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how do i forgive myself (for losing so much time)

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Wei Wuxian didn’t know what to expect when he arrived at Cloud Recesses.

He’d been minding his own business, trying to get Lil’ Apple to stop loitering in the middle of the road when the letter had arrived. Lan Zhan and he sent messages back and forth often. It was their way of keeping track of each other as Wei Wuxian traveled and Lan Zhan tried his best to keep the other Secs from running amuck. They told each other of their days and people they had met, night hunts they’d gone on and everything else in between.

At first, he’d been pleasantly surprised. He had just sent a letter to Lan Zhan not two days previous, and he wasn’t expecting a reply so soon. His surprise, however, turned to concern the instant he opened it.

The message had been short and panicked in a way Lan Zhan’s letters had never been before.

I need help. Come quickly.

From where he had been, normally it would have taken him around two days to reach Cloud Recesses, but he managed it in the better part of an afternoon.

It was just getting dark when he reached Cloud Recesses, and much to his surprise, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Everything was the same as it always was as he tore through the pathways in search of Lan Zhan. Cloud Recesses was as neat and calm as ever. No one was attacking, nothing was on fire, the disciples weren’t in any obvious distress. It seemed to be normal business for everyone.

He found Lan Sizhui sparring with some of the other disciples during his frantic and confused running about. He stopped to ask if he knew why Lan Zhan had sent for him, but he seemed just as confused as to what was wrong.

“He hasn’t been out of his room very much since yesterday,” Lan Sizhui said. “But I thought he was just missing you.”

Wei Wuxian would examine what he meant by that later.

The Jingshi looked the same as always from the outside, calm and comforting in a way that Wei Wuxian dared not let himself think of as home.

Whatever he expected when he entered, it certainly wasn’t this.

The Jingshi was in shambles, things thrown to the floor, blankets and clothes scattered everywhere, an inkpot turned over on the desk, ink spilling onto the papers strewn across it.

In the middle of the chaos sat Lan Zhan.

His hair was down around his shoulders, loose and messy in a way Wei Wuxian had never seen before, even in the cold springs, even when they’d been trapped and injured in the Xuanwu cave. His robes were in a similarly alarming state, rumpled and stained and hanging loose.

What shocked Wei Wuxian the most, however, was the fact that sitting in his lap, chewing on the strings of his forehead ribbon, was a baby.

“Please help me,” Lan Zhan said, desperate and defeated.

Wei Wuxian did the only thing he could possibly do in a situation like that.

He threw his head back and laughed louder than he had probably ever laughed in his life.

He might have laughed and laughed and never stopped if not for the fact that the sudden noise startled the child in Lan Zhan’s arms. Its little face scrunched up as it scrambled to hold on tight to the front of Lan Zhan’s robes. The baby then let out a wail that seemed loud enough to shake the very walls.

Wei Wuxian wondered suddenly if babies were forbidden in Cloud Recesses. Loud noises certainly weren’t permitted, and babies couldn’t help but cry. Was there a place away from Cloud Recesses where Lan Sect disciples went to raise their children until they were old enough to know how to be quiet? It seemed just absurd enough to be the kind of thing that the Lans would do.

Although, maybe all children born into the Lan Sect didn’t cry, stoic from the time they were pushed into the world. It certainly seemed that Lan Zhan would have never done anything as undignified as weep and wail, even as an infant. But Lan Jingyi existed, and Wei Wuxian had no doubt that he had been just as loud when he was a baby as he was now that he was a teenager.

Lan Zhan bounced the child in his arms, trying to quiet it with a gentle voice and little pats to its bottom. The softness of it all sent butterflies fluttering through Wei Wuxian’s stomach, and he paused to watch the scene with a fond smile. Something about Lan Zhan with a baby in his arms looked so right that it made his breath catch in his chest and his heart ache with a longing beat. In his disheveled state, Lan Zhan looked so wonderfully domestic, and Wei Wuxian had the image in his head of a future he wanted more than anything. A future of coming home to a little house in the country where his husband and their children were waiting for him when he walked through the door.

If Wei Wuxian hadn’t already been in love with this man, he might have fallen in this moment.

He let his eyes drop to the child in Lan Zhan’s arms. The baby’s cries had quieted to little whimpers, and it nuzzled a cheek into the front of Lan Zhan’s robes. Lan Zhan offered one of his fingers to the child who immediately gripped it in one of its tiny fists.

Only then did Wei Wuxian think to question the origin of the baby.

The child certainly looked like Lan Zhan. It was actually startling how similar their features were, the same roundness to their nose, the way their eyebrows sloped, the shape of their ears. Wei Wuxian’s heart clenched in his chest when he realized what that meant. This was unmistakably Lan Zhan’s child.

He wondered who the mother was. He hadn’t heard mention of Lan Zhan taking a wife or having a lover, but he’d been gone for so long. It made him sad to think that he’d missed out on so much and that there was something so big that he hadn’t known about Lan Zhan. He wondered why he’d never mentioned her in his letters.

He swallowed around the lump that was lodged suddenly in his throat at the thought of Lan Zhan in love with some unknown woman, no doubt kind and beautiful and soft and quiet.

He hoped that she knew how to make Lan Zhan smile. He deserved someone who could make him happy.

Wei Wuxian forced a smile and moved to sit at Lan Zhan’s side.

“Lan Zhan, I didn’t know you had a baby,” he said in lieu of doing something as humiliating as bursting into tears.

He ran a finger over a soft, chubby cheek as the child blinked up at him with wide, suspicious eyes.

Lan Zhan just shook his head.

“Not mine.”

Wei Wuxian was almost ashamed of the wave of relief he felt. Those words soothed his heart as he stoked a finger down the slope of the child’s nose and over its little chin.

The image of that nameless woman vanished from his mind. Of course he would know if Lan Zhan had someone like that in his life. He let out a small laugh that sounded too relieved, even to his own ears.

“I was wondering why you’d never mentioned a girl before.” He grinned up at Lan Zhan. “I also wondered what happened to make the honorable Hanguang-jun do something so shameless as sire a child out of wedlock.”

Lan Zhan’s ears burned red just like Wei Wuxian hoped they would, and he looked affronted. It reminded Wei Wuxian of the expressions he would make a lifetime ago when they were both teenagers at Cloud Recesses.

“I don’t—I wouldn’t—”

Wei Wuxian laughed and trailed his finger over the tiny knuckles of the fist that held Lan Zhan’s finger in its tight grip.

“Then whose is it?”

“Brother.”

Wei Wuxian’s eyes bulged.

Now, he knew for a fact that Lan Xichen didn’t have a wife, and, to the best of his knowledge, he still hadn’t come out of seclusion.

“It’s Zewu-jun’s?” He exclaimed.

Again, Lan Zhan shook his head and then let out a sigh so weary and put-upon that Wei Wuxian almost felt offended.

“He is Brother.”

Wei Wuxian darted his eyes back and forth from the baby who had pulled Lan Zhan’s finger into his gummy mouth to Lan Zhan who looked exhausted enough that he might cry if pressed.

Then, he processed what Lan Zhan had said.

“What the fuck?”

Lan Zhan’s eyebrows drew in a hair at the curse, but he didn’t scold him.

“I found him like this,” he said.

The baby seemed content enough to continue chewing on Lan Zhan’s finger as he told Wei Wuxian everything.

Apparently the morning before, Lan Zhan had gone to visit his brother in seclusion like he usually did. Normally, they would have tea and spend time in each others’ presence. Lan Zhan would read or write letters, and Lan Xichen would drink tea and sit quietly. Lan Zhan would sometimes talk of the goings on in the cultivation world, and Lan Xichen would never respond.

Lan Zhan had been worried about his brother. Apparently, he had hardly been eating, and he wouldn’t speak. Sometimes he didn’t even acknowledge Lan Zhan when he was there, staring wistfully out the window, lost in thought or lost in memory.

“I was worried for him,” Lan Zhan said. “He was getting worse.”

Wei Wuxian had already known most of this. Lan Zhan had written about his concerns in his letters, and it had pained him to hear. Lan Xichen had always been such a kind person and to hear of the burden of his struggles hurt.

It made him wonder if this was what Lan Zhan had been in his absence. Had Lan Xichen sent letters to Nie Mingjue and Jin Guangyao worried about his brother’s health? It made him sad to think about. He knew some of what Lan Zhan had gone through while he was mourning him. He thought of the scars on his back and the brand on his chest.

“I was afraid he might just waste away.”

Lan Zhan had visited, like usual, and walked into the Hanshi to find a baby, red-faced and screaming, tangled up in a pile of Xichen’s clothes. There had been an elaborate array on the floor drawn in dark ink, complicated and intricate, swirling lines and intersecting shapes. Lan Zhan had never seen it before, and he hadn’t had time to analyze it because of the screaming bundle on the floor.

There was just one question Wei Wuxian had.

Well, there were about four hundred questions he had, but he had to start somewhere.

“Why would you send for me first?”

There had to have been someone here that Lan Zhan could trust, his uncle, one of the other Senior Disciples, Lan Sizhui, even. Why would Wei Wuxian have been his first thought?

“You took care of A-Yuan as a baby.”

Oh.

“He wasn’t really a baby by the time I met him,” he said. “He was walking and talking, almost completely self-sufficient.”

Lan Zhan gave him a look, and Wei Wuxian rolled his eyes.

“You know what I mean. He wasn’t this little. I haven’t even seen a baby since I was a kid!”

That may have been an exaggeration, but he certainly hadn’t interacted with one since he was a kid.

“Normally I would ask Brother.”

Lan Zhan didn’t say anything more, but Wei Wuxian understood what he was getting at.

Obviously, now that wasn’t an option.

“Right,” he said.

He didn’t really know where to go from there. They had a baby that neither of them knew how to take care of and no idea how it happened.

“I knew I could trust you ,” Lan Zhan said, breaking the silence.

That admission made Wei Wuxian’s heart flutter, and he smiled at Lan Zhan.

“Of course you can,” he said.

Their first order of business was to check to make sure Xichen was alright. Obviously, Lan Zhan had already made sure nothing serious was wrong with him, but he wanted a second opinion. Wei Wuxian wasn’t sure how he could be any help in this, but Lan Zhan wanted him to, so who was he to refuse.

He held his hands out to take Xichen from Lan Zhan.

“Come here, little one,” he cooed, putting on a smile in hopes of winning over the baby.

Xichen did not seem at all interested in letting go of Lan Zhan, content to chew on his finger and stare up at both of them with wide, unblinking eyes.

“Lan Zhan, hand him over,” he said. “He might want to go with me if you hand him over.”

Xichen did not.

When Lan Zhan moved to pass him over, he leaned away and let out a distressed whimper, leaning back towards Lan Zhan like he wanted nothing less than to be held by Wei Wuxian.

Wei Wuxian slumped over and crossed his arms with a pout. So obviously that wasn’t going to work. If he took him now, Xichen would certainly cry, and the last thing he wanted to do was make him cry again.

Then, Xichen squirmed around in Lan Zhan’s arms like he wanted to be let down.

Lan Zhan sat him on the ground, and he crawled across the floor farther into the Jingshi, not even passing Lan Zhan or Wei Wuxian another glace.

“Well, he looks okay to me,” Wei Wuxian said.

Lan Zhan shot him a look.

Wei Wuxian watched as Xichen pulled himself up on the edge of Lan Zhan’s desk. He stood there for a second, bouncing with his knees and chewing on his fist before he turned, unsteady and jerky, and let go of the table.

He wobbled for a second, gaining his balance, before he took a shaky step, nearly falling when his foot landed but righting himself just before he completely fell. He did this a couple more times before he wobbled too far and fell back on his butt.

Wei Wuxian braced himself for the cry he assumed was coming, but Xichen just started crawling across the floor again like nothing had happened.

“Have you told anyone else yet?” He asked Lan Zhan.

Lan Zhan shook his head and looked down at his hands.

“Hoped it would wear off,” he said. “Wanted you to be here to help.”

Wei Wuxian hid his smile behind his hand. He was glad that Lan Zhan wanted him here.

It was already almost completely dark, so they were better off waiting until the morning before getting to work trying to solve this. They would need to have light to examine the array and search through the library if they needed to. Plus, this late, they’d only have an hour or so before Lan Zhan needed to go to sleep.

The night only got darker as they discussed what their plan for the next day would be. Telling Lan Qiren, figuring out what array he had used, figuring out how to change him back.

“Where’s Xichen?” Wei Wuxian asked suddenly.

He’d been on the ground, crawling around while they talked, but he hadn’t seen him in a little bit. A quick look around proved that he wasn’t in sight, and he couldn’t hear any babbling anymore.

Lan Zhan sprang to his feet and started searching the Jingshi for him, and Wei Wuxian followed suit.

He couldn’t believe they’d lost the Sect leader.

When they’d searched every corner of the Jingshi and came back empty-handed, Lan Zhan took off out the doors. Wei Wuxian was surprised he wasn’t shouting, but apparently no loud noise within Cloud Recesses still applied when there was a missing baby.

Wei Wuxian followed him out, but Lan Zhan had already found Xichen by the time he stepped out onto the porch.

Xichen sat in the garden just outside the Jingshi with both his hands buried in the mud. He was pulling handfuls of mud out of the flowerbed, and Lan Zhan reached him just in time to stop him from shoving it in his mouth.

The instant he was picked up, Xichen slapped his hands together, slinging mud all over Lan Zhan’s face and rumpled robes. Lan Zhan cradled Xichen in the crook of his arm, and more mud was smeared over every part of him Xichen touched.

Wei Wuxian hid a giggle behind his hand as Lan Zhan walked over, the relief visible on his face.

“Found him,” he said.

Wei Wuxian thought he looked especially handsome with mud splattered over his cheeks.

“I think you two need a bath,” he said.

Lan Zhan helped him fill his bath with warm water and showed him where he kept a basin they could use to bathe Xichen, all while trying his best to keep from tracking mud everywhere.He stood in the middle of the room as Wei Wuxian filled the basin with lukewarm water.

“Make sure it isn’t too hot,” Lan Zhan said.

His worry made Wei Wuxian smile, and he checked the temperature of the water one more time just in case. He then rolled up his sleeves, turned to Lan Zhan, and held out his arms.

“Alright, give me Xichen.”

Wei Wuxian was offended at the dubious look Lan Zhan gave him as he tightened his arms around his brother.

“Ah, Lan Zhan!” He put his hands on his hips. “I know what I’m doing. I promise I’m not going to drown him or anything.”

Lan Zhan still didn’t look convinced, but he handed Xichen over anyway. This time Xichen didn’t hesitate to lean into Wei Wuxian’s hold, apparently over whatever previous misgivings he had about being held by him.

Wei Wuxian held the squirming baby away from his body, not keen to get mud all over himself.

Xichen kicked his legs through the air, not in an angry way but just to be moving them, and he had a muddy fist in his mouth, gnawing away. Wei Wuxian would have pulled his hand out of his mouth, but to do so, he would have to hold him against his robes and get mud all over himself, and he really didn’t want that. Besides, Xichen already had dirt in his mouth and taking his fist away now wouldn’t help that.

“Here we go, little one, into the water!” Wei Wuxian sang as he tipped him from side to side in the air.

Xichen babbled around the fist in his mouth and kicked his legs a little faster in excitement.

“Careful!” Lan Zhan barked, lunging like he was going to take Xichen back.

Wei Wuxian let out a laugh. “I’m not going to drop him, calm down.”

It was cute to see him so protective of Xichen.

“Mn,” Lan Zhan grunted, still watching nervously.

Wei Wuxian rolled his eyes as he turned to the basin.

Xichen didn’t seem to know what to think about the bath. He squirmed in Wei Wuxian’s grip when his toes met the water and then let out a string of unintelligible burbles once he was fully seated. He moved his hands over the surface of the water, testing it out, and then he slapped both his hands down, sending a spray of water over Wei Wuxian’s robes.

“Haha, so much for staying clean,” he said with a laugh.

Lan Zhan looked like he wanted to step in, but Wei Wuxian waved him off.

