Chapter 1: Before
When Jiang Cheng told him about the offer, he had thought it was a joke. When he realized it was serious, he had felt a deep blinding anger, and it was only with great difficulty that he stopped himself from personally journeying all the way to Koi Tower to spit in Jin Guangshan’s face.
“Why would he even suggest this?” he demands, fuming. “What right does he have? How dare he?”
Jiang Cheng’s scowl deepens. “He said it was A-die’s wish for our families to be joined and it would be disrespectful to deny it. I pointed out that A-die had called off the engagement, because I thought he was trying to pressure us into marrying A-jie off, but then he agreed with me. He said it would be disrespectful to continue an engagement that A-die broke off, which was why he wasn’t suggesting that A-jie get married.”
“But… but,” Wei Wuxian splutters, “What about heirs? A sect leader needs heirs, Jiang Cheng! I can’t give birth!”
Jiang Cheng snorts. “I asked. Sect Leader Jin, in his infinite wisdom believes you can adopt the son of a cousin or something. Privately, I think he’s hoping for a few illegitimate children to legitimize.”
“Of course he is,” Wei Wuxian snorts. “You realize that this is a transparent attempt to get the Yin Tiger Seal for himself, don’t you? He thinks he’ll get it and me in one fell swoop. He’s not even trying to be deceptive about it anymore! Does he think I’m stupid? Does he think you’re stupid?”
“We are not in a position to refuse!” Jiang Cheng yells back. “Yunmeng Jiang is the only sect not allied to one of the other great sects now! We have to take this alliance!”
“Oh, I know that,” Wei Wuxian replies darkly. “If we refuse, all he needs to do is sow a few rumors about my violent temperament or how uncontrollable I am, and it’ll take a life of its own. People are already afraid of what I can do. Jin Guangshan is in a prime position to spin any story he wants about me and the Jiang sect. A few spilled words and all everyone will talk about is how I’m trying to undermine you as a leader, how you can’t even control one man. And oh, what should we have expected by someone who defies morality anyway?”
Wei Wuxian smiles mockingly, bitterly. “Now he just wants you to sell me off to Lanling Jin so they can have the power of demonic cultivation without an actual Jin cultivator sullying their hands with it.”
“Well, he’s going to get it. I can’t refuse him, Wei Wuxian. You’re going to have to do this. Congratulations, you’re marrying the peacock.”
“What about shijie?”, Wei Wuxian asks desperately. “She likes him, you know she likes him. How do you expect me to marry a man she likes, Jiang Cheng? I can’t betray her like that!”
“Well there’s no choice!” he yells in reply. “There’s no way Sect Leader Jin will approve of a marriage between them. If you don’t marry his son, who knows what he’ll do? He has enough assassins to slink around and do his bidding. Do you want to get A-jie killed because you couldn’t do this?”
He freezes. “He threatened shijie?”, he asks, his voice quiet and dangerous.
“He… made oblique implications about the security of Lotus Pier.”
“I’m going to kill him,” Wei Wuxian says darkly. “I’m going to kill him.”
“We don’t have proof that he’ll do anything! All we have to do is keep him content, and he won’t have a reason to move against us! If you do something, A-jie might be in even more danger.”
That gets Wei Wuxian. He will never do anything to endanger Shijie. He will have to do this, get married to Jin Zixuan of all people, live in Koi Tower, possibly raise a child with Jin Zixuan…
“I didn’t think I’d ever marry,” he admits. “My duty has always been to the sect first. But if I did, I thought I’d at least marry someone I loved.” Like his parents had. He doesn’t remember much about them, but he remembers that they had loved each other and him dearly. “I don’t even like Jin Zixuan, Jiang Cheng,” he whispers forlornly.
Jiang Cheng scowls. “You better learn to like him,” he says. “His father is sending him to Lotus Pier to court you next week.”
Wei Wuxian freezes. Next week. Jiang Cheng had said that so decisively. He comes to an awful realization. “So my opinion didn’t really matter,” he states blankly.
“Him coming here… that was planned before you even left Koi Tower. You were always going to marry me off to him. When you were telling me about it, you weren’t asking me to do it, it was an order wasn’t it?”
Jiang Cheng doesn’t reply. When Wei Wuxian turns to look at him, his jaw is clenched stubbornly, but he looks just the faintest bit guilty. Wei Wuxian feels the sharp sting of betrayal at that, at Jiang Cheng agreeing to this without even telling Wei Wuxian before he did. He can feel the familiar anger creeping back in. He needs to get out of here. He needs to leave now.
“Right,” he says, taking a step back, firmly tamping down on the rage he feels. “Right, I have things to do now. I’ll see you later.”
“Wei Wuxian!” he hears the call as he walks away, but he ignores it. If he stops, he might yell, but he might do worse than that. He cannot risk it.
He needs a distraction.
He goes to the one spot he had always loved to go to since he was a child first hiding from Madam Yu in one of her moods. A particular lotus pond that had overgrown with algae long ago from no one coming to care for it. He had tried, as a child, to clear it up, but the longer his duties kept him away from the place, the thicker the algae would have grown back when he returned. He stopped clearing it away, eventually, beginning to see the beauty in the algae too.
He sits there, by the little pond and plays Chenqing, plays the song that is so familiar to him, even if he can’t recall its name.
He thinks then, once he has calmed down. Thinks of shijie and how much she liked Jin Zixuan, no matter how many times he made her cry. Thinks of Jin Zixuan himself. From what Wei Wuxian knows of him, he is honourable, willing to stand up for what he believes in— he had shown that much in the Xuanwu cave. Unlike his father, he wasn’t a coward; he had been at the front lines with the rest of them. He was a skilled cultivator too, Wei Wuxian had to admit. Nowhere near Lan Zhan, or Wei Wuxian himself had been before, but still talented. Still, when Wei Wuxian thought of him, he could only think of the boy who had rudely snubbed his shijie without even knowing her, the one who had made her cry by publicly insulting her, the one he had punched multiple times, who had deserved it each time.
How could he ever bring himself to think fondly of the man who had caused his shijie such great heartbreak? How could he marry a man his shijie loved? She deserved so much better than him, but if he was who she wanted, how could Wei Wuxian take that away from her? How could he do that to her, to the one person who had always loved him unconditionally, to the one person who had been free with her affection, the one person who had always treated him as a part of the family no matter what? How could he do it?
Marriage wasn’t something he had considered very often. It had been a hazy, abstract concept to him, something to do when he was older. Then, it had become something he thought of sometimes, but only in the vaguest of terms. He had never really been the type to extensively imagine what his future cultivation partner would be like, not like Jiang Cheng had done. In his mind, the only thing he had really thought about was that it should be someone he could be happy with. More recently though, any time his thoughts drifted to the idea of marriage, he could only think of Lan Zhan. When he thought of what he wanted in a partner, he thought of Lan Zhan’s qualities. When he imagined wearing red and taking his bows, he thought of how beautiful Lan Zhan would look in red. When he imagined a voice calling him “husband”, it was Lan Zhan’s voice.
He was aware that what he felt for Lan Zhan was far more than friendship. He was fairly certain Lan Zhan felt the same way too. It wasn’t one instant that made him realize it, of course. It was a series of moments, spread throughout the years— a glimpse at Cloud Recesses, a smile during their night hunting trip, a worried look at the Wen Indoctrination, a heavy silence in the Xuanwu cave, the way they fought tooth and nail through the Sunshot Campaign, but Lan Zhan still stubbornly stayed by his side at every fight, the look in his eyes after the final battle with Wen Ruohan. For years, he had known there was something more there, something neither of them acknowledged, though they were very aware of it.
For his own part, Wei Wuxian had been putting it off because there was never a moment of peace. Every time they were together, one of them had been mourning a lost home, or they were in the middle of a battlefield, or they were trapped in a dangerous situation where death seemed imminent, or they were rebuilding their respective homes, or Wei Wuxian was a demonic cultivator who was convinced that the only thing Lan Zhan could see him as anymore was tainted. It had taken too long for him to learn that Lan Zhan didn’t actually feel that way, but that had been time lost. Every time, Wei Wuxian had thought to himself, next time we meet, I’ll tell him. And inevitably, when ‘next time’ rolled around, something monumentally serious occurred, and that would become his priority over sorting out his feelings.
And now, he was going to be married to another man.
Whichever gods were deciding his fate, they were certainly having a laugh at his expense.
He sees shijie the next morning. She is sitting by one of the many lotus ponds around Lotus Pier, watching the way the sunlight ripples on the water. He walks straight to her and kneels in front of her, the guilt choking him.
“A-Xian,” she says gently, as she reaches out to stroke his hair. He wants to pull away— he does not deserve her comfort— but it will only hurt her more if he does so. He lets her tuck his hair behind his ear, lets her tip his chin up so she can see his face. He looks at her, and sees no judgement in her face, and he cannot bear it.
“Shijie, I’m sorry,” he chokes out. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, please forgive me.” If she hates him, if she is upset with him, he deserves it, but he selfishly doesn’t want that, he cannot bear it, it will break him.
“A-Xian, there’s nothing to forgive,” she says, gentle as ever. He wonders how she can sound so calm and unbothered when her heart must be breaking inside. “It’s not your fault,” she says.
“But shijie, I ruined your betrothal, and now I’m stealing your husband, aren’t you mad at me?” he asks. A part of him wishes she would be mad, wouldn’t grant him the forgiveness he feels so undeserving of.
“Why did you punch Jin Zixuan?” she asks.
He told her once, when he first returned. He tells her again. “He was insulting you, shijie. I couldn’t let that stand.”
“If you hadn’t done that, maybe I would have been married to him already,” she says.
He feels even guiltier. “Shijie, I—”
She holds up a hand to stop him. “He did not know me then, or like me. If we had married, he would have resented me and by now, my love for him might have withered. We would have been a miserable couple, because we did not marry on our own terms.”
“You don’t know that for sure,” he argues. They might have found a way to look past their misunderstandings and be happy together, but then he remembers the things Jin ZIxuan had said about her and thinks she is probably right.
She sees him come to the conclusion and gives him a knowing look.
“The betrothal wasn’t called off because you punched him, A-Xian. It was called off because the situation brought to light the fact that if we had married, it would have been an unhappy marriage. Don’t blame yourself for showing what was already there.”
She smiles gently at him. “As for you marrying Jin Zixuan…”
“I’m sorry shijie, I’m so sorry about that.”
“Did you ask for it?”, she asks.
“No,” he replies, frowning in confusion. “Of course I didn’t, why would I?”
“Then why would I be angry with you?”
The dam bursts. “Because it's all because of me! It’s my power that Jin Guangshan wants, that’s why he proposed this marriage! I was the one who became powerful enough for him to feel threatened! I did it to keep everyone safe, to protect everyone, but now it’s the reason all of this is happening!” He breathes harshly. “I was trying to do the right thing, shijie, I didn’t expect this to happen.”
“A-Xian, it’s true that Sect Leader Jin fears the power you wield, but that doesn’t make it your fault that he reacted as he did. He made this decision. He set this plan in motion. If you have to blame someone, blame him.”
“But shijie, aren’t you angry? Aren’t you upset?”
She half-scoffs, half-laughs, and her voice is steely when she speaks. His shijie never shows her anger openly, never lets her judgement be clouded by anger, so he has almost never heard this steel in her voice. “Of course I am! I’m angry that Sect Leader Jin is a greedy pig who hardly participated in the Sunshot Campaign, and that he’s using his influence to do things like this. I’m upset that Jin Zixuan and I never got to know one another and see if we really were incompatible, or if love could have bloomed between us. I’m furious that he is forcing my little brother into a marriage just to get his hands on more power!”
She cups his cheek gently. Wei Wuxian wants to melt into her touch. “I am angry and I am upset, but none of that is directed towards you,” she says, looking seriously at him. “I know this is painful for you, A-Xian. I do not blame you.”
He sags in relief. Somehow, his shijie always knew what to say. She isn’t angry with him. She doesn’t hate him. He feels like he can breathe again. He feels guilty that shijie has to absolve him of his guilt, rather than focus on the way she feels, but he can’t help it.
He puts his hand on hers. Her hand is small, but they are the firm ones that have held him up through the years. “Shijie, you don’t always have to take care of me, you know?”, he says solemnly. “I can take care of you too. If there’s anything you want to say, anything I can do to make you feel better, you can come to me any time.”
Shijie smiles fondly at him. “When did my Xianxian get so wise?” she teases.
“Xianxian can’t remain three years old forever, shijie,” he replies, offering her a thin smile.
“Oh, A-Xian,” she sighs before hugging him.
They stay like that, holding each other until the sun gets too scorching for them to stay outdoors. Wei Wuxian is still worried about so many things, angry about even more things, and shijie still looks melancholy occasionally, but he feels lighter than he did.
Shijie doesn’t hate him. That’s one less thing weighing him down.
There’s only everything else.
Jin Zixuan’s courting gifts arrive before he does. Wei Wuxian is still avoiding Jiang Cheng, so it is one of the older disciples that informs him of it. The boy asks nervously if Wei Wuxian would like them brought into his room, and Wei Wuxian lets out a laugh so derisive that the boy looks embarrassed.
“Tell Jiang Cheng he can do whatever he wants with them. He can send back whatever he wants too. He is already more involved in this betrothal than I am,” he tells the disciple before leaving to go into town to discuss rebuilding with some of the people whose shops had been destroyed during the war.
From the time they began rebuilding, Wei Wuxian has been purposefully ensuring that the duties he picks out for himself are things that get him away from Lotus Pier as much as possible. It’s far too hard to hide how he feels from shijie and Jiang Cheng when he spends too much time around them. He’s afraid too, that Jiang Cheng will make him train disciples, something he had loved doing before the war, something he absolutely cannot do without revealing that there is an empty space where his golden core used to be. He has thought through the excuses he might give— that the Burial Mounds had damaged it, that Wen Zhuliu had crushed it before throwing him into the Burial Mounds— but the risk that Jiang Cheng might find out the truth is too much. That his siblings might look at him and see someone useless, feeble, fragile, is too much. They cannot find out.
Now, Wei Wuxian is glad for his past self’s forethought. He is relieved to be away from Jiang Cheng who had decided to marry him off to shijie’s former fiance of all people without even talking to him, without asking if he could think of another option— Wei Wuxian would have thought up something without committing to this marriage. Jiang Cheng who had insisted that Lan Zhan had hated him, only to betroth him to a man who did genuinely hate him. Jiang Cheng who knew he would agree to anything to keep shijie safe, to keep Yunmeng safe if only Jiang Cheng had asked, who had known this and still decided to do this without asking.
He is glad to not have to spend time with his siblings together too— shijie’s sharp eyes would immediately figure out that there was a problem between the two of them and urge them to fix it. He doesn’t want to fix it. He feels hurt, betrayed, bitter. He wants to keep feeling that way for a little while longer. He thinks he’s earned that much at least, with everything he’s given and given and given since the beginning of this war.
He leaves early enough that his siblings will either not be awake, or too busy to stop him. He thinks Lan Zhan would be proud of him, for how early he is waking these days. Between that, the amount of modified meditation he’s having to do to keep the resentful energy at bay, and how much he’s broadening his horizons in terms of musical cultivation, he would fit well into Gusu. If not for the demonic cultivation, anyway. It doesn't matter, it isn’t like he is marrying into Gusu Lan.
When he returns that night, he finds a new set of robes in his room. They’re in the black he favours, but they’re edged in gold. The red inner robes also bear subtle gold embroidery where they would peek out at the neck and sides. There’s no mistaking where these are from. He assumes he’s meant to wear this when his fiance comes to visit, but he plans to disappoint. They are much more tastefully done than he had expected from Lanling Jin, but all he feels when he sees them is irritation and anger and an urge to set them on fire.
He does not belong to Lanling Jin, and he doesn’t belong to Jin Zixuan. He isn’t going to display their claim on him by wearing those robes.
He has to marry into their sect, but he isn’t going to go quietly. He is no meek, docile thing. He has sent armies fleeing in fear, he has slaughtered armies.
Lanling Jin has no idea what they’re asking for.
Jin Zixuan arrives in Yunmeng on a particularly nice day. Wei Wuxian immediately feels irritated at that, like the weather itself is conspiring against him, betraying him by not being as angry and harsh as he feels. Shijie is nowhere to be seen, which was expected. Unfortunately, it makes for a rather awkward welcome for Jin Zixuan, where he and the two disciples he had brought with him— thankfully not that cousin whose name Wei Wuxian keeps forgetting— sit across from Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng, who still aren’t speaking, and a number of Jiang disciples who can clearly tell how tense this situation is.
They sit in incredibly awkward silence. Wei Wuxian isn’t wearing a single one of the courting gifts Lanling Jin had sent, and if Jin Zixuan is wearing anything Yunmeng sent, Wei Wuxian doesn’t know about it, because he has no idea what they did send. Jin Zixuan seems intent on not making eye contact with him, which frankly, Wei Wuxian can’t blame him completely for. None of them make conversation— Jin Zixuan is too awkward a conversationalist, Jiang Cheng is too abrasive, Wei Wuxian is deliberately keeping his mouth shut because he’s icing out both of them, and the disciples are all too nervous.
Eventually, Jiang Cheng breaks.
“Wei Wuxian, take Young Master Jin for a walk through Lotus Pier,” he says. “He might appreciate the view.” His tone suggests that Jin Zixuan better appreciate the view if he knows what’s good for him. “Maybe you can show him what we in Yunmeng do for fun.”
“Don’t we need a chaperone, Sect Leader Jiang? ” Wei Wuxian asks sarcastically, taking immense joy at the way both Jiang Cheng and Jin Zixuan flush— in anger and embarrassment respectively. “I wouldn’t want to be accused of impropriety.” If he has to do this, he is going to make it excruciating for everyone else.
“Just go,” Jiang Cheng snaps.
“As you wish, Sect Leader,” Wei Wuxian says, even mockingly bowing in a way that makes Jiang Cheng roll his eyes. “Young Master Jin,” he calls, pasting on an overly sweet smile, “Would you like to join me?”
Jin Zixuan nods quickly, following Wei Wuxian out of the room, keeping pace with him even though Wei Wuxian is purposefully walking much faster than one would while guiding a guest.
Wei Wuxian does not want to do this, does not want to show Jin Zixuan around Yunmeng, or go picking lotus pods, or hunting for pheasants, or do anything he thinks of as fun. He doesn’t want to share it with Jin Zixuan. There is only one person he wants to share that with, and he has summarily rejected the offer. Perhaps if he asked again, Wei Wuxian would get a different answer, but it doesn’t matter any more. Jin Zixuan does not get to do those things with him.
Then he remembers that Jin Zixuan is going to be doing a lot more than just picking lotus pods with him and he feels sick.
Wei Wuxian leads them quickly to a secluded area by an abandoned lotus pond. It is not personal to him— he could not bear to bring Jin Zixuan somewhere that is meaningful to him— but it is private, which is necessary for this conversation. When they are both in the clearing, Wei Wuxian fires off silencing talismans in every direction. Only when they take effect does he turn to Jin Zixuan.
The man sighs. “Wei Wuxian.”
Wei Wuxian lets some of his anger bleed into his voice and onto his face. “Jin Zixuan, unlike your cowardly reprobate of a father, you fought at my side during the Sunshot Campaign, didn’t you?” he asks.
“Uh… yes?” Jin Zixuan replies warily. He seems nervous. Good.
“Then you know what I’m capable of doing to my enemies, don’t you?” he smiles. It is not a nice smile at all. That smile had been the last thing Wen Chao had seen before he died horribly.
“I know,” Jin Zixuan says. He swallows, but to his credit, he doesn’t look openly terrified.
“Then you believe me when I say that if I find out that you were involved in concocting this bullshit plan to marry me, I will have no trouble making myself a widower?”
Jin Zixuan gulps. “This was not my idea, trust me,” he says hurriedly. “My father—”
“Good,” Wei Wuxian smiles the same dangerous smile again. “Because if you did this for power, or if you decided I was a better prize than my shijie, I will end you, and it will not be pretty.”
“What? No! I—, ” he stammers, before blurting out, “I love her! I love Lady Jiang!”
“What?” Wei Wuxian asks, incredulously. “Then why were you such an asshole to her?”
“I didn’t know her at first,” Jin Zixuan says blushing, now that his brain seems to have caught up to realize what he just admitted. “And later, I tried, but whenever I tried to speak to her, I would keep saying the wrong thing and I kept offending her. But I love her! I really do! I wouldn’t do something like this!”
Wei Wuxian sighs deeply. Jin Zixuan is very easy to read, there’s no way he’s lying.
Except now Wei Wuxian can’t be mad at the peacock either, if he didn’t want this marriage any more than Wei Wuxian did.
“So, one more time, you don’t want this either?” he asks, just to confirm.
“Wei Wuxian, I respect you, but there is no way I could fall in love with you, so no, I don’t want this either.”
He hadn’t expected the peacock to be a romantic, but it did explain a lot about how opposed he had been to the betrothal. But that does spark another question.
“Why did you agree to marry me, then?”
Jin Zixuan snorts. “Agree makes it sound like I had a choice. My father made it clear that if I didn’t go through with it, he’d replace me as his heir.”
“So you did do this for political reasons,” Wei Wuxian narrows his eyes.
Jin Zixuan shakes his head, before hesitantly explaining. “My cousin, the one I would have been replaced with… he’s too much like my father and he has a vindictive streak. I wouldn’t like the place Koi Tower would become under him. It wouldn’t… it wouldn’t be what a cultivation sect is meant to be.”
Jin ZIxuan meets his eyes. “Wei Wuxian, I know you have no love for Lanling Jin, and I understand it. But I grew up believing I could make it a better place for future generations of cultivators. If I am to do that, I need to play nice with my father. In this case, I had to agree to marry you. But I promise you, I will be your ally in Koi Tower. I will treat you with respect. I will make sure my father doesn’t do anything… rash.”
“And if I want to look for a way to break the engagement?”
“Go ahead,” Jin Zixuan says quickly. “I haven’t been able to do it, but you might have better luck. Just… be prepared in case it doesn’t work out.”
Surprisingly, knowing Jin Zixuan’s motivations actually makes him feel much better about this situation. This way, there are no expectations. They can have a strictly platonic marriage.
Except, it would be better if they could at least tolerate each other.
“Well, peacock, what do you say to a truce then?” he proposes, sighing again at the thought. “We are to be married, assuming neither one of us can find a way out of it.”
Jin ZIxuan sighs too, rolling his eyes. “Fine, but you have to stop calling me that.”
“What, peacock? But it suits you so well! Besides,” he grins mischievously, seeing the humour in this situation for the first time, “Isn’t it only expected that I should have a nickname for my beloved husband?”
“Please shut up,” Jin Zixuan says, but the corner of his lip twitches. It delights Wei Wuxian.
“Well, peacock, maybe this marriage won’t be so bad.”
“I already hate it.”
Once Jin Zixuan leaves, Wei Wuxian goes back to devoting his attention to the plan he has for the Yin Tiger Seal. He has theorized over and over, and he thinks he finally has a workable solution, but he needs some help with it. And truly, there is only one person he can ask. It’s not like he can avoid him for the rest of his life either. So he leaves Yunmeng, claiming he’s going on one last solo night hunt before he’s married, which nobody questions, because everyone can see the way he’s been chafing at the idea of this marriage.
He reaches Caiyi Town by boat by mid-morning, but he doesn’t really want to make his presence known in the area. And he really doesn't want to show his face in the Cloud Recesses. He instead hires a local to take a letter up the mountain for him, quickly scribbling one down as he speaks to the man. His handwriting is abysmal, but that should only further prove that he is who he says he is. He shoves the letter in the man’s hand, promising half the pay upfront and half when he returns from delivering it. The man leaves, and Wei Wuxian settles himself in a teahouse, ordering a pot of tea while he waits.
Soon, he hears the familiar voice calling his name from behind him. He huffs out a laugh. Trust Lan Zhan to be able to recognize him from the back.
“Wei Ying, are you well?” Lan Zhan asks earnestly when he turns around. Lan Zhan is always so kind— so sincere, even when he was fighting Wei Wuxian on his methods. He has given up on convincing Wei Wuxian to pick up the sword nowadays, thankfully. He still insists on playing music for Wei Wuxian, but he’ll take his victories where he can get them.
“Well, that depends on how you define well, Lan Zhan,” he drawls.
Lan Zhan frowns almost imperceptibly. “Is something wrong, Wei Ying?” he asks.
Wei Ying doesn’t answer that question. He cannot. “I have a question for you, Lan Zhan,” he says instead. “Will you come back to Yunmeng with me?”
Wei Wuxian convinces Lan Zhan to take a boat to Yunmeng instead of flying on their swords by making something up about wanting to show him the scenic route, which Lan Zhan thankfully doesn’t argue with. He chatters on about inconsequential things through the trip, occasionally offering to buy Lan Zhan some fruit or a snack or a drink they come across, only for him to refuse, and then buy them for Wei Wuxian instead, pushing them into his hands with a soft “for Wei Ying”.
When they reach Yunmeng, Wei Wuxian wishes this were the social visit he had invited Lan Zhan on all those years ago. He would give anything to walk around with him, showing him Wei Wuxian’s favourite spots to eat, where he used to play as a child, what he used to enjoy doing. But he cannot. There is too much riding on this trip, too much he has to ask of Lan Zhan, so he buries these desires deep and instead takes Lan Zhan somewhere private. He takes him to his favourite lotus pond and silences the place with his talismans.
“How much do you hear about Lanling?” he asks. He needs to ascertain exactly how much background information Lan Zhan knows.
Lan Zhan frowns. “Nothing much. Gossip is forbidden. Jin Guangyao communicates with brother often, but we do not talk about it.”
He lets out a deep sigh. “So I need to tell you everything. Alright.”
He hesitates for long enough that Lan Zhan looks worried again.
“Jin Guangshan wants the Yin Tiger Seal,” he blurts out before Lan Zhan can ask if he’s alright again. “His newest ploy to get it is marrying his son to me.”
A number of emotions pass across Lan Zhan’s face. He wonders how he ever thought him expressionless. There is shock, anger, heartbreak, and finally, resolution in that face.
“I’m hoping that if I can destroy the seal by then, he’ll have no reason to push for this marriage,” he continues quickly, seeing the hope light up Lan Zhan’s eyes. ““Even if I succeed,” he adds, “He might not call it off. He won’t want to let people know that he orchestrated this for the seal, and he would probably hate for his son to be known as someone who’s had two broken betrothals. But if the marriage still happens, I can’t let Jin Guangshan get his hands on the seal. It’s too powerful for him, he can’t be trusted.”
He sighs again. “I have to try, Lan Zhan. Neither of us want to marry— Jin Zixuan confessed he was in love with shijie after all, after all the complaining he did about having to marry her, and I… well…” he steals a quick glance at Lan Zhan before looking away. “Anyway, I’m the only person who might be able to do something about it, so I have to.”
He looks at Lan Zhan once again, sees the calm, resolute look on his face which has a calming effect on him too. He wishes he could stare at Lan Zhan forever. “Will you help me, Lan Zhan?” he murmurs.
“I will always help Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan replies.
They go to Yiling. Wei Wuxian needs to be in the Burial Mounds for this. It is probably unwise to do this without informing anyone else, but he cannot trust anyone else with this secret. Besides, all he needs is Lan Zhan. Between the two of them, they can handle this.
Lan Zhan is quiet as they enter. He has realized, by now, that Wei Wuxian was actually in the Burial Mounds for those months he was missing. He doesn’t say anything, but Wei Wuxian can tell how tense he is from the way the corners of his eyes tighten, the way his grip tightens on Bichen. He follows Wei Wuxian steadfastly into the Burial Mounds, not hesitating to go where he does. The unflinching faith Lan Zhan has in him would make him light headed on a good day, but he cannot afford distractions today.
They finally reach the place that Wei Wuxian had hollowed out for himself when he was thrown in here. There is less resentment here, but the impression of it lingers, stains the very air they breathe. Wei Wuxian is used to it, he has known it worse, he has cleansed it with his own will— he will not choke on it. Lan Zhan endures it admirably, his discomfort barely visible.
Wei Wuxian pulls out the Yin Tiger Seal. The two halves pulse in his hand, the power roiling inside them, begging him to use the seal, to destroy his enemies, to take what he is owed. He ignores it. He silences it. He turns to Lan Zhan, whose gaze is fixed, not on the seal— the evidence that Wei Wuxian is dangerous, that his methods are disgustingly powerful— but on Wei Wuxian’s face. His traitorous heart flutters just a little bit at that, at the idea that even with the Yin Tiger Seal in his hand, Lan Zhan trusts him enough to look at him instead.
“I’m going to destroy it,” he says without preamble. “I can do that part on my own. But when I do, it’s going to cause a backlash. Every resentful thing, every corpse in the vicinity is going to come right here when I do that. I need you to make sure they don’t kill me before I destroy both halves.”
Lan Zhan listens patiently. “Why bring us to the Burial Mounds then?” he asks when Wei Wuxian finishes. “Why bring us somewhere with so many resentful creatures? Isn’t it more dangerous?”
“Good question!” Wei Wuxian replies cheerfully. He can’t help himself, really. Demonic cultivation is so fascinating, and if he could talk about the way it works all day, he would. But no one wants to hear about it. This has been his first opportunity to teach, to explain. He hopes Lan Zhan will indulge him. “There’s two reasons for that.”
“One,” he puts up a finger. “The seal was forged using resentful energy in a place high in resentful energy. It needs to be destroyed in a place similarly high in resentful energy. I need to draw on the energy of the Burial Mounds to destroy it.”
