demise, to watch her pay with her life, to beg for forgiveness and mercy. 

He wanted to watch her blood paint the ground, just as she watched Mo Xuanyu's blood drip down his face, colour his skin. 

His touch was gentle as his fingers brushed the bruised and abused skin, tracking the marks of the whip that broke Mo Xuanyu's skin, shed his blood. 

"Young Master, please calm down." 

He could hear the tears in his voice, could taste the worry and fear in his words, and Wei Wuxian could see the anxiety clouding his gaze. 

His anger diminished, the flames dissipating, and his smile softened with affection and concern. 

"I'm calm, Yu-er. Now answer the question? Are you hurt anywhere else." 

Mo Xuanyu shook his head, his hair swaying with his movement, brushing against Wei Wuxian's fingers, tickling his digits. 

"She didn't dare do more after I stopped struggling." 

There was a sigh, a sound of exasperation and annoyance, a sound of frustration that didn't diminish Wei Wuxian's smile, didn't reignite the flames of anger that were waiting to be kindled. 

"Would someone please get me supplies to address the cuts." 

His fingers traced his features, brushed across unblemished skin, followed the curves of his face, traced his bones. His touch was gentle, a caress of comfort, a brush of support that he couldn't speak, but could act. 

"I'll take care of his cuts, your Majesty, please rest." 

He turned his eyes to study Xiao Xingchen's features, to take in the fair face and the gentle smile, to find comfort in his stance. 

He turned to watch the boy with gentle eyes and a kind heart, allowed his gaze to take in his softness, to ease the worry churning in his core, thrashing in his soul. 

He trusted the misfit group of servents, believed in them to serve him and follow him. 

He trusted them with Mo Xuanyu's life, but he could not help the dread that weighed on his chest, could not ignore the doubt darkening his heart.

There was a reality to his situation that he couldn't ignore, a truth that he couldn't scorn. 

He should not trust without proof, not when his child's life was on the line, not when Mo Xuanyu's happiness was the price. 

He could not gift his trust freely, not when he could not name a friend from foe. 

"Thank you." He mumbled, urging Mo Xuanyu to stand and follow the older boy out. 

There was doubt in his heart, a demon. 

There was anger in his core, a beast. 

There was fear in his soul, a ghost. 

Monsters lived in his mind, fed on his life, sucked and sucked until no happiness was left, and he was painted in smoky black. 

His eyes never left Mo Xuanyu's frame, followed his movements with a cautious gaze and a dread that compelled him to reach out, to pull the boy back into his arms and shield him from the world. 

He had failed him once, left him in the grasp of a monster that had no mercy for him. 

He had failed him once, and Mo Xuanyu paid for his failure in blood and pain. 

He had failed him once, and life would've taken his child as payment for his sin. 

He refused to fail him again, refused to watch his tears and blood drip and mix. 

"MianMian." He called, once Mo Xuanyu was out of view and unable to hear. 

"Please don't call me that, Your Majesty." She answered, voice bored, dull with words she could not stop repeating even when she knew they fell on deaf ears. 

"MianMian," he called again, ignoring her words, disregarding her request with a mischievous smile and a playful spark lighting his eyes. "How fast do rumours spread in Cloud Recesses?" 

She blinked, washing away the confusion that filled her eyes, that drowned the room in a cloud of chaos and understanding, that left them speechless, waiting for an explanation that didn't come. 

Her answer was late to come, slowed by reluctance, confusion and uncertainty, but her voice never wavered, her tone never lowered. 

"Gossip is forbidden, but it doesn't stop the servants and guards from talking. A scandal or a major event will easily spread within a couple of hours." 

"Perfect!" His voice carried through the quiet palace, louder than the silence of the night, more vibrant than the streaming light of the moon. 

Excitement burned in his eyes, flames that brightened his gaze, and highlighted the stars that made his gaze and coloured his skin. 

He was a celestial being, glowing under the moonlight with hair as dark as night swaying against his back, cascading in waves of inky water. His hair was a blanket of raven locks that contrasted with the white Gusu coloured robes that covered his thin frame. 

He looked the happiest they'd ever seen, with the stars reflected on his skin, and the moon was shining in his smile. Nothing could dim his joy, not the spark of anger heating his heart, not the shadow of mischief in his gaze. 

"Spread the word then. I want everyone, especially Wen Qinyang, to believe that I have lost the child." 

There were a stunned silence, a confused quietness and shocked tension. Emotions were clashing, a storm, a tornado and a hurricane. It was the chaos of bewilderment that could not be ignored, that had disoriented their senses. 

No one moved, not Luo Qinyang as she waited for Wei Wuxian's laughter to resound, for his joy to overflow and his words to clear the confusion. 

No one moved, not Xue Yang as he stood at the doorway, leaning against the doorframe with his arms crossed against his chest, watching the scene unfold with curious eyes. 

No one moved, not Wei Wuxian who chose that moment to brush his fingers through his loosened locks, stroking the wild strands with rushed and rough fingers. 

No one moved, no one spoke, not until the shock disappeared, replaced by disbelief and sarcasm. 

"You want the entire population of the forbidden city to believe you've miscarried?" 

"Yes! I'm so smart, praise me." 

"How is that smart? Are you trying to lose the support you have?" 

"What support? The pregnancy is unstable, and the majority of the Forbidden City wants me to lose this child. If they believe I've miscarried, then they'll leave me alone, at least until I start to show. Also, I would love to see how Wen Qinyang would react, if my guess is right, she'll respond in one of three ways." 

He raised his hand, showing his lean and callused finger as he counted. "Wen Qinyang will fear the consequences of her actions and my retribution, so she'll beg for forgiveness." He raised a second finger, holding two out to his audience. "Or she'll try to find a scapegoat and get herself out of it altogether, most likely by implanting poison in her victim's possession; I'd guess it'll be one of you."

There was a moment of pause, of quietness that built their anticipation. "Or she will not believe the rumours and then won't react and will most definitely try to poison me." 

There were unsaid words, words left to his heart, kept a secret for his knowledge for his own awareness. There were words left unspoken, a whisper of his reality. 

It was said that it was a test designed for Wen Qinyang, but what was unspoken was that it was a trial devised for his servants just as much.

It was unsaid that if Wen Qinyang did not believe the rumours, then it could be the revelation of a spy, and whether it will be one of his servants or the physicians, Wei Wuxian will need to unveil the curtain on the mole hidden amongst them. 

"Now praise me." 

His voice revealed none of his doubts. His tone covered the suspicion behind a pitch of mirth and joy.

He leaned back in the bed, allowed the coolness of the stone to seep into his blood, cooled the spark of anger waiting to reignite, froze the fire of doubt in his heart.

No praises came, not as Song Lan walked into the room, carrying a platter and the fragrance of medicinal herbs with him. No compliments came as Luo Qinyang left the room, allowing the boy with the ice in his blood to take her place. 

"Your tonic, Your Majesty." 

Wei Wuxian scrunched up his nose, showing his distaste with the smell, and the idea of consuming the herbal drink. It was an objection that was not left silent but was vocalised verbally just as well. 

"No, I won't drink it. I can already tell how disgusting it tastes. No, take it away." 

"Don't be a child, and drink it. The physician prescribed it to sustain the pregnancy." 

The colour was slowly fading from his face, leaving his cheeks void of the blush that decorated them since he awoke, and highlighted the sickly hue to his skin. 

"Seriously, it smells." 

"It doesn't smell that bad; it's just the ginger." 

There was a weight pressing on Wei Wuxian's chest, a pressure that threatened to suffocate him, that left him breathless. His stomach churned, and bile rose in his throat, nauseating just as much as the aroma of the tonic.

"Did you boil it yourself?" He could not help but wonder, could not help but ask and verbalise his fear. He could not help but question the safety of the medicine that was meant to save and protect. 

"I did, and I checked the ingredients, it's safe to consume during pregnancy." 

 He reached for the bowl, ignoring the revolting taste that filled his senses, ignoring the reflex to gag as the smell invaded his nose. "Please get me something to wash the taste with." 

There was silent acceptance from Song Lan, a quiet assent that followed him, trialled behind him as he left the sleeping chamber, leaving behind a Wei Wuxian who cradled the bowl between trembling hands. 

He was left alone with a smirking Xue Yang, a boy with a glint of wickedness shining in his eyes, and an aura of boyish fierceness wrapped around him. 

He was a boy that drove Wei Wuxian to wreak havoc; he was a boy whose smirk inspired Wei Wuxian to leave ruin in his trail, to be a storm that planted madness into the hearts and minds of the Lan ministers. 

He was a boy that compelled a mischievous fox to create chaos. 

"So, who's the spy?"

His words caught Wei Wuxian off guard, drove the image and smell of the tonic out of his mind, replaced the thought of his health with bewilderment and a touch of fear. 

Xue Yang was a danger, a caged beast that should never be released, with a mind as sharp as a knife and a smirk as wicked as a witch. 

"You suspect that there is a spy among us. Who do you think it is?" 

Wei Wuxian's laughter resounded loud, breaking the blanket of silence that enveloped the palace, shattering the tranquillity that seeped into the walls and the halls. His laugh echoed around them, a boisterous cry of entertainment.

If Xue Yang was a sharp demon, then Wei Wuxian was the demon king. 

"Any one of you, of course." 

Xue Yang's laughter was mocking, a chuckle of ridicule and taunt, a sound of scorn. It was a sound that faded as Song Lan came back, bringing with him the scent of sweet dates, and the remainder of the cooling tonic. 

He looked down at the brown pool, watched his reflection in the liquid, took in the disgust that adorned his face and illuminated the greyness of his eyes. 

There was no ignoring his gagging reflex, no disregarding the bile that he tasted in his throat. 

He raised the bowl to his lips, downed the cold liquid with as much speed as he could without choking, drank it without second thought nor hesitation.

He could feel the nausea building, rising like a volcano that threatened to erupt, but he swallowed it down, clamping a hand over his mouth. 

Among the chaos of the queasiness that consumed him, he did not notice the bustling of movements that surrounded him. Wei Wuxian did not notice the announcement of arrival until a warm hand settled on his back, rubbing circles into his skin, soothing away the sickness with gentle touches and touching concern. 

"Lan Zhan." He called, voice hoarse with the effort to stifle his coughs of revulsion, eyes a pond overflowing with tears. 

Lan Wangji's touch didn't leave him, his warmth a blanket that eased him, soothed the pain in his throat, calmed his stomach. He felt safety settle on his shoulder like a warm cloak, a shawl of happiness and peace as he was pulled into Lan Wangji's arms, tugged against his chest in a tight embrace. 

There were no words spoken, no promises and no messages of comfort. There was only presence and touch, warmth and breath. 

Wei Wuxian closed his eyes, allowed his breathing to calm, his heart to quiet, and the peaceful rhythm to settle back in his life. 

His eyes closed, bathing him in a world of darkness, an existence where there was nothing except Lan Wangji; his heartbeat, his warmth and the scent of sandalwood ingrained in his skin. 

His eyes remained closed, relishing in the warmth, the affection and passion. His eyes didn't open; eyelids never fluttered as he savoured the feeling of loving Lan Wangji and being loved by him. 

"Eat." 

He wanted to protest, feared the return of the onslaught, refused to experience the turmoil again, but he couldn't resist, not as the sweet scent of dates invaded his nose, not as he felt it press to his lips. 

Wei Wuxian could not deny Lan Wangji such a simple thing, just as he couldn't deny his care and concern. 

His lips parted with reluctant, his lips parted with slowness and hesitation, but they parted, opened to the fruit pressed to them. Lan Wangji did not hesitate to push it into his mouth, touching it with gentleness to Wei Wuxian's tongue. 

He chewed, allowed the sweetness to break through and coat his tongue to caress his sense of taste and wash the bitterness away. It was a freshness that pacified his qualm and eased his worry. 

"Lan Zhan." He called, pulling back to look at a face carved from jade and eyes made of gold. 

"Mmm." 

"I'm going to write to Uncle Jiang and ask for a physician." 

He could see the frown in Lan Wangji's eyes more than on his face; he could see the frustration in his heart, feel it thrumming in his chest and bloom. He could decipher it in the tightness of his jaw, in the purse of his lips. 

His grin softened into a smile that didn't reflect the brightness of the sun. He was a blank canvas, and his smile was a portrait of the moonlit sky. He was a mirror, and his smile was the reflection of the night sky. 

He reached to brush lean fingers across Lan Wangji's jaw, tracking and tracing, stroking the skin with a gentle caress that was as soft as the breeze. 

It was a touch that mimicked his earlier caress with Mo Xuanyu, a stroke that didn't differ in its softness but differed in the feeling behind it. It was not the embrace of a parent, nor the pat of a brother; it was the kiss of a lover, the passion of a husband. 

It was everything Wei Wuxian felt summarised in touch. It was everything Wei Wuxian wanted to portray but dared not say. 

"I want to give this child the best chance to live, whatever that took, and right now, it means a competent physician that could help me carry to term. I don't know the physicians of Cloud Recesses, I'm not familiar with them, so I can't trust them, and I can't trust my child with them." 

There was a pause as Wei Wuxian waited for Lan Wangji's reaction, waited for the objection and the argument that never came. What came was a brush of lips against his own, a kiss that sent warmth through his body and fire through his blood. 

He felt himself deflate in the embrace, felt his body give in as the heat rushed through him, as blood painted his cheeks in a red blush. 

"Anything for Wei Ying." He said, with no embarrassment colouring his face, and no blood painting his cheeks. He talked with a calmness that irritated Wei Wuxian and smugness that sparked in his eyes. 

"Lan Zhan." He whined, with embarrassment tainting his voice and shiness panting his tone. "Warn a man." 

"Mmmm." 

"Spend the night?" Wei Wuxian asked, with his face hidden in the crook of Lan Wangji's neck, with his nose brushing the warm skin, feeling his pulse thumping against his lips, and Lan Wangji could not deny him nor his heart. 

It was a rare moment of serenity shared between them; it was a night of precious peace that they spent in each other's arms, relishing in the warmth, the heat and the touch, savouring the taste and the smell. 

It was a night that belonged to them, to their love and hearts, a night that was ingrained in their memories and minds, just as it was etched in the passage of time. 

It was their night; it was their time. It was the first night of many; it was the night that marked the first chapter of their lives together. 

 

 

There was a sense of ease that filled his chest, that fueled his soul and left him with a peacefulness that he'd thought long lost. 

There was a stream of joy that crashed him under its tide, drowning him in waves of happiness that he thought he'd never feel again. 

There was a serenity that swelled in his heart, mingling with his blood as it seeped through his veins, dissolving into his soul. 

For the first time since his marriage, since time and fate brought him to Cloud Recesses, Wei Wuxian had found a home among nature and beauty. For the first time since his destiny was sealed and his fortune decided, Wei Wuxian could grasp the thread of hope, tying it around his throat, sealing his future. 

There were tranquillity and quietness to the Cloud Recesses, and Wei Wuxian found himself falling in love with a place he never thought he'd call home. 

"Congratulations on your pregnancy, your Majesty."

Wei Wuxian's smile widened into a grin that was pure joy and an absolute delight. It was the smile of angels and the grin of gods. It was a smile that captivated and charmed, just as it planted envy in human's hearts. 

It was a smile that could not be oppressed, a smile that could not be killed and Lan Xichen could his feel his heart swelling with relief, his worry for his brother and brother in law disappearing in a cloud of ashes. 

"Thank you. I'm so excited to meet mine and Lan Zhan's baby; I'm sure they'll be a beauty, the gods will descend to earth just to take a look. I hate that I have to wait for seven more months. Well, it'll be worth the wait to have a prince with amber eyes running around. Imagine a mini Lan Zhan, so cute!" 

Tea was poured into cups, filling the chamber with a cloud of steam, drowning them in the scent of floral tea and the tangy aroma of lemon. Wei Wuxian could not help but inhale the mist into his lung, take in the smell that relaxed his shoulders, unwound his muscles. 

He heard a soft chuckle of amusement, caught the sound of entertainment that was muffled by a sleeve, hidden behind a cup of tea and he could not help but smile at his brother in law, finding no need for shame in his actions nor words. 

Nothing could ruin his pleasant mood; nothing could ease the stress back into his blood, onto his shoulders. 

There was a moment of pleasant chatter, of conversations that ranged from idle to excited with memories shared, and opinions muttered. It was a morning of serenity. 

It was a morning that passed quickly, time dragging through with no essence, and no rules. 

It was a morning interrupted by a presence preferably ignored, the peacefulness shattered by a commotion that sparked a fire in his heart, ignited the flames of anger in his soul. 

"Your Majesty." Xiao Xingchen called from the chamber entrance, hesitation colouring his tone, outlining his movements in reluctance. 

He could see the frown darkening Lan Xichen's eyes, the lack of his smile. 

"I will not receive her. Send her away." 

Silence lingered for a moment, undisturbed, unbroken. It remained seated with them, a guest joining for tea, shaking the peacefulness that no longer resided in their hearts. 

Wen Qinyang was a demon that sucked the goodness out of his life. She was a parasite that lived on his joy, that feasted on his happiness until nothing remained but anger and mistrust. 

She was a reminder of why his mother fled, leaving behind a life of luxury for simpler things and a harsher existence. 

She was a reminder of the sacrifices his mother gave for a peaceful life, and the steep price paid for freedom. 

Wen Qinyang was the monster spoken of in the tales depicting the lives of concubines in the harems of emperors. She was the demon described in stories warning women from the harshness of the lives of concubines. 

He drank his tea with the memory of a simpler life in his mind. He sipped at his drink with the taste of a happier life in his mouth. He tasted the liquid with the image of Lan Wangji's smile in his heart. 

He refused to bow down, to sacrifice his happiness for the likes of Wen Qinyang. He was willing to pay for the price of Lan Wangji's love in his concubine's blood. 

He refused to sacrifice his unborn child, rejected to risk the product of their love. 

"Your Majesty, please. I beg you." 

The wind carried her voice through the open window, the breeze brushing his skin, stroking the fire of irritation burning through his blood. 

"Please, forgive this humble servant, your majesty. I never meant to harm you or the Emperor's child. I implore you to have mercy on me." 

The relief was a second thought, a passing sensation that crashed through him, that eased the burning flames, smothered the heating fire. It was a release, a rush that washed away a fear he never thought haunted him. 

It was the ease that brought back the smile to his face, that deafened his senses to Wen Qinyang's cries, to her pleas. 

It was the release of the doubt that coloured his blood black, that painted his heart in a shadow of fear. 

It was a rush of trust that cleaned his soul. 

"Song Lan." He called, voice holding none of the emotions clashing in his heart, tone clear, carried by the wind through the chambers of his palace. 

It was not a long wait, mere seconds before Song Lan appeared at the entrance of the chamber, bowing at the shoulders with perfect poise and elegance. 

"Carry my orders. Wen Qinyang is breaking the rules of Cloud Recesses and disturbing me, showing no sign of respect. She is to be whipped twenty times." 

There was a moment of appalled silence, of hesitation that travelled through them like a current, that stole their words, broke their focus. It was a moment where no one dared to complain, and Song Lan could not object. 

Wei Wuxian could see the frown darkening in Lan Xichen's eyes, turning them black. He could see the deep lines of a grimace embroidering his face, but refused to back down, refused to withdraw his order. 

Wen Qinyang had crossed him too many times to be given any more chances. 

She had struck Mo Xuanyu, watched his blood drip down his face, watched as the whip left its mark on his skin. He refused to forgive her, refused to watch her walk away without retribution.

"May I ask for a favour, your Highness?" 

There was desperation in his eyes, there was recklessness in his heart, and no matter how hard Lan Xichen looked, how he searched, he could not find the answers for the questions that hounded his thoughts. 

"Of course, your Majesty. I will be pleased to serve you." 

"Would it be possible to intercept Wen Qinyang's letters?" 

There was no masking the shock that flashed through Lan Xichen's eyes, no hiding the surprise that twitched on his face, that strained his smile. 

The shock was a blow that sucked the air out of his lungs; it was a grip that smothered him and suffocated him. It was a grip around his throat that refused to ease. 

It didn't stop him from answering.

"Only by order from the Emperor and only if the situation warrants it. It is a significant breach of privacy." 

"Perhaps, I should ask Lan Zhan then." 

There was a second of pause, a hitch of silence. There was a moment of tension and hesitation before Lan Xichen resolved himself to ask, elected to voice his thoughts and questions, to seek answers he could not find himself. 

"What are you planning, Your Majesty?" 

Wei Wuxian looked up from where he was sipping his tea, found Lan Xichen's gaze with surprise clouding his grey eyes and nervousness swelling in his heart. There was a moment where no reply came, where silence was the only answer. 

Lan Xichen did not miss the trembling of Wei Wuxian's hand as he lowered the teacup back to the table. 

He didn't miss the movement of his fingers as his hand settled on his abdomen. 

He didn't miss the shadow of fear that flashed through his starry eyes. 

The next moment Wei Wuxian's eyes met his, there was no evidence of the terror that hounded him for a mere second, there was no evidence of the fear that resided in his heart.

Lan Xichen had seen it, a fleeting shadow, a passing moment, but it lingered in his memory. Unforgettable. 

'Wei Wuxian was hardly an adult.'  He thought, reminded of the blood that stained his skin a mere day ago. 

'He's just a boy.'  He thought, remembering the way he looked enveloped in robes that dwarfed his thin form. 

"Just a game I'm playing, brother Xichen. Do you think if we searched Attendant Wen's quarters, we'd find anything entertaining? I hear the people of Qishan are open about enjoying erotic art; maybe we'll find some in her room." 

Lan Xichen could not help the embarrassed smile that stretched on his face, could not help the blush that coloured his cheeks, could not ignore Wei Wuxian's shameless laughter as it resounded around them, filled with joy and no hint of fear. 

He could not ignore the sound of Wen Qinyang's words as it echoed in his mind. He could not forget her pleas and cries as she was dragged away, her words fading with time. 

He had an inkling that no trace of peace would remain in the Cloud Recesses. 

He could not help but wait for the serenity to shatter, broken by war and envy. 

Life was bound to get messier. 

Chapter Text

Anticipation was building inside of him, a current of eagerness that flowed through him. It was a drift that built at his fingertips and spread across his skin, through his blood. 

It was an unstoppable tide, consuming, crushing and leaving behind nothing but an energy that left him vibrating, trembling with excitement he couldn't contain. 

Nothing could stop him now, no one could deny him, and the world stood no chance against him. 

He was bursting with enthusiasm, growing restless under the forceful drive of his eagerness. 

He could not wait for the announcement declaring the arrival of the Jin wedding procession. Wei Wuxian could not wait to have Jiang Yanli in his view. 

Nothing could stop him, but time seemed set on hindering him, slowing to unbearable pace, dragging on with hours ticking and seconds not passing. 

He remained seated on the lowered sedan chair, unable to move or stand under the watchful eyes on his entourage. 

