Wei Wuxian wakes up to the first ray of sunshine tingling his nose. Mechanically, his mind still fogged with sleep, he straightens up and yawns loudly as he stretches. The more he becomes aware of his surroundings, the more he feels like something isn’t right. He’s alone in his bed, a cold spot beside him.
A strange sensation of loss dreads upon himself, but Wei Wuxian can’t remember what he’s missing. After all, he’s always lived alone in this house in the woods.
With only one eye opened, he navigates through his morning routine like usual. He bathes, combs his long hair, cooks and eats breakfast (that can also be considered lunch), all while cheerfully humming a song. In the end, he’s finally fully awake and swiftly puts on his boots before bouncing toward the door.
Today, he’s decided to hunt pheasants. Later, he might chill near the river and, more certainly, take care of his garden. Wei Wuxian loves this peaceful life of his. A wide range of options are always available to him around here, so he’s never really bored. It’s true it can be lonely at times, but he quickly forgets about it and busies his mind with something else.
However, he opens the door and whatever he’s planned flies out the window. Frozen into place, Wei Wuxian stares at the little boy crouched in the tall grass in front of his house. He’s so small. Wei Wuxian would have missed him if not for the gentians surrounding him like an array. Those flowers are also an anomaly on their own. They are familiar, but Wei Wuxian is certain they weren’t there the other day.
He doesn’t feel anything malicious coming from the apparition, but Wei Wuxian stays cautious in his approach. He doesn’t want to scare the child, so he puts down his bow and his bag.
The closer he gets, the more he can discern how the little one looks like. Wei Wuxian is amazed by how cute he is, round and plump like a bun. His white robes only make the analogy more relevant. The fabric is clean and surely of great quality, not something a farmer can afford. On his forehead also sits a white headband adorned with light blue cloud patterns. But Wei Wuxian doesn’t have the opportunity to dwell further on those details because his gaze is drawn to the boy’s face. His eyes are puffy and closed, and his chubby cheeks smeared with the remnant of big tears. The view and what it entails makes Wei Wuxian’s heart clench.
The boy hasn’t noticed him yet. When he’s at one arm’s length, Wei Wuxian slowly sits on the ground. He taps his knees with his fingers, thinking about what to do, and decides to simply go for his specialty: talking.
He coughs into his fist to clear his voice and shout-whispers, “Hey! Hello!”
The boy’s eyes flutter open, making a new tear escape his long eyelashes and run down his face. His irises are a mesmerizing golden hue that makes Wei Wuxian stares in awe. The idea that he’s facing a flower spirit entertains him, but it’s quickly discarded.
“Mama?” the child croaks weakly. He turns his head and, upon seeing Wei Wuxian, gasps and shrinks in on himself.
Holding back from laughing to avoid scaring the child further, Wei Wuxian offers a bright smile and softly asks, “Are you lost? Where’s your Mama?”
His act seems to be reassuring enough as his little friend relaxes and looks around. When his gaze returns to Wei Wuxian, who hasn’t moved an inch, he blinks slowly.
“Not lost,” he says with a little pout. “Mama is lost.”
At the mention of his mother, his lips start to wobble and those big, clear eyes are suddenly clouded with a veil of wetness. Before the waterfall can flow down, Wei Wuxian waves his arms widely in a frenzy, “Hey, hey, hey, it’s alright! I’m here.”
He reflexively moves to hug the child, but he easily slips out of his grip and scampers away. The boy finds refuge behind the nearest tree. The only thing that Wei Wuxian can see is his head poking out from the other side of the trunk. The child quickly scrubs his face with his sleeve to get rid of his tears, then glowers at Wei Wuxian.
It’s quite comical and Wei Wuxian has to hold back his laughter.
“Aiyah, you wound my heart!” Wei Wuxian says dramatically instead, a hand on his chest and the back of the other on his forehead. “Am I so ugly that you’d run away like that?”
The child is unmoved by his antics, so Wei Wuxian places his hands on his hips and clicks his tongue. “Or, yeah, you shouldn’t talk to strangers, right?”
Expectedly, the child doesn’t answer but his eyebrows are a tad more furrowed.
“I’m Wei Ying!” Wei Wuxian beams, opening his arms this time to demonstrate how harmless he is. “See, not a stranger anymore! What’s your name, Little Dumpling?”
The boy is still wary, but one of his legs is visible now. “Not a dumpling,” he mumbles with a pout. Wei Wuxian bites his lips, marvelling at how adorable the child is. He wishes he could pinch those bouncy cheeks.
