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End of the Bridge

Chapter Text

If it wasn’t for the underway Sunshot Campaign, Wei WuXian reappearing on the surface of the earth will come as a bigger shock to the rest of the cultivation world. Sunshot Campaign was triggered by turning the strength of Qishan Wen Sect into the tools of their destruction. The war burned down homes and turned humans with a desire to live into devils. It made even the normal citizens ー people who had nothing to do with the cultivation world ー look over their shoulder even in the safest places. Invasions were carried out every day in every place imaginable and unimaginable. They strike hard and fast in the places people feel most secure. They shred strength and expose vulnerability. They tore victims apart, from the inside out.

But what was the most unfortunate for such inevitable warfare was the fact that cultivators as young as eighteen had to equip themselves with weapons and skills they had yet to fully master, stepping on bodies, bones, and blood as they greeted every fight with the resolution to fight till the life left their bodies. And amongst these young cultivators, Wei WuXian wasn’t an exception. He’d fought death once when he climbed out of Burial Mound alive, returning with a strength that was never before seen, with animosity that could shiver one’s bones. His return in such an aberrant state should be deemed as dreaded and unacceptable but the sides he took had conveniently dismissed that fact, pushing him up onto being the best war force, utilizing him however and wherever he could, just so they could defeat the bigger vile.

No one criticized Wei WuXian when he was standing on their side during Sunshot Campaign. No one dared to say anything against him. No one can say that he’s wrong, that he’s as diabolical as Qishan Wen Sect, and should be regarded as an enemy simply because what he was practising was out of the norm. 

As long as he’s not devoting himself to the enemies, he shall not be offended; that was the common consensus.

No one treated him like a human being, just another destructive weapon that would help them win the war.

No one, except for one person.

 


 

Wei WuXian’s chest heaved gravely as he caught his breath. With his eyes closed, he tried as hard as he could to regulate the emotions from within him, trying as hard as he could to suppress the overwhelming resentful energy, seeking to crush him from beneath. Sure, demonic cultivation was a cultivation he found; he’d figured out ways to make use of resentful energy, and ways to repress them. For that, he congratulated himself, praising himself as a never-before-seen prodigy who can turn the impossible into possible. But no matter how much a prodigy he was, he’s still human. And as a human, there would still be times when he needed time out for himself, especially when he no longer had a golden core to replenish his vitality like any other cultivator did, especially when he was still in the midst of learning how to thoroughly grasp demonic cultivation, the three-month effort in Burial Mound a mere straw of hope ー a temporary solution ー he’s powerlessly holding onto out of the desperation to come out from the mountain as soon as he can so that he can seek for his revenge. 

No one should know about this though.

As of now, all everyone saw was an outstanding cultivator who used skills that were never before seen, mastering it, and creating forces that were very much needed at this trying time. For many, Wei WuXian was hope, even though his method was beyond disgraceful.

He swallowed down his throat a few times, cold sweat sheened his back, some trickling down his face all the way to his chin and dripped, falling on his cold bed. His face was pale, he still smelled like blood, his hands and his all-black robes were still drenched in patches of blood left to dry.

The confrontation in Jiang Ling was the worst strife he had participated in since he returned. It’s understandable, seeing how this very war was the most momentous war Yunmeng Jiang Sect would be part of, as this very war was what that would help them regain authority over Lotus Pier if they were to win. But as much as they were aware of the implication, Qishan Wen Sect with its intelligent war strategist and Sect Leader, Wen RuoHan, was fully aware of it too. The manpower gathered in Jiang Ling was far above any other disputes they were involved in. And that also meant pushing Wei WuXian over his limit over and over and over again, squeezing him dry, for he was the most potent warforce Yunmeng Jiang Sect had, yet was unable to portray any hint of fatigue, especially not in front of his own men.

Wei WuXian breathed open-mouthed. He released a sigh of relief upon noticing that the leaden load of energy in his body had calmed down, giving his mind a clearer thought process. They were still in the midst of war, they were still in Jiang Ling. The last confrontation was so brutal they had to retreat to restrategize their game. It’s one of the rare times when Wei WuXian got to rest for real so that he could gather his composure enough to last him for the next few hours.

“Young Master Wei.”

He rattled at the abrupt voice, his alertness heightened as his hand clasped hard on Chenqing. His eyes were bloodshot when he glared at the direction of the entrance of his tent, growling,

“What is it?”

The man outside his tent visibly quivered upon hearing his voice. He stuttered,

“S-Sect Leader Jiang requires for your attendance in the strategy meeting.”

Wei WuXian closed his eyes and hefted a heavy breath. He rubbed his temples with one thumb and said,

“Okay. Tell him I’ll be there in a bit.”

The man fled after a hasty ‘understood’. Wei WuXian stood, knees weak and almost collapsing onto the floor if he hadn’t lurched towards the table and held onto it on time. He poured himself a cup full of liquor and drained it down his throat. He took in another cup, then another. It’s only when he realized that he had finished a jar of liquor that he frowned with a ‘tch’ and tidied up his robes.

The blood on his robes was still wet; the blood wasn’t his. His own blood was simmering in his veins, almost blinding his sensations if he hadn’t gotten this time out from the savagery of the warzone that was soaked in nothing but violence.

As he walked out of his tent, the night furled over, bringing a threat of a storm, immediately greeted by frosty breeze that sweltered him in his bones. Even the shadows were now enveloped by the encroaching darkness. The lack of birdsong made his surroundings to appear eerier as every flutter of the leaves and every footstep he caught sounded like the arrival of an insidious man or beast. He strode down the path with frigid vibe pulsing off his body, his expression one of cold and sullen. Terrified disciples greeted him out of courtesy but he paid them no attention, utterly distracted by the discomfort in his guts.

It’s when he made his way into the tent where Jiang Cheng was that a tint of warmth returned to his face, a gleam of light returned to his orbs. Not because of how warm the inside of the tent was, not because of the familiar scowl Jiang Cheng was giving him, but because of the presence of yet another man who appeared like a glimmering shade of white in the midst of his darkness, splattering speckles of light into his dark shadow.

ー Lan WangJi.

His footsteps halted abruptly when he caught sight of the man, his expression froze on his face as he stared, wide-eyed, at the unexpected encounter. Then, he pulled a smirk.

“HanGuang-Jun, what a coincidence.”

Lan WangJi didn’t say anything; he didn’t even respond, not even a polite nod was given. Wei WuXian shrugged. Lan WangJi wasn’t very happy with how he’d become ever since he returned. It’s not the first time he’d been giving him the cold shoulder. Not even the fake-vibrancy of his voice can patch up that crack in their relationship. It’s too bad, really. If Lan WangJi can’t accept him for who he’d become now, then it’s unfortunate. Besides, he’s way too occupied with things to consider much about how his relationship had turned out with others, and being slopped in blood and rancorous emotions on a daily basis when he had yet to adequately control his own state wasn’t helping much either. He’d rather not add more problems to his already loaded plate of complications.

Without another word, Wei WuXian settled himself in his usual corner, arms crossed, eyes closed.

“Aren’t you surprised why Second Master Lan is here?” Jiang Cheng lashed out at him. Jiang Cheng wasn’t in a very good mood himself either. He already had temper management on usual occasions and the atrocious nature he’s often exposed to now wasn’t helping in soothing his own mood either.

“What else can it be?” Wei WuXian said, peeking an eye open. “We’re outnumbered, of course you would’ve sent out a request for help to Gusu Lan Sect, no?”

Jiang Cheng responded with a brassy ‘hmph’. “For your oblivious information, I did not. But Second Master Lan had caught wind of our situation and had come all the way from Gusu to assist us here. Have some sense of gratitude, will you?”

Wei WuXian opened his eyes and gave Lan WangJi a glance.

“He came by himself?” he blurted.

“Yes, as you can see,” Jiang Cheng said.

“Only him?” Wei WuXian asked again.

“Are you blind orー” Jiang Cheng paused and took in a deep breath, noticing how he’s letting his emotions flare his head again. “Yes, as you can see. Do you see anyone else around?”

“Not sure. You know how I am, I don’t pay attention to people, let alone remember their names and faces,” Wei WuXian scoffed.

“Then you better remember HanGuang-Jun’s name and face from now onwards if you want to survive through this war,” Jiang Cheng said.

Wei WuXian smirked and twirled Chenqing around his thumb a few times, “Oh, perhaps you should tell me how does one not remember HanGuang-Jun’s name and face, huh? Besides, why should I? It’s not like I need his help to be able to take upon 5,000 troops by myself.”

“That’s what he said,” Jiang Cheng directed his words at Lan WangJi instead.

“Wei Ying,” Lan WangJi finally spoke. The flute’s motion stalled in a steep halt in Wei WuXian’s hand. He wasn’t looking at Lan WangJi, but Lan WangJi’s eyes on him were so sharp that he couldn’t help but feel the penetrating vibe that’s aimed at him. 

Feeling like there’s no use trying to debate with anyone here, Wei WuXian raised a hand and stopped Lan WangJi before he could continue his words, “Be my guest. Just don’t get in my way. I don’t have time to take care of another person when I’m busy killing dogs.”

Lan WangJi opened his mouth, intending to say something but Wei WuXian had stood up then, no longer able to handle the smothering air in the tent as he headed towards the entrance with his arms crossed behind his head.

“Just let me know which area I’m responsible in later.” He looked over his shoulder and gave Jiang Cheng a smirk, coupled with a wink. “You don’t need me here anyway, right? Since I guess the instructions should be clear. Kill as many Wen dogs as I can.”

With that said, he left the tent, leaving behind wintry air and a rigid atmosphere.

Jiang Cheng sighed out loud. “He’s been like this since he returned,” he said to Lan WangJi. “As long as he doesn’t act up when we’re on the warfield, just let him do what he wants. Though, to be honest, I feel a bit more relieved now that Second Master Lan is here. As far as I know, it’s not easy to stop him when he gets into the heat of the moment.”

Lan WangJi’s attention was distracted since Jiang Cheng’s first line, his gaze remained stuck on where Wei WuXian had left the tent, as if he could see through the tent at where Wei WuXian was walking alone, down the path heading towards his own tent.

 


 

Lotus Pier was just within eyesight but the scene didn’t look like home anymore. It’s bloodstained and it has the Qishan Wen Sect’s emblem on it and it’d lost all the dynamism and liveliness that was once a trademark of what Lotus Pier was like. Every glance Wei WuXian caught of the scene had blazes burning in his guts, and every step he took towards a place he once called home had fury scorching him from within, making it hard for him to breathe. 

