Lan Xichen had told himself not to worry when he and his brother had been summoned to their uncle’s chambers just as the foreign sect’s children were arriving in Cloud Recesses. Looking at their uncle now, he’s wondering if that was a mistake. Uncle looks moments away from pinching the bridge of his nose to stave off a headache.
“I didn’t tell you earlier because I thought there was a decent chance that he wouldn’t even show up,” he sighs. “But I just received word that he’s passed through the gate. Wei Wuxian is going to be joining the guest disciples.”
It’s unusual for a rogue cultivator to be invited, but not unheard of, especially considering the friendship between Uncle and Cangse Sanren that he’s almost certain actually exists and isn’t just rumors. “Do you foresee a problem? He’s a very accomplished cultivator.”
Despite being Wangji’s age and not being allied with any sect, Wei Wuxian had made quite a name for himself. He learned to cultivate under his parent’s tutelage, had been a guest disciple of the Jiangs, traveled for several years with the famous rogue cultivators Xiao Xingchan and Song Lan, and there were even rumors that he’d even somehow snuck up to Baoshan Sanren’s mountain and convinced her take him on as a pupil, although Lan Xichen thought that had to be just a rumor.
While that was all impressive, what truly distinguished him had only happened last year. Yiling had come under near constant attacks from fierce corpses and resentful energy that most cultivators had refused to deal with.
Wei Wuxian, his parents, Xiao Xingchen, and Song Lan and they’d erected a barrier of glittering resentful energy around the base of the mountain, containing all the miserable and frightful things that had plagued the area of the Yiling. It harnessed the natural resentful of the energy of the mountain and channeled it through several complicated talismans and arrays.
Copies had been sent to the heads of every sect so to avoid rumors of demonic cultivation, something that reportedly had been Wei Changze’s idea. The arrays were deceptively simply, barely different than what most sects were already using. It’s just that no one had thought to use them quite like that before. Rumors credited everyone but Wei Wuxian, which surely meant he was the one truly responsible.
They called him the Yiling Patriarch and that he was still a teenager hadn’t seemed to matter much to anyone.
“Do you really think he’s here to learn?” Uncle asks, and Lan Xichen has to concede that it’s unlikely. There is little in their cultivation classes that Wei Wuxian would not be able to learn on his own or from his many mentors. “No, that little brat is working on another invention and he wants use of the library without having to go through formal channels. Little hellion. No matter what he pulls or what mischief he starts, you mustn’t get caught up in it, understand?”
Even Wangji seemed taken back at Uncle’s vehemence. They hadn’t known that Uncle knew Wei Wuxian personally, but it seems he must, to be this disgruntled. “Disliking Wei Wuxian will not stop us from upholding the Lan practice of courtesy and decorum,” Wangji says.
Uncle stares. Wangji breathes like he wants to shift his weight, but doesn’t. “I never said you’d dislike him.”
Whatever either of them have to say to that is cut off by a loud, boisterous voice outside the door shouting, “UNCLE QIREN!”
Uncle grips the bridge of his nose.
The door slams open and in comes a young man who must be Wei Wuxian, black and white robes with hints of purple along the edge and his hair bound up in purple silk ribbon much finer than anything else he’s wearing. He doesn’t bow or pause, instead crossing the room and throwing his arms around Uncle in a hug.
Lan Xichen wonders if perhaps he hit his head and this all a dream or maybe a hallucination.
Uncle turns a shade of red he hadn’t previously known him capable of and a vein twitches in his forehead, but he doesn’t push him away. “Wei Wuxian!”
He laughs and steps back, going into a picture perfect, formal bow. “This is from my father,” then he darts forward to yank on Uncle’s beard. Wangji’s eyes have widened in horror. “And that’s from my mother!”
Uncle rubs at his chin and glares. “Who was the hug from then?”
“Me,” Wei Wuxian says shamelessly. “I missed you, Uncle Qiren! We’re going to have so much fun, aren’t we? We should go to Caiyi so I can drink Emperor’s Smile and you can yell at me for being right in ways you don’t like, that always cheers you up.”
Lan Xichen can’t be seeing what he’s seeing. Uncle’s lips are pressed into a firm, tight line, like he does when he’s trying not to smile.
