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With My Kid On My Shoulders I Try

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Wei Wuxian can pinpoint the exact moment A-Yuan spots Wen Ning, mostly by the way he shouts “Uncle Wen!”. Wen Ning startles badly, phone slipping from his hands but in the last second managed to catch it so artfully one could wonder if he had practiced it. (Wei Wuxian doesn't have to wonder, he was the one who helped him with said practice.) By the time Wen Ning has gotten his phone safely tucked away in his pocket, Wei Wuxian has pushed the stroller over to his side.

“A-Ning! It’s good to see you!” Wei Wuxian exclaim, prying his frozen hands from the stroller’s handle. “It’s been too long! No time for your best friend anymore, I hear.”

Wen Ning replies with a laugh “Sorry, sorry! Work’s been busy!” as he enfolds him in a crushing hug. “I’ve missed you too. Both of you!” Damn, has Wen Ning been working out? Wei Wuxian wonders quietly. He does not remember him being this strong. He thinks he heard his back crack. 

“Hug A-Yuan too! Hug A-Yuan too!” A-Yuan demands from down in the stroller and wiggles his arms up toward the adults. Wen Ning, always happy to oblige, releases Wei Wuxian, leaning down to pick up the child. A-Yuan clambers to Wen Ning’s neck like a koala and smiles so big, his little baby cheeks must hurt. 

Carefully Wen Ning detaches the child from his neck and holds him out for inspection.“You have gotten so big, A-Yuan! You are growing like a weed, aren’t you!” He plops A-Yuan on his hip. 

“Yes! I’m big now, uncle Wen. Bunny is big too!” A-Yuan shoves Bunny into Wen Ning’s face, clearly wanting his assessment of Bunny’s said growth.

“So big! Did his ears get longer?”

Wei Wuxian regards them fondly as Wen Ning listens to A-Yuan babble about Bunny while actually paying attention and asking him questions in return. Wen Ning and Wei Wuxian were close before he had his son but Wei Wuxian could have married him for how perfect he was with his baby. 

Wei Wuxian still caught himself looking at engagement rings occasionally, the only thing stopping him from buying one (besides the lack of money) being Wen Qing’s talent with sharp objects and her willingness to use said objects on anyone who tried to marry her brother for nefarious reasons, such as free babysitting, rather than the true love. 

As he stands there, fantasizing about marrying Wen Ning, a strong gust of wind makes his whole body shudder. Wen Ning glances over at him, concern clear in his eyes and declares “Let go inside!”

Stepping inside the restaurant, Wei Wuxian’s nose is filled with the aroma of strong spices and food being cooked. The place is packed with people, laughter and chatter filling the air around him. Navigating the stroller further inside, he can’t help but to remember all the times him and Jiang Cheng would end up hanging out here. 

Whether it was fleeing from one of Madam Yu’s many vicious rants or boring formal functions, Madam Bowl was their safe haven. The owner, an older woman everyone simply called Popo had always treated them as her own grandchildren, letting them stay late into the night while she and her staff cleaned up. 

Once they had befriended Wen Ning at school, the two of them began dragging him along as well, both after or during class. Which one depended entirely on how far off their exams were and how good Wei Wuxian's sweet talking was that particular day. There was always a half chance Popo would be caught in a good mood, only berating them for not being in school before letting them stay anyway. If she was in a bad mood, the threat of calling Madam Yu or Wen Qing usually had them running right back where they came from. 

Wen Ning guides them with ease to their usual table, which is somehow empty despite all the other people around. Wei Wuxian is not sure if he should be referring to them as their usual seats, given that he hasn’t been in here for over a year. He ponders the question as Wen Ning hands him A-Yuan back and goes off to fetch a baby chair. Wei Wuxian quickly begins to tugs off A-Yuans overall, not wanting his son to overheat. 

Wen Ning returns shortly after Wei Wuxian pulls off his son’s second pair of pants, successful with his baby chair acquisition and A-Yuan gets plopped down without a fuss, Bunny firmly clutched in his hand.

At last, he finally takes a seat, his seat and tries not to think about the giant Jiang Cheng shaped hole beside him. Wen Ning sinks down across from him and looks around at the restaurant.

“It's been a while, hasn't it?” he says with wonder as he studies the plants in the corner. “Everything still looks the same.”

Wei Wuxian nods in reply and throws him a menu before turning to read his own. The food hasn’t changed. He thinks he even recognizes the stain by the left corner. It's comforting. The world might be crashing down around him but Madam Bowl still has the spiciest dishes on the third page. Debating which ones to order, he is snapped out of the lull of comfort when a voice barks out “Wei Wuxian! Wen Qionglin!“

His spine straightens on its own, a survival instinct he thought long forgotten and he reluctantly turns to the source. A few tables away, she stands. The woman herself. Popo. Lips twisted into a sneer that could rival Jiang Cheng’s, she stomps in their direction. He feels the blood on his face drain the closer she gets. They are so dead. 