He remained seated as time dragged on, the seconds frozen and not passing. 

"Are they not here yet?" 

Anticipation burned through him threatened to consume him. Excitement vibrated through his skin, flowed through his blood, growing with every passing second, with every tick of time. Eagerness grew and grew until it was a force pushing at his edges, shoving against his bones ready to burst out of his skin. 

No one entertained him; no one bothered to answer a repetitive question, one uttered many times. 

He could not move, could only sit and wait, entertaining himself with the song of tweeting birds, amusing himself by humming along to the melody of nature. 

The seconds ticked by, a tune that dwindled and dragged, never-ending. The moment crept by, slow and unchanging. The time-shifted, slowed by anticipation and the growing heat that refused to yield. 

He could feel a bead of sweat sliding down his back, just as he could feel the slight breeze from the fan, he used to drive the heat away. 

He refused to return to the comfort of his Palace before greeting his sister, refused to leave his spot before welcoming her into his home. 

The sound of drums echoed around them, loud and reverberating, carried by the wind. It was the bounding of ceremonies that announced their arrival, as loud as the sound of marching.

There was no ignoring the Jin processions, with their golden clothes and thundering steps. 

They were a parade of wealth that shone under the sun, golden and bright. They were a show of riches and pride that didn't belong in the serene Cloud Recesses. 

Jin Guangyao was escorted by an army that sang of festivity and wealth with every step.

The radiance of the sun could not compare to the brightness of their gold; the world could not compete with the liveliness of their song. 

"As expected of the conceited and pretentious Jins." 

His words were left unheard, undelivered by the wind to the ears of the Jins, never reaching the attention of his drifting entourage. 

He remained seated as time started to advance, waited in his place as the procession came to a halt, drowning the world in a deafening silence. 

Wei Wuxian remained seated on his makeshift throne, watching as the Jin procession started to unpack, observing as Jin Zixuan dismounted from his steed. 

His bow was shallow, a dip of formality, a bend of ceremony and no respect, short-lived and fleeting. 

"Wei Wuxian, what are you doing here?" 

Wei Wuxian didn't react beyond the scoff that adorned his face, didn't move as Luo Qingyang stepped into Jin Zixuan's view. 

"Is that a way to address an Empress?" 

"Mianmian, it is fine. Peacock, where is Jiejie? If I hear you have hurt her, I'll have your head, conflict and war be damned." 

Wei Wuxian watched as the scoff dissolved off Jin Zixuan's face, as his features softened, his eyes brightened, and a smile decorated his eyes. 

Wei Wuxian watched with fascination clouding his heart as love shone on Jin Zixuan's features, as care and fondness sparked in his gaze.

"She was riding in the carriage with A-Yao. They'll be descending and joining us once A-Yao is ready to ride the sedan chair." 

There wasn't a long moment of wait, no seconds were dragging by and no time froze. There was only a fleeting moment that ended as the curtains of the carriage were raised, and a figure stepped out of the closed chamber. 

Wei Wuxian watched with excitement and mesmerisation; he watched with eagerness and enchantment as Jiang Yanli stood under the shining sun. She was donned in the golden colour of Ladling, and her hair was adorned in jewels and gems that could put the wealth of all the kingdoms to shame. 

Jiang Yanli stood under the shining sun, blinding them with her beauty, stealing their attention and care. 

Wei Wuxian could not deny the fact that Jin Zixuan had good taste to fall in love with a goddess as beautiful as his sister, as his blood cousin. 

"Jiejie." He called, his enthusiasm leaking into his tone, his excitement visible in the eager wave of his hand. 

He didn't care for the rules engraved on stone, didn't care for laws that governed their lives and the lives of people. At that moment, all that Wei Wuxian cared about was his sister. 

"A-Xian." She called back, rushing to them with the grace of a princess and the elegance of an Empress. Her tone was the call of the wind, and her voice put musicians to shame. 

She was a Crown Princess in all her glory; she was a future Empress in all her radiance. She was Jiang Yanli in the gentleness of her eyes and the softness of her smile. 

Wei Wuxian wanted to rush to her side, to wrap his arms around the woman who was more of a mother to him than a sister. 

He wanted to run to her side and inhale the scent of home into his lungs, to feel the safety and peacefulness of her hugs. 

He could not move from his spot, not as Song Lan settled a hand on his shoulder, holding him back. 

"I'm sorry, Your Majesty. The Emperor and Physician Xi made it clear that you're not allowed on your feet. I'm under orders to escort you back if you attempt to take any risks with yours or the heir's life." 

The words were a whisper, a secret whispered for his ears and no audience. They were a promise and a threat, just as they were a reminder and a warning. Wei Wuxian could do nothing but relax, could do nothing but slump back in place, to calm his excitement and regulate his breathing. 

He could do nothing but ignore his wishes and needs; he could do nothing but focus on the safety of his child. 

His smile dwindled, softened as Jiang Yanli came to stand next to her husband. His smile gentled, and his nerves calmed as she smiled at him, and he saw the happiness reflected in her eyes and heart. 

"I'm sorry, Jiejie, I want to greet you properly, but as you see, I have devoted keepers." 

Jiang Yanli's chuckle was a song of his childhood, a melody of his boyhood and his heart could not help but weep, a cry of happiness just as much as it was of longing. 

She took a step forward, stood ahead of her husband before she cupped her hands at her side and lowered her body in a short bow, movements poised and form perfect. 

Wei Wuxian could feel an arrow pierce through his heart, could feel his blood seeping with his grief and the heartbreak. He could not help but jump ahead, held back by a pair of hands and the instinct to protect his child. 

"Jiejie, don't bow to me. Never bow to me." 

Jiang Yanli's smile didn't ease his pain, didn't reduce the revulsion churning in his abdomen, didn't ease the flames of anger and the current of grief clashing inside of him. 

"It is only proper; my A-Xian is the Empress of Gusu." 

"Never to you. I'll always be your three years old XianXian." 

Her laughter resounded as gentle as birds’ chirp. It was the balm that eased Wei Wuxian's pain, erased his grief. 

"Ah, A-Xian. Let me look at you." 

She stepped forward, away from the company of her husband, apart from the bustling movements of the Jin procession and over the carrying poles to stand in front of Wei Wuxian. Her touch was gentle as she cupped his face, hands soft and fingers soothingly stroking his skin. 

He could not look away from her smile, could not look away from the care glowing in her eyes. Wei Wuxian wanted to reach and pull her against his chest, to hold his sister, his dearest family member in an embrace. 

He didn't dare disturb Jiang Yanli, could only wait for her as she observed him, took in his features as if comparing reality with fantasy, as if questioning her memory. 

"A-Xian, you've lost weight." There was a moment of concern, a moment as her eyes took in his frame, trialled over him as if searching for harm, checking for damage and injury. "Have you been eating well? Is the Gusu cuisine not to your liking? I'll cook for you while we're staying here and teach the kitchen staff. A-Xian needs to take better care of himself." 

He could not idly sit anymore, could not allow the energy inside of him to brew until it threatened to erupt, could not watch the worry cloud his sister's heart. 

He launched to his feet, ignoring the frightened exclamation of his entourage, ignoring the frenzy of movement that surrounded him as he wrapped his arms around his sister's smaller frame. 

The scent of peonies and lotus blooms invaded his senses, itched in his nose. It was a sweet fragrance, the aroma of spring, the redolence of his home tainted by another. 

There was nothing in the world, no one in the world. There were only Wei Wuxian and Jiang Yanli. There were only a family and the breeze coloured in the scent of spring flowers. 

"Jiejie Gusu's food is so tasteless, its inedible. Save me from their plain food, Jiejie." 

There was desperation in his embrace, there was a wretched need in his hold, and Wei Wuxian's arms squeezed around Jiang Yangli's frames, hugged her closer and tighter. 

There was desperation in his embrace, and no one could perceive the need in his heart except for Jiang Yanli. She wrapped her arms around his waist, held him with a longing that was slowly being sated, and a yearning that was slowly easing. 

Her younger brother was safe and in her arms. 

She allowed him to hold her, to set the pace for their reunion to take his time. She allowed him to embrace her without complaint, trying to sate the desperation that coloured his heart. 

She could not help but wonder how lonely her brother felt away from them and their home. 

Her fear, trails, and loneliness could not compare to that of Wei Wuxian's, not when she had been preparing to wed Jin Zixuan since she had turned six, not when she knew her husband and knew his parents. 

She had failed to spare her brother from a life that did not suit him. She had failed to protect her brother from a life that would cage him and kill his spirit. 

She could only hold him and hope that he was happy in Cloud Recesses. She could only embrace him and pray that the young and fair Jade Emperor was kind to her brother. 

"A-Xian." She called, with gentle reassurance in her tone. 

"Jiejie, I'm here." He called back, pulling away with reluctance that stiffened his movements and hesitation that coloured his features. Wei Wuxian released his hold on Jiang Yanli, pulled away from the embrace with a smile glowing on his face and he couldn't help himself from studying his sister's face, from taking in her form. 

He could not miss the sparks of love dancing in her gaze. 

The world fell back in places, the pieces of the puzzle slotting back together to redraw the reality of their world and it was only then that Wei Wuxian noticed the state of his retinue, bowing as one, foreheads touching the ground. 

"What are all of you doing? Hurry and get up." 

It was Xiao Xingchen that was the first to reply, the first to speak words muffled, tone lowered and pleading. 

"Your Majesty, please sit. His Majesty, the Emperor, will punish all of us if something were to happen to you." 

"Aren't you overreacting? I'm perfectly fine, look." 

"Your Majesty, we beg you." 

Wei Wuxian's sigh was a sound of exasperation and annoyance, his frown an image of the impatience he was known for and his heart sparked with flames of anger as he noticed the shadow of concern colouring his sister's eyes. 

"Fine, fine. I'll sit. Just get up, already." They could hear the whine in his tone, could feel the building irritant in his words. "I'm not an invalid, can't I even stand up for a minute?" 

He moved to sit, proceeded to take his place back on the sedan chair, away from the touch of his sister, removed from the warmth of Jiang Yanli. He moved away to sit with apparent disdain, a contempt that grew as he watched a tear weigh Jiang Yanli's lashes. 

"Jiejie," He said, his voice filled with a gentleness reserved for the Princess of Yunmeng. "I'm very well. Trust me." 

"Then why the fuss? A-Xian, the more I look at you, the sicker you look, and you've gotten so thin, your robes are swallowing you. Tell your Jiejie, are you ill? Where is A-Yu? I'll ask him instead." 

He watched as Jin Zixuan stepped forward, marched the short distance until he was by his wife's side and took her in his arms, wiping away a stray tear that washed down her cheek. 

"A-Li," He whispered, words carried by the wind to Wei Wuxian's ears. "Do not rush to conclusions and listen to his explanation. If he were sick, he surely wouldn't be allowed to greet us." 

"Jiejie, if I tell you, will you promise not to worry?" 

She turned her gaze back to him, settled her vision on him, and his smile grew, reassuring and soothing with joy sparkling in his eyes that eased the smoke of worry in her heart. 

"Are you sick, A-Xian?" 

Was it anyone else, he would've said yes, would've claimed sickness and begged to be spoiled, but it was Jiang Yanli who was asking; it was the sister he couldn't bear to sadden, the princess he couldn't stand to worry. 

He could not help the warmth growing in his heart, could not help the smile shining on his face, even as he denied her question, frivolously shook his head until the world spun. 

"Make sure no one is around." 

There was a moment as the members of entourage obeyed his command, rushing around in all directions to check their surrounding for any presence of life. 

Wei Wuxian waited for a long moment charged with electrifying anticipation and growing tension. He tarried for a fleeting minute that ended as no findings came. 

He looked up to his sister, studied the tense smile on her face and the flushed blush colouring her cheeks. He watched her, followed the movements of her hand as her fingers brushed against Jin Zixuan's palm. 

He spoke while his attention remained on her, observing, studying, calculating. 

"Jiejie, I'm with child. Everyone is on edge, but don't worry, I'm perfectly fine. This child is all me, they are already so picky and spoiled, they won't let me stomach any of the tasteless food the physician orders, but we're perfectly fine. The pregnancy is slowly stabilising. I'm still in my eleventh week, so I have a long way to go, but in a few months, you'll have a nephew or a niece to spoil." 

He saw the joy as it sparked in her eyes, growing into a flame that threatened to consume her, to suffocate her with happiness she could not contain. He watched as the delight danced in her gaze, watched as the hazel eyes were coloured in a golden hue, reflecting laughter and sunlight. 

"Congratulations, A-Xian. I'm so happy for you and Hanguang-Jun. A-Cheng is going to be so happy when he finds out." 

Their conversation was interrupted, his reply cut short, silenced before it was spoken as a figure clad in the red of ceremony stepped out of the carriage, led by a servant in gold. 

He was an image of celebration and wealth, his blood coloured robes painted in the golden peonies of Lanling Jin and adorned with gems that reflected the sunlight like a mirror, blinding and dazzling. 

There was more gold than red. Jin Guangyao was a walking declaration of the Jin Dynasty's richness. 

Every step was restricted by pounds of jewellery and gems; every move slowed by red and golds. 

He was a statement louder than Jiang Fengmian's; he was a declaration more pronounced than Wei Wuxian's. 

Wei Wuxian could not help but wonder how auspicious Jin Zixuan's marriage was, how grand and majestic. He could not help but imagine the grandeur of the Crown Prince - the favoured heir's wedding when the unfavoured prince stood before him, adorned in riches beyond measure. 

It was a loud reminder of the Jin dynasty's might. 

It was everything the gentle and kind Jiang Yanli deserved. 

He raised his hand, halting Jin Guangyao's movements, stopping him before he could bow before he could bend his back and fold his arms. 

"Welcome to Cloud Recesses, your Highness." 

Wei Wuxian could not see the prince's face, could not study his features nor read his expression. There was a veil of vibrant red and golden gems hiding his face, concealing his emotions. 

"I thank your Majesty for your welcome and grace." 

Wei Wuxian could not help the curiosity brewing in his core, could not help the shackles of rank tightening around his throat. 

"Since his highness is ready now, I should not hinder you and keep the first prince waiting. He's been longing for this day. Prince Guangyao, please take care of my brother in law." 

His chuckle resounded in the clearing around them, loud and melodic. It was a song of his joy. It was a melody of the emotions dancing inside of him, fighting to be released.  

He turned his attention back to Jiang Yanli, smiled in her direction. It was a smile lacking elegance, a grin of pure happiness. It was a smile that was all teeth, an expression that belonged on the face of a child and not an Empress'.

"Jiejie, will you join me for breakfast tomorrow?" His gaze shifted, resting on Jin Zixuan for a fleeting moment before adding in afterthought. "The peacock is welcome to join us as well." 

He could not conceal his excitement as a burst of laughter as sweet as the ringing of wind chimes sounded around them, a sound of mirth and tease. "Alright, alright you two, don't start fighting right now. A-Xian be nice to A-Xuan." There was a second of silence, a moment of quietness devoid of the sound of beating drums and symphonic music. "Won't you be attending the banquet?" 

"The physician thinks it'll be too much excitement for me, and I think it'll be too tedious with all the uptight Lan ministers attending, so I didn't try to talk myself into attending. Lan Zhan urged me not to ruin his brother's wedding, which is unfortunate since I had such a grand prank planned. Lan Qiren would've fainted on the spot. Jiejie, you should be proud of me." 

There was no pride in her tone; there was only reprimand and gentle reproach in the call of his name. 

There was no pride in her voice, but there was love shining in her eyes and affection flowing through her.

There was no pride in her voice; there was tenderness in her touch as her fingers touched his head, drowning him in care with every pat. 

Her nail guards flicked the beads dangling by the side of his head, making them dance and sway with the wind. 

"A-Xian, we'll head out first." 

She pulled away, taking with her the warmth that had enveloped him, leaving behind her print on his body, leaving behind heat that threatened to burn him but warmed him instead, spreading like a growing fire inside him. 

"Third Prince of Jin, congratulations. May it be a union blessed by the heavens." 

There was no holding back Jin Guangyao from lowering his head, from dropping to his knees on the dusty grounds, careless of the stones and soil sticking to his marriage robes. 

It was a perfect bow, posture impeccable and decorum flawless. It was a position of ideal reverence. 

"I thank your Majesty for your blessings. This lowly one is unworthy." 

"No need, no need. You're Jiejie's brother in law, and by the end of the day, you'll be my brother in law. We're family, and there is no need for such excessive formalities between us." 

There was no mirth in his tone, no playfulness; there was only rare seriousness that left them speechless, that rendered them silent. 

"You should make your way to the Palace of Heavenly Purity now, we've kept your betrothed waiting long enough, and as much as I'd love to make him vibrate with impatience, you should not miss your auspicious hour." 

There were no more words exchanged between the group, no more chatter or pleasant conversations; there was only a salute of perfect etiquette before Wei Wuxian was left in accumulating silence. 

"Let's go back." He whispered to his procession, leaning back in the sedan chair, settling his whole weight against the wooden frames. "I'm drowsy." 

There was an emptiness spreading in his heart, growing and growing until nothing but hollowness remained. It was a darkness that left him longing for his sister's touch, for the scent of Lotus bloom and water. It was a void that left him yearning for a rough touch and playful bark, for his brother's reprimand. 

His eyelids fluttered closed, weighed by years of memories that clashed in his head, flashing through his mind. 

The silence of Cloud Recesses was a heavyweight on his shoulders, more oppressive than his robes and the restricting shackles of his status. 

It had been a while since the sense of estrangement had attacked him, stripped him of the warmth that had blanketed him since Lan Wangji's confession. 

He closed his eyes, allowed the quietness to wrap around him, shackle him and wind around his throat until nothing but a void remained. 

He could only wait for the emptiness to pass among the growing quietness.

 

♠ 

 

The world came into focus slowly, gradually, pieces slotting back into place to draw a sharpened portrait of silver and blue draping of silk and chiffon. 

The world slipped into his conciseness, driving the sleep away from his frame, replacing the dreams with exhausting reality. 

His eyelids fluttered, wings of twin butterflies fanning his cheeks and blowing the drowsiness away from his vision, from view. 

It was a long moment of relaxed confusion, a dragged second of lazy wakefulness before the world registered, his mind and senses flooding with the buzz of life. 

There was no peace to found, no quietness nor any serenity. There was only shouts and murmurs, calls of anger. 

It was the melody of a fight, the portrait of a battle drawn by the blind. 

Wei Wuxian rightened himself, sitting with perfect attention, calling out for attendants that didn't answer. 

There was no one occupying his palace, no one but ghosts of past empresses and the shadow of his awakening self. 

There was no life and no presence; there was no existence inside the walls of a cage disguised as a luxurious manor. 

There was a buzz of war brewing in the air; there were songs of battles playing in the background. 

He rushed out of the bedchamber, his feet carrying him through the empty halls. He raced through the void chambers, a run that was slowed by partitions and furniture that served no purpose. 

The wind chimes rang with every heartbeat, every huff and step. The chimes sang with every pulse and every breathe, playing a duet of life, a melody of a synchronised existence. 

The scene playing in the courtyard of the Kunning Gong was a performance of a battlefield; it was the show of chaos and turmoil; it was the fight of life and death. 

It froze the blood in his veins, rendered him silenced, an observer. 

"Please be quiet; young Master just laid down for his nap not long ago." 

Mo Xuanyu was hidden behind the larger frame of Xiao Xingchen, obstructed from the view of two servants that stood in the centre of the courtyard, with malicious auras and wicked gazes. 

There was no ignoring the defensive stance of Xue Yang, no disregarding the freezing anger radiating from Song Lan, and no dismissing the nervousness flowing from Luo Qingyang. 

"Mo Xuanyu, come out, you coward. You caused our mistress harm, and now you even deny her a little ginseng. Stop hiding and fight me. You and your whore of a master think you own the forbidden city, but you don't; our princess is the rightful ruler of Gusu, not some lowly birthed man." 

He could feel the anger growing, a flaming fire that threatened to consume him, burning through the courtyard, radiating like blazing heat from his servants.

He could see Mo Xuanyu as his form trembled, shook with a fear that Wei Wuxian could smell in the air, could hear in his stuttering words. 

"I did not harm Attendant Wen, and I didn't deny her anything. I ordered the kitchen to prepare the ginseng tea for the young master, so why should you claim it for your mistress?" 

"Shut up! What right does your  Empress  have to drink any medicinal teas, he can't even carry to term." He spat every word, cursed with every syllable and Wei Wuxian could not help the anger that was slowly growing inside of him, growing as blazing as his servants'. "He's the child of a slutty princess, how dare he presume to rule above our princess? It is good he miscarried, seeing how you lot act, it's no question how rotten the stupid brat would've grown to be."

Wei Wuxian could no longer contain the anger, could no longer restrain the fire nor the flames. He was a burning torch, consumed by fire, burned by rage. 

"How dare you!?" His exclamation rang loud through the courtyard, startling birds from their perch on a tree branch. The world descended into quietness, a silence that was a heavyweight settling upon their shoulders, an oppressive burden that startled them onto their knees. 

"Insulting the Imperial family is a crime punishable by death, and yet you are in my palace, running your mouth, presuming to discipline my attendant? Tell me, who taught you to be so insolent?"

The silence was his answer, quietness his response and Wei Wuxian could only wait, refused to speak and utter any words. His steps carried him through the courtyard, led him to the kneeling figures of the Yongshou Gong's servants. 

His steps were measured, calm and confident. Every step was calculated, regulated by his anger and his status. 

No imperial robes were constricting his movements; no layers slowed his pace.

He was an empress in status and rank.

He was a boy in steps.

He was a demon in his anger. 

The restraints of his status burned against his skin, tightening in a reminder of his rank, and the power he held above those below him. 

He hated power, hated authority, but refused to bow down. 

"Young Master, please calm down. Remember the physician's instructions. I beg you not to tire and stress yourself." 

His steps halted, movements froze, and his pace paused, his attention shifting from his prey to the boy peeking at him from behind his bangs, eyes flowing with concerned tears. 

There was a pang of regret in his heart; there was a flame of anger in his soul; there was a shadow of worry in his mind. 

"Mo Xuanyu, have I not told you repeatedly to keep your head down, did you have to go and antagonise her?" 

There was a moment where Mo Xuanyu lowered his head, refused to meet Wei Wuxian's gaze as shame coloured his eyes. It was a short moment; it was a fleeting second that ended as the boy raised his head, eyes shining with determination. 

"You've been tired a lot lately, and I know the physician said it is normal during pregnancy, but I thought some ginseng and red dates tea might help. I'm not sorry for doing that, and I'm not sorry for refusing to give it to Attendant Wen, but I apologise for causing you trouble, young Master." 

Wei Wuxian's rage diminished, the flames dying down until nothing, but a spark remained lit in his heart. His anger softened, and his concern waned, but the regret was a slap that burned his cheeks and lingered in his mind. 

