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With My Kid On My Shoulders I Try

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Dear Wei Wuxian,

We appreciate the time you have invested in coming in for an interview regarding the administrative position, however given your previous job experience we do not believe this to be a good fit and therefore regret to inform you that we have chosen to continue with another candidate. 

Best of luck to your job search. 

Best,
Han Yiran
HR Manager for Lanling Corporations

Fuck, another rejection letter. Wei Wuxian exits it and quickly deletes the rejection, just like the rest, not wanting to keep them in his inbox. He eyes the last unopened email, willing it to be different. Dragging in a ragged breath, he opens it, praying that this one will be it, this one will give him a chance. That’s all he needs, just someone to take a chance on him. Just please, give him something to work with. 

Dear Wei Wuxian,

We appreciate your interest in Gusu Enterprise and the time you’ve invested in applying for the Receptionist opening.
We ended up moving forward with another candid-

Wei Wuxian throws the phone away on the bed and sighs, careful as to not jolt A-Yuan, who is nestled tightly against his side, sleeping peacefully. The small body radiates heat, like some sort of baby sized furnace. I should have braided his hair before bed, Wei Wuxian thinks to himself. It’s going to be hard to brush out later. 

He casts his gaze away from his son and stares out at the small room they occupy. The faint glow of the street lights, shining in through the window above him grants his eyes just enough vision to make out the shapes of their box of an apartment. A drawer, a single chair and the twin sized bed he and A-Yuan currently share. That’s it. It's all they have left. All they can’t afford to lose. 

Only rejection letters today. Again. A surge of aggravation wells up. He’s applied to every fucking company he can find and they all keep rejecting him, over and over. It’s not as though he doesn’t know why. Trailing him like shackles is a string of short term jobs at various places, all ending with him getting fired. The few interviews he manages to score, always start off great but no amount of charm can hide the fact that his resume practically screams ‘DON’T HIRE’ when you look close enough. What pisses him off even more is that they can’t even say it without fancying it up. ‘Not enough experience’ or ‘not suited for the position’ or ‘we found someone more qualified’. Pretty words for harsh truths. We won’t hire you. They should start ending every fucking email with ‘you suck’, just to rub it in exactly how much they aren’t hiring him. 

He wants to scream. 

He wants to punch something.

Instead, he shifts his body slightly inwards, towards A-Yuan, his back against the room. 

“Don’t worry, baobei. We will figure it out,” he whispers to his son. The bundle clinging to his stomach remains asleep, unaware of the turmoil their lives are in. He’s not old enough to grasp what’s going on. Wei Wuxian wishes he never would. Slowly, he reaches out and strokes his finger lightly on his son’s chubby cheek. “I promise.”

Wei Wuxian knows he shouldn't promise him anything. He can’t promise him anything. Everything is falling apart and has been ever since he got fired for being ‘inappropriate’ at his last job. 

‘Inappropriate’ here meaning Wei Wuxian telling his boss to fuck off when he tried to get him to suck his cock for a pay raise. He should have just done it, should have swallowed his pride along with Wen Chao’s cock and been done with it. What’s five minutes of humiliation compared to keeping A-Yuan clothed and fed? He would still have a job and some extra yuans to spare.

Despite the panic inducing regret that fills him when his memory wanders back to that day, he will admit that seeing that rat bastard’s face when Wei Wuxian explained exactly how much shit he’d rather eat than touch his cock with a pole had been extremely satisfying.

But regret it he does. It wasn’t worth it. 

He and A-Yuan have been surviving off savings for a while now, but there wasn’t much saved from the start and what little there was is running out fast. He often finds himself cursing his younger self for not taking more care of his money, for not saving for a rainy day like he was told. Well, it's metaphorically pouring now.

Some nights, as he tries to fall asleep he thinks of all the things he bought in his youth, that he desperately didn’t need. Expensive shoes, jewelry, jackets, alcohol. All trapped in the Jiang Mansion, like lost treasures waiting to be sold, waiting to be used for rent and food. Those nights he toys with the idea to break in and grab as much as he can carry. It technically wouldn’t be stealing, only a bit of breaking and entering, but in the end he always has to shut that train of thought down. 

Jiang Cheng probably threw it all out anyway. Or burned it. His brother could be petty like that.

