Some people are born to be leaders. It shows in the way they walk, they talk, they breathe, full of confidence and charisma. It shows in the way people react to them and how they bow and bend and break, in the way entire rooms shift to accommodate their presence.
Some people are born to be leaders, and Lan Xichen never saw himself as one of them. He was born a prince, an heir to his clan, and yet the throne never held much appeal to him. He'd rather meditate, study and practice the sword than learn how to govern and crush the will of others in order to remain on top of the food chain. He wasn't bad at it, he just knew becoming a king would never make him happy.
His ascension was a relief truly. There, in Heaven, among people who could understand his disinterest in power plays, he could cultivate to become the person he wanted to be and help people the way he craved to. Reality, of course, isn't nearly as simple, as he quickly came to realize.
There is an irony in the fact Lan Xichen actually ran from the throne only to end up there anyway.
"Your Majesty?" A-Yao asks softly, and Lan Xichen smiles comfortingly by reflex.
"How many times will I have to ask you not to call me that in private, A-Yao?" he tuts in faint disapproval.
His oldest friend chuckles at the reminder. At that point, it's practically a joke between them. Lan Xichen will point out there is no need to 'Your Majesty' him when it's only the two of them, A-Yao will slyly apologize and repeat this nonsense later. It can't be helped, Lan Xichen sighs to himself. A-Yao has been Lan Xichen's retainer for so long he can't remember a time before a politely smiling boy trailed behind his steps.
A-Yao became a god in his own right centuries ago, but old habits die hard.
"My apologies," he says with a gentle smile.
"You're not really sorry," Lan Xichen replies with no heat.
To Lan Xichen's regret, A-Yao moves his hand up to hide his grin behind his sleeve. Unlike other literature gods', his are clean and untouched by ink. It's not that A-Yao works less than the others, far from it, but he aims to grasp perfection any way he can, from his clothing to his diction, from his extensive knowledge to his composure.
He wishes his friend wouldn't drive himself mad trying so hard to fit unfair standards. He won't say anything though. Unlike Lan Xichen, A-Yao was born in misery. Those things are important to him.
Nie Mingjue would have said something. He would have poked at A-Yao's pristine robes and ruffled his impeccable hair, until A-Yao snapped out of his flawlessly polite persona. Lan Xichen longs for the simpler days of their childhood, when it was just Prince Lan Huan and his two retainers, more than five hundreds years ago.
"Your Ma-ah, Er-Ge," A-Yao corrects himself swiftly. "I have come to inform you His Highness the Crown Prince of Gusu has left seclusion."
Some days, Lan Xichen feels himself fall in apathy. A familiar dullness creeps up on his mind as his limbs weight like worlds. Centuries melt together, hours morph into others, minutes stretch out inside an excruciating eternity that refuses to die. On those days, Lan Xichen believes no man is meant to live for so long, that immortality is nothing but a curse pretending to be a blessing.
But he is no man, he remembers afterwards. He is a god, and he has a duty toward the world. Despite that resolution, the numbness never fully recedes, only retreats in the back of his heart, prepared to strike later when the occasion arises.
Some days, Lan Xichen feels himself fall in apathy, and some days, rarely, a shot of emotion so strong, it annihilates the sadness lingering in him.
"Wangji is out?" He gasps as he jolts out of his throne. "Truly?"
Pure happiness makes his stone-like limbs move at the speed of lightning. He hasn't seen Wangji for so long. So many moments, so many years, so many thoughts he couldn't share with the descendant he saw as his younger brother. Thirteen years is nothing on the scale of his immortal existence, theoretically, yet his heart has been aching for the silent company of the stoic prince who hates politics as much as Lan Xichen does.
"Yes, truly," A-Yao says. "I wouldn't lie to you, would I? Ah, Er-ge, not so fast!"
Coming from anyone, Lan Xichen's pace wouldn't look like 'so fast'. It's just odd coming from him, who's always so noble and unhurried, who walks like time itself has no grasp on him. Giddiness shakes him to the core, making his steps light and excited instead of controlled and slow. A-Yao chuckles and rushes in a flutter of gold. What an odd spectacle they must make, the ever solemn Emperor and the ever polite Head of Literature, casting aside their dignified composure in a outburst of childishness.
Soon enough, he reaches his descendant's long deserted palace, so close to his own. On the surface, the manor looks immaculate. Lan Xichen had it cleaned regularly in Wangji's stead, with the distant hope he would be back soon. No matter how brightly the jade gleamed, no matter how steadiously the garden grew, the manor still felt lonely. Cold. Dead. An empty home, for an absentee master nursing the wounds of his heart.
But no more! Hopefully Wangji is here to stay. And if he isn't, Lan Xichen is still happy to see him after so many years. He doesn't bother to seek inside and dives straight into the garden. In his haste, he almost stumbles upon a member of the new-found wildlife in the Crown Prince of Gusu's manor.
Wherever Wangji goes, his rabbits follow. An irrefutable proof he truly is back.
"Oh, my apologies, I didn't see you there," he tells the white rabbit he narrowly avoided stepping on. The rabbit looks up at him with a lot of contempt for such a small creature. "It won't happen again."
The rabbit scoffs, his tiny whiskers shivering with prideful disdain, before it goes back to pretend Lan Xichen doesn't exist at all. He finds himself smiling fondly at the sight. It's been a very long time since anyone dared to ignore him so blatantly.
A gentle feeling blooms inside Lan Xichen's quietly beating heart as a man wearing white and sorrow steps across the grass, a quin wrapped in cloth on his back and a herd of bunnies running around his feet. Lan Wangji. He looks good. Better than he did when he left, grief and regret clinging to his serenity like cancer. There is a peacefulness in his eyes, a wisdom, that wasn't there before. It could also be that Lan Xichen has missed Wangji so much he's being too sentimental in his interpretation.
His fingers ache to reach out, to check that Wangji is back for real. He clamps his fists behind the small of his back. Wangji is particular about physical displays of affection. Most of the time, he freezes and endures it with the enthusiasm of the dead, with no idea how to reciprocate.
Well, a dark voice whispers in the back of his mind, he doesn't hate everyone's displays of affection.
"Wangji," he nods warmly. "Welcome back."
The martial god nods back, and for about a second, it's like he never left at all. Lan Xichen knows it's far from the truth. Godhood is just tricky like that. Wangji wears the same eighteen years old skin since he ascended, has the same quiet attitude, but within he's full of poorly cauterized wounds and the painfully gathered experience of a man who has lived for long decades.
