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Getting There

Thirteen years of raising a child definitely cements Lan Wangji’s growing tendency to ignore the rules he was taught, especially when he’s trying to raise that child in memory of Wei Wuxian. Drama, Fluff, Angst, I-2

Three Days After the Destruction of the Burial Mounds

When Lan Zhan took Wen Yuan out of the wreckage of the Burial Mounds and brought him down off the mountain, he was thinking of grief and of the nature of righteousness, and of possibly saving one tiny glimmer of the hope Wei Ying had so unhesitatingly given his hands and life over to. The hope that no one else in Lan Zhan’s world even seemed to see, let alone cherish as he felt it deserved. He had not, as he walked carefully down the path to Yiling, trying to balance a fretful child in his arms with the clawing pain of his back, been thinking about making himself into a father in the eyes of the broader world.

That had apparently been an oversight.

“Not like that, young man!” The grandmotherly fruit vendor on his right plucked the wailing Wen Yuan out of his arms where her neighbor the fish vendor had only just finished arranging him. “You don’t want to toss a child who’s already crying! Save that for when he’s in a better mood.”

Tossing for good moods, Lan Zhan dutifully noted on his internal list of the rules of child rearing, despite some personal dubiousness. The list was already growing and sometimes contradictory, and he’d only been speaking with the two women for a little while. He could only hope that further experience would sort out the contradictions.

“When they’re already crying, you want to rock them,” the fruit vendor dictated, and Lan Zhan noted with a spark of hope that Wen Yuan’s wails did seem to be decreasing in volume as the woman swayed back and forth with him.

No sooner did he think it, then Wen Yuan looked up at him tearfully and broke into another full-volume wail. Lan Zhan’s heart sank.

Before he could strike the tentative mental entry of Rocking for tears, though, the fish vendor laughed. “This one is definitely a daddy’s boy. Give him back, Jingmei, and let his father try.”

“Gently, this time,” the fruit vendor directed as she bundled Wen Yuan back into his arms, adjusting his hold briskly under the child’s seat.

Lan Zhan ruthlessly stifled a flinch as the slices on his back pulled, and did his best to copy her slow sway from side to side, nearly holding his breath. To his immense relief, it seemed to work this time. Wen Yuan’s tears slowly tapered off, and the boy finally went limp against him with the boneless slump Lan Zhan had already learned meant a child asleep, face mashed into Lan Zhan’s collar. He dared to breathe out a soundless sigh of relief, which both women nevertheless caught immediately if their broad grins were any sign.

“There now, you’re learning, young man,” the fish vendor said, not nearly as softly as Lan Zhan would have thought advisable. Apparently they were correct again, though, because Wen Yuan didn’t stir.

Lan Zhan still kept his own voice down when he said, as gravely as he could when it was so heartfelt, “Thank you.” He also walked slowly and carefully, as he left, which was probably why he was still in ear-shot when the fruit vendor remarked to her neighbor, “Can’t imagine what the child’s mother was thinking, letting the two of them wander around unsupervised.”

“He does look pretty lost, doesn’t he? Do you think…?”

“The clans did have some kind of big fight recently, didn’t they? If it was bad enough even we heard about it, then maybe. If he lost her it would explain why he’s so sober so young, I suppose.”

“And now he has a child to raise alone, on top of his loss. Poor boy.”

Their voices faded behind him, and Lan Zhan breathed carefully through a wave of bitterness. He hadn’t lost his cultivation partner. He’d barely even had a chance to understand that a partnership was what he wanted, before Wei Ying had been gone. Somehow that only made the pain bite deeper, the coldness of lost friendship turned razor-edged with lost chances, far sharper than the pain of his body.

Wen Yuan—Lan Yuan to be, he was determined—wriggled in his arms with a sleepy sound of protest, and Lan Zhan carefully relaxed his hold again, resettling a-Yuan in the fruit-vendor-approved manner, and paced slowly and steadily on.

The indulgent smiles that followed them suggested that he was starting to get this part correct, at least.

