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Blue runs the Water

Chapter Text

*

 

Anyone of any note in the cultivation world is invited to the hunt at Phoenix Mountain and subsequent banquets at Koi Tower. A celebration of the new peace, Jin Guangshan terms it, which is not an occasion anyone can find fault with. That Jin Guangshan is also going to announce the wedding date for his son and the eldest of the Jiang siblings is something that Yanli has told Lan Xichen in confidence so he knows what to expect.

 

Lan Xichen can’t say that he’s warmed up to Koi Tower much since that first visit, but he has become better at hiding all of his emotions, not just the ones he knows he should hide. It’s hard to see this as a positive development, rather than only a necessary one.

 

As sect leader he doesn’t take part in the hunt itself, but he does have to sit through all of the banquets, which would be entirely more pleasant in the absence of people such as Jin Zixun, who take the Lan’s rule against consuming alcohol as an affront. Lan Xichen is already not inclined to like the man given his treatment of Wei Wuxian, but trying to humble Lan Xichen and, more importantly, Wangji through this is so very petty that he has to briefly close his eyes to calm even his slow temper.

 

Then Wei Wuxian explains about the mistreatment of the Wen civilians, and Lan Xichen feels the heat leeching from his face in horror. If this is true, and Wei Wuxian has neither reason to lie nor shown the inclination to do so as long as the topic isn’t himself, then Lan Xichen is partly responsible for this. After they took Nightless City, he could have disagreed when the Jin Sect offered to take care of the survivors. He hadn’t thought, of course, that they’d be this unfair, but he’d had his doubts about Jin Guangshan’s late entry to the war, hadn’t he? His political reasons? But he’d been so busy, so tired from years of fighting and killing and mourning friends…

 

The Wen hadn’t been his priority, perhaps rightly so. But looking at Wei Wuxian, bristling with indignation in the golden halls of the most powerful sect, Lan Xichen finds that he can’t be anything but glad that Wei Wuxian has taken up the care of those wrongs by people more powerful than they, even though he’s in the middle of creating a major inter-sect incident.

 

Lan Xichen glances at Jiang Wanyin, who seems to be frozen in indecision, his position untenable either way. Then at Wangji, who’s staring at Wei Wuxian with single-minded intensity and not a shred of doubt in his expression.

 

And he makes a choice.

 

“Perhaps I should accompany Wei Wuxian as an outside observer,” he offers smoothly, standing. He smiles gently. Harmlessly. “After all a second pair of eyes never goes amiss and if there is indeed an issue with the Wen remnants it concerns all those who fought in the war.” He turns his gaze on Jin Guangshan. “Did we not agree that the non-cultivators of the Wen clan would not be held accountable for their superiors’ actions?”

 

It’s a generous interpretation of the conversation he’d had with Mingjue, Jin Guangyao and Jin Guangshan at Nightless City, but Lan Xichen keeps his face open and innocent. He isn’t above pretending to be that little bit more naïve than he actually is when it suits him, and it makes him oh so very hard to argue with.

 

Jin Guangshan looks like he might be about to protest, and strangely enough so does Wei Wuxian, but before either of them can open their mouths, Mingjue speaks up.

 

“Just get going with it then, so the rest of us can go back to enjoying the banquet.”

 

Lan Xichen takes care not to let his surprise be visible on his face, nor his gratefulness. Mingjue has never met a banquet he didn’t loathe having to attend, but there’s something sharp glinting in his eyes as they exchange a glance. Mingjue jerks his head towards the steps and Lan Xichen resolves to show him his appreciation for the way he always has Lan Xichen’s back later, even when he may not quite agree with him.

 

He picks up his sword, exchanging a quick, meaningful look with Wangji that he hopes his didi will interpret correctly, and bows to the assembled. “Come, Wei-gongzi. The sooner we leave the sooner we may return and partake in the festivities.”

