Lan Sizhui stares at a small wooden chest filled with paper and toys. Completely struck speechless as Wei Wuxian pulls out a sheet of paper. It’s not tattered or worn if anything well preserved. Time didn’t seem to have had touched it at all.
The older man is sitting on the ground smiling up at Lan Sizhui. He motions for him to sit, offering one sheet of paper to him. Lan Sizhui stays standing, frozen dumbstruck when he realized what that chest is filled with.
Lan Sizhui knows his Father isn’t his biological Father. He’s known this at a young age and when he tries to remember the short time before Lan Wangji he only gets vague feelings of being teased, a bright smile, and the warmth having once filled him when a flute was played.
He knew he was protected. Whoever held him in their arms embraced him tight and for whatever reason knew Hanguang-Jun would raise him with love.
He was, without a doubt. Lan Wangji took care of Lan Sizhui. A complaint never on his lips. Lan Wangji’s love wasn’t through physical contact or verbal affirmation, he gets those scarcely. He knows that when he does it means he’s earned it, making those actions interpretation deeper. Lan Wangji’s love is sourced through different mediums. It’s something Lan Sizhui knows but never put much thought into. It’s second nature to him, his dad’s behavior that’s just a thing because it has never been any different.
He’s never thought about it. Not this deeply.
Lan Wangji was predictable. He doesn’t come and go, if anything he sits in the Jingshi or in the Library Pavilion more often than not but his presence does leave. His thoughts weren’t scattered. Only a solemn aura surrounded him during those times where his mind is somewhere else. He’d be lost in a memory or some forlorn wish that can’t be fulfilled. If anyone saw him during those times they would say that right then he truly looked like a man mourning the death of his beloved spouse. The wistful gaze and clenching of his jaw spoke unsurmountable emotions that cause those looking to ache with him.
Lan Sizhui has witnessed it the most out of anyone, even Lan Xichen. He grew up with it. It was just a part of Lan Wangji, Lan Sizhui thought. Something that just was. Like the rules written on the mountains of the Cloud Recesses, Lan Wangji had his own and Lan Sizhui accepted it.
It’s not like he had the choice. That look was directed him often and even if he could question it it’s not like Lan Wangji would have given him the answer.
Lan Sizhui spent a good portion of his childhood sitting in the library with him, silence engulfing the two. His dad worked while Lan Sizhui entertained himself. Hours, days, months, and years past like this. Even when the seasons bloomed and died and he outgrew spending hours painting to start studying in the silence with his dad adjacent to him. Their own version of a past time, of bonding time together.
Was there any need for him to have asked? If no matter what Lan Sizhui did eventually Lan Wangji would shut himself off from the world for a few moments.
The outside, though, was where the looks became daunting. Lan Sizhui didn’t acknowledge it as he knew the second he wanted something Lan Wangji’s attention would snap back to cater to him. He didn’t care about the haunted gaze Lan Wangji gave the hallways sometimes, the way his arms would tighten just a miniscule around Lan QiRen, or even when Lan Wangji would make sure his robe fully covered and hide him away.
It’s outside of their little area where responsibilities were hands-on and Lan Sizhui clung to him everywhere could he be harmed. Yet, even with rumors still thrown around accompanied with fearsome glares of elders, Lan Wangji would protect him from words he shouldn’t hear. Not yet, of course. There’s only so much gossip and stares Lan Wangji can shield his tiny son from for so long until it really became detrimental but at least for now, when he’s exceedingly small, Lan Wangji will do his best.
Even if it made the whispers worst.
Lan Sizhui didn’t realize it until much later when he’s sharing a room with the other disciples and sleep won’t come for him. He was staring at the ceiling, the moonlight softly illuminating it for him to find patterns in it, mulling over rumors that reached his ears for the nth time and realized that as much as he faced these rumors with ease, refusing to let them pierce and wiggle under his skin, they had never tainted his childhood. None of the words ‘bastard child’ or how spoilt Lan Wangji had treated him even touched his tiny ears. It was a very comforting realization.
And it’s there, some time after midnight with the moon at its highest peak, he felt thankful for how much his dad put up over the years. His mind imagined the whispers, the looks, unwarranted attempts of guidance he’d have gotten when instead of letting Lan Sizhui cry or throw tantrums and scold him for it he had brought him outside to calm down. He would let him play with the rabbits he also tenderly cared for in the distance because Lan Sizhui desired it. He’d let Lan Sizhui giggle and play. Catering to him first without a second thought. Instead of forcing him to not be scared of other adults Lan Wangji would let him hide behind his legs, under his long sleeve sometimes, and wait patiently until Lan Sizhui had gained enough confidence to come out. The treats he got, the food he desired, whenever he’d reach up to the older man so he could be carried, the way Lan Sizhui tugged on Lan Wangji’s robe to lead him outside so to play. Each one indulging and pleasing him. Not once did he hesitate.
