- A wine-shop
Sizhui dragged Jingyi and Jin Ling behind him as they hurried through the village, overcrowded thanks to a festival. The high number of people had attracted a high number of hungry fierce corpses, which in turn had attracted a high number of cultivators of various sects.
“We have to hurry,” Sizhui said.
“Just let them fight,” Jin Ling whined. “Those jars of wine won’t be there when we get back, and we already paid for them!”
“Oh, what do you care about money?” Jingyi snapped. “And those jars won’t be there now .”
“If they fight,” Sizhui said through clenched teeth, “and someone dies, the YunmengJiang sect will declare war on GusuLan sect. And so will LanlingJin, I assume!”
“Wait,” said Jin Ling, “why do you assume Wei Wuxian would win?”
“Of course he’ll win,” Jingyi scoffed. “Who was ranked fourth and who was ranked fifth?”
“That was a long time ago,” Jin Ling said, “and my uncle is a sect leader.”
“They’re both your uncle, dumbass,” Jingyi said.
“Besides, even if Sect Leader Jiang could somehow kill Elder Wei, Hanguang-Jun will kill him, so—”
“Shut up!” Sizhui snapped. They had finally reached the door of the wine-shop they had seen Sandu ShengShou go into. The wine-shop where they knew Wei Wuxian was drinking alone.
Hands on their swords, they hurried inside.
Instead of the chaos they were expecting, with overturned furniture and cowering patrons, it looked…exactly like a wine-shop.
Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng were facing each other across the wine shop, but both were sitting down, not looking at each other in a painfully awkward way.
“Oh look, it’s the juniors!” Wei Wuxian shouted, too loud with clear relief. “Children!” he waved at them, as if they could have missed him.
“Jin Ling!” Jiang Cheng’s voice had come out like a whip-crack as soon as the disciples took one step towards Wei Wuxian. The three juniors all exchanged a look, and then Jin Ling reluctantly made his way to his uncle.
“Why are you shouting at me?” he complained. “I haven’t done anything!”
“Why are you running around wine shops with…those… instead of preparing for the night-hunt?”
The Lan disciples hurried to take their place on either side of Wei Wuxian. “Why don’t you have something to drink,” he said, suddenly putting two more cups on the table as if by magic. “It’s hot outside!”
He poured them wine and they all raised their glasses to toast. “To all the enormous success I’m sure you’ll have during the night-hunt!”
Jin Ling looked longingly at his friends drinking the toast, since he hadn’t been offered any wine by his uncle. “Maybe I’ll just join—”
“Please join us, Jin Ling!” Wei Wuxian called. He held out another cup.
Jin Ling halfway stood up before he was pulled back down by Jiang Cheng grabbing the neck of his robes.
“You shouldn’t force your company on others,” Jiang Cheng said loudly, through gritted teeth and without looking at Jin Ling.
Wei Wuxian leaned in a provocative way across the table. “Oh, I don’t know,” he said, as if to no one. “Sometimes it works out.”
“Jin Ling,” Jiang Cheng snapped. “I’ve decided that you should take Fairy on this night-hunt.”
Wei Wuxian went pale as snow and straightened up in a snap.
“I don’t need to take Fairy on an easy hunt such as this,” Jin Ling said, with a shifty look over at Sizhui and Jingyi.
“Easy? You are too overconfident! You think this is so easy? Maybe I should send you out without Fairy and without your sword!”
“Jiang Cheng!” Wei Wuxian protested. “You can’t send him out without his sword! Not unless you want him to learn—”
His mouth abruptly closed, and he looked away. Sizhui’s pounding heart eased a little.
“Learn what?” Jin Ling cast an alarmed look at his uncle’s voice.
“Let’s go back to our inn,” Sizhui tugged at Wei Wuxian’s arm. Wei Wuxian smiled at him, put some of what was definitely Hanguang-Jun’s money on the table, and bowed to take his leave.
It was a very sarcastic bow, but Jiang Cheng seemed to be too busy clenching his jaw to notice.
“You don’t need to come back with me,” Wei Wuxian said to Sizhui and Jingyi. “I wouldn’t want to take you away from your friends.”
Jiang Cheng shot such an angry look at them that Sizhui hurried them all out. In the doorway he looked back at Jin Ling. Jin Ling shot him a half-pained, half-exasperated look, and rolled his eyes.
He’d find them tonight, one way or the other, so Sizhui quickly left. Wei Wuxian was already talking nonsense to Jingyi, but there was a faint frown on his face. Sizhui couldn’t imagine ever falling out with Jingyi— but then, he supposed, Wei Wuxian had never imagined falling out with Jiang Cheng, either.
- Discussion conference: The Cloud Recesses
“Well of course everyone has to come to GusuLan discussion conferences,” the cultivator from the Yao clan below him was saying. “No one wanted to offend such a powerful clan anyway, and now everyone’s afraid they’ll set the Yiling Patriarch after them!”
Lan Wangji considered, for a few moments, what would happen if he jumped down from the roof to land in front of the group, mostly rogue cultivators, who were nodding along. Too much noise, he decided, but he memorized their faces.