“Are you sure? You’re so plump!” Wei Wuxian exclaims. “If I hadn’t eaten already, I would gobble you up right now!”
He can’t help teasing and revels in the reactions he provokes. But this time, it doesn’t seem to be the best of his ideas.
“Stop!” the offended boy hisses and returns to hide completely behind his tree.
Anger is better than numb sadness in Wei Wuxian’s opinion. He prefers to see the child running and shouting at him than crying hunched in a ball. Anyway, he doesn’t doubt for an instant that the child will warm up to him sooner or later.
And, surely, a shy “Lan Zhan,” comes from the shadows of the foliage before he can explain that he was just joking.
Hearing this name fills Wei Wuxian with a joy he can hardly contain. He’s unable to explain the burst of fondness invading his heart, and his smile widens despite nobody being present to see it.
“Lan Zhan!” he tests out the name. It rolls so easily on his tongue, he wants to sing it all day. “That’s cute!”
With determination, Wei Wuxian springs up to his feet and points at his chest with his thumb. “Don’t worry, A-Zhan! Gege will help you find your Mama!”
At his words, Lan Zhan pokes his head out once again. This time, his eyes are full of expectation and hope. With such a look on him, Wei Wuxian is even more motivated to not disappoint.
“Maybe she’s back in town?” Wei Wuxian muses out loud, tapping his nose. “We can go together. I was going to go hunt, but—”
His speech is interrupted by Lan Zhan who suddenly jumps out of his hiding spot. He stomps towards Wei Wuxian and plants himself in front of him in a rigid posture. The expression on his face is severe, one clearly uncharacteristic of his age. “Killing is forbidden,” he states coldly with his fists clenched.
“What?” Wei Wuxian is flabbergasted. He’s never heard of such a rule before, hunting in peace for so many years. However, the situation is mostly funny to him; this Lan Zhan is truly something else.
He puts his hands on his hips in exaggerated indignation, “Since when? And what do I eat, then?”
Lan Zhan scrunches his nose in serious thought. “Greens.”
Wei Wuxian has nothing against vegetables, he has a garden full of them. But he can’t imagine a life without a portion of meat. “Eh? Do I look like a rabbit?”
This is obviously a rhetorical question, but Lan Zhan still takes the time to examine him thoroughly before answering. He lingers a moment on his face, and then nods firmly, “Mn.“
That response is so unexpected that Wei Wuxian is left gaping before he explodes in a belly laugh, nearly tipping over.
“You’re a funny one!” he manages after catching his breath. He wipes a tear from the corner of his eyes as Lan Zhan glares at him with a frown. His frustration is reddening his ears, but at least he’s not hiding anymore.
“Let’s go, then!” Wei Wuxian claps his hands together, satisfied with this small victory. There’s no reason to waste any more time. He takes a step back to collect his bag, leaving his bow there since it’ll be useless, and then bounces cheerfully towards Lan Zhan. “To the town!”
His hand moves to catch Lan Zhan’s, but it ends on nothing. After dodging him, the boy’s frown deepens. “I can walk on my own,” he says while tucking his hands in his sleeves.
Wei Wuxian blinks. This child really doesn’t act like a child at all , he thinks fondly. “Wow, of course. You’re such a big boy,” he praises with a teasing smile. Lan Zhan only responds with a pout and looks elsewhere.
Wei Wuxian isn’t going to give up. He wants nothing but to cheer up Lan Zhan and awaken more emotions in him. He’s a child, after all. He’s allowed to cry or scream, not only build a wall to protect himself. This task is of utmost importance for Wei Wuxian, and it’s difficult to deter him when his mind is on something.
They’re on their way and Wei Wuxian hums cheerfully, his brain whirring at high speed, but it doesn’t stop him from throwing quick glances behind his back. Lan Zhan is still following him but he’s careful to keep a safe distance between them. The boy is also walking like a venerable monk, his pace measured, his hands joined in front of him in his sleeves and his face blank.
Fortunately, luck comes to Wei Wuxian as he hears a noise on the other side of the bushes, out of the walking path. Recognizing the area, he’s struck by a wonderful idea, and a very large smile creeps on his face.
He stops in his tracks and whirls around, facing Lan Zhan who has also paused before he can crash into Wei Wuxian’s leg. Curious, he tilts his head cutely and arches a suspicious eyebrow.
“A-Zhan, wait here!” Wei Wuxian waves his hand and jumps into the bushes without expecting an answer.
