When Wei Wuxian falls off the cliff at Nightless City, he’s ready to die. He has regrets, of course; if you could live the life he’s lived and claim to be satisfied with leaving things as they were then you would be ready to ascend to immortality. He just doesn’t have the strength to fight anymore.
Lan Wangji’s hand is only inches from his fingertips--Wei Wuxian doesn’t even try to catch hold of it.
But for all that his heart has already given up, the terror of falling from a great height brings out some reflexive movement in his body, some impulse driven by a biological imperative to stay alive that prompts him to reach out and cling onto the nearest object that might anchor him.
It’s just that he doesn’t reach out with his hands.
He hears Lan Wangji bellow again in fresh anguish, and when he forces his eyes back open, a red braided cord stretches across the distance between him and that tragic white figure on the edge of the cliff. A thin red flag, billowing in the wake of his fall like an accusation.
Can’t even die right, an insidious whisper hisses in his ear. Lan Wangji tried so hard to save you and now, as his reward, you’ve doomed him to this!
Oh yes, Wei Wuxian dies with regrets.
Here’s the thing. The term heart-bond is purely the creation of public sentimentality. Actually tying the cord doesn’t require that the heart be involved at all.
Oh, there are the epic romances full of doomed lovers who die for bond-cords tied inopportunely, ballads about valiant young men and women who brave untold dangers to be judged worthy of binding themselves to their chosen one.
He remembers his mother entertaining him as a child by waving her bond-cord in front of his face as they traveled.
Why can't I touch it? he remembers asking, pouting at never being able to catch the brightly colored string no matter how many times he swiped his hand through it.
Because it's just for me and your baba, his mother had told him then. So that he can always find his way back to me. So that he always knows that I love him.
Little Wei Ying had frowned. What about me?
His mother had clicked her tongue, reaching over to tickle him until his face was sunny again. Bond-cords are for married people, you silly boy! Parents do things a little differently. Ying-er will always know that I love him because I'll tell him every day!
Someday when you're older, his father had added from where he was holding onto the donkey's lead, you'll find someone special, and when you marry them you'll tie your own cord so that they always remember you love them.
But the cord is just a symbol, holding only as much weight as the promises made with the ink on the marriage contract.
Just look at Madam Jin, whose bond-cord has never left the ground since her wedding day. Wei Wuxian has seen her nudge it out of the way with the tip of her toe, like it's a venomous snake that might leap up of its own accord to shout to the world about Jin Guangshan's presence in someone else’s bedchambers.
And yet, symbolic though it may be, the permanence of a heart-bond cord means that tying it to someone without their explicit agreement is an action far beyond the pale.
All this to say: Wei Wuxian has made a mistake. And not even death will absolve him of it.
When Wei Wuxian wakes up in Mo Xuanyu's body, he's understandably too distracted by his dismay at having been called back to the world of the living to notice the flutter of red tied around his finger.
It's not until he's taking stock of his new body, counting scars and tallying up bruises, that he catches sight of the little knot tied at the base of his left middle finger and registers the thin red cord that hangs limply across the back of his knuckles. The far end of the cord trails under the door and out of sight.
A leaden weight settles in his stomach, and something itches at the back of his mind. Like he's forgotten something.
“What are you looking at, you madman?” Mo Ziyuan demands. He aims another kick at Wei Wuxian’s head and Wei Wuxian ducks away from the blow. “Just because they made the mistake of letting you stay in Lanling for a few years, you think you’re something special?”
Lanling? Could it be that this Mo Xuanyu is one of Jin Guangshan’s by-blows? Just like that, Wei Wuxian’s attention is diverted to fitting these new pieces into the puzzle of what-the-fuck-is-going-on.
The itch comes back when he makes his way to the reception hall in Mo Manor and sees the little Lan juniors march past him in their pristine whites. And by “itch” he means that it feels like there’s a dog pawing at his brain and whining to get into the part of his head where he stores his memory. If he lets himself dwell on it for too long, he might really be overcome by the urge to just lay down and let the backlash of Mo Xuanyu’s summoning relieve him of his ill-gotten new life, so he throws himself wholeheartedly into playing the lunatic and determinedly doesn't give it another thought.
Lan Sizhui is surprisingly personable for a member of the Gusu Lan sect. When he stands up in a swirling cloud of white fabric to politely place himself between Wei Wuxian and Madam Mo’s rage, Wei Wuxian stares down at the white-clad shoulder and the black hair threaded through with an embroidered ribbon and resolutely doesn’t think about the last time someone defended him like this.
He breathes hard through his nose, snatching up a jug of wine and making good his escape.
This is fine.
He can’t stop himself from checking on the demon attraction flags that the kids are using. He maybe takes a little too much pleasure in being as obnoxious as possible while he does so.
Luckily for him, Lan Jingyi is too loud, too brash, too lively to trigger anything other than amusement and a faint sense that Wei Wuxian has met someone like him before.
Despite all his best intentions, the night goes downhill from there.
The Lan juniors are not prepared to fight a spirit as high-caliber as the one jumping from left arm to left arm. To be honest, neither is Wei Wuxian.
But he’s never been accused of not being adaptable, so he helps himself to the corpses of Mo Xuanyu’s family--convenient, that; it means he has less work to do to get rid of the curse-wounds on his arm--and cowers in the shadows while they throw themselves at Madam Mo’s arm.
Madam Mo and her husband move so wildly around each other that they tie chaotic, inelegant knots in the cord that still stretches between them. As the battle grows fiercer and fiercer, the little lumps in the cord cluster together into a mass of haphazard knots with no meaning, like a sick mockery of the good fortune knots that sit on each of their middle fingers.
With both parties dead, the bond can’t change or grow or be hidden. But the length of cord that remains from before they died is enough to let them have their mobility within the courtyard.
For a split second, Wei Wuxian considers that if he had a spiritual weapon, he could command one of them to cut the bond and free them from each other--
His mind slips and slides away from the thought, unwilling to scratch that itch, to let that dog claw its way through the door. Best to leave it be.
Hah! As if he could be that lucky.
The itch turns into a firework when Hanguang-jun himself descends from the heavens to save Lan Sizhui and the others from what turns out to be a sword spirit, just as Wei Wuxian makes the decision to help the juniors even at the cost of unmasking himself. The bond-cord that Wei Wuxian can no longer ignore glimmers like a blood-red snake, slithering across the courtyard to connect Wei Wuxian's dirty hand with the immaculate, slender fingers plucking the guqin strings.
Lan Wangji must be commanding the bond to conceal itself from public sight, because the gods know Wei Wuxian's emotional control is too all over the place to be capable of hiding it, but no one is pointing and shouting.
And they would undoubtedly be pointing and shouting if they could see it, because in what universe would a lunatic demonic cultivator with a ruined reputation be any kind of suitable match for the esteemed Hanguang-jun?
Even when Wei Wuxian was a mostly-sane demonic cultivator with the tatters of respectability, Lan Wangji had never been within his reach.
Wei Wuxian has always been the kind of person to grab at things outside his reach. He used to think that was a good thing, attempting the impossible, but he’s learned that it just means he stains clean things with the filth and old blood on his hands.
Wei Wuxian shakes his head hard to try and jolt his brain back into action. He takes a deep breath and melts into the night, letting the cord spool out lengths and lengths of slack as he goes.
He’s not foolish enough to think that Lan Wangji missed a fully-formed bond-cord appearing out of thin air earlier today, but he can hope that exactly where the other end leads remains a mystery.
Lan Wangji can never know he was here.
There's no point in asking what Wei Wuxian has done to offend the gods to the point of deserving such bad luck, so he settles for cursing himself. Bad enough that he narrowly avoided being seen by Lan Wangji back at Mo Manor, but now he's trapped in a confrontation with a Jiang Cheng who has only grown angrier over the past sixteen years and a petulant child who turns out to be shijie's son. A child to whom Wei Wuxian has thoughtlessly spoken shameful words in a moment of petty annoyance.
When Bichen flies out of the dense woods to save him from Jiang Cheng and Jin Ling's combined wrath, Wei Wuxian isn't sure whether to laugh or cry. All that hard work he put into escaping Mo Manor, all for nothing!
Sure enough, Lan Wangji and his retinue of white-clad youngsters come into sight a few seconds later. Jiang Cheng looks about ready to start foaming at the mouth.
Lan Wangji sheathes Bichen as Jin Ling retreats to Jiang Cheng's side, but he barely spares a glance at them. Instead, his gaze is focused on Wei Wuxian.
More specifically, on Wei Wuxian's left hand.
He stands there, just staring, for so long that Jiang Cheng's eyes narrow in dawning suspicion.
Luckily for all of them, Lan Sizhui and Lan Jingyi are quick-witted and efficiently draw Jiang Cheng's ire back to the original argument by way of polite admonitions and backtalk, respectively.
Wei Wuxian endures Lan Wangji's scrutiny, thanking every star in the heavens that he let the cord grow so long that the middle of it is probably caught around a tree somewhere out of sight. Lan Wangji cannot prove that their cords connect.
Just to be safe, however, Wei Wuxian grabs Little Apple's lead and drags him away from the clearing as soon as Jiang Cheng is safely out of sight.
(But not out of earshot. He keeps careful track of the absolute lambasting he can hear Jiang Cheng giving Jin Ling in the distance and purposely travels away from the ruckus.)
Lan Wangji is too busy giving directions to the Lan juniors to chase after him. Finally, a stroke of good luck.
Wei Wuxian ambles down to the riverside to reflect on what he has done.
Shijie's face ripples on the surface of the water, gently disappointed in how he's treated his nephew. Then Jiang Cheng's face, contorted in rage and disgust, overlays it. Somehow, both manage to convey their condemnation of him without ever looking at him.
What justice, that even in the midst of this suffering he can’t pretend his family is still here.
When he splashes a hand through the cold water to break up the illusions, the slip of red cord falling into the river and sinking, sodden, to the riverbed only reminds him of yet another mistake he's made.
Do you regret saving me from Jin Ling, Lan Zhan, now that you know who I am? he wonders, scrubbing his face with frigid water as if it will let him wake up to find that all of this has been a terrible nightmare. Everyone would be better off if I had just let his sword strike home, wouldn't they?
The sneering complaints about Jin Ling’s arrogance that float into earshot with the group of unaffiliated cultivators coming down the path confirm it.
Wei Wuxian can't assault people for gossipping, so he settles for striking himself across the face instead. As a reminder of what he's cost his family. As a warning to do better this time around.
His ears perk up when the topic of the conversation switches away from Jin Ling.
"Did you see how Hanguang-jun wasn't paying attention at all to Sect Leader Jiang just now? If I were the one standing in front of a pissed-off Sandu Shengshou--"
"Is he ever not pissed-off?" someone interjects, eliciting laughter from the group before being hurriedly shushed.
"--I wouldn't take my eyes off him no matter what kind of ugly donkey came out from the woods, that's all I'm saying."
Wei Wuxian wordlessly reaches down to give Little Apple a conciliatory pat on the rump. Not all donkeys can be paragons of beauty!
"Maybe he saw the ghost of his wife," one of the cultivators suggests. A chorus of gasps rises from the group.
"I never heard about Hanguang-jun getting married," one of the women says skeptically.
"Like they'd invite you!" someone hoots. The woman reaches over and slaps the culprit upside the head.
"Someone as important as one of the Twin Jades, the big clans would have kicked up a huge fuss about his wedding," someone else points out.
The first cultivator scowls, clearly displeased by the criticism of his idea. "It could be," he insists stubbornly.
"Ah, don't mind my brother," says a young man wearing similar colors. "He's a romantic, this one. And a conspiracy theorist."
His brother crosses his arms. "I heard it from my friend's cousin, who heard it directly from a woman who works as a maid in Cloud Recesses. She said that one time, many years ago, Hanguang-jun got drunk and went on a rampage through some of the storage buildings in the compound. And she swears he was waving around a bond-cord that led outside the walls of Cloud Recesses. But after that night she never saw it again."
"Hanguang-jun, Lan Wangji, get drunk??" the woman who spoke earlier snorts. "Now I know you've been smoking something strange. As if that would ever happen!"
The other grumble in agreement and the group troops out of sight.
Wei Wuxian's hand trembles as he takes hold of Little Apple's halter.
"Gossip is forbidden," he intones, stroking an imaginary beard in what he’s proud to say is a fantastic impression of old Lan Qiren. But his heart isn't in it.
Lan Wangji is sneaky.
Wei Wuxian doesn't remember him ever being sneaky before.
Lan Wangji follows his end of the bond-cord, quietly and from a distance to ensure that Wei Wuxian doesn't notice anything amiss until it's too late.
