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love of mine, someday you will die (but i'll be close behind)

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 ‘Wei Ying!’

 His regretful face stares up at Lan Wangji, as he falls, as his shidi stares at him with betrayal in his eyes. There’s pain in those eyes, blood on those lips, and Lan Wangji doesn’t think he can—

 He does not think at all.

 He does not think, and so he jumps, body almost moving on instinct, and he falls after Wei Wuxian.

 He sees Wei Wuxian’s eyes widen, and concern and shock replace the resignation in his eyes that has been there only a second before.

 He’s falling, falling, and he reaches out, willing himself to fall faster, and then his fingers grasp onto Wei Wuxian’s clothes, pulls himself towards him, and then—

And then they’re both falling and Lan Wangji wraps his own body around Wei Wuxian’s—Wei Ying’s—and then the sounds of people screaming fade in his ears.

 He thinks he smiles before blackness surrounds them both.

 

 When he blinks, there’s an empty sea of white surrounding him.

 He doesn’t do anything for a few moments, and simply looks around, noticing that where his body should be, there is a wispy blue aura.

 Should he be scared?

 Then—there’s something, a disruption in the air, and then beside him, a red aura, much like his own blue, appears and proceeds to move around before settling in place.

 Who are you?

 The thought comes to him, fleeting, quick, and Lan Wangji barely catches it before it dissipates.

 Lan Wangji, he says, out loud, only to have it as a thought, but it seems that the other’s gotten his message, because the red wisps move more erratically, and then calms down once again.

 Ah, Lan Zhan, the voice says, wistfully, even in death, you have to follow me, huh?

 Wei Ying? He doesn’t mean to say that, he truly doesn’t, but the mess that’s his thoughts is hard to separate from what he’s saying out loud.

 The only and only.

 Before he can reply, another figure comes into view. Lan Wangji can’t make much out of their appearance—their face is hidden by a veil, and their clothes have no indicator as to who they are.

 Nevertheless, Lan Wangji feels their air of importance around them, not like the ones held by pretentious people, and he makes an effort to bow until he remembers that he, as a wisp of a cloud, cannot do anything more than wriggle.

 ‘Wei Wuxian,’ the person says, voice distinctly female, yet sounding like a caring grandmother, ‘Lan Wangji.’

 Senior, both him and Wei Wuxian reply.

 She nods her head.  ‘You have both perished, one under using too much demonic cultivation, and one,’ she says, a slight curl to her tone, ‘for unconventional reasons.’

 Lan Wangji knows that his ears would pink at this. If he had ears. As such, he doesn’t, and he can almost feel Wei Wuxian’s confusion.

 Who are you? Wei Wuxian’s voice comes, heavily guarded.

 ‘You could consider me as an acquaintance,’ the woman says, ‘Now, I will shelter you for as long as you need. Though, there might be a problem with the additional add-on…’

 Lan Wangji does not know if he should feel insulted.

 ‘No matter,’ she says briskly, clapping her hands, ‘Soon you will forget, and hopefully sort through any…distaste that you have.’

 Why are you here in death?

 She turns her head towards Lan Wangji as he asks. ‘Well, I’m talking to your souls, of course. As your mortal bodies perished, there’s only so much I can do.’

 There’s a moment of silence, and then she continues, ‘Well, since I caught two souls instead of one, there need to be some changes.’

 Changes?

 She muses, ‘Hm, yes. I will offer: both of you can stay under my protection, if you bind your souls as one. If not, then this one—‘ she gestures to Lan Wangji—‘will have to go.’

 Where, he doesn’t ask. The answer is all too clear.

 Yes, is Wei Wuxian’s immediate answer, and Lan Wangji hurts at the place where his heart should be. This—this is far too good to take advantage of, Lan Wangji thinks. Wei Wuxian is a good person at heart, he knows. Good enough that he would not let another person perish if he could help it, good enough that he would willingly be bound to a person he’s hated ever since they met. He can’t subject Wei Wuxian to a lifetime—maybe more—of torture just because he wants to stay with him.

 And Lan Wangji, Lan Wangji resolutely says, no.

 After, just a second after, Wei Wuxian asks, why, sharp, clear, and Lan Wangji thinks he is projecting his own feelings into Wei Wuxian’s voice, because the pang of hurt in the single word absolutely cannot be coming from Wei Wuxian.

 He does not reply for a long moment, because any answer that he has will come out too close to the truth, will come out ragged and full of emotion, and Lan Wangji cannot risk that.

 Because you don’t have to, he replies instead.

 What does that mean?

 Wei Ying. You don’t have to bind yourself to me just to make yourself unhappy.

 Why would I be unhappy?

 Because you hate me lingers on Lan Wangji’s tongue, and yet he cannot bring himself to say such bold and brash words, and he chooses to say I don’t mind dying.

 There’s something that sounds suspiciously like a snort.