Lan Sizhui hears it sometimes. An older woman from another sect telling her husband “Is that Hanguang-Jun’s son? He’s so well behaved for someone who was born into such wealth!”
“Lan Wangji spoiled him so much how did he turn out to be this behaved?”
The endless unsolicited noise must have annoyed Lan Wangji at some point. Maybe even angered him. They were disrespectful, breaking one of the rules written in the mountains, and insulted him. He wonders how his dad prevented it from even touching him. Did Hanguan-Jun punish any of them? Use his signature glare to silence them? Maybe a reason why Lan Wangji kept him close was that his presence could make a whole room quiver in fear and quiet like their mouths were sewn shut. Did Lan Wangji ever use the silencing spell?
The images keep Lan Sizhui in check. If his dad can put up with it then so will he.
The thoughts ran through his head all night and soon the sun was rising over the horizon. Lan Sizhui’s rose like he slept the whole night and began getting ready for another day of training. The thoughts dispersed and left for him to think about another time.
With the rumors, though, many would doubt if Lan Sizhui grew up well cared for. Some varying from disbelief that Lan Wangji could have a caring hand and others believing that because Lan Sizhui was raised by a man like him he’d have been showered in love.
It was somewhere in between. Lan Wangji is a distant resigned man. He kept many a distant far greater than arm lengths away yet he had adopted a son. The man who was like ice had taken in a child whose cheeks were rosy and eyes that welled up in tears.
As much as Lan Sizhui behaved, in the end, he was still a child and a dozen times more emotional than Lan Wangji. He held soft smiles and grew angry yet his Father stands so still next to him but with one flicker of the eyes, Lan Sizhui behaves once again.
Anyone who spent any time with him and Hanguan-Jun could testify that even if the man looked distant and his face still as stone there was a bond between the two of them that’s strong. Lan Sizhui knows this, he knows it so deep in his heart that nothing could make him doubt the love Lan Wangji had for him.
It spoke in the way Lan Wangji attended to Lan Sizhui, made sure his praises won’t build into an ego, watched him practice and guided him, did not let Lan Sizhui run rampant but gave him the freedom to grow wild. Lan Sizhui has grown to grasp the way Lan Wangji communicates. Not as well as Zewu-Jun but close enough.
There is something missing, of course. It’s why the questions, the insinuations, the accusations and insults thrown at him when he was older to roam about by himself to hear have him clenching his hand. Words about being adopted, not having a Mother, or being a bastard child bother him but only to a degree. Lan Sizhui knows he’d never ask for more than Lan Wangji. Yet something felt off. Something he couldn’t quite remember but not at all pestered him. Only when these questions were thrown at him does it make the problem a forefront thought.
It’s the same feeling he got every once in a while when Lan Wangji dived into those melancholy moments of absence. There’s something not quite right but it’s something they both can live through.
Though, those feelings are scattered as quickly as they came because Lan Wangji’s love is enough for Lan Sizhui. It makes up for everything people think he’s lacking.
Even when Lan Sizhui was eight and Lan Wangji, concern in his eyes, softly asked him, “A-Yuan, would you like to have a Mother?”
If his child desired for a motherly embrace and attention. For someone to also guide him and teach him lessons Lan Wangji could not or miss.
Lan Sizhui remembers that day clearly as the shock he felt branded this scene in his mind. Why would his Father ask him that?
He wanted a lot of things. He wished his dad’s favorite pair of rabbits would like him as much as they liked his dad. He wanted to always hold his dad’s hand or learn how to play the guqin as well as him. He wanted to know why every night, on the dot, Lan Wangji plays Inquiry or why he would sneak a jar of alcohol into the Jingshi and hides it under the floorboards every year on the same day. There’s a lot of things Lan Sizhui wanted but never once had he thought about wanting a Mom.
Lan Sizhui is eight, almost nine already having started to mingle with other kids around his age. He visits Jin Ling often, sees Lan Jingyi every week, and other disciples. He knows the other disciples have two parents, usually a woman and a man, each varying in their public affection for their child. He’s already been asked where his Mother was by the other kids.
He’d tell them he doesn’t have one and shake his head. Sometimes the topic is dropped there but a good portion of the time they would reply in pity. He doesn’t get it, not really. Well, he does now that he’s older but he has always thought it unnecessary. There are a few servants who have served the Gusu Lan Sect for years that have doted over Lan Sizhui and making sure he was well fed, that he looked cute and proper, and gossip or told him stories for when his dad wasn’t there to do it. They have watched him grow. Each one giving their share of appraising him.
