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Hoards and treasures

Chapter Text

The final split amongst the Yunmeng contingent is sudden, although expected at that point.

It is also not Xichen’s fault, at least not directly.

If anything, Shufu might be to blame, apparently having decided to stop hiding his definite favoritism towards the fox he has taken such a liking to. By offering private lessons in musical cultivation to Wei Wuxian.

Of course Xichen knew about it beforehand, Shufu having mentioned possibly setting up additional lessons for Wei Wuxian during family dinner. He had even offered himself as replacement tutor in case Shufu ever doesn’t have the time or patience for those lessons. Xichen thinks, he would quite like to teach Wei Wuxian musical cultivation – if only the very basics of it, due to his, as of yet, outsider status – and bask in the fox’s inevitable delighted enthusiasm at getting to learn something entirely new.

Going by the stoic look his uncle gave him at his offer of help, however, Xichen is just going to assume that Shufu has no intention of ever missing any of those lessons.

Like he said, Xichen certainly isn’t the only one anymore rather invested in possibly wooing Wei Wuxian away from his adopted sect and into their own. Not at all.

+++

Wei Wuxian is, of course, delighted at the promise of extra lessons.

Wide-eyed and happy when he is told, his grin bright as the sun itself in his genuine enthusiasm at getting to learn something entirely new, much less to receive those lessons from Shufu or Xichen. Because, yes, Xichen absolutely includes himself in the list of potential tutors, cheerfully disregarding his uncle’s ire.

It is admittedly quite an honor for a guest disciple to be offered private lessons on musical cultivation, much less for those lessons to be given by members of the main Lan line. Then again, a reason for the distinguished treatment is easily found, what with Wei Wuxian already having well-exceeded the curriculum of the guest lectures in their entirety, barely halfway through the year the guest disciples are expected to remain at Cloud Recesses.

Thankfully, if one were to truly look through history, they’d find that this isn’t the first time Gusu Lan chose to distinguish particular guest disciples in this manner. Even if, admittedly, Gusu Lan has rarely done so with someone not already firmly tied into their sect.

Still, it is enough of a precedent – an acknowledged if unspoken goal amongst the guest disciples sent here by their own sects, the wish to find themselves distinguished from their age mates in such a manner – for Xichen to remain fairly confident that few if any of the disciples might have caught on to the implications.

Once the lessons begin, Wei Wuxian takes to musical cultivation like a duck to water. Even in this, something he has no previously learned basis to draw from, so easily eclipsing most other disciples, his mind so brilliantly bright it leaves Shufu with an air of proud vindication at his choice of teaching the fox at all.

Wei Wuxian shines.

And, on the sidelines, Jiang Wanyin’s anger rises.

+++

In the end, Xichen isn’t there for the eventual, inevitable clash, the situation that ends up causing a final, irreparable split amongst the Yunmeng Jiang delegation.

By the time he arrives on the scene, called there by one of their younger disciples – all of whom have taken such a clear liking to Wei Wuxian, lured in by his brightness and cheer and forever kind words –things have long escalated beyond a point of allowing him to distinguish who might have started the fight or what exactly might have been the cause.

When he reaches the courtyard in front of the guest houses, still at its edges, so as to first take in the situation before he interferes, Jiang Wanyin and Wei Wuxian are both panting in their anger, standing across from one another, their robes dirty, like they had both been sprawled in the dirt at some point, Wei Wuxian cheekbone bruised and bloodied, matching Jiang Wanyin’s knuckles, impossible to tell whose blood is staining both their skin.

Quite a number of disciples are scattered about, watching the confrontation, although some of them have apparently decided to intervene, trying to hold both brothers back, to restrain them, while Jiang Yanli flutters worriedly in between, trying to calm down both of them.

She has clearly been unsuccessful so far.

“What is your problem, Jiang Cheng?!” Wei Wuxian is spitting at his brother, not quite straining against the hold two of the other disciples have on him, but his posture certainly coiled with readiness in his defensive anger.

“My problem?!” his brother yells in return, forcefully struggling against the hands holding him back, clearly unconcerned with their safety or everyone’s attempts to calm the situation. “You’re my problem!” he hisses furiously, clearly beyond reason at that point. “Always showing off and thinking yourself so great! Like a couple of extra lessons make you better than everyone else, just because everyone in this place keeps catering to you!”