“You need a bath too, Lan Zhan,” he said. “Go get yourself clean, and then you can hold him again.”

As the sounds of Lan Zhan stripping out of his robe behind him and stepping into his own bath filled the Jingshi, Wei Ying couldn’t keep the smile off of his face. It was all so domestic, and it made him ache for this to be his. This was just play-acting until they got Xichen back to normal, but he wanted it to be real. He wanted the soft sounds of Lan Zhan bathing behind him, he wanted the soft babbling of a baby and the splashes he made when he kicked his little feet.

He closed his eyes and just pictured it. The sound of the night outside the window, and the scent of sandalwood drifting through the air.

The thought made him swallow past the emotions clogging his throat, and he blinked hard a couple of times to get the moisture from his eyes.

He shouldn’t wish for things he couldn’t have.

He cleared his throat.

“Lan Zhan, could you hand me the soap?” He asked, forgetting that he wasn’t supposed to turn around.

Lan Zhan had his hair over his shoulder, rubbing suds through to the ends. His back was to Wei Wuxian, and the sight of it made him frown. He didn’t know if he’d ever get over the heartache of seeing those scars that criss-crossed over Lan Zhan’s back, especially knowing that they were his fault.

Lan Zhan turned to look at him, and Wei Wuxian hoped he hadn’t noticed him staring.

“Wei Ying,” he said, holding out the soap to him.

Wei Wuxian glanced back over to make sure Xichen was firmly seated in the basin, still enraptured by the novelty of the water, before he took the few steps to where Lan Zhan’s tub was.

He did not look anywhere down Lan Zhan’s body when he took the soap from him, even though he was dying for just a little peek. He was right there, and Wei Wuxian was consumed by curiosity, but he could resist. He had a will made of iron.

He tried to keep a disappointed pout off his face when the ripples made it impossible for him to really see anything. Not that he was looking.

Once he’d taken the soap, Lan Zhan returned to washing up.

Wei Wuxian watched as he closed his eyes to rinse his hair and found it hard to look away from the planes of his chest and the flex of his arms as he ran his fingers through his hair.

The soap made a soft thunk on the floor when it slipped through his slack fingers.

Oops.

Wei Wuxian let out an embarrassed giggle as he leaned down to pick it up. He felt so silly, like some lovestruck teenager mooning over his crush. He was better than this.

The soap slipped away from his hand when he tried to pick it back up, and he let out an annoyed grunt.

This was undignified. He was the Yiling Patriarch for fuck’s sake, he could pick up one measly bar of soap.

He reached for it again, only this time, tragically, his foot slipped on the trail the soap had made. He didn’t even have time to shout before he slammed to the ground, landing hard on his back.

He let out a whine at the impact.

“Wei Ying?” Lan Zhan questioned, turning to see what had happened.

“I’m okay,” he wheezed out, breath almost knocked out of him. “Nothing wounded but my pride.”

He glanced up to where Xichen sat in the basin, only to watch in horror as he reached out to him with his chubby hands and leaned his body over the edge.

Wei Wuxian slipped and scrambled to his feet the same instant Lan Zhan lunged from the tub, and they both managed to get there just in time to stop Xichen from hitting the floor.

They all collapsed in a wet sudsy heap on the floor, Xichen held in both their arms, chests heaving with the sudden panic they had felt. Xichen squealed and waved his arms and legs around wildly, overcome with the excitement, not at all concerned with the fact that he’d almost fallen to the floor.

Wei Wuxian felt Lan Zhan freeze where they were tangled together. He trailed his eyes slowly over the smooth wet skin that was pressed against his robes until he met Lan Zhan’s eyes. His mind was buzzing with the thought that Lan Zhan was absolutely naked beside him.

He hoped Lan Zhan couldn’t feel how fast his heart was racing where their chests were pressed together.

Their eyes locked, and neither seemed to be able to move.

This was the scene Lan Sizhui walked in on.

They snapped their heads to the door when they heard a gasp, and there Sizhui stood, frozen with his mouth hanging open and eyes wide. He stayed like that for a split second, a blush making its way across his cheeks, before he covered his eyes and spun around.

“I’m sorry!” He shouted.

It was the loudest noise Wei Wuxian had ever heard him make in Cloud Recesses, and the absurdity of it all made him fall into uproarious laughter.

As he lay there in helpless giggles, Lan Zhan scrambled to his feet and ducked behind the room divider. He slipped briefly on the patch of soap that was still on the floor, just managing to keep himself from falling, and that made Wei Wuxian laugh even harder.

He got his peek after all, and it did not disappoint.

“I-I did call out,” Sizhui said, sounding panicked. “But then I heard a crash and got concerned.”

Wei Wuxian was laughing too hard to answer, and Xichen had joined in, little giggles filling the gaps in his own laughter.

Sizhui froze where he stood, but he still dared not turn around.

“Is that a baby?” He asked, incredulous.

Lan Zhan stepped out from behind the divider, then, dressed in enough layers to be presentable. His hair was still loose, leaving damp spots on his shoulders and down his back.

“Sizhui, walking into someone’s residence without waiting for them to invite you is prohibited,” he said.

Wei Wuxian knew that if he was someone who didn’t know Lan Zhan very well, he might have thought he sounded just as composed as he always did. As it was, he could hear the embarrassment in his voice as clearly as if he’d admitted to it out loud.

Sizhui still didn’t turn around, and Wei Wuxian could see the blush creeping over his neck.

“Yes, Hanguang-jun, I will take my punishment.”

His voice sounded strangled, and Wei Wuxian couldn’t figure out if it was from embarrassment or if he was trying not to laugh.

Wei Wuxian wiped a tear from the corner of his eye, as his own laughter calmed down. He bounced Xichen a couple of times as he spoke.

“Oh, give him a break, Lan Zhan, he’s obviously learned his lesson.”

Lan Zhan glanced to where he still lay on the ground where they had fallen, and Wei Wuxian didn’t miss the red staining the tips of his ears.

He wondered who was more mortified at the situation, Lan Zhan or Sizhui.

“Mn,” was all he said before collecting Xichen from his arms and returning him to the basin.

Sizhui still seemed frozen where he stood, so Wei Wuxian called out to him.

“You can turn around now, A-Yuan. Everyone is decent,” he said.

Sizhui peeked over his shoulder like he wasn’t sure whether or not Wei Wuxian was telling the truth, but when he saw Lan Zhan was clothed, he turned around. His eyes darted between the two searching for something, and they didn’t stop until they landed on Xichen who had returned to kicking his feet in the water like nothing had happened.

“Who—” Sizhui started. He was staring at Xichen like he thought he might disappear if he looked away. “Why do you have a baby?”

“Um.”

Wei Wuxian looked to Lan Zhan who returned his gaze with the exact amount of panic.

How had they not thought of an excuse to tell other people? Should they just tell the truth?

Lan Zhan made the decision for him.

“This is Zewu-jun,” he said. “There was an accident.”

Okay, the truth then.

Sizhui’s eyes widened and he walked over to where Lan Zhan was bathing Xichen.

“What kind of accident?”

Wei Wuxian got to his feet and joined them, finally picking up the soap to hand to Lan Zhan.

“Honestly, we aren’t exactly sure,” he said. “We’re trying to figure that out.”

Sizhui seemed unable to look away from Xichen, who had returned to splashing in the water as Lan Zhan cleaned the mud off him. He seemed both nervous and excited, and Wei Wuxian thought he knew what he might want.

“Once he gets out of the bath, I’m sure Lan Zhan wouldn’t mind if you held him,” he said.

He knew he was right when Sizhui’s face lit up. He turned to Lan Zhan with a cautious smile.

“May I?”

“Mn.”

Wei Wuxian bit back a smile at how Sizhui seemed to be trying to hide his excitement. He wondered if Sizhui had ever held a baby. He’d been the only child at the Burial Mounds, so he couldn’t have held one there.

He was suddenly struck by the thought that he didn’t know whether or not Sizhui had had any siblings before then, but he didn’t dwell on those thoughts.

He’d never seen any small children in Cloud Recesses before, so he didn’t know if Sizhui had ever held one here. Though, the image of a little toddler in the white of Gusu, miniature forehead ribbon tied to their head made him squirm with how cute it was.

For the most part, Xichen enjoyed his bath quite thoroughly. He didn’t like it when Lan Zhan tipped him back to wash his hair, but he calmed down when Wei Wuxian offered his finger for him to grab ahold of while Lan Zhan rinsed the soap away.

By the time he was fresh and clean, wrapped in Lan Zhan’s softest blanket, Sizhui was sitting on the floor, patiently waiting. Patiently but still almost vibrating in anticipation. It was cute to see him break from his usual mature stoicism and actually act like a kid.

When Lan Zhan laid the squirming bundle in his arms, Sizhui looked over him, almost reverently. He smiled down at Xichen and offered him a finger to hold on to and let out a small laugh when Xichen grabbed it in his fist. He bounced him a couple of times in his arms. Xichen babbled nonsense words at him all the time, and Sizhui nodded along and responded like he understood.

It made something warm settle in Wei Wuxian’s chest to watch Sizhui interact with Xichen like this. Here was the child he’d held in his own arms, grown up.

He glanced over to Lan Zhan who was watching with an intense look on his face as Sizhui cooed down at Xichen.

He bumped their shoulders together.

“Feeling sentimental?” He asked.

Lan Zhan looked over to him and just stared for a second. His face softened into a fond almost smile, and it made Wei Wuxian’s heart race. He was helpless to do anything but smile in the face of that soft look.

Lan Zhan moved one of his hands like he was going to brush his knuckles over Wei Wuxian’s cheek, but he froze just before he made contact. Wei Wuxian’s heart beat faster in his chest, unsure as to what Lan Zhan was doing and wanting desperately for him to continue.

He watched Lan Zhan’s eyes widen when he realized what he was doing. He jerked his hand back and folded it in his lap as his ears burned red, and he snapped his head around to look back to Sizhui and Xichen like nothing had happened.

Wei Wuxian knew his hands were trembling, but he couldn’t help it. Why had Lan Zhan done that? Why had he stopped? He wanted to reach out and take one of Lan Zhan’s hands in his own, but he wasn’t quite brave enough.

Sizhui seemed content to hold Xichen for as long as he was allowed, tickling his tummy and dancing a finger in front of his face.

It wasn’t until Xichen let out a big yawn that Lan Zhan leaned over and gently took him from Sizhui’s arms.

“Almost curfew,” he said.

Sizhui looked like he was going to protest, but then he shook his head, remembering himself.

He bowed to both of them, and left with a happy smile painted over his cheeks.

Wei Wuxian looked over to see Xichen let out another yawn and snuggle into Lan Zhan’s chest, and the image made his heart melt.

“Seems like little one is sleepy,” he said just before he let out his own jaw-cracking yawn.

Lan Zhan smiled, lazy and fond, and it made Wei Wuxian’s chest flutter.

Oh, how he loved this man.

“You too,” Lan Zhan said.

Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but grin.

“Well, someone sent me a vague and panicked letter, and I traveled harder than I ever have before to get here to help. Of course I’m exhausted.”

Lan Zhan’s ears burned pink, and he looked away, sheepish.

“Time for bed,” he said.

But Wei Wuxian’s own clothes were still wrinkled and travel-worn, and he didn’t want to dirty wherever it was he would be sleeping with his unwashed self.

“How about you and Xichen get ready for bed while I use your bathwater. I’m still dirty from the road.”

He didn’t even wait for an answer before he turned and started stripping off his robes.

He wondered if Lan Zhan enjoyed the hominess of it all like he did. He’d never talked with Lan Zhan about whether or not he wanted a family. He knew some of what Lan Zhan’s childhood was like from what Zewu-jun had told him, and it made him think that Lan Zhan deserved to have a family of his own to redeem the mistakes of his parents. To keep him from being alone. He had Sizhui and Zewu-jun, but his son was nearly grown and his brother remained in seclusion.

Lan Zhan deserved someone who would love him like he deserved to be loved. Cherish him like he was something precious because he was. Wei Wuxian would give anything to be that person. Almost anything. He wasn’t quite willing to put the friendship they shared in jeopardy if he confessed and Lan Zhan didn’t love him back.

After he’d stripped his last layer, he glanced over his shoulder only to see Lan Zhan spin around suddenly to face the other direction, Xichen still in his arms.

Had Lan Zhan been...

No he wouldn’t have, Wei Wuxian was imagining things.

Still, the thought of Lan Zhan sneaking glances at him while he was stripping made a blush spill over his cheeks and a heat settle into his skin. It made him suddenly glad that the bathwater was as cold as it was.

By the time he’d finished washing, Lan Zhan had dropped a clean set of thin under robes beside the tub for him and had sat on the bed to lull Xichen to sleep. While he dressed, Wei Wuxian watched Lan Zhan rock Xichen in his arms as he drifted off, humming a familiar tune.

“Our song?” Wei Wuxian asked into the quiet of the room.

Lan Zhan shot his head up with a look of surprise, and Wei Wuxian realized suddenly what he had called it. He felt a sudden burst of panic rise within him. Lan Zhan didn’t need to know that he thought of the song as theirs.

He held his hands up to wave it off.

“Ah, that’s just what I call it because we are the only ones I’ve ever heard play it.”

His heart was pounding in his chest at the accidental admission, and he hoped Lan Zhan wouldn’t notice how panicked he was.

Then Lan Zhan nodded and looked back down to Xichen.

“Our song,” he said, affirming what Wei Wuxian had called it. His tone gave no room for argument, and it sent butterflies fluttering in Wei Wuxian’s stomach.

He stood dumbstruck as Lan Zhan brushed a finger down the bridge of Xichen’s nose, gently, lovingly.

This man.

Wei Wuxian busied himself with wringing the water out of his hair to distract himself from doing something stupid like confess his undying love to Lan Zhan then and there.

By the time his hair was no longer dripping onto the floor, Xichen was sound asleep against Lan Zhan’s chest, and Lan Zhan was watching him sleep with a soft, open expression on his face.

WeiI Wuxian let out a longing sigh that had Lan Zhan’s eyes snapping up to meet his.

Those eyes were so intense, even now, and it made Wei Wuxian want to get lost in them.

He shook himself to get rid of those kinds of thoughts.

“Where should I sleep?” He asked.

Lan Zhan cocked his head at the question, and then he moved over on the bed and laid a hand on the space beside him.

“Here,” he said.

And didn’t that do something terrible to Wei Wuxian’s ability to control himself.

“I can sleep on the floor,” he offered, but Lan Zhan just shook his head.

“There is room.”

Wei Wuxian was too tired to remember why he should deny himself this, so he got under the covers beside Lan Zhan, trying his best not to touch him in any way, worried about making him uncomfortable.

Once he was settled, Lan Zhan nestled Xichen between them as he lay down himself.

“Goodnight, Wei Ying,” he said before dousing the candles with one wave of his hand.

Wei Wuxian swallowed around his suddenly dry throat.

“Goodnight.”

Lan Zhan seemed to fall asleep almost immediately. He lay perfectly still on his back like a corpse. None of him was touching Wei Wuxian, but it was like his warmth bled across the sheets to him anyway, and Wei Wuxian drifted off to the sounds of his and Xichen’s even breaths.

He slept more soundly than he had since he had been resurrected.

When he cracked his eyes open the next morning, Lan Zhan was gone, and the morning light was streaming in through the window. Xichen was puffing out little breaths into the side of his chest where he lay nestled against his side.

“Lucky I didn’t roll over,” he whispered.

He yawned and stretched a little before snuggling back into the softness of the bed, savoring the scent of Lan Zhan that lingered over the pillow. He could fit in another hour of sleep probably, if he really tried.

He peeked an eye open and moved to lay a hand over Xichen’s back just to feel him breathe. He was so tiny that his hand covered the entire span, fingers curling over his side, and he was warm to the touch. His chest moved steadily up and down as Wei Wuxian watched him.

He wondered if Lan Zhan or Xichen had ever gotten to sleep in their parents beds when they were small. He doubted it. With their mother imprisoned and their father in seclusion, when would they have been able to? It was probably against Sect rules, anyway.

