luo qingyang is the actual second person to wake up, unbeknownst to the other eleven. she’s fifteen and in the middle of a very heated argument with her physical education teacher. “why should the girls have to run an extra lap while the boys get to cool down?” she demands, hands clenched into fists by her sides.
the rest of the girls stand behind her, silent and probably terrified, and the boys stand behind their very male physical education teacher. they look smug, and luo qingyang wants to wipe that look off of their faces. “because i said so,” the teacher says, and luo qingyang does not like the smug smile on his face one bit. so she decides to do something about it.
she is fifteen and a full head shorter than this man, but she swings her fist toward his face. it feels like everything’s in slow motion when –
“you all speak loud. you all make sense. such being the case, i will secede from the clan.” she takes off her sash and throws it to the ground. her outer robe is quick to follow. the reality of her words settles in, and she knows she’s made the right choice.
“you broke his nose!” one of the boys yells, and mianmian blinks, blood on her knuckles and her teacher laying on the ground, groaning. her blood is boiling and she stands straighter, an entire lifetime of proper etiquette and righteousness behind her.
mianmian holds up her head and looks down at the teacher, and she can’t find it in her to regret punching him. “he deserved it,” she says before turning on her heel and heading straight to the principal’s office for punishment. she doesn’t think she was wrong in defending herself or the rest of the girls in her class, but punching a teacher is a bit much.
besides, if she didn’t get to punch jin guangshan in her last life, why shouldn’t she punch perverts in this one?
mianmian is lucky in that she meets jin zixuan in this lifetime at their college orientation freshman year. the problem is that she figures out almost immediately that he has no memory of their last lives. (sure, it was a slim chance that she would even meet him in this lifetime, but she would’ve liked to have someone to talk to about the differences between then and now who had been, y’know, there.)
it goes like this: mianmian is wandering around the dining hall looking for somewhere to eat that isn’t a table full of strangers. fortunately for her, the first friendly face she sees happens to be jin zixuan’s.
“is anyone else sitting here?” she asks him when she comes up to his table.
jin zixuan looks around like he’s expecting her to be talking to someone else, but he shakes his head. “you’re welcome to sit, if you’d like,” he says, and mianmian wonders, very quietly, even if he doesn’t remember her, if some part of his subconscious recognizes her.
after that, it’s easy for a friendship to be born and for jin zixuan to invite her over to his house for dinner that night with his brother since mianmian is from out of town.
of course, it follows that the next person she meets in this lifetime is jin guangyao.
mianmian didn’t know him at this age in their last lives since he was still living with the nie sect, so seeing him this young is strange to her (more strange than the fact that they’ve all been reincarnated anyway.)
“a-yao!” jin zixuan calls when he opens the front door that evening, mianmian right behind him. she follows him inside, closing the door behind her as he toes off his shoes. “i brought a friend over for dinner!”
jin guangyao pops his head out of the kitchen into the hallway, looking at jin zixuan with a frown. “and you didn’t text me before to let me know? i could’ve not made enough food or made something that they’re allergic to!”
jin zixuan turns to mianmian, and she shakes her head. “no allergies,” she calls, taking off her shoes. “and i’m sure that you made plenty of food.” jin guangyao keeps frowning, but he goes back into the kitchen.
“that’s my brother,” jin zixuan says, leading mianmian down the hallway. “he worries a little too much about what everyone else thinks about him.”
“my image is very important,” jin guangyao says just as jin zixuan and mianmian reach the kitchen doorway. “it’s the first thing that most people see anyway, and first impressions are said to be the most important.” he puts a lid on the pan on the stove before turning to look at them. “hi, i’m jin guangyao,” he says, holding out a hand to mianmian with a smile.
there’s no malice, no secret intention that mianmian can make out behind his eyes, so she feels comfortable shaking his hand and smiling back at him. “luo qingyang, but my friends call me mianmian.”
and, just like that, mianmian has college friends and a connection to her past life all at once.
(dinner’s not awful, but mianmian also didn’t know that jin guangyao could cook. although, mianmian’s never known anyone to fail to make a decent stirfry before. “just don’t let a-xuan cook,” jin guangyao stage-whispers to mianmian after they’ve finished eating. “he could burn water if it didn’t evaporate.”
mianmian laughs as jin zixuan smacks jin guangyao on the arm for that and thinks, i missed them.)
wen qing and mianmian finally meet when mianmian meets jiang yanli for lunch one day. well, mianmian says finally because she didn’t really interact with wen qing during the lectures at cloud recesses and then wen qing was killed before mianmian got another chance.
so mianmian considers this to be their first meeting. jiang yanli and jin zixuan have just started dating, and mianmian is taking full advantage of this opportunity to get to know jiang yanli better. she had been so happy when jiang yanli and jin zixuan had finally gotten married in their last lives since it meant that they had finally worked out a way to express how much they liked each other without jin zixuan being a complete idiot. unfortunately, that had been after mianmian had left the jin sect, so there had been no way for mianmian to express her congratulations to them without it being considered improper.
all that means right now is that mianmian can openly tease jin zixuan for having a girlfriend who is so out of his league.
mianmian’s a little late getting out of her criminal justice class, which means that jiang yanli and wen qing are already in the dining hall by the time that mianmian gets there. jiang yanli had texted mianmian where she was sitting, which means that mianmian isn’t left hunting them down. still, jiang yanli hadn’t mentioned that wen qing was going to be there, and the sight of her makes mianmian stop short when she finally sees the two of them.
listen, mianmian knows what jiang cheng saw in wen qing, alright? the woman is beautiful and smart and incredibly competent, and mianmian just so happens to have a vulnerability for all those things. she loved her husband and little mianmian with all of her heart but if she had been able to court and marry wen qing as lan wangji and wei wuxian had been able to do, mianmian thinks that she would’ve done it.
what mianmian means is that she is lucky that she doesn’t trip when she walks over to the table. “hi, i’m sorry i’m late,” mianmian says, accidentally breaking up the conversation between jiang yanli and wen qing.
wen qing who definitely gives mianmian a once-over that has mianmian internally squealing.
