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and when you go (like summer gives to the rain)

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“I am sorry,” Lan Wangji says while he helps his date into his coat, “but I’d prefer if we were not to meet again. I apologise for wasting your time.”

His date - a young man with dark brown hair and hazel eyes, looks at him with a beatific smile.

“It’s fine; I had a nice evening. No harm done. I hope you’ll find someone eventually!”

Lan Wangji nods politely, as one does, and wishes his date all the best. He’s a decent man; Lan Wangji genuinely hopes the future will have only good things in store for him. 

Still in thought, he makes his way home. Once he arrives at his apartment, Lan Wangji texts his brother to let him know he got home safe, and to ask how Sizhui is doing. Lan Xichen sends him a photograph of the sleeping child, his favourite rabbit plush pressed against his chest. Lan Wangji looks at it, feeling the corners of his mouth curl up into a smile.

Lan Wangji has been fostering Sizhui for a while now. He loves this child more than anything, and he was planning on fully adopting him...but lately, he’s been plagued by doubts. He wonders if he’ll ever be able to be the parent Sizhui deserves, or if there is anyone out there who would be more worthy of the love this boy bestows so openly and unconditionally.

Xichen says it’s normal - parents do doubt themselves. Wen Qing says she couldn’t imagine a better father for Sizhui than Lan Wangji, especially since he includes the boy’s biological family in almost everything they do. He was their first choice, after all, when the corruption scandal around Wen Ruohan’s business blew up, the Wen family broke apart, Popo died, and Wen Qing was left alone looking after her own younger brother while also wrangling shifts at the hospital. 

Lan Wangji had known Wen Qing from university; he knew she would never have asked if the situation didn’t call for it. He was fast to agree as he always liked children. Lan Wangji had toyed with the idea of raising a child, even without a partner. Now, however, he wonders if he should have thought it over more thoroughly.

Lan Wangji thinks of his parents, how quickly the love between them turned bad. He thinks of his father’s non-existent love for his sons, and his mother’s all-encompassing love for her children — a love that left such a gaping hole in Lan Wangji’s heart when he lost her that he wonders if the pain will ever fade.

He looks at his uncle, who had to take care of his nephews at a very young age because love ruined his older brother and turned him into a parent even though he never wanted to be one. 

He looks at his brother, always with a small smile on his face, and can’t help but notice how it doesn’t reach Lan Xichen’s eyes, not since the thing he had with Meng Yao went sour. He thinks of how Lan Xichen would do anything for his family, even if it wound up hurting him.

He thinks of his teen years, when he was still in high school, and recalls a brilliant smile and sparkling eyes that disappeared as quickly as storm clouds swallow up sunlight.

The truth is: he’s afraid. For Lan Wangji, love of any kind has always been linked to grief and heartbreak. Looking back at his life so far, he wonders if he’s one of those people who are simply unfit to love, or be loved because every time he allows himself to love? It ends in disaster. He's afraid that, by loving Sizhui, he’ll somehow end up hurting him more than necessary. He only wants the best for him; he doesn’t know if what he has to offer the child is enough.

“How was your date?” Lan Xichen asks the next morning, pouring tea for both of them. 

Lan Wangji sighs. He prefers to take his meals in silence, but he knows that once his brother’s curiosity is piqued, there’s no avoiding his questions. Besides, the “no talking during meals” rule was the first one Lan Xichen disregarded as soon as he moved out of their childhood home.

“I’m afraid I wasted the man’s time,” Lan Wangji replies. “You have to stop setting me up on dates, Brother.”

“I worry for you,” Lan Xichen says softly. “You seem...lonely to me. You go out so rarely these days, even less than you used to, and I - look. Even if nothing romantic was to come from it, maybe it will get you a friend or two.”

Lan Wangji levels him with a look. “I do have friends.” 

He has two, exactly, maybe even three: Wen Qing, Luo Qingyang, who he knows from his high school days, and Wen Ning, Wen Qing’s brother, who he’s not sure counts as a friend.
(They’re friendly, but Wen Ning seems shy around him. Lan Wangji knows that he can appear intimidating to others; he doesn’t blame the boy.)

“I’d say they are more family than friends, by now,” Lan Xichen argues while placing another scallion pancake onto Lan Wangji’s plate. “Getting to know more people would do you good, I’m sure.”

Lan Wangji takes a sip of his tea. “I know you mean well, Brother, but I am fine as is, thank you very much.”

“Baba, Bobo, help me with my socks, please?” a small voice calls from the guest bedroom.

Sizhui had insisted on picking his own clothes and dressing himself without the help of a grown-up. While he looks decent, Lan Wangji thinks he could use a bit more practice in the slipping-on-socks business.

They finish getting him ready together and get on with breakfast. Lan Xichen doesn’t broach the topic again until Sizhui is off to get his coat and his backpack.

“I just want you to be happy”, Lan Xichen says softly. “And I think Sizhui would benefit too from getting to know more people, especially if those are people his father likes. Who knows, maybe you’ll be lucky and find a second parent for hi-”

“Sizhui has a father!” Lan Wangji hears himself snap. His voice comes out colder than he had planned to. “We get by very well on our own. Or did you also pressure Shufu into finding a spouse back when he took us in?”

He sees how Lan Xichen flinches and immediately regrets his words. Before he can say anything, a tiny hand clutches at his own.

“We go to playschool now, Baba?” Sizhui wants to know. 

“Yes,” Lan Wangji replies, and then, without looking at his brother, says “Have a good day,” and exits the flat.

Lan Wangji still thinks of that conversation as he makes his way from Sizhui’s playschool to his office, his briefcase in one hand, the tote bag with Sizhui’s overnight clothes slung over his shoulder. He didn’t mean to be so icy towards his brother, and he knows his outburst was uncalled for. He understands that Xichen means well, that he only wants the best for his baby brother. Still, Lan Wangji cannot shake the feeling that Lan Xichen is overstepping. He wishes he would leave him be when it comes to social interactions, friends, and potential love interests, especially given his own less than successful romantic history.

Lan Wangji winces at his own thoughts. Now you’re being unfair, he scolds himself. He waits for the pedestrian light to turn green. He crosses the road, mind still clouded by thoughts.

He doesn’t notice the car that comes speeding towards him, registering the squealing of tires just a second too late as the driver frantically tries to get his brakes to work.

The last thing Lan Wangji hears is the sound of the car hood barrelling into him, the loud thud of his head hitting the asphalt.

Then his world goes black.

 

***

 

A-Yuan is confused. He doesn’t know where his baba went, and now his bobo is gone too.

A-Yuan knows that he is in a hospital. He knows that this is where people go when they are sick or injured - so sick or injured that a doctor alone cannot help anymore.

Xichen-bobo was fine when he picked him up early from playschool, but he was pale, and his hands were shaking. He tried to smile, but A-Yuan could see that he was not happy. 

But Xichen-bobo was fine, took him to the hospital, and Baba wasn’t there. That means something must have happened to Baba.

And now he’s alone in this big room with all these chairs and a low table with newspapers and magazines on it and the old auntie that was there with him just left, and Xichen-bobo said he was going to look after Baba and told him to wait. And A-Yuan is a good boy, and -

No, not A-Yuan. Sizhui. That’s how Baba calls him. Qing-gugu and Ning-shushu still call him “A-Yuan” from time to time, but “Yuan” is now his second name.

Sizhui is a good boy, so he waits. But he is afraid, and he doesn’t know what’s going on. He promised to be good and strong, yet he cannot hold back the tears that well up in his eyes and run down his face. His Baba has told him not to hide his emotions, that crying when he is upset is good, but he promised to be strong…

He wipes at his eyes and sniffles, then looks around to see if Xichen-bobo or Baba are coming back. 

But all he sees is...a rabbit.

It must be a very tall rabbit since its head is up as high as Sizhui is tall. It peeks around the corner of the wall at him and makes a questioning sound. Sizhui is aware that it’s a hand puppet, but he loves hand puppets, and he loves bunnies. He’s instantly fascinated by it.

“Is there someone sad in here?” the rabbit says.

Sizhui sniffles.

“My friend is here at the hospital to help children who are sad. Can he come in?” the rabbit asks.

Sizhui looks up to the nurse behind the counter, who has been looking after him. Xichen-bobo told him to ask her for help if he needed anything, and Baba told him not to talk to strangers. She looks up, sees the hand puppet, smiles, and nods at Sizhui. It’s someone she knows, then, and who will be good to him.

“Mm-h-mm,” he says.

From around the corner emerges a man. He’s almost as tall as his Baba, and he has pretty eyes. He also has dark hair, just like his Baba, but it’s not as long, and he has it tied up into some kind of weird hairball held back by what looks like a red scrunchie. He’s wearing a white coat like the doctors and nurses, but the nameplate on the coat is very colourful, with little stars on it. Sizhui cannot read the name on it yet.

The man comes in and sits down on the chair right next to Sizhui.

“Hello,” he says. “I’m Wei Wuxian, but you can call me Xian-gege if you’d like. And this” - the man lifts the puppet and makes it wave its tiny paws at him - “is my best friend Bunbun.”

“Hello Bunbun,” Sizhui says shyly. “Hello, Xian-gege. My name is Sizhui.”

Xian-gege smiles at him. It’s a nice smile. It feels warm.

“Do you know what my job here at the hospital is?” Xian-gege asks him. Sizhui shakes his head.

“Well, if children are here, that’s because either they need to see a doctor, or they’re visiting someone,” Xian-gege says. “And hospitals can be scary, with how big they are, and how many people are here. So I am here to look after the children in the waiting rooms. I tell them stories or play with them, so they’re less scared. Would you like me to stay with you for a bit?”

Sizhui gives it some thought. In the end, he nods. Xian-gege seems nice, and he thinks it’s better than to wait alone.

“I have a book Baba often reads to me,” he tells Xian-gege in a quiet voice. “It’s also about a bunny.”

Xian-gege smiles again. “Does your baba like bunnies? When I was younger, I used to have a friend who also really liked them. Would you like me to read to you from that book?”

Sizhui nods, taking the book out of his playschool backpack. Xian-gege lifts him onto his lap so they can both look at the pictures. It’s not the same as when his baba reads to him, but Sizhui really likes the voices Xian-gege makes and the way he uses Bunbun to act out the little bunny’s adventures from the book.

“Xian-gege,” Sizhui asks after a while, “my bobo went to talk with the doctors. Do you think he will come back soon?”

“Hmmm,” Xian-gege goes, “I don’t really know. Doctors are busy, and sometimes there’s a lot to talk about, and things can be difficult to explain, so it takes a while. That doesn’t mean something bad has happened. It’s just our bodies are complicated, so it’s not always easy to figure out what’s going on, you know?”

That makes sense, Sizhui decides, so he nods. 

“I’m sure he will be there soon,” Xian-gege says. “Are you thirsty? Or hungry? I can get you a drink or something to eat in the meantime.”

“I have apple juice and snacks,” Sizhui informs him while reaching for his backpack again. “Can Xian-gege help, please?”

“Of course I can,” Xian-gege replies. He prepares Sizhui’s juice box for him and helps him with his snack. Today there are fruit and vegetables cut into animal shapes. He loves the snacks Baba prepares him so much.

Sizhui observes how Xian-gege scoots up a chair and gets everything ready on the chair between them, basically using it as a makeshift table. Xian-gege’s very nice, Sizhui decides. He likes him very much.

After he has his snack, Sizhui grows tired. In playschool or at home, they would nap now, but he doesn’t want to sleep. What if Baba or Xichen-bobo comes back and he misses it because he’s asleep?

“Don’t worry. I will stay with you until your bobo or your baba return, and then I will wake you,” Xian-gege says. 

“Promise?” Sizhui asks him with big eyes.

Xian-gege raises three fingers to his face. “Promise!” he says.

So Sizhui climbs back onto Xian-gege’s lap and snuggles up to him. He’s warm, like Baba. He holds him tight, almost like Baba holds him.

Sizhui drifts off and dreams of rabbits.

