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Between Light and Darkness

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Everything is moving too fast. For someone like Lan Xichen who is used to the calmness and peaceful atmosphere the Cloud Recesses have, everything around him is moving at a dizzying speed. 

There is blood, swords and arrows flying around him, piercing the skin of both living and unliving bodies that let blood-curling screams before either falling to the floor or attacking back with murderous eyes. For several minutes, the Gusu Lan Sect Leader can’t even tell who is alive and who is already one of those puppets with bloody mouths and white eyes, his spiritual energy isn’t as strong as it normally is and he just knows Shuoyue is having a harder time in taking down the ones who try to kill him.

How did they come to this?

Killing Wen Ruohan was supposed to be the end of the problems for the cultivation world, ending the power-thirsty sect who dared to use the Yin iron to murder so many innocent people was supposed to be the end and now… now more people are dying and perishing under evil forces who scream in joy for having more souls to feed on.

Without his permission, his eyes leave the fallen body who attacked him and move to the distressed figure with dark robes and black energy swarming around him that stands ominously above everyone, just watching the tragedy unfold right in front of him.  

How can he be the same Wei Wuxian who came to study at the Cloud Recesses?

He had weird ideas that went against the bases who founded the cultivation world and refused to follow the rules their sect established centuries ago, but he wasn’t a bad person. He was powerful and had a strong sense of justice that guided everything he did, he always spoke up his thoughts and never allowed anyone to step on him or any of the people he loved. Lan Xichen liked him, hell, he can’t even say he hates him right now because the root of the problem is conflicting for him as well.

The Wens he saved were innocent, elders and even a child who had nothing to do with what Wen Ruohan, Wen Chao or Wen Xu did, their only crime was being part of the Wen Sect and Wei Wuxian wanting to save them was actually the right thing to do. He was protecting the innocent, the weak, he was using his power to help who needed it and that wasn’t wrong. 

But the Demonic Cultivation…

With a hiss, he staggers back when one of the corpses uses his distraction to attack him and even when he manages to block it and push back, he feels the force of the hit shaking his body. 

“Wei Wuxian, stop this right now and hand over the Stygian Tiger Seal!” Someone yells and Lan Xichen has to suppress the urge to sigh.

“It’s your only concern, right?” Wei Wuxian responds, a humourless and pained laugh leaving his lips. “I just find it ironic.”

Talking behind people’s back is forbidden, but Lan Xichen can’t deny how repulsed he feels by the hidden motives some of the sect leaders show. It’s crystal clear that a lot seek the power Wei Wuxian holds for themselves, they desperately want to climb up the ladder, be the first ones to put the crown on their heads to reign and command everyone else and they don’t care who they have to get rid of. Wei Wuxian is only the common enemy, but once he’s gone, not many things will change.

“Wei Ying…”

It’s just a whisper, but Xichen hears it as if it has been told right in his ear, and when he looks around to look for him, he finds his brother staring with pain and horror at the figure who turned away from him. He’s hurt, God,  there’s blood running down his right arm and smaller specks of the crimson liquid stain the rest of his clothes, his brother is not weak, he’s far from being weak, but deep down he knows his spiritual energy is going down just like his.

Back in time, he had encouraged his little brother to get closer to Wei Wuxian, he had seen in him a potential friend for the brother who had grown up alone and with no one aside from him to rely on. 

Is it his fault, then? Is it his fault that his brother is suffering so much because of this man? 

Hating is also forbidden, but something inside Xichen tells him he should hate Wei Wuxian for everything he had done to the world and, above all of it, to his brother… but he ultimately fails. He can’t hate this man because he’s not entirely bad and because he knows his brother loves him...This just helps to break his heart into a million pieces as he stares at the usually cold and serious face twisting in pain, fear and despair.

“A-Xian!”

The battlefield is filled with blood and screams, but the soft and anguished voice vibrates in the vast expanse of it and has Xichen following the wide amber eyes to find the source.

Jiang Yanli has the looks of a fragile maiden, soft voice, gentle eyes and a pure commitment to take care of her family, but Xichen, thanks to Wanji, knows she’s stronger than what he looks. She doesn’t let anyone hurt the small family she has and even when she’s not strong in cultivation, she’s fierce and protective. Still, seeing her running in the middle of the field in her white, mourning clothes while screaming his brother’s name is a shock.

“Ajie!” As expected, Jiang Wanyin horrified scream follow her voice and while fighting a new wave of corpses, Xichen sees him trying to kill everyone in his way in order to reach her. “Get out of here!”

Of course, the young maiden doesn’t listen and instead continues looking for her brother, barely dodging several corpses and spirits that aim at her at one point. Seeing her running like that starts to form an uncomfortable feeling deep inside him, but it doesn’t matter how much he tries to step forward and help to protect her, the corpses are relentless, they seem to feel he’s not the usually strong First Jade of Lan and thus, feel with the advantage to win.

“S-Shijie!” Wei Wuxian’s voice is the next one he hears and while battling two different corpses, he sees the man leaving his spot for the first time since this started and falling still far away from his sister. “Shijie please go away!”

Their voices, however, doesn’t reach her so she continues running through the bloodied place, looking around in hopes of finding him and even when Lan Xichen does his best to get rid of these thoughts, he knows, he just knows this will end in tragedy.

And it does end in a tragedy.

A corpse starts to head her way, wielding a sword erratically, mouth bleeding and white eyes fixed on killing this easy pray. Wangji, Jiang Wanyin, Wei Wuxian and even Xichen try to get rid of their enemies in order to reach her, but the corpse is closer; his sword cuts her back with a sickening noise, sending her to the floor with a bleeding gash and a cry of pain.

It’s chaos after that.

 The two brothers scream as they rush towards her, but it is Wangji who manages to kill the corpse before it can finish the job and so, Jiang Cheng ends up holding her wounded sister close to his chest and protected from anyone else, Wei Wuxian included. In the corner of his eyes, Xiachen sees Jiang Wanyin pushing his former brother away, but his sister extending her arms to him, mouth moving as she says something he can’t listen from where he’s standing.

To his surprise, Wei Wuxian nods desperately and stands up, bringing the flute to his lips and starting to play a melody that has an immediate effect on the corpses around. They stop as if they had been frozen on their place, arms falling to their sides lifelessly, the army of undead warriors waiting for the next command.

Lan Xichen barely holds back a sigh of relief. This will be over, the pointless massacre, the suffering, everything will end because they will find a reasonable way to solve the problems that will arise and he promises he won’t let his brother and his clan down.

“A-Xian!” 

“Wei Ying!”

Just as it happened after the Sunshot Campaign, things go from good to bad in seconds and when he looks up once more, he sees his brother spitting a mouthful of blood before collapsing back, barely being caught by a Wei Wuxian who stares with wide eyes at his unmoving body.

“The Yiling Patriarch attacked Lan Wangji!”

“He just murdered him in front of us!”

Murdered. Death. 

“W-Wangji!” He screams, the kind of fear that freezes your whole system and threatens to make your heart explode taking over every single part of his body as he runs to see, to make sure that his brother, his Wangji, isn’t dead.

But he can’t reach him.

“I didn’t kill him,” Wei Wuxian whispers, arms tightening around the figure in his arms. “I didn’t do anything— Lan Zhan is not dead.”

His eyes are blown wide, breathing coming out in erratic pants as if he has completely disconnected from the whole situation.

Xichen is just a couple of steps away from reaching him, but he’s late once more.

Showing a strength they were sure he didn’t possess anymore, Wei Wuxian jumps back with Lan Wangji in his arms and stares at the ones who point fingers at him and call him a murderer, the black in them turning a furious red that ends up falling on Jiang Wanyin.

“Save Shijie.”

His voice is cold, commanding, and his eyes once more spark red before a cloud of darkness and resentment consumes the two of them.

Chapter Text

“We knew he was pure evilness, but now, no one can doubt it!”

Lan Xichen feels his head throbbing.

“Attacking such a strong cultivator and taking him away!”

Someone is hitting his head repeatedly with the pointiest rock in the world.

“His dirty tricks, to think he even fooled someone like Lan Wangji... he ended paying it with his life.”

A sudden and very real hit on the table makes Xichen jump, his whole body tensing and eyes widening as he looks up to find the source, first seeing Nie Mingjue’s fist against the table and then the face of his sworn brother twisted in anger he directs to everyone who had gathered there.

“Show some respect!” He says through gritted teeth. “Xichen is not only the Gusu Lan leader, he is Wangji’s brother!”

Jin Guangshan, Sect Leader Ouyang and Sect Leader Yao at least have the decency to look apologetic. 

Su She tries but fails miserably.

“Wangji wasn’t fooled and he didn’t die,” Knowing all the eyes are on him, Xichen takes a deep breath before speaking, trying to sound calm and collected as he would normally sound, but apparently failing. “I would appreciate it if you didn’t mention such things.”

“My sincere apologies, sect leader,” Jin Guangshan says, a sigh leaving his lips. “I hope you can understand our situation. That devil not only murdered my son and nephew, but he has also now taken away your brother.”

“He knows!” Mingjue says before Xichen can think in what to reply. “Is something coming out of stating what everyone already saw?!”

“If I dare to suggest,” Jin Guangyao’s soft voice comes next, intervening before things go worst. “We should treat the injuries everyone sustained during the battle and talk about this first thing in the morning.”

“Finding Wei Wuxian should be our main priority!” Someone screams, the voice so loud Xichen feels his ears ringing.

“Indeed, but there’s little we can do while we’re still recovering our energy,” To everyone’s surprise, Jin Guangshan agrees. “Furthermore, Sect Leader Jiang should be here to discuss it, too, his sister ended up hurt because of that man.”

Xichen refuses to continue listening after that, his head is throbbing too painfully to focus on understanding what’s going on; he even fears he will be passing out right in front of everyone and that would be humiliating. This has to be a bad dream, a nightmare product of the list of tragedies he has gone through in such a short period of time. Wangji is not dead and he will be here the next time he opens his eyes.

Right?

“Xichen, let’s take you to a room,” Despite his comforting, he once more jumps when he feels a pair of hands holding his arm and when he opens his eyes, he finds his older brother standing there with Guangyao at his side, the rest of people gone.

“I— I am sorry,” He whispers, trying to hide his embarrassment and using Mingjue’s arm to pull himself away. “I just got lost for a moment.”

“You don’t need to apologise,” Guangyao’s voice feels soothing, somehow comforting, but Xichen notices it’s not enough. “I have already called for a healer to take care of your injuries in your room.”

“Thank you, A-Yao.”

He can feel their anxiousness, their worry for his well-being and the uncomfortableness seeing him doing so badly caused, but he can’t bring himself to smile or reassure them that everything will be okay because he’s not sure of that.

Lan Xichen is well-known for his kindness, for showing his best side to everyone around him, but now… right now there’s not a good side to show.

His heart is beating in his ears, his mind is clouded by the most horrible thoughts and his whole body feels so numb he wants to pinch his arm just to make sure he’s still alive. He walks lifelessly between his two sworn brothers, the two of them supporting his weight for the majority of the time, brain not registering the people who walk past them and gives him weird looks. 

“Please don’t hesitate in calling if you need anything,” Once he registers sitting down on a bed, Guangyao says, squeezing his shoulder. “Try to get some rest, please.”

“It will be okay, Xichen,” Mingjue’s harsh voice comes next with that rough comfort he seems to bring.

“Thank you, both.”

It’s the same thing he said before and it sounds monotonous even for himself, but that’s the best he can give, he's normally the one giving comfort, but he can't right now and it's apparently too obvious for the two of them, but they don’t say anything and instead walk to the door, leaving the room at the same time a healer asks for permission to enter.

Xichen is glad he’s efficient and so quick in treating him, the young man is done in a matter of minutes so he thanks him and sighs loudly when he finally finds himself alone in his room. Lan Qiren taught him to control his emotions, to mould his personality in order to become a real role model for the whole sect to follow and it was in moments like this one where he had to put all of this into practice, he knows he has to calm down his mind enough to properly analyse what happened.

When the corpses stopped their relentless attack, he had allowed himself to feel the pain and tiredness of such a complicated battle, going as far as to take his eyes away from his brother who had been standing alert and cautious near the Jiang family to keep them as safe as he could.

Jiang Yanli had screamed Wei Wuxian’s name, not Wangji’s one, so his first assumption is that Wei Wuxian was in danger, the fact that his brother also screamed the man's name confirmed it, but then what? Why when he looked up he saw his brother bleeding and collapsing into the arms of his supposed attacker? What happened in that short period of time?

A new wave of dizziness forces him to open his eyes and lose his normally straight posture, forcing him to lean heavily on his knees while breathing harshly. It’s impossible to do a proper Lan analysis when he sees his brother spitting blood and looking so lifeless in the arms of the enemy as soon as he closes his eyes.

What if he is really dead? 

The unwanted thought stabs him viciously and makes him grip his knees even tighter, he even has to shake his head despite the dizziness. Wangji is not dead, thinking he is it's like implying he is weak and he can swear on his life that he's not. Lan Wangji is one of the strongest cultivators of his age and even stronger than some of the veteran ones, so him dying is simply impossible.

Think, Xichen, think.

Back in the battlefield, after Wei Wuxian and his brother disappeared, chaos seemed to make its comeback. The corpses started attacking once more and even when Xichen wondered how they could be moving if their master wasn’t here, there was no time to think about it as Nie Mingjue jumped in to protect him from a surely fatal blow. 

As if all of that wasn't weird enough, the corpses really fell to the floor after receiving enough damage and didn’t get back up, finally letting them breathe and claim the battle was finally over. As expected, Jiang Wanyin was the first one to leave for Lanling with his sister in his arms, ordering the best healer to tend to her and thankfully letting them know she had survived, at least something good had happened in the otherwise horrific night. 

“Wangji,” He whispers after letting out a pained wheeze, feeling his eyes filling with the tears he has been holding back since he last saw him disappearing in that cloud of resentment. “Wangji, please…”

He doesn’t even know what he’s pleading for, but he doesn’t care, he says it in hopes of someone hearing his pleas so this nightmare doesn’t get worse.

It’s way past nine, but he knows he won’t be sleeping.

°°°

“Uncle, you’re here,” Xichen knows he shouldn’t be surprised to see his uncle standing right outside of his room when he opens the door. The news of the great Hanguang-Jun disappearing has surely spread everywhere by now.

“I need to hear it from you, Xichen,” He says, voice having distinctive tones of anxiousness and anger. “I need to hear from you that Wei Wuxian hurt and took Wangji away.”

Xichen feels the lump in his throat growing bigger, to the point he's sure he won't be capable of breathing. He can understand why he wants to hear it from him, though, if the roles were reversed he wouldn't trust anyone who isn't his direct family, but it doesn’t make it any easier. He spent the whole night reviving and experiencing the worst kind of fear and pain, so he's not keen on reviving it but his uncle needs this, too.

“Master Wei disappeared with Wangji in his arms,” He says, swallowing around that huge lump. “But forgive me please, uncle, I can’t say for sure he’s who hurt him.”

It’s pretty much pointless to clarify this, he knows his uncle dislikes Wei Wuxian with passion and not for being a rebellious student back at the Cloud Recesses, but for being a cultivator who walked away from the right path and for starting using Demonic Cultivation instead. These dark methods will never be good in his uncle’s eyes and the fact that Wangji was dragged into it just made it worse.

“I told Wangji— I told him to stop with this nonsense,” He says, hands balling into tight fists. “Wei Wuxian has never been good!”

Lan Qiren’s current blast of anger breaks several of the rules he cares for so dearly and in any other circumstance, Xichen would remind him with a small comment and a kind smile, but now he doesn’t even have the strength to do so. Despite not being sure about Wei Wuxian’s involvement in his brother’s wounds, he can’t help but think he is, indeed, the responsible for this nightmare.

If his brother hasn’t been interested in the hyperactive kid who came to study, if the two of them haven’t been dragged into the cave and told about the Yin Iron… 

If his brother hasn’t fallen in love.

“Uncle, we should head to the reunion,” Despite his thoughts and the need to let everything out, he says, making sure his robes and forehead ribbon are in their right place.

Lan Qiren is far from being done, but he pushes everything back inside in a very Lan way and nods, turning to walk ahead of him towards the main hall, occasionally glancing back to make sure his oldest nephew is following, thankfully ignoring that Xichen is not really walking at his same pace.

The atmosphere in the main hall is not better than the one the night before when they arrive. Leaders and disciples are already talking heatedly with each other, throwing ideas that sound painfully easy but that would never work in real life. Food has been served on each table, but it lays forgotten there and even pushed to the side as no one, save from two, are sitting down.

One of them is Nie Huaisang, the younger man is sitting next to his brother as he usually does, not really listening to the angry conversation he's having with a Jin disciple. As he usually does, he is hiding behind his fan and his nervous eyes are moving around as if he's waiting for the moment where everyone will take their swords out and start fighting for no real reason. 

The other is Jiang Wanyin.

The young sect leader is in his usual spot near the doors with food served on his own table, but like all the others, he's ignoring it as he is currently staring at the floor, gripping Sandu as tightly as he can, Xichen doesn't want to be rood, but to say he looks tired is being too nice. He looks completely exhausted, with dark bags under his eyes and slightly pale skin, he surely spent the night taking care of his sister, so it's expected he would look physically and emotionally destroyed.

When Lan Qiren and he enters the room, he lifts his tired eyes to see who the newcomers are, but the moment his eyes cross with Xichen’s, he immediately looks away, a worst pained expression taking over his features.

“Sect Leader Lan, Grandmaster Lan,” It is Guangyao who hurries to greet them and despite Xichen’s sudden need to approach the other sect leader, he too looks away to pay attention to his sworn frother. “I apologise for the unorganised discussion that’s currently taking place, I’m afraid what happened had altered everyone.”

Lan Qiren’s displeasure comes in the form of an indignant huff, but he doesn't comment anything so Guangyao is quick to guide them to the table next to Mingjue.

“Sect Leader Lan,” Guangshan’s voice echoes in the room just as they are finishing taking a seat, effectively shutting everyone up as they seem to realise everyone is there. “I already sent a group to check on the Burial Mounds, if the Yiling Patriarch went there, we will make sure he won’t escape.”

“Allow me to help with more people if needed,” Xichen says, his voice a bit less quivering than the night before.

“What we need is finding his other hideouts,” Mingjue says after what sounded like a snort. “Wei Wuxian was never stupid and going back to the place he used to live at would be the dumbest decision.”

“But there are no other known places he used,” Sect Leader Yao points out, hitting the table. “He could be anywhere!”

Most of the people in the room show their concern by whispering anxiously to whoever they have next to them.

“He will seek his revenge!” Now it is someone from the Ouyang sect. “An army of undead and resentment, we need to find him before he does it!”

This only creates more panic and people soon start to talk over the others, a cacophony of noise that makes Xichen’s headache even worse than before.

“Panicking won’t solve anything!” Mingjue snaps angrily once more, fixing the disciple with a glare. "We can find a way to deal with his puppets."

“But he has Hanguang-Jun now,” Su She starts and Xichen has to remind himself that glaring is against the rules, too. “He could turn him into a puppet, a very powerful one, or use his energy to create a stronger army.”

Gasps of realisation fill the room next but Xichen pays no mind as he suddenly feels the worst kind of sickness taking over his body, one that makes him believe he will be throwing up right there. 

How didn’t he think about it before? A part of him tells him it’s the most obvious thing and his mind is suddenly filled with a vivid image of Wangji’s amber eyes gone and replaced by white ones, disgusting-looking lines creeping up his chest and neck, of his little brother been forced to kill and attack everyone without knowing if they are good or bad… or worse, the energy from his strong golden core ripped out of his chest to feed others, leaving him weak and vulnerable against the cruel world.

“Su She!” To his surprise, it’s his uncle who allows himself to lose the composure.

The man in question looks shocked for being called out by the normally controlled Lan Qiren, but he doesn’t seem to regret what he’s saying. “I’m sorry, Grandmaster Lan, but denying the possibilities won’t do any good.”

Xichen wants, for the first time in a long time, to stand up, hit the table and scream that no one is against him giving options that, as painful as it is, can happen, that their problem is just how insensible it sounds; as if he doesn’t even care that the family of the person he’s talking about is right there.

“Hanguang-Jun is a strong cultivator,” Guangyao intervenes before something else could be said. “I’m sure he would never allow any of that to happen.”

“We just witnessed what that amulet is capable of doing,” Sect Leader Yao speaks again. “We must find him!”

“What exactly happened?” His uncle asks from his side, Xichen feels his muscle tensing.

“What else could happen? That devil attacked Lan Wangji from behind and then took him,” Jin Guangshan says.

“Yeah, such a cowardly move,” Someone else agrees.

“Aren’t we right, Sect Leader Jiang?” 

Xichen’s eyes move to said leader, paying close attention to the way his face changes from the pained expression he had to an annoyed one.

“He was protecting Maiden Jiang,” Guangyao says, noticing his distress. “Bothering him with this kind of question is very rude.”

“Whatever it is, that’s not what matters,” Guangshan says again, displeased by the lack of response. “We must find him.”

From then and on, the conversation becomes pointless in Xichen’s eyes. The same things are repeated over and over with no one saying or providing something useful. Random locations are thrown as possible hideouts, but instead of being open to the idea, the other leaders are quick to turn it down immediately, feeling insulted that someone dared to imply Wei Wuxian could hide in their territory without them knowing. 

Only Jiang Wanyin remains silent.

Even when his vision is swimming in and out of focus, Xichen notices the man hasn’t let go of Sandu, his fingers now white due to the lack of blood going through them. He doesn't join the heated conversation, he’s just listening, probably taking mental notes while his mind fills with a thousand questions, but nothing else.

This analysis is what suddenly makes Xichen remember what happened right before they vanished; he remembers the cold voice, the red eyes and the commanding tone the Yiling Patriarch had used for the other. 

Wei Wuxian left the Yunmeng Jiang Sect after establishing with the remaining Wen at the Burial Mounds, but he knows a connection like the one they had could never be broken. They grew up together, shared millions of memories and that couldn’t be erased by one of them taking a different path, they still cared for each other and Jiang Yanli running into a battlefield to look for the brother she hasn’t seen in months is the clearest example. The problem is that she ended up hurt because of it and that surely makes Jiang Cheng question if preserving that bond is worth it or not.

The two of them aren’t that different right now.

“I suggest all of us send people to look for him,” Guangshan’s voice comes out again after what feels like hours. “We need to stop the evil and rescue our fallen cultivators, bring justice!”

The room finally fills with sounds of agreement, some confidently saying they will find no traces of that evil man in their lands while others don't say anything else and just stand to leave. Jiang Wanyin being one of the first ones to do so.

“We will get Wangji back, Xichen,” Mingjue says as he and Huaisang head for the door. “We will get him back safely.”

“I… I doubt he will hurt him,” Huaisang's voice is barely a whisper, Xichen can barely hear him, but he does and he can’t keep his eyes from widening a bit. “He always seemed to respect Hanguang-Jun and…”

His words, however, die in his throat when Lan Qiren’s eyes fall on him.

“He had never respected Wangji or anyone in his life,” The other says rather angrily. “Wangji may have been foolish enough to lower his guard near him, but we won’t do the same.”

“Uncle!” It’s probably the first time he dares to raise his voice at him or even feel anger towards the man, but he can’t stand to hear him talk like this. “Wangji is not foolish.”

Lan Qiren wants to debate it, of course, but he doesn’t let him, turning instead to look at Mingjue and Huaisang. “Thank you, please have a safe trip and take care.”

Giving their proper salute, they turn around and leave with the rest of their sect.

“Xichen, open your eyes and see where his decisions took him. Stop justifying Wangji just because he’s your brother.”

“I am not justifying him, uncle,” He says slowly, the grip he has on Shouyue tightening. “Please excuse me, I’ll be retrieving my things.”

Wangji has always been stubborn, but he is no longer a kid who needs to be guided on every single step he takes. What he decided falls on him and Xichen is not justifying it,, Wangji was never foolish. Despite hearing his brother had been attacked by Wei Wuxian, something in the back of his head tells him there has to be more, a detail everyone missed. 

Wei Wuxian never showed tendencies of wanting to hate his brother, he was always protective, caring even. All the things they lived made them become closer, to become each other's confidants and that is something he could see it in the eyes of his brother and even in the eyes of the other, so how could he hurt him, then?

Does using the Stygian Seal affected him so much he hurt who has been at his side all this time? 

“Zewu-Jun,” The voice is so clear behind him he feels his heart almost jumping out of his chest as he turns around to find the person who seemed to have been avoiding him the whole time. “I apologise, didn’t mean to startle you.”

“Sect leader Jiang,” He whispers, shaking his head to compose himself once more and offer the man the smallest smile he has ever given to someone. “Don’t apologise, please.”

“I just…” He starts but seems to lose the words he was planning to say right after, forcing him to clear his throat. “I wanted to let you know that I swear to find Wei Wuxian and Hanguang-Jun.”

It is until that moment that Xichen seems to understand that added to all the other problems he surely has, he also feels guilty and that doesn’t seem to sit well with him. “Leader Jiang, you shouldn’t take the blame for what happened. I’m well aware of the relationship you have with Young Master Wei, but I do not blame you or Maiden Jiang.”

The conflicting emotions seem to come back at full speed for the sect leader, Xichen can see a thousand feelings flicking in his eyes before returning to normal. “I was the one nearest to them and couldn’t do anything.”

His words are like a bucket of cold water being poured on top of his head. “Sect Leader Jiang… does that mean Young Master Wei attacked Wangji?”

“He didn’t, Zewu-Jun, please listen to me.”

It seems that Jiang Yanli will never stop surprising him.

Chapter Text

Jiang Yanli is standing there, holding tightly onto the door and looking at both with teary eyes. She has a bit more colour than last night, but she’s still paler and is slightly hunched over, as if struggling to not fall over due to the pain.

“Ajie!” Jiang Wanyin almost shrieks, leaving Xichen’s side and hurrying to get his sister, holding her close to support her weight. “You shouldn’t be standing up, what are you doing?”

“A-Cheng, I’m completely sure of what I saw and I need Zewu-Jun to hear it,” She whispers, her voice sounding anxious. “And you just told me all the lies said there.”

The woman is brave, Xichen can clearly remember that day of the night hunt where she demanded an apology from Jin Zixun after he offended her brother and how she didn’t show a single ounce of weakness, but it still surprises him to hear she’s straight-up calling lies everything the other sect leaders said.

“Maiden Jiang, please rest,” Xichen says, hesitating in what he’s going to do next for several seconds, glancing back at where he knows his uncle is still waiting for him. “I’ll listen to you, but please, don’t hurt yourself.”

She looks so relieved it feels as if someone just squeezed Xichen’s heart, Jiang Wanyin looks surprised, but he is quick to hide it in a matter of seconds. “Thank you so much, Zewu-Jun.”

With Jiang Wanyin holding her, they walk back inside the room she left, Xichen only walking in after he’s allowed to and waiting near the door as he sees the brother taking her back to the bed where she has to lie on her stomach, the man then moving on to check on the baby he now can see sleeping peacefully in his bassinet next to her bed. With both people checked on, Jiang Wanyin returns his attention to Xichen, politely asking him to step closer.

“Zewu-Jun, I know everyone is saying A-Xian hurt Hanguang-Jun to then take him away, but he didn’t,” She starts, tears still clouding her eyes. “He would never do that.”

“The last I saw was Wangji close to the three of you,” Xichen says, trying to keep his voice steady instead of the trembling mess inside his head. “I heard your voice calling Young Master Wei's name and then Wangji’s voice calling his name too, but I looked away… did you see what happened in that moment?”

His heart seems to jump when she nods. “I did. Hanguang-Jun jumped in front of A-Xian to protect him from a man who wanted to attack him.”

For Xichen it is as if someone has broken a huge piece of glass right next to his ears. It brings back the dizziness he thought he had left behind and even makes his heart speed up so fast he’s surprised he’s not suffering a heart attack in this exact same moment.

It doesn’t surprise him to hear Wangji jumped in to protect Wei Wuxian from others because he did exactly that earlier in the battle, but what surprises him is the difference between what she’s saying against what everyone else said. There’s no way someone can mistake Wei Wuxian attacking his brother with a nameless cultivator attacking his brother.

“D-Did you, did you see who he was?” He asks, not even stopping himself to realise he’s not sounding as a sect leader should.

Jiang Yanli shakes her head, small tears making their way down. “I didn’t recognise him and didn’t identify the colours of his robes.”

“Without wanting to disrespect you, Maiden Jiang, but are you completely sure?” He feels horrible to question the woman who despite her injuries walked out and called for him, but it’s the only thing he can think of. “Are you completely sure he wasn’t attacked by Young Master Wei?”

“A-Xian cares for Hanguang-Jun much more than what he says, he would never hurt him,” She nods, sure of herself. “A-Cheng, you saw it too, please tell him.”

Xichen’s eyes then shift to stare at the other sect leader who is staring at the floor, hands balled up into tight fists he keeps at his sides. He looks conflicted and even scared, Xichen can only wonder what’s going on inside his head.

“I did,” He finally talks, taking a deep breath and looking up at him. “I wasn’t paying much attention, but I never saw Wei Wuxian hurting Hanguang-Jun.”

“I asked A-Xian to stop everything he was doing, to stop using those puppets,” After a moment of silence where the leader of the Gusu Lan sect feels he’s definitely passing out, Yanli speaks once more. “He listened to me, he stopped them and someone used that moment to attack him.”

Xichen remembers that small period of peace where everything stopped moving so fast, remembers his fleeting thoughts of the nightmare ending and the promise of it ending on a positive note. That small period of peace was also the starting point of his own nightmare.

“Do you know what he did to him?” Wangji had spat blood before collapsing in the arms of the other man and that only means the damage inflicted on him had been severe. 

He’s not going to lie and say he’s not scared of hearing an answer because he is, he’s terrified to hear the attacker had impaled his brother with his sword or used a technique that destroyed his organs, after all, that person was aiming to attack, possibly kill, their biggest enemy, nothing was holding him back.

“I couldn’t see that, I’m sorry,” She whispers, her voice finally breaking as small sobs she struggles to hold back break free from her mouth. “But please believe me when I say A-Xian didn’t hurt him.”

“I didn’t mention it at the reunion, you heard them talking,” Jiang Wanyin says next, a heavy sigh leaving his lips. “If I mentioned anything… They would have kicked me out and stopped updating me about everything.”

As sad as it is, that’s exactly what would have happened and his decision was actually a very clever one.

It’s too much information and Xichen’s head is once more spinning. Who should he believe?

It’s basically a thing of the cultivation world against one sect and it doesn’t sound like a fair thing. Jiang Yanli and Jiang Wanyin had a close relationship with who now they call the Yiling Patriarch; they grew up together like siblings and were there for each other as they went through most of their harder moments, but Xichen doesn’t seem them as people who would lie this much in order to cover up his mistakes. This stopped being a family thing the moment Wangji was involved and they aren’t bad people, he refuses to believe they would risk his brother’s safety just for the sake of covering the mistakes done by their adoptive brother.

On the other side, Jin Guangshan, Sect Leader Yao, Sect Leader Ouzang and Su She are people he knows would lie in order to cover up their mistakes. Talking bad about people behind their backs is against the rules, but Xichen has seen their main concern is getting their hands on the Stygian Seal Wei Wuxian has in his power rather than bringing justice. Guangshan in specific had a big part of his revenge fulfilled when he killed Wen Ning, Wen Qing and the rest of the Wen. Only his two sworn brothers can be trusted, but he hates he didn’t have the chance to ask them privately what they saw.

“I know A-Xian has done questionable things,” Yanli speaks once more after a long silence, wiping her tears as carefully as she can. “But he shouldn’t pay for what he hasn’t done.”

Maybe the worst part is that she’s right.

“I must return to Gusu, but I…” He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, trying to calm his heart that looks ready to make his ears their permanent residency. “I don’t think you would lie to me, I believe in what you’re saying, so I hope we can find my brother and Young Master Wei in order to put an end to the lies.”

Fresher tears roll down her pale cheeks while his brother at her side seems to relax a little bit. Xichen wonders if they believed he would go straight to tell about what they talked to the others.

“Thank you, Zewu-Jun, I promise we will bring them back safely.”

“We will return to Lotus Pier,” Jiang Wanying says when he bows politely and gets ready to leave. “I will be taking Ajie and A-Ling there… I will inform you if I ever find something and if you need anything.”

Xichen can’t hold back a more genuine smile at seeing his awkwardness at speaking such things. Jiang Wanyin is not that young compared to him, but the years of experience he has against him are noticeable.

“Thank you for the valuable information. Maiden Jiang, I hope you have a quick recovery.”

She gives him one of the softest smiles he has ever seen while her brother guides him to the exit and at least looks into his eyes for a couple of seconds before looking away again and making his way back inside to take care of both his sister and nephew.

Xichen feels his strength once more faltering, the anxiousness and dizziness he first felt upon hearing this other version coming back to him. Is he doing the right thing? Is he falling into a trap? It’s something he didn’t consider back there, but what if Wei Wuxian wants the two jades of Lan to become even stronger? 

Now he’s been ridiculous.

“What took you so long, Xichen?” As expected, his uncle is not that happy that he was left behind for so long.

“I… was talking with Sect Leader Jiang and Maiden Jiang,” He says, thinking if he should tell his uncle about what they just said.

“What’s there to talk about? Nothing they say can redeem Wei Wuxian from what he has done.”

This… This will be the first time he won’t tell his uncle everything.

°°°

No matter how bad some people talk about the Cloud Recesses and their ridiculous wall of rules, the place has always been Xichen’s home and the place where he always found comfort. 

Leaving it behind in order to save their sacred books has been one of the hardest things he has done in his entire life and no matter how many times he tried to go against his own brain, he felt he couldn’t forgive himself for leaving it so someone else could burning it, for leaving his brother and uncle alone against one of the most sadistic men in the world.

Now… now it does nothing to comfort him.

Everything reminds him of Wangji, from the very entrance, to the library pavilion. Every single corner in the mountain and clouds has a memory he shared with his brother and he can feel a lump growing bigger and bigger, bringing back the need to cry.

“Send immediately several groups to patrol the area, we must find him before it is too late.”

Xichen has also lived his whole life with his uncle’s rough and strict ways, he perfectly knows he cares for his youngest nephew and would never want something bad to happen to him, but right now he wishes he would be less strict.

“I will be assigning the disciples myself, please don’t worry, uncle,” He still replies, swallowing hard around the lump stored there. 

The older man nods and actually lifts his hands, as if he’s about to rest it on Xichen’s shoulder, but regrets it before doing it and instead walks away. “I will be making my report.”

Organising the disciples takes him more time than what he initially expected. Their faces seem to fall when he enters the classroom all by himself, as if it somehow confirmed their worst fear, as if he, without saying anything, confirmed that the Hanguang-Jun they knew it’s really gone.

Thankfully for him,  they behave and don’t ask anything while he informs them how they will be moving and which area they have to cover before coming back to give their report. He gives them specific instructions of being careful to not alert anyone of their presence and return immediately if something weird is found, emphasising on the fact that they can’t do anything against someone like Wei Wuxian. They seem to disagree, but nod and promise to do as they are told.

By the time he’s done and has reported it to his uncle and the elders, it’s close to nine, but instead of heading for his Hanshi, his feet end up taking him to the Jingshi, the lack of light in the place sending a shiver down his spine that has nothing to do with the season they are in. 

Xichen hesitates in opening the door and going in without having his brother’s explicit consent, but he can’t stick to the protocol and rules he has followed his whole life at this moment. Everything is becoming too much for him and he needs, craves a bit of comfort, the kind he knows no one else will give to him.

He opens the door and walks carefully inside, the now faint smell of sandalwood filling his mind as he walks further in and leaves Shuoyue and Liebing resting against the wall. As expected from his brother, everything in the room is on its right place, the books on the shelf neatly arranged and even the table where he spends hours practising different melodies with his guqin has a cloth and a special bottle of oil neatly placed to when he needs to clean his valuable Wangji.

Xichen clearly remembers the day they were told they were now going to have their own room at different parts of the Cloud Recesses. Wangji had nodded with his same calm and cold expression, but later that night, Xichen heard him whispering a soft and almost inaudible: I’m going to miss you, brother.

“I’m missing you right now, Wangji,” He whispers to the emptiness of the room, reaching for the tea set his brother keeps near his working table and holding one of the cups close to his chest.

He’s a sect leader, he should be better than this, but right now he doesn’t want to be Lan Xichen or Zewu-Jun, he wants to be the Lan Huan who liked playing with his brother, the one who eagerly held his brother’s hand as their uncle guided them to visit their mother, the one who spent the nights taking care of the smaller child when he got sick, the one who promised to keep him safe from anything.

An uninvited tear rolls down his cheek as he lets his body fall ungracefully to the floor, back pressing against the wall while the cup remains on his hand.  

What did they do to Wangji? 

The two of them are strong and it actually takes a lot to bring them down, but the fight at Nightless City had been running for a long time and by the time Yanli appeared on the scene, Xichen was feeling his own energy reaching its breaking point. Assuming his brother was even closer to running out of it isn’t being pessimistic, it is a reality.

Wangji was badly hurt, the amount of blood staining his sleeve was very conserving. For any cultivator, this could be fatal and he’s scared that’s exactly the case.

Still, the most urgent question is discovering who did it. If they have a clue of the sect said attacker belonged to, they could narrow down their list of things done to his brother and that could make him breathe again. The uncertainty is what is killing him and he doesn’t know how to deal with it.

The second one is finding out why he’s been covered, though, it’s a bit obvious.

No one wants to step forward and admit they had maybe mortally wounded one of the strongest cultivators. There isn’t a single sect leader who will take this weight willingly either, so putting the blame on the enemy is the smartest, yet most cowardly, move. 

“I will find you, Wangji,” He promises to the empty room. “You will return safely and… we will bring the justice you sought so desperately for.”

It feels weird to know something the rest of the world should know, he was taught to never lie or talk bad about people behind their backs, but for Wangji…

For Wangji he is capable of doing anything.

Chapter Text

“I don’t know why they were expecting a different result.”

As much as it pains Xichen to agree with his uncle because of his incapability of letting himself drown in negativeness, he ends up nodding faintly, eyes looking at the letter they just received from Lanling.

Wei Wuxian is not in the Burial Mounds.

The small village he and the now-deceased Wen built there is empty, safe for abandoned crops, food that has rot a long time ago and a couple of unfinished talismans and experiments the Yling Patriarch has been working on before the tragedy. There are  no clues, no nothing that gives any kind of indication that he had another hideout or if he’s just wandering around… with Wangji.

Of course, Xichen’s main concern is still Wangji, the brother he knows is hurt and definitely needing qualified medical assistance to assure he will heal correctly instead of developing something more serious that changes his life forever.

Lan Xichen, control yourself.

“The patrols we have sent haven’t found anything,” Xichen says despite knowing his uncle surely knows this already. “There’s no news from the other sects, either.”

“It’s obvious he just didn’t vanish!” Lan Qiren stands up, hand leaving his goatee to ball up into a tight fist like the other. “He’s out there, using his tricks to hide and do heaven’s know what with Wangji!”

Again, Xichen knows this is his uncle’s way of dealing with what’s happening and understands that everything he heard at the reunion is the reason he thinks Wei Wuxian is doing something to his nephew, but he wishes he could stop saying these things, his mind is reaching its limit.

“I will personally lead the last search,” He comments, more like states, already knowing what his uncle will say.

“You need to organise everything else, supervise things are being done right!” 

Despite all of this, Xichen knows his uncle’s worry has nothing to do with his position. He’s not worried Xichen will neglect his responsibilities as the sect leader because he’s well aware how capable he is at handling more than one thing at the same time, he’s worried his nephew will act impulsively if he happens to find a trace that leads him to his other nephew.

This uncle’s worry makes him feel even more guilty. A part of him keeps telling him he should tell his own uncle what Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli told him, a part of him tells him he should tell everyone … but a bigger part tells him doing that would basically betray the trust they put on him and he’s definitely not a traitor.

Furthermore, it’s not as if he’s hiding crucial information. The two siblings don’t know where their former brother is, they just know that Wei Wuxian wasn’t who mortally wounded Wangji. 

He’s not lying, he’s not hiding crucial information, he’s been… strategic.

“All the pending work I have will be done by the time we leave,” He continues, calm and collected. “Uncle, I promise I won’t act impulsively, you have taught us well.”

Of course, this sounds a bit insulting considering one of the nephews he raised followed the person the whole cultivation world considered as evil and someone who should die and that said decision led to him disappearing after apparently being betrayed, but Xichen knows it’s more complex than that. 

He’s a firm believer that the decisions each one makes it’s a product of their own beliefs and thoughts rather than something forced by someone else. Sure, people around a human are bound to have an influence on the life of said person, but not the complete fault. 

Lan Qiren and he as a brother did nothing wrong in raising Wangji; the man was the personification of righteousness and one of the best disciples Gusu Lan had, but Wangji too was someone with his own beliefs and an unmovable desire to be true to himself, that wish the one who guided him to make the decisions he made.

Xichen can only wish his brother didn’t have to disappear because of it.

“I hope I don’t have to remind you that lying is forbidden, Xichen.”

“Please don’t worry, uncle. I never forget about the rules.”

There’s a lot to worry about, actually, but Xichen knows it’s better to let things calm down for now… as much as they can at least.

°°°

“Er-ge, thank you for receiving us.”

It has been so long since Xichen smiled genuinely, since he felt a bit of comfort at seeing someone who isn’t his brother or anyone who knows where he can find him, but seeing Jin Guangyao and Nie Mingjue there at the Cloud Recesses does just that.

“You are always welcomed here,” He smiles, stepping aside so they can walk together towards the main hall. “I hope you had a calm and safe trip.”

“As calm as it can be in times like this one,” Guangyao replies, a small sad expression on his face.

God if Xichen knows.

“How are you doing, Xichen?” Mingjue asks as they sit down at the hall and he hurries to serve tea for them. “It’s been a rough week.”

“I have been taking care of our patrols and leading some myself,” The Gusu Lan sect leader says with a faint smile. “I have kept myself busy with it.”

“It’s a good way to distract your mind,” Guangyao smiles again. “May I suggest meditating, too?”

“Meditating is supposed to calm the mind, but I doubt that’s going to happen,” Mingjue grumbles from the other side. “Xichen is worried about his brother.”

“Precisely, but thank you for the suggestion, A-Yao,” Despite the hostility between his two sworn brothers, Xichen thanks their presence. “I know Wangji is strong and I’m sure he will be okay.” 

He can see in their eyes the subtle doubt that takes over them for a couple of seconds and even when it hurts, he can’t really blame them. A part of him is well aware that the chances of his brother being already dead increases the more time passes and that it’s more than possible his sworn brothers want to tell him he should accept this reality, but he’s glad they don’t do it.

“We haven’t found anything,” Mingjue says next, sighing in exasperation. “No one has found anything, I wonder what kind of trick he’s using to keep himself hidden from the world.”

“Father is worried about what he is doing with said tricks,” Guangyao adds. “Er-ge, did Hanguang-Jun never mention a place where the Yiling Patriarch stayed at?”

“That’s information Xichen would have already provided,” Mingjue glares at the other, Xichen just stares. “He wouldn’t keep anything from everyone.”

“Wangji and I have our own privacy,” Mingjue’s words are drilling into his brain, the dilemma of revealing what he knows against telling them threatening to tear his organs apart. “But I’m sure he would have kept that kind of information from me.”

“I’m just voicing out my father’s biggest concerns,” Guangyao admits, looking apologetic. “I’m sorry if it seemed I have implied something else.”

“Then you should tell Jin Guangshan to be careful with what he says,” Mingjue snaps. “It’s almost as if he’s insinuating Wangji is Wei Ying’s ally instead of his victim.”

“Please don’t misunderstand my father’s words, with everything that has happened… things haven’t been easy for him.”

They understand that, of course, Jin Guangshan not only lost a nephew he seemed to care for a lot, he also lost the only legitimate son he had, his pride and the next sect leader. Out of everyone, it was probably him who had lost more, but Nie Mingjue and, sadly, Lan Xichen, could see that beneath his need for revenge lied his burning desire to get his hands on the amulet Wei Wuxian used. Even during the battle, he had ordered Wei Wuxian to give the seal instead of, well, Wei Wuxian himself.

“I can perfectly understand it, A-Yao, don’t worry,” Xichen smiles, reaching to squeeze his arm to comfort him. “Let’s just hope this will end soon.”

Silence settles between them after the two of them nod faintly, letting Xichen sink into his own thoughts while the other two sink on their own, dozens of questions filling their heads and in Xichen’s case, the words the two siblings told him.

“Have you… Have you heard about Sect Leader Jiang and Maiden Jiang?” Guangyao’s question makes him jump and Mingjue sends yet another nasty glare towards their younger brother.

“I, yes, I have,” He nods, forcing a small smile. “I was really worried about her health so I wrote to them. I heard she returned to Yunmeng.”

“She did,” Guangyao sighs, apparently sad for their decision. “She and A-Ling went back to Lotus Pier with Sect Leader Jiang since that’s what she wanted.”

“They surely feel guilty,” Mingjue comments after finally looking away from the other. “Despite their broken bond, they surely care for him. Sad he didn’t care about them at all.”

He shouldn’t pay for what he hasn’t done.”

Her words ring loud and clear in his ears, her face full of pain and despair burning itself in his mind. Jiang Yanli is probably the only human in the world who still loves his adoptive brother with all her heart, despite him deliberately leaving the Yunmeng Jiang Sect, despite him being the indirect cause of her husband’s death… Her love for him made her run into a place full of deadly corpses and her love made her speak up against the sect leaders who wouldn’t hesitate in dismissing her words.

“Do you think the Yiling Patriarch will go look for them?”

Both Mingjue and Xichen turn to look at Jin Guangyao with eyes blown wide in both shock and confusion. None of them thought about it despite being one, in a sense, an obvious idea.

“We should talk about this with the rest,” Mingjue says, Xichen panics. “Send our own people to guard the place.”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” He blurts out before having the chance to think better, feeling his blood running cold when they turn to look at him with questioning eyes. “Sect Leader Jiang has gone through a lot and we know there have been rumours of him not being capable enough of leading his sect as good as his parents did, if we suddenly appear there with disciples… It would be insulting.”

“You have a point,” Mingjue sighs, shaking his head. “We don’t want to make him think we see him as less.”

“Er-ge, Da-ge… this would be for the greater good,” Guangyao says with the same soft tone he has used all this time. “I’m sure he would understand.”

Xichen knows under normal circumstances Jiang Wanyin would consider their proposition without feeling that insulted, but right now things are different. They went back to Lotus Pier because they needed privacy, privacy that allows them to investigate and hopefully find something that guides them to prove their brother’s innocence in attacking Wangji.

He knows they can’t have people around them.

“I know, A-Yao,” He smiles, praying he looks convincing. “I will go talk to him.”

“We could never ask you to do that,” Guangyao says immediately and Mingjue seems to agree with him for the first time. “I will talk with my father and then go myself.”

“I told you I am fine,” He repeats, shaking his head gently. “This would also help me to feel… useful.”

Lan Xichen is not lying, he really isn’t, it’s been days since he slept on his hanshi, always ending up passing out on his brother’s room where he can at least feel his presence. His decision to lead the search group had been his desperate need to know he is doing something instead of staying there, waiting for things to go well.

“You’re doing your best, Xichen,” Mingjue says, sounding comforting. “But if this helps you, we support and trust your decisions.”

Guanyao immediately nods, his soft expression making his muscles relax, even if it’s just a bit. 

“Thank you for trusting me.”

°°°

Lan Xichen lands on Lotus Pier one day at two in the afternoon, the humid and warmer weather feeling like a slap to his cold face after flying for so long.

Unlike the Cloud Recesses, Lotus Pier is bursting with life and colours. Vendors offer their products, kids run around and common people seem to blend with the cultivation world so well he’s not even sure there’s a line that separates the two of them anymore.

It’s completely different, but Xichen doesn’t feel uncomfortable at all.

“Sect Leader Lan,” After walking for a bit more and respectfully rejecting a couple of products, he hears Jiang Wanyin’s voice and upon lifting his face, he sees him walking hurriedly towards him. “I apologise for keeping you waiting.”

“No need to apologise, I arrived earlier,” Xichen smiles, greeting the younger man back. “I had the chance of appreciating the beauty Lotus Pier has to offer.”

A small smile that vanishes in the blink of an eye appears on his face. “Thank you, Zewu-Jun, I hope no one bothered you.”

“At all, it truly is a nice place,” He sighs, his small happiness shattering when he remembers why he’s here. “I hope I can visit here in other circumstances.”

The weight of his words also affect the man walking at his side and even when he regrets it, he can’t take it back, not when the things are still happening and worsening all around him. 

“You’re free to visit anytime, Zewu-Jun.”

As they head towards the main hall,Xichen can’t really help but wonder if things will ever be okay, if one day he and maybe Wangji will have the freedom of visiting this place without having urgent or pressing matters to solve within days. 

It hurts and hurts more to think that he felt at peace for a second while his brother is suffering.

“I apologise for coming without more days of anticipation,” Once he’s led into the hall of swords and offered a seat with food and tea, he speaks, watching the other sitting on the lotus throne. “The visit of A-Yao and Chifeng-Zun was… unexpected, as it was the topic of discussion.”

Jiang Wanyin gripped the armrests of the throne, anger and discomfort flashing in his face. “Sending people to guard, as if I wasn’t capable of dealing with anything.”

“I’m afraid that’s what I told them as well,” He sighs, thanking the heavens he managed to convince them to not mention anything to anyone until he came back. “I understand why they would suggest it, but…”

“It’s insulting, they’re crossing every single boundarie,” The other leader hisses, looking to the front. “Yunmeng is under my care and I’m more than capable of protecting it.”

“I don’t doubt you, sect leader, and I would dare to say A-Yao and Chifeng-Zun don’t either...”

“This has nothing to do with Wei Wuxian, it’s an excuse to prove their stupid superiority,”  He snaps, one of his hands coming to caress the purple ring on his finger. “Lotus Pier will never fall again.”

The again reminds Xichen of the time when the cultivation world received the news of Lotus Pier being burned and the whole sect massacred, reminds him the pain and shock that shook his entire body, none of them deserved to meet such a horrible end.

“I know it won’t,” He says sincerely, staring into the eyes of the man when he looks up. “This is why I asked them not to mention anything to anyone else and offered myself to come here.”

“I—” He looks genuinely surprised by the sincerity coming from him and while Xichen wonders why it surprises him so much, he also finds it kind of endearing. “Thank you, Zewu-Jun.”

“There’s no need, please,” In his life, he doesn’t consider that receiving a thank you for stating the obvious is not necessary and this is not different.

Jiang Wanyin re-build Lotus Pier without help, stepped forward to become the next sect leader after his parents and people were murdered. He may be young, but he's strong and capable.

After all, he wouldn’t be in this situation if he didn’t.

“Why would he come here?” Jiang Wanyin says after a moment of silence Xichen uses to take a small sip from his tea. “He left the Yunmeng Jiang Sect a long time ago, we haven’t seen each other since— Wei Wuxian would never come here to hide.”

“We don’t really know the current state of mind of Wei Wuxian,” A shiver runs down Xichen’s body at thinking about it. “I’m afraid they weren’t thinking about him coming to ask you to hide him…”

Jiang Wanyin seems to get even angrier with that, but thankfully not towards him.

“Zewu-Jun,” He says after taking a deep breath. “I know you respect the rules and would never do anything against them either, but…I need to work by myself and find Wei Wuxian before any of them.”

“I have already kept with me what Maiden Jiang told me, I didn’t even mention it to my uncle,” He sighs, still not proud about it, more so if he considers he’s probably going to get even more secret information during his stay here. “I respect the rules and I’m not breaking any of it… I will help you as much as I can.”

Jiang Wanyin seems to sink in deep thought, his fingers still caressing the ring and bracelet adorning his finger and wrist. Probably considering if he should straight up believe what he just said or just ask him politely to go away and never return.

“Tomorrow I will be leading a small group…” He says after what feels like hours. “I hope you can join me, Sect Leader Lan.”

Something was telling Xichen his stay at Lotus Pier was going to be long.

Chapter Text

How much is he allowed to enjoy?

Lotus Pier really is a beautiful place and Xichen notices this when Jiang Wanyin himself is who guides him to the one who will be his room during his stay, giving him the freedom to walk around as he sees fit while he needs to finish all the reports his disciples made. 

The insides of it are spacious, with different shades of purple used for the curtains and bed that gives the whole room a warmer atmosphere, the lotus flower emblem decorating everything to proudly announce the visitor where they are. Xichen feels warm as he leaves his things on the nearby table and walks to the window to admire the wonderful view the room has of the lake outside, for a moment allowing himself to get lost on the vast expanse of water before reality catches up with him.

He’s enjoying the view, the commodities the other sect leader is giving to him, he’s enjoying things while his brother is probably suffering somewhere else. No one has an idea of where Wei Wuxian is hiding and while Wangji is not a picky man, something tells Xichen he’s not really enjoying himself or somewhere comfortable where all his needs are been taken care of. He has no right to enjoy anything while his young brother is in pain.

A knock on the door snaps him out of his conflicting thoughts, the soft voice almost making him trip as he hurries to open the door. “Zewu-Jun?”

“Maiden Jiang,” He whispers as he opens it and finds her standing there, a female servant behind to make sure she doesn’t hurt herself. “You’re still hurt, please don’t strain yourself.”

It has only been a couple of weeks since he last saw her, but even now he can see she looks way better than that last day. She’s not as pale as she used to be and she seems to have more strength, the servant with her not needing to fully carry her being a good indicator of this. Still, Xichen and the servant help her to sit on a small bench a few steps away from Xichen’s room.

“Please don’t worry about me, I’m already so much better,” She says softly, her soft smile never disappearing. “A-Chen told me you were here and I wanted to thank you personally.”

“I’m afraid there’s nothing to thank me for,” He sighs softly, returning the smile the best he can. “I am the one grateful for the information you gave to me about my brother.”

And God, it is painful to see the small spark of calmness leave the conversation and leaving behind the painful reality that threatens to suffocate everyone. Jiang Yanli’s eyes fill with sadness as she nods slowly, one of her hands tightening the hold it had on the bench’s edge while the other rests on her lap. 

“We will find both,” She says with a small nod as if she’s reassuring herself. “Wish I could have done something.”

“You shouldn’t blame yourself for what happened,” He says, eyes leaving her form and going to one of the lotus flowers floating on the water. “You were hurt and you did everything you could.”

“A-Xian wanted to stop, he was stopping but they… they just attacked him,” She continues. “From behind, is there honour in that?”

There isn’t. Attacking someone from behind will never be the smart or strategic move some claim it to be and Xichen knows Wangji believed the same. His brother already felt something for Wei Wuxian and didn’t need any excuse to jump in front of him to protect him, so having a coward attacking the man when he wasn’t paying attention was bound to end like this.

“May I ask how your son is doing, Maiden Jiang?” He asks instead, desperate to pull his head out of his suffocating thoughts and also wanting to make her feel a bit less miserable.

The woman’s eyes soften at the question at a small smile appears on her face as she cleans her tears with her sleeves. “A-Ling is doing great, I think he enjoys the warmness of here.”

It’s painful to remember the baby’s father died so horribly, but Xichen is glad he still has his mother. “I’m glad to hear that. I’m sure he will enjoy running around here.”

“A-Chen and A-Xian loved doing that… I hope A-Ling is the same,” The sect leader can perfectly understand why everything reminds her of her two brothers, just like him, every corner of Lotus Pier is filled with memories she will never let go of. “He liked the lotus flowers Zixuan planted back at the carp tower, so I can only hope.”

Life really was a painful thing right now.

“I can understand this must be very hard for you, Zewu-Jun,” Xichen finally turns to fully look at her when she continues with those words. “But thank you for supporting my brother. He’s too stubborn to admit it, but having someone taking his side without having any additional interest means a lot for him.”

Her words remind him of the incessant flow of hurtful words the rest of the sects used when they talked to Jiang Wanyin. Implying he wasn’t strong enough to get his own brother’s respect, the way some seemed to see him as less due to his age and inexperience and the constant need of reminding him of the Wen murdering his family to have him angrier at what his brother was doing.

Lan Xichen suddenly realises the man was truly alone. 

With Wei Wuxian leaving the sect and his sister getting married, the whole cultivation world seemed to subtly be against the man who was only doing his best to bring his sect back up from the ashes.

“I will help him. Thank you for trusting in me.”

 Xichen feels sick for not noticing it sooner.

°°°

“I doubt he will be dumb enough to return to Yiling, but I sent people to guard he doesn’t go back to that place.”

“I agree. Him going back would lead to his immediate capture,” Xichen agrees, keeping an eye on everything around them. “He always showed his cleverness.”

“Stupidiness,” The other man hisses, the frown getting more prominent in his face. “Always too freaking eager to show his superiority.”

Lan Xichen remembers Wei Wuxian’s constant need to follow his own rules and, just like his mother before him, seemed exceptionally excited to make their uncle explode. Of course, at that time nothing he did was problematic enough to end in this, but Xichen understands the point his brother is trying to make.

“Now I have no idea where he could have gone to.”

The next morning when Jiang Wanyin came to tell him the group he was guiding was going to leave at ten, Lan Xichen noticed that the theory of Wei Wuxian coming to hide in Yunmeng had more sense for his brother than the day before because the first thing he mentioned was that they were investigating a part in specific.

“We will find him, eventually,” It really is hard to comfort someone when he’s feeling so miserable, but being negative will lead both into the deepest abyss. “No one can hide forever.”

Jiang Wanyin lets out a grunt he hopes it’s an appreciative one.

Xichen really has no idea of where they are, he doesn’t know Yunmeng like he knows Gusu so he really has to rely on the other sect leader to not end up getting lost in the vast expanse of vegetation and occasional water around. Back at Gusu they walked and spent at least four hours looking for something, anything, that gave them a clue, but now it’s been six hours and no one shows signs of stopping anytime soon.

The Yunmeng Jiang Sect Leader looks understandably more and more annoyed as time goes, Xichen on his side, feels a bit more miserable.

“Sect Leader Jiang,” He tries when they stop at a higher ground to survey the area. “Why did you want to check this part in specific?”

The man turns to look at him, the normal hostile expression softening a bit. “Because Wei Wuxian used to like this area a lot when he was brought to Lotus Pier.”

“Did he ever say why?”

He shakes his head, apparently more annoyed, before stopping, the frown deepening even when that sounded impossible, eyes glaring at the floor as if he would like to burn a hole through it. Xichen has the brief thought that maybe he reminded him of something bad, but then the man’s eyes widen and he just turns around, unsheaths Sandu and… flies away.

Xichen and the rest of disciple are at a complete loss of the leader’s reaction and briefly consider staying there to see where he is going before pushing the thought away and starting to move to follow him. Xichen is on Shuoyue and way ahead of the disciples in a matter of seconds, doing his best to arrive not that long after Jiang Wanyin did and have an idea of where he is going. Did he say something wrong? Did he disrespect him somehow? He has no idea, the only thing he knows is that he has to apologise and plead to have the chance of staying.

Thankfully enough, when he lands on Lotus Pier he is quick to notice the fleeting man walking hurriedly towards the rooms… Following someone without having their consent is rude, but he needs to know what’s happening.

“Ajie,” Jiang Wanying, thankfully, is not there to throw Xichen’s things out of the room for being disrespected, he’s there to see his sister and he finds her sitting on the same bench from yesterday with her baby in her arms and a servant bringing food. “There’s something I need to ask you.”

She looks alarmed, of course, she just saw her brother running to her, but she does her best to calm down. “A-Cheng, what’s wrong?”

Xichen stops before getting any closer, embarrassment creeping up his face for being so rude. This is a siblings things, he shouldn’t be here, he wasn’t invited. “I’m sorry, I’ll leave.”

“No, wait,” Jiang Wanyin stops him, cursing under his breathe before glancing back at him. “I was going to call you, but I just— Whatever, just stay.”

Being treated like that it’s kind of funny, but it renders him speechless so he can only nod and step closer.

“A-Cheng…” The tone Yanli uses sounds more like a scolding one, but her brother ignores it.

“When father brought Wei Wuxian here, there was a place he loved going to,” The pain remembering those old days seem to cause both can be felt by Xichen. “Did he ever say why?”

Jiang Yanli takes a shaky breath, her soft eyes looking at her sleeping baby for several seconds before looking back up at him. “A-Xian said he had a secret hideout.”

Her words feel like a breeze of fresh air, a revitalising food after a long nigh-hunt. After being weeks and weeks lost and with not a single clue of where to go and what to do, they finally have something.

“Did he ever mention where? Or what it was?” Jiang Wanyin sounds anxious as well.

“He never specified,” She sighs before a small smile appears on her face. “But knowing A-Xian, it was probably a cave or abandoned house.”

“Sect Leader Jiang—”

“Tomorrow we’re leaving there, we won’t take anyone else.” And with that, he leaves again. 

Xichen is really not used to any of this.

“Please forgive him, Zewu-Jun,” Yanli says, shifting the baby in her arms. “I-I just hope this will lead us somewhere.”

“Thank you once more Maiden Jiang, your help is invaluable.”

Where would they be if it wasn’t for her?

°°°

True to his words, the two sect leaders leave Lotus Pier at ten with no disciples, Jiang Wanyin apparently knowing where to go since he walks without stopping, deeper and deeper into the forest that took both a while to reach. Xichen doesn’t dare to talk the whole way, scared of distracting him or angering him because the frown is incredibly marked in his face and the hold he has on Sandu looks and probably is painful.

Xichen’s own heart is going at full speed because, after a long time of having nothing, this small ray of hope means everything and he clings to it without caring for the consequences. He knows this is a double-edged sword, taking for granted that this clue will lead him to see Wangji can end up horribly wrong if it turns out there’s nothing here, after all, the pain of falling is bigger when you fly higher.

But he doesn’t care.

He brought with himself medicine and bandages he plans to use on his brother and his wounds, he ignores the voice at the back of his head that tells him he should stop before falling and does his best to remember everything he had learnt about healing and treating wounds.

“It must be around here,” Xichen is not sure just how long they have been walking and trying to pick up any trace left by resentful energy, but it’s the first time they talk so it must be a while now. “My father didn’t let him wander that far away after a while.”

“Stressing won’t let you think clearly, please don’t feel pressured,” This piece of advice is probably the dumbest thing he has said in his whole life, of course, there is a lot of pressure falling on him and saying there isn’t sounds more like mocking. “I apologise if it sounds wrong.”

“It’s fine,” He surprisingly says. “I know being calm solves the world for you Lans.”

It’s insulting, of course, but Xichen probably has a better sense of humour than most of the people who live at the Cloud Recesses and the comment brings a small smile to his face because that’s how things look like for many outsiders. 

“You would be surprised.”

His response seems to take him by surprise and Xichen can imagine why. Despite him being more open and social than his brother, he has the feeling the other sect leader assumed he would be so insulted by what he said that he was going to turn away and leave for carp tower to tell everything he knew.

“Right.”

This small pause seems to do wonders for the man because he soon starts walking once more into a specific direction without pausing every two seconds to look around. Xichen feels good with himself for helping in a different way, it even renews his own spirit and makes him re-focus on the resentful energy they’re looking for.

Sometime later Jiagn Wanyin stops once more, but unlike the first time, he doesn’t look lost and Xichen is so close to asking if everything is okay when he too feels it.

“You have ten seconds to leave.”

Chapter Text

The voice comes from somewhere among the trees and Xichen allows himself a second of panic before reaching for Shuoyue's hilt, backing up until he’s back to back with Jiang Wanyin. The defensive position feeling somehow natural.

“Wei Wuxian!” Jiang Wanyin calls out, Zidian already sparkling in his hand. “Don’t fool around!”

“Nine.”

It reminds Xichen at that one last time he saw the man at the carp tower, the way he counted and everyone around him started to panic and get ready to fight back, Jin Zixun spitting the information the man demanded to have in fear of the consequences. Right now he can feel a spark of fear going up his spine, he doesn’t want to die or get hurt before seeing Wangji, he can’t leave his brother.

“Just show yourself!” The other sect leader scream again, anger more than evident as he strikes one of the poor trees, sending wood chips flying around.

“Eight.”

“We came alone,” Xichen decides to try, eyes still frantically trying to find the source of the voice. “It’s only Sect Leader Jiang and me, please.”

“Seven.”

Begging is not really the best thing to do, not when the other already has the upper hand, but Xichen hasn’t been doing good in the emotional area and this is just making it worse.

“Wei Wuxian—”

“Six.”

“I swear to God—”

“Five.”

“I just need to see my brother!” Being the older brother and the one who had to take the responsibility of becoming a Sect Leader, Xichen learnt to control his emotions and always show the best part of himself to everyone. His best side didn’t include yelling, but he’s almost sure he has reached his limit. “I know Wangji is hurt… he’s my brother and I haven’t heard anything about him  in weeks.”

The countdown stops and for seconds Xichen can only hear his own agitated breathing, the hold he has on Shuoyue tightening so much it becomes painful. For a moment he thinks this is just the calmness before the storm kicks in and that fierce corpses will soon appear to tear them both to shreds.

Instead of corpses, they get Wei Wuxian appearing from behind a tree.

The last time Xichen saw the man was during the fight at Nightless City, the black robes with red details confirming he was, indeed, the master of the resentful spirits and corpses who swirled around. Despite all of this, though, Xichen can also remember seeing the distress and fragile mental-stability his situation was leading the Yiling Patriarch into. 

In general, the man never really looked proud or satisfied with the chaos he was creating around him; far from it, he looked truly terrified when his sister entered the battlefield and had so many weapons and crazed corpses wanting to attack her and looked devastated when Wangji’s body fell on his arms and everyone started accusing him of killing the man. Behind the personification of evil everyone claimed him to be, Xichen dared to say he could still see the innocent boy who went to study at the Cloud Recesses and caught his brother’s attention. 

The man in front of them is not any of that.

The Yiling Patriarch is glaring at them, the uncontained anger coursing through his veins making his normally black eyes glow red every now and then, the resentful energy being almost tangible for the two of them. He’s still wearing dark robes but with no details in red or any other colour that can be easily spotted, allowing him to hide in the vast expanse of land covered by vegetation. Chenqing is on his hands, ready to do whatever its master wants it to make.

“Came to avenge your brother, then?” His voice is also completely devoid of any other emotion that isn’t anger, each word sounding venomous and surely wanting to inflict pain in both. “Take my head back to Lanling so everyone can celebrate?”

“Stop being stupid,” Jiang Wanyin hisses at his side, Xichen too worried about the implications of his words and their relation to Wangji. “We came alone.”

“Alone like that time at the Qiongqi path?” Xichen feels sick at the reminder of that time and the consequences brought by it but tries to keep it inside. “That kind of alone?”

“None of us had anything to do with it,” Jiang Wanyin sounds understandably angry at having his brother talking about it as if he’s blaming them, after all, it has been his own sister the one who ended up losing her husband and his nephew his father. 

“Can I really trust you two in that?” Wei Wuxian’s eyes now fall on Xichen and he immediately understands what he means.

“I didn’t know Jin Zixun was planning to use the disciples I brought to ambush you,” He says, remembering Wangji’s distress and his own confusion upon hearing they were gone. “Not even A-Yao knew the real reason behind it.”

Wei Wuxian’s calculating eyes stare at him as if contemplating whether to believe him or not. Xichen can feel the anger shifting to him and he’s starting to believe he will try to murder him right there and his distressed state isn’t sure he has a chance against him.

“Jin Guangyao,” The way he calls the name of his younger brother makes him feel uncomfortable, the tone making him think he hates him, a thing that has no sense at all. “I have no time to waste with you, leave before you regret it.”

“Wei Wuxian—”

“I’m not leaving without seeing my brother.” Being a sect leader has taught him to be strict, an equal wall of immovable jade who will always put what’s best for his brother and sect before everything else, and right now he’s willing to put every single part of it into use.

Of course, Wei Wuxian’s anger and distrust is surprising and not exactly the reaction he was expecting, but after thinking about it better, he realises it was dumb to think something else was going to happen. Everyone at Nightless City wanted Wei Wuxian to die and no one was even willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, how could he trust them?

Still, there’s no way he’s leaving without seeing and helping his brother… or seeing and confirming what everyone else believed.

“Zewu-Jun…” 

“Just like my brother’s, my decisions are unmovable,” He continues, taking a deep breath before unsheathing Shuoyue. “If you wish to send a horde of corpses, I will fight them, but I am not leaving until I see Wangji.”

This seems to genuinely shock the man, the anger inside his eyes going down considerably as he looks at him, the hold he has on his Chenqing falters and he even looks between Xichen and Jiang Wanyin. Xichen knows this is his chance.

“I need to know how my brother is, Young Master Wei,” He continues, lowering his sword so the blade barely touches the floor. “And I know it wasn’t you who hurt him.”

And it is that what seems to get Wei Wuxian the most. Chenqing almost falls the floor when he lets out a breathy sigh, even his legs tremble, but he does his best to hide it by taking a step to the side. It is obvious he wasn’t expecting to hear this. “Why are you saying that?”

“Because Ajie and I told him what we saw, you idiot,” Jiang Wanyin says, pulling his hand back so Zidian returns to his finger and wrist.

The mention of his sister seems to alter him even more, hands trembling as he takes a step closer to his brother. “How is she and her baby?”

The tone is once more demanding but the other sect leader is completely unphased by this, now glaring at the other. For a second looking at Xichen. “First his brother.”

Both Xichen and Wei Wuxian are surprised by his request, but Xichen feels immensely thankful for it. He knows Jiang Wanyin has his own issues with the man and many things to talk about with him, but the fact that he’s instead forcing him to talk about Wangji means a lot to him.

“Jiang Cheng, don’t you dare.”

“Dare to what? Leave you wondering about her well-being?” He bites, anger coming out with every word. “That’s exactly what you’re doing to him and us, so try again.”

A wave of despair and anger shakes the man’s body and Xichen can see how torn he is between lashing out or staying quiet to stop making things worse for himself. In the end, he ends up balling his free hand into a tight fist. “Swear that you have no other intentions.”

“For fuck’s sake, fuck you.”

Those are the kind of words Xichen would never use to someone like Wei Wuxian, but apparently, Jiang Wanyin still knows his brother because a half-smile appears on the man’s face as he shakes his head.

“I can give you my word,” Xichen says even when maybe it isn’t needed anymore.

Wei Wuxian’s eyes once more fill with hesitation and it leaves Xichen wondering if his anxiousness and distrust is caused by the worry about his own safety and life or if Wangji has something to do. The man is truly hesitating and he can feel Jiang Wanyin’s anger and anxiousness increasing the more time passes.

“Follow me.”

Xichen feels close to falling to the floor at hearing him, legs trembling and heart tightening inside his chest as the man simply turns around and stars moving through the forest, almost as if he would love they lost track of him. 

Despite all of this, the sect leader at his side takes a couple of minutes to check on him and make sure he’s okay, waiting for his nod of reassurance to start moving. Xichen follows as well, doing his best to keep his eyes on the two of them to not get lost, willing his strength into his legs so they don’t fail him in the middle of the walk.

They walk a lot, or maybe it is just a kind of protection Wei Wuxian used to protect the place he was using as his hideout, Xichen feels a bit confused but then again, it’s surely one of the protections the other place. In the end, they reach what looks like a normal cave hidden behind a mess of trees and bushes. 

Wei Wuxian stops before entering and Xichen has the urge of stepping closer and ask him to say before they enter if Wangji is alive or… gone, but the strength he has is not enough so he just stops by Jiang Wanyin’s side, both keeping an eye on the other.

