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The One-Body Problem

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Lan Jingyi is prepared to admit that this whole, stupid mess is his own fault. He’s even prepared to admit it repentantly and before a whole gaggle of Lan elders if it means he gets to live until tomorrow.

He’s not holding out a whole lot of hope for that, though.

It all started when he was sent to investigate some weird rumors in Yiling. Any of the sects can hunt there, since it’s considered cursed and no one’s official responsibility (and wow, the locals hate that). In practice, though, it’s mostly left up to Gusu Lan and Yunmeng Jiang—the other sects don’t even pretend to care.

Which means the locals are really nice to cultivators from Gusu Lan and Yunmeng Jiang. They were especially great to Jingyi, and gave him discounts on stuff and extra food with every meal with a kind of intense, panicked look in their eyes. It maybe got to him a little? They were just so nice, and so freaked out, and they treated him like an actual immortal. So even though this was just supposed to be an information gathering trip, he, uh. He did more than that.

The weird rumors were about suspicious-looking people coming and going from the Burial Mounds. They wore black and red, didn’t seem to carry swords, and were always hauling around big old bags of who knew what. They’d been around for like a month, but they wouldn’t talk to anybody in town, so nobody knew more than that. Basically, Jingyi hadn’t learned much beyond what was in the original letter requesting help. It was disappointing, sure, but if he’d been smart, he’d have taken that information, gone straight back to Gusu, and reported it. The thing was…that would’ve meant he’d come to town, eaten free food, bothered everyone with his questions, and not even learned anything new. He couldn’t handle that. So instead, he went to the Burial Mounds to check things out himself. He did this alone, by himself, without telling anyone. Like a moron.

The good news is, he’s learned new things. The bad news is, what he’s learned is that the Burial Mounds are full of creepy demonic cultivators who worship the Yiling Patriarch, and are currently planning to sacrifice Jingyi to resurrect him. Or something. Jingyi is a little unclear on the details, mainly because it’s hard to think around the head injury. A head injury he has because a bunch of deranged demonic cultivators got the jump on him without hardly trying. If he lives through this, Sizhui is going to kill him, but not before Hanguang-jun is Disappointed at him. Ugh.

The creeps have him tied down on top of a blood-stained array and are chanting and throwing talismans at him, and he hates everything about this. He never agreed to be a human sacrifice, and it seems like his opinion should count, here.

The magic rises, resentful energy getting thicker and thicker until it chokes him. At first he thinks it’s lack of air that’s making him see a red glow, but no—the array is actually glowing. And then, because all of that wasn’t freaky enough, his body starts to feel like it’s burning, like his organs are on fire. Are they going to burn him from the inside out?! Wow, all of his teachers are going to be completely unsurprised that this was the way he died, especially Lan Qiren.

But just at the point where it was about to become unbearable, the pain abruptly stops. Then, after a long, frozen moment, something slams into Jingyi—not physically, not exactly mentally, but like some other—oh help—soul or something just wedged itself in next to his own. Is this the Yiling Patriarch? Is he sharing a body with the Yiling Patriarch?! Wasn’t he supposed to die? Are these demonic cultivators inept as well as creepy?

Oh, come on, says a tired voice in his head. What the hell is this?

Well, that’s exactly what Jingyi would like to know. He’d just like it better if he wasn’t agreeing with the voice in his head about it.

The voice in his head that, it has to be said, does not seem very scary, or at all what Jingyi would’ve expected from the Yiling Patriarch. He’d have guessed the Yiling Patriarch would be enraged and resentful and frothing-at-the-mouth psychotic, but this guy seems mostly just…done. Did the creeps snag the wrong ghost on top of everything else?

The creeps collectively take this moment to prostrate themselves on the ground. The boss one says, “Oh, Great Yiling Patriarch, most Powerful of Demonic Cultivators, Founder of our Demonic Order, we welcome your Glorious Return to the Land of the Living, and hope you will accept our Humble Offering of This Body.”

Jingyi cannot believe he got human sacrificed by people this ridiculous.

Body? mutters the voice. What body?

Oh, I like that, Jingyi thinks loudly back at it, indignant. Just elbow your way in here with me and then don’t even notice I exist. Rude.

Am I possessing somebody? the voice demands, reassuringly horrified.

To be fair, it’s not your fault, Jingyi explains, gracious in the face of the ghost being freaked about it, too. They think you’re the Yiling Patriarch, so they grabbed you and shoved you inside me. He considers. Okay, that sounded dirtier than I meant it to.

…How old are you? the voice asks suspiciously.

Seventeen. Why?

Oh, wow, yeah. There’s the rage he was expecting from the Yiling Patriarch. (But seriously, is this guy the Yiling Patriarch? Because that’s rage on Jingyi’s behalf, which doesn’t seem very…Yiling Patriarch-y.)

I’m gonna take over for a minute, okay, kid? says the man who may or may not be the evilest cultivator in modern history.

Go for it, says Jingyi, because it’s not like he can stop the guy, or like he makes good choices when he’s in charge of his body, anyway. He may be getting a little fatalistic about things.

It’s weird, not being in control of his own body. It’s like being submerged in a pool of black jelly, and all he can catch from the outside world are flashes of emotion and the occasional image. Both of which he could frankly do without, because it’s all very disturbing and kinda gross, and he’s more convinced by the second that he really is being possessed by the Yiling Patriarch. Who is apparently surprisingly chill until you piss him off.

And man, the creeps sure did piss him off. Seems like they wanted him to take over the world with them, bathing in the blood of virgins and whatever? Anyway, he’s not having any. Emphatically.

Lan Jingyi is starting to suspect that some of the things he’s heard about the Yiling Patriarch were bullshit.

After an indeterminate, floating period of time, Jingyi is abruptly dragged out of the jelly pool and rudely shoved back into possession of his body.

“Whoa,” he yelps, almost falling over.

Almost falling over a corpse, in fact. Because there are corpses. Just. Everywhere. Corpses who died in interestingly varied and definitely upsetting ways.

On the bright side, Jingyi is no longer tied up in an evil array, and it looks like he’s not going to die today. Also a bright side: none of these creeps will cause anyone problems ever again.

Downside: the guy still stuck in his head with him is definitely the Yiling Patriarch.

I was such a quiet dead person, Jingyi’s unwilling brain-guest is muttering irritably. I didn’t cause any trouble. I don’t deserve this! Ugh, I was better off dead.

So…apparently suicidal ghosts are a thing, which is depressing to know. But at least the guy’s not murderously enraged anymore—he’s back to just being tired and done, and, under that, horrifyingly sad and lonely.

Did history class lie to me about you? Jingyi demands.

The Yiling Patriarch laughs bitterly. Well, everybody lied about me when I was alive. I don’t see why they’d stop after I died.

This is all very upsetting. What’s being dead like? Jingyi asks, saving his brooding over being lied to in history class for later. Because how many people can you ask about the afterlife? Jingyi can’t waste this opportunity.

I…don’t remember, really, the Yiling Patriarch says, thoughtful, tired, a little worried. I don’t know where I was.

Okay, so now the Yiling Patriarch sounds like Sizhui does when he’s about to start crying, which means no more talking about the afterlife today. Huh. Weird. Will it hurt you if I get exorcized?

Does it matter? asks the freaking Yiling Patriarch, who is turning out to be an emotional mess in a totally different way than Jingyi would’ve expected.

Yes, Jingyi informs him, annoyed. Yes, because you saved my life, so I don’t want to hurt you. You weird man.

The Yiling Patriarch laughs again, honestly cheering up. I don’t know! he says brightly. I’ve never been exorcized from someone before!

Wow, I don’t want to have to explain this to Hanguang-jun,” Jingyi mutters, threading his unsteady way through the messy corpses and toward the road out, trying not to think too hard about his current reality.

Lan Zhan? asks the ghost, in tones/emotions of obvious sorrow and longing.

Yeah, history class lied about the Yiling Patriarch a lot.

Hanguang-jun let you call him Lan Zhan? Jingyi asks, trying to hide his feelings about this topic and not sure he’s succeeding.

He did, the ghost says wistfully. And he called me Wei Ying.

Jingyi immediately hears Hanguang-jun’s voice saying Wei Ying over and over with an unbelievable amount of emotion, everything from infuriated frustration to…love? That’s gotta be love, right? And then there’s a flash, a memory in Jingyi’s mind that doesn’t belong to him—falling backward off a cliff, one arm flung upward, reaching toward…toward Hanguang-jun, who’s screaming, “Wei Ying!” with a more agonized expression than Jingyi could ever have imagined that face was capable of. And that’s Sect Leader Jiang, standing behind Hanguang-jun with a bloody sword and looking weirdly conflicted. So this is then.

This is Wei Wuxian’s death, and what he remembers most is looking up at that beloved face (Hanguang-jun’s face!), and feeling regret, sorrow, and a painful, despairing resolve. This is the best way, Lan Zhan. The only way.

The memory abruptly cuts off. Well, says Wei Wuxian, I’m going to take a nap.

What—?!

But there’s nothing, a sudden absence in Jingyi’s mind. It feels more weird than it should, given that it’s the state he’d always existed in until an hour ago.

So, this is great. Jingyi’s being unwillingly possessed by the surprisingly sad and nice (if incredibly dangerous) Yiling Patriarch, who secretly used to be, what? Hanguang-jun’s boyfriend or something?