 

***

 

Wei Wuxian looks at the sleeping child in his arms and sighs.

He loves his job, he really does. There’s nothing more joyful to him than to be able to make a kid in distress smile, to make them forget their worries for just a moment. God knows he would have needed someone to do that for him sometimes while he was a kid, and for a fleeting moment, he thought he had found his someone back when he was a teen...but then he had to go and ruin it.

Ah well. Better not to dwell on old times.

Sizhui is sleeping soundly, one tiny fist resting near his mouth. Wei Wuxian suspects that it might be a  remnant from when he used to suck his thumb to fall asleep. The image fills his heart with fondness. He carefully cards his hand through the child’s hair to keep his fringe away from his eyes.

The front desk nurse had paged him to come to the waiting room. He knows Sizhui had tried to keep quiet - a surprisingly large number of children do, he finds - but he’d heard the boy’s cries nonetheless, and his heart had broken for him. He hopes that whoever Sizhui’s here for will be fine soon.

They sit there in silence for a while, with Wei Wuxian gently rocking Sizhui back and forth, when he hears footsteps approaching, and a familiar voice calls: “Sizhui, come, it’s time to go home-”

Wei Wuxian freezes in his chair, the little boy still tightly in his arms, looking at the man like a deer caught in headlights.

“Lan Xichen,” he says, his voice full of surprise. He gets up, places the sleeping Sizhui onto two chairs so he can continue to rest for a bit before straightening and bowing in greeting.

“Wei Wuxian,” Lan Xichen replies, no less surprised, mirroring the bow. “I was not expecting to see you here.”

“Likewise,” Wei Wuxian replies. There’s a lump in his throat; he can feel his hands become sweaty. “I do volunteer work here in my free time. I read to the children in the waiting rooms and play with them to keep their anxiety down. Sometimes I even do literacy training with children who are here as stationary patients.”

Wei Wuxian swallows hard. “Can I get you a coffee or a tea?”

Lan Xichen stares at him as if he’s deciding what to make of him. He runs a hand across his face, and Wei Wuxian can see the exhaustion making itself known in his features. 

“I’d really appreciate a coffee, thank you,” Lan Xichen says, and it’s all Wei Wuxian needs to know his current state of mind. As far as he recalls, coffee was always an emergencies-only drink for Lan Xichen.

When Wei Wuxian comes back with a styrofoam cup and a few extra portions of sugar and creamer, he finds Lan Xichen sitting on one of the chairs observing the sleeping Sizhui. He sits down next to him, hands him the cup, and waits for him to take a sip.

“I know it’s not my place to ask, and you don’t have to tell me anything,” Wei Wuxian begins. He fidgets with one of the buttons on his white coat. “But...is - is everything going to be okay? Your uncle…?”

Lan Xichen sighs and shakes his head. “No. Wangji.”

Wei Wuxian can feel the colour draining from his face. “Lan Zhan…?” he asks. His voice comes out as just a whisper, or maybe he can’t hear himself speak over the ringing in his ears. He feels as if he’s going to faint.

“He was hit by a car this morning,” Lan Xichen goes on. “There’s...doctors say there's a risk of swelling in his brain because of the trauma, so they put him in a medically induced coma to reduce the electrical activity within the brain, or something like that, I don’t even know. I just know that it should last for a few days only before they wake him up.”

Wei Wuxian lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. “Yeah, that’s...I hear they do that to help the body heal. Did they talk about...I don’t know, using steroids or draining fluid first?”

Lan Xichen nods. “They did, but for some reason, this coma seems safer in Wangji’s case. I guess I’ll just have to trust them.”

He looks over at Sizhui. “I don't have the heart to take him to see Wangji. I’m not sure if it would be good for the boy to see his father like this without talking to him first.”

“He’s Lan Zhan’s son?” Wei Wuxian hears himself ask. He knows he has no right to know this. He left Lan Wangji’s life years ago; it shouldn’t be of his concern. And yet...Lan Wangji has a child now? Is he married? Why is his partner not here, then?

“Wangji is fostering him,” Lan Xichen explains, “but as far as I know he plans on adopting him fully. He’s related to university friends who were struck by a family tragedy and were unable to look after him. They still visit Sizhui as often as they can.”

Lan Xichen glances at him. “He’s single if that’s what you wish to know.”

Wei Wuxian grimaces. “I know it’s not my place to ask.”

“You’re correct,” Lan Xichen answers dryly.

Wei Wuxian stares at his fingers and swallows again. Next to him, Lan Xichen sighs.

“I apologise, that was uncalled for. It’s only natural for you to be curious.” He looks at Wei Wuxian with an apologetic smile. “It’s been years; I should not dwell on the past.”

Wei Wuxian turns to say something when his pager goes off. He takes a look at it. “Ah, sorry, I gotta go. Apparently, there’s a meltdown happening in one of the other waiting rooms, and I’m the only volunteer on shift today for the kids.” 

He fishes a piece of paper and a pen out of his coat pockets and scribbles his phone number onto it. “Listen, I know things have been difficult, and it’s really not my place, but still - if you need something? This is my number for work-related stuff. Please don’t hesitate to give me a call. I mean it.  Oh, and -”

He reaches for the rabbit hand puppet and hands it to Lan Xichen alongside his number. “Sizhui liked Bunbun so much; he can borrow him for comfort until Lan Zhan is better.”

Lan Xichen stares at the puppet and the scrap piece of paper in his hand, swallows, and says: “Thank you.”

 

***



When Wei Wuxian’s shift finally ends, he feels too drained to drive himself home. He leaves his car in the hospital parking lot and takes the subway home instead. He’ll just have to wake up early enough to make it to work on time the next day, and he’ll be fine.

He enters his apartment, kicks off his shoes, and reheats some noodles. They taste like wet cardboard, even with an unhealthy amount of chili oil dumped onto them. 

He undresses and enters the shower, washes his hair.  He lets the water beat down onto his back, almost too hot to bear.

And just like that Wei Wuxian stumbles back into the tiled shower wall. He slides down onto the floor of the stall where he curls up into a ball and cries.

Maybe this is his punishment for leaving Lan Wangji behind, back when they were teenagers. For disappearing on him, without a warning, without a trace, and breaking his heart in the process. 

He was barely seventeen when everything collapsed around him when he’d hung out with the wrong people too often and Madam Yu finally had enough and kicked him out. He knew he could have trusted Lan Wangji. Lan Zhan, with the heart of a lion and soul of a poet, who had taken so long to warm up to him, but was fierce in his affection and loyalty, who had always stood by Wei Wuxian’s side, no matter what trouble he had gotten himself into.

His lovely Lan Zhan, who had kissed him so shyly, so softly, so tenderly, that evening by the lake, just mere hours before everything blew up on Wei Wuxian. He was convinced Lan Wangji would lead a better life without him in it and left without a word of goodbye.

Wei Wuxian knew he could have trusted Lan Wangji, that he probably should have gone to him for help. That night, however, when he packed his bags and took the last bit of money he still had saved up in his piggy bank to leave home for good, he was convinced that if he did go to Lan Wangji, he would only drag him down, too. He couldn’t bear that thought. 

Lan Wangji would get over him, Wei Wuxian told himself back then. People always did. Lan Wangji had a loving family and the world at his feet; one day, he’d be happy again without Wei Wuxian.

He’d always hoped to see Lan Wangji again, by chance maybe, even if he had been too much of a coward to go looking for him. He’d hoped to find him happy and healthy, loved and content with where he was in life.

Instead, Wei Wuxian nearly lost him.

The water has long gone cold when Wei Wuxian sheds the last of his tears. Eventually, he composes himself, rubbing his body vigorously to bring warmth back into his bones. When he’s dressed, he looks at the sorry excuse for noodles that are still sitting on his kitchen table and tosses them. He knows he should eat something, so he takes a Tupperware container with his sister’s soup out of the freezer and defrosts it in his microwave before heating it up.

At least Jiang Yanli and he are talking again, after all those years. Wei Wuxian loves his sister dearly, and she adores him, always has. Their relationship will never be as it was before he left, but he is glad to have her back in his life. He considers calling her but decides against it. She has enough stress already with the baby on the way, and he doesn’t want to bother her.

He debates calling Jiang Cheng, but, well - their relationship is still very strained. Wei Wuxian missed Jiang Cheng while he was gone, and he knows deep down they still adore each other. There’s just so much built-up anger and hurt lingering between them. that they need to work through before being able to lean into their brotherly bond again. Wei Wuxian isn’t sure Jiang Cheng would have the patience to deal with his issues right now, anyway.

Huaisang, his closest friend, has enrolled in a university program for fashion design and is currently spending his year abroad; if Wei Wuxian was to call him now, he’d probably catch him before it’s even time for Huaisang to get up, so he refrains from that, as well.

He eats his soup and leafs through his work schedule for the next day when his phone buzzes.

 

 

[Unknown Number]
Wei Wuxian? This is Lan Xichen. Would it be fine if I called you for just a minute?

 

 

Wei Wuxian stares at his phone display. He had not expected Lan Xichen to take him up on his offer. Still, he affirms he has time, and, not thirty seconds later, his phone rings.

“I apologise for disturbing you at this time of day,” Lan Xichen begins, “I just had a lot of thinking to do, and - if I’m being honest, I needed to gather some courage first before calling you.”

Wei Wuxian is quick to wave him off. “It’s still pretty early by my standards, that hasn’t changed much. Besides, I told you to call me for whatever reason, and I’m glad you did...so, thank you. What can I do for you?”

Lan Xichen sighs, and Wei Wuxian can picture him rubbing his forehead in frustration and exhaustion. “What do you know about coma patients and their awareness of their surroundings?” he asks.

“Oh. Um.” Wei Wuxian sits up straight. “Like, I’m obviously not a trained doctor, but I know that some patients can hear footsteps around them and register music or when people talk to them. Apparently, it’s even more common with patients who have been put in a coma, rather than with those who have slipped into one by themselves.”

He can hear Lan Xichen make an affirmative noise. “I have been advised to talk to Wangji,” he says, “but -”

Again, a deep sigh.

“We had a fight, a few hours before the accident,” Lan Xichen confesses. “I have been worried about him lately, and have tried to...well. I guess help him? I am not sure if I was that helpful, in the end. I might have been too nosy and pushy this time. I’m afraid the accident may have been my fault.”

“I don’t believe that,” Wei Wuxian says. “Listen, I don’t know what happened between you two, and I don’t know what exactly went down with the accident, but you couldn’t possibly have known that this was going to happen. I know you would never wish harm on your family. Don’t beat yourself up over it.”

Lan Xichen is silent for a while, and Wei Wuxian takes the cue.“You’re afraid of talking to Lan Zhan, aren’t you?” he gently asks. “That he might not want to hear you, right?”

“I’ve tried, “Lan Xichen replies, and it sounds so sorrowful that Wei Wuxian’s heart constricts. “Right before I came to pick up Sizhui. I’ve tried talking to him, but the words just wouldn’t leave my mouth. Isn’t that laughable? I promised to always be there for him, and here I am, too much of a coward to -”

“I’m gonna stop you right there,” Wei Wuxian cuts him off. He knows the Lans think it’s rude to interject, but he feels it’s necessary to prevent Lan Xichen from ever finishing that sentence. “I know you two having a fight right before the accident is unfortunate, but you’re aware this could very well be a trauma response from your side? It has nothing to do with cowardice, and it’s nothing to be ashamed about. Your brother loves you; he’s intelligent. I’m sure he’ll be more than understanding of your situation once he wakes up.”

“Probably,” Lan Xichen sighs again and clears his throat. It seems like all he does is sigh, and Wei Wuxian can’t blame him for it.

“You...you said I could call you for any reason,” Lan Xichen says, almost hesitantly. “Does that offer still stand?”

“Absolutely.”

“Well then. Would you be willing to do me a huge favour? I know it’s been years since we’ve talked, and I was rude to you this morning, so -”

“Pfffft, don’t worry about it. Now please, tell me.”