One Month After the Destruction of the Burial Mounds

It took several weeks to recover enough from what his brother called his overexertion and their uncle referred to as his foolishness, to have visitors. Lan Zhan, still unable to sit upright for very long without a relapse into fever from the branding injury—or self injury—that he couldn’t neither recall nor quite regret, stared at the bright smile on a-Yuan’s small face and briefly entertained the thought that his relatives might feel he deserved some additional punishment.

“I can’t pick you up right now,” he explained, using the low, calm voice that he’d found most effective on the trip home to head off at least some of a-Yuan’s inexplicable bouts of tears.

Apparently this was one of the times it would fail to work; a-Yuan’s face crumpled.

Lan Zhan mentally thumbed through his list of tentative rules of child rearing, and could only come up with ‘distract with a toy’. He suddenly regretted raising the rabbits so far from his own rooms; surely rabbits would count as a toy. “Would you like to hear a story?” he essayed.

He knew a considerable number of stories of Lan history; surely one of them would be suitably diverting? Perhaps one of the stories of Lan Yi?

Wei Ying would like the stories of Lan Yi.

A-Yuan considered the offer like a seasoned bargainer in the market, and finally nodded, beaming again the way he had when Xichen-xiong had left the boy beside Lan Zhan’s bed with a faint smile. Lan Zhan, after a moment of calculating how much pain was wearing on his strength today, held out one arm, flicking his fingers to beckon a-Yuan closer. With a-Yuan curled up, warm, against his side, he cast his mind back to some of his earliest lessons in Lan history and began, quietly, “When Lan Chen died, his daughter Lan Yi become the third leader of the Lan Sect…”

A-Yuan listened quietly, and likely without much comprehension, to the tale of a chaotic time, of cultivators striving against each other as well as the spirits of malice they existed to quiet. Lan Zhan couldn’t help comparing the steel determination of Lan Yi, to gain peace for those in her care, by any means necessary, to Wei Ying’s willing descent into darkness, to guard those without the power to guard themselves.

He had been taught that Lan Yi had been regrettably extremist. That her methods had proven an undesirable path, one that led, in the end, to increased strife. But he couldn’t help dwelling on her likely response to the Wen clan, and feeling that she would have come to the same conclusion that the current clan heads had, and have done it considerably more swiftly.

And would that not have been a good thing?

Lan Zhan looked down to see a-Yuan asleep against him, and now drooling on his robes. He sighed silently and gathered the boy closer, leaning back against his pillows. Wei Ying had acted, rather than wait, always, and he had acted at every turn with compassion. If also with an unfortunate tendency to show off. Yet even many of those he had protected had condemned him and the path he’d chosen. It was a dangerous one, Lan Zhan knew that, had seen that. Yet he was also very sure that many of Wei Ying’s detractors spoke out of nothing but craven fear or resentment. Certainly the people who had left a-Yuan orphaned twice over and abandoned to die had behaved contemptibly. Could he say, then, that they were wholly wrong? Should he not have tried to turn Wei Ying from his path?

His uncle had taught him that the difference between right and wrong was as clear as the line between black and white, but he wondered more and more how his uncle could possibly believe that.

Eleven Months After the Destruction of the Burial Mounds

Lan Zhan was getting quite tired of his confinement to his rooms, after almost a year, but had to admit that it was better to stay put than to court another collapse in the library or another month of fever as his body protested any overexertion. So he tried to rediscover the patience that he sometimes felt Wei Ying’s death had snapped into pieces, counted the days only in terms of returning bits of strength, and accepted his visitors calmly as they came.

After his brother, his uncle came most frequently.

Those visits were most often discussions of technique, of refining Lan Zhan’s mastery of the spiritual resonance that grew from the physical resonance of strings, or of picking apart the effects of the melodies brought back by many years of Lan disciples traveling abroad. Only rarely did they start to stray into physical applications that Lan Zhan wasn’t recovered enough to execute. When they did, he thought he saw in his uncle’s frowns the same tangle of regret and resentment that flicked at his own heart every day he was stuck in his bed.

