(This is what Jiang Cheng remembers:
A flurry of movement behind him-
Wei Wuxian’s hand, slamming into his shoulder-
The curse, sizzling through the contact and burning as it sank into his skin, tendrils of malevolent energy spiralling fast around him, down his limbs-
He thinks he might have screamed as the energy crushes him, strangling his throat and compressing his limbs as his entire self is torn away-)
“Aiya, Jiang Cheng, don’t be like that!”
“Don’t waste time,” Jiang Cheng snaps back. His bro- Wei Wuxian asked him to the Cloud Recesses for a reason, and he’d spent the bare minimum of time after reading the hastily scratched letter giving his senior disciples instructions for his absence before mounting Sandu and flying straight to Gusu. And now Wei Wuxian wants to chitchat? “Your letter said it was urgent.”
“Ah, well – yes! This way-”
Wei Wuxian leads him through the Cloud Recesses to the Mingshi, and Jiang Cheng can feel the wards up around the place. Whatever Wei Wuxian is doing, it’s heavily guarded.
Wei Wuxian makes a hand seal and a small opening appears; once they’ve passed through, it closes again.
“So Old Man Lan asked me to look into some curses for him – don’t give me that look, he asked, you can ask Lan Zhan-” Wei Wuxian says, opening the doors and gesturing Jiang Cheng through. “Ah, Lan Zhan, did you miss me?”
Lan Wangji is seated behind a guqin at the head of the room, playing soft notes that hum with spiritual energy. In the centre of the room, on four tables that stand equidistant to each other, sit cursed objects. Jiang Cheng can’t tell what they are, because each of them is smothered in resentful energy, black mist swirling around them, fast and angry.
The whole place feels thick with malevolent energy. (It reminds him, unpleasantly, of the Burial Mounds, and his skin breaks into prickles.) No wonder Wei Wuxian has warded it so heavily.
“So, Teacher Lan asked you to look into curses,” Jiang Cheng prompts.
“Yes, yes,” Wei Wuxian says, finally tearing his eyes off Lan Wangji and turning back to Jiang Cheng. “But I never actually – I don’t really know-”
Jiang Cheng sighs. “I know you never used curses,” he says, taking pity on him. This, at least, he can give his bro- can give Wei Wuxian – he’d done a lot, but he’d never resorted to curses. A lot of the demonic cultivators he’d hunted down after Wei Wu- that he’d hunted down after, had been fond of using curses, though, and it was one of the ways Jiang Cheng used to identify them as not being the person he’d spent so long searching for.
“Right!” Wei Wuxian says, giving him a beaming smile. “So I don’t really – know that much about them? But you – I heard you’re really good at curse breaking! So I thought you might-”
Jiang Cheng sighs. He does have a reputation for curse breaking; of course, he’d mostly gathered that reputation by hunting down and killing the demonic cultivators who’d been responsible for the curses in the first place, but in the course of that he’d become reasonably familiar with curses themselves.
“Is anyone actually cursed by these objects?” he asks.
“Oh! No, I don’t think so?”
“You don’t think so?” Jiang Cheng scowls. How can Wei Wuxian not know if-
“I’m sure Old Man Lan would have said if anyone was cursed!” Wei Wuxian says and that, at least, is probably true. If there was some kind of time limit, or if anyone in the Cloud Recesses was actually cursed, Lan Qiren would have mentioned it.
“What have you done so far?” Jiang Cheng asks, and Wei Wuxian pulls some papers from his sleeve, starting to explain. The notes are scattered and poorly written, but Jiang Cheng manages to decipher that Wei Wuxian has made some small amount of progress trying to categorise and identify the curses.
Despite the energy hanging over the room, it feels – nice, to be talking with Wei Wuxian about something – like maybe Wei Wuxian is finding things just as difficult as he is, like maybe Wei Wuxian, too, appreciates something they can talk about that isn’t fraught and tense.