It used to be that any mention of the Yiling Patriarch caused a complex but always overwhelming wash of feelings in him. Now, he mostly felt a sort of warm, amused glow in his chest.
There was a soft scrabble from the wall behind him, and Lan Wangji adjusted his stance, preparing. A few moments later, a person jumped to the top of the wall, and Lan Wangji shot his hand out and grabbed the collar of the smaller person.
He let go once the flailing started. It was satisfying on some level, the way Lan Jingyi looked more afraid after he saw who had grabbed him. “H-Hanguang-Jun!” he tried to bow, but his arms were full of wine. “This— I have a pass!”
Lan Wangji had a very good idea of who this “pass” was from, and sure enough once Jingyi passed him the reused talisman, Lan Wangji recognized the handwriting immediately, even if the word “Pass!” and a smiling rabbit hadn’t been clue enough.
“Ridiculous,” he said, and put the pass in his sleeve.
“Sooo…” Jingyi said, “I’ll just… take these?”
“I will take them,” Lan Wangji said.
Jingyi’s face collapsed. He had obviously been hoping to keep a jar or two for himself. “It is almost past curfew,” Lan Wangji reminded Jingyi.
“Yes, Hanguang-Jun! Thank you, Hanguang-Jun!” He performed a deep bow that almost had him falling off the roof, then hopped down and walked as fast as he dared to the juniors quarters.
Lan Wangji collected up the jars of wine and jumped down to walk to the Jingshi. He held up the jars as he came inside.
“Lan Zhan! How kind of you!” Wei Wuxian rushed to take them from him with a kiss for each jar. “Just what I needed to survive this discussion conference!”
“Also…” he held the pass out.
Wei Wuxian laughed, and when he tried to snatch it back Lan Wangji held it out of his reach and put it back in his sleeve. “There are no passes,” he said.
“I’m trying to teach Jingyi to be sneakier!”
“Well, he got caught this time.” Wei Wuxian looked up at Lan Wangji with a pout. “Did you punish him very much, Lan Er-gege?”
“No,” he said, and was rewarded with Wei Wuxian’s honest surprise. “He had a pass.”
Wei Wuxian laughed and laughed.
“I like hosting conferences better than attending them,” Wei Wuxian announced the next day, as he was piling books into Sizhui’s arms. “So much more chaos on this side!”
“Yes, Senior Wei,” Sizhui sighed, then took off at a speed that would have got him in trouble on an ordinary day.
“Zizhen!” Wei Wuxian called cheerfully. “Inkwells!”
“Oh no,” Zizhen whispered, but stepped up to let his arms be piled with stacks of tiny cups. He followed Sizhui at a much more appropriate pace, obviously afraid of dropping them.
“You already sent him off with tea pots,” Jin Ling said.
“Jin Ling!” Wei Wuxian called cheerfully instead.
“Hey, no! I’m not a Lan disciple! Or a guest disciple!”
“Then what are you doing, besides standing around distracting people from working?”
Jin Ling opened his mouth but nothing came out.
“Take these ink stones! Come on!” Wei Wuxian shoved a box into Jin Ling’s arms. “Go!”
Jin Ling looked around for help but the only other one left was Lan Wangji, so Jin Ling gulped and left the storeroom with the box.
“It’s good for him,” Wei Wuxian said decisively. Lan Wangji agreed.
When they left the storeroom and Lan Wangji had shut it up again, Wei Wuxian linked their arms as they walked slowly towards the main halls. “Did you see that tea pot Nie Huaisang brought? He knows that we know. And he knows that we know that he knows that we know.”
“Do not start,” Lan Wangji said. Wei Wuxian laughed and bumped into him on purpose.
Everything went very well for about five more minutes, and then Jiang Cheng found them.
Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian were in the hall, supervising the juniors— including Jin Ling— laying out the tables for the cultivators.
“Jin Ling!” Jiang Cheng snapped, and then he zeroed in on Wei Wuxian and marched towards him.
Lan Wangji immediately moved to intercept. Jiang Cheng was a ball of tension as they locked eyes.
It was always strange now, because they had worked together extensively during the Sun Shot campaign, fighting side-by-side often. But what they had in common began and ended at Wei Wuxian, and they were always on opposite sides around him. Lan Wangji had never lost that burning drive to protect and save him, whereas Jiang Cheng had. Both of them found this unforgivable, so they had done their best to avoid each other after Wei Wuxian’s death, but now that he was back, they kept running into each other.
“Why is Jin Ling helping your sect’s juniors?”
“Jin Ling!” Wei Wuxian called. “Why are you helping the GusuLan sect juniors?”
“You forced me to!”
“He was standing around, getting underfoot,” Wei Wuxian said, coming to stand next to Lan Wangji.
“He is a future sect leader, and he needs to be properly involved in the discussion conference.”
“We’re teaching him how to set one up!” Wei Wuxian said. “And perhaps a little intersect cooperation would go a long way toward making sure no more clan wars take place.”
Jiang Cheng ignored this. “Jin Ling! You were not excused from the meeting!”
“Oh, he was,” Wei Wuxian said, and elbowed Lan Wangji. Lan Wangji reached into his sleeve and passed the slip of paper to Wei Wuxian, who promptly presented it to Jiang Cheng.
