Wei Wuxian wakes with a jumbled sense of something gone wrong, in an unfamiliar bed, tucked under a blue silk quilt. He lies there for a moment, blinking sleep away and staring at a ceiling he doesn’t recognize. Then he sits up carefully, wincing at a twinge of pain along his right side, and looks around. He’s alone in a quiet house; incense burns on a low table in the receiving room. There’s an understated elegance and quiet warmth to the arrangements which make his heart beat faster. Is he--is this Cloud Recesses? But how did he get here?
He blinks and rubs his aching head. He’s dressed in a white under-shirt, and he spares a thought to wonder who dressed him. A darker robe hangs nearby, so at least he’s not without clothes if he needs to leave quickly.
Chenqing is nowhere to be seen, and the fact that his recent memory is a solid blank wall makes him nervous. He’s at the point of finding out if he can stand when the door opens and two Lan disciples rush in.
Well, a point to him for guessing where he is, he thinks.
“Hanguang-jun!” one of them shouts. “He’s awake!” What happened to all the rules about running and yelling? Both disciples beam at Wei Wuxian, who stares back. He wants to ask if they know who he is, but there’s no way that wouldn’t sound like a threat.
Then Lan Zhan is in the doorway, holding a tray with a steaming bowl, and Wei Wuxian forgets about the disciples. Lan Zhan meets Wei Wuxian’s gaze and outright smiles at him. “Wei Ying,” he says. He sounds--odd. He looks odd too, taller and more centered, with an air of gravity that Wei Wuxian doesn’t remember. How has he grown up so much in such a short time?
He sits on the bed. Wei Wuxian looks at him and flushes. This seems very forward, considering that nothing has actually happened between them despite all of his secret aching wishes. They’ve certainly been this close to each other before, but never with this atmosphere of quiet intimacy.
“Lan Zhan, hello,” he says, trying to pass off all of the strange feelings building up inside of him with a grin. “Ah, what’s going on?’
Lan Zhan leans forward and touches Wei Wuxian’s cheek. Wei Wuxian flinches back, surprised, and Lan Zhan stares at him, eyes wide, hand outstretched. Warmth spreads like a ripple from the spot where he touched Wei Wuxian’s skin.
“Wei-qianbei?” one of the disciples asks. He’s much quieter than the first one. “Are you hurt at all?”
Wei-qianbei? he thinks wildly. His heart is pounding a little too hard. He swallows and says, “Aren’t you polite? Uh, I’m fine. Just a headache, I guess.” He doesn’t mention the other little aches and pains, which make him think he fell recently and bruised his right side. Oddly enough, the dull ache in his lower dantian which has been troubling him since the golden core transfer has completely disappeared. But he’s hardly going to complain about not being in pain.
The disciples look from him to Lan Zhan and back. They both seem upset, which is fair--he shouldn’t be here anyway. Why is he here?
“What happened?” Wei Wuxian asks, and Lan Zhan’s face relaxes. Strange that Wei Wuxian can read his expressions so easily.
“You don’t remember?”
He shakes his head.
“It was on the nighthunt,” Lan Zhan tells him. “You stepped in front of Lan Weiyi and absorbed a curse. It knocked you unconscious. We couldn’t wake you at all.”
“On the nighthunt?” Wei Wuxian echoes, at a loss. “But why was I on a nighthunt with you?” He knows he has a bad memory, but he wouldn’t forget showing up at Cloud Recesses.
All three of them frown. Wei Wuxian sits up a little straighter.
“When did I get here?” he asks. “I must have forgotten more than I realized. Wait, where’s everyone else?” He smiles suddenly, the first joy he’s felt in ages. “Lan Zhan! Did you figure something out? Of course you did, you’re so clever. Did we move to Cloud Recesses? Where’s Wen Qing? She should be fussing about my meridians or something.”
A moment of absolute, frozen stillness. The quieter disciple looks as if someone has slapped him. The louder one just gapes at Wei Wuxian. He makes himself look at Lan Zhan, who looks back at him with his face like a mask, mouth like a bruise.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says at last. His voice is low and hoarse. “Wei Ying, what is the last thing you remember?”
In the end, Wen Ning comes up from his house in Caiyi, because Wei Wuxian won’t believe Lan Zhan. Not about the fate of the Wens, or his shijie’s death, or his own. It’s a made-up story. Lan Zhan is possessed and lying. He doesn’t care. He spends the time before Wen Ning arrives pacing the floor of the house. The one that Lan Zhan said was their home. Because they are married. He feels wild. He feels like bursting into tears, or pieces. At least Lan Zhan sent the disciples away before he began explaining all the things that he says Wei Wuxian can’t remember.
When Wen Ning comes in, he looks at Wei Wuxian, the familiar worried expression. “Wei-gongzi,” he says. “Hanguang-jun.”
Lan Zhan stands from the table where he has been sitting silently since Wei Wuxian said that he didn’t want to hear another word from his mouth. He walks to the door, carrying himself carefully, as if in pain. He pauses at the doorway and says, “I will leave you to speak.” He doesn’t say where he is going. He doesn’t look at Wei Wuxian.
Wen Ning waits until Lan Zhan is gone and then says, quietly scolding, “Wei-gongzi, you really shouldn’t be so cruel to Hanguang-jun. Come on, sit down.”
Wei Wuxian sits abruptly, as if he’s a doll tossed to the ground. How can this be real? How can Wen Ning be here, in Cloud Recesses?
“What do you want to know?” Wen Ning asks. He sits as well and gives Wei Wuxian an expectant look. He seems just the same, except that he’s wearing nice robes: silver and black, with embroidery on them. Much nicer than anything he wore in the Burial Mounds.
Wei Wuxian is wearing the outer robe which Lan Zhan said was his. He doesn’t recognize it. It’s not even black. It’s dark blue, embroidered with lotuses and orchids and butterflies in lighter thread. An explosion of life. He hates it. He would like to tear it off, but all the other robes are like this too. Not a single one of them what he would choose to wear.
His throat feels dry. He swallows. “Lan Zhan said.” He doesn’t know where to start. “He said you live in Caiyi.”
Wen Ning bobs his head. “I traveled for a while, but I like being near you and A-Yuan.”
Wei Wuxian startles. “Near--Lan Zhan said that all the Wens died. He said--” He breaks off, thinking of how he had told Lan Zhan to stop talking. Had he been patient enough, would Lan Zhan have told him? Was he saving up something good to surprise Wei Wuxian with at the end?
“After we went to Lanling,” Wen Ning says steadily, as if it costs him nothing, “and you died, Hanguang-jun went back to the Burial Mounds. He found A-Yuan and brought him to Cloud Recesses, where he has grown up as a Lan disciple. You saw him earlier.”
One of those disciples was A-Yuan? “But. Wen Ning.” He swallows around the questions that come fluttering up; twenty years worth of them, if he’s to believe Lan Zhan. Which it seems that he should. Seems that he must.
“Everyone else died,” Wen Ning goes on. “Popo, and Sishu, and Jiejie. Only A-Yuan and I are left. And you.”
Wei Wuxian takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. Then: “Lan Zhan said--he and I are married?”
Wen Ning smiles. “For two years. It took you some time once you came back to life, but you got there in the end.”
“I don’t remember,” Wei Wuxian whispers. “I can’t remember any of it.” A dark cavern, an abyss. The last thing he can recall is an ordinary evening at the Burial Mounds, getting a little tipsy on Sishu’s wine. Waving to everyone, going to bed. Lying awake and thinking of Shijie and Jiang Cheng, of Lan Zhan. Wishing he could see them again, although he knew that time was running out. And then nothing. And then waking up in this house.
“I know,” Wen Ning says. “Jingyi and A-Yuan told me. I’m sorry.”
Wei Wuxian closes his eyes. He can’t--how can he--if the rest is true, then his shijie--
He’s crying, he realizes, feeling the wetness of tears on his face. Sitting in this elegant room, which is supposed to be his home, which he does not recognize. He should be in the Burial Mounds, with Wen Qing bringing him burnt potatoes. He should be in Lotus Pier, teasing Jiang Cheng. He can’t, he cannot, he absolutely cannot stay here.
The worst part is the way Lan Zhan doesn’t even seem surprised when Wei Wuxian tells him that he’s going to stay with Wen Ning in Caiyi. As if he’s already accepted it. As if he never expected anything else.
“I just--until we break this curse,” Wei Wuxian says desperately. He’s moving around the house, packing his things.
“Of course,” Lan Zhan says. He’s looking at Wei Wuxian oddly, though.
“What?” Wei Wuxian asks, sharp-edged. He finishes rolling the trousers up and reaches for the next robe automatically. Then he freezes. How did he know where it was? He didn’t even think about it. He reached for the robe and it was there, just as he’d reached for his inkstone and his soap.
“Breathe,” Lan Zhan tells him.
His body knows where everything is in this house. He has lived here for two years, after all. He can’t seem to draw a full breath, his chest tight.
At last he manages to move. He shoves the rest in his bag and says, “Well, I guess I should go.”
Lan Zhan, eyes like drowning, stands by the bed and says, “I took the liberty of making an appointment for you tomorrow with the sect doctor. If you’d rather see one in Caiyi, however--”
“No, no, that’s fine,” Wei Wuxian says. “That’s good. Thank you.”
Lan Zhan doesn’t respond, except to swallow visibly. He looks so serious and so beautiful in the evening light. Wei Wuxian wants to unpack all of his clothes and stay here forever. He wants to undo everything that has happened in the last twenty years.
“Okay. Well. I--I’m sorry, Lan Zhan.”
