Actions

Work Header

up on melancholy hill

Chapter Text

.

.

Nie Huaisang wakes up gasping for breath, a plea for help halfway out his lips. It takes him several disoriented moments to recover from the nightmare, his dark but familiar surroundings finally reminding him of where he is - in his room, in Qinghe.

Safe. For now.

Then he recalls the red-hot flashes of fire and the screams of the strangers from his dream, and he freezes. In his mind’s eye, he sees the smoke and the blood and the burning curtains-

The curtains. The curtains were purple -

Huaisang rushes out of bed, slipping his cardigan on as he runs to the door and down the hall. He doesn’t know what time it is, and he ignores the people who ask after him on his way. By the time he gets to his brother’s office, he’s already feeling faint, winded, and he almost falls over if not for the pair of arms that had hurried to keep him upright.

He vaguely registers Nie Zonghui’s voice near his ear asking him if he’s okay, or the inaudible murmurs of the other people in the room. He only focuses on his big brother, who stands up from his chair and all but runs to him.

“Huaisang?” Nie Mingjue asks, brows furrowed in concern as he takes in his brother’s pale, terrified face. “What’s wrong?”

“Da-ge,” Nie Huaisang says, voice trembling. “It’s Lotus Pier. We have to send help.”

.

Huaisang paces in his room for the next hour.

They can’t send help, his brother had told him. There’s too little information to go by and no one from Lotus Pier had sent word. Nie Huaisang had a dream , and with his powers, they’re never sure with dreams. Even if they were sure, they can’t send help. They don’t have enough people, Nie Mingjue had said - and the people that they do have are tired, wounded, scared

“There is too much at risk.” his da-ge said, a hand cupping his cheek, apologetic, and Huaisang knows then that this is difficult for him too. His brother is never one to stand back when people are in need. “We are the last major safehouse standing - and we must remain standing.”

“But-… da-ge, my friends-”

“Jiang Fengmian and Yu Ziyuan would never go without a fight, and they will never let anything happen to their children. The best we can do now is wait, and hope. If they come to us, we’ll provide them sanctuary. The others would, too. I’ll tell our people to keep an eye out. But we must stay here. I’m sorry, Huaisang.”

Huaisang understands, but it doesn’t mean he feels better about it.

So he paces, and paces. At some point, Xiaoyu had perched on his window, and Nie Huaisang had only spared the black myna a glance before pacing again.

He recalls what his brother told him when he sent him off. “It’s late. You should be resting. If we hear anything, I’ll come tell you myself.”

He paces a bit more, until he has to sit back on his bed, his exhaustion catching up to him.

Not for the first time, Huaisang curses the cost of his gift, the toll it takes on his already weak body.

Xiaoyu flies to him, perching on his lap, and he smiles softly at the bird, petting her head.

“I’m sorry for waking you.” he tells his pet. “I’m just restless. I think my friends are in danger, but I can’t be sure, and I can’t do anything about it.”

Then he stops, taking a deep breath. He might not be able to do anything, but he has to do something , if not to at least distract himself.

“Will you help me, Xiaoyu?” he asks. The bird looks up at him, tilts her head, beady eyes meeting his.

He leans down, closes his eyes and fights through the haze of exhaustion to focus and reach out with his mind. It’s almost second nature to find Xiaoyu, so near and so attached to him. He feels a little spark as the familiar link ‘clicks’ into place.

When he opens his eyes, they’re glowing a light pale gold. He raises his hand and the myna perches on his finger. In his mind’s eye, he sees himself, like looking into a mirror, except he could see so much more .

“Okay.” He looks out the window, the bird in his hand mimicking the movement. “Let’s fly.”

.

.

.


Nie Huaisang first met Jiang Wanyin at the Lan safehouse in Gusu when they were 15. His da-ge had told him that his gift could be useful, if only he can control it. Meanwhile, he had heard that Jiang Fengmian and Yu Ziyuan’s son had a very powerful gift himself, but lacked restraint in using it. So they were there to learn control and restraint, because it was said that Lan Qiren is the best teacher for young people like them.

That’s how he spent lots of boring afternoons in Gusu: kneeling and staring at his pet bird’s eyes (as if Xiaoyu will be any less mischievous and will be easier to ‘link’ with if Huaisang pouted at him hard enough).

In between staring sessions with his pet, he is sneaking glances at the boy sitting across the room from him, meditating.

At least, he was supposed to be meditating. Nie Huaisang wasn’t blind. He knew that Jiang Wanyin was trying not to fall asleep half the time.

Wei Wuxian, who didn’t need training and only came to Gusu to keep his brother company, just laughed at their complaints after every ‘training session’ before dragging them to explore the mountains, to Lan Wangji’s disapproval.

It was fun. Nie Huaisang had been friends with other kids in the Nie safehouse, but a lot of them treated him like he was fragile, so it was a nice change. It was a bit difficult to catch up to the other two at times (they’re just so… athletic!) but he still enjoyed being with them a lot.

Until he learned that they really should listen to Lan Wangji more often.

Because of course Huaisang would slip and fall into… somewhere. A… pit? A trench? He didn’t know what it’s called. He only knew that everything hurt, and no one could hear him when he called for help, and he wanted to cry.

On the bright side, that’s how he learned that he could actually link with Xiaoyu from afar.

He also saw how worried Jiang Wanyin was, and yeah, that left Huaisang feeling a bit fluttery and stuff, but that’s another matter entirely. All he knew was that somehow he was able to link with Xiaoyu well and long enough to lead his dashing rescuer to him.

“D’you think Master Lan will be pleased with me for once?” he asked, voice muffled against the back of his friend’s shoulder as he is carried back to the Lan safehouse.

Jiang Wanyin rolled his eyes and shifted his hold on him. “Pleased? That you fell off the mountain? No. That you managed to link with Xiaoyu from afar and got to hold that for hours? Definitely.”

“Is Jiang-xiong praising me?”

“Don’t let it get into your head.”


.

.

.

Jiang Cheng falls to his knees, coughing the smoke out of his lungs, eyes stinging and in tears. Beside him, his brother is wide-eyed and shaking, and on his other side, his sister’s sobs come out in quiet gasps. He looks up and around - the night sky is clear. No smoke, no fire. In the bright moonlight, he can see they’re in some kind of forest, surrounded by unfamiliar trees. Except for the coughing and crying, it was dead silent.

Then he hears voices behind them, and when he whirls around, it’s to see a handful of other people tumble out from the familiar glowing purple portal, before it vanishes into thin air.

Dread settles in Jiang Cheng’s gut as he realizes that might be the last time he will ever see that portal.

“No...” he hears his sister’s shaking voice. “No… Father-... Mother-”

“Everyone, get up.” he says, voice weak and strained from coughing. He stands shakily and tries again. “Get up! We have to keep moving.”

“Where are we?” someone from their group asks, a teenage boy, holding on to two other children.

“Qinghe.” Wei Wuxian says, standing up before pulling Jiang Yanli to her feet. She wipes her tears with her sleeve. “We should be in Qinghe.”

“How did you know-”

“Because that’s where my father meant to send us.” Jiang Cheng answers, firm. “So that’s where we are.”

Jiang Cheng looks at them. There couldn’t be more than 20 people with them, mostly teenagers and young adults, with a few older people and young children. Most of them were wounded. One young woman, her eyes glowing blue, is handing out small chunks of ice to the people with burns. She looks worse for wear too.

He sees his sister step towards a child who couldn’t have been older than ten, clearly on the verge of breaking down as she struggles to carry a crying toddler. Yanli takes the toddler and then pulls the older kid to her, gently shushing them both. The effect is instantaneous, both children’s sobs subsiding.

“But there should be a safehouse, right?” someone else asks. “Where is it?”

Wei Wuxian sends a reassuring smile to their group. “Uncle might have just… missed a bit, but I’m sure it’s nearby. We just have to-... We have to keep moving, find our way to the safehouse. They’ll help us there. Can someone here… like, sense? Or find people? Nearby?”

A lot of them shook their heads, including Jiang Yanli, which is enough to tell Jiang Cheng that they are well and truly lost. One man raised his hand. “I’m not hearing any humans around at all. But I can hear running water. It’ll be a long walk, though.”

“That’s better than nothing.” Jiang Cheng says. He looks to his siblings and they nod at him. He turns back to the man. “Lead the way.”

.

It feels like they’ve been walking for hours, and the stars are already starting to fade from the sky when Wei Wuxian looks up and sees a single black bird flying right above them.

“Jiang Cheng. Is that-...?”

Jiang Cheng follows his brother’s gaze and squints at the bird for a few moments before his eyes widen in recognition.

“It better be.” he says, tentatively reaching out. The bird lands on his arm, and his fingers hover above the little jade green ribbon on her leg. He looks to his brother and nods. “It’s Xiaoyu.”

“Do you think-...?”

Before he could finish his question, the bird leans forward and lightly tugs at Jiang Cheng’s hair with her beak.

Jiang Cheng startles before he breathes out, almost laughing in disbelief.

“Huaisang?” he says, not giving a damn about how it might look to the others as he talks to a bird, desperate. “We need help, if you’re nearby-”

Xiaoyu tugs at his hair again before taking off and landing on a nearby branch. Then she flies to another tree, and another, further and further through the forest.

Jiang Cheng lets out a relieved sigh. He turns to the others. “Follow her. We’re getting there soon.”

.

.

.

Chapter Text

.

.

Jiang Yanli hates the “war meetings”.

They’re not at war. They’re on the run. Hiding . There is no war. Only a massive, senseless act of violence brought on by one man’s greed and hunger for power.

“We have to leave this place, don’t we?” Nie Huaisang asks, his voice small in the tense silence of the room. He’s the first one to voice what all of them know to be true. “We have no choice. Our location is compromised. After Gusu and Yunmeng… they'll be coming here anytime now-”

“No.” Nie Mingjue says, his hands balling into fists as he looks at the map on the table, crumpled and battered and marked many times over. “This is our family’s home. We have to stay. Fight back.”

“What, and die? ” Wen Qing steps forward. Of course she does. All of the people in the room are brave, yes, but the other woman simply is made of steel.

One would have to be, after what she’d been through - what she did . Until now, Yanli could still remember how badly Wen Qing and Wen Ning looked when Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji first brought them to the Nie safehouse. Wen Qing had looked desperate - long hair burnt at the ends, uneven, cheeks tear-stained, clothes torn and arms covered in her brother’s blood. Wen Ning looked like he simply wasn’t going to make it.

(And he didn’t make it. Until he did .)

(Yanli never thought she’d ever be afraid of one of her brothers.)

“Half the people in this safehouse don’t have the ability to defend themselves.” Wen Qing continues. “Those who do were not trained for it. Those who were, well, they’re wounded. Fight back, with who? The children?”

It’s not a war, Yanli thinks, if all one side can do is run and retreat, again and again. If day after day, they’re backed into a corner, and they’re starting to believe that it’s all they’ll do until they’ve run out of corners to be backed against.

They live in a world already so against people like them. Her parents and their generation had barely even managed to convince their society that they were not a threat, that they were still humans, not meant to be hunted. It took considerable wealth, influence and resources for the five families to build the five major safehouses that took in whoever came to them for sanctuary.

And now… those safehouses are falling one by one...

“You know we can’t fight them-” Wen Qing argues.

Nie Mingjue glares at her. “You say ‘we’ as if it’s not your family responsible for this.”

Oh. That’s just frustration right there.

“I say ‘we’ , because I am here, like all of you are, healing your wounded.” Wen Qing glares back. “And yes, you’re right , it is my family. So I know firsthand what Wen Ruohan can and will do to get what he wants, and that’s why I left .”

“Ah, yes, you left, that’s right. After doing your uncle’s dirty work?”

Remorse. Yanli flinches at that overwhelming wave of guilt.

“I had no choice. You weren’t there, you don’t get to judge what I did for my family- my brother’s safety!”

Yanli is part of a generation raised to hope, to call their abilities ‘gifts’ instead of ‘curses’ . She grew up believing that eventually their society will welcome her people without fear and trepidation.

Until it became apparent that the Wen ‘safehouse’ was not a sanctuary but a camp , that Wen Ruohan was training the ones in his protection not as people but as weapons . Until that put the other factions under suspicion, sowing fear among the public and bringing back the discrimination, the witch hunts. Until the Wens started brutally attacking innocent civilians in the guise of ‘defensive measures’, and then their leader demanded that others like him join his cause.

(And what they wouldn’t give him, he’s all too happy to take for himself.)

( “He doesn’t have a cause.” Yanli remembers her father saying. “What he has is greed. )

He came after Cloud Recesses first, then Lotus Pier. The Jin faction’s safehouse in Lanling remains unharmed, but by their silence in the midst of the others' calls for help, it’s starting to look like they’ve already rallied behind the Wens.

The Nie faction’s safehouse is Qinghe is the last major safehouse standing, but it seems that would not be the case for long. Whatever semblance of peace they’ve had for the past two months they’ve been in Qinghe under Nie Mingjue’s protection will not last.

A flare of anger distracts Yanli from her thoughts, but the anger is not hers. No, the anger is Nie Mingjue’s and Wen Qing’s, combined. Whatever amount of composure Yanli had managed to keep for herself amidst the heavy mixture of grief, remorse and fear from the other people in the room - on top of her own emotions - almost slips away.

For a moment, she feels the familiar feeling of drowning , and by instinct, she reaches out to the person closest to her for purchase.

Nie Mingjue stops mid-sentence when he feels a hand grip his own, and he turns to Yanli in surprise.