 

Wei Wuxian is still looking faintly mutinous, but he, too, can do little but let himself be dragged along by Lan Xichen and he had wanted to be fast about it after all.

 

“What are you doing?” he hisses, as soon as they’re out of earshot.

 

Lan Xichen gives him a level look. “What do you think?”

 

“I think you’re risking your standing and that of the Lan by throwing in your lot with me!”

 

They halt at the bottom of the steps, not quite outside Koi Tower yet but the nearest guard is several hundred meters away.

 

“Wei Wuxian, if what you have said is true, and I have no reason to doubt it, then what I am doing is to right a wrong. The Jin may be wealthy and powerful, but even they cannot stand against a united front of the other great sects – and Yanli has been working on Jin Zixuan. It will be fine.”

 

Wei Wuxian looks like he wants to argue some more, so Lan Xichen adds, “Besides, I can fly by sword and carry you with me, which will be much faster than whatever you were going to do.”

 

Wei Wuxian pauses. “Can you take two?”

 

“Unless you expect me to carry you to Qinghe, yes.”

 

“Alright then.” Wei Wuxian lets out a long breath. “Follow me.”

 

*

 

For propriety’s sake, Lan Xichen ends up standing on the back of his sword, holding on to Wei Wuxian, who is holding on to Wen Qing. Why exactly it’s more proper for Wei Wuxian to be holding her is beyond Lan Xichen, but he made no protest either way. Wen Qing had not been pleased to see him. Had looked, in fact, ready to run until Wei Wuxian explained – she’s clearly more at ease with Wei Wuxian and Lan Xichen doesn’t wish to make her any more uncomfortable than she already is.

 

For most cultivators carrying more than one passenger on their sword is either a stretch or impossible, but Lan Xichen has large reserves to call on and Wen Qing is far thinner than he remembers her, weighing almost nothing at all.

 

They touch down outside the labour camp just before nightfall, the last rays of the sun highlighting the mud and filth and deprivation without mercy. As Wei Wuxian and Wen Qing rush forward, looking for her brother, Lan Xichen closes his eyes, breathes out.

 

The clouds break just as raised voices sound from up ahead and Lan Xichen is moving even as he assesses the situation. The argument – Wei Wuxian tense and angry on one side, Wen Qing behind him, and cultivators in Jin yellow sneering on the other – stalls as he arrives, to a shocked chorus of “Zewu-jun!” and bows. He inclines his head in return.

 

“We are simply here to inspect the work camps and look for a specific person,” he says so gently that one might miss the implacability. In the face of Zewu-jun – and without further orders – there’s little the guards can do but exchange awkward glances.

 

“Surely everything is in order,” Lan Xichen continues mercilessly. “After all, we’re all allies – what secrets could there be between us?”

 

Out of the corner of his eye he sees Wei Wuxian’s grateful glance before he and Wen Qing start moving again, heading past the guards. No one stops them.

 

“Of course,” one of the men stutters.  “I’m sure it’s fine for Zewu-jun…”

 

Lan Xichen smiles at them. The rain is dropping into his eyes, turns the soft ground beneath his feet into mud. It does nothing to hide the filth of the few ramshackle huts, the thinness of the faces peering at him from entrances. His own robes are the only bit of pale colour in the whole area.

 

While he waits for Wei Wuxian and Wen Qing to do what they need to do, he makes conversation with the guards, enquiring after their health and families as politely as he knows how. It’s almost worse, that they’re not bad people. Just humans, cultivators, who are following orders from their sect leaders; who somehow manage to not see the misery of the people they’re guarding, as if it’s not… relevant.

 

Humans who can be delighted by being paid attention to by the lofty cultivator Zewu-jun. He has never hated his position more, however useful it is.

 

Eventually he spots Wei Wuxian returning, radiating menace, and halts the conversation.

 

“I suggest you return to where you sleep at night.”

 

The cultivators take one look at Wei Wuxian and the wisps of angry black trailing him and bow to his authority.

