Actions

Work Header

Hoards and treasures

Chapter Text

Xichen might never have noticed.

If it hadn’t been for Wangji’s unusual but definite preoccupation with that one particular guest disciple drawing Xichen’s attention in turn, he probably wouldn’t have noticed.

Which would have been a shame. Not only regarding Wangji’s happiness but also that of his brother’s chosen mate. Even the Gusu Lan as a whole rather benefited, and Xichen certainly counts himself lucky for the additional family member he ended up gaining.

Although, he is getting ahead of himself.

The point is, Xichen might never have noticed.

However, the very first time Wangji mentioned the Yunmeng Jiang Head Disciple– by name! – to him during their shared morning tea, a daily ritual they both take perfect  care never to miss, Xichen had instantly taken notice. And definite interest.

For the sole reason that someone had clearly succeeded in drawing his little brother’s attention.

And, as an older brother, it is Xichen’s most sacred – and most fiercely enacted – duty to check out anyone his little brother, who can barely even be bothered to pay attention to any of their own sect’s disciples on most days, might have taken such definite notice of.

His brother. His family. His to protect.

The dragon blood, so diluted in their clan now, even in those of Lan An’s own line, however, certainly enough to still clamor within his veins with the need keep his little brother safe and protected and to not let anyone but those truly worthy near him.

So.

So what if Xichen might then have decided to maybe make his way past the lecture halls right around the time he knew the lectures would end for the day. Just to get a glimpse. To see who had so clearly managed to captivate his brother, when Xichen had been afraid Wangji might never find anyone to befriend. Much less someone to want at his side in a more… permanent capacity.

Of course, he knew of Wei Wuxian before he had arrived at the Cloud Recesses with the Yunmeng contingent and certainly before Wangji ever mentioned him. Everyone knew of him. There is a reason why this class of guest disciples is so much more numerous than they usually tend to be, why so many of the smaller sects chose to send anyone within the accepted age range to Gusu this year.

This year of guest lectures, which doesn’t only boast the attendance of heirs from most of the major sects but also has a celestial fox amongst them.

Wei Wuxian, the Yunmeng’s Head Disciple and adopted ward of the Jiang main family. A fox amongst turtles.

Ever since word first reached the other clans of a trueborn fox amongst this generation of cultivators, amongst Yunmeng Jiang’s disciples, all of the sects have been clamoring to strengthen their ties to Lotus Pier.

The boon of allying one’s clan with that of a trueborn celestial creature is rather incomparable. And think of the increase in standing which a potential marriage alliance to said creature might bring even the smallest of clans. Not to even mention the children, that might result from such a union, the potential reawakening of any clan’s trueborn bloodline…

So, yes, Xichen had certainly heard of Wei Wuxian before, had even met him during the Yunmeng contingent’s – somewhat chaotic – arrival at the Cloud Recesses. However, it had been a brief meeting, entertaining but nothing particularly of note, if only compared to how perfectly intent Xichen is on his observation now. Now that he knows of Wangji’s interest in this particular disciple. Now that he knows to pay attention to every detail.

So, over the next few days of ‘coincidentally’ making his way past this year’s group of guest disciples, Xichen expected his view of one Wei Wuxian to shift, considering that added factor. Which it did.

Although, maybe not quite in the way he might have expected.

At first, he had been surprised – though maybe not as much as others might have been – at finding said Head Disciple to be the exact opposite of what most people would expect Wangji to find notable in another.

Bright smiles and wide gestures and joyful laughter, ever-surrounded by others, forever at the center of mischief. One might say, his brother’s exact opposite.

However, Xichen also sees the other side of it, the boy’s kindness and willingness to include absolutely everyone, the laughter shared with anyone who cares to join in, the quick tutoring sessions in between lectures for those disciples not quite able to keep up with the pace Shufu tends to set, the way the younger disciples – even of Xichen’s own sect – seem to flock towards him, children clamoring for his attention, drawn in by his bright spirit and forever-kind words.

So, after a few occasions of observing from afar, Xichen can admit that he does understand why this disciple in particular might have caught Wangji’s eye.

A fox who, as Xichen can confirm, does his kind’s reputation and their mischievous nature justice, always a smile on his lips, mischief curling at its corners, laughter in his voice. But, to Xichen’s relief, never meanly so, never condescending or disregarding, less so even than Wangji himself tends to be.

Wei Wuxian laughs just as loudly at his own misfortunes and failings as he does at those of others.

Xichen also sees the way Wei Wuxian seems rather notably focused on Wangji whenever he is near, the way the fox seems to constantly scan his surroundings restlessly, almost like he might be waiting for something. Right until Wangji walks into sight. Only for Wei Wuxian’s attention to then immediately zero in fully on Wangji, nearly to the exclusion to all else, badgering him with smiles and comments and teasing jokes, until he has gotten at least some sort of reaction from Xichen’s little brother. The honest delight in Wei Wuxian’s eyes whenever he does.

It is promising. To see how absolutely returned Wangji’s preoccupation with Wei Wuxian is.

So, as he watches his brother and his chosen mate circle one another, neither of them quite acknowledging the draw between them, quite possibly not even entirely aware of it yet, but the interest certainly reciprocal, Xichen feels rather buoyed.

His dragon blood is still clamoring within his veins to keep his family, his precious little brother, safe. However, the worst of his fears have been put to rest with almost astounding ease after the first few days of observing one Wei Wuxian.

If nothing else, even if Wei Wuxian were to settle on friendship rather than fully returning Wangji’s far more romantic feelings, the boy would at least do his best to be kind about it. Which is something.

Although…

Knowing how exclusive his own kind’s focus on anything they might ever deem precious – even more so in regards to chosen mates – tends to be, Xichen would certainly prefer if his little brother didn’t get his heart broken at all, no matter how kindly that devastating blow might end up being delivered.

Yes, it would definitely be best if Wei Wuxian were to simply return Wangji’s feelings. Entirely.

Xichen’s heart could rest easy then.

+++

Over the coming weeks, Xichen continues to observe, if no longer quite as fiercely intent on watching his brother and his chosen mate as he had in the beginning, assured that Wangji will not come to any intentional harm at Wei Wuxian’s hands or words.

Which doesn’t mean his brother’s heart is safe quite yet, but his observations have assured him that Wei Wuxian is sooner going to cut off his own limbs than to purposely do Wangji any harm, much less let anyone else get away with doing anything of the sort. Which is reassuring, at least.

If nothing else, Wei Wuxian seems perfectly intent on becoming Wangji’s friend, continuously seeking him out, badgering him, teasing him, spending as much time around Wangji as he can or is allowed to, and, whenever around one another, his focus utterly unwavering on Xichen’s little brother.

Which is a promising sign, Xichen thinks.

Even if Wangji might not be showing his returned intent on Wei Wuxian quite as… obviously as the fox might be expecting.

Going by the definite dejection crossing the fox’s expression from time to time at once more finding himself brushed aside by Wangji with nary a comment, Xichen suspects that Wei Wuxian has yet to realize just how firmly Wangji has slotted him into the position of ‘friend’ – though ‘object of affection’ might be more accurate – weeks ago already.

Then again, Xichen knows that, for all that he himself finds his little brother’s expressions perfectly easy to read, even their own uncle has difficulty understanding Wangji more often than not. With Wei Wuxian and Wangji having met mere weeks ago, Xichen can forgive the fox for maybe not having mastered the ability of interpreting Wangji’s minute shifts of expression quite yet.

If all goes to plan, Wei Wuxian will have as much time as he could possibly need to learn.

All in all, Xichen is rather content with his brother’s choice of who to add to his – admittedly rather meager – hoard of people to treasure.

In that, Wangji is like Xichen. They both hoard people rather than things or power like so many others do, neither of them having any interest in worldly treasures when they know that true value is found in those few whose loss would have you stop breathing, would have your world stop turning, the very center of you suddenly missing, taken from you.

However, it also means that Wangji’s entire hoard consists of Xichen and Shufu. Nothing else. Barely enough to keep a dragon on this side of sanity.

Even Xichen has a few friends he holds dear and considers part of his hoard to protect, a couple of things he has collected over the years, gifts and souvenirs from certain travels and mementos. His brother doesn’t.

He knows the elders are to blame for Wangji’s so overly strict keeping to their clan’s rules of not hoarding in excess. The constant reprimands during his early childhood, the very effective lesson that holding a person precious does not protect them from being taken from you.

Their mother, who had been his little brother’s entire world, the center of his hoard of things to treasure, and who had been so easily taken away by life and others’ pettiness.

No, Xichen is never going to forgive the elders for instilling that particular lesson into his brother so very early and so very harshly.

If anything, it only makes him all the more determined to see to it that his brother gets to add who he has clearly chosen as his future mate to said hoard.

There is little he wouldn’t do to see his brother happy.

+++

Over the coming weeks, Wangji’s helpless focus on the celestial fox amongst them seems to only grow more intense.

Then again, maybe that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Dragons are ever-ferocious whenever they find something to chase after, something worth keeping safe, worth adding to their cache of personal treasures.

There is a reason why the Gusu Lan has so many rules.

Most of them were written in an attempt to prevent any of them from razing the world to the ground while pursuing something they might deem worth chasing after.