That made him sad to think about. He didn’t have any memories of sleeping in his parents’ bed, but he was sure he had. He’d even slept in Jiang Fengmian’s bed a time or two when he was very little and still wracked with nightmares and the fear of waking up alone back in the streets. He’d never done it when Madame Yu was there, but when she was off on business, he and Jiang Cheng would curl up in that big bed to sleep with no worries.

He leaned down to press a kiss to the top of Xichen’s hair.

A part of him, something sitting right over his heart, wished Xichen would never return to normal. He hated himself for even letting the thought cross his mind, but something about falling asleep in Lan Zhan’s bed with a little one between them and waking up to this made his heart yearn. He would stay in Cloud Recesses to help Lan Zhan raise Xichen, and they could be a family, them and A-Yuan.

But Lan Zhan would be heartbroken if he never got to see his brother again, so Wei Wuxian banished those thoughts to the edges of his mind.

He drifted in and out for a little while, hand still over Xichen’s back, only waking fully again when Xichen began to squirm.

He looked down to meet wide, searching eyes. Xichen had a fist in his mouth, and he was slobbering all over Wei Wuxian’s borrowed robes, but he didn’t have it in him to care.

“Good morning, sweetheart,” he said, voice still rough from sleep.

Xichen babbled a response from around his fist, and the sound put a smile on Wei Wuxian’s face.

He touched his finger to the tip of Xichen’s nose, only for Xichen to scrunch his face and let out a little sneeze.

It was definitely the cutest thing he had ever heard, and he gathered Xichen up to hug him to his chest with a grin.

“You are very cute, I hope you know that,” he laughed into his hair.

Xichen, excited by the sudden movement, kicked his legs and gripped onto the front of his robes.

Wei Wuxian sat them both up and kept Xichen in his lap, offering his hands, hoping he would grab onto at least one of them. He was delighted when Xichen took hold of both his hands, even though one was still covered in slobber.

Xichen didn’t waste any time before pulling himself to a standing position, one foot on each of Wei Wuxian’s thighs. He bounced his legs up and down as he babbled excitedly, eyes bright, and Wei Wuxian couldn’t resist pressing an exaggerated kiss to his cheek.

Xichen laughed his little baby giggle and placed a kiss to Wei Wuxian’s cheek in return. It was less a kiss and more just him smashing his open mouth onto Wei Wuxian’s face and smearing it with slobber, but it counted anyway.

Wei Wuxian grabbed him around the middle and threw him up in the air, hoping to hear that giggle again.

“Wei Ying,” a panicked voice sounded from the doorway.

Wei Wuxian returned Xichen to his lap and turned to face Lan Zhan who had a hand out like he had lunged to stop Wei Wuxian as soon as he’d seen what was happening.

“You’re no fun,” Wei Wuxian teased. “I used to throw A-Yuan way higher than that.”

Lan Zhan ignored that and made his way to the table. He lay a tray of food down before walking over and collecting Xichen from his arms who squealed as he was lifted through the air. Wei Wuxian felt a lazy smile crawl over his face as he watched them.

Lan Zhan was so cute with Xichen.

“I talked to Uncle,” Lan Zhan said as he settled at the table with Xichen in his lap.

It was too early for Wei Wuxian to have the energy to suppress his pout, but he managed to hold in the disappointed whine.

Lan Zhan shot him a look before continuing.

“We are to bring Xichen to him when we finish breakfast.”

Wei Wuxian had a feeling that this meeting was going to go very poorly, but he didn’t have it in him to argue.

Wei Wuxian’s breakfast was easily discernible from Lan Zhan’s both in color and smell, and he tucked in as soon as he was seated at the table. Lan Zhan was so thoughtful to make his food edible. The things they ate at Cloud Recesses were just the worst.

As he ate, he watched as Lan Zhan switched between taking bites of his own food, and coaxing Xichen to eat spoonfuls of some bland-looking mush. Xichen seemed happy enough to be eating it, babbling between bites, even as Lan Zhan tried to shush him.

“No talking while eating,” he said with a soft voice as he wiped food from the corner of Xichen’s mouth.

Xichen responded by grabbing a handful of Lan Zhan’s own breakfast in his slobbery fist and shoving it in his mouth.

Wei Wuxian watched on as Lan Zhan spluttered and tried to wipe away the mess that had left.

A pang of longing shot through him all the sudden. Watching Lan Zhan with Xichen was a reminder that he hadn’t been there when he was learning how to raise Sizhui. It made him feel like he was missing a piece of both of them. He’d only ever gotten to see them interact during that one lunch that had been cut short, and that wasn’t enough.

He wondered if Sizhui had continued minding like he had that one time, or if he ended up being a handful. With the way he turned out, Wei WuXian assumed that he had been good for Lan Zhan.

He shook his head to clear his thoughts and then leaned over the table to hold out his bowl to Xichen, who seemed very interested in the new flash of color.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan barked, shoving his bowl out of Xichen’s reach. “No spicy food.”

Wei Wuxian pouted. Lan Zhan never let him have any fun.

“Why not?”

Lan Zhan fed Xichen another bite of his mush. When it spilled over onto his chin, he used the spoon to push it back into his mouth.

“Will hurt him,” he said, taking another bite of his own food, avoiding the area where Xichen had stuck his slobbery hand.

“You’re just afraid he’s going to like it and be ruined for the food here.”

Lan Zhan didn’t even look up at him.

“No spicy food.”

He wasn’t actually planning on giving Xichen any of his food, but he wasn’t going to tell Lan Zhan that. It was funny seeing him be so protective.

“I was eating spicy foods when I was his age!”

Lan Zhan looked up then and gave him a flat look.

“You do not remember.”

Lan Zhan was right, like usual.

“Fine, maybe not, but I could have been. How will he know if he likes it if he doesn’t get to try it?”

Lan Zhan paused and looked down at Xichen who had taken the opportunity to grab onto the end of the spoon and try to take it from lan Zhan’s grip.

“Xichen does not like spice,” he said quietly.

He almost asked how Lan Zhan could possibly know that when he stopped. Of course Lan Zhan would know. This wasn’t just a baby, this was Lan Zhan’s brother.

Wei Wuxian pulled his bowl back and continued eating.

It was only then that he remembered that they were going to meet Lan Qiren, and the thought made him slouch down in his seat. He tried to draw out breakfast, eating as slowly as possible, but he knew he was just delaying the inevitable.

He dragged his feet as they headed to meet him, Lan Zhan giving him no sympathy as he carried Xichen in his arms.

They hadn’t been keen on letting everyone know that their Sect leader had been turned into a baby, so Lan Zhan had wrapped Xichen up and pressed him tight to his chest so that none of him was visible to prying eyes.

“We could just tell everyone that he is my illegitimate child,” Wei Wuxian had said as he watched Lan Zhan bundle Xichen up. “Everyone will believe it.”

The answer had been a solid “no” and so here they were walking around Cloud Recesses garnering stares from every single person who crossed their path.

He was sure they made quite the picture. Hanguang-jun, with all the dignity he usually carried himself, holding a bundle of white blankets like he was on his way to do his laundry, walking in step with the Yiling Patriarch, who was dragging his feet like he was on his way to his own execution.

Wei Wuxian had watched one disciple stare so hard that he’d walked right into the side of a building.

There were going to be so many rumors. Wei Wuxian had no idea what those rumors would even be because he could not fathom what this would look like to someone with no context, but he knew there would be talk. Gossip was prohibited, but not everyone was as good at following the rules as Lan Zhan.

Lan Qiren was waiting for them with an angry look on his face.

Wei Wuxian wasn’t sure if the look was for the situation or the fact that Lan Qiren had to talk to him. It was probably both, though.

Lan Zhan hadn’t explained exactly what happened, he’d just told his uncle that there had been an accident with Xichen, so he was in for quite a shock.

“Where’s Xichen?” He demanded eyeing Lan Zhan’s blanket bundle with a confused expression.

He avoided looking at Wei Wuxian altogether, but that suited him just fine.

Wei Wuxian wondered if Lan Zhan had neglected to tell Lan Qiren the specifics of Xichen’s condition because he thought his uncle wouldn’t believe him without seeing proof or because Lan Zhan was a dramatic bitch at heart.

His bet was on the latter, especially when Lan Zhan dropped the blankets concealing Xichen to present the squirming baby to his uncle with no warning.

Lan Qiren blinked hard a couple of times, like he could erase the image in front of him, and when that didn’t work, he turned to Wei Wuxian with a thunderous expression.

“What did you do?”

Wei Wuxian held up his hands in surrender.

“Why would you automatically accuse me?” He demanded, though something in him was delighted that Lan Qiren blamed him immediately. “I wasn’t even here.”

Lan Zhan grunted.

“Xichen did this to himself,” he said. “We do not know why.”

Lan Qiren shot one last glare at Wei Wuxian before he turned to Lan Zhan.

“Wangji, tell me everything.”

By the time Lan Zhan had finished telling him everything they knew, Xichen was squirming in his arms, begging to be let down to crawl around the room. Wei Wuxian thought of the state of the Jingshi, and figured it was better for everyone if Lan Zhan didn’t let him go.

“Obviously, I will be taking Xichen,” Lan Qiren said when Lan Zhan finished. “Neither of you are equipped to take care of him in this state.”

Wei Wuxian could see how Lan Zhan’s arms tightened over Xichen, and he knew he had to intervene.

He sauntered up to Lan Zhan’s side and faced Lan Qiren who looked at him for the first time since he’d accused him of cursing his nephew.

“Actually,” he said, “I raised Lan Sizhui from infancy in the Burial Mounds, so I am more than qualified. He turned out well, didn’t he?”

It wasn’t exactly true, but it was worth it to see the way Lan Qiren turned red and spluttered.

“That was due to Wangji’s influence, not yours!” He spit out. “Now, give me Xichen.”

Lan Zhan obviously didn’t want Lan Qiren to take him. Wei Wuxian didn’t blame him, but he knew Lan Zhan would be hesitant to deny his Uncle’s direct order.

Then Lan Zhan surprised him completely by looking Lan Qiren directly in the face and saying, “No.”

Lan Qiren was just as surprised, judging from his indignant spluttering.

“We will care for him,” Lan Zhan continued.

His tone allowed for no argument, and Lan Qiren didn’t look like he knew how to respond.

“Wei Ying and I will find out what happened and turn him back. If you find something that might help, let us know.”

It seemed like he was done after that because he turned and started to leave, ignoring Lan Qiren’s stare. Wei Wuxian didn’t hesitate to follow him even though he was a little dazed at what had just happened.

A lot had changed since he had been at Cloud Recesses. Before, Lan Zhan would have never defied his uncle like this, never in a thousand years, he thought.

“Wangji, this is all Wei Wuxian’s influence,” Lan Qiren called as they walked out the door. “You were never disobedient until he came to Cloud Recesses. He ruined you.”

That stung, but Wei Wuxian chose to ignore it. He knew he hadn’t been the best influence on Lan Zhan, but that wasn’t enough to make him let go of him, no matter how selfish that was.

“Was never happy until Wei Ying came to Cloud Recesses,” Lan Zhan said, quietly so only Wei Wuxian could hear.

Wei Wuxian turned his head sharply towards Lan Zhan as his heart leapt in his chest.

Lan Zhan wasn’t looking at him as he bundled Xichen back up to hide him from prying eyes, but there was a smile on his face, his eyes glittering gold as they stepped into the bright of the morning sun.

“Didn’t ruin me,” he continued. “Wei Ying made me better.”

Wei Wuxian swallowed past the sudden lump in his throat and tugged lighty on one of Lan Zhan’s sleeves. When Lan Zhan looked over to him, he hoped that his eyes didn’t give away how close he was to tears.

“You made me better, too,” he said.

The look on Lan Zhan’s face was so soft. There was still a smile tugging at the corner of his lips, and he was looking at wei Wuxian like he was something precious. Wei Wuxian took a small step closer, not with any purpose but wanting to feel his warmth.

Lan Zhan leaned a little towards him as well, and his eyes shot a quick glance down to his Wei Wuxian’s mouth. He had the sudden thought that maybe Lan Zhan might kiss him.

Then, Xichen let out a squeal and wiggled beneath the blankets, and they sprung apart again.

Lan Zhan tried to quiet Xichen as Wei Wuxian tried to catch his breath.

Had Lan Zhan really almost kissed him?

He shook his head at the thought. Of course not. Lan Zhan didn’t like him like that. Lan Zhan only thought of him as a friend.

Still, the thought of that little glance Lan Zhan had shot to his lips made his heart flip in his chest.

Wei Wuxian cleared his throat.

“Let’s go see what we can find out about this mess,” he said, glad his voice hadn’t cracked.

They went to Zewu-jun’s room first so that Wei Wuxian could examine the array on the floor. Everything seemed to be in the exact same state as Lan Zhan had left it, even the pile of Zewu-jun’s clothes on the floor.

Wei Wuxian moved them out of the way so that he could look at the entire array, and Lan Zhan took the blanket from around Xichen who squirmed around and babbled loud and sharp. He seemed like he’d had enough of being held and wanted down, though Lan Zhan didn’t seem to keen on letting him get his way.

That was probably smart, at least until they figured out more about the array. He didn’t want to think about what would happen if he accidentally activated it again.

Looking over it, the array was complicated, one of the more elaborate designs that he’d seen, and he could pick apart distinct lines and strokes, some of which he recognized.

He pointed to a sharp series of strokes near where Lan Zhan was standing.

“That set deals with the body,” he said. “It is very similar to one used in the array that brought me back.”

Lan Zhan nodded, and he took a few steps around the circle.

“This here is for time, I think, but it’s inverted.”

“For regression?” Lan Zhan asked.

“Exactly,” Wei Wuxian muttered as he leaned down to touch a hand to the ink.

“These marks intersecting the time are the symbol for the mind. I assume for memories or maybe to keep the mind in tact?” He wasn’t completely sure about that one, he’d need more information about exactly what the array did.

Lan Zhan nodded along as he Wei Wuxian mapped out what each symbol on the array was for.

“This would have taken an immense amount of spiritual energy to activate.”

But Zewu-jun had spiritual energy in spades. And the time to study and draw out the intricate design.

“There are still markings on here that I cannot decipher, it would help to—“

He paused and looked at one of the characters, walking around the circle so that he could get a better angle.

Lan Zhan looked up at him when he let out an unhappy noise.

“What is wrong?” He asked.

Wei Wuxian pointed an angry finger down at the character he was examining.

“This is a character right here is used for permanence,” he said, frustrated. “It acts like a kind of a lock, I guess. It makes it to where the spell won’t break on its own.” He paused. “I had one on the array that brought me back. It also helps to keep anyone from being able to reverse it.”

It wasn’t very common, because of the power needed to activate an array that was meant to be permanent, but it tended to be very effective.

“Xichen cannot be turned back?” Lan Zhan asked, panic creeping into his voice.

“Maybe,” Wei Wuxian sighed, he didn’t want to make it seem like it would be easy but at the same time, he didn’t want Lan Zhan to get his hopes up. “It makes it hard, complicated, but hopefully not impossible, especially for a genius specialist like me.”

He shot a grin over to Lan Zhan, expecting a glare at the brag, but Lan Zhan just gave a short nod.

Wei Wuxian had to hide his pleased smile at the fact that Lan Zhan agreed with him.

“We don’t even know if Zewu-jun knew for sure what the array did. We need to see if we can find where he got it from.”

A thought occurred to him, and he looked up at Lan Zhan with sudden concern.

“Was he well versed in the theory behind arrays?”

If Zewu-jun had designed it himself, that would make things infinitely more complicated, especially if he hadn’t left any notes behind.

Wei Wuxian let out a relieved sigh when Lan Zhan shook his head.

“I don’t think so.”

“Okay, so he probably got it from a text, we just need to figure out which one.”

“It is probably still here,” Lan Zhan said. “He didn’t leave seclusion.”

That was the only piece of good news he’d gotten since they arrived at the Hanshi.

