The second day after their arrival to Yiling dawned grey, sun hidden behind clouds that grumbled as if they were considering devouring the world underneath them.
It was that cold light which made its way inside the room where Jiang Cheng slept, oblivious to the heavy atmosphere surrounding him, dull and not enough to make up for the candles about to be consumed. The one that mocked Wei Wuxian’s attempts to stay awake, to keep reading that essay full of words and concepts he didn’t fully understand.
He put the paper down, rubbed at his exhausted eyes before leaning back against the side of the bed.
Wei Wuxian hadn’t really slept since following Jiang Cheng all the way back to Lotus Pier, but that hardly mattered now. There was a way to fix it, to solve this mess and give his brother the only weapon he needed to avenge his –their– family.
He only needed to convince Wen Qing.
Wei Wuxian glanced up when the door opened, composed what he hopped looked enough like a smile as Wen Ning walked in the room, carrying breakfast on a tray.
“Has Wen Qing changed her mind?”
Wen Ning set the tray on the table, then approached him in wary steps, as if Jiang Cheng could wake up and yell at him again if he weren’t quiet enough.
“My sister… says you will regret doing such a thing on impulse.”
“It’s not on impulse,” Wei Wuxian argued. “I already made up my mind. Jiang Cheng needs a golden core more than I do.” He didn’t miss the smallest twitch of Wen Ning’s eyebrow; irritation crawled up his throat like vomit. “What? You’re also waiting for me to chicken out?”
Wen Ning flinched at the raised voice, hesitated before lowering himself to the floor, in front of Wei Wuxian. It must have been a comical scene, one teenager kneeling properly and the other’s limbs carelessly sprawled as if he had just been dropped from the ceiling.
“I-I think,” he started, and the hands on his thighs trembled when they closed into fists, “that you… You shouldn’t do it for the wrong reasons.”
Wei Wuxian tilted his head to the side.
“How can you tell which reasons are right or not?” he replied. “And even if you can, why would you apply your criteria to me?”
Wen Ning shifted, uncomfortable. “That’s… That’s true,” he admitted. “B-But guilt is always a bad reason. I think.”
“Guilt? You really think this is about—…?”
“What happened in Lotus Pier wasn’t your fault,” Wen Ning cut him off, so quickly it was a wonder he didn’t trip on his tongue. He lowered his head, shut his eyes tightly afterwards, as if he expected Wei Wuxian to get angry with him. But Wei Wuxian found his lungs empty when he tried to form words— which ones, he had no idea. “I, I don’t know m-much about these things,” he stammered, the bout of confidence gone as suddenly as it had come, “but my sister says it was just a matter of time until… until my uncle attacked it.”
Wei Wuxian swallowed down, exhaustion and a fear he would rather pretend didn’t exist embittering the last words Madam Yu had spoken to him as if they didn’t hurt enough on their own.
“…It doesn’t matter, really,” he eventually managed, voice thick. “It doesn’t matter whose fault it was. Uncle Jiang and Madam Yu are dead. I don’t want to lose Jiang Cheng too.”
Wei Wuxian knew, as soon as Jiang Yanli’s gaze went from fond to amused, that his little adventure wouldn’t be as secret as he had hoped.
“Where have you been?” she tried to scold him, though it was a smile what she was hiding behind her sleeve when Wei Wuxian pouted. “Your hair is a mess! And look at your clothes.”
Wei Wuxian dragged his feet towards her. “You’d think being a war hero makes you more charismatic,” he whined, sitting on the stone steps next to his sister, “but I can’t even steal lotus pods without that old man hitting me! He said ‘I don’t care how well you play the flute, these are my lotuses’, and even threw a rock at me!”
“He didn’t lie though,” Jiang Yanli replied, patting dust and soil off his clothes. “But why are you so dirty?”
Wei Wuxian glanced down, at his mud-stained robe and the leaves and twigs clinging to his hair where it fell over his shoulder, and had to admit she had a point.
“Oh, that’s just that I didn’t land right after jumping off the boat and fell.” Wei Wuxian pouted again. “Shijie, he laughed at me! How mean is that?”