Jingyi is never believing a goddamn thing any adult tells him about the war ever again. Depending on how the next few days go, he may not believe anything adults tell him about anything ever again. He can’t wait to complain to Sizhui about this.

* * *

Wei Wuxian stays eerily absent for the rest of the day, which is probably just as well, because when Jingyi gets back to town, everybody sees his bloody mess of a self and freaks the hell out, which Wei Wuxian might not handle well. Anyway, Jingyi has to explain himself to what feels like half the town while a doctor doctors him and yells at him for being an idiot. (Jingyi’s parents are doctors, so this is weirdly soothing.) Everybody’s delighted that the demonic cultivators are dead, at least. They’d be less delighted if they knew Jingyi is currently sharing a body with one, but he carefully doesn’t tell them that—he pretends the demonic cultivators blew themselves up.

They’re definitely not happy about the new bunch of pissed off corpses in the Burial Mounds. Jingyi promises he’ll send somebody fully trained to deal with that, but the townspeople seem dubious. So there’s one more thing to worry about.

By the time the interrogation ends, Jingyi’s exhausted. He collapses onto the bed at the inn (where he’s staying for free!), and falls near-instantly asleep. And still without a peep from his ghost.

But then the asshole turns out to be a morning person.

Jingyi hates morning people. Oh, sure, he can get up at five—that’s just habit. But he can’t be pleased to be awake at five, or, really, within an hour of when he gets up, no matter what time that happens to be.

Wei Wuxian whines interminably about waking up at five, and is respectably groggy and unhappy for the first five minutes or so, but then he has the nerve to become completely alert and chipper swiftly thereafter. He is especially insufferable about the way everyone in town beams at or frets over Jingyi. He actually coos about how cute it is. The Yiling Patriarch is truly evil.

* * *

They experiment with their new, messed up existence once they’re on the road. Turns out they can feel each other’s strong emotions unless they’re actively working on hiding them—and that’s not a long-term fix because it wears out your brain-muscles or something. So, emotions: they’re sharing them now. Great.

Memories only blip over if they’re deliberately shown off or else really strong, which might be a problem, because it seems like the Yiling Patriarch gets a lot of…out of control memories? Like he gets reminded of one thing, and then a whole awful scene plays out, rumbling along unstoppably like a runaway cart down a steep hill, knocking over important parts of the scenery on the way. So that’s fun.

As for stray thoughts, they don’t seem to cross over much unless they’re really loud stray thoughts. Imagined up images also don’t transfer well. But they can deliberately talk at each other with no real effort.

When Jingyi sleeps, so does the Yiling Patriarch, because apparently they really are sharing Jingyi’s brain in some weird way. That freaks the Yiling Patriarch out, but Jingyi’s not unreasonably tired or headachy or anything, so he decides not to be bothered.

The Yiling Patriarch can also do that “nap” thing, where he blips out totally for a while—though he has to be awake to do it, which seems weird. He says it’s like he’s hiding in a cabinet in Jingyi’s mind. Jingyi didn’t know he had cabinets in his mind. He’s learning all sorts of stuff lately.

…Theoretically he could shove the Yiling Patriarch into the cabinet himself, but he thinks that thought very quietly, and doesn’t plan to do it ever. So far the Yiling Patriarch’s been a very pleasant brain guest. Unless he loses it and goes on an unprovoked murder rampage, Jingyi has no intention of sending him to brain prison.

All things considered, it could be much worse. Like, what if the Yiling Patriarch really was the way he’s painted in class? Man, Jingyi’s body would be a puppet and he’d just be floating in jelly forever.

There are even some advantages! Jingyi gets free history lessons, for one thing. No way is he gonna get possessed by a war hero/post-war villain without taking the opportunity to interrogate the guy about his life in general and the Sunshot Campaign in particular. It’s a lot more fun than actual history class, not least because it’s impossible for the person in your head to lie to you. (Well, he can lie, but Jingyi can always tell when he’s doing it, because they’re sharing emotions. Though the idiot will keep trying despite that, and holy crap, he sure lies to himself a lot.) It turns out that when you can see memories of what actually went on, complete with the thoughts and emotions of somebody who was there, the whole story is a hundred times cooler. And the Sunshot Campaign was pretty damn cool to begin with, so this is awesome.

Though free history class has its downsides, too. Firstly, the Sunshot Campaign may have been cool, but it was also super fucked-up. Way more than Jingyi understood, mainly because Jingyi has lived a life so soft it never occurred to him how soft it was. He’s seen a lot of human corpses since he started going on night hunts, sure, and he thought that made him tough, but…he’s never made any of his own. He’s never had a living person try to kill him, either.

Wei Wuxian has killed so many people. So many. And he only feels bad about a handful of them, because the rest were actively trying to kill him at the time, often for no damn reason at all. Jingyi now has lots of uncomfortable, ice-cold memories of looking a person in the eye, deciding the world would be better off without them, and making it so.

He’s not handling it well.

Another problem is that the Yiling Patriarch seriously can’t be bothered to remember anything or anyone unimportant to him, which makes his value as a historical source kind of erratic. Wei Wuxian’s memory is an interesting and complicated thing, actually, and worrying in a lot of ways. Like, he remembers music—so much music, and a ton of poetry, too. But he doesn’t remember where he learned it, usually. It’s like the music just appeared in his mind, full of emotion and note-perfect, but without context. He memorizes whole books, but has erased entire sects from his mind. Huge spans of time in his life seem to be just…gone, and it’s freaky. He remembers a ton of scars and injuries his body had, but he can’t remember how he got maybe half of them. That said, he remembers crimes against his loved ones in disturbing detail—perpetrators, dates, locations. His memory for food is troublingly complete, too (Jingyi guesses starving will do that to you). And it goes on like that. Patchy. Veering between scary precise and worryingly vague.

When it comes to people, Wei Wuxian seems to remember every-damn-body from Lotus Pier, all the way from Sect Leaders past and present to some random guy in town who he used to steal lotus seeds from. He remembers a ton about them, too—their hopes and dreams, kids and home renovations. It’s the same with the Wens he rescued, even though he kind of held himself apart from most of them. But the other sects? Eh. If he remembers the sect at all, he only remembers a handful of people from it. It can be hilarious sometimes, like in the memory where one of the vague, person-shaped yellow blobs indicating Random Jin Cultivator #5 called Jin Zixuan his cousin, and Jingyi realized—that was Jin Zixun. Jin Zixun, who history class called a great enemy of the Yiling Patriarch, a thorn in his side, a nemesis so terrible that the Yiling Patriarch had cursed him to be rid of him—but here’s the truth: the Yiling Patriarch can’t even remember what Jin Zixun fucking looked like, and thought of him as an annoyance on par with a biting insect. He definitely could not have been bothered to curse him.

Wei Wuxian does remember people he considered legitimately dangerous (like Xue Yang and, troublingly, Jin Guangshan), apparently out of self-preservation. But with Jin Guangshan, it’s almost like his brain resents having to remember the guy? He’s definitely labeled the former Chief Cultivator “Annoying Mustache” in his head. Anytime he thinks of him, it’s as Annoying Mustache (Jin Guangshan). The name’s an afterthought. The facial hair is always the clearest thing in any given memory. (Personally Jingyi thinks the goatee was more annoying than the mustache, but whatever.) Also, he’s determined to believe that Jin Guangshan had a big old potbelly. He didn’t? Jingyi saw the guy once before he died, and he’s almost totally sure there was no potbelly. But that’s how Wei Wuxian remembers him—swaggering into rooms, belly first.

Bottom line, Jingyi suddenly has access to a ton of reasonably accurate and intermittently detailed war stories, which is very cool, if deeply upsetting. Unfortunately, everything he’s learned means that he officially no longer trusts adults. Any adults.

…Except Hanguang-jun, who’s always been angrily silent on the whole topic of the Yiling Patriarch, and who also, looking back on it, definitely taught his students to be skeptical of every single thing they’re told. To ask for the reasons behind every rule. To get second opinions on everything. And wow, Jingyi can see why.

So they were seriously just kids and farmers and old people? Jingyi demands, horrified. Who the Jins were slowly murdering?

You got it, kiddo, Wei Wuxian agrees, remembering up an image of the settlement in the Burial Mounds—weirdly cheerful, considering where it is and what it looked like when Jingyi last saw it. He’d have paid more attention if he’d known.

But yeah, it’s mostly grannies and grandpas, old aunts and uncles, and at least one little kid. Very obviously civilians. Not what you’d call an army. This is so messed up.

Who’s the kid? he asks, mostly to distract himself from the sense of generalized horror and betrayal.

A-Yuan? Wei Wuxian replies with brittle cheerfulness, then remembers up a series of stupidly cute scenes with this kid, including one of him sitting in Hanguang-jun’s lap (? ???) in an inn or something. And again—not looking much like the bitter enemies they were made out to be, Jingyi thinks angrily, feeling Memory Wei Wuxian’s helpless fondness for the man holding the child he thinks of as his own. And that’s not even talking about Hanguang-jun’s expression, which is the softest thing Jingyi’s ever seen. Who knew Hanguang-jun’s face could even do that?

…Okay, actually he sometimes looks at Sizhui like that, but Sizhui is the only one.