The anger is gone, all of a sudden. Yanli breathes easier. The anger is replaced by surprise, an easier emotion to handle, then fear .

Fear that Yanli hadn’t meant to pass on to him.

She quickly withdraws her hand as she realizes what she had done.

“I’m sorry.” she bows her head. “I meant to calm you down, not-… I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s… It’s fine.” Mingjue says, shaking his head. He is not angry at her, only apologetic. Even worried. “I was forgetting myself.” He makes an effort to pat her shoulder before stepping away, now more conscious of their space, knowing that physical proximity is a big factor in how much another person’s emotions can affect hers.

Out of the corner of her eye, Jiang Yanli sees Wei Wuxian approach Wen Qing and touch her arm. Wen Qing visibly tries to calm herself down and she steps back, though not without a last pointed look towards Nie Mingjue.

Yanli sends a reassuring smile towards her worried brothers. She’s fine. She’ll be fine. The room is once again manageable. It’s still a struggle, but one she can power through.

There are concerned murmurs between the other people in the room as Mingjue goes back to the map, now with a clearer head.

“Alright.” he finally says. “We should move quickly. I’ve already had Zonghui and others scout our backup safehouse a few miles from here. Only a handful people know where that is, so we should be safe there. Problem is, that’s too small, so we’ll go through with our first plan. We’re sending the children, the non-fighters and those with serious injuries to Meishan.”

“Isn’t Meishan practically a fortress?” Song Lan asks. Yanli doesn’t know a lot about him, just that he is rarely seen without Xiao Xingchen by his side, and that together both young men are responsible for saving many helpless stragglers and bringing them to the safehouse.

“That’s true. It’s how they’ve kept safe all this time. They’re too small to be a threat, they don’t let anyone in or out, and they’re very far out.” Nie Mingjue says. “It’s the safest place we can go to, but that’s also why we can’t all just hide out in there. Because after Meishan, there’s nowhere else.”

Even with the increased distance, Yanli could feel his dread.

She looks at his hands balled into fists, on the wooden table and the damage marks left in it, and then to his grim face. His eyes are steely as he looks ahead. When she follows his gaze, her eyes land on Nie Huaisang who is sitting beside her brothers, barely holding himself up and obviously leaning his full weight on Jiang Cheng’s side. His pet bird Xiaoyu is perched quietly beside him.

Ordinary humans seem to think that people with special abilities are all-powerful, that they can use their gifts at will, with complete control over them, but Yanli knows better. Their abilities have a cost. They’ve been taught this growing up.

‘Physical’ gifts come at the cost of one’s mental or emotional control. Her mother would lash out with her lightning powers in a fit of rage, and her brother who had inherited those abilities always has a hard time stopping once he has lost his temper. She had heard similar stories about Nie Mingjue.

(They say Wen Ruohan’s flames, at their brightest and strongest, burn as if the sun itself had come down to Earth. Yanli wonders if that was why the man had so easily let his greed take over his entire being.)

Then there’s the ‘mental’ gifts that take a toll on one’s body. Over the past few months, she had learned that Nie Huaisang is always holed up in his room, or sitting despondent by his brother’s side because linking his mind with other creatures, seeing through their eyes and serving as a lookout - for hours on end - leaves him tired and weak.

Finally, there’s people like her, who suffer from neither of the effects, but that’s because they can’t turn their abilities “off”. Yanli could feel everyone near her - their joy, their sadness, their pain and everything in between - at all times. And she can never be too careful when touching others. It’s a different kind of fatigue, of instability, that she’d had to work hard to learn how to manage through the years.

There’s a reason their abilities were called curses first, before they learned to call them gifts.

Now, she feels doubt - again, not hers - and she looks up in time for another person to ask, “Will they let us in? The people in Meishan?”

“They’re my mother’s family. They’ll let us in.” she answers. She feels the doubt ease slightly.

Nie Mingjue nods. “The Jiangs will lead the way to Meishan. Everyone will be given a choice, if they want to go, or stay with us in the new safehouse.” When he looks up, his eyes find a young man standing by the corner of the room. “Lan Wangji will go to Caiyi to keep the Lans informed.”

Lan Wangji nods, quiet and dignified as always. Yanli doesn’t miss the way the young man’s eyes flit towards her brother, and how Wei Wuxian looks hesitantly to the other’s direction before bowing his head, looking down. Most of all, she doesn't miss the emotions - worry, fear, yearning - that accompanied those actions.

“And if Wen Ruohan finds us in the new safehouse too?” Wen Qing asks.

If Nie Mingjue noticed that she had basically declared her choice to stay, he didn’t bring it up. He only looks back at her, and to the rest of the people in the room. “Then we fight back, no questions this time. We’ll hold the line from there. We have to.”

Jiang Yanli looks at him - at his straight back, his clenched fists, his chin up, his eyes now calm and determined. She feels a surge of hope, of admiration, then an echo of determination from the other people in the room. They really look up to him, and it makes her smile that one man can do this much and encourage people who have been steadily losing hope, just by showing them how he’s ready to fight with them, for them .

She holds her smile, even as she feels the doubt, the fear that Nie Mingjue has expertly learned to hide behind his steel composure. She almost wants to reach out again, to hold his hand and let him know how much everyone else had believed him, how hopeful he had all made them feel. Maybe that would quiet his doubts.

But there are too many eyes around them, and there were plans to make and work to delegate.

‘Later’ , she thinks. ‘Later. When he’s allowed to have his mask down.’

Yanli clenches her hands on her lap, and waits.

.

.

.

Chapter Text

.

.

Nie Huaisang watches as Jiang Yanli hugs her younger brother goodbye. She hands him a small item and says something, then Jiang Cheng nods, bowing his head and closing his eyes when she presses a kiss to his forehead. She smiles and cups his cheek for one last time before walking off towards her ride to Meishan: an old and well-used delivery truck, inconspicuous. There’s a van too, and what looks like an ordinary bus.

Nie Mingjue and Wen Qing were waiting for her. She exchanges a short but tight hug with Wen Qing, then accepts the hand that Nie Mingjue offers to help her up the passenger seat of the truck. She doesn’t let go right away, and their hands stay linked as she leans down and says her goodbyes with the man.

Huaisang smiles as he looks away. It’ll be sad to see her go. Over the past months, she’s been one of the people that the others in the safehouse look up to. Her emotional stability and rational calm is grounding for anyone around her. Huaisang doesn’t know if that’s an effect of her gift, since as far as he knew she could only affect emotions through touch, but either way she has been an essential presence to have around.

Plus, she seems to be the only one capable of convincing Nie Mingjue and Wen Qing to take a break.

Huaisang will miss her, but this is for the best. Jiang Yanli is effectively the new head of the Jiang family, and her presence would reassure the people they’re sending off. They’ll be okay. They have to be.

He looks up when someone stands beside him.

Xiao Xingchen smiles at him in greeting. Once again Huaisang thinks the gift is a perfect fit to the person. Xiao Xingchen’s presence is always light and comforting, the same way the wind soothes and relaxes.

(Though it can be deadly if it wants to.)

“You’re not going out there?” Huaisang asks.

“I’ve already said my goodbyes to Zichen. He won’t be gone long, anyway.”

Huaisang turns towards the vehicles again, where Song Lan is standing, looking at them. The man waits for the last passenger to go inside before he nods at him in acknowledgement and climbs in at the back of the truck.

“So Jiang Wanyin is staying then?” Xiao Xingchen asks.

“Yes.” Huaisang answers as they watch the vehicles leave, going in different directions, following the plan to take different routes for subtlety and safety.

Jiang Cheng stands beside Wen Qing and Nie Mingjue, listening to whatever they tell him. Mingjue pats his shoulder and Wen Qing rubs his arm.

“He wants to help hold off whoever might come after his sister and the others.”

“And Wei Wuxian?”

“He left last night, with Wen Ning and Lan Wangji.” Huaisang answers. “They’re going to the Lan safehouse in Caiyi.”

Xiao Xingchen looks worried. “The Lans? Is it… that bad?”

Nie Huaisang takes a deep breath. “A lot of us grew up with our abilities, and even now we have to work hard to control it, right? Wei Wuxian didn’t have a gift, as far as everyone - including him - knew, until months ago. Nobody knows how his gift works, he doesn’t know how to control it, he doesn’t even know how he made Wen Ning… the way he is now.”

“Wen Ning? That was him?”

“You weren’t here, but he was dead when they brought him, Xingchen.” Huaisang frowns. “And now he’s… well, you’ve seen him.”

“Not dead.” Xingchen provides. He doesn’t have to add, ‘Not alive, either.’

Huaisang nods. “The only reason Wei Wuxian hasn’t been unintentionally controlling people, alive or dead, while he was here... is because of Wangji. And Wangji has been... flagging.”

Lan Wangji came to the Nie safehouse to deliver a message, Huaisang knows, but he had to stay when he realized his powers were needed there. Huaisang is certain that they all know that Wangji can’t keep neutralizing Wei Wuxian’s outburst of power every other hour. Lan Wangji is strong, with incredible control over his gift, but he’s still human. He’ll get tired, too.

“I suppose Lan Xichen can help them?”

“I don’t know, but he should be able to do something . Wangji’s gift is more suited for battle. Xichen-ge’s is for... healing, I guess.” Huaisang shrugs. “Either way, Wei-xiong must think it’s for the best. He made the call himself.”

He recalls his friend’s words, when he told them that he was planning to go with Wangji to Gusu: ‘It doesn’t matter if I stay here or leave for Meishan. While I’m like this, I’m a liability. I can’t endanger all of you in here.’

He recalls Yanli crying, and Jiang Cheng trying not to do the same, his concern translating to anger. It took him a while to accept his brother’s decision to part ways for the time being.

“Let’s hope he sorts it out. It must be hard for him and his siblings to be apart like this so soon. They just lost their home, their parents...” Xiao Xingchen sighs. “I heard your brother wanted you to go to Meishan too?”

“He did.” Huaisang smiles, strained. “But my place is here, with him.”

“I wish it wasn’t.” Xiao Xingchen whispers, making Huaisang look at him, questioning. “You’re… what, sixteen?”

“Seventeen.”

“And I’m barely nineteen.” Xiao Xingchen lets out a little, sad laugh. “Whatever our age, I wish our place wasn’t in safehouses and bunkers, never settling because we’re always waiting for a signal on when to run next.”

Jiang Cheng is walking towards them now. Xiao Xingchen, never missing a beat, pats Nie Huaisang’s arm before walking off, exchanging a polite nod with Jiang Cheng as he passes the other.

“Hey.” Jiang Cheng says, reaching a hand out.

Nie Huaisang takes his hand without question, but he jerks back at the unexpected electric shock when they touch. It’s not a normal one, not the static kind that one gets when accidentally touching someone else. It’s more like touching a live wire, though it’s not strong enough to really hurt.

“Shit, sorry.” Jiang Cheng curses, stepping back. “Are you okay? I just-... I was in my head, I didn’t mean to-”

“No, I know. I’m okay. Just surprised.” Huaisang says, letting out a chuckle. He offers his hands, both of them. “Ready when you are.”

“Yeah. Yeah, okay.” Jiang Cheng nods, and wrings his hands first before he touches Huaisang again. He squeezes the other’s hands in his. “Good?”

“Good.” Huaisang answers, looking up at him. “How about you? Will you be okay?”

Jiang Cheng doesn’t say anything, only vaguely nods as he pulls him closer and leans down to press their foreheads together.

“They’ll be safe.” Huaisang tells him. “Yanli-jie has Song Lan with her. A-Xian has Wangji and Wen Ning. They’ll be fine, A-Cheng.”

“I know.” He takes a deep breath, raises their linked hands, and then presses a kiss to Huaisang’s fingers. “I’ll try to be fine, too.”

.

.


.

.

“You’re telling me,” Jiang Cheng looks like he wants to burst out laughing. “-that Lan Qiren - the Lan Qiren - is training you ?”

The voice from the phone is loud but tinny. If Jiang Cheng had thought that Wei Wuxian was annoying to talk to in person before, he now knows he’s even more irritating to hear via a cheap phone on speaker.

“No, no, you got it wrong - Master Uncle is trying to train me. There’s a difference! He wants me to meditate all day and do breathing exercises-”

“Now you know what it’s like, then.”

“It sucks! And it doesn’t work, I still suck! I hate this gift thing. I’m always sad, and I’m always pissed, and my head aches and I’m always tired. It’s like I have… what do you call it? The period thing? PMS?”

Jiang Cheng shakes his head. He feels Huaisang tap his shoulder, scolding, then he stills again. Huaisang is ticklish - it’s a miracle Jiang Cheng can lie his head on his lap without him bursting into giggles.

“-and someone is always possessed. Or there’s ghosts. The other night, a ghost knocked on my window! Some old lady. How did that even happen, I was asleep! I don’t know if Lan Zhan believed me, he made me shut up and go back to sleep. I think he didn’t see the ghost lady.”

“Wei-xiong, your gift is weird.” Huaisang says, absently playing with Jiang Cheng’s hair. “So there’s really no improvement? Even with er-ge helping?”

“Oh my God. Nie Huaisang! You know how Lan Zhan’s gift just… leaves me feeling dumb? Like, there’s someone being possessed by something and there’s a dead guy moving over there, then Lan Zhan does his thing and that’s all gone, so I just feel dumb. But that’s okay. I’m okay. I’m fine with that. But Huan-ge’s powers? Huan-ge’s powers sent me to sleep! What the hell?!”

