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The One-Body Problem

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It’s been six whole months, and they are still making no progress on Jingyi’s exorcism. Zewu-jun isn’t sleeping enough and Uncle is starting to pull out his own beard.

Jingyi, meanwhile, feels bad about how little he cares about being exorcized. But…it’s just like having a roommate who never goes out? It’s not ideal, but it’s not awful. He and Senior Wei try to give each other as much space as they can, and they trade off the body every once in a while so Senior Wei can, like, stretch his legs. They’re used to it. They’re over it.

Nobody else is, though. Well, nobody except Jingyi’s parents, who accepted Senior Wei into the family with alarming speed, and Sizhui, who seems pleased he’s gained two friends for the price of one. (Senior Wei and Sizhui get on like a house on fire, which kind of kills Jingyi.)

The only downsides, as far as Jingyi’s concerned, are the occasional horrible memories (though Senior Wei is either getting better at hiding them or isn’t feeling them as intensely), the occasional horrible nightmare (very rare now that Sizhui plays for them before bed), and the way Senior Wei is an awful, enabling bad influence.

That last thing is the reason Jingyi is copying out Conduct for what has to be the twentieth time this month. Senior Wei missed Emperor’s Smile, so Jingyi let him have the body to go drink some. Under the circumstances, Uncle wasn’t willing to accept My ghost made me do it as an excuse.

This is all your fault, Jingyi thinks resentfully.

Is it? Senior Wei replies idly, so busy planning out some kind of resentful energy purifying talisman that he’s barely listening. Because you didn’t take much persuading.

Okay, maybe not, but I would never have come up with it on my own!

Hmm. Sizhui’s told me stories, you know.

Sizhui is a traitor.

I honestly don’t understand how someone like you survives with all these rules, anyway, Senior Wei goes on, focusing on the conversation for the first time.

There are too many rules to obey, Jingyi explains. Too many for anybody to obey. I don’t think the Lan elders thought that through, because what the Lan rules actually teach you is how to not get caught. Also how to pick which rules are worth breaking. And you screwed up both of those things for me, just saying.

Long silence. And then Senior Wei says, in a thoughtful tone, I guess no one ever told Lan Zhan that.

Jingyi hesitates. The thing is, he also used to believe that Hanguang-jun obeyed all the rules. Or, well, definitely the important ones. But he’s gotten a horrifying amount of perspective on Hanguang-jun lately, and he’s starting to think that what he took for obedience was actually just broken-hearted apathy.

Also it sometimes seems like the elders are kind of…afraid of Hanguang-jun. Jingyi cannot imagine them ever questioning or criticizing a single thing he does. That means Hanguang-jun is totally self-policed, and could maybe be breaking all kinds of rules? It’s hard to picture—Jingyi’s never seen him break a rule. Still, it’s not like they’re always together or anything.

Jingyi decides not to touch on any of that today. Or possibly ever. Sizhui’s the best at it, he says instead.

The best at the rules?

The best at not getting caught. I swear he breaks more rules than anybody, but he never gets caught, Senior Wei. It’s kind of annoying.

Sizhui? Senior Wei asks, shocked. Our Sizhui?

Yeah, Jingyi confirms. Secret rebel against stupid rules.

Senior Wei laughs, delighted. He must’ve been a great parent for Sizhui, back when. In case Jingyi needed more sad thoughts to brood over.

Not that Hanguang-jun is bad! He’s an awesome parent. And, come to think of it, Sizhui’s entire everything is yet more proof that Hanguang-jun doesn’t give a shit about rules. Firstly, Sizhui’s a Wen, and not just any Wen, but the Yiling Patriarch’s kid, which…yeah, that’s not allowed. Secondly, he does whatever the fuck he thinks is right, and if that happens to coincide with rules, it’s a pleasant bonus. Sizhui only remembers one parental figure, and he worships that parental figure. If Hanguang-jun had ever once indicated to him that the rules were more important than his personal moral compass, Sizhui would not engage in half the fuckery he engages in.

…Is Hanguang-jun also a secret, sneaky rebel?

There has to be some kind of upper limit to the number of personal crises the Yiling Patriarch can cause Jingyi, right? Because this is getting ridiculous.

Sizhui is a good, kind child, and definitely smarter than that rock you base your lives on, Senior Wei is insisting.

Of course he is, Jingyi agrees easily. He’s the best person in the Cloud Recesses. And he’s also an asshole, which is why I like him. Think how boring he’d be if he were just…good all the time. We would not hang out.

Senior Wei considers this. True, he eventually decides. He actually reminds me of Wen Ning.

The Ghost General? Jingyi asks incredulously. (Although he shouldn’t be incredulous, because haha! The Ghost General was totally Sizhui’s uncle or cousin or something, wasn’t he? This is insane.)

Yes, Senior Wei agrees absently. Wen Ning was a good, kind, gentle person. But he still drugged an entire building full of his relatives because he didn’t think what they were doing was morally correct. A flash of Lotus Pier, blood-soaked and covered in corpses, some of them children—and a young man in Wen red, babbling in panic at Senior Wei about saving Jiang Wanyin.

Whoa, says Jingyi, so confused he doesn’t even know where to start asking questions.

Right? Senior Wei replies wistfully. Wen Ning was the best. A parade of memories of Wen Ning doing objectively adorable things, both before and after he got zombified. Jingyi is actually angry he can’t meet this guy. He’s even angrier that Sizhui can’t.

And Jins are the worst, huh? Jingyi mutters bitterly.

And then, predictably in retrospect, Jingyi gets treated to a whole, long memory of the nightmare night when Senior Wei and Wen Qing found Wen Ning’s mostly-dead body in a Jin prison camp. Apparently Senior Wei’s been trying really hard to keep this memory from Jingyi, which is so, so appreciated. Jingyi’s incredibly sorry he messed that up for both of them with his stupid comments. Like, he’s gotten bits and pieces of that night in nightmares, but he never knew, before, how much of it was real. Too much, it turns out.

Wow, it’s like every time he thinks he can’t hate adults more? Senior Wei gives him new reasons to hate them more. And now he’s never going to be able to look at a Jin robe again without thinking of Wen Qing in the rain screaming her little brother’s name in agony. That’s not going to make life awkward at all.

“Jingyi?” calls Sizhui, who’s come to collect him from the library for dinner. “Why are you crying?!”

“Senior Wei’s life is upsetting,” he says, sobbing and not even feeling bad about it, because seriously—so upsetting. And Sizhui’s life is upsetting, too, and he doesn’t even know it, which shouldn’t make it worse but somehow does.

* * *

Jingyi’s still brooding about Senior Wei’s sad existence weeks later when he’s on gate duty, which is one of the world’s most boring jobs and doesn’t offer many distractions. (Though more distractions at the moment than usual: Nie Huaisang is visiting, and he can apparently only stand to be in the Cloud Recesses for twenty-four hours max before darting off to town for some vice or other. He’s been entertaining Jingyi and Senior Wei with his comings and goings all week.)

Knowing about Senior Wei’s sad story would be bad enough on its own, but it also comes with a boatload of guilt, because it means Jingyi knows more than he should about a ton of other people, too. Jingyi’s not used to this kind of problem—a having too much information and not sharing it problem. Normally he just says what he thinks when he thinks it, and deals with the consequences. Now, though, he not only has secrets, but they’re secrets that don’t belong to him, which means the consequences of talking about them wouldn’t be his consequences. He has no idea what to do with that, and it’s a disaster.

The first secret burning a hole in Jingyi’s pocket is Sizhui being Senior Wei’s kid. At first, Jingyi didn’t want to tell Senior Wei because he didn’t trust, well, the Yiling Patriarch. That time is long gone. Now he doesn’t want to tell because they hang out with Sizhui pretty much every day, and if Senior Wei knew who Sizhui was, that would be like constantly rubbing his face in what he can’t have. Wouldn’t it? Senior Wei knows A-Yuan survived and is a happy Lan disciple, and Jingyi is pretty sure that’s enough. And that more would be too much. Maybe. Maybe not. But the thing is, once he says something, he can’t unsay it, so he’s paralyzed with indecision, sitting on the whole problem like a chicken on an egg.

Similarly, Jingyi’s not telling Sizhui his dead dad is around, not when Sizhui’s just going to lose him again the second Jingyi gets exorcized. Same reason Hanguang-jun doesn’t get to find out about Jingyi’s ghost—though that choice, at least, isn’t just Jingyi’s. It’s Senior Wei’s, too. Jingyi’s decided not to ask him why, because the answer will definitely be depressing.

Is Jingyi confident about these choices? Not even a little. Jingyi is not temperamentally suited to be making big emotional decisions, but here and now, he’s the only one who can. It sucks.

And the last secret, one of the worst decisions of all, is about Jin Ling.

Jingyi has only met Jin Ling twice, and didn’t particularly care for him either time. But here’s the thing: Jingyi is currently in possession of hundreds of happy memories about Jin Ling’s parents (especially his mother) that Jin Ling will never have, and that is…unspeakably unfair, is what it is. It’s bad enough with Sizhui, who’s a friend, but how would Jin Ling feel, knowing that some asshole stranger remembers his parents when he can’t?

(Further on the list of things upsetting Jingyi: Jin Ling’s courtesy name is Rulan. Senior Wei named him. Senior Wei named him after Hanguang-jun. It’s just a never-ending parade of tragedy and missed opportunities, and Jingyi can’t handle it. He had a sheltered childhood, okay? He wasn’t prepared.)