“oh no, it’s fine,” jiang yanli says, and mianmian reminds herself that, hello, she has no idea if jiang yanli or wen qing even remember their last lives. (which mianmian will smack herself for when she finds out that, yes, they both remembered by the time they met her and that jiang yanli actually remembered before anyone else.) when mianmian keeps looking at wen qing, jiang yanli suddenly realizes that some introductions are in order. “oh! this is my roommate, wen qing. wen qing, this is zixuan’s friend, mianmian.”
mianmian waves, a small smile on her face. “it’s nice to meet you.”
wen qing smiles back and mianmian thinks, oh shit. “it’s nice to meet you too, mianmian.” she gestures for mianmian to join them at the table, and this time mianmian does trip while sitting down.
she hides her face in her hands as soon as she’s sitting though, her cheeks red. “i’m sorry, i’m nervous and i have no idea why.” that’s a lie, mianmian thinks, peeking out between her fingers at wen qing. i know exactly why i’m nervous.
neither mianmian nor wen qing see the way that jiang yanli flicks her eyes between the two of them, considering.
“i think mianmian has a crush on you,” jiang yanli says as she and wen qing walk back to their room.
wen qing rolls her eyes, but she feels her cheeks pink a little. “don’t be ridiculous. she was probably just nervous.”
she doesn’t even have to look to know that jiang yanli’s looking at her in a way that means that she’s overthinking. “you like her,” jiang yanli says after a long moment, and wen qing tamps down on her automatic denial.
“i do, i think that she’s a nice girl,” wen qing replies, careful to keep her voice steady.
jiang yanli laughs, loud and clear, wrapping her arms around one of wen qing’s. “oh, this is so exciting! we’ve never been able to talk relationships before since, well, y’know.”
when wen qing rolls her eyes this time, she’s being completely serious. “oh, so we’re not going to talk about jiang wanyin’s huge crush on me?”
they laugh on their way back, but it doesn’t stop wen qing from thinking about how cute mianmian looked when she blushed.
xichen looks nervous when nie mingjue meets him for lunch the day after they wake up. they meet at a restaurant near campus that they frequent often enough that most of the waiters are learning their faces and their usual orders. they’re even starting to have a regular spot next to one of the windows, and they figured that they could use the familiarity after the shock that is realizing that they’ve been reincarnated.
nie mingjue slides into his seat across from xichen and immediately takes note of the fact that xichen is fidgeting with the ends of his sleeves the way that huaisang does whenever he’s nervous (which is often. mingjue has seen that gesture more often than he has cared to.) nie mingjue’s not the soft and cuddly type, and apparently has never been if his memories from his last life are to be trusted, but this is xichen, sworn brother and best friend in two lifetimes. it would be hard for him not to care if something was wrong.
“there’s something you don’t want to tell me,” nie mingjue says, and xichen’s eyes go wide, his hands stilling on the tabletop. that alone tells nie mingjue that he’s close but not quite, so he tries again. “there’s something you do wanna tell me.”
xichen nods, and nie mingjue waits. he learned patience from xichen, even if he never really put it into use. (honestly, demanding answers always seemed like the easiest way.) still, whatever it is that xichen looks like he’s building up the courage to say, nie mingjue’s willing to let him take his own time. if xichen didn’t tell him in their last lifetime, then it must be something important to xichen.
“i’m in love with a-yao,” xichen blurts, freezing as soon as the words leave his mouth.
nie mingjue thinks about it for a second and then he nods. “that actually makes a lot of sense.” he thinks about it a little longer – the way that xichen defended jin guangyao when nie mingjue tried to kill him after the end of the sunshot campaign, how xichen insisted that nie mingjue give jin guangyao another chance, convincing nie mingjue that the three of them should become sworn brothers, jin guangyao’s willingness to help rebuild cloud recesses.
yeah, finding out that his best friend is in love with the manipulative little bastard who killed him makes sense to nie mingjue.
on the other hand, xichen has moved on from looking terrified to looking confused. “wait, what do you mean “that makes sense”? what about my being in love with a-yao makes sense to you?” he hasn’t really shifted in his seat, but nie mingjue feels like xichen is leaning forward, trying to draw the answers out of nie mingjue.
nie mingjue shrugs. “you’ve always had a soft spot for him, ever since the two of you first met. if wangji’s protectiveness of wei wuxian is any indication, then you’ve been in love with jin guangyao for a very long time.”
xichen’s not so uncivilized as to let his mouth fall open in shock, but nie mingjue gets the gist from xichen’s expression. “but he killed you,” xichen says, and nie mingjue just nods.
“yup, and i’m still mad at him for it, but that doesn’t change how you feel about him,” nie mingjue replies. “besides, the kid was my assistant for how long? he may have done some terrible things but if you love him, there’s gotta be some good in him somewhere.”
“you’re taking this a lot better than i was expecting,” xichen says when nie mingjue picks up the menu and starts reading it.
nie mingjue looks back up at xichen. “what, not enough yelling and questions along the lines of “what’s wrong with you” and “how could you be in love with that bastard”?” xichen nods, and nie mingjue shrugs again. “i was gonna save that stuff for when we actually find the kid and i can grill him about everything he did in our last lives.”
xichen leans back so that his back is flush to the chair back, and nie mingjue bites back a smirk. “oh,” xichen says. he picks up a menu, looks down, then looks back up and asks, “so, you’re not mad?”
nie mingjue rolls his eyes. “i think it’s a little late to be mad about this, isn’t it? like, if i was going to be mad about this, it probably should’ve been while he was slaughtering the remnants of the wen clan under jin guangshan’s orders or even while he was poisoning me.” he knows that he probably is actually very mad about the fact, but it’s more of an echo of anger than the freshness of a recent insult. honestly, if jin guangyao has been reincarnated and he does remember, nie mingjue would probably be more happy for xichen than anything else.
“oh,” xichen says again, looking back down at the menu. nie mingjue huffs out a quiet laugh when xichen smiles to himself behind the menu, glad that all xichen wanted to tell him was something that nie mingjue might’ve already known.
jin guangyao is actually very surprised that nie huaisang agreed to sit down and talk with him, although nie huaisang had made sure that there were rules in place before he agreed properly. there was to be no record of what they said, no one else in the room with them, and there were no topics off-limits.