Jiang Cheng laughs. “You raised the dead and then slept?

“I know, right?!”

Huaisang chuckles. “Isn’t Xichen-ge’s gift supposed to calm you down? So you can think more clearly?”

“Well, it calmed me down, alright, it calmed me down so much I dozed off. Lan Zhan thought I fainted!”

Wei Wuxian laughs, and Jiang Cheng pauses for a moment before looking up to Nie Huaisang, who smiles lightly at him. It’s a familiar cheerful laugh - which already says a lot about how despite his complaints, Wei Wuxian must be feeling better , more himself. They’d never heard him laugh like that in his months in the Nie safehouse.

“He was so worried! You know, it was kinda cute. Lan Zhan is cute when he’s not being a killjoy, huh?”

“Oh? Someone thinks one Lan Wangji is cute, then?” Huaisang teases.

“Gross.” Jiang Cheng chimes in. “I thought you hated that- Wait.”

“What?”

Jiang Cheng sits up and both he and Huaisang turn towards the doorway where Xiao Xingchen is looking at them, face grim and filled with worry.

“We just got word that Wen Ruohan’s men are on the move. They’re trying to follow our people heading to Meishan.”

“Shit.” Jiang Cheng mumbles, getting to his feet and looking for his shoes. “What’s the plan?”

“We’ll intercept them.”

“We’ll be right there.” Huaisang says. Xiao Xingchen nods, and then heads off, probably to inform others too.

Huaisang picks the phone up, watching as Jiang Cheng laces his boots on. “Wei-xiong, we have to go.”

“Yeah… I heard. A-Cheng?”

Jiang Cheng walks over, taking the phone from Huaisang. “Yeah?”

“Be careful, okay?”

Jiang Cheng nods. “I will.”

.

Nie Mingjue, Jiang Cheng, Xiao Xingchen and others head out to intercept the Wens.

“Xiaoyu,” Huaisang says, tapping the myna’s head with a finger. “Be good.”

Xiaoyu flies off and perches on Jiang Cheng’s shoulder. Jiang Cheng sends him a small grim smile before he gets in the van after the others.

“Now we wait.” Huaisang whispers.

“No.” Wen Qing says, eyes steely as they watch the two lone vehicles drive off. Then, she turns and walks away. “Now we prepare . I’ll be at the clinic.”

.

The safehouse is at a tense standstill in the hours that follow. Huaisang tries to relay to the others what he can see through Xiaoyu as best as he can, but both the distance and Xiaoyu’s panic made it hard to see things clearly.

He feels faint when he snaps out of the mental link. He’s lucky that when he stumbles, Nie Zonghui is there to steady him. As always.

“They’re on their way back. We’ve got five wounded, and-... and da-ge. He’s hurt, bad.”

He looks up and sees Wen Qing frowning before she makes a sharp turn to her group of volunteers. “We’ll meet them outside. Get some stretchers. Let’s go.”

Nie Mingjue is bleeding from his side. Xiao Xingchen’s white jacket is stained red as he helps the man get off their shot-up vehicle. Nie Zonghui rushes to help them and together they lay the man on a stretcher as Wen Qing directs everyone else. Huaisang trails after them, grabbing his brother’s bloody, bandaged hand when he reaches for him.

“Da-ge-”

“I’ll be fine, A-Sang.” Mingjue grunts. “Go and help the others.”

“But-”

“Let me see him.” Wen Qing says, and Huaisang backs off quickly, knowing that she’ll be able to help his brother the most. Her eyes are glowing a brilliant green as she lays one hand on the man’s wound, the other on his chest. “We have to stop this bleeding, and quick. Nie Zonghui, here, press down on it. Hard.” She snaps more quick instructions to the people around her as she puts on some gloves. “Listen to me, Nie Mingjue. We just got word from A-Li. They made it safe to Meishan. And I told her you’ll call her back.”

Mingjue finds it in himself to chuckle. “Yeah, sure.” He breathes, deep, hissing through the pain. “Better patch me up good then, Miss Wen.”

“That’s Doctor Wen to you.”

He coughs. “Bossy.”

“Shut up. Save your energy.”

Huaisang has to look away when Wen Qing instructs Zonghui to step back so she can work on patching his brother up. He’d seen his fair share of battle wounds and worse, but it hits differently, when it’s his family injured. Two other people crowd around Wen Qing to assist her, so Huaisang steps back again, letting them do their jobs uninterrupted.

Then he feels the familiar feeling of a bird landing on his shoulder, and he whirls around to see Jiang Cheng stumble in, holding up someone with a bloody - but familiar - face.

“A-Cheng!” Huaisang calls, running to them. “Are you okay?”

“Just got roughed up a bit. I’m okay.” Jiang Cheng answers, then tips his head to his companion. “This guy’s not.”

Huaisang blinks. “Jin Zixuan?”

“Hi.” Jin Zixuan hisses, voice partially muffled by the cloth he had pressed to his wounds.

Nie Huaisang looks around - all the others were occupied with the other wounded - so he grabs his own set of supplies and runs back towards the spare chair that Jiang Cheng helped Jin Zixuan settle down on.

He sets about applying first aid, making sure to clean the wound first. “There goes our inside man.”

“I told you guys, didn’t I? I’m a terrible actor.” Jin Zixuan sighs, flinching slightly at the wet cloth dabbing at his wounds. “Sorry. I didn’t know how Wen Ruohan found out.”

“Why were you even there?” Jiang Cheng asks, pressing a cold pack to his own bruises. “I thought you just followed him and your father around while they do business? That was an attack team.”

Jin Zixuan hisses when Huaisang applies disinfectant on a cut near his temple. “I’m pretty sure Wen Ruohan bypassed my parents altogether. Father said I was going to help ‘supervise’ a team from afar. Next thing I know, I’m stuck in a van just like the others.”

Jiang Cheng frowns. “Wen Ruohan probably hoped you’d get caught in the crossfire.”

“...Or ordered his men to make sure I did.”

Nie Huaisang shakes his head. “Well, you’re alive.”

“Yeah. There’s that.” the other shrugs, then winces again from the pain of his bruises.

“Welcome to Qinghe, I guess.”

.

.


.

.

It's late when Huaisang comes back to the clinic. With his brother out of commission for the time being, he had to take over, just making sure everyone is alright, that the other safehouses are updated and their communication is secure, and that their usual patrols are out. It wasn't easy, but he had no choice but to see it through.

When he gets there, his brother is asleep. Nie Mingjue's torso is wrapped in bandages and he still has several cuts and bruises, but otherwise he looks much better, on the way to recovery. He heals faster than most people, so Huaisang knows he'll be up and moving around again in no time.

Besides, Wen Qing is the best doctor they know. She is always thorough in her work, leaving no need unattended. Her gift may allow her to instantly understand one's biological profile and condition, but that really would be nothing without her in-depth knowledge and practical skills.

Right now, she is sitting on the chair beside Mingjue's bed, also asleep, leaning on a pillow she had propped up by her head, one of her hands out and laid on top of Mingjue's on the bed.

Huaisang is pretty sure that if he asks (or teases), she'll probably say something about having to keep a close eye on her patient's vitals or something like that. So he just says nothing and pulls up his own chair on the other side of the bed.

He strokes his brother’s hair, tucking stray strands behind his ear, then adjusts the blanket to make sure it’s snug around him. Then Huaisang props his arms on the bed, rests his head there, and closes his eyes. He reaches out to hold his brother’s free hand - rough and calloused but always so warm.

He doesn’t move just yet when he hears his brother’s familiar grunt, followed by his deep, gruff voice saying, “You guys know I’m wounded, not dying, right?”

Then there’s Wen Qing’s voice, half-muffled by her pillow, tired and annoyed - “Don’t ruin it.”

Nie Huaisang giggles, and feels his brother’s hand squeeze his own.

.

.

.

Chapter Text

.

.

.

Nie Huaisang wakes up from a restless sleep, his dreams that night only half a nightmare.

It’s a patchwork of things he has seen while using his powers - the good, the bad, the normal. One minute, he’s finding the Jiangs through Xiaoyu’s eyes, another and he’s watching their old safehouse burn, then there’s just flying and flying and finding nothing in the forests of Qinghe. This happens sometimes, like a strange side-effect, and if he were to be honest, there’s a part of him that preferred the nightmares to it. At least the nightmares woke him up alert and ready, his mind clear . These vague afterthought dreams? They only left him troubled, thoughts muddled.

He reaches out beside him and realizes he’s alone. He picks up the note left on the bedside table and reads the familiar handwriting in the moonlight. Jiang Cheng has left for patrol. He’ll be back before dawn.

It’s colder, all of a sudden, and he pulls the blankets around him as he curls in on himself, taking deep steadying breaths. He looks around. It’s been months and he still hasn’t gotten used to this new room. It’s smaller - everything in the new safehouse is - but at least his brother made sure he got a room with a window.

“Xiaoyu?” he calls. There’s no response. No bird flying to his windowsill. The perch is empty, too. “Where are you?” he whispers, then closes his eyes and concentrates, sees if he can find his fickle, flighty (hah!) pet.

Huaisang can reach out far enough and detect the presence of other people or creatures that he can link with. It’s always easier to do this the closer he is to his target, hence why with Xiaoyu he prefers to link with her while they’re together. Searching for someone far away and out of sight takes a lot more time and concentration.

There. He finds her after a while, and two familiar others. Oh. Well, then.

“Talk about loyalty, going out there and leaving me all alone here.” Huaisang shakes his head, amused. He draws back, cuts the link. He’ll leave her be for now. She’s in safe hands, anyway.

He’s still restless, so he stands up and pulls his shoes and cardigan on, then exits his room.

It’s 2 AM, but many people are still awake. Restless, perhaps, just like Huaisang is. The new safehouse has been a lot quieter without the children, but it’s abuzz with a different energy lately. There were people who Huaisang knew had no training but had decided to opt out of the safety of Meishan and stay. He’d seen them training with their more experienced fighters lately. If people weren’t training, they were doing chores, or helping some of the injured in their recovery, or going in and out to gather supplies.

It’s like they know there will be a fight, and that they will no longer be able to run from that one.

They’re not wrong. Huaisang just wishes they could put up an actual fight when that happens.

.

.

The lights are still on in the new meeting room, which really is just a room meant to be an “office”, which is practically his brother’s own room, with how he never left the place, and spends most of his nights on the couch in the corner. If he even decides to get a wink of sleep.

The door is left ajar. Nie Huaisang knocks on the open door first, so as not to startle the man inside.

Nie Mingjue is sitting by a wide office table littered with maps, notes, documents and a worn-down laptop. There are other computers in another corner of the room, but it looks like whoever was assigned to those had turned in for the night.

“Huaisang.” he says, looking at him in concern. “It’s late. Are you okay? Is something wrong?”

“No. I’m okay. Just… woke up.” Huaisang says, walking inside and crossing the room.

“Nightmare?”

“Kinda. One of those creepy side-effect dreams.” he answers. “You? You need to sleep too, da-ge.”

Nie Mingjue sighs and shakes his head stubbornly, but he doesn’t resist being pulled close when Huaisang wraps his arms around his neck. Huaisang’s hands always run cold for some reason, but the rest of him is sleep-warm. The soft wool of his too-big cardigan and the cotton of his shirt is a welcome change to the roughness of Mingjue’s jackets, worn gloves and bandages. He could almost doze off, right there, being held by his younger brother.

“See? You’re tired.” Huaisang points out.

“I’m always tired.” Nie Mingjue says. He reaches a hand up and rests it on his brother’s arm, rubbing it in reassurance. “I can handle it. You , on the other hand-”

“I told you. Creepy dream.” Huaisang says, cuddling closer, burying his nose in the older’s hair. “A-Cheng is out on patrol. And Xiaoyu the traitor went with him. The bed is cold.”

“Wait. That boy sleeps in your bed?”

Huaisang pauses. “Uhhh… Well... ”

Then Mingjue snorts and chuckles, patting his arm. “I’m kidding. I know who you’re bunking with.”

Huaisang sighs in relief.

“And I won’t go all preachy, because I know how much you hate that. So just remember to stay safe and use-”

“Da-ge!” Huaisang shrieks, drawing back from his brother so he can slap his shoulder. He doesn’t feel bad about it. He knows even his strongest punch would probably just leave Nie Mingjue feeling tickled. “No!”

“What?” Mingjue laughs. For once his eyes are amused, and he grabs Huaisang’s arms before he could go further away. “Don’t be embarrassed now.”

“I’m not-! Just-... No, da-ge! Ew!”

“Ew?” Mingjue raises an eyebrow, and now Huaisang knows he’s doing this on purpose to mess with him. “Huaisang, it’s a perfectly natural part of growing up, of life-”

“I know! I know that! But you talking about it is weird , so please stop.” Huaisang rolls his eyes. “And we’re not having-... We’re just... sleeping… Literally!”

“Okay. I believe you. Come back here." Nie Mingjue says, tugging at the younger until Huaisang poutily comes forward again, this time sitting down on his lap, much like he used to do when he was a little kid. Mingjue secures his arms around the other - Huaisang is not a kid anymore, but he's still so… tiny. And soft. He's always so soft. Or does Nie Mingjue really need sleep that badly that anything can be a pillow?

He yawns. “So is that Jiang kid your boyfriend now?”

“I don’t know.” Huaisang sighs. “We just… share the bed. ‘Cause it’s warm.”

