Ye Zun was there when they returned from the wormhole, his feet up on Lin Jing's old desk, gold mask in place, gripping the head of his cane. The Guardian Lantern sat beside him, its wick glowing brightly. The other three Hallows were still in their glass cages.
Although he was still injured and exhausted from his time on the pillar, Shen Wei readied himself for a fight; beside him, Zhao Yunlan pulled his gun.
"You were waiting for us?" Shen Wei said, and Ye Zun's smile in return was unkind.
"I couldn't just leave you alone once I knew you'd sullied your own energy with his." Ye Zun nodded over at Zhao Yunlan, who looked at Shen Wei, his eyes narrowed.
"What do you want?" Shen Wei said, ignoring Zhao Yunlan's unasked question. "The Hallows are all here; if you wanted them, you could have had them."
"I want to try something," Ye Zun said. "An experiment." He grabbed the Guardian Lantern and held it up, and the other Hallows reacted immediately, the now familiar shimmer of sound and light momentarily blinding him. Zhao Yunlan fired his gun, but Ye Zun caught the bullets and then tossed him aside with barely a wave of his hand.
"Zhao Yunlan!" Shen Wei summoned his blade, but Ye Zun's hand was on his forehead before it even fully materialized, and he felt the energy inside him shifting, felt it spinning out and away. It left him gasping for breath, but then it was gone as suddenly as it had started.
The pain he'd felt for months, since curing Zhao Yunlan's blindness, was gone. Panicked, he tried to summon a burst of dark energy; it flared neatly into his hand, smoother than it had felt since long before then. He looked up at Ye Zun, his eyes wide.
Ye Zun laughed, a raw, brittle sound that gave way to a cough Shen Wei hadn't heard in millennia, but was all too familiar. The Guardian Lantern clattered to the floor, and Ye Zun sagged down, using his cane for support.
Torn between helping his brother and Zhao Yunlan, he froze; once Zhao Yunlan got to his feet on his own, the decision was made for him, and he went to grab Ye Zun's arm.
"Didi, what did you do?"
"I made an exchange." Ye Zun shook slightly as he used both hands on the cane to hold himself upright, shrugging off Shen Wei's grip.
From behind him, Zhao Yunlan stepped forward with purpose, and Shen Wei held his arm out. "Don't," he said. He wasn't sure what had happened, but with the energies in his body clear, obviously not everything was as it seemed.
"He attacked you," Zhao Yunlan growled.
"It wasn't an attack."
Zhao Yunlan opened his mouth to say something more, then closed it and nodded, visibly unhappy. "Your brother, your call," he said.
"Standing up for me, gege? I'm touched."
"What was the exchange?" Shen Wei demanded. "What did you trade?"
"Myself," Ye Zun said, a small smile touching his lips below the mask. "Or rather, my power. In exchange, you're whole again."
Shen Wei sent out a feeler of dark energy, looking for any traces of the same in his brother, but the Hallows had wiped them clean. "Why? What do you want from us, then?"
"I want my brother back."
"You never lost me," Shen Wei said, because he'd always held out hope that he could bring Ye Zun home from whatever battle he was still fighting in his mind, no matter how many people he'd killed or crimes he'd committed.
"I thought you had abandoned me on that cliff." Ye Zun's grip tightened on his cane, and he took a deep breath. "When I was in your mind, I saw that what I believed was wrong, that I had been lied to." His eyes turned a little wild. "And the liar is long dead, but you were soon to be dead, too, if I didn't do something."
"And the Hallows listened to you."
"The Hallows are very happy to listen to those who want to help other people. Why do you think Yunlan has all the luck with them?"
Out of the corner of Shen Wei's eye, Zhao Yunlan twitched, but stayed silent. Shen Wei looked over at him. "Zhao Yunlan," he said, and Zhao Yunlan's eyes met his. After what Ye Zun had done, there was little chance anything Zhao Yunlan could do would spare Ye Zun from Haixing's own justice system, but if he were taken back to Dixing, he would certainly be put to death. As usual, Zhao Yunlan understood his thoughts without words, and he eventually let out a deep sigh, and a small laugh.
"I'll see what I can do."
"I saved you and you threw me in another prison!" Ye Zun raged, tossing pillows at Shen Wei's head. It was a bad day, but it could be worse; at least today was just pillows.
"You did save me, and I did throw you in another prison," Shen Wei agreed, because arguing with him when he was like this was pointless, and also: he wasn't wrong. Ye Zun was under house arrest, minimum one year, sentencing to be revisited after that period - a vastly more generous sentence than the Haixing Inspectorate should have handed down, and Shen Wei was immeasurably grateful for Zhao Yunlan's intervention. But house arrest was still a prison, and Ye Zun had been imprisoned for far too many years.
"You left me in the pillar to rot," Ye Zun snarled. "You left your own people so you could come and frolic in the sun. You abandoned them; you abandoned me!"
The hardest part about bad days was that even without any powers, Ye Zun was a master at finding the right buttons to push.
"I know," Shen Wei replied, for the fifth or twelfth or twentieth time. "I know I did. But you're here with me, now. I won't leave you again."
On good days they could drink tea and talk like they were just roommates, getting to know each other. On very good days, Zhao Yunlan joined them, and they awkwardly tried to piece together a family from their jagged edges.
Ye Zun remembered little of his life before they met the rebel chief on the cliff, so Shen Wei grasped at the few memories he had of that time and tried to weave them into a story worth telling. He couldn't take away the horrors of Ye Zun's time with the rebels, but he could give his brother back a kinder past, one where they had each other.
"I know you didn't leave me there," Ye Zun said one day, looking up from a book that must not have been terribly engrossing. He tapped the side of his head. "Up here. I know what happened. But lifetimes of hatred are hard to pull out of here," he said, pressing his fist to his chest, and he smiled darkly. "There might not be anything else left in there."
"You could have killed me, but you didn't," Shen Wei said. "You could have simply let me die, but you didn't. There's more than just hatred in your heart."
"I suppose so," Ye Zun said, but his expression is unreadable.
"Can I do anything to help?" Shen Wei said, exposed and needy.
Ye Zun let out a long exhale. "You're here," he said. "You haven't left. That's enough."