This shouldn’t be so difficult. It’s not forever, only until they can figure out this curse and he goes back to being the Wei Wuxian who married Lan Zhan. Who lost his friends and his family and himself and still came out of it somehow.
Wei Wuxian can almost picture that version of himself: a ghost with his own face, smiling at Lan Zhan. He aches with longing for that life. But he doesn’t know how to be Wei Ying for Lan Zhan right now. He feels his sharpness pressing against the edges of his tongue, his movements. Lan Zhan’s Wei Ying would be happy; Lan Zhan’s Wei Ying wouldn’t be this angry.
It’s still hard to say goodbye. To walk away, knowing that he’s wounding Lan Zhan’s heart.
“There’s nothing to be sorry for,” Lan Zhan says, but his eyes belie him.
“Okay,” Wei Wuxian says again. Meaningless sounds. He bites his lip.
“Be well,” Lan Zhan says. Wei Wuxian gives a jerky nod and shoulders his travel bag. He looks back once to see Lan Zhan standing frozen by the empty bed.
He dreams that night of the river flowing by Lotus Pier. Someone stands on the other side, and he knows that it’s him, but he can’t get across.
He sleeps until the morning light becomes too insistent to ignore. Then he dresses and walks out, shielding his eyes against the brightness. Wen Ning’s house is on the outskirts of Caiyi, simple but cozy. Wei Wuxian’s rooms open onto a small courtyard with a yangmei tree growing in the center. Wen Ning himself is nowhere to be seen. Wei Wuxian stands in the middle of the courtyard wondering what to do. He’s hungry, but he doesn’t know if he could eat; he doesn’t know if Wen Ning even has any food.
He picks a ripe fruit from the tree and sits on the steps of the house. He runs his fingers over the bumpy exterior and then takes a bite. The sweet-tart taste is almost overwhelming. He chews and swallows and then takes another bite, eating slowly, until only the seed remains.
He’s crying, he realizes, and wonders why. He wipes his eyes with the sleeve of his robe.
“Wei-gongzi,” Wen Ning says, and sits down beside him. “Are you all right?”
He nods and then shakes his head and then shrugs. For once, words feel beyond him.
Wen Ning hands him a bowl. “I got you some breakfast,” he tells Wei Wuxian. “I don’t keep much food in the house when it’s only me, but there are some good cookshops and restaurants nearby. And I have plenty of money, so don’t worry about that.”
The bowl holds tofu pudding topped with pickled radish, chives, sesame oil, and chilis. He pokes at it at first, but it’s still warm and flavorful and he finishes it quickly. He does feel better afterwards. A little more real. “How do you have plenty of money, Wen Ning?”
Wen Ning pauses for a moment.
“You can tell me,” he says, irritably. “I won’t be mad at you.”
“Well, Hanguang-jun was Chief Cultivator for a while, and he organized a trust of sorts, for me and A-Yuan. All the sects contributed to it.” Wen Ning gives him a side-long glance, but Wei Wuxian had guessed it was something like this if Wen Ning didn’t want to tell him. So he nods.
“Well.” He waits, but he can’t think of anything else to say. Such a small gesture, compared to what was lost. But it’s good that Wen Ning doesn’t have to worry about money. It’s good that the sects recognized their fault, even in some small way. He shouldn’t be so angry about it. “I have to go to Cloud Recesses later, to meet with the doctor. Maybe I’ll walk around Caiyi until then."
“Sure, Wei-gongzi, that sounds like a good idea,” Wen Ning says. “Do you want me to come with you?”
“No, no,” Wei Wuxian tells him. Wen Ning has already done so much. “I’ll be fine.”
He is, for a while. He wanders through the streets in silence, taking in the bustle of everyday life. Then he turns a corner and reaches the guest house where he first encountered Mianmian. He can almost see the echo of his younger self, laughing and flirting as if nothing in the world mattered.
He walks on.
Here is the canal they floated down, when he threw loquats at Lan Zhan. Wen Ning and Wen Qing in a boat together, smiling. He can’t bear thinking of it. How can he remember this so vividly, as if it was yesterday, and forget the entirety of his years with Lan Zhan? He can’t believe Wen Qing is gone, and Wen Ning is a fierce corpse forever. They should be right here, in the sunlight.
He walks on.
The path to Cloud Recesses rises before him and he follows it. Here is the place the Jiang disciples camped for the night, until Lan Zhan took pity and let them in. Here is the turn in the road. Here is the gate.
He isn’t wearing a token and he expects a fuss about that, but the disciples greet him cheerfully and let him in anyway.
No token, no entry, he hears in his memory, and walks on.
He realizes almost at once that he has no idea where the doctor is. The strange body-memory doesn’t give him any clues. And he doesn’t particularly want to start wandering around Cloud Recesses and seeing all the people who think they know him. But then he spots one of the few people he does know: the loud disciple from the day before. He waves frantically and calls, “Hey!” He smiles when the boy meets him. He doesn’t want him to be scared, after all. No need to cause alarm, just your old pal Wei Wuxian, who won’t cause any problems!
“Sorry, I didn’t get your name yesterday,” he says.
It’s a simple sentence. Seems polite enough. But the boy’s face falls in a way that makes Wei Wuxian’s heart clench. “Wei-qianbei,” he says, and stops. “You really don’t remember anything?”
Wei Wuxian shrugs. “Not a thing. Sorry.”
“Okay,” the kid says. “Okay. Maybe, uh, don’t spend too much time with Sizhui right now.”
“Who’s Sizhui?” Wei Wuxian asks blankly.
“Oh.” The boy rubs his forehead. “Um, the other disciple who was with me yesterday?”
“A-Yuan?” Wei Wuxian asks. “What the hell, who gave him his courtesy name?”
“Hanguang-jun,” the kid says promptly. “Anyway, I’m Lan Jingyi.”
“Nice to meet you,” Wei Wuxian says automatically, trying to process all of these revelations. Sizhui? Really, Lan Zhan?
“Uh, sure.” Jingyi looks around. “Did you need something, Wei-qianbei?”
“Oh! Yes. I’m supposed to meet the doctor, but I don’t know where. Could I impose on you to take me?” He smiles again, but for some reason this only makes Jingyi look sadder. “Listen, what’s the matter? Why the long face?”
Jingyi gives him an absolutely betrayed look. “Wei-qianbei! Why wouldn’t I be upset when you’ve forgotten me? And you’re being so...polite.”
“What?” Wei Wuxian feels a little desperate now. He’s not sure what he could possibly say to make any of this better. He expected people to be a little scared of him, but this Jingyi kid seems to be genuinely sad about the fact that Wei Wuxian, of all people, can’t remember who he is. He’s not Lan Zhan’s Wei Ying, and he’s not Jingyi’s Wei-qianbei, and he doesn’t know how to do this.
“Never mind,” Jingyi says, and his voice is too quiet. Wei Wuxian doesn’t even know him and he knows that’s true. “It’s fine. I’ll take you to the doctor.” He’s almost silent on the way. At the door, he turns and says, “I’ll let Hanguang-jun know you’re here. Um, take care.” For a moment, Wei Wuxian almost thinks he’ll pat him on the shoulder, which is absurd. But he watches the boy’s slumped shoulders as he walks towards the Jingshi, and frowns.
Lan Zhan appears in a few minutes, settling in with a grave and concentrated air. He doesn’t quite meet Wei Wuxian’s eyes. He had the day before. It reminds Wei Wuxian a little too much of when they were young and Lan Zhan kept himself hidden away behind a polite mask.
“Lan Zhan,” he whispers, but before Lan Zhan responds, the doctor comes in. Wei Wuxian tries to sit up straight and look like he belongs here. A mature, responsible resident of Cloud Recesses. Hah.
“Another curse, Wei-gongzi?” she asks drily. Wei Wuxian winces a little bit but nods.
“Yeah, I can’t remember anything? I mean, some things, but nothing beyond a certain date.”
“From when you were in the Burial Mounds, correct?” Her tone is casual, and it makes Wei Wuxian’s breath catch. Do people just talk about the Burial Mounds like this now? As if it’s nothing?
She looks up and nods. “I’m going to try a few things.” She goes through needles and medicinal tea and talismans, but nothing changes. Wei Wuxian shakes his head sadly. Lan Zhan watches without speaking, locked away somewhere Wei Wuxian can’t follow.
“Hm,” the doctor says, and frowns. That’s not...that’s not really what Wei Wuxian wanted to hear. She looks at her notes again and then meets his eye. “There are three known categories of curses which affect memory. The remedies I’ve tried should have resolved them. It’s possible, of course, that we’ll find another remedy, or something else will trigger the end of the curse.”
Lan Zhan says, “But the effect is currently unchanged.”
Outside, a songbird launches a trill into the quiet air.
“Yes,” the doctor says. No lying, Wei Wuxian thinks, a little wildly.
Lan Zhan stands abruptly. “Thank you for your efforts,” he says to the doctor, and then marches out of the door without so much as looking at Wei Wuxian. Wei Wuxian watches his back and tries to keep it together. It’s hard when he feels like all the pieces of himself are disintegrating before his eyes.
“So,” he says slowly, thinking the problem through. That’s what he’s good at, after all. Both creating problems and solving them. He’s not sure yet which this will turn out to be, although it’s heavily leaning towards creating. “So, the curse could end after a set period of time that we don’t know. Or it could be resolved by some mechanism that we also don’t know. But unless one of those two things happens, or we find the cure another way, I’ve lost everything between a random evening at the Burial Mounds and waking up yesterday.”
“That’s an accurate summary,” the doctor says. “I’m sorry, Wei-gongzi. We all are.” She looks upset too, which is the part Wei Wuxian can’t get over.