They were at the last of their durability now. If they can’t win the war this time around, if they can’t snatch Lotus Pier back, then they wouldn’t have enough resources to try again for the next half a year.

Jiang Cheng can’t have that. And naturally, Wei WuXian wouldn’t allow that either. That’s why they had to win. They needed to win. They will give their all. Despite how exhausted they were, despite how many wounds that they’d gotten on their bodies, there’s nothing in their heads but to win, their actions driven completely by raw impulses and triggered profoundly by penetrative determination.

And that’s also why, clouded by instincts and overwhelmed by the matters in his hands, Wei WuXian’s body condition became the least of his concern. He's having a conspicuous upper hand at first, killing as many as he can, making the enemies his corpses then forcing them to kill their own subordinates, and draining more and more of his own energy as time went by. His cultivation, just like how normal cultivation would, relied heavily on his instincts. It gouged resources from around him, yet, his cultivation also came with a lethal side-effect that was far more damaging than the normal cultivation.

It also relied heavily on the will of the resentful spirits he was to control.

With every deplete of his own energy, his control slipped. And with every slip of control, it resulted in a higher possibility for the cultivation to bounce back on him, shifting the target of attack onto himself, especially when he was the one who’d taken the spirits’ lives in the first place.

He wasn’t even aware when one of the corpses he’d summoned raised its sword towards him and had almost slashed a fatal wound on his body when a shadow of white rushed towards him in lightning speed and took down the corpse just in time before its blade can land on Wei WuXian’s body.

He was momentarily faltered when he heard the sound of body colliding onto the ground. His breathing was harsh as he diverted a wary eye towards the direction where he caught the shadow, mouth hanging open when he saw that Lan WangJi was covered in blood from head to toe, his once sleek and pristine set of white robes dirtied by patches of rust and red. Wei WuXian’s heart skipped a beat. He hurried towards Lan WangJi, one hand was almost stretching out to him, almost touching him with the intent of supporting him, when he curled his fingers and took his hand back.

“Lan Zhan, are you injured?” he asked instead, his voice hushed and quiet. The commotion around them was screeching in his ears, he could still see shadows of warring individuals striving to live. But his attention was stuck on Lan WangJi. He couldn’t look away from the red on Lan WangJi ー so unfitting, so nasty ー and for a split second, he wanted so much to take Lan WangJi away from the warzone, away from the stains, just so he could return to being the impeccable Lan WangJi he was used to.

Lan WangJi shook his head. He gave the collapsed corpse a fleeting glance before he spoke again,

“Wei Ying, you’re losing control.”

Those words poured a cold bucket of water down Wei WuXian’s head, snapping him back to reality. The intention to bring Lan WangJi away vanished as soon as it came as a smirk was pulled on his face.

“Me? Losing control? Or is it because HanGuang-Jun is not used to seeing me in this state? Don’t joke around with me,” Wei WuXian said. “This is how I fight. I don’t use a sword, yeah, but don’t you think it’s rude to assume me of not being capable just because I don’t cultivate the usual way like you cultivators do?”

Lan WangJi panicked, “I don’t mean it that way.” His breathing was stiffer than usual, his composure less tranquil than usual; even the onerous resentful energy on the battlefield stumbled HanGuang-Jun’s ever so unshattering poise. 

“Whatever it is, if you’re here to lecture me again, I’d have to kindly ask you to leave,” Wei WuXian said, already lifting his flute to his lips. A hoard of new corpses rise from the ground, balancing their footing, and were ready to fight on Wei WuXian’s commands.

Lan WangJi stepped closer to him, persisting, “Wei Ying, calm down. Look at yourseー”

His eyes brightened all of a sudden, noticing that another corpse was swinging his sword towards their direction. Not his, but Wei WuXian’s. Anxious, he sped towards it and took it down before Wei WuXian even noticed it himself. When Lan WangJi returned his attention to Wei WuXian again, cold sprinted down his spine upon noticing how malicious an expression Wei WuXian was wearing on his face and how he’s so immersed in whatever he was doing that he paid absolutely no attention to his surroundings. He wasn’t able to notice when he was standing a distance away from Wei WuXian earlier but now that he’s closer, Lan WangJi even noted blood dripping from his sleeves, leaving a small pool of red blotch on the ground. 

Still, Wei WuXian paid it no attention. He’s not even looking at Lan WangJi, his attention wholly enwrapped by the intention to slay and the intention to summon more and more and more corpses.

He didn’t even notice it when three more corpses dashed towards him, all with murderous intention, as if they weren’t part of his concern, as if being slashed, being wounded, or even being killed, were nothing as important as being able to kill as many Wen dogs as possible.

 


 

 They still didn’t manage to retrieve Lotus Pier.

In the midst of the war, Qishan Wen Sect had sent out more troops when they were falling short, immediately spinning the upper hand back into their hands. Out of desperation, Jiang Cheng had then instructed them to retreat. The war this time lasted for a full 35 hours. None of them had enough rest. Coupled with the defeat for the third time, their spirit was dreadfully low; no one wanted to say anything, no one wanted to hear anything. Even Jiang Cheng went back to his own tent without another word, his face was grim, the vindictive aura strong on him.

Wei WuXian too retreated unwillingly. He was sure that he could kill more even if he was the sole person left on the battlefield. He still had resources, he still had energy. And he really intended to do exactly that when his vision blackened out all of a sudden, giving Lan WangJi the perfect chance to grasped him by his waist, hoisted him onto Bichen, and flew them all the way back to Yunmeng Jiang Sect’s base.

The moment they landed on dry ground, Wei WuXian shoved Lan WangJi away with force so ferocious Lan WangJi would’ve collapsed onto the ground if he hadn’t had sheer strength to secure his footing for himself. 

“You…!” Wei WuXian gritted. Red nerves seamed the corners of his eyes, his scowl deep. There was so much wrath on his expression that Lan WangJi was reminded of the time when he first witnessed him in this state after they found him in the inn, after having disappeared for three months.

Wei WuXian was shaking as he glared at him. His lips were trembling, his breathing heavy as if he’s quelling some sort of bitter energy from within him. But in the end, he waved his sleeves in an assertive motion and turned his back towards Lan WangJi, refusing to spend any more time with him.

Lan WangJi knew that what he’d done might have offended Wei WuXian. But it was the right thing to do. In that kind of situation, if he didn’t snatch Wei WuXian back by force, Wei WuXian would really die. He was clearly not in the right state of mind to be considering consequences for himself and that’s why Lan WangJi was here, to help him see his way. 

Even though that would end up with Wei WuXian hating him and holding a grudge towards him.

Lan WangJi can’t bring himself to say anything either. He didn’t have any words to defend himself. He’s not going to defend himself. But he can’t leave Wei WuXian alone, especially not when he’d distinctly noticed that Wei WuXian wasn’t in a stable state and that he’d also witnessed the injuries Wei WuXian had sustained from the fight earlier.

So, he could only follow him quietly from behind. 

Wei WuXian clearly knew that he’s following him too but he’s too distracted by his own emotions to be telling him off. He let him be, hoping that his ignorance will tell Lan WangJi enough that he wanted to be left alone. But as they came nearer to his tent, Lan WangJi was still following him, showing no signs of leaving. 

It’s only when Wei WuXian came to stand at the entrance of his tent that he turned around to smirk at Lan WangJi.

“HanGuang-Jun, your tent’s over there,” he said, pointing a chin towards an opposite direction.

Lan WangJi said nothing. Wei WuXian’s smirk curved higher.

“Don’t tell me you intend to spend the night with me, do you? I’m sorry but regardless of what people say about me, I’m still a man of decency. I’m not going to let another man stay in the same tent as me when we’re in the midst of a higher priority to focus on. If you need some sort of coping method, perhaps find another man, will you? Or just head out to the nearest town, find a brothel or something.”

Lan WangJi’s fingers curled up by his side, a faint hint of pink rose to the tips of his ears. Yet, he still said nothing, being completely silent.

Wei WuXian’s patience ran out. Clicking his tongue, the smirk on his face faded.

“Leave me alone,” he gnashed.

Lan WangJi stared at him for a while before he finally said, “Take a good rest. And…” His eyes slid to Wei WuXian’s arm, a part of his body where he knew was injured. “Take care of your wounds.”

Wei WuXian didn’t say anything for a while. And then, he smiled. Not a smirk, but a smile.

“To be honest, I didn’t even notice it myself. I take it that HanGuang-Jun is concerned towards me? Thank you very much. I’m an adult, I know how to take care of myself. You too. Rest well, you barely had any rest too.”

Lan WangJi nodded. With another smile, Wei WuXian bowed a tad at Lan WangJi and disappeared into his tent.

Despite what Wei WuXian had told him, Lan WangJi remained standing outside his tent, letting the cold groove swept his hair, his robes, and the tail of his forehead ribbon. Despite the chilly weather, he didn’t feel tingles as much as what he felt from within. He watched as the light in the tent was being lit up, watched as Wei WuXian’s silhouette moved around the place, and only looked away when he noticed that Wei WuXian was taking his robes off, looking like he’s preparing for a bath.

With a quiet sigh, Lan WangJi turned away. 

Wei WuXian was right; he could use some rest. Throughout the long hours, he’d been edgy not only from the war, but also from his unease towards Wei WuXian’s condition. Losing a war wasn’t a big deal; as long as they stayed alive, they can always try again. But if they were to lose themselves in the midst of it, then that’s a big deal.

The worst thing was, Lan WangJi saw that symptom on Wei WuXian. He saw how menacing Wei WuXian can be, how unforgiving he was, and how cruel he was when he killed. The Wei WuXian Lan WangJi knew wasn’t like this. It’s like the sun he once knew was stolen away, hid away, and there’s nothing he could do to help Wei WuXian if Wei WuXian wasn’t prepared to open up to him.

He was already a good distance away from Wei WuXian’s tent when he felt the air around him turn colder than ever, the squall rushing towards one same direction. It took him a good two seconds to realize that this wasn’t normal air. It’s like energy, resentful energy, like the ones he felt from the corpses Wei WuXian resurrected.

Feeling a skip in his heart, Lan WangJi spun around. The energy was speeding towards one direction, in the same direction.

ー It’s rushing towards Wei WuXian’s tent.

Lan WangJi couldn’t bring himself to stand around any longer. He sped towards the tent, following the gust’s direction. And then, right when he caught sight of the tent, the light in it was already dimmed. Did Wei WuXian fall asleep?