So instead of commiting crimes, Wei Wuxian checks what is left of his savings every evening before bed and tries to choke down his sobs afterwards. No matter how much he tries to cut away unnecessary expenses or tries to sell his stuff, it keeps trickling down. 

Who needs two pairs of dress shoes anyway? Sneakers work with everything. Gold earrings? Oh please, they were tacky and he only kept them because they were easy to wear. The hair ornament from Jiang Cheng had only a bad reminder of the past. He sold them all and he didn’t let himself look back. He could live without them. 

Nevertheless, he did nearly break down the day he sold the only pair of high heels he had managed to pack before leaving, a gift from Yanli a few years ago. He knows that it’s only an object. He knows it is an object just like the rest of the items he sold. He knows it is an object he can’t even wear openly. 

Knowing doesn’t make him feel any better. 

It was his last gift from his jie jie. It was their secret, their thing and now the beautiful shoes are probably being worn by some women with big feet, who don't understand how to take care of them or what best to match them with. 

He can feel it in his gut, that they are suffering, in silence obviously, because while shoes can’t talk, they definitely can suffer. 

On the bad nights, the nights when he can feel hunger clawing at his stomach and every horrible little thing he’s ever done swirls around in his head, he allows himself to let go. He allows himself to wallow in all the fear, anxieties, the guilt he hides during the day, but only after A-Yuan is asleep, tucked away at his side in their little bed. He will never show his son how lost he is in all of this.

Never.  

So he only clutches A-Yuan closer, burying his face in his son's hair and tries not to sob too loudly. 

Wei Wuxian has to fix this, he has to find a way to get an income, somehow and he needs to do it fast, otherwise he will end up on the streets.

The only friends he has left can’t help him. Wen Ning and Wen Qing are struggling just as much as he is, trying to pay for medical school for Wen Qing without drowning in debt. He could never freeload off them. He hasn’t even told them he got fired, not wanting them to worry about him or feel guilty for not helping.There is no way in hell he’s burdening them with the responsibility of him and his child when they can barely fend for themselves as it is. He loves them too much to ruin their lives.

He doesn’t have much time to figure things out, with only one month of rent left after this one. If he doesn't find a job soon he will be forced to… to put A-Yuan in an orphanage. His heart breaks apart at the bare thought of it but he could never bring his son out on the street with him. A-Yuan deserves more than to freeze under the uncaring stars and fight stray dogs for food. 

Wei Wuxian still recalls his life after his parents had died and before Uncle Jiang had found him. He tried to forget it, tried leaving it behind him.

He knows he never will. 

His days on the streets are literally etched into his skin, tiny scars here and there that litter his body. He used to see them as reminders of how much better his life got, how he was saved, how he survived. Now they act as a warning, a warning to do something.  

The thought of A-Yuan crying in the arms of a stranger, watching the person who told him he would never, ever, leave him… watching his father walk away from him.

No. Wei Wuxian squeezes his eyes shut and shakes his head to get rid of the dark thoughts. He will fix it. He will. That’s what he does, he gets into a tight spot and he digs himself out, he always digs himself out. He will figure it out. 

Maybe... he should call Yanli and ask for help. He could just ask her to not tell Jiang Cheng, to keep it a secret between them. She would do it, he knows she would. His beautiful jie jie. She would give him the world if he asked. But Jiang Cheng might find out and then it would be too late. He’d know what a colossal failure Wei Wuxian is, who can’t even keep a job or feed his own child. After laughing, he’d probably just kick them out anyway and forbid Yanli from helping him. 

He can’t ask Yanli for help. Besides, it wouldn’t be fair to her. She doesn’t need her fucked up little brother clinging to her skirts and bringing her down along with him. He was the one to cut them off, not the other way around. Crawling back now, after everything he’s done, after what happened and asking for money... 

Jiang Cheng has called Wei Wuxian shameless many times, but there are things even he won’t do. 

He’s pulled from his mind by his phone buzzing. He reaches out and grabs a hold of it, intending to turn away the call. He’s not in the mood to talk to anyone and A-Yuan got to bed later than normal yesterday. 