He laughs a little bit. “No, no, it’s not your fault. I mean, you must all be relieved that I’m in Caiyi now and out of your hair anyway!” He grins. It doesn’t have the effect he thought it would. She looks more upset instead of less. Maybe she’s a tough one, like Yu-furen, not really interested in his apologies. Maybe she’d rather have her patient directly under her care. But Wei Wuxian can’t stay here. The mere thought makes him want to scream.
“Wei-gongzi, we won’t give up,” she says. “Hanguang-jun and I will keep looking for the cure. We’ll make sure things go back to how they should be.”
Wei Wuxian’s chest tightens again, but he bows. “Thank you. I should go check on Lan Zhan, unless there’s something else you needed.”
“No,” she says. But then, “Be gentle with him, please, Wei-gongzi.”
As if he is going to go yell at Lan Zhan, or throw things around. Maybe people haven’t completely forgotten the Yiling-laozu after all. It's not as much of a relief as he expected. “I’ll try,” he manages to say, before he escapes.
He doesn’t meet anyone else on the way to the Jingshi, thank fuck. He’s not sure he could handle it. This has to get better eventually, right? Somehow they’ll figure out the solution, or he’ll get used to being in this time and this place. He’s good at that. Adaptable to even the worst circumstances. It has kept him alive more than once.
Someone is crying nearby, and it takes him a moment to realize that it’s Lan Zhan, hidden in the Jingshi. Crying with desperate, hitching breaths, in a way Wei Wuxian has never, ever heard. He swallows hard. What does he do? What can he do? He’s not the right person--in fact, he is exactly the wrong person--to try to comfort Lan Zhan right now.
A-Yuan, he thinks suddenly, the idea breaking through like sunlight. Wen Ning said that Lan Zhan practically raised A-Yuan. Therefore, he’ll know what to do. He needs to find A-Yuan. He turns and nearly runs toward the center of Cloud Recesses.
“Wei-qianbei?” someone asks him, and if one more person calls him that, he absolutely will start screaming after all.
“A-Yuan,” he says. “Sizhui. Lan Sizhui. Do you know where he is?”
The girl gives him a wide-eyed glance, but points to the training grounds behind the Lanshi.
“Thanks,” he grits out, and keeps moving.
Sizhui is overseeing a class of small disciples learning their first sword forms. He stops when he sees Wei Wuxian, though, and hands the class over to another junior.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian blurts out. “Hanguang-jun, I mean. He’s in the Jingshi. He’s...upset.”
Sizhui gives him a worried look. “Do you know why?”
“The doctor didn’t have any good answers,” Wei Wuxian says. “So I’m stuck like this for now. Sorry.”
“Oh.” Sizhui frowns. “He would be distressed by that.”
Wei Wuxian sets his teeth. He doesn’t need more reminders of how terrible this situation is for everyone else. “Yes, so can you do something about it?” he snaps.
“Hm,” Sizhui says. “Well, usually when Hanguang-jun is upset about something, he talks to you.”
“Great! Not really an option this time,” Wei Wuxian says. This boy is supposed to be A-Yuan, and A-Yuan loved--loves--loved him. Loved Lan Zhan. He can’t remember a happier afternoon than the one they all spent in Yiling together. He had hoped, he thinks, that A-Yuan would know how to fix everything. But this isn’t really his A-Yuan any longer.
Sizhui sighs, but when he speaks again his voice is gentler. “I’m sorry, Wei-qianbei. I’ll go and check on him. But be patient with yourself too.”
Wei Wuxian stares at him. “I’m not the one who needs help.”
“Okay,” Sizhui says, and pats his arm. “Still, I’m sure Wen-shu would like to hear all about your appointment.”
Wei Wuxian nods, because he can’t stand the thought of having to go back and face Lan Zhan right now. He can’t be that ghostly self for Lan Zhan, listening to his worries and knowing exactly what to say to make him feel better.
Did that Wei Ying tell Lan Zhan everything when he was feeling upset? He talks all the time, but that’s all chatter. He tries not to burden people with the things that really worry him. He can hardly imagine feeling so close to anyone that he would trust them with his secrets. It’s almost horrifying.
He leaves Sizhui, and leaves Lan Zhan, and leaves Cloud Recesses. He walks back to Wen Ning’s house, frowning as he goes.
In the morning, a message arrives. Lan Wangji doesn’t want to bother him, but Jiang-zongzhu will be arriving for his monthly visit the next day, and would be concerned if Wei Wuxian was not present to greet him. Wei Wuxian reads this message, and then reads it again. What.
He asks Wen Ning, who confirms that Jiang Cheng comes to visit once a month. One time, Wei Wuxian was out on a nighthunt and Jiang Cheng was convinced that Lan Zhan was hiding him away somewhere, and there was very nearly a diplomatic incident.
So, Wei Wuxian has to go back to Cloud Recesses after all.
The next day is rainy and warm. He feels silly carrying a waxed paper umbrella, but he does anyway. He makes sure his robe is clean and unwrinkled too. He knows how much Jiang Cheng cares about the reputation of the sect, and he doesn’t want--he’s already caused enough problems for Yunmeng Jiang.
He nods to the disciple at the gate, who doesn’t ask for a token this time either. He must have one, he thinks. It’s probably in the Jingshi, along with everything else from his other life. Chenqing might be there too, a tool he doesn't know if he needs any longer. He doesn’t quite want to ask Lan Zhan for either the token or the flute.
Lan Jingyi, the loud kid, waits for him by the Lanshi, looking a little glum. Wei Wuxian waves at him. He perks up at that, and smiles. “Wei-qianbei, you’re all right? I assume Wen-xiansheng didn’t come along.”
Wei Wuxian shakes his head. Apparently, Wen Ning isn’t interested in talking to Jiang Cheng and Jiang Cheng would rather fly straight back to Yunmeng than talk to Wen Ning. He didn’t get the full story, but he’s not going to upset whatever delicate equilibrium has been achieved.
Lan Jingyi takes him to one of the public buildings and pours tea. Wei Wuxian hovers by the door, frowning. “Is this where we usually meet?” he finally bursts out. It seems like a weird choice.
“Yes,” Lan Jingyi says. “It was decided that this was the most neutral place.”
Wei Wuxian frowns harder. It was decided. By whom? And why? There’s so much that he doesn’t understand any longer, because he wasn’t there when it happened. He feels like he’s walking along the narrow ridge-beam of a roof and only barely keeping his balance.
“Hanguang-jun is explaining the situation to Jiang-zongzhu,” Lan Jingyi tells him. “I put out your favorite peanuts and made the Yunmeng green tea.”
Wei Wuxian sits and reaches for a cup. It is indeed one of the Yunmeng varieties, a flavor so familiar that it makes his heart ache. “How did you know?” he asks. “Or--oh, is taking care of guests one of your duties?”
“Wei-qianbei.” Lan Jingyi sighs. “No. It’s what you always had me make when I came to talk to you.”
And there’s another one of those moments when he feels like he’s falling. “Uh, what did we talk about? I wasn’t trying to teach you demonic cultivation, was I? Because, don’t tell Lan Zhan he was right, but that’s a really bad idea.”
Lan Jingyi stares at him for a long moment. “You gave me advice whenever I was upset about sect things. Not being as a good a student as Sizhui, or disappointing Lan-shifu, or whatever.”
“Oh.” Wei Wuxian can’t imagine anyone asking him for advice, but he pictures that ghostly self sitting on the porch of the Jingshi and talking to Jingyi. Wise and competent in a way he doesn’t know how to be. “Sorry.”
“It’s not your fault, Wei-qianbei,” Lan Jingyi says, oddly gentle.
He opens his mouth to say something; he doesn’t even know what. The doors slide apart with a thud before he manages it and Wei Wuxian jumps up. Jiang Cheng strides in, a pinched expression on his face. Lan Zhan follows directly behind him, primly sedate in a way that means he’s definitely making a point. But Wei Wuxian doesn’t even care about that. “Jiang Cheng!’ he exclaims and beams. “Don’t look like that, your face will freeze! How are you going to get married with a frozen face, huh?”
A moment of stunned silence during which Wei Wuxian frantically reviews what he said. There’s nothing awful, he wants to protest. Maybe he shouldn’t have teased Jiang Cheng about getting married, but he’s been doing that for years. Why is everyone looking at him like that?
Then Jiang Cheng, without looking away from him, says, “I see what you mean, Lan Wangji.”
Wei Wuxian swallows. Jiang Cheng sounds so--so cold. Since when did he sound like that? Shit, shit, this is another one of those things that he’s missed a cue on. What had Lan Zhan told him, anyway?
He realizes suddenly that Jiang Cheng sounds like Yu-furen before a storm and swallows hard. “Sorry,” he whispers, trying to figure out how to fix it. He used to be--not good at it, but he could sometimes turn the lightning aside from Jiang Cheng or Shijie onto himself. But he’s the focus right now and he doesn’t know how to do this. He doesn’t know how to be the Wei Wuxian everyone else is looking for. He’s drenched with fear, cold with it.
“Wei Ying?” It’s Lan Zhan’s voice, low and warm. Concerned for him.
Wei Wuxian stares desperately back at him and tries to think of something to say.
Jiang Cheng’s frown lessens a little. “You’d better sit down,” he says abruptly. Wei Wuxian thumps down heavily by the table and tries to breathe.
“Jiang-zongzhu!” Lan Jingyi scolds. Jiang Cheng glares in answer, but he does sit at the table and lets Lan Jingyi pour him some tea as well. Then both the Lans leave, and it’s only Wei Wuxian and his....
