In the end, it’s all Lan Wangji’s fault.
Of course, no one bothers to tell Jiang Cheng this for years, because no one (read: Wei Wuxian) bothers to tell him anything ever. He discovers it half by accident, on the day when the Dafan Wen are celebrating the opening of their medical wing in Lotus Pier. Jiang Cheng thinks back on the years they spent farming until Yunmeng was able to support them.
“What would they have done,” he announces loudly to Wei Wuxian, because he’s halfway drunk, “if you’d just gone immediately to the Burial Mounds?”
Wei Wuxian is completely drunk, so he grins at Jiang Cheng, shamefaced and red-cheeked and says; “I almost did.”
“Of course you did,” Jiang Cheng snorts, and then blinks twice. “Wait, seriously?”
“Yep!” Wei Wuxian says cheerfully, like he’s not ruining Jiang Cheng’s view of the world ( again, seriously, his brother is the worst). “I didn’t want to burden you–”
Now that fits perfectly with Jiang Cheng’s knowledge of his brother.
“–with taking care of them when Lotus Pier was still so fragile,” Wei Wuxian finishes. He waves his drink around, vaguely encompassing the group of fifty-odd former Wens sitting around the banquet table, laughing and drinking. “I almost took them all to the Burial Mounds.”
“You’re terrible,” Jiang Cheng grouses, smacking Wei Wuxian’s arm when it gets too close to his face. “You’re the worst. Were you seriously just going to vanish to the Burial Mounds without a word and then–”
He stops, then. He’d been about to accuse Wei Wuxian of not realizing that if he’d done that, then Jiang Cheng would either have to make the Jiang Sect the enemy of the other sects, or remove Wei Wuxian from the sect. But he knows now that Wei Wuxian was at least partially hoping that Jiang Cheng would remove him from the Jiang Sect. They’re long past that now, but it still isn’t funny.
“Why didn’t you?” Jiang Cheng asks finally.
“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian lights up, as he always does whenever his Lan Zhan is mentioned. Jiang Cheng takes a moment to pray for patience, because that’s the only way to deal whenever his insufferable bastard of a brother-in-law is mentioned, especially if Wei Wuxian, his insufferable idiot of a brother is around. Really, Jiang Cheng is a saint for putting up with both of them as often as he does.
“He asked me where I was taking them, and I said the Burial Mounds, and he said that you were way better than the Burial Mounds and I should at least ask, so I did!”
Wei Wuxian thoughtfully puts down his drink before moving in for a hug. Jiang Cheng allows it, but only because he knows that refusing a drunk Wei Wuxian hugs leads to disaster. He pats Jiang Cheng on the back. “Wanna know a secret?” Wei Wuxian says conspiratorially.
Unfortunately for Jiang Cheng, he very much does want to know, because he’s still suffering from the last time Wei Wuxian kept a secret from him. And now Wei Wuxian is just offering to tell him, so really, he can’t say no.
“What?” Jiang Cheng says reluctantly.
Wei Wuxian pulls back and grins happily at him. He looks like an idiot. (A happy idiot). “You’re way better than the Burial Mounds.”
What a stellar compliment. Wei Wuxian really knows how to get on his little brother’s good graces. Jiang Cheng is truly floored.
He scowls. “Wei Wuxian!”
He shoves his idiotic, limpet of an older brother off him. Wei Wuxian falls to the floor laughing, and his insufferable prick of a brother-in-law appears immediately. Jiang Cheng swears he has an uncanny ability to tell whenever Wei Wuxian has been even remotely hurt.
Wei Wuxian breaks out into a bright smile when he sees his husband. He holds his arms up like he’s a toddler that needs to be picked up. “Lan Zhan! Jiang Cheng is so mean to me!”
Lan Wangji throws an icy glare at Jiang Cheng that would make an average cultivator quake with fear, but that Jiang Cheng has long grown immune to. Then he picks Wei Wuxian up, even though they are the same height and married, and Jiang Cheng stomps off in search of a better drinking companion.
So this is what happened:
A day after Wei Wuxian crashed a banquet and threatened everyone there, he showed up at Lotus Pier with a gaggle of about fifty Wens. Behind him was Wen Qing, who was carrying her brother’s dead body, and an old granny who was carrying a small child. The rest of the Wens were elder civilians, clearly exhausted and terrified. They huddled behind Wei Wuxian and Wen Qing with little success, but Jiang Chang was not interested in them anyway. He never doubted that the Wens that Wei Wuxian had rescued were innocent; there was no way that Wei Wuxian would protect Wens who weren’t. He was only interested in Wei Wuxian, who stood before him without an ounce of remorse.
Jiang Cheng stood before the gates of Lotus Pier, blocking entry to the Head Disciple and the people that he had apparently decided to align himself with. “Wei Wuxian,” he began, furiously, “you came to the banquet uninvited, you threatened everyone there, you kill the Jin guards and make off with the prisoners, and now you have the audacity to–”
“They’re innocent, Jiang Cheng,” Wei Wuxian interrupted. He looked tired too, like he was one second from fainting, but Jiang Cheng was too furious to care. “The Jins killed Wen Ning–you remember Wen Ning, he and Wen Qing saved us when Lotus Pier–”
“So you thought,” Jiang Cheng interrupted again, fuming, “that I would just welcome fifty Wen-dogs into Lotus Pier? Do you have any idea what that would look like? People are already saying that–” I can’t control you, that you don’t respect me, “–you’re out of control, now you want me to house fifty more people? How can we possibly afford that? The Wens burned our fields and our buildings, since you’ve forgotten, and–and they’re Wens, Wei Wuxian! How can I tell the rest of the world that I’m protecting Wens? How can I?”
Wei Wuxian’s face closed off completely, then, as if he’d been defeated, but it was a defeat he’d expected. “Forget it,” he said tiredly. “I know it’s not fair to you.” He turned to go, but that only made Jiang Cheng angrier.
“Where are you taking them?” Jiang Cheng demanded.