Then again… Wei Wuxian could certainly be considered… precious, couldn’t he. Even beyond his little brother’s thoughts on the matter.

A celestial fox. When their kind has been thought to have died out several times across history, chased nearly to extinction by those trying to get their hands on the celestial magic they so easily wield.

Celestial magic, its source the very heavens themselves, capable of granting near any wish if only the fox might deem it worthy enough. Celestial magic that can even be shared with another, the easiest way for any cultivator to improve their Golden Core towards immortality.

Celestial magic which sees to it that its favored line always breeds true, the only heritage amongst creatures forever undiluted, not even necessarily in regards to their own creature heritage but, if not that, then in regards to that of their mate.

Foxes are known to only ever have trueborn children.

It has been centuries since the Gusu Lan – and even Lan An’s own line – last produced a dragon capable of shifting into their trueborn form. Instead, it has been generations of different degrees of partial shifts, some born with a smattering of scales – like Xichen’s collection of iridescent scales along his shoulder blades – and some with other marks of their heritage – like Wangji, the first Lan in generations to be born with more than one mark of his heritage, a trail of shining scales along his hipbones, and the barely-there nubs of his immature antlers on his forehead – but some of their clansmen also born with no longer bearing any signs of their trueborn heritage at all.

Such partial shifts – if you can call manifesting a couple of scales somewhere on your body a ‘shift’ at all – are seen as the height of anyone’s power these days. For all that they are well aware that their ancestors once roamed nature freely in their other forms, fully shifted, their celestial heritages a boon almost unimaginable nowadays.

Of course, cultivating one’s Core does serve to ever-increase one’s connection with the creature blood slumbering within them, however, no one has succeeded in doing so to the point of re-attaining a full shift into their trueborn form in centuries.

Their heritage might still makes Gusu Lan one of the most feared clans amongst the major sects, but their celestial blood, like that of all clans, has still been diluting ever-further with each generation. Some sects, like the Jiangs and the Jins, seem to have lost their connection to their other forms pretty much entirely.

Which brings him right back to Wei Wuxian. The only known celestial fox amongst the sects.

The potential addition of trueborn fox blood, undiluted in its effect even so many centuries after the other sects lost most of their abilities, the thought of maybe gaining an heir capable of fully calling on their trueborn form, would be an unimaginable boon for any of the sects.

Xichen certainly isn’t the first to think so.

Ever since Wei Wuxian’s heritage became known as he reached maturity and first shifted into his trueborn form, all the sects have wondered about Yunmeng Jiang’s motives in taking him in back when he was a child. Whether Jiang Fengmian might have already known of Wei Wuxian’s heritage beforehand.

Shufu confided in Xichen some time ago about his certainty that Cangse Sanren hadn’t been a celestial fox. Which means it must have been Wei Changze, Jiang Fengmian’s close friend. Thus, the Jiang sect leader might very well have known about his friend’s, and thereby also Wei Wuxian’s, heritage, even if no one else had.

A secret kept between friends. A secret easily exploited in the absence of the former.

House Jiang’s willingness to adopt someone not of their blood, especially in the face of the Lady Jiang’s obvious disapproval of her husband’s ward, would certainly make sense if they had known of Wei Wuxian’s heritage before he ever showed the signs.

Of course, no one within the cultivation world ever quite dares speak those facts out loud, for all that they are perfectly aware of it.

At most, people tend to comment on how… lucky the Jiangs had gotten in their choice of adopted ward. To find a fox kit living on the streets, entirely on his own, no help or remaining relatives to go back to, no one to take care of him, already used to the desolation of living on the streets. And so very grateful to those who took him in.

A fox now powerful, bright and incandescent in his brilliance. And perfectly loyal, indebted even.

Yes, the Yunmeng Jiang had been rather lucky, indeed.

+++

In hindsight, Xichen can admit that, if not for Wangji’s interest and his own sudden, so intent scrutiny on the fox, he likely would not have noticed the… discrepancies surrounding one Wei Wuxian.

Discrepancies regarding his education and conduct. Discrepancies regarding how he is clearly treated by those he calls family.

During their family dinners, he listens to his uncle’s furious tirades about Wei Wuxian’s intentional disregard of established codes of conduct amongst gentry, although Shufu’s continued references to Wei Wuxian’s mother and how he clearly inherited his disregard for authority figures from her, makes it rather apparent that his uncle might be holding some… grudges that seem to have very little to do with Wei Wuxian himself.

Because, when Xichen chooses to run into Wei Wuxian one afternoon after the lectures have ended, the boy is perfectly polite towards him, maybe a little louder, more energetic, than Shufu and the elders tend to prefer, but in no way as disrespectful as his uncle’s words had made him expect.

Wei Wuxian uses all the correct forms of address, the right terms of referring to himself and Xichen while in his company. He bows in all the right places, even if…

Well, some of his bows are admittedly not quite deep enough to be considered appropriate or even entirely polite due to their respective stations, the heir of one of the main clans and the adopted ward of another.

It is nothing too notable, but some of Wei Wuxian’s bows are just the slightest bit off in a way that would certainly be ignored from anyone who is not part of the gentry, anyone who wouldn’t know better. But, from someone who grew up to as part of one of the main houses, those slight differences are a rather large affront.

Because…

He bows to Xichen like they were equals, like they were both heirs to one of the major sects. When Wei Wuxian certainly isn’t.

Come to think of it

Xichen tilts his head in thought.

Wei Wuxian bows to Xichen just as Jiang Wanyin does, the exact same angle and depth and time holding the bow. Almost like Wei Wuxian might have copied said bow straight off his brother. Almost like he might not have been taught differently and was certainly never corrected in his behavior.

It is at that point, after their first few interactions, a few conversations full of bright, genuine laughter and just slightly off manners, that Xichen starts noticing the discrepancies.

The discrepancies of someone supposedly raised amongst gentry – alongside an heir to one of the major sects, no less – but who so clearly doesn’t have the expected ease of a firm and steady education, certainly not in regards to sect politics. It is something anyone of the main houses would be expected to know, but which Wei Wuxian simply doesn’t, committing faux-pas after faux-pas, though never grave enough to be confronted about it and also clearly without intent, but rather because he simply doesn’t seem to know better.

Almost like he never attended any lessons pertaining to the finer points of inter-gentry interactions and thus found himself trying to emulate his adopted siblings’ behaviors as best he could in order to make up for it.

Which would… fit, wouldn’t it? If Wei Wuxian never received any lessons about the finer points of conduct amongst gentry, that he would then use his brother as his guiding example, maybe not even entirely conscious of doing so but rather just choosing Jiang Wanyin as his nearest point of reference and molding his own behavior based upon what he was seeing.

Which likely works just fine in most interactions, certainly amongst his own sect where the only ones considered of higher station than him would be his own adopted family. However, it is a different story when interacting with other sects…

It is not like the bows themselves truly bother Xichen as such, and he certainly won’t be demanding a deeper bow from someone he is rather hoping to coax into at least friendship with his brother, if not something more.

Still.

Xichen can admit that, from someone who should know better, who was raised – supposedly –amongst the gentry, even those slight differences do certainly come across as rather disrespectful. Like an intentional provocation from someone thinking themselves above said codes of conduct.

Except…

Except there is nothing in Wei Wuxian’s demeanor that would suggest any sort of intent, nothing that hints at him even being aware of his own impoliteness, much less him having done so on purpose. The disrespect shown seems utterly unintentional.

To the contrary. Wei Wuxian bows and enthusiastically greets Xichen hello whenever he spots him, clearly happy to see him whenever they keep ‘coincidentally’ crossing paths. He chatters freely at Xichen, bright-eyed and energetic and forever asking about Gusu Lan and the Cloud Recesses and musical cultivation. And about Xichen’s brother.

Xichen was quick to notice that about every second or third of Wei Wuxian’s eagerly asked questions or comments or stories tend to relate right back to Wangji. A cheerfully bright comment about their rules, because Wangji keeps protesting Wei Wuxian’s constant disregard of them. A delighted question about Gusu Lan’s musical cultivation, because he saw Wangji practicing his guqin. A laughing account of yesterday’s visit to the cold springs, because Wangji would not stop glaring at him for attempting to join him in the water.

It is reassuring how obviously preoccupied Wei Wuxian clearly is with Wangji. If only because the sentiment is most certainly returned in full by his little brother.

To everyone else’s rather obvious ire.

For that is another thing.

Xichen is clearly rather alone in his delight at the obvious connection between Wangji and Wei Wuxian, for all that the two of them still seem somewhat unaware of it.

He sees the general growing ire at Wei Wuxian’s obvious focus on Wangji, not only from some of the other clans’ disciples – most likely at the implications of the celestial fox they have all been encouraged to ‘befriend’ or make some sort of ‘bond’ with by their own sects – but also from the Yunmeng contingent.

Most obviously, the fierce and ever-deepening scowl on Jiang Wanyin’s face, whenever his adopted brother’s attention is drawn away from him by the mere appearance of Wangji somewhere close by.

Xichen understands somewhat, how devastating the realization that your own brother might ever hold someone else more precious than you. However, not to the proprietary degree Jiang Wanyin clearly seems to feel it.