“I’m sorry,” Wei Wuxian says, quiet and inadequate. If he had to lose his memories, could he not have lost the ones of fighting Jiang Cheng, of the slowly growing rift between them? Could he not have gone all the way back, to the beginning? To the golden light of Lotus Pier and his shidi beside him?
He tries to remember what Wen Ning told him about what happened with Jiang Cheng. Wen Ning hadn’t said much, just that he’d been at the final battle and on the cliff with Lan Zhan when Wei Wuxian fell.
“So, you don’t remember anything,” Jiang Cheng says. “I thought that husband of yours was making it up, but clearly not.”
Wei Wuxian flinches involuntarily. That husband of yours. Jiang Cheng watches him as he takes a sip of the Yunmeng tea. “I remember seeing you and Shijie in Yiling, when you came to show me her wedding clothes,” he says. “And tell me about the baby. And then that’s it.”
Jiang Cheng’s face changes. “That was the last time--” he starts and then doesn’t say anything else.
“I know,” Wei Wuxian says, because he does. The last time we were happy, he thinks.
Jiang Cheng says, “This is weird.” He turns the teacup around in his fingers.
“Yeah,” Wei Wuxian agrees. “Sorry.” He remembers how he made Wen Ning tell him everything he knew about Shijie’s death. He remembers how Wen Ning said that Jiang Cheng blamed him, that he blamed himself. He can’t remember for himself, but he still feels the acid curl of regret in his stomach.
“How many times are you going to apologize?”
He shrugs. “I don’t know. How many times do you want?” He laughs, rusty, not his best effort ever. He has to get it together somehow. “I know you must be wishing I was back to normal.”
Jiang Cheng blinks. “That’s...not what I was thinking.”
Wei Wuxian pours some more tea, to give himself time to think. He’s still not reaching a firm conclusion.
“You acted like none of it had happened, when I came in,” Jiang Cheng says. His voice is low and he sounds defensive, the way he always does when he’s forced to talk about his feelings. He hides them away under his bluster because he doesn't think it's safe to show them. But Wei Wuxian knows how to see through him. “I guess it hasn’t, for you.” Then even quieter, “I missed you.”
“Aw, shidi,” Wei Wuxian says and bumps their shoulders together. Abruptly, Jiang Cheng’s eyes fill with tears, and then he blinks and they spill over.
“Fuck,” he says, shaky, and wipes his eyes. “Do you--I mean, how are you going to fix the curse?”
“I’m sure the doctor and Lan Zhan are working on it,” he says. “I haven’t asked.” He doesn’t want to know the answer. He hasn’t spoken to Lan Zhan since the appointment with the doctor two days ago. He is not someone Lan Zhan confides in, now.
Jiang Cheng snorts. “He’s definitely working on it. Can’t handle the idea of losing his Wei Ying again. Sizhui said he stayed up all night reading in the library.”
It feels like a pail of cold water thrown over him, being reminded yet again that he isn’t really Lan Zhan’s husband, Lan Zhan’s Wei Ying. That for Lan Zhan, the solution to all of this means that Wei Wuxian is replaced by the better version of himself.
He smiles anyway, because none of this is Jiang Cheng’s fault. “I’m staying with Wen Ning in Caiyi for now,” he explains.
“Hmm.” Jiang Cheng eyes him. “You could come to Lotus Pier, if you wanted.”
His smile this time is real. “Oh!” Then he stops to think. “I’d better not, since we don’t really know what this curse does or what triggers it. I wouldn’t want to find out that leaving Gusu means I go back to being a baby or something.”
Jiang Cheng sighs gustily. “Yeah, sure.”
“But you’ll--will you come next month?” Wei Wuxian asks. Jiang Cheng shoves him. “Ow! Be gentle with me! I’m fragile!”
“Yeah, yeah, no golden core, I know,” Jiang Cheng says and rolls his eyes.
Wei Wuxian squeaks. “What?” he asks, when he recovers the power of speech.
Jiang Cheng gives him a weird look.
“You know about that?”
“Uh, yeah. Wen Ning told me. I mean, that sounds nice and he was not nice about it.” Jiang Cheng shakes his head. “I guess. Huh. I didn’t think about you not knowing that I knew. I could have just waited to see how long it would take to tell me this time.”
“Jiang Cheng!” Wei Wuxian protests, but it’s weak.
“Whatever, someone would have let it slip sooner or later. And you were never going to tell me anyway.”
Wei Wuxian bites his lip. Jiang Cheng sounds irritated and a little hurt, but not exactly angry. An old wound, scabbed over. He tries to picture Jiang Cheng finding out. “What did...I say?” he asks, full of morbid curiosity.
Jiang Cheng snorts again, a huff of breath that is rapidly becoming too familiar. “Nothing. You had fainted. And then Lan Wangji hauled you off and I didn’t see you again until Guanyin Temple.”
“Lan Zhan knows?” Wei Wuxian clutches his forehead. “Ah, this is giving me such a headache. What the hell, did I go around spilling all my secrets in the future?”
Jiang Cheng, a monster, shrugs. “Guess you’ll have to find out,” he says. “Well, see you next month. If you change your mind about visiting, let me know.” And with that he’s gone, heading back to Lotus Pier with Wei Wuxian’s golden core thrumming with power.
“Why?” Wei Wuxian whispers to himself, but the answer is abundantly clear. Chaos still seems to follow him, as it always has. He sighs and picks up his waxed umbrella and goes to find Lan Zhan.
He hovers awkwardly outside the Jingshi, not even sure if Lan Zhan is there. But at last he gets up his courage and knocks, and then slides the doors open, unwilling to wait for a response and give himself time to run away.
Lan Zhan looks up from the small pile of paperwork in front of him, the neatly bound letters and rolled scrolls that must make up his correspondence. He looks tired to Wei Wuxian, although who knows what tired actually looks like on Lan Zhan? Not him. Not this version anyway. He has another of those ghostly images: walking in and rubbing Lan Zhan’s forehead for him, pouring tea and talking about his day while he pets Lan Zhan’s hair.
He blinks it away.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, so Wei Wuxian comes in and sits on the other side of the desk. “Jiang-zongzhu has left?”
“Yep, yeah. It was a good visit though, I think. Once we got past the weirdness of it all, anyway. I, ahaha, I don’t know. What’s all this?” He pokes at the nearest pile and it slides slowly into a little landslide of paper which Lan Zhan catches as it reaches the inkstone. “Sorry,” he says, contritely.
Lan Zhan rubs his head. Not Wei Ying’s imagination, then, that he looks tired. “Letters,” he says. “I am neither acting sect leader nor Chief Cultivator any longer, but people still ask me for help.”
“You deal with all of this by yourself?” Wei Wuxian asks, appalled. There’s so much. No wonder Lan Zhan looks tired. And then on top of it, he’s trying to find the solution to the curse so he can get his husband back.
“Not usually,” Lan Zhan replies; his mouth twists a little into a shape that Wei Wuxian doesn’t recognize.
“Oh,” he says quietly, when the meaning of this hits him. “Oh. I’m sorry.”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says on a sigh. “You have nothing to be sorry for.”
“Mm,” Wei Wuxian replies, instantly thinking of several dozen things he regrets very much. Then he shakes himself a little. No one likes a whiner, after all. “I could still help,” he offers. “I mean, at least with sorting out what’s urgent and what’s not, or what someone else could answer.” If he can’t be the right Wei Ying for Lan Zhan, he can try to ease some of the burden.
Lan Zhan gives him a long, steady look that makes him want to curl in on himself like a little bug. But at last he pushes a stack over to Wei Wuxian, who starts sorting the letters into “urgent” or “not urgent” with a smaller pile of “ask Lan Zhan.” It’s...nice. It’s the first time since the curse that he’s spent any time with Lan Zhan without one of them crying or upset. Lan Zhan looks over his piles and makes a few adjustments, but then nods and slides another stack to him.
The sun is sinking down to the west when they’re finally done. Wei Wuxian sighs and stretches. He looks up to find Lan Zhan watching him, an odd, soft look in his eyes. But Wei Wuxian feels all over again the gap between who he wants to be, who he used to be to Lan Zhan--and who he is right now. This self may be many things to Lan Zhan, but he’s not his husband. This look isn’t really for him.
He pastes a smile on his face and says, “Ah, Hanguang-jun! It’s dinner time already! Wen Ning must be wondering where I am.” He stands and bows.
When he straightens, Lan Zhan’s gaze is hooded again. “Of course. Please give him my greetings.” Wei Wuxian promises, and makes his way through Cloud Recesses. But he wishes that he wasn’t leaving. He wishes there was a place for him, for this version of him, in that quiet room, with Lan Zhan by his side.
There's nothing to fill his days now. They stretch out, long and empty. Wen Ning bustles around taking care of the house and meeting with A-Yuan. But Wei Wuxian has never been good at domesticity. The house is so quiet. Sometimes the silence presses in on him like a heavy weight.
The Burial Mounds were never quiet. People assumed they were, but they were wrong. When he was there the first time, they were loud with the voices of the resentful dead. When he was there the second time, they were loud with the voices of the living.
He misses them so much. Sishu should be right there, challenging Wei Wuxian to a game of Go with a wild gleam in his eye. Popo should be darning a quilt under the candles and making him thread her needle for her. Wen Qing should--
How is he supposed to stop grieving them? How can he, when everyone else has forgotten? Sometimes, unfairly, it even seems like Wen Ning has forgotten them. He thinks this, until one night when he can't sleep and gets up. Wen Ning is in the kitchen still, shaping dough with his gentle hands.
"I know you'd be worried about it too, Jiejie," he says to the empty air. "I feel so badly for everyone. But I think the best thing I can do is make sure Wei-gongzi is all right and keep telling A-Yuan that it will get better." There's a slap of dough against the table. "I wish you were here," Wen Ning says. "You would know what to do to fix it."