And then, of course, there were the frowns that had nothing to do with Lan Zhan’s transgressions or injuries. The one, for example, that answered a-Yuan bursting through Lan Zhan’s entry in a billow of pale, new robes, trailing behind him the exasperated voice of the third cousin who’d volunteered to look after him while Lan Zhan recovered.

“A-Yuan, stop running! Lan Yuan, you come back he—” She broke off with what might have been a stifled squeak at the sight of Lan Qiren’s forbidding look, and whispered urgently, “A-Yuan!”

A-Yuan ignored her to scamper to Lan Zhan’s side and spin around on his toes, robes swishing through the air. “Ji-xiong, look!”

Lan Qiren looked, if possible, even more forbidding at the sound of that casually intimate name. Or perhaps it was at the streaks of mud along the hems of a-Yuan’s robes.

“I see,” Lan Zhan answered calmly, which he’d never lost the habit of, even once a-Yuan grew out of most tantrums. The simple acknowledgment still made a-Yuan beam happily at him.

“You should teach him more decorum, if you will insist on the boy being Lan,” his uncle snapped, eyes lingering with definite disapproval on the mud. And then, low enough that Lan Zhan didn’t think even he was supposed to hear it, and was sure a-Yuan and Lan Fang hadn’t, “Glad you never used to be that much trouble, at least.”

And Lan Zhan remembered with abrupt clarity that his uncle had given him exactly the same disapproving look that he was now giving a-Yuan’s muddy hems whenever Lan Zhan had insisted on visiting his mother’s house after her death. Yet, even as aggravated as Lan Qiren clearly still was over Lan Zhan’s defense of Wei Ying, even as similar as this moment was to that one, his uncle didn’t seem to remember. For a moment his mind felt blank with startlement, not knowing what to do with that. His uncle had always emphasized unfailing knowledge and memory of the rules of the Lan Discipline as the defining mark of Lan Zhan’s accomplishment. But this—this truth of Lan Qiren’s own heart and thoughts—his uncle didn’t remember?

He’d thought their disagreement must be one of principles, or of interpretation of principles. But did his uncle not even attempt to practice the principles he’d demanded of Lan Zhan and his brother?

Lines he’d learned by heart, long ago, seared across his thoughts.

Learning comes first.

Do not say one thing and mean another.

Be easy on others.

Do not cause damage.

Do not give up on learning.

Do not break faith.

This shattering was far slower than the one in the Nightless City had been. That had been a breaking point all in an instant, when Lan Zhan’s dedication to the Lan Discipline he’d been taught, above all, snapped in a single moment of time, with the momentum of all the six years before it. This was a slow widening of the blank instant of realization into an open field, in his heart—the field of knowing his uncle’s example was not simply one he could not follow. It was one he should not follow.

“Lan Zhan?” Lan Qiren was frowning at him again, now. Lan Zhan took what felt like his first breath in rather a while.

“A-Yuan will learn, as he grows,” he said quietly, pushing himself up to his feet with only a brief twinge, today. “Just as I did.” He held a hand down to the boy and added to him, quietly, “It’s important to keep your robes clean. It is part of having courtesy to others and respect for yourself.”

A-Yuan looked up at him, eyes wide, and nodded, tucking his hand trustingly into Lan Zhan’s. “Bath?” he asked, with the simplicity his own harsh fever had left him with, still lagging a bit behind his age-mates in expression but somehow cutting to the core all the more directly, for that. Lan Zhan smiled, faintly.


He led a-Yuan back to Lan Fang, who smiled at both of them gently, as she took the boy’s other hand. “You can visit tomorrow, a-Yuan,” she promised, with a glance at Lan Zhan to check. He nodded silently and she directed an approving look at him as much as at a-Yuan, as she led the boy away.

When he turned back, his uncle was watching him, eyes hard and level. “Spoiling the boy will lead to nothing good.”