Coming to a stop at the table, she slams her hand on it before repeating “Wei Wuxian. Wen Qionglin.” Wei Wuxian isn’t sure if he is imagining or not, but he thinks there might be steam coming from her head. She says nothing as she stares at them, like a predator waiting for its prey to make the first move and the second Wen Ning’s shoulders slump ever so slightly, she attacks.

“Why do you not visit?! It has been months since I last saw you, months I tell you!” she shrieks, hands gesticulating wildly. Wei Wuxian hopes A-Yuan will remember him after he dies. ‘Murdered by furious old woman’ tomorrow's headline will read. “Do you not care for me anymore!? Do you not care for my food? Hm?! Can’t spare a moment's time for Popo anymore, is that it!? Answer me!”

Wen Ning starts to open his mouth, to say what, Wei Wuxian has no idea but Popo raises her hand sharply, his mouth shutting with an audible snap. “No, don’t. Nothing you can say justifies this! Day in and day out, I wait for you, but you naughy boys never show! You could have been dead, for all I know! Not even a phone call!”

She continues to chastise them loudly, uncaring of the other patrons nearby. Wei Wuxian shrinks in his seat at every loud exclamation, hoping she will forget his existence and instead zero in on Wen Ning. Sorry, A-Ning.

It's not like he has an excuse for not showing up. ‘Sorry, I got disowned from my family and thought I might accidentally run into them here so I didn’t go and now I’m so broke I barely have enough yuans to keep a roof over my head, so going out for lunch has sort of been out of the question.’ just doesn't have a nice ring to it. 

It is comforting, in a twisted way to have her be angry. Yelling is easier. Wei Wuxian has dealt with people yelling at him all his life. The guilt of not being enough or messing up that comes with it is barely even registered anymore. 

He’s not sure he could survive Popo looking at him with even a hint of pity.

This is better, he tells himself. This he knows how to deal with.

“And where is your brother, Jiang Wanyin?!” Popo throws out and Wei Wuxian’s heart palpitates. “I haven’t seen him in even longer! Is he ignoring me too?! Too rich to eat my food now?!”

Oh fuck.  

Popo bores her eyes into his skull, indicating that she finally expects an answer and Wei Wuxian feels his palms turn sweaty. What is he going to tell her? That he left? That he got disowned? That he hasn’t seen his brother for over a year? No, that would give way for uncomfortable questions. He needs to think fast.

“Oh no, he is not ignoring you, Popo. He is- Jiang Cheng is, um, he’s very busy these days, with…” He has no idea what Jiang Cheng is up to these days. How the fuck should he know what Jiang Cheng is up to, the only thing his brother does is scream and-

It hits him. Of course he knows what Jiang Cheng is doing. Unchaning, predictable Jiang Cheng. Like his boring brother would do anything else. 

“Work! Yes! He’s busy with work! Loads of papers that need to be signed and employees that need to be yelled at, with him being CEO of Yunmeng and everything. He wishes he could swing by more often and he told me to tell you that he is very sorry he couldn’t join us today.” Wei Wuxian makes his face as serious as possible, as Popo studies him, the suspicion in her eyes clear. 

A few tense moments pass and her face relaxes, even if only partially.

“He can come and tell me himself, that lazy boy, “ she finally accepts with a shake of her head. Ha, still got it, Wei Wuxian thinks triumphantly, careful not to let it show. He doesn’t actually want to die. “Shameless, sending his brother to make his excuses.”

He nods in agreement and Popo must have caught something in his eyes, because her nose twitches and she opens her mouth. Wei Wuxian closes his eyes, brazing himself for it and…

And nothing. Silence. Utter silence.

She didn’t actually kill him, did she? Carefully cracking open an eye, he glances over at Popo, her mouth still open but no sounds finding their way out.

He follows her gaze, confused at what could have stopped her rant and sees… 

Well, that does explain the shocked silence.

His son has been sitting quietly beside him, hugging Bunny while Popo has been yelling. He doesn’t seem upset, which Wei Wuxian counts as a blessing but given the strangling hold A-Yuan has on the stuffed toy, Wei Wuxian decides this is the perfect moment to steer the conversation towards non yelling territory. Wei Wuxian never got to introduce them after all. 