He must be quick. He doesn’t want Lan Zhan to think that he’s abandoned him. He knows there’s a burrow nearby, and he’s taken care of the rabbits here on multiple occasions. They have sort of a pact since he’s saved one of them from resentful spirits.
Without surprise, he finds a very fluffy friend munching on wild grass and doesn’t ask for permission before taking him in his arms. Used to the human, the rabbit doesn’t make a fuss and continues to enjoy the remnant of his lunch. With what he was looking for in his possession, Wei Wuxian swiftly returns to Lan Zhan.
The boy is standing on his tiptoes, trying to look for Wei Wuxian through the bushes while still obediently not leaving his spot as Wei Wuxian asked. Wei Wuxian feels a pang of guilt for the confusion that he must have caused, but it’s definitely worth it.
Upon Wei Wuxian’s return, Lan Zhan resumes a normal stance and schools his expression, but it doesn’t last. Any serious trait melts right away when he notices the bundle of white fluff in Wei Wuxian’s arms.
Lan Zhan blinks, bewildered, and doesn’t even think of backing off when Wei Wuxian approaches way too closely and crouches in front of him. Meanwhile, the rabbit is still unbothered by the way it’s held. Not alarmed in the slightest, it sniffs at Lan Zhan’s robe and tries to taste it.
“Look at what Gege found! Mister Bunny doesn’t like seeing A-Zhan sad.”
Lan Zhan’s lips part slightly and his eyes gleam with wonder. His expression definitely lightens up, with his cheeks taking on a rosy hue. Wei Wuxian is proud of himself for making such an expression bloom on the child’s face.
Lan Zhan doesn’t dare to move. Wei Wuxian snorts at his uncertainty and helps him to open his hands and take the rabbit in his arms. From here on, everything flows naturally and Wei Wuxian can admire how gently Lan Zhan takes the little creature and pets it solemnly. He rests his cheek in the palm of his hand and smiles dumbly at the scene.
“You really like bunnies, hm? A-Zhan is truly too cute!” Wei Wuxian coos, breaking Lan Zhan’s peaceful bubble. Since the boy is busy with the rabbit, Wei Wuxian can’t help himself anymore and pinches those enticing cheeks.
“Stop!” Lan Zhan cries and Wei Wuxian who has thought himself safe is bitten to the core by the child’s tiny teeth.
Wei Wuxian shouts his pain and surprise, jerking away and falling on his bottom. He shakes his hand and, when he looks at it, the marks on his skin are perfectly visible. He isn’t bleeding, but it still hurts so much he can’t stop his whimpers.
On his side, Lan Zhan doesn’t look apologetic at all. Even the rabbit seems to be mocking Wei Wuxian.
“Alright, alright!” Wei Wuxian backs off. He petulantly crosses his arms and turns his back to the two others. He’s the one pouting, this time. Still, he discreetly peeks behind him.
Lan Zhan pays no mind to Wei Wuxian and plays with the rabbit. However, he doesn’t let himself be diverted for too long. After one or two more pets, the child releases the rabbit on the ground and gently pats its head. It’s adorable how Lan Zhan is cautious with his movement, and the rabbit’s eyes close each time he presses his palm on the top of its head. When Lan Zhan is done, he straightens up with his hands behind his back and nods to the animal.
“Farewell, Little Bunny. Go back to your family.”
This child will never cease to surprise Wei Wuxian. Also, something that has been meant to cheer him up is now once again reminding him of the loss of his own family. The silence after the rabbit’s departure is heavy.
Wei Wuxian gets up to his feet and dusts his pants. Lan Zhan is still unmoving, looking at the spot where the rabbit has disappeared.
“A-Zhan,” Wei Wuxian breaks the quietness a bit disapprovingly. “Why are you so serious?”
Lan Zhan frowns. It’s like he’s the adult instead of Wei Wuxian. In this case, Wei Wuxian decides that he shall embrace this status.
“Hey, let’s play a game?” Lan Zhan perks up in his direction and Wei Wuxian can’t miss the interest sparkle in his gaze. At least, the reaction makes Wei Wuxian feel a bit better and encourages him to carry his mischief.
With a dangerous smile, he slowly approaches Lan Zhan who tenses like a cornered animal. He seems ready to flee if Wei Wuxian has the audacity to try to catch him, but the humble hunter has nothing of the sort in mind.
“Boop!” Wei Wuxian quickly presses a finger on Lan Zhan’s nose. “Try to catch me!”