“Seriously?” Mingjue raises a brow. “Next, you’re gonna say you hold hands ‘cause… what, his hands are soft or something?”

“It just feels nice!” Huaisang pouts. “It’s… comforting, I guess? To know there’s one less person in the world who wants me dead.”

“There’s lots of people in the world who don’t want us dead, Huaisang.”

“I know. Just… you know what I mean, da-ge.” he looks down. “And… And we haven’t kissed, just so you know.”

“What? I saw you just the other day-”

“A cheek kiss! That’s different.”

“Is it?”

“Yeah.”

“But you like him.”

“Y-Yeah…?” Huaisang looks down, his cheeks pink. “He’s nice. I know he seems grumpy but really he’s very sweet. And reliable! Xiaoyu likes him too-”

Nie Mingjue listens to him, thoughtful. His brother had never shut up about how much he liked spending time with those Jiang boys at Gusu, and Mingjue knew that Huaisang kept in touch with them afterwards. After the attack on Lotus Pier, Huaisang had basically fussed over them both, though more with Jiang Cheng because Wei Wuxian seemed to want to distance himself from everyone but Lan Wangji while he’s trying to make sense of his creepy weird late-manifesting gift. Mingjue didn’t mind - it’s good that Huaisang had something else going for him instead of “flying” on patrol all day, and the Jiang kid was nice and polite enough. Besides, he had many other responsibilities so as long as Huaisang is not in trouble, Mingjue lets him be.

(Though he wishes his brother would train how to fight sometimes. But Nie Mingjue understands that Huaisang is doing his best with what he has right now.)

Nie Mingjue had thought that Huaisang was just being his usual self - cuddly, sweet - with his friend, who really could use some emotional support after what he’s gone through. But then Yanli had to leave - there goes Mingjue’s own emotional support - and Wei Wuxian too. Suddenly Mingjue is aware and taking notice of just how close his brother and Jiang Cheng were. Always together, holding hands, whispering to each other, then after moving to the new (smaller) safehouse, they started sharing a room-

“Alright. So… you’re waiting for him, is what I’m getting here.”

“Kinda?” Huaisang answers, wringing his hands. “I don’t wanna rush him. It’s not the best situation. I mean, we’re… here.”

Nie Mingjue gets that. Everyday they’re worrying about how long their safety could hold. There are bigger things to worry about.

“And he’s… grieving, you know?”

“I know. But he better not be leading you on just because he’s sad and you’re nice.” Nie Mingjue frowns. “Wait, is that what’s happening? Do I need to talk to this kid? Because I will have choice words with him. I won’t allow him to bed my little brother just because he looks good moping and brooding around my house-”

“Da-ge!” Huaisang whines, but this time it's clear he's trying hard not to laugh. "Why are you like this?"

At any other time, Nie Mingjue would have teased relentlessly and given Jiang Wanyin the worst terrifying talking-to of his life. But they’re in hiding and on the run, being hunted by both their own people and the rest of the world - and this is such a painfully normal teenage thing to experience in the midst of all the bullshit they’re dealing with.

Nie Mingjue figures that he can let his brother have this much, at least. And the Jiang kid too, after all that he’s gone through.

"Why am I like what ? I haven't spoiled you in a while. Let me do it now." Nie Mingjue says, leaning forward and holding his brother close.

"You're not spoiling me. You're embarrassing me." Nie Huaisang mumbles against his hair, but he melts into the hug anyway.

It's rare that they get a moment alone like this. Huaisang’s brother is leading a refugee camp. He has many people who rely on him for protection. Huaisang has gotten used to sharing him with them.

"I don't know what else to do." Nie Mingjue mumbles against his younger brother's soft and rumpled sleeping clothes. Nie Huaisang is not sure if he's still talking about them, or about something else.

Or about everything else.

"You're doing great." is all Nie Huaisang says.

“I have to.”

“I’m proud of you.” He snuggles closer, drinking in the warm, solid presence of his big brother. His rock.

He is proud of his brother for taking this on. It hurts to think that they’re all so young fighting this one-sided war, only because the ones who came before them, their own parents and elders, had already lost their lives to give their generation a chance. To buy them time.

Huaisang pats his big brother’s head as he looks around. His eyes catch on to something in the desk and he smiles. "Da-ge?"

"Hm?"

"Whose coffee is that?"

"Mine."

"And the other one?"

"Also mine."

"Liar."

“It’s Zonghui’s.”

“Zonghui is not even here.” Nie Huaisang laughs. “He’s out on patrol with A-Cheng. And even if he isn’t, he doesn’t drink coffee.”

Nie Mingjue looks at his brother and rolls his eyes. He’s too sharp, sometimes. “Fine. Wen Qing went to check in on one of her patients for a bit.”

“Oh. Wen Qing, huh.” Huaisang blinks, then slowly nods. “I see. That’s nice. I like her.”

“A-Sang-”

The younger grins, eyes glinting with mischief. “I won’t go all preachy, because I know how much you hate that-”

Mingjue’s eyes widen, recognizing those words. “Don’t you dare-”

“So just remember to stay safe and- Mmph-!” Huaisang squirms, and weakly bats at his brother’s chest and at the hand now covering his mouth. But it’s useless. His brother is not renowned for his superhuman strength and agility for nothing.

“That’s enough.” Mingjue sighs.

Huaisang, miraculously, manages to free himself enough to cry out, “Help! Nie Mingjue is silencing me! This is oppression!”

That startles a laugh out of Nie Mingjue. “You brat! Stop being noisy, people are sleeping!” He moves to cover his brother’s mouth again, but Huaisang might be tiny but he’s not as tiny as he used to be and he manages to slip from his lap. Mingjue manages to grab on to one of his wrists, though. “Gotcha-”

Then Huaisang looks towards the door and beams. “Oh, hi, Wen Qing!”

Mingjue freezes for a moment and also looks to the door. “Wen-”

There’s no one there.

Huaisang uses this distraction to free his wrist. Giggling, he leans over and drops a kiss to his brother’s cheek before skipping away. “I’m gonna go now. Good night, da-ge! I love you!”

Mingjue sighs in resignation, sinking back in his chair as he grumbles, “I love you too.”

.

.

Nie Huaisang is still smiling when he actually runs into Wen Qing a few minutes later.

“You’re awfully cheerful for 2 in the morning.” she remarks, but before Huaisang could so much as greet her, there’s a hand on his forehead, unusually warm. Then that hand moves to grip his wrist, and when he looks up, he can see the light glow in Wen Qing’s eyes.

Ah. A check-up. At 2 AM. In the middle of the hallway. Okay.

She clicks her tongue. “Your blood pressure’s off. You should get some sleep or you’ll be useless during the day, powers or not. You know this.”

“Oh. Um. Thanks, doc. I was just-… Um... I woke up?”

“Then go back to sleep instead of wandering the halls like some ghost.” she rolls her eyes, pulling her shawl tighter around herself as she walks around him and goes on her way. “And you should eat more. You and your brother both. Stubborn.”

Huaisang just watches her go, and when she turns in the corner that he knows leads to his brother’s office, he just shakes his head and keeps walking.

He’s not that sleepy yet.

The safehouse isn’t as big as the one Huaisang grew up in. It is what it is - an emergency bunker. It doesn’t take him long to get to the entrance, where there’s always someone standing guard.

Tonight, it’s Song Lan, sitting on the steps right outside what they would call their front door. Huaisang knows the man values his space, so he minds the distance when he sits down beside him.

“Song Lan.” he says as a greeting.

“Nie Huaisang.” Song Lan greets back with a light nod, before looking off into the distance again.

Nie Huaisang starts counting, in his head. He’s up to 26 when Song Lan speaks up. “I didn’t think you’d be awake.”

Huaisang is tired of everyone telling him to go to bed, but he can’t blame them. He knows to himself that he should be asleep, too. With how crucial his abilities are for their safety, he understands that he should be in peak condition as often as he can. But he can spare a few minutes, he thinks. He just doesn’t want to sleep alone, not tonight.

“Well... I woke up because of creepy dreams. Gift side-effect, you know. And I couldn’t sleep afterwards.”

Song Lan accepts the answer easily. “I assume you’re waiting for Jiang Wanyin?”

“Yeah. He took my bird with him.”

“You might have to wait a while.”

“No, it’s okay.” Huaisang says, making himself as comfortable as he can in the granite steps. It’s cold, especially being near Song Lan who always seems to cause his surroundings to turn just a few degrees colder, though not by choice. But Huaisang is warm in his socks and cardigan, and he wouldn’t be waiting long, anyway. “They’ll be back soon.”

Song Lan doesn’t question him, and just goes back to staring out into the darkness.

.

.

When Jiang Cheng and Nie Zonghui circle back to the safehouse, they find not only Song Lan, but also Nie Huaisang waiting by the entrance.

Nie Huaisang is asleep, curled up on himself, a large black coat draped over him like a blanket.

Jiang Cheng frowns. “What the-?”

“He said you’ll be back soon.” Song Lan says. “I noticed he was already asleep around 10 minutes ago.”

Jiang Cheng and Nie Zonghui exchange a look, before Jiang Cheng sighs. “Did he tell you why he was up waiting?”

“He had a… creepy dream.”

“Figures.” he mumbles, leaning down to nudge Huaisang lightly. “A-Sang, we’re back. Let’s get you to bed.”

Huaisang looks up slowly, groggily, yawning. “Oh... I fell asleep?”

“You did. Now give Song Lan his coat back.”

“Ah!” he sits up, quickly gathering the coat and handing it back to his companion. “Song Lan, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to fall asleep... and thank you! You must’ve been cold...”

“No need to worry. I’m always cold.” Song Lan says as he accepts the coat back. He does look perfectly fine for someone only wearing a simple shirt and pants in the cold night of the Qinghe mountains.

Jiang Cheng wonders if the whole time he’s known him, Song Lan has only been wearing jackets and coats so he would not stand out.

“C’mon, up.” he says, tugging Huaisang to his feet. Huaisang does stand up but clings to him right away, so he just turns to Nie Zonghui and Song Lan, shaking his head. “I’m gonna get this one to his bed.”

“Sure. Go ahead.” Zonghui chuckles, and only leans over to peer at his cousin. “Good night, A-Sang.”

“G’night, Zonghui… Tell da-ge to sleep too...” Huaisang answers weakly, and just sighs when Jiang Cheng scoops him up and carries him inside.

Xiaoyu is hopping impatiently on Huaisang’s bed when Jiang Cheng gets there. Huaisang is somehow awake enough to demand to be put down so he can take his shoes and cardigan off. By the time Jiang Cheng has changed into more comfortable clothes, Huaisang is under the blankets again, and Xiaoyu has settled in her perch.

Jiang Cheng slips under the blankets with him quietly. As he does so, Huaisang turns to face him, obviously already half-asleep and just seeking warmth. Jiang Cheng lets him snuggle close, and runs his fingers through his hair, feeling his own exhaustion catch up to him.

He’s well into dozing off when Huaisang mumbles something against his shirt. “A-Cheng…”

“Mm?”

“Da-ge says… be safe... use protection.”

Jiang Cheng is too tired and sleepy to properly process that. But it doesn’t sound… wrong. So he says, “Okay.”

“Told him we’re just sleeping. ‘s all we do, sleep.”

“Yeah. Sleep. D’you wanna… not sleep?”

“No, m’okay. I like sleeping. I like that… we can sleep.”

“Me too.”

“But I… wanna not sleep too…”

Okay, that one sounded important, and Jiang Cheng tries to sober up. “Y-Yeah?”

“Like… go out… on dates and stuff.”

“Oh.” Of course. Jiang Cheng sighs, breathes easier. “Dates. And stuff. Yeah.”

“Like go to a park… and eat ice cream… and hold hands… and all the cute shit you hate but you’ll do it ‘cause you like me… maybe.”

Jiang Cheng smiles. “Mm. I do like you.”

He feels Huaisang cling to his shirt, somehow managing to burrow even closer. “Why haven’t you kissed me yet?”

Maybe it’s his tired brain, or maybe it’s the way Huaisang sounded so small asking, that Jiang Cheng found it quite easy to answer that question. “Because I like you. A lot. I don’t wanna mess up.”

“Oh.” Huaisang says, so soft and lazy Jiang Cheng is sure he’s already quite asleep.

“Do you want me to kiss you?”

“Yeah...”

“Now?”

Huaisang shakes his head. “...wanna remember.”

“Okay.” Jiang Cheng says, and buries his nose in the other’s hair. “Tomorrow then.”

.

.

In the morning, Nie Huaisang wakes up to his first kiss.

In that moment, he recalls the feeling he had two years ago in Gusu, when he slipped and fell hard off the side of a mountain, and everything hurt, and he wanted to cry.

But this time, he doesn’t have to scream for help, because he’s not lost, and he’s not alone.

.

.

.

Chapter Text

.

.

Wei Wuxian tries to breathe slowly. One, two, three, in. One, two, three, out. He repeats it, and he repeats it again. And again.

It’s fine. Act natural! he tells himself. You’re good at that!

He pointedly ignores the fact that he had been good at ‘acting natural’ before only because he still had the privilege to do so.

He doesn’t have that anymore.

A group of teens passes by the aisle he’s in, chatting and laughing with each other. He bows his head and hopes he looks inconspicuous enough as he pretends to examine the label on a box of crackers.

One, two, three, in. One, two, three, out. Like they taught him at Gusu. Ah, he wonders what Uncle Master Lan would say about his attempts to calm down, to keep his emotions under control.

“Wei Ying.”