The moment he came near to the tent he immediately felt a malicious sort of energy wrapping around the tent, as if it’s attempting to swallow the tent whole. The weight of the energy was so tenebrous it was affecting even Lan WangJi. Without a second thought, Lan WangJi pulled Bichen out and slashed a clear path for himself, then crashing right into the tent.

“Wei Ying!”

Cultivators were adept with their five senses, including their sight. And Lan WangJi was no exception. He scrutinized the place, his gaze landed on the bed first, just to find his heart skipping a beat when he noticed that the bed was empty. He paced into the tent, still following the gust and then, right by his feet, he found Wei WuXian, dressed in nothing but his inner clothing as he laid unconscious, the candle that was once lit dropped by his hand.

“Wei Ying!” Lan WangJi called out. The resentful energy was latching on Wei WuXian as if it was attempting to suck Wei WuXian dry. Lan WangJi speedily swept them away with Bichen and hurriedly conjured a barrier to separate them from the energy before he focused on eliminating them all once and for all. 

Once he’s done, he carried Wei WuXian into his arms.

“Wei Ying, wake up,” he urged. 

But Wei WuXian laid pale in his arms. When Lan WangJi checked his pulse, he released a sigh of relief upon realizing that Wei WuXian’s life was in no danger, just weak and recovering. It bewildered Lan WangJi, though. Usually, cultivators were capable to rejuvenate their own energy with the help of their core. But why was Wei WuXian’s spiritual flow so low, almost non-existent, and why was he so cold, as if he hadn't been warmed up since a long time ago?

Lan WangJi wished he could ask Wei WuXian these questions himself but at this point of time, he only wanted to nurse Wei WuXian back into health first, at least enough for him to stay conscious before he proceeded with everything else.

Carefully, Lan WangJi carried him to the bed. He’s about to cover the blanket up for him, already thinking about making something warm for him to eat when that very thought was sidetracked upon seeing something on Wei WuXian’s bare stomach, concealed by just a thin piece of inner clothing hanging loosely on his body.

Lan WangJi’s hand motion paused. He frowned at the scar. And then, with a wave of his hand, he lit up the tent, giving him an unobscure look of the thing on Wei WuXian’s stomach.

His heart clenched. It was an Ezu Curse. An Ezu Curse is a marking made by a sinister being on its prey. If it appeared, it meant that the person had displeased something of extreme spite. If it left a mark, it would find you no matter what, possibly after a long time, possibly tonight. The consequences ranged from having the body part with the marking taken away or just death. The mark on Wei WuXian’s stomach had spread towards both sides of his waist in a vehement shade of black. There’s no way Lan WangJi can leave Wei WuXian alone after having seen that. It shouldn’t come as a surprise. It could be a mark left on Wei WuXian from one of the corpses he’d resurrected earlier. Who knows how many of those corpses still possessed their own consciousness and was still out to hunt for Wei WuXian for revenge? Lan WangJi had made sure to take down every single one that he could lay his hands on but under that kind of chaotic situation, he can’t be sure himself if he had actually gotten them all.

He can’t even tell where this mark came from. Was this why there was resentful energy attempting to harm Wei WuXian earlier? Because they were attracted to this mark?

What will happen if Lan WangJi didn’t see it coming then?

He didn’t even want to consider the possibility of it. 

With a shivering hand, Lan WangJi reached out to the mark. At the very least, he could transfer some spiritual energy into Wei WuXian’s core and help him combat the curse mark himself if he didn't want Lan WangJi by his side. Wei WuXian’s cultivation had always been superior after all. Surely an Ezu Mark like this won’t be able to harm him? And surely the reason why he’d let his guard down this time was only because he’s overly fatigued by the war earlier?

Lan WangJi focused his spiritual energy on his fingers then, closing his eyes and pressing his fingers on Wei WuXian’s stomach, where his golden core lied.

...Just to realize that he can’t find his core.

Wei WuXian’s lower abdomen was empty; there's no signs of warmth, let alone signs of an active golden core.

 

Chapter Text

Lan WangJi’s fingers shuddered. His heartbeats were deafening in his ears. He was no longer trying to send spiritual energy into Wei WuXian’s body; he no longer had the courage to verify the truth for himself. He can’t be wrong. It was not hard to tell if a golden core existed in another person’s body, especially one who was a potent cultivator like Wei WuXian. A golden core pulsed of instinctual energy; in other words, even without the need to be touching the lower abdomen where the core was housed, it’s not that hard to be feeling just any sort of spiritual energy traces from the person’s body either. It’s as natural as air, as rightful as heartbeats.

But Lan WangJi felt none of those. Wei WuXian’s body was cold when he carried him over to the bed earlier. His face had been pale ever since he returned after he disappeared for three months. For the entire time, Lan WangJi had always thought that it was because of this newfound cultivation of his that had resulted in the eerie vibe, the wintry temperature, and the lividity of his skin.

But what if.

What if.

That’s not all to it? 

What if the reason to Wei WuXian lacking warmth and vigour was more than just because he’s practising demonic cultivation now? What if it was also because…

...he’d lost his core?

Lan WangJi felt his heart skip a beat as the possibility crossed his mind. Since when he discovered the truth, he had never been able to move his eyes away from Wei WuXian. His gaze persisted on Wei WuXian’s face, who was still unconscious, as he scrutinized every inch of his features, trying to spot the tiniest difference in this Wei WuXian as opposed to the effulgent Wei WuXian he used to know. But simply staring like this won’t give him an answer. And he knew there’s only one way for him to be definite for sure.

He stretched a hand towards Wei WuXian’s lower abdomen again, the motion so tedious as his fingers trembled ever so slightly. He swallowed down his throat. Even before he could touch his flesh for real, he felt the mote of gelidity throbbing from Wei WuXian again and it wasn’t helping in soothing the rampaging of his own emotions. 

His slender fingers were almost touching Wei WuXian on his stomach when Wei WuXian let loose a deep, low grunt all of a sudden, urging Lan WangJi to pull his hand back, just in time when Wei WuXian opened his eyes. 

Dark orbs met light-coloured orbs. 

Lan WangJi’s breathing was a tad heavier than usual, his heartbeats were still blaring in his ears. Wei WuXian’s breathing, however, was shallow, almost non-existent, a stark contrast with Lan WangJi’s very own breathing. At first, Wei WuXian seemed pretty groggy, his eyes still gathering focus, misty, his mouth hanging slightly open. But the moment he realized that it’s Lan WangJi who was sitting on his bed ー in such a close distance nevertheless ー he sprung up in lightning speed. His breathing turned heftier as his eyes snapped open wide. 

Edging himself up towards a corner, he uttered in quivering lips, the words that trundled out of his throat were ones of distinct caution.

“HanGuang-Jun,” he snarled. “What are you doing here?”

Lan WangJi had yet to collect his composure but Wei WuXian’s drastic reaction ripped his confound apart as he averted eye contact with the uptight man and took a few deep breathing himself. 

“I heard noise from your tent,” he said, trying to keep his voice as unruffled as he could. His fingers curled up on his lap, a sheen of cold sweat coated his forehead as a thin frown formed in between his eyebrows. “When I came in, you were on the floor.”

“And?” Wei WuXian interrupted. He didn’t seem like he had the patience to listen to Lan WangJi breaking things down in such a laggard way. He can’t see through Lan WangJi’s expression, he can’t read what he's feeling, and he can’t tell if he’d found out things he shouldn’t know in the first place.

Lan WangJi didn’t answer right away. Instead, he raised his head and gave Wei WuXian a serene look from the corner of his eye. That reaction didn’t work well with Wei WuXian.

And?” Wei WuXian pressed on. His hands were clenched into fists, he’s scowling deeply at Lan WangJi, gaze filled with unfaltering, unforgivable menace as if he’d tear Lan WangJi apart if Lan WangJi was to choose silence as a resort.

Lan WangJi looked away and closed his eyes. He’s slowly but surely calming down now. He was sure that what he felt wasn’t an illusion, and judging by how Wei WuXian was reacting now, it only confirmed to Lan WangJi that he had, indeed, found out about something that he shouldn’t know in the first place.

“I brought you here,” Lan WangJi said.

“And then what?” Wei WuXian was on the limit of his patience by now. He inched towards Lan WangJi, practically glaring into the tranquil light of his orbs. “What did you do?”

“Nothing,” Lan WangJi said.

His expression was as impassive as ever, his tone was as steady as it ever was. He’d loosened the grip of his fingers, his heartbeats had returned to its usual pace. He wasn’t staring at Wei WuXian, simply letting his gaze lingered on the floor, despite knowing perfectly well that Wei WuXian was still glaring at him with quavering light in his orbs that's filled with suspicions and unease as he contemplated if he should trust Lan WangJi. 

They kept their distance and kept the silence stretched between them for long moments before Wei WuXian released a heavy sigh and slumped against the bedhead. He seemed to be convinced that Lan WangJi hadn't found out anything from his overly calm appearance. When Lan WangJi stole a peek at him, he saw that he's massaging his temples with his thumb. The scowl had not faded from his face; aside from his very much wrathful and overstrung expression, Lan WangJi also caught the hint of fatigue and, probably, pain from his wounds. 

“Tsk,” Wei WuXian hissed all of a sudden, shattering the frigid air between them. 

Lan WangJi moved closer out of his own instinct, thinking that he’d hurt himself. Wei WuXian’s eyes brightened as he shot him another leery stare.

“What are you trying to do?” Wei WuXian asked, the vigilance vivid in his tone. Before Lan WangJi could answer though, Wei WuXian had lifted a smirk and tilted his head, eyes narrowed. “HanGuang-Jun, by the way, don’t you think it’s inappropriate to be staying in another person’s tent in late-night like this? I’m sure HanGuang-Jun wouldn’t want his unsullied reputation to be stained by a fiendish demon like myself?”

“You are not a fiendish demon. And we are both men,” Lan WangJi said, voice still monotone. 

“So what if we’re both men? It only makes it worse, don’t you think? Who would’ve thought that two men are spending who-knows-what-kind-of private time in a tent, in the midst of war where hundreds of people are dying outside, huh?” As if reminded of something, Wei WuXian paused and looked down at his own body. While Lan WangJi was dressed elegantly and neatly, he’s only wearing a piece of lanky thin clothing on his own body, his chest bare, the curse mark on his stomach clear as day. 