He can’t stay and make fun of Lan Zhan’s crossed eyes. He takes off, laughing so loudly that the birds fly off the branches. For a second, he’s afraid Lan Zhan isn’t going to play with him but, after a state of stunned surprise, the child starts to chase after him.
Wei Wuxian’s legs are longer and more agile. They’re also used to the forest’s ground. His advantage is inevitable. Still, he’s careful not to get out of Lan Zhan's sight and always stays just slightly out of reach. It’s like dangling a ribbon in front of a cat.
Wei Wuxian is having so much fun, he can’t stop the laughter and the burst of joy from his body. He doesn’t know about Lan Zhan, his face giving away nothing, but the boy is undoubtedly committed in his attempt to catch him.
They keep the game up for a while until Wei Wuxian thinks it’s enough and Lan Zhan is beginning to get tired. His movements slow down and, after one last turn, Lan Zhan barrel into his leg.
“Ah! You caught me!” Wei Wuxian beams.
Lan Zhan blinks at him then makes a tiny grimace. He hides his face in the crook of Wei Wuxian’s knee, leaving only his bright red ears in sight. “Silly,” Lan Zhan mumbles, muffled against Wei Wuxian’s pants.
Wei Wuxian convulses in a laugh. “That’s me!” He snickers, ruffling Lan Zhan’s hair. Lan Zhan stops the teasing by firmly grabbing Wei Wuxian’s hand. His own little hand can hardly hold Wei Wuxian’s whole palm, so he encircles three of his fingers.
“No more games. Let us go,” Lan Zhan says determinedly, not looking at Wei Wuxian. The older one is speechless and Lan Zhan has to tug at his hand for him to function again.
“Alright, alright!” Wei Wuxian radiates with joy at this turn of events. “At your service, little master!”
Lan Zhan lets out a little huff and they set off. Wei Wuxian returns to his singing, swinging their arms in rhythm as they walk together. With his attention always on Lan Zhan, he sees the child’s lips curling upward in the smallest of smiles. The sight is so heartwarming Wei Wuxian thinks he might combust.
Their walk remains uneventful and quite pleasant until they finally reach the forest’s entrance.
“Oh look, the town is right here!”
Lan Zhan’s face lightens up as his eyes widen to admire the little town brimming with life. It’s a loud and colourful scene, with merchants and their customers arguing over prices, street vendors advertising their goods. The place is a continuous buzz of chatter and music, scents of food and perfume.
Wei Wuxian understands that it can be overwhelming. He gives a reassuring squeeze to Lan Zhan’s hand who instinctively gets closer to him, nearly hugging his leg. Wei Wuxian offers him a smile before guiding him to the closest merchant. She’s a young woman who sells fishing gear to whom Wei Wuxian is already acquainted.
“Hello jiejie, how are things going?” he greets enthusiastically. His hand protectively slides on Lan Zhan’s shoulders as the child tries to hide behind his leg. The movement attracts the merchant’s attention, and she crouches immediately to be at the same level as Lan Zhan.
“Wei Wuxian, who do you have here? What a handsome little master!” She glows with friendliness, visibly excited to meet Lan Zhan. Wei Wuxian can’t help the pride simmering through him, as if Lan Zhan was his own.
The child’s grip on Wei Wuxian’s leg tightens. “Ying-gege is more handsome,” he mumbles with a blank face, making the Ying-gege in question choke on air.
“You think I’m handsome?” Wei Wuxian squeals, delighted. “Oooh, A-Zhan, my heart’s too fragile! You can’t say that so easily!” He bends down to catch Lan Zhan in an embrace, but the child dodges in a swirl.
“Ridiculous,” he mutters, ignoring Wei Wuxian’s grabby hands and pout. Their scene makes the vendor guffaw as she stands up.
“You two are really too cute!” She smiles widely, to which Wei Wuxian mirrors her. On the side, Lan Zhan is crossing his arms with a discontent face.
“A-Zhan’s Mama is lost. Would you have seen her?” Wei Wuxian doesn’t wait to ask. The question makes Lan Zhan forget about his embarrassment and take a step closer.
The vendor rubs at her chin. She thinks seriously and searches her memory as she looks at Lan Zhan, but there’s no spark of recognition.
“I’m sorry, but no.” She shakes her head, and Wei Wuxian can see Lan Zhan deflate right away. “He mustn’t be from here, and I didn’t hear about anybody searching for a child.”
