Actions

Work Header

Wash and Repeat

Work Text:

Progress was slow, far too slow, but it could not be avoided. Spirits were waning, morale low, and even though the juniors were not injured as he was, Wei WuXian could see that they needed a break from night hunts, demons, corpses, and all other trouble that seemed to follow them wherever they went. Truth told, he was looking upon his contraction of curse marks as a blessing in disguise. Much as he loved a good mystery and was actually enjoying the journey, he too felt the need for a bit of respite.

Fortune seemed to smile upon them when they purged the last town of their corpse infection. With his legs and half of an arm seriously blackened, Wei WuXian knew that he needed to find a spot to recover. Alas, the inn was near full and could not accommodate their group. Sharing beds had been discussed, but even then the arrangements could not be easily arranged. It would be an uncomfortable ride on Apple’s back to the next town, but he would need to endure if he were to find that recovery spot.

“I asked around.” Jin Ling surprised them all as Wei WuXian climbed his mount and the others prepared for the trek. He continued with a petulant look on his face that most realized by then was just a mask. “There’s an abandoned farmhouse a few lis outside of town. We’re invited to make use of it.”

“What a relief.” Lan Sizhui said, turning a smile towards Wei WuXian. “You can rest.”

“We can all rest.” Lan Jingyi responded, laying a hand to Wei WuXian’s knee.

The casual touch sent a shock of pain through the man’s leg and he stiffened in the saddle, hissing through clenched teeth. The violent reaction made Lan Jingyi jump back even as the others turned and stared in concern.

Wei Wuxian waved a hand at them dismissively. “Nothing, nothing. I’m fine. Don’t worry about it. Let’s just get on our way, okay?”

It was warming, the looks of care on their young faces. Even with his reassuring words and bright smile, still they worried, keeping pace with Apple and asking often if he needed anything or wished to take a break. He had laughed at that, pointing out that he was the one riding the mule and they were the ones walking. The light way he spoke brought a few smiles out and their concerns eased.

As Jin Ling had been told, the farm house was a short distance from town, so their concerns were misplaced. Had he needed to, Wei WuXian was certain he could have walked there. Possibly. If Lan Zhan would have allowed it—which he knew the man certainly would not have.

The path had been left unattended, all signs of trail nearly reclaimed by nature, but Lan Zhan’s keen eye had led them. The heavy brush gave way to a clearing of thigh high grasses and nestled within an old farmhouse. It was not in so bad a state, Wei WuXian noted, seeing only a few holes in the roof and the animal stalls with some cracked beams. It would do nicely.

He had to sit on Apple’s back while the juniors rushed in, cleansing the area of any lingering spirits and then reaffirming the safety of the home. He happily tooted away on his flute, amusement in his eyes as piles of old stray and broken items flew from the windows of the house as they made the place inhabitable.

“So attentive they are.” he said wistfully, looking to Lan Zhan, standing by his side with Apple’s reigns in hand.

The man glanced at him, eyes soft and warm. “They care for you.”

“Of course they do. I’m the fun one here.”

If his jest was understood, Lan Zhan gave no indication. “You offer them warmth that they have not had in parents or familial bonds.”

He made a face, lips thrust out in a pout. “Don’t say it like that; I’m not their mother.”

Between the two of them though, he supposed he was the more nurturing. Lan Zhan was supportive, encouraging their growth and education, protective to a fault, but he was also distant. Distance was not a word that Wei WuXian had in his vocabulary. He made it his business to be thoroughly engrossed in the lives of those who touched him. That included the juniors. Did that make him motherly though? He didn’t think so, but it did not matter enough for him to chase the thought down and thoroughly examine it.

“Everything is clear.” Lan Sizhui said proudly, returning to the field to fetch them.

He hopped from Apple’s back with more gusto than he ought to have; when his feet hit the unyielding earth, his ankles gave out and he went crashing towards the ground, caught at the last second by Lan Sizhui’s arms. The boy was struggling to keep him aloft, trembling at his weight. With a small laugh to hide his embarrassment, Wei WuXian forced strength to his legs and pushed himself up.

“Show us.” he demanded playfully.

It was little more than a barren farm house with a few discarded essential pieces of furniture, but it would more than do for their needs. While Lan Jingyi and Jin Ling busied themselves with righting the furniture they deemed usable and hadn't tossed out the windows, Lan Sizhui showed them upstairs to a small room.

"It isn't much, I'm afraid, but you should be able to rest here."