If anyone was to catch them in this state, no words nor alibi would be able to cleanse the suspicions off them. Wei WuXian didn’t particularly care about that; it’s not like his reputation wasn’t already sullied anyway. But Lan WangJi… HanGuang-Jun was different. Lan WangJi earned his title for a reason that’s more than the achievements he’d attained in the ongoing Sunshot Campaign. HanGuang-Jun, like his title implied, also bear hope and light that could serve as a guidepost, as a straw of faith others can grasp onto during the most miserable time of their life. HanGuang-Jun’s existence was a personification of light in all senses. While Wei WuXian, he…

Clicking his tongue, Wei WuXian pushed Lan WangJi away. Or rather, he attempted to push Lan WangJi away. His strength wasn’t as strong as his usual state and Lan WangJi could clearly tell too. He didn’t budge, his eyes simply fixed on Wei WuXian, not looking away. 

Even if someone was to catch them in this state, no one would ever think that Lan WangJi had done anything to Wei WuXian, despite how dishevelled Wei WuXian appeared to be. For them, it can only be Wei WuXian who’d seduced and defiled their noble HanGuang-Jun. But above all, Wei WuXian didn’t want Lan WangJi to lay hands on him. Not because he thought that Lan WangJi would hurt him, but solely because he didn’t want Lan WangJi’s light to be discoloured by any speck of dust he had on himself, physical or not, visible or not.

Lan WangJi should be kept pristine at all times. He should be shimmering in light and hope. And the least Wei WuXian thought he could do was to uphold that for him.

If he needed to take upon the filthy accusations for Lan WangJi, then so be it.

“Wounds,” Lan WangJi said. At a time when Wei WuXian wasn’t paying attention, Lan WangJi had inched closer towards Wei WuXian again. There's only a short gap between their bodies and by the time Wei WuXian returned his attention to the man, he saw his own reflection in Lan WangJi’s eyes, taking him aback.

“Wounds? Whatー oh. In my own defence, I was about to treat them myself whenー wait, what happened? Something attacked? Or…”

Lan WangJi shook his head. He didn’t seem like he intended to explain to Wei WuXian either. If Wei WuXian knew that he almost died being devoured by resentful energies that were attracted to his curse mark, then he’d probably make Lan WangJi leave at once.

“Where do you keep your bandages?” he asked to divert his attention.

“Why?” Wei WuXian returned a question instead. 

Seeing that Wei WuXian didn’t intend to answer him, Lan WangJi sighed softly and stood from the bed. He glanced around the place and was quick to locate a box of what seemed to contain bandages and medicines on the table. Wei WuXian wasn’t lying; he was indeed trying to treat himself before things spiralled out of control. Lan WangJi can tell simply by tracing the trails of the evidence left behind; the cleaner part of the floor with no dust around the table, and the half-opened box on the table. He even lit a candle and was all prepared to sit down and look after himself. Just to be ambushed before he could get to it.

Without a word, Lan WangJi brought the box over.

“Take off your clothes,” Lan WangJi said.

Wow, HanGuang-Jun, did you hear yourself? I can’t believe I’d ever hear something like this from HanGuang-Jun’s mouth!” Wei WuXian gaped. In the next second, he's smirking again, eyes half-lidded as he gave Lan WangJi a naughty look.

“But why should I listen to you? What if I don’t want to take my clothes off? What will HanGuang-Jun do, huh? I’m injured after all. I can barely lift my hand. Perhaps HanGuang-Jun can help this pitiful patient out then? Hm? What say you?”

Wei WuXian knew about how unreceptive Lan WangJi could be when it came to having skin contact with another person. He’s definitely trying to disgust Lan WangJi, and he had already made himself clear that Lan WangJi’s presence wasn’t welcomed in the tent. Wei WuXian’s speculation was right though, if he hadn’t known about what Lan WangJi had found out. Lan WangJi would totally leave if he wasn’t aware of the lack of Wei WuXian’s own ability to nurse himself back to health with his own spiritual energy; now, he can’t bring himself to leave Wei WuXian unattended, especially not when he’s still bleeding and cold, made worse when this was a situation that had persisted for a long time without Lan WangJi’s knowledge.

Lan WangJi gave him a meek look. He opened his mouth but closed it again. Faint pink painted a wispy shade on his earlobes as he raised a hand towards Wei WuXian, looking like he’s about to take his inner clothing off for real. Wei WuXian definitely didn’t expect Lan WangJi to be acting in such a conforming way. He panicked and pulled their distance apart again, waving his hand at Lan WangJi.

“Fine, fine! I’ll do it myself, don’t touch me! Lan Zhan, you’re seriously so...”

Lan WangJi lowered his hand. He waited as Wei WuXian peeled his inner clothing off his body, immediately turning his back towards Wei WuXian the moment he saw his bare shoulders, averting the scene despite being able to make out shadows of Wei WuXian’s pale flesh from the corner of his eye. Even when Wei WuXian was left half-naked on the bed, he remained silent. All the strident words from earlier disappeared into thin air, the leery gaze from before faded in his eyes as Wei WuXian gave Lan WangJi a subdued look. When Lan WangJi turned to look at him, finally noticing the silence that was stretched for too long, Wei WuXian rattled and looked away upon meeting eyes with Lan WangJi, acting as if he hadn’t been looking at him.

Lan WangJi acted as if he hadn’t caught that reaction. Still keeping to himself, he frowned a tad when he saw the deep cut on Wei WuXian’s arm. It was still bleeding, the blood pooling and creating a deep-red patch on the bed below Wei WuXian’s hand. It looked obviously like a cut caused by a sword. At this point, not even Lan WangJi can tell if it’s slashed by a living or dead person. And at this point, Lan WangJi came to realize the reality of how Wei WuXian was constantly surrounded by peril, threatened not only by living people, but by dead people as well. 

His heart clenched with every tedious, light touch he applied on Wei WuXian’s atrocious scar. Wei WuXian had given up struggling; he was no longer pushing Lan WangJi away, acknowledging that there’s no way he could win against Lan WangJi’s tenacity. If treating his wound was all he wanted to do, then let him. It’s no big deal. Definitely better than how he relentlessly lecturing him about how detrimental demonic cultivation can be and how he obstinately tried to bring him back to Gusu.

“Tss…” he hissed under his breath when Lan WangJi pressed on a spot that was cut the deepest.

Lan WangJi’s halted his hand right away. “Sorry, did I hurt you?” he asked.

Wei WuXian shook his head, not looking at Lan WangJi, nor at his wound. Lan WangJi stared at him for a while, before he pursed his lips together.

“You can… bite my shoulder if it hurts too much,” he blurted.

“What?” Wei WuXian’s eyes widened as he turned around to ogle at Lan WangJi.

“...”

They stayed like this in silence; Lan WangJi focusing on what he was doing, Wei WuXian gaping at him.

“I’ll be gentler,” Lan WangJi said, an attempt to brush off what he’d just let slip.

Wei WuXian was still looking at Lan WangJi with an expression that indicated as if he couldn’t believe what he’d just heard. And then, with another prick of ache rushing to his brain from his wound, he was snapped back to himself. He looked at his wound; the cloth Lan WangJi was using to clean the blood was now wholly drenched in his blood. Lan WangJi’s slender, beautiful fingers were bloodied too. He frowned. He cannot handle the sight at all.

Shaking his head a little, Wei WuXian clutched Lan WangJi on his hand. That plain gesture ceased Lan WangJi in what he’s doing as he shared a look with Wei WuXian.

“Let me do it myself,” Wei WuXian said. He’s no longer wearing a hostile expression on his face; rather, when he spoke to Lan WangJi, he was smiling a little, and looking very much forlorn. The light in his eyes had turned a shade softer, the gesture when he took the cloth off Lan WangJi’s hand was gentle as well, a distinct contrast with how he always behaved when he faced Lan WangJi.

This was the first time when they can finally sit down in peace without being engulfed in antagonistic air since they were reunited. It lifted some weight off Lan WangJi’s chest. He didn’t insist and let Wei WuXian do the rest of the cleaning. But when it came to bandaging, Wei WuXian let Lan WangJi do it instead. He no longer looked away, properly scrutinizing, properly taking in every ounce of motion Lan WangJi did on his body.

“The curse mark,” Lan WangJi brought up, eyes falling on the hideous stretch of darkness on Wei WuXian’s stomach.

There’s no use trying to hide it. It’s right there, under plain eyesight. It’d be surprising if Lan WangJi didn’t see it. So since it’s no use avoiding the problem, Wei WuXian shrugged,

“Not sure when I got it, to be honest. You’re aware we haven’t been resting for 35 hours, right? How is it possible for me to keep track of every single thing that’s been happening around me? Especially in the warzone, I can’t be distracted or else risking a deviation, that’s why I always get mad at you when you disturb me, so sorry for that. Anyway, this. Maybe I got it earlier, or maybe just recently. Who knows?”

He spoke it in such a carefree way as if the curse mark was nothing but dirt he got from the battlefield and not something that can take his life anytime now and it was infuriating Lan WangJi. His breathing became heavier as a frown crossed his face.

“You should take care of yourself better,” he gritted.

“I know how to take care of myself, Lan Zhan,” Wei WuXian said casually. “It’s just a curse mark. All I need to do is to get rid of the spirit when it comes for me later. It's no big deal.”

“It might kill you,” Lan WangJi raised his voice. Wei WuXian was momentarily bewildered; he had never seen Lan WangJi acting so unruffled like this except perhaps that time when they were in the Xuanwu cave, when he knew that Lan WangJi was suppressing stress beyond his imagination and when Lan WangJi erupted on Wei WuXian by biting him on his shoulder.

“Lan Zhan?” he called out carefully. Lan WangJi pressed his lips together, realizing that he’d lost control of his emotions. Turning away, he closed his eyes to regulate his emotions when he heard Wei WuXian speaking to him again.

“Let’s be reasonable here, HanGuang-Jun. How do you expect me to take care of myself when we’re in the midst of war? We haven’t won the war, we’re outnumbered, we’re not strong enough, we can’t even let our defence loose! And worse of all? We can’t even retrieve Lotus Pier, our home! So tell me, great HanGuang-Jun, what should my priority be here? Take breaks every hour and check my body condition or meditate every half an hour to replenish energy? We don’t have time for that. We cannot afford to have time!”

Lan WangJi felt bad all of a sudden. He understood Wei WuXian’s point, he really did. They were in war right now. Every second was a challenge to their survival. As long as they’re still breathing, they’ll have to keep fighting. Because if they didn’t, then that’d mean being a closer step away from losing their life.

