~ Wei Wuxian ~
It started with Auntie Wen Yue. At first, they all thought it was just a summer cold brought on by the late-night rains. Wen Qing prescribed bed rest and liquids with a frown at the sound of her wet cough. Wei Wuxian hadn’t thought much of it beyond a mild concern.
But then another caught it, and another, and another. Wen Qing checked them over, and her frown deepened. She sent Wei Wuxian into town to buy medicine and brewed it into a tea to try to clear out their lungs. But the sickness persisted.
Then Wen Qing herself fell sick.
Wen Ning, who because he was dead could not catch a cold or a flu, took over the care of the sick. Wen Qing tried to continue to treat her patients as she hacked up a lung whenever she breathed too deeply.
Wei Wuxian started making plans when Granny Wen got sick. She was older. Breathing would come harder for her. A fever could be deadly. They didn’t have the medical supplies they needed – they weren’t a Sect with financial support from the towns near them. They didn’t even have enough food to increase rations to the sick.
They were sick and they were dying. If Wei Wuxian didn’t act soon, they would all become the newest additions to the mass graves of the Burial Grounds. He gathered the Wens who were still well enough to sit up and speak.
They had to seek help, the question was from who. The Jins were obviously out of the question. Wei Wuxian was reluctant to go to Jiang Cheng. He didn’t want to bring trouble to Shidi’s door. On top of that, Lotus Pier was still rebuilding, they may not have had the supplies needed to help. Qinghe was too far a journey to make. That left only one real option, and Wei Wuxian knew that he had a standing invitation – come to Gusu with me .
They argued and talked in circles about whether it was better to die free or to submit themselves to potential imprisonment and risk dying in captivity. They talked until Wen Yuan got sick, then they stopped talking.
Gusu Lan were honorable cultivators. Even if the rest of them were to die, the Lans would not condemn a child. If Wen Yuan could be saved, that would be worth it.
So, they packed up everything they owned – unsure if they would ever return to the home they had built over the last several months of hard work and toil. They began to walk. They put the sickest on the handcart to be pulled by Wen Ning and the rest were on foot.
The journey took four days. It would have taken less if they could have felt safe using broad roads and traveling through big towns. They took the long way around towns and slept in the shelter of the forest. On the second day, Wei Wuxian felt a tickle in his throat and a tension in his chest. On the third day, Wen Yuan slipped into a feverish sleep. Wei Wuxian’s own face felt flushed and his legs felt like lead.
He almost cried when they reached the outskirts of the Cloud Recesses. He almost cried again when he remembered that the gate was at the end of a steep climb. The Wens, sick as they were, couldn’t make that climb. Many were already asleep on their feet. Wen Qing, coughing, told him to go ahead of them and take A-Yuan. If nothing else, A-Yuan would make it to the gates. Wen Ning stayed behind as protection.
Wei Wuxian slung A-Yuan to his back, carefully tucked a travel cloak over him, and began to climb. When he was a student the climb had taken a half an hour or so; now he lost track of the time as the sun slipped lower in the sky. It was almost dark by the time his tired legs trudged to the gate.
There were two guards in Gusu Lan white robes standing at the gateway. Wei Wuxian was glad that he’d made it before the damned curfew. He landed and stumbled towards them before falling to his knees. He felt like he was dying.
“Who goes there?” One of them asked, stepping closer.
“Hel – help,” Wei Wuxian managed to pant through dry lips. “Get – get Hanguang-jun.” He didn’t want to talk to them. He needed Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan would let them in. Lan Zhan was good. He would help. He knew A-Yuan. He’d save them.
“How do you know Hanguang-jun?” The other guard asked, suspicious.
“It’s you!” The first one gasped, now close enough to see Wei Wuxian’s face. “Wei Wuxian! Yiling Laozu!”
They both drew their swords. Wei Wuxian frowned and panted.
“Does Gusu train their disciples to – to point their swords at the sick and injured?” He asked them, sure that they could see by one glance at him how unwell he was. “I’m asking for help.”
“It could be a trick!”
“I’ll show you a trick,” Wei Wuxian said, fed up. He reached into his sleeve and withdrew a talisman. He activated it and they both flinched back as if attacked when the golden butterflies flew past them and straight through the wards.
“What did you do?” The angrier of the two demanded, putting his sword right at Wei Wuxian’s neck.
“Called a friend.”
“ Wei Ying! ”
Lan Zhan had arrived. Wei Wuxian smiled.
~ Lan Wangji ~
Running was forbidden in the Cloud Recesses, but Lan Wangji started running when he saw the butterflies. And it was a good thing that he had, because when he reached the gates the guards already had a sword to Wei Ying’s neck.
“Wei Ying!” He called out, breathing the name without even meaning too. Wei Ying looked up and smiled at him. “Put your sword down,” he ordered the disciple.
“But he is the Yiling Laozu,” the man argued.
“And I am your senior. Stand down.”
As soon as the sword was sheathed, Lan Wangji rushed to Wei Ying’s side. He knelt in the dirt and caught Wei Ying by his upper arms. He tightened his grip when he felt Wei Ying relax bonelessly into his hold. He looked so thin, so pale.
“Wei Ying?” Lan Wangji inquired. Why are you here? What’s wrong? How can I fix it?
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying sighed. “Help us?”
“The Wens, we’re sick,” he explained, his breathing ragged between words. “Wen Qing can’t help. We need more... more – we’re desperate. We’re dying.”
“Not dying,” Lan Wangji insisted. “Are you alone?”
“The Wens are at the foot of the mountain. They –” he broke off into a cough. Lan Wangji waited, frustrated at his inability to help. “– they couldn’t make the journey up. A-Yuan – A-Yuan is here.”
Wei Ying shifted the cloak from his back to reveal the small sleeping face of Wen Yuan. He looked sick too. So sick and so small, tucked up against Wei Ying’s neck. Lan Wangji’s heart broke. He reached out a hand to pat his head. His forehead was burning up with a fever.
“It will be alright,” Lan Wangji assured the pair. He would make it so. He turned back to the two men hovering behind him. “Go down the mountain and help guide the rest of the sick. Do not harm them. They are seeking asylum and are to be treated as guests. I will send more help to follow.”
They bowed and, aware they were being dismissed, mounted their swords and flew away in the direction of the Wens. As soon as they were gone, Wei Ying’s eyes rolled into the back of his head and he collapsed.
Lan Wangji – trying not to panic – scooped Wei Ying and A-Yuan up into his arms. Even with their two weights combined, they felt light as a feather in his arms. Lan Wangji walked to the medical pavilion as quickly as he could without jostling his precious cargo. He ran into his brother on the way.
“I felt the wards break,” his brother said, taking in the view in front of him. “Is that Wei Wuxian?”
“Brother, the Wens, they are sick. They need help,” Lan Wangji explained as briskly as he could.
“Say no more,” his brother answered, reading the panic present in Lan Wangji’s tone and responding with calm. “I will see to the rest of the Wens, take care of Wei-gongzi and the child.”
Doctor Lan Hao was not thrilled to be given the news that Lan Wangji was bringing him thirty-odd patients with an unknown sickness. Luckily, he didn’t seem to care that those people were Wens and the Yiling Laozu. He had Lan Wangji set Wei Ying and A-Yuan on a bed. Luckily, the room’s beds were largely empty – they would need to be so to fit so many ill.
Doctor Lan Hao checked A-Yuan first. Then he checked Wei Ying. He frowned and tutted. And then he told Lan Wangji to get out.
“I don’t know what I’m dealing with yet; it could be contagious. It won’t do me any good to have more patients,” he said – making an unfortunate amount of sense. “Go take a bath and have your clothes sent to be washed.”
Lan Wangji had never bathed and changed so quickly in his life. The tips of his hair were still wet when he returned to the medical pavilion. His brother was standing outside with his uncle when he arrived. His uncle was frowning – but this was nothing new.
“Wangji this is completely –” his uncle started to scold, only to be cut off by Doctor Lan Hao stepping outside and shutting the door firmly behind him with a bang.
“The good news is that I have identified the sickness and it is one I am familiar with,” he announced without waiting for acknowledgment. “I have already begun treatment for the virus.”
“Is it serious?” Lan Xichen asked.
“It is colloquially known as the Seaport Sweat and it is usually found in towns near to water, hence the name, so it is surprising that it hit an isolated place like the Burial Grounds. It is highly contagious, but only to those who had not already contracted it. It swept through Caiyi town and subsequently Gusu thirteen years ago.”
“Yes, I remember,” Lan Wangji’s uncle noted. “Practically everyone contracted it, but most healed fairly quickly. Wangji was very young but even he was only in bed for a few days with a fever.”
“So why is it affecting the Wens so strongly?” Lan Wangji asked, not interested in talking about his own health as a child unless it helped Wei Ying now .
“Many reasons,” the doctor explained. “Malnutrition. Lack of medical supplies. The biggest thing is that they are not cultivators. The sickness lingered much longer in town than in Gusu for this very reason.”