“It cannot be destroyed by spiritual energy?” Lan Zhan asks. He sounds genuinely curious, not condemning, and Wei Wuxian feels even more thrilled at the idea that Lan Zhan is listening, even asking relevant questions.
“It can’t. The seal might overpower any spiritual energy. I did design it to fight against cultivators, you know?” Lan Zhan nods. “No, it needs to be destroyed by resentful energy. Nothing else can break it apart.” That, and he doesn’t exactly have a source of spiritual energy anymore, but he isn’t going to tell Lan Zhan that.
“That brings us to the second reason,” he says, putting up his fingers again. “No matter where I destroy it, there would be a backlash of energy. If I did it anywhere else, who knows what it might rouse? Buried corpses that were resentful? Ghosts? It might even turn normal corpses into fierce corpses! I can’t predict exactly what it would do. It might harm innocent people, and we might be facing a threat we don’t have full knowledge of.”
“Here,” he gestures around the Burial Mounds. “I know everything here, I know what will happen, what will be awakened. At the very least, everything here is already dead, we wouldn’t be hurting poor defenceless non-cultivators.”
“Mn,” Lan Zhan replies, nodding carefully. “Wei Ying is very thoughtful.”
“Of course, Lan Zhan,” he exclaims. “I’m the first one to walk this path, you know? I have to think through any potential dangers before I do something— especially something big like this. No one else can tell me when something might go wrong, I have to prepare for the possibility myself.”
“I understand,” Lan Zhan murmurs.
Wei Wuxian beams at him. Then, he turns a solemn gaze around. “Shall we?” he asks.
Lan Zhan gives him a decisive nod.
Wei Ying takes a deep breath, then crushes the seal with all his power.
It is a long, brutal fight. Wei Wuxian can barely remember all of it, only his strong intent to push, push, keep pushing until the seal crumbled in his hands. He remembers feeling the surge of resentful energy, the cry of the Burial Mounds as he pulled from it, taking as much of the energy as he could into his body. He remembers the pressure and the ringing in his ears, the spots in his vision as he forcefully channeled the energy through his body, used himself as a conduit for the energy around him. He remembers Lan Zhan between him and a mob of corpses, keeping everything away from him as he worked so hard to destroy his own creation.
When he comes to, he is kneeling, Lan Zhan hovering worriedly by his side. Despite fighting an army’s worth of fierce corpses, Lan Zhan looks ethereal as ever— his white robes unstained by the filth of the Burial Mounds, or blood. He wonders absently if there is something woven into the Lan sect’s clothes to keep them pristine. Wei Wuxian, on the other hand, can feel the way the mud is undoubtedly staining his robes at his knees, can feel the trickle of blood from his mouth. In front of him, the Yin Tiger Seal lies in pieces— he can feel that they are powerless, and relief floods him.
“We did it, Lan Zhan,” he slurs, blinking to clear his vision. For a second he feels unimaginably weak, like he is going to faint, but he barely even sways before the feeling is abruptly gone, leaving him feeling just as well as he did when he first got here. It is odd to say the least, but he attributes it to the resentful energy. Clearly, its after effects seemed to come and go unexpectedly. He needs to study it further.
“Wei Ying, are you alright?” Lan Zhan asks, reaching out to hold him by the shoulders.
“I’m perfectly fine Lan Zhan, don’t worry,” he replies, smiling a little at Lan Zhan’s disbelieving expression. “Ah, what’s with that face? I promise I’m fine! Really!”
He stands, offering Lan Zhan a jaunty grin, leaning down to pick up the pieces of the broken seal. Collecting them and carefully placing them in a qiankun pouch, he gestures back the way they came.
“Shall we?” he asks. One nod from Lan Zhan, and they’re off.
Lan Zhan spends the journey back to Lotus Pier fussing over him. Wei Wuxian only complains a little bit. Truth be told, he basks in it.
When they part ways in Lotus Pier, Lan Zhan going to an inn while We Wuxian heads home, Lan Zhan squeezes his wrist slightly. His touch burns through three layers of cloth.
“Take care, Wei Ying,” he mutters.
“You too, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian replies.
They don’t have to say anything more.
When Wei Wuxian crosses the threshold, he is confronted by an angry Jiang Cheng, a sight so commonplace that it doesn’t even ruffle him anymore.
“Where have you been, Wei Wuxian?” he hisses. “Do you know how worried A-jie was?”
“I told you I was leaving,” Wei Wuxian protests. “Everyone knew I was going!”
“It doesn’t matter,” he whisper-yells. “Sect Leader Jin is here to meet his future son-in-law. We can’t keep making excuses any longer.”
“Excellent timing,” Wei Wuxian says. “I have some news for him that will certainly make him see things in a different light.”
Jiang Cheng only huffs and drags him into the receiving room.
“Sect Leader Jin,” he greets. “Wei Wuxian has just returned from a successful night hunt.”
Wei Wuxian bows as he is meant to, though he does not believe that Jin Guangshan deserves the courtesy.
“Sect Leader Jin,” he says. “It is fortuitous to have you here. As Chief Cultivator, there is a matter I believe requires your notice.”
“Indeed?” the man asks, looking amused, indulgent, like he is speaking to a particularly precocious child.
“Yes. You see,” Wei Wuxian tips the pouch over, allowing the broken pieces of the Yin Tiger Seal to fall to the floor. “I believe you were concerned about the existence of my Yin Tiger Seal. Rest assured that it has been destroyed. Its power no longer threatens to overwhelm anyone.”
For a moment, Jin Guangshan’s faux affable mask cracks and Wei Wuxian sees the dismay and rage that crosses his face, before he plasters that mask on again. For a moment, Wei Wuxian thinks he’s done it, he’s made himself seem like a bad bargain, like a fool, like someone not worth marrying into the Jin sect, but the hope is crushed immediately.
“There is no need to be so formal with me, Wei Wuxian,” Jin Guangshan says, recovering far too quickly from the surprise. Even Jiang Cheng still looks surprised, and he has known that Wei Wuxian has been working on this since the end of the war. “After all, we will be family soon. It would not do for my son-in-law to address me this formally.”
Wei Wuxian has to stop himself from gritting his teeth. Of course Jin Guangshan isn’t going to let himself lose face by calling off the marriage! It wouldn’t do for him to be exposed as the greedy, power-hungry monster he is!
“Sect leader Jin, you are too kind,” he says. “I’m afraid I am unworthy of such concessions.”
The thought of having to call this man his father-in-law makes his blood boil.
He is going to have to, one day.
He is going to have to marry Jin Zixuan.
He has done the only thing he could do, and he has failed to make Jin Guangshan budge.
The smug man begins to say something flowery and inane, some pleasantary about how Yunmeng and Lanling will be so close to one another, as Jiang Cheng responds in his usual blunt fashion. They say something about sending out the wedding invitations within the month, about tailoring the wedding robes, about the dowry, but Wei Wuxian cannot focus on it.
All Wei Wuxian can think of is Lan Zhan, in that inn, the press of warm fingers to his wrist, his gentle words, how it had been a goodbye of some kind.
He sneaks out early the next morning, makes his way to the inn, wanting to get there before Lan Zhan leaves. He makes it there just as Lan Zhan is preparing to mount his sword, and he calls out, breathless, needing Lan Zhan to stop there.
When Lan Zhan sees him, he sheathes his sword immediately and walks towards him quickly. He stops a little distance away from him, Wei Wuxian wants to close the gap, bury himself in Lan Zhan’s arms, but he restrains himself.
“Could I bother you for another talk, Lan Zhan?” he asks, smiling weakly. Lan Zhan only nods.
This time, he doesn’t bother leading him back to somewhere truly private. It is early enough that no one will be around, and truly, he needs to be alone with Lan Zhan as quickly as possible. The minute they are secluded enough and he has ensured their privacy, he slumps against a nearby tree. Immediately, Lan Zhan looks concerned.
“Wei Ying?” he asks. “What is wrong?”
Wei Wuxian wills the words out loud. “The marriage is still on.Jin Guangshan is here. He knows the seal is gone, but he won’t call off the marriage.”
Lan Zhan’s eyes widen— he looks torn between speaking and reaching out to touch Wei Wuxian and steady him. This unspoken thing between them grows until Wei Wuxian cannot bear the intensity of it. He cannot imagine a life without Lan Zhan by his side, but he cannot ask for that now. He is broken and empty and now he is no longer free to give his love away. He looks at Lan Zhan, and he knows he can read what’s on his face. They know each other too well for it to be otherwise.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan whispers incessantly. “Wei Ying.”
“Lan Zhan,” he chokes out in reply. “Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan.”
They are silent then, merely studying each other's faces. There is a tension in the air, it feels ready to ignite. Eventually though, it fades, leaving behind two lonely men and a number of unspoken broken promises.
“They’re sending the invitations out within the month,” Wei Wuxian says eventually. “All the sects will be invited.” He looks at Lan Zhan. He has to tilt his head just the slightest bit to look at him— they are nearly the same height, but Lan Zhan is just tall enough that he has to look up at him. It is an odd thing to notice now of all times. “Will you come?” he asks.
Lan Zhan merely looks at him for a long moment, then shakes his head, looking down. He looks back up eventually, the intensity of the golden gaze captivating Wei Wuxian. “I cannot,” he says. “I cannot watch Wei Ying wear red for another man.”
Wei Wuxian’s throat tightens. He does not want to wear red for another man either. And if he could spare Lan Zhan the pain of having to watch, he would. Of course he would. There is no question.
“It’s probably for the best,” he says. “Shijie has to be there, as my family, but if I could spare her the pain of watching the man she loves marry someone else… it’s good if you don’t come, Lan Zhan.” He has laid it bare, the implication. That he and Lan Zhan are to each other what shijie and Jin Zixuan are to each other. He does not dare to say it out loud now, of course, but it is true.
“I have… considered it,” Lan Zhan says after a long pause. “To see Wei Ying in wedding robes… even for someone else… but I found that I could not bear the thought of it.” He says it so sincerely, so matter-of-fact, like it is an incontestable truth, what he feels for Wei Wuxian. For all that he is a man of few words, they certainly are bold words.
“If you came, I might jilt Jin Zixuan,” he replies. “I don’t think I could stop myself.”
He nearly asks before he stops himself.
Would you run away with me?, he nearly asks.
It is an unfair question.
Because Lan Zhan would. He would do it. They both would, if one of them spoke it into existence.
But Wei Wuxian has his duties to his sect, to his family.
He has been ready to sacrifice his life for them. He has sacrificed his golden core for them. What is the sacrifice of love when compared to that?
As the sun rises higher in the sky, they are both increasingly aware of the limited time they have. Neither of them wants to, but they have to part ways. Lan Zhan has to go back to Gusu, help his sect, support his brother, who needs help as a new sect leader. Wei Wuxian has to go back, help the Jiang sect for as long as he can before he is married out into Lanling Jin.
They have their own paths to walk.
He knows the time of parting grows near.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan calls.
“I must leave,” he says simply, though his eyes speak volumes. This is the end for us, they say. Our story comes to a close here. Here on out, we are acquaintances, friends even, but nothing more— never anything more.
“I suppose you must,” Wei Wuxian agrees.
“Yes, Lan Zhan?”
“Will you… will you let me tell you how I feel before I go? What I feel for you? What I’ve always felt for you?”
He wants that. He wants it so badly that he aches with it. But if he knows one thing, it is that he cannot have it.
“Please don’t,” he begs, grabbing Lan Zhan’s wrist. “Lan Zhan, I know how you feel, but please don’t say it.”
Lan Zhan looks stricken. Wei Wuxian wants to wipe the look off his face, but he can’t. “Do my feelings make you uncomfortable?” he asks quietly, almost subdued.
Wei Wuxian’s eyes widen. “No!” he exclaims. “Of course not!” his voice softens. “Lan Zhan, I feel the same way, but I don’t want you to say it, please.”
“If you say it, I won’t be able to walk away from you Lan Zhan. If you say it, I will not be able to resign myself to a loveless political alliance. If you say it, I won’t be able to marry Jin Zixuan. I know that probably pleases you, but you and I both know what has to happen. So for both of our sakes, please don’t say it out loud. Please.”
Lan Zhan nods. “Alright,” he says. “If that is what Wei Ying wishes.”
That is not what Wei Ying wishes. Wei Ying wishes to demand that Lan Zhan say the words that have been hanging around them for years now. Wei Ying wishes for Lan Zhan to kiss him, hold him, never be parted from him. Wei Ying wishes to run away with Lan Zhan to some small corner of the world where the two of them can live out the rest of their days in peace.
But what Wei Ying wishes does not matter. It never has.
So he says goodbye to Lan Zhan with a heavy heart. They have parted under more dire circumstances before, each riding out to certain death, but somehow, this goodbye seems a little more permanent.
The wedding is a blur.
Wei Wuxian cannot honestly say he remembers anything about it.
He has vague memories of shijie doing his hair, of red, red, red, everywhere, of bowing and pouring tea, but nothing more than that. His mind resents having to go through this, so it decides simply to not register anything that occurs. His body goes through the motions absently. The banquet is probably lovely, but he can’t tell, sitting there eating and drinking absently with his new husband by his side. It’s only when they stand to leave that Wei Wuxian even begins to register what’s happening.
The bedchamber has been decorated just as gaudily as Wei Wuxian had expected. There is gold everywhere. Even Jin Zixuan looks a little embarrassed at how it looks. He should be, it really is a travesty. For all their money, the Jins seem to have no taste, simply thinking that throwing gold around makes for a beautiful appearance.
“If we are to share rooms, I sincerely hope your taste is better than this, peacock,” Wei Wuxian says drily as they drink the ceremonial wine.
Jin Zixuan rolls his eyes, settling heavily on one side of the bed. Wei Wuxian moves towards the table instead, beginning to undo the beautiful, elaborate, and highly uncomfortable updo his hair is in, setting down each removed pin and ornament with a sigh of relief.
“Shouldn’t you ask me which side of the bed I want?” he asks as he methodically removes his headdress.
“Do you really have a preference or are you just trying to argue with me?” Jin Zixuan asks.
“If you think this is arguing, you wouldn’t last a day in Lotus Pier,” Wei Wuxian finally frees his hair, starting on removing the extravagant amount of jewellery next. “And no, I don’t have a preference, but isn’t it polite to ask?”
“I’ve never shared a room before,” Jin Zixuan admits. Wei Wuxian can’t help but snort, only for Jin Zixuan to give an indignant huff.
“Not even while night hunting?” he asks, his mind already working out how many delightful ways he can tease Jin Zixuan for being spoiled.
Jin Zixuan only glares and refuses to engage. Wei Wuxian pouts. How unfair!
Jin Zixuan goes off behind a privacy screen to change, leaving Wei Wuxian to do the same. He sets his wedding finery in a small corner off the room— it could probably feed a family for a month— before settling on the bed, the side Jin Zixuan hadn’t picked. By the time he returns, Wei Wuxian has made himself comfortable. If there is one good thing he can say about Koi Tower, it is that they do have comfortable beds.
Jin Zixuan looks at the bed, resigned. “I’ll take the floor,” he says.
“The floor? Don’t be ridiculous,” Wei Wuxian responds. “The bed’s big enough for both of us.” The bed is indeed huge— clearly the Jin sect has made every attempt at ostentation for this sham of a wedding.
“Peacock,” Wei Wuxian cuts him off firmly. “I have had a very long day. As much as I love disagreeing with you, I don’t want to argue about this. We’re both grown adults. We can handle sharing a bed.”
“Are you sure?”
“We’re married, Jin Zixuan. Do you plan to never sleep in the same bed as me for the rest of your life?”
He sighs. “I guess you’re right,” he says as he slips into the bed.
They don’t speak again as they turn out the lights, nor do they acknowledge the other person. The bed is big enough that they don’t touch like this. They could go on pretending they were each alone if they wanted to.
Jin Zixuan breaks the silence. “Should we… you know… should we fake a consummation?”
Wei Wuxian snorts. “Isn’t it more of a statement if we don’t?”
Jin Zixuan hums in agreement. Silence stretches on until he speaks again.
“Wei Wuxian,” he calls.
“Don’t you think it would be a bit odd if I kept calling you that? Calling my husband by his courtesy name?”
Wei Wuxian snorts and turns to look at Jin Zixuan. “What would you call me instead? Airen?” He nearly laughs out loud at the grimace that appears on Jin Zixuan’s face. Then he actually thinks about what Jin Zixuan said and sighs.
It would be extremely awkward. People would talk, and while Wei Wuxian cared nothing for what people said of him, Jin Zixuan wasn’t the same. And as future sect leader, it did actually matter what people said about him.
He knew what he would not offer to be called, that was too much, too private, too intimate. There was only one person in the world who called him that with fondness, and that address belonged to him and him alone.
But Jin Zixuan did need to call him something.
“A-Xian,” he offers finally. “You can call me A-Xian.”
“You can call me A-Xuan then,” comes the reply. Wei Wuxian hums in agreement.
They stay in silence once again, before Wei Wuxian breaks it this time.
“Jin Zixuan,” he calls. “Did you mean what you said before? About being my ally here?”
“I did,” he responds quickly. “I still mean it.”
“We would have to be a team,” Wei Wuxian muses. “Present a united front, always. We can fight in private all we want, but we can’t get into a public disagreement.”
“How are you saying this when you’re the one who’s punched me on two separate occasions?”
“I’m just thinking out loud!” he exclaims indignantly. “And besides, you deserved those punches for being mean to my shijie.”
Jin Zixuan sighs. “Yeah, I did.” Then he sighs again. “You’re right, about the united front. We can’t bicker. You can’t punch me again.”
“Are you going to insult my shijie again?” Jin Zixuan shakes his head quickly. “Then I won’t have to punch you again.” Then Wei Wuxian’s tone softens. “I’ll be your ally too.”
“Thank you,” Jin Zixuan whispers.
“Don’t thank me, peacock, just do what you said and make Lanling a better place.”
“I will, and you can help if you think I’m not doing it right.”
“You’d let me correct you? You?”
“I’m open to advice.”
Wei Wuxian turns to look at his new husband again, then shakes his head slightly. He can’t imagine the arrogant pompous boy he had punched at Cloud Recesses would have even considered saying that. For all of his faults, Jin Zixuan at least seemed to have learnt something in the years of the war. Suddenly, Wei Wuxian is hit with how tired he is, of how different everything is, but he does have to say something before he lets himself drift off.
“You really have changed, huh?” he says softly.
After a little while, Jin Zixuan responds. “Do you mean that as a compliment?”
“Surprisingly, yes,” Wei Wuxian says, as he turns away to sleep. Sleepily, he mutters. “Wonders will never cease.”
“Good night, Wei Wuxian,” Jin Zixuan says in response, and Wei Wuxian can feel him move around, presumably until he’s faced away too.
“Good night, peacock.”
They wake up the next morning, cuddling.
They do not speak of it.
Chapter 2: Interlude
All her life, Jiang Yanli had been called gentle.
Different people said it differently, of course. Some said gentle and meant ‘fragile’. Some said gentle and meant ‘weak’. Some had said gentle and meant ‘boring’. Some had said gentle and meant ‘weak-willed and submissive’. Some had said gentle and meant ‘kind’. Some had said gentle and meant ‘graceful’. Some had said gentle and meant ‘needing protection’.
She knows that she is not as physically accomplished as her brothers. She is sickly, her cultivation is low, she does not enjoy night hunting the way they do— doesn't think she would even if her cultivation was high. Her brothers had far surpassed her in this area, but that doesn’t bother her. She feels nothing but pride, watching her A-Cheng and A-Xian excel. They are physically strong, yes, but her strength comes from other things. She is the one they come to for comfort, she is the one who holds them together, she is the one who tempers them, she is the one who had shielded them from her mother’s disapproval and anger— or she had tried, at least. She knows the world does not see these as strengths, does not recognize this, but her brothers do and that is all that matters to her.
Some days, she feels like her brothers are the only ones who see her as a person, who look beyond her frail health and poor cultivation to see her mind, her desires, her feelings. Her brothers try to protect her too, but somehow, it never makes her feel suffocated. They protect her, but it feels different. To them, she is worth defending, worth protecting, worth cherishing, because she is precious. Their protection never feels condescending. They do not disregard her wishes because they think they know better than she does.
She had been young when she had been betrothed to Jin Zixuan. She had hoped, when she had been younger, that he would be another person who would see her for who she is. Instead, he had resented being tied to her, resented having to marry her. She had liked him, or what she had known of him, and he had been attractive, but he didn’t feel the same about her. She had hoped that their marriage would foster goodwill, that he would learn to like her the way her mother and Madam Jin kept saying, but a part of her was terrified to end up in a marriage like her parents’.
When their betrothal had been broken, she had not been as upset as she was expected to be, and definitely not as upset as her mother had been. Where her mother saw shame at a broken betrothal, Jiang Yanli had seen the end of a betrothal with at least one unwilling party. Her dear A-Xian had tried to lie to her about why he had hit her former fiance, tried to keep her feelings from getting hurt, but she had wheedled the truth out of him. It had not surprised her that Jin Zixuan had badmouthed her— it hurt, but it wasn’t unexpected.
It had hurt much more when he had accused her of taking credit for someone else’s deeds. The tiny part of her mind that was determined to see the good in Jin Zixuan had pointed out that if he had been right in his accusations, he would have only been doing the honourable thing, defending someone no one else would have stood up for. The rest of her, though, was hurt and angry that he thought so poorly of her character that he believed she would do such a thing. She had known he disliked her for her mediocre cultivation abilities and that he hadn’t been enamoured by her appearance either, but to think of her as the kind of person who would steal credit from someone simply because they were from a lower class? That, to her, had hurt more than anything else.
He had apologized, much later, after the end of the war, at one of the banquets the Jin sect had thrown to celebrate. He had been so sincere in his apology, so embarrassed, that she had accepted it. He had brightened and visibly sagged in relief, and she had taken pity and engaged him in conversation a little while longer. It had been a very short conversation, Jin Zixuan following his apology with a few questions about whether she enjoyed cooking, what she enjoyed about it, how she had started it. She was glad to answer, asking him a few questions about what he enjoyed doing other than cultivation— drawing and horse riding, she had discovered. When their conversation had ended, there had been a tentative peace between them, but Jiang Yanli had refused to get her hopes up about reinstating their betrothal.
She had been right to do that, as it turned out, as within a year, Jin Guangshan had strong armed Yunmeng Jiang into marrying A-Xian to Jin Zixuan.
She had merely been slightly upset— the little girl who had thought fondly of marrying Jin Zixuan one day would have been devastated, but she was not that girl any longer— but more than anything, she was furious on her brother’s behalf. She, after all, had come to terms with not marrying Jin Zixuan. She had long since made peace with it. She had dismissed him in her mind as her first love, and even if he was starting to be kind to her, she had kept him at arm's length. He was not dear enough to her heart that his marrying someone else would break her heart forever. It would ache, seeing him marry, especially if he married her brother, but she would recover.
If this turn of events devastated A-Xian though, she would show everyone that gentle did not mean weak, that it did not mean timid, that being gentle was a choice that she made every day, that she could just easily choose not to make.
Lan Wangji has always known that Wei Ying was the kind of man who would set himself on fire to keep someone else warm. He is kind and selfless, too good for the harsh world that keeps taking and taking and taking from him.
He had thought it was brash arrogance, at first. He had thought Wei Ying believed himself infallible, that he believed in his abilities so much that he believed he was above getting hurt. The longer he spent with Wei Ying though, he had learnt how untrue that was. Wei Ying did not believe that he was untouchable, or that he was above consequences. Rather, he took a good look at any situation and decided that whatever the consequence, it was worth it, even at his own expense.
It was an admirable quality.
It was also a quality that Lan Wangji had despaired of often, terrified for Wei Ying, terrified that one day, the world would ask something of him that he would be all too willing to give, that Wei Ying would hurt himself beyond measure trying to do the right thing.
He had spent three months worried that he would never see Wei Ying again. It was an experience he never wanted to repeat.
When he was younger, Lan Wangji had often dismissed talk of love as frivolous and foolish. He had seen what had happened to his parents because of love, and he did not think it was selfish to want to spare himself some of that pain. But the second he had laid eyes on Wei Ying, all that had changed. The instant he had seen Wei Ying, he was gone.
It had irritated him beyond measure that he felt so strongly for a rule-breaking menace who seemed to thrive in making him glare in annoyance, a boy who was loud and had no regard for the rules that had governed Lan Wangji’s life, but was so bright and brilliant, a boy who paid no attention to lessons, but excelled at everything anyway, the boy who was a match for him in every way, something nobody had accomplished in all the years of Lan Wangji’s life. From the moment that blinding grin had entered his life, there was not a moment of the day that Lan Wangji had not basked in the warmth of Wei Ying’s regard. When he had gone back to Lotus Pier, it was like winter had fallen again.
As much as he had tried not to show it, Lan Wangji had immensely enjoyed their night hunting trip. In every town they stopped to help, Lan Wangji learnt something new about Wei Ying, and he treasured all of it. Every time he saw Wei Ying use his talismans, or confidently strike down a fierce corpse, or comfort a crying child, or argue with a street vendor about the price of a trinket, Lan Wangji could feel himself falling deeper in love. The more he saw evidence of Wei Ying’s good heart, his helpful nature, his strong sense of morality, the more he admired him, the more he loved him.
When Wei Ying had returned from the Burial Mounds, he had been different. Lan Wangji had no idea how to reach out to him, how to help him, except by taking him to Gusu to use their considerable resources and techniques. He hadn’t been able to convince Wei Ying though, the more he insisted, the sharper Wei Ying became in his refusals. They had argued loudly and quietly, in public and in private. Somehow, those days, every conversation they had had turned into a fight. Still, no matter how brutally he had been rejected, he spent the entire Sunshot Campaign fighting by Wei Ying’s side. Perhaps Wei Ying did not want his help, but Lan Wangji would be there anyway, to catch him if he fell, to bolster him if he faltered, to support him if he needed to. He had not been needed much, but being at Wei Ying’s side had given him comfort.
After the war was won, they had parted ways to help rebuild their own homes. The separation had done them good, because by the next time they had met, Lan Wangji had thought through every conversation they had had. Wei Ying did not want to go to Gusu, so he would not mention it. He would let him know that Lan Wangji was there to offer assistance if he needed it, but he would not pressure him to accept it. If he continued to be at odds with Wei Ying, if he kept pushing, he feared he would lose Wei Ying’s trust, lose their relationship.
He had spent enough time with Wei Ying to know how stubborn he was, but he also knew that at his core, Wei Ying was good. As violently as he had fought in the war, the aftermath showed that his heart had not changed. His light would not be dimmed by his cultivation path. Beyond all reason, Lan Wangji trusted him, and he trusted that if Wei Ying needed help, he would reach out. Wei Ying was not someone who would admit to needing help easily, but Lan Wangji had made him promise, and Wei Ying was honourable— he would not break a promise without good reason.
He had been proven right, too. When Wei Ying had come to ask for his help, he had been worried, of course, but he could not stop the feeling of elation at Wei Ying trusting him to help. Wei Ying’s situation had pained him, both for his own sake and Wei Ying’s sake, but his conviction had not wavered. He had followed Wei Ying into the Burial Mounds willingly. His heart had broken and he had been filled with terror and rage to think of Wei Ying there, alone, for all those months, but his admiration had grown too. Wei Ying had withsstood, had conquered a place that most cultivators spoke of with hushed voices, he had survived the worst place in the world and had come out on the other side.
Lan Wangji watched Wei Ying stride into a place as terrifying as the Burial Mounds with confidence and a sense of ownership. He listened as Wei Ying explained his cultivation path, thinking Wei Ying would make a good teacher. He watched, kept the corpses away, as Wei Ying destroyed the seal that had granted him so much power so that it wouldn’t fall into the wrong hands.
Wei Ying had changed, Lan Wangji had noticed. How could being thrown in the Burial Mounds not change someone? But despite it all, Wei Ying was still the person Lan Wangji had fallen in love with. That, at least, would never change.
When he had believed that Jin Guangshan would let his insane plan go with the destruction of the seal, he had felt the slightest bit of hope. Only later did he realize that he had been deluding himself. A man like that would have never backed down, not when it would have made him seem weak. But in his heart of hearts, he had hoped that it would settle down. Still, something deep inside him had hoped that he and Wei Ying would have their happiness.
There has always been something between them, even if neither of them has been in a position to acknowledge it out loud. Foolishly, Lan Wangji had told himself that they had time, that there would be many visits to Lotus Pier for him, even if there were no visits to Gusu from Wei Ying, that there would be summers and winters, and springs, and night hunts and meals, and discussions of cultivation theory.
But there wouldn’t, not for them.
His thoughts had screamed at him to run away with Wei Ying, elope with him before anything could be finalized, before Wei Ying could be promised to another man. They could be happy being rogue cultivators, he had thought. Their time night hunting had proven itself to be pleasant, and where Wei Ying had an adventurous spirit, Lan Wangji would be content to make his home wherever Wei Ying was. They could be happy together, free of the whispers about Wei Ying’s cultivation path and his terrifying power, free of worries about reputations or glory. It would be a good life.
But they were both dutiful, and they both had obligations towards their sects, and their families.
They could not escape to find their happiness.
And so, Lan Wangji had let Wei Ying go, had left him to do his duty and enter a loveless marriage, while he soothed his own broken heart by throwing himself into his duties. His brother had attended the wedding, but for Lan Wangji’s sake, he had refrained from mentioning anything about it. He wonders how Wei Ying would have looked in red, decked in jewellery, and his mind recalls the bright flash of colour Wei Ying had revealed when he had pulled off his outer robes in the Xuanwu cave, thinks of the robes he usually wears, the jewel-bright colour peeking out at the collar and sides. Wei Ying has always suited red, and Lan Wangji knows without a doubt that he must have been ethereally, incandescently beautiful in wedding robes. He will never get to see that sight, but he can imagine it.