“Don’t— Just don’t mess with anything, okay?”

This sounds like the prelude of finding something bad or dangerous and Xichen feels the anxiousness clawing at his neck, a thousand questions filling his head and none of them better than the last one.

“What are you—”

“Xian-gege!” 

Jiang Wanyin doesn’t get to finish his question, an enthusiastic and excited squeal leaves the cave seconds before a small child comes out running out of it, dressed in dirty brown robes and messy hair, he comes all the way out to hug Wei Wuxian’s leg.

“A-Yuan!” Wei Wuxian almost shrieks, bending down to pick the child up. “How many times do I— I told you not to go out!”

The boy’s eyes immediately fill with tears at the same time his lower lip starts trembling, the Yiling Patriarch seems to panic even more. “No no, no crying! Here, take this and play with it.”

Chenqing, the flute that inspired terror everywhere it sounded and made people run in fear at the sound of a simple note, ends up in the child’s hands and, eventually, in his mouth, the soft sniffles quieting down.

Xichen feels light-headed at seeing a kid here, this is no place for kids and this one looks so, so small, three years at most and— where did he come from? While he has a mental breakdown, though, Jiang Wanyin is either getting a better hold of it or he knows who this kid is because he's oddly calm, his face is completely unreadable which is weird as well.

Noticing this, Wei Wuxian sighs before turning around and walking inside the cave with the boy in his arms. “Just come on in.”

Xichen’s heart once more returns to beat in his ears, the fear kicking out the confusion and questions related to the boy to force Wangji to the middle of his brain again. 

The cave is dimly lit by candles placed on the floor or protruding rocks, protective and sound-concealing talismans pressed to the walls messily. There is no furniture, but some clothes and hand-made baskets are placed here and there, containing heaven’s know what. Xichen briefly thinks about where the kid sleep, but it’s gone when he sees him .

“Wangji!” 

On an improvised bed made with what looks like sturdy logs, a blanket and leaves, that is pressed against one of the corners of the surprisingly large cave, Lan Wangji lies in the typical position people from their sect sleeps in. His hands rest comfortably on his chest, his legs are perfectly aligned and his eyes are closed, undisturbed. 

Xichen runs and lets his body fall at his brother’s side, his dark amber eyes staring at the pale face as his hands reach to take hold of one of his’ to look for his spiritual energy but feeling… nothing.

“He’s not dead,” Maybe his distress is too apparent or maybe the other just feels he has to say it. “He’s just… very weak.”

That does nothing to reassure him and the talismans he can now see placed around the bed makes him feel even worse than before. He stares at his brother’s pale face, at his forehead ribbon, at his oddly pristine white robes, wanting to find something wrong that it’s the cause of his state, but there’s nothing.

“What’s with the flowers?” Jiang Wanyin asks and oh, Xichen didn’t even notice there are flowers braided with his brother’s long hair.

“That’s just A-Yuan’s doing… he says he looks pretty.”

“He is! Flowers are pretty too, pretty and pretty!”

An involuntary smile stretches on Xichen’s lips at hearing the boy’s excited voice because Wangji is indeed a pretty and beautiful man, but the feeling flies away in the blink of an eye, replaced by the worry and fear taking over him. “What’s wrong with him?”

Wei Wuxian then looks away, arms tightening around the boy who is now fighting the air with Chenqing. He looks ashamed, conflicted and it just makes Xichen feel the worse is coming. Even Jiang Wanyin at his side appears to be anxiously waiting for what he’s going to say.

Still, nothing could have prepared for the answer he received.

“I don’t know.”

Chapter Text

“What do you mean you don’t know?” Xichen is not even sure how he manages to speak with hos violently his body is trembling. “What happened to him?”

Wei Wuxian still refuses to look at him as he slowly places the little boy down on the floor, takes Chenqing and gives him a gentle pat on his back, urging him to move towards the place he assumed the little boy used to sleep. “I just— don’t know.”

“Stop being so fucking cryptic!” Jiang Wanyin hisses, tugging the man’s arm. “What happened? What did they do to him?!”

“I don’t know!” Wei Wuxian looks desperate now, so Xichen looks back at his brother and focuses on channelling his spiritual energy into his weak body, hoping it will do something. “I didn’t even notice someone was going to attack me, I just— Lan Zhan was suddenly in front of me and that cultivator did something.”

The vivid image of Wangji spitting blood before falling on the arms of the other return to his mind at full speed, hitting him so hard he loses his concentration and breaks the flow of energy as he opens his eyes to look at his brother, wanting to confirm he’s there alive and not dead. 

“What did he use?” He demands with a still-shaky voice. “His sword, a talisman, you have to know what did he do!”

“He hit him in the chest, but I didn’t see anything else!” He almost screams. “He just hit him, Lan Zhan spit blood, I barely managed to hold him and then left!”

“I need to check on him,” Xichen feels dumb for not doing this first, for wasting even more time instead of helping his brother.

“I healed his physical wounds as soon as we arrived here,” Wei Wuxian says, maybe trying to soothe his worries after realising he made the situation worse. “And I have been working on trying to find what’s wrong with him, I swear.”

Xichen soon realises that he’s been honest about the first part, at least. As he slowly and carefully removes the heavy robes from the upper part of his brother’s body, he sees that the wounds sustained during the battle are properly cured. The large cut that bled so profusely on his arm is bandaged and upon removing the bandage, he finds out that it is properly sewn shut, the minor cuts and bruises product of the fight are equally taken care of, the weird part, however, is that his chest is devoid of any kind of wound and that makes no sense at all.

 Wangji jumped in front of Wei Wuxian, with his front towards the attacker in order to parry the attack coming for the man he loved. He failed to do it, so his chest was the first and weakest part of his body the attacker was going for, added to it, Wei Wuxian claimed to see the cultivator hitting Wangji on the chest, so how can he be completely fine?

“It doesn’t make sense,” He whispers as he hurries to put his clothes back on, scared of how cold the skin felt. “There is no wound in his chest, there is nothing.”

“Wei Wuxian, you have to know what happened, he is in danger—”

“You think I don’t know?!” Wei Wuxian screams, making both Xichen and the little kid look at him. “You think I wanted Lan Zhan to get hurt?”

Wei Wuxian is trembling as he walks away from his sworn brother and instead goes to stand near Wangji’s bed, eyes filled with tears as he stares down at him. “I have played every single melody I know, used all existing medicine out there but nothing works… he’s just getting weaker and weaker with every day that passes by.”

His words are the equivalent of a huge rock pressing down on his chest, cutting off the normal flow of air he needs to live. “I’m taking him back to the Cloud Recesses.”

Wei Wuxian’s face goes from sad and depressed to shocked and then angry, fury taking over his dark eyes and making them glow red. “You’re not taking him anywhere.”

Despite hating to do it, Xichen stands up, letting go of his brother’s hand. “I’m not letting him die in here.”

The hold Wei Wuxian has on his dizi tightens, but Xichen is far from being intimidated and his hand goes for Shuoyue’s hilt, ready to go against him if that’s what he wants. At the back, Jiang Wanyin anxiousness spikes and from one second to another he moves to stand between the two of them.

“Wei Wuxian, he needs help!” He says, pressing his hand against his brother’s chest. “You just said you have no idea of what’s wrong with him, he needs a doctor.”

“I will find out what’s wrong with Lan Zhan and I will save him,” Just like Xichen, Wei Wuxian is unmovable in his resolution and looks ready to fight. “He won’t be leaving here.”

“Wangji is my brother,” Xichen is not the kind of man who recurs to violence or a threat that has something to do with his position, but he’s desperate now. “He’s in this condition because of you!”

Wei Wuxian takes a step back, hurt flashing in his eyes. “So should I just let you take him so the one who did this can go and finish the job?”

Something Xichen feels he should give him some credit for is that Wei Wuxian’s worries aren’t about him. He’s not scared about being caught and forced to face his punishment for all he did and instead is worried for his brother’s safety. Still, he can’t just turn away and leave his brother to die of whatever it is killing him.

 “I can assure my brother’s safety,” Heaven’s, there’s nothing that can reach his brother ever again. 

“No, you can’t,” Wei Wuxian reply is instant. “You don’t know who did this, so how are youn going to protect him?”

Xichen hates it, but he’s right. 

The identity of the cultivator who attacked his brother as well as the sect he belongs to is still a mystery. To make it worse, the cultivation world, aside from Jiang Wanyin, Jiang Yanli and him, believes Wei Wuxian is who attacked Wangji, so no one is looking for him and Xichen suddenly seeking help from Nie Mingjue or Jin Guangyao will inevitably bring the attention of everyone to Lotus Pier and he can’t do this to the two brothers and the little baby… so what can he do?

“What if it was just a random cultivator holding a grudge against you?” Jiang Wayin, who has been quiet the whole time, says. “The Cloud Recesses are the safest place and there they could help him.”

“Jin Guangshan always wanted my the Stygian Seal,” Wei Wuxian raises his hand and Xichen’s eyes catch the red spark coming from somewhere in the cave. “This was done by him, whatever that cultivator did, it was supposed to take me down so he can have the Seal.”

Hell, Lan Xichen knows Wei Wuxian is bold and straightforward, he got to witness it many, many times. Like when he was still a teen and loved going against the rules his sect had or when he expressed his desire to explore a different path than the one Lan Qiren clearly placed as the only right one; thanks to Wangji he got to know the way he talked to Wen Chao and how he challenged everything done there, but from there to talk about a powerful sect leader plotting something against him is huge and reminds him a lot to what Jiang Yanli did.

“Are you saying the man who attacked Wangji is from the Jin Sect?” Xichen asks, swallowing around the lump on his throat.

“Yes— But I can’t prove it,” Annoyance is more than evident in his face. “He was dressed in black and tell me, what sect has dark clothes? None, it was obvious he was hiding his identity.”

It has a lot of sense, goddammit, it really does.

Almost everyone at Nightless City wanted Wei Wuxian dead and were willing to throw their honour away in order to end him, his previous thought of the attacker not wanting to reveal his identity because he hurt Wangj instead of their enemy still stands, but what Wei Wuxian is saying makes sense.

Before Wei Wuxian appeared on that roof, they were paying their respects to Jin Zixuan and Jin Zixun, they weren’t planning an attack or anything that would require someone to be dressed in other robes that weren’t the ones from their sect and there wasn’t a sect who dressed completely in black.

“So tell me, Zewu-Jun, are you sure you can keep Lan Zhan safe?”

And it is cruel, painful to have the man crushing his plans and confidence just like that. He has been depressed for weeks, having nightmares of what happened at Nightless City and his inability to protect his own brother. Wangji is here, right at his side but even like this, he can’t even say what’s the best thing to do next.

“Then I will stay,” He whispers, his hand falling from where it was holding Shouyue. “I will stay to save him.”

“Sect Leader Lan,” This time it is Jiang Wanyin, stress making him look even more tired. “You can’t disappear…”

Lan Xichen also knows that.

He’s the face of his sect, the leader everyone trusts will step forward and say where Wei Wuxian is in case he finds him and who they think is at Lotus Pier trying to convince Jiang Wanyin of allowing other sects to shamelessly walk inside his territory. Now, the Jin Sect is not his favourite, if it wasn’t for Jin Guangyao, Xichen is sure things would be a lot more tense and uncomfortable whenever he has to go there, but that doesn’t mean he sure they would go to the extent of having hidden motives when it comes to Wei Wuxian. 

Jin Guangshan wanted to kill the Yiling Patriarch and all the Wen remnants because they killed his son and nephew, so why sending a cultivator in disguise to do so?

“You can come daily…” Wei Wuxian whispers after several more tense minutes. “We won’t be leaving this place.” 

It still sounds horribly wrong.

How can Xichen leave his brother in here, unattended and suffering? He promised to help him as soon as he found him, so how can he even think of leaving him here?  It’s horrible and problematic, but what else can he do? If he risks it and takes Wangji back to the Cloud Recesses, everyone will immediately start questioning where did he find him and where Wei Wuxian is, because of his rules and his own beliefs, he would be completely incapable of lying to everyone and thus, he will end up saying where the mand hides and just like that, Jiang Wanyin’s and Jiang Yanli’s lives will be ruined.

“I can’t leave Wangji…” He whispers, letting his defeated body fall back down on the floor where he can hold his brother’s horribly cold hand. “I can’t let him die, I need to find what’s wrong with him.”

“I won’t let Lan Zhan die,” Wei Wuxian sounds determined, but Xichen doesn’t have the strength to just blindly believe it. “I won’t stop until I discover what’s happening.”

How long will that take? Wangji’s core is one of the strongest ones and it is surely fighting whatever his body is going through, but it has a limit and Xichen is terrified it will give up before they can find a cure. 

“I-I need to gather all the information I can, I’ll be returning to the Cloud Recesses,” He whispers, shaking his head in hopes of regaining his composure and focus back on what’s important. “There must be something in our library.”

It is horrible, his mind is collapsing and his heart feels as if it had been kicked down the stairs, but it seems to be the only solution his mind can come up with. He trusts Jin Guangyao, but he knows behind him is the ominous presence of Jin Guangshan, the Jin Guangshan Wei Wuxian thinks is the mastermind behind Wangji’s condition and while sure, he can ask his friend to help him, he could never put him in such a troubling position where he has to choose between helping a friend or his father.

He can’t assure Wangji’s safety because he has no idea who is behind him and that sinking thought is suffocating.

“Wei Wuxian, I need to talk to you.” Wei Wuxian doesn’t look that convinced and seems to hesitate for a long time before he nods and finally moves away, following Jiang Wanyin out of the cave.

Finding himself alone, Xichen feels the reality crushing him even more and it's so bad he feels dizzy, but he does his best to get rid of the feeling and focus on his task. Straightening his back, he let’s go of Wangji’s hand and moves onto checking his brother the best he can.

Just as he noticed before, he can barely feel his spiritual energy running through his body, his meridians at first appear to be locked, but he soon feels the faintest flow coursing through it. His breathing is slow and somehow steady, his muscles respond when he gives them an experimental pinch and his eyes, thank goodness, are their usual gold instead of the white the corpses have. It is as if Wangji is in the deepest coma someone can fall in, as if he went though the most extreme injury or sickness that just straight up drained his complete energy.

“Xian-gege says he’s sick…” Just when he feels his emotions will overwhelm him, Xichen sees the boy walking closer, holding what looks like a knitted butterfly. “Is he getting better?”

“He will,” He nods, taking a shaky breath. “Why are you here with him?”

At that, the kid looks away, oddly conflicted for someone so young. “Xian-gege takes care of me… grandma, aunt Qing and uncle Ning told me to stay close to him while they were gone.”

Xichen then remembers the hanged corpses of the Wen remnants at the outside of Qishan, the way so many people stared at them with an air of superiority while talking about how much they deserved it. Those people were the boy’s family and now they were gone.

“I’m sorry.” He doesn’t know if he wants to apologise for not doing anything to help this boy so he didn’t lose his family, if he wants to apologise to his brother for not doing anything now that he’s here or if it’s a combination of everything, but he says it and sees the boy tilting his head to the side in confusion but nodding.

“Please help rich brother,” The kid says after a moment where Xichen feels dangerously close to crying. “When Xian-gege stands here and plays Chengqin to him, he is always so sad and I don’t want him to be sad and rich brother to be sick.”

“I promise I will.”

Jiang Wanyin and Wei Wuxian return not that long after the boy smiles and goes to work on Wangji’s hair, making small braids and arranging some of the flores that came loose after Xichen’s examination, unbothered by the older man who is once more channeling his spiritual energy into his brother’s body. The other sect leader looks as tense as he was before leaving, but it is Wei Wuxian who now looks close to fainting; the man is clearly holding back his tears at the same time his hands tremble, his breathing is shallow and he swallows more than what it is necessary. Xichen can only wonder what they talked about.

“If you wish to find the cave again, just wait where I found you,” Despite all of this, the man manages to say rather clearly. “I will check daily.”

What is left to say? Nothing, really, so Xichen just focuses and channeling the rest of his energy into his brother before slowly standing up, taking a lot to actually let go of his hand and move away from him.

“Don’t let anything happen to him.” It’s not a suggestion nor a plead, it is a rude command Xichen doesn’t dare to take back.

“Don’t doubt me, Zewu-Jun.”

°°°

Jiang Wanyin is surrounded by his disciples as soon as they land at Lotus Pier, but Xichen doesn’t stay behind to hear what they ask, he just hurries back to the room he’s staying at in order to start packing his things. He needs to leave and reach the Cloud Recesses as soon as he can, he can’t waste anymore time.

But the truth is, his emotions are too much for someone who is used to controlling and keeping all of them at bay. No, he’s not like Wangji who keeps absolutely everything inside, but he’s still a Lan who can’t show any emotion excessively and what he’s experiencing is… excessive.

 There’s a huge pressure building up inside his chest, one that doesn’t let him breathe as he normally would. He has to take several short and desperates pants in order to not suffocate, has to hold his head because the whole world is spinning, there is not enough air in the room so he’s forced to leave it and lean over the rail outside, clutching it tightly to not accidentally fall inside the lake and drown pathetically.

He’s crying and he doesn’t look like the sect leader he was raised to become, but who cares at this point? He needs to breathe once more, to regain the control of his body so it works once more like it is supposed to do.

“Sect Leader Lan!” Oh, God, why is Jiang Wanyin here? 

He hears the man running towards him and stop at the same time he manages to straighten his body a bit, still clutching the rail, and turn to look at him. What a sight he must be because the man freezes as he stares with wide eyes at him.

“I apologise, Sect Leader Jiang,” He manages to say after a couple of choked sobs. “I— I’m sorry.”

That seems to give the other leader an idea of his condition and the reason why he’s like that and a blush that appears to be of embarrassment spreads all over his neck as he looks away. “I’m sorry, I thought you needed help I just— I’m sorry.”

“I was starting to believe that Wangji was dead,” The other was already leaving and Xichen has no idea why, but he just feels the need to speak, of talking about what causes his normal exterior to crumble into pieces. “A-Yao and Chifeng-Zun gave me this subtle looks that clearly told me to just accept the idea that he was gone, that I should be realistic.”

Jiang Wanyin stops and seems to hesitate for several seconds about what to do next, but he eventually turns around to look at him. “It wasn’t easy.”

“I found him, he’s alive but I don’t know for how long,” He whispers, feeling the hot tears rolling down his cheeks. “I promised I was going to help him, instead I’m leaving him in a cave with no idea of what’s wrong with him. I feel useless…”

“It’s a feeling I’m familiar with,” The other says, voice barely above a whisper. “But as much as I hate it, I doubt Wei Wuxian will let him die.

“You’re not useless, Sect Leader Jiang,” This man has done many, many things to help his family and his sect. “And as much as it pains me, you’re right. I think I can help Wangji more this way and I can only hope I’m not wrong.”

“I’m sorry you have to keep all of this from your sect and from… everyone,” He continues while Xichen does his best to clean the mess on his face and finish controlling his breathing. 

“It is needed,” Xichen finally breathes out, feeling his heart trying to slow down, his head throbbing and his eyes stinging. “There are many things that need to be answered and while that happens, Wangji’s safety is my main concern… As much as I trust A-Yao, some of the things the Lanling Jin Sect is doing are very questionable and I do not wish to put him in the middle of it, at least not until I have clear answers.”

“Thank you for keeping it a secret.”

“There’s no need to thank me,” He sighs, trying to ignore the uncomfortable feeling threatening to overpower him, knowing he will now be hiding the location of their biggest enemy. “We’re in this together.”

“So you’re returning to Gusu,”He’s not sure if this is caused by everything he just experienced or if it is really there, but there seems to be a small tone of disappointment in his voice.

“I am, I need to find out what’s happening to Wangji and how can I help him,” He nods slowly. “I also need to say something that keeps them from thinking we are working on something else.”

“You should leave in the morning, then,” The other suggests, voice quieter than usual. “Please have dinner and rest, you need it.”

“Thank you for your concern, I will.”

The world around him is horrible, devoid of many of the good things he had before all of this happened, but Xichen feels oddly grateful for having Jiang Wanyin helping him.

Chapter Text

“With all due respect, Sect Leader Jiang has everything under control and there is no need for any of us to intervene. The Yunmeng Jiang Sect is more than prepared to deal with Wei Wuxian in case he has the idea of appearing there.”

Xichen knows his letter is not what anyone at Lanling expects to receive after spending so many days at Lotus Pier, but he doesn’t care, he doesn’t even think twice before folding the piece of paper and leaving it on top papers labelled as priority. 

When he told Jin Guangyao and Nie Mingjue he was leaving to see the other sect leader, they surely assumed he was going there to convince him and, without a single doubt, thanks to this Jin Guangshan had a group ready to send to Lotus Pier, waiting for him to return so he could send them away so they could install themselves there.

Even when there are many things he doesn’t agree with Wei Wuxian, him saying the Lanling Jin Sect had taken the lead in the cultivation world and that it has given them a certain level of entitlement, is not necessarily a lie. There are things he can’t agree with the other leader, but it’s fine, diplomacy right now is at the bottom of his priority’s list and he will deal with that when the time comes.

Now he’s back home and with a lot of things that need to be done.

Upon his arrival, Xichen was understandably bombarded with questions from the elders, his uncle and even a couple of worried disciples around Wangji’s age who doesn’t know how to deal with their worry anymore. He was asked if they found a clue or something that finally lead them to Wangji, if he believed Wei Wuxian would seek refugee at Yunmeng and his uncle in specific questioned if Jiang Wanyin and Jiang Yanli could really be reliable. 

It’s kind of offensive, but he can understand where he is coming from.

The Gusu Lan Sect as a whole is not entirely clean despite being the first one that comes to people’s minds when they think about rules and following them. When Wangji went to Yiling to visit Wei Wuxian and had to be punished for it, none a word was told to the other sects because they understood how damaging it could be for his reputation and they didn’t want him to suffer by it. Lan Xichen and Lan Qiren aren’t fully innocent when it comes to covering a family member in order to protect them, so his uncle asking if the Jiang siblings can be trusted is understandable.

“They can be trusted,” He had said with conviction, however, doing his best to act normally because the minimal thing could give him away. “And I will be helping them as much as I can.”

His uncle had gone on to remind him about everything Wei Wuxian did to the cultivation world and to them as a family and the importance that he, as a sect leader, thinks about his sect before thinking about his own problems... Xichen couldn’t really say if his uncle was saying all of it because he knew his nephew was hiding something from him or if he just wanted to remind him of this in case they found something very bad had happened.

Well, he will eventually find out.

“Sect Leader… are you sure?” He smiles, trying to be as comforting as he can towards the disciple standing in front of him. “I could wait for you to finish and make sure to close and put everything back on its place.”

“There is no need,” He says calmly. “You can retire, thank you.”

The man nods, bows and then gives him a quick, concerned and discrete look before turning around and walking away from the library pavilion. It’s subtle, but another thing he has noticed after his arrival is the concern they show towards him seems stronger now, he can’t help but wonder if his despair and pain are that apparent for everyone around him or if they just feel bad because they think Wangji is dead and he will have to deal with it.

It’s nice to have people worrying for him and Xichen wishes he could thank them properly.

By the time he’s finally done with everything, it’s close to nine, close to the time they’re all supposed to go to sleep, but Xichen has already wasted the whole day on formalities that need to be done, so he just doesn’t care and enters the pavilion, heading to the section he thinks may have useful information that helps him understand what is wrong with Wangji. 

With arms full of books, he takes one of the most secluded tables and sets down to work.

So Wangji is unconscious and according to Wei Wuxian, has been like that ever since they left the battle at Nightless City; he looks pale and lifeless, but aside from that, he’s completely unharmed. The wounds sustained during the battle are healing and even though they’re not healing as fast as they would if his core was okay, he is healing and maybe that’s the only good thing the whole situation has. So he reads about curses, poisons and even dares to go through the forbidden section where dubious and questionable methods are vaguely detailed. 

He takes notes and attempts to build a convincing diagnosis that leads him to a possible solution, but the more he tries to focus, the more his brain is pulled back to everything he lived in the past days. 

Not only Wangji’s pale and unmoving figure takes the biggest part of his brain, he also remembers Jiang Wanyin’s anxiousness and stress as he juggles his normal duties as a leader with protecting his sister and looking for his brother, Jiang Yanli’s pain at dealing with all of it after losing her husband and being wounded, all of it while trying to keep life stable enough for her three-months baby, and he remembers the kid.

Oh God, the kid.

With all the events that lead to Jin Zixuan’s death, Xichen completely forgot that Wangji mentioned there was a small kid among the Wen remnants living at the Burial Mounds and the conflicting emotions it causes inside of him are sickening. On one side, he’s glad he didn’t remember there was a small kid as he was forced to walk past the hanged corpses, but on the other side, he’s terrified to even think about what that kid went through after he was left alone at the Burial Mounds. 

This A-Yuan Wei Wuxian has with him and his brother is the only Wen alive and he doesn’t even know.

When their mother died, Wangji was still a kid who didn’t fully understand what his uncle meant when he said it was not necessary for them to go because she was gone. Xichen has painful memories of having to sit Wangji with him to explain what their uncle meant and why their mother wasn’t opening the door anymore… But the problem is: Wangji was probably the opposite of this A-Yuan.

His brother was taught not to lose control of his emotions and grew up in a stable home with an older brother willing to give everything for him and an uncle that despite being very strict, cared for him. Added to it, the status of being the second son of the former sect leader stabilised life for him even more.

This kid had none of that.

To begin with, the boy is a Wen, he’s part of the sect that was vanished from the cultivation world after being corrupted by greed and while it is true that this poor kid had nothing to do with it, he probably wasn’t even born when Wen Ruohan started his search for all the Yin Iron pieces,  he was almost sure not a lot of people were going to care about it; he could even hear Jin Guangshan saying this kid was going to grow up one day and become an avenger for his murdered family if they don’t stop him, so he is not optimistic in someone defending the kid aside from him and surely Jiang Wanyin. 

Second comes the torturous life he has had until now.

He was probably born by the time the Sunshot Campaign was reaching its culmination, which meant he and his family were captured and dragged to one of the camps the Jin Sect created not that long after, taking away from him the chance of experiencing a normal childhood. In the camp, he was probably protected by his family from the abuse, but there aren’t a lot of things people who are also suffering can do and Xichen won’t doubt the kid also got things no innocent people should get. Later came his time at the Burial Mounds, thanks to Wangj he knew they cultivated what they could and crafted things they then sold in Yiling, but that was far from being enough. Despite the effort everyone surely put into giving him the best, no one could deny he suffered from hunger at one point and now… now his whole family is dead.

Xichen doesn’t even realise he stood up until he’s staring at the dark sky from one of the windows.

What has everyone been doing? What has he been doing?

The cultivation world as a whole united to attack and take down the cruel sect the Qishan Wen became, but what happened after that? At one point did it become normal to capture and kill the ones who were innocent? At one point did killing an elder, a village full of non-cultivators and kids became acceptable? At one point doing almost the same the Wen did became the right thing?

Xichen never said anything that further put them as criminals, but didn’t say anything that made them look good either. Nie Mingjue was right in saying Wen Qing and Wen Ning just witnessed everything without doing anything, but what they were supposed to do? They were healers, people who had dedicated their lives to curing the ones around them, so what could they do against a man who could summon a dozen corpses in seconds? 

Jin Guangshan poisoned everyone’s head and he fell for it as well, he accepted Jin Guangyao’s methods of dealing with the prisoners, found somehow understandable the claims of the man who said leaving the Wen alive was dangerous for the cultivation world and even when his own brother came that night covered in snow and slightly pale lips after his punishment to say Wei Wuxian wasn’t building an army of corpses and was instead trying to live in peace in that forsaken place with a bunch of elderly people and even a kid, he did nothing.

Would things have changed if he did something? Would his brother be here, safe and unharmed, if he had sided with Wei Wuxian as well?

It’s not that simple.

At the same time, he remembers the Cloud Recesses, his home, burning as he fled from it with his arms holding the ancient books that were pretty much the foundation of his sect. He remembers the despair and anxiousness filling his body as he looked for a place to hide until he found Jin Guangyao, Meng Yao at that time, and ultimately the guilt and raw pain he experienced when he heard the news of his brother being taken to the indoctrination, his uncle being hurt and his father… his father dying after trying to protect his sect.   

If Xichen would have sided with Wei Wuxian in front of all the other sects, not only he would be considered an enemy, his whole sect as well and when he took the position of sect leader, he swore to do the best for it, to protect the people and never let anyone disrespect their rules. His only ally at that time would have been Jiang Wanyin and Wei Wuxian himself, but why cause a new war? The Sunshot Campaign brought pain to a lot of people, destroyed families, complete sects, and unnecessary cruelty that wasn’t needed again.

What’s good and what’s bad? The line is too blurred and that’s the biggest problem. He’s Wangji’s brother, but he’s also the Gusu Lan Sect Leader and it should be a crime to put him in this situation.

Gripping the edge of the window, he closes his eyes and does his best to calm his heart, to breathe deeply and calm the mess inside his head. He can’t lose control, he can now help and there are people depending on him.

That little kid may not know he lost his family, but he knows there’s something wrong with them and something very wrong with Wangji because he’s on that bed all day and all night, he sees Wei Wuxian playing his flute with no result, get frustrated, angry and sad. He’s having a horrible life but even with all of that he still calls Wangji pretty and spends a long time braiding flowers into his hair so he looks prettier, calls Wei Wuxian with an affectionate Xian-gege and hugs his leg, runs around with a knitted butterfly, plays with what should be a mortal weapon, smiles, laughs and… lives.

This isn’t the time to question his own existence and think about all the what if. 

This is about Wen Yuan who had nothing to do with the crimes done by his sect but is still paying for them, about Jin Ling who already lost the chance of having his father at his side as he grows up… this is not about everyone else who made their choices and is living the consequences of them.  

Wangji made the choice of protecting the person he loved while knowing his own life was at risk, while being fully conscious he could become the new enemy, Jiang Wanyin put his sect before everything else and now he’s putting his family before his whole reputation, Jiang Yanli is willing to give everything to have his family together and happy and finally he, he tried to make his brother feel he was supporting him while keeping his sect stable, but in the end, things didn’t go as planned.

He’s having a second chance and he has to do things right.

There's no need to bring the past now, it’s done and it’s unfair to put all the blame on himself or someone else, so now he has to find whoever did this to his brother, cure him and then help Jiang Wanyin to untangle the mess the apparently simple case of the demonic cultivator murdering one of the most powerful cultivators in the world, has become.

Xichen has always been described as strong, but he hopes he really is now.

Chapter Text

“How could Wangji follow him so blindly? How could he forget everything he has been taught?”

It isn’t pleasant to hear his uncle or anyone, talk about Wang as if he had committed the worst crime someone can commit in the cultivation world. It isn’t pleasant to see no one else understand the depth of Wangji’s decision and the things he carried with him when he decided to shield Wei Wuxian with his own body… but he can’t say anything.

His worries, to a certain extent, have been soothed after seeing his brother is alive and fighting instead of dead and walking around like a corpse, so he doesn’t have the right to complain about the way they express their concern. Furthermore, these days he has spent in reading many medicine books and has left him with a lot of time to think and reflect on everything that had happened until now and…

He has changed.

It’s not obvious, of course. For his sect, he’s still the same Lan Xichen who smiles and is kind even when the world is falling apart, but inside, he thinks differently.

“Wangji has his own beliefs, uncle,” He says as calmly as he can, keeping his eyes on the book while his uncle continues moving almost frenetically around the room.

“His beliefs are evil?” He almost hisses. “His beliefs include following the evilest cultivator?”

“You raised him, uncle, you know he could never become evil ,” Insulting if he takes into consideration what his uncle is saying, but he means it. Wangji fought for what he saw as the right thing and for the man he loved. “I’m afraid it is complicated.”

He can hear the indignant noise his uncle makes and he understands that, too. He’s well aware the complicated term for him has a completely different meaning than the one the older man has in mind, but he can’t fully explain it because he needs to continue being the ally everyone thinks he is.

“We won’t know what’s wrong with Wangji until we find him,” Defeated and exhausted of his previous attempts, his uncle changes the subject. “Xichen, remember you can’t hide from something by pretending to not see it.”

“I am not hiding, uncle,” He replies calmly, setting down the book and looking up at the man. “I organise search groups as often as our disciples can handle and keep reporting everything, but I want to be prepared for when we finally find him.”

“Only the best healers will take care of him when we do,” Despite doubting for a moment, the man replies. “Wangji will receive the best attention so—”

“I have failed him once already,” It’s rude and unpolite to cut his uncle like that, but Xichen’s stomach reacts violently at those words. “I won’t fail him again. I will be prepared and won’t let him go through everything alone.”

For his uncle and the rest of the cultivation world, it is obvious Lan Xichen words refer to him not doing something that kept his brother from siding a criminal, maybe even physically intervening to hold the younger man from protecting Wei Wuxian from that attack, but the reality is far from it.

Xichen feels guilty for not supporting his brother, for making him feel that he stood alone in the path he chose and for looking away when so many people were suffering. He can’t continue like this, he can’t continue being a sect leader if he continues making so many mistakes.

“I will go check on the next group.”

His uncle leaves once more and the sect leader finds himself letting out the air he has been holding, his back losing it’s normally straight posture as he leans on the table in front of him. 

Lan Xichen was raised under strict rules that told him lying was forbidden, in a community with little to none margin of error concerning what was good and what was bad, so hiding from everyone the cultivator everyone has declared as their enemy was physically and mentally exhausting. More than once he could feel the sickness climbing up his throat and threatening to make him confess what really happened, but the reality is what holds him.

He can’t ensure Wangji’s safety and that is yet another thing he has to carry with him.

“Sect Leader, are you joining us for the next group?”

Yes, Xichen knows he has to keep going.

°°°

“Er-ge, I wanted to come sooner but it was impossible, I was worried about you.”

Jin Guangyao smiles with that soothing and comforting smile that in the past seemed to take with it so many of the problems Xichen carries on his shoulders, but right now, the sect leader Lan feels… nothing. The gentle smile he gives back looks normal, but the inner turmoil inside of him stays unchanged.

“You don’t need to worry, A-Yao, I’m okay,” He says, serving a cup of tea from the other. “As you can see, I am doing well.”

The other smiles again, thanking him with a small nod before reaching for the cup and taking a small sip. “I still apologise that you had to go all by yourself to Lotus Pier.”

“Stop apologising, A-Yao, I am glad I went.” Possibly one of the best things he has ever done. “Sect Leader Jiang and I worked well together.”

“It is comforting to hear that, with everything that had happened, Sect Leader Jiang has had a rough time,” He sighs heavily, setting the cup down. “But your response, Er-ge, it was unexpected.”

Xichen smiles, knowing fully well what he means and the implications behind it. “I apologise if I caused you problems, A-Yao, but it was the right thing to do.”

“Please, nothing was your fault,” He continues, sighing at him. “My father is just worried for Sect Leader Jiang… Having to take care of Maiden Jiang, his nephew and looking for the brother who betrayed them is not easy, it was in our best intention.”

“I can assure you he knows,” Xichen remembers his anger, but that’s not something he should mention. “But he has everything under control.”

Jin Guangyao nods, understanding. “I know, but my father’s worry is that Wei Wuxian is still out there, preparing his revenge and the more time passes, the more we are all at risk… The more Hanguang-Jun is at risk.”

Xichen’s hold he has on his own cup tightens, to the point he almost feels he can break it. It doesn’t sit well with him that they use Wangji as a pressuring point and that they are so sure about Wei Wuxian plotting his revenge when the man is actually taking care of a kid and trying to find a cure. 

What if someone from the Jin Sect is who attacked Wangji?

It’s a sudden and unsettling thought, but Xichen can’t stop his brain from thinking about it. If this mysterious cultivator belongs to one of the most powerful sects, then the chances of protecting Wangji become even smaller.

“I’m sorry, that was rude,” Jin Guangyao apologising immediately is what snaps him out of his thoughts. “I shouldn’t have done that.”

“No… It’s alright, Wangji is strong,” He says, doing his best to keep calm. “I will find him.”

He knows Jin Guangyao and trusts him as much as he trusts Nie Mingjue, but he’s suddenly doubtful about the ominous shadow of Jin Guangshan behind his sworn brother. A-Yao wants to please his father and prove himself worthy of the position he has and Xichen is now worried this means he won’t keep any kind of information concerning Wei Wuxian from him. 

He has to be careful.

“I understand it has to be very hard for you,” The younger man continues, reaching to hold his hand. “Please keep in mind you can trust and rely on me.”

“I know, A-Yao and I’m very thankful for it.”

Xichen is well aware that this is partially a lie, at this moment he believes he can only trust Jiang Wanyin and Jiang Yanli, heavens, he even thinks he trusts Wei Wuxian more than his own sworn brothers and it makes him sick… but the proof is here.

Wei Wuxian isn’t plotting his revenge, he’s barely living with a kid and his unconscious brother, he’s trying to survive yet everyone thinks he’s plotting the best way to kill every single one of them. Xichen is, for the first time, getting to witness all the lies and it makes him wonder just how many things were a lie, too.

“I’m glad you know,” He smiles, finishing his cup and standing up slowly. “How are the search groups going?”

“Nothing new, A-Yao, it truly seems he disappeared,” He sighs, glancing at the bunch of books he left on the floor. “But he has to be somewhere.”

“Sect Leader Yao worries about the Yiling Patriarch using the bodies of innocent cultivators who lost their lives during the Sunshot Campaign,” He continues, Xichen grimaces. “Or worse, he fears he poisons the minds of others to join his cause.”

Poison.

What he feels in that moment is how Xichen imagines would feel to be hit by lighthing. It’ violent and shakes him to the very core, the days he spent reading all those books suddenly making sense and telling him just how dumb he was for not noticing it sooner.

“I can understand his concerns,” In the outside, though, he’s the same calm man his sworn brother is used to see. “But I’m afraid the only thing we can do is protecting our people.”

“If you need more help, I can send people to help you protect the Cloud Recesses,” The other smiles. “I know you prefer to have all of them available for searching.”

“Thank you, A-Yao, but I know Lanling is bigger and requires of more people to protect everyone,” He says softly while his insides burn fiercely. “I promise I won’t let him poison anyone nor steal the bodies of our deceased.”

“I know you’re more than capable,” He smiles, sighing softly. “I just worry about you… I know how hard all of this is for you.”

“It all will be over… one day,” It won’t be easy and Xichen can already tell it will be way more complicated than what it appeared to be initially, but it will be over. “I won’t let anyone down again.”

Jin Guangyao spends several minutes more trying to tell him it isn’t his fault and that he had no control over how things developed, Xichen knows now the truth and can’t unsee it. Still, he thanks his sworn brother and tends to everything he ants while being there, making sure he’s comfortable, leaving the door open for whenever he wants to come back as any other time.

When he’s gone, Xichen is close to collapsing.

Barely managing to keep himself from running around the Cloud Recesses to reach the hanshi , he immediately reaches for the books and pretty much lets himself fall down on the floor, desperately trying to find more about the idea that formed in his mind while Jin Guangyao talked, the anxiousness inside his body getting worst.

“Wangji is poisoned,” He whispers after scrabbling several notes. “This is why he’s getting weaker…”

He has no idea what kind of poison it is, but now he has an idea of what to look for and how to eventually help his brother. This is a huge step and the sole idea is enough to make his heart beat furiously inside his chest.

Gathering many medicinal supplies and his notes, he mentally readies himself how to tell his uncle he is once more leaving for Lotus Pier. Taking a deep breathe, he keeps his eyes closed for several seconds before turning around and opening the door…

Coming face to face with his uncle.

“Uncle, I—”

“Tell me, Xichen, where is Wangji?”

Chapter Text

“Uncle, I—” It’s only a second of hesitation, but Lan Xichen knows that’s more than enough.

“I didn’t want to believe it,” Lan Qiren continues and the look on his face is like a punch to his chest. “I didn’t want to believe our own sect leader would go to such an extent.”

It is this what has Xichen snapping out of the shock and confusion that took over his entire body when he saw his uncle. An unnatural frown takes over his features as he straightens back and looks at the older man, this surprising him quite a bit.

“It’s not that simple.”

The man looks around before pretty much pushing Xichen inside the hanshi , closing the door behind him, his hard and strict eyes falling on him. “It seems you are the one complicating them.”

He wasn’t expecting the man to understand, of course, it took Xichen a long time and have his brother at the verge of dying to see just how many lies were around him and how messed up things he has committed. But that doesn’t mean he will let it go, having his uncle suspecting he knows where Wangji is risks everything.

“I’m afraid I can’t trust anyone who isn’t the people I am working with already,” He says, knowing just how offensive and inconsiderate this sounds. 

“Lan Xichen!”

“Wei Wuxian wasn’t who attacked Wangji!” He yells back, hands trembling as he once more reminded of his brother’s state. “He protected him from an attack, Wei Wuxian didn’t do anything.”

“What are you saying?!” Lan Qiren looks as if he’s in front of a ghost or something. “You know how much damage he had done to Wangji, to our world and you’re defending him?”

“Wei Wuxian has done bad things, but not everything is as we thought,” He doesn’t want to talk about the worst parts, he really doesn’t. “I’m not entirely happy with how things have developed, but this is the only way I have to assure his safety.”

“Are you listening to yourself, Xichen?” His tone really reminds him to the disappointed one he used when Wangji kept going back to look for Wei Wuxian. “What kind of trick is he using to make you think leaving Wangji with a criminal is the right thing?!”

“He’s not a criminal!” He breathes out, closing his eyes to block the murderous look of the other. “Not in the way everybody thinks he is, at least.”

“The reason why Wangji is like that is because of him.”

“Wangji is hurt because we left him alone,” He says, hands balling up into tight fists. “Wangji is hurt because he’s the only one who stood up against unfairness, who didn’t fall for everything Jin Guangshan said.”

Despite the anger and despair that seems to be ruling his uncle’s behaviour, Xichen can actually see the spark of doubt taking over his features for a couple of seconds. “What does he has to do with all of this?”

“That day someone tried to attack Wei Wuxian, someone wearing dark clothes that don’t belong to any of the sects that were there,” He says, hoping his uncle will listen to him. “Wangji protected him and is now suffering from whatever the attacker did.”

“And you believe that?”

“I do,” His uncle looks close to yelling once more. “He’s trying to save Wangji, he’s doing everything he can to discover what’s wrong with him and there’s no reason for him to lie.”

“He could be manipulating you to think all of this,” The older man says again. “He chose to disrespect the dead, chose to protect the remnants of that evil sect—”

“What proof did we have of their evilness?”

“The Wen slaughtered countless sects!”

“Not them, what proof did we have of the evilness those remnants had?” He demands, taking a step forward. “What did they do so they deserved to die?”

It seems to be the first time his uncle thinks about it as well because there’s a long period of time where he just stares at him, jaw clenching and hand tugging at his goatee with more force than what was normal. “They would have wanted revenge for what we did to their sect.”

“How can you be so sure if we never even breathed near them?” Xichen reminds him rather cruelly. “We were told they were going to seek revenge, we were told Wei Wuxian was building his army of corpses and that Wen Ning would come to attack one day… When did we investigate?”

“We—”

“Wangji told us they were just trying to live at that place, told us no one aside from the two siblings and Wei Wuxian had proper cultivation training and we didn’t believe him,” The guilt burns his throat and chest as he voices out the thoughts he first had. “We let the Jin Sect torture and murder many innocent people right in front of us.

“There’s no reason for him to do that, what would Jin Guangshan get from all of this?” His uncle’s determination is faltering, he doesn’t sound as confident as he sounded at first and that’s a huge step.

“Uncle, he is who got more after the Sunshot Campaign…” He sighs, knowing talking bad behind people’s backs is forbidden, but knowing this is true. “I don’t have proof and there’s no way I can know he really is behind what happened to Wangji, but I won’t fail him again, I will protect him.”

“There has to be another way, we can’t  be accomplices in hiding the man—”

“You’re really not getting it, uncle,” Xichen whispers, defeated, pressing his fingers against his head. “We are supposed to help innocent people, protect the ones who can’t protect themselves, be righteous, good… I have no idea when we left that path to become this sect who values more their own status instead of staying true to the rules our ancestors established, but I refuse to continue. I won’t be part of it.” 

It’s psychologically painful to do this to the man he owes so much, it crushes his heart to see him being so troubled about what he just heard and how violent it clashes against his own beliefs and morality so characteristic of him, but there isn’t another way.

“I’m sorry I kept it from you, I apologise you had to find out like this, but this is the only way I have to protect Wangji,” He whispers, the tears burning his eyes even more furiously. “If you wish to let the elders know about and wish for me to leave the position, you’re free to do so, I have no objections… but I’m afraid I’m in no position to be captured.”

His movements are quick, years of handstands and days of meditation had turned him into one of the most feared cultivators, one of the strongest Sect Leaders, he’s the First Jade of Lan, after all… but Lan Qiren is who taught him all of it. So when he turns and tries to sprint out of the window to literally escape, his right arm is held in an iron-grip and bent enough to make him fall to his knees on the floor so it doesn’t accidentally break. 

Xichen’s free arm goes to fist Shuoyue’s hilt while his brain tells him to pull it out and attack, but how can he? How can he dare to raise his sword against the man who took care of him since he was a baby? How can he dare to hurt who helped him to become who he is? The answer is simple: he can’t, and it’s this realisation the one who is officially too much.

The tears he held back during the time he talked with his uncle break free, spilling down his cheeks and falling to the floor, sobs soon making his body tremble.

“How could I be so blind? Why did I let them hurt and kill so many innocent people?” He cries, his hand letting go of the hilt to press against the wooden floor, the other one joining it when his uncle let’s go of it. “Why did I left Wangji to do everything by himself?”

He’s not really waiting for the man to reply, this outburst being a product of a broken mental state that has held itself together miraculously.

“Now he’s dying, his body fighting against a poison that is too close to annihilating him,” He continues, feeling his arms struggling to keep him up. “And that kid… that kid is alone, his family is dead and he’s still so innocent, he smiles and— and treats Wangji as if he was awake and loves Wei Wuxian so much, the two of them are the only ones he has left. When did we lose our way?”

He’s still not waiting for an answer and he actually doesn’t care about getting one, he just needs to let all of this out, let the pain that consumes and threatens to end his life out of his system. Just like it happened at Lotus Pier, he needs to let everything out in order to function properly once more.

“What… What kind of poison?” After letting out a shaky breath, Xichen hears the voice of the other man, making him look up with his still messy face to find the man with an equally distressed expression but at least not crying. “What are his symptoms? What kind of wounds does he have?”

“He has no wounds and I-I can’t be sure what kind it is,” He replies, confused because he has no idea what it is happening. “I just deduced it is poison, I haven’t had the chance of testing it.”

Lan Qiren takes a sharp intake of breath at the same time he closes his eyes, staying in that position for several minutes, making his nephew wonder if he’s thinking about dragging him to the rest of the sects or if he’s already planning his trial. It doesn’t matter, in the end, the older man opens his eyes and looks down at the younger man with a pained expression and stares at him for a couple of seconds before looking away.

“There are poisons who aim to kill the cultivator by infecting the bloodstream,” He says. “But there are others who infect and weaken the core to leave the cultivator vulnerable to every kind of attack.”

A shiver runs down Xichen’s spine at thinking Wangji could get attacked in other ways.

“Go back to Lotus Pier,” He says, keeping his eyes on the books Xichen left on the floor before. “Stop the advance of the poison, do the tests and bring everything you can so we can find out what is going on.”

“Uncle, I can’t risk Wangji—”

“This is between you and me, Xichen,” He cuts him before he can continue. “If Jin Guangshan or anyone gets another weird idea, I will handle it… Wangji’s life is the main priority. Keep an eye on Wei Wuxian, I don’t trust him.”

Lan Qiren leaves after that and the silence left behind leaves Xichen’s chest heaving with exertion. His arms tremble, his eyes burn and his heart is tight in his chest, but he also feels relief washing over his whole body. He had been oh so sure that his uncle wasn’t going to listen to his reasoning that he was feeling like dying for thinking he was about to fight him. It’s incredibly unfair for the man, but Xichen was scared.

His shocked brain actually takes a lot of time to recover. For what feels like hours he stays on the floor, trying to gather his strength back and put in order the mess left by how everything unfolded. His uncle is right, he needs to stop the poison from spreading and needs to get something that helps them to get the proper treatment that will assure Wangji will go back to being the powerful cultivator he was before.

In a way, he’s glad this happened. As he takes out his notes to make better ones, he realises that not keeping the secret from his own uncle anymore is making him feel a bit freer and more relaxed, but at the same time, it puts more pressure on his shoulders. Still, he’s glad that despite the man’s distrust towards Wei Wuxian, he didn’t demand to know where he was hiding nor asked Xichen to take Wangji back, he seemed to trust Xichen and that’s more than what he could ask for.

Shaking his head, he decides to focus back on what he’s doing. With the man’s permission, he can now take some of the medical equipment he keeps on his room left by the healers and make a proper bag with all these supplies. Now with his uncle’s permission, he can leave the Cloud Recesses with a large bag because he knows he won’t have to explain why.

Xichen takes a long time to finish all his preparations, clean his face from all the tears and does his best to look as normal as he would look any other day, taking the bag on his shoulder and leaving the hanshi in a state that would embarrass him any other day but that is at the bottom of his concerns right now.

“It will be okay, Wangji,” He whispers as he takes his sword out and gets ready, almost stepping on it when someone appears in his line of sight.

“Sect Leader Lan!” By the robes this cultivator is wearing, it is someone from the Jin Sect, the gold and white making him feel uncomfortable. “I’m sorry to bother you when you’re leaving.”

The leader can feel how the man wanted to ask where he is going, but he just smiles. “Please, there is no problem. How can I help you?”

“Sect Leader Jin sent an urgent message,” Xichen’s stomach drops as the man extends a formal letter with a respectful bow.

Doing his best to keep his hands from shaking, he unfolds the expensive piece of paper and starts to read, the bag almost slipping off his shoulder. “I— I’ll be there.”

“Please come with me, Sect Leader, we were given explicit orders to escort all the sect leaders safely.”

“Alright… let’s go.”

“Respected Sect Leader Lan,

I apologise this comes so suddenly and I apologise to intervene with your plans, but important information has surfaced and I’m obliged to request an urgent meeting. 

We know Wei Wuxian’s plan now and we need to stop him before he can do it. Many people are in danger.

Please have a safe trip.”

Chapter Text

In his whole life, Lan Xichen has experienced a lot of things while flying on Shuoyue. From the excitement doing it for the first time to the anxiousness that precedes a battle where no one knows how it will go, but even with all of this, flying to Lanling this time it’s the worst feeling he has ever experienced.

What if Jin Guangshan somehow found where Wei Wuxian is hiding? That not only means the Jiang siblings would be treated as traitors, he will also be, and Wangji will be left alone to die. With a startle, he suddenly realises Wangji could already be dead, after all, if the nameless cultivator was indeed part of the Jin sect or hired by them, the first thing they could need to do is killing the only person the cultivation world will be willing to believe. 

Wei Wuxian’s words don’t worth anything for most of the cultivators, but Wangji’s do. If his brother woke up and declared it wasn’t the other who attacked him, suspicions would arise, disturbing the peace and control the Jins want to have over everything and everyone. The best solution for them would be finishing their job with his brother and blaming the demonic cultivator for it.

This, of course, is almost enough to knock him down from the sky.

“Sect Leader Lan, is everything okay?”

Having someone he doesn’t know or trust so close to him is yet another thing that pushes Xichen closer to having a mental breakdown. This Jin disciple receiving orders to escorting him so he arrives safely sounds and feels more like yet another thing Jin Guangshan would do to assure they capture him. Lan Xichen’s mind even goes as far as to imagine he will be attacked as soon as they land and the temptation to prepare an attack with Liebing is definitely there.

“Everything is alright, I apologise.”

The man, of course, doesn’t question him nor sends doubtful looks, he just nods and looks back to the front, keeping his sword close to Xichen’s and moving forward. They don’t stop, of course, Lan Xichen refuses to drag this, even more, refuses to leave his brain free to conceive worst ideas and refuses to show weakness. 

So they fly in record time, landing in Lanling when the sun is already setting.

To his surprise, there’s not an army of cultivators waiting to capture him as soon as he’s done and the disciple who flew with him just stands there and waits until Shouyue is back on its sheath to start guiding him into Carp Tower. 

“Sect Leader Lan, I’m glad you’re here,” The little relief he experienced after his arrival, though, vanishes as soon as he hears that voice and turns to see Jin Guangshan walking towards him. “I apologise to disturb your plans, though.”

“There is no need,” Xichen, despite the anxiousness and tension, smiles, greeting the other back as he would do any other time. “Thank you for your hard work.”

“We’re all doing something to help,” He says with exaggerated humility. “I’m glad we can finally have progress.”

“I was surprised A-Yao didn’t tell me anything,” Xichen says with a small frown. “We could have returned together.”

“It’s information we just got,” Xichen can’t honestly say if his sworn brother it’s part of whatever the man is planning or if this is something Jin Guangshan is working on alone. “But please, come on in, you’re the first one to arrive.”

Lan Xichen has been punctual his whole life, always arriving earlier than what people expected him and he’s more than okay with it, but now, he hates it. Being alone while carrying such a delicate and life-changing secret is nerve-racking, furthermore, he’s not sure he’s completely safe. Jiang Wanyin and Jiang Yanli could already be here for all he knows.

“I thank you for letting us know,” He says, walking next to the other leader but keeping an eye in his surroundings. “These have been troubling times.”

“I can only imagine how this is going for you, sect leader,” Jin Guangshan sighs as the two of them step inside the great hall. “But please know we’re still hopeful we will find your brother before it is too late.”

It doesn’t matter how much he hears it, it’s still annoying that everyone else use Wangji to appeal to his negative side. It is as if they don’t know how to make him cooperate with their cause if they don’t use his brother, Xichen knows Jin Guangshan in specific likes to use this so he falls for his sugar-coated theories and sadistic methods.

“I believe in Wangji,” For the other it’s about Wangji’s strength, for Xichen it’s about the decisions he made.

Jin Guangshan continues talking about the situation and how they have been trying to cope with the death of their son and Jiang Cheng taking Jin Ling and Jiang Yanli to a place that may not cover all their needs. Lan Xichen tries to sympathise with the man and her wife, he really does, but he has seen the love and dedication Jiang Yanli puts into taking care of her son even when she’s suffering from what could have been mortal wounds and the pain of losing her husband. While he won’t deny they may miss their grandson, it’s not true Jin Ling would be better with them just because they have more money.

Not that he can voice it out, of course. 

He listens patiently to the words that used to sound so convincing but that now makes him doubt and question every single thing. Night falls, they eat, talk some more and all these unnecessary pleasantries before he’s guided to the usual room he gets whenever he visits Lanling.

Now alone, Lan Xichen allows himself to let out a long, tired sigh as he sits on the bed, placing the bag he had been carrying all this time with all the things he should be using on Wangji right now, next to him. So far it seems Wei Wuxian isn’t here, but he can’t really be a hundred per cent sure, Carp Tower is huge and he doesn’t doubt they have hidden dungeons made for torturing people… maybe they will wait until he falls asleep to attack and drag him to one of them.

In any case, he decides to use this time to get ready, as much as he can do it here anyway, and prepare for whatever Jin Guangshan will be revealed tomorrow. It’s safe to assume the supposed information he received doesn’t have anything to do with what’s really happening, if they have found Wei Wuxian’s whereabouts, Lan Xichen has the idea they would have been called to a battle instead of a conference but this does nothing to calm his anxiousness, not in the sightless.

It’s not that Wei Wuxian’s actions have been forgotten in these days, but throwing something new about the case will undoubtedly re-ignite the fury towards him, not even mentioning that they will probably have to follow what they are told, and that’s the least they need. To move without raising suspicion, the Jiang siblings and he had to act as if they were doing what everyone else was doing, they had to pretend they were still looking for the man even when they visited him daily and that could change if a plan is revealed.

Things are becoming more complicated and Lan Xichen is starting to doubt his own capabilities.

°°°

The next morning, Lan Xichen emerges from his room feeling dizzy and disoriented and not because of the lack of sleep, but because his brain is probably very close to collapsing.

Even when he tried to focus on reading more about poisons and possible cures, his brain constantly went back to what Jin Guangshan was going to say and the state of Jiang Wanyin and Jiang Yanli, if they were indeed free and were invited to come or if they were already captured and being hurt, so by the time the sun goes up, Xichen is not only worrying about them but also hating himself for not focusing on his brother and what to do to help him.

It’s the worst type of torture.

“Sect Leader Lan, please follow me, the conference will start soon.” He’s not surprised to hear more leaders have arrived and a part of him wishes it’s Nie Mingjue or Jiang Wanyin, desperately needing having someone who can understand him, but instead finding someone Xichen doesn’t want anything to do with.

“Sect Leader Lan,” Su She greets him as soon as he enters the hall and is guided to one of the tables. “Good morning.”

“Sect Leader,” He replies because even when that’s rude, he’s not in the mood to deal with it. He doesn’t like Su She, doesn’t like how he seems to hate his brother and how he created his own sect with what the Gusu Lan taught to him. “Good morning.”

“Seems that we’re finally finding out what Wei Wuxian is planning and about Hanguang-jun’s involvement.”

To this mind return Su She’s theory of Wangji becoming a puppet for Wei Wuxian, but he has the feeling this right now is not related to that. The term involvement sounds more of him implying Wangji is pat of Wei Wuxian’s wrongdoings instead of a victim and this, combined with the lack of sleep, anxiousness and negativeness so uncommon on him, makes him stand up with a very murderous expression. “Please refrain yourself from implying Wangji has anything to do with it.”

Su She, who was obviously not expecting that reaction, takes a couple of seconds to shake the shock off before composing himself, trying to look confident again. “I never implied anything bad about him.” 

“Xichen, is everything okay?” Lan Xichen is far from being rational and is more than willing to let this escalate to the last consequences, but luckily for him, Nie Mingjue appears in that moment and the protectiveness towards him makes itself present in the form of walking closer in a way that makes it look like Su She is the one ready to strike instead of the other way.

Da-ge, yes, I apologise,” He says, looking away from Su She to greet his older brother. “I hope you’re doing well.”

Nie Mingjue nods, glancing one last time at Su She before walking towards his place with Xichen at his side. “I wonder what he could have found.”

“I do too,” Xichen sighs, sitting down and pressing his hand to his face at realising what he almost did. “I arrived yesterday, but we didn’t talk about it.”

“Always wanting to drag everything,” Nie Mingjue snorts, glancing at the maid as she placed food in front of him. “None of us has found anything, wonder how he always manages to find it first.”  

If only his older brother knew what Xichen knows and the tormenting thoughts that have been following him, this wouldn’t surprise him that much. “As long as this can be solved, who finds it first is the least of our problems.”

“I left Huaisang checking on the reports, but I doubt he came or even went close to Qinghe,” After a moment, he continues. “Wei Wuxian was always unpredictable, now he’s under a lot of pressure, so we can only wonder.”

“I just… want to know.”

Nie Mingjue seems to understand his anxiousness and stress, but Xichen knows he thinks it’s because he doesn’t know about Wangji’s condition when in reality, he’s anxious because he’s not doing anything. Instead of sitting here with food and amenities, he should be in that cave helping his brother and trying to get rid of the poison. 

Time is moving and time won’t be forgiving.

Xichen feels himself falling deeper and deeper in his pit of despair as the main halls continue to receive the rest of the sect leaders, each one of them coming with ridiculous comments about being thankful of the plan been discovered or mentioning for the millionth time just how evil the Yiling Patriarch is. It’s a destructive spiral that will end with him inevitably snapping just like he almost snaps at Su She and he can’t stop it.

“Sect Leader Lan…” Or that’s what he thought until he heard the voice he unknowingly had been wanting to hear. 

Jiang Wanyin walks into the main hall with an expression that seems to mix relief with anger in equal portions, which makes Xichen immediately push himself off the floor and towards him. Considering how the other leader this, to think he’s as relieved as he is to see him is… touching and his chest and heart warm up inexplicably, the only good thing happening in this otherwise torturing week.

“Sect Leader Jiang,” He says, a genuine smile blossoming on his face. “I’m glad to see you’re safe.”

“I’m glad as well,” He sighs, flexing his fingers. “I didn’t know what to think.”

“Believe me I didn’t either,” He sighs too, shaking his head. “It was unexpected.”

The somehow intimate display they just showed doesn’t go unnoticed, discrete eyes from other leaders and guards are looking at them and for a moment, Xichen feels his ears heating up but he blames it on the fact that they’re the centre of attention. Jiang Wanyin on his side has a similar reaction and the two of them take a small step back.

“Let’s hear what all of this is about.”

The two of them agree and return to their respective places, that is next to each other, but with the difference being that Xichen is feeling a bit more hopeful. Unless Jin Guangshan wants to expose them in front of everyone, this should be manageable.

“Just like all of you, the Jin sect has been doing their best to find this criminal,” Once everyone is there, Jin Guangshan starts talking from his golden throne. “Our efforts finally paid off, and we may have a very important clue about Wei Ying’s activities.”

“What did you find?” Nie Mingjue demands, once more complaining about the way he drags things.

“Several corpses have vanished from our burial grounds,” Xichen almost shivers. “We don’t have graverobbers nor anyone whe would dare to disrespect our fallen cultivators.”

“So he’s planning to do the horrible things he did during the Sunshot Campaign, using our own people against us!” Funny Sect Leader Yao didn’t find it horrible when they were winning.

“He is, the use of his demonic cultivation is growing stronger and he will be attacking Lanling soon.”

“Why Lanling?” Jiang Wanyin is who asks, his frown passing as normal, though, Xichen can tell it’s not his typical one.

“Lanling is the centre of his issues,” Sect Leader Ouyang says. “If he attacks Lanling, none of us would be a match against him.”

“Have you found resentful energy on the graveyards?” Xichen dares to ask, gaining the attention of everyone.

“Of course,” Jin Guangshan replies as if that’s the most obvious thing in the world. “It is strong and it belongs to that seal he has.”

“How many bodies has he stolen?”

“At least fifteen.”

The same coldness that threatened to make Xichen shiver seems to go down Jiang Wanyin’s spine because the man shifts and once more flexes his fingers anxiously on his lap as he glances at Xichen. He can understand what he’s feeling.

“It hasn’t been that long since the fight at Nightless City, that kind of cultivation surely demands a lot,” Nie Mingjue says from his side. “It’s only one person, how could he take so many corpses with no one seeing or hearing a thing?”

Xichen is partially glad that it’s not him or Jiang Wanyin the ones questioning this information, after all, everybody seems to question their judgement for being directly related to Wei Wuxian and Wangji respectively. Having Nie Mingjue showing his exception is better, but he still worries for his older brother and his well-being for voicing out his distrust towards the strongest man in the cultivation world.

“He has Lan Wangji’s energy,” Yes, Xichen is definitely lashing out at Su She. “His strength was back in no time.”

“Su She, please stop talking about my brother in such a disrespectful way,” He warns, once more leaving the man bewildered with his unfriendly tone. “We have no proof that says he did that.”

Su She goes from shocked to angry, but Xichen doesn’t care.

“As much it pains me to admit it, Sect Leader Lan, Hanguang-Jun was really hurt when he was taken away,” Sect Leader Yao says next. “We can’t completely get rid of the idea of him doing one of his nefarious practices on him.”

He was taught diplomacy, the importance of keeping your feelings inside so they don’t interfere with your everyday duties, but Xichen can feel it is starting to run low. Wangji isn’t in the best condition, but he’s not dead and having them doubting his brother’s strength and treating him as if he was just a bag of energy Wei Wuxian sucked up to get his strength back makes him want to stand up and hit every single one of them. He already feels bad for being here when he should be helping Wangji and they are just making it worse.

“I would appreciate if you didn’t mention him, he’s not the reason why we’re reunited here.”

That’s probably the rudest thing he has said and the worst thing is that he doesn’t even regret it, his eyes burn with an inextinguishable fire of anger that can’t be hidden; he has the ability to show any emotion in his face rather easily and if they thought he was only kind eyes and soft smiles, they’re very wrong.

“Sect Leader Lan is right,” Jin Guangshan says, trying to break through the now tense atmosphere. “It is important we plan something to face what’s coming.”

“He lost the surprise element, we already are a step ahead of him,” Sect Leader Ouyang says after dedicating a shameless scoff at Xichen. “We should strengthen Lanling, send everything we have.”

“Leaving our own sects unprotected is suicide!” Someone in the back complains. “He will immediately notice it and go for us.”

“I could never ask any of you to leave yourselves unprotected,” The Jin Sect Leader says with a frown. “Our cultivators will defend Lanling with everything they have.”

“I’m sure we can spare some cultivators,” Another one says. “The chief cultivator has worked so hard to get this information, we can’t turn our backs on him.”

“We are not turning our backs on him!”

“It sounds like that’s what you want!”

The yelling doesn’t stop, it goes backa and forth for what feels like hours, many of them angered about the corpse situation while others seem to be angrier at the idea of not following what Jin Guangshan says. It’s emotionally draining and after Xichen’s outburst, a headache immediately starts to give its signs of coming for him.

“What we now, then,” Jin Guagnshan speaks again when he too seems to get annoyed by all the mess. “Wei Ying is planning to use our own fallen cultivators against us and possibly take over Lanling to establish his new base. We also know he may use Hanguang-Jun to pressure the Lan Sect, maybe even take advantage of his old connection to the Jiang Sect.”

“That is highly unlikely,” Jiang Wanyin says with unmasked discomfort. “He walked away from us a long time ago.”

“He has no honour.” Maybe it’s not only Xichen who wants to lash at Su She, if Jiang Wanyin’s expression is a good indicator.

“Because of these methods, I believe we should be also trying to learn about demonic cultivation.”

It’s scandalous and it throws the room into a worst state than the one before. Nie Mingjue immediately stands up and Xichen is quick to stand up as well to keep him from throwing himself to the other, Jiang Wanyin is frozen on his place for several minutes and the rest are a mess he can’t even understand.

“How dare you suggest we use those dark methods?!” Nie Mingjue demands, apparently considering to push Xichen away as he points an accusatory finger at the other.

“I never mentioned anything about using it,” Jin Guangshan replies calmly and this infuriates his older brother further. “But understanding a technique is vital to know how to deal with it.”

“Not a single disciple of mine will learn it.”

“I can understand it, Sect Leader Nie, no one is forcing you,” He continues, turning away from him to face the rest. “When we don’t understand a technique, we study it and create a plan that helps us have an advantage against it, this is not different.”

Nie Mingjue is fuming and Xichen is having a harder time in holding him back.

“I agree with Sect Leader Nie, those practices are dark and should never be used, but learning about them is the only way we have for protection,” He’s eloquent as always, each word used carefully to slip in the minds of everyone and Xichen is not surprised to see some starting to nod. “If we want to survive the upcoming attack, we must learn.”

“I agree with the Chief Cultivator.”

It takes several minutes to have someone talking, but when they do, Xichen knows they are fucked.

Chapter Text

“This is outrageous, inconceivable!” Lan Xichen winces as he listens to his sworn brother’s cries of outrage. “He thinks we’re all fools.”

Some are more than others, actually, many minor sect leaders agreed on having some of their disciples coming to learn about this demonic cultivation and how to, supposedly, fight back. Unaware, or completely aware, of the implications this drags to the whole situation, exposing once more just how easily they can be manipulated or how they only see and consider themselves as extensions of the one in power to get what said person wants.

“Insensitive, too,” Nie Mingjue, however, continues. “You two are the main victims of this whole demonic cultivation mess.”

At his side, Jiang Wanyin gives a stiff nod, arms crossing a bit more protectively in front of his chest. “I won’t be sending any disciple, he can do and think whatever he wants.”

Lan Xichen also refused, of course, his sect doesn’t want anything to do with demonic cultivation and the sole proposition he will, later on, explain to them will maybe make them explode. Aside from that, he also doesn’t want to fall for anything Jin Guangshan is planning to do, not when there are so many problems way more important than this.

Nie Mingjue nods, agreeing with him though for very different reasons, and seems to be getting ready to start again with his ranting when his energy goes closer to Qi deviation levels as he raises a hand to point at someone. “You, you knew about all of this!”

Lan Xichen has to hurry to stand in front of a very confused-looking Jin Guangyao who appears to look lost in why there are so many people in there and why his older brother looks ready to kill him… again.

Da-ge, A-Yao just arrived,” He says as he raises his hands to keep the other back. “I’m sure he isn’t part of it.”

Er-ge, I didn’t know you were coming,” Jin Guangyao says after greeting his still murderous older brother and Jiang Wanyin who stayed behind because this wasn’t something he wanted to be part of. “ Da-ge, I’m afraid I am not sure of what I am being accused of.”

“Jin Guangshan wants to learn demonic cultivation,” Nie Mingjue spits and Lan Xichen notices with a small sigh of relief that their youngest brother looks surprised and confused. “And a bunch of idiots agreed!”

“I… was not aware of my father’s plans,” Jin Guangyao says after several seconds of silence. “I apologise for the inconveniences it caused… I must talk to him to understand, please excuse me.”

Jin Guangyao hurriedly leaves after that, but Nie Mingjue doesn’t seem to be having it and soon goes behind him, leaving Xichen behind to feel the stress of his two brothers fighting adding to the already conflicting emotions and stress he has.

“Now I’m glad I’m not the sibling in the middle,” Jiang Wanyin's comment surprisingly makes him smile lightly, turning to look at him when he stands at his side. "I thought being the youngest was the worst."

"I'm afraid my attempts of helping them to mend their relationship haven't been successful at all." He sighs, appreciating the way it lightened his mood, even if it was just for a bit. "There are times I fear their differences are irreconcilable." 

"You have always been the voice of reason, Zewu-Jun, I believe things will solve once this bigger issue passes." 

Lan Xichen knows Jiang Wayin is not the kind of person who goes around comforting people, emotional aspects seem to be one of the most troubling aspects of life, so having him saying this is the most comforting thing his frozen heart has received in a long, long time. “Thank you, Sect Leader Jiang, it means a lot.”

Jiang Wanyin nods, looking away from him, looking self-conscious of what he just said and the implications of it. Xichen does his best to not stare at him, but eventually loses the battle when he notices the faintest reddish dusting the tip of his ears.

“I’m glad you’re safe, too,” Jiang Wayin says after several seconds of strained silence. “When I received this messenger saying I was needed here, I really thought the worst.”

“I’m afraid you’re not the only one,” Xichen sighs as he starts walking, afraid someone could hear them. “Is everything good, then?”

“As good as they can be,” Jiang Wanyin shrugs, looking around to also make sure there’s no one around and leaning closer to him to whisper. “He didn’t steal those corpses.”

It was something Xichen assumed since the beginning but hearing the confirmation of it helps him reassure that small speck of insecurity and doubt left. “I was heading for Lotus Pier when the messenger appeared, if you’re going back, we can travel together.”

Jiang Wanyin seems to sigh in relief at hearing him. “Should we leave? Won’t your sworn brothers be needing you?”

“Tending to Wangji is more important,” He nods, starting to walk towards his room. “I will eventually find out whatever happens between those three.”

Jiang Wanyin nods and follows him without another word. Most of the leaders and people from other sects are too busy discussing what just happened to pay them enough attention to see they’re leaving together and they both plan to take advantage of it and the two of them are flying towards Lotus Pier in no time.

°°°

“Sect Leader Jiang, I must inform you, my uncle knows about the whole situation,” Xichen not only sees Jiang Wanyin’s muscles tensing but Jiang Yanli’s ones too, one of her hands tightening the hold she has on the blanket covering her baby. “But he won’t intervene nor do anything about it; his only concern is Wangji’s well-being.”