He straightens up, refusing to be perceived as ashamed of his son. “Popo,” he says, taking care that his voice is steady. “This is Wei Yuan. He is my son. A-Yuan, this is Popo.” He turns towards A-Yuan, whispering loudly enough so that Popo will hear. “She makes the best, most delicious food. This is the country's top chef I tell you, beaten by no one. You should be grateful you even have the chance to taste her cooking. Say ‘hello’ A-Yuan and remember, you sit in front of greatness.” 

Refusing to look away from Wei Wuxian, A-Yuan mumbles a quiet ‘hello’. Wei Wuxian gives him an encouraging nod to continue. A-Yuan shoots Bunny towards Popo, shielding himself behind it. “This is Bunny. Say ‘hello’ Bunny!” He adds, in a higher pitched voice “Hello.”

Popo, presumably over her shock of Wei Wuxian spawning a child, gives a hearty laugh and walks around the table to pat A-Yuan’s cheeks. “Hello A-Yuan, hello Bunny,” she says, amused. For all her temper, Popo has always had a weak spot for children. She has no choice but to melt for A-Yuan. “Aren’t you the cutest little thing? How old are you, A-Yuan?”

A-Yuan shyly holds up two fingers and Popo laughs as she pinches his cheek.

Wei Wuxian is sure he has not seen her act like that since the first time he met her, pulling a crying Jiang Cheng after him and asking if ‘please auntie, won’t you let us stay for a bit.’ 

She had, in the end, let them stay. She’d even given them a soda to share as she goaded out the reason for them being out all alone at night. It had been a usual evening out, Madam Yu and Uncle Jiang ending it by fighting. Something about Wei Wuxian getting better marks than Jiang Cheng. Then Madam Yu had turned her sparkling eyes right at Jiang Cheng and said ‘Wei Wuxian will always be better than you, that’s why your father doesn’t love you.’

Uncle Jiang had screamed at her but Wei Wuxian only had eyes for his brother, watching as his tears fell silently. 

He didn’t look surprised. He didn’t look angry. He looked like an eight year old who was just told his father didn’t love him and he already knew it. 

Without thinking he grabbed Jiang Cheng and ran out into the night, not caring where they went, just needing to get his brother away. They ran for what felt like miles (in reality, a few blocks) until their breaths had run out. Finding themself on an unknown street surrounded by unknown people, they choose to wander inside the friendliest place available.

When a screaming Madam Yu and worried Uncle Jiang finally had found them, half asleep, Popo had hugged them both goodbye and told them that they would be welcomed there anytime.

Both Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian had taken it to heart, ending up at the restaurant often enough that Popo occasionally forced them to help out. The image of a teenage Jiang Cheng running around, angrily taking orders tugs a smile on his lips before melancholy tugs it off just as fast. 

Jiang Cheng. He doesn’t know how to feel about him. All Wei Wuxian’s emotions feel like they have been put in a ziplock bag and shaken, unable to separate one from the other. It's been so long since they last saw each other, since the fight, since Wei Wuxian left. He should be over it but thoughts of his brother still feels as if he is being pierced by glass. 

Does Jiang Cheng still hurt from his broken arm? Does it ache when he thinks of Wei Wuxian? Wei Wuxian exhales through his nose and shakes his head slightly. He doubts his brother thinks of him, he was probably relieved with him for leaving.

A hand lands on his shoulder, making him jump. Popo is staring at him annoyed, clearly having tried to get his attention for a while. He smiles at her as she starts firing questions at him about A-Yuan’s preferred food. 

Cooing over A-Yuan for a bit longer, Popo takes their orders (all the spiciest dishes for Wei Wuxian of course) and leaves to drop them off in the kitchen. She is a working woman after all, and doesn’t have time to chit chat even though she clearly has time to yell. 

“Well… Glad to see Popo is doing good at least,” Wen Ning sighs once she's gone, and Wei Wuxian can’t help but return the sentiment. “I had almost forgotten what a scary lady she can be,” Wen Ning says, absentmindedly.

Oh no. 

Big mistake. 

Huge.

Wei Wuxian whips his head around but it’s too late.

“Scary lady! Scary lady!” A-Yuan starts to sing and Wen Ning adopts a look like a deer in the headlights. The guests eating at the nearby table glares at them. Hypocrites. He throws himself forward, trying to clamp his hand down on his son's mouth, but the brat leans out of the way just in time. “Scary, scary lady! Popo is a scary lady!” A-Yuan sings louder and laughs, evidently enjoying being a menace. 

After another botched attempt at getting his son to quiet down, Wei Wuxian finally resorts to pulling Bunny from A-Yuan’s arms. A-Yuan, predictably, immediately turns his head, to reach for his toy and Wei Wuxian finally clamps a hand over his mouth and shushes him. 