 Ah, the ever virtuous Hangung-jun, Wei Wuxian sighs, you think you’ll be inconveniencing me?

 Before he replies, though, Wei Wuxian’s already speaking again, boldly declaring that their souls would be bonded together.

 And then Wei Wuxian turns to him again, and even though they don’t have physical forms, Lan Wangji can imagine Wei Wuxian’s grin as he says I just hope Lan Zhan won’t get tired of me!

 Darkness surrounds them once more, and Lan Wangji holds the thought that he won’t ever get tired of Wei Wuxian close to his heart.

 

 When he regains consciousness again, it’s to a garden.

 He has a physical body too, though how much of that is illusion and how much of it is reality is blurred in his mind. He takes in his surroundings—the place where they are is similar to the gardens of Gusu, though the air itself and the clouds feel humid, moreso than in the Cloud Recesses. He’s resting against a tree, and despite what’s supposedly an awkward position he’s quite comfortable.

 Beside him, head lightly propped on his shoulder, is Wei Wuxian.

 Lan Wangji lets himself look for a moment before shaking Wei Wuxian awake lightly.

 ‘Where—‘ a yawn—‘Where are we?’

 ‘Don’t know.’

 Wei Wuxian rubs his eyes, sitting up properly, and Lan Wangji is suddenly struck by the fact that he looks so much younger than when he—they—died.

 Or perhaps it isn’t that, because his hair is still half-done, and his robes are still dark. And maybe—maybe it’s because the shadows under his eyes have lifted, maybe it’s because he looks like his fifteen-year-old self again, without the weight of the world resting on his shoulders and without a care in the world.

 Lan Wangji catches himself staring and looks away.

 Wei Wuxian, on the other hand, gets up and announces that he’s going exploring. Lan Wangji does not follow, content to stay as he is, but as soon as Wei Wuxian disappears out of his line of sight, there’s—

 A burning, searing pain travels throughout his whole body, unbearably hot, and Lan Wangji can barely gasp out a choking breath before his vision whites out, and then, then he’s stumbling to his feet with only one coherent thought in mind—get to Wei Wuxian.

 He doesn’t know how long it takes—probably only a minute, but it had felt like more—until he collides with another body, until his vision clears again and he sees Wei Wuxian’s scrunched-up face in pain.

 ‘Lan Zhan,’ Wei Wuxian says, voice pinched, ‘What is it?’

 Lan Wangji shakes his head, knowing that his voice will tremble if he speaks, and simply leans on Wei Ying and tries to breathe regularly until the last remnants of pain fade away.

 ‘What was that?’ Wei Wuxian asks again.

 ‘Soul bond. I think.’

 Lan Wangji steps back and regains his composure, maintaining a steady breathing pattern until Wei Wuxian takes his wrist and smiles at him. ‘Come on. We can’t separate so let’s just explore together!’

 He lets himself be dragged, and there’s a tiny lingering thought that he wouldn’t mind being bound to Wei Wuxian for the rest of eternity.

 

 When they’ve finished walking around and collapse at the same tree they’d woken up on, Lan Wangji draws the conclusion that they’re in some illusion created by their subconscious—they’re in the gardens of Gusu, but the weather and atmosphere itself, Wei Wuxian tells him, is that of Yunmeng’s.

 Another fact that they still have to take in is that they’re dead.

 They’re dead, which means—which means that they will not be seeing their loved ones again, and that there’s no use talking about whatever’s going on in the actual world.

 Despite that, Wei Wuxian still seems to like chattering, blabbing on about flowers and thoughts of what remind him of what, and Lan Wangji listens.

 ‘You know,’ Wei Wuxian says, when dusk is falling and they’re shoulder-to-shoulder  on the grass which feels more like a soft bed than actual grass, ‘I wonder—is it bad that I’m happy?’

 Lan Wangji turns his head from where he’s looking up at the sky to meet Wei Wuxian’s gaze.

 ‘Is it bad that I’m happy because I’m dead? I mean, people hated me back there. The Wen remnants are dead. My siblings hate me. What use did I have for that world?’

 Lan Wangji does not reply. He does not know how to.

 ‘But you,’ Wei Wuxian says, whispers, with the slightest hint of a smile that hurts, ‘But you, Hanguang-jun, you have people who love you, people who care for you. You have a family.’

 Lan Wangji nods, slowly, eyes never leaving Wei Wuxian’s as he reaches out and brushes a stray strand of hair from Lan Wangji’s cheek.

 ‘Why did you risk it all for me?’

 ‘I,’ he says, and then stops. It’s too much to explain, but he tries anyways. ‘Would not want to be without Wei Ying.’

 He sees the way Wei Ying’s eyes widen, the way his mouth parts in surprise, the way he blinks and then blinks again, as if trying gauge if it’s a dream they’re living.

