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Stained With Blood and Tears

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Wei Wuxian was leaning over the edge of the boat, a coy smile on his face, dangling his fingers in the water. Lan Zhan was sitting next to him, Bichen in his lap, eyes focused straight ahead. Wei Wuxian let his gaze flicker over Lan Zhan for a moment, over his fair face and well-sculpted form, barely hidden under the soft folds of his white hanfu. His smile softened somewhat along with his melting heart.

“Lan Zhaaann,” he called, and the Gusu cultivator turned to him with a slight cock of the head.

“Hm?”

“Are you excited?” 

Lan Zhan said nothing, only tilting his head a bit more. Wei Wuxian laughed and pulled his hand from the water, shaking the droplets off his fingers and splashing them at his husband; Lan Zhan did not look amused, but Wei Wuxian ignored him, simply continuing to speak.

“You know we haven’t been to Lotus Pier in a long time! Aren’t you excited to eat lotus seeds again and hunt pheasants and visit Jiang Cheng and Jin Ling?”

Lan Zhan nodded slowly.

“Lotus root and pork sparerib soup,” he said and Wei Wuxian grinned.

“Yes, yes, that too!!” he cried. He threw an arm over Lan Zhan’s shoulders, causing the boat to rock a bit. The boatman yelled, but Wei Wuxian ignored him, instead shaking Lan Zhan a bit more, making the boat tilt.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan said at the same time the boatman roared,

“Masters, don’t think I won’t throw you into the river!!”

Wei Wuxian laughed and threw himself into the foot of the boat, waving a hand in apology. The boatman huffed in annoyance, but continued rowing them towards Yunmeng without another word, intent on ignoring them. Wei Wuxian snorted.

“Hey, Lan Zhan,” he whispered, raising his head a bit so that Lan Zhan could properly hear his voice, “do you think he doesn’t like us?”

Lan Zhan sniffed. 

“Doesn’t like you,” he muttered, and Wei Wuxian huffed indignantly before laughing again. 

Aiyah, Lan Zhan, you get funnier every day!” He got to his knees and placed his chin on Lan Zhan’s thigh, gazing up at him through thick black lashes. “Am I teaching you well, Hanguang-jun?” He winked, pleased when the faintest pink flush crept onto the tips of Lan Zhan’s ears.

“Wei Ying—” Lan Zhan began, but a loud voice cut him off before he could finish.

“Is that permitted?”

Wei Wuxian sighed and turned around, seeing for the first time that they had arrived at Lotus Pier. Waiting to greet them was Jin Ling in all his glory, dressed in flashy gold and white, his sword at his hip, his bow strung across his back. He was pointing at Wei Wuxian and Lan Zhan with an imperious finger and glaring at them, as if daring them to do something scandalous at his uncle’s Lotus Pier, and Wei Wuxian just sighed.

“Jin Ling, it’s nice to see you too,” he said, waving languidly at the boy. He did not move his head from its spot on Lan Zhan’s thigh.

“Can you not drool all over each other in my presence?” Jin Ling called, clearly annoyed. “It’s inappropriate!”

From the boat behind Wei Wuxian, Lan Jingyi started to yell.

“Who are you to tell Senior Wei and Hanguang-jun what’s appropriate and what’s not?!? You’re of lesser status than them!”

Even from the water, Wei Wuxian could see Jin Ling turn red in anger.

“So what?! This is my uncle’s territory! They can do whatever they want in Cloud Recesses, but they should mind themselves here! They’re guests!”

“And you’re not??” Jingyi retorted. “You’re the next head of the Jin Clan, not the Jiang Clan! This isn’t your territory! This is your uncle’s!”

Jin Ling unsheathed his sword and Wei Wuxian rolled his eyes. With a groan he pushed himself off Lan Zhan’s thigh, immediately missing his familiar warmth and strength, and jumped to the head of the boat.

“All right, all right, you two!” he called. “Jin Ling put your sword away. Jingyi, stop talking out of turn. We’re here to do business, aren’t we? Why are you acting so hostile?”

“Fine,” both boys grumbled, and Jin Ling sheathed his sword while Jingyi muttered an apology. They landed at the pier a few minutes later, where Wei Wuxian acted as a diplomat between Jin Ling and Jingyi while Lan Zhan took care of matters with the boatman.

The fact was they hadn’t come to Lotus Pier simply for pleasure. Although Wei Wuxian was greatly looking forward to lotus soup and seeing his brother and nephew, he had come to Lotus Pier at Jiang Cheng’s request for help. A demon had been troubling Yunmeng, and a particularly strong one at that. It had taken out quite a few of the clan’s weaker cultivators already in their first attempt to kill it. Jiang Cheng didn’t want to take any risks; so, he asked Wei Wuxian and Lan Zhan to help. Of course, Jin Ling and the disciples of the Gusu clan would also come to assist. Wei Wuxian figured it would be an easy hunt with so many talented people involved and, once they were done, they would able to binge on all the Lotus Pier delicacies he had grown up with, drink as much alcohol as he pleased, and maybe even get Lan Zhan drunk. He sighed. That would be great. We always have such fun when Lan Zhan is drunk. . .

“Wei Wuxian, are you listening to me?!?”

“Oh, hi Jiang Cheng.”

Jiang Cheng, who had arrived at some point during Jin Ling and Jingyi’s argument, was now standing next to his nephew, hands on his hips, glaring at Wei Wuxian. When he spoke, he raised his eyebrows nearly to his hairline.

“Oh hi?” he echoed. “Oh hi?! Is that all you have to say to me?”

Wei Wuxian frowned and rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly.

“Um. . . am I supposed to say something else?” He rocked back on his heels, looking at the younger disciples for support. They just shook their heads at him, and Wei Wuxian pouted. Useless brats. . . .

As Jiang Cheng’s expression became stormier (a feat Wei Wuxian previously thought he couldn’t achieve), Lan Zhan suddenly appeared at Wei Wuxian’s side.

“Clan Leader Jiang,” he greeted, clasping his hands together and bowing.

Thank god for you, Lan Zhan!!! Wei Wuxian jumped behind his husband and grinned at Jiang Cheng as his brother returned the greeting, unwilling to break decorum as citizens of Yunmeng wandered about Lotus Pier. Wei Wuxian, however, didn’t miss how his eyelid twitched — indicative of his annoyance — and he retreated a bit further behind Lan Zhan.

Hanguang-jun,” Jiang Cheng said. “It’s good to see you again. It’s been several months.”

 Lan Zhan nodded.

“Four,” he said simply.

“Yes, the last time I saw you both was in Cloud Recesses when I brought Jin Ling for lectures. I’m glad to finally return the favor to you by welcoming you to Lotus Pier.” Jiang Cheng gestured ahead of him with a small wave. “Please.”

“Please.”

The three cultivators began to walk in silence, the younger disciples shadowing them, until Wei Wuxian couldn’t take it anymore.

“Jiang Cheng,” he said, “are you seeing anyone yet?” 

Jiang Cheng glared at him.

“No,” he answered. 

“Ah, so you’re still a bachelor. Very eligible and very handsome, if I say so myself.”

Jiang Cheng grit his teeth.

“Wei Wuxian. . .” he said, a warning in his voice which Wei Wuxian obviously ignored.

“Would you like me to arrange something for you?” 

“WEI WUXIAN!” 

“I’m teasing, I’m teasing!” Wei Wuxian elbowed Jiang Cheng gently in the ribs. “Your temper doesn’t suit a marriage. You’re better off being a bachelor.”

Jiang Cheng huffed.

“I’m surprised Second Lord Lan puts up with your temper,” he said. “Jiejie always said it wasn’t suitable for marriage either.”

Wei Wuxian ignored the pang in his heart at the mention of his older sister and instead just smiled at Jiang Cheng, looping an arm through Lan Zhan’s.

“Clearly, Shijie hadn’t met Lan Zhan yet!” he said. “We’re the perfect match! He’s the yin to my yang!”

Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes.

“The order to your chaos, more like,” he muttered.

“Hey—!”

“Masters,” a Jiang clan servant greeted, bowing respectfully. She dipped her head at Jiang Cheng. “The dining room is set up as requested, Clan Leader.”

“Thank you. You are dismissed.” The servant took her leave and Jiang Cheng motioned everyone to follow him to the dining room. When they arrived, a meal was laid for them — chicken and rice, accompanied by fine lotus tea — a simple yet filling Yunmeng meal. When everyone had finished eating and the plates were cleared away, Wei Wuxian leaned back with a smile. 

“Excellent food, Jiang Cheng! Now where’s the alcohol?”

Jiang Cheng snorted.

“Alcohol? Please. As if I’d allow you to drink before such an important mission.”

Wei Wuxian pouted but did not argue. After all, Lan Zhan had the same rule in Gusu.

“Clan Leader Jiang,” Lan Sizhui piped up, “would you tell us the details of the night hunt?”

“Of course.” He settled himself comfortably at the head of the room, garnering everyone’s attention. When all eyes were focused on his face, he nodded once.

“There is a particular demon that has been plaguing the nearby rice paddies of Yunmeng. It is fearsome, vicious, and feeds on live humans. All of the villagers fear it.” He sighed and ran a hand over his face. “They’ve lost six lives to it already, and we’ve lost three cultivators.”

A murmur of quiet alarm passed through the group. Nine dead already? This really was a fierce demon. . .

“Have the villagers seen the demon?” Lan Jingyi asked.

“Yes. It has the appearance of a young child, seemingly normal from far away, but up close has red eyes and long ears. They say it is beautiful.”

Jin Ling made a face.

“Beautiful? How can a demon be beautiful?” 

Wei Wuxian shrugged.

“You’d be surprised,” he said. “Some demons and monsters are known to disguise themselves as beautiful people or objects to trick humans into getting close enough to hurt or kill them. It’s not uncommon.”

Jin Ling paled and shuddered. Lan Jingyi opened his mouth to ask a question when Lan Zhan spoke.

Wangliang,” he said, eyes flicking between Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng. “Wangxiang.”

“Oooohhh,” Wei Wuxian drawled, tapping his index finger against the side of his nose. He nodded slowly. “That sounds about right, Lan Zhan. An exorcism should do the trick then.”

“We already tried that,” Jiang Cheng said with a shake of the head. “It didn’t work. How do you think so many of my cultivators died?”

Wei Wuxian frowned.

“Hmmm. . . Do you know what kind of exorcism they tried?”

“No.”

“It was probably the standard one then. Let me try my one-and-only Wei Wuxian Method and if that doesn’t work then we’ll think of something else.”

Jiang Cheng narrowed his eyes.

“And what’s this method of yours look like exactly?”

“It’s a secret, Jiang Cheng!” Wei Wuxian said with a playful wink. “Although I’ll need some help setting everything up once we get to the rice paddies. Before then I should be able to do everything by myself.”

“Are you sure?”

“Mhmm!”

“Wei Ying—” Lan Zhan began, but Wei Wuxian laid a hand on his arm to cut him off.

“It’s all right, Lan Zhan,” he said, squeezing his husband’s arm lightly in reassurance. “It will be fine. Meanwhile, why don’t you teach the junior disciples how to deal with a demon of this caliber?”

Lan Zhan stared at Wei Wuxian for a few long moments, carefully studying his face, before nodding.

“Very well,” he said. “We leave in two days.”

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Chapter Text

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Two days later, at sundown, the cultivators set out for the rice paddies some distance from Lotus Pier. They were about three hours away from the main town and city, so horses had been distributed to the more prominent members of the group and a large cart filled with necessary supplies for a “Wei Wuxian Exorcism”, as well as backup materials and food, was being pulled by two donkeys, both of which were being led by Wen Ning. The young Ghost General had arrived at Lotus Pier yesterday evening, having been attending to some business of his own when Wei Wuxian had sent for him. He had arrived promptly, of course, ever faithful to his young master’s and friend’s bidding and commands. Jiang Cheng and Jin Ling still did not fully approve of the presence of the Ghost General, so stayed some distance away from him, eyeing him distrustfully as he led the cart.

“Young Master, do you think everything will be all right?” Wen Ning asked, looking over his shoulder at Wei Wuxian. The cultivator was laying back in the cart, soaking in the pleasant summer weather of Yunmeng as he chewed on a long piece of grass. He waved a hand at Wen Ning’s question.

“Of course, of course! This will be easy! We have so many talented people here, Wen Ning. Besides it’s just one demon!”

Wen Ning hummed nervously.

“But it’s already killed nine people,” he said. “It’s incredibly ferocious.”

“With all of us here it will be fine!” Wei Wuxian said, and he smiled disarmingly, trying his best to assuage Wen Ning’s worries. “Relax, fearsome Ghost General,” he teased, “everything will work out. Nothing will go wrong.”

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Wei Wuxian cursed as he rolled onto his feet, spitting blood and mud out of his mouth. Nothing will go wrong, my ass, he thought bitterly, pulling a talisman from his sleeve and setting it alight. It seemed the gods were conspiring against him today. Ever since they had first arrived in this accursed village, everything had gone sideways.

First, half of their food had disappeared along the trail at some point. Nobody knew exactly when or how it had vanished, but the fact remained that it was gone and there was not enough for everyone. So, the remains had to be rationed among both the cultivators and the hungry villagers, most of whom were too terrified to leave their houses. As a result, the rice paddies had been overgrown with weeds or eaten by wild animals. It looked more like a swamp than a rice paddy, which really put a damper on Wei Wuxian’s exorcism plans. That had been the second problem.

The third, and most prominent, was that there was more than one demon. There were more than two demons. There were more than three. No, there were six. Six! Normally multiple enemies wouldn’t be a problem, as Wei Wuxian could call upon the resentful energy of the recently dead in the area and have them assist in the exorcism without putting the junior cultivation disciples at risk. However, demons could easily destroy any walking corpse, so using them in this situation had been a no-go since the beginning. They had to rely on themselves — living human beings — for the best results. 

Wei Wuxian watched in horror as a Jiang sect cultivator was all but gutted by a demon, blood spilling from the gaping wound like a waterfall, accompanied by pale pink intestines and acrid stomach contents. The cultivator gurgled on a cry, shocked eyes staring down at the demon hand embedded in his abdomen, before the demon’s too long lips pulled up in a smile and it wrenched its hand from the man’s body. He fell noiselessly to the ground, eyes unseeing in death. 

Distressed but planning his next move, Wei Wuxian examined the rice paddy-turned-battlefield with sharp eyes. Bodies had dropped all around, most of them older Jiang and Lan cultivators, and Wei Wuxian silently thanked whatever god was still on his side that none of the junior disciples had been injured or killed. The demons, although as small as a three-year-old child, were fast and vicious, showing no mercy to anyone close enough to them to kill.

When reporting the incident to the Clan Leader, the villagers had left out the very, very important fact that the demons had perpetually smiling mouths full of razor-sharp teeth, lending them an incredibly dangerous bite. Their eyes shone red under shiny black hair and their arms, although thin and frail-looking, were incredibly strong. Disturbingly, and what was giving the cultivators the most trouble, were the nearly foot long nails that hung off each finger. They were discolored and chipped but remained sharp, in all ways acting as dagger. The demons used them to slice, stab, pierce, and grab, and had perfected it to a science. Wei Wuxian flinched as a Lan Sect cultivator’s throat was slashed open.

He crouched down a bit in the mud, thinking through his options and watching the events unfolding in front of him carefully. Although the demons were undeniably strong, they had weaknesses. They had terrible eyesight and could only kill things that were in close range. Secondly, they were quick but only for short spurts of time; two minutes seemed to the maximum amount they could run at full speed. Thirdly, as long as you weren’t fighting a demon by yourself, they were relatively easy to fend off; not to kill, but to fend off. If they could get all the demons into one kind of array and then surround them as a group, then maybe they would have a chance. . .

Wei Wuxian’s eyes flicked to a few movements off to the side. On the left, Lan Zhan and Jiang Cheng were fighting three demons, Jiang Cheng wielding Zidian in one hand and Sandu in the other. Wen Ning was helping, tossing demons to the side whenever he could. Lan Zhan whipped around Jiang Cheng and Wen Ning, white robes billowing about his ankles, Bichen slashing at the demons whenever they escaped Jiang Cheng’s or Wen Ning’s reach.

Wei Wuxian looked to the right and saw the young Lan Clan disciples and Jin Ling surrounding two other demons, swirling around them in a perfectly executed dance. Swords and arrows were aimed with precision and the junior disciples dodged blows from the demons easily, much to Wei Wuxian’s relief.

He turned quickly, still crouched in the mud, and began to draw a swift array. It was rough and messy, not at all like the perfect arrays he preferred to create, but it would have to do. When he was finished, he stood up and waved his hands wildly, garnering the attention of everyone.

“Over here!” he called, jumping up and down. “Get all the demons into this array! Hurry, hurry!”

The others yelled out their understanding and began to herd the demons towards the array Wei Wuxian had made. He counted them out as they came, tossing talismans onto their bodies as they stepped their way into the array. One, two, three, four, five. . .

Five.

Wait. Where was the sixth one? Hadn’t there been six?

“Sizhui!” Wei Wuxian called, voice pitched high in alarm. The other cultivators had set their swords and other spiritual weapons into the outer circle of the array to create a barrier that prevented the demons from leaving, but all Wei Wuxian could think about was the missing demon. “Sizhui, where’s the last demon?!?”

The boy turned huge eyes onto him, concentration on the array almost breaking. A yell from Jingyi was the only thing that kept the barrier from shattering.

“I don’t know!!” Sizhui yelled over a demon shriek. “I thought they were all here!” He turned, black hair flowing around his shoulders. “Hanguang-jun—?” he began but cut himself off when he noticed the empty space beside him; his teacher was no longer there. There was only one reason Hanguang-jun would leave the array and that reason was—

“Senior Wei! Look out!!”

Wei Wuxian saw Sizhui’s eyes go wide and his hand reach out in vain for him as he cried out his warning. Out of the corner of his eye, Wei Wuxian finally saw the sixth demon. It was the fastest and most vicious one — of course it was— and it was coming for him, who was standing alone, vulnerable, and away from the group.

An easy target.

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Chapter Text

Last chapter: An easy target.

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Wei Wuxian cursed the gods (again) for his bad luck and braced himself for the inevitable tug of nails in flesh, of the bite of teeth into bone, but it never came. Instead there was a flash of white, the sound of a zither followed by the crack of wood, a soft cry that Wei Wuxian recognized from his nightmares, and the dying shriek of a demon.

Hanguang-jun!!” a flurry of voices screamed, and above them an alarmed cry of, “Young Master!” 

“Stop!” a voice that Wei Wuxian didn’t recognize — most likely a Jiang Sect cultivator — cried. “Stay here! Finish exorcising the remaining demons and then we can help them!”

“But—!”

“He’s right!” Jiang Cheng overrode. “Let’s hurry and finish this!”

Wei Wuxian watched as the cultivators quickly gathered enough strength to subdue the final five demons in the array and activated it to its full potential in order to kill them. As it began to glow in earnest, he looked away, eyes aching from the bright light, to the pile of white at his feet.

His eyes widened and a strangled yelp of horror escaped his lips.

Lan Zhan was lying on the ground next to him, curled loosely into the fetal position, arms drawn close to his body. He was trembling and Wei Wuxian saw with alarm that he was bleeding profusely, the white cloth of his hanfu soaked in red. He dashed forward with a cry.

 “Lan Zhan!” he cried. “Oh god, Lan Zhan!” He took stock of Lan Zhan’s injuries quickly — a terrifying gash that spanned from Lan Zhan’s right shoulder to left hip and a bite wound to the right side of his chest — and swallowed roughly. This was bad, very, very bad. “Lan Zhan, it’s okay, it’s all right.” 

Lan Zhan trembled a bit more, one hand drawing closer to his body as the other reached blindly for Wei Wuxian. The cultivator grabbed it quickly, heedless of the slick red blood that swam between their palms. He swallowed roughly at the expression on Lan Zhan’s face: his eyes were scrunched shut and his lips were turned downward into a pinched frown. He had gone disturbingly white; already his lips, although usually pale, were completely colorless.

“It’s okay, Lan Zhan, it’s all right,” Wei Wuxian babbled, squeezing Lan Zhan’s hand tight. “You’re going to be all right,tianxin.” His eyes scanned the scene, taking in the sight of the dead demon, the broken zither, and the discarded Bichen lying in the mud. He saw a torn piece of Lan Zhan’s white hanfu on the muddy ground and quickly grabbed it, promptly ripping it into pieces to use as makeshift bandages. As he did so, he rolled Lan Zhan onto his back and the cultivator bit back a moan, somehow going whiter than before. Wei Wuxian froze.

“I’m sorry, Lan Zhan, I’m sorry,” he said, stroking Lan Zhan’s forehead reassuringly. “I know it hurts. Let me make these bandages and stop the bleeding, okay?” Lan Zhan nodded weakly, eyes still closed, and Wei Wuxian smiled. “There we go,” he said. “That’s the Lan Zhan I know.”

After a minute or so he finished making the bandages and reached forward to remove Lan Zhan’s ruined hanfu in order to better see the wounds. However, Lan Zhan flinched at Wei Wuxian’s unexpected touch, pulling away from him with a smothered whine. Again, Wei Wuxian froze, hands in the air. 

“Lan Zhan,” he said, and he made his voice soft and comforting. “Lan Zhan, I need to take the top of this hanfu off so I can bandage your wounds, okay? I know you don’t like being touched without warning — I should have told you. I’m sorry I scared you, tianxin. I’m sorry.” Lan Zhan began to breathe hard in barely suppressed pain and fear; Wei Wuxian knew it would do him no good. He scooted a little closer to his husband, making his voice even softer despite the frightened pounding of his heart. “Lan Zhan calm down. It’s okay, I promise it’s okay. I’m right here. Can you open your eyes for me?”

Lan Zhan took a ragged gasp of air and shook his head; his fingers scrabbled at his chest wound, drawing more blood to dirty his hanfu and pool underneath him in the mud. Wei Wuxian began to panic; he had never seen Lan Zhan act like this before — even when he was hurt or ill, he was always reasonable and listened to everyone’s orders, especially Wei Wuxian’s. This was the first time he had acted like this and it was frightening. Just what was happening?

As Wei Wuxian made to grab at Lan Zhan’s hand and pull it away from his wound, he heard the group of cultivators come running.

Hanguang-jun!

“Wei Wuxian!”

“Senior Wei!”

“Young Master!”

The voices seemed to come from all directions all at once and Wei Wuxian shook his head and covered his ears with his hands, folding his body over Lan Zhan to keep him safe. He knew all the voices, of course, but right now they seemed like a threat to him. Lan Zhan was bleeding out all over the ground, slashed open and bitten and scared, and all these voices were yelling so loudly, and their footsteps were stomping and pounding towards them. Wei Wuxian, frightened and acting on instinct, turned to release a powerful talisman when a hand gripped his wrist tight and stopped him. He turned, eyes wide, to see Wen Ning standing above him, shaking his head.

“Young Master,” he said, voice gentle and eyes soft, “stop it. We’re here to help you and Second Young Master Lan, not hurt you. I promise.”

Wei Wuxian’s vision suddenly cleared and he saw that it was Jiang Cheng and the junior disciples running towards them, Sizhui and Jingyi looking frantic, Jin Ling seeming unsure and afraid. Jiang Cheng stopped for a moment and pointed a few Jiang cultivators back to the cart, saying something that Wei Wuxian didn’t catch. He collapsed backwards, his wrist still held loosely in Wen Ning’s grip, as the group approached.

Hanguang-jun!!” Jingyi and Sizhui yelled at the same time, sliding to their hands and knees next to their teacher. Their eyes widened in horror and Jingyi looked as if he was immediately about to burst into tears when Jiang Cheng appeared behind them. He took one look at Lan Zhan and bit his lip.

“Jin Ling,” he said without looking up, “tell the other cultivators to bring that entire box here, not just the bandages. And more torches. We’ll need more light.”

“Yes, Uncle!”

Jin Ling dashed off without another word, leaving the others surrounding Lan Zhan. Jiang Cheng knelt next to Lan Zhan and carefully grasped his wrist, ignoring the cultivator’s short, frightened gasp at the touch.

“Jiang Cheng—” Wei Wuxian began, but Jiang Cheng didn’t let him finish. 

“Wei Wuxian, get him to calm down. His pulse is fast and thready — he’s losing too much blood. He can’t afford to lose much more.” He looked up at Wen Ning, saying something that Wei Wuxian didn’t hear over the pounding of his heart in his ears. He nodded dumbly at Jiang Cheng, the words “losing too much blood” echoing in his skull, and then scooched to Lan Zhan, pulling his head into his lap. He looked down at him with a small, shaky smile, drawing patterns on his cheeks.

“It’s all right, Lan Zhan, help is here. You’re safe now, I promise.” He took a deep breath, continuing to draw lightly on Lan Zhan’s skin, before leaning over and planting a soft kiss to his forehead. “It’s all right, you’re okay.”

“Wei Wuxian—” Jiang Cheng’s voice began, but Wei Wuxian held out a hand to cut him off without looking up.

“Can you calm down for me, Lan Zhan?” he whispered, lips brushing softly against Lan Zhan’s brow. “I know it’s scary and that it hurts, but you need to calm down.” He laughed hollowly. “You’ve been through worse than this, silly, I know,” he said. “I know for a fact you fought off all those Wens when they attacked the Cloud Recesses and then went and broke your leg. And then you walked around on it too! Silly Lan Zhan, that must have been worse than this!” He drew a quick character on Lan Zhan’s cheek. Please. “And fighting the Black Tortoise was worse than this too. Now stop being a drama queen and calm down.”

Wei Wuxian didn’t move from his spot, lips still on Lan Zhan’s forehead, as he fell silent. He waited for a few tense moments, Lan Zhan’s muscles drawn taut under his touch, before the cultivator began to melt, breathing becoming easier. Wei Wuxian sighed in relief, and, behind him, he heard the others do the same.

“There we go, Lan Zhan, good job!” Wei Wuxian kissed Lan Zhan’s forehead again and then leaned back, looking at the people surrounding them. He was surprised to see Wen Ning and Jiang Cheng kneeling next to each other, working carefully to stop the bleeding from Lan Zhan’s wounds. Wei Wuxian realized belatedly that at some point they had removed Lan Zhan’s top and were efficiently stopping the bleeding using spiritual energy, then proceeding to bandage the wounds quickly.

Next to them, Sizhui and Jingyi each had one of Lan Zhan’s wrists, fingers curled loosely around his pulse. Sizhui seemed intensely focused on the task, eyes never leaving Lan Zhan for a moment, but Jingyi was all but sobbing; he was holding onto Lan Zhan more for his own comfort than for any real reason.

Wei Wuxian laid a hand firmly across Lan Zhan’s forehead and took Jingyi’s hand with the other. Jingyi startled at the touch but then smiled wetly at Wei Wuxian.

“S-Sorry, Senior Wei,” he stammered.

“No, no, there’s nothing to be sorry for!” Wei Wuxian said, shaking his head furiously. “It’s scary! I don’t blame you!”

The boy nodded slowly, and Wei Wuxian squeezed his hand in reassurance before Lan Zhan bucked underneath him, a startled cry bleeding from his lips. He bit his lip to smother the sound — even in pain retaining those ridiculous Lan Clan rules about silence — and reached up for Wei Wuxian, eyes scrunched shut. Wei Wuxian hurriedly released Jingyi, grasping Lan Zhan’s hands tightly. He almost gasped; Lan Zhan’s grip was so tight he swore the man was going to break his fingers.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Wei Wuxian murmured. “You’re okay.” He raised one of Lan Zhan’s lovely porcelain hands to his cheek, lovingly stroking his long, delicate fingers, and looked up at Jiang Cheng and Wen Ning, who remained huddled over Lan Zhan’s torso, seemingly unaware of the agony he was in.

Wei Wuxian felt anger surge in him.

“Can’t you be gentler?” he demanded. “You’re hurting him!”