Jiang Yanli couldn’t keep herself from giggling anymore.
“Xian-Xian, you tried to steal from him,” she reasoned.
Wei Wuxian stood still as Jiang Yanli trailed her fingers through his hair, picking the bits of leaves and other things that had got stuck in it. He wasn’t really that bothered by what had just happened; but as the sun rose to its zenith he kept complaining about every absurd little thing he could think of, just to make Jiang Yanli laugh.
Seeing Wei Wuxian so interested in the resentful aura surrounding the entrance of the town, his husband had parted with him and Lan Sizhui there, not wanting to be late to a meeting with a few representatives from other sects. Under different circumstances, Wei Wuxian would have accompanied him and left Lan Sizhui on his own; but he had had his share of politics for the rest of this life and he would rather avoid it unless it was strictly necessary.
Both Wei Wuxian and Lan Sizhui hoped Lan Wangji wouldn’t take long, but as time passed they became hungry, and upon approaching the place of the meeting they confirmed it didn’t look like it would end soon.
“I’m sorry for Lan Zhan, but we can let you starve while you’re still growing, Sizhui.” Wei Wuxian threw an arm around the boy’s shoulders, ignoring the growls of his own stomach as he toyed with Lan Wangji’s money pouch with his free hand. “Let’s go! What do you want? It’s on Hanguang-Jun… And he’ll have lunch in there, most likely.”
“I don’t really…” But Lan Sizhui trailed off. “Oh!” His head snapped up, neck stretched as he glanced around, looking for something. “I think it was in this town, Jin Ling told me…”
“Told you what?” Wei Wuxian asked, following Lan Sizhui when he reoriented himself.
“He said there’s a restaurant here that serves really good food,” Lan Sizhui explained, quickly heading for one of the buildings. “That one.”
Wei Wuxian had guessed it just by the delicious smell coming out of the door and windows; upon entering and sitting at a table in a quiet corner, Wei Wuxian reached for the menu.
His face lit up when he realised most dishes were quite spicy.
A while later, Lan Sizhui’s vegetable soup seemed a poorly concealed intruder among all the food Wei Wuxian picked at, immune to the burning it left on its way down his throat.
“You really like spicy food, Senior Wei.” Lan Sizhui muttered. After just a second he flinched though, lowered his eyes and resumed eating.
“You can talk, I won’t tell Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian promised. “Eating in silence is so boring anyway.”
“…It is,” Lan Sizhui eventually admitted.
Wei Wuxian chuckled. Disciplined as he was, Lan Sizhui yearned for a bit more freedom as every Lan.
“Try this,” he said, bringing a mushroom close to the boy. Lan Sizhui drew back on instinct. “Come on, it’s one of the mildest dishes. It barely tastes like anything for me.”
Lan Sizhui hesitated, but eventually he bit into the mushroom.
Immediately his face scrunched up in something that almost looked like pain; he was too well-mannered to spit the mushroom out, but he barely munched on it before swallowing and drinking water as if he hadn’t had any in an entire week. Even afterwards, his expression remained a mask of displeasure, tongue stuck out and tears welling up in the corners of his eyes.
For his part, Wei Wuxian was almost rolling on the floor, trying not to kick around in his fit of laughter. The chopsticks fell from his hand, but he didn’t mind even as he made himself and Lan Sizhui the centre of attention.
“This is mild?” Lan Sizhui complained once Wei Wuxian managed to control himself, between hurt and angry.
“It—…” But Wei Wuxian started laughing again. “It is! You need to eat outside more often… You should’ve seen your face.”
Now though, he wasn’t making fun of the boy. For a second, Wei Wuxian had seen in his expression, clear as very few times, the child who cried for half an hour the first time he tasted something Wei Wuxian had made.
They wouldn’t make it to the Cloud Recesses before curfew unless they travelled on Bichen, but after spending the day exploring underground catacombs Wei Wuxian wanted to walk a little under the dying sun.
Before he and Lan Wangji could as much as head out of the city though, a hurried sprint towards them make Wei Wuxian spin on his heels.