“it’s just a talk,” lan xichen says fifteen minutes before their set meeting time, and jin guangyao kinda wants to drag lan xichen to a bed and just lay there with him.
it’s not that he’s nervous about talking to nie huaisang about everything, it’s just…no, he’s nervous about talking to nie huaisang about everything. about nie huaisang’s role in his downfall, about jin guangyao’s role in nie mingjue’s death and nie huaisang’s rise to the role of sect leader, about everything jin guangyao did to prove himself to the world and to his father. jin guangyao’s nervous because he’s worried that the echo in his head of his past self will tell him to do something terrible and he’ll do it.
jin guangyao offers lan xichen a weak smile. “of course,” he says, and lan xichen squeezes jin guangyao’s shoulder. not even the warmth of lan xichen’s touch can distract jin guangyao from this.
he’s still a ball of nerves when, ten minutes later (early is on time and on time is early, jin guangyao thinks), he arrives at the conference room they’ve signed out in the library for this talk. jin guangyao isn’t sure that it was a good idea for them to have this talk in public, but he understands nie huaisang’s logic behind picking a public location. they’re just lucky that the giant windows have blinds that they can put down if things go badly.
nie huaisang arrives at two o’clock on the dot. (punctuality was something nie huaisang had perfected as a sect leader, but only to the point where people would still worry that he would be late or, worse yet, not show up at all.) in the meantime, jin guangyao had reached the point of nervousness that he was now calm, resigned to whatever might happen during this meeting.
for all that jin guangyao’s the one who suggested this meeting, nie huaisang looks surprised when he sees jin guangyao already in the conference room. “you’re here,” he says, and he’s obviously off guard enough for his surprise to color his voice.
jin guangyao nods, his hands interlaced on the table in front of him. “i am.” his shoulders are probably up to his ears, but jin guangyao can’t even try to make himself look relaxed with the tension in the air between the two of them.
nie huaisang nods before turning to the windows and pulling down the blinds. jin guangyao can’t exactly say he blames nie huaisang for taking the precaution of closing themselves off from the rest of the library, what with one of the rules being that no one else was there to witness their conversation. only once the blinds are closed does nie huaisang take a seat at the table across from jin guangyao. “well then, where shall we start?”
they start easy, with old wounds that both of them had an entire lifetime to heal from. jin guangyao’s time with the nie sect wasn’t necessarily awful, but it probably could’ve been better if nie huaisang had spoken up in jin guangyao’s defense every now and then. it goes quickly downhill when jin guangyao confesses , again, to working with xue yang.
nie huaisang throws everything jin guangyao ever did under jin guangshan’s orders at him, from setting up wei wuxian to the slaughter of the wen clan, and jin guangyao retaliates with nie huaisang manipulating people just as easily, referencing the incident with sisi and bribing bicao for information about jin guangyao and qin su’s marriage. they’re on their feet and in each other’s faces in no time, red faced and hands clenched into fists.
they’ve reached guanyin temple when the conversation reaches its peak. jin guangyao finally raises his voice when he says, “you tricked the love of my life into killing me!”
“you killed my brother!” nie huaisang yells.
“i killed my own father and my brother!” jin guangyao yells back, and he’s full on crying at this point. somehow nie huaisang has managed to stay dry-faced, but jin guangyao can see the tears gathering in nie huaisang’s eyes. “all i did was speed up dage’s death!”
nie huaisang swings a fist toward jin guangyao’s face, and he’s too stunned by the action to think to dodge it. jin guangyao falls to the ground, bringing one hand up to his cheek once he’s landed. it’s almost too easy then for jin guangyao to swing his foot towards nie huaisang’s knee to knock him to the ground as well. as soon as jin guangyao can reach it, he punches nie huaisang in the face, aiming for the nose but missing just enough not to break it.
from there, neither one of them keeps track of who does what, but when they finally wear themselves out, they both have black eyes and bloody lips, and jin guangyao can feel a smattering of bruises that’ll darken before the day is over. they drag themselves to the wall just behind the door so that they would be hidden if anyone opened the door and didn’t look behind it, panting and sweating.
jin guangyao gathers his breath first, turning his head to look at nie huaisang. “you’re not him,” he says after another few deep breaths.
nie huaisang turns to look at jin guangyao as well, his head leaning against the wall. “you’re not him either,” he says back. nie huaisang lets out a quick huff of what sounds like a laugh. “and here i was, thinking that i was going to outwit the great lianfang-zun a second time.”
now it’s jin guangyao’s turn to laugh, bringing one hand up to press the back of it against his lip. “so much for the two master manipulators of our time,” he says. that gets a real laugh out of nie huaisang, and jin guangyao smiles at the sound of it.
for all the bad blood between the two of them, jin guangyao had missed nie huaisang when he’d left the nie sect, before he’d gotten caught up in the yin iron and trying to please jin guangshan. he thinks that maybe that’s why he holds a hand out to nie huaisang.
nie huaisang looks at it for a long moment before taking jin guangyao’s hand and shaking it. “to rebirths,” he says, and jin guangyao finds himself nodding in agreement.
“to no more backstage scheming,” jin guangyao replies, and it makes nie huaisang laugh again.
(lan xichen is appropriately horrified when jin guangyao shows up at his apartment after the meeting, bloody and bruised. he insists on taking care of jin guangyao, and if jin guangyao thought he was in love with lan xichen before, he’s definitely in love with lan xichen after he goes out and gets soup for jin guangyao.
briefly, lan xichen wonders if it would be better if he had made the soup from scratch, but jin guangyao shoots that down with a reminder of lan xichen’s attempts at cooking while on the run from the wen clan. it’s makes lan xichen smile, and that smile makes jin guangyao’s chest ache.)
oddly enough, jin guangyao meets wei wuxian before wei wuxian wakes up. hell, he meets wei wuxian before jiang wanyin wakes up, and jin guangyao really doesn’t understand how. the point is that he does.
jiang yanli doesn’t even have anything to do with it, which is the strange part in jin guangyao’s mind. one of his philosophy professors has invited him to a visiting american professor’s lecture about death and immortality, and when he arrives, wei wuxian is sitting in the back row, feet propped up on the desk in front of him.
this gives jin guangyao two choices. one: he could ignore wei wuxian and sit further up, having a chance to actually pay attention to the visiting professor. two: he could sit next to wei wuxian and make conversation, ending with his inevitable distraction and missing most of what the visiting professor has to say.
jin guangyao picks the second option, and he is so glad that he has a voice recording app on his phone to listen to the visiting professor’s lecture later.
wei wuxian looks mostly confused when jin guangyao sits down next to him, and that suits jin guangyao just fine. “you’re jin zixuan’s brother, right?” wei wuxian asks as jin guangyao pulls a notebook and pencil out of his backpack, ostensibly to take notes during the lecture.
he nods. “and you’re jiang yanli’s brother.”