Hm, Xichen thinks to himself. Young Master Jiang isn’t wrong.

At least not in regards to Gusu Lan certainly having done its best to show off a little, to Wei Wuxian in particular, showcasing all the things he would be able to learn here which he wouldn’t have access to anywhere else.

Incentives, Xichen is absolutely willing to admit. They want Wei Wuxian here. Want him to remain here, want him to shine as brightly as he possibly can, willing to give him all the tools and freedoms the fox might need to outshine every single person here – or anywhere else, for that matter – if only he might want to.

“Do you really think yourself special?!” Jiang Wanyin continues to spit mockingly, condescendingly. “Just because of some extra attention? Just because you can show off a different way of cultivation now? What, the Yunmeng way isn’t good enough for you anymore?!”

By now, there is a different sort of frown on Wei Wuxian’s face. The fox is clearly still angry, furious even, but his adopted brother’s words are clearly hitting as they are likely intended to.

Jiang Wanyin’s words are certainly harsh, but looking past the front of wrathful anger, Xichen can also see the insecurity in the Jiang heir’s eyes, which his hurtful words are clearly born from. A boy afraid of losing their older brother to someone else, someone more interesting, more appealing. Xichen might even have been willing to sympathize with that fear, considering the reasons that first drove him to start wooing a celestial fox into Gusu Lan.

He might have.

If the Jiang heir weren’t so set on deliberately causing hurt, so willing to take out his own insecurities on his brother, the very person he is desperate not to lose to another, by attempting to tear Wei Wuxian down.

“You’ve even started giving lessons of your own!” Jiang Wanyin mocks loudly, harshly. “Like anyone even wants your help!”

Some of the other disciples still lingering on the scene hesitate at that. Contradicting an heir to one of the major sects is a rather unforgivable faux-pas. However, Xichen is aware enough to know that most of them had not only wanted Wei Wuxian’s tutoring, but they had also needed them in order to keep up with the newly harsh pace of the lessons.

A flutter of white robes several steps towards his right calls Xichen’s attention to his brother’s arrival on the scene, hand already on Bichen’s hilt, fury radiating off him the instant he spots the blood staining Wei Wuxian’s face, the air around Wangji starting to turn somewhat hazy with his aura manifesting around him, disciples scrambling backwards, out of his path, driven by instinctual fear at the killing intent his little brother is putting out.

Xichen’s gaze cut towards him, catching Wangji’s eyes.

He knows that interfering right now is not going to do them any favors. First of all, it is a fight amongst family, amongst siblings, not something even Xichen would want to interfere in. And stopping the situation now, would also do little to fix the issue and only serve to stop the Jiang heir from digging his own grave.

Something of Xichen’s thoughts must show on his face, for Wangji settles a little, expression impassive as ever but eyes continuing to glow gold with his fury, zeroing in on the offender, the one who dared lay a hand on his chosen mate and still continuing to deliberately cause hurt.

Xichen absently makes a note to ensure that his brother is not left on his own with Jiang Wanyin in the near future.

Gusu Lan potentially wooing away a celestial fox from Yunmeng is already going to cause enough of an uproar, he knows, a headache in the making even if the gains will certainly make up for it. Still, Xichen would much rather not have to deal with the fallout of Wangji blithely killing the Yunmeng heir due to the harm caused to a chosen mate he has yet to officially claim, no official courtship declared to yet give him the rights to defend Wei Wuxian.

Maybe this will teach Wangji about laying official claims a little more expediently.

Xichen’s attention is drawn back to the fight in front of him, when Wei Wuxian finally chooses to protest his brother’s many accusations once more.

“What would you know?!” Wei Wuxian is returning, clearly furious at his adopted brother. “You never come to the tutoring anyway!”

“Tutoring!” Jiang Wanyin laughs scornfully. “Like anyone would want to be tutored by you of all people!”

Wei Wuxian just scowls, not saying anything, even in his anger apparently well-aware that contradicting Jiang Wanyin on this, something they must both know to be untrue, considering how many of the disciples have been attending those tutoring sessions, will only escalate things.

Wei Wuxian’s obvious restraint is commendable, even if it only seems to infuriate Jiang Wanyin further.