“Wait!” Jin Ling dug his heels on the ground before crashing into Wei Wuxian. “Wait…”
“Did you forget…” But Wei Wuxian’s eyes widened upon recognising what Jin Ling had brought with him. “…Something.”
“Uncle,” Jin Ling started, breathing in deeply, “told me to give this to you.”
He practically pushed Suibian against Wei Wuxian’s chest.
“Wh—… Jiang Cheng?” The question felt stupid as soon as Wei Wuxian asked it. Of course it was Jiang Cheng; he had kept the sword since the last time Wei Wuxian set foot in Lotus Pier. “Why?”
Jin Ling shrugged. “He only said it’s yours, so it’s common sense to give it back.”
Wei Wuxian shook his head. That wasn’t what he had asked, but Jin Ling couldn’t possibly know the answer to his question.
“Well… Then tell him he could’ve done it himself.”
“Why don’t you tell him yourself?”
Out of the corner of his eye, Wei Wuxian caught a glimpse of Lan Wangji’s surprised blink. Jin Ling swallowed down, throwing him a cautious glance too; but his lips weren’t sealed, so he continued, growing angrier with every word he spoke:
“It’s been like this for months! I’m tired of being your messenger.” Jin Ling folded his arms. With a deep frown set between his eyebrows and something halfway between a snarl and a pout curling his lips, he reminded Wei Wuxian of a much younger Jiang Cheng. “Sort your problems out yourselves.”
Wei Wuxian raised an eyebrow, impressed despite himself.
It was easier than accepting that a fourteen-year-old was lecturing him and acknowledging that he was right.
“I bet you haven’t—…”
“I told him too!” Jin Ling cut him off. “Uncle doesn’t have dogs in Lotus Pier, nothing’s stopping you from going.”
Before Wei Wuxian could reply, his nephew bowed to Lan Wangji and stomped away.
Wei Wuxian stared at the path long after it was empty, then dropped his gaze to his sword, biting the insides of his cheeks. Only when a hand landed on his shoulder did he look up from the fire reflected against its ornamented sheath.
“…We’re not in a hurry to go back to Gusu, are we?”
He awoke with his heartbeat rattling his every bone, breathing desperate and still not enough to fill lungs flooded with terror, the familiar shadows in the room resembling monsters about to lunge at him.
That thought made him laugh as he sat up. Monsters. As if those could scare him.
But he was still trembling, still shaking at the shards of a nightmare embedded in his heart. Struggling to control his body, he tried to pay attention to the crickets outside, to Lan Wangji’s calm breathing next to him.
He had hardly matched his own pace to the triple of his husband’s when it halted too, hands seeking for him.
Wei Wuxian’s hopes that Lan Wangji was still asleep were crushed when he sat up too, moonlight reflected in his eyes as he looked Wei Wuxian up and down.
“…I’m fine,” he assured, giggling at the fingers brushing his cheeks. “Really. S—… I didn’t want to wake you up.”
“Does not matter,” Lan Wangji replied, voice hoarse from his own sleepiness.
Wei Wuxian could only kiss him once before he was tucked under his husband’s chin and brought back down with him. He set his hand on Lan Wangji’s chest, covering the sun engraved in his skin, closed his eyes to listen to the loud, calm pulse beating against his palm.
“Do you want to know what I dreamt of?” he eventually asked. Lan Wangji’s hum vibrated against his cheek, tugging his lips into a small smile as long fingers threaded down his hair. “Too bad I don’t remember.”
Lan Wangji’s hand halted.
“Really, I don’t,” Wei Wuxian insisted. “I hardly ever remember my dreams, even when they’re nightmares.” He sniffled, and it was only then that he noticed the wetness overflowing his eyes. “But I think there was a dog. Something that bit me, anyway.”
Lan Wangji resumed caressing his hair, brushing Wei Wuxian’s back with the tips of his fingers.
Wei Wuxian nodded. “Much better.”
Beneath the blankets, he wrapped his legs around Lan Wangji’s one, inching even closer. His smile widened at the kiss that landed on the top of his head.