They were never friends, never really anything at all, but when Wen Qing is brought up out of the dungeons, she's relieved to see a familiar face smiling at her—a face that isn't Jin Guangyao or any of his minions. She doesn't know what happened, only that her tormentor hasn't come to her in quite some time, though time is hard to judge in the endless darkness of the Lanling Jin Sect's dungeons. She doesn't know a lot of things about the years that have passed, only what the Jin Sect Leader wanted her to know—much of it quite probably lies.
"You've seen better days, Wen-guniang," Nie Huaisang says with a sympathetic grimace. Her wits are too slow, exhausted as she is after years of captivity and torture, to come up with an appropriately biting response, but he softens his comment anyway by continuing, "But I'm glad to see you alive."
"I'm glad to be alive," she croaks. It's the first time in far too long that she's been able to honestly think that, despite still feeling half-dead. Quickly, though, her thoughts turn to her family, to all those who weren't potentially useful enough for Jin Guangyao to keep them alive as he did her. There's only one other person he might have thought worth keeping. "What about my brother?"
"'Alive' is a strong word for what Wen Ning is," Nie Huaisang says, "but he's still around and still himself. He escaped the dungeons and played his part in defeating Jin Guangyao."
Wen Qing sags with relief, though it's tinged with guilt at knowing that they survived when so many others didn't. "And the rest of my family?" she asks, just in case, but she's not surprised when Nie Huaisang shakes his head.
"Jin Guangshan followed through on killing them, I'm afraid. But he's dead now, so there's no one for you to take revenge on. Jin Guangyao too."
She's not sorry to hear that—she wouldn't be much good at revenge—but that's tinged with guilt too. She doesn't care to avenge the Qishan Wen Sect as a whole, but as the only real survivor of her family, shouldn't she want to avenge their deaths? But what good would that do now? "I see," is all she can say.
Nie Huaisang's enigmatic smile, with a strange glint in his eyes, is one she doesn't ever remember seeing on his face, but admittedly she never knew him well. "It's just as well. Revenge is a complicated thing."
Wen Qing has questions about that, and about so many other things including how and why Jin Guangyao died, allowing her to finally go free, and where her brother is and what will happen to her now, but she's weak and sick and suddenly even opening her mouth to speak seems like an insurmountable task. She sways on her feet and only has a moment to feel grateful that a Nie Sect man is close enough to catch her before consciousness leaves her.
When she wakes up, there's a purple blur sitting by her bed. It takes a disconcertingly long time for the blur to resolve into Jiang Cheng, and even then, Wen Qing has to blink a few times to be sure of what she's seeing. The past sixteen years have strengthened his jaw and made the furrow between his brows permanent, but she can still see the boy who wanted to save her in him, despite the scowl on his face.
His expression softens only marginally when he realizes she's awake, and only for a moment, like he considered being happy or relieved but decided against it. "How do you feel?" he asks gruffly.
"Better." Her voice is still hoarse, but a little stronger than before. She manages to sit up without passing out, but she's very weak; she knows she's in for a long recovery, and she'll never be the person she was before. "Are we still in Carp Tower?"
Jiang Cheng nods. "The doctors said you weren't well enough to be moved."
"I see." She's not sure Jiang Cheng is the right person to ask, all things considered, but Wen Qing is desperate for answers to her too many questions. "What have I missed? What happened to Jin Guangyao?"
Jiang Cheng tells her, as briefly as possible, about the Jin Sect Leader's manipulations, and she listens quietly until he says, "But Wei Wuxian figured out—"
Wen Qing's heart leaps, afraid as she is to hope. "Wait, Wei Wuxian is...alive?"
Jiang Cheng's expression now is far more complicated, and she wonders how much of that is because of Wei Wuxian; she heard from Jin Guangyao how Wei Wuxian was responsible for Jiang Yanli's death, although she didn't know how much to believe. "He's alive. He was...brought back. He's traveling with Lan Wangji now." It's obvious he doesn't want to linger on the subject, so Wen Qing lets him finish the story of Jin Guangyao's defeat instead.
"Good riddance," is all she has to say to that. After the way Jin Guangyao tormented her, the way he tried to force her to serve him, she can't feel any sympathy for him. Jiang Cheng doesn't judge, only nods.
"I couldn't believe it when Nie Huaisang told me they found you in the dungeons. You were here this whole time?"
"Jin Guangyao thought I might help him," she says grimly. "He thought wrong."
They lapse into silence, and Wen Qing doesn't know what to say after all this time. She rejected Jiang Cheng's kindness so many years ago, and it seems as though there's little of that kindness left in him now. She'll be dependent on the kindness of strangers until she recovers her strength and finds her place in this changed world, but she can't expect anything from Jiang Cheng.
At last, with all the gruff dignity of the Yunmeng Jiang Sect leader, but without meeting her eyes, he says, "The doctors said your recovery will be long. If you wish...there could be a place for you at Lotus Pier." For one brief moment, she sees a hint of that innocent, hopeful young boy she remembers, before it disappears into that omnipresent scowl. Still, he seems sincere, and the truth is that she has nowhere else to go.