“The Burial Mounds,” Wei Wuxian responded, without looking back. The Wens parted without a word to let him through. They were looking at him with–not respect, but perhaps awe, as if he was their personal savior. Which, Jiang Cheng thought, was exactly what Wei Wuxian was to them.
“Wei Wuxian,” he fumed again.
You promised to stay by my side, how can you abandon me for some Wens you barely know? How can you walk away from Lotus Pier, from us?
Wei Wuxian didn’t turn around, like Jiang Cheng wasn't even worth that, and Jiang Cheng snapped.
“How can I?” Jiang Cheng demanded again. “You haven’t even been in Lotus Pier for months! You’re always out drinking in town, we rarely even see you for meal times and the only times you bother to show up you’re shaming the Jiang Sect by not carrying Suibian! Yanli and I have had to do everything by ourselves! And now she’s engaged and you’re not even helping to plan for the wedding, like you said you would–”
Wei Wuxian stopped. He hadn’t stopped walking away during Jiang Cheng’s rant, although his shoulders had gotten more and more rigid with every sentence. It was Wen Qing who shifted her brother over to one arm, reached out and grabbed Wei Wuxian’s arm, forcing him to stop moving. She turned around to face Jiang Cheng, and kept her hold on Wei Wuxian’s sleeve when he refused to turn around.
“You won’t even do your duties as Head Disciple,” Jiang Cheng continued ranting at Wei Wuxian’s back. He refused to follow after him, but Zidian crackled on his finger. “Every time I ask you to start training our new junior disciples, or find more, or do anything to help there’s always a new excuse–”
“If I tell you why, will you let us stay?” Wen Qing interrupted.
Jiang Cheng faltered for a moment, caught by surprise. He was about to make an insulting, dismissive comment, along the lines of “what could a Wen possibly know,” when Wei Wuxian finally, finally, turned around.
His face was white, and it took a moment for Jiang Cheng to name the expression, because it was fear. He didn’t think he’d ever seen Wei Wuxian look afraid before, at least about something other than dogs. Wei Wuxian had never been afraid like this before, and it threw him off, made him consider Wen Qing’s words.
“Tell me why what?” Jiang Cheng demanded, finally.
“Why Wei Wuxian has abandoned his duties as the head disciple,” she said bluntly. It seemed she’d noticed that this was all about Wei Wuxian. Perhaps because Jiang Cheng had not mentioned the Wens, even once, during his rant. “Why he refuses to return to regular cultivation, and train your new junior disciples.”
Jiang Cheng paused again, another dismissive insult on the tip of his tongue. He swallowed it down again because Wei Wuxian spoke first.
“Wen Qing,” Wei Wuxian said urgently, but there was an underlying note of terror there that Jiang Cheng heard loud and clear. “What are you doing?”
“Why would you know?” Jiang Cheng asked.
“Will you?” Wen Qing insisted. She moved forward, throwing Wei Wuxian’s grip off her arm. “Do you promise?”
“Wen Qing," Wei Wuxian hissed. “You–you promised.” He shot a wild look at Jiang Cheng, who was growing more and more curious.
“I know,” Wen Qing said, and she did sound apologetic. “I’m sorry. But if it means saving the lives of my people?” She made a slight shrugging motion.
“Fine,” Jiang Cheng snapped. He stalked forward, until he was two feet from Wen Qing and four from Wei Wuxian. “If you can give an actual explanation for why Wei Wuxian has–been like this, fine.”
In the end, he agreed not because Wei Wuxian looked like he was hiding something, or because he looked terrified. It was because Jiang Cheng had been afraid for a while now. He was scared that Wei Wuxian was backing out of his promise. That Wei Wuxian didn’t want to stay, and that there was nothing Jiang Cheng could do about it. And here Wen Qing was, promising a magical answer to this problem. The logical side of him said that there couldn’t possibly be a straightforward answer to a problem this big, but he really, really wanted there to be one. He’d felt this way only once before, when Wei Wuxian had looked him in the eye and said I know how to fix your golden core. And it had worked out then, hadn’t it?
“Wen Qing,” Wei Wuxian growled. “Don’t you dare.” He reached for Wen Qing again, but she stepped forward again, ignoring the almost murderous look in his eyes.
“He doesn’t have a golden core,” she said bluntly.
Jiang Cheng blinked twice, because that was not what he’d been expecting. “What do you mean, he has no golden core? How can he not?”
“He gave it away,” Wen Qing said. Wei Wuxian had stopped trying to stop her, but he’d withdrawn into himself. His mouth was set in a thin line, and he kept glancing nervously between Wen Qing and Jiang Cheng. From his expression, you’d think he was going to his execution.
“To who?” Jiang Cheng asked blankly.
The look Wen Qing in response was almost pitying, and it was then that everything fell in place. Because the last time Jiang Cheng had latched so desperately to blind hope, it was when Wei Wuxian told him he knew a way for him to get his golden core back. Baoshan Sanren, he said, whose location he knew, even though Cangse Sanren had died when Wei Wuxian was four. And Wen Qing had been there. Wen Qing, who was known as the world’s greatest doctor. Wen Qing, who knew Wei Wuxian’s secret. Wei Wuxian, who had gone to ridiculous lengths to help Wen Qing. Jiang Cheng thought back to the harsh tones of the woman on the mountain, and Wen Qing now, brusque and straightforward, and he knew.
Jiang Cheng opened his mouth. Closed it. Opened it again. Blood roared in his ears. Zidian crackled with energy, energy provided by his– Wei Wuxian’s –golden core.
“Why?” Jiang Cheng demanded hoarsely.
Wei Wuxian, who hadn’t looked at him this whole time, finally looked him in the eyes. He still looked scared, but there was something soft, something impossibly tender in his expression that Jiang Cheng had never seen before, but reminded him instantly of Jiang Yanli. Yanli, who quietly cared for her little brothers because their parents never would. Yanli, who loved them and expected nothing in return, who comforted them when they cried even though no one had ever been there for her when she cried.