A bed! Wei WuXian laughed; he had slept in far worse places than a hard, farmhouse bed. In fact, if memory served him, he was renowned for being able to sleep anywhere. It used to drive Jiang Cheng mad how he could lay down anywhere, even on a pile of rocks, and get comfortable enough to drift to sleep. He was always the most well rested on hunts and journeys. 

He patted Lan Sizhui on the head, mussing the boy's immaculately kept hair. Without a lick of hesitation, he strode to the bed and plopped down, heaving a sigh of relief. He could be notoriously lazy at times, but his exhaustion was genuine that moment. Even riding on Apple's back, his feet ached miserably as if he had been walking alongside the rest of the troupe. He knew the cause well; pulling off a boot, he rolled up his pant's leg to find his calf entirely blackened. 

A startled gasp escaped Lan Sizhui. "Your leg!"

"It looks worse than it is." Wei WuXian replied calmly, massaging the blackened skin. "Rest, proper food, maybe a bit of intervention from Lan Zhan--I'll be fine. I've had worse."

"Worse? How?"

"Sizhui." Lan Zhan murmured. 

The boy stood erect, nodding quickly and hurrying from the room. He closed the door gently, ever the polite one. Quiet rushed in and Wei WuXian relaxed his posture, allowing himself to show a sliver of the pain he felt. He wasn't at all surprised when he felt long, calloused fingers encircle his ankle and pull his leg for examination. 

"I told you, it looks worse than it is."

Lan Zhan regarded him silently. He better than any knew the worst of the wounds Wei WuXian had taken, knew the man's limits and pain threshold. That did not stop him from caring. The intense expression on his face made Wei WuXian pause. There was no use fighting it, so he allowed Lan Zhan to examine his leg and bind it, doing so to the other as well.

"Your arm?"

Wei WuXian lifted one high to the ceiling, wriggling his fingers teasingly. A tick of annoyance worked at the side of Lan Zhan's jaw. He smiled obliviously.

"Your other arm."

"What? Oh, you mean this one?" he raised the other arm then, sleeve falling away to reveal a healthy forearm with a black striped wrist and hand.

It looked much better than it had two days ago, his usual sun kissed skin peeking through the thinning lines of the curse mark. Better was not enough though and Lan Zhan delicately took his wrist and began wrapping it with heavily ointmented bandages.

"Rest." he commanded when he was finished wrapping.

For once, Wei WuXian did not argue. He tossed himself into the corner of the bed and curled up, head upon his arm. His mental, physical, and spiritual energy was tapped; it did not take long for him to succumb to sleep. A black wave washed over him and his mind was wonderfully devoid of dreams. When he roused and saw the sun was low in the sky, casting a dusky, orange glow upon the field of grasses, he was surprised at himself. Why had no one woken him?

He slipped from the bed, pulling his boots on and following the jovial voices of the juniors downstairs. Wei WuXian was impressed by the progress they had made; in the few hours he had rested, they had cleared away the mess so thoroughly, one would not have been able to tell at all that they were now residing in an abandoned farmhouse. Running a finger over a beam, he noted that every ounce of dust had been cleared away. As expected from the Lan sect, he thought with a smile, joining the group at the cramped dining table.

"How did you rest, young master Mo?" Lan Jingyi asked, eyes traveling to his covered legs. 

Wei WuXian suspected that Sizhui had told them how bad his condition was. He waved a hand. "Pah! I'm fine. You didn't need to let me sleep so long."

Jin Ling stared hard at him, stabbing a bowl of rice with chopsticks. That cold, blank expression unsettled Wei WuXian; the boy, although YanLi's son, had all of Jiang Cheng's worst traits. And yet he was there by choice and hadn't ran back to the cool attention of his uncle. That said something, didn't it? 

"Is something wrong, Jin Ling?"

The boy narrowed his eyes, continuing to jab at his bowl. "How can you walk if your legs are entirely consumed by curse marks?"

Such a straightforward boy. Unusual for one his age and yet Wei WuXian found it somewhat refreshing as well. Jin Ling did not hide thoughts like Lan Zhan; he could always tell what was on the boy's mind, and if he didn't know, he could ask and expect an honest, if not hard, answer.

"I didn't walk." he pointed out. "I rode Apple the entire way here."

"You walked into the farmhouse and up the stairs."

"What, a few steps is impossible for me now? Curse marks hurt, they don't make me lame."