He startles, almost drops the box he’s holding, but he knows that voice, so he just turns to his companion and pulls up a smile.

“Lan Zhan! You surprised me!” he says, laughing. “You should stop sneaking up on people, you know! Geez.”

“Sorry.” Lan Wangji says, brows furrowed slightly at him. “Are you alright?”

Wei Wuxian blinks. “What? Yeah, of course, why wouldn’t I be?”

If it were a few months ago, Wei Wuxian would have missed the slight twitch in the other’s lips that on others would be a full on frown. But now that he’s spent enough time with Lan Wangji over the past few months - first in Qinghe, then in Gusu, and even now on their trip back to Qinghe, he’s gotten quite good at reading the other.

“Are we done? You got our stuff for the trip?”

Lan Wangji nods, lifting the shopping basket in his hand. “You?”

“Yeah!” Wei Wuxian grins again, barely sparing a glance at the basket’s contents - surely Lan Wangji would have gotten what they really need, being efficient as he is. He just casually adds his box of crackers in it before turning around and starting to walk. “C’mon, let’s go. A-Ning must be bored waiting for us outside already-”

Lan Wangji looks at the baskets, then moves to follow him. “Wei Ying.”

“Lan Zhan!”

“What flavor did you get?”

Wei Wuxian almost trips, but continues to walk towards the convenience store cashier and doesn’t look back at him. “Huh? What, it’s right there with you, right?”

“Yes. But what flavor?”

“Uh-... It’s plain crackers, Lan Zhan. You don’t like other flavors, so-”

“This is chocolate.”

Wei Wuxian stops walking and turns to him with a shaky smile. “Oh. Oh, yeah, my bad. I’ll just go get the plain ones, no big-”

“Wei Ying.” This time Wangji steps forward, walking right up to him, not hiding his concern. “Are you okay? No lying-”

“We’re not in Gusu, Lan Zhan.” Wei Ying says, looking away. “I can lie all I want. I’m fine-” He’s alert enough to notice his companion reaching his free hand out towards him, and he takes a step back. “Don’t.”

Lan Wangji looks at him with wide eyes, hand frozen mid-reach before he looks down and drops it to his side. “I’m sorry.”

Wei Wuxian is quick to realize his mistake. “Ah- Lan Zhan, I… I just mean- You don’t have to, not right now. I’m doing fine. It’s okay-”

Lan Wangji was only trying to help. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? He’s always trying to help.

Wei Wuxian has never needed so much help before.

Then they hear it, again - the loud chatting and laughing of the teenagers from several aisles over, and the words they’ve been throwing around carelessly-

“All of them-”

“-fighting each other like savages-”

“-government just busted another one of those hideouts-”

“-just a number of them left, right?”

Wei Wuxian tries to breathe.

One, two, three, in.

He’s angry. He’d never been angry for himself, before. He grew up without a gift, despite his parents and almost everyone else in the Jiang safehouse having one. He’d never had to experience those kinds of words directed at him, but he knew how it hurt Uncle Jiang, A-Cheng and Yanli-jie, and even Madam Yu, though she never showed it.

He’d never had to be angry for himself - he’s not one of them - he could only be angry on their behalf, at the kind of lies the public spins up about the family that took him in after both his parents died protecting their people - the many good people in the very safehouse he grew up in, all the other people with gifts. 

One, two, three, out.

He’s afraid. He’s never had this kind of fear, before. Wei Wuxian used to be ‘normal’. Until a few months ago, after his home burned, and his gifts manifested for the first time. He had always been afraid for his family, for his friends, for the safehouse, but not for himself.

He’d always had the privilege, the luxury to be among other people outside the safety of Lotus Pier without getting discriminated against. He’s never had to hide.

“-should just turn themselves in-”

“-hope that Wen guy gets rid of ‘em already-”

“-needs to go, too, he’s one of them-”

Breathe, Wei Wuxian tells himself, trying to remember what few lessons he’d managed to take to heart during his stay in Gusu. They’re not in Gusu anymore, they’re in a goddamn convenience store surrounded by civilians.

One, two, three, in.

He has to hide. He knows he has to hide. Wen Ruohan had caught wind of the Lans in Caiyi and had sent people to attack them, and Wei Wuxian is terrified because the only reason they all survived was because he had been there, he had fought back using a gift he could neither understand nor control, and none of the Wens nor their people expected someone like him among the supposedly quiet and peaceful Lans.

(And he almost didn’t stop.)

(It’s been giving him nightmares. Wasn’t his gift’s cost supposed to be that he gets tired? How come he loses control over his own head too?)

They’d had to run, the Lans and the few remaining people under their protection - they’d all scattered and headed to separate, smaller safehouses of much smaller factions.

Lan Xichen had told Wei Wuxian, Lan Wangji and Wen Ning to head back to Qinghe: “Wen Ruohan will be looking for you, when he hears what you can do.”

Lan Xichen had been very gentle and kind when he said it, but Wei Wuxian knows what he really wanted to say: that Wei Wuxian now has a target on his back and the Lans - teachers and scholars first, and never fighters - they won’t be able to protect him anymore.

One, two, three, out.

He has to run - and fast, though it weighs on him. Yes, their best fighters were in Qinghe. Yes, that’s even more dangerous - to lead the enemy to their last line of defense. Yes, Nie Mingjue had told him to come back, to not worry, that he’ll be safer with them. But Wei Wuxian also knew that this is a risk.

Wen Ruohan likes to collect. The man may be drunk with power, but he is smart and he likes having people with unique, powerful gifts under his control.

(He’d been trying to get Nie Huaisang for a while - they all knew that’s why Nie Mingjue keeps his brother close at all times. He’d offered not to burn Lotus Pier if Jiang Fengmian would give him Jiang Cheng - and he made good on his threats when the man refused. Wei Wuxian wonders now if the Jins only kept complacent as a compromise for Jin Zixuan’s safety.)

(People had said Wen Ruohan is only doing these to compensate for none of his sons having a gift, despite his own being one of the most powerful and dangerous of all.)

(Others had said that he wants to ‘steal’ those gifts and give them to his sons. If that’s even possible.)

(Either way, they’ll be his .)

“-good, all of them should just be rounded up and-”

“-freaks.”

Wei Wuxian is angry and scared. He has to run and hide. He can feel his flimsy control, the cold sensation of his gift, overtaking him again. Breathe, just breathe, he tells himself. He doesn’t want to manipulate people, doesn’t want to control them against their will. He doesn’t want this gift, he needs it to stop-

When he looks up, he sees Lan Wangji, still there, still standing in front of him, his eyes downcast, his grip on the basket tight.

He’d heard all of that, too. Of course he had.

Unlike Wei Wuxian, he’d been hearing those words all his life.

“Lan Zhan-”

Lan Wangji looks up, and when he does, Wei Wuxian is surprised at what he sees.

Concern. For him .

One, in. Two, three, out.

Wei Wuxian sighs, then steps forward and takes his friend’s free hand, giving it a light squeeze. Lan Wangji twines their fingers together. Instantly, Wei Wuxian feels calmer, and the ice-cold sensation of his powers threatening to burst out of him subsides, like boiling water settling down to a simmer.

He smiles. “Let’s just get out of here.”

.

The driver looks concerned when they file inside the bus.

“Your friend alright?” the driver asks them, tipping his head at Wen Ning, who is all bundled up complete with a beanie and face mask, and looking very pale.

Wen Ning blinks, looking down.

Act natural . Wei Wuxian tells himself again. You can’t be terrified forever.

He feels Lan Wangji’s hand squeeze his own. He hasn’t let go since they’d left the convenience store.

“Ah, he just has a bit of a cold, uncle!” he says with his usual grin. “He’ll sleep it off. We got a long trip, anyway.”

The man nods. “Where are you boys getting off?” he asks. The bus is awfully quiet even as they settle down. There are only a few other passengers this late in the night, and almost all of them are asleep. The old man is probably bored with no one to talk to.

“Qinghe. Pretty far, right?”

“It is. You on... what, an outing?”

“We’re doing some research. For a school project.”

The man nods then, and when he sees that the three have settled, he puts some music on and then starts the bus again.

Wen Ning is his usual quiet self, sitting on the row behind Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji, looking out the window, at the trees and the sky.

“You doing okay, A-Ning?” Wei Wuxian asks, peering at him from over his seat.

Wen Ning only nods. If he didn’t have a mask, Wei Wuxian is sure the younger boy would be smiling his gentle smile.

Wei Wuxian returns to his seat, and realizes that he’s still holding Lan Wangji’s hand. He laughs gingerly. “Lan Zhan,” he whispers, prompting the other to turn to him, head tilted slightly in question. “I’m really okay now. I have it under control. You don’t have to hold me anymore.”

Lan Wangji nods, but he doesn’t let go as he looks straight ahead again. “Not doing it because I have to.”

“O-Oh.” Wei Wuxian blinks, looking down at their joint hands. “Um… okay.”

Lan Wangji says nothing, but like this, while Wei Wuxian can only look at him from the side, he finally notices that his ears are red.

“O...kay.” he says again, slowly. He turns back to watching the scenery passing by, and after a few moments, he hesitantly leans his head on his friend’s shoulder.

“I might take a nap.”

“Mn.”

“Wake me up when You-Know-Who comes to kidnap me, yeah?”

He feels the hand in his own tighten. “Won’t let anything happen to Wei Ying.”

Wei Wuxian believes him. He smiles as he closes his eyes. “My hero.”

.

.

.

Chapter Text

.

.

Nie Huaisang is doodling on his shoes. He had run out of pages in his last sketchpad, and so he had to find another canvas which, apparently, just happened to be his bright yellow sneakers.

He mumbles some lyrics as he doodles, the song that he and Jiang Cheng are listening to over the pair of earphones they’re sharing.

"Up on melancholy hill, there's a plastic tree..."

The iPod is Jiang Yanli’s, an old thing she had been too fond of to let go of even over newer models. She had left it with her brother before leaving for Meishan, making him promise to keep it safe for her until they’re back together again.

Jiang Cheng had felt his sister’s fear at that time, doubled as her gift caused her to mirror his own too. Back then, she had been headed to Meishan for refuge and Wei Wuxian was going to Gusu to safety, but Jiang Cheng had decided on staying and choosing to be in the line of fire, ready and waiting to go against whatever or whoever might come after his siblings.

And… well, it has been a rough few months without his siblings, though Jiang Cheng is thankful that he’s not totally alone. Nie Huaisang made sure to distract him whenever he was close to spiralling. Nie Mingjue and Wen Qing were supportive, always making sure to tell him first whenever they got word from either of his siblings. Nie Zonghui, Song Lan and Xiao Xingchen were reliable partners during patrol and combat. Hell, even Jin Zixuan made decent company when he’s not complaining about something.

Wei Wuxian came back a few days ago, flanked by Lan Wangji and Wen Ning just like when he left. Jiang Cheng is happy to be with his brother again and to see him doing much better than the last time he’d seen him. Wen Ning, too - although he looked pretty much the same, he seems to be livelier and is always hovering around his sister assisting her through her day and getting her to rest when she’s overworking. Lan Wangji is… Lan Wangji.

“A-Cheng,” Huaisang’s voice pulls him from his thoughts. Jiang Cheng’s eyes stray from the doodles to look towards the other’s face. “You’re quiet.”

“Yeah?” he says, almost as an afterthought after a few seconds just staring at Huaisang’s face, serene in concentration while he draws.

So he catches it when Huaisang takes a quick glance at him before asking, “Is it a good quiet or a bad quiet?”

For a few long seconds, Jiang Cheng just listens to the music in his ear.

("Let's set out to sea, love. 'Cause you are my medicine when you're close to me.")

He answers, “Good quiet.”

Huaisang nods, smiling a bit as he continues his doodling.

Then it’s quiet again save for Huaisang’s lazy humming. It’s just the two of them lying in the grass outside the safehouse. Song Lan is sitting by the entrance door, their designated guard for the shift. Xiao Xingchen is keeping him company, quietly reading an old paperback novel.

It’s been a few quiet days somehow. They’ve heard that the government tracked down a few smaller safehouses only to find them empty because each one of them had an efficient escape plan in place, which was good. The government moved slower than the Wens, but only because the Wens had once been one of the five families and had been privy to a lot of inside information. The Lans in Caiyi have scattered after the last attack from Wen Ruohan, but after that, there hasn’t been any news.

They’re grateful for the temporary reprieve, although they are still on edge.

Perhaps that’s why as soon as they heard footsteps on the grass and looked up to see Nie Mingjue walking towards them, both Nie Huaisang and Jiang Cheng immediately sat up, alert.

“Da-ge, is everything okay?” Nie Huasiang asks.

He gets no answer, besides his brother tipping his chin at his companion. “Jiang Wanyin.” Nie Mingjue says, crossing his arms across his chest. “Stand up.”

Jiang Cheng quickly climbs to his feet. “What’s wrong? Is it jiejie-”

Nie Mingjue shakes his head, then says, “Fight me.”

They stare at him. Jiang Cheng’s face is pale. Huaisang is squinting.

“What?” Mingjue says, raising an eyebrow. “Nothing’s happening. Let’s spar. I need to hit something.”

“A-Cheng’s not a punching bag, da-ge.” Huaisang says, frowning petulantly. “Find someone else to spar with.”