“What do you mean they are not cultivators?” Lan Wangji’s uncle barked. This was not a surprise to Lan Wangji who had already visited the burial grounds months before, but it brought a sort of sick satisfaction to see his brother and uncle bristle in shock and disbelief at the news.
“My initial observations are these: among the thirty-two of them, the majority are elderly or middle-aged. There is one child, aged around three or four. I counted exactly one golden core among them. The female doctor, Wen Qing, is a cultivator but she has been running herself so ragged trying to treat those in her care that her golden core hasn’t been doing her any good short of keeping her on her feet. The only one of them who isn’t sick is already dead. And, on top of that, all of them are exhibiting signs of malnutrition.”
“And what about Wei Wuxian?”
“What about him?” Doctor Lan Hao repeated back, unfazed.
“He is a cultivator.”
“If he was, he isn’t now. He has no golden core.”
“What?” The world fell away from under Lan Wangji’s feet. This time, he was as equally surprised as those around him. But, after the initial shock, he found he didn’t care. While his uncle wanted explanations, he only wanted to be at Wei Ying’s side.
“Can I see him?” Lan Wangji demanded of Doctor Lan Hao.
“As I said, if you have already had the virus then you are immune. You already had it, so you can go inside without concern,” he said matter-of-factly. “But I’ll not have you underfoot. I have a lot of patients. And if I require aid, then I expect you to do as I tell you. Am I understood?”
Lan Wangji nodded once in assent and stepped swiftly around him through the doors. The formally empty beds were now packed with coughing Wens. Lan Wangji recognized a few of them as he walked past them to get to the bed where he had left Wei Ying only to find him trying to crawl out of it.
“Wei Ying!” He exclaimed, rushing over to catch him and put him back. He was shaking all over.
“Wei Wuxian, you get back in that bed this instant,” Doctor Lan Hao ordered, coming up behind them.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying mumbled through his fever, his eyes wild and wet. It seemed like he couldn’t even see or hear the others, only able to focus on what was precisely in front of him. “Where’s A-Yuan? I have to find A-Yuan,” he insisted, trying weekly to fight against Lan Wangji’s hold. His head lolled wildly as he looked around. His breath turned into gasps and Lan Wangji could feel his heartbeat, rabbit quick, against where he held him still. Wei Ying was panicking.
“The child?” Lan Wangji requested on Wei Ying’s behalf, looking to Doctor Lan Hao for answers.
“Fine, just moved to a different bed,” came the answer. “That polite dead young man you brought with you is looking after him. We are giving him fluids and waiting for the fever to break. He is sleeping.” He leaned over Lan Wangji’s shoulder to glare down at Wei Ying. “As you should be too.”
“Wei Ying, A-Yuan is safe,” Lan Wangji assured, pushing him back down. He collapsed like a puppet with its strings cut, coughing weakly as he did. “You are all safe.” Lan Wangji said, tucking him under the sheet. “You need sleep to begin healing.”
“Lan Zhan?” He whispered, a hand reaching out blindly to fumble for Lan Wangji’s wrist.
“Mn. I’m here.”
“How does that song go? The one you sang to me last time I was sick? Will you sing it for me again? I want to hear it.”
“If I sing for you, will you rest?”
Wei Ying sighed and closed his eyes. Lan Wangji sat on the side of Wei Ying’s bed and ignored the eyes on him. He hummed the song he’d written for Wei Ying. He hummed through the whole piece and then started again from the beginning. He hummed until Wei Ying stopped coughing and his breathing evened out into the deep breath of sleep.
“I should check on A-Yuan and the other Wens,” he said, mostly to himself after he was sure that Wei Ying wouldn’t wake up if he moved.
“He is sleeping. They all are,” Doctor Lan Hao said, startling him a bit. He looked up to see that his uncle and brother had left at some point during the song. “It is almost dinner. You should eat. Take care of yourself and let me take care of my patients.”
“His golden core?”
“All I can tell you is that it is not there. It is a question that perhaps only he can answer, and he cannot answer it while he is asleep or sick. You can tell your uncle that I won’t have my patients interrogated until they are healthy. You, however, have no excuse for avoiding your elder and your Sect Leader at dinner. Go. I will send word if there are any changes.”
~ Lan Qiren ~
Dinner with his nephews was a quiet affair, per the rules. But the silence that prevailed over them on the evening that the Wens arrived felt more oppressive than usual. Lan Qiren was furious, fuming, and confused. Wangji was being stubborn. And Xichen, he was a mystery. Lan Qiren had no idea what his older nephew was thinking. Despite having talked with him briefly while Wangji had been tending to Wei Wuxian, Xichen had let on very little about his opinions on the issue at hand.
After dinner, Xichen poured them another round of tea. And then Lan Qiren spoke.
“Wangji, it was not appropriate for you to offer sanctuary to the Wens without seeking the counsel of your elders and your Sect Leader first,” he said. “That being said, I have spoken with your brother and he agrees with the choice and insists that there be no punishment.”
“If the elders complain,” Xichen said, “I will tell them you were acting on my behalf. It is not a lie, since I would have done the same in your stead.”
“Thank you Xiongzhang,” Wangji murmured.
“The Wens will be treated as guests until they are well enough for a more permanent decision to be made” Xichen assured. The two siblings had always been on the same side in everything, all their lives, there was no reason for Lan Qiren to have assumed that they would be any different in this.
“We can only hope,” Lan Qiren interjected, “that none of the other Sects catch wind that we are harboring them before such a decision has been made. The result of that could be… sticky.”
“Should we formally announce it?” Xichen asked. “So that if they discover it, it does not seem as if we are keeping secrets. I could tell my sworn brothers, directly, so there are no misunderstandings.”
“No, best to leave it for now,” Lan Qiren told him. He didn’t know how to tell Xichen that both he and Wangji didn’t trust Xichen’s sworn brothers as much as he did. And, the fact that when asked to create the brotherhood Jin Guanshan had offered up not his heir but his newly acknowledged bastard showed that the Jin Sect likely cared little for the newly ordained venerated trio’s word. “I wish to speak with that doctor, Wen Qing, and with Wei Wuxian before any decisions are made. I had no idea there were so many elderly and non-cultivators among the number. The Jins would have us believe that Wei Wuxian has amassed a dangerous army when clearly this is not the case.”
“I agree, Uncle,” Xichen said. “I would also like to get a clearer picture.”
“Then perhaps,” Wangji said, with a fierce look in his eyes, “you should have visited Yiling to see for yourself. Or, asked me what I saw when I visited. You had plenty of time to ask after I received punishment.”
The words stung like barbs. They hadn’t asked at all. And if they had asked, and Wangji had spoken of a child and kindly grandmothers then he would not have been believed. They had all thought, even Xichen to an extent, that Wangji’s head had been misled by his heart.
But it didn’t give him the excuse to be so rude.
“Wangji! Respect your elders and your Sect Leader,” Lan Qiren snapped, in the only way he knew how. “I acknowledge my failings and am taking steps to rectify my mistakes. Do not make me regret my decision to do so. Return to your room for the night and reflect on the rules of respect.”
Wangji hesitated. Even when given a direct order by his uncle and Sect elder, he hesitated still. He hesitated for Wei Wuxian.
“Wangji,” Xichen murmured softly, “Doctor Lan Hao is watching over them. He would alert us to any change.”
Only then did the tension seep from Wangji’s body and did he say his goodnights with a bow. Xichen bowed too and followed him out. Lan Qiren poured himself another cup of tea. They were too much like their parents.
~ Lan Hao ~
The female doctor, Wen Qing, woke with the sun the next morning and was practically fully healed. She had a little bit of a lingering cough, but she didn’t let that stop her from shooting up out of the bed and refusing to get back into it until she was sure that her people were safe and well. Even after that, she only agreed to a brief medical examination before she was up and about again.
She was quite fierce. Lan Hao decided not to fight her on it, especially since he could use the extra set of hands. Her fortitude and shrewdness made themselves immediately apparent in the way she treated her patients. She reminded Lan Hao a bit of his wife who had recently passed. They had been unable to have children, despite many attempts. But if they’d had a daughter… well it hardly mattered. The point was, he had been looking for a protégé.
The rising of the sun also brought with it light – that is to say, Hanguang-jun. Lan Wangji arrived so early that Lan Hao worried that the young man had not slept at all the night before but simply sat up waiting for the earliest appropriate time to show up.
He greeted Lan Hao with a bow and silence, staring at him until he let him in. He then greeted Wen Ning and Wen Qing which was a much more dramatic affair as Lan Wangji looked noticeably uncomfortable at the gratitude they expressed. He assured them that no thanks were needed, that it was simply the honorable thing to do to help those in need. He was too modest. Lan Hao knew that Lan Wangji had stuck his neck out for Wei Wuxian and the Wens when many others refused to do so – and Wen Qing knew it too.
After the greeting was done, the Wen siblings returned to their patients and Lan Wangji returned to Wei Wuxian’s side. Lan Hao had not realized that Lan Wangji and the Yiling Laozu were so close. He had seen the two get in-and-out of trouble as teens and was well aware that they both had fought side-by-side during the war. He had not realized that there was such devotion between the two. He was sure that Lan Qiren must hate it.