His answer did not satisfy Jin Ling, but the boy left the matter alone, turning to his bowl to properly eat. The other two juniors thankfully avoided all subjects of curse marks, demons, and ghouls, and kept their banter to the town they had just left and how pleasant it was. When nine PM rolled around, Lan Jingyi and Lan Sizhui obediently went upstairs to prepare for bed. At a loss of what to do with himself, Jin Ling followed as well.

Wei WuXian watched the trio as they tromped up the stairs. "They'll be quite a team, if they can ever get along."

"Mn."

If Lan Zhan had anything else to say on the merits of the junior trio, he kept it to himself. After standing, he gently grasped Wei WuXian by the arm and guided him to his feet. Ready or not, he was going to bed as well it seemed. That was just as well, Wei WuXian thought; he was tired and achy--not that he would ever let on.

Passing the other farmhouse room at the opposite end of the hallway, Wei WuXian laughed to himself as he saw the three boys arguing over prime sleeping position in the pile of sheets they had foraged. Loser was stuck between the other two and none seemed too keen on the idea. It reminded him of happier times in Lotus Pier. He had never minded being the middle, content to be pillowed by YanLi and Jiang Cheng. He also enjoyed the comfort of another body pressed against his own, which was not a Lan sect trait nor did he suspect Jin Ling was partial to physical contact. Such a pity.

It was quick to leave his mind when they closed the door to their own room and Lan Zhan's hands moved to tend to his injuries once more. He sat obediently on the bed, closing his eyes and enjoying the feel of warm, steady hands massaging his legs, working the kinks and aches from joints and muscle, and redressing his injuries. The touch was so soothing, he was in a euphoric state when Lan Zahn pushed him flat on the bed and commanded him to sleep. For once, he did so without complaint.

=

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Wei WuXian knew that he craved a simple, domestic life. It would not content him for too long, he thought, but he always longed for a time when he could make home with someone and forget about the troubles of lumbering corpses and evil spirits, and worry about the mundane things, like laundry and harvesting.

He had his chance to taste that simple life then. With his legs slow to recover, they settled into the farmhouse, creating a daily routine that seemed to suit all parties. As per usual, Wei WuXian was the last to wake, Lan Zhan having already made breakfast for them all and then taking the juniors out for meditation and training. By afternoon, Wei WuXian had lunch prepared. When further supplies were needed, the juniors would take Apple and head back to the town. When the sun fell, they came back together for dinner. Wei WuXian would watch the boys after dinner, scattering into the yard to practice archery and swordsmanship with each other. He often sat on a rotted stump, cheek in hand, smiling at how young and energetic they were.

But energetic youth came with youthful carelessness. Often when Wei WuXian came downstairs for his breakfast, he would tread upon pebbles and find smatterings of dirt and grass all over the floor, as though certain young men hadn't properly wiped their boots before entering. And when he was finished with his bowl of porridge, he would go to the wash bucket and find it full already. 

Had he been this bad when he was so young? he wondered, sorting through the dirty dishes in the bucket. Sighing, he grabbed the spare piece of cloth they used as a towel and began cleaning.

It wasn't so bad, he thought after a few minutes, looking at the stack of clean dishes proudly. How they had managed to use twelve plates between the lot of them when Lan Zhan was meticulous about cleaning and using the same plate was beyond Wei WuXian. He was probably guilty of some of the mess as well, so he could not judge the boys too much.

Stretching, he took a moment to decide what he would do that day. He was tempted to borrow Jin Ling's bow and keep his skills in shape. Standing didn't seem to bother his legs, so he decided upon it, heading for the stairs so he might dress properly.

He stopped short, yelping in pain and hopping away from a spot on the ground. Hobbling about on one foot, holding his aching heel, he glowered at the floorboards, not at all shocked to find a small rock, waiting for his foot. Kicking it away in irritation, Wei WuXian cursed under his breath. Another mess to clean.

=

The morning escaped Wei WuXian. As soon as he had finished sweeping and mopping the floor, he had to prepare lunch. The chorus of thanks for the meal alleviated the worst of his annoyance; however, his magnanimous mood soured almost instantly when the dishes were returned to the bucket without a thought and the juniors ran outside. Wei WuXian looked at the floor again. Snatching the broom, he grumbled under his breath and began sweeping.

Lan Zhan observed a moment before standing and retreating outside. A moment later he returned.  Wei WuXian paused in his sweeping, curious.

"I sent them to town. You look vexed."