“You can set him down,” Wei Wuxian said. “It’s not like he can activate the array again.”

Wouldn’t that be a disaster.

“Besides, if he messes the place up, Zewu-jun will just have to get over it because this is all his fault, anyway.”

Lan Zhan seemed to think it over for a second before he sat Xichen on the ground.

Xichen sat there for a second, looking up at Lan Zhan and then over to Wei Wuxian before he started crawling across the floor. He immediately crawled straight to the table, and when he got there, he pulled himself up on unsteady feet.

Wei Wuxian watched him for a second, wondering if he was going to try and take a few steps like he had the day before. Xichen seemed content to just stand there at the table. He slapped one of his hands down a couple of times and then reached out to grab...

Wei Wuxian lunged with a shout just in time to snatch Zewu-jun’s sword from his grasp. The sudden movement made Xichen startle and fall back on his bottom. He let out a distressed cry, and Lan Zhan swooped down to pick him up again to comfort him.

“Wei Ying,” he scolded, patting Xichen’s back with a soothing rhythm until he stopped crying.

Wei Wuxian turned an incredulous look to Lan Zhan.

“Oh, sorry, did you want me to give him the sword?” He asked, holding the sword out to Xichen who leaned closer and reached out with grabby hands.

Lan Zhan jerked Xichen to the side, out of the reach of the sword and glared at Wei Wuxian.

He grinned at Lan Zhan’s angry look. “I’m not actually going to give it to him.

Xichen was still reaching out for the sword and looked like he might start crying again if he didn’t get it, so Wei Wuxian looked around for something to distract him with.

“Oh, I know!” He said, reaching down to take Chenqing from his belt.

He dangled the tassel in front of Xichen’s grip, letting him grab hold of it.

“Wei Ying.” Lan Zhan’s tone was warning, but Wei Wuxian waved him off.

“It will be fine, Lan Zhan,” he said pressing the dizi into Xichen’s delighted hands. “A-Yuan used to play with this all the time. It’s not like he’s going to be able to accidentally command a corpse or anything. It’s perfectly safe.”

There was a bit of resentful energy lingering in the flute because it had been carved from one of the trees in the Burial Mounds, but, it wasn’t enough to do any harm. Probably.

Lan Zhan still didn’t look very sure, but he set Xichen down again anyway and let him keep Chenqing.

Xichen seemed very content to sit there and chew on the flute, his little voice babbling even still.

Wei Wuxian winced when he realized the slobber that Xichen was going to leave on it, and he was suddenly glad that Xichen didn’t have any teeth to bite into it. He was pretty sure that there were still marks from when Sizhui used to chew on it when he was young.

Their first order of business was to remove anything else that could be possibly dangerous to Xichen from his reach while he was distracted with Chenqing. Wei Wuxian placed the sword leaned up against a wall outside and Lan Zhan cleared away the papers and inkpot from the desk.

Wei Wuxian’s mind went to the ink spilled over Lan Zhan’s own desk and had to stifle a smile. It seemed Lan Zhan had learned his lesson.

Once they had closed off all possible escape routes, and Lan Zhan deemed the room safe enough for Xichen, they spent their time going through every book and scroll and piece of parchment Zewu-jun had in his room.

The day slipped by as they searched for anything that might give any clues as to what Zewu-jun was trying to accomplish. At some point Lan Zhan had left and returned with lunch, and they had taken a small break to eat, but they spent most of the time in silence, reading.

Xichen switched between playing with Chenqing and exploring the Hanshi and napping in Wei Wuxian’s lap and toppling over and griping about it while they worked. He didn’t make as much of a mess as Wei Wuxian had seen in the Jingshi, but he definitely didn’t leave the room as neat as it had been.

Just as the sun started to set and Wei Wuxian was sitting in the middle of the floor, head throbbing from the hours spent in such deep study, he found a text full of different spells and curses and arrays compiled by an unnamed author to keep record of them in the Cloud Recesses library.

In it was a short passage concerning the array that Zewu-jun had painted on the floor. There was a tiny picture detailing what it should look like and a very vague description of what it was used for, like the author hadn’t even quite known its purpose.

The page was smooth and looked almost perfectly untouched, just another passage in a text no one bothered to read. The only evidence of someone looking over it was a small drop of ink smeared over the corner of the page.

“Ah, Lan Zhan, I think this is it.”

Lan Zhan dropped the page he’d been skimming and sat beside him. At his movement, Xichen crawled over as well and pulled himself up by the sleeve of Wei Wuxain’s robe, using his shoulder to keep balance.

Wei Wuxian let Lan Zhan skim over the passage as he wrapped an arm around Xichen to provide extra support.

“Why would he even try something like this? It doesn’t even say what it’s for, really.”

Lan Zhan looked distraught, skimming over the words again and again.

“He probably didn’t care.”

He didn’t say anything else as he stared at the few short characters mapping out the purpose of the array was.

Wipe clean the past and begin anew.

“It was in the section with memory spells,” he said. “Do you think he was trying to forget?”

Lan Zhan breathed out a shaky breath.

“I think he just wanted it to stop,” he said.

He didn’t elaborate, but Wei Wuxian knew what he was talking about. He’d written in his letters how Lan Xichen had been withering away. How he blamed himself for the song that brought about Nie Mingjue’s qi deviation and for believing Jin Guangyao’s deceptions. He blamed himself for both of their deaths.

He’d written to Wei Wuxian about how Zewu-jun had loved them both, and was wasting away, unable to live without them.

He’d written about Zewu-jun’s struggles like he knew them himself, and it made him wonder if Lan Zhan had felt like this after he’d been torn apart. Helpless, desperate for anything. Did he know how Xichen felt because he’d felt it before?

A shudder ran through him at the thought.

Wei Wuxian sighed and laid the passage down.

“This isn’t going to help us,” he said. “The person who wrote this is obviously not the same one who created the array, so this is basically useless.”

Lan Zhan stared intently down at the table where Wei Wuxian had put all the works he’d been looking over before he stood abruptly. He picked Xichen up and then walked quickly from the room, extinguishing the candles they’d lit on his way out.

Wei Wuxian picked up Chenqing where Xichen had left it on the floor, and followed close behind until they made it to the Jingshi.

Lan Zhan didn’t say a word as he settled at his desk and placed his guqin in front of him, pausing for a breath before laying his fingers over the strings and starting up a melody. Wei Wuxian recognized the tune of Clarity, as he plucked it out.

Lan Zhan kept his focus on the instrument in front of him as he played, but his face was as blank as ever.

Xichen in his lap seemed transfixed. He had the sleeve of Lan Zhan’s robe held in his fist, and he was staring with wide eyes as his fingers danced over the strings.

Wei Wuxian could tell that Lan Zhan wasn’t channeling any spiritual energy into his playing, but it seemed to do its job anyway. Wei Wuxian felt his own concern dull as Lan Zhan’s tense shoulders relaxed and the furrow disappeared from between his eyebrows.

Wei Wuxian wondered if Lan Zhan did this often when he was overcome with emotion. It seemed practiced, like it was a ritual he had performed countless times before.

By the time the last note was echoing around the Jingshi, Xichen was almost asleep in Lan Zhan’s lap, nodding off, hand still gripping tight to his sleeve.

Lan Zhan looked up to meet Wei Wuxian’s eyes, and he almost looked embarrassed, though he didn’t say anything.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian said so gently that it almost couldn’t be heard, even in the silence of the room.

“Lan Zhan, we’re going to get him back.”

Lan Zhan glanced to Xichen in his lap. He reached down and maneuvered him into his arms and cradled him close to his chest. The movement woke Xichen up completely, and he blinked up at Lan Zhan with wide eyes.

When Lan Zhan still didn’t say anything, Wei Wuxian continued.

“I'm sure, between the two of us and the Cloud Recess library, we’ll figure something out.”

“Mn.”

When Lan Zhan looked back up, his eyes were burning with determination.

Wei Wuxian lit candles around the Jingshi as Lan Zhan placed Xichen on the floor and then left to bring their dinner.

When the room was lit enough, he sat on the floor with Xichen. He had been so focused on looking for something to change him back, that he hadn’t hardly paid the baby any attention all day.

Xichen was standing with one hand gripping the wood of Lan Zhan’s bed keeping him steady and the other hand shoved in his mouth.

“Xichen,” he said trying to get his attention, “Xichen!”

Xichen turned to him. He pulled his hand from his mouth and let go of the bed to wave both fists in the air with a wide grin, but in doing so, he lost balance and fell backwards onto his bottom.

He stared with wide eyes at Wei Wuxian like he was shocked, and then his lip wobbled like he was going to start crying.

Wei Wuxian scooped him up before he could.

“It’s okay, baby,” he cooed.

It didn’t take long for Xichen to recover, and by the time Lan Zhan came back with their food on a tray, he and Xichen were sitting across from each other, clapping their hands.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian said when he sat the tray down. “Look at Xichen, he can clap now!”

He clapped his hands together a couple of times, and Xichen gave him a wide gummy smile as he followed suit, slapping his hands together enthusiastically.

When he looked back to Lan Zhan, he was staring at them with a fond expression on his face.

Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but smile back as he picked Xichen up and carried him over to the table.

Something in him wanted to drop a kiss to Lan Zhan’s cheek when he passed Xichen over into his arms, but he had just enough presence of mind to stop that train of thought before it led anywhere.

This wasn’t real. Xichen wasn’t their child, the Jingshi wasn’t Wei Wuxian’s home and Lan Zhan didn’t love him like that.

Dinner was a calm affair.

Lan Zhan seemed to be getting better at feeding Xichen because he finished all of his mush without a single speck on his little pale blue clothes.

“Hey, Lan Zhan,” he asked around a mouthful of food. “Where’d you get those clothes if no one else knew about Xichen?”

Lan Zhan ducked his head as his ears burned red, busying himself with cleaning up the dishes they had left behind.

“Borrowed them.”

Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but bark out a laugh.

“You stole them?” He asked, delighted.

Lan Zhan looked up just enough to send him a weak glare.

“Borrowed,” he said firmly. “Will return them.”

Wei Wuxian was going to ask him where he thought the line was between borrowing and stealing, but then Lan Zhan looked back down.

“No talking while eating.”

Wei Wuxian smiled around his next bite.

What a terribly convenient rule.

Since Xichen hadn’t gotten food on himself while he was eating, and he hadn’t had anymore trips through the mud, he didn’t need a bath, so Lan Zhan got him ready for bed after their meal.

“Wei Ying,” he said.

There was a subtle urgency to his tone that had wei Wuxian rushing to his side.

“What’s wrong?”

Lan Zhan turned and held Xichen out to him.

“Warm,” he said in that same tone.

Wei Wuxian placed a hand over Xichen’s forehead, and, sure enough, it felt a little feverish.

“He felt warm earlier today,” he said, taking his hand back. “But he was fine after a bit, so I thought it was my imagination.”

“The array?” Lan Zhan asked.

Honestly, he didn’t know enough about kids or the array to tell.

“We might have to get an outside opinion if it doesn’t go away,” he said with a shrug.

Xichen was drifting off in Lan Zhan’s arms, curled against his chest. He let out little whimpers and whines as he drifted off, and that worried Wei Wuxian. Though, by the time he’d drifted off, he had calmed down completely.

They settled into bed the same as the night before, only this time, Lan Zhan didn’t fall asleep as soon as he lay down. He kept his gaze locked on where Xichen was sleeping in the crook of his arm. Wei Wuxian knew he was worried. Xichen’s fever had gone down as he slept, but it was still scary.

Wei Wuxian drifted off while before Lan Zhan, worry still filtering through his mind. .


Wei Wuxian slipped into consciousness before the sun had risen, while the light of the moon was filtering through the window. He felt a soft weight over the side of his neck and across his cheek, and peeked an eye open, assuming that Xichen had wiggled closer during the night.

His heart jumped in his chest when he realized that it was Lan Zhan’s hand stretched between them, pressed so tenderly to the side of his neck, fingers gently cradling his cheek. A quick check told him that Lan Zhan was still asleep.

He wondered if Lan Zhan had woken up and laid his hand over his cheek or if he had reached out to him in his sleep. Both thoughts sent a thrill down his spine.

He drifted off to that soft pressure with a lazy smile on his lips.

The next time he opened his eyes, it was light out, and he was alone in the bed.

He could hear Xichen’s babbling behind him, so he rolled over and caught sight of Lan Zhan and Xichen sitting on the floor.

Xichen was in Lan Zhan’s lap, and Lan Zhan had his hands resting palm up on his thighs. Xichen was babbling and slapping his hands down onto Lan Zhan’s open palms.

Wei Wuxian watched as Lan Zhan caught one of Xichen’s hands in his own and leaned down to press a kiss to his chubby palm.

He wondered if Lan Zhan ever wanted kids.

He’d had Sizhui, sure, but from what Lan Zhan had told him, he’d barely been able to do anything with him for the first couple of years. He had been unable to be a proper parent because of his seclusion and injuries. By the time he’d fully recovered, Sizhui had almost been old enough to be moved to the junior disciple quarters. He knew Lan Zhan regretted not being able to be there for him more, but it had been out of his hands.

Lan Zhan still viewed Sizhui as his son, and Sizhui viewed him as his father, but Wei Wuxian wondered if he ever wanted more kids.

Watching him with Xichen made it clear that he liked children, and Wei Wuxian could see something in his eye when he looked at XIchen like this that almost looked wistful, longing.

Xichen turned in Lan Zhan’s grip and pulled himself to standing in his lap. He slapped one of his little hands onto Lan Zhan’s cheek with a smile, and Lan Zhan caught it in his own hand.

“A-Huan, don’t hit,” he said softly.

Xichen just pulled Lan Zhan’s hand to his mouth and tried to chew on his fingers.

As Lan Zhan pulled his hand back, he looked over to the bed. His eyes trailed slowly over Wei Wuxian where he was laying, and the weight of Lan Zhan’s gaze made him feel tingly all over. Zhan’s eyes moved slowly over him like they were hungry, like they couldn’t get enough, slowly tracking over every inch of him until his eyes had traveled all the way up to meet Wei Wuxia’s. They widened slightly in panic when he realized the other was awake.

“Wei Ying,” he said, almost breathless.

Wei Wuxian could see how red his ears were even from his vantage point on the bed, and he had to hide his giddy smile in the pillow.

He definitely couldn’t have misinterpreted the gaze. It had been so deliberate, so loving, and something undeniably longing had been caught in his expression.

Wei Wuxian couldn’t get the smile to drop from his face as he sat up and stretched, heart still pounding from the weight of those eyes on him.

“Good morning, Lan Zhan,” he said with a wink that caused Lan Zhan’s blush to bleed over onto his cheeks.

He walked over and pulled Xichen from Lan Zhan’s grip to place a big, smacking kiss to his cheek.

“Good morning, Xichen!” Xichen kicked his legs and let out a squeal at the movement. “Or do you prefer A-Huan?” He asked with a glance to Lan Zhan.

“Either,” was all he said.

Breakfast was quick, full of Lan Zhan not meeting his eye, still embarrassed, and Wei Wuxian making faces at Xichen across the table to try and calm his racing heart.

After they'd eaten, they headed straight to the library to search for something to help them break the spell. They didn’t want to waste any time. They still didn’t know if the spell would have any ill effects on Xichen, and the sooner they found something to turn him back, the better.

They scoured the library with single-minded focus, trying to find something to help. They took turns watching after Xichen, keeping him out of trouble and entertained.

He was a good baby, not too loud or mischievous, though, he’d been getting fussier as the day went by. Wei Wuxian didn’t know if it was because they weren’t paying enough attention to him or if it was a sign that something had gone wrong with the array. Either way, it made him work all the much harder to try and find anything to help.

Lan Zhan was as intense in his search through the texts in the library as he was in caring for Xichen. He almost never let his brother out of his sight, keeping him close by at all times.

When Lan Zhan looked just about to fall over, tired but refusing to rest, Wei Wuxian took matters into his own hands and forced him to take a break.

“Lan Zhan,” he called and was promptly ignored.