“If you are going to sit there all day,” Lan Hao said, approaching him, “then you can help to treat him. Apply a cold compress, refreshing it when it grows warm. Monitor his heart rate and his breathing. Alert me if there are any changes. He may come to consciousness here and there and he may be confused, not fully awake, try to keep him calm when this happens. If he wakes, try to get him to eat. Even a little bit of broth is better than nothing. Am I understood?”
“Understood,” Lan Wangji agreed immediately, already reaching for the damp cloth on Wei Wuxian forehead to refresh it.
Wei Wuxian did come to a state of consciousness a few times that day, and he asked after the young boy, A-Yuan, each time he did. Each time they force-fed him some broth and water, assured him that the child was fine, and settled him back to bed.
This went on for three days. During those three days the Wens began to recover, many of the younger members were able to fully get out of bed and move to guest rooms by just the second day. On the third day, Wen Yuan woke up fully recovered as if he had never been sick in the first place.
On the third day, Wei Wuxian’s condition got worse.
~ Wen Yuan ~
A-Yuan woke up in a strange but comfy bed in a strange and well-lit room. He had no memory of the past few days or how he’d come to be there. He remembered everyone getting sick. He guessed that he must have gotten sick too. He didn’t feel sick now.
Ning-gege was there, leaning over his bed when he woke up. His tiny smile was probably the only reason why Wen Yuan didn’t start screaming. He hadn’t expected to be in a completely different place the next time he woke up and it was kind of scary.
Qing-jiejie showed up moments later, followed closely by a man in all white with a funny little mustache. They both peered down at him and poked at his chest a few times. That was a little scary too.
“No sign of the illness lingering but he could do with a good meal,” the old man pronounced, before walking away.
Qing-jiejie told him that he’d been very sick so that now, even though he was better, he should still rest and not run around too much right away. Ning-gege brought him some yummy congee and soup that was almost as good as that one soup he’d brought home for him that had lotus in it.
“Where is Xian-gege?” Wen Yuan asked after he finished his food and handed the two empty bowls back to Ning-gege.
“He is still sick, A-Yuan,” came the answer, from Qing-jiejie as she handed him some water to wash down the congee.
“Where is he?” He looked around the room over the top of the cup as he sipped. He saw Fourth Uncle sitting up in bed nearby (he waved) but he couldn’t see Xian-gege. “Sleeping?”
“Yes, still sleeping.”
“Can I see him?” He handed the cup to Ning-gege.
“I suppose you can,” Qing-jiejie told him. “But you must promise not to move around too much or be too loud. He is still healing.”
“I promise!” He even held up his fingers just like Xian-gege always did. That made Qing-jiejie smile.
Wen Yuan lifted his arms up to Ning-gege to be picked up. Ning-gege carried him over to where Xian-gege was sleeping. Xian-gege looked white and sweaty. He looked like he was both hot and cold at the same time. He was frowning, like he was having a nightmare in his sleep.
Wen Yuan looked up from Xian-gege to the man sitting by the side of the bed. He wasn’t smiling either. But his serious face did make Wen Yuan smile because it was a face he recognized.
Rich-gege’s mouth looked like it wanted to smile but didn’t. But he did reach his arms up to take Wen Yuan from Ning-gege. Wen Yuan let himself be transferred easily and plopped himself in Rich-gege’s lap.
“A-Yuan,” Qing-jiejie scolded. “Quiet please. And, you shouldn’t call him that.”
“What should I?”
“You should call him Hanguang-jun or Lan-er-gongzi.”
“Not right,” Wen Yuan pouted. That wasn’t right. That wasn’t what Xian-gege called him. It wasn’t right. He looked up at Rich-gege and pouted. “Gege.”
“My name is Lan Wangji or Lan Zhan,” he said in a soft response. Wen Yuan smiled. Lan Zhan! That was it! That was what Xian-gege called him. Which meant, maybe Wen Yuan could call him…
“A-Yuan, that isn’t appropriate,” Qing-jiejie said. But Zhan-gege’s mouth still looked happy.
“It is fine,” Zhan-gege said. “I am glad to see you are feeling better. Wei Ying has been worried for you.”
“Is Xian-gege hurt?” Wen Yuan asked, turning in Zhan-gege’s arms to look at Xian-gege again.
“He is hurting because he is sick. He has a fever,” Zhan-gege explained. “Would you like to sit and help me to cool his temperature?”
Wen Yuan nodded and Zhan-gege showed him how to wet the cloth with cool water and fold it just right to put it on Xian-gege’s sweaty brow so it wouldn’t fall off if he rolled around in his sleep. He let Wen Yuan sit on his lap while Wen Yuan played with Xian-gege’s hair and even showed him how to make proper plaits in it. He sat patiently while Wen Yuan told him stories about things that Xian-gege and he did in their home with the dirt and the radishes. Then, when he’d run out of stories, Zhan-gege told him stories about the things he and Xian-gege used to do when they were younger.
Zhan-gege’s brother showed up around the time for their second meal to try to get Zhan-gege to come to eat. Zhan-gege didn’t want to leave Xian-gege’s side. Wen Yuan didn’t want to either, but Zhan-gege and Qing-jiejie told him that he should go and eat with the aunties and the uncles who had already gotten better and had moved to different rooms. Zhan-gege’s own gege promised to take him to see some bunnies if he came to lunch and went to bed in his own bed. Eventually he agreed, but only if he got to say goodnight to Xian-gege first.
Lunch was mostly vegetables. Wen Yuan wanted meat. He hadn’t had any meat since he was with his parents. This white place, that the aunties called the Cloud Recesses, surely must have had meat since everyone dressed so nice. The bunnies were soft, though. Zhan-gege’s gege came back after lunch to take him there to see them. Zhan-gege’s gege was called Zewu-jun but he said that Wen Yuan could call him Xichen-gege if wanted. Xichen-gege taught him how to feed the bunnies without scaring them away.
When the sun started getting low in the sky they said goodbye to the bunnies and Xichen-gege brought him to the kitchens with him to pick up some trays of food. One for each of them and one for Zhan-gege. They went back to the sick place and Xichen-gege and Zhan-gege and him all ate by Xian-gege’s side. Xian-gege didn’t even wake up to eat.
Xichen-gege was putting their empty bowls back on the tray when Zhan-gege shot straight up out of his chair and almost knocked his bowl onto the floor.
“Wei Ying!” Zhan-gege called out, reaching out for Xian-gege. He sounded scared.
Something was wrong with Xian-gege. He was shaking all over, thrashing and rolling around like a monster was chasing him. There were dark swirls rolling off of him in waves and it looked like they burned where they touched Zhan-gege’s hands. Xian-gege was crying and whimpering and Wen Yuan thought that he was saying something but he couldn’t understand it.
The doctor and Qing-jiejie ran over.
“Is he having a seizure?” Zhan-gege asked. Wen Yuan wanted to ask what that meant but Xichen-gege swept him up into his arms before he could.
“I believe he’s just shaking from the fever, but I need to check his eyes. Hold him still.”
Zhan-gege pressed Xian-gege further into the bed. Qing-jiejie stuck a needle in his neck and forehead. The black swirls went away and Xian-gege stopped moving. Qing-jiejie peeled his eyelid open and his eye was rolled all the way back into his head leaving an all-white expanse. He looked scary. He looked not alive.
Wen Yuan screamed.
“Get him out of here!”
“No!” Wen Yuan cried, frantically trying to crawl over Xichen-gege’s shoulder to get to Xian-gege. “Xian-gege!”
“A-Yuan, it will be okay,” Xichen-gege tried to assure him, but how could Xichen-gege know?
“No! Xian-gege! I want to stay with Xian-gege! Don’t make me go!”
Zhan-gege stood and left Xian-gege’s side. Qing-jiejie took his place. Zhan-gege walked over and nodded once to his gege, then he looked at Wen Yuan with sad eyes. He patted Wen Yuan on the head. His parents used to pat him like that.
“A-Yuan, your Xian-gege has a fever and we have to give him space to cool down,” he explained.
“But can’t I stay?” Wen Yuan pleaded through a runny nose drip. “I’ll be really good and quiet.”
“Wei Ying would want you to get proper rest in a bed and not to have to watch him fight like this. He is in good hands.” Zhan-gege used his sleeve to wipe Wen Yuan’s nose.
“Promise Xian-gege will be okay?”
“We prom–” Xichen-gege started to say but Zhan-gege interrupted.
“No. I won’t lie. I can’t promise that,” he said. “Only Wei Ying can control that. But I believe he will fight his strongest that he can. He doesn’t want to leave you. I know that.”
That shouldn’t have made him feel better, but it did. Wen Yuan liked that Zhan-gege talked to him not like a little kid, like he could understand. Xian-gege always was like that too. Xian-gege had a lot of people to look after him. Sitting by his bed wouldn’t make it any better or any worse. And, Granny had promised to tell him a story before bed.