Mortals wear their age on their skin. Gods carry the weight of their years in the tears they never allow themselves to shed.
"How are you?"
"Well." Wangji answers in his usual laconic manner, before abruptly changing the subject. "You have a bride-stealing ghost problem."
Lan Xichen blinks, taken aback. It takes him an embarrassingly long time to remember that he does have bride-stealing ghost problem. "Indeed? I was planning to send General Sandu Shengshou-"
'Why', he cries out in his heart. 'You just came back! There is no rush, someone else can deal with it. Stay a bit. Let's have some tea. We'll chat. Well, I'll chat and you will nod every once a while. It will be good.'
Instead, he smiles serenely. Lan Xichen learned early in life that smiles are better disguises than masks or snarls. "If it pleases you, Wangji. Don't feel obligated though, you just came back…Who even told you about that?"
"Not obligated," Wangji shakes his head slightly. Someone less used to his mannerisms and micro-facial expressions wouldn't have noticed at all. "Wind Master. Said the ghost had kidnapped many brides already."
"Oh, really?" Lan Xichen muses with fake nonchalance. Nie Huaisang, of course. He should have known. For all the meek god proclaims not to know anything to whoever asks, he sure does love to gossip. "Well, I won't hold you back. But please do take General Sandu Shengshou with you, at least."
Wangji hesitates, before he nods solemnly in agreement. He prefers to hunt alone, and his relationship with Sandu Shengshou isn't great, to say the least. Lan Xichen prefers he would not, and he trusts their capacities to put their differences and complicated past aside for the sake of professionalism. "Hn."
"Thank you," he says. Then, in a rare outburst of sentimentalism, he adds. "I'm really happy you're back, Wangji."
Guilt blooms on his descendant's face, as clear to Lan Xichen as day. Unlike Lan Xichen, he wears his feelings on his face, if one knows where to pay attention. It's amusing in a way. He lost count of the number of time people compared the two of them, claiming they were as good as twins, so alike, those two princes! Both noble and talented, so respectful of the rules and people.
There is a key difference between the two of them, one the vast majority of their interlocutors do not notice. Wangji hides behind a wall of glass, safe only because most people don't bother that hard to look. Meanwhile, Lan Xichen lurks underneath the mirror of a serene smile with no one noticing how empty it is.
"Your Majesty," he confesses softly as he looks down. "I'm sorry I was gone for long."
"Worry not about it," Lan Xichen smiles, sincerely this time. "You must do what you need. What you want."
Wangji must live as freely as he can, for Lan Xichen cannot.
Lan Xichen remembers.
He remembers the quiet boy who ascended at seventeen, the blood of a beast on his sword and fragile serenity in his eyes, the tentative god who was not ready to carry the burden of divinity but tried his best anyway, the teenager who had no idea how to deal with the flutters of his heart. He remembers the boy who tried and failed, and he remembers the man singing a lullaby of grief and longing.
He remembers the boy with fire in his bright smile and death in his eyes.
"Your Highness, Lan Zhan, we ascended together, isn't it neat?" the disaster waiting to happen called Wei Wuxian laughed like an earthquake as he casually invaded a prince's safe space. "It means we're best friends now! People who kill monsters together are friends, I don't make the rules, haha!"
Neat wasn't strong enough of a word to describe this oddity. A prince and a servant's son, ascending at the same time, it was unheard of. A servant's son teasingly pestering a prince, calling him by his given name, tugging at his sleeve and poking his cheek to get a reaction, that was outright shocking.
At the time, Lan Xichen thought it was very amusing. In retrospect, he should have seen the seeds of tragedy in the way his descendant's eyes followed hungrily wherever Wei Wuxian danced.
He remembers, for what it's worth.
For Wei Sizhui, finding Wei Wuxian is the easiest thing in the world. He just has to listen to the scandalized screams and follow the trail of chaos, and there the Devastation will be, feeding on disorder and confusion. It's a foolproof method, truly.
One could argue the entirety of the Yiling reeks of ambient chaos, and one would be right. If places are the reflections of their master, then the Burial Mounds represent the peak of Crimson Light Dancing on Graves's essence. They move as randomly as its ghost master, ignoring the laws of physics and common sense to nest themselves where they want to. They swarm with anarchic ghosts and ooze of resentful energy. They exist in a reality of their own, one where gods have no grasp and it's a corrupted divinity who makes the law.
For a given value of the word 'law'.
It is true that chaos thrives everywhere in Yiling, but the Patriarch brews his own unmistakable brand of pandemonium that cannot be confused with anything else to the trained eye. Wei Sizhui has been following the Patriarch for more than a century now. He's more than trained by now.
"Morning, Young Master!" A member of the Burial Mounds' staff, Wei Wuxian's grim palace, bows when Wei Sizhui passes by.
"Morning," he smiles back easily.
"Master is in the garden if you're looking for him," she adds obligingly, her tail flickering behind her back excitedly.
Wei Sizhui already knew, but thanks her nonetheless. Politeness never killed nobody. He walks in the palace of shadows and laughers with a light feet, smiling when his path crossed a strange talisman or a moving doll with too much teeth he knows Wei Wuxian is responsible for. Demons of all shapes and sizes greet him, as Shizhui melts within the house of dead. The fact the place is livelier than many palaces of the living is perfectly on brand with Wei Wuxian's typical contradictory spirit.
"So what if we're dead?" He once laughed, his too warm hand gently patting Wei Sizhui's head. "Doesn't mean we can't have fun anymore, right, A-Yuan?"
Wei Sizhui remembers nodding enthusiastically in reply, the way he did for everything his adoptive father said. In his mind, Wei Wuxian could never be wrong, he was the strongest, the smartest, the funniest, the brightest. Even in the darkness of the ghost realm, he shone of a flame warmer than the living.
He might not be as naive as he used to be, but he still thinks so, in truth. Wei Wuxian isn't perfect, far from it. Sometimes he can even be terrible. His gruesome reputation does not, as a matter of fact, come from nowhere. Wei Sizhui knows it, has seen the kind of disasters the fury of his father can give birth to, yet he has never been afraid. He believes in Wei Wuxian, in the god his father claims loudly and proudly he's not anymore.
"Being a god is overrated, between you and I," Wei Wuxian grinned bravely as they walked by a temple in ruin. A temple that used to be his, Wei Sizhui understood later. "Lots of paperwork and useless meetings. Better be a ghost, it's way more fun, believe me!"