Jiang Cheng just snorted and shook his head, tying a bandage off tightly against Lan Zhan’s hip. Lan Zhan didn’t cry out this time, but his fingers trembled violently against Wei Wuxian’s cheek.

“Jiang Cheng, stop it, you’re—!”

“Wei Wuxian, did all your field training go flying out of the window?” Jiang Cheng snapped; he turned to Wei Wuxian fully, leaving the bandaging to Wen Ning. “You know I can’t tie loose bandages on him! That wouldn’t do shit to stop the bleeding, would it?!”

Wei Wuxian blinked and then slowly shook his head, knowing that Jiang Cheng was right.

“No. . .” he murmured.

“Look, Wei Wuxian.” His brother spoke again, voice softer this time. “I know that you’re worried, and you have every right to be, but you need to stay calm and clear-headed. He needs you to stay calm and clear-headed. Do you understand?”

Wei Wuxian didn’t respond but looked down at his husband in his lap who was deathly pale, breaths coming in frightening gasps. His eyes were screwed shut and it was obvious he was trying to school his expression into one neutral and free of pain, but the tears leaking from his closed eyelids and the cold sweat breaking out on his skin betrayed him. Wei Wuxian sighed, squeezed his hand, and leaned forward to kiss his forehead. 

“I know it hurts, Lan Zhan, but you have to hang on a little longer, okay?”

Lan Zhan gasped raggedly, more tears falling from his eyes. 

“Wei Y-Ying. . .”

“I know, Lan Zhan, I know.” He silently thumbed the tears away, and, without looking up, spoke to the others. “Who’s the fastest at sword flying?”

“I am!” Jingyi cried, hopping to his feet.

“Good. Then Jingyi will fly ahead to Lotus Pier to alert a physician we are coming.” Wei Wuxian looked up again, making eye contact with Jiang Cheng. “Is Yan-daifu still around?” he asked. He remembered the revered physician from his youth, recalled his long grey beard and twinkling grey eyes, his gentle and professional touch that cared for both his injuries and illnesses. That physician had always made him feel safe, made a warm and reassuring feeling blossom in his chest.

 One that was quickly dashed by Jiang Cheng. 

“No, but his apprentice, Liu-daifu is,” he said. “I’d dare say she is more talented than he is.”

Wei Wuxian raised his eyebrows, remembering the young woman who stood stoically at Yan-daifu’s side, but hummed in approval nonetheless.

“All right. Then Jingyi, fetch this Liu-daifu and bring her to Lotus Pier immediately. Inform her of Lan Zhan’s injuries and tell her to be prepared for anything.” 

Jingyi’s eyes widened.

“Anything?” he echoed, voice cracking.

“Yes, that’s right.” Wei Wuxian looked around and pointed at Jin Ling, who had hung some distance behind. “Jin Ling, go with him.”

Jin Ling’s eyes darted to his uncle, and, when he nodded his approval, the boy jerked his head. Without further preamble, the two boys jumped onto their swords and disappeared into the sky, a few Jiang cultivators following them upon Jiang Cheng’s instruction.

When they turned back, Wen Ning was drawing a dark purple blanket over Lan Zhan’s body, careful to avoid aggravating the wounds further.

“We can head back to Lotus Pier now, Young Master,” Wen Ning said. “I have finished the bandaging and stopped the bleeding for now.”

“All right,” Wei Wuxian said. He smiled gratefully at Wen Ning and Jiang Cheng. “Thank you both,” he said. “Really.”

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Chapter Text

Last chapter: “All right,” Wei Wuxian said. He smiled gratefully at Wen Ning and Jiang Cheng. “Thank you both,” he said. “Really.”

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They returned his smile and the three men lifted Lan Zhan from the ground, trying their best not to hurt Lan Zhan further. Unfortunately, Lan Zhan keened miserably at the movement and writhed in their grip, nearly crashing to the ground. It was only Wei Wuxian’s tight grip that kept him from falling.

“Ah, Lan Zhan!” He cradled his husband close, trying to support his full weight in his arms. Although Lan Zhan was tall and thin, he was by no means a frail man. He was built of strong, lean muscle, which made him quite difficult to carry, and it was only Wei Wuxian’s own strength that kept him from dropping Lan Zhan back on the ground. Instead, he just fell to his knees, Jiang Cheng and Wen Ning supporting him, so the impact didn’t jar Lan Zhan.

“Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, calm down,” Wei Wuxian said, pulling Lan Zhan close. “Calm down, love.” Lan Zhan struggled feebly against him, trying to free his arms from the blanket, and Wei Wuxian suddenly understood. “Ah, I see. Just a second, Lan Zhan, just a second.” He looked up at Sizhui. “Ah-Yuan,” he said, slipping into the boy’s old name by accident, “could you take the blanket off your father, please?”

Jiang Cheng opened his mouth to object to Wei Wuxian referring to Lan Zhan as Sizhui’s father, but the boy just nodded in silent agreement, simply folding back the top of the blanket and freeing Lan Zhan’s arms. Instantly, Lan Zhan tried to fight, flailing fists nearly landing a punch on Sizhui’s jaw, but Wei Wuxian caught his wrists before he could injure the boy. He shared a look with Sizhui, and the boy took Wei Wuxian’s place, holding Lan Zhan’s wrists as Wei Wuxian pulled his hands away to reach into the breast of his black and red hanfu.

Hanguang-jun,” Sizhui said, squeezing Lan Zhan’s wrists lightly to both comfort and get his attention, “Hanguang-jun, please look at me.”

Lan Zhan, whose eyes had been latched onto Wei Wuxian’s pale, familiar face, found it in him to look away from his husband and over to the boy who was all but his son.

“S-Sizhui. . .”

Sizhui’s shoulders slumped in relief and he released Lan Zhan’s wrists, instead moving to grasp his fingers tightly. He smiled. 

Hanguang-jun,” he said, “it’s all right. It will be all right. We’re taking you back to Lotus Pier now.” 

Lan Zhan dipped his head in understanding and squeezed Sizhui’s fingers. His eyes, clouded and unfocused, drifted about the faces surrounding them. “Wei Ying. . .?” he murmured.

“I’m right here, tianxin,” Wei Wuxian answered, sparing a hand to pat Lan Zhan’s head gently. “Wen Ning get the cart,” he said to the Ghost General without looking up. “He won’t be able to sword fly there.”

“I can hold him—” Jiang Cheng began to offer, but Wei Wuxian just shook his head. 

“No, he won’t like that. He’ll fight you and I can’t risk you dropping him.” Wei Wuxian looked up briefly and smiled softly at Jiang Cheng. “It’s not that I don’t trust you, Jiang Cheng,” he said. “Quite the opposite actually. It’s just that Lan Zhan is upset and hurt, and it seems like he doesn’t want to be away from me.”

“W-Wei Ying. . .”

“I’m right here, Lan Zhan, look,” Wei Wuxian said, and he leaned over Lan Zhan’s face, making sure that Lan Zhan’s golden eyes were looking at his own. Although hazy and confused, Lan Zhan still recognized him, and he relaxed when he saw his husband’s face so close.

“W-Wei Yi. . .”

“Look what I have, Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian cried, and he whipped out a long white ribbon from the breast of his red and black hanfu, brandishing it at Lan Zhan’s face, so close it was nearly touching his nose. At first Jiang Cheng didn’t recognize it, but when Lan Zhan relaxed and Wei Wuxian began to wrap it around his husband’s wrist, he knew what it was. His eyes widened and he gaped at Wei Wuxian.

“Is that. . . Do you. . .?”

Wei Wuxian laughed.

“You act like you’ve never seen a Lan Clan forehead ribbon before, Jiang Cheng!” he said, knotting the white ribbon firmly around Lan Zhan’s wrist before tying the other end to himself. 

“Of course, I’ve seen them!” Jiang Cheng scoffed. “I just. . . didn’t think you had one.”

“I married into the Lan Clan, Jiang Cheng, I would obviously have one,” Wei Wuxian said, rolling his eyes. He smiled at Lan Zhan; the smile did not reach his worried eyes, but it seemed to help Lan Zhan relax. “There we go, Lan Zhan, it’s all right. It’s all right.”

Wen Ning reappeared then, leading Little Apple with the cart in tow.

“Young Master,” he said simply, bobbing his head towards the cart. Wei Wuxian nodded. 

“Thank you, Wen Ning.” He looked back down at Lan Zhan and squeezed his hand tightly. “Lan Zhan, you’re going to rest on the cart now and we’ll head back to Lotus Pier.” Lan Zhan opened his mouth, but Wei Wuxian spoke over him. “I’ll sit in the cart with you, tianxin, it’s all right. I know you want me too.” Lan Zhan relaxed a bit and Wei Wuxian smiled. “Besides, I’m tied to you, silly!” he said, holding up their wrists entwined by the Lan Clan forehead ribbon. “I can’t go anywhere.” Lan Zhan nodded and blinked a few times before his eyes fluttered closed completely, as relaxed as the situation allowed. With a sigh, Wei Wuxian swept some of his black hair from his sweat-soaked face and then looked up at his brother and Wen Ning. “Would you help me?” he asked.

Without a word, Jiang Cheng and Wen Ning helped Wei Wuxian to his feet, Lan Zhan held firmly against his chest, then helped them both onto the cart. Wen Ning had moved most of the exorcism supplies to the head of the wooden cart, leaving plenty of room in the back for Lan Zhan to lay down and Wei Wuxian to comfortably sit next to him. Blankets lined the hard wooden floor of the cart and a soft yellow blanket that Wei Wuxian recognized as Jin Ling’s had hastily been rolled into a pillow. Smiling softly, Wei Wuxian reminded himself that he would have to thank his nephew later.

With the utmost care, Wei Wuxian laid Lan Zhan down in the cart, careful not to jostle or jar him. He kept most of his support under his husband’s torso, since that was where the wounds were located, but kept one arm looped under his shoulders, keeping Lan Zhan’s skull firmly cupped in his palm. As he laid Lan Zhan down, Wei Wuxian began to carefully slip his hand from his husband’s hair, levering his head down onto the makeshift pillow beneath. However, as he pulled away, Lan Zhan grabbed his sleeve. 

“What is it?” Wei Wuxian asked, worried. His eyes skirted quickly over Lan Zhan, searching the bandages for spots of blood. “Where does it hurt? What’s wrong?” 

Lan Zhan just shook his head and clutched Wei Wuxian’s sleeve tighter. 

“Don’ go. . .”

Wei Wuxian’s eyes softened and he felt his heart nearly break in half. He didn’t pull his hand from Lan Zhan’s hair, letting it remain in its uncomfortable position between the pillow and his head — where it was already falling asleep — and gently disengaged Lan Zhan’s fingers from his sleeve. Lan Zhan whined softly at first — a sound he usually only made in the throes of a nightmare — before Wei Wuxian just entwined his fingers with his own.

“I’m not going anywhere, Lan Zhan, I promise,” he said, trying to smile; he could feel the hot pricks of tears building behind his eyes and he blinked them back — Lan Zhan couldn’t see him cry now, he needed him to be strong, he couldn’t know how scared he was. “I’m right here.” He squeezed Lan Zhan’s fingers and nodded at Jiang Cheng, Wen Ning, Sizhui, and the other cultivators surrounding the cart, who all had their packs strapped to their backs, prepared to leave. Some, especially the Lan Clan cultivators, kept glancing nervously towards the cart and then would whisper to each other or fidget, clearly anxious to get moving; Wei Wuxian could relate.

“Are you ready, Senior Wei?” Sizhui asked and Wei Wuxian nodded, squeezing Lan Zhan’s hand reassuringly.

“Let’s go,” he said, and they took off without further delay.

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Chapter Text

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Jingyi jumped off his sword before it had even stopped, much to Jin Ling’s shock and alarm. He opened his mouth to protest, reminding the other boy to be careful — the last thing they needed was someone else getting hurt — but the young Lan cultivator was already dashing up the path to the physician’s home before Jin Ling could get a word out, his ponytail whipping across his face. He was knocking furiously on the gate, calling for the physician or an apprentice or anyone, by the time Jin Ling came to stand next to him. 

“Jingyi,” Jin Ling said, frowning, “you need to—”

Before he could finish speaking, the gate opened to reveal a young man dressed in nightclothes, a purple robe tossed casually over his shoulders. He had clearly just woken up, if his disheveled black hair and slightly annoyed expression was anything to go by, but he seemed slightly used to people waking him up in the middle of the night. He was holding a lantern in front of him, the paper patterned with lavender magnolias. 

“Yes?” he said, smothering a yawn. “What do you want?”

“We need Liu-daifu!” Jingyi cried, voice urgent. “It’s an emergency!”

The young man just looked at them, bored.

“Are you from Lady Man’s family?” he said. “Liu-daifu said that if her labor starts, then you should call for the midwife. There’s no need to call for Liu-daifu in the middle of the night.” He began to close the gate, but Jingyi stuck out his hand, keeping it open.

“We’re not from some random family!” he cried, angry. “Don’t you recognize these clothes? Our motifs?”

The young man held the lantern a bit higher and then his eyes widened.

“You. . . You’re a Lan Clan Cultivator.” His eyes then flicked to Jin Ling and he bowed. “Young Master Jin!” he cried, hastily falling into a bow. “Forgive me, I didn’t recognize you!”

“It’s fine,” Jin Ling said, although he was deeply annoyed. “Where’s your mistress? We need her.”

The young man fidgeted, looking uncomfortable.

“Um. . . she’s sleeping,” he said. “She told me not to wake her unless it was an emergency.”

“Well this is an emergency so wake her up.”

“But—”

“The Second Lord Lan is badly wounded,” Jingyi said, voice terse and clipped. “There’s no time to waste standing here. Isn’t your mistress a physician? Wake her!”

The young man nodded and bowed. 

“Of course, Young Master. Just a moment.” He ran off then, disappearing into an elaborate herb garden before jumping onto a porch.

Jin Ling turned to Jingyi then and saw that he was pale and tense, his expression pinched with worry. There were dried tear-tracks on his face. Jin Ling reached out a hand before letting it fall to his side.

“Are. . . are you all right?” he asked quietly, unsure.

“Fine,” Jingyi murmured, not looking at Jin Ling.

Jin Ling frowned.

“Jingyi—”

“Young Master Jin, this had better be a real emergency or I swear I’ll beat you myself.”

A woman’s voice floated from the porch of the house that stood above the herb garden, strong and imperious. Jin Ling and Jingyi turned at the sound, looking up and seeing who had spoken.

Standing there was a tall woman dressed in a loose lavender and white hanfu, the sleeves long and flowing. Her long black hair was pulled up into a man’s style topknot, pinned in place with a fine white hairpiece. She wore no makeup or jewelry besides two golden bangles: one on her left wrist, the other on her right ankle.

Her face was beautiful but pinched with annoyance and some other emotions that Jingyi couldn’t quite place, and she had sharp and intelligent blue eyes. When she saw the two young cultivators staring at her, she raised a thin eyebrow and glared at them.

“Well?” she said. “What’s this emergency? Zhao-er didn’t tell me any details.”

Jin Ling and Jingyi fell into hasty bows, and, much Jin Ling’s shock, Jingyi prostrated himself completely.

“Liu-daifu, please help us!” Jingyi cried, pressing his forehead to the ground. “My teacher, Hanguang-jun, has been badly wounded during a night hunt near Jiangsu. He needs medical attention badly! His cultivation partner sent me here to alert you and ask for your help.” He looked up at the physician, clasping his hands together. “Please help us, Liu-daifu!”

Liu-daifu looked down at the boy in front of her, on his knees, begging desperately for her help, before smiling softly. She laughed and the boy looked up, startled.

“Child,” she said, “I am a physician. It is my duty to help the injured and ill. Get up.” Jingyi clambered to his feet and wiped the dirt from his white robes. The physician eyed him. “Hanguang-jun, you said?”

“Yes, Liu-daifu.”

“From the Gusu Lan Clan?”

“Yes.”

“And that makes you one of their junior disciples, I suppose?”

“Yes, Liu-daifu. My name is Lan Jingyi.”

“Mm.” She nodded and then looked at Jin Ling. “Is Clan Leader Jiang with Hanguang-jun, then?”

“Yes, Liu-daifu,” Jin Ling answered. “They’re making their way back now.”

The physician hummed thoughtfully.

“Jiangsu is about three hours from here,” she said. “That should give me enough time to prepare.” She looked at the boys again. “He’ll be taken to Lotus Pier, I suppose?” 

“That’s correct, Liu-daifu.” Jin Ling licked his lips before speaking nervously. “Wei Wuxian — my uncle — said. . . he said to be prepared for anything.”

The physician raised an eyebrow and her entire posture went stiff, like an bowstring drawn taut to fire. 

“Prepared for anything?” she repeated, voice urgent. “What do you mean? What are his injuries? Tell me.”

Jingyi told the physician what happened and how badly his teacher had been injured in halting, broken words, fighting back tears, and, by the time he was finished, was terrified to see that she was pale. 

“You should have told me all of this first!” she yelled at them. She turned to the young man who had greeted them at the gate, speaking quickly to him. “Zhao-er, quickly get me my medicine chest and all the trauma medical supplies we have.”

“Yes, Liu-daifu.” He disappeared quickly and the physician turned back to the boys, stepping off the porch and sliding on her shoes.

“How long has it been since Hanguang-jun was injured?” she asked them.

“Um. . .” Jin Ling paused and exchanged a look with Jingyi before speaking. “About an hour, I guess.”

“All right, then by the time he gets here, we’ll be cutting it close.” She ran a hand over her face, avoiding the pale faces of the boys in front of her. “Damn cultivators,” she muttered, “always getting themselves hurt and poisoned.”

“Poisoned?” Jingyi yelped. “What are you talking about?”

Liu-daifu threw him a withering look.

“Did you pay any attention in lectures?” she asked. “Demons are poisonous. They don’t just injure you superficially. Their bites and nails are filled with all kinds of resentful energy, it’s basically a leech.” She sighed and looked up at the moon. “I wouldn’t be surprised if by the time he gets here he’s on death’s door.” 

Jingyi made a small, terrified noise and weaved, and would have fallen if not for Jin Ling.

“Whoa!” Jin Ling cried, surprised. “Jingyi, are you okay? Jingyi?”

“He. . . Hanguang-jun might die. . .” Jin Ling was shocked to see fresh tears on his friend’s face and he shifted uncomfortably, not sure what to do; he was never very good at dealing with emotions.

Much to his surprise, the physician huffed.

“Not if I have anything to say about it,” she said, placing her hands on her hips. She turned when she heard her apprentice returning with two heavy wooden boxes in tow, slightly out of breath. He slid to a stop at her side, handing her one of the boxes with a small bow.

“Is everything in here?” she asked, and when the young man nodded, hummed in approval. “Then let’s go,” she said. “We have a lot of stuff to set up at Lotus Pier if we’re going to save your Hanguang-jun and we don’t have time to waste.”

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Chapter Text

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Halfway to Lotus Pier, Lan Zhan began to fidget in the cart. At first, Wei Wuxian figured it was just because of the hard wooden surface he was lying on compounded with the pain of his wounds that was making him uncomfortable, so he added a few more blankets, eager to ease Lan Zhan’s discomfort. However, Lan Zhan only grew more anxious and upset as time passed, clinging to Wei Wuxian’s hands and sleeves convulsively, sometimes trying to pull at the bandages covering his chest. This behavior, odd for anyone, but especially for Lan Zhan, had increased in the past half hour, and it was making Wei Wuxian incredibly uneasy. 

“Shh, shh,” he soothed, pulling Lan Zhan’s hands away from his bandages for the fifth time in as many minutes. “Easy, Lan Zhan, it’s okay, you’re all right.” Lan Zhan just moaned and tried to tug his hands from Wei Wuxian’s grip, keening miserably when he failed. Wei Wuxian felt his heart break more, a feat which he thought was impossible. “Lan Zhan, tianxin, it’s okay, it’s okay, shh. Can you open your eyes for me?” 

Lan Zhan did not, instead only trying to pull his hands away from his husband again. At the distressed moan that left his lips at his failure, Sizhui appeared at the side of the cart.

“Senior Wei,” he said, face creased with concern, “is Hanguang-jun all right?”

Wei Wuxian forced a smile at Sizhui.

“He’s fine, just a bit upset,” he said.

Sizhui frowned at his teacher, who was all but writhing on the cart, fighting Wei Wuxian’s gentle hands.

“Does he have a fever?”

Wei Wuxian shook his head.

“No, if anything he’s cold,” he said, palming his husband’s forehead and wiping away the sweat that had gathered against his too-cool skin. Lan Zhan turned towards the warmth of his hand, instinctively seeking comfort. “It’s okay, tianxin,” Wei Wuxian whispered, rubbing his thumb across Lan Zhan’s cheekbone. “It’s all right.”

When Lan Zhan had quieted and Wei Wuxian looked back up, Sizhui was frowning deeply, walking closer to the cart.

“Cold?” he said. “What do you mean he’s cold?”

“Just what I said,” Wei Wuxian answered, puzzled. “You know, the opposite of hot.”

But Sizhui still seemed concerned by the lack of a fever; which surprised Wei Wuxian, as fevers usually didn’t sit well with Lan Zhan, as Sizhui knew — he had the tendency to have more frequent nightmares, which made it difficult for him to get a proper night’s rest. Luckily, Lan Zhan didn’t fall ill often, and got injured even more rarely. The last time he’d been injured was during a night hunt a year and a half ago and that had been just a bad cut to his leg, which Lan Zhan had stubbornly denied was a problem until he was practically bleeding all over the Jingshi floor. Wei Wuxian rolled his eyes at the memory. Stubborn man. . .

Sizhui’s voice, speaking to Jiang Cheng, snapped him brutally out of his thoughts.

“Isn’t uncharacteristic cold one of the symptoms of demon poisoning?”

Wei Wuxian looked quickly up at Sizhui and Jiang Cheng, who were speaking softly to each other, frowning deeply. Upon Sizhui’s words, Jiang Cheng’s violet eyes, usually impassive and relatively calm, widened, and he jumped onto the cart without warning, startling both the donkeys and Lan Zhan.

“Jiang Cheng—!” Wei Wuxian cried, but his brother ignored him, pulling back the layers of blankets that covered Lan Zhan to expose his wounded torso. Wei Wuxian gaped at the sight of the previously white bandages already spotted (in some places, soaked) in red blood, and cried out again as Jiang Cheng pulled away the bandages surrounding Lan Zhan’s right chest, where he had been bitten by the demon.

Lan Zhan yelped as Jiang Cheng pulled the bandages away, dried blood coming off along with them, and swatted uselessly at Jiang Cheng. Jiang Cheng just pushed his hands away with an annoyed growl.

“Lan Wangji, stop it, you’re fine,” he said. “Calm down.”

“Jiang Cheng—” Wei Wuxian began again, but the words died on his lips as Jiang Cheng pulled the bandages away completely, revealing the wound in full. Bile lurched to his throat.

From the wound, specifically from where the teeth marks were located, thin black strands were stretching all across Lan Zhan’s chest. They were darkest at the center of the wound, and thinner and fainter in color as they spidered out in a disturbing pattern across Lan Zhan’s ribs, abdomen, and breast. Around the wound, his skin was an unearthly white, resembling frostbitten skin, and it was leaking pus and blood. A terrible smell, like putrid meat, drifted faintly from the wound. Sizhui backed up with a gag and a disgusted expression, covering his mouth and nose.

“What. . .What is that?” he asked behind his sleeve, eyes almost comically wide.

“Demon poisoning,” Jiang Cheng said, “like you guessed. It’s pretty bad too.”

Wei Wuxian felt his mouth go dry and his mind blank. He watched as Jiang Cheng leaned forward and gently slapped Lan Zhan’s cheek.

“Lan Wangji, can you hear me?” A quiet moan was all he got in response, and when Jiang Cheng looked at Wei Wuxian to make sure this was an affirmative, nodded. “Okay, good. I need you to open your eyes. I have to check something.”

Lan Zhan shook his head minutely and Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes. He threw Wei Wuxian a look.

“He’s a terrible patient,” he said. “Just like you.”

Wei Wuxian smiled faintly at Jiang Cheng before laying a hand on top of Lan Zhan’s head.

“Lan Zhan, please open your eyes. It’s okay, tianxin, I promise. Jiang Cheng just needs to make sure you’re okay. We’re taking care of you. Do you understand?"

“Wei Y-Ying. . .”

Wei Wuxian opened his mouth, but Jiang Cheng cut him off before he could speak.

“Listen to me, Lan Wangji,” he said, voice urgent and clipped. “I get that you’re scared but you won’t be able to see your Wei Ying ever again if you don’t open your eyes right now.”

At this, Lan Zhan’s eyes snapped open, black pupils blown wide in soft gold, and searched desperately for his husband’s face. Wei Wuxian immediately leaned forward, making sure he was in Lan Zhan’s eyeshot, and smiled weakly.

“It’s okay, Lan Zhan, I’m right here. It’s okay, it’s okay.” He kept his voice soft and warm for Lan Zhan’s sake, but glared at Jiang Cheng, angry that he had threatened Lan Zhan like that just so that he would open his eyes.

But Jiang Cheng wasn’t looking at him, only leaning over Lan Zhan so closely that their foreheads nearly touched. Lan Zhan whined at his proximity, clearly unnerved, but Jiang Cheng ignored him, instead placing one hand on his forehead while the other forced his right eye open all the way, index finger and thumb prying his eyelids apart.

Lan Zhan jerked, frightened, and tried to shove Jiang Cheng away, hand pushing uselessly against the Jiang cultivator’s chest. When Jiang Cheng didn’t move, instead only moving to his other eye, Lan Zhan’s gaze grew slightly frantic.

“Wei Y-Ying!” he cried hoarsely, eyes roving anxiously. Although Wei Wuxian was sitting directly above him, directly in his eyeshot, Lan Zhan didn’t seem to see him. Fighting down panic, Wei Wuxian took Lan Zhan’s hands and held them against his cheeks.

“I’m right here, love, right here. It’s okay, Jiang Cheng is just looking at your eyes.” As he said this, Jiang Cheng tsked and pulled away, waving at Wei Wuxian to show that he was done. Wei Wuxian quickly moved to lie down next Lan Zhan, pulling his husband’s head close to his chest. “It’s all done now, he’s all done. You’re all right, Lan Zhan, it’s okay.”

“Wei Y-Ying,” Lan Zhan muttered, and Wei Wuxian felt his heart lurch to his throat when the front of his hanfu began to grow damp; Lan Zhan was crying. Wei Wuxian could count on one hand the number of times he’d seen Lan Zhan cry and none of them were good. The fact that he was crying now was a bad sign.

“Shh, shh, it’s okay, Lan Zhan, it’s over,” Wei Wuxian babbled, moving so that his forehead was against Lan Zhan’s. He laid a hand in his husband’s hair and began to card his fingers through it comfortingly. “It’s okay. It’s gonna be okay.”

“Wei Ying. . .”

“I know, I know,” Wei Wuxian murmured and was relieved to find Lan Zhan looking at him with clear golden eyes, recognition on his face. He was tense and clearly in a large amount of pain, but he recognized Wei Wuxian, something he was unable to do only a few minutes ago. Wei Wuxian swept his hand through Lan Zhan’s hair again, frowning when Lan Zhan shivered.

“Are you cold?” he asked, and when Lan Zhan nodded after a pause, he sat up and began to resettle the mass of blankets over his husband. However, as he made to toss them all on Lan Zhan, Jiang Cheng’s wrist stopped him.

“Not yet,” he said. “I need to do a bit of work on that poisoned wound first.”

Wei Wuxian understood, he did, but his husband was shirtless and wounded in the cold dark night, and it was just so wrong.

“But. . . he’s cold, Jiang Cheng,” he said dumbly. He winced as soon as the words came out of his mouth. Much to his surprise, Jiang Cheng didn’t scold him or even roll his eyes. 

