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"It's Heating Up in the Cold Springs of Gusu Lan! You Won't Believe This Artwork Really Exists!"

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It was the article headline that first drew his eye, on someone else's tablet in the train they were on, “Was the Lan sect always as austere as they are today?: New art shocks commonly known facts leaving historians reeling!”

Dismay dripped down his spine as he pulled out his phone and searched up the article. The most recent leader of the Lan sect was not known for making wise decisions on what needed to stay locked up safely and what could be let out so that people could know of their long and storied history. The first disaster had been selling all of their music, reasoning that not enough people cultivated in these modern times to make it risky.

Mysteriously less than a month after the Songs of Turmoil had been displayed, they disappeared during a power outage that only affected the museum and only lasted long enough for the thieves to completely disappear.

Lan Sizhui had absolutely no idea what had happened, of course, but as the most visible immortal, he told everyone who was desperate to hear his opinion that some things should stay in the past.

After the third such interview, he'd been left a message on his phone that was nothing but A-Die shrieking with laughter into the other end before calling him a good radish with all the possible affection he could pack into one sentence. Which was a lot.

That had been the first near debacle. His parents rarely left their little farming town these days, preferring time to still feel like it was going slower, but they had gone and taken back everything they deemed something they weren't interested in sharing with the world.

The article confirmed they'd missed at least one thing. Fortunately the web page only showed “one of the less explicit ones”, but seeing his baba's familiar face combined with bare shoulders and chest, propped up on a daybed and long inky lines that confirmed the only reason they weren't seeing anything else was that his hair was in the way of looking at everything else.

He quickly scrolled past the picture to look at the article itself. After a (thankfully) brief description of the picture, it went in a more reasonable direction than the title suggested. “Recently discovered by Lan Zhuqiong and donated, it is suspected that these beautiful, if very vivid and erotic artwork was done some thousand years ago at least. It is rare to find such intimate drawings preserved this well, so we are excited to find out more as these drawings become available for the public to view. At this current time, all we know of this beautiful young man is that he is definitely a member of the main family, see the careful brushwork on the ribbon to show the cloud patterns, and that he has some sort of interesting mark on his breast. Perhaps an illicit tattoo? Either way, the exhibit goes live next week at the Lanling Jin Museum of Historical Art.”

He closed the tab and let out a pained sigh. It was unlikely either of his parents had seen it yet, the internet in their village was still spotty and inconsistent, which was probably for the best since ever since Lan Wangji had discovered the Mulberry Blog and declared its author his first enemy since they'd hung up their swords for good. He would have to call them once he was back at his hotel.

This day had already been too long and it had barely started.

 

Later, much much later than he would have preferred, he was back in his hotel room, counting back hours towards home and trying to remember if it was too early or not. The trickiest part was that there was a much smaller window in which he wouldn't reach them than when he would. He really wanted to talk to A-Die about this more, just because a part of him didn't really want to ask his more reserved quiet parent about for example how much erotic art had been drawn over the centuries and why they didn't take it with them when they moved away.

He was still dragging his feet on it when his phone rang anyway. He gave it a suspicious look when it was a number he didn't recognize, although to be fair he only had three numbers saved anyway and usually someone else calling him was either reporters attempting to reach the oldest known immortal around, or ambitious spam callers attempting to forgive his student loans.

He answered it anyway.

“Hello, how can I help you?” he asked politely, he was less inclined to tell off the poor spam callers who didn't get a say in what number they rang than the reporters who were always seeking a quick story and remarks to take out of context. He had learned the hard way.

“Hello, you're the Sunrise Immortal, yes?” a breathy male voice said quickly, “I was hoping to reach out for a quote on an article we're running about the recently unearthed art of a young man from the Sunshot campaign, do you know who this young man is?”

“Which site are you calling for?” he asked tersely. Not that he was planning on giving a comment anyway, but he wanted to know who to expect the next great headline of “Hanguang-jun or Hanguang-hunk? The surprise beneath those dignified robes of Gusu Lan.” to come from.”

“Oh, we're affiliated with the Yunmeng Daily,” the same breathy voice said in excitement, “so do you know then?”