Lan Zhan was engrossed in the text he was reading, Xichen sitting on the floor behind him, chewing on the strings of his forehead ribbon.

Wei Wuxian called out again. “Lan Zhan.”

And he was ignored again.

He sighed before standing up. He hadn’t realized how stiff he’d gotten, sitting in the same spot for so long, so as he walked over to Lan Zhan, he stretched his shoulders and popped his back.

“Ah, Lan Zhan,” he said again, plucking Xichen from the floor behind him, causing Lan Zhan’s ribbon to be tugged crooked from where it was still held in Xichen’s fist.

This time Lan Zhan looked up.

“Mn?”

There was a wrinkle in between his eyebrows and his lips were tugging downwards in a frown.

“Lan Zhan, let’s take a break,” Wei Wuxian said, already headed to the door with Xichen. “We should take Xichen to see the bunnies.” He glanced over his shoulder to make sure that Lan Zhan was going to follow him.

Lan Zhan shot one last glance down at his notes before standing and following behind.

It wasn’t a long walk to the meadow, but it was nice to stretch his legs. Lan Zhan hadn’t said anything from beside him, but he could tell that he was enjoying being out in the sun as well.

The path they took was out of the way, so they didn’t bother covering Xichen up, not worried about meeting anyone on the way, and Xichen seemed to love being able to see everything as they went. He was overjoyed, twisting and squirming in Wei Wuxian’s arms, trying to look at everything that caught his eye. He’d been cooped up all day too, and Wei Wuxian suddenly felt bad for him being stuck in the library with them.

“Will A-Yuan be done with lessons soon?” He asked.

“Mn.” Lan Zhan nodded. “Soon.”

Wei Wuxian bounced Xichen in his arms a couple of times, causing him to let out a squeal.

“No loud noises,” Lan Zhan said.

Wei Wuxian rolled his eyes and ignored him.

“We should see if A-Yuan wants to keep Xichen while we’re in the library,” he said. “No use keeping him trapped in there with us.”

Lan Zhan stopped walking, and Wei Wuxian stopped as well.

His face was blank, but Wei Wuxian could see the hesitance behind his eyes.

“Come on, Lan Zhan,” he said. “You know A-Yuan isn’t going to let anything happen to Xichen. We can trust him.”

Lan Zhan let out a sigh.

“I know.”

Wei Wuxian knew what he meant.

I know but I still don’t like the idea of Xichen being where I can’t keep an eye on him. I know but I don’t want to risk it. I know but Sizhui is still so young. I know, but I’m scared.

“We can get him after we visit the rabbits,” Wei Wuxian prompted.

Lan Zhan just nodded and started walking again.

The sun was drifting through the trees when they made it to the meadow, and the rabbits were basking in the warmth of the day.

Xichen didn’t know what to think when they sat down in the midst of the rabbits.

He clung as tightly as he could to the front of Wei Wuxian’s robes, scrambling closer every time one of the rabbits hopped near where they were sitting. He buried his face in Wei Wuxian’s shoulder, peeking every so often and then hiding again.

Lan Zhan picked one of the little white bunnies up in his hands, gentle and sweet, and scooted closer to where they were sitting.

Wei Wuxian tried not to think too hard about the fact that when Lan Zhan moved, their thighs brushed together, or when Lan Zhan leaned over to show Xichen the bunny, his arm pressed against Wei Wuxian’s.

With Lan Zhan holding it out to him, Xichen seemed a little more willing to look at the bunny, and soon, all his fear was forgotten, and he reached out for it.

He grabbed a hold of one of the rabbit’s ears as Wei Wuxian made sure he kept his grip gentle, so as not to hurt it. Xichen seemed fascinated by how soft the ear was. He rubbed over it with his hand, giggling and smiling up at Wei Wuxian. Then, he leaned forward with an open mouth, and Wei Wuxian pulled him back right before he closed it over the bunny’s ear.

Xichen turned around in his grasp, making the bunny jump away in alarm, and he looked up at Wei Wuxian with a whine, face scrunching up like he was about to cry. Before he could let out a cry, though, Wei Wuxian picked him up and tossed him into the air.

He ignored the warning noise Lan Zhan made in favor of dropping Xichen back down to his lap and tickling his tummy, making him giggle and kick his legs.

Wei Wuxian lifted Xichen up so that they were nose to nose.

“Say bunny, Xichen,” he said. “Bunny, bunny.”

“Bu, bu, bu,” Xichen repeated, much to Wei Wuxian’s delight.

“Look, Lan Zhan, look how smart he is!”

Lan Zhan was watching them with a soft smile on his face, and Wei Wuxian turned his face to the side to watch the rabbits hop along. He was sure that if Lan Zhan could see his face, every emotion would be written on it plain as day, and he wouldn’t be able to hide how much he loved him.

After a bit, Xichen started squirming to get down, so Wei Wuxian placed him in the grass. He wasted no time in crawling closer to a little cluster of rabbits.

They seemed cautious of the new intruder and hopped away from him before he could reach them. Xichen kept trying, but the bunnies kept hopping away when he got close enough to touch, and eventually, he sat up with a sad look to Wei Wuxian and Lan Zhan.

He made an upset noise and waved his arms, frustrated.

“Bu, Bu!” He said, which made Wei Wuxian laugh and the corner of Lan Zhan’s lips to quirk up.

“Looks like he has his first word,” Wei Wuxian said with a smile.

Lan Zhan held his hands out to Xichen who crawled towards him eagerly.

It didn’t take long for the rabbits to come up to Lan Zhan, and when they did, he settled them in his lap with Xichen. Under Lan Zhan’s comforting protection, the bunnies were less wary of the baby, and Lan Zhan set him back on the ground. This time as Xichen crawled around, the rabbits hopped up to him, curious.

Wei Wuxian sat back on his hands to watch Xichen play. He tried to focus on how cute it was rather on the fact that Lan Zhan hadn’t moved away from him, even after he’d set Xichen back down. Their arms brushed every so often, and Wei Wuxian couldn't help himself from surreptitiously leaning closer into his warmth so they brushed together with more frequency.

Xichen was utterly delighted at the bunnies, reveling in his newfound popularity patting around for the soft fur and twitching noses.

He traded between crawling around among the rabbits and pulling himself up on Lan Zhan’s arm to stand and babble excitedly.

At one point, as he was sitting in front of them, a rabbit leaned up and wiggled its nose right in Xichen’s face causing its whiskers to brush over his cheeks. Xichen giggled at the sensation and the momentum made him tip backwards. Lan Zhan caught him by the leg and kept him from falling over as Wei Wuxian let out a laugh.

“Don’t worry, A-Huan, one day you’ll get it.”

Xichen clapped his hands together before crawling off after a bunny that had just hopped past from him.

Wei Wuxian looked over to Lan Zhan and noticed that his forehead ribbon was still crooked from where Xichen had pulled on it in the library.

He reached up without thinking to adjust it.

Lan Zhan froze as his fingers made contact with the metal in the center of his forehead, and Wei Wuxian almost pulled back. But Lan Zhan didn’t flinch away or tell him to let go or reach out and stop his wrist. He just looked over, eyes dark, gaze meaningful.

“Crooked,” was all Wei Wuxian could choke out around his suddenly dry throat.

He tried to wrack his brain about the meaning behind the ribbon, but all he could remember was that it was the fact that only family could touch it.

Lan Zhan’s ears were burning red as Wei Wuxian trailed his fingers over the ribbon, down to where it lay over his temples, back until his fingers curled over Lan Zhan’s warm ears. This close, he could hear how Lan Zhan’s breath caught in his throat as he trailed his hand down over his cheek.

He didn’t miss the way Lan Zhan leaned almost imperceptibly closer, or how his eyelashes fluttered like he was going to slip his eyes shut. A thrill shot through his chest when Lan Zhan’s next breath brushed soft and warm over his lips.

A squeal from Xichen had them jerking apart, and Wei Wuxian found himself out of breath.

Lan Zhan stood suddenly.

“Sizhui,” he said, voice breathless, before he turned to go.

Wei Wuxian watched his back disappear as he trailed his fingers lightly over his own lips, mimicking Lan Zhan’s breath that had brushed over them, aching for what it would feel like for Lan Zhan’s own lips to press against them.

Lan Zhan had almost kissed him. He was sure of it.

He couldn’t help but fall backwards and roll around in the grass in giddy excitement.

Lan Zhan wanted to kiss him!

Xichen let out an angry noise when Wei Wuxian’s frantic movement scared the rabbits, and he just picked Xichen up and spun him around.

He pulled Xichen close. “A-Huan,” he whispered to him, glancing over his shoulder to make sure Lan Zhan and Sizhui hadn’t made it back yet.

“A-Huan, I love your brother so much,” he said, a happy laugh bubbling over his lips. “I want to marry him one day.”

Xichen was still worked up from the spinning they’d done, and he waved his fists around with an excited babble.

“I’ll take that as giving me your blessing,” he said with a laugh. “Though, I should probably wait until we turn you back to actually ask.”

He sat back down and put Xichen on the grass in front of him. Xichen just crawled off to where the rabbits had hopped when Wei Wuxian had scared them.

It didn’t take long for Lan Zhan to return with Sizhui.

He could tell the boy was about to burst from excitement at having been asked to watch after Xichen, but it seemed like he was trying to hide it.

Lan Zhan spent way too long telling him everything he needed to know for the few short hours Xichen was going to be in Sizhui’s care, but Wei Wuxian thought it was cute.

“Don’t worry, Father,” Sizhui had said, once Lan Zhan finally relinquished Xichen into his grip. “I will keep him safe. If anything happens, I will get you immediately.”

On the way back to the library, Wei Wuxian wanted to reach out and grab Lan Zhan’s hand, but he refrained.

He just needed to wait until Xichen was back to normal.

Then he would kiss Lan Zhan. Then he would tell Lan Zhan he loved him, ask if Lan Zhan loved him back.

He wasn’t so afraid anymore, now that he’d seen that tender, loving look in Lan Zhan’s eyes, seen the way Lan Zhan looked when he leaned in for a kiss, seen the way Lan Zhan had trailed his eyes over his body that morning like he couldn’t look away.

No, he wasn’t afraid anymore, just giddy. Giddy and impatient.

They got straight to work when they got back to the library, working more efficiently now that they didn’t have to keep an eye on Xichen anymore. The hours ticked away as they read over countless texts, the sun rising into the heights and then drifting back down until the world was bathed in gold.

Suddenly, with no warning, Sizhui burst into the library, and Wei Wuxian looked up, ready to tease him about breaking the rules, only for the words to catch in his throat at the teary, frantic expression on his face.

“I can’t find Xichen,” he said.

Lan Zhan stood up suddenly.

“Explain.” His tone was dark, and Sizhui flinched back slightly, not used to hearing Lan Zhan speak to him that way.

“We stayed in the meadow because he didn’t want to leave. We were playing with the rabbits,” he said. “I swear, I didn’t take my eyes off him for more than five seconds, but when I looked back, he was gone. I looked everywhere for him but I couldn’t find him. He’s so little, what if something happens to him because of me? You should have never trusted me.”

Wei Wuxian moved over to put a hand on Sizhui’s arm, in comfort and to stop his rambling.

“Let’s just focus on finding him.”

Lan Zhan had already rushed from the library in the direction of the meadow, and he and Sizhui followed.

The meadow looked as peaceful as it always did, the rabbits hopping along, twitching their noses and chewing on blades of grass without a care in the world. They didn’t seem phased until Lan Zhan barreled through the meadow and the areas around, searching frantically.

The rabbits had all scattered as they tore through the meadow, stomping and yelling. Lan Zhan wasn’t shouting, but he hadn’t once given Wei Wuxian a dirty look for all the noise he was making, that’s how Wei Wuxian knew that Lan Zhan was panicking.

The sun was setting, and Xichen was still so small. Anything could happen.

All of a sudden, they heard someone stomping closer through the underbrush in their direction.

“Um,” Lan Jingyi’s voice called out. “I found a baby in the woods?”

He stepped into the clearing with Xichen on his hip. The baby seemed happy enough to be there, chewing on a piece of Lan Jingyi’s hair. Rubbing a sleepy fist over his eye.

“I’m not really sure what to do.”

They all lunged at the same time towards him.

Startled by the sudden movement, Jingyi scrambled back a few steps, tightening his grip on Xichen and dropping his hand to his sword preparing to draw it if needed.

“What’s wrong?” He demanded, eyeing them over with caution.

Lan Zhan stalked up to him and held his arms out.

“Give me the child.”

Lan Jingyi looked like he wanted to argue, but even Hanguang-jun’s odd behavior wasn’t enough to make him outright disobey a direct order from him, so he passed a Xichen into Lan Zhan’s anxious arms.

Lan Zhan checked Xichen over immediately, making sure he was unharmed.

“Whose baby is that?” Lan Jingyi asked.

Lan Zhan was still distracted checking over Xichen, so Wei Wuxian didn’t know if he wanted Lan Jingyi to know the truth.

So he wouldn’t tell the truth.

“He’s my illegitimate child,” Wei Wuxian said with a dramatic flip to his hair, ignoring the annoyed huff Lan Zhan let out.

Lan Jingyi just eyed him dubiously and then glanced between him and Lan Zhan.

“Are you sure?”

Wei Wuxian made an offended noise.

“What do you mean am I sure?” he demanded.

He was perfectly capable of getting some girl pregnant. Or at least he would be if he wasn’t in love with Lan Zhan.

Lan Jingyi’s eyes lingered on Lan Zhan as he said, “I thought you and Hanguang-jun were—”

Lan Sizhui leapt forward and covered his mouth with his hand.

“It is almost dinner time,” he said, voice sounding a little strained.

Lan Jingyi was giving him a dirty look over the hand pressed to his mouth, but he didn’t struggle away from it. It seemed he was used to this kind of treatment from Lan Sizhui.

“Mn,” Lan Zhan said, still holding Xichen close to his chest. “Go before you are late.”

Both the boys nodded before they turned to go.

“Hey, Jingyi!” Wei Wuxian called after him. This time, Lan Zhan did give him a dirty look at the shout. “Don’t tell anyone about my bastard child, please!”

He nodded, still eying him like he didn’t quite believe him, eyes darting between him and Lan Zhan.

“I won’t, Senior Wei,” he said.

Just before they disappeared around the pathway, Sizhui waved Lan Jingyi on ahead and walked back to them, slowly and deliberately. He bowed low, and his voice was full of tears as he spoke.

“I will accept whatever punishment you deem necessary,” he said. “Losing track of Zewu-jun in this vulnerable state was unforgivable and irresponsible.

Silence hung in the meadow for a second after his apology.

“Just don’t do it again,” Wei Wuxian said before Lan Zhan could speak. “We know it was an accident.”

Sizhui’s eyes darted over to where Lan Zhan stood beside him. Lan Zhan nodded.

“As Wei Ying said.”

Sizhui bowed again, low and slow, before he turned to catch up with Lan Jingyi, careful not to run, especially with Lan Zhan watching.

Lan Zhan looked over at Wei Wuxian from the corner of his eye.

“Too lenient on him,” he said.

Wei Wuxian just rolled his eyes.

“He’s your son, punish him how you like. You shouldn’t let me bully you.”

“Our son,” Lan Zhan said.

Wei Wuxian looked over at him in surprise.

“Hm?”

Lan Zhan turned to meet his gaze with soft eyes.

“A-Yuan is our son.”

Wei Wuxian hid his smile behind his sleeve.

It was dark again by the time they had made it back from the meadow, and Lan Zhan woke Xichen from where he had fallen asleep against his chest so that he could get them dinner.

Xichen whined and rubbed at his eyes, not willing to let go of Lan Zhan.

Wei Wuxian thought it was cute, how Xichen clung to the front of Lan Zhan’s robes and refused to let go.

“I’ll go make dinner,” he said. “You can stay here with Xichen.”

Lan Zhan’s eyes widened at the thought, and Wei Wuxian felt mildly offended.

“Lan Zhan!” He barked. “I can cook!”