Xichen is mainly concerned with his brother’s happiness. His brother being happy makes him happy.

That’s all there is to it.

And thus he honestly cannot make himself care about the Jiang heir’s growing discontent at his own brother’s continued distraction with another.

Even more so since, by then, Xichen has already started drawing some conclusions about Wei Wuxian’s treatment within House Jiang. Conclusions which aren’t at all reassuring.

Conclusions which started with him wondering whether the gaps in Wei Wuxian’s education might have been deliberate or not, whether other sect duties might have ‘coincidentally’ called him away from those lessons at the most inopportune of moments.

Or rather, the most opportune. Depending on one’s agenda.

It is those conclusions that also have him pay somewhat closer attention to the Yunmeng contingent as a whole. He isn’t particularly happy at what he finds.

Because, for all that Wei Wuxian’s loyalty towards his adopted siblings in particular seems immutable, said adoration does not seem quite as openly reciprocal as one might wish, if only for Wei Wuxian’s own sake.

It is in the Jiang heir’s harsh words and rough gestures, the constant reprimands and accusations, more often than not in direct reference to Wei Wuxian’s heritage or his station within House Jiang. Like his nature of a celestial fox is something to be shamed for, instead of something any of the other sects would give half – if not all – of their clan treasuries in exchange for being able to lay any sort of claim to.

It is in the young maiden Jiang’s lack of support for her adopted brother, her reprimands certainly much kinder, much softer than Jiang Wanyin’s, but the scolding just as constant, still a far too easily made assumption of blame on Wei Wuxian’s part in any given situation, something almost like pleased surprised in her eyes whenever it turns out the fox is not at fault at all. It is somewhat painful to see her praising Wei Wuxian on a few occasions for not being to blame for whatever is happening at the moment.

Assumed guilt until proven innocent. Not quite the dynamic Xichen would wish on any child within their own home.

A dynamic which seems even more worrying due to how utterly unbothered Wei Wuxian seems by the clear disparity between his own adoration, his immutable, unquestioning loyalty towards his siblings, and what he gets in return. He doesn’t even seem to notice. None of them do. Almost like the three Yunmeng Jiang siblings are so familiar with this particular dynamic, so used to it, they have long-since forgotten to question any aspect of it.

Xichen thinks that, even if he didn’t have such personal, vested interested in the cheerful celestial fox his brother has fallen for, he would feel somewhat unsettled by the dynamic he is observing amongst the Yunmeng Jiang delegation.

Because, there is also the fact that the Yunmeng disciples only ever seem to approach Wei Wuxian with anything they might need, never once even attempting to approach either of the born Jiang siblings with their worries or problems or requests.

Young maiden Jiang, so kind and gentle and gracious. But also so clearly bred and raised to stand above anyone not of the gentry, even above the more common members of her sect, her demeanor making her impossible to approach by anyone not of her own standing. Of which there are few, considering she is daughter to one of the main houses and betrothed to the heir of another.

Similarly, her youngest brother, the Jiang heir, seems just as impossible to approach, so harsh and constantly angry, clearly conditioned to forever question his own worth based on how he compares to everyone around him, forever envious of anyone’s successes and unbearably boastful of his own.

And in the middle, there is Wei Wuxian, cheerful and bright and so very caring towards anyone who might ever approach him.

Yes, it really isn’t all that surprising that the Yunmeng disciples seem to only ever approach their Head Disciple rather than their sect heirs. Wei Wuxian who instantly tries to do his best to help, trying to solve any problems brought before him for them, all the while never once giving anyone else’s secrets away if entrusted with their confidence.

Loyalty and kindness. Good qualities to have. Especially towards one’s own clan, one’s own family. Especially for anyone of a clan leader’s family.

Unwavering loyalty and unending kindness, neither of which seems to find much in terms of reciprocation from his own family.

If even his adopted siblings, who do admittedly seem to love Wei Wuxian, treat him in such an unbalanced manner, all the while so clearly unaware of the inequality towards the one they so freely call their brother… It would indicate that Wei Wuxian’s treatment at the hands of yet others within the House Jiang might be even worse.

Which is the exact moment in time when Xichen starts to think on some of the… less genial implications of that very loyalty he finds so admirable in the fox Xichen has come to care about over the past weeks of conversation and shared walks around the Cloud Recesses, even beyond his brother’s preoccupation with Wei Wuxian.

Implications regarding Wei Wuxian’s treatment at the hands of his adopted family, his unwavering devotion in spite of it. And what that might mean, even if Wangji were to attain exactly what he is hoping for, the mate he has clearly chosen for himself.

A mate who seems to have little by way of self-worth, and certainly not compared to his own family, no matter how they might treat him.

All the while, Wei Wuxian’s devotion remains unchanged, utterly unaltered, almost blind in his loyalty.

Conditioned, Xichen’s mind whispers at him, the dragon within him furious at the affront committed against his brother’s future mate, even if the two of them are nowhere near that stage yet.

Still, those thoughts circling his mind as he observes the Yunmeng delegation are jarring. Almost panic-inducing.

Because…

What if Wei Wuxian were to return Wangji’s feelings after all?

It should be a happy thought. Except… What if Wei Wuxian does bond to Xichen’s little brother, but then also refuses to leave his adopted clan behind, the clan he is so very, immovably loyal to. What if Wei Wuxian were to refuse staying in Gusu and instead insists his mate comes to Lotus Pier with him…

Xichen knows better than to think that his brother would choose to remain in Cloud Recesses if it would cost him his mate. That choice is within no dragon, Xichen knows.

However, the thought that Wangji might agree to follow his mate to Lotus Pier, not only removing him from Xichen’s immediate protection but also dragging him to a place where the celestial fox is clearly treated as so much less than he should be, a treatment that might then even extend towards Wangji…

Wangji who would have left the Cloud Recesses for the fox, would have left Xichen’s territory and immutable protection, only to then be treated even remotely less than what he should be…

The dragon within his mind roars with fury at that thought, fighting to tear free for all that he will not be able to shift, but still furious enough to try.

Xichen breathes in, calms himself, even as his mind spins, trying to think of implications and solutions and means to employ in order to make sure his brother never leaves his den, never removes himself from Xichen’s hoard or his protection, especially if doing so might bring him the slightest bit of potential harm.

The dragon within him snarls, celestial fire raging through his veins.

Yes, Xichen would much prefer if that… didn’t happen. If only because he would much rather avoid starting a war with one of the other major sects over the treatment which his own brother might receive at the clearly delusional hands of one Madam Yu and Jiang Fengmian. Although, he certainly would. If that is what it takes in order to keep his little brother and his chosen mate safe.

For, if House Jiang would so freely mistreat a celestial fox, the one trueborn celestial creature currently known of in the entirety of the cultivation word... What would stop them from doing the same to Wangji, no matter his bloodline?

Xichen swallows.

Yes. That cannot happen.

He won’t let it.

No matter what he has to do in order to prevent it.

+++

Xichen quickly comes to quite enjoy his repeated ‘coincidental’ run-ins with Wei Wuxian, once the lectures have ended for the day. Even if, the more time he spends with the fox, the more his suspicions about his home life and his rather gap-filled formal education seem to prove true.

Because there are definite things that Wei Ying doesn’t know, things he should know if he had received a steady education at a sect heir’s side. Unless, he’d been pulled away from lessons too frequently to still be able to make up for it, leaving him no choice but to simply fill in the parts he was missing on his own.

Which Wei Wuxian has, to the best of his abilities. Maybe not always correctly, but still enough so to speak of how truly brilliant he is, to be able to do so even in parts.

Now, if only Xichen could find an opening to offer filling in those gaps, to start pointing out the holes – most likely left willfully – in his education.

A chance which presents itself only a week later, Xichen having taken to stretching his legs in between sect duties by taking a walk around the Cloud Recesses in the afternoons. The fact that those walks tend to have him pass by the lecture halls right when the guest lectures usually end, well, surely that’s just coincidence.

It is, of course, a new habit, these afternoon walks, something he didn’t use to indulge in before, but which he has come to rather enjoy nowadays. If only due to the company it so often brings.

Wei Wuxian certainly seems delighted to keep running into him so frequently, sometimes even waiting for him along the trails, anxiously bouncing in place until Xichen rounds the corner, greeting him enthusiastically, the fox’s silver gaze the slightest bit hesitant, clearly worried about his welcome but exploding into happy storytelling as soon as Xichen greets him in return and gives no sign of wanting him gone, clearly happy to have someone to talk to, someone willing to listen to his endless chatter.

Chatter, which tends to rather reliably circle around Wangji. And Xichen will always be happy to listen to someone talk so delightedly about his little brother.

He wonders whether, if Wei Wuxian were to move to the Cloud Recesses after bonding to Wangji, they could still make these afternoon walks a regular thing between them. Although, he doubts that Wangji would agree to stay away and instead most likely join them as well.

Xichen smiles at the thought.

+++

“And then Lan Zhan was so furious,” Wei Wuxian laughs at Xichen’s side as they walk along the trails leading through the back mountains, so happy to have someone to talk to, just in general and about Wangji in particular, when those in his life apparently have a tendency of shutting him up whenever he does, too annoyed by his constant preoccupation with Wangji. “Just because I asked to borrow his ribbon.”