“Your boyfriend is the only one available right now.” Nie Mingjue says, frowning back. “Zonghui’s arm is still healing. Song Lan’s on guard duty. Wen Ning’s… Well, I’m not fighting Wen Ning, his sister will kill me. And I can’t find Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji-”

“They’re in the forest. Wei-xiong’s training. They took Xiaoyu with them in case of emergency.” Huaisang provides. “How about Xingchen? He’s a good fighter.”

Nie Mingjue turns to look towards the man mentioned and then shrugs. “He’s reading.”

“Well, A-Cheng is… listening to music! You shouldn’t disturb him either.” Huaisang scolds his brother. He reaches up to tug at the hem of Jiang Cheng’s shirt, trying to get him to sit back down. “Why don’t you do something else? Take a nap. Go to the clinic! Wen Qing’s there, you finally have time to spend with her. Ask her out.”

That makes Jiang Cheng blink. “You like Wen Qing?”

“No.” Nie Mingjue says, glaring.

Nie Huaisang ignores both of them. “Or ask her how to ask Yanli-jie out-”

“You like jiejie?!”

“N-No…?”

“Or,” Nie Huaisang continues, “Ask her to ask Yanli-jie out-”

“Wen Qing likes jiejie?!”

“No!” Nie Mingjue exclaims, then he stops. “Wait, does she? Huaisang, does she?

“I actually don’t know what’s going on with the three of you.” Huaisang shrugs. “Anyways, go bother Wen Qing, da-ge! Maybe you can take a break together.”

“I already tried!” Nie Mingjue says, ungracefully sitting down on the grass in front of his brother. “She doesn’t want me there.”

Jiang Cheng sits with them, now curious. It’s not often that he gets to spend time with Nie Mingjue while the man’s not in Fierce Leader mode.

(Besides, maybe he can still back out from sparring if they distract the man enough. Jiang Cheng is a capable fighter, yes, but Nie Mingjue is a beast in battle.)

“She told you she doesn’t want you there?” Huaisang asks his brother.

“Yeah, she kicked me out.”

“What did you do?”

“Well, she obviously hasn’t slept much and needs to take a break so I told her she looks awful.”

He’s met with matching exasperated groans.

“Da-ge!”

“Why would you do that?!”

Nie Mingjue scowls. “What?! It always worked with Yanli and Xichen!”

Huaisang puts his face in his hands. “That’s because Xichen-ge is nice and he’s known you since you were kids…”

“And jiejie can tell how you’re feeling.” Jiang Cheng adds. “Literally. Like, she can’t turn it off.”

Mingjue scoffs, looking away. “Well. It’s done. She’s mad at me now, so I’m not going there. And before you point me somewhere else, I already went to Jin Zixuan and tried to help him in the garden but I ended up drowning his crops, and everyone else told me they’re doing just fine.”

“Isn’t that... a good thing?” Jiang Cheng asks. “I mean, besides you killing the crops. Everyone’s doing fine.”

“Maybe you could revisit that nap I suggested.” Huaisang says, easing up on the scolding as he puts his pens down and scoots over to cuddle up to his brother’s side.  “Or just… you know, sit down and relax? Watch a movie? We can watch with you, if you like. A horror movie? We can judge the characters together just like old times.”

Nie Mingjue takes a deep, calming breath, draping an arm around his brother and rubbing his arm to let him know his efforts to comfort him are appreciated. “Thanks. I just… I hate sitting by here, with nothing to do.”

“Are we really related?” Huaisang asks, making Jiang Cheng let out a chuckle, which he quickly smothers with his hand when Nie Mingjue narrows his eyes at him.

“Shut up.” Mingjue grumbles, rolling his eyes. “I just mean that… We should have heard back from Xichen by now. He’s on his own. Without anything, we can’t… We can’t help him, wherever he is.”

Huaisang eyes widen in realization, and he wraps his arms around his brother’s torso, squeezing tight. “Da-ge, he’s okay.”

“We’ve heard from some of the other Lans, even from Lan Qiren. But we haven’t heard anything from Xichen, or about him, after they left Caiyi.” he sighs. “And the Wens are quiet too. What if-... Fuck .”

“We can’t think that.” Huaisang says firmly, rubbing his brother’s back. Nie Mingjue has always been a strong leader, an unshakeable pillar, but Huaisang knows he’s only as strong as the people close to him who support him. Lan Xichen is his brother’s best friend. Of course Nie Mingjue would be frustrated that he’s missing during a very dangerous time. Of course gardening or chit-chat or some silly movie won’t distract him enough.

So Huaisang sighs. “Da-ge?”

“What?”

“I really like Jiang Cheng. So promise me you’re not gonna murder him, please.”

Nie Mingjue looks at him in confusion.

Jiang Cheng looks at him in horror. 

Then Nie Mingjue blinks, grinning, finally getting what his brother is telling him. “Oh. Yeah, yeah sure.”

“Alright.” Huaisang says, drawing away from the hug to his brother can stand up. He grabs his sneakers and pens again then smiles at Jiang Cheng. “Thanks for agreeing to spar with da-ge, A-Cheng. You’re the best!”

“What?!” Jiang Cheng exclaims, helpless as the other, taller, more built man tugs him to his feet.

“C’mon, Jiang Wanyin. Let’s go.”

“But-”

Nie Mingjue drapes an arm around his shoulders and drags him away. “You’ve been practicing with that electric whip attack thing your mother taught you to do, right? I always wanted to see how I’d hold up against that. Don’t hold back on me, alright?”

“That’s-... That’s dangerous! I can’t attack you like-”

“Wow, you’re no fun.”

“It’s lightning ! It can kill you!”

“Nah, I won’t die.”

As he gets dragged away, Jiang Cheng looks back towards Nie Huaisang, mouthing ‘WHY?!’ and Nie Huaisang just bats his lashes at him and blows him a kiss.

“Don’t worry, your sister’s my friend. I’ll let you live.”

Huh. Maybe Jiang Cheng will survive.

.

.

.

Chapter Text

.

.

“So apparently, Jin Zixuan got kidnapped.”

Several heads look up from the beat-up Monopoly board on the table and turn towards Nie Mingjue standing by the doorway.

Nie Huaisang tilts his head at his brother, very confused. “Kidnapped?”

“As in... Jin Zixuan?” Jiang Cheng follows.

Nie Mingjue nods. “Yep. Jin Zixuan.”

Wei Wuxian blinks up at him. “Like, the peacock?”

“The peacock.” he clarifies.

“Excuse me,” Jin Zixuan interjects from the counter, where he’s busy fussing over some plants. “I’m right here.”

“Unfortunately.” Wei Wuxian mumbles, earning an elbow from Wen Qing.

Nie Mingjue sighs as he steps forward, lays his tablet on the table and taps on the screen to play a video clip of what looks like a news report. There is a photo of Jin Zixuan beside one of Nie Mingjue.

“-confirmed statement by his father and leader of the Jin Faction, Jin Guangshan. The Jin family has been reportedly cooperating with Wen Ruohan of the Wen Faction to subdue powered people who have been attacking innocent civilians-”

“Only when those ‘innocent civilians’ attack first...” Wei Wuxian grumbles, but he’s shushed by the others.

“-main safehouse in Qinghe was found empty, but both Wen Ruohan and the national police force are working to track down other possible bases of this terrorist group reportedly led by Nie Faction leader Nie Mingjue, specially now that they have been confirmed to also be holding kidnapped hostages-”

“Oh wow, so we’re the terrorists now.” Nie Huaisang says, leaning back on his chair, laughing lightly, bitterly.

“And kidnappers.” Nie Mingjue adds.

“Aw, no, that’s just you, da-ge. It’s just your picture on the news- Ow!” he whines, holding his pinched pink cheek.

The brothers are about to start squabbling and the others were grumbling among themselves when the display changes to show an old footage of Wen Ruohan in one of his old public interviews. Everyone goes quiet again.

“-has still not given a statement about what he is planning to do when he has successfully gathered and subdued these powered people, but the National Defense Spokesperson has stated that these terrorists will be held accountable, and that measures will be taken to ensure the safety of our people once again.”

Then, the coverage ends and the news anchor smoothly shifts the topic towards sports.

Wen Qing is the first to recover. “What.”

“That makes no sense.” Jin Zixuan says, finally. “I wasn’t kidnapped. Why would I get kidnapped?”

“Exactly.” Wei Wuxian says, earning him a scowl from the other.

“It’s publicity, of course.” Nie Huaisang says with a shrug. “It makes us look more like the bad guys. Well, the worse guys, I guess. Gives the Wens and the Jins a more legitimate motive to track us down. The government will let them deal with us, do their job for them. Then when it’s done, they’ll come after the Wens and Jins. They probably think they can win, but… well, we know Wen Ruohan’s just playing them, he knows he can deal with them later.”

He stops when he realizes all eyes on the room are on him.

“W-What?”

Jin Zixuan blinks at him. “That’s really… smart, coming from you.”

“Hey!” Huaisang pouts. “What do you think I do around here? Sit around and look pretty?”

Jiang Cheng snorts. “That is kinda what you do all day.”

Huaisang turns to him, eyes lighting up. “You think I look pretty?”

“Yes, and also easily-distracted.” Jiang Cheng says, making Nie Huaisang pout at him too, and Wei Wuxian laugh from across the table.

Wen Qing sighs. “He’s right, though. Wen Ruohan doesn’t even see the government as a threat. He can torch them before they can do so much as try to use their so-called “cure” on any of his people. His plan is basically to collect all the shiny useful powers he can get, make sure he’s uncontested, and then take over. Turn the tables.”

“He really thinks we’re superior, huh.” Nie Mingjue rolls his eyes as he picks up his tablet. “Like he’s the sun come down to earth.”

“I hate that people could believe that enough to rally behind it.” Jin Zixuan says with a frown. “His cause, I mean. We’ve been fighting to be seen as equal to the rest of them for so long, and now that things have gotten worse than ever, our own people might just consider his option.”

“No shit, just look at your parents.” Wei Wuxian huffs.

Jin Zixuan opens his mouth to argue, but Nie Huaisang speaks up again.

“No, actually, we should be very worried about that.” he says, looking towards his brother. “Da-ge?”

Nie Mingjue only nods, then looks at Jin Zixuan. “Your parents were only going along with Wen Ruohan because he threatened your safety, right? Now you got out, but he probably made your folks think we took you. They were standing back before, just trying not to be in the way. But what now that it’s personal?”

Zixuan looks down, biting his lip, guilty. “I’m sorry-”

“Hey, no.” Nie Mingjue says. “I’m just saying, you should be prepared to really go against your parents this time, because it looks like they’re getting more involved.”

The younger nods, and Mingjue pats his shoulder before he regards the others in the table, who had all gone quiet. Wei Wuxian looks repentant, at least, for being too harsh on Jin Zixuan about something he had no control over. Lan Wangji rests a hand on his back. Nie Huaisang is poking at the edge of the forgotten Monopoly board, while beside him, Jiang Cheng has leaned back on his chair, arms crossed, scowling at nothing in particular. Wen Qing is fussing over her brother’s hair, smiling at him comfortingly, but her eyes catch Mingjue’s in a short glance and he could see the apprehension there.

Nie Mingjue sighs. They knew the reprieve couldn’t last, but he’s still so… so tired. All of them are.

He clears his throat, and nods at them. “That’s it. We still don’t have enough information to make a move yet, but just stay alert for now.”

The others nod back, some thanking him for the information.

“Huaisang, with me.” he calls, and his brother gets up from his seat to come to his side, latching on to his arm as he turns and heads for the door.

The others watch them leave. After a few moments, Wen Qing gets up as well, following them.

Jin Zixuan goes back to the counter, to fussing over the plants he’d been growing. That’s been his only reprieve since arriving in the Nie safehouse. He had no close friends here - the others were passing acquaintances at best, and some held too much resentment for the Jins and their inaction against Wen Ruohan that he couldn’t blame them for distancing themselves from him too. So instead he found a way to contribute, quietly, out of anyone’s way.

Nevermind that he’d never tried gardening before. He just found some supplies in the safehouse bunker while he was wandering around, then he looked up instructions and followed them by the book. He found out that he actually could make it work. It does work. They have crops. Real food, not just rations and smuggled canned goods.

He’d never been good at something that wasn’t his gift before.

Jin Zixuan is very good with his gift.

He knew, had he stayed with his family any longer, Wen Ruohan would have eventually found a way to pry him from his parents’ protection and use his gift to go after the others, the people he’s now fighting (hiding) with.

After all, what commander wouldn’t want to have a sharpshooter who never misses?

He’s very lucky to get out of there just in time, really. Although now he’s with people who hate him - at least they wouldn’t make him kill .

This is better, he thinks. He is thankful for his gift, but he thinks he finds more purpose in nurturing life, rather than taking it.

“Hey.”

When he looks up, there’s Wei Wuxian standing in front of him, poking at one of the pots in the counter, pretending to brush off some stray leaves off of it.

“Yes?” Zixuan says, keeping his attention on his work.

“Uh. About earlier, I-... I didn’t mean to-”

“Yes, you did.” he says, cutting the other off.

That makes Wei Wuxian stop, but only for a second. He’s always been so quick with a comeback. “Fine, yeah, I did.” he says, stubborn, only with a hint of regret.  “And that was really shitty of me.”

“It’s fine. I’ve been here for a while.” he replies, still not looking up at the other teen. “I’m used to it.”

Wei Wuxian doesn’t say anything at that. Jin Zixuan glances up, and he catches how the other turns towards the table - specifically at Jiang Wanyin, who shrugs, mouths something and does some elaborate gesture Jin Zixuan doesn’t bother to decipher. Is that what’s happening? Is Jiang Wanyin making his brother… what, apologize for being - in his own words - shitty?

