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a collapse, in slow motion

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Wei Wuxian returns to you three long months after vanishing without a trace, after a seemingly endless search with not so much as a single promising lead as to his whereabouts, and if for only a few precious moments all is right with the world again.

(He comes with hair loose over his shoulders and spilling down his back, wearing unfamiliar billowing robes that stink of blood and viscera, earth and rot, with a cold glint in once-warm eyes and a strange twist to his smiling mouth. He has a small harem of dead girls for company, and he does not hug you back when you embrace him.

He had left a trail of Wen-dogs slaughtered in all manner of horrific ways in his wake, and offers you the coveted gift of a scared shitless Wen Chao and his cursed mutt to join him in denying the undeserved pleasure of being put out of their misery in place of an apology for his unexplained absence.

You accept it gladly.)

Lan Wangji storms from your side with an elegant sweep of cool white in what Wei Wuxian snickers at and takes for a righteous fury, and the space he temporarily occupied is once more filled by your shixiong, as it always should have been.

You are perfectly happy to let Wei Wuxian believe Lan Wangji is merely furious with him, though having fought and searched beside the Second Jade of Lan for the better part of the last two months you have come to know better, unbelievable though you still find it.


It soon becomes apparent that even outside of battle, Wei Wuxian is… wrong.

That he is not himself.

He tries to be, you can tell he does, but nine times out of ten it comes off flat. Hollow. Other.

He could almost be acting out a crude mockery of himself, might even fit in well with the street performers you used to watch play exaggerated caricatures of one another and laugh at together.

Often you find yourself having to crush the same deep ache that had swiftly taken root within your ribcage in your shixiong’s stark absence despite him standing solid and real at your side, even as he catches your eye and speaks to you.

You do not draw attention to what is staring you in the face. In fact, you do everything you can to overlook it.

You convince yourself that you are worrying over nothing, explain away every unsettling new habit, every alarming change in behaviour that surfaces as best as you are able.

Wei Wuxian is with you once more, exactly where he should be, exactly where you need him to be, and he is safe.

He is alive.

That is all that matters.


Wei Wuxian quickly becomes notorious for the brutality he inflicts upon any Wen-dog he encounters, both in battle and outside it.

The motley mix of cultivators who had gathered to fight under the banner of Yunmeng Jiang trade whispered tales of his killings with subdued awe and more than a touch of fear, tales that have begun running rampant throughout the rest of the war camp and, as you hear it, well beyond.

Some of your new disciples are too soft of heart to abide being directly associated with Wei Wuxian, but that is fine.

If they will not accept the methods their head disciple employs to fight, if they cannot offer their unflinching loyalty to you, then you do not want them. You have no use for cowards, and you will not beg or force anyone to stay who does not wish to, no matter how desperate you are to keep every man and woman you can or that you are in no position to pick and choose your followers, no matter how deeply it cuts you to watch them walk away.

(After all, you have always been your mother’s son. What do you have left now, but for your pride?)

You are not afraid of Wei Wuxian.

You are not afraid of the peculiar bright scarlet that creeps into familiar grey to leave his irises glowing like dying embers in the aftermath of a terrible blaze as he plays his now infamous red-tasseled dizi of black-lacquered bone.

You are not afraid of the dark, formless tendrils of resentful energy that caress Wei Wuxian’s form in a fashion uncomfortably reminiscent of a lover as shrill, frenzied notes slice through the air to set an unholy melody to the horrors you commit side by side.

Your shixiong’s blatant sacrilege of those freshly killed in battle and those buried in ancestral cemeteries alike are not something you consider an issue; the Wen-dogs do not deserve the peace of undisturbed rest for their countless crimes, whether they died screaming yesterday or in comfort a hundred years ago.

(If you ever think you see a split-second snatch of out of place colour amongst the risen dead, a shade or two that does not blend in with the sea of bloody crimson against sullied white, then-

Then it is only your imagination.)


You had faithfully kept Suibian strapped at your left hip all the while Wei Wuxian was missing, had oiled and polished her alongside your own Sandu, telling yourself day in and day out that soon enough she would be reunited with her master, and that once she was she would need to be in prime condition for the war ahead of him.