“I know,” he said, voice oddly soft. “Why don’t you just lay down and hold him then? That should do something to keep him warm and calm while I take care of that nasty wound.”

Despite himself, Wei Wuxian’s lips turned up in a smirk.

“Oh?” he said. “Does the great Jiang Cheng, Sect Leader of the Yunmeng Jiang Clan, want to see me and my husband cuddling?” He raised a hand and laid it over his heart, feigning shock. “Jiang Cheng, how scandalous!”

Jiang Cheng turned purple enough to match his robes before shoving Wei Wuxian down on the cart to lay next to Lan Zhan. Wei Wuxian hit his head rather hard against the wooden floor, but Jiang Cheng’s expression and Lan Zhan’s relaxed posture at the sound of his laughter was worth it.

“Shut up and let me work,” Jiang Cheng growled, and Wei Wuxian just laughed again and wrapped his arms around Lan Zhan, lending him his warmth.

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Chapter Text

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“This room should work, right?” Jin Ling asked, leading the physician and her apprentice to a large, spacious room in the middle of Lotus Pier. It had plenty of windows and open air, with dark purple curtains drawn to the side waiting to be drawn for privacy’s sake. The physician paused, a hand on her hip as she looked around the room, and Jin Ling barely bit back an annoyed groan. 

They had gone through three rooms in Lotus Pier already, each of which Liu-daifu declared was insufficient. The first had been too small, the second too dark, the third too far away from the kitchen and baths. Jin Ling was waiting for her to reject this one too, but then the physician nodded once in approval.

“This will do,” she said. She turned to her apprentice. “Zhao-er, set up all the trauma equipment we have and make sure it’s all within reach. You two,” she turned to Jin Ling and Jingyi, “I need clean sheets, boiled water, and sterile bandages.”

The boys blinked at her and Liu-daifu rolled her eyes.

“Well?” she said. “What are you waiting for? Your Hanguang-jun doesn’t have time for you to dawdle! Have the servants help you! Hurry up!”

“Yes, Liu-daifu!

Jin Ling and Jingyi took off like a shot, Jin Ling heading for the kitchens as Jingyi followed doggedly at his heels. Jing Ling knew this place like the back of his hand — he had spent most of his childhood here, after all — and Jingyi trusted him implicitly. When they reached the kitchens, they were surprised to see a group of servants already awake despite the late hour, waiting for them.

“Young Master Jin,” the head of the servants — an elderly woman — said, “what do you need?”

“Boiled water, clean sheets, and bandages.” 

“Sterile bandages,” Jingyi added, and Jin Ling nodded.

The servant dipped her head in understanding before turning to the others.

“You heard the Young Master!” she said. “Meifeng, Huian, fetch as much water as you can. Dandan and Lihua, boil it quickly.” The young women all bowed in understanding and scurried off to perform their tasks before the elderly woman turned to a group of girls. “Xiao-Chuntao, Xiao-Jie, fetch the cleanest sheets from the laundry. Make sure they are spotless! If I see a single stain, I’ll beat you senseless!”

“Y-Yes, Mistress!” the girls stammered and dashed off quickly, shaking. 

The woman turned finally to the remaining group of servants, middle-aged and older women with straight posture and perfect demeanors.

“You all need to make clean bandages. You know how to do this?”

“Yes, Mistress,” they answered in harmony, and the elderly servant waved them off without another word. Then she turned to Jin Ling and Jingyi. “Do you need anything else, Young Masters?”

They paused before Jingyi shook his head at the same time Jin Ling answered,

“Food.”

Jingyi turned to him, shocked.

“Food?” he asked, incredulous. “What for?”

“Everyone will be hungry,” Jin Ling answered. “They’ll need to eat.”

“But Hanguang-jun is injured!” Jingyi cried, clearly upset. “How can we eat when he’s injured so badly?”

Jin Ling just frowned.

“I don’t know what kind of ridiculous Lan Clan rules you have about sympathy or empathy or whatever, but the rest of us need to eat even if Second Lord Lan can’t.” Jingyi opened his mouth to object, but Jin Ling ignored him, turning to the elderly servant. “Grandma,” he said. “Make enough food for thirty people. It doesn’t matter what it is, just something to eat.”

“Of course, Young Master.” She left then with a bow, leaving Jingyi and Jin Ling standing by the kitchens.

“Let’s go back,” Jin Ling said after a moment. “There’s no point in just standing here.” He began to leave, walking back to the room the physician had occupied, but stopped when he realized Jingyi wasn’t following him. He frowned. “Jingyi?” he asked. When Jingyi didn’t move or respond, he walked back to him and gently took his elbow, trying to pull him forward; Jingyi didn’t budge. “Jingyi, what’s wrong with you? Let’s go.”

“I-I. . .” Jingyi’s voice was so quiet that Jin Ling had to strain his ears to hear him.

“Huh?” he said. “You what?” 

“I don’t want to go back there,” he said, only a bit louder. “I don’t want to see all those tools.”

“Tools?” Jin Ling frowned. “What are you talking about?” 

Jingyi’s eyes snapped to Jin Ling and the other boy nearly recoiled at the sharp panic and fear that shone behind his teary eyes. 

“Do you not know how they treat traumatic injuries, Jin Ling?” he asked, voice slightly frantic. “There’s needles and knives and scalpels and a million other sharp things. It’s terrifying!”

Jin Ling paled but squeezed Jingyi’s arm.

“Well,” he said, “maybe they won’t use that stuff on Second Lord Lan. Maybe he just needs lots of medicine to stop the bleeding, some acupuncture, and borrowed spiritual energy.”

Jingyi snorted and pulled roughly away from Jin Ling. 

“What do they teach you in Jin Clan?” he cried in disbelief. “Hanguang-jun has been poisoned! And by a demon, no less! The poison will need to be removed, which will be painful and just all sorts of awful, and, and, and,” Jingyi began to stammer, tears beginning to fall from his eyes again. “I’ve never seen wounds that deep before in my whole life. I don’t know how much blood he’s lost or if spiritual energy is enough to close them. He’ll need a lot of help and I don’t know if he’ll make it!” He collapsed forward, head colliding with Jin Ling’s chest, and began to sob. Jin Ling huffed in surprise but couldn’t find it in himself to push the other boy off of him, and instead just wrapped his arms gingerly around Jingyi and hugged him, providing what little comfort he could.

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Lan Zhan, for the first time in all of Wei Wuxian’s time of knowing him, was screaming. The broken, terrifying noise escaped his mouth like a strangled bird, the cry beginning in the back of his throat before bleeding from his colorless lips. Wei Wuxian held him tight, running his fingers through his hair as he murmured soft nonsense in his husband’s ear, wiping frightened tears from Lan Zhan’s face.

But Lan Zhan was completely inconsolable. He fought against Wei Wuxian’s gentle grip, nails scratching at his husband’s face and neck, and continued to scream in pain, all the while crying out for Wei Ying, calling for him to come back to Gusu, yelling that he was sorry, babbling all sorts of delirious nonsense. Wei Wuxian hushed him, pressing Lan Zhan’s head close to his heart, but Lan Zhan just keened and fought him.

“We’re ten minutes from Lotus Pier, Wei Wuxian,” Jiang Cheng said, and Wei Wuxian nodded without looking up at him.

“What’s happening?” he asked, voice quiet and scared, the exact opposite of what everyone expected of the powerful Yiling Patriarch, of the bubbly Wei Wuxian.

“The poison,” Jiang Cheng answered with a sigh. “Demon poisoning is always bad; it makes most people like this — delirious and trapped in nightmares. I was hoping that Lan Wangji would be a bit more immune because of his high spiritual power, but I guess I was wrong.” Lan Zhan struggled weakly against Wei Wuxian, but his husband easily held him still. Jiang Cheng bit his lip and turned to a Jiang cultivator. “Biming,” he said, “would you go ahead and see if Jin Ling has the physician at Lotus Pier? If so, alert her of Second Lord Lan’s condition and then quickly return to me.” 

“Yes, Sect Leader.” The cultivator hopped on his sword and disappeared, reappearing only five minutes later with a small pouch in his hand, his face very pale. He ran up to Jiang Cheng, handing him the pouch.

“What is this?” Jiang Cheng asked, looking inside. There were a few glowing berries in it, soft red and blue. 

“Medicinal berries, Sect Leader. Liu-daifu is worried that Second Lord Lan will be untreatable by the time we reach Lotus Pier, so she instructed me to bring these to you. She said to have him eat them.” 

Jiang Cheng nodded and poured the berries onto his palm, relieved that there were only three; it would be easier to convince Lan Wangji to eat three instead of ten or even five. He glanced up at Wei Wuxian, who has looked up from his husband’s face for the first time in an hour and was staring at the berries.

“Give them to me,” he said, holding out a hand. “I’ll give them to him.”

Jiang Cheng nodded and poured the berries onto Wei Wuxian’s palm. Wei Wuxian examined the berries for a moment before nodding, hefting Lan Zhan a bit higher against his chest. Lan Zhan cried out at the movement, distressed, hands reaching blindly out as he called for Wei Ying.

“I’m right here, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian soothed, planting a soft kiss on the crown of Lan Zhan’s head. “I’m here.” He rocked Lan Zhan for a moment, whispering something that Jiang Cheng couldn’t catch, before Lan Zhan relaxed marginally. “There we are, love. Can you eat this for me?”

A small frown settled on Lan Zhan’s face and Jiang Cheng almost laughed at its familiarity.

“Not hungry. . . Give it to Wei Ying. . . Wei Ying is always hungry. . .” He shoved Wei Wuxian’s hand away and Jiang Cheng snorted; Wei Wuxian glared at him before turning back to Lan Zhan.

“Lan Zhan,” he said, “I’ll eat after you do. Right after you.”

Lan Zhan shook his head again.

“Not ‘ungry. . .”

Wei Wuxian rolled his eyes, looked at Jiang Cheng who was watching them carefully, turned pink, and then took a deep breath.

“Lan Zhaaaannn,” he said in a tone that was clearly reserved for private matters and made Jiang Cheng want to fly into the sky immediately and never come back, “Lan Zhaaaannnn, tianxin, eat this for me and I’ll do something very nice for you.” 

Jiang Cheng yelped. 

“Wei Wuxian!” he choked, but Wei Wuxian ignored him. His trick seemed to be working — against him, Lan Zhan was relaxing and his eyelids were fluttering, as if he was trying to wake up. Eventually he gave up on that endeavor, but he opened his mouth and Wei Wuxian popped the berries in between his lips and instructed him to chew. It was an effort, which made Wei Wuxian uneasy, but eventually Lan Zhan had swallowed the berries and even accepted a sip of water. Wei Wuxian kissed his forehead again.

“Good job,” he praised. “Good job, Lan Zhan. I’m so pleased.”

“Wei Y-Ying. . .” 

“Shameless,” Jiang Cheng muttered, and Wei Wuxian glared at him. It wasn’t his fault that Lan Zhan was completely inconsolable and confused! He needed that medicine and if Wei Wuxian had to pretend to seduce him to take it, then he would do it a million times; he dared Jiang Cheng to say another word, but Jiang Cheng just looked away.

The cultivator who had brought the medicine took the empty pouch with a nod. 

“I’ll let Liu-daifu know that Second Lord Lan took the medication,” he said. He hopped on his sword and was about to fly off when Wei Wuxian called for him.

“Wait!” he called. “What does this medicine do?”

The Jiang cultivator bit his lip.

“She told me that it’s a sedative and restricts the flow of the poison for a half hour.” He seemed uneasy, like he was hiding something, and looked at Jiang Cheng out of the corner of his eye. When Jiang Cheng waved at him to continue, the cultivator sighed. “She said it’s an emergency medication that isn’t usually used since it slows breathing and heart rate.” Wei Wuxian’s eyes widened in alarm, but the cultivator spoke before he could panic. “But we’re almost at Lotus Pier, Brother Wei!” he reassured. “Liu-daifu will be able to watch him closely once we arrive.”

Wei Wuxian nodded and the cultivator hurried off, flying ahead to let the physician know that Lan Zhan had taken the medicine and that they were close to Lotus Pier. Wei Wuxian drew Lan Zhan close to his chest, noticing that indeed Lan Zhan had quieted and his breathing had slowed, and wrapped a hand around his husband’s wrist to check his pulse. Slow. 

He fought back tears and kissed Lan Zhan’s temple. 

“Almost there, tianxin,” he said. “Hang on for a while longer.”

Jiang Cheng watched them for a moment, then looked up, seeing Lotus Pier appearing on the horizon. He made eyes contact with Wen Ning, who was leading the donkeys, and the Ghost General nodded before speeding up, making double time to Lotus Pier.

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Chapter Text

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Sun Zhao, aged 19, was the one and only apprentice of Liu Qiaohui-daifu, the most respected physician in Yunmeng. She had been the only apprentice of Yan-daifu and was widely considered one of the most talented physicians in all of the cultivation world. She had studied briefly with Wen Qing, renowned doctress of the Wen clan, before the Wen Clan had been exterminated. (Liu-daifu still decried the elimination of the Wen Clan, declaring the murder of women and children cruel and inhumane. Zhao was inclined to agree.)

Liu Qiaohui had inherited the Magnolia Sect and Sun Zhao was the next head. The Magnolia Sect was a sect that had nearly perished long ago that had been extremely talented in medicine — herbal, traditional, and spiritual, among other types — and their techniques were considered both extremely rare and incredibly valuable. A single scroll of medical text from the Magnolia Sect Library would be worth at least as much as 10,000 golden Immortal Binding Nets, if not more. This was why the library was strictly guarded by a multitude of spells and talismans and only those with a special key tattooed on their wrists could enter.

The Magnolia Sect was also known for its strict inheritance practices. There was only one sect head and one apprentice at a time. They could not be blood-related, and a special ceremony had to be held in order to find the next apprentice once the old sect head had died.

Sun Zhao had been chosen as Liu-daifu’s apprentice when he was 12 and she was in her twenties. Yan-daifu had only just died, and the mourning period wasn’t even over when the young physician set up the ceremony to find a new apprentice. Sun Zhao wasn’t really expecting to be chosen — he was the son of a tailor, after all, not a cultivator like so many who came — but Liu-daifu chose him without hesitation and he had been under her tutelage ever since.

She was somewhat abrasive and could be rude, but she was kind underneath her rough veneer. She always spoke softly to patients and their families and her hands were swift and gentle. Sun Zhao was surprised by how quickly he picked up her lessons and how much he enjoyed them. By the time he was 14, he accompanied her everywhere.

He had been all over the cultivation world. From Yunmeng, where they resided, to the far away and quiet Cloud Recesses, he had spent time in every corner of every sect. He felt like he had taken care of everyone— cultivators and regular people, babies and elderly couples, rich and poor — so he had probably seen the faces of the young cultivators in front of him before.

The Young Master Jin was obviously familiar, as he was Sect Leader Jiang’s nephew, and spent a lot of time in Yunmeng and Lotus Pier; when he was younger, he often got injured, much to Liu-daifu’s annoyance. However, Zhao was rather fond of the boy, of his stubborn attitude and fiery personality, and found him rather humorous. (Not that he would say this to Young Master Jin’s face, of course.)

The boy next to him, a young Lan cultivator, was less familiar. He didn’t have the same long black waterfall of hair as the rest did; rather, his hair was short and pulled into a ponytail. He looked very young, though Sun Zhao knew he was the same age as Young Master Jin. He often heard him talking about night hunts with certain Lan boys, and Zhao figured this was one of them.

He settled clean, crisp white sheets at the foot of the bed before turning to the two young cultivators. He wiped his hands of invisible dust before nodding his head towards the door.

“Young Masters,” he said, “they’re close.”

They both startled in surprise.

“They are?” the Lan boy cried. “How do you know that?”

“Can you smell blood?” Young Master Jin yelled.

Liu-daifu, who had entered the room with an armful of bandages, snorted in disbelief.

“What the hell do they teach you these days?” she asked, laying the bandages on a wooden table and organizing them carefully. “We’re not bloodhouds, Young Master Jin, nor are we vampires.”

“Then—?”

“We can sense pained qi,” Zhao answered. “It’s close now.” He winced. “It’s quite bad too.” He looked over his shoulder at Liu-daifu and noticed that she was tense. Without turning around, she waved a hand at him.

“Stabilize Second Lord Lan and bring him here, Zhao-er,” she said, getting to her feet.

“Yes, Liu-daifu.” He rushed past Young Masters Jin and Lan, who were gaping at Liu-daifu in shock, to gather bandages, sheets, and his own medicine chest.

“You’re not coming?” Young Master Lan asked, voice cracking. “You’re not seeing him?”

“He needs pain medication badly,” the physician answered, sweeping past the two boys without looking at them. “He can’t wait for very long and I need to start preparing it now. Zhao-er is capable of getting Secord Lord Lan stabilized and here without my help.”

“But—!”

“My apprentice has been studying under me for seven years!” Liu-daifu snapped, fiery eyes glaring at the young cultivators. “He’s very skilled! Now, take him to your Hanguang-jun and stop bothering me!”

The boys nodded and the Lan cultivator grabbed Sun Zhao’s wrist, leading him swiftly towards the entrance of Lotus Pier, where a cart and a group of people were rapidly approaching.

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Jiang Cheng felt relief flood him when they finally arrived at Lotus Pier. It had felt like one of the longest rides home in his entire life and Lan Wangji’s screaming and moaning, followed by Wei Wuxian’s calming babble, did nothing to soothe his fraying nerves. If anything, he was only losing patience faster. 

This was unbearable. 

At least after Lan Wangji had eaten the berries he had gone quiet and limp in Wei Wuxian’s arms. However, he was still trembling and his brow was furrowed in pain, hands clutched around Wei Wuxian’s wrists tightly enough to leave bruises. Blood had spotted his bandages, in some places completely soaking them, but they couldn’t change them. Not only did they not have any more, but Lan Zhan had stopped letting anyone near him except Wei Wuxian, who could only rock and hold and soothe him as best he could. 

Jiang Cheng watched as Wei Wuxian, who was almost as pale as his husband, kissed Lan Wangji’s forehead, and felt worry swell in his chest. Despite everything, Wei Wuxian was still his brother, and their attempts at reconciliation had been going well. Losing Lan Zhan would wreck Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng wasn’t sure if he could get him back after that; this time Wei Wuxian would be truly gone from him, heart and soul adrift in grief and sorrow. 

“Uncle!!!” 

“Senior Wei!” 

Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian both looked up as the voices yelled and saw Jin Ling and Lan Jingyi running towards them, a young man hot on their heels. Jiang Cheng hesitated, confused, before he recognized him as Liu-daifu’s apprentice. He hopped off the cart with a frown. 

“What are you doing here?” he demanded of the young man. “Where’s Liu-daifu?” 

“Move,” the apprentice said, completely ignoring him and all propriety. He shoved past Jiang Cheng, much to his shock, leaving the Sect Leader standing next to the cart, gaping. He watched dumbly as the young man clambered onto the cart, kneeling in front of Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian. 

“Masters,” he said with a dip of his head. “My name is Sun Zhao. You can call me whatever you wish to. Most people just call me Zhao though.” 

“Who are you?” Wei Wuxian asked, pulling Lan Zhan closer to his chest. “I thought the physician was a woman.” 

“Liu-daifu is my mistress,” Sun Zhao explained patiently. “She sent me here to care for Second Lord Lan first while she prepares pain medication for him.” He forced a smile across his face. “I’m afraid he’s in quite a bit of pain, Master.”

Wei Wuxian blinked at him. 

“But. . . But you gave him a sedative. . .” he said slowly. 

Sun Zhao nodded patiently. 

“The berries were indeed a sedative, but that just makes him less. . . excited.” He winced at the word but regained his composure quickly. “He’s still in pain. I can feel it.” 

Wei Wuxian blinked huge eyes at the apprentice. 

“You can feel it?” 

“Yes, I can. I can explain how it works later, but for now can I please look at Second Lord Lan? He needs help.” 

Wei Wuxian looked down and realized that he was all but crushing Lan Zhan’s head against his chest, his husband’s breaths coming short and hot against the hollow of his throat. He blinked and then nodded, lowering Lan Zhan completely to the floor of the cart. 

“Yes, yes, of course.” 

The apprentice smiled. 

“Thank you, Master. . .?” he trailed off, unsure of Wei Wuxian’s name. 

“Oh! Wei! Wei Wuxian. This is my husband, Lan Zhan.” 

Zhao nodded and took Lan Zhan’s wrist, quickly taking his pulse as his eyes watched the rise and fall of his chest. A look of worry crossed his expression before he shuttered it away. 

“Does Second Master Lan often take medicine?” he asked, opening his medicine chest and pulling out a vial of cloudy liquid. 

Wei Wuxian shook his head and Zhao handed him the vial. 

“I thought not. Three berries were too much for him. He’s breathing far too slow.” He dipped his head at the vial. “That’s the reversal agent for overdose. Please give it to him as well as some spiritual energy.” 

Without another word, the apprentice turned back to Lan Zhan and began a more comprehensive examination, peering into his eyes and looking at his ears and the pressing the beds of his fingernails. 

Wei Wuxian didn’t move, staring at the vial in his hand. He could give this medicine to Lan Zhan, but he couldn’t give him any spiritual energy. It was gone. His Golden Core was gone. Never before had he felt the loss of it so acutely. He wasn’t able to help his husband, could just sit helplessly by his side and fear for him. It had been such a long time since he had last done this — but again he cursed Wen Zhuliu for what he taken away.

He was snapped out his thoughts by a hand on his shoulder. He looked up and saw Jiang Cheng standing above him, a soft, sad look on his face. 

“Give it to me, Wei Wuxian,” he said. “I’ll do it.” 

Wei Wuxian nodded dumbly and moved from Lan Zhan’s side, watching in silence as Jiang Cheng maneuvered the liquid medication down Lan Zhan’s throat and then poured spiritual energy into his wrist; immediately Lan Zhan began to breathe a bit faster, and Wei Wuxian slumped in relief. 

Sun Zhao hummed in approval. 

“Good,” he said. “Now I’m going to take off these bandages and get a look at the wounds. We’ll clean them inside, but I need to get an idea of what we’re dealing with.” He tugged off the bandages, careful to avoid aggravating the wounds by ripping away dried blood, then froze at the sight that met him. 

The wounds were red and inflamed, weeping blood and clear fluid, and the bite wound, located just below Second Lord Lan’s right breast, was terribly swollen, black lines from the poison already stretching all across his torso; the furthest had already curled across his right collar bone and left hip, disappearing into his ku. Sun Zhao reached forward to remove Second Lord Lan’s white kuwhen Wei Wuxian yelped and pushed him away with a harsh shove. 

“What are you doing?!” he cried, silver-grey eyes wide with confusion and horror. “You can’t just strip him!” 

“Master Wei, please, I just need to see how far the demon poisoning goes,” Sun Zhao said, lowering his voice to a comforting lilt. “I’m not taking them off completely, I promise.” 

Wei Wuxian stared at the apprentice for a moment before nodding slowly, but when Sun Zhao reached forward to remove the ku a bit more, Wei Wuxian pushed him away again. 

“Master Wei—”

“I’ll do it,” Wei Wuxian said, leaning forward and gently tugging down one side of Lan Zhan’s ku while maintaining his dignity and privacy. He was relieved (as were the others) that the black spider-webbing stopped after only a few inches. After a nod from Sun Zhao, Wei Wuxian pulled Lan Zhan’s ku back onto his hips and took a shaky breath — this was already so much, and they had barely started; what else did this apprentice have in store? 

As if reading his thoughts, Sun Zhao laid a comforting hand on Wei Wuxian’s arm. The man startled before rapidly regaining his composure, but the apprentice ignored it. 

“Master Wei,” he said, “your husband’s wounds are far too serious to treat out here. He seems stable enough with Sect Leader Jiang lending him spiritual energy to be moved inside. Young Masters Jin and Lan know where his room is.” He spoke to the boys without looking at them. “Will you show us the way?” 

“Of course!” Lan Jingyi yelled, and Wei Wuxian saw him hurriedly grab Wen Ning and the donkeys and lead them into the main part of Lotus Pier, close to the living quarters. 

Wei Wuxian felt both relief and terror sweep over him. Relief that they had made it to Lotus Pier in time to get Lan Zhan help, relief of knowing that he was in good hands here, but terror at the prospect of all that was to come. Medicine was terrifying and he had never liked it. Even Wen Qing hadn’t been able to convince him that it was all right — needles and blood and discomfort and pain — so many unpleasant things were associated with the practice. Above it all, though, hung the threat of death. It loomed large above him like a cloud, casting shadows into the soft hollows of Lan Zhan’s pale cheeks, taunting him with Lan Zhan’s pained breathing and rapid heartbeat. 

Though they were at Lotus Pier now, Lan Zhan could still die. He wasn’t okay. He wasn’t safe. 

Wei Wuxian hated it. 

“Master Wei,” Sun Zhao said, and Wei Wuxian looked up to find the apprentice looking at him with something akin to pity in his eyes. Sun Zhao was loosely holding on to both his and Lan Zhan’s wrists and Wei Wuxian quickly wrenched himself away. Sun Zhao allowed the movement, though he did not release Lan Zhan. 

“Master Wei,” he repeated. “I am the only apprentice of Liu-daifu, and we are the only practiced medical professionals in the cultivation world who can take of injuries of this caliber. Unfortunately, Second Lord Lan needs more help right now than just the two of us can give. Do you understand what I’m telling you?” 

Wei Wuxian nodded slowly. 

“You need more hands,” he said. “You need people to assist you.” 

Sun Zhao deflated at Wei Wuxian’s obvious understanding. 

“Yes, that’s correct!” he said, nodding vigorously. “We need assistance, but I don’t want anyone in the room that doesn’t have you or Second Lord Lan’s permission to be there.” 

Wei Wuxian’s head snapped up and he met Sun Zhao’s gaze with surprise. 

“Our permission?” he echoed, unconsciously laying a hand in Lan Zhan’s hair. 

“Yes,” the apprentice repeated. “Sickrooms are very vulnerable places and it is difficult for the injured or ill — and their families — to have some semblance of normalcy. Liu-daifu and I try to maintain it by keeping familiar faces around. Strangers can be overwhelming.” Wei Wuxian nodded slowly, and Sun Zhao smiled. “So?” he said. “Who would you like to be there?” 

“Jiang Cheng, Wen Ning, would you help?” Wei Wuxian asked and both men nodded without hesitating. Wei Wuxian paused for a moment and looked at the apprentice. “How many people do you need?” he asked. “Are we three enough?” 

Sun Zhao hummed thoughtfully. 

“Probably,” he answered after a moment. The cart rolled to a stop outside of large room that Wei Wuxian remembered was usually reserved for the chief cultivator (Lan Zhan had been the chief cultivator for a while, when they were first officially a couple, and they stayed in this room together before), and the apprentice jumped out, swinging his medicine chest onto his shoulder. “I’d have one more person on standby though,” he said. “Just to run errands.” 

Jingyi popped up out of seemingly nowhere, holding up his hand anxiously. 

“Me! I’ll do it, Senior Wei!” 

Wei Wuxian shook his head. 

“No, tell Sizhui.” 

“But, Senior Wei—!” 

“Jingyi.” His tone this time brooked no room for argument and Jingyi nodded slowly, knowing better than to argue. 

“Yes, Senior Wei.” He bowed and took his leave, running off to find his friend, who had been left behind with the other cultivators who had just arrived. Wei Wuxian turned back to Lan Zhan, who was quiet in the cart, breathing harsh in pain. 

“He’s hurting,” he said, voice sad. He looked up at Sun Zhao. “Can’t you do—?” 