 

“Qiongqi path,” Wei Wuxian snaps at him and Lan Xichen only nods, Shuoyue already in hand.

 

What they find at Qiongqi path is going to haunt his nightmares for years to come. A field of bodies, discarded like an afterthought, resentful energy so thick in the air he can almost taste it.

 

Wei Wuxian’s hand keeps clenching around Yanli’s hairpin as they search for Wen Ning, passing dead after dead of a clan now all but exterminated.

 

When they finally find him, Wen Ning is barely clinging to life.

 

Wen Qing’s face is cold and set, as she falls to her knees in the mud, eyes closing as she sets about saving her brother’s life.

 

While she’s occupied and Wei Wuxian hovers over her with a tortured expression, Lan Xichen forces himself to take a closer look at their surroundings. Something evil has happened here – so much resentful energy hints at terrible deaths, and then there’s the matter of the lure flag sticking out of Wen Ning’s body. What were the Jin cultivators doing?

 

He sees the approaching flier, light blue against the rapidly darkening sky, just as Wei Wuxian calls for him.

 

“He’s stable for now,” Wen Qing says, almost swaying with exhaustion – she poured what little spiritual energy she’d had left into keeping her brother alive. “But I need better supplies.” Her voice dies to a whisper. “Somewhere safe.”

 

“The rest of your family too,” Wei Wuxian adds, voice sharp and stinging. “We can’t just leave them here to be slaughtered!”

 

“Lotus Pier isn’t so far from here,” Lan Xichen says and Wangji lands next to him in a swirl of spiritual energy. The way his eyes widen minutely in horror might not have been noticeable to anyone but Lan Xichen and perhaps Wei Wuxian, but to him it is clear as the cloudless sky just how repelled his brother is by the scene that greets him.

 

“Xiongzhang?” he asks quietly, eyes on Wei Wuxian and his white-knuckled grip around Yanli’s token.

 

“We need to get everyone to Lotus Pier,” Lan Xichen replies, already mentally going over the best configuration. If only they had more than two fliers…

 

At the same time, Wei Wuxian yelps, “We can’t go to Lotus Pier! Jiang Cheng – ”

 

“Jiang Wanyin would want to support you,” Lan Xichen states surely. “What the Jin sect has done here is not right, and he will have enough support to keep the Jiang safe if Mingjue and I have anything to say about it.”

 

There’s something startlingly vulnerable in Wei Wuxian’s gaze as he steps forward close enough to study Lan Xichen’s face even in the darkness. “You’re certain? I couldn’t bear it if I brought destruction to Lotus Pier again.”

 

“What Xiongzhang says, he will do,” Wangji weighs in, a solid support at Lan Xichen’s side as he has always been.

 

Lan Xichen shakes his head, but holds Wei Wuxian’s gaze. “I cannot be certain – no one can see the future. But I do believe that we need to try and have a chance of succeeding. Jin Guangshan is not yet powerful enough he can act entirely with impunity.” He sighs. “What other option do you have? They would not leave you be, wherever you went. Wen Ning needs help now.”

 

It’s the distressed sound from Wen Qing, who’s still monitoring her brother, that decides Wei Wuxian.

 

“Fine then. I will go to fetch the other survivors and bring them to Lotus Pier. You will keep Wen Qing and Wen Ning safe?”

 

“With our lives,” Lan Xichen says and Wangji nods silently.

 

 

They fly closer together than any other two cultivators would’ve dared, so that Wen Qing can keep hold of one of Wen Ning’s wrists to monitor his condition even as Lan Xichen holds her on his sword and Wangji cradles Wen Ning in his arms.

 

By the time they descend onto Lotus Pier, Lan Xichen is more tired than he’s been since the end of the war. He doesn’t stumble as he steps off his sword at the entrance of the pier, but he does bow his head for a long moment, before he goes to meet the disciple left in charge of Lotus Pier in the absence of the Sect Leader.