“Or is that it? Do you like everyone coming to you with their problems? Making you feel like you’re so much better than everyone else? So much more important?!” he spits, contradicting his own words from barely a minute ago. “Why don’t you just stay here then? If you like it so much better here?! We’d certainly be glad to be rid of you!” he hisses.

Wei Wuxian blinks, that last accusation clearly hitting him far more deeply than anything else said before. “Jiang Ch-,” he interjects, still scowling but his fury apparently gone now, replaced by something softer, something far more vulnerable.

Instead of backing off, his brother almost seems to delight in seeing it, like a bloodhound sensing weakness, lurching forward a step even against the hold of the disciples around him, now right in Wei Wuxian’s face.

“You think they’d want you here?” he derides mockingly. “Always bothering the Twin Jades. Lan Wangji detests you always bugging him,” he hisses. “He’s made it perfectly obvious and still you continue to harass him!”

Ah, Xichen thinks somewhat despairingly. Keeping Wangji from exacting some sort of revenge on Young Master Jiang might just be impossible after all.

For, Wei Wuxian’s eyes have widened, honest hurt swimming in them now.

“Jiang Cheng,” he speaks up cautiously, clearly used to having to be careful with his brother’s temper but apparently taken aback at the honest fury being displayed at the moment. “You don-”

Jiang Wanyin just cuts him off, “If you weren’t a fox,” he spits that last word like a sort of curse, clearly beyond reason in his fury, eyes narrowed, expression dark,. “No one would want you.” He scoffs. “Why would they?”

Even Xichen has to work in order to keep the wince off his face. When he provoked the rather fragile bonds amongst the Yunmeng delegation, he had not intended for things to explode in quite this volatile a manner.

His and Gusu Lan’s favoritism towards Wei Wuxian had been intended to show the fox how much better he could have it elsewhere, in Gusu in particular, maybe enough so for Wei Wuxian to start paying attention to his treatment within his own sect and other options he might be offered in life.

Xichen never intended for him to get so hurt in the process.

The silence in the courtyard is heavy, ice-cold and vibrating with words unsaid and words wrongly spoken.

“Mother was right! You should have just stayed behind!” Jiang Wanyin seethes.

Wei Wuxian doesn’t say anything, anger and hurt and resignation in his eyes, but willing to take it, willing to forgive and forget as he always seems to do.

His silence does nothing to stop Jiang Wanyin. If anything, the Jiang heir’s ire only seems to grow at the lack of response, something in his features changing, something ugly crossing into his eyes, features darkening as he stares down his adopted brother.

“You only ever bring trouble anyway!” he jeers.

There is something to those words.

Something heavy and full of meaning and feelings known but unspoken. It is in the way Jiang Wanyin says them, expression dark but eyes wrathfully bright with the knowledge of a hit well aimed. It is in the way Wei Wuxian physically flinches at the words, eyes flying up to meet his brother’s, a startled sort of honest hurt spreading across his features.

It is certainly in the way Jiang Yanli spins around to fully focus on her youngest brother.

“A-Cheng!” she scolds, usually so quiet but, for the first time since Xichen has seen the three Yunmeng siblings together, speaking up so clearly, for once even seeming to take sides against her youngest brother.

Xichen doesn’t know what exactly might be behind those words. In themselves, they don’t seem all that harsh, maybe a little mean-spirited but certainly not the worst Xichen has heard, not even the worst Jiang Wanyin has said since Xichen arrived on the scene.

But they clearly landed.

Like a punch. Or rather… Like a knife to the heart.

Across from the Jiang heir, Wei Wuxian has frozen.

For all that his intentions while nudging at Yunmeng’s fragile dynamics have been with the best of intentions, especially recently, Xichen had never intended for the fox to get so hurt.

Because, that hurt is obvious.

Swimming in Wei Wuxian’s eyes, shoulders curved inwards, head bowing.

Xichen is about to step forward – to interfere, to help, to mediate, heart hurting with the obvious pain his own actions have indirectly caused – but Wangji gets there before him. Suddenly, a flurry of white robes, cutting across the courtyard, into Jiang Wanyin’s direct line of sight of his brother, obscuring almost everyone’s view.