“Hi!” Wei Wuxian says, very loudly and right in front them. “You must be Lan Xichen and Lan Wangji! I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“And us you,” he says, after only a half second’s hesitation.
Wei Wuxian isn’t paying attention to him, instead focused on Wangji. “Aw, don’t look so disapproving, it’s good to keep Uncle Qiren on his toes.” Wangji’s face doesn’t look anything besides entirely blank. Lan Xichen can’t help but be impressed, since most of the clan elders wouldn’t have been able to pick up on that. His admiration quickly turns to dismay when Wei Wuxian reaches out and uses his fingers to push his brother’s lips into a facsimile of a grin. “Don’t be mad, Lan Zhan!”
Lan Xichen has to resist the urge to gape. Using his brother’s given name like that, when they’ve just met! What’s worse is Uncle doesn’t even look surprised, just resigned.
Wangji scowls and he reaches for Wei Wuxian’s wrists, but Wei Wuxian slips away, just out of his reach, still laughing. “You’re going to have to be faster than that to catch me, Lan Zhan!”
He’s then darting out the door, which he hadn’t even closed in the first place, like he actually expects the Second Jade of Lan to go chasing after him.
Wangji takes a stop forward before remembering himself and freezing.
“Wei Wuxian!” Unfamiliar voices are calling the boy’s name. They all step outside to see a crowd of guest disciples grinning and waving.
“A-Cheng!” Wei Wuxian waves back. “A-Sang!”
He runs down the steps toward them, still grinning. “No running!” Uncle barks.
“Okay, Uncle Qiren!” Without skipping a beat, Wei Wuxian tucks his sword into his best and launches himself forward, doing continuous cartwheels down the steps even quicker than he’d been running. The guest disciples are cheering, and even Lan Xichen has to admit that it’s an impressive display of strength and balance.
Technically, there is no rule against cartwheeling in Cloud Recesses.
Uncle sighs. “The problem,” he says mournfully, “is that if I make a rule just for him, he and his mother will be far too pleased with themselves, and then he’ll just put even more effort into not breaking the rules in ways that make me add more rules.”
Lan Xichen notices how Wangji hasn’t taken his eyes off Wei Wuxian and thinks that perhaps they have bigger problems, actually.
Classes are meant to start the next day and Xichen is doing a final run through the syllabus with him when there’s a loud, erratic knock on his door. “Uncle Qiren!”
At least Wei Wuxian is knocking this time instead of just barging in. He despairs that his standards have sunk so low. “Use a proper knock! Have some decorum! I know your father taught you how.”
Wei Wuxian sighs so loudly that he can hear it through the door. Then there’s a single, soft tap and he’s modulated his voice to sound deferential and respectful. “Sect Leader Lan, the humble Wei Wuxian requests an audience at your convenience.”
There’s an uncomfortable jolt around his stomach. He’s sure, suddenly, that Wei Changze did teach him this, and that he learned from his time as a servant rather than a cultivator, and now he regrets asking. “Alright, alright.”
The door slides open and Wei Wuxian is on his knees, his arms clasped in front of him as he bows at the waist. “May this lowly rogue cultivator speak to the great Master Lan?”
The tone and posture are all perfectly respectful and Lan Qiren hates it. It helps, slightly, that he knows Wei Wuxian is doing this to mock him. “Yes, yes, you’ve proven your point. Get up, boy, you’ll get dust on your robes.”
“As if your home has dust in it,” he scoffs, bouncing to his feet with a grin. “You’re too scary for that.”
Lan Qiren knows that addressing the ridiculous statement is a bad idea, because it only encourages him the same way it used to encourages his mother, but Lan Qiren also knows his own weaknesses. Unfortunately, so does Wei Wuxian. That means that even though he knows better he can’t help but sputter, “Are you implying that I scare the dust away?”
“Your scowl is very intimidating,” he says earnestly, then pauses, “or so I’ve heard.”
He’s scowling right now and Wei Wuxian doesn’t seem intimidated in the slightest. “Did you want something or are you just here to antagonize me?”
“Uncle Qiren!” he gasps, laying a hand on his chest in mock offense. “Maybe it’s both. Maybe I’m here because I want to antagonize you.”