Anyway, Jingyi can’t tell Jin Ling about Senior Wei. Out of sheer self-preservation, he can’t. That said, he’s got to do something about Jin Ling’s deal, because what he’s learned from sharing brain space with the Yiling Patriarch is that said Yiling Patriarch would never, ever have killed Jin Ling’s parents. Yeah, he thinks he lost control, and maybe he did? But he has those nightmares about a second flute, and Jingyi’s inclined to believe them, even if Senior Wei thinks it was just a hallucination. (To be fair, he was hallucinating kind of a lot back then.)

But it’s just easier to believe someone would set Senior Wei up than it is to believe he’d lose control of his cultivation. Senior Wei worried about his cultivation all the time—he spent a huge amount of energy trying to keep it in check. But politics? Yeah, he didn’t give a single fuck about that. In fact, he went around alienating everybody with power in the cultivation world like it was his job. Nie Mingjue, who was Chifeng-zun, who was the actual general in charge of the war, once asked a totally reasonable question about why Senior Wei took a hard left into shady cultivation for no apparent reason, and Senior Wei told him to go piss up a rope.

Senior Wei was barely older than Jingyi back then. He was messed up to begin with, and then he lost his golden core and got basically tortured for three months, so it’s no surprise that he made a huge number of stupid-ass decisions. It’s not really his fault, but…

Well, he made himself an enormous target pretty much on purpose. And that would’ve been his prerogative if he’d just kept that target on himself, but no. Instead, he ran off with a bunch of people who also had targets on them, so their two targets combined into one bigger target, and he still didn’t make any effort to patch up his public image. Worse—he deliberately cut all the helpful ties he did have.

Basically, if somebody wanted to frame Senior Wei, they could’ve used the frame Senior Wei built around himself with his own two hands. He gift-wrapped himself. If there’s a point at which political stupidity becomes criminal, Senior Wei blew right past it, and it got practically everybody he ever promised to protect killed.

(Jingyi is keeping these thoughts buried very, very deep down. Firstly, because there’s no point in sharing them—Senior Wei is dead, so he can’t mess up like that again. Being dead means never having to learn from your mistakes. Secondly, because Jingyi knows he would’ve fucked everything up just as badly, if differently, if it’d been him in Senior Wei’s place. And finally, because the last thing Senior Wei’s fragile sanity needs is him knowing Jingyi blames him a little for getting his favorite people killed. But wow. Wow, Senior Wei. At least he’s a great cautionary tale.)

Anyway, bottom line: if somebody set Senior Wei up, which would’ve been incredibly easy, it means somebody other than Senior Wei killed Jin Ling’s parents. And that somebody is probably still alive.

Which may just mean that Jin Ling is on borrowed time.

…Yeah, no. Jingyi’s not figuring this one out alone. This is wholesale murder conspiracy stuff. It’s not personal at all, and that means he can totally cry to Sizhui about it. He can cry to Zewu-jun about it, even if that’ll make Senior Wei throw a tantrum.

Cry to Nie Huaisang about it, Senior Wei suggests after Jingyi fills him in on the Jin Ling-related brooding. He’s a schemer.

This is weird advice from a guy who’s been very serious, grim, and determined on the subject of Jin Ling’s safety up to now.

Nie Huaisang? Jingyi asks hesitantly. Head-Shaker Nie Huaisang? The guy who responds to every single question with, “I don’t know, I don’t know anything”? That Nie Huaisang?

Senior Wei laughs for a long time, warm and fond. Nie-xiong is one of the smartest people I know, he insists. He’s a ball of nerves, he hates responsibility, and he’s not great at fighting, but he’s sharp, especially about people. He may be pretending not to know anything, but he is pretending. Go ahead, ask him—see if he’ll slip up a little because you’re young.

Huh. Senior Wei thinks the Head-Shaker has been fucking with everybody for a decade, and if anybody would recognize that kind of thing, it’d be Senior Wei. That’s…Jingyi is actually not as surprised by that as he should be. Sect Leader Nie gravitates like a little moon toward anybody talking shit at every single public event, which is the sign of a gossip, a shit-stirrer, or a schemer, right?

So Jingyi waits until he’s relieved from guard duty and hunts down Sect Leader Nie. It’s not hard, because Senior Wei seems to know all of the man’s possible hiding spots. Because they were friends who went to school together here.

Jingyi’s trying not to think about it.

They find him in the third place they look. Sect Leader Nie is sitting on the rocks overlooking the stream closest to the visiting disciples’ quarters, which makes Senior Wei feel all wistful for some reason.

As for Sect Leader Nie, he’s looking very…sad and exhausted? He definitely never looks like that when he thinks somebody’s watching. Is Jingyi going to have to start worrying about him, too? The Sunshot generation is so stressful.

“Sir?” he says quietly, politely ignoring the way Sect Leader Nie jumps and almost flails his way right into the water. “Sorry to bother you. I just had a question. About, um. Politics?”

“…You’re asking me about politics?” Sect Leader Nie asks incredulously, rebalancing himself on his rock, pulling his fan out of his belt, and abruptly looking convincingly airheaded and Head-Shaker-like. “Me?

Senior Wei laughs, and Jingyi smiles. Jingyi totally would have bought this act if Senior Wei weren’t in his head, and he’s impressed. Sizhui is his best friend—he’s very used to people with lying faces, and still, he would’ve fallen for this. He thinks Sect Leader Nie may just be a shit-stirrer and a schemer. “Yes, sir. I know somebody who went to school with you here, and he claims you can help. I don’t know, Sect Leader Nie. He’s a weird guy.”

Sect Leader Nie peers curiously over his fan. “And who is this friend of yours?”

“He said he wanted to remain nameless,” Jingyi explains. “And then he cackled.” He is, in fact, cackling right now. He’s not as funny as he thinks he is.

Sect Leader Nie’s eyes narrow slightly. “…Do you know how to play Inquiry?”

Jingyi blinks. Non-Lans do not usually know about Inquiry. Then again, the Nie brothers have always been close with Zewu-jun, so. “No? My friend Sizhui does, though.”

“Hm,” says Sect Leader Nie, closing his fan gently and tapping it against his lips. “You know some interesting people.”

He thinks you’re talking to dead me, Senior Wei explains. And I mean…he’s not wrong. Tell him that fan is a cheap knockoff compared to his favorite one.

I am not telling him that, Jingyi hisses, appalled. It’s a lie, anyway. That fan probably costs more than Jingyi’s life.

“Well, since we apparently have an acquaintance in common,” Sect Leader Nie says, smiling and fanning himself idly. “I’ll do my best to answer your question. But I really don’t know anything about politics.”

Such a bullshit artist, Senior Wei says fondly. Be very general, because there’s no way he’ll answer a detailed, real-life question right now. Look at that face. He knows nothing professionally, and he’s not gonna fuck that up for you.

Jingyi resists the urge to roll his eyes, but follows the advice. When this is over, he is totally crying to Zewu-jun about the Jin Ling problem. With names and details.

“Okay, so. I think…one of my friends might be in trouble? Like. A lot of people around him have dropped dead. Most of the adults in his life, actually. And his parents’ deaths got blamed on this one guy, but then that guy also conveniently dropped dead. I guess I’m asking how you can tell if there’s a massive conspiracy around your friend. Like, how much should I be worried about him? And how would you figure out who set that up, if somebody actually did?”

Sect Leader Nie gazes at Jingyi over his fan, looking confused and worried and not at all like someone with insight into politics.

“Well,” he murmurs eventually, “this is probably not very good advice—you should really be asking your seniors about this kind of thing, you know—but if I had to guess…I’d say that when you find a series of events that appear connected, but have no obvious instigator, the first thing to ask yourself is who benefits.”

“Who…benefits?”

“Mm, I think so. Say some people die, others are disgraced, a few more weakened—the first place you look for suspects is in the group that ends on top. Not that that’s a guarantee. Opportunists aren’t necessarily instigators, and some instigators don’t do a good job of taking advantage of the chaos they created. Still, it’s a good place to start. I would think.”

“…So the whole Head-Shaker thing really is bullshit, huh?” Jingyi says, one shit-stirrer to another.

Sect Leader Nie flaps his fan around in a panic that might even be real. “I don’t know what you mean! It’s just something I read in a book, and probably not even good advice! You shouldn’t have asked me!”

Senior Wei is laughing again. Of course he is. He’s part of their shit-stirring club, too.

Jingyi has one more question, and he probably shouldn’t ask it, but Sect Leader Nie used to be Senior Wei’s friend and already thinks Jingyi is talking to his ghost. He’s asking. “Do you think somebody took down Se—the Yiling Patriarch on purpose?”

Sect Leader Nie goes very still, then snaps his fan closed and smiles at Jingyi with all the warmth and sincerity of a shark. “Oh, I really don’t know,” he says. “I don’t know anything. It was nice to meet you, Lan Jingyi.”

He stands up and starts to walk away, but pauses. “If you speak with my friend again,” he says quietly, seriously, not turning around, “tell him…that I’m grateful to him. For teaching me how to fish.”

And then he’s gone.

Well, says Senior Wei after a while. Good news, Jingyi! We don’t have to worry about Jin Ling after all, because I’m pretty sure Nie Huaisang figured everything out. I think he thinks there is a bad guy, and he’s probably going to kill the bad guy for us. Because that sure looked…how did his brother die, again?

Qi deviation.

Hm. I wonder if Nie-xiong agrees, Senior Wei murmurs. I wonder if he thinks the same guy got me and his brother? Because he wouldn’t get that upset over just me. I feel like if somebody took out his brother, though, that somebody is a dead man walking.

Since when is Sect Leader Nie terrifying? Jingyi demands.

He’s usually not, Senior Wei says thoughtfully. But you know, I always thought he could be, if you pushed him hard enough. And if somebody killed his brother and made it look like qi deviation? If that’s not a push, I don’t know what is.