“You needed it,” Wei Wuxian said simply, as if that explained anything.
“I didn’t ask for it,” Jiang Cheng snarled back. “I–you didn’t tell me, Wei Wuxian, how could you, how could you–”
His voice cracked on the second to last word, and Wei Wuxian finally stumbled forwards tentatively, as if Jiang Cheng were a wild animal.
“Jiang Cheng–” he started, softly.
“Shut up,” Jiang Cheng said furiously. “Just–shut up, shut up. Don’t you dare–how can you–Wei Wuxian.”
His vision blurred, and it wasn’t until Wei Wuxian wrapped him in one of his octopus hugs that Jiang Cheng realized he was crying. For a long moment, Jiang Cheng just let himself be held by his big brother. The world narrowed down to Wei Wuxian’s shoulder and his golden core.
God, it was so obvious now why Wei Wuxian had been avoiding… everything. He should’ve listened to his sister. She’d known all along that Wei Wuxian would never just abandon his duties like that, but Jiang Cheng had listened to his mother’s voice instead, the one that insisted that Wei Wuxian was lazy and disloyal and everything he wasn’t. He’d listened to Jin Guangshan’s off-hand comments about how Wei Wuxian clearly didn’t respect his authority as sect leader, that he was arrogant and everything that Wei Wuxian was not.
Jiang Cheng cried for a long time.
“I’m sorry,” Wei Wuxian murmured, once Jiang Cheng had quieted down.
“Good,” Jiang Cheng said viciously. “Don’t you dare do that ever again, Wei Wuxian, do you hear me? I can’t believe you didn’t tell me.”
“I,” Wei Wuxian began, and then swallowed nervously. “I didn’t want you to feel that you owed me–”
“Bull shit,” Jiang Cheng said fiercely. “You were scared.”
Wei Wuxian tried to pull back, but Jiang Cheng refused to let him. “Well,” he admitted awkwardly, “I was scared of how you’d react.”
“And you didn’t think,” Jiang Cheng demanded furiously, “that I deserved to know?”
“You did, A-Cheng,” Wei Wuxian agreed, fervently, “but I–I was–”
“You were an idiot,” Jiang Cheng finished ruthlessly.
“I was an idiot,” Wei Wuxian agreed ruefully.
Jiang Cheng finally pulled back, hands on Wei Wuxian’s shoulders, so that he could see his face. “Promise me,” he started, and Wei Wuxian blanched. “Promise me,” he insisted. “That you’ll never do anything like–this again.”
“Jiang Cheng,” Wei Wuxian started. He looked so sad then, so ancient, as if he were a century, not a year, older than Jiang Cheng.
“Promise me,” Jiang Cheng insisted again.
Wei Wuxian looked away.
“Don’t you owe me?” Jiang Cheng demanded, momentarily angry that Wei Wuxian wouldn’t look at him, but the moment he said that he regretted it. Wei Wuxian’s face was closing off again. Jiang Cheng forced himself to take a deep breath. He thought of how Yanli had shone through Wei Wuxian’s eyes and thought, what would Yanli do?
Jiang Cheng caught Wei Wuxian’s arm just as he was moving away, stopping him instantly in his tracks. How had he not noticed how weak Wei Wuxian was before? “You don’t owe me,” he rushed to say. “But–you promised–”
Wei Wuxian still wasn’t looking at him, and Jiang Cheng swallowed his words down. A-Li, he thought desperately, A-Li, how do you do it, A-Li, what do I say, how do I make this better? He pressed his lips together.
“Don’t you trust me?” Jiang Cheng asked. Wei Wuxian whirled around, a denial on his lips, but Jiang Cheng pressed onwards. “Don’t you think I’ll try to help?”
“Of course,” Wei Wuxian said earnestly, “but I don’t want to give you unnecessary stress when you have so much work already.”
“Isn’t it my responsibility as Sect Leader Jiang?” Jiang Cheng demanded. “If my Head Disciple has a problem, I should know.” But Wei Wuxian still wasn’t agreeing, so Jiang Cheng gathered together the scraps of his courage and channeled Jiang Yanli. “A-Xian,” he began, and stopped when his voice cracked. “I–I always worry about you anyway, so if you’d just tell me–”
“Okay,” Wei Wuxian interrupted. He was placating Jiang Cheng, but he was crying as well, so Jiang Cheng was inclined to believe him. “Okay, Jiang Cheng, you win. You win.”
Wen Qing coughed behind them, and they both turned to look. “Sect Leader Jiang,” she said politely, ignoring the fact that Sandu Shengshou and the Yiling Patriarch were crying like babies in front of her. “If we could finish this conversation inside?”
Jiang Cheng cleared his throat. “Right.” He’d almost forgotten his promise to Wen Qing. His mind immediately flew to what the response would be to this, and how the logistics would work out. In all honestly, he wasn’t convinced that it would work out, that YunmengJiang could survive this. But, well, their motto was attempt the impossible. Jiang Cheng would be damned if he didn’t try.
“C’mon, idiot,” Jiang Cheng said, grabbing his idiot brother by the arm. “What are you waiting for? An invitation?”
And with Wei Wuxian by his side, Jiang Cheng could believe that anything was possible.
“I’m telling Yanli,” he warned, once they were inside Lotus Pier, and Wei Wuxian winced.
Served him right.
Jiang Yanli returned from Jinlintai a week later like a saving angel. She took the news well, imparted news of her own, and then proposed solutions. That wasn’t to say she didn’t cry, because she did, Wei Wuxian made her cry because he was a stupid idiot, but she accepted it remarkably fast. Perhaps she’d always suspected. She took the news of the Wens calmly as well, perhaps because she’d heard it from Jin Zixun already.
Wei Wuxian had spent the week trying to revive Wen Ning, and with Jiang Cheng and Wen Qing there to help, he succeeded just a day before Jiang Yanli returned. Wen Qing and Jiang Yanli formed an instant rapport as protective older sisters, and she didn’t even blink when a fierce corpse showed up to serve her tea.