His smile was small as he turned away from Mo Xuanyu, refusing to take back his words, refusing to take back his warning even when the answer had warmed his heart and calmed his rage. 

He turned back to the bowing servants, focused his attention on them, directed the turmoil in his heart against them. 

"Xiao Xingchen, how many servants are there in the Yongshou Gong?" 

"Sixteen, your Majesty." 

"And how many does her rank grants?" 

The answer was not as immediate as the one before; the response was slower to come, more hesitant, more measured. 

"Replying to your Majesty, the rules state that a low ranked concubine is only allowed the service of two servants." 

Wei Wuxian could not help the wave of shock that went through him, the surprise that silenced him, that quietened his thoughts and settled his mind. 

"How come she was given eight times the allowed number?" 

This time it was Xue Yang who answered, tone painted in amusement and eyes sparkling in mischief. "She complains of not being served faithfully and then bullies the supervisor of the Imperial Household Department into granting her more servants." 

Wei Wuxian's snicker resounded around them, louder than the silence, heavier than the air surrounding them. 

"Song Lan, report to the Imperial Household Department, Attendant Wen of the second class is stripped of all her servants, new attendants will be selected and granted to her. She had broken multiple rules, failing to discipline and educate her servants, bullying the Imperial Household Department and exploiting the goodwill of his Majesty, the Emperor; thus, she is to receive thirty strikes." 

He turned his back on the kneeling servants, turned his back on the words playing in his mind like a symphonic mantra. 

"Those two are to be exiled from the forbidden city, but first I want them interrogated. I want to know everything they know about that Wen Princess." 

He could feel the weight of his words on his shoulders, a burden that could never be erased nor eased. He could feel the exhaustion as it descended upon him, unshakable, a pressure that swallowed his energy and left him swaying on his legs. 

Mo Xuanyu was at his side before he could blink, offering him his frame to lean upon. Wei Wuxian could smell the worry on him, could feel the concern radiating from him in waves that drowned him in guilt. 

"Young Master, you've pushed yourself too hard. Please, at this rate you'll endanger both your life and the baby's." 

His hand settled on top of his head, a comforting weight, a cloak that eased and protected. It was a gentle ruffle to his hair, a tender pat to his head that soothed the worry swirling in his chest, that calmed the tornado of terror in his heart. 

Wei Wuxian had brought chaos with him, invited disorder to the city of peace and serenity. He was the chaos of a storm that left no sense of order in his wake, and now as he stood in his emptying courtyard, he could see the consequences of his actions, could perceive the result of his rebellion. 

He could not help but remember Empress Yu's words, her warnings and instructions. 

It was a prophecy that he had brought to life. 

' Wei Wuxian! You're nothing but trouble, and you'll bring nothing good. I don't know what that matchmaker was thinking, but if you do not change your ways, you'll bring ruin to Gusu! If the Empress doesn't follow the rules, who will? Heed my words, Wei Wuxian, at this rate; you'll be the example that would demolish the peace of Cloud Recesses." 

"Xiao Xingchen, have you checked the Jingshi Gong as I have asked?" 

"Your Majesty, there was no security around the Jingshi Gong. I did as you ordered and guards have been instated around it and the Yangxin Dian, no one will be able to enter without your Majesty's or the Emperor's specific permission." 

"Good, thank you." 

The world spun, the earth rotated, and Wei Wuxian could do nothing but take in a deep breath, do nothing but wait for the twirling to stop and the world to stabilise. 

"Yu-er, let's go in. I'm tired." 

He could hear the sounds of the drums echoing in the distance, could listen to the musical symphonies of festivities resounding in the air. 

He could not find the suffocating silence of the Cloud Recesses in the air, could not find the restricting serenity in the garden of nature. 

He could not dwell in the silence to forget the heaviness of the exhaustion weighing him down. He could only wait for the day to pass, for the void to grow and hope to find warmth in Lan Wangji's touch before the night settles and the rules crushed his hope. 

He could not hope but wish for the quietness to return. 

Chapter Text

The smell of ink surrounded him, intoxicating and captivating his mind, overwhelming his senses. It captured his attention as profoundly as the words painting the scroll.

Every word was a bewitching spell, every sentence a captivating enchantment, and Wei Wuxian was a prisoner to the intoxication of the scripture.

He was drawn in deeper with every breath; his senses were stolen with every heartbeat until nothing existed except the ink of the pages and the words on the paper.

There was poetry in the politics scripted in the book of Han Feizi, and there was a fascination in the words of Master Han Fei. No poem could compare to the power compromised in the document nor to the wisdom behind the words.

Time passed with no form, the seconds ticking as Wei Wuxian was mesmerised, hypnotised by the black words marring the yellowing pages.

Time passed with no form, night descending upon the world like a cloud of smoke, swallowing the brightness and clearing the stage for the moon to take its place on the throne.

Time passed, and Wei Wuxian couldn't care less, not about the growing darkness, nor the dying sounds.

Time passed, and there was only Wei Wuxian and Han Feizi.

Hours passed as Wei Wuxian lived the day through the words of Han Fei.

"Wei Ying."

The calm, deep voice startled him, stole his attention and brought him back to the candlelit reality.

"Lan Zhan!"

There was no concealing his excitement, no hiding the enthusiasm and delight leaking into his voice, and filling his words.

The sun had risen in his smile, the day shone in his eyes, and Lan Wangji could not help but be mesmerised, captivated by the beautiful radiance of Wei Wuxian's smile.

The book was resting on Wei Wuxian lap as Lan Wangji settled on the bed, as his arms wrapped around the frame of his husband, as he pulled him against his chest in a crushing embrace.

It was a wordless convey of longing; it was the yearning for a missed lover, and it was the passion of a husband.

Wei Wuxian's smile grew wider, brighter. It was a smile full of happiness that cannot be contained and a warmth that blanketed his heart.

Lan Wangji was a disease and a cure; he was an addiction and a connection. Lan Wangji was the sun in his sky, the order to his chaos.

Wei Wuxian relished in the embrace, took to the warmth and love of Lan Wangji like a child took to air, with vigour and a need that would never be sated.

"Missed Wei Ying."

Wei Wuxian could only ignore the warmth burning at his cheeks, could do nothing but hide his blush painted cheeks in the crock of Lan Wangji's neck.

"I missed you too."

There were no more words, only heat and warmth. There was only silence and love; there were only kisses of passion and an embrace of affection.

It was a long moment where no one existed, where the world revolved around them and their love. It was a long moment that passed like a fleeting second, leaving them grasping for more as the kiss broke.

It wasn't Wei Wuxian who started the conversation; it wasn't Wei Wuxian that broke the silence and dispelled the air of tenderness. It was the quiet and silent Lan Wangji who talked first, whose words and voice shattered their bubble of passion.

"Why did you instil guards around the Jingshi and the Yangxin Dian?"

There was a moment of confusion, a moment of uncertainty as Wei Wuxian blinked, the question not registering in his muddled mind, the answer beyond his reach, but it was a moment that ended as a response was uttered.

"They are both halls of importance. The Jingshi is your residence, and the Yangxin Dian is where you hold court; both of them hold essential and confidential documents that not just anyone has accesses to. For those two palaces to lack security is a great risk."

There was a hitch in time, a second of silence that shattered as Wei Wuxian's frown deepened, the greyness of his eyes darkened until they reflected a cloudy sky.

"Adding guards isn't such a grave matter that needed to be brought to your attention, so why did they inform you? Unless..." He looked up, meeting the molten gold of Lan Wangji's gaze, finding the answers in his eyes. "They found someone trying to sneak in, didn't they?"

He could not believe that once upon a time, he found Lan Wangji to be expressionless. He could not accept that once he thought the Emperor was cold.

Emotions burned in the depth of his eyes, heating the golden of his gaze. He wanted to know every emotion, to read every feeling that would reside in his orbs.

"Mmmm."

"What kind of reply is mmm." He said, voice gentle, tone soft even if there was doubt in his heart and uncertainty in his mind. "What do you mean by mmm? Who did they catch?"

"A palace maid was loitering around the Yangxin Dian; she was taken in for investigation." His touch was warm as he reached for Wei Wuxian's hand, tracking the calluses with his fingers, touching and tracking every line. "Thank you, Wei Ying."

His frown eased, the doubt grew, but there was a smile decorating his lips, brightening the greyness of his eyes and radiating from his face.

The cooling heat colouring his face burned hotter as Lan Wangji pressed a kiss to the centre of his palm, his soft lips lingering, branding his mark on Wei Wuxian's skin.

"As per the rules, I can't help you with politics, but I'm your husband, and it's my job to ease your burdens. If you forget something, even with my poor memory, I'll try to help you."

He could see the softness shining in Lan Wangji's eyes, feel the love radiating from his heart as he was pulled back against his chest and into his arms.

A kiss was brushed to the top of his head, lips brushing his hair, tickling, a flutter of a touch that left him reeling with emotions, that filled his heart with more.

He desired all of Lan Wangji's touches and kisses, wanted to experience all of his love, to be overwhelmed by his passion and desire.

He wanted to possess all of Lan Wangji's affection.

"For Wei Ying."

The words caught him off guard, stole his attention from the brush of his lips against Lan Wangji's clothed shoulder.

He wondered if Lan Wangji could read his mind, could see into his thoughts and heart.

He planted distance between them, pushed himself away from Lan Wangji's warmth and from his embrace to find Huan Zhe kneeling at the foot of the bed, holding out a tray.

There was a black bamboo dizi displayed on the tray, a luxurious and captivating musical instrument that captured his attention and stole his interest. Nothing was tainting the black finish, nothing decorating the flute except for the name engraved in red ink, etched in the precious wood.

Wei Wuxian never thought he'd fall in love with any other dizi beside the one gifted to him by his uncle, never expected to find beauty in another piece.

He could not deny his immediate love for Chenqing.

"Is it truly for me, Lan Zhan?"

"For Wei Ying." He repeated and earned himself a smile of delight, a shout of triumph.

"Lan Zhan, oh, Lan Zhan, you know how to spoil a man." He reached to pick it up, reached to brush his fingers across the smooth wood to feel the coolness of it against his skin when he halted, returning his attention to Lan Wangji. "If I accept this, it doesn't mean I don't want to know what the maid reveals."

"Mmmm."

This time there was no hesitation in his movement; there was no reluctance as his fingers wrapped around the dizi.

His smile was as bright as the sun, more radiant than the burning candles. His smile lit the darkness of the night, warmed Lan Wangji's heart.

"I'll play you a song, alright?"

"Later." His free hand was wrapped in warmth, blanketed in heat as Lan Wangji's fingers laced with his, entwining and weaving together. "Have the physician checked your pulse today?"

"There was no need." He leaned into Lan Wangji's warmth, shifted until he was half seated in his lap, fingers weaved together, linked hands resting in his lap. "I'm tired of being reminded to take care of my health at every passing second. A-Yu does it enough without the help of the physician."

The dizi was forgotten in favour of Lan Wanji's touch, left omitted on the silky sheets.

"Anyway, if you won't let me play for you, then how about you entertain me someway else? I've been so bored and lonely sitting on my own all day."

"Wei Ying." There was a firmness to his tone; there were a strictness and resolution in his eyes.

Wei Wuxian could see the worry clouding the golden of his eyes, tainting the gems. He could feel the concern in the beat of his heart, in the touch of his fingers.

His smile softened, his body relaxed, and he shifted to brush his lips across jade-like skin.

"Lan Zhan, I'm okay. I promise."

His words were ignored, disregarded with scepticism and mistrust. His words were scorned with worry and fear, rejected in favour of calling in a nervous Mo Xuanyu.

There was twin worry in their eyes; there was tense energy in the twitch of Mo Xuanyu's hand, and the tremble of his fingers.

He bowed with a perfect stance taught in the golden walls of Koi Tower and cultivated in the halls of Lotus Pier. He kneeled with the flawless etiquette of a prince, bent with the impeccable reverence of a servant.

Wei Wuxian wished that he could officially name him family, to grant him status and spare him the disgrace of bowing to all.

Wei Wuxian wanted to parade him in front of the entire population of Lanling, to flaunt him around and show them the prince they lost and the treasure he gained.

He motioned for the boy to rise, a movement supported by an easy command from the husband that wished to gift him the earth and the sky.

"At ease."

He rose with a stuttered "Thank you, your Majesties."

Wei Wuxian could feel the worry thickening in the air, a fog that could not be cleared. He could feel the tension growing with every passing second, rising with the nervousness emitted from Mo Xuanyu's small frame.

"Lan Zhan, I'm perfectly fine. A-Yu, go brew us some tea and prepare some light snacks to go with it."

He could feel Lan Wangji's glare boring into him, a force that silenced him, quieted his protests and words as a nervous chuckle sounded around them like the wind's whistle.

"Wei Ying's health?"

There was a moment of taciturnity, a second where Wei Wuxian met Mo Xuanyu's bronze gaze with his grey orbs, a silent warning darkening his eyes.

There was a moment of nervousness that died as determination painted the bronze orbs, filling them with a light and brightening their colour. For a moment, Mo Xuanyu's eyes were filled with stars; for a moment, his gaze was a gem, a star sunstone.

There was a beauty to his gaze, and there was a charm to his resolve.

"Young Master was on his feet quite a few times today. He couldn't eat much and had difficulty taking his medicine. He also complained from some back pain earlier this evening, but he still refused to call in the physician."

There was a groan of frustration, a yell of exasperation and a whistle of irritation.

His irritation was drowned under the force of Lan Wangji's worry; his frustration evaporated in the face of Lan Wangji's concerned touch.

"Lan Zhan." He whispered, his tone reassuring, his fingers gentle as he squeezed Lan Wangji's hand, as he pressed a kiss to his knuckles. It was a touch meant to cool the burning flames of his distress, yet it only fueled his worry, his concern glowing in the depth of his golden eyes.

His sigh was a breath of warm air, a release that brought on his smile. It was a puff that painted his grin in the warmth of summer and the beauty of spring.

"Yu-er, go and ask for a physician to come in and check my pulse, and have someone prepare some snacks and brew some tea."

His attention was back on Lan Wangji before Mo Xuanyu could slip out of the chamber, his gaze gentle as he loosened their weaved fingers to cup Lan Wangji's face, to lean and brush a kiss to his lips.

It was a flutter of a touch, a brush that fanned his passion, that ignited the spark of desire in his core, that left him starving for more.

It was a desire that would never be sated, a hunger that would never die. It was a need for Lan Wangji's touch and warmth. It was a demand and a necessity.

He was addicted to Lan Wangji; to his touch and smell, to his heat and taste.

He wanted more.

He wanted everything.

"Lan Zhan, I'm fine, and so is our child." He moved until he was sitting in Lan Wangji's lap, his arms wrapped around his necks, fingers brushing through inky black locks.

There was heat all around him. There was a cloud of sandalwood wrapped around them.

Wei Wuxian was intoxicated, drunk on Lan Wangji, high on his love for him.

"Walking a little will not hurt me nor hurt this child; they are ours. They're already a fighter Lan Er-Gege, they will join us in this world, and we will hold them."

Arms wrapped around his waist, pulling him tighter against a solid chest, pulling him deeper into a cloud of love and Wei Wuxian didn't resist, refused to oppose.

He welcomed the kiss brushed to his lips, greeted the heat and the warmth.

He lost himself in the taste of Lan Wangji. He tasted of spices and tea; he tasted like a meal. It was a flavour that was addicting. It was an essence that left Wei Wuxian reeling and begging for more.

He wanted all of Lan Wangji's touches.

He missed the flavour of alcohol on Lan Wangji's tongue, craved the taste of his skin.

They pulled away with reluctance, broke off for air with a gasp and with a last bite to Wei Wuxian's lower lip, white teeth abusing and stirring.

Wei Wuxian was a painting of lust, a book of desire; his unruly locks fanning his face, blood painted cheeks, lips puffed, and a glistening trail of drool running from the corner of his mouth.

Lan Wangji could not help but lean to wipe away the liquid, to brush a kiss to Wei Wuxian's jaw and throat.

His sounds were a melody that fanned Lan Wangji's desire, that fed his lust and cultivated his hunger for his Wei Ying.

"Lan Zhan," He called. His tone a call of need, his voice hoarse with desire. "You always stop; you don't have to stop. You can have me, all of me."

"Pregnant. Against the rules."

"It is as if you don't want to touch me."

"Love Wei Ying. Want Wei Ying." His words were spoken with hesitation with reluctance. "But Wei Ying is pregnant."

Wei Wuxian refused to reply scrambling off Lan Wangji's lap with puffed cheeks and pout on his lips just as Mo Xuanyu walked into the chamber with the physician in tow.

There were no signs that they've witnessed anything; there were no indications to their knowledge of what had transpired.

Wei Wuxian watched with little care as Lan Wangji questioned the physician.

He watched the candlelight reflecting on Lan Wangji's jade skin, watched as the stars painted his frame in the colours of the universe.

He watched Lan Wangji and wished to crawl back into his arms, to press his lips against his skin.

He didn't fail to complain and whine as he offered his wrist to the physician, grumbling with dissatisfaction with every passing second.

There was no easing his discontent, no satisfying his annoyance as he sat with the seconds ticking away and the boredom growing.

Time passed like the wind, brushing by, leaving behind no trace and no mark. The seconds ticked by before they could realise, with an attentive physician and a whiny patient.

Physician Xi stepped away from the bed, putting distance between the royal couple before kneeling back on the ground, hands folded in front of him.

There was no concern or worry in his eyes, but there was fear in the tense set of his shoulders, there was a terror in the purse of his lips.

"Your Majesty, I can't treat the Empress anymore. I beg your Majesty to spare me."

His head lowered, forehead touching the ground as silence descended upon the room, falling and falling until it covered them in a thick layer of quietness and shock.

All thoughts of Lan Wangji were erased from his mind, replaced by fear and terror, replaced by the fog of panic that threatened to overwhelm him as he placed a trembling hand to his abdomen, seeking a reassurance that didn't come.

The clear sky watched them, a guardian and a protector.

The stars gazed upon them, an army and a shield.

His lips parted, with no words and no thoughts leaving his throat, with nothing but silence escaping his heart.

Lan Wangji was the first to speak, to break the oppressive stillness that piled upon them like a freezing layer of snow, leaving Wei Wuxian trembling and shivering.

"Presumptuous." It was one word, spoken with the calm of a tranquil lake and the steadiness of a mountain. There was no anger in his tone, but Wei Wuxian could see his rage in his fist, and the depths of his eyes.

"Ridiculous." Followed, with the dissatisfaction of a monarch and the disappointment of a god.

Lan Wangji burned like a flame that warmed the frost freezing Wei Wuxian's skin, that consumed his worry and turned it to ash. His touch was an anchor as his palm settled on Wei Wuxian's hand.

It was the renewal of his vows. It was the renewal of his promise.

It was the assurance Wei Wuxian needed at the moment, the wind that cleared the fog away.

"Physician Xi, weren't you spouting promises of stabilising the pregnancy? Suddenly you can't treat me, how outrageous and arrogant you are."

There was a moment where the room smelt of hatred and smoke, where the air thickened with bitterness and resentment. It was a moment where Physician Xi dared to raise his head, to meet Wei Wuxian's gaze.

His gaze was met with a smile that hid the secrets of his heart. It was met with the sun shining in a clear sky.

Terror of the unknown gripped his heart, forced his head lower and his gaze down.

"Your Majesty, I dare not. I wish to serve the Empress with my life. It is just..." His words broke off, dragging into the unknown, never to be finished. "It is just..."

"Speak."

Lan Wangji's voice rang loud around them, a decree and a command, an order that could not be denied.

"It is just the Empress is unruly, your Majesty. He won't remain off his feet, and won't follow any of my instructions. The Empress doesn't eat and doesn't take his medicine. His Qi is deviating, and he lacks inner heat, his body is running on no energy and would soon collapse, he has Yin deficiency, and for someone of Yin nature, it is dangerous. He is easily excitable and overly stressed, which is not healthful for the imperial descendant nor the Empress. Your Majesty, I will accept any punishment, but I can't treat such an unreasonable mother."

"Is it truly because I'm unruly, or are you merely incompetent?" Wei Wuxian pulled his hand out of Lan Wangji's grip, fingers choosing to trace the lines of the ring adorning his finger.

"I'm unable to eat nor stomach the strong medicines you've prescribed because of my nausea, yet you've not prescribed me anything to ease that, have you? I lack inner heat because I can't eat nor rest, which is once again due to your inadequacy. I'm stressed because I'm the Master of the inner palace, and I have not a single qualified official, supervisor or servant to ease my troubles." He turned his attention to Lan Wangji, met the golden gaze and allowed the shine of his husband's eyes and the curl of his lips to ease the simmering anger boiling his blood. "Lan Zhan, did you know that the Imperial Household Department had granted Attendant Wen, sixteen servants? How am I supposed to relax when I can't even blink without something like this happening?"

Wei Wuxian could perceive the moment fear wrapped around the kowtowing physician, a blanket of terror that cradled him, coiled around his form.

He could see the fire of protectiveness in the depth of Lan Wangji's eyes, could feel it in the beat of his heart.

His palm settled back on his abdomen, a shield and armour, a reminder of what was at stake.

"Your Majesty, physician Xi dedication isn't to the survival of the imperial heir, but his own life. He's given me no reason to trust him. Now, he's trying to blame his inability on me and thus is slowly proving that his loyalty isn't to the Imperial family. I ask you to hold him responsible for any mishap that may occur during the pregnancy."

Silence no longer lingered upon them, carried away by the storm of chaos that erupted in the chamber, bringing with it turmoil and disorder.

Chaos was a storm of noise and movement, a hurricane of pleas as Xi Fu begged and pleaded, kowtowing over and over, his forehead hitting the ground with a force that cracked the bone and left the blood to seep down his face and paint the carpet underneath.

"Your Majesty, I've always been a loyal servant of the Lan Dynasty. Your Majesty, please don't listen to the nonsense of a wicked temptress, I've been the Late Empress Shufen's physician before her untimely passing. Your Majesty, please spare me."

In the chaos and the turmoil, Xi Fu didn't notice the Lan Wangji's growing anger, didn't feel the freezing coldness that enveloped the Emperor, nor the cloud of snow that lingered upon the room.

Xi Fu missed it, but Wei Wuxian didn't. He couldn't miss the frost that settled upon the golden gaze.

He refused to calm that anger, and burn the blight, refused to warm the room and ease his husband's rage.

Xi Fi had made an enemy out of him.

"Lan Zhan, was your mother sick before passing?"

"No." The response was curt, a short answer that breathed ice into the room, but didn't deter Wei Wuxian.

"Then why was a single physician assigned to her?"

The words shattered the cloud of chaos, destroyed the storm, and sucked the life out of the room, leaving it as quiet as a ghost town where nothing breathed.

No one dared to speak, and no one dared to breathe, not even Xi Fu dared to plead.