 And finally, finally when he’s convinced that this is as real as it can be, Wei Ying smiles, and looks away, up to the stars that are slowly starting to form. ‘I’m glad,’ he says softly, ‘I thought you hated me, Lan Zhan.’

 ‘Aren’t you the one who hated me?’

 Wei Ying looks surprised at that, which is understandable, because Lan Wangji himself had not meant to say the words, but they had come out anyways.

 ‘No,’ he replies, slow, after a moment, ‘I never hated you, Lan Zhan.’

 Lan Wangji thinks back, to all the fights they had, from the first time they met to the time they died, and he tells Wei Ying, ‘Mn. Never hated you either.’

 Wei Ying laughs after a pause of a split second, and he keeps laughing, and then Lan Wangji would be offended if the glimmer in Wei Ying’s eyes hadn’t caught his attention. That hasn’t happened in a long time, he thinks, and the last time Lan Wangji saw him smile like that was before the Sunshot Campaign.

 ‘Well, Lan Zhan,’ he says, voice breathless and light, ‘I hope our friendship is mutual now.’

 Lan Wangji replies with a nod.

 This—this is far too new, and all their hurt and guilt and pain from their past life has not gone away just yet, and there will be grievances and there will be hardships, and the words that have been exchanged are far too little and far too few for redemption, and they are nowhere near what Lan Wangji wants Wei Ying to know, but—

 But as Wei Ying moves closer to him and rests his head on Lan Wangji’s shoulder, he thinks they can work things out.

 

 And the months pass.

 They pass with Wei Wuxian’s talk, with Lan Wangji’s passive but interested one-word answers. Every morning, they wake up to a new scenery, a mishmash of what both their hearts desire—they wake up in Yunmeng, sometimes, they go back to Gusu the next day, and then they constantly switch from pools to forests to mountains. It never gets old.

 They don’t get hungry or thirsty, but whenever either of them particularly craves something, it appears the next morning when they wake up. The sentiment is appreciated, despite the fact that as souls they can’t really eat much. That does not mean they get everything they ask for, though. Wei Ying’s asks for paper and ink and material for building things have always been denied.

 They are granted a novelty, though, when a flute and guqin mysteriously appear one morning.

Wei Ying, somewhere throughout hypothesizing potential arrays and inventions, had explained the full details of demonic cultivation to him—how he could harness resentful energy, how the Burial Mounds had been, how demonic cultivation didn’t actually harm the body unless you used too much at once—and Lan Wangji can finally ask all the questions he’s wanted to ask that either got swallowed down or never came out right.

 ‘I can tell you everything now,’ Wei Ying had laughed, ‘It’s not like you can drag me back to Gusu or get me in trouble!’

 Lan Wangji had barely refrained from rolling his eyes.

 (Later, when Wei Ying had been on the verge of falling asleep, he mutters, ‘I trust you Lan Zhan. I’m sorry; I was scared before and I pushed you away.’

 ‘Mn. It’s okay.’)

 ‘Why did you start demonic cultivation?’

 ‘Ah, that. I gave my Golden Core to Jiang Cheng.’

 ‘How difficult was it?’

 ‘Hm, I don’t really know? I was just desperate to survive, and it passed by before I could remember quickly.’

 ‘Why doesn’t it affect the heart and body?’

 ‘Well, resentful energy is different from spiritual energy, right? It isn’t your own, so it can harm you because you can’t control it well. But resentful energy is always there, even if spiritual energy is present. They’re fluctuating to keep a balance, but it’s usually dangerous so people try to cleanse it a lot.’

 And that’s how their days go.

 

 At night, Lan Wangji has taken to combing Wei Ying’s hair with his fingers, sometimes twisting little braids into his hair and hiding a smile when Wei Ying turns to him with uneven braids and a lopsided smile. They sleep together, whether it be on the grass of gardens, moss of the forests, even in a boat on a pond, and Wei Ying gleefully cuddles up to Lan Wangji every night.

 (‘Come on, Lan Zhan! I haven’t had bodily contact with anyone in ages! I’m going crazy!’

 ‘We’re both dead.’

 ‘That’s not the point!’

 In the end, Lan Wangji gives into Wei Ying’s whims, as he always does. He cannot say he minds, especially when Wei Ying’s face lights up in a glowing smile.)

 Lan Wangji is not ashamed to admit—at least in his own mind—that in the instances where he wakes up before Wei Ying, he likes to look at his face, and relish in the way their bodies are curled around each other, so comfortable and right, and he sometimes wishes it would be in a more than friends kind of way.

 But he has earned Wei Ying’s trust, he has lifetimes to live, and he finds that the idea of them just being at least friends forever does not hurt him as much as he’d once thought.

 

 Wei Ying has coaxed a laugh out of Lan Wangji on two different occasions.