“What is this? ‘Pass’? Since when does GusuLan give passes?”
“Just because you couldn’t get one, doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. Right, Hanguang-Jun?”
“Mn,” he said.
“You wrote this!” Jiang Cheng waved the pass around.
“Of course I did,” Wei Wuxian said, in a polite tone. “Who else would, if Hanguang-Jun was busy?”
“This is stupid.” Jiang Cheng said. He wadded up the pass and threw it to the ground.
“Littering is not permitted in the Cloud Recesses,” Lan Wangji said. Wei Wuxian bounced next to him to express his glee.
“Now you’re embarrassing me, uncle,” Jin Ling said. He walked over and scooped up the paper. “You’ve ruined my pass.”
“Your— go outside! Wait for me there! Stop running away!”
Jin Ling rolled his eyes. “Fine. I was done, anyway. I’ll go to the stupid meeting.”
“WAIT outside!” Jiang Cheng shouted over his shoulder.
“Shouting is not permitted in the Cloud Recesses.”
Jiang Cheng turned a color that nearly matched his robes.
“Jiang Cheng,” Wei Wuxian said, in such a modest, quiet voice he did not sound like himself at all, “we all agreed to follow the rules here, didn’t we?”
Jiang Cheng took a deep breath. Then another. “I will leave first,” he said, just barely, through his clenched teeth. He turned— and then turned back.
“He’s not yours,” he said, staring at Wei Wuxian.
Lan Wangji found his hand resting on the hilt of Bichen. Wei Wuxian, though, actually untensed his shoulders and he held in a sigh. “I know,” he said quietly. “I know. You raised him. You were by yourself. And he was all you had.”
Jiang Cheng clenched his hands so tightly Lan Wangji kept his eyes locked on Zidian, waiting for a spark.
“But Jiang Cheng… he didn’t have any friends, before Sizhui and Jingyi… it’s okay for him to just be a kid.”
“Just stay away from me, Wei Wuxian,” Jiang Cheng said. “Don’t speak to me.”
The hall was exceptionally quiet as Jiang Cheng walked out. No one else breathed until the door shut behind him.
Not much later, Lan Wangji found Wei Wuxian in the Jingshi, halfway through his second bottle of wine. Wei Wuxian let out a pathetic sound when he saw him, and Lan Wangji hurried to sit next to him. Wei Wuxian crawled into his lap and pressed his face into Lan Wangji’s neck.
“It’s my fault,” he mumbled. “I made him this way.”
Lan Wangji stroked down his husband’s back. “He is worse without you,” he agreed. “But Jiang Wanyin chose his path.”
“As I did mine?”
“As we all do.” After a moment he added “Not everything is your fault, Wei Ying.”
Wei Wuxian huffed and snuggled closer. “Do we have to go to the meeting this afternoon?”
“No. We will stay here.”
- Koi Tower, Lanling
“What are you doing here?”
The voice was hard and unforgiving, but that was not why it sent it sent chills down Wei Wuxian’s spine.
“I thought you’d be in Yunmeng,” he said frankly, without turning around.
“I am here for Jin Ling,” Jiang Cheng said. Wei Wuxian listened to him take a few steps closer. “What are you doing here?”
“I didn’t think I could go to Lotus Pier,” he said. Wei Wuxian lit another incense stick off the old one. The smoke stung his eyes and he closed them as he bowed, incense in his folded hands.
“But you thought you could come here?” Jiang Cheng was almost next to him now.
Wei Wuxian shrugged. “I had to come somewhere. I wanted— I haven’t been able to do this, before. And I didn’t see a plaque for her at Lotus Pier.”
“Of course there’s one,” Jiang Cheng said. “I believe you were too busy molesting Hanguang-Jun to notice it.”
“We were getting married,” Wei Wuxian said, with dignity.
“Married,” Jiang Cheng scoffed.
Wei Wuxian looked at the plaque, with the unfamiliar Jin at the top of it. It was overloaded with gold flowers and swirls. His lip must have curled, or he made some other face.
“It looks stupid with the Jin,” Jiang Cheng said. Wei Wuxian wasn’t sure if he was agreeing or they’d just had the same thought, the way they used to.
“It does,” Wei Wuxian agreed. He snuck a glance at Jiang Cheng, who was actually standing next to him. They both stared at the plaque, eyes focused there and nowhere else. “She was happy here, though, wasn’t she?”
Jiang Cheng hesitated. “I— yes. Yes, she was.” He was silent for a moment. “I wasn’t here much, to see for myself.”
Wei Wuxian stared hard at the characters on the plaque, which were engraved and gilded, and he did not say any of the things she would not have wanted him to say.
Jiang Cheng cleared his throat. “There will be a ceremony in an hour,” he said. “You shouldn’t be here.”
Wei Wuxian nodded, because it was only the truth. He carefully placed the incense sticks in the brazier, making sure they stood straight before letting go. He reached out and just barely brushed his fingers over the characters. Jin Jiang Yanli.