Lan Wangji was the first to shatter the silence, to destroy it into frozen fragments with words that sealed a man's fate.

"Xi Fu, how did my mother pass?"

"Your Majesty, the Late Empress, killed herself." His words were a broken stutter, a fragmented sentence that grated on their senses and their minds.

"Men." Called Lan Wangji with the stiffness of a jade statue and the anger of the heavens. "Take him; I want him questioned, I want to know everything he knew about the late Empress and his benefactor's name." There was a moment of turmoil where Xi Fu trashed and thrashed, flinging himself right and left in a useless attempt to escape the guards' hold.

The sound of his pleas echoed around them, fading as he was dragged away, leaving behind a heavy silence that lacked in peacefulness but didn't remain.

"Huan Zhe."

It was a fleeting moment before the attendant appeared at the entrance, bowing with deep reverence and respect. "What are your instructions, your Majesty?"

"Spread a reminder, Insulting the royal family is a capital offence, and anyone who dares to insult the Empress is to be executed."

Huan Zhe bowed, bending with perfect regard as Lan Wangji reached for Wei Wuxian's hand, cradling it between his warm palms and pressing a kiss to the tip of each finger.

Wei Wuxian's cheeks flamed, painted in crimson as his gaze shifted between Lan Wangji and Huan Zhe.

"Lan Zhan." He whispered, needing to break the quietness that settled upon his shoulders like a burden that cannot be eased. "I have a better idea of where you can kiss."

The teasing tone to his voice didn't attract the desired result as Lan Wangji leaned to press a lingering kiss to his forehead, leaving his imprint in the heat that washed through Wei Wuxian.

He was a man with his husband's name branded in his skin, etched in his heart, imprinted in his mind.

"Huan Zhe, carry my decree, Empress Wei is benevolent and fair, joyful and poised. He managed the inner palace with dedication and care, putting our happiness above his and sparing no energy in easing our burden. I grant him the title Yijun."

Wei Wuxian's gasp of surprise was muffled by the thud of the servants' bodies as they hit the ground, bowing to him as one, uttering unified congratulations.

"Lan Zhan." He called, flinging himself at his husband, wrapping his trembling arms around Lan Wangji's shoulders. He pressed himself into his warmth, inhaled the intoxicating scent of sandalwood. "How is it written?"

"Yi, character for joy. Jun, character for King. Like it?"

Wei Wuxian's smile was the rain after a drought; it was the first bloom of spring and the first star of the night. It was a grin of joy that won Lan Wangji's heart, claimed it as a prize.

"You're too good to me, Lan Zhan." He shifted out of Lan Wangji's hold, moved away from the warmth with determined movements and a steady pace. His foot touched the floor before he was tugged back into a lover's embrace.

He could hear the song of Lan Wangji's heart, a tune of life and love, a melody of passion and care.

He was a longing lover; he was a favoured husband; he was a man in love.

"Won't you let me thank you properly?" His words were muffled against Lan Wangji's shoulders, a willing captive in Lan Wangji's arms.

"No need."

Their lips locked in a gentle kiss, their skin brushed and their fingers linked. They kissed with gentleness, with softness.

It was a first kiss, a first touch.

It was the chaste touch of lovers, the innocent brush of sweethearts.

The night was their veil, the sky their guardian.

The time was the witness to their shared dreams, to their silent vows and whispered promises.

There was a sour tinge of danger in the air. There was a bitter taste of uncertainty in their hearts. There was a fragment of worry in their minds.

They refused to allow anything to spoil the flavour of their love.

The night was their veil, the sky their guardian and the time was the witness to a night spent with innocent touches and shared promises.

Whatever fate threw at them, whatever the heavens unveiled, they vowed to stand together, to protect one another.

They vowed always to love each other.

Chapter Text

They say everything comes with a price. They say nothing in the world is given; nothing is free. Wei Wuxian could not help but question the reality, could not help but wonder if the price of a family was his health and pain. 

Everything comes with a price, and the cost of his love was the freedom he'd so willingly gave up; sacrificed for the good of his home and family. 

Everything comes with a price, and the cost of his status was crushing loneliness that left him aching and longing, reaching for the touch of a family so far away. 

Everything comes with a price, and the cost of his happiness was a slowly deteriorating health and a weakening body. 

He could still remember the bile scratching at his throat, scraping and scouring. It left him with a bitter taste in his mouth; left him breathless. 

He hated nausea the most, hated the sickness that would consume him until nothing existed but the churning of his stomach and the rising bile in his throat. 

He buried his face in the crook of Lan Wangji's neck; lips pressed to warm skin. He clung to his husband with arms wrapped around board shoulders and legs coiled around a firm waist. 

He clung to his husband's form, found warmth and reassurance in the heat of his body, in the beating of his heart. 

The heat disappeared, dissipated into thin air as he was lowered onto a soft cushion, pulled away from Lan Wangji's embrace, apart from his warmth. 

The scent of herbal tea drowned his senses, filled the room in a therapeutic aroma that eased the struggle in his heart, the pain in his throat but didn't lift his hold on Lan Wangji's body and soul. 

"Wei Ying." His name was called, a brush of air against his ear, a whisper. It was a plea and an appeal that Wei Wuxian brushed away. 

"Wei Ying." He called again, fingers wrapping around his palms, enveloping his hands but didn't pull at them, didn't break Wei Wuxian's hold on his soul. 

He would always wait, even as the world raged and time broke. 

"No, you're not allowed to go. You left me for the morning assembly, and I didn't complain, but you have to have breakfast with Jiejie and me. Please, Lan Zhan." 

He could feel the heat burning his skin, leaving him wrapped in a blanket of flames as Lan Wangji pressed a kiss to his temple, to his lips lingering for a fleeting second that passed as slowly as summer. 

Wei Wuxian relished in the heat and warmth, in the gentleness of Lan Wangji's touch and the softness of his kiss. He savoured the lingering heat, careless of the suffocating summer. 

"Wei Ying." 

Reality crashed upon him, shattering the illusion of his wishes, destroying the visions of his dreams and slowly, reluctantly he relinquished his hold upon Lan Wangji, his arms uncoiling from around his shoulders. 

There was a growing shadow in the depth of his heart, a demon, a monster that threatened to overwhelm him. 

There were loneliness and longing in his heart, a yearning that threatened to consume him. 

He wanted to delve deeper into Lan Wangji's embrace, into his heart and soul. He wanted to plant himself in his thoughts. 

He wanted to be the only one to exist in Lan Wangji's heart, just as Lan Wangji was the sole resident of his heart. 

It was a far fetched dream, a fantasy. Even if Wei Wuxian enjoyed Lan Wangji's love, even if he accepted his favour and welcomed his affection, an entire kingdom resided in his husband's heart, and a whole nation weighed on his shoulders. 

He wanted to shoulder some of the burdens, to ease the load of Lan Wangji's duty. 

He wanted to nurture the love in their hearts. 

"I understand." He mumbled, with puffed cheeks and pouty lips, his tone powdered in his reluctance and his heart beating with affection. He accepted the reality, no matter Lan Wangji's love and care, he was an Emperor who shouldered his duty, who served his people. 

Lan Wangji was a monarch that didn't shy from responsibility. 

"I'll join Wei Ying for lunch. You should spend the morning to catch up with the Crown Princess." It was a vow, it was a promise, and it was an opportunity. It was a balm that appeased his protests, that eased his reluctance and cultivated his smile until it bloomed. 

"You're too good for me, Lan Zhan." 

"Nonsense." Was whispered in his heart, breathed into the kiss pressed to the crown of his head. "Wei Ying, be good. Do not exert yourself; you need rest and food." 

"Yes, yes. Stop worrying, Lan Zhan. We'll be fine for a couple of hours, rest easy and focus on your work so you can join me soon, yes?" 

He was left alone in the presence of silence and stillness, leaning on the low table in the main chamber, nursing a cooling tea that was meant to ease the growing revulsion. 

There was no laughter and no chatter; there was no song of life; there was no buzz of activity. He was left in the presence of a quiet Luo Qingyang, watching her as she moved around, wiping dust and grime.

"Mianmian," He called, waiting for her to drop the rag, to rush to his side. "Check on the food we ordered from the imperial kitchen, and have Xue Yang brew some tea. I need the tables to be set before Jiejie, and her husband arrive." 

Time did not pass, frozen and stuck in a formless state, unmoving and never advancing. 

Time did not advance; the seconds stopped ticking as the world slowed down, as his tea cooled, and he relaxed, waiting and waiting for the early hours to give, and for his guests to arrive. 

It was a long moment before the food arrived, bathing the chamber in the aroma of spices and broth. It was an even more extended moment before the tables were set, identically, painting a colourless and bland portrait.

His eyelids grew heavy, weighed by exhaustion, burdened by fatigue, and before he knew it, they drifted shut, drowning him in a comforting blackness that consumed his senses and stole his consciousness. 

Time lost its form, a cloud of fog that swarmed around him, shapeless and with no essence, a link to the world and the reality that progressed beyond his dreams, that advanced as he slept. 

Seconds passed beyond his awareness, slipping through his grasp, swallowed by the darkness of sleep and his dreams. Time passed as Wei Wuxian slept, exhausted by the burden of the world and growing a child. 

The sound of wind chimes slipped through the blankness enveloping him, echoing through his unconsciousness, gentle and calming. It was a sound as soft as his Jiejie's laughter; it was a tone that awakened his awareness, washed the sleep away.

His eyelids blinked open, fluttering against his cheeks, fanning the drowsiness away until the world fell into place, puzzle pieces slotting together. 

"Jiejie!" He squealed as he recognised the giggling figure, his consciousness acknowledging the presence of a smiling Jiang Yanli standing above his form. 

Jiang Yanli's smile was a smile filled with stars, a fresh summer breezing cooling heated skin, and it filled his heart with warmth, brought to his mind memories of a time past. 

He straightened his back, pushing himself off the low table to offer his sister a smile, to welcome her to his sanctuary, to his home. 

His smile didn't dim even as she and Jin Zixuan offered him shallow bows; the warmth in his heart didn't fade as he met his brother in law's gaze. 

He moved to stand just as Jiang Yanli settled by his side, enveloping him in an embrace that swept the shadow of loneliness from his heart. 

"A-Xian, you shouldn't be moving too much. Your pregnancy is in a delicate state right now; your body isn't used to carrying the baby yet, so you should be careful."

"I'm already so bored if I stopped moving, I'd die, Jiejie." 

Her laughter was music to his ears; her joy was a balm to his heart and a soothing touch that eased his distress. Wei Wuxian could not help but lean into her warmth, to press his forehead to Jiang Yanli's shoulders and wrap his arms around her waist, relishing in the smell of home. 

Once upon a time, Jiang Yanli was his home, his haven and his sanctuary. She was his shield against Empress Yu's wrath, his shelter against the reality of their lives. 

Once upon a time, Jiang Yanli was the sister that raised him, the mother that wiped his tears and treated his wounds. 

Once upon a time, She was the goddess in his heaven; she was the moon in a starless sky and the sun on a winter day. 

Once upon a time, Jiang Yanli was the princess he promised to marry off in a bustle of life with a wedding procession that lasted days and nights; she was the sister he failed to fulfil his vow to. 

Once upon a time, Jiang Yanli was the goddess he wished to build temples in her name, to worship at her feet. 

His home was no longer a sister and a mother; his home was a face with a veil of glass, a burning golden gaze and a soft touch. 

His home was a husband who loved him, who worshipped. 

His home was a husband he loved, who gave him love. 

His home was Lan Wangji. 

Even if his home changed, and his love shifted; Jiang Yanli would forever remain his princess, would endlessly be his goddess. 

Once upon a time, he had one pillar to keep him upright, now he had two pedestals supporting his heart. 

Tables were shifted around, moved and transferred until one rested in front of Jiang Yanli, placed on the raised dais next to Wei Wuxian's seat. 

There was no flavour of loneliness in his food, there was no sting of bitterness as he ate, and there was no tartness of nausea in his throat. There was only joy, and there was only chatter and life. 

The solitude of the inner palace didn't exist in the presence of his sister. 

Wei Wuxian didn't care to check on Jin Zixuan as the latter ate, didn't want to take his attention away from his sister as she spoke, as they shared stories of their new lives between small bites. 

His world, at that moment, revolved around her voice, her words and the tone of her speech. His world revolved around Jiang Yanli and the story of her life in Koi Tower. 

"A-Xian," She started, voice gentle, hesitation leaking into her town. "Why have you not mentioned Emperor Wangji's concubine, yet?" 

Stillness descended upon him, heavy with the spoken words, dense with his growing anger, and thick with the fears hidden in his heart. 

His smile didn't falter, his fingers didn't tremble, and his familiar mask remained solid upon his face, hiding the turmoil in his heart. 

"What's there to mention, Jiejie? She's a mere concubine forced upon me and Lan Zhan by the tyrannical Wen Ruohan. I'd rather talk about how handsome Lan Zhan is. Did you see him, Jiejie, isn't he the most elegant man you've ever seen? He's even better-looking than me, how unfair that is? Well, it is all for me; thus, I won't complain. I'm the only one who gets to have him; everyone else can only look." 

The clang that echoed around them was loud, a crash that reverberated as Jin Zixuan slammed his chopsticks on the wooden table, the force vibrating through the plates piled upon it. 

"A-Xuan," His Jiejie called, rising to rush to her husband's side, her movements slowed by the length of her hanfu, by the layers dragging behind her. "What's wrong?" 

"Wei Wuxian, do you seriously not know what's been going in the surrounding kingdoms?" 

There was an accusation in his voice, there was disbelief in his words, and there were questions in his tone. 

Wei Wuxian's anger sparked in his heart, a glow of a flame that burned in his chest, that boiled his blood. His rage was a fire that would burn and burn, consuming him and those around him; it was a flare that stung him but shielded those who cared about him. 

His anger was fire, while Lan Wangji's was ice, a cold current that would run in his veins, freezing his blood and frosting his heart. 

Wei Wuxian would rather burn like a star, to glow and shine until nothing but ashes remained. He refused to freeze.  

"I'm a bird in a cage. I'm the Empress of Gusu. Do you honestly expect me to know what's going in your kingdom? Jin Zixuan, do you think I have that kind of time when I'm trying to establish my authority in  my kingdom ?" 

He could hear the hint of anger that leaked into his tone, could detect the arrogance in his voice and for a moment, Wei Wuxian could not help but think of his younger brother, could not help but remember a vicious snarl and fiery anger. 

"A-Xian, A-Xuan, both of you calm down." 

Silence fell upon them, enforced by a gentle smile and a tender touch, fortified by affection for a kind princess with a caring heart and charming eyes. Wei Wuxian could not help the pout of shame that adorned his face, could not hide the glow of regret lighting the stars in his eyes. 

His anger dissipated like the fog in the morning glow; it evaporated like the morning dew under the summer sun. 

He was a child caught stealing sweets from a jar. 

He was a boy reprimanded with a gentle smile and a soft touch. 

"Sorry, Jiejie."  "Sorry, A-Li."

They mumbled in unison, tones synced and voices synchronised, earning a smile as beautiful as blooming flower, as soft as the moonlight. 

"You two need to stop fighting at every turn. A-Xian, the past is in the past. A-Xuan is good to me, so please try to get along with him. For my sake, alright?" 

He could only nod and accept his sister's request. He could never deny her a thing, could not reject such a plea. Wei Wuxian would gift Jiang Yanli the world and the moon if she asked, and if she wanted the fighting to stop, then he was willing to hold back, to resist the urge to argue with Jin Zixuan. 

"Now, A-Xuan, explain what you're trying to say." 

Wei Wuxian could see the reluctance flashing through Jin Zixuan's eyes, could see the hesitation in the twitch of his eye, in the scowl curling on his lips. 

It was a reluctance that vanished as his gaze met Jiang Yanli's, as her smile reflected in his eyes. 

"Wen Ruohan has been negotiating a marriage between his daughter and my brother, Jin Zixun. Royal father is not opposed to the match; on the contrary, he's eager and is trying to use this chance to marry off my sister to that monster Wen Xu." 

There were no more smiles; there were no more laughs. The joy was stripped from the air, replaced with seriousness, substituted by the fear of the unknown. 

Wen Ruohan was a monster that should never be underestimated. 

"You don't know this, A-Xian, but the same is happening in Lotus Pier, a matchmaker is trying to match A-Cheng with a Wen Princess. Father cannot refuse the match without offending Emperor Ruohan." 

There were secrets left unspoken, whispered between them, known to no one but them. 

Lotus Pier could not afford to offend the Wens, not without bringing the wrath of war to their doorsteps. 

They could not risk provoking Wen Ruohan, not when his mother's memory remained a festering wound in the Wen Emperor's heart. 

For the sake of Yunmeng, they could not break another engagement with the Wens. 

Once upon a time, his mother fled Yunmeng to marry the love of her life, leaving behind her duty, abandoning her commitment to Wen Ruohan. Lotus Pier paid the price, losing Yiling, and three Princess who were given as wives. 

Two entered the harem as the Emperor's concubines, while the third married his brother. 

Two Princesses, gentle and captivating, never returned, perishing in a golden cage. 

One Princess, strong and fierce, returned, with a girl in tow and abdomen swollen with life. ' My husband is dead. ' She proclaimed, killed by his own brother's hands. ' I'm exiled. ' She whispered, never to be welcomed back in Qishan. 

There was no joy in her eyes, there was no happiness in her smile, but there was a protective fury in her embrace. 

She perished giving birth to a boy, leaving behind two children, orphaned and alone in the world. 

Empress Yu had engrained the story in his mind, a reminder of his mother's sin, of the consequences of her flight. 

Lotus Pier did not have a way to spare Jiang Cheng the risk of marrying a Wen. 

"What about Nie Mingjue?" 

"We don't know, but this is three of the four kingdoms. What is Wen Ruohan planning now? It can't be good." 

Wei Wuxian had two theories, each worse than the other. He expected the worst, didn't want to acknowledge the reality of their situation, refused to voice his thoughts. 

He allowed the silence to seep into his palace, permitted his thoughts to consume his attention and drift him away from reality. 

He could imagine the future in two possibilities.

He could see Wen Ruohan's grandchildren in every kingdom, honed and prepared to inherit the throne under the command of the brutal monster. It was a world where his sister and Jin Zixuan perished, assassinated to pave the way for Jin Zixan to rule, a doll with strings in skilled hands.

It was a nightmare. It was a tale of conquest lacking in bloodshed and the fires of war. It was a story of hostages and political claims. 

He could envision a second nightmare, a second probability. It was a story where the world drowned in red and burned in the fires of war. It was a tale of death and suffering. It was a world where their weaknesses were used against them, gifted to Wen Ruohan by his loyal daughters.

"Be extra careful from now on, Jiejie. We can't trust Wen Ruohan, especially when we don't know what he's planning." 

Their conversation ended, the discussion dying as they resumed their breakfast, not tasting the food on their tongues. They returned to smaller talks, chattering and gossiping, but Wei Wuxian's thoughts remained distant, captured by the lurking danger. 

He could not help but wonder if the maid arrested the previous night was related to the Wen Princess. 

He hoped his theory was wrong, prayed that whatever Wen Ruohan planned never come to fruition. 

 

 

The sound of clashing metal echoed around the open courtyard, a loud and rhythmical crescendo that mimicked the symphony of battles. It was a grating sound, lacking the gentleness of music. 

It was the scene depicted in poems of war, a portrait painting the image of combat. 

It was the story of men.

There was a shadow of envy in Wei Wuxian heart, a string of jealousy knotted in his core, and a need glowing in his soul. He was a fighter; he was a warrior; he was never one to idle while others fought. 

A minister once told him that the heavens gifted him, blessed him with talent that could never be matched. 

He was a boy gifted with the ability to vanquish all arts. 

He was a fighter, mastering the sword and the bow by the time he was fifteen, unbeatable and unstoppable. 

He was a scholar, loved by the books, with an intellectual ability that coloured every teacher green with jealousy.

He was a musician, able to play any instrument, to weave notes into captivating melodies. 

He was a boy who was able to master the six arts before he was crowned. He was a man who never gave his all but left everyone scrambling to catch up to him. 

He was a boy gifted with life, stripped of freedom. 

He was a man with the ability to rise but was caged never to fly.

His hand settled upon his abdomen, a reminder and a forewarning. 

He vowed never to clip his child's wings, to allow them to soar no matter what. 

"Xue Yang, you're too aggressive, you will wear yourself before your opponent even sweats." 

The sword fell to the ground, parried out of the boy's grip, and he turned his attention to the seated Wei Wuxian, waiting for him to speak. The air left his lungs in heavy pants, chest heaving with the need to breathe, with exhaustion that knew no bound. 

"Look at you, one round, and you're already gasping as if you've run a li. That won't do. You need to calm down, study the situation around you and react based on it. Xiao Xingchen, switch with Song Lan so Xue Yang can try again." 

He watched as they took their stance, as they started a fierce battle of clashing swords and repelled strikes. His gaze followed their movements with critical eyes, observing, assessing and analysing every shift, and every move. 

Mo Xuanyu sat beside him, munching on an apple. There was no interest in his eyes as he followed the fight, no curiosity nor enthusiasm in his gaze as he watched them train. 

"A-Yu, be ready, you'll be fighting Xue Yang next." He could not help but tease the young boy, couldn't resist capturing his attention to entice a frustrated pout on his face. 

For a fleeting second, Mo Xuanyu looked like a younger version of Wei Wuxian. 

"Young Master, you promised that I didn't have to train while the Jins are here." 

His laugh reverberated around them, a ring of joy, a melody of delight that was louder than the sound of fighting. 

Wei Wuxian was not given a chance to retore, the teasing words dying on his lips, fading with the sound of his laughter as Lan Wangji walked through the palace gates, an Emperor in all of his regality. 

"Wei Ying." He called, watching the sunrise in Wei Wuxian's smile, counting the stars in his eyes. 

Wei Wuxian jumped to his feet with excitement electrifying at the tip of his fingers, sprang into Lan Wangji's arms as his servants dropped to their knees. 

The worries that clouded his mind were chased away, whisked by the summer wind and Lan Wangji's touch. 

"Lan Zhan, I missed you. It took you forever to come back. How unfair, making me wait for you, but that's fine. I'll wait as long as it takes, and I know you'll always wait for me as well." 

"I will wait for Wei Ying for forever." His whisper was a rush, a hum that sent heat rushing through Wei Wuxian's blood, boiling him from the inside, smearing his skin in a red blush. 

He hated how easy it was for Lan Wangji to rile him, to render him a blushing mess. 

Wei Wuxian refused to be the only one burning with the heat of the flush.

His lips brushed against Lan Wangji's jaw, pressing an open-mouthed kiss, lingering, nibbling satin-like skin. He could feel the shiver racking Lan Wangji's frame, could sense the heat radiating from his skin. 

He was as scorching as the blazing sun. 