 

Once the matter of Wen Ning and Wen Qing is settled until Jiang Wanyin’s return – as irregular as it is to have two disciples of a different sect come and demand such a thing, for two Wen no less, Lan Xichen finds that the time he has lately spent in Lotus Pier affords him more trust than anyone else could’ve assumed – and one of the Jiang healers is assisting Wen Qing, Lan Xichen turns to leave again.

 

Wangji steps in his way, brows furrowed. “Xiongzhang, you’re tired.”

 

“Yes. “Lan Xichen smiles. “But I must return to Koi Tower. If we’re to resolve this peacefully, I cannot wait to regain my energy. And Jiang Wanyin needs to be told of what has occurred here.”

 

“I can go,” Wangji says, but Lan Xichen is already shaking his head.

 

“It has to be me. I went with Wei Wuxian, and I’m Lan-zongzhu. Stay here and wait for Wei Wuxian’s return – protect them.”

 

Wangji’s slow blink says be careful and Lan Xichen nods. “I will be. Hopefully I will be able to return with Jiang Wanyin.”

 

He steps onto Shuoyue and musters his fading energy to soar into the air towards Lanling.

 

*

 

He’s surprised to find Luo Qingyang waiting for him when he touches down just outside Koi Tower.

 

She bows to him, politely ignoring the way it takes him a little longer than normal to return Shuoyue to its sheath.

 

“Zewu-jun. May I escort you?”

 

Lan Xichen remembers her as one of the cultivators close to Jin Zixuan, someone who had also always been fond of Wei Wuxian and has no compunctions in saying, “Certainly, Luo-guniang.”

 

She leads him to a side-gate, nothing in her bearing suggesting that they’re sneaking, but also clearly attempting not to encounter too many people on the way.

 

“A disciple already returned from the work camp with news. Jin-zongzhu isn’t… pleased.”

 

Lan Xichen doesn’t pause in his stride. “I did not imagine he would be. May I assume by your presence that his son disagrees?”

 

Her lips twitch in some private amusement. “You may. You will find your allies are already waiting for you.”

 

To think that he’d hoped to have outlived the need to have allies against enemies, real or imagined, with the end of the war.

 

He’s glad of Luo Qingyang’s hesitant question as they enter a secluded courtyard. “Wei Wuxian – is he… well?”

 

“He is. You need not fear for him.”

 

“Not yet,” she mumbles under her breath. Lan Xichen can’t blame her. If they don’t get a handle on the situation quickly, Wei Wuxian is going to end up in the thick of things again – that much he’s certain of.

 

Luo Qingyang leads him into a small room, already quite full with the people waiting for them: Yanli, Jiang Wanyin, Jin Zixuan, Nie Huaisang and a scowling Mingjue.

 

His old friend doesn’t look at all pleased to be included in this conspiracy, but Nie Huaisang is smiling, and besides, Lan Xichen knows how much Mingjue dislikes Jin Guangshan. That alone would be enough to ensure his coming, and the addition of Jin Zixuan to the round is telling. The Jin heir looks a little ill at ease, but resolved nonetheless.

 

Yanli, Lan Xichen notes, is sitting next to him, and quite closely so.

 

It takes a little while to relay all he has learned to the circle.

 

Jiang Wanyin stands up when he is done. “I will return to Yunmeng.”

 

He turns to Lan Xichen, an almost frightening focus in his gaze. If Lan Xichen hasn’t forgotten that the Wen were solely responsible for the genocide of the Jiang sect then Jiang Wanyin certainly hasn’t. And it’s so much more personal for him. 

 

“If Lotus Pier weren’t an option – what would Wei Wuxian do? Would he stop?”

 

The answer to the second question, at least, is easy.

 

“No,” he replies quietly. “He is set on helping Wen-guniang.”

 

Jiang Wanyin nods once, sharply. With a last glance at Yanli he sweeps out of the room. Lan Xichen has no doubt he’ll reach Yunmeng at a record pace. What he has decided to do, he is less certain about.