Lan Zhan looked back, just as level. “Earn trust,” he quoted from the Wall, though the emphasis was his own.

Lan Qiren’s nostrils flared with his sharp inhale, and he stood with a jerk and strode out through the open screens.

Lan Zhan breathed again, slow and deep, feeling that open field in his mind and heart. If it was his duty to choose the truths that a-Yuan would grow with, then he chose the righteousness that challenged, rather than confined. The righteousness that Wei Ying had taught to him. Trust. Courage. Integrity. Chivalry. Kindness.

The strong will that could achieve anything.

This, he would believe in. This, he would seek out and demonstrate for the bright, young life he had snatched from the wreckage made by those of small mind and heart. He would follow this path, that was not a crooked one.

And perhaps, then, he would have enough peace in his heart to give to Wei Ying’s spirit, when he found it.

Three Years After the Destruction of the Burial Mounds

Lan Zhan did not normally consider himself easily distractible. Indeed, he was extensively trained in the meditative focus required for advanced cultivation, regardless of his surroundings. He had successfully maintained unwavering focus in face of violent weather, small mobs of townspeople, and ambush by powerfully malevolent spirits. A simple marketplace should have held nothing that could successfully distract him from his current task, especially when he was on his way to a hunt at his brother’s side.

But the sight of a book-seller’s stall had pulled up the memory of a-Yuan’s softly disappointed expression, at hearing that no, the Lan library held no tales beyond the history of various Lan cultivators. The boy’s downcast eyes and tiny “Oh.” returned with crystal clarity and dragged at Lan Zhan’s footsteps.

One of the books was titled The Adventures of He Jue.

“For Yuan-er?” his brother murmured, pausing at his shoulder. Lan Zhan could hear his brother’s smile and pressed his lips together. Xichen-xiong laughed, just a faint breath between them, and rested a hand on his shoulder. “There’s hardly any shame in taking good care of the life you’ve taken responsibility for.”

Lan Zhan glanced at him sidelong. It wasn’t the first time his brother had said something that suggested he didn’t entirely agree with their uncle about some things. Perhaps Xichen-xiong was just subtler about it than Lan Zhan; his brother had always been better at that. Xichen-xiong just smiled and patted his shoulder gently. Lan Zhan thought about the smile his brother had managed never to quite lose, and about a-Yuan’s smile, quieter now than it had been a few years ago, now that he’d grown old enough to begin absorbing something of Lan decorum and reserve, but still sweet and warm.

He thought of the last look he’d seen on Wei Ying’s face, still smiling for them even with heartbreak in his eyes.

He picked up The Adventures of He Jue and turned decisively to the book seller. “How much?” He pretended to not notice the way his brother’s smile warmed a little, but felt comforted in his decision anyway. It was easy, after all, to decide that he would preserve whatever he could of what Wei Ying’s compassion had given to the world. Taking another concrete step to bring up a-Yuan less as he’d been raised and more like the friend who had challenged Lan Zhan to look beyond the decisions of those who had come before… that was harder. Worthwhile, he was convinced of that, but still hard to step firmly along that path under the eyes of his clan.

Perhaps it was because he was already thinking on what might be correct and yet outside (or perhaps further within) the precedent of the rules of Lan Discipline, but another title caught his eye as he tucked the adventure tale into his pouch.

“Wangji?” Xichen-xiong actually sounded shocked this time. Lan Zhan’s face heated, but he couldn’t quite drag his eyes away from -sitions of the Flower Battle peeking out, perhaps appropriately, from underneath another book. The memory of bright, delighted laughter rang in his ears, laughter he had most definitely not appreciated at the time. Now, though…

“I still owe it to Nie Huaisang to replace his belonging,” he stated, just as evenly as he could. “Even if it was Wei Wuxian’s prank, I was the one who destroyed it.”

“How very… diligent of you.” His brother’s voice was a bit choked, but Lan Zhan thought it was with amusement rather than outrage. Xichen-xiong wouldn’t have alluded to one of the Rules, if he really disapproved.