“Yes, and that’s why I prepared pain medication inside.” Everyone turned to see the physician standing at the entrance to the room, her sleeves tied back, hands on her hips. She took one look at Lan Zhan lying in the cart, raised an eyebrow, then stepped towards him. She quickly took over Jiang Cheng’s job of lending Lan Zhan spiritual energy, simultaneously performing a cursory examination of him. She barely kept from biting her lip — he had lost a tremendous amount of blood already, his pulse was thready and fast, and his breathing was short and shallow. He was much worse off than she had expected. But she didn’t allow her face to betray her; instead, she just pulled away from the Second Lord Lan with an explosive sigh and looked at Sect Leader Jiang. 

“Well then, hurry and get him inside. No time to mess around.” 

She turned and swept back into the room, her apprentice shadowing her, leaving Wei Wuxian, Jiang Cheng, and Wen Ning to carry Lan Zhan into the room. Much to Wei Wuxian’s relief, Lan Zhan was quiet this time, not fighting them as he had in the village, and they laid him on the large bed without much of a struggle. Wei Wuxian clambered up to sit on the head of the bed, making to pull Lan Zhan’s head into his lap, when he felt the physician’s hand around his arm. He turned around, finding her glaring at him. 

“What are you doing?” she demanded, eyes narrowed. 

“What does it look like?” Wei Wuxian said, trying to tug his arm from the physician; she did not release him, and Wei Wuxian frowned. “I’m going to sit with my husband.” 

“No, you will not. You’ll be in my way.” 

Wei Wuxian’s eyes flashed and it took all his willpower not to shove the woman away from him. 

“No offense, daifu, but how is how my sitting at the head of the bed going to be in your way?” 

The physician glared at him, angrier than before, blue eyes annoyed, and Wei Wuxian was reminded suddenly of Wen Qing, when the apprentice Sun Zhao appeared at her elbow. 

“Liu-daifu,” he said quietly, “Second Lord Lan will probably be more stable if Master Wei is with him. They’re cultivation partners, after all.” 

Liu-daifu’s eyes flicked from Lan Zhan to Wei Wuxian and then back again before she dropped Wei Wuxian’s arm. Wei Wuxian frowned and rubbed at his arm where she had gripped him — why did she have to hold him so tight?! — and pouted at the physician. 

“What are you making that face for?” Liu-daifu demanded, annoyed. “Go and sit by your husband! I don’t have time to waste on your nonsense!” 

She turned around then, the skirt of her hanfu whipping around her ankles, and waved a hand at Sun Zhao. 

“Zhao-er, I need your help preparing the rest of the medications and some other things. Master Wei, I trust you can bathe your husband?” 

“Of course! Why?” 

“I can’t care for dirty wounds, idiot.” She sighed. “Get one of the young ones to help you with the bath.” Wei Wuxian opened his mouth to object, but the physician kept speaking without looking at him, as if knowing he would say something. “This is no time for modesty,” she said, voice sharp with annoyance. “And it’s not as if none of you haven’t seen a naked man before.” She huffed. “Please.” 

Wei Wuxian flushed but he turned to Jiang Cheng and Wen Ning, who were hovering by the doorway. 

“Fetch Jingyi and Sizhui for me, Jiang Cheng,” he said. “They can help.” 

Jiang Cheng nodded, looking deeply relieved that he would not be involved in the task, and Wei Wuxian breathed out a quiet laugh. He turned to Wen Ning, who was watching him cautiously. 

“I’m sorry to ask this of you, Wen Ning,” he said, “but could you help me take off his ku? I don’t know if I can do it by myself.” 

“Of course, Young Master,” Wen Ning said, moving forward and crouching next to the bed. “Tell me what to do.” 

Wei Wuxian was relieved that Wen Ning didn’t seem embarrassed or flustered by the task that Wei Wuxian had asked of him, instead only performing it with swift and calm efficiency. When Lan Zhan had been stripped, Wei Wuxian draped a sheet over the lower half of his body and squeezed his hand. 

“It’s all right, Lan Zhan,” he whispered. He wasn’t sure how much Lan Zhan could hear right now but speaking to him was sure to have some effect; besides, it was as much for himself as for his husband. He continued speaking to Lan Zhan, comforting babble that didn’t make much sense, as Wen Ning left and then reappeared with warm water and towels, Jingyi and Sizhui with him. 

“Senior Wei,” the junior disciples greeted, and Wei Wuxian looked up at their entrance. They were pale and drawn, expressions worried and frightened when they looked at Lan Zhan, and Wei Wuxian smiled at them, trying to make them feel a bit better; he knew it didn’t work, if Jingyi’s slight flinch was anything to go by. 

“Liu-daifu asked me to bathe Lan Zhan before she takes care of the wounds,” he said. “I need you two to help.”   

Sizhui’s and Jingyi’s eyes widened at being asked to assist in such an intimate task. 

“Senior Wei—” Sizhui began, but Wei Wuxian waved him off. 

“I’ll do all the private parts,” he said, laughing when both of the juniors flushed crimson. “I just need you to wash his arms and legs and such. I’m sure that’s not too much to ask?” 

“Of course not!” Jingyi cried, at the same time Sizhui asked, 

“Forgive me for asking, Senior Wei, is there a reason you can’t do this yourself?” 

“I’m not fast enough,” Wei Wuxian answered, handing a wet washcloth to Jingyi and pointing to Lan Zhan’s legs. Jingyi nodded and folded the sheet back quickly before bathing his teacher’s shins gently with warm water. Lan Zhan shivered at the unexpected touch of the water, but at a quiet coo from Wei Wuxian and a pat from Jingyi, he quieted. Wei Wuxian smiled at Jingyi and the boy beamed before returning to his task. Wei Wuxian then turned to Sizhui, holding out another wet washcloth. 

“The faster Lan Zhan is cleaned, the faster he can be cared for,” he said to the boy, who was eyeing the washcloth and hesitating. Wei Wuxian smiled. “So,” he said, “will you help me, Sizhui? For your Hanguang-jun?”

Sizhui took the washcloth then and seated himself close to the bed, angled between Lan Zhan and Wei Wuxian. 

“Not just for Hanguang-jun,” he said. “For Senior Wei, as well.” 

Wei Wuxian smiled like the sun and hugged Sizhui briefly before giving all his attention to Lan Zhan. 

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Chapter Text

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It was cold, like the Cold Spring Cave. 

It was dark too, like the cave, and he felt damp and wet like he had fallen into the water again.

But everything was slightly off.

No, Lan Zhan thought with a frown, this is wrong. It’s colder than the cave. And it shouldn’t be this dark — I can’t see anything. And when did I get wet? 

He shivered from the cold, feeling like his teeth would begin to chatter soon. It felt as though the Cold Spring Cave had frozen, snowed, and frozen over again.

His frown deepened and he tried to pull his arms close to his chest, seeking warmth.

Why was it so cold?

Hands stopped him and Lan Zhan jerked, startled.

“Shh, Lan Zhan, it’s okay, it’s okay.” Wei Ying. That was Wei Ying’s voice. He looked around the darkness surrounding him, searching for his husband, but saw nothing.

“Wei Ying?” he called, but there was no response, only the sound of his own voice echoing back to him. 

Other voices spoke this time, other voices besides Wei Ying’s.

“He seems very upset, Senior Wei. . .”

Ah-Yuan.

“Are you sure he doesn’t have a fever?”

Jingyi.

From farther away, another soft voice.

“Young Master, are you finished with the bath water?”

Wen Ning. Lan Zhan frowned at his words. Bath water? Had he been bathing? If so, it would explain why he was wet, but it didn’t explain why it was so dark and why all the other people were here. He only ever took baths by himself and with Wei Ying. . .

Wei Ying. . .

Wei Ying spoke again, his cheerful voice unusually serious and strained.

“Lan Zhan, it’s okay, it’s all right, you’re safe. Do you think you can you open your eyes for me?” he asked, and Lan Zhan felt Wei Ying’s fingers on his cheeks, drawing soft circles across his skin. Oh, he thought rather dumbly, so that’s why it’s dark. Eyes are closed.

He nodded and Wei Ying cried out in delight, squishing his cheeks and pecking his forehead with a kiss of warm lips.

“Ah, thank you, Lan Zhan, thank you!” Lan Zhan felt one of Wei Ying’s hands move to his own and entangled their fingers together, even as his other hand remained lying on his cheek.

“You’re okay, Lan Zhan, I promise. You’re safe now.”

Lan Zhan squeezed Wei Ying’s fingers.

Always safe with Wei Ying, he thought.

He pried his eyes open slowly and immediately wanted to shut them again, wanted to go back to the dark of the Cold Spring Cave, and to drag Wei Ying with him.

He screamed.

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Chapter Text

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Liu-daifu knew this had been a bad idea. But had anyone listened to her? No, of course not.

Let us wake him up and see, Liu-daifu. We should ask him how much it hurts, Liu-daifu. Blah blah blah, Liu-daifuIt was enough to drive her mad so that she finally gave in.

She hovered at her patient’s bedside, glaring at the grisly wounds as if daring the poison to spread, as Wei Wuxian slowly woke Second Lord Lan from his sedated slumber.

Liu-daifu saw what was going to happen moments before anyone else in the room did. She saw how Second Lord Lan’s entire body went tense, how his lower lip trembled, how his toes curled the slightest amount, and she lurched forward and grabbed Second Lord Lan’s wrists the same moment he began to scream. 

The junior cultivators in the room yelped — one of them began to cry — before quickly fleeing, and Sect Leader Jiang ran forward to help only to be kicked squarely in the stomach by Second Lord Lan. He doubled over in pain. 

The Ghost General, or Wen Ning as Liu-daifu had learned to call him in the past ten minutes, ran to take Sect Leader Jiang’s place at holding Second Lord Lan down.

His screams increased in intensity, and he fought Liu-daifu and Wen Ning harder, crying out for Wei Ying, and the physician huffed, borrowing some of her spiritual energy to keep him still.

“Zhao-er, the needles, please,” she said, voice deceptively calm over the broken screams of Second Lord Lan and the frantic coos of Wei Wuxian and was grateful when her apprentice appeared with acupuncture needles in tow. She grabbed one and placed it firmly in the middle of Second Lord Lan’s forehead, relieved when he immediately fell still and silent.

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian cried, voice loud in the now quiet room, and Liu-daifu hushed him. 

“No need to scream anymore, he’s fine. I just put him to sleep.”

“B-But—” 

Liu-daifu raised a delicate eyebrow. 

“But? But what? You’d rather have him screaming incoherently and fighting us like that? Master Wei, he’s inconsolable, and when he’s like that, he’s untreatable. It’s better that he’s asleep.' 

Wei Wuxian looked down at his husband. 

“Are. . . Are you sure?”

“Of course, I’m sure. I’m the physician here, aren’t I?” Without waiting for a response, she turned to Sun Zhao. “Zhao-er, bring the Blood Coagulating Grass here as well as those other herbs and the surgery kit.” She pointed at Wen Ning. “You, help him.” 

“Yes, Liu-daifu.”

Together, Sun Zhao and Wen Ning went to the other side of the room where the physician had laid out a plethora of medical supplies — healing herbs, mortar and pestle, vials of liquids, masses of bandages and basins of water, and, most concerdly to Wei Wuxian, a wooden tray lined with shining surgical tools. Another tray, already at the physician’s side, held a large number of acupuncture needles, arranged from largest to smallest, each delicately made. 

Wei Wuxian swallowed a lump in his throat at the sight and Liu-daifu turned to him, her eyes slightly softer.

“Master Wei,” she said, “I know this is difficult, but it must be done. Surely you understand?" 

Wei Wuxian nodded, head bobbing woodenly. His silver-grey eyes did not move from their place on the acupuncture needles, but his grip on Lan Zhan’s hair unconsciously tightened; the Lan cultivator’s face twisted in slight displeasure.

Liu-daifu sighed and turned to look at the wounds.

Grisly, as expected of a demon’s nails and teeth. The nail wound resembled a sword cut, approximately 4 inches across and 2 inches deep. It had sliced from the top of Second Lord Lan’s right shoulder to the upper portion of his left hipbone, and was deepest in the middle of his chest, near the sternum. With apt and gentle fingers, Liu-daifu pried the wound apart for a moment, ignoring Wei Wuxian’s cry of protest, and examined the damaged flesh.

It wasn’t poisoned in anyway, like she had been expecting, and the cut was not deep enough to reach bone anywhere on his torso. That was a relief, for treating an injury of that caliber was extremely unpleasant.

But she frowned as she ran her hand across the wound. Demon nails had an infamous reputation for being jagged and uneven, maiming muscle and flesh and sometimes leaving pieces of nail behind in a demons’ final attempts to kill. As she ran her hand over the nail wound, she stopped above Second Lord Lan’s hip, feeling strong resentful energy radiating from it.

There.

A piece of the demon’s nail had broken off there.

Of fucking course, it had. 

“Dammit,” she muttered. 

“What?” Wei Wuxian asked, voice sharp and frightened from the head of the bed. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“There’s a piece of nail here that I need to get out,” Liu-daifu answered, voice even and calm. She heard the others in the room inhale sharply but ignored them. “Unfortunately, that will need to wait, since this bite wound is far more pressing.” She turned to her apprentice. “Zhao-er, do you have the herbs ready?”

“Yes, Liu-daifu.”

“Good, then bring them here. Bring the tools as well.” 

Her apprentice rushed over and knelt next to her, laying a pungent bowl of herbs at her side, towels draped across his arm. With his free hand, he drew the tray of surgical tools to him, the silver glinting gruesomely in the rising sunlight.

Liu-daifu leaned over Second Lord Lan and peered closely at the demon bite. If possible, it looked even worse than the nail wound, inflamed and puffy, black strands of poisoning crawling from the teeth marks. She laid her hand over the wound, gauging Second Lord Lan’s reaction, and wasn’t surprised when he stiffened and whined even under the control of the acupuncture needle.

“Shh, Lan Zhan, it’s okay, it’s okay,” Wei Wuxian cooed. “She’s helping, it’s all right.” 

Liu-daifu turned her eyes back to the wound, frowning at the cold temperature and stiff feel of Second Lord Lan’s skin. How was it already so bad? She shook her head and grabbed the bowl of herbs from Zhao, dipping her fingers in the sticky tincture.

“Hold him still,” she instructed Wei Wuxian, Jiang Cheng, and Wen Ning. “He won’t like this.”

The three men nodded and did as she said without objection, Wei Wuxian firmly holding down his husband’s shoulders, Wen Ning holding his legs, and Jiang Cheng taking his arms. When she was sure that they all had a firm grip on her patient, Liu-daifu nodded at them.

Then she wiped the herbs into the bite wound.

The reaction was instantaneous and violent.

Liu-daifu and Zhao had been expecting it, and the physician continued with her task impassively, seemingly uncaring of her patient’s muffled keens and attempts to fight, as Zhao knelt at her side, holding the bowl of herbs and speaking softly to Second Lord Lan.

The others, unfortunately, had not seen Lan Zhan’s reaction coming. Wen Ning received a kick solidly in the face, grunting in shock, and nearly released Lan Zhan, but at the last second managed to keep his grip. Jiang Cheng cried out at the same time as Lan Zhan, alarmed at the man’s sudden show of strength and fear, and bit his lip when Lan Zhan’s hands curled around his forearms tightly, his long fingers digging deep into his skin.

Wei Wuxian, however, did lose his grip, and his head collided with Lan Zhan’s as the man bucked upwards, trying to escape Liu-daifu’s ministrations. Wei Wuxian was able to quickly subdue his partner though, one hand on his hair, the other locked firmly across his collarbone, stopping just short of the demon nail wound. 

“Shh, shh,” he cooed, stroking his thumb across his husband’s too-cold skin and looking into his now wide-open eyes. “I know it hurts, Lan Zhan, I know, but Liu-daifu is helping you. I promise.”

Lan Zhan let out another sound — a strangled shout, somewhere between a scream and a sob — and Jiang Cheng hissed. Wei Wuxian looked up to see that Lan Zhan’s nails had drawn blood on his brother’s arms. He leaned forward and hurriedly kissed Lan Zhan’s temple.

“Lan Zhan, calm down, it’s all right, I promise. Calm down, love.”

Wei Wuxian watched as Lan Zhan’s lips and throat worked desperately, obviously trying to make sounds that weren’t labored screams, but failed and immediately began to cry. Wei Wuxian felt his heart break and, out of the corner of his eye, saw the physician and her apprentice grab a few of the shining knives and lean over Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan seemed to notice them too, trying to turn his head to see what was happening, but Wei Wuxian just laid a hand on his cheek to prevent him from moving.

“It’s okay, Lan Zhan,” he murmured. “It’s all right, tianxin. They’re taking care of you. Just look at me. You’re safe, I promise.”

Wei Wuxian heard the sound of knives in flesh, followed by the gush of blood, and was surprised when Lan Zhan didn’t react. Instead, he just blinked wide golden eyes up at him, pupils blown wide.

“W-Wei Ying. . .” he finally managed to stammer, and Wei Wuxian figured he tried to move his hands by the way Jiang Cheng growled in annoyance. Wei Wuxian just smiled faintly. 

“Stay still, Lan Zhan. Jiang Cheng is holding your hands.” Lan Zhan looked confused and faintly upset by this, and Wei Wuxian hastened to explain. “We all need to hold you for now. When we’re all done it can just be me and you again. I promise.”

Lan Zhan hesitated, eyes locked on Wei Wuxian’s face as if judging the truth of this statement, and Wei Wuxian smiled at him and stroked his cheek.

“I promise,” he repeated. “I promise, Lan Zhan.”

Lan Zhan nodded faintly and then closed his eyes, breathing evening out. Jiang Cheng blinked in surprise when Lan Wangji squeezed his arm lightly and slowly returned the grip. Lan Zhan relaxed further, and Wei Wuxian slumped in relief, running his fingers through his husband’s hair.

“It’s all right, I promise,” he whispered, counting Lan Zhan’s black eyelashes where they rested like brushstrokes on his cheeks. “I promise, Lan Zhan.”

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Chapter Text

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The bleeding would not stop.

Ever since re-opening the bite wound to purge the wound of poison and resentful energy, Second Lord Lan had been bleeding profusely. Liu-daifu had expected it at first — of course cutting a patient would cause bleeding, but when the bleeding continued for fifteen minutes without slowing, she grew concerned. 

Liu-daifu had tried everything to stop it: Blood Coagulating Grass, spiritual energy, even just stuffing the reopened wound with gauze. But the blood kept coming, soaking her hands, hanfu, and even the mattress under her crimson.

“That’s it,” she declared eventually, leaning back and swiping her forehead with her bloody hand; it left a gruesome mark, but she couldn’t be bothered to care. “Who here has the strongest spiritual energy?”

The men in the room all looked up at her in surprise.

“Why?” they asked. Rather dumbly, if she said so herself.

“He’s losing too much blood and I can’t stop the bleeding.” Wei Wuxian looked at her and saw for the first time the blood that seemed to be painted across everything; he went white. 

“Lan Zhan?” he tapped his husband’s cheeks, fear spiking when he didn’t respond. “Lan Zhan?”

“Don’t panic, he’s still stable,” Liu-daifu said. “But he won’t be for long if I can’t get this fucking bleeding stopped. So, who has the highest spiritual energy here?”

“I do,” Jiang Cheng answered without hesitating.

“Good. Then lend him some of your energy while Zhao-er and I stop the bleeding. It’s probably a broken blood vessel that needs to be tied off.”

“Broken blood vessel?” Wei Wuxian echoed. “How-How do you fix that? What are you going to do to him?” 

“He needs surgery, Master Wei, so that’s what I’m going to do.”

Somehow Wei Wuxian went even whiter. 

“Surgery!?” he all but screamed. His grip on Lan Zhan tightened to the point of bruising. “You-You- can’t—!”

“Master Wei!!” Liu-daifu snapped. “If you don’t want your husband to die then he’ll have this surgery.” She tied a cloth mask around her mouth and nose, her apprentice behind her doing the same. She tossed one to Jiang Cheng, who robotically repeated their actions, violet eyes wide. Liu-daifu ignored his fear and continued to speak to Wei Wuxian. “If you can’t control yourself then get out.”

“I-I—” Wei Wuxian stammered and then reached out to shove away Sun Zhao, who was approaching Lan Zhan with the tray of surgical supplies in tow. The young man staggered and nearly dropped the tray before Jiang Cheng grabbed his elbow and kept him from falling. Liu-daifu, seeing red, grabbed Wei Wuxian and pulled him unceremoniously to his feet. Lan Zhan’s head slipped from his lap and lolled limply onto the mattress at the sudden movement, and Wei Wuxian cried out at the loss of his husband.

“Are you trying to endanger his life, you idiot?!?” she yelled at Wei Wuxian, furious. “Get out!”

“But—!”

“That’s it! GET OUT!”

She shoved Wei Wuxian out of the room without another word, shutting the door firmly behind him and moving something heavy in front of them to preventing him from entering. Wei Wuxian felt more than heard silencing talismans being thrown up, and he screamed in protest. He beat his fists on the door, yelling for Lan Zhan, begging Jiang Cheng and Wen Ning to let him in, cursing the doctor and her apprentice, crying and sobbing and screaming.

Finally, after who knows how long, he slumped against the door, exhausted and out of tears. The sun was high in the sky, announcing it sometime around noon, and Wei Wuxian buried his head in his robes, wrapping his arms around his knees. The scent of Lan Zhan’s blood, tacky and dried on his sleeves, assaulted his nose, and he trembled.

How was this happening?

This shouldn’t be happening.

He should be the one hurt.

It should be me!

The demon was coming for me! Wei Wuxian yelled at himself. It was coming for me and stupid, loyal Lan Zhan had to jump in front of me and get hurt instead! He hugged himself a little tighter, swallowing back a sob that threatened to escape his throat.

“It should be me. . .”

Hanguang-jun wouldn’t like you saying that,” a voice said softly, and Wei Wuxian looked up and blearily saw Jingyi, Sizhui, and Jin Ling standing in front of him. Sizhui was holding a tray of soup in his hands, and Jingyi was clutching at a blanket. Jin Ling just stood with his arms crossed and an unhappy, uncomfortable look on his face.

“But it really should have been, Sizhui,” Wei Wuxian said, leaning back so his head hit the wooden frame of the door. “The only reason Lan Zhan is hurt is because he jumped in to protect me.”

Sizhui sighed and kneeled in front of Wei Wuxian, holding out the soup.

“That was Hanguang-jun’s choice, Senior Wei,” he said. “He chose to protect you and I’m sure he would do so again.” 

“But—”

“You would do the same thing for him, wouldn’t you?”

Wei Wuxian fell silent and nodded.

Jin Ling huffed.

“Self-destructive,” he muttered, and Jingyi elbowed him hard.

“They love each other,” he said, and Wei Wuxian nearly blushed at the pride and affection in the boy’s voice. “It’s natural they would do such things for one another.”

“Yeah right!” Jin Ling said. “What married couple would get hurt for each other?”

“That’s part of the vows!” Jingyi said hotly.

“Is not!”

“Is too!”

Wei Wuxian did not speak as the boys continued to argue, but thought of Jin Ling’s father, of his stubborn personality, of how he had no doubt that he would have gladly been injured for his Shijie. And, of course, Shijie would have taken any hurt for that flowery peacock. She had been that kind of person.

He sighed and the boys looked at him.

“Senior Wei?” Sizhui asked, laying a hesitant hand on his arm. “Are you all right?”

“Ah, yes, fine,” Wei Wuxian said, forcing a smile across his face. “I was just thinking. Jingyi is right, Jin Ling. Lots of married couples vow to protect each other, no matter what. Some even vow to die for each other.”

Jin Ling’s eyes widened.

“What? No way!” 

“Hmm,” Wei Wuxian hummed. “I would gladly die for Lan Zhan and I’m sure he would do the same for me.”

The boys gaped at him for a few long silent moments before all speaking at once.

“I hope I can find a cultivation partner like that,” Sizhui said dreamily.

“Yeah, me too!” Jingyi added. 

“I’m not dying for anybody,” Jin Ling huffed. Jingyi punched him on the arm and Jin Ling yelped, glaring at him angrily. “What was that for?” he demanded.

“Selfish brat,” Jingyi huffed, nose scrunched up in distaste. He ignored Jin Ling’s outraged splutter, turning back to Wei Wuxian and kneeling in front of him, draping the blanket he had brought across his senior’s shoulders. He dipped his head at the soup. “You should eat something, Senior Wei,” he said.

Wei Wuxian looked at the small bowl and fought back the roll of nausea that came with it, thinking only of Lan Zhan’s blood and tears. He closed his eyes and shook his head tiredly.

“I’m not hungry, Jingyi,” he said, all but slumping against the door. “Why don’t you eat it? You’re a growing boy, after all.” He tried to say the last part with a small, teasing smile, but it fell flat, seeming forced and wrong in the serious situation.

Jingyi and Sizhui exchanged a worried look, but before they could speak, Jin Ling puffed out his chest in annoyance and sat down, all but shoving the bowl of soup at Wei Wuxian. The man blinked, taken aback.

“Jin Ling. . .?” 

“You need to eat something, you idiot!” the boy huffed, poking at Wei Wuxian’s chest. “I don’t care if you’re hungry or not!”

“Jin Ling—!” Jingyi and Sizhui began, but Jin Ling ignored them.

“You can’t take care of your husband if you get sick,” he said, blushing and avoiding Wei Wuxian’s eyes. “Liu-daifu probably won’t even let you near him if you so much as sneeze. And you will get sick if you don’t eat!” He pushed the tray at Wei Wuxian again, more forcefully this time. “Now eat up, dumbass!” 

With a small smile at Jin Ling’s familiar way of showing care — so much like Jiang Cheng, it made his heart ache — Wei Wuxian took the tray and placed it on his lap. He took the spoon in hand, ignoring how it trembled in his grip, and lifted it to his lips.

The simple taste of fish and tofu soup in his mouth reminded him of the days of his youth in Yunmeng, days when he and Jiang Cheng had gone on their first night hunts, days when they wiled hours away in the towns and villages playing inane games, drinking what they pleased and eating whatever they wanted. Jiang Cheng was usually pickier about what he ate and preferred meat — he didn’t like seafood much (which Wei Wuxian thought was hilarious since they lived at a pier) — but Wei Wuxian ate whatever the villagers or townspeople gave him. This was usually fish and vegetables, cheap fare, but it was always delicious.

And then there was fish and tofu soup, a favorite of the townspeople. It was simple but absolutely fantastic, Wei Wuxian’s second favorite soup after his Shijie’s lotus root and pork rib, of course. The head servant — Grandma, he always called her — had made it best. Just the right proportion of fish to tofu and the perfect amount of spices — it was flawless.

As he tasted it again, Wei Wuxian remembered all of this. Tears swam to his eyes and he recalled a conversation he had with Lan Zhan just the night before. They had been sitting in his old room, dressed in their white sleep clothes, and Wei Wuxian was all but laying in his husband’s lap. Lan Zhan was playing with his hair as Wei Wuxian hummed happily.

“You know what, Lan Zhan?” he had said out of the blue.

“Mn?”  

“You should try the fish and tofu soup here! I know you make it at the Cloud Recesses but it’s so much better here, love!”

Lan Zhan seemed slightly amused at the insult pointed at the Cloud Recesses and had blushed delightfully at being called love. His eyes softened when he looked down at his husband lying in his lap.

“How is it better, Wei Ying?” he asked in his quiet, sweet voice.

Wei Wuxian grinned and explained passionately how the fish in Yunmeng were superior to those in Gusu and how the servants in Lotus Pier made the soup using a variety of spices. Lan Zhan had nodded wisely at this.  

“I will bring more spices back to Gusu,” he said after a moment. “I can make fish and tofu soup for Wei Ying.”  

Wei Wuxian had grinned in delight and peppered Lan Zhan with kisses, and, before falling asleep, had gotten a solemn promise from Lan Zhan (all promises from Lan Zhan were solemn) that he would make fish and tofu soup for him.

Who knew that the next day would find Lan Zhan terribly wounded, bleeding out all over the ground, delirious with pain and poison.

The fish and tofu soup tasted like iron in Wei Wuxian’s mouth.