- In the Kitchen
It wasn’t exactly hard to find Jin Ling. He’d run off a couple days ago; Jiang Cheng easily followed him to a small city where many sects had rest houses. Once he found Fairy waiting in the courtyard of the LanlingJin sect house, he headed straight for the GusuLan sect house. As soon as he let himself in the door, he heard Jin Ling shouting.
“No, you’re a monster! Sizhui, take it away from him!”
“No, no, you’re all overreacting! It will be fine! It won’t be too much!”
Wei Wuxian. Jiang Cheng breathed the name through his teeth, and strode to the back of the house where all the shouting was coming from.
“No one believes you!”
“You’re going to copy Righteousness twice when we get back!”
“Since when do you punish us?!”
“He’ll just tell Hanguang-jun…”
“That’s bad enough!”
“Sizhui! My hero!”
“Go, Sizhui, go!”
Jiang Cheng finally stepped through the doorway and found a scene that had to contain the most chaos anything belonging to the Cloud Recesses had ever witnessed.
It was the kitchen of the rest house. Lan Sizhui, whom Jiang Cheng recognized well as one of Jin Ling’s friends and also the head disciple of the Lan sect, who was constantly dragged around by Wei Wuxian and Hanguang-jun, had climbed to the top of a tall cabinet with a bag clenched in his teeth. A pot of something was boiling on the stove, several smaller bowls and jars had been overturned, and rice was spilled across the counter. Wei Wuxian was reaching up, trying to grab his disciple’s ankle, while the other Lan disciple Jin Ling was friends with, the mouthy one, tried to hold him back along with Jin Ling himself. They were all grinning and almost falling over with laughter.
“A-Yuan,” Wei Wuxian was wheedling, “be a good boy and—”
Lan Sizhui’s eyes met Jiang Cheng’s across the room, and he dropped the bag in his teeth.
They all turned around to look, eyes wide and faces pale. The other Lan junior immediately looked relieved, but Jin Ling at least looked considerably more worried.
“Oh no,” Wei Wuxian said, saying the quiet part out loud as usual.
“What,” Jiang Cheng said, biting off every word. “The hell. Is going on in here?”
“Cooking?” the other Lan disciple said, then immediately ducked behind Wei Wuxian.
“Cooking!” Wei Wuxian repeated, with his usual thick-headed optimism. “As you…can see.”
Jiang Cheng looked at the pot boiling over on the stove and the bag Lan Sizhui had taken away from Wei Wuxian. “I… understand,” he said, somewhat to his own surprise.
Not just his own. Everyone blinked.
Jiang Cheng walked over to the cabinet and held out a hand. “Give me the peppers,” he said. Lan Sizhui obediently dropped the bag in his open hand. Jiang Cheng threw it at Wei Wuxian’s face. “Stop trying to poison people.”
“Slander,” muttered Wei Wuxian, but he put the bag in his sleeve.
“It’s not slander if it’s true,” Jin Ling muttered. “Uh, hello uncle.”
“Finally remembered who I am, have you?”
“Sect Leader Jiang,” Wei Wuxian said carefully. They all saluted him— or as much as they could, with one of them squeezed on top of a cabinet.
The other Lan disciple— what was his name?— put a hand over his heart and leaned over to say to Jin Ling, “I thought it was going to be Hanguang-jun, I lost three years off my life…”
So, Jiang Cheng wasn’t as scary as Hanguang-jun, and he definitely wasn’t as fun as Wei Wuxian. He wasn’t sure he’d ever seen Jin Ling laughing like that, and the thought was like a knife in his chest.
He didn’t look at any of them, but walked over to take the pot off the stove. “He’s ruined it anyways,” he said, relieved his voice was calm. “Even without peppers.”
“You eat spicy food, Jiang Cheng,” Wei Wuxian said, carefully. He followed behind Jiang Cheng, but didn’t come too close. Not within arms reach. “So there’s no need to pretend you don’t like it like that.”
“I don’t like it,” he snapped, a reflexive, defensive parry. “You just do too much!”
He didn’t look at anyone, but it was a very quiet few seconds around him. So of course Jin Ling opened his mouth. “Uncle-“
“I can’t help it,” Wei Wuxian talked over him, in a quiet voice. “I don’t mean to, but...I can’t stop, once I get started.”
For some reason, Jiang Cheng remembered Wei Ying begging to come back in their room, shortly after he’d come to Lotus Pier.
“I just like my tongue to be left at the end of the dish,” Jiang Cheng muttered. “It’s not like I don’t like some spice.”
He made the mistake of looking at Wei Wuxian. Wei Wuxian was staring at him, eyes wide. Different eyes, and it was still a little unsettling to see Wei Wuxian’s expressions on a different face. He looked away, not wanting to see the cautious hope there.
“Jiang Cheng, you can’t say anything because Jin Ling can’t even cook rice, what have you been teaching him?”
“Hey! I can cook rice!”
“You’d burn down the kitchen,” Jiang Cheng snapped. “Anyway, Wei Wuxian, you’ve always been a terrible cook.”
“I have not! Sizhui, defend me!”
“Wen Ning’s a better cook than you and he can’t even eat.” Sizhui’s words were a bit muffled, since he was still climbing down from the cabinet.