The Dafan Wen were being housed in the disciples’ quarters, as they had far more empty space in them than they’d once had, and they’d all, except for little Wen Yuan and his grandmother, spent the week joining the rebuilding efforts of the Yunmeng citizens. With the additional fifty hands, the rooms of the sect leader’s family had been restored, which meant that when Jiang Yanli returned, she was led to the room where she and her family had once eaten meals together.
Now, she sat down with her brothers, Wen Qing, and Wen Ning, and discussed their future.
“Sect Leader Jin has summoned A-Xian to explain his actions,” she said, once her brothers had stopped fussing about the fact that she was crying.
Wen Qing snorted. “No doubt he has his own explanation to present,” she said.
“He has been saying some unkind things about A-Xian,” Jiang Yanli agreed, and there wasn’t a hint of anger in her mannerisms, but her brothers were both well aware that she was furious.
“And he’s going to bring up the Stygian Tiger Seal, no doubt,” Wei Wuxian groused.
“And the fact that you don’t use your sword,” Wen Qing added.
“What do we do?” Jiang Cheng asked.
Jiang Yanli took a sip from her tea, and hid her smile. “I have an idea,” she said, and they all leaned forward to listen.
The sects all assembled a week afterwards, to discuss Wei Wuxian’s rampage in Qiongli Path and its aftermath. Wei Wuxian and Jiang Yanli sat on either side of Jiang Cheng, and Wen Qing sat next to Jiang Yanli. She stared straight ahead and ignored the looks and whispered threats sent her way. Wen Ning had been left behind in Lotus Pier, for his protection and theirs. They did not want to introduce a conscious fierce corpse to the world yet, so his existence remained a secret.
Jin Guangshan had seated himself at the head of the banquet table, with Jin Zixuan, who looked distinctly uncomfortable, on his right, and Jin Zixun on his left. Jin Guangyao stood behind them, a polite smile on his face.
He really does think he’s the next Wen Ruohan, Jiang Cheng thought, disgusted. He sat silently while Jin Guangshan stirred the assembled cultivators into outrage, laying subtle accusations against Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian, and finally finished with a demand for an explanation.
Jiang Cheng took a deep breath, quelling his fury at Jin Guangshan’s words, and stood. “Wei Wuxian is no longer Head Disciple Jiang,” he started.
“Oh?” Jin Guangshan said gleefully. “So you’ve finally disowned him?”
“No,” Jiang Cheng said firmly.
Jiang Yanli stood then. “Wei Wuxian is no longer Head Disciple Jiang because he cannot be,” she said. “He lost his golden core during the war.”
Now this garnered a reaction from the crowd. Some were muttered in disbelief, others in shock, but none dared call Jiang Yanli a liar.
Except for that asshole. “How can we be sure?” Jin Guangshan demanded.
“If it would ease Sect Leader Jin’s mind, someone may confirm,” Jiang Yanli said.
Jin Zixun immediately started forwards.
“Not you,” Wen Qing sneered, and he spluttered, incoherent with rage at being insulted by a Wen and a woman.
“Lan Wangji,” Jiang Yanli interrupted, before Jin Zixun could speak. They’d agreed to Lan Wangji, as he was known to be righteous and would not refuse, and also known to dislike Wei Wuxian, and therefore could not be accused of bias. “Would you mind?”
Lan Wangji nodded once and rose gracefully from his seat. He strode to where Wei Wuxian was sitting rigidly in his seat, completely expressionless, next to Jiang Cheng. He continued sitting there, unreactive, when Lan Wangji arrived by his seat. To the other cultivators, it must have seemed like Wei Wuxian was being rude (again). It was only the people who knew him that knew that Wei Wuxian was not trying to be rude, but instead very, very afraid. Wei Wuxian was absolutely terrified of showing weakness before the entire cultivation world, and he hated showing it to Lan Wangji, whose respect he’d always sought, even more. His face was so blank and he held himself so still that he resembled Hanguang-jun in demeanor, but it looked so unnatural on him. Wei Wuxian was not built to stay still.
Jiang Cheng resisted the urge to growl Wei Wuxian in order to make him snap out of it. If there was one thing he’d learned from his family, it was that Wei Wuxian responded to being babied, not yelled at. But he did not have it within him to be gentle in that moment, so instead he shot a pleading look at his sister.
Jiang Yanli laid one hand on his arm. “A-Xian,” she said gently.
A tiny tremor ran up and down his body. Wei Wuxian uncoiled the tiniest bit, swayed ever-so slightly in Yanli’s direction, seeking comfort from her presence. He kept his death grip on Chenqing, but woodenly held his left arm out in Lan Wangji’s direction.
Lan Wangji took Wei Wuxian’s unresisting hand, turned it over, and pressed two fingers to Wei Wuxian’s wrist. Wei Wuxian continued staring, unseeing. It was Lan Wangji, the eternally stoic Second Jade, who displayed an actual emotion for the first time Jiang Cheng could remember. He looked completely and utterly floored when he registered the lack of golden core.
He released Wei Wuxian’s hand and turned to face the assembled cultivators. “There is no golden core,” he reported, and the room broke out into murmurs again.
Jiang Cheng began to unwind, because no one was stupid enough to doubt Hanguang-jun.
Except for that asshole. “Perhaps he has developed a way through demonic cultivation to imitate the loss of a golden core,” Jin Guangshan suggested, and Jiang Cheng could see people considering his words, just because Jin Guangshan was a sect leader and they were stupid and didn’t know anything about demonic cultivation. He couldn’t believe this man was going to be his sister’s father-in-law.
“Incorrect,” Lan Wangji snapped. “I traced his spiritual paths. There is no golden core.”
His tone indicated a bit of condescension at Jin Guangshan for being dumb enough to make him repeat himself, but perhaps Jiang Cheng was just reading into things. Lan Wangji strode back to his seat and sat down as gracefully as he had stood.