He check’s who is calling anyway, in case it's one of the companies he contacted, calling him back instead of emailing back like the rest. To his surprise, it's Wen Ning. They haven’t talked for months, not since Wen Ning got some new job and was suddenly busy constantly. Not that Wei Wuxian felt like or could afford to do anything anymore.

His fingers hovers over the mute button, but fuck it, it would be nice to hear Wen Ning’s voice. Maybe his light-hearted tone would improve Wei Wuxian’s mood, if only slightly. He wriggles out from under the cover, mindful to keep the frigid air from his son as he slips out. The cold is sure to wake A-Yuan and he himself shivers as soon as he is exposed to it. 

With his phone in one hand, he uses the other to tuck in A-Yuan before jumping off the bed. He has to bite his tongue to keep himself from cursing out loud the second his bare feet touch the floor and instead tiptoes hastily into the bathroom to answer. With the door shut and his feet planted on the small, threadbare rug he finally picks up.

“Hello?” His voice is just above a whisper, mindful of the too thin walls.

Fuck, he should have put on a warmer shirt. Now he’s stuck in here until the call is over and a quick glance around the small washroom reveals that the only fabric in the room is a dirty towel by the tub and the rug he’s already planted on. He shoves one hand under his arm and tries to suppress his shivers

“Hi, A-Ying! It's Wen Ning. I know that it has been a while, a very long while actually and...” Wen Ning trails off, seemingly not knowing how to finish the sentence which is ridiculous because you'd think he would have at least planned out a good conversation starter. He called Wei Wuxian after all. “How are you?” he asks instead, sounding as Wei Wuxian expected, cheerful despite the early hour. 

He was right, hearing Wen Ning’s voice is nice.

“I’m-” he stops himself for a split second, panicking. He can’t tell him the truth, that he feels the walls closing in, that he is going to lose his son, that he already knows which orphanage he will drop him off at, that he- “good...” 

Fuck, that sounded depressing as hell. Hopefully Wen Ning will let this one go or be too obvious to point it out. He was after all way worse at reading Wei Wuxian over the phone than face to face. Please be oblivious, please be oblivious, please b-

“Are you sure? You sound sad.” 

The one time he needs Wen Ning to play along and he won’t do it, just his luck. At the very least, his life stays consistent. But when in doubt, double down and admit to nothing. Wei Wuxian is honestly a perfect liar, just not this early in the morning when his lying skills are still a bit sleepy. He forces out a quiet laugh. 

“I'm fine, A-Ning. I’m slightly tired because someone rang me in the middle of the night and woke me from a wonderful dream about a gorgeous man with a massive, throbbing d-”

“A-Ying,“ Wen Ning giggles, effectively cutting him off. Bingo. “You are shameless!” He hums in response and stares down at the goosebumps on his arms that are forming.“So I am calling to see if you would like to go out for lunch or like coffee or something later today. I know it's a bit last minute and I understand if you are busy with work but it's been so long since we last saw each other and-” 

Internal alarm bells go off in Wei Wuxian’s head. He can’t go out to lunch, all the money he has left has to go to keeping A-Yuan fed, he can’t even spare money for normal coffee, never mind the fancy coffee shop kind. Should he lie and tell Wen Ning he’s busy today? Should he tell him the truth, that he is so broke he doesn’t know if he can afford to have food next month, never mind ‘lunch’? Should he tell him that he never wants to see his ugly face again and hang up and leave the country, never to be seen again? 

He pulls himself out of his mind just in time to hear the last thing Wen Ning says which is “Of course since I’m asking you out so suddenly I thought I can pay for you and I would love it if you brought A-Yuan with you, I miss him.”

Well that changes the situation drastically. Free food for him and A-Yuan, and spending time with Wen Ning? This shit day has upgraded itself to an okay day, and after some tasty food it most definitely will be an at the bare minimum, a fantastic day! Even the thought of getting to spend time with another adult puts a grin on his face, mood instantly improved. 

He, of course, loves A-Yuan with all his heart and soul, but it might get a teny, tiny bit tiring to only talk about what his stuffed animals had told A-Yuan. (This week it mostly had been about what colors they wished they were). The only thing missing would be some emperor's smile, but given that he was bringing his son along, he would concede that that might not be a good idea. Drinking and toddler rearing was generally not the best combination. 