Zixuan has spent more time with Jiang Wanyin than with Wei Wuxian, and he wouldn’t say they’re friends , but… they’re civil. At least.

Wei Wiuxian rolls his eyes and turns back to Jin Zixuan. “Well… uh. I heard, um- I heard you were the one who tipped us off about the guys who were tailing jiejie and the others to Meishan.”

Jin Zixuan raises an eyebrow. “That was months ago.”

He nearly died for that tip. He risked his position getting the information out to the Nies, and it worked but it also exposed him.

Wen Ruohan had sent him out into the line of fire to get rid of him. And even if that wasn’t the reason, even if the man had just been counting on Jin Zixuan to fight on his side, Zixuan had basically said goodbye to any hope of continuing to fool him and returning to his good graces the moment he decided to turn his gun at the Wen soldier who was about to kill Nie Mingjue and his men that day.

“Yeah, I know.” Wei Wuxian takes a deep breath, still looking hesitant. “Just… I never got to say thanks... for that? Jiejie and the others made it safely ‘cause of that tip. So… thanks, I guess.”

Jin Zixuan simply nods. “Don’t mention it. I just did the right thing.”

He means it, too. He never did that to be thanked. At the time, he didn’t even know Jiang Yanli had been among those people heading to Meishan, he didn't know who was going to be there at all. All he knew was that there were people - his people - who were in danger and he had to do something .

But… it’s nice, knowing that the gesture was appreciated.

Wei Wuxian looks at him for a second before nodding. “Okay. Well… yeah. Okay. I’m just… gonna go. Before this gets weird.”

It’s already weird for Jin Zixuan, but he’s too tired to argue at this point so he just lets that pass, watching as Wei Wuxian turns and heads back to the table where the others were pointedly trying to appear like they weren’t listening in.

“Hey.” he calls back, and Wei Wuxian turns to look, almost too quickly. “You know, I don’t really want you to, like, be my friend, or to be nice to me.” He sees the beginnings of a frown on the other teen’s lips, so he pushes on, not giving him time to retort - “I just think that maybe, just among us, we can at least try to be civil. We do enough fighting outside already.”

“Oh.” Wei Wuxian blinks, then slowly, he nods again, this time looking almost surprised. “Uh… Sure. Yeah, we can… try that.”

Jin Zixuan doesn’t say anything, and only goes back to his task. Wei Wuxian has probably returned to the table, to their little game of Monopoly, as he hears shuffling and people asking whose turn it is next, and who can pick up for the ones who had left with Nie Mingjue.

They’re familiar sounds to him by now: Wei Wuxian and Jiang Wanyin bickering, Lan Wangji’s one-word answers, Wen Ning’s meek, well-intentioned additions. Until-

“Hey, Jin Zixuan!”

He looks up, and this time, it’s Jiang Wanyin waving a bundle of fake paper money at him. “Huaisang’s probably not gonna be back anytime soon. You wanna play for him?”

Huh.

That’s new.

He blinks, then looks down at his plants...

Well.

They’d grow without him.

“Sure. Give me a minute.” he answers. He washes his hands and pats down his clothes, then joins them at the table, taking the empty seat and accepting the fake money from Jiang Wanyin.

He looks down at whatever properties Nie Huaisang had left behind, and then at the board, and then at his money. “Wow. He’s… not good... at this game.”

That gets a laugh from Wei Wuxian, who is counting his own money. “He’s so bad ! Like, not even unlucky, he’s just terrible.”

“He just got out of jail.” Wen Ning provides kindly.

“Jiang Cheng’s been losing on purpose.” Wei Wuxian adds.

“Shut up.” Jiang Wanyin scowls, then when he sees Jin Zixuan squinting at his money and properties, he huffs and looks away. “Don’t tell him.”

“He probably knows.” Lan Wangji says.

“You shut up too.”

Wei Wuxian frowns. “Jiang Cheng, don’t talk to Lan Zhan like that...”

Then the bickering starts back again, and Jin Zixuan just sighs. Wen Ning hands the dice to him, and he accepts with an awkward smile.

Jin Zixuan is very good with his gift. He can aim at anything and never miss.

He is very good with his plants. It’s a new skill, but one that he has been able to nurture given dedication and time.

He is also very good at Monopoly, but the others at the table don’t need to know that. Even now, looking at the shambles of Nie Huaisang’s horrible playing, he is starting to formulate a plan on how to recover.

Alright.

Time to win for once.

.

.

.

Chapter Text

.

.

Less than a week after Jin Zixuan had allegedly been “kidnapped”, Wei Wuxian bursts into the plant nursery, practically screaming-

“Hey, peacock!”

Jin Zixuan lets out a tired groan. “Wei Wuxian, I swear, I will use this spray bottle if you-”

Wei Wuxian is panting. “Mingjue-ge told me to get you.”

Jin Zixuan realizes the real urgency then, and he puts the spray bottle down as he walks towards the other. “What happened?”

“Huan-ge is here, and he’s with-” Wei Wuxian grins. “He’s with MianMian.”

.

MianMian is Jin Zixuan’s best and oldest friend. She doesn’t have a gift, but she might as well have grown up in the Jin safehouse with him. Her family is one of their major suppliers of food and goods, her father a prominent public figure who had vouched for their society’s acceptance of people with powers time and again.

He hadn’t been able to say goodbye to her, before being sent to his supposed death. But here she is now, standing beside Lan Xichen, and talking to Nie Mingjue.

It’s so good to see her again, that Jin Zixuan didn’t even bother interrupting politely - he just blurts out her name as soon as he sees her.

She turns around and gasps when she sees him, and then she’s running up to him and he’s getting what could be the tightest hug of his life.

“What are you doing here?” he asks when she finally lets go of him.

“Looking for you, dummy.” she teases, grinning. “Madame Jin sent me.”

He blinks in shock. “What? Mother did?”

“Jin Zixuan.” Lan Xichen says, making them both turn towards him. He looks tired, but even with his rumpled clothes and messy hair, he still somehow manages to look serene and graceful. “I owe my life to your mother and your brother. I got caught with a few others, but A-Yao didn’t tell Wen Ruohan about me, he told him that we were all just ordinary stragglers.”

Oh. Jin Zixuan had never thought much about Meng Yao. He didn’t like how his father treated his illegitimate brother, but he couldn’t have done much about it, not when he’d been sheltered from knowing the full story. All he knew was that Meng Yao had been staying with the Nies, he was rejected by their father when he first attempted to reconnect, and then he had somehow ended up as Wen Ruohan’s assistant.

“He let me know what Wen Ruohan told your parents about your disappearance, so I told him that it’s not true, you weren’t kidnapped at all. I suppose he somehow managed to tell Madame Jin, because she came to see me and I told her what I knew. About what happened with you. Nothing else. But that was enough for her...”

“She contacted me. She said that I’m not one of you, so no one is keeping track of me.” MianMian continues. “Meng Yao snuck Lan Xichen out and they sent us to find you. He said he’d cover our tracks.”

Jin Zixuan stares at them in disbelief. His mother and Meng Yao? His mother hated Meng Yao! He just couldn’t see it...

Then again, he had seen his mother frown everytime his father bowed and offered his services to Wen Ruohan. He had listened to her worry about him going wherever Wen Ruohan demanded him to go. He had seen her - held her - on the days after Lotus Pier burned, after she heard that her best friend had been killed by the man her husband had allied their faction with.

Huh. And now, discovering that Wen Ruohan had tried to kill her son and then used him for his own image because he survived? Yes, that may have just been enough to get his mother to cooperate with her husband’s illegitimate son, after all.

“Meng Yao, huh.” Nie Mingjue frowns. “I don’t know, Xichen. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that you made it here safe, but…”

“A-Jue.” Lan Xichen gives their leader a strained smile. “He’s trying to do the right thing too, just like the rest of us.”

Nie Mingjue looks at him, at Jin Zixuan and MianMian, then at his own brother by his side. Nie Huaisang looks hesitant, but hopeful.

Jin Zixuan doesn’t know exactly what had caused the rift between the Nies and Meng Yao, but it’s obvious that the bond there hasn’t been severed completely.

MianMian takes an item from her backpack and offers it to Nie Mingjue. “He asked me to give this to you.”

It’s a burner phone.

“Well… we were waiting for something to happen, right?” Nie Huaisang says with a little shrug.

Nie Mingjue sighs, then takes it.

.

.

.

Chapter Text

.

.

Wen Qing is tired.

To be fair, Wen Qing is always tired, but this time, she is tired and annoyed . If she were to be honest, she prefers to be tired and angry . Tired and angry means she can keep going on, fuelled by spite. Tired and annoyed means she has to push through, even when she just wants to snap.

Wen Qing is tired and annoyed as she strides to the clinic with purpose. This time, it’s not because there’s an emergency, or that someone’s life is in danger. This time, it’s because she knows that’s where Lan Xichen is. That’s where she had left him anyway. He’s been helping patch people up these past few days.

“Your boyfriend-” she starts as soon as she enters the room, easily finding the person she’s looking for - Lan Xichen is in one of the chairs changing someone’s bandages. He’s humming, but he stops as soon as Wen Qing eyes him. “-needs to sleep. You have to make him sleep, or so help me, I will put him to sleep. I know many ways.”

Lan Xichen blinks, and that almost annoys her twice over. “I’m sorry? Who-... Are you referring to da-ge?”

She raises an eyebrow. “Who else?”

“Oh, I see...” Lan Xichen says, laughing lightly. “He’s-… We’re not-...” He makes vague gestures, but ultimately gives up. “Nevermind. Is he okay?”

Wen Qing blinks, caught momentarily off guard because she caught that attempt to correct her. “I… thought you two were… Huh.”

She had watched Nie Mingjue practically agonize and crawl out of his own skin for weeks on end while Lan Xichen had been missing. He had been gloomy, slow to respond to Wen Qing’s scolding and Nie Huaisang’s doting, and he had just been miserable all around worrying over his “best friend”-

Okay. So maybe they were just really close like that. Right.

She shakes her head, dismissing the idea - that’s not important right now.

“Well, he needs to sleep. We’re leaving early tomorrow and I swear I haven’t seen him asleep once this week.”

“He told me he takes naps.” Lan Xichen sighs as he finishes up on his patient’s bandages and sends the grateful teen on his way. “I said that’s not enough and he just shrugged it off...”

“Listen, our plan hinges on you guys having your shit together.” Wen Qing says. “We’ve been waiting for this opportunity… We’ve risked and lost people preparing and gathering what you need for this elaborate plan you’ve cooked up - I won’t have it fail because our leader was nodding off in the middle of the operation.”

She has a point. Ever since they managed to get in touch with Meng Yao and Madame Jin, they’d had better access to information on Wen Ruohan, and together they’ve been able to come up with a plan to take the man down. For the past few weeks, they’ve busied themselves gathering supplies and people, making preparations, ironing out their strategy.

The operation starts the next day, and they only get one shot at it.

So of course the kids would be restless. Even Lan Xichen himself couldn’t bring himself to sleep earlier. And of course, his best friend - Nie Mingjue - he’s their leader, so it’s no wonder he couldn’t relax, not while they’ve got such a big, elaborate plan to enact in only a few hours.

Lan Xichen only sighs as he stands up. “Alright, let’s see him, then. Maybe A-Jue will listen if we do it together.”

Wen Qing scoffs, but steps alongside him as they make their way to Mingjue’s room-slash-office. “I doubt it, but when I stab him with a needle, it’ll be useful to have you there to catch him so he won’t fall on his face.”

Lan Xichen laughs. “Maybe we can get A-Sang too? He’s always been his da-ge’s soft spot.”

“Negative.” - and this time, Wen Qing looks like she’s nursing a headache. “I sent that one to bed just now. He kept insisting that he’s fine and he’ll fly around the perimeter ‘just one more time’ . Just be ‘sure’ we’re all safe.” she says, rolling her eyes as she gestures with air quotes. “As if that’s not what our patrols are for.”

“Ah…” Lan Xichen nods. He could very well see Huaisang’s pout in response to being sent to bed. He is just as bad as his brother. “He can be stubborn.”

“Jiang Wanyin, too. He was practically destroying the training dummies - it’s 1 AM.

“I suppose you sent him to bed as well, then?”

“Of course I did.” Wen Qing scoffs. “Yanli wouldn’t want her darling baby brother killed in battle because he didn’t get enough sleep.” Then she looks over at him, raising an eyebrow. “What about your darling baby brother? I haven’t seen him around.”

“Wei Wuxian got restless. Wangji told me they were joining your brother and Jin Zixuan on patrol.” he answers, his smile resigned.

He had tried to gently prod them to just stay, but even his usually calm brother had been jumpy - which almost never happens. And Wei Wuxian has always been an unstoppable force anyway, so Xichen could only do so much, really.

“They should be back soon. Hopefully they would’ve walked all that energy off by the time they’re back.”

“You’re too soft on those kids.” she says without heat. She’s not scolding him, he notices. If anything, it only sounded like an observation.

“Someone has to be.” he replies, only half-joking.

He means it - they’re fighting a losing battle, always in a constant state of licking their wounds. He doesn’t want his brother and the other “kids” to one day look back on their teenage years and only have those tough, dark memories.

Wen Qing frowns, but he sees in her expression that she’s less angry, and more hesitant. “I guess you think I’m being too hard on them, then.”

He smiles as he shakes his head. He finds the answer easily too - “Someone has to be.”