His hand shook over Wei Sizhui's, a tremor born of regret and sadness the tiny ghost Wei Sizhui used to be couldn't begin to understand. He understood enough to smile back and not mention the lingering grief in his protector's eyes. Even then, he was very good at pretending for the sake of others, a skill he improved with time.
Wei Sizhui slides over the path slithering across the crimson grass of the odd cocoon of pseudo-life his father ironically calls his Tranquility Garden, and has to resist the childish impulse to jump between the irregularly shaped rocks. This place, at the image of the rest of the Burial Mounds, is filled with the products of its master's compulsive experimentations. The trees, weird and dead-looking, often move their branches for the sole purpose to make rude gestures at the passersby. The tranquil water of the lake and adjacent canals gleams of a different color every day, depending on Yiling Patriarch's mood, while ghostfires dance over its mirror like surface. The grass itself, red as the blood of the intruders who foolishly attempted to enter without permission, is enchanted to eat alive enemies and spit back their bones.
And that was without mentioning the inhabitants of the Tranquility Garden. One of them hops behind Wei Sizhui as he walks over a bridge, and makes a valiant attempt to bite the hem of his robes. Wei Sizhui jumps out of the rabbit's reach, grinning at the creature's visible frustration. The pros of keeping a herd of dead bunnies instead of living ones is that they don't cost much in food and don't reproduce faster than you can deal with them. The cons are that they smell a bit, objectively speaking, from a dead thing to another, and they are as likely to try to attack and eat you as to let you pet them. It's a fifty fifty chance.
This rabbit is missing one ear and a leg, but that's not stopping him from trying to jump to the top of the bridge's barrier, where Sizhui is currently crouching. Like all the members of his feral herd, he wears a bright red ribbon snug around his neck. 'My personal brand' Wei Wuxian proudly laughed, as if anyone could confuse his bunnies with someone else's.
"Do you know where your master is?" Wei Sizhui inquires with little hope but plenty of amusement.
The bunny's whiskers shiver with annoyance, and he sits up to stomp his feet and glare at the impertinent human looming over him. Wei Sizhui chuckles indulgently at the spectacle. Who else would love such a creature, if not the dead god of discarded and broken things?
Fortunately, he doesn't have to wait for the feral rabbit to cooperate and show him the way. The melancholic song of a flute rises into the air, light as a feather. Chenqing. Wei Sizhui has been lured to sleep by that flute since his infancy; he would remember it everywhere. He follows the enchanting sounds through the trees, until he catches sight of a black boot languidly dangling underneath a branch.
He smiles in the fifteen years old teenage skin he picked for today. "Father, your song is so sad today. Are you in a bad mood?"
The music stops, the last notes lingering like a last breath before the fall.
"What are you saying, A-Yuan?" Wei Wuxian cheerfully retorts. "Don't you know your old man is a frivolous rascal who has never felt sadness even for one day in his life and afterlife?"
Wei Sizhui hears a snap of fingers, and the branches part to reveal the Supreme loosely adorned in shades of blood and night lounging in the heart of the tree. His flute has been abandoned on his lap, replaced by a cup dangling from long white fingers. One of the branches has been tasked with the duty of refilling the Patriarch's cup, the end of it curled around the handle of an Emperor's Smile jar.
Never felt sadness, ah? From an external point of view, it might ring right. A debauched demon with a deadly smile and a deadlier hand, spreading decadence, pandemonium and bloodthirst wherever he went. Wei Sizhui knows it's far from the truth. Crimson Light grins and laughs and dances on the outside, but he mourns quietly when he thinks no one can see him.
"Anyway," Wei Wuxian flicks his wrist, sending the cup fly, before he drops down to the ground. "How is my favorite child doing today?"
"Unless you hide things from me, I'm your only child, Father," Wei Sizhui chuckles. "I have interesting news for you."
"Oh?" Wei Wuxian leans forward to ruffle his hair. "Do say, do say, I love interesting things and I'm so bored! Heavens haven't sent anyone to assassinate me in forever, can you believe it?"
"How dull of them," Sizhui dutifully answers, secretly happy for the years old ceasefire between Heaven and Yiling. Wei Wuxian might pretend he didn't care about being targeted by his former allies and friends, but Wei Sizhui wasn't quite convinced. "Perhaps the news I bring will brighten your day then."
"A-Yuan, you tease, just spill already!" His Father grins boyishly.
"It's His Highness the Crown Prince of Gusu. He's back in Heaven."
The constantly burning flame within Wei Wuxian stills. Flickers. Then rises up with new intensity.
"Oh, Hanguang Jun is back from seclusion, after thirteen years?" Wei Wuxian perks up with practiced casualness. "Going to chase after me again, ehe…"
He must be even more bored than Wei Sizhui thought to look forward to play hide-and-seek with a ferocious martial god he's been religiously avoiding for decades. "Not that I know of. I believe he's planning to descent to hunt down the bridegroom ghost."
"What!" Wei Wuxian bristles at that, looking mortally offended. "Lan Zhan would rather capture some low class Menace over me, the Awful Terrible Not Good At All Yiling Patriarch? That's unacceptable."
Sizhui bites his smile without answering. Wei Wuxian has always complained about Hanguang Jun hunting him down ever since he descended, fell in depravity and turned into a ghost, in that exact order.
"He wants to slaughter me for betraying his ridiculously high divine standards," the ghost king snorted to Wen Ning frequently, usually after they narrowly avoided the martial god. "Good old Hanguang Jun, upholding justice for fucking decades, ah."
"I-I'm not sure His Highness has such intentions," Wen Ning occasionally tried to reason with his master. "Perhaps we should talk to him and listen to what he has to say…"
"Absolutely not," Wei Wuxian waved him off. "Hanguang Jun hates ghosts. All of them. He thinks we're rotten and corrupted aberrations of nature. You see him, you run. Got it, Wen Ning, A-Yuan?"
Wei Sizhui remembered the fearsome Hanguang Jun as a gentle man who had a very small but very warm smile when he looked at Wei Wuxian. But his father said Hanguang Jun hated them and surely he knew what he was talking about, so Sizhui let the matter drop. This cat and mouse game went on and on until Hanguang Jun stopped descending.
Despite his absolute conviction his former colleague only wanted to murder him in cold blood, Wei Wuxian seemed unusually sulky after his arch-enemy disappeared in seclusion. He even believed it was part of a grand plan to take him by surprise. Nothing happened, of course.
"Should have known His Highness the Crown Prince of Gusu was too righteous for such petty tricks." Wei Wuxian said after a few years of silence. "Guess he really gave up then. Good riddance!"