And then the kid in the memory turns to Wei Wuxian and momentarily stops grinning, momentarily looks grave and serious, holding up his toy butterfly for inspection. And that’s. That is Sizhui. Oh hell, that is definitely baby Sizhui. What the fuck. He looks just like he did when they were first put into classes together. It took him years to really smile, and even more to laugh—which is why Jingyi didn’t recognize him smiling. At the time, he never thought about why a kid wouldn’t smile—he was just a kid himself. But yeah, your whole family getting slaughtered would do it.

Lan Sizhui. Lan Yuan, Hanguang-jun’s adopted son, what the shit has Jingyi tripped over now?!

If he’d lived, he’d be about your age, says the Yiling Patriarch quietly, a well of rage and grief opening like an abyss beneath the words.

And Jingyi can’t do this. He can’t let the guy suffer like this, even if he is the Yiling Patriarch. But he can’t rat out Sizhui either; what kind of friend would do that? He doesn’t even know what Sizhui remembers, if anything. And if he did remember, would he want the Yiling Patriarch to know? Probably not. Or. Maybe not? Admittedly, that’s becoming less clear by the second. But the point is, it’s not Jingyi’s place to decide. So.

I know him, he says instead, remembering an image of Sizhui in class when they were kids, looking attentive and serious and super-cute, in tiny Lan robes with a Lan headband. Hanguang-jun adopted him, but I didn’t know where he came from. No one does, and no one asks—there were plenty of orphans to go around back then, you know? So he’s just Hanguang-jun’s adopted son, one of the most talented junior disciples. He’s happy in the Cloud Recesses—happier than I am, even. Everybody likes him.

And that makes Wei Wuxian so shocked and relieved, thrilled and grateful that Jingyi kind of wants to cry.

Lan Zhan, Wei Wuxian thinks with careful reverence. Lan Zhan, you saved A-Yuan.

A flash of an image—Hanguang-jun standing in the middle of a crowd with Sizhui clinging to his leg and staring up at him, crying, while Hanguang-jun looks hilariously, unbelievably terrified and at a loss. And Wei Wuxian, watching them, feeling so much amusement and affection and desperate, hopeless love.

Jingyi, meanwhile, feels like a creep, even though he didn’t ask to eavesdrop on this and there’s nothing he can do about it. But these emotions are distinctly not for him, and he does not want to know.

Also, hey. So many lies about the Sunshot Campaign and the Yiling Patriarch. The whole story of the main players is nothing but a tapestry of lies! What else is a lie? If the villains were secretly nice, were the heroes secretly evil? Are there secret identities involved? This is exactly like the kind of play Jingyi finds annoying, and he’s so done with it. But it’s reality, so it’s not done with him.

* * *

Horrible revelations aside, Jingyi would actually call the possessed trip back to Gusu pretty fun if not for one thing: the nightmares. Because Wei Wuxian has a lot of nightmares, many of them recurring, like his mind wants to make extra sure he’ll be tortured enough. And he shares those nightmares.

The poor guy does his best to keep bad stuff to himself when they’re awake—Jingyi usually only gets an accidental memory here and there related to something he asked. But when they’re asleep? Ugh. It seems really unfair that ghosts get nightmares. Worse yet, a whole lot of Wei Wuxian’s nightmares are just mashups of his worst memories, which Jingyi knows because they can’t block anything from each other when they first wake up. Which they do, like. Every couple of hours on the bad nights.

After a week of this, they’re both so tired they’re barely functioning, and everything is funny in a weird, morbid way. For example: Jingyi is finding the fact that he’s on the verge of a breakdown over somebody else’s awful life pretty hilarious. He hasn’t cried this much since he was a baby. But he is a baby when it comes to this level of trauma. Trauma baby.

Yeah, that didn’t even make sense.

Is this what being drunk is like? Jingyi asks, dazed.

Yes, Wei Wuxian agrees. Gods, I wish I could get drunk.

I thought you said we’re basically drunk anyway, Jingyi points out.

This is not the time to make me logically defend my arguments, kid, Wei Wuxian mutters.

What’s your least favorite one? Jingyi wants to know.

Least favorite what?

Nightmare.

Wow, you seriously just asked me that, Wei Wuxian laughs.

I’m not thinking straight, also your nightmares are my nightmares right now, Jingyi complains. My least favorite one is the one where you get dropped in the Burial Mounds, but instead of eating the corpses, the corpses eat you. I hate that one so much.

(Actually, that’s his second least favorite, but he has just enough brain left to keep from admitting to his actual least favorite. Which is the one where Wei Wuxian rips out his golden core with his own hands and feeds it to his brother, only for his brother to choke and cough blood and die, like Wei Wuxian’s core was poison. That one’s great.)

Wei Wuxian goes silent for a long time, and then Jingyi gets a memory—of the nightmare where he’s torturing Wen Chao to death, but then Wen Chao throws back his hood and it’s been Jiang Yanli the whole time. Jingyi is such an asshole for bringing this up.

Oh man, you’re right, he says, because what else can he say at this point. That one fucking sucks.

Wei Wuxian laughs a little hysterically.

Honestly, by now Jingyi’s feeling like the whole Yiling Patriarch meltdown was a model of restraint. It would’ve been even if all the stories had been true, which they’re not. But if all that shit had happened to Jingyi? Hell yeah, he’d have run to the Burial Mounds and raised a zombie army.

Which is, again, a thing that Wei Wuxian only sort of kind of did. Mostly he ran to the Burial Mounds and made a freaking farm. And they killed him for it anyway.

Jingyi would really like to have a good scream about how unfair it all is with Hanguang-jun, who he feels would totally get him on this, but he can’t do that without explaining himself. And he can’t explain himself, because that would be cruel to Hanguang-jun. Being possessed is the worst. Wait, no—war is the worst, and apparently people are the worst. Being possessed is just annoying. Thanks for the perspective, Wei Wuxian.

Jingyi is coming to appreciate his parents more every day. He’s so glad they’re doctors who stayed the fuck away from the fighting pretty much the whole Sunshot Campaign, and thus remained, like. Alive and mentally stable. When he was a kid, he used to think it was boring that they didn’t have any good war stories, but now that he’s sharing headspace with the guy who has all the best war stories…

Yeah, he was a very dumb kid. He gets that now. He was wrong; his parents were right. He’ll have to tell them so. Without in any way explaining how he knows, because they would freak.

…Well, his mom would probably laugh, actually, once she figured out that the Yiling Patriarch isn’t so bad. But his dad would definitely freak.

He hopes he makes it to the Cloud Recesses before he has some kind of Yiling Patriarch-induced qi deviation. That would be stupid.

* * *

It’s a close-run thing, but they do make it back to the Cloud Recesses before either of them is irrevocably physically or psychologically harmed. Probably.

And Jingyi’s luck blessedly takes this time to kick in and work for him, because the first person he sees after he drops off his stuff and cleans up, but before he goes to make his report, is Sizhui.

“Sizhui,” Jingyi gasps, grabbing Sizhui’s forearms with overwhelming relief. Sizhui is a sane, reasonable person. He’ll know what to do with someone who’s been accidentally possessed by the ghost of a friendly but damaged mass-murderer.

“Jingyi?” Sizhui asks, clutching back and looking startled and concerned. “Are you okay?”

“No, I’m an idiot,” Jingyi explains. He’s proud he hasn’t burst into tears yet. “Also everyone’s lied to us about the Sunshot Campaign our whole lives. Also I’m a little bit possessed right now.”

Sizhui blinks slowly. “Possessed by someone from the Sunshot Campaign?”

Wow, I like this kid, Wei Wuxian decides, feeling pleased and affectionate, and of course he does, because this is his son. Not that he recognizes that. It’s nice to know, though—that Wei Wuxian would like Sizhui even if he weren’t his son. Between that and his tragic adoration of Hanguang-jun, Jingyi is going to have to admit that the Yiling Patriarch has great taste in people.

Jingyi takes a deep breath, because there’s no way to make this sound good. “It’s…okay, first, it’s not his fault. Possessing isn’t even the right word—he didn’t sign up to be in here any more than I signed up to be possessed. It was some creeps. Nobody asked the creeps to be creepy, but they just creeped along, doing their creepy thing anyway.”

You’re a mess, kid, points out the annoyingly fond murderer in his head. The enormous mess of a murderer in his head. What nerve.

“So you like the ghost possessing you,” Sizhui says encouragingly.

“I really do,” Jingyi admits, trying not to worry about the burst of bewildered disbelief from the back of his mind. “But the thing is…the thing is…he’s. KindoftheYilingPatriarch.” And also your dad, Jingyi wails to himself in a carefully private corner of his mind.

Sizhui’s eyebrows climb and his mouth drops open. And that’s without hearing about the dad thing.

“I know!” Jingyi cries. “I know it sounds bad! But he’s really…I mean, he’s seriously scary, that part is true. At least, he is when you make him mad. Like, he murdered the crap out of all the creeps who did this to us. But that was to protect me? And oh my god, Sizhui, I can feel a lot of his emotions, and he is totally in love with Hanguang-jun. It’s so weird.”

I am not in love with Lan Zhan! cries Wei Wuxian, shocked. And again with the lying to himself. Unbelievable.

Uh, yes you are, you absolute dumbass, replies Jingyi, equally shocked. You are so in love with him. You trust him more than you trust yourself! You were so happy he was the last thing you saw when you died! You once saw the back of his neck when you were teenagers and thought about biting it for the next week!

How do you know that?!

Your memories bleed over when you’re really into them, I told you! Jingyi snaps impatiently. Anyway, shut up and accept it: you’re over the moon for him. I can’t believe you.