“May we inquire as to how this tragedy occurred?” Jin Guangyao asked politely, stepped forwards before his father could call Jiang Yanli and Hanguang-jun a liar.
Wei Wuxian stood. “Wen Zhuliu,” he said tonelessly. “Shortly after the fall of Lotus Pier.”
He sat back down and looked at no one.
“He did not tell anyone because he did not want anyone to doubt his dedication to YunmengJiang,” Jiang Yanli said, “and wished to continue serving his sect. But he sees now that this has caused certain cultivators to doubt him instead.”
“I see,” Jin Guangshan said, and there was a terrible glint in his eyes. “So he is average.” He said average as if it were a grievous insult, and in the eyes of most cultivators, it was.
“Wei Wuxian is still the Yiling Patriarch,” Jiang Cheng interrupted heatedly, before they could get any ideas. “Additionally, to recognize his dedication to the Jiang family, we have sworn formal oaths of brotherhood.”
He sat down, satisfied. Sandu Shengshou and the Yiling Patriarch, sworn brothers. Let them talk about that.
“This is all very well,” Jin Guangshan said dismissively, “but he still has not answered for the Wens.”
“The Dafan Wens are eldery civilians who played no part in the war,” Jiang Yanli answered for Wei Wuxian, who was staring at the wall and clenching his flute in a death grip. “Yet they were treated with the harshest of conditions. My brother was approached by Wen Qing, who worked with him against Wen Ruohan during the war. He was appalled by the conditions of the camp, and came to the conclusion that if the Jins did not have the resources or ability to watch over them, they would be put to better use restoring Lotus Pier, which was, as Sect Leader Jin knows, severely damaged during the war.”
“It is only fair that Wens help rebuild what the Wens destroyed,” Jiang Cheng added, and he could see people nodding along to that logic.
“And where is the justice for my slain Jin guards?” Jin Guangshan demanded. “Wei Wuxian is truly arrogant, to believe them deserving of death!”
“Sect Leader Jin is mistaken,” Wen Qing said calmly. She ignored the cultivators who looked like they’d rather kill her than let her talk. “Wei Wuxian did not kill the Jin guards at Qiongli Path.”
Jin Guangshan looked outraged for a brief second, because that was a blatant lie, and clearly he was the only one here that was allowed to lie.
“After the guards unjustly beat Wen Qionglin, Wen Qing’s younger brother, to death,” Jiang Yanli said, “he returned as a fierce corpse and took his revenge on the cultivators who had killed him. It was to this scene that my brother arrived, and though he immediately subdued Wen Qionglin, the damage had already been done.”
Jin Guangshan was left gaping for a priceless second. Everyone had assumed that Wei Wuxian had killed the guards, but of course the only ones who had survived Qiongli Path were Wei Wuxian and the Dafan Wens. Therefore Jin Guangshan had no proof that Wei Wuxian had, in fact, killed his Jin guards.
“So,” Jin Guangshan said snidely, fuming, “Sect Leader Jiang will now welcome Wens and demonic cultivation in his sect? I suppose we all make irrational decisions when we’re young.”
“I don’t believe that’s limited to age, Sect Leader Jin, as your children can no doubt attest to,” Jiang Cheng said dryly.
The crowd broke into shocked murmurs, no doubt appalled by his brazenness, but Jiang Cheng was very far from caring. He was only saying what everyone thought, and there was no way he’d earn a reputation as a calm, polite, and reasonable sect leader like his father. He was too much like his mother for that to work, and if he was honest, he preferred to take after the fearsome Violet Spider in reputation. That, and he just very much disliked Jin Guangshan.
Nie Mingjue barked out a laugh from down the table. “Enough of this,” Chifeng-zun said loudly, his default volume, slamming his cup down on the table. “We’ve established that the Wens will be serving the Jiang Sect now, and that Wei Wuxian will not be leaving the YunmengJiang. If Sect Leader Jin wants compensation for the loss of his prisoners, why doesn’t he name it?”
Jin Guangshan eyed Wei Wuxian greedily. “The Stygian Tiger Seal,” he said, to the surprise of no one. Jiang Cheng had the feeling he’d ask for Wei Wuxian if he could, but his attempts to lure Wei Wuxian away from the Jiang Sect after the war had failed, and now it was clear how much Wei Wuxian disliked the Jins.
Wei Wuxian tensed even further in his seat. Jiang Cheng wanted to shake his brother until he came out of his statue position, but now was not the time.
“Sect Leader Jin cannot possibly believe that a bunch of old Wen civilians is a fair trade for the power of the Stygian Tiger Seal,” Jiang Cheng said coldly.
“Perhaps not,” Jin Guangshan allowed, “but Sect Leader Jiang must admit, the Seal is a lot of power for any one sect to claim, especially wielded as it is by a man of…questionable origins and character.”
“I see,” Jiang Cheng said, his voice even colder than before. “So Sect Leader Jin wishes to insult my parents and my sworn brother in an effort to slander the character of Wei Wuxian.”
“What character?” Jin Zixun sneered. “Everyone knows that Wei Wuxian lacks morals, and now we know that he is average. He dared to threaten my life!”
“Incorrect,” Lan Wangji snapped for the second time that night. Everyone turned to look at him, surprised that Hanguang-jun was getting involved in a squabble between the Jiangs and the Jins. His face, however, gave no hint as to why he chose to speak up. Stone-cold as always, he said; “Wei Wuxian is a righteous person.”
The room paused, caught off-guard by Hanguang-jun’s sudden endorsement of Wei Wuxian. The two had a notorious rivalry, after all. Jiang Cheng was caught off-guard as well. Lan Wangji had argued with Wei Wuxian nearly every time they’d crossed paths during the war, always berating him for his demonic cultivation. He’d thought that after Lan Wangji realized that Wei Wuxian couldn’t return to normal cultivation, he’d give up on Wei Wuxian completely, and probably think that Wei Wuxian should not cultivate, or be allowed in the cultivation world at all.