They continue their hushed conversation for a few more minutes, deciding about where to meet up, when Wei Wuxian hears a muted “Baba?” and a light knocking sound from outside the door. Maneuvering the phone over to this other ear, he opens the door and sees A-Yuan standing there, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, his nightshirt pooling around him on the cold floor and hair sticking out like a rat's nest. A very cute rat’s nest. 

“A-Ning, I have to go but I’ll see you soon,” he says and not waiting for an answer, hangs up. Wei Wuxian has a baby to kiss good morning.

As soon as he puts down the phone on the sink, A-Yuan reaches his arms up in the air and Wei Wuxian, being the best dad ever, reaches down and picks him up, peppering him with kisses. 

“Good. Morning. Baobei. How. Did. You. Sleep,” he murmurs in between the kisses, making sure to hit all the ticklish places. A-Yuan giggles and mashes his hands against his fathers face in an effort to shove him away, but alas, his tiny adorable fists are not strong enough to stop the kissing monster. 

“Baba, no! Tickles,” his son announces after a minute and Wei Wuxian finally stops. He pulls A-Yuan closer to him instead, engulfing him in a hug and A-Yuan loops his tiny arms around his neck, clutching him right back. Wei Wuxian closes his eyes and buries his nose in A-Yuan’s hair. He smells like the baby soap they bought on sale two week ago. It will last for a few more weeks, he hopes. 

He will figure it out. He always does. 

“Baobei, guess what?” He pulls away from A-Yuan’s head, peering down at him. “We are going out for food today!”

“Why?” A-Yuan questions with a slight frown and stares back at him with his huge eyes. There is dried up drool around his mouth. Wei Wuxian switches his grip on him, holding him with one arm on his hip while he turns towards the bathroom sink. He moves his phone out of the spray zone and turns on the tap, hoping it's early enough so that his landlord hasn’t used up all the hot water yet. When he feels the spray of warm water, he does an internal victory dance, wets his hands and with his finger starts cleaning A-Yuan around the mouth. 

“Because Uncle Wen Ning is paying today!” He keeps his tone cheerful, trying to get A-Yuan excited for the prospect of going out for lunch. They rarely leave the apartment for anything other than shopping and Wei Wuxian often feels guilty for isolating his son from other people as much as he has for the past few months. He knows A-Yuan should have some form of contact with other children but the park is often filled with dogs and he just can’t bring himself to go.

“Why?” His son asks again but he’s smiling and eyes shining, probably at the mention of Wen Ning. A-Yuan adores his uncle and Wen Ning adores him right back.

“Because he misses us and he has a job now.”

“Why?”

“Good question, A-Yuan, I don’t know why. How about we pepper him with questions when we see him later. Okay?”

“Okay. Down, please.” 

A-Yuan starts wiggling but Wei Wuxian keeps his grip on him, pressing him closer to his body. The floor, in his humble opinion, is too cold for baby feet. Striding over to the bed, he plops his son down and pulls the cover up around his shoulders. 

“Clothes first,” he announces and A-Yuan nods, content with the decision. 

Wei Wuxian steps over to one of the few things he and A-Yuan kept when he started selling their stuff, a single dresser that stands right by the foot of the bed. The top two compartments are for A-Yuan’s clothes, and the bottom two are for Wei Wuxian’s stuff. They both don’t have much, just things Wei Wuxian managed to get cheaply at second hand stores around the city or decided wasn’t worth selling. He is proud of the fact that, while he started off as a spoiled idiot with a poor concept of money, he’s now a bit of an expert on how to find a good bargain.The only expensive thing he kept is a single black suit that hangs on the wall, that he uses for job interviews. 

Rooting through the top drawer, he finds two pairs of socks for his son, still clean. Looks like he needs to do laundry soon. He scrunches up his nose at the thought. If he is being a bit unhygienic he can let A-Yuan wear the same socks a few times. Unless A-Yuan has an accident. Then it will only last two days max. A-Yuan, please, please please do not have an accident, he thinks. Baba will cry if he has to do laundry today. He will do it later this week. Later sounds better than today for sure. He despises doing laundry. 

“Red or green today?” Wei Wuxian inquires as he holds the two pairs of socks above the drawer for his son to inspect, head still held down as searches for other suitable garments to wear today. 

“Green, A-Yuan wants green!”