“You will stay?”
“I’ll stay here with Wei Ying. I promise.”
“Okay,” Wen Yuan agreed, rubbing at his eyes and trying to put his fear away for the night. “Goodnight, Zhan-gege.”
“Goodnight, A-Yuan. Goodnight, Xiongzhang.”
Xichen-gege carried him outside. They had only taken a few steps in the direction of the place where everyone else was staying when the doctor followed them out and called out to them to wait. Xichen-gege turned back to him. He looked very serious.
“Zewu-jun,” he said, “if Wei Wuxian has any family to contact, now might be the appropriate time to do so.”
You –” Xichen-gege paused to swallow. Wen Yuan felt the gulp under his hands where he held onto Xichen-gege’s neck. “You think that is necessary?”
“I think that Wei Wuxian has been calling out quite desperately for someone called ‘Shijie’. Good night.”
He went back inside and Xichen-gege went back to walking.
“Who is Shijie?” Wen Yuan asked.
“It is Wei Wuxian’s older sister.”
“Oh. He misses her a lot. He wanted to go to her marriage but he couldn’t. I told him to fly to her but I guess he can’t do that either.”
“You cannot fly without a golden core.”
“Oh. Will she come here to see him?”
“I will write a request for her to do so.”
“That’s good. That will make Xian-gege happy. Now he has to get better.” Wen Yuan yawned and decided to rest his head on Xichen-gege’s shoulder just for a little bit until they reached Granny. “I used to have a Jiejie. I miss her too.”
~ Jiang Cheng ~
Jiang Cheng received the message on a golden butterfly addressed directly to him. He barely took the time to leave instructions with his senior disciple and leave a note of where he was going before he hopped on his sword and took off. He flew straight through the night.
The sun was rising in his eyes when he arrived at the gates of the Cloud Recesses. He raised a hand, squinting, and sure he was imagining that Lan Qiren himself had come to meet him at the gates.
“Sect Leader Jiang,” he greeted Jiang Cheng succinctly, “you had better follow me.”
“Of course,” Jiang Cheng agreed, still intimidated by his former teacher, and sheathed his sword. “Perhaps you could give me more information? The message was brief. How did Wei Wuxian come to be with you?”
“He came begging sanctuary for himself and the Wens.”
“Why did he come to you?”
“Ask him that. I can only speculate and I do not wish to speculate on the mind of Wei Wuxian more than I already have been forced to. But the answer may be because he knew that we have good medical facilities.”
“He is unwell. The message from Zewu-jun mentioned that. How unwell?”
“Unwell enough that we felt it prudent to contact you,” the answer came from just over Lan Qiren’s shoulder. They had reached the medical pavilion, and Wen Qing was standing in the doorway.
She looked thin and pale, but she had always looked that way. But now she looked tired, like a strong wind could blow her away. She looked worried. She looked afraid. And that was when Jiang Cheng allowed the fear that had driven him to fly through the night to fully sink in. His brother might die, and it might be his own fault for driving him away.
“Let me see him,” he said, not caring how desperate his voice sounded.
“I want to. We would not have contacted you otherwise. But I am a doctor first and foremost and I can’t allow the illness to spread,” she said, straightening her spine and firming her chin as she spoke crisply. “Have you ever had a case of the Seaport Sweat?”
“What? Yes, when we were kids. Probably the summer before Wei Wuxian came to live with us.”
“That explains why he never built an immunity.”
“Is that what he has? Surely it can’t be that serious, then?”
“Come inside and see for yourself.” She turned around and walked inside.
Jiang Cheng followed her to Wei Wuxian’s sickbed. He bowed briefly to Zewu-jun who was there by Lan Wangji’s side. Lan Wangji was seated right at Wei Wuxian’s bedside – like a loyal guard dog, or more like a lost puppy. Jiang Cheng gave him a nod. He also acknowledged the Lan Sect Doctor. He completely ignored Wen Ning.
He lay there, still as a pond with no wind. There were medical needles that he was familiar with as Wen Qing’s stuck into him at various spots. He was pale and his cheeks were hollow. He looked worse than Jiang Cheng had ever seen him. Worse than when they’d found him after he had been missing for three months. Worse than after he’d been trapped in a cave with a monster. He looked like a corpse. He looked more dead than the actual dead person in the room.
“I thought you said it was just the Seaport Sweat. Why isn’t his golden core healing him?”
There was a heavy and awkward silence. No one – not the respected cultivators, nor the doctors present – answered him. He looked around, trying to read from their looks what it was they weren’t telling him. Under his gaze, the ever-fierce Wen Qing wilted and looked at her feet before walking away completely to tend to other patients (all who looked better than Wei Wuxian did).
Eventually, it was Lan Wangji who spoke – of course it was him.
“When was the last time you saw Wei Ying use his sword?” He asked instead of providing an answer.
“A while? I’m not sure,” he answered, befuddled. “He’s been too caught up in this new cultivation style of his and had been shirking his duties before he left. Why? Is his core damaged by his cultivation style?”
“It is more accurate,” the Lan Doctor answered, “to say that we are unclear whether his cultivation style is a cause or a result of the fact that Wei Wuxian does not appear to be in possession of a golden core at all.”
Jiang Cheng staggered like someone had physically hit him. He found himself reaching out to brace himself on the bed and sinking down to sit on the opposite side of Wei Wuxian’s prone form from Lan Wangji.
“No that’s not –” he stuttered and stumbled. “But I’m sure he – I’ve seen him…” But he hadn’t.
He racked his brain for the last time he’d seen Wei Wuxian use his sword or any form of traditional cultivation. He couldn’t remember a single time since they’d found him, since they’d been separated, since he’d been caught by Wen Chao and Wen Zhuliu .
Had Jiang Cheng really been so blind? Had he really not realized that his own brother had lost his core at practically the same moment his own core had been returned to him? Had he not even considered that his choice to get caught to protect Wei Wuxian had failed ? Should he have accepted his own loss? Would that have saved Wei Wuxian that same fate?
“Why?” Jiang Cheng found his lips forming the word over and over. “Why? Why? Why!? ” He leaned over Wei Wuxian’s body and gripped his still arms, furiously trying to shake him awake – or perhaps shake him into a different reality where there was a different truth. “Wei Wuxian! Wake up right now and explain yourself or I’ll kill you myself!”
“Sect Leader Jiang! I will not have you threatening my patients!” The Lan Sect Doctor snapped. Apparently, all Lan Sect Elders had the ability to make you feel fifteen again.
“I apologize,” he said, releasing his stranglehold on Wei Wuxian’s forearms. He gently straightened out the sweat-drenched fabric of Wei Wuxian’s dirty red under-robe. “I lost control of my emotions. As you can imagine this is… a lot.”
“Of course,” Zewu-jun said in that soft and kind voice of his.
“Could I sit with him a bit… privately?” Jiang Cheng requested. He wanted some time to come to grips with what he had learned and to figure out what that meant for his relationship with his brother – a brother who may not wake again. And he wanted to do it without Lan Wangji staring into his soul.
It took some time for Zewu-jun to convince Lan Wangji to leave his station at Wei Wuxian’s side. He went away with a glare and the order to change Wei Wuxian’s washcloth frequently.
So he did. He sat there and he wiped his brother’s sweaty brow as penance for not realizing, for not having been there sooner. He listened to the way Wei Wuxian sometimes murmured nonsense in his fever-induced sleep, or sometimes whispered Jiang Cheng’s name and something about dogs, or called for his Shijie, or sighed out Lan Wangji’s birth name. He sat there and watched Wei Wuxian fighting the grasp of death for what had to be at least the third time in his life. He tried to ignore the way Wen Qing and Wen Ning stared at him while he sat there.
~ Wen Qing ~
Wen Qing tended to the few members of her family who were still abed but she kept circling back to where Wei Wuxian lay. The others were mostly healed already and were in good spirits except for their concern for Wei Wuxian. So, with nothing to distract her, she kept making her way back to hover.
She rationalized that it was because she wanted to be there if Jiang Wanyin did something inappropriate like shake the needles out of Wei Wuxian. She rationalized that she couldn’t trust him not to do something rash due to the emotional weight of having discovered Wei Wuxian’s truth. She rationalized that she wanted to stand near to Jiang Wanyin due to lingering feelings she had over the comb he’d once given her and the butterflies she had felt when they were students.
She was a doctor and a professional. She refused to admit to herself that she was afraid. She refused to admit that she feared that if she wandered too far from Wei Wuxian’s side that he would no longer be there when she returned.
She refused to give in to that fear. Wei Wuxian had saved A-Ning’s life. So, she would save his. Fear was a useless emotion and it would only distract.
She walked back over to hand Jiang Wanyin a fresh bowl of cool water and to check on the needles again.
~ Lan Xichen ~
Wangji had been sitting at Wei Wuxian’s sickbed for over three days with hardly any breaks to rest or eat. He was starting to look as near to death as Wei Wuxian himself. Jiang Wanyin’s arrival was the excuse Lan Xichen needed to force Wangji to take a break.