He hears from his brother, who hears from Jin Guangyao, that Wei Ying is settling into life at Koi Tower, that he is making both enemies and allies. He hears that Wei Ying is more cheerful and agreeable than he had been during the war, but if Jin Guangyao makes the implication that the marriage has anything to do with it, Lan Wangji chooses not to interpret it that way. His brother only mentions Wei Ying occasionally, not wanting to remind Lan Wangji of what he has lost, but still intending to keep him updated.
Sometimes this brings him comfort, but other times, he wants to ask more and more questions, desperate for any news of Wei Ying. Is he well? Is he taking care of himself? Is he happy? Are his smiles real or faked? Does he miss the lakes of Lotus Pier? Does he miss the freedom of the open road? Does he miss Lan Wangji?
He doesn’t dare to ask any of these questions. He does not know if he can handle the answers.
He wonders sometimes, which one of them got the worse deal— Lan Wangji, who has to watch the love of his life marry another and yearn from afar, or Wei Ying, who has to resign himself into a loveless marriage, all while pretending to be happy.
He wonders if it even matters any more.
It takes Jin Zixuan three months to come to the horrifying conclusion that he actually likes Wei Wuxian.
When they were children, Wei Wuxian had been the annoying little brother to the girl he was being forced to marry, and that was all Jin Zixuan had seen him as. When they were fifteen at Cloud Recesses, he had to admit, he was a little… envious. He had noticed, of course, the ease with which Wei Wuxian could get any student— guest disciple or Lan sect member— to talk to him. It had annoyed him immensely. Jin Zixuan was a sect heir, someone who was expected to make connections with others, especially other sect heirs, but everytime he tried to talk to someone, he ended up saying the wrong thing. That is, if he managed to get up the courage to talk to them in the first place. Wei Wuxian, on the other hand, had no need to build connections or engage in diplomacy, yet somehow, he was able to charm every single student he spoke to, without even meaning to. They all hung on his every word and stared at him starry-eyed, though he never seemed to notice.
Jin Zixuan had felt an odd sort of kinship with Lan Wangji, those few months. He had thought Lan Wangji was the only other person in all of Gusu within their age group who was annoyed by Wei Wuxian. Later, he learnt that Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian were night hunting together. The next time he observed them really interact in the Xuanwu cave, he had realized what Lan Wangji felt for Wei Wuxian wasn’t annoyance after all. It made him feel quite betrayed, that he was alone in his dislike of Wei Wuxian.
It had also bothered him— though he would never admit it, not even on the pain of death— that despite making an effort to befriend everyone else, Wei Wuxian had never given him a second chance, not after he had insulted Jiang Yanli, which he now acknowledges was a terrible thing to do.
There is something different about Wei Wuxian now. He is older, and there is something darker burrowed under his skin, and he often wakes up with nightmares, screaming soundlessly, but the way he acts is different too. He isn’t like he was during the war. Then, he was quick to anger and brutal in his vengeance against the Wens. He seems much calmer now, much less likely to murder someone for irritating him. He is… nicer, somehow, more understanding, more willing to offer advice without scoffing at Jin Zixuan. They take their meals together, and the experience is almost pleasant, despite the fact that Wei Wuxian methodically checks his food for poison before they start eating. He still calls Jin Zixuan a peacock and ribs him constantly about anything and everything, but it lacks the venom that once accompanied it, and slowly begins to be paired with teasing smiles instead.
It doesn’t hurt, of course, that for all that Wei Wuxian had irritated him when they were younger, he did respect the other man’s abilities. He had always been talented— Lan Wangji was the only one who had ever stood a chance of beating him— and despite the careless appearance he appeared to exude, Jin Zixuan knew firsthand that he adhered strictly to his morals. If nothing else, he could be trusted to do the right thing— the noble thing— and living in Koi Tower had taught him how valuable that made a person. Even now, when he refused to carry a sword and the shadows seemed to cling just a little too closely to him, when whispers and rumors dogged his footsteps, his particular brand of mockery is never cruel or vicious— at least not when it is aimed at Jin Zixuan.
It still is disconcerting, to say the least, when he realized that his grudging respect for Wei Wuxian has turned into a grudging liking of him. In hindsight, it shouldn’t have been surprising— his husband was charismatic after all, and Jin Zixuan had often seen people drift towards him like moths to a flame. Wei Wuxian may be quieter now, more withdrawn and intimidating, but his quick wit has not lost its sharpness, and his smiles, while smaller and less frequent, seem to be increasing in both frequency and intensity, especially when he’s actively trying. Of course, Jin Zixuan never thought he would be among those who admired these qualities in Wei Wuxian— he had spent the entirety of their acquaintance scoffing at the way boys and girls alike swooned at the flirtatious charm— but he had never actively tried to build a relationship with the other man before. It pained him just a little bit to admit that he understood how Wei Wuxian seemed to make friends so easily.
A year ago, if someone had told him that he would be married to Wei Wuxian, and that he would appreciate it, he would have laughed in their face. The revelation almost sends him into fits of hysteria now. But it is true. Wei Wuxian is both clever and loyal, and he has decided that Jin Zixuan is one of his people, for better or for worse. So when someone tries to condescend to him, Wei Wuxian is there to knock them down a peg. When he needs to turn an old associate of his father’s to his side, Wei Wuxian is by his side, his honeyed words persuading them that progress is what Lanling Jin needs, and that Jin Zixuan will herald that progress. When Jin Zixuan inevitably says something overly harsh or blunt, Wei Wuxian is there to soften the blow, spin his words in a more flattering way.
“A-Xuan was very influential in defeating the Wens, as I’m sure you know,” he says to a minor sect leader under Lanling Jin who definitely knows no such thing because he didn’t participate in the Sunshot Campaign, on his father’s recommendation.
“My husband simply means that it would be unbecoming for Lanling Jin to take over your territory,” he says, when Jin Zixuan abruptly refuses a night hunt request which is just a blatant way of shoving responsibility onto his plate.
“And who exactly are you?” he asks when a cousin of Jin Zixuan’s who is particularly irritating says interrupts Jin Zixuan with a pointlessly self-aggrandizing diatribe for the third time that morning.
Surprisingly, Wei Wuxian does seem to have a good grasp on politics and diplomacy. As someone who had watched Wei Wuxian spend the entirety of the Sunshot Campaign acting oddly, loudly fighting Lan Wangji, snapping at anyone who asked him too many questions, and bluntly insulting anyone who tried to get close to him, Jin Zixuan was surprised to see him play nice with people he knows for a fact Wei Wuxian is irritated by. The man no longer seems as temperamental as he was during the war— which was understandable, war changed people— but the shock of seeing Wei Wuxian smile fake politely at someone despite his eyes screaming that he wanted to punch the man in the face had thrown Jin Zixuan.
Indeed, Jin Zixuan had found that diplomacy was much easier with Wei Wuxian on his side. No matter what approach he needed, Wei Wuxian was there to assist. When he wanted to build rapport, Wei Wuxian would deliver. He had made Jin Zixuan like him after all, and that was after he had punched him multiple times— admittedly deservedly. On the other hand, he also hadn’t realized at first how immensely satisfying it would be to watch Wei Wuxian shut down so many of his problems for him. It reminds him of the simpler time of the Wen indoctrination camp— and what had his life come to that he thought of that as a simpler time?— when he couldn’t stop the amused huff from escaping his mouth even as Wei Wuxian deliberately goaded Wen Chao. The man’s ability to verbally eviscerate someone was deeply satisfying as long as it was directed at someone else.
For all that they had firmly been rivals when they were younger, Jin Zixuan had noticed the ease with which Wei Wuxian could achieve a balance between formality and familiarity to achieve his goal. Sometimes though— just sometimes— he thinks that the grudging fondness might go both ways, especially once their bickering turns from arguing seriously to simply arguing on principle, but he resigns himself to feeling unrequited friendship for Wei Wuxian if need be.
It horrifies him truly, but he is beginning to like his husband.
And for once in a long time, cleaning up the corrupt mess that is Koi Tower no longer seems like an impossible task.
For the long years that she had been Madam Jin, she had not worn the title with pride.
She had hated it, the reminder of who her husband was. The title she carried that linked her to him. She still hates it dearly, that reminder.
When her son had been born, she had one thing in mind when she raised him— her son would be nothing like his father.
And she had succeeded, mostly. Her son is utterly guileless, incapable of glibly charming and seducing women like his father did. He is not a philanderer, a disgracefully promiscuous adulterer. He is honourable and cares for those less privileged than him. Despite being stubborn and stiff and a little arrogant, her son has a heart of gold. He is a good man in the way his father certainly is not.
Unfortunately, living in a viper pit like Koi Tower, that has made him vulnerable.
She has worried, since the end of the war, that her A-Xuan will have trouble replacing his father one day. That Koi Tower will not accept a man as forthright and honest as her son, not after her husband has spent years ensuring that money and favours are what make things happen here. She fears for his life, worried that someone may find a more fitting candidate in the line of succession— someone more like her husband— and try to clear the way by assassinating her son. She fears that he will be manipulated or distrusted by his advisors, reduced to a puppet in the hands of their machinations.
She does not know what to make of Wei Wuxian.
She has heard of him, of course, the Jiang Sect’s prodigious head disciple who shot up through the ranks in the years since he was first taken in. She has heard the occasional tale of him from Yu Ziyuan too— disrespectful, ungrateful, undisciplined, she had said, though even she could not bring herself to dispute his status as Yunmeng Jiang’s head disciple. Yu Ziyuan had hated him dearly, but even her closest friend had been unable to tell if it was residual hatred for Cangse Sanren, or if it was anger that he was outdoing Yu Ziyuan’s son. No matter which it was, Yu Ziyuan would have hated him to the bitter end— her friend had always been singular in her hatred.
Through the war, she hears stories of him, terrifying stories, stories that sound exaggerated, that the Jin disciples insist are true. Then the war is over, and the stories taper away, but the fearful whispers of his name do not stop. There is anger too, at his arrogance, his presumption, his disregard for societal norms. He thinks he is above it all, she hears them say, just because he can control corpses. Does he think he is so powerful that he can do as he pleases?
When she hears that her husband has betrothed her beloved son to Wei Wuxian, she screams at him so loudly that every disciple is frightened away to the opposite end of Koi Tower. She yells and argues for days, curses her husband, threatens him, tries to make him see reason.
Her husband does not budge, foolish, greedy, stubborn man. He disgusts her more and more every day.
Her son accepts it, and she nearly screams at him too— how he had constantly shown is displeasure at having to marry Jiang Yanli who was a perfectly nice girl who would have made a good wife, but now, he is willing to marry a demonic cultivator, someone below him in status, someone outspoken, brash, rude, someone who had physically fought him on multiple occasions. She fears for the briefest moment that he has somehow become like his father, caring only for power, but her A-Xuan is not like that, he never has been.
The wedding happens, and she is wary. She fears for her son. She will not allow harm to come to her son. She will protect him from anyone— insanely powerful demonic cultivator, or the man she had married. Her son is trusting and good, and she will not allow that to be his downfall.
The tides turn.
Hearing whispers is nothing new— to live in Koi Tower is to hear whispers every moment of the day. But these are different. They speak of her son, not with derision, but with respect.
She sits up to pay attention.
Honourable, she hears. He bravely fought in the Sunshot Campaign even though his father was deeply worried about him, because it was his duty.
Honest, she hears, and it does not sound mocking. He speaks in pursuit of justice, and he believes in the value of truthful words. He does not care to hide his meaning, because he knows it is important to ensure the message is received correctly.
Thoughtful, she hears. He wishes for Lanling Jin to guide the sects under their protection, but he does not want to control them or overpower them.
He will be an excellent sect leader when the time comes, she hears. Even as young as he is, even as his opinions may challenge his father’s, his ideas have merit.
They speak of her son in glowing words, describe him as a leader they would one day look to and respect.
Her son, for all his good qualities, is not a good politician. He is too straight forward for that— she knows, because that is how she raised him to be.
She knows exactly who is responsible for this chain of events.
She supposes, that as far as sons-in-law go, Wei Wuxian is hardly the worst choice.
It takes a good two months for Wei Wuxian to realize that Jin Guangshan had no idea exactly how badly he had screwed up.
Jin Guangshan spends those two months constantly trying and failing to manipulate Wei Wuxian. He can’t blatantly demand that Wei Wuxian perform demonic cultivation, but he hints at it constantly, dancing around the subject every time they talk. Wei Wuxian deflects him with fake politeness, pretending he doesn’t see through to the man’s agenda. He supposes he should be thankful that Jin Guangshan is either overconfident or paranoid enough that he will not delegate this task. If he had assigned the job of getting Wei Wuxian to perform demonic cultivation for Lanling Jin’s benefit to someone more competent, like his son, Wei Wuxian might not have been able to hold out. He allows Jin Guangshan to think that his mixture of flattery and condescending words might work, allows himself to look just the slightest bit swayed by them once in a while, only to brutally crush Jin Guangshan’s hopes the next time they talk. It’s tedious, but fun in a way.
It had been a fear of his power, fear of his demonic cultivation, fear of his Yin Tiger Seal that had prompted this ridiculous gambit, but in marrying Wei Wuxian to Jin Zixuan, Jin Guangshan had handed him something just as effective, if not more so— political power. He may not have the seal anymore, but it had never been anything more than a fickle thing to use in the most extreme of situations. The demonic cultivation, the raw power and ingenuity that came with it— that was all Wei Wuxian. It couldn’t be taught, or removed, or destroyed. It was his mind, his will power, his sheer determination that made him so dangerous, and Jin Guangshan hadn’t understood that. He had coveted the seal as an artifact of power, he had coveted Wei Wuxian as a conduit of power, but he had not understood that that was not all Wei Wuxian was.
By making Wei Wuxian the spouse of the heir to the most powerful and influential Great Sect, Jin Guangshan had practically handed Wei Wuxian the keys to his kingdom. It would only be his own fault if he found himself replaced on the throne someday soon.
All his life, Wei Wuxian had been a charmer. He had needed to be, at first, had needed people to feel sympathetic enough for him to spare him a bun or a coin, to distract them long enough that he could run away before they hit him. By the time he became a disciple of the Jiang sect, it had become a habit. He knew how to talk to people, how to navigate the world of cheerful jokes and gentle teasing and harmless flirtation, how to use his appearance and his demeanour to his advantage. He had used it to make friends and get people to like him, mostly.
During the Sunshot Campaign and in its immediate aftermath, he had made people fear him, and for good reason. Yunmeng Jiang was practically non-existent, then they were slowly and painstakingly rebuilding. He needed to be feared, to show that the sect was protected, that their numbers didn’t matter when they had Wei Wuxian on their side, that no matter how far the new recruits had to improve, no one could dare to threaten them with Wei Wuxian’s raw power protecting them. He had pushed away anyone who sought to help, made it clear that he had no need for anyone’s help. Being seen as vulnerable could have damaged the sect’s reputation— there had needed to be no chinks in his armour.
Now, though, he needed to be likeable. He needed to convince all the fawners and schemers in Lanling Jin that they were better off supporting Jin Zixuan. He had to sway their tightly held beliefs, show them that Jin Guangshan wasn’t worth their loyalty, and hint to them ever so slightly that Lanling Jin would benefit from the fresh perspectives and youthful exuberance of their heir. Jin Zixuan, for all the good qualities Wei Wuxian was unfortunately beginning to discover he had, was not made for polished speeches or charming manipulation. The man was blunt and honest, and while it worked well on some people, others needed a gentler touch. That was where Wei Wuxian came in.
A comment here, a whisper there, an oblivious-sounding observation or two, and he had people eating out of his hand. He drew people into conversations about cultivation, before guiding it into a discussion of Jin Guangshan’s policies. He smiled and flirted subtly enough that no one could call him out on it and accuse him of betraying his husband, but strongly enough that they would feel endeared to him. He hooked them with the stories of glory they expected about the Sunshot Campaign while steering them down the conversation path he laid out himself.
As seasons passed, the atmosphere of Koi Tower began to shift. Slowly, people started to take notice of Jin Zixuan, and began to consider his idealism as less youthful naivete and more optimism. They began to whisper about his dedication, how he had boldly led forces in the Sunshot Campaign, how honourable he was to have done so. More people were beginning to grumble about Jin Guangshan— something Wei Wuxian had subtly encouraged, coaxing people to talk about their dissatisfaction while making sure to introduce them to others who felt the same way.
Jin Zixuan’s particular brand of awkward honesty served very well to rehabilitate Wei Wuxian’s own image. While whispers had followed his every footstep, mutters about how he had desecrated corpses, how his unimaginable, terrible power was something to be feared and watched for, or how he refused to carry his sword, Jin Zixuan’s blunt comments in his defense were turning the tide. He would pointedly remark that Wei Wuxian was the reason the war was won, or that they had personally fought together, not just during the Sunshot Campaign, but also during the Wen Indoctrination, or that he had saved Jin Zixuan’s life. He would point out that if he, as sect heir and Wei Wuxian’s husband didn’t have a problem with him not carrying a sword, they had no right to object. In any case, Wei Wuxian— demonic cultivator or not— was married to the heir of their sect. He was, for all intents and purposes, on their side. They had no reason to fear him.
Slowly, but surely, Lanling was coming over to their side. They didn’t yet have enough leverage to officially depose Jin Guangshan, nor did they have a reason his supporters would rally behind, but his power was becoming a little less absolute, as people flocked to Jin Zixuan— and by extension, Wei Wuxian— to get his opinion on major decisions, instead of simply agreeing to everything Jin Guangshan proposed. It was a difficult thing, in Lanling, where the sect ran on how much one was favoured by Jin Guangshan, but more people were coming around to believing that Jin Guangshan’s favour didn’t really matter if they had Jin Zixuan’s ear. After all, no matter how strong a cultivator Jin Guangshan was, it was undoubtedly Jin Zixuan who was the future of the sect.
And if Jin Zixuan had a demonic cultivator for a husband, who could stop them from leading the cultivation world into a new era? Who could prevent them from shaping the future?
Befriending (if it can be called that) Jin Guangyao happens almost naturally. So naturally, in fact, that Wei Wuxian suspects Jin Guangyao might have manipulated at least some of their encounters.
Their first encounter though, is all Wei Wuxian’s work. He seeks the man out to have tea with him, right after he learns that Madame Jin has been particularly scathing about him. For some reason, Madame Jin seems to have softened towards Wei Wuxian, but she is still derisive of Jin Guangyao. He supposes it may have something to do with the fact that Wei Wuxian isn’t a living reminder of her husband’s infidelity, but her treatment of Jin Guangyao is uncomfortably close to how Madam Yu treated him. Wei Wuxian feels sorry for Jin Guangyao, and relates to his position in the household— the outcast that the father brought in, that the mother hates because she sees him as a threat and a reminder of another woman. Though, Jin Guangshan is a far worse father to both his sons than Uncle Jiang had been to Jiang Cheng, and Jin Guangyao is more of threat to Jin Zixuan than he ever was to Jiang Cheng, what with Jin Guangyao actually being Jin Guangshan’s son and all. It is not an enviable position at all.
He invites Jin Guangyao to have tea with him in one of Koi Tower’s many gardens— and the sheer hilarity of the fact that he is in a position to invite someone someplace inside Koi Tower is not lost on him— and decides to have a little talk with him. He decides to be as straightforward as he can with Jin Guangyao— the man is an expert manipulator, much better than Wei Wuxian— to try to outwit him would be useless.
“Lianfang-zun, I’ve been meaning to meet with you for quite some time now,” he says, once they both have filled teacups. “Forgive me for not doing this sooner. My marriage was a rather rushed affair, you see, and it has been challenging to get used to life here.”
Jin Guangyao smiles his usual polite smile. “There is no need for apologies,” he says. “I trust you have found Koi Tower welcoming?”
“Well,” Wei Wuxian says, absently twirling his cup. “I’m sure you know how it is, Lianfang-zun. The people in Koi Tower can be… insular. They have certain… ideas of who fits here and who doesn’t.”
Jin Guangyao’s mask doesn’t slip. “Indeed, Young Master Wei,” he admits, but keeps smiling politely. “In a place like Koi Tower, one must prove their worth.”
“But some of us may be tested far more than others.”
Jin Guangyao only offers another smile, gracefully sipping tea.
Wei Wuxian sighs. “I’ll be honest,” he says, leaning forward. “I find it unfair, the way they treat you here. Your skill is obvious, yet you do not get the recognition you deserve.”
For a second, Wei Wuxian thinks he miscalculated, that he came on too strong, that he pushed too much too fast, but Jin Guangyao’s smile becomes just a little bit less fake. It is still polite, of course, but it is no longer the uncanny thing that sets Wei Wuxian on edge.
“My father has legitimized me and accepted me into Koi Tower,” he says. “What more recognition could I need?”
Wei Wuxian sighs again. “I believe that you do not receive the respect you are entitled to, Lianfang-zun. You are a war hero and you are truly accomplished in many fields. You deserve to be treated as such.”
“Young Master Wei—”
“Please, call me Wei Wuxian,” he interrupts. “After all, as my husband’s brother, aren’t you my brother too, in a way?”
At that, the biggest crack so far appears in Jin Guangyao’s mask— his eyes widen slightly in shock, and his smile reaches his eyes a bit more.
Wei Wuxian suspects no one really acknowledges him as Jin Zixuan’s brother. It is a pain he knows well, knowing that even if he grew up with the Jiang siblings, was their brother in all but blood, nobody would see it that way. He sees it in the stubborn way Jiang Cheng would not even call him shixiong— only by name, the way shijie sometimes looks at him. He remembers it from the one and only time he had called shijie ‘jiejie’ like Jiang Cheng used to back then, and the way Madame Yu had reacted to it. He may have grown up with them, but he is not their brother in the ways that matter, merely the head disciple of their sect— former head disciple, now that he has married out.
Jin Guangyao on the other hand, shares blood with Jin Zixuan, but they had grown up so differently— Jin Zixuan as the heir to Lanling Jin, and Jin Guangyao in a brothel. They had different mothers, which may have even been forgivable to the cultivation world if Jin Guangyao’s mother had been a cultivator herself, but she had been a prostitute, and none of them will let Jin Guangyao forget that, nor will they forgive him for it. To them, he is already tainted; to associate with a sect heir, to have the audacity to call himself the brother of a sect heir— no one will allow that.
But Wei Wuxian cares nothing for these arbitrary rules in the sand the gentry so enjoys drawing. He has not failed to see the double standard they hold people like him and Jin Guangyao to— and they were alike, they could have each easily had the other’s life if Jiang Fengmian and Jin Guangshan had been different people. Jin Guangyao’s father is the Chief Cultivator, but his mother had been a prostitute, so he will forever be the son of a prostitute. Wei Wuxian’s mother had been a disciple of Baoshan Sanren, a skilled cultivator in her own right, but his father had been a servant, so he will forever be the son of a servant. Besides, he does not share the view that prostitutes and their children deserve to be shunned. If Wei Wuxian was going to take issue with Jin Guangyao’s parentage, it would be with who his father is, not who his mother had been.
So he reaches out to Jin Guangyao, because he understands, perhaps better than most other people, exactly what Jin Guangyao’s current position is like. Perhaps Wei Wuxian has been more privileged at a younger age than Jin Guangyao had been, but he still relates to the man in a way no one else can come close to understanding.
He knows that their relationship— perhaps a friendship, perhaps an alliance, perhaps merely a recognition of someone just a little similar— was manipulated by Jin Guangyao, but he doesn’t care. He is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, manipulation is not always malicious. Perhaps, a part of Jin Guangyao just desperately wants a friend too, but the only way he knows how to keep one is through manipulation. There is no need for Wei Wuxian to immediately jump to the worst conclusion about Jin Guangyao. Too many people are already willing to do that. He stays on his guard of course, as one is wont to do with someone who hides their emotions as well as Jin Guangyao does, but he will give the man a chance.
A month after they form their friendship or alliance or tentative truce as it stands, Jin Zixuan asks him how to befriend his brother. Wei Wuxian, who has already been implying that Jin Zixuan while awkward is accepting of his brother during his talks with Jin Guangyao is all too willing to guide him. Jin Zixuan is awkward but determined, Jin Guangyao is wary but hopeful, and Wei Wuxian is there to get them off to a good start. Jin Guangyao softens a bit at Jin ZIxuan’s earnest declaration that he wishes to find the rest of their half-siblings to make up for their father’s poor conduct, and even further when he accidentally sees Jin Zixuan’s passionate defense of a servant girl when a member of the sect berates her for no reason. Wei Wuxian has to admit that Jin Zixuan, when he isn’t being a spoilt brat, is irritatingly endearing, and is actually a nice person. Following that horrifying revelation, when Wei Wuxian sees Jin Guangyao getting along with his half brother, he is just glad he isn’t the only one who has fallen victim to it.
Jin Guangshan announces the Phoenix Mountain Hunt to celebrate a year of his son’s marriage. Everyone who isn’t a lackey of his knows that this is simply an excuse to show off the wealth of the Jin sect— the wealth they accrued by not participating in the Sunshot Campaign, and joining in just in time to claim the spoils of war. It doesn’t help that Jin Guangyao stands next to his father while the announcement is being made with the fakest smile that Wei Wuxian has seen yet.
Every sect has been invited to the hunt, meaning that an inordinate number of preparations must be made. Jin Guangshan puts Jin Guangyao in charge, but seeing as this is Lanling Jin, where no one but a select few respect Jin Guangyao, the poor man ends up having to do the bulk of the work instead. Wei Wuxian offers to help, and Jin Guangyao accepts gratefully in a voice that would sound frazzled if it belonged to anyone but him. He drags Jin Zixuan into helping too, but unlike Wei Wuxian who has helped his shijie plan events for Lotus Pier— or stayed by her side while she did it— Jin Zixuan has no clue what to do.
When Jin Guangyao sees Jin Zixuan trying to help but looking horribly lost, he narrows his eyes at his half brother.
Jin Zixuan sighs heavily. “A-Xian made me come,” he admits. It makes Jin Guangyao snort in amusement, which Jin Zixuan seems to take as a win. He really has come a long way from the boy who huffed any time anyone looked too long at him. Wei Wuxian really wishes he would stop making himself so easy for him to like. It’s inconvenient to think good things about Jin Zixuan.
To Wei Wuxian, the hunt is an opportunity to see his family again. None of them had been able to make trips to see each other this year, each busy with their own duties. Wei Wuxian has found surprisingly little time to miss them, his duties keep him busy enough that he has no time to think. He is grateful for it— he worries he would have missed them too much otherwise.
It would have been different if he had married someone he loved. If he had married by choice, if he had married for love, he would have been happy with his spouse. He wouldn’t have felt like something was missing then. But despite the fact that he respects and— he will deny it if he is ever asked— likes Jin Zixuan, he doesn't love him in the way one is expected to love their husband. He doesn’t allow himself to dwell on those thoughts, but sometimes he wonders what it would have been like if Lan Zhan had been the one he married. He would have put up with the three thousand rules of Gusu for Lan Zhan, he thinks. Even that wouldn’t have dampened his happiness. But he is at Koi Tower and he is married to Jin Zixuan, and so, he must make do.
At least someone is having luck in love, he thinks as he watches Qin Su, who has recently arrived at Koi Tower with Sect Leader Qin talking to Jin Guangyao, blushing when he smiles. Jin Guangyao himself seems to be truly happy, not just faking it, if the affection he looks at her with is any indication. He has watched the two of them moon over each other for almost half a year, each separately asking Wei Wuxian what he thinks the other will like as a gift, or what activity the other would like to do. More than once, he has had the urge to point out that as someone in an arranged marriage with a guy he hadn’t even liked a year ago, Wei Wuxian really is the last person they should ask for love advice. But he has been known as a charmer and the two of them really are so shy around each other that he feels obligated to help. Wei Wuxian thinks they might start formally courting sometime soon. Good for them, he thinks.
Like any good thing, however, it is instantaneously ruined by Jin Guangshan.
It happens, unfortunately, when Jin Guangyao and Wei Wuxian had been in earshot of Jin Guangshan’s ostentatiously ugly receiving room. A minor sect leader has apparently noticed Jin Guangyao and Qin Su’s pre-courting courting rituals, and he asks if Jin Guangshan was expecting to celebrate another marriage soon.
To which Jin Guangshan replies like the asshole he is.
“You think I’d let that son of a prostitute marry a woman when my legitimate son doesn’t even have an heir yet? That too, a woman like Sect Leader Qin’s daughter? What a joke!” he exclaims. Then he throws his head back and laughs obnoxiously.
For a second, the mask that Jin Guangyao wears cracks to show utter humiliation. It angers Wei Wuxian so much that he nearly steps in to say something incredibly rude to Jin Guangshan, but Jin Guangyao stops him. He shakes his head, his lips pressed tightly together. Wei Wuxian understands that. It would probably make more trouble for Jin Guangyao if he were to say something.
“He thinks he’s worth something because his mother could read? Hah!” Jin Guangshan continues. “I should make some arrangement between Qin Su and Zixuan. That’ll teach him to get ideas above his station.”
Wei Wuxian pulls Jin Guangyao along with him, unable to listen without interfering any more. It had been an open secret that Jin Guangshan thought poorly of Jin Guangyao, that he had only legitimized him because he was a war hero. But to openly deride him, and that too to another sect leader? It was disgusting!
By the time they reach an alcove, Jin Guangyao’s face is no longer anguished. There is an unsettling blankness to his face and a strange glint in his eyes.