At that time, Wei Sizhui was mature enough to see the difference between what his father said and what he truly felt. He said nothing still. Not to Wei Wuxian at least.
"Does His Highness really hate Father?" he asked his cousin one day.
Wen Ning smiled sadly. "I don't believe so. But you see, it was a dark and confusing time. Cruel things were said. Swords were drawn out. It's hard to see beyond the past. Young Master Wei… he sees what Young Master Wei wants to see. Ah, please don't repeat that to him!"
The past. The past has always been Wei Sizhui's close companion, since his birth. He had to live up to the prestige of his ancestors, then he had to survive despite the mistakes of his clan. And Wei Wuxian is even more haunted by his past than Wei Sizhui ever was.
Perhaps this is the opportunity to mend the bridge between his father and the man who definitely did not want to kill him.
"I can't believe this shit!" Wei Wuxian fumes, his flute twirling between his fingers. "Comes out of seclusion and hunts down some random ghosts instead of me! I won't be scorned like this, A-Yuan. Let's… play a prank on him!"
Wei Sizhui smiles beatifically and lies. "Sounds like a brilliant idea, Father."
Wei Sizhui remembers.
He remembers a time when he was A-Yuan, a happy enough child born in a minor branch of a powerful clan. He remembers when his mother pointed out a temple to him and sai: "This is Lord Wei Wuxian," she whispered to him like a dirty secret. "He was nothing, a servant's son, but became a god out of hard work alone. He defeated the Xuanwu that terrorized the region when he was seventeen."
Even then, A-Yuan thought Wei Wuxian was the coolest ever. "Can we leave an incense to him, please?"
She smiled wistfully. "No. We're Wen, and he's a Yummeng god. Part of the Jiang's brethren."
He remembers when he understood being Wen Yuan was an honor and a leash at once. He remembers when being Wen Yuan meant being part of a the clan who slaughtered the Jiang people in one night. He remembers when being Wen Yuan became a crime.
And he remembers when the god who belonged to the other side took him under his wing and gave him another name to rebuild himself. He remembers dying, and he remembers coming back from the cold and being cradled in warmth. It was different from being alive, but being alive became only synonym to suffering to him.
Wei Sizhui remembers, and he will never forget.
Red. The color of sunset, of berries, of blood. Of passion and violence, and by extension, of power. The Wens liked red very much. They lined their clothes with crimson and painted their walls in vermillion, draping themselves with the light of a dying sun and thought it made them something close to gods.
Wen Ning was, unfortunately, not a red kind of person. Soft and unassuming tones of blue or green, or the comforting dullness of grey would suit him better, as himself and everyone else was perfectly aware of. No one would see him and think of him as someone vibrant, bright, or empowering enough to wear red well without looking ridiculous. Sadly, it didn't matter where his preferences lay. Wen Ning was born a Wen, and Wens wore bright white and burning red. Inside his sun-touched robes, under the unforgiving stares of his family, Wen Ning drowned.
There is irony in the fact Wen Ning ran from the unforgiving Wen red only to stumble under the shadow of a god of crimson. The main difference was that Wei Wuxian's red, though vibrant and aggressive, never felt like an attack to Wen Ning, never acted as a reminder of his failure to be a 'proper Wen'. Wei Wuxian's red, tied around his waist and inside his hair, leaking by his sleeve and curved by his lips, is playful and warm and dangerous, but it's not condescending.
Wei Wuxian was, objectively speaking, born to wear red, may it be festivity red, battle red or royalty red. That being said, Wen Ning has to admit he never imagined him wearing marriage red.
"What's with that long face?" the Yiling Patriarch wiggles his index finger under Wen Ning's nose. "You don't think I look good?"
Wei Wuxian takes a step back, grabs the hems of the crimson cloth between his white fingers and twirls, making the red silk fly around him like wings.
"N-No," Wen Ning denies, for once thankful for being very much dead. Ghosts, after all, cannot blush, unless they want to. "Young Master Wei looks great…"
Wei Wuxian grins, looking very proud of himself. "I do, don't I? Who wouldn't marry me, haha?"
"Right, right, the Master looks so fetching!" the female ghosts who were only too happy to dress up the Yiling Patriarch coo at him. "The most beautiful bride, aye aye! Master's groom will be so happy!"
Following Wei Wuxian means being under the command of a man with a thousand of facets. It means following a warrior, an inventor, a champion of justice, a god and a ghost, a servant's son and a king of pariahs, a Devastation storming the world in black and blood. It also means following a shameless prankster who would find endless delight in disguising himself as a bride out of boredom and pettiness.
"En, this ghost bridegroom will be very happy indeed before I gouge out his eyes," the Yiling Patriarch cackles meanly. "I'm going to catch him first. That will teach Lan Zhan to ignore me, ah."
The female ghosts pat his shoulders and offers him more wine, while Wen Ning despairs quietly to the side. He has admired Wei Wuxian ever since they met at the monastery and the nobody boy from Yummeng did not hesitate to praise his archery and defend him in front of other Wens. Wen Ning wanted so badly to be like the brave disciple who seemed to fear no whips, no nobles, no laws.
In retrospect, Wei Wuxian was Wen Ning's god long before he ascended to Heaven. Following him to become his retainer was the greatest honor he could have thought of, despite the fact the decision alienated him from his family for good. 'So you want to be the dog of those cursed Jiangs' dog,' they laughed and snarled. 'How fitting!' It hurt at the time, but they always despised him anyway. At least he still had his sister's support.
Wen Ning admired Wei Wuxian when he was just a disciple among others, when he was a god everyone sang the praises of, when he descended to dirty his hands in the ugliest war to ever shake the country. He admired him when his allies and friends turned his back on him, and when he lied in the grass and mud, grim and blood tainting his hair, resentful energy clawing on his soul.
Wen Ning still admired Wei Wuxian after he died. He still admired his friend after Wei Wuxian died too, devoured alive by the darkness he had been dancing with.
If Wei Wuxian wants to crossdress, wear a bride outfit, throw an extravagant party for his sham marriage and pretend he doesn't care at all for His Highness the Crown Prince of Gusu, so be it. Wen Ning doesn't get it, but he's only too happy to oblige. There is an excitement, a playfulness, in the way Wei Wuxian gleefully prances behind his delicate veil that Wen Ning hasn't seen in years.
Ever since His Highness quietly withdrawn in seclusion, actually. Wei Wuxian might complain about the prickish prince constantly coming for his ass, but at least he's never bored with a Lan Zhan to annoy or avoid in the vicinity.