Vexed. That was a kind word for it. He grasped the broom handle so hard, he felt splinters dig into his palms. "I am not their mother." he ground out.

"Of course you're not."

"You know that, but I don't know that they do!"

To further his annoyance, Wei WuXian noted that the corners of Lan Zhan's mouth were turned ever so slightly into a smile. To say nothing would be better than to rant, so Wei WuXian kept his mouth closed, making a number of huffing sounds as he bent to the task once more.

A hand laid itself on top of his, stalling his angry sweeping movements. Blinking in surprise, helooked at the man, so close he could feel the heat from Lan Zhan's body.

"Rest." Lan Zhan said, taking the broom from his hands.

He let the broom slip from his hands, slender fingers sliding against Lan Zhan's own as the man took it from him. A rush of joy left him light headed and he sat at the table, watching silently as Lan Zhan bent to the task of sweeping. His movements were stiff and jerky, likely not an activity he often stooped to. Undoubtedly there were servants in Cloud Recesses who tended to simple tasks like sweeping for one of the Twin Jades of Gusu. Thinking of how clumsily Lan Zhan moved made Wei WuXian titter.

Golden eyes slid his way suspiciously. "You're feeling better?"

"I was never feeling unwell, thank you very much."

"Mn."

Neither of them argued the point. They were both well aware that, had Lan Zhan wished to make a point, all he would need to do was nudge Wei WuXian's leg slightly and the curse mark would sting violently. They continued on in amiable silence for a time, Wei WuXian sitting leisurely, watching in appreciation as Lan Zhan tended to the chores. He felt oddly and immeasurably grateful.

"Perhaps I wouldn't be able to tolerate this for long." he mused aloud, tapping out a melody with his fingertips. “If the rest of my life would be spent cleaning up after the children—pass!”

The children. The particular way that Wei WuXian had said it made Lan Zhan’s heart flutter, a warmth coming to his chest and ears. He was well aware that he was not nearly as sentimental as Wei WuXian, but he had not expected the depths of Wei Ying’s feelings for the boys to run as deep as they did. Care for Jin Ling, yes, he understood, but Wei WuXian’s affections did not discriminate; all of the young disciples were equally cared for in his eyes. What were they to his own self though, other than young charges, Lan Zhan wondered. He truly hadn’t put much thought to it, more interested in Wei WuXian and keeping him by his side. If the children belonged to Wei WuXian, he supposed that, in some part, they belonged to him as well.

He paused and looked to Wei WuXian, slumped across the table, chewing on melon seeds. “Are they so troublesome?”

He was answered first by a bark of laughter.

“Troublesome? They’re filthy!” And this coming from him, who had lived years in the filth of the Burial Mounds. Even he had made it a point to keep his boots clean and maintain as clean a living spot as possible.

“Surely it can’t be so bad.”

How could a Lan disciple possibly say such a thing? It was inconceivable that Lan Zhan could overlook the general untidiness and mess that popped up when the juniors were about. Wei WuXian opened his mouth to thoroughly disabuse Lan Zhan of the notion when Apple’s shrill yell alerted them to boys’ return.

“That was quick.” Wei WuXian commented quietly, looking to the door.

A chorus of angry, annoyed voices rose and fell from the barn. A moment later, the door creaked open. At the sight of the three teenagers, Wei WuXian broke into a fit of hysterical laughter, rocking on his injured ankle and not caring at all as pain shot up his leg. Three sets of dejected eyes fell on him. The young Lan disciples pouted while Jin Ling scowled.

“It isn’t funny!” Jin Ling bellowed.

Lifting a hand to cover his mouth did little to stifle Wei WuXian’s laughter. How could he not laugh? No matter Jin Ling’s vehement declaration, it was funny. In fact, it was hilarious. Such proud, poised, immaculate boys—and now covered head to toe in mud. Not a one of them had been spared from what appeared to have been a torrential storm of mud and muck.

Between snorts and laughter he managed to wheeze, “What happened?”

Lan Sizhui attempted to clean his face by brushing his muck covered sleeve across his cheek. He succeeded only in leaving a new streak. "We upset Apple by tugging at his reigns and so he kicked us into a gully."

Both Jin Ling and Lan Jingyi averted their gazes guiltily. Likely the reign tugging had taken place during another one of their pointless spats. Never one to appreciate rough treatment, Wei WuXian would have expected no less than for Apple to retaliate. He had been kicked himself for small infractions.

