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picking up the pieces

Chapter Text

Despite everything, Wei Wuxian could not help but smile as they came around the curve and Lotus Pier came into view. He was home. It had taken years of tragedy and death, but he was finally home. Even though he had technically come home after the Sunshot Campaign, it had never truly felt like home again, not until now.

It helped that a gaggle of children was waiting to swarm them, and Wen Yuan all but threw himself onto Wei Wuxian’s leg. He picked him up and hugged him tightly for a few moments before letting him go so he could hug Lan Wangji as well. Lan Wangji was somehow (how?!) already holding Jin Ling in his arms, but had no trouble hugging Wen Yuan and Lan Yong as well.

Wen Ning greeted them, and he was dressed in the blue and purple robes of a Yunmeng Jiang disciple, which surprised Wei Wuxian. He couldn’t think of a tactful way to ask about it, but Wen Ning saw the look on his face and tugged at the robes anxiously. “Ah, Jiang Shulian gave them to me . . . he said it would help me fit in and maybe not make the other cultivators so nervous . . . I hope that’s all right.”

Wei Wuxian had to choke back some tears and he nodded. “Of course it’s all right. You look great.” He glanced around the crowd and caught Jiang Shulian’s eye. The man was basically a stranger to him – they had met a few times in that brief span between the Sunshot Campaign and the crowd hunt, but at that point he had been just another disciple. It was only after Wei Wuxian had left and Jiang Cheng had continued to rebuild the Yunmeng Jiang without him that Jiang Shulian had begun to climb the ranks. Wei Wuxian honestly wasn’t sure what sort of person Jiang Cheng would have chosen to be his first disciple, but Jiang Yanli had kept him on and he had served her faithfully, and now this on top of it – he smiled and bowed in his direction in silent thanks, and Jiang Shulian bowed back.

“I’m glad you had such amazing people supporting you when you became sect leader,” Wei Wuxian said to Jiang Yanli.

Jiang Yanli smiled. “I was truly blessed in that way.”

They had dinner together. Qin Su was slowly recovering from the awful events of the past year, and coming out of her shell a little. She was sweet and kind, and Jin Song clearly adored his cousin and spent a lot of time following Jin Ling around. Jin Ling was now old enough to think he knew everything, and it was a constant effort to keep them out of trouble.

Nobody talked about Jin Guangyao, or about Yu Zixia, or any of the events that had taken place. They talked about the children, and the lotus harvesting, and the spring festival coming up. Wen Ning sat with them even though he couldn’t eat, and nobody made a big deal out of it. Lan Yong asked why he wasn’t eating (and called him ‘Wen-jiujiu’ which just about murdered Wei Wuxian on the spot), and Lan Wangji said, “Wen Ning is not able to eat, and it would not be polite to ask further questions,” which all the children accepted.

“You’re a jiujiu now,” Wei Wuxian teased Wen Ning. “It makes you sound very old.”

“I don’t want to sound old!” Wen Ning protested, distressed.

“A-Xian, don’t tease,” Jiang Yanli said, laughing quietly. “You’re a jiujiu now.”

Wei Wuxian blinked and remembered she was right. Flustered, he said, “Well, that would be expected of me, but Wen Ning isn’t old enough to be a jiujiu. They should call him Wen-gege instead.”

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji said, seeing Wen Ning’s confused blinking, “do not teach the children inaccurate things. Wen Ning is their jiujiu, as he is of our generation, not theirs. He is barely a year younger than you, if I recall correctly.”

“In fact, technically, I think I’m older than you now,” Wen Ning said, “since you were gone for three years and I wasn’t.”

“Well, you weren’t aging during those three years,” Wei Wuxian said, and frowned. “Wait, am I younger than Nie-xiong now? I used to be older than him! I don’t want to be younger than Nie-xiong!”

“You are,” Lan Wangji said, “and it is a silly thing to be concerned about.”

Wei Wuxian stuck his tongue out. The children giggled.

Towards the end of the meal, Jiang Yanli went into the kitchen and brought out a collection of liquor jars which she passed around. “Our very own,” she said in response to Wei Wuxian’s questioning look.

“Oh, man, I’ve missed it so much!” Wei Wuxian said, accepting a jar. He started to pass one to Lan Wangji, then said, “Oh, you can’t – wait, you can! I keep forgetting that.”

Jiang Yanli cleared her throat. “He can, but he should not,” she said. “It affects him poorly.”