 

Once he’s gone, Mingjue turns to Lan Xichen.

 

“Is this wise Xichen? We have only just finished one war and to protect the Wen…”

 

Even years later, the word still sounds like a curse on Mingjue’s lips.

 

“If we all stand united, there will not be a war,” Lan Xichen says strongly, holding Mingjue’s gaze. “And this isn’t just about the Wen Remnant. Covert experiments with resentful energy should worry all of us. Wei Wuxian may have tipped the balance with his new path, but he is only one person.” One coreless person with no other options, he wishes he could say. “If Jin Guangshan continues to pursue this, it will not stop at one.”

 

“Father has been talking of Wei Wuxian’s Stygian Tiger Seal a lot,” Jin Zixuan offers quietly, looking uncomfortable. It can’t be easy to hear such accusations against one’s father – even a father who is already quite disillusioned in the son’s eyes.

 

Yanli lays a comforting hand on Jin Zixuan’s arm. No one comments.

 

“If we were to remove the Seal from the equation,” Lan Xichen starts slowly, “would that suffice to soothe objections?”

 

“You think Wei-xiong will give it up?” Nie Huaisang had remained unusually silent up to now, face now set in a grave expression that doesn’t fit him at all.

 

Lan Xichen sighs. In truth, he cannot be entirely certain, but he knows Wei Wuxian well enough for his opinion to hold weight. “In exchange for peace? I believe so.”

 

Yanli nods, supporting Lan Xichen’s assessment, which comes as a relief. If anyone would know, it’s Yanli.

 

“Unless people want to lose enough face to admit to being afraid of a single cultivator, destroying the seal would settle the matter,” Mingjue decides, face set. “As for Jin Guangshan’s experiments, without more proof than your testimony there’s nothing we can do other than watch the Jin closely.”

 

Jin Zixuan winces, but quite tellingly doesn’t object out loud.

 

Lan Xichen turns to him, folding into a bow. “For my part in freeing those labouring for the Jin Sect, I am willing to compensate you.”

 

Jin Zixuan draws a hand through his hair. “That’s not necessary, Zewu-jun.”

 

Lan Xichen opens his mouth to politely object, but Jin Zixuan holds up a hand. “I already checked the ledgers. The Wen workers were not listed anywhere and thus cannot be counted as a loss to revenue.” His mouth twists. “Whatever my father had them doing, it had nothing to do with actual work benefiting the sect.”

 

Mingjue doesn’t even seem to try to smother his snort.

 

A knock on the door interrupts whatever he may have had to say on the subject of Jin Guangshan.

 

They exchange a glance – the meeting isn’t exactly secret, taking place in the middle of Koi Tower as it is, but Lan Xichen doubts they advertised it.

 

It’s Mingjue who stands and opens the door. From the side Lan Xichen observes his friend’s face twisting into an expression of distaste.

 

“What do you want?” he grunts, radiating an impressive amount of hostility.

 

Lan Xichen blinks in surprise when it’s Jin Guangyao’s voice that answers, pleasant and low as it always is. “Jin-zongzhu has asked for Lan-zongzhu’s presence.”

 

Lan Xichen, who had been looking forward to going to bed, allows himself a brief closing of the eyes.

 

As if they’d previously rehearsed it, Jin Zixuan rises and in concert with Mingjue steps forward so they flank Lan Xichen on either side.

 

“We will accompany him,” Jin Zixuan says smoothly. “I’m sure my father would not mind my presence.”

 

Now that Mingjue has stopped blocking the doorway, Lan Xichen can see the way Jin Guangyao’s expression goes briefly flinty before smoothing back into pleasant impassiveness.

“As you wish.”

 

Lan Xichen casts them both a grateful look as they make their way through the mostly empty corridors to Jin Guangshan’s receiving room. He could have faced the other sect leader alone – Jin Guangshan would certainly not have done anything to him – but to have such support is invaluable and sends a clear message from the outset: they won’t let each other be singled out and left vulnerable.