“See how well I took care of Suibian for you, Wei Wuxian? Look! She is in even better condition than my Sandu!”

Your shixiong had taken her in hand with a murmured word of thanks and an off-beat smile that did not reach his eyes, and you have not seen him draw her since. He seems to prefer his unorthodox new way of fighting so much that he no longer has need of his once-beloved sword.

It is overwhelmingly effective in battle, renders him capable of putting down Wen-dogs left and right and then turning them to your side, so who are you to complain?

(You used to gloat about your skill with a blade so often it would have me contemplating cutting your tongue out of your mouth just to shut you up. Why won’t you wield Suibian anymore, even just to spar with me? I’ll forgive you if you throw a match and let me win, just this once. I won’t even let my temper get the better of me if you beat me!

Don’t you miss the weight of a sword in your hand, Wei Wuxian? Don’t you miss our duels?)

There are rumours circling the camp suggesting that Wei Wuxian does not draw Suibian out of sheer arrogance and a desire to flaunt his perceived superiority, rumours that leave something cold and ugly squirming in your gut like a tangled mass of worms, but-

But you don’t believe them. You know there is something else, though what it is you couldn’t hope to guess.

Wei Wuxian will not tell you, and you no longer ask.

Unsurprisingly, Lan Wangji is first among those who do not approve of the path your shixiong now cultivates with, but neither of you have any wish to listen to his unasked for and frankly unwelcome input.

You are sick and tired of telling Hanguang-Jun to keep out of matters he has no say in, to concern himself with the people of his own sect and leave the way you run yours alone. Whatever comradery you might have felt for him before you found Wei Wuxian, whatever scraps of gratitude and perhaps even warmth, have all but vanished as a result of him shoving his prim nose where it does not belong. The stubborn bastard does not know when to give up, and you have even heard word that Zewu-Jun may soon move to join you on the Jiangling front in order to mediate his bullheaded brother’s heated disputes with your shixiong if things do not begin to cool down between them.

You do not dare give Lan Wangji the satisfaction of knowing that in secret you share his fears, and anyway, Wei Wuxian has promised you:

He knows what he’s doing. He can handle it.

When has your shixiong ever given you cause for doubt when it counted?


You convince yourself that the times you catch Wei Wuxian staring vacantly into space with eyes glazed over and mouth slack, so out of it he might as well be on another planet, are not cause for concern. After all, hasn’t he always been one to get lost in his imagination?

If this is his way of retreating from the harsh burdens you have come to an unspoken agreement to keep to yourselves, then so be it.

And hasn't he always been distractible, attention flitting from one point of interest to another just like a butterfly between wildflowers? It is not as though Wei Wuxian tuning out when has lost interest in a topic of conversation or grown bored of whatever activity he is supposed to be participating in is anything new.

He is often broody and temperamental and cutting with his words in a way he has never been before, so much so that it takes you aback, leaves you struggling not to bristle at his behaviour and snap at him in turn… but everyone else fighting in this miserable fucking war has been much the same, you included.

You are all hungry, you are all exhausted, no one has any space to themselves, and everyone has seen people they loved cut down before their eyes without a single shred of mercy.

Of course everyone is on edge. Of course egos have grown brittle. Of course tempers have developed short fuses.

It would be far more concerning if Wei Wuxian were not affected, wouldn’t it?


If Wei Wuxian ever steps hurriedly back to avoid your hand when you reach for his shoulder, if he ever flinches when you aim your elbow to jab him lightly in the ribs, eyes wide and panicky for just a moment before he catches himself and covers his slip-up with a limp lie and a limper laugh, then maybe it is your fault for not warning him first.