Xichen started crying at the sudden noise, and Lan Zhan gave him a scolding look.

“Apologize to A-Huan,” he said, passing Xichen into his arms. “I will make dinner.”

And then he was gone, Xichen still making little whimpering cries against Wei Wuxian’s chest. Wei Wuxian tried to comfort him, but he wouldn’t stop, and when he pressed a hand to his forehead, it was warm again.

When Lan Zhan got back with their dinner, Xichen seemed more okay sitting in Lan Zhan’s lap, eating dinner. He was a little whiny, but he finished all of his food.

Lan Zhan pulled out the basin again to give Xichen a bath which seemed to distract him from whatever was making him fussy, and by the time was was bundled up and drifting to sleep against Lan Zhan’s chest, he seemed perfectly okay, his forehead didn’t even seem warm anymore.

“What do you think is wrong with him?” Wei Wuxian asked. “He was fine all day, and now he’s sick for a little bit just like yesterday?”

Lan Zhan just looked down at Xichen and pressed a hand over his back to feel his breathing.

“Do we take him to a healer?” Wei Wuxian asked.

They really didn’t want to get someone they couldn't trust completely involved in this, but if something was seriously wrong, they were going to have to.

“If it continues,” Lan Zhan said.

They spent a couple of more days like this. Eating meals, sleeping, and spending every other moment in the library.

After lessons, Sizhui would come to collect Xichen so that they could focus on researching. He was confined to keeping him in the Jingshi, though, Lan Zhan not quite trusting him with the open meadow again.

Xichen hadn’t gotten any worse. He ran warm every so often and was fussy and whiny at times, but most of the time he was just as happy as could be.

As the days stretched on, they read and read, looking over notes and endless entries about age spells and time spells and memory spells and anything in between, but they couldn’t find anything that would help them break the spell safely.

It was frustrating, but soon they had exhausted what the library had to offer them, and they were getting desperate.

“We could travel to the Jin Sect,” he said. “They might have something to help.”

Lan Zhan shook his head.

“Their library isn’t useful.”

It seemed harsh, but he was right. The books they kept there weren’t stodgy tomes about arrays and time spells. Their library was stocked with pretty volumes on cultivation and books on the six arts and illustrated legends. Not what they needed.

“Qinghe doesn’t keep a library.”

He’d heard that Nie Huaisang had been keen on starting to build one, but whatever he had so far wouldn’t be what they needed. His tastes lay more with the arts than anything that might be useful to them.

Wei Wuxian was struck by a sudden thought, but he didn’t want to bring it up.

Lan Zhan did for him.

“Yunmeng?”

Wei Wuxian made a face.

“Actually, they might have something,” he said. “When I was young, I fancied myself something of a collector for a while. I went about gathering rare works on different types of spells. I doubt they would have gotten rid of it.”

The library hadn’t been touched when the Wens had taken over Lotus Pier, so unless Jiang Cheng destroyed it himself, it was their best shot.

Lan Zhan nodded.

“I will send a letter to Sect Leader Jiang,” he said. “We leave tomorrow.”


Wei Wuxian was a ball of nerves as they prepared to leave. He hadn’t been back to Lotus Pier since he’d been kicked out by Jiang Cheng, and he was nervous to see his home, to see his brother.

Lan Zhan’s touch on his shoulder right before they got on his sword grounded him in a way that he hadn’t known it could, and he steeled himself for the inevitable. No use spending the entire way panicking. He would have to go either way, might as well enjoy being wrapped up in Lan Zhan’s grip as he flew them there.

He’d offered to fly on his own sword, but he was glad that Lan Zhan had refused. His Cultivation had been getting stronger, but if he tried to fly all the way to Lotus Pier from Cloud Recesses, he would probably pass out the instant he landed. If he didn’t fall out of the sky first.

He tried to hide the way his heart was pounding at the feeling of Lan Zhan’s hands settled on his hips. It was intimate, standing toe to toe with Lan Zhan, balanced on his sword, and he was glad when they took off to the sky, hoping the wind would hide the way his breath shook where it brushed over the side of Lan Zhan’s neck.

The air was cold this high up, but he’d bundled Xichen in enough layers that he was more worried about him getting overheated than too cold. Still, Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but shiver as the cold air bit through his robes and chilled him. He hadn’t flown like this in so long that he’d forgotten to dress for the weather.

Another shiver crawled up his spine, not from the cold, but rather from the way Lan Zhan’s arms snaked around his middle and wrapped tight around him. Xichen was caught between them, sleeping away, but Wei Wuxian’s nose still ended up pressed to Lan Zhan’s collar bone.

In another life, they would have been nose to nose, and that made Wei Wuxian suddenly glad of his new body in a way he hadn’t been before. He didn’t know if he’d be able to stop himself from leaning forward and kissing him if they were that close.

“Cold?” Lan Zhan asked, deep and low against his ear.

Another shiver, easily blamed on the chilly wind passed through him.

He just nodded, and snuggled a little closer, letting himself indulge for once. When his lips brushed the side of Lan Zhan’s neck, he felt the other man shiver as well.

“Cold?” He whispered, teasing.

He could tell that Lan Zhan had heard him from the way those hands tightened around him and from how he could feel Lan Zhan swallow where his throat was still pressed against his lips.

The ride was long, but Xichen slept the whole way, lulled by the rocking of their motion and the warm heat of the way he was cradled between them.

When they finally landed in Lotus Pier, Wei Wuxian’s legs were shaky, and Lan Zhan had to keep a steadying hand to his waist so he didn’t fall over. The pressure helped at the same time it made his legs feel all that much weaker at the closeness it implied.

He finally got his bearings and started to unravel Xichen from his many layers just as Jiang Cheng stalked up to them, boots thumping over the pier. The sound woke Xichen up, and he stirred in Wei Wuxian’s arms, squirming around to grab ahold of the front of his robes to watch Jiang Cheng as he stormed over.

Jiang Cheng had a scowl on his face, but he bowed to them as custom would demand a Sect Leader greet the Chief Cultivator.

Over the past year, he and Jiang Cheng had come to a sort of ceasefire. They hadn’t talked more than a handful of times, but Jin Ling had let Wei Wuxian know that he was no longer forbidden from stepping foot in Yunmeng. Wei Wuxian sometimes even sent letters to his brother, though he never got any in return. He hoped that over time their relationship could be mended, but the distance between them still made his heart hurt.

Jiang Cheng shot a quick glance to Wei Wuxian, before looking back to Lan Zhan.

Then he did a double take.

“What the fuck,” he said, dropping his hands from his bow and openly staring at the bundle in Wei Wuxian’s arms. “Since when do you two have a baby? Are you even married yet?”

Yet?

Wei Wuxian let out a nervous laugh, and he could see Lan Zhan jolt at that as his ears burned red.

“Aha, no. We are just keeping him for—”

“This is my brother,” Lan Zhan interrupted. “We are trying to find a way to return him to normal.”

If Jiang Cheng had been gaping before, it had nothing on his expression now.

“That’s Zewu-jun?” He choked out.

In the past, Wei Wuxian might have teased him over the way his eyes bulged.

“This is why we needed access to the library here,” he said instead. “There was nothing in the Cloud Recesses library that could help us.”

Jiang Cheng listened to their explanation with a scowl on his face, and he kept shooting glances down to where Xichen lay in Wei Wuxian’s arms.

He didn’t deny them access, how could he, but he didn’t look happy as he led them to the library.

Wei Wuxian wanted to scoff. They didn’t need to be lead about like some visitors. It wasn’t like he didn’t know where the library, didn’t know every in and out of this place, didn’t ache at the familiar sights and smells.

As they stood at the doorway of the library, Jiang Cheng hesitated.

“Do you need—” He cut himself off with an angry look, and turned around like he was going to leave.

Wei Wuxian risked putting a hand over his brother’s arm.

“Thanks,” he said softly.

Jiang Cheng paused and looked over to him. There was a swirl of emotions behind his eyes, and he opened his mouth to say something when he was interrupted by Xichen leaning over and reaching out to him from Wei Wuxian’s arms.

“Ah, Jiang Cheng, he likes you!” Wei Wuxian said with a laugh, thrusting Xichen into his arms.

Jiang Cheng scrambled to grab hold of Xichen before Wei Wuxian let go of him.

“Careful, idiot,” he muttered as he adjusted his grip on the squirming baby and settled him against his chest.

Wei Wuxian leaned against Jiang Cheng’s side, reaching over to rub a finger over Xichen’s cheek. He was less worried about outbursts now that Jiang Cheng had a baby in his arms, and that made him bold.

“Hey,” Wei Wuxian said suddenly. “I have an idea!”

“No,” Lan Zhan said from behind him.

Wei Wuxian ignored him and continued.

“Jiang Cheng could watch Xichen while we look for something.”

Lan Zhan moved over to stand beside him.

“No.”

Jiang Cheng was looking down at Xichen who stared back up at him with large eyes. He nudged one of his fingers into Xichen’s hands, and Xichen wrapped it in a tight fist. There was a soft expression on his face that Wei Wuxian hadn’t seen since that day in Yiling when Shijie came to show him her wedding robes.

Jiang Cheng opened his mouth like he was going to say something, but then his eyes glanced over to Lan Zhan who was staring him down with an icy glare. Instead, he shook his head and passed Xichen back into Wei Wuxian’s arms.

“Don’t you know I’m busy,” he grumbled. “I don’t have time to look after some brat.”

His words were harsh, but his tone was still fond, and he still hadn't pulled his finger from Xichen’s grip.

“I will have someone bring you to lunch here, but I expect to see all three of you at dinner.”

He didn’t look up to meet either of their eyes as he pulled his finger from Xichen’s grip and stomped away.

Wei Wuxian turned to Lan Zhan who was still staring at where Jiang Cheng was walking away.

“He wants us at dinner,” Wei Wuxian said with a pleased smile.

“Mn.”

They didn’t waste any time before tearing through the Lotus Pier library. It wasn’t as vast as Cloud Recesses’, but it also wasn’t as organized, so it took them awhile to find the works Wei Wuxian had mentioned might be helpful.

Xichen seemed content at first to explore this new place. He pulled a couple of things off a few shelves, but Wei Wuxian wasn’t worried about the mess, seeing as he and Lan Zhan had made an even bigger one.

Sometime after lunch, Xichen had gotten a little fussy. He crawled over and curled up in Lan Zhan’s lap and whined until he fell asleep, face pinched even as he slept. Lan Zhan had kept a hand over his back as he flipped pages.

After Xichen woke up, he’d been back to his normal happy self, especially after Wei Wuxian had given him Chenqing to play with. He switched between gnawing on the wood, and hitting the flute on the floor, babbling the whole time. Wei Wuxian winced every time it hit the floor even though he knew Xichen didn’t have enough strength to break it.

He and Lan Zhan skimmed the works in the library, putting the ones that might be of use to them in a pile, and putting anything that didn’t help away.

It was slow going, but they were diligent, and before they knew it, a servant interrupted them to call them to dinner.

When they walked into the room, Jiang Cheng was already seated. There were bowls set out, and Wei Wuxian recognized the scent that was drifting from the pot on the table.

He turned to Jiang Cheng, swallowing around the lump that had lodged in his throat.

Jiang Cheng didn’t look over at him, but he obviously knew what Wei Wuxian was thinking.

“It isn’t the same as hers, but it’s the closest I can get it.” His voice was rough when he spoke, and he didn’t look up from the table.

Shijie’s soup.

He was shaking as he lowered himself to the table, but he didn’t say anything, overcome with too many emotions.

They ate in silence. It felt forced and awkward to Wei Wuxian, but he figured at least Lan Zhan probably enjoyed it. The only sound were the delighted babbles Xichen was making in between bites and the soft clack if their spoons as they ate. Wei Wuxian was glad that no one spoke because he knew if he tried to force any words out, he would probably start crying.

After Xichen finished his food, he squirmed out if Lan Zhan’s grip and crawled over to where Jiang Cheng was sitting.

Wei Wuxian watched as he pulled himself up by the Sect leader’s arm and stood there, bouncing with his knees with a fist in his mouth until he got distracted by the bell hanging at Jiang Cheng’s waist. He wasted no time in plopping down beside him and grabbed it in his fist, pulling it until it was close to breaking loose.

Lan Zhan looked like he was ready to take Xichen back, but Jiang Cheng just wrapped a hand over Xichen’s where it was tugging at his bell, and pulled it away. He looked over to Wei Wuxian with a questioning look, and when he got a nod, he lifted Xichen into his arms.

Xichen was immediately enamored by Zidan where it sat on Jiang Cheng’s hand, and he wasted no time in trying to stuff it into his mouth.

“Ah, A-Huan, no,” Wei Wuxian said, moving to take Xichen.

Jiang Cheng just waved him off.

“It’s fine,” he said. “Jin Ling used to do the same thing.”

Wei Wuxian ached to have been there when Jiang Cheng had been caring for their nephew. He ached for the fact that his little brother had been left to bear that burden alone

Jiang Cheng wiggled his finger where it was caught in Xichen’s grip.

“I don’t think I’ve held a baby since Jin Ling was little,” he said quietly. “He was a fat baby, though, a lot bigger than Zewu-jun here.”

Wei Wuxian hadn’t ever gotten to see little Jin Ling. Just another thing on his long list of regrets.

“Jiang Cheng,” he said, overflowing with all the apologies that he had yet to say. His voice shook a little, and it was full of misery. “I’m so sorr—“

Jiang Cheng held up a hand to stop him.

“Don’t.” The look he leveled at him was serious and dark. “The past is in the past. Let it stay there.”

Tears pricked Wei Wuxian’s eyes.

“But I—“

Jiang Cheng interrupted again.

“Jiejie would have forgiven you, so I should as well.” When he looked up, there were tears in his eyes too. “To honor her memory.”

Wei Wuxian let out a wet laugh and swiped at his eyes to keep any stray tears from falling.

“She would be so proud of you,” he said.

Jiang Cheng blinked his eyes against the tears in his eyes, but one slipped over his cheek anyway. When he looked away, it did nothing to hide it. He cleared his throat, but his voice still cracked when he spoke.

“I think it’s time for bed.”

He shoved Xichen in Lan Zhan’s direction and didn’t meet either of their eyes as he stormed from the room with one last sniffle.

He looked over to Lan Zhan who blinked at him like he had no idea what had just happened.

“Lan Zhan,” he whispered with a smile creeping over his lips. He didn’t know what he wanted to say, but Lan Zhan seemed to get the picture as he leaned over and grasped one of his hands.

Everything wasn’t fixed. There were still years of hurt and distance between them, but this was a step in the right direction. No, not a step, a leap, and Jiang Cheng had made the first move. He thought he’d be doing all the work in trying to mend their relationship, at least at first, but here Jiang Cheng was, reaching out to him.

He choked back another wave of tears as he squeezed Lan Zhan’s hand in his own, grateful for that little comfort, the silent support. Lan Zhan always knew just what he needed.

A servant came and led them to where they were going to be staying, and Wei Wuxian was surprised to discover that Jiang Cheng had put them in the same room. He knew it to be one of the best guest chambers and there was only one large bed in the room. Wei Wuxian thought back to what Jiang Cheng had said when they’d first arrived.

Are you two even married yet?

He definitely thought Wei Wuxian and Lan Zhan were together. He didn’t just think that, he was absolutely sure or he wouldn’t have put them in the same room and risk offending the Chief Cultivator, especially when the Chief Cultivator was someone as strict as Lan Zhan. He hadn’t a single doubt in his mind that they were together.

Wei Wuxian hid a smile behind his hand. He couldn’t wait to prove him right as soon as Xichen was back to normal.

He glanced over to Lan Zhan to see if he thought anything of it, but Lan Zhan was distracted. He had a hand pressed to Xichen’s forehead, checking for temperature. After a moment, he looked over to Wei Wuxian.

“Warm again.”

That was troublesome. XIchen had been more fussy today than he usually was, but Wei Wuxian had figured it might have been the new place or the fact that he’d had to stay cooped up in the library with them all day.