After all, it was one thing for a cultivator to use resentful energy, but it was quite another for an average person to do the same. If there was one thing that scared cultivators more than the Wens, it was average people becoming stronger than them. When Jiang Cheng and his…allies were discussing what to do, they’d come to the conclusion that revealing the loss of Wei Wuxian’s golden core would turn the entire cultivation world against him, and that it was only the protection of the Jiang Sect that would stop them from simply killing him. Wei Wuxian had expected this too, which was doubtless why he’d been tenser than a drawn bowstring ever since the banquet started.
Lan Wangji defending Wei Wuxian had not been part of the plan, but Jiang Cheng wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Lan Xichen’s smile seemed a little more strained than usual when he addressed the crowd. “Perhaps we may discuss the Stygian Tiger Seal on a late date,” he suggested.
“Hear, hear,” Nie Mingjue grumbled.
“Father,” Jin Zixuan spoke up stiffly, “I believe it is unnecessary to claim compensation for the loss.” He darted a glance at Jiang Yanli. “After all, my wedding is in a few months. We should be celebrating the union between our sects, rather than sowing discord.”
For the first time, Jiang Cheng felt positive feelings for his future brother-in-law.
Jin Guangshan glared at his (first) son, but one glance around the room surely told him that the other sect leaders were tired of him and his theatrics. “Very well,” he allowed graciously, as if they should be grateful to him for allowing them to move on.
Jiang Cheng scowled. Asshole.
Now that Wei Wuxian’s secret was out, he threw himself wholeheartedly into training the new disciples. There were only a few dozen senior disciples who’d survived both the destruction of Lotus Pier and the Sunshot Campaign. Jiang Cheng had brought in the outer disciples as well as disciples from subsidiary sects, but their numbers were still far less than they had been, and they needed to be trained in Jiang techniques. There was no one who knew Jiang style cultivation better than Wei Wuxian, and even though he couldn’t cultivate anymore, there were still plenty of things he could teach. He taught archery to all ages, and the basics of cultivation to the juniors. Even without any sort of cultivation, Wei Wuxian was slippery enough to beat any other disciple, save for Jiang Cheng. He’d put off appointing a new Head Disciple, and instead had several of the senior disciples splitting most of the duties.
In general, Wei Wuxian was just a lot more alive than he’d been since the Sunshot Campaign began. He drank way less, he smiled more often, and he spent a ridiculous amount of time with Wen Yuan, who had deemed Wei Wuxian his favorite babysitter. The Dafan Wen alternated between farming in a plot of land nearby Lotus Pier, and teaching medicine to Yunmeng’s medics. Wen Qing and Wen Ning had found themselves as Jiang Cheng’s assistants, filling the role Jiang Yanli had as she spent more and more time in Jinlintai, preparing for her wedding.
The day of the wedding came, and both Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng cried. Then they both, separately, threatened Jin Zixuan with bodily harm, who only looked resigned, probably because he’d grown to expect it. Jiang Yanli looked beautiful, of course, while Jin Zixuan looked acceptable, and Jin Guangshan looked like a slimy, disgusting excuse for a person, which was normal.
Afterwards, Wei Wuxian left with Wen Ning to travel the world in search of potential disciples, and both Jiang Cheng and Wen Qing pretended they weren’t extremely worried the whole time. But Wei Wuxian kept on returning, and for a few months Jiang Cheng was satisfied enough with that that he didn’t notice what Wei Wuxian was doing.
“Wei Wuxian!” Jiang Cheng yelled. “One of your orphan kids got loose!”
His terrible brother came around the corner, a five-year-old girl in his arms and another kid trailing behind him like a lost duckling. Wen Ning came right behind him–he’d had a tendency to shadow Wei Wuxian everywhere in his second life–with Wen Yuan on his shoulders.
“Teacher Wei! Teacher Wei!” Jiang Cheng stared in horror as an entire group of children came running around the corner, yelling excitedly for their Teacher Wei.
Oh no, was what Jiang Cheng thought. He has a horde. Wei Wuxian, of course, was delighted to see them, and soon Jiang Cheng was staring at horror at the five small children surrounding Wei Wuxian and the conscious fierce corpse.
“Wei Wuxian! You were supposed to find new disciples!”
Wei Wuxian barely spared him a glance, too focused on his adoring horde. “I did!”
“You brought me a horde of orphans,” Jiang Cheng griped. “How am I supposed to make junior disciples out of them? Who’s gonna parent these children?”
“The Wens, of course!” Wei Wuxian said blithely, like he wasn’t just offering people up as surrogate parents.
Jiang Cheng resisted the urge to scream. “You were supposed to find children with potential,” he snapped.
“They have potential!” Wei Wuxian sounded offended on behalf of his horde. “Some of them even have golden cores already!”
If Jiang Cheng thought about it logically, he would see the connection between a six-year-old homeless, orphan Wei Ying who fought dogs for food on the streets until he was brought back to Lotus Pier by Jiang Fengmian, and an adult Wei Wuxian who could not help but adopt every single orphaned child he found on the streets, talent or not.
Still. “They better not slack,” Jiang Cheng insisted. “This is a sect, not a nursery.”
He stomped off, ignoring the way Wei Wuxian cooed; “Don’t listen to him, he’s mean on the outside but a big softie on the inside.”
He was not.
“You’re so easy on the kids,” Wen Qing remarked one day, after she caught him giving candy to one of Wei Wuxian’s first recruits, a ten year old kid named Xue Yang who had an extreme sweet tooth.
Jiang Cheng spun on her so fast he got a crick on his neck. “Don’t ever say that near Wei Wuxian.”
Jiang Cheng turned twenty. He finally became an actual uncle a few months after that, when little Jin Ling was born. He spent the entire day afterwards alternatively very happy for his sister, and determined to break Jin Zixuan’s kneecaps. He argued with Wei Wuxian about baby names, and everything was okay for a while.
Then Lan Wangji showed up at Lotus Pier.