“I know,” Wei Wuxian said, grinning widely. “He had a cup in Caiyi Town and proceeded to steal someone’s loquats and try to go swimming in the river.”

“I . . . do not remember doing those things,” Lan Wangji admitted in a mutter.

Trying not to laugh, Jiang Yanli said, “That’s fairly tame, actually. The one time he got drunk here, he carved both of your names into one of the support beams in the Sword Hall.”

“He did not,” Wei Wuxian said, delighted.

Lan Wangji was slowly flushing pink. “I sanded it out the next day.”

“And then,” Jiang Yanli said, “he decided to go swimming in the lake. So apparently he likes to go swimming while drunk, which is a good thing to know. Except we weren’t sure he would be able to, so we were trying to keep an eye on him. He swam circles in the lake for two hours. Nobody could keep up with him. He outswam eight Yunmeng Jiang disciples while blackout drunk.”

“There should be a medal for that,” Wei Wuxian said, laughing so hard he nearly cried.

“Zhangjie, I beg you to stop telling these stories,” Lan Wangji said. “I apologized afterwards. Please let that be enough.”

Chuckling, Jiang Yanli said, “I’m sorry to tease, A-Zhan. But please, for all our sakes, abstain.”

“Mn.” Lan Wangji pushed the jar of alcohol back towards Wei Wuxian.

Wei Wuxian made a mental note that they would have to discuss this later, because the way Lan Wangji had played tag with him while drunk was too cute to never do again. He was definitely getting him drunk at least once a year, perhaps on a special occasion. But they could talk about that when the children weren’t present.

Besides, Lan Wangji sober was also a surprising amount of fun, especially when they took their clothes off, so there was that.

The next day, they received an unexpected guest: Nie Huaisang. He was carrying a sturdy trunk with him, which Lan Wangji helped him carry into the Sword Hall. He was also accompanied by a woman that Wei Wuxian estimated was around the same age as Yu Zixia, who had multiple scars on her face.

“This must be Sisi,” Jiang Yanli said, smiling warmly at the woman. “Welcome to Lotus Pier.”

Sisi smiled and bowed, and said, “Thank you for having me.”

“I originally thought to take her back to Qinghe,” Nie Huaisang said, “but then I remembered that she’s actually originally from Yunmeng, so I asked if she’d prefer to come here instead. I didn’t figure you’d mind – you seem to enjoy taking in strays.”

Jiang Yanli laughed and said, “That is true. Of course I don’t mind. In fact, I’ve been thinking about how A-Su needs a handmaiden to help her. Sisi seems perfect for the job.”

Sisi thanked her again, and Jiang Yanli gestured for one of the disciples to take her to the rooms where Qin Su was staying. Once she was gone, Nie Huaisang opened the trunk. Wei Wuxian was vaguely curious about what might be inside it, as Jiang Yanli was thanking Nie Huaisang for saving her the trip to Lanling. So whatever it was had come from Koi Tower, but he was still somehow stunned when Nie Huaisang turned around and held Suibian out to him.

“You . . .” he said, his breath catching in his throat.

“The Jin disciples took it from the Burial Mounds,” Jiang Yanli said. “I asked Jin Guangyao where it was before his execution. I wasn’t sure if he would tell me the truth, but he did. Since Nie Huaisang was going to Lanling to get Sisi, I asked if he would fetch it for us.”

Feeling tears sting at his eyes, Wei Wuxian accepted the sword with hands that trembled. “Thank you, Nie-xiong, shijie. It’s . . . I can’t use it, but it’s . . . good to have it back.”

Lan Wangji squeezed his shoulder and said, “Someday you will be able to use it again.”

Wei Wuxian could only nod and wipe away the tears. Not wanting to dwell on the subject, he said, “That’s a big trunk for one sword, though. What else is there?”

“A handful of items that I assume were taken from the Burial Mounds,” Nie Huaisang said, removing things from the trunk. Wei Wuxian saw two of his journals, a few of his failed experiments, handfuls of talismans, even a few mundane objects that had no magical value. “But then there are these things,” Nie Huaisang continued, and drew out a knife with lotus flowers engraved on the hilt, some figurines carved from jade, and a number of other treasures.

Jiang Yanli knelt and picked up the knife. “This . . . this was Yinzhu’s, I think. Why would this have been in Lanling?”