"That is very kind of you, Sect Leader Jiang. I would greatly appreciate your hospitality." It feels too stiff and awkward, so she smiles hesitantly. For an even briefer moment than before, a small smile flickers over Jiang Cheng's face. It's gone far too quickly, but it makes her think that it wouldn't be so bad to spend some time in Yunmeng with him.
It's two weeks before Wen Qing is well enough to travel and another seven before they manage to contact Wen Ning. Jiang Cheng gets a look on his face like he wants to be anywhere but here every time the subject of her brother comes up, and she can understand why, but Wen Qing wants to see him too badly to be diplomatic. Besides, if Jiang Cheng can accept her as a guest under his roof, maybe he can learn to tolerate Wen Ning too.
The day Wen Ning arrives in Lotus Pier, Wen Qing runs out to greet him so quickly that her head spins, which it doesn't often do anymore. It's worth it, though, to see that beautiful smile, still familiar despite sixteen years apart, break over her brother's face. Unlike the rest of them, he hasn't aged a day, and the cracks in his skin remind her that he's not really alive, but he's Wen Ning and that's all that matters to her as she flings herself into his arms.
"Jiejie." Wen Ning's voice trembles with emotion, and Wen Qing doesn't even try to talk. He's cold, as he has been since Wei Wuxian brought him back, but solid and steady and here with her in a world that's managed to find peace again. She wishes there was more than just the two of them, but she's so happy to have Wen Ning back.
"It's good to see you," Wen Qing says when she can finally trust herself to talk. She pulls back and puts her hands on Wen Ning's cheeks, beaming at the sight of his wide eyes and gentle smile. "It's really good to see you." Tears blur her vision and she laughingly gives Wen Ning another hug.
"I'm glad you're here," he murmurs. "When I heard that Jin Guangshan said he killed us both, I was sure you must be dead. But you're alive."
"I am." Wen Qing squeezes her brother tight to reassure them both of that.
"Jiejie, I have something to tell you! Some good news."
Wen Qing releases him, trying to read in Wen Ning's expression what the news is. He's here, and Wei Wuxian is back too; she hardly dares to hope for more. "What is it?"
"A-Yuan is alive!" Wen Ning looks so happy, and Wen Qing can understand the feeling. The thought of poor innocent A-Yuan dying so young has haunted her all these years; it would be amazing to learn that she was wrong about that.
"He is?" she asks hopefully.
"Hanguang-Jun found him in the Burial Mounds and took him into the Lan Sect. He goes by Lan Sizhui now and he's grown up so well." Wen Ning's smile falters somewhat and he looks around to see if anyone is listening, but everyone has given their emotional scene a wide berth. "It's a secret. He didn't even know himself until recently, since he was sick and lost his memories of his early life, but it's really him."
Wen Qing is so grateful to be alive and to have her brother with her that it's almost overwhelming to have more good news, to know that while most of her family didn't survive, little A-Yuan did. She doesn't know what to do with all those emotions, so she throws her arms around Wen Ning one more time and lets herself remember, for the first time in what feels like an eternity, what it's like to be really, truly happy.
Wei Wuxian is even more difficult to get hold of than Wen Ning, and Wen Qing has to wonder if that's deliberate. She remembers how he and Lan Wangji looked at each other back in the day. Maybe they're enjoying some time alone after sixteen years of separation and everything they've been through since then. She hopes so, for Wei Wuxian's sake, as much as she'd like to see him again soon.
When he finally comes to Lotus Pier, she's nervous and excited at the same time, wondering how different the Wei Wuxian who died and returned will be from the one she remembers, who was sometimes lazy and childish, but good-hearted and dependable when it mattered. She hangs back out of sight as he speaks to Jiang Cheng, their bickering sharp, if only on Jiang Cheng's side. Wen Ning stands beside her, also eagerly watching Wei Wuxian even though they've had their big reunion already.
"I'm back now, aren't I?" Wei Wuxian's bright smile as he tries to placate his former shidi is just as Wen Qing remembers, and it makes her want to smile too.
Her heart rate picks up, silly though it feels, when Jiang Cheng says, "There's just someone who would like to see you."
"Is that someone you?" Wei Wuxian teases, totally unaware.
"That person is most certainly not me!" Jiang Cheng retorts.
"Who is it, then?" Wei Wuxian has no idea what's coming, and Wen Qing can't stand waiting any longer, so she steps out into the courtyard.
"It's me." She smiles at the sight of Wei Wuxian, though her heart is still racing as he freezes and turns toward her. His earlier broad smile has disappeared entirely and his eyes are wide with shock; it takes her a moment to notice the tears shining in them.
"Wen Qing." His voice is quiet, disbelieving and hopeful at the same time, and his eyes remain fixed on her as he takes a hesitant step in her direction. "You're...alive?"