“Well, you keep going with that one,” Jiang Cheng says finally, gesturing at the cursed object Wei Wuxian has made the most progress with. “I’ll start here.”
He sets Sandu down to the side, approaches his chosen object. It’s the one Wei Wuxian has had the most trouble with, and Jiang Cheng can see why; the energy is thickly concentrated, the curse itself blurry and indistinct.
Jiang Cheng has, however, dealt with worse, and in far less hospitable conditions.
He pulls spiritual energy into his eyes, and starts blinking the curse into focus.
Wei Ying is ecstatic. Jiang Cheng has come to Gusu, because he asked; they had a civil conversation, now they’re working together-!
When Lan Qiren had reluctantly approached him, he’d agreed because he had the most familiarity with resentful energy. It made sense that he be the one to look into the cursed objects – research that had previously been put on hold due to lack of sufficiently experienced disciples to lead the study.
Curses really aren’t something he has a lot of experience with, though, and when he’d complained as much to Lan Zhan, he’d suggested reaching out for assistance to someone more knowledgeable on the subject.
And as it turns out, the two cultivators most known for curse breaking are Zewu-Jun (currently in seclusion and unavailable) and Sandu Shengshou.
Wei Ying could have kissed Lan Zhan for giving him a way to reach out to his brother.
And then he remembered that he could, and so he had, and-
(And one thing had led to another, as it always did.)
Many hours later, he had written to Jiang Cheng, and now he’s here, and-
There’s a flare of resentful energy in the room. Notes spill faster from Lan Zhan’s guqin as he works to contain it-
Wei Ying spins. It’s coming from the cursed object behind him, swirls of dark energy smashing through its bindings and lashing out toward Jiang Cheng’s unguarded back-
Wei Ying reacts without thinking. (That’s his brother, he will not let-)
He’s trying to physically interpose himself in front of Jiang Cheng at the same time as he’s trying to grapple with the resentful energy, bring it under his control (or at the very least, soften the curse into something less malevolent) – manages to get his hand in the way, but the curse is too strong-
His hand slams into Jiang Cheng’s shoulder, and he can feel the curse pour through him and straight into Jiang Cheng. His brother makes a horrible noise that Wei Ying never wants to hear ever again, whole body shuddering as the energy swirls around him-
For too long, Wei Ying can’t see what’s happening, energy too thick and choking-
And then the energy dissipates, and lying on the ground-
Wei Ying crashes to his knees, shaking hands reaching out-
Jiang Cheng is a cat (and Wei Ying will think about that later-) but he is also breathing, chest rising and falling under Wei Ying’s hand.
(Somewhere in the back of Wei Ying’s mind, he registers that Lan Zhan has stopped playing; notices as Lan Zhan starts to place seals over each cursed object. But none of that is as important as his brother-)
He carefully gathers Jiang Cheng into his arms, standing up.
“Lan Zhan-” he says-
“Medical Pavilion,” Lan Zhan says, opens the doors, and makes an opening in the wards. “I will catch up.”
Wei Ying hurries through the gap, starts to head through the Cloud Recesses, because Jiang Cheng has to be okay-
Jiang Cheng shudders in his arms, and he looks down – he’s coming to, it seems, eyes blinking open-
There’s a yowling screech, claws raking through his sleeves, and Wei Ying flinches reflexively, arms loosening-
Jiang Cheng hits the ground running.
Lan Zhan finds him in the back hill, just minutes after he’d lost Jiang Cheng in a thick stand of bamboo. He’d emerged on the other side, vaulting over a brush fence, to find a small house in a tiny clearing, and no sign of Jiang Cheng anywhere.
“Maybe we should check inside that house,” Wei Ying says, but he can see as well as Lan Zhan can that the doors and windows are closed; Jiang Cheng is probably long gone into the back hill, and Wei Ying will never forgive himself if his brother is injured because of him.