“Are you…talking to him?” Sizhui asks cautiously, still holding tight to Jingyi’s arms like he’s afraid Jingyi might disappear if he lets go.

“He’s trying to tell me he isn’t in love with Hanguang-jun, but that’s because he’s dumb. He’s so in love. He’s more in love than I knew people could even be.”

I am not, Wei Wuxian mutters sullenly. Jingyi ignores him with all his heart.

“I don’t know what to do, Sizhui!” he wails. “I swear this is history’s most awkward possession!”

“We have to tell Hanguang-jun,” Sizhui decides, clearly stressed.

“Tell him what?” Jingyi hisses. “That his dead boyfriend is sharing my body and I want to exorcize him? I can’t do that to him!”

I’m not his boyfriend! insists Jingyi’s resident idiot.

You are the most emotionally unaware person I’ve ever met, and I grew up with Lans!

Oh, ouch, that was just cruel. Also you’ve clearly never met Jiang Cheng.

In fact, Jingyi has met Sect Leader Jiang, and he can see Wei Wuxian’s point. But he’s not admitting it. Also Wei Wuxian should definitely feel less fond of the guy who sort of killed him. What a weirdo.

“You’re right,” Sizhui agrees fretfully, though it takes Jingyi a second to remember what he’s agreeing with. “…Zewu-jun?”

“Hm.” How do you feel about Zewu-jun? he asks Wei Wuxian.

Uh, I don’t know. He’s like Lan Zhan but smilier and less amazing?

Wow, yes, definitely sounds like somebody who isn’t in love. The Yiling Patriarch is a moron.

“He seems okay with that,” Jingyi tells Sizhui, who looks relieved that they can involve an adult.

“He’s in the library,” Sizhui says, because he almost always knows where his father and uncle are. But then he would, wouldn’t he? After all, whether he consciously remembers it or not, his pre-Cloud Recesses life involved him losing track of family members and those family members getting horribly murdered, over and over.

For once Jingyi could do with understanding his best friend a little less well.

* * *

“Wei Wuxian is possessing you?” Zewu-jun demands, eyebrows climbing.

“Yes. But I mean—he didn’t mean to,” Jingyi insists, already disappointed that this isn’t going smoother. “It was some creeps in the Burial Mounds. And I know I shouldn’t have been in the Burial Mounds—I wrote a report and everything—and I’ll accept punishment for that, but. Can I. Get exorcized first? Also please don’t tell Hanguang-jun about this.”

“Why should I not tell Wangji?” Zewu-jun asks suspiciously. Jingyi’s never had Zewu-jun being suspicious of him before, but apparently that’s what happens when you get possessed by an infamous demonic cultivator.

“Because…because, okay, the Yiling Patriarch is so, so in love with Hanguang-jun—”

Ugh, I can’t believe you’re babbling this nonsense to Zewu-jun, you’re so embarrassing

“And I don’t know if it goes both ways? But if it does, isn’t it just…cruel? To tell him that I’ve got the Yiling Patriarch in my head, but he can’t, I can’t, I mean. He’s still dead, Zewu-jun! It’s too sad.”

Zewu-jun looks shocked. “In love with Wangji?”

No, snaps Wei Wuxian.

Yes,” insists Jingyi. “He says he’s not, but I can feel his emotions, the big idiot, and he definitely is. And he’s so sad, Zewu-jun! He misses so many people all the time, and he can’t talk to any of them because most of them are dead, the ones who aren’t basically all hate him, and also he’s a ghost stuck in my head. I’m too young for this much sadness! And don’t get me started on the nightmares, because I’m starting to have nightmares about his nightmares! I haven’t slept more than two hours in a row for three days!”

Sizhui puts a comforting hand on Jingyi’s shoulder because he’s the best, and Wei Wuxian says, I’m sorry, kid. I’d block it from you if I could.

I know you would, Jingyi thinks back, and tries not to worry about how weird it is that he really believes that. It’s not your fault, and anyway, I’m only getting the echoes of it. Don’t feel bad about me, too. That would be ridiculous.

Wei Wuxian seems dubious, which is typical.

When Jingyi starts paying attention to things outside his head again, he notices that Zewu-jun looks seriously troubled and kinda guilty. What’s that about?

“What happened to the people who captured you in the Burial Mounds?” Zewu-jun asks, holding on to professionalism and not getting sidetracked into a discussion of his little brother’s tragic love life. This must be why people say he’s so wise.

“Uhh…” Okay, this is gonna sound incriminating. “They’re…not around anymore.”

Zewu-jun sighs deeply. “Wei Wuxian took over your body and killed them, then.”

“You don’t have to say it like that,” Jingyi insists. “He was saving my life! And he asked permission before he took over my body! To save my life!”

“Is he ordering you to say that?” Zewu-jun asks, still with the suspicion.

“He’s been begging me not to say a single thing I’ve said so far, actually.” Jingyi hesitates. “Well, that was true at first. Now he’s just kind of crying from embarrassment in the back of my head.”

Zewu-jun’s mouth does a weird thing like he doesn’t know whether to laugh or scream.

“Anyway, he’s a giant mess who can’t admit to his own emotions and has all the self-esteem of seaweed,” Jingyi explains, ignoring Sizhui’s judgmental sigh. “They sure don’t teach you that about the Yiling Patriarch.”

Hey, seaweed might have great self-esteem. You don’t know.

Jingyi wonders if you can perform an exorcism on yourself by banging your head against a wall for a while.

“If you wouldn’t mind, Jingyi,” Zewu-jun says cautiously, “I would like to speak with him directly. Only if this would not trouble you.”

It wouldn’t. It would, on the other hand, trouble Wei Wuxian, who is freaking the hell out at the very idea. “He doesn’t want to talk to you. He’s scared of you.”

Wei Wuxian shrieks in mortification, but he doesn’t get to have an opinion. Jingyi’s seen the highlight scenes from the man’s life now, and half of his problems would never have happened if he’d told the truth about anything, ever, to anyone. So they’re doing this Jingyi’s way.

Zewu-jun has a very impressive arched eyebrow of doom. Who knew? “Wei-gongzi has never been afraid of me. And even if he were, I would never harm him while he’s in your body.”

“Oh, he’s not scared of you physically, or psychically, or whatever he’s got going on right now. He’s scared of you emotionally. He thinks you’re going to yell at him about how he’s a monster and a heretic and a bad influence on Hanguang-jun. He thinks you hate him, and that makes him want to die. Mostly because he agrees with you.” Jingyi considers the horrified babbling in the back of his mind. “He wants me to tell you that he wants to die right now, but it’s because children are the worst.”

Jingyi’s always been proud of being the worst child, actually. Not that it’s a particular challenge with the Gusu Lan. Only Sizhui is even close to his level, and he doesn’t count because he never, ever gets caught. Do you really deserve the title of bad child if all the adults still believe you’re an angel? Jingyi thinks not.

“I think he’s forgotten he’s already dead,” Jingyi observes to the room in general, determined to maintain his title. “Anyway, maybe you can talk to him later. When he’s freaking out less.”

And maybe Jingyi should tone it down a little, because Sizhui is starting to look horrified. But he can’t help it. He’s punchy.

“…I only wanted to ask if he recognized the ritual that caused him to possess you,” Zewu-jun says carefully, rolling with the madness like the badass he is.

Jingyi shrugs and asks. “He says no,” he relays. “He says it’s too creepy for his blood and he doesn’t know where they got it. He did check it over to see if he could figure out how to undo it, but it was all pretty weird to him. He’s thinking it’s got a Wen Ruohan flavor, but he’d need more time to study it to be sure.”

Zewu-jun frowns, puzzled. “I would have thought this sort of cultivation was precisely his area of interest.”

Wow, that was a surprisingly unsubtle burn from Zewu-jun. Jingyi rolls his eyes in exasperation, mentally agreeing with his brain guest’s indignant protests. “Look, he never got up to unwilling human sacrifice.” Though, okay, he may have looked into willing human sacrifice a little. Of course, ‘willing human sacrifice’ is just another way to describe Wei Wuxian’s entire life, so no one should be surprised. “He only tried demonic cultivation in the first place because there was a war on, he got dumped in the Burial Mounds by jerk-off Wens, and he didn’t have a golden core. It wasn’t because he loved evil.”

You could hear a pin drop in the room.

Wow, I hate you so much, says Wei Wuxian, almost wondering.

“He what?” demands Zewu-jun, actually raising his actual voice. For once!

“Which part?” Jingyi asks, baffled.

“He didn’t have a golden core?!”

Oh shit. Jingyi figured that was just one more of those Yiling Patriarch lies, not that it was honestly something nobody knew. This is the problem with random-memory history lessons—they’re very incomplete. Also, holy crap, Jingyi was so much more right than he knew about Wei Wuxian causing himself problems by never telling the truth.

Did you seriously not tell anybody you didn’t have a golden core? Jingyi demands. How was that a good idea? They must’ve thought you were being shady for fun! How can you be so much smarter than me and so much dumber than me at the same time?!

I couldn’t tell Jiang Cheng—he’d never forgive himself

Okay, that part Jingyi knew about, and while he may have a brand new sympathy and understanding for Hanguang-jun’s implacable hatred of Sect Leader Jiang, he gets it in theory. If he’d ever hacked out part of his soul and given it to Sizhui, he definitely wouldn’t want Sizhui to know about it, because that’s enough to fuck a person up for life. Which is just one of the many reasons Jingyi would never do that. But okay.