“Wei Ying,” Wangji says, voice low but firm, so easily cutting through the heavy silence suffusing the courtyard.

Wei Wuxian, who doesn’t look up, eyes remaining on the ground, head bowed, in an attempt to hide the pain likely showing on his face.

“Wei Ying,” Wangji repeats, tone the same. Somehow it sounds less like a demand for attention and more like an offer. At least to Xichen, so used to his brother’s subtle ways of communicating.

And clearly, the intent also reaches Wei Wuxian, who breathes out painfully, body tilting the slightest bit into Wangji’s presence. Before he lets himself be led away by the hand coming to rest softly against his shoulder, removing the necessity of Wei Wuxian having to glance up, to see where he is going, simply letting himself be led.

Simple, unquestioning trust.

It is a beautiful thing to see.

+++

Xichen decides to seek out Wangji and Wei Wuxian later that same afternoon, the day already leaning towards evening.

No one has seen them since the rather public confrontation and Xichen can’t help his worry for Wei Wuxian, the obvious hurt he had been caused by his adopted brother.

So, instead of going for one of his now regular afternoon walks, he makes his way towards the jingshi, his brother’s private rooms.

It is not even a question to him where Wangji would have taken Wei Wuxian, who had been hurt and in need of soothing and protection. Where else would he have taken his chosen, future mate, if not his own rooms, his den, where no one would dare trespass.

Xichen is also perfectly happy to ignore the impropriety of them being on their own in such a secluded part of the Cloud Recesses. For one, Wei Wuxian deserves to be soothed by someone he trusts without added… complications.

Also…

The two of them are not officially courting yet. Thus, technically, there is no need for a chaperone.

And all the better to give his brother a head start, now that the other sects are inevitably going to notice the split between Yunmeng Jiang and the celestial fox all of them have been enviously eyeing for years now.

If it weren’t for his own hope of wooing Wei Wuxian to fully join Gusu Lan, Xichen would also be tempted to give his fury at seeing someone he considers his to protect, so deliberately hurt by another.

Alas, confronting the Jiang heir now, is only going to complicate matters further. Gusu Lan needs an –at least superficially – polite relationship with Yunmeng Jiang, if only so as to ease the marriage negotiations in their near future. Best not add to the inevitable contention between their sects.

He makes his way along the path towards his brother’s home, memories and the serene calm surrounding the jingshi soothing his own mind.

Still, while Wangji might get first claim on Wei Wuxian, it in no way means Xichen doesn’t consider the fox part of his own hoard – to be protected and cherished and kept safe – as well. And woe to anyone daring to cause those Xichen calls his any harm.

His knock on the jingshi’s door brings his brother’s familiar hum in reply, an invitation to enter, if a little more quiet than usual. However, nothing could have prepared Xichen for the sight that greets him, once he slides the door open.

It takes his mind a few moments to make sense of what he is seeing.

His brother, sitting on the porch, looking out towards the backyard. Which is a familiar sight. It is the mass of midnight-black fur curled around Wangji that gives Xichen such pause.

A celestial fox in his celestial form.

Wei Wuxian’s trueborn form is larger than he had expected, the fox’s body, even discounting the tails, about the same size as his human form, a mass of shining, midnight-black fur, smooth and sleek, the merest hints of red tipping his ears, his tails, along his paws, the barely visible shades of dark red shimmering in his fur only enhanced by the low, almost setting evening sun, casting golden-bright shadows along the floor of the jingshi.

Of course, Xichen has heard other people talk of a creature’s trueborn shift, has been told that the shift goes beyond just their physical form, beyond their ability to fully manifest the creature slumbering within their blood instead of managing partial shifts into their halfway form, mostly human with distinct creature features. He had heard that a true celestial creature’s presence alters the very air around them, a shift beyond the visible, beyond the tangible.

Of course he had known that Wei Wuxian must be capable of the shift. Like all foxes. The one thing that distinguishes them from all other celestial creatures.

He had known.

Still, witnessing it for himself is something else entirely.

Power like no other suffuses the jingshi, soothing and terrible and inescapable and the safest place anyone could ever hope to be. Like nature bending to the fox’s very presence. Like the world itself is his command.