“sort of,” wei wuxian corrects, seemingly mostly on instinct. he recovers quickly though, flashing jin guangyao a grin. “i’m wei wuxian.”
jin guangyao smiles sedately back. “jin guangyao.”
as jin guangyao predicted, wei wuxian keeps silent for about a minute before speaking up again. “so, what awful childhood stories do you have about your brother that i can tell shijie?”
there’s no malice on wei wuxian’s face when jin guangyao looks at him, only mischief. so jin guangyao smiles and turns so that he’s angled towards wei wuxian. “well, there was one time when a girl liked him and had someone else bring him soup that she made because she was shy.”
neither of them hear any of the lecture, though jin guangyao does record it.
(yanli is only mildly embarrassed when a-xian tells her the story after the lecture. it’s been several hundred years and an entire lifetime, but it’s still embarrassing to her that zixuan hadn’t figured out that mianmian wasn’t the one making the soup.
she resolves to find out something embarrassing about jin guangyao in return, if only to tell lan xichen when the two of them finally admit their feelings to each other.)
according to wei wuxian and lan wangji, they had two different first dates. wei wuxian claims that their first date was the night that they met. lan wangji’s argument against this was “you didn’t remember, so it doesn’t count” which worked well enough for lan xichen to agree with his brother, since he had also been reserved towards jin guangyao until he remembered. (as much as wei wuxian respects lan xichen, he notes that lan xichen is biased towards his brother and therefore his opinion counts less than the others’.)
lan wangji claims that their first date is the dinner that he took wei wuxian to the night after wei wuxian woke up. this was more widely acknowledged as their first date since lan wangji took wei wuxian to a fairly nice restaurant further into town, not just the “nice” one next to campus. (nie huaisang said that he once saw a mouse in the corner and has refused to go to the “nice” restaurant since then, which is awkward when nie mingjue wants to treat his brother to dinner but also has a paper due the next day that he hasn’t started yet.)
the afternoon of the dinner, wei wuxian stands in front of his now-empty closet with his hands on his hips, staring into it. “i don’t have anything to wear,” he says, turning to look at the people supposedly helping him pick an outfit.
jiang cheng has been laying on his bed, scrolling through weibo on his phone for the past half hour while wei wuxian has been emptying all of his clothes out of his side of the closet. “wear nothing. i’m sure lan wangji would love it.” his voice is monotone while he says it, not even looking away from his phone, but jiang yanli smacks his leg from her position at jiang cheng’s desk.
“don’t be lewd,” she says, and jiang cheng moves his phone just enough to be able to look at his sister.
“you don’t know what they were like last time.”
jiang yanli smacks him again, and wen qing gets up from wei wuxian’s chair, looking over the clothes thrown about the room. “are these really all the clothes you brought with you?”
wei wuxian nods, his hands dropping to his sides. “it’s hopeless, isn’t it? oh god, are we going to have to go shopping?”
wen qing’s head snaps up from where she was inspecting a shirt. “that’s it!” she grabs her purse and wei wuxian’s hand, dragging him toward the door. “if jiang yanli and i were able to help hanguang-jun find clothes to wear to the gym with you, then the three of us should be able to find a suit for you to wear to dinner with him.”
jiang cheng sighs, getting up from the bed, and jiang yanli gathers her things from jiang cheng’s desk. wen qing’s pulled wei wuxian halfway down the hall, and the only thing that floats back to the room is wei wuxian’s indignant squawk of “wait, you two were the ones who got him the crop tops? i was complaining to you for an hour about that!”
“i’m going to regret him waking up, aren’t i?” jiang cheng asks, following jiang yanli out the door and locking it behind them.
she laughs, starting after wen qing and wei wuxian. “maybe, but it’ll be worth it when the two of you finally make up.”
lan zhan had asked if he could pick wei ying up for dinner, but wen qing had replied for wei ying. “you can’t see him until you meet at the restaurant,” she had said, calling lan zhan to prevent any sort of miscommunication. “it’s going to be a surprise and, since jiang yanli and i weren’t there to see the two of you get married, this is our chance to see you blown away.”
there hadn’t been any point in lan zhan arguing that wen qing and jiang yanli would probably see them get married in this lifetime, so lan zhan had said “mn” and gotten dressed for dinner.
he hadn’t necessarily expected that wen qing would be right about him being blown away.
while the restaurant is fairly upscale, lan zhan hadn’t set a dress code for this dinner. as long as wei ying showed up, lan zhan would consider the dinner a success. what he got was a wei ying who had been carefully styled by wen qing and jiang yanli to look his best, as if it was his wedding day.
wei ying’s suit, though not tailored, fits him almost perfectly, his jacket hugging his shoulders and tapering down to his waist while his pants are neither too baggy nor too tight. the dark red button down shirt fits wei ying just as well, and the black tie completes the ensemble. the black suit reminds lan zhan of their last lives, and he silently thanks wen qing and jiang yanli for their help in dressing wei ying.
of course, lan zhan isn’t the only one shocked when wei wuxian arrives at the restaurant.
lan zhan’s wearing a white suit that probably was tailored to fit him, with a light blue button up shirt and a white tie to complete the look. honestly, as soon as wei wuxian sees lan zhan, he kind of forgets about dinner.
“wei ying,” lan zhan says, and oh. wei wuxian hasn’t seen that particular look in several hundred years. “come back to my room after dinner.”
wei wuxian grins, taking very deliberate steps toward lan zhan. “i hope you’re prepared then, lan zhan, because that’s exactly what i was thinking.”
(they still have dinner. wei wuxian asks lan zhan if he wants to skip it, but he takes it back when he hear that lan zhan made a reservation.
the food is good, but not nearly as good as the sex.)
“i wonder what i’m going to do for housing next year,” wei wuxian says just after stretching. he and lan zhan are post-sex naked cuddling in lan zhan’s bed (because lan zhan doesn’t have a roommate and wei wuxian intends to take full advantage of that fact until they both head home for the summer). wei wuxian presses himself against lan zhan, more for the contact than anything else, and lan zhan responds by wrapping an arm around wei wuxian’s shoulders.
wei wuxian’s just shut his eyes and started to drift off when lan zhan replies. “i’m planning on getting an apartment.”
it doesn’t register at first, but when the implication sets in, wei wuxian snaps his eyes open to look at lan zhan. “are you – lan zhan, are you asking me to move in with you?” while they may have been married and happily living together in cloud recesses in their last lives, wei wuxian hadn’t exactly expected to reach that point so quickly in this lifetime. he’s not objecting, far from it actually since living together would mean 24/7 access to lan zhan (minus classes, of course).