That…makes sense, actually.

Wait, Jingyi says after a second. How did he know my name?!

Senior Wei just laughs unhelpfully.

* * *

Since there’s an actual, living adult dealing with the evil conspiracies in the cultivation world, Jingyi’s decided to ignore all that for now and just live his life. Mess around with Sizhui and Senior Wei. Have tea with the parents. Go on night hunts. Practice the regular way. Practice while possessed.

Possessed practicing is secretly his favorite—he’s learning by deranged leaps and bounds. It’s so fun. There’s no lift your arm like this, bend your knees like that. There’s not even any manhandling into the right position, which you’d think would be good enough, but somehow isn’t.

Nope, it’s just his body magically doing the right thing until he learns to imitate it. He has never had this much fun learning anything, ever, in his life.

“Jingyi, your improvement is remarkable,” Uncle says one day, maybe eight months post-possession. He sounds proud, which is nice, but also confused, which is insulting.

It turns out that being possessed is just an advanced form of cheating, Jingyi thinks but does not say. He thinks it loud enough for brain guests to hear, though, because Senior Wei laughs.

It’s a shame that it’s Jingyi’s favorite pastime that causes his next personal crisis.

It’s just that, after the whole monster deer fiasco, he decided to work hard on archery. Work hard with a side of Senior Wei cheating, so by now he’s really damn good at archery.

He’s so good he’s managed to beat Sizhui.

“Jingyi,” Sizhui says, beaming and delighted, “that was amazing! You’ve improved so much.”

He just…he just kicked Sizhui’s ass at archery. This isn’t right. Like, sure, under normal circumstances, it’d be cool to kick Sizhui’s ass for once, but not if it’s because Sizhui’s dad taught him how.

Hey, I’m a pretty good teacher, Senior Wei says, pleased with himself. Because he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know he just taught some random kid to beat his own son at archery. His son, who’s related to Wen Ning, who was so fucking good at archery.

Jingyi is a thieving bastard traitor.

Why are you having a meltdown over being good at archery, kiddo? Senior Wei asks worriedly.

“Jingyi?” Sizhui asks, equally worried, grabbing his arm. “What’s wrong?”

Jingyi is not just a traitor, he’s a traitor to two of the best people in the world.

“Senior Wei is going to take over my body and teach you,” Jingyi decides. It’s the only way he’ll be able to live with himself.

What?

“What?! Jingyi!”

“You don’t hang out enough!” Jingyi insists, because he really can’t, he can’t take this from Sizhui. It’s bad enough as it is.

What is going on with you? Senior Wei asks with deep suspicion, sounding disturbingly like Jingyi’s mom.

I can’t have you making me better at archery than Sizhui, but I’m not telling you why, Jingyi belligerently fails to explain. Make him better than me again or I will freak the hell out.

And here you’re always telling me I’m a mess, Senior Wei murmurs, more troubled than amused. Okay, Jingyi. If that’s what you want. Into the jelly with you!

They spend the rest of the day with Senior Wei in charge and Jingyi eavesdropping and adding helpful commentary. By the end of the day, Sizhui’s back to being a little bit better than Jingyi. It’s a relief.

Both Sizhui and Senior Wei spend the next week fretting about Jingyi whenever they think he’s not paying attention, which is…not great. But it’s better than being a traitor thief.

* * *

Despite the incredible amount of bullshit Senior Wei’s been through, he’s a surprisingly cheerful person. He’s like Sizhui that way—they’d both be justified in being miserable and bitter at the whole damn world (Jingyi sure would be if he’d lived either of their lives), but instead, they’re weirdly upbeat.

…Most of the time.

Sometimes, though, Senior Wei has low days. He’s not mad at everyone like Jingyi would be, and he’s not like Sizhui on a bad day, either—Sizhui spends his bad days restless and freaked out about hypothetical disaster scenarios. With Senior Wei, it’s like he just wants to lay on the ground and sleep for a thousand years. He actively daydreams about his bones turning to mulch and flowers growing out of them. When he’s not doing that, he’s busy brooding about his failures and all his favorite dead people and the fact that he’ll never talk to Hanguang-jun again, and like. He’s clearly not okay.

And today’s worse than most. Jingyi thinks it must be the anniversary of something, but if it is, Senior Wei hasn’t mentioned it, and Jingyi’s definitely not going to ask. He’s got enough horrifying Senior Wei memories floating around in his head as it is.

He’s gone again? Senior Wei asks dully.

He means Hanguang-jun. He pretty much always means Hanguang-jun.

He spends about half of his time out on night hunts, or else just looking for trouble, Jingyi explains. He wasn’t like that when you knew him? I thought that was how he got his name.

There was a war, Senior Wei explains in an inflectionless monotone that isn’t like him at all. Trouble came to us.

Okay, yeah, that makes sense. Oh. Well, he travels a lot now, but the rest of the time, he helps train us. Though I guess he usually takes us traveling with him. We see a lot of him, but not in the Cloud Recesses. I hadn’t thought about that.

Now that he is thinking about it, it’s kind of weird. As is the way Hanguang-jun almost never goes to cultivation conferences or banquets or any other kind of formal gathering where he might be trapped in an enclosed space with non-Lan cultivators.

It’s totally because Hanguang-jun is super-pissed at every single sect about the way Senior Wei died, isn’t it? It definitely is. Jingyi’s not sure whether mentioning that to Senior Wei would help or hurt. He’s guessing hurt.

He always loved Gusu, Senior Wei says unhappily. He was always trying to drag me back here to fix me. And now he’s not even here himself.

Jingyi has no idea what to say to this. He tries, Fix you?

Oh yeah, he thought he could music the demonic cultivation out of me or something, Senior Wei says dismissively, with a cruel edge that could be aimed at Hanguang-jun or himself or both of them. Get my evil ass under control.

…That doesn’t sound like him, Senior Wei.

Maybe not him now. But him then? Senior Wei shows Jingyi a slew of memories of Hanguang-jun lecturing him about demonic cultivation and ordering him back to Gusu. Attacking him. Shouting at him in an angry panic. God, everything Senior Wei was doing must’ve seemed like total insanity to him. Because Senior Wei wouldn’t explain anything!

So he was freaking out, Jingyi concludes. Pretty sure he was trying to save your life.

Senior Wei laughs, but it’s an ugly sound. Maybe you’re right. Ah, Lan Zhan. So good. But if that was what he wanted, he was too late. They say no one who’s thrown into the Burial Mounds makes it out alive, and it’s true. It just took me and the Wens a little longer than usual.

Well, Si—Wen Yuan made it out, Jingyi snaps, scared and mad about it. So that’s bullshit.

Senior Wei’s mood lifts, just a little. That’s right, he says. That’s right! A-Yuan is alive. I guess even the Burial Mounds are no match for Hanguang-jun if he decides to save you.

Jingyi cannot reach into his own brain and hit someone, but he really wishes he could. Maybe it’s more if someone will let Hanguang-jun save them.

Senior Wei sighs. Don’t be mad at me, Jingyi, he mutters. I’m not having a great day.

Obviously not, but that doesn’t mean Jingyi is going to sit here and let him brood himself into a meltdown.

This isn’t a meltdown, you big baby, Senior Wei complains, tired. This is just normal being sad.

It’s really not, Jingyi informs him.

It is for me, Senior Wei corrects with self-directed contempt. Another gift from the Burial Mounds.

Which means Senior Wei feels like this regularly, and has for years. It’s not even weird for him. That’s…very fucking unfair, actually, because Jingyi hasn’t felt this much sadness for more than about ten minutes in his whole life. Even Senior Wei’s previous bad days were nothing like this. Which is good in the sense that it means this doesn’t happen to Senior Wei all the time, but still.

Do you want to go visit the rabbits? Jingyi asks tentatively. You can have the body and pet the rabbits.

Senior Wei sighs again, tired but fond. You’re a good kid, Jingyi, he says, making Jingyi feel even more obscurely guilty. Yeah, sure. Let’s pet the rabbits.

They go pet the rabbits. It seems to make Senior Wei feel a little bit better after an hour or so, but it’s a whole damn week before he’s anything close to normal.

Jingyi’s going to make Sizhui do research and see if there’s music that can help with stuff like this, because…well. If they can help, they ought to, basically.

* * *

The circumstances of the Sad Attack get Jingyi thinking about Senior Wei’s relationship with Hanguang-jun again, which is a fruitless waste of time, but Jingyi just can’t let it go. Why the hell doesn’t the man understand that he’s in love with Hanguang-jun? Except that sometimes it seems like he does understand, but he doesn’t want to. It’s like when he’s trying to lie himself into believing he’s fine. And that makes no sense.

Jingyi decides to leave that problem for a while, though, figuring he’s blurted out more than his fair share of opinions about Senior Wei’s life lately. Besides, the odds of getting a reasonable reaction out of him improve by the day, since Sizhui did research like the good student he is, and is now playing them two brain- and spirit-calming songs every night, which seem to be helping.

Basically, Sizhui is the best person in the entire Cloud Recesses. Possibly in the world. (And the Jins would kill him in a second if they ever figured out who he is. That keeps occurring to Jingyi, usually in the dead of night when he’s trying to sleep.)

So a month of study, relaxing, night hunts, and healing music goes by, and Jingyi manages not to worry too much about Senior Wei’s love story. But then Hanguang-jun comes home for a week, bringing it all up again, and now feels like as good a time as any to pursue it. It’s technically none of Jingyi’s business, sure, but the curiosity is killing him. And, well, it feels unfair on Hanguang-jun that Senior Wei hasn’t even noticed falling in love with him.