So Xichen asks about his volunteer work at the hospital, asking him if he would be willing to read to Lan Wangji on his behalf.

Wei Wuxian is, quite frankly, flabbergasted.

“I do not know the details about what happened between you and Wangji back then,” Lan Xichen explains, “I just saw how heartbroken he was, and, naturally, I was angry on his behalf. But, it’s been years, and in all this time Wangji has never spoken a bad word about you or even allowed anyone else to say anything bad about you. So I figured, because he knows you, and knows your voice... I wouldn’t trust a stranger with this task.”

Wei Wuxian swallows. Lan Xichen must hear it because he’s quick to clarify that he would totally understand if Wei Wuxian was to decline, but –

“No no no no, I – that’s not it,” Wei Wuxian splutters. “I actually really would love to do this for you, but, uh,  with Lan Zhan being in the ICU and me not being a family member…yeah, that’s usually not allowed. You’d have to ask the Head of the Department. I can give you his email address and phone number, so you could ask them if they’d make an exception in this case?” 

Lan Xichen exhales. “Please do so. I would be most grateful.”

They talk for a while longer. Wei Wuxian asks how Sizhui is doing; Lan Xichen tells him that he insisted on taking Bunbun to bed with him. They exchange pleasantries and end the call. Wei Wuxian texts Lan Xichen the required number and email address.

He doesn’t sleep well, but as soon as his phone dings and notifies him of a special meeting the following morning, Wei Wuxian is wide awake.

He’s wide awake when Lan Xichen signs the papers giving Wei Wuxian permission to visit Lan Wangji and talk to him.

Wei Wuxian certainly feels like he’s going to pass out when, all masked up with protective gloves and an extra gown on top of his lab coat, he stands in front of Lan Wangji’s bed.

Even like this, pale, with a stitched-up wound on his forehead and tubes taped to his cheek, Lan Wangji looks beautiful.

Wei Wuxian sits down, blinks away the tears that threaten to spill from his eyes, takes a deep breath, and says:

“Hello, Lan Zhan. It’s been a while.”

 

Chapter Text

Lan Wangji is floating. He briefly wonders if he’s underwater, swimming through one of the Gusu lakes he used to swim in as a child. When he stretches out his fingers, he doesn’t feel the drag of the water. Confused, he opens his eyes and is greeted by nothing but darkness.

He blinks. The next thing he knows, he is standing in front of the doors to his mother’s living quarters. He remembers the hallway with the big decorative vase at its very end so well. He still knows every light switch, every scratch on the walls from where they moved furniture and bumped against it. He recalls the smell.

He doesn’t question how he switched from his previous floating position to this precise location, which oddly confuses him even more. Shouldn’t he be at least a bit concerned?

All he feels is a weird sense of peace and an underlying current of sadness.

He knows his mother’s rooms should be empty, yet he sees light shining faintly from under the door. He can also hear voices. They’re faint, but he neither recognises them nor understands a word of what is being said.

Lan Wangji knows that his mother won’t be, shouldn’t be behind that door, that it should be locked, and yet he reaches out and grabs the doorknob and turns it –

The door swings open, and there at the window, sits his mother. The sunlight frames her head in a halo of light; illuminated like that, she seems to glow. There’s a half-finished embroidery project sitting on the table in front of her, the blue flowers she’s been working on only barely coming to life on the stretched fabric. Lan Wangji doesn’t need to look closer to know that they’re gentians. They have always been his mother’s favourite flowers.

She turns to look at him. Her eyes are warm, her cheeks are rosy. Her smile is full of love.

“A-Zhan,” she calls, and her voice is more beautiful than a thousand symphonies. “How nice of you to visit me.”

Lan Wangji can’t breathe. He just stares at his mother. He knows she’s dead, he knows this can’t possibly be real, and yet he feels drawn to her like a moth attracted by a flame.

He crosses the threshold to his mother’s room, and suddenly he’s six years old, with plump cheeks and wide eyes and chubby fingers. He doesn’t understand why he’s no longer a grown man but a child again, and because he has the heart of a child, he runs as fast as his legs can carry him – he knows it’s forbidden! -, flings himself into his mother’s waiting arms, and weeps.

“Mama,” he hiccups while she scoops him up and puts him onto her lap. He immediately nuzzles close to her chest.

His mother cards her fingers through his hair, just like he remembers it. It was once one of his favourite ways to be physically touched. He doesn’t understand how he could ever forget how good it felt.

“My darling A-Zhan,” his mother says in her soothing voice, rocking him back and forth. “Don’t cry, hmmm? I know you’re confused, but I promise, everything will be alright.”

Lan Wangji wipes his eyes. “M’scared,” he mumbles between sobs. “Dunno what’s happening.”

His mother smiles at him, all soft and warm and understanding. “You are sleeping,” she explains, “but it’s…a special kind of sleep. There has been an accident. You were injured, and this sleep is helping you to get well again. Don’t worry; you will be alright.”

She says it with such conviction that Lan Wangji doesn’t doubt her words for a second.

An accident. He doesn’t remember an accident. He faintly registers that he has a headache, and for some reason, he knows that the pain is much more severe than what he is currently experiencing. He tries to recall what kind of accident his mother might be referring to.

He’s an adult again. He’s sitting on the floor with his head pillowed on his mother’s lap. She’s still running her hands through his hair.

“I had a fight with Brother,” he tells her.

“I know,” she replies. “He’s afraid.”

Lan Wangji looks at her. “Afraid of what?”

“Afraid of losing you, little bunny,” she says and playfully boops his nose as if he still was a little child. “He loves you very much, and he is afraid that you will be slipping through his fingers and shy away from him by hiding away from everyone else.”

“He…wants me to do things I do not wish to do,” Lan Wangji begins. “I know he means well, but – Mama, what if I wish to be alone?”

His mother sighs. “I know that you like to be alone, but I do know that you hate to be lonely. Those are two different things. I know that people showing sympathy and affection scare you, and there really is no guarantee for an acquaintance, a friendship, or any kind of relationship really, to turn out successful. Look at your uncle and you and Huanhuan.”

Lan Wangji winces. “I don’t think that’s the best example you could give me, Mama.”

His mother actually chuckles. “Oh, I think it is. Your uncle always proclaimed that he was happy as a single man, that his extended family was enough for him, and that he didn’t need children of his own. And yet he took you in without a second thought. I don’t know if you’re even aware of it, but he wouldn’t let anyone else do it. He’s strict, and may appear cold and old-fashioned sometimes, but he loves fiercely, and he adores both of you. In the end, if he had to go back and decide anew if he was to take you in? There would be no hesitation.”

Lan Wangji thinks about those words. “Why would he do this, if by taking us in, he’d leave behind so many of the things he wanted for himself?” he asks.

“Because in doing so, he gained far more than he could have ever imagined,” his mother tells him. “You should know what that feels like. What a lovely grandson you gifted me with!”

Lan Wangji can feel a smile forming on his face. “He’s such a lovely child. I would do anything to make him happy.”

His mother smiles as she looks down at him. “That’s how your uncle feels about you, and that’s how Huanhuan feels about you too. If you were to sit down with your brother and calmly, openly, but also thoroughly tell him why you’d like him to stop setting you up with people, he would understand. His worry for you is just so big, that it needs a while for him to realise that he’s doing you more harm than good.”

She puts a finger under Lan Wangji’s chin and lifts his face so she can lock eyes with him.

“And that’s how Sizhui feels about you, too.”

“Mama, but…what if I cannot make him happy?” he asks, averting his gaze. “What if I cannot give him what he deserves?”

His mother cups her son’s face between her hands. “A-Zhan, my little bunny, the fact that you’re even asking those questions, that it is your utmost goal to provide in the best ways for your child, proves to me that you are absolutely fit to be his father.”

She rubs her thumbs over his cheekbones. “Right now, what he craves most in this world, is the love and care of his baba. Just be yourself, and you’ll do fine. If you are afraid of failing as a parent? We all are, it comes with the job. But as long as you love him, and listen to your heart, and listen to his heart as well, you will be fine. All will be well.”

Lan Wangji swallows past the lump that has formed in his throat.

“Mama, you’ve been gone for so long…how do you know all of this?”

His mother bends down and places a kiss on his forehead.

“Don’t you know, my Zhanzhan? I’m always with you. Now go back to sleep.”

 

***



Wei Wuxian closes the poetry book he’s been reading from. It’s suddenly so quiet in here, the silence only being disrupted by the beeping of the medical machinery placed around the hospital bed. It feels suffocating.

Wei Wuxian looks over at Lan Wangji, who’s still unconscious in his bed.

He looks so peaceful like that, as if he was truly asleep, having sweet dreams while his body recovers. If it weren’t for that hideous tube stuck to his face…Wei Wuxian wants to rip it off, to run his fingers through Lan Wangji’s hair and whisper sweet nothings to him until he wakes up…

He does none of that.

The awkwardness of the first day by Lan Wangji’s bedside has passed remarkably quickly.

Wei Wuxian had monologued for about twenty minutes about how he and Lan Xichen had met at the hospital, how he had agreed to talk to Lan Wangji while Lan Xichen recovers from the shock. He looks at the poetry book he had brought solely for reading from it to Lan Wangji. It’s a book Lan Wangji had gifted him when they were both sixteen.

“Those are my favourite poems,” he had told Wei Wuxian. “They make me happy. I wish to share them with you.”

Poetry is not Wei Wuxian’s forte, and phones or tablets are not allowed in the ICU for confidentiality reasons, so this book was his best bet.

He has to stop reading after ten minutes and leave the ICU.

One, because he wanted to limit his first visit to thirty minutes only, so as to not overwhelm Lan Wangji.

Two, because he can’t stop himself from crying. He can’t stop thinking about how Lan Wangji would read to him, at their spot by the lake, sitting in the shade under their favourite tree, Wei Wuxian’s head pillowed on Lan Wangji’s lap. He didn’t care much for poetry back then either, but Lan Wangji could have read him the phone book and he would have thanked him for it.

 

As Wei Wuxian makes his way to the cafeteria in search of coffee, still wiping at his eyes, he wonders if Lan Wangji truly hears them. Studies show that it’s very likely, and part of him hopes that he’s being heard, that it will help Lan Wangji on his road to recovery.

Another part of Wei Wuxian hopes that Lan Wangji won’t remember any of it, or at least, doesn’t recognise his voice. He doesn’t think he could take the look in Lan Wangji’s eyes when he sees his heart break all over again.

The coffee’s being handed to him, and Wei Wuxian chooses to drink it black, foregoing his usual sugar and creamer. He knows he’s being dramatic, and he needs the caffeine to help him clear his head.

This isn’t about you , he reminds himself. This is about Lan Zhan and his wellbeing. Get it together.

 

***

 

Baba is sleeping.

Xian-gege says it’s a special kind of sleep, one that’s meant to make him feel better. He cannot wake up until the doctors are very sure that he’s not hurt anymore.

Sizhui realises a few things:

Firstly, if Baba won’t wake up, no matter how much Sizhui calls for him, then it might be better not to try. Xian-gege says he can talk to him, that Baba will hear him, but he will not ask him to wake up. He can do this. He knows he can.

Secondly, if Baba needs to be in such a sleep to get better, then something had to be very very wrong with him in the first place.

Sizhui can’t hide his sniffles. Xian-gege’s hand is soothing on his head. A bit like Baba’s.

“I know it’s hard,” he tells him. “But you’re a big boy, aren’t you?”

Sizhui nods.

“And you promised your bobo to be brave, and not to cry too much, hm?” Xian-gege asks him. “Remember, you are still allowed to cry. It’s only normal for you to miss your baba.”

Sizhui swallows. He knows Xichen-bobo doesn’t really want him to see Baba, because he thinks it will make him sad. Xichen-bobo is right, but Sizhui knows that he’ll be even sadder if he doesn’t get to see his Baba at all. So he pleaded and pleaded, until Xichen-bobo said: “Only this once.”

Besides, Xian-gege is there if he gets too sad. He isn’t alone. He can do this.