“Are you alright?” Wei Wuxian asks, though he is clearly not alright. He does not want to force Jin Guangyao to talk to him about this, so he offers him an out if he needs it. “I hope you don't mind me saying this, but your father really is a piece of work.”
When Jin Guangyao looks up at him, he smiles, but the strange glint in his eye is still there. “I’m quite alright, Wei Wuxian,” he says. “I just have some plans to make.”
The Phoenix Mountain Hunt arrives, and Wei Wuxian is ecstatic to see his family. The delegation from Yunmeng arrives a few days early, just to visit him. He spends countless hours trading stories with his shijie and Jiang Cheng, taking pride in how much they’ve managed to rebuild the sect since the last time he had been at Lotus Pier. He studies their disciples— novices, but determined to prove themselves, and he feels a rush of pride for them.
He had not prepared himself to see Lan Zhan.
He knew he was going to be seeing Lan Zhan, but there was nothing he could do to prepare himself for it. He had spent a year living on memories of Lan Zhan— it had been the longest they had been separated since they had first met. Now, his heart thrums in anticipation as the delegation from Gusu Lan is about to arrive.
He is standing next to Jin Zixuan as they greet each sect and welcome them to Lanling. When the Lan sect is announced, he has to stop his breath from hitching, has to pretend not to care. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Jin Zixuan’s lip twitching— fair play, he supposes, considering that he had laughed at the way Jin Zixuan had stammered his way through a greeting to his shijie when the Jiang sect had first arrived. He elbows the stupid peacock without looking, smiling in satisfaction when he grunts slightly.
And then Lan Zhan is here, and the smile freezes on his face.
Lan Zhan looks older, somehow, even if it’s only been a year. More distinguished. More authoritative. He carries himself more regally. He still wears his hair ornaments and his jade token the exact same way as before, and his robes are a crisp and spotless white. He looks unfairly unlike someone who has just travelled, perfectly groomed as always. His eyes skip over everyone else in the room like he cares nothing for their presence, but when they meet Wei Wuxian’s, his face softens a little bit.
Wei Wuxian barely registers Zewu-jun in front of the delegation as he bows in greeting. His eyes, as always, are stuck on Lan Zhan. He never wants to look away. Lan Zhan seemingly feels the same way, refusing to look away, not even to acknowledge Jin Zixuan or Jin Guangshan. As the Lan delegation bows as one, Lan Zhan keeps his eyes on Wei Wuxian’s, not even looking away as he bows. He tilts his body slightly— and Wei Wuxian only notices it because he is paying such close attention to Lan Zhan— as he bows to Wei Wuxian, and Wei Wuxian alone. It is a gesture that is unmistakable to Wei Wuxian, but hidden to everyone else, something so typical of Lan Zhan that fondness blooms in Wei Wuxian’s heart.
For his part, Wei Wuxian feels a flush creep up his cheeks, and quickly averts his eyes, but then he is met with the sight of Lan Zhan’s lips, soft and slightly parted, and quirking up into a smile that feels smug. He cannot focus, not with Lan Zhan’s beautiful face right in front of him. He hears Zewu-jun speaking to Jin Zixuan, but it feels muffled, like it comes from under water. Then they sweep away as a sect, and Wei Wuxian is left with the far too comfortable sensation of Lan Zhan’s gaze burning through him like molten gold.
“Oh wow,” Jin Zixuan says dryly out of the corner of his mouth as they leave. “I can’t believe I ever thought he was annoyed by you.”
“Shut up, peacock,” he says in embarrassment. “Don’t call attention to it, okay? How will it look for you if rumors start spreading about me and Lan Zhan being clandestine lovers?”
“Please, no one else has heard you whisper his name in your sleep,” Jin Zixuan scoffs.
Wei Wuxian blushes harder as he recalls the incident with perfect clarity. He had been overtired one night, and he had had a nightmare that had caused him to nearly roll off of the bed. Jin Zixuan had pulled him back in, and with his mind sleep-addled and still thinking about his dream, Wei Wuxian had sighed out a barely audible “Lan Zhan”. Jin Zixuan, because he was annoying and the bane of Wei Wuxian’s existence and definitely not as funny as he thought he was, had gleefully latched on to the event, and brought it up periodically. It had prompted an embarrassing conversation where Wei Wuxian had told Jin Zixuan about his feelings for Lan Zhan, another thing that had amused his stupid peacock of a husband.
“I’m quite offended you know,” Jin Zixuan teases. “My husband, saying another man’s name in our marriage bed.”
“That happened one time! Stop bringing it up, peacock!”
“I’ll stop bringing it up when you and Lan Wangji stop looking at each other like you want to devour each other in public,” he deadpans.
Wei Wuxian closes his eyes and sighs. “Is this your revenge for when I laughed at you when you utterly failed to talk to my shijie yesterday?” he asks, wishing he was still fifteen, with a raging hatred for Jin Zixuan and a complete unawareness of his then-budding crush on Lan Zhan.
“Oh, you bet it’s revenge for that,” Jin Zixuan retorts, then immediately drops their conversation to greet the next sect to walk through the door.
Wei Wuxian sighs in irritation before following suit. Sometimes, he wishes he and Jin Zixuan had never gotten to a point in their friendship where the peacock had gotten comfortable enough to make fun of him.
The opening ceremony for the hunt puts Wei Wuxian right next to Jin Zixuan in the riding formation. As two of the formerly most eligible bachelors of the cultivation world, plenty of flowers are tossed at them as they ride, even if they are no longer bachelors. Wei Wuxian supposes it’s a sentimental thing. That, or the ladies are so fond of the two of them that even marriage to each other and Wei Wuxian’s reputation as a purveyor of the dark arts hadn’t dulled their appeal. Jin Zixuan bows his head slightly in acknowledgement, while Wei Wuxian cheerily waves at some of the people throwing flowers, prompting fits of both excited and shy giggles from them. In another world, Wei Wuxian thinks he would throw a flower or two to Lan Zhan. But in this world, he is a married man, and all he can do is smile pleasantly and graciously accept the flowers thrown at him.
As they make their way to the target arena, Wei Wuxian leans in closer to Jin Zixuan.
“How about a little archery competition?” he asks, grinning cheerily.
“You do know we’re part of the same sect, don’t you? And this doesn’t even count, it’s just for eligibility to enter.”
“Afraid I’ll beat you, A-Xuan?” he teases. “I’ll even let you go first!”
Jin Zixuan rolls his eyes. A year of marriage has taught Wei Wuxian that the man can never resist a taunt as obvious as that though, if it comes from him. “Fine. Whatever. Let’s do this,” he says.
He aims and shoots without preamble, crisp, clean movements that make his arrow land in the middle of the target at the center.
“Not bad,” Wei Wuxian mutters. “Not bad at all, peacock.”
Before Jin Zixuan can reply, his cousin whose name Wei Wuxian can’t bother to remember begins to cheer obnoxiously. “If anyone thinks they can shoot better than Zixuan, feel free to try!” he yells.
Wei Wuxian scoffs and rolls his eyes, but doesn’t respond immediately. Jin Zixuan seems embarrassed by his cousin’s proclamation, if only because he knows too well that Wei Wuxian is going to take the words as a personal challenge, but he doesn’t do anything to stop his husband, so Wei Wuxian has to assume he tacitly approves. He waits for the other great sects to enter the target arena, letting the cousin puff up in pride and satisfaction. Once he has an audience, he unwraps his wrist guard, whispering a quick “watch this” at Jin Zixuan before blindfolding himself with it. Grabbing his bow and notching three arrows, he takes aim and lets them loose. Even before he takes the blindfold off, the gasps and resounding cheers tell him that he’s hit the three targets closest to the middle, each at the center.
Pulling it off, he sees the expression on the Jin cousin’s face, like he had been force fed something sour, and can’t stop himself from smiling mockingly in his direction. To his side, Jin Zixuan looks grudgingly impressed. At the front of the Jiang formation, Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes, but his shijie looks thrilled from where she sits to watch the hunt. As he catches sight of Lan Zhan’s face, for an instant, the expression there is wanting, almost hungry, then Lan Zhan seems to catch himself, his face impassive once again. Wei Wuxian is almost proud of himself for putting that expression on Lan Zhan’s face, then he remembers that he is currently married, to someone who isn’t Lan Zhan, and the pride is replaced with a hollow, melancholy feeling.
Wei Wuxian manages to convince Madam Jin to let him show his shijie around the hunting grounds. She approves remarkably quickly, considering the impropriety of Wei Wuxian’s husband being formerly engaged to shijie, but Wei Wuxian isn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. He chatters on as he leads them into the hunting grounds, shijie looking at him soft and indulgent, Jin Zixuan looking increasingly flustered at being in her presence. They walk on until they reach a fork in the path, where Wei Wuxian stops, calculating where he saw the Gusu Lan disciples enter, then points to one of the paths.
“This way,” he says, pointing, then leading the way. Shijie and Jin Zixuan follow him, exchanging bemused expressions. He has had a plan since four months ago, when he had covertly asked his shijie if she would ever be able to be friends with Jin Zixuan, or if it would hurt too much. When she had replied that she would welcome an opportunity to get close to him, he had started planning. The Wei Wuxian of a year ago would have broken Jin Zixuan’s entire face before allowing him near his shijie, but much to Wei Wuxian’s chagrin, the past year had made him see that Jin Zixuan truly was a good person, if terribly awkward. He had no qualms about them spending time together, now that he had ensured that Jin Zixuan wouldn’t make her cry again.
He had wondered at first if it would be good for them to spend time together, or if it would break both of their hearts. His dilemma was thankfully answered by the fact that about half a year into their marriage, shijie and JIn Zixuan had begun a letter correspondence. He didn’t know who had started it, only learnt of it from brief mentions from both of them. Once he learnt that, he began to plan in earnest.
As Wei Wuxian had expected, Lan Zhan was exactly where We Wuxian had predicted he would be, but none of the others from his sect were around.
“Lan Zhan!” he calls, then waves him over. Lan Zhan looks conflicted, but he makes his way over to them. He watches as Lan Zhan bows to Jin Zixuan and his shijie, as they bow in turn. “Shall we walk together?” he asks.
The three of them seem mildly puzzled by this, but they do not protest. They agree, and walk in silence for a little while longer, before Wei Wuxian disturbs it once again.
“You can walk ahead,” Wei Wuxian says to Jin Zixuan and his shijie. “We’ll fall back a bit.”
“What?” Jin Zixuan looks comically panicked but hopeful at the same time. Wei Wuxian supposes he should have explained his plan to Jin Zixuan before, but he hadn’t been sure if he could have managed it, and he didn’t want to have him moping. Besides, the current look on his face began to make up for the relentless teasing Wei Wuxian had endured recently.
“The two of you walk ahead, Lan Zhan and I will walk behind,” he repeats. “As long as that’s alright with you, shijie.”
His sister nods and smiles, while Jin Zixuan has gone red.
“But… you… aren’t we supposed to…”
“Peacock,” Wei Wuxian lifts a hand to stop him from talking. “I am falling back, pretending not to be giving you and shijie privacy. You will walk ahead and pretend you aren’t giving me and Lan Zhan. Are we understood?”
“Ah… I… yes.”
“Good. Don’t forget what I said about using your words. Make shijie upset again, and... well we’ve already had that conversation.”
Wei Wuxian keeps a close eye out as Jin Zixuan and shijie walk ahead, making conversation that begins awkwardly, but slowly improves as time goes on. For all that they have been exchanging letters, Jin ZIxuan is still painfully awkward while talking to shijie in person. Wei Wuxian watches him stumble his way through a question about one of Lanling’s popular dishes and shijie immediately brightens up and begins to tell him about a version of it she makes. As she talks, Jin Zixuan stares at her with a dazed look of affection that says he cannot believe how lucky he is that she is giving him her attention. Wei Wuxian sees Jin Zixuan slowly lose his nervous stutter and become more confident— shijie really is good at getting people to open up to her. Jin Zixuan pays close attention as she talks, asking relevant questions, engaging her, and all in all, being a better conversationalist as compared to any of the times he had awkwardly attempted to talk to her before.
Once their conversation moves from mildly polite to deeply involved and Wei Wuxian is certain the peacock won’t put his foot in his mouth once again, he turns his attention to Lan Zhan, who he catches staring at him with an open fondness that makes heat rise in his face. He seems to be blushing with unnatural frequency in Lan Zhan’s presence. The man is bound to notice at some point, but Wei Wuxian really hopes he doesn’t.
“Have you been well, Lan Zhan?” he asks, looking at the ground so he doesn’t have to meet Lan Zhan’s intense gaze.
“Mn. Have you?”
Wei Wuxian lets out a breathy laugh. “I have been single handedly manipulating the rumor mill at Koi Tower in my favour. It’s been… challenging.” He smiles at Lan Zhan. “What have you been doing, Lan Zhan?”
“Night hunting. Some teaching.”
Wei Wuxian bites his tongue before he can ask do you miss me? It would be a cruel question, and he suspects he knows the answer anyway. He believes it is the same as his answer would be if the question was posed to him. His voice runs dry as he cannot think of a single thing to ask that would not bring to mind the tragedy of their expectations for their lives.
“What do you think of the hunting grounds?” he asks instead, gesturing to them, and winces inwardly. What kind of question was that to ask Lan Zhan, like he was a distant acquaintance and not the one closest to him in the world.
“Impressive,” Lan Zhan replies, but his eyes do not leave Wei Wuxian. He gives Wei Wuxian a pointed onceover. “Very impressive,” he adds, definitely not talking about the hunting grounds.
Wei Wuxian’s traitorous heart flutters again, but he pointedly ignores it.
“I’m sure Lan Zhan has seen many other impressive sights,” he says, pulling out Chenqing and twirling it absently, just to give his hands something to do.
“None as impressive as Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan replies casually, like he isn’t flirting with no concern for what effect he’s having on Wei Wuxian’s poor, sensitive heart.
Wei Wuxian fumbles Chenqing and has to stop twirling it to rebalance it. “Lan Zhan!” he hisses. “What has gotten into you?”
“I do not know what Wei Ying means,” Lan Zhan has the audacity to reply nonchalantly.
“You— this! All of this! The looks and the bowing and now this!”
Lan Zhan raises an eyebrow.
“Lan Zhan, ah, Lan Zhan, if you keep going, my poor heart can’t take it! You’ll have to—” he cuts himself off abruptly.
Take responsibility, he had nearly said. You’ll have to take responsibility, he was going to say, before the reality of the situation hit him, before he had remembered that Lan Zhan wasn’t the one who was responsible for him. He wonders if they had realized sooner, if they would have had sweet temperate days in Cloud Recesses, stolen moments under the harsh Qishan sun, a beautiful Yunmeng spring, instead of these finite moments hidden by a canopy of leaves where they do not, cannot belong to each other.
Lan Zhan’s gaze is on him, heavy and knowing. He shoulders the weight of it willingly.
“Do you believe in fate, Lan Zhan?” he asks softly, meeting Lan Zhan’s eyes, where he sees his own frustration, his bitterness, his resignation mirrored.
“I once did,” Lan Zhan replies, equally quiet. That is what they are now, subdued, quiet, only allowed to love in whispers and stares and broken-hearted wishes.
“Yeah,” Wei Wuxian nods. “Yeah, me too.”
He thinks back to those days, when he had been so sure of everything, when he had thought he had known who he was and what he was going to be, when he had seen Lan Zhan and been seen in turn. He had been young and naive and foolish enough to believe that he could ever have so good a thing as Lan Zhan, and the world had seen fit to teach him a cruel lesson.
He refuses to learn it.
He cannot, will not learn to stop loving Lan Zhan.
He must be quiet and subdued about it, perhaps, but he will not stop, not until his dying breath, and not after that either. His heart has long belonged to Lan Zhan, and it will belong to no other. He sees his determination mirrored in Lan Zhan’s face, and thinks, of course. Of course this is a thought he does not need to voice, because Lan Zhan hears it anyway.
He had wondered once, if Lan Zhan would see him differently if he knew all of his secrets, if he truly knew what had happened to Wei Wuxian, but he meets Lan Zhan’s eyes and none of it matters anymore. If Lan Zhan knew, he wouldn’t pity Wei Wuxian, he thinks or hopes— when it comes to Lan Zhan, they are the same to him. Lan Zhan wouldn’t see him as a broken thing; he cannot reconcile it with the Lan Zhan of now who looks at Wei Wuxian— demonic cultivation and life in the Burial Mounds and all— like the stars pale in comparison to him. He cannot tell Lan Zhan now, but he lets himself believe that he might be able to one day, that Lan Zhan would hear him out without judgement, that Lan Zhan would accept him for who he is, that finally, finally, there would be no secrets between them.
One day, he thinks. One day. There are still things for him to do.
The hunt is over too soon, the Nie sect winning, but Yunmeng Jiang and Gusu Lan both capturing equal amounts of prey, second only to the Nie sect. At the banquet to celebrate, Wei Wuxian sits next to his husband, alternately throwing longing looks at the Jiang sect’s tables and the Lan sect’s tables. The food is expertly made as always, but it sticks in Wei Wuxian’s throat. Jin Zixuan, on the other hand, seems to have made a good impression on shijie, and they both look happy, sneaking looks at each other whenever the other isn’t looking.
Jin Zixuan interrupts him when he sighs for the third time.
“You could just go over, you know,” he says.
Wei Wuxian turns to stare at him. Jin Zixuan just rolls his eyes and shakes his head.
“You could go talk to Lan Wangji. I doubt he’s any happier to be here than you are.”
Wei Wuxian snorts. “And how would that look for you? If I just abandoned my husband to go eat with the heir to another sect?”
Jin Zixuan huffs slightly. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to you being politically cautious,” he says.
Wei Wuxian furrows his brow. “Why not?”
Jin Zixuan gives him a pointed look. “Throughout the Sunshot Campaign, you antagonized almost every important person you talked to.”
“They were prying into my private business,” he shrugs defensively.
“You constantly missed meetings you were expected to be at as head disciple of one of the sects leading the campaign.”
“Graves don’t dig themselves up, peacock.”
“You punched me at Cloud Recesses.”
“You were being an idiot! I was just knocking some sense into you!”
Jin Zixuan stares incredulously. “I was a sect heir and betrothed to your older sister,” he says, as though he had expected fifteen year old Wei Wuxian to have cared about any of that when his shijie was being insulted.
“And now you’re still sect heir, and you’re married to me, do keep up, A-Xuan,” he pats Jin Zixuan’s shoulder mockingly.
Jin Zixuan shakes his head again and huffs. “My point is, you don’t have to worry so much about my image. Or your image. One night won’t ruin anything.”
“See, you're wrong. One night is exactly enough to ruin everything. It takes just one bad night for all the progress we’ve made to come crashing down.”
Jin Zixuan raises an eyebrow, unimpressed. “I don’t think you having a single conversation with Lan Wangji will ruin all the progress we’ve made, you overdramatic idiot,” he says. “Besides, I’m tired of you mooning over him from afar. At least go be embarrassingly in love together.”
Wei Wuxian opens his mouth to protest, when he notices the annoying cousin— Jin Zixun, he had learnt— pestering Zewu-jun and Lan Zhan, while a number of others watch uncomfortably. He cannot hear what’s happening, but Jin Zixun seems to be brandishing cups of alcohol at their guests. Their guests who very much do not drink alcohol.
“Fine, I’ll go,” he mutters, getting up. “But I’m not doing it because you told me to.”
Jin Zixuan only hums in what Wei Wuxian thinks is amusement and turns his attention back to his food.
Wei Wuxian covers the distance in long strides, but by the time he reaches, he sees Zewu-jun drink from one of the cups, and Jin Zixun swaggers closer to Lan Zhan.
“Your turn, Hanguang-jun,” he says, smirking. Lan Zhan only shoots him an icy glare and remains unmoving.
“What’s going on here?” Wei Wuxian asks as he gets close enough. The crowd parts for him, and eager eyes turn to him, probably hoping for a noteworthy confrontation to occur. He ignores them and turns to Jin Zixun. “Explain yourself.”
Jin Zixun scowls at him. “I was only inviting our esteemed guests to show us how much they value the close bond between Lanling Jin and Gusu Lan by fully accepting our hospitality,” he says.
“If our bond truly is as close as you say, you should know that the Lan sect forbids the drinking of alcohol,” Wei Wuxian replies.
“Can an exception not be made between friends?” Jin Zixun demands.
“The Gusu Lan sect is known for their adherence to their rules, not for making exceptions,” Wei Wuxian quickly replies, before Lan Zhan can pointedly tell Jin Zixun about the decidedly unfriendly feelings he has towards him. It would be objectively hilarious, but somehow, Wei Wuxian doesn’t think it would help in this situation. “They are our guests,” he continues, hating that he has to describe himself and Jin Zixun as an ‘us’. “We must accommodate their needs, not the other way around.”
Jin Zixun is undeterred, though. He thrusts the cup in Lan Zhan’s direction again.
“I have already poured the wine,” he says haughtily. “It would be disrespectful to me not to drink it. Hanguang-jun must accept it.”
Wei Wuxian quickly snatches the cup from Jin Zixun, who looks at him in outrage. “In that case, I’ll drink it instead,” he says, throwing his head back and swallowing the drink in one smooth movement before anyone can interfere. He places the empty cup on a serving tray. “Is that satisfactorily respectful?”
No one says anything. Jin Zixun is staring at him with a mixture of outrage and irritation, Zewu-jun is smiling slightly, and Lan Zhan… Lan Zhan is giving him such a heated look that he can almost feel his knees go weak.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some business with Hanguang-jun,” he says, taking advantage of the stunned silence to guide Lan Zhan away from the banquet.
He keeps a hold on Lan Zhan’s wrist as he guides him through a number of corridors, before finding a guest room that is usually empty. Only after he finishes his usual routine of using silencing talismans does he look at Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan is looking at him with the same hunger in his gaze that he saw before the hunt, when he had shot those arrows.
“Lan Zhan…” he whispers.
Lan Zhan’s gaze is like liquid fire, and it freezes Wei Wuxian in place. He feels a trickle of heat trail up his spine. Lan Zhan leans towards him, almost in a daze, his hand coming to rest on Wei Wuxian’s forearm, his lips parted, his eyes slightly unfocused. Their faces are close enough that they are breathing the same air. For a long moment, Wei Wuxian thinks Lan Zhan will kiss him. He hopes for it, even. But the moment passes, and Lan Zhan moves back, his gaze clearing, though his hand still stays on Wei Wuxian’s forearm.
“My apologies, Wei Ying,” he says, and his voice sounds rougher than ever. Wei Wuxian feels the mounting urge to kiss him, but he refrains. “I forgot myself.”
Wei Wuxian laughs nervously, hoping to diffuse the tension. “You sure you didn’t drink a little bit, Lan Zhan?” he teases. “I know how you get when you drink.”
Then Lan Zhan gives him that look that says he’s going to say something insufferably romantic, something that will undoubtedly cause Wei Wuxian’s heart to race. He remembers how Lan Zhan used to respond to his flirtation with glares and silence and wonders when Lan Zhan became the bold one. Perhaps Lan Zhan has decided he has nothing to lose anymore, so he might as well repay Wei Wuxian for every time he had flirted when they were younger. He regrets ever teasing Lan Zhan, if this is how he is going to respond every time.
“The only thing I am intoxicated by is Wei Ying,” he says in a matter-of-fact tone.
“Lan Zhan! I told you not to say things like that!” His voice is higher pitched than he would like. Even though he braced himself for it, it wasn’t enough.
“Mn, I apologize,” Lan Zhan says, sounding absolutely unrepentant. “What did you wish to discuss with me?”
Wei Wuxian smiles at him. “To be honest, I really just wanted to spend more time with you, Lan Zhan,” he says. “But there we don’t really have much time here, so I’ll just show you something I’ve been working on instead.”
He pulls out the new talisman and hands it over to Lan Zhan, who holds it gently, running a reverent finger over it. He gives Wei Wuxian a questioning look.
“It’s for long-distance communication,” he says eagerly. “Focus on it and think of the person you want to send a message to,” he instructs. “Since we’re testing it, it should probably be me.”
“For how long?” Lan Zhan asks.
“Oh, you’ll know,” Wei Wuxian winks. There needs to be some mystery, after all.
Lan Zhan simply huffs in amusement and closes his eyes to focus. The minute he’s focused enough, the talisman releases a small puff of smoke and turns into a tiny crow, about the size of a butterfly. Lan Zhan’s eyes widen as he sees the miniature bird.
“Cute, isn’t it?” Wei Wuxian grins. “I made friends with a lot of crows in the Burial Mounds. I thought I could pay homage to them like this.”
Lan Zhan simply nods, staring at the little bird with wonder in his eyes.
“I’m going to go there,” he points to the far end of the room. “Whisper your message to the crow so I can’t hear it, then blow gently on it when you’re done.”
He quickly walks over, watching Lan Zhan gently murmur something solemnly to the tiny crow. It is an extremely adorable sight, and Wei Wuxian wishes he had paper and ink to capture the moment. Soon enough, the tiny crow flies to him, and perches on a strand of his hair close to his ear.
“Hello, Wei Ying,” he hears in Lan Zhan’s soft voice, so fond and indulgent that he cannot help the little giggle that escapes him.
“Hello, Lan Zhan,” he replies, smiling, as the little crow turns into smoke, then vanishes. “What do you think of it?”
“Wei Ying is brilliant,” Lan Zhan says immediately. “It is an excellent invention.”
“Oh? So it’s not boring then? Or extremely boring?” he teases.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan repeats firmly. “It is a remarkable invention. You should be proud of it.”
“Ah…” he smiles sheepishly. “That’s kind of you to say Lan Zhan.”
He bounds closer to Lan Zhan before the man can protest and hands him a small stack of identical talismans. “I know you aren’t a big talker, so we can still exchange letters, but if you need me or my help and there isn’t enough time to write, or if you’re worried someone will read your correspondence, you can contact me with this.”
Lan Zhan solemnly accepts the talisman. “Thank you, Wei Ying,” he says sincerely.
“You don’t have to thank me Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian replies quickly.
Lan Zhan goes to speak, and his face tells Wei Wuxian that he is going to disagree, but before he can, they hear rambunctious voices outside the door. Wei Wuxian takes a deep breath and lets it out.
“We should probably go back to the banquet,” he says.
Lan Zhan nods.
Wei Wuxian walks towards the door, about to open it, when Lan Zhan catches him by the wrist. Every urge tells him to pull away, worried that if Lan Zhan’s fingers connect with a meridian, he will be able to tell that Wei Wuxian is empty inside, but a bigger part of him says let him find out. What will he do if he knows? He shuts down both of those impulses and turns to face Lan Zhan instead.
“Wei Ying,” he says, and in Lan Zhan’s mouth, his name sounds like Lan Zhan is caressing it. “Take care of yourself.”
“You too, Lan Zhan,” he whispers back, like speaking too loud will shatter something. “Take care of yourself.”
The next day, Wei Wuxian doesn’t get to see Lan Zhan off, as he is saying his goodbyes to his siblings when the Lan sect leaves, but he sends out a fervent wish that he will see Lan Zhan again soon, that it will hurt a little bit less when they meet the next time. He gives himself a few brief moments to dwell in the pain, then shoves it all away and gets back to work.
He does not have time to despair.
He still has a lot of work to do.
So it's been a hot second since I updated, huh? You may have noticed that the chapter count has increased once again. This is because I seem to have an inability to control the flow of words once they start.
I did mention early on that there would be both novel and drama elements in this fic, but even I didn't anticipate what a mixed jumble the Phoenix Mountain Hunt was going to be. I just wanted to clarify that the banquet that follows it does incorporate the 'WWX drinking for LWJ' scene directly after the hunt from CQL, but it is not the banquet that WWX interrupts looking for WN. That banquet, like novel canon, occurs months later.
Chapter 4: After II
CW: mistreatment of prisoners (it doesn't occur on-screen, but it has already happened at the time of the fic)
For the most part, Jin Guangshan is a predictable man. There is a pattern to his behaviour, and he adheres to a schedule. He has to, in order to deal with the responsibilities of Chief Cultivator.
Which is why it’s such a surprise when he leaves Koi Tower for a week and returns with a wide-eyed young boy who looks around ten and introduces the boy as Mo Xuanyu, his bastard son. He declares that the child is going to be taught cultivation in Lanling, which isn’t exactly a popular announcement.
Jin Zixuan is discomfited by the reminder that his father had fathered yet another child with a woman who wasn’t his mother. Madam Jin is apoplectic with rage at Jin Guangshan’s audacity for bringing another one of his bastard sons to Koi Tower— As if one wasn’t enough, she’s overheard shouting. Jin Guangyao is well aware of the reason Mo Xuanyu is here, to show him how replaceable he is to his father, to keep him from getting too secure about his position. His tight smiles say as much. Mo Xuanyu himself seems eager to please, but he struggles to keep up with the students he is grouped with. He doesn’t fit into Koi Tower very smoothly at first, even as he learns to keep out of Madam Jin’s way.
As for Wei Wuxian, he does not miss the pointed comments about how Mo Xuanyu has been trying and failing to form a golden core, and that he would benefit from an alternative cultivation method. This is so obviously yet another ineffectual way for Jin Guangshan to get insights on demonic cultivation. He is hinting heavily— and very unsubtly, in Wei Wuxian's opinion— that he expects Wei Wuxian to teach his young son, and Mo Xuanyu is both young enough and eager enough to prove his worth that he is highly susceptible to his father’s demands. Jin Guangshan would have no trouble convincing the impressionable young boy to use anything Wei Wuxian teaches him on behalf of the Jin sect with the right combination of words.