With this in mind, Jingyi picks a time in the library when he’s pretty sure they’ll be alone, and sets out to have a rational (if nosy) talk about feelings with Senior Wei.

He should know better by now.

What do you mean, how do I know you love him? Jingyi demands ten frustrating minutes in. I know because you swoon every time you think about him—which is always, by the way—and you swoon twice as hard every time you see him! That’s how!

I’m not swooning, Senior Wei insists defensively, apparently under the mistaken impression that this is the truth. He’s just…it’s just that he’s my favorite person. Sizhui is your favorite person, and you don’t see me accusing you of being in love with him.

Jingyi sighs and, in desperation, shows the emotions he has when Sizhui walks into a room to the freaking Yiling Patriarch.

Happiness. Ease. Excitement if it’s been a long time. The urge to be close. A desire to check on his health and general cheerfulness.

Then he loudly remembers what Senior Wei feels like when Hanguang-jun walks into a room, which is all of that but more intensely, with a side of I’ll die if he doesn’t look at me and an only slightly buried desire to peel him out of his clothes and lick him. Among other things. So many other things. (That’s right: Jingyi is never going to be able to look Hanguang-jun in the eye ever again.)

It feels like he’s showing pictures of a dog and a tiger to a small child. Yes, small child, they are both furry creatures with tails, but they are nonetheless very different creatures.

Maybe I’m just a needier person than you are, suggests Senior Wei, and Jingyi groans in despair and lets his head fall to the desk with a thud.

And why is he trying, anyway? What does it prove? Senior Wei is dead. This love story is already a tragedy, and nothing Jingyi does can change that now. Even if it does seem like more of a tragedy that half of the love story doesn’t realize he’s in one.

Jingyi, says Senior Wei, and there it is. He’s sad again. Jingyi made him sad. I can’t be in love with Lan Zhan.

Why not? Jingyi asks, dreading the answer.

Because…from the second I lost my golden core, it was impossible. Before that, he was the first person who ever—we were equals. He understood me, and I understood him. We matched each other. It was something I’d never had before, and it was amazing. And then it was gone. We were equals, and then we weren’t. And a relationship like that…no. I couldn’t, and neither could he. Even if I’d told him everything, even if he’d trusted me—he’s such a strong cultivator. He would’ve lived a long, healthy life, and I would’ve died horribly and young. I did die horribly and young. We couldn’t have been in love, Jingyi. That would’ve ruined both of us.

Oh, it’s worse than Jingyi thought, so much worse. Senior Wei is in denial on purpose, to keep what’s left of his sanity, and Jingyi’s been standing here throwing rocks at the glass house he lives in. Meanwhile, Hanguang-jun is definitely in love with Senior Wei, and it did ruin him, and pointing that out to Senior Wei would be just. Super not helpful.

I’m sorry, Jingyi says, trying not to cry.

What are you sorry for? Senior Wei asks, brightening up through sheer force of will. You don’t even have a love life to be sad about.

Hey!

The conversation gets sidetracked into a brutal discussion of Jingyi’s lack of game, but whatever, it’s still less awful than talking about Senior Wei’s ongoing tragedy of an existence.

Jingyi takes them out to steal a snack and pet the rabbits, anyway. They require food and rabbits.

* * *

Jingyi wakes up one day in the summer and realizes it’s been ten months to the day since he got possessed. He shares this thought with Senior Wei, who’s as weirded out by it as Jingyi is.

Because they’re more than just used to it, now. It hasn’t even been a year, and already the idea of not sharing his every third thought with Senior Wei and having a running commentary on his life choices is…scary.

Zewu-jun hasn’t given up, though. He’s been having monthly chats about possession with Jingyi and Senior Wei this whole time, for all the good it does. Still, it’s fun to see so much of him. Jingyi isn’t Sizhui—he’s never spent this much time with his sect leader before. It’s a nice thing, to know that you like your sect leader as a person, on top of just respecting him.

After Jingyi chats with Zewu-jun, Senior Wei chats with him, too, and he lets Jingyi listen in now, which Zewu-jun…probably doesn’t realize, but oh well. At first they just frantically brainstormed about exorcisms, but as time’s gone by, they’ve drifted more and more toward bullshitting about weird cultivation stuff and worrying about Hanguang-jun’s happiness together. It’s cute. They’d be such good in-laws if Senior Wei weren’t, well. Dead.

Jingyi never tells Zewu-jun that he sort of likes being possessed, because that would horrify the poor man. But it’s true.

You think that now, Senior Wei says with a mental smirk. But someday you’ll fall in love with someone, and you won’t want me looking over your shoulder then. You can’t even handle it when I catch you—

SHUT UP, Jingyi shrieks, desperate not to think about how that sentence was going to end. I hope you’d have the decency to hide in the brain cabinet if I fall in love!

Hm…maybe, snickers Senior Wei.

Senior Wei!

Senior Wei just cackles at him.

Okay, so the rest of Jingyi’s life is going to be agonizingly embarrassing. Fine. Great.

He’s still pretty sure it’s worth it.

* * *

At the very end of summer, there’s a cultivation conference in Lanling. Jingyi talks his way into going and then panics as soon as he succeeds.

I thought we were letting Nie Huaisang handle my nephew’s safety, says Senior Wei. And then, after a pause, Wow, let’s pretend I never said that.

Jingyi rolls his eyes. Even if we do let him handle Jin Ling’s safety, he can’t do anything about Jin Ling’s happiness. That’s your job. Well, ours, now, since you’re freeloading in my head or whatever.

Freeloading, I like that, Senior Wei says indignantly, like Jingyi can’t feel how amused he is. I’ve given you so much valuable instruction! Who’s the real freeloader?

He has a point, but Jingyi doesn’t have to admit it.

Zewu-jun is the one who takes them to the cultivation conference, since obviously Hanguang-jun wouldn’t be caught dead there—he hates cultivation conferences in general, but he hates Lanling special. (Jingyi informs Senior Wei of this, and Senior Wei responds by showing off a bunch of memories of Hanguang-jun sitting silently and alone at any number of social occasions with a face like he’s actually being tortured. It’s amazing.)

In the end, the only people who go are Zewu-jun, Jingyi, Sizhui, and six of the baby juniors who’ve never left Gusu before for anything but night hunts. Possibly because talking with Senior Wei all the time has made Zewu-jun kinda suspicious of the Jins. Anyway, Koi Tower is going to blow the baby juniors’ minds.

And maybe it does, but Jingyi doesn’t get to appreciate it, because the first thing they see at Koi Tower is Jin Ling’s dog, and the first thing Senior Wei does is freak the hell out. Once that’s happened, Jingyi can’t pay attention to anything else.

It’s weird, but he and Senior Wei have never gotten close to a dog before. There aren’t any in the Cloud Recesses, obviously, and in Caiyi, or on the road, or during night hunts, there’ve only been a couple dogs here and there, far away. Jingyi didn’t even notice that Senior Wei was bothered.

But Fairy comes right up to them, as she does to all people she’s vaguely familiar with, and gives them a sniff. Because she’s just as nosy and high-handed as her owner, basically.

Senior Wei promptly treats Jingyi to a whole parade of hideous memories, and wow. Sure, dogs show up in the nightmares, but only in situations where anybody would be scared of a dog. Jingyi didn’t realize it was a thing with Senior Wei. But oh boy, he knows now, and he knows why.

Dogs chasing baby Wei Ying through the streets of Yiling. Baby Wei Ying desperately clubbing at the head of a dog that had hold of his calf and was shaking it, refusing to let go. Baby Wei Ying stumbling across the half-eaten body of another street kid he vaguely knew. Baby Wei Ying watching a dog walk down the street with a skeletal, human arm in its mouth.

And yeah, the half-eaten kid was probably dead before the dogs got there—dogs are scavengers more than hunters. Also, given what Jingyi knows about the Burial Mounds, the person the arm belonged to was almost definitely already a skeleton by the time the dog found it. But still. Still.

Jingyi flinches away from Fairy before he knows what he’s doing.

Did…did Senior Wei just give Jingyi a brand new phobia? Did he? Is that a thing?! Can you just pass around phobias like that?!

Fairy marches closer because she’s also as insensitive as her owner. Jingyi cringes back behind Sizhui. He can’t help it.

This is bullshit. He is training himself out of this. He refuses to live like this. It’s not even his trauma! It’s ridiculous.

…Just knowing dogs can do that, though…

No! He refuses to be afraid of dogs for the rest of his life. Humans can sure be monsters, too, but he doesn’t cower away from all of them, does he? He does not!

“Jingyi?” Sizhui asks, clearly worried about why his best friend has suddenly decided to be terrified of a fluffy, spoiled, fat dog.

“Senior Wei is very afraid of dogs,” Jingyi explains in a whisper. “He has a lot of good reasons to be afraid of them, and now I know those reasons, and I can’t unknow them. I’m going to have to train myself out of being scared of dogs, Sizhui. I hate everything.”

“…Is he okay?” Sizhui whispers back, worried. Sizhui’s the best.

“He’s locked in the brain cabinet, so probably not. But at least he doesn’t know the dog is still here.”

Sizhui nods and obligingly shoos Fairy away, but the damage is done.

Well, Jingyi thought the damage was done, but actually Senior Wei comes out of the brain cabinet before they’ve even made it to their rooms, full of brittle cheer, faintly embarrassed, acting like nothing happened. Makes sense, really. If Senior Wei couldn’t bounce back fast from horrible nightmare shit and at least convincingly pretend to be fine, he’d never have gotten anything done.