Sizhui tries to adjust the ties of his mask by himself, but after a while, he gives up and looks at Xian-gege with big eyes. Xian-gege crouches down and helps him with the mask, with the small gloves and the protective hospital gown.

“They didn’t have one with bunnies on it,” Xian-gege says, his voice only a tiny bit muffled by his mask. “I hope dinosaurs are okay too.” He holds out a hand. “Are you ready to say hello to your baba?”

Sizhui takes a deep breath, takes Xian-gege’s hand, and nods.

Like every hospital room, this one is white too, but to Sizhui, it looks almost scaringly white. There are big machines that blink and make a lot of beeping noises, a window with blinds, and a bed with two chairs sitting next to it.

On the bed, his eyes closed, there’s Baba. There’s a tube taped to his cheek with what looks like bandaids, and one coming out of his arm. It looks…creepy, but Baba looks peaceful, just like he does when Sizhui wakes up very early and crawls into Baba’s bed for cuddles.

On instinct, he squeezes Xian-geges hand tighter. Xian-gege sits down and lifts him onto his lap. Sizhui looks up at him, unsure of what it all means.

“You don’t have to be afraid,” Xian-gege says. “The machines are there to make sure everything is okay with your baba while he’s asleep. The tube on his face helps him breathe, just to be safe, and the other one makes sure he gets all of the good things that our bodies get when we eat and drink since you can’t do that while you’re sleeping.”

Sizhui thinks he understands and looks back to his baba. He knows that he won’t wake up, that the doctors will decide whenever the right time comes, but still, he can’t help it –

“…Baba…?” he calls, hesitantly. His voice comes out wobbly and small.

Xian-gege caresses his back. It feels good. “You can talk to him,” he says. “He can hear you; I promise. Maybe he won’t be able to remember everything when he wakes up, but he can hear you now. Talk to him. Why don’t you tell him about your day at playschool? I’m sure he’d like that.”

So Sizhui tells his baba about how they have been painting a lot lately, and how he painted a rabbit for Baba, but he hopes that Baba won’t remember what he told him, because it’s meant as a surprise. He tells him how his friend Jingyi showed him how to make a chain out of flowers, and that he wants to make one that Baba can wear in his hair or on his head when he wakes up. He tells him that Xichen-bobo says that they can all go to the park together and have a picnic when Baba wakes up, and he hopes Baba has not too much work and has time to go, and can Xian-gege come too? That would be so much fun.

Xian-gege’s hand stops caressing his back. Sizhui looks up at him. “That would be fun, right, Xian-gege?” he asks expectantly.

“It would be,” Xian-gege says, “but I’m not sure if it would be a good idea.”

“Why not?” Sizhui wants to know.

Xian-gege sighs. He looks sad. Sizhui doesn’t like it.

“Do you remember, when you and I first met and I had Bunbun with me, how I told you that I used to have a friend who also really liked bunnies?” Xian-gege asks.

Sizhui nods.

“Well, I didn’t know it back then, but – “ Xian-gege shuffles in his seat. “That friend and your baba are the same person. We went to school together, but – I did bad things, and I made your baba really sad.”

“But Xian-gege, if you made Baba sad, you have to come with us to the park and say sorry!” Sizhui doesn’t understand why this is such a difficult concept for some people.

Xian-gege seems to think about it. “Yeah, maybe I need to do that,” he says. “But, you know, I think it would be better if I did that when I’m alone with your baba.”

Sizhui looks at his baba, then looks up at Xian-gege. He doesn’t understand adults, but he supposes that Xian-gege is right.

“Do you wanna listen while I read a bit to your baba?” Xian-gege asks. Sizhui nods and leans back against Xian-gege’s chest. He likes it when Xian-gege reads. He has a nice voice, and he likes the way he can feel Xian-gege’s voice in his chest when cuddles close to him.

Just like he can feel Baba’s voice when they cuddle.

Sizhui misses his baba. He’s right there, in front of him. He can see him, and when he reaches out, he can touch him…but Sizhui misses him so much. He hiccups, but he’s a good boy. He won’t cry. He closes his eyes and can feel himself slip away. It must be nap time already, then.

The last thing Sizhui notices before he falls asleep is how Xian-gege picks him up and lays him down next to his baba. He reaches out and grabs a fistful of Baba’s hair. Xian-gege sits next to them, caressing circles onto his back.

 It is then that Sizhui knows, with a deep sense of security, that all will be well.

 

***



“Lan Zhan!”

It’s a cloudy day at the lake. Lan Wangji is seventeen years old and in love. He turns to see the object of his affections run towards him, ponytail swaying, red ribbon trailing behind him, the brightest smile in the world on his face.

The clouds disappear. Sunrays kiss his skin. Lan Wangji’s heart sings.

“Wei Ying,” he breathes and opens his arms.

Wei Wuxian crashes into him, laughing brightly.

“There you are, Lan Zhan! I’ve been looking for you; where were you hiding?”

Lan Wangji nuzzles into Wei Wuxian’s face. It feels like coming home. „I’ve been waiting for you, Wei Ying,” he says. “I’ve been waiting for so long.”

“I know,” Wei Wuxian replies. He cups Lan Wangji’s face with both hands and kisses his forehead. “I’ve never been far, you know? But I can’t come to you if I cannot find you. How do you want me to come to see you if I don’t know where to look for you?”

“I…I didn’t think you’d want to see me,” Lan Wangji admits. “You disappeared so quickly; I thought it was something I said. Maybe…maybe I was too much, too cold, too – me , and you found it was better for you to go.”

Wei Wuxian looks at him and shakes his head. “Oh Lan Zhan, that was never the reason. You did nothing wrong. You could never do anything wrong. It was my own decision to leave. If I could have prevented it, I would never have left you. But I had to.”

Lan Wangji takes Wei Wuxian’s hands in his own, lifts them to his lips, and kisses his fingers. “Why did you leave, then?”

“I had no choice,” Wei Wuxian sighs. “Or at least, that’s what I thought. For a long time, I didn’t dare to look for you because I thought it was best for both of us, but now I found you!”

“Will you stay, this time?” Lan Wangji asks, his voice barely above a whisper, dripping with hope.

Slowly, so slowly, as if he was moving through molasses, Wei Wuxian shakes his head.

Lan Wangji’s mouth feels like cotton. The world seems to tilt on its side.

“It’s your turn to come find me, this time around,” Wei Wuxian says, leans forward, and kisses Lan Wangji on the lips – sweetly, tenderly. He disentangles his hands from Lan Wangji’s.

“Stay,” Lan Wangji pleads. He can feel his eyes sting. “Please don’t leave again, I’ll do anything – “

Wei Wuxian steps away from Lan Wangji, out of his personal bubble. “I am here,” he says. “Come find me. I know you can do it.”

He takes another step away from him. Lan Wangji panics.

“Please, don’t go! I will be good, I will laugh more, I will – I – just don’t leave me!”

He reaches out, encircles Wei Wuxian in his arms. They enclose nothing. Just as quickly as Wei Wuxian has appeared, he has vanished again.

Lan Wangji is seventeen years old. It is raining. His hair and clothes are getting soaked. He wishes the rain would swallow him whole, drown him, make him choke on his own tears. Anything is better than enduring this pain.

There’s a pair of arms circling his waist. Instinctively, Lan Wangji leans back into his mother’s warmth and lets his tears run free. She just holds him, waits until he calms down a bit.

“That’s a lovely boy you found yourself there,” she tells him. “You’ve got taste.”

“Mama,” Lan Wangji cries, fisting a handful of her blouse. “Why did he leave again? Why couldn’t he just stay?”

His mother runs her fingers through his hair. “Oh little bunny, things aren’t always as easy as we would like them to be. On the flip side, we tend to make them more complicated than they really are. This seems to be a combination of both.”

She cups Lan Wangji’s face and lifts it until they are eye to eye.

“You still love him, don’t you, Zhanzhan?”

Lan Wangji is an adult again. He’s kneeling on the floor of his mother’s room and looks up at her through tear-crowned lashes.

“Yes,” he confesses. “I always have. I don’t know how to not love him.”

His mother smiles at him. “He told you to come find him, didn’t he?”

Lan Wangji nods.

“Then you know what to do.”

Lan Wangji swallows. “But what if – he changes his mind again? I don’t know if I could take it…”

His mother lets out an exasperated sigh and, not unkindly, shakes her head. “And what if this would be your chance of getting your love back, and you’d pass it up just because you’re afraid?”

She places a kiss on top of his head. “I know it’s scary, but missed opportunities are the worst things in life. They will cause you to regret everything you do. If your Wei Ying decides that he doesn’t want you anymore, you’d at least have closure. But if he still wants you? What are you waiting for?”

Lan Wangji wipes at his eyes. “You…like him?”

“Very much so,” she replies. “He’s always been the right one for you. Only sometimes you meet the right person at the wrong time. Life is giving you a second chance. Don’t let it slip.”

 

***

 

Wei Wuxian isn’t supposed to be here. He’s not even supposed to be at the hospital today, given that he's on volunteer break for the following few months, but he just couldn’t help it.

Today is the day Lan Wangji will be woken up. Wei Wuxian just has to speak to him one last time.

It’s a bit concerning to him that it was that easy to sneak into the ICU – maybe he should bring that up one day – but he fully expects to be caught when he sneaks out again. Even if that would cost him his volunteer job – he just has to.

Lan Wangji lies asleep before him, face peaceful and beautiful as ever. Wei Wuxian wants to touch him, to run his fingers along his cheek and cup his face, like he used to do when they were young. He doesn’t think he’d still be allowed to.

Instead, he sits down and reaches under his protective hospital gown and into his lab coat pocket. He retrieves a small brush, one with a wooden base and natural bristles. He recalls that Lan Wangji used to have a similar one when they were younger. Someone had painted a small white rabbit sitting on a crescent moon on its back.

Wei Wuxian swallows.

“Hey Lan Zhan, it’s me again,” he begins. “This is the last time I’ll be coming here to talk to you. I don’t know if you’re aware, but doctors are planning on waking you up today. Isn’t it brilliant? Your brother and your son are so excited, I can tell! It’s bright and sunny out, so you’ll be waking up to a blue sky, and lots of birdsong.”

He fidgets with the brush in his hand. “You’ve been lying here for a few days now, and although you didn’t move much, I know a thing or two about what a hassle long hair can be when it’s been slept on for too long, so…”

Wei Wuxian waves the brush around as if to show it to Lan Wangji. As if Lan Wangji would be sitting up the next moment and take it from his hand to examine it.

“I thought…I thought I could brush your hair for you,” Wei Wuxian admits in a small, almost shy voice. “Braid it, maybe. Make you look pretty and put together for the doctors and your family. I’ve heard even your uncle’s coming to see you! Your brother told me his health wasn’t the best so he was unable to come earlier, but he so wants to be with you, isn’t that great? And I’m sure they’ll appreciate you being all presentable and beautiful. Not that there was ever a moment in which you were not beautiful, but I digress.”

Wei Wuxian clears his throat. “I hope you’ll forgive me for doing this without your consent…I just – there’s not much else I can do for you, and I remember how much you hated it when your hair got tangled. So please, do accept this. As…as a small token of affection, if you will.”

As gently as he possibly can, Wei Wuxian slides a hand under Lan Wangji’s head and lifts it up, so that he can carefully pull out his hair from underneath him. It’s still as soft as he remembers, even more so, and just for a few moments, he allows himself to run his fingers through it. To feel their silkiness on his fingertips and engrave the feeling in his memory. He then takes the brush and starts brushing out Lan Wangji’s hair strand by strand, starting with the tips and working his way up.

“You have such a lovely kid,” Wei Wuxian says, keeping his voice low as if he was afraid of actually waking Lan Wangji. “I really like him. He’s so clever and funny. Very polite too; I’m sure that must be your doing, but I can see just the tiniest hint of mischief in him. He took a liking to one of the hand puppets I keep to entertain the kids here at the hospital. It’s this pinkish rabbit; I call it Bunbun. I said he could borrow it until you’re better, but I think I will let him keep it if that’s okay with you. I don’t know if I will ever be able to meet Sizhui again, and – well, if I’m honest, a selfish part of me wants him to have something that belonged to me. Because I feel like we’re friends now, him and I. I’m going to miss him.”