His words were a purr, a plea of need that was only for Lan Wangji's ears. "I hope you won't keep me waiting to feel you inside of me again, Lan Er-Gege." 

He pulled away to study the Jade face, searching for the result of his remark, looking for the evidence of Lan Wangji's bashfulness, but finding none. 

Frustration gripped his chest, choking him, suffocating. It was a failure that he denied, refused to accept. 

He leaned forward, powered by a need to crack the indifferent mask off Lan Wangji's face when he spotted the red colouring his ears, a fire that burned his fingers as he touched the skin. 

His frustration evaporated into the open sky, a cloud of fog unseen, replaced by satisfaction in Wei Wuxian's heart. 

"Shameless." He heard, mumbled with a tone unaffected by his emotions. He could see the affection sparkling in the depth of Lan Wangji's golden eyes, observed even if not heard.

Wei Wuxian could not help but laugh, allowing the wind to carry his cackle, breaking every rule of peacefulness the Cloud Recesses dictated. 

Lan Wangji had long given up on correcting his behaviour, choosing to ignore, granting Wei Wuxian a sense of freedom he never expected. 

"Ah, Lan Zhan, you're too good." 

The bubble popped as he was pulled out of Lan Wangji's embrace, guided back to the stone bench. Every step was measured, and every move considered, careful and attentive.

The walk was a short trek, a journey of a few steps and soon, Wei Wuxian was seated down, watching his courtyard as it buzzed with the life of working servants. 

Two figures stepped forward, dropping to their knees, kowtowing to the Empress as he watched on with grey eyes darkened with shock. 

"Wen Qing, Wen Ning." He said with the summer breeze blowing through his loose strands, with the sunray highlighting the purple robes of the Jiang empire. 

The wind carried the scent of medical herbs to his nose, filled his senses with the aroma of the sparkling Lotus lake. 

"Hurry and get up." He spoke, voice carrying his joy, breeze conveying his longing. 

His friends, his cousins were in his palace; they were in his kingdom; they were within his reach. 

He never expected fate to smile upon him, never envisioned meeting them again. 

He didn't expect his uncle to send Lotus Pier's best physician to him. 

Wen Ning held out a sealed letter, his frame trembling, arms shaking, and gaze never meeting his. It brought a smile to his face as he stood to accept the message. It warmed his heart, knowing that some things never change. 

The seal broke with ease; the words staining the paper coming into view as he unfolded the document. 

 

A-Xian, 

 

Congratulations to you and Emperor Wangji on your joyous news. 

We're pleased to hear of your pregnancy, and we rejoice in the strengthened relationship that will result from the birthing of an heir carrying the blood of both the Jiang and Lan imperial clans. 

We pray to the gods for a safe delivery and may the heavens be gracious to you and your unborn heir. 

As an Empress, all eyes are on you, and we must warn you to be extremely cautious. The current political situation is unstable. As righteous and fair, the Lan dynasty is known to be; not everyone can be trusted. The birth of an heir in this uncertain time is no simple feat, and it will undoubtedly shake the political scene. 

A-Xian, as an Emperor, we urge you to assure the birth of a prince and secure your rank. As your royal uncle, I implore you to prioritise your health and your life. 

A physician has been selected to assist you through this trying time, and Wen Qing has accepted to serve and follow you as your personal physician. 

 

Your ever-loving uncle, 

Emperor of Yunmeng

Jiang Fengmian. 

 

Wei Wuxian lowered the letter, hiding the words from his view, seeking the resolve in Wen Qing's gaze, searching for the consent in her eyes. 

He found willingness in her gaze, noted the affection reflected in her eyes. 

"A-Yu, prepare a residence for Wen Qing and Wen Ning, my dear cousins are going to be permanent occupants of the Kunning Gong." 

He waited for Mo Xunayu's confirmation before returning his attention to his cousins, before seeking warmth in Wen Qing's care and Wen Ning's nervousness. 

"Thank you for coming, and welcome to Cloud Recesses. I'm sure Wen Ning, you'd rather be hiding in the carriage, but I appreciate your presence and willingness to help. You two are probably tired, so let's have dinner together after you've rested." 

"Your Majesty, we can rest later, explain the situation to me. His Majesty mentioned nothing about why you require a physician." 

Wei Wuxian could see as Wen Ning tugged on his sister's sleeve, imploring her with his eyes to be quiet. He could not help the rush of amusement washing through him at the familiarity of the scene, at the intimacy of their relationship. 

It drowned him in a sea of backlash, filled him with a sense of recognition. It was a scene that cultivated the seed of longing in his heart, made him ache for the familiarity of his home. 

"I'm pregnant." He answered with a simple sentence, with no hidden meanings and no further explanations. 

He didn't expect Lan Wangji to specify for him, to explain and justify. 

"It's an unstable pregnancy; he almost miscarried." 

He didn't miss the shadow of urgency that flashed through Wen Qing's eyes. He recognised the shade of necessity that coloured her gaze.

"Let me check your pulse." 

"Ah, Wen Qing, no wonder you're the best physician in Yunmeng, you get straight to business. At least join me for tea first." 

His cackle was an obnoxious sound that echoed around them, that was carried to the sky upon the wings of the wind, and that earned him a glare from Wen Qing and a gentle reprimand from Lan Wangji. 

His smile didn't disappear, didn't evaporate nor did it shrink as Wen Qing touched his wrist, her fingers clammy and warm against his skin. 

Her eyelids fluttered, falling closed to hide her eyes, to whisk her away into a trance of concentration that lasted for an eternity, that didn't end for centuries. 

For once, Wei Wuxian' didn't complain, nor whine. For once, he sat patiently, leaning against Lan Wangji's side, allowing the scent of his husband to intoxicate his mind.

The breeze carried with it the scent of summer blood, stroked their skin and eased the summer heat. 

The sunrays highlighted the stars in their eyes, the hopes in their hearts. 

The silence fed the worry in their chest, encouraged the fear in their mind. 

Life progressed, and the world never ended as the seconds ticked away, as they waited with dwindling patience for Wen Qing to open her eyes. 

"Is anyone brewing tea for Lan Zhan?" 

Wei Wuxian's voice was loud in the silence that had covered their frames, tone grating on their senses. He spoke to ease the quietness, to lift the stillness. 

His servants were quick to reply, Xiao Xingchen stepping forward, bowing in his and Lan Wangji's direction. "Replying to your Majesty, Luo Qingyang is already in the kitchen preparing the tea. Song Lan is currently getting snacks from the imperial kitchen to go with your drinks." 

"Thank you." He answered, his smile challenging the brightness of the sun, but holding none of the heat. 

Wen Qing's eyelids fluttered, her eyes opened to meet Wei Wuxian's gaze, and there was no concealing the fear hidden in the depth of her soul, no hiding the frown marring her face. 

His lips parted, the words on the tip of his tongue, but no sound came out, the questions suffocated by the fear that consumed him. 

He could feel the sweat covering his skin in a thin layer, could count the beads of liquid running down his back. 

Fear was a demon that wrapped its hand around his neck, choking him. 

Terror was a spider that weaved silky ropes around his heart, squeezing it. 

 Fright was a snake that wrapped around his frame, restricting him. 

"Have you started using any scents or makeup?" 

"I had when I first came to Cloud Recesses, but I haven't since I found out about the pregnancy. I'm more concerned about the queasiness, right now." 

Her frown deepened, and the demon in Wei Wuxian thrashed in his heart, threatened to burst out of his chest. 

"Nausea is easy to handle; I'll help you with that. What's more important is that you have a blocked meridian, which is causing a Qi deviation. Have you been stressed or angry more than usual, lately?" 

Wei Wuxian blinked, eyelashes brushing against his cheek, a faint breeze that eased some of the heat as he looked away from Wen Qing, avoiding her gaze in favour of meeting Lan Wangji's golden orbs.

"I have been both stressed and irritated more than usual." 

"You'll need to avoid any negative emotions while you're pregnant. I'll prescribe herbal medicine and perform some acupuncture, but we will need to keep monitoring your Qi and blood flow throughout your pregnancy." 

"That sounds easier said than done but fine. Anyway, Wen Qing, what aren't you saying?" 

The silence lingered for a heavy moment, oppressive and stifling. It was a quietness that grated on Wei Wuxian's nerves, that cultivated the demon of fear inside of him. 

He could not help but worry for the child growing inside of him, could not help but fear for his unborn child. 

"I can catch a whiff of musk on you. It's probably why your pregnancy is not stable. If you've been consuming it with food, I wouldn't be able to smell, so it must be related to something else, incense or a scented sachet, makeup even." 

He shook his head with a vigour that spun the world, that freed some of the inky strands from the high ponytail holding the locks. 

"I've been careful with everything I eat or use; you wouldn't even find musk in my kitchen. Wen Qing, maybe its something else you're smelling?" 

"Allow me to check your palace, your Majesty."

Wei Wuxian could not read her thought, could not take a glimpse inside her heart, but he could see the determination in her eyes. It was a simple request, one that he could not deny. It was a wish he didn't dare to reject, not when the person asking was someone he could trust. 

"You have absolute authority in this palace. Xue Yang, assist Princess Qing with whatever she requires." 

They were left alone after that, deserted by their attendants, granted privacy with no audience. 

The day passed in quiet peacefulness, with easy conversations and gentle touches, with soft kisses and ringing chuckles. 

The seconds ticked under the summer sun, with the gentle breeze caressing their skin and ruffling their hair. 

Their joy lasted for an eternity, uninterrupted, unbroken by the reality surrounding them. 

Their happiness remained in their bubble, preserved for infinity, with echoing laughter, and ringing chortles. 

Their bubble burst and their happiness evaporated as Wen Qing rushed out of the palace halls and into the open pavilion hosting the imperial couple. 

She dropped to her knees in front of them, smothering the joyous atmosphere as Wen Ning placed a jade vase with blooming peonies away from Wei Wuxian's frame but close to his sister's form. 

The floral scent was suffocating, sweet and stifling. It was a scent that invaded their senses, that penetrated their consciousness. 

"Your Majesty, all the flowers in the palace have been tampered with. Musk was mixed with the water, so they've been releasing it with their scent. Small amounts should not be harmful; on the contrary, musk has rejuvenating effects. Still, with the number of flowers and constant proximity, it would weaken the body and cause a miscarriage." 

Summer ended, and snow fell, piling upon them, freezing them as Lan Wangji's anger flared, pouring out of him in chilling ripples. 

Wei Wuxian could feel the anger settling in his core, a disease and a fire that burned his blood, that consumed his fear and left it as ashes in his heart. 

They were fire and ice; they were dragon and phoenix.

They were summer incarnate and winter in the flesh. 

One burned as hot as the sun, while the other froze as cold as the moon. 

They were day and night. 

Nothing would ever satiate Wei Wuxian's anger except blood. Nothing could satisfy Lan Wangji's rage except justice and life. 

"Huan Zhe," Lan Wangji called. His voice was a gust of chilling wind that froze the hair on everyone's head. "Have someone clean out all the flowers from the Kunning Gong, and I want everyone in the imperial household department investigated. No one can be left unquestioned, no matter their rank. Any suspect is interrogated immediately. Start with the servants of the Empress." 

No one could see the anger except for Wei Wuxian. They could not detect the rage but could feel it in their hearts. 

Lan Wangji's anger was a weapon piercing through the flesh; it was a sword stabbing through the skin. 

Wei Wuxian's touch was a brand that burned his skin, that left its mark on his flesh, and Lan Wangji could not ignore the burning presence of his husband, turning to meet a gaze reflecting the sun. "It's not them, Lan Zhan, I know it's not them. Spare them, please." 

Wei Wuxian's touch burned, while Lan Wangji's froze. His fingers brushed Wei Wuxian's jaw, cupped his face, leaving frost to settle on his skin. "For Wei Ying, they won't be harmed, but they must be questioned." 

There was a purpose in the golden gaze; there was a resolve that burned away the frost, that melted Wei Wuxian's fortitude. There was no arguing with Lan Wangji as his protectiveness wrapped around him, a shield that was meant to defend and protect. 

"Not a hair on their heads can be touched." He whispered, and Lan Wangji nodded with acceptance, with assent. 

His anger diminished, the flame suffocated in the face of Lan Wangji's care, but in its place darkness rose, a shadow was born. 

Wei Wuxian would not calm, would not settle until his enemy's head was severed off his neck. 

As he was pulled into Lan Wangji's arms, Wei Wuxian could not help but realise that the peace had long seeped out of the Cloud Recesses, and nothing but turmoil remained. 

He could not help but wonder if Empress Yu was right. He could not help but question whether he brought ruin to the Cloud Recesses' tranquillity. 

Chapter Text

"Your Majesty, the Empress is kneeling outside. He's requesting an audience."

Chaos didn't seep into the vast hall as the guard's words rang around the space. It remained a shadow lingering at the entrance, a demon waiting for the chance to strike.

The order remained a guardian overlooking upon them, protecting the court from succumbing into ruin. Harmony was the law that must be maintained in the presence of the Emperor, and no one dared to shatter it.

Lan Wangji sat on his raised throne, the picture of calm and serenity, donned in whites and blues, decorated in a crown of jade. There was no hair out of place, there was no turmoil on his face, even as he motioned for the guard to grant the Empress entry.

They waited in unwavering silence for Wei Wuxian to enter, patiently, steadily.

Patience was a virtue; it was a value they all abided by.

Wei Wuxian was the storm that granted chaos entry; every step he took was a stone that smashed the fragile glass, every move a statement of his rank. He walked with an air of regality that didn't match the brightness of his smile; he marched as if he held the authority to command.

He was an Empress in his right.

The room was void of air, empty of sound as all the ministers and officials bowed.

Lan Wangji was not an Emperor in the presence of Wei Wuxian. He was a husband. He was a man.

His throne was left unoccupied, abandoned in favour of reaching Wei Wuxian, halting the later's movements before he could bow. "Physician Wen said you should not curtsey." His voice was not loud, but the silence carried his words to the ears of the kneeling ministers.

"Wen Qing is exaggerating; I can still move around."

Lan Wangji tugged on his hand, drew him closer, but Wei Wuxian stood his ground, refused to move a step nor take the throne by his Emperor's side.

"Your Majesty, please grant me an audience as per the court practices."

It was a long moment before Lan Wangji nodded, releasing his hold on Wei Wuxian, and turning around to reclaim his place on the raised dais.

Wei Wuxian used that chance to gesture for the kneeling ministers to rise, watching them straighten up with synced movements and perfect forms.

It was a perfect order that left a bitter taste in his mouth.

He lowered himself to his knees with movements slowed by a growing bump, every shift cautious, filled with care for his unborn child.

"Your Majesty," He called, as Lan Wangji's gaze met his, flowing with care and affection. "I beg of you to grant me and the imperial descendant justice from those who seek to harm us."

A collective hush settled upon the room, a thick layer of snow that couldn't be cleared.

"Endangering the royal family, especially the royal descendants, is a grave matter, but Empress Yijun, this is a concern of the inner palace that should not be presented during the morning assembly."

Wei Wuxian turned around, seeking the owner of the voice with a smile on his face that never faltered, but with a sharp edge, that threatened.

He was an Empress on a mission; he was a predator on a hunt. His prey were ministers who sat with pride, never cowering as they caught his eyes.

"Harming a member of the imperial family is a capital offence, doesn't that make it a concern of the outer palace? Either way, the inner palace is under my management, so handling this would have been simple, but it implicates members of this court; thus, I dare not pass judgement."

Authority clung to his skin, a mask of status that he witnessed all his life but never wore.

It was his weapon and his shield.

"Brother." Lan Wangji called, and Lan Xichen needed no words, reading the request on his brother's face.

He stood with the elegance of the Lan clan, moved with a rush that brought him to Wei Wuxian's side, bending the rules but never breaking them.

The offered hand was a lifeline that Wei Wuxian grasped, and he was pulled to his feet with gentleness and ease. He was led away from the centre of the hall, brought to Lan Xichen's seat and this time, he didn't resist.

As Wei Wuxian lowered his body to the cushion, his hand settled on his abdomen, cradling the swelling bump. It was a move meant to direct, a touch that compelled all the seated men to observe his body, to discern his pregnancy.

It was a move that quelled the rumours surrounding his pregnancy, that ended the reports of his miscarriage.

"Your Majesty," Another statesman called from his right, and Wei Wuxian shifted his gaze to catch the minister's eyes. "The outer palace is forbidden from colluding with the inner palace. This is a grave accusation that affects the reputation of the forbidden city, and will give the common people ground to criticise us."

Wei Wuxian's laughter roared loud, a cackle of mockery that chimed in their ears as loud as sounding gongs. It was a sound that instilled anger in the hearts of ministers, that grated on their nerves.

"This minister is so funny. What crime is more grievous than harming an imperial descendant; hurting an innocent child? You fear the people's criticism when I haven't even unveiled anything, but you didn't bat an eye regarding my unborn child's safety. I wonder, why does it frighten you so?"

Wei Wuxian paused for a second, the duration of a heartbeat, a moment to observe the seated ministers with intelligence hidden behind the universe reflected in his eyes.

"The man whose conscience is clear will never fear a knock on the door at midnight, masters."

"Empress," Lan Zhan's tone was as calm as a peaceful lake, with no ripples disturbing the surface. It was a call that captured Wei Wuxian's attention, that halted his hunt. "Present your case."

It was a single statement, but it was all the permission that Wei Wuxian needed. He shifted in place, moved until his back was to the ministers and he was facing Lan Wangji.

There was a glint of playfulness in his eyes; a glow that was highlighted by the streaming sunlight shining through the vast windows.

"Two months ago, two servants were charged with breaking multiple rules, including insulting myself and my late parents. I've ordered for them to be questioned and exiled. Now, imagine my surprise when one confessed to being a link between a particular minister and our dear Wen Princess."

A stillness settled upon them, a lack of sound and voidness of life that prompted Wei Wuxian to proceed, to unveil his cards and strike his prey.

"After that, I started investigating deeper, and I discovered corruption and collusion between the inner and outer palaces. Men, would you rather confess? If not, I will do it for you."

He was met with silence, approached with anger that burned through the room, that threatened to prickle him. It didn't deter him; instead, it fueled his determination.

His hand delved into his sleeve, pulling a scroll from the confines of his clothes and held it out, a book of judgement presented to Lan Wangji. "This has the names of all the ministers who bribed Attendant Wen or were bribed by her. It also mentions the payments exchanged and handoff arrangements."

He gazed over his shoulders, watched as the chaos slowly crept into the hearts of the ministers, observed as they broke into loud and disorderly protests.

Wei Wuxian was the grim reaper who executed the order of the Cloud Recesses.

Wei Wuxian was the purifier cleansing the Cloud Recesses from those who didn't hold loyalty in their hearts but valued power and wealth above their morale.

"I have witnesses piled up if your Majesty would prefer to hear them, but I believe the Minister of Justice, His Highness Prince Xichen has a detailed report."

He listened as the ministers spoke over each other, renouncing his words, wordlessly cursing his existence and lower birth.

Turmoil was a God watching over them with a radiant smile and glowing eyes.

"Your Majesty, this is a conspiracy against your loyal ministers."
"Your Majesty, please don't be manipulated by empty words and a pretty speech."

He observed with satisfaction as the guilty succumbed to fear, digging their graves with each word.

Fear was sharper than a knife, more accurate than a bow. It was a weapon that never failed.

Huan Zhe was at his side, collecting the scroll to hand to Lan Wangji, and Wei Wuxian used that moment to read the deep frown under the Emperor's crystal mask, to find the emotions in his eyes.

"Is this the conduct of Gusu ministers? You're in the presence of the Emperor and the Empress, calm yourselves!" Lan Qiren's voice was an axe striking the chaos, breaking it and shattering it to pieces.

Peacefulness didn't return, but order slowly seeped back into the room, driving the God of turmoil away.

"The Empress did not mention a single name, and yet you're all reacting wildly. To feel guilty as a thief is to have something on one's conscience."

Lan Qiren's gaze met Wei Wuxian's, and he could not help but compare the golden of his uncle in law's orbs to that of Lan Wangji, could not help but look for the similarities in their eyes.

They were similar in their colour, in their shape, in the sharpness of their gaze, but Wei Wuxian could not help but think that the love glowing in Lan Wangji's eyes whenever he looked at him made it more beautiful than the ice in Lan Qiren's.

He pushed the thoughts away, focused on the silence as Lan Wangji read through the document, as Lan Qiren's fingers stroked his goatee.

"Prince Xichen," Lan Wangji finally spoke, raising his eyes from the scroll to meet his brother's darker gaze. "Have you investigated this?"

"I have, Your Majesty. I questioned all the involved servants except those serving in the ministers' households. I could not investigate deeper without your Majesty's permission."

"You have permission to investigate. You may examine everyone, regardless of rank and status. All involved ministers are suspended and are to be put under house arrest in their respective manors. Those found guilty of bribery or collusion with the inner palace will be fined and released from their positions."

"Your Majesty, I believe we should discuss the matter of endangering the imperial descendant."

Lan Qiren's tone was firm, a redirection of attention that fed the fire of vengeance burning in Wei Wuxian heart, and he couldn't help but nod in his uncle in law's direction, wordlessly thanking him for the support he never foresaw coming.

Lan Xichen was seated behind Wei Wuxian, watching the scene unfold with curious eyes and a peaceful smile, but the Empress knew, that even as serene as the first prince looked, he was prepared to back him up.

If Wen Qinyang had bribed the majority of the Lan ministers and brought them to her side, Wei Wuxian had the most influential figures in the court supporting his advance.

He did not need a faction; he did not need allies; all he needed was justice and the love of one man.

All that he needed was his family's support.

"Your Majesty, I have five witnesses from the Imperial Household Department, and three witnesses from the Yongshou Gong. They can testify that Attendant Wen had bribed the supervisor of the Household department to soak the flowers delivered to the Kunning Gong with watered musk. They proceeded with the support of the minister of the Imperial Clan and the Minister of the Household."

His hand settled on the low table in front of him, using the solid surface to push himself to his feet. He walked with a slow pace; steps weighed by the eyes following his every movement until he stood in the centre of the hall, facing Lan Wangji with an air of resolve.

He kowtowed with difficulty, bowed with care, and as his forehead touched the marble ground, he felt the cold of Autumn seeping into his bones, sending a shiver through his form.

He could hear the clinking song of the jewellery in his hair, a duet played with the marble floor.

"Your Majesty, I beseech you, as your husband, as the mother of your unborn child; please grant me justice. Your Majesty, I almost lost our baby. It was not due to a fault of mine, but due to the instigation of others. Your Majesty, you lived with me through the fear and the pain, experienced the terror along my side, I beg you to make those that hurt us pay."

A heartbeat passed before a hand settled on his shoulders, lingering for the blink of an eye. It trialled down the length of his arms, a stroke that sent a shiver down his spine. "Wei Ying," It was a whisper, a breath of air against his hair and Wei Wuxian realised that Lan Wangji was on his knees, bowing to him. "Get up."

