Months have passed since Wei Wuxian left the Seclusion caves, even longer since he arrived in the Cloud Recesses.
The young boy was sitting at the entrance of Jingshi, looking out into the garden. Snow formed a layer of powdered frost, creating an quiet chime as it landed, audible amidst the silence of the recesses.
Wei Wuxian resigned to live the rest of his life in his self-made prison, mirroring the life of Lan Wangji's mother. If his loved ones were so against him taking himself out of the world then he would refuse to let himself in it.
Lan Wangji wanted to protect him, but not like this. Walking towards Jingshi with a tray in hand, prepared with all of Wei Wuxian favourites was routine now. Seeing Wei Wuxian sitting in the same spot was no surprise as well.
His greeting was met with no acknowledgement. Like a living doll, perfectly posed in a diorama. It clearly disturbed Lan Qiren the most, having known Wei Wuxian as the delinquent, hell bent on making his life a misery like his mother, but now he could hardly recognise the boy.
Lan Wangji predicted that reaction so he walked passed to set up the food at the table and frowned when he saw the last meal was barely touched.
"Wei Ying... You have to eat. You can't keep starving yourself like this."
Again no response.
Lan Wangji scanned his face for any reaction but a stagnant pool of emotion was the only thing he could find. Wei Wuxian was physically thinner, his collar bones clearly visible along with dark circles under his eyes.
Of course the most disturbing reminder of Wei Wuxian's deteriorating health was the morbid scar that lined his neck.
Even now, Wei Wuxian never explained why he did what he did. Only hints of his hidden pain were revealed while he was asleep and unguarded.
"Shi jie n-no.. Mhhm.. Get lost! "
The day Wei Wuxian moved into Jingshi, The servants and disciples helped to remove any dangerous objects or lock them away out of his reach. Lan Wangji remembering the promise to take care of Wei Ying, agreed to sleep in the same bed as his friend, as a safety precaution. But nothing can prepare him of the night terrors he faced.
"hnng n-no no, get AWAY!"
Enough was enough. Lan wangji shook the young boy gently.
"Wei Ying.. Please.. wake up, you're having a nightmare"
Lan Wangji loudly whispered, enough to wake up the boy but not enough to wake up the others. Wei Wuxian woke up with a gasp, sweat dripping from his face. Breathing heavily, gasping for air, eyes unfocused.
"L-lan Zhan?" a voice barely above a whisper.
"Mn, Wei Ying. I'm here"
Following the sounds of his voice, Wei Wuxian found Lan Zhan's familiar face. The smaller boy looking deep into the other's eyes as if he was searching for something.
Lan Wangji noticed Wei Ying’s eyes was brimmed with unshed tears.
"Wei Ying, would you like to talk about it?"
Wei Wuxian merely shook his head and then promptly placed his head in the nook of his friend's shoulder. At least it was a proper response. Was this an improvement?
That moment of optimism was almost shattered when Lan Wangji felt Wei Wuxian's tears soaking the fabric on his shoulder. Lan Wangji wondered whether his friend's condition was partly his fault. Had he been so quick to dismiss young cultivator's attempt to become his friend, would he have still be in his current state? If he hadn't used words like "shameless" and "pathetic" would Wei Ying still have the self-esteem, he has now?
"Lan Zhan, look at me!"
If he had spared him a single glance...
Lan Wangji tightened his embrace around the boy’s body. It would be a long process but he believed that Wei Wuxian would be to his old self soon enough.
The first few months without Wei Wuxian were suffering. The effects of the head disciple's suicide attempt were felt throughout Lotus Pier.
Fellow disciples were in shock and denial of their Da Shixiong's attempt at his own life.
Moments after the attempt, Jiang Yanli was still traumatised after finding her little brother's lifeless body on the floor, blood pooling around his neck and Suibian held limply in his hand. It didn't take genius to put two and two together. She could still feel the warm blood of her brother's, seeping through the fabric she used to staunch the wound.
She remembered that day as vividly as the waters of Lotus Lake. Walking towards her brother's room, nothing out of the ordinary. She knocked on the door.
"A-Xian, it's almost midday, your breakfast is almost cold"
No response. She knocked again
"A-Xian? Are you unwell? No one has seen you all day. I can bring something to your room if you want."
More silence. Perhaps he was asleep, tired from mother's training yesterday.
She was about to leave until she heard an unnatural wheezing sound, almost strangled, almost choking. She thought it was a bad fever and that was enough to storm into his room.
Jiang Yanli scanned the room to find the source of the sound. However, the sight she saw before her was worse than anything she had imagined.
Quickly, she took off her outer robe and ran towards the boy on the ground. She lifted his head onto her lap, not caring that his blood was staining her prim and proper robes. What mattered was that she had to save her dying brother. Blood was seeping out at an alarming rate. She could only do so much.
"SOMEONE! PLEASE HELP!"
And as if right schedule, a disciple was at the entrance panting with panic.
"Maiden Jiang what h-"
Moments later, a group of disciples came rushing him, they lifted their comrade onto the stretcher and carried him away to the clinic.