(He has little to worry about on an ordinary day, because in the years of his absence Jiang Cheng has become mighty, a powerful cultivator in his own right, respected and feared by almost all – but currently Jiang Cheng is a cat, unable to access his spiritual energy or defend himself except with tooth and claw, and Wei Ying knows there are animals in the back hill, things that might try and harm him.)
“Brother is in seclusion,” Lan Zhan says, and Wei Ying can hear the worry in his voice, see the sadness in his face. Lan Zhan is desperately worried for Lan Xichen, and is helpless to do anything about it. “It would not be right to disturb him.”
Wei Ying closes the distance between them, reaches out and takes Lan Zhan’s hand in silent support. “Ah, you’re right, of course,” he says. “He must have run off that way!”
Lan Zhan nods, and they move away from Zewu-Jun’s hanshi and into the bamboo on the other side of the house.
Lan Xichen, at least, is a problem Wei Ying can think about on another day – for now he has a different brother to find.
They don’t find him.
They search the back hill all night. He can tell Lan Zhan is tired, the weight of his usual bedtime pulling on him, but Lan Zhan knows how important Jiang Cheng is to him. He says nothing as the sleeping hour comes and goes, stays by Wei Ying’s side as hour after hour passes with no trace.
At least they don’t find evidence of him hurt, or worse.
Lan Zhan vanishes in the early hours of the morning, comes back some time later with a handful of steamed buns, which he makes Wei Ying eat before continuing his search.
Jiang Cheng couldn’t have left the Cloud Recesses, he doesn’t have a jade token. He has to be here somewhere, and Wei Ying will find him.
He has to.
It’s morning before he realises it.
Lan Zhan wants him to rest, but he still hasn’t found Jiang Cheng, and Wei Ying cannot contemplate the possibility that he has lost Jiang Cheng on a more permanent basis, he won’t.
He does allow himself to be talked into returning to the main part of the Cloud Recesses for food and a short rest, but he’s going to sit down for no longer than it takes him to eat and drink some tea.
Lan Zhan steers him with a gentle hand on his shoulder, and as they come back past the hanshi Wei Ying can’t help but glance in that direction, thoughts of Lan Xichen once again pushing into his mind, and-
“Wei Ying?” Lan Zhan says, and then he, too, freezes, because-
The door to the hanshi is open, and standing on the porch-
Standing on the porch are Lan Xichen and Jiang Cheng.
(This is what Jiang Cheng remembers:
Waking once after a nightmare, in the long dark of the night, snugged tight and trembling against a warm body; limbs entwined with his own and a hand soothing up and down his spine.
Warm lips pressing a kiss to his forehead-
Lan Huan’s elegant voice, soft: “Go back to sleep, Jiang Wanyin.”)
When he wakes again, it’s morning.
He’s still sprawled over the top of Lan Huan; head pillowed on his shoulder, arm slung across his chest, leg between Lan Huan’s; he’s warm everywhere they’re touching.
It’s really nice.
“Good morning, Jiang Wanyin,” Lan Huan says quietly, and Jiang Cheng can feel his voice rumbling through his chest, and that feels really nice, too.
He’s not, however, prepared to be awake quite yet. He mumbles out something approximating a morning and doesn’t move a single muscle.
Lan Huan huffs a quiet little laugh. “It’s after five,” he says, and he sounds regretful. “I really should-”
He doesn’t say what he should, but Jiang Cheng remembers the stupid rules well enough. “Fuck the rules,” he mumbles into Lan Huan’s shoulder.
Lan Huan laughs again. “You really are delightful.” He doesn’t sound at all upset about Jiang Cheng’s language – he sounds fond. Like he really is delighted.
Jiang Cheng can feel himself blushing. “Shut up.”
Lan Huan hums. “I don’t think I will,” he says, and then: “We do need to talk.”
Just like that, Jiang Cheng can feel himself start to tense. He blinks open his eyes; from this angle he can see Lan Huan’s throat, the underside of his jaw.