He raised his head to meet a gaze darkened with a shadow of protectiveness, and a heart warmed with love.

He welcomed Lan Wangji's help, used the assistance to straighten to full height and stand on his feet. This time, he didn't resist his husband's tug, allowed him to lead him to the raised dais, took his seat next to his Emperor.

The flames of turmoil consumed the Qianqing Gong. It was a fire that grew in temperature as the air grew into a cloud of smoke swollen with tension.

"What is the meaning of this, your Majesty?"

The voice was hoarse with age, a tone that was meant to soothe but failed to do so. Wei Wuxian could not help but observe the elderly minister, take in the golden eyes and the face with deep lines etched by time.

Age did not strip him of his attraction, did not take away from the jade skin and the dark hair, and Wei Wuxian knew without a doubt that once upon a time, the grand-uncle of the Emperor was a handsome man.

Lan Wangji did not grace the question with an answer, directing his gaze to his brother with a silent inquiry.

"I've already questioned the supervisor, Su She, your Majesty. He refused to confess, but the servants in charge of delivering the flowers did."

The first prince stood up, folding his arms and bending into a graceful bow.

"I didn't dare investigate the Ministers of the Imperial Clan and The Household. Please forgive my incompetence, your Majesty."

There was a snort, an undignified laugh that resounded around them, breaking the chain of misfortune and catching the attention of all the present men.

"Your Majesty, what proof do you have that the Empress didn't bribe those servants to provide false testimonies? I believe there is foul play involved."

Wei Wuxian could feel everyone's eyes settle upon his frame, assessing and scrutinising. He could read the doubt in their minds, feel the resentment in their hearts, but he granted them no response, gave them no satisfaction.

They will never treat him with reverence; they will never bow to him with respect.

His fingers burrowed into the warmth of his sleeve; lingering inside the cloth. It was a long moment before a clang resounded around the vast hall as Wei Wuxian carelessly flung an item into the direction of the minister of the Household.

"Minister, would you like to tell everyone what that is?"

He was met with silence, greeted with no answer and Wei Wuxian smile shifted, took on a sharper edge. He leaned on the low table, cradling his cheek in his palm.

Patience was a virtue that the Lans abided by, but it was not a trait Wei Wuxian could live by.

His patience drowned with every passing second, seeping until nothing but frustration and irritation remained.

He was no longer a regal Empress; he was an avenging predator.

"It's your jade token, isn't it, Minister? That is your name engraved on it, isn't it, Lan Ru? Would you like to know where I found it?" The beaded jewellery adorning his hair clicked against his crown as he rotated his neck, a soft chime that wasn't heard through the silence enveloping the room. "Su She did not confess, but this was found on his person, and before you claim it was stolen, I'd like to know how you entered the forbidden city without your pass."

His question was met with sputters and stuttered words, a broken sentence that provided no justification nor an answer. He could feel the tension in the room shift, turning and reforming into a protective aura that wrapped around the ministers, keeping them safe from the outsider targeting him.

Nothing could save Lan Ru from Wei Wuxian's wrath; nothing could protect him from the Empress' blood lust, not even the Emperor himself.

Wei Wuxian leaned into Lan Wangji's side, painting a threatening portrait of intimacy.

They were a tale of love — a story of a united front.

"Your Majesty, if you search the minister of Household, you'll find Attendant Wen's jade token on him. That's how he's been coming and going even though Su She was using his pass."

The world burned, consumed by the flames of anarchy as Lan Ru sprang to his feet, anger a shadow that loomed over his frame, darkening his face and dimming the glow of his eyes.

There was no guilt in his eyes, but there were fear and terror reflected in the browns of his gaze, and Wei Wuxian took satisfaction from it, fed the hungry beast roaring inside of him.

He would never forget the pain that consumed him that day, the needles and knives stabbing at his abdomen and back until he bled, and his baby almost slipped out of his hand.

He will never forget the fear that filled his heart every time he remembered that there was a chance for his unborn child to die, to never be born and experience life.

Wen Qinyang and her accomplices did that, poked the monster in him until no kindness was left in his heart.

He would make them pay for every drop of blood and every pinch of pain.

"Search him."

He heard Lan Wangji speak, watched as three guards advanced, hunters chasing the prey and Lan Ru was the cornered spoil unable to escape.

Hands captured him, restricted and bound, holding him in place as the third guard searched through his clothes, checking the layers for the item that will condemn him.

It slipped from his sleeve and fell to the floor with a loud clang, reverberating around the room, sealing the man's fate.

Wei Wuxian's cackle could be heard through the chaos, a sound of satisfaction that echoed like a symphony of death. It was a melody that sent shivers down their frames, that filled them with nightmares.

"Do you need more proof, ministers? Prince Xichen can confirm that the evidence matches the testimony we received."

"Arrest them." Lan Wangji's voice rang louder, an order that can't be ignored and a decree that instilled fear. His golden gaze settled on the Minister of the Imperial clan, peering through his soul.

Lan Wangji was a calm sea, still and serene, but just like the sea, his anger was a deadly current that swept through them, leaving destruction in his path.

Lan Wangji was a sage emperor, but just as any ruler, he wasn't one to be crossed. He was the leader that endured his minister's remarks with virtuous tolerance, but his limit was breached, and his facade was shattered.

Ice settled in his heart, cold and unforgiving.

"Grand Chancellor, please save us." The elderly minister begged, struggling to his feet and failing in his rush to reach Lan Qiren. "We did it for the sake of the Lan Imperial clan. Please, I know you understand. For our uncle-nephew relationship, please save me."

Wei Wuxian watched with amused surprise as Lan Qiren shook his sleeve. He never spared his uncle a glance, turning his attention to Lan Wangji, and away from the image of the pleading elder. "Your Majesty, a more extensive investigation needs to be opened in case Lan Ru and Lan Rong had committed any other crimes and broke any more rules."

"No need. We have been investigation grand uncle for a while now. We have a confession from physician Xi's of his involvement in the late Empress' death, and his interference in Empress Yijun's recovery."

The surprise must have painted Wei Wuxian's face as Lan Wangji's fingers wrapped around his, cradling his palm in the heat of his hand.

"For the crime of attempting to murder an imperial descendant, Su She, Lan Ru and Lan Rong are herby stripped of their ranks, titles and properties and are granted death by hanging. Servants involved are to be flogged 100 times and then exiled from the forbidden city. Wen Qinyang is demoted to a Chosen Maid; her palace is to be sealed off where she will be granted death by poison."

He could hear their protests rising, cries of objection that grated on his senses, and filled him with rage.

He understood the reality of the situation. No matter his achievements, and no matter his behaviour; he will forever remain the unwelcomed outsider. They would never be on his side.

He didn't mind.

As long as he had Lan Wangji, and as long as he gave birth to a healthy child, Wei Wuxian was content and satisfied.

It didn't mean the rejection didn't sting; it didn't mean that being an outcast didn't hurt.

Wei Wuxian wanted to be accepted as Lan Wangji's husband, desired to belong in his new home, but he knew that he needed to settle for the blessings he had. What he gained exceeded what he expected to have when he first stepped foot in Gusu, and Wei Wuxian was gratified with the gifts fate had bestowed him.

"The morning assembly is dismissed." His husband called, quelling the melody of the objection, ending that chapter of their life.

The sting of rejection was washed away, replaced by the current of relief that crashed through him as the realisation settled in.

"Lan Zhan." He called, tone shining with joy and relief, and eyes watering with happiness and ease.

Wen Qinyang was out of his life; her menace was gone and Wei Wuxian no longer needed to worry for the life of his unborn child.

His smile widened, brightened with the glow of the stars as Lan Wangji pressed a kiss to the back of his hand, his lips lingering until his warmth seeped into Wei Wuxian's heart.

Nothing could take from the happiness swelling in his heart, and nothing could destroy the cloak of safety that wrapped around his frame.

They were safe, and they were whole.

Fate had grown kind.

Chapter Text

The world was painted in white, a portrait of purity that captivated. It was a poem of beauty that Wei Wuxian could not help but marvel in, even with the chilling cold that seeped into his bones, that left him shivering in the winter glow. 

He stood in the corridor, gazing at the winter sky, counting the endless number of clouds concealing the king of day and night. 

He hungered to run in the snow, to feel the cold flow into his blood until it turned blue. 

There was a chilling reality to the difference between the cold of Yunmeng and the freezing winter of Gusu, and Wei Wuxian could not help but note that no orphan child could survive this snow. 

"Yu-er," He called, forcing his gaze away from the snow to meet Mo Xuanyu's waiting eyes. "Get me my cloak. I'm going for a walk." 

He could see the objection in his attendant's eyes, could read them in the stutter of his words, but he turned his gaze away.

Spring was the king of the seasons, with blooming flowers and dancing butterflies. It was the period of love and romance, and no other season could compare, yet winter didn't lose, not in term of beauty nor the chance to inspire. 

Wei Wuxian never loved winter, but as he stood watching the world after a night of falling snow, he was a prisoner to the beauty of Cloud Recesses. 

Every day was a story of found beauties, every day a new scene to marvel in. 

Wei Wuxian was in love with the home he built with Lan Wangji. 

The fur tickled his face as Mo Xuanyu settled his coat on his shoulders and warmth wrapped around his frame. He delved deeper into the heat but didn't flinch away from the cold, taking his first step into the open world. 

The snow crunched under his feet, every step a symphony of winter composed with the howling wind. 

Mo Xuanyu held his arm, an anchor that supported his every move, that bore the weight of every step. 

It was no easy trek, with the cold eating at his skin, and the wind biting at his face, but it brought a smile to his face. It was a walk filled with cheerful chatter and loud laughter. 

"And then Prince Qiren threw the scroll across the classroom. It almost hit me, young Master, but I managed to dodge it. He didn't tell me to leave, though. He still believes I'm a well-mannered boy and that you're a bad influence on me."

Wei Wuxian cackle sounded loud, a boom of sound in the silence of the snow land. "Jokes on him, I'm a good influence." 

"I'm sorry, young Master, but his Highness is correct, you are a terrible influence. You are always encouraging everyone to bend the rules."

Wei Wuxian's movements were swift, fingers firm as he pinched the boy's cheeks, pulling at the flesh until copper eyes overflowed with tears. 

"Maybe you're right, disrespectful brat, with that mouth, you're unmistakably the child I raised." His touch softened, fingers stroking the heated flesh as he cradled his cheek in his palm. 

Love was the flame that warmed their forms, shielding them from the frosting cold, but the guilt was the parasite in his heart, feeding on his care. Wei Wuxian wanted to call Mo Xuanyu his son, to hold him like his blood. He was the mother figure of a nation, the Empress of a kingdom, but adopting the denounced Jin prince was a farfetched dream beyond his reach. 

Not even monarchs could have everything they want. 

"Wei Wuxian." The harsh call of his name alarmed him, freezing his form and raising the hairs on the back of his neck. There was wrath in the tone, reprimand in the voice and Wei Wuxian knew that he was caught redhanded by the fierce Wen Qing.

He turned around, finding his cousin's form at the entrance of his palace with a scowl on her face that rekindled memories of a missed brother. 

"What have I told you about walking on slippery grounds? What if you slip and fall? You're in your thirty-third week; your balance isn't as it used to be with the additional weight." 

"But I'm tired of being cooped up inside all day. It's the twelveth month of the year, the new year is in nineteen days, and all I've been allowed to do is sit by the braziers and plan the new year banquet." 

His words died down, consumed by a groan of pain as he leaned against Mo Xuanyu's form, a hand settling on his lower abdomen. The world disappeared in a shadow of darkness as he squeezed his eyes and ground his teeth, swallowing the sound of pain before it rose louder. 

The world was still for a moment, with no movements and no sound until the pain passed and Wei Wuxian heaved a sigh. 

He could hear the crunching of the snow as Wen Qing rushed to his side, helping Mo Xuanyu support his yielding form. 

"Is it another fake contraction?" 

He straightened up, shrugging away from the restrictive support of Wen Qing with a last pat to Mo Xuanyu's head. "Yes, yes. I'm fine. Can we walk around a little more?" 

"No, we're going in. The cold isn't good for you." 

She turned around, giving Wei Wuxian no chance to argue with her command, but he refused to follow, bending instead to whisper in Mo Xuanyu's ear. 

There was a mischievous glint in his grey eyes, a star shining brighter than the rest of the universe reflected in his gaze. 

Mo Xuanyu was fast to follow his command, his smile growing wider in a replica of Wei Wuxian's signature grin, but there was also nervousness in his eyes. The boy dropped to the ground, hands careful as fingers collected at the piling snow, forming a snowball that was given the standing Wei Wuxian. 

They waited with waning patience until Wen Qing turned around, lips open and words on the tip of her tongue. The snowball was hurled at her, breaking against her shoulder and slipping to the ground.

His cackle drowned the sound of grounding teeth and burning anger, muffled the chocked giggle of Mo Xuanyu's amusement. 

There was a jolt of pain, forceful and sharp, quelling his laugh, as his child kicked with a strength that forced the air out of his lungs. 

His child was a youth of joy, conceived in spring, to be born in winter. He was a child that would react to Wei Wuxian's delight with a kick and would respond to Lan Wangji's voice with a punch. 

The pain was worth it, a sting that Wei Wuxian would endure with delight, knowing his child was alive. 

His laughter died down, melted away by a piercing gaze and a freezing cold, but his smile remained on his face, a panting of joy that wouldn't be erased. 

Fate was kind to him, gifting him a life of happiness with a loving husband, and a jolly child. It was a destiny made sweeter by the people in his palace, standing by his side. 

He could feel the murderous intent radiating from the smaller frame of Wen Qing, a wave that washed through him and sprained his smile, coiled around his frame. 

"Okay, okay. I'm going inside. I'm getting hungry anyway." 

The walk back to the palace passed faster than their trek outside. It was a journey that steered him away from the garden of white.

The smell of burning coal wafted into his nose, mixed with the scent of smoking incense. It was a fragrance that seeped into his soul, into his clothes and clung to his skin. 

It was the smell of warmth, the scent of idle days next to a burning brazier. 

He inhaled, breathing the smell in, etching it in his soul and allowing it to warm him whole. 

He discarded his heavy coat, sitting next to the crackling fire and allowing the heat to seep into his veins, eradicate the growing frost on his skin. 

There were no lazy moments; there was no boring quietness. There was a ruckus as the sound of pounding footsteps echoed across the walls, rosing the shadow of dread sleeping in Wei Wuxian's head. 

A boy came into view, stumbling to his knees and into a kowtow in front of Wei Wuxian. 

"This servant greets your Majesty." 

"You may rise." 

He didn't rise, didn't move from his spot. Instead, he spoke, with no hesitation, nor preparation, watering the flower of delight in Wei Wuxian's heart. "Your Majesty, the Crown Prince of Yunmeng, is meeting with the Emperor." 

"That brother of mine, he didn't tell me he was coming to Cloud Recesses. Invite him here after his meeting with Lan Zhan; tell him there will be tea and snacks." 

This time there was a wavering pause, a slight tremble in the kneeling form that nurtured the doubt in Wei Wuxian's heart, turning it into alarm. 

"Your Majesty, his Highness is seeking asylum in Cloud Recesses. He is the sole surviving member of the Jiang imperial clan." 

There was an echo of a bang, a sound that stunned the world into silence as Wei Wuxian's palm slapped against the hard ground. 

"How dare you spout such nonsense?" 

"Your Majesty, I dare not lie. Lotus Pier was attacked by the Wen army and burned to the ground." 

The air caught on his lungs, a lump that couldn't be lodged nor cleared and his body crumpled under the weight of his grief. There was no more strength in his form; the energy washed away by the shock and despair. 

Tears pricked his eyes, consumed his vision and covered the world in a blurry screen, but he refused to cry, refused to allow grief to destroy him. 

His brother needed him. 

He took a deep breath, inhaled the scent of warmth and home and blinked the tears away before he straightened, determination fueling him. 

"Find out what arrangements Lan Zhan ordered and ensure they are followed flawlessly. Whatever guest housing is assigned to Jiang Cheng, I want it impeccably clean, and appoint attendants to serve him. No mistakes are allowed. You are dismissed." 

The grief didn't leak into his voice, didn't drown his words, but it sucked the joy out of his tone. His speech was as cold as the winter wind howling beyond his walls.

The boy stood up, backing up in haste to follow the command when he crashed into a solid form that forced him to stumble back. 

"So you've already heard." 

The boy was forgotten in the tide of Jiang Cheng's arrival, left to wander away with no further dismissal as the Crown Prince of Yunmeng walked into the room, every step bringing him closer to his brother's form. 

Grief marred his face, a mask of sorrow that couldn't be erased, and instead leaked into his voice. 

He was unmistakably his brother, the boy Wei Wuxian grew up with, and yet he was not the same. He was a man who had seen the brutality of the world. 

"Is it true?" 

"It is." He snarled, launching at Wei Wuxian with a speed that couldn't be seen and a momentum that couldn't be countered. Grief had poisoned his heart, tainted his mind and left him a shell fueled by vengeance. 

His fingers lacked tenderness as they wrapped around Wei Wuxian's throat, tightened but didn't block the airflow. It was a threat that lacked bite, but it shattered the Empress' heart. 

He was fragmented, destroyed by words and anguish, left as pieces scattered across the world. 

He could hear the servants and guards call out to him, rushing to his side if not for the hand Wei Wuxian held out, halting their movements, stilling their worry. 

"It's all your fault. Why couldn't you tolerate Wen Ruohan's daughter, why did you have to kill her and bring ruin to us? Why!?" 

Wei Wuxian refused to speak, to explain, He laid a puppet under Jiang Cheng's grip, unmoving, unspeaking. 

A tear landed on his face, a drop that stored all of his brother's pain, and instantly more followed, dripping down Jiang Cheng's face. 

He laid there, needing to relieve his brother's anguish, to wipe his tears away. He was unable to do what he desired, powerless to move or react. 

The minutes ticked away with held breathes and echoing cries when a wave of pain washed through Wei Wuxian, stealing a whine from his mouth before he could clamp his lips shut. 

"Wei Wuxian." His brother called, with drying tears and dying cries as Wei Wuxian cradled his abdomen between careful hands. 

It was an eternity before the pain subsided, and before Wei Wuxian could heave a sigh, reaching to wipe the drops of sweat forming on his skin. 

"You're pregnant." It was not a statement nor a question, it was an exclamation of wonderment, mumbled with a hoarse voice and a dry mouth. 

"You didn't know?" 

He was released from the clutches of his brother's grip, freed to sit up with a struggle and strain. It was only then that the world came into view, the pieces falling into place and Wei Wuxian noticed the anxious gazes of his cousin and the boy he raised. 

He offered them a smile of reassurance, strained with the pain in his heart. 

"Uncle knew, how didn't you?" 

"I wasn't informed. Is this why the Wen Bitch was executed?" 
 
"Does it matter?" He asked, refusing to elaborate nor explain. It would not ease the pain nor take the grief away, and so there was no point. If his actions destroyed his family and home, then he was willing to shoulder the blame. 

"Song Lan, please get some water for his Highness." 

"Wei Wuxian," Wen Qing called, directing his attention away from his brother to meet his cousin's gaze. "Have you been getting false contractions all day?" 

"Hmmm?" He mimicked Lan Wangji as he thought, his hand lazily rubbing against his bump. "One woke me up before four, and I couldn't sleep after that. They've been coming and going, but it is nothing serious. It wasn't even that painful." 

"How strong was the last one? Describe it if you can." 

"It was sharp. It felt like it started at my back and then spread to my abdomen." There was a second of silence as Wei Wuxian thought, and Wen Qing walked to his side. It was all the time he needed for understanding to form in his mind. "I'm in labour. That can't be. It's too early. Wen Qing, this child can't come out now, there is still over a month left!" 

"Your contractions are fifteen minutes apart; it is too late to stop it now." Wen Qing turned away from him, avoiding his gaze as she met his servants' eyes. "Mo Xuanyu, go inform the Emperor. Xiao Xingchen, find a midwife and send a messenger to summon the wetnurse."

"Wen Qing," It was Jiang Cheng who called for her attention this time, panic evident in his voice and the wideness of his amethyst eyes. "Why is he in labour if there is still time left." 

"He had a stressful pregnancy; it typically results in premature childbirth." She took in his look, the alarm engraved in the lines of his face, the snarl curling on his lips. "You need to calm down, both of you. Wei Wuxian, you knew this could happen, its why we chose the wetnurse early. Jiang Cheng help me get him to bed, he needs to rest and relax before the full force of the labour hits." 

"I can walk on my own, just help me up." He spoke, but didn't move, remained seated with a hand on his abdomen, breathing through the grief and fear that lodged itself in his throat. "Wen Qing, this child can't come out now, it is too early. They are not old enough. I'm not going through with it. I'm going to will the labour to stop." 

A hand slapped the back of his head, smacking him with a softness that didn't suit the action. "Do you think it is up to you, Wei Wuxian? This child decided it's coming out, and nothing can stop it now. Don't worry; nothing will happen to either of you while I'm here." 

He watched her, read the resolve in her gaze, the confidence in her grip and felt the fear dissipate, replaced by the assurance of Wen Qing's presence. 

He nodded, reaching for Jiang Cheng's hand, using his strength as a pillar to help him stand. 

The grief remained a shadow in his heart, a presence that loamed upon his form as time passed and the hours ticked away, as the sky cleared of the clouds and the moon rose to replace the sun. 

Lan Wangji remained by his side, a constant that anchored him, that assured his heart, held his hand as contractions struck and the pain intensified. 

He was a presence removed as the labour hit, and the pain remained, a force that mixed with fear and the need to push. Wei Wuxian could do nothing but grip the sheets covering his form, biting his lower lip to muffle the sounds of his pain. 

"Yu-er," He called between gasping breathes, turning an unfocused gaze to the boy wiping the sheen of sweat covering his skin. "Get out of here. You don't need to see this." 

He heaved as another contraction hit, snatching his song and silencing his words. His cry was muffled by his own hand as he pushed, feeling the world spin. 

"It's a breech birth." He heard the midwife say through the ringing in his ears, fear a sword piercing through his heart. 

"Make sure the child is born safely, or I'll have all of your heads." He whispered, dropping back against the pillow as the contraction passed and he was given leave to breathe. 

"Your Majesty, need not fret." 

The pain came back, a compulsion that left him groaning to push, and Wei Wuxian could only wait, suppressing the urge until the midwife gave the order to charge.

They were hours filled with grunts of distress and muffled screams; they were minutes of pushing and wheezing. 

An eternity passed, leaving Wei Wuxian wheezing, drained of energy, wishing for it to end, praying to hold his child and kiss his head. 

"Your Majesty, the head is stuck, I'll need to reach in and assist the child. Don't be alarmed, and just push when I tell you to. One big push and it should be over." 