That makes her chuckle, the tension easing between them. “What would Nie Mingjue do without us? He’s so busy doing his leader stuff, he just lets those stupid teenagers do what they want.”

“Worry.” Xichen answers. “He’ll worry over them, for sure. He can’t exactly discourage them, he knows he needs them. But given a choice, he’d much rather have them stay out of… well, everything, I guess.”

“He’d wanted to send them all to Meishan. Did you know that?”

“No. But it doesn’t surprise me one bit.” Lan Xichen then remembers something, and he clears his throat before he speaks again, “Oh, um… Forgive me if this might be too direct but… I was surprised earlier when you called him my-... Um... It’s just, I’ve been under the impression that it was you and da-ge who were… well. Together.”

“What?” This time, she looks at him in disbelief. “Us, like, me and-... Me and Nie Mingjue?”

“I’m sorry, it was just I noticed that you were quite… close. I’ve never really seen him close to anyone outside of his family… and myself, I guess.”

“No way, we’re not close , we just- We work together.”

“Oh, of course! Yes, yes, I see that.”

“I just like to stay on top of things and that means spending a lot of time with him since he’s the one… well, he’s in charge of this whole thing… That’s all! If anything, he’s always complaining about how nosy I am. I’m not nosy, I’m just telling him to eat his meals and get some sleep-”

He chuckles. “Okay, Miss Wen-”

“Stop laughing at me!” she snaps, swatting his arm, but she’s smiling too, her cheeks a light pink.

“I’m not laughing! I’m sorry!” he insists, while laughing.

They finally stop when they get to their destination. The lights are still on in Nie Mingjue’s office and the door is left ajar.

There’s the sound of humming from inside, too soft and sweet to be Nie Mingjue’s.

Wen Qing exchanges a look with Lan Xichen before she knocks softly and swings the door open.

Nie Mingjue is hunched over on his desk, head resting on his crossed arms, very much asleep. Standing over him and draping a blanket across his shoulders is Jiang Yanli.

“A-Li?!” Wen Qing exclaims, but she stops when her friend looks up sharply and presses a finger to her lips, shushing her as she gestures towards the sleeping man. She continues in a whisper, “How-... When did you get here?”

“Only a few minutes ago.” Jiang Yanli says, patting down the blanket on Mingjue’s shoulders before walking around the table and stepping towards Wen Qing to hug her. “It was the safest time to travel. I just went to see our fearless leader first.”

Wen Qing lets out a relieved sigh as she returns the hug. “I didn’t know you were even coming.”

“Surprise!” Yanli laughs, letting go. She exchanges a pleasant smile and nod with Lan Xichen too before continuing. “I know you need all the help you can get here, so as soon as Mingjue told me about the plans, I started gathering volunteers. Meishan has capable fighters, and some of those who came with me from here have recovered. I’m glad we made it in time.”

“Barely.” Wen Qing squints at her, slightly reprimanding. “They leave very early tomorrow. Later.

“Then it’s good that everyone’s getting some rest now, isn’t it?”

“In speaking of rest,” Lan Xichen chimes in, from where he’s standing beside the table, peering curiously at his sleeping best friend. “Thank you for finally getting this one some sleep, Miss Jiang.”

“Yeah.” Wen Qing blinks. “Like, how ? And don’t tell me you just asked nicely.”

“I just asked nicely.” Jiang Yanli says, and is met by matching looks of suspicion from the other two. She looks down, smiling sheepishly. “And I might have held his hand while doing so.”

Wen Qing looks at the other woman, grinning. “I see.”

Lan Xichen looks down and pats Nie Mingjue’s head with a fond smile. “Well, it worked. That’s what matters.”

They hear sounds of commotion from outside, followed by some familiar voices.

Yanli perks up. “Is that A-Xian?”

“Yes. He and some others were out on patrol. I’m sure he’ll be overjoyed to see you.” Wen Qing says. She laughs when Yanli hugs her again before rushing out the room.

Wen Qing is still tired, but she’s in a much better mood when she trudges towards the couch in the corner and collapses in it. It’s a nice couch. Comfortable.

She has a bunk of her own, but it wouldn’t be the first night she’ll spend on this couch, though for the past days she knew that it’s been Lan Xichen using it.

He has a bunk too, she knows.

Ugh. They wouldn’t be sleeping randomly on the stupid couch if only their stubborn leader claimed it and slept on it, really.

She has almost completely dozed off when she remembers that Lan Xichen is still in the room, standing by Nie Mingjue’s table and cleaning up the mess of notes, papers and other stuff scattered around the sleeping man.

“See, that’s some boyfriend shit.” she blurts out, too sleepy for any filter whatsoever.

“Hey, I’m not the one who finally convinced him to sleep.” Lan Xichen says, voice soft, soothing - then he hums, and Wen Qing lets out a yawn.

“Yanli cheated.” she says, sounding amused. “You could’ve, too. Like you’re doing now.”

Because she knows that he’s doing his thing. The calming thing. And it’s working. On her.

“You need your rest too, Miss Wen.” Lan Xichen says, and he continues humming.

Wen Qing finally lets her eyes close, feeling peaceful. She should feel restless, just like the others, but she’s not. They have a plan - one they’ve been preparing for, and everything is falling into place, and she’s with her people.

They’ve got a big day ahead of them. 

.

.

.

Chapter Text

.

.

In the aftermath, there were too many things to do, too many wounded to tend to, too many loose ends to tie up, that there’s no time to really celebrate Wen Ruohan’s defeat.

There is, however, a general feeling of relief. It’s like everyone had let out one slow, collective exhale.

But at the end of a long day of fighting, the fatigue still creeps in, slowly but surely, until Jiang Cheng’s arms start to shake while he’s distributing supplies to some elders and children they had found as Wen Ruohan’s prisoners. He stumbles slightly when he stands back up, and that’s when he feels his sister’s calming hand on his arm, telling him that he’s done enough for the day, and it’s fine to take a break.

He knows she’s right so he heeds her advice. He finds a free spot to settle down in, out of anyone’s way. He sits with his back against the wall - too tired to do anything else, but still too alert to contemplate sleep.

It’s over. Wen Ruohan is dead. They had intercepted an attack on a public event, they saved lives - civilians, gifted people... and a few government officials. The media was there too. People had seen them banding together and using their gifts to defend, not to harm. They were left alone afterwards. No orders to capture or subdue them. Yet. But a victory is a victory.

It’s all part of the plan - the plan that worked with Meng Yao’s intel, Lan Xichen and Nie Mingjue’s careful preparation, and Jiang Cheng and the others’ precise execution.

For the first time in months, Jiang Cheng can actually see things looking up.

He hears Xiaoyu before he sees her. She perches on his knee and he smiles lightly at the bird, raising a hand to tap her head with a finger. If Xiaoyu is here, then her master won’t be far behind.

“Resting, finally?” Nie Huaisang asks, walking towards him with a blanket in his arms. He sits beside Jiang Cheng and Jiang Cheng moves so he can drape the blanket across both their shoulders, and when that’s done, they press close together, their hands easily finding each other’s. It’s not cold, but it’s grounding to be this close, this warm.

“Hi.” Jiang Cheng whispers to the other’s dark hair before he presses an absentminded kiss to the side of his head, more like a passing thought than anything else.

“Hi.” Nie Huaisang whispers back, sending him a small smile. He reaches up to rub off what Jiang Cheng assumes must be dirt or dust off his cheek. “You’re tired.” he says.

“You too.” he replies, and they just settle there for a while, huddled beside each other, both quiet, lost in their own thoughts.

They hear a shrill cry of a child followed by a familiar laugh, and when they look towards the source of the sound, they see Wei Wuxian crouched down and teasing a toddler who had somehow latched on to Lan Wangji’s legs. Lan Wangji looked at a loss of what to do, while Wei Wuxian has taken to offering the kid some of his own food. Wen Ning is hovering too. They can see the family resemblance. The kid must be from his branch of the family - the ones who opposed Wen Ruohan so they got thrown in with the other prisoners.

“I’m glad Wei-xiong is doing fine.” Nie Huaisang says. “I was worried.”

Jiang Cheng nods. A huge part of the plan hinged on Wei Wuxian’s newfound power to control other people - and at first Jiang Cheng had been apprehensive, but his brother was determined. He has to admit that it terrified him to see Wei Wuxian use his new gift to that extent and in such a manner. He knew the toll it takes on his brother. But in the end, things worked out. Wei Wuxian looks worn and tired, but no more than any of the others.

"Yeah." he says. "He looks like he'll be fine."

Wen Qing is ordering people around. Without her uncle, and with her cousins having fled early on when things seemed to go south on their side, she is by default the acting head of the Wen faction. Jiang Cheng thinks that’s for the best. Wen Qing is sensible, and grounded - she’s a healer and a caretaker before anything else - and aren’t those the purpose of the safehouses in the first place? To protect and nurture people like them?

In speaking of leaders - there’s Lan Xichen talking to Meng Yao, and Jiang Cheng had looked in their direction just in time to see Nie Mingjue pass by them - he spares a soft smile for Lan Xichen as always, but steels himself and only gives a curt nod to Meng Yao before going to talk to Wen Qing.

“So… even you guys didn’t know?” Jiang Cheng asks. When Huaisang only hums in question by his shoulder, he continues. “About Meng Yao?”

He feels the other shift, and the hand in his tightens its grip. “No. We didn’t know.”

Everyone had known that besides the fact that Meng Yao is an illegitimate child, Jin Guangshan had refused to acknowledge him because he had no gift. When Jiang Cheng first met him in passing, in Gusu when he came to pick Nie Huaisang up, he remembers the man being introduced to him as a resident of the Nie safehouse, but not as a refugee seeking sanctuary. 

(Nie Huaisang had even said then - “He’s like… um... to me, what Wei-xiong is to you. He’s different from us but he’s family.” )

Imagine their surprise when the same meek, quiet man had been the one to deal the killing blow to Wen Ruohan.

After doing something - something that disoriented the man so much that he lost control and coordination, making it easy to take him down.

“He said it’s like the opposite of Xichen-ge’s gift.” Nie Huaisang continues. “Turmoil? I guess? He talked to me. A while ago. We’re okay. But da-ge’s still… Da-ge needs time.”

“They’ll be fine.” he reassures the other, knowing how much both men mean to him. Nie Huaisang had never known his parents, but he’d always had his big brothers to look after him. “If all else fails, just pout at both of them until they make up. It works on me and Wei Wuxian, why not them?”

Nie Huaisang laughs, and this time his hand squeezes Jiang Cheng’s in appreciation. “It does work on you guys, huh? You’re such big softies.”

“Shut up.” he huffs, and to avoid the topic he just goes back to people watching.

He sees his sister again.

His sister-

His sister is now the leader of the Jiang family. Has been for some time now. It suits her.

Jiang Cheng doesn’t know what’s in store for them - but he knows he’ll follow her lead without question. She’d never led him anywhere he didn’t want to go. They’ll rebuild Lotus Pier and the Jiang safehouse. They’ll provide sanctuary to those who need it, like their family had always done.

Right now, she’s going through food supplies. Jin Zixuan is trying to help her. Or something. He’s fumbling really badly with the food he’s holding.

Jiang Cheng wants to shout at him to get his shit together.

“Jin Zixuan is being weird. Why is he being weird?”

Nie Huaisang makes a sleepy, curious sound as he turns his head to look. “Ah. You can’t tell? He likes your sister.”

“What? That loser.” Jiang Cheng snorts. “Jiejie likes Mingjue-ge. Or Wen Qing. I don’t know. Maybe both. Is it both? You should just tell me.”

Huaisang giggles. “Believe me, A-Cheng. I’d tell you if I knew.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“But who is your da-ge dating? I thought it was Wen Qing. Or Lan Xichen. But now I don’t know. Wait, is Meng Yao an ex? Is this why it’s so awkward between those three?”

Huaisang only sighs and pats his arm. “A-Cheng, A-Cheng… I really really wish I knew.”

“Huh.” is all he says, leaning back again, letting go of Huaisang’s hand only so he can wrap his arm around him instead. Huaisang cuddles close to him. When Jiang Cheng looks, he sees that he’s already close to dozing off. To be honest, Jiang Cheng is surprised Nie Huaisang managed to stay awake this long after everything that had happened.

It’s been a long day - a long fight - a long year . The big battle is over, but there’s still a lot of work to do. It’ll take even longer - maybe years, maybe decades - to undo the damage Wen Ruohan has done, the fear and prejudice he’d encouraged in a society that already was fearful and prejudiced to start with.

But it’ll be fine.

They have time.

He has his sister, his brother, this new family he’d found and somehow managed to keep during a year of hiding and running and fighting for his life and others’. He has-

“Huaisang.”

“Mm?”

Xiaoyu flies off and Jiang Cheng watches her perch on Wei Wuxian’s shoulder. The crying kid from earlier gets distracted by the pretty bird and finally lets himself be pried off from Lan Wangji’s legs as he is lifted into Wen Ning’s arms. Wen Ning rocks him lightly, and the kid cuddles close, yawning.

It’s infectious. Jiang Cheng yawns as well.

He doesn’t want to sleep yet.

There’s still so much to do.

But first-

“Let’s go out. Like, on a date.”

He remembers another night - a different one - but with the same sleepy Nie Huaisang pressed warmly against him.

“With the hand holding and ice cream and all that cute shit I hate.”

Huaisang laughs - soft, sleepy, sweet. “I thought you’d never ask.”

.

.

.

fin