Wei Wuxian wailed. “What kind of son are you?”
“I’m so sorry, Senior Wei,” Sizhui said, straightening himself up. “But lying is forbidden in the Cloud Recesses.”
The other juniors burst into laughter, and Wei Wuxian was struggling to keep a straight face.
“You’re both going to have to copy Righteousness three times when we get back!”
“No way!” the other Lan disciple said. “My hand still hurts from the last time! I can’t take any more.”
Wei Wuxian stroked an imaginary beard. “It is forbidden to complain about how many rules there are in the Cloud Recesses,” he said. His impression of Lan QiRen was so good Jiang Cheng almost joined in the laughter.
“I can’t believe your hand hasn’t already fallen off,” Jin Ling said. “Considering you always copy it wrong the first time.”
The juniors immediately began to bicker, and it was almost as if Jiang Cheng was alone with Wei Wuxian.
The frantic energy that had been bouncing around the room left them, and, despite the juniors bickering and laughing, it felt quiet between them.
There were many things Jiang Cheng wanted to ask Wei Wuxian, but he didn’t think any of them would be appropriate.
“You’re not too mad,” Wei Wuxian said.
“He does need friends,” Jiang Cheng said. “And he doesn’t have any in Lanling.” Then he couldn’t contain it any longer. “Why did you say Lan Sizhui is your son?”
It was strange, to not know something so big about your own— about Wei Wuxian. To not know there was a child he considered his. Jiang Cheng understood how that felt, and he hadn’t had any idea that Wei Wuxian knew how that felt, too.
Wei Wuxian carefully began sweeping up the rice that had spilled. He did not look at Jiang Cheng. “He’s Hanguang-Jun’s adopted son, didn’t you know?”
Jiang Cheng narrowed his eyes. Something was wrong. He pushed Wei Wuxian’s arm to get his attention, and Wei Wuxian looked him in the eyes. “What?”
“Where did he come from?”
Wei Wuxian was silent, then swallowed. “I don’t trust you,” he said.
Jiang Cheng should not have been surprised, let alone shocked, but he was. The words felt like an arrow in his chest, running him through and leaving a hollow behind. Jiang Cheng had hurled plenty of accusations at Wei Wuxian, but he hadn’t been prepared to hear that in return.
He had no response, either; even in the initial flair of hurt, and anger at the hurt, he recognized it was fair. Wei Wuxian may have broken his promises to Jiang Cheng, but Jiang Cheng had broken promises as well.
“I should go,” he said.
Wei Wuxian gave a faint smile. “That’s probably best,” he agreed. “Hanguang-Jun is still angry with you from the discussion conference, and if you’re here when he gets back, I don’t know if I can stop him beating you up.”
He wanted to say, “Would you even try to stop him?” but he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear the answer.
“Fine,” Jiang Cheng said. “Jin Ling!”
It was impossible to miss the way Jin Ling’s face fell. Another bitter arrow. “You can stay here and clean up,” Jiang Cheng said. “I’ll wait back with— back at the LanlingJin sect house.”
“Whatever,” Jin Ling said, but he brightened up all the same.
Jiang Cheng left the GusuLan sect house, breathing in the fresh air in large gulps. He didn’t linger.
- Night-hunt I
Jiang Cheng was so annoying . He’d suddenly started asking Jin Ling too many questions— how often did he go night-hunting with the Lan juniors, what were their names, where did they go and what did they do?
“Since when do you care?” he’d asked, and Jiang Cheng had just threatened him.
It was troublesome. Especially because Jin Ling didn’t want to hang out at Koi Tower alone (or, worse, with Jin Chan and his group), but he didn’t want to go to Lotus Pier and be pestered to death, either. So he took Fairy and he went night-hunting as much as possible.
Tonight, at least, would be a bit different. There were rumors of a soul-eating monster on Huanshan mountain, and half the cultivating world had headed there to try and win glory. Jin Ling knew his uncle would be along shortly, but for now it was just him and Fairy.
“All right, Fairy,” he said, reaching down to rub the dog’s ears, “Find the Lans!”
Fairy yipped happily and ran off, but never so far he was out of sight. Jin Ling followed easily. In spite of the dark night overhead, there were so many cultivators camping on the mountain that their fires made walking easy.
Fairy found the GusuLan sect easily, but Jin Ling stopped him before they joined them. There was a dark-robed figure sitting with them, so Jin Ling said “Wait here,” and snuck up alone. It turned out he could have let Fairy come, though, because it was Wen Ning, not Wei Wuxian, sitting with the Lan disciples.
Jin Ling immediately jumped on Jingyi’s back, making him scream. The others all laughed and went back to cooking over the fire. Whereas other cultivators had been roasting meat, the Lan juniors were of course just roasting vegetables and mantou.
“Don’t you have anything worth eating?” he complained.
Jingyi tried to shove a flaming mantou in his face after that, and there was a lot of shouting and laughing and Fairy barking, and the situation was only resolved when Wen Ning came and pulled them apart by the necks of their robes. “Young masters!”
“Hey, who is this over here? You’re making too much noise!”
“We’re trying to night-hunt! Who let these juniors out on their own?”