So he didn’t need another woman figure in his life. Not when the head physician teaches Lan Sizhui how to make certain medicines, to look for certain herbs and how to make sure they’re not poisonous but also that poison is sometimes a good cure. She shows him the techniques to make medicine. Not when the ladies in the kitchen instruct him how to chop vegetables, watch closely so he won’t cut his fingers, and indulge in his curiosities. All strong and wise in things they work hard in.
And Lan Wangji made up for the other missing half already. He was a single father raising an adopted son. Whatever another partner could have given him Lan Wangji had up to then. So Lan Sizhui gazed up at his dad whose face is impassive but his eyes tell him that this man would do anything to make sure he grew up happy. That it was his duty to make sure Lan Sizhui wouldn’t suffer.
It is the same look and quality that emits from him when he’s watching Lan Sizhui from afar as he plays, when he brings him his latest drawings, during their guqin lessons, when Lan Sizhui curls under the covers to hide under his embrace at night, and when Lan Sizhui comes to him for comfort.
Lan Wangji, since as long as Lan Sizhui can remember, had always been there. Maybe even before. Even when his eyes stared into the distance and a feeling of somber surrounded him he was always present when most necessary. Caring, shielding, and loving Lan Sizhui.
“No,” eight-year-old Lan Sizhui answered. “You’re all I need.”
He never regretted saying no. There has been no evidence that made those words even remotely make him feel remorse for it. Even if others can’t see it Lan Sizhui can and it’s all that really mattered, right? The hints, proof, all of it spread out.
The evidence is in his actions. There is art from Lan Sizhui through the years littering all the walls in the Jingshi, the Library Pavilion, and Lan Wangji’s office. They are on the edge of leaking out to the rest of the Cloud Recesses and if Lan Wangji could have it his way he’d plaster them everywhere in nonverbal communication of “My son made these. You will appreciate them.”
Of course, Lan QiRen would blow a fuse so Lan Wangji keeps it contained to the bare minimum. There’s some that have been on that wall for years and the servants are careful not to ruin or touch any of them as they clean. Lan Wangji is scary and they don’t want to know what would happen if any of them were ruined.
Lan Sizhui still draws. He’s good at it and after years of practicing, he knows people would call it a gift. Lan Wangji, though, knows how many hours he’s poured over each and everyone and he hangs them everywhere he can make space for. It’s only when Lan Sizhui witnessed one of his latest ones sitting on a table, waiting for its turn to sit on a nonexistent spot on the wall, did he tell his dad that it was okay to remove the old ones.
“The new ones are better, anyway,” he said. “I’d rather be seeing my current skill level than my old one.”
And so Lan Wangji moved the old ones when necessary. He was okay with them being thrown out since some of them weren’t really that great, anyway. Some useless and repetitive. He was speaking the truth and took pride in seeing the ones he felt particularly came out good.
Out of the many gifts Lan Sizhui is given there’s a guqin given to him by his dad when he was seven. A gift and permission for Lan Sizhui to accompany him to the pond to learn. He picked it up quick but it’s the instrument itself that makes Lan Sizhui hesitant to bring it out. He’s not embarrassed to play it in front of others and he’s aware that his skills aren’t as good as they could be so there’s practicing that's been overdue. It’s just precious to him.
It’s a gift. One that his dad could give him again but Lan Sizhui knows. He knows the designs in the wood were specifically made for his guqin to be one of a kind and the thought that went into it is something he cherishes. The time he spent with Lan Wangji’s voice guiding him has seeped into the wood, into the strings, and every time he plays it they would sing of those memories.
Memories where they played together, both of their strings vibrating in harmony. Lan Sizhui can feel the love coming through the music Lan Wangji makes.
Its spirit is fine with him leaving it behind. As long as he comes back to continue to take care of it it’ll play for him with ease. This one he leaves in the Jingshi and Lan Wangji puts it in the same spot for him to find. He knows to grab it when Lan Sizhui wants it. Keeps it safe for him because it’s his and he can trace the designs. Sometimes Lan Wangji will wait for him to join him so they can play together.
Other gifts he’s received and given to Lan Wanji are scattered around the Jingshi. Even Lan QiRen and Lan Xichen have some gifts from Lan Sizhui situated somewhere in their spaces. It’s not a surprising action for them but no one would have thought that the Hanguang-Jun is sentimental enough to keep these things yet he, without missing a day, takes care of the rabbits that Lan Sizhui was almost a hundred percent sure was a gift from someone close. He knew his dad played Inquiry for someone and that he used to sometimes stare at a loquat for longer than necessary.
