ie Huaisang is dawdling. He’s being fairly obvious about it, too, since Lan Qiren always has more important matters to attend to than a mediocre—okay, terrible—student from way back when, all the way back to two whole years ago. If he’s hopeful about anything, it’s that Lan Qiren has forgotten that he mostly hung around Wei Wuxian and Jiang Chen because that would be detrimental to his purpose: Convincing Lan Qiren that he needs help and that it’s important enough to drop everything. If they hurry, they can still catch Jin Guangyao playing the qin but if it takes much longer, the opportunity to stumble across the two of them will be gone.
He taps his fan against the table, once, twice, before he notices the nervous habit from his past life. This turn around he’s not yet made his reputation quite so useless. His brother is alive, and so he doesn’t need to make himself seem less. His brother is too capable next to him, he is always going to look useless.
Given the opportunity of returning to a less fraught time in his history, he could have come up with a thousand better plans. Nie Huaisang is just not sure if any of them are worth the effort. It’s not like Lan Qiren is a particularly good choice for a seduction target either, but when he woke up this morning, with his brother alive and Meng Yao attending to him with his Qin, Nie Huaisang couldn’t be choosy. Sometimes, the sword you borrowed was a saber, and sometimes it was a rigid, cold stick up the elders’ ass. Lan Qiren really was the last person he’d want in the battle for his brother’s life, soul and happiness, but he’s the one ally he could maybe get with a quick, "Teacher Lan, my brother is experiencing a qi deviation!" just because his innate righteousness would demand a reaction. Even though Lan Qiren’s righteousness is worth shit sometimes. But who could he really ask when the issue is the Lan sect’s secret cultivation art?
The one thing he is lacking is time.
The weedy figure sitting on the heating bench in front of Lan Qiren’s office looks frail even through the half-transparent screen. Nie Huaisang has had a rough time of it lately, Lan Qiren knows, but even so: Lan Qiren must be the last person he seeks out voluntarily.
Lan Qiren would’ve been with him earlier if he had anything left in him to give. He can’t take anymore, and he certainly won’t be able to help yet another one of his students. He knows he’s wimping out of talking to Nie Huaisang just because he cannot say no, because he will have to disappoint yet another one of his students asking for help.
Briefly, he thinks of Lan Xinchen, trying his best to preserve the few pieves of the Lan library that he can. It does give him that small burst of energy that lets him raise his voice. "Nie Huaisang? What brings you here?"
Lan Qiren can see him raise his head, sees him stand up. Their eyes make contact. A glint of intelligence in his eyes is apparent—maybe he’s grown up during the war? They all must have— and then Nie Huaisang ducks his head down and shuffles in more completely. "Esteemed Teacher Lan," he mumbles and then stops, seemingly surprised at his own audacity. He opens his fan and hides behind it, his large eyes and larger eye lashes peaking out from behind. In a different setting- in a different context-- in a different world, he would be adorable. Here, it looks ludicrous. They’re surrounded by blood and grief and exhaustion, and the few bits of civilisation; Lan Qiren’s tea set, Nie Huaisang’s fan, the small porcelain bell he picked up on the battlefield, seem unreal and like they don’t belong. Neither does Nie Huaisang. He’s wearing the finest silks, his hair is brushed shiny, his feet are clad in dainty embroidered silk shoes. And his voice drifts off like it did when he was a student and hadn’t done his homework.
Lan Qiren doesn’t sigh. He’s too old for disappointment, and maybe it’s not really disappointment. His own brother is in seclusion. One of his nephews is punishing himself for losing not few of their clansmen while the other is recovering from torture inflicted by their own clan elders, and yet he can’t sympathise with either of them. Somebody has to stay behind to uphold the Lan name. He is always the one to uphold the Lan name.
Maybe he really is the best candidate for it, maybe he really does represent the values of his clan in the best balance possible, but why doesn’t he feel like it at all? Why does it seem like every other clan, every other person, is doing a much better job of coping.
Just look at their present situation: While the Lans are all knocked out of the running for different reasons, Nie Huaisang is here, talking to the survivors, making sure everyone has enough to eat. And if he’s wearing frilly clothes and waving his fan looking like a delicate, frail creampuff, so what? Nie Huaisang is not made for being a heroic warrior of legend but then who is? Not everyone of them can aspire to the heights of becoming known in titles and songs, and really, it might be better to just survive. Lan Qiren would be happy if his nephews could survive, and at least Nie Huaisang doesn’t kill people because that would dirty his clothes. The result was good, and he couldn’t care about the process.
"What can I help you with?" Lan Qiren asks after the pause drags on for longer. He’s not really impatient—this is a welcome interruption while reading the reports regarding the yin iron and the whereabouts of his missing clan members—but he would like to know if he should be worried.
Nie Huaisang is looking at him like he should be. Nie Huaisang is planning something, and that had never turned out well for Lan Qiren before.
"My brother had another Qi deviation earlier," Nie Huaisang says finally, and folds his fan back together. It draws attention to his hands, equally buffed and shiny as his hair. Lan Qiren surreptitiously looks down at his own fingers, who are stained with ink and rough from the cold and heat of the environment in addition to age. "I don't want to keep Master Lan Qiren from anything important, but the only person seeing him right now is..." he trails off.
Lan Qiren understands. There are no healers available for the less critical injuries, and a Qi deviation, however terrible for the person involved, is not something they can solve while exhausted from saving lives. The history of the Nie clan is nevertheless going to worry even someone has laidback as the younger brother of the sect leader. And it is something Lan Qiren can do that isn't worrying and fretting. Decisively, he stands up.
Nie Huaisang looks up at him, eyes wide and round. Lan Qiren tries very hard to not equate him to a small, fuzzy animal.
"Well, then," he says and holds out his arm. "Your brother awaits rescue. Shall we?"