Wei Wuxian has never been one to do what others want him to do just because they tell him to do it. if Jin Guangshan isn't going to screw up the courage to tell him to his face what he wants, Wei Wuxian can't outright refuse, but that doesn't mean he'll actually do anything the man wants. His resolve does not waver— he will not teach anyone demonic cultivation, much less someone Jin Guangshan can manipulate. But well, seeing how timid Mo Xuanyu is and how he gets picked on in Koi Tower, Wei Wuxian decides he’s going to teach the boy an alternative cultivation method, alright.
Every afternoon, Wei Wuxian sits Mo Xuanyu down and begins teaching him the basics of talisman theories. The cultivation world often neglected this because talismans were meant to be used merely as supplements to sword cultivation. Most people learnt only a few essential talismans, and even then, they mostly learnt to draw them by repeated practice. Most never bothered to learn how talismans worked, nor did they focus on how to create new ones. While talismans couldn’t replace a sword in a fight, for someone having trouble with developing a golden core— or someone lacking one like Wei Wuxian— talismans could be an indispensable resource.
Wei Wuxian finds that Mo Xuanyu does have a knack for talismans, and he grasps the idea of them quickly. Under Wei Wuxian’s careful guidance, his skill improves, and with it, so does his confidence. Slowly, he grows in leaps and bounds, and his golden core grows in power, albeit only slightly. Perhaps he will never have an impressive golden core, but with his knowledge of talismans, he is neither defenceless, nor does he think of himself as useless any longer. He also takes to following Wei Wuxian around starry-eyed, which scares Wei Wuxian a little bit, because he is probably not the best role model for a child, but it doesn’t stop him from giving Mo Xuanyu the positive attention he is clearly starved for.
It helps his relationship with Jin Guangyao that Mo Xuanyu clearly has no intention of usurping his half-brother’s position. He is respectful and tries his best to help without trying to take over, and there is something endearing about the way he clearly looks up to Jin Guangyao. He is so eager to please, so timid and polite, that even Jin Guangyao softens towards him eventually. Mo Xuanyu is far too young to help Jin Guangyao with his responsibilities, but he does him little favours and runs errands he doesn't find time for, and somehow manages to win him over. Perhaps, Wei Wuxian thinks, there is something about him that reminds Jin Guangyao of himself at a younger age.
Jin Zixuan takes to having a new little brother with surprising ease. When he catches Wei Wuxian’s surprise, he admits that he had always wanted siblings, at least before he had known about his father’s infidelities. He wryly confesses that he had found it hard to relate to Jin Guangyao because he was already an adult when they met, but with Mo Xuanyu who was still a child, he found it easier to initiate a relationship. Mo Xuanyu responds positively to his attention too- it takes almost no convincing to get him to call Jin Zixuan ‘Xuan-gege’. In this vein, Wei Wuxian tries to get Mo Xuanyu to call him ‘Xian-gege’, but he insists on calling Wei Wuxian ‘Shifu’, which amuses him to no end.
Mo Xuanyu doesn’t fit into Koi Tower perfectly, but he does find his place within the Jin sect, with the help of his half-brothers and Wei Wuxian. Within a month of his arrival, he seems to find his new home satisfying enough to be happy there. As awkward as it is at times, Jin Zixuan, Jin Guangyao, and Mo Xuanyu seem to be learning how to be brothers, and begin to genuinely grow fond of one another. The two older ones also start looking out for Mo Xuanyu a bit, which, combined with Mo Xuanyu using his talismans to fight back against two of his bullies, means that the kids his age pick on him less than they did before. He is still quiet and withdrawn and doesn’t have many friends, but he is no longer terrorized as he once was.
As for Wei Wuxian, he takes great pleasure in informing Jin Guangshan that he has begun training Mo Xuanyu in alternative cultivation practices as the Chief Cultivator had recommended, only to watch the smug, greedy joy drain out of the man’s eyes and be replaced with frustration as Mo Xuanyu proudly demonstrates his newfound skill at talisman crafting.
If there was one thing Wei Wuxian had learnt from marrying into the Jin sect, it was that the Jin sect really, really enjoyed throwing banquets. It seemed to him that they would take any excuse to celebrate, any excuse for drinking and merrymaking. Neither of those were things Wei Wuxian was opposed to on principle, but the mind-numbingly boring politics that also accompanied banquets were truly terrible, in his opinion. He knew the importance of political charades, and most times, he knew to play the game like the rest of them. In fact, recently, he had even been enjoying himself a little bit— there was something supremely satisfying about turning Jin Guangshan’s political allies and supporters into his own, or rather, his husband’s. Still, that didn’t preclude him from finding it absolutely exhausting. Living at Koi Tower meant that he could trust no one but Jin Zixuan, and it was incredibly draining to put a mask on for as long as he did.
While most of the banquets were internal affairs, it was only a few months after the hunt at Phoenix Mountain that the decision was made to hold a banquet to host all the sects once again. Wei Wuxian had been pleasantly surprised at the idea of seeing his family and Lan Zhan again so soon, but the weeks leading up to the banquet had been quite a trying experience. Ever since he had interrupted Jin Zixun’s idiotic plan at the previous banquet, the man had become a thorn in his side, constantly cornerng him around Koi Tower and making threats or throwing childish insults, ranting about how Wei Wuxian had had caused him to lose face in front of all their guests, as though he hadn’t done that all by himself by pressuring the Twin Jades to drink. Once another banquet was announced, these incidents increased in frequency and in the irritation they caused Wei Wuxian.
Wanting to be free of the man’s annoying presence, Wei Wuxian decides to head out of the tower into Lanling. He hasn’t had much opportunity to explore the place. He can’t imagine that he has been living in Koi Tower for over a year now, but he still doesn’t know enough about Lanling. He never thought this would be his life, and now that it is, he doesn’t know what to do about it. He meanders through the streets, stopping at the odd stall to consider someone’s wares, or to watch children run around and play. There is something about Lanling that is so cold and unwelcoming to him, even if he can’t figure out why. It simply doesn’t feel like home.
As he walks, he hears an odd noise coming from one of the alleys to the side of the street he walks on. Curious, he enters the alley, one hand on his flute in case there is a threat, the other hand extending a non-threatening hand just in case it’s a street urchin he doesn’t want to scare. When he finally catches sight of who it is, he freezes. A phantom pain tugs at his abdomen.
Wen Qing is here. Here, in Lanling.
Wen Qing looks terrible, frankly. Her face is covered in dirt and she is staggering, barely able to keep herself upright. Her hair is bedraggled and her robes are worn with rips and tears at the hems. Her eyes are as sharp as ever, but there is a wild desperation in them that Wei Wuxian would have never thought to associate with the elegant, efficient, professional doctor who had methodically extracted his golden core and given it to Jiang Cheng. Wen Qing usually radiated a quiet confidence and level-headedness that was entirely absent from the woman in front of him.
“Wen Qing?” Wei Wuxian calls, his voice hesitant and disbelieving.
Her head jerks up as she turns to look at him in horror. For a moment, her eyes widen, then she recognizes him. “Wei Wuxian?” she asks, swaying lightly on her feet. “How…?”
He rushes over immediately to support her. He gently guides her down to the ground against the wall. The alley is dirty, but a little dirt doesn't really matter in the state she is in. She grabs his wrists tightly, seemingly using them to ground herself while she takes deep breaths. She closes her eyes and her breaths even out, then she opens them. Her grip on Wei Wuxian’s wrists loosens, but she doesn’t let go.
“Where am I?” she asks softly at last.
“You’re in Lanling,” he quickly replies. He wonders what has happened to her, why she had no idea where she was.
The minute Wen Qing hears the word ‘Lanling’, her eyes widen again, her breathing gets sharper, and she begins looking around rapidly. She looks absolutely terrified.
“You’re okay, you’re safe,” Wei Wuxian assures her, hoping he’s saying the right things. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“I can’t be here!” Her voice is filled with terror, and she is quiet, like she is too afraid that a louder voice will call attention to her.
“Wen Qing, what’s wrong?” Wei Wuxian asks. “I’ll help you no matter what it is.”
“You can’t! You won’t! You won’t be able to…”
“Wen Qing, I owe you a great debt,” Wei Wuxian tries to soothe her. “If you can’t trust me as a person, trust that I will repay that debt, at least.”
At this, she seems slightly mollified. Her breathing evens out again.
“What happened?” Wei Wuxian asks gently, not wanting to spook her.
Wen Qing takes a deep breath. “They have A-Ning,” she says.
“What? Who has Wen Ning? What’s going on?”
Wen Qing closes her eyes. Her breathing shudders. When she speaks again, her voice sounds fragile. “Jin cultivators. They were rounding up the Wen cultivators after the war,” she says. “Some time ago, they came to our village and captured all of us. We couldn’t even fight back. We’re healers, we don’t fight…”
The Jins had taken up the responsibility of tracking down Wen cultivators. They had reported to the sects that they had all been found, but from what Wen Qing tells him, it sounds like they hadn’t stopped at finding the fighters alone. He wonders if the other sect leaders knew, if Jiang Cheng knew, if Jin Zixuan knew, but it seems unlikely. Jiang Cheng knows that the two of them owe Wen Qing and Wen Ning a debt for sheltering them, he wouldn’t approve of such a thing. And Jin Zixuan is painfully honest, and from everything Wei Wuxian has seen, he is honourable— he wouldn’t allow this to happen if he knew either. Zewu-jun has always been fair, too, and the Lans believe deeply in righteous actions. Or at least, so Wei Wuxian hopes. If they had all known and decided to allow it, decided to cover it up, all of them people that Wei Wuxian respected and liked, if his judgement had truly been that bad… no, he couldn’t think like that right now.
“What did they do to you?” he asks.
Wen Qing’s gaze turns pained and distant. “Qiongqi Path,” she says. “Qiongqi Path. A-Ning is— they’re hurting him— I didn’t know where to go— I—.”
Wei Wuxian thinks of Wen Ning, the shy, timid boy he had helped with archery, the one who had bravely risked his own life to get him and Jiang Cheng to safety, who had put himself at further risk to retrieve Madam Yu and Uncle Jiang’s remains, the one who had been there with him as Wen Qing pulled his core out of him, as he felt it’s warmth ebbing away. Wen Ning who had no reason to defy Wen Ruohan but did anyway because he remembered the kindness Wei Wuxian showed him, Wen Ning who was brave and kind, who did not deserve to be hurt because of the actions of Wen Ruohan.
“I’ll find him,” Wei Wuxian tells Wen Qing at once. “Just one thing, do you know who is in charge?”
Wen Qing shakes her head. “I didn’t recognize him, none of us did.”
Wei Wuxian braces himself for the answer to the next question. He needs to know but he’s scared of what the answer will be. “Was Jin Zixuan involved?”
He cannot stop himself from sagging in relief when Wen Qing quickly shakes her head. “I overheard a couple of them saying he would be too weak-willed to properly punish us if he knew,” she says. “I don’t think he was involved.
“Okay,” Wei Wuxian says. “Okay. I’ll go find Wen Ning, you stay here-”
“No, absolutely not, I’m coming with you,” she replies immediately.
“Wen Qing, do you really think you can make it to Qiongqi Path in the state you’re in?”
She looks at him defiantly. “And you going alone is a better idea?”
Perhaps she is right and going alone isn’t the best idea after all. What if there are complications? Wen Qing in her current state would hardly be able to do anything to help him, and he would be better off if he was with someone who had an unimpeachable reputation to vouch for him if something went wrong. Mind made up, he pulls out one of his communication talismans.
“I have a plan,” he tells Wen Qing, “But it will take a little while to enact. In the meanwhile, I’ll get you some food, alright?”
Wen Qing hesitates, and he adds, “After that, I’ll definitely take you to Qiongqi Path.”
She nods grudgingly, and he smiles reassuringly at her before turning his attention to the talisman. He concentrates until it turns into a little crow with a puff, then begins talking to it. “Remember when you made me promise to ask for your help if I needed it?”, he whispers. “I need it now. You’re probably already on the way, but come to Lanling as quickly as you can and meet me by the fifth florist’s stall on the main street.”
He and Wen Qing watch as the little bird disappears with his message.
“What now?” Wen Qing asks, raising an eyebrow.
Wei Wuxian sighs. “Now, we wait.”
By the time Lan Zhan arrives, Wei Wuxian has managed to get Wen Qing to eat something and drink some water. When he receives a message from Lan Zhan that he has arrived, he tells Wen Qing to stay right where she is before going to find him. His stomach twists unpleasantly at the thought of the last time he had said that to someone and what had followed, but he doesn’t believe Wen Qing is in any condition to move. Besides, she needs him with her to go to Qiongqi Path.
Lan Zhan stands in front of the florist’s stall while the man tries to unsuccessfully wheedle him to buy a flower or two for his sweetheart. His stiff position shows a discomfort that only eases when he catches sight of Wei Wuxian. Immediately, he walks towards Wei Wuxian.
“That was quick, Lan Zhan,” he says as soon as they are close enough to converse without being overheard.
“Mn, we were on the way to Lanling,” Lan Zhan says, giving him a worried onceover. There is the slightest furrow in his brow, and the look in his eye is reminiscent of the look he had given Wei Wuxian at the Burial Mounds.
“Oh, I’m fine,” Wei Wuxian assures him as soon as he notices the concern. “What I need help with… well… come this way.”
Wei Wuxian guides Lan Zhan to the alley, looking behind himself a few times in what he hopes is an unsuspicious manner, just to ensure that no one is following them, that no one has noticed them. Lan Zhan isn’t exactly the most inconspicuous of cultivators, after all. To his great relief, they go unnoticed.
Another matter for relief is that when the two of them reach the alley and Wen Qing is still there. If she had left, he doesn’t know what he would have done. When she catches sight of Lan Zhan, her eyes widen.
“Hanguang-jun?” she asks. “What are—?”
“He’s here to help, Wen Qing,” Wei Wuxian assures her.
“Be assured, Lady Wen, I do not mean any harm,” Lan Zhan says, bowing carefully. Then, he turns back to Wei Wuxian. “Wei Ying?”
“Do you remember Wen Qing’s brother from the archery contest in Qishan?” he asks. “Wen Ning? Wen Qionglin?” Lan Zhan shows the faintest hint of recognition. “Right, well, after Lotus Pier fell, he helped me and Jiang Cheng. He and Wen Qing sheltered us and treated our wounds. Except, after the war, the Jins took charge of the prisoners, including Wen Qing’s family. They’ve been mistreating them.”
Lan Zhan frowns. Wei Wuxian supposes his explanation was a bit disjointed. Before he can figure out how to clarify, Wen Qing takes the opportunity to speak instead.
“My family— they’re not cultivators, Hanguang-jun,” Wen Qing explains. “They’re in a camp at Qiongqi Path, and they’re being beaten, killed. I couldn’t— I managed to escape and I didn’t know—” She cut herself off and turned to Wei Wuxian. “I meant to go to Yunmeng,” she confesses, “I thought you would be able to help. I didn’t realize I was coming to Lanling.”
“That’s actually really lucky. It’s a good thing you didn’t go to Yunmeng,” Wei Wuxian says. “You see, I’ve married into the Jin sect.”
Wen Qing's eyes widen, her mouth drops open. “You—”
“Not by choice,” he rushes to assure her. “It was just— it’s a long story, I’ll tell you later.” He quickly turns to Lan Zhan in an effort to get back on topic. “I’m going to Qiongqi Path to find them. Would you— would you come with me, Lan Zhan?”
Lan Zhan nods solemnly. He is ever sincere, and the immediate agreement he gets eases the tightness that’s been building in Wei Wuxian’s chest. He could have done this alone, he would have done this alone. It was what he was used to, after all. It was only that the thought of someone standing at his side, someone who was willing to defend him, help him, trust him— it makes him feel warm, somehow, this assurance that even if he can do something alone, he won't have to.
Travel is going to be a problem though. He can’t fly on a sword— he doesn’t have Suibian with him in any case— and Wen Qing has neither a sword nor, he would wager, the strength to use one right now. Lan Zhan is strong, but to ask him to carry all three of them that distance… And besides, Wen Qing knows he doesn’t have a golden core but Lan Zhan doesn’t and this would be the worst possible way to have that conversation if he had any intention of having it, which he most certainly does not. He curses himself for not working on the modifications he had thought up for a transportation talisman. That would have proven incredibly useful at this moment.
Wei Wuxian exchanges a glance with Wen Qing who has seemingly come to the same conclusion. Before either of them can say anything though, Lan Zhan speaks.
“We can travel on Bichen,” he says resolutely.
“Lan Zhan, I appreciate the offer, but isn’t Qiongqi Path a bit too far for you to carry three people?” Wei Wuxian asks hesitantly. He has every faith in Lan Zhan’s abilities, has seen him balance three people on Bichen— himself included— but this is a situation where they cannot afford the risk. This would all go wrong if they got stranded mid-way, unable to help anyone.
Wen Qing looks similarly contemplative. The most expedient solution would be for her to stay behind— she is the only one of the three of them who is in no fit state to fight if it comes to that, and besides, Wei Wuxian and Lan Zhan have far more power in this situation— their words might actually count for something to the people manning the camp. On the other hand, her reluctance to stay back makes perfect sense. Her family— her little brother— is stuck there, and she needs to be able to see for herself the state they are in, what has happened to them since she has managed to escape. As a doctor, her skills might be needed too.
If all of them have to go, but their means of transport is limited, there is one last thing Wei Wuxian can try. It isn’t something he was incredibly pleased about doing, but desperate times call for desperate measures. He had no idea how his idea would be received, but for the sake of Wen Ning, he had to try.
“I have an idea,” he says. “But uh… Wen Qing… I don’t know if you’ll like it.”
“I’ll do anything to save my brother,” she says firmly. “What is it?”
“So uh,” Wei Wuxian gives her a sheepish look, “Remember when I said I married into the Jin sect?”
Jin Zixuan arrives in a dark cloak over his gold robes, thankfully having followed Wei Wuxian’s instructions to look less like himself— they really do not need the heir of the Jin sect to be recognized by anyone and figure out what they’re up to, at least until they reach Qiongqi Path. There, Jin Zixuan being recognized might actually offer them leverage, or credibility— something to make their work easier.
When Jin Zixuan hears what’s happening, his jaw goes tight with what Wei Wuxian can now recognize as frustration and anger at injustice. It’s the same look he gets when he has a particularly challenging conversation with some bigot at Koi Tower. It makes Wei Wuxian relax infinitesimally. If that is how Jin Zixuan is reacting to this knowledge, not only does it mean he had no prior knowledge of it, it also means that he agrees that it is extremely unjust treatment— Wens or not. Jin Zixuan is on his side about this issue.
Wei Wuxian wonders briefly how the two of them have spent a year trying to take down Jin Guangshan, but neither of them had figured this secret that the Jin sect was keeping. Everything he had been doing over the past year and this has been happening right under his nose. He is angry at himself for not finding out sooner. A part of him is thinking how could I not have known? How could I have been so ignorant of this gross miscarriage of justice? What is the point of everything I have been doing if I couldn’t even protect innocent people? When he meets Jin Zixuan’s eyes, he can tell that his husband is thinking the exact same thing.
Wen Qing had been understandably against Jin Zixuan going with them at first— she thought it was stupid to involve an actual Jin in this endeavour, but when faced with Jin Zixuan’s earnest offer of help, she relents reluctantly. She knows, just as the rest of them do, that they need him here if they’re going to get to Qiongqi Path as soon as they can. She still gives him a wary look or two, and Wei Wuxian is the only one of the three whose presence she is truly comfortable with, but she is hard pressed for allies, and begrudgingly accepts the help.
They begin their journey after a short discussion, Wen Qing and Lan Zhan on Bichen, Wei Wuxian and Jin Zixuan on Suihua. For just a second, Lan Zhan looks vaguely displeased at the prospect of Wei Wuxian spending an entire flight practically in Jin Zixuan’s arms, but Wen Qing is too wary of Jin Zixuan to be in close proximity to him for an entire flight. And besides, Lan Zhan clearly knows that there are more important matters at hand— matters that overshadow any jealousy he might feel. Neither Lan Zhan nor Jin Zixuan ask about Wei Wuxian not using his sword, which he is grateful for. He cannot focus enough to come up with a plausible excuse just right now.
They spend the flight in silence, all four of them, each preparing for the prospect of seeing what exactly Qiongqi Path holds. Somehow, Wei Wuxian thinks their day is going to get worse from here on out.
They reach Qiongqi Path in the twilight hours. The setting sun paints the sky in beautiful colours. It is a shame that the revolting sights they see at the camp far overshadow the sight of the sky.
The overseers attempt to stop them at first. They bluster and put up a pretence of being worried about security. The presence of three war heroes— specifically the heir to the Jin sect, his husband, and Hanguang-jun— makes them relent. They are obviously nervous even as they pretend that nothing untoward is happening under their watch. Already, that is a hint for what is to come.
Wei Wuxian has seen many horrible things.
He fought in a war— he was responsible for some of the horrible things he had seen. He had killed brutally, efficiently, fiercely; he was almost certain that he had the highest body count of everyone who had fought in the Sunshot Campaign. Even before that, he has seen horrible things in the Burial Mounds— he still has nightmares about what he had encountered, the spirits, the bodies, the hallucinations, the pain. Freshly out of the Burial Mounds too, he had tortured Wen Chao and Wang Lingjiao violently— something he is not particularly proud of, but certainly does not regret.
Wei Wuxian is certainly no stranger to the horrifying sight of suffering.
But there is a key difference between the horrors of war and this. Of all the people Wei Wuxian has killed, none were innocent. Of all the people Wei Wuxian has killed, none of them was a non-combatant, barring Wang Lingjiao. Even when Wei Wuxian had killed ruthlessly, he had never taken pleasure in killing, or in the prolonging of it, except for what he did to Wen Chao and Wang Lingjiao. And Wei Wuxian, to the best of his knowledge, has never killed anyone who didn’t deserve it.
What was happening here was wrong— there was no other word for it.
He watches weary, dirt-covered men and women stagger around, performing harsh menial labour. Their backs are nearly bent with the force of what they are being made to do. A few have noticeable limps— one man’s foot practically drags behind him as he walks, and walking would be a generous description for what he is doing. Several of them are bleeding from open cuts, and their faces are heavily bruised. He even spots a peony-shaped brand on a few of them. Each of them is old— not in the way cultivators are, but in the way civilians age. There are middle-aged people doing back-breaking work. Some of them are past middle-aged, and can only be called elderly. One particularly old woman is carrying a child on her back. A child. A child barely two years old, from what he can tell.
Wei Wuxian sees red. He can feel himself shaking with rage, his teeth bared as he fights not to lose control of the resentful energy. And the place is chock-full of it. It is teeming with the resentment of innocent people who have died horrible, painful, miserable deaths at the hands of the overseers of this camp. Wei Wuxian can feel the red bleed into his eyes as he nearly lifts his flute to play—
There is a warm grip on his wrist, forcing it down. The smell of sandalwood replaces the stench of death and surrounds him, grounds him.
“Wei Ying, you cannot kill them,” a soothing voice murmurs, though he can hear the barely contained anger. “If they die, they will become martyrs. They must face justice for what they have done.”
He wants to though. He knows that to be true, but he wants to kill them so badly. His fingers itch to call for the power at his disposal, to show them his displeasure, his fury, his sheer incandescent rage. He does not want to hold back. He wants to return this suffering to them tenfold. The people who died at their hands deserve revenge. Do you know how many people died here? he wants to demand. Do you know how many voices are wailing in my head right now, do you know how many suffered until their dying breath? Can you not smell the decay in the air? Can you not see the bodies piled up—
“Wei Ying, you must control yourself,” he hears again. “They will pay, but not now.”
He inhales sharply, closing his eyes.
They must face justice. It would be justice to let them die screaming like their victims did, a part of him asserts viciously.
They must testify to the atrocities they committed in front of everyone. No one will believe you unless they admit their guilt themselves.
There needs to be justice.
He wrenches down the anger and the sadness and the hopelessness, wrestles it into a manageable shape. He holds on to it tightly, not letting it escape even as it simmers just beneath the surface.
His soul aches with the effort.
He exhales, opens his eyes.
Lan Zhan is still looking at him with concern, his fingers are still curled around Wei Wuxian’s wrist. Wei Wuxian nods resolutely at him, and whatever Lan Zhan sees in his eyes makes him let go.
Jin Zixuan steps forward, between the overseers of the camp and Wei Wuxian. “What is going on here?” he asks, projecting every bit of commanding arrogance he can.
Then men fall over each other to explain themselves to him.
“They’re the remnants of the Wen sect—”
“The prisoners are unruly—”
“— very accident-prone—”
“— haven’t done anything wrong—”
“You haven’t done anything wrong?” Jin Zixuan repeats, looking disbelievingly between the overseers and the trembling prisoners. “What is the meaning of this?” he waves at the injured men and women who are struggling to stay upright, at the discarded whips and brands on the ground.
“This is what they deserve—”
“— they’re Wen-dogs, who cares—”
“—simply making them pay for the atrocities they have committed against us—”
“Atrocities?” Wei Wuxian interrupts in a soft, dangerous voice. “And what atrocities has that child committed against you?” He clutches Chenqing harder, sees the men pale in fear. “You would kill these people who are too old or too young to have been part of the war? Just because they’re Wens?”
Only one of the overseers, presumably the bravest one dares to speak to him. “Didn’t you kill most of the Wen-dogs on the battlefield? How can you look down on us for doing the same thing you did?”
Wei Wuxian turns a glare towards him. “The ones I killed chose to be on the battlefield. Are you trying to say these elderly people and this child were fighting against you?” he demands.
“Do not try to justify yourselves by insulting my husband,” Jin Zixuan says firmly. “As the heir to the Lanling Jin sect, I order you to release these prisoners to our custody at once. You will all be investigated. I will not let this abuse of power stand.”
The overseers protest, but Jin Zixuan is unrelenting. It is a combination of that and Lan Zhan and Wei Wuxian glaring from behind him, making it clear that they will back him up that makes them submit unwillingly. Jin Zixuan wastes no time implying that if they do not surrender to him, he will let Wei Wuxian deal with them however he sees fit, which understandably terrifies them. They are scared of being punished, indignant that anyone would care about their treatment of Wens, but none of them is foolish enough to believe that standing against all three of them would be possible, or that Wei Wuxian would be merciful.
As soon as they surrender to Jin Zixuan, Wen Qing takes off, calling her brother’s name, screaming for him. Wei Wuxian follows her, while Lan Zhan starts freeing and helping the elderly Wens. They find Wen Ning behind a tiny shed, bleeding out from a stab wound in his abdomen.
“Jiejie,” he murmurs when he sees her. “I tried to keep them safe, but…”
“A-Ning,” she cries, falling to her knees at his side, her hands pressed to the wound, staunching the blood flow as much as she can. “You did your best, you did good, let me help you!”
“Jiejie, you’re here,” he says, coughing a little. “You brought help?”
“Wei Wuxian is here,” she replies absently as she begins prodding her brother’s wound. She exhales slightly. “This is… this is… I can fix this, I just need to stop the bleeding first.”
“I’m at your disposal, Wen Qing,” Wei Wuxian tells her. “Anything you need.”
She looks at him for a second, then nods. “Come over here and help me hold this together,” she says, her voice professional, no hint of the raw worry or the relief that had permeated it an instant ago. “I need both my hands free.”
Wei Wuxian quickly follows as Wen Qing continues to bark out instructions at him— he does not presume to think that he is particularly good at what she’s telling him to do, but his willingness to help alone eases Wen Qing’s burden. They have no medical supplies, but somehow, between the two of them, they manage to bind Wen Ning’s wound so that he will not bleed out immediately.
“We just need to get him out of here,” Wei Wuxian tells Wen Qing. “We’ll find a town or something and buy whatever herbs we need.”
“I won’t be able to leave,” she replies as they help Wen Ning to his feet— dazed and unfocused as his movements are. “I’ll have to stay with A-Ning to monitor his condition, I’ll describe the herbs to you and you go buy them.”
“Alright,” he agrees as they slowly begin their three-person shuffle to the gates, where Jin Zixuan and Lan Wangji wait, along with the recently arrested overseers and Wen Qing’s family— what is left of them, anyway.
As they near the others, they notice that somehow, a number of horses have been acquired from somewhere. Wei Wuxian has no idea how they found so many horses, but he definitely isn’t going to complain about something making their getaway easier. One quick decision of what town they’re going to stop at for the night later, everyone mounts a horse— those who are too injured or too old sharing with someone who will ensure they stay on the horse. Wei Wuxian himself ends up sharing a horse with the little child— A-Yuan— who clings to him tightly. He is quiet, and his eyes are large and fearful whenever he sees the overseers, or when he catches sight of the gold of Jin Zixuan’s robes, and he regularly buries his face in Wei Wuxian’s robes, whenever he feels overwhelmed. The thought of this child being put through whatever was happening at Qiongqi Path enrages him, but he reassures himself with the thought that those who did this will pay soon. It also helps that both Jin Zixuan and Lan Zhan have picked up on the fact that his temper is hanging by a thread and make sure he doesn't get anywhere near the Jins who were in charge— he would not be able to control himself if he sees them.
When they reach the town, they enter the first inn they find. It’s early enough and the place is remote enough that no other travellers have come there seeking accommodation, and Jin Zixuan hands the innkeeper a heavy bag of money and asks to rent out the whole inn. That kind of flaunting of wealth would have annoyed teenage Wei Wuxian to no end, but the Wei Wuxian of today can only feel grateful. The money is enough to convince the innkeeper not to look too closely at them, which is a blessing— fifty odd refugees and three cultivators from major sects are not easily ignored or hidden, especially when so many of them are clearly injured and covered in the grime of Qiongqi Path.