It is shown in these actions, in the walls covered in Lan Sizhui’s paintings, in the jars of alcohol that used to be under the floorboard, and in his habits that he can’t quite shake off.
He knows Lan Wangji cares for him unconditionally. Even if his attention and time are now preoccupied with someone else. Someone from the dead whose laughter fills Lan Sizhui with nostalgia in certain moments. He ponders about that, too, when practicing the guqin. Thinks about Wei Wuxian and the impact that he’s made to everyone around him.
Wei Wuxian is a tornado of chaos. He’s everything the Cloud Recesses hates yet he’s everything it promises to uphold. An amazing teacher, caring, wise in knowledge and skill, and overall loud. A breath of fresh air that the disciples of the Gusu Lan Sect didn’t know they needed. His desire to make sure each of them grows up well rounded, with respect, and to have the chance to experience growing is laudable.
Wei Wuxian also loves his dad and his dad loves him back. Ever since the man once known as the Yiling Patriarch returned there has been an anchor that settled in Lan Wangji. He comes and goes now but his mind is ever present. Lan Sizhui knew Lan Wangji during the years when Wei Wuxian was dead and he knows his dad still. He gets the same amount of love he received before and the same habits persist but it’s like a veil has been lifted that he never knew was there.
Now he gets to witness Lan Wangji’s change. Their quiet moments continue but now a good portion is invaded by Wei Wuxian yet neither of them finds it a problem. If anything Lan Sizhui welcomes his laughter and mischief. Sometimes even participating in them. Lan Sizhui almost forgets that there was a point in his life that Wei Wuxian wasn’t there. It feels so right to see him sneak alcohol past the borders and offer some to the other disciples even though Lan Wangji was just a few seconds walk away. To see him stare at the drawings on the wall Lan Wangji hangs up, see him come out of the Jingshi with Lan Wangji in the mornings, and having Wei Wuxian mentor them and give them the experience they need to be good cultivators.
There’s something in Lan Sizhui that has also connected and he stops contemplating certain things. Especially when someone from a different sect throws insults about a missing mother he doesn’t need. Something has settled and he hangs out with Lan Jingyi while Wei Wuxian watches them to ensure that the night hunt goes well.
When they do something impressive or get away from a dangerous situation without any injury he’ll find himself with arms wrapped around him and Wei Wuxian’s loud voice exclaiming his pride in their success. Their progress as cultivators. He doesn’t care for it anymore and lets it brush past him like the wind.
It’s peaceful. Lan Sizhui couldn’t be happier. His heart content at the moment. So when Wei Wuxian sits next to Lan Sizhui when he’s practicing in the Jingshi, an air of hesitancy to him, Lan Sizhui stops to cock his head and implores Wei Wuxian’s behavior.
“A-Yuan,” Wei Wuxian started. “You love Lan Zhan, right?”
“Of course, Hanguang-Jun raised me well,” Lan Sizhui replied. “Why do you ask?”
“We’re going to be cultivation partners,” Wei Wuxian stated. It’s common knowledge if anything Lan Sizhui’s surprise they haven’t had a wedding yet. “I’m not a Father and I never really got to you raise you past the age of three but I needed to tell you. You wouldn’t mind, would you?”
Lan Sizhui, once known as Wen Yuan then Lan Yuan, gawked at the man who he knew saved him many times and for many more years to come. Despite being a Wen he took him in and gave him the opportunity to live in Cloud Recesses. The necessities to learn directly from teachers many of those in the cultivation society would kill for.
He blinked and felt laughter escape his lips. After snorting he covered his mouth to try and calm himself. This is a serious conversation! He can’t just start laughing at the other man! But the idea of Wei Wuxian, the Yiling Patriarch, a man who came back from the dead in the body of Mo Xuanyu and forced his way into every heart of the young disciples, was asking him for his blessings. Him! Lan Sizhui!
Wei Wuxian is flabbergasted by this reaction and in his voice...there! The tone Lan Sizhui is so used to.
“Hey! What are you laughing for?”
Lan Sizhui stopped after a minute and smiled widely at Wei Wuxian. His voice unwavering. “Of course I don’t mind, Senior Wei! If you won’t marry Hanguang-Jun, who will? Someone has to take it for the team.”
It’s Wei Wuxian’s turn to blink at Lan Sizhui and burst into laughter. His hands held his stomach. The sound is bright and brought a fond emotion to his chest.