But Wei WuXian was different. If before, Lan WangJi would disagree, he would refute. He would tell Wei WuXian that it’d only take minutes to protect one’s body with spiritual energy. But now that he knew that Wei WuXian didn’t have a core, he can’t bring himself to say anything at all. He had yet to know how and why did Wei WuXian lose his core. And he knew that this wasn’t the right time to be questioning Wei WuXian either, not when he obviously was frequently dangling at the verge of losing his temper.

And not when he looked so tired and so triggered and so… unstable.

“Wei Ying,” Lan WangJi spoke, attempted to fix his mistake. But Wei WuXian raised a hand and shook his head, stopping him from doing exactly that.

“Unless if you have a better way out then just leave me alone. Let me choose my own way to live my life.”

Lan WangJi lowered his head, unable to say anything else. Wei WuXian was right; who was he to be deciding things for Wei WuXian anyway? The most he could do was to observe him from the sidelines, and like now, treating his wounds when he sustained injuries. As of now, Lan WangJi was a nobody for Wei WuXian. Acquaintance, maybe. Friends, hardly.

“How can I help you?”

Yet, he asked. He cannot help but ask. He didn’t know what else he can do but ask.

Wei WuXian gave him a fleeting look. There were still some ire left in his orbs but he didn’t look like he’s about to chase Lan WangJi out either.

“Lan Zhan, since when are you such a busybody? Is Gusu Lan Sect done with your own war? Do you have so much time now that you’re using those free time to interfere with how other sects do their things?”

Lan WangJi shook his head, “I don’t mean it that way.”

Wei WuXian sighed then, “Lan Zhan, I understand that you are concerned about me. HanGuang-Jun is always like this after all; if he sees any sort of injustice, he wouldn’t sit around doing nothing. But, HanGuang-Jun, can I kindly remind you again? This war to retrieve Lotus Pier is our family matter; even when you’re here, it doesn’t mean that Gusu Lan Sect gains the rights to interfere with the way we do things. Surely ZeWu-Jun wouldn’t want to attract unnecessary troubles to the sect now?”

Lan WangJi didn’t deny. Wei WuXian wasn’t wrong. Despite how hot-headed he seemed to be especially in war, Wei WuXian was still very clear-headed about what was happening around them. Gusu Lan Sect’s own warfare in Sunshot Campaign had just stabilized, that’s why Lan WangJi can come over to help Yunmeng Jiang Sect. But it’s also undeniable that they had suffered lots of casualties themselves. The Cloud Recesses was burned down, there’d be tons of rebuilding to work out later. They’re not in a better state than any other sect. As a Lan, Lan WangJi should, like Wei WuXian had said, prioritize his own sect and his own family first before he stuck his head into another sect’s matters.

Yet, there’s also no way Lan WangJi can leave Wei WuXian alone now that he found out about his core. At the very least, he wanted to do something, at least something that won’t harm his own sect while he’s at it.

“I’ll stay here until I’m needed back in Gusu,” he suggested. 

Wei WuXian raised an eyebrow, “Until when Yunmeng Jiang Sect retrieves Lotus Pier?”

Lan WangJi hesitated for a while before he answered, “For as long as I can,” was what he said instead. It wasn’t a definite answer but Wei WuXian seemed to have taken satisfaction in what he heard as he chuckled out loud.

“Let me be honest with you. As much as you’re worried about me, I’m worried about you too. I don’t want you to be bogged from your own family matters when we have things under control here. The HanGuang-Jun I know isn’t like that and the last thing I want is for war to change you,” Wei WuXian’s voice faded in the end, the last of his words were small but Lan WangJi got them loud and clear.

“...like how it changed me.”

“Wei Yingー” he started.

“I cannot let it continue like this,” Wei WuXian disturbed. He raised a palm, staring at the blotch of dried blood on his hand. “As you can see, it’s hard for me to control the corpses when I’m depleted of energy. This is a problem. A problem I have no solution yet.” He sighed out loud before he turned to give Lan WangJi a weak smile.

“Lan Zhan, you asked me how you can help me, didn’t you? Perhaps then you can help me think of a way to conserve energy? Help me think of a way to surpass this useless human limit that’s not helping at all in this dire time?”

Lan WangJi had no solutions to everything Wei WuXian required of him. He can’t bring himself to tell him that. While Wei WuXian spaced out, he stretched a hand towards Wei WuXian and held him lightly on the wrist. Wei WuXian jolted and attempted to struggle at first but Lan WangJi held him firmer and had one hand encircling him around his waist before he pulled him over. Wei WuXian was powerless against Lan WangJi’s strength. When he still had his golden core, he could still fight Lan WangJi off if he tried hard enough. But now…

“At least, sleep for the night,” Lan WangJi’s soothing voice echoed in his ears. In the next second, he felt a stream of calm, warm spiritual energy spilling into his veins from his wrist where Lan WangJi was holding onto him. And for some reason, when he felt the tranquil flow like this, it made him feel at peace too. But he cannot sleep. He cannot. Not when there’s another person in the same place as him. Not when the person was holding him like this. Not when the person can feel his body so clearly like this.

He cannot afford to let his defences down.

“I won’t do anything else. I promise,” Lan WangJi assured.

They were just simple words; promises that had no guarantees. Yet, Wei WuXian chose to trust him. He closed his eyes and let his weight fall on Lan WangJi’s body. He’s tired.

He’s beyond his own human's limits.

 


 

A crushing pain just on one side of his head came and went in a pattern. The pain felt like someone had taken a knife to his skull. Squeezing his eyes shut, he willed the pain to go away. The rest of the world became detached, all he could concentrate on was the pain rooted deep in his head. Out of his own reflex, he cuddled against the softest material he can find, propping against his head. Small grunts leaked from his lips as cold sweat sheened his forehead. He felt a tender touch stroking him on his face, wiping the sweat off for him. Without a second thought, he leaned into the touch, yearning for more, craving for comfort.

“Wei Ying?”

He heard a buzz in his ears; a voice. But he couldn’t make out who it was. It sounded familiar though. 

And then, as another pound of ache hit him hard in the head, he frowned and gave up trying to think. He attempted to relax, wanting to forget about things, at least for now. 

Amidst his wavering consciousness, he heard a song; very calm, very peaceful, very soothing.

He knew this song. But he cannot remember exactly where did he hear this song before. Yet, he could no longer bring himself to think. Trampled by a heavy weight of fatigue, he let his consciousness swerve into darkness, letting his mind calm, as he lured himself to sleep.

 

Between his dazed consciousness, he heard the sound of dripping water. When he peeked through his half-lidded eyes, he saw nothing but darkness. But he can make out shadows, shapes he’s familiar with.

He knew this place.

It's a cave of impenetrable blackness with just a stagnant pool at the end of it. He was here just not long ago, stuck with…

...Lan WangJi.

He blinked a few times; the man in white robes was sitting just right beside him, his eyes weren’t on him but they were closed, looking like he’s meditating. Wei WuXian tried not to move too much, in case he accidentally woke the man up. So, he could only glance around the place with his eyes. His head was throbbing, he's suffering from intense headache and his body was burning. 

He was having a fever.

He was injured but he didn’t remember having a fever. That meant, this was a dream, and he's dreaming of the time when he and Lan WangJi were stuck in the Xuanwu Cave in Dust-Creek Mountain, after having defeated the Xuanwu and were in the midst of waiting for someone to save them. Did Lan WangJi let him sleep on his lap back then though? He didn’t remember Lan WangJi agreeing to his wish when he requested for it back then. But now, he was properly laying on the man’s lap; it’s soft and warm and it helped his headache feel better.

Lan WangJi opened his eyes then. Wei WuXian quickly closed his eyes. In the next second, he felt a cold hand on his burning forehead. He felt spiritual energy spilling serenely into his body, creating a nice stream of coolness in his veins. It felt good.

As he dozed off again, he could still hear the sound of dripping water and the temperature of Lan WangJi’s hand on his forehead. And then, a sigh. A call of his name.

 


 

He wasn’t sure how long he slept. When he woke again, he thought he was still stuck in a dream. Because he was still laying on Lan WangJi’s lap and Lan WangJi’s hand was on his forehead. He was stuck in a moment of perplex until when Lan WangJi noticed that he’s awake that he moved his hand away from his face.

“You are awake,” Lan WangJi said.

Wei WuXian grunted and held onto his head. He tried to sit up with immense difficulty. Lan WangJi supported him by holding onto his body. Rubbing his temples with his thumb, Wei WuXian scowled deeply.

“How long have I been sleeping?” he asked. It’s still dark outside, so it shouldn’t be too long.

“Four hours,” Lan WangJi answered.

So that meant it’s about 4 or 5AM in the morning now. Once the ache in his head lessened, Wei WuXian took in a deep breath and released it, trying as hard as he could to modulate his tension. When he opened his eyes, he saw that Lan WangJi was staring at him, as if afraid that he’d pass out again.

Wei WuXian snorted, “Why are you looking at me like I’ll fall dead all of a sudden?”

Lan WangJi looked away without answering, noticing how rude he’d been acting. 

“Have you been sleeping yourself? Or did you just spend the entire time being my pillow and meditating?” Wei WuXian joked.

Like how he did in his dream, in the cave.

Lan WangJi didn't answer. Noticing the flush of red on his earlobes, Wei WuXian broke into a chortle again. “HanGuang-Jun, admit it, you did lend me your lap back then when we were in the cave, didn’t you? Remember? The cave where we fought that stinky Xuanwu?”

Lan WangJi looked at him again, this time, with a gaze that’s filled with nothing but questions. 

“Nothing to be embarrassed about! I was sick anyway, it’s alright for HanGuang-Jun to be pampering a sick person.” At the end of his words, he patted twice on his own lap and smirked. “Does HanGuang-Jun want to sleep on here too? Take it as a, er, me returning your debt of gratitude for borrowing me your lap, or whatever that makes you feel better.”

Lan WangJi coughed quietly and looked away. “You shouldn’t let anyone sleep on your lap heedlessly,” he advised.

“Oh? But HanGuang-Jun isn’t ‘anyone’,” Wei WuXian said. Lan WangJi sent him a gaze again but Wei WuXian didn’t seem like he’s about to explain further. Simply lurching closer to Lan WangJi, he grasped him gently on the hand, wanting to pull him over when his motion stopped so abruptly that it took even Lan WangJi aback.

“Wait, the cave. Xuanwu,” Wei WuXian muttered to himself, reminded of something. Lan WangJi merely looked at him, curious.