A group of rogue cultivators came up, complaining loudly.
Wen Ning put them down, and Sizhui quickly ran up and stood next to Jin Ling, pushing Wen Ning back. Jin Ling didn’t see the point of that, himself, because surely once the cultivators saw the Ghost General they’d run away and leave them alone.
“Is this the GusuLan sect?” one of the men said.
“It is,” Sizhui answered.
“And the LanlingJin sect, too,” Jin Ling said, folding his arms. “So why don’t you get lost!”
One of the rogue cultivators turned to the others and said loudly, “These so-called great sects aren’t what they used to be!”
“Yeah,” said another, even more loudly. “The LanlingJin sect is now just one person! They’ve all killed themselves off!” The others laughed, the sort of ugly laugh people do when they know how very unfunny you find their joke.
Jin Ling flushed, his fists shaking with fury.
“The Jins only needed to send one person, for such a small matter as this!” Jingyi snapped. “If you’re so busy why don’t you leave and get on with your hunt?”
Jin Ling had never actually imagined Jingyi would defend him, and his tongue felt thick and useless in his mouth.
“You’re all little brats,” one of them said. “Useless disciples of useless sects.”
“How dare you disrespect our sects?” Jin Ling snapped. “And you’re only low-level cultivators no sect wants to accept, so I don’t know why you think you can speak to us this way!” His hand was tense around the hilt of his sword, ready to draw.
“How dare you say we’re low level, you little shit! I should beat you to teach them a lesson…”
There was a low growl where Fairy had snuck up behind the group of cultivators, and Jin Ling smiled. “Fairy—”
“Please, sir,” Sizhui stepped in between them. “We—”
“Just kick them all off the side of the mountain and let’s go!” someone else shouted.
“You want to say that again?” Jiang Cheng’s voice wasn’t actually accompanied by Zidian, but it might as well have been, from the way everyone jumped.
Jiang Cheng came striding into the light, purple lightning crackling around his hand.
“I said, did you want to say it again, about kicking my nephew off the mountain?”
“N-n-n-no, sir!” The cultivators all bowed to him.
Jin Ling smirked, but…he felt slightly disappointed Jiang Cheng had shown up now.
“Get out of here and mind your own damn business!” Jiang Cheng shouted, and snapped Zidian for effect.
The group of rogue cultivators hurried off, and Fairy chased after them a bit, to make sure they went away.
Jin Ling did not dare to relax, because sure enough, his uncle was turning towards him, scowl still firmly in place.
Wei Wuxian jumped down from the trees above. “Jiang Cheng, that was unnecessary.”
“Were you there this whole time?”
“He was!” Wen Ning confirmed. Then he shrank back when Jiang Cheng glared at him and stood behind Wei Wuxian, who folded his arms and kept glaring at Jiang Cheng.
“And you were just going to let these juniors be bothered by these idiot rogue cultivators?” Jiang Cheng said. He was building up a good head of steam to start yelling.
Wei Wuxian did not look impressed in the least. “They were handling it just fine. They didn’t need you to jump in like that.”
“You expect me to leave Jin Ling on his own!?”
Wei Wuxian widened his eyes and gestured around them. “How is he alone?”
Jiang Cheng withdrew Zidian and looked around, surprisingly silent. Jin Ling was still sandwiched between Sizhui and Jingyi, and the other disciples were grouped around. Fairy was ready to jump in, and Wen Ning had been here the whole time, and at some point Jin Ling had got used to the fact Wen Ning was… a safe person to be around? Someone he trusted to keep him safe? He felt guilty and unhappy at the thought, his stomach squirmed, but he pushed it away. There was no time for it now.
“We were handling it,” he said, stepping forward past Sizhui. “And you could have just left us alone.”
“Left you alone? ” Jiang Cheng clenched his hands and took a step forward. “Just leave you wandering around in some strange place all alone? In the dark, with demons all over the damn place? You’re an idiot , and you’re young , and anything could happen! ”
Jiang Cheng’s voice echoed all over the mountain, or at least that’s what it felt like.
It was quiet afterwards, with only the fire daring to make noise at first.
“He’s not alone,” Wei Wuxian said, finally, because he obviously wasn’t afraid of death. He even took a few steps closer to Jiang Cheng. “Jiang Wanyin. We were all together. Only you were alone.”
Jin Ling looked at him incredulously, because Wei Wuxian must really want to die. But Jiang Cheng didn’t yell, didn’t say anything, although even in the low light Jin Ling could see his uncle swallowing, hard, again and again, like forcing down blood when you were injured.
“Uncle?” he said. But he’d never asked if Jiang Cheng was okay before, and he didn’t think he could do it now.
“Sect Leader Jiang,” Sizhui said, with an extra bow. “We wouldn’t let any harm come to Jin Ling.”
“It was a hard lesson for me to learn,” Wei Wuxian said. “That other people can be there. Can help. But I did.” It sounded like there was something else he wanted to say, and it hung in the air between them. Then Wei Wuxian shrugged. “I wouldn’t let any harm come to him, either, you know.”
“So I’m not needed at all, now?” Jiang Cheng said, not looking at either of them. He sounded like he was only grasping towards his usual biting tone.