A muffled giggle creeps out from under his hand and then something slimy and warm licks across his palm. Doesn’t take a genius to figure out what. He keeps his hand firmly in place and only gives his son an unimpressed look. 

“Why- Why did he do that?” Wen Ning whispers shakingly, still twisting his head around to check if a furious Popo is coming their way.

“Sorry, A-Ning,” Wei Wuxian says, apologetic. “I forgot to tell you. A-Yuan here, is at that stage when he repeats everything he shouldn’t repeat.” He gives his son a very pointed look and receives another lick for his troubles.  “Best not to say anything you don’t want broadcasted to everyone.”

Wen Ning nods absentminded, still searching for signs Popo is on her way to kill him. Wei Wuxian slowly moves his hand away from A-Yuan’s mouth, ready to clamp down on him at any second if A-Yuan starts shrieking again. When his son doesn't immediately start yelling, he returns Bunny and goes to wipe off the baby saliva coating his palm. With clean hands he fishes out a toy car from the baby bag, handing it to his son. “Behave”, he orders, face stern. A-Yuan predictably ignores him, opting to race the car across the table and with a sigh, Wei Wuxian finally turns his full attention to Wen Ning. 

Wei Wuxian, Wen Ning and occasionally A-Yuan talk about a bit of everything as they await the food. From the book Wen Ning is reading (romance novel, who would have guessed?) to how the cute dog A-Yuan saw from a very long distance (it was fluffy, uncle Wen!) to the awful weather they are having (I don’t care that it's pretty, A-Ning, it's fuc- it's really cold).

When the said food finally comes out, Wei Wuxian’s stomach makes a loud growling sound as red dishes are being placed in front of him, he inhales deeply. It smells divine, his nose already running from the spices. It's perfect. It tastes even better than it smells, which of course it does. The people around them seem to almost wither away as he digs in with his chopsticks. It's so spicy he wants to cry, not from the spice, but from the joy. It's been so long since he had some truly spicy food. Most dishes he cooks he shares with A-Yuan, so he has to keep it as baby friendly as possible, which means most spice has to be added after or not at all.

He spares a glance down at A-Yuan as he starts to fill his bowl with more food. His son’s eyes wide as saucers, completely fascinated by the food, trying to relish every bite. The brat isn’t even playing with it, like he always does with Wei Wuxian’s cooking. His food is not that bad, he thinks and huffs internally.

Shaking his head he goes back to stuffing himself, when he spots another pair of chopsticks carefully approaching his bowl, carrying a white piece of chicken like a tribute. Looking up again, he sees A-Yuan smiling at him. “Baba eat more,” A-Yuan says, dulcet. 

How he managed to raise such a sweet and thoughtful child is an enigma. An urge to pick A-Yuan up and squeeze him tightly nearly overwhelms him, but seeing as A-Yuan is once more occupied with his food, he refrains.

Instead he carefully takes the now red dyed piece of chicken and plops it in his mouth, humming appreciatively. 

Maybe he will read A-Yuan two bedtime stories tonight.

---

Wei Wuxian feels more calm than he’s been in a while, with all his dishes cleared. A good meal truly makes the soul settle. Both Wen Ning and A-Yuan seem similarly relaxed. A-Yuan especially, his head kept drifting down before  cartoonishly snapping back up. Oh, of course he is tired; the silly boy got up too early to go find him this morning. Wei Wuxian watches him repeat the action a few more times before taking pity on his son. 

Leaning forward he murmurs softly “A-Yuan. Do you want to take a nap?”

A-Yuan blinks sleepily at him and he pokes his son’s forehead lightly, repeating the question. When he doesn't get a reply nor does A-Yuan start to scream at the suggestion, he wipes his son down, making sure he isn't covered in food before putting him down. No one likes to go to sleep sticky. 

Free of the tacky rice, Wei Wuxian gently picks A-Yuan up and places him in the stroller, moving it to his side so he can look down at his son with a simple head tilt. With A-Yuan covered with a blanket and his eyes closed, Wei Wuxian looks up and sees Wen Ning studying him with a soft smile.

“You’re a good dad, you know that right?” his friend says, earnest. Wei Wuxian only nods in reply, gazing down at his sleeping child. He tries his best to be everything A-Yuan needs. He doesn’t want to fuck him up.

Deciding to not give Wen Ning a chance to say something else embarrassing, Wei Wuxian instead switches topics. “How is Wen Qing?”

A huge smile grazes Wen Ning’s face at the mention of his sister. “She is still in school and finally chose to become a surgeon! It's very demanding but she is studying hard everyday,” he replies, not bothering to hide the pride in his voice. “Though she has been extra busy since she started working, luckily Xiao Xingchen and Song Zichen are very accommodating and try to schedule her around her classes and exams and stuff.”