 The first time occurs shortly after their death, when they are in Yunmeng, and Wei Ying had been chattering, walking on the docks beside Lan Wangji. He knows something’s going to happen the minute he sees Wei Ying’s eyes twinkle—no, he is not staring, thank you very much—and lunges towards him with intent to throw him into the lake.

 Unfortunately for him, Lan Wangji steps to the side and lets Wei Ying tumble into the water headfirst.

 There’s a second of silence, and then Wei Ying’s head pops up, spluttering indignant curses and hair wet and sticking to his face and he looks like an cute, adorable puppy and—

 Lan Wangji has to hold a hand up to muffle the ungraceful snort he lets through. But even after that, watching Wei Ying’s eyes go comically wide, more laughs continue to tumble out until he’s half bent over.

 (He’s too busy trying to get control of himself to notice the hand reaching out to pull him under the water, but he doesn’t mind when Wei Ying laughs and sends a splash of water towards him.)

 If he’d been paying close attention, he would’ve seen the barest hints of adoration etched into Wei Ying’s eyes.

 The second time is when they are in a forest. Wei Ying had watched to climb a tree, so Lan Wangji had told him he would wait at the foot, and then he was gone in a rustle of leaves and vines. He waits.

 He waits, and is promptly rewarded with Wei Ying hanging upside down in front of him with vines holding his feet.

 I want to kiss him, Lan Wangji thinks.

 And normally, Wei Ying would’ve tried to scare Lan Wangji and then hopped down, but that is not what happens.

 What happens is—the vines snap, and before Lan Wangji even has the mental capacity to catch Wei Ying, he’s already on the ground with his limbs tangled up awkwardly. In hindsight, it would’ve been a lot easier to catch Wei Ying and confessed while Wei Ying swooned in his arms.

 But—but then Wei Ying rights himself, sitting on the ground with a petulant pout and grass in his hair and dirt on his face and he looks so put out that Lan Wangji can’t hold back the laugh that bubbles out of his throat.

 And then Wei Ying grins, cries out adorably that Lan Wangji is mean and that he won’t help him, and Lan Wangji laughs harder, sinking to his knees in front of Wei Ying and covering his mouth until the laughs subside.

 Wei Ying smiles, runs up and around the tree, and promptly dumps a handful of leaves onto Lan Wangji. He cannot bring himself to mind.

 If he had not been occupied with keeping his laughs in, he’d have heard Wei Ying whisper, ‘You look so pretty, Lan Zhan.’

 Those are the only two instances where he’s laughed, though there are far more instances where he has smiled because of Wei Ying’s childish antics (and sometimes because his heart feels like it will burst with love, but no one needs to know that).

 And with each passing day, he only grows to love Wei Ying more.

 

 They don’t keep track of time. They only know the passage of time when the sun rises and sets and even that can be misleading because they have nothing to lead them.

 But—does it even matter? They have all the time in the world, Wei Ying and Lan Wangji, and it doesn’t look like they’ll be called back anytime soon, and so what’s the point of keeping track of something as trivial as time?

 Wei Ying seems to agree, as he laughs and takes Lan Wangji’s hands and twirls them around when asked the question.

 Lan Wangji hides his smile in his sleeve and lets Wei Ying laugh.

 

 (Of course, just because they’ve escaped by death from their past lives does not mean the pain goes away entirely. Lan Wangji has been woken up more times he can count by Wei Ying sobbing on him, trembling and small and regretful, and those are the times he feels helpless, where he can do nothing but watch and hold Wei Ying close to him as he cries.

 ‘The only thing you can do now is honour their memories,’ Lan Wangji tells him, ‘Do not forget them, and pray that they will be born happy again.

 Wei Ying sniffles, and hugs him through a watery smile.)

 

 Of course, seeing as that they are the Yiling Patriarch and Hanguang-jun, they can’t seem to get a moment of peace.

 ‘Stop playing dead!’

 His first thought is, shut up I’m already dead.

 His second thought is, wait where’s Wei Ying?

 His third thought, which most definitely is not his, is, why the hell is this brat kicking me.

 It takes him a moment to think consciously through the haze of pain, and he catches something about stealing things and destroying them. There’s a rush of words, another couple of kicks, and then the door slams shut.

 He tries to open his eyes.

 And fails.

 That is soon followed by the realization that he absolutely cannot do anything to move himself. He does not panic.

 Wei Ying?

 Lan Zhan? Thank Guanyin you’re here!

 Can you move?

 Lan Wangji starts as the body moves, sitting up and he hears a grunt as bruises start to ache all over his body—their body.

 ‘Lan Zhan?’ He hears himself speak, although he’s completely not in control of this body and the sensation is weird, like he’s a puppet, but with the knowledge that Wei Ying is controlling it, he doesn’t feel as scared as he should be.

 I’m here.

 It seems the only way Lan Wangji can communicate is through their thoughts.