Wei Wuxian’s laughter is bright, inviting everyone around him – which, at the moment, is only Xichen – to join in on the hilarity.

“Your brother is such a fuddy-duddy,” Wei Wuxian concludes happily, the word which should be an insult somehow sounding more like an endearment, something almost precious, the fox’s eyes soft as he says them.

Still. Wei Wuxian’s little story…

Xichen halts his steps, calmly turning towards Wei Wuxian beside him. Who pauses as well twirling around to face him and see what made him stop, grin still bright on his face.

Although, the grin freezes a little at seeing the serious expression on Xichen’s face, the boy forever so very conscious of anyone’s disapproval. Xichen can practically see the way Wei Wuxian immediately starts mentally skipping backwards through their conversation, obviously trying to figure out what he might have said that could have changed the happy atmosphere between them so abruptly.

He just as obviously comes up empty, blinking in confused question as to what could have made Xichen turn so serious so suddenly.

It is then, in that very moment, that Xichen realizes… Wei Wuxian doesn’t know even this, doesn’t know what the Lan ribbon signifies, what him asking to touch it means based on Lan customs.

Maybe Xichen shouldn’t be so surprised at the revelation, already having realized how much common-amongst-gentry knowledge Wei Wuxian is missing. Still… All sects have something they hold sacred, something unique to their traditions, something usually relating back to their celestial creature blood. It is one of the first and one of the most essential lessons anyone interacting with other sects in any sort of official capacity – as a Head Disciple or a member of a main house definitely would – should be taught.

However, Wei Wuxian clearly has absolutely no idea, so obviously certain of his assumption that its importance is exaggerated by Wangji in particular that it almost makes Xichen wonder whether someone might not have deliberately confirmed Wei Wuxian’s ignorance in this regard at some point.

“Young Master Wei,” he starts, keeps his voice calm, knows this is his chance to show himself different from those of his own sect who would already be calling for punishment, possibly for him to be sent home due to the committed affront of asking to touch a Lan heir’s forehead ribbon. “The Lan ribbon signifies our self-control. It is sacred to us.”

Across from him, Wei Wuxian is nodding cautiously, eyes on him, clearly aware that he must have missed something just based on Xichen’s reaction to his story. His fingers are curling anxiously at his sides, worry radiating off his form.

He is afraid, Xichen realizes. Afraid he might have offended me, possibly to a degree beyond what I might be willing to accept.

From anyone else, Xichen might admittedly have been, if only due to the inherent joke played on his little brother. However, he has already slotted Wei Wuxian into the position of future family, has done so for Wangji’s sake. Brushing aside this one misstep when the fox so obviously meant nothing harmful by it, watching him anxiously now as he realizes he had done anything offensive at all, is easy.

The reward of remaining calm in this one instance will be well worth it.

He tries not to think of Wangji and how furiously devastated he must have been at his chosen mate jokingly demanding what, by Lan customs, would amount to a betrothal request.

Wei Wuxian is not to blame for this, Xichen reminds himself, soothing the deep snarling within his mind. He cares for Wangji. He does not realize what hurtful offense he committed. It is the fault of those who kept him deliberately ignorant.

“Our ribbons are only ever to be touched by our immediate family, with the sole exception of our mate,” he continues, pauses once more.

Across from him, Wei Wuxian’s eyes have started to widen, shock in them. The words themselves cannot be new to him, certainly elaborated on in detail within the rules he has been assigned to copy numerous times for various transgressions by now.

However, rather clearly, either he had skipped past those particular rules or he had not taken them to be particularly serious at all.

Xichen keeps his expression calm and kind as he concludes, “Requesting to touch a Lan’s forehead ribbon, when only our family and mate are permitted to do so, is equivalent to requesting becoming either of those. To do so as a joke…” he deliberately trails off.

Wei Wuxian is gaping at him. “I-,” he blinks. “What? But I didn’t- But the others said-,” his eyes are wide, focused on Xichen, like he might still be expecting him to burst out in laughter and reveal this to be some sort of joke.

Xichen just watches him back calmly.

The longer he remains serious and the clearer it becomes that he isn’t joking at all, the more Wei Wuxian’s shock seems to grow.

Then, something seems to occur to the fox, something desperate overcoming his expression, his hands twitching, half-stumbling a step sideways in his hurry to assure, “Zewu-jun, I didn’t- I swear, I wouldn’t- And Lan Zhan-,” he stutters uncharacteristically, stumbling over his own words, starting to blush bright red, eyes wide and desperate, almost terrified.

Ah, seems like Wei Wuxian has realized that, by their customs, he has more or less proposed to Lan Zhan. And now he is clearly panicking at Xichen potentially thinking he might have tried to do so without asking his family’s permission first, much less in such an uncouth manner.

Xichen holds his serious expression for another moment, then lets his features relax once more, even as he re-starts their walk around the Cloud Recesses, Wei Wuxian hesitating for a few moments before cautiously falling into step with him again.

He very deliberately doesn’t give away how very much he – or Wangji – wouldn’t mind Wei Wuxian speaking such a proposal. Just as long as he actually meant it.

“It might be best if you were to assure Wangji of that fact,” he then provides leadingly. Because, his brother deserves to know that, as much as he might wish for the proposal to have been serious, Wei Wuxian hadn’t joked about such a serious issue out of spite but simply out of honest ignorance.

Beside him, Wei Wuxian is nodding vigorously, eyes still wide and cheeks still bright red with his embarrassment.

+++

Over the next couple of days, Wei Wuxian blushes brightly every time he so much as spots Lan Zhan from a distance.

Everyone notices. It is rather hard not to.

Tongues wag, the other sects start paying quite a bit more attention to the potential alliance being formed between Gusu Lan and Yunmeng Jiang by way of the celestial fox amongst them showing such definite preference for the second Lan heir.

Jiang Wanyin continues frowning from the sidelines, trying to keep his brother close, scowling at anyone daring to come near.

Wei Wuxian seems perfectly ignorant to it all, only having eyes for Lan Zhan, apparently trying to work up the courage to approach him after a few days of avoiding him rather obviously.

Wangji, who is clearly caught between his anger at assumedly being made of by Wei Wuxian’s request to touch his ribbon, and his dejection at suddenly being avoided by said object of his affection.

Xichen is already considering whether he should step in, having intended to leave it to the two of them to clarify things between them, but now uncertain whether his interference by way of explaining the significance of the ribbon might not have done more harm than good if it leads to Wei Wuxian avoiding not only Xichen but also Wangji.

To his relief, he comes across the two of them having a hesitant conversation just a day later.

“Listen, Lan Zhan,” Xichen overhears Wei Wuxian saying softly to his brother on the path leading between the lecture hall and the Library Pavilion, “I just meant to say- That is- About your ribbon- That I’m… I’m sorry? About asking to, to touch it? I really didn’t know what it meant and then your brother said that… And I really didn’t! And I’m just- I’m sorry?”

His voice is pleading, like he is honestly expecting Wangji might not forgive him. A ludicrous notion.

The silence between them stretches for a while longer.

“Mn,” his brother finally returns, something of his quiet fury from the past few days settling once more, likely realizing, just as Xichen had, that Wei Wuxian truly hadn’t known about the significance of the ribbon and his request to touch it not at all having been intended as it had been received.

Considering how easily he accepts the apology, Xichen thinks that Wangji might have already suspected as much. Because, after several weeks spent around the fox, he likely knows that there is not a single mean-spirited bone in Wei Wuxian’s body.

Wei Wuxian’s explosive sigh of relief at the calm hum only affirms that thought, his obvious worry at potentially having overstepped to a point where their friendship might not recover any longer.

Xichen carefully withdraws, not interested in stealthily taking part in more of their reconciliation, whichever form that might take.

He also doesn’t doubt that Wangji has taken note of Xichen’s own name having been mentioned by Wei Wuxian in connection with the misunderstanding being resolved.

So, he isn’t surprised when his little brother seeks him out that very evening, clearly seeking clarification. Interfering with another dragon’s courtship of their chosen mate, as slow-going or unacknowledged as Wangji’s interest might yet be, is never a smart thing to do without good reason.

Thankfully, there are allowances to be made for family.

+++

Wangji is silent as always as he sits across from Xichen, but his eyes serious and definitely demanding an answer as to what Xichen is doing, interfering in Wangji’s business.

He does not want to bring his brother in on Xichen’s ever-firming plans to ensure that Wei Wuxian will not even consider remaining anywhere other than Cloud Recesses after bonding to Wangji. If only because speaking of those plans would put Wangji in a rather bad spot regarding his – hopefully – honest courtship of his chosen mate in the future.

So, instead Xichen sets his own tea aside, before he carefully supplies, “I have had a few conversations with Young Master Wei.”

Wangji doesn’t move but the continued calm in his eyes tells Xichen that his little brother must have somehow been aware of his rather frequent conversations with Wei Wuxian. Most likely due the fox’s own unceasing chatter at Wangji, which most likely includes mentions of said afternoon walks, now that he thinks of it.

He adds carefully but weightily, because this part is important, “I have come to realize that Young Master Wei’s most grievous missteps since his arrival here, might be less due to irreverence and more due to simple ignorance.”