Jiang Yanli was hesitant to let him go but after gentle prodding from the nearby disciple she released her hold on her brother. She followed the men towards the clinic, as if her body was moving on her own.
Has she failed her Xian Xian?
Jiang Cheng of course, like his Shidis, was in denial. The last time he saw Wei Wuxian, he was cracking jokes and playing pranks on the other disciples. As much as it annoyed him, his laugh and smile would dissipate any darkness in the room.
So how? How did this happen? The image of Wei Wuxian unresponsive, lifeless in the clinic will forever be burned in the back of his mind. Everything that happened.. it just didn't make sense. What could've happened to make Wei Wuxian do something so drastic?
He promised his sworn brother to chase away any dogs, protect him from danger, but now he doubted himself. How could he protect Wei Wuxian if the danger was himself? He remembered the haunting words Wei Wuxian said during their time at the Cloud Recesses.
“You’ve already buried my corpse so many times, so what’s wrong with once more?”
Jiang Cheng knew it was joke but finally asked himself. How can he say that so casually? There were signs.. How could he not pick them up? Did his brother plan this from the beginning? Was he planning to leave him, leave his family? Did he bottle up all this sadness until it overflowed?
Jiang Cheng gritted his teeth and clenched his hands till the point where his nails pierced his skin.
"Wei Wuxian, you absolute idiot"
He didn't notice the tears falling onto his hands.
Jiang Fengmian felt like a failure. This was the son of his dear friends. Not only did he fail A-Xian but also the memory of his parents. Wei Wuxian was the last reminder of Wei Changze and Cangse Sanren and yet he was so close to losing him.
He remembered the day Wei Wuxian's regained consciousness after the sect's doctors saved him. They explained why they had to strap him down to the bed, so it was to avoid the unstable boy hurting himself again. Jiang Fengmian thought it was inhumane but after seeing Wei Wuxian’s reaction after he woke up, he retracted his initial thought.
Wei Wuxian struggled through the bindings, writhing in pain, tears rolling down his face. The healers rushed to his side and tried to hold him down. Jiang Fengmian instinctively rushed in to help them.
"NO NO THIS IS ALL WRONG, I WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE! WHY DIDN'T YOU LET ME DIE?!"
The sect leader was in pain, seeing his foster son like this.
"A-Xian, please calm down, I'm here, your uncle is here"
"NO NO DON'T WANNA BE HERE, GET AWAY FROM ME"
When the healers agreed he was getting too violent, with a nod, they pulled out a needle and stabbed him in the arm. As soon as it made contact, Wei Wuxian's screams started to dispel. Jiang Fengmian let out a breath he didn't know he was holding and gently placed his boy down on the bed. As he drifted off to sleep, the older man stepped out of the clinic.
He leaned against the wall of the building and slowly slid down. Hands rubbing his face as if to wake him up to the reality that his A-Xian wanted to die.
He heard the pier boards creaking in front of him and looked up. There was A-Cheng, standing on the walkway opposite him, distraught littering his eyes. There's no doubt the whole Lotus Pier heard the screams. He never felt so useless up until that moment. His Lady was right; he really was a bad father.
Madame Yu was another story. She could never really love Wei Wuxian. That boy was a constant reminder of every failure in her life, being second to Cangse Sanren for her Husband's affection and her failure to produce and raise a son who was always second to Wei Wuxian.
If that boy had never been in her family in the first place, then there wouldn't be any conflict in the first place. She wanted the boy gone but not like this.
Like her son, she asked herself, what had pushed him so far as to try and kill himself? Then she remembered all the harsh words, constant reminders of his place in the sect, how he could never really be part of the family. Was it a culmination of everything that made him snap? He took everything in stride so why was it today he decided to end it?
Yu Ziyuan was known as the Violet Spider, a cruel, strict woman. But never would she have thought her pettiness and words would do that much damage especially to a strong willed boy like Wei Wuxian.
Then the rumours came in.
"I heard Madame Yu finally snapped "
"Yeah, I guess she couldn't stand Wei Wuxian anymore"
"Heard she ordered him to kill himself, to honour her family and give Jiang Wanyin a better chance"
"Remove the competition huh, if only she did that with that rogue cultivator"
Rage filled her, never would she resort to that. Was this what her reputation had led to? She had to make this right. Help heal Wei Wuxian, it was the least she could do.
Then reality struck the family…
The combined efforts of the Jiang Family weren't enough, …then…
"I want to go back to Gusu"
It was the only thing they could do.
The Jiang siblings' monthly visits were always looked forward to by the pair. Jiang Yanli was carrying a basket of Yunmeng treats with A-cheng at her side carrying a pot of Lotus Root and Pork-rib soup. It's been a month since they've seen their brother.
Their departure after every visit was always riddled with anxiety. Always asking the question, "Is this the last time we'll see him alive?"
When they arrived at the gates of Gusu, Lan Xichen was there, greeting them with a pained smile.
"Jiang Gong-zi, Maiden Jiang" he bowed
The eldest of the Twin Jades welcomed the duo in and started to walk into the Recesses, prompting both of them to follow. As they were walking they continued to talk.