“Ah, nothing bad,” Lan Huan says quickly; no doubt he can feel it too, the way Jiang Cheng has gone stiff against him. “I just wanted to – find out your thoughts, about – what happens next.”
If he’s honest, Jiang Cheng hasn’t given any thought to what happens next. He can barely believe he managed to tell Lan Huan, last night, that he was planning to sleep in his bed; can barely believe that Lan Huan offered that to him, and he himself accepted.
(Jiang Cheng doesn’t get to just have things, and even though last night he was allowed this, there’s still a chance that he won’t get to keep it.)
“Why did you – last night, why did you let me stay?” Jiang Cheng manages to get out through a throat that feels like it’s suddenly filled with glass.
He watches the knot of Lan Huan’s throat bob as he swallows. “You were happy,” Lan Huan says, soft. “You spent the day with me, ate with me, trusted me, let me – let me touch you-” He swallows again. “You were planning to sleep here with me, and you were happy – that made you happy.”
He pauses. “And your trust, your – companionship; knowing that I had helped make you happy – that made me-” His next breath hitches on the inhale. “I felt – like maybe there was hope,” he says, and his breath out is shaky.
Jiang Cheng tightens his arm around Lan Huan, wriggles forward to press his face into his neck. “There is hope,” he says, takes a breath. If Lan Huan can be brave, can say all of those things, can be vulnerable, then maybe for once, Jiang Cheng can say what he wants.
(Maybe, for once, if Jiang Cheng fights for what he wants, he might actually-)
He takes a breath. “Come back to Yunmeng with me.”
Lan Huan stills. He’s not even breathing.
Jiang Cheng lifts his head – Lan Huan is staring at him, mouth fallen open. He looks-
“Breathe, Lan Huan,” he says, and Lan Huan sucks in a shaky breath.
“I’m in seclusion,” Lan Huan says. “I – to go to Yunmeng, I-”
(Jiang Cheng knows what he looks like, because he’s seen that face in the mirror before. Lan Huan looks sad, and scared, and hopeful – like he desperately wants something but doesn’t think he can have it.)
“Do you want to?” Jiang Cheng asks. “Don’t think, just answer.”
“Yes-” Lan Huan says instantly. “Yes, I want to.”
“Then come,” Jiang Cheng says. “Talk to your brother, take a leave of absence. Who’s going to know you’ve left the Cloud Recesses?”
Lan Huan lets out a shaky breath. “I – people will-”
“My people?” Jiang Cheng frowns. “Not if they know what’s good for them.”
He’ll put Lan Huan in the rooms next to his – in the private wing, for family. Only his most trusted people have access, and none of them will talk. And when Lan Huan wants to go further afield… well. He’ll deal with that when it happens.
“I’m – probably not leaving today,” Jiang Cheng says. “So there’s time to make arrangements.”
(Whether he’s leaving today will definitely depend on what happens when he sees Wei Wuxian again. For example, if he breaks Wei Wuxian’s legs, he’ll definitely be leaving the Cloud Recesses immediately, before Lan Wangji can murder him.)
“Okay,” Lan Huan says, and his breathing is still shaky but there’s a smile on his face; it’s small, but it looks real enough. “I – I’ll come to Yunmeng.”
Jiang Cheng pokes through Lan Huan’s clothes chest while Lan Haun is washing his face, and pulls out some robes for him. (He remembers his first sight of Zewu-Jun in seclusion yesterday, and it hadn’t been good: a house robe, barely tied; hair pulled straight back from his face with a single tie, no hair piece to be seen; forehead ribbon crooked. Today, they’re going to do better.)
He says nothing when Lan Huan returns, simply holds each robe out for Lan Huan to step into, although when he tries to tie the sash Lan Huan bats his hands away. “I can – stop it, I can tie my own sash. Jiang Wanyin-!”
“Fine,” Jiang Cheng says, stepping back. “But I’m doing your hair.”