He took a breath and drew on Wei Wuxian's same energy that he used to dismiss overblown sect leaders, overly ambitious cultivators seeking to learn from the one and only Yiling Laozu in the middle of town with his children and stubborn rabbits. “No comments today.” he said sweetly, already pulling the phone away from his ear. “Thank you very much for your consideration.”

“Wa-” he heard before he pressed the end call button with much satisfaction.

He sighed and after a moment called Wei Wuxian, hoping it was one of the mornings where he was motivated to get up early. The phone rang unpromisingly six times before it was picked up. “Sizhui?” his baba asked instead, voice barely tinged with worry, “is everything all right?”

“Of course baba,” he said quickly before Lan Wangji could leap to any conclusions, “I just had a question for A-Die when he's awake,”

“Mn, I will try and wake him then,” he said and Sizhui heard the sound of the phone being set down and then Lan Wangji saying very softly “Wei Ying, Sizhui is calling you.”

Wei Wuxian made a grumpy sound and then let out a snort in his sleep. Sizhui suppressed a snort of his own. “One moment please,” his baba said and then muted the phone properly.

Sizhui took the time waiting on hold, roughly about ten minutes, to make himself a fresh cup of tea and check his email, sending out three identical responses to the same question before rustling and Wei Wuxian's very tired voice came through. “Sizhui, why are you awake at this time?”

“It's evening over here, A-Die,” he reminded him, stirring honey into his tea. “I had a question for you if you're awake enough,”

He heard a rustling noise on the other end, likely him rolling over in bed. “I always have time for you, even if I have to wake up at terrible hours,” he said, any bite in the words cut out by the warmth threaded through it, “ask away.”

He paused and sat his mug down, then pulled up the original article to look at it. “There's an exhibit opening next week back in Lanling that has a bunch of art donated by the Lan sect.” he said measuredly, scrolling down to the picture again, “artwork that I'm pretty sure you made.”

There was a pause long enough that he wondered if Wei Wuxian had fallen back asleep again before he started laughing. “Oh no, I think I know what it is,” he said after he caught his breath, “Do they have a name for the exhibit?”

Sizhui nodded in pain, “They have a display picture at least. It's Baba, shirtless.”

Wei Wuxian did nothing to ease his pain by laughing again, this time for longer. “Poor Sizhui,” he managed, not that it eased the sting any, “that's probably the most innocent one they could find. It's all like the photo albums.”

He took a long burning swallow of his tea, “I'm not surprised,” he told his cackling father, “I should have known.”

“There might be some innocent ones in there,” Wei Wuxian reassured him on the other end, a faint thunking noise and quiet ow telling him he bashed his elbow on the nightstand, “I did sometimes want to draw him doing classes, or sitting with the rabbits. But it's not very likely.”

Sizhui sighed and rubbed at his eyes. “I'll go see it if you want me to look and see if you want it back,” he offered tiredly, “but please go get anything else you don't want historians getting their hands on before I have to scout out something else like this.”

“Yes, please do, I need to know what they're saying. Also if I have to deal with planes to go commit burglary again.” Wei Wuxian exclaimed, sounding more awake than the whole rest of the conversation, “do they still think I'm a woman?”

“Ridiculous,” Lan Wangji chimed in dimly.

Sizhui couldn't help but laugh, “they probably do. All right, I'll go and see it, and then I'll come home for a while,” he confirmed, already opening a new tab to look at plane tickets again. “I'm going to need extra time with the rabbits to recover from this.”

“Please look at the gift shop,” his baba asked slightly closer to the receiver this time, as if Wei Wuxian had stuck it between them instead. “See if there's any new statues please.”

“Yes baba,” he said dutifully and ordered plane tickets for the same night the exhibit opened.

 

There were things in life Sizhui had never actually wanted to see, things he certainly didn't expect to see hanging in a museum with titles and musings on the artist next to them. While it could be and usually was fun, looking back at exhibits made of the time when they were all still mortal, who knew what sort of interesting ideas people could come up with, there were things he felt should be lost to time. The collections of battle music. Weaponry that had spilled the blood of his family. These pictures.

At the very least, they should be in safe hands and not in the hands of people who had no idea what they were doing. Baba had made a very good case on stealing back some of the books from the forbidden section, reasoning that people shouldn't be able to read music that could still be used to torture someone if they had half a thought in their head.