“He is in good hands,” Lan Xichen assured him as he drew a warm bath and Wangji ate. Wangji didn’t respond because he was eating and speaking while eating was forbidden.
Wangji remained silent after he finished eating and all the way through his bath. This was by choice. Lan Xichen paced awkwardly about the Jingshi before deciding to walk outside and call for a disciple to send a message. He needed to do something to help his brother since he was powerless to fix the situation at hand. He should have done something to help Wei Wuxian and the Wens long before it had come to this point, that much was now abundantly clear.
Wangji was dressed and combing out his hair when Lan Xichen returned. Lan Xichen sat next to him and held out a hand in wordless request. Wangji let him have the comb. He hadn’t combed his didi’s hair since they were young.
“I haven’t seen you like this since mother passed,” Lan Xichen commented, speaking as carefully as he was combing through the tangles in Wangji’s hair. “You care for Wei Wuxian a great deal.” It was not a question, but an observation.
“He is my heart’s mate,” Wangji said with a rough scratch to his voice. “My other half. I find that I would do anything for him.”
“You love him.”
His poor Wangji, how he must be hating himself. His brother did not like to feel helpless. And now he was helpless to save the one person he cared for most in the world. If Wei Wuxian did not survive this, Lan Xichen feared that his brother too would not survive. So, Wei Wuxian must survive and it would do no use to meditate on the alternative.
“He will be alright,” Lan Xichen assured Wangji… and himself.
“Mn,” Wangji agreed, not meeting his gaze. “He is stubborn.” Lan Xichen smiled. Wei Wuxian was certainly that.
There was a knock on the door as Lan Xichen was finishing pinning up Wangji’s hair. Wangji jolted, his head spinning to the door and his shoulders tensing. Lan Xichen patted his shoulder to settle him and stood to answer the knock. It was a member of the Wens with a surprise visitor. Lan Xichen shared a small smile with the kind-looking woman – whose name he planned to learn at a later point – and nodded his thanks as a dismissal.
Lan Xichen offered a hand to Wen Yuan and led him inside.
“Zhan-gege!” Wen Yuan squealed and ran ahead and straight into Wangji’s arms. Wangji caught him easily and let him climb into his lap.
“I thought you might like a visit,” Lan Xichen said, sitting back down.
“Zhan-gege! Look!” Wen Yuan announced, holding his arms out proudly. “I got robes just like yours!” All the Wens had been given the white robes of guest disciples to wear once they had healed enough to move out of the medical pavilion.
“I see. Do you like them?” Wangji asked, helping to straighten out the robes in question so they lay flat.
“Mmhm! Pretty! Like Zhan-gege! Can I have a…” he trailed off and simply pointed at Wangji’s forehead.
“A forehead ribbon?”
“Yeah! A ribbon! Do I get a ribbon too?”
“Only members of the Lan Sect are allowed to wear these,” Wangji explained patiently. Lan Xichen had never seen Wangji with a child so young. It struck him that his brother would make a good father.
“Oh,” Wen Yuan pouted. Lan Xichen waited to see what his didi would do in the face of a pouting child. It turned out that his brother would give in immediately.
“Would you like to wear mine?”
“Wangji!” Lan Xichen gaped at him. Only family was meant to be allowed to touch one’s ribbon. Wangji knew this rule well. But his brother just waved him off and started untying his ribbon.
“It is fine,” he assured. “Just for a bit.”
Lan Xichen was stunned. Perhaps Wangji already considered Wen Yuan to be family, or he was just so prone to spoil the child that he was willing to break a few rules for his happiness. Whatever the reason, Lan Xichen found himself leaning forward to help to tie the ribbon around Wen Yuan’s head. He used to help Wangji with his ribbon the same way when he was about Wen Yuan’s age.
“Do I look like Zhan-gege?” Wen Yuan asked, grinning up at Wangji.
“Very handsome,” Lan Xichen complimented. He did look a fair bit like Wangji had as a child. He even had the same shaped nose. “But I think you have someone else’s smile.”
“Xiongzhang means that you are dressed as me but smile as Wei Ying does,” Wangji explained.
“Oh.” Wen Yuan paused and then leaned forward to wrap his arms around Wangji’s neck and bury his face in his neck. “Is Xian-gege still sick?”
“I want to see him.”
“I know,” Wangji said, soothing a hand down Wen Yuan’s back. “He is still resting. You can see him soon.”
“See you soon is what A-die and A-niang said but not true,” Wen Yuan bemoaned, adjusting his grip on Wangji and grabbing fistfuls of his hair. Wangji didn’t even flinch. He just let the child cry into his robes. Lan Xichen’s heart broke for Wen Yuan, orphaned so young by war. He was like Wei Wuxian. He was like them.
Wen Yuan was still a torrent of pent up emotion and exhaustion in the form of a full-blown tantrum and tears when another knock came on the door. Lan Xichen had not been expecting another guest and for a moment he feared the worst.
“Who is it?” He called out, rising from his seated position.
“Zewu-jun,” the familiar voice of a messenger answered, “The Lanling Jin Heir and his wife have just arrived.”
Lan Xichen let out the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding.
“Wangji –” he started, but Wangji raised a hand to stop him.
“I heard,” he said. “Go. Great our guests. I will see to A-Yuan and meet you there.”
“Will you be alright?” Lan Xichen asked, loathe to leave the pair of them alone when they were both so distraught.
“We will be fine,” Wangji promised.
Lan Xichen nodded and headed to leave but something stopped him at the door and made him look back. Wangji was using his sleeve to wipe at Wen Yuan’s tear covered face. Lan Xichen was struck with the sudden memory of their mother holding Wangji the same way.
~ Jiang Yanli ~
Jiang Yanli had never received a private message delivered directly to her from a Sect Leader that wasn’t her brother. As soon as she had received it she had known that something was desperately wrong.
Her cultivation level was stronger than she often let on, but even she knew that it wasn’t strong enough to fly straight through to Gusu, so she dragged her husband along. Taking turns flying and only stopping to rest once or twice (A-Xuan insisted she eat and not overtask herself and she only agreed because of the child growing in her womb), they made it by just after sundown the next day.
Lan Qiren met them just inside the gate and Lan Xichen met them halfway along the path and seemed a little bit frantic in a way that Jiang Yanli had not seen him before.
“We were not expecting you so soon,” he admitted, then he hesitated and looked awkwardly at A-Xuan. “And we were expecting you alone.”
“I apologize,” she said, understandingly. “I know that the message told me to come alone but it also said it was related to A-Xian. Speed was my priority, I brought my husband along for his sword as a method of transportation.”
“Of course,” Lan Xichen started with his polite smile. Jiang Yanli was now used to Sect politics and was no longer afraid to interrupt those with more power than her.
“And he is my husband, I trust him.”
“But who does he trust?” Lan Qiren asked pointedly.
“I have not told anyone,” A-Xuan spoke up in his own defense. “I only mentioned to someone that we were leaving so that no one would look for us. But I did not say where we were going and I made sure we were not followed.”
“Very well, you may stay.”
“No, he may not,” a new voice added to the conversation. Jiang Yanli turned to see the Gusu Lan Doctor standing at the door to the building that they had approached.
“Excuse me?” A-Xuan asked, immediately defensive and offended.
“It is not personal. I know for a fact that Lanling Jin has not experienced an infection of the Seaport Sickness during our lifetime so the Jin heir is not immune and should not be exposed.”
“Is A-Xian sick?” Jiang Yanli asked, catching on to the plot of the conversation and putting together the pieces that were missing from the message that had brought her there.
“A-Li,” A-Xuan said, gently placing a hand on her arm, “go to your brother. I’ll just wait here.”
“We’ll have someone set up a room in the guest quarters,” Lan Xichen assured. “Wei Wuxian is inside. Jiang Wanyin is already here.”
“A-Cheng is here too?” A-Cheng had left Lotus Pier for A-Xian. A-Xian must be really sick.
“Come inside,” Lan Xichen said, his kindness genuine again. “You can see them both. Take all the time you need.”
“Wei Ying has been asking for you.” Jiang Yanli blinked. She hadn’t even noticed Lan Wangji arrive. They walked in together.
She smelled medical incense and the room was so white that it temporarily blinded her. She saw A-Cheng first – his dark purple robes standing out like a crocus flower blooming before the winter snow had fully melted.
A-Xian was lying on the bed and his red under-robes looked like a pool of blood. Jiang Yangli rushed to his side. His face was as pale as the pillow he lay on. The sheets and his clothes were drenched through with sweat and his hair was stuck to his skin. Even with Wen Qing’s needles placed all over his body, he still shook with a fever.
Jiang Yanli felt her hands shake in sympathy and her movement to sit on his bedside was more of a forward fall. She felt A-Cheng reach out to brace her but she couldn’t tear her eyes from A-Xian’s sleeping face.
“A-Xian,” she whispered, reaching out to take A-Xian’s frail hand and grip his fingers tight. He didn’t stir. “A-Xian? Can you hear me? Shijie is here, Xian-Xian.”