He had no strength to mumble a confirmation, nor any energy to nod his consent, he merely laid there, breathing and waiting for the next contraction to hit, readying for the command to push. 

It came just as a wave of agony that started at his abdomen and spread to his pelvis, a force to push that he could not snub. "Now your Majesty, push." 

The tears blurred his vision, drops of pain and grief that leaked without his consent. He could taste the bitterness of blood as it flooded his mouth, a liquid seeping from his bitten hand. 

His limbs were numb, his mouth dry, but Wei Wuxian could only strive to push with stifled cries until the world spun and he fell back, breathless and drained of his fight. 

"It's a prince." The midwife called, breathing life back into Wei Wuxian. He pushed himself up, supported by his elbows as he observed their movements with droopy eyes, watching with a protective heart. 

The silence prevailed, growing with every ticking second, oppressive and weighing on his form, transforming into a panic that feasted on his soul. 

"Why isn't he crying." 

His question was left ignored as the midwife delivered the infant to Wen Qing's waiting arms. 

"Why isn't he crying." 

He asked again, with frenzied eyes and an alarmed tone. 

The midwife was back between his legs, with a frown curling on her face which added to the terror in Wei Wuxian's heart. 

"He will be alright, your Majesty. Some children take a little longer. Now, there is another one on the way, and I need your Majesty to focus on delivering them. It had taken a long time for the first prince to be birthed, so we need to rush this one, or risk them not being able to breathe." 

He nodded but didn't move, eyes glued to Wen Qing's form as she rubbed his child's back, gently touching to coax him to cry. 

"Wen Qing," He called, throat scratchy and voice cracked. "Give him to me." 

There was irresolution in her eyes that he refused to accept. He moved, pushing himself into a seated position with tired limbs and laboured to stand, to get off the bed and hold his child. 

He was held back by a worried Mo Xuanyu who held his hand, and a Wen Qing who rushed to his side. 

"Lay back down." She ordered, and Wei Wuxian complied, eyes never leaving the tiny form of his child's. 

His body dropped with no resistance, conquered by the fatigue that seeped into his essence. 

Pain stabbed through his abdomen as another contraction struck, stealing his breath and forcing a shriek past his unprepared lips. He heard the midwife instruct him to push through a hazy mind, following the command instinctively without much thought or care. 

There was only the thought of his child on his mind. 

There was only the anticipation to hear his little prince cry. 

His child was laid on his chest, his warmth a fire that melted the memory of the pain away. His son's cry sounded as loud as a ringing bell through the sleeping chamber, a musical note that painted a smile on Wei Wuxian's face. 

His hand shook with effort as he reached to affectionately smooth the soft tuft of raven hair marrying the small head. "My little bean, you had me troubled there." 

"You don't need to worry, your Majesty. The first prince is a healthy boy with strong lungs." 

Wen Qing's words were a balm that erased the worry lingering in his head, easing the fear in his heart. "He's so small. Yu-er, come meet him."

"Your Majesty." The midwife called, catching his attention. "Allow the first Prince to be washed while you deliver this child. Another contraction is going to hit." 

Wei Wuxian could only nod, relinquishing his right to cradle his child as Wen Qing picked him. 

The pain struck soon after, a wave that left him dazed, breathless and limp, a tide that lasted for an eternity before Wei Wuxian could rest. 

It was a repetitive cycle, a never-ending circle that left him with spots dancing in his vision and images of his passed family. 

The wail of a child was a surge of relief that washed the pain away. 

He laid in bed, surrounded by sheets covered in blood and sweat, with grime growing on his skin and overworked lungs. 

The pain was a memory replaced by happiness, replenished by warmth and joy. 

His son was returned to his embrace, laid on a heaving chest and tingling limbs. Wei Wuxian wouldn't have felt happier if not for the lack of his other child's warmth. 

He turned his gaze away from his sleeping son, searching and hunting for his second child and met with a frenzy of rushing servants and agitated physicians. 

"What's wrong." He mumbled, words a whisper that couldn't be heard. 

"What's wrong." He repeated with a louder tone that was heard by a single soul. Mo Xuanyu moved from his side, rushing to Wen Qing only to be ignored. 

"What's wrong." He screamed — the words scratching at his throat and filling him with the bitter taste of metal. 

They turned to him, with worry clouding their gazes, and fear reflected on their faces. 

"It's a prince, Majesty." The midwife replied, evading his question as she walked with the child to settle him on his chest. "The second prince is visually impaired." 

Wei Wuxian didn't care for her words, not when his son settled against his beating heart, chests rising and falling ever gently with wide eyes taking in the world. 

They were a shade that pierced through his heart; lighter than Lan Wangji's, with white clouds swimming through the liquid gold. It was a gem shining in the sky, with faded pupils screened behind the sunlight. 

His eyes were the honey treasured by bees, flowing with curiosity but lacking sight. 

"He's perfect." He whispered; to himself, to the Mo Xuanyu peeking over his shoulder, and the jittery audience anticipating his reaction. 

The world had stolen his family, destroyed his home, but fate had gifted him two stars. 

One was his sun, and the second his moon. 

His fingers brushed against the bloody and moist skin of his second child. "You look so much like your father." He whispered against the top of his head, lips brushing a kiss to his flesh. "You're the child of my moon, aren't you Yueer?" 

"Fine name." He heard, turning his attention Lan Wangji's with a smile in his eyes. 

"Lan Zhan, come meet our boys. I already named this little bean, you can name his Gege, and before you say it is against the rules, I do not care. Don't make me name both." 

His words broke with dryness and exhaustion, a slur that could barely be understood, but was comprehended by Lan Wangji.

"Wei Ying, you worked hard. Thank you." 

Lan Wangji's lips burned his skin, a kiss that branded him, that reminded Wei Wuxian of his freezing body, that alerted him to the cold lingering at his fingertips. 

His smile waned, his attention faded away, buried under the snow piling in his mind and the haze masking his eyes. 

Spots danced in his vision, growing in size as the fatigue settled in his core, and weariness hijacked his brain. 

The world slowly faded away, swallowed by mist and fog and the frenzy of people that buzzed around him. He could hear their words, listen to their terrorised wails as someone settled between his legs.

Only then did he notice the wetness running down his thigh, a trial that remained on his mind. 

Darkness slowly covered his mind, swallowing him, stealing him from the reality of his life. 

The image of his family disappeared, beyond his reach. 

The last thing Wei Wuxian could comprehend was the voice of Lan Wangji as he called his name and the loud cries of his newborn sons. 

He wanted to hold his boys one more time and to confess his love to Lan Zhan for the last time. 

He didn't get the chance. 

His time had run out. 

He couldn't even apologise. 

Chapter Text

Life had slowly seeped out of the Kunning Gong, faded away, replaced by the silence that grew denser with every passing day. The sound of laughter and joy could no longer be heard through the Cloud Recesses as the master of the Inner Palace laid as lifeless as a corpse on his bed. 

His eyes wouldn't flutter open, and consciousness wouldn't slip into his mind. For a week he laid, defeated by a difficult birth and captured by a coma. 

Gone was the beauty of his smile and the healthy tan of his skin. Instead, a grey undertone remained, evidence of the ailment that had racked his body. 

He had gifted Lan Wangji a taste of happiness and gifted him a life beyond his imagination then slipped away from their grasp. 

Lan Wangji would never forget the fear that consumed him as he watched his husband's life seep away, drained with the blood defiling the sheets, soaking them in his essence and soul. 

He was almost lost if not for Wen Qing's miraculous hands, tying him back to the world.

The price was steep, but it was fair. A life for a life and the cost of Wei Wuxian's life was his ability to birth a child. 

He sat by the bed, rocking a fussy Lan Yuan, trying to soothe his cries and failing. He knew his children craved their mother's touch, yearned for Wei Wuxian warmth. Lan Wangji understood that as long as Wei Wuxian remained asleep, their children would not be appeased. 

The first Prince's wetnurse lingered beyond the entrance of the sleeping chamber, waiting for the command to take the infant away. Still, Lan Wangji refused to surrender his hold on his children, declined all requests from his brother and uncle to leave the boys to their carers and rest. 

How could he give them away, allow them to be raised by maids when he cherished Wei Wuxian's opinion regarding the affair? 

How could he go against his husband's wishes just because he was not there to see them through? 

It was the memory of a lazy day, a memory that would never be erased. 

 

His hand was cradled between Wei Wuxian's fingers, guided to a belly swollen with life. His touch was hesitant, buzzing with excited energy, and the fear of hurting his partner and child. 

Wei Wuxian's laughter sounded like tweeting birds, full of joy and with a teasing undertone, and then he felt it; a movement under his hand, a solid kick. His eyes widened, and a smile curled on his lips as he gazed down to their linked hands. 

It was the first time he felt his child. 

'They are already so strong, don't you think, Lan Zhan? It must be a prince.'

'Hmm.' 

'Aiyah, use your words, Lan Zhan. Allow our baby to hear your voice.' 

'Prince or Princess, both are good.' 

'But wouldn't a princess be cute, Lan Zhan? Either way, I'll be happy as long as they are healthy.' 

There was a softness to Wei Wuxian's eyes, a tenderness that captured Lan Wangji's heart and he was falling all over again, a victim to his husband's charm. 

'I want to raise them on my own, Lan Zhan. I want to nurse them and feed them and wash them; I do not want others to do it for me. This is my child, and I'll nurture them on my own. I do not want to rely on wetnurses and servants.' 

Lan Wangji couldn't stand a chance against Wei Wuxian, not his heart and not his smile, just as he couldn't help but pull the man into his arms, cradle him against his chest. 

'Anything for Wei Ying.'

 

The wail of a child caught his attention, fed his worry, and he turned to Huan Zhe, wordlessly ordering him to check on Lan Yueer. Words were no longer needed, not when they have been following the same routine for seven days. 

He gazed to the Lan Yuan cradled in his arms, whining and stretching his arms. His eyes were open, grey and sparkling with glowing stars. They were Wei Wuxian's eyes, and Lan Wangji could not help the longing that leaked into his heart. 

He missed his husband's teasing laughter, his provocative chatter. 

He missed his husband's joy. 

Mo Xuanyu appeared in the entrance, carrying a weeping Lan Yueer with desperation portrayed on his face and tears brimming in his gaze. "I'm sorry, your Majesty, he woke up earlier. We tried to feed him, but he refused to suck. He was quiet for a while, but suddenly he started crying and won't calm down." 

He was a boy thrust in the same position as Lan Wangji. He was Wei Wuxian's adopted family, he was his closest attendant and companion and just as Lan Wangji, he refused to leave, wouldn't rest or sleep. 

He had shouldered the task of caring for the newborns alongside Lan Wangji. 

Lan Wangji didn't hesitate to yield the quieting Lan Yuan to Huan Zhe's arms, taking Lan Yueer from Mo Xuanyu's hold and tucking him against his chest. 

The cries steadily calmed down, fading away into sniffles as he settled in his father's arms. 

His eyes were open, unfocused as he stared at Lan Wangji. The pupils were not black, but white and dotted with stars, fading into the molten gold of his eyes. 

His son was blind, never to see the world, and Lan Wangji could do nothing but worry and vow to protect.

Caring for one child was no easy feat; attending to two was an even more impossible deed. It was made more difficult with the lack of Wei Wuxian's laugh, and his newborns longing for their mother. 

"Did his wetnurse leave him with you?" 

His gaze never shifted from his son, remaining and lingering on his boy's face, watching his golden orbs dance around, crossing now and then. 

"She was tired, and he wouldn't nurse so she called it a night, your Majesty." 

He was not pleased with the reply, not as he looked away from Lan Yueer to study Mo Xuanyu's face, noting the dark circles and the red veins in the whiteness of his eyes. 

Wei Wuxian wouldn't be pleased when he awakens and find his adopted son drooping with exhaustion from caring for his child day and night while his boy's wetnurse slacked. 

"Mo Xuanyu go to sleep. Huan Zhe, when morning comes, replace A-Yue's wetnurse." 

They both bowed, uttering their affirmation. It was a long moment before Mo Xuanyu straightened, and it was a longer second before he looked away from the figure of his sleeping master to leave the room. 

Lan Yuan started to fuss again, little whines escaping his tiny mouth, and Lan Wangji felt helpless against his distress. 

There was no soothing the boys to sleep, there was no pacifying their needs, and as much as he would like to try, he would never be able to replace Wei Wuxian. 

His eyes pricked with tears that wouldn't leak, his hearts squeezed in the palm of grief, but he refused to cry just as he vowed never to give up. 

Lan Wangji had unwavering faith in Wei Wuxian, and he believed with his whole heart that the love of his life would wake up. 

If not for Lan Wangji, then for his newborn children. 

 

 

For the first time since the twins were delivered, the sound of wailing infants could not be heard through the palace halls. It was a quiet morning, with sleeping boys and a comatose Wei Wuxian. 

It was a stillness that didn't belong in the Kunning Gong.

It was another passing day that left everyone longing for a loud cackle and obnoxious jokes. 

Wen Qing bent over Wei Wuxian's noiseless form, pulling the last needle from his skin. It was slowly becoming a routine, a neverending cycle that the Wen physician wished it would end. 

She was starting to lose faith. 

Time and time she'd sit by the Empress' side, clean the healing wound on his lower abdomen, feed him tonics and check his pulse. Day and night she'd pray; beg the heavens for a miracle. 

She no longer smelt of herbs and medicine. Instead, the scent of the burned incense had seeped into her skin, clung to her clothes. 

"Wei Wuxian," She whispered, as she did every time she checked his pulse. "Wake up; you've had a long nap, and your children need you. They won't nurse, they hardly sleep, and no one except your husband can calm them. Stop relying on him; he can't keep doing everything alone, not when they are preparing for war." 

There was no reaction, no reply, her sole answer was the lifeless silence that had consumed the Empress' home.

She pulled the sheets over his frame, tucking them under his chin with practised efficiency. Wen Qing could no longer withstand the lifelessness, hated the silence. 

She turned around, turned away from the sleeping form of her once loud cousin. 

Mo Xuanyu stood in the entrance, eyes wide open and sparkling with tears, face painted in surprise as he gazed beyond her, his attention fixated on Wei Wuxian's form. 

"What is it?" She asked, turning around to search Wei Wuxian's form. 

The medical chest she had picked up, plummeted to the ground with a thud, burst open by the force of the crash, spilling herbs and tools all over the floor. 

Neither of them cared for the ruckus or the mess as they rushed to Wei Wuxian's side. 

His eyelids fluttered, eyes opening with a struggle. 

"My children. Where are my children?" 

His voice cracked and slurred as he tried to sit up, struggling with every shift and move, limbs stiff and body weak. Wen Qing held him down, her grip on his shoulders unshakable as he fought against her hold. 

"They are sleeping. Wei Wuxian, settle down, or you will reopen your wound. You cannot afford to lose any more blood." 

It was a long moment before the words registered to his hazy mind, and his struggle subsided, his movements dying down. His lips formed words, but no sound left as exhaustion swallowed him, and his eyelids fluttered closed.

Joy slowly, gradually seeped back into the palace halls as sleep recollected Wei Wuxian, and his chest rose and fell. There was no grief in the air; there was no worry and fear. 

"Go inform his Majesty. The Empress has awoken." 

Wei Wuxian was back, and they no longer had anything to fear. 

 

 

Thirteen days, he remained asleep, beyond their reach. 

Thirteen days they waited for him to awaken and his laughter to sound aloud. 

Thirteen days they struggled, caring for newborns that longed for their mother's embrace. 

Thirteen days and Wei Wuxian was finally back. 

Lan Wangji would've waited an eternity if he had to. 

He sat on the edge of the bed, hands supporting Wei Wuxian's shoulders as he struggled to sit, propping him against pillow and headrests. 

The entirety of his household and his physician were against his movements. His husband refused to listen, denied every suggestion and rejected every advice. 

'Am I not allowed to hold my babies now? I'll just hold them, I won't do anything else, and if I get tired; I'll immediately hand them over. Please, Lan Zhan.'

No one could convince him once his mind was set, and Lan Wangji could not deny him, not when he almost lost him. 

Exhaustion painted every part of his body, coloured his eyes and the twitch of his lips, yet he refused to rest, his thoughts consumed by his children. 

The wetnurses stood further away, one cradling an agitated Lan Yuan while the other held a sleeping Lan Yueer. They were perfect copies of each other, distinctive in their eye colours. 

In their features, Wei Wuxian could find traces of both of him and Lan Wangji. 

He could find himself in the cut of their noses, in the curl of their lips and he could see Lan Wangji in the mould of their face, and the shape of their eyes. 

They were undeniably theirs, one with eyes as grey as a stormy sky, and the other with orbs as bright as amber gems. 

His smile widened, beaming with joy and warmth, and there was a softness in his eyes, a glow that could not be dimmed. He held his hand out, a silent order for the wetnurse to hand him his child. 

Wen Qing stepped forward, reaching to position his arms. "Support his neck." He was pliant to her control, impatiently following her instruction until she approved. 

"Aiyah, I get it. Give him to me now." 

"Remember, if you feel dizzy, tired or in pain, speak up. It won't do anyone any good if you collapse." 

"Yes, yes. Stop pestering. Give him to me." 

There was a sigh of indignation, a mumble of annoyance that was ignored as Lan Wangji picked the child from the wetnurse's arms and gently laid him in Wei Wuxian's waiting embrace. 

The child stilled, his whines dying down as he stared up at Wei Wuxian. He was a bewitched, enthralled by his mother's warmth and the familiar scent of home and safety. 

They slipped, falling and falling, away from reality until nothing existed but a fantasy world. They plummeted deep into a hole of happiness, transferred into a wonderland where there was no pain nor grief, and only they existed. 

It was a scene stolen from a story. It was the perfect meeting after longing. 

"Such a good boy. My perfect boy, my perfect A-Yuan." 

He couldn't resist pressing a gentle kiss to the pinkish skin of his forehead, inhaling the scent of his baby into his lungs. 

There was a glass wall surrounding them, a castle of crystal that housed them, kept them warm and away from prying eyes.

Wei Wuxian was content; he was relieved, disregarding the prying eyes as he rocked his child.

It ended as their crystal house broke, shattered by Wen Qing's words of stone, turned into fragments that dropped over them like falling snow.

"I'm sorry, your Majesty, you should get some rest now." 

He pulled Lan Yuan closer to his chest, angeled his body away from Wen Qing, and refused to give in, ignored her requests. 

"Look, he's starting to whine again, let's give him to his wetnurse to feed him, okay?" 

"No, I want to try to nurse him myself." 

"You've been sitting long enough. You need to take it easy; you've only been awake for two hours." 

He shifted around, away from Wen Qing grasp, turning his back to her with little regard to the pain that washed through him like a wave of frost. Sweat coated his skin, droplets formed from the effort and the profuse pain. 

"Wei Ying." Lan Wangji called, a current of warmth that pressed against his back, breathing into his hair, fingers supporting his arms. "You can try to nurse them tonight after you eat." 

He leaned back into Lan Wangji, craning his neck to look into his golden eyes. "Can I hold Yueer, at least?" 

"Mmmm." 

His smile returned, and the sun rose onto his face. His happiness was a warmth that melted the snow covering the ground outside his palace walls. 

His lips brushed another kiss to Lan Yuan's skin before he was stolen from his arms, replaced by a different warmth. 

Lan Yueer was as light as his older brother, as warm as his love for them, but he was a calmer presence that didn't fuss even as tears flowed in the golden of his eyes and little sniffles sounded out. Wei Wuxian could see him growing up wearing a crystal mask on his face; he could see all of Lan Wangji in him. 

"Such a strong boy. I dare anyone to say you're not perfect." 

There were shadows in his heart, forgotten in the joy of his sons' warmth, but it was a demon of grief and regret that wouldn't be erased, that grew with every thought and word. 

He had failed his family and caused their demise, brought the war to their doors and didn't stand by their side. 

He had abandoned his family and left them behind, slipping beyond their reach when he promised always to be there. 

He vowed never to leave, to stay and guard his love and boys with his life.

As he held his youngest against his beating heart, he promised to burn the world and slaughter the Wens, vowed to give them a world of peace with no wars. 

 

 

The night had descended, draining the world from the warmth of the sun, giving rise to the moon to strip the earth of sunlight and bathe life in darkness. The night had fallen upon the earth, bringing shadows and blinds to hide the secrets of the heart. 

For the first time since he woke up, Wei Wuxian found himself alone, drowning in his thoughts, sinking deeper and deeper into his grief. 

He laid in bed, tucked under the thick sheets with the crackling fire heating the room, guarding against the cold, yet Wei Wuxian didn't feel the warmth around him as the coldness of regret ate at him. 

'You're nothing but a troublemaker, Wei Wuxian, and one day, you'll bring ruin to Lotus Pier.'

Empress Yu spoke no lies, only a prophecy that came alive, and in the end, she was right. Wei Wuxian was the catalyst that set forth the events that would destroy the home that sheathed a homeless boy. 

He might not have been the one who burned down Lotus Pier, but he was as much the murderer of the man that raised him as the Wen Clan. 

He closed his eyes, hiding away from the assault of the memories that attacked his mind. There was no fighting the images that played behind his eyes. 

He could never apologise nor make up for his crimes. 

"Wei Ying." 

The call of his name chased the cold away, burying the emotions raging in his heart behind a wide smile. 

Lan Wangji was the warm fire of his winter, the blooming florals of his spring, the cool breeze of his summer and the falling leaves of his autumn. Lan Wangji was the guardian protecting his heart.

Lan Wangji was the smile in Wei Wuxian's eyes. 

Wei Wuxian opened languid eyes, watching Lan Wangji as he moved around the room, counting the clouds on his clothes, watching the candles reflected on his skin, bathing him in a golden hue. 

He was the light in a moonless night. 

"What's wrong?" He asked, and Wei Wuxian could only brush his question off, shifting to hold his arms out in an invitation that his husband couldn't decline. 

"I missed you in my dreams, Lan Er-Gege." 

"Missed Wei Ying." 

This time Wei Wuxian's smile was genuine, filled with luminous warmth that soothed the worry glowing in the gold of Lan Wangji's eyes. 

He wrapped his arms around Lan Wangji's shoulders, enveloped him in his embrace and tugged him down against his chest, careless of his throbbing wound. His husband resisted his pull, hoisting his weight off of Wei Wuxian's form. 

Lan Wangji hovered above him, supported by his elbows as he leaned and brushed a fleeting kiss to Wei Wuxian's chapped lips, a brief brush that didn't satisfy and tore a needy whine from him. 

They remained like that, a statue of love and intimacy, with sweet kisses and chaste pecks, with soft touches and whispered confessions. 

The guilt was a demon forgotten, persisted as a flickering spark in Wei Wuxian's heart. 

They laid side by side, skin to skin, heart to heart, sharing breathes and warmth. 

As Lan Wangji carefully, tugged Wei Wuxian into his arms, the later slot into place, a pair of lock and key. 

"When are you leaving?" 