The bottom half of Xichen’s face trembles like he’s clenching his teeth to keep from laughing and he finds himself softening even as he doesn’t let up on the scowl. They’re both so serious, his boys, and he knows that’s his fault, him raising them how he’d been raised because it’s all he knew and now they lean a little bit too much like him sometimes, in ways he wishes they didn’t. Maybe the headache of having Wei Wuxian in Cloud Recesses will be worth it if it helps draw them out a little bit.
“Ooh, are those lesson plans?” He snatches the paper off his desk without waiting for an answer and sits himself at the edge, breaking several rules about respect and impropriety and also just common decency. Xichen’s eyes are wide but Lan Qiren doesn’t bother to bring any of that up. He’ll save his energy for the arguments that are worth winning. Wei Wuxian ruffles through them for a few moments, his eyebrows pushing together. By the time he lowers the papers he’s actually frowning. “Uncle Qiren.”
“You’re the one that wanted to be here,” he points out mildly.
Xichen unclenches his jaw enough to ask, “Is there a problem with the lesson plans, Young Master Wei?”
“I told you to stop calling me that,” he says, and glances down at the papers again before sighing. “No, no, nothing wrong with them. They’re very good.” He pauses. “The clan heirs are going to be bored. Even A-Sang already knows all of this.”
The way he petulantly kicks his feet against the desk like a little kid is not endearing. “Most of our attendants haven’t receive a clan heir’s education, so this is to their benefit.” Most of the clan heirs are here to socialize, which isn’t a criticism. One day they’ll be in charge of their clan and things run smoother for everyone when clan heads can at least be friendly with one another. “You could have just asked to use our library, you know.”
“Who said anything about the library?” he asks innocently. Lan Qiren just continues staring at him. He huffs, crossing his arms, which really only adds to his little kid air. “I’d have needed to submit all these detailed plans and explanations of what I was working on and then waited for the approval of all the Lan elders for that. It would have taken forever. This is better.”
“You know I’m going to want copies of all your plans, right?” He’s heard too many tales about Wei Wuxian’s destructive creative process to just give him leave to experiment in the middle of Cloud Recesses without oversight.
He waves a hand dismissively. “It’s fine if it’s you, Uncle Qiren.”
Lan Qiren rolls his eyes and tries not to let that matter to him as much as it does.
Uncle sighs deeply. Wei Wuxian has been in Cloud Recesses a week and it seems as if Uncle has sighed more in the past week than he had in the past year.
Uncle has also been smiling a lot more. He’d been right. Wei Wuxian is disruptive and irreverent and unapologetic and Lan Xichen does like him. It’s hard not to.
The male and female cultivators are mixed together on the field in the hour before dinner, talking and laughing. In the middle stands Wei Wuxian, holding court as he tells another story from his travels that Lan Xichen is certain has to be at least half fake. He hopes it is, anyway.
“I feel as if I’ve seen this before,” Uncle grumbles. “Cangse Sanren was the most sought after bride of our generation. Every sect heir asked after her hand.”
Yet she married a man who’d been no more than a servant until his spiritual energy had been too strong to ignore. The Jiang had taken him in as their disciple to the loud disapproval of several clans.
Lan Xichen tilts his head to the side. “Uncle?”
“What, you don’t see it?”
He looks back out and bites the inside of his cheek to keep his smile from spreading into a grin. The foreign disciples and even some of the Lan do fawn over Wei Wuxian, many of them seemingly just as focused on getting his attention as they are on their studies. Wei Wuxian is friendly to everyone, of course, but despite their best efforts he doesn’t seem to be friends with everyone. Then again, it’s only been a week.
There are a couple notable exceptions.
Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli don’t engage in all the fuss because they don’t have to. Wei Wuxian wears the ribbon they gave him in his hair, the lotuses embroidered in it so subtle Lan Xichen hadn’t noticed them until a week after classes had started. It’s clear the Jiang siblings and Wei Wuxian adore one another, which mean Jiang Cheng watches the proceedings with smug superiority and Jiang Yanli with gentle tolerance.
Nie Huaisang will act ridiculous around Wei Wuxian only as a way to egg him on, the two of them feeding off each other and even pulling Jiang Cheng into their mischief over his protests. A couple of years ago, Wei Wuxian and his parents had assisted the Nie with some sort of clan issue. No one knows what it was, but it means they have an open invitation to the Unclean Realms and apparently Wei Wuxian goes there to relax and goof off with Nie Huaisang. Lan Xichen can’t imagine anyone going to the Unclean Realms to relax.