Lan Huan sighs, but after the sash is tied, he sits in front of the dresser without complaint.
Jiang Cheng combs Lan Huan’s hair carefully, but it’s nothing like his own. His hair is always a problem, thick and slightly too dry, and it’s dishevelled in the mornings, full of knots and snarls. Lan Huan’s hair is less thick, smooth and silky under the gentle teeth of the comb. He has yet to discover a single knot. It’s outrageous. (Jiang Cheng already loves it.)
He combs back the hair from his forehead, gathering sections for a topknot. He’s already picked a hair piece, one of Lan Huan’s smaller ones, and it’s easy enough to secure the topknot, pin the hair piece into place.
“Done,” Jiang Cheng says, setting the comb on the dresser. “Ready for your ribbon.”
Lan Huan picks it up, looking down at it for a moment, then half turns to look at Jiang Cheng. “Jiang Wanyin. Would you tie it on for me?”
Jiang Cheng swallows. He – he knows he touched it yesterday, and even if he’d been a cat at the time, he still knows what he did – still knows better than to touch a Lan forehead ribbon. And here Lan Huan is, brave as ever, offering up-
“Are you sure?” Jiang Cheng says.
(He wants, but he doesn’t get to just have things – he has to check, has to make certain-)
“I’m coming to Yunmeng with you,” Lan Huan says, and his voice is steady. “I’m sure.”
Jiang Cheng reaches out, lifts the ribbon from his palm, smooths it out. Places the metal plate in the centre of Lan Huan’s forehead, and ties it neatly at the back of his head.
“There,” he says, and Lan Huan smiles at him in the mirror.
“Thank you,” he says, and stands. Compared to yesterday, he looks like a whole different person. He looks – he looks almost like himself again. “Would you like to borrow my comb?”
“Please,” Jiang Cheng says. His hair is – going to take some work.
“I’ll make breakfast,” Lan Huan says.
By the time Jiang Cheng has dressed and tamed his hair into some kind of order, Lan Huan is setting a tray down at the table.
“Ah, I should have asked,” he says. “I hope congee is okay?”
Jiang Cheng slides the last pin into his hair, and turns. “Congee is fine, you’re being ridiculous,” he says, and Lan Huan smiles down at the floor.
They eat their congee side by side, sipping from their tea, and then Jiang Cheng pours them both a second cup, and stands.
“Come on,” he says. “We’re going to drink this on the porch.”
Lan Huan pushes to his feet, takes his cup. “Okay,” he says quietly.
Jiang Cheng slides open the door, steps onto the porch in his stockings. It looks like it’s going to be a lovely day; the sun is already cutting through the morning mist, and with the bamboo surrounding the hanshi it’s like they’re in their own small world, just the two of them.
He watches Lan Huan close his eyes, lift his face to the sun, and hides a smile in his tea cup. (Better to think about how adorable Lan Huan looks, basking in the sun, than to think about how long he’s been in seclusion without feeling the sun on his face.)
He hears a noise nearby, turns his head – nearly drops his tea cup as he sees Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji just emerged from the bamboo, frozen on the path and staring at them. They look-
(He’ll think about that later; he has more pressing concerns.)
“Lan Huan,” he says immediately, “your brother is here.”
“...Ah,” Lan Huan says, and he sounds-
Jiang Cheng turns his back on the others for a minute to face him. “Lan Huan,” he says, and waits for Lan Huan’s gaze to track over to him. “If you want him to come back later, you can go inside and I can tell him so,” he says. “I didn’t expect them to be here now, and you are allowed time to prepare.”
Lan Huan’s fingers are white on his tea cup. He takes a breath. “No,” he says. “I can. I can do it.”
“You’re coming to Yunmeng with me,” Jiang Cheng says, and watches as Lan Huan visibly steadies himself. “You can do it.”
“I can do it,” Lan Huan repeats, and nods. “I’ll be okay, Jiang Wanyin.”
