When Jiang Cheng hears the low timbre of a dizi, soft and haunting, his hair stands on end.
The young disciples appear unfazed, their heads bowed over a map as they discuss the best spot for the night hunt. Even Jin Ling has no reaction; he’s jabbing at the map with a finger, engaged in a loud debate with the Lan disciple called Jingyi.
Teeth clenched, Jiang Cheng turns to the source of the noise.
Wei Wuxian is seated on a rock by the lake, lips on Chenqing, fingers darting across the instrument. Long lashes sweep over fair cheeks, while trails of his ribbon flutter in the breeze, a stark crimson in the moonlight. He’s no longer “classically handsome,” as those frivolous girls used to say, but this new face retains much of his boyish charm—enough, at least, to make Jiang Cheng feel nauseous at the thought.
He stalks up to Wei Wuxian, intent on snapping at him to stop the infernal racket. But then Wei Wuxian lowers the dizi and smiles at him, face lighting up, and oh, that hasn’t changed. Stunned, Jiang Cheng’s words stick to the back of his throat, before they morph into a question that slips out of his mouth before he can stop it.
“Why a dizi?”
Wei Wuxian blinks. Then, he laughs, hearty and musical. “No one’s asked me that before.”
“Not even Lan Wangji?” Jiang Cheng snorts, ignoring the way his heart clenches in his chest.
“Lan Zhan’s not the sort to ask questions.” Wei Wuxian’s gaze drops to the dizi in his hand, mouth tugged in a soft smile. “Do you remember the day Jin Zixuan and Madam Jin visited Lotus Pier for the first time?”
Of course, Jiang Cheng remembers. His mother was in exceptional form that day, Zidian crackling purple as she whipped and barked at the Yunmeng Jiang disciples all morning. She was nervous, hoping for the meeting between Jin Zixuan and A-Jie to go smoothly, and it didn’t help that Wei Wuxian had opened his big mouth and called the Lanling Jin sect “a flock of stuffy golden peacocks.”
“Shi-niang had also invited a world-renowned orchestra to perform before dinner,” Wei Wuxian continues. “And amongst them was—”
“—a dizi player,” Jiang Cheng finishes, chest tight. He remembers, too, the way his sister’s eyes shone, the way she hid her open mouth behind her sleeves. “A-Jie was mesmerized.”
Wei Wuxian nods. “She loved the sound it made, said she could hear it in her dreams.” His fingers curl around the dizi, tight and trembling. “That it brought her peace.”
The very idea felt as distant as the sun during the Sunshot Campaign—a time when vengeance kept them grounded and built like ash on their tongue. But Wei Wuxian’s looking at Chenqing with his lips tipped upward at the corners, as though he’s tasted something sweet instead. Something to be savored.
Jiang Cheng swallows. Even near-death, this is how Wei Wuxian survives. With thoughts of kindness and love and family, thoughts that were darkened by resentment, forcefully absorbed and harnessed to keep himself alive.
But what of him, Jiang Wanyin, the supposed leader of Yunmeng Jiang sect? For thirteen years, his every thought—his very existence—was driven by unadulterated hatred for a man who was once his brother, who promised to serve him as his father had served his. Who kept his promise, despite the anger, the insults, the blows exchanged—befitting of the Jiang sect motto and spirit.
(His father would have been so proud.)
Clutching at his chest, Wei Wuxian’s core burning within, Jiang Cheng breathes out a name he hasn’t called for years.
Wei Wuxian’s head jolts up, his eyes wide.
Jiang Cheng breathes again, nails digging into the fabric of his robes. He doesn’t know what to say, only that something has to be said. They’ve gone on for too long like this; he’s gone on for too long like this.
Besides Jin Ling, Wei Wuxian is all he has left.
“I… You and I…” Wei Wuxian leans in, so bright and eager that Jiang Cheng’s chest aches. “We—”
“Uncle,” Jin Ling shouts from a distance. “Uncle, come quick!”
The tension splits in the air like a torn lantern.
Jiang Cheng hisses, turning back to glare at his nephew. “That little brat—”
“Go.” Startled, Jiang Cheng meets Wei Wuxian’s gaze. His smile has gone soft and pleased, glowing under the pale light of the moon. And right there, breath hitching, Jiang Cheng sees his sister—her head tilted in the exact same way, her eyes crinkling at the exact same corners. “Jin Ling needs you.”
So Jiang Cheng nods and leaves, as Wei Wuxian returns the dizi to his lips.
But this time, the sound brings him warmth, like a small ember sparking to life, cradled deep inside his heart.