“I don’t mind that you weren’t there,” Lan Sizhui blurted out. Wei Wuxian stopped and gone silent. His eyes shimmered with something akin to being prepared for what’s to come out of Lan Sizhui’s mouth. He knows that look, knows that whatever it is that the older man holds secret in his heart he must always be prepared for someone to add it to the pile of pain he has accumulated.
He has seen it on his face many times. It is not a foreign look but it brings something sad in him. A bubble that constricted his chest and for a second Lan Sizhui hesitated. He never wanted to be at the end of this look again.
“Hanguang-Jun, dad, raised me well and with love. You left me in good hands. You’re also here now. I once said no to having a mother and I’d do it again and again if it meant, in the end, you’d marry Hanguang-Jun and be my other Father.”
Lan Sizhui watched as the other man’s mouth opened in surprise and he began to feel a little vulnerable. The look disappeared into something else entirely but Lan Sizhui knew it was a better inspection.
“You can always make up those years, too. New memories with everyone,” Lan Sizhui added. He felt his cheek get hot and focused on Wei Wuxian who brightened at the idea. He had rarely ever made the man speechless and it filled him with joy to do so. Then, something had clicked in Wei Wuxian’s head.
“Okay!” He declared. He jumped up onto his feet. “Then we’ll just have to catch up, right?”
Lan Sizhui didn’t get to answer as he felt a hand grab onto his uniform sleeve and is suddenly dragged away from the steps they were sitting on and into the building. Eventually, Wei Wuxian halted and dropped to the ground to open a floorboard where Lan Wangji’s alcohol stash used to sit. He pushed the top of it off enough that he revealed a small wooden chest tucked in a small corner. After he pulled it out with ease he quickly opened it to reveal the contents inside and Lan Sizhui’s heart had stopped upon recognizing its contents.
The treasure inside the chest is organized. They were all once his. He has touched them with tiny hands and held some of them in his arms to the point of tatters. Even the most fragile of gifts sit in there. He forgets where he got them from and when he gave it to Lan Wangji but he knows at one point it had transferred from his hand to his dad’s.
There are letters he has sent, too. A piece of a blanket that had fallen apart by the time he was eleven. Everything’s in there. Each drawing he made, a faded book he had read too many times, and small jewelry he outgrew. There is even two butterflies poking out that he sort of recognizes. His hand itches to touch them.
He eventually takes the seat offered to him and the piece of paper.
“A-Zhan told me he didn’t want to throw anything away. No matter how much older you will get, how much bigger he wanted to hold onto as much as you as he could,” Wei Wuxian explains. “Since I never got to see any of this will you tell me about them?”
Lan Sizhui swallows and nods. He looks at the paper, a drawing of his favorite food as a kid. Each one with memories and something about himself to tell his dad who has missed so much of him.
Lan Sizhui knew Lan Wangji was a sentimental man but he would have never guessed how sentimental.
Wei Wuxian, knowing Lan Sizhui’s shock, just scoots closer and waits patiently for him to start.
It is hours later, stories told that make them laugh so hard they both end up in tears and out of breath, does Lan Wangji find them. Exhausted they had fallen asleep on the floor not long after a yawn had escaped Lan Sizhui’s mouth. Both in the middle of the mess they had created and Lan Wangji lets out a quiet huff when he realizes what they had gotten into.
Stepping around them he silently gathers everything up before lifting Wei Wuxian to their shared bed. After settling him down he began to pick Lan Yuan up like he once did when his son was tiny. In his arms, Lan Yuan wakes and blinks blearily up at his dad.
“Mmn,” Lan Sizhui copies. He feels like a child again. During those times when he fell asleep while sitting with Lan Wangji and it had become dark.
When Lan Wangji settles him down next to Wei Wuxian he holds onto his sleeve before he turns to go. Lan Wangji, reminded of the time when Lan Yuan was scared of him leaving, halts and turns to his son.
“I’d like to have a Mother,” he says. It is Lan Wangji’s turn to stare at his son, his face of complete impassiveness broken in surprise. Lan Sizhui’s eyes gaze up at him like years ago when he was only eight and found Lan Wangji’s question odd and unnecessary. “Can it be Wei Wuxian?”
Lan Wangji doesn’t know what to say. He fights to find control of his face.
“Yes,” he answers.
“Mmn,” Lan Sizhui hums. He closes his eyes falling back asleep, this time scooting closer to the slumbering man beside him. He leaves room for Lan Wangji to join and even though it is a little tight and still quite early in the day he settles in. Lan Wangji’s eyes are open, watching as his soon to be husband wraps his arm around Lan Yuan like it was natural of him to.
There, in splendid silence surrounding the bed that holds all three of them, Lan Sizhui basks in the love of his parents.