He pauses, can see the consideration of his words dart through his brother’s eyes, merely a few seconds before he sees the recognition of how Xichen’s assumptions regarding Wei Wuxian’s patchy education might fit into Wangji’s own observations of the fox’s behaviors.

He calmly waits for his brother’s acknowledgement, something rather intent in Wangji’s eyes now.

“I simply sought to correct his erroneous assumptions in regard to things his education has clearly been neglected in,” Xichen provides seriously, doesn’t add that these are things anyone who might want to marry into the Lan An’s direct line will have to know.

Wangji listens, his expression remaining unchanged, but something in his eyes gleams, something attentive and possessive and protective at the thought of his chosen future mate having gone neglected in any regard.

Their evening ends without further discussion on the topic.

His brother’s lack of protest might as well have been a ringing endorsement of Xichen’s actions.

+++

From that day forward, Wei Wuxian seems to deliberately make Xichen his gauge for how ridiculous others are truly being about supposed traditions or how embarrassing of a faux-pas he himself might have unknowingly committed at some point.

Xichen quite enjoys it.

The inherent trust and getting to laugh – at least internally – at some of Wei Wuxian’s stories. For, while some of his stories would certainly be seen as quite the affront by some of his own sect’s more… self-important elders, Xichen can admit that some of them could do with some shaking up from time to time, if only in the form of a mischievous fox challenging their ever-so-self-righteous views of themselves.

Their rules warn of arrogance. Letting the ever-cheerful, forever-bright fox poke at those elders who seem to have long-since forgotten that the rules they so like to impress on others should also fully apply to themselves, seems like a suitable punishment.

For Wei Wuxian can dance circles around absolutely anyone. And he is going to be family anyway. Thus, it seems fitting that he would get far more leeway in teasing their clan’s more pompous members than anyone else would.

If only because he wants Wei Wuxian to see that, no matter how serious their reputation, how grandiose they might make themselves appear towards outsiders, at the heart of them, the Gusu Lan is just like any sect. Family first, everything else second.

A place where true loyalty to your own and kindness to those depending on you is treasured as it should be.

Admittedly, Xichen also rather enjoys the way Wei Wuxian has chosen him in particular to confide in. If only because, Xichen had always hoped that he might get along well with whoever Wangji might ever choose as a mate.

His easy and so very cheerful conversations with Wei Wuxian certainly exceed his own expectations.

Xichen is glad.

+++

Wei Wuxian hadn’t known about the significance of the Lan ribbon. At least not what it truly signifies.

He doesn’t know about the sect rules, at least not how seriously they are taken by Gusu Lan as a whole.

He certainly doesn’t know about many of the inter-sect politics which everyone else takes such care to never step on, and which are thus also never openly mentioned and thereby impossible for anyone not directly taught about them to surmise.

Wei Wuxian doesn’t know a lot of things he definitely should as someone so closely associated with one of the main houses.

His siblings certainly know. But neither of them ever seems to see fit correcting Wei Wuxian’s erroneous assumptions.

Xichen has yet to figure out whether there is a reason for that or whether it is just simple habit to not interfere in the patchiness of Wei Wuxian’s education.

+++

No one amongst the sects doubts whether Yunmeng Jiang is perfectly aware of the increased standing the addition of fox blood to one’s own clan might bring any bloodline.

It makes Madam Yu’s unhidden dislike of her ward so very unseemly. To the contrary. She should be congratulating her husband for taking in the child, for granting such an incredible boon to his own sect.

Xichen knows he isn’t the first to wonder about Yunmeng Jiang’s motives in taking in a celestial fox.

However, his observations regarding Wei Wuxian’s education, education that he should have received as a member of one of the main houses amongst the sects but which Xichen is suspecting he never did, instead kept somewhat ignorant to some of the finer points of inter-gentry interactions make Yunmeng Jiang’s motivations appear in a far… harsher light.

With everyone having become aware of Wei Wuxian’s heritage, the other sects have been clamoring to improve their ties to Lotus Pier, whether in hopes of gaining a marriage this generation or in the next or simply profit of their increased standing doesn’t matter.

Still, despite the many careful inquiries made by several sects, Yunmeng Jiang has yet to announce whether they intend to marry Wei Wuxian off to another sect at all.

It makes Xichen wonder.

It might be that Madam Yu is aiming to keep the fox within her own sect, to bolster their blood instead, only dangling the potential alliance by way of marriage to the fox under her ‘care’ in order to gain better trade deals from the other sects.

She clearly cannot stand the boy, but keeping him within her sect would still be of far more benefit to Yunmeng Jiang than having him marry into another clan, no matter what another sect might offer in return. The injection of trueborn blood into their clan would be incomparable.

Whether she interfered with Wei Wuxian’s education out of simple pettiness or whether she did so in order to keep him ignorant of the options he certainly does have amongst the sects, options of places where he would certainly be treated better than he is in his current clan.

Xichen thinks, she must be rather irked at realizing that, even despite that handicap she so harshly and deliberately instilled in his life, Wei Wuxian is still effortlessly outshining all other disciples of his adopted sect. Including its heir.

Still, any sect would take in a fox the very moment he might show the slightest inclinations to do so. Said sect wouldn’t even have to worry about retaliation, because the other clans would do all they could to remain within the fox’s good graces and thus refuse their aid to the slighted sect.

So, for Madam Yu to keep Wei Wuxian’s education on the level of a common sect member – if that – in order to keep him with her sect, despite his treatment there... It would make sense.

It is smart. Thinking years ahead.

Then again, if someone were to interfere with her machinations… If someone were to offer Wei Wuxian a home where he would not be disregarded, where he would be taught all he needs, all he might wish to, a home where his blood line might certainly be noted but not the sole reason he would be treasured, where he could be happy

Xichen tilts his head, smile soft and genial.

Well, who knows what might happen then.

Chapter Text

Xichen approaches Shufu the next day, requesting some time to speak with him about his concerns regarding one of their current guest disciples.

It is not entirely new for them to discuss individual guest disciples. Sometimes it is one of their student’s character, which might bear observation, good or bad, sometimes their tendency for bullying or letting themselves be pushed around, sometimes their potentially less-than-optimal home life.

Members of other sects or not, while at the Cloud Recesses, the guest disciples are Gusu Lan’s concern. Fully. It is one of the stipulations the other sects agree to in exchange for benefiting from Gusu Lan’s teachings and the mingling of sects that is always one of the main reasons the more important members of any sect tend to attend the guest lectures, promises of bonds forged and alliances strengthened.

Some more permanent than others.

Shufu who first seems somewhat exasperated when Xichen mentions exactly which disciple he would like to discuss. Although, his irritation quickly gives way to a different sort of anger by the time Xichen gets halfway through detailing his observations.

“I think Young Master Wei might not have been raised quite as… equally a member of House Jiang as the clans have been led to believe,” Xichen concludes.

Silence stretches between them for several minutes as his uncle considers his words.

“You think he might have been raised to be… a spare,” Shufu finally summarizes, clear distaste in his voice.

A spare. One of the older practices amongst gentry, nowadays hardly seen, with exception of Lanling Jin, of course. His uncle also didn’t specify whether he means a spare, as in an unofficial guard to the actual heir by being raised alongside the heir but never quite on his level. Or a spare, as in someone of particular talent but without sufficient pedigree being raised as a second spouse, someone to provide heirs to then be adopted into the main line, but the bearer never fully acknowledged.

Hm, that is actually not quite what Xichen had been thinking, but either one of those might be just as true as his own assumptions of simple pettiness on Madam Yu’s part. And they certainly are equally as distasteful, equally as unacceptable, if not more so.

A celestial fox turned into nothing more than a guard or a bargaining chip for power or into a broodmare is unthinkable, an insult to all that the old clans still valuing their celestial heritage stand for. For Yunmeng Jiang to even consider doing so…

It does not really matter which of their conjured scenarios would prove correct. None are acceptable.

Not for his brother’s chosen mate and certainly not for the cheerful celestial fox who has so joyfully wormed his way past Xichen’s defenses.

Even just for Wei Wuxian’s own sake, Xichen could not let any of those scenarios possibly stand. Even more so, since he knows just how little value the fox himself puts in his own worth, perfectly loyal to his adopted family no matter how he is treated. To the contrary. His supposed guardians’ seem rather willing to… exploit said devotion.

Yes, even if it weren’t for Wangji’s interest, even if Wei Wuxian weren’t the bearer of such a sought after bloodline, Xichen thinks Wei Wuxian more than deserves someone willing to step in as his protector for once.

Thus, he simply bows his head slightly in reaction to Shufu’s words, in something that can be read as agreement or simple worry on behalf of one of the children entrusted to them.

“Maybe if we were to give Young Master Wei a better foundation on which to base his knowledge of sect interactions and politics,” he adds calmly, “He might come away from the guest lectures with an overall better understanding of his own… standing within our world, as well.”

A pause. Before Shufu is nodding thoughtfully, stroking his beard, a dark frown furrowing his brow. Then again, nothing offends Shufu more than the mere thought of someone’s education being purposely stunted, no matter the reasons potentially behind it.