 

The fact that Jin Guangshan’s own son is participating in this just drives the point home further. Too far, perhaps, but there’s little they can do about that now.

 

Jin Guangshan receives them with a stern expression. He doesn’t seem surprised to see Lan Xichen’s entourage – Jin Guangyao likely sent word ahead.

 

“I only asked for Lan-zongzhu,” he says, the picture of relaxation as he sits on his large golden throne.

 

Before Mingjue can say something bald and undiplomatic (yet no doubt true), Lan Xichen smoothly replies, “As I already discussed recent events with Nie-zongzhu and Jin-gongzi” – he lightly bows to each of them in turn – “I saw no harm in letting them come along. Unless, of course, you wish to consult me on a different matter?”

 

He did no such thing of course, his two companions having decided quite on their own that they were going to accompany him, but Jin Guangshan can hardly argue with the statement, his expression souring. The glare at his son is brief, but potent. To his credit, Jin Zixuan doesn’t flinch, but Lan Xichen can hear the way his breathing goes ever so little strained.

 

Jin Guangshan waves his hand, expression placid again. “By all means. I have been waiting to hear an explanation of your and Wei Wuxian’s… conduct at my labour camp.”

 

Lan Xichen can feel Mingjue stiffen next him at the implied slight against Lan Xichen’s honour, but he ignores him. He has to keep his attention on Jin Guangshan.

 

“I am uncertain as to what ‘conduct’ you are referring to, Jin-zongzhu. I had quite a pleasant talk with your guards.” Lan Xichen smiles. “Peng Xuan’s wife is expecting their first child, I heard, and his brother is looking forward to a visit to Baling. I believe he is hoping to court a maiden he met there on a night hunt?”

 

 Lan Xichen lets his inflection rise at the end of the sentence, inviting Jin Guangshan to join in the topic. The fact that they’re having this conversation in private rather than in front of all the minor sects the next day already speaks volumes to Jin Guangshan’s (lack of) certainty that he’ll come out on top in this conflict.

 

“You stole away with all the prisoners in that camp!” Jin Guangshan snaps, not rising to Lan Xichen’s bait. “You had no authority to do so.”

 

All the prisoners amounted to less than thirty people,” Lan Xichen returns, still smiling affably. “Old farmers and a young child not yet grown – none of them cultivators. None of them a threat.”

 

Lan Xichen’s smile sharpens at the edges. Not, perhaps, enough for Jin Guangshan to notice, but if Wangji were here he’d be advising everyone to take a step back in caution. “As we then found the slaughtered remains of the other Wen rotting in the rain, we deemed it safer to evacuate the labour camp – the resentful energy was threateningly thick in the pass.” He bows to Jin Guangshan again. “The Lan sect offers their disciples to help cleanse the resentful energy on Jin territory before it can become a danger to travellers.”

 

He straightens to find Mingjue radiating smugness, Jin Zixuan a little wide-eyed and Jin Guangshan purpling in rage.

 

“There’s no need,” he presses out between clenched teeth. “I will have it taken care of.”

 

Lan Xichen bows again. “Very good, Jin-zongzhu. Did you have any other questions?”

 

He can see Jin Guangshan weighing his options, the small hesitation as he wonders whether it would be worth it for him to push further.

 

Then the other’s face relaxes into something almost pleasant. “I should not keep you further from your rest.”

 

Lan Xichen carefully does not show any relief, not until he’s alone in his rooms and sinks onto the bed with a little more force than usual.

 

*

 

The banquet runs for another day before the visiting sects disperse to their own homes, whispering about events as they go.

 

It takes much of Lan Xichen’s training to spend that day as placid and smiling as ever. No word has come from Yunmeng as to the reception of the Wen remnant, nor whether Wen Ning still lives. He supposes no news is good news in this instance – surely they would have heard if Jiang Wanyin had decided to eject the Wen from his hospitality? He would be well within his rights, after all.