Lan Zhan’s expression was once again perfectly smooth as he plucked the book out of its stack and turned again to the book seller. “How much?”

This one, though, he would not be showing to a-Yuan.

Five Years After the Destruction of the Burial Mounds

As he sat and listened to his brother easily bending the visiting cultivators to his wishes with little more than a gentle smile and a few courteous words to each, Lan Zhan couldn’t help dwelling just a bit on the fact that Xichen-xiong seemed to have gotten at least two generations worth of skill with people all to himself. Certainly their uncle didn’t show much evidence of the skill, and he didn’t remember it being notable in their father either.

He certainly didn’t have it. By this stage in the months-long campaign to convince all the mid-size sect leaders to build and mind the watchtowers in their territories, he’d have long since given up in exasperation and gone to build the things himself just to escape the interminable arguments.

Xichen-xiong was directing that smile at Yao Xianghai, now. “Your devotion to justice is well known, Sect Leader Yao. That you support this project, to give all people the protection they deserve, will be invaluable.”

Yao Xianghai immediately stopped looking dubious and instead straightened his shoulders and smoothed down his mustache. “Certainly, certainly! It’s only the right thing to do.”

Lan Zhan considered what Wei Ying would have said about this, which was rapidly becoming his first resort for getting through the various convocations, and allowed himself an internal scoff on Wei Ying’s behalf. Fortunately it only took a few more minutes of his brother smiling at hypocrites to secure everyone’s agreement, and then Lan Zhan could usher them out.

He almost tripped over a-Yuan, who had apparently been watching silently from the edge of the open screens. Lan Zhan’s brows rose; he would never have suspected a-Yuan of being interested in the politics of cultivation, but the boy’s face was bright as he watched them all emerge.

“Sizhui?” Lan Zhan beckoned him a little aside, nodding for Lan Chunhua to come and take the visitors off his hands. She had a much better serene smile, in any case, an approach their visitors seemed to be enjoying.

“Wangji-xiong, is that why we’re supposed to always be courteous?” a-Yuan asked, sounding very enthusiastic. “So everyone agrees with us?”

Lan Zhan almost said ‘yes’ and had to take a moment to compose himself. Possibly he’d been spending a little too much time, lately, thinking of what Wei Ying would say. “Courtesy is what we all deserve from each other,” he supplied instead, which had been his brother’s answer to a similar question. A-Yuan nodded attentively, and he ventured to add, “Respect for others is a good habit.” Another nod, bright eyes fixed on him with silent expectation, and he finally admitted, “It does help ensure people respond to you promptly, if you must direct them clear of a malevolent spirit.”

A-Yuan beamed and mustered a formal bow for him. “Thank you for the lesson, Wangji-xiong!”

As he scampered off, Lan Zhan wondered if it was normal for a child’s family to feel trepidation over any unexpected excitement.

When he came across a-Yuan, a few days later, easily herding the hot-tempered Lan Jingyi through their chores with nothing but a sweet, expectant smile, he couldn’t help feeling his trepidation had been justified. But he also had to hide a chuckle.

Wei Ying would definitely have laughed.

Eight Years After the Destruction of the Burial Mounds

Lan Zhan stood at the back of the hall of instruction and silently watched as his uncle led the newest junior disciples through a recitation of the qin language. A-Yuan sat near the front, straight and attentive; Lan Zhan was unsurprised that he named without error every note played. A-Yuan had been fascinated with the language of notes ever since he realized there could be meaning, as well as spiritual resonance, in the notes and chords Lan Zhan taught him.

It was almost impossible, these days, to see the grubby, enthusiastic toddler Lan Zhan had first met in the polite and collected young Lan Sizhui. It really only showed in the brightness of his eyes, when he understood something. That, and perhaps his determination.

“…taken together form brief but comprehensible sentences. Lan Wangji, the sentence just played was what?”