Nie Huaisang emptied the trunk and closed it. “After Lotus Pier fell, the Wen sect removed everything of value and took it back to Nightless City with them. They did the same thing with many other sects. Later, at the end of the Sunshot Campaign, the various sects went through Nightless City and reclaimed all these things. The process was somewhat messy and disorganized. It took time to get into all the treasure chambers, and some items were hidden. I think things were still being exchanged between the sects as much as a year later. But frankly it doesn’t surprise me that the Jin sect kept some of the things that technically belonged to other sects. I found things belonging to the Gusu Lan in the treasure room as well.”

“That’s the Lanling Jin for you,” Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but say, rolling his eyes.

“Isn’t it, though?” Nie Huaisang said.

“How are things in Lanling?” Lan Wangji asked.

“Oh, horrific. There are three men all vying for the position of sect leader – I want to say two of Jin Guangshan’s cousins and a nephew but it might be the other way around. So far it’s just arguing and politics, but it’s going to end in bloodshed one way or another.”

Wei Wuxian wondered if he should feel bad about this, but given Nie Huaisang’s utterly casual tone, and the lack of concern on Lan Wangji’s face, he figured it was fine that he didn’t. Only Jiang Yanli looked somewhat downcast, and that was just in her nature.

Changing the subject, Jiang Yanli said, “I will get these things put away. Nie-gongzi, won’t you stay for dinner?”

“Of course!” Nie Huaisang said, smiling and waving his fan.

That night, Nie Huaisang shared a jar of liquor with them. Lan Wangji had one cup, played hide and seek with them for an hour (but kept coming out too early because he got lonely and/or forgot what they were doing), tried to catch a chicken with his bare hands while Nie Huaisang encouraged and instructed him, braided Wei Wuxian’s hair, and finally fell asleep in his lap.

“Best night ever,” Nie Huaisang said, and clicked his cup against Wei Wuxian’s.


~ ~ ~ ~


When Lan Xing turned four months old, Lan Xichen and Yu Zhiyi agreed that they would wait until she was two years old before having another child. An infant was a lot of work, and they did not really want another while Lan Xing was still so young. Most of the elders were perfectly accepting of this. Lan Xichen had plenty of time to have children. Now that Lan Wangji had officially left the Gusu Lan, they did not have to worry about him somehow ending up as sect leader. Only a few of them still nagged about it, and Yu Zhiyi could always make them be quiet by telling them facts about pregnancy and childbirth that they would rather not know.

“Your wife is terrorizing Lan Guban again,” Lan Qiren said in a sour voice, as Lan Xichen approached the hanshi.

“If Lan Guban brought up her ability to conceive again, he deserves whatever she’s saying to him,” Lan Xichen said serenely. Most of the elders had learned quickly not to antagonize Yu Zhiyi, as little as they liked coming to that conclusion. And there was only so much they could complain about his choice of brides, considering his father and his brother.

Lan Qiren sighed and muttered, “Most likely.”

Sometimes Lan Xichen felt badly for his uncle. He knew that Lan Qiren genuinely loved Lan Wangji. He knew that Lan Qiren had genuinely been trying to help him back to the correct path. If only he hadn’t been so harsh and inflexible, Lan Xichen thought he might have been able to patch the chasm between them. But he wasn’t sure it would ever be possible.

A reconciliation between Lan Wangji and the elders was more likely now than it had been. While Wei Wuxian had been dead, Lan Wangji never would have forgiven them, because he could never forgive himself, for his inaction. Now, perhaps he might someday. Wei Wuxian himself seemed to think that the elders had had every right to think he was a terrible person, although Lan Xichen did not see Lan Wangji agreeing with that assertion any time soon.

But if it ever happened, it was still a long way off, and Lan Xichen was not going to push it. Lan Wangji was happy where he was, so Lan Xichen would leave him there.

As for himself, he wasn’t as unhappy as he could have been. Jin Guangyao’s betrayal and subsequent death still hurt. He would wake up with it sometimes, an ache in his chest where his friend had been. But he had his real brother and his sworn brother, and he had his wife and his daughter. They did not make the pain go away, but they made it easier for him to bear.

He was wondering if there was something else he should say to his uncle when there was a ruckus from one of the nearby rooms where the disciples studied, and a few moments later, one of the elders dragged a boy outside by his ear, wailing apologies. Lan Xichen briskly walked over before he could toss the boy onto his ass and said, politely, “What exactly is happening here?”

“I b-broke discipline two hundred twelve,” the boy said, lower lip wobbling. Lan Xichen recognized him as one of the newest juniors, probably about ten years old, named Lan Feng. “I’m sorry.”