Once he’s brushed through all the hair, Wei Wuxian parts it into three strands and begins to form a simple French braid.

“Do you remember how you taught me how to braid your hair, Lan Zhan?” he asks, a chuckle escaping him at the memory. “I wanted to surprise my sister by offering to do her braids but didn’t know how. You were very patient, although I managed to pull your hair once or twice. Jiejie was actually very pleasantly surprised when she discovered that I knew how to braid. It’s still the only braid I have mastered so far, and I haven’t done her hair in years…but looking at this, it seems like I’m still good at it.”

Wei Wuxian reaches into his lab coat pocket again and pulls out a short piece of blood-red ribbon. He used to wear this ribbon all the time to tie up his hair while he was younger, and still does so nowadays, but he finds that for hospital work a scrunchie does a better job.

“Maybe you’ll recognise this when you wake up,” he murmurs as he ties off Lan Wangji’s braid with a bright red bow. “Maybe you won’t, who knows? It’s a piece of my own ribbon. It’s been a while, and I know it’s not my place, certainly not after what I’ve done to you, but – I just –“

He doesn’t even know what he wants to say. His voice breaks on a sob. There are tear stains on the upper rim of his mask. His hand moves from Lan Wangji’s braid to his cheek and touches it so gingerly as if anything more intense would cause it to shatter.

“I will miss you,” he confesses. “I’ve missed you for years. I know now that I’ve been a coward. Hell, I’m still being one, who am I kidding? I just – I don’t know how to approach you. How to look at you knowing that I must have torn your heart to pieces, back then. Who does that to someone they claim to love?”

Wei Wuxian wipes at his eyes with the back of his sleeve. “Because I did love you. Truly. I still do. And if you were to wake up now and tell me that you’d still have me, I’d gladly be yours again. But as it stands now…your brother is still angry with me. Your uncle would probably skin me if he knew I was even breathing in your general direction. And I…I still don’t know how to apologise. I know I should. For someone who never shuts his trap, I’m miserably at a loss for words.”

Wei Wuxian swallows, hard. He feels like crying even more, but he knows now is neither the time nor the place to do so.

“If there’s still a chance for us, then…please come and find me,” he whispers. “I know you can do it. When you are ready, and if not…I will wait, and I will understand.”

He looks at Lan Wangji, his Lan Zhan, and bends down to kiss his forehead through his mask.

“Be well, my love.”

Miraculously, Wei Wuxian makes it out of the ICU without being noticed. He still doesn’t know how he does it.

He makes it out of the hospital building without bumping into someone.

He makes it into his car, drives himself home. There, he switches off his work phone and puts it into a drawer. He considers putting the hairbrush away too, but he leaves it out on his nightstand.

He doesn’t even change into comfier clothes before he collapses onto his bed and cries for the rest of the morning.

 

***



At 3 pm sharp on a sunny afternoon, after five days in an induced coma, Lan Wangji opens his eyes. He blinks and needs a few moments to adjust to the light. He sees people around him that he doesn’t recognise. Slowly, it dawns on him that he’s in a hospital and that the people surrounding him are doctors and nurses.

His vital functions are being checked. They tell him that his family will be allowed to see him the next day, one by one and that they will see if physical therapy is necessary, and if yes, how much.

Lan Wangji nods. His throat feels like sandpaper from disuse and from the device that helped him to breathe. He feels tired, and the doctors tell him to rest and sleep it off.

He closes his eyes. Instantly, the vision of a boy with a red ribbon in his hair pops up in his mind.

Lan Wangji is sure that he heard the boy’s voice.

Or maybe it was just a dream.

Chapter Text

The confusion is the worst. In the first few days after he wakes up, Lan Wangji keeps on forgetting where he is, and what happened to him. This is normal, doctors tell him, as they run him through different giant tubes and hook him up to all sorts of machines for tests and scans to determine whether his brain has suffered any lasting damage.

He’s extremely lucky, they tell him. There’s no detectable brain damage, and he’s bound to make a full recovery. He’s in such good condition after his five-day coma that the only physical therapy he probably needs is to care for his fractured ribs and to treat the pain in his hips.

“You might develop a slight limp at first,” they tell him, “but it’s possible that we’ll be able to counteract that with physiotherapy as well.”

Lan Wangji doesn’t mind physiotherapy. He’s always been healthy, doing yoga in the morning and going for runs or swims. His posture is exemplary – he’ll have to thank his uncle for that – so the breathing exercises he will learn will most likely bring their desired effect very quickly. If he is to come out of this with a limp and a stiff hip but otherwise unscathed, then that’s a price he’s more than willing to pay.

One morning he wakes up and remembers the accident. He remembers the date he had the night before, the argument he had with his brother before leaving, the car hitting him. He remembers the sound he heard before he blacked out, when his head hit the road, and understands why there might have been the risk of brain swelling. It all starts to make sense.

Lan Wangji feels weirdly peaceful. Of course, he is still in pain, and will probably be for at least four weeks to come; two fractured ribs are not to be taken lightly. The thought that the accident could have cut his life short is one that he doesn’t examine too closely, but somehow, he feels as if the whole ordeal has made him realise a few things.

Uncle is the first one to visit him. He cannot stay for too long; the air in the city doesn’t do him much good. He’s happy to see Lan Wangji awake, even gets misty-eyed at one point.

Lan Wangji takes his hand and lightly squeezes it, a display of affection that is very rare between them. Uncle doesn’t remove his hand.

“I never thanked you,” Lan Wangji begins, “for choosing us, back then. I know that raising two children was never the goal you had set for yourself in life, and yet you did so with great devotion and care.”

Uncle shakes his head, not unkindly, but says nothing. They do not talk much, but there aren’t many words needed between them.

The next one to visit Lan Wangji is his brother. Lan Xichen hovers in the doorway, unsure as to what to do until Lan Wangji beckons him inside with a hand movement.

Lan Xichen sits down next to him, opens his mouth to speak, and closes it again. Lan Wangji lets his face relax into a smile and says: “Hello Brother. It is good to see you.”

At that, Lan Xichen breaks down crying. Lan Wangji lets him and cards his fingers through Lan Xichen’s hair, just like their mother used to do when they were children. They know they will need to talk, eventually, but right now, they’re happy to have each other.

“We don’t have to talk now,” Lan Wangji tells him. “Just know that you don’t need to worry. All will be well.”

 When Lan Xichen returns for his next visit, he brings Sizhui. The boy clearly wants to run up to his father, and Lan Xichen lets him. Sizhui laughs and cries at the same time, and Lan Wangji’s heart grows twice as large.

“I am sorry I cannot hug you just yet,” he explains. “My head is okay now that I’ve slept, but hugging hurts, and will for some time still. I will not be able to lift you either, but as soon as I can, I promise we will catch up on all the cuddling.”

“It’s okay, Baba,” Sizhui tells him while half-lying next to him on the hospital bed, cuddling close to Lan Wangji’s shoulder. “I’ve missed you!”

Lan Wangji smiles. “I’ve missed you too. I am sorry I scared you, I didn’t mean to. Now, tell me about all the adventures you had while I was asleep.”

In the end, Lan Wangji is discharged after only ten more days. Lan Xichen moves in with him and Sizhui for the time being, just as long as it takes Lan Wangji to recover enough so he can take care of his son on his own again. 

Lan Wangji is thankful. While he can take the pain and diligently follows the orders of his physiotherapist, the pain medication and muscle relaxants still tire him out quickly, and he has bouts of fatigue that are unusual for him but are most likely a remnant of the coma. So he rests a lot, reads a lot, plays a lot of music if his aching body allows for it, and thinks a lot. He’s on sick leave and will be for a while still, but he keeps on wondering whether he really wants to return to his job as it was before. He knows that he can delegate some of his responsibilities to other people at the office. While he misses his job, the idea of being able to spend more time with his family pleases him more than he was aware of. He decided that he will think about it.

An interesting development that Lan Wangji becomes aware of is that he sometimes sees Sizhui nap with a pair of brightly coloured headphones on, or hears soft voices coming from his bedroom at night, when Lan Wangji is too tired or in too much pain to read a bedtime story to him. He feels guilty about it, but he knows that Sizhui isn’t mad at him.

“I bought him a .mp3 player for children,” Lan Xichen explains when Lan Wangji inquires about it. “He complained about my storytelling skills; apparently they’re subterranean compared to yours.”

Lan Wangji fondly shakes his head. “Did he really say that? I need to talk to him about it; I am sure you are not as bad at telling stories as he’s making it out to be.”

“Be that as it may, he just wouldn’t listen to me, but also wouldn’t sleep without his bedtime story,” Lan Xichen goes on. “So I asked around at work, and a few of my coworkers sent me lists of audiobooks they play for their own children to listen to. I’ve picked collections from all over the world. His player hooks up to a speaker in his room, so he can listen to stories at night if you can’t read yourself. He really seems to like them.”

Lan Wangji side-eyes his brother. “This is most unsettling. I’m incapacitated for about a week, and have to discover upon returning home that I’ve been replaced by machines.”

Lan Xichen stares at him for a solid five seconds before bursting into laughter. “Wangji! I haven’t heard you joke in a while!”

Lan Wangji remains silent, all but smiling into his teacup. “I am so thankful for your help with Sizhui, Brother,” he says instead, inclining his head for emphasis. “He values you very much. I couldn’t have wished for a better bofu for my son.”

Lan Xichen doesn’t meet his eyes. “I do love him very much,” he admits, “but I don’t think I am that good of an uncle. I don’t seem to be that good of a brother either.”

“That is not true,” Lan Wangji says. “I couldn’t imagine a better brother in my life, and I need you to understand how much you mean to me, and how much I value your advice. I know that your concerns for my well-being come from a place of love and worry, but you also have to understand that I am no longer a child. I am old enough to make my own decisions. Some of them might be unwise, but I will learn from them, and grow from them. Such is the way of life, and I wish for you to let me grow on my own terms.”

Lan Wangji slowly exhales. His ribcage hurts. The pain is gradually fading, but this is the most he has talked in a while, and he can feel the strain on his ribs. He observes as his brother takes a sip of his own tea, clearly thinking over Lan Wangji’s words.

Lan Xichen sets his cup down and nods. “I’ve been a bit much lately, have I not?”

“You could say that, yes,” Lan Wangji agrees. “You know you have nothing to blame yourself for concerning the accident?”

“Wangji, I-“

Nothing,” Lan Wangji interrupts.

Lan Xichen sighs. “Objectively I know this, yes. My heart just needs a bit of time to accept it.”

Lan Wangji nods. He would probably blame himself too if the situation had been reversed. He reaches for the teapot, wincing at the tug on his ribs, and pours both of them a second serving of tea.

“I…I talked to Mother, while I was asleep,” he says, softly, watching for his brother’s reaction.  Lan Xichen looks at him, raising both eyebrows in surprise.

“The doctors say that she was most likely made up by my subconscious, especially since she mentioned people and events that happened…after she passed. But…the things she said made me think. About the way I lead my life, about how I view my relationship with loved ones.”

“That sounds like A-Niang,” Xichen says. “She would always try to talk sense into us, even if she did it as gently and playfully as she could.”

“I wish you could have seen her too,” Lan Wangji murmurs. “It seems unfair that only I got to see her.”

Lan Xichen looks out the window. “I dream of her, sometimes,” he confesses. “I talk to her when I meet her there. I guess it’s…similar to your experience? I believe some part of her essence never really left us. Maybe that’s only wishful thinking, who knows?”

He turns back to his tea, swirls it around a few times. “Did you meet other people while you were asleep?”

Lan Wangji cannot tell whether his brother wants to steer the conversation away from their mother, or if he’s genuinely curious about it. He decides to humour him.