“He hasn’t woken up since I’ve been here,” A-Cheng murmured, sounding more subdued than she’d heard him since their parents had died.
“Why won’t he wake?” She asked the Lan doctor and Wen Qing.
“He is in the grips of a fever. He is fighting a fight internally,” the doctor explained. “We have done all we can. The rest is up to him.”
“Thank you, Doctor, Wen-guniang,” Jiang Yanli said, standing to bow. They both returned it – the doctor succinctly, Wen Qing shyly. Wen Qing and her brother quietly withdrew and Jiang Yanli made a note to try to reach out to them both while she was there visiting. They were both important to her A-Xian and she was determined to get to know them better, once A-Xian was healed and well.
Through the whole exchange, Lan Wangji had been silent. This was nothing strange since he had always been a quiet person. It wasn’t out of place at all to see the way he stood and observed their exchanges with a serious expression on his face. Perhaps this is why it was so startling when he suddenly strode towards them with purpose and dipped into a low bow.
“Lan Wangji apologizes sincerely,” he said formally, not raising his head to meet their gaze. “It is my fault Wei Ying is this way.”
“How so? How could this be your fault, Hanguang-jun?” Jiang Yanli asked bluntly, baffled by the sudden confession and contrition.
“Twice now I have left him when he needed my support and both times he has fallen into pain and danger. I ought to have stayed at his side and protected him. It is my failing that has led him to this state.”
“Oh, Lan-er-gongzi,” Jiang Yanli sighed, walking over to grip his arms and raise him from his bow. “This is not your fault. We are his family and it is us who ought to have been his support. It is us who have failed him, not you.” A-Cheng grunted under his breath, but he did not deny the truth of what Jiang Yanli confessed.
“He would never blame you,” Lan Wangji hurried to assure her. “Wei Ying always spoke – speaks so highly of you.” His eyes looked glassy. And – oh this poor boy, barely a man – she, like the rest of the world, had incorrectly assumed him to be made of stone. He was not emotionless. He had so many emotions. Jiang Yanli had always been glad for his support of her didi, but now she wondered how she had not thought to return that support until now.
“He would not wish for you to blame yourself either,” she told him. “He cares for you quite a bit too. You know, after our time in the Cloud Recesses, he spoke of you fondly and often. I have always been glad for your friendship with our A-Xian. I can understand regrets. I can understand what-ifs. I feel the same. But please do not apologize, when I should be the one bowing my gratitude.” He didn’t respond, so she persisted. “Thank you, for being at his side in the past. Thank you for being here now. ”
“No thanks are needed,” he responded easily. “Wei Ying is not a burden. Being at his side is a privilege.”
“Well, stay at his side while you can, then,” A-Cheng said, standing and stretching. “When he wakes, he’ll go back home to Lotus Pier.”
There was a finality to his words that reverberated in the air of the room like the final strum of a guqin after a song ended; it made Jiang Yanli smile. A-Cheng threw a glare at Lan Wangji as he walked past him out of the room. Lan Xichen and Lan Qiren exited after him. Lan Wangji took up the seat that A-Cheng had vacated.
Before the night ended Lan Wangji played. He materialized his spiritual instrument and played. First, he played a song that Jiang Yanli vaguely recognized as one of healing. It was one she was familiar with from the time that Lan Wangji had played for A-Xian after the war. He gently infused it with a small amount of spiritual energy and by the time the song ended Jiang Yanli felt a new layer of peace in her heart. Then he transitioned to a song that she had not heard. It did not seem to be infused with spiritual energy but she found it soothing all the same. She was surprised to hear that as he played the song he would occasionally hum along to it. He did so lowly, under his breath, as though not intending to be heard – or perhaps he was not even himself aware that he was doing it at all.
Maybe this was why A-Xian roused.
He twitched: his fingers and his face. He scrunched up his nose and fluttered his eyes. Then he groaned. Lan Wangji stopped playing immediately and leaned closer. Jiang Yanli squeezed A-Xian’s fingers tight.
“Lan Zhan?” A-Xian wined, no longer sleeping but not fully aware either.
“I am here, Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji said in a soft and steady tone, moving to take A-Xian’s free hand in his own.
“I have to get to Lan Zhan,” A-Xian said senselessly, sounding distraught. “We need – Lan Zhan will help – have to save them.”
“You are safe. You did it. The Wens are safe,” Lan Wangji assured. It sounded to Jiang Yanli like this was a conversation that Lan Wangji had had before – but still, he was patient as he answered A-Xian’s questions and soothed his fever driven panic.
“Safe, smiling, happy.” This seemed to calm A-Xian a bit but didn’t settle him much.
“Hurts,” he complained. His voice sounded small. “Am I dead again?”
“Not dead,” Lan Wangji replied simply to the jarring and gut-wrenching question, as if it was a normal question to ask, as if the words didn’t horrify Jiang Yanli and chill her to the very bone. She wondered if the question had frightened Lan Wangji the first time he had heard it as badly as it frightened her.
“A-Xian?” She called out, desperate to add her own voice, to do anything to assure her didi that she was there, to stop him from speaking of death.
“Soup for Xian-Xian?” Was his response. Jiang Yanli smiled and relief flooded through her like a summer rainstorm. Her A-Xian would be fine. She needed to find her way to a kitchen.
~ Wei Wuxian ~
Wei Wuxian’s fever broke a day later, or rather very early in the morning of the day after that. To Wei Wuxian, it felt like waking from a deep sleep. It was like when he had been a kid and used to push a small boat out to the center of the lotus ponds to drift off to sleep. He would wake to the gentle rock of the water with the sun on his face and not know the time of day or remember where he was.
He blinked awake slowly with eyes that felt stuck together with dried sweat and he squinted against the sunlight. Wherever he was, it was bright. The air smelled clean and fresh. It was too clean and bright to be the burial grounds.
He looked down to see a hand holding his own and followed the arm to its owner. It was his Shijie. She was asleep at the side of his bed, folded over with her head resting on her arms. It didn’t look like a comfortable position and she seemed restless even as she breathed deeply. He tried to move to look around without disturbing her. He was not sure how she had come to be at his side, but she seemed to need the sleep.
His whole body felt weak; it took effort to even lift his head. But, still, he almost jumped out of his skin when he saw that on his other side – in a slightly more upright position – Lan Zhan was also sleeping at his bedside.
“Shh! Those two only just fell asleep!” An emphatic voice whispered from behind him. He whipped his head back around to Shijie’s side and saw a familiar face glaring down at him from over her shoulder.
“Wen Qing!” He called out quietly, happy to see her up-and-about. “You’re better. Are we in Gusu? What happened? Is everyone –”
“All fine. We all got here in time and the Lans have been taking good care of us,” she interrupted him again, leaning over to press her hand to Wei Wuxian’s forehead. “Fever broke. Good.”
“What about A-Yuan?”
“Healthy. You were the only one who kept us worried.”
“Gongzi.” Wen Ning appeared with a bowl. “You should eat. It has been a few days.”
Wei Wuxian reached out with the hand not in Shijie’s grip and took the bowl. He was starving. He hadn’t realized he’d been asleep for so long, but he had realized there was a pit in his stomach begging to be filled. He raised the bowl to his lips and took a large mouthful. He almost cried – and not because he burned his tongue.
“This is Shijie’s soup,” Wei Wuxian marveled.
“She made it yesterday. She was sure that you would wake soon. She was not wrong.”
“Shijie is never wrong,” Wei Wuxian assured, between mouthfuls of soup.
“Indeed.” Wen Qing offered a smile briefly before moving on. “I will go inform Zewu-jun and your brother and the Lan head doctor that you are awake. You have been out cold for almost a week.”
“A week? We’ve been here a full week?” Wei Wuxian asked, stunned. He didn’t even properly remember arriving. “How did I go to the bathroom while unconscious? I hope I haven’t soiled myself in front of Lan Zhan.”
“Wei Wuxian! We are cultivators and doctors. There are ways. Please don’t be so crass.”
“It’s my body! Wait, you said Jiang Cheng was here too?” Wen Qing walked out on him.
Wei Wuxian meditated on all he had learned while he finished his bowl of soup. He’d woken up to a new world. Not only were the Wens healthy, they were safe in the Cloud Recesses. No one had been there trying to kick them out now that he was awake and no one was guarding them – unless that was what Lan Zhan was there for. He highly doubted that Lan Zhan would be fast asleep if that were the case. His Shijie and Jiang Cheng were there too. Short of being at Lotus Pier again and magically growing a second core, it was everything he thought he’d never get to have again and never would have admitted to wanting. And he had wanted it – desperately. He just hadn’t thought it possible.
He didn’t know what happened next. It was very likely that now that they were no longer sick, the Lan’s hospitality would run out. But that was a concern for the future. Now he focused on watching his Shijie sleep and licking his soup bowl clean. When it was finally empty, he held the bowl out to be collected by Wen Ning. Another set of hands intercepted it.