It is not as though you are always as receptive to his casual touches as you once were either, before-

Before a smirking, pink-faced Wen Chao permitted his whore mistress to run filthy jewel-riddled hands along your arms to grasp unresponsive hands in a display of mock gentleness, allowed her to press her small body close against your front as her warm breath tickled your skin while she cooed sickly sweet horrors into your ear, let her order his core-melting pet to trap you in an iron grip you no longer had the strength or means to fight off as she-

As she-

There are days where someone so much as accidentally jostling the fabric of your robes as they brush by you is enough to freeze you in place and cause your breath to accelerate sharply, that the friendly hand of an ally clapping you on the back makes you want to throw up.

You will not begrudge Wei Wuxian if there are days that it is the same for him.


Wei Wuxian has always been prone to wandering and tinkering with things and landing himself in mischief, always been fond of drink and flirting and creating strange and whimsical inventions, and he has always been a night owl where you were an early bird.

It is not especially odd then, that there are nights you wake up alone in the tent you share no matter how strange the hour is.

Nobody has to know that the sight of your shixiong’s empty bedroll sends you careening into a panic as memories of the three months you’d lived having no idea where he’d disappeared to or what might be happening to him flood your pounding head, as the terrible, unspeakable blanks are filled by your mind unbidden and become fears made uncomfortably raw in the oppressive fog between slumber and wakefulness.

Nobody has to know that simply being aware of Wei Wuxian laying beside you, that keeping his silhouette in your sights and focussing on the sound of his familiar breathing, helps you gradually slip into light, troubled sleep.

(Nobody has to know that you wake up more often than not with the taste of ash and death and other things you have no wish to dwell on cloying on the flat of your tongue, leaving you gagging and fighting for breath as your lungs burn.

Nobody but Wei Wuxian.)


If Wei Wuxian is not off on one of his midnight jaunts when you wake from night terrors then he is usually sitting up by the time you have gathered your bearings enough to process your surroundings, watching you with concern writ clear in bruised, red-rimmed eyes, concern and something else, something angry, something dark...

Something that leaves you wondering how many of your ghosts had clambered out of your mouth unimpeded to reach your shixiong’s sharp ears as you dreamt.

(Surely you imagine the faint snarl tugging at his lips, revealing a hint of white teeth you know full well are not sharp and pointed; the unnerving luminous red in eyes whose pupils have morphed from circular to reptilian slits; the formless wisps curling around him, so dark against the black of night that he looks as though he is surrounded by a patch of writhing negative space, all combining to make him look like he were a sinister being that had dragged itself up from the depths of the underworld.

It is only an hallucination, a trick of the dim light. Something left over from your nightmares.

Blinking your eyes hard and shaking your head against the awful vision, against the inhuman stranger dwelling inside your shixiong’s body, is always enough to make it vanish.

See, Jiang Cheng? Just your imagination.)

Wei Wuxian always seems to know when it is safe for him to come closer, to smooth a cool palm over your clammy forehead and push sweat-dampened hair out of your eyes or take one of your shaking hands in his, always knows when he is welcome to crawl beneath your blankets, to press a too-thin body close and tangle your limbs together without you having to swallow your pride and admit out loud what you so desperately need from him.

Wei Wuxian runs cold now where he used to run hot, and his face is ghostly pale where high points of colour used to brighten his tanned cheeks. You have mentioned it only once, asking if he had been feeling unwell, and the answer you got was evasive.

Now, you merely pull him as close as you can and let him hog your blankets after grumbling a few token complaints the nights he chooses to curl up with you.

Some nights you lay awake as you cling to one another, silent in the dark until restless sleep eventually claims one or both of you. Others, dry, cracked lips will seek yours out and a clever tongue will coax your mouth open as deft, calloused hands slide beneath your sleeping robes to trace familiar paths across now scarred skin.

Often you find you cannot bear the intimacy which had once come so easily between the two of you- though not for lack of wanting it- and Wei Wuxian will back off without a word the second he realises you are not... comfortable.

(You can never bring yourself to ask him for space because you are a stubborn fool and because you are afraid Wei Wuxian will get the wrong idea. That he will think you are rejecting him.

It is both a blessing and a curse that Wei Wuxian knows you so well, well enough that he does not need to be told in order to understand.)