“Good choice young sir,” he approves in a fake old man's voice and throws the green socks on the bed. “Very good indeed. Excellent taste, as always.”

“Excellent taste!” A-Yuan repeats back in his own silly voice and claps his hands. “Young Sir has excellent taste!”

Digging through his own drawer he finds two pairs of socks for him as well. At the sight of them he feels an mischievous idea forming.

“Baobei, I need your help. Should baba wear black socks,” he grins and holds up a pair he found for himself. “Ooooor black socks?” He reaches his other hand up slowly, gripping a second pair of socks, identical to the first. He schools his face and peers up at his son, and adds in a serious tone “I value your opinion on this, A-Yuan.”

Frowning and wiggling his finger, A-Yuan scolds him. “Baba, they are the same. Don’t tease A-Yuan.”

“Scandalous!” Wei Wuxian gasps and shoots up, clutches the second pair against his chest. “Baba would never tease his precious A-Yuan. How dare you slander your father’s name! This insolence must be punished with tickling!”

Throwing the clothes he had gathered to the floor, he lunges at his son, who shrieks and tries to worm himself under the covers in an effort to hide from his dad. 

There is no point, the tickle monster is out for blood. 

A-Yuan has almost completely managed to cover himself, but alas a single foot is still out and Wei Wuxian has never been one to waste an opportunity. He grabs at it, holding it firmly but not painfully and descends. 

“No, baba! No, stop!” A-Yuan begs laughing, kicking as hard as he can with his other foot but his father is unrelenting and keeps his hold. Wei Wuxian has to throw his head back to avoid being kicked in the face.“Baba!”

He keeps tickling, but the second he hears A-Yuan’s tone change into a more desperate one, he stops. It's no fun if A-Yuan starts crying after all. He lets the foot go and his son pulls it in under the cover. “Baba mean,” he mutters, as darkly as a two year old can and Wei Wuxian can picture his little frown in front of him.

“Don’t frown too much baobei, or you will get wrinkles,” he laughs. “Now let’s get dressed.”

A-Yuan reaches a hand out from under the cover, clearly not wanting to crawl out yet so Wei Wuxian hands him his clothes, one by one, watching the article of clothing get dragged back under the covers by his gremlin child and then goes to dress himself. 

The winter temperature from outside is seeping in through the walls and with the heat being shut off every now and then by his god awful landlord, the apartment is frigid and will remain that way all day. It's probably going to stay like this until spring. 

Luckily Wei Wuxian had prepared for the winter and gotten A-Yuan a good set of winter clothes. He himself is not as lucky but it is nothing a bit of layering can’t fix. With socks on his little feet, A-Yuan finally crawls out from under the blankets, climbs off the bed and toddles into the bathroom. 

Wei Wuxian trails behind him, having finished getting dressed faster but decided to wait for his son as was the daily routine. Because A-Yuan is very firm about being able to use the toilet himself, he insteads brushes his teeth, simply keeping an eye out on his son in the mirror. Just in case. 

The footstool Wen Qing had gotten for A-Yuan’s birthday a couple of months back was absolutely godsent now that he was finally big enough to use it. Who needs more toys when you can finally reach everywhere and pee by yourself?

While his son has become a master of going to the toilet and washing his hands, getting his teeth brushed and hair fixed is still something he needs Wei Wuxian’s help with. He stands quietly in front of the sink, having to decide to forgive his dad for earlier and waits for Wei Wuxian to get the comb out. Not that he would ever complain. Doing A-Yuan’s hair every morning, brushing it out and putting it up in the same ponytail style he himself wears is comforting. It's their thing, their routine.

He wonders if anyone would do A-Yuan’s hair if… if he was at the orphanage. Would they brush it as gently as he does, making sure all the knots and tangles from the night turn into silky smooth strands. Would they pull too hard, making A-Yuan cry? He has a sensitive scalp. Perhaps that’s something he could tell them about, if he is forced to leave A-Yuan there. The women on the website looked kind. They looked like the people who would comb a child’s hair gently.

A low “Baba?” pulls him out of his head and he sees A-Yuan looking up at him, questioning. Oh, he must have stopped brushing. 