 ‘Wait,’ Wei Ying mutters, moving to the side so that they both can see the bloody array—it should feel weird that he’s somehow sharing his vision with Wei Ying, but it does not feel that out of the ordinary—and then, ‘This is a sacrificial array.’

 For?

 ‘I created this,’ Wei Ying says, ‘I told you—wait, Lan Zhan, can you—can you remember anything?’

 Lan Wangji’s going to reply, but a translucent cloud washes over his brain, and the only thing he can remember is, no. I don’t know how I died, or what happened after. I only know we were together all this time, as well as some bits of information.

 ‘Ah, me too. Anyways, this is a sacrificial array I made as the Yiling Patriarch. It involves willingly giving up one’s body for a vicious spirit to live in.’

 Lan Wangji wonders for a second if he should be offended, but something pricks at his memory—Wei Ying, I remember we bound our souls together. This person could not have brought back only you. I had to come as well.

 ‘Bound our souls together?’ Wei Ying says, moving so that he can trace a finger over the array, ‘Oh yeah, I remember that. Possibly. Look—‘ he pulls back his sleeves, and Lan Wangji is greeted with four cuts, ‘Four cuts. People we need to avenge for whoever this is.’

 Lan Wangji spots a tattered mirror in the corner of his vision. Look right.

 Wei Ying does, and they find themselves looking into the pale face with two red blots around each eye. His hand comes up to rub at his cheek, smudging the whiteness a bit.

 Then, Lan Wangji notices—one of his eyes are Wei Ying’s silver, and the other is Lan Wangji’s own gold.

 Wei Ying seems to notice it too, with the way he does not fail to point it out gleefully a second after Lan Wangji’s own realization.

 Lan Wangji rolls his eyes, if only because he can’t actually control his eyes and no one can see him.

 Hours of reading what seemed to be journal entries later, they gather that they are in the body of a young man named Mo Xuanyu, who is a cutsleeve, and that he used to be a LanlingJin disciple but kicked out for unsavoury reasons.

 Lan Wangji feels a pang of sympathy for the life that is told in shaky handwriting and tear-wrinkled paper. The fact that they have to take revenge on the whole Mo clan doesn’t settle in properly until a few minutes later.

 Wei Ying sits back when they’re done, wiping a hand over his furrowed brows, and he says out loud, musingly, ‘Well, he definitely got the two worst people for this task…’

 Lan Wangji can’t help but agree.

 

 The door is locked, and there is nothing but a basin that’s probably not for drinking purposes, so Lan Wangji tells Wei Ying to meditate to pass the time. After the initial pouting, Wei Ying succumbs to his wishes.

 They are given stale food, and Wei Ying constantly complains that the food isn’t spicy enough. Lan Wangji thinks that might be a problem, given how they’re sharing a body and his taste buds aren’t—the strongest, so to speak.

 As they eat, they listen to the servants’ talking about some disciples visit.

 I’m going to crash their conversation.

 Wei Ying, no.

 Wei Ying crashes their conversation, kicks the servant, and promptly skips to the East hall.

 Lan Wangji does not know if he should feel embarrassed, exasperated, or fond.

 ‘It’s me!’ Wei Ying shouts cheerfully, ‘I’m the one who’s related to a cultivator!’ With Wei Ying’s vision, he sees that they are disciples of Gusu. A heavy feeling shoots through his heart.

 It does not matter now, though, so Lan Wangji metaphorically sits back and smiles as Wei Ying wreaks havoc.

 (He absolutely does not think that the two disciples resemble him and Wei Ying when they were at that age.)

 

 ‘Spirit Attraction Flags,’ Wei Ying mutters, letting out a hollow laugh while inspecting the designs, ‘Funny how they talk badly of me and still use things I created. The hypocrisy.’

 Mn.

 ‘Please go back. This isn’t where a person like you should come.’

 Lan Wangji wants to snort at the irony of being told off by a younger disciple, but it’s out of kindness, and he and Wei Ying share amusement before he opens his mouth to speak.

 Immediately, Lan Wangji is struck with the feelings that something Very Bad is going to happen, and for a split second his vision goes dark before he opens his eyes—

 Wait. He opens his eyes.

 He catches himself quickly, though, the words Wei Ying was about to say almost tumbling out with a mix of his. ‘I’m not—you’ve drawn this well.’

 The juniors look at him, clearly surprised by his change in personality—he knows that while Wei Ying arranged his features to be smiling and slightly welcoming, he can’t stop his default expression slipping onto his face.

 ‘Thank you,’ one of them says, smiling carefully, ‘Could you please return it to us?’

 ‘If you don’t I’ll hit you!’

 Lan Wangji barely refrains himself from saying, ‘Shouting is forbidden.’ Inside his mind, Wei Ying cackles wildly.

 It’s correct, though. A bit inexperienced but they’re okay.