Wei Wuxian isn't sure if Lan Wangji intentionally waited until he was in the middle of sending Wen Ning away with his hastily-made flute before latching onto his arm, or if Wei Wuxian is just reaping the consequences of having, like, burned down some god's home in a past life. (And seriously, Wen Ning is here?! Wei Wuxian is still waiting to wake up from this absurd dream.)
Either way, when he flips the hold around to keep Lan Wangji from chasing after Wen Ning's retreating figure, he turns to find that the cord has shrunk until it drapes carelessly across both their forearms. Bright, stark red against the black of Wei Wuxian's robes and the immaculate white of Lan Wangji's. A wordless accusation and proof of his guilt, all at once.
When Lan Wangji finally lifts his eyes away from the cord, it is to fix his gaze on Wei Wuxian's face instead, with the intensity of all nine of the suns that Hou Yi shot down.
"Wei Ying," he says, disbelieving, as if the syllables of Wei Wuxian's name are too large or badly shaped to make it out of his mouth unless he forces them.
Wei Wuxian jerks his left hand away, still holding onto his makeshift dizi, and shoves it behind his back. He's perfectly aware that this hides nothing, in fact it probably solidifies Lan Wangji's suspicions, but it makes him feel better, and it’s not like there was much room for Lan Wangji to doubt in the first place.
He thinks it's very unlikely that Lan Wangji and Mo Xuanyu have ever even met before, much less gotten married.
Strictly speaking, you don't have to be married to share a heart-bond…
As if he isn't intimately, painfully aware of that fact!
Wei Wuxian laughs nervously, twirling the dizi behind his back as he tries to buy some time to figure out his next steps.
"Hanguang-jun," he says with a joviality he doesn't feel. "Fancy seeing you here. What brings you…?"
Lan Wangji only repeats, "Wei Ying."
"Ahahaha, that's a very serious accusation right there… Don't you think--"
Great, Jiang Cheng has arrived. Wei Wuxian winces, turning away from Lan Wangji to face his former shidi.
For a moment, his breath is taken away by the vision of swirling purple robes as lightning crackles overhead. Jiang Cheng has too much of his father's bone structure to ever really be mistaken for his mother, but no one could look at that rage-clouded face and not see the resemblance to Madam Yu.
Then his breath is almost taken away literally as Zidian comes lashing down at his face. He shrieks and attempts to duck out of the way, only to discover that Lan Wangji has simultaneously tightened his grip on Wei Wuxian and knocked Zidian away with uncompromising command of Bichen.
Wei Wuxian spends the rest of the fight ducking out from behind Lan Wangji's broad back to shout encouragement and taunts as needed.
At some point, his big mouth gets the better of him. Actually, the only surprising part there is that it's taken so long to happen.
"I would say I'm flattered by your attention, Sect Leader Jiang, but I'm not!" he says, leaning gleefully into the cutsleeve lunatic thing. "I don't just go after anybody! I have standards!"
Jiang Cheng is too busy trying to get around Lan Wangji to respond, but Wei Wuxian has learned that, despite his disdainful comments, Lan Jingyi is always down to stir shit up. And to sass Jiang Cheng, apparently. Really, where has he met this kid before?
"What standards are those, Senior Mo?" Lan Jingyi hollers from the sidelines of the battle. Immediately after speaking, he clamps his mouth shut, looking as if he regrets everything he's ever done.
Bless the child.
"Weeeeell," Wei Wuxian ponders out loud, "they have to be rich! And elegant, and good with at least one weapon! And tall." And then, never good at resisting the urge to poke at bruises, he grins and adds, "Like Hanguang-jun! That's the kind of person I like!"
Lan Wangji's eyes cut to the side where Wei Wuxian is standing, just for a split second.
Just long enough for Zidian to snap below his sword and wrap around Wei Wuxian's ankles. Jiang Cheng yanks, and Wei Wuxian goes flying forward. When he lands at Jiang Cheng's feet, he can't feel his legs.
Ah, how creative of Jiang Cheng, to think of a place he's never felt Zidian's sting before.
Before he can open his mouth, Zidian comes down again, this time across his shoulder blades. That's more familiar.
"How dare you come back!" Jiang Cheng hisses through clenched teeth, but his hand, already raised for another blow, falters in confusion when Wei Wuxian lifts his head with difficulty, soul still firmly inside his body.
"Do you really just go around whipping everybody when you feel like it?" Wei Wuxian demands, rolling around on the ground for effect. Jiang Cheng’s scowl deepens.
"Enough," Lan Wangji commands from across the field, but it's Lan Jingyi who finds the words to stop Jiang Cheng's attack for good.
"If Senior Mo were being possessed, Zidian would have taken care of it with the first blow, Sect Leader Jiang! There's no need for a second strike… unless you doubt your own weapon?"
Wei Wuxian is going to personally hand this kid lucky money every year until he gets married.
With what money, his brain asks sardonically, but before he can actually give the matter any real thought, Lan Wangji has declared to all and sundry that he is going to bring Wei Wuxian home with him, like Wei Wuxian is some kind of lost rabbit that Lan Wangji rescued from a battlefield.
The worst part of it is, Wei Wuxian thinks as he makes life as difficult as possible for the poor Lan juniors tasked with dragging him and Little Apple all the way back to Gusu, that the comparison isn't really wrong.
If Lan Zhan didn’t want Wei Wuxian to get drunk, then he shouldn’t have hidden away a stash of Emperor’s Smile in his room. By the time Lan Zhan comes back from reporting the events of the past few days to his uncle, Wei Wuxian is pleasantly fuzzy around the edges.
Lan Zhan’s eyes catch on the brown earthenware in his hand and his brow furrows, but Wei Wuxian is no lightweight and he doesn’t even wobble as he makes his way over to where Lan Zhan is sitting behind his desk with perfect posture. Wei Wuxian sprawls out opposite him, tipping more liquor into his mouth.
“Hope you don’t mind me borrowing this, Lan er-gege,” he says lightly, lifting the jar and listening to its contents slosh around. “But I figured you weren’t going to put it to good use.”
Lan Zhan’s lips press together. “Jiang Wanyin’s Zidian,” he begins, but Wei Wuxian cuts him off, having already anticipated the question.
“Don’t worry about Zidian, Lan Zhan,” he says dismissively. “I'm not possessing this body.”
The muscles in Lan Zhan’s cheeks and jaw relax minutely. For a moment, the only sound in the Jingshi is their breathing and the swigs that Wei Wuxian takes from the jug of Emperor’s Smile. When the jug is empty, Wei Wuxian looks mournfully into the bottom of it before carelessly setting it aside.
“This Mo Xuanyu,” he says, gesturing to his face, “sacrificed his life to summon me. If anything, his body is the one possessing me!” He chortles to himself, flapping his left hand lazily. “Anyways, Zidian won’t be a problem.”
Lan Zhan is frozen, eyes fixed on his hand.
Wei Wuxian looks down and grimaces. “Oh,” he sighs. “This.”
Lan Zhan doesn’t answer, still staring at the bond-cord.
Wei Wuxian drops his hand below the tabletop, and Lan Zhan appears to be mentally trying to bore a hole through the wood.
“Listen, Lan Zhan. Can we deal with this whole thing later? I’m so tired, and not nearly drunk enough.” Seeing Lan Zhan open his mouth, he hurries to add, “I’ve just come back from the dead! I didn’t ask to be brought back! I’ve barely gotten to know this body, and already I’ve been kicked around and whipped and dragged places against my will. I think I deserve a couple of easy days. Or maybe weeks. Or a lifetime, I wouldn't say no to that.”
Lan Zhan’s head whips up and those wide gold eyes fly to meet Wei Wuxian’s own. He looks stricken.
“Wei Ying,” he says hoarsely.
Wei Wuxian blinks hard. “I want to go back to how it was before,” he says, almost to himself. “I want…”
I want my body back.
I want my family back.
I want shijie to be alive, I want Jiang Cheng to be my dumb little brother again, I want Jin Ling to be a spoiled baby being coddled by both his parents.
He tips backward onto the floor to hide how he has to squeeze his eyes shut against the tears that threaten to spill down his cheeks.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says again, hesitantly.
His clothes rustle, like he’s reaching a hand toward Wei Wuxian, and Wei Wuxian braces himself. If Lan Zhan touches him with even the slightest kindness or softness, Wei Wuxian is going to bawl like a baby. He’s going to blubber into Lan Zhan’s lap like he’s a three-year-old and then Lan Zhan will really regret ever having met Wei Wuxian.
Hah, as if he doesn’t already.
Nothing happens. By the time Wei Wuxian composes himself enough to look back up, Lan Zhan has stood up and moved into the open door frame, where he is standing with his back to Wei Wuxian. Contemplating the view of the courtyard, maybe. Or maybe keeping watch for servants or disciples who might intrude on a vulnerable moment.
Either way, Wei Wuxian appreciates the attempt to grant him a little privacy so he can get a hold of his emotions.
The cord between them skims the hardwood floor of the Jingshi, fading to transparency toward the middle in a way that tells Wei Wuxian that it’s only visible to himself and Lan Zhan right now.
“Thank you, Lan Zhan,” he says as casually as he can manage, twirling the cord around his finger to indicate what he means. “This way we can minimize the damage done. No point in letting the rest of the cultivation world jump to conclusions. That would suck.”
He would know about the kind of damage rumors can do, after all. Even to someone on a pedestal as high as Hanguang-jun's. Or maybe especially to someone like that.
Lan Zhan’s hand clenches into a tight fist where it’s tucked behind his back, just once.
When he turns back to face Wei Wuxian, his face is as smooth as ever.
At least this second life isn’t going to be boring. Wei Wuxian welcomes the puzzle of their dear friend the sword spirit, eager to take advantage of any excuse not to have to think about his bond with Lan Zhan.
The sword points them toward Qinghe, so to Qinghe they go.
And because Wei Wuxian can’t seem to go anywhere without accidentally bumping into people he doesn’t want to see, Jin Ling shows up with his stupid dog. Thankfully, Lan Zhan saves the day, and Wei Wuxian prays that will be the end of it.
But no, apparently the Nie sect has a building that eats people. And Jin Ling, the little fool, almost gets himself eaten.
“The things I do for you, shijie,” Wei Wuxian mutters to himself as he and Lan Zhan listen to where Fairy’s barking is coming from so that they can get closer to it.
And then, not only does Jin Ling end up with a curse mark on his leg, but he repays Wei Wuxian for saving his life by getting him captured by Jiang Cheng, of all people.
Shijie, Wei Wuxian despairs, why couldn’t your son have inherited even a little of your kindness? Or at least common sense?!
Instead, Jin Ling is like if you took Jin Zixuan’s whole everything but it acted like a mirror image of Jiang Cheng. Wei Wuxian watches the two of them snap and snarl at each other, never quite saying what they mean to say, and aches.
Jiang Cheng, in his youth, was quick-tempered, but his sharp words were always tempered by a poorly-hidden thread of unwavering affection. Shijie had to teach Wei Wuxian to listen for it, when he first arrived at Lotus Pier. When Jiang Cheng speaks to Jin Ling, that undercurrent is still there, but it’s buried deeper than ever before. Does Jin Ling know to listen to more than the surface of his uncle’s harsh words?
After Jiang Cheng dismisses Jin Ling, when he begins to speak to Wei Wuxian, there’s nothing in his voice but cold flame. Furious. Eager to pile blame onto Wei Wuxian. Wei Wuxian thinks, uncharitably, that he really does take after his mother. Except even Madam Yu never managed to summon this much hatred when she was shouting at him.
Jiang Cheng doesn’t bother to argue with Wei Wuxian about who he is. Instead, he summons Fairy to menace Wei Wuxian while he’s bound with Zidian and takes advantage of Wei Wuxian’s uncharacteristic, terror-induced silence to let loose a tirade that Wei Wuxian, even with the half of his brain that is still functioning, can tell he’s been saving up for years.
With his eyes still fixed on Fairy in case the beast decides to lunge, Wei Wuxian can’t actually focus well enough to process Jiang Cheng’s words. But the tone of his voice penetrates the haze of terror that clouds Wei Wuxian’s senses, and it cuts as deep as anything Jiang Cheng could choose to say.
Anger. Sneering disdain. Righteous indignation.
And underneath it, fear. Disappointment. Despair.
Wei Wuxian is still shaking, dreading Fairy’s every move, when he slowly comes to the realization that Jiang Cheng’s speech has trailed off. He turns his face toward his brother to try and figure out what’s happened but doesn’t quite dare to break his line of sight with the dog.