"Obviously. You always ask the stupidest questions, Wei Wuxian." She laughs, even as her heart swells with emotion. She remembers when Jin Guangyao smugly told her about Wei Wuxian's death, how desperately she wanted to believe that he was lying, how much it hurt to think of him losing control and dying hopeless and heartbroken when all he'd wanted was to help people—to help her and her family. It means so much to see him alive and well and himself again, with a second chance to live happily.
In an instant, Wei Wuxian closes the distance between them and drags Wen Qing into a tight hug, curling his tall frame down to fit against her as he starts to cry, his shoulders shaking. "Stop crying, stupid," Wen Qing says, mostly so she won't start crying herself. She's too happy to cry, having the man who sacrificed so much to save her and her brother and, at least for a time, her family at her side again.
"I'm not crying." Wei Wuxian chokes on the words and on the laugh that follows, betraying his obvious lie.
Wen Qing laughs too, but her voice is soft when she says, "I'm glad you're here. I'm so glad you're all right." She rubs Wei Wuxian's back, comforting him and reassuring herself that this is real, that he's really here.
"Me too," Wei Wuxian murmurs. "I'm glad you're here. We're going to be happy this time."
"We are," Wen Qing agrees. She couldn't save Wei Wuxian last time—any more than he could save her—but they have this second chance and she isn't going to waste it. She gives in and holds Wei Wuxian tightly and resolves to be happy, for herself and for Wei Wuxian, for Wen Ning and A-Yuan, and for all those who didn't get this chance.
Lan Sizhui is gone on a night hunt when they arrive at the Cloud Recesses, to Wen Qing's disappointment. She distracts herself for a few days with helping Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji stop being idiots about their feelings for each other; she wants them to be happy, after all, not endlessly pining to the frustration of themselves and everyone around them. It doesn't take much to push them together, and so when Wen Ning comes and excitedly tells her "A-Yuan is home!" on their fifth day in Gusu, there's nothing else to preoccupy her.
In her mind, A-Yuan is a little boy in robes of coarse, worn fabric, with his hair in disarray and dirt smudged on his smiling face, but when Wen Ning brings her to the courtyard, she sees a poised young man in elegant white robes, a Lan Sect ribbon on his forehead and a fine sword in his hand. He stands straight and tall and his voice is soft and smooth as he talks to Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian. "That's him?" she asks Wen Ning.
"That's him," he confirms. "You wouldn't guess looking at him, or when he's being polite, but once you talk to him more, you can see the similarities."
Wen Qing hasn't been listening to the other conversation, but now she catches Wei Wuxian saying, "—someone here you should meet," and A-Yuan—Lan Sizhui turns to her.
His bow is so polite and proper, as is his, "Hello, guniang. Do we know each other?"
"This is my sister!" Wen Ning tells him. "Wen Qing."
Lan Sizhui's surprise isn't as extreme as Wei Wuxian's, but his eyes do go wide. Then he just looks at her for a long moment, a slight furrow in his brow, as if searching for recognition. "I understood that all the Wens were dead besides me, or at least all those of our family."
"I was kept prisoner in secret, like my brother," Wen Qing explains. "I was only released after Jin Guangyao died."
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner. I didn't know at first, and then we wanted to keep it quiet while she was recovering." Too excited to be patient, Wen Ning asks, "Doesn't he look just like his father? I was so shocked when I first saw him."
Wen Qing takes a moment to study Lan Sizhui and sees that it's true, once she gets past the Lan Sect clothing and demeanor. It's jarring, and perhaps a little sad to see him in white instead of red, but the important thing is that he's been able to grow up when she thought he'd died a long time ago. "He does. Do you remember me?" she asks uncertainly.
"A little." Lan Sizhui smiles, shy and yet mischievous in a way that's very like her memories of A-Yuan. "I don't recall the details, but I have a feeling that you scolded me a lot."
Wen Qing has to laugh. "I did, mostly because some people kept encouraging you to fool around."
"Hey!" Wei Wuxian protests when she glares at him. "I was a great influence." Wen Qing rolls her eyes, but she can see that she's outnumbered with the besotted look Lan Wangji gives him and the fond smiles on Wen Ning and Lan Sizhui's faces.
"Isn't it great that we're all together again?" Wen Ning asks, probably partly to stop them from arguing, but also sincere.
"I look forward to getting to know you better," Lan Sizhui says, his smile warmer now. "Wen-shushu has told me a lot about you, and about our family."
Our family. There was a time when Wen Qing thought her whole family was gone, even Wen Ning, and it's wonderful to know that that's not the case. And Wei Wuxian is here too, and while Lan Wangji isn't one of them, he loves Wei Wuxian, and that's enough for her.
"I want to know everything I missed," Wen Qing says, smiling back at Lan Sizhui. She wishes she could have been there to see it all herself, but what matters is that they're together again now. She puts her arm around Wen Ning and grins at Wei Wuxian and thinks for a moment about Jiang Cheng back in Lotus Pier. All in all, after many years of hardship and separation and fighting against despair, she finds herself looking forward to the future and spending it with the people she loves.