Maybe it had all been a fever dream, a product of two days’ constant, waking pain. That’s what Wei Wuxian tells himself. After all, wouldn’t coherent memories be a little too much to expect?
When he sees Jiang Cheng for the first time in three months, he can believe it a mere invention. When Jiang Cheng steps between him and Lan Wangji, when he puts an arm over his shoulder, when he hands him a sword he can no longer use and scolds him not to leave it in his care again, Wei Wuxian can believe that nothing has changed.
“Will he remember?” he had asked.
“He’ll remember them,” Wen Qing had answered. “He’ll remember everything they did together, too. He won’t remember all the whys, how he felt.” She paused. “Chances are, he won’t think about them all that much.”
When Wei Wuxian catches Jiang Cheng looking at him with a puzzled expression, or with distance in his eyes, he can blame it on demonic cultivation, on the things Jiang Cheng has seen him do. He can believe the only one who changed is him.
When Jiang Cheng cannot support him any longer, when they arrange a duel, Wei Wuxian realizes, to his dismay, that he isn’t surprised.
“Can you really grow food here?” Jiang Cheng asks.
And when Wei Wuxian answers, “You’d be surprised what plants can take root where,” Wen Qing throws a sharp look at him.
“You told me it was for someone who died at Lotus Pier,” she accuses, later.
“Did I?” Wei Wuxian asks, and when she doesn’t let him be, he asks her, “Was I wrong?”
How strange, Wei Wuxian still thinks. I always thought Jiang Cheng would be the one by my side. He hears rumors of Jiang Cheng torturing demonic cultivators in Yunmeng and wonders what, exactly, he is hoping to find.
When Jiang Cheng storms through the temple doors, he knows. “So selfless!” he scorns. “You could give up your golden core, but you couldn’t conceive of ever loving me back! How am I supposed to take that? Tell me! How am I supposed to take that as anything other than pity?”
Wen Ning had told him, of course. Told him how in the midst of the operation, when Jiang Cheng was already unconscious and Wei Wuxian’s golden core well past the point of no return, Wen Qing found the smallest beginning of the flower curse taking root. “You wouldn’t have started coughing petals yet, you couldn’t have even known it was there. And you’d lost so many people—what else could Sister do but ask Young Master Wei? After saving your life twice over, she could hardly leave behind something that would kill you!”
“You’re wrong,” Jiang Cheng had whispered. “I never felt—” But he held tight to Suibian’s unsheathed blade and knew that one piece, at least, of the Ghost General’s story was truth.
“I loved you?” Jiang Cheng nearly pleads. “And now I can’t even hate you.”
Wei Wuxian doesn’t say You deserved so much more than I could have given you, back then. He doesn’t say I could only give you one. He can’t. And so he says nothing.
And Jiang Cheng, who wants to scream, who wants to say For almost twenty years I asked myself why I distracted those Wen soldiers, for almost twenty years I asked myself if I’d hated my life that much—
He says nothing, either.