Jiang Cheng is silent for a long moment. Or if he says something, it’s too quiet to be heard over the frantic buzzing in Wei Wuxian’s head.
Finally, Jiang Cheng stands up and pushes the door open. He whistles once, sharply, and Fairy stands up and trots downstairs.
As Jiang Cheng shuts the door and crosses back to the other side of the room, Wei Wuxian tries to calm his shaky breathing. He ignores Jiang Cheng, who sits heavily back down on the bench a short distance away.
“Fairy’s gone,” Jiang Cheng says irritably.
To Wei Wuxian's surprise, that note of surliness is exactly the note that he needs to climb back onto solid emotional ground.
“Am I supposed to grovel before you in thanks?” he snaps back. “It doesn’t count as chasing the dog away if you’re the one who brought it here in the first place!”
Both of them freeze at the mention of that promise, made so long ago by one child to another.
From now on, whenever you see a dog, I’ll chase it away for you!
Neither of them have been those children since before the war ended. What weight can the words of a childhood oath hold?
Jiang Cheng’s scowl deepens but there’s something like shame seeping into his posture as he pointedly turns his back on Wei Wuxian.
A long silence sizzles between them, and then: "Have you severed the heart-bond yet?"
Zidian continues to lay quiescent where it’s wrapped tightly around his body, but Wei Wuxian jolts like he's been zapped regardless.
Jiang Cheng scowls, fingers curling threateningly. "Don't play stupid, Wei Wuxian. I was there when you fell, remember."
Then he snaps his mouth shut so hard his teeth click together, as if wishing the words had never left his mouth.
Wei Wuxian swallows, his mouth suddenly bone dry. He eyes the tea on the desk in front of Jiang Cheng and wonders briefly if he could provoke Jiang Cheng into splashing it into his face or something. But the thought passes as quickly as it came.
"No," he says finally. He’s too tired to keep pretending. And anyways, Jiang Cheng deserves answers as much as Lan Zhan did. "We haven't really talked about it."
“I thought I’d stopped being able to be surprised by how shameless and irresponsible you can be,” Jiang Cheng says bitterly. “I should have known better.” He whirls on Wei Wuxian. “Even you must understand how wrong it was to do such a thing. Without even an informal understanding between yourself and Lan Wangji.”
Wei Wuxian lowers his head, exhaling. “Yes, I do.”
The straightforward agreement seems to throw Jiang Cheng off balance. He sinks back into his seat, crossing his arms.
“Are you really planning to sever the bond?” he asks skeptically.
Since when do you try to fix your own mistakes? is what Wei Wuxian hears.
Wei Wuxian shrugs. “I have to. They won’t--there would be so much outrage. Tying the illustrious Hanguang-jun to someone as infamous as I am… It would cause Lan Zhan too much trouble.”
Jiang Cheng’s eyes flash and he sneers, flaring up again. “And you’ve always been so worried about the trouble your actions might cause others.”
“Lan Zhan didn’t choose to be permanently tied to me,” Wei Wuxian reminds him evenly. He bites his lip, wondering if his next words will be going too far. “And Jiang Cheng, back then... I cut you loose, too. In the end.”
Jiang Cheng shoots to his feet, turning sharply away from Wei Wuxian and heading for the door. Hoping, probably, that Wei Wuxian won’t catch sight of his scrunched-up forehead, those bloodless cheeks, the devastated tremble of his lips.
“Jiang Cheng,” Wei Wuxian calls, as gently as he can.
Jiang Cheng pauses in the doorway, one hand gripping the door frame like it’s the only thing keeping him steady. He says, very quietly, “You know it’s not the cord that makes the difference anyway.”
Wei Wuxian stares at his back, knows he’s thinking about the way Madam Yu always wore Zidian a little bigger than the circumference of her finger to hide the shame of her failed marriage coiled so tightly around her finger it must have cut off some of the circulation. Knows he’s thinking about the flashes of red that peeked out from under the ring whenever she was truly incandescent with anger.
Knows he’s thinking about how Uncle Jiang’s cord-ring, the one lingering fragment he could never rid himself of, had remained hidden from sight until the day he died, and how he’d never even glanced at the finger where that sad little lump of fiber should have sat.
“Yes.” Wei Wuxian closes his eyes. “I do.”
After that absolute disaster of a conversation, getting reverse-kidnapped by Jin Ling is a blessing. When Lan Zhan finds him at their designated meet-up point, he takes one look at Wei Wuxian’s face and doesn’t push him to talk about what happened.
He does, however, frown disapprovingly at the curse mark that Wei Wuxian has transferred to his own leg and then hoists Wei Wuxian onto his back to carry him back to their rented room. Wei Wuxian lets his head loll forward as Lan Zhan walks, watching the gentle, rhythmic sway of the cord that connects their left hands.
This is nice, he thinks drowsily. Maybe I can convince him to let us stay like this for a little longer…
But before he can even sit down and breathe for a few minutes, it’s time to come face-to-face (or rather, face-to-mask) with another old friend. Nie Huaisang seems to have grown smaller and sillier in the past sixteen years, if that’s at all possible. But there’s something a little too helpless to his stammered responses to Wei Wuxian’s questioning, some glint of calculation in his eyes as his gaze flickers back and forth between Lan Zhan and Wei Wuxian even though Lan Zhan is clearly the bigger threat. And the prettier face to look at.
If he were about five years younger--no, that would be twenty-one years younger, wouldn’t it, he keeps forgetting that he’s been dead for over a decade now while the rest of the world moved on around him--Wei Wuxian would be all for holding Nie Huaisang captive a little longer, poking at all his weak spots until they’ve teased out whatever he’s hiding. But as he is now, he’s just tired of trying to figure out who he can trust.
Nie Huaisang’s eyes meet his over the top of his favorite fan. The heavy tension that has been choking the room since they first arrived settles into something more polite--an unspoken agreement to let their status quo of mutual suspicion stand. For now.
Nie Huaisang flees the room in a hurry, babbling apologies. Wei Wuxian doesn’t bother to watch him go, turning instead to search for more wine.
They follow their dear friend’s insistent pointing to Yueyang, where Lan Zhan catches him up on the latest gossip about Song Lan and Xiao Xingchen.
Gossip, ha. Wei Wuxian has long accepted that the world is cruel, but if ever there were two people who deserved to live happily, it was Song Lan and Xiao Xingchen. He wants to throw up.
Instead, he watches in surprise as Lan Zhan finishes off an entire cup of liquor. And then, after that, he’s too bewildered and a little bit exasperated to be sad.
Drunk Lan Zhan is amazing. Wei Wuxian wants to scream.
As soon as Lan Zhan’s forehead hits the table, his control over the visibility of their bond-cord wavers and then disappears. Wei Wuxian stifles a shriek and takes over the task of concealing it from the public eye, which is made difficult by the fact that he has to simultaneously keep hold of a slippery Lan Zhan.
If a farmer and his family peeked out the window at the exact moment that Lan Zhan shoves two fluffy, absolutely stolen chickens into Wei Wuxian’s hands, they might be confused by the crimson cord rapidly flickering in and out of view between the two men’s hands as Wei Wuxian fights a losing battle with himself.
By the time Lan Zhan has moved on to defacing the front of the house with his graffiti, Wei Wuxian has utterly given up trying to concentrate on keeping the cord hidden. He sighs guiltily as he carves his own name beside Lan Zhan’s, but it’s nice, seeing proof of his adventures with Lan Zhan.
“The stupid decisions are the best ones,” he declares, swinging the bond-cord between them as he walks Lan Zhan back to town.
Lan Zhan turns his whole body to face Wei Wuxian, instead of just his head, and nods solemnly. Wei Wuxian can tell that he isn’t parsing a single word that he hears.
He pretends that Lan Zhan is agreeing with him for real, just because that’s apparently the kind of night this is.
At the gate that leads back into town, he regretfully musters up the focus to replace the concealment on their cord.
And then, when he realizes that there’s an intruder in their rooms, he’s immensely grateful for his own foresight.
I’ll never doubt you again, he promises himself, which is a stupid promise to make. He watches Lan Zhan cross swords with the masked man, wondering if maybe he’s also a little drunk.
Even completely sloshed, Lan Zhan makes quick work of the intruder, forcing him to escape using a teleportation talisman. Wei Wuxian gives the room a quick once-over to confirm that nothing else is out of place and then coaxes a stumbling Lan Zhan over to the table.
He watches fondly as Lan Zhan utterly fails at drinking water and then, because his thoughts are dipping dangerously close to sappiness, resolves to make some mischief.
Well, when Lan Zhan looks like that, he can’t really be too mean. He settles for meaningless questions about animals and jewelry and breaking rules.
And then he forgets himself, or maybe he subconsciously wants to drive the knife a little deeper into his own chest.
“Do you think you’ll ever want to get married?” he asks, gently taking the cup of water out of Lan Zhan’s hands before he spills it all down the front of his robes.
Lan Zhan looks at him in bleary confusion. Wei Wuxian can practically see the comprehension slowly trekking its way across his face. Finally, Lan Zhan’s eyes brighten in understanding.
His face crumbles, and Wei Wuxian’s heart drops into his stomach.
“I have regrets,” Lan Zhan says solemnly. His eyes drop to where his hand is curled loosely in Wei Wuxian’s. “I regret--I should not have--”
Wei Wuxian has heard enough.
“That’s enough for tonight, I think!” he exclaims with false cheer, standing up and clapping his hands firmly.
Lan Zhan is still staring morosely at his left hand, which is laying on the floor where it landed after Wei Wuxian pulled his own hand out from under it.
Wei Wuxian is too sober for this. He tucks both hands under Lan Zhan’s armpits and heaves him to his feet. Technically this is his room, but he’s anxious to get Lan Zhan in bed as soon as possible. He’ll just get Lan Zhan settled and then bed down in Lan Zhan’s room. If his heart skips a beat at the thought of sleeping on sheets with the faint scent of sandalwood, that’s no one’s business but his own.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan mumbles, drawing Wei Wuxian’s attention back to the real world. Wei Wuxian glances down, but Lan Zhan isn’t looking at him.
Instead, he lifts his left hand to his face, watching it wobble in the air with a distressed face.
“Wei Ying, no. I cannot-- You should not-- Wei Ying, do not--”
Wei Wuxian staggers back. He stumbles over one of Lan Zhan’s discarded boots and nearly falls to the ground, eyes still fixed in horror on the way Lan Zhan’s hand grasps futilely at the air in front of him, as if trying in vain to fend someone off.
He flees the room to a jumbled litany of all the refusals that Lan Zhan was unable to make the first time around.
In the morning, when Lan Zhan asks what he said the night before, Wei Wuxian makes up some nonsense about liking rabbits.
Wei Wuxian says, “Xue Yang must die,” with hatred in his heart and blood on his teeth. Some of the junior disciples look like they’re just now realizing why he was so feared during his time as the Yiling Patriarch, but Wei Wuxian doesn’t have time to slow down and reassure them.
He pulls out of Empathy with young A-Qing’s spirit and lurches back over to where Xiao Xingchen’s body is entombed. Pushes the lid of the coffin further down so he can see the rest of Xiao Xingchen’s body.
Xiao Xingchen, like Song Lan, has a cord-ring around his cold, dead finger. Neither of them bear the main length of the bond-cord.
Wei Wuxian crumples to his knees.
The cut at Song Lan’s end of the cord, he remembers, is careless and uneven but otherwise unremarkable.
Xiao Xingchen’s left hand bears countless bloodless wounds, like someone hacked at his finger for hours and hours before realizing--or maybe, before finally admitting--that the ring-loop couldn’t be shorn away.
On top of the tragic remnants of Xiao Xingchen’s bond with Song Lan, there sits another loop of cord. It pulses with dark light, like a twisted, living thing.
Wei Wuxian retches into the dust.
Third parties can’t touch bond-cords, he thinks helplessly, but Song Lan has been under Xue Yang’s control for many years. Imagining all the foul things Xue Yang might have done with that sacred length of cord is almost too much to bear, so he resolutely pushes that thought to the back of his mind, under a thick blanket of angry white noise, and heaves himself to his feet.
There’s something strange about the second bond-cord. To test his suspicions, Wei Wuxian uses his flute (the end where he doesn’t put his mouth, thank you very much) to tug at it.
A true bond-cord wouldn’t budge, of course. His flute would go right through it.
Instead, the cord catches on the roughly hewn bamboo and slides right off Xiao Xingchen’s finger.
Wei Wuxian is too numb to throw up again, but there are sharp gasps from the juniors behind him, who sound nauseated by the implications.
“He tied a cord to Xiao Xingchen’s corpse?!” Jin Ling yelps. “Can you even do that?”