“All right,” Jiang Cheng says, and turns back to the path.
Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji are still standing in the same place, although they’ve both turned to properly face the hanshi. Lan Wangji is holding Wei Wuxian by the shoulder, and he looks-
Jiang Cheng doesn’t ever think he’s seen this much emotion on Lan Wangji’s face before. (It’s barely there at all, but compared to how he usually looks, it’s shocking.) He looks an awful lot like Lan Huan had looked earlier, when Jiang Cheng had asked him to come to Yunmeng – sad, scared, hopeful. Jiang Cheng knows that Lan Huan has been in seclusion – wonders how long it’s been since he saw his brother. (Has Lan Wangji even been permitted to visit? Judging by his face, Jiang Cheng would wager not.)
Wei Wuxian, on the other hand, looks like he was dragged through a bush backwards, and then dragged through a few more for good measure. His robes are muddy. He has a smear of dirt across one cheekbone. There are leaves and twigs in his hair.
He doesn’t look like he’s slept.
Has he been searching for Jiang Cheng all night?
They just stare at each other for a moment. Jiang Cheng doesn’t know why they’re not moving, and then Lan Huan steps up beside him, and nods.
“You may approach,” he says, voice pitched to carry, and of course, they were waiting for permission because Lan Huan is still technically in seclusion.
Wei Wuxian very nearly runs, held back only by Lan Wangji’s hand on his shoulder. He almost stumbles as he comes up onto the porch. This close, Jiang Cheng can see the dark circles under his eyes as his gaze darts up and down Jiang Cheng’s figure.
“You’re okay,” he says, and he sounds frantic, words tumbling out one after another. “You’re okay, you’re not hurt? The curse?”
“Broken,” Jiang Cheng says, and Wei Wuxian sags. Lan Wangji catches him without looking, too busy staring at Lan Huan; like if he looks away, Lan Huan will disappear.
“That’s – good, that’s-” Wei Wuxian is saying, and he stumbles forward. “I’m going to hug you.”
Jiang Cheng flinches back, because the last time Wei Wuxian touched him he got cursed.
“Tell me why you did it first,” he says, because as it happens he had a – a really happy night, and he’s been having a good morning, but if Wei Wuxian had been trying to, to prank him, or something equally as stupid-
(He’d thought, yesterday, that maybe things were getting better, that he and Wei Wuxian might finally start to – and then this happened, and tore it all to shreds.)
“I – what?” Wei Wuxian stumbles to a halt. “Do what? What did I do?”
“Curse me,” Jiang Cheng says, and watches Wei Wuxian’s eyes go wide in horror.
“No,” Wei Wuxian says, “I didn’t – the – one of the curses got free and it – I tried to get in the way but I – it still cursed you.”
Jiang Cheng glances at Lan Wangji, who nods without taking his eyes off Lan Huan. Jiang Cheng isn’t sure if he’s even blinking. “Not Wei Ying,” he says. “Tried to stop.”
Jiang Cheng breathes in, tries to let go of his residual upset at Wei Wuxian for something that, it turns out, hadn’t been his fault.
(Wei Wuxian hadn’t cursed him. Had tried to stop it – has been searching for him, possibly all night.)
He breathes out.
“Okay,” he says, and Wei Wuxian instantly closes the distance between them.
It’s more of a controlled fall than a hug, truth be told. Wei Wuxian collapses against him, and Jiang Cheng snags a hold of the back of his belt to stop him sliding straight onto the boards. His tea cup feels awkward in his other hand, pressed against his back.
“Have you slept?” he asks, and Wei Wuxian shakes his head where it’s dropped against Jiang Cheng’s shoulder.
“Been searching,” he says. “Couldn’t let you get eaten.”
“Let me get – Wei Wuxian, I can take care of myself.”