Xichen was clutching at the front of Lan Zhan’s robe, letting out little whimpering whines every so often. The nights before, he had stopped crying and his fever had gone down once he’d fallen asleep, so Lan Zhan tried to rock him, to get him to close his eyes, but it didn’t seem to be working.

As the night went on, Xichen’s cries got louder and louder until he was wailing into Lan Zhan’s chest. His fever hadn’t gone down in the slightest, and everytime it seemed like he might drift to sleep, he woke himself up with a cry, and his screams started up again.

Lan Zhan pulled the blanket a little tighter around Xichen as he rocked and swayed to try and get him to calm down, but nothing seemed to be working.

“Does he still feel warm?” Wei Wuxian asked, pacing back and forth, wringing his hands.

He nodded, patting Xichen’s back.

“Healer,” Lan Zhan said. His voice was thick with worry.

Wei Wuxian stopped to share a concerned look with Lan Zhan, and then nodded.

“I’ll go wake Jiang Cheng to see who would be best. He would know.”

Lan Zhan was already turned back to shushing Xichen who continued crying, barely taking breaths in between screams. Wei Wuxian spared them one last glance before he darted out the door.

Only to bump into a sleepy, angry Jiang Cheng.

“What is all this crying?” He demanded. “Are you two so incompetent that you can’t keep a single baby from waking all of Lotus Pier for one night?”

He opened his mouth like he was going to shout some more, but then he caught sight of the way Wei Wuxian was looking at him with tearful, worried eyes.

“Oh,” he stopped, taking in Lan Zhan’s unusually panicked expression. “Is something actually wrong?”

Wei Wuxian gripped onto the sleeve of Jiang Cheng’s robe. Maybe he could find out what was wrong.

“He’s been fussy for days, and he keeps running a fever on and off,” he said. “We don’t know if he’s sick or if this is a side effect of the spell, but he’s getting worse.”

Jiang Cheng walked farther into the room.

“Let me see him,” he said to Lan Zhan.

Lan Zhan held on tighter and turned his body slightly away like he was shielding Xichen from him. He leveled Jiang Cheng with a suspicious look as Xichen continued to cry. Wei Wuxian could understand his unwillingness to let go of his brother, but he also knew that if Jiang Cheng could help, they should let him.

“Lan Zhan,” he said with a pleading look.

That was all it took for Lan Zhan to let out a breath and then turn and present Xichen to Jiang Cheng. He didn’t hand him over, but he turned him around so he could be examined.

Jiang Cheng gave Xichen an appraising look. He put his wrist to Xichen’s forehead, checking for fever, and then put a hand over his tummy. He then took a step closer and paused before he stuck his finger right into the screaming baby’s open mouth and ran it over his gums.

“What—” Wei Wuxian started just as Lan Zhan pulled Xichen back to his chest with a glare to Jiang Cheng.

Jiang Cheng pulled his hand back and crossed his arms as he rolled his eyes.

“He’s just teething, you dumbasses.”

Lan Zhan and Wei Wuxian shared a look.

“Teething?” Lan Zhan asked.

The look Jiang Cheng gave him could have curdled milk.

“Yes, teething,” he said. “Where do you think babies get their teeth? They don’t just appear, they grow in. It can make them run warm and be fussy.”

Lan Zhan narrowed his eyes at Jiang Cheng, but Wei Wuxian was nodding along. That would explain the last couple of days. It also might explain how he kept chewing on everything in his grasp.

“Hand him over,” Jiang Cheng said to Lan Zhan.

Lan Zhan hesitated before Xichen let out another scream, and then he passed him into Jiang Cheng’s hold, desperate to help him.

Jiang Cheng settled him into the crook of his arm then stuck his pointer finger in Xichen’s mouth and rubbed gently over his gums. For a little bit, nothing seemed to happen, but little by little, the crying calmed down, and Xichen seemed content to smack away on Jiang Cheng’s finger. He let out the occasional whine, but for the most part, it seemed like he felt better.

“This can help soothe the pain,” Jiang Cheng said by way of explanation.

Wei Wuxian was openly gaping at this point and he could tell that if Lan Zhan had one drop less of self-control, he would be as well.

“How do you know all this?” Wei Wuxian asked, wonder evident in his voice.

He paused, and when he spoke again there was something sad about his tone. “Who do you think took care of Jin Ling when he was little,” he said, and then quieter, like he hadn’t meant to say it at all, “He was all I had left of Jiejie, and I was all he had left of her too.”

Wei Wuxian felt a pang of guilt shoot through his chest, and he ducked his head, ashamed to have asked.

Jiang Cheng seemed eager to change the subject.

“If this doesn’t work, you can also put some alcohol on your finger and rub it—”

“No,” Lan Zhan said.

Wei Wuxian looked over at Lan Zhan with a smile. His glare had hardened and his hands were clenched to fists at his sides, no doubt to stop him from grabbing Xichen back from Jiang Cheng, offended even at the suggestion of letting Xichen anywhere near alcohol.

“You should know that alcohol is prohibited,” Wei Wuxian said to ease the tension. “Remember when we were studying at Cloud Recesses?”

Jiang Cheng gave him a little half-smile before remembering himself and schooling his face into his usual scowl.

They stayed like that for a while, Jiang Cheng soothing Xichen, Lan Zhan all but pouting at not having been able to know what had been wrong with Xichen himself, and Wei Wuxian just enjoying being around his family.

Eventually, Xichen had drifted off in Jiang Cheng’s arms, and Wei Wuxian was having trouble keeping his eyes open. Lan Zhan surprised them all by letting out a yawn that seemed like it would never end.

Jiang Cheng looked over to him with an incredulous expression, and Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but laugh at the way Lan Zhan’s ears turned pink with embarrassment.

“I should probably get back to sleep,” Jiang Cheng said passing Xichen back to Lan Zhan’s waiting arms.

Wei Wuxian walked him to the door

“I’m happy for you” Jiang Cheng said quietly, looking over to the one bed where Lan Zhan was laying Xichen. He had a pinched expression on his face that Wei Wuxian couldn’t decipher.

“Thank you,” he said. Now wasn’t the time to fix any assumptions, the moment was too fragile, the sentiment too sincere.

Jiang Cheng turned to leave without another word.

“Goodnight, Shidi,” Wei Wuxian whispered as he shut the door behind him. He was a coward for being too afraid to see the look on Jiang Cheng’s face in response to that.

When he turned back into the room, Lan Zhan was already stripping his outer layers and slipping into the bed, leaving a space for wei Wuxian at his side. This time, Lan Zhan hadn’t put Xichen in between them, rather, he’d nestled him in the crook of his other arm, so Wei Wuxian slipped under the blanket against Lan Zhan’s side.

This bed was bigger than the one Lan Zhan had in the Jingshi, but they still ended up pressed against each others’ sides. Lan Zhan hadn’t scooted far enough over, and Wei Wuxian hadn’t stayed close enough to the edge, but neither of them said anything about it as he settled in.

Wei Wuxian drifted off as soon as his head hit the pillow, but not before he felt Lan Zhan’s hand reach over and tangle with his own.

The next morning, they all slept in, even Lan Zhan. He had woken at five, like usual, but Wei Wuxian had coaxed him back to sleep, eyes barely cracked open himself.

Once Wei Wuxian finally got out of bed, it was almost noon and the sun was high in the sky, the air around them already so warm as to be stuffy.

“Do you know what we should do today?” Wei Wuxian asked, stretching his arms high above his head as Lan Zhan changed Xichen.

“Hm?” Lan Zhan asked, distracted as he finished up and then started dressing Xichen again.

Wei Wuxian forgot to answer as he watched, stunned, as Lan Zhan let his hand hover in the air above Xichen, who started kicking his legs in anticipation, before dropping it down and tickling his tummy. Xichen let out a delighted screech at this, and Lan Zhan did it a couple of more times, smiling down at him. Every time, he let his hand hover in the air for a touch longer, drawing out Xichen’s anticipation, and every time he dropped it down to tickle him, Xichen laughed louder and louder.

“What should we do?” Lan Zhan prompted, finally picking Xichen up and turning to face him.

It took Wei Wuxian a second to remember what Lan Zhan was talking about.

“Oh yeah! We should take Xichen swimming!”

The water was warm when he dove in. Lan Zhan stood on the dock with Xichen as he swam out a few strokes into the water and then back again. He hadn’t been able to do this in so long, and it brought a sudden swell of tears to his eyes that he hadn’t expected. He ducked his head underwater to clear them away before swimming up to the dock and resting his arms over the wood.

Xichen seemed enraptured by the water and the lotus blooms and Wei Wuxian swimming around. He was bouncing in Lan Zhan’s arms as he babbled sharp and bright, waving one of his fists through the air.

Lan Zhan looked as regal as ever, standing there, where Wei Wuxian had spent so much of his time as a youth. It made him feel warm inside at the thought that Lan Zhan had finally visited his home. Then, something sharp shot through him when he remembered that this was no longer his home. It hadn’t been for a while.

“Give me A-Huan,” he said to Lan Zhan, trying to keep those sad thoughts from his mind. Now wasn’t the time for that.

Lan Zhan seemed hesitant, but he passed Xichen down to him anyway.

He’d expressed his concerns earlier about Wei Wuxian being able to keep both of them afloat, and Wei Wuxian had almost been offended.

“I have been swimming in these waters longer than I’ve been able to read,” he’d said. “Besides, if anything happens, you’ll be there to help up.”

Lan Zhan had declined to get into the water with them, but he seemed content enough to sit on the pier and watch them. At least he’d hiked up his robes and rolled his pants to his knees to dangle his legs into the water. It was a funny look, still so prim and proper, with perfect posture and not a hair out of place on top, and from the waist down, as casual as Wei Wuxian had ever seen him.

Wei Wuxian was careful to hold Xichen securely to his chest and keep him from slipping or getting water splashed into his face.

Xichen loved the water. Held securely in Wei Wuxian’s arms, he wasted no time in splashing about, switching between grabbing onto strands of Wei Wuxian’s wet hair to babble excitedly into his face and turning in his grip to try and grab at the lotus plants that were all around them.

He swam around for a bit, letting Xichen splash to his heart’s content, just enjoying the feeling of being in the water again.

Wei Wuxian looked over to where Lan Zhan was sitting, and was surprised to see that Jiang Cheng had walked up at some point and was standing beside him. They weren’t looking at each other or talking. They seemed perfectly content to pretend the other wasn’t there, but they were both watching Wei Wuxian and Xichen, Lan Zhan with a soft, fond look in his eyes, and Jiang Cheng with an expression that was almost sad. Wei Wuxian was wondering if he was remembering when they were kids, or if he was thinking of when Jin Ling was young.

“You two should join us,” Wei Wuxian called out. “The water is amazing!”

He raised one of Xichen’s hands and made him wave over to the two on the pier.

Lan Zhan peeked at Jiang Cheng out of the corner of his eye and then said. “No thank you.”

It made wei Wuxian wonder if he might have agreed if they’d been alone. It almost made him wish that Jiang Cheng hadn’t joined them, but he pushed that thought to the back of his mind, especially when Jiang Cheng spoke.

“You know,” he said with a half smile forming on his face. “It’s been awhile since I’ve been swimming.”

He wasted no time in undoing his belt and stripping his outer layers, ignoring Lan Zhan’s slightly horrified look as his outer robe was accidentally tossed over his back.

Wei Wuxian turned to shield Xichen from the splash when he finally got into the water.

Jiang Cheng swam several long strokes out into the water before doubling back and swimming up to Wei Wuxian and Xichen.

“May I?” He asked, holding his hands out to take Xichen from him.

Xichen wasted no time in lunging for Jiang Cheng. He had already been excited to see the Sect Leader jumping in, and the offer to be held by him was too enticing. Xichen had taken a liking to Jiang Cheng since they’d gotten here, and Wei Wuxian could see how that made his brother’s eyes shine with pride.

It made him wonder if Jiang Cheng ever wished he had children of his own.

Wei Wuxian handed him over with a smile and looked over to Lan Zhan. He was watching Jiang Cheng swim with Xichen in his arms with a heavy focus. He didn’t like Jiang Cheng very much, that was clear from every single interaction they’d had since Wei Wuxian returned in Mo Xuanyu’s body. But apparently he trusted Jiang Cheng enough to not say anything about Wei Wuxian letting him hold Xichen.

With Xichen secure in Jiang Cheng’s grip, babbling in the Sect leader’s face, Wei Wuxian swam over to Lan Zhan and placed an arm on the wood of the pier. Something about the water and the warm air and the smell of home was making him bold, so his other arm snaked around Lan Zhan’s leg to keep anchor there.

“Don’t worry, Lan Zhan,” he said quietly. “Jiang Cheng’s a better swimmer than I am. He won’t let anything happen to A-Huan.”

“Mn,” Lan Zhan said.

His ears were pink, and Wei Wuxian didn’t know if it was from the sun or the way Wei Wuxian’s naked chest was pressed against his skin.

Wei Wuxian moved a little closer to lay his chin on Lan Zhan’s knee and look up at him, delighted to see the pink on his ears spread over his neck and across his cheeks. So it wasn’t just the sun.

He couldn’t help the squeak of surprise that escaped him when Lan Zhan reached over and ran a hand through the wet strands of his hair with a soft look on his face. It made Wei Wuxian’s heart beat wildly in his chest, and he was sure Lan Zhan could feel in where he was pressed against Lan Zhan’s leg.

Emboldened by Lan Zhan’s hand still tangled in his hair, Wei Wuxian kept his eyes locked with Lan Zhan’s as he tilted his head and pressed his lips to Lan Zhan’s knee in an unmistakable kiss. Neither of them said anything, but Lan Zhan’s hand tightened in his hair, and he had to choke back a gasp at how good it felt.

He heard Jiang Cheng make a disgusted noise behind him, and so with one last lingering stare, he pulled Lan Zhan’s hand from his hair and let go to swim back towards the other two, trying to will his heartbeat to slow down where it was pounding in his chest.

Jiang Cheng was grumbling to Xichen, and Xichen was babbling loudly right along with him.

“In public...no sense of propriety...should know better…expect better from a Lan...”

“Bababababa…”

Jiang Cheng heard him approaching, and turned to give him a glare, and Wei Wuxian just glanced back at Lan Zhan to make sure he wasn’t in hearing range before he leaned in close and whispered, “You know we aren’t together, right?”

Jiang Cheng blinked at him.

“Ha ha,” he said after a pause. “Nice try, but two aren’t fooling anyone.”

Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but grin.

“I’m serious, we haven’t even kissed yet.”

Wei Wuxian was holding onto that yet with all the hope in the world.

Jiang Cheng jerked back.

“What?” He all but shouted.

He looked over with disbelief written all over his expression to where Lan Zhan was gently kicking his legs through the water. “Are you sure?”

Wei Wuxian gave him a stupid look.

“What do you mean am I sure?” He hissed. “Of course I’m sure. I think I would remember kissing that face.”

Jiang Cheng switched Xichen over to his other arm.

“Well,” he said. “Why not?”

Wei Wuxian didn’t have a good answer to that. It was mostly because he’d been afraid, but that seemed like such a silly excuse now that he knew how Lan Zhan looked at him.

He shrugged.

“But I’m going to remedy that very soon.”

Jiang Cheng snorted.

They swam about until their hands were wrinkly and pruned and Xichen had started to drift off ready for a nap.

When they returned to the library, Wei Wuxian had almost forgotten why they had come, but the stacks of notes and scrolls jolted him back into reality.

They spent the next couple of days sifting through the remaining works, desperate for anything that might help. There were a few that were useful, but they still couldn’t find enough to completely reverse the spell.

Lan Zhan got more quiet as the days passed, and he held Xichen more and more closely every night until he barely let Xichen out of his arms, even when he whined to be put down.

“I don’t think we’re going to find anything,” Wei Wuxian admitted.

Lan Zhan didn’t look over at him, but Wei Wuxian could tell that he’d been heard.

“We’ve gone through everything more than once,” he continued. “We’re going to have to think of something else.”