Ouyang Zizhen moans from where he’s still holding A-Qing’s hand.
“Children,” Wei Wuxian says with a tongue that doesn’t feel like it belongs to him. “Stay at a safe distance so you don’t distract Hanguang-jun from his fight.”
And then he walks directly into the brawl, settling at Lan Zhan’s side to try and distract Xue Yang with his words. When that doesn’t work, he raises his flute, the false bond-cord still hooked around one end.
“I think I have something that belongs to you,” he calls.
Xue Yang freezes for just long enough that Lan Zhan is able to cut through his robes and catch hold of Xiao Xingchen’s soul.
“What did you do? ” Xue Yang howls. He lunges, a whirlwind of long, loose hair and glittering eyes.
And knives. That too. Wei Wuxian dodges a vicious swipe of Jiangzai, letting the false cord fall to the ground now that it has served its purpose.
Lan Zhan sweeps between them, reminding Xue Yang why he’s been playing hide and seek with them up until now. Xue Yang narrowly ducks Lan Zhan’s next attempt and fades back into the fog.
“You can’t tie a bond-cord onto a corpse, you know,” Wei Wuxian says steadily, senses alert for Xue Yang’s next move.
Lan Zhan’s eyes flicker to him very briefly, as if double-checking that he heard the words correctly.
Wei Wuxian shrugs. “I can’t explain how a madman thinks,” he says, a sardonic grin on his face as his fingers brush against the mask hanging from his belt. He raises his voice. “Unless you’d like to explain, Xue Yang?”
“Give him back!” Xue Yang hisses from amidst the dust clouds. Movement near his feet catches Wei Wuxian’s eye, and he watches the red cord with the empty loop slither across the ground.
“Give him back?” Wei Wuxian laughs coldly. And then he does what he does best: he runs his mouth.
Despite his best efforts, they make very little headway until brave, brave A-Qing tips the scales in their favor. The two seconds that Xue Yang takes his eyes off Lan Zhan in order to destroy her soul with a thrust of Jiangzai is enough for Bichen to find its mark.
They leave Xue Yang lying on the ground for Song Lan’s judgment, with his false bond-cord trapped under the weight of his body, stained with blood and dust.
Wei Wuxian would like to stop finding the bodies of people he knows, please.
He’s made his way into Jin Guangyao’s secret chambers as a paperman and wow, he hasn’t done this in a long time. And especially not with this much of his spiritual energy.
His paperman body isn’t really a body, of course, and it doesn’t have a bond-cord. That would be weird, and it would make moving around a little harder.
All in all, the freedom is a convenient thing.
For the first time since he woke up in Mo Village, the body that Wei Wuxian occupies is not connected to Lan Zhan. It feels… strange. Like something is missing.
Something that he didn’t know he wanted until it was gone.
He flutters into a large cabinet covered in black silk painted with an ominous seal. He peeks out from under the silk to make sure that Jin Guangyao has really exited the room.
Then he raises a papery hand and lightly slaps his face approximately where his cheeks should be, scolding himself, Get a grip! You should be grateful for this chance to acclimate yourself to this feeling.
Once he sets Lan Zhan free, this is how he’ll feel all the time. Free to act as he likes without having to worry about tarnishing anyone else’s reputation. Unaffiliated. A leaf drifting on the wind.
Something deep in his chest whimpers, recoiling at the thought. He frowns, little blank paper face crumpling into furrowed eyebrows and a downturned mouth.
It’s not like I could ever be lucky enough to stay bound to Lan Zhan forever, he tells himself sternly. This time… this time, at least I’ll still be able to see him sometimes, after.
He nods to himself, emotions sorted and settled. And then he turns around and comes face-to-face with Nie Mingjue’s severed head.
Things go downhill from there.
So accusing Jin Guangyao of Nie Mingjue’s murder without having a good explanation of why Wei Wuxian might have been in his secret chambers doesn’t go as well as Wei Wuxian had hoped.
His identity is revealed to the entire cultivation world on the steps of Carp Tower, and Lan Zhan refuses to let Wei Wuxian save him by pretending he didn’t know who was in Mo Xuanyu’s body all along.
“I was not at your side when it mattered most, last time,” Lan Zhan says, drawing Bichen as he turns to guard Wei Wuxian’s back. “I will not make the same mistake again.”
Wei Wuxian lets out a choked laugh. “You can’t make me cry when we’re about to fight our way out of Carp Tower, Lan Zhan.”
“Mn,” Lan Zhan says. “Cry later. For now, I will walk the single-log bridge into the dark with you.”
Affection blooms in Wei Wuxian’s chest, along with something else that he doesn’t dare name. It feels like he’s been stumbling along his log, a precarious balancing act made worse by his inability to see where he’s going, and now the sun is beginning to peek over the horizon. He still can’t see the path laid out at his feet in the dim light, and yet somehow he thinks that maybe soon--
But when has anything ever turned out well for him?
Jin Ling stabs him.
They don’t quite manage to convince Zewu-jun that Jin Guangyao is behind Nie Mingjue’s death, but at least he sends them to investigate the gathering assembly of fierce corpses at the Mass Graves rather than turning Wei Wuxian in.
They stop for a brief moment around midday and, in their search for water, unwittingly stumble upon a house that belongs to Mianmian, of all people!
Wei Wuxian is delighted to learn that the Mianmian he knew in his youth now has a smaller Mianmian to follow her around. He’s also glad to know that she married well.
Ah, maybe not what the rest of the cultivation world would consider marrying well.
But it takes a special kind of courage to go on night hunts without any kind of training, and this man clearly has it in spades. Wei Wuxian listens in awe as Lan Zhan lists a number of impressive prey that were defeated in the nearby region and Luo Qingyang waves her hand modestly as she admits that she and her husband are responsible for a handful of them.
To add to that, Luo Qingyang’s husband’s gaze is fond as he holds little Mianmian and lets his wife do the talking. The cord that drapes down from his left hand, over little Mianmian’s shoulder, and up to Luo Qingyang’s finger is strong and glossy. Little Mianmian keeps her head tucked back so she can see her parents’ cord at all times, as if the mere sight of it comforts her.
Wei Wuxian is overcome with a rush of affection and bounds forward to tease little Mianmian. He’ll consider it a family tradition.
He doesn’t expect the child to see right through him, and as they walk back to where Little Apple impatiently awaits their return, he’s pouting. Lan Zhan pretends like he doesn’t notice Wei Wuxian’s expression, but Wei Wuxian sees amusement tug at the corners of that perfect mouth.
The pout fades into real melancholy as they amble forward. When a flash of memory tugs at his consciousness, he cajoles Lan Zhan into taking hold of the donkey’s lead. Then he lets their bond-cord spool out between them, flashing and shimmering in the afternoon sun. If he closes his eyes, he can hear his mother’s laughter ringing in the air like bells.
If he squints, he can pretend that the cord attached to his finger is solid all the way through, on proud display for anyone who might pass them by. If he lets his arms hang heavy in his lap, he can imagine that a child with a round face and a propensity for hugging thighs is sitting there.
If he tries hard enough, he can have --
“Wei Ying?” Lan Zhan has dropped Little Apple’s lead to come around the donkey and is looking at him with concern.
A wave of cold cuts mercilessly through the warmth of Wei Wuxian’s afternoon musings.
With some effort, he smiles at Lan Zhan and leans back on Little Apple’s haunches. “It’s nothing,” he lies. “Just… thinking.”
Wen Ning, poor, perfect Wen Ning, bursts out of the underbrush with impeccable timing.
Jin Ling and the rest of the junior disciples are adorable even when they’re bickering amongst themselves. Their parents, not so much.
Old Lan Qiren repairs the array on the floor of Wei Wuxian’s old workshop, which Wei Wuxian had actually drawn mostly for kicks. After all, keeping fierce corpses away would have been counterproductive to most of the experiments that he had carried out during his time in the Mass Graves.
With the horde of fierce corpses barely held at bay beyond the heavy wooden doors (and Wen Ning, who is as good as another layer of door), the gathered cultivators have nothing better to do than stare at each other nervously.
Wei Wuxian takes great amusement in watching the realization dawn on their faces: they, who had come to Yiling to reenact the first Siege of the Mass Graves, are now besieged themselves. And, powerless, they await certain death in the very place where they intended to kill him.
Truly something must be wrong with the world today, that karma has wrought such an ironic twist of events and yet, for once, Wei Wuxian is not on the receiving end.
Anyways, with a captive audience and Lan Zhan as a pillar of support standing silently behind him, Wei Wuxian does what he does best. He talks and talks and pokes at Su She’s sore spots and teases loose threads of suspicious activity until Su She’s conspiracy with Jin Guangyao is entirely revealed to the assembly that comprises a significant portion of the cultivation world’s top players.
Most of Wei Wuxian’s attention is channeled toward bearing down on Su She’s temper with as much pressure as possible until the sect leader cracks, but he keeps Jiang Cheng and Jin Ling in sight as he talks.
Jin Ling is as responsive an audience member as Wei Wuxian could hope for, gasping and scowling in all the right places. Of course, he’s already inclined to believe Wei Wuxian’s claims of innocence, having been recently rescued from this very mountain.
Jiang Cheng is a harder sell. He keeps one hand on Jin Ling’s shoulder at all times. Wei Wuxian can tell when he tenses up and his hold on Jin Ling tightens, because the kid winces ever so slightly. Yet, maybe because Jiang Cheng’s spiritual power is still sealed, Jin Ling doesn’t voice any objections, instead repeatedly glancing up at his uncle as if to check whether or not he’s okay.
Wei Wuxian very much doubts that he’s okay.
Having your spiritual power sealed isn’t quite like losing your golden core. From the few times he had his spiritual power sealed off in his first life, he remembers being able to feel that ball of energy still spinning in his lower abdomen, keeping him warm, but as if from behind a steel cage. No matter how hard he tried to draw on his core, he couldn’t grasp anything.
Frustrating and alarming, but not devastating.
Compared to the cold and emptiness that were his constant companions after Jiang Cheng went into the mountains to seek Baoshan Sanren and found Wen Qing instead…
Wei Wuxian shudders at the memory. He presses a little closer to Lan Zhan, trying to soak up a little body heat.
But Jiang Cheng has never been the best at thinking logically when he’s scared. A muscle in his jaw is jumping and it looks like all of the blood has drained from his face. Jin Ling has been wincing a little less ever since the doctors proclaimed that everyone’s spiritual powers should return in a couple of shichen, but Jiang Cheng’s shoulders are squared so tightly that it hurts Wei Wuxian to look at him.
Every so often, Zidian crackles weakly, as if verifying that circumstances have not changed.
Wei Wuxian sees the white-knuckled grip that his brother has on his sword, and he remembers the way Jiang Cheng’s face crumbled when he tried to wield Sandu for the first time after his confrontation with Wen Zhuliu. He could draw the sword, of course, but it was lifeless in his hands.
Jiang Cheng’s eyes have not left Wei Wuxian since they entered the cave and Wei Wuxian first opened his mouth in Su She’s direction. He’s making a face that Wei Wuxian hasn’t seen in much too long, the one that his little brother used to give him when he was pretty sure Wei Wuxian was full of shit but wanted badly to believe him anyways.
Wei Wuxian used to know, when he saw that face, that if he pushed a little harder, chose his words very carefully, he could talk Jiang Cheng into all kinds of mischief.
Jiang Cheng is still staring at Wei Wuxian when Su She makes his escape and the cave doors finally give in. The sea of fierce corpses floods in, and Wei Wuxian loses sight of his brother.
The juniors make a good showing as they defend their elders, and Wei Wuxian may or may not choke up a little at the sight of Jin Ling wielding Zidian. When Jin Ling tosses the whip back to its owner, Jiang Cheng erupts into a furious tirade that rivals the growling and roaring of the fierce corpses.
Ah, there his brother is.
The second wave of fierce corpses is more than the powerless assembly can bear. Wei Wuxian tasks Lan Sizhui and Wen Ning with making sure everyone gets down the mountain safely. Then, with his clothes painted into a makeshift demon attraction flag, he settles in for a long fight at Lan Zhan’s side.
At least, that’s the plan. But the juniors have other ideas, and Wei Wuxian sighs in exasperation as the children… and Sect Leader Ouyang… and Jiang Cheng???? dive back into the fray.
“I thought I told you to stay away!” he shouts at Jin Ling, because who else but his bullheaded nephew could be the instigator of this particular brand of stupidity? Deep down, however, he’s touched and a little relieved. Lan Zhan is moving as swiftly and assuredly as ever, but Wei Wuxian can see the tightness of the skin around Lan Zhan’s eyes that betrays the exhaustion that must be settling into his bones.