That night, there’s a welcoming dinner. It’s…fine. The food’s good, there are dancers, it’s all very pretty. Zewu-jun is scarily polite to everyone, the Chief Cultivator wanders around creepily knowing everyone’s name, Nie Huaisang has mild hysterics whenever anyone asks him a serious question. It’s a cultivation conference. Whatever.

It would be better if Jingyi could stop himself from staring guiltily at Jin Ling, who looks like he’s only having a slightly better time at this dinner than Hanguang-jun would be. And of course Senior Wei feels guilty about Jin Ling, too, so Jingyi’s guilt is feeding Senior Wei’s guilt and it’s a problem. Jingyi should really just stop staring at Jin Ling, but what he actually does is stare so much that Sizhui has to elbow him for being rude.

“Sen—my ghost knew Jin Ling’s parents,” Jingyi explains in a whisper.

Sizhui’s eyes go wide. “Oh. Of course he would. I…why didn’t I think about that?”

“I think about it all the time, and I feel like crap, Sizhui. And he feels even more like crap.”

Sizhui’s smiles his helpful, determined smile. “I’ll get you some time alone with Jin Ling.”

Jingyi nods gratefully. Sizhui understands the value of learning about family. Of course he does, because he’d kill to know more about his own family. Jingyi, meanwhile, knows a ton of stuff about Sizhui’s family, but can’t figure out a way to tell him without explaining Senior Wei. Ugh, he’s going to have to set aside time to rethink all his decisions for the five hundredth time.

He would like to go back to not knowing anything. He misses not knowing anything.

* * *

It takes Sizhui less than a day to maneuver Jingyi and Jin Ling into a hallway in Koi Tower alone together.

Sizhui is scary, Senior Wei murmurs proudly. And he is correct.

Okay, Jingyi says, psyching himself up. We’re here. We can do this. We are talking to Jin Ling.

Jin Ling has probably been raised to believe I’m the evilest bastard that ever lived and also I murdered his parents, Senior Wei points out, not for the first time.

Yeah, well, we’re going to pull a Sizhui and tell the technical truth while secretly lying our asses off.

Sounds fun, Senior Wei allows, amused.

Jingyi squares his shoulders and marches over to Jin Ling for what is sure to be one of the most uncomfortable conversations of his life.

The first part goes okay, though, because Jin Ling is so obviously bewildered by Jingyi approaching him. He looks a weird mix of hopeful and suspicious, like a puppy who wants a friend but expects a kick.

This talk hasn’t even started, and already Jingyi feels like a terrible person.

Suspicious but apparently brave (or stupid), Jin Ling agrees to go to a private courtyard alone with Jingyi. It’s a pretty courtyard. It’s got a lotus pond, which instantly drops Senior Wei into the depths of nostalgia and grief and despair, so that’s. Fun.

“Right,” Jingyi says once they’re sitting in a reasonably isolated location. “I’m possessed.”

“…Uh, okay?” Jin Ling frowns. “Tell your sect leader, not me.”

Jingyi is making a mess of this already. “No, that’s not—he’s a nice ghost, there are complications—that’s not the point! The point is, we share memories sometimes. Which means I have a lot of memories about…people…that I have no right to. So I’m trying to, I don’t know. Make it fair.”

Jin Ling is outright scowling now, which is at least a normal Jin Ling expression, and easier to handle than the earlier hopeful/scared look. “And? What’s it got to do with me?”

“My ghost—he was Yunmeng Jiang.” Ugh, and that makes Senior Wei sad, too. “He fought in the Sunshot Campaign. He…he knew your parents really well. Especially your mom—who was awesome, by the way. So, I’m saying, just. If you have any questions about them. Or. Any stories or anything you want to know? I can ask him, and pass along what he knows. Things your uncles might not know, or might be too sad to tell you, or whatever.” He’d like to let Senior Wei talk to Jin Ling directly, but he also feels like Senior Wei would find a way to fuck that up, either by getting found out or by not being willing to tell enough stories.

“…My mom was awesome?” Jin Ling asks hesitantly after a very long time, promptly breaking Senior Wei’s heart and Jingyi’s as well.

“Yes,” Jingyi confirms. “The most awesome. She—okay, there’s no point repeating stuff. What have people already told you about her?”

Jin Ling still looks hesitant and suspicious, which is so fair. “…That she was kind, and patient. She made really good soup. She wasn’t a very good cultivator.”

Jingyi waits. And waits. And seriously? “That’s it? That’s all they told you?!”

Jin Ling scowls belligerently. “So what if it is?!”

Oh, Jiang Cheng, Senior Wei sighs, disappointed but not surprised.

“It’s just…your mom, she was…so she was super sweet, and patient—that’s true. And yeah, she wasn’t great at cultivating, but who cares? She didn’t need to be. She was the only remotely sane person in her whole family, and so damn brave, and like…Sect Leader Jiang is your uncle. You know what he’s like. Your mom? Could get him to do anything. Man, she played him like a qin. She could calm him down or piss him off or make him apologize or whatever. And he wasn’t the only one, either. It’s lucky she decided to use her power for good and not evil, because holy shit. And! When somebody came at her family? She came for their lives. It was amazing. Also she spent the whole Sunshot Campaign right next to the battlefield, holding the wounded down, cleaning them up, patching their injuries, and telling them to pull their shit together and stop screaming. But in the nicest way possible.”

Jin Ling’s mouth is hanging open. Jingyi hopes that’s out of shocked pride.

It had better be, Senior Wei mutters darkly.

Jin Ling takes a while to say anything, apparently processing this new information, opening and closing his mouth, swallowing, looking away, trying again. And what he finally manages, in a wobbly, tiny voice, is, “Was…was the soup real? Did your ghost ever have it?”

It was the best soup in the world, Senior Wei insists, and if a bodiless ghost could be crying, he would be crying. Jingyi’s eyes sting in sympathy.

Sizhui’s had the famous soup, too, come to think of it. Jingyi has a ton of memories of Jiang Yanli, and Sizhui’s had her famous soup, but her kid has nothing of her at all. And a lot of what Jingyi knows about her, he can’t say, because these are Senior Wei’s memories, so he’s a huge part of most of them…but Jin Ling thinks Senior Wei killed his parents. This is so fucked up.

“The soup was real, and my ghost says it was the best damn soup he ever had,” Jingyi confirms, definitely not crying at all.

Jin Ling, who is definitely not crying either, sniffles and wipes his eyes and says, “What was my uncle like? When he was a kid? I can’t…I can’t even…he doesn’t seem like he was ever a kid.”

What? He’s the world’s biggest baby! Senior Wei announces. A bossy baby.

Jingyi firmly ignores him. Even though he’s…not wrong. “Okay, weird but true—Sect Leader Jiang? Was once a goofy kid with a sense of humor. About himself, even. He was mad about everything even back then, yeah, but in a goofy way.”

“You’re lying,” Jin Ling informs him, eyes wide.

“I swear I’m not. Look, it freaks me out too, but I have actual memories of him in the Cloud Recesses, like, getting drunk with Nie Huaisang and being bad at flirting and petting bunnies with your mom.”

“Bunnies,” Jin Ling repeats blankly.

“Could I make that up?”

Even dead I’m ruining Jiang Cheng’s reputation, Senior Wei reflects with enormous satisfaction.

Jingyi mentally exchanges a smirk with Senior Wei, and proceeds to tell Jin Ling as many embarrassing-but-fun stories about Sect Leader Jiang as Senior Wei can think up. That done, Jingyi requests stories about Jin Ling’s dad that do not also involve Jin Ling’s dad getting punched. This proves more of a challenge for Senior Wei, but he manages it eventually.

“Okay, he’s got like…one story? About your dad,” Jingyi says, while Jin Ling stares at him eagerly, an actual smile on his face. (It’s weirdly sweet? Jingyi doesn’t know how to feel about finding anything about Jin Ling sweet.) “I feel like he must have more, but he’s…let’s not get into it. But I’m pretty sure you’ve already heard this one. From when they were in Qishan, and they were supposed to be getting indoctrinated?”

Jin Ling shakes his head, wide-eyed. “Nobody tells me anything. Holy crap, they tell me nothing.”

“I’m starting to get that. It’s so weird. Okay! So this was right before the war—it actually helped kick off the war. Sect Leader Jiang and your dad and Hanguang-jun and a bunch of other people—all the heirs and top disciples, basically—were ordered to go to Qishan for indoctrination with the Wen, and the Wen demanded everybody’s swords.” He looks down at Jin Ling’s sword and his eyes widen.

Jin Ling clings to it and bites his lip.

“…Yeah. That sword. So they came to take everybody’s swords, and most people just gave them up because, you know, they were outnumbered and surrounded. They were hostages, really. But your dad? He was like, ‘Hey, go fuck yourselves.’”

“He did not say that,” Jin Ling insists.

“Okay, not in those words. But it’s sure what he meant. He was ready to start some shit right there, and with seriously scary people who were pretending to be Jin allies at the time. It was dumb, but it was badass, too. He had to get talked down.” Jingyi wishes Senior Wei remembered the person who talked him down better. She’s just a yellow Jin blur, marked friendly. So. A member of the Lanling Jin Sect who Senior Wei actually liked, which you’d think would be pretty damn memorable, but no. He can’t remember her name or her face. He’s such a weird guy.

And it’s irritating right now, because if that lady’s still alive, Jin Ling should talk to her, because she seemed like she knew his dad really well. Jingyi’s guessing she’s the same friendly female Jin blob who was involved in the Stupid Wartime Soup Drama.

Mianmian, Senior Wei announces helpfully.

Soup lady was called Mianmian? Jingyi asks, delighted. Maybe he can direct Jin Ling toward this person after all. What was her real name?