 Lan Wangji nods, says, ‘Good job.’

 They both bow to him, and then the more polite disciple bows, and introduces himself, ‘I am Lan Sizhui, Young Master Mo.’

 ‘Lan Jingyi,’ the other follows.

 ‘Thank you for protecting me earlier,’ Lan Wangji says, because it’s common courtesy, and not because he thinks it would be awkward to leave. Wei Ying laughs at him.

 ‘Even if you’re a lunatic, people should not insult you like that!’ Lan Jingyi says, and Lan Wangji wonders just who is teaching him for him to be this rowdy.

 ‘Forgive him, Young Master Mo,’ Lan Sizhui says, ‘He can often be…impulsive.’

 ‘It’s fine.’

 You can leave now, Wei Ying informs him.

 Lan Wangji bows and says, ‘I will not keep you from your business any longer. I hope this will be easy for you.’

 He leaves as Lan Jingyi whispers something about him and Lan Sizhui cuffs him on the ear.

 

 He retreats to the hut he woke up in, and despite Wei Ying’s protests, starts to meditate again, until banging on the door wakes him out of it and he lets himself be dragged outside by some servants.

 He is greeted with the sight of a dead body and a fuming Madam Mo as she lunges towards his neck, but before he can deftly step back, a hand is gripping her wrists and pulling her back wrapping her hands around his throat.

 ‘My son died a tragic death because of him, why are you holding me back?’ she screams, struggling against the head disciples’ hold, and Lan Wangji watches as Lan Sizhui attempts to placate her with gentle words.

 Oh, I like this one, Wei Ying says gleefully. Lan Wangji agrees.

 He steps over to where the corpse is, and then crouches down and lifts the cloth covering it. He’s struck by the fact that the corpse has no left arm.

 He ignores the enraged screams of Madam Mo, and instead focuses on the tiny spark of resentful energy coming from the corpse—and pulls out a Spirit Attraction Flag from the front of his robes.

 Wei Ying hums, I’ve taught you well, Lan Zhan.

 Lan Wangji raises his left hand, where he’s seen the incisions earlier, and—just as Wei Ying thought, one of the cuts have disappeared.

 We didn’t kill him though, Wei Ying mutters, maybe the bond accepted it because it was my creation?

 That’s the most plausible idea, and Lan Wangji decides to go with that.

 By now, Madam Mo’s screaming at the disciples, and Lan Wangji feels an uncharacteristic anger swell up in him.

 ‘Your son should be seventeen. Is it their fault that they can’t take care of him? Or is it his fault for being stupid?’

 Wei Ying would’ve said more, he thinks, Wei Ying would have exploited each and every weak point of those people, but with him, those words are sufficient, and they are enough to make Madam Mo yell in rage.

 And then—and then everything is in chaos, because the ghost hand has taken over Madam Mo’s husband, and then Madam Mo herself, and Lan Wangji watches at the two disciples barely manage to cage the arm in despite being better than average cultivators their age.

 Lan Zhan, come on, you have to help them, Wei Ying wheedles, they’re barely holding it off!

 How? Lan Wangji demands—he wants to help, it’s not that he does not want to, but he has nothing on him and he’d be more of a liability—I don’t have anything I can fight with.

 That’s easy, Lan Zhan. Use demonic cultivation.

 That stops him for a moment, and he scrambles, I’ve never used it before!

 I’ve taught you everything I know. It’ll be fine.

 For a second, Lan Wangji hesitates, but that one second is all the ghost arm needs to break free, and—and Lan Wangji had known his entire life that demonic cultivation was bad, that he was never going to use it and yet—and yet he’s here, crouching beside the two corpses of Madam Mo’s husband and her son, but maybe it’s because he fully trusts Wei Ying, and that if he says it’ll be okay, it will definitely be okay, so Lan Wangji takes a breath, and whispers—

 ‘Wake up.’

 And then the corpses are alive, battling with one of their own, and Lan Wangji thinks that maybe they can handle this situation until he hears Lan Sizhui direct Lan Jingyi to call for reinforcements.

 A fear that is not his own settles over him. Wei Ying?

 I don’t want to go back to Gusu.

 Lan Wangji frowns. He knows of Wei Ying’s distaste for Gusu, but he did not expect it to follow even to this life.

 We will be fine, Wei Ying. I will protect you.

 And then with a pout and a grumble, Wei Ying agrees.

 Which is just as well, because his brother, Lan Xichen, whom he has not seen in thirteen years, arrives in the next moment. Lan Wangji had been about to use a bit more demonic cultivation, to help the juniors that are on the verge of being overpowered, when the sound of a xiao flows through the night air.

 Wei Ying.

 Hm?

 We will go with your plan. Get away from here as soon as possible.