But when he saw the exhibit name of “Underneath the Rules and Restrictions of the Lan Sect,” he felt an urge to give into that inner child that had never completely left and speed walking back out and paying for his A-Die to fly out and look at it instead. Wei Wuxian would, admittedly after laughing for a while, keep a calm head about such things and make reasonable decisions about how to handle it. It would still likely involve burglary, but he would think it through first. But he was already here, and mostly aware of what he was going to see, and he was old enough that he'd stopped counting.

He'd been through many wars. He could survive looking at erotic art of his baba. At least it would be beautifully drawn. He still had several portraits of rabbits and long lost family members tucked away safely at home.

He hoped that it was more of a variety rather than all explicit art, even though A-Die had not given him much to latch onto there. He remembered once when he was still very, very young finding the very first of those pictures, very carefully tucked inside another book and held in place by a protective talisman to keep time from wearing on it, back when it was the only drawing left. That one had been lost at some point, perhaps he could give them the good news that it was found again.

His hopes were dashed walking in. There were warm lights to make the fading ink on the paper stand out more, little notes next to each one denoting what they were pictures of, with most of them using flowery language to talk around the fact that they were obviously drawn post-coitus, and theorizing whether the Wei Wuxian that had signed some of them was the Yiling Laozu or someone simply unlucky enough to share a name. Near one of the less racy pictures, an orator in blue robes lined with white was talking with several of the patrons clustered around him. “Due to the sun brand on the upper chest, we can date this back to this man having been alive during the time of the Sunshot campaign, meaning these pictures have to be almost fifteen hundred years old.” he intoned, using a thin plastic rod to carefully point at the brand mostly covered by Lan Wangji's hair. “There are very few records remaining on prisoners of war during this time, but we can be certain he would have not received such a brand otherwise, as the tools used to make such a thing would have certainly been destroyed in the aftermath.”

Sizhui wandered over carefully, hands in pockets and posture as relaxed as he could manage, looking not quite directly at the pictures if possible, but listening in. It would be interesting to hear what they had to say about the pictures, if only because Wei Wuxian would undoubtedly find it hilarious.

“It is said that due to the location of the sun brand and the age of the pictures that this could be a reference or even be the late famous Hanguang-jun, whose name disappeared from records around a century and a half later,” the orator continued, managing that usual line of being right at first and then horribly horribly wrong. “It is known now that he took in a Wen orphan, commonly believed to be his son, somewhere during the campaign. It is widely theorized that the mother of his child was likely killed during the fall of the Yiling Laozu, if not during the Sunshot campaign.” He gestured broadly to one of the less dramatic ones where it was simply his father in his inner robes pulled open to expose only most of his chest with his hair loose, smiling fondly. “Common writings of the time do refer to him as a beautiful man, so it seems likely that this may in fact be him, but at this time it is only a theory. None of the known immortals were willing to answer our questions.” He made a face as though it was their fault that every century they grew less and less interested in answering inane questions. No wonder the first immortal had immediately chosen to retire to the mountains.

The orator looked over and did not recognize one of the immortals that had declined to answer their questions. “Regardless, it is a pleasure to know that even hundreds of years ago, there were people making such art, and wanting to be seen for such art. We're not sure when they were filed away with the Lan sect forbidden archives, but we are very happy they have been recovered.” He cleared his throat and squared his shoulders like a student concluding his spoken essay, “it is important that we know such things exist. That the people in history are real and did the same things we do now.”

Sizhui carefully contained the face he wanted to make inside as the orator nodded and asked “are there any questions about these pictures?”

Yes, he thought with amusement slowly rising in his chest, why are mostly naked pictures of my father necessary to proving that we were all real in the past?

Someone in the crowd raised a hand up like they were in class, eagerly awaiting the orator's attention. “What do you think of the theory that it was the Yiling Laozu who drew these? He does share a name with his rumored spouse?”