She wouldn’t tell me.

Jingyi can’t even blame her. Was she the same person who talked Jin Zixuan down in Qishan?

…Maybe?

Jingyi takes it back: Senior Wei is useless. Now he’s gonna have to ask Hanguang-jun if he knows Mianmian’s real name, and it’s going to be so awkward.

(Also, Jingyi is never telling Jin Ling about the Stupid Wartime Soup Drama. It made everyone involved except Mianmian and Hanguang-jun look like morons.

Harsh but fair, mutters Senior Wei.)

“Are you saying my dad was dumb?” Jin Ling demands, cutting into Jingyi’s spiraling thoughts about Soup Drama.

“Yes,” Jingyi confirms, “but also badass. Seriously, just—brave and honest and cool. On his good days.” On his bad days, he stood around and let his evil relatives pull evil shit and said nothing. But that was clearly a weakness he only had with family. If his family had been less awful, that loyalty would’ve been a strength, so Jingyi doesn’t know how much to judge him for it.

Senior Wei doesn’t judge him for it, but that’s only because Senior Wei will never actually, honestly forgive Jin Zixuan for making Jiang Yanli cry, the end. Nothing else matters.

“And his bad days?” Jin Ling asks suspiciously.

Jingyi shrugs. “Everybody has bad days. Your dad never did anything evil, even on his worst days. And he got cooler every year. If he was still alive now, I’m pretty sure he’d be awesome.”

Jin Ling seems unsatisfied with this, but lets it go. Jingyi waits for further questions.

Jin Ling does have a further question. And it’s a doozy. “You didn’t…mention…Wei Wuxian.”

“I thought you’d be weird about it,” Jingyi says frankly, while the aforementioned Wei Wuxian panics in the back of his mind.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means you’ve definitely heard all kinds of awful stuff about Wei Wuxian and how he was a vicious traitor or whatever, but when my ghost knew him? Everybody liked him. Even your dad sort of liked him. Your mom and your uncle loved him. It wasn’t blind love, either—Wei Wuxian kept getting his stupid ass maimed defending people. Like, he would bodily throw himself between them and danger and end up covered in his own blood half the time. I can’t say how he got from that to being the evil Yiling Patriarch, but…something seems weird there. Anyway, it means there’s not a single story I can tell you about him that you’re going to like hearing.”

Kept getting his stupid ass maimed,’ Senior Wei repeats with shaky, exaggerated offense. Such disrespect for your teacher, Jingyi. It was always the best choice at the time!

The best choice for a guy who thinks he’s a human lighting rod, sure, Jingyi agrees. For a genius, you’re a big, fat idiot, Senior Wei.

You’re the rudest child I know.

Really? Because we’ve been talking to Jin Ling for ages.

…Don’t talk about my nephew like that, he says. But he’s smiling on the inside, so it doesn’t count.

Speaking of Jin Ling, he’s turning kinda purple with repressed rage. It’s interesting.

“You asked,” Jingyi points out.

“It’s worse if they loved him!” Jin Ling shouts, losing all of the little chill he’d possessed. “I know they loved him! They had him name me! And then he killed my parents, even though they loved him, that’s—that’s—!”

Yeeeah, Senior Wei is officially not okay right now.

“Right. Sure,” Jingyi cuts in, aware that this is going to be taken badly but unable to stop himself. “If he actually did kill your parents.”

Everyone says he killed my parents!”

“I get that, but. Look, Jin Ling, if my ghost’s memories have taught me anything, it’s that people lie about so many things, and are dead wrong about even more. And it gets worse when it comes to the Sunshot Campaign and the Wens.”

“My uncle wouldn’t lie to me about the murder of my parents,” Jin Ling hisses, getting all aggressive and grabbing at his sword.

I told you, says Senior Wei, sad and exhausted and cold.

This is only our first talk, Jingyi points out. Give me a few years to work on him.

Wow, says Senior Wei. Sure you’re not a Jiang?

“He wouldn’t lie,” Jingyi agrees with Jin Ling. “My ghost agrees, too. But your uncle says a lot of shit he doesn’t mean when he’s mad, for one thing, and for another thing—does he even know for sure what happened? Or is he going off what people told him? Because I have seen parts of the Sunshot Campaign, and like…I’m not getting into it today, but so many lies. Or at least bad information. Either way, don’t blindly trust what people tell you about any of that. It’s way more messed up than we thought.”

“Yeah? How?” Jin Ling demands with a sneer.

“Well, for one thing, Sect Leader Jiang was our age when he took over his sect and fought in the war. He was a kid. Wei Wuxian was one year older than him. Your dad was only a couple years older than that. Even Chifeng-zun and Zewu-jun were only barely not kids. There were no actual adults in charge of the Sunshot Campaign because they all got killed or injured early on. How fucked up is that? It was just a bunch of messed up kids whose parents were basically all dead fighting a guy who was halfway to immortal.”

Jin Ling is staring with his mouth open, knocked back from his outrage. Jingyi sympathizes. He had pretty much the same reaction. “There’s more, but you wouldn’t believe me about it. Why would you? You barely know me.”

“You don’t know that. I might believe you,” says Jin Ling, scowling.

Jingyi frowns back. “You wouldn’t. Could we do Empathy?”

What the hell, Jingyi?! Senior Wei cries. What happened to our plan to do a cute dance around the truth like Sizhui?!

Jin Ling, meanwhile, is staring in horrified fascination. “There is something wrong with you,” he declares eventually, sounding almost impressed.

Jingyi scowls at both of them. He was just trying to help. “Okay, you don’t have to agree with each other so hard.”

“Hah! Even your ghost thinks you’re a moron,” Jin Ling points out, looking smug. He’s such a spoiled little princess. Why is Jingyi even doing this for him?

“Well, whatever. If you won’t try Empathy, I can give you a list of people who fought in the war, and you can ask them personally. People who don’t have political reasons to lie, unlike…all of your Jin relatives. And people who aren’t ridiculously personally messed up by everything, unlike Sect Leader Jiang. Just random people who were around. How about that?”

“…Whatever,” Jin Ling says unhelpfully.

“I can’t tell if you’re buying any of this or not,” Jingyi admits.

“I believe that you believe it,” Jin Ling says in a superior tone with an arrogant little chin tilt.

His father used to do that exact same thing, Senior Wei gasps, equal parts horrified and guilty.

“So you think I’m crazy,” Jingyi replies indignantly, ignoring Senior Wei’s mess of emotions.

“You did tell me not to blindly trust people.” Jin Ling smirks at him. Jin Ling needs a punch in the face in the worst way.

“Great, you can learn,” Jingyi says, standing up. “It’s been fun. I’ll send you a list of people to talk to. Try not to be too much of an asshole to them about it.”

“Hey!”

“And if you have more questions about your mom, or whatever, you can. Send me a letter, I guess. And I’ll ask my ghost.”

Jin Ling gets a very awkward look and turns away. “Whatever,” he says again, but softly.

He’s such a baby Jiang Cheng, Senior Wei coos, ridiculously fond.

Jingyi flees before Senior Wei’s emotions can swing around any more wildly than they already have. It seems unhealthy.

* * *

Jingyi and Senior Wei’s first anniversary of being brain roommates happens in early fall. They decide they should celebrate, so they pack up Sizhui, some food, and spare greens from the kitchens, and go to hang out with the rabbits after training is over. (Any and all suggestions by Senior Wei concerning Emperor’s Smile are shot down.)

Sizhui clearly thinks they’re weird for celebrating a possession, but he’s too polite to say so. With his mouth, that is. The asshole has no problem judging them with his entire face.

“It’s an anniversary,” Jingyi informs him severely.

Sizhui gives a polite smile. Polite, and yet still somehow full of judgment.

Sizhui is the best child, Senior Wei whispers, weepy with pride. It horrifies Jingyi to think he’d be even worse if he knew Sizhui was his kid. If it’s possible for him to be worse.

Anyway, despite both Sizhui and Senior Wei insisting on being themselves, it’s a really fun afternoon. Many rabbits are fed and cuddled. Jingyi and Senior Wei swap out who’s in charge of the body so they can both talk to Sizhui. Senior Wei comes so, so close to making Sizhui admit that he incited a screaming fight between two of his least favorite disciples on purpose.

It’s in the midst of that stand-off—Sizhui aggressively smiling, Senior Wei wheedling, Jingyi laughing at them both—that something goes wrong. Scary wrong. But by the time Jingyi works out what it is he’s feeling, it’s too late. Or maybe it was always too late.

It’s nothing like Zewu-jun’s exorcism. It doesn’t hurt, it just feels like…something is unravelling inside him. It would almost be a good feeling if it weren’t so incredibly frightening. Jingyi has gotten used to Senior Wei. Okay, he loves Senior Wei, he’s happy having him around always, and he definitely doesn’t want to lose him. He hardly knows who he is without him at this point.

But it’s not his decision any more than gaining Senior Wei in the first place was. And so the unravelling continues, on and on, and then an uncomfortable stretching feeling starts to take its place. Being unmade, Jingyi thinks, and panics.

What is this? he demands in a mental scream.

And Senior Wei says, I’m sorry, Jingyi. And thank you.

Then there’s an awful, internal snap, Jingyi is abruptly in charge of the body again, and Senior Wei is gone. The silence is sudden and terrifying, and there will never be anything but silence, ever again. Because Senior Wei is gone. Just like that, with no warning, no fight, no chance to bargain or argue. Just gone.

Jingyi curls into a ball and screams, much to Sizhui’s horror and confusion.

* * *

One month later, the Lan disciples are sent out to handle a complaint at a place called Mo Village. Zewu-jun lets Jingyi go despite the fact that everybody thinks he’s mentally unstable these days.