The tension on the woman’s shoulders dissipates, but it takes the leader more time to calm the anxiousness his words just caused to him, making Xichen wonder if he’s considering kicking him out. “It was rude for us to ask you to keep such a big secret from your family.”

“I promised to keep it a secret, I didn’t reveal it,” He needs he has to talk about it, he doesn’t want him to think he can’t trust him. “But I’m afraid my uncle knows me too well and something in my expression gave it away, he raised me and Wangji, after all.”

Something that appears to be close to relief crosses Jiang Wanyin’s face and  Xichen realises with a start the man feared to lose the only person he trusted outside of his own family. “Yeah, that’s understandable.”

“Do you think Grandmaster Lan could help us discover how to help your brother?” Jiang Yanli asks as she takes a small bag and slings it on her shoulder. “Is he coming?”

“He’s not coming, but he guided me in what I can do,” Xichen nods, resting his hand on the bag he has on his shoulder. “I believe Wangji is poisoned, I need to find the cure before his core runs out of energy.”

“Then we shouldn’t waste any more time,” Jiang Wanyin says, turning to look at his sister and sighing. “Ajie—”

“I’m coming, A-Cheng… I need to see him and he needs to see me too,” She says and Xichen realises at that moment that she’s coming with the two of them. “Thanks to you I healed and I’m coming with you, I trust everything will be okay.”

Jiang Wanyin sighs, but this time in defeat. “Zewu-Jun, Ajie has been healing all this time and she wishes to see our brother, I hope it doesn’t bother you.”

“Please, it doesn’t bother me at all,” He frowns, shaking his head. “I’m glad you’re doing well and have healed, Maiden Jiang, and I understand the bond the three of you have, I’m glad you can finally reunite.”

The Yunmeng Jiang sect leader frowns lightly as if he had been waiting for Xichen to disagree and convince her to stay here so she and her baby are not at risk. The thought almost makes him chuckle.

But then he remembers about Wangji and every single positive emotion vanishes, turning him back to the cold and anxious shell he became just when his brother disappeared. It thankfully goes unnoticed by the other two, or that’s what he assumes because they soon leave Lotus Pier and start their way towards that cave. Lan Xichen’s heart speeding up with every step he takes and ending with the organ beating right on his ears, drowning all the other sounds of the outside world, almost making him trip with a protruding rock.

Jiang Yanli sends him a concerned look, but doesn’t have time to ask because Wei Wuxian takes that moment to appear from among the trees, looking paler and somehow even more tired than when Xichen first saw him.

Which worries him more.

“I thought you said you were going to Lanling, didn’t know you would be back this soon and—”

The man stops as if he had been running at full speed only to have a wall appearing in front of him to stop him in a rather cruel way. His eyes go wide and there’s a small and barely perceptible shiver running down his body before he finally manages to speak. “S-Shijie?”

“A-Xian,” Jiang Yanli voice trembles with so many emotions it’s hard to discern which one is the winning one, not even when she rushes towards him and reaches to squeeze one of his hands. “A-Xian, you’re here”

“Shijie, you’re alive,” Wei Wuxian breathes out, taking minutes, or maybe they were just seconds, to debate if he should go forward and hug her or if he should control himself. “You and your baby.”

What ultimately stops him from rushing face-first into her arms is the bundle she has on her arms, the baby Jin Ling resting peacefully and securely on her mother’s arms. “We are, A-Xian.”

“Not for you, that’s obvious,” Jiang Wanyin intervenes, though, he doesn’t move to separate them. “And now we have more fucking problems, someone is stealing corpses and Jin Guangshan thinks you’re planning an attack.”

“I’m not even surprised,” Wei Wuxian groans, rubbing his face anxiously. “But if someone is stealing corpses, then someone is learning demonic cultivation.”

“Yes, Jin Guangshan and many more disciples will,” Jiang Wanyin hisses angrily. “He convinced everyone to fall for the bullshit of it being necessary to fight back against you.”

“That will put you in more danger, A-Xian,” Jiang Yanli says with anxiousness lacing each one of her words. “Will complicate things more for A-Cheng and Zewu-Jun.”

Wei Wuxian shakes his head at that, forcing himself to tear his eyes away from his sister and turning to finally acknowledge Xichen. “Zewu-Jun.”

Xichen is close, too close to telling him to stop because he’s sure he will say his brother dying or is already dead, his core having failed the gruelling battle against the poison taking over his entire body. “Young Master Wei… is Wangji—?”

“No,” He replies, hurriedly. “But he’s very weak, I— Nothing I have tried has worked.”

“I think he’s poisoned,” Xichen replies, taking an urgent step forward and hoping they understand he really wants to start moving. “Uncle will help me determine what kind, I just need to check on various things.”

“Wait, Lan Qiren knows about this?” The defensive and unfriendly tone comes back to him and he stops Xichen from moving forward by standing in front of him. “He will mess everything up!”

It doesn’t get unnoticed by Xichen how the man’s anger level goes from zero to the maximum level in a matter of seconds nor the small sparks of resentment that seems to leave his body. Probably another consequence of this form of cultivation. Still, he stands his ground and looks into those eyes that seem to spark in red for a moment. “I will ask you to respect my uncle, he will be helping me with Wangji’s situation and won’t be saying anything.”

“Right, like you said you weren’t going to say anything either,” He spits, his whole body language wanting to intimidate him without success. “Now I feel safe.”

“A-Xian,” Jiang Yanli intervenes before Jiang Wanyin can say what he surely wanted to say. “Grandmaster Lan is their uncle, he knows them and he only wants to help his youngest nephew. I believe and trust them, so please do the same.”

The effect she has on him is immediate, the anger and resentment that swarm inside his body goes down as he turns to look at her, eyes going back to normal and softening in what appears to be regret. “I-I… I’m sorry.”

“The nerve you have, Wei Wuxian.” Jiang Wanyin hisses from where he is, adding to the man’s embarrassment.

Lan Xichen doesn’t resent him, however, and only thanks the heavens when they finally start walking, the time they take to reach the cave this time being shorter than the first time or at least, that’s Xichen’s feeling.

“Zewu-Jun!” Upon entering the cave, Xichen can barely keep himself front tripping when the little kid comes to hug his leg. “You came back!”

His heart once more aches painfully as he looks at the innocence-filled eyes and the enthusiasm he shows at seeing him again, the fact that Wei Wuxian took the time to explain to him who he is and how to call him adding yet another thorn to the plant covering his heart. “I did, I hope you are doing well.”

Wen Yuan nods, clinging to his leg until his eyes fall on the woman behind her, his eyes widening when he seems to notice what the bundle on her arms mean. “It’s a baby!”

As the little kid let go of his face and hurried back, Xichen allowed himself to stare at the woman’s face falling and filling with the same pain and disbelief that took over him after realising the implications having such a small child in there meant. He sees her as she kneels carefully and allows the kid to look at her son, her two brothers staying at her sides.

“Wangji,” When he looks away from the scene, he finally gets to his brother, fear spiking at noticing he looks thinner, paler and with clear signs of getting sicker. “Oh, Wangji.”

Despite knowing he has work to do, he takes a few seconds to caress his cheek carefully, feeling the cold skin and the cheekbones pressing against his palm more prominently. He still has flowers on his hair, fresh flowers that make him realise the kid has witnessed how his brother’s body has deteriorated.

Shaking himself out of his stupor, he hurries to place the bag down and bring all the necessary equipment he brought, placing his notes next to Wangji’s head so he can keep them on his sight all the time.  In the back of his mind, he registers Jiang Yanli’s voice introducing her son to the little Wen Yuan and asking him how he is doing and thanking him to be taking such good care of her brother, he registers Jiang Wanyin’s voice offering his sister a chair so she doesn’t hurt her back again and grumpily agreeing in helping her to entertain the kid. The back of his mind wonders where Wei Wuxian is and why he’s not talking, but he ignores it for the sake of keeping himself focused.

He mixes herbs and prepares infusions he gives to his brother with a lot of effort, giving them time to react before crossing the poison out of his long list. He works on doing all the less invasive procedures, each time praying it will work and reveal what kind of poison he's dealing with, but it just doesn't work and the list is getting shorter and shorter. It really is a new kind of torture.

“A poison would cause him fever, delirium, maybe,” It’s embarrassing, but Xichen can’t keep his body from jumping when Wei Wuxian’s voice sounds right at his side. “Even with his strong core, he would have already… The damage would be irreparable by now.”

“No sickness or external injury would keep him in this state for so long,” The thought the man just had crossed his mind before, of course, but he went for the logic behind it. Wangji is strong and the poison is the only explanation. “There isn't another explanation.”

“No, I think you’re right,” Wei Wuxian replies, taking the notes with so many options crossed out already, his eyes focusing on each word until he finally places it down with what seems like realisation taking over his features. “It’s not a normal poison.”

 “What do you mean?” Xichen asks, more anxiousness settling on his body. “What kind of poison, then?”

Wei Wuxian didn't directly reply to him, instead he stood up and went to retrieve something, coming back with a small dagger that immediately made Xichen’s anxiousness skyrocket. It’s not that he believes he’s about to kill him or his brother, but he doesn’t like to not know what he’s planning.

“The Yin Iron can poison people in minor doses, not only kill them to turn them into walking corpses,” He whispers, carefully taking one of Wangji’s hands and turning his palm up, bringing the dagger to it before stopping. “The energy of that thing affected Lan Zhan.”

“The Yin Iron was destroyed,” This time it is Jiang Wanyin who says it, stepping closer and leaving his sister and nephew with the small kid. “How could anyone poison him with it?”

Xichen now has three things to worry about. First, he knew Wangji despised the dark energies and that made him especially vulnerable against it, but he didn’t know he got directly affected by it at one point. Second, he was there when the pieces of the damn Iron were destroyed, if they really kept another piece hidden, just how many more things was he fooled with? Last, but definitely the worst from among the three, if his brother was poisoned by that thing, wouldn’t that mean he will become one of those white-eyed monsters once he passes away?

No.

Wangji won’t pass away.

He will save him.

“In the same way, someone attacked him and then tried to blame it on me,” Wei Wuxian snorts, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. “This is against me and Lan Zhan was the perfect target… By turning him into yet another walking corpse, everything would be against me.” 

Lan Xichen takes that as a confirmation for his last and most horrible thought, Wangji can really end up becoming a walking corpse who can’t recognise who is his ally and who is his enemy and he by now knows he will never be capable of fighting against him. If Wangji really turns, he can already tell he will die at his hands. “Young Master Wei—”

Instead of turning to look at him, the so-called Yiling Patriarch makes a cut on Wangji’s palm, quickly pulling it away from his body so the blood doesn’t fall on his white robes, letting the normal blood drop into the floor. “His blood is normal, if it was a normal poison, it would already be showing signs of infection or deterioration. The poison is not attacking his body, but his core; Jin Guangshan already knows demonic cultivation, he wanted to attack me with my own cultivation method, but Lan Zhan protecting me made it better. It all makes sense.”

Xichen allows his panic to leave his body while he reaches forward and starts to cure the still bleeding wound on his brother’s hand. His hand trembles and his heart once more returns to beat on his ears, muffling considerably the voices around him.

“If it’s resentment or that iron thing, then why didn’t your flute work? Why didn’t you sense anything?” Jiang Wanyin asks, something Xichen is thankful for because he’s sure he can’t say anything.

“I didn’t… I didn’t think about it,” Wei Wuxian admits, falling to his knees at Xichen’s side once more. “All this time I was trying to strengthen his core, his body, so it had the strength to fight against whatever was damaging him… Turns out I was just feeding whatever it is eating him away.”

“We need— I need to go back to Gusu, I need to learn the songs to take that parasite out of him,” Xichen manages to breathe out, but just barely. Each breath is like having a bunch of rope tightening around his chest, to the point even the smallest gasp causes an enormous amount of pain, leading him to believe he’s better without breathing, even when he knows he needs air to survive. “I-I need.”

“Zewu-Jun,” A pair of hands closing around his own that are holding Wangji’s one shock him back into reality, helping him to find Jiang Yanli kneeling in front of him with her face filled with concern. “Please breathe, we’re here, your brother is still here and it will be okay.”

Her voice is comforting, the kind he only remembers hearing once a month when he was a kid and upset about something childish and ridiculous, her voice is soft and as she asks him to breathe with her, he finds himself managing to. 

Xichen has the fleeting thought of feeling humiliated for showing just how weak he is in front of another sect leader, the so-called enemy and the mother of the Jin Sect’s heir, but he ignores it. They’re not strangers anymore, they are as important as Nie Mingjue and Jin Guangyao are and are the only ones, along with his uncle, he can trust right now. He needs the comfort and he shouldn’t be ashamed about it.

“I can go back with Gusu with you, Zewu-Jun,” Once the pressure in his chest and skull seems to go down considerably, Xichen hears Jiang Wanyin’s voice at the same time the hold he has on Jiang Yanli’s hands tighten a bit. “I do not know how to play any of the melodies, but I could help.”

An involuntary sob leaves Xichen’s mouth as he closes his eyes and lowers his head until he’s almost touching the hands of the woman, his own and Wangji’s still bleeding one. “Thank you...thank you so much.” This is the second time they have helped him when his emotions can’t be controlled by his normal and trusted methods and Xichen can’t even tell just how thankful he is.

 “You don’t need to thank us, it is us who thank you for listening to what we had to say,” Jiang Yanli says with the same soft and comforting tone. “A-Xian doesn’t deserve all of this.”

In the corner of his eyes he can see Wei Wuxian looking away with the smallest nod, a small tremor running down his body. “To save Wangji, I’m afraid I will need everyone.”

“Anything,” Jiang Wanyin responds, holding his nephew closer.

“I will need your clarity bell,to keep Wangji stable while I retrieve the music,” He breathes out, removing his hands from the hold of the woman with a soft and thankful smile to finish cleaning and bandaging Wangji’s hand. “Young Master Wei, I will also need your Chenqing.”

The two men and the woman nod as he places Wangji’s hand back on his chest and starts walking towards the exit, taking another shaky breath before talking.

“We will save Wangji.”

Chapter Text

“Poisoned by Yin Iron?” Lan Xichen can’t even judge the tone of disbelief present in his uncle’s voice. “Does that mean they kept a piece?!”

“I do not know, uncle,” He sighs, keeping his eyes on the music sheets on the book. “It was his guess and all the other types of potions I tested came up with nothing, it is the only explanation.”

Lan Qiren lets out a frustrated and clearly audible sigh and Xichen doesn't need to look up to know he’s looking as if he’s ready to punch someone, that has probably never happened, but that’s how he usually looks when he’s too frustrated or angry.

“I will go with you, to free his body from it you will need all the help possible,” He says after several minutes of stress Xichen uses to practice the melodies on Liebing. “It won’t be easy.”

“I need you here, uncle,” Stopping the music, Xichen turns to look at him with pleading eyes. “As much as I do need your power, you and I leaving the Cloud Recesses will raise suspicions… I have no idea what Jin Guangshan is planning, but I can’t have him suspecting anything, not right now.”

Lan Qiren’s help would be invaluable, the strength of his core along with his vast experience with every existing song in their library would help Wangji in no time, but Xichen is worried. By now, he won’t even doubt many of their own disciples are starting to wonder why their sect leader leaves to Lotus Pier so constantly, after all, it’s not that he was that close to the Yunmeng Jiang sect leader before all of this happened, so this sudden change is weird. 

If their own people start to grow suspicious of their actions, Jin Guangshan and everyone else will immediately notice and now more than before, Xichen knows he can’t risk them finding Wangji. 

“I still can’t believe he’s thinking about learning those methods,” Just as Xichen predicted it, his uncle and the rest of elders had been scandalised by him informing Jin Guangshan was starting to learn demonic cultivation and had extended an offer to send disciples, but Lan Qiren got the strongest reaction since he knew what else what’s happening behind. “What did Wei Wuxian say about it?”

“He’s not surprised,” He says, returning his eyes to the book. “He knows Jin Guangshan is still trying to frame him for everything, so this is just another thing to add.”

“I could have never imagined he would go this far.”

Xichen didn’t either. As much as he disagreed with the methods implemented by the Lanling Jin sect, he never imagined they would go as far as to shamelessly start their own demonic cultivation path with the excuse of needing to be strong enough to fight against Wei Wuxian, more so if he considers his own brother got caught up in the middle and they don’t seem to care about it. 

Wangji being dead is beneficial to them.

“What do you plan to do, then?” He asks after he seems to come to terms with their problematic reality.

“I’ll use the clarity bell to keep Wangji as stable as I can, once I locate the resentment infecting his insides, I will ask young master Wei to pull it out…” He knows it sounds far simpler than what it is and that the risks are too high, but that’s probably the best course to take. “With him focusing on his element and me keeping Wangji from being consumed, it should be fine.”

 Lan Qiren gives a small nod and Xichen can feel the relief of coming up with an acceptable plan in such little time washing over him. The stress is starting to take a toll on him, but he refuses to give up, especially now that he’s so close to saving him.

So he refocuses on his task and practices the melodies until he can close his eyes and let his fingers do the job while he focuses on using the right amount of spiritual energy needed to make it work, this being probably the fastest it has taken him to learn such a complex melody.

“Xichen, I need you to tell me something,” Once he’s once more ready to leave his Hanshi and fly as fast as he can to Lotus Pier, his uncle once more stops him, eyes filled with uncertainty and stress he struggles to hold back. “Why do you trust all of them?”

It’s not a question he was ready to reply, if he has to be honest, and the timing is probably the worst, too, but Xichen does his best to understand his uncle’s concerns. He is not part of the small group he, Jiang Wanying, Jiang Yanli and Wei Wuxian formed and because of this, he hasn’t seen the sincerity all their actions carry.

“They are sincere in their desire to help Wangji and clear up all the things Jin Guangshan has done, uncle,” He says, keeping Shouyue in his hand and turning to look at him. “I trust them more than… A-Yao and Da-ge .”

It isn’t easy to say this, considering the oath the three of them made when they became sworn-brothers, one would think those two are his biggest confidants, but that’s how it feels. Jin Guangyao has his father behind him and Xichen doesn’t know just how far his younger sworn-brother will go in order to prove his worth to him, Nie Mingjue is sometimes blinded by his hatred towards demonic cultivation, Jin Guangshan and even Jin Guangyao, his sense of justice is similar to the one Xichen used to have before discovering all of this, for Nie Mingjue, things were black or white and there was nothing between them.

He couldn’t fully trust them.

“Then what about him?” His uncle asks next and Xichen doesn’t need a name to know who he is talking about. “How can you trust him?”

“Because… I’m not sure he’s the evil man everyone says he is, not anymore.”

°°°

By the time he’s back on Yunmeng, Xichen can feel the exhaustion is now a slightly more pressing matter, but he once more pushes it to the back of his mind. It has probably been a day now since he slept or meditated, but he will be okay, during the Sunshot Campaign he could go a couple of days without proper rest, so he was going to be okay, Wangji was first.

Wangji is first.

“Sect Leader Lan, glad to see you’re okay,” Xichen’s heart seems to skip a beat when Jiang Wanyin is who receives him on the path back to the cave, his worried face making a mess of his already wild emotions. “We have everything ready.”

“Thank you, Sect Leader Jiang,” He smiles, a genuine one that seems to appear more constantly when he’s around the other. “I brought everything I needed.”

To his surprise, the man replies with the faintest smile he has ever seen, but a smile in the end, and turns around, making a quick way of guiding him back into the cave where he finds things almost in the same way he left them, but with one huge change.

“I took A-Ling and A-Yuan to Lotus Pier,” Jiang Yanli says with her comforting tone once he steps inside. “They don’t need to see and be present for this.”

Xichen is grateful because he’s not sure he will like what happens.

“The melodies I learnt aim to expel evil spirits or entities out of a body or place,” He says as he places the medical supplies he brought on the floor. “The Yin Iron is built from resentful energy, it has to react to it.”

“I can control the resentment,” Wei Wuxian immediately says, making Xichen realise he had been sitting next to Wangji. “I just need to feel it and keep it from sticking back to his core, I should be capable of pulling it completely out.”

“I do not know if the resentment has caused damages to Wangji’s body and core… I’m afraid we may get unexpected reactions from him,” Xichen breathes out, his heart speeding up again. “I need the clarity bell for it.”

“I will also do my best to help,” Jiang Yanli says, taking her own bell from her sash and holding it on her hands.

Xichen knows her level of cultivation isn’t that high and using her own spiritual energy can make her feel sick, but the fact she’s offering to help is yet another thing that supports what he told his uncle about trusting them more than others.

“Please don’t exhaust yourself,” He says, careful to not accidentally insult her. “Your help is invaluable.”

With things ready, Xichen finally gathers enough strength to move and get close to his brother, taking in the deceptive looks that made him believe he wasn’t doing that bad when, in reality, his brother was probably too close to succumbing to that thing.

“Let’s begin.”

The use of a musical instrument for cultivation has always been a fascinating thing for Lan Xichen, being capable of feeling the effect the music has on its target it’s to put it simply, very useful and, right now it’s both good and bad.

On one side, he’s glad he can feel the resentment moving and giving sings that they really are doing the right thing, but on the other, he hates having to actually feel something so threatening, evil and hurtful hiding inside his brother.

As soon as the very first notes leave Liebing and the soothing tang of the clarity bells start, he can already feel something pulling the other way, something strong and evil that doesn’t want to be pulled out. In the corner of his eye, he can see Wei Wuxian frowning, probably sensing the resentment who started to make its presence known. 

A moment later, Wei Wuxian also starts to play his music and that… that really, really causes something inside Wangji’s body.

The first notes of Chenqing can be compared to an arrow pulling a bowstring to its limit, every single muscle on Wangji’s body tenses unnaturally; his arms fall from his chest and press against the straw mat in an odd angle, fingers crooked and nails digging on the material below. The shock it causes is almost enough to make Xichen and everyone else, safe for Wei Wuxian, lose his concentration, but thankfully they manage to pull themselves back together and continue.

Unfortunately, it gets progressively worse. Wangji’s muscles spam and contort even more worryingly, to the point it is a miracle they haven’t heard bones breaking under the sheer force of the violent contractions. It is horrifying, something taken out of one of the many nightmares that plagued Xichen’s mind shortly after Wangji disappeared, but he can also feel whatever is inside his brother’s body being tugged and pulled by the notes Wei Wuxian is playing and this is their goal. 

“Wangji!”

The whole beginning of it has already proved things weren’t going to be easy, that despite them being capable and careful, Wangji’s body had been under the influence of that poison for weeks now and no matter how much strength his core has, he was bound to get affected by the resentful energy, Xichen had been working on strengthening his mind to endure seeing his brother suffering, but what he gets is too much.

At one point, Wangji’s back arches off the bed and his eyes shoot open, the golden Xichen is so used to seeing ever since they were kids replaced by the white emptiness he feared to see on his face ever since he discovered he was still alive. This is something he could have endured, knowing it was important he continued stabilising his body while the resentful energy clawed its way out, but then Wangji’s hands went for his neck and his nails immediately dug on his skin so hard blood soon started to flow down his pale neck. 

“Wangji, please listen to me,” Letting Liebing fall to the floor, Xichen hurried to hold his brother’s arms and pull them away from his neck before serious damage could be done. “Don’t fight it, let it go, please.”

Now on top of him, Xichen can see those white eyes are not looking at him, they are staring at something in the distance while his arms try to push him away, the infamous strength Wangji is known for being there as if nothing has happened in these past days. His throat convulses as if he's choking on something and the more the dizi continues to play, the worst his condition seems to get. Xichen has always been stronger and bigger than his younger brother, but he’s having a hard time holding him down and it gets worse when Wangji’s fingers dig on his own arms.

“Zewu-Jun, should we stop?” Jiang Yanli’s voice comes just when Wangji’s fingers feel like claws going through his robes and digging on his own skin and he has to press down against his shoulders more forcefully to keep him down.

“N-No,” He breathes out, the pain of Wangji’s fingers on his arms being nothing compared to the pain of seeing his little brother like this causes. “We won’t have another chance.”

If Wangji is reacting this violently, it means the poison has already taken a huge toll on his body. If they stop, his brother is surely going to die.

“Please, I know you can do it,” He whispers, closing his eyes as he feels one or more of the fingers pressing against his arms, snapping. “Come back to us, A-Zhan.”

It really is a nightmare, a nightmare where Xichen truly loses track of time, only knowing his arms are badly bruised and his own energy is wavering. Wangji on his side, has broken several fingers now and he wouldn’t be surprised if one or more joints had popped out of their place, the wounds on his neck are still bleeding and there’s a layer of sweat covering him from head to toe, eyes still lost on the distance and overall appearance making everyone believe he’s close to losing the battle. 

Xichen hates himself for thinking it, but he as the fleeting thought that he should start to get ready to endure the pain of losing him just when he thought he could save him, ready to face his uncle and inform him that his youngest nephew is dead and inform the world, eventually, that a mysterious cultivator murdered his brother.

His own tears fall on his brother for what feels like hours until it just… stops.

Wangji suddenly falls back onto the bed, his mangled hands falling from his arms to rest at his sides and his eyes closing at the same time Wei Wuxian seems to faint, giving Jiang Wanyin mere seconds to catch him before he falls all the way like his dizi. 

The cave is filled with a smothering silence because no one seems to know what the hell they are supposed to do.

Xichen is staring at the unmoving body of his brother, Jiang Wanyin is trying to shake his brother awake and Jiang Yanli seems close to tears as she tries to make her hands stop trembling to get the medicine supplies and get to work.

“Lan Zhan…” Wei Wuxian’s whisper finally snaps Xichen out of his frozen state, the man trying to wipe the blood coming out of his nose. “Is he—”

Xichen doesn’t reply immediately, however, his hands shake almost uncontrollably as he checks his brother’s meridians and looks for a pulse, a small pained noise leaving his lips when he feels it’s weaker than before. Carefully removing himself from the pale body, he picks up his xiao and infuses the melody with basically all the energy he has left, praying with every note that the healing song will strengthen Wangji’s core enough to keep his body from failing after the brutal procedure he just went through.

He can feel the eyes of the other three staring at him, but he blocks the world around him as he focuses on the unconscious form. His arms hurt terribly and the more he continues playing, the more he feels his strength leaving his body, but he doesn’t allow his brain to think much about it, knowing thinking about it will probably make him faint. Dark spots soon start dancing in his eyes and the edges of his vision are getting dark, there isn’t enough air in the world enough to fill his lungs while playing Liebing and his body is way too heavy for his legs to hold him up.

But then, Wangji suddenly jolts awake.

Liebing hits the floor once more when the, until then, limp body on the bed suddenly sits up with a desperate gasp for air. Golden eyes filled with tears stare at Xichen’s amber ones, laboured breathing and small gasps of pain filling his ringing ears. 

“B-Brother?”

The voice is heavenly, taken out of one of his sweetest dreams, but that’s the last thing Xichen knows before his own body hits the hard and cold floor of the cave.

Chapter Text

Lan Xichen is, to a certain extent, used to pain.

The Twin Jades are known for their cultivation level and for their physical strength. Wangji and he were more than used to hours of handstands and exhausting exercises not even their own disciples could handle sometimes. Heavens, Shuoyue and Bichen were two of the heaviest weapons and to reach this state, they had to practice a lot and that included ending up hurt at one point. If Wangji and he relied so much on the Cold Springs to both meditate and heal was because the number of times they needed to heal a bad sprain or torn tendon in there. As they grew up and the night hunts became more dangerous and challenging, the injuries increased as well and even when, eventually, the two of them reached a point where getting hurt rarely happened, they still weren’t strangers to pain. Then the Sunshot Campaign happened, fights came daily and injuries were inevitable.

But the pain that receives Xichen to the world of consciousness is… horrible.

His head is pounding, his muscles feel like burning and the natural flow of spiritual energy he is so used to feeling appears to be practically non-existent, which is alarming, but it isn’t enough to make him open his eyes. He’s exhausted and just wishes to stay asleep for a bit more… but then his mind decides to go back on all the things that happened and he pushes his body up with a pained gasp.

“Zewu-Jun, please don’t stress yourself,” Jiang Yanli’s voice comes from his right and when he turns, he finds her moving hurriedly towards him. “You used all your spiritual energy and fainted.”

It explains the weakness on his body and it kind of comforts him a bit, but the reason for his fainting comes back immediately and despite his aching body, he still turns to his left to desperately look for his brother, wanting, needing to see those beautiful golden eyes staring at him as they did right before the darkness claimed him; but to his dismay, Wangji is once more lying down, eyes closed.

“Wangji?” His voice is full of terror, for a moment thinking all of it was just a dream and nothing really happened.

“He’s sleeping,” Jiang Yanli says softly, kneeling at his side and offering a cup of tea. “He wanted to stay awake and help you, but A-Xian managed to convince him of sleeping… according to him, he’s very weak and needs to rest.”

Xichen allows himself to let out a sigh of relief before fully facing her and taking the cup from her hands. “I’m afraid my thoughts have no intentions of being positive.”

“I can’t blame you,” She smiles, the smallest hint of tiredness on her features. “It was a difficult procedure.”

A shiver runs down his spine as he remembers the muscle contractions and the sickening noise of his fingers snapping under the sheer force of what was happening, those white eyes haunting him. “Without your help, it wouldn’t have ended well at all.”

Sure, Wangji’s hands are bandaged to allow the broken fingers to heal correctly and taking into consideration how weak his golden core is, the process will be painful and slow, furthermore, having him sleeping so deeply even after seeing his own brother fainting is worrisome, but Wangji is alive. During the procedure he thought he was going to die and when he disappeared he also thought the worst, but none of that happened and Wangji is alive, here, he managed to save him and without their help, he’s not sure he would have been successful.

“A-Xian cares for him, just like Hanguang-Jun cares for him,” Yanli nods, looking at the other corner where Xichen notices the curled figure of Wei Wuxian apparently sleeping. “He also used all his energy, he’s resting, too. A-Cheng went back to Lotus Pier to take care of a couple of things and not raise suspicions, he will be back tonight.”

“Maiden Jiang, thank you so much for everything,” He says sincerely, taking a sip from his cup and sighing at the warmness. “Can’t express how glad I am you trusted me.”

“I really want all of this to end,” She nods, standing up and walking to her brother with a bowl of water and towel to wipe his forehead tenderly. “One moment everything was as it was supposed to be and the next one… I’m glad Hanguang-Jun is awake now, we just need to be careful with Jin Guangshan’s plan.”

“It may be too soon and I apologise if I’m overstepping, Maiden Jiang, but that day… Why would Jin Zixun be there? Waiting for Wei Wuxian to appear.”

The woman’s shoulders immediately tense, the hand cleaning her brother’s forehead stopping; Xichen immediately realises he’s a complete idiot and he shouldn’t have asked that.

“Zixuan didn’t know he was planning to do it,” She whispers after what feels like hours of suffocating silence, setting the bowl down with the towel and returning to crouch near him. “He was told by Jin Guangyao that Jin Zixun left with some of his disciples and the ones you brought.”

Something inside his stomach turns uncomfortably at the mention of his sworn brother being the one who indirectly sent Jin Zixuan to his death, but he’s sure it wasn’t intentional. A-Yao knew the disciples brought by Xichen weren’t meant to be used in an ambush so him telling Jin Zixuan of what was going on was with the best intentions… right?

“I know A-Xian wasn’t liked by him and resented him a lot for what happened in the last conference,” Yanli continues, trying to hide her teary eyes by busing herself with some herbs left there. “I never imagined he would go that far.”

“I’m sorry you had to lose your husband, can’t even imagine the pain you’re enduring,” He says, not wanting to torment her even more. “I allowed many horrible things to happen, abandoned my own brother when he needed me most… In consequence, many innocent people lost their lives. I regret letting myself be manipulated instead of using my own judgement.”

The woman lifts her hand to rest it on Xichen’s shoulder, her touch comforting despite Xichen’s aching body. “I’m afraid none of us is exempt from making mistakes, but we’re having a second chance and I know none of us will waste it.”

Xichen nods, giving her the most sincere smile he can give to someone, for the millionth time thanking he made the decision of listening and trusting them. “Maiden Jiang—”

“B-Brother?” The voice that fills his ears cut the rest of his sentence, making his body turn violently to face the bed, finding his brother once more sitting there. “Brother…”

“Oh, Wangji,” Despite the pain and exhaustion taking over his body, he jumps off the floor as soon as the woman’s hand leaves his shoulder, his legs carrying him to sit on the edge of the improvised bed where he, without really thinking twice, pulls his brother to his arms in a hug. “My God, Wangji.”

Even when Lan Wangji is not the kind of person who likes physical contact, his trembling arms wrap around Xichen’s body, his forehead pressing against his shoulder and the quietest sob leaves his lips, prompting Xichen’s own emotions to run free. “Brother, I’m sorry.”

“There is nothing I have to apologise for,” He whispers, rubbing his back softly. “It’s me the one who committed so many mistakes, the one who left you alone when you needed me most and who put you in mortal danger just because I was blind to what was really happening. I failed you.”

“That is not true,” Lan Wangji whispers, pulling himself back to look at him with his reddish eyes due to the crying. “You have never failed me.”

“I’m now aware of the ridiculous amount of lies Jin Guangshan had spread in the past and the ones he is still spreading,” He continues, resting his hand on his brother’s still cold cheek. “He was never sincere, he has used his position to manipulate everyone and I fell for it, for that, I am guilty. If it hasn’t been for Maiden Jiang, Sect Leader Jiang and… Young Master Wei, I would still be following what he is saying.”

He knows it is a lot of information to process for his brother, he just woke up, is still injured and probably feeling lost, but he can see every single word is actually being caught and understood by his brain. The desperation present in his eyes seems to go down considerably and the tension on shoulders starts to dissipate. Xichen can’t help but wonder how many things would have changed if they had this conversation back at the Cloud Recesses and before all of this happened.

“Please do not blame yourself,” He whispers, struggling now to hold back his emotions as he would normally do. “You had no reasons to doubt what was happening.”

“Everything was in front of me, Wangji,” He sighs, having his brother awake and in front of him reminding him of everything he thought before. “I had your words, your actions and I ignored all of it, Wangji, I almost lost you and it can’t happen again.”

Lan Wangji tries to hide his emotions and feelings, but Xichen knows him and every expression he makes, as small as it is, means something. Right now he sees him struggling to not look too relieved to hear these words, to know his brother is finally on his side and that he no longer has to fight alone. 

Wangji is way better than him and he won’t let him get hurt again.

“Lan Zhan? Lan Zhan!” Before any of them has the chance of saying something else, Wei Wuxian’s voice fills the cave and Xichen barely has time to pull a bit back before the man is already falling to his knees next to the bed and holding one of Wangji’s hands carefully. “You’re awake, you woke up again.”

The little progress done by Wangji in holding back his emotions shatters when the distinctive sound of crying comes from Wei Wuxian. “Wei Ying…”

“You shouldn’t have jumped in front of me!” Wei Wuxian says, raising his tear-streaked face to look at him. “What were you thinking?! You could have— You almost died!”

 Xichen sees his brother swallowing hard as he looks back at the man. “I would do it again.”

“For fucks sake,” Wei Wuxian hisses, but it is clear he’s not angry at Wangji, he’s angry at himself. “You shouldn’t be going through this.”

Wangji’s other hand comes to rest on top of the man’s head when he once more buries his face in his arm, awkwardly patting it with the annoying bandages and splints on his fingers. “Do not blame yourself either, I am responsible for what happened, they were my decisions.”

When he says this he also looks at Xichen, who feels he should be giving them space but can’t find the strength to be away from his brother, indicating he does not wish to blame them for what he did, but it isn’t that simple.

“Stubborn Lan Wangji,” Wei Wuxian mutters and Xichen has to agree. “I will end up tying you to the bed.”

Wangji’s ears turn red and Xichen can’t hold back a soft smile. His brother is alive, his brother is here against all the odds.

“The three of you need to eat,” Jiang Yanli says, gaining the attention of the three of them. “I can’t be sure, but losing your spiritual energy can’t be good.”

It isn’t, really, this is probably the first time Xichen has spent all his spiritual energy and has felt his core being so weak, but he’s glad he did it. He likes to believe he helped Wangji’s body to endure the aftermath of the procedure.

“Shijie, you’re tired, you shouldn’t be doing so many things,” Wei Wuxian complains after lifting his face from Wangji’s arm, rubbing his eyes to get rid of the tears. “Let me take care of you!”

The woman smiles, shaking her head softly as she picks up a small pot that was probably brought while Xichen was unconscious. “With A-Ling I have gotten used to staying up late, and you three got the worst part.”

Wei Wuxian disagrees and Xichen does, too, so finally letting go of Wangji, he stands up and moves his still protesting body to help the woman, Wei Wuxian moving to make some space so they can place the plates close.

“I am glad to see you are safe, Maiden Jiang,” Wangji mentions as he struggles to reach the edge of the bed and put his legs down to eat more comfortably.

“Thank you for protecting my brother, Hanguang-Jun, and thank you for coming back to us.”

Wangji’s small nod is a wonderful sight.

Jiang Yanli serves a plate of soup for everyone, reassuring Wangji and he that she didn’t put a lot of spices so they could enjoy it as well. Wei Wuxian whines and complains about needing chilli, making his sister laugh softly and Wangji shake his head lightly. The moment feels surreal, as if they were inside a bubble that isolates and protects them from the cruelty of the outside world, but Xichen enjoys it, for an unknown reason thinking the only missing thing is having Jiang Wanyin there.

“How long have I been… out?” Wangji asks when Xichen and Wei Wuxian are picking up the plates so the woman can rest for a bit.

“It’s been weeks, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian sighs, the frown returning to his face. “And a lot of shit has happened… When Jiang Cheng returns, we need to talk about a lot of things.”

Wangji’s expression falls and Xichen wouldn’t be surprised if he’s blaming him for it, so he caresses his arm slowly and sends him the comforting smile he sent to him when they were younger and emotions weren’t as easily handled as they are now.

“We should meditate, Wangji,” He suggest once they were done, returning to sit by his brother’s side. “You should do it too, Young Master Wei.”

“Me? Oh, no, I’m fine now,” The man shakes his head immediately, making Wangji frown. “I just needed to sleep… That thing was strong, but I’m stronger.”

Wangji seems to disagree, of course, but he doesn’t seem to have the energy to argue. With the same frown, he tries to stand up, only to collapse back and forcing Xichen to intervene to hold him. “I-I’m sorry.”

 “Stop apologising, Lan Zhan, nothing is your fault,” Before Xichen can comfort him, Wei Wuxian says from where he was checking on something. “That thing fed on your core and body for weeks, you should be— Great Hanguang-Jun or not, it will take you a while to recover.”

Xichen doesn’t have the words to express it, but he’s glad Wei Wuxian is better at words than him and that his brother is willing to listen. With a defeated sigh, Wangji does his best to stand up again with Xichen’s help and move to the best spot to meditate, barely managing to keep his body from collapsing several times and barely capable of keeping his back straight. It’s painful to see him like this, but Xichen tries to comfort himself with the thought that he is alive.

°°°

“Glad to see you are awake, Hanguang-Jun.”

Xichen’s heart seems to jump again when Jiang Wanyin’s voice fills the cave and his eyes catch the figure of the man walking inside the cave with the distinctive tiredness only a sect leader seems to carry around, one he reserved to the loneliness of his Hanshi.

“I thank you for all your help, Sect Leader Jiang,” Wangji replies, trying for a second to move his body but giving up after a couple of seconds. “I apologise for the problems caused.”

“My God,” Wei Wuxian complains from the other side of the cave, making Jiang Wayin roll his eyes. “Told you to stop apologising!”

Wangji doesn’t reply, only looking down at his bandaged hands. It’s still seven in the afternoon, but he looks exhausted and close to passing out.

“Ajie, I should take you back to Lotus Pier,” Jiang Wayin says next, going to help his sister with the bag of dirty dishes and used bags. “You need to rest.”

“We need to talk first, A-Cheng,” She says, looking back at Wangji who is now leaning a bit more against Xichen. “Hanguang-Jun is confused and needs to know.”

Jiang Wanyin nods and in a matter of seconds, they all take a place around Wangji’s bed, Wei Wuxian with his arms crossed and eyes staring mostly at Wangji, Jiang Yanli checking on everyone, Jiang Wanyin between uncomfortable and anxious and Wangji sitting there with his growing exhausted expression.

“You fainted after the attack,” Xichen decides to start. “Both of you disappeared from the battlefield and everyone claimed it was Young Master Wei who attacked and killed you.”

“It wasn’t him,” Wangji replies immediately, a spark of anger and annoyance flashing in his tired eyes.

“We know,” Jiang Wanyin says with a tired sigh. “Ajie and I were closer and we saw it wasn’t Wei Wuxian who attacked you.”

“But I’m afraid I didn’t see the face of your attacker,” Jiang Yanli says next, Wei Wuxian reaching to squeeze her hand comfortingly. “None of us did.”

“I took you to the Burial Mounds to look for something that could help me,” Wei Wuxian says as he finally looks at him. “There I found A-Yuan alone and a bit sick… with now two unconscious people, I managed to take us here to this cave near Yunmeng.”

“We found him after they informed me of what they saw and after we looked for both of you for a while,” Xichen ends, his heart being squeezed at the conflicted expression on his brother’s face. “Ever since that happened, we worked on finding out how to help you while also keeping everyone else from suspecting.”

Understanding they are done, Wangji looks up and into everyone’s faces and even when Xichen knows his brother like the back of his hand and it’s capable of telling what he feels or thinks, the expression his brother has right now feels unreadable. There are too many emotions flashing in his eyes and the conflicted expression seems to make it worse, Xichen is genuinely worried.

Then again, what he says is worse.

“I think… The one who attacked me was Xue Yang.”

Chapter Text

“Xue Yang?!”

Lan Xichen never met the man, but he could understand the severity of the declaration. Wangji, Wei Wuxian and Jiang Wanyin had fought the man after they discovered he had massacred the Chang clan, and according to Wangji, his behaviour and actions were completely inexcusable. Nie Mingue, later on, confirmed what his brother said, stating Xue Yan was a person who was never going to show remorse or regret for what he did. For him, the man was pedantic and saw himself as better than anyone else and that’s why he had wanted to execute him right there and there.

But he escaped and no one knew anything about him again.

“Lan Zhan, are you sure?” Wei Wuxian asks, unconsciously reaching to hold his brother’s arm. “What did you see?”

“He was wearing dark robes,” his brother starts, closing his eyes to probably recall what he saw since it happened a long time ago, “his face was covered, too, but his eyes were there.”

“Thos crazed eyes,” Jiang Wanyin comments, frowning and shaking his head to shrug off a bad memory or something similar. “He disappeared from Qinghe when the Wen attacked, no one knew what happened to him after that.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he somehow learned demonic cultivation,” Wei Wuxian says, looking away from Wangji. “But… Why would he target me?”

“He could be mad we helped with his capture,” Wangji says, opening his eyes to look at the other with worry-filled eyes. “This could be his way of revenge.”

“To think he would go this far…”

“I’m sorry, but there is something I can’t understand yet,” Jiang Yanli speaks, gaining the attention from everyone. “If this man is targeting A-Xian, why does everyone seem to defend him?”

Xichen frowns because what she’s saying it’s true. Everyone had declared Wei Wuxian was the one who attacked Wangji and even when he can understand they all just wanted to bring the Yiling Patriarch down, ignoring the presence of a figure no one recognised is too dangerous, even for them.

“They convinced themselves there was no one else or,” Jiang Wanyin’s frown makes itself more noticeable, “he is working for one of them.”

The seed of doubt grows, nurtured by Xichen’s own thoughts about Jin Guangshan and all the other leaders from minor sects who followed everything the Jin leader said. Nie Mingjue could never see this man without wanting to cut his head off with Baxia and it’s obvious Jiang Wanyin would never relate to him, either. 

The number of suspects is small, but it’s still hard to tell.

Wei Wuxian stands up abruptly, tugging his arm free from Wangji’s hold before saying, “This is fucked up.”

“Could that be related to his intentions of learning demonic cultivation?” Jiang Yanli voices out what everyone else is already thinking.

“Of course it is!” Wei Wuxian says, throwing his arms in the air. “Everyone claimed demonic cultivation was the worst sin, everyone judged me, ignored me and now— now they want to learn what I do!

It seems the weight of the situation is falling on the man now that Wangji is out of danger and it is painful to see. “Young Master Wei—”

“No!” he cuts him before he can continue. “All of you, every single one of you condemned what I was doing, dismissed everything I said and let all those innocent elders and promising siblings die! A-Yuan is alone in this world because of your stupid rightfulness!”

Xichen isn’t sure if he imagines it or not, but in the corner of the cave, where Wei Wuxian claimed the seal he created was stored, something glints with a reddish tone at the same time Wei Wuxian’s anger seems to reach its peak. “I didn’t know.”

“Because you never bothered to take a look,” he hisses, the flickering tones of the candle making his eyes burn with a fiery red. “You fell for Jin Guangshan’s lies and assumed I was really creating a fucking army of dead people.”

“Wei Wuxian!” Jiang Wanyin calls him, angry. “Don’t speak to him like that!”

Wei Wuxian looks ready to scream again, probably to make an ironic remark of what he was asked, but Xichen speaks before he does it, “I know.”

“Brother,” Wangji’s distressed tone comes at the same time his still cold hands reach for his arm. Xichen can’t look at him.

“I… I convinced myself I was doing the right thing,” he whispers, keeping his eyes on the floor as he feels the pain squeezing his heart. “I believed Jin Guangshan didn’t have a reason to lie, that despite his thirst for power and wealth, his own honour and morality wouldn’t allow him to go to that extent. I pushed away my doubts after Wangji visited you because I still wanted to just… believe.”

The smothering silence comes back to the cave, only the ragged breathing of Wei Wuxian and a more or less normal one from the rest filling it. 

“I’m paying for my mistakes. I almost lost Wangji, I’m seeing an innocent kid grow up in a twisted world because of it and I almost become an accomplice in the death of an innocent woman, almost leaving yet another kid alone in the world.”

Jiang Yanli knows he’s talking about her and tears soon fill her eyes, her hand reaching to squeeze his other arm. “Zewu-Jun…”

“So I know, Young Master Wei,” he continues, swallowing around the lump in his throat, “I know the rightful path I believed in for the vast majority of my life doesn’t exempt a cultivator from making horrible mistakes and I wish I could change it.”

Once he’s done, he finally looks up to face everyone else around him. On Wangji he can see the pain of hearing his brother saying this and the struggle of not knowing what to say, Jiang Yanli is still close to crying, a grateful expression combined with one of pain marking her young and beautiful features, Jiang Wanyin is not looking at him, he’s staring at the floor with his hands balled up into tight fists he presses against his thighs and Wei Wuxian looks… like another person.

The anger and flashes of red that took over his eyes and whole body seconds ago have vanished, leaving the thin and pale boy he’s more used to seeing standing there, looking guilty and struggling to look into his eyes.

“I’m sorry, Zewu-Jun, I...” he seems to lose his train of thoughts after that, eyes also looking down at the floor. “I’m just— sorry.”

Xichen can only nod, thanking Jiang Yanli’s expression with a faint smile and reaching to take Wangji’s hand from his arm, helping him to accommodate his body back into the bed. “Rest, Wangji,” he says, “I will come back soon with more medicine.”

“A-Are you leaving?” Wei Wuxian asks, sounding alarmed and terrified at surely thinking it’s because of him.

“I need to let uncle know Wangji is awake and safe,” he replies with the calmest tone he can find. “We will also need more medical supplies and proper food.”

Wei Wuxian nods, apparently calmer now that he realises it’s not, at least not directly, because of what he just said, turning around and walking to the end of the cave to distract himself with something.

“Brother, you should rest,” after giving up finding the right words to comfort him, or probably after realising Xichen is not looking for comfort since it is something he accepted a long time ago, Wangji says, “You used all your strength on what happened.”

“I am fine, you don’t have to worry,” he smiles, patting his arm softly. “Uncle has been really worried about you, and we need to discuss how we will handle this.”

Reluctantly, Wangji nods and Xichen takes that as a sign to head towards the two siblings, stopping first with Jiang Yanli who thanks him for everything and wishes him a safe return to Gusu. She also mentions she would like to properly introduce him to Jin Ling and Xichen’s heart skips a beat.

“I’ll guide you out,” Jiang Wanyin says before Xichen has the chance of saying something, the abruptness of it making everyone else send a discrete glance towards him.

Throwing one last glance at Wangji, Xichen leaves the cave along with the other sect leader.

 

The walk towards the clear where they found Wei Wuxian for the first time is silent, Jiang Wayin continues walking towards there without saying anything, though, Xichen can see his tense jaw and frown that one would say it’s natural on him but that feels wrong . In all this time, he has seen more than what the man shows the world and thus, Xichen has developed this sense that tells him when something is wrong with the man.

But he doesn’t feel with the right to ask, so he can only hope the man feels better.

“I will come back in a couple of days,” he says as he takes Shuoyue out of its sheath. “If you need me, please send a letter and I’ll come here immediately.”

Jiang Wanyin doesn’t reply, he’s just staring at the front with an unreadable expression.

“Sect Leader Jiang?”

“I saw it,” after what feels like hours, he whispers, stunning Xichen. “I went to be Burial Mounds, I saw the elders, the kid… and I didn’t do anything. I told Wei Wuxian they didn’t matter.”

“You were worried about your sect,” he replies in automatic because even when it is something his own mind judges him for it, his and Jiang Wanyin’s situation are completely different.

“And? I could have sought help,” Jiang Wanyin says, the hold on his sword tightening. “I could have gone to you, tell the truth instead of sitting there, listening to Jin Guangshan’s lies and accepting everything.”

“You went to see your brother, you didn’t investigate every corner of the Burial Mounds to be sure nothing else was happening. What the Wen did to your family was horrible and you had every right to not feel fond or sympathetic towards them,” Xichen knows how it feels to bury yourself in a mountain of regrets and questions, but seeing it in someone else is conflicting. “And… you were alone, you felt alone, no one, not even me, gave you anything that said you could trust me. It was you against everyone else and it wasn’t fair.”

At these words, Jiang Wanyin finally turns to look at him and the pain and distress he saw on himself weeks ago are there, wrapping around the man like a giant snake wanting to suffocate him.

“If I had done something, Jin Zixuan would be alive, Ajie would have her husband and A-Ling would have his father,” he says, brokenly, the kind of oppression Xichen also remembers feeling around him being clear in his voice and expressions. “Your brother wouldn’t be this weak and hurt after that— whatever that was, attacked him. If Xue Yan really had something against Wei Wuxian, then I would have been there for him to face it, together.”

“You saw the emotions overwhelming me when I found out my brother wasn’t dead as everyone told me he was, and learning all the lies hidden behind the politics I thought I knew how to handle caused an equally… disturbing reaction,” he says, softly. “I now understand how it feels to have so many emotions pushing down against you, to live every single day with regrets and guilt so intense it does not allow you to look further away from what’s in front of you.”

“It shouldn’t have been like this…”

“It shouldn’t, but the past is behind and we can’t change any of that now… We only have the present,” Xichen sighs, shaking his head. “We’re all alive, they are too and maybe this is the answer to our regrets and pain. Instead of an array created to travel back in time, we can do something to prevent it from happening again.”

With that, Jiang Wayin sinks deep in thought, the conflictive emotions being little by little soothed by, what Xichen hopes, his words. It’s not entirely gone, of course, Xichen deals with all of this on a daily basis, but he hopes it will become a bit more manageable for him.

“Now you surely think I am pathetic for all of this,” he says after several moments of silence. “But that’s fine, I’m the inexperienced leader after all.”

“Being young does not mean you’re inexperienced,” Xichen knows what he’s talking about and that’s just another thing that presses down on him. “Some of them disregarding you because of your age is underwhelming… You’re not much younger than me when I had to become a sect leader, too. And showing your emotions is completely fine.”

“I thought the Lan clan had a rule against emotions.”

“We do, several rules actually,” he nods with a small, entertained smile. “I’m afraid Wangji is not the only one going against certain rules, then.”

To his surprise, and relief, Jiang Wanyin chuckles lightly. “Please have a safe trip, Zewu-Jun.”

Lan Xichen can’t really tell what is the meaning behind it, but despite the cold air hitting his face as he flies back to Gusu due to having to use his spiritual energy to keep the sword flying rather than warming himself up, he feels warm.

°°°

“Is he doing well, then? Does he have any other symptoms?”

“He’s exhausted and weak, but he was completely conscious and aware of his surroundings,” Xichen explains as he serves his uncle another cup of tea. “He even remembered who attacked him.”

“Then, who did it?” Lan Qiren urges him, leaning a bit on the table. “Was it really not Wei Wuxian?”

“It really wasn’t him,” Xichen nods. “He wore black robes and even his face was covered, Wangji could only see his eyes, but he’s certain it was Xue Yang.”

The man, just like Xichen, knows little about Xue Yang, but he looks equally alarmed. “The Xue Yang Xiao Xingchen and Song Lan captured?”

“Yes,” he nods, “Wangji, Wei Wuxian and Jiang Wanyin were there, too.”

Lan Qiren sets his cup down, uncomfortableness and disdain marking his otherwise calm features. He looks conflicted, as expected, he’s probably trying to push aside his animosity towards Wei Wuxian so he can judge and analyse better the information he’s receiving. It’s admirable.

“I went to see Jin Guangshan,” he says and no, that’s not the best thing to hear. “I wanted to talk about this complete nonsense of learning demonic cultivation.”

“Did he mention anything… useful?”

“Of course he didn’t,” he says with an indignant huff. “He excuses himself saying it’s the best way to deal with Wei Wuxian and that learning about it does not mean he will be using it, that he will never do what he does.”

It’s complete nonsense, even if they don’t do what Wei Wuxian does, they’re still using it. “Many sects are sending disciples.”

“That’s what I saw!” Lan Qiren says in exasperation, standing up and starting to pace around the room. “Disciples from different sects are already there, learning those twisted methods taken from who knows where.”

“Who was teaching them?” he’s curious to know who would be in charge of such things.

“I don’t know him,” his uncle shakes his head. “That Jin Guangyao introduced him to me, but have never heard about him.”

The mention of his sworn brother being brought again in a situation like this one causes the same uncomfortable feeling to settle on his stomach again. First, Jiang Yanli mentioned it had been him who informed Jin Zixuan of his cousin’s plan and now, he introduced a teacher in charge of demonic cultivation to his uncle.

‘It’s unrelated,’ he says to himself, taking a deep breath. ‘A-Yao just wants to please his father.”

“It is ridiculous,” his uncle continues after seeing he’s not replying. “I tried to convince him of the dangers this will bring to his clan, but he ignored it… Do you think this Xue Yang is related to any of this?”

Xichen is glad he brought this himself, he does not want his uncle to believe he’s overthinking the situation or something along those lines. “It is a possibility, but there’s no way we can know.”

“What about Wangji?” he asks, finally returning to his seat. “How long is he going to stay there?”

“He needs to recover his strength and we need to find Xue Yang,” bringing Wangji here it’s out of question, even if they have the element of surprise, Xichen knows he could never expose him. “He and Wei Wuxian can help us from there.”

Lan Qiren lets out an exhausted sigh, “I understand.”

“I will… visit A-Yao soon, maybe I can find something,” he adds, the uncomfortableness growing inside his body again.

“Just be careful, Xichen,” his uncle says and something in his voice immediately makes Xichen look at him. “The Jin Guangshan I talked to is not the same I used to know.”

“Uncle…”

“I… can’t guarantee he’s not behind Wangji’s attack.”

Chapter Text

“You look tired, er-ge.

“I am tired, A-Yao,” Lan Xichen says with a smile, giving his youngest sworn brother the warm smile he has always given to him, hand resting on his shoulder. “I hope it’s not the case for you.”

“There’s no need to worry about me,” Jin Guangyao replies, extending his arm to lead him inside. “I wish there were more things I could do to help you.”

“With all the work you have now, A-Yao, I have the feeling you need extra support,” he says, walking through the familiar corridors of Carp Tower. “I hope you’re not neglecting your health.”

“How could I?” he laughs softly. “In order to carry on with my duties, I do need to be in good shape.”

“About your duties, I must thank you for guiding my uncle when he visited,” he says calmly, he spent the whole trip trying to think in the best way to bring out the conflicting topics, so he hopes he’s doing right. “After all these conflicting events, he needed that sense of familiarity.”

“Ah, his visit was a surprise,” he says, eyes moving back to the front, a subtle and almost unnoticeable tense line appearing on his jaw. “We were surprised when he arrived without you.”

“I apologise we didn’t announce his arrival,” he replies with quick and precise words, knowing the smallest spark of hesitation and doubt will be noticeable for his clever brother. “I’m afraid he was keen on visiting Sect Leader Jin as a friend instead of something related to official matters.”

The term friend is probably not the one his uncle would use for many people, but it’s true the two of them are of similar ages and spent a long time around each other due to his uncle’s duties as the representative of the Gusu Lan Sect and when they were both younger and studied at the Cloud Recesses. Probably acquaintances would be more adequate.

“I can understand that,” Jin Guangyao nods, that dimpled smile appearing on his face. “Grandmaster Lan is truly angered by the idea of learning demonic cultivation.”

“He’s a man of tradition and after all these events… It’s safe to say his aversion towards that practice has increased,” he says, feeling how wrong it sits with him to talk about something he knows isn't true, but he needs to be careful. “My only hope is we can all solve this.”

Jin Guangyao’s expression falls noticeably, eyes filling with what feels like pity and a kind of heaviness he shouldn’t be feeling. “ Er ge,” he starts, softly, “I heard my father talking to Sect Leader Yao and Sect Leader Ouyang the other day.”

Xichen’s stomach turns into a knot and he even needs to stop to let him continue, hoping, praying his sworn brother will give him important information, that he will finally give him something that clears all the doubts towards him from his head to maybe give him a reason to trust him again. “Yes?”

“They all agreed Hanguang-Jun is probably dead by now,” he replies, voice not louder than a whisper. “The level of energy the Yiling Patriarch is using to carry on with his plans is excessive and even though I tried to analyse things as someone who knows your brother, er-ge, have you… thought about it?”

Xichen does his best to not judge things too harshly, to give his sworn brother the benefit of the doubt for believing in Wangji’s strengths until the rest of the world forced him to change his mind, but it isn’t easy. He can only imagine what things were said during that time so everyone reached the conclusion Wei Wuxian is using Wangji as his bag of energy. He knows Jin Guangshan said the other is stealing corpses to build his so-called army of death that will come to kill them all, but what else did he say?

“Why would they reach that conclusion?” he asks, thanking his conflictive emotions will be interpreted as something related to his brother’s death rather than anger for their lies.

“The number of corpses that disappeared is alarming, Sect Leader Yao also mentioned he found traces of resentful energy near one of his cemetery,” he explains, sadness taking over his features. “Zewu-Jun, I apologise for bringing such things, I shouldn’t be talking about this just like that.”

“No, A-Yao, is alright,” he mutters even though it isn’t, but not for the same reasons he has in mind. “It is… a possibility, it’s been so long since he disappeared that Wei Wuxian could really be— If that is the case, my only wish is to retrieve his body and give him the burial he deserves.”

It is hard to fake pain and worry for his brother when he held him in his arms and heard his sweet voice mere weeks ago, but he decides to guide the pain and anger of being lied to give the emotions he should be projecting. 

Jin Guanyao doesn’t give a sign of knowing the real reason and so he holds his arm and rubs soothing circles with his thumb as Xichen trembles and grips Liebing as tightly as he can. He whispers comforting words and reassurances of being here for everything he needs that don’t really do much for Xichen and that ultimately only remind him of Jiang Wanyin.

°°°

“Sect Leader Lan! We’re honoured with your visit!” Jin Guangshan says from his golden throne, Xichen wonders if his smile always looked this insincere or it is different now.

“I thank you for receiving me,” he replies as he salutes the man. “I hope I am not interrupting your work.”

“At all,” he shakes his head, finally standing up to walk closer, “I’m sure Guangyao has informed you of how good things are going.”

“As expected,” he nods, though, he’s having a hard time keeping his niceness under these circumstances.”I am glad you are not having any issues.”

“I am thankful for your concern, after Lan Qiren’s visit, I was worried Gusu Lan was going to cut ties with us,” he says with confidence despite how insulting it is, Wangji is the one who disappeared, how could they just walk away from the problem?

“I can assure you he means no disrespect,” he repeats. “As someone worried about the rightful cultivation practices, he tries to speak from experience.”

“And I appreciate it,” Jin Guangshan nods, folding his arms behind his back. “But as I told him, we have everything under control and would never go as low as Wei Ying went. Our only goal is not being caught by surprise and having means to protect ourselves and save the lives of dozens of innocent cultivators.”

“I see,” he says slowly, pressing the hand he has behind his back a bit firmer against it and straightening his posture a bit more, taking a deep breath before continuing, “and I can’t say I don’t understand the reasoning behind it.”

The spark of excitement flares in Jin Guangshan’s eyes and at his side, he can feel Jin Guangyao tensing. “Younger generations are always more open.”

“I have no intentions of practising or even learning the most harmful methods,” he says immediately, not wanting to have him misunderstanding something. “In the worst-case scenario, I would like to help Wangji find the rest he deserves, free him of the torture of being used as an object by someone else.”

He aims to cause discomfort with that declaration, to point out how Wei Wuxian’s methods were praised and called life-saving when they were being used during the Sunshot Campaign and gave them the victory and how they were suddenly vile and low when he decided to use them to protect innocent people the rest of the cultivation world saw as enemies. Judging by Jin Guangshan’s expression, he doubts he succeed.

“I am sorry you’re forced to even consider such a horrible case, but please know it would never go unpunished,” he declares with that conviction that ultimately makes his speech so appealing. “Wei Ying will pay for all his wrongdoings.”

‘And,” Xichen wonders, ‘when is everyone else paying, too?”

°°°

To Xichen’s surprise, there are actual books containing information of resentful energy which can only mean this wasn’t a rushed decision they came up with after the fight at Nightless City and is something else he adds to the bag of information he wishes he would have found out sooner.

After being introduced to the main teacher in charge of the lessons, Jin Guangyao provided him of a separated room where he could study with no interruptions. For a whole minute, Xichen wonders if he should ask his sworn brother if these are all the books they possess, but ends up keeping it to himself. This will do.

He, obviously, has no intention of investigating cures or what to do in case he finds his brother turned into a fierce corpse, but this is the only plan he could come up with to discover what kind of information the Jin Sect has so he can, later on, ask Wei Wuxian about it and see if they really do what they think. His uncle was not pleased with this decision, but things have changed and he ended up accepting with a tired sigh and an upcoming migraine.

The books detail how to differentiate fierce corpses from other creatures and the best way of attacking to assure they won’t be going back up, they warn about their strength, speed and abnormal abilities. They also include information about the Yin Iron and the piece Wei Wuxian supposedly has in his possession, indicating he can also control monsters and animals even though he has never seen it. 

Everything is useful, making the plan worth it, but then Xichen finds a complete book dedicated to Wen Ning and his stomach churns.

He remembers the man was the only sentient corpse Wei Wuxian created, remembers they were told he was burnt along his sister when they showed up at Lanling shortly after the death of Jin Zixuan and Jin Zixun and remembers him being this awkward and shy boy when the Wen showed up at the Cloud Recesses. 

Wen Ning and Wen Qing were also Wen Yuan's family. 

The fact there’s a complete book detailing so many things about him means they didn’t burn him immediately, means they experimented on him and studied him to their heart’s content until they had enough and finally decided to kill him… did they really kill him?

Xichen honestly doesn’t know how to deal with the way his world breaks anymore, just how many more lies are waiting for him?

With a tired and defeated sigh, he does his best to clear his mind of this and focus on reading the book, take as much information as he can to give a report to the Jiang siblings, Wangji and Wei Wuxian when he sees them again. 

His head is killing him by the time he’s done.

“Did you find something useful?” Jin Guangyao asks right when Xichen closes the book, the man entering with a tray with food and tea. “I hope it hasn’t been too stressful for you.”

“It is stressful but necessary,” he says, surprised to hear the tiredness on his own voice. “To think Wangji could experience any of this…”

“Things like this are problematic, too problematic,” he says and Xichen definitely agrees with that. “You have my support;  I know I repeat it a lot and pale in comparison to what you truly need... I wish I could do more, but it’s impossible.”

Xichen knows he means he can’t do more than what Jin Guangshan allows him to do, that he’s not as free as he was when he was under Nie Mingjue, but Xichen also feels something uncomfortable inside his chest when he repeats on his mind the same words. It seems to have more than what it seems at first glance.

“A-Yao,” he whispers, looking up at his sworn brother and feeling his heart skipping a beat when he feels he doesn’t know him as good as he thought, “you wouldn’t lie to me, right?”

“I wouldn’t.”

°°°

He leaves Lanling that same day because it is too much. His head is pounding, his heart is missing several beats and everything seems to be upside down. The world he grew up in is now an unfamiliar mess of lies and broken promises he doesn’t know what to do with it.

It seems to be more than obvious the Jin sect is responsible for the attack his brother received, obvious Jin Guangshan is trying to frame Wei Wuxian with attacks and plans the other has never conceived; he is eager to paint him as a flesh-eating demon who wants to see the world on fire and the uncertainty of why he’s going to that extent is the most worrisome part.

If Wei Wuxian is gone and the Jin Sect gets the seal he created, will they go back to what it was with the Wen?

A sigh leaves his lips as the light and liveness of the town is left behind, due to his exhaustion and dizziness, he decided to eat something light to endure the journey back to Gusu a bit better and he’s partially thankful for it. He has the feeling he would have fainted in the middle of the air if he didn’t.

Securing Liebing on his sash, he reaches for Shuoyue, getting mentally ready to fly away and explain every single thing he learnt from this visit to his uncle and the others when he has the time, but then it happens.

A flash of silver and black catches the fading light of the setting sun, the sword and hand wielding it missing his throat by mere millimetres.

The man, or what he assumes is a man lands not too away from where he is, sword masterfully dancing on his hand as he gets ready to attack again, though, Shuoyue is now ready and Xichen is, too, exhaustion and conflictive emotions forced out of his system by having someone wanting to kill him.

“Who are you?!” he demands, trying to distinguish something among the dark robes the person is wearing, for a second thinking it is Xue Yang, who tried to kill his brother, but soon noticing this person appears to have a kind of mask made of black mist covering his face, making every feature, even the eyes, unrecognisable. “Who sent you?!”

He doesn’t get a response, of course, the person attacks again and the intention is clear: he wants to kill him.

As a sect leader, Lan Xichen possesses a cultivation level higher than what others have and his condition as the firs jade also gives him the upper hand in terms of strength, but this person seems to know that and is using movements that aim to use his own strengths as disadvantages. This can only mean they know who he is and this isn’t just someone trying to kill him to get his things and escape.

Flicking his wrist to the side, he manages to catch the man on the leg, splattering Shuoyue’s blade with specks of blood. The man hisses, making a sudden movement that catches Xichen off guard and almost costs him the hand.

Before he can do something, the man disappears in an explosion of black mist.

°°°

“Sect Leader Lan,  what happened?”

Xichen feels bad for stressing the disciples by appearing like this, but he didn’t really want to go back to Lanling after what happened.

“Please call a healer, send them to the Hanshi,” he says, sheathing his sword and pressing his hand back against his bleeding arm. “Ask Grandmaster Lan to join me too, please.”

The group is quick to disperse and do what they were asked to do, only one staying to help him with his bag and give him the support he could need until they reach the Hanshi.

“Xichen, what happened?!” Lan Qiren’s voice is close to one of pure panic and Xichen feels bad, but there’s nothing he can do. 

“Uncle, I am afraid I was attacked,” he replies as his uncles hurry to his side and help him take off his robes to reveal the large, bleeding wound on his forearm. “This is the only wound.”

“Was it the Jins?” he asks once the disciple has left and the tremor in his voice lets him know just how much the thought affect him.

“No, at least I don’t think so?” he shakes his head, wincing slightly at the stinging pain on his arm. “I left Carp Tower and visited the nearby town to buy some food, I wasn’t feeling well. I was attacked when I left, I think they were trying to kill me.”

His uncle frowns but doesn’t say anything as a healer knocks on the door and starts working immediately. Xichen’s own spiritual energy has healed the wound a bit, but she still needs to clean and sewn the wound shut, bandaging it tightly and informing it thankfully didn’t cut the muscle or tendon. She recommends he rests and keeps himself from doing any other gruelling activity, she leaves medicine and makes him promise to call her if he needs anything.

“Could you see who did it?” his uncle asks as he helps him take out a new set of robes.

“No, he was using a mask, couldn’t even make out the eyes,” he sighs, shaking his head lightly. “I didn’t recognise the sword, either.”

“An assassination attempt has to be the most disgraceful thing I have heard of,” he mutters angrily. “Who in his right state of mind would go for you? As if your cultivation level wasn’t well-known!”

“It could be a kind of message?” he suggests and that’s possibly the worst kind of thought, giving a message would mean someone knows he’s doing something else. “For our sect or for me.”

They have been careful, no one should know about what’s happening. He’s overthinking, still shaken up by the fact that someone really tried to kill him and terrified that they have been close to doing it, his exhaustion, his stress, everything made him slower and if he closes his eyes, he believes he can feel the cold air caressing his throat.

He’s overthinking, this is not a message, to be a message they would need to—

“Zewu-Jun, we just received an urgent letter from Yunmeng.”

No, please no.

Zewu-Jun, I apologise for contacting you like this, but I’m asking you to please come to Lotus Pier immediately.

A-Cheng, my brother, was attacked.

Jiang Yanli.

Chapter Text

He flies to Yunmeng in the same state of despair and anxiousness that filled him when he first came to Lotus Pier after being told Wei Wuxian wasn’t responsible for hurting his brother.

Xichen feels his heart beating furiously inside his chest, the air hitting his face feels more like being slapped and the mess of spiritual energy he needs to direct to many different places at the same is making him slightly dizzy, though he's sure this is because he’s too stressed. His mind is filled with questions whose answers are fear-inducing and all of them move around Jiang Wanyin and his condition.

He doesn’t even care about his own wound, he politely ignored  his uncle when he pleaded with him to stay by saying he could and check on the other while he rested and he definitely ignored the   while he came nor cared about the healer reminding him with a tired sigh he was supposed to rest and avoid gruelling activities.

“Maiden Jiang called me,” he says to the first disciple that comes into view after landing, fumbling with Shuoyue to put it back on its sheath.

“Sect Leader, yes, please follow me,” the disciple says after a short and quick greet which only works to make him more anxious.

Lotus Pier is quiet, quieter than what Xichen remembers it being even when it’s almost night time, and he can’t help but relate it to the condition of their sect leader. While he’s sure and confident in the man’s abilities as a cultivator, he worries about the severity of the attack and who did it.

“Zewu-Jun, I’m sorry for calling you so suddenly,” Jiang Yanli is standing by the door and is quick to hurry towards him as soon as she spots him, her worried expression making Xichen’s heart skip a beat. “A-Cheng didn’t want me to stress you further, but I believe it is important.”

“I thank you for calling me, Maiden Jiang,” he nods, sending her a small smile before frowning again. “How is he?”

“He will recover, thankfully  it wasn’t a life-threatening wound,” she sighs, shaking her head softly. “The healer came to check on him again, we can go in once he’s done.”

Xichen knows there are many more things that need to be said, but Jiang Wanyin needs to know too and after hearing he is fine and not dead as he imagined, a huge weight has been taken off his shoulders. His legs feel less shaky and this is probably the first time he is breathing without feeling something pressing down against his lungs.