Xichen knows they are both being rather careful with their words and phrasing. It might be just him and his uncle here, but even the implication that, if freely educated, Wei Wuxian might just realize that he has options in this world, that there could potentially be a better fit for him elsewhere than in Lotus Pier, somewhere other than his chosen sect, that he might be much better treated within another clan, or Gusu Lan in particular, the idea of purposely trying to woo someone as valuable as a celestial fox from another sect…

Yes, that is something much better not spoken aloud.

Even if none of what they are saying is a lie. Or even exaggerated in any particular manner.

Wei Wuxian’s education is lacking. Rather grievously. And those gaps do seem deliberately set.

The contrast of Wei Wuxian so clearly exceeding in all other aspects of his education, his sword forms eclipsing most of his year mates, his knowledge of talismans and history as well as his cultivation far beyond what many cultivators ever manage to attain throughout their life, is rather stark.

It is solely in regards to sect politics and the finer points of conducts amongst gentry that his education appears to be so grievously lacking.

How could that be anything but deliberate.

Which, in itself, would already be enough reason for Xichen to worry about any of their students’ home life, would be enough to want to show them that their life might be much better elsewhere.

Of course, Wei Wuxian is also a little different, his well-being a little closer to Xichen’s heart. His little brother’s chosen future mate and Xichen himself certainly isn’t impartial any longer where Wei Wuxian’s safety and happiness is concerned either. No, nowadays, he has rather strong… opinions in that regard.

So, even if nothing comes of Wangji’s courtship, Xichen would still be glad to call the fox part of his clan.

He has come to enjoy the fox’s company, would miss his cheerful spirit if he were to leave the Cloud Recesses, has only refrained from claiming Wei Wuxian as part of his hoard by way of friendship so far due to his own brother’s inevitable – and potentially rather brutally bloody – protest if Xichen were to try doing so before Wangji gets the chance to attempt as much.

They may be brothers, but even Xichen knows better than to interfere with another dragon’s courtship of their chosen mate.

Still. So what if Xichen hopes that, if Wei Wuxian does start realizing his place in the world and the many options he has available beyond his adopted clan, his first choice might then even fall on the Cloud Recesses, if only as his most immediate example.

Yes, nowadays Xichen wants Wei Wuxian personally to be happy and safe solely for his own sake first, entirely independent of Wangji’s feelings for the fox. Even as he also hopes they might find that happiness together. Still, Wei Wuxian’s happiness comes first.

Wangji’s own feelings aside, Xichen is sure his little brother would agree with that sentiment.

Across from him, Shufu hums in thought.

Xichen finds himself wondering whether his uncle is aware of Wangji’s preoccupation with Wei Wuxian. Although, considering that Shufu gets to observe the two of them every day during lessons, Xichen wouldn’t be surprised if he did. Shufu quite possibly knew before Xichen did.

His uncle has a rather vexing tendency of knowing everything that ever goes on in the Cloud Recesses.

+++

The two of them have not spoken of it clearly, but Xichen doesn’t doubt that Shufu has come to similar realizations and conclusions as his own regarding Wangji’s future.

Wangji who is set on a mate, his chosen, his heart already and forever spoken for as is any dragon’s nature.

Dragons only love once. Wholly and forever.

Similarly, Xichen is certain that Shufu has come to the same conclusions regarding how easy it would be to provoke the Jiang contingent into driving their Head Disciple away, driving him right into Gusu Lan’s – or, more specifically, their second heir’s – arms. With just a few well-placed manipulations, some added strain on the clearly so fragile bonds holding the Yunmeng contingent together in some places.

For Xichen and Shufu, Wei Wuxian’s heritage as a celestial fox barely factors into it. Not aside from how much easier said heritage will make convincing the elders to approve of Wangji’s chosen mate. Xichen is certain that, if offered the chance to gain a celestial fox, the elders will happily throw half of Gusu’s treasury at Yunmeng, if it gains them a chance at a trueborn heir.

However, for Xichen and Shufu it is not about bloodlines or the power of future heirs or the standing of Gusu Lan. For them, it is entirely about Wangji – and Wei Wuxian – finding the happiness together that they both deserve.

With Wei Wuxian so clearly not treated as he should be within Yunmeng Jiang but still so immovably loyal, possibly loyal enough to insist on remaining in his sect, which would leave Wangji with no other choice than to follow him… With Shufu and Xichen potentially losing a family member rather than gaining one… With them then having to worry not only about the treatment Wangji’s mate might be receiving at the hands of his sect but also, in turn, Wangji’s treatment itself…

No, Xichen and Shufu might not have spoken of it, but they are both in agreement that at least trying to turn things somewhat in their favor can only improve the overall outlook. At least on their own end.

In this regard, they care for little aside from their own family’s happiness.

+++

It is easy to lay the foundation, that fledgling split amongst the Yunmeng delegation which Xichen can’t help but hope might grow into something far deeper, more divisive, possibly insurmountable. Something that might have Wei Wuxian consider whether there might not be a place better suited for him other than Lotus Pier.

Xichen had already started by becoming a sort of confidante to Wei Wuxian, someone the fox trusted to approach with any and all of his – admittedly many – questions. Someone outside of his – almost suspiciously – small circle of people to entrust any part of himself to.

It is good enough for now, being the one Wei Wuxian comes to whenever he has questions about the more personable aspects of life in Gusu. Or even Yunmeng.

Always carefully, cautiously, quietly asked. But there nonetheless.

Xichen is glad for the sign of Wei Wuxian seemingly starting to pay some attention to the interactions within his own clan and those within others.

Still, Xichen doesn’t quite want to deliberately break any of Wei Wuxian’s obviously so treasured connections within his own clan, with the siblings he so adores. He understands claims laid, the collection of people precious to your heart no matter that. He could not possibly interfere with something like that. The dragon blood in his own veins shies away from the mere thought.

Thus, he does nothing to directly chip away at Wei Wuxian’s bonds to his siblings, never speaks of the worrying observations he makes about their dynamics unless Wei Wuxian is the one asking him one of his quieter, more careful, questions.

Still, Xichen has also observed the Jiangs long enough to have spotted the obvious fragilities in their interactions, the inequality and imbalance that seems to be forever present and to forever rest on Wei Wuxian’s shoulders to counterbalance, either to make up for his siblings’ failings or their egos’ demands.

It is a fissure within the Yunmeng delegation’s otherwise so cheerful interactions, particularly between the heir of House Jiang and their head disciple, barely held together by Wei Wuxian’s willingness to forever be the one giving up parts of himself to kit over the cracks threatening the perfect happiness of those around him, no matter the costs to himself.

Wei Wuxian who is almost astoundingly bright, brilliant, a true genius, enough so for some of the older Lan instructors to seem almost offended at the ease with which the fox plows through their lessons, their supposedly so difficult questions, his mind only ever seeming to gain speed with any added difficulties put before him.

Like he has yet to even start using all his mind has at its disposal. Like the lectures here have yet to even begin challenging him, much less to a degree that might force him to give them all of his attention.

Xichen knew that, after their talk, his uncle had intended to have a word with the other instructors, encouraged them to pay somewhat more genial attention to Wei Wuxian in particular, maybe not quite speaking of their suspicions as to the fox’s education so far but hinting at enough for the other instructors to feel offended on their most brilliant student’s own behalf.

Thus, Xichen is not in any way surprised when, with the next lessons, the instructors start giving Wei Wuxian some additional leeway. Not too much at first, not wanting the switch to be too obvious, but increasing in their focus on Wei Wuxian’s questions and their willingness to occasionally move at his speed instead of waiting for even the last of the other disciples to catch up.

Which is fine for now.

Sacrifices must be made when fighting for what is best for one’s clan. And with Wei Wuxian having proven himself so very willing to tutor anyone who might possibly need it in order to ensure that everyone in his class manages to keep up, building rather strong friendships with their own disciples and those from other sects along the way, favoring him for a while isn’t going to do too much harm.

In the lessons themselves, the only one able to keep up with him is Wangji.

Although, Xichen suspects that might be mainly due to his brother already having studied years ahead of his year mates, long before the guest disciples ever arrived at Cloud Recesses. Wangji is certainly smart, a genius in his own right, especially where cultivation and certainly musical cultivation are concerned. But Wei Wuxian’s mind is an entirely different beast to behold, only ever seeming to gain speed once he finds something to catch his attention, leaps of logic and invention and creativity which even Xichen has difficulty following most days.

Especially in anything concerning talisman application and creation, Wei Wuxian leaves all of his year mates and even most of the instructors behind, rather easily so, if ever given the chance to sprint on ahead, so very brightly enthusiastic in his pursuit of knowledge.

It is in cultivation and sword fighting, where Wangji and Wei Wuxian seem to be perfectly matched, neither able to outpace the other, for all that both of them seem to find the sudden challenge of having an equal exhilarating.

Of course Xichen knows better than to even attempt comparing their levels of celestial magic. For all that Wangji has been born with the strongest connection to their clan’s celestial bloodline in decades, if not centuries, the birth marks of his partial shift having revealed such early on,  a fox’s powers are still incomparable in that regard. Wangji might improve his ability to call upon his celestial heritage with continued cultivation, has likely long exceeded Xichen’s own abilities in that regard. Still, their blood has been diluted over centuries. While Wei Wuxian’s hasn’t.