Wei Wuxian winces at Lan Zhan’s quiet voice. The child bows to the vendor and turns away, leaving them there. “A-Zhan!” Wei Wuxian calls, worried and disappointed on his behalf. He throws a quick thanks to the young woman and reaches for the boy who hasn’t waited for him.
When he’s close enough, Wei Wuxian jumps in front of him and crouches like a frog, then takes him by the shoulders. Lan Zhan isn’t willing to meet his gaze, but it’s hard to miss how the rims of his eyes are red. Wei Wuxian sighs and gently pats Lan Zhan’s head.
“Don’t worry, A-Zhan. It’s only our first try!” He smiles more brightly. “Your Mama must be looking for you. And surely the rest of your family as well! What about your Baba?”
Lan Zhan’s lips turn into a thin line and he looks down. Wei Wuxian doesn’t need more to understand what that means, but Lan Zhan still speaks with a trembling voice. “Big brother and Uncle must be waiting for A-Zhan and Mama.”
Wei Wuxian is surprised, it’s the first time that he’s talked about them. “Oh, and where?”
That’s a place very far from Yiling. How come Lan Zhan and his mother travelled here? But it’s not his place to pry, and he isn’t sure that Lan Zhan would be able to answer anyway. So Wei Wuxian stands up and takes back the child’s hand. Lan Zhan doesn’t protest and lets himself be guided to the next stall.
“Alright, let’s ask again.”
Time passes and the sun starts to set, painting the sky in orange and pink. The streets start to be enlightened by lanterns, but Lan Zhan and Wei Wuxian aren’t in the mood to admire them.
Each time, the answer is the same. Nobody knows who Lan Zhan or his mother are. The inhabitants of the town have never seen them before. Wei Wuxian doesn’t want to lose hope, but Lan Zhan doesn’t feel the same. The more they advance, the slower Lan Zhan gets until he doesn’t let himself be tugged anymore.
They stop at the intersection of a quieter street and Lan Zhan lets his hand slide from Wei Wuxian’s grip. The child is focused on a pebble when Wei Wuxian kneels in front of him. Wei Wuxian knows that something is wrong but, if Lan Zhan needs encouragement to continue, he’s ready to show him all the enthusiasm he can muster.
He tries a warm smile, putting his hand on Lan Zhan’s shoulder. “What’s wrong, A-Zhan?”
Lan Zhan slowly shakes his head and then opens and closes his mouth. He struggles to find his words. Wei Wuxian lets him take his time and says nothing.
“Am I bad?” Lan Zhan finally blurts out. His hands are clenched in trembling little fists. He doesn’t even seem to want to cry, a strange resignation colouring his question. Wei Wuxian can’t accept that.
Without thinking, he scoops Lan Zhan up and stands. For once, the child lets himself be carried. He encircles his arms around Wei Wuxian’s neck and hides his face in his shoulder.
Wei Wuxian steadies their position with Lan Zhan sitting on his right arm. He gently cradles him and rubs his back with his free hand. “You’re the most adorable and obedient child I’ve ever met. Such a good boy. The best boy,” he praises quietly, his nose in Lan Zhan’s hair.
Lan Zhan perks up with big vulnerable eyes and finally looks directly at Wei Wuxian. “Why does Mama not want to see A-Zhan?” he asks wetly.
Lan Zhan peers at Wei Wuxian as if he has all the answers, like his words can at once salvage or destroy his soul. Wei Wuxian frowns and gently wipes the little tears coming out of Lan Zhan’s eyes with his thumb.
“Hey, A-Zhan?” He starts softly. “You know, my Mama and Baba are lost too. I’m sure your Mama wants to see you really badly, but she can’t. That’s how life is, you can’t have everything you want.”
“Why?” Lan Zhan croaks and furrows his eyebrows.
“Ah! If I knew!” Wei Wuxian returns cheerfully, shrugging and rolling his eyes with exaggeration. He doesn’t expect his act to make Lan Zhan laugh, but he doesn’t want the atmosphere to be more gloomy for the child.
He’s certain that nobody in this reality would want to abandon such a lovely child. Wei Wuxian has only known him for a couple of hours, but he’s attached and not ready to let go. He can say without hesitation that he’ll do anything for Lan Zhan.
“But what I know is that you’re not alone.” He presses his forehead to Lan Zhan’s, making him look closely into his eyes to display his sincerity. “You have me now, and I will never, never leave you alone. Not of my own free will. Do you understand?”
Lan Zhan stares at Wei Wuxian a moment, unblinking, then he nods. “Mn.”