“Lan Zhan, the cave,” he grasped hard on Lan WangJi’s hand all of a sudden. And again, Lan WangJi only looked at him, trying to understand what he’s getting at. Wei WuXian seemed to have noticed how incoherent he sounded too. In the next moment, he grabbed Lan WangJi’s shoulders and spoke right into his face.

“Lan Zhan, do you remember the cave where we were stuck in? With the Xuanwu?” 

“En,” Lan WangJi nodded.

“Do you remember I asked you about a sword I found in the stomach of the Xuanwu?” Wei WuXian pressed on.

Lan WangJi searched for his memories. After a while, he nodded.

“T-That sword.” With a pause, Wei WuXian dipped his head, pondering. “Back then, when I grabbed hold of the sword, I can immediately tell that it held tremendous resentful energies. I kept on hearing a torrent of screams beside my ears. It must’ve been something special.” He raised his head, looking right into Lan WangJi’s eyes. “Lan Zhan, you knew something about Xuanwu the Slaughter, didn’t you?”

Lan WangJi nodded. He supported Wei WuXian to sit back in place as he spoke, “The Xuanwu we fought back then wasn’t the divine beast. It's a semi-completed result of a beast failing to rise to divinity and being transformed into a yao.”

“It was a deformed Divine Xuanwu,” Wei WuXian added.

“En,” Lan WangJi confirmed.

“And it had been eating live humans for four-hundred years,” Wei WuXian trailed mindlessly. “It must’ve consumed at least five thousand people before it went into hibernation. And when the people were dragged into its shell with their bodies still intact, there had to be some that were still alive. That sword I talked about, it must have belonged to a cultivator who had been eaten. And since no one came out alive from the Xuanwu the Slaughter, the sword was hidden in it for at least four hundred years within the corpse mound of the shell.”

“Wei Ying,” Lan WangJi called out. Wei WuXian was snapped out of his thoughts. 

“Why do you bring up the sword now?” Lan WangJi asked.

Wei WuXian, surprisingly, broke into a radiant grin. It caught Lan WangJi off guard.

“Do you remember I told you about not having enough energy to control too many corpses at the same time and that it’s going to be harmful to my body in the long term?” Wei WuXian asked instead.

Lan WangJi nodded; it’s what Wei WuXian asked of Lan WangJi back then, it’s what Wei WuXian requested solution of. And it’s what Lan WangJi wasn’t able to give either. He’s no expert of demonic cultivation and they’re still in the midst of war. Even if he was to derive something out, it’s not something that can be done in days, not even months. 

“I’ve found a solution to it,” Wei WuXian winked at him, looking utterly proud.

Lan WangJi’s eyes brightened, “The sword?” he asked.

Wei WuXian nodded a few times. “The sword is marred with pain and resentment of countless humans, both dead and alive, it had heard their screams. Back then, I had wanted to keep the sword and examine the iron properly but it had sunk before I could retrieve it. Now that I think about it, if I can make use of the iron, or rather, the resentful energies gathered in the iron ore and craft something out of it, then I can use it as a weapon to help me control the corpses too, just like how I made Chenqing!”

“It’s dangerous,” Lan WangJi stammered.

Wei WuXian’s expression froze on his face before his smile curved into a smirk.

“Are you seriously telling me this now when we’re in the midst of a war, when we’re already in danger every second of our life?”

“...”

“Fine. I can understand why HanGuang-Jun would think that way. It’s still demonic cultivation, right? And I’m literally about to make more demonic tools.”

Wei WuXian got out of bed, stumbled a bit when his feet touched the ground. A hand came to support him on his waist, preventing his fall. Wei WuXian pushed him away.

“Where are you going?” Lan WangJi asked as Wei WuXian pulled his outer robe onto his body, looking like he was about to head out.

“The cave,” he said with full determination.

“You have not recovered yet,” Lan WangJi said.

“So does Yunmeng Jiang Sect,” Wei WuXian gave him a stern sideways glance, still smirking. “We are low on resources for at least six months after being defeated just now. And you’re telling me to sit around and wait for help without doing anything? Now? When Lotus Pier is still being grossly adulterated by the Wen dogs? I’m sorry, HanGuang-Jun, you might be a forbearing person but I’m not. I cannot handle doing nothing at all after the pathetic defeats. My pride cannot, Jiang Cheng’s pride cannot, Yunmeng Jiang Sect’s pride cannot either! Now, step aside, this has nothing to do with you nor with Gusu Lan Sect.”

Lan WangJi listened without interrupting. Wei WuXian wasn’t wrong. Even if they could request help from other sects, this particular war in Jiang Ling was way too personal. If they could, they’d definitely want to retrieve Lotus Pier with their own hands. And Lan WangJi knew that Wei WuXian wouldn’t want to stay still either especially now that he had found a hint of hope.

“I’ll go with you,” Lan WangJi leaked when Wei WuXian was at the entrance of his tent, one food already stepping out.

“What?” Wei WuXian blurted.

Lan WangJi walked towards him, eyes a relentless colour, shaded with intense fortitude.

“The cave in Dusk-Creek Mountain. I will go with you.”

“And search for the sword with me?” Wei WuXian tested.

Lan WangJi closed his eyes and considered. Then, he opened his eyes, the light in his orbs no less certain than before as he repeated,

“Yes.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Dusk-Creek Mountain was located very far away from Jiang Ling. Back then, without his sword, it required Jiang Cheng seven days of unceasing rush, to-and-fro, to save both Wei WuXian and Lan WangJi out of the cave. On typical occasions, it would require a full ten days; five to travel there, five to return from the cave. 

Wei WuXian had calculated the time he needed to be absent from Jiang Sect’s base and had then gone over to Jiang Cheng’s tent to talk to him about leaving the base for ten days to get some things done. While he stood outside the tent, Lan WangJi caught some loud noises from the tent, clearly ones of arguments, alongside the sound of fists landing on tables and then, before he knew it, Wei WuXian was storming out of the tent, looking very much agitated, still breathing heavily.

The sun was already up by the time they strode out of Wei WuXian’s tent. It soared as a canopy of gold, bright amid the blue. As darkness relinquished, every colour changed from suffused of charcoal to a vibrancy, giving them the false impression of hope dawning upon them. Which wasn’t too far-fetched from Wei WuXian’s state of mind anyway. He did discover a way that can help them win the war, albeit it being vindictive and risky. But clearly, that very intention of his to leave Yunmeng Jiang Sect’s base to reach out to that very hope was deemed to be inappropriate by the Sect Leader himself, casting merciless rain on his sun.

“Something about the sect will be left in a vulnerable state if I am to leave,” Wei WuXian grunted upon meeting up with Lan WangJi, who followed his speedy footsteps, leaving Jiang Cheng’s tent as far as they could. “I know it’s risky. Thanks for reminding me that I’m the sole force here who actually stands a chance against the Wen dogs by the way, Jiang Cheng. But no matter how strong I am, I’m only one person! Why can’t he consider the bigger picture?! It’s not like I’m leaving forever! Ten days. Ten days is all I need to flip this hopeless situation around andー”

“Five,” Lan WangJi spoke all of a sudden.

Wei WuXian’s footsteps halted abruptly. He looked over his shoulder, eyes half-lidded, the shade of fury still evident on his face as he mouthed,

“What?”

“Five days,” Lan WangJi repeated. As if emphasizing his point, his hand landed on Bichen and raised it up a tad. Wei WuXian instantly understood.

“Right. Right! Ten days is on foot! But if we go with a sword…”

He paused all of a sudden, frowning, as if reminded of something. Lan WangJi didn’t need him to tell to make out what his concern was.

“I can bring you there,” he suggested. “One sword is easier than two.”

Wei WuXian spun around, looking at him in disbelief. He seemed to be suspecting something before his lips broke into a smile. 

“That’s very considerate of you, HanGuang-Jun. But if we travel on one sword, that means we’ll have to hold onto each other for support. Isn’t HanGuang-Jun unreceptive towards physical contact with another person?”

Lan WangJi seemed stuck with a response but in the end, he shook his head and said,

“Dire moments require for dire solutions,” he stopped for a while, searching for his words before he added. “If it’s you, it’s fine.”

Now Wei WuXian was the one who got stuck. Coughing fakely, he waved his hand and strode towards the opposite direction, heading back towards Jiang Cheng’s tent.

“Telling the Sect Leader I’ll be back in five days,” he said, reading Lan WangJi’s gaze on his back.

Lan WangJi could only watch him leave.

 


 

Wei WuXian looked less distraught when he emerged from Jiang Cheng’s tent again. He gave Lan WangJi a wink as he walked past him, a gesture that told Lan WangJi enough of Jiang Cheng’s sentiment after Wei WuXian informed him about his new strategy. They didn’t speak throughout the way they headed towards the exit of the base. Wei WuXian stopped at a short distance away from the base before he turned around, facing the base. He pulled Chenqing out from his belt and started playing a steep tone. In the next moment, walking corpses surrounded the base, forming a solid wall around it, some of them patrolling around, looking very much like they were forbidding anything or anyone to enter or exit the base.

“There, this will do,” Wei WuXian kept his flute away after a suave spin on his thumb. He stood in silence for a bit before he turned to look at Lan WangJi again.

“Are you sure you want to come with me?” he asked. Then, a chuckle. “Even though I’ve told Jiang Cheng we’re going with Bichen, it’d be stupid to be changing the plan now but I respect Second Master Lan’s decision even if you would like to pull out now.”

Lan WangJi shook his head. With a resolute tone ー one that reminded Wei WuXian of how he rung his decision back in his own tent ー, he said, “I will go with you.”

Wei WuXian grinned, “Fine. I hope you won’t regret.”

Lan WangJi answered that qualm by pulling Bichen off its sheath and positioning it in front of both of them.

“Two is better than one,” was all Wei WuXian heard from him before he felt a tough tug on his waist and the next thing he knew, he was being hoisted onto the sword, both of them standing steadily on Bichen’s refined, semi-transparent blade.

The sensation on his waist felt familiar and it reminded him of how Lan WangJi did the same thing to him back when he forcefully yanked him off the warfield. Now that he’s calmer and can definitely think better, he came to realize that Lan WangJi really did he what he did out of the intention to save him. He felt slightly bad for lashing out at him back then.

As they departed, Wei WuXian swallowed down his throat.

“Erm, Lan Zhan.”

“En?”

Lan WangJi was standing behind him, his back pressed against Lan WangJi’s chest with Lan WangJi’s hand still clutching onto his waist. 

“Yesterday,” Wei WuXian started, unsure if he should feel awkward in this position both of them were sharing now. “Sorry for shouting at you.”