Jiang Cheng genuinely had no idea what he could possibly be doing here, but it would be rude to not entertain him, and so Lan Wangji and Jiang Cheng sat down in the room meant for entertaining guests. Neither had any idea how to make small talk, so they sat in awkward silence while Wen Ning poured them tea.
Jiang Cheng caught Lan Wangji shooting Wen Ning an unmistakable glare, and wondered if this had something to do with Wei Wuxian. His brother was currently in the nursery, that is, he was training the junior disciples who were definitely not a horde and definitely not terrifying little gremlins who did whatever their Teacher Wei asked them to do.
Wen Ning left them to talk, and Jiang Cheng felt unfairly abandoned in his hour of need.
“Don’t tell me you’ve heard the rumors,” Jiang Cheng said before he could stop himself. Lan Wangji stared at him blankly, so he felt compelled to explain. “About Wen Ning and Wei Wuxian…?”
It was well known that Wei Wuxian had gone travelling with Wen Ning for almost a year, and that Wei Wuxian had raised Wen Ning as a conscious fierce corpse. They made…assumptions from there.
Lan Wangji was still staring at him blankly, but that could mean literally anything, so Jiang Cheng elected to move on before he lost his damn mind.
“Why are you here?”
Lan Wangji took an obnoxiously long sip of tea before answering. “To propose marriage.”
That…was succinct, surprising, and uninformative. “On your brother’s behalf?” Jiang Cheng asked, mostly because he couldn’t see Lan Wangji marrying anyone.
“On my own behalf,” Lan Wangji responded.
Lan Wangji was offering his own hand in marriage? Who on Earth would he want to marry? Who on Earth would want to marry him? Logically Jiang Cheng knew that Hanguang-jun could get just about any marriage he wanted, including sect leaders, if he felt like it. Sect Leaders. Jiang Cheng felt something akin to panic building inside him. “Wait,” he said, faintly horrified, “you’re not…are you…proposing,” he swallowed, “to me?”
Lan Wangji finally showed a real emotion on his face, and it was horror. “No.”
“Oh,” Jiang Cheng said weakly, relieved. “Then who?”
For a moment, Jiang Cheng just watched Lan Wangji drink tea while his brain broke. “What the fuck,” he said blankly.
Lan Wangji did something with his face that indicated that a lesser man would have raised an eyebrow, but that Lan Wangji was not a lesser man.
“You want to marry my brother?” Jiang Cheng demanded, and Lan Wangji nodded.
Now that Jiang Cheng thought about it, Lan Wangji was the only one who’d ever held Wei Wuxian’s interest for any meaningful length of time. And Wei Wuxian had spent a ridiculous amount of time in the Cloud Recesses drooling over Lan Wangji–his face, his hair, his hands (they were regular hands, Wei Wuxian), his ears (ears are not hot, Wei Wuxian), his calligraphy, his Gusu accent, his mastery of everything under the sun other than acting like a regular human being.
Okay, so maybe Wei Wuxian wouldn’t object to a marriage between himself and Lan Wangji.
Still. “Why?” Jiang Cheng demanded.
Lan Wangji’s face didn’t move a muscle, but his ears were bright red. “I wish to marry Wei Ying,” he said, as if that explained anything.
“You do?” Jiang Cheng asked skeptically. “It's not your sect wanting to keep a closer eye on the Yiling Patriarch?”
Lan Wangji glared at him. “No. This marriage is one I desire. Should Wei Ying also be agreeable.”
“Oh, he’ll definitely be agreeable,” Jiang Cheng muttered under his breath. “But why do you want to marry him?” He asked, louder. “I thought you hated him.”
“No,” Lan Wangji denied, as if he hadn’t spent the entire war berating Wei Wuxian for his demonic cultivation. It’d been so easy for everyone to distrust Wei Wuxian and his cultivation method, afterwards. If Hanguang-jun was so vocal in his dislike, something about Wei Wuxian must be rotten.
“Wei Ying is righteous,” said Lan Wangji, in what was to be the beginning of a long list. “Wei Ying is good, and loyal, and kind, and brave. Wei Ying always defends the innocent. Wei Ying’s laugh–”
“Okay, no, what the fuck,” Jiang Cheng interrupted him, before he could hear about the virtues of Wei fucking Ying’s fucking laugh. “Go talk to him and tell him that. Exactly that,” he added, because Wei Wuxian was not going to believe him otherwise.
Lan Wangji glared at him again and rose from the table with all the grace of a swan and none of the manners. “Where is he?”
“In the n–junior disciples’ quarters,” Jiang Cheng said. “Wen Ning!” He shouted, and the fierce corpse entered the room. “Could you take Lan Wangji to Wei Wuxian? They’re apparently discussing marriage.”
Wen Ning’s eyes went round. “Oh. Oh. Uh. Okay. Please come this way, Second Young Master Lan.”
Lan Wangji swept out of the room, but not before Jiang Cheng saw him give Wen Ning a look. It wasn’t a glare like last time, and it wasn’t haughty because Lan Wangji didn’t do haughty. It was…almost bitchy.
As they left the room, it occurred to Jiang Cheng why Lan Wangji had chosen to show up now, when it had been years since the end of the war.
“Oh, fuck,” he realized. “He heard the rumors.”
Jiang Cheng squealed like a pig when he walked in on them kissing ten minutes later, though he later denied it loudly and vehemently. Although if he had, it was because he was scarred for life by what he'd seen! It wasn't that he couldn't handle watching two people kiss, it was that they looked like they were trying to suck each other's face off! And because one of the two people was his brother. He walked in on Hanguang-jun defiling his brother!
Maybe he should've listened to Wen Qing when she told him not to disturb them.
So that was how Lan Wangji had ruined his life.
Now Jiang Cheng stomps off in search of a better drinking companion, having left his terrible brother-in-law behind, when a limpet attaches itself to his leg.
“Uncle Purple!” The limpet giggles.