The question caught Lan Wangji off guard, stole the breath from his lungs and rendered a wordless man silent, but Wei Wuxian didn't need words to read the conflict on his husband's face. 

There was weariness in his eyes. 

There was a burden on his shoulders. 

There was a shadow of fear at the corner of his mouth. 

There were infinite possibilities to what weighed on his husband's mind, but Wei Wuxian knew that there was only one event that would burden an entire nation. 

There was only war. 

Wei Wuxian heard about his husband before he wed him in rumours and tales, a fair and just leader, a monarch that served his people. He got to know his character after they married, learned that Lan Wangji was a righteous man who hid his heart behind a crystal mask, cryptic to all but few. 

Lan Wangji was not a ruler to hide behind his golden walls; he was a leader that charged ahead of his people. 

If there were a battle, he would be the first to fight. 

"In a week. The four kingdoms will join armies in Qinghe; Emperor Mingjue has been elected as the Commander." 

"Take me with you, Lan Zhan." 

There was no moment given for consideration; there was no second of hesitation, the answer came instantly as if Lan Wangji was prepared for Wei Wuxian's question. 

It was a rejection that shadowed their smiles, that stole a star from Wei Wuxian's eyes. 

"I'm a capable fighter, one of the best you can have. I can help, Lan Zhan."

It was a night of grief and challenges. 

"You're still recovering. Brother is coming, and Uncle will handle state affairs, but the defence will be under your command. I'll be leaving Gusu's guard in your hands." 

A candle died, the flame extinguished, bathing the room in the dimness of the night. Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji didn't notice the change in the light, thrust into a battle of clashing wills that neither could win. 

The chill of winter slowly crept into the room, a creature of nightmares that slithered in search of prey. It left Wei Wuxian quivering, breaking his gaze away from Lan Wangji's. 

It was not a loss; it was not a surrender. It was a truce. 

Lan Wangji was a flaming brazier; he was a human furnace, and Wei Wuxian leaned into his warmth, stealing heat to quill the shivers wracking his frame. 

"Aiyah, Cloud Recesses is too cold. Lan Zhan, why did your ancestors have to build this city on a mountain? Was there no other lands they could use?"

Lan Wangji's glare was void of praise; it was an unimpressed scowl that drew a burst of ringing laughter out of Wei Wuxian's heart. It was a sound cut before it could mature, a flower plucked before it could bloom. It was a melody of joy shattered by a groan of pain. 

"Wei Ying!" Lan Wangji's call rang loud, more resonant than the howling wind and the cries of war. It was a cry that lit a spark of mischief in grey eyes. 

"Lan Zhan," He whispered with forged strain in his tone. "I'm your delicate husband. You must protect and take care of me, yes?" 

"Always." 

The cold dissolved away, driven by the rush of heat that enveloped him, melted by the rushing blood that coloured his cheeks. Wei Wuxian's smile softened into a tender curl of his lips. His hands cradled Lan Wangji's face, pressing a kiss to his lips. 

"Lan Zhan, I'm back. Thank you for waiting." 

There were unspoken words, there were unstated questions, and there were unresolved matters, yet neither wanted to break the peace, and neither wanted to destroy the calm.

It was their first night together after many lonely nights, and it was their first embrace after a trail that nearly stripped them of their joy. 

It was their last peaceful night. 

The birth of their children ended one chapter of their lives and opened another one. 

It was an episode of conflict. 

A war was coming

They needed to prepare for the impending battle. 

Chapter Text

War was a story depicted from a nightmare, a novel of raging fires and seeping blood, a tale of lost lives. 

War was a painting of death; a portrait sketched in red as blood coated the earth and dyed it in the colour of lost life.

War was a monstrosity that took and took, consumed lives and sucked the happiness from nations until nothing but sorrow and pain remained. 

War was a presence that spared no one. 

The tales of old battles spoke of fallen heroes and righteousness, describing the horrors of warfare in a golden hue that deceived. The stories of their ancestor never spoke of the grief, never mentioned the ones who were left behind. 

The tales of heroes and war never recounted the destruction the battle left behind. 

War had sucked the life from Gusu, left nothing but sorrow and misery behind as tales of death and loss filled their minds. Even victory didn't raise their morals, not when the price was thousands of lives. 

He lowered the dozing Lan Yuan into his crib, movements careful and gentle as he tugged the cotton blanket over the small form, sheltering him from the breeze. His fingers lingered on the soft hair, stroking the strands as he stood over the cradle, a guardian and a shield. 

He prayed that the flames of war would not touch his children's lives, wished to protect them from the horror of combat. 

"Young Master, General Zuo is asking for an audience." 

He turned away from his child's sleeping form, hand dropping to his side as the reality settled back. 

"Lead him to the main chamber; I'll be there in a second." 

He had grown to appreciate General Zuo through the five months since the war started, relied on him to lead the army and deliver his command. 

He found him standing in the centre of the chamber, dropping into a bow as soon as Wei Wuxian appeared. 

"At ease." 

War had brought them together. They were a monarch and a subject, a master and a servant, a leader and an ally. Wei Wuxian wouldn't have found a better commander to convey his messages to the men protecting the nation. 

Zuo Bai was a man of his word, a fair and just leader, and a subject that obeyed his command. He was a military man that Wei Wuxian could trust at the moment of the confrontation. 

"Your Majesty, Wen Chao, is leading an army heading this way. They will reach the capital by this time tomorrow." 

There was no fear, and there was no panic. There was only resignation and determination. 

It was a matter of time before the Wens struck and burned down their homes, slaughtering the innocent and the young. It was a reality that Wei Wuxian had anticipated as the drums of war thundered, and so they were prepared for battle, refused to go down without a fight. 

They will protect their people until their last breath. 

He will protect his children until no life remained, and still, he'd fight. 

"Prepare your men; I want everything ready before sunset. Check all the bows and swords, and prepare the oil and fire. The moment the Wen breach the walls, Gusu falls. I want every soldier outfitted for battle." 

There was a second of silence as the general nodded, a moment that shattered as Wei Wuxian spoke again. 

"Pull back all the guards from the towers. I want everyone inside the walls before they reach us." 

The sound of a child's wail resounded across the walls, loud and startling. It was a cry that announced the end of their discussion, that gave the general no reason to stay. 

He folded his arms and bowed with perfect devotion and absolute trust. 

"I take my leave, your Majesty." 

Wei Wuxian found no reason to keep the general any longer, nodding his assent as he turned his gaze to Luo Qingyang. "MianMian, see General Zuo out." 

He didn't wait to watch them leave, turning around and stalking to Lan Yueer's room. Wei Wuxian's thoughts were a jumbled mess, a storm of clashing plans; with worries for the kingdom, concern for his husband and fear for his children battling in his mind. 

There had been no peace since the war broke and the four kingdoms united to end the tyranny of Wen Ruohan. 

The peace was shattered to fragments that lingered like a shadow of nostalgia in everyone's hearts. 

"Yu-er," He called as he walked into his child's room, finding Mo Xuanyu cradling a weeping Lan Yueer. "What's wrong?" 

"I think he's hungry, Young Master." 

Wei Wuxian nodded, accepting the answer as he held his arms out, waiting for Mo Xuanyu to surrender his child into his embrace. Lan Yueer settled in his arms, his cries quieted down, the sound of his wails fading into the air. 

He was a boy that was soothed by his mother's warmth. 

"Are you hungry, A-Yue? My sweet boy, I'm here, and Yu-Gege is here too, so why are you crying?" 

Wei Wuxian rocked him in his arms, a gentle swinging that meant to prolong the calm. It was a short moment before he sat down and tugged his robes open, guiding his son to nurse. 

"A-Yu, you and Xue Yang should be ready. If the plan fails and the Wen breach the walls, take the two princes and run. A boat has been placed at the base of the mountain. Follow the river through the back and make your way to Lanling, Jiejie will take you in."

Wei Wuxian could read the horror in the bronze eyes, could see the objection in the twitch of his lips and the furrow of his brows. 

"I will not leave you. Xue Yang and Maiden Luo can go." 

A flare of defiance burned in Wei Wuxian's eyes, a flame of protectiveness raged in his chest. His mind was set, moulded into a pattern of thought that could not be modified. 

"Do not argue with me on this. We will win, but if we do lose, you will take them and go. If Gusu falls, the Lan bloodline will be wiped out, and you a prince of Jin will not be spared." 

"But, Young Master, I want to stay by your side. I'll fight with you. Let me protect you, and so if anything happens, you can take the princes and run." 

Wei Wuxian could feel the words soothe his anger, a surge of water that extinguished the fire that was heating his blood, and he couldn't help the soft smile that graced his lips. 

"You are such a good child, but I need you to stay behind with them, and I need you to follow my instructions. I can't trust anyone else with their lives. Promise me, Yu-er." 

Wei Wuxian could see the glow of dissatisfaction in his eyes, could read the frustration on his face like a layer of makeup that couldn't be scorned. 

He expected another argument to sound, but no dispute came. 

"I promise." 

The relief was a tide that crashed through him, a forceful wave that washed the shadow of fear away, easing the burden weighing on his heart. 

"Good boy." He looked away from the eyes flowing with tears to brush his fingers through the soft and short hair adorning his child's head. "Can you please send someone to inform Uncle Qiren that the Wen army is upon us, and have someone sound the bells. People need to be warned." 

As Mo Xuanyu left the room, Wei Wuxian's form bowed, back slouched, raised only for his child's sake. There was a weight on his shoulders that will not ease as the danger persisted, and Lan Wangji was away. 

Fear was a monster that slowly consumed his spirit. 

He prayed to the heavens for an absolute victory. 

 

 

The sun was scorching, a burning heat that shone above them, drowning them in sweat, drying the crystal surface of the water that the city was built around. 

It was a dry summer day that left them suffocating, gasping for air but finding not even the relief of a summer breeze. 

It was the perfect day to push the Wen army back, away from the city walls and into the shaded forest land. 

Heaven was on their side, giving the Wen no place to camp. Their choices were limited to the open clearing in front of the city walls perfect for shooting down enemies or the dense wall of trees hiding them from view. 

He was prepared for every scenario and every scene, ready to charge head-on or sit back and watch traps slowly eat at their force and morale. 

He refused to allow them to pass, to give them a chance to take a step into his domain.

"They set camp in the forest, your Majesty." 

A smile graced his lips, as bright as the sun shining in the sky. "Perfect, now we'll wait for the sun to set in an hour. I want everyone in place. We'll proceed when it is dark." 

The time passed in a frenzy of movements, with rushing soldiers and final arrangements. There was no moment to spare to relax and breathe, not when their people's lives were on the line. 

They could hear the sound of war drums in the air, a symphony of conflict that beat in sync with their hearts. 

He stood on the wall, directing and strategising, overseeing their preparations, and his men, his soldiers, followed his command with no arguments or questions. 

After months of working under his command, of following his directions and training under his regiment, Wei Wuxian had gained their trust and loyalty. He was accepted as their commanding general before he was viewed as the spouse of their Emperor. 

They valued his input, found wisdom and intelligence in his plans. 

They trusted his desire to operate with them, hand in hand. They believed in his acceptance of them. He was a monarch that wasn't above fighting by their side. 

The sun moved in the sky, dove under the water and the horizon beyond their view. The light disappeared, replaced by darkness illuminated by the stars. It was a moonless night, an evening with no light. 

The forest would be pitch black, a room with no windows for light to seep through and brighten the night. The Wen should not be able to see through the veil of the night, not without torches and fire to light the way. 

It was the perfect night for them to move without detection, to sneak and encircle the forest, cutting off any path of escape. 

He stood in the clearing before the forest, surrounded by his men. They were a barrier blocking the Wen from the walls enclosing the capital and the forbidden city beyond it. 

"Is everyone in place?" 

"Yes, your Majesty. Please give the order to begin." 

His smile took on a sharp edge, a smirk of victory that lit a spark of wickedness in his gaze. This was his revenge served on a silver platter. It was his chance to destroy the people who burned his home to ashes and slaughtered his family and his people. 

This was the retribution he was waiting for, the retaliation he was counting the seconds to claim. 

Malice had taken root in his heart, a black hole that grew with the passing time. It was a demon hungering for Wen blood, a monster that was starving for months. 

He would not grant Wen Chao a swift death. 

"Burn them down." 

The burning torch moved with the soldier as he stepped into the darkness of the night, shifted with his every move until the flames touched the trees washed in oils. Flaming arrows followed by, rained down on the forest, caught onto wood and leaves until hell erupted. 

Rising flames swallowed the peace and the silence, consumed everything they touched until the world turned red and the darkness disappeared, lit by hellfire. 

The flames crackled and sizzled as they burned through the woods and leaves, leaving nothing behind but ashes that rained down like falling snow. 

His men stood with straight backs and raised swords, waiting for the Wen to awaken to the nightmare of the trap enclosing upon them. 

"Your Majesty," A young marshall called, hands folded and bent at the waist. "May I ask you a question." 

Wei Wuxian's fingers stroked the hilt of Suibian, following the ridges and edges of the decorated grip with callused skin. He turned a welcoming smile to the man standing behind him. 

"Of course, do you want me to tell you about the love Lan Zhan and I share? Or the nights he spends with me?"  

He watched as a blush bloomed across tanned skin, as red as the flaming fire burning the forest behind them, and couldn't help the laugh that escaped his lips, a sound strained with the tension growing in the air. 

"I wouldn't dare, your Majesty. I merely wished to ask why we're not fighting them head-on. Please punish my disrespect." 

"Aiyah, you're no fun." The teasing note faded from his voice as the first scream of agony sounded through the brightness of the firelit sky, a song of misery and pain, a melody of fear. It was the sign they were waiting for. 

The fire reached the Wen army encampment and spared not even them. 

"Be prepared, cut down anyone that leaves the forest alive." 

The words swallowed the light atmosphere of his joke, left them stressed and anxious, on edge and searching for the slightest hint of movement through the wall of fire rising from the forest. 

No one talked as the screams and wails sounded louder, a symphony of the chaos that infected the Wen army. Wei Wuxian used that chance to answer the question of the young man, to ease his mind of speculations.

"Our walls are easier to breach and harder to defend, and we're outnumbered one to three. I'd rather ambush them and be dishonourable than allow them an easy win. This is a war; the lives of the people is more important than how we choose to fight." 

A shadow moved through the dancing flames, a shift accompanied by shrieks and cries. Wei Wuxian was the first to move, to react and run to strike the armoured soldier as he emerged from the blazing abyss. He was the first to fall by his hands; his blood painted the ground as he collapsed, a lifeless and burned corpse. 

There were no idle moments after that; there were only strikes and slashes; there were stabbing and killing. 

It was a scene from a nightmare, a portrait of hell as the fire rose to the sky, a black, thick cloud of smoke filled the air and ashes painted the ground in a carpet of grey. 

The Wen lived in a frenzy of fear, in terror that destroyed their minds and pain that ate their skin. The fire didn't spare anyone, licking them until they turned to dust or drowned in the river by the weight of their armour. 

Those who survived died by the hands of the enemy they came to slay. 

It was the optimum scene of the destruction of the war. 

The night never ended, a cycle of slaughter and death that bore till the sun broke at the horizon, and the flames of hell died down as its sustenance vanished.

Wei Wuxian stood over the quivering figure of Wen Chao, terror prominent on his face. "Wen Zhuliu, get up, protect me!" The only answer was a twitch of the remaining finger on the General's hand, a groan of pain as he tried to drag himself across the ground. Wei Wuxian didn't hesitate to kick him away, watch him wither in pain as his blood seeped and sprayed the dead grass. "Wei Wuxian, you son of a whore, don't think you'll get away with this. My father will have your head." 

The ringing of Wei Wuxian's laughter was a sound of mockery and ridicule, a cruel cackle that raised the unburnt hair on Wen Chao's body. The second prince of Wen was kneeling at the foot of a demon, unable to escape or retaliate as fear ate at his energy and left him trembling like a leaf. 

"You should give up and grovel now, Wen Chao. You should beg for your worthless life and crawl like the worm you are. I'll skin you alive for what you did to Lotus Pier. You have no one but yourself to blame for this." 

He raised his sword, struck it down to sever Wen Chao's ear, watched as the limb fell to the wet ground and blood seeped down the side of his face. He slashed again and again, cutting off member after member, watching as his parts covered the ground. His blood wetted his skin and the ground until he collapsed, limbless and limp. 

Wei Wuxian took pleasure in indulging the demon of vengeance that resided in his heart. He found satisfaction in watching Wen Chao pay for the lives he stole with his body parts until his blood dried out and he lay lifeless and severed to pieces. 

There was no shadow of regret, there was no grief and sorrow, not as he prayed that this would appease the souls of the dead, and not as the sun rose and the day broke. 

It was a priceless victory, a strike against the power of Qishan as they stole the lives of their prince and their commanding general. 

It was a victory not merely to Wei Wuxian and Yunmeng; it was a victory to the entire allied army. 

His men celebrated with a deafening roar, a sound of triumph that reverberated through the quiet day, carried by the summer breeze through the city streets. 

It was a victory that promised to set the momentum for their army. It was the first conquest that would lead to the fall of the Qishan Kingdom. 

It was a nightmare that had dyed the river in red, washed the earth in the blood of the fallen. 

 

 

"Wen Rouhan is dead. The sun was shot." 

The sound of the horse as it ran through the streets of Caiyi town was loud, an echo muffled only by the message announced to the people filling the streets. 

It was the message of victory and triumph, the news that filled their hearts with relief and joy. 

After months of battling armies and clashing swords, they had finally won, and their sons and daughters would be coming home. 

Their army would be coming back with pride a prize in their hearts and the peace a gift to their people. 

The message was a mantra played on repeated, never-ending even as the messenger was allowed entry to the forbidden city, and his horse carried him to the inner palace. 

He had a message to deliver to the Empress of Gusu. 

No one could deny that the sun shone brighter that day, celebrating the long-awaited victory.

 

 

There was an ease in the air that could not be duplicated, a serenity that slowly and gradually seeped back into the Cloud Recesses until it settled down, filled the sorrow with tranquillity and joy. 

The war was over; the Wen dynasty was exterminated, slain by the hands of the kingdoms they tyrannised for years. 

Wen Ruohan paid the price of his cruelty with his life and the lives of his descendants. 

It was a cruel fate, one Wei Wuxian wished upon no one. 

He smiled at Lan Yueer who was slowly, carefully and hesitantly crawling on the floor, making his way in the direction of Wei Wuxian's seat. He was a boy with an intellect that filled Wei Wuxian with pride, relieved the worry that remained a constant in his heart. 

What his boy lacked in vision, he made up for with his intelligence. 

He stopped crawling, frozen in place with unfocused golden eyes that pierced through Wei Wuxian even when he knew his son couldn't see him. 

"Mama." He whined, a question and inquiry in his voice that pulled a gentle chuckle of encouragement from Wei Wuxian. 

"I'm here, A-Yue. You're doing great, keep going, and you'll reach me." 

He held his arms out, left his hands in reach of Lan Yueer as he kept one eye on each child. One was concentrated on the crawling boy, and the other was focused on the more courageous and active Lan Yuan who was standing, supported by a low table. 

Small hands touched his palm, but Lan Yueer didn't stop moving, crawling into Wei Wuxian's lap. He hid his face against his mother's chest as he settled into his embrace. 

Lan Yuan was the future crown prince of Gusu, the next Emperor to rule. He would forever be the First Prince before being Wei Wuxian's son. 

Lan Yueer was none of that. He was a prince who would never rule, never wear a crown. He was Wei Wuxian's child first and foremost. 

The fate of his boys was cruel, their future thorny, and Wei Wuxian worried and suffered in his fear for their lives. 

One would always have the responsibility of a prince, would carry the weight of a kingdom over his shoulders. The other would lead a life void of images and colour. 

Both would live lonely lives. 

Wei Wuxian vowed to always stand by their sides, to be their pillars and their support. 

"Good boy, A-Yue." He whispered in his silky raven locks, pressing a kiss to his temple as his babbled away, mumbling incoherent words. 

"A-Yuan, don't go there." He called as the boy tried to walk away, steps shaky and unbalanced, shadowed by a worried Mo Xuanyu. 

They were growing up, developing fast and learning skills every day. It filled Wei Wuxian with pride and warmth, just as it worried him. Soon, they'd be too old for his care. 

They were set to live strict lives, to grow up surrounded by rules that restricted and defined. 

Wei Wuxian could spare them the bounds of the Cloud Recesses rules, raise them to be defiant and rebellious, but he could never save them from the shackles of their ranks. 

He could only ease the burdens on their shoulders. 

Lan Yuan looked at him, and his smile was as radiant as the shining sun, as beautiful as a spring day. It washed his thoughts away, drowned him in happiness that could not compare. 

They were his most valued treasure. 

It was a quiet day spent watching his boys crawl and play, learn words and babble stories to him; it was a lazy day that turned warm as Lan Wangji walked into his palace, unannounced. 

He was a perfect jade status with pristine robes and golden eyes. 

Wei Wuxian fell in love with him, sunk into the captivating love glowing in his golden eyes. 

The last piece he didn't know was missing slot back into his heart, and he was finally whole. 

"Lan Zhan." He called, startling Lan Yueer from his babbled story. 

Wei Wuxian stood up, his boy held against his chest. He didn't notice the small hand that settled on his jaw in his rush to his husband's side. "You're finally back." 

"Mmmm." 

He was pulled into Lan Wangji's arms, tugged into a tight embrace - as firm as it could be with their son cradled between their forms. 

"Welcome back." 

Their lips touched in a chaste kiss. It was the kiss of first love; it was the soft peck of innocent passion. 

They broke away as Wei Wuxian felt a weak tug at the hem of his robes, shifted his gaze to the seated Lan Yuan with a reassuring smile on his face. "A-Yuan, A-Yue, this is your father. Say hello." 

He moved to bend down and pick up the boy just as Lan Wangji lowered himself to his knees, holding his arms in an invitation. There was no hesitation from the boy who crawled into his father's embrace, wrapped small arms around his neck. 

"Hello." He said, with the enthusiastic chatter of a child, followed by a babbled introduction that drew a smile of pride on Wei Wuxian's face. 

Lan Yuan was the sociable boy among the twins, the child that welcomed the touch of strangers and sought out people, and Wei Wuxian didn't expect any less from the boy towards his father. 

Lan Yueer was the shy boy that hid his face in the crook of Wei Wuxian's neck, refused to introduce himself to Lan Wangji. It was reasonable and understandable. He was their father, but he was still a stranger they have only met in the stories foretold by Wei Wuxian. 

There would be time for them to grow as a family. 

For now, Wei Wuxian could relish in the peace, accept this fate. 

The world was in peace and happiness was within their grasp. 

No happy ever after was ever perfect, and no life passed with no hurdles, but there was comfort in their lives, there was a joy that could not be erased. 

All was well with their world, and they lived happily ever after. 

 

- Finished -