Wei Wuxian beams at him and leans back, continuing to rub at the child’s back. After their agreement, Lan Zhan relaxes minutely and rests his head on Wei Wuxian’s clothes. He sniffs one last time until his breath steadies with Wei Wuxian’s gentle rocking.
They silently stay like that until Lan Zhan murmurs into Wei Wuxian’s ear.
Wei Wuxian slows down his movement and hums, listening.
Wei Wuxian takes a deep breath and kisses the crown of Lan Zhan’s head.
“Alright, Dumpling. Let’s go home.”
The trip back is different from earlier. There’s no laughter or loud chatting, but simply Wei Wuxian humming a song while carrying a Lan Zhan who has fallen asleep. He isn’t sure where he’s heard this song before, but he likes it. It’s beautiful, and it makes him feel all warm and fuzzy, happy and at peace.
When he enters his house, he gets rid of his boots and directly goes to his bedroom where he can make Lan Zhan lay down comfortably. Wei Wuxian thought that the child would have liked that but, when he tries to peel Lan Zhan off from his embrace, the little boy grumbles and doesn’t let go of Wei Wuxian.
Wei Wuxian chuckles and boops at Lan Zhan’s nose, making him cutely scrunch his face as his eyes slowly blink open. “You must be hungry after all this! I’m going to make dinner. What do you think about potato stir fry?”
“Mn,” Lan Zhan agrees groggily, but his arms are still firmly encircled around Wei Wuxian’s neck.
“You have to let go of me, Dumpling! You can rest here, I’m not going far. I’ll wake you up when dinner’s ready.”
Lan Zhan shakes his head and flutters his eyes rapidly to make the sleep go away. “I want to help,” he says with determination.
Knowing that he can’t stop a stubborn Lan Zhan, Wei Wuxian fondly rolls his eyes, “Oh, my own little assistant? What an honour!”
He goes to put Lan Zhan down but the child holds his legs up to not touch the floor. Wei Wuxian bursts out laughing when he realizes that Lan Zhan still has his shoes on, and that’s the reason for his odd act.
He can’t stop grinning as he puts his little friend on the bed and helps him out of his boots. Then, Wei Wuxian gives Lan Zhan indoor shoes way too big for him, which makes the man start a new fit of laughter. Lan Zhan is exasperated but says nothing. As always, his face is too serious for a boy of his age, which doesn’t assuage Wei Wuxian’s amusement. He loves that boy so much.
Now that Lan Zhan is ready to wander the house on his own, Wei Wuxian goes outside to water his garden before starting dinner. Lan Zhan observes him through the window with big curious eyes. His interest is plain to see, and Wei Wuxian would love to show him his garden and teach him one thing or two, but it's getting late and they’re both tired. He decides that can wait until tomorrow, and the prospect is surprisingly thrilling.
Wei Wuxian quickly finishes with his garden and finally picks a handful of potatoes. He hands them to his little assistant who appears to be very diligent in his task. Lan Zhan takes them and places them in a perfect row on the table. He doesn’t know what to do but listens carefully to Wei Wuxian.
First, Wei Wuxian takes a little knife and shows Lan Zhan how to prepare the potatoes. It takes time, but they have a lot of fun in the process. It’s now dark outside, but the little house is still warm and full of laughter.
In the end, the cuts are uneven, but the dish is going to be delicious all the same. It’s worth the look of Lan Zhan slowly cutting the potatoes with his face pinched in concentration. And if Wei Wuxian giggles, Lan Zhan throws him such a deadly glare that makes Wei Wuxian dissolve into even more violent laughter. Maybe it’s a way for Lan Zhan to try to kill him, he thinks, but Lan Zhan denies it with puffed-up cheeks.
After rinsing and draining the potato strips, it’s finally time to cook them. In front of the stove, Wei Wuxian heats up the wok and pours the oil in it, coating the hot surface. He gives a signal to his little assistant who, from his perch on top of a chair, quickly throws in the aromatics. While Wei Wuxian lets them sizzle, Lan Zhan makes little gasps when the fire licks the edges of the wok and hides his hands in his sleeves.
They work in perfect tandem until the dish is ready. Proud of them, a large grin plastered on his face, Wei Wuxian holds up his hand and Lan Zhan high-fives it.
They make the table, and then they’re ready to eat. Wei Wuxian serves Lan Zhan his bowl of rice before himself, then puts a red jar between them.
“It’s my homemade chilli oil. The best in the world! Wanna taste?”