I get that, he agrees reluctantly. But there was a guy running around crushing people’s cores all over the place. You could’ve just lied and said he did it. Why didn’t you?

They wouldn’t have let me fight.

Oh…yeah, that’s true. They totally wouldn’t have. Okay. Why didn’t you tell anybody after the war, then?

There’s a long silence, and then the breath of a sad whisper, My sister would’ve been upset.

The Yiling Patriarch, everyone. Dumb as a kitten who won’t come in out of the rain.

I heard that, Wei Wuxian complains, wounded.

Jingyi rolls his eyes and faces Sizhui and Zewu-jun, who are clearly horrified. “Yeah, he lost his golden core. He didn’t tell anybody about it because he figured nobody’d let him fight if they knew, and he’s probably right. But then after the war he didn’t tell anybody because—get this—he didn’t want to upset his sister.”

Zewu-jun gives a long sigh and lets his head fall forward like all his neck muscles just gave out. Jingyi understands him completely. Sizhui, meanwhile, seems appalled to learn that this much stupidity exists in the universe. And he doesn’t even know it’s his dad who’s this stupid. That might actually break him.

“He didn’t consider that his sister might be upset that he was practicing demonic cultivation? And refusing to tell her why?” Sizhui asks hesitantly, like he doesn’t want to believe this could possibly be true.

“Okay, here’s the thing,” Jingyi says a little louder than usual, pointlessly raising his voice to talk over Wei Wuxian’s feeble attempts at self-defense. (He’s yammering something about politics now, but come on, that was obviously an afterthought to all the stupid.) “I meant it about the self-esteem of seaweed. He really, honestly thinks he’s trash, and that almost anybody’s life is worth more than his.” That silences Wei Wuxian. Ugh, Jingyi hopes he’s not causing disharmony in his own brain right now. “So…I mean, he’s not actually an idiot. He’s a genius. He knows people worry about him, but he doesn’t…get it? At all? Like he doesn’t get how it can even be possible. So he makes stupid decisions because he’s trying not to hurt anybody, but he can’t wrap his head around the idea that the best way to do that is to not hurt himself.” Jingyi blames the parents. All four of them. (Because what kind of rogue cultivator doesn’t make plans for a night hunt going wrong? Doesn’t leave their kid with anyone to contact if they don’t come back? Night hunts go wrong all the time. Unimpressed, biological parents.)

Wei Wuxian seems more offended and confused than hurt or angry, so that’s a relief.

Meanwhile, Sizhui looks deeply sad, and Zewu-jun’s got that guilty face going on again. What does he think he did to Wei Wuxian? Because Wei Wuxian feels pretty good about him. (Not that that means much. Wei Wuxian isn’t even mad at Sect Leader Jiang.) It’s true that Jingyi’s living in a disturbing new reality where he’s suspicious of adults in general, but he’s respected Zewu-jun all his life. He really hopes Zewu-jun isn’t about to fuck that up for him.

“Lan Jingyi,” Zewu-jun says softly and politely. “Please allow me to speak with Wei-gongzi. I will not accuse him of anything. Given the circumstances, I can hardly condemn him for his use of demonic cultivation.”

Bullshit, says Wei Wuxian, incredulous.

Jingyi pictures him saying that to Zewu-jun’s face, and tries not to laugh. “Okay. If he’s okay with it. I mean…I don’t think I can wrestle him out if he doesn’t want to go.”

I’ll go, Wei Wuxian mutters unhappily. Lans. So stubborn.

And then Jingyi’s floating in jelly again. Which is fine at first, but gets very boring very quickly. Is this what Wei Wuxian does all day? Just…jelly-floats? But he always seems to know what Jingyi’s up to. How is that fair? Jingyi isn’t being allowed to eavesdrop at all!

Though he can at least follow what Wei Wuxian’s feeling, which is a whole lot of shock, guilt, painful sympathy, and wistfulness, so like. They’re definitely talking about Hanguang-jun out there. Come to think of it, Jingyi’s probably happier not knowing the details. He knows too much about that particular tragic love story as it is.

When he finally gets rudely shoved back in charge of his body, he notices that Zewu-jun looks grim and sad, but not angry. And Wei Wuxian is feeling many things, but he’s not actively upset. They had a good talk, then?

Jingyi will never know, because Wei Wuxian only shares fun stuff and horrifying flashbacks, and it looks like Sizhui got kicked out at some point for privacy. But…yeah, he’s okay with that. Sad love stories are sad.

You good? Jingyi asks while Zewu-jun goes out to call Sizhui back in.

I’m fine, Wei Wuxian says lightly, and he even seems to believe it. Which makes Jingyi wonder how exactly the idiot defines “fine,” because he feels like he’s about to cry.

You’re wrong, but nice try, Jingyi informs him, figuring this is as good an opportunity as any for this grown-ass ghost to start learning what emotions are.

“Wei-gongzi has agreed to an exorcism,” Zewu-jun explains when he comes back with Sizhui.

They’re kicking you out already? Jingyi asks, weirdly sad about it.

What, you got attached to me that quickly? Wei Wuxian asks, laughing like he can’t believe it.

Maybe! What’s wrong with that?!

Wei Wuxian laughs harder because he’s a jerk. He’s a jerk, and Jingyi is going to miss him anyway. Jingyi is going to miss being possessed, this is ridiculous.

Zewu-jun explains the exorcism plan to everybody. It seems like a good plan. Since Wei Wuxian isn’t remotely hostile and doesn’t even seem to know how to feel excessive attachment, it’s a gentle exorcism, meant to do the possessing spirit no harm. It should be easy on Jingyi, too, which is nice. He doesn’t love being put in the middle of an array again so soon, though. The last time turned out…badly.

He tries to distract himself by hoping that maybe Wei Wuxian will hang around and haunt them for a while, afterward. That’d be fun. Seriously unlikely (again, lack of excessive attachment), but fun.

Except the exorcism doesn’t work. It very much, absolutely does not work. In fact, if Jingyi had to guess, he would say this is probably what it would feel like if someone reached into your chest with spectral fingers and tried to yank your still-beating heart out through your ribcage.

The good news is, he passes out from the agony pretty quickly.

* * *

When Jingyi comes to, he’s in his own room and his own bed, and better-rested than he has been for a week. He actually lets himself believe, for a second, that the whole Yiling Patriarch thing was just a weird extended nightmare. That he feels sort of spiritually flayed because of a night hunt gone wrong or something.

Let’s never do that again, says the Yiling Patriarch haunting his brain, sounding as fragile as Jingyi feels.

Oh, well. It was a fun delusion while it lasted.

What the fuck happened? Jingyi demands.

I think…I should have worried more about the technical details of that ritual sacrifice, Wei Wuxian concedes.

How did it feel for you? Jingyi asks. Because for me it felt like my soul was getting ripped out.

Well, it seems like I’m somehow tied to your golden core, so…that’s pretty much what was happening! We’re lucky Zewu-jun pays attention.

Because if he hadn’t paid attention, he would’ve ripped out the Yiling Patriarch and Jingyi’s golden core, and then Jingyi would’ve had to turn to demonic cultivation himself. So the whole thing would’ve been a big waste of time, basically.

And then he realizes Wei Wuxian never answered his question, because of course he didn’t. How did it feel for you? he repeats stubbornly.

Long pause. Jingyi’s about to ask again when Wei Wuxian says, very quietly, Like I was being unmade.

Wow, yeah, we are never doing that again, Jingyi insists, panicked, and Wei Wuxian laughs because he’s weird.

Jingyi gives up on making Wei Wuxian act like a rational person and instead looks around for some clue as to what’s going on. And finds Sizhui, collapsed asleep by the side of Jingyi’s bed. Despite the fact that Sizhui’s bed is like…right there. Across the room. Why is Sizhui like this?

Jingyi pokes him obnoxiously on the top of his head until he wakes up, because stupid behavior begets stupid behavior. Jingyi chooses not to think about the fact that Wei Wuxian agrees with him on that.

Sizhui groggily slaps at Jingyi’s hand, complaining. This goes on for a while before Sizhui remembers what’s happening, at which point he sits bolt upright, cries, “Jingyi!” then jumps up and goes running out the door. Very dramatic.

Running is forbidden in the Cloud Recesses, Wei Wuxian points out smugly.

Right, he was a student here. Jingyi’s not sure how the Cloud Recesses survived long enough for the Wens to burn it down, because after six months of Wei Wuxian, it seems like it should’ve been ashes already.

In no time at all, Sizhui’s back, wide-eyed and frantic, dragging Zewu-jun behind him. Literally dragging him. That’s how you know Sizhui’s not dealing well—when he reverts to acting like he’s five.

Zewu-jun doesn’t seem to be doing great either, come to that. He looks pale and utterly freaked, actually, which is probably the scariest thing that’s happened today.

“I’m so sorry, Jingyi,” is the first thing he says.

“You don’t need to feel bad just because the Burial Mounds creeps were creepier than we thought, Zewu-jun.” He pauses to listen to Wei Wuxian. “Wei Wuxian wants to thank you for paying such close attention, because otherwise he and I would both have suffered terribly. So please don’t feel guilty.”

Who even knew Wei Wuxian knew how to be polite.

Zewu-jun just closes his eyes, pained.

