It was cold.
It was the middle of winter in Yiling. Wei Ying had no idea how long it has been since his parents left for their hunt and never came back, the same way he did not know when the last time he ate was. All he knew was that it was cold.
Wei Ying stood, wrapping the rags that barely covered his body tighter around himself and asked began to look through the trash a vendor threw out. He hoped that someone would take pity. He hoped that someone would give him something. He hoped.
He knew better.
These people should not have had to worry about a random, dirty child on the streets. He was one of the many. Besides, other children probably needed it more. Wei Ying gave up on the trash and continued to walk the streets. He wandered around until he could find something to eat, yet avoiding areas he had seen dogs before. The streets were barely lit, the sun already setting. Shops were closing up soon. Wei Ying wandered, entertaining the possibility of a vendor being kind enough to give him food. Maybe he could share it with the elderly woman he gave his old box to. The thought put a smile to his face.
‘A-Ying,’ a fading voice cooed, ‘remember: we do what we can to help those in need, to show kindness where kindness is due, to smile even when smiling is hard because a life full of laugher is a life well-lived.’
He barely remembered that voice. His mother’s voice has been fading from his memory every for a while now. Her laugh, however, her laugh stayed with him. Loud, yet beautiful. Bright, yet comforting.
Wei Ying was pulled from his memory when he saw a figure in white a little further ahead. The child looked to be around his age. His hair as black as night, skin as pale as the moon, yet eyes so gold they could rival the sun with their beauty. Those very eyes were also looking around, seeming worried, although his face did not show any of those worries. Rather, the child looked like he was carved of porcelain or maybe of fine jade.
“Hello!” Wei Ying called as he approached the boy, barely suppressing a shiver when he lifted his arm and the cold somehow got colder. “Are you lost?”
The boy look startled. The streets at this point were mostly empty, save for the one or two people still putting away their shop, but they had better things to do than help two seemingly lost children. The boy only nodded, the tips of his ears turning red. ‘Adorable.’
“Well, I could probably help you out. You look like a rich young master so I’ll lead you to where all the nicer inns are.” Wei Ying reached for the boys hand, only to look at his own significantly dirtier hand and pull back. The boy seemed to notice and, with a determined(?) look in his eyes, grabbed Wei Ying’s hand.
“Thank you.” The boy whispered out, voice as soft as the breeze. Wei Ying allowed a bright smile to overtake his face.
“There’s no need for thank you’s! I’m simply doing the right thing.” The boy seemed to be staring at Wei Ying for some reason. Wei Ying squirmed, suddenly embarrassed about his unclean appearance for some unknown reason. Maybe it was because the young master was so beautiful that he seemed to be otherworldly, above the human kind. Speaking of the young master, “Young master, what should I call you? This one is called Wei Ying!”
“Lan Zhan.” How could someone who speaks so little have a voice this lovely? If Wei Ying had that voice, he would talk all the time just to hear the sound of his own voice (and thus the heavens, blessed, blessed heavens, spared humanity the curse of hearing Wei Ying talk more than he already does, most likely sparing several ears and hundreds of peoples’ sanity). Wei Ying lead Lan Zhan through the streets of Yiling, weaving through alleyways to get to the nicer part of town. “Why alleys?” Lan Zhan suddenly spoke. “Main streets are safer.”
“Because,” Wei Ying smiled. “I know the alleyways. People won’t hurt you for being in their way here. The worst part about this area would be the dogs but they usually keep closer to where there are more people.” For some reason, Lan Zhan looked stricken. This was the first bout of actual emotion Wei Ying has seen from the boy and he decided that he did not like it. “But don’t worry! I’m used to it.” For some reason, the boy looked sadder.
“Ah! Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan look!” Wei Ying pointed at the stars starting to form in the sky. He should hurry up, its starting to get too dark. “The stars! They’re almost as pretty as you.” Lan Zhan’s ears turned a bright shade of red.
“Shameless!” Wei Ying giggled and Lan Zhan immediately looked less upset. That was, until, Wei Ying’s annoying stomach decided to make a sound. Lan Zhan tightened his hold on his hand.
A couple minutes later, they reached the area with the most expensive inns. “We’re here!” Wei Ying exclaimed. He started to let go of the boy, but the boy held tighter.
“Come with me.” He lead the boy to an inn which looked to nice for Wei Ying to dirty with his appearance. Lan Zhan didn’t seem to care. Inside, another boy who would look like an older Lan Zhan, if it were not for the extremely distressed look on his face, paced the floor like he was trying to create a hole in it. At the sound of a door opening, he looked up.
“A-Zhan!” The Lan Zhan lookalike called. He pulled Lan Zhan into a hug while another, much older looking Lan Zhan lookalike came down the stairs, not quite running but also definitely not walking.
“Lan Zhan! Where have you been this whole time? I leave you out of my sight for one second-“ The older Lan Zhan with an unfortunate beard’s eyes landed on Wei Ying. Wei Ying looked down. Lan Zhan slowly pulled away from his brother, who looked up at his uncle’s pause and spotted the other boy. Lan Zhan took the hand that was dropped when Lan Zhan but older without the beard hugged his Lan Zhan.
“Uncle, Huan-gege. Wei Ying.” Lan Zhan deadpanned. “Wei Ying. Uncle, Huan-gege.” Wei Ying did his best impression of the bow he saw his parents and the people on the streets do several times.
“This one greets-” He was cut off when Lan Zhan’s Huan-gege stopped his bow. He looked like how Wei Ying felt when he ate a bad piece of fruit. ‘Am I doing it wrong? Are they mad at me? Are they going to kick me?’
“Young master Wei,” Wei Ying was confused. No one has ever called him a young master. “Where are your parents? It’s late. They’re probably worried.” He looked anxious, like he didn’t want to hear what the answer was. Wei Ying had no idea what the young master Lan wanted to hear, so he told them the truth.
“They went night hunting but never came back. They told Wei Ying to stay at home, but Wei Ying does not know where home is.” That was not the right answer. Young master Lan’s expression worsened, Uncle Lan looked like he was turning green, and Lan Zhan looked… determined?
“Uncle, can he come?” Uncle Lan seemed to hesitate, then took another look at Wei Ying and nodded.
“Only if he wants to.” The voice was a lot softer than the thundering boom that came from the yelling. Lan Zhan turned to Wei Ying.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan grabbed both of his hands and looked into his eyes. Cold gold met warm silver. “Come back to Gusu with me.”
In another life, he might have said no.
In another circumstance, these words might have ignited anger.
In another story, they might have separated, only for one to die and the other to suffer.
This is not that life, nor that circumstance.
This is not that story.