 

The one bright spot during the enforced waiting is Yanli. The small garden they had met in for the first time so many years ago has become their regular meeting place. While she spends most of her time with Madam Jin and her husband-to-be, they’ve still run into each other several times already during the week-long festivities. With Wangji still at Lotus Pier and most of Mingjue’s time taken up with Huaisang and his own sect matters, Lan Xichen is left at loose ends often enough.

 

The night after his return, he had slept like a log for more than the allotted hours, but he awoke refreshed and with his core no longer in danger of depleting entirely if he exercised it any further.

 

Yanli is already in the garden when he arrives there, having stopped at the kitchens to acquire a late breakfast.

 

“Xichen,” she greets, voice warm. “Are you feeling better?”

 

“Much.” He joins her on the bench by the small pond. “I simply needed a little rest.”

 

“Will you return to Lotus Pier with us tomorrow?”

 

Lan Xichen allows himself a small sigh as he nods. “I am needed in Cloud Recesses, but for now it is more important to make sure this situation resolves itself.”

 

Yanli lays a gentle hand on his arm. “We are always glad to have you, for however long.”

 

Lan Xichen lets her comfort seep into his spirit, relaxing into the golden late morning atmosphere. Time with Yanli is always like this – quiet and comfortable, an oasis of calm in a life that’s been little but turbulent of late.

 

Eventually he turns his head to find Yanli with a pensive expression on her beautiful face.

 

“Will you share what weighs on you?” Lan Xichen asks softly.

 

Now it’s Yanli’s turn to sigh, eyes closing as she thinks over some inner sorrow.

 

“Am I doing the right thing?” she whispers, gaze trained on a floating leaf with a disconcerting intensity that would be more at home on her brother. “Marrying Zixuan?”

 

Lan Xichen breathes through his surprise, doesn’t let it touch his expression. “Do you love him?”

 

“Yes, of course.” The immediate reply leaves no place for doubt. Her voice dwindles to something quiet, strained. “But I love my brothers more. Marrying Zixuan means leaving them.”

 

Understanding comes easily now that she has revealed the root of her worries. He can’t imagine voluntarily moving away from Wangji and can only be glad it’s unlikely to be an issue for them.

 

“You are the only one who can answer this question for yourself. But if you want my advice, I will give it.” Lan Xichen pauses for a moment, gathering his thoughts. “Your brothers love you, whether you are at Lotus Pier or at Koi Tower. They will miss you if you go, but for all their love I do not believe either of them would wish to tie you down in their home forever. They would want you to seek your own happiness.” He catches her gaze. “Whether your husband would be amenable to you spending some time in Lotus Pier every year, you still have time to find out.”

 

Privately, Lan Xichen thinks it unlikely Jin Zixuan will turn out to be able to deny his wife much of anything.

 

The sudden glimmer in Yanli’s eyes makes him smile. These days, Yanli is not unaware of her effect on the esteemed heir of the Jin sect.

 

“And we are not married yet,” she says quietly. “I am returning to Lotus Pier tomorrow. If slower than expected.”

 

Lan Xichen casts her a sympathetic glance. “I would fly you myself, but it would not be proper. Outside of war time,” he adds, when her eyes twinkle knowingly. “I am afraid you will have to take the longer way of travel now that your brothers are absent and you are to be married soon. Unless Jin-gongzi is planning to accompany us?”

 

She sighs, gaze flitting to Shuoyue resting next to Lan Xichen’s hand.

 

 

The next day, a blushing Jin Zixuan gallantly offers to escort his fiancée back to her current home. Yanli throws Lan Xichen a suspicious look but he only smiles back at her. Jin Zixuan hadn’t needed more than a gentle nudge in this direction before jumping to the right conclusion himself. Lan Xichen was barely involved.