I remember the minute
It was like a switch was flipped
“Good boy.” Wrapped in warmth and his mother’s perfume mixing with the smell of smoke and blood.
Zidian flickers around his fingers in the darkness, only the faint purple crackles of light bringing any brightness beyond the blazing fire behind his mother’s shoulders
I was just a kid who grew up strong enough
To pick this armour up
“If you insist on protecting them, then I won’t be able to protect you.”
“There’s no need to protect me. Just let go.”
And suddenly it fit
Jian Wanyin, Yunmeng Jiang Sect Leader, Sandu Shengshou walked out of the Burial Mounds by himself, alone with a broken arm and blood in his mouth.
God, that was so long ago, long ago, long ago
“Mo Xuanyu” sat on the floor on the other side of the inn room, silent. It was a contrast that had Jiang Wanyin’s anger starting to simmer, heating up an old ache in his chest. In the forest the other night, in front of other cultivators and Lan Wangji of all people, this “Mo Xuanyu” wasn’t this quiet.
The set of the young man’s shoulders were resolute not to say anything. In front of others— strangers, outsiders, he would babble nonsense like he used to. Yet, in front of him, his own shidi, he would stay silent? It wasn’t fair.
You don’t get “fair”, commented a snarky voice in the back of his mind. Jian Wanyin ignored it and poured himself a cup of tea.
He tipped the tea back into his mouth, letting the heat of it warm his throat and distract him for a moment, prepare him.
Jiang Wanyin set the cup back down, the clink of the porcelain cup against the table was loud in the quiet room.
“What is there to say?” “Mo Xuanyu” had said, his voice tired and slightly strained.
He’s right, Jiang Wanyin thought, the words between them had dried up far too many years ago.
I was little, I was weak, perfectly naive
And I grew up too quick
“I want my mum and dad!”
Now you won't see all that I have to lose
“Jin Ling, get over here, away from him, before I break your legs.”
And all I've lost in the fight to protect it
Jiang Wanyin stays bowed the longest in the Yunmeng Jiang’s Ancestral Hall. With the duties of a Sect Leader, a child to look after when he was hardly older than being a child himself. With a dead mother, a dead father, a dead sister, and a brother who might as well be too.
When he thinks he’s bowed long enough the weight of the world crashes down on his back again.
He stays for an hour more.
I won't let you in, I swore never again
“Damn you, Wei Wuxian,” he wants to spit, ”Say something, Wei Wuxian,” but the words die in his throat. He wants him to say the first word, the first to take a step back and let something give.
I can't afford, no, I refuse to be rejected
“You still don’t understand the motto of the Jiang Sect.”
Unfeeling, meaningless, and placating smile.
“In the future, you’ll be the Sect Leader, and I’ll be your subordinate, like your father and my father. So what if the GusuLan Sect has its Two Jades? The Yunmeng Jiang Sect will have its Two Prides!”
A carefree arm slung around his shoulder, pulling him closer to a brother’s smile, bright and warm, like the sun.
“Just let go. Tell the world that I defected. From now on, no matter what Wei Wuxian does, it’d have nothing to do with the Yunmeng Jiang Sect.”
The warmth he knew back then was long gone.
I want to break these bones 'til they're better
I want to break them right
and feel alive
You were wrong, you were wrong, you were wrong
My healing needed more than time
He gave back Chen Qing. Surely that would have meant something to him. He still left anyways, before the dust had even cleared.
When I see fragile things, helpless things, broken things
He sees Jin Ling watch his peers being coddled by their parents on the other side of the cave. Jin Ling sneaks glances at him. He can tell what he wants.
His limbs are frozen in place by the phantom sensation of A-Niang’s last embrace and home burning behind her.
I see the familiar
The disciples circling Wei Wuxian instead of him. Being one of those boys that circled Wei Wuxian too. It was dumb. He was the Sect Leader’s heir, yet all through his youth he was nothing like it, following comfortably in Wei Wuxian’s shadow instead.
I was little, I was weak, I was perfect too
Now I'm a broken mirror
Staring blankly at the ceiling on a bed he doesn’t care where. He could be dead for all that matters.
He remembers Wei Wuxian shaking him by the shoulders, maniacal laughter that nearly blew their cover, his cover.
He remembers fear and panic rising sharply as Wen Sect soldiers approached Wei Wuxian at a stall buying supplies for the two of them.
He remembers stepping out into the rain.
But I can't let you see all that I have to lose
All I've lost in the fight to protect it
“Wei Wuxian, go die!”
A-Jie falling heavily against him.
I can't let you in, I swore never again
I can't afford to let myself be blindsided
“I-I didn’t mean to!”
Jiang Cheng doesn’t hear, doesn’t care, doesn’t feel anything except for A-Jie's blood soaking into his robes.
I'm standing guard, I'm falling apart
Suibian’s hilt in his hands. Unsheathed for the first time in 13 years by no one else but him and his brother.
The moonlight reflects brightly off the metal. It burns his eyes,
Close them. Close them this will all be just a dream.
And all I want is to trust you
Chen Qing in his hands, frozen in position for a heartbeat more before he makes his decision. Throw it.
Show me how to lay my sword down
“Uncle, you had something to say, didn’t you? Just now! I saw it. You wanted to say something to Wei Wuxian, and then you didn’t.”
“There’s nothing to say.”