Luo Qingyang, an otherwise obedient and dutiful student, is always the first one to agree to Wei Wuxian’s plans, no questions asked. She has all the unreserved trust of Nie Huaisang with the skills of Jiang Cheng which means, no matter the circumstances, if Wei Wuxian has found trouble, then Luo Qingyang isn’t far behind. He’d overheard her asking Wei Wuxian wistful questions about being a rogue cultivator.
Wen Ning and Wen Qing are quiet and reserved and do not seek out anyone’s company. Except Wei Wuxian had greeted them enthusiastically and familiarly, pulled them into his circle of friends, and hadn’t let them leave. Wen Qing is surprisingly vicious under her polite smiles. Wei Wuxian has no reason to know either of them, but they seemed so familiar together that Lan Xichen thinks they must have met before, somehow.
Then again, there’s his brother. Wangji is standing arms clasped behind his back as he radiates skepticism at the more ridiculous parts of the tale and doesn’t even flinch when Wei Wuxian hangs off his shoulders. Wangji spends more time scolding Wei Wuxian and making him copy lines than anything else, but instead of being upset, Wei Wuxian just seems to get more and more delighted with every interaction. Wangji is being pulled between towering frustration and reluctant fondness and personally Lan Xichen finds it hilarious.
There are very few people that Wei Wuxian seems to dislike. One of them is Jin Zixuan. Who Wei Wuxian has abandoned storytelling to gang up on. Again.
Lan Xichen might feel worse for him if he hadn’t said several truly thoughtless things about Jiang Yanli. The fact that Wei Wuxian’s dislike stems from his annoyance at Jin Zixuan treatment of his fiancé, and considering Jiang Cheng shares that same dislike even if he does a better job at hiding it, makes it very hard to consider it a bad thing.
“You better get your act together, otherwise I’ll marry A-Li myself,” Wei Wuxian says, hands on his hips. It’s a common threat. Considering the ribbon in his hair, it’s even a believable one.
The confused jealousy that overcomes Wangji’s face is genuinely one of his favorite things to see. Uncle just sighs again.
“I wasn’t – I didn’t mean it like that,” Jin Zixuan says, his face flushing. “You can’t. Our marriage is already arranged.”
“Sure, sure,” Wei Wuxian scoffs. “Whatever. I’ll grab A-Li and carry her up the mountain to Baoshan Sanren so she can marry us. We’ll adopt a bunch of kids and A-Li can make them soup while I teach them to cultivate and Aunty Bao will be so happy about great grandkids that she won’t even yell at me for bringing people up the mountain.”
Lan Xichen is still sure that Wei Wuxian being taught by Baoshan Sanren is just a rumor. He’s sure of it.
Nie Huaisang flicks out his fan to hide half his face behind it. “Adopt?”
He’s clearly doing it just stir up more trouble. Lan Xichen likes him too. He’s coming to the regrettable realization that maybe he enjoys being around troublemakers, which is unfortunate considering the clan he’s to lead. Then again, that’s what guest disciples are for.
“Of course!” Wei Wuxian lays a hand across his chest. “A-Li is like my sister, of course we’d adopt, don’t be crude.”
Wangji looks slightly less like he wants to commit an act of violence.
“If she’s like a sister, then why do you keep saying you’ll marry her?” Jin Zixuan grumbles.
Wei Wuxian’s face drops and his shoulders rise, for a moment everything about him perfectly serious. “Better a passionless marriage than a loveless one.”
He lets that hang in the air for a moment while Jin Zixuan turns an even deeper shade of red.
Then he grins, shattering the moment. “Look, I’ll show you exactly what will happen.” He runs over to Jiang Yanli and scoops her into his arms. That Jiang Cheng doesn’t react at all to his precious older sister being manhandled by Wei Wuxian tells everyone everything they need to know about the dynamic and affection that runs between the three of them. Jiang Yanli laughs and wraps an arm around his shoulders to steady herself. “I will carry A-Li up the mountain and then when I get to the top I’ll say, Aunty Bao, I’ve brought you the second most beautiful person in all the word as a granddaughter in law.”