“You’re an idiot,” Wei Wuxian said, with a laughing undertone. “But he’s a sect leader, right? Let him learn how to lead.”
Jin Ling felt embarrassed but in a very pleased way. He knew his chest was puffing out.
“And if these idiots--” Jiang Cheng gestured behind himself, meaning the rogue cultivators-- “had attacked them--”
“I’m the Yiling Patriarch and I’m here with the Ghost General . What do you think would happen? All I’d have to do is show my face.”
“So you admit you would have interfered too!”
“If absolutely necessary, of course! I watch them,” Wei Wuxian said, “but how can they learn anything if you do everything for them?”
“Fine,” Jiang Cheng said, but the bite in his voice was much less sharp than Jin Ling expected. “I’ll go, then, and wait to see if you end up with a broken leg or your soul sucked out.”
“You should come with us, next time,” Wei Wuxian said. “No reason to start apart if we’re going to end up in the same place.”
Jiang Cheng hesitated, and turned back to look at Wei Wuxian. He gave a sharp nod.
Jin Ling thought they might actually talk. But that was when Fairy returned, and Wei Wuxian saw Fairy, and what happened after that was definitely not talking. Screaming, yes, and Wei Wuxian climbed Wen Ning like a tree to get onto his shoulders, but there was not a lot of reasonable talking.
+1 ….And one time they didn’t (Night-hunt II)
It was harder and harder to keep Jin Ling out of Gusu, and he hadn’t even pretended to bring Fairy on this night-hunt, which was why Jiang Cheng was determined to follow him.
It wasn’t long before they glimpsed white robes through the trees.
Jiang Cheng could not make himself step forward. He looked at the dark-robed figure surrounded by an adoring crowd of white robes, like a bevy of quail.
Jin Ling had no qualms, and pushed through the brush. “I came all the way from Lanling and you still haven’t caught anything?”
“Jin Ling!” some of them cried. One of them definitely said “Young Mistress!”
“Maybe we’ve killed twenty ghouls waiting for you!” Lan Jingyi shouted.
“Pfft, there’s no way,” Jin Ling said.
“You didn’t even get lost this time!” Wei Wuxian said. “Did you?”
“That was ONE TIME… and no. But…”
Wei Wuxian must have read it in his face, because he looked up and right at Jiang Cheng.
“Sect Leader Jiang,” he said neutrally, and bowed. The Lan Sect disciples all copied him.
The mood was undeniably repressed. Jiang Cheng ignored this and strode into the clearing. “What is the prey?” he asked.
Wei Wuxian smiled slightly and turned to the juniors.
Lan Sizhui stepped forward, looking eerily like a mini-Hanguang-Jun. “Two travelers reported they were attacked by fierce corpses last night. They got away, but as they were escaping, they were chased by something else. Some kind of monster.”
“So you took them out for a lesson?” Jiang Cheng asked Wei Wuxian.
“Well, any old regular corpse they could handle on their own. That’s boring! But some kind of beast…well, maybe it’s easy, and we’ll just find some more entertaining ways to hunt it.”
The juniors cheered.
Jiang Cheng was not impressed.
“Instead of teaching them to be as efficient as possible…”
“I’m teaching them to be as creative as possible, yes,” Wei Wuxian grinned.
“And you think this is safe.”
Wei Wuxian continued cheerfully, “Junior disciples are supposed to get into trouble!”
“I can’t believe they let you live in the Cloud Recesses.” Jiang Cheng hadn’t meant to say it, it had just come out.
Wei Wuxian laughed.
Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian ended up standing back and letting the disciples handle the demon bird. This was almost a good plan, except Wei Wuxian had banned them from using swords or archery, so by the time they had cast sufficient talismans onto the creature, it ended up blowing up directly over Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian, who were covered in blood and feathers.
Wei Wuxian and Jin Ling both laughed so hard they could barely walk.
Jiang Cheng forced them to stop when they found a stream. The juniors drank while he and Wei Wuxian washed the blood off.
Wei Wuxian had rolled his sleeves up and scrubbed at his hands and arms before Jiang Cheng noticed the marks.
“What’s that? On your wrists?”
Wei Wuxian looked at where his sleeves had fallen back to show the bruises that circled his wrists.
“Is that some punishment?” Jiang Cheng asked, wondering if Wei Wuxian had managed to make the Lan sect elders angry enough they’d chained him up.
Wei Wuxian stared at him a moment, eyes wide and mouth dropping open. Then his expression changed to something over-earnest, which Jiang Cheng recognized too well. It meant nothing good was about to come out of his mouth.
“Ah Jiang Cheng! You’re still a virgin, I see! So cute!”
Jiang Cheng flushed red, screwing his mouth shut and struggling through the horror until he got himself under control. A little. “Wei Wuxian! How shameless of you! How can you speak about such things! And in front of juniors!”
“We know not to listen!” Lan Jingyi piped up helpfully. Jin Ling just shuddered. They all began to walk quickly through the forest.
“I’m married!” Wei Wuxian said. “I can talk about such things! Unlike you! Aw, come on. You haven’t ever had a girlfriend?”