In the lectures it also quickly turns out that, with Wei Wuxian actually feeling challenged by the lessons for once, the mischief and frequent disturbances in class promptly drop off, as the fox instead delights in focusing his rather formidable attention on any task brought before him.

Wei Wuxian flourishes. Like a long-neglected flower bursting into bloom, not so much at the attention but rather at finally finding himself challenged. Not only by the tasks at hand but also challenged to go beyond that, to use his hours spent in the library for research and bringing any questions he can come up with to the instructors, something they have taken to encourage from everyone attending the classes, though Wei Wuxian tends to be the only one to make use of the offer.

Xichen is rather content.

It is the way the guest lectures were always intended, to teach and stimulate young minds, guiding them on the right path by their own choice and conclusions, rather than because someone else lectured at them to do so.

Xichen has long since thought that Gusu Lan’s mode of teaching has somewhat stagnated in more recent decades, becoming far-too-dry lectures which even the most eager of students would struggle to pay attention to.

To let a brilliant mind such as Wei Wuxian’s go to waste due to their own stagnated teaching practices seems almost more than willfully negligent.

Still, with his lack of mischief in class, the punishments that used to chain Wei Wuxian to the Library Pavilion quickly drop off. He still breaks rules, of course, however, transgressions such as running in the halls or speaking too loudly or even breaking curfew by a bit are rather easily ignored.

Everyone within Gusu Lan seems to have rather quickly caught on to the implications of showing Wei Wuxian how things could be, of nurturing a talent such as his fully, an example of how he and his mind and his very presence could be valued. If only so as to better contrast his treatment within his own sect.

To the surprise of most, despite his freedom, the added leeway, the lack of punishment assignments chaining him to the Library Pavilion, Wei Wuxian continues to spend most of his afternoons there anyway.

Usually to seek out Wangji and spend time in his presence, but often also to then do research when the lessons and the instructors’ answers to his questions left him unsatisfied.

For a while.

Before he inevitably starts badgering Wangji to do something else, to stop holing up in the library, to go for a walk, to chat, to visit Caiyi Town. Anything that will have Wangji’s pay attention solely to Wei Wuxian.

Xichen can tell just how delighted Wangji is at this particular turn of events, some of the tension tightening the line of his shoulders finally loosening once more, with the reassurance that, even when given a choice, Wei Wuxian will still continue to seek him out just as frequently.

Xichen had hoped things might turn out like this and, going by Shufu’s lack of surprise at this ‘new development’ of his favorite student and his youngest nephew spending most – if not all – of their time in one another’s company, his uncle had apparently expected something similar as well.

The first time Wangji and Wei Wuxian are seen actually taking a walk around the Cloud Recesses, Wei Wuxian apparently having succeeded in his constant badgering, the entirety of Gusu Lan immediately takes notice. If only due to how unusual it is to see Wangji doing anything so notably… unproductive, a stark contrast to his usual behavior.

Thankfully, the entirety of Gusu Lan, collectively and very deliberately, then does their best to turn their focus away once more, to not to be too obvious about the attention they are all definitely paying to the slowly building courtship between their Second Jade and the celestial fox they are nowadays all so invested in making part of their sect.

+++

Things within the Yunmeng delegation escalate far more quickly than even Xichen had expected.

It quickly turns out that the fledgling split of Gusu Lan’s lecturers paying Wei Wuxian so clearly more attention than the Jiang heir is enough to already tear at the clearly fragile bonds holding them together. A fledgling split growing into a final wedge.

For, as Wei Wuxian seems to gain ever-more attention and approval from their instructors, and so easily leaves all of his year mates behind, his brother’s ire, Jiang Wanyin’s obvious fury and envy, seems to grow at matching speed.

The Jiang heir who scowls from the sidelines, more than one shouting match of harshly spat words between the brothers overheard by others, accusations of self-importance and boasting and no one liking a show-off from one side, furious protests sounding from the other.

Fights, at the end of which the brothers are both panting, one angry, one hurt. Until their sister approaches and soothes them into apologies and reconciliation once more.

Or so Xichen had assumed. An equal attempt at keeping the peace.

Until he gets to overhear to aftermath of one such fight. He is rather taken aback to realize that said soothing, as well-intentioned as it may be, is just as imbalanced as all the Yunmeng siblings’ interactions seem to be.

“A-Xian,” Young Maiden Jiang is saying to her brother, trying to coax his attention, from where he is scowling in front of her, arms crossed, wrapped halfway around himself, obviously hurt by the thoughtless words thrown at him by his own brother before Jiang Wanyin had stomped off in his fury. To cool off. Which Jiang Wanyin, teenager that he is, only ever seems to do after he has already so willfully thrown all he had to say at his brother. Unconcerned by the hurt his words might be leaving in their wake.

Xichen knows he shouldn’t be here. But he was told of the argument by one of their younger disciples – who all so collectively adore Wei Wuxian, his bright joy and enthusiasm and unwavering kindness – so he had decided to seek out the fox for one of their afternoon walks, hoping to alleviate some of whatever hurt might have been caused.

He is glad that there is seemingly no need, that Jiang Yanli is already taking care of her adopted brother. For all that some of the dynamics within the Yunmeng delegation do honestly worry Xichen – if only for Wei Wuxian’s sake – he can also see how much the fox adores his siblings. He would never wish the pain of losing either of them on Wei Wuxian, their support or worry or certainly returned love. He only wishes Wei Wuxian valued himself and his own heart enough to protest the so frequent hurts he is caused by those who should be committed to protecting him before all else.

“A-Xian,” she repeats, reaching out, to smooth his collar a little, until he finally looks at her, eyes shadowed and the corners of his lips pulling down. Her expression is full of empathic understanding, “You know A-Cheng doesn’t mean it.” A soft smile. “You know how much pressure he is under.”

The words are so unexpected, so different from what Xichen expected to hear as she soothed Wei Wuxian, they have him blink in honest surprise. Because… It sounds like she is not only excusing her youngest brother’s behavior but also like she is somehow putting the responsibility to do the same on Wei Wuxian. Like he should know better than to be hurt by well-aimed barbs thrown his way by his own brother.

Loudly. And in public.

Wei Wuxian, who then however sighs, stance softening towards her, clearly no defense against his sister whatsoever. Then again, he shouldn’t need a defense against his own siblings. Neither against his soothing, if biased older sister, nor against his insecure, but callously vicious little brother.

Alas…

“I know, Shijie,” he huffs. “He just- He just caught me by surprise!” he ends, cheer creeping back into his voice, though the usual brightness seems to be missing.

A smile for show, not honest sentiment.

Young Maiden Jiang just smiles gently in return, nods. Like that settles it, continuing to fuss with his clothes. “You know he’ll never apologize first,” she then adds, her smile honest and so very fond, eyes curving a little with her loving exasperation.

Wei Wuxian huffs an answering laugh, just as much fondness for their brother contained within.

Xichen, however, is stunned. Because…

First, she said. Apologize first.

Like there is any reason for both of her brothers to apologize at all. Like it wasn’t Jiang Wanyin who took out his own insecurities on his brother. And is apparently going to get away with it. While Wei Wuxian is supposed to simply forgive. Supposed to apologize.

Xichen might have already suspected that Wei Wuxian’s treatment at the hands of his family might not quite be as it should. However, so far he had thought the blame to lie almost solely with the heads of House Jiang, having only suspected that his adopted siblings might have subconsciously adopted some of the behaviors they have likely been observing from their parents since they were young.

To witness such easy disregard of one’s feelings for the sake of another’s is something else entirely.

Walking away from the scene he should not have witnessed at all, Xichen thinks that maybe it isn’t any wonder that Wei Wuxian seems to have forgotten how to value himself above others’ sensibilities. If this is the treatment he receives by his elder sister, the one who is likely the kindest amongst this adopted family, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that he might simply have forgotten that his own heart and any hurts it might ever be caused has any worth at all.

Much less how to protect himself from anyone trying to deliberately do him any harm.

+++

When Wei Wuxian meets up with him a little later, seeking him out in turn to join Xichen on his afternoon walk, there is something uncommonly resigned about his smiles, some of his usual brightness missing, something melancholic in his eyes that Xichen isn’t used to seeing from the usually so cheerful fox.

Still, Xichen doesn’t say anything. Not directly. He doesn’t think he can.

Sadly, it is not his place to interfere in Jiang family matters.

Not yet.

All he can do for now is offer his silent and unwavering support, a place for Wei Wuxian to simply be and rest and not have to excuse anything about himself, his personality and cheer and brilliance, in any way.

If only Wei Wuxian were part of Gusu Lan. If he were Wangji’s mate or his betrothed or even if they were just courting for the moment, no one would dare cause even the remotest bit of harm to Wei Wuxian.

There is a reason why a dragon’s fury remains legendary even centuries after the last Lan capable of shifting into their trueborn form.

Gusu Lan as a whole would be happy to remind the world of those reasons if given enough cause to do so.

+++

In the coming weeks, the dynamics Xichen continues to observe – mostly from the sidelines – shift a little further.