“mn,” lan zhan says, and wei wuxian puts his head back down, smiling into lan zhan’s chest.
“then i accept.”
jiang cheng is silent where he sits across from wei wuxian, and wei wuxian isn’t terrified by it for once. his brother’s silence has a purpose and wei wuxian doesn’t want to push before jiang cheng is ready to talk.
“we never really talked about what happened,” jiang cheng finally says, his arms crossed and a tension in his shoulders that wei wuxian realized showed up when jiang cheng remembered.
“you never came to visit me,” wei wuxian says back.
“you never came to visit me either,” jiang cheng replies, and the truth of it stings. wei wuxian nods because, well, it’s true. even after guanyin temple, jiang cheng had always seemed so distant to wei wuxian, and wei wuxian had just assumed that the bridge between them was permanently burned, that jiang cheng never wanted anything to do with wei wuxian again.
it hadn’t occurred to him that his shidi might actually miss him.
wei wuxian knows that all of that is in the past (the distant past) but it obviously still weighs on jiang cheng’s mind. “i didn’t lose control at nightless city.” jiang cheng jumps a little when wei wuxian starts talking, but wei wuxian knows that this is one of the things jin guangyao never confessed to. he knows that jiang cheng deserves to hear this. “i didn’t make the puppets, and i never wanted to hurt you or shijie.”
this was the last thing they had to discuss. guanyin temple had witnessed jiang cheng confronting wei wuxian about the golden core swap, and they both knew that protecting the wen clan had been the right thing to do. jin guangyao had confessed to setting up the ambush at qiongqi path, leading to shijie’s death. they had never talked about what happened at nightless city.
“you threw yourself off to save lan wangji,” jiang cheng says, instead of arguing. he can either accept what wei wuxian says as the truth or he could disregard it – he knows that it’s up to him, that there’s nothing else wei wuxian could say that would make jiang cheng change his mind. so while jiang cheng’s deciding, he sets about getting answers.
wei wuxian nods. “in the end, yes. the world needed hanguang-jun more than it needed the yiling patriarch.” he looks down at his hands, still in his lap. “i initially did it out of grief, though.”
jiang cheng can’t help it, he scoffs. “what, grief for the lost wen clan?” it stings him too, when he says it, thinking of how he felt when he realized that wen qing was truly dead and her ashes scattered.
“no,” wei wuxian says, looking up at jiang cheng with a confused look. “grief for shijie and jin zixuan. jin ling was going to grow up without parents, and i thought i was to blame.” his face smooths out when he continues, “you thought i was to blame too, and the stygian tiger amulet was destroyed. what was the point in my being there?”
wei wuxian had had an entire second lifetime to consider his decision to throw himself off of the first time, and while he regretted leaving lan zhan behind, he had seriously thought that it was his best option at the time. he never told lan zhan about it, but lan zhan seemed to understand, even if he had ended up waiting sixteen years for wei wuxian to come back.
jiang cheng looks stunned. “you…killed yourself because i hated you?”
wei wuxian shrugs. “seemed reasonable at the time, even if lan zhan disagreed.”
it’s then that jiang cheng says, “i believe you. about not losing control and the puppets,” he clarifies when wei wuxian looks at him confused again.
some of the tension bleeds out of jiang cheng’s shoulders, and wei wuxian lets out a breath. “better?”
jiang cheng nods. “much.”
the two of them sit there in silence until wei wuxian says, “do you think this is what jin ling wanted to happen that time he locked us in a closet together?”
(the answer is yes, but neither of them know that. lan xichen knows the answer to be yes because lan wangji had asked jin ling after the incident and jin ling, in a fit of frustration, had told hanguang-jun what was bothering him.
lan xichen had laughed, not loudly or a lot, and lan wangji was glad that it had made his brother smile.)
because the universe has decided that it’s not done yet, it wakes up seven other people.
one night, after wei wuxian’s finally woken up and just after the end of finals of jiang cheng, wei wuxian, and lan wangji’s freshman year, the universe gives seven people a very clear dream of their past lives, with absolutely no warning and no apparent trigger. just the memories as if to say, the children figured it out. go on, you clever adults, let’s see if you can do any better.
out of all of the things lan qiren might’ve expected to happen in his life, this isn’t one of them. he’s sitting at his dining room table with his brother, his brother’s wife, jiang fengmian, yu ziyuan, wei changze, and cangse sanren.
the reason they’re all there is a little troubling to say the least.
“i don’t suppose there’s any chance of this being a trick?” jiang fengmian asks, and, though he’d like to be wrong, lan qiren shakes his head no.
yu ziyuan rolls her eyes but refrains from smacking her husband’s arm. “of course it’s not a trick. how could all of us dream about such specific things and have them not be true?”
cangse sanren smiles at yu ziyuan across the table. “madam yu, and here i was thinking that you didn’t believe in reincarnation and silly things like that.”
she’s only mostly joking, but lan qiren stares resolutely at the table, considering cangse sanren’s words. could it be possible, not only that they had all been reincarnated but that they had now remembered their previous lives?
his brother turns to his wife, resting a hand on her arm. “liu yun?”
it’s then that lan qiren realizes that his brother’s wife, liu xiuying, is staring at him and has been for a while. “you hated me,” she says when lan qiren looks at her, her voice steady.
cangse sanren waves a hand, leaning back in her chair. “don’t take it personally, he hated me too.”
lan zhengzhi doesn’t look at lan qiren when lan qiren turns his eyes to his brother. “i suppose we have our answer then,” lan qiren says.
wei changze holds up his hands, shaking his head. “you realize that that sounds ridiculous, right? the thought that we were all alive hundreds of years ago and have been reincarnated?” he looks at his wife, and she shrugs at him. “you genuinely believe it?”