Discipline two hundred twelve, Lan Xichen recalled, was ‘be careful of others’ belongings’. “Did you break something, A-Feng?”

“He was trying to reach something on a shelf that was too high for him,” the elder snapped. “He fell and knocked over my inkwell, breaking it and ruining the last hours’ worth of work that I had done!”

Lan Xichen nodded. “Are you hurt, A-Feng?” he asked, and the boy shook his head miserably. “All right, that’s good. Tomorrow, you will do all of this honorable elder’s chores for him. You will sweep the paths he would sweep, wash the dishes he would wash, draw his water and bring his tea. That will free up the time he will need to redo the work that you ruined. You will still need to complete all your own chores as well. Do you understand?”

Lan Feng nodded and bowed. The elder, however, said, “The punishment for breaking someone else’s belongings is ten strikes!”

With a benign smile, Lan Xichen said, “Well, I would assume that only applies if the act had been intentional. When A-Feng broke your inkwell, it was an accident.”

“Caused by his recklessness,” the elder snapped.

“And I’m sure he’s learned to be more careful in the future,” Lan Xichen said. “I see no reason we would need to reinforce this lesson with a physical punishment.”

More than anything, the elder simply looked confused. “But it’s written . . .”

Lan Xichen never stopped smiling. “Is it not also written ‘do not judge others harshly’? Discipline seven hundred and seventy-nine. As well as ‘do not take out an ill temper on others’, ‘protect children’, and ‘do not value physical property above another’s well-being’. Nowhere in the disciplines is it written to strike a child ten times for a simple accident caused by a bit of carelessness. Now, A-Feng, I am sure you have duties to attend to, so you may go.”

Lan Feng nodded, bowed again, and walked away with perhaps a bit more haste than would be polite, but not enough to be considered running. The elder hmphed and went back into the room he had been studying in.

“Xichen,” Lan Qiren said with a sigh.

“Yes, shufu?” Lan Xichen asked.

Lan Qiren glared at him for a long minute, then shook his head and said, “Never mind.” With that, he turned and walked away.

Lan Xichen heard a quiet laugh and turned to see Yu Zhiyi, holding Lan Xing, standing in the courtyard by the hanshi. He walked over and kissed first the baby’s forehead, then his wife’s. “Eavesdropping?”

“I just like watching you work,” she said. “Making a better sect?”

“Making a better world,” he said, and smiled.


~ ~ ~ ~


Lan Wangji’s favorite time of day was morning lessons.

It was a little silly of him, he thought, but the sight of Wei Wuxian sitting amongst the children, doing core-building exercises with them, warmed his heart in a way he had no longer thought possible. He had no idea whether or not it would be effective, whether it would take months or years or decades to see any results. Truthfully, he did not care. Wei Wuxian was back, and Wei Wuxian was his, and it was more than he had ever dared dream of.

And the children, his beloved children, were doing well. Jin Song loved to sit with the others and mimic what they were doing, scribbling with a brush or pretending to draw symbols in the air. He could walk by himself and copied Wen Yuan’s habit of clinging to the legs of people. His speech was still perhaps a bit behind, but he was catching up, and nobody made fun of him for it. Even if his delays persisted, Lan Wangji thought, he would always be treated kindly at Lotus Pier. They would shield him and protect him from anyone who dared say it was because of who his father had been.

Mo Xuanyu was excelling at all his lessons. His father might have had few positive qualities, but he had been a powerful cultivator, and he had passed that down to his sons. And Mo Xuanyu was brilliant in a way akin to Wei Wuxian – creative and flexible, able to make leaps of logic in a way others couldn’t. Wei Wuxian had taken a shine to him immediately, and they were often doing experiments together. Mo Xuanyu was still shy and anxious, but he only wore his mask in large gatherings now, never during lessons. He would be getting his sword soon, and had realized that he would actually be a formal member of the Yunmeng Jiang, that his place there was permanent. He seemed more in awe of it with each day that passed.

Jin Ling, meanwhile, was doing his best to become fiercely independent. The phrase ‘let me do it’ was spoken at minimum four times an hour. He wanted to dress himself and help with the chores and dish up his own food. He could swim very well and always wanted to go in the water if the older children were going in. He liked to paint and was learning his shapes and colors. Even when the lessons were too advanced for him, he always wanted to participate. He bossed around the children who were older than him, saying that he was going to be sect leader of the Yunmeng Jiang so they had to listen to him. All of the other children found this quite amusing. Jiang Yanli had gotten him a puppy, a foo dog from the mountains. He named her Fairy and she followed him everywhere, much to Wei Wuxian’s dismay (although even he could not truly be afraid of such a small, fluffy thing).