And there is no greater hell for a mind as brilliant as Wei Wuxian's than boredom.
"Have fun, Young Master Wei," a small smile blooms by his dead lips.
"I'm not going to have fun, Wen Ning, I'm a ghost on a mission," Wei Wuxian boldly lies. "But I suppose it will be amusing enough to see Lan Zhan's face after I snatched his prey from under his nose, ah!"
What an odd plot twist. When they were disciples, it was Wei Wuxian chasing after Lan Wangji, pestering His Highness constantly and pushing on all his buttons for the fun of it. In Heaven, it was the same until Wei Wuxian started to withdraw as years passed, and it was His Highness who stared at him with growing concern. Longing, even. During the war, His Highness desperately tried to stop Wei Wuxian from destroying himself, and kept trying to reach for him after he did. For decades and decades, Hanguang Jun has been running after the flickering shadow Crimson Light Dancing on Graves cast over the path of desolation he picked.
And now they're back to Wei Wuxian pulling on Lan Wangji's ponytail the second His Highness stops paying attention to him.
"Well, my fearsome Ghost General?" Wei Wuxian grins sharply. "Won't you escort me to my carriage, hm? I need you looming behind my shoulder to make the grand entrance my people deserve."
Wen Ning has never loomed over anyone, he's too shy and awkward for such an intimidating move. And he knows too well how it feels like when someone stronger and taller reminds you how small and insignificant you are to inflict that humiliation to someone else. Not to mention the fact Wei Wuxian has never needed anyone else to make a grand entrance. He can do that very well on his own.
He's just being kind, the way Heavens and mortals believe he cannot be. Once again, Wei Wuxian is going out of his way to make his follower feel important and appreciated. What else can Wen Ning do but bow deeply and offer his gratitude over and over? "I-I'm honored, Young Master Wei."
And so the devastation in red and the black shadow he crafted with his own divine hands come out of the Burial Mounds. The crowd of ghosts cheers when their master jumps on his extravagant Wicked Evil Carriage, decorated with bright lanterns and crimson draperies for the occasion.
"Show 'em who's the boss, Boss!"
"Get your wife, Patriarch! We're with you!"
"Dickhead, don't you know our lord has been courted by His Highness the Crown Prince of Whatever for decades, uh? Where have you been?"
"Oh, right my bad, come back with your man then! Cut off his legs if he runs, works every time!"
"As if our Yiling Patriarch would need to cut anyone's legs to get married, ah! The lord is the coolest and the mightiest, who would resist him? Quite handsome too, ehe, quite handsome indeed!"
"That's right, very right!"
"General, you're not going with the Patriarch?"
Wen Ning blinks curiously at the tiny ghost who tugged at his robes. He crouches down to face her and smiles what he hopes is a gentle and non frightening beam. This miniscule soul is one of those pariah folk Heaven rejected, and that Wei Wuxian took in his home.
He could have built a city for the powerful and the strong, but instead he crafted a nest out of dead bones and grim rocks for discarded people who had nowhere else to go. No wonder they adore him in return.
"Ah, b-but you see, the Patriarch is not going to war, he does not need his General today."
The ghost frowns in displeasure. "That's not right." And then she disappears without an explanation.
"Wen Ning!" Wei Wuxian shouts from the sedan, distracting him from this curious discussion. "Keep an eye on those lunatics in my absence!"
"Lunatics! As if my lord can talk, ah!"
"Patriarch, you're the biggest lunatic of us all, haha!"
Wen Ning merely waves in agreement. "Always, Young Master Wei."
Always will the Ghost General be there to guard what Crimson Light Dancing on Graves holds dear, in life and in death.
Wen Ning remembers.
He remembers a boy who was too bright and daring for their age. He remembers a god who fell for the sake of people he owed nothing to. He remembers a ghost who dug out of his grave and made it his bitch. He remembers a soul who fed on resentful energy as if it were candy and played with cadavers like puppets strung along by the sounds of his flute.
He remembers a man who walked in light and in darkness alike. A man who crawled in the mud and the grim of battlefields and sewers without ever giving up. He crawled and crawled until he learned to dance again. And so dance he did. He remembers the man who holds Wen Ning's ashes close to his chest where no heart beats, next to the remains of the child he took for his own.
And he remembers the righteous god who chased after him, in despair and in longing.
He remembers the dark and twisted moments, the gruesome and the gore, the sorrow and the grief, he remembers all the forgotten hours of the night history cast aside.
Wen Ning remembers what Wei Wuxian does not, and that's for the best.
For the record, Jiang Cheng wants it said he does not, in fact, hate His Highness the Crown Prince of Gusu. If anything, he would say the man incarnates what a god should be: noble, just, lawful and possibly the least chaotic person Jiang Cheng has ever met. Not exactly the person he would willingly spend time with, but definitely a fellow god he can respect and a warrior he would rely on in battle.
If only the guy didn't have a bias the size of a Jin's ego for Wei Fucking Wuxian. Jiang Cheng has lived his whole childhood and beginning of adult life with people who either had disproportionate hatred for his adopted sibling (his mother, good old Lan Qiren) or would have sworn under formal oath the chaotic gremlin was the most wonderful, brightest and smarter person to ever walk the Earth (everyone else). In any case, it felt like that brat was the fucking center of their world and Jiang Cheng was just. There.
In the end, no one was surprised when Wei Wuxian ascended and Jiang Cheng did not. It was to be expected from such a prodigy after all. Even his mother pestered and fumed the brat was eclipsing her son again without a single moment of shock at the news.
"His retainer?" she had repeated angrily. "This irrespectful and shameless punk's servant, you? You can't be serious, A-Cheng."
What a shame it was. The pauper child his father brought back to their home one day, terrified and skinny and starving, had become a god with Jiang Cheng as his servant. The irony. But Wei Wuxian had asked. He had begged.
"Jiang Cheng, I know, I know it's embarrassing but please come with me! I pretended I was fine and dandy with it, but those people, you have no idea, they look at me like I'm a bag of shit who learned how to do tricks on my own. I don't want to be alone up there. It-it scares me. I need you to guard my back. Who cares about this retainer bullshit, it will be the same as always, yeah? You and me against the idiots, the twin prides of Yummeng. You'll see, you'll ascend in no time!"
Except it wasn't only Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng, was it? He bought a goddamn Wen with him, despite knowing of the growing tensions between Qishan and Yunmeng. But Wei Wuxian had never let petty details like complicated political situations and complex history stop him before, and he wasn't about to start now.