“You were so small,” Wei Wuxian says into his shoulder, and his arms squeeze tight around Jiang Cheng’s chest and really, this is-
It’s been – a long time since he’s hugged his-
“Brother,” Lan Wangji murmurs from the side.
“Wangji,” Lan Huan says back, just as quietly. “Have you been well?”
“Mn,” Lan Wangji says, and then: “Worried about Brother,” and Jiang Cheng glances over as discreetly as he can.
“I’m-” Lan Huan starts, and sighs. “I haven’t been doing very well,” he says. “But I have reason to believe that will change in the near future.”
Lan Wangji says nothing, and Lan Huan reaches out, places a hand on his shoulder. “Seclusion isn’t helping,” he says. “So I’m going to Yunmeng with Jiang Wanyin.”
Wei Wuxian’s head pops up from Jiang Cheng’s shoulder, nearly hitting him in the chin. “You’re what?”
“Coming to Yunmeng with me,” Jiang Cheng says. Lan Huan has enough to deal with talking to Lan Wangji, he doesn’t need to deal with Wei Wuxian on top of that. “Did your ears stop working overnight? Maybe you should go and sleep.”
“Brother,” Lan Wangji says over the sound of Wei Wuxian spluttering, and Lan Huan sighs again.
“I know,” he says, looking down. “But I can’t stay here. I – Wangji, I need to do this.”
Jiang Cheng watches them stare at each other for at least ten seconds of increasingly awkward silence, and then Lan Wangji nods. “I understand,” he says.
“Thank you,” Lan Huan says, and Jiang Cheng can hear the relief in his voice.
Lan Wangji lifts his hand, sets it on Lan Huan’s shoulder in turn. “Be well,” he says, and Lan Huan breathes out.
“I will be,” he says, and turns to look over at Jiang Cheng (and, by extension, Wei Wuxian, who is still clinging to him).
“Wei Wuxian,” he says. “You said you attempted to intercept the curse?”
Wei Wuxian pops his head up again, resting his chin on Jiang Cheng’s shoulder. He seems disinclined to let go, and if he’s honest, Jiang Cheng is also-
(Maybe it’s just that his usual sharp edges have been blunted by his night and morning with Lan Huan; but it’s – it’s nice to be close to Wei Wuxian, for once without any shouting or pain; he’s spent so many years of his life being alone and lonely, spent so many years of his life missing him – and now here he is, and it’s-)
(Jiang Cheng doesn’t get to just have things, but Wei Wuxian came back.)
“I tried to get in the way,” Wei Wuxian says, face falling again in memory. “But the curse went through me and into Jiang Cheng anyway.”
Lan Huan nods. “You did enough,” he says. “You altered the conditions enough that Jiang Wanyin and I could break the curse last night.”
“You didn’t mention that,” Jiang Cheng says.
“I – I did?” Wei Wuxian says at the same time.
“I wasn’t sure until Wei Wuxian confirmed it,” Lan Huan says. “Several sigils in the curse looked as though they had been smeared and replaced. I suspect without your intervention, it would have been far more serious a curse, and far more difficult to break.”
Now that Lan Huan says it, it does make sense – a curse that malevolent, doing nothing but transforming him into a cat, with a condition of true happiness to be broken? Of course that couldn’t have been its original form; of course it had been transmuted into something less dangerous.
Of course Wei Wuxian had thrown himself into danger, risked being cursed himself, to try and save Jiang Cheng.
“Who asked you to do that?” Jiang Cheng says, voice rising, because this is unacceptable. “You’re an idiot! You could have been-”
“You were about to be cursed!” Wei Wuxian yells back. “I couldn’t just stand there and let you get-”
“You already died once,” Jiang Cheng shouts over him, because Wei Wuxian doesn’t understand. “I can’t lose you again!”
His voice rings through the small clearing, Wei Wuxian’s eyes wide. Jiang Cheng’s chest is heaving, and Wei Wuxian is trembling, and they’re still clutching at each other.