Lan Yong was always talking even when he shouldn’t be, telling stories or bossing other juniors around. He was the most advanced at language, and frequently bragged about how many characters he had learned and how good his calligraphy was. Of course, his calligraphy was wonderful because he was frequently made to copy lines in response to his many transgressions, but this did not seem to bother him. He was also the physically strongest, and enjoyed roughhousing with the boys who were a few years older than them. He was starting his martial arts lessons, and he took to them like a duck to water.

And then there was Wen Yuan, his beautiful, wonderful A-Yuan. Only seven years old and could already play the guqin and the dizi with moderate proficiency. Ahead of juniors who were twice his age when it came to building his golden core. Good at both mathematics and writing. Sweet and polite, always ready to help, patient with the younger children, protective of his fathers. Lan Wangji could not have been more proud.

He loved all of them, and he loved watching Wei Wuxian play with them and spend time with them, and he loved the way Wen Yuan still called Wei Wuxian ‘Xian-baba’ even though it was a little silly. He loved the joy and gratitude he saw in Wei Wuxian’s gaze every time they watched Wen Yuan together. He loved the way Jin Ling called them both ‘jiujiu’ and constantly talked about how his mother was the best mom ever. He loved his family.

“Okay, so I couldn’t find a baby to steal for us yet,” Wei Wuxian said after lessons one day, in exactly the tone Lan Wangji would have expected him to say such an outrageous thing, “so I got us something else. Or shijie did, since I’m not allowed to leave Lotus Pier, but I told her what to get so they’re from me to you. Close your eyes.”

Somewhat suspiciously, Lan Wangji obeyed, and let Wei Wuxian lead him out behind the main buildings, where there was more solid land instead of lotus pools. “Okay, you can open them now!”

Lan Wangji did so, and in front of him was an area of earth and vegetation that had been fenced off. A small wooden hutch had been built inside, and sitting on the ground by it were two rabbits, one white and one black. His eyes lit up despite himself, and he stepped over the fence and sat down with them.

“I can’t make you go back to Cloud Recesses, and I can’t make you want to go back,” Wei Wuxian said, “which is fine, if that’s what you want, even though it seems so strange to me. But the parts of it you loved, I can bring those parts to you.”

“Mn.” Lan Wangji smoothed back the ears of the black rabbit, and gestured for Wei Wuxian to join him in the pen. He did, sitting down next to him, and Lan Wangji placed the white rabbit in his arms. Wei Wuxian laughed and picked it up so he could nuzzle its nose with his own. Lan Wangji watched him do this, smiled, and said, “Thank you, Wei Ying.”

Wei Wuxian bumped their shoulders together and smiled. “You’re welcome.”

Lan Wangji leaned in and gave him a gentle kiss.

“You know, I wanted to ask you,” Wei Wuxian said, “since we did three prostrations together, are we technically married now?”

That made Lan Wangji frown. The Gusu Lan wedding ceremony was quite different, involving the tying of the ribbon, but he could see why Wei Wuxian might think so. “Do you want to be married?”

“I do,” Wei Wuxian said, and Lan Wangji’s frown faded back into his soft smile, “but I also think shijie might be annoyed if we don’t let her plan a wedding for us.”

“Well, then,” Lan Wangji said, with another kiss, “I will tell her to plan one.”


~ ~ ~ ~


Jiang Yanli became Chief Cultivator by unanimous agreement among the sect leaders. She suspected that many of them agreed to this because, despite all evidence to the contrary, they figured she would be weak and easy to manipulate. She found herself perversely looking forward to the first time she got to completely ruin Sect Leader Yao’s day by telling him that he couldn’t have what he wanted.

She noticed that Yu Zixia was not at the cultivation conference, which was being held in Qinghe. In fact, nobody was there representing the Lanling Jin at all, for the first time in her memory.

Once they had finalized the decision of Chief Cultivator and discussed some other night hunting news, she asked if anybody knew what was going on in Lanling. Yu Guoduan stood and bowed to her, and said, “Yu Zixia has left the Lanling Jin and is now back in Meishan. As you might have anticipated, she was unwilling to give up on the idea of bringing Jin Rulan back to Koi Tower, and ordered the men who were still loyal to her to attack Lotus Pier. However, the men did not wish to challenge the Yunmeng Jiang, and in particular not Hanguang-Jun, and rebelled against her. She was removed from her position of power and has accepted my offer to rejoin the Meishan Yu.”