He dropped the spoon and began to sob, bent in half, overcome with grief and fear.

He didn’t notice the juniors jump around him in a tight circle, or their arms encircle him in a fierce embrace. He didn’t feel Jingyi’s hand in his hair or hear Sizhui’s soft voice or feel Jin Ling’s hand awkwardly patting his back, and thus didn’t notice Jiang Cheng and Liu-daifu exit Lan Zhan’s sickroom, quiet as could be.

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Jiang Cheng knelt awkwardly at Lan Wangji’s bedside as Liu-daifu and her apprentice cleaned and packed away the surgical tools, muttering something about infection to each other. He was staring blankly at Lan Wangji’s lax face, loosely holding his wrist, as he lended him spiritual energy.

He’d been lending him spiritual energy the entire time all of this had been happening — as soon as Liu-daifu had instructed him to, all throughout the surgery and stitches and administration of medications — and had yet to stop. He was exhausted but didn’t dare cease until the physician or her apprentice instructed him to.

The surgery had been difficult and long, but Lan Wangji didn’t fight or scream or cry like Jiang Cheng had been expecting him to. Rather he was quiet and still. The physician and apprentice both seemed concerned by this, working faster to find whatever blood vessel had been broken and ordering Wen Ning to keep a close eye on his vital signs. Wen Ning had obeyed, moving from his spot by Lan Wangji’s feet and sitting by his uninjured side, keeping track of his pulse, counting his respirations, checking his face for signs of awareness or pain. 

Liu-daifu eventually found the broken blood vessel and tied it off neatly, much to Jiang Cheng’s relief. But she wasn’t finished. She wanted to remove the demon nail from Lan Wangji before Wei Wuxian returned since this would be more difficult and required more work with scalpels.

Jiang Cheng had nodded and, if the Ghost General had been alive, Jiang Cheng knew he would be sheet-white.

There were more than scalpels though. There were scissors and larger knives and, worst of all, tweezers of some kind that Liu-daifu used to pry the broken piece of demon nail from Lan Wangji’s hip. Lan Wangji woke up in the middle of this process with a terrible, broken howl, startling everyone in the room, and would have fallen off the bed if not for the Ghost General’s quick actions.

He all but threw himself on top of Lan Wangji, babbling words of comfort that echoed Wei Wuxian’s, but it did little to calm the Second Lan. He continued to yell, reaching up and scrabbling at Wen Ning, pulling at his stringy hair, but Wen Ning could feel no pain and allowed him these actions, hoping they would provide him comfort.

He didn’t say it aloud, but Jiang Cheng knew the only person who could provide Lan Wangji comfort now was Wei Wuxian.

But Wei Wuxian wasn’t there, and Liu-daifu didn’t want him to be, so all they could do was hold Lan Wangji down and whisper meaninglessly to him. It did little, as Lan Wangji continued to scream and thrash, and eventually the apprentice Zhao came, laid a glowing hand on Lan Wangji’s forehead, and sent him to sleep.

“Why didn’t you do that earlier?!” Jiang Cheng demanded, Lan Wangji’s pleas for his husband still ringing in his ears. “He was in pain!”

Zhao shook his head.

“He wasn’t in pain, just scared.” He sighed and ran his hand through his bangs. “I don’t like putting patients to sleep like that because it’s risky. Give them too much spiritual energy and they’ll never wake up.”

Wen Ning’s eyes nearly bulged out of his head.

“What?!” he cried, and Sun Zhao shook his head wildly.

“But it’s okay!” he said quickly in reassurance. “Second Lord Lan has a very strong cultivation base; he should be all right.” 

Wen Ning and Jiang Cheng relaxed at this and Liu-daifu called for her apprentice again. They successfully removed the nail a few minutes later and proceeded to sew the wounds closed. Wounds were usually just bandaged and healed with spiritual energy, but Second Lord Lan had suffered significantly and thus needed a bit of help healing. He would heal faster than others, of course, and likely would be left with little to no scarring, but the stitches were necessary.

Jiang Cheng was thinking about all of this when a hand on his wrist jolted him out of his thoughts. He looked up to find Sun Zhao in front of him, hands free of blood and changed into clean clothes. His eyes skirted to Liu-daifu, who was standing behind her apprentice, also clean of blood and dressed in a fresh hanfu, and who was speaking quietly to Wen Ning. The Ghost General was holding Lan Wangji’s hand, lightly running his thumb over his prominent knuckles. Jiang Cheng was surprised to see that Lan Wangji was clean and bandaged, the sheets were changed, and the scent of blood was gone from the room. Jiang Cheng blinked. How long had been out of it?

“Sect Leader,” Sun Zhao said, and Jiang Cheng turned to see the young man frowning softly at him; this must not have been the first time he had called for him. “Sect Leader, are you all right?”

Jiang Cheng nodded and pulled his wrist from the young man’s grip.

“Yes, perfectly fine.”

Sun Zhao smiled, but it was obvious he didn’t believe Jiang Cheng.

“You don’t need to lend Second Lord Lan spiritual energy anymore, Sect Leader,” he said, dipping his head at Lan Wangji. “He’s stable; his Golden Core should take over from here.”

“Oh, of course.” With a brief nod, Jiang Cheng ceased the flow of spiritual energy to Lan Wangji, instantly feeling some of his energy return to him. However, some color faded from Lan Wangji’s cheeks and it became slightly difficult for him to breathe. Jiang Cheng reached forward on instinct, wanting to take that burden away, but the apprentice grabbed his wrist to stop him.

“Sect Leader, you mustn’t strain yourself,” he said. “Second Lord Lan just lost a lot of blood and has wounds on his torso; paleness and shortness of breath are to be expected.” He smiled gently. “It is kind of Sect Leader to want to ease Second Lord Lan’s suffering, but you must care for yourself as well.”

Jiang Cheng turned red before huffing in embarrassment and pulling his arm from Zhao.

“Who said I wanted to help Lan Wangji?” he sniffed, getting to his feet. He turned to a wash basin in the corner, washing himself of dried blood in the clear water until it was a rosy pink. He looked down at his hands, once more clean, before taking a deep breath and turning around.

Wen Ning was perched at Lan Wangji’s side, having dressed him in a silken night robe and drawn a number of heavy blankets over his unconscious frame. He was now holding Lan Wangji’s hand loosely, seemingly trying to warm the fingers of the cultivator’s cold hand; not that it would do any good — Wen Ning wasn’t alive, after all. He had no warmth to lend.

Jiang Cheng frowned and stepped forward.

“You’re not going to make him warmer,” he said. Wen Ning jumped and whirled to face Jiang Cheng, eyes wide with surprise. Jiang Cheng raised an eyebrow; it was unlike the Ghost General to be caught unawares.

Wen Ning lowered his pitch-black eyes after a moment back to his hand, which, Jiang Cheng noticed with surprise, he had not removed from Lan Wangji’s. 

“But I can’t make him any colder,” he said with a small sigh, and squeezed the Lan’s fingers softly. When Lan Wangji didn’t respond, he sighed again. “Besides, I promised Young Master Wei someone would stay with him when he wasn’t here.” 

Jiang Cheng blinked and then recalled how Wei Wuxian had latched onto Wen Ning just before he had been shoved firmly out of the room, how he had muttered something to him quickly but surely. 

“That’s what he said to you?” Jiang Cheng asked, and Wen Ning nodded.

“Yes. Young Master Wei is very upset he cannot be here.” Wen Ning ran his thumb over Lan Wangji’s knuckles, his face sad. He then spoke to the unconscious man, voice gentle. “But I’m sure he’ll be back soon, Second Young Master Lan, don’t worry.”

“Yes, no need to worry, Second Lord Lan, I’ll fetch your husband right now.” Wen Ning and Jiang Cheng turned to see Liu-daifu standing next to them, a serious expression on her face. She was always serious, but this time more so than before, and it made Jiang Cheng uneasy. “You,” she said to him, “come with me. Zhao-er, keep an eye on Second Lord Lan. Tell me if anything changes.”

“Yes, Liu-daifu,” Zhao answered with a bow, and then the physician left the room, Jiang Cheng shadowing her.

The first thing he saw was the bright noon sun, effectively rendering him blind for a few long moments, before they adjusted to the light and he saw what was in front of him.

Wei Wuxian was a sobbing, wailing mess, hugging his knees to his chest, soup spilled all over the porch in front of him in what Jiang Cheng supposed was the result of a temper tantrum of some kind, and he was being bear hugged by three teenage boys. Two of them were Jin Ling’s friends from the Lan Clan — Lan Jingyi and Lan Sizhui, he recalled — and, much to Jiang Cheng’s shock, his own nephew.

Jin Ling was wrapped around Wei Wuxian’s left side and awkwardly patting his back, even as the junior Lan Clan cultivators cooed and soothed with all the familiar and comfortable motions of a mother.

Jiang Cheng’s heart lurched.

A-jie. . .

He thought of her death, of Wei Wuxian’s face that day, of —

No, he said, shaking himself firmly. That was not Wei Wuxian’s fault. That was Jin Guangyao. Wei Wuxian had loved A-jie, he still did, and he loved Jin Ling too. It was obvious.

Wei Wuxian sobbed again, a miserable wail that broke Jiang Cheng’s heart, and he jumped down and ran to his brother and nephew quickly, skirts of his hanfu flowing around his ankles.

“Jin Ling,” he said, “what’s happening?”

The boy shot to his feet and the Lan boys looked up, eyes wide with shock and fear. Wei Wuxian went very, very still.

“Uncle!” Jin Ling cried. “We tried to get Wei Wuxian to eat some soup, but he only took a spoonful and started crying like a baby. . .” He trailed off at the withering look his uncle gave him, casting his eyes to his feet. “Sorry,” he murmured.

Jiang Cheng knelt next to Wei Wuxian without a word, and, after a moment, laid a hand on his arm. Wei Wuxian stiffened and the Lan juniors, who hadn’t released him, held him tighter. Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes and barely kept from snorting in annoyance. Was everyone from Lan Clan so overprotective?

“Wei Wuxian,” he said, keeping his voice quiet and calm, “it’s me, Jiang Cheng. Lan Wangji is fine. He’s sleeping now.”

Wei Wuxian’s head shot up so quickly it nearly collided with Jingyi’s face; the boy barely avoided the collision by toppling backwards. Wei Wuxian turned to Jiang Cheng, slid swiftly to his knees, and gripped his brother’s forearms tight.

“Really?!” he asked, voice laced with desperate hope. His silver-grey eyes were red-rimmed and puffy, clear evidence he had been crying for a while, and snot was smeared across his upper lip; Jiang Cheng barely held back a look of disgust. Not the time, he reminded himself. Instead, he just nodded and pushed an unruly strand of black hair behind Wei Wuxian’s ear.

“Yes, really,” he said. “Fast asleep. Wen Ning and Sun Zhao are watching over him.” 

Wei Wuxian frowned. 

“Sun Zhao?” he asked. “Where’s Liu—?”

“I’m right here,” the physician said, stepping into Wei Wuxian’s eyeshot. Wei Wuxian took one look at her face and knew whatever she had to say next would be serious and nothing if not frightening. She clasped her hands together and bowed at Wei Wuxian. 

“Master Wei,” she said, “we have many things to speak about. Please follow me.”

Wei Wuxian nodded, feeling his heart pounding in his ears, and then got to his feet with Jiang Cheng’s help and followed Liu-daifu back to Lan Zhan’s room.

He dreaded whatever it was they had to discuss.

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Chapter Text

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It was still very cold, but Lan Zhan knew he was now draped in blankets and that, for some very good reason he couldn’t place, he wasn’t hurting anymore. He blinked and looked around him, recognizing the Jingshi.

Something was off though, so it was a dream.

Of course, it’s a dream, a part of him said. Wei Ying is not here. He is always in the Jingshi with you.

Another part of his mind protested.

If this is a dream, then Wei Ying would be here. He is in all of your dreams, even the bad ones.  

Well, that was true too.

Now Lan Zhan was confused.

He didn’t like being confused.

Confusion is forbidden in the Cloud Recesses, his uncle’s voice spoke.

Lan Zhan frowned.

Was it?

“Shh,” a voice said. It was disembodied and seemed to come from everywhere in the Jingshi and nowhere all at once. “Shh, Lan Zhan, it’s okay.”

Was it okay? What was happening? Why was confusing?

A hand on his forehead, smoothing away the frown lines. A familiar hand. Wei Ying.

Wei Ying.

Where was he?

Why wasn’t he in the Jingshi?

Wei Ying?

No one responded and Lan Zhan felt panic build in his heart.

Was Wei Ying safe? Was he alive? What year was it? Was he still practicing demonic cultivation? He ran to where the door of the Jingshi was supposed to be and scratched at the darkness that met him instead, afraid.

Afraid of the dark, afraid of being alone, afraid that Wei Ying was hurt or dead.

Where was Wei Ying?!

“Lan Zhan, ah, Lan Zhan, calm down, love,” Wei Ying’s voice said, and hands were on his arms, pulling him away from something he was holding. He yelled out for Wei Ying, scared (he always called for Wei Ying, no matter what he was feeling), and the hands squeezed him. “I’m here, tianxin, calm down. You’re safe.”

But he wasn’t home! If Wei Ying was safe, why wasn’t he home in the Jingshi?! Something bad had happened, hadn’t it?!? 

“Honey, stop it, I’m okay. I’m fine. You’re the one who’s hurt. Do you understand? You got hurt, Lan Zhan.”

Lan Zhan froze, confused.

Wei Ying was okay?

“Yes, love, I’m fine.” A voice from farther away muttered something about lovesick fools, but Lan Zhan ignored them. He just nodded and sat on the floor of the dream Jingshi, relief flooding him.

As long as Wei Ying is fine.

Whoever was stroking his forehead — Wei Ying, those were Wei Ying’s hands — stopped for a moment before continuing their gentle motion.

“Silly man,” Wei Ying murmured. “Do you hurt anywhere?”

“He doesn’t understand you,” another voice said — Jiang Wanyin. “He thinks he’s dreaming.”

Why was Jiang Wanyin here in his dream? Shut up, go away.

Wei Ying started laughing, a happy, full belly-laugh that Lan Zhan cherished more than anything in the entire world. He smiled and reached forward in the dark. Wei Ying grabbed his hands, squeezed them tight, and then kissed his forehead, still laughing.

“Ah, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, that was so funny!” Wei Ying cried breathlessly. “I can’t believe you told Jiang Cheng to shut up!”

Had he? Lan Zhan couldn’t remember. He was sleepy and this dream was taking so much energy to keep up. . .

“It’s okay, you can sleep,” Wei Ying’s voice said, still laughing, and he kissed Lan Zhan’s forehead again, breath hot against his cold skin. “You can sleep, love. I’ll be right here when you wake up, I promise.”

Lan Zhan nodded, lay on the floor of the Jingshi, and let his loud dream fade away to peaceful darkness.

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Chapter Text

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Jin Ling had to quite literally stuff a fist in his mouth when the esteemed Hanguang-jun, Second Lord Lan, one of the dignified Twin Jades of Gusu, had told his uncle in his medication-addled sleep to shut up.

It was one of the funniest things that had ever happened to him, and that included the time that Jingyi fell face first into a hole full of manure.

The junior Lan disciples (and Jin Ling) had been invited back inside to see Second Lord Lan as soon as Liu-daifu had finished speaking to Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian. This was after three hours — much to Jingyi and Jin Ling’s annoyance — but Sizhui told them to be patient.

Hanguang-jun was badly injured,” he explained. “Liu-daifu probably has a lot to explain to Senior Wei.”

“Hmph,” Jin Ling said. “Like what?”

Like how to change the bandages and what medications to give and what visitors were allowed and when and the list went on and on. Wei Wuxian wasn’t sure how he was expected to remember. Luckily, he had Jiang Cheng and Wen Ning to help him, and Sun Zhao piped up that he would remind Wei Wuxian as often as he could as well.

By the time the juniors were finally let in, it was nearly dinnertime. 

“Finally!” Jin Ling said, ignoring how Jingyi and Sizhui rushed past him; Second Lord Lan was their teacher, after all. “It only took all day to see him!”

“Jin Ling,” his uncle said, and Jin Ling turned to see him sitting by Wei Wuxian at Second Lord Lan’s bedside. It surprised him. Uncle usually stayed some distance from Wei Wuxian, even though their relationship was improving, but now he was seated shoulder to shoulder with him. Wei Wuxian was on the bed (obviously), Second Lord Lan’s head pulled into his lap, and Jiang Cheng was sitting next to them, violet eyes flitting between their faces. Jin Ling watched in fascination. Was his uncle. . . worried about them?? 

A teary voice tore him from his thoughts.

“Is he all right, Senior Wei?” Jingyi asked, hands hovering uncertainly over Second Lord Lan. It was obvious he wanted to touch his teacher, confirm he was truly all right, but was not sure if he was allowed to do so. Wei Wuxian’s gaze softened and he took Jingyi’s hand, placing it gently over one of Second Lord Lan’s own. Jingyi gasped and almost recoiled before he fell to his knees and gripped the hand tight.

“Oh, thank god,” he muttered. “Thank god, Hanguang-jun.” 

Sizhui reached behind Jingyi to lightly touch Second Lord Lan’s other hand. He frowned.

“Why is he still so cold?” he asked. “Hasn’t the poison been removed?”

“The majority of it has, but his body needs time to rid itself of it completely. Liu-daifu said to keep him warm while he does the rest on his own.”

Sizhui nodded in understanding as Jingyi rubbed his teacher’s long fingers gently, trying to coax warmth back into them. Wei Wuxian watched them with a fond smile before his eyes snapped down to his husband. Jin Ling didn’t notice anything at first until he saw frown lines appear on Second Lord Lan’s forehead. Jin Ling was mildly shocked that Wei Wuxian had noticed them so quickly — did they possess one of those emotional communication bonds only married couples had?

Wei Wuxian cooed at Second Lord Lan, telling him he was safe, he was okay, and then Second Lord Lan started calling out for Wei Wuxian using his birth name. It took a few tries to calm him, and Uncle called them lovesick fools (which Jin Ling didn’t really think was fair — Second Lord Lan was injured, after all, some leeway was allowed), but then Second Lord Lan was calm. Then Wei Wuxian asked him if was hurting and Uncle had snorted in disbelief, telling Wei Wuxian that the Second Lord Lan only thought everything was a dream.

A dream that the Second Lord Lan clearly didn’t want Uncle to be in. 

He frowned, annoyed, before whispering,

“Jiang Wanyin. . . . shut up, go away.”

There was a pause, everyone in clear disbelief, before Wei Wuxian completely lost it. He cackled, bent in half, tears of mirth leaking from his eyes as Jiang Cheng turned purple. He looked absolutely mortified and Jin Ling knew he would get the beating of his life if he laughed now; he bit down on his knuckles to distract himself, but the shaking of his shoulders betrayed him, and, when Uncle turned to him, he knew he was screwed. 

Zidian sparked around his finger.

Oh, fuck.

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Chapter Text

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Wen Ning arrived with dinner at the same time Sun Zhao and Liu-daifu were finishing up changing Second Lord Lan’s bandages and examining the wounds. 

“Keep an eye on the area by his hip for inflammation,” Liu-daifu instructed, and both the apprentice and Wei Wuxian nodded. They all looked up at the entrance of Wen Ning, and, seeing the food, Liu-daifu looked pleased. “Master Wei, eat at least half of that,” she said, getting to her feet. “Zhao-er and I will return after dinner and we’d better see half the food gone.” She jabbed a thumb at Wen Ning. “I know this one doesn’t eat and we’re keeping Second Lord Lan asleep for now, so don’t think you can trick me.” 

Wei Wuxian looked depressed, bottom lip sticking out in a pout, but nodded anyway. Satisfied, Liu-daifu left, her apprentice following her and closing the door shut behind them. When they were gone, Wen Ning pulled a table close to the bed and laid the tray of food and tea on it, carefully setting aside chopsticks and pouring tea for his friend. When he looked up, he was unsurprised to see that Wei Wuxian had made no move to eat. 

“Young Master Wei,” he said, “I understand that you’re worried, but your concern will do Second Lord Lan no good if you’re weak as well. You must eat.” He nudged the bowl of rice at Wei Wuxian, trying to pull stiff lips up into a reassuring smile. But Wei Wuxian wouldn’t look at him.

“Young Master—” 

“Lan Zhan is very weak, Wen Ning,” Wei Wuxian interrupted suddenly, voice quiet and strained. “He’s so weak and fragile. I’m scared of losing him. And I can’t. . . I can’t lose him.”

Wen Ning knew that if he still had a beating heart it would twist in sympathetic pain. Instead, he only felt vaguely uncomfortable. He leaned forward, laid aside the bowl of rice, and placed a hand on top of Wei Wuxian’s.

“Young Master,” he said, voice even and calm, “I understand that this is frightening, but you mustn’t lose faith. Second Lord Lan never loses faith in you.” 

Wei Wuxian turned to Wen Ning then, silver-grey eyes shining with tears and something else Wen Ning couldn’t place, before he tossed his upper body into Wen Ning’s arms in a hug, his legs still cradling Lan Zhan’s head. Wen Ning yelped in surprise. 

“Ah! Young Master Wei!”

“You’re right, you’re right,” Wei Wuxian said, rubbing at his swollen eyes with the back of his hands. “Of course, you’re right, Wen Ning. When have you been wrong?”

Wen Ning would have blushed if he could. 

“Oh, Young Master, I—” 

A knock on the door announced the arrival of someone else and Wei Wuxian pulled back from Wen Ning with a small, grateful smile, still rubbing his eyes. 

“Come in!” he called. 

The doors slid open and in stepped Jiang Cheng, two trays of food in hand. He took in the sight in front of him — saw Wen Ning and Wei Wuxian, the tray of food and tea already present between them — and knew he had brought a tray of food for his brother for no reason whatsoever. He flushed in embarrassment.

“Never mind,” he said brusquely, turning on his heel. “I’ll be back later.” He made to shut the door when Wei Wuxian called out to him.

“Jiang Cheng! Wait!”

“What is it?” 

“Come eat with us,” Wei Wuxian said, and Jiang Cheng didn’t need to look at him to know that Wei Wuxian was forcing a smile. “I’m sure Lan Zhan would love the company.” 

“He’s asleep,” Jiang Cheng said dryly, but turned around, nonetheless. “How is he supposed to love company when he’s asleep?”

“He can hear us,” Wei Wuxian said, voice confident and proud. “Liu-daifu said so.” 

“Well, if the physician said so. . .” Jiang Cheng mumbled, rolling his eyes, but he stepped forward anyway, laying the trays of food on the table Wen Ning had placed next to the bed and pulling up a chair. Wen Ning bowed politely at him and Jiang Cheng dipped his head in acknowledgment; it was still difficult to be around the Ghost General, knowing that it was his hand that had killed Jin Ling’s father, but Jiang Cheng was making an effort. Wen Ning was not a bad person, after all. 

“How are you, Wen Ning?” he asked, beginning to eat his own meal as he watched Wei Wuxian run his fingers through Lan Wangji’s hair. He bit back a twinge of annoyance at the tender show of affection before closing his eyes and shoving a vegetable into his mouth. 

Wen Ning, however, seemed touched by Wei Wuxian’s obvious love for Lan Wangji. A small smile tugged at his stiff lips.

“I’m all right, Sect Leader Jiang,” he answered. “Concerned about Second Lord Lan, but that is to be expected, of course.” 

Jiang Cheng just hummed. He dropped his voice.

“How is he doing?” he asked, making sure that only Wen Ning could hear him. Not that it mattered; Wei Wuxian was so caught up finger-combing his husband’s hair that he probably wasn’t even listening to them.

“He’s not in any pain,” Wen Ning answered, lowering his voice to match Jiang Cheng’s own. “Liu-daifu has given him a lot of medication to keep him both from waking and from feeling pain in unconsciousness. She said a lot of things about his qi and meridians that I didn’t quite understand, but Young Master Wei seemed satisfied.”

 Jiang Cheng nodded. 

“And the wounds?”

Here, Wen Ning looked slightly troubled.

“The physician said that the bite wound seems to be healing all right, even though it looks unpleasant to me.” Wen Ning shrugged. “Of course, wounds tend to look bad during the early stages of healing. My jiejie would often say the same thing to me when we cared for the injured.” Jiang Cheng winced at the mention of Wen Qing, but Wen Ning continued to speak, either ignoring or not noticing Jiang Cheng’s discomfort. (Knowing Wen Ning’s personality, it was probably the latter.) “The majority of the poison has been removed, but not all of it, so Second Lord Lan’s body is fighting off the traces on its own.”

Jiang Cheng nodded, understanding suddenly the mass of blankets covering Lan Wangji and the braziers surrounding the bed. Demon poisoning made the body very cold, causing pain and body aches, so keeping Lan Wangji and the room warm would keep him comfortable as well as help him fight off the poison faster.

“And the nail wound?” Jiang Cheng asked after a moment, carefully lifting rice to his mouth.

Wen Ning frowned.

“Liu-daifu seems more concerned about that one,” he said. “There’s signs of inflammation and redness around the area where we removed the demon nail; she’s worried about infection.”

Jiang Cheng froze, chopsticks halfway to his lips. 

“Infection?” he echoed.

Wen Ning nodded solemnly.

“She told us to keep an eye on it,” he said.

“That’s it? That’s all she’s doing?” 

Wen Ning shrugged.

“Maybe they’re doing something else and I just don’t know,” he said. “The little apprentice comes in and lends him spiritual energy as often as he can, so maybe that’s helping, and they’re giving him so much medicine — I have no idea what it’s all for. I don’t know what else she’s supposed to do.” He sighed and fiddled with the ends of his frizzy black hair. “All I know is that Young Master Wei seems relatively calm, as does Second Lord Lan, so I’m allowing myself to be calm as well. For now.”

Jiang Cheng nodded slowly and ran a hand across his face.

“All right,” he said. “All right.”

He laid aside his food and picked up his cup, allowing himself a sip of wine. It had been a long day, after all, and he had only just finished. They had arrived at Lotus Pier just before dawn, he had assisted in Lan Wangji’s medical care until noon, and then had to settle matters within the clan as well as prepare letters to be sent to the other sect heads. A significant cultivator had been badly wounded during a night hunt of an unusual number of fierce demons — it had to be reported and the news spread in case events like this occurred in other sects.

And then there was Lan Wangji’s family. . . 

Jiang Cheng had not been looking forward to writing that letter. 

They had to be told, of course — their family member was wounded and unconscious, and the only people currently here were his husband and a handful of junior Lan disciples.

But Lan Wangji’s family was so. . . much. For the apparently quiet and pristine Lan Clan they had such strong personalities. 

Lan Qiren was a stubborn and pedantic man at best, and when it came to Wei Wuxian, he was outright spiteful. He had a long-held belief that Wei Wuxian had somehow ruined the stainless reputation of Hanguang-jun when to Jiang Cheng it seemed like Lan Wangji was more peaceful now than ever and happier as well. More shameless— oh god, how could a couple be so shameless? — but happy, and that’s all that really mattered in the end, right? 

Sect Leader Nie Huaisang agreed with Jiang Cheng, much to his smug satisfaction. That clever bastard was smarter than his own good so whenever he agreed with something Jiang Cheng said, he was pleased. (Not that he’d ever tell Huaisang that. He was smart but he was still an idiot. It was obvious he thought the only people who had seen through his plan were Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji.)

Even the other members of the Lan clan beamed about how kind-hearted and warm Wei Wuxian was and how happy he made their Hanguang-jun. But, despite everyone saying otherwise, Lan Qiren still despised Wei Wuxian and made it very obvious. He had even made a Lan Sect Rule carved into the stone wall that no one was to speak to him. (Of course, that rule was ignored and apparently one night a drunk Lan Wangji attempted to remove the rule with Bichen. What Jiang Cheng would have given to see that. . .) In the end, Lan Qiren had somewhat loosened the strict hatred he had against Wei Wuxian, most likely for the sake of his nephew, but Jiang Cheng had no doubt that Lan Qiren would blame Lan Wangji’s current injury on Wei Wuxian and his wrath would be something fierce. Lotus Pier would in ribbons by the time the old tutor was done yelling. 