The orator shook his head as Sizhui stifled a snort. “It is highly unlikely,” he said with a decisive shake of his head, “it is recorded through many documents of the time that while they did know each other from walking in similar social circles that they did not get along, and after the Sunshot campaign they were known enemies crossing swords. Unfortunately changing someone's name after they came of age was very rarely done and it is likely that the Wei Wuxian of the Lan sect is someone who was simply unlucky enough to come of age before the Yiling Laozu rose to power. We cannot even confirm that she married him, as the records of that time are mostly lost.”

Sizhui stifled another laugh as he turned away. So they were back on that theory again too. At least there was nothing of danger or of accurate information being shared in there. And truthfully the pictures were beautiful and they would be happy of the restorative work on them, after they'd brought them home. While he still couldn't quite look at most of them, the fact that all of them were so carefully preserved after so long was a warming feeling inside.

He lingered a bit longer before someone's offhand comment about how “no one's that hung, specially not a man with a face like that,” led to him fleeing towards the gift shop.

As usual for a museum that specialized in ancient cultivator artifacts, they had small memorabilia loosely based of the heroes of the ages. Usually not looking anything like the people in question, but some details usually made it through. Black stone flutes with red tassels were usually there, along with chains based off of old sect symbols, stickers, little cups, robes with the seams so sloppily sewn that they fell apart when washed, every once in a while a new artistic interpretation of the scourge and inventor of the cultivation world.

His baba had several shelves devoted to these figurines of varying quality, ranked by how much they resembled his husband. Sizhui always enjoyed having a new one to add to the collection, and how it would lead to late evenings over warm wine with Wei Wuxian laughing as Lan Wangji seriously compared them to the real thing, with one particularly memorable one that resembled nothing so much as an ogre in a red and black loincloth using his flute to beat a drum always relegated to the very end of the shelves immediately.

A few letters between young maidens of the era describing the young men in fawning terms had led to more beautiful depictions recently though. This statuette had definitely been inspired by one Shao Mei to two of her friends, he looked more like an elf than either of his faces, but she had been the one to go on about his smile for most of a page so this one was in red and black robes three centuries late, with a black flute with the tassel hanging off the right end for once, long pointed ears and a fine painted smirk.

On the way to the register, he saw a book certain to inspire many emotions sitting there innocently, a birdcage opening to release the title “What really happened behind the wall of rules of Gusu Lan?: An Expose by noted historian Nie Fuzheng.”

Despite the trustworthy name and title, he knew it was going to be as full of utter trite as everything on the Mulberry Blog. After all, he knew nothing, and would frequently demure his knowledge whenever challenged on anything. However, every once in a while, he dropped a tidbit that his baba swore meant he did actually remember his past life and was having fun deliberately stirring the pot. Wei Wuxian would remind him that no one else they'd met in the future had ever shown any memories, but it was uncanny sometimes how he would slip in things otherwise long and truly lost to anyone other than the first immortals.

He bought it anyway. It would be interesting to see what the chapter titles were at least. He could read it on the flight home just to know exactly what they were in for.

 

It was always wonderful to walk up the cobbled road to the little farming village that his parents were retired in. Most of the people that lived here had a similar desire to live in a less modern world, so two men who had looked in their thirties for the entire lives of the people here didn't really stand out. Cradled between mountains with a small river running through it, even without the little shrine and the hard work of the people living here, it felt peaceful. With the rising sun behind him as he walked up, much of the stress of the last few years melted away. He was on his way home.

Several of the people out early to tend to their small fields and feed chickens waved as he walked by, all of them pleasantly familiar faces. He waved at each one of them in turn. “Welcome back, mister Sizhui,” one of the older men called, leaning on his fence as Sizhui came closer. “Just stopping by or here for a while?”

“I'm ready for a break,” he said, smiling and lifting his suitcase for emphasis. “The outside world is a little much right now.”

“Well, stop by one evening and tell me all about it,” he invited with a warm laugh, “it's good to remember why we like it here.”

“Of course, master Wang,” he bowed politely and was waved on with more laughter. It was good to have a place where his immortal status didn't matter to anyone, no matter how he might be teased for being an honored elder with soft cheeks.

Home was built for mornings, with the front window facing north so that the sunlight turned everything inside golden without blinding anyone, and the rabbit warren and chicken coop facing east so the animals would wake with the sun. He didn't see anyone out there yet, but the barrier wards on the front gate recognized him immediately and opened to let him pass. Leaving his suitcase on the ground next to the porch swing with soft pillows at each end, he went to go greet the animals first.