 He hears Wei Ying’s quiet laugh and smiles of his own accord. As much as—as much as he’s missed his brother, Lan Wangji cannot risk him finding out about him and Wei Ying being stuck together in the same body. With how perceptive he is of Lan Wangji, surely he will know that he had returned.

 And so he runs, steals a donkey, and lets out a laugh together with Wei Ying as they disappear from Mo village.

 

 You can’t change back?

 No? I don’t know how you did it, Lan Zhan, it was way too sudden. Why? Do you not like demonic cultivation that much?

 Brother will know if it’s me.

 Ah, I see. Don’t worry; it’ll be fine, Lan Zhan! We’re unstoppable as long as we’re together!

  He prays that Wei Ying doesn’t feel the sudden thud of his chest.

 

 That child is rude, he thinks, as he moves out of the way of the sword—he’d barely even said anything and the Jin child attacks him.

 Take a leaf and channel resentful energy into it, Wei Ying tells him, call for a gluttonous soul.

 Lan Wangji does as he says, and watches as the boy crumbles under the weight.

 ‘Fool! I’ll call my uncle!’

 ‘And who is your uncle?’

 ‘I am.’

 Lan Wangji feels Wei Ying tense up, curl into a ball, as if he’s trying to protect himself from the wrath of Jiang Wanyin. He seems angrier, than Lan Wangji remembers him, he thinks. Discreetly, he tries to remove the leaf, but Jiang Wanyin—of course—catches it and yells at him about being a demonic cultivator.

 Rude. He’s barely started since an hour ago.

 And then Jin Rulan—Wei Ying shrinks into himself further—lunges towards him but his blade is stopped by another—

 Lan Wangji freezes as his brother arrives, walking and smiling like there are no worries in his mind.

 ‘Sect Leader Jiang.’

 ‘Sect Leader Lan,’ Jiang Wanyin greets, tone slightly softer now that he is not talking to whom he thinks is a demonic cultivator, ‘Have you any business here?’

 Lan Xichen smiles. ‘Ah, I happened to have some time to myself, so I thought I would accompany my juniors on this night.’ He gestures behind him, and only then Lan Wangji notices the small crowd of disciples behind him.

 ‘I see,’ Jiang Wanyin says, and then turns to Jin Rulan, barking out a harsh over and taking his leave after a few minutes.

 ‘Young Master Mo, we meet again,’ Lan Sizhui says, bowing to him, which Lan Wangji returns the favour of.

 ‘Young Master Mo?’

 Lan Wangji looks up to see his brother turning his eyes upon him as Lan Sizhui explains how he’d helped them out earlier.

 ‘Ah, I see,’ Lan Xichen smiles at him, and Lan Wangji cannot help the nervous prickling at the back of his neck, ‘Thank you for helping. We wish you well on your journey.’

 And that’s that, and he leaves before they can talk further.

 (Wei Ying lets out a breath of relief once they’re alone.)

 

 He’s running on pure instinct and Wei Ying’s directions when the goddess bursts out from the cave, taking Lan Jingyi’s sword and crafting a bamboo flute that can barely pass as a good flute and using it to summon any resentful spirit nearby that he can find.

 Lan Wangji does not expect it to be the Ghost General Wen Ning.

 He hears the sharp breath that Wei Ying draws inside his mind, the flash of guilt and regret and pain that crosses his mind in one second and is gone the other.

 He lets his subconscious guide him, letting his fingers play a song he’s only ever played once in the company of another person. It, admittedly, is very terrible, and Lan Wangji would be ashamed if not for the fact that he actually hasn’t practiced in thirteen years—that, and that no one can recognize him.

 He vaguely registers Lan Jingyi making fun of him in the background.

 And then—and then a hand is on his wrist, grasping so slightly he can’t stop himself from wincing.

 He turns.

 Lan Xichen. His brother is looking at him and Lan Wangji knows as soon as he looks into his brother’s eyes that hiding is a lost cause, that his brother has already figured him out from top to bottom.

 Lan Zhan, get Wen Ning away from here!

 Wei Ying’s half-yell shakes Lan Wangji out of his stupor, and he raises the flute to his lips again, playing a sorrowful melody that has the Ghost General leaving in some general direction he does not bother to note.

 And then as everything settles down, Jiang Wanyin shows up, and Lan Wangji knows that he is. He is very Fucked.

 In his panic, he runs, trying to make for Lil’ Apple—as Wei Ying has graciously named it—but before he does, a harsh whip descends upon him, and he goes tumbling to the ground in a very undignified manner.

 He thinks he loses consciousness for a moment, and when his eyes open again, it is not of his own volition and when he runs to hide behind his brother, that is not of his choice either.

 Wei Ying, what are you—

 ‘I’m not attracted to you!’ Wei Ying says cheerfully, to Jiang Wanyin, and Lan Wangji feels himself dying inside.

 ‘Then, tell, who would be your type?’ Jiang Wanyin seethes.