“Second most?” Jiang Cheng scoffs. “Who’s the first?”
“Lan Zhan, of course,” Wei Wuxian answers. Uncle makes an aborted gesture as if to rub his forehead.
Wangji freezes, his face going so perfectly blank that Lan Xichen can’t read anything from him besides the panic.
Wei Wuxian gently puts Jiang Yanli back on her feet and then turns and –
- lifts Wangji into his arms much the same way he’d held Jiang Yanli.
It’s possible Lan Xichen is going to watch his brother die of bloodloss since it’s all rushing so quickly to his face.
“I will carry Lan Zhan up the mountain,” Wei Wuxian declares, “and I will say, Aunty Bao, I’ve brought you the most beautiful person in all the world to become your grandson in law.” He pauses, looking down at Wangji, who hasn’t pushed himself out of Wei Wuxian’s arms and is just staring at him now. “We’re still going to have to adopt, Lan Zhan. How many children do you want? I want lots.”
Wangji struggles for a moment that spits out, “Ridiculous,” before finally pushing himself out of Wei Wuxian’s arms.
Uncle has given up and is massaging his temples. “I’m going to go meditate. This is what I was afraid of when he asked to attend.”
Before he can inquire further, Uncle is walking away, muttering about how large of sum Cangse Sanren has just won and seems to be doing mental math to figure out if his wins outweigh the losses.
Gambling is forbidden in Cloud Recesses. Lan Xichen decides to be the bigger person and not mention it.
Wei Wuxian hadn’t exactly planned on getting caught drinking with Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang, and certainly not by Lan Zhan who, unlike his brother, hasn’t seemed to fall for his charms at all, which is shame, because Wei Wuxian considers himself to be very charming. His father told him so.
They’re busted, there’s no way they’re getting out of this without Uncle Qiren beating them badly enough to leave bruises that will at least last a day even with cultivation healing, so there’s no reason not to get one more bit of fun in there.
He tricks Lan Zhan into taking a sip of the wine, expecting him to spit it out as soon as he tastes it’s alcoholic, expecting his eyes to go bright with fury and his pale cheeks to flush and really, what beating couldn’t be worth that?
Instead he takes a sip and immediately passes out. Wei Wuxian barely catches him in time to keep him from cracking his head open on the table.
“Uh,” Jiang Cheng says, eyes wide, “what happened?”
Wei Wuxian presses his fingers to Lan Zhan’s wrist, but his pulse is steady and the thrum of his golden core is as strong as ever. He blinks. “I genuinely have no idea.” He reaches for cup Lan Zhan had drank from and drinks the rest in one swallow. It goes down smoothly and tastes no different than what they’d been drinking. “It’s not poisoned.”
“You thought it was poisoned and you still drank it?” Jiang Cheng squawks.
He ignores him and pulls Lan Zhan up again to shake him, but all that happens is his forehead ribbon goes slightly askew. He almost fixes it before he remembers that he’s definitely not allowed to do that.
Nie Huaisang pokes his shoulder with his fan. “Is he dead? Did you kill him?”
He and Jiang Cheng roll their eyes at the same time. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“We could just put him to bed?” Jiang Cheng suggests. “He can sleep it off.”
“Sleep what off? He had a sip,” Nie Huaisang protests.
It’s tempting. He’s almost certain that Lan Zhan is fine. There’s nothing to indicate he’s anything else but perfectly fine. If he’s really worried about, he could go ask Wen Qing to take a look, and she’d rip him a new one but she’d still do it.
He sighs and picks Lan Zhan up, carrying him like he’d had for those brief moments in the field, where he could get away with it, and jostling him until his head thumps against his shoulder. “I’m going to take him to Uncle Qiren.”
Both Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang are horrified. “Why? Are you insane? He’ll toss you out for sure!”
“I hope not.” He’s not even close to finished working on his compass and the Jiang library doesn’t have the same number of theoretical talisman texts that the Lan library does.
“You break rules all the time, why are you hurrying to go confess this one?” Nie Huaisang demands.