(The dirt on Wei Wuxian’s cheekbone is hopelessly smeared across that side of his face, which means it’s probably all over Jiang Cheng’s robes, which is just – typical, really, of their entire relationship.)
“I just got you back,” Jiang Cheng says into the silence. “You’re my-”
He can’t say it. He can’t even think it. But he knows Wei Wuxian hears it all the same.
“Jiang Cheng-” he wobbles out, and then they’re hugging again, and he thinks Wei Wuxian might be crying against his shoulder.
“I’m all right,” he says, and holds Wei Wuxian until the tears subside.
When the sniffling starts, he turns his head; Lan Wangji and Lan Huan are both missing from the porch.
“Hanguang-Jun-” Jiang Cheng says, and a moment later Lan Wangji materialises at his elbow. He must have been inside the hanshi.
“Take him and make him sleep,” Jiang Cheng says, and hands over Wei Wuxian like a parcel.
Lan Wangji’s hands are careful as they curl around Wei Wuxian’s shoulders.
“Mn,” he says, and stands there for a moment, and then: “Sect Leader Jiang. Take care of Brother.”
Jiang Cheng breathes out. “I have,” he says. “I will.”
Lan Wangji nods once, and draws Wei Wuxian away.
Jiang Cheng watches them until they vanish behind the bamboo; becomes aware of Lan Huan, standing at his shoulder.
“Are you all right?” Lan Huan asks.
Jiang Cheng snorts. “I should be asking you that,” he says.
“I asked first,” Lan Huan says, and flashes him a perfectly steady smile when Jiang Cheng scowls at him.
“Does anyone else know you’re like this?” Jiang Cheng asks, and Lan Huan laughs, just a little.
“Just you,” Lan Huan says, and Jiang Cheng flushes, pleased.
“So?” Lan Huan prompts, after a moment, and Jiang Cheng glances away.
“I’m-” he starts. He’s – tired, even though he hasn’t really been awake that long; he feels wrung out, but at the same time, he – he feels like he’s gained something; like something deep inside has finally begun to mend. “I’m okay,” he says finally, and looks expectantly at Lan Huan.
“I’m relieved,” Lan Huan says promptly. “It was – easier than I was worried it might be.”
“And?” Jiang Cheng says, because there’s something else, something lurking under Lan Huan’s mask of composure.
Lan Huan sighs. “And Wangji asked if I was going to tell Uncle, and I – don’t know.”
Jiang Cheng hums. “Wait here,” he says, and goes inside; fetches the tray of tea things, collects the cushions from the floor, and comes back out.
He settles Lan Huan on a cushion in the sun, pours them both fresh cups of tea; sits down next to him, shoulder to shoulder.
“Tell me,” he says.
Lan Huan turns his tea cup in his hands. “Uncle is already disappointed in me,” he says. “I don’t want to see him disapprove of this too.”
“You don’t want to tell him,” Jiang Cheng says. “But you feel like you should.”
“Yes,” Lan Huan says, glancing at Jiang Cheng; he seems surprised. “That’s it exactly.”
Jiang Cheng shrugs. “Write to him from Yunmeng,” he says. “Once you’re there, he can’t see you without my permission.”
Lan Huan looks back at his tea cup, but not before Jiang Cheng catches a glimpse of his mouth, starting to curve up at the corner. “Is that so?”
“It is,” Jiang Cheng says, and takes a sip of his tea. “He can see you when you’re ready, and not before.”
When he glances out of the corner of his eye, Lan Huan is just lowering his tea cup. He’s-
(This is what Jiang Cheng remembers:
Basking in the warmth of the sun, tea cups abandoned along with their posture: Jiang Cheng leaning back, all his weight on one hand; Lan Huan stretched out across the boards with his head on Jiang Cheng’s thigh.
The faint sound of Zidian’s chain clinking as he strokes his other hand along Lan Huan’s spine-
Lan Huan smiling.)