“You know her bosses?” Wei Wuxian shoots back, a single brow raised in question. 

“Um, well, they are my bosses too.” Wen Ning cast his eyes down at the table, suddenly looking for all the world like his empty bowl of rice is extremely fascinating. Wei Wuxian isn’t sure he is seeing right, but Wen Ning’s cheek looks a bit pink. “We work for the same company.” 

“Wow, the same place? Must be nice having her around while working.” It does sound nice, working with family. He always thought that he would grow up and work with Jiang Cheng once they got old enough. Something dark twitches to life in the back of his mind and he pushes down on it hard. He is not going to be jealous of Wen Ning and Wen Qing’s good fortune. He is not. They deserve all the good luck they get. Instead he leans forward and eagerly asks “ What do you two work with? You never told me.”

Wen Ning hesitates with his answer long enough for Wei Wuxian to get suspicious. Are they working with something illegal? No, Wen Qing would never let Wen Ning get tangled up in anything like that. She wouldn't. 

Would she? 

“I’m a driver… Sort of. Well- I mean I do definitely drive people around but I’m not just a driver I guess. I’m not sure my title is just a driver you know, like I also pick stuff up sometimes and-” Wen Ning blabbers on and Wei Wuxian feels his suspicion grow. Wen Ning only blabbers when he is nervous or lying or both. 

Why would he lie about his job? Wei Wuxian raises an eyebrow, making his face as unimpressed as possible and interrupts him playfully. “Are you gonna tell me the truth or do you want me to stare you down until you finally cave? I can do either, but I’ll be the bestest of friends here and let you have the option of mercy.”

Wen Ning pouts at his words and Wei Wuxian is immediately conflicted because, wow, Wen Ning actually had paid attention to his ‘how to be cute and get away with stuff’ lessons but how dare the student try to ‘out pout’ the master?! Wei Wuxian will not stand for this. He in kind responds with his own pout, a stronger pout and he adds puppy eyes.

”You wound me, I never thought you would keep secrets from me, your bestest friend in the whole wide world,” he adds in a honeyed tone, fluttering his eyelashes. “Are you seeing someone else, A-Ning?” 

Wen Ning intensifies his own pout, not backing down just yet. “Not at all, A-Ying. You know you are the only one for me,” he replies, tone sweet as saccharin.

This is it. The ultimate ‘pout off’, A-Ning vs. A-Ying. Wei Wuxian is not worried, not worried at all. Wen Ning might be the cutest person he has ever met (except A-Yuan of course) but Wei Wuxian has had years of practice, getting out of all sorts of trouble. This? This is nothing. Wen Ning is an ant and Wei Wuxian is God. He will emerge victorious. (But okay, wow, his friend is really, really cute.)

Finally, after a few moments Wen Ning lets out a snort and starts to giggle, admitting defeat and Wei Wuxian lips break into a grin. He can feel his own giggle start to bubble up and can’t keep it in. It's a wonderful thing, sitting there in a warm cosy restaurant and giggling like five year olds with his best friend. The world doesn't seem as harsh.

“Okay, okay. I was sort of lying,” Wen Ning admits, smiling brightly but when he catches Wei Wuxian’s smirk he adds in protest “I was telling the truth too! I really am a driver! I just do a few other things too! And I’m not like, driving for one person.” He takes a breath. “I work for a place called Touch of Ice. It's- It's an escort service.”

Wei Wuxian stares at him, the grin suspended on his face. Of all the things he expected Wen Ning to work with, driving around escorts was not even on the list. Wen Ning working for the triads was on the list. Wen Ning stealing cars was on that list. Hell, Wen Ning doing seductive yet tasteful photoshoots was on that list. But nope, he is driving escorts around. Huh. 

Wait, didn't he say Wen Qing also works for the same company? Does that mean…

“Wen ‘the-only-way-I-would-willingly-go-near-a-dick-would-be-to-put-a-catheter-in’ Qing is an escort?!” he blurts out, feeling his cheeks grow warm. Not the best response, but given the circumstance he thinks he gets a pass.

“What, no! She’s a receptionist!” Wen Ning squeaks, waving his hands. “She takes calls and does bookings, stuff like that!”

Well, that does make more sense. “Oh, okay. Good…? I think. I mean I wouldn’t judge her if she was one but…” he trails off, not really knowing how to articluate ‘if she wants to fuck strangers for money, more power to her but she is the most asexual person I have ever met’ without, you know. Saying it. 

Wen Ning laughs awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck. “I get that, I feel the same way. I know it's a bit… odd, I suppose, but it's good work and pays well. Plus everyone is really nice and our bosses are great. I like working there,” he falters, nervously eying Wei Wuxian for his reaction.  