And then there was Lan Xichen. The Sect Leader had gone into seclusion after the whole mess with Jin Guangyao and Nie Mingjue, wracked with grief, confusion, and a broken heart, and it was near impossible to coax him out. Wei Wuxian often told Jiang Cheng that it was the heaviest weight on Lan Wangji’s soul, and when they visited Lan Xichen in seclusion nothing could get him to smile. It was rather sad, to be honest.

Jiang Cheng also thought the whole thing was ridiculous. Self-inflicted punishment and seclusion had no point and benefited no one, least of all Lan Xichen. All it did was allow him to wallow in his sorrows all the more. There was no way he would get better the longer he was locked up by himself. Besides, Jin Guangyao had worked diligently to hide everything from Lan Xichen — how was he to blame in the first place? The entire thing was nonsense. He really needed to get out of his head. 

There were a number of ways to get him to stop his seclusion, and, unfortunately, his dear baby brother being terribly wounded was one of them. If Jiang Cheng knew anything about Lan Xichen’s personality, there was no way in hell the oldest Lan would stay pouting in Cloud Recesses while his brother lay unconscious and in pain in Lotus Pier.

So he had written rough drafts of the letters to Lan Qiren and Lan Xichen and had brought them with him to discuss with Wei Wuxian before he sent them off; it was preferable they be sent off as soon as possible, but Jiang Cheng needed to make sure they were appropriate before they were sent. He had never been good at breaking bad news, least of all in writing.

He cleared his throat loudly and Wei Wuxian and Wen Ning turned to him. With a heavy sigh, he laid aside his cup, then pulled the neatly folded letters from the breast of his purple hanfu. When Wei Wuxian caught sight of the names on the front, he paled. 

“Jiang Cheng—” he began, but Jiang Cheng just held up a hand to cut him off.

“They must be told, Wei Wuxian,” he said with a small frown. “I know you prefer to be alone with him, but his family deserves to know. Lan Wangji always wrote to tell me when you were hurt or ill.” 

Wei Wuxian blinked in surprise.

“He did?” he asked, looking down at his husband’s lax face in surprise. He traced his thumb over his cheekbone gently. “He never told me that.” His eyes flitted back up to Jiang Cheng. “You didn’t either. Why did you never visit?”

“Lan Wangji is an overprotective ass,” Jiang Cheng answered with an eye roll. Wei Wuxian flushed in anger, but Jiang Cheng continued. “He doesn’t let anyone near you when you’re hurt except certain healers and Lan Sizhui.” Wei Wuxian frowned, and Jiang Cheng dropped his voice. “To be fair, I don’t have the best track record when it comes to you. He doesn’t necessarily have the greatest reasons to trust me.” Wei Wuxian’s eyes snapped up, suddenly wide and shining. Jiang Cheng purposely ignored him. “But he tries, which I appreciate. Last time you had the flu he let me stay for an entire hour which is honestly a shock.”

Wei Wuxian gaped at him like a fish out of water, much to Jiang Cheng’s annoyance.

“What?” he demanded.

“I don’t remember you visiting me,” he said. “I only remember Lan Zhan and some of the healers.”

Jiang Cheng scoffed.

“Of course, you wouldn’t remember me,” he said. “You were half out of your head with fever.”

Wei Wuxian’s lips parted in a silent “oh” and he nodded slowly. 

“Yeah,” he said eventually, “that sucked." 

Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes and tapped the letters he had laid on the table.

“Anyway, back to the matter at hand,” he said. “We need to send these letters to Gusu as soon as possible. I’ve already told the other sect leaders—” 

“Wait! Why?!” Wei Wuxian interrupted, alarmed.

Jiang Cheng frowned.

“We were attacked by six demons, Wei Wuxian. It’s not normal. They need to know in case something like this comes up in their territory.”

“You didn’t tell them about Lan Zhan, did you?”

Jiang Cheng’s frown deepened.

“Of course, I did, idiot. But it’s not like I described his wounds or anything. I just said he was badly injured.”

Wei Wuxian bit his lip and then nodded slowly. Jiang Cheng frowned at him, opened his mouth to ask a question, thought better of it, and then shook his head.

“Anyway, these letters to Gusu are more specific. I’ve described what happened as well as the severity of Lan Wangji’s injuries. I’ve asked them to come.”

Wei Wuxian’s head snapped up from where he had settled his gaze on his husband’s pale face.

“What?!” he demanded. “Why?!” 

“They’re his uncle and his older brother, Wei Wuxian,” Jiang Cheng answered. “They deserve to be here.” 

“But, but. . .”

“But what? You don’t want them here?”

“That’s not it,” Wei Wuxian answered quickly, shaking his head. He paused and licked his lips before speaking. “Xichen-ge should definitely be here, he loves Lan Zhan very much and I think his presence would be very reassuring. But Lan Qiren. . .” He trailed off, eyes flitting back to Lan Zhan’s bloodless face. He trailed his thumb over his husband’s slightly parted lips, feeling his dry skin and short harsh breaths on his palm, before he took a wet washcloth and swept it across his face. Lan Zhan’s lips pursed slightly at the touch of the cool water, tongue swiping out to catch more, and Wei Wuxian smiled and squeezed a bit more water into his mouth, angling his head to make sure he didn’t choke. When Lan Zhan seemed satisfied, he resettled him in his lap and resumed finger-combing his hair.

Slowly, he spoke again to Jiang Cheng. 

“Lan Qiren will just be angry if he comes here,” he said with a heavy sigh. “He’ll just come in here and start yelling and swearing. It’s the last thing Lan Zhan needs right now.”

“Swearing is forbidden in the Cloud Recesses,” Jiang Cheng said on instinct and Wei Wuxian laughed mirthlessly.

“We’re not in the Cloud Recesses, Jiang Cheng,” he said. “Besides, you’d be surprised by how many colorful swears Lan Qiren knows and says even in the Cloud Recesses.”

Jiang Cheng raised an eyebrow but didn’t doubt Wei Wuxian. Instead, he just nodded.

“All right,” he said. “We’ll just send a letter to Lan Xichen then.”

Wei Wuxian nodded, and his shoulders fell in relief. He leaned forward and spoke against Lan Wangji’s temple, lips moving on his pale skin, as Jiang Cheng bunched the letter to Lan Qiren into a ball and tossed it into a nearby brazier.

“Here,” he said when Wei Wuxian straightened up. “Read this letter to Lan Xichen and sign it if you think it’s sufficient. When you’re done, I’ll send my fastest swordsman to fly to Gusu.” 

Wei Wuxian took the letter from Jiang Cheng but shook his head. 

“No,” he said, “you’ll go to Gusu.”

Jiang Cheng stiffened.

“What do you mean I’ll go to Gusu?” he demanded, annoyed. Wei Wuxian didn’t seem to hear him, engrossed in the contents of the letter, and Jiang Cheng balled his hands into fists on his knees. “Wei Wuxian!”

“Xichen-ge will probably only agree to see another Sect Leader,” Wei Wuxian said after a moment, grabbing a brush and hurriedly signing his name at the end of the letter. He shook it to make it dry faster before folding it again and handing it to Jiang Cheng. “Besides, I only trust you to take this letter and not lose it. It’s very important and private since it details so many of Lan Zhan’s injuries.”

Jiang Cheng frowned. 

“Wei Wuxian, I understand, but I’m the Sect Leader of Yunmeng Jiang. I can’t just—”

“Jiang Cheng,” Wei Wuxian said, and he reached forward, grabbing Jiang Cheng’s wrists tightly. He stared up at Jiang Cheng, silver-grey eyes wide and desperate, and Jiang Cheng was terrified to see his lip wobble. “Jiang Cheng,” he repeated. “Please.”

“Okay,” Jiang Cheng said, taking the letter quickly and pulling away. He stuffed it in the breast of his hanfu and stood up, drinking the last dregs of wine from his cup. “Okay, I’ll do it. Just don’t say please. It’s. . .weird.” He grabbed his empty tray of food, making a hurried exit. “I’ll leave now,” he said. “I’ll probably be back by midnight or so with Lan Xichen. Don’t forget to eat your food, idiot!”

He left the room without another word, not waiting to hear if Wei Wuxian had heard him or not.

Wei Wuxian watched him go, then turned to the food lying on the table which was quickly growing cold. Wen Ning, who had been sitting silently the whole time, gently nudged the tray closer to Wei Wuxian.

“You should eat something, Young Master Wei,” he said, “before it gets too cold. I can warm it up, if you like.”

Wei Wuxian just blinked and shook his head. Wen Ning frowned.

“Young Master Wei,” he said, concerned, “Liu-daifu will be upset to see you didn’t eat.”

“I’m not hungry,” Wei Wuxian whispered, turning back to Lan Zhan. He took his hand in his own, gently running his thumb over his husband’s knuckles. A strained smile pulled at his lips. “Did you hear what Jiang Cheng and I said earlier, Lan Zhan?” he said. “Xichen-ge is coming. I’m sure you’ll be glad to see him. It’s been quite some time.”

Lan Zhan’s fingers twitched in Wei Wuxian’s grip and Wei Wuxian smiled, bringing their enjoined hands up to his cheek. 

“Yes, your brother is coming out of seclusion to see you. Jiang Cheng is bringing him here. Can you wait a while for him?”

Wen Ning saw Lan Zhan’s fingers twitch again and Wei Wuxian’s smile become slightly more genuine. Then Wei Wuxian turned to him again, dipping his head at the tray of food.

“I’ll eat a bit now, Wen Ning,” he said.

Wen Ning grinned as best he could and all but shoved the tray of food at Wei Wuxian. Laughing, Wei Wuxian took the chopsticks with the hand that wasn’t holding Lan Zhan’s and began to eat the rice and meat on the plate.

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Chapter Text

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A young Lan disciple greeted Jiang Cheng at the entrance to the Cloud Recesses when he arrived at around ten at night.

“Sect Leader Jiang,” she said with a bow. “What brings you to Cloud Recesses so late?”

“I have a message to personally deliver to the Sect Leader,” he said. “Where is he?”

The girl bowed again.

“Sect Leader Lan is in seclusion,” she replied. “He is not to be disturbed.”

“This is an emergency,” Jiang Cheng said, voice coming out more sharply than he intended. Much to the girl’s credit, she did not flinch, instead only rising from her bow and raising a delicate eyebrow. From the ribbon on her forehead, Jiang Cheng pinned her as an inner disciple. 

“If that is so, then I will bring you to Sect Leader immediately,” she said. She turned to the other disciple guarding the gate with her and he nodded in understanding at whatever silent communication they shared. “Follow me, Sect Leader Jiang,” she said, stepping inside and waving away the protective barrier surrounding the Cloud Recesses. Jiang Cheng followed her closely as she made her way towards what he realized was the Cold Spring Cave.

“Forgive my asking, Sect Leader Jiang, but what is this emergency?” the girl asked, and Jiang Cheng raised an eyebrow in surprise. It was unlike Lan disciples to pry for details. 

“None of your business,” he huffed. “Private matters.”

“Of course, Sect Leader Jiang. Forgive me.” They reached the entrance to the Cold Spring Cave and the girl stopped and turned to Jiang Cheng. “If Sect Leader Jiang will wait a moment,” she said. “Only members of the Lan Clan with forehead ribbons can enter this area.”

“Of course,” Jiang Cheng said, waving the girl forward. She bowed and disappeared behind a powerful barrier, reappearing ten minutes later with Lan Xichen next to her.

Jiang Cheng’s jaw nearly dropped in shock.

Lan Xichen looked absolutely awful.

He had lost a significant amount of weight since the last time Jiang Cheng had seen him and his former glow had faded from his bearing. His face was pinched, his hair was dull and knotted, and his clothes were wrinkled and disheveled. The usually immaculate Lan ribbon lay crooked on his forehead and he no longer stood straight — rather his shoulders were hunched and his eyes downcast in shame.

Jiang Cheng hated it.

Nonetheless, he bowed in respect.

Zewu-jun,” he greeted, choosing this title rather than Sect Leader Lan. “I hope you are well.” He obviously wasn’t, but pleasantries had to be exchanged, after all.

Lan Xichen returned the bow.

“Sect Leader Jiang,” he said, forcing a smile onto his face, “I have been fine, thank you for inquiring. What brings you here? Shaoqing-er tells me that it is very urgent.”

“It is. It involves Lan Wangji.” 

Lan Xichen, who was already pale, somehow paled even further, going as white as his robes. He waved a hand at the disciple at his side, who was frowning at him in concern.

“Shaoqing,” he said, “leave us.” 

“Yes, Sect Leader.” She bowed and left quickly, although the concern on her face did not fade. As soon as she was gone, Lan Xichen turned to Jiang Cheng.

“What is it?” he asked urgently. “What’s going on?”

Jiang Cheng pulled the letter from the breast of his hanfu and handed it to Lan Xichen in way of answer. The man all but ripped it open, brown eyes rapidly sweeping over the characters written on the paper. He grew whiter and whiter the more he read, and Jiang Cheng was alarmed to see tears spring to his eyes. When he weaved and dropped the letter on the ground, Jiang Cheng ran up to him and grabbed his elbow.

Zewu-jun!” he cried. “Zewu-jun, are you all right?”

“Wangji. . .” Lan Xichen murmured, seemingly unaware of Jiang Cheng’s presence. He was shaking badly, face shining with fear in the light of the moon. “Wangji is so badly hurt. . .” His eyes suddenly snapped to Jiang Cheng and the man nearly took a step back, startled by the fury in his gaze. “How did this happen?” he demanded, fear suddenly replaced with anger. “How could you let this happen?”

Zewu-jun—”

“He went to help you,” Lan Xichen hissed, poking a finger roughly into Jiang Cheng’s chest. “Wangji went to help you with a demon that you couldn’t handle and now he’s wounded! How could you let this happen to him?!”

Jiang Cheng bristled. 

Sect Leader,” he hissed through gritted teeth, “I assure you that it was not my intention for Lan Wangji to be injured on a night hunt. We thought there would only be one demon and there turned out to be six. We were overwhelmed and outnumbered. Lan Wangji took injuries intended for Wei Wuxian.”

Lan Xichen froze and an expression that Jiang Cheng had never seen — stormy, pure, unadulterated rage — took over his face for a moment before it disappeared.

“Of course, he’d get hurt protecting that man,” Lan Xichen muttered, fisting his hands into his hanfu. “Of course. That’s the only reason Wangji ever gets hurt. . .” He trailed off before he ran his hand over his face and slumped over again, looking as tired as Jiang Cheng had ever seen him. “How is Wangji now?” he asked. “Is he all right?”

“Same as it says in the letter,” Jiang Cheng answered. “All of his wounds have been cared for and he’s stable. He’s unconscious, but the physician seems to prefer this.”

Lan Xichen nodded. 

“It will be painful for him when he wakes up,” he said. “And Wei Wuxian? How is he?” 

Jiang Cheng blinked and Lan Xichen’s lips quirked up in a small smile.

“I know I lost my temper there for a moment,” he said, “but I do care for Young Master Wei. My brother loves him very much. If he is doing unwell it will upset Wangji and in turn upset me.”

Jiang Cheng nodded slowly.

“He’s very shaken,” he answered after a moment, “and he won’t leave Lan Wangji’s side. He’s always touching him in some way.” Jiang Cheng’s lip curled up in distaste. “He keeps Lan Wangji’s head in his lap and is always playing with his hair or holding his hand or stroking his cheek.”

Lan Xichen smiled faintly.

“A dutiful husband,” he said.

“A clingy husband,” Jiang Cheng snorted. “He doesn’t know when to let the man rest. We had to forcibly remove him from the room when the physician started treating the wounds.”

Lan Xichen nodded.

“I understand,” he said. “They are both like that. They don’t like being apart from each other.” His eyes moved to Jiang Cheng’s face, soft and gentle. “Surely you understand, though? They were separated for so many years — they are very afraid of losing each other again.”

Jiang Cheng huffed in annoyance but nodded anyway. 

“I get it,” he said. “But they still need to take care of themselves.” He looked up at the moon high in the sky and then at Lan Xichen. “Are you coming to Lotus Pier with me then?” he asked.

Lan Xichen nodded.

“Of course,” he said without hesitation.

Jiang Cheng smiled wryly and spoke despite himself.

“Breaking your seclusion?” he said.

Lan Xichen unsheathed Shuoyue and threw Jiang Cheng an unimpressed look.

“I would gladly break anything — or anyone — if Wangji was hurt,” he said, voice disturbingly calm and even, and Jiang Cheng fought back a shiver. He had forgotten how powerful this First Jade of Lan was in the midst of all the man's suffering and seclusion.

“Let’s go, then,” Jiang Cheng said, hopping onto Sandu. “They’ll be waiting for us.” 

Lan Xichen nodded and took off without speaking, leaving Jiang Cheng to catch up.

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Chapter Text

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“Look at the rabbits, Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying cried happily, holding aloft a black and white bunny and grinning at Lan Zhan. He was sitting in the valley where the rabbits lived, dressed only in his thin silk sleeping robe.

“Mn,” Lan Zhan hummed, stepping forward and kneeling in front of Wei Ying. He took the black and white bunny from his husband’s hands and cradled it against him as Wei Ying leaned back and grabbed a black one. The sleeping robe slipped over his thighs, exposing his milk white skin, and Lan Zhan’s heart pounded in his ears. This was his favorite sleeping robe of Wei Ying’s because it caused a lot of things to not be left to the imagination.

But why was Wei Ying wearing it outside?

“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan said, and Wei Ying turned around, the sleeping robe slipping off one shoulder completely. Lan Zhan completely blanked out for a few seconds, staring at his husband’s collarbone, before a soft laugh and a gentle brush of a hand against his cheek brought him back to reality.

Aiyah, Lan Zhan, you’re so easy to distract,” Wei Ying laughed, stroking Lan Zhan’s skin with long and practiced fingers. He winked. “Do you like what you see?”

“Mn.”

Wei Ying laughed again.  

“I know you do, silly man!” He leaned forward and kissed Lan Zhan softly on the forehead, lips warm and soft. Lan Zhan tipped his head forward, his lips searching for Wei Ying’s, but his husband just laughed. “Not in front of the rabbits,” he teased.

Lan Zhan pouted, and Wei Ying erupted into full bully laughs, doubling over.

“Ah, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, just say what you want!” he cried breathlessly. He leaned forward and grabbed Lan Zhan’s hands, squeezing them tight. He dropped his voice to a sultry low. “I’ll give it to you, tianxin.”

“Wei Ying. . .”

“Yes?”  

“Want Wei Ying.”  

Wei Ying grinned cheekily then got to his feet, silk sleep robe whipping about his calves in the windy valley.  

“Then I’m all yours,” he said with a wink. He held out a hand to Lan Zhan, his smile widening. “Come on, let’s go back to the Jingshi."

Lan Zhan nodded, blood pounding in his ears, and allowed Wei Ying to pull him to his feet.

Pain lanced unexpectedly through his chest and abdomen before settling itself in a burning agony just above his left hip. He dropped back to his knees with a muffled cry, the hand that wasn’t holding Wei Ying’s going to clutch the hurt instinctively.

Wei Ying cried out in alarm and was suddenly kneeling in front of him, grabbing both of his hands tightly. He was speaking, words spilling fast and frantic from his terrified mouth and Lan Zhan wanted to reassure him, but it hurt too much to speak, much less move. So, all he did was squeeze Wei Ying’s hands and pray that the pain would dissipate soon.  

Wei Ying tried to pull away for a moment, but Lan Zhan yelled and only held his hand tighter. Soft words then, quiet and reassuring, and Lan Zhan was moved onto the ground. He wanted to be held. His mother used to hold him when he didn’t feel good and he liked when Wei Ying held him at night. He tried to open his mouth again to tell Wei Ying this but all that came out was a groan of pain.  

Other voices were suddenly in his dream — the rabbits disappeared, and Jiang Wanyin was there (annoying) and brother (gege!!) plus a woman he didn’t know and a young man. He didn’t want them here — he only wanted Wei Ying. And it hurt so maybe brother. . . .

Wei Ying. . . Brother. . . .

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By the time Jiang Cheng and Lan Xichen arrived, it was nearly one in the morning. They had barely gotten off their swords when Lan Jingyi ran up to them, eyes over bright and hair a mess. He pointed wildly to the direction of Lan Wangji’s room and immediately startled babbling. 

Zewu-jun. . . Hanguang-jun. . . . he, Senior Wei . . . they say it’s hurting him—”

Jiang Cheng leaned forward, grabbed the boy’s shoulders, and shook him roughly, ignoring the fact he probably shouldn’t do this to another sect’s disciple.

“Calm down,” he snapped. “Speak slowly. What’s going on?”

Hanguang-jun is half-awake and in a lot of pain,” Lan Jingyi answered, licking his lips. “The physician says one of the wounds looks really bad, but she won’t let us in!”

Before Jingyi had even finished speaking, Lan Xichen and Jiang Cheng were running toward Lan Wangji’s sickroom. Lan Xichen was ahead of Jiang Cheng as he didn’t need directions to know where his brother lay — he could hear him crying from halfway across Lotus Pier. He reached the room in record time, ignoring the sign on the door that said, “Do Not Enter” and ran to his brother’s side.

“Wangji!” he cried. “Wangji, oh Wangji!” He grabbed one of his brother’s hands from Wei Wuxian and held it close to his chest, ignoring how his brother tried to wiggle free from his grip. “Shh, Wangji, shh. Gege is here, you’re all right. You’re safe.”

“Who the hell are you?” a woman’s voice demanded, and Lan Xichen looked up to see a woman glaring at him in annoyance, leaning over a deep wound over his brother’s hip. It was a dark and angry red, leaking pus and clear fluid. He paled while looking at it, recognizing instantly an infected wound, but a pair of fingers snapped in front of his face brought him back to attention. “I asked: Who the hell are you?”

“He’s Lan Wangji’s brother, Lan Xichen, Zewu-jun,” Jiang Cheng answered from the door. He slid them shut behind him, throwing up silencing talismans as he did so to prevent others outside from hearing Lan Wangji’s cries.

The physician just frowned at Lan Xichen.

“Brother, huh?” she said. “Fine but stay out of my way.” She turned to a young man in the room, dressed in the same lavender-colored robes as her, and Lan Xichen recognized them suddenly as Liu-daifu and her apprentice Sun Zhao from the Magnolia Sect; they had appeared once or twice in the Cloud Recesses before to care for very ill and elderly sect members. “Zhao-er, give me the disinfectant.”

“Yes, Liu-daifu.”

The apprentice pulled a small bowl from a table and handed it to the physician. Lan Xichen recognized the pungent smell of acrid herbs and sterile alcohol and went white. He grabbed the bowl from the physician before she could pour it onto Wangji’s wound.

“What are you doing?!?” Liu-daifu yelled. “Give that to me!”

“Why are you using this?” Lan Xichen asked, holding the bowl out of her reach. Wangji fidgeted in his grip, whining pitifully on the bed, and Lan Xichen saw Wei Wuxian kiss his forehead gently even as he watched Lan Xichen and the physician carefully out of the corner of his eye. “There are less painful ways to clean the wound.” 

“Yes, but that’s the fastest and most effective,” Liu-daifu answered, clearly annoyed. “Unless you want to try something else, gege.” She spit out the last word derisively, clearly upset, and Lan Xichen barely fought back a wince.

Before he could do anything, the apprentice popped up behind him, grabbed the bowl from his hand, and unceremoniously tossed the solution onto Lan Wangji’s infected wound.

Immediately, Wangji howled, a terrible noise that Lan Xichen knew would haunt his dreams forever. He writhed on the bed as the wound bubbled with pus and fresh blood, screaming incessantly as he tried to pull his hands from Lan Xichen and Wei Wuxian to grab at the newly cleaned wound. When he found he couldn’t do that, he began to beat his head against Wei Wuxian’s legs with what little strength he had, trying to hurt himself.

Wei Wuxian and Lan Xichen hurriedly reached out to stop him, Lan Xichen cradling the back of his head as Wei Wuxian laid a palm firmly against Lan Zhan’s temple. He spoke softly in Lan Zhan’s ear even as Lan Zhan wailed miserably.

“Lan Zhan, tianxin, my love, please, it’s all right,” he said, voice cracking as tears of his own spilled down his cheeks. “It’s all right, Lan Zhan. I know it hurts, but you’re all right. They’re helping you. I’m here and so is Xichen-ge.” His eyes flitted to Lan Xichen, who took this as his cue to speak.

Gege is here, Wangji,” he said, rubbing his thumb along the base of his brother’s skull. “I’m here and you’re going to be all right. Everything will be all right, I promise. I promise, didi.”

Lan Wangji gasped raggedly, fingers convulsively clutching at the hands holding his.

“W-Wei Ying. . .” he breathed. 

“I’m here, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian said quietly, running his fingers through Lan Wangji’s hair. “I’m right here.”

Ge. . .ge. . .”

Lan Xichen smiled and nodded, squeezing his brother’s hand tight.

“Yes, didi, that’s right, I’m here. Right here.”

They watched with bated breath as Lan Wangji’s eyes fluttered open slowly, revealing slits of hazy gold. Wei Wuxian and Lan Xichen exchanged a look before forcing reassuring smiles onto their faces.

“Wei Y-Ying. . .”

“Right here, tianxin, look, I’m here.” 

Lan Wangji hummed quietly and then his eyes roved, searching for someone else.

Gege. . .”

“Wangji, I’m here as well,” Lan Xichen said, kneeling over his brother so he could see him better. “I came as soon as I heard.”

“Huan-ge. . .”

Lan Xichen nodded and smiled, tears springing to his eyes.

“Yes, that’s right. Huan-ge is here. Huan-ge is here to see his Zhan-di.”

Lan Wangji nodded slowly and relaxed a bit, eyes fluttering closed again. However, they all could tell he was still awake by his stiff posture and downturned lips.

“Wei Ying. . . Gege. . .” He winced and his eyes flew open. He squeezed their hands hard enough for bones to grind together, but the two didn’t mind. Whatever brought Wangji comfort they could bear. Lan Wangji’s face twisted up in misery. “Hurts. . .”

“I know, love, I know,” Wei Wuxian soothed, and Lan Wangji looked up at him, gold eyes locked on his face. Lan Xichen turned to the physician and her apprentice, who were still busy cleaning out the wound.

“When will you be finished?” he asked, a little more desperately than he wanted. 

The physician looked up at him, unimpressed.

“We’ll be finished when we’re finished,” she said flatly.

The apprentice, however, took pity on him. 

“Five more minutes, Zewu-jun,” he said, wiping away the fresh blood that pooled from Wangji’s wound. “Can you keep him calm for that long? It will be easier for him if he’s still.”

Lan Xichen nodded resolutely and turned back to his brother, squeezing his hand and ignoring the scent of blood that permeated the air.

“Wangji, can you listen to me? I have something to tell you. It’s very important.”

His brother’s face twisted up in misery and he shook his head, trying to draw his legs up to his chest in an attempt to seek comfort. Jiang Cheng rushed forward, pinning his legs to the bed, and Liu-daifu nodded at him in thanks even as Lan Wangji whined.

“Wangji, please,” Lan Xichen said, feeling his heart being wrenched in half. The last time he had seen his brother in such terrible pain was the thirty-three whip lashes thirteen years ago, and even then he had not expressed such open agony — the Lan Clan had rules forbidding open expressions of pain and discomfort if you were over the age of five — and had only seen his face scrunch up and his hands hold tightly to his own as he lay bedridden for months. He had only cried once, in his sleep, for Wei Wuxian.

Now he was openly screaming and fighting hands that were helping him, tears of pain and fear streaming down his too-pale face. It was breaking Lan Xichen apart, the pain of this far worse than anything he had felt after the deaths of Nie Mingjue and Jin Guangyao.