Sometimes you will let Wei Wuxian hold you as tears roll down your cheeks and soak into your pillow, and even though it must be obvious in the way your body tenses in his arms he never lets on that he knows, which is okay- good even, because you do not want attention drawn to it. More often though, he will retreat back to his own bedroll in silence or leave the tent entirely with nary a word as to where he might be going, and that hurts like an infected wound despite the fact that you cannot bear to have him close-

Yet it is only when he does leave that you can allow yourself to bury your face in your hard, lumpy pillow and heave muffled sobs into it until your tear ducts have long since dried up and the metallic tang of blood sits thick at the back of your throat.

It is only when he is gone that out of the sheer exhaustion which comes only after a long, hard cry, you can eventually drift into mercifully dreamless sleep.


Though they are rare now, thanks to-

Though they are much rarer than they had been once, there are still nights that you need Wei Wuxian’s touch in much the same manner as you need air filling your lungs and blood flowing through your veins.

You like to think that he needs you too, hope with all your aching heart that he does.

On such nights Wei Wuxian, incapable of keeping his mouth shut as he ever was, will keep a stream of quiet praise directed at you as he takes you apart so thoroughly it borders on torture, praise you tell both yourself and him that you hate even as you valiantly try to keep from preening at it, praise you have never been able to truly believe, least of all now, after-

After everything.

He will drag his lips almost reverently over the ugly twisted scar on your chest and all the way down to the sensitive skin of your belly, chuckling softly at the way your abdominal muscles twitch in response; he will take his time nuzzling along the shiny thin line left on your abdomen, kissing directly over where your returned core pulses bright and strong in your lower dantian, gentle with you in a way he had never been before.

His blown eyes will be dewy and strangely desperate as they flick up to catch how you react, and his voice will grow as fragile as you have ever heard it.

Fragility does not suit Wei Wuxian, and anxiety will gnaw at you in the brief lapse of time between his disquieting display of vulnerability and the moment he wraps a firm, spit-slicked hand around you or takes you inside his unfairly talented mouth. You know it is a tactical distraction on his part, but it feels so damn good that you can’t stay indignant over it; his ruse is always successful, and your mind promptly empties of anything that is not hazy, ever–heightening pleasure, and that is fine, because you do not want to think.

With the way Wei Wuxian touches you, the way he uses his mouth to kiss and suck and bite, the way he opens you up infuriatingly slowly with long fingers and fucks into you like he doesn’t want it to hurt-

With the way he leaves you vulnerable and trembling beneath him and stares at the shattered-open mess he has made of you as though he has never seen anything more lovely-

With the way he breathes out your name and the things he murmurs into the shell of your ear, tone achingly sweet despite the possessive note in it, maintained even when his praise turns from relatively innocent to utterly filthy, bordering on humiliating, it is easy to believe that-

That Wei Wuxian loves you just as much as you love him.

(Though you never dare say them aloud, within your head the words repeat like a mantra: Don’t leave me, Wei Ying, don’t disappear and leave me alone again.

Instead you dig your nails hard enough into lean flesh that you later find them caked with blood, trap his narrow hips against the cradle of your thighs with ankles crossed tight over his tailbone, return open-mouthed kisses with embarrassing urgency, and hope he understands that you are asking- begging- for him to stay in the only way you know how.)


Sometimes, in the small hours of night when it is as quiet as a war camp ever gets, you and your shixiong talk softly about your a-jie, who has been staying with your a-niang’s birth sect in Meishan but is soon to head for the Langya front headed by the Lanling Jin, travelling with supplies and reinforcements.

You hold out hope of journeying to meet her there sooner rather than later.

Neither you nor Wei Wuxian want her anywhere near the war, but contrary to what most people seem to believe Jiang Yanli is frightfully stubborn. She is not one to sit idly by forever while the people she loves are out on the front lines putting their lives at risk, though you wish she were, if only because she would be far safer that way. No matter if she is not going to fight herself, no matter if she is to help in the kitchens and aid physicians with the wounded; your a-jie will still be living in a war camp, and danger could find her much too easily if the tide of battle should turn.

(If that damned peacock does not keep your dear a-jie safe you will kill him yourself, clan alliances be damned.)