“That's great A-Ning! I’m happy for you! Oh, and Wen Qing,” he reassures his friend. As if he would ever judge anyone for supporting themselves, anyway they can. Work is work. “I would never judge you or Wen Qing. I mean it.”

Wen Ning gives him a soft smile and Wei Wuxian can see him relaxing at his words. “How did you find it anyway?”

“Wen Qing found it actually. One of the girls from her class works there and when the receptionist job opened up she recommended Wen Qing go to an interview. They ended up liking her so much, she got hired on the spot! Few weeks later they needed a driver and bodyguard type, and here we are.”

“So that's why you are so ripped!” Wei Wuxian exclaimed and Wen Ning blushes at his comment. Wen Ning might be incredibly cute but he looks like a boiled lobster when he blushes, a fact Wei Wuxian enjoys exploiting. “I thought you were much firmer to hug.”

“Yes,” he laughs softly. “My job is basically to wait in the car during the ‘dates’ or if it's at a party or gathering, I get to stand around and keep an eye out in case anyone tries to hurt one of the escorts. So far, I haven’t had to hurt anyone but there was this super scary thing that happened a few weeks back.”

Wei Wuxian’s eyes widen at the idea of Wen Ning hurting anyone, even in self defense. He might be buff now but Wen Ning is very much a defenseless baby kitten in Wei Wuxian’s eyes. He remembers vividly the sickly boy who got picked on for being so small and cried when his sister scolded him. “What happened? Wait, can you even tell or do you have one of those silent agreement things?”

Wen Ning chews on his lip as he ponders the question. “Well… I did sign an agreement with the agency not to talk about what happens during sessions, even if a client acts violent. I’m not even sure you would believe me, it was so…” he pauses and searches for the right word. “weird. Scary, but so weird.”

Wei Wuxian perks up at that. “Wen Ning, you legally cannot say stuff like that and not tell the full story. Please, please, please tell me! I won’t tell anyone, you know I won’t! I won’t even tell A-Yuan!” Wei Wuxian gestures to his son, sleeping blissfully in the stroller beside them, unaware of the juicy drama Wen Ning is currently withholding from his dad. “I will die from curiosity, Wen Ning, I will pass away! Death by befuddlement , the coroner's rapport will say!” he bemoans and drapes himself across his chair dramatically, arm splayed across his forehead. 

“Okay, okay, calm down,” Wen Ning snorts as he waves at him to calm down. “I think it's fine as long as I don’t say anything too descriptive. First a bit of background, when you hire an escort through our agency, you go through a screening, basically just telling us a bit about yourself as a client. What your perfect escort would be like and what the client would like to do. It's to make sure the client can get an escort that matches their personality and expectations. It's also to make sure the client isn't unstable or planning something that the escort won’t be okay with. You with me?” he asks and Wei Wuxian nods eagerly, wanting him to continue. He had no idea it was such a process involved when using such a service.

“So I was driving one of the escorts, a really nice girl, and she is reading up on the guy in the car, a bit of a last minute refresher. As we are parking, she says something feels off about him. I mean, he passed the screening just fine but I decided to go in with her to the apartment in case anything feels weird to me too. We go up and knock on the door together. Usually I’m not supposed to stay with the escorts when they go in but we are always told to trust our gut and stay safe. I’m telling you, the guy who opens the door. He is wearing a rabbit mask and he’s clutching a baseball bat.”

Wei Wuxian feels his mouth open slightly, he is completely invested in the story. If it wasn’t for the fact that Wen Ning can’t lie to save his life, he would have called bullshit so fast.

“All three of us are just standing there, staring at each other until I panic, grab her and start running. I’m not even looking behind me to see if he is following us, I was so scared. We run back for the elevator but it’s gone. I started looking around for the stairs and I almost cried when I saw the sign for them down another corridor. I turn towards the girl to tell her we have to take the stairs and that's when I see him coming towards us. He’s not even running, just walking at a slow pace, bat dragging on the floor behind him. It was like a scene out of a horror movie! I just grab her and run down the stairs as fast as I can. You have to understand, this building is huge and we are 17 floors up. I kept looking up every few floors and he was just standing there, looking down at us by the rails. I have never been so scared in my life. Never. Once we were by the car, I did really start crying and the girl I was with had to drive us back to the agency.”

Wen Ning is grinning at the end of his story takes a sip of his tea, which at least clues Wei Wuxian in to the fact that his best friend doesn’t seem traumatized for life by… whatever the FUCK that was. And now Wen Ning has gone and pulled off the impossible. He is speechless. He opens his mouth but nothing comes out, all he can do is stare.