“at the very least,” lan zhengzhi says when cangse sanren doesn’t say anything, “we can be assured of the fact that we have all had the same dream, seen each other there, and clarified details with one another. it seems very possible that reincarnation is the answer here.”
cangse sanren breaks her silence only to say, “we died and we left our son on his own.” she drops her head into her hands, like the truth of it is finally settling onto her shoulders, and wei changze rubs a hand on one of her shoulders. “god, what did we do?”
jiang fengmian is quick to speak up, lan qiren notices. “we took him in,” he says, and yu ziyuan sinks back into her chair. lan qiren isn’t surprised by it. by the time mo xuanyu had given wei wuxian a second chance at life, there wasn’t anyone left who didn’t know how much yu ziyuan had hated the boy her husband had taken in.
judging by the way cangse sanren’s eyes slide from jiang fengmian to yu ziyuan, she has some idea of how yu ziyuan must’ve felt. “madam yu?” she asks, and there is steel in her voice.
unsurprisingly, yu ziyuan holds up her head and stands her ground. “he was not my son,” she says, and jiang fengmian just sits back in his chair in defeat.
cangse sanren takes several deep breaths while wei changze just stares at yu ziyuan. “you…” he shakes his head a little, obviously trying to gather his thoughts. “what did you do to our son?”
“she abused him is what she did,” cangse sanren says, her voice eerily calm. she stares yu ziyuan down coolly, and that’s what makes yu ziyuan flinch. “there were bound to be rumors after we died and jiang fengmian took a-ying in that a-ying was his. i can’t imagine that sat well with madam yu.” lan qiren feels a chill go down his spine.
as much as lan qiren hadn’t liked wei wuxian in their last lives and as much as he doesn’t like him now, he doesn’t think he would wish wei wuxian to go through that sort of horrible upbringing a second time around, which makes him very grateful that wei changze and cangse sanren are both still alive.
“i outlived all of you,” lan qiren says, his voice quiet. he draws all of their eyes, but he’ll bear it if it means changing the subject. he has no doubt that the conversation is far from over between cangse sanren and yu ziyuan, but he also thinks that it should be tabled for a time when they’re not all still barely processing the fact that they’ve been reincarnated. “i outlived all of you,” he repeats, “and i watched your children grow up.”
watching xichen become head of the gusu lans, watching wangji find his own path (even if that path led him to wei wuxian), seeing jiang wanyin rebuild the jiang clan from the ground up. knowing that wei wuxian was doing what he thought was right and where that got him, even if lan qiren wouldn’t admit it at the time. he bears the burden of having seen all of this, and he feels like he doesn’t have the right to have this knowledge, to know what his brother’s sons look like bleeding from punishment or how cangse sanren and wei changze’s son threw himself off of a cliff because the world was baying for his blood and his charges were all dead. to watch from afar as jiang fengmian and yu ziyuan’s children finished their growing up without their parents, knowing that they would never see jiang yanli’s marriage to jin zixuan.
to see them fall in love and the pain that that love brought them. wangji may have been happy in the end, but lan qiren isn’t completely oblivious. he knows that wangji isn’t the only one who suffered the death of someone he didn’t think he could have. xichen’s long seclusion, too reminiscent of lan zhengzhi’s, was more than enough to let lan qiren know that jin guangyao wasn’t just xichen’s friend.
“i made my mistakes,” lan qiren says after a couple of moments, “and i had to live with them, but i lived with them. your deaths weren’t necessarily your faults, but i am the one who saw your children grow up and become strong leaders in their own rights.” he doesn’t exactly know what makes him say it, but lan qiren says it.
liu xiuying leans forward, resting her hands on the table. “you may have hated me in our last lives, but i want to thank you for looking after a-huan and a-zhan.” lan zhengzhi nods beside his wife, and the other four are quick to offer their thanks as well.
“what do we think the chances are that the children remember as well?” jiang fengmian asks, and lan qiren is suddenly terrified of what would happen if the children remembered.
“well,” wei changze begins, “they do all seem to know each other, from what a-xian’s told us, and jiang yanli has been dating jin zixuan from what i’ve heard.”
lan qiren slumps back into his chair, staring at the table. oh god, they remember? he puts his head into his hands. i just hope they don’t find out that we know.
“that song you would practice on the pianos in the rehearsal rooms,” wei ying says the night they move into their apartment. they’ve both been sitting on the couch, too exhausted to move or even think about dinner (lan zhan’s thinking about calling for a pizza delivery) when wei ying breaks the silence.
when wei ying doesn’t continue, lan zhan turns to look at him, ever patient. “mn?”
the sound of it startles a little laugh out of wei ying, but it does the trick. wei ying turns to lan zhan, a lazy smile on his face. “were you playing “wangxian”?”
lan zhan feels his ears go red, and really, there’s no avoiding it now that wei ying’s asked. “i was, or at least an early version of it before i remembered.”
wei ying laughs again, reaching over to grab lan zhan’s hand. “were you embarrassed when you realized that the entire music department had head you playing your heart out?”
“no,” lan zhan replies, which is only mostly true. “i was embarrassed that they heard me play the song before you heard me play it.”
now it’s wei ying’s turn to blush, bringing his hands up to cover his face, and lan zhan smiles at him. “lan zhan, you can’t just say stuff like that!”
lan zhan leans over. “why not? we have our own apartment. as long as we don’t disturb the neighbors, we can say whatever we want.”
wei ying brings his hands down, meeting lan zhan’s eyes. “then it’s a good thing we set up the bed, isn’t it?”
(“i don’t want to know,” jiang cheng says the next days when he and jiang yanli show up with housewarming presents and wei wuxian’s neck is littered in hickeys. he very determinedly also ignores the matching set on lan wangji’s neck.)
mianmian’s roommate is a dancer, so mianmian is morally obligated to go to the fall dance concert. not that she objects, of course. as far as she knows, all of the dancers at their school are ridiculously beautiful, mianmian’s roommate included, and watching them dance is an indescribable experience.
so imagine mianmian’s surprise when the first ballet group goes on and she sees jin guangyao onstage.
she’s more upset that she’s known him for almost three years at this point and he’s never mentioned that he’s a dancer. mianmian looks at each of the dancers onstage with jin guangyao to make sure that there aren’t any more surprises, then she looks into the audience to see if jin zixuan or jiang yanli are there too.
instead, she sees a speechless lan xichen in the fourth row.
it’s not like she hadn’t known that lan xichen was at their school or that he and jin guangyao had met, but it’s definitely a surprise when mianmian realizes that he’s openly staring at jin guangyao.
and, given the way jin guangyao looks right at him, he knows that lan xichen’s there.
the piece ends before mianmian figures out the look on lan xichen’s face, but she gets another shot at it when jin guangyao has a solo number. it’s wonderful and tugs at something in mianmian’s chest, and she wants to memorize it so that she can watch it over and over again. but there’s the mystery of lan xichen’s expression while he’s watching jin guangyao dance.