Well, okay, his parents don’t think that, and neither do Zewu-jun or Uncle or Sizhui, but that’s because they all know he’s in mourning, which is not something he can explain to anyone else. In fact, all of them except Uncle are in mourning, too.

Zewu-jun says the loss is worse for Jingyi, though, because Senior Wei was with him always. That first week, Jingyi must’ve asked Senior Wei’s opinion or made a joke at him or anticipated a reaction from him hundreds of times, and every time there was silence instead of Senior Wei, it was like losing him all over again.

Watching Sizhui miss Senior Wei is making everything more painful, too, because Jingyi’s complicated feelings about not telling him who Senior Wei was to him are worse than ever. It means that for the very first time, Sizhui can’t help him, and it’s Jingyi’s own fault.

It’s a relief to be sent on a night hunt—a welcome distraction. Or at least it is at first, but then they arrive in town, and, well. It starts going wrong pretty much right away, when Jingyi gets into a shouting match in a tea house with a guy who’s telling bullshit Yiling Patriarch lies. Jingyi eventually loses the thread of his argument and just bursts into tears in front of everyone, and a loudly apologizing Sizhui has to hurry him out of the building. So that’s both humiliating and infuriating.

Things don’t really get better from there, either.

Half an hour after entering Mo Manor, Jingyi is maybe struggling a little bit against the urge to just walk away and let everyone in the place die. He knows that’s a horrible thought that everyone from Lan Qiren to Senior Wei would scold him for, and he’s not going to act on it, but he’s definitely feeling it. Sizhui can tell, too. He’s been throwing Jingyi disappointed looks like knives since the Mo parents started talking.

Still, so far Jingyi’s favorite person in this family is the weirdo currently clinging to a pillar and loudly dumping the family’s dirty laundry all over the floor. What does that say?

Jingyi’s delighted to escape into the courtyard to set up the lure flags, but of course this goes wrong, too, because the weirdo meanders over and joins them. He may be Jingyi’s favorite Mo, but that doesn’t mean Jingyi wants him wandering around touching all their stuff. If he didn’t know better, he’d say Mo Xuanyu wasn’t crazy at all, just willfully irritating.

Then, too, he’s definitely got an…interest in Sizhui. Which would be a lot worse if it were a creepy interest, but at least it doesn’t seem to be that. It’s more like he recognizes Sizhui, and likes him. But where would he recognize him from?

Come to think of it, Sizhui is being funny about Mo Xuanyu, too. Keeps looking at him and frowning, puzzled. Maybe they did meet before? If this guy used to be with the Jin, then…

Jingyi watches the guy grab a lure flag and maybe threatens him a little—insincerely!—but Sizhui feels the need to step in and smooth things over, because he doesn’t like conflict unless he’s the source of it.

Jingyi is about to jump in and argue his case, but—stops. Because Mo Xuanyu is being a brat, but he’s also…looking over the lure flag? This is strangely familiar all of a sudden. Jingyi spent a whole year with Wei Wuxian in his head, and he knows what it feels like when he’s being fucked with by a good-natured weirdo. It feels just like this. Because Mo Xuanyu sure knows a suspicious amount about lure flags—he’s tracing over the lines section by section in a logical order. He’s checking them. He’s testing the juniors right now, isn’t he? Just like—

But it doesn’t have to mean anything, and Jingyi shouldn’t get his hopes up. Mo Xuanyu trained to be a cultivator too. Maybe this actually is Mo Xuanyu, and he’s just playing crazy to screw with his awful family. Who could blame him?

Jingyi must have some kind of look on his face, because Sizhui steps closer with a careful, “Jingyi?”

And Mo Xuanyu’s head snaps up, and he stares at Jingyi in shock. He would, too. For all that they brain cohabitated for a year, they’ve never actually seen each other. Jingyi really only looks in mirrors when he’s getting dressed for the day, and Senior Wei always politely hid in the brain cabinet when Jingyi was getting dressed. He couldn’t have known what Jingyi looked like.

“Are you kidding me?” Jingyi yells, near-hysterical with relief. “Did you actually get pulled out of my body and shoved into somebody else’s? How do you have the worst luck in the world, Senior Wei?”

“Senior Wei?” Sizhui murmurs, eyes widening in shock and joy. “Our Senior Wei?”

Senior Wei drops the lure flag, jumps to his feet, and beams at them, and oh wow, he has a great smile. No wonder Hanguang-jun used to make that face whenever Senior Wei smiled happily. “My children!” he cries. “You’ve grown!”

“We have not grown, it’s only been a month, you, you, you…”

Jingyi abruptly decides this conversation is a waste of time and just goes running toward Senior Wei instead, hitting him with a thump and flinging his arms around him. Senior Wei freezes up for a second, and Jingyi almost lets him go because the last thing he wants is to upset him—but then Senior Wei hugs back. He hugs back, because he has a body, this is amazing.

Jingyi recognizes that he’s not showing much interest in what Mo Xuanyu’s deal is right now, but he just doesn’t have the capacity to care in the face of Senior Wei having a body. Maybe Mo Xuanyu is jelly-floating. Whatever, Jingyi will apologize later.

“…What is going on?” asks Lan Xuanhui, who, to be fair, is right to be confused.

“Ah, well, this is a family friend of Jingyi’s,” Sizhui explains, striking out for a believable lie like a champ. “We were under the impression that he’d died, which is why Jingyi’s been so sad lately, but apparently he was…undercover…instead? We should try not to draw too much attention to him. Or say his real name too loudly.”

Oh, good point. It is not a great idea to run around bellowing the name Wei at this time. This time being a time riddled with weird curses and resentful energy. It may be a common name, but it’s not common enough in view of evil magic crap.

“Sizhui is the most devious Lan alive,” Senior Wei whispers to Jingyi. Jingyi can only nod agreement.

“But Jingyi said…he was pulled out of his body…?” Lan Xuanhui persists, insisting on paying too much attention for anyone’s good. This is what happens when Hanguang-jun trains people.

“We really shouldn’t ask too many questions,” Sizhui informs her with a smile as calm and unreachable as the moon.

“He’s learned way too much from Lan Zhan, hasn’t he?” Senior Wei murmurs, amused.

In fact, Sizhui takes after both of his fathers way too much. That’s why he’s terrifying. But this particular move comes straight from Zewu-jun, actually.

“I was going to tell him who I was,” Senior Wei continues, “but I couldn’t think of a way to get him alone without sounding…very…”

“Insane and sketch as hell?” Jingyi suggests.

“Exactly.”

“About that—how did you end up in that body, anyway? Are you possessing Mo Xuanyu? Are you pretending to be Mo Xuanyu? How does this even work?”

“This is Mo Xuanyu’s body—barely-there golden core and all, which is new and different—but oddly I still look like me. Necromancy, so strange! Mo Xuanyu sacrificed himself so that I could take bloody revenge on his enemies, you see. I was the scariest demon he could think of, Jingyi. I’m not sure whether to be proud or offended.”

Jingyi tears up a little. “You have a body of your own? And a golden core?”

Senior Wei hugs him tighter. “I do.”

“Then…Hanguang-jun…you can…Senior Wei! Hanguang-jun!”

“Okay, I can tell you’re very excited about my prospects, and that’s…I’ll be honest, it’s kind of weird, Jingyi. Stop.”

“Stop! Stop hell! I should call him right now—”

“Haha, do not—”

“And what is it with you and wackos who love human sacrifice?”

“I don’t know,” Senior Wei complains, but when he gently pushes Jingyi away, the better to inspect his face, he looks happy. And maybe a little relieved that they’re not talking about Hanguang-jun anymore, though he’s a fool if he thinks Jingyi is letting that go. “Maybe I should let it be known I don’t approve of that sort of thing. Put up advertisements? Leave bloodstained notes?”

“Hey, or here’s a wild idea—try to stay alive this time!”

Senior Wei laughs merrily, like that’s just the funniest thing he’s ever heard. Jingyi probably shouldn’t punch him—out of both respect for him and fear for his health—but it sure is tempting.

“At least poor Mo Xuanyu had the decency to sacrifice himself rather than someone else. And he even apologized to me! Definitely the most respectful human sacrifice I’ve been involved in.”

Wei Wuxian, standing in a semi-public space, blathering about his repeated personal experience with human sacrifice. This is how the Yiling Patriarch ended up with such an awful reputation. “So who do you have to kill?” Jingyi asks, resigned. “What happens if you don’t kill them?”

“I’m not sure who yet,” Senior Wei explains, releasing Jingyi altogether, which…Jingyi realizes he can’t cling to the man all night, but he’d like to. Anyway, Senior Wei pulls up his sleeve, and there are four scary, deep gouges in his arm. “Four people, though,” he says, serious, “or these never heal, and…there would eventually be further unpleasant consequences. So far my guess is the Mo husband, wife, and son, for a start. Maybe number four’s here too, maybe not.”

“…Further unpleasant consequences?” Senior Wei’s life is a nightmare.

“Number four could be a Jin,” Senior Wei mutters, looking at his mutilated arm and frowning. Also totally ignoring Jingyi. “He did live with them for a while. And, I mean. Jins.”

You’d really think that, having gone to all this trouble, Mo Xuanyu could have done Senior Wei the courtesy of leaving him a hitlist. But by all accounts the guy wasn’t thinking with his best brain. Well, he couldn’t have been, could he? He ritually sacrificed himself. Not a sign of a balanced mind.