He hadn’t realized he was crying silently until Jiang Cheng was speaking to him, voice laced with worry.

Zewu-jun?” he asked. “Zewu-jun, are you all right?”

Lan Xichen’s eyes flicked over to Jiang Cheng, who was using his whole strength to pin Lan Wangji’s legs to the bed as the physician and her apprentice finished up their task. Behind him, he heard Wei Wuxian speaking softly to his brother, whispers of reassurance and safety. Wangji had stopped screaming, only breathing in harsh pants, and Lan Xichen wondered how long he had blanked out. 

Zewu-jun?” Jiang Cheng asked again, and this time the sect leader was leaning towards him with a deep frown, having released Wangji’s legs at some point and covered him with a purple blanket.

Lan Xichen blinked and shook his head.

 “Fine,” he answered with a forced smile. “I’m fine.” His eyes flicked back to Wangji before Jiang Cheng could say anything, relief flooding him when he saw that his little brother was now asleep (or unconscious.) Not that the difference really mattered. “What happened?” he asked.

Wei Wuxian, who was running shaky fingers across Wangji’s’ jaw, sighed.

“Liu-daifu said the wound was infected. She needed to clean it out.”

Lan Xichen frowned.

“How did it get infected so quickly? Sect Leader Jiang told me it’s only been a day since Wangji was injured.”

“Demon injuries are usually like this,” Wei Wuxian answered with a sigh. “Painful and deep and prone to quick-setting infection.”

Lan Xichen nodded, recalling his readings from the Cloud Recesses many years ago; he had hoped they would never need to come in handy. Unfortunately, the fates were never that kind.

“Of course,” the First Jade said after a moment. He looked at his hand, still entangled with Wangji’s own. “How has he been?” he asked quietly. 

Wei Wuxian didn’t look up when he spoke.

“Mostly sleeping,” he said after a moment. “It’s not very restful but Liu-daifu seems to think keeping him unconscious will help him more than anything. He talks in his sleep a lot.” Wei Wuxian’s lips quirked faintly. “Lots of stuff about the rabbits and the Jingshi.”

“Any nightmares?”

Wei Wuxian looked up, startled.

“How did you know that?” he asked.

Lan Xichen smiled mirthlessly. 

“Wangji had a lot of nightmares while you were gone,” he said. “He suffered and mourned for you. It wasn’t unusual for him to have trouble sleeping.” 

Wei Wuxian swallowed a lump in his throat and wiped at his wet eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he breathed.

Lan Xichen waved a hand.

“It’s all in the past,” he said. He peered at Wei Wuxian, noticing how pale and drawn he was, how he was barely keeping himself upright; he sighed — this ridiculous couple. “You need to rest,” he said. Wei Wuxian opened his mouth to object, but Lan Xichen shook his head. “Wangji wouldn’t like to see you like this. Go eat something and sleep for a bit. I’ll stay with him.”

“But—” 

Zewu-jun is right,” Jiang Cheng interrupted. “You look like shit, Wei Wuxian. You need to rest before you run yourself into the ground. If that happens, then you can’t take care of Lan Wangji anymore.”

Wei Wuxian nodded in understanding, but he didn’t move from the bed, something still holding him back. Jiang Cheng sighed explosively and rolled his eyes.

“If something’s wrong or Lan Wangji asks for you then we’ll get you right away,” he said to his brother. “How does that sound?”

Wei Wuxian stared at Jiang Cheng, squeezing his husband’s hand tightly.

“Promise?” he whispered, and Jiang Cheng hated how small he sounded. He nodded, eyes soft.

“I promise, Wei Wuxian,” he said. “I swear it.”

Wei Wuxian’s eyes flicked to Lan Xichen. 

“Xichen-ge?” he questioned, and Lan Xichen smiled gently. 

“Of course, Ying-didi.” Jiang Cheng was somewhat taken aback by the fond address, but Wei Wuxian and Lan Xichen both seemed comfortable with it. “If Wangji asks for you, I’ll send for you.”

Wei Wuxian deflated in relief. 

“Thank you,” he said, dipping his head at both of them. “I appreciate it.”

“No need for thanks, Wei Ying,” Lan Xichen said. “You’ve been with my brother through this entire ordeal. I should be thanking you.”

Wei Wuxian shook his head furiously, red ribbon whipping across his cheeks.

“No!” he snapped. “No, you shouldn’t! This is all my fault!”

Jiang Cheng sighed; this again. For God’s sake. . .  

“Wei Wuxian—” he began, but Lan Xichen cut him off.

“It’s good you know that,” he said, voice even and calm. Wei Wuxian stiffened, looking ready to shatter, and Jiang Cheng turned to the First Jade of Lan, suddenly furious. Yes, he still had plenty of resentments with Wei Wuxian, but he was still his brother, and anyone insulting him was insulting the Yunmeng Jiang Sect as well. 

“Excuse me?” he snapped at Lan Xichen and the man turned to him, a thin eyebrow raised. He looked cold, but Jiang Cheng wasn’t perturbed. Instead, he only grew angrier. “It was Lan Wangji’s choice to take those wounds for Wei Wuxian! It’s not like he threw Lan Wangji in front of the demons.” He stiffened. “Zewu-jun, I would be careful with your words.” 

Lan Xichen blinked at him, taken aback, before his expression cleared. Guilt and regret flashed across his face as he turned back to Wei Wuxian. 

“I’m sorry for losing my temper, Wei Ying,” he said —That was losing his temper?? Jiang Cheng thought blankly — “It’s just that I am upset to see my brother so badly injured. I hope you will forgive me, both of you.” He dipped his head at Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng.  

“It’s all right,” Wei Wuxian said. “I understand.” But Jiang Cheng could still see the guilt shining in Wei Wuxian’s eyes and knew they needed to have a talk before his brother spiraled into a complete mess.

He ran a hand over his face. God. . .

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Liu-daifu was pleased to learn that Lan Xichen had a very strong and refined golden core. When he offered to lend spiritual energy to his brother to help him heal faster, the physician had quickly agreed. 

“However, you must stop as soon as you feel fatigued,” she warned sternly. “I don’t need another patient to attend to.”

“Of course, Liu-daifu,” Lan Xichen agreed.

“And if something is wrong send for me or Zhao-er. Sect Leader Jiang has generously provided us quarters nearby so we can be here quickly if an issue arises.” She looked at Lan Zhan, who lay quietly in bed, head still cradled in Wei Wuxian’s lap. His breathing had eased, and he had warmed up, indicating that the demon poison and subsequent infection were clearing from his body. “Although I don’t expect it too — he’s doing well.” 

Wei Wuxian looked up at this, hopeful. 

“Really?”

“Yes,” Liu-daifu answered. She frowned at him, noticing for the first time how haggard he looked. His hair was disheveled and uncombed, and he was still wearing the same dirty robes — they were covered in his husband’s dried blood and were beginning to smell. Not only that, but Wei Wuxian’s face was pale and pinched, with dark circles beginning to appear under his eyes like faint bruises. Liu-daifu sighed internally; he looked worse than any spouse she had ever worked with. Of course.

She turned to Jiang Cheng.

“You,” she said to him, “get this ridiculous man out of here before he collapses.”

Wei Wuxian’s eyes widened and he opened his mouth to object, but Liu-daifu cut him off. 

“Second Lord Lan is stable, Master Wei,” she said. “He’ll be fine for a few hours without you. You need a bath, food, and rest. Besides, he won’t be alone. Sect Leader Lan will stay with him, won’t you?”

“Yes, Liu-daifu.” Lan Xichen turned to Wei Wuxian and laid a hand on his forearm. He smiled gently. “You should go, Ying-didi,” he said. “Wangji wouldn’t like to see you like this. He’ll be upset if he wakes up and sees you so tired and distraught.” 

Wei Wuxian paused at this, taking Lan Xichen’s words into consideration, before nodding slowly. Jiang Cheng let out an enormous sigh of relief and Liu-daifu’s shoulders dropped before she dipped her head at her apprentice. With a few soft words to Wei Wuxian, Sun Zhao helped the man move Lan Zhan’s head from his lap onto a soft pillow, then took Wei Wuxian’s hand and pulled him to his feet. Wei Wuxian weaved for a moment and Jiang Cheng rushed forward to keep him upright, a deep frown settling on his face when he felt how bony the elbow he grabbed was. 

“What do they feed you at Cloud Recesses?” he mumbled before he could stop himself. “Why are you so skinny?”

Wei Wuxian threw him a withering look.

“Excuse you, Jiang Cheng, I eat very well. Lan Zhan makes delightful meals.”

Jiang Cheng blinked, taken aback.

“Lan Wangji. . . makes your meals for you?” he asked slowly.

Wei Wuxian hummed happily, turning to his husband and running a hand lovingly through his long black hair. Jiang Cheng huffed.

“What is he, your wife?” he sniffed, crossing his arms over his chest, and was again surprised by the unexpected flicker of anger and resentment that raced across Wei Wuxian’s face when he turned to face him.

“Lan Zhan is not my wife, Jiang Cheng,” he snapped. “He’s not a woman. He’s my husband. Lan Zhan is my cultivation partner and my husband, and you would do well to remember it.”

Jiang Cheng held up his hands placatingly even as Lan Xichen leaned forward and whispered something in Wei Wuxian’s ear. It was too quiet for Jiang Cheng to catch, but whatever he said made Wei Wuxian deflate immediately and a look of guilt settle on his face. He opened his mouth to speak but Jiang Cheng cut him off.

“No apologies, Wei Wuxian,” he said. 

“But—”

“I said no apologies and I mean it.” Jiang Cheng sighed and cast his eyes to the floor. “I was the one in the wrong. I spoke thoughtlessly.” He bowed formally, though it pained it him to do so. (Bowing to Wei Wuxian was always painful.) “I meant nothing by it, though. I assure you I think highly of your and Lan Wangji’s relationship.”

He had a lot of questions still: Why it upset Wei Wuxian so much that Jiang Cheng called Lan Zhan his wife, even in jest; why the two were so touchy and clingy; but the one most on his mind right now took precedence.

“Why does Lan Wangji make your meals?” he asked.

Wei Wuxian grinned. 

“To fatten me up, obviously,” he said with a wink and Jiang Cheng huffed in annoyance; he should have known he wouldn’t get a serious answer. But Wei Wuxian continued speaking. “But really, Lan Zhan makes food that he knows I’ll eat and enjoy. The usual food at Cloud Recesses is disgustingly bland, as you well know.” Wei Wuxian winced and bowed apologetically at Lan Xichen. “No offense meant, Xichen-ge.”

Lan Xichen laughed and waved a hand.

“None taken, Ying-di,” he said with a smile. He moved from his chair to Jiang Cheng’s abandoned one — closer to Lan Zhan’s head — and reseated himself silently, taking his brother’s hand in his own. He began to rub small circles on Lan Zhan’s jade-like skin, still speaking to Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng. “I know you dislike the fare of the Cloud Recesses; it can be difficult to bear if you did not grow up with it.” His eyes flicked to Jiang Cheng. “I remember you disliking it as well, Sect Leader Jiang,” he said. 

Jiang Cheng flushed red in embarrassment.

“At least I could handle it,” he muttered to Wei Wuxian and his brother pouted at him.

“That’s not fair, Jiang Cheng!” he said. “You don’t live there! Eating the same old plain rice congee everyday — it would be unbearable if Lan Zhan didn’t add spices to it!”

Jiang Cheng raised an eyebrow.

“Are you saying that Lan Wangji makes all your meals?”

Before Wei Wuxian could answer, Lan Xichen spoke.

“Indeed, my brother makes all of Ying-didi’s meals,” he said, voice fond and soft. He rubbed the skin between Lan Wangji’s thumb and index finger gently, unbearably kind. Both Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian were vividly reminded of their older sister and fought back waves of sad nostalgia. “He learned to cook a variety of dishes while you were. . . gone,” Lan Xichen said, not looking at Wei Wuxian. He laughed after a moment. “I was his taste-tester and he was quite bad at it at first, but he improved quickly. His meals are very delicious, if I say so myself. I may be biased, though.” 

Wei Wuxian grinned.

“No, no, you’re right!” he said, and Jiang Cheng was relieved to see that some of the worry and guilt that had been permanently written on his face ever since Lan Wangji had first been hurt had faded away. Thank you, Lan Xichen. “Lan Zhan makes the best food!” He turned to Jiang Cheng suddenly, a wide smile on his face. “He even makes lotus root and pork rib soup!”

Jiang Cheng blinked and nearly took a step back. He hadn’t had that soup in over a decade, as his sister had made it best, and having any pot that wasn’t hers seemed the highest form of sacrilege. A part of him wanted to slap the unconscious Lan Wangji for even learning the recipe, for surely the Second Jade knew it meant something important. 

But Wei Wuxian’s next words stopped him.

“It’s not as good as Shijie’s — nothing will ever be as good as Shijie’s — but he tries. We have it every year on her birthday.”

Jiang Cheng felt his throat close. They celebrated A-jie’s birthday? What else did they celebrate? What else did they remember and mourn for together? His mind reeled.

“W-What?” he managed to stammer eventually, and Wei Wuxian turned to him in full. His smile dropped off his face.

“Oh,” he said dumbly. “Oh. Jiang Cheng, I—”

“Perhaps you two should take this conversation elsewhere,” Lan Xichen interrupted. “My brother needs rest and you need a bath, Wei Wuxian.” Traces of a smile tugged at his lips. “Not to be rude, but you smell awful.”

Wei Wuxian blinked and raised his sleeve to his nose, immediately pulling away and scrunching his nose up in disgust. He gagged.

“Okay, yeah, you’re right.” He grabbed Jiang Cheng’s hand and pulled him out of the room, waving at Lan Xichen as he shut the door. “See you soon, Xichen-ge!” 

When the door was shut, Wei Wuxian led the still blank Jiang Cheng some distance from Lan Zhan’s room before stopping and laying both his hands on his brother’s shoulders. He shook him.

“Jiang Cheng!” he said. “Jiang Cheng listen to me. I know you—”

He was cut off by Jiang Cheng’s fist colliding harshly with his mouth. He stumbled backwards with a choked cry, spitting blood out of his mouth. When he looked up at Jiang Cheng, his eyes were sad but not angry.

“You celebrate A-jie’s birthday?” Jiang Cheng spat. “Where do you get off thinking you can do that? You killed her husband! You killed Jin Ling’s father!”

“Jiang Cheng, listen—” 

A-jie wouldn’t be dead if she hadn’t come to Heavenly Nightless City to find you! To stop you!” Jiang Cheng’s voice rose to a shriek. “Even though you’re not the one who orchestrated all of this, who dealt the killing blow, you’re the reason she’s dead! You don’t get to celebrate her birthday!” He stepped forward and shoved two hands against Wei Wuxian’s chest, easily pushing him down. Wei Wuxian did not get up, laying on the floor, tangled black hair lying in front of his face, hiding his expression.

“And why did Lan Wangji learn to make that soup?!” Jiang Cheng screamed. “He knew that was our sister’s soup! He knew she was the only person in Lotus Pier who made that soup — not even Mother or any servants made it! And he even knew she made it during the Sunshot Campaign, and when you were in the Burial Mounds and we were all fighting the Wens! What is he doing, making that soup now?! Does he have no respect for our clan? For our dead sister?!”

Wei Wuxian had had enough. He could take all the besmirching of his own character as possible — could have people spit on him, throw rocks and mud and sticks at his name — but once it came to Lan Zhan, Wei Wuxian drew the line. He stood up, eyes flashing, and fought the urge to kick Jiang Cheng. 

“Not that it’s any of your business, Jiang Cheng,” he hissed, “but I don’t celebrate Shijie’s birthday. The only birthdays I celebrate are Lan Zhan’s, A-Yuan’s, and a few others in the Cloud Recesses. I am not invited to celebrate other birthdays.” He sniffed. “Lan Zhan makes Shijie’s soup on her birthday as a memorial to her. Originally, I was very upset with him, as you are now, for learning the recipe and making the soup, but I couldn’t find it in myself to turn away something that Shijie loved so much.” His eyes softened and flicked to Jiang Cheng. “I eventually tried some and cried for two days straight at the taste of just a spoonful.” A soft, sad smile settled on his lips. “Shijie loved that soup and making it was a way to show her love for us. Lan Zhan said it was the best way to remember her by.” 

Jiang Cheng froze, remembering with sudden clarity his sister’s brilliant smile, her sunny laugh, her long black hair and gentle hands that wiped away hurts and chased away sadness. He remembered how she chopped up the lotus roots and left the pork rib to simmer in broth for hours in a “special recipe” and then handed the finished soup to him and Wei Wuxian in her little jade-colored bowls and matching spoons. He remembered her reassuring grin and soft words that matched the gentle, sweet flavor of her soup. He remembered her on her wedding day, dressed in red and gold, remembered the same soup then, remembered how Jin Zixuan had laughed happily while holding her hand and explaining she had made it in the kitchens that same morning. He remembered his sister’s grinning face as she laid a bowl in front of him, glowing even as she was round with pregnancy, and recalled how much he looked forward to having her little one try some of her soup.

His thoughts stopped abruptly.

Jin Ling.

Jin Ling had never tasted that soup. 

He’d never had his mother’s lotus root and pork rib soup.

He’d never had any version of it.

Jiang Cheng fell to his knees and allowed tears to slip from his eyes, dripping down his cheeks and wetting the skirts of his hanfu. He felt Wei Wuxian lean forward and embrace him, his brother’s hand tangling itself in his hair.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I’m sorry, Jiang Cheng, I’m so sorry.” 

Jiang Cheng sobbed.

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Chapter Text

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Lan Xichen could vaguely hear Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian arguing from some distance away, the sound of yelling followed by muffled sobs, and sighed. There was so much drama in this family, really. . .

He looked down at his baby brother, purple blankets drawn up to his chest, and laughed to himself.

“What am I saying, Wangji?” he said, shaking his head and smoothing the blankets fondly. “We’re just as dramatic, if not more so, then Yunmeng Jiang. I think there’s a rule against dramatics that all we Lans ignore.” Wangji didn’t respond, not that Xichen was expecting him too, and he made himself more comfortable in his chair by his brother’s bedside before beginning to lend him spiritual energy. 

He almost pulled away, startled at the state of Wangji’s golden core.

The physician had warned him, of course, and Xichen had encountered weakened cultivators before, but it was still unexpected and alarming when it came from his brother. Wangji’s golden core, usually strong and pulsing with a powerful, bright light, was faded and weak. It retained its usual regular pulse, which meant Wangji was in no danger of losing his life or cultivation, but he was still in very delicate condition. Lending him spiritual energy would help his physical wounds heal faster as well as strengthen his golden core until he was back to full health. However, judging by the state Wangji was in now, Xichen figured it might be a while.

He let his spiritual energy flow into Wangji’s body, pleased when his little brother relaxed under his touch. During his time in seclusion, Xichen had been refining and perfecting his golden core, which made his spiritual energy more powerful than any other current cultivators’, including the healers’. He was relieved to see that his golden core refinement was coming to some use as Wangji relaxed even further, welcoming the familiar presence that was his brother’s spiritual energy into his unconsciousness.

Xichen couldn’t help but smile.

“There we are, didi,” he said. “You’re doing so well.”

“He does seem more comfortable,” a voice said, and Lan Xichen had his eyes snapped open — when had he closed them? — and his sword drawn before the voice could say another word.

He froze when he recognized Sect Leader Jiang standing in the doorway, holding some clothing and food in hand, completely unperturbed by Lan Xichen’s sword at the hollow of his throat. He simply raised an eyebrow. 

“Sect Leader Jiang,” Lan Xichen said with a bow, hastily sheathing Shuoyue. “My apologies. You startled me.”

Jiang Cheng seemed amused.

“I knocked but you didn’t answer, so I presumed to come in. You were speaking to Lan Wangji and I startled you. The fault is my own.”  He dipped his head at Lan Xichen’s brother. “He does look better, by the way.”

“Oh.” Lan Xichen looked down and was surprised to see that Sect Leader Jiang was right. Wangji’s color had improved and the lines of pain on his face — invisible to all but him and Wei Wuxian — had faded. Lan Xichen slumped in relief. “Thank goodness.”

“I brought you clothes and food,” Jiang Cheng said, laying a tray of food and what appeared to be sleeping robes on a nearby table. “Lan Wangji will probably be fine without spiritual energy for half an hour but if you’d like, I can take over.”

“It’s all right,” Lan Xichen answered on instinct. “I’ll keep going. It hasn’t been that long.”

Jiang Cheng raised an eyebrow.

Zewu-jun,” he said, “it’s nearly 7 in the morning. We’ve left you undisturbed for over six hours.”

Lan Xichen blinked in surprise. Six hours? Had it really been that long already? He felt like he’d only been with Wangji for an hour at most. Sect Leader Jiang was frowning at him.

Zewu-jun,” he said, “please allow me to take over. Eat something. Change your clothes.”

“Xichen,” Lan Xichen blurted. “Call me Xichen.”

Sect Leader Jiang turned red for a reason Lan Xichen couldn’t quite place before jerking his head.

“O-Of course, Lan Xichen.” He bowed respectfully. “You may call me Jiang Wanyin then.”

Lan Xichen smiled pleasantly, and Jiang Wanyin turned an even darker shade of red — Lan Xichen didn’t know human faces could turn so many colors. It was quite amusing, actually. He rose to his feet, releasing Wangji’s hand and laying it gently on the bedsheets; he would have preferred to lay it across his brother’s chest — as that was the way Wangji preferred to rest — but with the bandages crisscrossing his entire torso, Lan Xichen knew leaving his hand on the blankets was a safer option. Releasing his brother after so long seemed wrong — for hours he had been holding Wangji’s hand and wrist to lend him spiritual energy — leaving him now seemed like abandoning him, but before he could so much as touch Wangji’s fingers again, Jiang Wanyin grabbed his hand and pulled him away.

“Lan Xichen,” he said, fingers tight around the First Jade of Lan’s palm. “You need to relax. He’s fine. He looks a lot better than he did last night.”

“I-I—” Lan Xichen stammered, lost for words. He stared at his and Jiang Wanyin’s hands, blinking wide eyes helplessly. The last time someone had touched his hand that wasn’t his family or brother-in-law had been Ah-Yao. Before that, Brother Mingjue. They had all shared such casual touches, friendly and kind, Mingjue’s hands calloused but far from rough and Ah-Yao’s hands sweet and gentle.

Jiang Wanyin was. . . different. His hands were hot. So hot they nearly scalded Lan Xichen’s cold skin. Maybe Lan Xichen was just imagining it, but he thought that the man’s fingers were already leaving finger-shaped burns on his hand.

But it didn’t hurt. Rather, Lan Xichen welcomed the hot touch on his skin. Wei Ying’s hands felt like this, a bit, like he had just warmed them over coals, and the thought flitted across Lan Xichen’s head that maybe the cold skin of the Lans was suited to the heat of the men of Yunmeng Jiang.

At this thought, however, he recoiled from Jiang Wanyin, wrenching his hand from the other man’s own and holding it close to his chest. Jiang Wanyin startled for a moment, taken aback by Lan Xichen’s sudden movement, before he paled. He fell into a deep bow.

“My apologies, Zewu-jun!” he said, and Lan Xichen could tell that he was mortified even though the bow hid most of his expression. “I meant no offense!" 

“I-It’s all right,” Lan Xichen stammered, and he hated how his voice trembled. “I am just unused to being touched.”

Jiang Wanyin minutely flinched at this.

“It was incredibly rude of me to presume to grab you,” he said, bowing again. “I hope you will forgive me, Zewu-jun.”

“Lan Xichen,” the First Jade of Lan said, and at this Jiang Wanyin raised his eyes for the first time in shock to see that Lan Xichen had regained his composure somewhat and was smiling softly, eyes kind. He dropped his hand from his chest. “I told you that you could call me Lan Xichen, Jiang Wanyin,” he said. “It’s much preferable to stuffy Zewu-jun or Sect Leader Lan.”

Lan Xichen watched as Jiang Wanyin’s face turned another amusing shade of red. He half-bowed.

“Of course, Lan Xichen. Forgive me.”

Lan Xichen waved a hand in dismissal, tucked his little brother more comfortably into the blankets, then went to the tray of food and tea Jiang Wanyin had brought. He sat at the table as Jiang Wanyin poured a cup of tea, a faint smile on his lips. 

“There is nothing to forgive,” he said. “I know that you of Yunmeng Jiang are very tactile in your affections and concerns, if Ying-didi is anything to go by.”

At this, Jiang Wanyin made a face and pushed the teacup, now full, towards Lan Xichen.

“Wei Wuxian is a poor example of anything in our sect,” he said, lip curled up. “I wouldn’t use him as the standard for Jiang Clan.”

“Oh?” Lan Xichen said, hiding a smile behind his cup. “Then who is the standard? You?” 

Jiang Wanyin flushed.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” he muttered, and looked mortified when he realized that he had said these words aloud. He bowed again. “I apologize!” he said. “I don’t mean to be rude.”

“Stop apologizing,” Lan Xichen said, laying down his cup. He motioned to the chair across from him and Jiang Wanyin sat down, taking the tea that Lan Xichen poured for him. “In truth, Jiang Wanyin, I prefer the brusque way you speak to me. It’s refreshing.” And reminds me of Nie-ge. . .Lan Xichen shook that thought away, knowing it was useless to dwell on past sadness and regrets. He sighed and took a sip of his tea. “Young Master Wei is the only person who presumes to speak that way to me in Cloud Recesses, you know.” Jiang Wanyin’s brow twitched and Lan Xichen laughed. “I appreciate it, though!” he said. “He is a cheerful man when he is not hiding his sorrows. He is very honest. I like that about him.” He lowered his voice and looked down at his cup. “Wangji needed someone like him in his life — I’m glad he has him.”

Jiang Wanyin was silent, but his violet eyes flitted over to Lan Wangji lying motionless on the bed, breaths coming too quick but otherwise seemingly calm and free from pain. He sighed.

“Lan Wangji always loved Wei Wuxian,” he said. “I used to think he hated him back when we were studying in Cloud Recesses, but it turned out I just didn’t know how to read his emotions.” He scratched his cheek awkwardly and laughed. “Still don’t, really.”

Lan Xichen smiled.

“Wangji can be difficult to read if you don’t know him well,” he said softly. “Don’t blame yourself.”

Jiang Wanyin’s eyes widened and snapped back to Lan Xichen.

“Who said I was blaming myself?” he said. “It’s not my fault the idiot has the iciest expression I’ve ever seen and doesn’t know how to ask for help when he needs it.”

The words left his mouth before he could stop them, and he froze the moment after in regret. Fuck, fuck, fuck

Lan Xichen’s voice was quiet when he spoke.

“It’s true,” he said, voice hardly above a breath. “Wangji doesn’t really know how to ask for help. Neither do I, I suppose.” He sighed. “He and I were raised with the Lan Clan rules carved into our bones — to be quiet, to be content with our lot, to learn and recite the rules in peace, to be above petty desires. That’s what Wangji’s name means, after all: ‘to be free of earthly concerns.’”

Jiang Cheng winced — he’d always thought that was such a burdensome courtesy name.

“But your courtesy name is so different,” he pointed out with a frown. “It doesn’t have such a heavy meaning.”

Lan Xichen smiled.

“‘Chancellor of the morning sun’ has its own burdens,” he said. “It implies responsibility and intelligence beyond that of others.”

Jiang Wanyin shrugged.

“It’s better than mine,” he said. “Wanyin means ‘to chant at night.’ It’s rather foolish, if you ask me.”

“I think it’s lovely,” Lan Xichen said with a smile and Jiang Wanyin’s face turned red again. He turned his eyes back to his teacup and Lan Xichen fought back the urge to laugh; this man was as bad at taking compliments as Wangji. “Who gave it to you?”