“Lan Zhan! You’re up!” Wei Wuxian exclaimed, whipping around the other way. Lan Zhan was sitting upright and alert.
“So are you,” he observed, his voice soft and scratchy from sleep. He had a crease pressed in his cheek from where he had been laying against his sleeve and part of his hair was tangled in his hairpiece. It was unbearably cute.
“Lan Zhan, Wen Qing says I was asleep a whole week. I don’t remember anything so you have to tell me, okay?”
“What would you like to know?”
“Everything! Start at the start and don’t stop to the end,” Wei Wuxian demanded, glad to see that Lan Zhan was in the mood to humor him.
“You arrived at the gate and passed out. The Wens were brought inside and treated. They have all made a recovery and are staying in the guesthouses. You were the last to remain sick.”
The explanation was not very detailed, but it covered the important parts well enough and was practically verbose by Lan Zhan standards. His way of speaking made Wei Wuxian smile with its familiarity. He wanted to tease him a little bit.
“Ah,” Wei Wuxian sighed, sitting up straighter in his bed and bowing with his one free hand out stiff and proper, “thank you Hanguang-jun, for helping this poor sick cultivator and his people.”
“No thank you is needed,” Lan Zhan said, not rising to the bait. “It is right. And, it is you. Both make it my duty and my honor.”
“So noble, Lan Zhan. You will make me blush. My face feels hot just looking you in the eye right now,” Wei Wuxian simpered, turning away from Lan Zhan’s intent gaze.
Lan Zhan leaned forward and his hand followed after Wei Wuxian’s movement. He pressed the back of his hand to Wei Wuxian’s forehead and murmured, “You do not feel warm. The fever is gone.” Wei Wuxian turned back – dislodging the hand – and blinked helplessly at him wondering how he didn’t feel warm when his cheeks felt so hot. “Do you feel well?”
“I do. Better than I have in a while,” Wei Wuxian assured him. “I’ve been sleeping for days, so I’m well-rested. It’s you who looks tired, Lan Zhan.” He did. His eyes seemed sunken and red, as though he’d been rubbing at them. “You aren’t getting sick now too, are you?”
“Impossible.” Lan Zhan’s mouth flickered a brief almost-smile. “I will play for you to help you rebuild your strength.”
“Ah. You know I love your playing, Lan Zhan, but I am not sure it will help much. Don’t waste your energy on me.”
Lan Zhan didn’t reply for a long time. And then, “The Lan Sect has music to aid the healing of non-cultivators, too.”
“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that my secret is out after having doctors poking at me for a week,” Wei Wuxian responded, resigned and less upset than he’d thought he would have been. He waited for Lan Zhan to ask why or how, to berate him for not telling him the truth. But he did neither.
“I will play,” he said again, instead, and moved as to stand to retrieve his guqin. Wei Wuxian reached out and grabbed his sleeve.
“Wait,” he said, tugging Lan Zhan back down to his seat. “I don’t want to wake Shijie.”
“Later then,” Lan Zhan capitulated.
“When did Shijie get here?”
“Less than two days. Jiang Wanyin less than a day before that. Other than to cook several pots of soup, she has hardly left your side.”
“And you?” Wei Wuxian asked, boldly, making note of how Lan Zhan had slept in mirror to his Shijie. “Have you been at my side this whole time, Lan Zhan?” Lan Zhan didn’t need to answer verbally. The answer was painted on his face, clear as day. “You didn’t have to do that.”
“There is nowhere I would rather be.” He paused. “Wei Ying – “ Lan Zhan said his name, but whatever he had been about to say was cut short by a sleepy sound from Shijie. They both watched as she shifted and stretched and started to wake. “I will allow you some privacy,” he said, standing. “I will go and get A-Yuan for a visit. He has been wishing to see you.”
He passed Lan Qiren, Zewu-jun, and Jiang Cheng coming in on his way out.
~ Wen Ning ~
Wei-gongzi was surrounded by so many people that Wen Ning felt it was appropriate that he take a step back. He had already retreated in order to give him a private moment with Hanguang-jun. But now he felt that he ought to leave the room completely.
Wei-gongzi was holding A-Yuan in his lap who was thrilled to see his Xian-gege awake and well. Wei-gongzi’s face had lit up when A-Yuan had arrived and reached out to hold him immediately – shoving aside his own brother to get to him.
Jiang Wanyin must have been happy to see Wei-gongzi well because he did not berate him or yell once. He just shook his shoulder and smacked him in the chest a few times, which Wen Ning had come to understand was some form of showing love between the two of them.
Jiang Yanli sat by and watched on, smiling. She leaned over and patted Wei-gongzi on the head and then did the same to A-Yuan. They both grinned at her.
“A-Xian, this child?” She asked.
“A-Yuan is mine! I birthed him myself from the radish patch!” Wei-gongzi exclaimed.
“Ah, if he is your son then I am his aunt,” Jiang Yanli said, taking the antics in stride. “A-Yuan, would you like to know a secret?” A-Yuan nodded, never shy around strangers. “You will have a little cousin soon.”
“Shijie?” “A-jie?” Both the brothers demanded an explanation.
“I am with child,” Jiang Yanli said with a light laugh. “You will both be uncles soon.”
“Where is the peacock? I’m going to kill him,” Wei-gongzi threatened. But Wen Ning could tell that he wasn’t actually upset. He was very happy – perhaps the happiest that Wen Ning had seen him in years.
“Xian-gege is all better?” A-Yuan asked, seeming to also be able to tell that Wei-gongzi was in a good mood. He probably was referring to more than just the sickness of the last few weeks, the precocious child that he was.
“Mm! All better. I even got to have some of Shijie’s soup,” Wei-gongzi bragged with a very sly glimmer in his eyes. “But I’m still hungry. Maybe I should eat this big radish, hm?” He leaned down and pretended to nibble on A-Yuan’s neck sending him into a fit of giggles.
Wei-gongzi was surrounded by a smiling happy family. A few steps back, the Lan siblings and their uncle watched on – more distant but still near. Zewu-jun was smiling. Lan Qiren looked … less stern than usual. And every few seconds, Wei-gongzi would glance up to make sure that Hanguang-jun was still there and offer him a soft smile.
Jie-jie was standing at Wen Ning’s side, silently watching. Her hands were clenched into tight fists. Wen Ning was happy for Wei-gongzi, but he found himself sad for some reason. It felt like being left behind.
~ Jin Zixuan ~
Jin Zixuan knew that there was no lost love between him and Wei Wuxian. In fact, he had been fairly certain that Wei Wuxian could hardly stand him. So, for this reason, he was surprised when Wei Wuxian made a point to ask to see him before they left.
He walked into the medical pavilion to the tail end of the Jiang Siblings saying their goodbyes.
“I have to go,” Jiang Wanyin was sputtering. “I have a Sect to run. You have one month to be an invalid and waste Gusu Lan’s resources. After that, I better see you in Lotus Pier or I’ll be back here to drag you back by your ankles.”
He almost knocked Jin Zixuan over as he stormed out of the room. A-Li smiled at him and beckoned him in further. Wei Wuxian wiggled his eyebrows in a way that Jin Zixuan found annoying.
“Oh, look, the peacock is here,” he called out jovially and A-Li smacked him lightly on the arm. “Ah! Shijie, I’m an invalid, remember? Jiang Cheng said so! No hitting me!” Jin Zixuan did not find it nearly as cute as A-Li did when Wei Wuxian played the part of a toddler.
“I am glad to see you are back to your normal self,” Jin Zixuan said. It wasn’t even a lie – much.
“Thank you.” Wei Wuxian suddenly sobered and offered a proper bow (as well that he could from his bed). “Thank you for bringing Shijie to me and for being honorable and not turning us into your Sect.”
“Wei Wuxian, you don’t have to thank me for that. I should be the one bowing to you on behalf of the actions of my Sect.” It hurt his pride to even admit that, so he wasn’t about to actually bow to him. He did tug him up out of his half-bow and awkwardly pat his arm. Wei Wuxian didn’t seem too impressed by this action so Jin Zixuan cleared his throat and kept going. “I have spent the last few days sharing the Lan guest dormitories with the Wen people and it is clear to me that they are no threat. I will speak to my father when I return home and get him to call off the hunt for your people.”
“Do you think he will listen?”
“I will tell my mother first.” This made Wei Wuxian grin.
“The women of the Jin Sect are the only ones with any sense worth listening to,” he proclaimed, nodding at A-Li as he said it. Jin Zixuan knew that he ought to be insulted, but he couldn’t find it in himself to disagree.
“A-Li, we have to return now that Wei Wuxian is well again before someone comes looking for us. It will not help public opinion if we are caught here in secret,” he said, addressing A-Li instead of replying. “The tides are changing. Wei Wuxian has the support of the Lans and Jiangs, and our support as well. We will see him again soon.”
“Jiang Cheng says he will drag me back to Lotus Pier, remember?” Wei Wuxian added. This seemed to reassure A-Li well enough to untangle her hand from Wei Wuxian’s and stand.