The power is primal, terrifying if calm, drowsing, utterly non-threatening, the fox’s head calmly resting in a white-clad lap, eyes closed, body curved around the outside of Wangji’s hip and along his back, five midnight-black, bushy tails, spilling across the floor to his little brother’s side.

Five tails, Xichen thinks a little dazedly.

Five.

When the last known fox died after barely having managed to manifest her second tail towards the end of her almost two centuries of life. Five tails at sixteen seems ludicrous in comparison.

Alas, the evidence is right there, before him.

However…

It isn’t only the fox’s trueborn form that gives Xichen pause.

He looks up, meets his brother’s golden eyes, aglow with the celestial magic of their own heritage.

Iridescently white antlers are sprouting from Wangji’s forehead on either side, curving up and backwards gracefully. Wangji who seems perfectly settled in his spot sitting within the curve of the fox’s body, a hand with darkened, elongated, almost claw-like nails resting against the side of the fox’s neck where it curves across his thigh, shimmering white-blue scales winding a scattered trail over the back of Wangji’s hand, along his wrist and vanishing along his forearm into his wide sleeve.

It has been years since Xichen has seen his brother’s partial shift.

He hadn’t known his antlers had grown to that size, no longer single points but smaller branches curving off impressively. He hadn’t known that Wangji has apparently gained more of his trueborn features with his increased cultivation, as evidenced by the scales along his wrist or his fingernails clearly now part of his shift.

He wonders how long Wangji has had them. He wonders whether the fox’s presence had spurred them into existence.

The fox who also appears to be sleeping, resting calmly against Wangji, his breathing even and deep. Utterly unconcerned with the outside world while protected within the den of a dragon.

As he should be.

They look peaceful. Settled.

He is glad to see Wei Wuxian finding peace at Wangji’s side.

Xichen bows his head at his brother in soft apology for the disturbance before he silently withdraws once more, reassured at Wei Wuxian’s apparent contentedness, despite the hurt that originally drove him to hide out within the jingshi.

Even as he closes the door to the jingshi behind himself, he can see his little brother’s attention having already returned to focus back on the fox so trustingly resting against him, white scales along his fingers iridescent against the midnight-black fur he is running his claws through so soothingly.

The sight of them together is rather breathtaking.

+++

“Young Maiden Jiang,” Xichen calmly greets Jiang Yanli, when he finds her making her way away from the Cloud Recesses’ main buildings, clearly heading towards the path leading to the jingshi.

Her intentions are likely similar to Xichen’s own, wanting to check on her brother, hoping to help take care of him, to soothe away his hurt.

However, for once, Xichen has no intention of letting her smooth over the harm her youngest brother’s so easily does to someone he should hold so very precious. Not when, based on what Xichen has observed so far, for all that she clearly loves both of her brothers dearly, she will do little to solve any of the underlying problems, nothing to prevent her adopted brother from getting hurt again and again in the future.

It is unacceptable to him.

He has spent enough time observing the Jiang siblings to be fairly confident that they do love one another, rather unconditionally even. Shufu is the one who mentioned it in one of their discussions, suggesting that the problem might be one incited by the heads of House Jiang, possibly pitting their own children against one another.

However, knowing Wei Wuxian is loved by his siblings does not change the included imbalanced treatment, the fact that there seems to be a rather worrying pattern of both born Jiangs – quite possibly unintentionally – freely making use of their adopted brother’s so forgiving heart rather than better themselves or the way they treat others.

Xichen is unwilling to let her. Not this time. Not when Wangji is doing just fine taking care of Wei Wuxian himself, without also making it seem like he is in any way to blame for Jiang Wanyin’s general feelings of inadequacy or like he is responsible for his sister’s peace of mind.

No, with what he just observed in the jingshi, Xichen is confident that the times of Wei Wuxian being walked all over by anyone are about to find a rather abrupt end, now that Wangji will feel justified and entitled to make sure that no one will.

“Zewu-jun,” Jiang Yanli returns his greeting. She is clearly worried, her face marred with lines of anxiety, her hands twisting together in front of her with her worry. “I am seeking to check on my younger brother,” she speaks softly, worriedly. “He has yet to return to the disciples’ quarters. He was last seen in the company of Second Young Master Lan and I was told A-Xian might still be with him, visiting his home.”

She looks at him, features demure, tone non-confrontational.