The strictness of his personal training prevented Lan Zhan from either starting or floundering at the sudden question. “Are you man or woman. One of the most useful questions when the spirit has forgotten its own name.”

Lan Qiren swept on with the lesson, with no indication that such a prompt and thorough answer was anything but utterly expected, and delivered a stern glare to any disciple who suddenly rustled or looked over his shoulder at Lan Zhan. A-Yuan didn’t look around, and Lan Zhan found himself torn between approval for a-Yuan’s self-discipline and regret that his natural streak of mischief seemed to have been tamed at last. He tried to settle on approval. That, at least, would help a-Yuan here, in the heart of what was now his own clan.

And then slight movement caught his eye.

A-Yuan, still looking becomingly attentive and thoughtful, was forming silent chords with his fingers on the writing-table in front of him.


Lan Zhan’s brows lifted a hair. That was actually an unusual one; most spirits were beyond pleasantries. Greeting was only recommended for when one suspected one was dealing with a divine spirit.

How are you?

The silent chording stumbled a little over that. Lan Zhan wasn’t surprised. It was a combination of two separate phrases, only one of which a-Yuan would have had much practice with, yet. He still found himself having to conceal a smile. Perhaps a-Yuan retained more of the child he’d been than Lan Zhan had thought.

He stayed to the end of the lesson, when his uncle finally allowed the disciples to get up and flock around Lan Zhan. A-Yuan slipped through the little crowd to look up at him, eyes bright. “W—” A-Yuan’s glance flickered toward Lan Qiren, and he swiftly amended Lan Zhan’s name to a very respectful, “Hanguang-jun?”

Lan Zhan smiled faintly. “I’m well,” he answered the silent question a-Yuan had played. The brilliant smile a-Yuan broke into definitely reminded him of the child’s response to that first butterfly toy.

Perhaps the courtesy name he’d chosen for a-Yuan would be more than a wistful hope, after all. Perhaps some memory of the lives Wei Ying had snatched away from the world’s hatred would continue.

And if that recollection was sheltered by Lan… well then, perhaps Lan Zhan would think he hadn’t utterly failed his own heart, after all, despite the long years with no sign of Wei Ying’s spirit.

He paced quietly through the walkways of the Cloud Recesses, with the juniors’ soft, eager questions swirling around him, and let that thought settle into the deep places inside him.

Thirteen Years After the Destruction of the Burial Mounds

Lan Zhan sternly suppressed an absurd urge to straighten a-Yuan’s robes. They were already perfectly straight; a-Yuan looked every bit the composed Lan junior disciple, prepared to lead a night-hunt on his own for the first time. And if Lan Qiren might have sniffed over the eager brightness of a-Yuan’s eyes, well that was only one of the things Lan Zhan had come to disagree with his uncle about.

“The Mo family is known to have a good deal of pride,” he said, instead.

A-Yuan’s mouth tucked up at the corners for a moment before he nodded earnestly. “I’ll be sure to watch over Jingyi.”

At that, Lan Zhan had to stifle a brief laugh, and he suspected a-Yuan saw it, from the way the boy smiled. “I’m sure you will be a credit to Xichen-xiongzhang,” he said blandly, and watched a-Yuan duck his head, smile turning shy and pleased. “I will be in the area.”

A-Yuan sobered at that and nodded obediently. “If there is a spirit beyond our strength to deal with, I’ll signal.”

Lan Zhan nodded back, satisfied, and watched a-Yuan pace down the paths toward the gates with every appearance of grave dignity. It was ridiculous, he told himself, to feel nervous on behalf of an accomplished and responsible junior. But perhaps he’d stay relatively close to their hunt. Just in case.

Besides, if there was any living soul Wei Ying’s spirit might return to, surely it was the child who preserved as much of his brightness as might be had in this world.


Last Modified: Feb 28, 20
Posted: Feb 28, 20
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    1. Icon for BranchBranch Post author

      Thank you! I had a lot of fun with the idea of a-Yuan dropped into Cloud Recesses, so it’s lovely to hear you enjoyed it.