“I saw you a few times,” he tells Lan Xichen, “although you did not say anything. Shufu as well. I heard Sizhui talk to me; I don’t recall the details, but something…about rabbit paintings, and…a picnic?”

Lan Xichen smiles. “He told you about rabbit paintings they did in playschool at one point, and I had offered for us to go on a picnic together, once you’ve recovered. He told you that, too.” He raises a finger to his lips as if he wants to shush Lan Wangji. “But you know nothing about the rabbit painting! Sizhui made it as a surprise for you.”

“What rabbit painting?” Lan Wangji asks, feigning ignorance. Lan Xichen laughs again. It’s good to see him laugh, Lan Wangji thinks.

“I also saw and heard many things that do not make sense,” Lan Wangji goes on. “I would randomly switch locations, see myself at different stages of my life, or hear voices that could not logically be explained.”

Lan Xichen raises an eyebrow. „What kind of voices?”

Lan Wangji swallows. “I…on a few occasions, I thought I heard Wei Ying’s voice.”

Carefully, Lan Xichen places his cup onto the table. “That’s probably because it was him.”

Lan Wangji turns to his brother so abruptly that, for just a split second, the pain in his ribs knocks the wind out of his lungs. He ignores it. “I beg your pardon?”

“We met him the day you had the accident,” Lan Xichen tells him. “I found him looking after Sizhui. Wei Wuxian explained that he does volunteer work at the hospital. He looks after children in the waiting rooms to ensure they don’t get too anxious. I looked it up on the hospital’s website; they do indeed have such a program. I-“

Lan Xichen cuts himself off and sighs again. “You know how I told you that I was unable to speak to you while you were in the coma? How the words just wouldn’t leave my mouth? I asked Wei Wuxian if he would talk to you in my stead. We had to get special permission from the Head of Department so he could enter the ICU, but…he agreed to do it. He even took Sizhui there to see you.”

Lan Wangji feels as if his head is spinning. He reaches into his trouser pocket where he keeps the piece of red ribbon that he had found wrapped around the end of his braid after he woke up. While it had reminded him of Wei Wuxian and the ribbon he used to wear in his hair as a teenager, Lan Wangji had figured Sizhui might have picked out the colour. Now he’s not so sure anymore.

Lan Xichen watches him stare at it. “None of us braided your hair,” he quietly explains, “and I asked the nurses. None of them touched your hair either.”

The piece of ribbon feels heavy in Lan Wangji’s hand. He traces it with his thumb.

Come find me, he hears Wei Wuxian’s voice echo through his mind. It’s possible that he only imagined it, that he would go chasing down a ghost of the past if he was really to try and find Wei Wuxian.

Lan Wangji recalls his mother’s voice, telling him that missed opportunities are worse than anything else, and his heart decides for him.

“Do you have Wei Ying’s contact information?” he asks.

Lan Xichen grimaces. “Do you think trying to get in touch with him would be a good idea?”

“Yes,” Lan Wangji says, without hesitation. “I would like to talk to him. I at least owe him my thanks.”

Lan Xichen goes to retrieve the scrap piece of paper. “He did tell me that this was his work-related number. Since he volunteers at the hospital, I assume he has a regular profession, but I didn’t ask him about it. I apologise.”

Lan Wangji takes the piece of paper. He recognises Wei Wuxian’s handwriting instantly. It’s still as energetic, bordering on the verge of messy, while still carrying a certain elegance to it.

“Would you excuse me for a moment?” he asks but doesn’t wait for an answer. Instead, Lan Wangji rises and enters his bedroom, where he dials Wei Wuxian’s number.

He hears a couple of beeps before the call is redirected to voicemail.

“Hello, this is Wei Wuxian. If you’re hearing this it means I’m off volunteer work for the time being, and currently not reachable via this number. I won’t be checking messages, so if you tried to call me on here, we probably know each other, and you’ll know where to reach me instead. Until then!”

Lan Wangji does toy with the idea of leaving a message but decides against it. What good would it do if Wei Wuxian doesn’t even check the messages on this phone?

Instead, he dials the number again and listens to the voicemail announcement a second time. Wei Wuxian’s voice sounds cheerful, full of energy. The one he recalls from his time in the coma was tinged with sadness and sorrow, trying to hide behind fake happiness.

Yet there is no doubt in Lan Wangji’s mind that the voice he heard while he was asleep was Wei Wuxian.

On a whim, he calls the hospital. He tells them he would like to thank the one who was reading to him in person. He learns that Wei Wuxian will not be returning to the hospital for at least the next three months. They let him know that they are not legally allowed to give out contact information about their volunteer workers, but would be happy to relay a message to Wei Wuxian once he’s back on the volunteer schedule.

Lan Xichen looks up expectantly when he comes back into the living room. Lan Wangji shakes his head.

“He’s not doing any volunteer work right now,” he explains. “His voicemail message says he doesn’t check this number while he’s off, but he didn’t mention any other way to contact him. The hospital says they are not allowed to give me his other number.”

"Ah. Wen Qing?" Lan Xichen suggests.

Lan Wangji shakes his head again. "She works at a different hospital. She wouldn't know."

“I’m sorry,” Lan Xichen says. He looks genuinely stricken. “I should have asked him for his private number. I wasn’t sure you would like to talk to him, and if I’m honest, the thought slipped my mind.”

“It’s alright,” Lan Wangji says. “I will find him. I will try again in a few months; I might be able to catch him that way.”

“That sounds like a sound plan,” Lan Xichen agrees. Lan Wangji hopes he cannot see how much it saddens him to lose this thread that would have led him to Wei Wuxian. But he’s hopeful. He has the number. He will try again in due time.

Of course, Lan Wangji has no guarantee that Wei Wuxian will actually be taking up volunteer work again. He might want to, now. Something might come up to have him change his mind, and the next time Lan Wangji tries to reach him, the number might be disconnected.

Still, he hopes. He has to.

 

***

 

As the weeks pass, Lan Wangji can feel the pain in his ribs ebb more and more. He’s still advised to be cautious when lifting Sizhui and doing household chores, but he is feeling much better. He needs less pain medication and muscle relaxants, and his physiotherapist seems very pleased with his progress. His hip is less stiff, the limp barely there. It’s worse on rainy days; Lan Wangji suspects that he will just have to live with the reality of it. Maybe he will have to use a cane at some point in the future. He finds that he doesn’t mind the idea. Canes can look very sophisticated, in his opinion.

Sizhui is delighted to see his father recovering so well because a Baba who is in less pain means a Baba who can be cuddled more. Sizhui is practically glued to him. Lan Wangji doesn’t mind. He loves his child, and he’s more than happy to humour him, but a part of him is worried, too. It was worse after he was first discharged when Sizhui refused to sleep in his own room and insisted on staying where he could see his father. He wonders if the boy is afraid of losing him – a logical assumption to make in this situation. He has been sleeping in his own room again for a few weeks now, but Lan Wangji makes a mental note to observe the situation further, and if it doesn’t get any better, to inquire with Wen Qing if she happens to know any reliable child therapists.

What doesn’t get any better is the aching desire to find Wei Wuxian. Lan Wangji thinks about it often, unsure how to proceed. He still has Wei Wuxian’s work number, yes, and he is still determined to call him again in a few weeks or months, since this is currently his only viable connection to him. The knowledge that there’s nothing more he can do makes him feel nauseous.

If Lan Wangji sometimes calls Wei Wuxian’s number in the middle of the night just to hear his voice, well…that’s his secret to keep.

Lan Wangji even sits down and types Wei Wuxian’s name into a search engine. All that he finds is a bunch of names that are spelled similarly to Wei Wuxian’s name, as well as an old article Wei Wuxian once co-wrote for their high school newsletter. He could probably dig deeper still, but he feels like a stalker, so he gives up.

On one night, Sizhui requests that Lan Xichen tucks him in. He claims that his baba is still his favourite, but while Lan Xichen is here, Sizhui might as well ask for more bobo time. Lan Wangji can’t blame him. Not long after he hears the first faint notes of the intro music to one of Sizhui’s audiobooks, Lan Xichen joins him on the couch for a movie.

“More tea?” he asks. Lan Xichen nods.

Lan Wangji gets up, enters the kitchen, and fixes a fresh pot of tea. On his way back, he passes by his son’s bedroom to see if he’s already asleep.

Just as he wants to open the bedroom door a bit further, Wei Wuxian says: “…why did he have to be so cheeky and want to fly to the moon? That's not something for a little Maybug to do, you have to be a big Maybug to accomplish that!”

The teapot shatters on the floor.

The steaming hot tea barely misses Lan Wangji’s legs and feet but he doesn’t even register what happened until he hears Sizhui call out to him. Lan Xichen appears at his side in an instant.

“Wangji! What happened?” he asks, voice thick with worry.

Lan Wangji doesn’t reply. He is hypnotised by the voice coming from Sizhui’s speaker, still recounting the story of a Maybug who flies to the moon with a pair of human siblings to break a curse that was bestowed upon his great-great-grandfather.

He didn’t mishear. This is Wei Wuxian’s voice. There’s no doubt.

“What’s the name of this story?” Lan Wangji asks, in a daze.

“That’s ‘Little Peter’s Journey to the Moon’ “, Sizhui informs him.

“It’s one of his favourite stories,” Lan Xichen says, who entered the bedroom right after Lan Wangji and doesn’t seem to understand what this is all about. “It’s from a collection of western stories for children. Is something wrong with it?”

Lan Wangji looks at Lan Xichen with wide eyes. “Listen,” he says.

Lan Xichen, who had never really paid attention to these audiobooks before, does listen. Soon enough, his eyes grow just as wide as Lan Wangji’s.

“The narrator! That’s –“

“That’s Xian-gege!” Sizhui exclaims. „He’s very good at telling stories, almost as good as you are, Baba!”

Lan Wangji walks over to Sizhui and sits down next to him on the bed. “Xian-gege?”

Sizhui nods. “He read to me when I was scared while you were sleeping, and gave me Bunbun so I wasn’t so alone.” He holds up the rabbit hand puppet as if to illustrate his point. “He also took me to see you once while you were still at the hospital.”

Lan Wangji runs his fingers through Sizhui’s hair. “Did you like him?”

“He’s very nice and so funny!” Sizhui says. “I like him very much. I asked him if he could come to have a picnic with us, since he’s my friend now, and you always say I can bring a friend if I ask nicely. Can he?”

His son looks at him with big pleading eyes, and Lan Wangji’s heart melts. “We’d have to ask him first.”

“Will you ask him?” Sizhui wants to know.

“I don’t know where he is right now, but when I find him, I will ask him,” Lan Wangji says. Not If I find him, when I find him, he does not say. “I didn’t mean to startle you, the teapot slipped from my hands. I am sorry. Would you like me to start the story from the beginning?”

“It’s alright, Baba,” Sizhui says, and shuffles back under the covers. Lan Wangji bends down to kiss his forehead.

“Sleep well, my darling,” he says, then exits the room, only to find that Lan Xichen has already taken care of the spilled tea and broken teapot.

Lan Wangji stares at the porcelain shards for a long time.

“I apologise. I might have overreacted there,” he says.

Lan Xichen places a hand on Lan Wangji’s shoulder and shakes his head. “You obviously still care much more about Wei Wuxian than I had anticipated. It must have been a shock for you to hear his voice in the middle of your own apartment.” He then walks back to the kitchen and opens a cupboard.

“How lucky is it, then, that I brought my own favourite teapot with me?”

Lan Wangji smiles at him. He adores his brother.

Later, when they’re both in their pajamas and ready for bed, Lan Xichen turns to him and says: “Don’t stay up for too long. You still need rest.”

Lan Wangji only inclines his head. He knows he won’t be able to sleep now, so he sits down at his desk and opens his laptop. This time, he uses the name of the audiobook Sizhui was listening to in conjunction with Wei Wuxian’s name to conduct his internet search. Soon enough he finds the name of an audio production company. He finds Wei Wuxian’s audiobook narrator portfolio page on the website.