Wei Wuxian himself, without a piece of the Yin Tiger Seal to counter Jin Guangyao’s command of the fierce corpses, is reliant on Lan Zhan’s strength to get through this attack.
To his great surprise, Lan Sizhui is the one who steps forward with a guilty slope to his shoulders, although his expression is one of determination. “We couldn’t just leave you to face all of these fierce corpses on your own,” he says firmly.
“Yeah!” Lan Jingyi interjects. “It would be wrong.”
Someone please save Wei Wuxian from these children who clearly intend to rip the heart from his chest.
Despite their combined efforts, Wei Wuxian can see the group being pushed further and further back on all sides. The fierce corpses are relentless, fresh bodies stepping forward to replace the ones in front as soon as they are cut down.
Wei Wuxian will get these kids out of here if it’s the last thing he ever does. A quick glance at Lan Zhan confirms that he feels the same.
Find a way, Lan Zhan’s eyes say.
It’s nice, this unspoken trust.
Wei Wuxian also meets Jiang Cheng’s eyes over the top of Jin Ling’s head. Jiang Cheng nods, and Zidian begins to slither down his wrist. In the back of his mind, Wei Wuxian wonders if this time he’ll get to watch his brother and his nephew toss Zidian back and forth like it’s a hot stone.
He has just opened his mouth to command Wen Ning to forcibly escort the youngsters back down the mountain when an unholy screech erupts from the back of the cave where the blood pools are.
The next few minutes are scenes straight out of a nightmare. Wei Wuxian feels like he’s floating out of his skin as shrieking corpses claw their way out of the blood pools and throw themselves at Jin Guangyao’s undead forces.
He’s never heard fierce corpses scream like this before, high and anguished even as they use their nails and teeth to rip their opponents to shreds.
And then one of the bloody corpses stops in front of Lan Sizui, a wizened, hunched-over figure who stares up at the boy and ever so slowly reaches one hand up to his cheek.
In the background, Jin Ling demands, “How can there be corpses in the blood pools? I thought all of the fierce corpses in the Mass Graves had been incinerated?!”
It’s Sect Leader Ouyang who answers him, with shame in his voice. “Most likely… these weren’t fierce corpses at the time.” Wei Wuxian and Wen Ning both flinch when he continues, after some prompting from his son, “The remnants of the Wen sect who lived here with the Yiling Patriarch… After they were killed, their corpses were thrown into the blood pools.”
Wei Wuxian feels the blood drain from his face as he listens to Sect Leader Ouyang describe the disrespect that was shown to the Wen remnants after they were massacred, but this is old news to the corpses.
The bloody corpse in front of Lan Sizhui gurgles something at the boy, the sound as gentle as its ruined vocal chords will allow it to make.
“Granny?” Wen Ning asks, voice quavering. “Granny, is that you?”
But the corpse has already whirled away with an ear-rending screech to fight off a fierce corpse coming up from behind the group.
Wei Wuxian’s knees are weak. He knew, when he woke up in Mo Xuanyu’s hut, that the people he’d lived with for over a year in the Mass Graves were all dead. He knew it immediately.
But knowing that he’d failed to protect them is one thing. Looking at these savage figures tearing other corpses to pieces and suddenly being able to pick out the streaks of silver at Granny’s temples on one bloody corpse, Fourth Uncle’s scraggly mustache on another, a scar on one corpse’s arm that he remembers helping Wen Qing stitch up… is another thing entirely.
Another family that he lost because he wasn’t strong enough, wasn’t smart enough. Because he was too selfish.
A question crosses his mind, distant and fuzzy as if someone else had thought it, and he forces himself to squint at the bloody corpses, trying to see if any of them are the size of a young child.
Wei Wuxian wobbles as he suddenly finds himself locked back into his own body. The din and the stench of blood are overwhelming.
His parents, he thinks muzzily as the bloody corpses crumble to ash, their job done. Uncle Jiang, Madam Yu, shijie, the rest of his fellow disciples in Yunmeng. The Jiang Cheng who loved him. The Wen remnants, Wen Qing, A-Yuan.
They’re all gone. He’ll never see them again.
And soon, Lan Zhan will be gone too.
Oh. He tips forward and finds himself caught by two pairs of strong arms in white. Over Lan Sizhui’s shoulder, he sees Jiang Cheng draw back from where he has hastily aborted a lunge in Wei Wuxian’s direction.
Wei Wuxian’s only comfort as the world spins into black is that at least this time, when Lan Zhan leaves him, it’ll be for a happy reason.
If you love something, set it free.
Wei Wuxian wakes up in Lotus Pier, just in time to hear Bicao and Sisi speak and to watch the tide of public opinion turn sharply against Jin Guangyao. The junior disciples look excited, but Wei Wuxian is just tired.
“How quickly the wheel turns,” he says to himself. When he stands up and leaves the hall, unable to listen to the self-aggrandizing speeches for a second longer, it takes him a moment to realize that Lan Zhan is only a single step behind him.
As they pass in front of the ancestral hall, his footsteps audibly falter. A wave of loss sweeps down on him as he stares at the flickering candle flame reflected in the lotus fountain, not even daring to look at the names on the memorial tablets.
“Do you want to go in?” Lan Zhan asks.
Wei Wuxian knows that he shouldn’t, that Jiang Cheng will see this as an intrusion into a family he renounced years ago, but he doesn’t know if he’ll ever be allowed into Lotus Pier again.
This is Lan Zhan, he says in his heart as they burn incense and bow to Uncle Jiang, Madam Yu, and shijie. I know I’ve done something shameful to him, but I promise I’ll fix it as soon as this is over. For now… for now, please watch over us. Even though I know I don’t have the right to ask such a thing of you.
I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.
He nearly swallows his heart when they straighten up and turn around to find Jiang Cheng standing in the doorway, watching them with dark eyes. He feels Lan Zhan step the slightest hair closer to him, and squares his shoulders.
Jiang Cheng’s eyes cut toward Lan Zhan’s face, his forehead ribbon, and he sneers. Wei Wuxian braces himself for the accusations of trespassing, of not only daring to come inside the ancestral hall when he’s not part of the family but also bringing another outsider with him.
“You dare to come here and force my family to look at your face, after everything you’ve done?” Jiang Cheng says through gritted teeth.
That’s… actually pretty tame compared to the vitriol Wei Wuxian was expecting.
Jiang Cheng continues, “You’d better have spent all of those bows apologizing to my parents and my sister. For breaking in here and ruining their rest. And everything else.” He crosses his arms, glowering. “The arrogance, thinking you can come and go as you like. And bringing your ghost puppet here! Thinking I would let him into my home, in front of the child whose parents he killed under your command.”
“Wen Ning was under my command, like you said.” Wei Wuxian meets Jiang Cheng’s eyes. “You should have barred me from Lotus Pier, not him. Or do you punish the sword for its wielder’s choices?”
Jiang Cheng grinds his teeth, his grip tightening on Sandu. “You think you can just avoid Yunmeng? Ignore the debt that you owe to my parents and my sister?”
“Jiang Cheng, just what is it that you want from me?” Wei Wuxian demands. “You obviously don’t want me here, so I’m telling you I’ll leave and never come back. Now you’re yelling at me for that?”
Jiang Cheng’s eyes flash. “I don’t want you here because you don’t want to be here!” he snaps. “Do you think halfhearted apologies will make a difference to my parents? Do you think a-jie needs more promises that you don’t intend to keep?”
Wei Wuxian feels like Jiang Cheng has nailed him in the chest with a heavy paperweight.
“Sect Leader Jiang,” Lan Zhan begins admonishingly, but Wei Wuxian stops him with a shaking hand on his chest.
“This is a family matter, Lan Zhan,” he says softly. “Let us deal with it.”
The corners of Jiang Cheng’s lips curl up. “No, let him speak,” he hisses. “You broke all your promises so you could be with him; the least he can do is acknowledge my family’s sacrifices by taking responsibility for the man he’s tied himself to.”
Wei Wuxian, completely blindsided by that comment, tries to stammer out that he’s the one who tied himself to Lan Zhan, but Jiang Cheng continues with resentment heavy in his voice, “At least you didn’t throw it all away for nothing. I guess even those Wen dogs know how to return loyalty.” He eyes Lan Zhan balefully. “And your guard dog, of course.”
Lan Zhan returns the gaze steadily, inclining his head ever so slightly.
Wei Wuxian’s head is spinning. What is going on? Just what has possessed Jiang Cheng? Why is the tension in Lan Zhan’s jaw relaxing?
Can we please stop talking about dogs?!
Jiang Cheng lets out a shout as Wei Wuxian collapses to the ground. Lan Zhan’s lightning-quick reflexes have him cradling Wei Wuxian’s body in the crook of his elbow before he ever makes contact with the wood of the pier.
“What’s wrong with him?” Wei Wuxian can hear Jiang Cheng demanding through ears that feel like they’re waterlogged.
It’s not Lan Zhan’s voice that answers him but Wen Ning’s. As Wei Wuxian thrashes in Lan Zhan’s hold, too weak to stop him, Wen Ning opens his traitorous mouth and tells Jiang Cheng about how Wen Qing transferred Wei Wuxian’s golden core into Jiang Cheng’s body at the top of an empty mountain in Yiling.
Jiang Cheng crumples to the ground next to Wei Wuxian, and his face is every bit as horrified as Wei Wuxian had dreaded. Wen Ning thrusts Suibian at Jiang Cheng, stubbornly insisting that he draw it.
Wei Wuxian wants to scream at him to stop it, but he can’t seem to draw breath.
“Sect Leader Jiang,” Lan Zhan says, the words a low rumble in his chest against Wei Wuxian’s ear. His tone is firm but not unkind. “Wei Ying needs to rest.”
Wen Ning drops Suibian in Jiang Cheng’s lap and turns to Lan Zhan. “If we leave now, we can be at the nearest inn before it gets too dark.”
Jiang Cheng barks out an incredulous laugh, dragging himself to his feet. His eyes are wide and frantic. “Do you two think you can do a better job caring for him than the healers of Lotus Pier?! Wei Wuxian! How dare you try to run away after making this kind of a mess--!”
He staggers over to where Lan Zhan is still holding Wei Wuxian to his side. Neither Wen Ning nor Lan Zhan make any move to stop him. He drops heavily to his knees, his whole body shaking.
Wei Wuxian watches him approach nervously. “Use your words, not your fists, Jiang Cheng.” As soon as the words leave his lips, he feels stupid.
Jiang Cheng ignores him, laying the flat of his palm against Wei Wuxian’s abdomen where his golden core should be. After a long moment, the first tear rolls down his cheek.
The next thing Wei Wuxian knows, Jiang Cheng is sobbing into his chest, getting snot and tears all over the front of his clothes. Jiang Cheng grabs his shoulders and would be shaking him back and forth like a rag doll if not for Lan Zhan’s warning glare.
Wei Wuxian raises one heavy hand, as if in a dream, and lays it against the back of Jiang Cheng’s head. Jiang Cheng only cries harder, raging incoherently in a desperate, clinging way that Wei Wuxian hasn’t heard since their sister died.
“You always do this!” Jiang Cheng screams. The sound is muffled by the black fabric of Wei Wuxian’s robes. “You always do things that affect other people without thinking about how they feel! You always think you know what’s best!”
Wei Wuxian swallows hard. Jiang Cheng isn’t wrong. After all, isn’t that why Lan Zhan is tied to him now?
“I’m sorry, Jiang Cheng,” he says softly. His apology overlaps with the one that Jiang Cheng whimpers into his lapel.
Ah, silly Jiang Cheng, Wei Wuxian thinks helplessly, stroking his brother’s hair. You would have died if I hadn’t given you my golden core, but do you really think Lan Zhan is that grateful to be tied to me against his will?
The world is closing in on him.
“Lan Zhan,” he says right before he passes out. “Don’t bully my brother.”
The confrontation with Jin Guangyao at the Guanyin temple in Yunping City is a disaster from the very start.
There wasn’t even supposed to be a confrontation, for one. This was supposed to be purely reconnaissance, finding out what Jin Guangyao was up to. For all that Lan Zhan is a one-man army when the need calls, Wei Wuxian has enough foresight that he would have brought Jiang Cheng, at least, if he were expecting a fight.
But Lan Xichen is already firmly pinned under Jin Guanyao’s thumb, where he has been from the very beginning, and when Jin Ling knocks at the temple door, Wei Wuxian can’t sit still and watch his nephew come to harm.
In the blink of an eye, Jin Guangyao has a razor-sharp guqin string stretched taut against Wei Wuxian’s throat. He tugs lightly in demonstration, and Wei Wuxian feels a trickle of blood run down the side of his neck.