“There are no signs of infection, but he needs to rest,” after what feels like agonising hours, a man walks out of the room and is quick to give his report. “Sudden movements could cause the wound to open again.”

“I understand, I’ll make sure he doesn’t move too much.”

They’re allowed inside after that and even when Xichen feels a small spark of embarrassment at realising he’s walking inside the private chambers of the other sect leader, he pushes it aside when his eyes fell on the figure on the bed.

“Ajie,” Jiang Wanyin whispers when he sees him, eyes widening and staring at Xichen in disbelief for a couple of seconds before trying to sit up, making his sister immediately move to keep him down. “Zewu-Jun, you shouldn’t have— I told my sister not to call you.”

“I am glad she did, sect leader,” Xichen can’t help the entertained smile that appears on his face. “When I said you should call me if something happened, I didn’t mean it should only be about Wangji.”

Jiang Wanyin looks embarrassed and the way he pulls his already closed purple inner robes makes it more noticeable. It’s kind of endearing, but he doesn’t comment on that.

“Zewu-Jun has helped us a lot, A-Cheng,” the woman scolds him gently, helping him to find a better position so he can talk with them. “We can trust him.”

“I know!” Jiang Wanyin says indignantly but winces when the small movement causes pain or discomfort. “I just— I didn’t want to bother him.”

“You’re not bothering me, none of you is,” Xichen sighs, shaking his head lightly. “What happened, sect leader?”

Jiang Wanyin’s brows are drawn together, his right hand coming to press against his left side, presumably where the wound is. “I received a call for help from Yunping, a ghost or something was killing people, I went there with some disciples and… we couldn’t find anything.”

From starters, it’s already different from what happened to him, but to be lured to a place in specific is a clear indication of someone wanting him there. “Were people really being harmed?”

“No, we asked some villagers and no one knew what we meant,” the man says, shaking his head. “As we were coming back, I somehow got separated from my group and next I knew, I had this asshole almost cutting my throat.”

Xichen’s cut on his arm seems to sting with the comment, the feeling of air against his exposed throat sending a shiver down his spine. “Could you see who he was?”

“No,” he shakes his head, balling his other hand into a tight fist. “I bet it was that Xue Yang. He thinks Wei Wuxian isn’t dead, it's natural he would come for me and frame him for it.”

It would make perfect sense, of course, if Xue Yang really is working for Jin Guangshan in his framing Wei Wuxian plan, then killing the Yunmeng Jiang Sect Leader, former brother of Wei Wuxian, would be the perfect move. With Jiang Wanyin gone, Jin Guangshan would find less resistance against his plans and would assure everyone hated Wei Wuxian by eliminating every ounce of sympathy. It makes a lot of sense, but there’s one problem: Xichen was also attacked.

“If Xue Yang attacked you,” he starts, taking a deep breath, “then we have an even bigger problem.”

The two siblings turn to look at him with questioning and worried eyes, so Xichen secures Liebing back into his sash and reaches to pull his sleeve back to reveal his bandaged arm, making both gasp. 

“Zewu-Jun, what happened?”

“I was attacked,” he replies frankly. “I visited Lanling to gather some information and as I left a nearby town, someone attacked me, someone dressed in black and wearing a weird mask.”

“Could it be the same person?” Jiang Yanli asks, anxiousness now present in her delicate voice. “Could it be this Xue Yang?”

“I hurt him when I fought him, injured his leg,” Xichen nods, looking at the man on the bed to see his reaction. “A transportation talisman consumes a lot of spiritual energy. If he attacked me first and then went to fight Sect Leader Jiang, he would have been no match for him.”

“I hurt him too, I hit him with Zidian right in the chest,” Jiang Wanyin says, too, glancing at the ring and bracelet on his arm. “Our cultivation level would have crushed him in any case.”

The woman nods in understanding but doesn’t look comforted in the slightest. “That means… it is possible someone knows.”

It is the conclusion Xichen tried to push to the back of his head, the one he avoided when he just arrived the Cloud Recesses injured and shaken by the assassination attempt, but it makes sense.

“We have been careful,” Jiang Wanyin says with an irritated yet shaky tone. “If he followed us or was around, we would have noticed. He can go unnoticed by one, but four cultivators?”

Technically three since Wangji’s energy was being consumed by that poison and wasn’t even aware of his surroundings while unconscious, but still, three is a lot and Xichen, who studied hard and practised his mediation diligently, had to be capable of sensing the dark aura of someone like Xue Yang looming around.

“You two could be his targets,” Xichen suggests. “In order to frame your brother, they could go to that extent… Maiden Jiang, they already use your attack as proof.”

“But what about you?” Jiang Wanyin asks and there is anxiousness in his face, eyes fixed on the bandage on Xichen’s arm. “Why would they attack you?”

“Because...” but his voice dies before he can follow his own thoughts.

To his mind came back his visit to Lanling, to the things he discovered there and to Jin Guangyao, his young sworn brother, saying he would never lie to him even when Xichen was almost completely sure about Jin Guangshan’s involvement in what was happening.

“Because I’m one of Jin Guangshan’s biggest inconveniences,” he whispers, looking away from the two of them and staring at the floor. “I am the leader of a clan who will never stop condemning his use of demonic cultivation… I left clear I will never be fine with anything that doesn’t involve putting my brother to rest, and the elders, my uncle and even the disciples will never agree with learning or even reading about it.”

“So this,” Jiang Wanyin’s voice is shaky, “this means that man is trying to kill everyone who opposes him?”

“I haven’t talked to Da-ge in person for a while… but if he got attacked or is attacked during these days, then we could be a hundred percent sure that’s the case,” he sighs. “If not, then maybe someone really knows about what’s happening.”

Both are horrible, of course and the idea of having the most powerful sect leader wanting them dead is as worrisome as it is having a crazed demonic cultivator with unpredictable behaviour. The three of them are left in painful silence until there’s the distinctive crying coming from somewhere at Losus Pier.

“A-Ling must be hungry,” Jiang Yanli says with a faint smile a mother seems to have for their kids. “I will go feed him.”

“I’ll let you rest, sect leader,” Xichen says upon hearing her, sure the other would like to rest and stop having a stranger bothering him in his room.

“Yes… thank you for coming.”

°°°

“So you mean they have a book full of Wen Ning’s information?” Xichen can understand Wei Wuxian’s outrage, he felt the same. “They experimented with him?”

“I am afraid that is the case,” he nods as he slowly removes the splints and bandages from Wangji’s fingers in order to check on them. “They have melodies I assume were written after hearing you playing them and possible explanations for what the seal can do.”

“Bet they say I can wipe out an entire town and revive them as corpses in the blink of an eye,” he snorts, looking ready to kick something but stopping when he seems to notice what Xichen is doing. “How is he doing?”

“Wei Ying, I am fine,” Wangji is quick to reply, Xichen can only shake his head.

“His bones healed well, he will regain full mobility,” he explains, paying close attention to his brother’s face as he flexes each one and makes sure he really is fine instead of trying to hide the pain.

“He will be playing his guqin as before, right?” the stress present in Wei Wuxian’s voice is touching and judging by Wangji’s reaction, he appreciates it, too.

“He will play Wangji as perfectly as before,” Xichen nods, holding Wangji’s hands between his own to keep them warm. “His golden core is recovering, it’s a matter of time before he starts to feel like himself again.”

“It is… troublesome,” Wangji mutters, taking a deep breath. “Brother, I should be helping you.”

“None of that,” Xichen shakes his head, the period of peacefulness he gets whenever he’s with his brother vanishing when reality once more caughts up with him. “With the recent events, you and Young Master Wei need to stay safe.”

Wei Wuxian stands up once more to walk angrily around the cave. According to Jiang Yanli, he got furious, so furious it was a real challenge to keep him from going out and attempting to find whoever attacked his brother. Xichen fears Wangji will have the same reaction once he reveals what happened to him.

“What if Xue Yang is out there? What if they’re planning to kill Jiang Cheng and Shijie? They are targeting them.” 

“It is getting clear who the targets are.”

“You were attacked,” Wangji, as expected, understands immediately and the way his eyes widen in alarm have Xichen’s heart skipping a beat. “When? Where? Are you hurt?”

“I was attacked around the same time Sect Leader Jiang was,” he nods, rubbing his brother’s arm soothingly, feeling Wei Wuxian freezing on his spot. “In the outsides of Lanling and I was only wounded on my arm, but it left clear I am an unwanted figure.”

“They attacked you and Jiang Cheng?” Wei Wuxian sounds breathless and when he once more returns to sit on Wangji’s bed, there’s an agitated look on his eyes. “This— They surely know, Lan Zhan, A-Yuan and I need to move and go away.”

“Wei Ying—”

“Think about it, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian interrupts his brother again. “If we stay here, Jin Guangshan will come to kill the two of you and then blame me for it.”

“You seem to forget you’re no longer alone, Young Master Wei,” he intervenes before his brother can reply. “We can’t be sure if we have been discovered or if it has to do with someone, Jin Guangshan, wanting to get rid of their adversaries.”

“I cannot risk them,” Wei Wuxian replies. “Lan Zhan almost dies— for me! We are the only family A-Yuan has left, Jiang Cheng was already hurt, Shijie was also hurt, even you got hurt, I can’t just stay here and wait for someone to hurt Jin Ling and everyone again!”

“Wei Ying,” tired of being forced to remain in silence, Wangji finally speaks. “You don’t have to do it alone, we are not alone, not anymore.” 

“Lan Zhan… I almost lost you, A-Yuan could have died in there, the rest of my family almost died again,” Wei Wuxian’s reaction is immediate, his eyes filling with tears of frustration. “I can’t just— I can’t risk it.”

“I trust Brother and I trust your siblings,” Xichen’s heart skips a beat. “I… I’m not in a good condition to protect you and A-Yuan, if something happened, if someone came, we could never win.”

Wei Wuxian’s bones seem to liquify, his forehead presses against Wangji’s hands after Xichen removes his own and takes a step back, this feels too intimate, but can’t find the will to step away. The man looks tired, exhausted, and completely overwhelmed by what he’s feeling and hearing.

The feared Yiling Patriarch is showing his most vulnerable side and Xichen feels he’s seeing the real Wei Wuxian for the first time in a long time. The man is not a demon, he’s a wounded and pained young boy who tried and fought so hard for a lot of things but that ultimately ended up crashing against the floor. He made mistakes, of course, but he shouldn’t pay for what he hasn’t done.

“So what is the plan?” Wei Wuxian finally says, turning to look at Xichen but without letting Wangji’s hand fall from his head.

“I will talk to Da-ge , see if he has seen something weird around Qinghe,” he says with a small nod. “We need all the information we can get before thinking about doing something else.”

“I just— they’re never leaving me alone, are they?” the voice of the other is weak and his demeanour. “They won’t stop until I’m alone, until I am dead and hanging from the tallest building in Lanling.”

“You won’t be alone,” Wangji says, “never.”

“Ah, Zewu-Jun, tell your brother to stop talking like that,” the other complains, Xichen can’t help but smile lightly. “My heart is not strong enough.”

“Wangji is a stubborn person,” he says, smiling a bit more at the betrayed expression on his brother’s face. “Nothing I say will be capable of changing his mind. I’m sure you have already noticed that.”

Wei Wuxian whines and complains in a way that only solidifies Xichen’s thought of this man not being as evil as they were told he is. Xichen can’t help but sigh and continue checking on his brother and the rest of his wounds, Wei Wuxian staying around before going out to collect something from the small garden he built for both the little Yuan and Wangji.

“Brother... “ Wangji’s whisper makes him go back to his side. “Are you sure you’re fine?”

“I am fine, Wangji,” he smiles reassuringly. “He took me by surprise, but I won’t let it happen again, so focus on your own recovery.”

“I am doing better,” as expected, his brother says. 

“I know you are,” he smiles, caressing his head softly. “But you need more time and I won’t change my mind.”

His brother reminds him for a moment of the kid that pouted when their mother teased him, but the expression is gone after a second, replaced by one of confusion and even stress.

“Brother…”

“What you feel is valid, Wangji,” he says, surprising the other. “I know you and can perfectly see it. The way you look at him, the way both seem to understand each other so easily.”

“But I shouldn’t… our rules, Uncle, you, I can’t disappoint.”

“Nothing you do will disappoint me, Wangji, ever,” he smiles, caressing his cheek softly. “Will it be hard to understand for some? Yes, but in the end, it is your life, your decisions.”

“it’s… shameless.”

“Love isn’t being shameless,” he hasn’t experienced it, of course, but he likes to think in that way. He also hopes one day he will get a chance, too. “You have given your clan so much, Wangji, have lived many things you shouldn’t have and almost gave up on your own happiness for it. You deserve it, Wangji, and once all of this is done, I truly hope everything is well for you.”

“For both, for everyone,” he whispers, looking up at him. “Brother, what if this isn’t the time.”

“I doubt there is a right or wrong time,” he says. “For many things in life, it comes to just… doing it.”

“I’m sincere and sure.”

“Then make sure you let him know.”

Lan Xichen excuses himself by saying he needs to go back to check on Jiang Wanyin and as he leaves the cave, he’s sure he hears Wei Wuxian letting out what sounds like a squeak combined with a gasp. 

He can only hope everything goes well.

Chapter Text

Talking to Nie Mingjue is not going to be as easy as it is talking to Jin Guangyao.

For starters, the Nie leader already hates Jin Guangshan, Jin Guangyao and pretty much the Jin Clan as a whole. Ever since they preferred to keep themselves away from the frontline during the Sunshot Campaign and made up a dozen excuses to stay as support rather than main ones, they fell from grace and their later actions only reaffirmed it. Nie Mingjue doesn’t need much to believe they are as bad as the Wen were, so Xichen expressing his doubts concerning them will either end up with Nie Mingjue declaring another war or cutting ties entirely with them.

Furthermore, it is possible he ends up discovering what Xichen and the Jiang siblings are hiding and that would make it even worse.

His older sworn brother doesn’t like Wei Wuxian and had little to no sympathy for the Wen remnants. His strict ways led him to believe Wen Ruohan going that far was possible because his whole sect supported and allowed him to do it when, in reality, a lot were terrified of being turned into fierce corpses by the man while others knew they had no chance against them and decided to focus on their own things. 

While Xichen likes to believe Nie Mingjue won’t ignore Wen Yuan and say he deserves to die, he’s not sure he would like to get involved in something that has a Wen and Wei Wuxian involved, and if he’s honest, he doesn’t want him to do it either. The Jiang siblings and his uncle are more than enough.

“Zewu-Jun,” Jiang Yanli’s voice makes him look up from the letter he is writing, finding the woman moving towards him with the baby in one arm and the little Wen Yuan holding onto her hand. “Glad to see you decided to stay for a bit longer.”

“Leaving didn’t sound right for the first time,” he smiles, looking at the kid who is rubbing his eyes sleepily. “Is there something I can help you with?”

“No, please don’t worry,” she says with a smile, sitting down in front of him. “I hope I am not interrupting you.”

“At all,” he shakes his head, smiling when the kid finally seems to notice he’s there. “Hello, A-Yuan.”

“Zewu-Jun!” he exclaims, not hesitating as he moves to fall on his lap. “You’re here!”

“I am,” he replies softly, his heart tightening in his chest for the millionth time at seeing the familiarity he uses to behave around him. “I hope you are doing well.”

“The baby is cute!” he says excitedly, pointing at the calm Jin Ling resting on her mother’s arms. “And Hanguang-Jun woke up, too!”

The kid’s eyes sparkle with delight when he mentions the last part and Xichen feels his heart jumping and his mind at ease when he thinks he really is doing right in protecting these people. Not only his brother is, hopefully, getting to confess what has tormented him for so long, this woman has the chance of raising her son and as soon as they manage to solve all of this, Jiang Wanyin will also be capable of healing.

“He did,” he nods, glancing at the woman who is smiling. “I have to thank you for taking such good care of him.”

“He liked the flowers!” 

Xichen would have loved to see Wangji’s reaction when he found out about the flowers and the little kid came with even more and asked to put them on him.

“And this is my A-Ling, Zewu-Jun,” Jiang Yanli says as she leans a bit closer to show the sleeping baby. “He still has a long way to go, but A-Xian already gave him a courtesy name. Jin Rulan.”

Xichen looks away from the baby and stares at her, a smile little by little appearing on her lips as she seems to think the same as him. “Jin Rulan?”

“I am aware,” she chuckles softly. “A-Xian does a lot of things unconsciously, his heart tends to work on his own despite his denial.”

"They seem to be similar in that sense, too," he says, shaking his head softly. "Wangji's feelings run deep, he's not as cold as many seem to think." 

“I think I have noticed it, for a long time now,” she smiles, though, a small tingle of sadness soon appears on her face. “A-Xian and Hanguang-Jun share a very special bond… I hope the world stops punishing everyone for it.”

 Xichen hopes it will, too. His brother fell hard for the other man and his love for him has been filled with war, pain and blood instead of the good things most say love is about. While he can’t be as certain about Wei Wuxian’s feelings as he is about Wangji’s, the woman’s words make him believe his brother’s feelings will be safe with him.

“I hope so too.”

 The two of them remain in silence until the baby on the woman’s arms makes a small noise, this makes Xichen lean a bit closer to see him and he can’t help but smile at seeing the baby looking curiously at him.

Jin Ling has expressive dark eyes that remind him of Jiang Yanli’s ones but the facial structure of Jin Zixuan. The vermillion mark is perfectly placed on his forehead and he’s dressed in delicate and expensive golden robes. His expression is one of curiosity as he stretches his hands towards Xichen to probably catch his hair or maybe even his forehead ribbon.

“I am sorry, I can’t let you play with my forehead ribbon,” he says softly. “Next time I come, I will bring one of the toys kids in Gusu loves.”

And there’s an odd warmness spreading on his chest every time he talks about a next time , one that makes him feel this sense of comfort he thought he could only feel when he went back home after being forced to run away. He can’t explain it and he’s not that interested in doing it either, he likes it and won’t question it.

“He is curious towards important objects,” Jiang Yanli says with an endeared smile. “Zixuan’s Suihua is one of his most valuable possessions.” 

There’s the obvious pain filling her voice as she mentions his deceased husband but in yet another display of her strength, she’s quick to smile again and re-focus on her son. 

“He will be a good swordsman and a great man.”

“Yes, I’m sure A-Ling has a bright future.”

°°°

Xichen’s decision to stay at Lotus Pier even after having everything done is weird, even for Xichen. 

As he sends the letter to his uncle informing him of their plan to talk to Nie Mingjue and about the condition Jiang Wanyin and Wangji are in, he wonders why he decided to stay and plan the reunion from here rather than leaving and planning it from his home but ends up shaking his head and pushing it away.

He feels comfortable and there’s no other reason.

Jiang Wayin offered him to stay when he came back from talking with Wangji and Wei Wuxian and he accepted without really putting much thought into it. Jiang Yanli coming to introduce her son, Wen Yuan being so calm while being with him and even the little Jin Ling showing curiosity and calmness even when he’s a complete stranger had given the Gusu Lan leader a sense of familiarity and comfortableness that reminds him of coming back from a long night hunt to tend to his younger brother or the quiet meals his brother, uncle and he shared every afternoon.

There was a point in his life where he felt like that when he reunited with Nie Mingjue and Jin Guangyao, but the curtness between both can be overwhelming. His oldest sworn brother takes every opening to go for his youngest and the latter's way of smiling through the pain gets on the already unstable temper of the Nie leader. As he mentioned to Jiang Wanyin, he fears the differences between both are irreconcilable.

If this continues, will things go too far? Will any of them end up hurt? If it happens, he will be responsible and he—

“Zewu-Jun,” the voice snaps him out of his thoughts so suddenly he can’t help but jump lightly. “Shit, sorry, didn’t mean to startle you.”

Jiang Wayin is standing a couple of steps from where he is sitting in front of one of the many ponds around Lotus Pier. The man is now wearing a lighter outer robe along with his inner ones and a simple headpiece holding his hair up and away from his face. Right now he looks ashamed and Xichen feels bad about it.

“Sect Leader Jiang, no,” he replies after staring like an idiot. “I wasn’t paying attention, it is not your fault.”

Jiang Wanyin makes a face as if he’s not convinced, but his next words are completely unrelated. “I always thought Lans went to sleep at nine.”

“My sleeping pattern changed considerably during the Sunshot Campaign and it has changed even more with these events,” he says with a small chuckle. “With all of this, sleep stopped being a constant in my life.”

“Can’t even judge because my sleeping schedule has always been fucked up,” he snorts, leaning a bit on the rail.

“I can imagine,” he says with a soft sigh. “A war is unforgiving.”

The man sighs heavily. “And then, someone tries to kill us.”

“I’m still having problems wrapping my head around it,” he says and it’s true, he didn’t really imagine he would become the target after the war was over, never did anything to become the enemy of someone. “It shouldn’t be like this.”

“When have things been as they should?” there’s a tone of irony in his voice, eyes hardening as he stares at the water. “Never say things are bad, they can always get worse.”

That simple sentence encompasses so many things Xichen’s heart tightens inside his chest. The man in front of him has gone through so much pain and hasn’t been capable of catching a break from it. It's unfair. “I thank you for trusting me, sect leader.”

Jiang Wanyin’s tension seems to go down just a bit and it reminds him of Jiang Yanli’s words about her brother having no one to support him without looking for personal gain. “Well, yeah, thanks for trusting.”

“I encouraged Wangji to get closer to your brother,” he says, after several seconds of silence, making the man turn to look at him with slightly surprised eyes. “Ever since he was a child… I felt he didn’t have any true friends, so when Young Master Wei came and behaved so confidently, so unbothered by Wangji’s cold and distant personality that I thought they could become close. When I saw Wangji’s interest hidden behind layers of denial, I knew I was right.”

Xichen can see how sharing this information with him surprises the other, but he also hopes it allows him to see he is not here because he has to, but because he wants to and feels comfortable enough to share something he wouldn’t share with other people.

“I thought Wei Wuxian was an idiot for messing with him,” he says with a smile he tries to hide by looking away. “I was just waiting for Hanguang-Jun to kick him away and ask you or Grandmaster Lan to expel him.”

“Wangji dealt with a lot of conflicting emotions,” he says with a small sigh. “I’m afraid the world complicated it further.”

“Do you regret telling your brother to get closer to him?”

His question is uncomfortable because of the wildness it unleashes inside of him, but he replies, “When Wangji started to go against what he always respected, I did.”

Because it wasn’t easy to see his brother, who had always been a role model for the whole Gusu Lan clan, deciding to go out and seek the person their uncle expressively said had to be avoided at all costs. Wasn’t easy to see him getting punished for defending his ideals and wasn’t easy to see him in so much pain after the one he defended decided to push him out of his life.

Jiang Wanyin makes a small noise of agreement combined with a small sigh. “Can’t even blame you.”

“But it has changed,” he continues before the other decides to leave without hearing everything he has to say. “I was blind to many things my brother was capable of seeing and my punishment was almost losing him. Thanks to you and your sister I snapped out of it before committing even more mistakes. I’m thankful Wangji befriended him, thankful I told him to do so.”

It seems to be the kind of comfort Jiang Wanyin didn’t seem to know he needed but was now thankful to receive. He knows the man’s relationship with his brother is strained for different reasons, but being told Xichen doesn’t regret getting into this mess and that he’s even thankful for their intervention means a lot for the man.

“I don’t know what to think anymore,” he whispers, sounding immensely vulnerable and making Xichen stand up and walk closer without making him feel uncomfortable. “Wei Wuxian tried to stop his attack when Ajie asked him to do it, he ran and saved that Wen kid from dying and fought to keep your brother alive.”

Xichen nods, wanting him to continue instead of interrupting him.

“I remember Jin Guangshan saying the Wen trapped in the camps were as murderous as Wen Ruohan was and wonder if there were evil people in there at all, the ones Wei Wuxian saved certainly weren’t, so who the fuck are the bad ones and who the fuck are good?” he continues, tightening the hold he has on the rail. “Jin Zixuan and Jin Zixun, did they die because of Wei Wuxian or does someone else have something to do with it?”

The deaths of the two of them is still one of the biggest mysteries and one he, honestly, hasn’t thought about. He was with Jin Guangyao when a disciple came running back screaming about Wei Wuxian murdering the heir of the Jin’s and his cousin and Jiang Wanyin was with his sister and nephew. The man claimed Wei Wuxian had attacked with Wen Ning completely unprovoked while Wangji debated about Jin Zixun taking the disciples Xichen brought with him for the celebration with suspicious intentions. In the end, the only thing that could be said about the whole issue was that two people were dead and Wei Wuxian along with Wen Ning and the Wen remnants had to pay.

“Have you… talked about it?” he asks, careful to not make him feel even worse. “Has your brother mentioned it?”

“No,” he replies with what sounds like a hiss, “and I have no fucking idea how to ask.”

Lan Xichen was taught diplomacy ever since he was a kid. Being the first brother and the direct heir for his clan meant it was fundamental he learnt how to deal with all kinds of people under different circumstances, and he believed he did right. Even though the elders weren’t that pleased with his personality and need to see the good in every single person, they trusted he was never going to let anyone walk over him and his clan.

Jiang Wanyin, on the other side, has it harder.

“If you wish, I could be there to support,” he offers, fearing for several seconds he will offend him or misunderstand the situation. 

The dark eyes of the man snap at him with many emotions swimming inside them and the hold on the rail seems to increase even more, to the point Xichen fears he will be breaking it. “Support me?”

“It is you who knows him more, of course… but I could provide some assistance,” he hurries to reply, though, he is quick to realise  he has insulted him and his heart falling to his feet. “I apologise, sect leader, I meant no disrespect and have no right. Please forget about it.”

And Jiang Wanyin doesn’t reply which obviously means he effectively shattered the moment and trust he put on him and just made him feel underappreciated. 

“I will… retire,” he says despite the lump lodged inside his throat. “I once more apologise.”

Before he can leave, Jiang Wanyin’s hand comes to grip his wrist with such force he wouldn’t be surprised it will bruise.

“Why would you do that?” he asks while his eyes stare at the floor.

“Support you?” he asks, confused by how things are going.

“It has nothing to do with you or your brother,” he says in a tone that sounds like an accusation. “I mean, your disciples died, I know, but why would you help me ask instead of just doing it yourself?”

Xichen feels truly lost. “Because I would like to help you. I care for you.”

“Why?”

“Because I do,” it is painful to hear the man seems to feel undeserving of being helped or cared for. “My regrets not only revolve around Wangji.”

Jiang Wanyin lets out a shuddering breath as he pushes himself back and slightly away from him, hand coming to press against his side and sending Xichen into panicking mode as he fears he once more hurt him. What is wrong with him?

“Sect Leader Jiang—”

“Let’s go both to Qinghe and talk to Nie Mingjue,” he says, turning Xichen’s word upside down yet again for how he seems to drop the previous subject.

“I— Of course, as soon as we’re both healed enough to travel, we can part,” he says, considering for several seconds if he should insist on the last subject but deciding against it in fear of affecting him even more. “I will let Da-ge know.”

Jiang Wanyin nods, with the same conflicted and pained expression, and turns to stare at the pond he has in front of him, in a way Xichen interprets as being done talking to him. With a small bow and with all his feelings on edge, he starts to walk back to his room.

“There, we can maybe talk about you… helping me.”

Xichen can’t really describe what is happening, but Jiang Wanyin’s voice sounding so different seems to mess with his brain and heart widely.

Chapter Text

Xichen can’t help but wonder when was the last time he visited the Unclean Realm.

When Nie Mingjue, Jin Guangyao and he decided to make this oath to become sworn brothers, the back and forth between Lanling, Gusu and Qinghe became common. Xichen was desperate to have his brothers reconcile so he took every chance to bring them together and talk without fearing one of them would end up dead. After all of this started, though, things changed and visiting his sworn brothers stopped being one of his priorities. As more things came, it even stopped being enjoyable.

Visiting Qinghe with Jiang Wanyin, however, feels slightly different.

It may sound weird, but worrying about the other man and making sure he is fine and comfortable helps him feel better. Ever since they had that conversation and Xichen got to see the vulnerable being that hid beneath that often scowling man, he developed this odd sense of wanting to be that person Jiang Wanyin can trust outside of his family.

“Ah, brother Xichen you really came!” Nie Huaisang’s voice is as loud and as full of dramatism as he remembers it to be and when the other comes to cling to his arm, he can’t help the small spark of familiarity that goes down his spine. “And you brought reinforcements! Sect Leader Jiang, nice to see you again!”

Jiang Wanyin rolls his eyes and crosses his arms, reminding Xichen of the time he saw those three around the Cloud Recesses. “Why are you being so dramatic?”

“Da-ge is being mean!” he cries, still supporting the majority of his weight on Xichen’s arms. “He’s mad at Jin Guangshan for what he’s doing and takes it on me.”

“Huaisang,” Xichen chides him softly. “He’s a fair person, he’s not taking anything on you.”

“He wants me to train with a sabre, me!” he says with a completely scandalised tone. “He says we should be ready.”

“Ready for what?” Jiang Wanyin asks and Xichen can feel the insecurity building up. “Has something happened?”

“Aside from his normal killing intent, no,” he shakes his head, straightening himself a bit. “Do you want more or what?”

“Huaisang!” a loud voice roared, making the younger sibling jump. “Weren’t you supposed to be training?!”

“Ah, Da-ge!” Huaisang complains as he turns to look at his frowning brother. “I came to greet brother Xichen and Sect Leader Jiang!”

Nie Mingjue looks annoyed by his brother’s response, as he normally does when it comes to this, but doesn’t add anything else as he walks to reach both. “Xichen, sect leader.”

“Chifeng-Zun,” Jiang Wanyin greets him after sending Nie Huaisang yet another eye roll. “Thank you for receiving me.”

“You don’t need to thank me,” he says with a faint shake of his head. “Huaisang, go back to training.”

Nie Huaisang sighs with the same dramatism he used when he arrived before starting to walk away from them, muttering softly, “See?”

“Come on in,” Nie Mingjue says with a sigh of exasperation.

For starters, he physically looks fine. Xichen can’t see any sign of injury and while he knows it can be a case like theirs where they have healing injuries under their robes, his personality is within the range of what he would call normal. Even more, Xichen is sure that being attacked would have made Nie Mingjue look for him or charge Baxia first into Lanling.

They follow him  until they reach the main hall and take a place in one of the tablets, Nie Mingjue sits closer to both instead of taking his place on the main table. It isn’t long before a couple of maids come with tea they hurry to serve and leave them to talk.

“So,” Nie Mingjue finally says, crossing his arms over his chest, “have you seen what Jin Guangshan is doing?”

“I have,” Xichen nods, the almost healed wound on his arm stinging. “His classes have proved to be a success.”

“Never imagined he would be so shameless,” the other says angrily. “Others accepting it so easily just adds to the charm.”

“Chifeng-Zun… have you seen something weird around here?”

They talked a lot about how to approach the subject in the two weeks that took them to heal enough to fly here without risking their injuries, especially Jiang Wanyin’s one, but it wasn’t an easy topic. Xichen expressed his worries about Nie Mingjue finding out about Wei Wuxian and Wangji if they revealed what exactly happened and the other understood but in the end, there weren’t a lot of options so Jiang Wanying had said a clear fuck it and took upon himself to ask.

“Weird in what sense?” Nie Mingjue asks, his frown deepening as he leans a bit closer. “Are you talking about Wei Ying or Jin Guangshan?”

“Gusu and Yunmeng hadn’t had any cases of stolen corpses or resentful energy,” Xichen found this weird, thinking Jin Guangshan’s move would include targeting them so there was no doubt, but he assumed it was because of the extra vigilance he put to assure no one entered. “Wei Wuxian hasn’t gotten close to it.”

Something appears on the man’s face and his hands ball up into tight fists right where he has them on his chest. “We haven’t found anything in Qinghe either, not in our normal cemeteries and not in our—” he stops, glancing at Jiang Wanyin before continuing, “Stone Castles.” 

“Stone Castles?” Jiang Wanyin, of course, asks, confused.

“Our Ancestral Hall is different, Sect Leader Jiang,” he says with a more familiar tone. “Due to the nature of our cultivation method, dark spirits are locked inside with the sabres our people leave behind so they don’t attack innocent people. One would think it’s an ideal place for Wei Ying to get weapons , but it hasn’t been the case.”

“Oh, that makes… sense,” Jiang Wanyin nods, shifting a bit on his place. “Thanks for trusting me with it.”

Xichen is incapable of explaining it, but he feels proud of making the other feel comfortable. He knows Nie Mingjue trusts whoever is with Xichen, safe for Jin Guangyao, of course, and trusting a piece of information so important for his own clan surely means a lot for the other leader.

“We’re on the same side, at least the three of us,” Nie Mingjue sighs. “I’m annoyed by the insensitivity the rest are showing towards you two and your sister, Jiang Wayin.”

The man at his side nods and moves his eyes away from him, Xichen on his side does his best to not let anything slip out.

“I would dare to assume he has been working on something else with… Wangji and all of that,” Xichen whispers, once more hating talking about his brother as if he’s dead. “He has a clear disadvantage and I doubt he would be wasting power in attacking without a clear objective.”

“Clearly,” he nods. “Did something happen that makes you both think about it?”

“Some weeks ago, Sect Leader Jiang and I were… attacked,” he says, rubbing his injured arm from over his robes. “I was attacked in the outskirts of Lanling and Sect Leader Jiang near Yunping.”

“Attacked?!” Nie Mingjue’s reaction is visceral, in one second he leans over the table to stare closer into their eyes. “By that Wei Ying, right?”

“I don’t think so,” Xichen hurries to intervene when Jiang Wanyin looks ready to snap, dragging the attention of his sworn brother back to him. “Wei Wuxian was a Yunmeng Jiang disciple, the top one, his swordsmanship had all the techniques used by his former clan. Who attacked me was violent, aggressive, unlike the techniques used by the clan.”

“I know how Wei Wuxian fought,” Jiang Wanyin says next. “Our attacks were separated by mere minutes and we both injured our attacker, unless Wei Wuxian learnt to fight differently and created a copy of himself, then I’m sure it wasn’t him.”

Nie Mingjue’s fury hasn’t really diminished, but they can see he is considering what he is saying. After staring at them for several agonising minutes, he pushes himself off the floor and walks around, prompting the two of them to stand up, too. 

“You mean we have to worry about yet another thing?” he asks in a tone that sounds to be of disbelief. “Wei Ying, Jin Guangshan and now mysterious assassins going for sect leaders.”

“I’m afraid that could be the case,” Xichen says, careful to not give away anything else. “We were worried about your safety and had to talk to you.”

“Well, nothing has happened, not too weird at least,” he says after taking a deep breath. “I’m trying to get Huaisang to train and be ready in case— in case another war breaks loose, but he’s stubborn, as always.”

“Don’t be too harsh on Huaisang, you know he’s not the fighting type,” Xichen reminds him softly despite the anxiousness it brings to him. “It’s not that you will be sending him to the frontline.”

Nie Mingjue’s lips curve into a small smile as he shakes his head and when Xichen glances at Jiang Wanyin, he finds the man looking at both with fascinated eyes. Probably because of their close interaction… it’s endearing.

“I will probably send him to the Cloud Recesses again, but still,” he sighs, turning to fully face them again. “Have you found anything about your attackers?”

“No, they didn’t really leave a trace behind,” Jiang Wanyin replies, shaking his head to get out of his stupor. “They wore dark robes and their faces were covered, it was planned.”

Nie Mingjue takes yet another deep breath to control his anger, even closing his eyes for several seconds before opening them again. “What about the techniques? Was one of them recognisable?”

“I couldn’t identify a technique I know,” Xichen shakes his head. “He was too aggressive, even more than the Wen we faced during the war.”

“I… don’t think I recognised anything either,” Jiang Wanyin sounds uncertain and the way he balls his hand into a fist reminds Xichen as a sign of frustration. “It is hard to tell.”

Xichen made a mental note on asking about it later.

“Who would want to kill you two in specific?” Nie Mingjue asks, though, the question doesn’t really feel directed to them. “If it isn’t Wei Ying, then…”

Xichen winces when his brother seems to make the connection he made when he talked with the siblings.

“Would Jin Guangshan go that far?” he hisses, eyes glaring at nothing in specific. “We’re one of the few who don’t want to do with what he’s doing.”

“We have no real evidence and it feels wrong to doubt someone, but…” he sighs, closing his eyes, “I can’t discard entirely that possibility.”

Nie Mingjue looks close to throwing something and Baxia trembles from where it is placed, killer instinct needing to aid it’s master. “I went to Lanling some time ago.”

“Did something happen?” Xichen asks slowly, walking closer to his sworn brother.

“I don’t have problems in calling his idiocy for going for demonic cultivation,” he says and Xichen can actually imagine it. “He ended up saying he has no intentions of creating problems among the different clans and that I should do the same.”

“Basically saying you are causing problems for being against him,” Jiang Wanyin reasons, making the man nod. “Great.”

“He has these arrogant expressions and ended up saying I should worry more about Wei Ying’s whereabouts and plans instead of seeing him as the enemy.”

“One bad thing does not exempt the other,” Xichen sighs, keeping in mind how different their situations are. “Have you gone out? Have you received weird requests?”

“I haven’t, I have been too busy with things in here,” he shakes his head. “As for the odd requests, I have been told there are some spirits hunting certain towns, but I haven’t personally been there, only my disciples.”

“I was told something similar when I was attacked,” Jiang Wanyin says as he walks closer. “Then I was attacked.”

“So I saved myself from being attacked or killed by being busy,” he says with an airy and full of irony chuckle. “But if you two have been already attacked, then it makes a lot of sense.”

Xichen feels relief washing over his entire body when his brother reaches the conclusion by himself and doesn’t seem to think about anything else. “My only wish is that all of this gets solved, no more lies, abuses or problems.”

“We will find Wangji, Xichen,” Nie Mingjue says after a moment where Xichen’s self seems to deflate. “We will put an end to everything.”

“Thank you… I know we will.”

°°°

“I realised I don’t… I don’t know the Gusu Lan techniques.”

Xichen opens his eyes slowly and allows his mind to come back from its meditative state when he hears Jiang Wanyin’s voice, finding the man standing awkwardly by his open door.

“Our techniques?” he asks, confused for a moment about what he means with that.

“Sword ones, I mean,” he says as he clears his throat. “I know how the Nie, Jin and even the Wen fight, but I don’t know about the Lan.”

Xichen immediately remembers the expression on the man’s face when they were asked about the techniques their attackers used. So it was about this. “I’m glad we haven’t fought.”

Jiang Wayin smiles slightly at his poor attempt of humour, but sighs after a moment. “I’m glad, too, but what if I missed something for not knowing it?”

“Would you like me to explain it to you, sect?” he asks softly, treating the warmness inside his chest as pride for being asked.

“You’re injured, though,” Jiang Wanyin says, clearing his throat yet again. “We could wait until you’re better.”

“We won’t be fighting for real, sect leader,” he says as he stands up and reaches for Shuoyue. “It is mostly a demonstration.”

A small sigh of relief leaves Jiang Wanyin, as if he has been anxious about asking this, and Xichen feels proud he had the confidence to get closer.

They leave Xichen’s room and walk to the small yard Qinghe seems to have for every important room. The night is particularly cold, but it doesn’t seem to bother Jiang Wanyin and certainly doesn’t bother him.

“Our techniques are described as firm,” he starts once he’s standing in the middle and the other is near, Sandu in his hand. “Everything has to be in harmony, efficient and most importantly, firm. Not uniting all of it tends to result in mistakes your opponent will use.”

“Pretty reasonable,” Jiang Wanyin hums, pressing his sword against Xichen as if to test the strength on his stand. “Your whole clan is based on firmness, so I’m not really surprised.”

“Agility, swiftness and fierceness is what I would use to describe your techniques,” Xichen says, using a small spin to explain yet another posture, making sure Jiang Wanyin can block it without making sudden movements. “Equally efficient.”

“You’re not far from what it is,” he hums, this time being him who pushes him back with another movement. “My mother spent full days training me, she was the definition of fierceness and demanded perfection from all of us…”

“I always saw Madam Yu as an admirable woman,” he says, seeing the sadness that takes over the man’s face at remembering his mother. “She taught you well, sect leader.”

 “Yeah… she did and she was.”

Nothing more is said after that, Jiang Wanyin seems to focus on paying attention to his movements and Xichen does his best to show them without using excessive force or something that makes the other move too quickly, fearing he will reopen his wound despite being mostly healed. Xichen now knows the man has a pace of his own and he will talk when he wants to do it and one of Xichen’s many strengths is being patient, so he will wait and hope he can continue trusting him.

By the time they're done, however, Jiang Wanyin is frowning and Xichen is sure he doesn’t like it. 

"Sect leader…?" 

Jiang Wanyin's eyes move to his own and there's a small spark of panic present on his voice when he speaks, "Who attacked me used some of your techniques."




Chapter Text

One thing is knowing the world is full of traitors and opportunists and another is suspecting the people you call family can be one of them. Xichen’s brain is incapable of processing what Jiang Wanyin’s words mean for what feels like hours where he’s just standing there staring at the other man while struggling to keep his sword from falling to the floor. 

Someone using the Gusu Lan techniques means it is someone who was, or worse, still is in direct contact with his own sect and the thought is sickening. Xichen is the leader, who should know all his people enough to say if they are involved in something bad or not, but his mind is blank.

“I… don’t know who it could be,” he says after giving up in finding what else he could say. “I never thought— Someone from my own clan.”

“We all have guest disciples,” Jiang Wanyin says, stepping closer so he stops staring at the floor and looks at him instead. “Some leave and we never get to know about them again.”

Xichen appreciates his efforts to comfort and show him a different angle that could help him solve this problem, but he is having problems believing it. As much as Xichen wants to believe it’s no one from his clan and is instead a guest disciple who left at some point, how can he be sure? Even so, how wrong their teachings did that person so they pushed him to become an assassin?

“I… did that person only use out techniques?” he asks, hating himself for not thanking the man for his effort.

“Not all the time,” he shakes his head, dark eyes now staring worriedly at him. “But some movements in specific remind me of yours.”

Xichen only deflates more as he moves to sit down on a nearby bench, leaving Shuoyue resting against it after sheathing it. Jiang Wanyin walks to stand in front of him, but through his eyelashes, he can see his awkward movements telling him he has no idea what to do to make him feel better, which is fine, Xichen doesn’t know what to do either.

“I will part to Gusu tomorrow and check on everyone?” he says, frowning at how ridiculous it sounds. “I honestly have no idea how I could find out if we really have a culprit.”

“The pain Zidian leaves lasts for a long time,” the man says after a moment of silence. “For such strict teachers as the ones you have,  it’s impossible someone could hide the pain or discomfort.”

“You’re right,” he sighs with a small nod. “I will ask Uncle if he received a report or something weird while I wasn’t there.”

The suffocating silence once more falls between them and even when Xichen feels horrible for making things uncomfortable for the other when he promised himself he would do everything to make him feel welcomed and safe, he can’t find the right words to say. What if Jiang Wanyin now doubts him? What if he sees him as an incapable leader for not discovering a traitor in his lines? The sudden fear of being pushed out of this dynamic he had become so dependent and fond of is as bad as what he is experiencing. 

“I am sorry,” he whispers after the fear wraps itself around his neck and squeezes. “I will stay away as long as it takes me to find who attacked you.”

He expects Jiang Wayin to nod and agree, to walk away and go back to Lotus Pier to ensure his sister and nephew are safe because trusting Xichen was actually a bad decision. 

Instead, Jiang Wanyin grips his shoulders and pretty much forces him to look up at him and to his surprise, he looks annoyed and even insulted by the suggestion. His dark eyes are burning as he pretty much growls, “Who said I want you to leave?!”

“I just...” he stutters, confused and lost by the different reaction. “I am not reliable as long as I don’t know who can be behind me.”

“What the fuck— you are reliable!” he yells, giving his shoulders a squeeze that would be painful if he wasn’t so shocked. “It’s not that you personally taught that asshole how to fight!”

“I know, I didn’t, but I—”

“No freaking buts!” he hisses again. “This isn’t your fault.”

Xichen’s mind comes to a sudden stop. “But… it is.”

“Bullshit.”

Oh.

“If you think an idiot that comes from your clan attacking me is your fault, then don’t dare to say Wei Wuxian getting your brother hurt isn’t mine.”

“What? No,” he replies immediately. “It’s a different situation, you’re not responsible for what Wangji and he does, they’re adults.”

Jiang Wanyin lets out an exasperated sigh as he lets go of his shoulders and walks a couple of steps away from him. “He was raised in Lotus Pier, if he got this self-sacrificing personality that made your brother feel he needs to protect him, then it should be because of how he was raised. I let him just walk away, too, in that fight, he was alone that’s why your brother defended him.”

Xichen’s brain is going at full speed, trying to find the best way to stop that train of thoughts without falling into the double standards that can insult Jiang Wanyin. He stands up hurriedly and catches up with him before he can fully leave.

“We’re both leaders, we’re both responsible for guiding the disciples into the values our clans have. You grew up with Wei Wuxian, you did not raise him,” he says, keeping his eyes on the floor. “To think there is someone who shamelessly uses the techniques we taught to attack another leader, to think I didn’t notice… It isn’t easy.”

Admitting something that makes him feel vulnerable is the complete opposite of what Xichen has been told to do during his whole life, but Jiang Wanyin has been honest and open, so he should be too. More so, this is related directly to the man and has the right to know what Xichen has in mind… right?

“Of course it isn’t,” he says, his hand tightening around Sandu. “But it isn’t your fault, I… trust you, we trust you and I know it wasn’t you who sent someone to attack me. You’re probably the only person outside of my family who I’m sure it’s not part of Jin Guangshan’s plot.”

Something warm Xichen at first believes is just thankfulness spreads all over his chest, but he soon realises it’s the type of warmness he feels whenever the man looks relieved or thankful for whatever he just said or did. It’s different from what he felt when Wangji woke up, or the gratefulness he feels whenever Jiang Yanli shows how she sees her as yet another member of her family instead of the person who also turned his back to her two brothers, he realises this specific warmness that spreads all over his body whenever Jiang Wanyin says he’s thankful for having him around or finding in him the answers he looks for is completely different.

It makes him feel all giddy and he doesn’t understand why.

“I feel the same,” he admits, blaming the way his ears seem to burn to what is happening instead of something else. “I have to apologise for being the way I am, then.”

“Please,” Jiang Wanyin snorts, “as if you were bad.”

Xichen really smiles like an idiot at that. He never saw himself as bad, per se,  but the image he had of himself got a bit smudged around the edges after discovering his fault in how things played out for innocent people.

“Thank you, sect leader—”

“I… would think we’re a bit more familiar,” he says and maybe Xichen’s eyes are playing with him, but he’s sure the man’s cheeks turn red.

“Oh, you’re right,” he says and yes, he can tell his own face is burning. “Wanyin?”

He offers, the weird excitement bubbling inside his chest even stronger than before.

“Yeah, that’s fine,” the man coughs, crossing his arms in a way that reminds Xichen more of whenever the man is feeling flustered instead of angry.

“Alright,” he says with a small nod, smiling lightly. “Thank you, Wanyin.”

More familiar . Xichen’s heart does a weird flip inside his chest.

°°°

Xichen is genuinely surprised by how weird he feels when he looks at the entrance of the Cloud Recesses.

The place has always been his home, the place he grew up in and that has always been the safe sanctuary he and Wangji found comfort in, so seeing it with distrustful eyes doesn’t sit well with him. Still, he does his best to not show anything as he walks towards the entrance and is immediately greeted by the disciples there.

“Xichen,” his uncle greets him as he steps inside the main hall. “I am glad to see you came back safely.”

“Uncle, I am glad you are doing fine,” he says in return because he’s also glad the man is safe, he can’t even assure they won’t come for him. “I hope everything is doing fine in here.”

“The search groups have come, thankfully, with nothing new,” he says as he reaches for a parchment he kept at his side with notes he has surely made to inform Xichen of everything. “The classes have proceeded without mishaps and I have only received a letter from sect leader Yao asking us to reconsider assisting Jin Guangshan’s classes.”

“Can't say it surprises me,” he sighs, shaking his head lightly as he sits in front of the man. “He is one of the most vocal supporters of Jin Guangshan’s actions.”

Lan Qiren lets out an indignant huff while his eyes skim over what he wrote. “I left the non-urgent letters in your room for you to check. I assume things with Nie Mingjue went well.”

Xichen’s mood immediately deflates. “With him, yes, what Wanyin and I discovered, no.”

His uncle raises a brow at the familiar way he used to address the other sect leader, but Xichen did it without even noticing it and ends up telling himself changing it will only make it weirder. “What is it?”

“The person who attacked him used techniques from the Gusu Lan clan,” he says, feeling the discomfort taking over his body once more. “He asked me to show some techniques since he didn’t know them and he recognised some.”

His uncle’s face twists in the exact way he expected it to twist upon hearing this, but his reaction is more controlled than Xichen’s. The man takes a deep breath, closes his eyes and spends a couple of seconds to control his stress before speaking, “That means someone is lying.”

“Wanyin suggested it could also be a guest disciple who left,” he says, offering the same options he was offered. “Or someone who walked away from us.”

When his uncle opens his eyes, he can see the man is considering the option, but the uncertainty causes the same discomfort present in his face. “You mentioned he hurt his attacker.”

“Yes, with Zidian,” he concedes. “It’s a strong weapon, has anyone shown signs of pain or incapability to do something?”

“Nothing has been reported to me,” he says with an increasing frown as he opens his eyes. “Disciples, teachers and even guest disciples have done their work without any abnormality. Unless the problem is not something about only one person, then we can trust no one has shown any sign of being guilty.”

It’s a comforting thought, really, but Xichen can’t fully shut down the voice in the back of his head telling him to be paranoid and wary of the people he had known for years. His head and body ache with exhaustion, the stress feels even bigger than when they were in the middle of a war. “I see.”

“Rest, Xichen,” his uncle says after a moment, making him look up at him. “You haven’t stopped in months and you haven’t fully recovered after losing almost all your spiritual energy. Meditate, recover, I will continue investigating.”

It isn’t fair, his uncle had to carry the duties of a sect leader while his brother was in seclusion for years, everything while raising his two nephews. He shouldn’t be taking it upon himself to once more guide the clan, but the truth is, Xichen is exhausted, not only physically, mentally as well and that is the most dangerous part. Still, he needs to help.

“I will meditate and rest for the rest of the day,” he says as he stands up to thank his uncle properly. “Tomorrow I will check around, I have the excuse of being away for too long to ask more insistently.”

The man sighs, Wangji may be the most stubborn one, but Xichen can also be.

His Hanshi, thankfully, is still the same safe and comforting place it has always been and he’s glad that at least this place hasn’t been altered or ruined as many other things have been.

With a satisfied sigh, he places Shuoyue on the support he keeps next to the door and Liebing on its container that ensures it won’t get damaged before walking towards the table in the middle where he finally gets to sit down with the same sigh of content. With still precise movements he fills and lits the incense burner, letting the jasmine scent wash over him as he wills his muscles to relax and his mind to let go of his problems for this short period of time. 

Xichen has always been the kind of person who can meditate even under highly stressful situations, but as he tries to fully focus on it and let go of everything, he finds it harder to reach it than it was during the war. 

They used to have a clear enemy during the war, they built a plan around them and were perfectly aware of who they could trust, now they don’t know anymore and new things just keep coming out of nowhere. He’s worried about Wanyin, Jiang Yanli, her little Jin Ling, Wen Yuan and even Wei Wuxian himself. He feels lost in how much he can trust his sworn brothers and to top it all, he misses Wangji.

Yes, he’s perfectly aware that he’s doing this to keep him safe and to keep whoever tried to kill him from being successful, but he misses him. They’re not the kind of siblings who love teasing and annoying the life of each other like Wanyin and Wei Wuxian or the kind where one is entirely dependent on the other like Nie Mingjue and Nie Huaisang, but they still have a dynamic, one he misses a lot.

Wangji is more than the taciturn and cold person everyone thinks he is, Wangji is his little brother who he needs right now and he doesn’t even care if that sounds weird for someone like him or if it makes him look like a little kid about to throw a tantrum, he has the right to feel like this.

“Dear lord…” he whispers as he opens his eyes and shakes his head. 

Meditating shouldn’t be this hard, especially not for someone like him.

 

Their investigation doesn’t really bring anything new. The very next day Xichen goes around the Cloud Recesses interrogating people in how they are doing and if they have seen something abnormal or even something that minimally strayed from the tight schedule. He somehow manages to do it without raising suspicions, too. Aside from his calm and kind demeanour they’re very used to seeing, everyone does their best to help him as much as they want ever since Wangji disappeared, so it’s good.

But there’s nothing.

The disciples practice and do what they are told without complaining and Xichen’s amber eyes pay attention to every single movement they make and he notices no one seems to be in pain or having problems with doing it. Same goes for the teachers and others. Everyone is doing fine, or at least they seem to look fine, until that moment.

“They came out of nowhere, Zewu-Jun, we could barely protect ourselves,” Xichen can only sigh as he listens to the disciple.

“You say they just attacked and left?” he asks, seeing the man looking down at the dried blood in his hands.

“Yes,” he nods, letting out a shuddering breath. “At least five people.”

And dear heavens, that makes it worst. “Could you describe how they looked like again, please?”

“Dark robes, faces covered by masks or an odd black flog,” the man says, letting out the air he seemed to be holding. “We couldn’t recognise anyone.”

“I’m glad all of you returned as safely as possible,” he says, reaching to give the man’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “Please go with a healer and check your condition as well.”

“Thank you, sect leader,” he says with his respectful bow, turning to leave but stopping by the door. “Sect Leader, do you think the Yiling Patriarch is starting with us?”

“We need to investigate properly, let’s please not jump into conclusions that could bring more problems,” he says, appealing to their rules to keep the man from doubting his judgement as he sighs heavily. “I will visit the recovery pavilion later on.”

“Thank you, sect leader, please stay safe.”

When the man leaves, Xichen has to lean on the wall and take several seconds to keep his emotions and feelings at bay. Hearing his own people fearing Wei Wuxian when he hasn’t even been near to steal bodies just shows how effective Jin Guagnshan’s plan has been. Who else would dress in black and attack a small group of cultivators travelling around without reason?

Xichen is glad no one ended up dead, however, so at least he has this. He sends a letter to Wanyin explaining the attack and talks with his uncle for a long time how they were five attackers instead of the two they initially believed. He receives a letter from Yunmeng two days later where Wanyin asks him to be careful and informs nothing bad has happened with him, he also adds a small note he immediately recognises as Wangji’s neat handwriting and even when everything else is horrible, he feels so relieved he reads it at least a hundred times.

Brother, I hope this finds you well,

I apologise I didn’t think about asking Sect Leader Jiang to allow me to send a letter sooner. I am well, Wei Ying understood, A-Yuan is safe, too. Please tell uncle I apologise for the problems caused.

Lan Wangji.

It’s short and concise, but it’s just how he knows Wangji is and is yet another reminder that his brother is alive and well and he treasures it as such. Furthermore, he’s giving away more information than what the normal eye could see. That Wei Ying understood means things went well, means Wei Wuxian possibly accepted his feelings as well and wasn’t as scandalised or repulsed as Wangji thought he would feel. At least something good came out of all of this.

But that’s pretty much all they get.

Lan Qiren and he investigate around the area where the attack happened but there are no clues or traces they could follow, the disciples with the worst injuries recover little by little and give their report of what happened, but it doesn’t add anything new. The same dark robes and masks appear again and no one has another detail that could lead them somewhere, so it’s the same as what happened with Xichen’s attacker: a huge nothing.

Months go by and he doesn’t receive anything from others, either. Jin Guangshan stops insisting so much in inviting them to a demonstration of a class and with that the minor clans stop it, too. Nie Mingjue doesn’t inform of anything weird and Wanyin doesn’t either, Xichen is thankful because they are safe, but it’s also a worrying sign.

Are they targeting him and his clan only?

“We were involved the moment Wangji made his decision,” Lan Qiren says as Xichen stares out of the window, seeing the heavy rain falling outside. “You shouldn’t blame yourself, Xichen.”

“Uncle, you already know how things are,” he says, not wanting to remind him of what happened before. "I need to find out why it’s only us and a way to solve it.”

“It could be because of Wangji.”

Xichen looks away from the heavy rain to look at his uncle with what could be taken as a betrayed look. “How can it be Wangji’s fault?”

The man takes a deep breath when he hears him before starting his explanation, “To the world, he was kidnapped by Wei Wuxian so he can use his core to strengthen his army of corpses. Wangji has been dead for everyone for a long time now… If Jin Guangshan really wants to push all the blame on Wei Wuxian so there are no objections to getting all the power, coming for the rest of Wangji’s family and clan is the most logical option.”

Xichen shakes his head, but the other continues before he can say something.

“I do not blame Wangji,” he says, frowning lightly. “His motivations and reasons for doing what he did are something only he can understand and as questionable as they are, it would be hypocritical of me to judge them. I can only provide a possible explanation.”

 “I know,” Xichen mutters. “I’m afraid we will have to think in something to do before the attacks become tragedies.”

Lan Qiren can only nod, Xichen may be imagining things, but there are moments where he believes his uncle has aged faster because of this than when they were in the middle of a war. Xichen is positive he has aged just as much.

Wishing the man a good night, he takes his umbrella and decides to retire to his room instead of waiting for the rain to pass. He wants to rest, relax for a bit and think in how to talk about this with the others before life decides to come up with yet another new thing no one expected and his room is the only place he seems capable of doing so.

Or that’s the idea.

As he walks down the stone path, he suddenly hears hurried footsteps coming from the distance and even when a junior breaking the rule of not running around the Cloud Recesses shouldn’t be that important when it’s raining and when there are more important things, he still turns around to at least tell the person to be careful of not slipping, but when he turns around, he even forgets how to breathe.

“He lied to me,” Jiang Wanyin whispers as he stares at Xichen.

He’s soaked and something tells Xichen it’s not because he stood under the rain for hours but because he flew all the way from Lotus Pier to get here under the heavy rain. His eyes seem to be rimmed red in a way that reminds him of the time he cried for hours while thinking his brother was going to die, and there are, of course, his words.

“Wanyin,” he whispers, moving closer to him to cover the man from the rain even if it’s useless. “What are you— What do you mean?”

“He lied to me,” he repeats and this time, a broken sob escapes his mouth. “He lied to me…”

Xichen let’s go of the umbrella to wrap a protective arm over the man’s shoulders to guide him to his Hanshi. The rain is cold and quick to soak his clothes, but he ignores it because just as he can’t stand to see Wangji in pain, he realises he can’t see Jiang Wanyin in pain either.

He’s here for him.

Chapter Text

By the time they reach the Hanshi, Wanyin has stopped crying but he looks lost, almost soulless and Xichen isn’t even sure if he knows he’s in the Cloud Recesses with him.

Not that it matters, of course, he guides him inside and reaches for his quilt to wrap it around the man’s shoulders in hopes it helps him with his trembling. He knows the leader possesses a strong core and the fact he’s not using it to warm his body up is yet another indicator he has of his bad state. 

“Wanyin,” he whispers, kneeling next to him and resting his hand on his shoulder. “You need to change your clothes, you will get sick.”

He’s not surprised to not receive an answer or even something that tells him he heard him, so he can only sigh and lit the incense burner in hopes it helps him relax. After that, he walks inside the bathroom and removes his soaked robes and removes the heavy headpiece from his head, deciding to just change into dry ones instead of taking a bath and loosely tie his har so it’s out of his face and doesn’t disrespect the other leader by showing himself with such looks; it’s possible he too will get sick, but he doesn’t really care.

When he returns, Wanyin hasn’t moved, so Xichen reaches for Liebing and accommodates himself as close as he can to him without causing discomfort and starts playing their Song of Clarity, hoping the soothing melody will help the man regain his bearings enough so he can change into dry clothes and maybe share with Xichen why he is here and how he can help him.

The fact the man has come to him to deal with something that seems to be too delicate makes him a bit lightheaded but not in a bad way. It’s actually kind of heart-warming and he would feel proud of himself if he wasn’t so worried about the man.

After what feels like hours, Wanyin finally blinks and Xichen little by little stops the melody until he stops entirely. “Wanyin? Would you like to change now?”

The dark eyes of the man move to him and Xichen sees him struggling to make sense of what he is seeing, a blush he can’t tell if it is caused by the cold or something else spreading on his neck and face before he gives the smallest nod.

With a smile and making sure to not make sudden movements that could scare him, he stands up and goes to retrieve some of his own robes since he doesn’t consider leaving the man alone to look for some would be the wisest option. “I mean no disrespect, Wanyin if you would like I can go get you robes specifically for you.”

It takes the other a bit to understand what he means, his eyes go between his amber ones and the robes he’s holding in his hands but once he understands, the blush intensifies. “It’s fine,” he says, voice slightly raspy. “It would be stupid to be picky.”

Xichen’s heart jumps again inside his chest and he has to clear his throat as he nods and extends them to him. Helping him up, he guides him to the bathroom and even gives him the freedom of taking a bath if he would like it before he leaves him there, taking the quilt with himself to extend it outside and under the eves so the humility it absorbed doesn’t end up ruining it and so it’s easier for the servants to get it next morning. He’s not sure if the man is hungry or if food is the last of his concerns, but he prepares tea and serves some sweets he brought from Qinghe.

Jiang Wanyin leaves the bathroom shortly after he’s done and his dark eyes stare at it for several seconds before he once more moves to retake his place near the table. Xichen’s robes are big on the man, though, not so much. Unlike others, Jiang Wanyin is almost as tall as Xichen and his broad shoulders product of his extensive training with the whip, sword and swimming help him to not drown in the bigger robes, but it’s still evident they are not his.

Xichen can’t explain why, but it does something to his heart to see the man dressing in his colours.

“This is far from being proper food, but sweets tend to help when someone isn’t feeling well,” he offers, shaking his head to get rid of his ridiculous thoughts. “Have some tea, too, it makes wonders for me whenever I leave a conference.”

As much as he wants to ask what is wrong and why he came here in such panic, he knows the better way to approach this is by making him feel comfortable and safe. Wanyin carries a lot of things on top of him and feeling cornered will make him push people away which is the opposite of what he wants. He will talk whenever he wants to and Xichen is willing to stay in here for as long as it is needed.

Jiang Wanyin acknowledges his offer with yet another nod but returns to stare at the food with the same soulless expression from before. One of his hands grips the large sleeves while the other goes to press against his chest, he also seems to struggle to not break down in tears once more and Xichen is heartbroken.

“When those damn Wen came to Lotus Pier, they came with the clear objective of having Wei Wuxian punished for what happened in that night hunt at Dusk-Creek Mountain,” To his shock, however, the man starts talking after mere minutes of silence. “My mother wiped him with Zidian in hopes of appeasing that woman, but she wanted his hand to be severed so he could never cultivate again.”

Xichen is not surprised to hear that kind of punishment was ideal for someone like the Wen. Wang Lingjao did everything she could to please Wen Chao and her own complex of superiority led her to be as sadistic as she could with the power she had, Xichen is more surprised she didn’t ask for his execution if he’s honest.

“But then she mentioned she was going to love working with Mother in the supervisory office and it just… ended bad,” he says, closing his eyes as he seems to suppress the tormenting memories. “When Wen Zhuliu appeared she took us to a boat and sent us away. Ajie, Wei Wuxian and I became fugitives, they were looking for us and I— I failed them, I failed my parents.”

It is something Xichen can perfectly understand despite the notable differences between the way the Jiang siblings were raised and the way Wangji and he grew up. Losing his mother while being so young, having to explain it to Wangji and finally losing his father while he hid was tormenting, so he can only imagine how hard it was to, in a sense, witness their murders for the other. “You didn’t fail them, Wanyin, those Wen were evil people and your parents trusted you were capable of leading your clan.”

“Wei Wuxian went out one day to get food and medicine for Ajie, he told me to stay inside and take care of her,” he continues after shaking his head as if he can’t really accept Xichen’s words. “Wen soldiers were getting closer, they were going to get him so I...”

Xichen can already feel his stomach turning violently at imagining what is coming. No one knew in great detail what happened to the three of them after the fall of Lotus Pier, so getting to hear it from one of them is going to be painful.

“Wen Chao beat me and tortured me to his heart content until he…” his voice breaks and Xichen unconsciously reaches to squeeze the man’s arm. “Wen Zhuliu melted my core.”

And he expected a lot of things, but not this. 

Losing a golden core is unnatural and something a cultivator should never deal with. Wen Zhuliu was such a menace because of that cursed ability and Xichen got to witness the consequences of a cultivator losing their core at his hands during the war. He knew it was painful, excruciating, and the mental image of Wanyin going through that pain hurts as much as seeing Wangji suffering under that poison’s influence

“Wanyin I—”

“Wei Wuxian told me he knew where Baoshan Sanren was and said she could give my core back,” Not much is known about the immortal and while Xichen believes she would be more than capable of performing such a feat, something tells him it didn’t really go like that. “I woke up with a core again, I woke up feeling alive and I thought that would be the end of it but I was as foolish as I have always been.”

“You’re not foolish,” he hurries to say because that is something he definitely doesn’t want the man to think about himself. “You have never been.”

“I don’t have my core,” he says next and Xichen can feel the confusion taking over his mind because it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Everything Wanyin has done is possible because he has a core, a cultivator needs a core to fly, fight and wield powerful weapons such as Sandu and Zidian, so how could the man not have it? His face surely transmits his confusion because the other sighs and seems to ready himself to continue.

“He gave me his core,” he says and this time, his voice breaks mid-sentence. “The fucking idiot gave me his own core.”

He feels lost but immediately hates himself for not finding the best words to say right away It’s hard, heavens, it’s a lot of information to process in so little time. For starters, he didn’t know a core could be removed and placed on someone else without getting it destroyed in the process, then comes the fact that Wei Wuxian sacrificed something vital for a cultivator to save his brother, unveiling the possible reason why he started to walk down the demonic cultivation path and finally, finally Xichen can barely imagine how it was for the man to find out about this after so long.

“He didn’t tell you,” he says but winces for how dumb it sounds to state the obvious.

“No, he lied to me,” Jiang Wanyin corrects, the anger and pain mixing in those words. “He lied, went away, made a mess and then decided to do the fucking right thing and tell me.”

And it is delicate because not even Xichen knows what he would do in this situation. If Wangji sacrificed something so vital in order to save Xichen’s life, his first reaction would be of anger because, well, Wangji is his little brother and who should live if anything happened to him, but in their cause, is the complete opposite. Wei Wuxian is the older brother and seeing his younger one going through something so horrible of course moved him to go to that extent to keep him alive which is acceptable… the problem is the lie.

“I’m afraid he believed you would have said no,” he offers which, again, isn’t the best, but the most logical.

“Of course I would have said no!” he screams, slamming his fist on the table and making the plates rattle. “It’s stupid, I don’t need his hero complex! Why would I want him to die so I live?”

Xichen wouldn’t label the man’s personality as having a hero complex, in all honesty. Wei Wuxian is the kind of person who has strong beliefs he will defend no matter the consequences and that, to a certain extent, is not bad. When the boy studied here, Xichen found entertaining how it was clear he would never adhere to the rules because they clashed furiously against what he valued. He was a free spirit who found ridiculous a rule that said he wasn’t allowed to be happy and again, that was fine. His later actions of protecting the Wen remnants proved to be the right thing as well, but there is a problem in all of this.

“What you feel is completely valid, Wanyin, and it is true you didn’t deserve to be lied to,” he says after taking a deep breath. “You had the right to know because it was your core, Wei Wuxian made a big mistake.”

It is not siding with evil people as many said, however, his biggest mistake is not trusting the ones who love him.

“Of course he fucking did,” he says next, his hand pressing harder against the table. “We could have found a way, we could have…”

The rest of the sentence dies on his throat and Xichen dares to move closer when the man seems ready to topple over. “Wanyin!”

“It is my fault,” he whispers next, sounding defeated and broken and the change in his tone and demeanour takes Xichen by surprise. “It’s all my fault.”

“It isn’t,” he replies in automatic and even when he doesn’t really know what is pushing him to say that. “Do not put all the blame on yourself.”

“I wanted to die, I told them I had nothing left to live without my core,” he breathes out, the tears again falling freely down his face. “I am a cultivator who is incapable of living like a normal person and I told him that. It is my fault he made that decision, my fault he decided to get rid of his core to give it to me.”

“You were in a vulnerable state, it was a completely normal reaction.”

“I was weak.”

“Showing feelings or been vulnerable at one point is not being weak,” he says, remembering how the man never judged him when he broke down at Lotus Pier after finding out his brother was alive. “You’re still human.”

“It doesn’t work like that,” he hisses. “Being weak ended up with my parents dead and all this huge mess.”

“Your parent’s death is not your fault,” Wanyin was young and not even the strongest cultivator in the world could have avoided what happened there. “Feeling is not what caused that tragedy and you should never blame yourself for it.”

“Then tell me whose fault is it?” he demands, dark eyes desperately looking for an answer in his amber ones. “I was the heir, who should have stayed there to fight at their side, who should have never allowed anyone else to carry what I have to do.”

Xichen can immediately recognise that is something indirectly taught to the ones who are bound to become leaders of their clan one day. Lan Qiren was strict in saying it fell on him to make the right decisions and the Lan elders were clear in saying he shouldn’t depend on someone else because that could be translated into insecurity or weakness, but maybe the lesson shouldn’t be taken that far.

“Wanyin, you can rely on others,” he says. “If relying on others makes you weak, then I am weak, too.”

The man’s eyes snap up to glare at him, as if he’s sure he’s making fun of him. “You? Weak? I have never heard anyone thinking your brother is better than you nor more capable of being a sect leader.”

It reminds Xichen again of the times Jin Guangshan and other leaders questioned Jiang Cheng’s abilities as a leader because of his young age and overall inexperience. The apparently innocent comments that said he should do things a certain way to guarantee people will not doubt him.

It reminds him of how he didn’t do anything about it, either.

“No, it has never happened to me,” he whispers, looking away in shame. “But you’re not weak, you have never been… I admire how far you have gone despite everything, you have done many things the most privileged cultivators haven’t even think about it.”

“That’s ridiculous,” he states, though, Xichen can tell his words had a positive effect on him.

“You rebuilt Lotus Pier on your own, you gave your disciples the strength they needed to bring back the glory their own clan had before,” Xichen had his uncle, Wangji, the elders and more disciples who survived the attack, the Yunmeng Jiang clan was pushed to the verge of extinction at the hands of those monsters and the few survivors and new disciples weren’t enough to do it, but he did it. “Now you are protecting your siblings despite what others want because it’s the right thing. A weak person would never do that.”

Jiang Wanyin’s eyes fill with a new wave of tears that make the redness around them even more noticeable. Inside them,  Xichen can see the same turmoil of pain and despair he saw the first time he offered his help or when the man confessed to feeling guilty and bad about his lack of response towards the Wen remnants. 

“It was my fault all of this happened, my fault he started his demonic cultivation path,” he says after hopefully giving up on that thought of being weak. “Without his core, without his core, he had to use that.”

“You’re not responsible for the decisions he made,” he says, resting his hands on his shoulders so he looks up at him. “Wangji did a lot of things I didn’t agree on as well, a lot of things that seemed questionable at that time.”

“Please, what could Lan Wangji do that would be questionable? You two are perfect, fault-free,” he says with surprising hostility. “The Twin Jades have never done anything wrong, you have never felt you’re weak and a disgrace. You were never the reason why your parents fought all the time.”

“You’re right,” he concedes, feeling something twisting inside his chest at the mentions of parents. “But my intention is not comparing nor saying who did worse, it is just me pointing out I can actually understand how you feel.”