He could clearly feel the way Lan WangJi’s fingers trembled on his waist, coupled with a very, very faint heave of breath just by his ear.

“It is fine,” Lan WangJi said at long last.

They said nothing else after that. 

After a while, surprisingly, Lan WangJi started speaking again, although he sounded like he’d been contemplating his words throughout the silence just so he could speak well enough so as not to offend Wei WuXian.

“Take a step back and breathe when you can,” he said. “Don’t lose yourself to undeserving threats.”

Every word Lan WangJi said punched Wei WuXian hard in his heart. He wasn’t reprimanding him, nor was he teaching him how to do things. He’s figuring out a solution for him and he’s reminding him of the bigger picture. Wei WuXian didn’t know he needed these words until he heard them now.

“En,” he responded. “I admit I can be hot-headed when it comes to the war but… I have my reasons.” He turned around just ever so slightly, just enough to catch Lan WangJi light-coloured orbs. “Do you trust me?”

Lan WangJi returned his gaze and for an ephemeral moment, Wei WuXian felt sparks ignited somewhere in his veins, muting his sensations for a few seconds. He’d never gotten to see Lan WangJi’s eyes in such a close distance before. His orbs were a lighter colour than most people, but he could see the depth lurking from within, yet it didn’t possess any sort of despicable vibe, but of tenderness, and of concern.

He didn’t remember seeing anyone else looking at him with this kind of gaze ever since Sunshot Campaign erupted.

“I trust you,” Lan WangJi said, voice no less unwavering than before.

Wei WuXian can only give him a slim smile in return. Wanting to brighten up the mood, he diverted their conversation topic in such a forceful yet obvious way that Lan WangJi decided to pretend as if he hadn’t noticed it.

“How is Lan Sect doing by the way? I heard you have managed to retrieve most of Gusu?”

“En,” Lan WangJi answered. “Confrontations still persist, destructions are unavoidable. We are in the progress of rebuilding the Cloud Recesses and the demolished parts of Gusu while preserving resources for the next strife.”

“Is it… bad?”

“...?”

“The destruction. The Cloud Recesses… is everyone still around?”

Lan WangJi can tell from Wei WuXian’s tone that he’s hesitating his question, as if he’s asking something he shouldn’t be asking. Yet, the fact that he did was probably because he’s starting to feel comfortable with Lan WangJi and there’s no way Lan WangJi would turn him down if he was showing signs of opening up to him.

“Everyone is around. Brother is back to lead instructions. Uncle and the rest of the elders are conducting internal support. The only person…” Lan WangJi paused. Wei WuXian instantly noticed the solemn tint in his eyes as he quickly looked away.

“I-It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it! I shouldn’t be interfering with your family matters in the first place,” Wei WuXian speedily said.

“The only person who had sacrificed is Father,” Lan WangJi, however, continued.

“...”

“We will be mourning for him for five years. It’s the least we can do for him.”

It’s no wonder Lan WangJi wasn’t wearing his cloud-moire patterned forehead ribbon but a plain white one instead. He was, quite literally, mourning at the moment.

“...My condolences,” Wei WuXian said.

“Thank you.”

Those were words that were delayed. He’d known about QingHeng-Jun’s passing from Jiang Cheng when they got out of the very cave they’re heading to now. To be fair, if Lan WangJi didn’t come back for him when he was distracting the Xuanwu the Slaughter so that everyone else can escape, Lan WangJi might have returned to Gusu instead of being stuck in the cave, and he might be able to see his Father for one last time. Instead, all that had greeted him when his freedom was returned to him was that his Father had passed away when he was stuck with a pesky Wei WuXian, even having to take care of him when he’s sick. The more Wei WuXian thought about it, the guiltier he felt. But Lan WangJi didn’t seem like he minded at all. He even suggested following Wei WuXian back to that very same cave just because…

...he’s concerned about Wei WuXian? Or was he intending to keep an eye on him just in case Wei WuXian created something malevolent that would turn against them?

Wei WuXian shook his head. What is he thinking about? This was HanGuang-Jun he’s talking about. There’s no way HanGuang-Jun would ever possess a heart that was as cunning as the other cultivators Wei WuXian knew. 

He really wanted to believe in the kindness Lan WangJi gave him when he tended to his wounds and when he let him sleep on his lap back in his tent.

Besides, he really didn’t do anything, didn’t he? Because if not…

...he would’ve found out that Wei WuXian didn’t have a golden core by now.

 


 

They were almost reaching Dusk-Creek Mountain when Wei WuXian got distracted by something he caught sight of below his feet.

A sweeping range of flags that he recognized as Qinghe Nie Sect’s flags spread below his legs. They seemed to be passing by their base.

“Lan Zhan,” he called out. When Lan WangJi looked at him, he pointed his eyes at the base’s direction.

“Do you want to stop by?” Lan WangJi asked, already noticing the intention of Wei WuXian calling out to him.

“Do you think we should?” Wei WuXian asked instead.

Lan WangJi contemplated for a while, “Information,” he said after that.

“I was thinking about the same thing as well. Maybe we can get some information about Wen Sect to plan both of our strategies. Let’s stop by, shall we?” Wei WuXian ended with a grin.

“En.”

Bichen took a fleet turn and landed steadily in front of the entrance to Qinghe Nie Sect’s base. Wei WuXian hopped off the sword in no time and tidied up the crease on his robes. Lan WangJi discreetly kept Bichen away and came to stand by his side.

Some Nie Sect disciples who’d caught sight of them staggered in their footsteps, some gave them courteous nods before they hurried away to mind their own business. Despite their subdued arrival, their presence alone was enough to attract attention; the stark contrast of all-white and all-black striking to the monotonous scene surrounding them. Yet, no one seemed to have the courage to approach them first. But neither Wei WuXian nor Lan WangJi was bothered by the ignorance. Everyone knew about how antagonistic Wei WuXian and HanGuang-Jun were towards each other on the warfield so naturally, no one would want to have anything to do with them, not when they already have their own conflicts to manage.

Totally unaffected by the hostile treatment, Lan WangJi and Wei WuXian were about to set foot into the base when what looked like an average Nie Sect disciple came walking towards them. His robes were stale and grungy. He was a bit shorter than both Lan WangJi and Wei WuXian but he wore an expression that gave a positive impression of courtesy and cordiality, his smile was docile, giving him an approachable vibe.

The treatment he gave Lan WangJi and Wei WuXian was a vivid contrast as compared to the rest of the Nie Sect disciples they bumped into since they set foot here.

Wei WuXian lifted a smile at the sight, pondering to himself.

“HanGuang-Jun, Young Master Wei, what a surprise to see both of you here. Are you here to see Sect Leader Nie?”

He was bowing a bit when he spoke to them, yet not losing the good manners and sincere greeting; all his gestures felt natural. His voice was pleasant to the ears and at first sight, one will ever think of him as someone who’s supposed to be fighting in the warzone, stained with blood, but as someone who should be sitting in a study room, arranging paperwork and conducting lessons.

Wei WuXian’s smile lifted higher.

“Yup, we’re here to see Sect Leader Nie, and you’re…”

The man straightened his back, still smiling, as he nodded to both of them.

“My name is Meng Yao. I am just a normal cultivator helping out Nie Sect at the moment.”

Meng Yao.

Wei WuXian repeated the name a few times in his head, remembering it.

“Young Master Meng, would you kindly inform Sect Leader Nie of our visit?” Wei WuXian requested.

Meng Yao returned him with a wider smile.

“That’s exactly what I’m planning to do.”

 

 

Apart from Meng Yao, another person that showed no antagonism towards them in Nie Sect’s base was Nie MingJue. Well, at least on the surface. Perhaps it’s because this was the first time he saw that Wei WuXian and Lan WangJi weren’t fighting for once, even travelling together then stopping at his base that had given him the impression that they had finally resolved their dispute and that perhaps Wei WuXian wasn’t so far gone to the extent of losing his temper and his heart to his demonic cultivation.

All in all, having HanGuang-Jun’s presence by his side wasn’t such a bad thing after all; something Wei WuXian concluded upon seeing how Nie MingJue wasn’t giving him the cold shoulder.

“Unfortunately, we are not in the situation to segregate our manpower for now,” Nie MingJue had said upon hearing a concise summary of what was going on with both Yunmeng Jiang Sect and Gusu Lan Sect. “We are preparing for a critical confrontation as well.”

Wei WuXian raised an eyebrow, “The confrontation with Wen Xu?”

Wen RuoHan’s eldest son, Wen Xu, had been tasked to take down Qinghe Nie Sect before they could regain more of their lands. Wen Xu wasn’t as menacing as Wen RuoHan but he was still a dangerous opponent who held most of the resources apart from Wen RuoHan himself. Thanks to the death of his youngest son, Wen RuoHan had been cautiously looking over the only son he’s left with so naturally, Wen Xu was given the best of everything to prepare him for war. But, to be honest, Wei WuXian thought that no one else but Nie MingJue was the most suitable person to be facing Wen Xu upfront. Steel against steel, like they would say. He’s great with his cultivation but he wouldn’t say so for physical strength, same goes to everyone else he knew.

Nie MingJue released a harsh snicker under his breath. He took a glimpse at his sabre, Ba Xia, then returned his attention to the pair.

“Once we’re done here, we might be able to support Yunmeng Jiang Sect.”

“We are appreciative of that,” Wei WuXian nodded. “But we wish to retrieve Lotus Pier by ourselves. It would be great if Nie Sect can provide us with some information, such as, Wen Sect’s strategy weaknesses or prominent figures that we need to look out for while we are on the task. In return, I can share our knowledge too.”

Nie MingJue nodded in agreement. For the rest of the discussion, all that they ever talked about were things they’d learned about Qishan Wen Sect through their own experiences after having tackled them upfront. Wei WuXian did most of the talking while Lan WangJi simply listened, occasionally adding in his own thoughts with a few words or agreeing to Wei WuXian’s points when prompted. 

The drop-by at Qinghe Nie Sect’s base was just very brief. An hour later, they were already walking out from Nie MingJue’s tent, about to continue their own journey towards Dusk-Creek Mountain.

“The most important resource during a war is health,” Nie MingJue said after they’re done with their farewell bidding.

“?”

Nie MingJue’s eyes were on Wei WuXian when he said that.

“You look worse than the last time I saw you,” he said, elaborating his point. 

Wei WuXian was momentarily stalled at the unexpected change of topic. Lan WangJi’s fingers had curled up by his side.