 ‘Hmm,’ Wei Ying thinks for a moment, answer coming to his mind faster than his words, ‘Zewu-Jun!’—and yeah, that is the exact moment when Lan Wangji’s entire soul dies.

 Are you stupid.

 ‘I didn’t have a choice!’ Wei Ying cries out, entirely by mistake, and Lan Wangji would be repressing the urge to hit something if he was in control of a body right now. But sadly, he isn’t, and all he can do is drown in second-hand embarrassment.

 Everyone looks at him, them, and Wei Ying opens his mouth to say something, but he’s saved from further embarrassment by Lan Xichen.

 ‘I will take this person back to Gusu.’

 Lan Wangji stops, and he can feel Wei Ying’s consternation as well, in the way he stops for a minute before springing back into motion.

 ‘Wow, you’d do that for me?’ Wei Ying giggles, ‘Zewu-jun really is amazing!’

 Lan Wangji does not like the curl of jealousy that rises in his chest.

 Don’t worry, Lan Zhan! Wei Ying grins in his mind, You’re still the prettiest!

 Ridiculous.

 

 They’re taken back to the Could Recesses, where Lan Xichen escorts them into the Jingshi. Lan Wangji’s surprised—he thought that they would have taken it down after his death—betrayal, some might think, with the way he had deigned to die with the Yiling Patriarch—but it’s still there, not in pristine condition, but still rather well taken care of.

 ‘Sit,’ his brother says, sitting down at the small table and Wei Ying follows, and apropos to his nature, starts looking around the place with thinly-veiled curiosity.

 ‘Master Mo,’ Lan Xichen starts, ‘Would you tell me who you really are?’

 ‘I’m Mo Xuanyu, of course!’ Wei Ying replies, lips curling into a smile that Lan Wangji feels is entirely too obviously, ‘Who else would I be, Zewu-jun?’

 Lan Xichen levels him with a gaze, and Lan Wangji’s heart breaks at the pain and weariness he sees written all over his brother’s eyes. He may not regret his decision to follow Wei Ying, but his brother would have no one else to support him. He feels the cold tendrils of guilt start to creep into his heart, but he tries to shake them away.

 Wei Ying. Tell him. It’s alright.

 There’s clear apprehension in Wei Ying, given how his body is tensed, but he acquiesces. ‘You have to promise not to tell anyone else, okay?’

 His brother nods.

 ‘I’m Wei Wuxian,’ Wei Ying says, and Lan Xichen’s eyes widen just a tiny bit, ‘And Lan Wangji as well.’

 ‘…excuse me?’

 ‘Well,’ Wei Ying says, and launches into a dramatic tale about his peril, how Lan Wangji had followed so nobly, of how they were under protection until they were called upon again, of hazy feelings and blurry memories that neither of them remember in express detail.

 ‘Ah,’ Lan Xichen says, after a long moment after Wei Ynig has finished explaining, ‘So you and my brother…reconciled?’

 Wei Ying nods, and Lan Wangji faintly wonders if his brother is implying something that should not, under general rule, be implied.

 ‘I see,’ he says mildly, ‘I take it that as you are in control right now, Wangji is simply lurking somewhere?’

 I do not lurk.

 Wei Ying grins a bit, and then tells his brother, ‘He just said that he doesn’t lurk. When we woke up, I was initially in control. We switched over suddenly while talking to the juniors, and I gained control again after Zidian’s lash.’

 ‘I see,’ Lan Xichen says again, and then, ‘So Wangji was the one using demonic cultivation?’

 There’s a pause. ‘Yes,’ Wei Ying finally admits.

 ‘Hm.’

 And then after that, his brother gets up, saying that there are some matters he needs to attend to, and takes his leave. Before he goes out, however, he turns back once, looks at them directly in their eyes and says, ‘I’m glad that you’re back, Wangji. I’m glad for you both.’

 And then they’re left in silence.

 ‘Well,’ Wei Ying finally says, huffing out a laugh, ‘That was anticlimactic.’

 Lan Wangji cannot help but agree.

 

 (When they both fall asleep, they see each other in their dream, once again.

 ‘Lan Zhan I’ve missed you!’ Wei Ying says, gleefully, tugging Lan Wangji into a tight hug, ‘I haven’t seen you in forever!’

 ‘We have been with each other for the entire day.’

 ‘You know that’s not what I meant! We’ve had no physical contact!’

 ‘Mn,’ Lan Wangji says, hugging Wei Ying back just as fiercely, and smiles into Wei Ying’s hair. Whatever hardships come along their way, he has full trust that he and Wei Ying will be able to work through it together.)

 

 It’s only later that they figure out Lan Xichen probably knew because of their weird multicoloured eyes.

 ‘Eyes are the windows to the soul,’ Wei Ying mockingly preaches, and Lan Zhan kind of wants to hit him.