Lans, Wei Wuxian sighs, exasperated. Really so stubborn. All of you!

I’m a treasure, Jingyi informs him.

Wei Wuxian laughs. Yeah, you are.

Jingyi beams. Then he looks at Zewu-jun, who’s given up looking agonized in favor of looking puzzled. “Just talking to my ghost,” Jingyi explains. “He agrees that I’m a treasure.”

Sizhui looks relieved that Jingyi’s acting like himself, and even Zewu-jun manages a tiny smile. “Ah. Good. Well…thank you both for your understanding. We will continue to look into an exorcism that won’t…”

Rip your soul right out of your body, Jingyi thinks, but politely doesn’t say. Wei Wuxian snickers because his polite hours are over, apparently.

“For the nightmares,” Zewu-jun continues once he’s got a grip. “There are various songs that might help with that. We’ll test one out every night before you sleep and find the most effective. I suspect Wei Wuxian’s natural tendency toward nightmares is being exacerbated by your…shared brain problem. So that will be the first priority. Making this livable for both of you.”

Sizhui looks eager to help, so Jingyi nods at him and Zewu-jun both, trying to ignore Wei Wuxian’s shock at being included in Zewu-jun’s worry. Wei Wuxian is a disaster.

Livable, ehhh? Jingyi thinks at him, taking pity.

It takes him a minute because he keeps forgetting he’s dead. Then he goes, Ehhhhhh? back with delight and enthusiasm. Makes sense that the Yiling Patriarch would have a pitch black sense of humor.

“The next step will be, as I said, finding a better exorcism,” Zewu-jun goes on. “With your permission, I would like to consult with my uncle on this.”

Noooo, Wei Wuxian wails. Not Lan Qiren! He’ll squash me like a bug!

You don’t like Uncle? Jingyi asks, surprised.

Well, he sure as hell doesn’t like me, Wei Wuxian mutters, and like…that’s true. Jingyi’s heard about the Yiling Patriarch from Lan Qiren in history class, and yikes, it feels personal. Though Lan Qiren never outright lied, at least. He just has a very different take on the Yiling Patriarch than Jingyi, probably because he doesn’t know him as well. He sees a loathsome heretic where Jingyi sees a self-destructive goofball.

Okay, murderous, self-destructive goofball. But only when provoked!

Wait, says Wei Wuxian, you call him Uncle? Seriously?

Yeah? Jingyi doesn’t understand the problem. I mean, not when we’re out in the world, or whatever. But if we’re in Gusu, he doesn’t mind.

This concept is apparently outside Wei Wuxian’s frame of reference.

He likes me, Jingyi carries on, entertained. I say all the things he can’t say because he’s too adult and important.

Wei Wuxian seems to feel this is somehow unfair.

“Consensus?” Zewu-jun asks, amused.

“Wei Wuxian thinks Uncle will squash him like a bug,” Jingyi relays, ignoring Wei Wuxian’s horrified screeching. Sooner or later, Wei Wuxian will learn what communicating actually means. Jingyi has to believe that.

“Yes, well. I think we will not be causing my uncle unnecessary stress by telling him who, exactly, is possessing you,” Zewu-jun says, proving once again why he’s the coolest Lan.

…Okay, no, Hanguang-jun is still the coolest Lan. But Zewu-jun is so close. So close.

“Then we’re fine with it,” Jingyi tells him.

Zewu-jun nods, smiles at everyone, instructs Sizhui to play Jingyi some brain-soothing song Jingyi’s never heard of, and then wanders off, probably to freak out in private. Jingyi worries about him sometimes.

Meanwhile, Sizhui worries about everyone always, and is currently sending fretful looks alternately at the door Zewu-jun disappeared out of and at Jingyi.

“Did they tell you what went wrong?” Jingyi asks.

“Mm…they said the Yiling Patriarch is attached to your golden core, and so in attempting to remove him…Jingyi, you screamed so much. You screamed like you were dying. I thought you were dying! I thought you were going to die right in front of me, and there was nothing I could—you were just—” And then he’s too choked up with tears to say any more.

Oh shit, says the ever-helpful Yiling Patriarch.

Jingyi crawls out of bed to join Sizhui on the floor and fling his arms around him. Sizhui hugs back like he’s drowning and Jingyi is the only driftwood in sight. “I’m alive,” Jingyi says. “And even if we’d done the whole exorcism, I wouldn’t have died, okay? You wouldn’t have had to watch me die. I would’ve had no golden core, and that would’ve seriously, seriously sucked, but I still would’ve been here. Right?”

Sizhui nods against his shoulder, still crying. Sizhui always cries quietly, muffling what little noise he makes like he’s terrified of being caught. It’s always been upsetting, and it’s worse now.

“And Zewu-jun is freaked out forever,” Jingyi continues desperately, “so he’ll be super careful about trying anything again. Maybe he never will! Maybe I’ll just have a brain friend all my life, and it’ll be the awkwardest thing in the world!”

Absolutely the most awkward, Wei Wuxian agrees ungraciously.

Sizhui nods again, seemingly a bit soothed, but still sniffling.

“And you’re gonna play brain-calming songs for me and Wei Wuxian when we need to sleep—which is not now, we just woke up. What time is it, even?”

“Three in the afternoon,” Sizhui answers in a wavering, unsteady little voice.

“Hah! Zewu-jun wanted to send us back to sleep in the middle of the afternoon. But yeah, eventually you’ll play us to sleep, and then we’ll get to sleep without nightmares, and that’ll be because of you. So don’t cry, okay? You’re freaking out the Yiling Patriarch.”

It’s true, Wei Wuxian thinks earnestly.

Sizhui laughs. “Okay,” he says, voice only wobbling slightly. Sizhui is the best.

Meanwhile, it’s a damn good thing Jingyi’s parents are doing a six-month medical tour of the smaller sects right now, because if they’d been here to see this, Zewu-jun would be dead. It wouldn’t be fair, but there it is. Jingyi’s mother is a vengeful mother.

* * *

It takes two incredibly boring weeks before Zewu-jun, Lan Qiren, and Sizhui all agree to let Jingyi out on a night hunt again. The first week, he doesn’t argue. Who knows what that soul-ripping weirdness even did to him? Anyway, he’s still recovering from sleep deprivation, so yeah, he’ll happily take a break.

But then another week passes, and Jingyi feels fine. Wei Wuxian also feels fine, for a dead guy. Jingyi’s bored. Wei Wuxian is also bored, which is a much more serious problem. And they won’t. Let them. Leave. Gusu. They won’t even let them leave the Cloud Recesses! Jingyi is losing his mind, and Wei Wuxian is losing his mind inside Jingyi’s mind, and yeah. Jingyi’s had enough, and he’s making it everyone’s problem.

Except Sizhui’s, because Sizhui is impervious to Jingyi’s tantrums. He even thinks the whole possession thing is hilarious now that he’s confident Jingyi isn’t going to die of it. Sizhui has a sick sense of humor. Probably because he grew up on a pile of corpses. Like. That’d turn anybody strange.

In the end, it only takes two dedicated days of being a whiny pain in the ass before Zewu-jun agrees to let Jingyi go on a night hunt. Jingyi is delighted and Wei Wuxian is impressed. Sizhui is indulgent, but everyone knows that’s only on the condition that he also goes on the night hunt. Sizhui has politely but immovably glued himself to Jingyi’s side since the exorcism-gone-wrong, and nobody’s dumb enough to argue with him about it.

Zewu-jun is still being a little overprotective, though, because he’s decided that Jingyi can only go on a night hunt if Hanguang-jun is leading it, which means they have to wait for Hanguang-jun to come home. Still, at least there’s something specific to wait for. And besides, Hanguang-jun is worth waiting for—he’s a badass, and night hunts with him are the best.

Well…normally they’re the best. This time, though, Jingyi’s going to have to spend the whole trip worrying about the emotional state of the lovelorn ghost in his head. The ghost who hasn’t seen Hanguang-jun since…oh wow, since he died.

It’s going to be super awkward, Jingyi just knows it.

* * *

It actually isn’t as awkward as Jingyi expected. Well, not at first.

It only takes Hanguang-jun a week and a half to come home, and he doesn’t believe in sitting around, so they leave for the night hunt two days after that. Which means Jingyi and Wei Wuxian don’t actually get to see him until he meets up with everyone at the gate that morning.

Much to Jingyi’s amazement, Wei Wuxian doesn’t freak at the sight of Hanguang-jun. He does go dead silent, though, almost like when he’s “napping,” and then stays silent for ages. They make it the entire two day trip to the town with the haunting before he says anything at all, or emotes above a dull background vibe. So it’s not awkward, but it is freaky. It’s a downright relief to finally hear Wei Wuxian’s voice at the end of day two.

How long has he been like this? he asks quietly.

Hanguang-jun? Jingyi replies, confused.

Yes.

Like what? This is just…him. This is normal.

Or, okay, apparently it’s not normal, because Wei Wuxian just got very, very sad. And now he’s showing Jingyi a bunch of memories.

Hanguang-jun chasing him around the rooftops of the Cloud Recesses. Being hilariously bitchy at him about rule-breaking. Fretting about his health. Freaking about porn. Sassing Jins. Singing. Being all cute with baby Sizhui. Being super pissed at Wens. Looking up at a bunch of falling flower petals, content and pleased.