Jiang Yanli let out a breath and nodded. “Thank you, Yu-zongzhu. Although I do not wish to seek punishment for her, please understand that I cannot allow her back in Yunmeng, and would prefer if you could make sure she does not cause any further trouble for my sect.”

“Of course, Xiandu. I have already informed her that she must remain inside the borders of Meishan, and that the Meishan Yu consider Yunmeng Jiang important allies. Anything she does to damage that alliance will lead to her immediate expulsion from the Yu sect.”

“Thank you,” Jiang Yanli said again.

Yu Guoduan sat back down, and Nie Huaisang stood and bowed. “Unfortunately, from what I know from my people in Lanling, the Jin sect is completely collapsing. When Yu Zixia was removed, one of Jin Guangshan’s cousins seized power. There were also two nephews that had argued they were best suited to take the seat. One of them staged an uprising against the cousin and both factions lost many men. The remaining nephew is now considered sect leader but that is not expected to last long, as the two losing factions, as well as the men who were loyal to Jin-furen until the end, will not accept his claim to the position. I suspect that before the end, the Jin sect will break into three or possibly four separate sects, the largest of which will hold onto Koi Tower.”

Jiang Yanli let out a breath. She couldn’t say it was surprising. They had all known that the power vacuum left behind by Jin Guangyao would end poorly. The Jin sect was so large, and already so full of intrigue and disloyalty. It was the sect that Jin Guangshan had nurtured, and perhaps it was better that it would collapse. She vividly remembered Jin Guangyao’s final words, and wondered if this would bring his soul some comfort.

“Thank you, Nie-gongzi,” she said. “Your assistance collecting information from Lanling has been invaluable. I hope I can continue to rely on you.”

Nie Huaisang bowed again and said, “I’m honored to be of assistance, Xiandu.”

Nie Mingjue glanced at his brother and a little smile tugged at his lips, to see Nie Huaisang having found a niche for himself in the tumultuous cultivation world. Jiang Yanli could not help but smile as well.

They discussed a few more issues, but the conference overall was short. That evening, they bid goodbye to the Nie brothers and headed back to Yunmeng. She had brought about half a dozen disciples with her, including Lan Wangji, although Wei Wuxian had chosen to stay behind. He still did not much care to leave Lotus Pier, as it was where he felt safest, and where he could stay with the children.

Most of the journey was on the river, and it passed in a quiet, peaceful way. Lan Wangji had told her a few days earlier that he intended to marry Wei Wuxian – which did not surprise her in the slightest – and thought she might like to speak to Lan Xichen about planning a ceremony. Knowing how much Lan Xichen adored his younger brother and wanted to see him find happiness, she had mentioned it at the conference, and they had talked for about an hour about the finer details. Jiang Yanli relayed their plans to Lan Wangji as the boat drifted down the river. She was strong enough now that she could have ridden the sword – something that would have seemed ridiculously impossible three years previous, as ridiculous as the idea of being Chief Cultivator – but not all the disciples could. And she still loved the water, loved the feeling of the boat swaying back and forth. It reminded her of her childhood, when everything was still bright and hopeful.

When the boat came around the curve of the river and she saw the docks of Lotus Pier, she could not help but smile. Wei Wuxian was waiting for them there, with Wen Ning and Qin Su and the children. He waved vigorously as the boat came closer and helped them dock. “Welcome home, shijie, Lan Zhan,” he said, with a bow that quickly turned into an embrace. He hugged Jiang Yanli and then gave Lan Wangji a kiss before the children came over to greet them.

Jiang Yanli scooped up Jin Ling and gave him a kiss, and he laughed and protested, “It tickles, Mama.” She hugged him tighter. There were still days she missed her brother and her husband so much. Every time she saw Wen Yuan and Lan Yong playing, it reminded her of her brothers. She loved and missed the ones who were gone, but she knew they would be proud of her, and that helped ease the pain far more than she ever would have thought.

She balanced Jin Ling on her hip while she greeted the other children, then Qin Su and Wen Ning. Wen Yuan was already on Lan Wangji’s back to be carried, his arms wrapped around Lan Wangji’s neck. He could not have possibly looked happier that this was happening. She smiled at him, her dear brother-in-law who had helped her so much, and he smiled back, and they headed up the docks and into Lotus Pier together.