However, there is something in her bearing, which tells Xichen that she clearly does not doubt whether her expectation of visiting Wangji’s home will be granted.

He does not find satisfaction as such in denying her but he also will not be moved on this.

“Young Maiden Jiang,” Xichen returns just as kindly. “While I do understand your worry, it is against Gusu Lan’s rules for disciples of one gender to seek out the private quarters of another.”

Of course, that rule is about keeping particularly enthusiastic suitors from bringing… shame to their own family or that of their intended. Still, growing up with a list of three-thousand rules certainly teaches you how to employ them for your own purpose, if needed.

In front of him, Jiang Yanli blinks, clearly surprised by the denial, eyes suddenly far more cautious. He wonders whether she has yet realized that Gusu Lan might not be quite as guileless as others might assume, when offered such ready access to all of the other sects’ most promising disciples. They never have been. It certainly isn’t the first time Gusu Lan has – directly or indirectly – wooed one of the visiting disciples into switching allegiances.

They are usually more subtle about it and it has certainly never happened with someone as prominent as another sect’s head disciple or a celestial fox.

Still. They are dragons. People should really know better than to present them with things worth treasuring and expecting Gusu Lan to refrain from claiming them.

“I would only wish to ensure my brother’s well-being,” she provides softly, demurely, but her eyes determined.

Xichen looks at her, wonders whether she realizes the harm her way of peacekeeping does to her adopted brother, that her approach of only ever stepping in after the harm has already been caused does not in fact erase the hurt of the wounds wrought, no matter how cheerfully her adopted brother might smile at her in reassurance.

He doubts it, in no way thinks her unkind enough for that.

It still changes nothing in his eyes. If anything, it firms his decision to ensure that Wei Wuxian will be perfectly safe, untouchable by anyone meaning him harm or even unintentionally causing him pain. The cheerful fox deserves better.

He will not let anyone disturb the peace he witnessed in the jingshi, the assurance of safety. Not when it might just secure Wangji’s and his chosen mate’s future happiness. No degree of politeness is going to move him.

Once Wei Wuxian marries into Gusu Lan, Xichen has absolutely no intention of keeping the Jiang siblings from visiting their adopted brother as much as they’d like. However, it will be up to them to fight for their relationship for once, instead of relying on Wei Wuxian’s far too giving heart to do so in their stead.

“I am sorry,” he supplies regretfully, “It might be best if you were to not disturb my brother within his own home.,” he offers instead, so easily falling back on his clan’s rules to make his decision seem more genial. “However, I can reassure you that Wei Wuxian seems to be resting at the moment.”

The image of dragon and fox so softly resting against one another springs up in front of his eyes once more. There had been trust and peace and contentment obvious between them. Enough so for Xichen to be certain that the situation has changed. That, to Wei Wuxian, Wangji has become non-negotiable. And, if Yunmeng Jiang want to keep their association with him, it will be on them to bow to his demands and not the other way around.

With that confidence, Xichen doesn’t mind making his own intentions of keeping the cheerful fox within their sect a little clearer. It is not like he intended it to remain secret for much longer anyway. To the contrary, he’ll be glad to have it known that Gusu Lan in general and Xichen in particular considers Wei Wuxian one of theirs, worth protecting. And, if Wei Wuxian were to give him the slightest indication of wanting to join Gusu Lan, by oath or marriage, Xichen will happily throw all of his sect’s weight into ensuring that it will be so.

He can see the moment the realization crystallizes in Jiang Yanli’s mind, the moment she realizes exactly what sort of game Xichen is playing, has been playing, that he is playing at all.

And that he is playing for keeps.

He sees the fierce determination lighting up her eyes to ensure it will not be so.

Xichen knows her realizations come far too late to still alter the outcome of this game that she hadn’t even known they were playing.

She forgets, as so many others do nowadays, that here? Her blood and clan and heritage means little.

She is amongst dragons.

The Gusu Lan might usually be happy to play along with the other sects in their veneer of civility, happy to use their extensive set of rules to keep themselves from acting on their ever-present, so brutal and merciless instincts.

However, no matter how diluted their blood may be nowadays, they are still dragons. Creatures of open skies and impossible powers, who treasure all they deem precious.