He shrugs, then because Nie Huaisang probably deserves a real answer and Jiang Cheng definitely does, adds, “That’s stuff that doesn’t matter. Uncle Qiren doesn’t really care when I break the rules. Or he does, but like, only on principle? Like he cares because the rules are important and he believes in them, not because he actually has any personal feelings about me going to bed late. But he’ll care about Lan Zhan passing out, so I should tell him.”
He and Uncle Qiren of have a very careful balancing act of Wei Wuxian trampling all over his rules and him pretending he hates it. Luckily his mother established the dynamic first, so Wei Wuxian just gets to benefit off of her hard work, but it means that when he actually fucks up he has to come clean about it. Which is the worst. If this was the Unclean Realms or Lotus Pier they wouldn’t confess their misdeeds until… well, ever, really. The less Nie Mingjue and Aunt Yu know about what they get up to behind their backs, the better.
“Don’t worry, I won’t say anything about you guys,” he promises.
That doesn’t seem to reassure them like he thought it would. Jiang Cheng says, “If Lan Qiren tries to kill you, send up a flare and we’ll come save you.”
“As if you guys are a match for Uncle Qiren,” he scoffs and then winks at them before heading out.
Lan Zhan is pretty much entirely solid muscle and it probably would have been easier to carry him on his back, but it’s too late for that now, so he just hurries, because he hardly thinks that dropping Lan Zhan will improve the situation.
He hesitates outside Uncle Qiren’s home. It’s after nine, which means he’s probably already asleep. He’s out of hands, so he kicks the door as gently as he can and calls out, “Uncle Qiren!”
There’s a moment of silence, then footsteps, and the door slides open. There are low candles and paperwork strewn about behind him and Wei Wuxian doesn’t even get the chance to tease him about breaking curfew before he snaps, “Wangji! What is the meaning of this?”
Uncle Qiren is glaring at Lan Zhan, which doesn’t make any sense, but then he looks down and sees Lan Zhan’s dark eyes staring right at him. He yelps and nearly drops him in surprise, and then clutches him even more tightly to make up for it. “Lan Zhan! When did you wake up?”
Lan Zhan doesn’t answer, just continues staring at him.
“Is he drunk?” Wei Wuxian doesn’t think Uncle Qiren’s voice has ever quite reached that pitch before, but he’d need his mother here to know for sure.
Lan Zhan’s head is still resting against We Wuxian’s soldier, his cheeks flushed and his fingers curled around the edge of Wei Wuxian’s over robe.
It’s almost unbearably cute.
“Wei Wuxian, what’s going on?” Uncle Qiren demands.
He winces. That’s the tone that Uncle Qiren uses when he’s actually mad. “It’s my fault,” he says, then quickly recounts what had happened, finishing it with, “I really didn’t mean to get him drunk or anything. I didn’t think that he’d react like this or even think he’d end up breaking a rule since I thought he’d spit it out when he tasted it. He really only had a sip, Uncle Qiren, I swear!”
Uncle Qiren has one hand hand over his eyes and the other on his hip. He peeks through his fingers, like the sight might have changed, then groans and turns away. He crosses his arms over his chest then turns around again. “Copy all three thousand rules tomorrow.” He pulls a face, but he usually uses papermen for that and instead spends the time working on his compass, so it’s barely a punishment at all.
The thing is, he’s pretty sure Uncle Qiren knows that. “What else?”
Uncle Qiren sighs, looking at Lan Zhan again. Something softens in his face, how he always looks at his nephews when he thinks they can’t see him. “Lan have no alcohol tolerance, you really should have expected this.”
Now it’s his turn to stare. “I’ve seen you drink. I’ve been out drinking with you. You do not pass out after one sip.”
“I use my golden core to burn away the effects of the alcohol as I drink.” This is the worst thing Wei Wuxian’s ever heard. What a waste of alcohol! “I’m not going to punish Wangji for your actions, although he should know better than to drink something without knowing it’s contents.” Wei Wuxian is certain he wouldn’t be so lenient if this had all come out in the morning, no matter if he’d like to be, because the elders certainly wouldn’t stand for it. “As for your punishment, in addition to doing lines, you can spend the evening with Wangji until he sobers up. He’s your responsibility until then.”
Wei Wuxian doesn’t gape, but he comes pretty close. “Um, okay.”
“Goodnight,” he says, going to close the door again.