Leaving aside how painful it is to hear the man had to go through those kinds of problems while growing up, he can see Jiang Wanyin isn’t that convinced with what he’s hearing and Xichen can understand why. Their mistakes and flaws rarely leave the confines of the clan because a righteous clan has to be righteous in every sense.

“How could you?” he asks and his time he sounds desperate as if he’s struggling to hear something valid enough that keeps him from being all alone in this. “How could someone so perfect understand what we went through?”

“Because perfection is just an illusion,” he sighs, letting his hands fall from the man’s shoulders. “And it is tiring to keep everything inside.”

Jiang Wanyin’s face falls when he hears that and he seems to scramble to find the words to say, probably fearing he has messed everything up as Xichen stands up and moves to stand closer to the window. “I didn’t—”

“Wangji had to be punished for visiting Wei Wuxian in Yiling and Uncle had to scold him several times because he wouldn’t really listen,” he starts, sighing heavily as he looks out of the window. “He has always been stubborn but the elders agreed on keeping it a secret to not damage his and the clan’s reputation.”

“I didn’t know…” he mutters which is again understandable. “But he has never lied to you, he has never done anything like this.”

“You are right,” he nods, keeping his eyes on the rain falling down. “But if you allow me to give my opinion, I do not think he did in order to torture you.”

He hears the man snort. “Does that make it any better?”

“No, it does not,” he shakes his head, closing his eyes. “It does not change the fact you are hurt and does not justify why he decided to keep it a secret for so long, but you’re hurting yourself and I would like to believe that was never his intention.”

When he opens his eyes and turns to look at the other, he finds Jiang Wanyin looking miserable yet again, both hands now pressing against his chest as he does his best to breathe. “He will always be better than me.” 

Xichen returns to his side in a matter of seconds. “You are you, Wanyin, don’t compare yourself to him.”

“I went to check on him,” he whispers, “and he just said it.”

He’s not surprised by how straightforward Wei Wuxian decided to be for this, the number of people in the cultivation world who can deliver in the best way such delicate news can be counted with the fingers of his hand and Wangji and Wei Wuxian isn’t part of them. Wanyin’s pain is tangible.

“I’m alive thanks to him,” he whispers, his dark eyes looking at Xichen’s amber ones. “He lied to me, kept it a secret for years so why— why can’t I even be mad at him?!”

He is mad at him, that’s clear, but Xichen can tell he’s punishing himself for doing so and that is, obviously, unfair. He should have the chance of expressing his anger and pain without feeling guilty about it. 

What the man needs strikes him like a fire talisman burning.

“I won’t judge you, Wanyin.”

Jiang Wanyin seems to collapse against him as he starts crying in a way that reminds Xichen of the time he broke down in front of his uncle and in Lotus Pier. The man has been crying ever since he arrived, but it feels different as he wraps his arms around him.

His heart does something inside his chest, but he pushes it away. 

Wanyin needs him now. 

Chapter Text

Wanyin sleeps in the Hanshi.

Lan Xichen can think of at least ten things the cultivation world and even his own elders would and will probably say when they find out about this as he looks at Wanyin’s peaceful expression while he sleeps on his bed. It’s scandalous, rude and probably even insulting for both leaders, but Xichen, and hopefully Wanyin as well, don’t see it like that. 

Wanying cried for so long Xichen was worried he was going to end up dehydrated, there was so much pain and despair that left him with every sob that he wondered when was the last time the man had the chance of letting out his emotions. By the time he was done, he looked completely exhausted and ready to collapse… and that’s what he did. Xichen didn’t have the heart to wake him again so he could take the man to the one of the guest rooms, so he just carefully and very slowly moved him to his own bed and made sure he was comfortable, or as comfortable as he could be with those robes, headpiece and other things he didn’t dare to touch.

That morning, Xichen abandoned his meditative state at his usual hour despite going to sleep very late at night and started his normal duties. He had the servants take the quilt and still soaked robes to have them cleaned and asked for food to be brought to him, he’s not surprised they seem to know Wanyin is in here considering how the man came running all the way to where he was standing, but he’s glad they are not questioning anything.

By the time he returns, Wanyin is still sleeping and Xichen once more wonders when was the last time he properly slept. Something tells him no one aside from Jin Guangshan has rested properly ever since the war started.

A couple of hours later, the man finally stirs, a small groan leaving his lips as his eyes flutter open and blink repeatedly to get rid of the haze a deep slumber leaves people with. Once his eyes are focused enough, a frown falls on his previously peaceful expression and he is pushing himself to sit up on the bed so fast Xichen is worried he will get dizzy.

“What the—”

“I apologise I didn’t bring you to a proper room, you fell asleep and didn’t want to wake you up,” Xichen finally decides to say as calmly as he can to not startle the other. “I meant no disrespect by leaving you here, I hope you could rest.”

Wanyin looks mortified but to Xichen’s relief, he doesn’t look offended or angry. “Fuck, so pathetic.”

“As I said yesterday, you’re not pathetic,” he repeats, standing up to bring the tray with tea and a light breakfast closer to him. “Please have some food, it will make you right.”

The man rubs his face for some more time before finally sighing and reaching for a cup of tea, though, he seems to do it more in an effort to be polite than anything else. “Listen, Zewu-Jun, I… I don’t want you to think I’m normally like this.”

“Like what?” he asks, curiously tiling his head to the side as he sits in front of his desk to lit the incense burner.

“Like… this,” he repeats, making a vague movement with his free hand to signale the entirety of his body.

“I see nothing wrong,” he says with a faint shrug. “You found me in the middle of a breakdown in Lotus Pier.”

Wanyin opens his mouth but nothing comes out and the way he sinks back in his place with an  expression that makes him look as if he’s sulking,it makes Xichen smile lightly.

“Please finish your food so I can take you to a proper room so you can bathe and change.”

This seems to remind the other leader he’s wearing his robes and the blush that spreads all over his neck and face makes Xichen’s heart skip a beat. Clearing his throat, Wanyin decides to not say anything else as he focuses on his food and Xichen on the pending reports he left heavens knows how many days ago. By the time the other is done, the blush is more or less controlled and Xichen decides to not comment on anything.

With the luck of not finding anyone on their way there, Xichen guides the man to the room he normally gives to him when the conferences are at the Cloud Recesses and lets him know he can take all the time he needs while he takes care of some things. He offers to meet him at the back of the mountains and Wanyin agrees, though Xichen is not sure if he’s doing it to just run and hide or if he really means it.

No way of knowing.

“Xichen, I was informed Jiang Wanyin arrived yesterday,” Upon entering the main hall, Lan Qiren asks, his worried eyes punching the air out of Xichen’s system. “Did something happen?”

“Nothing bad related to Wangji, Uncle,” he says, sitting in front of him. “Wanyin discovered some things and needed someone to talk about it.”

Lan Qiren looks as if he really wants to ask what it is or if it is somehow related to the issue they’re all dealing with, but he ends up shaking his head. “You didn’t mention he was coming.”

“I wasn’t aware,” he sighs. “But he’s doing fine, so is Wangji and Maiden Jiang.”

“What about that kid?” he asks, eyes moving to the cup of tea. “Is he protected?”

“He is,” Xiche nods, remembering the little Yuan and his excitement to be around the young Jin Ling. “Maiden Jiang takes care of him, he likes being around her son.”

“Is he aware he’s the only one left?” Lan Qiren makes a small face, as if the question sounds wrong even for him.

“Is he really the only one left?” Xichen asks in return and with yet another tired sigh. “I don’t really know if Wei Wuxian or Wangji had talked about it with him, but I’m sure he already suspects something the moment they didn’t come back.”

“Do you think they could have lied about the fate of the two siblings?” he asks, tightening the hold he has on the table. “They claimed to have killed them, they showed the ashes, but what if that’s a lie too?”

Xichen remembers thinking the exact same thing some time ago and he can’t help but imagine how horrible it would be for the siblings to be trapped somewhere so their captors can experiment on one or both to their heart's content. “The part of me who does not wish to think they are suffering hopes they really are dead, the other wishes they live so they can have a life once we free them.”

“For Jin Guangshan’s sake, they better be death.”

It’s a clear indication he has to say just how much his uncle is being affected by this and how angered he is about the idea of an old friend planning something so nefarious and cowardly to take on the cultivation world just when they were freed from another tyrannical sect. Lan Qiren may not be the definition of a loving parental figure, but he cares for his nephews and people a lot, so Jin Guangshan messing with it is the worst he could have done.

“I couldn’t agree more with you, Uncle.”

°°°

“So I should… probably go back to Lotus Pier.”

Xichen looks away from the trees when he hears Wanyin’s voice, finding the man, now dressed in the robes he arrived with but clean and dry, walking towards him. “You are free to stay here for as long as you need to, Wanyin.”

“I left without telling anyone where I was going,” he says once he stops at his side, eyeing the basket with fresh leaves Xichen is carrying with him with discrete but curious eyes. “I worry about Ajie.”

“You can send a letter,” he suggests because something tells him the other really doesn’t want to leave yet. “I am sure she will understand.”

“I know…” he mutters, crossing his arms and following him when he starts walking. “Thank you for everything, Zewu-Jun.”

“You don’t need to thank me,” he says, a small smile coming to his face when they reach the end of the path and the field of bunnies Wangji has comes into view and Wanyin stares at it with wide eyes. “I figured you would like a peaceful place.”

“I thought animals were forbidden,” the man says, staring with a dumbfounded expression at the tiny creatures hopping around. “I— Are these the same I saw when I came to study here?”

“It is possible,” Xichen hums, walking inside while making sure he’s not hurting any of them. “Wangji and your brother found them when Lan Yi trusted both with her Yin Iron piece. Animals are still forbidden, but I helped Wangji to convince Uncle so he could keep them.”

Wanyin seems to find this hilarious and the way he rolls his eyes and shakes his head before carefully walking to stand next to him again is a good indication. Xichen offers some of the leaves and the man hesitates for just a second before taking one and crouching down to offer it to one of the bunnies around, staying still so he doesn’t startle the small creatures.

It’s embarrassing, but Xichen can’t keep himself from staring at the man. The slightly relaxed line of his shoulders as he takes his mind off his problems and the small smile that tugs at his lips when one finally starts nibbling on the fresh leaf. The weird thing his heart has been doing so often now is there again as he tries to look away and crouch down as well to feed the ones who had moved closer to him because they find him familiar. 

He fails, miserably.

“What the fuck am I goint to tell him?” After some time in silence where Wanyin ends up sitting down to cradle one of the small animals close to his chest, hand petting the soft fur, he asks. “I just want to punch him in the face.”

“I think you two need to talk about what you feel,” he offers, shaking his head to get out of his nonsense and taking a seat next to him. “Understand what each other feels and work with that. Wangji and I understand each other, you two should try to do it, too.”

“It’s easier for you to say it,” he snorts without moving his eyes from the bunny. “You never had someone telling you your brother is better in everything.”

He seems to regret it shortly after saying it, probably because it’s a bad way to talk about your deceased parents, but Xichen is grateful he trusts him. “You are right, but the absence of our parents did other kinds of damage to Wangji and I.”

Wanyin tenses and finally looks away from the bunny to send him a confused and concerned look. “Where they… not around?”

“Our mother passed away when Wangji was six,” he sighs heavily, setting the basket at his side. “Our father was in seclusion, the last time I saw him was when Wangji received his courtesy name.”

“I… don’t remember seeing your father during the conferences,” It seems to take him a lot to say it and his eyes stay on Xichen with such intensity he’s sure he’s probably regretting every single world as they leave his mouth.

“His seclusion started even before our mother died,” he admits, being him the one who looks away as he thinks about that story not even everyone in his clan knows. “It started shortly after he married her.”

It is confusing and weird, so Xichen doesn’t blame him for frowning and trying to make sense of what he just heard. Even for Wangji and he, it was hard to understand why their parents were in seclusion in different places and why they were only allowed to see her once every month. 

“I…” he starts but stops, biting his lip as if thinking what to say before sighing heavily. “I’m sorry, it sounds very complicated and had no idea.”

“No need,” Xichen shakes his head softly, caressing the bunny’s back who settled just next to his legs. “It is something not even many people from our clan know, that’s  why I mentioned perfection is a mere illusion, a boulder precariously balanced on the thinnest pillar. One wrong movement and it will fall.”

Wanyin’s hand that have been petting the bunny stop, but Xichen doesn’t dare to look up at his face. He’s feeling too many things at the same time and he’s not sure how he will react, the least he wants is starting to cry and make the other feel uncomfortable.

“My parents' relationship was far from being ideal, but it was never a secret,” he says, his tone a mix between annoyance and sadness. “They couldn’t really be in the same room without starting to fight. Wei Wuxian and I were the favourite topics to fight about.”

Putting together everything Wanyin has told him, Xichen can tell the man’s parents constantly compared their own son to Wei Wuxian’s progress which led Wanyin to be insecure about his leadership and that, at the same time, lead to Jin Guangshan’s words affecting him more. It’s a vicious cycle of self-destruction, like the one Xichen got to experience when he realised he failed his brother in every way possible. It’s in human nature, he supposes, the words of others are normally stronger than the ones one can repeat to itself. 

“It wasn’t fair you were put through that, Wanyin,” he sighs, staring at the bunny as it hops away to join the others. “But holding it inside you is hurting you and the ones around you.”

Hypocritical to say it when he still hates himself for allowing his brother to fight alone for so long and for letting that poison almost taking away from him, hypocritical when he still has nightmares of bloodied bodies dressed in red remind him he did nothing to save them, but in the most personal matters, in the problems left by the parents, Xichen believes he is doing better.

“I don’t doubt it, but there’s too much shit.”

“Our father married our mother to save her from execution, she killed a teacher of his and it was the only way,” he says, Wanyin even chokes on air. “My way to deal with it was not knowing why she did it.”

“What do you mean?” he asks after calming down his coughing fit.

“I knew my mother as the woman who smiled, who didn’t complain about her forced seclusion nor the fact she could only see her children once a month,” he whispers, an odd bubble of embarrassment feeling his chest. “I knew her as the one who loved teasing Wangji for being so taciturn at such a young age and loved both of us. I don’t want to know why she did that, I don’t care, she is the woman I knew and that’s all.”

It’s possible it’s not the healthiest solution, but it has worked for him and now that he thinks about it, it could work for Wanyin better. “So should I just ignore everything I have been told and go on with life?”

“No, not like that,” he can’t help but chuckle softly, maybe because he finds the scene of both sitting among rabbits unbelievable, maybe it is the embarrassment, the odd behaviour of his heart or maybe a combination. “You know your siblings, know Wei Wuxian never tried to get over you nor doubted your leadership, you know you are a strong leader who rescued your sect from disappearing. You know who you are Wanyin, trust it.”

It isn’t easy, that’s obvious, but Wanyin needs to trust himself. “Ah, Zewu-Jun, why is it that Lans seem to always have the answer?”

“We don’t,” Xichen sighs with a faint smile, finally looking up at him. “The number of mistakes I have committed, as you already know, is large and our sect is far from being the perfect place we show to others.”

“Well, then you’re all damn good at lying,” Wanying says, though, he doesn’t seem to fully mean it. “But it isn’t that surprising, I guess, all sects have their secrets, don’t they? The only thing that changes is how well they hide it.”

The Jin try to hide it, but it is well-known Jin Guangshan isn’t faithful to his wife and the number of illegitimate sons and daughters he has because of it is imprecise. Xichen once heard Jiang Fengmian and Yu Ziyuan weren’t on best terms, Nie Mingjue and Nie Huaisang were half brothers, one with anger issues while the other seemed to not want nor care about being a good cultivator or student. People knew Qinghen-Jun was in seclusion, but people didn’t know why, as for his wife, the world was told she had a terrible disease that kept her from having a normal life and the secret stayed until the day of her death.

“Wei Wuxian and I don’t sit down and talk,” he says after a moment of silence, letting the bunny down so it can do what it wants. “We fight all the time, you have seen it, Ajie is who has to deal with both.”

“But you don’t hate him.”

“I don’t,” he admits, closing his eyes. “When Mother whipped him, when he was gone for three months, when he… left, I was mad, how could he choose a bunch of strangers instead of his family? Turns out, he is the better person.”

“Wanyin—”

“No, it’s reality. I didn’t feel anything when I saw those people living in that place while he gave up everything to protect them,” he cuts him off. “I didn’t give my core to save anyone. Wei Wuxian is better than me and the longer it takes me to accept it, the worst this fucking mess will become.”

“You’re talking as if you haven’t done anything and it isn’t fair,” he says, an abnormal frown appearing on his face. “You regret not helping them now and decided to make it up for said mistakes by supporting your brother, by taking care of that small kid, by going against the biggest figures in the cultivation world. You are not Wei Wuxian, you are Jiang Wanyin.”

Just like it happened last night when Xichen complimented him, Wanyin looks doubtful and embarrassed, as if he’s not used to it and it’s possible he really isn’t. Judging by everything he’s been told, it’s possible that’s the case.

“Alright,” he whispers after a moment of silence, “I’ll talk to him and try to keep it civil.”

“You can do it once you’re comfortable,” he says, a smile stretching on his lips. “I’m sure talking will help both.”

“I just ask for one more thing,” he adds a second later, voice barely a whisper, his dark eyes coming to stare at Xichen’s amber ones.

“Whatever you need.”

“Come with me,” he says. “Be there because I don’t want my sister to hold me back from punching that idiot in the face or letting him punch mine.”

For a moment Xichen wonders if he’s dreaming, if this image of sitting down with the man in the middle of a meadow full of bunnies is not real and just his hopeful brain creating an illusion where he can actually help someone he cares for that isn’t Wangji, but he decides to ignore it, too.

“I will make sure no blood is spilled.”

He smiles and the faint smile on the man is oh so worth it.

Chapter Text

Lan Qiren is very understanding when Xichen says he will be leaving with the other man. By now he seems to understand he has formed a bond with the Yunmeng Jiang leader and accepts it and the only thing he asks for when Xichen leaves is to be informed about Wangji and how his recovery is doing, that edge of worry hidden underneath his normal seriousness.

They decide to part next morning and as promised, Xichen leaves the man alone for some time so he can send a letter to his sister. When he comes out, he looks slightly flustered and ashamed but doesn’t say anything, so Xichen doesn’t force him.

That night, Wanyin sleeps in a guest house and Xichen realises he misses having him close.

“Is everyone fine with you leaving so constantly?” 

To Xichen’s surprise, Wanyin doesn’t take out his Sandu to start flying from the Cloud Recesses back to Lotus Pier, he starts walking towards Caiyi without explaining, but Xichen is fine with it so he just follows him. “They are, or if they are not, they haven’t mentioned,” he chuckles lightly. “During the time I hid with A-Yao, some were displeased with their future sect leader hiding while they fought, but it’s fine, everyone has the right to their own thoughts.”

“You’re too damn nice,” he snorts. “How can you live knowing some of your own disciples don’t like you?”

“I can’t be liked by everyone,” he hums, glancing around at the trees. “It is natural and while they are loyal to our rules and don’t make it personal, there is no problem.”

“Too fucking nice,” the other snorts again. “What if they try to do something?”

“Because of my father’s history, he wasn’t loved by everyone,” he says, sighing lightly. “But despite the animosity some showed, it never interfered with their loyalty to the sect as a whole, they were respectful, faithful. It’s not that I will punish them for not liking me.”

“They still need to trust their leader,” he argues and Xichen can see his point. “Who would follow someone they don’t trust?”

“I’m afraid they don’t like me as a person, but I want to think I have done things right as a leader,” he adds, his words adding an unwanted heaviness on his chest. “My personality can be an issue for some.”

To this, Wanyin stops and turns around at him with a look of complete disbelief. “Are you kidding me?”

“No, I’m not,” he replies, probably sounding more confused than he intended to. “Why would you think that?”

“You’re good with words, diplomatic, you have never been taken as a joke,” he says, looking away from him and once more looking vulnerable. “I want to strangle half of the people I talk to on a daily basis.”

“Just because I don’t show it doesn’t mean I feel the same,” he chuckles, shaking his head when the other huffs and looks close to pushing him to the side. “Wanyin, there is no right way of behaving, we’re all different and you’re not as bad as you seem to think you are. No one has felt insulted when you talk to them and the doubts Jin Guangshan used against you had ulterior motives, as we have seen.”

The other leader sighs but seems to agree with what he just said as he turned around and resumed walking. “I’m not as vulnerable as I look, I can deal with you telling me how unlikeable I am just fine.”

“Wanyin, you’re not unlikeable,” he says, sending him a clear look of disapproval. “You have your temper and that alone is not inherently bad, your people respect you and as you say, that’s the important thing.”

Sure, Jiang Wanyin could work on his anger outbursts and hurtful things that seem to explode out of him when he is angry at someone, but who is Xichen to judge?

“You are kind and calm… that’s why I came to you,” he mutters without stopping and as he continues walking. “I had the reassurance you weren’t going to judge me, at least.”

Xichen’s heart does something funny inside his chest, something it has been doing for a while now but has been pushed to the side for the sake of more important and pressing matters. It is something Xichen realises he doesn’t know how to deal with or even the meaning of it. 

It reminds him of the lost and frustrated expression that dominated Wangji’s face shortly after he realised he was interested in Wei Wuxian despite how annoying and infuriating he found his personality, but the difference between both was that he had friends and could relate to others in the best way. Nie Mingjue and Jin Guangyao were his friends before they turned into his sworn brothers, so him befriending Jiang Wanyin shouldn’t cause such reactions… so why?

“I thank you for trusting me,” he says once he realises he hasn’t replied and how uncomfortable it has to be for the other. “You can count on me, for anything you need.”

He doesn’t get a reply, of course, they soon arrive in Caiyi town and Wanyin merely glances around before mounting Sandu. Xichen has to hurry and jump on Shouyue because he doesn’t seem eager to wait.

°°°

Lotus Pier isn’t burning in flames like Wanyin imagined it would be because of his absence. The waters are calm, stalls are intact and people in general are living as normally as they have been before he left. This seems to calm down a bit of his anxiousness, but overall, Xichen can see he is still bothered by many things.

His disciples are quick to receive and bombard him with the same amount of reports, announcements and work his own receive Xichen with when he’s out for a long time, but Wanyin is efficient and sends everyone away so they do as they are told. Xichen wonders if the man truly sees how capable he is or if he isn’t even aware of it.

“A-Cheng!” Just when they are about to get in the main hall, however, Jiang Yanli’s voice comes and when they both turn to look for her, they find her worried face running towards both with worried expression. “A-Cheng you’re back.”

Jiang Yanli looks relieved as she checks on her brother, a small smile tugging at her lips once she seems to notice Xichen standing a couple of steps back. “Ajie, I’m sorry.”

“I have talked with A-Xian, I’m glad you decided to talk to him, too,” she says, rubbing his arms in that affectionate way that reminds Xichen of himself with Wangji when they were younger. “A-Cheng, you have the right to be angry and A-Xian needs to listen to you, but please listen to him as well.”

Wanying glances at him and Xichen baely holds back the hum of triumph that almost leaves his lips. Xichen suggested both to talk and listen to each other and hearing the same from his sister just says that’s exactly what they both need to do and giving Wanyin’s nature, he’s annoyed.

“I will try,” Wanyin says, making his sister chuckle with a fond expression. “I don’t promise anything.”

“Take some time to rest from the trip,” she continues, turning her attention to Xichen. “Zewu-Jun, thank you for everything you have done for us and him.”

“There’s no need to thank me.”

Her smile is kind and to no one's surprise, she asks a couple of servants to bring them tea so they rest. Wanyin doesn’t oppose much and allows the woman to drag him inside so they can take a seat; making both promise her they won’t leave, she leaves only to return with her baby and little Yuan.

“Zewu-Jun!” the little kid exclaims, his short legs making him run to stand at his side and cling to his leg as he remembers he did the first time they saw him with Wei Wuxian. “You’re back!”

The kid is affectionate by nature, that became obvious in the beginning, but having him looking so excited to see him is heartwarming. “A-Yuan, how are you doing?”

“Good!” he replies, looking away from him to look at Wanyin who was standing there with his arms crossed and overall hostile expression.

“I’m sure you have seen Wanyin more often than me,” he says, carefully picking the kid up to sit him on his hip, moving towards a now panicking Wanyin. “He’s Jin Ling’s uncle.”

“Jin Ling is cute!” Yuan exclaims again, though, he’s not being as open as he was a second ago, instead behaving as if he suddenly became a shy kid.

He can’t blame him, Wangji has a similar problem with kids finding his cold and hard exterior slightly frightening. 

“He is, he has great parents,” Wanying says, awkwardly letting his arms fall from his chest, looking at the kid who is now looking at him from where he hid in Xichen’s neck. “You are cute too…?”

With that, the little kid giggles and even wriggles lightly in his arms. Wanyin sighs in relief as if he just avoided starting a war.

“A-Cheng, I have told you not to be scared of little kids,” Jiang Yanli teases him. “Even A-Ling scares him.”

“I’m not scared of them,” Wanyin retorts, offended. “I just don't know how to deal with them.”

“I can say it’s easier than dealing with stubborn sect leaders,” he hums. “And you already do great with them, Wayin.”

The man only rolls his eyes and turns away from him. Xichen’s heart does that weird thing again.

“I’m glad to see your son is growing so well, Maiden Jiang,” he says when he finally looks away from the man. “He resembles you a lot.”

Jin Ling, now a year and a couple of months old baby, observes everyone from where he’s securely held by his mother’s arms. He now wears purple robes of the Yunmeng Jiang clan instead of the golden ones he used when Xichen first saw him, but the vermillion mark is still immaculately placed between his brows. He resembles his mother most, but Xichen can see Jin Zixuan’s sharp features there as well.

Xichen once more grieves the death of that man and the lost chance of being with his son.

“It will be okay, A-Cheng.”

Despite the peacefulness that took over everything with the tea and the two babies, it soon ends and Xichen can see Wanyin’s expression once more filling with anxiousness and fear of what is coming. When Jiang Yanli goes to leave the two kids with a maid, Xichen rests his hand on Wanyin’s shoulder and gives it an encouraging squeeze.

Wanyin nods lightly and Xichen convinces himself the pink dusting his ears is a product of his mind.

 

“Jiang Cheng! Where in the world have you been I thought— I was worried!”

Wei Wuxian’s indignant cry is what receives the three of them when they step inside the cave and to say Wanyin is not impressed at all is an understatement. His dark eyes snap to his brother who has moved closer to him, and Xichen wonders if he will really need to keep him from punching the other or if it will be avoided.

“So now you’re worried?” he barks, Wei Wuxian takes a step back.

“You two need to talk,” Jiang Yanli intervenes before something else can be said by either of them. “And you will listen to each other.”

The two look like scolded kids because of the tone she uses and it’s endearing, would be more if the topic wasn’t so delicate. When they nod, she guides them to the makeshift table and sits each one on the sides, staying close to both. Xichen does the same, on the other side, and Wangji, who had been sitting on the bed, goes to stand next to him.

Unfortunately for everyone, silence stretches inside the cave, with Wei Wuxian looking at the floor and Wanyin keeping his arms crossed with his displeasure and insecurities holding him back. Xichen, Wangji and Jiang Yanli share a look, considering intervening, but Wei Wuxian intervenes first.

“I’m sorry, Jiang Cheng,” he says, closing his eyes as he lets out the longest sigh. “I never tell you because I don’t want you to think I did it expecting something in return, I didn’t want to see you in such a pitiful position.”

“Oh, Wei Wuxian and his selfless nature, I should be grateful,” Jiang Cheng says, Xichen has to hold Wangji’s wrist to keep him from saying something. “Were you ever going to tell me?”

Wei Wuxian hesitates for a mere second, but Xichen already knows what is coming. “No.”

“A-Xian…”

“I was never going to tell you because, call it whatever you want, but I was determined on not causing you so much distress as I did,” he sighs, shaking his head. “I was scared, you vanished and Shijie suffered because of that.”

“Then why did you tell me?”

Wei Wuxian sends a subtle glance to Wangji, but everyone there could tell what he was doing and Jiang Cheng’s look mixed betrayal, pain and disbelief. “Just because Lan Wangji told you to?”

“No! Lan Zhan didn’t do that!” Wei Wuxian hurries to object. “I was talking to him and I realised that you… that enough things have happened and you were trying your best to keep me safe, the least I could do is be honest.”

It’s a nice touch, of course. “You’re making no goddamn sense.”

“I know!” he says, sighing in exasperation and even tugging at his hair. “Listen, I wasn’t going to tell you anything, that’s what I asked Wen Ning and Wen Qing when I discovered this method, but so many things have happened and not telling you no longer felt right…”

Wanyin lets out a shuddering breath, it reminds Xichen of the pain the man was experiencing when he arrived at the Cloud Recesses, all soaked and crying, desperately seeking comfort. “You are an idiot,” he whispers. “You made this whole mess way more complicated than it should have been. You left me to be an idiot in front of everyone.”

“Jiang Cheng, I didn’t—”

“You got drunk every single day even when you promised you were going to help me rebuild Lotus Pier,” he hisses, “you arrived late at reunions, behaved as if you owned the place with that flute of yours. I now know you can’t use your sword, but couldn’t you at least pretend to have it with you? Everyone said you didn’t respect me, that you couldn’t care less of how your leader was and you know what? I ended up believing them.”

Xichen in specific feels tormented by the memories of hearing all these accusations while sitting doing nothing. Why didn’t he say anything? Why did he let things go that far?

“It wasn’t easy, Jiang Cheng, it wasn’t easy to carry the sword I mastered and enjoyed bragging about while knowing I couldn’t even unsheath it,” Wei Wuxian says, voice trembling lightly. “I didn’t care what they said, everyone judged me no matter what I did, so why should I worry?”

“You were part of the Yunmeng Jiang sect.”

“That’s why I left.”

“Oh, because that fucking solved everything.”

Jiang Yanli lets out an imperceptible sigh and the silence takes over the cave once more. None look ready to talk, instead they seem more interested in fighting. It’s not easy to admit things, to change, it often feels like trying to rip a thousand years old tree from the ground with bare hands. The roots are strong, long and sturdy, and it hurts to pull them out, but sometimes it’s necessary.

Xichen suffered when he saw the damage done to innocent people and to his own brother, he still suffers, but it’s a change he’s working on. Wei Wuxian and Wanyin need to do it, too.

With another sigh, Jiang Yanli shakes her head softly before elegantly and carefully taking a seat to be closer to both. “You are not listening.”

“Shijie, I—”

“No, A-Xian, your reasons are valid, but you’re not hearing what A-Cheng is saying,” she says, calmly and lovingly, putting into her words all the love she feels for his two young siblings. “And you, A-Cheng, you are not understanding what A-Xian is saying.”

They both look confused, Xichen doesn’t really blame them because emotions are hard and confusing.

“You should have told us, A-Xian, I said we were always going to be together and that meant helping each other,” she says, holding his hand. “We don’t know how things would have been if you did, but we’re family and we need to help each other.”

“I never wanted you to ruin your fucking life because of me,” Jiang Ching hisses, Xichen can see he’s trembling, like he did when he was about to cry. “And I… I’m sorry for thinking you were only being a drunk annoyance instead of seeing there was something wrong. You were so obvious and I was an idiot for not noticing it.”

“It was my own choice, Jiang Cheng, and I don’t regret it, I’ll never will,” Wei Wuxian whispers, balling his hand into a tight fist. “And we’re getting this second chance, another chance to not fuck things up, right? So I… I am sorry for not telling you, you had the right to know.”

“You’re an idiot… thank you.”

 Wanyin stands up and moves to his brother, but instead of punching him as he was sure he was going to do it, he pulls him to his arms to hug him. Wei Wuxian takes a couple of seconds before wrapping his arms around his brother and holding onto him as tightly as he can. For Xichen it has the same emotions and feelings that filled him when Wangji woke up and he’s glad.

At his side, Wangji lets out an almost inaudible sigh and it takes Xichen a small glance to know he is also glad and satisfied with the outcome of the conversation. Jiang Yanli has tears in her eyes but her hands never stop caressing her brother’s backs, looking proud and hopeful of what will come now that both will be working on this.

Wanyin after a moment lets go of his brother and he looks overwhelmed, too overwhelmed, so after giving Xichen a small glance, he turns around to leave the cave. For a second he thinks in following, but Jiang Yanli moves behind him and he decides to let them talk, letting her comfort him in a way only his sister can do.

He’s proud of Wanyin, really, he can’t keep himself from smiling as he looks at the spot the man left. He’s not sure everyone here knows just how much pain Wanyin experienced because of all of this, but he’s glad Wei Wuxian could ultimately understand the wrong things he did and is determined to not do it again. He’s happy for being who helped Wanyin to let go of his pain and take the step he needed to communicate as he should normally do… he’s just happy for being someone important for Wanyin.

“Oh my God, Zewu-Jun,” Wei Wuxian’s sudden gasp makes him snap his eyes back to him and he doesn’t like the tone of his voice or the way his eyes have widened. “You’re falling in love with Jiang Cheng!”

At his side, Wangji chokes on air.

Chapter Text

“Wei Ying!” It is Wangji who exclaims, sounding as scandalised as Xichen should probably be. “Don’t.”

“Aiyah, I don’t mean wrong,” the man says, crossing his arms stubbornly as if he hasn’t just said that a moment ago. “I’m just an eagle-eyed man.”

“I am afraid you’re misunderstanding things, young master Wei,” he finally says, trying to calm the rush of emotions rapidly climbing up his chest. “Wanyin and I are friends, we have formed a bond over this situation.”

“Lan Zhan and I were friends as well,” he argues back, Wangji’s ears are a concerning shade of red. “I’m saying it with the best intention, really, I… hurt Lan Zhan a lot by not talking to him and recently, all I have been doing is hurting the ones I love, so if I can avoid this, then I want to do it.”

“It’s a very noble gesture, but Wanyin and I are just friends,” he repeats, ignoring the way his heart jumps inside his chest. “I would never do anything to hurt him, and I’m glad you two are doing well.”

“I thank you for your help, brother,” Wangji, once he doesn’t seem close to fainting anymore, says.

“I didn’t do anything, Wangji, it was all you,” he replies with a smile, thankful the topic has changed. “I am glad both can have this safe place.”

“I couldn’t believe you actually encouraged Lan Zhan to be with me,” Wei Wuxian whispers with a long sigh. “Zewu-Jun, why? Why someone like me?”

“I do not have control over emotions and certainly, have no control over Wangji’s,” he says, seeing his brother once more looking away in embarrassment. “Even if I haven’t discovered the number of lies told by who I thought were allies, I know I would have never been capable of forcing Wangji away from you.”

After all, his brother protected the man with his own body and accepted death if that’s what it took. If the outcome of the battle had changed and someone had successfully murdered Wei Wuxian, he knows Wangji would have sought revenge to the last consequences. 

“Then Lan Zhan has weird preferences!” he wails, pulling the other man closer to look into his golden eyes. “I was so sure you hated me! I struggled to get your attention and you didn't even blink.”

Wangji’s eyes fall to the floor despite having the man in front of him and Xichen smiles fondly at seeing his brother suffering because of this shameless person. “Wangji is very clear with his emotions, you weren’t paying attention, young master Wei.”

“Nonsense, it wasn’t clear at all!” he complains again before shaking his head lightly and letting his forehead rest on Wangji’s shoulder. “But I guess you can say I was indeed lost and oblivious to what he felt and I have the feeling it would have stayed like that if it wasn’t for you, Zewu-Jun.”

“I do not deserve credit for something I didn’t do,” he says, shaking his head. “It was all Wangji, even with my words, it was his decision and who bravely took the step forward.”

“I could have died,” Wangji whispers, Xichen tries to shake off the painful reminder. “I couldn’t continue ignoring it.”

Xichen’s heart's a mess. Wangji is one of the most mature people in the world, but feelings have never been his strength so to hear him being so mature about a matter that clearly involves expressing how he feels makes him feel proud and happy. The sincerity both share with everything they do adds to it; he never imagined his brother would find the person he loves before him, but he’s more than happy.

“I know it is not what any of your family would like, but I promise I’m sincere with Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says next, making him look away from his brother. “It’s weird, even for me, I’m completely sure I don’t deserve someone like Lan Zhan to even like me but… I care for him so much.”

“It doesn’t matter if someone else likes it or not, I’m afraid,” he says, knowing how their uncle still feels troubled about Wangji falling for Wei Wuxian. “What Wangji feels is what matters and for me, I’m glad he is with someone who respects and values him so much. The situation isn’t easy but as I mentioned, I don’t think you’re a bad person, you make mistakes, like all of us, but your heart is still in the right place.”

Wei Wuxian is a mostly open person. He laughs loudly when he finds something funny despite the place he is in and screams in rage when injustices happen, not even stopping to consider if he’s in a disadvantageous position. Through the days, Xichen has learnt more about the man and maybe because of that he can recognise the turmoil of emotions taking over him in that moment and because of his words and he can’t blame him.

The reputation of Wei Wuxian was in shambles and the hatred the world put on him did nothing but grow with every day that passed by. With this, it was obvious he believed no one in their right state of mind could ever fall in love with him, let alone, Lan Wangji, so to have him confessing and starting a relationship with the man was already a surprise. Having the older brother, who also happens to be a sect leader, feeling glad to have him loving his younger brother is an even bigger shock.

“I don't deserve it,” he says and Wangji immediately looks up at him and reaches to hold his hand. “But I have no intentions of letting go or letting someone take it away from me.”

His hand squeezes Wangji’s in return and the way they look at each other gives the illusion that nothing can happen as long as they are together and Xichen struggles to keep his brain from going into overload. They are the safe place for each other and despite the small tingle of jealousy that comes with knowing he no longer is the only protective figure his younger brother has, he is just… happy.

“I’m glad,” he says, resting his hands on their shoulders. “Once all of this is over, things will be better.”

“Thank you, Zewu-Jun,” Wei Wuxian says with a smile. “Please think about what I said.”

“There’s nothing to think about.”

 

It was sadly a lie.

Wanyin and Jiang Yanli come back with Yuan and Jin Ling and he gets to witness how Yuan loves both Wei Wuxian and Wangji as if they were his real family. He sees Wangji picking the kid up and carrying him to show different things with ease, acting comfortable around people just like Xichen always wanted him to be. He dares to imagine the three of them behaving like that in the Cloud Recesses, with Yuan receiving proper education to become a cultivator and Wangji and Wei Wuxian having a more peaceful life. 

He hopes that doesn’t stay on dreams only.

“I swear that kid loves hiding in Ajie’s arms,” Wanyin comments once he leaves his sister and nephew free to go to the other three. “He better be social or I’ll beat sense into him.”

“He’s one year, Wanyin, I would dare to say we were all like that at that age,” he chuckles, shaking his head softly. “As long as A-Yuan stays around him, I’m sure he will be more sociable.”

Wanyin huffs but nods because at that moment, Jin Ling curiously peeks at Yuan as the latter continues poking curiously at Wangji's guqin and his mother encourages him to get closer by sitting him on her lap.

“I have never been that shy,” Wanyin claims after a moment. “I don’t imagine you or your brother like that, either.”

“Wangji was an adorable kid, you can’t imagine.”

The man at his side hides a laugh by coughing and crosses his arms to go back to that moody state that is so normal for him. Xichen allows the comfortable silence to fall between both before Wei Wuxian’s words come back to him at full force, making him shift his weight awkwardly from one foot to the other. 

“What?”

“Nothing,” he replies, probably too fast to be convincing. “Just thought about the situation.”

Wanyin raises his brow and gives him a look that clearly says he is not entirely buying the random thought and Xichen feels his ears heating up as he looks away. “Right, the situation.”

“I’m just glad to see my brother being so comfortable with young master Wei,” he says, rubbing his ear softly to hide it from the other. “I just wish for them to stay like this and not deal with more problems.”

“Ideal world that needs ages to happen,” Wanyin sighs, thankfully looking away from him. “I’m still bitter about it… but I guess talking helped, so thanks.”

“I’m glad you decided to listen to me,” he teases him lightly, hearing him snort. “The number of people we can trust is too small and he’s your family, I’m glad both listened.”

“Yeah, I— well,” he starts but sighs in frustration, rubbing at his face harshly as Xichen finally stops rubbing his own ear. “I’m glad I went to look for you. There, I said it.”

“Wanyin… Thank you.”

°°°

Lan Xichen has never been in love which is kind of embarrassing considering he’s a twenty-three years old man who is supposed to give an heir to his clan at one point, but that’s just how it is.

Given the nature of his sect, there were no women he could develop a friendship with as he grew up and oddly enough, he was never that interested in doing it either. He respected, valued and admired the ones he got to know as his training as a future sect leader went on, heavens, he even admitted many were pretty and beautiful maidens, but the desire to get to know one more never grew on him.

Now he’s getting an idea why.

Being a cut-sleeve has never been something Xichen considered should be a reason to panic over. If someone fell in love with a man while being one or a woman in love with another then it was their choice; sure it wasn’t the convencional thing but at this point what was convencional and what wasn’t? Demonic Cultivation wasn’t but it ended up saving people the conventional type of cultivation then killed, following his rules led him to turn his back on people who needed him and lastly, he almost lost his brother because of following what he was taught was conventional.

Still, being fine with cut-sleeves and admitting to being one is a completely different story, and he’s not even sure what is going on! Wanyin is his friend, someone he enjoys supporting and helping because he feels they understand each other more because of this mess, but he has never thought about him in a way that isn’t friendship, right?

Wrong.

As inexperienced as he is in all of this, he has noticed the way his heart reacts to very specific things the other does and there aren't a lot of explanations that can tell why. His heart goes crazy when Wanyin blushes, when he looks flustered and when he awkwardly admits following his ideas was the right thing. He blushes when the man looks at him as if he can look into his soul, feels like too much when he remembers seeing him wearing his robes and feels something weird every time he realises the man slept on his Hanshi.

“But it can’t be,” he sighs, shaking his head as he pushes himself off the bed and rests his forehead on his hand.

It’s way past nine, probably way past midnight but sleep hasn’t come. It has been two days since Wei Wuxian decided to say that and despite his eagerness to forget about it and continue helping Wanyin and Jiang Yanli with pending matters in Yunmeng without anything distracting him, the topic refuses to leave his mind.

With yet another tired sigh, he pulls his forehead ribbon back on it’s place and holds his hair back in a simple bun before throwing in a set of his outer robes to look at least decent. He doubts many people will be wandering around, but a leader can’t look like that.

Lotus Pier at night has a calmer atmosphere thanks to the sound of water and lights reflecting on it and Xichen finds it relaxing, especially to sit on a spot near the larger river that has a small table. It was probably made for this purpose so he finds himself moving there to let his mind run wild, only this time, someone is there and when he realises who that person is, he wants to jump into the river.

Wanyin is sitting on the edge of the pier, with his legs up to the middle of his calves submerged in the water, trousers pulled up and tied off to keep them away from the water and boots left at his side along with his outer robe. He’s no longer wearing his headpiece, hair instead gathered at the top of his head in a lazy bun that gives him the most casual of looks, for a moment Xichen wonders if the man came here after they parted but he dismisses the thought when he realises Sandu is nowhere to be seen, only Zidian remaining in his hand.

To put it simply, it takes Xichen’s breath away.

“I thought Lans slept at nine,” he says once his eyes fall on his stunned figure and Xichen can see the way his body relaxes and realises it was him instead of someone else. “But I just remembered you said you stopped sleeping normally a long time ago so.”

“You… can’t sleep?” he asks after shaking his head to get rid of his stunned state.

“No, haven’t even tried actually,” he shrugs, returning his eyes to the water, barely swinging one leg back and forth. “I haven’t been sleeping since, well, since I talked with Wei Wuxian.”

“It will take you some time, Wanyin, but it will be fine,” he says, taking a step closer to take a seat near him. “Give yourself time to put your own thoughts in order and come to terms with the situation.”

“I’m surprisingly fine with what he did after our conversation,” he says next but without looking back at him. “It’s just… I got caught to save him, if Wen Zhuliu melted my core it was because I stepped in to save him and him doing the same makes me think what I did was pointless.”

“It wasn’t pointless and you didn’t tell him,” he says, knowing by now what the man needs to hear. “He only knew you were captured and that your core was gone, he didn’t know why.”

“I know,” he sighs, shaking his head. “Hypocritical of me to get mad for being lied to when I kept something important from him as well.”

“It’s different,” he says, tilting his head with a wince as he tries to find a better way of explaining what he wants to say. “You protected him because you care about him and he did the same for the same reason, it doesn’t make the other thing useless, it only means the trust you put on him is well reciprocated.”

Just like all the other times, he can tell the exact moment Wanyin realises that’s a better way of seeing it than the destructive thoughts he had and he almost laughs at the huff he lets out. “You and your damn solutions.”

He likes Wanyin and it feels as if he had been punched right in the face.

“I… have been useful so far, right?” he whispers, looking away and pressing his hands against his legs, desperately trying to suffocate those thoughts.

“More than useful,” the man replies and Xichen forces himself to convince his brain that the tone in Wanyin’s voice is the normal one, that is nothing special. “So what’s keeping you up?”

“Conflicting thoughts,” he whispers, refusing to look back at the other. “My usual companions now, if I have to be honest.”

“Well, with all of this, I haven’t thought about this whole other mess we have with Jin Guangshan and friends,” Wanyin continues and thank goodness he relates it to that instead of something else. “They have been quiet, that’s never a good sign.”

“We can only hope it’s not their definitive plan,” he comments, looking up when he hears the sounds of water, finding the other standing up. “Aren’t you cold?”

Thankfully enough, Wanyin doesn’t find it odd he asks this after noticing he’s wearing only his inner robes and trousers. “I used to swim around even during winter, how do you think I became such a great swimmer?”

“My bad,” he chuckles, bending down to pick his clothes and boots.

“What a moment, I caught Zewu-Jun making a mistake.”

He laughs and Xichen realises he’s screwed.

Chapter Text

Despite coming to terms with his attraction towards Wanyin, Xichen knew there weren’t many things he could do.

Wanyin already had a lot to deal with, he had to take care of his sister and nephew, assure she was safe and had everything to raise her son in the best way, he had to keep Wei Wuxian’s whole existence a secret and had to work behind the back of the cultivation world because he could no longer trust anyone. Xichen was his only ally who knew everything, one of the few people he could trust according to the man himself and how can he even think of ruining that trust by making him uncomfortable?

He can’t, so he pushes it to the side and focuses on continuing helping him as much as he can.

He helps him to take supplies to Wei Wuxian and Wangji so they continue their life in that cave, soothes Wangji’s guilt of not doing much to help and ignores Wei Wuxian’s wriggling brows and mischievous smile. He helps Jiang Yanli to take care of little Yuan when her son gets sick and needs her whole attention, helping the little kid to read a book and even write his own name without help. He tries to be as helpful as he can and he hopes that means more than his stupid stuttering whenever he asks if something is going on.

“Zewu-Jun, I need to discuss something with you.”

Just as it happens any other times, he struggles to stay calm, to keep his emotions under control, to react like the calm and collected man Wanyin met and became fond of instead of this awkward teenager in love his insides want him to become whenever he was talked to.

“Of course,” he manages to reply with ease despite the earthquake tearing his insides apart, holding Yuan’s hand to move towards him. “I hope you don’t mind A-Yuan’s presence.”

Wanyin rolls his eyes with feigned irritation and it makes Xichen’s heart jump because he remembers there was a time where the man’s eyes were filled with confusion and despair every time they fell on the little kid. Yuan was a Wen and the surname was bound to pain and suffering for Wanyin, so having one living so comfortably there felt like betraying everyone who died on that fateful day. Now it is different.

“I received a letter from Chifeng-Zun,” Wanyin starts as he goes to take a seat behind his desk and offers the one in front of it for Xichen. Xichen does so and the other is ready to continue before he stops as Yuan runs to take a proper seat next to Xichen. “You’re turning him into a small Lan in so little time.”

Xichen can’t help but chuckle softly, patting Yuan’s head as the kid giggles in excitement. “I’m afraid that’s the only kind of education I know.”

“If that means he will stop playing with dirt and trying to plant a flower in his head, then go on,” Wanyin snorts and Xichen can’t help but imagine Wanyin dragging the kid away from the dirt. “Ajie has enough with Jin Ling liking to pull at every single dangly thing.”

“A-Yuan will be a good role model, right?” he asks the kid who nods with enthusiasm. Xichen has discovered the kid shows unusual excitement at the idea of having a brother, sister or just a smaller friend he can guide around.

“I will!”

Wanyin lets out a quiet and entertained snort.

“Did Da-ge say something?” he asks after a moment of comfortable silence, making the other return his eyes to the desk.

“He asked if we discovered who our attackers were and if something else happened,” he says, extending the letter for Xichen to take, raising a brow when Yuan leans closer to try reading as well. “But he ended up saying something I don’t like at all.”

Nie Mingjue doesn’t adorn his words or anything, Xichen already knows this, so the letter goes straight to asking if Wanyin has recovered well from the attack and if he has found something about the perpetrator. The older man expresses relief about the fact Wanyin and Xichen are working together, but as Wanyin mentions, the ending is the concerning part. The Qinghe Nie leader mentions he has seen disciples from the Jin sect moving around pretending to be common people and not knowing why they are doing this. He explains Huaisang had recognised one as an uninteresting and plain cultivator he saw during the indoctrination period and points out that if it hadn't been for his brother, he wouldn’t have noticed it.

“Why would they be moving around disguised as common people?” he asks, allowing Yuan to take the letter after making him promise he will be careful.

“I have no idea, but that complicates everything even more,” Wanyin says, pressing his fist against the desk while he stares at it. “What if they are around here as well? What if they happen to see me or you going to where Wei Wuxian is hiding?”

It’s terrifying to think in that possibility, horrible to imagine they have been this exposed without even knowing. “How vile....”

“You think?” Wanyin hisses, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Do you think he knows?”

Xichen’s stomach falls, the unpleasant feeling spreading all over his body as he dares to shake his head. “I don’t think he would be so calm.”

“Please—”

 “But I do believe he may be suspecting something,” he continues before Wanyin can get mad or feel disregarded. “That or he’s planning to do something bigger.”

It doesn’t really matter what option it is, both are bad news for everyone involved. Wangji, Jiang Yanli, Wen Yuan, Jin Ling, Wanyin and even he could be murdered to only leave Wei Wuxian as the only culprit. Jin Guangshan was actively trying to add more fire to the stake where he wanted to burn Wei Wuxian in and that would be everything he needed and more.

“Whatever it is, we’re fucked,” Wanyin continues, barely containing the need to slam his fist on the desk because Yuan is still studying the letter with an adorable expression. “We need to do something, urgently.”

Xichen realises in that moment Wanyin asked him to talk about this so urgently. It isn’t only because it concerns both, but because he is panicking and his brain, as usual, is rushing to the worst conclusions and needs Xichen’s point of view that tends to be less fatalistic.

“First we should inform Wangji and Wei Wuxian, they should have a plan in case an unexpected visitor appears,” he says after forcing his heart to just calm the fuck down . “I will write to my Uncle and ask him to stay alert.”

Wanyin nods, in the way Xichen now knows it’s the way he shows while convincing himself that there are other options and he doesn’t have to suffer and fall to that abyss as it had happened before.

“Alright,” he says after several minutes of silence and deep thought. “I was there, during the indoctrination I mean, I could think about who I saw and the rest that appeared during conferences.”

It’s obvious there is no way they know every single member of the Lanling Jin Sect, but being sect leaders who go to long and boring conferences is proving to be useful. 

“I will take a walk around Lotus Pier and see if someone is familiar,” Xichen says when Yuan extends the letter back to Wanyin with an expression that it’s possible it was intended to be serious but ended up being too cute. “I have always been good with faces.”

“Then we should both go,” Wanyin argues, understandably anxious about his decision to go alone, face turning red when Xichen shakes his head. “Why the hell no?”

“Considering it was only Huaisang who could recognise that person, they are moving around carefully,” he explains. “We should be careful as well and not let them know we are aware of what they are doing.”

Wanyin understands, of course, but he still looks unhappy with the idea. “I should be the one walking around, we’re in Yunmeng.”

“Because of that, having you walking around like that would be suspicious,” he says, liking the way he groans. “You have a lot of work, it makes no sense you would be around doing nothing.”

“Your brother is the one who is supposed to be lost, why would you be walking around?” he debates and yes, he is smart with that.

“I can pretend to be gathering information,” he shrugs, looking at Yuan who stood up and moved to Wanyin side to study his headpiece. “They already know I’m close to you and wouldn’t be weird if you allowed me to walk around with no supervision.”

“Fine,” he finally snaps, glancing at the kid who now has his head tilted to one side to take in the beautifully crafted lotus headpiece he wears. “Don’t go too far, don’t follow anyone.”

“I can give you my word, I will be careful,” he smiles, shaking his head. “I have no intention of leaving you all by yourself, Wanyin.”

He knows Wanyin’s reactions aren’t what people would label as normal, even while flustered the man reacts with violence in the form of slapping, shoving or maybe even hissing at the other. Xichen shouldn’t find it endearing, but he does. The problem right now is Xichen’s feelings and how he feels close to fainting when he realises the man blushes.

“You better keep your damn word.”

°°°

As it happened when he first arrived here, Xichen is amazed by the different atmosphere the pier has against his Gusu.

Life in Lotus Pier starts early in the morning, with fishermen sailing away to get their catch of the day, vendors putting together their stalls and merchants getting ready to leave with their merchandise while others just arrived. Xichen decided to leave at a reasonable hour because of it, finding the streets already filled with people moving around and doing their own work, barely paying attention to the cultivator dressed in white and light blue moving around.

Xichen is subtle in looking at people, he puts on his concerned and lost expression on his face and moves around asking random people if they have seen someone dressed in similar clothes or something suspicious in the outskirts of Yunmeng.  For the world, Lan Xichen is the mourning brother who wants to find his younger brother to finally put him to rest and many aren’t even brave enough to tell him Wangji is probably dead and he should just move on. He despised that part, but now it proves to be useful.

He is good at asking for directions and looking desperate to find his brother, but the problem is he can’t find anything.

The people around him are strangers he has only seen in his visits to Lotus Pier. They offer him their products and some even gift him with something when he plays his role of broken-hearted brother a bit too well, but aside from that, no one seems to be a Jin in disguise. 

Honestly, he doesn’t know if that’s good or bad.

What if they are planning to attack Qinghe and blame it on Wei Wuxian? What if it is something bigger? Until now they have based their plans on the thought of Jin Guangshan sticking to his plan of subtly taking over the cultivation world, but what if he changes? What if, just like the Wen, realises he’s more powerful than the three remaining sects together and just decides to go for it?

Xichen goes back to Wanyin at nine to inform him of this and his unsuccessful search and it leaves both fearing for Nie Mingjue and Nie Huaisang. The two of them then decide to write a letter for the man where they explain they haven’t seen anyone and their suspicions before Xichen writes a three-page letter to his uncle, begging for him to be careful and keep an eye on the clan, promising to go back soon.

“How could everything get this bad?” That night, while Xichen and Wanyin sit by the lake on the spot Xichen came to understand his feelings, Wanyin asks as he presses his hands to his face. “Could it have been avoided?”

“I’m afraid no,” he replies, playing with the hem of his robe while his eyes stay on the water. “They always wanted the power and are now getting it.”

Wanyin is once more clad only in his lilac robes with his hair pulled up in a ponytail with a lock of hair falling on the right side of his face. The style, that for others would be a sign of immaturity, it’s just something that reminds Xichen that Wanyin is still very young, that both are still very young but are forced to act like adults with the age of the oldest generation. 

Even during the short time the man spent with his brother at the Cloud Recesses, he remembers Wanyin trying to push back those typical impulses of a teenager wanting to cause mischief and laugh at stupid jokes because he was the future leader of the Yunmeng Jiang Sect, the one in charge to keep the other disciples from shaming their clan by acting like, well, Wei Wuxian.

“But it isn’t your fault, Wanyin, you have done great things,” he says, moving his eyes from the water to look at the man who laughs in disbelief. “This shouldn’t be happening, this shouldn’t have been the way both became leaders.”

Although absent, Xichen would have loved to say goodbye to his father under normal circumstances instead of mourning his loss while hiding in a small space near a brothel. He would have loved to take his position in a proper ceremony in his home instead of taking it while a huge part of it was still burnt and everyone was anxiously waiting for him to give a speech that would set them back into the path of fighting for their clan instead of surrendering. Wanyin’s situation was surely similar.

“Yeah, I’m tired of wishing for things to be different,” Wanyin mutters, letting his hands fall from his face so his fingers can play with the ring and bracelet Zidian is. “Everything is so goddamn crazy I can’t keep up.”

“For not being capable of keeping up, you’re doing great,” he teases him, seeing the man groaning as he glares at him but without the murder intent.

“Never imagined fucking Wei Wuxian would date your brother,” he says after a moment, Xichen tries not to tense too much. “Of all people, Lan Wangji. I was sure he hated him.”

“Maybe Wangji wanted that at first,” Xichen chuckles, squeezing his own arm to calm down. “Later on he understood.”

“And now, they are together,” he says, trying to sound bitter, but Xichen is quick to notice he really isn’t. “In the middle of this mess.”

“Does it… bother you?” he dares to ask, doubtful, scared to hear Wanyin finds this disgusting or horrible because as stupid as it sounds, he never stopped to think if Wanyin would be as fine with cut-sleeves as he was.

“Yes,” he replies in automatic, Xichen’s heart falls. “No, not really… I have no idea.”

“Emotions are still complicated… right?” he asks despite feeling so miserable after what he just heard, eyes leaving the man to stare at his own hands. “I don’t really mind who Wangji is with, his happiness is all I want for him.”

Wanyin stays silent and Xichen no longer has the strength to come up with something to talk about. He can’t be sure if Wanyin is truly bothered by the relationship or if this is just another thing the man is incapable of understanding, but Xichen realises it’s not what scares him. It’s the new idea of being rejected. He promised to keep his feelings hidden to not make him uncomfortable, but now he thinks how painful it would be to be rejected.

It scares him.

“Not that I care,” Wanyin continues and Xichen feels his confused expression on him. “I won't have that.”

“Why not?” he manages to ask, voice smaller than what it should have been. “You deserve it.”

But then he makes the mistake of looking up to find Wanyin is still looking at him and the moment their eyes meet, Xichen realises with horror the other somehow understand his inner turmoil. 

Wanyin’s reaction is visceral.

He jumps out of his seat and stares at Xichen with wide eyes, face pale and trembling hands making it look as if Xichen was possessed by a fierce ghost and he’s just realising this. “No, you can’t.”

“Wanyin— I, I’m sorry,” he stutters as he stands up and tries to back away from the man as much as he can, scared of making it worse for him. “It’s inappropriate and I never wanted to make you feel uncomfortable.”

Too late, he knows. Wanyin is horrified and probably disgusted, so Xichen is willing to accept anything he wants to do with him, he deserves it for being so stupid. 

“You can’t like me,” Wanyin states and despite not wanting to ruin things further, Xichen shakes his head in denial. “I have nothing.”

“It’s inappropriate and I never wanted you to find out like this, but I have many reasons to like you.”

Wanyin shakes his head again, his body trembling even more than before. “I am unlovable.”

Xichen realises with horror that this has nothing to do with Wanyin having problems with cut-sleeves and instead of being yet another problem that has to do with his self-esteem and the words from others the man kept with him in the form of daggers he pushed inside his own body.

“You are not… I like everything about you.”

But Wanyin is panicking and Xichen decides to stay where he is when the man turns around and runs away from him. That’s what he gets.

°°°

“Zewu-Jun… are you sure it is fine?” Jiang Yanli asks and her words make Xichen feel once more guilty. “A-Cheng normally needs a bit of time.”

Xichen knows that’s how it is, but this time, it has been his fault and the least he can do is leave to give him space, give him the comfortableness his house should have.

“It’s fine, Maiden Jiang, please stay safe. I’ll stay in contact.”

He doesn’t give her more time to question him further, he leaves Lotus Pier with his heart staying behind in shambles and his brain struggling to focus back on what is going on and how there are things he needs to do to assure everyone, even Wanyin, will be safe.

The coldness that hits him when he leaves Yunmeng behind reminds him of the painful ice shard that seemed to be lodged inside his chest after what happened. It is torture, he can’t stop thinking about it and the despair and pain that takes over every single of his body can only be equipable to the moment where he thought Wangji had died.

And then, the pain increases.

At first, he doesn’t register an arrow has hit him in his left shoulder and is now sticking out of his now blood-soaked robes, but when he does, his brain goes into frenzy. Someone shot him and he’s falling and he should be capable of handling this situation but his deplorable state of mind does its best to go against him. The sudden and careless movement he makes to turn his body and keep the fall from being deadly makes the tendons on his ankle snap as he lands on his foot in the worst way possible, sending him to the ground with a hiss of pain.

“I’m sorry, Lan Xichen, your help is required.”

Chapter Text

It surely sounds pretentious to admit not being used to pain, but Xichen really isn’t used to pain.

Even with the war, the assassination attempt and spending all his spiritual energy to save Wangji, pain was never a constant in Xichen’s life. He was supposed to be strong, to be the First Jade whose strength was well-known in the cultivation world, but right now, his whole world has been reduced to pain.

The words he heard after falling off his sword sent his body into full fight mode and despite the bleeding wound on his shoulder and sprained ankle, he forced his body up and held Shuoyue to face the masked man who could be who attacked him or the one who attacked Wanyin. He demanded an answer, a reason why he would dare to attack him, even warned him he was a sect leader and not an ordinary cultivator or person he could rob without consequences.

It was useless, the man laughed, an airy and full of malice laughter that had Xichen’s hair standing up, and attacked. His attacks reminded him of their previous fight and Xichen could say that the man came back to end him. The fear of being murdered and left there made him fight fiercely and things looked good, but he realised too late the attacker wasn’t alone. 

A blast of spiritual energy from a Guqin sent him to the floor and the first attacker had his sword pressing against his throat to keep him from moving in the blink of an eye; Xichen realised with dread that the blast had sealed his spiritual energy.

Shuoyue was picked up from the floor by the second attacker and Liebing was yanked from his waist with a harsh movement that pressed the sword more against his neck and made a small cut. Xichen glared at both the best he could but ultimately couldn’t do anything as his arms were wrenched behind his back and bound by what probably were deity-binding ropes; the sword was removed from his throat but before he could even think on doing something, a hand grabbed a fistful of his hair and yanked until he was kneeling, making unwanted tears sting in the corner of his eyes. He has never been treated like this and without his spiritual energy, the pain of all the wounds was getting more intense, adding to the already bad state he was in before being attacked.

A strip of cloth was tied over his eyes, another forced inside his mouth, and he was gone to the world.

Now he is waking up, his senses are coming back little by little and everything is reduced to pain.

His arms are pulled up, a painful pressure around his wrists and both shoulders burning fiercely despite only being hurt on his right one. The more his consciousness returned, the more he understood he is hanging from his wrists and has been like this for heavens know how long. He needs to plant his feet and stand on his tiptoes to alleviate the strain on his shoulder, but the previous sprain sends a jolt of new pain that almost makes him curse out loud. His vision is still obscured by the cloth tied over his eyes and the foul-tasting cloth is still inside his mouth and this sense of helplessness is almost enough to send him into a panic attack.

“I see you’re finally awake,” a voice says to his right and Xichen tries not to flinch when he realises he couldn’t even sense that person, meaning his energy is still blocked. “Took you a while, so much for a sect leader.”

The voice is vaguely familiar and the way he seems to bite each word sounds a bit too personal, it’s probably someone who doesn’t like him but that doesn’t say much.

“It was so easy to take you down, too,” the voice continues, Xichen can tell he has moved to his left. “Weren’t you taught to stay alert?”

It’s obvious this man is saying all of this to make fun of him, to rejoice in his success at capturing him, but his words still sting viciously. It reminds him of the reason why he was leaving Yunmeng, why he was so distracted he couldn’t sense or see someone was getting ready to attack him… it reminds him of Wanyin, heavens, please keep him safe.

“Not that it matters, of course,” the man says after several agonising seconds. “This was inevitable.”

From that, Xichen can tell this isn’t something spontaneous they decided to do because they noticed he was distracted, this was planned. They were planning to capture him and that’s terrifying enough but it isn’t even the worst part. Who would dare to do something like this? He is a sect leader, he’s not an ordinary person who can be held for ransom by normal criminals and the use of a Guqin already said they weren’t ordinary.

The anxiousness of someone from his own sect attacking Wanyin comes back to him at full force, is the person in front of him his attacker? Is this person the one who hurt Wanyin? Anger courses through his veins despite what happened between them, but no matter how angry he is, the chains holding his arms up dig on his skin, his sprained ankle screams in agony and he can’t even see or talk.

“Such a shame we had to reach this, Sect Leader Lan.”

After several minutes of boiling in his own misery and frustration, a new voice says and that is one he immediately recognises and makes bile climb up his throat and burn all the way up. Xichen’s eyes are already glaring at the one in front of him when the cloth is yanked off his eyes, but they burn stronger when Jin Guangshan comes into view.

“I have done my utmost to keep things civil and peaceful,” the man says, not bothered at all by his glare or his condition. “But many of you have refused to follow it, drastic measures had to be implemented.”

If Xichen had the chance, he would scream in his face a lot of things, he would forget about his manners and call him all the names he deserves to be called. He feels sick for being in this position, sick to know Jin Guangshan really is the monster they thought he was but couldn’t confirm.

“With you travelling back and forth so much it was easier to decide who to take, you truly were the best choice.”

A faint movement of his head makes a hand appear from Xichen’s side and tug the gag down, finally allowing him to take a couple of deep breaths and lick his dry lips, eyes going back to glare daggers at the man as soon as he’s done.

“I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt, but you have gone too far,” he says, deciding not to yell because he doesn’t even deserve that. “Let go of me.”

“Demonic Cultivation is very powerful,” the leader says as if Xichen hasn’t said anything. “But I don’t expect you to understand. You Lans have an obsession with what’s right and what’s not, a limited mindset that won’t take you anywhere.”

“You condemned the use of it when Wei Wuxian first brought it up,” he says, trying to shift his weight when the pain on the wound on his shoulder becomes more vicious but not finding an ideal one. “It was only annoying because it wasn’t in your hands.”

“Of course,” he shrugs, taking long and slow steps to move from one side to another, like the pompous orator he is. “Someone like Wei Ying is very dangerous with that power, we, on the other hand, can perfectly control it and ensure it will be used in the right way.”

“How can you be so vile?” he hisses, giving the chains a harsh tug that does nothing aside from making the pain stronger. “You dare to say that when you are doing this to me?”

“Maybe you already forgot, but Wei Wuxian killed your brother,” he says, his calmness making Xichen see white. “Something regrettable, but unlike that, what we are doing is completely necessary.”

“How is attacking me and Sect Leader Jiang necessary?” he demands. “How is making everyone believe Wei Wuxian is planning to do something when it’s probably been you this whole time?”

“I’m sure you can tell why it is convenient to have an enemy in common,” he says, an entertained smile adorning his lips as he stops in front of him. “I don’t know where Wei Ying is hiding, I’m merely making sure everyone knows who the enemy is when he decides to appear.”

Xichen has to bite his tongue to keep himself from adding something else, it is good enough this monster doesn’t know where Wei Wuxian is and how Wangji is still alive so he needs to be careful.

“So that is your plan,” he whispers once he swallows down his impulses, keeping his eyes on the man in front of him. “You plan on killing me to blame it on him? You can’t fool everyone, you won’t get away with it.”

“Our experiments are going well,” he says instead, Xichen’s stomach ties itself into a knot. “I’m sure we can do great things and it’s not every day we can use such a strong cultivator to test everything.”

His words make Xichen feel his heart is speeding up dangerously and it is until that moment that he realises he is in a kind of dungeon where horrid experiments surely take place. As if to confirm this, a door behind the leader opens and Xichen follows the black robes from the heavy boots up to the face to find a man with an unsettling smile and eyes sparkling dangerously.

“Xue Yang is the best student we have,” Jin Guangshan announces, pleased with the fear Xichen is incapable of hiding. “And he would have been successful in getting Wei Wuxian if your brother hadn't intervened.”

Despite the increasing panic he’s experiencing because Xue Yang is getting closer and he can’t move away, Xichen’s eyes return to the man when he hears that part. He knew it wasn't Wei Wuxian who hurt Wangji, but he didn’t know the goal wasn’t killing him. “W-What are you talking about?”

“Let’s just say your brother won’t be returning in any of the states you wanted him to.”

It was a poison, Wangji was poisoned with the Yin Iron and was going to turn into one of those corpses and Wangji being a fierce corpse was something many, including Jin Guangshan, suggested, so what does it mean he would return in a different state? Nothing makes sense.

Unless… it wasn’t a poison.

His chances of questioning him further, however, are cut short when Xue Yang finally reaches him and seizes his jaw with bony fingers that dig on his skin, his crazed eyes staring at him. “Ah, the First Jade with the strongest core in the cultivation world.”

Xichen tries to free his face from his hold, but it’s useless and the more he fights the more entertained that crazy person looks. “What did you do to Wangji?”

“No need to break your head thinking about it,” he says, a wide smiling spreading on his face. “You will discover it by yourself and I won’t miss the process.”

He fights, Xichen can swear he fights with everything he has when men walk towards him and start to free his wrists from the chains. He tries to use the infamous ‘Lan arm strength’ people tend to talk about, but it’s useless. Hands grip his injured shoulder and press down on the injury until his whole arm feels numb, fingers pull his hair so hard he fears a chunk of it will be ripped from his scalp and his arms are wrenched behind his back so high up he is sure they will dislocate his shoulders.

He’s pretty much dragged from where was standing to another room where a table is placed with torches surrounding it, leaving behind Jin Guangshan and whoever was with him that Xichen didn’t pay attention to. With a lot of effort, he’s slammed on the table and the couple of seconds where he is trying to recover from the air being punched out of his lungs is used by them to once more hold his hands up with shackles that bite into his skin and pin his body with sturdy chains attached to the table.

Xichen is panting by the time they step back but nothing matters anymore. No matter how he tries to move, the chains hold him in place and don’t show any sign of loosening, pressing down against his stomach and ankles so hard not even the many layers of his robes soothe the uncomfortableness.

“Your brother was quick,” Xue Yang’s voice makes a shiver run down his spine and seeing him getting closer while twirling a sharp knife just makes it worse. “It would have been lovely to see how the process was for him.”

“I will never forgive you for what you did to Wangji,” he hisses, at least thanking they revealed to be responsible for attacking his brother. “You will never get away with this.”

“I couldn’t care less of what they are doing,” he hums, bringing the knife down to the collar of his robes to then start cutting them open despite Xichen’s protests. “I’m learning, that’s the only thing I care about.”

With slow movements, his robes are cut off his body, leaving his chest bare for the man to do whatever he wants. Just as Wangji, Wei Wuxian and Wanyin had described it, Xue Yang has this crazed look that goes along with his self-absorbed personality; he enjoys making his victim suffer and he wants to do the same with Xichen. After cutting the robes piece by piece, he moves on to remove his headpiece with mock-delicacy, taking out each pin with two fingers and pulling the large ornament with slow movements, even combing his fingers through his hair with a hum. 

“Don’t touch it,” he hisses when the man’s fingertips press against his forehead ribbon, managing to twist his head to the side. “You have no right.”

“Ah, so this is the famous ribbon,” Instead of anger, Xue Yang chuckles. “Only family and the loved one can do it, right?”

Xichen doesn’t reply, silently praying he lets it be despite how obvious it is that it won’t happen. 