Wei Wuxian creeps away before Wen Ning realizes he's there and sits alone in the dark and cries. He can't say, even while he's stifling his sobs, if he's crying for himself, or for Wen Ning, or for the dead.
Wei Wuxian finally gets so restless that he walks up to Cloud Recesses without even being asked to. He finds himself hiking through the main compound and up to the hill where the rabbits live. Another one of those strange moments when his body seems to know something he himself does not.
But it's peaceful up here. Fall is coming to Gusu and there's a crispness in the air that makes him shiver. He talks to the rabbits for a while and then lays back and lets the dappled sunlight fall across his face.
Of course, he thinks, almost bitterly. He sighs and opens his eyes. Lan Zhan stands in the pathway, as impeccable as ever. The strangeness of it all strikes Wei Wuxian all over again. He is married to this man. They are married to each other. He tries to imagine it for a moment: Lan Zhan in their bed, Lan Zhan half dressed, Lan Zhan sleepy and soft. Lan Zhan vulnerable in a thousand small ways. But when he tries to picture himself, there’s only that ghost that’s a better version of him: all the sharp edges filed away.
He sits up.
"Hanguang-jun," he says, his voice coming out quiet and fond. He watches Lan Zhan's eyelids flicker. "Sorry for the invasion. I was bored."
There's a long moment of silence before Lan Zhan walks to him. "Bored?"
"Mm." Wei Wuxian fiddles with one of the rabbit's ears. It hops away and leaves him dangling his fingers in the air. "I don't...have anything to do."
Lan Zhan blinks again at this. "You've always been busy with something, as long as I've known you," he offers at last.
Wei Wuxian croaks out a laugh. “Yeah, sure, but what if I start something and then my memory comes back and I’m gone?” He doesn’t say that this feels like borrowed time, the way that scant year in the Burial Mounds had. Like if he sinks too much of himself into it, he’ll end up losing it all again.
“Hm,” Lan Zhan says. “If your memory does come back, we don’t know that you’ll forget anything that’s happened.”
“Yeah, but why take the risk?” Wei Wuxian snaps. Then he sighs. “Sorry, sorry.” He tries to smile.
Lan Zhan looks at him. “Wei Ying. What are you actually upset about?”
Shit. How does Lan Zhan see through him like this? Two years, he thinks, and grimaces. “I don’t know. The whole situation is getting to me, I guess.” He bites his lip and then flashes a quick smile in Lan Zhan’s direction. A little more successful this time. “Stop towering over me, Lan Zhan. Sit down.”
To his surprise, Lan Zhan does. He folds his hands neatly in his lap and looks out over the path. "Would you like me to play for you?" he asks.
"What, really? I mean, sure." Wei Wuxian hugs his knees and watches as Lan Zhan pulls out his qin and checks the tuning. Then he closes his eyes and listens to Clarity, and another song he faintly remembers Lan Zhan playing for him once before. There's a little silence after that and then Lan Zhan plays one of the dirtiest folk songs Wei Wuxian knows. Wei Wuxian sits bolt upright and stares at him. "Lan Wangji," he gasps, genuinely scandalized. "How in the world do you know that song?"
Lan Zhan quirks an eyebrow at him. "How do you think?"
"No, no, no. This is absurd," Wei Wuxian protests, but Lan Zhan just keeps playing until Wei Wuxian knows he must be blushing fiercely and can't seem to stop. He's genuinely grateful when Lan Sizhui appears with a basket and stops short at the sight of the two of them together. Lan Zhan puts his qin away with a brief gesture.
"Feeding the rabbits?" Wei Wuxian asks. He's trying to sound cheerful. This Sizhui is supposed to be his little A-Yuan, all grown up. Safe, the way he never was before. Wei Wuxian can't quite see it, though he's looked and looked.
Sizhui gives him a small smile and nods.
Wei Wuxian thinks of the hours they spent in that cave, of the way everyone doted on A-Yuan. The only child left. Perhaps there would have been more eventually. But there was never time.
Sizhui startles him by sitting next to Lan Zhan and then leaning over to put his head on Lan Zhan's lap. He's about to ask what's wrong when Lan Zhan starts stroking Sizhui's hair. Wei Wuxian gapes for a moment and then laughs. "Lan Zhan, you big softy!'
Lan Zhan looks over at him, unperturbed by the teasing. "I learned my lesson," he says quietly. "If I care about someone, I should show it in ways they understand."
Wei Wuxian’s chest aches. He rubs it slowly, trying to absorb that. It’s so sweet--that’s what hurts. Lan Zhan really means it: that he wants to take care of the people he loves. But it only reminds Wei Wuxian all over again that this version of him isn’t one of them.
What would that Wei Wuxian, cared for and wanted and loved, do? Probably complain about not having his hair petted and insist that A-Yuan sit between them while he draped himself across Lan Zhan’s lap. He can almost imagine it, but it feels like a dream. Like a world that never was.
He sighs. “I should get back to Caiyi,” he says. Lan Zhan looks up at this and frowns.
“You would be welcome to stay if you wanted,” he says. “Wei Ying, you’re always welcome here.”
“I know, I know,” Wei Wuxian says and gives him a tired smile. “Thanks for playing for me, Lan Zhan.” He gives Sizhui a little nod, because it’s all he can do right now, he thinks. Then he walks back to Caiyi, trying to ignore the ache in his heart.
The next week, Wei Wuxian is trying to clear up the courtyard, in a listless sort of way, when the door to the street opens and Lan Zhan walks in. Wei Wuxian feels so surprised to see him, here in Wen Ning's quiet house. He gapes like any urchin, forgetting that his sleeves are rolled up and he's holding a broom. "Wen Ning's at the market," he says at last, and that snaps him out of his haze. "Sorry, sorry, Lan Zhan, do you want some tea? Or I think Wen Ning made some cakes the other day." He's starting to panic a little bit.
"No need," Lan Zhan says, perhaps sensing Wei Wuxian's dithering. "I only wanted to ask if you would come and help me with the correspondence again. You were helpful the other day.”
“Oh, sure, of course,” Wei Wuxian says. “But wouldn’t one of your disciples be better for that?”
Lan Zhan shakes his head decisively. “Those who are able have their own duties, and you have a flexibility of mind which I’ve found useful in the past.”
Wei Wuxian snorts a laugh. “Flexibility of mind, Lan Zhan?”
Lan Zhan only blinks at him and nods. “You adapt to your circumstances.”
Wei Wuxian stares at him, feeling uncomfortably warm. He seems entirely sincere. “What happened to all the fuss about demonic cultivation?” he demands.
Lan Zhan looks away. For a moment he looks so lost. “I regret the way I spoke to you,” he says. Wei Wuxian rocks back a step. “I was concerned, but I didn’t express it in a way that was helpful."
“Well, be fair, Lan Zhan, I wasn’t really interested in hearing it.” Wei Wuxian pictures the cliff in Nightless City, remembers the wash of anger and hatred and guilt that was his usual state at the end of the Sunshot Campaign. He closes his eyes and lets it fade away. “If you really mean it, of course I’ll help.”
“Tomorrow, then.” Lan Zhan pauses at the door and looks back once. “Thank you, Wei Ying. I know this hasn’t been easy for you.”
How is he supposed to respond to that? “It hasn’t--I mean, it hasn’t been easy for anyone. Poor Wen Ning thought he was finally free of me, haha.”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says. Fond and chiding. Like he knows this line of bullshit so well and won’t let Wei Wuxian get away with it. It makes Wei Wuxian feel desperate, the way Lan Zhan knows him. It makes him want to grab hold and never let go. But that wouldn’t be fair to Lan Zhan, who misses the other version, the Wei Ying he’s really talking to. So he holds tight to the broom handle instead.
“Okay, okay,” he manages at last. He sounds all rough and emotional, but Lan Zhan lets that go and turns to leave.
He gets up early the next morning and eats the noodles Wen Ning makes for him. Then he walks up the hill. The disciples at the gate tell him that Lan Zhan is in the Lanshi, and he thanks them. It makes sense to meet there. Easier than the intimacy of the Jingshi, where they’ll both be thinking of what should be.
He still takes a deep breath before he goes in. How many hours did he spend sitting at these desks, watching the long line of Lan Zhan’s neck and making trouble with Nie Huaisang? The memories cling to him like smoke as he walks through to the alcove where Lan Zhan has settled in for the day.
He folds himself down by the desk and smiles at Lan Zhan, trying to look proper. If he can’t be the right version of himself, at least he can be good. He sits straight, hands folded in his lap, and waits.
“Wei Ying?” Lan Zhan sets down his brush and frowns. “Are you well? You look odd.”
“I’m trying to behave!” Wei Wuxian protests.
“Why?” Lan Zhan seems genuinely baffled.
“Why?” Wei Wuxian feels that rising tide of desperation again. “I mean, don’t you want me to?”
“You never have before,” Lan Zhan says, pushing a stack of letters towards Wei Wuxian. “I don’t see why you should start now. There is tea if you want it. Set any you don’t understand or aren’t sure of aside, and we’ll look at them together.”
Wei Wuxian glares at him. This is all too much! But Lan Zhan is already writing again and the glare only reaches the top of his head. So Wei Wuxian picks up the first letter and transfers his ire to the paper.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says eventually. Wei Wuxian, who has found a spare set of writing implements and is busy jotting down notes in the margins of the latest letter, flaps a hand at him. “Wei Ying.”
“Go on without me, sweetheart,” Wei Wuxian says, moved by an instinct that is not his, and then freezes. “I mean.” He has never called Lan Zhan sweetheart. He has never even thought about it. He wants to tear the paper in front of him to shreds.