“Don’t just stand there, pick her up,” says Jiang Cheng’s other terrible brother-in-law, and really, did both of his siblings have to marry such terrible people? Jiang Cheng maintains that neither of them should’ve married at all. That way they’d stay in Lotus Pier year-round, instead spending some portion of every year with his insufferable in-laws.
“She’s your daughter, you pick her up,” Jiang Cheng retorts.
Jin Zixuan rolls his eyes at him. “If I try to pull her off you she’ll start crying. She’s decided she likes you, God knows why.”
Jiang Cheng’s superior nephew approaches then, and squats next to Jiang Cheng’s occupied ankle. Wen Yuan is only nine himself, but he’s remarkably good with kids. Jiang Cheng suspects that it’s a consequence of being raised by Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian; it makes Wen Yuan good at literally everything. Jiang Cheng can’t even get mad about it, and he’s tried.
His two senior disciples come running in while Wen Yuan is coaxing Jin Lian off of Jiang Cheng’s leg.
“Sect Leader Jiang!” Mo Xuanyu begins, sees Jin Zixuan, and turns red. Honestly, Jiang Cheng doesn’t know what Jin Zixuan’s plan was, dumping his illegitimate half-brother on Jiang Cheng. The boy was terribly shy and horribly mistreated in Jinlintai. It had taken years for Wei Wuxian to get him to trust them, but now he follows Wei Wuxian around like all of Wei Wuxian’s other horde children.
Jin Zixuan finally makes himself useful and leaves, along with his daughter and Wen Yuan.
“A-Fan pushed A-Qing into the lake and now the pier is on fire,” Xue Yang, his other senior disciple says. He throws a victorious look at Mo Xuanyu, who flushes.
The two have a constant rivalry that Jiang Cheng doesn't understand (that’s a lie, he’s the brother of Wei Wuxian) in which they both try to get Wei Wuxian to like them more, and occasionally Jiang Cheng too. It doesn’t help that they’re both sixteen and the most obvious candidates for Head Disciple, a position that has remained open ever since Wei Wuxian was removed from it five years ago. They’re the only two disciples that Wei Wuxian has allowed to try demonic cultivation, and although he’s very careful about it, it still makes the other disciples treat them differently. At this point, Jiang Cheng thinks he’s going to have to make both of them Head Disciple, because he does not want to deal with the one who isn’t chosen.
“Still?” Jiang Cheng demands, because they should’ve put it out immediately.
“We just spent half an hour putting it out,” Mo Xuanyu says, “but I thought you ought to know.”
And so they both raced to be the one to tell him, because of aforementioned mysterious rivalry.
“Well,” Jiang Cheng says grudgingly, “since you’re already here, you might as well join the party.”
“Thank you, Sect Leader Jiang!” They both chorus, and bow properly. Jiang Cheng knows that Lan Wangji taught them that, because Wei Wuxian sure as hell didn’t.
Then they both scramble to the best seats, which they fight over until Yanli shows up and makes them stop with a single disappointed look.
Jiang Cheng eventually finds his seat at the head of the table again. Wei Wuxian had been on Jiang Cheng’s right, sitting (shamelessly!) in Lan Wangji’s lap, and Lan Wangji had been (shamelessly!) feeding him, until their son showed up. (Again, Jiang Cheng’s favorite nephew). Wen Yuan sits between them, suffering from the mother henning of two dads. Jiang Yanli sits down on the left side of the table, little Jin Ling next to her, and Jin Zixuan next to him. Their daughter is being comforted by Wen Ning, because apparently she started crying when Jin Zixuan got her. Jiang Cheng is not surprised.
Mo Xuanyu and Xue Yang are throwing food at each other. Jiang Cheng stares at them, eye twitching, and wonders for a moment if he should tell them to stop. For the sake of his sanity, he decides against it. Further down the table, the Dafan Wen sit with Wei Wuxian’s horde of slightly-older children, who are now proper, capable, and promising junior disciples. They’re very loud. For a moment, Jiang Cheng pities Lan Wangji for having to adjust from “no talking during meals” to this, before reminding himself that he does not pity Lan Wangji, ever. And it’s much better than the tense meals he used to have with his family, that were mostly silent unless his mother decided to yell at one of them.
It’s all very overwhelming.
“Why are there so many children,” Jiang Cheng complains to Wen Qing, who sits next to him because she’s the only one with an ounce of sense (except for his sister, who unfortunately lives in Jinlintai year-round now that Jin Guangshan tripped down the stairs and died). “They’re so loud. And noisy. And my siblings keep cooing over their kids, it’s disgusting.”
“You were doing the same thing just yesterday,” she points out, a fact which Jiang Cheng had decided to overlook.
“It’s disgusting,” Jiang Cheng insists. He stabs his fish with an unnecessary amount of force and then eats it with an equally unnecessary amount of force.
Wen Qing raises an eyebrow at him. She’s the only Wen who has been working as a doctor this whole time, but Jiang Cheng knows for a fact that she’s excited for her family.
“What,” Jiang Cheng says grumpily. “Just look at the,” he waves at the general groups seated around the table, “and the,” he stabs his chopsticks in the direction of his two siblings. “They’re all so,” he waves his chopsticks around as if he’s genuinely saying something with them, and not just waving sticks in the air. “It’s all just very,” another gesticulation, “Everyone is just–!”
Wen Qing’s eyebrow has been climbing higher and higher as Jiang Cheng continues to splutter incoherently. He doesn't know how she does it, and he's very jealous. He doesn't know what he'd do without her. Suffer, probably. Finally he gives up, puts his chopsticks down, and reaches for his wine.
“It’s all Lan Wangji’s fault, you know,” Jiang Cheng says, once he’s drunk his wine. “He’s the one who told Wei Wuxian to come here instead of the Burial Mounds. He started all of this.”
“This,” Wen Qing repeats, exasperated at his refusal to name it.
“This,” Jiang Cheng repeats stubbornly. Petulantly, Wei Wuxian would say.
Wen Qing sighs at him, and helps herself to more rice. “It’s called a family.”
Ah, Jiang Cheng thinks. So it is.