Lan Zhan looks at the jar, then at Wei Wuxian and nods firmly. Wei Wuxian almost feels remorseful when he pours a spoonful of chilli oil over the child’s rice, but what’s done is done. And one should hold their spice in order to be a real man.
Lan Zhan, so innocent and pure, doesn’t hesitate to take a bite, but his face instantly turns red. Yet, he says nothing even as his eyes water and he continues to munch. This result is far from surprising for Wei Wuxian, but it has exceeded his expectations. He explodes in laughter.
“Yeah, it’s spicy! I’ll give you another bowl.” He continues to snicker as he moves to take Lan Zhan’s bowl, but Lan Zhan grips it between his hands and gets it out of Wei Wuxian’s reach. After that, he grabs his chopsticks and shoves another portion of red rice in his mouth.
“Hey, hey, stop eating! You’re going to be sick!”
Lan Zhan shakes his head and adds potatoes to his bowl, continuing to eat very intently.
Wei Wuxian sights with exasperation, “Aiyah, you’re so stubborn!”
If Lan Zhan’s body reacts badly because of the spice, he can’t say Wei Wuxian didn’t warn him. And, of course, it’s Wei Wuxian who will have to take care of him. However, he finds out that it doesn’t matter for him. Wei Wuxian accepts his fate, and that’s how children learn.
They eat like that. This potato stir fry is the best thing Wei Wuxian has ever eaten. Before he can take another serving, his bowl is already full again. Wei Wuxian smiles at Lan Zhan, and Lan Zhan smiles back at him, a grain of rice stuck to his cheek. His heart can’t take it and he feels like crying. He goes to smother Lan Zhan with kisses, at what the child hisses but doesn’t do much to stop him apart from reciting some imaginary rules.
No kissing while eating? Not under Wei Wuxian’s roof.
The rest of the evening goes on smoothly. They do the dishes together, take turns to bathe, and enjoy each other’s presence in such normalcy that Wei Wuxian can’t believe that it’s the first time that Lan Zhan is here.
Wei Wuxian feels like he’s never been alone in his house. Their house.
Wei Wuxian is hunched on his desk, twirling his brush as he thinks about the plan to help Lan Zhan to feel at home here. First, he has a list of what he must buy: basic necessities, clothes, toys and he’ll eventually indulge in candies. He could also buy materials to build a swing. It might be time to get a donkey as well. He must look at his finances, he won’t be able to do all that in one sitting—
Suddenly, Wei Wuxian is snapped out of his mind by something tugging at his sleeve. Lan Zhan looks at him through his long eyelashes, his face all soft and sleepy.
“Ying-gege. Sleep,” he mutters with a weak tug.
“Eh?” Wei Wuxian blinks dumbly.
“One must sleep during Hai Shi,” Lan Zhan recites, once again with his most serious expression until it turns into a tired dozing.
“No way! Go first, I’ll join you later,” Wei Wuxian tries to wave him off, but Lan Zhan is relentless. He closes his eyes like he’s going to meditate, then opens them widely with a pout.
Wei Wuxian gapes. Lan Zhan is undoubtedly forcing the puppy eyes’ look to get to Wei Wuxian’s heart. And it works.
“Hmpf, alright, but only this time.”
Wei Wuxian blows at the candles of his desk and lets Lan Zhan take his hand to lead them both to the bedroom. He has a satisfied little smile on his face.
“Don’t be so smug. Aiyah, kids nowadays!” Wei Wuxian can’t help but roll his eyes. He truly invited a little devil into his house.
Wei Wuxian is the first to slip into the bed, rolling to one edge to give room besides himself for Lan Zhan. However, despite all his fuss, Lan Zhan goes to the window and looks outside.
“Are you coming?” Wei Wuxian yawns, the power of being in bed making his eyelids heavy.
Lan Zhan glances at him and then returns to look at the sky. He joins his hands together and murmurs “Good night, Mama.”
Wei Wuxian stares at the scene, his heart in his throat. A wave of adoration washes over him as Lan Zhan trots over to the bed and quickly climbs in it like he hasn’t just done the most lovely thing. In the fewest movements possible, Lan Zhan lies on his back perfectly still, pulls the covers over him and closes his eyes.
Wei Wuxian snorts fondly and arranges himself under the covers as well. He wriggles towards the form next to him and attacks Lan Zhan in a flurry of tickles.
Lan Zhan cries out, throwing his hands to force Wei Wuxian to stop, but Wei Wuxian has him trapped between his arms. When he feels like it’s enough, he ends his teasing but stays in the position where he’s on his side with Lan Zhan against his heart.