He didn't recognize most of the rabbits, but a few of them remembered him, bounding over to the edge of their hutch to twitch their noses at him disapprovingly. “Hello,” he whispered to them, trying to not disturb the chickens on the other side as he knelt down to look at them. “Sorry to bother you.”

One of the newer rabbits, a tan fellow with bright eyes hopped over to stand up and look at him, apparently finding him acceptable after a few minutes.

The sound of the front door opening startled him and he stood up quickly, brushing dirt off of his knees. This early in the morning, it would be Lan Wangji up and taking care of the animals. He just heard his small sound of surprise before he looked around the corner and smiled. “Welcome home, Sizhui.” he said quietly, setting down his basket.

Sizhui came over and hugged him tightly, drinking in that feeling of safety that would never go away no matter how many thousands of years passed. “I'm home, baba.”

Lan Wangji took a step back and looked over him, the faintest of frowns appearing for a moment. “You've cut your hair again,” he said quietly, his own long hair still tied up from sleep. “The modern style is so short.”

He shrugged and brushed at the ends that drifted at the base of his neck. “It's more comfortable in the summer when it's so hot.” he said, stepping out of the way so that his father could open the entrance to the chicken coop. “Is A-Die still asleep?”

“Mn,” he said expressively as four chickens fluttered down around his feet, squawking in all matter of opinions. “He will be happy to see you when he wakes up.”

They didn't speak after that, but the early morning quiet was comfortable and warm, with the sun drying out the dew on the grass as the rabbits hopped around them and he helped out with cleaning their enclosures. When the sun was higher, he sat down on the porch swing out of the way, watching the rabbits hopping through the grass in the yard, eternally thwarted from their desire to eat A-Die's chilies growing in the garden. The quiet melodies of birdsong told him there were no predator birds to watch out for and he closed his eyes for a few moments, listening to the world go on around him.

The swing swayed slightly as someone else joined him on it, creaking slowly. Even before he opened his eyes, he knew who was right there. “Hello A-Die,” he said, opening his eyes and sitting up, “I'm home.”

Wei Wuxian beamed and reached over and ruffled his hair. “Welcome back, radish.” Then he frowned and pouted at him. “You cut your hair again.”

He started laughing. “Baba said the same thing when he saw it,” he said and sat up fully to receive his hug, tight enough to make his ribs pop. “It's still long for modern cuts.”

The older man pouted at him and ruffled his hair. “Even so, it's shorter every time you come home.” Then he leaned forwards, resting his chin in his hands. “So, how was the exhibit?”

Sizhui sighed and lay back on the swing. “They didn't have the old picture, or if they did it was in the back, they said they couldn't put everything out. They said some of it was a little too risque even with an age restriction to the exhibit.” he gave him a subtly dark look, one Wei Wuxian had taught him himself, “I'm sure you can guess what I saw a lot of.”

He nodded without a trace of shame, “he's fun to draw. It's why there's so much of it.” His eyes crinkled mischievously, “wouldn't you agree he's just so great?”

“That didn't mean I wanted to see it, A-Die,” he protested and Wei Wuxian broke down in laughter as the door opened behind him, “When you steal it back, please do not bring me along this time. I don't want to see what they have in the back.”

He raised three fingers to the sky only to have them caught up by Lan Wangji, who pressed a kiss to the tips as he swore, “I swear I shall not scandalize my first born any more than I have.” he promised, looking up to meet Baba's lips with his own. “Hello there,” he said with all the love in the world, “would you like to commit crimes with me?”

“I assume you mean robbing a museum,” he said calmly, “I will be there. Breakfast is ready, if you would like to eat, Sizhui.”

The in flight meal had been a long time ago. “Yes I would, thank you.” he said, and pulled himself up with their help to go inside.

 

After breakfast, over tea they had grown in the garden and picked freshly while he washed the sweat of travel off, he remembered what he'd brought back from the museum. “Baba, I did find some things in the gift shop for you,” he said, rising to his feet. “Would you like the good one or the bad one first?”