This is Xichen’s home, a dragon’s home, where he is heir, heir to all that surrounds them, decreed by blood and power and lineage.

His clan, his family, his territory.

Here, in this territory that is his before it is anyone else’s, he will not lose a chosen family member, someone he already considers part of his hoard, even if he has to wait for his little brother to fully lay his claim before Xichen can officially do the same. 

He will not lose who he suspects might yet become the very heart of them.

+++

When Wangji and Wei Wuxian once more emerge from the jingshi the next day, something has definitely changed between them.

While Xichen doubts that they have gotten anywhere close to mating or even fully declaring their interest in courting one another, the shyness with which Wei Wuxian seems to observe Wangji, eyes flicking towards him and then away again as soon as he is caught looking, rather speaks of them having at least spoken of their feelings in some manner.

Wangji, in contrast, rarely bothers to even look away from Wei Wuxian anymore. His focus obvious and intent and unwavering. To Wei Wuxian’s obvious, if embarrassed, delight.

Xichen, as a dragon and thus connoisseur of beautiful things, can admit that Wei Wuxian blushes rather appealingly.

Wangji in turn seems content, quite a bit more possessive of Wei Wuxian’s time and attention, but no longer quite as desperately so, content to watch Wei Wuxian interact with whomever he might like to, friends and younger disciples and even his own siblings.

Like Wangji is finally certain of his spot by Wei Wuxian’s side, certain that everyone else comes second in the fox’s eyes.

It’s good enough for now.

+++

Xichen cannot help but smile when Wei Wuxian comes to seek him out barely a day later.

Seeking him out for advice. Neutral advice.

Advice about courtship and winning over the family of one’s intended.

The fox asks his questions shyly, despite doing his best to not seem like he is hanging onto Xichen’s every word, his attempts at presenting his usual boisterous front falling somewhat short whenever he once more dares to breach this particular topic.

Xichen cheerfully pretends that he knows nothing of Wei Wuxian’s underlying intent, happy to advise the fox as requested.

Not that he himself has any experience with courting another – or being courted, for that matter – but at least in regards to winning the approval of Wei Wuxian’s intended’s family, he is more than certain of his ability to ‘advise’ Wei Wuxian. Considering that said approval was won quite some time ago already.

Xichen might almost feel bad about how very much not neutral his advice is turning out.

Almost. If it weren’t for the fact that he has become almost as intent on ensuring Wei Wuxian’s happiness as he is his own brother’s.

Also, the glint in Wei Wuxian’s eyes, a considering sort of look whenever Xichen suggests yet another courtship gesture that is perfectly matched to Wangji’s specific preferences, makes him wonder whether Wei Wuxian might not have caught on in regards to some aspects.

It makes little difference.

For he honestly hopes to soon count Wei Wuxian amongst his family.

+++

Over the coming weeks, things are tense amongst the Yunmeng delegation.

Jiang Yanli sees to it that her brothers apologize to one another, as always smoothing over any conflict between them. Wei Wuxian even seems mostly unchanged, just as cheerful as before.

She clings to her adopted brother as much as she can, however, with the gender separation in Cloud Recesses and not truly having inserted herself into either of her brothers’ daily lives since their arrival here, Wei Wuxian cheerfully waves her off whenever she tries.

He clearly means nothing by it, genuine in his comments of not wanting to interfere with her friendships here.

Jiang Wanyin, in contrast, does have that access to his brother. Jiang Wanyin who, with the reemergence of Wangji and Wei Wuxian, actually seems to catch on match quicker than his sister in realizing the full implications of all that has changed.

Xichen sees the Jiang heir watching Wei Wuxian laughing freely while leaning into Wangji’s space, sees him scowling angrily at Wangji from afar. But. Aside from the anger, there is also something resigned in the way Jiang Wanyin watches it all from the sidelines.

Like he knows that they are too late. Like he regrets his own actions that have resulted in driving his adopted brother to seek his comfort somewhere entirely outside of their clan. Like he is, however, still too caught up in soothing his own pride by ignoring his brother for him to instead soothe his heart by sticking close.

Jiang Wanyin watches from the outside, seeing the mockingly spat words regarding Wei Wuxian’s lack of welcome anywhere be thrown in his face.