For long enough to let you through
Jiang Cheng stares at the open letter on the table for gods know how long. Jin Ling walks in and questions it.
“If you don’t end up going, can I still go? My-My friends are there.”
Yeah? So was mine , Jiang Cheng thinks, sort of distantly.
He could be your friend again , a traitorous voice in his head reminds him. The voice sounds a little like Jin Ling. He’s getting married, it says.
As if you needed another reason to be reminded that he won’t follow you anymore. Grow up.
He could still be a part of your life if you reached for it, that’s what he’s doing, by even sending this invitation to begin with.
Here I am, pry me open
An umbrella gripped tightly in one hand, Zidian ready to lash out violently in the other. Under the awning of the Guanyin Temple’s doorsteps.
Don’t look over there, you came here for Jin Ling only, Jin Ling only.
What do you want to know?
Kneeling on the stone tiles of the Guanyin Temple, growing dreary from slowing the blood flow around his chest. A glance at Wei Wuxian, glance back to the floor. Quiet.
Talk. Look at me. Look at me, Wei Wuxian.
Wei Wuxian, say something.
I'm just a kid who grew up scared enough
To hold the door shut
And bury my innocence
But here's a map, here's a shovel
Jin Ling went ahead a day early to meet with Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi, so by the time he arrives at the Cloud recesses, his nephew at the gates waving for him to hurry up.
“Jiu Jiu!! They're going to have the tea ceremony soon! Da J— Wei Wuxian asked me to tell you to hurry up!”
Here's my Achilles' heel
Jin Ling stands with his Gusu Lan friends in the other room behind Wei Wuxian. His brother is dressed in red, looking like he’s about to burst at the seams.
“Jiang Cheng, you came.”
“Of course, I came.”
They’re quiet for a moment, before Jiang Cheng speaks again.
“You're my brother after all.”
Wei Ying looks at him as if he’s lit up the sky and it lights something else that’s been lying dormant at the bottom of his chest for a long time.
Lan Wangji appears behind Wei Wuxian, the both of them brilliant in red, and looks between the two. “Sect Leader Jiang, Jiang Wanyin, please sit.”
I'm all in, palms out, I'm at your mercy now and I'm ready to begin
He sits. Lan Wangji passes him the tea.
“Thank you.” He gives Wei Wuxian a glance, who’s watching him carefully as well, hope essentially pouring from his eyes.
He drinks, hands the cup back to Lan Wangji, and looks at Wei Wuxian.
Wei Wuxian smiles at him, dimmed down with a hopeful cautiousness, but a smile all the same.
Jiang Cheng doesn’t scowl at him back.
I am strong, I am strong, I am strong enough to let you in
Jiang Cheng finds himself outside the main pavilion with Wei Wuxian walking out behind him later that night, a few drinks into a wedding celebration of both Yunmeng and Gusu flavours. The Emperor’s Smile is good at least.
“Wei Wuxian,” Jiang Cheng says, not bitterly at all, not a trace of anger in his voice. A greeting, an invitation.
“Jiang Cheng,” he answers, quietly, hesitantly.
I'll shake the ground with all my might
I will pull my whole heart up to the surface
It’s the first time in months they’ve seen each other since Guanyin Temple and a long moment passes before Jiang Cheng speaks first.
“I understand why you did what you did.”
Wei Wuxian inhales a shaky breath, bracing himself and Jiang Cheng, nearly flinching at it, ploughs through regardless.
“Doesn’t mean I like it. But I understand.”
It’s quiet for a long minute more.
For the innocent, for the vulnerable
“I hate that I couldn’t hate you for it.” Jiang Wanyin bites out a little laugh after a little while, that he supposes has some humour in it. He hears Wei Wuxian awkwardly try to laugh along as well.
I'll show up on the front lines with a purpose
“Send a group of 10 disciples there to survey it properly, then.”
“Sect Leader Jiang.” The messenger salutes hastily and somewhat hesitantly. “Wei Wuxian is here saying he’s here to see you. Did you want me to send someone?”
“No need, I’ll go myself.”
And I'll give all I have, I'll give my blood, I'll give my sweat
“If you came back, I—...I wouldn’t kick you out.”
An ocean of tears will spill for what is broken
Wei Wuxian’s wedding lanterns light up the entirety of The Cloud Recesses around them.
It lights up Wei Wuxian as well.
Jiang Wanyin feels a hand touch his arm, right above his elbow, grip weak as though letting him pull away if he still wants to. He holds still as the hand settles more firmly against his arm.
Jiang Wanyin turns around and Wei Wuxian crushes him in a full-bodied embrace. Pulled in towards him, Wei Wuxian’s arms wrap tightly around his shoulders. Wei Wuxian’s hands press firmly against the back of his shoulders, holding him tightly like they used to when they were best friends and better brothers.
Jiang Wanyin doesn’t know who shed the first tear, but he reaches out and wipes away a tear from Wei Wuxian’s face when he pulls back, feeling tears of his own slip down his cheeks.
I'm shattered porcelain, glued back together again
Invincible like I've never been
Jiang Wanyin watches for Wei Wuxian’s reaction very closely as he leans forward.
His own hands come around the back of Wei Wuxian and pulls him back in an embrace just as hard.
He’s missed this, Jiang Wanyin realises.
He realises a second thing, too.
He won’t have to miss it ever again.