“Listen to your doctors, especially Wen Qing,” she advised Wei Wuxian firmly. He pouted and nodded dutifully. “There is leftover soup in the kitchens.”
“Enough to feed all of Gusu Lan,” Jin Zixuan huffed.
“Enough so the Wen can have some too, and Zewu-jun and Lan Qiren and Doctor Lan. And Hanguang-jun, of course. It is the least I can do to thank him for looking after our A-Xian so diligently.” She spoke to Wei Wuxian, but her eyes wandered to just over his shoulder where Lan Wangji hovered not too close as to intrude on their privacy but not too far that he could not be called on quickly. Jin Zixuan noticed that his ears seemed to turn a suspicious shade of pink.
“Let’s go before we lose the light,” Jin ZIxuan encouraged, shepherding A-Li away from the bed and towards the door.
“Jin Zixuan!” Wei Wuxian called out to them before they could leave. Jin Zixuan looked back. “Be careful on the ride back. You have precious cargo!”
Jin Zixuan looked at A-Li and then to her stomach where she hadn’t yet started to show. He didn’t need Wei Wuxian to tell him that.
~ Lan Wangji ~
Wei Ying was smiling and laughing and talking. He was sitting up and he was eating. He was really and truly on the mend, and it warmed Lan Wangji’s heart to see him so. He had been so afraid to lose him. He almost had lost him, and to something that Lan wangji could not even fight. It wasn’t some monster or a sword battle. It had been this ephemeral thing, deep inside Wei Ying where Lan Wangji could not follow.
Now, the only trace of the illness that remained was a weakness in Wei Ying’s limbs. Wen Qing and Doctor Lan Hao said this was normal and to be expected from someone who had been unconscious for so long. Without a golden core to aid him, he needed to eat and stretch and build up strength slowly. As it was, Wei Ying could hardly stand for more than a few moments under his own weight and struggled to move farther than was needed to relieve himself. When he needed to stand, Lan Wangji was there to offer an arm.
So, when Doctor Lan Hao suggested that a trip to the cold springs could do Wei Ying some good, Lan Wangji didn't hesitate to scoop Wei Ying up into his arms and carry him straight there. He didn’t even stop to let Wei Ying put on his shoes.
“Eh!? Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying complained. “You can’t just carry me around like a sack of potatoes! It’s embarrassing to be held like this!”
“You once offered to carry me, when I was hurt. How is this different?”
“Ah, Lan Zhan, you have such a thick face.”
“No speaking while being carried.”
“That is not a rule!”
Wei Ying pouted the whole way to the cold pond and Lan Wangji tried not to blush at the way Wei Ying’s lower lip jutted out so close to the underside of Lan Wangji’s jaw.
Since Wei Ying was without shoes, he set him down directly into the pond and let him lean on a rock while Lan Wangji took off his shoes, stripped his outer-robe, and took down his hair. He joined Wei Ying in the water and helped him to move further in. Wei Ying shivered and stayed close.
“I haven’t seen you so undressed since the last time I caught you here,” Wei Ying said, a teasing tone present in his voice that Lan Wangji had long grown fond of. “You seem young and innocent again with your hair down.”
“It has been since then that I have seen you in white,” Lan Wangji replied. After waking, Wei Ying had been given fresh underrobes to wear. They were Gusu Lan white, rather than the red Wei Ying favored. In the water, they stuck to his skin and went slightly transparent. Lan Wangji tried not to think about it. Lan Wangji was sure that his own robes were doing the same. He tried not to think about that either.
“Mmm,” Wei Ying hummed, leaning back and floating in the water with his eyes closed. Lan Wangji let him float free, but stayed close in case he needed support. “This is nice. It's been so long since I’ve swum – even if the water is much colder here than Lotus Pier.”
“You will be able to swim there again.”
“Jiang Cheng was very emphatic about it.”
“You don’t sound happy,” Lan Wangji observed, surprised. He had thought that Wei Ying would be more glad to be allowed back home.
“To tell the truth, I’m not in a hurry to heal. It's a great excuse to laze around here and not have to think about what comes next.”
“What concerns you?” Lan Wangji asked. If he knew what it was, perhaps he could help.
“What doesn’t, Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying asked with a sarcastic huff of laughter. “The situation with the Wens, my imposing on Gusu Lan, whether we’ll have to return to the burial grounds, if we do whether our farm will still be in enough shape for us to survive the winter, what to do about the yin tiger seal, whether I’ll have to give up practicing my cultivation method if I go to Lotus Pier, whether my reputation will sully the Jiang’s good name more than it already has, what news will come from Sect Leader Jin.”
“That is a lot.”
“I’m a very thoughtful guy,”
“Jiang Wanyin offered a place for you and the Wens.” Wei Ying hummed non-commitally. “My uncle and Xiongzhang intend to do the same.”
“What?” Wei Ying gasped and became a tornado of flailing limbs as he attempted to get into an upright position again. Lan Wangji reached out to brace him.
“The Wen people have been here for a few weeks now, they have already been involving themselves in our activities of daily life and have begun contributing to the community. There is a place for them if they wish to stay.”
“Seriously, Lan Zhan? Zewu-jun and your uncle agreed to this?” He gripped tightly – desperately – at Lan Wangji’s wrist.
“They would not have offered if they were not serious.”
“I – I would have to ask the Wens what they want. Some may want to stay and others go.”
“What do you want, Wei Ying? Do you want to go to Lotus Pier?”
“I don’t know.” Wei Ying seemed so conflicted. But for once, Lan Wangji’s mind was clear. He knew exactly what he wanted.
“I want to stay at your side,” he said. “Here, or Lotus Pier, or the burial grounds, or wherever you would go.”
“Lan Zhan? What are you saying?”
“Leaving you behind. Walking away. I regret it. If you allow me, I would not be parted from you again.”
“Lan Zhan, the entire cultivation world hates me.”
“Besides the Jiangs and your brother.”
“Others do not matter.”
“Lan Zhan, I can’t ask you to leave your Sect ,” Wei Ying denied. “How ungrateful for me to come here for help and then steal you away.”
“You need not ask. Only say you won’t send me away.”
“My arms are too weak to push you away right now,” Wei Ying said. His eyes seemed to reflect the water around them and though a smile returned to his mouth it was a quivering one. But, still, it was a smile. And his words, they weren’t a denial.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji murmured, unable to say anything else.
“In fact, you should come closer, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying said, tugging at Lan Wangji’s sleeve. “It’s cold. Hold me.”
There was no force to Wei Ying’s pull, but Lan Wangji went to him happily and allowed Wei Ying to tug him into the circle of his arms. They stayed in the cold pond a bit longer than was needed, and they left with pruned toes and kiss-bitten lips.
~ Lan Qiren ~
Lan Qiren had needed to come to grips with many things in the past couple of weeks that Wei Wuxian had been in the Cloud Recesses.
The first was that Wei Wuxian was not evil or inherently a bad person. He was still a smart-mouthed brat, but he was kind and always fought for what he believed to be justice.
Second was that maybe his cultivation style wasn’t exactly evil either. It was still highly unorthodox and inappropriate, but it was wielded in the defense of the weak and as a last resort from someone with no access to the traditional ways.
Third was that the Wens were not evil either. They were a normal group of people: some quiet, some loud, some kindly, some energetic, some young, some old. They were not an army. They could be an asset to society if given the opportunities needed to thrive.
Fourth was Wen Ning. Lan Qiren had needed to come to grips with Wen Ning. He was an affront to the natural world. But he was also kind and quiet. He was a mild-mannered boy whom Lan Qiren actually much preferred to many of his students – both current and past. He certainly wasn’t evil either. There wasn’t a bad bone in his body.
Fifth was that Wen Qing was the most violent woman that Lan Qiren had ever met since the Violet Spider and her bedside manner was terrible. But, she was brilliant and good at what she did. And, if Doctor Lan Hao hadn’t already made it clear that he intended to offer her a place as his apprentice then he might have done so himself.
The sixth thing was that, with the support of the Jin heir and his wife, along with Sect Leader Jiang’s new re-connection with Wei Wuxian, if Lan Qiren leveraged this right then, not only could the Wens be protected and Wei Wuxian’s name cleared, but they could also potentially re-distribute a non-insignificant amount of power from Jin Guangshan. Perhaps he would have Xichen reach out to the Nie Sect Leader and tug on the strings of that old friendship and newly sworn brotherhood. The Nie’s support could only aid them.
The seventh thing that Lan Qiren had been forced to grapple with was the fact that Wangji would no longer be beholden to the rules of the Sect when it came to Wei Wuxian. Nothing Lan Qiren said or did would keep Wangji from following Wei Wuxian wherever he went next. Wangji would not be pulled from his side, and any attempt to do so would only drive a further wedge between Lan Qiren and his nephew. So, he would have to let him go, let Wangji follow his heart to Lotus Pier. After all, while he was not the person that Lan Qiren would have chosen for his nephew, a marital bond with Lotus Pier couldn’t hurt their alliances either.
~ END ~