Lastly, he finds a list of bookstores that Wei Wuxian, amongst other audiobook narrators, will be doing live reading sessions at, specifically targeted at children. The goal is to raise awareness of the importance of child literacy, to raise money for children in need, and, as the website emphasises, for the children to have a good time.

“That sounds like something you would do”, Lan Wangji murmurs fondly. For all of the trouble Wei Wuxian got himself into, Lan Wangji always admired his big heart, and his desire to stand up for those in need.

He’s feeling a bit guilty about using his son as an excuse to purchase tickets for this event, but he knows that Sizhui will also be happy to see his Xian-gege again.

 

***

 

The bookstore is a small independent one, with a brightly coloured storefront to beckon customers inside, and furnished with comfortable second-hand furniture to create lots of reading nooks. Both Lan Wangji and Sizhui love this particular bookstore. It’s within walking distance from Lan Wangji’s apartment. He has always appreciated the efficient yet friendly and very warm customer service. When he started fostering Sizhui, he took him to children’s storytimes hosted there once a week, a tradition that they have not broken yet, and most likely won’t break until Sizhui grows tired of it.

Lan Wangji is sure that Sizhui is expecting another storytime event when he takes him to the bookstore this Friday afternoon, although he knows his son is aware that this is not their usual day for storytimes.

“Is this a special storytime?” Sizhui asks, bouncing on his feet.

“Mn”, Lan Wangji nods. “A very special one. As a reward, because you’ve been such a good boy while I was asleep.”

Sizhui beams up at him, literal sunshine on his face. It reminds Lan Wangji a bit of the way Wei Wuxian used to smile at him when they were younger, with his whole face and his whole heart.

The main area of the bookstore has been rearranged into a place for the narrators to sit and read at, and three rows of stacked cushions in a semi-circle around it for the audience to get comfortable and cosy up. Lan Wangji looks at the floor cushions and is thankful that he has taken up some light yoga again. His hip will probably start protesting at one point, but he’s willing to take it.

There’s soft music playing while they wait for the event to start, and snacks and drinks are being served. Lan Wangji sits down on the floor cushion and shifts around a bit until he finds the position that is most comfortable, then beckons for Sizhui to sit on his lap. The boy clutches Bunbun to his chest. He insists on bringing it everywhere, even to playschool, and Lan Wangji doesn’t have the heart to refuse him.

When everyone’s seated, the music fades out, and the lights are being dimmed safe for the spot where the narrators will be sitting. The first one to read is a lively woman in her forties, who reads two stories. Her voice is steady but never boring; the children in the audience are immediately enraptured. Lan Wangji enjoys himself as well; he’s fascinated by the playful simplicity and wisdom that some of these stories display. He thinks he would like to try his hand at writing a similar story for Sizhui, one of these days.

The second narrator is a man with a remarkably high-pitched voice, who’s stories focus more on comedy. Sizhui’s laughter rings bright and clear to the room, and he claps his hands in delight. Even Lan Wangji cannot help a chuckle from escaping him. His son is happy; should nothing come of this evening, then at least he knows that Sizhui will have had a good time.

Their third narrator is again a woman with a voice so deep that Lan Wangji almost mistakes her for his uncle. She apologises and explains she’s recovering from tonsilitis, and yet her way of reading is smooth and engaging. She has a few puppets with her and plays out scenes with them whenever she needs to take a small break from reading aloud. The children are delighted.

The second-to-last narrator brings with him two crates full of hand puppets. The audience first gets to see his back while he works on his set-up. Sizhui tugs on Lan Wangji’s sleeve and asks for the bathroom. They still have enough time before the next segment begins, and Lan Wangji silently thanks his son’s bladder for this opportunity to move his hip. Soon enough they’re back at their seat. The lights are already dimmed, but the narrator hasn’t begun talking yet.

Lan Wangji helps Sizhui back onto his lap, looks up to the narrator's spot, and freezes.

“Hello! It’s so nice to see you! Is everyone feeling good?” Wei Wuxian asks, a big smile painted onto his lovely face, eyes sparkling.

He’s wearing his hair in a half-up-half-down style today, with his signature red ribbon wrapped around the small ponytail at the back of his head. His hair cascades over his shoulders in gentle waves, framing his face like a dark halo. He’s wearing a chunky cream-coloured cable knit sweater with a round neckline, showing just a hint of his collarbones, and dark jeans with black boots. He has the sleeves of his sweater pushed up to his elbows and a puppet that looks like a cat on his right hand.

He looks beautiful. Lan Wangji wants to run over, take him into his arms, and never let go again.

In his lap, Sizhui gasps. “Xian-gege!” he whispers and looks up to Lan Wangji with big sparkling eyes. Lan Wangji nods knowingly but raises a finger to his lips. He knows how excited Sizhui must be, but he needs him to be quiet as long as the event is still ongoing.

Lan Wangji finds himself captivated by Wei Wuxian’s very presence, by the way he tells his stories, creates different voices and intonations, illustrates the stories with a variety of puppets and toys, and exaggerated facial expressions that have the children in stitches. He could watch him for hours, Lan Wangji finds, and listen to his voice for days.

His heart still yearns for him, just as much as it did as they were teenagers.

Wei Wuxian’s segment is over way too quickly, and there’s still another narrator to listen to. Lan Wangji only half listens to them, his mind still too enraptured by seeing and hearing Wei Wuxian so close to him, yet still out of reach. He’s still in a bit of a daze when the lights are being turned on again, and the audience members begin to get up to either filter out of the bookstore or to have a chat with the employees.

Lan Wangji lifts Sizhui from his lap, gets up, gathers their coats, and turns to grab Sizhui’s hand – only to discover that his child has disappeared.

 

***

 

Wei Wuxian takes a big sip out of his water bottle before putting it back into his backpack. He browses through his crates, just to check if none of the puppets have fallen out while he was taking them into the bookstore’s backroom, and finds that they’re all there.

Except for Bunbun, of course, but he has a new home now.

Wei Wuxian smiles at the memory of the rabbit hand puppet and its new owner and reaches down to pick up a crate so he can carry it to his car when a small weight crashes into his right leg.

Confused, he looks down to find a familiar child attached to his thigh.

“Xian-gege!” Sizhui exclaims happily.

“Sizhui?” Wei Wuxian calls, with just as much excitement in his voice. He crouches down and embraces the boy in a hug. “How nice to see you! I’ve missed you!”

Sizhui wraps his tiny arms around Wei Wuxian’s neck and cuddles close to him. “I missed you too, Xian-gege!”

Wei Wuxian lifts him up into his arms. Oh, he did miss this little boy, more than he realised. “Did you come to listen to me tell stories?” he asks.

Sizhui nods. “And I brought Bunbun, too!” he says, waving the hand puppet around and slapping Wei Wuxian right across the face with it. “Oops, sorry!”

Wei Wuxian just laughs. “Feisty little one. But Sizhui, as much as I am happy to see you, you know you aren’t supposed to just run away like this, hmm? What will your bobo say if he can’t find you?”

Sizhui looks stricken at that. “I am sorry. B-but I wanted to see Xian-gege,” he says with a wobbling lip. “Missed you so much. A-and Baba brought me here.”

“Your baba?”

Wei Wuxian’s mouth feels like cotton. So if Lan Wangji is here, does that mean —?

No. Wei Wuxian shakes the thought away before it can even form. To think that Lan Wangji would be here because he heard him ask to find him is preposterous. Most likely he’s only here because Sizhui likes storytime, or because he likes one of the audiobooks he recorded.

Wei Wuxian sighs. “Let me bring you back to your baba, then. We don’t want him to be scared because you disappeared on him, do we now?”

Sizhui tightens his grip on Wei Wuxian’s sweater. “Can’t I stay with you for a bit?” he pleads, eyes already filled with tears. “Please. I will be good!”

Wei Wuxian shakes his head. “I have to clean up my things and go home, you know? Let’s get you to your baba.”

Just as he turns to exit the back room, Wei Wuxian hears a worried “Sizhui!” from the crowd within the bookstore, and Lan Wangji appears right in front of him.

“Baba!” Sizhui calls but doesn’t let go of Wei Wuxian.

Lan Wangji’s gaze falls upon them, and — oh.

Wei Wuxian cannot stop looking at Lan Wangji. He’s even more beautiful, more radiant, now that he’s standing tall in front of him in his soft blue turtleneck and his white trousers and brown loafers, his coat slung over his arm, his hair in a braid. 

He stands there, like a painting come to life, with shining eyes and parted lips.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says, more an exhale than anything else.

Wei Wuxian’s heart screams for him.

He opens his mouth, closes it again, then clears his throat. “Lan Zhan,” he says, inclining his head in greeting. “I think this little bunny here belongs to you, doesn’t he?”

He places Sizhui back on the ground, who toddles over to his waiting father, a guilty expression on his face.

“Sorry, Baba,” he murmurs, “I just wanted to see Xian-gege.”

“It’s alright,” Lan Wangji says and passes his hand through the child’s hair. “But please do not run away anymore before asking for permission first, okay? I was really worried.”

“Okay,” Sizhui replies, hugging Bunbun close to his chest.

Wei Wuxian watches as Lan Wangji straightens again. “I am sorry if he caused any trouble,” Lan Wangji says.

“Oh no no no, he didn’t cause any trouble,” Wei Wuxian is quick to explain. “I was just about to load my crates into my car, no harm done.”

“Oh,” Lan Wangji says, and Wei Wuxian thinks he sounds almost disappointed. “You are busy.”

Wei Wuxian scratches the back of his head. “I am. Yes. Now.” He takes a deep breath. “But…but not later. Then I’m free.”

Lan Wangji stares at him. Wei Wuxian had forgotten how intense his stares could get.

“Later,” he repeats flatly.

“Yeah? After I brought everything home. I thought maybe we could go for coffee or…or maybe not, I guess.”

Lan Wangji shakes his head.

Wei Wuxian should have known. Of course, Lan Wangji wouldn’t be up to coffee, just like that, after everything that happened between them. What a stupid thing to hope for.

“Okay,” he says, and turns to go back to his crates, ignoring the pain in his heart.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says. Then – “Not coffee. Dinner.”

Wei Wuxian turns back to look at Lan Wangji, His eyes are still shining, but there is a small smile playing on his lips. It’s barely noticeable, but it’s there.

“Dinner…?”, Wei Wuxian asks, dumbfounded. „What about Sizhui?”

“I am living with my brother at the moment,” Lan Wangji explains. “He won’t mind looking after Sizhui for one evening. Please.”

Wei Wuxian swallows, then crouches down until he’s at eye level with Sizhui. “What do you say, would it be okay if I borrowed your baba for an evening so he and I could do some boring grown-up talking?”

Sizhui looks between Wei Wuxian and his father and seems to consider it. Then he says: “I have one condition,” and beckons Wei Wuxian close. He stretches and whispers into Wei Wuxian’s ear: “Only if you say sorry to Baba like you promised, so we can go on a picnic together.”

Wei Wuxian laughs at that. He ruffles Sizhui’s hair and looks back up to Lan Wangji.

“I have your son’s explicit permission to spend the evening with you, so I guess I couldn’t refuse, even if I wanted to.”

Lan Wangji’s smile widens. It’s still tiny but blossoms like a flower in sunlight. “Shall we meet here at 6:30 pm, then?” he suggests.

Enough time for Wei Wuxian to drive home, put his things away, shower, and probably scream into a pillow. “Yes,” he says, and smiles back.

 

***

 

Sizhui is happy. Baba has found Xian-gege! He heard how Baba had talked to Xichen-bobo about how much he still liked Xian-gege and missed him. Sizhui had been so happy when Baba had brought him to see the special storytime, and when he saw Xian-gege there, he knew he could help Baba make his wish come true!

And now Baba and Xian-gege are going out together, and maybe they will hold hands and maybe even kiss, like the people on TV who like each other very much do. Sizhui thinks he would like that. It would mean he would get to see Xian-gege more often; maybe he would even move in with them? And Baba would be so happy, and Xian-gege would be happy too! Sizhui likes them both so much!