But even with the risk it brings, the thought of seeing your a-jie again, of hearing her soft voice and being enveloped in her warm hugs and downing the best lotus seed and pork rib soup in the whole of fucking China, the thought of the three of you together, she and you and Wei Wuxian, after all that has happened and all you have lost…

You would not dream of ordering her to stay in Meishan. She would have none of it even if you did, and never mind that you are her clan leader now.

(“We are the closest three in the world.”)


Wei Wuxian does not eat enough.

He is the same moron he has always been, too self-sacrificing for his own good, so he palms half or more of his already meagre rations off to other soldiers more often than not.

You try to give him a portion of your own meals, sometimes even when he does decide to eat all of his own- you will even offer him a chunk of meat or two, on the days you are fortunate enough to get it, something that once would have happened only when Hell froze over- but he always refuses with a smile that sits oddly on his face and a strange laugh, the tone of which is decidedly off.

“Now now, A-Cheng~ what kind of shixiong would I be if I took away my dear growing shidi’s valuable source of sustenance, ah?”

Oh, I don’t know- not possibly the same shixiong you have been nearly day in and day out for years, Wei Wuxian.

You do not dare speak the sarcastic thought, for to do so would be to acknowledge a part of what you have been actively working to ignore and only succeed in poking an irreparable hole in the frail, carefully fashioned cocoon you have woven around yourself, letting unrecoverable innards slowly but surely leak out.

(Here is another reason you hope to join the Langya front soon, one that Wei Wuxian is not aware of: your a-jie will make sure her shidi eats. Wei Wuxian would never refuse his shijie or her cooking.

To think otherwise would be inconceivable.)

It is not uncommon for Wei Wuxian to disappear after mealtimes.

You don’t follow him, nor do you ask him where he goes, though you sometimes reluctantly begin questioning your allies over whether anyone had seen him when you think it has been too long and has still not come back, trying to play it off as casual and doing your damnedest to shove down that ominous voice in your head telling you he’s gone again, that he’s caught or left or de-

No one ever says they have, and you pretend you do not notice the sidelong glances some of them give one another (Has little Jiang zongzhu lost track of the whereabouts of his unruly right hand again?).

Occasionally you will run into Lan Wangji during your searches. Much to your hidden gratitude, he is the only one who takes you seriously and joins you in attempting to locate your wayward shixiong.

Even so, the results are always the same despite having a second pair of eyes. As far back as you can remember, when Wei Wuxian did not want to be found nobody would see hide nor hair of him until he decided to give up his game and show himself.

(You resolutely lock away the disturbing, almost hungry expression that sometimes steals across Wei Wuxian’s gaunt face as he stares down at yet another mutilated, lifeless corpse laying dull-eyed in the stinking mud beneath your feet, let it gather dust in the same remote corner of your mind as the memories of those seemingly infinite days you were a prisoner in your own home, violated, petrified and delirious.

As such, it never occurs to you that it might have something to do with his evening ventures.)


Wei Wuxian is with you, where he belongs. He is by your side as he should be, and he is-

He is safe.

Together, you are taking the vengeance you each deserve for what was done to you and those you loved.

For your a-niang, the fierce Violet Spider, and your a-die, who should still be occupying the position that is now yours. For your sect’s loyal disciples, many of whom you had grown up beside, and for its wise elders who had helped raise you. For the servants who had put up with the hijinks of a rambunctious head disciple and the shidi he never failed to rope into his misadventures-

The clan heir, now head of a Yunmeng Jiang that is still a sect only because he wills it to be so.

(To know clearly what cannot be done, and then do it anyway; perhaps you will make your a-die proud yet.)

Things are fine. You are fine. Wei Wuxian is fine, because he always is.

Your shixiong is fine, because he says so and you trust him.

If his smile is dimmer than it once was and his steps heavier, if his eyes have grown dull and his humour cruel and bleak, well-

It is no different with you, is it?


“If the Gusu Lan have their Shuangbi, then let our Yunmeng Jiang have their Shuangjie!”