"I trust you both had a safe journey"
"Nothing out of the ordinary" small talk was not Jiang Cheng’s forte
"How is A-Xian?" Jiang Yanli straight to the point
"He is.. better, I think?"
"You think?" Jiang Cheng sounding more aggressive than usual.
"He said a few words, and ate more than one spoonful of food?"
"I guess that's better than nothing."
"These things take time Jiang Gong-zi" Lan Xichen said in a gentle tone.
"I KNOW!" Jiang Cheng yelled in retaliation, but remembered the sect rules
"I know...” repeating what he said but quieter. “I just thought when we sent Wei Wuxian to Gusu Lan, he would get better. Aren't you guys the best when it comes to mental healing, it's been almost a year."
Frustration filled his voice, it almost sounded like he was going to cry.
His sister took the chance to interrupt, "Zewu-jun, apologies for my brother, I know your sect is doing everything they can. Honestly, him coming out of the Seclusion caves was a miracle in itself. He's better here than Lotus Pier."
"Your kindness is appreciated Maiden Jiang, but to be honest with you, the sect hadn't expected Wei Gong-zi's recovery to be so slow"
"What do you mean?"
"When we have people sent here, under the same circumstances as Wei Gong-zi, they usually recover and leave the Cloud Recesses within three months." Lan Xichen paused, contemplating something. “like you said it’s been almost a year. We hypothesise that your brother’s case is more than we can comprehend, we’ve truly underestimated the true extent of Wei Gong-zi’s despair”
The Jiang sect heir sighed. He had expected this but it hurt more when it was said aloud.
The Lan heir broke the silence with an optimistic tone, “Well recovery is recovery, regardless of how long it takes. I’m sure your brother will be happy to see you two.”
Jiang Cheng hoped that was the case. He remembered the earlier visits to Gusu Lan.
The sound of glass and porcelain breaking was constant throughout the room.
“NO STAY AWAY FROM ME! DON’T TOUCH ME”
“A-Xian please, it’s me.. your Shijie”
There was desperation in her voice as she tried to calm her brother. She tried to reach out for him but soon realised her mistake.
Wei Wuxian’s eyes widened as he saw a hand and instinctively slapped it away
“NO DON’T, I’M POISON..I-I’LL KILL YOU, SssTAY away…”
“WEI WUXIAN!” Jiang Cheng got angry as any harm to his sister was met with a reflex to protect.
“A-Cheng don’t, it’s fine, please...calm down.” Yanli pulled on her brother’s sleeve before he did something he’d regret. All they could do was stare at their shaking brother, cowering in the corner of Jingshi. They wanted to do something but doing anything made it worse.
“Maiden Jiang, Jiang Wanyin” a stern yet gentle voice caught their attention as they turned to the source. There stood the ethereal second Twin Jade of Gusu. However, both siblings could see the cracks on the jade, as his stone cold image started to break. He was tired.
“Perhaps today, isn’t the day to visit Wei Ying. He needs his rest. I’ll organise a place for you to stay in the Cloud Recesses”. The Yunmeng siblings took that as a sign to leave.
“Take care A-Xian”
Just before they left through the door, Jiang Cheng took a quick glance at Lan Wangji kneeling down and as the Lan lifted his arm to comfort the shivering boy, his sleeves fell down to reveal faint bruises around his wrists.
Looking at the damage, Jiang Cheng will be forever grateful to Lan Wangji.
Lan Xichen’s voice woke him out of his trance.
There in front of him was the familiar Jingshi. At this rate, this place is more or less his brother’s permanent home now. The chances of him returning back to the Lotus Pier were slim.
The trio walked up to the closed entrance and waited for the signal. Lan Xichen knocked first.
“Wangji, our guests have arrived”
And right on signal, the doors of Jingshi creaked opened with Lan Wangji peaking though the gap.
“Daxiong. Maiden Jiang, Jiang Wanyin..Greetings”
After a short moment of silence.
The doors were now opened wide enough for the Yunmeng siblings to step in.
“I’ll leave you alone, come get me if you need anything.” And with that Lan Xichen bowed and left the group to their own devices.
Yanli and Jiang Cheng tip-toed through the room, excited to see their brother again. Right there and then, their paranoia soon faded away.
The moment the three sibling eyes met, there was a wave of calmness throughout the room. Jiang Yanli smiled sombrely as she saw her little brother in the white Gusu Lan robes sitting at the low table, slightly tired, slightly thin. Suddenly her tinge of sadness left when her Xian Xian smiled back. A small smile but a smile nonetheless.
“Shijie… Jiang Cheng”
Jiang Cheng mirrored his smile “Hey Wei Wuxian.. it’s been a while”
“A-Xian, we’ve brought some soup, would you like some”
Hearing that, Wei Wuxian nodded and smiled, not the grin they were used to but enough to know that everything was going to be okay.
Wei Wuxian could never tell them the truth behind his suicide attempt, who would believe him? The Wen sect were expanding fast, but observing from the sidelines he could tell the sects were more prepared. Maybe in this life, there was a chance for everyone to be happy.
Maybe he could be as well.