He doesn’t tell his baba any of this. Instead, he helps him pick out a sweater to wear (the white one because it is so soft and makes Baba’s eyes look extra pretty) and hugs him before he leaves.

“I like you so much, Baba,” he tells him.

Baba kisses his cheek and says: “I love you too, my darling. Be nice to your bobo, okay?”

Sizhui promises to be good and watches as his baba leaves the apartment. He hugs Bunbun close to his chest and lifts one ear of the rabbit hand puppet to whisper into it.

“We did good, Bunbun!”

 

***

 

Lan Wangji feels like a teenager as he walks up to the bookstore. Wei Wuxian is already waiting for him, hair pulled back into a messy bun and tied off with his ribbon. His cheeks are flushed from the cool evening air. He has his black leather jacket wrapped tightly around himself and a big red scarf draped around his neck.

His face is illuminated by the faint glow of the phone in his hand.

If Lan Wangji wasn’t already in love with him, he would have fallen in love right this very instant.

“Wei Ying,” he calls, heart in his throat.

Wei Wuxian looks up from his phone, puts it in his pocket, and smiles. For a while they just stand there, looking at each other.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says. “Hi.”

„Hi,“ Lan Zhan replies and feels stupid. How eloquent, he chides himself.

“So. Dinner?” Wei Wuxian asks. „What did you have in mind?”

Lan Wangji inclines his head. “There’s a noodle place downtown that I thought we might both enjoy.”

Wei Wuxian laughs again. “Noodles? Just like we used to get them in high school?”

Lan Wangji nods. “You always liked them. Would you prefer to go somewhere else?”

“No no, Lan Zhan, noodles sound perfect!” Wei Wuxian says. “Lead the way!”

The noodle place isn’t large, but it feels warm and homey. Lan Wangji inquires about Wei Wuxian’s job. He learns about Wei Wuxian’s studies, his passion for stories and telling them to other people, about how it brings him joy to work with children. He learns that Jiang Yanli is expecting her first baby any day now, and how excited Wei Wuxian is to become an uncle.

Wei Wuxian asks about Lan Wangji’s life. He tells Wei Wuxian about his office job, how he still likes it but thinks about either looking for a less time-consuming position within the company or switching jobs altogether because he realised that he wants to spend more time with his family. He tells him that he still plays the piano and the guqin. He also talks about his recovery process and has to stifle a laugh when Wei Wuxian exclaims: “Oh no no no, Lan Zhan, you cannot get a cane! Canes are incredibly sexy, and you with a cane? The world wouldn’t survive!”

It feels good to share a meal with Wei Wuxian. It feels like something they should have never stopped doing. It’s where he belongs, by Wei Wuxian’s side, trading stories about their lives.

Wei Wuxian’s smile grows warm and fond as Lan Wangji takes the bottle with chili oil and dumps a generous amount onto Wei Wuxian’s noodles. Lan Wangji takes the smile and locks it inside his heart for safekeeping.

After dinner, they decide to go for a walk. There’s a park nearby with a small artificial lake. It doesn’t compare to the lake they used to sit at as teens, but Lan Wangji knows how much Wei Wuxian loves the water.

For a while they walk side by side in silence, their shoulders brushing as they do. Lan Wangji aches to hold Wei Wuxian’s hand, to lace their fingers together. He’s not sure if he’s allowed just yet.

“We need to talk,” Wei Wuxian says, out of the blue.

Lan Wangji looks at him, dread coiling in his stomach, and beckons him to a nearby bench. They sit down, and Lan Wangji waits.

“I need to apologise,” Wei Wuxian begins. Lan Wangji wants to object, but Wei Wuxian raises his hand to shush him.

“Please let – let me do this. I have to do this, Lan Zhan. For my own sake.”

So Lan Wangji lets him.

Wei Wuxian exhales. He seems to shrink within himself. Lan Wangji hates it.

“I am sorry,” Wei Wuxian begins. “I – I did a lot of stupid things, back then. You know that. I hung out with the wrong folks. You told me a thousand times that Wen Chao and his crew were people I shouldn’t mess with. And you were right. I should have backed off the first time they suggested breaking into random cars to look for cash. But I didn’t.”

He sniffles and wraps his scarf tighter around himself. Lan Wangji knows that Wei Wuxian isn’t feeling any colder – he’s building up his armour. He wants to take off the scarf and wrap him in his arms instead. He doesn’t move.

“I knew it was wrong, of course I did,” Wei Wuxian continues. “I don’t know why I even did it in the first place. Maybe it was – misplaced bravery. Maybe I was intimidated. I went along two times. I never took anything, but I was there with them. I knew that they had planned a third series of break-ins, and before they could go through with them, I went to the cops and ratted them out. We struck a deal: I told them everything I knew, and for that intel, they would let me go. So I did.”

He shuffles around on the bench as if it would help him to sort his thoughts.

“I don’t know who told Madam Yu about it, but…she found out. And – I’m sure you remember our last day at the lake? When I came home, most of my clothes and things were outside on the pavement. She had thrown them out of the window in a fit of rage. I was a disgrace to the family, she said. That I had tarnished the Jiang name enough, that I was only allowed to set foot into the house again to gather the rest of my things, and then leave and never return.”

Wei Wuxian grows silent. “She said it would have been best if I had just died with my parents.”

Lan Wangji inhales sharply. “Wei Ying…” he begins but doesn’t finish his sentence. He doesn’t know how.

Wei Wuxian only shakes his head. “I’m not sure if she really meant it, or if she just spat it out because she was so angry. It doesn’t matter anymore. I packed my things, took the last of the money I had saved, and left. And I – I know I should have gone to you. Or at least said something. Sent a letter, maybe, I don’t even know. I know now that this is what I should have done because I could always trust you. But back then – I was scared and hurt, and I was convinced that I wasn’t good for you to be around. That your uncle was right, and that you’d be better off without me. So I left. And left you behind.”

Wei Wuxian wipes his eyes. Lan Wangji’s heart constricts.

“I should have said something,” he goes on, stifling a sob. “I should – I should have – you must have thought I only played with your feelings, Lan Zhan. That I wasn’t serious about them. About us. But I was! And I know it wasn’t fair to you to just leave like…you know, a freaking coward, but I genuinely thought you’d be better off without me. And I’m so sorry, Lan Zhan, I really am.”

Wei Wuxian hides his face in his hands and weeps. Lan Wangji cannot stand it, and so he takes him into his arms and holds him close as he sobs. He kisses Wei Wuxian’s forehead and runs his hand along Wei Wuxian’s back.  Wei Wuxian grabs hold of Lan Wangji’s coat and snuggles up close.

“I need to apologise too,” Lan Wangji says quietly. “I was hurt, that’s true, but I thought I had…scared you away somehow. With how…stiff and cold and boring I used to be. That I made you feel unloved, and that’s why you left. I knew you were in a difficult situation, but I – I didn’t look for you. I was convinced you would find someone better suited for you, someone who could make you genuinely happy. I thought that loving people only leads to heartbreak, not just for me, but for them too. So I let you be. But then I had this accident, and…things happened, and now I found you. Just like you asked me to.”

Wei Wuxian looks up at him. He looks so small like that, Lan Wangji thinks, here in his arms, all wrapped up in his big red scarf, with shining eyes and tear-stained cheeks.

Lan Wangji loves him so much.

“You – you heard that?” Wei Wuxian asks, his voice a mixture of dread and hope.

“I did,” Lan Wangji confirms. “When I first woke up I thought I had imagined your voice, but then Brother told me how they met you, and how you agreed to talk to me. And I found the piece of your ribbon in my hair.”

Wei Wuxian chuckles wetly. “Yeah, that — that was just me being sentimental, I guess.”

Lan Wangji places another kiss on Wei Wuxian’s forehead. “So I did what you told me to do,” he says, “and went looking for you. I know much has happened since we were teenagers, but – I am tired of being scared, Wei Ying. I am tired of missed opportunities and fretting over what could potentially go wrong and missing out on what could go right. I am tired of our story being a What If.

For a few seconds, Wei Wuxian just stares at him, obviously at a loss of what to say. Then something in his expression changes, opens up, and he surges forward to press his lips against Lan Wangji’s. All Lan Wangji can do is cup Wei Wuxian’s face and kiss him back. How fortunate that there’s nothing in this world he would rather do.

The kiss is clumsy and wet with tears, but also full of tenderness and years of longing. They rest their foreheads against each other’s, just sit there, and breathe.

“You found me,” Wei Wuxian whispers.

“I will always find you,” Lan Wangji replies.

Wei Wuxian picks at an invisible thread on Lan Wangji’s lapel. “You…does that mean you’d still have me, then?”

Lan Wangji takes Wei Wuxian’s hand and kisses his fingers. „I cannot think of anyone I would rather have by my side.”

“Even after everything I’ve –“

“Even after all that has happened,” Lan Wangji cuts him off. “There’s nothing to forgive, as far as I’m concerned. I told you back then, and I will repeat it now, Wei Ying: I love you. I’ve been in love with you for years. I love you like the moon loves the sun, and if I must, I would die every day just so you could shine brightly.”

Wei Wuxian whacks Lan Wangji’s shoulder with no heat whatsoever behind it. “You old sap,” he murmurs. His cheeks are adorably pink. “You’re not allowed to die, you hear me? Everyone has to see how beautiful you are when you shine; there’s nothing more lovely than a moonlit night. And you know how much I adore the moon.”

Lan Wangji nuzzles their noses together. “In that case, it would be best if we remained together.”

Wei Wuxian laughs at that, and Lan Wangji smiles. He has missed Wei Wuxian’s laugh so much; how he survived until now without hearing it is truly beyond him.

“I love you too,” Wei Wuxian says and boops Lan Wangji’s nose with the tip of his finger. “I just wanted to tell you again. For emphasis. So that you’ll never forget.”

“I won’t,” he says, “but…Wei Ying. You are aware that I do come in a set of two, now?”

“I also love your kid,” Wei Wuxian admits. “I already loved him so much when I first got to know him. I was sad to let him go; if I’m honest I considered stealing him for one second.”

“We could share him now, if Wei Ying would like that,” Lan Wangji suggests.

Wei Wuxian beams at him. 

“Wei Ying would like that very much.”

 

***

 

It gets cold on the bench after a while, so Lan Wangji takes Wei Wuxian home with him because right now, neither of them can bear to be separated from the other.

They find Lan Xichen sound asleep on the couch in front of the TV; Lan Wangji leaves him a note to let him know that Wei Wuxian will be joining them for breakfast.

They find Sizhui asleep in his bed, Bunbun pressed to his chest. While Wei Wuxian turns off the speaker, Lan Wangji bends down to kiss Sizhui’s cheek and rearranges his covers. Wei Wuxian joins him a minute later, reaching out to carefully card a hand through Sizhui’s hair.

Lan Wangji lets Wei Wuxian borrow one of his pajamas.

“Sizhui will be ecstatic to see you at breakfast,” he tells Wei Wuxian while he brushes out his hair. “How long will you be able to stay?”

“I’m free tomorrow,” Wei Wuxian informs him as he slides under the covers of Lan Wangji’s bed, “so I can stay as long as you’d let me. But I have to be at the studio the day after, and I have another reading session in the afternoon.”

Lan Wangji turns to climb into bed himself and pauses to look at Wei Wuxian. He’s snuggled comfortably under the blankets as if he’d never been anywhere else in his life. Lan Wangji cannot stop himself from smiling.

He lies down next to Wei Wuxian and simply opens his arms. That’s all it takes for Wei Wuxian to burrow himself deep in Lan Wangji’s embrace.

“And what if I’d let you stay forever?” Lan Wangji asks, pressing a kiss to Wei Wuxian’s temple.

“Hmmmm, well, I might just take you up on the offer,” Wei Wuxian says casually, turns his head, and kisses Lan Wangji.

Lan Wangji smiles. His heart sings.

Thank you, Mama , he thinks before he falls asleep, with his beloved safe in his arms.