And Jiang Cheng let it go. He relented because he always, always accepted Wei Wuxian's nonsense. But no more. Like everyone else, he had learned his lesson. It took him years, years of swallowing down his frustration and ignoring his mother's warnings, the death of his parents, sister and the entirety of their clan and his own brother choosing their enemies over him to get the message.
Wei Wuxian might be a great man, but he certainly wasn't a good person, and everyone knew it now.
Except the good and great Hanguang Jun. It's almost funny, in a way. His Highness hated Wei Wuxian when everyone liked him, and liked him when no one else did. Or perhaps he never hated Wei Wuxian at all. An unfortunate lapse of judgement, but if Jiang Cheng learned anything in Heaven, it's that no one is perfect, no matter what gods believe.
The point is, Jiang Cheng struggles to trust someone who still thinks Wei Wuxian is the misunderstood hero of his own story instead of a selfish wreck and a sorry excuse for a god. However, he can be professional. He don't have to like someone to work with them. Thank Heaven for that, he'd never work with anyone otherwise.
"What do you mean I can't come?" Jin Ling scowls, his hand tightening around his bow. "You promised."
Jiang Cheng has to resist the urge to roll his eyes. How Jin Ling can still act like a spoilt child despite ascending more than a century ago is a complete mystery. Well. He might be partially responsible for that. Whatever.
"Don't 'you promised' me, brat," he grunts, gesturing at an impassable Lan Wangji waiting by the Ascension Gate like a fucking statue. Hell, he is so still Jiang Cheng would have passed by him assuming he was his own statue instead of the real thing if he hadn't blinked at the call out. "Decision is out of my hands."
Jin Ling glares meanly at His Highness, to Jiang Cheng's secret amusement. Then, out of fucking nowhere, Lan Wangji diplomatically nods at his brat and solemnly declares: "Next time."
Neither Jin Ling or Jiang Cheng expected anything from the taciturn prince. Seclusion can do that to a person? Maybe Jiang Cheng could throw Jin Ling in seclusion for a few years too and see what happens. Maybe when he comes he'll be all polite and well behaved, ah!
"Yeah, right. Next time," Jiang Cheng says, doing his best to pretend he's not going into minor shock at the novel concept of His Highness using his words, willingly no less. "Ready, Your Highness?"
Having exhausted his quota of unnecessary speech for the day, Lan Wangji merely nods and off they go. His Highness is, as far as Jiang Cheng is concerned, a very good teammate. He doesn't wander around to 'enjoy the sights, don't be so dull Young Master Jiang!' (Nie Huaisang) or babble about shit that has literally nothing to do with the mission (also Nie Huaisang).
He's quiet, and that's a quality Jiang Cheng has no choice but to reluctantly appreciate. Maybe even a bit too quiet.
"So what's the plan?" Jiang Cheng inquires as they reach the mountain where the ghost bridegroom seems to be operating.
Instead of answering with words, Lan Wangji slides his hand inside his inner pocket and pulls a tiny rabbit out of fucking nowhere. When he gently puts the bunny on the floor, the creature triples of size, growing to half the level of Jiang Cheng's dog. So one enormous and unnatural rabbit with way too much muscle, making a bizarre contrast with the cute blue ribbon tied around his neck.
Softly, but with feeling, Jiang Cheng says: 'What the fuck."
"Ghost." Lan Wangji ignores him to explain the situation to his beast in the most laconic way possible. "Go."
Apparently, that's enough intel for the rabbit. He nods once in reply, and hops off to galop at a frighteningly fast speed towards the top of the mountain. Lan Wangji follows after him without a warning. Jiang Cheng takes it all back, His Prickness is awful teammate material and communication, though annoying because it requires to use words in a way that doesn't involve insults and orders, is essential to a decent partnership.
Belatedly, he runs after them, swearing under his breath. He's confident he would have caught up with them if not for the fucking wolf pack that jumped on him without a goddamn warning. What the heck is wrong with this mountain?
He beats them up soon enough. Rabid wolves, no matter how many, are no threat to a martial god of his caliber. He's no Wei Wuxian of course, but in spite of common belief, he can wave a sword proficiently too. He would have preferred not to kill the crazy creatures, but the circumstances leave him little choice. By the time he's wiping off his sword on one of the poor wolves' cadaver, Lan Wangji has deigned to return.
"Well?" Jiang Cheng squeezes his eyes against the sun. Lan Wangji is looming over him, something big, red and shivering in his arms. "Did you find the bridegroom?"
"Found a bride."
A what now. Oh, the big, red and shivering something clinging desperately to Lan Wangji's neck is a bride. Lan Wangji jumps down, holding the mortal with unexpected tenderness close to his chest. That's the most affectionate Jiang Cheng has ever seen His Highness act.
The crimson veil trembles as the person underneath moves her head to get a look at her surroundings. When she catches sight of the dead wolves, a terrified whimper escapes her mouth.
Jiang Cheng freezes. He knows this sound like his own heartbeat. How many times did he have to chase dogs away for the sake of his adopted brother? How many times did he hold him in his arms, telling him over and over the dogs were gone, there was nothing to fear anymore, everything was alright?
This is no bride. This is Wei Fucking Wuxian, and there is no way Lan Wangji does not know.
What the fuck is he doing here, under such a shitty disguise? Could it be he's the bridegroom? How likely is it there are two ghosts on one single mountain? Not that unlikely, apparently. Jiang Cheng might hold no love for Wei Wuxian anymore, but he's not foolish enough to believe the fucker would condescend to do as crass as kidnap unwilling women for his amusement.
"Ah, as if a handsome man like me need to force myself on any lady," he can practically hear Wei Wuxian boasts. "You on the other hand… But fear not, your brother is here to help out! I'll find you a wife if it's the last thing I do!"
No, it's more likely he heard about the Crown Prince returning and intended to wreck chaos by pretending to be a bride himself. Now that's something Wei Wuxian would do just to be little shit and annoy honest people trying to do their job. Ah, joke's on him. Didn't expect wolves to be there, did he? Jiang Cheng can't believe even death didn't absolve Wei Wuxian of his pathological fear of canids.
Here he is, the terrifying demon Heaven fears like a plague, shivering meekly in a god's arms, utterly helpless. Pathetic. Without a word, His Highness walks the other way to put distance between them and the bodies.
"Hey! Where the fuck are you going?" Jiang Cheng shouts as he runs after them.
Lan Wangji ignores him, only focused on Wei Wuxian. "They're gone. You're safe. No wolves or dogs."