even though mianmian had left the sects, she still heard most of the major news that trickled through the cultivation world. so jin guangyao’s death and lan xichen’s immediate seclusion didn’t escape her notice – nor had the implications at the time.
if they’ve both remembered their last lives, mianmian wonders if they’ve taken the opportunity to admit their feelings to one another and grab the chance to be together in this lifetime.
after the concert ends, with jin guangyao in four other pieces (four! mianmian had been paying attention, and maybe only two or three other dancers had been in that many pieces), mianmian waits in the lobby for her roommate and, if she’s lucky, for jin guangyao.
lan xichen’s standing on the other side of the lobby with a bouquet of purple and pink orchids, and mianmian feels reasonably certain that jin guangyao and lan xichen have admitted their feelings for each other at this point. she feels even more sure when jin guangyao comes out of the hallway leading to the dressing rooms and heads straight for lan xichen.
jin guangyao and lan xichen aren’t doing anything more than looking at each other, but mianmian still feels like she’s intruding just by looking at them. i guess that answers the question if they remember or not, not to mention whether or not they finally admitted their feelings to one another.
mianmian turns to leave, fully prepared to abandon her plan of confronting jin guangyao not telling her that he was a dancer, when he spots her. “mianmian!” he calls, and she turns back to him with a sheepish expression.
jin guangyao and lan xichen just smile at her though, so she doesn’t feel too bad about walking over to them. “jin guangyao, lan xichen,” she greets them, and neither of them blink an eye at her knowing lan xichen’s name. “congratulations on a wonderful performance, jin guangyao.”
he smiles and ducks his head under her praise. “thank you. i have to admit, i was surprised to see you here.”
“my roommate is in the company,” mianmian explains. “how come i didn’t know you were a dancer as well? we’ve known each other for almost three years, after all.”
jin guangyao looks at her, and he almost pulls off a shy expression. “i don’t’ like to advertise it since i worry about how good i am in comparison to the rest of the company.”
lan xichen’s shaking his head before jin guangyao even finishes speaking. “nonsense. you danced beautifully.” he takes the opportunity to give jin guangyao the orchids, and mianmian very tastefully looks anywhere but at the two of them. a long moment of silence follows, making mianmian very aware of how unnecessary her presence is.
“well then,” mianmian says after clearing her throat. “i’m sure the two of you have plans. i’m going to keep waiting for my roommate.”
they all say their goodbyes and, as jin guangyao and lan xichen are leaving, mianmian does a mental count of how many people she knows remember their last lives. it doesn’t occur to her that any of them might not know that she remembers too.
wei ying is quiet after luo qingyang leaves their apartment the day they find out she remembers. he stands at the door long after closing it behind luo qingyang, and lan zhan stands at the kitchen bar and waits for wei ying to gather his thoughts. since remembering, lan zhan’s noticed the uptick in wei ying’s contemplative moments – a result of wei ying’s first time in the burial mounds, lan zhan knows. in their last lives, those silences had scared lan zhan, but after wei ying’s first death, he learned that they were necessary after everything wei ying had gone through.
it’s only been a few months since they remembered, but lan zhan had an entire lifetime to learn wei ying’s silences and he knows that this one isn’t one to fear.
luo qingyang remembering their last lives had shocked them both, mainly because they thought that jiang yanli had found and gathered everyone who remembered. to think that they all missed someone makes lan zhan wonder about who else has been reborn and remembers. xue yang? xiao xingchen and song lan? their parents? the list is staggering when lan zhan thinks about it, so he shelves it in his mind for later. right now, his boyfriend seems to be struggling with something.
“i’m sorry for making you wait again,” wei ying says, and lan zhan wants to wrap wei ying up in his arms, so he does. wei ying’s still facing the door as lan zhan wraps his arms around wei ying’s waist, pressing his forehead to the back of wei ying’s head. “if it means anything, i didn’t mean to make you wait either time.” it’s not the first time wei ying has apologized for making lan zhan wait, and lan zhan has a feeling that it won’t be the last time either, no matter what lan zhan says.
lan zhan smiles into wei ying’s hair. “you were an idiot as a teenager,” he says, and the outraged noise wei ying makes is totally worth it. still, they’re having a moment so lan zhan doesn’t let wei ying break it yet. “i know it wasn’t your fault.” he stands back just enough to let wei ying turn to face him. “if i had to wait again, i would do it in a heartbeat, if it meant getting you back,” lan zhan says, his ears red.
wei ying stares at lan zhan, his eyes wide. “you really mean that,” he says after a long moment of studying lan zhan’s face. lan zhan nods. wei ying nods, his face determined. “then you’ll never have to wait for me again.”
“never say never,” lan zhan replies, thinking ahead to the possibility of another lifetime, another chance to live with wei ying, to fall in love with him again and have another set of firsts.
wei ying shakes his head. “no, never again.”
lan zhan doesn’t know what to say to that, so he says nothing and kisses wei ying.
so, as it turns out, mianmian was wrong in assuming that jin zixuan had figured out that she had woken up.
wei wuxian and lan wangji’s apartment isn’t that far from the neighborhood where jin zixuan and jin guangyao live, so mianmian has no trouble walking to their house from wei wuxian and lan wangji’s apartment. she does, however, knock on the door before walking in because, while she may not have a key, she’s definitely been there often enough in the past two and a half years that she may as well be living there some days.
jin zixuan is easy to find since he and jiang yanli are watching tv in the living room, just off of the main hallway. they startle when mianmian closes the front door louder than she means to, turning their heads to look at her. “are you telling me that neither of you realized that i remember?” she asks them, walking over to stand in the doorway of the living room.
now that she’s said it a second time in an afternoon, mianmian’s starting to understand how nobody had realized it. they didn’t reference occurrences from their last lives around her and she did the same, keeping their conversations to their current lives. still, it seems ridiculous that mianmian could’ve figured out that they all remembered while they hadn’t figured out that she remembered too.
jin guangyao and lan xichen poke their heads out of the kitchen, looking decidedly rumpled for being in such close proximity to jin zixuan and jiang yanli. “what’s going on?” lan xichen asks, giving jin guangyao more time to collect himself.