"I see, I see," he continued to laugh, standing and going over to examine the rough looking trio closely. "You three---you need a bath. And your clothes need to be washed."

Behind them Lan Zhan sighed; he almost sounded disappointed. Wei WuXian shot him a smug look, as if somehow the sight of the pathetic looking juniors proved some point he had made.

"Undress," Lan Zhan commanded softly, casting the broom aside, "I will wash your clothes for you."

The three looked cautiously at one another. 

"Come on," Wei WuXian clapped his hand impatiently, "get out to the trough and undress so Lan Zhan can clean your clothes and I can wash you."

Lan Jingyi blinked. "The trough?"

They followed Wei WuXian's pointing finger. Several paces into the yard there was a watering trough, small for a farm, but large enough that three young boys would be able to fit in with a bit of cramping.

"No way." Jin Ling protested, folding his arms petulantly over his chest.

Expected. Wei WuXian rolled his eyes. "There isn't enough water for you to take separate baths; the well has barely enough water for us to drink. You either share or you walk back into town and see if you can beg someone to give you a room for the night."

Aside from the gully of murky water and a laughably small pond of equal rank and filth, there were no pockets of fresh water for the boys to wash in. No rivers, waterfalls, not even a trickle of a stream. Had there been any other option, no doubt Jin Ling's pride would have demanded he use it. Alas, there were no such alternatives. It was either wash in the trough with the others or remain dirty.

He wrinkled his nose at the thought of sleeping for days in mud covered clothing, reeking of swamp.  "Fine."

"Good." Wei WuXian's eyes dropped to their feet; a dark look crossed his features. "Take your damn boots off before you come inside!"

The sudden anger directed towards them sent them trio scurrying back the way they had come, stumbling over themselves to yank their boots off. Any previous hesitation evaporated in the face of risking the famed Yiling Patriarch’s anger. Clothing was flung left and right as the three stumbled through the yard to the trough, barely taking a moment to sweep aside the fallen leaves before jumping in.

Was he so intimidating, Wei WuXian thought as he took a bucket to the well. He had no recollection of being so fearsome in his past as to inspire such terror—aside from the instances of when he used the Tiger Seal. On his own though, with no weapon of mass destruction in his hands, he had been little more than a mouthy brat, quick to anger and just as quick to throw a tantrum and walk away. Perhaps he was overlooking some crucial moments, he thought, dumping the first bucket of water in the trough and going for a second. He had been no angel; perhaps there had been much more devil in him than he cared to realize. Later he would ask Lan Zhan; at present, the man was collecting all of the discarded clothing to be dropped into the wash bucket in the barn.

Several buckets later, the three boys were properly entrenched up to their chests. He noted with a snigger that somehow Jin Ling had ended up in the middle once again. Smiling, he lifted the last bucket of water and poured it over their heads, taking a small bit of satisfaction in their cries of discomfort at how cold the water was.

“Such children.” he sighed dramatically, reaching into the trough and summoning the little bit of spiritual power he had to spare to warm the water. When steam began to rise from the trough, he pulled his hand free and reached for the soap.

“Thank you, Senior—ah!” Sizhui’s thanks was cut short as he was grabbed and his back and neck scrubbed viciously.

He wriggled uncontrollably, giggling, unused to the touch of another person’s hands on his body. Even as Wei WuXian laughed and told him to stop squirming, Sizhui continued to jerk and flail, choking on laughter. Try as he did to avoid Wei WuXian’s hands, he was always caught, dunked into the water, and scrubbed again until Wei WuXian was pleased with his work.

“Alright,” he said, releasing Sizhui, “next one.”

His eyes landed on Jin Ling, who immediately pushed himself against Jingyi in an attempt to move out of reach. Desperate, the boy began slapping the dirt on his body, scrubbing viciously. Wei WuXian grinned.

As if that will deter me.

“Come here.” he commanded, shifting on the grass and brandishing the soap like a weapon.

“I can do it myself!” Jin Ling yelled, pressing back still.

There was a devil in him after all, Wei WuXian decided, scooting closer and grabbing his nephew by the collar. Were he any type of decent, he would respect the boy’s obvious desire to wash himself. Alas for Jin Ling, decent and respectful were not words often associated with him and he felt it was his duty as uncle to break the boy’s fear of physical contact.

“Hold still, you’re squirming like a worm!”