“Do you have a loved one, Sect Leader Lan?” he asks and Xichen prefers to close his eyes, the tears burning behind his eyelids. “Should I save it and send it to her? Or is it he?”

Yes, even if he had ruined everything with Wanyin, he dreamt of giving his ribbon to him. He feels confident in admitting the man is the person he loves and no matter what happens, he will do his best to keep him safe.

“Well, then I guess we should save it for that person,” Even if he isn’t looking at him, he can tell Xue Yang is smiling. “Don’t be shy to admit it.”

With a quick yank, his ribbon is taken away from his forehead and the only thing Xichen can do is glare at the man and uselessly fight against the chains holding him down. “You will pay.”

A snort is his only response as Xue Yang goes to leave the forehead ribbon on a nearby smaller table. By the time he’s back, his predatory and psychotic smile is back and Xichen can’t hold back a shiver when the tip of the dagger is placed right in the middle of his chest.

“Let’s start with an endurance test, I always try my subjects and I have high expectations for you.”

Xichen tries, does his best to not give the man what he wants, but he’s not the focused and controlled person he normally is. What happened with Wanyin, the confirmation of a betrayal his brain wanted to give the benefit of the doubt, the promise of pain and suffering for him without having a clear way of escaping, the uncertainty of what will happen with everyone else when Jin Guangshan goes for the last part of his plan, the growing injuries at the hands of this deranged individual…. everything is too much.

The only thing Xichen can do after mere minutes is scream.

 

Chapter Text

There are many things Jiang Cheng hates.

He hates the way his disciples jump and stutter when he scolds them as if they are a bunch of kids instead of disciples who are training to become respected cultivators, he hates when someone, anyone really, questions something the people he loves did or even if they look in the wrong way towards them, he hates the mocking comments that seemed to make him less because of his inexperience and age, but maybe…

Maybe what he hates more is how fucked up he is.

As he runs through Lotus Pier to reach his room, he finds himself hating his stupid thoughts and reactions with every single fibre of his being. Isn’t he a sect leader? Isn’t he one of the strongest and most capable cultivators in the world? Someone with that description wouldn’t be running away from a conversation yet here he is, dashing for his room and closing the door to let himself collapse on the floor right after, like some kind of wounded animal or infant who doesn’t know any better.

Jiang Cheng loves his parents and there isn’t a day where he doesn’t wish he could have saved them; the two of them were exemplary leaders and cultivators and no one, none even their children, had the right to judge them… but even with that, he can’t help but wonder if certain things in the present would be different if actions of the past were done differently.

He grew up knowing he was the heir of the Yunmeng Jiang Clan, one of the biggest and strongest clans in the cultivation world and that meant he had to live up to the expectations such a position demanded of him, and he was fine with that, it was an honour. After the haze of infancy cleared off, he was presented with the challenge of building a strong core, of preparing himself to be the best and he took it because he knew he could do it, as long as his family was at his side then things couldn’t go wrong, but then everything changed.

Even today he doesn’t dare to blame Wei Wuxian for all the problems because what did he do? He was still a kid when his parents died and had to roam around the streets in order to survive. If his father hadn't rescued him he could have died or become a horrible person, and when he came to live in Lotus Pier he never resented any of them, he never tried to outshine Jiang Cheng, he just lived and tried to be happy with this new family who had accepted him… it wasn’t really his fault that his parents started fighting, but Jiang Cheng is only human and the resentment comes out even if he doesn’t want it to come.

 It hurt when his father seemed more proud and happy about Wei Wuxian’s achievements than his own, hurt when his mother reminded him he was less capable than the other and would never be good enough, hurts to remember the only hugs and reassuring gestures he received from them were because they knew they were going to die.

At the same time, would things be different without the other?

When they were young, his parents were nice and caring towards him and his sister, so would that mean Wei Wuxian’s appearance had been the cause? He honestly doubted it. It wasn’t a secret that Jiang Fengmian and Yu Ziyuan weren’t the ideal couple and Wei Wuxian or no Wei Wuxian, Jiang Cheng was the same person who was bound to disappoint his father at one point. Maybe it would have hurt less to have no one to be compared to, but the problems were going to happen yes or yes.

“This can’t be,” he whispers to the emptiness of his room, feeling his chest tight and his breathing having to come out in desperate short pants as a consequence. “He can’t!”

While it is true the bond he and Lan Xichen had built over these months was strong and unique in every single sense, he refuses to believe the other had truly fallen in love with him. Love and Jiang Cheng can’t go in the same sentence because he doesn’t have anything to offer.

Unlike his sister who is kind, sweet, well-mannered and loving, Jiang Cheng glares and snaps at people and definitely prefers to take Zidian out before having a heartfelt conversation. Unlike Wei Wuxian, he isn’t an easy-going, giggling, adventurous and full of jokes person who makes it others easy to connect with him.

So what could anyone see on him? What could Lan Xichen see on him? 

The answer is simple: nothing.

His chest feels even tighter as his mind fills with the raw emotions he saw on Lan Xichen’s face that made him understand the man had fallen in love with him even if he had no experience. During his youth, he was placed on the fifth place of that most handsome cultivators list just because he had acceptable looks and every now and then received dreamy eyes from young maidens, but Jiang Cheng’s experience ended there.

His hostile personality drove people away, no one in their right state of mind would want to be courted by someone who looks ready to kill them. Even more, Lan Xichen is a man.

He grew up with the thought by default of cultivation partners or even romantic interests needing to be a male and female, cut-sleeves weren’t normal and time seemed to have confirmed this. His sister was married to the Jin heir and other young maidens were married off to other heirs in order to strengthen the bonds the Sunshot Campaign had formed. Life, in general, seemed to confirm that thought but then Wei Wuxian happened.

Even when they were teens, Jiang Cheng never really believed those two could end up being more than friends. Lan Wangji was a jade statue that probably didn’t want to have anything to do with the romantic area and Wei Wuxian seemed more interested in having fun around by flirting and flustering people than getting a partner… but they were together and Jiang Cheng could barely believe just how perfectly they worked.

The love was tangible from miles away, the devotion they felt for each other was there and the way both seemed to get lost in a world of their own when their eyes met was unbelievable. Jiang Cheng’s first reaction was to push it away, to distance himself from that because it wasn’t normal, but as time progressed, he realised he didn’t really have a problem. It was their lives, after all, they could do with it whatever the fuck they wanted but he, he was different, right?

Is he?

He is not good with emotions, he’s a pathetic and ridiculous mess that even forgets the most basic of things when he's overwhelmed. It happened when he and Wei Wuxian fought and parted ways, happened when he disappeared with Lan Wangji in his arms and he almost lost his sister, happened when he realised how fucking cruel and stupid he had been after visiting the Burial Mounds and happened when the truth about his core was revealed.

Oddly enough, it had been Lan Xichen the one who calmed him.

“This can’t be,” he whispers, feeling the tears burning his face as they fall from his eyes, wet lashes making the room a blurry and dark mess. “T-This will pass and won’t change anything.”

It’s laughable he thinks like that, he’s painfully aware of this, but he can’t even fully understand what’s causing this visceral reaction; so he clings to that and just hugs himself tightly without even moving from the floor. Tomorrow will be different, tomorrow… Maybe tomorrow will be better.

Tomorrow comes and nothing is better.

He hears about Lan Xichen’s departure when he’s in the middle of drying his hair after taking a bath in hopes it will make his eyes look less swollen. A maid knocks on his door and quietly informs the Lan leader is leaving and has left a message for him.

Jiang Cheng doesn’t even care about how disgraceful he looks with just inner robes and wet hair dishevelled, he opens the door and yanks the piece of paper from the woman’s hand, eyes staring at the neat and beautiful calligraphy the man has.

Wanyin, I’m sorry I failed you.

I never wanted to make you feel uncomfortable but that’s exactly what I did, you have the right to feel disgusted, to hate me. I’m leaving for Gusu to talk with Uncle and to give you the space you need, I will do my best to never make you uncomfortable again.

Stay safe, don’t torture yourself, forgive me once more for my stupidity.

And it hurts, stings as if someone had slapped him in the face with an iron glove that was just taken out of the fire. He doesn’t even know how to react because as stupid as it sounds, he never believed the other was just going to leave without talking to him once more.

“Leave,” he says before turning around and closing the door, his eyes still staring at the note to read over and over what it is written there, almost as if wanting it will change if he does it enough times. 

The hurt is replaced by anger and Jiang Cheng finds a certain level of comfort in the familiar emotion. 

It’s so much easier to get mad at Lan Xichen for leaving like that and with only a note than thinking just how guilty someone like him would have to feel to flee like that, so he allows the anger to take over him as he crumples the piece of paper and throws it to a corner of his room.

There are many things he needs to take care of, he… he can’t think about it.

°°°

Life continues moving in almost the same way.

Jiang Cheng is busy taking care of all the reports he receives from paranoid people who believe they have seen something suspicious that could be related to Wei Wuxian and testing the newcomers that believe they have what it takes to be part of his sect. He checks on Wei Wuxian almost daily and makes sure his sister also has everything she needs to take care of her son and Yuan, offering to get a maid to help her with it because it doesn’t sound fair she takes care of a kid that isn’t hers while having her own son but receiving the same response of her being happy the little kid has a family that will take care of him.

At first glance, it seems Jiang Cheng has successfully pushed to the side what made him cry his eyes out that day, but in reality, he feels something has settled inside him and is little by little eating him from the inside.

It’s been days since Lan Xichen left and the man hasn’t sent a letter as it was his habit. While Jiang Cheng was well aware the man regretted what happened on that day, he thought he would at least keep the contact because of the mess that involved both. It was outright impossible someone like him would abandon the brother he fought so hard to save or the others he had come to love and appreciate just because of what happened… then again, what happened wasn’t something minor.

As days went by, Jiang Cheng started to understand he probably wasn’t the most affected one because of this and the large number of horrible scenarios that appeared on his brain are making everything much worse, to the point he feels he won’t be capable of enduring it much longer.

“A-Cheng,” Jiang Yanli’s voice is soft and caring, as it has always been, but Jiang Cheng feels the fear taking over him. “Can I talk to you?”

Jiang Cheng’s stomach turns into a knot because he knows why she is here and he’s not excited about it. Still, there isn’t anything he can deny to her. “Ajie, please, you don’t have to ask.”

Pushing his papers to the side, he hurries to help her take a seat and sit next to her instead of returning to behind his desk. Despite having to take care of two kids, she looks as beautiful and bright as she has always been, her smile gentle and eyes soft with all the love she feels for her little brother.

“A-Cheng… is everything well?” she asks, her hand coming to rest on his arm. “I have noticed something has been bothering you for some time now.”

Of course, she was going to notice it, Jiang Cheng even knew she was who bid farewell to Lan Xichen the day he left. “I’m just under a lot of stress,” he says, keeping his eyes on his lap. “Nothing you need to worry about, really.”

But Jiang Yanli is Jiang Yanli and if there is something she’s entirely devoted and committed to, then that’s her family. Jiang Cheng is her youngest brother and she probably knows him more than Jiang Cheng knows himself, so it’s obvious she doesn’t buy anything he’s saying. 

“You know you can trust me,” she says, giving his arm a soft squeeze that finally makes him look at her. “Tell me, did something happen with Zewu-Jun?”

It’s the simplest of sentences, the most obvious question she could have asked, but it feels like too much. Jiang Cheng feels his eyes burning with tears as he looks away, all the despair and pain he has been enduring in silence running wildly all over his body now that they were given free rein.

“I ruined everything,” he replies, hating he’s being like this in front of her. “Just another thing I managed to fuck up.”

Jiang Yanli doesn’t judge him nor scolds him as Jiang Cheng is sure anyone else would do, she immediately wraps her arms around his shoulders and pulls him to her arms to comfort him. Anxious about what he means but trying to find the best words to approach it. “I’m sure it isn’t like that.” 

“It is,” he replies with a pathetic sob. “If I was him, I would never talk to him about something that isn’t related to this whole mess.”

This, of course, aggravates her further and Jiang Cheng once more despises himself for being so cryptic and confusing her more instead of going straight to the point, but it is… shameful and he wants to be strong for her. 

She lost her husband for fucks sake, his problem is nothing against that.

“Please tell me what happened,” she pleads, her own soft eyes glazing over at seeing her brother suffering. “I’m sure it’s something you can solve.”

“H-He likes me,” he stutters, feeling so stupid and vulnerable like a teen who doesn’t have the maturity to deal with his emotions. “I discovered he likes me and what did I do? I ran away.”

“That isn’t bad,” she says softly, doing her utmost to keep him calm. “You two can talk it out, he will understand.”

“What is to understand?” he asks. “I ran away, he surely thinks I’m disgusted, he left me a note saying he knew he had let me down, he left so I was once more comfortable.”

Jiang Yanli doesn’t reply and Jiang Cheng can say she is probably remembering the day Lan Xichen left and she was the one to say goodbye instead of her brother who was the sect leader and was supposed to be on the best of terms with the other leader. She is smarter than many people in this world and surely can tell how delicate this is. When she looks at him, however, Jiang Cheng feels someone has punched him in the stomach.

“A-Cheng… do you like him?”

That is a question he has been avoiding with all his might even when it is the most important one. “It’s not important,” he replies, his voice shaky as he forces the tears to not spill down his cheeks.

“Of course it is important,” she says, face full of concern. “That is the most important thing, that is what will help you talk and understand each other.”

“It doesn’t matter,” he repeats and when she looks ready to deny it again, Jiang Cheng finally loses as he pushes himself off the floor and walks away from her. “What is there to love in me? What does it matter what I feel?!”

The woman is on her feet in seconds and her soft hands hold Jiang Cheng’s face so he looks at her. “I don’t want to hear you saying that ever again.”

“I am not lying,” he says, daring to go against her. “It’s true, I’m unlovable and he’s probably just confused.”

“You’re not unlovable, A-Cheng, you have so many things to offer and—”

“What?” he demands, “what can I offer outside of snarky remarks and hurtful words? I’m not like you or Wei Wuxian, I don’t have anything good to offer!”

“If that was true, then why did he fall for you?” she asks, refusing to let him look away, determined to make him understand. “If you were as unlikeable as you claim you are, then why are A-Xian and I still here? Why did Zewu-Jun decide to trust and help you? You are not aware of them, but you have many things to offer.”

Her words make a lot of sense, but Jiang Cheng’s brain is keen on reminding him it can’t be that simple. “He is not thinking straight, because of this he has isolated himself from almost everyone. Once everything is over he will see it was just that, he will walk away.”

The dread that fills him is the kind he never wanted to experience again because of his inexperience when it comes to dealing with it. During the first times Lan Xichen helped him to organise the mess his head was in, he found himself disliking everything just because it was easier to remain angry and bitter than taking small steps towards a healthier lifestyle. Later on, he found himself desperately seeking that comfort. Lan Xichen was unique and Jiang Cheng was drawn towards him…

“I-I think I do,” he finally whispers brokenly. “But it doesn’t matter, not anymore.”

Even if he managed to make the man understand he wasn’t disgusted by him and had just panicked, Lan Xichen now had had the time to rethink his choices and see just how pathetic Jiang Cheng is. He ran away, he didn’t come out to bid him farewell and had refused to visit or even write to him in all this time and his reason? Considering himself an unlovable creature who is too fucked up to even believe he deserves something good.

Who would want someone like him? Hell, Lan Xichen deserves so much better.

“My sweet A-Cheng,” she whispers, the tears leaving her eyes as she caresses his cheek. “Talk to him, please, what you two have is special and you deserve to be happy, allow yourself to be happy.”

And it’s that small thing that makes Jiang Cheng understand something he was incapable of doing before. “I don’t want to lose him.”

Lan Xichen became the only person outside of his family he could trust, the only one who seemed capable of helping him soothe the conflicts so they didn’t torture him into madness. If he went to him after finding out about his core was because he knew he was not going to judge him and could give him an honest and well-thought opinion because he had the ability to see everything from the best angle and as he said it, always had the right words Jiang Cheng desperately needed. 

Jiang Cheng doesn’t trust people and distances himself from everyone who isn’t part of his small circle, so the fact that he did the complete opposite with Lan Xichen can only say that yes, he likes him and was just terrified of losing him.

“Then let him know you want to talk,” she says, wiping the tears from his cheeks. “I firmly believe it will all be alright.”

Maybe he can solve this, maybe not everything is ruined.

Jiang Cheng only needs to send him a letter and he will come…

Right?

Chapter Text

Waiting is horrible.

After sending the letter, he does his best to go back to his normal routine because he somehow manages to convince himself that, for now at least, there was no use in worrying about what happened and what was going to happen once the man arrived. The sole idea of talking was stressing him enough for how hard it was to, well talk, so he decided he couldn’t let himself drown while being such a wonderful swimmer.

So he works hard to keep the shadows at bay. He takes care of his everyday sect issues, checks on the disciple’s training and daily reunions, replies to letters and sends capable people to deal with problems that require urgent attention. He helps his sister with the two kids when he asks her if she’s doing well and she fails to hide her tiredness by carrying his nephew in one arm so he can play with his headpiece and holding the little Yuan by his hand to guide them to his place where he sits both near his desk and orders them to behave, giving them some toys but still having to deal with their typical child behaviour. He pays daily visits to Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji to make sure they have enough things in case he can’t visit them and informs them of the everyday news that reaches him. He doesn’t mention anything about what happened with Lan Xichen, they obviously don’t ask, but seeing how good they work together makes his heartache, reminding him just how stupid he was and making life even more difficult.

He goes back on his routine, but time… time keeps moving and there’s no response or visit and those dark shadows who love to mess with him start moving with renewed strength.

Jiang Cheng at first manages to ignore it. Gusu is far away and despite the diligence the mail workers put into making sure every single letter is delivered, anything could happen. He repeats to himself that maybe the person got stuck in a random town because of bad weather, dangerous routes or even the person getting sick or hurt. When that stops being effective and more time passes by with no news, he goes into repeating himself that Lan XIchen is a busy man who has been running back and forth all this time and needs to take care of his sect’s problems and that does the trick, but just barely.

As much as he wants to blame the stress or even the mail people, he knows this is mostly his fault. It’s his fault Lan Xichen isn’t doing good.

Jiang Cheng’s reaction could easily be interpreted as him being disgusted by his attraction instead of the confusion and fear that really was. Lan Xichen left thinking he had damned their bond, believed he had ruined everything they had worked on and was desperately giving him space in hopes he could repair a bit of what he broke, so to receive a letter for him asking him to come so they could talk was probably taken in the wrong way.

The other possible reason is worse.

Lan Xichen now probably understands just how dumb it was to pursue someone like Jiang Cheng. He now probably sees the man has many, many faults and is just impossible to love. His snarky remarks, his permanent scowl and his overall average looks are nothing against the esteemed First Jade of Lan and he’s probably so embarrassed for even falling for him…

“A-Cheng, he’s probably very busy,” Jiang Yanli, being the sensitive woman she is, says as soon as her eyes fall on his form that afternoon. “He was away from home for quite some time. I’m sure he will reply or come as soon as possible.”

Jiang Cheng doesn’t reply, can’t actually, there’s something huge lodged in his throat and he feels he can barely breathe or swallow around it. The shadows haven’t stopped whispering in his ears and now he’s also burning in shame for daring to show such a weak face of himself when the woman relies on his strength and capability as a leader to keep her son safe. 

“A-Cheng…” she insists, so Jiang Cheng finally manages to swallow whatever it is in his throat and compose his expression enough to look at her. “It’s going to be fine.”

The fear and uncertainty burn fiercely inside of him so he looks at her and hopes, oh so dearly, hopes looking at her face and reassuring smile is enough to comfort him as it did when they were kids. Jiang Yanli had always been the loving and protective figure every family has, no matter what Jiang Cheng did she was always there to cure his scraped knees, to soothe his muscles after a rough day of training and there with a warm bowl of soup made by her that seemed to wash away all of his worries.

She indulged in Wei Wuxian’s childish behaviour and accepted Jiang Cheng with everything he had. Unlike the rest of the world, Jiang Yanli never tried to change him nor judged him for his stupid personality issues. She was and still is the supporting figure he needed throughout his life and he’s sure everything would go downhill if she wasn’t around.

“I just— He’s just busy,” he says after finding in her a bit more strength. “This can wait, obviously. Who knows what Jin Guangshan is planning, it’s better if we pay attention to that.”

As it happened when he was a kid who hid the pain his mother’s words caused behind a confident facade that said he was just tired or stressed, she didn’t judge him. She understood it was his way of dealing with what was going on and even if it wasn’t the best, she was going to be here to catch him if he fell.

°°°

“I have been thinking, if Jin Guangshan wants my tally, then he surely has someone very capable in the field already,” Wei Wuxian says while Jiang Cheng extends the basket of medicine for Lan Wangji.

“He just wants your power,” he says, trying not to sound too unfriendly since Lan Wangji is too close to him and would be very easy for him to knock him to the ground. “And he has a shit ton of idiots learning demonic cultivation for protection purposes.

“Well, that’s obvious, but to control this thing—” he continues, waving his hand in the direction of where he keeps the tally. “You can’t be a novice… it can consume you.”

“I think you left that very clear,” he says but winces at the harshness of his words.

Yet another thing that pushed Lan Xichen away.

“You’re right,” Wei Wuxian whispers, resting his hand on Lan Wangji’s arm who is already glaring at Jiang Cheng. “I lost control of it at the Qiongqi path and because of that, I can say it isn’t easy to control it. Jin Guangshan surely has someone capable and I bet that’s where Xue Yang enters.”

“Wouldn’t be surprised, that sadistic monster has everything to do all of it,” he says, looking away as he remembers the attacks. “What exactly can you do with it?”

“Well, if you fuse the two halves, you will have absolute control of the corpses in the area,” he says, sending a look of disdain towards the place he keeps it. “It’s very powerful, it can’t fall on his hands.”

“They won’t find it and you if you don’t do anything stupid,” he says, shaking his head. “To unmask him in front of the whole cultivation world, we need to be careful and plan everything properly.”

“Brother shouldn’t be doing this all by himself,” Lan Wangji says after a moment of silence, his golden eyes looking at the floor. “I shouldn’t be just here.”

“Aiyah, Lan Zhan, we have already talked about it,” Wei Wuxian says, tone soft as his hand goes to hold the man’s hands. “You need to stay here, you haven’t healed entirely and, well, I need you here, remember?”

As it tends to happen, the two seem to fall into that world of their own where things are better and they both have the reassurance they are capable of emerging victorious if they stick together. Jiang Cheng normally rolls his eyes and walks away wishing people around him weren’t so goddamn cheesy, but right now, he can’t even blink. 

Lan Xichen always looked at him with an unmistakable fondness, comforted him when he was down and even regretted not helping him sooner. The man decided to trust him even when Wei Wuxian had disappeared carrying the bloodied body of his brother, for months it was only Lan Xichen and he and Jiang Cheng knew it.

He fucking knew it.

As inexperienced and as stupid as he was, he could tell something weird happened inside his body with certain things he lived with Lan Xichen. His intense stare made his face hot, his ears burned and whenever he teased him he felt flustered and with the need to hide as a teen would do while experiencing love for the first time, which probably was the most accurate description.

Looking at Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji right now his chest suddenly fills with the worst kind of feeling. Could it be that he could have had something similar? 

Why did he have to ruin it?

The tears are back to stinging on his eyes and he finds himself turning around to leave with such a clumsy and pathetic movement he ends up slamming his knee on the edge of a protruding rock so hard he feels his toes getting numb, and, as expected, snaps those two out of their world.

“Ah, Jiang Cheng, you don’t have to leave!” Wei Wuxian exclaims, his voice clearly saying he believes everything to be just another example of him being annoyed by their public display of affection. “We didn’t even kiss this time!”

Jiang Cheng knows he can’t stop or the other will notice there’s something wrong with him, knows he can’t show this stupid vulnerability to the other two or he will give everyone more reasons to make fun of him. So he doesn’t stop, he continues walking and manages to make it out of the cave before the bony hand of his brother grabs his arm.

“Let go,” he says, praying his voice sounds threatening enough to make the other know he’s not in the mood to deal with him.

“Jiang Cheng… what’s wrong?” 

But of course, he has no such luck and when Wei Wuxian appears in front of him, all sign of light-heartedness is gone from his face to give space to the kind of worry Jiang Cheng can’t stand because it makes him feel inferior. Fucking traumas.

“Nothing is wrong,” he hisses, yanking his arm free from his hold despite the reddish colour his eyes are getting. “I have things to do.”

Wei Wuxian, sadly, is Wei Wuxian and once he sees something he won’t stop probing until the vulnerable underside is exposed for him to analyse. “You know you can tell me… we promised to be honest with each other, no more shit that can bring problems in the future.”

Jiang Cheng knows and he really wants to keep that promise, but how can he expose himself like that? How can he say he truly likes Lan Xichen but instead of accepting him he ended up pushing him away? Wei Wuxian also had doubts when Lan Wangji confessed his feelings, but they are together now, they are each other’s world, the support each need while he just made the man reconsider his attraction to the point he can’t even reply to a single letter.

“It has nothing to do with you,” he says, his jaw so tense he will probably hurt it if he continues. “It’s something only I can deal with.”

“You’re not alone, Jiang Cheng!” the man says when he turns around and is ready to take off on Sandu. “You have me, Shijie and even Zewu-Jun!”

If only he knew.

To keep himself from saying something he will regret and avoid the burning stare of his brother, Jiang Cheng flies as fast as he can away from the cave and towards Lotus Pier.

°°°

Two weeks later, it finally happens.

Jiang Cheng wakes up and goes onto his normal life with the shadows now wrapped around him whispering even more poisonous words when one of the new disciples knocks on his office and makes his way to stand in front of him.

“Sect Leader, someone from the Gusu Lan sect is asking for you.”

Jiang Cheng's heart jumps as he dismisses the man and does his best to not run towards the entrance. It is weird the boy said someone , as if he didn’t know who the sect leader of that sect is, but he convinces himself that’s because he’s fairly new and wasn’t around when Lan Xichen used to be around all the time.

“Something isn’t right, ” a shadow whispers, but Jiang Cheng pushes it away because he knows he can’t let himself believe even for a second that it isn’t the man he has been desperately wanting to see.

When he reaches the entrance, the air is punched out of his lungs.

“G-Grandmaster Lan,” he almost whispers, feeling his throat dry. “How can I help you?”

It’s been so long since he last saw Lan Qiren. Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji had just disappeared and the man was fuming for having the first tainting his role model of a nephew. Jiang Cheng knew about the man because Lan Xichen mentioned him, but aside from that, he had nothing.

“Sect Leader,” the older man says, looking unnaturally unsure about everything. “I need to talk to you in private.”

Jiang Cheng can only nod, turning around and starting to guide the man inside. His brain is quickly filling with the horrible idea of having him here to ask Jiang Cheng to stay away from his nephew, to inform he will be the spokesperson of anything that needs to be treated between Yungmeng and Gusu. He knows he really managed to fuck things up, but he still tries to remain calm and guide the man to the main hall and have the maids serve him tea before leaving and closing the doors to give them all the privacy he can offer.

“I was under the impression that Xichen…” the man starts, but stops in yet another unnatural display of insecurity. “That Xichen was still here.”

The air once more leaves his lungs, but now for a very different reason. “I’m sorry what—”

“The last letter I received from him was one informing me of your most recent discoveries and asking me to increase the security around Gusu,” Unaffected by Jiang Cheng’s lack of property, he continues. “All this time I was sure you two were still working on it, but after so long with no news… I went to his private chambers.”

His heart is little by little starting to beat faster and louder, raw fear seeping into his bones. 

“I found your letter among others directed to him,” he continues, closing his eyes for a couple of seconds as if Jiang Cheng’s reaction is confirming every single thing he was thinking. “You asking him to come meant he wasn’t here.”

“H-He left,” he stutters, the sound of his own heart deafening. “He left Lotus Pier and he was supposed to be in Gusu.”

It’s possible he sounds desperate and he is desperate, the fear is growing roots in every single part of his body and he feels he can’t breathe properly. Where is Lan Xichen? Why didn’t he arrive at Gusu? What happened to him?

“He never arrived.”

Why the fuck did he let him go?

Why did he push him away?

This was all his fault.

°°°

“I never wanted any of this to happen, I promise I tried to avoid it.”

Xichen can barely hear the words said by that pained voice but is at least conscious enough to let out a pained whine, betrayal mixing with the agony his body is experiencing. If he still had control over the majority of his body, he would turn away from that voice.

“I’m so sorry, if I could… please forgive me, er-ge.”

What does it matter? Xichen knows he won’t survive all of this, so what’s the point?

Chapter Text

“That can’t be true.”

It’s ridiculous and probably the most stupid thing Jiang Cheng has said in his whole life, but he is not even aware of it. The despair and agony are numbing all his senses and this is just the last desperate attempt he can come up with to deny the horrible reality. 

“We need to start looking for him immediately,” Lan Qiren, probably understanding just how much this is affecting him, says. “We need to rebuild all the events prior to the disappearance.”

It’s the obvious thing to do, but Jiang Cheng’s brain is incapable of going along with it. He still can’t accept that someone as calm, careful and strong as Lan Xichen had disappeared just like that and with no one noticing. The man became the sturdy pillar Jiang Cheng needed without even noticing it and to have him gone is… he can’t accept it.

“Sect Leader Jiang.”

Lan Qiren repeats and this time, there’s something in his tone that makes Jiang Cheng snap his eyes up to look at him, only to find anxiousness and distress that he didn’t know a man like Lan Qiren could show. Then again, how couldn’t he? Lan Xichen and Lan Wangji are basically the man’s kids and to have one of them gone while the situation is this bad has to be ten times worse than how it is for Jiang Cheng.

“Y-Yes,” he manages to stutter, closing his eyes for a moment to calm the wave of dizziness that wants to turn his stomach inside out, “we were investigating but he left early in the morning, around three weeks ago.”

“Did you find something? Was there something abnormal?”

“No,” he says, though, he isn’t sure his face doesn’t show the guilt that climbs up his chest at remembering why the man left. “There was nothing here in Yunmeng, we couldn’t find anyone from the Jin and no bodies have disappeared either.”

“When he sent me that letter, I sent different groups to patrol around and no one came with something abnormal,” the man replies, shaking his head. “We had no corpses disappearing, nothing that said Wei Wuxian was coming, as Jin Guangshan said.”

Lan Qiren’s expression is a complicated one when he mentions Wei Wuxian and that reminds Jiang Cheng that the man hasn’t seen his other nephew as well. The two kids he raised were gone from his life in less than a second.

“They… whoever did it surely left a clue, something,” he suggests after what feels like hours. “I will go look for it, I— I can find it.”

He’s ready to run and look for him, ready to walk around the whole world if that’s what it takes to find where he is and who dared to do this. Jiang Cheng knows it is his fault and he will solve it no matter what it takes.

“No, you can’t do that,” Lan Qiren says and Jiang Cheng is sure he sends a very rude look at him. “As imperative as it is to find him, we have no idea who did it or what happened. Going out without a plan would be too risky and we can’t afford losing someone else.”

It’s a crude way of saying it, something that without a single doubt hurts the man to his very core, but it’s their current situation, their reality and maybe he had already noticed just how much this is affecting Jiang Cheng and how it is clouding his judgement. At least one of them has to be the responsible and cold-headed one.

“Then what are we going to do?” he asks. “Sit and wait?”

“Of course not!” this time he sounds slightly offended. “As I said, we need to build a timeline, gather as much information as we can to know what to do.”

Jiang Cheng can only fall back down on his seat with a defeated sigh. The horrible sensation inside his chest is getting worse to the point he feels he can barely breath. “I will call for my sister, she was the last one who saw him.”

He doesn’t give Lan Qiren time to ask why it wasn’t he who saw his nephew last because he doesn’t know how to explain it. It feels too private, too personal and it isn’t easy to talk about it to someone he’s not even that familiar with. Jiang Cheng walks quickly through the corridors despite the constant tremor on his legs, stinging eyes and erratic breathing pattern.

“Ajie,” he whispers when he spots her sitting with a bowl of peeled lotus seeds in front of her, with her son and Yuan sitting in front watching curiously what she’s doing with the flower in her hands. “A-Ajie I need you to come.”

Jiang Yanli’s previously calm face falls the moment her eyes fall on him and Jiang Cheng hates being the cause of her distress, but he can’t do anything to soothe her as he looks away. With a nod, the woman reassures the kids she will be back in a moment while a maid steps forward to take care of them and hurries to walk at his side. “A-Cheng… what’s going on?”

He can’t find the words to answer so he doesn’t say anything, which only confuses her and makes her worry even more. When they finally reach the main room again, though, seeing Lan Qiren there gives her an idea.

“Maiden Jiang,” Lan Qiren greets her when the two of them take a seat near him once more. “I hope you and your son are doing fine.”

“Thank you for your concern, Grandmaster Lan,” she smiles despite the worry inside of her. “We are doing well, A-Ling is growing strong.”

“Glad to hear that.”

Silence falls like a heavy and suffocating piece of cloth on top of the three of them. It is their responsibility to make her understand what is going on, but Jiang Cheng feels his brain feels stuffed and he worries he won’t say things right… in the end, he knows this is worse for Lan Qiren so he clears his throat and digs his nails on his leg to look at her.

“Zewu-Jun disappeared,” he says, his sister’s face going from worried to completely shocked. “After he left… he never arrived Gusu. We need to find him, so we need all the information.”

Jiang Yanli’s eyes desperately move between Jiang Cheng and Lan Qiren, as if she’s waiting for more information that at least reassures her they know what to do and her piece of information is the last thing they need to find him. But it becomes evident that’s not the case and her eyes fill with tears. “How could this happen?”

It’s a question everyone knows can’t be answered and that probably makes things hurt more. Jiang Cheng feels his chest like bursting while Lan Qiren keeps his eyes somewhere behind their heads.

“I think,” Jiang Yanli whispers with her broken voice after a moment. “I think we should have this conversation with A-Xian and Hanguang-Jun in here.”

Of course, things could only get worse from now on.

°°°

Lan Qiren probably thinks he’s been led to a trap.

Jiang Cheng sees the man constantly looking around as if waiting for someone to jump on him from the trees while they walk through the forest that leads to the cave those two have been living in for a while now. It makes him wonder just how much the man believed Lan Xichen’s words and how many things he doubted his nephew had been tricked into believing.

It meant a lot that Lan Qiren kept Wei Wuxian’s existence a secret and even covered his nephew as he came and went for Lotus Pier, but Jiang Cheng was sure the man had doubts about the whole thing. 

With Lan Xichen disappearing just like that, they had everything to look suspicious.

Wei Wuxian greets him and his sister with the same calm smile and nonchalantly attitude they’re used to, but he seems to feel something is off and that smile falters and completely disappears when his eyes fall on Lan Qiren who is in the middle of studying the cave.

“Grandmaster Lan, it’s been a while,” he says, tone respectful but mostly flat.

“Uncle,” Lan Wangji, however, looks as if he just has been pulled out of an illusion and woke up to find himself in the maws of a creature. “Did something happen?”

Lan Qiren spends a couple of seconds studying his nephew to make sure he’s as good as he was probably told and without anything that says he’s been controlled, before sighing and shaking his head. “Let’s all take a seat.”

Despite the old and worn things placed around the cave, they all take a seat around a small round table done with a polished tree trunk. Lan Qiren doesn’t look that happy with seeing his nephew and who was the enemy for so long sitting so close together, but he seems to accept it in the end and go back to what really matters.

“Xichen disappeared,” he finally says with the same sigh, looking at the two in front of him. “He has been gone for two or three weeks now.”

Wei Wuxian’s neutral expression vanishes as a spark of panic fills his eyes, his hand desperately gripping the hand of who had been sitting at his side. Lan Wangji, well, he looks livid. Colour drains from his face as his golden eyes widen, the control that has always been so characteristic of him vanishing in the same way it did when he just woke up after being poisoned by the Yin Iron. 

“What?” he asks, his voice trembling. “Where is brother?”

To hear that level of insecurity and worry in someone like Lan Wangji is heart-wrenching. The twin jades have proved just how much they mean for each other and how far they are willing to go for the other, but to see the brother who is well-known for keeping his reactions controlled and every single aspect of himself concealed under a well-crafted mask made of jade only his brother, and now Wei Wuxian he assumes, can understand, hits harder.

“We don’t know, Wangji,” Lan Qiren replies. “We need to gather all the information we can get and start looking for him without wasting any more time.”

Lan Wangji’s hands are trembling as he nods and seems to force himself back into that controlled state. Jiang Cheng sees Wei Wuxian hold the man’s hand securely, fingers lacing together in a silent promise that he’s here…the leader does his best to not burst out in tears.

“The last time we saw Zewu-Jun was shortly after Chifeng-zun informed them of Jin cultivators walking around Qinghe in disguise,” Wei Wuxian says when no one seems eager to talk. “He and Jiang Cheng informed us of it and told us they feared they were going to attack Qinghe to then blame it on me.”

Lan Qiren nods but still looks at Lan Wangji to wait for his confirmation, which he gets in the form of a distracted nod.

“We went back to Lotus Pier, we wrote letters to Sect Leader Nie and he wrote one for you, Grandmaster Lan,” Jiang Cheng says after gathering the strength his body can produce. “We… parted and he left the next day.”

It sounds suspicious, sounds as if he’s hiding something and given the circumstances it makes him look as if he knows or had something to do with the disappearance of Lan Xichen, but what he’s experiencing is probably worse than becoming a suspect. So he only hopes they won’t look much into it.

“I saw Zewu-Jun before he left,” Jiang Yanli says after a moment, diverting the attention to herself while sending a reassuring look to her brother. “He told me he would stay in contact, he had been here some time and needed to return.”

Lan Qiren nods again, his hands that have been resting on his legs pressing a bit more against it. Jiang Cheng can understand him, no matter how they look at this information, they can’t get anything from it. Lan Xichen didn’t behave differently, at least not speaking in general, and didn’t discover something that put his life in danger, there was no one and nothing that could give a clue on why he disappeared or who did it.

“I will look for him,” Lan Wangji suddenly says as he stands up and walks to the exit in a blur of white robes. “This is my fault.”

“Lan Zhan wait!” Wei Wuxian shrieks, pushing himself off the floor and running to catch the man by his arm again. “This isn’t your fault and we can’t go out just like that!”

“He is right, Wangji,” Lan Qiren says, much to everyone's surprise, walking towards his younger nephew after standing up with the rest of them. “You can’t go out, no one knows you’re alive.”

Lan Wangji once more looks devastated, Jiang Cheng feels the guilt burning stronger.

“I cannot stay here without doing anything,” the second jade argues, hands balled up so tightly even his knuckles are white. “I knew leaving him alone wasn’t the best, I knew I shouldn’t have stayed here without doing nothing I—”

“You know it wasn’t that simple, you were hurt, Lan Zhan, so hurt I almost lost you,” Wei Wuxian’s tone is now desperate as he holds onto the man’s arms. “And you know your brother is strong, whoever did this was a despicable being who surely used nefarious tricks to win, he wouldn’t have done it without them.”

Jiang Cheng knows Lan Xichen wasn’t doing well mentally, he knows he was distracted because of his stupid actions.

“It does not matter,” Lan Wangji debates, though, his anger isn’t directed at the man holding him or anyone else in there, he looks angry at himself. “He was here for me and I was not there for him.”

Jiang Cheng knows it wasn’t like that, the man wouldn’t have been distracted if it wasn’t for him.

“It does matter!” Wei Wuxian says again. “We have a vague idea of what Jin Guangshan is planning and if you went out they would have gone for you to get to me and I— We will find Zewu-Jun, I swear we will! But please, don’t blame yourself, if anything, it’s all my fault.”

“It isn’t.”

“Of course it is!” Wei Wuxian almost screams. “It all started because of me, because I did evil things and because good people tried to protect me… I should have just given myself to them so it would stop.”

It is Lan Wangji’s turn to reach to hold the man with desperation, panicked eyes staring at him as if waiting for him to push him away and run out of the cave.

“A-Xian, no,” Jiang Yanli also says, stepping forward to also hold his arm. “This isn’t caused by any of you. The only responsible ones are who did this, no one else.”

“Shijie… you know everyone would be happy if I was dead.”

It becomes too much for Jiang Cheng.

“It was my fault,” he whispers as tears fill his eyes for what feels like the millionth time. “It was all my fault.”

The eyes of everyone now move to him and Lan Wangji’s, in particular, feels like he wants to burn holes all over his body. Betrayal and anger fill his features.

“A-Cheng…”

“Jiang Cheng, what do you mean?” Wei Wuxian asks, uncertainty filling him as he turns to face him while holding back the other.

“We talked but I panicked and he left thinking I— he was distracted,” he continues brokenly, shaking his head and looking down at the floor. “If someone snuck on him, if he couldn’t fight back it was because he was distracted because of me.”

The anger that had been burning in Lan Wangji’s eyes is pushed to the side by confusion and a quick glance at Wei Wuxian and Lan Qiren shows him they are as confused, only Jiang Yanli understanding every single thing about what he said. He’s being cryptic, but he can’t bring himself to explain it any further.

“What kind of discussion?” Lan Qiren asks. “What could distract him so much that someone could attack him?”

Shame and guilt burn widely inside of Jiang Cheng. How can someone explain he panicked after having someone confessing his feelings? How can he explain he made the other believe he was repulsed by said attraction? 

“Oh, Jiang Cheng,” Wei Wuxian whispers and Jiang Cheng feels like screaming because he knows, he somehow knows, his stupid brother had put two and two and can tell what he means.

“So stop with the fucking blaming game,” he hisses, glaring at them through the tears. “I’m the only one to blame and I’m the only one who will go out without a plan to find something. I don't’ care if something happens to me, you plan something because whoever did it will pay.”

“If that’s the case,” Lan Qiren starts, Jiang Chen readies himself to be blamed and yelled at for being such an idiot and causing all of this. “You’re not leaving nor acting as bait, none of you will.”

“What?”

“Zewu-Jun would never forgive us if something happened to you.”

 

Chapter Text

How would things be if Jiang Cheng’s reaction was different?

Despite the conversation they all had back in the cave where they more or less agreed on the only responsible ones for this situation were the ones who did it, and the apparent acceptance of someone like Lan Xichen feeling attraction for someone like Jiang Cheng, he can’t shake off the guilt and sitting here by the dock with his legs submerged in the cold water, the feeling intensifies.

He remembers the first time the man had found him in here and remembers feeling comfortable despite coming here to find peace and because he wanted to be alone.

Lan Xichen has an unquestionably calming aura and he was aware of it even before they became a team trying to uncover all the lies told by others. While he studied at the Cloud Recesses, the then soon to be leader handled everything perfectly and barely blinked at Wei Wuxian's dramatic antics and nuisances the waterborne abyss brought to them. Despite being just a couple of years older than them, he possessed the maturity not even old people had and Jiang Cheng liked it, especially when he was surrounded by the chaotic duo Wei Wuxian and Nie Huisang were. It was easier to be around Lan Xichen than Lan Wangji, for him at least, and when the two started to work together, it just became better. Even when Jiang Cheng wasn’t a social person like his brother, Lan Xichen’s presence became something he enjoyed and, eventually, needed to have around.

And now he is gone.

It doesn’t matter how much anyone tries to say it isn't his fault, Jiang Cheng knows the man was distracted and had his guard down because he was thinking about what happened. Sure, it is possible whoever did this was planning to attack and had everything sorted out to avoid failure, but Lan Xichen wasn’t supposed to leave that morning and maybe leaving in such a rush is what convinced them the Lan leader was the one they wanted to take.

It would be better if they took him. Unlike the other, the Lan leader is not hot-headed and prone to doing impulsive things that would bring more problems than the ones they already have. Lan Xichen would also work better with his brother and uncle because he understands them and knows how to read those expressions that look the same or straight up negative for him.  Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji work in perfect synchrony and Lan Qiren will probably prefer to communicate with Jiang Yanli since she’s not this volatile creature who hides information and then reveals it just because he can’t hold it any longer.

Even worse, what are they doing to him?

Kidnapping a sect leader isn’t a minor thing, it’s pretty much a death sentence, something the affected sect won’t forgive or forget the next morning and whoever did it knows it. The affected people will charge and seek vengeance until they are left satisfied and won’t accept anything else.

Jin Guangshan will say it is Wei Wuxian’s doing and everyone, safe from Lan Qiren, will believe him.  They will all hunt his brother down until they find him and drag him to be executed in front of everyone as if that’s his only purpose in life and without asking a single question. Who planned all of this needed the mob to be angry, to agree Wei Wuxian is a menace that needs to be eliminated and to reach that part… are they capable of killing Lan Xichen?

The world is suddenly spinning and Jiang Cheng almost falls into the water because of it, needing to grip the edge and close his eyes to get rid of it and the horrible mental image of the man dead and abandoned at a random location for his family to find. 

Wei Wuxian’s downfall has its base on the hatred his sole existence produces. His way of thinking, of behaving, his actions and everything is a solid reason to label him as the evilest cultivator that deserves nothing but death and the outrage Lan Xichen’s disappearance will cause once it is brought to the public will only feed the fire. Who did this is counting on a massive and collective response of outrage, they are counting on this being so big they will have no obstacles to dominate the sects who had been thrown off balance.

The obvious thing is not letting that happen, but things haven’t been that easy in a long time. The more time passes the more Lan Xichen is at risk and since they can’t even tell if the man is alive or not, letting more time pass by can only lead to even worse things. 

“I-I will hate you if you don’t come back,” he whispers while glaring at the cold water in front of him. “I won’t talk to you and take back I said you were always right.”

He knows Lan Xichen is not behind him sitting on the bench, knows his amber eyes and a calm smile won’t be there when he turns back, so he doesn’t turn back and spends the rest of the night there.

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“This is nonsense,” Wei Wuxian says, anger more than evident in his eyes. “No one will be on your side unless you reveal you know where I am.”

“A-Xian, revealing your location will be very dangerous to both,” Jiang Yanli says, trying and failing to calm the other. “We can’t do that.”

“Then we stay alone,” he says, crossing his arms with a distinctive look of irritation. “Chifeng-Zun doesn’t like me, if you go and say his sworn brother has disappeared, he won’t even think about Jin Guangshan, he will say it was me and nothing you say will convince him of anything else .”

“Wei Ying, that’s not—”

“What? Who else do we have? We’re not going with Jin Guangyao or any other sect leader of a minor sect,” he continues. “I’m sure I’m not the only one who sees it.”

Of course, he’s not, they all know the number of allies they have in the outside world is laughable, with only Nie Mingjue and maybe some cultivators from their own sects that won’t see them as traitors, willing to follow them against the Jin, just like they know it’s very unlikely they will blindly believe in what they say without revealing Wei Wuxian’s existence, but as Jiang Yanli had said, revealing his existence would be dangerous and, pretty much, fatal, so there was that.

“The immediate action to take is looking for clues,” Lan Qiren says, the man looking so stressed he probably is ageing rapidly. “I’m afraid we won’t find witnesses of the incident, but we could find something else.”

Wei Wuxian snorts, possibly because he knows he won’t be leaving the place. At his side, Lan Wangji looks equally angry but with the distinctive pain his brother’s disappearance has left him with and the hopelessness he’s submerged in for being here.

“I will go back to Gusu,” the man continues, hands pressed against his tights. “I will check on every nearby town until I find whatever needs to be found.”

“I will take care of Yunmeng,” Jiang Cheng says, voice mostly hollow. “I will find him.”

It’s foolish, something he’s not capable of doing by himself, but he doesn't take it back nor allows his insecurities and fucked up mind to mess it up. He will find Lan Xichen and will tell him he’s not disgusted nor repulsed by his attraction; he will confess he is just a fucked up individual who has too many issues that keep him from handling things as a normal and fully functional individual would do, but that also fell for him.

“Madam Jin tends to let me know of everything that happens at Koi Tower even if I never ask about it,” Jiang Yanli says after a moment. “Of course, I believe not even she is aware of what the rest of them are planning, but I hope the information can be of use.”

“Any information is good,” Lan Wangji says, though his eyes remain on the floor.

“Us? Ah, don’t worry, we will stay here drinking tea,” Wei Wuxian mutters bitterly.

“Wei Ying…”

His anger, however, deflates once more when his eyes fall on his partner at his side and he comes face to face with the undenying despair filling those normally calm golden eyes. If Lan Wangji’s distress is noticeable for someone like Jiang Cheng, then he’s sure it is ten times worse for Wei Wuxian who knows him on a level not only his family knows.  

‘I’m sorry,’ he seems to say and Lan Wangji nods, his hand coming to hold Wei Wuxian’s underneath the table with something akin to desperation. It looks intimate as if it is something Jiang Cheng shouldn’t be watching, but he can’t bring himself to look away. In the back of his mind, there’s a voice telling him he ruined his chances of having something similar, of having a romantic partner who can communicate with him without needing words, who he can have this silent agreement with and who could comfort him in the same way those two seemed to comfort each other…

He shakes his head so hard he’s sure something cracks, but he pays it no mind as he brings his hands to rub his face and go back to the fact that this isn’t about his feelings hurt by his own stupidity, this is about Lan Xichen and the danger he’s in.

“Alright, then,” Lan Qiren says after a couple of seconds of silence. “It is imperative we stay in touch.”

Everyone agrees and Wei Wuxian ends up saying he will also keep in touch, sending one of those luminous butterflies to Lotus Pier for Jiang Cheng or Jiang Yanli to get with the small piece of information or ideas he gets. With that done, the three of them leave the cave and Jiang Cheng is about to mount his sword to help his sister when he remembers he left behind the last letter Lan Xichen sent to his uncle. Since he needed it to attempt tracing his spiritual energy, he runs back to the cave and is about to enter when he hears something that freezes him to the spot.

“If something happened to him, if someone dared to hurt him I—” Lan Wangji’s voice starts but breaks mid-sentence and Jiang Cheng feels his heart shattering when a faint sob reaches his ears. “I failed him.”

“Lan Zhan you didn’t fail him,” Wei Wuxian's voice is strained but now with pain instead of anger. “This whole thing has gotten out of our hands and that is not your fault. Remember how hurt you were, how we almost lost you. There was nothing you could do.”

“He spent his whole energy on me, he saved me,” Lan Wangji continues and he sounds so broken Jiang Cheng feels his own eyes stinging with tears. “I didn’t— I couldn’t do the same, how can I ever forgive myself for it?”

“These aren’t normal circumstances, I know it isn’t easy but you couldn’t avoid it, no one could,” Wei Wuxian whispers. “But they will pay, I swear they will pay for everything they have done to you, to them. They want me to be a monster, then I will be one!”

The pain mixes with the fear of hearing his brother talking like that. He knows Wei Wuxian can’t fully counter the effects Demonic Cultivation has on his body and mind because of his lack of a core, and fears he will stay true to his words, that he will reach his limit and storm into Lanling with corpses and spirits going everywhere to tear everyone into pieces. Not that the Jin and many others deserve anything else, but there’s one thing—

“You’re not a monster.”

That.

Jiang Cheng agrees with Lan Wangji’s words despite being hidden from view. Wei Wuxian can’t become the monster they want him to be because that won’t solve anything. If he loses control as it happened at the Qiongqi Path and as it almost happens at the fight in Nightless City, then nothing they do or say will be enough to save him from the shapeless mass that wants him to die and pay for his sins with his own blood.

“You silly man,” Wei Wuxian chides him softly, with the affection he seems to have towards him. “You have done so many things for me, it’s my turn.”

Jiang Cheng turns around and flees the place without paying much attention to his movements and how it probably alerted the two inside of his presence. 

He now knows what to do.

⋅•⋅⋅•⋅⊰⋅•⋅⋅•⋅⋅•⋅⋅•⋅∙∘☽༓☾∘∙•⋅⋅⋅•⋅⋅⊰⋅•⋅⋅•⋅⋅•⋅⋅•⋅

Lan Qiren leaves early in the morning, Jiang Cheng sees him part while wishing and praying nothing will happen to the man. After that, he makes sure his sister is doing fine with the kids and with her own work and then instructs his head disciple to tend to all the pending things, leaving him with the clear instructions of paying close attention to the reports about fierce corpses and making a list about it so he can read it once he comes back.

Knowing him, the head disciple doesn’t ask where he is going and only asks if he would like to take someone with him.

Jiang Cheng leaves Lotus Pier and takes the path he remembers he took with Lan Xichen on that time he went looking for him after the truth about his core was revealed to him. While it was obvious nothing says this is the path Lan Xichen always took whenever he came, he wanted to believe this could lead him to find something.

As expected, it isn’t that easy. 

Unlike those novels where a piece of fabric, blood or something important is left behind, he finds nothing. There aren’t marks or signs of battle left on the ground or trees, everything is as unperturbed as it is supposed to be and even when Jiang Cheng spends hours trying to take every single path in the dense forest, he ends up with nothing. When he goes to the closest village no one has information. People don’t spend the day looking up at the sky to count how many cultivators fly by and they didn’t hear anything abnormal. People came and went, with some standing up more than others but how could they give specific information when not even Jiang Cheng knew what he was looking for.

By the time the sun is starting to go down, Jiang Cheng’s additional options have run out and so, he goes with his own plan.

Sandu cuts through the air as he flies as fast as he is capable of doing it, his mind working at the same dizzying speed he’s using for flying. His plan is a risky one, but there aren’t a lot of things he can do and out of everyone, he’s the only one who can risk it a bit more.

“Sect Leader Jiang, welcome, we weren’t expecting your visit.”

“I know,” he snaps, the world probably is used to it by now. “It is an unplanned visit, but I need to talk to Chifeng-Zun.”

“Of course, please come inside.”

It’s late already and his sudden appearance will probably fall on the rude side, but he keeps his head high and expressions controlled as he is led to the main hall and offered some things while he waits for the sect leader. 

Nie Mingjue arrives looking a little bit confused, but the expression vanishes in a second and by the time he sits, he has his normal and common expression. “Sect Leader Jiang, is everything alright?”

Given everything they have gone through in the last months, it’s obvious the man’s first thought is that something terrible has happened and he’s not entirely wrong, but Jiang Cheng does his best to not let the panic slip through and ruin everything.

“Yes, things aren’t going well,” he says, seeing the man ready to get his Baxia to cut the head of whoever attacked. “I would like to ask you to listen to everything I have to say before reaching a conclusion and I would like you to please understand my decisions so far.”

Nie Mingjue once more looks confused and even worried, he’s probably expecting to hear the worse, but still nods and leans back to lessen his anxiousness. “Of course.”

“Jin Guangshan is lying, everything he has said about Wei Wuxian is false. No bodies have been stolen by him and the fierce corpses who have attacked weren’t sent by him,” he says, seeing the man’s confusion turning into a frown, the question of how can you be sure ready to come out of his lips. “I know it because all this time, I have known exactly where he is.”

Nie Mingjue’s eyes flare, anger and betrayal mixing in his fierce eyes making Baxia tremble where it is placed near him. Jiang Cheng wouldn’t blame him for believing he has been Wei Wuxian’s accomplice this whole time. “What does that mean?”

“He never attacked Lan Wangji, he was trying to stop the fierce corpses when someone attacked him from behind, someone who was trying to go as unnoticed as he could,” he says, struggling to stay calm as the man in front of him looks ready to explode. “When I found him, Lan Wangji was struggling to stay alive, poisoned by the Yin iron while Wei Wuxian tried to save him.”

“Even if that was true, the whole conflict was caused by him,” Nie Mingjue says, anger more than evident. “All the problems that arose were because of what he was doing, because of his—”

“His what?” Jiang Cheng cuts him. “His need to protect innocent people? His clear view of Jin Guangshan being a vicious leech who dreams of becoming the next Wen Ruohan?”

“The Wen aren’t innocent,” Nie Mingjue hisses and Jiang Cheng can understand why. “They can never be innocent.”

“The ones he tried to save, at least, were,” he says and it isn’t easy because his brain also relates the Wen to the worst of the worst. “We saw them hanging outside of Nightless City, we saw the monsters who were nothing more than a bunch of elders with no training in cultivation. What were we so afraid of? We were told about vicious wolves with fangs dripping blood and instead got old ones whose fangs had fallen off a long time ago.”

Nie Mingjue looks genuinely conflicted, but the hatred for Wen still burns fiercely and Jiang Cheng can tell it is as strong as it burns for him. “Are you trying to say everyone is innocent, Wei Wuxian included, safe from us.”

“No, Wei Wuxian isn’t innocent of everything either and he knows it, but the things he has been accused of recently are nothing but lies,” he says, digging his own nails on his palms. “Jin Guangshan wants everyone to be his enemy and he…. Zewu-Jun disappeared and I’m sure it is his final plan to make the world go wild against him.”

At the mention of Lan Xichen’s disappearance, Nie Mingjue’s efforts to remain calm go right out of the window. He pushes himself off his seat and reaches for Baxia, the sabre reacting to its master's anger by calling out for blood. “What happened to Xichen?! What have they done to him?!”

“We are trying to find him,” he replies, also standing up to face the man. “He disappeared on his way back to Gusu.”

“Jiang Wanyin,” he hisses, Jiang Cheng feels a shiver running down his spine. “Have you been blinded by what he says? How can you be so sure this wasn’t done by him?!”

“I’m not blinded by anyone, this is the first time I am seeing things this clearly,” he says, voice trembling slightly. “I was also blinded by my hatred towards the Wen, they killed my family so how couldn’t I? But the ones Wei Wuxian tried to save weren’t the guilty ones and turning my back on them was never the avenging tactic I thought it was… Jin Guangshan manipulated everything to his own convenience and the world fell for it, I won’t be part of it anymore.”

Nie Mingjue’s expression turns complicated as if he wasn’t expecting Jiang Cheng to reply so fiercely and to point out the similarities between both concerning the Wen. Nie Mingjue had also lost his father because of Wen Ruohan and Jiang Cheng could perfectly understand the anger and hatred that burnt inside of him, but after seeing the kid moving around trying to live after his family was slaughtered and Lan Xichen’s pain at realising he has been manipulated and that it had led to the death of innocent people, he understood his actions weren’t that different from what the Wen did and thus, had to be responsible for what he did and carry with him his mistakes.

 “Zewu-Jun’s disappearance is not Wei Wuxian’s fault, but if Chifeng-Zun believes I am lying and hiding some inner motives, then there’s nothing I can do to convince him,” he says, giving the man a proper salute. “Please stay safe and be careful with the Jin.”

This was one of the many results Jiang Cheng expected to get and even when he would have loved to get the support of the man, he can’t complain. The plan was stupid since the beginning, admitting to be hiding something this big isn’t something he can get off easily, but Nie Mingjue is the only person out there he can form an alliance with and it was worth the risk, at least for him. Furthermore, he was careful to put himself in the middle of everything, so if the time came and Nie Mingjue decided to expose him to the others, then everything would fall on him and would leave the rest of his family alone.

Just like Lan Xichen, he was willing to give up his life for their sake.

“Jiang Wanyin,” Nie Mingjue’s voice stops him before he can leave, but he doesn’t turn around to face him. “I want to believe Xichen trusted you for a reason and despite all of this , I can safely say you’re better than Jin Guangshan in every sense so… What are you planning?”

Even when he’s not here, Lan Xichen still helps him.

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe you did that, can’t believe you went alone!”

Jiang Cheng can’t help but roll his eyes while his brother walks around the cave like a caged beast waiting for the right moment to pounce on its unsuspecting victim. “I’m always alone, what’s the problem?”

It wasn’t his intention to land a solid jab in Wei Wuxian’s heart, he swears, he was just stating what was normal for him until not too long ago. Even before this mess that led to Wei Wuxian’s downfall, Jiang Cheng was alone in leading the sect because he had no partner, his sister had moved away to Lanling and his second in command was busier dealing with the loss of his core by getting drunk or travelling around Yunmeng. Now he understood why his brother behaved like that and honestly thinks he would do the same, but him being alone was a constant, not even mentioning that he needed to do this alone to spare everyone from being dragged down with him.

Wei Wuxian stops his incessant passing before sighing heavily and plopping down at his side, resting his hands on his shoulders as if he’s about to scold a child for doing something wrong. “Didn’t we all say you’re not alone anymore?”

“Why does it matter right now?” he counters back immediately and without really thinking much. “Zewu-Jun isn’t here, you two can’t leave and no way in hell I’ll risk Ajie.”

It probably doesn’t go unnoticed for Wei Wuxian and maybe even Lan Wangji the pained noise that leaves his lips right after his mind repeats the Zewu-Jun is not here phrase, but they don’t say anything and it’s easier for Jiang Cheng to push the emotions back down.

“Still, you can’t just go around like that!” Wei Wuxian argues again, giving his shoulders a small shake. “Chifeng-Zun hates the Wen, hates me and his temper is volatile and unpredictable.”

“You think I don’t know?” he says, jaw so tense he’s surprised it hasn’t shattered. “Who do you think deals with all the leaders all the damn time?”

Jiang Cheng can actually understand what Wei Wuxian is trying to point out with all of this, he isn’t stupid, but all of… this come out naturally. He still is shit when it comes to dealing with emotions, still shit in differentiating genuine worry from being seen as less or weak, so he lashes out and hopes for the best.

“That wasn’t the point—”

“You said it yourself, he’s the only one we could form an alliance with,” he cuts him off. “We have no one else and it was a risk I was  willing to take, something I had to do.”

“There is no use in fighting,” Lan Wangji’s voice seems to cut through the tension between both. “It is done.”

“Fine,” Wei Wuxian mutters, taking a deep breath. “What did he say?”

“His priority is, of course, finding his sworn brother and who is behind all of it,” he starts after glancing at Lan Wangji and that stoic face of his. “He doesn’t trust you, but apparently Jin Guangshan is in an even lower spot, so he’s willing to put in doubt what the man has said about what you have done.”

“Flattering.”

“He won’t say anything about what we talked about nor mention the disappearance to anyone,” he continues after once more rolling his eyes. “He will look a bit more carefully into the disappearance of corpses Jin Guangshan claimed was your doing and will also look for something abnormal that can miraculously guide us to Zewu-Jun’s whereabouts, but—”

“Of course there’s a but!” Wei Wuxian cuts him again before he can finish, throwing his hands in the air before rubbing his face again. “What does he want? A piece of me? My head? Or maybe he also wants my arm as compensation for the damage.”

“Wei Ying.”

It can be irrelevant, but Jiang Cheng has also noticed, while Nie Mingjue is unstable due to his cultivation nature, Wei Wuxian seems to be following close and it comes out of nowhere. This outburst of anger comes out when they are less expecting it and even though they make a lot of sense after everything he has gone through, it’s still dangerous. Thankfully for Jiang Cheng, Lan Wangji’s voice is more than enough to calm him down and the man in front of him once more deflates and turns to look at him, waiting for him to continue.

“He wants to know the effects of your tally,” he says, glancing at the corner of the cave where he knows that damn thing is.

“What?” Lan Wangji asks this time, the frown on his face making him look even more intimidating.

“Oh, so great Chifeng-zun wants a piece as well?” Wei Wuxian asks sarcastically.

“Don’t be stupid, he wants nothing to do with it,” he hisses, though, he can give him that, it indeed sounds bad. “Jin Guangshan and his students don’t have the tally, they don’t have the same power you have and he believes that could help on finding the real culprit.”

Wei Wuxian opens and closes his mouth before having the nerve of pouting.

“That is… possible,” Lan Wangji says, moving towards them. “Their source of power is weaker.”

“Well, they could never control something I controlled with the tally,” Wei Wuxian frowns, shaking his head. “I could control their corpses, too, but I don’t see how that will help me or anyone.”

“Comparing the remnants of resentful energy left on the fierce corpses Jin Guangshan said attacked because of you will prove they don’t come from your tally,” Lan Wangji, thank the heavens, says. “Jin Guangshan’s bases his hatred campaign towards you on the use of demonic cultivation. He claimed it was you who stole the bodies and sent the fierce corpses to attack and it was also the excuse he used to start teaching demonic cultivation. Proving he has been lying would make everything crumble down.”

“And that would be great, but who will listen?” Wei Wuxian says with a tired sigh, resting his forehead on his hand. “Jin Guangshan’s sect still is the most powerful one and last I remember, everyone was ready to make an oath to kill me. Aside from Jiang Cheng, Zewu-Jun and maybe Chifeng-Zun, no one else has had a change of heart that makes them reconsider following the other leader blindly.”

Jiang Cheng understands. Most of the minor sects follow everything Jin Guangshan says because that assures them a privileged spot in the eyes of the Jin leader and thus, a privileged spot when it comes to loans and protection. Even if others oppose him, they know not even the three of them have the power and wealth to go against the Lanling Jin. So he knows, Jiang Cheng knows that no matter how much evidence they bring to them of being lied to, they won’t care. 

As if that wasn’t enough, he can’t even be sure his own disciples will follow.

“But we can’t just stay here without doing anything,” he says, even more stressed about the added pessimism. “Time is passing, Zewu-Jun— who knows what they are doing to him? We can’t just sit here.”

“Of course we won’t!” Wei Wuxian almost screams. “He believed in me, helped in everything he could. We will get him back but…”

We don’t know how. Jiang Cheng knows that’s the rest of the sentence and it is mortifying, it feasts on his innards like bugs would do with a corpse and it leaves him close to throwing up. “Nie Mingjue will support us in what we decide to do and will also provide us with new information.”

“Then I will attack,” Wei Wuxian says after letting out a shaky breath. “I will turn Lanling inside out to find him and unmask Jin Guangshan’s deeds.”

“Wei Ying, you can’t—”

“I won’t just sit here and wait for everyone else to do something and I know you won’t do that either, Lan Zhan,” he says, turning his attention to the man whose expression is once more filling with the despair Jiang Cheng heard that day. “We can’t live like this for the rest of our lives, so the best thing I can do is distract them by attacking from the front and you sneaking from behind.”

“Oh, so they can kill you?” Jiang Cheng snaps, his glare turning sharper. “We were so dumb, the solution was right in front of us.”

“I don’t like it either, but what other options do we have?” His brother, surprisingly enough, glares back at him. “They all want to kill me, they all want the tally, so what’s better to distract them than dangling it in front of their faces?”

 “Then what was the point of keeping you safe all this time?” he demands, feeling his blood has turned into a fire that burns him from inside. “Of saving Lan Wangji and the kid? If you’re going to continue being the same self-sacrificing idiot then why bothering doing everything else?”

“How is that any different from what you did?” he asks, pushing his body off the floor and making Jiang Cheng do the same. “Going to Nie Mingjue as if the man couldn’t just attack and drag you to Jin Guangshan.”

“It’s completely different,” he says, shaking his head. “Nie Mingjue isn’t an entirely unreasonable person and the fact he decided to trust me even after knowing his sworn brother disappeared says it all. How can you compare that to Jin Guangshan? You will be going right into the trap that asshole prepared and everything everyone did for you will end up being useless.”

“Jiang Cheng—”

“No, that’s not the answer and I won’t let you do anything stupid. I will inform Grandmaster Lan and when he comes, we will talk about what to do,” he says, the rush of emotions making him glare at Lan Wangji who has been keeping himself there. “You better keep him from doing something.”

He doesn’t wait for an answer, he storms out of the cave hoping and praying the man will truly stay there and that Lan Wangji will be smart enough to see that isn’t the best solution.

°°°

Jiang Cheng takes at least two hours to write the letter.

While he knows Lan Qiren isn’t the kind of person who will freak out and react in the worst way possible as Jiang Cheng did, he doesn’t want to phrase it in a way that makes the man think they now have to worry about something else. This kind of news is delicate and it would be better to say it face to face, but travelling right now doesn’t look like the best choice, who knows if the Jin know what he went to say to Nie Mingjue.

By the time he was done, he felt as if he had been running for days without stopping. His muscles ache, his eyes sting and the imaginary weight pressing down against his shoulders it’s reaching the crushing point.

He’s worried Wei Wuxian won’t listen to him and will part for Lanling when they are less expecting it, he’s stressed that Nie Mingjue will regret the agreement they made and will instead inform the world of Lan Xichen’s disappearance and he’s scared Lan Qiren will realise his family has been more hurt because of them and will seek instead to have them punished by the rest of the cultivation world as soon as Lan Xichen is rescued.

His disciples, his family, everyone would be dragged down if the rest of the world turned their backs on him and Jiang Cheng deserves it, but they don’t.

Because of him the innocent remnants of the Wen died, leaving the young Wen Yuan alone, because of him his brother was left alone to deal with Jin Guangshan’s lies, because of him Lan Xichen disappeared and because of his indifference, Wei Wuxian lost control at the Qiongqi path where Jin Zixuan died, taking his nephew the chance of growing up with his two parents. Jiang Cheng carried with him a lot of mistakes and it was fine, they were his and he was working on mending them… if they were indeed irredeemable, then, he would accept punishment.

But his family, his family couldn’t—

Jiujiu! ” His head snapped up when he heard that voice, finding his little nephew making his waddling way towards where he was sitting with his mother behind. 

“Ajie, A-Ling?” he asks, worry filling his chest as he makes his way towards the kid to catch him before he could fall. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m sorry, A-Cheng,” Jiang Yanli says softly, the exhaustion of the day appearing on her delicate features. “He has been restless ever since I put him to bed, but after I put A-Yuan, he stood up and said he wanted to see you.”

Jiang Cheng raises a brow as he looks down at the little one who is staring at him with his large eyes and his hands fisting his robes. “It’s late, you should be sleeping.”

Jin Ling is a child with a lot of attitude. Despite his young age and the limitations his vocabulary and motor skills leave him with, he makes sure people know he is displeased with something they do or if he doesn’t like them. He is very attached to the people he likes and if Jiang Yanli, Jiang Cheng, Wen Yuan and at one time, Lan Xichen, isn’t around, then he will make sure they know he is not happy with it. He gets easily flustered and becomes this pouting and sulking baby that doesn’t really need to throw a tantrum to make people take him back to the people he likes.

Jiujiu…” he mutters, raising his short arms towards him and bouncing on his feet until Jiang Cheng picks him up with a small sigh. “Here.”

Jiang Cheng, unsurprisingly enough, isn’t the best with kids and he even remembers Lan Xichen teasing him about it, but Jin Ling still is his nephew, he has a soft spot for him even if he doesn’t admit it and the natural connection being blood family just makes everything stronger. As the little baby comfortably tucks his head under his chin, Jiang Cheng feels the emotions of his previously destructive thoughts coming back to him, making him little by little wrap his arms a bit more securely around him, like a protective barrier between his nephew and the outside world.

“I can take care of him, Ajie,” he says to the woman who is trying but failing to hide how endearing she finds the sight. “He can sleep tonight with me, I guess.”

Jiang Yanli smiles, bringing the blanket she had in her hands to cover the little infant in his arms and leaning to place a kiss on her son’s temple. “Everything will be alright, A-Cheng.”

Despite struggling to not give in and give her the impression he’s weak, Jiang Cheng ends up leaning against her touch. Her warm palm against his cheek feels like the same protective blanket she put over Jin Ling that makes him believe every single thing she’s saying despite the situation.

The woman leaves after he does his best to reassure her with a small nod and Jiang Cheng stands frozen on his place for what feels like hours but it’s nothing more than a couple of minutes. Jin Ling’s warm weight on his arms being the only thing that grounds him to the present and life in general.

“You spoiled brat,” he says but without the usual harshness. “You’re sleepy already, why didn’t you just sleep in your bed?”

Jiujiu,” he just repeats again, an unnatural frown pulling at his brows as he seems to press himself closer to him.

“What? Is that the only word you know?” he snorts but still speaks with the same soft tone he has for him. “Spoiled one.”