“Good night, A-Zhan,” he sings, all warm and satisfied.
Lan Zhan doesn’t his predicament anymore and relaxes in Wei Wuxian’s embrace. He makes himself more comfortable and gives out a little content sigh. The sound is exceptionally loud in the peacefulness of the night.
“Good night, Ying-gege.”
Wei Wuxian stirs awake, his mind coming out of its dark comfort. It’s a slow process as Wei Wuxian relishes in the warmth surrounding him. He stretches, smacks his lips, hums so loudly that it could be mistaken for a purr, but he still isn’t ready to open his eyes.
More and more aware of the outside world, Wei Wuxian understands that he’s lying on his side, secured in someone's arms. He feels safe in them and against that broad chest. It doesn’t help him want to wake up. Unfortunately, his companion’s desire doesn’t align with his.
Wei Wuxian feels his face be peppered by little fleeting kisses. He doesn’t mind them at first, but they are becoming quite insistent. It’s like being attacked by the chirping of relentless morning birds.
“Mmh, A-Zhan, I’m not a dumpling!” Wei Wuxian whines, words slurred, and then nuzzles at his husband. Suddenly, it’s not a kiss that lands on Wei Wuxian’s cheek, but a nibble.
Wei Wuxian shouts and opens his eyes. Lan Wangji is looking back at him with a blank face, but Wei Wuxian finds his breath taken away by the softness of his features and the gentle smile on his lips. Though, he also doesn’t miss the spark of mischief in his clear eyes.
To avenge himself, Wei Wuxian pinches his husband’s hip and starts to tickle him, but Lan Wangji traps his arms in his embrace and rolls over. Now on top of his husband, Wei Wuxian protests loudly and tries to wriggle free, but it’s to no avail. He’s too tired for that and goes limp. Lan Wangji radiates with satisfaction under the morning light. He never stops looking at Wei Wuxian, admiring him like he’s the most beautiful thing in the world. Wei Wuxian should be used to it, but there’s still heat creeping at the nape of his neck where Lan Wangji is lazily petting. His finger rolls around his baby hair without tugging too harshly.
Accepting his fate, Wei Wuxian blinks slowly. “Lan Zhan, how are you still in bed at this hour?”
“I wished to stay with you a little longer,” Lan Wangji answers without hesitation in a very low voice. It’s not the first time that he’s done this, but the sweetness of those words is too much and forces Wei Wuxian to hide his face on his husband’s torso.
“I’m not complaining,” he mumbles and makes himself comfortable in his husband’s arms. Lan Wangji loosens his grip and Wei Wuxian is free to play with the other’s hair as well.
They stay like this in pleasant silence, caressing each other’s hair and smiling like everything is fine in the world as long as they are together.
Little by little, Wei Wuxian recalls the dream they shared. He wasn’t truly himself at the time, but now everything that happened comes back to his mind. Considering the unusual atmosphere of this morning and Lan Wangji’s behaviour, they likely shared the same experience.
“Lan Zhan, that was something, right?” he smiles. Lan Wangji hums and smiles back, confirming Wei Wuxian’s idea. “How do you feel?”
Lan Wangji leans forward and presses a kiss to Wei Wuxian’s forehead. “Loved,” he says, his breath tickling Wei Wuxian’s skin.
“Sappy!” Wei Wuxian snorts, but it’s just a façade. He feels the same, and can’t help but widen his smile and lovingly take Lan Wangji’s head between his hands. This time, he guides him to press his lips on his own and Lan Wangji is happy to indulge, slowly but very intently deepening the kiss.
When they part to breathe, Wei Wuxian licks his lips and smiles dumbly. “Will you call me gege again?” He snickers and knows that Lan Wangji wants nothing but to roll his eyes at him.
However, Lan Wangji leans forward to whisper, “Ying-gege”, to Wei Wuxian who chokes on nothing. “Would you like potato stir fry? I just learned a recipe.”
Wei Wuxian takes his time to process those words said in this tone, from thirty-year-old Lan Wangji whose stunning face is slack with content and whose love drips from his entire being—
“Let me help you!” Wei Wuxian beams.
Later, junior Lan Disciples find their Senior Wei and Hanguang-jun peeling potatoes in the kitchen. They are invited to join them and the quarters are quickly filled with diligent workers and their happy chatters.
They all share a wonderful lunch together, forgetting a moment about the rule to not talk while eating, and favouring being whole like a family.