Jin Ling was a difficult opponent, slipping out of his grasp at almost every turn, throwing water about in such a fuss that Wei WuXian nearly gave up in frustration. Finally, he settled for grasping the boy by the shoulders and forcing him beneath the water for a moment, hoping to at least rinse some of the filth from the boy’s hair and upper body. To his surprise, when Jin Ling surfaced, the fight seemed to have gone out of him. Perhaps feeling that there were no more indignities he could suffer, he simply sat still, glowering angrily at Wei WuXian as the man tentatively took up the soap once more and carefully began scrubbing his body.

Not five minutes later, he put the soap aside and splashed the water on Jin Ling to rinse off the suds. “There. Not so bad, was it?”

Jin Ling did not answer, though his glare said enough.

His gaze landed then on Jingyi. The boy froze, raising his hands as if to say that he would not put up a similar fight. That was good news for Wei WuXian; amusing as it was to torment Jin Ling, it was tedious and surprisingly tiring wrestling with a wet teenager. Although Jingyi flinched beneath his touch similar to Sizhui, he maintained remarkable poise, stifling his laughter and forcing his body rigid at the height of his giggling.

Sitting back on his heels, Wei WuXian let out a sigh of relief.

“Done.” he declared, tossing the soap at Jin Ling. “Finish on your own. I didn’t touch anything below your waist—don’t make me.”

He never would do such a thing, but the threat alone sent Jin Ling scrambling to lather up. When he was done, the boy threw the soap at Jingyi, who quickly followed his example. Only Sizhui smiled back at him, knowing his words to be a jest.

While the juniors saw to their washing, Wei WuXian rocked back on his heels and stood, grabbing another bucket of water to bring to Lan Zhan; he could imagine how filthy the wash basin water was, given how much mud had splattered all over the boys’ clothes. After dumping the fresh water in, Lan Zhan waved him away.

“I can finish here. Get them some linen to wrap up in.”

He laughed at that. “They need it? What’s wrong with running to the house naked? We’re all men, it’s not like they have something the rest of us haven’t seen before.”

Lan Zhan made no comment on that aside from fixing him with a heavy stare before returning to scrubbing the mud from the clothes.

Since he was feeling magnanimous, Wei WuXian did as he was told, returning to the house and collecting an armful of sheets for the boys to wrap up in. They were just tumbling out of the trough as he returned and they gratefully took the sheets, covering their bodies in modesty that Wei WuXian had little familiarity with. He laughed a bit, ushering them inside to brush their hair and start a fire to dry by.

He walked back to Lan Zhan and dropped to a crouch. “Why don’t you let me finish this and you start dinner? They hate my cooking.”

“They do not hate--”

“Yes, they do; they’re babies who can’t stand a hint of spice in any of their meals.”

Lan Zhan dropped the robe he had been wringing out. “Perhaps if you didn’t put so many peppers in the food they would object less.”

Wei WuXian was aghast; as if that were an option! He grabbed the clothing from the basin and began wringing, muttering loudly about how no one appreciated his refined food tastes. Without looking over his shoulder, he knew that Lan Zhan was smiling, watching intently as he draped each garment over his arm and took it to a fence post to dry. Alas, the only string that could be used for a clothes line was from Lan Zhan’s instrument and he dared not ask for that. He had pushed the limits of conventional niceties for one day, he thought, grinning at the kneeling man.

They stole a brief moment to themselves when he was done, arms tangling around each other, lips barely brushing. Soon enough the fragile solitude they shared would be broken by prying eyes or an uproar of adolescent screams. Time was precious and they were keenly aware of it, using every dear moment to its last drop, savoring each chaste kiss as if it might be the last for a long while.

Just as he was considering being playful, eyeing the long tendrils of Lan Zhan’s headband mischievously, the expected cries of teenage outrage reached Wei WuXian’s ears. He sighed, taking a step back and forcing his playfulness aside.

“How expected.”

Lan Zhan smiled faintly, the tips of his ears a barely perceptible shade of pink. “Mn.”

Leaving the clothes to dry, they returned to the farmhouse. Not even a vague sense of surprise passed over either of them, seeing the three boys crammed before the hearth, arguing and jostling one another. Their arrival was noted with only a brief interlude in squabbling, which quickly resumed when Jingyi’s hand slipped onto Jin Ling’s bare knee.

How had he gotten there, Wei WuXian wondered, bemused at the twists and turns of his fate. He had not looked for parenthood, at least not in the traditional sense. And yet there he was, playing mother to a gaggle of teenage boys who ought to have been far better reared by that point. Alas, what was he to do? He loved it far too much to complain.