Jiang Cheng can't believe this shit. He's a martial god, and he's comforting the demon who ruined his life and only sees him as an object of amusement. He knew Lan Wangji had it bad, but that's just sad.
"Jiang Cheng," His Highness stops abruptly on his nonsensical cooing to stare at him with this intense glare of his. "You are a god."
"Thanks for noticing after all those years," Jiang Cheng drily answers.
"Hm," the worst partner in the world only says as he gently lets down his charge on the ground.
Wei Wuxian makes a protesting sound to manifest his disagreement and hangs on to Langji's arm. The prince seems to find nothing wrong with that picture, and he moves his hand to run something circling on the 'bride's' back.
What. What. Officiate? Officiate what?
Surely Lan Wangji wouldn't be insane enough to ask Jiang Cheng to officiate his and Wei Wuxian's improvised nuptials, in the middle of nowhere and mid-mission. Oh wait, he is. He's bowing in front of the Heavens and the Earth, his hands clasped, silently offering himself as a spouse to a confused demon.
Surely Wei Wuxian wouldn't be crazy enough to go along with it. Well, he would be, but he made it clear he wanted nothing to do with Lan Wangji.
Heaven, what a fitting punishment it would be. Wei Wuxian, who came for the sole purpose to play a prank on them, ending up married to the man he spent decades running away from. Getting a taste of his own medicine for once, ah!
"It's okay, miss," Jiang Cheng says with false sollicitude. "You don't have to go along with it. Nothing wrong with running away."
He just knows Wei Wuxian is staring indignantly at him under his veil. Running away, the wonderful Wei Wuxian, the awful Crimson Light Dancing on Graves, the mighty Yiling Patriarch? Never!
Slowly, Wei Wuxian bows in front of Lan Wangji. In reaction, Jiang Cheng has the dubious honor to witness the rarest phenomenon in Heaven, an abnormality in the cosmos: a smile from His Taciturness the Crown Dick of Emotional Tundra.
Next, they bow to Jiang Cheng, then to each other. A bow to Heavens and Earth, a bow to the parents, a bow to one another. There is no parent present, except for Jiang Cheng, he realized belatedly. He's the parent, he's the family of the bride. That's a can of worms he really doesn't want to open anytime soon.
And that's it. Hanguang Jun, the precious jewel of the righteous world and the Heavenly Emperor's favorite, married the lord of Hell, just like that.
What the fuck.
Lan Wangji reaches out slowly to unveil Wei Wuxian. He stops mid-air when his new husband (?) recoils visibly. They're lost to their own world already. Jiang Cheng might as well be one of the rocks on the ground, for all they care. Not that he's not used to that feeling.
"Wei Ying," His Highness declares softly. "Don't be scared."
"You knew?" Wei Wuxian screeches he throws back the veil himself with no subtlety. "Lan Zhan, what the heck is wrong with you? What did they do to you in seclusion? You can't just marry random people in the wild! Think of my poor heart!"
Which heart. His selfish, cold, dead one?
"Not random. Wei Ying," Lan Wangji defends his poor life choices with an even tone. "Let's find the ghost now."
And that's how Yiling Patriarch Crimson Light Dancing On Graves and His Highness the Crown Prince of Gusu Hanguang Jun escaped a wolf pack, got married and thwarted the ghost bridegroom ruling over the mountain, in that exact order.
Jiang Cheng just wishes he didn't have to be involved at all in this clusterfuck. Unfortunately, that's not going to happen anytime soon with Wei Fucking Wuxian haunting him still.
Jiang Cheng remembers.
He remembers the frustration of feeling like a stranger in your own home, of never being good enough, of being lesser than the child his father brought back from the streets. 'Look at him,' his mother, his father, his teachers, literally everyone whispered constantly. 'Look at him, born with nothing, yet destined to become more than you could ever hope. Look at him, because no one is ever going to look at you'.
He remembers the jealousy. He remembers the fire raging in his guts, the poison running through his veins, the spite he forced himself to swallow down every single day. He remembers the anger he tried so hard to keep under check, until he didn't.
He remembers his entire family dead, and he remembers Wei Wuxian could have stopped it if he wanted. He remembers the helplessness, the panic, the self-hatred.
He doesn't need to remember grief. It's here with him always, a distant ache at best, a open wound at worst.
He remembers the trust and the love. He wishes he didn't.
Nies are warriors.
They have always been warriors, or so they like to tell themselves. Even before they led Qinghe, when they were mere butchers, they were still warriors. Born with a saber in their hand and bloodthirst in their heart, such is the typical Nie lifestyle. Since infancy, they mold themselves at the image of their god and most famous ancestor, Chifeng Zun, Nie Mingjue, the pride of their clan.
It goes without saying that Nie Huaisang with his disinterest for the saber or fighting in general, with his love for clothes, makeup, plays, books of dubious content and other frivolities, with his proportion to talk and talk and talk instead of brood in manly silence, is something of an oddity inside his own family. An embarrassment, some would say.
"A useless airhead, that one," they scolded. "With nothing but nonsense in his head. Most likely to be found at a teahouse or a house of pleasure than the battlefield, ah! If only he was a scholar. That would be something, at least."
They couldn't believe it when Nie Huaisang defeated his Heavenly Calamity and ascended as the Wind Master. The Nies are very straightforward people. It's not that their minds aren't sharp, but they only see one clear path, and ignore the side roads slithering by. They don't get that teahouses and houses of pleasure are battlefields of their own. Nie Huaisang's frivolous fan, the line of khol over his eyelid, his honey words, his meek smiles, his boring gossip-they are his weapons, just like the saber is theirs. A conversation is not a mere exchange of information. A conversation is a power play. A conversation is war.
Nies are warriors, and so is Nie Huaisang, in his own particular way. Not by choice, not by conviction, but by necessity. His tea parties are his battlefields, and his meek and airhead persona is his armor. There he collects information and hoards valuable intel amongst general indifference. Good ol' Nie Huaisang, shame of his clan, most frivolous airhead of Heaven, what harm can he do, uh? Wave his fan so hard he'll hurt himself? Burn his fragile tongue on his tea?
There he weaves his web and strikes when no one would expect him to.
Sometimes though, tea parties are just excuses to bitch about one's husband, and that's alright.
"He's not my husband, Nie Huaisang, keep up," Wei Wuxian grumbles petulantly. "This marriage is a sham. Complete bullshit!"
"Oh, my bad, I thought when two people willingly had a wedding ceremony in presence of a god, it counted as legit marriage," Nie Huaisang muses innocently. "Haha, what do I know?"