When he manages to look up, Lan Zhan’s eyes are so wide and so dark in his pale face. He swallows heavily under the weight of that gaze.
“Lunchtime,” Lan Zhan says weakly.
"Okay," Wei Wuxian whispers.
Lunch is excruciatingly awkward, especially when it turns out that Wei Wuxian is expected to join Lan-shifu and Zewu-jun as well as Lan Zhan. Jingyi makes a face at him when he comes in, like, bad luck, glad it's not me, and Wei Wuxian grimaces back.
Lan Zhan acts unperturbed and puts rice and vegetables in a bowl for Wei Wuxian. Zewu-jun watches this with a frown on his face, while Lan-shifu strokes his beard.
"Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, you don't need to do that," Wei Wuxian whispers, before remembering that they're supposed to be silent at meals and shutting up.
Oddly enough, this makes Zewu-jun smile. "I'm glad to see that some things don't change," the sect leader tells him.
"Sorry, sorry," Wei Wuxian whispers and then clamps his mouth shut, waiting for the reprimand from Lan-shifu. When he glances over, though, his old teacher is only giving him a puzzled look, which slides over to Lan Zhan and then back. Wei Wuxian gulps and drops his gaze to the food, which does look okay. Maybe Lan Zhan knows what he likes. He eats. It's still tasteless, but not as bad as he expected.
When they're done, Lan Zhan taps his wrist, a fleeting warmth against his skin that makes him flush again. He wants to get away.
"Please come and have tea with me before you leave," Zewu-jun says, so even that hope is dashed. Wei Wuxian manages to respond politely and escape to the Lanshi before anything else dire occurs. A small fire, or a wave of malevolent cultivators. Wait, now it sounds like he wants something dire. He thunks his head down on the desk in despair.
"Lan Zhan, was that lunch extra terrible, or is that the atmosphere every day?" he asks, before he can help himself.
Lan Zhan sits opposite him. "Your hair is getting in the ink," he observes. "My brother has been feeling protective, and my uncle worries."
"So it was extra bad?" Wei Wuxian asks, sitting up and examining the ends of his hair, which are indeed inky.
"Mm," Lan Zhan agrees. "Sizhui looked as if he was about to cry at one point."
Wei Wuxian drops his hair. He's wearing black anyway. It'll be fine. "Really?"
"He is also worried," Lan Zhan says, not looking up.
"Aw," Wei Wuxian says. He searches for something real he can say, some sort of truth to offer Lan Zhan. "I'm glad you have so many people who worry over you, Lan Zhan."
Lan Zhan drops his brush and meets Wei Wuxian's eyes. "They are also worried about you," he says, with a suppressed emotion that Wei Wuxian can't quite identify.
"Oh, sure." He waves his hand. "But I mean it."
Lan Zhan still looks distressed, but he doesn't argue. He looks at Wei Wuxian with a little frown between his eyebrows.
"Anyway! Here are all the letters I had questions about," Wei Wuxian says, pushing the pile across the desk. Their fingertips just brush as Lan Zhan takes them and Wei Wuxian feels his heart pounding. Maybe trying to work together was a mistake.
But as they go through the letters, he starts to feel a little pull of interest. He’s never been particularly invested in the political workings of the cultivation world, but he likes people. He likes knowing what makes them tick. And it’s nice to be on the same side as Lan Zhan, solving problems together. Even if it’s not exactly what either of them want, the work still matters. It’s something good to do, and Wei Wuxian hasn’t realized how much he misses that until this moment.
Tea with Zewu-jun is...well, fraught comes to mind. Facing the sect leader’s polite questions, Wei Wuxian feels more than ever as if he’s balancing on a thin beam. He doesn’t know his future plans because he doesn’t have any. He doesn’t even have his own life, only this borrowed one that he’ll have to give back eventually. Even if that hurts to think about, it’s still the best outcome for everyone.
He stutters and stumbles through the conversation, not sure how much he’s giving away. He doesn’t understand the point of some of these questions. He knows he’s upsetting Lan Zhan, but surely Zewu-jun can understand why Wei Wuxian needs to stay away for now?
His mood doesn’t improve when he finally leaves and finds Lan Sizhui waiting for him.
"Wei-qianbei," Sizhui says. "Lan-shifu wants to see you, if you have time."
Wei Wuxian stops short. "Do I have time?" he asks wildly. "Ahaha."
"It won't be so bad," Sizhui promises. "I'll walk you over."
The silence on the way gets to him, and he blurts out, "I thought you didn't want to see me."
Sizhui stops short and looks at him. For this one moment he looks eerily like his aunt. "I was upset at first," he agrees. "But none of us expected this to go on for so long."
"I know, I know, I'm sorry." Wei Wuxian tugs at the hem of his sleeves, feeling guilty all over again.
"Wei-qianbei…" Sizhui sighs. "I had finally settled down and figured out how to act around you, and now I have to do it all over again. And that was hard for a while. But you don't need to be sorry for it."
"Okay," Wei Wuxian says, because he does get that, now that Wen Ning has explained A-Yuan's whole story to him. "Okay. I missed you, that's all!"
"I missed you too," Sizhui says. "Please stop stalling and go talk to Lan-shifu."
Wei Wuxian groans, but he goes. Lan Qiren is sitting by a window frowning down at a book. Wei Wuxian mentally thanks Yu-furen for all of the deportment lessons and bows. Lan Qiren gestures and he sits.
"Wei Wuxian," Lan Qiren says. "Are you well?"
It's such an unexpected question that Wei Wuxian gapes at him for a moment. "I'm fine, I'm fine," he says at last. "I'm sorry for all the trouble I've caused."
"Hm." Lan Qiren gives him a very piercing look. "Of course you won't remember this, but before you and Wangji were married, you came and spoke with me. You told me that you would always do everything in your power to make Wangji happy. I said that acting virtuously should be the most important thing. Do you know what you told me?"
"Well, no," Wei Wuxian points out apologetically.
"What would you say to that, then?" Lan Qiren asks.
Wei Wuxian has to stop and think for a while. Lan-shifu doesn't rush him. "I would say--I would say that both virtue and happiness flow from having courage and integrity, like the Lan Principles say. And since Lan Wangji has a good heart and a good mind, he will always be happiest and most virtuous when he is trusted to follow them."
Lan Qiren sits back and nods. "Yes. Exactly."
Wei Wuxian blinks at him.
“Oh, not word for word. You also had some choice points about family history which I suppose you currently don't know. But the sentiment is the same. Do you understand what I'm trying to say?"
Wei Wuxian laughs awkwardly. "Lan Wangji is great? I mean, obviously I agree."
Lan Qiren sighs. "No. Pay attention. You are being unfair to Wangji, and unfair to yourself. Find a way to fix it." He fixes Wei Wuxian with an all-too-familiar glare. "Also, we are in dire need of your teaching skills. I have added you to the roster for the youngest disciples for the time being."
"Lan-shifu," Wei Wuxian starts, but then he thinks better of it. "Thank you for speaking with me," he finishes. It's weak and they both know it, but Lan Qiren graciously overlooks this.
As Wei Wuxian stumbles back towards Wen Ning's house, he thinks that after today he would be quite happy to never see a Lan again. But even as the thought comes, he knows that he doesn’t really mean it.
When Wei Wuxian arrives at Cloud Recesses the next day, he finds Jingyi and Sizhui talking to a gangly boy in Jin robes. Weird, he thinks, but keeps walking. He had some thoughts about an organizational system for Lan Zhan's correspondence last night--well, early this morning--and he's eager to try them out.
"Hey!" he hears someone shout and then running feet. He turns to look and almost smacks into the gangly Jin kid, who's snuck up behind him and is scowling. Something about the scowling looks very familiar.
"Wow, Dajiu," the kid says in an extremely annoying way. “Won’t even say hi to me, huh?”
Wei Wuxian's mouth drops open and he makes a weird wheezy noise and sits down hard on the path.
"Jin Ling!" Jingyi scolds, rushing up to them. "We told you. He doesn't remember anything! You would be a mere baby to him!"
Shit, Wei Wuxian thinks in a dazed way. Shit, this is his Shijie's son, what the fuck. Then he has to mentally apologize to his Shijie for swearing around her. Then he has to stare at this youth who was born and grew up and is now an entire person somehow. Then he has to wheeze for a while longer. For some reason this is really messing him up. He could theoretically deal with the concept of having lost the last twenty years or so, but no, this is too much.
"Hey," Jin Ling says again, but he sounds tentative this time. "Are you okay? You don't look great."
"I'm fine," Wei Wuxian says, but then he looks up and sees Jin Ling looking worried, and that expression is so much his mother's, who Wei Wuxian will never see again. He feels tears start to his eyes. "I'm fine," he whispers, but he doesn't think he's fooling anyone.
"Where’s Hanguang-jun?" Jin Ling demands. "Shouldn't he be around here, fluttering over his husband?"
A distinctly awkward silence falls before Sizhui says politely, "Hanguang-jun is giving Wei-qianbei some time to adjust."
Is that what Lan Zhan has been telling everyone? Sweet of him to put it that way, rather than saying that Wei Wuxian couldn't handle it and fled to Caiyi, which would be more accurate.
"Space?" Jin Ling says, and snorts. "Since when have those two ever needed space?"
"You weren't here right after Wei-qianbei got back from traveling," Jingyi disagrees. "It was weird. They did a lot of this."