“Wait!” Uncle Qiren pauses, raising an eyebrow. “Um, can you fix his forehead ribbon?”
His face softens even further and he steps forward to gently slide Lan Zhan’s ribbon back in place. That finally gets Lan Zhan’s attention and he looks away from him to stare at Uncle Qiren, who’s hand is resting on top of Lan Zhan’s head, his thumb just barely brushing the ribbon in a gesture that reminds Wei Wuxian so much of his own father that homesickness tightens his throat. He’s been apart from his parents before, of course, like when he’d been with Song Lan and Xiao Xingchan. He can’t follow his parents around the world like a kid forever. He still misses them.
“Hello, Uncle,” Lan Zhan says, his voice syrup slow. He reaches out and touches Uncle Qiren’s forehead ribbon, his touch clumsier but somehow no less gentle.
Wei Wuxian feels like he shouldn’t be here. “I can leave him with you, if you want?” Uncle Qiren can’t usually express affection without yelling and it feels wrong to get in the way of that.
Uncle Qiren clears his throat and Wei Wuxian pretends he doesn’t notice the tears he’s blinking back. “No,” he says, reaching up to take Lan Zhan’s hand away and placing it back where he can curl it into Wei Wuxian’s robes. “I’m an old man, Wei Wuxian, I need my sleep.”
Yeah, right. Wei Wuxian almost calls him on it, but there’s still something fragile in his expression, so he just says, “Okay, Uncle Qiren.”
This time, he doesn’t stop him when he closes the door.
He warily puts Lan Zhan back on his feet, careful in case he collapses again, but he stands as solidly as ever. “It’s late, Lan Zhan,” he tries. “Why don’t we got to bed?”
His eyes widen. “Bed?”
“Yeah?” he blinks. “Um, it’s past nine. You need to sleep.”
“Oh,” he says, mouth turning down at the corner before he nods. “Yes.”
He reaches out and grabs Wei Wuxian’s wrist in a strong grip that Wei Wuxian would struggle to break even if he wanted to. He doesn’t, letting Lan Zhan pull him along to his rooms.
Except instead of getting ready to go to sleep, Lan Zhan climbs straight into bed and drags Wei Wuxian with him. “Lan Zhan!” he yelps where he has to twist his body to keep from kneeing him in the stomach. “What are you doing?”
“It’s late,” he says simply. “We’re sleeping.”
“When Uncle Qiren told me to keep in eye on you, I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean in the same bed,” he points out. “Come on, let me go.”
Lan Zhan frowns, as if considering it, then says, “No.” Wei Wuxian sputters and Lan Zhan closes his eyes and from all appearances instantly falls into a deep sleep.
His grip on Wei Wuxian doesn’t let up at all.
Wei Wuxian huffs, but honestly he’s slept a lot more uncomfortable places than Lan Zhan’s very nice bed, and well, Uncle Qiren had told him to keep an eye on him until he sobered up.
He wriggles until he’s laying sideways in the bad, curled towards Lan Zhan who’s sleeping on his back in a way that doesn’t look at all comfortable.
The headpiece doesn’t help.
“I know not to touch your ribbon, but surely you’ll be more comfortable with your hair down, hm, Lan Zhan?” he mutters.
Lan Zhan, unhelpfully, doesn’t provide an opinion either way. But he stays asleep as Wei Wuxian uses his only free hand to carefully tease the pins out of his hair, then the ornament, and finally finger combs it smooth onto pillow.
If he falls asleep with his head on Lan Zhan’s chest, it’s just because he’s in the middle of undoing a knot at the end of his hair when his eyes slide shut.
Lan Qiren looks from the pile of work he still has to get done, to the candle nubs he typically works by at night to keep anyone from seeing the light in the window, and sighs before reaching for a new piece of paper.
At some point, Wei Wuxian and Wangji are going to sort themselves out.
When they do, he figures it’ll be best if they already have the details of an arrangement sorted out.
He starts another letter to Cangse Sanren and Wei Changze, forgoes any of the gossiping and gambling that he absolutely does not partake in, and gets straight to the point of opening negotiations for a possible marriage contract.
If Wangji had to pick absolutely anyone to fall in love with, Lan Qiren can admit, at least to himself, that he’s glad it was Wei Wuxian.