Jin Ling has the nerve of huffing, but aside from that he does nothing else, so Jiang Cheng ends up sighing and reaching for the letter he wrote to leave the room. He leaves the letter with clear instructions of having it delivered to Gusu immediately and then retires to his room. By that moment, the child in his arms is already dozing off but he is still holding onto him, so Jiang Cheng takes a seat on his bed and waits for him to finish falling asleep.

Mere minutes later, Jin Ling is sleeping soundly.

Carefully and slowly, Jiang Cheng holds the sleeping baby in his arms and places him right in the middle of his bed where his nephew curls up and ends up hugging his blanket closer to his chest. The leader then removes the child's shoes and covers him with his own quilt so he doesn’t get cold. His dark eyes stare at him for a couple of seconds before he once more sighs and walks to take off his own boots and outer robes.

This… this also reminds him of Lan Xichen.

The man was a natural with kids, both Wen Yuan and Jin Ling liked being around him and even obeyed what he said, making it look so easy Jiang Cheng ended up frustrated with himself. He can’t help but wonder how would everything be if all of this hadn’t happened. Going against Jin Guangshan was going to happen sooner or later, but how different would everything be if Lan Xichen never disappeared?

The man despised violence, but he could perfectly understand it was the most likely solution. Just like Wen Ruohan before him, Jin Guangshan wasn’t the kind of person who would sit down and talk if his interests were threatened, he was the kind who wanted everything and was not going to stop until he got it. Wei Wuxian’s power was a novelty, the tally was not like the pieces of Yin Iron Wen Ruohan used and the fact they haven’t even witnessed the full power only made their mouths water with even more greed. If Lan Xichen was still here, he would also see all of this and would probably also agree in charging into Lanling and demand they stop with their nonsense.

But he’s not here.

With a tired and pained sigh, Jiang Cheng takes off the headpiece and brushes his hair while staring at his own reflection in the mirror. He would give anything to have Lan Xichen here, to tell him he isn’t disgusted by him, to tell him he’s willing to learn what all this love mess means with him and only him.

Jiang Cheng’s eyes then move to his nephew sleeping peacefully on his bed, to his relaxed expression as he hugs his blanket and just how small he looks against his large bed. Just like Wen Yuan, Jin Ling deserved to have a peaceful and happy life, they don’t deserve to go through the same Jiang Cheng and his generation went through because of the Sunshot Campaign. 

Too bad life isn’t fair.

“We will go for Lanling,” he whispers. “This will end once and for all.”

 

Chapter Text

“To think Jin Guangshan would dare to do this.”

Jiang Cheng can partially understand how it is to see someone you know becoming someone you can barely recognise. He saw his own brother going from this capable and strong young man who liked fooling around to one who preferred to be drunk all the time and then to someone the world hated for being evil , after all, and while he’s aware that comparing Jin Guangshan to Wei Wuxian is stupid because they are not similar in any way, he guesses he can understand to a certain extend how Lan Qiren feels. 

He and Jin Guangshan were contemporary, along with Jiang Fengmian they led their sects for a long time and Jiang Cheng wouldn’t be surprised if the three studied together at some point. He knows Lan Qiren, despite being the personification of his rules, is saddened by what the man is doing, disappointed to see someone that maybe at one point was a person he could trust has been consumed by greed and has decided to do everything it takes to win and hoard all the power. 

“Don’t blame yourself, Grandmaster Lan,” Nie Mingjue says. “We all allowed him to reach this point, we’re all guilty.”

Lan Qiren nods in understanding, but his face keeps the tormented expression. “First Wangji and now Xichen.”

It reminds Jiang Cheng that the man hasn’t seen his youngest nephew ever since this started and guilt multiplies itself tenfold. First Lan Wangji and now Lan Xichen, the second one because of him. Wonderful.

“I can assure you, Lan Wangji has recovered and is doing alright,” he offers, hoping it won’t be insulting. “We will get Zewu-jun back.”

He still doesn’t know how and doesn’t know where to start looking, but he’s sure they will and he refuses to even think that it will be too late. The man needs to hear him and he won’t ever forgive him if he dares to leave him. 

Lan Qiren sends him a grateful look before taking a deep breath and straightening his already straight back. “I thank you for the support, Sect Leader Nie.”

“There is no need,” he says, glancing at Jiang Cheng. “I must admit I still have some doubts, but if Xichen trusted him and was aware of everything, then I trust it as well.”

“Yes, Xichen was aware of everything Wei Wuxian and Wangji were doing. He started working with Sect Leader Jiang from the beginning,” Lan Qiren says and Nie Mingjue's shoulders seem to relax a bit. “I… trust them as well, there’s no need to have doubts among us.”

“Alright then,” Nie Mingjue nods, closing his eyes for several seconds. “There will be time for explanations, now we need to find him.”

To know that Lan Qiren trusts him as well and that has just reaffirmed Nie Mingjue’s intentions of helping makes Jiang Cheng’s heart miss several beats, but he forces himself to go back because he knows there is no time. “Couldn’t agree more.”

“As certain as we are of Jin Guangshan’s involvement, it is obvious the man didn't attack Wangji or took Xichen all by himself,” Nie Mingjue starts after just a couple of seconds more. “Aside from his own clan, he surely has more people helping him.”

“It could be Xue Yang,” Jiang Cheng says and Nie Mingjue seems ready to combust at the sole mention of the name. “Lan Wangji is certain he was who attacked him back at nightless city and Zewu-jun said his attacker showed no characteristic style when it came to fighting, he was aggressive and erratic and—”

Jiang Cheng freezes as the memories come back to him in a rush that leaves him feeling cold everywhere. How could he forget about that detail? It was important and to think he shoved it out of his mind without asking more makes him feel like the biggest idiot that has ever existed in this place.

“Wanyin?” Nie Mingjue asks, obviously noting the way he seemed to have disconnected from the world.

“Grandmaster Lan, I told Zewu-jun the one who attacked me showed some of the techniques proper of the Gusu Lan Sect,” he says, for now ignoring the other leader. “He was worried it would be someone close, did you ever find something?”

“I remember, but it led to nothing,” Lan Qiren nods. “We investigated, but no one seemed to be hiding something, we concluded it was possible someone who was a guest disciple at one point was responsible.”

“That, or there is something else.”

His accusation takes them by surprise, but it’s obvious they can’t discard the idea immediately because of the situation. The only thing he can tell by looking at him is that they just want to pull at their hair in despair.

“What else could it be?” Lan Qiren asks, his frown getting even more noticeable.

“To retain the sword techniques of the Gusu Lan so clearly could mean they don’t belong to another prominent sect,” he says, he doesn’t like to suggest it, but it makes sense.

“Rogue cultivators supporting him? It would be surprising but not impossible,” Nie Mingjue suggests. “They are mostly independent, their ideas don’t align with the ones of big sects and sometimes hate on the cultivators who are not like them, but Jin Guangshan has the wealth and even materials to convince them to work with him.”

“It is possible, but I was thinking about someone else,” Jiang Cheng whispers, closing his eyes as he feels the insecurity seizing his chest. “Su Minshan’s sect uses a lot of things from the Gusu Lan one.”

His declaration is as if he has dropped something made of crystal in the middle of the most silent room in the whole world. The eyes of the other two widden and look at Jiang Cheng as if they want him to repeat what he just said in hopes it makes more sense, and it is intimidating. It isn’t a small insinuation and it could come back to bite him in the ass, but he feels they need to think about every single option.

“So Su Minshan is the possible second attacker?” Nie Mingjue asks in disbelief. “Would he be capable of that?”

“I can’t tell if it was him or his people, but it wouldn’t be weird if the swordsmanship he taught to his disciples is the same he learnt,” he says. “I have no way of proving it… but it’s an option.”

Nie Mingjue’s eyes move to Lan Qiren, once more looking for an answer.

“Su She was a responsible disciple, we never had problems with him,” Lan Qiren starts, the troubled expression making Jiang Cheng wonder if he did something wrong. “His cultivation was average and he seemed respectful, but after the incident with the Waterborn Abyss he seemed different.”

Jiang Cheng remembers that incident; the man sent his sword to be swallowed by that mass of water and then had to be saved by Wei Wuxian and, eventually, by Lan Wangji. He honestly doesn’t know what happened or why, but the Moling Su suddenly appeared and Jiang Cheng was confused to see it was someone who used to be part of the Gusu Lan.

“Different?” Nie Mingjue asks and Jiang Cheng is glad.

“His behaviour around Wangji was curt at best, but when he revealed the way to enter the cave while the Wen attacked, most disciples avoided him,” the man sighs heavily. “He left after some time, no one refuted.”

“Xichen did mention they didn’t end in the best of terms,” Nie Mingjue says, shaking his head. “And I know the base of their sect is music.”

Played terribly even for Jiang Cheng who is completely stupid when it comes to music, but that is not the point.

“But from parting in such a way to attacking you and maybe even being involved in Xichen’s disappearance,” he sighs. “Never thought it could go that far.”

“Xue Yang, the Moling Su and many more minor sects are heavily involved,” Nie Mingjue mutters, his hand pressing tightly against the table. “How could everything reach this point?”

He honestly doesn't know. One day the Sunshot Campaign ended and the next one a new kind of war had started. His brother was gone, his sister was getting married and was also leaving, he was alone and everyone was pointing fingers as if they had the right to. None have done anything to stop those advances and before they knew it, Jin Guangshan was already on top of the cultivation world and with no intentions of stopping until he had everything.

“We will all deal with the consequences when the time is right,” Lan Qiren shakes his head. “For now, we need to determine what we are going to do.”

“I don’t think we have a lot of options,” Jiang Cheng mutters. “I don’t think we can get proof of what he is doing and I don’t think revealing things to others hoping they will side with us will work.”

“Direct confrontation will always be better,” Nie Mingjue says, of course he would say that.

“It seems to be the only way,” Lan Qiren ends up saying after sighing. “Then it is time we talk to our people.”

“If you need proof or something, let me know…”

°°°

Jiang Cheng trusts his people and his people trust him back.

The Yunmeng Jiang leader remembers the uncertainty the burning of Lotus Pier left. The number of people they lost seemed too large to safely recover from and the death of a leader it’s always on top of the lists of tragedies. Jiang Cheng remembers feeling overwhelmed, despite spending his whole life preparing to take the position, the way he was suddenly pushed to it hadn’t been ideal. His life in the last months was like being thrown from the top of a mountain, the memories of losing his family and his core being like rocks and branches stabbing his whole body as he rolled down the hill. He didn’t feel ready to face everything and show himself as the new leader, but he had to, he needed to get revenge and fortunately it worked.He proved he was capable despite his inexperience and the survivors along with the new ones who wanted to join saw in him someone who could bring back the glory his clan had.

Jiang Cheng hopes they can trust him with this.

“Jin Guangshan has taken advantage of many of us,” he says, the presence of his sister behind him holding him while shocked expressions appear. “He has deceived many people and… he’s lying about Wei Wuxian.”

“But he attacked us during the fight at Nightless City,” one debates immediately, others agreeing with him. “He didn’t show any consideration!”

“And we agreed on killing him,” Jiang Cheng snaps back. “We saw the Wen army he was building were nothing more than old people and those Wen siblings, yet we agreed on going for him because Jin Guangshan said so.”

It’s clear many didn’t expect their leader would say this, but some seem open enough to understand it, others, though, they seem to disagree entirely. 

“But he has been attacking and stealing corpses to attack,” another one says. “He’s planning his comeback, waiting for the right moment to get his revenge.”

“Nonsense,” he hisses. “Not a single corpse has been stolen from us or Gusu and I know he’s not responsible for it because I know where he is.”

Yeah, he wasn’t planning to say it like that, really, but he’s not known for having tact when it comes to delicate situations and his people should know by now. It doesn’t lessen the hit, of course, their eyes widen and a cacophony of gasps and other expressions of disbelief fill his ears. 

“Sect Leader Jiang… Why keeping it a secret for so long?”

“Because I discovered with it the number of lies Jin Guangshan has been throwing at us,” he says, narrowing his eyes at no one in particular. “When the incident at the Qiongqi path happened he claimed Demonic Cultivation was an unforgiving atrocity that needed to be eliminated from the world and now he’s teaching it. One has to be stupid to think he’s doing it for protection.

Some others agree with that, a frown appearing on their faces.

“So it has been Sect Leader Jin who stole the corpses?” one asks, clearly confused and lost. “To then blame it on the Yiling Patriarch?”

“He needs someone to blame, someone to cover up what he’s doing,” he spits with disgust. “Even in the fight at Nightless City, he first asked to get the tally. Zewu-jun and I were attacked, Chifeng-zun saw disguised Jin cultivators roaming around Qinghe, but oddly enough, Jin Guangshan only reported having some corpses stolen from his cemetery and nothing more.”

Realisation seems to fall on some others and Jiang Cheng can see how little by little things make sense for them in the same way it made for him. Still, it doesn’t make it easier for them to understand that someone they trusted and even followed could have had hidden motives that led him to manipulate them. They talk in hurried voices and anxiously exchange ideas that help them make sense of what is going on and what to do with the information.

Behind him, Jiang Yanli takes a step closer to him and places her warm hand on his shoulder. It’s comforting, reassuring and it’s everything he needs. Even if his sect hates him, even if he has to march alone, he wants to have his family and he will make sure they are safe.

“How can we be sure you’re not being misled or tricking us, sect leader?”

“You can’t and if you don’t feel like staying or think I’m planning something else, you can leave and I won’t stop you,” he says, surprising most. “But I want to believe I have done a lot to prove to all of you that I can be trusted.”

Jiang Cheng decides to leave it at that, it’s not that things will magically change if he decides to repeat the same information over and over again. He’s sure many will leave and probably go for Jin Guangshan to inform him of the atrocious things their former leader is doing, but it’s fine.

Tomorrow, they will pay Lanling a visit.

°°°

“Sect Leader Jiang, Grandmaster Lan and Sect Leader Nie… I wasn’t expecting you.”

Jiang Cheng wants to say he’s glad, that he couldn’t care less about what he feels but would be glad if he is left in the most uncomfortable position, but he remains silent, hand balled up in a tight fist while Zidian’s violet sparks crack lightly.

“Having a reunion without involving us?” Nie Mingjue sarcastically asks, sending a disdainful look at the ones gathered there. “What could be so important they need to be here but not us?”

“Please don’t misunderstand,” Jin Guangyao says with that smile that Jiang Cheng finds annoying right now. “It’s a normal reunion concerning the advances the disciples learning Demonic Cultivation have made.”

“You were clear in saying you weren’t interested on it,” Su She says, his expression one of disdain.

Jiang Cheng studies him for a moment. Could it be him who attacked him? A part of his mind still wants to give him the benefit of the doubt, to blame it on one of his disciples, but he can’t tell.

“Clearly, we still do not care about hypocrisy,” he spits, seeing the immediate displeasure his word causes.

“Guangshan, you have been lying to us,” Lan Qiren’s voice doesn’t tremble nor hesitate and it seems to freeze everything for a couple of seconds. “So please, be honest.”

“I wasn’t expecting to receive such words from you,” Jin Guangshan says, the feigned friendliness he tended to show vanishing. “I must ask why I’m being offended.”

Lan Qiren’s disappointment seems to increase with that, as if he had been expecting the man to admit his wrongdoings. 

“Why did you send disguised cultivators to Qinghe?” Nie Mingjue demands. “Why were they even disguised?”

“Probably working on a mission.”

“In the Unclean Realm?”

“I don’t know what is the reason you have to come here,” he says, standing up, his posture making his people take a defensive stance. “I have tried to be reasonable, but if you are implying I sent people to spy on you, then I’m forced to ask you to leave. I won’t tolerate being offended here.”

“You’re not fooling anyone,” Jiang Cheng snaps, outraged by how he’s trying to make it look like he's the victim. “Where do you have Zewu-jun?”

“Why would I know about his whereabouts?”

“Wanyin and Xichen were attacked, disguised cultivators are roaming around Qinghe and bodies disappear from cemeteries,” Nie Mingjue hisses. “Does that say something?”

“Yes, but I was under the impression that all of us knew it was Wei Ying getting ready to attack,” he says, as if it was the obvious thing and he’s seeing them as idiots for not understanding. “He’s disrespecting our dead to build his army and fight back, attacked small and unprotected villages to ransack them and I wouldn’t be surprised if he attacked them in his lunacy.”

“You forgot to mention I’m also responsible for the withered crops and most importantly, the reason why kids cry at night.”

Jiang Cheng has never been a fan of his brother’s fanaticism for making a grand entrance, but right now he’s damn proud by the shock and possible fear that marks everyone’s face at hearing Wei Wuxian’s voice.

Chapter Text

“Wei Wuxian…”

“It’s Wei Wuxian!”

Everyone inside the Glamour Hall panic, tables are shoved away and expensive plates, cups and jars end up breaking on the floor with loud noises that for a moment make it feel like the fight has started and swords are already clashing. Jiang Cheng can see many unsheathing their swords and pointing them at them, ready to attack and kill the other now they have the chance.

Jin Guangshan, however, stays in his place without moving, his eyes showing a faint trace of shock and confusion that disappear when anger and disdain take over. “It doesn’t surprise anyone to have you attacking when we’re less expecting it, but to see you have managed to deceive three respectable cultivators is lamentable and disappointing.”

As most of Jin Guangshan’s words are, these have the clear intention of insulting Nie Mingjue, Lan Qiren and Jiang Cheng while also further discrediting Wei Wuxian and it works, judging by the hostile expressions they receive, their anger increase and their murder intent becomes more noticeable. Unfortunately for them, they all knew what they were dealing with and have agreed on not letting the man’s venom incense them further. 

Wei Wuxian’s smile is cold as he rests his hands holding his dizi behind his back and takes a couple of lazy steps to stand at the same level the rest are. “If what I do is deceiving, then how can we call what you do?”

“Don’t disrespect Sect Leader Jin!” Sect Leader Yao screams. “You have no shame!”

“I am indeed called a shameless person, I take no offence,” he shrugs. “Now, why don’t you explain what your plan was when you sent Xue Yang for me during the fight at Nightless City?”

The name says something to the ones present because they look at each other without really understanding. Jiang Cheng wonders if they are pretending or if they truly don’t know anything.

“That I send Xue Yang for you?” Jin Guangshan asks with that same mocking smile. “Why would I have contact with a criminal like him?”

“Lan Wangji fell into my arms after being hurt from the front,” he says coldly. “He protected me from the attack of a mysterious cultivator dressed in black that didn’t seem to belong to any sect. What do you have to say about that?”

“Trying to blame his death on someone else?” Jin Guangshan says, narrowing his eyes. “You took his corpse with you, show a bit of respect to his family that is here. Grandmaster Lan, I think it is more than obvious that he, sadly, has done something to Zewu-jun with his evil tricks and is trying to blame it on me.”

Lan Qiren doesn’t look amused at all by what the leader is saying and the way his expression seems to harden is, even more, intimidating for many of the ones there. “Evil tricks you are learning and teaching?”

Jin Guangshan looks close to spitting blood.

“How are we supposed to protect ourselves against Wei Ying’s attacks if we don’t understand what he does?” another leader says. “It’s not that we have done the same thing he did!”

“What exactly did I do?” Wei Wuxian asks, making the man take a trembling step back. “Last I knew, my contribution during the Sunshot Campaign was invaluable, the fight was a victory because I helped, what happened then?”

“Y-You killed innocent people!”

“Where a bunch of Wen elders who didn’t even belong to the main branch of the family guilty?” he asks back, Jiang Cheng feels his anger going up. “The same things you all do are evil when I do them.”

“There are clear differences between you and us, Wei Ying.”

“Yeah, you have money and I don’t.”

“That is enough,” Nie Mingjue says before Jin Guangshan can say something else. “We’re all done with your lies, we weren’t deceived and if you don’t tell where Xichen is, then face the consequences.”

“Your accusations are quite serious,” Jin Guangyao says. “I believe the most honourable thing to do is show proof of them.”

Gone is the kind and amicable facade and smile Jin Guangyao is well-known for. Jiang Cheng can see on him a cold and almost calculating look that gives him a more threatening appearance, the one he imagines the man used so Wen Ruohan trusted him and gave him so many liberties. He can’t tell just how much he is involved in Jin Guangshan’s plan and how far he has gone, but refusing to say something while knowing his own sworn brother is in danger says everything.

“Talking about honourable things when he only lies,” Jiang Cheng snorts. “Yes, we have proof, want to see it?”

His confidence has a negative effect on their plan, apparently, because of the ones who seem weaker in terms of pretending exchange nervous glances. Jin Guangshan, however, shows nothing and merely straightens his back. “Show them, please.”

Their biggest proof is showing the differences between the demonic cultivation Jin Guangshan uses and teaches and the one Wei Wuxian created. The resentful energy the Jin manipulates to force corpses to attack and follow their orders is weaker and different than the ones Wei Wuxian controls with his tally, so they have that and they are confident it will corner Jin Guangshan so he can’t escape.

What they get, though, is much better.

A loud bang coming from outside alerts everyone and despite having Wei Wuxian still standing there with his dizi in his hands, Jin Guangshan rushes outside with the rest following close. Jiang Cheng, Lan Qiren, Nie Mingjue and Wei Wuxian exchange a quick look before also rushing outside to see what’s going on.

The loud bang was caused when one of the many expensive pots decorating the entrance to the hall was destroyed when someone fell or was thrown against it. When they come out, there’s dust and dirt flying around, concealing from view the person lifting itself from the floor and the attacker. Judging by the expressions of everyone it is clear that they think Lanling is under attack and they have no idea how to deal with it or how to react.

It’s oddly gratifying.

When the dust finally clears, a figure dressed in white can be seen standing immaculately a few metres from where the figure in black is using his sword to push himself off the floor and into a sitting position. Lan Wangji’s golden eyes are cold and unforgiving and his hold on Bichen shows no sign of trembling.

“As expected from the second jade,” the man on the floor says, finally turning his face to reveal Xue Yang with a split lip and a medium-sized cut on his temple. “Need to give you some merit.”

It is at that moment that they get the answers they were looking for about the involvement of everyone close to Jin Guangshan in this whole issue. The leaders from minor sects who weren’t involved look at Jin Guangshan with clear confusion and at Xue Yang with almost panic while the ones who know look nervous but for different reasons. 

Jin Guangyao, Jin Guangshan and Su She sigh in what appears to be frustration while Sect Leader Yao, Ouyang and few others take a couple of steps back, probably seeking the protection of the bigger figures.

“Are you going to continue lying, Sect Leader Jin ?”Jiang Cheng asks, using every ounce of disdain his body can create for each word. “Are we still insulting you?”

Jin Guangshan’s hands tremble, anger and even disgust appearing on his face as cracks would appear on a cheap tea set that has been used too many times. His true colours are little by little appearing on his face, but just as it started, it stopped. His face relaxes once more and that vain and stupid smile of I’m above everyone reapers.

“How can I expect any of you to understand?” he asks. “Your righteousness will be the cause of your own downfall.”

“Stop with this nonsense!” Nie Mingjue screams, his rage making Baxia tremble on its sheath. “You have been lying to everyone, deceived us all!”

“What if I did?” Jin Guangshan shrugs. “Wasting my time on explaining things to someone who refuses to listen wasn’t going to do anything. We all lie at one point.”

“We’re nothing like you,” Nie Mingjue hisses, his disciples already unsheathing their swords.

“Are you sure you are not?” Jin Guangshan asks. “I wasn’t the only one who agreed on executing the Wen remnants, I wasn’t the only one making an oath to kill Wei Wuxian the moment he appeared.”

Jiang Cheng remembers that was something that tormented Lan Xichen shortly after discovering the young Wen Yuan was left alone in the world… and he remembers that is one of his biggest regrets as well.

“Sect Leader Jiang, you kicked your brother out of your sect and couldn’t care less about those elders even after seeing them,” he says and Jiang Cheng knows the snake has already bit him. “Is guilt what made you support him this time? Too bad that won’t bring anyone back to life.”

“You have no right to speak to him,” Wei Wuxian hisses at his side. “Who the fuck are you to talk? Your son and nephew meant nothing to you, their deaths were actually convenient!”

A dangerous flash appears in Jin Guangshan’s eyes, but he seems to control it as he turns to look at Lan Wangji. “I was sure lying was forbidden.”

Lan Wangji doesn’t even blink, but Jiang Cheng can see the anger simmering in his eyes. “Where is my brother?”

“Your intervention ruined things quite a bit,” he replies, ignoring his question. “I must admit you being alive is something I wasn’t expecting.”

“That was your plan? Poisoning me with the Yin Iron so I died and left the tally for you?” Wei Wuxian asks again, his anger going further up. 

“Poisoning?” Xue Yang laughs from the floor. “Come on, Wei Wuxian, don’t disappoint me, that wasn’t poisoning.”

His brother frowns and Jiang Cheng does it too. What is that supposed to mean? Lan Wangji’s core was being eaten by the resentful energy of the Yin Iron, the man was on his way of dying to probably become a fierce corpse they could control later. He’s Xue Yang, though, so maybe he’s just speaking nonsense to confuse them and regain the upper hand once more.

“Stop this, Guangshan,” Lan Qiren says, the last pieces of patience going out like a flame. “Don’t cross to that part where there is no going back.”

Jin Guangshan’s smile only widens, his dark eyes filled with that evilness that says he doesn’t care about what anyone thinks. Everything is out and he will be giving it all. “You don’t deserve to see a new world, so perish with your loved rightfulness.”

From one moment to another everything is chaos.

Jin Guangshan, Jin Guangyao and Su She along with the few leaders who were part of it are quick to retreat at the same time Jin cultivators launch themselves to attack. Xue Yang takes that chance to push himself up and starts fighting with Lan Wangji again, taking him away from them to have more space. Nie Mingjue and Lan Qiren get separated along with their disciples to fight the large number of cultivators who have come out to attack, leaving Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian alone to face another group of them.

“I’m sure he has countless fierce corpses,” Wei Wuxian says, using his dizi to fend off the attacks of the ones going for him. “But I think Xue Yang is his best student, so there’s a chance they won’t be coming as long as Lan Zhan distracts him.”

“Wishful thinking,” he snorts after sending a couple of disciples back with a well-aimed hit with Zidian. “He has a shit ton of students, use a couple of them and we will have a full parade.”

Wei Wuxian frowns, but then things seem to make sense and he nods. “Let them come, the more the better.”

“What are you planning to do?” he asks with a raised brow. “We can’t let them surround us.”

“Using the tally I can control the corpses, even if someone else controls them,” he says, Jiang Cheng hopes he’s not being over-confident. “I will render them useless so we… only deal with the rest.”

Removing the fierce corpses is a huge thing, but Jiang Cheng knows it won’t make everything extremely easy. Right now they are only dealing with normal cultivators and they are having a rough time, they are in Lanling for heaven’s sake... He can only compare this fight to the final one they had at Nightless City where Wen Ruohan finally died.

Despite the large disadvantage being in their home gives them, they fight. Lan Qiren shows once more his level of cultivation and how he can win against younger generations, Nie Mingjue and Baxia are an unstoppable and unpredictable force that keeps most out of his way, in the distance, Lan Wangji looks willing to cut Xue Yang into pieces if that’s what it takes to make him talk and at his side, Wei Wuxian does a good job at keeping himself safe despite the clear disadvantage not having his sword means.

Unconsciously, maybe, Jiang Cheng prioritises sending the cultivators getting too close to his brother to crash on the floor with his Zidian before paying attention to his own enemies.

Their good luck, however, can only last so much.

The sound of a flute comes from the distance and even when no one slows down their attacks, they know what is coming. Wei Wuxian becomes more alert and takes the smallest opening to distance himself from the cultivators and starts playing as well to attract his own backups. Jiang Cheng then focuses on taking down the ones who try to use their bows and arrows to hit his brother and he can see Nie Mingjue and Lan Qiren do the same from where they are fighting.

The first wave of corpses arrive not too long after and Jiang Cheng’s face twists in disgust at seeing those creatures with bluish skin and empty eyes. They come directly for them, capable of distinguishing the golden robes among all the other colours, the orders of killing them clear for these deceased creatures.

Following his plan, Wei Wuxian lets them pour in. His calculating eyes seem to look at every single one of them and the song he plays on his dizi is quiet, a calm melody that seems to do nothing to the corpses but that after a moment reveal it has been controlling the resentful energy. Wei Wuxian’s body is soon surrounded by resentful energy that reminds Jiang Cheng of that time where he almost lost his sister and believed he lost his brother forever. It is unnerving but tries to ignore it and focus back on his task.

When the number of corpses looks seconds from being too large, Wei Wuxian changes the music and the eerie tone seems to freeze the whole battlefield for a couple of seconds. When Jiang Cheng looks back at his brother, he finds his brother’s eyes tinted a light red that burns with the same intensity as the red from the tiger tally he has hanging from his waist. 

The corpses stop their attack, giving the cultivators the chance of pulling their injured comrades back and away from them. As comforting as that is, though, the obvious struggle of the undead is worrying, Jiang Cheng knows nothing about demonic cultivation and he can’t tell if this is part of the process or if there is something wrong, but there’s nothing he can do.

It is until the corpses shift their attention to the Jin cultivators that Jiang Cheng feels he can breathe.

“Whoever is controlling them, it is good,” Wei Wuxian says when the corpses start fighting the Jin cultivators. “It’s more similar to my control than the one Wen Ruohan uses.”

“What’s the difference?” Jiang Cheng asks after kicking away the ones who were charging at him.

“He’s using the Yin Iron, I’m not,” he replies before bringing his dizi back to his lips.

It becomes evident they need to find whoever is controlling them and find Jin Guangshan and the rest, but with the commotion of the battle, it was hard to move. Even with the aid of the first corpses, more keep coming and they are all exposed to be cut in half by one of them since they are coming with the clear intention of killing and the change from one master to another isn't immediate. 

The ones under Wei Wuxian’s orders, however, don’t kill. 

They disarm and incapacitate the cultivators so they don’t have to worry about them anymore but nothing beyond that and although annoying, they agreed to it. They came here to prove they are different, not to do the exact same thing Jin Guangshan did.

And despite the odds against them, things start to look good. Jiang Cheng has the feeling that if they keep going they will eventually subdue everyone and will have the freedom to chase that bunch of assholes that harmed them so much…

Of course it shatters in an instant.

Xue Yang manages to distance himself enough from Lan Wangji to pull out a short dizi he uses to let out an ear-piercing note that forces everyone, even the Jin cultivators and Wei Wuxian, to cover their ears to avoid having them bleeding. Again, Jiang Cheng has no idea what that will do, but he assumes nothing good can come from it.

And nothing good comes.

A smaller wave of corpses, four at much, come out from another part of Lanling, pace steady and more similar to a living person than the pace the fierce corpses use with their decaying bodies. They are ruthless, with each one separating to deal with a group in specific and starting their attack with a strength, quickness and ferocity they haven’t seen before. Jiang Chen feels the fear and anxiousness climbing up his chest as he readies Sandu and Zidian to fight against this new menace. He can do it, he fought a war, survived Wen Chao’s torture, he can do it.

When the figure stops in front of him, however, Jiang Cheng feels the strength leaving his body.

“Z-Zewu-jun?”

Chapter Text

There’s not a single spark of recognition in those empty and white eyes, there’s nothing in fact, and Jiang Cheng feels his legs going so weak it is hard to keep his body from collapsing to the floor.

He’s late.

As it is with every other single thing in his life, Jiang Cheng is late in saving the man who saved him so many times before and because of that Lan Xichen is like this, turned into this brainless monster who attacks who is told to attack, because of this he is—

He can’t even think about it and Lan Xichen doesn’t give him more time to do it either. 

With the same quick and aggressive movements these creations are showing, he heads for Jiang Cheng and Shuoyue collides painfully with Sandu, making Jiang Cheng’s arm tingle for the combination of the sword’s heaviness and Lan Xichen’s strength… even in this form.

Between attacks, he can see Wei Wuxian having a similar expression of disbelief and pain at seeing the man in such condition, that desperate look that was also on his brother’s face when Jiang Yanli was injured by one of his fierce corpses is there and it makes Jiang Cheng’s stomach turn. How will it be for Lan Xichen’s family? How will it be for Lan Wangji to see his brother turned into a fierce corpse? How will it be for Lan Qiren to see the nephew he raised is… dead?

Dead.

Jiang Cheng feels he can’t breathe when his mind finally reaches that dreaded point when he finally accepts that Lan Xichen, the man he fell in love with and loved him back, is dead and won’t be coming back to hear what he had to say. He’s gone and the last conversation they had was one where he ran away and the other left thinking he messed everything up. 

“Wei Wuxian, stop him!” he yells when he barely dodges Shouyue. “Stop him now!”

He doesn’t want to disrespect Lan Xichen’s body, he doesn’t feel capable of doing it,  and this combined with the pain and tears filling his eyes keep him from fighting with the ferocity the Sandu Shengshou is well known for. Forcing him to mostly dodge the attacks and keep the attention of the other on him so he doesn’t attack his disciples. 

In the corner of his eyes, he can see Wei Wuxian snapping out of his own painful thoughts and bringing the flute to his lips, his eyes briefly checking on the other three corpses that appeared with Lan Xichen before returning to him. Jiang Cheng can hear the music his brother plays and can see the red glint coming from the tally hanging off his waist, but unlike before, he can’t see anything that says something is changing. 

Lan Xichen almost cuts him in half with one strike and the screams of pain and despair coming from the others fighting the rest of the corpses still ring in his ears. For the millionth time, Jiang Cheng knows nothing about how all of this works, but can definitely tell something is wrong and it has to do with these new fierce corpses Xue Yang called.

“Wei Wuxian!” he calls him again and with more urgency, using almost all his strength to push Lan Xichen back.

His brother doesn’t reply, so when Jiang Cheng has a couple of seconds to look at him, he finds him frowning while still playing his dizi, the resentful energy pouring out of him in a way that reminds Jiang Cheng of a river that is close to overflowing. He seems to be using even more resentful energy for this and the lack of results is concerning. Did Xue Yang do something different with these fierce corpses? It sickens Jiang Cheng to think that deranged individual experimented with Lan Xichen and it terrifies him to think he probably hurt him a lot before finally ending his life so he could become a puppet who can’t act on his own.

The thought makes his blood boil and despite how crucial it is to pay attention to his own battle, Jiang Cheng takes a second to glare at Xue Yang’s figure in the distance. That idiot is still fighting a Lan Wangji whose movements are as fueled by despair and anger as Jiang Cheng’s are, and he wouldn’t be surprised if Xue Yang was smiling and feeling proud of what he did.

“Fuck!” Too caught up on his own thoughts and despair, Jiang Cheng didn’t dodge on time and Shuoyue caught him on his side, the large gash starting to bleed immediately. “Wei Wuxian do something!”

It probably isn’t fair to take it on his brother who is already doing so much, but the damn cut hurts and his mind is reeling from trying to cope with Lan Xichen’s death while fighting his corpse. Not even mentioning that he’s starting to think he will have to hurt him in order to stop him.

“I-I can’t!” Wei Wuxian finally screams, his knuckles white as he grips his dizi and looks at Lan Xichen and the other three corpses. “I can’t control him, it is as if I am not doing anything!”

“You said you could control any corpse!” he argues, glancing at his wound after he managed to send Lan Xichen to the floor.

“I know, I don’t understand it either!” Wei Wuxian hisses, his still tinted red eyes desperately looking around as he tries to figure out what to do. “I’ll hold them back.”

Wei Wuxian then orders the corpses he can control to attack and hold down these new creations and keep them from ending the life of even more poor cultivators who aren’t strong enough to fight against them or quick enough to escape. It isn’t easy, of course, many can’t even reach them and the number needed to restrain them is ridiculously high. 

With Lan Xichen it seems to be ten times worse. 

One hit of Shuoyue is enough to break swords and send rotten guts to spill all over the floor, each movement the man makes seems to leave them with less fierce corpses to fight back against the Jin cultivators who are taking advantage of the situation to gain the upper hand and have control of the situation that was starting to look bad for them.

Jiang Cheng knows that won’t do it.

Focusing for a couple of seconds to stop the bleeding and at least assure he won’t die of blood loss, he sheaths Sandu and whips Zidian out, the violet sparks catching Lan Xichen’s attention. “Leave him to me.”

“Jiang Cheng you’re hurt,” Wei Wuxian debates. “I can’t control anything about him, he’s too strong, too fast, how can I leave you alone?!”

“The fight isn’t over! We need to keep the numbers in our favour,” he says, keeping his eyes on Lan Xichen as he makes his way to attack him. “Help everyone else, we need to catch those assholes!

Wei Wuxian doesn’t want to and it is understandable, just like Jiang Cheng is worried about his well-being and the toll all that resentment is taking on him, his brother worries about his wound and what can Lan Xichen do in that state of inhumanity… but Jiang Cheng needs to do it. 

Lan Xichen was distracted the day he was attacked because of him and he… died because of him, the least he can do is deal with him so they stop using his body like this.

Shuoyue once more comes for him and Jiang Cheng uses Zidian this time to stop it, using the flexibility of his weapon to his advantage by twisting it and pulling in hopes it makes the death-grip the man has on his sword falter and he can knock it out of his reach, but it is Lan Xichen and even while being controlled, he knows how to avoid it and Jiang Cheng has to hurry before his elbow breaks his ribs. 

Why are things this bad? They had the reassurance that Wei Wuxian could control every single fierce corpse because of his tally, why were these different? Why does Lan Xichen have to be one of them? It feels like the world is keen on punishing him for his stupid mistakes, that his suffering and fear wasn’t enough to pay for the death of this man because of him. He wants to cry, to scream and go back in time so it is him the one the stupid Jin capture, to be him the one with white and empty eyes and—

The world seems to freeze as Jiang Cheng’s mind starts to notice small details he, for an unknown reason, didn’t notice before. The rush of emotions expand all over his body and his heart seems to beat loudly in his ears, something screaming at him to pay attention, to follow what he is thinking because it makes sense while another part tells him he’s an idiot who knows nothing about demonic cultivation. Under normal circumstances, he would follow the second voice, but right now he doesn’t want to.

“I-I think he’s alive,” he whispers as he manages to catch Lan Xichen’s leg with Zidian and pull so he loses his balance. “I think he’s alive!”

Wei Wuxian once more stops playing and Jiang Cheng can tell he’s looking at him with a mix of interest and pity because the poor thing he’s trying to deny it , but he ignores it. Keeping his hold on Zidian he ends up jumping on Lan Xichen’s back to wrap another part of the whip on his arm holding his sword, using his only free hand to catch the man’s wrist so he can’t use it to tug him off.

“Jiang Cheng I— what are you saying?” Wei Wuxian still asks, jumping down from where he had been standing to get closer. “He has no consciousness, he is being controlled by Xue Yang with something I don’t know.”

“Look at his skin, it’s not blue like those other corpses!” he yells, almost digging his nails on the man’s skin so he can’t throw him away. “Why else wouldn’t you be able to control him?!”

He knows Wei Wuxian doesn’t have another answer or even an option to explain why he can’t control a corpse when that never happened, just like he knows this sudden idea can be a product of his despair, pain and denial instead of a real clue. Newly deceased people don’t have the bluish tone the older ones have and their muscles aren’t as stiff either, Lan Xichen’s extremely pale skin and fast movements can be a result of the man being murdered mere days before the attack, that it is just a matter of time before his joints and muscles start to stiffen so he ends up moving like the rest of fierce corpses around them.

But he wants to hope and that really is the last thing he has.

Wei Wuxian’s eyes are filled with a wide variety of emotions that Jiang Cheng can’t stand looking at for more than three seconds, so he ends up looking back down where he is doing his utmost to hold a Lan Xichen who groans and seems to make inhumane sounds while violently trying to free himself and probably tear Jiang Cheng’s head with his own bare hands. He knows he needs to find another solution because he will eventually let go, but he can’t find anything that can stop this that isn’t killing Xue Yang. Wei Wuxian eventually seems to get the same idea because he hears the dizi playing a different melody and to his surprise, Lan Xichen goes rigid in his hold.

“W-What did you do?” he asks, hesitant in relaxing his grip even when he’s not moving. 

At the lack of response for what feels like the millionth time, Jiang Cheng looks up at his brother to find him looking at him with wide eyes, his dizi still in his hands. “He’s responding to that.”

“No shit, what does it mean?” he demands, taking this moment to finally kick Shouyue out of the man’s hands and wrap Zidian around to pin his arms to his side.

“It’s the same song I used to save Lan Zhan,” he says, it is Jiang Cheng’s turn to freeze. “I think they used the Yin iron on him but… unlike Lan Zhan, that poison has taken entirely over him.”

Jiang Cheng knows it is ridiculous, but for him, that’s not a yes, he is indeed dead, it is a small and minuscule spark of light he’s seeing in the distance. They were capable of saving Lan Wangji, they can do the same, right? Keeping his eyes on the man he slowly climbs down from his back and holds his hand, pressing his fingers against the wrist and closing his eyes for several seconds.

Inside, Lan Xichen is a mess.

His spiritual energy runs in unnatural directions, his meridians are a tangled mess in a way he didn’t know was even possible for cultivators in general. Now it is worse because he’s talking about Lan Xichen for heaven’s sake, this man is the embodiment of self-regulation, so what the fuck did they do to him so he ended like this? No, he shouldn’t think about it, at least not now.

He’s alive, barely, but alive.

“We need to do something,” he whispers, opening his eyes to look at the man that still is completely rigid. “He’s going to have a qi deviation, he can’t continue like this.”

“I need Lan Zhan and maybe even Grandmaster Lan to do it,” Wei Wuxian says with a frown, glancing at where the others are. “And this is not the place.”

Of course it isn’t. The only freaking thing keeping them from being attacked and murdered are the corpses fending off their attackers. It is impossible to gather everyone and work on saving him while the rest of the world burns around them.

“Then we better hurry,” he hisses. “I’ll stay here with him, you go and help.”

The hesitation is still there, but Wei Wuxian doesn’t dwell too much on it and ends up nodding and rushing to support the cultivators left standing with the corpses he has. With him gone, Jiang Cheng looks around the place to make sure he’s not in imminent danger before returning eyes to Lan Xichen who is still in the same position but with a noticeable tremor running down his entire body. The man being in pain isn’t a far-fetched theory, but what scares Jiang Cheng more is thinking the Lan leader is conscious of everything that is happening around him. He can’t even imagine how it would be to be trapped inside his own body witnessing everything without having the chance of stopping it. 

“Don’t you dare to blame yourself for this,” he says as he rests a hand on his bleeding side. “Don’t think, just… just keep fighting, I will save you.”

Lan Xichen doesn’t reply, but he wasn’t really expecting an answer because that is not even the point of all of this. Jiang Cheng can hold everything inside him for a certain period of time, but once it explodes out of him it leaves everything around him a mess and this time it isn’t different. His inexperienced mind is trying to follow everything that is happening in such a short period of time without needing to have a full emotional breakdown and he feels he’s barely holding on.

First, he thought the man he loves is dead, then he sees him turned into what appears to be a fierce corpse who manages to injure him, then oh , he’s not dead but if they don’t hurry and capture those assholes then he will really die and honestly...

He isn’t strong enough to watch him die of a qi deviation.

“Jiang Cheng—”

Wei Wuxian screams at him but what registers first is the sudden pull that almost sends him to the ground, making his already aching body hurt even more. The world around him is confusing and he doesn’t know what is going on, for a moment even thinking he just got impaled without even noticing it, but once his mind once more works again, he looks up to see that, of course, Lan Xichen is moving once more.

The previously rigid body is now struggling to free itself from Zidian’s hold and Jiang Cheng barely has time to pull him back before he reaches his sword. Normally, the first jade of Lan is strong, but the strength he is showing is completely inhumane and it is coupled with those same sounds that are almost animalistic in nature that makes Jiang Cheng’s stomach turn.

“Fight it!” he demands. “You’re stronger than this!”

It is ridiculous and it makes him sound like a child with childish ways of seeing the world. He knows demonic cultivation doesn’t work like that, he knows he is being controlled, but he wants to try, he wants to find a way of stopping this nightmare without success. Lan Xichen keeps trying to reach his sword or kick him when he gets close to him, set on doing what was ordered to do without showing anything that says he is listening to him. For moments he reminds him of a rabid dog trying to escape by breaking what is holding him back and Jiang Cheng has no doubt that he would have already succeeded if Zidian was a normal piece of rope or even deity binding ones. 

The world hasn’t had enough, of course.

With an explosive strength, Lan Xichen manages to manoeuvre his body enough to kick him on the same side he got the cut, sending him crashing to the ground with a pained cry as Zidian retracts on its own. Lan Xichen’s large hands close around his neck almost immediately after, his thumbs press against his windpipe with enough force to cut the airflow entirely and his mind goes almost blank as he tries to dig his nails on those arms so he lets go even when that is not how he is supposed to act.

Cultivators deal with a lot of things on a daily basis and all of them go through different types of training that helps them to see the light even in the worst situations. Jiang Cheng is no different, but right now he can’t do anything because it isn’t Lan Xichen the one strangling him, it is Wen Zhuliu holding him so he can melt his core and leave him feeling empty and lost.

He has no idea why those memories are overlapping with the present, he just feels the desperation taking over him as his brain little by little runs out of oxygen. The rest of the world has vanished, his ears can’t hear anything that isn’t his own heart trying to beat out of his chest, his eyes can’t see anything that isn’t the blurred image of Lan Xichen’s empty eyes overlapping with Wen Zhuliu and he’s just scared, desperate and he’s going to die like this.

It is as ironic as it is poetic, he thinks, not many can say they die at the hands of the one they love because they deserve it, but the truth is that he doesn’t want to die. He wanted to rescue Lan Xichen and have the chance to talk about that day and how he wasn’t disgusted, how he was just shocked because he sees himself as completely unlovable and couldn’t believe someone as perfect as him had fallen in love with him. He wanted this nightmare to end and have the chance of doing the right thing after failing so many people so many times… he wanted to experience love.

But he won’t, he will die here and Lan Xichen will probably regret it once he is saved. He can only hope he can understand this wasn’t his fault and he hopes his family will support him with everything that comes later.

Just when the corner of his eyes is getting dark and can feel his hands losing strength, the body on top of him is tossed to the side and the sudden rush of air makes him cough painfully and turn onto his side to curl up into a ball. Taking his time to compose himself enough before looking up to see who saved him and wait...

Is that… Wen Ning?

Chapter Text

Jiang Cheng, despite everything, remembers Wen Ning.

He wasn’t conscious when the man took him out of that dungeon the Wen threw him in after destroying his core nor was aware of his surroundings during the vast majority of the trip to Yiling, but he was well aware of who had saved him from being murdered or tortured into madness.

The living man of his memories was shy and awkward, the type of person who preferred to be stomped all over if that helped him to avoid further confrontations. He remembers his personality was the complete opposite to his sister who had this stern and no-nonsense expression that kept people from messing with her. When he was brought back as a sentient fierce corpse, he still had that shy and awkward demeanour, but his appearance was more intimidating and the things that were said about him and his strength when it came to fighting made everyone think twice before making fun of him.

Before his world was turned upside down, Jiang Cheng could say that he wasn’t that fond of them.  They were Wen and Wen were only related to death and destruction and while it was true they were also the ones who saved him and kept him from being tortured into madness, he wasn’t going to risk it all for them.

Now things are different, now he understands how stupid many of the decisions he made in the past were and how it just makes it worse for everyone. Now he regrets turning his back on them and his brother and how stupid it was to believe in who were the clear liars, but that’s another story, one that will stay with him for the rest of his life.

“Jiang Cheng, are you alright?” Wei Wuxian’s voice is loud and filled with worry when he reaches him and hurries to help him stand up. “I knew I shouldn’t have left you alone!”

“I’m alive aren’t I?” he hisses, yanking his arm free from his hold when he manages to stand without immediately collapsing to the floor. “What is he doing here?”

“I… have no idea,” Wei Wuxian replies, still looking at him as if he’s going to pass out at any minute. “He was supposed to be dead.”

“The kid was supposed to be the only one alive,” he says, ignoring that pang of guilt that flares up his chest at remembering that. “Even that was a fucking lie?”

He can be sure of the demise of the old men and women hanged outside of Nightless City, but the two siblings were supposed to be dead by then, their ashes were thrown around and suddenly, it turns out one is alive. If he thinks about it, it’s more than possible those sadistic bastards have her trapped somewhere.

“I really don’t know what to think…” Wei Wuxian whispers and when Jiang Cheng manages to look at him, he can see that conflicted expression clouding every other emotion. “At least he responds to my commands like any other corpse. When I saw Zewu-jun attacking you I just wanted the strongest corpse to come to stop him, never imagined it would be him.”

It is, of course, comforting to hear he can control him unlike the ones like Lan Xichen, but that doesn’t really make the situation better. The man looks different, the consciousness and clarity he remembers seeing on him when they met that last time on Yiling is absent from his empty eyes and if it wasn’t for his strength and known face, he could pass by as just another fierce corpse created by the Jin.

“They surely experimented on him, why else would they keep him alive?” he says after a moment. “Are you sure you can control him entirely?”

“Yes, I know he’s not behaving like before and I’m sure he can’t even recognise me, but I can control him and I don’t feel any kind of resistance,” his brother says, for a couple of seconds looking as if he’s trying to reassure himself instead of being entirely convinced. “Maybe they couldn’t fully control him and that’s why they had him captive.”

It makes sense judging by the broken chains hanging from the man’s wrists and ankles, but Jiang Cheng is still lost in all of this. His brain is still reeling from the prolonged air deprivation and the conflicted state having Lan Xichen’s image overlapping with Wen Zhuliu’s have left him with, his neck hurts with the smallest of movements and his mouth feels so dry even speaking hurts. Every single muscle seems to be hurting and he just wants to curl up in a corner and stay there until everything has passed, but that’s just so goddamn ridiculous it makes him want to slam his head against the floor so he stops thinking.

“Then use him to hold Zewu-jun back,” he finally says. “But make sure he doesn’t fucking kill him.”

The two of them are already fighting with a ferocity Jiang Cheng has to admit is fear-inducing. Lan Xichen’s attention has shifted entirely to Wen Ning and his murderous instincts seem to have increased at sensing his adversary is on the same level. He soon manages to get hold of his Shuoyue again and wastes no time in attacking his opponent who uses his chains to both protect himself and attack. Wen Ning is the strongest fierce corpse the cultivation world has seen and it is possible Lan Xichen is on a similar level, but there’s a huge difference that changes everything

Lan Xichen is still alive.

Wei Wuxian understands it, of course, and when Wen Ning slams Lan Xichen’s body against the floor with almost all the strength he has, he hurries to the place playing a melody full of urgency. From where he is standing, Jiang Cheng can see the fierce corpse raising his head to look with those empty eyes at his brother as if the music are actual words he can understand while his hands stay holding a Lan Xichen who fights in that animalistic way. The man below twists his body in every direction to have enough leverage to spill the guts of the one on top and he appears to become even more aggressive at being incapable of doing it.

Eventually and after what feels like an eternity, Wen Ning finishes receiving his orders and his tactics change entirely. Gripping Lan Xichen’s wrists he slams both against the floor and squeezes the hand holding the sword until there’s a distinctive crack that almost makes Jiang Cheng run to whip Wen Ning with Zidian. 

“Wei Wuxian!” he yells. “I just said— He’s going to kill him!”

“He won’t kill him,” he says, though, he also looks pale at the fact that he just broke his wrist. “I promise he won’t, but we need to hurry.”

With Wen Ning sitting on the man’s waist to hold and keep him from escaping, Jiang Cheng forces his brain to re-focus on the main problem so he can return to Lan Xichen’s side and they can tend to him before it is too goddamn late. When he is more or less successful, he throws the bruised but still struggling man one last look before rushing behind Wei Wuxian who is making his way towards the spot where Lan Wangji is still fighting Xue Yang.

Even from the distance, he can tell Xue Yang is barely holding himself up after fighting against Lan Wangji for so long. He looks drained, exhausted to the point he looks close to toppling over because his body has no energy left, but at the same time, the man is the same Xue Yang who doesn’t give up and keeps fighting because even that discomfort seems to fuel his sadistic nature. Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji observed him jumping around to avoid Lan Wangji for some time before Jiang Cheng decides he had enough and reaches to catch the man’s ankle with Zidian and pulls him to crash against the floor.

Xue Yang glares at them with that psychopathic glint that makes him look ready to risk it all to attack them with bare hands, but Lan Wangji pressing his Bichen against his neck keeps him subdued as Wei Wuxian yanks his sword and short flute away from his reach. He honestly doesn’t know anything about his cultivation level, but the fact that he looks so exhausted and hurt while Lan Wangji looks as if nothing has happened is enough to fill him with the comforting thought that they have him under control.

“What did you do to my brother?” Lan Wangji demands, his tone is unnaturally venomous and hostile. “What experiments were they talking about?”

Xue Yang has the nerve of chuckling and rolling his eyes in that outrageous way that makes it seem as if he has the upper hand despite his position and the anger clouding his eyes mere seconds ago. “His core is so strong, it was fascinating to have such an interesting subject.”

Lan Wangji looks ready to cut his head off.

“He still lives,” Wei Wuxian interrupts before he can do it and Jiang Cheng can hear the quiet gasp the man makes at his side. “So what exactly did you do to him?”

“As expected from the Yiling Patriarch,” he sneers. “I knew you would notice that small difference.”

“Answer his question,” Lan Wangji demands again, pushing his sword just a millimetre closer.

“Why don’t you ask him?” he asks instead, ignoring the small cut the sword makes. “He innovated Demonic Cultivation, he’s an expert when it comes to all of this.”

“I’m not like you,” Wei Wuxian says immediately, even looking disgusted to even have him implying they are similar. “I have never manipulated someone who is still alive as if they are just a corpse.”

“Right, the burden of living in this society,” he snorts. “Think about it without that bothering you, Wei Wuxian, you have already solved it.”

It doesn’t make sense for Jiang Cheng and when he turns to look at his brother, he’s in a similar condition. Despite knowing more about Demonic Cultivation, he seems lost in what this psychopath means or even when he did such a thing. Jiang Cheng is getting ready to whip this criminal until he speaks when Lan Wangji makes yet another quiet noise.

“Wei Ying, me.”

Jiang Cheng doesn’t understand what that is supposed to mean, those two are always throwing each other heart eyes, always communicating in a language the rest of the world is incapable of understanding, so how is he supposed to understand what that means? Wei Wuxian, fortunately, seems to understand and things click inside his head with an amazing speed.

“You said it wasn't poison, you said…” Wei Wuxian starts, his hand tightening the hold he has on his flute. “It really is the same thing you did to Lan Zhan.”

That explains why Lan Xichen reacted to the melody used to free Lan Wangji’s body from the Yin Iron and it explains why he still lives, but the implications are horrifying. One thing is using the resentment stored in deceased people to attack and another one is taking away the humanity of a living person.

“You fucking freak,” he hisses, sending a current through Zidian that is still holding the man ankle. “Explain exactly what you did!”

“What’s the point?” he says through gritted teeth at the pain flaring up his leg. “Nothing can be done, the First Jade is gone.”

This time, both Lan Wangji and Jiang Cheng want to kill him so Wei Wuxian hurries to intervene before it happens. “We saved Lan Zhan, we will save Zewu-jun as well and you will pay for what you did.”

“You only did it because it wasn’t too late for him,” he snorts, throwing a disdainful look at Lan Wangji. “Young Lan Huan however, well, why do you think I could control him?”

Wei Wuxian is quick to restrain the man with one of his talismans and several corpses step forward to keep him from escaping. Xue Yang looks displeased and is probably making a plan on how to escape, but that doesn’t matter, not anymore.

Jiang Cheng’s heart is back to beating in his ears, the world seems to be spinning and his brain refuses to make sense of the words he just heard. Xue Yang is crazy, he is a sadistic monster who likes inflicting emotional and physical pain to the ones he hates and what he says… What he says is just another example of his tactics, it isn’t real.

“He’s lying,” Wei Wuxian’s voice makes him look up. “Don’t believe what he’s saying, we know how to deal with that, we will do it again.”

The leader notices at that moment that he’s not only directing his words to him but to Lan Wangji as well. The Second Jade is still standing in the same place where he was while threatening Xue Yang and his heavy sword is still in his hand, but he looks lost and upon paying more attention, he can see there’s a small tremor running down the man’s body. It immediately reminds him of that time where he heard him sounding so vulnerable because of his brother’s disappearance, that pained tone no one would expect to see or hear on a man like him.

It brings back that fierce spark of guilt that leaves him feeling angry at himself for causing all of this. That small ray of light-filled with hope that he clung to when he discovered Lan Xichen was still alive was extinguishing under the heavy boot of reality and he didn’t know what to do to keep it burning. As if that wasn’t enough, seeing Lan Wangji in such a condition is making everything much worse, it makes it more real.

 If someone who is so good at controlling his emotions is being this affected, then what can he expect? 

“What the hell is going on?”

As if things weren’t troubling enough, Nie Mingjue and Lan Qiren choose that moment to appear again. They look physically fine, as expected for cultivators of their level, with few injuries and blood splattered across their robes that only proves the large number of enemies they have taken down. Mentally, well, that’s a whole different story. Nie Mingjue looks angry, confused and filled with so much anger he wouldn’t be surprised if Baxia’s spirit is driving his actions and making his decisions. Lan Qiren can’t keep his eyes from moving to where Wen Ning is still holding his nephew and the corpses guarding Xue Yang. 

“We need to find Jin Guangshan and the others,” Wei Wuxian says after seeing no one else is talking. “I’ll use the corpses to keep the Jin’s busy, we really need to hurry.”

“What are those corpses? Why do they behave differently?” Nie Mingjue demands, of course, wanting some answers. “What did that criminal say?”

Wei Wuxian sighs, it’s obvious he doesn’t want to continue this conversation that will take more time, but he also understands they need to know and need some kind of answers.

“Brother still lives,” Lan Wangji, however, is who speaks, turning to look at his uncle. “But he’s being controlled, the same that was done to me was done to him… but it has taken over his body already.”

Nie Mingjue pales while Lan Qiren seems close to suffering a qi deviation. “What does that mean?”

“His spiritual energy moves without a clear path, his meridians are a tangled mess,” Jiang Cheng says, preferring to keep his eyes closed. “He reacted to the music used to free Lan Wangji’s core from the Yin Iron and judging by what Xue Yang said, his state is the final stage.”

He can’t imagine what Lan Qiren is feeling and thinking at understanding his nephew is maybe gone, the whole thing has been rough for the man and this is probably the outcome he least wanted. 

“But we can save him, I’m sure we can,” Wei Wuxian says when the silence stretches for a bit too long. “I understand what’s going on, so with the right melody we will bring him back to who he was.”

Jiang Cheng opens his eyes in time to see Lan Qiren’s conflicting emotions filling his eyes and Nie Mingjue’s expression of disbelief and it just adds to his misery. If they don’t believe it is possible, if they don’t see the light in all of this, then Jiang Cheng is sure he can’t do it either.

“Let’s get Guangshan and those bastards, then,” Nie Mingjue finally says, snapping everyone out of the state they submerged themselves into. “We can’t waste more time.”

Him moving is what makes Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji move as well and despite the situation, Jiang Cheng forces himself to use the despair and anger as an incentive to continue and finally put an end to this nightmare. 

The Jin cultivators seem to eventually get what they are planning to do and soon do their best to get in their way, though their efforts end up being more annoying than a real threat. Their numbers have, once more, gone down considerably thanks to the aid of the corpses Wei Wuxian controls and the overall better preparation the ones from Yunmeng, Qinghe and Gusu possess because they knew the purpose of their visit.

Jiang Cheng notices the creations who appeared with Lan Xichen are still fighting, but their condition isn't’ as good. The injuries littering their bodies are already slowing them down and the leader ends up shaking his head at thinking how their chances of surviving are even lower than Lan Xichen’s ones. Unfortunate souls.

Leaving that behind, they come with another problem: Carp Tower is huge

The ostentatious rooms, pavilions and corridors were built to give that wealthy and powerful appearance, the whole city was built in that extravagant way because they wanted to caress their own egos and Jiang Cheng always found it ridiculous… but he never really imagined it would be this disorienting. 

They move around checking the different rooms hoping they will find their enemies planning their next move or to find the hidden corridors that lead to the place where they kept this ridiculous amount of corpses for so long and without anyone knowing; to the very least they want to find where Wen Ning and Lan Xichen were held captive after being captured but there’s nothing. They fight against the Jin guards who either manage to catch up with them or stayed behind to guard their treasures and important objects, they cover all the rooms, but nothing happens and when they find books used to teach the other disciples the basics of Demonic Cultivation, Wei Wuxian has enough.

Under the wary look of Lan Qiren, he stands in the middle of that classroom and starts to play an unknown melody that seems to do nothing for several seconds. Jiang Cheng can at least find comfort in the fact that he’s not the only one who looks more stressed with this so-called solution when Nie Mingjue’s hold on Baxia gets tighter and Lan Wangji shifts a bit in his place. Wei Wuxian ignores all of this, obviously, and his eyes stay closed until a single strand of resentment seems to emerge from his body to move freely around the room. Lan Qiren moves away when it passes next to him as if it was burned and seems to get ready to demand an explanation from Wei Wuxian when another kind of dark energy seems to materialise in the room.

Jiang Cheng always believed dark energies were, well, dark energies with nothing that makes them different, but this proves him, once more, wrong.

“Let’s follow it,” Wei Wuxian says as he lowers the flute from his lips. “It will lead us to their place.”

Even with this lead, though, finding them isn’t as easy as they would have liked. The room is a tangled mess of resentful energy that leads to nothing and finding that single strand used by the Jin for a purpose that isn’t teaching is a whole problem on its own. When Lan Wangj finally finds it, Jiang Cheng is ready to throw his arms into the air.

The appendage of dark energies leads them to a hidden passage in one of the most secluded yards of Carp Tower and it becomes evident they wouldn’t have found it if it wasn’t for this thing. The large wall gives the appearance of being solid and nothing around it gives away it actually leads to something. Lan Qiren is about to take a step forward to find a way to move it away when an uncontrolled blast of energy that destroys a large part of it comes from Nie Mingjue, revealing the dark corridor that leads down illuminated by some candles and lanterns.

The more they walk, the more that place reveals itself as a kind of maze with many corridors that lead to nothing and others that lead to rooms that are apparently empty. For Jiang Cheng it is as if they have built a new city underneath their main one and the stress of not knowing what to expect every time they turn around a corner grows until Zidian doesn’t stop sparkling in his finger and the wound on his side stings viciously. At one point they pass by large cages with thick iron bars that are brimming with resentful energy and it doesn’t take them long to understand that is where those corpses were being contained, finding the adjacent rooms filled with things with different experiments only confirms it. 

“How could they hide all of this?” Nie Mingjue mutters as they head down yet another corridor.

Jiang Cheng wishes he had an answer, wishes he didn’t have to torture himself with this and many more questions, but it is all useless and so, he prefers to feign he didn’t hear the other leader despite having him at his side.

The large room they reach at the end of the corridor has more light than any other room they have found and the resentment seems to press down against them so hard it almost feels like something physical. Despite how clueless he is about this, Jiang Cheng can tell there is something going on there.

And something is really happening, but it is different from what any of them was expecting.

Upon entering, a trail of blood catches their attention immediately and despite knowing it could mean a lot of different things, Jiang Cheng feels confusion set inside his head because he’s sure as hell that none of those idiots were in the fight so why would anyone be hurt? If this was a plan made by all of them, then what happened?

His brain comes to an abrupt halt when the trail of blood ends with Jin Guangshan leaning heavily on the wall while holding a large and ugly cut on his leg.

Chapter Text

Despite the condition he’s in, Jin Guangshan still glares at them and throws the most venomous look he’s capable of throwing. Jiang Cheng wouldn’t be surprised if he preferred to have his leg cut off before getting their help.

“Guangshan, what is the meaning of this?” Lan Qiren asks, clearly being the better person. 

“Let’s not pretend you care,” he bites out. “Nothing good can come out for trusting someone who will never be more than the son of a prostitute.”

It is until that moment that they notice Jin Guangshan is not alone in that room and there are two more people standing near one of the corners with only a candle illuminating their silhouettes. Taking into consideration the leader’s words it is safe to assume one of them is Jin Guangyao but the other is a mystery so the six of them are quick to get ready to attack.

“He is just like you, your true son,” Nie Mingjue hisses, of course, he doesn’t need more reasons to hate who is his youngest sworn brother. “After everything you have done, you really have the nerve of complaining?”

The Jin leader ignores him as he presses more against the wound on his leg. It is obvious something else has been done to him because Jin Guangshan is a lot of things, but a weak cultivator isn’t part of it so to have an apparently simple cut taking such a huge toll on him is uncommon.

“Jin Guangyao, what are you planning to do?” Wei Wuxian asks, deciding to ignore the leader. “Was this part of your plan as well? I have the feeling you and your father have always had different plans.”

“I wouldn’t say that is entirely true,” Jin Guangyao’s voice is quiet, with the same controlled and calm demeanour that has always been so characteristic of him. “I know there is no use explaining it now, but for the largest part, we walked down the same path.”

“Liar,” Jin Guangshan hisses. “You used me.”

“Bold of you to say that.”

“What do you want, then?” Wei Wuxian cuts again and before they continue. “Even if you manage to win, even if you kill us, no one will trust you or your people again, no one will follow you.”

Jiang Cheng knows he’s right. If they die their sects will be thrown into complete disarray, but they can be sure that they won’t be letting the culprits walk away. The only way the Lanling Jin Sect has to take back its former glory is by fighting and eliminating every single person who doesn’t trust them and while possible, it would be madness.

“I see no point in explaining it,” he replies, moving away from the candle to stand where he can be seen a bit more clearly. “I’m quite certain it won’t change a single thing.”

“Xichen trusted you!” 

The animosity between Nie Mingjue and Jin Guangyao was very well-known and Jiang Cheng even got to witness it. He was there on one occasion where Lan Xichen had to intervene before Nie Mingjue broke the other’s neck and heard from the Gusu Lan leader himself when he said he feared their relationship was broken beyond repair, but even with that, the level of anger Nie Mingjue uses for that short sentence manages to surprise him.

There’s a flash of something unknown appearing in Jin Guangayao’s eyes, but it vanishes as he looks back at his father. “It was quite obvious the Yiling Patriarch was more than capable of controlling the imitation of fierce corpses done with alternative methods, once he understood this he decided to leave the disposable ones behind was the smartest move.”

It becomes obvious Jin Guangyao was considered a disposable one.

“Some were fine with it,” he continues. “Given the differences between them and me, however, I was not.”

Jin Guangyao’s figure has always been wrapped in several layers that are mostly built from assumptions and rumours that spread over the years with no reliable source that says if it has been distorted to fit better. The only thing most can be certain of is the fact that he’s an illegitimate son product of an affair between Jin Guangshan and a prostitute, that he managed to infiltrate the Wen Sect and ultimately killed Wen Ruohan with his own sword. From there, getting the truth was trickier.

“Ridiculous,” Jin Guangshan hisses again.

“What were you planning?” Lan Qiren asks again, having better control of himself. “At what moment you decided to deceive everyone?”

A small spark of something appears in Jin Guangyao’s eyes, one that seems to say he’s pleased with the question and even more pleased with the idea of having his father responding. The still obscured figure at his side shifts and Jiang Cheng has the feeling that the person is also pleased with how things are going.

“What’s the point of explaining it?” Jin Guangshan bites out. “Your so-called righteousness and old-fashioned way of seeing things made you ignore and condemn the use of demonic cultivation even before we could discover its full potential.”

 “You just want power, you don’t care about anything else,” Nie Mingjue accuses him. “That’s why you didn’t want to fight Wen Ruohan, you’re just like him.”

For others, being compared to that man would probably be the worst, but for Jin Guangshan, it surely is the best praise one could give to him.

“If your definition of bad is a prosperous and strong clan, then it is your problem.”

“You are ridiculous,” Jiang Cheng mutters. “Were you going to slaughter the clans who opposed you, then? Not that you’re not doing that already.”

“Submissive tendencies are often the reason for the clan’s failure..”

If it wasn’t for Lan Qiren, Jiang Cheng would have beheaded the man with Zidian.

“Enough,” the older man says. “This ends now. Jin Guangyao, Jin Guangshan and whoever else is in here, give up, you can’t do anything now.”

Jin Guangshan looks close to suffering a qi deviation. To be treated as nothing more than a criminal is the equivalent of being tossed to the ground and spat at. It is humiliating and he’s sure every fibre of his body is ready to lash out at them, probably risk it all to save a bit of his ego, but in the last moment, he seems to think about it better.

He’s hurt, he’s still bleeding and despite his cultivation level he seems to be struggling against whatever was done to him, he’s completely outnumbered and the ones surrounding him are not disciples or ordinary members of a sect, they are powerful cultivators that would cause him problems even under normal circumstances. Even if he can’t see how the battle is going outside, he can easily tell them being there means they don’t have the advantage.

“It is ridiculous you feel with the right of judging others,” he says slowly and with the same venom, he has been using. “But it is impossible to argue against closed-minded individuals. If you promise to at least be fair, I can provide some information.”

“You’re in no place to negotiate!”

Jiang Cheng barely contains the urge of sighing in exasperation. Seeing how shameless this man makes him sick and he’s not really eager to stop Nie Mingjue if he decides to go from yelling at the other to breaking his neck, so he just takes that small period of time of them yelling to focus a bit on the stinging cut on his side and still aching neck to avoid having them distracting him.

“I don’t care, if you want to take the judging part, then follow the rules,” Jin Guangshan says again, but before  Nie Mingjue can explode against him again, something happens.

Jin Guangyao’s sword comes from the darkness and Lan Wangji barely manages to shove Jin Guangshan away before the blade pierces his throat. The whole room is pure chaos as everyone struggles to hold Jin Guangyao who keeps wanting to kill his father and then catch the other figure who ends up being Su She before he does the same himself and it is not that they worry about Jin Guangshan, it just doesn’t seem right to let him die without paying for what he did.

“Even with everything he has done, you’re willing to listen to him,” Jin Guanyao hisses venomously from where he is being held by Lan Wangji. “Your righteousness is laughable.”

“Who are you to judge?” Jiang Cheng snaps, the emotions running widely. “Lan Xichen supported you, trusted you when no one else did and you paid him by letting these assholes experiment on him?”

That same weird emotion flashes in Jin Guangyao’s eyes, but like before, it vanishes almost immediately. “I know you think your change of heart puts you in a better position, Sect Leader Jiang, but you’re the least suitable one to judge such things.”

It stings, hurts even, but not because of that old but well-known feeling of self-hatred that only lets him see he’s perceived as less than others, but because something in the back of his mind tells him he’s right. “Shut up.”

“You accuse me of abandoning Sect Leader Lan, but what about you?” he continues. “I heard the relationship with Wei Wuxian was one of siblings, but you didn’t even hesitate in leaving him on his own.”

“You know nothing about what happened,” Wei Wuxian intervenes. “You can't say anything about me or Jiang Cheng.”

“It is never easy to accept the truth,” Jin Guangyao says. “But one carries the consequences of their actions all the time. A change of heart is irrelevant in the end.”

“For someone like you, of course, it is irrelevant,” Nie Mingjue snaps with that same anger. “You’re just like him.”

A fierce spark of anger takes over Jin Guangyao’s eyes and for a moment he seems to be ready to push Lan Wangji away to reach who was his oldest sworn brother, but after a moment, his self-control comes back in that unsettling way as he smiles. “Sect Leader Nie, things will forever be black and white for you.”