They did? Wei Wuxian thinks, baffled. He’s been thinking of those ghostly images almost constantly, turning them over and over in his mind. Smiling in the Jingshi, sitting with the rabbits, playing music in the hills and valleys of Cloud Recesses. He will admit that he's a little in love with this Lan Zhan, who has grown up to be so steady, so much himself. He admires the way Lan Zhan deals with matters in the cultivation world. He enjoys his quiet humor. He likes the warmth in his voice when he talks to the disciples. Wei Wuxian was fascinated by Lan Zhan when they were younger, but he could never have predicted what kind of man he would turn out to be. If that's true, though, how could Lan Zhan ever love him, this Wei Wuxian? The warmth and humor aren't for the Yiling-laozu, or this strange echo of him.
He wishes and he wants, but he can't imagine those wishes coming true. But he hasn’t pictured awkwardness, or hesitance. Except, that first night Wen Ning did say that it took them some time. And Lan Qiren said something about family history. He wonders, suddenly, if he’s been thinking about this all wrong.
“Anyway, I didn’t come all this way to not visit you," Jin Ling says, and Wei Wuxian blinks.
His nephew rolls his eyes. "Come on, Dajiu. Let's go to that teahouse in Caiyi you like and get drunk."
Wei Wuxian agrees, because he isn't about to pass up the chance to spend time with any of his remaining family. They drink wine and play card games with a dilapidated deck that has some stains Wei Wuxian would rather not think about. Once he's accepted the situation, Jin Ling doesn't seem as bothered as everyone else.
"I mean, you're more fun," he says, when Wei Wuxian brings this up.
"I am?" Wei Wuxian asks, surprised.
Jin Ling shrugs. "You didn't make me wait until after dinner to go out, or cut me off at two cups, so yeah. You grow up to be too responsible."
Wei Wuxian snorts a laugh. "I am grown up right now!"
"Yeah, yeah, you've seen things you never want anyone else to experience, I know." Jin Ling shrugs. "I don't know. You still seem younger."
"Huh." Wei Wuxian thinks it over and then gives up and pours more wine. In the end, Wen Ning shows up and steers them both back to his house, where he makes them noodles and forces them to drink herbal teas. To Wei Wuxian's delight, Jin Ling doesn't seem bothered by Wen Ning at all. He chats with him about Sizhui, and puts more noodles in Wei Wuxian’s bowl, and then falls asleep right at the table. They have to carry him off to bed, where he snores gently all night.
Winter arrives and Wei Wuxian shivers his way through the chilly air, until Lan Zhan forces a cloak on him. He doesn’t say where it came from, but Wei Wuxian strongly suspects that it’s been in storage in the Jingshi. It’s a nice cloak, with a fur collar that keeps his neck toasty. So he takes it and tries not to think about it too much.
At home, he takes to wrapping himself in his quilt and waddling around the house like a very large baby. He feels silly about it, but it works. He still misses the warmer winters in Yunmeng so much that he seriously considers going to visit Jiang Cheng after all.
Even worse, it’s been almost half a year since the curse, and nothing has changed. Well, that’s not quite true. He doesn’t feel as lost and desperate as he did at first. He doesn’t feel as overwhelmed with grief. Like it or not, he’s building a life in this strange future world. But still. If the curse was going to disappear on its own, it should have by now, right?
And he misses Lan Zhan, even when they’re working together. It’s good, but it’s not the same. And then he has to laugh at himself. The same as what? When they were young and he wasn’t even sure if Lan Zhan liked him? The marriage he doesn’t even remember? He sighs and tries to remind himself that something will have to change soon, crack open like the thin ice on the Cold Pond.
He’s feeling antsy one morning. Lan Zhan is deep in research for a problem in a little sect south of Yunmeng, and Wei Wuxian keeps thinking about the river and the lakes. About the sound of the bells in the breeze and the way his room was never totally quiet because the water was always there. He misses the past, like a physical ache. He cups his hands around some tea and tries to think of anything else.
“Lan Zhan,” he says abruptly. “Why would I have talked about your family history with your uncle?”
Lan Zhan sets down his brush. “In what context?” he asks, which is so exactly Lan Zhan. Wei Wuxian smiles.
“He said that I mentioned it right before we were married.” Then he feels silly putting it that way.
“Ah.” Lan Zhan looks down and takes a deep breath. He seems so serious suddenly. Wei Wuxian wants to hold his hand and tell him it will be all right. “I imagine he was referring to my parents’ story,” he says, and in bare, plain language explains the history of Lan-furen and Qingheng-jun. Wei Wuxian clutches his tea as he listens, horrified.
When he is finished, Lan Zhan pauses for a moment and then says, quietly, “I have always been afraid of becoming my father in one sense. My uncle has always been afraid that I will become like him in another.”
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says helplessly. “I didn’t know.”
“I know. My brother told you after your return, so you wouldn’t remember now.” He gives Wei Wuxian the barest edge of a smile. “You and I spent a long time talking about it when we first discussed marrying. I was afraid of holding you too tightly.”
“You wouldn’t,” Wei Wuxian says hotly. “Lan Zhan, you would never.”
“That’s what you said then as well,” Lan Zhan says.
“Because it’s true!” Wei Wuxian bites his lip and then reaches out and pats Lan Zhan’s hand. “I shouldn’t have asked you so lightly.” He thinks about Lan Zhan, always torn between being his father’s son and his mother’s. Torn between excess and love. He thinks about the stubbornness that’s rooted deep in his personality, and the way he asked Wei Wuxian to come back to Gusu. He thinks of the small boy kneeling outside the Jingshi, and the man who made it into a home.
“I don’t mind telling you.” Lan Zhan swallows and then says, “I don’t mind sharing things, when it’s you.”
Wei Wuxian’s hand closes around Lan Zhan’s for a few breaths and then he lets go. As he sits back, he wonders what changed about the way he saw Lan Zhan when he heard this story the first time.
Although he is invited to Cloud Recesses for the New Year, Wei Wuxian decides to stay with Wen Ning instead. Sizhui comes along in the evening and they eat together. Afterwards, Wei Wuxian and Wen Ning trade stories from their student days and the Burial Mounds. Some are funny and some are sad, but Sizhui sits and listens to all of them, drinking them in like parched earth drinks rain.
When Wen Ning goes to get more food, Sizhui leans forward. "Thank you," he says. "I still don't remember much from when I was young, but I don't want to forget." Then he looks embarrassed. "Sorry, Wei-qianbei."
"Oh, A-Yuan," Wei Wuxian says, and sighs. "You've always been a sweet boy, you know."
"Have I?" Sizhui smiles at him. "You didn't like to tell me stories before. You always said you'd forgotten, but I think you just didn't like to remember."
Another one small crack in that ghostly life. Wei Wuxian can’t imagine not wanting to share what he does remember with Sizhui. “Well, we had a hard time in Yiling,” he says. He drinks some more wine. “It was sweet too, though. It felt like the end of everything and the best of everything all at once.” He gives Sizhui a tired smile. He misses everyone tonight. They only had one New Year together: a scavenged feast and an early night because they were all so exhausted. But their laughter when he tried to do a Yunmeng dance still echoes in his ears.
He misses everyone, but it feels bearable. Not like when he first woke up after the curse, when the loss was like a grindstone around his heart, crushing it to pieces. He misses everyone, but he is still here, and he wants that to mean something.
They say goodnight to Sizhui in the courtyard. He walks toward the path that leads to Cloud Recesses, a glimmer of white robes in the dark street. It was a good day, Wei Wuxian finds himself thinking. A good day for remembering, and a good day for new beginnings.
As spring approaches, Lan Zhan seems to get quieter and quieter. One morning, Wei Wuxian arrives to find the Lanshi empty, even though it’s their usual time to meet. He waits for a few minutes, but he’s too worried to do anything but walk up the path to the Jingshi.
When he opens the door, he finds Lan Zhan sitting by the window, still as stone.
“Lan Zhan,” he says, surprised, and Lan Zhan turns his head slowly, blinks his eyes as if he’s emerging from the cocoon of a dream.
Wei Wuxian sits opposite him. “Are you sick?” It’s the only thing he can think of that would make Lan Zhan act like this.
Lan Zhan shakes his head. “It’s...I don’t want to say.” His voice is quieter than usual, hesitant in a way Wei Wuxian can’t remember ever hearing from him. He’s not a chatty person, but when he does speak, he’s decisive. Wei Wuxian doesn’t push. He pours Lan Zhan some tea and gently nags him into drinking a cup.
“See, I’ll even have some too,” he says. “You’re always saying it would be good for me!”
When he’s finished, Lan Zhan looks down at his own hand around the empty cup and says, “We were married on this day, three years ago.”
Wei Wuxian sits back abruptly, feeling as if someone struck him.
“I always knew I was too happy for it to last,” Lan Zhan says, in a voice as bleak as winter.
“Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says. This is awful. He doesn’t know what to do, or what to say that won’t make it worse. “I’m sorry.” He swallows hard. He wants--he wants so much that belongs to that ghostly life, to Lan Zhan’s Wei Ying. He sets that aside, although his throat aches. Because he wants Lan Zhan’s happiness, and he doesn’t know how to give it. “Would it be easier for you if...if we separated?"
Lan Zhan goes utterly still for a long time. Long enough that Wei Wuxian reaches out and touches the back of his wrist gently. His skin is so warm under Wei Wuxian’s fingers. He looks up at the touch and his face looks like it did that first night, when Wei Wuxian wouldn’t listen to him. “Is that what you want?” he asks at last.
Wei Wuxian draws his hand back and laughs. He doesn’t mean to, but it’s such an absurd idea. “No! Why would I want that?”
“Because you’re angry with me,” Lan Zhan says, as if it’s an immutable fact.