Lan Zhan was quiet for a little bit before he nodded.

“Let’s return to Gusu.”


The ride back to Cloud Recesses was quiet and somber.

They hadn’t found anything in the library at Lotus Pier, so they would have to rethink their options. The problem was that there were still a few characters on the original array that Wei Wuxian didn’t recognize. He needed to know what they were in order to safely reverse the spell, but he hadn’t been able to find anything on a few of them.

Wei Wuxian could create a whole new array, but there was no way he was going to test an experimental spell on Xichen, not if he didn’t know what the outcome would be.

He’d suggested trying the original spell on himself to test the counter spell on him, but Lan Zhan’s eyes lit up in anger even at the mere suggestion, so Wei Wuxian had dropped it.

He was out of ideas, but he refused to give up. He wouldn’t do that to Lan Zhan. He knew this was tearing him apart, and if he could find any way to fix this, he wouldn’t stop.

They made it back to Cloud Recesses relatively quickly. Sizhui met them at the gates, but he could tell by their faces that they didn’t bring good news.

They were sopping up a mess in the Jingshi when they found the note.

The mood had been somber still, as they discussed their options, looking to expand their search, when Xichen accidentally knocked Lan Zhan’s tea off his desk. It had spilled all over the floor, flowing under the desk and splashing all the way over to where the bed was.

Sizhui had taken Xichen outside to sit on the porch while they cleaned to keep him out of the way.

Wei Wuxian was on his knees soaking up the spilled tea when he saw the corner of a piece of paper under the bed. He pulled it out, figuring it was one of Lan Zhan’s documents that had been knocked off his desk. It was folded neatly and the front had Lan Zhan’s name on it. A letter. He opened it to find a short note written in neat, even characters. It must have been knocked off Lan Zhan’s desk when Xichen had made a mess of the place.

“Hey, Lan Zhan, what’s this?”

Wei Wuxian didn’t recognize the handwriting, but from the way Lan Zhan’s eyes widened, it seemed like he did.

“Brother.”

Wei Wuxian held the letter between them so they could both read it.

Wangji,

I know I am a coward for this, I wouldn’t dream of denying that. I never claimed to be as strong as you, and it has never been more evident than now. How did you do it? After he died? After all the world hated him and no one allowed you grieve without seething in spite and telling you he wasn’t worth it. It aches in a way that I never knew a person could ache. It is all consuming and never ending. I feel it when I sleep and when I wake and when I eat and when I cry and when I dream and when I feel so empty that I feel nothing, I ache even then.

I only made it through the death of my first beloved because I found comfort in my other, and we grieved him together. Now that they are both gone, I cannot shoulder this. That comfort was a lie anyway. How could I trust anyone else to wipe my tears when the trust I had before was placed in my beloved’s own murderer.

Though, this time, I am the murderer, aren’t I?

I made a mess the first time around. Maybe in this next life, I won’t make as many mistakes, maybe I can be happy. Maybe no one will break my heart.

I don’t want to remember this pain anymore.

It’s selfish, I know, but I trust that you will take care of me and my heart.

I want you to know that the only thing making me hesitate is the thought of bringing you pain. A-Zhan, you have done nothing wrong. This could never be your fault. I know you carry everything on your own shoulders, but don’t even consider trying to take the blame for this upon yourself. This is my cowardice, not a lack of care from you. I know this will hurt you so much, but I also know that you are strong enough to withstand anything.

You have your heart back. I trust that you can find happiness in him, even when I cannot be there for you anymore.

You should invite him back to Cloud Recesses. I think he’ll say yes now.

I envy you if for no other reason than that he made his way back to you. You have him in your life again, and you shouldn’t let your second chance slip through your fingers. If I had that chance, I wouldn’t hesitate. Cherish him.

You are probably going to try your hardest to get me back to the way I am now, but I don’t want that. Honor my decision in this, please, I beg you. I don’t want to keep feeling this.

I love you and I hope that one day you can forgive me.

Xichen

Wei Wuxian felt a tear drip onto his hand, and he looked over just in time to see Lan Zhan’s face crumble as another tear slipped down his cheek.

Wei Wuxian didn’t even hesitate to pull Lan Zhan into his arms, wrapping him in a tight embrace as the letter crumbled between them. Lan Zhan didn’t hold him back, arms resting limp against Wei Wuxian’s chest, but his shoulders shook, and he breathed out choked back sobs against his collarbone.

Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but hate Lan Xichen in that moment.

He hated him for being weak, for loving Jin Guangyao, for not being strong enough to get through his grief. Most of all, he hated him for every tear that was soaking into his robes and every sob that shook Lan Zhan’s shoulders.

How dare he.

Wei Wuxian thought over the words in the letter as he rubbed a hand over the expanse of Lan Zhan’s back.

“He was right, this isn’t your fault.” He said quietly, though the anger that burned through him demanded he scream and rage. “He shouldn’t have done this to you. He should have known how much it would hurt you.”

Lan Zhan shook in his arms and didn’t respond.

“It’s okay to be upset,” he continued. “I’m here for you.”

Lan Zhan curled in closer to his chest.

“Everyone,” he whispered. His voice was cracked and trembling where it was muffled in Wei Wuxian’s robes. “Everyone leaves me.”

Wei Wuxian gripped him tighter and buried his face in his hair, pressing a kiss to the crown of his head.

“Not me, I’ll never leave you, not again.”

He meant it from the depths of his heart. If Lan Zhan wanted him to, he would never even leave his side for as long as he lived.

Lan Zhan’s arms moved to wrap around him, and he gripped him so tightly it almost hurt. Wei Wuxian didn’t care, he just kept holding him.

They stayed like that for a while, Lan Zhan trembling in his arms, Wei Wuxian rubbing a soothing hand over his back, brushing through his hair and over his shoulders. Suddenly, Lan Zhan pulled himself from Wei Wuxian’s embrace. Wei Wuxian didn’t even have time to say anything to him as he walked out the door without a word.

Wei Wuxian made to follow him, but he was stopped by Sizhui. He looked scared, Xichen held tightly in his arms. No doubt Lan Zhan had looked a mess, tears still drying on his cheeks, expression lost and hurt in place of his usual mask.

“Is he okay? What happened?”

Wei Wuxian could feel his expression darkening.

“Zewu-jun,” he bit off his words with a weary sigh. “We found a note, and he didn’t want us to fix this. It was his way of—” Wei Wuxian cut off, not wanting to continue. The word slipped out anyway. “Escape.”

Lan Sizhui gasped and turned to where his father had disappeared down the path.

He turned fearful eyes to Wei Wuxian.

“How is he?”

Wasn’t that the question.

Xichen reached out and leaned for Wei Wuxian to pick him up, and Sizhui darted his eyes between them, like he wasn’t sure what Wei Wuxian was going to do.

Wei Wuxian scoffed. “I’m mad, but I would never do anything to Xichen.”

He pulled Xichen into his arms who immediately snuggled into the crook of his neck and grabbed onto a piece of hair that had fallen over his shoulder.

“I’m going to go find him,” he said. “He shouldn’t be alone right now.”

Sizhui’s lower lip trembled, but he nodded.

“Do you want me to take Xichen?” He asked.

Wei Wuxian thought for a second. Would it be better or worse to have Xichen there, a monument to what his brother had done.

“I’ve got him, you go back to your studies.”

No matter what he had done as an adult, it wasn’t this child’s fault. He didn’t deserve to be punished for what Zewu-jun had done to Lan Zhan.

Sizhui looked like he wanted to say something else, but he held his tongue and nodded.

He turned to go, but then he stopped.

“I remember what it was like when Father was mourning you. I was still very young, but I can remember some of what he was like in the beginning.” He sighed, and it sounded so sad that Wei Wuxian’s chest ached. “Don’t let him disappear into himself again. I don’t think I could stand it twice.”

He watched Sizhui’s back as he turned to walk away, and he bit his lip to keep it steady.

This was his family, and he would do whatever it took to keep them happy.

“Xichen, you’ve really hurt your brother,” he said as he walked the path to where he knew Lan Zhan would go. “What you did was very selfish.”

Xichen just yawned from where his head rested on his collarbone, and he snuggled in closer, no doubt almost asleep.

Wei Ying’s heart clenched in his chest at the way Xichen’s little breaths fanned over the side of his neck. How could he have done this to Lan Zhan? Even if he’d thought the array was some kind of memory spell, he had to have realized what this would do to his brother.

He shook his head and tightened his grip on Xichen. He had to find Lan Zhan. He needed someone right now, and Wei Wuxian was the only person who could be there for him. And he had a pretty good idea as to where he would be.

He was right.

Lan Zhan was completely still. Kneeling there, he could almost be mistaken for a statue. Like the white jade he’d so often been compared to. His pale skin blended in with the white of his robes, colorless except for the ink of his hair spilling down his back.

He was still, even as Wei Wuxian approached and knelt beside him.

Zewu-jun had told him once of how Lan Zhan had knelt for their mother after she had died, unable to understand that she wouldn’t be opening her door to him anymore. He’d told of how he’d continued to kneel there, long after he realized she really was gone, just because he didn’t know what else to do.

Lan Zhan had confessed to him once, in the quiet of the night air while they were traveling, searching, still putting the pieces of a years-long tragedy together, that after Wei Wuxian had died, after he’d received his lashes, after he’d branded his own heart, after he’d played Inquiry until his fingers bled, he’d come back here to kneel.

It wasn’t denial, like with his mother’s death, it was something primal in him, something that didn’t know how to grieve without kneeling in front of that unassuming prison, gentians still framing the white of the house.

Here he was again, grieving the only way he knew how. Grieving the way he had been since his first real tragedy. Waiting for something he knew wouldn’t come.

Wei Wuxian knelt beside him without a word as Lan Zhan kept his eyes closed and didn’t move.

Even up close he looked like a statue, perfect features smooth and unblemished, no expression, no wrinkle to his brow. He didn’t even look like he was breathing. The only way to tell that he was real was the way his hands trembled where they lay in his lap.

Xichen slept away in Wei Wuxian’s arms, unaware of the pain that he’d caused, the guilty offender, utterly innocent in the face of his betrayal and hurt.

It took a long while before Lan Zhan stirred. He stayed there until the sun was starting to set and the sounds of the night picked up around them.

He glanced over to where Wei Wuxian was beside him and let out a shaky breath. Only then did Wei Wuxian reach out and take his hand, desperate to provide some sort of comfort.

Lan Zhan didn’t speak, but he gripped Wei Wuxian’s hand back so tightly it almost hurt.

Wei Wuxian had a thousand words of comfort lingering on the tip of his tongue, but they all seemed inadequate, so instead, he asked the only thing he could think to ask.

“Do you want to keep trying to change him back?”

He almost didn’t want to hear the answer.

Lan Zhan hesitated. He looked down to where Xichen was still asleep against Wei Wuxian’s shoulder for a long moment, not moving, not even blinking, and then he let out a shaky breath.

“No,” he said.

He shook his head, and then his face crumpled at the admission as he tried to hold back a wave of tears.

Wei Wuxian scooted over against Lan Zhan’s side and squeezed his hand.

“Alright.”

Lan Zhan let go of his hand, and then reached out to take Xichen from him, careful not to wake him, and he settled him against his own chest. He stared down at the child in his arms for a moment before he spoke again.

“He will be happy this time. I will make sure.”

His voice didn’t shake, but a tear slipped down his cheek, and Wei Wuxian reached over to wipe it away before it could fall onto Xichen.

He wanted nothing more than to steal away all the grief from Lan Zhan’s heart, but it was too great, too profound. This was the best he could do.

Lan Zhan looked up at Wei Wuxian.

“Wei Ying,” he whispered.

Wei Wuxian could do nothing but meet his eyes.

“Wei Ying, would you stay here with me?” He asked. “Stay here in Cloud Recesses?”

Wei Wuxian suddenly remembered the words in Xichen’s terrible letter. The lines about Lan Zhan’s own love returning to him. He had been too focused on what else Xichen had written to ponder over those words, but here in this moment, he knew exactly who Xichen had been referring to.

Warmth spread through his chest at the confirmation of what he already knew.

Lan Zhan was in love with him.

“Of course, Lan Zhan,” he said with a teary laugh. “I would like nothing more.”

Now was not the time for him to take Lan Zhan’s face in his hand and press a kiss to his lips. Now was not the time for a confession. Lan Zhan had just lost his brother, and Wei Wuxian would give him time to mourn. He could wait. They had the rest of their lives for everything else.

But then Lan Zhan took the matter into his own hands. He leaned over, one hand around Xichen’s sleeping form, and the other reaching out to Wei Wuxian.

“Wei Ying,” he whispered as he knuckles brushed over his cheekbone, and then his hand trailed down to cup his cheek. “Wei Ying, you must know how much I love you.”

Wei Ying’s heart sang. He let out a laugh that was closer to a sob and placed a hand on top of Lan Zhan’s where it rested on his cheek.

“I know,” he whispered back. “Of course I know.”

When Lan Zhan smiled at him, it was tinged with something sad, but there was something bright shining in his eyes.

This was everything he could have ever wished for sitting right in front of him.

“And Wei Ying?” He asked.

Wei Wuxian rubbed a thumb over the back of Lan Zhan’s hand.

“Oh, my wonderful Lan Zhan. Do you even have to ask?”

Lan Zhan leaned forward and nudged his nose against Wei Wuxian’s.

“Want to hear you say it.”

“Lan Zhan,” he whispered as they both inched forward until their breath mingled together. “Of course I love you. How could I not?”

The first press of their lips was soft, it was like they were afraid of taking too much and breaking whatever had settled over them.

“I love you,” Wei Wuxian breathed between them when they parted.

They both leaned forward again, and the kiss was deeper.

“I love you,” Lan Zhan whispered into his mouth.

They stayed there, wrapped in each other’s embrace, Xichen laying between them, exchanging kisses and confessions until Xichen stirred.

Lan Zhan pulled away when Xichen blinked awake in his arms.

“Baba,” Xichen said, babbling over and over, reaching his arms up to Lan Zhan. “Babababababa.”

He wasn’t actually saying any words, it wasn’t intentionally, but Lan Zhan still looked up at Wei Ying in alarm.

“I—?”

There was a kind of lost expression on his face, so Wei Wuxian leaned forward cradled Lan Zhan’s jaw in his hands

“You’re his father now, aren’t you?”

Lan Zhan looked so helpless, his eyes searching Wei Wuxian’s. He was hesitating for some reason, afraid of something.

“I am like my father,” he whispered.

Wei Wuxian’s chest ached. He knew how distant Qingheng-Jun had been. He knew of the seclusion he’d sentenced himself to. He knew how lonely and unloved Lan Zhan had felt as a child, only able to see his mother once a month, never seeing his father. He’d felt abandoned, he’d felt unloved, like he had done something wrong.

Wei Wuxian knew that Lan Zhan feared being like him, but he also knew Lan Zhan was so much more than that man.

“Back before I died, when it was really bad,” he said. “When you wanted to bring me back to Cloud Recesses and I said no, what did you do?”

Lan Zhan looked up at him with a confused expression on his face, so Wei Wuxian continued.

“When your mother refused, your father forced her to marry him, forced her into seclusion,” he said. “But when I refused, you let me go.”

Lan Zhan looked down and said nothing.

“You may be like your father, but you’ve also learned from his mistakes,” he said. He brushed his thumb under Lan Zhan’s eye. “You are going to be a wonderful father.”

“Besides, you were a wonderful father to A-Yuan,” he said.

The corner of Lan Zhan’s lips quirked up into a smile.

“Wei Ying helped.”

Something fluttered in Wei Wuxian’s chest.

“And I’ll help this time, too.”

Lan Zhan’s eyes snapped up to meet his, and he smiled. It was a gentle little lift of his lips, but it made his heart race all the same.

“Together?”

Wei Wuxian leaned forward and pressed a lingering kiss to Lan Zhan’s lips, ignoring Xichen’s annoyed shout at being crushed in between them now that he was awake.

“Together,” he whispered against Lan Zhan’s lips.