Lan Zhan goes stiller than the statue behind him. Wei Wuxian feels a ripple in the cord hanging from his middle finger, and Lan Xichen sucks in a shocked breath.
A quiet bubble of murmurs breaks out amongst Jin Guangyao’s flunkies as they all gawk at the newly visible bond-cord.
“Oh, Wangji,” Lan Xichen breathes out. “No.”
Wei Wuxian can feel Jin Guangyao’s lips slowly curve into a smile against his ear. “What a happy surprise,” he says, not sounding surprised at all. “May I offer my congratulations, Young Master Wei, Hanguang-jun? I only regret that I wasn’t able to attend your wedding.”
“You can cut the bullshit, Lianfang-zun,” Wei Wuxian snorts, careful of the sharp wire that scrapes his skin as he talks. “You know very well there was no wedding.”
Whatever response Jin Guangyao has to offer, it’s drowned out by commotion at the front gates as Jin Ling is frog-marched into the courtyard.
Wei Wuxian turns his eyes up to the heavens and despairs. Shijie, you couldn’t have passed on a little bit of self-preservation instinct to this child?
The only thing that gives him hope is that, even after Su She drags Nie Huaisang into the temple almost by accident, Fairy is nowhere to be seen. He hates to admit it, but the beast is intelligent and resourceful, and if the dog shows up at Jiang Cheng’s front door without Jin Ling, if he decides to check on Wei Wuxian and Lan Zhan, who are obviously no longer in their room in Lotus Pier...
Sure enough, Jiang Cheng makes his entrance before long, backlit by lightning and perfectly dry despite the torrential downpour outside the temple. As someone who’s arranged many a dramatic entrance, Wei Wuxian gives him full points for style.
“Sect Leader Jiang!” Jin Guangyao says warmly as he uses Hensheng to parry a succession of strikes from Zidian. “Come in, join us! Sect Leader Jiang, I have to ask. Tell me, what was Wei Wuxian’s wedding to Hanguang-jun like?”
Jiang Cheng actually takes the time to pause and roll his eyes before resuming his attack.
“Sect Leader Jiang, you don’t seem surprised!” Jin Guangyao seems delighted. “Oh, did you know about this bond the entire time? I have to say, I’m shocked that you’ve just let these two go about their business, bonded but unmarried, brazen as they please.”
He falls silent for a moment, scrutinizing Jiang Cheng’s face. Wei Wuxian sees dissatisfaction with Jiang Cheng’s reaction flicker across his features and draws on the silent strength of Lan Zhan sitting beside him to bolster himself against Jin Guangyao’s next words.
“Well,” Jin Guangyao says, voice smooth as oil, “you Jiang sect leaders were never very good at convincing Wei Wuxian to follow the rules of polite society. The previous sect leader, of course, I can understand--didn’t people used to say that he was your father’s favorite child? But you, Jiang Wanyin… you don’t feel the need to punish such shameless behavior?” He smiles beatifically. “Or are you content to know that you were only your father’s heir because Wei Wuxian is the son of a servant?”
“Sect Leader Jiang, do not heed his words!” Lan Xichen interjects urgently. A little late, Wei Wuxian thinks rather uncharitably, but luckily Jiang Cheng doesn’t take the bait.
Instead, he smashes Jin Guangyao’s guqin to pieces with a single stroke of Zidian and then lets the lightning fade away, drawing Sandu instead.
“He’s the son of a servant, and you’re the son of a whore,” he says, stepping forward. “Do you really think I’m going to listen to you lecture me on the rules of polite society?”
Jin Guangyao’s face contorts into an expression so fearsome and ugly that he no longer bears any resemblance to the statue of Guanyin that looms over all of them. “What a sudden change of heart,” he hisses. “You know, Sect Leader Jiang, I heard that you made a bit of a fuss in Lotus Pier yesterday.”
Jiang Cheng freezes. Wei Wuxian’s stomach drops.
Jin Guangyao, looking viciously satisfied that his words are having their desired effect, continues, “I heard that you got into an argument with Wei Wuxian last night. They tell me you paced up and down the pier afterward, clutching onto Wei Wuxian’s sword. Drawing it, sheathing it. Drawing it again. The entire night.”
The words echo in Wei Wuxian’s ears as he watches Jin Guangyao methodically tear down every one of Jiang Cheng’s defenses, exposing all the soft, vulnerable parts of Jiang Cheng’s identity to his captive audience. Wei Wuxian wishes desperately that Wen Ning had not said anything yesterday. Forever being at odds with his brother would be bearable if it meant he never had to see the way all the breath seems to have been punched out of Jiang Cheng.
Jin Guangyao clearly senses that he has regained the upper hand, and some of the fury bleeds from the lines of his body. “Wei Wuxian stayed the night at Lotus Pier, didn’t he? Now that you’ve reconciled, will you be stepping back to let him take over the leadership of the Yunmeng Jiang sect?”
Wei Wuxian lurches forward, but with his hands tied there isn’t much he can do to stop Jin Guangyao’s next words from gutting his brother.
“After all, you were never a match for him until after the Sunshot Campaign,” Jin Guangyao says. “If you think about it, isn’t it really Wei Wuxian’s core that’s responsible for all of the impressive deeds you’ve accomplished? Youngest sect leader, singlehandedly rebuilding Yunmeng Jiang back up from the ground… But you would have been nothing without your shixiong.” He smiles. “Sometimes blood doesn’t mean anything, Sect Leader Jiang. Some people are just never good enough.”
While Jiang Cheng reels from the verbal attack, Jin Guangyao gets close enough to seal off his spiritual energy. And just like that, he has complete control over the temple once more.
He pivots to face Lan Xichen and says, “Er-ge.”
Lan Xichen looks exhausted. He had been staring at the shimmering red cord connecting Wei Wuxian and Lan Zhan, dismay writ large across his face, but when Jin Guangyao calls his name, he raises his head and directs his attention to the sworn brother who has betrayed him.
Wei Wuxian is glad to no longer be subject to that heavy gaze, weighing his relationship with Lan Zhan and clearly finding it wanting. Years ago, he thinks, Lan Xichen would have been the first to leap to conclusions and congratulate them with enthusiasm.
Another thing that he lost before he even knew he had it.
“Oh, er-ge,” Jin Guangyao says sympathetically, laying a hand against his own cheek. “Your poor little brother. He really has grown up to be just like his father, hasn’t he.”
Lan Xichen’s eyes widen and he jerks backwards like he’s been stabbed. Wei Wuxian racks his memory, thinking back to what he’d been told about Lan Zhan’s parents just days ago. Qinheng-jun had spent the last years of his life in seclusion, hadn’t he? Locked away from his brother, his wife, his two sons. Hidden away from everyone who loved him.
Jin Guangyao is still talking. Wei Wuxian can almost see his words pouring into Lan Xichen’s ears like poisoned smoke.
“I’m worried for you, er-ge. How will you feel when your little brother is no more than a ghost, haunting the same set of rooms that your mother used to live in?” He laughs. “Er-ge, he won’t even have to move! He already lives in the Jingshi!”
This time, Lan Zhan also reacts. He makes a soft, punched-out noise. His hand, which had been resting comfortingly on Wei Wuxian’s thigh, jerks away as if burnt.
Wei Wuxian has had enough.
He tilts his head up to look innocently at Jin Guangyao. “Speaking of ghosts haunting things,” he says as cheerfully as he can when his head is buzzing with protective rage. “Lianfang-zun, do you ever think about Chifeng-zun’s ghost? How angry do you think he is, knowing that every time you came to play for him, you were intentionally sabotaging his cultivation to drive him to his death?”
In the corner, Nie Huaisang whimpers. Wei Wuxian winces, having entirely forgotten he was there.
Jin Guangyao comes to a complete standstill, the tip of his sword visibly wavering in the air as he grasps for words. He tries his best to hide the fear that etches itself into every crevice of his face, but Wei Wuxian has extensive experience with hiding the kind of terror that leaves one jolting upright in bed, covered in cold sweat, and he knows it when he sees it.
In a flash of white light, Lan Xichen has drawn Shuoyue and is aiming it straight at Jin Guangyao’s throat. Beside Wei Wuxian, Lan Zhan stands up, shedding the ropes around his wrists like autumn leaves.
“Why?” Lan Xichen demands.
Jin Guangyao looks at Lan Xichen out of the corner of his eye, absolutely no trace of a smile on his face. “I’m afraid you’ll have to be more specific than that, er-ge.”
“Why didn’t you come to us,” Lan Xichen breathes. “Why didn’t you come to me and da-ge and tell us what was going on? Why didn’t you ask us for help?”
A harsh laugh tears itself free from Jin Guangyao’s throat, choked by the tears that glitter at the corners of his eyes. “Would you have been able to help me, once you heard what my problems were?” he asks in response. “Er-ge… beyond speaking platitudes and offering sympathy, would you even have tried?”
Lan Xichen swallows, looking like he wants nothing more than to say yes. But the longer he meets Jin Guangyao’s eyes, the more he falters. In the end, he closes his mouth and breaks the eye contact, staring instead at the gilt edges of Jin Guangyao’s hat.
Sworn brothers are not tied with a bond-cord, of course. Brotherhood is not marriage, and the responsibilities that come with it are different. But as they all watch Lan Xichen interrogate Jin Guangyao, and Jin Guangyao beg for his life, only to be reminded that he is no longer granted the privilege of claiming Lan Xichen as his brother, Wei Wuxian is infinitely glad that, by comparison, his problems with Lan Zhan seem positively frivolous.
At least when this is over, he and Lan Zhan will be able to part ways peacefully, if not on friendly terms. He sneaks a glance at Lan Zhan, who is watching his brother with sorrow in his eyes.
Yes, he would like to be friends, after.
Alas, Lan Xichen and Jin Guangyao are not so lucky. In the aftermath of the sudden appearance of Lan Sizhui, a harrowing escape from the enraged spirit of Baxia as it possesses Wen Ning’s body, and a few panicked shouts from Nie Huaisang, Lan Xichen finds Jin Guangyao speared on the end of his sword and sobs like the world is falling to pieces.
Jin Guangyao rubs salt in the wound by threatening to drag Lan Xichen to hell with him before finally turning to face Nie Mingjue once and for all.
As he seals away the coffin with the two corpses inside, Wei Wuxian remembers Nie Huaisang explaining that the sabers of his sect are buried together with evil spirits in order to give them something wicked to fight in the afterlife.
Fitting for the two of them, he thinks, but at what cost to Zewu-jun?
Indeed, Lan Xichen sits on the steps to the temple, looking like a ghost of his former self. The light blue of his robes only serves to emphasize the way all of the color seems to have drained from his face.
Wei Wuxian wonders if he, too, will look so washed-out and devoid of hope after he and Lan Zhan sever their bond. He can feel the end creeping up on him--now that the mystery of their dear friend has been solved, there’s no excuse for them to avoid sitting down and discussing the separation for good.
Lan Zhan is hovering at Lan Xichen’s side but, as if feeling Wei Wuxian’s eyes on him, looks up and nods solemnly. Wei Wuxian smiles at him, with some effort.
As long as Lan Zhan can be happy, anything will be worth it.
But oh, it’s going to hurt.
Jiang Cheng marches by him, dragging Jin Ling along.
“--the healers as soon as you get back to Lotus Pier, Jin Ling, do you hear me?! And you eat anything they give you, you drink any medicine they prescribe, if you even think of setting foot out of the healers’ wing before I get back I’ll break your legs twice over!”
Jin Ling sniffles, dragging his sleeve across his eyes. “Just how many legs do you think I have, jiujiu?” he retorts, but his voice wavers softly.
Jiang Cheng huffs and uses his foot to nudge Fairy closer to Jin Ling’s knees. “You know the way back to Lotus Pier,” he says gruffly. “Get going.”
He stands with his arms crossed over his chest, watching until Jin Ling and Fairy fade out of his range of sight. Then he turns and heads toward Wei Wuxian, thrusting Suibian into his hand.
“Jiang Cheng!” Wei Wuxian does his best to muster up a wide grin, but at his brother’s unamused glare, he lets it drop. His hand closes around the sword despite himself.
“Listen,” Jiang Cheng mutters, looking like he wishes he could be anywhere but here. “If… if things go badly. You can come keep Jin Ling company while you lick your wounds. The gods know I’m going to be buried in too much paperwork to coddle him.”
“You’ll let me come h--come back to Lotus Pier?” Wei Wuxian says in surprise.