“Close your mouth or someone might think you are making suggestions, A-Ying,” Wen Ning wiggles his eyebrows with a giggle and Wei Wuxian snaps back into his usual self and scowls at him, but breaks into a grin smile when Wen Ning only giggles harder. 

“Did you call the cops on him?”

Wen Ning shrugs his shoulders with a sigh. “Song Zichen did but they don’t care. We have him blacklisted but he probably used a fake name so the new policy is that all drivers go up with the escorts for first time clients.” 

“Is your job always that fucking weird and scary?”

“Oh no, not at all, I promise,” Wen Ning says with a shake of his head. “First time clients always are a risk, but that was the first time anything actually happened. Besides, mostly I just sit in the car and read while waiting for the escort to come back. Or if it's a party, I stand along the wall keeping an eye out, oh and stealing snacks if there are any. Rich people have good taste.”

He’s right. Rich people do have good taste. Wei Wuxian should know, he used to be rich. Once upon a time. He can still vividly picture the long tables, stuff to the brim with the many dishes Madame Yu used to have at her gatherings. Enough food to feed him and A-Yuan for months. 

“That sounds so nice, why can’t I find a good job like that?” Wei Wuxian sighs dramatically. He doesn't mean to turn sour at his friend's success, he is happy for him but he needs to rant a bit, just to get it out of his system. It's hard, keeping up a happy face for his son all the time. “They all say the same things, not enough work experience, too large a gap in the resume, can’t seem to keep a job for more than 3 months. Never mind that they are all shit jobs, with shit pay and shit bosses.”

Wen Ning frowns with a tilt of his head. “Still no luck? I thought you got hired at that company you were talking about?” 

Wei Wuxian recounts the events that occurred, how Wen Chao tried to make him exchange sexual favours for a pay raise and how the HR investigator who had shown him the door after he concluded that his boss had done absolutely nothing wrong and Wei Wuxian was just being an awful person making up lies. Fucking dicks, all of them. Wen Ning’s face turns stormy as listens to Wei Wuxian recount his tale. 

“That’s horrible, A-Ying. I’m sorry that happened to you. How are you holding up?” he asks and looks at Wei Wuxian with concern. Wei Wuxian can’t tell him the truth, it will only result in him getting worried. Wen Ning deserves to be happy. Best lie and pretend everything is fine. He shifts his posture to a more up right one and turning on his best smile, he is just about to spew some bullshit about how he’s never been better when Wen Ning shuts him down with a raised hand. “And don’t try to lie to me. You know I can tell when you are lying to me.” 

And Wei Wuxian deflates right back into himself. He should have known his best friend knows his tells too well. Fuck. Fucking Wen Ning and his fucking all knowing eyes. 

“It's not… great exactly…” he mutters, gaze firmly kept on A-Yuan in his stroller and then adds a nonchalant “But we will pull through, you know I always tend to fix things at the last minute! It just happens to be very last minute this time.“

Wen Ning only looks at him, with big sad eyes. Wei Wuxian is starting to hate those fucking eyes. “How ‘not great’ is it?”

Refusing to look at Wen Ning, he stares down at the cup in front of him. Tears prickle the back of his eyes and his nose hurts. Part of him wants to. Wants to burst out into tears and let everything show, let Wen Ning comfort him, hug him and tell him it's going to be alright, but his pride just won’t let that happen. He swallows hard and forces himself not to cry. “One more month's rent and then I don’t know,” Wei Wuxian states with an icy tone.

“Oh, A-Ying.” He sounds like Yanli did, that time when she found him going through the garbage looking for something to eat before leading him gently to the fridge. It's a gut punch and a hug, wrapped up in one. Wei Wuxian takes a sip of tea. It's lukewarm. There is nothing he can say to sugar coat the situation, not to Wen Ning. So instead he drinks his tea and tastes ash. 

“How... How- how would you feel about working for- for Touch of Ice?” Wen Ning rushes out so fast Wei Wuxian just barely catches it. “We are looking for new escorts right now and you fit the profile.” 

The cup freezes on his bottom lip.

His mind spins like a loading wheel as it tries to catch up with Wen Ning’s sentence. He must have heard wrong because there is no way Wen Ning would spring this on him like this, out for lunch with his sleeping child next to them. He must have heard wrong.

Someone at a nearby table coughs loudly. 

“I’m only asking if you are interested,” Wen Ning says to fill the silence Wei Wuxian won’t. “We have great benefits, like free gym cards and dental. It is completely your choice, I promise.” 

Wei Wuxian puts the cup down slowly, fighting the urge to throw it at Wen Ning. Instead he clenches his hands.