“The bad one,” Wei Wuxian chimed in despite having not been asked, “always better to get bad news first.” Lan Wangji nodded and he was sure he would regret it in a moment even as he obeyed and grabbed the book. He took a breath and turned around and handed it over.

Lan Wangji picked it up, narrowed his eyes, set it on the table and walked off into the other room without a word. Wei Wuxian broke down into laughter. “Come back!” he called, slumped on the table and narrowly missing knocking his elbow into his tea, “It can't be that bad.”

Sizhui sat down again and sipped his tea primly. “It could be. It's Nie Fuzheng again.”

Wei Wuxian picked up the book and flipped it over to read the back while he wiped at his eyes. “Oh no, this is terrible,” he said with glee, “Which one's worse, "Sworn brotherhood? What were the three heroes of the Sunshot campaign REALLY up to? Revenge, bloodshed, dramatic love triangles." Or "How many women joined the Yiling Laozu's harem anyway? We have reports of people running to the burial mounds begging him to ravish them."” He wiped at his eyes again with the palm of his hand, “Wait, this one's my favorite. "The most virile specimen of Feudal Lanling, how many descendants does Jin Guangshan have today and how many of them have married each other by accident?"” His barely contained laughter broke free of his control again, “Nie Fuzheng, why must you torture us so?”

Sizhui shook his head. “I do not understand your fascination with this.”

Wei Wuxian flipped his hair out of his face dramatically. “Sizhui, Sizhui, must you try and deprive me of watching my husband going to war with someone on his level?” he said with a hiccup, “His war with the Mulberry Blog is the finest work I've ever seen.”

Sizhui rolled his eyes as Lan Wangji came back into the room with his slim white laptop open, brow barely furrowed as he tapped several times on the touch pad till he got to what he was looking for, turning it around with a slightly more increased brow furrow. “Wei Ying,” he said coolly as he shifted the laptop on his arm, “The artwork. He has gotten to it,” he said, tilting the screen down so they could see the page he was on.

Unsurprisingly, it was the Mulberry Blog's front page with its eye-catching trimmed photos of birds around the equally eye-catching title “You won't believe what the four thousand rules of Gusu Lan were hiding! Legendary hero Hanguang-jun was secretly tattooed and not so secretly smoking hot!” “He is doing this on purpose,” Lan Wangji said with conviction.

Wei Wuxian cracked up and rested his head in his hands, shoulders shaking. “Husband, how are you not banned from there yet?” he laughed, rubbing at his eyes. “At this point he's just doing it on purpose.”

“I am aware,” Lan Wangji frowned, “I have not figured out what his plan is yet, but I will continue to refute his facts until he admits defeat.”

Sizhui was unable to keep a straight face any longer, politely covering his mouth. “What nonsense is he posting now?”

Lan Wangji openly frowned. “He has started posting such things as “Hanguang-jun and the Yiling Laozu crossed swords, more than one way,” he quoted, the click bait sounding completely wrong coming from his mouth. “We never drew our swords on each other.”

“You pointed a sword at me when we first met,” Wei Wuxian reminded him fondly, eyes crinkling as he sat down and set the computer on the table. “It's a clever title. He's actually more right than everyone else.”

“I know,” Lan Wangji said petulantly, “this is what I cannot forgive him for.”

As Wei Wuxian dissolved into a puddle of laughter on the table, he looked at Sizhui with a more plaintive look on his face. “You said you found another one?”

Sizhui took pity on him as he gave the book a disgusted look, “I did,” he confirmed, reaching into his bag and pulling out the carefully wrapped figurine and handing it over. “I think this one is one of the better ones.”

His baba unwrapped it as carefully as if it were thousands of years old and not some kitsch he'd found in a gift shop. The corners of his mouth lifted slightly as he turned it this way and that, before setting it next to Wei Wuxian's head, comparing the two seriously. “It is an improvement over the last few,” he said at last, rising to go rearrange his shelves again.

Wei Wuxian gave him one of those smiles where his eyes mostly disappeared behind his lashes and his few wrinkles belied his age. “Welcome back, Sizhui.” he told him again, warm and content.

Sizhui smiled and basked in the feeling. “I'm home.”