As soon as they get Wen Ning settled in one of the rooms, Wen Qing gives him a description and the names of the herbs she needs. They stopped once before reaching the inn to buy the ones Wen Qing needed urgently, and a roll or two of bandages— those would not wait until Wei Wuxian could find them and return— but there are more herbs that will be needed once the wound is closed up, to prevent infection. It is these that she sends him off to find. Wei Wuxian sets off immediately— carefully disentangling a sleeping A-Yuan and passing him off to his grandmother first— leaving Lan Zhan and Jin Zixuan behind to ensure that no trouble comes their way— not from the overseers, or from the townspeople. There is an old apothecary a few li away from the inn, and she thankfully asks no questions and doesn’t try to make small talk. Normally, Wei Wuxian excels at engaging people in conversation, in getting them to open up and give him a little information without even realizing that was what they were doing, but he is in no mood to do that today, nor does he have the time. He just wants to get back to the inn as fast as he can.
When he returns, Lan Zhan is keeping guard alone, his eyes sharp and his posture wary. When he sees Wei Wuxian, his face softens as it always does for him, and he inclines his head slightly.
“This is really something I’ve dragged you into, ah, Lan Zhan?”
“It is important,” Lan Zhan replies. “I am glad Wei Ying dragged me into it.”
“I could have done it on my own,” Wei Wuxian admits, “But it wouldn’t have gone this well. Those men… they would have never submitted peacefully to my authority the way they did for Jin Zixuan. And when we get back, having Hanguang-jun’s testimony will be more influential than just my word. No one would have believed me over the whole Jin sect.”
“I am certain Wei Ying would have found a way,” Lan Zhan assures. “You are very creative. Resourceful. Intelligent.”
“Aiya, stop Lan Zhan, you’ll make me blush,” Wei Wuxian can already feel the heat rising to his face. “What I’m saying is, thank you for coming when I called.”
“Mn, I will always come when you call, Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan replies, his eyes and voice gentle. “No need for ‘thank you’s between us.”
Wei Wuxian wants so badly to put his arms around Lan Zhan in this moment, sink into his embrace, soak in this feeling of trust, in the utter kindness Lan Zhan is showing him, the declaration of what is practically devotion. It wraps around him like a blanket of warmth. He wants to drown in this moment and never escape it.
“Ah, Lan Zhan,” he sighs, “You’re really too good to me.”
“Not too good,” Lan Zhan shakes his head. “Never too good. Never as good as Wei Ying deserves.”
Wei Wuxian’s breath catches in his throat. He sees the sincerity of the statement written in Lan Zhan’s golden eyes, and he does not know what to do with it. If this were a different world, now would be the time Wei Wuxian would cradle Lan Zhan’s face in his hands, would lean in to kiss him, would pour every bit of the depth of his regard— his feelings for Lan Zhan— into the kiss. If this was another world, this would be when Wei Wuxian buried his hand in Lan Zhan soft hair, and murmured it’s you, it’s you, it’s always been you against his lips. But this is not another world.
“I should… get these herbs to Wen Qing,” Wei Wuxian says after a long moment.
Lan Zhan inclines his head once again. It is an acknowledgement that goes deeper than words.
When Wei Wuxian enters the room where they had settled Wen Ning, he sees clean white bandages in place of the gaping wound that was gushing blood. Wen Ning is asleep, though Wei Wuxian cannot tell if it is a natural sleep, or if Wen Qing has sedated him. Wen Qing herself is at her brother’s bedside, holding a clean roll of bandages. Most surprisingly, Jin Zixuan is there, kneeling in front of Wen Qing.
“— my clan has done you and your family great wrong, and I would apologize on their behalf,” he is saying to Wen Qing.
“Young Master Jin, right now, you are the only Jin I trust was not complicit in the cruelties my family suffered,” Wen Qing says.
“Be that as it may, from what I know of my clan, you will not receive an apology from the ones responsible. I ask, Lady Wen, that you allow me to help make up for their transgressions. You are in no way obligated to offer forgiveness or even accept my apology, but I would be remiss in not offering one.”
Wen Qing looks at him sharply, coolly assessing, then nods slightly. “Young Master Jin, I fear you are right about that,” she says. “I cannot forgive your sect, but you have helped us. Thank you for your apology.” She watches Jin Zixuan nod. “Now please get up, we both have other things to do.”
As Jin Zixuan scrambles to his feet, Wei Wuxian feels an unbidden affection for him. Jin Zixuan has been dispelling Wei Wuxian’s reservations against him since they first got married, but this is on another level altogether. To see Jin Zixuan willingly admit to his sect’s mistakes, to see him apologize for something that he was not involved in merely because an apology is warranted from someone— it shows Wei Wuxian exactly how much of a good person Jin Zixuan is. He is suddenly immensely grateful for this marriage, for what it has shown him of Jin Zixuan’s character. A part of him still wishes it hadn’t happened, of course— the part of him that wants his shijie and Jin Zixuan to find happiness in one another, the part of him that yearns for Lan Zhan— but he is glad for it, for the support and power that comes with it, and for the relationship he has built with Jin Zixuan.
When Wen Qing and Jin Zixuan notice Wei Wuxian’s arrival, Jin Zixuan immediately takes his leave, informing them that he is going to be checking on the overseers who have been confined to separate rooms, each secured completely. Wen Qing, on the other hand, takes the opportunity to beckon Wei Wuxian towards her so he can hand over the herbs. As they cross paths, Wei Wuxian can’t help but reach out and grab Jin Zixuan’s sleeve, stopping him in his tracks.
“A-Xuan,” he says quietly, using the name in all sincerity for the first time, “Thank you for everything.”
Jin Zixuan smiles at him, though there is still a certain grimness in his face. “I’m glad I found out about this,” he says. “I’m glad I could help.”
They exchange nods before parting ways, an acknowledgement that they both understand, and Wei Wuxian loses himself in the comfortable cadence of Wen Qing’s voice as she guides him through helping her prepare the herbs. He offers to help her as she makes the rounds, treating the others— help that she gladly accepts— and further loses himself in the repetitive motions of cleaning wounds and rubbing newly made herbal pastes on them. He catalogues the way the Wens flinch when he moves his hands a certain way or speaks in a certain tone of voice and has to fight not to react to anything.
As he works, Wei Wuxian makes a silent promise to himself that whatever happens when they get to Lanling to confront the Jins, he will ensure that Jin Zixuan becomes the sect leader. There is no one else he would trust with the leadership of the sect.
Once Wen Qing is finished, she goes to bed, sharing a room with her brother— partly because his injuries may need monitoring in the middle of the night (or early dawn, as it is already close to morning when she goes to bed), and partly because she does not want to be apart from him any more than she already has. There are many free rooms left that Wei Wuxian could choose to rest in, but the prospect of sleeping in a cold, empty, unfamiliar room tonight of all nights is not particularly appealing. Embarrassingly, he has gotten used to the presence of another while he sleeps, and after the turmoils of the day, he doesn’t want to sleep alone.
After he bids Wen Qing a good night, he goes downstairs to the inn instead, hoping that a drink would lull him into sleep quicker. Unfortunately for him, the innkeeper is not there— presumably having gone to bed himself. Lan Zhan and Jin Zixuan are there though, sharing a table, both equally vigilant, neither saying a word. Wei Wuxian has to hold back a laugh at the picture they make— his husband and the man he loves, sitting together in silence.
Wei Wuxian makes his way towards them and throws himself into one of the empty places at the table. He props his chin up with his hand, which in turn rests on his knee, his posture meeting most of the requirements of sprawling, which he is sure is offensive to Lan Zhan’s delicate sensibilities, even if the man doesn’t say anything about it.
“Not going to bed?” he asks, directing his question at both of them.
“Someone needs to keep watch,” Jin Zixuan says.
“Mn,” Lan Zhan concurs.
Wei Wuxian sighs, then leans heavily on the table. Both Lan Zhan and Jin Zixuan send worried glances towards him, then their eyes meet, and they both look away quickly, pretending they were not just doing the same thing. Wei Wuxian nearly laughs out loud, but he doesn’t have the energy for it, so he just huffs in amusement instead.
“Great, now both of you are going to be badgering me about my health, aren't you?” he pouts exaggeratedly. “Ganging up on poor old me, so unfair!”
“Wei Ying should sleep,” Lan Zhan says, placid and unaffected by Wei Wuxian’s whiny tone.
“I agree,” Jin Zixuan says, with a particularly amused glint in his eyes that makes Wei Wuxian uneasy about what is to come. “We all know what happens when you get too tired, hmm?”
The nerve of that—
“Peacock, I told you to never bring that up again!” he hisses through clenched teeth, begging for Lan Zhan to not ask what they’re talking about. He may act shameless, but even he cannot look Lan Zhan in the eye and say ‘sometimes when I have nightmares, I think of you to comfort myself’. He absolutely cannot! How dare his annoying husband bring that up?
“I take back every nice thing I said about you,” Wei Wuxian whispers angrily to Jin Zixuan. “And all of the nice things I thought about you too.”
“Oh, so you think nice things about me?” the infuriating man asks.
“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian turns the full weight of his pout on Lan Zhan instead. “Are you just going to let Jin Zixuan bully me like this? Didn’t you say you would help me?”
“Young Master Jin is merely worried about Wei Ying’s health,” Lan Zhan replies nonchalantly, as though he isn’t betraying Wei Wuxian. “It is a concern I share.”
“Seriously,” Jin Zixuan adds. “The two of us have been sitting here all night while you’ve been running around helping Lady Wen. You definitely need to rest.”
Wei Wuxian has learnt that Lan Zhan is, by nature, prone to jealousy. He had hoped earlier that it wouldn’t cause any awkwardness with Jin Zixuan—because truly, there were absolutely no romantic feelings between him and Jin Zixuan— but seeing the two of them teaming up against him this way, he thinks he would have preferred it if they had gotten into a fistfight over him. How unexpected and unfair of them to join forces this way!
He does have to admit they might have a point. He does feel tired, and well… he wouldn’t mind sleeping here. He trusts them, both of them, enough to let his guard down and fall asleep around them. As much as he hates to give in, they’re not wrong about how drained he is. Especially given that he doesn't have a golden core, even if neither of them knows that. He glares at both of them, but he can’t keep it up too long. He sighs and slumps into his seat, leaning fully over the table, laying his head on it.
“I’ll sleep,” he huffs, “but not because either of you told me to.”
“Of course not,” Jin Zixuan snorts.
“Sleep well, Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, the traitor.
He falls asleep embarrassingly quickly, almost as soon as he closes his eyes. As he drifts off, Wei Wuxian feels gentle fingers running through his hair. That feels nice, he thinks, before falling into a blissfully and surprisingly dreamless sleep.
They have to travel slowly, to account for the injured and the elderly. It is particularly dangerous for Wen Ning to travel so soon after such a major injury, but it can’t be helped— it is not safe for them to stay here any longer, and once the Jins find out that the camp at Qiongqi Path was emptied, they would start searching for the Wens immediately. So they take it slow, make sure not to push anyone past their limits. It is quite a harsh journey, especially for people who have been practically starving for months now— two days of eating regularly is certainly not enough to make up for that.
Wei Wuxian, Lan Zhan, and Jin Zixuan switch positions in shifts, always ensuring that both the front and the back of the group are protected. They draw some odd looks from people as they pass, but no one outright questions them, which is a small consolation. It is also promising that there aren’t any cultivators in the towns they pass— it seems the Jin sect is yet to discover their missing prisoners. It is truly a wonder to Wei Wuxian at first that no one has come looking for the missing Jin heir, but Jin Zixuan explains that he made their excuses quite thoroughly before he came, some story about a night hunt on the edge of their territory which needed two incredibly strong cultivators.
Travelling at a sedate pace, the group manages to arrive at Lanling when the banquet is right about to begin at Koi Tower. The plan, so far, has been to interrupt the banquet— it is the only way to ensure this information comes to light. The point of contention is whether the Wen remnants should come into the banquet hall or not.
On one hand, seeing what the overseers had done might be better to convince the sects of the inhumane treatment the Wens had faced. It would be impossible for the Jin sect to sweep it under the rug if every sect leader saw the situation for themselves. On the other hand, Wen Qing is doubtful about whether anyone would sympathize with the Wens. Lan Zhan is convinced that his brother would not stand for this treatment, especially if he knows that the camp had held civilians. Wei Wuxian would like to think that the sects would be outraged at the thought of a child in a place like Qiongqi Path— if not because they are morally opposed to it, then at least because the optics of the situation would be horrible. Of course, there is also the worry that if they simply leave the Wens in Lanling, they might be rounded up and imprisoned once again, though that might also happen if they enter Koi Tower.
They discuss it at great length, but in the end, the advantages of bringing the Wens with them outweigh the disadvantages.
In the end, that is how it goes.
It turns out, a missing heir is not enough to prevent Jin Guangshan from getting into the mood for a celebration, even if said heir is missing along with a notorious demonic cultivator who has been blackmailed into marrying him. Certainly, night hunt or not, potential for covert assassination or not, having his son miss such an important political event should bother him, but he seems not to care, to a degree that baffles Wei Wuxian. Is Jin Guangshan setting his son up to fail as a sect leader? How would that benefit him if Jin Zixuan took the role after his death? Is he grooming someone else in the line of succession to take over for him? It’s a puzzle Wei Wuxian resolves to solve once the matter at hand is dealt with. The one benefit Jin Guangshan’s attitude has is that it takes quite a while for them to be noticed. Most of the staff has been relocated to the banquet hall— only a few guards are around to notice their entrance.
As they enter Koi Tower, the sound of music and chatter fills the air. It paints a stark contrast to the somber, dark air around the new arrivals. The guards they encounter seem to notice this, and confusedly try to hold them back, trying to figure out what is going on, before Jin Zixuan coldly dismisses them. One or two try to go and warn the banquet attendees, but are stopped by the Lan Silencing Spell, and three glares levelled their way. Many of the guards simply freeze in terror and allow them to pass without meeting their eyes, which frankly makes Wei Wuxian worry for Jin Zixuan— he needs to have less cowardly guards when he becomes sect leader, ones who won’t cower and give in when faced with a set of— admittedly impressive— glares.
They only needed to go unnoticed until they got to the banquet. Once they were actually there, they needed to get everyone’s attention, and Wei Wuxian has designed a sufficiently dramatic entrance for this very purpose. When they reach the doors of the banquet hall, Wei Wuxian doesn’t stop or slow down. He simply pulls a talisman out and flings it towards the doors, not even changing his pace. The talisman slams against the massive double doors, firmly attaching to them. With a snap of Wei Wuxian's fingers, the doors bang open, and the sounds of the banquet are replaced by a hushed silence, as all eyes turn to look in the direction of the sound.
Wei Wuxian storms forward, one hand wrapped tightly around Chenqing, ignoring the questioning looks and outraged expressions from the sect leaders he passes. A few steps behind him, Jin Zixuan and Lan Zhan enter, each with their hands resting on the hilts of their swords, the overseers of the prison camp in between them— chained so that they cannot escape. Following the three of them is an entire group of Wens, staggering slightly with the effort of travel and walking. Wen Qing and one of her uncles are supporting Wen Ning between them— Wen Ning who is barely conscious. At the very front of the group is Granny Wen, who holds A-Yuan in her arms.
Every eye is on them as Wei Wuxian comes to a stop right before where Jin Guangshan sits. Before the man can demand an explanation, Wei Wuxian speaks. The hall is so hushed that even his quiet voice carries through it.
“Sect Leader Jin,” he says, his voice dangerous and menacing, his eyes cold and hard. “You have a lot of explaining to do.”
Jin Guangshan’s face is slowly turning red. He goes to open his mouth, to say something about Wei Wuxian acting inappropriately, perhaps, when he is interrupted by his own son.
“Yes, father,” Jin Zixuan says from behind Wei Wuxian, looking and sounding equally displeased. “You certainly do.”
For a few moments, there is only silence. Jin Guangshan’s face grows progressively redder, though Wei Wuxian can’t quite tell if it’s because of the clearly mistreated non-cultivators currently in the middle of the banquet hall, or the sight of his son and heir standing up to him, that too for a bunch of Wens and a demonic cultivator. His mouth is slightly open, like he is frozen midway through an admonishment and has forgotten how to speak. There is something resembling panic in his eyes, a fact that brings Wei Wuxian immense satisfaction.
Seeing that the Chief Cultivator wasn’t going to begin defending himself any time soon, Wei Wuxian takes the opportunity to look around the hall, just to see how the other sects seem to be reacting to this debacle. Lan Xichen is looking worriedly at his brother who is glaring at Jin Guangshan, while Nie Mingjue is alternately looking between Lan Xichen and the Wens, focusing especially on A-Yuan in Granny Wen’s arms. Jiang Cheng looks furious, but there is some hint of guilt in the way he looks at Wen Qing and Wen Ning.
The other sect leaders look around confused, wondering exactly what is going on. None of them dare to speak, and the air is heavy with the weight of their silence. Their gazes shift incessantly, from Jin Guangshan on his ostentatious throne, to Wei Wuxian, Lan Zhan, and Jin Zixuan, to the Wens, to each other. They must be so confused, Wei Wuxian decides to put them out of their misery. They had already decided that he would be doing most of the talking.
“Tell me, Sect Leader Jin,” he says softly, though his voice carries, the danger in it unmistakeable, “What exactly is at Qiongqi Path?”
Jin Guangshan immediately begins spluttering. “That is— you— Wei Wuxian! How dare you?”
“That isn’t an answer to my question, Sect Leader,” he replies in the same steel-under-velvet tone.
Jin Guangshan looks even more furious. “A-Xuan!” he exclaims, turning to his son for support he will not receive. “Control your husband!”
“And why should I, father?” Jin Zixuan asks, his distaste clear on his face. “A-Xian is free to say whatever he wants. Besides, I’m curious too.”
Wei Wuxian laughs at that, cold and unpleasant. “Answer me, Sect Leader,” he demands.
“Wei Wuxian! You dare barge into this banquet and interrupt us and then disrespect our sect leader? Have you no discipline?” Jin Zixun yells.
Wei Wuxian tilts his head inquisitively. “Barge in?” he asks. “I was under the impression that I was invited to this banquet. Was I not?”
“You were,” Jin Zixuan says firmly.
“Thank you, A-Xuan,” Wei Wuxian smiles brightly at him before turning back to Jin Zixun. “As you can see, I am here by invitation. There is no question of barging anywhere.”
“As you all well know,” Wei Wuxian continues, ignoring the interruption, “I’m not a particularly patient man. So in your own best interests, I suggest that someone answers my questions before I lose my temper.”
When an immediate response isn’t forthcoming, he frowns. He hadn’t expected this to be easy, but really, if the coward of a Chief Cultivator won’t confess to what he’s been doing, he’s going to have to explain this himself. He is interrupted surprisingly— or perhaps unsurprisingly— by Jin Guangyao.
“Forgive my impertinence, father,” Jin Guangyao says with an expression of distress that is almost certainly fake, “Isn’t that one of the prison camps for the living Wen cultivators?”
“A prison camp for Wen cultivators, is it, Sect Leader Jin?” Wei Wuxian asks.
Jin Guangshan, who has been glaring at Jin Guangyao as soon as he started talking, seems to be galvanized into rage by Wei Wuxian’s words. He snaps, “You son of a whore, I should have—”
“Let me tell all of you honourable sect leaders what I found at Qiongqi Path,” Wei Wuxian interrupts Jin Guangshan’s tirade. “Or better yet, I don’t have to tell you anything. You can all see the evidence for yourself!” he gestures at the Wens. “These elderly civilians, this child, these are the people our honourable Chief Cultivator had doing hard labour in a prison camp.”
The hall erupts in outrage. Minor sect leaders are yelling over each other in outrage. Some of them are screaming about the fact that there are Wens in their midst so soon after the Sunshot Campaign. Others are screaming about the clear mistreatment suffered by the people standing in the middle of the hall. Still others are looking at each other in confusion, yet to understand what is happening. The chaos is entertaining for a moment or two, but the longer it continues, the more irritating it gets, the more it grates on Wei Wuxian’s nerves.
“ENOUGH!” he yells, snapping them all to attention. The entire hall stares at him, stunned, as though they can hardly believe he dares to speak to them— or rather, yell at them— that way
Wei Wuxian steps forward, towards the dais upon which Jin Guangshan is seated. He is going to have the time of his life toppling this man from his throne. “Tell us, Sect Leader Jin,” he says in a soft voice, “Did it bring you joy, making helpless people suffer just for your amusement? Did it make you feel powerful?”
Every eye in the hall is on them. Jin Guangshan is turning a very unhealthy shade of red, and knuckles are turning white where his hands are clenched. Wei Wuxian almost wishes he could bring himself to feel any semblance of pity, but all he feels is a bone-deep satisfaction that this man is finally getting what he deserves. He digs in the final knife.
“Are you pleased, Chief Cultivator, at how much you have come to resemble Wen Ruohan?”
There is outrage once again. Those most loyal to Jin Guangshan are looking torn between defending him and distancing themselves from him. Those Wei Wuxian has already swayed over to Jin Zixuan’s side begin muttering about how they had always known that there was something that made them uncomfortable about supporting Jin Guangshan, how they had known they were right to trust Jin Zixuan more than his father. More than one person mutters about deposing Jin Guangshan, replacing him with his son. Wei Wuxian wants to laugh— as if any of them suspected the first thing about Jin Guangshan, as if any of them support Jin Zixuan truly and not because they have been manipulated by Wei Wuxian. Still, if this is what it will take to ensure justice, he is willing to let them pretend to have such foreknowledge..
Now that Wei Wuxian has compared Jin Guangshan to Wen Ruohan, everyone in this room will think twice about speaking up in his defence or supporting him. And it is all the more important that this accusation comes from him, from Wei Wuxian, who was the greatest contributor to the Sunshot Campaign, who has spent some of the time since then being feared, yes, but who has spent the past year garnering goodwill. For Wei Wuxian to make that claim, avidly supported by Hanguang-jun, whose virtue is unquestionable, supported by Jin Guangshan’s own son— such a claim holds considerable weight.
Wei Wuxian has not, for a single moment, deluded himself into thinking any of these hypocritical sect leaders will be swayed out of pity for the Wen remnants. Some of them would be outraged at their treatment, perhaps, but it will not be enough to convince them to act. To get them to turn against Jin Guangshan, he needs to show them that he is going the same way the previous Chief Cultivator went, that he thinks himself all-powerful and above reproach, that he hungers for more and more power and will do anything to get it. It is this way that he will finally beat Jin Guangshan.
“Wei Wuxian! You go too far!” the man in question cries loudly. “Just because you married into my family does not mean—”
“Ah, yes, my marriage,” Wei Wuxian interrupts, unaffected. “I was wondering when you would bring that up. Very well, let’s talk about my marriage.”
He smiles at Jin Guangshan, hollow and derisive. Steps slightly further away and pitches his voice louder. “Sect Leader Jin, you were very eager for this marriage to occur, weren’t you? Even though it would mean that your heir would have no heirs of his own? I believe Sect Leader Jiang even pointed this to you, though you dismissed his concerns.” He taps his chin in a mockery of a thoughtful expression. “I wonder what motivated you to be so insistent on a marriage that offered no advantages to your sect.”
Wei Wuxian faked a gasp and widened his eyes mockingly. “Could it be that Sect Leader Jin was under the impression that the Yin Tiger Seal would be part of the dowry?”
Jin Guangshan simply glowers at him in silence, his teeth tightly clenched, horror and fury mingled on his face.
Wei Wuxian shrugs casually. “The only other explanation is that your son was madly in love with me and frankly—” he pauses, hears Jin Zixuan scoff, and grins. “Yes, I didn’t think that was likely.”
Wei Wuxian puts on an expression of dramatic faux pity. “It must have disappointed Sect Leader Jin so much when he discovered I had destroyed it.”
“The Yin Tiger Seal is gone?” yells a minor sect leader— Wei Wuxian thinks he might be Sect Leader Yao, but he isn’t sure of it.
He turns around immediately, grinning. “Oh, did our honourable Chief Cultivator not inform anyone? Well, that is truly a surprise.” He glances around the hall. “Just so everyone knows, the Yin Tiger Seal has been destroyed. It was destroyed well over a year ago, and Sect Leader Jin personally saw the evidence.”
Murmurs start up once again, but Wei Wuxian ignores them in favour of turning back to face Jin Guangshan. “What exactly was your plan, Sect Leader Jin? I admit I’m curious. Was it just the seal you wanted? Were you going to arrange for me to have an, ah, accident after you had it in your clutches? Were you going to leave your poor son to mourn for an appropriate length of time, then marry him off to a woman and finally have those desperately needed heirs?”
After all, I know you have no intention of letting your other son ever inherit, he doesn’t say, but he knows that Jin Guangyao hears it anyway, even if no one else does. He can see Jin Guangyao’s smile crystallize on his face too, at the reminder that his father cares nothing for him. His eyes hold that same strange light that Wei Wuxian had seen that day, when they had caught Jin Guangshan bad mouthing him.
Behind himself, Wei Wuxian can feel Lan Zhan stiffen at the mention of Jin Guangshan getting rid of him for convenience. He wants to send him a comforting look, but he cannot turn away, cannot get distracted when he is this close to cracking Jin Guangshan open.
“Or am I mistaken? Did you need me too, to control it?” he continues, speculating. “What were you planning to leverage against me in that case, I wonder? My family? My friends? Or would you have sunk low enough to use your own son against me?”
“You think too highly of yourself, Wei Wuxian!” Jin Zixun snaps. “My uncle simply wanted to establish an alliance with Yunmeng Jiang. Not everything is about you!”
Wei Wuxian raises an eyebrow. “Husband,” he drawls, “Remind me what this cousin of yours is called again?”
Jin Zixun’s face goes bright red. “You—”
Jin Zixuan sighs heavily. Wei Wuxian doesn’t have to see him to know that he’s probably pinching the bridge of his nose to ward off a headache. If not physically, then he’s doing it in spirit, at the very least. “Jin Zixun,” he answers in a long-suffering tone.
“Thank you! Yes, Jin Zixun, you claim not everything is about me? That strikes me as a very odd sentiment when expressed by the young master who has spent the past months telling me I was personally responsible for him losing face in front of the Lan sect. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“Me, me, me,” Wei Wuxian shakes his head in mock disappointment. “Don’t you know any other words? You seemed to be speaking very eloquently when you were trying to convince Zewu-jun and Hanguang-jun to violate the precepts of their sect.”
Jin Zixun opens his mouth, possibly to make an argument, but more probably to say some other variant of ‘you’. Wei Wuxian raises his hand to stop him.
“Ah, ah, don’t try to change the subject, Jin Zixun. Maybe you’re right and this isn’t about me, but it most certainly isn’t about you, so leave the talking to those of us who know what we’re talking about, mm?”
The man opens his mouth to talk, but finds his lips stuck together by the Lan Silencing Spell. Wei Wuxian nods in acknowledgement at Lan Zhan, a small smile on his face.
“As we’ve established,” Wei Wuxian says, addressing the gathered cultivators now, “Sect Leader Jin has been doing some things that are very reminiscent of the Qishan Wen Sect. I’m sure I do not have to remind all of you upstanding cultivators how that ended.”
Nobody would argue with that, it would be a blow to their image to do so. He has them now. He can use this.
“Did the Wen Sect not also make a habit of targeting those who couldn’t fight back just as the Jin sect has tried to do with these civilians? Didn’t they try to crush dissent, just as Sect Leader Jin has tried to do, right here in front of you? Didn’t Wen Ruohan thirst for power just as Sect Leader Jin has shown he does by trying to claim an artefact as dangerous as the Yin Tiger Seal?”
There are sounds of agreement from around the hall. Jin Guangshan and his allies— both within the Jin sect and outside it— are looking pale and nervous. There are many Jin cultivators, especially younger ones, who look outraged at the revelation of Jin Guangshan’s actions. Good, Wei Wuxian thinks. These are the cultivators who will help rebuild the sect, once Jin Guangshan’s influence is purged from it.
“I suggest that we show that we will not tolerate tyranny! We did not fight against Wen Ruohan and the Qishan Wen Sect only to be subjugated by the man we trusted to lead us as Chief Cultivator once more! Will we ignore his actions when they affect Wen civilians, only to have our own civilians and then our cultivators face the same treatment?”
In truth, there are already things they have let Jin Guangshan get away with. Too many other sect leaders already know of his lechery, of the fact that his philandering is not limited to prostitutes, but to those who work for him, of the way there is an unspoken agreement that none of the female cultivators in Koi Tower will be alone in a room with Jin Guangshan— something Wei Wuxian had only learnt of after he began living in Koi Tower himself, something that had made him nearly sick at the implication. It disgusts him that the people who are supposed to lead their world into progress let these things slide because they are ‘not worth the trouble of addressing’. But all of that is dismissed because they think it is ordinary.
This, though? This is not ordinary, not even by Jin Guangshan’s standards. This is more than an issue that can be brushed aside as the nature of a powerful man. No, the cultivation world will dismiss an issue that only affects the servants and female cultivators of Koi Tower, but they will not dismiss an issue that might affect them personally.
“We must show that we will not allow this abuse of power to stand,” he says. “No matter who they have the misfortune of being related to, these people did not participate in the war. They do not deserve to be prosecuted for the crimes of Wen Ruohan.”
Finally, he has gotten them to a point where they will actually consider that the treatment of the Wen remnants is something they should be concerned about, that punishing these people would be immoral.