“I don’t know much about demonic cultivation but I know one thing for sure: cultivators who’d attempted to practice demonic cultivation never end well.”

Wei WuXian raised a smile, “Wei-mo is very aware of the consequences. Thank you Sect Leader Nie for your kind reminder.”

“En,” Nie MingJue simply said. He’s about to return to his tent when Wei WuXian spoke again, stopping him in his steps.

“By the way, Sect Leader Nie, since you’ve so kindly reminded me of my own body condition, I’d like to return your favour with a recommendation as well.”

Nie MingJue turned slightly around, just enough to see Wei WuXian in his eyes. 

“Recommendation?” he asked.

Wei WuXian nodded, his smile unfaltering, “Meng Yao. He’s one of the cultivators helping out in your base.”

“...”

“Perhaps you might want to keep an eye on him,” was the rest of what Wei WuXian said before he left the base with Lan WangJi.

Outside the base, Wei WuXian heaved a heavy sigh. He rubbed his chest a few times and brushed a few dishevelled strands of hair off his face.

“Man, speaking with Sect Leader Nie always makes me feel like something heavy is pressing me down from the inside. Is this what they call… what is it again? Ah, right, the dominant vibe of a man with extreme vitality. Ugh, I can barely breathe,” he babbled.

“Clash of energies,” Lan WangJi said, looking like he’s searching for something in his Qiankun Pouch at the same time.

“...Right. You’re right, that’s what it is! I’m loaded with yin energy now thanks to demonic cultivation and Sect Leader Nie is filled with yang energy, that’s why I feel suffocated,” Wei WuXian landed a fist on his palm.

But why didn’t he feel the same with Lan WangJi? By right, Lan WangJi was also a very potent cultivator who’s filled with nothing but positive, yang energy. So by right, his energy should be clashing with his too, isn’t it? But Wei WuXian never felt the same kind of smothering air he felt from Nie MingJue whenever Lan WangJi was around him. Instead, Lan WangJi’s presence always made him feel…

...soothing.

Before he could arrive at an answer of his own, he felt a heavy, thick-something draping around his body. His eyes widened as he looked down, just to see that a thick Gusu Lan Sect robe was shrouded on his body, the clean, pristine white colour of it a drastic contrast with the all-black, rancorous vibe of his own robes.

“Lanー”

He snapped his head up, wanting to ask Lan WangJi what’s up with this, just to find himself crashing into Lan WangJi’s gentle pair of orbs. The very shade of tenderness stretched right into his eyes, rampaging all the way to his heart and wrapping his insides in a snug warmth.

“You will feel cold,” Lan WangJi said, even adjusting the robe on his body so that it’s wrapped tighter around Wei WuXian’s body. His fingers accidentally swept against Wei WuXian’s cold pair of hands, causing him to frown deeper.

“Cold…?” Wei WuXian repeated, looking like he’s in an utter state of shock.

Lan WangJi looked at him again, the scowl in between his eyebrows fading. Wei WuXian was giving him a bewildered look and he had absolutely no idea what that look meant. Did… he offend Wei WuXian again?

“HanGuang-Jun, you’re such a considerate person! Can’t expect less from you!” Wei WuXian smiled at him then, a gesture that was nothing but genuine, innocent, and tugging at the heartstrings.

Lan WangJi looked away. He drew Bichen out of its sheath, pretending he hadn’t done what he did on Wei WuXian, and got them prepared to continue on their journey to the mountain.

To be honest, Wei WuXian can no longer remember when’s the last time he felt cold. He was aware that his body condition had changed ever since he climbed out alive from Burial Mound and ever since he started practising demonic cultivation. But he’s also a person who’d learned how to adapt to life and to the changes he had to go through. Sure, it felt cold on the first nights when he returned. He had no golden core to keep him warm. While others hid in their tents, using spiritual energy to keep themselves warm after an atrocious confrontation, all Wei WuXian could do was drowning himself in liquor after liquor, craving warmth from the liquor, just so he won’t die from the cold. Thanks to that, many thought that he’s been using alcohol to keep himself sane, and that he’s nothing but a timed bomb that would burst anytime if anyone was to step on his tail. Wei WuXian can’t be bothered by what others thought about him. He only wanted to focus on himself; he’d had too much in his head to be thinking about something else.

That’s why, he’d gotten used to it ー not only to the fact that people were talking about him behind his back, not only to the fact that instead of being concerned about his condition, all people did was dismissing his action as being reckless, but also to the fact that cold was just part of his life that he needed to adapt to.

The warmth he felt while he was shrouded in Lan WangJi’s robe was warming him beyond his body, it’s heartwarming too.

At least, there’s still someone in this world who looked at him as more than just ‘the demonic cultivator, Wei WuXian’.

“HanGuang-Jun, what do you think about the discussion earlier?” he asked while they’re still flying their way towards Dusk-Creek Mountain. The journey won’t be long now, so might as well savour the peace for as much as he could in the meantime.

“It’s a matter of time,” Lan WangJi commented briefly, yet distinctly.

“Indeed,” Wei WuXian agreed. “Maybe by the time we return from the mountain the war here would be done and if all is good, we can make use of the weaken of Wen Sect’s main resources for Jiang Sect’s benefit.”

“En,” Lan WangJi replied.

Wei WuXian chuckled, “HanGuang-Jun, seems like you are very certain that Nie Sect will win too, huh?”

Lan WangJi gave him a calm look, “Qinghe Nie Sect’s strength is on an equal level as Wen Xu’s strength. But Wen Xu lacks one thing.”

“Oh? Can HanGuang-Jun enlighten Wei-mo?” Wei WuXian asked, pretending that he didn’t know the answer.

Lan WangJi seemed to have noticed his purposeful tease as the light in his eyes turned softer.

“The willingness to die.”

Wei WuXian laughed out loud. He didn’t need to say anything else.

 


 

They landed smoothly at Dusk-Creek Mountain shortly after. Searching their memories, it didn’t take long for them to find the cave where they were trapped in before. The entrance looked battered, like it’s been destroyed a few times. Perhaps it was from back then when Jiang Cheng came saving them when they were stuck in here.

Lan WangJi was about to use Bichen to open up a bigger path for them to enter when Wei WuXian clutched him on his arm. Lan WangJi halted in his motions, looking at him.

“Hold on,” was all Wei WuXian said before Lan WangJi found him dragging him to a riverside. 

“Lan Zhan, do you have a bottle with you?” he asked.

Lan WangJi searched in his Qiankun Pouch and took a bottle out as he handed it over to Wei WuXian. Wei WuXuan must be thirsty; he’s probably thinking about filling up water so that he can drink in the cave later. As expected, Wei WuXian filled the bottle up in no time. But when he handed it back to Lan WangJi, Lan WangJi could only look at him, confused.

“Hm? What’s this? Don’t tell me HanGuang-Jun doesn’t drink water someone else fills up for him either? Should I empty the bottle and let you fill it up yourself instead?” Wei WuXian joked.

Lan WangJi came back to himself and shook his head.

“This is…”

“For you,” Wei WuXian smiled. He opened up Lan WangJi’s Qiankun Pouch and stuffed the bottle back in. “The water in the cave is, er, you know how it is. Yuck. I thought it’s better to get you clean water first so you won’t need to come out to get it again when you need it.”

“...How about you?” Lan WangJi asked.

“Me? Hahaha! Don’t mind me, HanGuang-Jun, I can drink any kind of water!” But Lan WangJi cannot; Wei WuXian can’t let him.

Lan WangJi looked like he’s still unsure about something. Upon seeing that expression on his face, Wei WuXian tapped him on the shoulder and attempted to convince,

“I’m serious. I ate all kinds of things when I was stuck in Burial Mound for three months, you know? Nothing to worry about!”

That’s not helping at all. But Wei WuXian had strode off all by himself, returning to the cave, before Lan WangJi can say anything else.

Everything of the cave was exactly the same as how Lan WangJi and Wei WuXian remembered it to be. Wei WuXian felt sort of nostalgic even, after having had a dream about this very place just a couple of hours ago. It was a cave of impenetrable blackness, their shadows dissolving into the surrounding darkness, utterly engulfed. Wei WuXian lit up a talisman while Lan WangJi used spiritual energy to help them see their way. It was dark and the only sound was the dripping water. Small, loose stones littered the floor, causing Wei WuXian to almost trip several times if Lan WangJi didn’t hold on to him just in time. The absence of light meant the absence of a warming touch. They followed the sound of water and walked deeper and deeper into the cave. By the time they reached the end of it, they found themselves standing by a frigid lake of stagnant water.

“Ew,” Wei WuXian scrunched his nose. There were still some remnants of the Xuanwu the Slaughter they slayed from back then left scattered around the place. The rotten, putrid scent of decaying meat was so strong to the nose that Wei WuXian wanted nothing but to get out of here as soon as he can. 

He kept his talisman away and walked closer to the lake. He saw his own reflection on the surface of the stagnant water but he could also see hints of blood and… trails of resentful energies submerging from the bottom of the pool.

He smirked.

Meanwhile, Lan WangJi was scrutinizing the place, his hand was steady on Bichen, defensive against any sort of ambush. 

“Lan Zhan, this place sure feels nostalgic, isn’t it?”

Wei WuXian’s voice ripped him back from his overly alert nerves. When he looked at him, the blood in his veins froze. The water reflected dimmed light from the small holes on the walls of the cave right onto Wei WuXian’s face. Under low-beam lighting, Wei WuXian’s face appeared infernal, grim, terrifying even. The small smirk on the corners of his lips was fiendish, the slant of his eyes nefarious. He wasn’t looking at Lan WangJi when he asked him that question. Instead, he was staring into the lake, the light in his eyes was so dark as if he was inundated and affected by the wispy resentful energies seeping steadily and quietly from the depth of the darkness.

“Wei Ying,” Lan WangJi found his voice at long last. 

And, at long last, Wei WuXian looked at him. That mere wreck of gaze sent a thud right at Lan WangJi’s chest.

The bright boy from when they were here together, fighting the deformed beast together, was no longer present. Instead of vibrancy and enthusiasm, all Lan WangJi could see on Wei WuXian’s face was pale, mixed with a homicidal vibe, as if his soul had been tampered with and stuffed forcefully back into his body. 

It’s hard for him to breathe, let alone speak. But Lan WangJi’s eyes lingered on the man in front of him, refused to look away.

“HanGuang-Jun, you said it yourself,” Wei WuXian said, voice deep and cold.

 

ー “That you won’t regret coming here with me.”