And seeing all that, and then looking at current Hanguang-jun…it’s like he’s turned into a washed-out ghost of himself. Jingyi always thought he was super calm, but maybe it’s more like he’s miserable. And…angry.

Does this mean Hanguang-jun has been pissed off and depressed Jingyi’s entire life? Like sure, that was awful, how Wei Wuxian died. It would definitely mess a person up. But it’s been years. It’s been most of Jingyi’s life! The man just doesn’t let shit go, does he?

He does not, Wei Wuxian agrees, fond and sad.

Wild. And terrible, too. Jingyi always thought Hanguang-jun seemed like a different person around Sizhui, and he is. He’s the old version of himself. Which means Sizhui isn’t so much the only one who makes Hanguang-jun happy as he is the only one who makes him feel normal. This is so upsetting. Jingyi hates this love story.

He’d expected to spend the whole night hunt worrying about Wei Wuxian, but no, it’s Hanguang-jun who’s the problem. Jingyi keeps comparing current behavior to past behavior and then fretting and wringing his hands. It doesn’t help that Wei Wuxian is doing the exact same thing.

It also doesn’t help that the night hunt turns out to be the world’s most boring haunting. The ghost is seriously just a lady who was worried that no one would take care of her ducks after she died. They’re not domesticated ducks or anything—they’re wild lake ducks. She’d throw them bread sometimes. They are not going to miss her, though it takes a stupidly long time to convince her of that.

But the downright silliness of it means there’s nothing to distract Jingyi from the real crisis, which is this: is Hanguang-jun planning to be this tragic version of himself forever?

Do something! Wei Wuxian demands, which is easy for him to say. What can Jingyi do? He’s not anybody special to Hanguang-jun.

Make him give you a weird look! Wei Wuxian orders.

…There’s so much that’s wrong with you.

Look, it’s better than nothing!

And that’s why it’s Wei Wuxian’s fault when Jingyi sidles up to Hanguang-jun on their way home from the night hunt and asks the first random question that comes to mind.

“Hanguang-jun? Did Jin Guangshan have a potbelly?”

Yep, that’s a blatant facial expression. A flabbergasted one. Jingyi has succeeded—and he’s also made Wei Wuxian laugh his spectral ass off (mostly in relief), which is good.

“…He did not,” Hanguang-jun says eventually, staring at Jingyi.

“I didn’t think so. Thank you, Hanguang-jun!” Jingyi says, retreating back to the rest of the disciples and mercifully sparing Hanguang-jun his confusing presence. He firmly ignores Sizhui’s incredulous side-eye.

Wait, yes he did, Wei Wuxian insists, side-tracked. I remember him with a potbelly!

I know you do, that’s why I had to ask, you weirdo, Jingyi snaps. Even when you remember people, you remember them weird!

I remember what matters, Wei Wuxian informs him.

It’s true from a certain point of view. Jingyi’s not going to think about it too hard because he’s cried enough about Wei Wuxian already.

* * *

Possessed life continues pretty quietly. Lan Qiren and Zewu-jun don’t make any real progress in fixing the…is it rude to call him a problem? Wei Wuxian isn’t a problem, but possession is a problem, so Jingyi’s calling it a problem. Anyway, Jingyi’s no closer to being exorcized.

But now that Zewu-jun and Sizhui have found them a good song (apparently it’s a combination of brain-soothing and spirit-soothing, which makes sense), they can sleep. Well, most of the time, anyway. They’re down to hideous nightmares once every two weeks or so, and that’s nothing. Life is beautiful once it includes sleep. Anything else, Jingyi’s prepared to live with. Even the awful, secondhand memories.

After another month, even Sizhui starts easing up on his overprotectiveness, and Jingyi gets put back on the regular Junior roster for night hunts. He’s super excited about it right up until he realizes who’s heading the next one. It’s Lan Yanfeng, and that’s so unfair. A brutal turnaround, too, coming on the heels of Hanguang-jun, who is awesome even while chronically sad.

Lan Yanfeng, on the other hand, is a petty, smug little tyrant who isn’t half as talented as he thinks he is. He has a problem with everyone better than him and Sizhui in particular, and that makes Jingyi murderous. There are a bunch of rules about how wrong it is to loathe someone with every fiber of your being, but Jingyi takes one look at Lan Yanfeng and forgets them all.

Want me to kill him and make it look like an accident? asks Wei Wuxian with casual, bloodthirsty interest. It’s…well, it’s nice that he likes Sizhui. But still.

No, Jingyi insists. No murder in the Cloud Recesses.

We’re not in the Cloud Recesses, Wei Wuxian points out.

No murder of allies!

Is he really an ally, though? He has a face like he’d stab you in the back given half a chance. I’m serious, it wouldn’t be hard to get rid of him.

I need you to be a little less Yiling Patriarch right now, Jingyi snaps impatiently.

Long, uncomfortable silence. Then, just when Jingyi’s starting to worry he’s actually pissed Wei Wuxian off, he hears, …Light maiming? Or you could beat him up yourself and blame it on me. Zewu-jun would believe you!

Jingyi muffles a scream into his sleeve, attracting an alarmed look from Sizhui.

He starts to think he should’ve let Wei Wuxian do a little light maiming, though, when they get to town and Lan Yanfeng immediately sends Sizhui off to arrange rooms and food, while the rest of them go to deal with the problem. He is that worried about Sizhui being better than him in front of people.

Pathetic but not dangerous, Wei Wuxian observes thoughtfully. At least he’s not trying to shove Sizhui into danger alone and get him killed.

Which makes Jingyi suspect that people who didn’t like teenaged Wei Wuxian did shove him into danger and try to get him killed, so now he’s enraged on behalf of Sizhui and Wei Wuxian.

And then, just to add to how much fun this trip is, they no sooner find the problem—yaoguai, specifically a herd of weird, nightmarish, skeletal deer, which, what the fuck—than Lan Yanfeng manages to get his stupid ass flung into a tree by undead deer antlers. It knocks him out, so now there are just a bunch of juniors. All alone. With monster deer. And since Lan Yanfeng ditched Sizhui in town, Jingyi is the most senior disciple here, which means he’s in charge, which is why everyone is looking at him. He is not ready for this level of responsibility. Also, if Sizhui were here, he’d have taken out half the monster deer already.

Basically, if a monster deer eats Lan Yanfeng, it’s no more than he deserves.

How do we fight them?! Jingyi demands of the famous cultivator living in his head.

I dunno, says Wei Wuxian. Shoot ‘em, I guess. I wouldn’t get too close if I were you. Which…I kind of am, right now, so be careful. Seriously, undead deer? Weird.

Wei Wuxian is useless. Still, Jingyi pulls out his bow and tells everyone to stay far away from the deer and shoot at them, because he’ll take whatever limited advice he gets. And shooting them does seem to work. But not well enough.

You’re holding your arms wrong, says Jingyi’s suddenly helpful mass murderer.

You do it, then, Jingyi snaps, angry, stressed, and in no mood.

You said it, kid, says Wei Wuxian with a laugh, and then he just…

It really does feel like getting cheerfully elbowed out of the way. Only it’s getting elbowed out of control of his own body and into black jelly instead. Jingyi’s life is so weird.

Pay attention, Wei Wuxian orders firmly.

And Jingyi does. Because he can, for a change. Seems like Wei Wuxian was really trying to block him out during the whole…murder thing. And the Zewu-jun talk, too. But now Jingyi can see, and he can even feel his body a little—he can feel it move into a different position (elbow up, shoulders open, wider stance), and then release an arrow.

And it’s perfect. Hits the monster deer thing right in the eye. Just that easily, Wei Wuxian takes out another one. Then another one after that, and they’re officially not outnumbered anymore.

Let me try! Jingyi says, excited, and Wei Wuxian laughs and lets Jingyi haul himself back into control of his body.

They mess around like that for the rest of the hunt, taking out undead deer like professionals and impressing the hell out of the rest of the juniors, and it’s—Jingyi is improving like crazy, because learning-by-possession is seriously effective. He gets that he can’t exactly go to Hanguang-jun and recommend it as a training method, but he wishes he could. All the words in the world are no substitute for having someone just do it for you until you work out how to do it yourself. Wild.

Also, hey, Wei Wuxian is a badass. Obviously Jingyi knew that—Wei Wuxian is famously (infamously?) a badass. But somehow feeling the guy shoot, watching him hit every target like magic…it’s something else again. And a much nicer display of awesomeness than, say, coming to after a short interval to find all your kidnappers gruesomely murdered. (Not that that wasn’t appreciated at the time. It’s just that it was more freaky than badass.)

Once the deer are all dead (…more dead), they pile their bodies up in a clearing and burn them. That done, Jingyi instructs Lan Xuanhui to take Lan Yanfeng back to town, get him medical care, and try to find the inn Sizhui booked for them. She agrees. Jingyi…wasn’t expecting her to grab Lan Yanfeng by the neck of his robes and drag him to town, but he’s not gonna say anything about it, either. (Wei Wuxian is laughing himself metaphorically sick.)

Jingyi takes the rest of the disciples to report their success to the townspeople, who are pretty excited not to have skeletal deer lurking in their woods anymore (fair). After that, they finally get to troop back to the inn for dinner and washing up, which is great and relaxing. But then the fun is over, because their Senior fucked up, and that means they’ve all got to write up a report for this. A long report, because yaoguai don’t come from nowhere. Gusu Lan needs to have the whole story so they can do a follow-up.