Jiang Cheng grits his teeth. “The Lans go into seclusion to deal with loss,” he says, not meeting Wei Wuxian’s eyes. “But trust me, it doesn’t help.”
Then, without another word, he stomps off, hollering instructions to the purple-clad Yunmeng Jiang disciples who are pouring into the temple grounds. There are witness statements to be taken, curious civilians to turn away from the gate, wounds to be triaged, a sealed coffin to retrieve from the wreckage of the temple… the list goes on.
Now that he knows he has the option, Wei Wuxian resolves to drop by Lotus Pier and bother Jin Ling until he never thinks about rushing foolishly into dangerous situations ever again.
Yeah, it’s going to take a while.
But before that--
“Lan Zhan,” he says. He doesn’t speak particularly loudly, but Lan Zhan hears him all the same. He leaves his brother at Nie Huaisang’s side and makes his way across the courtyard to Wei Wuxian.
“We should talk,” Wei Wuxian says quietly.
Lan Zhan nods.
A rented room in one of Yunping City’s inns wouldn’t have been Wei Wuxian’s first choice of location to have a heart-to-heart, but in a pinch it will do. It’s quiet enough inside the room that Wei Wuxian can hear himself think, but outside the city is coming alive with the rising of the sun. Wei Wuxian’s shoulders loosen ever so slightly as the sounds from the street filter through the paper windows, reminding him that the danger has passed.
Wei Wuxian would much rather have this discussion here than in Cloud Recesses, anyway, where he just knows he would be accosted by Lan Qiren and the rest of the elders as soon as he left the Jingshi, all of them radiating disapproval and lecturing him for daring to tarnish Lan Zhan’s reputation. Yunping City is not technically neutral ground, being in Yunmeng and all, but Wei Wuxian thinks that Jiang Cheng would rather gnaw off his own arm than get involved in this.
“This will suffice,” he hears Lan Zhan say to the proprietor of the inn behind him as he rushes in and flops to the floor in exaggerated exhaustion. “Thank you.” The cool wood of the floorboards is comforting against his shoulder blades.
Then fine fabrics rustle as Lan Zhan gracefully folds himself to sit beside Wei Wuxian.
The bond-cord trails across his lap and onto the floor, shimmering with spiritual energy. It is solid all the way through--and it has been so ever since Jin Guangyao forced the reveal at the temple. Neither Wei Wuxian nor Lan Zhan had possessed the emotional stability to hide it at the time, and then later it had seemed like the least important of the matters at hand.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says slowly, savoring the feel of Lan Zhan’s name on his tongue. “Lan Zhan, were you very surprised all those weeks ago, when I came back to life? Were you alone, when the cord came back, or did you have to hide it as soon as you noticed?”
Lan Zhan goes very still. “Came back?” he echoes.
Wei Wuxian flips himself over onto his stomach, raising his head to search Lan Zhan’s face. “After Mo Xuanyu sacrificed his body to bring me back. That’s when the cord reappeared… Right?”
Lan Zhan is silent.
Clammy fingers of dread drag themselves down Wei Wuxian’s spine in a way that is wholly unrelated to demonic cultivation, and he shoves himself up into a sitting position, ignoring the aches in his body.
He remembers, with nauseated horror rising in his throat, that when Jin Zixuan died his hand had stretched out in front of his corpse and that cord, like a thick stream of blood, had pointed unerringly in the direction of his newly widowed wife, and Wei Wuxian had looked at that unmoving line of crimson and fallen to his knees at the thought of his shijie discovering that it tied her to a dead man. He remembers the bright glint of insanity in Xue Yang’s eyes as he screamed and screamed when he realized that the cord he had tied to Xiao Xingchen had slipped right off the corpse’s finger.
“Lan Zhan,” he whispers, barely able to put the dawning thought into words, “tell me you haven’t been tied to my--to me, this whole time.”
The silence is an answer in itself.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian moans, wanting so much to reach out and grip Lan Zhan’s hands but not daring, “why didn’t you just cut it once it was clear I wasn’t coming back?”
Lan Zhan never asked to be tied to the Yiling Patriarch. He would have been perfectly justified in slicing through the cord on the spot and leaving it to rot with Wei Wuxian’s body.
His actions wouldn’t even have garnered the whispering rumors that Jin Guangyao provoked when he left the entirety of his own bond-cord spooled on Qin Su’s chest, rather than cutting it down the middle, per the usual custom when a marriage is ended by death rather than a decision to separate.
“I could not.” Lan Zhan’s words are firm.
That doesn’t make sense. A bond-cord is a spiritual phenomenon. A first-class spiritual blade like Bichen should make short work of a flimsy tatter of Wei Wuxian’s energy.
Wei Wuxian looks at Lan Zhan for clarification. “Did you try to cut it with Bichen?”
Lan Zhan’s lips thin. “I did not.”
“Lan Zhan! Why not?!”
Lan Zhan refuses to meet his eyes. “I could not,” he repeats.
Wei Wuxian takes one look at the tremble in Lan Zhan’s hand where it rests on Bichen’s hilt and decides it’s not worth pushing the point.
“Well, you can try now,” he says, pushing to his feet. In his fist, Suibian burns like a brand, scorching his palm and fingers. Suibian is just as much of a spiritual weapon as Bichen, as Wei Wuxian and Lan Zhan know from having fought to a standstill on multiple occasions, but Wei Wuxian has already spent all of his courage for this week at the Guanyin temple.
Maybe, he thinks in the very back of his mind, this can wait until next week.
But he pictures lifting his sword to the thin cord where it rests across the back of Lan Zhan’s knuckles and knows that someone as weak, as selfish as he is would always be putting it off until next week, and the next, and the next.
Lan Zhan goes very still. Even his breathing seems to stop, the rise and fall of his chest ceasing so that he looks like nothing so much as a statue carved from purest white jade.
“Wei Ying,” he says, almost inaudible, on an exhalation. Then he breathes in deeply, hand clenching around Bichen. Stands and takes a step forward, robes fluttering against his ankles as he closes the distance between them.
The length of cord shrinks as he moves, hanging between them like a single-strand cobweb. It, like Wei Wuxian himself, contrasts sharply against the blue and white of Lan Zhan’s robes. Disturbing the peaceful harmony of Lan Zhan’s life.
Wei Wuxian is not consciously giving any commands to the bond between them, so it must be Lan Zhan who is carefully keeping the cord from brushing against the ground.
Lan Zhan has always taken such care with other people’s responsibilities, even when he doesn’t have any obligation. His indignation when he thought that Wei Wuxian was being cavalier about calling Suibian by its name. The rabbits that Wei Wuxian gave him so many years ago, which he raised in Cloud Recesses despite never having asked for them. His endless attempts to persuade Wei Wuxian to stop practicing demonic cultivation.
Metal clanks against stone, and Wei Wuxian’s attention is recalled to the present by the appearance of Bichen directly in front of his face.
Lan Zhan is holding Bichen with his left hand. His thumb lifts the blade from the sheath, his other fingers curled beneath the crimson cord.
“If you do not want to use your sword,” Lan Zhan says, “you may use mine.”
Wei Wuxian guesses he deserves this. It’s his wrong, after all. Lan Zhan is well within his rights to demand that Wei Wuxian be the one to rectify the situation.
Bichen glints in the lamplight, a silent admonition and a command for Wei Wuxian to set its master free.
A shaky exhale.
Wei Wuxian’s eyes are fixed on Lan Zhan’s left hand, on the taut cord and the little knot at the base of Lan Zhan’s middle finger. That’s where he should cut, to ensure that the remnants of the cord cause Lan Zhan as little discomfort in the future as possible.
As little of a reminder of this mistaken tie between us as possible, Wei Wuxian thinks to himself--and is suddenly, fiercely glad that the loop of cord around Lan Zhan’s finger can never be cut off.
He is immediately ashamed of the thought.
This is why you’re in this position in the first place, he reminds himself sternly. Wanting too much, letting your unreasonable desires bleed out into the real world.
It can never happen again.
Wei Wuxian draws the sword, eyes now glued to the slow reveal of Bichen’s gleaming blade. For all that Lan Zhan is said to be unfeeling jade, Wei Wuxian knows that he is flesh and bone like anyone else, and he will not be responsible for spilling more of Lan Zhan’s blood.
“I’m sorry, Lan Zhan,” he whispers, and then he raises Bichen’s blade to try and cut the cord as close to Lan Zhan’s hand as possible.
He hears a sharp inhale, and suddenly Bichen is knocked from his hand. A hand wraps around his wrist, locking him in place like an implacable vise without any heed for the clatter with which Bichen falls to the ground.
“Wei Ying!” Lan Zhan’s chest heaves as he drags Wei Wuxian closer, forcing him to meet those icy golden eyes. They bore into his, as if desperately searching for something.
Wei Wuxian goes willingly, unable to pass up the opportunity to be closer to Lan Zhan even if he is confused about what’s going on.
“You will not take this away from me,” Lan Zhan says furiously. “Sever the bond if you must, but I will not allow you to take the blame for my mistake.”
Wei Wuxian gapes. “Lan Zhan-- your mistake? I’m the one who--when I was falling off the cliff--”
Lan Zhan’s grip softens around his wrist, his shoulders slumping in confusion. “I tied you to me as you fell,” he says, a note of question in his voice.
“That’s ridiculous!” Wei Wuxian responds promptly, but there is a warmth timidly unfolding in his chest. He was not in the habit of hoping in the last months before his death, and he barely remembers the sensation, but he has a vague idea that it feels like drinking soup amidst lotuses, like a song being very quietly hummed in a dark cave. Yes, he thinks, this might be hope.
“I will never forgive Jiang Wanyin for his actions at Nightless City,” Lan Zhan says. “But he was there, on the cliff. He can confirm. I tied the cord.”
“Jiang Cheng cannot confirm!” Wei Wuxian laughs helplessly, tipping his head back as he covers his eyes with his free hand. “I was looking up at you two, you know, I saw his face as he-- Well, his eyes were shut tight at that moment. He didn’t see anything.”
He must have opened his eyes as Wei Wuxian was falling and, upon seeing the cord already tied, assumed that Wei Wuxian was to blame.
Typical Jiang Cheng, he thinks, but fondly. How can he blame his brother for coming to the same conclusion that he himself had drawn?
“Are you sure that you tied a cord?” he presses.
Lan Zhan exhales through his nose and fixes him with a piercing stare. Those shapely brows are scrunched up in the middle.
“Wei Ying,” he begins. Falters. Tries again. “Wei Ying. I have wanted to marry you since we were sixteen. When I tied my forehead ribbon around your wrist in the Cold Pond Cave and we prostrated before the elder, I wished it had been our bond-cord that I was tying.”
Wei Wuxian bites back the words that ache to spill out from his mouth. But there is an idea forming in the back of his mind that many of their problems can be traced back to the same root: that he speaks too much, and Lan Zhan not enough. So he listens.
“I knew it was wrong to tie you to me in the Nightless City. You had already refused my help. But Wei Ying. After you fell, I was grateful that I had done this to you.”
The shame in Lan Zhan’s voice is too much to bear.
“Oh, Lan Zhan.”
Lan Zhan can’t seem to stop now that he’s started. “It was my last hope of finding you. Of… of bringing you home.”
Wei Wuxian understands that Lan Zhan means, of bringing your corpse home.
“I followed the cord to the bottom of the cliff, but no matter how long I searched, there was always just a little more cord to follow.” Lan Zhan lets go of the wrist he has been holding captive, his fingers trailing along Wei Wuxian’s end of the cord as his hand falls back to his side.
During the short walk from the Guanyin temple to the inn, Wei Wuxian did his best to prepare himself for the inevitable heartbreak. But never in a million years could he have foreseen the specific fault line on which his heart is now cracking apart.
All the different ways he has imagined this conversation going, and not once did he come close to dreaming of a heartache this sweet.
“I believe you,” he chokes out. He misses Lan Zhan’s hold on his wrist, so he leans forward and catches Lan Zhan’s left hand in both of his. Lan Zhan’s breath hitches. “But Lan Zhan, I am also sure that I tied a cord to you after I let go. I was falling, and I reached out--” He sees Lan Zhan flinch at those words and, with a sudden spark of realization, hurriedly continues, “Lan Zhan, ah, Lan Zhan. Look at me, please?”
Lan Zhan looks at him in a way that reminds him of A-Yuan, like he expects the next words out of Wei Wuxian’s mouth to be magic. It’s humbling, and a little terrifying.