"It's not legit! None of it! How do you know about this anyway?" Wei Wuxian's eyes narrow threateningly.
"Jiang-shixiong told me about it of course! And His Highness made this vaguely agreeing noise? Like 'hmm.'
"Hn," Wei Wuxian corrects him, reproducing the exact sound and the flat expression Lan Wangji would make with utmost perfection.
"Aww, you already have each other's mannerisms! It's so sweet," Nie Huaisang cooes in a way he knows will drive the Yiling Patriarch mad. "Such a wholesome couple."
He was so afraid the first time he reached out to the Supreme. Sure, they used to be pals when they were disciples and laughed over homoerotic pornography in secret together, but that was the extent of their relationship. Wei Wuxian became a god, and Nie Huaisang remained good ol' Nie Huaisang. They might as well belong to different planets.
Then the war happened and Wei Wuxian… was terrifying. If war makes savages out of everyone, then it distorted the cheerful young man Nie Huaisang had known into a king of monsters. He saw for himself the devastation his former classmate unleashed on a whim. Death and desolation clung to the Yiling Patriarch's black robes as the dead danced to the tune of his flute. Not exactly the kind of person Nie Huaising could hit up out of nowhere.
He was terrifying, but Nie Huaisang needed answers. Needed them so much he worked his ass off in order to ascend despite having no interest in being a god. Unlike most of his peers, Nie Huaisang only wanted to have a nice comfortable life and to die peacefully in his bed. Assuming the mantle of an elemental master and being forced to work all the time to keep his status didn't really appeal to him.
But what else could he do when no god answered his prayers?
"Do it yourself."
"But Da-Ge, you don't understand, that's work and effort! I'm no good at martial stuff anyway."
"Then use your brain. You're smart. There isn't only one way to ascend."
"...Da-Ge really thinks so? I'm not scholar material either though, haha!"
"You're people smart. I have seen it. You have potential, and you're wasting it because you're lazy. It frustrates me coming from one of my descendants."
"...oh. In my defense, it's not only because I'm lazy, I'm also a coward, you know?"
"Enough. I'll be waiting for you. Don't disappoint me."
"Nie Huaisang. Nie Huaisang. Oi!" Wei Wuxian snaps his fingers in front of Nie Huaisang's nose. "You drifted away again."
He did, didn't he? Nie Huaisang smiles apologetically as he tries to put his armor back together. "My bad, my bad! We were talking about how ridiculously in love you were with your husband, right?"
He used to be terrified of Crimson Light, but it was hard to remain scared and in awe when he had to pat a drunk Wei Wuxian while he whined about Lan Zhan hating him on multiple occasions. This spy gig involves more therapy and bitching around than any actual spying.
"Whose side are you on?" Wei Wuxian crosses his arms around his chest. He's petting a rabbit sitting on his lap. Nie Huaisang knows he doesn't own it because Wei Wuxian's pets have the tendency to lose their inner organs. "Can you believe he just showed up the next day with his stuff and his rabbits and moved in my Burial Mounds? And no one stopped him! They were cheering on 'the master's hubby' finally taking responsibilities instead!"
"How dreadful," Nie Huaisang deadpans behind his fan. "I bet he did awful things like cook for you meals so spicy it's illegal in most countries, or be nice to your child, your people and your terrible pets."
"My pets are not terrible, fuck you, but yes exactly. How did you know?"
Nie Huaisang smiles. "Just an inkling. The utter gall of that man."
"The sheer nerve," Wei Wuxian agrees, doing his best to contain the mirth tucked at the corner of his mouth and failing.
"The cheek of those Heavenly Officials. Out of curiosity, where does this Awful, Terrible, Not Good at all husband of yours sleep? Did you give him your worst room?"
"Heck no. He doesn't deserve a room of his own in my goddamn castle. Don't want him to get even more entitled."
Nie Huaisang blinks. Tilts his head to side. Waits patiently.
"...okay fine, he sleeps in my room, and before you get ideas, not like that," Wei Wuxian says as he waves his hand in front of him. "It's all part of my masterplan to get him to leave. If he shares my space constantly, he'll realize how despicable I am and bail the hell out for good."
Ah. It's a test then. "I see."
"No you don't, but you will," Wei Wuxian flicks his wrist dramatically. "Speaking of. You're not responsible for this clusterfuck, are you?"
Nie Huaisang laughs good-naturedly. "Me? Wei-shixiong, I'm too stupid and lazy to come up with such an elaborate scheme."
"So you are responsible," Wei Wuxian concludes, a hint of crimson bleeding inside the grey of his eyes. "I've got my eye on you, Wind Master."
He's the only one then and that's exactly how Nie Huaisang likes it. "That's scary, Wei-Shixiong! I'm merely trying to help. I really hope domestic bliss will ease that temper of yours," he sighs.
"There will be no domestic bliss! None whatsoever!" Wei Wuxian exclaims with lots of feeling for someone who pretends not to care.
"What about domestic chaos?" Nie Huaisang pips.
A silence weights upon them, unexpectedly.
"... I suppose it wouldn't be too bad." Wei Wuxian says after a moment, quietly. Vulnerably.
Nie Huaisang averts his eyes. The Yiling Patriarch acts so confident, so sure of himself that Nie Huaisang sometimes forgets he's as full of hidden wounds as Nie Huaisang himself. An ocean of rotting trauma under the shimmering surface of a smile, that's what people like them are.
"He loves you," he finally dares to say. "Hanguang Jun. His Highness. Lan Wangji. He loves you."
"He said so too," Wei Wuxian shrugs as if it doesn't matter to him. "He must have hit his head pretty hard when he was in seclusion."
Nie Huaisang shakes his head. "Wei-Shixiong, he's always been in love with you."
It was obvious, in retrospect. Even back in their leisure days at the monastery, there was something in the way only Wei Wuxian could get under his skin. After Wei Wuxian died, Lan Wanji was destroyed. Nie Huaisang is familiar enough with that despair to know it means sincere love.
Wei Wuxian does not say 'I love him too' because he's not there yet. Because it's not for Nie Huaisang to hear in the first place. But he does say: "We'll see," and that's the closest thing to acknowledgement Wei Wuxian is ready to give.
Nie Huaisang takes a sip of his tea, and he congratulates himself on a job well done.
Nie Huaisang remembers.
And what he doesn't remember, he will find out.
Have you heard? The terrible grandmaster of Hell is having an affair with the most righteous god of Heaven!