“I’m not angry with you!” Wei Wuxian protests. “How did you get that idea? No, but I thought maybe you would be happier. I know this isn’t what you wanted.”
“You thought I would be happier without you?” Lan Zhan asks. “Wei Ying. Is that really what you think?”
Wei Wuxian gulps in a desperate breath. “I’m not your--your Wei Ying, though. Your husband. I’m not the one you love.”
Lan Zhan melts all at once into a softness that Wei Wuxian doesn’t think he’s ever seen. Not in this lifetime, anyway. “Wei Ying. I fell in love with you when we were fifteen. I loved you through war, and all the years when you were lost. Of course you’re the one I love.”
“But I’m not the right one,” Wei Wuxian says, obscurely. He can feel the wetness of tears on his cheek, but he can’t focus on that. Not yet.
Lan Zhan seems to understand anyway, because he moves closer and puts his hand over Wei Wuxian’s. “I didn’t realize you felt that way,” he says softly. “I thought you were angry with me.”
“You were angry with me, during those last days. You were angry when you first woke after the curse. You wouldn’t listen to me, and I didn’t know how to help. I didn’t want to keep you here and make this a prison instead of a home once again.” He leans his head on Wei Wuxian’s shoulder and sighs. “I should have been more clear with you. I’m sorry.”
And the aching honesty of that, the trust of it, breaks Wei Wuxian’s heart open. He reaches up to stroke Lan Zhan’s hair, the silk of it under his own too-soft fingertips.
Lan Zhan says, in a strange, choked voice, “I missed you so much. I missed this so much.” Wei Wuxian hears a hitching breath and realizes that Lan Zhan is crying too.
“I’m sorry, Lan Zhan, I’m sorry. I don’t know how to fix that,” he says. He wants to. He wants so much for them both to be happy, but he still doesn’t see a road that leads there.
“I missed you,” Lan Zhan says, stubborn as ever. And Wei Wuxian stops for a moment, overwhelmed by the way that sounds.
“Not me,” he reminds Lan Zhan gently, rubbing his back a little. It’s one of those strange body-memories. His hands know what will comfort Lan Zhan even if he doesn’t.
“Yes,” Lan Zhan insists. “You, Wei Ying. Any of you, all of you.”
“Sweetheart,” Wei Wuxian says, without thinking, the way he had in the Lanshi. And then again, meaning it this time. “Sweetheart, Lan Zhan.” Lan Zhan clings closer to him and makes a choking sound. “Shhh,” he says, still rubbing Lan Zhan’s back. “Shhh, it’s all right.”
Lan Zhan raises his head and looks him in the eye. “I love you. I know it doesn’t change anything between us, but it’s the truth. I love you, Wei Ying.”
Wei Wuxian heaves a sigh. “What am I supposed to do with you?” he complains. He holds out his arms. “Come back here.” Lan Zhan does, and Wei Wuxian holds him close: the silk of his hair against Wei Wuxian’s chin, the warmth of his skin against Wei Wuxian’s neck, the weight of his body against Wei Wuxian’s bones.
He closes his eyes and thinks about the way they’ve always shaped each other and reshaped each other, from that first day at the gate of Cloud Recesses. The long years that Lan Zhan spent alone. The two years they spent together. He wants, with a sudden fierceness that surprises him, to spend the rest of whatever life he has with Lan Zhan.
They sit in the quiet Jingshi, wound around each other, not speaking, until the blue dusk of early evening falls.
“Wen Ning,” Wei Wuxian says one day, “would you be upset if I left?” He pops another dumpling in his mouth. He’ll miss Wen Ning’s cooking.
“You’re always free to do what you want, Wei-gongzi.” Wen Ning pauses. “But where would you go?”
“Weeeeell,” Wei Wuxian says, drawing the word out. He feels strangely superstitious about saying it out loud. “I’ve been thinking I might move back to Cloud Recesses.”
Wen Ning sits up a little straighter and beams at him. "Really? That's wonderful! Hanguang-jun has been so sad without you."
"Wen Ning," Wei Wuxian starts and then smiles and shakes his head. "You've been a good friend to me. Much better than I deserve."
"You saved my life," Wen Ning reminds him. "And anyway, everyone should have a good friend."
"Mm," Wei Wuxian says, around another dumpling. But it's true. He doesn't know where he would be without Wen Ning's affection. Without Jingyi's patience in those early, terrible days. He has been so enriched by their kindness. "Wen Ning," he says, feeling suddenly that this is an urgent, important thing to say out loud. "Thank you for everything you've done."
"I'm glad you're happier," Wen Ning says, and nods. And that's that.
He waits to put his plan into action until he knows that Lan Zhan is visiting his brother in the Hanshi. Once Jingyi tells him that Lan Zhan is out of the way, he grabs his bag and makes his way to the Jingshi.
He didn't exactly tell Wen Ning this part: that moving back in is a surprise for Lan Zhan. He just...doesn't want to talk about it, that's all. So he unties his bag and starts unfolding his robes.
"Wei Ying?" He jerks up to see Lan Zhan standing in the doorway, looking at the bag and then at Wei Wuxian himself. Oh. Oh no. He really should have talked about it, he thinks distantly.
"Ahhhh, hello." He waves an awkward hand and Lan Zhan steps in.
"What are you doing?"
It's a fair question that doesn't have an unembarrassing answer. "I thought I would move back?" His voice comes out all hesitant and weird and he hates this. This was his worst idea. He's about to grab his robes and stuff them back into his bag when Lan Zhan catches his wrist. Wei Wuxian pauses and blinks up at him.
“Do you mean that?” Lan Zhan asks. He’s speaking so carefully, in a way that makes Wei Wuxian think he’s struggling to moderate his tone. “Wei Ying, you have other options. We can find you quarters, or your own house in Caiyi. You can travel. Because if you don’t mean it, then I--” He stops short and presses his lips together, biting back whatever he was about to say.
Wei Wuxian thinks about the history of this house, the way Lan Zhan has remade it into a home. The way his body still knows where everything here is kept. The way he still knows Lan Zhan. He’s tired of ghosts. He’s tired of envying himself instead of reaching out for what he wants, when it is right here in front of him.
When he speaks, he sounds horribly soft and fond. “You know I like traveling. I’d enjoy visiting Jin Ling and Jiang Cheng. But I mean it. This is what I want. You’re what I want, Lan Zhan, please.”
Lan Zhan looks at him for another moment, searching his face. It feels like he’s poised on that narrow beam, about to jump, waiting to find out what will greet him. “Yes,” Lan Zhan says. “Yes, Wei Ying, always.”
Wei Wuxian lets out a stuttering breath and dives into Lan Zhan's arms. They reach out to catch him, close around him. He puts his hand over Lan Zhan's heart to feel the steady beat, and then he finally looks up.
Lan Zhan looks back at him, serious and soft. No one else looks like this. No one in all the world has ever looked at him like this. Wei Wuxian may not be certain of much, but he's certain of this.
"I love you," Lan Zhan says, steady and solemn.
Wei Wuxian lets out a little gasp and hides his face in his hands. “Will you kiss me?” he asks, muffled, peeking out through his fingers.
Lan Zhan blinks, and then tucks a strand of hair behind Wei Wuxian's ear. "Is that something you want?" he asks, and Wei Wuxian nods wildly. A little smile and then a finger tilting his chin up. Then the warmth of Lan Zhan, and the softness of his lips.
It's not a gentle kiss at all. It's fierce and yearning, and in it Wei Wuxian feels all of the emotions which Lan Zhan has been holding back since that summer evening when his husband was cursed. He gasps and clings to Lan Zhan and promises himself that he won't ever let go again.
When he expresses this sentiment out loud, Lan Zhan says, "Hm. That may present some practical difficulties," so Wei Wuxian gasps again, this time in outrage.
"Be kind to me!" he splutters. "I can't believe you."
"I'm always kind to you," Lan Zhan says, unbothered.
Wei Wuxian sobers abruptly. He thinks of his talk with Lan Qiren, and the answer he gave. That Lan Zhan is happiest when he's trusted to follow his clever mind and his deep and loving heart. "You are," he says seriously. "Lan Zhan. I promise I’ll always come home, if you'll always greet me."
"Yes," Lan Zhan agrees and then pulls Wei Wuxian in for another kiss.
When Wei Wuxian wakes, he blinks at the ceiling for a moment before he remembers that he's in the Jingshi and the warm weight draped over him is Lan Zhan. He lies under the blue silk quilt and allows himself to want to be here, and be satisfied with wanting. He’s not envious of that other Wei Ying, the one that maybe never existed except in his imagination. Last night, when he explained everything to Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan laughed and then told him that if he ever wanted to hear the real stories, he’d be happy to tell them.
Maybe he will, when the ache has truly faded. Maybe they’ll sit with the rabbits and Lan Zhan will pet Wei Wuxian’s hair and tell them about the other ways they were happy together. Maybe someday the curse's hold on him will fade, or the doctor and Lan Zhan will figure out the trigger. But it doesn't matter. In the end, nothing has truly been broken, just remade in a different shape.
He takes a deep breath and lets it out, smiling up at the ceiling.
Lan Zhan stirs and then rises up on one elbow, looking at Wei Wuxian for a long moment, reassuring himself that this is real. He looks so soft and quiet like this, in the morning light. The way no one else has seen him.
"Ah, Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian says, the words spilling out of him. He feels his face split into a grin, light bursting through every pore of his being. He sees Lan Zhan's fond look in return, the way they fit together in the quiet bed. He will be happy here. They will remake happiness together, once again. Even now he can't stop smiling, can't help reaching up to trace the elegance of Lan Zhan's lovely mouth. Can't do anything but say, "Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, listen, I love you."