Wei Wuxian is not certain they will agree on that though. He continues to watch them all warily, even as the Nie sect leader stands. “You claim that they did not participate in the war,” Nie Mingjue says. “But they did not oppose Wen Ruohan either. Against a tyrant like Wen Ruohan, silence is the same as compliance!”
Wei Wuxian wants to laugh at the hypocrisy of that statement. For years, the four great sects had stayed silent, had not protested as Wen Ruohan acted increasingly more tyrannically. They had all kept their heads down as smaller sects were swallowed up by the Wen sect. It had taken the destruction of two of the great sects for them to decide to finally fight back, but somehow Wen Qing and Wen Ning and their family of non-combatants were supposed to actively oppose Wen Ruohan when compliance was the only thing keeping them and their family safe?
“Chifeng-zun, how is it fair to expect a group of healers and non-cultivators to stand up against Wen Ruohan when even the Great Sects lost so much in doing so?” he asks instead. It would not do to antagonize Nie Mingjue, no matter how Wei Wuxian felt about his nature of seeing everything in black and white.
Unfortunately, the man bristles at the question. “The crimes of the Qishan Wen Sect—”
This again. “Exactly what crimes has that child committed, Sect Leader Nie?”
Wei Wuxian doesn’t mean to snap. He truly doesn’t. But his patience is wearing thin, and the statement had been too familiar, too close to what one of the overseers had said at Qiongqi Path. He couldn’t help but react to it. At least Sect leader Nie looks the slightest bit chastised.
“Besides,” Wei Wuxian continues in a slightly gentler tone, “I can attest to the fact that Wen Qing and Wen Qionglin did oppose Wen Ruohan, even if not openly. After the fall of Lotus Pier, Wen Qionglin was the one who ensured that Sect Leader Jiang and I got out of Lotus Pier, and he retrieved the bodies of former Sect Leader Jiang Fengmian and Madam Yu. He and Wen Qing sheltered us and treated our injuries at great risk to themselves, Wen Ruohan would not have been merciful if he had found out.”
Nie Mingjue may be a man who had very strict ideas about morality, but he was widely known to be an honourable man. He understood debts, at least. Even if he didn’t see the merit of Wen Qing and Wen Ning’s actions, even if those actions didn’t serve to prove to him that Wen Qing and Wen Ning did oppose Wen Ruohan, he would at least understand it if Wei Wuxian said he was trying to fulfil a debt to them. At worst, Wei Wuxian could use that to protect the Wens— could say that it was all a part of him fulfilling a debt.
Nie Mingjue looks at the Wens assessingly, then he turns to Wei Wuxian, a calculating look on his face. “There was truly a child in that place?” he asks.
“Sect Leader Jiang,” he calls, “Did Wen Qing and Wen Qionglin truly aid you as Wei Wuxian described?”
Jiang Cheng scowls, but nods.
Nie Mingjue turns back to look at Wei Wuxian for a few more seconds, then nods decisively. “I will hear you out,” he says.
“Da-ge, Er-ge,” Jin Guangyao who has stayed surprisingly silent through this entire ordeal interrupts. Perhaps this is yet another action of his that should not be surprising to Wei Wuxian— Jin Guangyao is the type of man who would try to assess a situation for as long as possible before coming to a firm decision. He turns a smile to his sworn brothers now, polite, even if hints of distress peak through.
Truly, Jin Guangyao’s potential response had been the cause for much concern to Wei Wuxian. He never quite knew what side Jin Guangyao would take. The past few months may have made it increasingly clear that his father found his presence in Koi Tower a hindrance, but Wei Wuxian knew how far filial piety went. He knew how far a man like Jin Guangyao might go in order to please a father he felt he owed everything to. He had been wary of what the man would say— after all, Jin Guangyao and his silver tongue were equally capable of ensuring his plans succeeded or crushing them.
If Jin Guangyao spoke in their favour, it would most probably convince the sect leaders almost instantly. It would be the word of four war heroes against that of the man who had avoided fighting until the end, and as Jin Guangyao’s sworn brothers, they would have the support of two more war heroes in Zewu-jun and Chifeng-zun. If Jin Guangyao supported his father, on the other hand, he was completely capable of turning the tides in his favour. Wei Wuxian’s skill at convincing people was nothing compared to Jin Guangyao’s. His reputation too— illegitimate birth or not— was, to some people, better than that of a demonic cultivator. Understandably, Wei Wuxian has been quite on edge about what he would say.
“Perhaps certain members of the Lanling Jin sect do have much to answer for,” Jin Guangyao says to his sworn brothers now, though the entire hall hears him. “I assure you, Da-ge, Er-ge, that I will personally help my brother root out those who have conspired to commit such actions.”
“Your help will be much appreciated, A-Yao,” Jin Zixuan says, offering his half-brother a smile which he returns.
“I apologize that it has come to this,” Jin Guangyao continues, despair and regret painted on his face. “Truly, I did not even think my father would act in an unjust manner. What filial son would want to think the worst of his father?”
Even as Jin Guangshan seems poised to interrupt, Jin Guangyao looks beseechingly at the gathered sect leaders. “I know very well what it is like to be in the service of a power-hungry man,” he says. “But where I once did it on purpose to aid our cause, this time, it appears I have unknowingly done the same thing. It is my only comfort that my brother and his husband have been able to uncover these deeds with the help of Hanguang-jun so that justice may be served.”
Lan Xichen looks at his younger sworn brother with overwhelming compassion, as though he is trying to communicate with his eyes alone how much he sympathizes with Jin Guangyao’s plight. Even Nie Mingjue seems to be slightly moved— though it is impossible to tell whether it is because of Jin Guangyao’s words, or if he is still pondering the presence of a child and many elderly people in a prison camp.
Wei Wuxian barely stops himself from sagging in relief. With Jin Guangyao’s support, they have an iron-clad case. Two of Jin Guangshan’s sons have spoken out against him, showing the entire cultivation world that his actions are so heinous that even filial piety isn’t enough to keep them from turning on him. Lan Xichen hasn’t spoken yet, but with both of his sworn brothers and Lan Zhan on the same side on this issue, the side that was also in the moral right, it wouldn’t be overconfidence to count on his support.
Wei Wuxian wonders what had made Jin Guangyao decide to throw his lot in with them. Did he think of them as the winning side? Had Jin Guangshan’s single, public ‘son of a whore’ comment sealed his doom? Or has this plan been in motion since that fateful day when Wei Wuxian and Jin Guangyao had caught Jin Guangshan badmouthing his son? Has Wei Wuxian simply offered Jin Guangyao the opportunity to publicly ruin his father?
Whatever had led to it, the hall is now abuzz with agreement, with condemnations of Jin Guangshan. None of these people truly care about the treatment of the Wen remnants, but it would look bad for them to oppose a publicly supported call to action. It is amidst these calls for justice that Jin Guangshan tries to defend himself once again.
“Now wait a minute!” Jin Guangshan exclaims. “You would listen to the word of a demonic cultivator? And this unfilial low-born son of mine?”
Immediately, Nie Mingjue— who had, until then been mollified by Jin Guangyao’s words and the promise of justice— throws a deadly glare at him. “You have lost the privilege to talk until you stop feeding us lies and obfuscating at every turn,” he growls. “I have had enough of you!”
“Wangji,” Lan Xichen calls, perhaps seeking to avoid his sworn brother outright attacking the Chief Cultivator. “Was the situation at Qiongqi Path truly that dire?”
Lan Zhan turns to his brother and nods. “The prisoners were greatly ill-treated,” he says. “Many were killed for no good reason. We saw an entire valley filled with bodies. Wen Qionglin was stabbed and left for dead because he tried to help his grandmother lift rocks.”
Now that is news to Wei Wuxian. He had not known why exactly Wen Ning had been stabbed. Given that Wen Ning had spent most of their journey unconscious, Wei Wuxian supposes it was Granny Wen or one of the others who had told Lan Zhan what had happened.
Lan Xichen looks pained at this. When he had heard that the casualties of the camp had filled a valley, he had looked aghast for a moment before schooling his features. He knows his brother is not one for exaggeration, knows that if Lan Zhan says the treatment of the prisoners was bad, then it truly was abysmal.
He turns to Jin Guangshan. “Sect Leader Jin,” he says. “This is undoubtedly a cause for great concern. We agreed to allow the Lanling Jin sect to handle the prisoners of war, but I believe we agreed not to seek retribution against the innocent. You told us this was a matter you would personally handle. Even when you informed us that all the stragglers from the war had been rounded up, you told us you had personally dealt with them.”
Jin Guangshan does not answer, probably realizing how much trouble he is in. If he had really assured the other sect leaders that this matter would be under his personal purview, he is clearly in more trouble than Wei Wuxian had expected. In all honesty, Wei Wuxian had fully assumed that Jin Guangshan would deflect the blame, make it out to be a matter of his subordinates mistreating the prisoners with none of his knowledge or intention. Now though, with Zewu-jun publicly revealing that he had committed to overseeing the camps, that he had promised to personally involve himself, he has no way of denying that he had knowledge of what was going on.
One of the overseers, seeing a way to garner some sympathy or leniency shouts out, “It’s true! Our reports were addressed to Sect Leader Jin himself! His nephew delivered the orders, but his seal was on them!”
Seeing this, the other overseers began to yell their agreement as well, each scrambling to offer enough information to take down Jin Guangshan alongside themselves, at least. It continues until a well placed glare from Wei Wuxian made them quiet down. As much as their accusations were having an impact on the observers, their interruption might derail the proceedings— something Wei Wuxian did not want to risk when there were finally sect leaders questioning Jin Guangshan.
“Sect Leader Jin,” Lan Xichen turns a shocked gaze back to the man who was looking murderous. “These are serious accusations. How do you answer them?”
Jin Guangshan does not respond. Perhaps he knows well that there is nothing he could say to make this situation better. Everything about his demeanour screams guilt though, and Wei Wuxian only hopes that other people can see it as clearly as he himself can.
Lan Xichen does, at the very least, and he shakes his head, a mixture of disappointment and disgust on his face. “These prisoners cannot be under your control anymore,” he says with authoritative finality.
Jin Guangshan still stays silent. There is nothing he can do to worm his way out of this situation, not now that he has been challenged by a sect leader as well-respected and known for cautious action as Lan Xichen. If even such an even-tempered man objects to his behaviour, the rest of the cultivation world will follow his example.
His nephew, on the other hand, seems to lack the intelligence to figure that out. For the first time, Wei Wuxian wishes the Lan Silencing Spell lasted longer.
“Retribution against the innocent? Please,” Jin Zixun scoffs. “They’re Wen-dogs! Innocent? There is no such thing as an innocent Wen-dog. Why should we have to justify our treatment of them? The fact that so many of them are still alive is disgusting. We should exterminate every last one of them!”
Wei Wuxian levels him with a glare that makes him shrink back, but he still stands there, doesn’t revoke his statement. Wei Wuxian stalks towards him, his fingers gripping Chenqing so hard that a normal bamboo flute would shatter from the pressure. He stops when he is close enough to tower over Jin Zixun, close enough that the other man can see the murderous rage on his face.
“By that measure, you aren’t innocent either,” he says, his tone deceptively calm, though his eyes reveal the true extent of his fury. “So if I kill you right here and right now, would that be justified?”
Jin Zixun’s eyes widen in fear, as he finally realizes exactly how angry he has made Wei Wuxian. Wei Wuxian, who was so ruthless that whole armies fled in terror at the sound of his flute. Wei Wuxian, who had become a firm fixture in the nightmares of allies and enemies alike. Wei Wuxian, whose anger was now solely directed towards him.
“And if I do decide to kill you,” Wei Wuxian says, “Who would stop me? Do you truly believe anyone would dare to stand against me on your behalf?”
Jin Zixun trembles slightly, something Wei Wuxian notes with cold satisfaction. Maybe finally, finally, he will learn that he should really keep his mouth shut in situations that do not concern him.
“Be aware, Jin Zixun,” Wei Wuxian gives him an imperiously dismissive once-over, something he had learnt from watching a younger Jin Zixuan do. “The only reason I’m not killing you is that it would be a waste of my effort and my talent.”
Wei Wuxian intentionally turns his back on Jin Zixun, his body language screaming you could hardly be considered a threat, if Jin Zixun cares to observe it. “Now, back to matters that are actually important, Zewu-jun, I believe you were rudely interrupted by this man. As a part of his sect, I apologize for it. Please continue.”
Lan Xichen looks a little startled at the display in front of him, but he makes a valiant effort to pretend it didn’t happen, soldiering on. Wei Wuxian is impressed by that, truly. The man is very… unflappable, for the most part. It reminds him of Lan Zhan and the way nothing seems to truly faze him for long.
“If these prisoners are truly innocent, then they have been unjustly punished enough. They must be offered restitution,” Lan Xichen says. “These people are healers, are they not?”
Wen Qing, Wei Wuxian, and half of the Wen remnants nod simultaneously. Lan Xichen smiles gently at them
“If I may, as the Sect Leader of Gusu Lan, I would offer the Wens refuge in exchange for knowledge of their healing practices. Is that acceptable?”
Wen Qing stares at him with narrowed eyes for a moment, slances quickly at Lan Zhan, then nods. “That is an acceptable trade, Sect Leader Lan,” she says. “On behalf of the Dafan Wen, I thank you.”
That was so much easier than Wei Wuxian had anticipated. He had expected that finding a place for the Wens to live— a place where they wouldn’t be killed for being Wens— would take just as long, if not longer, than convincing the sects that they shouldn’t be in prison camps. With Zewu-jun stepping in though, it had taken just a few sentences— apparently his little brother’s testimony and what little he had seen himself was enough to convince him. The offer in itself isn’t surprising— Gusu Lan valued knowledge in all forms, and they would be eager to learn new healing techniques, even if they came from people who shared blood with Wen Ruohan. And with gossiping being forbidden by the Lan precepts, the Wens would probably find a good home there. The ease of it though…
Wei Wuxian had prepared himself for a fight. It makes him almost uncomfortable, how quickly this has happened. Some paranoid part of him wonders if this is a trap, though he supposes that the Gusu Lan sect, known for righteousness, and headed by Zewu-jun, the least deceptive man he has encountered— and that was including Lan Zhan— would be the last people to set a trap. Besides, Lan Xichen did look truly regretful about the hurt suffered by the Wens, and from what little Wei Wuxian had learnt— all second hand and third hand information— he had been the one to initially argue that Wen cultivators who had been rounded up should be imprisoned, not slaughtered indiscriminately. Perhaps the man also understandably felt some measure of guilt, if the camps had been a bastardization of his idea of a humane solution for captured cultivators.
“Of course,” Lan Xichen continues, “We would prefer your cooperation in the investigation into the conditions at Qiongqi Path, if you will oblige us. Your testimony will help us prosecute the perpetrators in a fair manner.”
Wen Qing exchanges several meaningful glances with members of her family, before nodding once again. “We will cooperate to the best of our abilities,” she says, “but there will be restrictions on the questions asked to certain members.” She pointedly looks at A-Yuan.
Lan Xichen nods understandingly. ‘
“The overseers,” Wei Wuxian adds, pointing them out, “If you care to question them. They were very intent on offering justifications for their actions, but none of them denied anything. And of course,” he snorts, “They seem to be very willing to talk about who was pulling the strings.”
“Their testimony will also be taken into consideration.”
Wei Wuxian nods.
“For tonight,” Nie Mingjue says, joining in from where he had been silently watching his sworn brother question Jin Guangshan, “I call for Jin Guangshan to be stripped of his position and be held in custody until a trial can be held to determine the extent of his involvement.”
Jin Guangshan’s eyes widen as he puffs up with rage. “A trial? I am the Chief Cultivator! You can’t—”
“Silence,” Nie Mingjue hisses. “You have been accused of multiple crimes, and you have offered no adequate defense for any of them! You have, at the very least, proven you are unfit to lead the Lanling Jin sect, much less the cultivation world! A loss of rank is the least punishment you can expect!”
“Stop them!” Jin Guangshan yells, and immediately, the Jin cultivators still loyal to him unsheathe their swords and move towards him with the intent of protecting him. Wei Wuxian does note with satisfaction that the number of his supporters seem to be dwindling as public opinion changes.
Before the cultivators can get into position to protect Jin Guangshan, they quickly find themselves held at swordpoint, either by a Jin cultivator who is loyal to Jin Zixuan, or a member of some other sect that is unaffiliated with a great sect, but still disapproves of Jin Guangshan’s actions. Jin Zixun, to Wei Wuxian’s grim amusement, has both Bichen and Suihua pointed at his throat. If Wei Wuxian was still capable of wielding his sword, he supposes that Suibian would also be pointed at Jin Zixun. Not because he is a threat, of course. Simply because he is just that irritating.
Nie Mingjue walks up to Jin Guangshan’s seat and unsheathes his saber, Baxia practically humming with power. “Surrender, Jin Guangshan,” he says through gritted teeth. “You and yours are outnumbered, and I will not hesitate to kill another tyrant.”
For a long moment, the entire hall is at a standstill.
Then, with the air of a cornered animal, Jin Guangshan surrenders.
A lot happens in the days that follow. So much, in fact, that some of the events blur together in Wei Wuxian’s mind, barely making it past the mind-numbingly long list of things that suddenly become his crucial responsibilities. He barely has time to process the events as they happen with how busy he is being kept and with just how many different things are happening nearly simultaneously. It is with great effort that he keeps himself going— he is, truth be told, quite proud of how he handles all of it without cracking even once.
The Wen remnants are offered temporary sanctuary at Koi Tower while they heal, personally guarded by people who are unshakably loyal to Jin Zixuan, each with additional protection in the form of a talisman that alerts Wei Wuxian to any threat they may face. Jin Zixuan too, is highly invested in this— he wants to make amends for the actions of his father, cousin, and others of his sect in any way he can, and helping the Wens is part of that. Aside from making amends though, he is genuinely sympathetic to them, and wants to do whatever he can while also managing his new responsibilities.
A combination of Lanling Jin’s considerable resources and Wen Qing’s genius and expertise ensures that most of the Wens will suffer no lasting consequences— at least physically. One of her aunts has lost an arm though, and another uncle a leg, and several of them have been branded with peonies. Those injuries, Wen Qing cannot heal, but she can ensure their comfort, which she does. The nightmares though, the fear of leaving each other's sight, and they way most of them flinch subtly away when they see gold robes— which is, of course, extremely common in Koi Tower— those are scars that will take much longer to heal.
A-Yuan, who is thankfully uninjured physically, has taken an enormous liking to Wei Wuxian, and refuses to leave his side. The little boy is adorable and he knows it, and he uses every bit of this adorableness to firmly attach himself to Wei Wuxian— mostly figuratively, but very often literally as well. More often than not, he gets a firm grip on Wei Wuxian’s leg, so that even when he walks around, he takes the child latching on to him along for the ride. Wen Qing theorizes that A-Yuan has come to associate Wei Wuxian with safety— it had been him sharing a horse with A-Yuan as they left Qiongqi Path, after all.
A-Yuan is also endlessly fascinated by Wei Wuxian, and wants to hear stories from him, wants to play with him, wants to be fed by him, and wants him to put him to bed every day. It is a bit of a challenge to balance with his duties, but Wei Wuxian adores A-Yuan, and quite frankly, has no complaints about taking care of him. With most of his usual caregivers busy healing or giving their testimony, someone needs to take care of A-Yuan anyway, and Wei Wuxian is happy to do it, especially if it means that the little boy feels safe. Five days into this arrangement, he discovers that for the most part, A-Yuan is happy to sit next to him, playing with his stuffed toys while Wei Wuxian works. He interrupts now and again, to ask a question or tell a story, but he is quiet and well-behaved. Too quiet and well-behaved— and once again Wei Wuxian seethes as he thinks about what it must have been like at Qiongqi Path that A-Yuan would be so silent all the time.
There is a bit of an… issue with Mo Xuanyu. In the aftermath of everything that had happened, A-Yuan constantly clinging to Wei Wuxian had made Mo Xuanyu extremely jealous. He would constantly glare at the younger boy, and would make a show of stealing Wei Wuxian’s attention away from A-Yuan for himself. He is not rude outright, but he managed to convey a very strong sense of I was here first every time he caught sight of A-Yuan.
“Just because A-Yuan is here doesn’t mean I’ll forget about you, A-Yu,” Wei Wuxian had taken him aside to say one time, after catching him glaring for the third time in a day.
“But… but what if Shifu likes A-Yuan better than me?” the boy had asked tearfully.
Wei Wuxian had sighed and ruffled his hair fondly, his heart already melting. “I like both of you equally, okay? I’m not replacing you with him.”
After those fears are assuaged, they seem to get along relatively well. Mo Xuanyu practically adopts A-Yuan as a little brother, and is very protective of him. A-Yuan enjoys having a playmate closer to his age, even if Xian-gege remains his favourite, as he proclaims one day while being put to bed. Wei Wuxian is just glad that the two kids have each other to keep them company in Koi Tower, especially when all the other things happening call his attention away from them.
Two weeks after they become friends, Wei Wuxian catches A-Yuan running away as Mo Xuanyu chases him, shrieking in delight as they duck and weave through the corridors of Koi Tower, and he cannot stop the smile that spreads across his face as he watches these children finally being able to act like the children they are.
The overseers’ testimony is collected by what is meant to be an unbiased panel, headed by Zewu-jun and filled with representatives from both major and minor sects. Whatever was said in those meetings culminates in a joint execution of all of them. Nobody tells Wei Wuxian the extent of what they had done— something he himself insists on, because if he finds out, nothing will stop him from rousing their spirits and tormenting them for eternity. The visceral anger he had felt at them, the raging resentment he had felt from those who had died at their hands, means that in this, he is not objective and he cannot be. It is for the best, really.
Jin Zixun and a few other higher up members of the Jin sect are implicated by the overseers' testimony, and are swiftly dealt with as well. Nothing as final as execution is done to them, but they do lose their positions and are sentenced to imprisonment in most cases. There are double standards here too, in how these people get a lighter sentence than the people who had incriminated them, simply because the ones giving the orders are part of the gentry, or because they did not directly get their hands dirty even when they were complicit, or even endorsed those actions, but that is not something that can be changed in a year or two of work.
Jin Guangshan too, is tried for his crimes, and Nie Mingjue, in a completely unprecedented action— given how powerful Jin Guangshan is— launches an investigation into his actions. The things that come to light paint an unmistakable picture— the evidence that he had knowingly imprisoned Wen civilians for no good reason; that he had known about their mistreatment because he received reports of the number of those who had been killed and had ignored or even encouraged it so the ‘Wen-dogs could be wiped from the earth’ in his own words; that in the aftermath of the war, he had employed people to try and recreate demonic cultivation, to create a copy of the Yin Tiger Seal, and how their collective failure had prompted him to force a marriage between his son and Wei Wuxian; how he had publicly sown malicious rumours about Wei Wuxian, had tried to turn the world against him and his demonic cultivation, only to turn around and try to get his hands on demonic cultivation anyway.
On the fifth day of the trial, a group of women arrive at Koi Tower to present their testimonies to Nie Mingjue. There are women from all strata of society— cultivators, members of the gentry, servants, prostitutes, merchants, tradeswomen— all with stories of Jin Guangshan’s despicable actions. Reports of rape— of the use blackmail and his considerable influence to coerce them into letting him bed them. None of it was truly surprising to anyone— for too long, people, especially those who had lived in Koi Tower, had suspected that Jin Guangshan did not limit his sexual activity to those who were receptive to his advances, or those who had been paid. It was simply that none of the women he had targeted had any hope of getting justice before— and accusing the Chief Cultivator of being a rapist was not something that could be done with ease. The ongoing trial of his crimes though, had given many women the hope that they might be believed if they came forward with their stories. Each woman’s testimony is recorded and added to Jin Guangshan’s comprehensive list of crimes.
On the seventh day of the trial, Sect Leader Qin and Madam Qin arrive at Koi Tower without their daughter, and Madam Qin seeks a private audience with Jin Guangyao. When they part ways, Madam Qin is pale-faced, and Jin Guangyao seems troubled under his usual polite smile. When Wei Wuxian talks to him about it later, he simply says that he and Qin Su have decided not to formally court or marry.
“I thought you really liked each other,” Wei Wuxian says. “I’m sorry it didn’t work out.”
“There’s nothing to it,” Jin Guangyao shakes his head slightly. “Qin Su is needed to make an alliance with a sect that is not Lanling Jin, and in any case, I am simply far too busy to marry now. I will be helping A-Xuan with the sect, and well,” he nudges Wei Wuxian gently, “He might be losing his husband to Gusu Lan soon enough.”
“Are we really that obvious?” Wei Wuxian mutters, really hoping the answer to that is no.
“Not at all,” Jin Guangyao assures him, looking amused. “Er-ge simply talks about you two a lot.”
On the tenth day of the trial, Jin Guangshan is sentenced. His crimes are many and varied, but he is an important man, and a member of the gentry, so he receives privileged treatment. There are too many people who would protest if he was executed, and a world that is just recovering from one war cannot stand another. Exile was considered as an option, but there was far too much risk that even without the backing of a sect, Jin Guangshan would still be able to gain support, or harm people. At the end, it is decided that his meridians will be sealed so that he cannot cultivate any more, and he will be imprisoned by the Lanling Jin sect.
Gusu Lan does not have the provision to keep someone imprisoned— or so they claim; it seems far more likely that they are worried about having the Wen remnants and Jin Guangshan in close proximity to one another— and both Qinghe Nie and Yunmeng Jiang understandably want nothing to do with the whole mess. Lanling might be more risky, since it is the base of Jin Guangshan’s power, but those who decide his fate are insistent that he be Lanling Jin’s responsibility, as an act of restitution. Wei Wuxian personally thinks it is a stupid idea, but when has anyone listened to him?
At the very least, Jin Zixuan is making sure that only people who are definitely loyal to him are involved in his father’s imprisonment, and Wei Wuxian is working on some ways to reinforce his prison, so he can neither influence the sect from his cell nor abscond from justice. Of course, Wei Wuxian does notice the glint in Jin Guangyao’s eyes when he looks in his father’s direction, and honestly, he will not be surprised if he hears of Jin Guangshan’s tragic but completely natural-looking demise someday soon. He resolves to firmly look the other way if Jin Guangyao ever decides to take the matter into his own hands.
Fifteen days after being freed from Qiongqi Path, the Wens are finally in a fit shape to travel. They say their goodbyes to Wei Wuxian and Jin Zixuan as they leave with Lan Xichen and Lan Zhan— who had left for Gusu immediately to make preparations after Jin Guangshan’s surrender only to return to escort the Wens to their new home— and some of them are clearly more eager to leave than others. A-Yuan clings to Wei Wuxian’s leg, insisting tearfully that he doesn’t want to leave his Xian-gege, no matter what arguments Wei Wuxian makes, no matter how he tries to convince A-Yuan to go with his family. Finally, it takes him agreeing to visit Gusu regularly for A-Yuan to agree.
“Every week,” A-Yuan insists, making Wei Wuxian laugh.
“If I come that often, you’ll get tired of me,” he says to dissuade A-Yuan. When he widens his eyes and shakes head rapidly, Wei Wuxian merely chuckles. “Even if you don’t, I’m sure the adults will get tired of me,” he says looking at the Lans for support.
Lan Zhan simply levels him with one of those awfully sincere looks. “We would never tire of Wei Ying,” he says.
“My brother is quite correct,” Lan Xichen says, his polite smile turning into a more warm one. “Your presence certainly made Cloud Recesses more lively.”
“Lively?” Wei Wuxian laughs. “Zewu-jun, is that a polite way of saying I ruined your uncle’s life?”
“I wouldn’t go as far as to say that,” he replies, his eyes twinkling, “But you were one of Uncle’s more… ah… challenging students.”
“And I take great pride in that!”
“Nevertheless, you will always be welcome at Cloud Recesses. It seems A-Yuan would be very happy to have you there.” His knowing smile, though, implies that A-Yuan won’t be the only one who would be happy if he went to the Cloud Recesses.
A-Yuan whoops in delight. “Every week,” he insists again.
“I’m afraid your Xian-gege is needed here,” Jin Zixuan says, amusement colouring his tone. “He is helping me with some very important work.”
A-Yuan’s eyes widen again. “Like making sure the bad men go away?” he asks, his voice barely above a whisper.
“Exactly like that,” Jin Zixuan says, nodding gravely.
“Oh,” A-Yuan says. For a moment, he looks serious. The very next moment though, a wide grin lights up his face. “Every month?” he asks, hopefully.
Wei Wuxian laughs. “I’ll try, A-Yuan,” he says. “I’ll definitely try.”
Before they leave, Lan Zhan falls back, speaking softly to Wei Wuxian alone. “If you wish,” he says, giving Wei Wuxian a meaningful look, “I will personally escort you. We can fly together.”
Wei Wuxian is stunned by this offer, not only by the shocking sincerity of it, but the fact that Lan Zhan had figured out that he wasn’t going to use his sword— maybe even that he couldn’t— and had decided, instead of questioning him about it continuously, to simply accept it and offer support in his own way. He wants to laugh. He wants to cry. Just how good is Lan Zhan?
This is Lan Zhan acknowledging that he might not want to use his sword, but that he was welcome to come to Gusu anyway, knowing that Wei Wuxian is still unsure about that. This is a show of trust, a declaration that even if he will not tell Lan Zhan everything, Lan Zhan will still be there for him. Maybe Lan Zhan will never say this in words, maybe he will, but that does not matter, not now— it’s actions like these, little things like this that made him first fall in love with him.
“Look at that,” Jin Zixuan says after they leave. “Now, you have two reasons to visit Gusu.”