“Sorry, baobei. Baba zoned out a bit,” he murmurs and repositions A-Yuan’s head so he can start combing again. A few minutes later he runs the comb through his son's hair, checking so it's all detangled and when he eventually finds no resistance, puts it down and starts tying the hair up. Once done he gives his son a minty kiss and then lets him off to go play while he finishes fixing himself up. 

As he starts putting his hair up, he lets his eyes wander about his reflection in the mirror, taking his body in. He’s starting to look a bit too thin for his own good, but he could probably still pull it off as lean and not starved, at least for a bit longer. It's not that he isn’t eating, he is. He is just trying to let A-Yuan have as much as possible for as long as possible, that’s all. All hail leftovers. But he isn’t going to lie to himself and pretend he’s not looking forward to getting a real solid meal later. Just a few more hours, he thinks and goes to fix up some breakfast for A-Yuan.

---

With A-Yuan strapped in his stroller and clutching his stuffed rabbit, affectionately named “Bunny”, or “Bun-Bun” when A-Yuan is extremely tired, they are ready for the long walk towards the inner city where they will meet Wen Ning for lunch. He would take the subway, but walking is free and therefore preferable. Before they even exited their shoddy little apartment, Wei Wuxian made sure to bundle up A-Yuan with as many layers as he could as well as swaddling him in their thickest blanket. His wonderful son didn’t even make a noise of complaint, simply letting his dad fuss about around him, even though he must have been too warm while they were inside. 

Wei Wuxian starts walking them out of their building and watches as A-Yuans body shifts up at the sight of fresh snow, right outside the glass doors. “Baba! Baba!” he shouts and starts to swing in the stroller in an attempt to make his dad go faster. “A-Yuan wants outside now, baba!”

“A-Yuan, baobei, have some patience with this feeble, old man. I’m going as fast as I can,” he complains loudly, trying to get the stroller down the last stairs without bumping his son too much. A-Yuan whips around in his seat and stares his dad, doing his best puppy eyes. “A-Yuan go outside please, baba?” He questions, looking absolutely adorable. Wei Wuxian nods at him and finally, they have reached the door that is shielding them from the snowy outside world. He steals himself, pushes it open and rolls A-Yuan out in the snow. 

No matter the biting cold, it is beautiful. The usually grey and brown neighborhood, marked by age and usage has been hidden between a thick layer of white. It feels clean almost, as if the grime of the city has been wiped away, leaving a winter wonderland behind in its wake. If he wasn’t so terribly cold, might have walked a bit slower so A-Yuan could take in their block in it's changed state, but right now all he can think about is how quickly his fingers are going numb. He walks fast, unwilling to stay out any longer than absolutely necessary. 

“A-Yuan, are you cold?” He knows he isn't, the boy has on three types of pants, but he feels a compulsive need to make sure. He needs the reassurance that even if he has to brave the cold, his son doesn’t. 

“No, baba. Not cold.” A-Yuan’s voice is muffled by the strong wind but Wei Wuxian can still hear him clearly enough. “Bunny not cold also.”

“Oh, Bunny is warm too? That’s good, baobei.”

“Mn.”

“Promise to tell baba if you get cold, okay?” 

“Promise.”

Wei Wuxian knows he’s being over protective but these days the only time he feels he can get a resemblance of peace in his heart is when his son tells him he is doing good. It makes him feel a little bit less of a failure, because at least he isn’t failing A-Yuan. 

Well he is, their living and financial situation is clear proof of that but right now his son is happy, trying to catch snowflakes with his tongue. A-Yuan doesn’t understand that their lives are on the verge of collapse, he’s still too small and sometimes, seeing him laughing and smiling, Wei Wuxian can pretend this is enough. 

“Baba?” A-Yuan asks, about halfway to the restaurant. He has long since stopped trying to catch snowflakes and is now content with leaning back with Bunny, watching people as they pass. 

“Yes, baobei?”

“Are you cold?”

Truth be told, Wei Wuxian is freezing, having no fuzzy animal printed-gloves covering his hands or a thick blanket around his legs. The wind is strong and makes the snow feel like tiny blades against his uncovered face. He thinks his fingers are about to freeze permanently around the stroller handle any minute now. 

His son doesn’t need to know that.  

“I’m fine A-Yuan. Baba is warm too.”

Chapter Text

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?”