Jiang Wanyin’s posture immediately stiffened and he swallowed a few times. The silence grew between them, thick with what Lan Xichen recognized as grief, before Jiang Wanyin spoke.

“My father,” he finally answered. “He told me when I first joined him on night hunts, I had shown talent in them and he was very proud.” His violet eyes turned soft and nostalgic. “He told me the name Wanyin would be like a song in the night to remind monsters I was a threat and a song during the day to remind other cultivation sects that I was not to be trifled with.” 

Lan Xichen smiled gently. Jiang Fengmian had been a kind and peaceful person, willing to lend a hand to anyone in need and widely known in the cultivation world for his gentle personality. Many other sect leaders thought him weak and cowardly, but Lan Xichen had always admired his generosity and easy smiles. And, despite himself, he was always jealous of the obvious devotion he had for his children and disciples. He cherished each of them dearly and knew all of their names. His own father had never been like that, aloof and cold, even to a young Wangji after Mother’s death when he so desperately needed a parent’s love and attention.

Jiang Fengmian had also loved Wei Wuxian very much and took him into his household, even though it caused rumors to swirl in the cultivation world, showing kindness to the boy. Lan Xichen recalled all those years ago when Jiang Wanyin and Wei Wuxian had first come to Cloud Recesses to study, recalled how close they had been, and knew Jiang Fengmian had been right to keep the young Wei Wuxian with them; the two boys were as close as brothers.

Things were different now, of course. Wei Wuxian had begun to practice demonic cultivation, inadvertently caused the deaths of Jiang Yanli and Jin Zixuan, and died at the battle of Heavenly Nightless City. Then Wei Wuxian had reappeared, glued to Wangji’s side, and everything was exposed to have been a plot of Jin Guangyao’s. Although this changed Jiang Wanyin’s opinion of his adopted brother, the actions and misunderstandings of Wei Wuxian’s previous life had created a rift between them, one that Lan Xichen knew could never be truly healed no matter how much time they were given.

“Ying-didi,” Lan Xichen said after a moment, “did Former Sect Leader give him his courtesy name as well?”

 Jiang Wanyin’s soft expression turned into a scowl.

“Yes. It means ‘to have no envy.’ Father probably gave it to Wei Wuxian to teach me a lesson.”

Lan Xichen frowned but didn’t press for an answer. He’d long heard that Jiang Fengmian was very fond and proud of Wei Wuxian, the son of his former servant, and made him senior disciple over his own blood son. It had also been rumored that Wei Wuxian was more talented in almost all aspects of cultivation and night hunting than Jiang Wanyin, much to the rage of Madam Yu. Lan Xichen had long suspected they did not have a happy home life. It’s not as if he had one either. All he had was Wangji, really. . . Father never saw them, Mother died too early, and Uncle was too harsh—

Lan Xichen took a sharp intake of breath and jumped to his feet, nearly knocking over his cup of tea. Only Jiang Wanyin’s quick reflexes kept it from falling.

“Ah!” he yelped, shaking his hand when some of the hot liquid spilled over the edge and scalded his skin. “That’s hot!! What the—” He looked up at Lan Xichen, the swear dying on his lips when he saw the horrified expression on the other man’s face. “What is it?” he asked. His eyes flitted to Lan Wangji, searching for a sign that something was wrong, but when he saw nothing, he frowned. “Lan Xichen, what’s going on? What—?”

“Uncle,” Lan Xichen interrupted. “I left the Cloud Recesses without a word! And Wangji hasn’t returned or sent word that he’d be late. My uncle is sure to be worried!” 

Jiang Wanyin just frowned.

“Why are you so concerned about Lan Qiren?” he asked. “I’ll send a letter right now, Lan Xichen, calm down, everything will be fine.”

Lan Xichen lurched forward and grabbed Jiang Wanyin’s forearms tightly, eyes wide. 

“You don’t understand!” he said. “If Uncle doesn’t find out about what’s happened here from you and instead finds out through rumors, he’ll be furious! His health hasn’t been the best lately and I’m worried something. . .” he paused nervously, “… will happen to him.”

Jiang Wanyin’s lips parted and he nodded in sudden understanding.

“I already have a letter written,” he said. “I’ll leave right now to send it.” He squeezed Lan Xichen’s forearms in return and smiled reassuringly. “It will be okay,” he said. “I promise.”

Without another word, he pulled his arms from Lan Xichen’s grip and ran outside, yelling for Wei Wuxian and a few disciples, but Lan Xichen didn’t hear him. All he heard was the panicked pulse of his blood rushing in his ears, all he could feel was Jiang Wanyin’s hands on his arms, and all he could see was Wangji’s too-pale face. He collapsed back on the chair next to his brother’s bedside and laid a hand on his forehead.

“It’s all right, didi,” he whispered, exhausted. “Ying-di and Huan-ge are here and Uncle is coming. You’re safe and there are so many people here who love you and are taking care of you.”

Lan Xichen felt his brother’s breathing ease as he spoke and smiled softly, laying his head down next to Wangji’s on the bed. 

“It’s all right, Zhan-di,” he murmured sleepily, letting his eyes flutter close. “Huan-ge is here.”

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Chapter Text

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When Wei Wuxian reentered Lan Zhan’s room at around 8 am, he felt refreshed. The physician had been right when she said he needed to eat, bathe, and sleep. After doing these things he felt like a new man, like he had gained a second life, like he had returned from the dead — he winced; okay, maybe those were all bad analogies. He had run into Jiang Cheng on his way back to Lan Zhan’s room, his brother quickly informing him that Lan Xichen had requested Lan Qiren be immediately informed of Lan Zhan’s condition, before leaving for Gusu. Wei Wuxian had not been happy at first, as Lan Qiren was a person that could be difficult to deal with, but he was Lan Zhan’s uncle after all, and he did deserve to know that his nephew was injured. So, Wei Wuxian let it go and headed to Lan Zhan’s room.

That’s how he came upon the cutest thing he had ever seen in his entire life, and that included the time little A-Yuan had pretended to be the Yiling Patriarch (Wei Wuxian had laughed so hard he’d cried).

Lan Zhan and Lan Xichen were both fast asleep, Lan Zhan lying on his back in bed, covered in blankets and bandages as per usual, seemingly comfortable and free from pain. Wei Wuxian was relieved and then allowed his eyes to drift to Lan Xichen, who had drifted off at Lan Zhan’s bedside, head resting beside his brother’s, body twisted uncomfortably on the wooden chair placed by the bed. Wei Wuxian smothered a laugh and stepped forward, laying a gentle hand on Lan Xichen’s shoulder.

The man immediately startled and shot up, eyes skirting wildly from his peacefully sleeping brother to Wei Wuxian, who was standing next to him, stifling giggles behind his hand. He sighed and rubbed his eyes.

“Young Master Wei,” he said, “it’s good to see you.”

“You’re so adorable, Xichen-ge!” Wei Wuxian chirped, clearly unable to contain himself for manners’ sake. “Falling asleep right next to your baby brother — it really warms my heart!”

Lan Xichen sighed.

“Wangji seems to have improved a lot during the evening,” he said, ignoring Wei Wuxian’s cheerful attitude — he was too tired to deal with it. “You can check the state of his golden core if you don’t believe me.”

At this, Wei Wuxian’s smile faltered.

“Why wouldn’t I believe you, Xichen-ge?” he asked. “I know you’d do anything for Lan Zhan. You’d never lie.”

Lan Xichen stared at Wei Wuxian for a moment, touched by his brother-in-law’s trust in him, before smiling and nodding gently. He got to his feet.

“I’ll let you stay with him, then,” he said. “Jiang Wanyin brought me clothes and food so I will rest now. I’ll return later.”

He swept past Wei Wuxian, collecting the tray of unfinished food and tea and the pile of soft clothes. He made to leave before he realized that Wei Wuxian’s eyes were locked on him and he had not moved from his spot. Lan Xichen turned slowly to find Wei Wuxian gaping at him, mouth hanging open.

“What is it?” he asked, looking down at his white hanfu. “Is there something on my robes?” He touched his cheek. “On my face?”

“Jiang Wanyin?” Wei Wuxian managed to stammer after a few long moments. “Did you just call Jiang Cheng Jiang Wanyin?”

Lan Xichen frowned.

“Yes,” he said. “Is that unusual?” 

YES! YES! WHAT THE FUCK!!!

“No, no, of course not,” Wei Wuxian lied, waving a hand. “I just thought you would be calling him Sect Leader Jiang, Xichen-ge. You’re usually one for titles and such.”

Lan Xichen shrugged. 

“I asked him to call me Lan Xichen and he asked to be called Jiang Wanyin in return.”

Wei Wuxian felt his mind go completely blank for a moment. Xichen-ge didn’t call anyone by their name, nobody, except for four people: Nie Mingjue, Jin Guangyao, Lan Zhan, and himself. And two of those people were dead so. . . Also, Jiang Cheng hated his courtesy name — why was he letting Lan Xichen call him by it?

He blinked when he realized that Lan Xichen was calling for him.

“Young Master Wei?” he asked, and a look of relief swept across his face when Wei Wuxian blinked at him, clarity in his silver-grey eyes. “Are you all right?”

“Ah, yes, I’m fine! I’m great!” He rushed up to Lan Xichen, grabbed his shoulders, and turned him around. Keeping his hands on his brother-in-law, Wei Wuxian started shoving Lan Xichen out of Lan Zhan’s room, babbling all the while. “All right, Xichen-ge, it was good to see you! Take a bath and eat some food! The food at Cloud Recesses is so bad — try something spicier while you’re here, okay? And ask Grandma for lots of alcohol to have with your food since I’m sure you need a drink.” He paused just as he pushed Lan Xichen out of the threshold of the room. “Wait, you aren’t like Lan Zhan, are you? Have one cup and bam!”  — he snapped his fingers — “you’re drunker than can be!”

Lan Xichen laughed.

“I’m afraid so, Ying-didi.”

“Oh.” Wei Wuxian made a face, clearly disappointed. “I was hoping we could have a drink together, ge, when all of this is over, and Lan Zhan is better.”

Lan Xichen smiled softly.

“I’m sorry to disappoint you, Ying-di,” he said, laying a hand on Wei Wuxian’s shoulder. “But tea should be an apt replacement, yes?”

Wei Wuxian grinned, delighted. 

“Yes!” he cried. “Yes, that would be great!”

Lan Xichen’s smile widened and he squeezed Wei Wuxian’s shoulder before nodding once.

“I’ll take my leave now, Ying-didi,” he said. “I’ll be back in a few hours to see Wangji again.”

“Sure, Xichen-ge. Take a bath, eat something, get some sleep. Lan Zhan will be fine with me.” Wei Wuxian grinned toothily, and Lan Xichen felt reassured by the man’s natural warmth and comfort.

“I know he will,” he said. He bowed and then turned on his heel, heading down the porch to find the guest room that Jiang Wanyin had set aside for him. He stopped, however, when Wei Wuxian called out to him.

“Xichen-ge!” he cried, and Lan Xichen turned slightly, black hair sliding over his shoulders. Wei Wuxian was smiling gently at him, silver-grey eyes swimming with unfallen tears. “Thank you.”

Lan Xichen smiled in return. 

***************************************************

Chapter Text

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The first time Lan Zhan woke up completely lucid, it was to the sound of Chenqing being played softly by his bedside. At first, Lan Zhan thought he was in the Cloud Recesses, lying in bed while Wei Ying waited for him to wake — unusual since he almost always woke up before Wei Ying — but then he realized that the bed wasn’t as soft as the one in the Jingshi, the blankets covering him were too thick and heavy, and the light was far too bright. Even the sunniest days in the Cloud Recesses were never this intense. As he let his eyes flicker open, he shut them again immediately against the light, fighting back a moan.

The sound of the dizi cut off abruptly.

“Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying cried, and his hand was suddenly wrapped tightly around Lan Zhan’s own. “Lan Zhan, it’s okay, it’s all right.” Wei Ying’s other hand came to card through his hair — which Lan Zhan realized was greasy and tangled. He made a face — why hadn’t he bathed?  “It’s okay, Lan Zhan, I’m here, I’m here. Are you awake?”

Lan Zhan wrinkled his nose in way of answer and Wei Ying laughed; the sound was strained and wet, though, unlike his usual bell-like peal. It made Lan Zhan uneasy.

“Shh, Lan Zhan, I’m here.” Wei Ying ran his hand through his greasy hair again. “I’m here, you’re safe, I promise.” His fingers tangled in Lan Zhan’s hair for a moment. “I’m safe too, love. We’re both safe.”

Lan Zhan relaxed then, allowing himself to melt into whatever strange bed he was lying in. Wei Ying squeezed his hand tight and then held it to his cheek; Lan Zhan could feel his smile against his palm.

“There we are, qin’ai,” Wei Ying murmured, planting a soft kiss on Lan Zhan’s hand. “There we are.” There was silence for a few long minutes, the only sounds the quiet breaths between them, the chirps of unfamiliar birds, and the faraway sounds of disciples playing. 

Lan Zhan frowned unhappily. Even though it was quiet, it wasn’t Gusu quiet, and thus felt so very loud.

“Lan Zhan, it’s okay,” Wei Ying murmured, and Lan Zhan felt his husband stroke the furrowed space between his eyebrows until it was smooth again. “It’s okay, tianxin, I promise.”

“. . . Loud. . .”

“Is it too loud for you?” Wei Ying asked and, when Lan Zhan nodded, he made a soft noise of understanding. “I should have thought of that, Lan Zhan, Lotus Pier has always been so loud and rowdy, so different from the Cloud Recesses.” Oh, Lotus Pier. . . Lan Zhan thought, hearing Wei Ying throw up silencing talismans and the noise muffling. We were in Lotus Pier for a night hunt. . . something happened. . . He fidgeted on the bed, trying to open his eyes again when Wei Ying dimmed the bright light, but froze when pain shot like a lightning bolt across his torso. He tried not to make a sound, to not frighten Wei Ying, but must have made some indication he was hurting, because Wei Ying was suddenly holding his face in his hands, speaking comforting words to him. It took far longer than Lan Zhan would have liked for Wei Ying’s words to begin registering.

“. . . shh, shh, I know, I know, baobei, I know it’s scary and loud and that it hurts. Do you need medicine? Or are you thirsty? Hungry?”

Lan Zhan shook his head, fingers twitching.

“W-Wei Ying. . .”

“Yes! Yes, I’m here! I’m here, Lan Zhan! What do you need, my love — say it and I’ll get it for you.”

Lan Zhan licked his lips and frowned.

“No. . . Wei Y-Ying. . .” 

There was a pause before Wei Ying cried out in understanding. He laughed.

“Silly man,” he murmured. “I’m here, you know that. I’ll always be here.”

“Stay. . .”

“I’m not going anywhere, Lan Zhan, don’t worry. What else do you want, though?” he asked. “Wen Ning is just outside — I can send him to get it for you.” 

Lan Zhan raised his hands, annoyed he was so weak, and latched onto Wei Ying’s sleeves. Wei Ying frowned in confusion and moved to pry Lan Zhan’s hands away, but Lan Zhan only held on tighter.

“No. . .” he said. “Wei Ying. . .come to bed. . .”

Wei Ying’s eyes widened, and he hesitated; Lan Zhan frowned. Had he done something wrong? Is that why Wei Ying didn’t to want to sleep in bed with him?

“Ah! No, no, no, Lan Zhan, you haven’t done anything wrong!” Wei Ying cried — oh, he must have said that out loud — and listened as his distraught husband continued to speak. “You’ve done absolutely nothing wrong, baobei, I promise!”

Lan Zhan’s frown deepened.

“It’s just. . .” Wei Ying paused for a moment. “I’m scared I’ll hurt you.”

Lan Zhan instantly shook his head. 

“Impossible,” he whispered. “Wei Ying would never hurt me. . .”

Wei Ying’s breath caught in his throat and Lan Zhan felt his warm hands come back up to cradle his cheeks.

“Oh, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan. Can you open your eyes for me?”

Lan Zhan nodded, focused, and then, with more effort than he would have liked, forced his eyelids apart.

They came apart slowly, sticky with disuse and dried tears; Lan Zhan made a face — unpleasant. Wei Ying cooed something at him, running his thumbs under his eyes, as Lan Zhan’s vision slowly focused.

He wasn’t sure where he was exactly — the room was strange, and the blankets were unfamiliar — but he knew he would have time to analyze it later; his priority right now was Wei Ying. As he blinked a few times, allowing his eyesight to focus, he did not like what he saw. 

Wei Ying was pale and pinched, lines of worry and fear etched all across his face. His usual cheerful lips were drawn downwards in an unhappy frown and there were furrows between his eyebrows and across his forehead. His eyes, usually joyful, were clouded, the silver-grey looking more like a summer storm rather than a shining precious metal. Dark circles that looked too much like bruises were beginning to appear under his eyes and he seemed to have lost weight — had he been eating enough? How long have I been asleep?

Lan Zhan’s only comfort lay in the soft tickle of Wei Ying’s hair against his collarbone — it felt clean and soft, and, judging by the gentle, neat updo of his hair into a ponytail with a red ribbon, Lan Zhan knew he had recently combed it. He also smelled like lavender and lotus, smells different from the soaps he used in Cloud Recesses, but still fresh and crisp. He had bathed and his clothes were changed. It was some comfort to Lan Zhan knowing that Wei Ying had been taking care of himself at least a little bit.

He raised his hands, relieved that he could lift them higher than his hips and settled them shakily on Wei Ying’s cheeks. Wei Ying instantly grabbed them, squeezing them tight.

“Oh, Lan Zhan,” he said, his voice thick. “I was so worried about you, qin’ai. I didn’t know when you were going to wake up.”

Lan Zhan thumbed away the tears that were beginning to leak from Wei Ying’s eyes.

“How long?” he asked.

“How long were you asleep?” Wei Ying hesitated for a moment, thinking. “I’m not sure. Maybe a little over four days. But it felt like an eternity to me.” 

“Mn.”

They were quiet for a few minutes, Wei Ying holding Lan Zhan’s hands against his face and rocking back and forth as he cried in joy and relief. Eventually, though, Lan Zhan spoke.

“Wei Ying.” 

“Yes?”

“Arms.” 

“Huh?” Wei Ying frowned at him, puzzled. “What do you mean? Do your arms hurt?”

“Mn. Ache.”

Wei Ying’s eyes widened, and he realized suddenly that he had been holding Lan Zhan’s hands up against his cheeks for a long time now — an action that surely made his arms, still weak from disuse, ache from the strain. He hastily lowered Lan Zhan’s hands back to the bed with an apology, tucking him in tightly, before laying a hand in his hair.

“Lan Zhan, there’s lots of other people here too. Ah-Yuan and Lan Jingyi and Jin Ling. All the little ducklings.” He laughed. “They’ve been really worried about you.” 

“Ah-Yuan. . .”

“He’s not hurt, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying comforted. “No one else got hurt. It was just you. How many times do I have to say it before it gets into that thick skull of yours?” He tapped Lan Zhan’s head with a laugh. “My dear Hanguang-jun is so silly — he doesn’t remember anything his husband tells him!”

Lan Zhan pouted.

“Remember,” he said, and Wei Ying laughed, earnestly this time, at Lan Zhan’s expression.

“Okay, okay!” he said. “I believe you, Lan Zhan. Then tell me: Who else came?”

Lan Zhan recognized this as a memory test of some kind to make sure he hadn’t hurt his head, but he allowed Wei Ying to believe he had deceived him so as not to make things difficult; they were both tired, after all.

“Jiang Wanyin.”

Wei Ying cackled this time, nearly bending in half. Lan Zhan frowned — was there something humorous about the Sect Leader?

“You know he hates that name, right?” Wei Ying asked breathlessly and, when Lan Zhan nodded, laughed harder. “Oh my god, then why do you call him that?”

“It’s rude to call another by their birth name,” Lan Zhan said.

Wei Ying shook his head. 

“I know that’s not why, you liar! You could just call him Sect Leader Jiang like everyone else. You call him Wanyin to annoy him, right?”

Lan Zhan didn’t answer but his ears turned a faint pink in embarrassment at being caught. Wei Ying howled. He fell off the bed, rolling on the floor. 

“You Lans are so funny!” he cried, slapping the ground. “Anyone who says the Two Jades of Lan aren’t the best comedic duo in the world clearly know nothing about humor!” Lan Zhan glared at Wei Ying, but it was obviously lost on him. “You know Xichen-ge is calling Jiang Cheng Wanyin now too? Jiang Cheng said it was okay and everything!”

Lan Zhan raised an eyebrow.

“Brother?” His eyes flicked to Wei Ying, who had sat up with a laugh. “Brother spoke to Jiang Wanyin?”

“Yep!” Wei Ying said, popping the “p.” “They’re both here! They’ve been getting along swimmingly.” 

The second half of Wei Ying’s little speech went right over Lan Zhan’s head; all that he heard was that his brother was here — his big brother, the person he had looked up to, who had been his only friend growing up —

Gege is here?” he asked and tried to sit up. Sudden pain however, stopped him, and he hissed through gritted teeth. Wei Ying flew back to his side, his smile wiped from his face.

“Lan Zhan stay still!” he cried, gently pushing Lan Zhan’s shoulders back on the bed. “You’re hurt, you need to rest.” He ran his hands gently over Lan Zhan’s chest, pulling aside the thick blankets to look at his bandages. Lan Zhan looked down and stared blankly at his chest, surprised by the swath of thick white covering his chest. He watched as Wei Ying palpated his chest gently, feeling for wet spots of blood, and when Wei Ying relaxed, put a hand on his shoulder.

“Wei Ying,” he said. “I’m all right.”

Wei Ying’s eyes flashed with a mix of regret, guilt, sadness, and a touch of anger. 

“You’re not all right, Lan Zhan!” he said loudly, only reigning in his tone when Lan Zhan flinched. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. It’s just — you got hurt protecting me and it was so bad, Lan Zhan, it was so bad! There was so much blood and you were screaming and crying and I. . . I was so afraid something terrible was going to happen to you!” Wei Ying took Lan Zhan’s hand and held it to his cheek, letting tears fall onto his skin. “I was so scared, Lan Zhan!” 

Lan Zhan’s heart clenched painfully, his breath catching in his lungs as tears began to drip steadily from Wei Ying’s eyes. He hated seeing Wei Ying cry — it broke his heart, reminded him too much of the things of the past that had destroyed them both. He raised his other hand to wipe away Wei Ying’s tears, hating how badly his hand shook.

“Sorry,” he murmured. “I apologize for scaring Wei Ying.”

Wei Ying grabbed his shaky hand and held it between both of his own.

“Promise me you won’t do something like that ever again,” he said, voice earnest and eyes over-bright. “Promise me, Lan Zhan.”

Lan Zhan did not hesitate to shake his head.

“Cannot promise Wei Ying that,” he said. “I will protect Wei Ying no matter what.”

Wei Ying looked devastated, more tears beginning to slip down his cheeks. He opened his mouth to speak when a derisive scoff from the door interrupted them. Both men turned to see the physician and her apprentice standing in the doorway, Jiang Cheng and Lan Xichen flanking them. The physician had scoffed and opened her mouth to say something but shut her mouth when she saw the look on her patient’s face.

It was colored with shock and surprise and his eyes were locked on his brother.

Gege,” he breathed, tone a mix of relief, confusion, and joy. “You’re really here.”

Lan Xichen smiled, though it barely reached his eyes.

“Yes, Wangji, I’m here.” He stepped into the room, seating himself next to Wei Ying and taking his little brother’s hand. “I’m so glad you’ve awoken; I was very concerned.”

Sadness dashed across Lan Zhan’s eyes.

“I have worried Wei Ying and Brother,” he said, casting his eyes downwards. “I apologize for burdening you.”

Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes and stepped into the room.

“Don’t say stuff like that,” he said, standing behind Lan Xichen. “Wei Wuxian and Lan Xichen are your family — it is their duty to care for you. How can it be considered a burden?”

Lan Zhan looked up at Jiang Cheng and stared at him, taken aback. He was right, of course, but. . . 

“Wanyin is right,” Lan Xichen said, squeezing his brother’s hand. Lan Zhan stared. Wanyin??? he thought, and Wei Ying giggled. Lan Zhan turned his gaze to him, and his husband winked meaningfully. They’re getting along swimmingly, Wei Ying had said. Lan Zhan stared at his brother and Jiang Wanyin, noticing how close the Sect Leader stood next to his brother’s chair, how relaxed they both were, how his brother was actually wearing Yunmeng purple, for god’s sake, and was stunned. When. . . When had this happened?

Lan Xichen must have noticed Lan Zhan staring at his clothes because he looked down and laughed uncomfortably, smoothing the purple hanfu with the hand that wasn’t holding his brother’s.

“I’m afraid I only thought to bring one set of robes with me when I came to see you, didi,” he explained. “Wanyin was kind enough to lend me extra robes while mine are being washed.”

Lan Zhan nodded slowly, still slightly startled by the sight of his brother in purple — which he had never seen — but still wearing the white and blue Lan Clan forehead ribbon. With a shaky hand, he reached out and touched it gently. His brother frowned.

“Wangji. . .?”

“Huan-ge came out of seclusion. . .” Lan Zhan whispered; his voice would have seemed flat to anyone else in the room, but Lan Xichen and Wei Wuxian could read the raw joy in his tone.

Lan Xichen smiled and laid a hand on top of Lan Zhan’s head.

“I couldn’t stay in that cave when I knew Zhan-di was so badly hurt,” he said, patting Lan Zhan’s head gently. “I came as soon as I heard.”

Lan Zhan hummed quietly.

“How long?” he asked.

“I’ve been here for three days,” Lan Xichen answered. “It’s been four since you were first injured.”

Lan Zhan frowned.

“Why have I been asleep for so long?” he asked, and the physician took this as her opportunity to step in. 

“Second Lord Lan,” she said with a bow, “my name is Liu-daifu. I have been the physician in charge of your care these past days. If you’ll allow me to explain?” Lan Zhan nodded. “Good.” She flicked her sleeves and began to speak, matter of fact and to the point. “I’m not sure how much you remember, but you were attacked by a demon and badly wounded. The wounds were poisoned and you were acting very unlike yourself, according to your husband.”

Lan Zhan looked to Wei Ying, who had turned pale and sad again. He looked like he wanted to ask the physician to stop speaking but didn’t have the heart to. She continued.

“I have been keeping you asleep to both aid in the healing process and keep you from feeling pain, Second Lord Lan. Each time you’ve awoken in the past, you have been very upset and incoherent. Yesterday you almost fell out of bed.”

Lan Zhan looked to Wei Ying who nodded sadly, confirming this was indeed true.

Liu-daifu sighed.

“Luckily, you’ve been recovering rather quickly, as you have a strong golden core and Sect Leader Jiang and First Lord Lan have been graciously lending you spiritual energy. You haven’t had a fever or any other complications, so you can consider yourself lucky. Most demon wounds aren’t like this — they usually hit vital organs.”

“Didn’t it bite me?” Lan Zhan asked with a frown, feeling the hairline fracture against his ribs.

“Yes, it did,” the physician answered. “And it also slashed you from shoulder to hip quite neatly. If you’ll allow me to examine the wounds now it would be very helpful.” Lan Zhan nodded and allowed Wei Ying and his brother to help him sit up, the heavy blankets slipping off and pooling in his lap. Jiang Wanyin turned to the physician as Wei Ying slipped Lan Zhan’s sleeping robes off his shoulders, bowing to her. 

“I’ll take my leave now,” he said. “Do you need anything?”

“No,” she answered with a wave of her hand. “Leave one of the disciples outside the door in case I have need of something later.”

“Of course.”

Jiang Wanyin bowed again and left the room, calling for Jin Ling and a few other disciples as he closed the door behind him. When the physician turned around, she found Lan Zhan sitting up, already divested of his sleeping robes, his husband’s arms slung gently around him to lend him warmth. She smiled.

“Shall we get started then, Second Lord Lan?”

“Mn.”

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