“Wen Ning,” Wei Wuxian says coldly, through clenched teeth. “I have about as much experiance as you do when it comes to sex. I have a child I can’t afford to take to daycare. I have no money to spend on clothes. I cannot be an escort.”

He expects an apology. He expects a hastily given ‘oh right’. Instead Wen Ning tilts his head slightly and simply says “They can help you with that.”

“They can help me,” Wei Wuxian echos faintly. That’s a weird way to apologize. 

“Touch of Ice. They can help you with that,” Wen Ning goes on, as if he expects Wei Wuxian to keep up. “Well, maybe not with the babysitting part but I actually have someone in mind. She’s already said yes.” He reaches across the table and squeezes Wei Wuxian’s hand. It's grounding. “You don’t think I would be so careless to not think this through before telling you?”

No, of course not. Any anger that is left in him, peters out like a blown out candle. He feels like smoke. If Wen Ning blows on him too hard he will disappear.

“You don’t have to do it, okay?” Wen Ning murmurs, stroking a thumb over his palm lightly. “There is no pressure to say yes. I just wanted you to know the opportunity is there if you want to try.”

“It just… It's that- I don’t know,” he stutters out, voice barely above a whisper and clutches Wen Ning’s hand back like a lifeline. “I don’t know, A-Ning. I- I need a job, I do. I need money. But I don’t know how I… What would I even do? I have no idea what it's like being an- an escort.”

“Then ask, A-Ying,” Wen Ning whispers, like it's the most obvious thing in the world.

Wei Wuxian glances down at A-Yuan, sleeping soundly. His shoes will soon be too small and there are holes in his pants. Wei Wuxian is seriously considering leaving his son at an orphanage. They need money. Desperately. They cannot go on like this. There might not be time to find other options. 

There are no other options

It's a longshot but it's something other than sitting in his sad, empty apartment sending email after email to people who barely care enough to even send him back a rejection.

It’s a longshot. It's probably not even going to work out. But how could he ever look A-Yuan in the eyes if he didn’t try. He has been searching so desperately for this exact thing, he would be a fool not to take the opportunity that is being presented.

It's a longshot. 

But Wei Wuxian took archery for eight years and he can shoot bullseye blindfolded.

He closes his eyes. Breaths in and out, slowly. For A-Yuan. He opens his eyes and asks, voice steady “You said they would help with clothes, how?”

---

First there is a training period, learning how to act, how to please. During this time, Wen Ning tells him, he will receive an allowance of an indeterminate amount that he can spend only on clothes, shoes and jewelry. He will need everything from casual to sexy to elegant. Later on, when he has earned his own money, he would be encouraged to spend some of it on clothes. “A-Sang said you should see it as a personal investment.”

Wen Ning goes on about the parties he’s been too and the dates he had driven escorts from. He walks him through the benefits that Touch of Ice offer, the aforementioned gym card and dental insurance among things. He speaks enthusiastically about Xiao Xingchen and Song Lan who listens, values and cares about their escorts. Who gives their workers protection and a choice.

Lastly they go through pay. Wen Ning doesn't know exactly what kind of money the escorts make but from what he had gathered from chatting up ‘A-Sang’ some more, their pay is based around what services they provide. The more dates you go, the more asked after you are and the more ‘experiences’ you offer, the more you get paid. It's simple really, put out and get paid.

It all sounds... doable. Terrifying, but doable. Mostly terrifying. But it could work.

There is a chance it could actually work.

There is a warm glow in Wei Wuxian’s chest. It feels like embers of a fallen fire, not yet exhitingues, fighting to stay alive. 

He would be able to provide for his son again. He would have help. 

He wouldn’t be alone.

Before Wei Wuxian has the chance to agree, the conversation comes to an abrupt end by a whimpering cry. Figuring A-Yuan is about to wake up, Wei Wuxian leans down and picks him up, making sure the blanket stays snug around him. He feels the tiny arms snake their way around his neck and small, puffy, breaths tickle his skin as A-Yuan tries valiantly to hide away from the world in Wei Wuxian’s long, dark hair. The restaurant is quiet now, most of the other patrons having left after lunch hours. 

“Are you awake, baobei?” He whispers, giving his son a light kiss on the temple. The only reply he receives is a whine and some drool. 

He loves his son. He loves him so much his heart could burst from it. He loves him with every breath he takes and every blink of his eye. He can’t leave him. He wouldn't survive giving A-Yuan up. The heartbreak would end him. His soul would shatter. 

He promised his son they would figure it out. 

If he doesn't do this, he will lose everything.

There is a chance this could work.

The embers inside him grow warmer. 

“When’s the interview?”