“Lan Zhan,” he says. “Please don’t think that I would have tied a cord to anybody else, if they had been at the top of the cliff at that moment.” He leans forward and presses his forehead against Lan Zhan’s, sandwiching that embroidered ribbon between them. “It’s because it was you, and I knew I didn’t deserve to touch you, let alone tie you to me, but you were there, you were so good and noble and unwavering, trying to save me up until the last moment, even when you were standing amidst the carnage that I had caused with my pride and my pettiness and my--my inability to see the path in front of me.”
He closes his eyes, breathing shakily. To distract himself, he runs his fingertips along the cord between them. “I couldn’t go with you back to the sunny path, even though I couldn’t tell you why at the time. But Lan Zhan, I wanted to follow you. I wanted to let you take my hand and lead me back to who I used to be. I wanted it so much that I could have cried.”
“Wei Ying.” Lan Zhan slides one of his hands free of Wei Wuxian’s grip and takes hold of the hand that is touching their bond-cord. He doesn’t drop it, just holds it still--like maybe he can’t think if Wei Wuxian is playing with the cord.
“And then,” Wei Wuxian continues, shaking, “when I was falling, even though you were exhausted and out of spiritual energy, I saw you calling my name and holding your hand out to me. Like you thought that if you tried a little harder, you could still save me.” He sniffles, giving Lan Zhan a watery smile. “How could I let you go?”
“Wei Ying.” Lan Zhan’s voice is hushed.
“Maybe we both tried to tie ourselves together at the same moment,” Wei Wuxian says, trying for a lighter tone. “I don’t know if anybody’s ever done that before.”
“Always attempting the impossible.” Lan Zhan nods. The metal piece of his forehead ribbon is an uncomfortable wedge between their skulls as he does so, but neither of them makes any move to pull away.
Wei Wuxian laughs wetly. “You’re not wrong! Anyway, Lan Zhan, I’m not sure what the protocol is for a situation like this. I’m not sure that even your library with your scrolls upon scrolls of rules would have a guideline for a situation like this.”
“Then we will set the precedent,” Lan Zhan says firmly. He is still holding onto both of Wei Wuxian’s hands. His heart is beating so rabbit-fast that Wei Wuxian can feel it through the tips of his fingers trembling against Wei Wuxian’s skin. Or maybe that’s just the echo of Wei Wuxian’s own heartbeat.
“Aiyo, give you the opportunity to make more rules and you’re jumping at the chance,” Wei Wuxian teases. Maybe, though--maybe they can make it a rule that two people who care about each other enough to cast a bond-cord at the same time should never be parted. Married or not.
Lan Zhan sighs deeply and finally pulls away. He lets go of Wei Wuxian’s hands, leaving them cold and almost vulnerable, only to reach up and cup Wei Wuxian’s face.
Wei Wuxian’s eyes fly open at the sensation. Lan Zhan seems to have expected this, and catches his gaze. Holds onto it, like he wants to be very sure that Wei Wuxian is paying attention to what he says next.
He says, “A double-cast bond-cord must be made official.” He says it in the same confident tone of voice that Lan Qiren uses to say Killing is prohibited in Cloud Recesses.
Wei Wuxian blinks. “...Made official?”
“Lan Zhan… Are you--are you proposing to me?!”
Lan Zhan inclines his head with great dignity, but his eyes are anxious as they watch Wei Wuxian’s face for his reaction. “If Wei Ying is willing… I do not want anybody else.”
Wei Wuxian must be dreaming. There’s no way he heard Lan Zhan right.
Lan Zhan’s expression doesn’t change, but he says quietly, “If… If Wei Ying is not willing--”
“No!” Wei Wuxian straightens up out of his disbelieving fugue and claps his hands on top of Lan Zhan’s, palms still flat against his jaw. “No! Lan Zhan, no, I--I do want to marry you! I want to marry you so much that I didn’t know what to say!”
The tense set of Lan Zhan’s shoulders eases. “A rarity,” he says with a note of amusement.
Wei Wuxian pouts, giddy with relief and adrenaline. “Lan Zhaaaan, so mean to your poor husband-to-be.”
Lan Zhan inhales sharply and his thumbs sweep across Wei Wuxian’s cheekbones, leaving trails of heat behind. “When,” he demands.
Wei Wuxian gapes at this altogether unexpected side of his… betrothed? They’ve only just agreed to marry, and Lan Zhan is already this impatient?
Well. He gives it some thought and discovers that he is also impatient. He wants to be able to proudly show off their bond-cord to everyone they meet, wants the rest of the cultivation world to be forced to recognize their ties to each other.
Wants to call Lan Zhan my husband.
“When?” Lan Zhan repeats, lips hovering dangerously close to Wei Wuxian’s own.
It’s becoming very hard to think. While he’s still coherent, Wei Wuxian says, “We’ll go to Lotus Pier tomorrow. We can do the bows to my parents there, and Jiang Cheng will throw us a party.”
Or else Wei Wuxian will throw himself a party--but he remembers Jiang Cheng’s notebook full of ideas for shijie’s wedding, carefully compiled since childhood. He recognized the design of the hairpiece that shijie was wearing when she came to visit him in Yiling in her wedding finery, even if he hadn’t said anything at the time, too busy being awestruck that he was still allowed to partake in this part of shijie’s happiness.
He’s always suspected that Jiang Cheng has a second notebook with his name on it. And although he doubts it survived everything his brother has been through, Jiang Cheng has a memory like an elephant.
Sometimes, that’s not a bad thing at all.
It feels right, he thinks. To bring his happiness home and show his family that he survived, that he remembers them and wants them to be part of his life. To prove that he’s taking responsibility for this promise he made to Lan Zhan.
He wants to show Lan Zhan off to his parents, to Uncle Jiang and Madam Yu, and to shijie. He thinks, a little smugly, that not even Madam Yu could complain about his choice of husband. Lan Zhan really is too good for him.
“My parents’ name tablets should still be in Lotus Pier somewhere,” he muses, stretching up to press a quick kiss to Lan Zhan’s waiting lips.
Lan Zhan jerks, eyes wide.
Slyly ignoring Lan Zhan’s reaction, Wei Wuxian continues thoughtfully, “If I ask very nicely, maybe Jiang Cheng will even let us do our bows in front of the Jiang family altar. And then afterwards, we can go back to Cloud Recesses and tell your family that we’re married. Maybe they’ll throw us a party too.”
He kind of hopes they don’t. Gusu Lan banquet food… He shudders.
And then Lan Zhan’s control snaps, and he shudders for a very different reason as Lan Zhan pushes him down on the bed and demonstrates why they’ll need at least a week between getting married in Lotus Pier and returning to Cloud Recesses.
Jiang Cheng had better be stocked up on soundproofing talismans.
Jiang Cheng doesn’t immediately explode upon hearing that Wei Wuxian and Lan Zhan plan to get married in Lotus Pier. In fact, his reaction is thoroughly underwhelming.
He sighs heavily, as if wondering what he ever did to deserve this punishment, and scrubs an exasperated hand down his face. Jin Ling, in the middle of tipping his chin up so the healer can replace the dressing on the wound from Jin Guangyao’s guqin string, snaps his head around to stare first at one uncle and then at the other, heedless of the annoyed click of the healer’s tongue.
“How the hell do you only manage to open your mouths and talk when it’s inconvenient for me?” Jiang Cheng grumbles, poking his head out of the room and bellowing for a servant. When he comes back he says, “It was supposed to take you a couple more days to figure all of--” he gestures vaguely “-- this out. The robes aren’t even half-done, so you’ll just have to wait until next week to get married.”
Wei Wuxian freezes. “The… robes?” Beside him, Lan Zhan looks just as flabbergasted.
Even Jin Ling’s eyes are wide with surprise.
Jiang Cheng crosses his arms, flushing angrily. “I knew this was going to happen at some point,” he snaps. “Like I was going to let anyone say that Yunmeng Jiang allows its disciples to get married in dirty rags and white robes.”
“Jiang Cheng --”
Jiang Cheng talks over him. “The seamstress who made a-jie’s wedding robes doesn’t see so well these days, but her son married a woman who’s even better with embroidery than she was. If I’m satisfied with the quality of her work on both of your robes, we’ll be able to rely on her for other ceremonial pieces. It’s practical, that’s all.”
Wei Wuxian is not crying. Jiang Cheng is not crying. Jin Ling is full-out bawling.
Yunmeng Jiang men are not pretty criers.
The healer, who is quite used to Jin Ling’s mercurial moods but utterly alarmed by the tears streaking down the eternally angry sect leader’s face, edges out of the room with a perfunctory salute.
Lan Zhan uses one of his sleeves to wipe away Wei Wuxian’s tears. They continue to fall faster than he can mop them up.
Lan Zhan is too good, too kind. But even he can tell when a task is hopeless.
He sighs and gives up. While Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng fight to regain control of their faces, he crosses to the door and speaks quietly to Lan Sizhui, whom they had found waiting anxiously outside the inn this morning and who has followed them to Lotus Pier, insisting that he needs to speak to them soon.
When Lan Zhan returns to Wei Wuxian’s side, Lan Sizhui follows.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says gently, pushing the child toward him. “There is one more thing I have not told you. Someone else who should be part of the wedding ceremony.”
One more responsibility that Lan Zhan took on for Wei Wuxian’s sake, without needing to be asked.
Wei Wuxian sobs even harder when he learns Lan Sizhui’s identity, but Jiang Cheng’s tears dry up straight away at the realization that a Wen child once raised by Wei Wuxian has grown up to become this miniature version of Hanguang-jun.
Out of the corner of his waterlogged eyes, Wei Wuxian watches Jiang Cheng fight for breath. He loves his brother, but Jiang Cheng will not hurt so much as one of Lan Sizhui’s feelings, not when Lan Sizhui has already suffered so much through no fault of his own.
Jiang Cheng scowls. Inhales. Exhales, the air rushing out of him in an uncertain sigh.
“This had better be the last surprise nephew you spring on me without warning,” he says to Lan Zhan. His glare shifts to include Wei Wuxian.
Lan Sizhui gasps.
Wei Wuxian tries very, very hard to restrain himself from tackling Jiang Cheng in a hug. It wouldn’t do to break the moment by getting himself murdered, so close to his wedding no less.
Jiang Cheng glances over at Jin Ling, and the years he’s spent raising his sister’s son by himself are never more evident than in the silent conversation uncle and nephew hold purely through eye contact and minute grimaces. Finally, he nods once, sharply, as if they’ve come to some kind of conclusion, and looks back at the shorter figure in Gusu Lan whites.
His next words floor everyone in the room.
“Since you’re my nephew,” he says curtly to Lan Sizhui, “I suppose that makes your undead uncle… some kind of relative too.” He thrusts a threatening finger at the boy’s face. “You’ll keep an eye on him and make sure he leaves Lotus Pier the instant the wedding is over.”
Wei Wuxian doesn’t dare to breathe. Is Jiang Cheng really saying…?
Lan Sizhui is a bright boy and understands immediately. He bows deeply, thanking Jiang Cheng sincerely but concisely for the invitation on Wen Ning’s behalf. He promises to abide by Jiang Cheng’s conditions and says that he will find Wen Ning and let him know as soon as dawn breaks tomorrow.
Jiang Cheng, who must at least suspect that Wen Ning is already lurking just outside the walls of Lotus Pier, says nothing.
Wei Wuxian’s heart is full to bursting, but his stomach reminds him that he didn’t eat lunch today, too worried about Jiang Cheng’s reaction to swallow more than a few mouthfuls of soup.
“A feast!” he exclaims, grabbing one of Lan Zhan’s hands and shaking it excitedly. “While we wait for the wedding robes to be finished, I can come up with some really good dishes to serve at the wedding!” As he bolts toward the kitchens, he calls over his shoulder, “I think I want to try--”
He’s hit hard from two sides, one larger body and one smaller body knocking him to the ground as Jiang Cheng and Jin Ling throw themselves on top of him in their desperation to keep him from the kitchens. Craning his neck, he sees Lan Sizhui biting his lip and wavering before finally losing the battle with temptation. Jin Ling lets out an indignant “Oof!” as Lan Sizhui’s weight lands on top of the pile of squirming bodies.
Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng are still grappling with each other when Lan Zhan reaches the pile, as upright and dignified as ever. He watches silently as limbs go flying and Jin Ling narrowly avoids a black eye. But Wei Wuxian squints up at his future husband and--
Yes, there is a faint, contented smile teasing at the corners of Lan Zhan’s mouth.
Wei Wuxian knows the feeling intimately. He stops struggling, giggling in delight as Jiang Cheng goes pitching forward, unprepared for the sudden lack of resistance. He wraps his arms around his brother and his nephew and his son and stares up at the most beloved face in his life.
Shijie, be happy for me.
If Wei Wuxian were to die at this very moment, he would die with no regrets.