“mianmian remembers,” jin zixuan says, and she wishes that he wouldn’t sound so amazed by it.
mianmian rolls her eyes. “i’ve remembered for years, and apparently none of you realized it. i was just at wei wuxian and lan wangji’s place, and they almost broke a bowl when i asked them if they knew.”
jin zixuan frowns, standing from the couch. “what do you mean, you’ve remembered for years?”
she huffs out a frustrated sigh. “i’ve remembered since i was fifteen. yes, that means i knew who you were when we met,” she adds when jin zixuan opens his mouth.
“i guess we were wrong,” jiang yanli says, standing up as well and walking over to mianmian. “i’m sorry we didn’t realize it sooner.”
jin guangyao and lan xichen are still standing out in the hallway behind mianmian, since she’s kind of blocking the doorway into the living room. “what made you tell us now?” jin guangyao asks.
mianmian shrugs. “it was a passing thought. none of you ever said anything, so i figured it was as good a time as any to ask.” she sags, leaning against the wall. “guess it was a good thing i did otherwise none of you would’ve ever known.”
jiang yanli reaches out and takes mianmian’s hands in her own. “but we know now, and that’s what matters.” she grins after a moment, squeezing mianmian’s hands. “you can come to the meetings now!”
“and be added to the group chat,” jin zixuan says, and mianmian smiles.
better late than never, she thinks.
it is with great satisfaction that mianmian, upon meeting the man for the first time in this lifetime, punches jin guangshan on sight.
(jin zixuan films it and sends it to the group chat with the comment “i probably shouldn’t enjoy this, but a-yao’s cheering in the background just makes it better.” jiang yanli and wen qing save it to their phones and watch it once a day, or whenever they’re feeling sad.)
wangji doesn’t look surprised to see lan qiren at his apartment door (primarily because lan qiren called a week ago and told wangji that he was going to visit him at school) but he looks almost visibly uncomfortable when wei wuxian walks into the main living area wearing a shirt cut to show his stomach and shorts that lan qiren’s not sure deserve the name, being what lan qiren would consider closer to underwear than outerwear.
“this must be your roommate,” lan qiren says, despite his past and current selves wanting to yell about the fact that wei wuxian is inappropriately attired in wangji’s apartment. he has to remind himself that he’s not supposed to known who wei wuxian is, since wangji’s never actually mentioned him to lan qiren apart from saying that he lives with a roommate in his apartment.
wangji nods, walking over to stand by where wei wuxian has perched himself on one of the arms of the couch. “this is my boyfriend, wei wuxian,” wangji says, and wei wuxian smiles at lan qiren with a sunny smile.
lan qiren sputters. “you’re – you’re dating that shameless –!” he cuts himself off, and wei wuxian just nods.
“so you do remember,” he says, and lan qiren feels the blood leave his cheeks. lan qiren might not have liked wei wuxian at any point in their last lives, but that doesn’t mean that lan qiren didn’t notice the difference between wei wuxian as a teenager in cloud recesses and a reborn married man in cloud recesses twenty years later.
the connection isn’t obvious, so lan qiren doesn’t think he should be faulted for not realizing that wei wuxian acts more like he did after his first death than he does before he went to the burial mounds the first time. the second horrifying realization lan qiren has following his discovery that wei wuxian remembers their past lives is that if wei wuxian remembers, that means that wangji remembers as well.
hell, lan qiren thinks, not just wangji. xichen had visited his parents and uncle for dinner a couple of weeks before and lan qiren had found himself comparing his nephew in this life to lan xichen the sect leader in their last lives.
“i can see that i’m not the only one,” lan qiren says instead of anything else that comes to mind. it’s relatively neutral and invites either wei wuxian or wangji to continue.
wei wuxian shrugs. “we had a feeling when you got defensive while asking lan zhan about his roommate last week. i guessed that it was because you remembered, and lan zhan was willing to go along with my plan.” he leans forward, his chin resting on his hand and his elbow resting on his knee. “so, who else remembers?”
lan qiren takes a moment and thinks about his options. he could either lie and say that he’s the only one, or that he doesn’t know if anyone else remembers, or he could tell the truth and admit that their parents know. the lies seem easier, so lan qiren opens his mouth, but there’s something on their faces, wei wuxian’s especially, that make him think that letting them know that their parents know might bring their past lives some sort of closure, to be able to talk to their parents about their experiences and their lives together.
“both of your parents know,” lan qiren tells them, and his shoulders feel a little lighter with the admission. “we all remembered a few months ago, just after the school year ended.” he may have been dreading the possibility of wei wuxian and wangji remembering their last lives, but, now that he knows for certain that they do remember, it doesn’t seem so terrible.
he’s right, about their parents remembering being a good thing for wei wuxian and wangji. there’s something in their faces that eases as soon as they hear that they have a chance to talk to their parents about the things that they remember, things that happened to them in their previous lives and probably how those things relate to this life.
as good as this may be for wei wuxian and wangji, lan qiren’s still curious. “who else here remembers?”
“xichen,” wangji says, and lan qiren nods, his suspicions confirmed.
“jiang cheng,” wei wuxian chimes in.
“wen qing. jin zixuan.”
“wen ning. shijie.”
“oh, and mianmian,” wei wuxian adds, ticking the names off on his fingers as he goes.
“luo qingyang,” wangji explains when lan qiren only looks confused.
lan qiren count the names in his head. “that’s more than i would’ve expected,” he says.
wei wuxian rolls his eyes. “you’re telling me. we only found out a couple of weeks ago that mianmian’s remembered for years and didn’t bother telling any of us.”
lan qiren squares his shoulders and looks at wei wuxian. now that the worst possible thing has happened, lan qiren has to deal with the second worst possible thing that could have happened. “wangji, let me take you and wei wuxian to dinner, my treat.” wei wuxian’s face lights up at the possibility of free food, so lan qiren adds, “wei wuxian has to change first.”
“party pooper,” wei wuxian says and, just to spite lan qiren, kisses wangji in front of him.
thankfully, they keep it short before lan qiren bursts a blood vessel.
(wei wuxian does change into something more appropriate, but just barely.)
wen ning bumps into someone in the hallway of his high school. “sorry,” he says, stepping back to let the person go past.
“no, it’s my fault,” the person says, and something about her seems familiar enough for wen ning to look up at her face. he jumps a little when he realizes who it is.
it’s a-qing, carrying a white cane to navigate the halls, her eyes unfocused as she stares straight ahead.
oh, wen ning thinks. i guess there’s more of us.