Jiang Cheng was so tightly wound it was something of a surprise that he could walk, but he managed. “I’m not like you .”
Wei Wuxian actually stopped. “Jiang Cheng, of all people, you know that that reputation was all made up!”
“I don’t know!” Jiang Cheng snapped. “You spent a long time living with…with Wen Qing!”
“Wen Qing?” Wei Wuxian said. Then, in a very high-pitched voice “WEN QING?”
He burst into laughter so strong he fell on the ground and rolled around.
The juniors turned back and stared. Jiang Cheng tried to kick Wei Wuxian but he was rolling too much.
“You really picked the scariest person you could think of, didn’t you Jiang Cheng?” Wei Wuxian gasped around his laughter. “Wen Qing! Can you imagine? If I’d even looked at her she’d pluck out my eyes! Wen Qing! I used to pray to Guanyin every day just to not be murdered by her!”
“Will you stop this stupid racket?” Jiang Cheng hissed. He did manage to land a kick on Wei Wuxian, who groaned and rolled away, so Jiang Cheng felt a little better about it.
“Hey, careful Jiang Cheng! Hanguang-Jun will be angry if someone else leaves a bruise…”
Because it was either kill himself and Wei Wuxian or walk away, Jiang Cheng stomped away. He pushed the juniors in front of him to get them moving. “Hurry up,” he snapped. “Are we out here night hunting or chatting in the tea house? Move!”
“You were the one gossiping,” Jin Ling muttered, but he hurried away before Jiang Cheng could get his hands on him.
Wei Wuxian caught up to him without much difficulty, still chuckling. Worst of all, he kept his sleeves rolled so Jiang Cheng had to keep seeing the bruises he was flashing all over the place.
“You’re an idiot,” Jiang Cheng said.
“You’re an idiot,” Wei Wuxian responded. “And you still have blood in your hair.”
“You’ll have blood all over your face again if you don’t shut up.”
“Are they… fighting?” Jingyi asked.
Sizhui frowned. “I don’t think so?”
“Of course not,” Jin Ling scoffed. “They’re getting along.”
“This is what you call getting along?” Jingyi said.
“It’s what you two call getting along,” Sizhui said.
“We don’t call it getting along!”
Sizhui was about to break up their fight when the bickering between the elders escalated.
“At least I can cook something!” Wei Wuxian shouted. “You can’t make anything that’s edible!”
“Rather than eat your cooking, you should suck on a Sichuan pepper!”
“Rather than eat your cooking, you should just eat dirt!”
“Do you want to die?” Jiang Cheng shouted.
Even Jiang Cheng’s face went pale.
“HA HA HA HAHAHAHAHA TOO LATE!” Wei Wuxian shouted. He stumbled around, holding his stomach, laughing.
Sizhui thought his heart was going to fly out of his chest. Jingyi put an arm across his shoulders. “I really can’t handle these elders,” he whispered. “I’d rather be in class with Sir.”
Sizhui, who had never heard anyone but Hanguang-Jun call him Wei Ying to his face, looked around to see if Hanguang-Jun had arrived. But he hadn’t, and it really had been Jiang Cheng.
Wei Wuxian had stopped laughing and was looking at Jiang Cheng with a smile.
“Can you just…” Jiang Cheng trailed off.
“Yes,” Wei Wuxian said. It was an answer, not a question.
“Yes?” Jiang Cheng looked startled.
Wei Wuxian shrugged. “You want me to stop? To behave?”
“No,” Jiang Cheng said. “Just… stand still for a moment.”
“You know where to find me.”
Jiang Cheng screwed up his face and looked away from Wei Wuxian. “I’m glad you’re back,” he said.
Wei Wuxian looked like he would fall over if a leaf landed on him. “Thank you, Jiang Cheng,” he said quietly.
Sizhui looked at Jin Ling. His mouth was wide open. Sizhui kicked his ankle, and Jin Ling managed to shut his mouth.
“And I… I should have tried harder,” Jiang Cheng was looking up, as if there was something to help him in the leaves above. “I should have tried at least as hard as Hanguang-Jun did.”
Wei Wuxian looked over at Sizhui for a long moment, but Sizhui wasn’t sure if he was really looking at him or something else. “It wouldn’t have mattered, in the end. I told Lan Zhan I was in control when I wasn’t, and I would have told you the same thing.”
“Yeah,” said Jiang Cheng, “but I might not have believed you.”
Wei Wuxian shrugged. “But you might have. And for what it’s worth, I’m sorry I left you alone,” Wei Wuxian said. “That wasn’t what…that wasn’t on purpose, you know.”
“Well,” Jiang Cheng sniffed. “I had thirteen years of peace and quiet, and I guess that’s over now.”
Wei Wuxian’s smile was soft. “Can anyone really have peace and quiet when Jin Ling is around?”
“Hey!” Jin Ling shouted.
There was something that almost looked like a smile on Jiang Cheng’s face. “No, that’s true,” he said. “Always making a fuss. You know, when he was three…”
Jin Ling ran up and tried to stop him from telling embarrassing stories but everyone else was too eager to hear them. And that was how they made it back down the mountain.