Nie Mingjue is fuming, the hold he has on Jin Guangshan tightening as he seems to consider if he should let his erratic and uncontrollable anger act on its own or if he should just ignore him. Years of anger and hatred has taken an even bigger toll on a body weakened by the fierce spirit of a sabre, so despite feeling miserable, Jiang Cheng shakes his head lightly after making eye contact with the older man.

The least he wants is to have more people dying.

“What do you know?” Nie Mingjue replies after a moment. “I will never forgive you for what you did to Xichen.”

Jin Guangyao looks surprised by the fact that Nie Mingjue didn’t mention any of the things done to him and shortly after, that same emotion from before clouds his eyes. Jiang Cheng dares to guess it is guilt, dares to think that maybe the man is at least a bit remorseful of what happened.

“Conceited and unreasonable cultivators like all of you will never understand,” Su She says from where he is against the wall with Lan Qiren holding him. “You always feel untouchable!”

“Minshan,” Jin Guangyao cuts, his eyes moving to him. “Stop.”

Su She’s reaction is immediate. As if he is nothing more than a recently joined disciple listening to his teacher, he nods before looking away from the other, though, his glare stays whenever he looks at anyone else. Jiang Cheng can’t help but wonder why.

“It was never in my plans to hurt er-ge. I have hurt a lot of people, but I never wanted to hurt him,” Jin Guangyao eventually continues. “I did many things in hope of getting recognition, but it was foolish. If you want to fall for his words, I will take pleasure in seeing you pay for the consequences of it.”

With that, he leaves clear he has no intention of cooperating as Jin Guangshan offered to do and maybe doesn’t even care about what happens to him. He seems to prefer to stay as an onlooker who possesses the right to point and criticise others as if he is better than them and it infuriates Jiang Cheng.

Sure, he is the only reason why they managed to catch Jin Guangshan before he escaped, but that won’t change the fact that he stayed silent while they toyed with Lan Xichen nor that he was fine with his father’s vile actions. He only opposed him when he understood he was never going to become someone in his eyes, so he can go to hell with all his bullshit.

Letting Zidian coil back around his finger and wrist, he takes out Sandu and ignores the suffocating pressure the eyes of everyone put on his body. “Then I will kill both right here and right now.”

“Sect Leader Jiang—”

“No, he’s right, we will kill both,” Wei Wuxian says, that same uncanny look many seemed to fear appearing on his face. “What’s the use of keeping you three alive?”

Jiang Cheng forces the burning emotions that climb up his chest to go down at realising that Wei Wuxian, his brother, still is capable of understanding what goes through his head. Even after all this time, looking into each other’s eyes is enough to understand a plan, no matter how crazy it sounds.

“Weren’t you priding yourselves in being fair?” Jin Guangshan asks, a more panicked look taking over his features. “No one will know what happened here.”

 “Now you care?” Jiang Cheng snorts. “Things really become a problem when you’re not the one doing it.”

“I can assure you no one will even bat an eye at your death,” Wei Wuxian shrugs. “The corpses you created killed people who were friends and family of someone, the stolen corpses you took from different villages were the same.”

“That’s—”

“Who is going to believe someone who used his son’s death for his own benefit?”

The heaviness of his words fall like a huge boulder in the middle of the room and Jin Guangshan’s reaction is, to a certain extent, the one he expected. Being reminded of his deceased son makes the man seize against the hold Nie Mingjue has on him and even with the injury, he tries to reach for his discarded sword to run for Jiang Cheng.

“Zixuan was my son!”

“And?” Wei Wuxian says, moving towards the man with slow and calculated steps. “You never cared about what really happened there, you used their deaths to justify the death of the Wen remnants and to convince the few who doubted your intentions of my evilness. You know it wasn’t me who cursed your nephew but you didn’t even bother to find the real culprit because it no longer mattered, you had everyone where you wanted them to be and as long as you had the power then everything was fine.”

“Wei Wuxian…”

“I’m a monster, you convinced everyone about it, so tell me, who will be surprised if I kill you?”

The fear the man who used to rule over everyone shows is tangible and despite knowing it is wrong, Jiang Cheng enjoys seeing it. The rest aren’t exactly pleased about what they are seeing, there’s hesitation and in Lan Wangji’s eyes, worry, but they are not moving to stop them either, so Jiang Cheng decides to take it as a silent way of agreeing with whatever they are doing.

“And you’re not on the moral high ground you think you are,” Jiang Cheng says when his eyes see Jin Guangyao is once more enjoying the show. “You stopped him because you realised you weren’t getting anything in the end, you didn’t do it out of goodness of your heart.”

“I’m not the one feeling better with myself because I’m on the other side,” he says with that coldness. “Sect Leader Jiang, what would have happened if your sister died that night? You didn’t defend Wei Wuxian when he lost control and murdered your brother-in-law. I believe something similar would have happened if she died and he lived. Hypocritical, don’t you think?”

Jiang Cheng’s heart feels as if it has been crushed. He’s once more right, he’s sure he would have lost his mind if Jiang Yanli died that night, he can even tell that he wouldn’t have cared about anything else if the almost last blood relative he had perished… Jin Guangyao has many things to use against him and they are all right but—

They are all right.

“Yes, I abandoned him when he needed me most, I wouldn’t have— I would have lost my mind if my sister died, but I’m not doing this to feel better about myself,” he says, holding his sword even more tightly. “I changed while you, well, it doesn’t matter how much you hate your father, you’re no different from him.”

Given the circumstances, it probably is the worst insult someone could tell him and the way his whole body fills with rage and his normally composed nature collapses to show his emotions clearly is a good indication. 

“How dare you compare him to that man?!” Su She screams with the same rage. “Lianfang-zun is nothing like him!”

Jin Guangyao ignores him this time, he looks set on holding Jiang Cheng by the neck to squeeze until his eyes pop out of their sockets, but It’s futile in the end. He’s being held by Lan Wangji and despite his tricks and questionable tactics, his level of cultivation will never match the other’s and trying to escape only tires him out.

“I’m nothing like him.”

“Sure, repeat it until you believe it.”

“You are claiming you never wanted to hurt Xichen, then prove it and tell us how to save him,” Lan Qiren says when he seems to fear they will truly kill everyone.

Jin Guangyao finally stops struggling and uses the millimetric space Lan Wangji leaves him to rearrange his clothes and put himself back together enough to at least give the appearance of the Jin Guangyao everyone is used to seeing. The hatred still burns in his eyes, his desire to probably see everyone in there bleeding out on the floor is there and still seems that he doesn’t regret anything.

“Chengmei said it is irreversible,” he eventually says. “Fierce corpses are strong, but they no longer possess the flexibility of a living body. Poisoning the body of someone who lives will deteriorate the mind until the person no longer has the ability to function on its own, they can be controlled in the same way a fierce corpse is.”

“It is not irreversible, we saved Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says immediately and upon noticing the panic taking over the room. “Because you did the same to him and he’s a living, conscious cultivator who healed.”

“I’m sure you can see the differences,” he says coldly. “I only do it for er-ge , I don’t care about the rest.”

Jiang Cheng can see them, too, and it feels like an earthquake is now destroying what was left of his hopes and dreams, at least the small bits and pieces everything he has been through left behind. Jin Guangyao has no reason to lie, he doesn’t gain anything from doing it and his last sentence just confirms it. Even if it doesn’t make sense, even if it’s weird, the man still cares about the only person who showed him nothing but kindness, who wanted to believe in him until he could no longer do it.

He’s not lying.

“It isn’t different,” Wei Wuxian says this time, though, for Jiang Cheng it feels more as if it is just a desperate attempt. “Zewu-jun still lives, he reacted to the song we used and I know more than what any of you and your students know— I will save him, we will do it.”

“Let me know who the new leader is, I’ll be eager to know—”

Jin Guangshan’s little spark of bravery ends up going against him because Nie Mingjue has enough of him and with a swift movement he ends up knocking him unconscious. The leader's body hits the floor with a dull sound because no one really cares about it.

“We need to save him,” Jiang Cheng whispers. “We can’t waste any more time with them, but don’t worry, I will enjoy making you go through the consequences of your actions.”

It may not be the right thing, but Jiang Cheng doesn’t really care.

Chapter Text

“A-Cheng, it’s going to be fine.”

Jiang Cheng barely has the strength to thank his sister with a small nod, his body unconsciously leaning into her warm embrace as he looks for comfort even if he doesn’t dare to admit it openly. The woman, as she had done it ever since they were children, indulges by hugging him tightly and caressing his back as if his little brother is once more the young child who hurt himself after going out to look for Wei Wuxian.

Jiang Yanli is positive, has always been, even after losing her husband she stood strong for her son and the rest of her family and supported everything the best she could. Jiang Cheng always admired her for that and now, he wishes he could be like her.

The Jin who were still fighting when they came out little by little surrendered at seeing their leader has been captured and even injured. With words full of hatred and venomous glares, they were captured and taken into custody by the three remaining big sects who promised they were being judged and dealt with accordingly.

When the Jins and their allies stopped being the centre of attention, they could all focus on the next topic in the long, long list of problems they now had on their hands. The number of losses was big and the number of injured people was even bigger, so the battlefield became a more disorganised mess where most tried to help with what they could while being mindful of the situation in general. Jiang Cheng could barely think about finding his head disciple and checking on his people before moving back to reunite with Wei Wuxian and the rest.

Lan Xichen was still in the same condition, still pinned underneath Wen Ning, still struggling against him despite the broken wrist and still with those empty eyes that seemed to glare despite the lack of pupil. Lan Qiren, Lan Wangji and Nie Mingjue looked genuinely heartbroken at seeing him in that condition and Jiang Cheng’s heart seemed to break even more because of it. 

Wei Wuxian eventually moved to play the song and Lan Xichen’s body once more went rigid, the erratic and unnatural flow of spiritual energy stopping in the meantime. Wen Ning removed himself from on top of him and Nie Mingjue along with Lan Wangji moved to pull him up, the Second Jade immediately felt the mess of spiritual energy and Jiang Cheng could see the pang of guilt and worry burn even more inside of him. Nie Mingjue looked equally distressed and even whispered something in the man’s ear to see if he got a response with no success. It hurt everyone to be in this situation, but they knew there wasn’t much time to dwell on it, so pushing aside the storm of emotions they were quick to bind the man in hopes of having a safe trip for him and everyone.

Lan Xichen was brought to the Cloud Recesses and taken to their Mingshi in hopes of containing the erratic creature he now was and to keep the disciples and everyone else safe. Jiang Cheng was obviously there and he had been forced to hold Lan Xichen with Zidian to keep him from tearing apart a group of young disciples that didn’t really seem to know what to do in a case like this one. After that, the man had been bound to a sturdy table with thick chains that were obviously gone to hurt him and given something so the physicians could check on him.

The verdict was the same from before, he was still alive but wasn't’ going to be for much longer if his spiritual energy continued flowing in that erratic way. They mentioned it was the first time they have seen something like that and even dared to add it was possible this was going to leave lasting damage in both his body and mind if it was ever removed.

In conclusion, an even bigger nightmare.

“I will look for Wei Wuxian,” he whispers, moving back even if he wants to stay in her embrace. “He could have something new.”

Wei Wuxian has of course locked himself somewhere to study and experiment with everything he knows to find a way that allows them to save him without leaving him like a broken soul. He’s also with Wen Ning, trying to find out what was done to him so he became a literal puppet, hoping that will also help him to work on Lan Xichen.

Lan Wangji does his best to help him but is forced to divide himself between tending to his partner and being with his brother. He can’t do much, of course, but he’s still there, trying to fix a bit of the tangled mess his spiritual energy is or to treat the broken skin after the chains had bit into it. He has perfect control of his emotions but even for Jiang Cheng it is obvious he’s breaking down little by little, the cracks in his outside made of jade are getting bigger and he seems incapable of fixing it.

Jiang Cheng didn’t even want to think about what would happen if he truly loses his brother.

“Of course,” she smiles, reaching to caress his cheek softly. “I will have something warm for everyone.”

The leader can only give her a nod before turning around and leaving the room was given to her and the two kids. 

Walking through the Cloud Recesses is unbelievably painful. The corridors and every single place remind him of that day when the world felt on top of his head after discovering the truth about his golden core, the path towards the guest pavilions remind him of the day where Lan Xichen took care of him and filled him with the strength he needed to continue pushing forward. Jiang Cheng didn’t understand his feelings at that time, but it soon became one of his most beautiful memories and he desperately tries to cling to it and to that handsome and smiling face calling him with a soft Wanyin and a pair of amber eyes looking at him with a kind of love he had never experienced.

After all, he doesn’t want to remember Lan Xichen as the one who almost strangled him.

 By the time he reaches the room Wei Wuxian is working in, Lan Wangji is closing the door. He’s carrying a couple of plates in his hands, both having a lot of leftovers that says his partner still is too absorbed by his work and is, once more, neglecting himself for the sake of it. Lan Wangji greets him with a small nod and is about to walk away to get to his brother when the door is forcefully slid open to reveal Wei Wuxian in all his unhinged glory.

“Lan Zhan I— Jiang Cheng you’re also here, quick come in!” he says before disappearing into the room again.

Lan Wangji and Jiang Cheng exchange a quick look before they too rush inside, with the Second Jade hastily leaving the plates on the floor and closing the door before moving further in. The room is littered with talismans, books and things scribbled on different pieces of paper, with the oppressive feeling of resentful energy pressing down on them. On one of the walls, the Tiger Tally is hanging and its unnerving red glow reminds Jiang Cheng just how strong that thing is.

“I know what was done to Wen Ning,” Wei Wuxian says, forcing him to look away from it and focus on his brother and the formerly sentient corpse standing in the middle of the room. “They tried to control him, they wanted him to be obedient and so, they did this.”

Wei Wuxian moves to push the hair on the back of the man’s hair away, revealing what appears to be the head of two nails pushed deep inside the skull of the other. Jiang Cheng can’t help but grimace. “What the fuck?”

“Can’t believe it took me so long to find them,” Wei Wuxian mutters before shaking his head. “They are used to strip him of his consciousness, they probably did it to control him, but I doubt they succeeded.”

“Removing them will restore it?” Lan Wangji asks, his eyes anxiously staring at them.

“Yes,” Wei Wuxian nods, reaching to hold the head with a hand before stopping. “Let me handle it.”

Jiang Cheng understands this as his brother saying he doesn’t really know how the other is going to react, but that he doesn’t want them to intervene or do anything so despite being insecure, he stays back just like Lan Wangji. Wei Wuxian takes a moment before finally pulling and the reaction is immediate, the previously empty-looking Wen Ning reacts as if he’s in mind-consuming pain.

His hands move as if he wants to do something to stop the pain but he doesn’t reach for Wei Wuxian nor tries to attack him. It reminds them of an injured creature who tries to do something for themselves but doesn't possess the intelligence to do so. Despite being who he is, Jiang Cheng wishes it ends soon because it is unbearable to look at.

“Wen Ning, hey, can you hear me?” his brother asks when the bloodied nails are finally out and the man is kneeling on the ground holding his head. 

A long time filled with uncertainty and anxiousness passes, with Lan Wangji looking ready to protect his partner and Wei Wuxian worried for the fierce corpse he saved. Jiang Cheng, in all honesty, is very close to ripping his hair out.

“Young Master Wei…?”

Wen Ning’s voice is quiet, almost inaudible, sounding rough as if his throat was completely dry or as if he hasn’t used his voice in a long, long time, which is probably the reason if he thinks about it.

“Yes, it’s me,” Wei Wuxian replies, eyes filled with a spark of hope none has had in a while. “Can you tell where you are? Who are we?”

The now sentient fierce corpse dares to look up and his reaction at seeing both is understandable, really. He looks surprised but also immensely frightened, Jiang Cheng can’t tell what’s the last thing he remembers, but wouldn’t be surprised if he relates him to all the bad things in the world. He would be right, of course.

“I don’t recognise the place,” he finally says, “but I do recognise you, Hanguang-jun and Sect Leader Jiang.”

 Wei Wuxian lets out a small sigh of relief at that and helps the other to take a seat on a nearby chair. “Wen Ning, we’re in the Cloud Recesses, we rescued you from Lanling… can you tell us what happened?”

He frowns, his hand coming to hold his head as if it is suddenly hurting and just like the removal of the nails, it doesn’t make much sense. He’s a fierce corpse and they aren’t supposed to feel pain, but honestly, Jiang Cheng can’t understand anything anymore.

“We gave ourselves to Jin Guangshan and his clan so they spared Young Master Wei,” he starts, Jiang Cheng already knows he’s not going to like it. “Hanguang-jun tried to advocate for us at Carp Tower but I lost control and— I didn’t want to do it, I swear, but it happened and when I woke up I was informed I was dead to the world, my sister had been… she was gone and it was better if I cooperated.”

“They wanted to control you, right?” Wei Wuxian asks softly.

“They wanted to discover why I was different, what made me strong, but I couldn’t do what they wanted me to do, they were vile, evil and so they brought the nails,” he says, his eyes staring at the floor now. “I don’t remember much after that, I'm sorry.”

Jiang Cheng already knew everything had been fucked up in the most twisted way, already knew how much everyone suffered because of his and the decisions everyone else made, but to hear it from who experienced it hurts as much as seeing the kid moving around while knowing his family is dead.

“Well Jin Guangshan won’t continue with his nonsense, he’s done, just like Xue Yang, Jin Guangyao and everyone else,” Wei Wuxian says with a small reassuring squeeze to his shoulder. “A lot of things have changed now and I will explain everything, but right now I need your help.”

“What’s wrong?” he asks. “Of course, please tell me what can I do?”

“Zewu-jun was captured by them and before we could find him he was turned into this… living corpse,” he says, his voice a bit shaky. “Did you ever hear anything about it?”

Wen Ning is pretty shaken up by this revelation and Jiang Cheng can only imagine. He left a world where everything was upside down, where they were the enemies and everything Jin Guangshan said was the only truth, now everything seems to be different and it’s a lot to process.

“They thought I was a living corpse,” he says after shaking his head. “They thought my strength came from the fact that I was alive, but once they saw it wasn’t the case they moved on. Xue Yang mentioned living corpses were more useful while alive and wanted to find a way to extend that living period, but never went into more detail, at least, not while I was conscious.”

In a few words, they have nothing.

“Did you hear Wei Ying’s call?” Lan Wangji asks when that route reaches its dead end.

“Yes, it sounded different from the melodies they used,” he says with a quick nod. “I don’t have the right words to explain it, but I knew I had to respond.”

“That’s good, we could save you and that is great,” his brother says, moving away to lean on a table with several talismans scattered around. “We will work with what we have, then.”

“Wei Ying, you’re doing your best,” Lan Wangji says. “It will work.”

“Yeah, I won’t be so sure about that until  Zewu-jun is back to who he was,” he says, shaking his head. “He has no nails, he has nothing that makes him more vulnerable to being controlled, so we will do the same we did with Lan Zhan and stop the process before it is too late.”

“I’m sorry I can’t help more,” Wen Ning whispers.

“No this isn’t your fault,” Wei Wuxian says. “You went through a lot of things, you don't need more… Promise it will make more sense once we’re done.”

Wen Ning nods slowly, his eyes looking between the three of them. “I can help with holding him, I… maybe I could do something.”

Jiang Cheng remembers how it was with Lan Wangji, remembers his fingers snapping at the violent way his muscles and limbs contorted. Lan Xichen will probably be ten times worse than that.

“Could be,” Wei Wuxian nods. “Just don’t break his wrist this time, we want him in the best condition.”

“I’m sorry…”

⋅•⋅⋅•⋅⊰⋅•⋅⋅•⋅⋅•⋅⋅•⋅∙∘☽༓☾∘∙•⋅⋅⋅•⋅⋅⊰⋅•⋅⋅•⋅⋅•⋅⋅•⋅

“He needs to be stable through the whole process, don’t distract yourself with anything else, no matter what happens.”

The Mingshi is full of people that morning, from disciples who are only bringing what they are going to need to the experienced and more than capable elders who will aid Lan Qiren, Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian in playing the melody needed. In the middle of the room is Lan Xichen, still strapped to the table but with that dazed expression thanks to the heavy medication he was put under every day.

Jiang Cheng’s heart feels as if it is being squeezed, thorns digging into the muscle so it bleeds and little by little loses its will to continue beating. He once more wishes to be the one going through that or to find a solution that cures him instantly and doesn’t leave him as an empty shell, but as it has been recently, none of that is possible.

“Okay, let’s do it, it’s important none of us stop until it is done.”

Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian are who naturally take the lead and play for a bit before the rest join in. Jiang Cheng can only hold his clarity bell even more tightly because he can’t play a goddamn instrument and he’s only there because they probably felt bad for leaving him out. Nie Mingjue is not here because of his already unstable spiritual energy and because him being in contact with something so dark will probably aggravate the influence of the sabre, so what keeps them from kicking Jiang Cheng out who already has a horrible temper with no one’s influence? 

Nothing.

With the first notes the only difference in Lan Xichen are his rigid muscles and the fact that he no longer looks lost and dazed, but alert. His limbs are starting to twitch against the chain’s hold as the Yin Iron starts to be tugged out of his very soul. Jiang Cheng tries to keep himself under control, to not show himself as the pathetic person he is when it comes to emotions, but the more time passes the harder it is. Seeing Lan Xichen once more falling apart in front of him is as horrible as seeing him turned into a puppet after losing him; the way he erratically pulls at the restraints and lets out those animalistic grunts paired with those white eyes reminds him of the monster who almost strangled him.

When this happened with Lan Wangji he also felt bad, it was painful even, but seeing Lan Xichen going through the same is ten times worse and it isn’t because he doesn’t care about Lan Wangji, but because his relationship with the Second Jade wasn’t as special as it was with the first one. The image he has of Lan Wangji is one of a cold and serious-looking man who moved around the Cloud Recesses when they were younger.

Lan Xichen is different.

The man comforted him as he cried like a little toddler when his world fell apart and Jiang Cheng can’t forget the feeling of his arms holding him, of his large light-blue robes keeping him warm and the fact that he allowed him to sleep in his private chambers. He remembers their conversations where they shared their insecurities, where they reassured each other about the mistakes from the past and the doubts about the future. Their connection grew with each day so to see that same man painfully contorting on that table looking more like a mindless creature hurts him in yet another way and as if life didn’t have enough when it comes to making him lose everything..

“Keep going.”

Lan Qiren's command echoes in the room, snapping Jiang Cheng out of his destructive thoughts. The dark eyes of the man don’t leave the form of his nephew, expression heavy with worry and well-hidden despair as the contractions on the leader’s muscles become more violent and give the impression that he’s trying to block the music from reaching him.

The bandages holding his broken wrist are coming loose, showing the purplish tone and swollen skin, the chains are digging in his skin through the layers of clothes until the predictable happens and patches of blood start to stain the robes as the metal finally breaks his skin. Jiang Cheng can’t tell if he’s right or not, but instead of trying to free himself to attack them he appears to be struggling to break free and escape the pain this procedure is causing him and it would make sense because, from what the Yunmeng leader understood, the music is dragging out the remnants of the Yin Iron, separating that dark energy from Lan Xichen’s spiritual energy so it stops poisoning his body, but because of the long time it has been in contact with him, the melody is incapable of fully separating both things and ripping parts of the man’s healthy body along with the resentment is impossible to avoid. 

Lan Xichen’s already pale body seems to become even paler, with the only colours being the bright patches of blood and the light-blue robes he was dressed in after they refused to leave him with the same worn, torn and dirty ones he was using when rescued. Like it happened with Lan Wangji, Lan Xichen starts to look more like a fierce corpse instead of a living one and Jiang Cheng can barely keep himself from blurting out a loud and pained stop.

“Wei Ying, stop, I can deal with it,” Lan Wangji’s voice makes him tear his eyes away from the man he loves to look at his brother who has stopped playing and is leaning a bit on one of the pillars.

“Nonsense, I’m fine,” his brother stubbornly says, shaking his head. “Just need to catch my breath.”

“Like hell you’re fine,” Jiang Cheng hisses, walking towards him to grip his arm. “You can’t overexert yourself.”

Wei Wuxian was gifted in every aspect being a cultivator implied,  when he had his golden core he was one of the best cultivators and now he is also gifted in Demonic Cultivation, but not having his core makes the use of anything more physically exerting. He is by no means weak, but he can’t force his almost human body to work too much without risking himself.

“I got it, Jiang Cheng, it’s normal, we have been doing it for a long time,” he says, “we’re close.”

Jiang Cheng can’t see it, but his brother is as stubborn as almost everyone in that room and he knows not even Lan Wangji will be capable of changing his mind or convincing him of resting for a couple of minutes. 

“Fine, but don’t fucking kill yourself while trying,” he says before letting go and moving closer to where Lan Xichen is.

The man now looks closer to losing his battle, the twitch of his muscles are weaker and his laboured breathing sounds as if he’s trying to breathe after choking on water. This time, Jiang Cheng is incapable of blocking the thought of losing him and when he sees a line of blood fall from the corner of his eyes, he reaches to press his hand to the man’s chest to start channelling his spiritual energy. 

And heavens above, it is painful.

He can’t feel Lan Xichen’s heartbeat, but he can feel the mess his insides are, the two forces pulling and tugging in opposite directions, the meridians struggling to make sense of the unnatural flow coursing through them and the resentment, oh, the resentment seems to burn Jiang Cheng in retaliation. 

“Jiang Cheng— Jiang Cheng that’s dangerous,” he hears Wei Wuxian saying. “It could affect you!”

“I’m fine,” he manages to mutter through gritted teeth. “You keep going.”

Jiang Cheng can’t be sure if it will help, can’t be sure if it will make a difference or if he’s just risking himself in vain, but he feels he needs to do it. He can’t do anything else to help and maybe, just maybe, sharing the strain the procedure is putting his body in could help him to survive. Ignoring the natural instinct that tells him to let go to avoid getting hurt by the resentful energy, he focuses on healing the other faster than the resentful energy destroys him, a twisted and sick race against time.

“I need to tell you so many things,” he whispers. “You say you’re not rude, so don’t be now and come back.”

They are words born out of pain and thrown into the wind, like the ones he whispered after a nightmare left him shaking and calling for his parents and at the moment where he believed his sister was going to die in his arms. Everyone has already lost so much, they can’t lose more.

But that, of course, is not something he can decide.

The music continues playing for what feels like ages and Jiang Cheng keeps going despite the now impossible to ignore the ache in his body thanks to the resentful energy poisoning his body. Lan Xichen is now barely moving, battered body twitching every now and then in what seems to be stinging pain. The blood hasn’t stopped coming out of his eyes and his pained breathing has slowed down way below what’s normal.

Something in the back of his mind tells Jiang Cheng to get ready, to ask them to stop so the suffering ends and he can finally rest, but how can he? Hope has always been the last thing they lose so he desperately clings to it and prays he’s strong enough to keep on holding, closing his eyes tightly to block everything until there’s what feels like a tight rope breaking and snapping right under his hands that forces him to open them once more.

The room suddenly falls silent and when Jiang Cheng opens his eyes he finds amber eyes darting around with a clear look of panic and confusion while his chest rises and falls rapidly with that laboured breathing. Jiang Cheng immediately moves his hands away but that drags the attention of the other who would have jumped in fright if he wasn’t bound to the table.

“Xichen…” he whispers, his brain telling him to fucking help instead of staring like an idiot.

“W-Wanyin…”

But that seems to finally be the limit for the body of the First Jade because his body falls limp and his eyes close before anything else can be said or done.

Jiang Cheng hates himself for thinking that’s the last thing he will ever hear from him.

 

Chapter Text

Everything is chaos after Lan Xichen passes out.

Lan Wangji breaks the chains holding his brother to the table with a single flick of his wrist and the large group of physicians are quick to reach him to start their frenetic work. Jiang Cheng feels as if everything is moving at the slowest speed because his brain is still reeling from the fact that he heard Lan Xichen’s calm and kind voice instead of those guttural grunts and hisses he made and more than anything:

Lan Xichen remembers him.

It feels stupid to be excited about this, to feel his heart fluttering because the man he likes remembers his name when the man is freaking dying, but he can’t help it. The weak and breathless Wanyin repeats itself inside his head over and over as his eyes stare at the physicians talking hurriedly and moving at dizzying speed around him as they fight to keep him alive.

“Jiang Cheng, hey, I need to check on him,” his brother’s voice comes from his right and it isn’t long before he feels his hands holding his arm. “You were in contact with the resentment for too long.”

“It doesn’t matter,” he argues. “He needs all the attention.”

It’s a dumb, Wei Wuxian job is done, in a sense, and the rest falls on the physicians, but Jiang Cheng has this irrational fear that keeps him from moving. He’s terrified of having the man dying, of being told his name is the last thing the leader could speak before succumbing to the damage in his body, and even if it doesn’t make sense, he feels that being close does something.

“I know and he’s in the best hands,” his brother says, tugging his arm a bit more urgently. “You know how people from Gusu are… and Zewu-jun is strong, so let me take care of you.”

Jiang Cheng is ready to argue and tell his brother to go away because there’s no way in hell he will be moving, but the words die in his throat immediately because Wei Wuxian doesn’t look good. He’s pale, paler than what’s normal for him, and his hands are trembling slightly despite his efforts to hide it.

Yanking his arm free from his grip, he holds his brother’s wrist and starts to tug him out. “Let us… let us know.”

Lan Wangji looks at them, a flick of confusion appearing among the worry and fear already eating him at seeing his brother suffering like that, but when his eyes fall on his partner he seems to understand and gives a small nod. “I will.”

Jiang Cheng mentally thanks him before throwing Lan Xichen’s body one last quick glance and walking out of the room still holding onto his brother.

“Jiang Cheng, where are we going?” he complains, though, his shaky body isn’t strong enough to be a real issue. “I have to check on you, I’m fine!”

He doesn’t reply, not even his snarky comments seem to come to his mind as he continues walking down the familiar path tugging his brother behind. Wei Wuxian eventually gives up on complaining and seems to focus on not tripping and falling down the rest of the stairs.

“A-Cheng, A-Xian!” Jiang Yanli’s voice reaches them before they fully reach the pavilion. “Come, you look so tired.”

Now with his sister, Wei Wuxian gives up entirely on pretending to be perfectly fine and moves on his own to sit on the stone table in the middle of the pavilion with a tired sigh. Jiang Cheng follows suit and the two sit in complete silence while their sister moves to get water for both.

When the two cups are placed in front of them, Jiang Yanli takes the least available seat with slow and careful movements. Jiang Cheng can tell she wants to ask how things went, can even see her brows furrowing as she probably thinks the leader is now dead, but she hesitates after glancing at both.

“We pulled the thing out,” Wei Wuxian starts after a long time passes. “He’s free of that control.”

A small smile of relief appears on her face, but it is quick to dissolve. “How is he doing?”

“I—”

“It almost killed him, hell, I don’t even fucking know if he fell unconscious or if he just died,” he says before his brother can finish his sentence. “He recognised me but then he just… it was probably too much.”

Jiang Yanli reaches to hold his hand, her delicate fingers caressing the back of his hand in an attempt to soothing the taut muscles. “You two did your best, I’m sure.”

“Well, Jiang Cheng went and directly shared the strain with him,” Wei Wuxian says as he stares at his dizi. “Even when we didn’t know what could do to him.”

Jiang Yanli looks even more worried, so Jiang Cheng can’t help but glare at his brother. “A-Cheng…”

“I just channelled my energy into him, he was a mess and there was nothing else I could do,” he snaps, digging the fingers of his free hand on his legs. “I just wanted to be useful, to help him as he helped me.”

It is shameful to expose his vulnerable side to them, he’s the leader and they should rely on him, but his heart hurts and the desperation is reaching explosive levels.

“You did,” his brother says, also reaching to hold his shoulder. “You saw how bad he was doing and it only changed when you intervened.”

His heart jumps, a hopeful part of his brain trying to soothe him by reminding him Wei Wuxian is an expert in Demonic Cultivation and anything he says has solid bases… but it is hard. He can’t get rid of the feeling left by that unnatural flow of spiritual energy and can’t get rid of the sensation of the resentful energy left on him. If it was bad for him, how horrible it was for the other?

“You tried your best and that’s what matters most,” Jiang Yanli says next, her free hand reaching for Wei Wuxian’s one. “Do not torture yourselves with the future, right now you have done everything you could and deserve to rest and heal… He’s strong and he’s going to need you in your best condition so you can help him.”

Jiang Cheng once more clings to her words.

⋅•⋅⋅•⋅⊰⋅•⋅⋅•⋅⋅•⋅⋅•⋅∙∘☽༓☾∘∙•⋅⋅⋅•⋅⋅⊰⋅•⋅⋅•⋅⋅•⋅⋅•⋅

Lan Xichen does die, but for just a couple of seconds.

For a moment they couldn’t feel a heartbeat, could feel the flow of spiritual energy slowing down in a clear sign of stopping and could even feel the constant pulse of his core stopping abruptly. Lan Wangji explains to them in great detail the chaos that had ensued, the desperation that filled everyone as they re-doubled their efforts to bring him back to life. It is painful to hear it from someone who is normally so calm and composed, but Jiang Cheng thanks the effort and listens to him as he goes on to explain the rest of the story.

Once Lan Xichen goes back to being, well, a living person, Lan Wangji and Lan Qiren step in to stabilise him and finish untangling his spiritual energy so it finally goes back to flowing in the right direction and in that specific amount. 

It takes them a long time, hours probably, but by the time they are done Lan Xichen has stopped shivering and breathing so harshly, finally looking calm. Lan Wangji describes it as if his brother is sleeping, though, the bruises, paleness and gaunt appearance constantly remind them that he’s not sleeping peacefully. After it is determined he won’t be going back to being that same bloodthirsty monster, he’s finally moved to the healing pavilion.

But he doesn’t wake up.

He has the most skilled physicians checking on him at different times throughout the day, has his brother and uncle coming to spend hours playing the music needed to strengthen his body and core, but he doesn’t wake up.

 “Jin Guangshan keeps saying it was Jin Guangyao who played a big part in this whole thing,” Nie Mingjue says, hand pressed against the table so hard Jiang Cheng thinks he will be breaking it. “Jin Guangyao is not really saying anything. It doesn’t matter, they are both pathetic.”

“Wouldn’t be surprised if Jin Guangshan wants to play dumb,” Wei Wuxian sighs, shaking his head. “He was confident and full of himself when he had the upper hand, now he only wants to lessen the hit to his ego.”

“They will all face trial,” Lan Qiren says firmly. “Now there are more important matters.”

He’s not only talking about his nephew, there aren’t many things they can do for him right now, honestly, he’s also talking about the large number of people who are lost in what the hell happened and the equally large number of fierce corpses that need to be put to rest where they belong. 

“Has there been any progress..?” Nie Mingjue asks quietly, showing once more how much it hurts him to think about his sworn brother.

“All the same,” Lan Wangji replies, voice cold. “He’s been tended to.”

Nie Mingjue doesn’t take his coldness personally, of course, he also seems to know the Second Jade hides many things behind that apparently emotionless facade, so he just nods, crossing his arms. “I will contact the minor sects and other villages who reported missing corpses from their graveyards around Lanling.”

“We will have a list for this side,” Lan Qiren says, “the sooner they are put to rest, the fewer problems they will cause.”

The corpses are still under Wei Wuxian’s control and don’t do anything they aren’t ordered to, but Lan Wangji soon notices his partner is spending his energy on that and he doesn’t like it. The whole procedure to free Lan Xichen’s body had taken a huge toll on his body and after he and Jiang Cheng left their sister, the man had fallen asleep for at least a day and a half. Now he’s doing better, but he’s still tired and weak, so Lan Wangji decides putting to rest those fierce corpses is their main priority.

“I will ask my head disciple to do the same for Yunmeng and its surroundings,” he says, trying to ignore the pang of guilt that tells him he should do it himself. “No, I’ll go back and do it myself.”

“Your head disciple is capable, I’m sure,” Lan Qiren says, though he doesn’t look at him. “With that settled, we can move onto the trials.”

“Xichen’s declaration would be very helpful,” Nie Mingjue adds after a moment. “No one would be capable of escaping…”

No one dares to speak because what the fuck can they say? Xichen being alive already feels like it is using all the luck in the world, they don’t have the right to ask for more… but he’s right. Xichen was captured by them, experimented on by them and heavens know what else, so him speaking would be evidence no one would be capable of denying.

“We have more things against them,” Lan Qiren sighs dejectedly. “None of them has any chance of escaping.”

Of course, it is a nice way of saying they can’t be sure Xichen will be awake or alive when the time comes.

Nie Mingjue returns to Qinghe that same afternoon. The man seems incapable of staying at the Cloud Recesses for longer than needed as if he can’t stand being in that place without the presence of his sworn brother and Jiang Cheng deduces that’s the cause because he stares at the path that leads to the Hanshi for a long time before looking away and excusing himself with a curt nod.

Jiang Cheng and Nie Mingjue aren’t that different in terms of emotions, both are explosive and aggressive, both prefer to kick someone down the stairs than accepting they are emotionally vulnerable, so Jiang Cheng feels he can tell exactly how he feels. Of course, the biggest difference is that he loves Lan Xichen and the other doesn’t, at least not in that sense.

“Grandmaster Lan, I will go back to Yunmeng to take care of things there,” he says when the man is about to leave, stopping him in his tracks. “I am of no use here and I— It is my duty to tend to things that concern the place I’m in charge of.”

Lan Qiren stays with his back facing him for some time where Jiang Cheng is sure he probably offended him and is about to kick him out after making him promise he won’t get near his nephews ever again. 

“I understand the nature of the emotions between you and Xichen, just like I understand the one between Wangji and Wei Wuxian,” he finally says, turning to look at him. “You and Xichen need to talk, you know where the healing pavilion is,  you too can tend to him.”

It’s a direct jab to his heart and Jiang Cheng can’t keep himself from flinching lightly. Yes, he has been a coward who hasn’t visited him, a coward who probably needs to be kicked for being an idiot. “I’m not a family member.”

“It isn’t reserved for family members.”

He doesn’t say anything else, he turns around and resumes his way until he disappears from his view. Jiang Cheng is left standing there like a fool who feels like passing out at the sole idea of actually doing it. What if Xichen dies? As selfish and probably horrible as it is, he prefers to keep in his mind the image of Xichen looking at him with his amber eyes and whispering a soft Wanyin than keeping the one of him lying on a bed with no signs of consciousness.

“You’re such an idiot,” he hisses to himself, stomping his foot against the floor like a child about to throw a tantrum. “Don’t be stupid!”

The back and forth between his brain and his muscles seem to go on forever and before he knows it, he’s already standing outside of the healing pavilion. It has a more herbal and medicinal smell than the rest of the Cloud Recesses, even quieter, but it looks calm and probably ideal for people who are recovering from horrible injuries.

When he enters, there’s only one physician taking notes and preparing some jars with different medicines, a middle-aged woman who salutes him respectfully and informs him that everything remains the same before excusing herself from the room to leave him be.

Lan Xichen looks unbelievably small in that bed.

His broad back is barely noticeable against the thin mattress and his muscular body is lost in the bandages, quilt and light robe covering his body. His face is marred with small bruises, burn-marks left by the resentful energy and thing-like acid that ran through his veins, his hand is bandaged and stabilised to keep the fracture from getting worse and more bandages cover the ugly marks the chains left on his skin. He’s still ghostly pale, with chapped lips, his dark and long hair sprawled on the pillow making a huge contrast against his skin. Jiang Cheng hates seeing him like this.

With unsure and slow steps, he moves until he’s standing next to the bed and quietly kneels at the bed’s side. On a table to his right lies Liebing, Shuoyue and the man’s forehead ribbon, he remembers they were recovered from that dungeon underneath Lanling and remembers seeing Lan Wangji’s anger at seeing the sacred band stained with blood. Now it is clean, placed neatly at the side of the weapons the man wielded so expertly, at his left there’s another table, but this one is empty so Jiang Cheng assumes it is where Lan Qiren and Lan Wangji place their zither to play the music for him.

“It’s been a while since you’re like this.”

Jiang Wanyin you’re a fucking idiot.

“Not that I think you’re lazy, it's just— I don’t want to lose you,” he whispers. “I have already lost so much and I just understood what I feel, it isn’t fair you left like that.”

He wants to slap himself immediately after, heavens, he’s such a jerk. This isn’t fair for Lan Xichen, not for him, the man almost died for being turned into a living corpse, his hurt emotions are nothing against that… but he can’t keep himself from feeling and can’t keep himself from talking nonsense when he knows he’s responsible.

“I just want to talk, you know?” he says, “explain, well, try to explain how I feel. I think we both deserve it.”

Lan Xichen doesn’t wake up, of course, he doesn’t, this isn’t a romance novel where the power of love defies everything, but that doesn’t keep Jiang Cheng from returning every afternoon after Lan Wangji leaves to tend to his partner. 

They greet each other with faint nods and despite not saying anything, Jiang Cheng little by little feels accepted. It is weird, of course, but the Second Jade doesn’t seem bothered by his presence, as if he has accepted his brother fell for him and is willing to tolerate him, as it happened with Lan Qiren he seems to accept they are connected by something else that isn’t Wei Wuxian and it makes things so much easier.

Jiang Cheng arrives every afternoon and takes his time in cleaning Lan Xichen with a wet towel and spends some time in checking the bandages are in their right places even when he’s sure no one would let them be dirty or wrong. He doesn’t talk much, he feels like an awkward idiot when he does it, but he’s comfortable and feels useful and he couldn’t ask for more.

Or so he thought.

One afternoon as he is about to leave the room to dispose of the now used water, he hears a deep and long sigh coming from the other, the kind that seems to come before one wakes up. He freezes, brain panicking between telling him to go look for the physicians and staying.

The latter wins.

Setting the bowl down on a nearby table, he rushes back to the man’s side and to his surprise, Lan Xichen’s eyes open, that warm, beautiful and soft amber appearing instead of the white that still haunts Jiang Cheng’s nightmares. He once more looks panicked, but his body bwwn in a better condition allows him to make sense of things a bit faster, so when he can finally focus on him, Jiang Cheng’s legs go weak.

“W-Wanyin…”

“No, don’t,” he says, dashing to serve water on a cup and bringing it for him. “Drink first.”

The poor leader still looks confused and lost—how couldn’t he, the last memory he has of Jiang Cheng is of him running away—but listens to him. Jiang Cheng holds his head and back as he drinks the whole cup in one sip and then helps him to lie back down.

“Wanyin… is it really you?” he asks, voice still weak but less raspy.

“Yes, who else would I be?” he snaps and what in the world is wrong with him? “Yes, it is me, we’re in the Cloud Recesses.”

Lan Xichen blinks repeatedly once more, looking away from his face to look around him. The fact that he doesn’t try to stand up or move much is a good indicator of how weak and bad he feels. “How?”

“We rescued you, we captured Jin Guangshan and everyone else,” he says, slowly letting himself fall on his place next to his bed. “You were very injured.”

Lan Xichen then closes his eyes, a whimper leaving his lips. “They wanted me to become their puppet.”

Jiang Cheng fists his sleeves. “They succeeded.”

“What?” he asks, his eyes flying open. “Did I— What did I do?”

“Nothing,” he lies and judging by how bad he is at it, the other notices. “Nothing too bad at least… but that doesn’t matter! You couldn’t avoid it.”

“Did I hurt Wangji or Uncle?”

“No.”

“Young Master Wei?”

“No.”

“Wanyin, did I hurt you?”

The man pinning him to the ground, squeezing his neck until he can’t breathe flashes in front of him, the sting of the blade piercing his side, it all comes back and despite wanting to lie again, he knows it already took him too long.

“I hurt you,” he whispers, his voice breaking. “I’m so sorry Wanyin, God.”

“Don’t apologise!” he yells, he probably shouldn’t be yelling at the crying man. “I told you not to blame yourself, you were being controlled by those assholes, you couldn’t do anything to resist.”

It does little to comfort the other, the tears leave his eyes as small sobs shake his body, probably making his pain more noticeable. Jiang Cheng is panicking. “Xichen—”

“I hurt you before,” he cuts him, “I ruined everything.”

“You didn’t,” he says, almost pulling at his hair when the other shakes his head, the tears still rolling down his face. “Xichen you didn’t hurt me, you didn’t ruin anything!”

“Don’t lie, please, I know what I did.”

“No, you don’t—”

“I ruined our friendship, I should have controlled myself but I couldn’t and I—”

“I like everything about you as well!”

And well, he’s definitely not good at this kind of thing.

Chapter Text

Lan Xichen seems to stop breathing and Jiang Cheng fears he caused him a heart attack. Before he can panic, though, the amber eyes look at him and he once more freezes.

“Wanyin… what are you saying?”

“What? You think I’m lying?!” he snaps, he shouldn’t be snapping at him. “That I’m making things up?”

“No, of course not!” Lan Xichen says immediately, looking panicked but not being capable of doing anything aside from, well, looking panicked. “It’s just… it was inappropriate.”

“Says who?”

The man now looks slightly flustered and more confused than ever and Jiang Cheng has the decency of feeling bad about it before forcing himself to ignore it to keep up his act of having perfect control of what’s happening.

“But you ran away,” Xichen finally says after a moment and, well, fuck. “You said I couldn’t love you and ran.”

And yes, what can Jiang Cheng say against that? He is the one who reacted like a toddler incapable of handling emotions, the one who ran to his room to cry because the sole thought of being loved after everything he had done was too much to handle, but he is having hard time accepting it. One thing is coming to terms with these thoughts and taking the blame in front of others who weren’t there when it happened and another is dealing with the person who was there and was the reason.

“I know what I did,” he says, still with a hostile tone he shouldn't have against a man who looks two steps away from passing out. “It’s just— I can’t explain it, just believe you didn’t ruin anything. I don’t hate you, I’m not uncomfortable, it’s just, you need to get better.”

There’s hesitation and doubt in the man’s eyes, but also something akin to amusement, probably because he looks and behaves like a teenager talking to his crush, and it makes Jiang Cheng feel even more flustered. For a moment he wants to snap for the millionth time and wipe that amused expression from his face, but then his eyes fall on the scars and sick appearance and he manages to bite his tongue.

“Alright,” he says softly. “I will listen to you… once I get better, we can talk.”

They are just words, but Jiang Cheng feels his heart jumping inside his chest. The emotions and mental state of someone sick plays a big role in the recovery, so to hear the man is willing to give him a chance and wants to recover so they can talk fills him with relief.

“Yes, we will talk.”

Despite how intimate and comforting this feels, Jiang Cheng finally snaps out of his dreamy state and rushes to inform the physicians about Xichen’s state and they, at the same time, are quick to inform Lan Qiren and Lan Wangji who in a matter of seconds appear in the healing pavilion.

Both are capable of controlling themselves and don’t look close to crying like Jiang Cheng, but he can still see how relieved they are at seeing their family member finally conscious and communicating with them in a way they can understand. The physicians confirm that Lan Xichen waking up is because his body has recovered enough to keep him awake but mention he still has a long way to go and will have to be kept under supervision in case something unexpected happens. 

“I can finally breathe,” Wei Wuxian mutters at his side. “Now you can confess, Jiang Cheng.”

“Shut up,” he hisses, shoving him to the side. “He’s recovering, I’m not as shameless as you.”

“I hope you at least talked a bit about what happened,” he huffs, crossing his arms. “I have experience when it comes to making something live on, and it’s not nice… You shouldn’t follow my example. ”

“Who says I’m following you?” he snorts. “Clearly you think too highly of yourself.”

Wei Wuxian laughs at his comment, looking at his partner as he talks with his brother with an open expression of relief, his initially teasing expression changing to become more serious. “In all honesty, Jiang Cheng, we almost lost them and we don’t know how things will be tomorrow, so talk, don’t take that long.”

He wants to tell him to stop being dramatic because the two of them agreed to talk when Xichen is doing better, but he can’t because he’s right. Things were supposed to be better after the Sunshot Campaign, but they weren’t, so even if they captured Jin Guangshan, Jin Guangyao, Xue Yang and Su, who can assure them nothing will happen?

“I won’t let anyone hurt him,” he says, wincing internally at how overly sweet it sounds. “Just like I won’t let anyone hurt my family.”

His brother looks away from the other two to smile at him, bumping him with his shoulder like he used to do it when they were younger and freer. “Then we should team up, I plan to do the same for Lan Zhan. Sounds good, the Yunmeng Prides protecting the Twin Jades, I like it.”

Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes but fails to conceal his smile. Yes, it sounds good and he not only likes how that sounds but loves it.

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Lan Xichen’s recovery isn’t easy, but it goes well, so well it’s probably one of the best things that have happened to the Cultivation World in a while.

At first, he sleeps most of the time, body too exhausted to keep him awake for longer than what’s needed, but after some time he even gets good enough to meditate with his brother and uncle. At first, Jiang Cheng only goes when there are others around because he’s worried it will be too awkward and they both will end up wanting to blurt out whatever comes to their minds first, but some time later he ventures to go alone.

The Gusu Lan leader always looks at him with the softest expression Jiang Cheng has seen, but there are moments where he looks away as if he’s ashamed and conflicted for doing it. It leads the Yunmeng Jiang leader to think the man believes he’s imagining all of this and will have to eventually face reality, that he will be told Jiang Cheng has never been here and still hates him or that he still doesn’t fully believe he didn’t ruin things. His solution to this is making small talk of what he did before coming.

“I argued with Wei Wuxian because he didn’t share the chilli he bought with me.”

“Ajie made food and wants you to taste it when you feel better.”

“I don’t think your brother hates me anymore.”

It’s simple, so simple it probably sounds like a little kid explaining he finally learnt why the sky is blue, but it seems to work. It seems to ground the man to what he’s living and the slightly more confident responses he gets are a good indicator. Things get progressively better until, one day, they finally allow Xichen to continue getting better at his hanshi.

“I should be the one helping you, Wangji, you were also injured and the battle surely was gruelling.”

Jiang Cheng has to hold the urge of snorting, the man needs their support to walk long distances and is still nowhere close to being the same person he was before but still worries more about others. Typical of him.

“It’s fine,” Lan Wangji replies, making sure Xichen is leaning on Jiang Cheng before hurrying to accommodate the bed so the other can sit comfortably. “I am fine.”

Lan Xichen doesn’t reply, only lets out a tired sigh when he’s finally sitting down in a place he’s more familiar with. His amber eyes stare around his room with a mix of emotions that seems to hold a lot of things, before looking back at them.

“I don’t doubt it,” he says, looking down at his hands. “I’m alive thanks to all of you.”

Lan Wangji is close to starting arguing with him, something Jiang Cheng will aid because if it wasn’t for Xichen’s own strength he would be dead, but the sudden entrance of someone cuts that opportunity.

“Xichen!” Nie Mingjue says, expression so relieved it almost doesn’t look like him. “I came as soon as I was told you were awake.”

“Mingjue-xiong,” Xichen smiles, that kind and genuine smile. “I’m so glad you’re alright.”

Nie Mingjue moves closer and Jiang Cheng has the idea that he shouldn’t be here, but Lan Wangji is not moving so he uses that to comfort himself despite the clear differences.

“Knew you were going to be alright,” the other man says, though, he eyes the bruises and scars with disdain. “You shouldn’t have gone through that.”

“I have to be honest, I didn't imagine it could happen,” he whispers, looking down at his bandaged wrist. “I was deceived for being a fool.”

Lan Wangji frowns, Nie Mingjue does as well and it is the latter who immediately lists every single thing that proves Xichen isn’t a fool, but Jiang Cheng understands. It’s something Xichen and he talked about before everything went to shit, that feeling of being manipulated and toyed with so different situations look bad when they aren’t is well known for them. After what happened to him, Jiang Cheng can only wonder how worse it is for him.

“Being deceived wasn’t your fault,” Nie Mingjue says firmly. “You’re not a fool.”

Xichen doesn’t look convinced, but Lan Wangji decides to give them space and so, Jiang Cheng is ultimately forced to leave as well.

Great.

“I’m glad to hear Zewu-jun is recovering,” Wen Ning is saying when Jiang Cheng and the Second Jade find Wei Wuxian. “I was worried it would be irreversible.”

“We sadly know it is irreversible if more time passes,” Wei Wuxian sighs, scooting closer to his husband when he sits at his side. “Or if the person isn’t as strong as he is.”

The other three living corpses that appeared with Lan Xichen had succumbed to what was done to them long before the leader woke up. Two of them had already perished by the time the battle at Lanling ended and the remaining one had passed away during the removal procedure, proving they were indeed very lucky to have their leader alive and recovering.

“They were keen on experimenting with Demonic Cultivation,” Wen Ning continues, looking down at his hands. “They were certain they would get the Tiger Tally at one point.”

“Well, Xue Yang really knew what he was doing,” his brother says with yet another tired sigh. “The fact that he managed to do this to Zewu-jun and the others proves how dangerous he is.”

“They won’t do anything now,” Lan Wangji cuts in as if he’s uncomfortable with the idea of talking about them. “No more lies, everything needs to be put behind in the past.”

The mention of the past almost makes Jiang Cheng whimper because he’s suddenly reminded of all the problems that filled his body and mind when he first found out he had been manipulated and how his own horrible personality had enabled others to do as they pleased.

Now he not only has Wen Yuan to remind him of what his mistakes caused but Wen Ning as well.

“You’re very right,” Wei Wuxian hums, leaning his head on the man’s shoulder. “But things look better now, better than that time at least.”

Jiang Cheng knows nothing is against him, his brother would never do something intentional to hurt him and nothing he was saying had some malicious intent behind it, but Jiang Cheng felt mortified. It makes him think about a lot of things he is sure isn’t ready to face and remember all these destructive thoughts that Lan Xichen helped to soothe before. He feels he needs to do something, but he doesn’t know what and it only makes it worse.

While he suffers, Wei Wuxian and Wen Ning continue talking about things he doesn’t listen to and Lan Wangji calmly and lovingly focuses on untangling the knots in his partner’s hair and on checking how he’s doing physically. This also reminds him that his brother doesn’t have a core and thus, will age like a normal person instead of a cultivator and the idea of losing him just adds to his misery.

Life hates him.

“If you need anything, just let me know,” Nie Mingjue says once he appears after a long time. “Nothing is more important than helping him.”

“Thank you, Sect Leader Nie,” Lan Wangji responds, polite and grateful eyes looking at him. “Brother needs the help of those he trusts.”

Nie Mingjue nods, his eyes are a bit softer than what’s normal on him, but nothing beyond that. When his eyes fall on Wen Ning, though, a spark of something more hostile appears for a couple of seconds before the man himself shakes his head to get rid of the thought. If that isn’t progress, Jiang Cheng doesn’t know what could be.

“Jiang Wanyin, he wants to see you.”

And oh, he’s fuck. Thinking he’s probably going to hear the man saying he know understand going after him isn’t worth him and that it is his fault he almost dies, he stands up and starts to stiffly move away from the other three. Before he can fully leave, however, he turns back towards them again.

“I’m sorry for what happened to you and your family.”

Wen Ning immediately understands he’s talking to him and the way his eyes widen sting, but Jiang Cheng can’t complain. He used to be an asshole, so to hear him expressing something positive for his family is something he never expected. After a moment he frantically tries to find what to say…

But Jiang Cheng flees before he can do it.

At the Hanshi, Jiang Cheng feels his heart is close to jumping out of his chest. The emotions caused by what he just did had him by the neck and the pain he’s sure he will be experiencing once Lan Xichen asks him to go away is having a feast with his organs. He is between screaming and breaking down in tears before he finally manages to knock and slide the door open when he’s let in.

“Wanyin, you came.”

Whatever Jiang Cheng planned to say is wiped out of his memory when he hears the sniffles and sees Lan Xichen wiping tears from his reddish and slightly swollen eyes. Fuck, this really is worse than what he imagined.

“What happened?” he still asks, moving just a bit closer. “I should get a physician.”

“No!” he yells, Jiang Cheng freezes again. “I’m fine, well, no, I’m not, but it isn’t something they can heal… I need to talk to you.”

Jiang Cheng swallows, he’s going to die. “Yeah, sure.”

“I know we said we were going to talk when I was better, I ‘m not better, I don’t even know if I’ll be truly better, but I… need to say this,” Oh no, here it comes. “I genuinely fell in love with you and thinking you hated me right before I thought I was going to die was one of the most painful things I have experienced.”

Oh.

“It was dumb to leave like that but I just wanted you to be comfortable in your own home,” he continues, squeezing whatever he has in his hands. “It is the first time I’m in love with someone and when I saw you reach so negatively I thought… I thought leaving was the best, I was clearly wrong.”

The emotions are pressing down against his chest, they combine violently as he tries and fails to find the best way to express what he experienced on those days filled with uncertainty and fear for where Xichen was and what had been done to him. He tries to remember the words he used to explain the situation to Wei Wuxian, Lan Wangji and Lan Qiren, even using the confidence he used when he went to talk to Nie Mingjue, but they don’t sound right. 

Lan Xichen has confessed his love for him once more and Jiang Cheng knows he has to be honest, to do the same.

“I… I don’t know why you fell for me, I’m horrible and you deserve better,” he whispers, probably not the best start. “But I understood I like you, I wanted to talk to you but you were already taken and I knew it was my fault.”

“It wasn’t—”

“It was!” he cuts him off. “If I talked to you instead of running, you wouldn’t have thought I was uncomfortable or repulsed and you wouldn’t have left Lotus Pier like that.”

“Wanyin, they already planned to do this, it wasn’t your fault they chose me,” he says, shaking his head. “I am thankful it was me, I would never forgive myself if it happened to you.”

“So you were fine with leaving me?” he accuses, again, that probably isn’t the best. “T-That’s nonsense, none of this should have happened.”

“It shouldn’t, but they were going to do it and you know we couldn’t do anything before being sure of their crimes,” he whispers, looking into his eyes. “I’m thankful it was me and I’m thankful you saved me, after being convinced you would be better without me, you being the first person I saw upon waking up was more than what I could have asked for.”

Jiang Cheng’s eyes fill with tears as those words seem to caress that abandoned part inside of him that had convinced itself he was always going to be alone because of his own twisted personality. Lan Xichen extends his hand and despite the doubts that tell him nothing good will come out of it, he takes it and soon finds himself sitting close to the man who doesn’t wait any longer before holding both of his hands with his.

“Wanyin… are you sure about how you feel about me?” he asks softly, with a tone that seems to relax every single muscle on Jiang Cheng’s body. “Are you certain there is no other emotion influencing your decision?”

“Of course I am!” he hisses, though, his tears take away that threatening impact. “I understood I loved you before I even found out what happened. I’m not dumb!”

Lan Xichen has the nerve of chuckling before letting go of one of Jiang Cheng’s hands to press something soft against his. “I know you’re not dumb, I’m glad you’re aware of it as well.”

Jiang Cheng huffs, more than eager to show this man, hurt or not, that he won’t be getting away with flustering him, but when the man moves his hand away and Jiang Cheng sees what is now in his hands, he even forgets how to breathe.

What was the rule that talked about the forehead ribbons for Lans?

Chapter Text

Unlike Wei Wuxian, Jiang Cheng actually paid attention to their lectures when they studied at the Cloud Recesses and while it is obvious he didn’t learn the billion rules that regulated this sect, he knows this ribbon is important.

“Wait, this— this is…”

“I am someone who believes we only have one love in this life,” Lan Xichen whispers. “For me, that is you, Wanyin.”

Panic is growing steadily inside of Jiang Cheng, that same panic that took over him when he understood the other was in love with him is back, making his fingers tingle and his legs throb with the need of running away. This time, however, he refuses to even look away.

“You have horrible taste,” he snaps, that surely isn’t the best response. “How the fuck did you fall for me?”

Lan Xichen is stunned, of course he is, how else is he supposed to react, but after a moment a small smile appears on his face and Jiang Cheng is only human.

“You just don’t see how many good things you have,” he says, taking his time to close his fingers around the ribbon in his palm. “But I do.”

Jiang Cheng is so flustered he’s sure he will be bursting out in flames. No one outside of his family had said something this nice and if he adds to it the fact that Lan Xichen is the first person he has felt attracted to, he really will be combusting.

“That’s nonsense,” he argues, though he is sure he sounds more like a whining child instead of an adult. “I’m not… I am a horrible person, you know what I did!”

“I do, but you know what I have done as well,” he replies immediately. “You changed, I changed and that is something not everyone does.”

He knows that as well, in fact, he knows what the man means and knows everything his mind is coming up with is just nonsense that comes with the instinct of running away when it comes to things that have to do with emotions. Defeated, he ends up staring at the soft ribbon in his hand, feeling the remnants of Lan Xichen’s spiritual energy left on it.

“Wanyin…”

He’s supposed to reply, to say something after such a heartfelt confession, Lan Xichen’s voice is still honest but a bit hesitant and he feels horrible, but at the same time, how can he explain what he feels? All this time he has been asking for a chance to do it but now that it is here, he feels like a baby who doesn’t know how to talk.

“You are the first person I have fallen for and I want to learn how emotions and everything work… with you,” he says, it sounds disgustingly sweet, but he’s been honest, they are words that are hurrying out of his chest before his brain has time to stop them. “I hated myself for what happened to you and was terrified of losing you without having the chance to talk. I— I’m stupid with all of this but I fell for you.”

The Gusu Lan leader wasn’t probably expecting to hear him say such things, he has been jumping around and denying the very obvious emotions connecting both after all, but he doesn't laugh, doesn’t suffer from second-hand embarrassment, he is taking everything seriously and the smile that stretches on his face is as genuine and beautiful as Jiang Cheng remembers seeing it the first time it was directed to no one else but him.

“Can I kiss you, Wanyin?”

“Why the fuck are you asking?!”

He knows why, knows it is a combination between wanting to be sure of what he feels and the normal awkwardness born of his inexperience. He’s also Lan Xichen’s first and that leaves two idiots not knowing what to do.

Jiang Cheng’s face is burning when the man leans closer and he can feel the warm breath hitting his face. He looks strikingly handsome on a daily basis, but up close he looks even better, not even the scars and gaunt appearance his time as a captive left him with making him look less beautiful. The Yunmeng Jiang leader suddenly uses his awkwardness to lean forward and finally kiss him.

It is, as expected, awkward, Jiang Cheng doesn’t know what’s the best angle and his lip throbs when it hits the other’s teeth, but he finds comfort in the fact that Lan Xichen is equally clueless and does something that makes him whimper. Still, they don’t pull away, the need to do this, to be successful is stronger and after a couple of excruciating seconds, it finally feels right. Lan Xichen has his hands resting delicately on his cheeks, with the bandaged one making less pressure than the other to not hurt him, and is pressing soft kisses to his lips.

“You are beautiful,” the man whispers. “I also want to learn everything this has to offer with you. I’m not letting you go again.”

“I’m the one locking you up inside a room,” he huffs despite how red his face probably is. “I refuse to go through this again.”

He still feels like combusting, his words sound like nonsense a teenager would say, too sweet to his liking… but he is surprisingly fine with it. For the first time in a long time, everything feels right.

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Lan Xichen’s recovery continues. It doesn’t magically speed up after they kissed, but it continues moving as well as it had been before that. 

His core can’t speed up the recovery process because of the damage it suffered from being under the influence of the iron, but it doesn’t leave him to suffer as if he is just a normal human being. As time goes by, the man is capable of walking on his own again and eventually making small exercises that aim to help his muscles regain their strength and elasticity that was almost lost after being two steps away from becoming a fierce corpse.

Everyone helps, everyone does their best and that love and affection seem to do more for the leader than the actual help.

He’s happy when his brother and uncle go to help him meditate and control his spiritual energy that seems to go crazy every now and then, he smiles when Wei Wuxian comes to remove the remnants of resentful energy left inside of him and looks delighted when Jiang Yanli visits with her son and the young Wen Yuan.

Jiang Cheng spends most of his time there, but his presence still makes Lan Xichen’s excitement go through the roof.

He greets him with the same effusiveness when he arrives every morning and smiles through the pain and everything his recovery causes. More than once he reminds him of the bunnies living at the back at the mountain that go wild whenever Lan Wangji is close and Jiang Cheng in return feels like a feline who pretends to be bothered by the insistence of people being around him when he actually loves the attention.

If a normal Lan Xichen is kind and attentive, the one in love is even more and Jiang Cheng, who is used to his mother’s hurtful words and his father’s dismissiveness, feels so loved it is sometimes scary. He’s scared it will end one day, scared Lan Xichen will realise he is not the man he wants to be with for his whole life and will take everything back so their relationship gets ruined and they are forced to live in awkwardness for the rest of their lives.

He also doesn’t know if what he does is enough.

“Zewu-jun looks so happy,” Wei Wuxian’s comment and wriggling brows make him squirm lightly. “He’s normally in a good mood, but now it is better.”

“Shut up,” he snaps. “Stop being ridiculous.”

“Come on, A-Xian, don’t tease him,” Jiang Yanli says with a small chuckle, sitting her son more comfortably on her lap. “Them being happy is what matters.”

“Of course! I’m happy for them, but they deserve teasing, we all went through it.”

Jiang Cheng would scoff and throw his plate at the man’s head if he didn’t have the young Wen Yuan on his legs. “No one teases you.”

“What do you know?” I get teased by A-Yuan and everyone all the time!”

The little kid huffs and argues that he’s innocent, prompting both to start bickering as if his brother really is the same age as the little kid. Jiang Cheng manages to keep himself from rolling his eyes, but the more time passes, the more something keeps coming back to poke at his brain insistently. 

“A-Cheng, is everything alright?” his sister asks softly, her soft eyes filled with worry.

“Yes,” he lies immediately but looks away in a clear sign that gives him away. “It’s nothing bad, ajie, don’t mind me.”

She is having none of that, obviously. “A-Cheng.”

Wei Wuxian and Wen Yuan had also gone silent and everyone paying attention to him, even Jin Ling, makes him feel even more insecure about speaking. He’s an adult and he should be capable of dealing with his own issues, but all of this is so new.

“You can trust us, Jiang Cheng, you know it,” Wei Wuxian says with that serious tone that it is so weird for someone like him. “Talk to us.”

It takes him more time fidgeting and staring at the table, he can’t get rid of the feeling, but they are his family, experienced family, he has no one else. “How…” he starts but stops to awkwardly clear his throat. “How do you know if you’re being a good… partner?”

Silence is the thing that follows and Jiang Cheng has that ugly sensation climbing up his chest that tells him he just fucked everything up. It only gets worse when one of the two let out a soft chuckle that makes his ears ring.

“There isn’t a right answer,” her sister says softly, one of her hands resting on top of his’. “It is something only you can answer.”

Great. Jiang Cheng lets out a faint sigh as he looks up at the woman, thankful to find there is nothing that says she’s making fun of him, she never would, he knows but that’s how his mind is. “I have no idea about any of this, ajie.”

She’s a wonderful person, she’s not like Jiang Cheng who sucks at everything related to emotions, and it’s not that she is incapable of understanding their differences, but she’s given him too much credit.

“Shijie is right,” Wei Wuxian says next and Jiang Cheng is surprised to hear he’s not using his teasing tone. “I had a lot of doubts when Lan Zhan and I became something, we are apparently so different, but after some time, it worked, we work well together and at one point you just stop questioning how it happens.”

Wei Wuxian is not stupid, he likes messing around and becomes a childish and whiny toddler whenever their sister is pampering him, but he’s not stupid, he is sensible, wise and understands so many things it would be dumb to not listen to him. 

“You do nothing, then?” he asks, his normally snarky and hostile personality going away because he wants to understand. “You keep going hoping it will be alright?”

“Yes and no,” he hums. “With time, you understand each other. Zewu-jun and you just started, so you need to know each other and once you do, you will know what’s right and what’s not.”

“Trial and error, then,” he says, not that happy about it because he hates the idea of messing things up badly.

  “You fell in love with him for a reason, A-Cheng,” his sister intervenes, her hand squeezing his’ softly. “Even if you feel that you will do something wrong, even if you feel lost in what makes both be together, it’s not true. Just remember why you fell for him in the first place.”

And it makes so much fucking sense

Putting it like that, Jiang Cheng feels like a bigger idiot for not understanding it sooner, but once more tries to find comfort in how new all of it is, but it makes so much sense. 

“It makes sense…”

Jiang Yanli smiles with her same soft and understanding smile, encouragingly squeezing his hand. Wei Wuxian smiles as well and there’s still no sign of teasing or anything that could make Jiang Cheng react with his usual hostility. 

They are so much better than him.

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“Wanyin… would you still love me if I wasn’t a leader anymore?”

The question almost makes him drop the beautiful teapot and kick the table for how violently his muscles react to such a question. His wide eyes look up at the man who is now looking down at the table despite his reaction. “What the fuck?”

His poor choice of words make him flinch, his healthy hand balling up into a tight fist that turns his knuckles white. “It’s just a doubt… if I stopped being the Gusu Lan leader, would you still like me?”

“You think I fell in love with your position or what?” It is evident Lan Xichen is going through something and it is possible his words aren’t the best, but the timing of this couldn’t be better.

“No!” he says, panic filling his amber eyes as he looks at him. “It’s just a question…”

“Why would you think that?” he asks even when it is a bit hypocritical given his own insecurities. 

Lan Xichen once more looks away and he even starts to play with the bandage on his wrist. These days Jiang Cheng has learnt a bit of what a certain expression means and can tell that whatever the man has is a bit more delicate. Standing up, he moves to sit at the man’s side and after a couple of seconds of hesitation, he ends up reaching for his hand.

His reaction is immediate, tears he tries to hide fill his eyes and the hand Jiang Cheng reached for moves so he can hold him back. He stays like that for a long time and Jiang Cheng waits, rubbing the back of his hand with his thumb because that always helps him when his sister does it,

“I am recovering too slowly,” he says, swallowing the lump in his throat. “There are times where I feel frustrated and— I heard an elder saying it was necessary that the Gusu Lan Sect showed we are still strong.”

“Fuck them,” he snaps, probably not the best but when he has nice things to say? Never. “You can’t get over it and go on with life. Recovery takes time and your brother and uncle are there, aren’t they strong?”

“Yes, I know,” he sniffles, slumping down to rest his forehead on his shoulders. “But am I really capable?”

“Of course you are!” he snaps again, wrapping his arms around the man now. “Xichen, you’re an amazing leader.”

“Amazing leader that got deceived by someone he trusted.”

Jin Guangyao.

Jiang Cheng’s inside burst out in flames at the sole memory of that asshole. “He’s a fucking snake.”

“I trusted him Wanyin, I thought he was one of the few I could trust,” he now sobs. “I thought he was good, nice, caring but he— he stood there as Xue Yang tested me, he apologised and said he didn’t want it but what was I supposed to do with that?”

His blood boils even more at that. Even when he remembers Jin Guangyao looked a bit remorseful when he was asked about his involvement in Lan Xichen’s injuries, he still let it all happen. 

“Nothing,” he breathes out, trying to keep his anger at bay so the other can express himself better.

“Am I still reliable, then?” he asks, looking up at him once more. “Will people still believe in me after what happened?”

“They will be idiots if they don’t,” he states, holding the man’s face so he looks at him. “Everyone fell for Jin Guangshan’s lies, we’re all humans, I won’t let them talk shit about you.”

“Wanyin…”

“You pulled me out of one fo the darkest pits I have been, you fell in love with me even with all the flaws I have. You’re better than most of us,” he continues. “You make mistakes, but who doesn’t? Jin Guangyao didn’t deserve anything of what you gave to him and it hurts to be betrayed but fuck them . You have a lot of people with you, so stay with them… that’s what I did.”

It hurts him, of course, Jiang Cheng knows the feeling a little too well, but he knows the man is also capable of moving forward. Like it happened when he felt his world was falling apart because his core wasn’t his and everything felt like a lie. Lan Xichen was his pillar then, he wants to do the same.

He will probably be the first cultivator to die for being flustered, but it will be worth it.