Jingyi gets briefly sidetracked by the sure knowledge that when Senior Wei thinks of the Jin Sect, he pictures Jin Guangshan’s facial hair and imaginary potbelly, Jin Zixuan, Jin Ling, Jin Guangyao, and a bunch of faceless yellow blobs. And now the first two are dead, so it’s just all faceless yellow blobs, Jin Ling, and Jin Guangyao. Even if Mo Xuanyu had left a hitlist with a Jin on it, odds are that Senior Wei would have looked at the name and pictured a yellow blob. He is the world’s most ridiculous mass murderer.

“And if you do kill everybody you’re supposed to kill?” Jingyi asks, deciding for the hundredth time to stop worrying about Senior Wei’s memory thing.

“Then this body’s all mine, and I can do what I want with it,” Senior Wei explains, holding his arms out to the side and displaying his brand new body with a bemused smile. A smile like…he’s not totally sure he wants a body. Or to be alive at all.

Well, that’s not allowed.

“Great,” Jingyi says firmly. “So back to Hanguang-jun! Now you can tell him you’re in love with him. You’re alive, you have a golden core—your love story just went from hideously tragic to weird-but-cute. Congratulations. Go for it.”

Senior Wei looks exasperated, like he isn’t the most exasperating person in the world. “Jingyi.”

“No, just shut up and do it, Senior Wei! I’m not letting you ruin this for me! Your old reasons are stupid now, and I know you don’t think so, but he totally loves you too—”

Jingyi,” Sizhui hisses in horror, trying to bodily block Senior Wei and Jingyi from the sight of the other (openly staring) disciples, which isn’t working because he’s a tiny person.

A tiny person who’s tiny because he didn’t eat enough in the Burial Mounds, and oh wow, Jingyi can tell Sizhui about that now, too. Having Senior Wei alive is fantastic.

But they can talk about that later. Right now they’ve got to catch some kind of malevolent spirit, but preferably not before it kills the Mo family for Senior Wei. Jingyi’s life is intensely weird.

It all works out perfectly, though. Well, it got kind of hairy in the middle, and if Jingyi and Sizhui hadn’t known Senior Wei, they probably would have run screaming for Hanguang-jun. But they do know Senior Wei, so they just left it to him—and yeah, he fixed everything up and calmed down the evil sword right after most of the Mo family died. It would’ve been nice if he hadn’t felt the need to control a few corpses in the process, but he’s the Yiling Patriarch, and there’s only so much normal you can expect from him. And creepy though his methods are, they’re effective.

Once the screaming’s died down, the sword’s contained, and the dead have gone back to acting dead, Senior Wei proudly shows off his arm to Jingyi. There’s only one wound left. That’s good, anyway, even if the situation as a whole is ridiculous.

Unfortunately, Jingyi and Sizhui are the most senior disciples on this one, so they have to organize cleaning up the mess and patching up everybody’s injuries. They also have to firmly explain absolutely nothing about Senior Wei, divert every one of Lan Xuanhui’s increasingly agitated questions, and definitely not have hysterics until everybody else is bandaged, basically calm, and heading back to the inn.

At that point, Jingyi decides he’s allowed to seize Sizhui and Senior Wei and drag them to a quiet corner for a long overdue chat.

“So there’s a thing you two should know, but I didn’t tell you before because it was too sad. But now Senior Wei’s alive! So it’s not sad anymore,” Jingyi tells them, clinging to their sleeves like they might try to escape. “Senior Wei, remember how I told you about, you know. Lan Yuan?”

Senior Wei nods, confused, but not as confused as Sizhui.

“Yeah,” Jingyi says. “Lan Yuan. Courtesy name Sizhui.”

Senior Wei turns to stare at Sizhui in dawning delight. (But not that much surprise, Jingyi notes. Seems like Senior Wei had had his suspicions.)

Jingyi nods and turns to Sizhui. “Sizhui, you know how it freaks you out that you can’t remember anything from when you were little?” Jingyi asks, trying not to freak out about Sizhui’s suddenly chalk-pale face. “That’s because…uh. It’s. The Burial Mounds were rough, I guess? But not as bad as the stuff that came before them. Um, you just, your life sucked as a kid. It makes sense that you’d forget.”

“…I…” Sizhui sways slightly, and Senior Wei reaches out to prop him up, staring at him in wonder.

But then he turns to Jingyi, frowning in a rare moment of open seriousness. “Don’t say anything else—you shouldn’t have said that much. Let him remember in his own time. Don’t confuse him.”

Sizhui’s staring at Senior Wei’s face now, bewildered. “…Did you plant me in the dirt with the radishes?”

And Senior Wei beams at Sizhui, bright as life. Jingyi wonders what that feels like from the inside. He’s a little sad that he can’t know. “Yes,” Senior Wei declares proudly. “To make you grow faster.”

“Okay,” Sizhui mutters, sounding dazed. “I thought that was a weird dream.”

“Senior Wei is weirder than any of my weird dreams,” Jingyi commiserates. And then he wanders off to look busy elsewhere, because Sizhui and Senior Wei deserve a minute to themselves after having had Jingyi eavesdropping on their every conversation for a year. It’s pretty fantastic that Senior Wei can have conversations with people now and Jingyi doesn’t even have to know it’s happening.

Okay, and maybe a tiny bit lonely, but mostly fantastic. Nonstop Senior Wei was a lot. It was a hell of a lot better than no Senior Wei at all, but Senior Wei in moderation is definitely going to be best. Eventually. Jingyi’s not used to it yet, though, and he only makes it like ten steps away from Senior Wei before he’s fighting the urge to run right back and cling to him again to make sure he doesn’t disappear.

…Oh, hey. Hanguang-jun is going to be way worse than Jingyi about the whole clinging to Senior Wei thing, because he got ditched for so much longer. He’s gonna be super weird about Senior Wei for years, isn’t he? The other disciples are gonna freak.

Speaking of Hanguang-jun, Jingyi decides now is a good time to send a signal for him.

He sends the signal, watches it go up, and then turns to check on Senior Wei, who is…just so predictable, honestly.

“Sit on him, Sizhui!” Jingyi orders. “He’s trying to escape!”

Sizhui stares at Jingyi, panicked and flustered. He’s probably trying to make sense of his entire life, and really no one should be making demands of him right now. But even so, he goes ahead and hurls himself to the ground and clings to Senior Wei’s leg like he did when he was a kid.

Senior Wei looks like he just got punched in the chest with Feelings. Sizhui looks appalled at himself, but he’s not letting go. Jingyi will take it. They’re even parked in a shadowy corner, so hopefully Jingyi will get a chance to explain himself before Hanguang-jun notices them.

And then it’s too late to worry about any of that, because Hanguang-jun’s arrived. He’s arrived, and he’s confused. Jingyi has to admit Mo Manor seems very put together—not the kind of situation you emergency call in Hanguang-jun for.

“It’s not a ghost emergency,” Jingyi explains. “It’s a personal emergency.”

Hanguang-jun instantly goes from looking cool, confident, and in control to looking like he might fly into a rage and stab whatever’s making his juniors sad. He and Senior Wei really are soulmates.

“It’s nothing awful!” Jingyi explains hastily. “I mean, we did find an evil sword, but we got that under control. With help. So we definitely need you to take care of the sword, but it’s not why we called you. Uh. Remember how I’ve been super weird for the last year?”

Hanguang-jun gives him a look. Is he implying that Jingyi is always weird? Because it feels like he’s implying that. And when Jingyi is trying to fix his broken love life, too! So ungrateful.

“I’ve been possessed for an entire year,” he clarifies, reproachful.

Hanguang-jun gives a tiny, baffled frown.

“I couldn’t tell you because it would’ve made you sad. I told Zewu-jun, though! I wasn’t just wandering around possessed not telling anybody.”

“Sad?” Hanguang-jun murmurs, puzzled. “You weren’t exorcized?”

“Uh, no. There were these creepy people with this creepy human-sacrificing ritual, and they caught me and tried to kill me with it—they’re all dead now!” he adds hastily, because Hanguang-jun is looking homicidal again. “And it didn’t work right, anyway. Instead of dying, I just ended up with a ghost tied to my golden core. He couldn’t go unless my golden core went with him. Or we thought that, anyway. But it turns out that all it took was even more creepy human sacrifice that nobody asked for. Anyway, he was a really nice ghost, and he’s got his own body now. So, uh. It won’t, you know. Break your heart to know about him anymore.”

“Who?” Hanguang-jun asks, looking eager and a little desperate, because he’s not stupid, unlike certain demonic cultivators Jingyi knows.

Jingyi doesn’t even have to answer, because Sizhui is the best son, and takes this moment to shove Senior Wei out into the courtyard.

Senior Wei almost faceplants right there, which would have been magic, but he manages to pull it together after a few stupid hops, and looks up at Hanguang-jun with the awkwardest fucking smile the world has ever seen. “Hey, Lan Zhan,” he says, sounding like he is fifteen years old.

“…Wei Ying,” says Hanguang-jun, sounding like…like the love of his life just came back from the dead and smiled at him, actually. He marches forward and grabs Senior Wei by the arm, looking more stunned and happy and alive than Jingyi’s ever seen him, even in memories. Senior Wei immediately clings back.

And then they just…they just stand there. Just staring at each other, unspeakably soft looks on their faces. They are literally standing in a moonlit courtyard gazing lovingly at each other right now, because that’s apparently a thing that happens in real life when Senior Wei is involved. Wow. This needs music, like a play.

And here’s Sizhui, with an instrument.

“Play them a dramatic love theme, Sizhui,” Jingyi demands.

“Shut up, Jingyi,” Sizhui and Senior Wei say in perfect harmony, while Hanguang-jun frowns at him, looking weirdly offended.

Jingyi beams. He loves happy endings.