The one time the Jiang heir accidentally catches his eyes, Xichen doesn’t even pretend to be anything other than perfectly contend with how things are developing, how very much welcome Wei Wuxian is to stay here for however long he might like.

Xichen gains no satisfaction from the painful loss House Lan’s win will mean for House Jiang in turn.

Still, it is a fight already won.

+++

The dynamic that develops between Wangji and Wei Wuxian becomes obvious rather quickly.

With Wangji following Wei Wuxian wherever he might go, never imposing any sort of restrictions, if anything seeing to it that no one else might attempt to do so and providing absolutely everything Wei Wuxian shows even the remotest bit of interest in, gaze immutably fixed on Wei Wuxian. Like he were the very sun itself, luminous, life-giving, all-encompassing.

All the while Wei Wuxian leads on, cheerfully skipping ahead, befriending disciples and causing pride to instructors and awing the younger children. But. With every unpredictable turn taken, he forever seems to look back towards Wangji, not so much for approval but more to make sure he is following, just a few steps behind, never darting ahead beyond putting a few steps between them, forever keeping within his sight.

Wei Wuxian makes their choices and Wangji defends them fiercely.

Wei Wuxian gathers friends and allies and little disciples to crowd around him. Wangji watches calmly from beside him, immovable and steadfast.

If they mate, their dynamic already seems clear.

One the nurturer, the other the protector.

The elders are rather delighted at the promise of trueborn Lans – whether of fox blood or of dragon blood is secondary to them, at least within this generation – and thus do not interfere in the least.

Then again, everyone at Cloud Recesses knows better than to interfere with another dragon’s courting of their chosen mate.

+++

When Wangji and Wei Wuxian finally approach him about two months before the guest disciples are set to leave the Cloud Recesses once more, settled across the table from him beside one another, their fingers tangled together firmly in between them, not quite hidden by their sleeves, Wei Wuxian so obviously anxious as he asks for Xichen’s blessings in courting Wangji, Xichen barely manages to keep himself from smiling far too widely than would be appropriate in this situation.

He gives his blessing easily, somewhat endeared by Wei Wuxian’s obvious relief, the tension within his frame releasing somewhat as he grins brightly, so obviously, incandescently happy. Like he had any reason whatsoever to doubt Xichen’s approval.

Wangji at least doesn’t seem surprised in any way. Then again, Xichen has made his approval of Wei Wuxian more than perfectly clear over the past few months.

Although, some of Wei Wuxian’s anxiety does seem to bleed over to Wangji, when they then request Xichen’s aid in convincing Shufu to allow their betrothal to one another.

Xichen makes sure that his smile remains genial instead of showing the honest hilarity he feels at the moment. You know, considering that Shufu has been waiting for this almost since the moment Xichen first approached him with his suspicions.

As it is, Xichen already knows that Shufu will easily agree to the betrothal, will throw all he can, all of Gusu Lan’s considerable weight, into making it become reality. If anything, Xichen isn’t certain whether, in the upcoming marriage negotiations, Shufu will be more likely to warn his own nephew or his nephew-in-law from ever hurting the other.

“Of course I will speak to Shufu,” he returns calmly. “Leave it to me.”

Wei Wuxian smiles, bright and grateful, so perfectly guileless. It would almost be worrying that naivety… Then again, with the fox about to settle within a dragon’s den, Wei Wuxian will be kept perfectly safe despite his own, apparently far-too-trusting nature.

Wangji, Xichen, and the entirety of Gusu Lan will see to it.

Across from him, Wangji tilts his head the slightest bit, eyes intently on Xichen, apparently reading some of his thoughts in his – inscrutable to anyone else – expression.

Xichen wonders what his brother sees.

Another second of silence passes. Before Wangji bows his head in thanks, not saying anything, instead proceeding to rise from his position, easily pulling Wei Wuxian along when the fox grins up at him brightly and wriggles his hands in demand.

Then again, if there is anyone on this earth, who knows him well enough to be in no way surprised by the lengths Xichen would go to for his family, it is his little brother. Even more so, since Wangji is exactly the same as Xichen, utterly uncompromising in the defense of all they consider theirs, that which they have claimed.

Their hoards.

For them protect. For them to hold precious. For them to keep safe.

No matter what.

As is the way of the dragons.