Wei Wuxian is not helpful when it comes to writing reports. Wei Wuxian is the opposite of helpful.

At least Sizhui keeps Jingyi company during report hell, but normally Sizhui would be writing his own report and pointing out things Jingyi missed, and this time he can’t, because certain assholes kept him away from the hunt.

Said asshole is supposed to make a full recovery. Which. Good. For him.

Still, despite Lan Yanfeng’s best efforts, the absence of Sizhui, and even the awful report, it was a fun hunt overall. Busy, too, which is why it’s only when Jingyi’s getting ready for bed that it sinks in that he just…casually, repeatedly let the Yiling Patriarch take over his body today, with every expectation that the guy would give it back without argument. And he was right about that.

The Yiling Patriarch, who helps him and protects him and teaches him to fight better. The Yiling Patriarch, who Jingyi trusts absolutely.

Good night, Senior Wei, he thinks firmly, and falls asleep with a smile on his face, refusing to address Senior Wei’s alarmed bafflement.

* * *

Not much is said in response to everyone’s reports from that night hunt. On the other hand, Lan Yanfeng doesn’t lead any more night hunts. In fact, Lan Yanfeng has suddenly been deemed of critical importance to the library preservation project. Which means, in practice, that he’s copying out important texts all day every day. The Lan have been very careful with their library since the time they almost lost it. No one would describe this task as punishment. At least, not to Lan Yanfeng’s face.

Zewu-jun is a little bit evil, huh? Senior Wei asks, obviously delighted.

Unfortunately, Senior Wei’s enthusiasm about Lan Yanfeng’s fate only carries him so far, and within a few days he’s back to being bored. So bored. Bored beyond either his or Jingyi’s capacity to deal with it.

Jingyi starts letting him take over the body every other evening so he can invent stuff. Probably there are a lot of people who would disagree with this decision, but fortunately none of those people know about it.

“He’s a genius,” Jingyi tells Sizhui a week into this arrangement, while Senior Wei is “napping” (or, more likely, coming up with more deranged, revolutionary cultivation ideas in private).

“People do say that,” Sizhui agrees. “It’s why we use his talismans. And his compasses of evil. And his—”

“No, it’s—I mean, I knew he was a genius, but it’s different when it’s happening in your own head and you’re watching it happen. It’s like watching a really good artist. You can see every line they paint, and it seems so simple, but you know you’d never be able to do it yourself. Not in a million years. You know?”

“No.” Sizhui looks kind of jealous. Which he should be, really, because he has way more right to Senior Wei-related insights than Jingyi does. On the other hand, the nightmares would definitely hit him harder.

Well, Jingyi can’t do anything about it either way. Life sucks and is unfair, and this is not news. “Do you want to come watch him work?” Jingyi asks, figuring it’s a decent compromise. “You can watch from outside his head and I can watch from inside his head, and neither of us will have a goddamn idea what he’s up to.”

Sizhui beams.

And so it is that Sizhui joins them in the library for Senior Wei’s next inventing evening. It’s even more fun than usual, because Sizhui isn’t shy about asking questions. Jingyi was afraid to interrupt Senior Wei’s flow, but apparently Sizhui doesn’t give a fuck. And he’s right, because Senior Wei seems to thrive on distractions. Unless he’s gone really deep into inventing, in which case he doesn’t even hear Sizhui, so it doesn’t matter.

Within a month, the lunatic’s invented three new talismans. Three. They don’t do anything too splashy—one keeps food cool, one cleans clothes, and the last one makes a sort of self-sticking bandage for injuries. Not glamorous, but they make life so much easier.

Senior Wei doesn’t get why Jingyi and Sizhui are so excited about them. He seems convinced that somebody’s already come up with talismans like this and just hasn’t bothered to share them because they’re boring. Apparently he’s totally unaware that normal people could fund years of a pretty expensive lifestyle off the sales of just one of these talismans.

Jingyi enjoys taking the talismans one by one to Zewu-jun and just…admiring the face that happens. Zewu-jun is normally almost as unreadable as Hanguang-jun, if in a smilier way, but this? It’s getting to him.

* * *

Five months after Jingyi gets possessed, his parents come home from their trip. Everyone who knows about the possession agrees that Jingyi should not tell his parents about it.

His mom figures it out in under ten minutes.

First it’s, “What’s wrong with you?” Then it’s, “You seem distracted, Jingyi. And you keep smiling at nothing. What’s going on with you?” And then, inevitably, it’s, “Are you possessed? You’re possessed, aren’t you! Does Zewu-jun know about this?!”

Your mother is amazing, Jingyi, Senior Wei says, clearly in awe.

In the end, Jingyi has to admit to everything. Well, he admits that he got caught by demonic cultivators and ended up with a ghost attached to his golden core. He doesn’t tell them who the ghost is, because he’s not up to the hours of soothing he’d have to do afterward.

Dad is appalled, as predicted. Also as predicted, Mom finds the whole thing hilarious once she’s convinced that the ghost is nice, didn’t possess Jingyi on purpose, and is not hurting him. She and Sizhui have a very similar sense of humor, come to think of it.

“Well, let me talk to your ghost, then,” Mom says, as if this is the only reasonable next step.

“What?” Jingyi yelps.

“There’s a strange man hanging around in my son’s head, Jingyi,” Mom explains patiently. “Of course I want to speak to him.”

“But Uncle and Zewu-jun have both talked to him already. Sizhui even talked to him! He’s fine!”

“Why don’t you want us to meet your ghost friend, Jingyi?” Dad asks suspiciously.

Okay! Senior Wei cuts in. Let me talk to your parents, I guess. Although I honestly don’t know whether that’ll make them feel better or worse.

Worse, Jingyi predicts gloomily. “You can’t ask him what his name is,” he insists.

“…Why?”

Jingyi is doing nothing to make Dad less suspicious, he sees. “Because you’ll have a whole bunch of ideas about who he is if you know his name, but I’ve seen his memories, and I know you’ll be wrong. So…please don’t ask. Just talk to him.”

Dad scowls. Mom wipes a fake tear away and murmurs, “My baby, all grown up and bossing me.”

Jingyi loves his parents dearly, but also he hates them so much sometimes.

Senior Wei, meanwhile, is delighted and baffled by this entire conversation. Jingyi’s not surprised. He’s pretty sure Senior Wei has never even seen a functioning family up close before. Go for it, Jingyi tells him, resigned.

Senior Wei’s hesitant this time—it’s not so much being elbowed into the jelly as it is being gently guided into the jelly. And then Senior Wei bows inappropriately low and says, “This one apologizes for being a burden to your son.”

Stop that! Jingyi demands. Don’t be weird!

Senior Wei ignores him.

“My, so polite,” Mom says, sounding sarcastic. Dad gives an approving hum, though, so that’s something. “But no need to stand on such ceremony. After all, you’re very close with our son, intentionally or otherwise.”

Senior Wei sits up, and wow, he feels hideously uncomfortable.

Mom is not Madam Yu, Jingyi says worriedly. She’s pretty much nothing like Madam Yu, Senior Wei. She’s kinda like Sizhui, actually.

I’m not possessing Sizhui’s son, Senior Wei points out, not calming down at all.

“Are you a cultivator?” Mom asks while Dad studies Jingyi’s face with a disturbed expression. (What does it look like when Senior Wei is using Jingyi’s face, anyway? It must be so creepy.)

“I was,” Senior Wei allows.

“Were you Gusu Lan?” Mom asks, not asking his name, but definitely sneaking all around it.

“Yunmeng Jiang,” Senior Wei admits. Jingyi wonders if that was a good idea.

“Hm,” says Dad. “I hope you’re not filling Jingyi’s head with those things Yunmeng Jiang likes to call sword forms.”

And there it is.

“…You have a problem with our sword forms?” It’s like Senior Wei doesn’t know whether to crack up or be outraged.

Dad makes a face. “Sloppy.”

“Unpredictable,” counters Senior Wei.

“Yes, yes,” Dad sighs. “And running at the enemy naked would be unpredictable too, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.”

Dad is a doctor who has never once fought in a battle. Does Dad remember that?

Have you been teaching our son sword forms?” Mom cuts in brightly.

“I’ve only been training him in Lan forms, I promise,” Senior Wei swears, grinning and clapping a dramatic hand over his heart. (Well. Jingyi’s heart.) Apparently he’s forgotten about being formal. “But I don’t know them well, so mostly I’ve stuck to archery and a little bit of talisman work.”

Show them your new talismans, Jingyi tells him.

Senior Wei shrugs and does. Mom and Dad are just as impressed as they ought to be, and by the time the three of them are done analyzing the finer points of use for the talismans, it’s ten minutes to curfew and Jingyi just about has time to say goodbye.

When they’re all in the Cloud Recesses, Jingyi has tea with his parents once a week. Nothing about that changes now except that Senior Wei comes too. By the third visit, Senior Wei and Mom have bonded over talismans and how boring Cloud Recesses food is, and Senior Wei and Dad have bonded over talking shit about every other sect’s sword forms, and twice as much shit about the Jin.

After that, Dad starts collecting books on famous swords for Senior Wei to borrow, and Mom starts making food for him. Which is weird, because they’ve only got Jingyi’s body. Like, Mom’s given them one portion, but half of it is normal and half of it is so spicy Jingyi’s tongue is still burning when he’s back in control of the body.

Senior Wei is now officially Jingyi’s weird uncle. It’s fine.