It is nothing too obvious, no clear breaks of bonds already forged. However, some things certainly change. And all of said changes tend to have Wei Wuxian right at their center, the very focal point everyone seems to circle around, the entire class of guest disciples, Gusu Lan’s own disciples, the instructors, Xichen’s own family, everyone unable to entirely draw their attention away from the ever-cheerful fox in their midst.

It is clear that Xichen isn’t the only one observing the ever-growing split amongst the Yunmeng delegation, as Jiang Wanyin seems unable to help his own jealousy, seeming almost furious at himself for it at some points, only ever the slightest bit soothed from his seething envy whenever he has Wei Wuxian’s entire, formidable attention focused solely on himself.

A combination of envy of his skills and genius and the attention he receives, and possessiveness of one’s own sibling, when realizing that the world might just want a piece of who you considered entirely, steadfastly your own.

Xichen thinks he might even be able to understand some of that. It changes nothing about his own conviction to ensure Wei Wuxian has a safe home, a happy home, somewhere to be utterly and unapologetically himself.

Lotus Pier does not seem to offer anything of the sort to Wei Wuxian, while the Cloud Recesses is currently doing its best to prove themselves the very opposite.

A place for Wei Wuxian to be all he is and all he could be.

Xichen thinks, his own clan is doing a rather good job of it as well.

+++

It quickly turns out that, despite his many distractions – the many friendships he has formed with other disciples since his arrival here, the frequent walks he still joins Xichen for, his definite distraction with Wangji – Wei Wuxian with a fully equipped library at his disposal and no assigned reading for the sake of punishment is almost… scary to behold.

His research crosses all fields of cultivation, his attention so easily grabbed by anything he deems new or interesting, and the chaos he produces with scrolls and notes and brushes scattered everywhere at his desk in the Library Pavilion is almost impressive, almost painful to observe for anyone of the Gusu Lan, used as they are to perfect order.

However, every evening, Wei Wuxian also diligently puts his research materials away once more, careful with the ancient scrolls like he is with few other things, stacks of notes and scribbled ideas and sketched talismans clutched in his hand, like a treasure, something he still isn’t entirely sure he is allowed to have, but with every question posed to the instructors quickly gaining certainty in their willingness to indulge him.

Gaining confidence. And speed. His mind ever-brilliant and so clearly only now starting to even begin truly being put to task.

Yes, his mind is certainly impressive to behold.

Wei Wuxian researches and continues bringing ever-more complex questions to the lecturers. Who seem somewhat embarrassed at not having noticed just how far beyond the normal curve Wei Wuxian clearly is, if only remotely challenged.

Until he starts eclipsing some of the instructors’ knowledge on certain topics. To their mixed ire and pride.

Shufu certainly doesn’t mind, especially once the fox clearly starts identifying him in particular as the one person able to argue pretty much any topic with him. Thus, instead of badgering as many of the instructors as he can get his hands on with his questions, Wei Wuxian quickly takes to waiting until the very end of the day’s lectures to then approach Shufu with his haphazard stack of papers clutched in his hand, eyes eager and bright and so intent on gaining ever-more knowledge.

Shufu who grumbles about it all during family dinners, about the time it so regularly costs him in his busy schedule to argue through all of Wei Wuxian’s ‘foolish ideas’ and ‘illegible notes’ and ‘ludicrous notions’. But Shufu certainly seems unwilling to cut that hour, which his uncle seems to have set aside solely for the purpose of having those argument with who is rather quickly becoming his favorite student, short in any way.

Xichen is quite content.

Between Shufu nurturing Wei Wuxian’s brilliant mind and Xichen’s still regular and no longer at all coincidental run-ins with the fox to answer any of his… broader questions, some of the fox’s questions almost childlike in their naivety, certainly things he should have been taught years ago by his guardians or elder disciples but clearly hasn’t and is now trying to fill in the gaps he himself is only now growing aware of.

Add to that Wangji’s ever-present perfect calm for Wei Wuxian to seek out, to rest within, the fox so obviously and happily soothed within Wangji’s presence, his cheerful spirit seeming to somehow shine even brighter whenever settled close to Wangji, whether it is while plowing his way through the entirety of Gusu Lan’s so vaunted library or simply while taking a walk together…

All of them, although Wangji certainly most of all, would miss Wei Wuxian and his ever-bright presence if he were to leave them for any length of time.

Xichen is delighted to think that, by now, it is likely just a question of time until he might gain the brother-in-law he is admittedly hoping for.

Well, there is also the question of how they will be gaining said new member of their family. How strong Wei Wuxian’s bonds beyond their own clan will remain. Whether it will be Gusu Lan arguing for even the slightest of concessions during the potential future marriage negotiations. Or whether it will be Gusu in the position of safeguarding Wei Wuxian’s happiness, with Yunmeng Jiang fighting to keep their last hold on who they never treasured as they should have.

Xichen hopes for the latter, if only because it will be much easier to ensure both his little brother’s and his – hopefully soon – little-brother-in-law’s happiness in that scenario. Still, even if their current attempts to convince Wei Wuxian of those facts aren’t enough to turn things quite that far in Gusu Lan’s favor, Xichen is determined to still fight for Wei Wuxian’s right to seek his home wherever he will feel safest.

And so what if he hopes that Wei Wuxian will realize how much better treated he would be here, amongst the dragons of Gusu, compared to his current home amongst the so willfully negligent turtles of Yunmeng.

So what if he hopes that the fox’s choice of safe home might fall on somewhere other than the wide lakes of Lotus Pier, somewhere more suited to his nature. Somewhere closer to the wide, open skies, happy to greet his fox fire. Somewhere set amongst ancient, dark forests, joyous to greet his wild spirit.

Somewhere safe and warm and free of anyone ever daring to do him harm.

For, surely, Wei Wuxian would be much happier, if he were to make his home in the well-protected den of a dragon.

+++

When Xichen chooses to mention some of his more recent, worried observations – regarding Wei Wuxian’s potentially less-than-it-should-be treatment by the heads of House Jiang – to his little brother during their morning tea, Wangji’s wrath is instant.

Xichen knows that most people would have trouble spotting said anger, Wangji’s expression remaining almost entirely unchanged. To Xichen, however, it is obvious in the slight tightening around the corners of Wangji’s lips that he knows to mean an incomparable level of fury from his little brother. And, just for a few moments, almost Wangji seems to lose hold of his power – at the idea of anyone deliberately treating Wei Wuxian as lesser, possibly doing his chosen mate harm deliberately – a heat haze of fury turning the air around him blurry for just a few seconds.

Until he reins himself back in.

Xichen tells him none of the details of Shufu’s and his own suspicions or what they have been doing to possibly… counteract some of it. He very deliberately does not want to involve Wangji in their slight machinations. His little brother’s courtship should be an honest one, free of deception and manipulation. That sort of thing is better left to family.

He is sure his own brother will freely return the favor if the occasion ever arises.

Still, just having mentioned some of his initial observations seems to be enough to see to making his little brother’s attention shift a little, not so much away from Wei Wuxian but certainly quite a bit more intently focused to also include those surrounding the fox. There is no envy or longing to be in Jiang Wanyin’s place lingering in Wangji’s eyes any longer.

Instead, his eyes glow wrathfully gold at every observed interaction between the siblings that does not quite meet his standards of how Wei Wuxian should be treated, dragon fire seeming to roil within, barely held back.

Wei Wuxian does notice the added focus, even seems delighted at it, although he clearly doesn’t realize the furious protectiveness within that gaze.

Somehow, and even Xichen does not know how the fox came to that particular conclusion, Wei Wuxian seems convinced that Wangji must be the kindest, gentlest, most patient, most lenient, most helpful, most indulgent, most wonderful person he has ever met.

Which Wangji is.

Towards Wei Wuxian.

With everyone else, however, it is a very different story. As the entirety of Gusu Lan and all of the guest disciples currently at the Cloud Recesses could tell him.

Xichen doubts Wei Wuxian would believe them. The thought makes him smile.

Xichen is glad to see that something seems to have settled within Wangji. A newly found determination, focused entirely on Wei Wuxian, his interest in the fox unchanged but now also barely hidden any longer, a combination of worry about Wei Wuxian’s safety and happiness but also the definite reassurance of Wei Wuxian’s returned interest in him, that the fox’s teasing has never been about making fun of Wangji but solely about trying to get his attention.

It seems his brother has finally noticed the way Wei Wuxian almost literally lights up every time Wangji so much as glances his way, how the fox seems to forget the presence of everyone else around him whenever Wangji walks into sight.

The sight of Wangji making his way across the Cloud Recesses with Wei Wuxian chattering brightly at his side, all sunshine smiles and joyous laughter, his little brother’s steps purposeful but slow, clearly unwilling to hurry their journey along in any way, becomes something of a norm over the coming weeks.

Even more, those initially straight paths from the lecture halls to the Library Pavilion quickly turn into slow, meandering, rather circuitous walks around the Cloud Recesses instead, neither of them seeming particularly hurried or willing to cut their time together short by reaching their destination too quickly.

Xichen is content to cede some of his usual time spent with Wei Wuxian during their afternoon walks to his little brother. He is sure that, once the fox marries into Gusu Lan and moves here permanently, there will be more than enough chances to make up for it.

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.