Wei Wuxian cannot even bring himself to tell his husband to shut up.
At the beginning of the trial for Jin Guangshan, Jin Zixuan had hurriedly been declared the Acting Sect Leader. Many of the higher ranking members of the sect had thought of it as a temporary measure until Jin Guangshan’s name is cleared— because even with him incriminating himself, even with the serious accusations and the piles of evidence against him, even with the fact that the leaders of all the other three great sects were openly disapproving of his actions at that now infamous banquet, people still believed that Jin Guangshan's name would be cleared, that he would take the mantle once again. To be fair, Wei Wuxian did have a contingency or two in the case such a thing did happen, and he’s sure Jin Guangyao did too. The more and more accusations had come out, the less and less justified it became to keep Jin Zixuan as merely the acting sect leader.
Until the end of the trial though, there are still one or two people— people who cannot actually be ousted until Jin Zixuan is truly the sect leader and isn’t being seen as someone who is holding the post until his father returns to it— who had held out hope desperately that Jin Guangshan might redeem himself, that someone else would take the fall for what he had done, that he might be seen as too important to dismiss. Unfortunately for those people though, the parallels Wei Wuxian had managed to draw between Jin Guangshan and Wen Ruohan had made everyone involved in the trial wary and suspicious. After that comparison— a comparison that would stick in their minds— they wouldn’t let him off so easily.
And so it is, that on the eighth day following Jin Guangshan’s sentencing, three days after the Wens had safely left Koi Tower for the sanctuary of Gusu, in a rushed ceremony, Jin Zixuan officially becomes Sect Leader Jin.
This was supposed to be the last chapter, but it got too long, so I've made it two chapters instead. The next chapter should be the last one though, I'm pretty sure about that
just like I was sure when I started this fic that it would be 20k at most hahaha
Wei Wuxian learns pretty quickly that being the sect leader’s husband is so much more work than being the sect heir’s husband.
In a span of days, Wei Wuxian finds that around a sect leader, especially one as young as Jin Zixuan, new duties crop up out of nowhere and there is always a fire to put out, always a dispute to mediate. Even under normal circumstances, it is challenging to take over a sect, but in their case, they also have to clear Koi Tower of Jin Guangshan’s yes men and investigate everything Lanling Jin was doing under him. In most cases— that is to say, instances of natural ascension to sect leadership— a new sect leader is given some leeway, but with Jin Guangshan being, well, Jin Guangshan, every other sect is looking for blood in the water so they can pounce. The Jin sect has much to make amends for, and the other sects will not forget Jin Guangshan’s actions. The fact that Jin Zixuan himself was involved in bringing his father’s crimes to light garners him some goodwill, but it isn’t enough to make up for the fact the Lanling Jin’s leadership is a mess no wise person wants to touch.
Jin Zixuan’s skill at diplomacy has improved in the past year, with the training he has gotten from Wei Wuxian and more regularly from Jin Guangyao, but even that only goes so far— diplomacy is hardly the only matter at hand at Koi Tower. Jin Zixuan is lucky in that Jin Guangyao is very experienced at handling sect matters, thanks to his former position in the Nie sect, and that Wei Wuxian is both good at talking to people, and at serving as a deterrent for any assassination attempts. Wei Wuxian’s reputation— though much better nowadays, since Jin Guangshan has replaced him in everyone’s mind as the insidious evil of the cultivation world— still has its uses. Despite these advantages, heading Lanling Jin is not an easy job. There are just so many odds and ends to handle. The sheer amount of correspondence, documentation, petitions, and proposals that the three of them have to sift through on a daily basis alone is exhausting.
There is also the fact that Wei Wuxian still doesn’t know exactly how far Jin Guangyao was involved with the Wens being in the prison camps. Sure, no one has implicated him, but Jin Guangyao is smart enough that he would ensure that there was no evidence linking him to the camps even if he was involved. On the other hand, he had helped them and spoken up against his father, so perhaps he was not aware of what was happening, at least not entirely— unless that was simply a ploy to get on the winning side. He has also spent the time since the beginning of his father’s trial painstakingly helping Jin Zixuan wrangle Koi Tower, and he seems pretty content with his new position. Honestly, Wei Wuxian doesn’t know exactly what to believe when it comes to Jin Guangyao, doesn’t know how trustworthy— or untrustworthy— the man is, and at this point, he has no way of finding out. It isn’t like he has evidence either way, nor can he obtain some anytime soon— all he has is his feeling that Jin Guangyao is smart enough that this couldn’t have happened entirely without his knowledge. He resolves to keep an eye on the man, just in case something happens again, but really, that’s all he can do. It just makes working with him an added source of stress— something Wei Wuxian really doesn’t need.
One good thing that comes out of this whole ordeal— besides the Wens being freed and Jin Guangshan’s crimes being brought to light— is that very soon after Jin Zixuan becomes Sect Leader, Wei Wuxian runs into Mianmian. Rather, she comes up to congratulate the two of them, and Wei Wuxian is not lying when he says he is delighted to see her. They had quickly fallen into comfortable banter, and he finds out that she has been doing quite well. She has evidently climbed the ranks in her sect since they had last met, and had been one of the representatives at the banquet— the banquet that Wei Wuxian had turned into a spectacle.
“What did you think of the entertainment?” he asks jokingly when she tells him she had been there for all of it.
“Hmm,” she pretends to think it over. “I thought it was enlightening. Excellent entertainment. I’ll give you this, you definitely know how to throw a party.”
He grins widely at that.
“My sect leader wasn’t too happy though,” she admits. “He supported Jin Guangshan and he doesn’t think that the matter of Wens should be taken so seriously. He disapproves of your methods as well,” she adds. “I tried telling him that I have always known you, Hanguang-jun, and Young Master Jin— Sect Leader Jin to be fair, but he thinks I’m… biased.”
The way she says the word biased makes it seem like there’s more to the story, but she isn’t forthcoming with the details, and Wei Wuxian doesn’t pry. They turn their conversation to lighter topics, like the night hunts she has been on, and she tuts in fake pity when he tells her he hasn’t been able to leave for a night hunt for over a year.
Mianmian leaves Lanling with her sect leader right after the trial is over, so they have only a handful of opportunities to talk— and even that evokes her sect leader’s displeasure— but Jin Zixuan even joins in once or twice. When she leaves, she and Wei Wuxian promise to write to one another, though, Mianmian points out with a sadistic smile, she is much more likely to have free time than he is. He whines and pouts about her being rude to him, which only makes her laugh harder.
Their letters cover a wide range of topics— Mianmian is a witty conversationalist, and a very good storyteller, but they also talk a lot about the difficulties she faces in her sect and how it frustrates her. They see something familiar in each other and both of them have found an uninvolved third party to complain to, but that isn’t all they talk about. Somewhere in between commiseration and trading funny stories, Mianmian becomes another good friend and Wei Wuxian, who already had an immense amount of respect for her, feels it grow with every passing letter. She is far worse off than he is, but to some extent, he understands, or tries to, as best he can.
‘If you ever find yourself in need of a change in sect, the Jin sect would be lucky to have you,’ he writes to her once, after she confesses that her sect leader is not-so-subtly trying to edge her out of the position she has fairly earned. She sounds understandably frustrated, and besides, Wei Wuxian would really like to have another competent person to work with who he is sure has no loyalties to Jin Guangshan. Her sect leader doesn’t seem like the type of man who takes defiance well, and Mianmian doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would keep her head down just to retain the status quo, which makes for quite the tenuous position, and truly, he is both desperate for help and to help. ‘A-Xuan is a good man. He would judge you based on merit and nothing else, if you were to join the Jin sect.’ what he implies, of course, is he wouldn’t expect you to shut up about unfairness.
‘He stood up for me when he didn’t know who I was, against the Wens,’ her reply reads. ‘Yes, I do believe he is a good man, and so are you.’
He scoffs when he reads that, but then he thinks about her words, thinks about what she knows of him, thinks of what she has seen him do— at both the Xuanwu Cave and the banquet, he had refused to stand aside while atrocities were being perpetrated on his watch. His fingers lightly trace the Wen brand that lies on his chest— the brand he had taken in Mianmian’s place, and he sees why she thinks that of him. It feels... nice, to have someone else think of him in a positive way— especially someone who has no obligation to think well of him, someone who judges him on his deeds alone.
He requests that she give his offer some serious thought, though, and she replies that she will.
‘I would never have joined the Jin sect under Jin Guangshan,’ she writes, ‘but Jin Zixuan is a different story. I might consider it.’
‘Please do,’ he writes back. ‘Your common sense will be an asset.’ Further down on the same letter, he confesses, ‘I would also like someone to delegate some of my headaches to.’
When she writes again, she assures him that she had had a good laugh. She does, however, also send him a pouch of herbs that are a local headache remedy in her hometown, so there’s that, at least. Even if Mianmian— he doubts he will ever get into the habit of calling her Luo Qingyang— is laughing at him, at least she is slightly sympathetic.
In the middle of all of this, Wei Wuxian writes regular letters to A-Yuan, because he does not plan to break a promise to a child. He wonders who reads them out to A-Yuan— Wen Qing, Wen Ning or his grandmother, probably. He definitely doesn’t manage visits to Gusu every week or even every month— in fact, he only manages to find the time for two trips, and each time, as promised, Lan Zhan accompanies him to and from Koi Tower.
In the air, Wei Wuxian keeps himself tucked into Lan Zhan’s side and chatters on about anything and everything that comes to his mind, seeking to distract himself— his nightmares have become less frequent, but being in the air is still reminiscent of being tossed into the Burial Mounds. Lan Zhan, as always, listens attentively and hardly ever interjects, but he seems to sense Wei Wuxian’s discomfort at certain times and wraps his arms more firmly around Wei Wuxian’s shoulders. He never comments on it, only offers silent support.
At Wei Wuxian’s request, they do not go into Cloud Recesses— he does not want to create a scene when he was there at A-Yuan’s behest, and even if Lan Zhan and Lan Xichen insist that he will be welcome, he doesn’t want to risk it— and instead, they spend their time exploring Caiyi Town. Apart from seeing A-Yuan himself, watching Lan Zhan interact with A-Yuan is the highlight of these visits for Wei Wuxian. The man is endlessly patient with A-Yuan, never once getting annoyed with him even when he breaks the rules, and the way he tends to all of A-Yuan’s needs like it is second nature to him makes warmth bloom in Wei Wuxian’s chest.
The feeling must be mutual, because when Wei Wuxian is the one taking care of A-Yuan, sometimes he looks up to see Lan Zhan gazing at him with the softest look he has ever seen. On one of those trips, A-Yuan spills a little of his soup on himself, and when Wei Wuxian notices that both he and Lan Zhan have simultaneously moved to clean him up, he is suddenly overcome with feeling and has to laugh nervously to try and dismiss it.
When they sit together for meals, when one of them carries A-Yuan while the other one hovers close by, when they walk down the street, one of A-Yuan’s tiny hands in each of their hands, Wei Wuxian tries very hard not to notice how right it feels, how much they feel like a family— it is far too soon for him to be thinking like that.
He fails. Miserably.
Seven months into Jin Zixuan’s official appointment as sect leader, Wei Wuxian and Jin Zixuan still stay married, but that only remains true because they need an excuse for Wei Wuxian to remain at Koi Tower. They are both well aware that the day when they end their marriage amicably is coming, and it is only utility that keeps them in this union. They’re simply trying to ensure that there won’t be any complications following it, trying to make preparations for the aftermath of their separation, and those are truly numerous— they find themselves in need of trustworthy people to take over the myriad duties Wei Wuxian had taken upon himself, which is hard when they are also trying to figure out who is trustworthy and who isn’t. Not to mention that the transition to new positions leaves them very little time to do anything beyond the duties they have committed to already.
There is also the question of what will happen with Mo Xuanyu— something that isn’t as easily resolved as assigning tasks to someone else. They do not want to separate him from his brothers— the brothers he has only just begun to form a relationship with— but he is adamant that Wei Wuxian has to be the one who teaches him— he refuses to let anyone else do so. Well, he still learns the basics with the other juniors of the Jin sect, but he refuses to let anyone else take over the role of teaching him anything more than that. He uses different excuses every time— no one is as qualified as Wei Wuxian is, no one is as engaging as him, they make mistakes that even Mo Xuanyu knows not to make— but if the incidents with A-Yuan have taught Wei Wuxian anything, it is that Mo Xuanyu doesn’t want to be separated from him, even if he doesn’t want to admit it.
The possibility that receives the most contemplation and discussion is that perhaps Mo Xuanyu could spend part of the year at Koi Tower with his brothers, where he would learn the basics of cultivation. For the rest of the year, he could stay with Wei Wuxian as his apprentice— nobody outright says that this will be at the Cloud Recesses, but Jin Guangyao and Jin Zixuan are both working under the assumption that it’s only a matter of time before Wei Wuxian marries Lan Zhan, and he knows it. As the second in line for sect leadership— third if Jin Zixuan marries and has an heir— he will not be needed at Koi Tower year round, and besides, he is young enough that it is a possible solution. They agree, finally, to try it out briefly, and make changes to their plans if required.
Some part of Wei Wuxian thinks he will miss being married to Jin Zixuan. Not the marriage itself, but rather the companionship. Over the past year, as much as he had fought it every step of the way, Jin Zixuan had become one of his closest friends, and he— as much as it baffled him— cared for him very much. Jin Zixuan had grown on him like a particularly annoying but endearing weed, and Wei Wuxian knows that he will find it hard to adjust to not seeing him every day. He is also certain he will be worrying about Jin Zixuan too, about how he would manage in Koi Tower— improvement over the past year or not. Fifteen year old Wei Wuxian would have been horrified, fifteen year old Jin Zixuan would have too, but to adult Wei Wuxian, Jin Zixuan is now— and probably forever— a part of his life. One of the good parts too. Who would have thought?
After one particularly hard day of work which had included Wei Wuxian eating his dinner cold while looking over a request for allocation of funds for a famine in the northern part of their territory, he comes back to their chambers, planning to sleep for as long as he can manage before the next crisis hits, only to find Jin Zixuan there with a truly impressive amount and variety of liquor.
“Are we celebrating something?” Wei Wuxian asks, raising an eyebrow.
“I don’t want to be sober,” Jin Zixuan replies, and he somehow looks both exhausted and exasperated.
Wei Wuxian can’t argue with that, so he shrugs and takes a seat, uncorking a jar of Lanling’s best wine and drinking straight from it, not even bothering to pour it into a cup. He half expects Jin Zixuan to make a face at that, maybe even reprimand him, and he can hardly hold in his surprise as Jin Zixuan instead follows suit, drinking straight from his own jar.
“How unrefined, A-Xuan!” Wei Wuxian grins teasingly. “One would hardly expect such uncouth behaviour from Lanling Jin’s golden peacock!”
Jin Zixuan rolls his eyes, but his lips twitch the slightest bit.
“Aiya, Aiya, forgive me,” Wei Wuxian corrects himself, making a mocking half-attempt at a bow. “I meant, Lanling Jin’s esteemed sect leader.”
“What’s the point of filling a cup repeatedly?” Jin Zixuan sighs. “It’ll only make my arm tired.”
Wei Wuxian laughs. “See, that’s why I don’t bother with cups. But you? You grew up in the most ostentatious cultivation sect! It’s surprising to see you like this.”
Jin Zixuan rolls his eyes. He reaches for his second jar, having finished the first one already. “Think of it as a rebellion against my upbringing,” he says dryly.
Wei Wuxian quickly finishes his first jar too, determined not to be outdrunk by Jin Zixuan. Halfway through the second jar though, he reconsiders, decides to pace himself. High alcohol tolerance or not, it wouldn’t do for both of them to get drunk— they might end up embarrassing themselves, which wouldn’t do at all. By the time Jin Zixuan finishes his second jar, he slows down too, choosing to sip delicately from his third jar. He still doesn't start to use a cup though.
“So, are you going to tell me what has you drinking this heavily?” Wei Wuxian asks.
Jin Zixuan sighs. “Meetings,” he says. “So many meetings. With so many unpleasant people.”
“Mhm, that’s the burden of a sect leader.”
Jin Zixuan groans, rubbing his face and slumping where he sits. “I hate it so much,” he says— too quiet to be a wail, but a tone of lament nevertheless. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I’m the sect leader now, but I just wish my father hadn’t made such a mess of everything, you know.”
Wei Wuxian hums in understanding. He takes a slow, long sip of wine. “You’ve been dealing with that for seven months though,” he says. “Why has it suddenly driven you to drink today?”
Jin Zixuan sighs heavily. Then, with a displeased expression, he mutters, “Some of my advisors were… let’s say very passionately invested in the matter of my heir.”
Wei Wuxian snorts. “Let me guess, they have a problem with it being Jin Guangyao.”
“They don’t think he would be a good fit because of the circumstances of his birth,” Jin Zixuan’s words slur slightly as the alcohol starts to hit him. “He is the most competent person I have advising me, and they don’t think he makes a good heir.” He huffs in a way that Wei Wuxian absolutely does not find adorable, then he looks up and his eyes widen. “You’re very competent too,” he says hurriedly, like he’s worried about hurting Wei Wuxian’s feelings, which is quite kind of him, even if it is bemusing to Wei Wuxian. “It’s just, you can’t be my heir anyway, so you don’t really count.”
“Don’t worry, A-Xuan,” Wei Wuxian replies in amusement. “I’m not offended.”
“Oh.” He looks relieved.
“In any case, they may be annoying, but you have the final say over who your heir is. For what it’s worth, Jin Guangyao would probably be a good sect leader, and if you do have kids someday, he’ll be good at helping you train one of them to take over.”
At the mention of kids, Jin Zixuan sighs heavily again. “Some of them are pestering me to divorce you so I can marry a woman and have a child,” he confides. He looks neither happy nor unhappy at the prospect— merely tired. “They’re being quite rude about it,” he adds with a displeased expression. “Very pushy.”
“Well, we’re going to be divorced anyway,” Wei Wuxian reminds him with a bewildered expression. He doesn’t see why Jin Zixuan is so obviously unhappy when they had both known it was going to happen anyway. The need for heirs was, in fact, the reason they were going to give for their divorce if anyone asked. “That shouldn’t make you feel bad.”
To his surprise, Jin Zixuan scowls. “But I’m not going to divorce you because they say so,” his expression gets more displeased as he frowns harder. “I’m going to do it so you can be happy and finally marry Lan Wangji. I’m—"
"And so you can finally marry shijie," Wei Wuxian points out.
"—not getting rid of you for the purposes of acquiring an heir.”
“Well… yes, but they don’t know that.”
Jin Zixuan’s scowl gets darker. “The way they talk about you, like you’re an inconvenience, like I should be itching to replace you… they shouldn’t talk about you that way..”
Jin Zixuan looks so offended on his behalf that Wei Wuxian should find the expression ridiculous, but he feels touched instead. People are often angry with him; they are hardly ever angry for him. Somehow, the fact that his soon to be ex-husband is offended for him, that he thinks Wei Wuxian is worth defending, fills him with fondness. It isn’t the first time Jin Zixuan had defended him, of course— Who are you to question whether or not my husband uses his sword when he is more than capable of defeating you with his hands tied behind his back? he remembers hearing, A-Xian saved my life and those of every disciple at the Wen’s indoctrination when he confronted Wen Chao, he had heard, His cultivation method saved me and countless others, so I don’t take kindly to what you’re implying, he had heard— but this is the first time he has admitted it to Wei Wuxian. It… it means more to Wei Wuxian than he wants to admit.
“Thank you for valiantly defending me honour,” Wei Wuxian tries to say jokingly, but it comes out more sincerely than he intends. He hopes Jin Zixuan is too drunk to notice how choked up his voice is.
Jin Zixuan reddens suddenly. He clears his throat and takes a particularly long swig of his wine. His eyes dart around the room, but he very intentionally does not look at Wei Wuxian. It’s very suspicious.
Immediately, Wei Wuxian’s eyes narrow. “There’s something else, isn’t there?”
Jin Zixuan continues to avoid his gaze, but his flush deepens.
“A-Xuan!” he whines. “Won’t you tell your poor husband what happened?”
Jin Zixuan reddens even further at that, something that Wei Wuxian hadn’t thought was possible. He opens his mouth to complain again, but Jin Zixuan speaks before he does.
“Some of them were…” he whispers, then coughs lightly.
“Come out with it!” Wei Wuxian urges, now increasingly curious.
“They were…” he hesitates.
“They were…?” Wei Wuxian prompts impatiently.
“They were wondering if you could use demonic cultivation to bear a child,” Jin Zixuan blurts out, then immediately downs the rest of his jar of wine, possibly in an attempt to escape the embarrassment of what he had just admitted.
Wei Wuxian, on the other hand, cackles wildly at the expression of pure mortification on Jin Zixuan’s face. He throws his head back and laughs hard enough that tears begin to escape his eyes. Wiping them away, he pants, still breathless with laughter. Even now, just reporting the situation. Jin Zixuan looks like he would rather be anywhere else, and the thought of what his face must have looked like when he was actually asked that question is hilarious.
“It’s not that funny,” Jin Zixuan says sulkily.
“Oh, but it is!” Wei Wuxian replies, before bursting into another fit of giggles. “Husband,” he says between breathless laughs, “Could it be possible that no one knows that we are yet to consummate our union?”
“It’s not like I tell people that,” he splutters.
Wei Wuxian shrugs. “I don’t know, I suppose I assumed someone would figure it out, honestly. Didn’t you? Isn’t that why you even suggested that we fake it on our wedding night?”
While he waits for the flush to fade from Jin Zixuan’s face, he begins thinking about it— not with intent, but simply because he has a curious mind, and it would be an interesting puzzle. “Theoretically though, it would be a fascinating study,” Wei Wuxian says, almost muttering to himself. “Reanimating corpses could be thought of as creating life, if only in a certain sense, so perhaps it isn’t so far fetched. Hmmm…” he loses himself in thought for a second, wondering what sort of technique it would require— a talisman wouldn’t have the range, an array? That might work, but that left the actual process itself. Could energy actually work like that? Would it even be worth trying? If he could—
Wei Wuxian is interrupted by Jin Zixuan snapping his fingers in front of his face. He raises an eyebrow.
“No thinking, no working,” Jin Zixuan says firmly, though the flush on his face is yet to fade. “We are here to forget about work, not obsess over it.”
“You’re just embarrassed at the idea of a demonic cultivation baby!”
Jin Zixuan groans and covers his face. “Please don’t say that loud enough for anyone else to hear,” he begs. “If they think it’s possible, neither of us will ever know a single day of peace.”
Wei Wuxian snorts, then takes another swig of wine. It’s good wine, even if it can’t compare to Emperor’s Smile. Then he sighs, gazing up at the ceiling, deciding to take pity on Jin Zixuan.
“Do you want to hear about the first time I got drunk?” he asks.
“Is it an embarrassing story?” Jin Zixuan takes the change in subject for the peace offering it is.
Wei Wuxian laughs at the memory. “Not for me, but definitely for Jiang Cheng.”
Jin Zixuan looks oddly thoughtful for a drunk— or nearly drunk— person, then he sighs and nods. “I suppose it’ll do.”
“Oh, this story involves shijie, so you better listen closely,” Wei Wuxian says, stifling a laugh at the way Jin Zixuan’s face twitches to attention at the mention of his shijie, even if he’s getting drunker by the second. “Madam Yu was out on a night hunt and Uncle Jiang was away on sect business, so…”
They end up getting ragingly drunk — or rather, Jin Zixuan gets ragingly drunk and Wei Wuxian is just past tipsy when they decide to go to bed. When Wei Wuxian stands up, stretching his legs, Jin Zixuan tackles him into a hug— a completely unexpected, but surprisingly not unwelcome hug. They stand in the middle of the room, swaying slightly under the influence of the alcohol.
“I’ll miss you,” Jin Zixuan mumbles into Wei Wuxian’s shoulder where his face is hidden.
Wei Wuxian, who had been about to make a joke about how short Jin Zixuan was, freezes. Instead, he pats his back comfortingly and makes no effort to hide the swell of emotion in his voice as he says, “I’ll miss you too.”
One year, nine months, and eighteen days after Wei Wuxian and Jin Zixuan get married, they get divorced in the middle of the day in the office of the sect leader of Lanling Jin. Wei Wuxian laughs and says something about the irony of foiling Jin Guangshan’s plan in the office he had probably made it in, while Jin Zixuan sighs, though it is a fonder sigh than those from two years ago. In every way, it is the opposite of what their wedding had been— there are only two people, they are actually comfortable around one another, and Wei Wuxian remembers every second of it. In only a few moments, they are once more, officially, bachelors.
Their goodbyes when Wei Wuxian leaves to go back to Yunmeng are not tearful and dramatic, nor are they stony-faced and silent— it is an unusual end to an unusual marriage indeed, that sees them both parting with grins on their faces, and promises of future visits. Wei Wuxian’s departure from Koi Tower is also, in every way, the opposite of his arrival, in that there is clearly more good will between him and his husband— ex-husband— than there was when he first arrived. Somehow, when they say goodbye, it feels like a new beginning— bittersweet and filled with hope.
Two weeks into his return to Yunmeng, Wei Wuxian sits on a boulder by his favourite lotus pond, idly playing some folk tunes on Chenqing. He has, to his great disgruntlement, found that there is nothing for him to do here— Jiang Cheng and his shijie have had to reassign duties to account for his absence, and now, he has no real role at Lotus Pier. He spends his days idly, which at first, felt like bliss, after nearly two years of continuously working, but soon he tires of it. He is so used to having things to do that his entire body itches with the lack of work. Shijie had told him to relax, but he has begun to find it mind-numbingly boring. The boredom also leaves far too much time for him to think.
Lotus Pier is… not the way he remembers. It hasn’t changed physically— everything that was there before he went to Lanling is still there. There are still vendors selling snacks by the side of the pier, and there are still children running around as their parents and older siblings running to catch up with them so they won’t fall into the water. The smell of lotus still fills the air and the old lady who carves the prettiest combs in all of Yunmeng is still there, selling her wares to blushing young people.
It is his place that is no longer there.
From the time he had first been brought to Lotus Pier, he has always had a complicated position. When he had arrived, he had spent close to five years on the street. He could barely read— nothing beyond the little his parents had managed to teach him before their deaths and the little he himself had learnt to read from the signs he had come across while living on the streets— and he’d needed to be taught until he could match the level of others his age. He had been weak and malnourished, even needing to eat differently from the rest of the disciples. He had been so far behind everyone else in forming his golden core that there was a serious concern over whether he would ever be strong enough to cultivate. He simply had not fit in with everyone in his age group.
He had caught up, though. He had learnt to read and had proceeded to read every text he could get his hands on— poetry, old manuscripts, research, philosophy, cultivation manuals— vowing not to stop until he was satisfied with how much he had enriched his knowledge. He had never been satisfied, only seeking out more complex material, more information, to meet the unquenchable thirst in him. He had eaten what he was told to eat and had trained hard every single day. Every day, no matter how much his arms trembled with the force of hefting a practice sword, no matter how much his thighs hurt as he went through the various sword forms. His doctor had told Jiang Fengmian that his growth might be stunted; Wei Wuxian had, instead, gone on to be the tallest of his disciple group. He had had the strongest golden core of them all too, had surpassed every single one of them. He had ensured that he had mastery over the Six Arts— wouldn’t settle for anything less. He had not fit in then either, this time because no one could catch up to him.
He cannot remember now if it was simply an urge to be the best he could, or if it was a desperate scramble to prove that he was worth it, that Jiang Fengmian hadn’t made a mistake by picking him off the streets.
The older he got though, he had begun to temper himself. He had grown to understand that when he outperformed Jiang Cheng too much, Madam Yu was harsher, her usual sharp tongue not satisfied until it drew blood from both of them, and how could he put his shidi through that? Yet if he let Jiang Cheng win, it infuriated him— he could always tell, somehow, when Wei Wuxian was holding back. So Wei Wuxian simply stopped training along with Jiang Cheng. Madam Yu couldn’t compare her son to the disciple who never trained alongside him, could she?
He had learnt that living in Lotus Pier meant that he would be punished for things everyone did, that only he would be punished. He learnt not to question it, at least not where Madam Yu could hear him. If this was how he was meant to pay for the privilege of being picked up off of the streets, he would do it willingly. He would take the punishment, if it only meant that he would never have to fight another dog for a scrap of food ever again.
All of those things had only further affirmed to Wei Wuxian that he would never fit in the way everyone else did— the younger disciples adored him and he felt the same about them, but his position wasn’t quite like theirs. He was raised alongside Jiang Cheng and shijie, thought of them as his siblings, but he wasn’t truly a part of the family like they were.
Wei Wuxian had never really known who he was— the servant Madam Yu said he was or the little brother shijie treated him as, Jiang Fengmian’s ward or Yunmeng Jiang’s head disciple, the troublemaker who was constantly punished or the unquestionable prodigy. But even then, despite it all, he knew he belonged there. Even when he couldn’t put a name to exactly what his role was, he could say with conviction that he belonged at Lotus Pier.
He… can’t quite say that anymore.
He understands that his duties have had to be taken over by other people. He isn’t an idiot, it isn’t like he had expected Jiang Cheng and shijie to hold every place of his vacant indefinitely just in case he had magically been able to escape an unwanted marriage in a way no one before him had ever managed. He hadn’t expected to come back to have a role waiting for him either. He had just… he had hoped that there would be something new for him to do, something shijie and Jiang Cheng would need his help on. Or if there really wasn’t, he had hoped they would try to include him.
If he had truly been unneeded, he would understand that too. It would have been hard for him— when he has tried, since he was a child to be needed— but he would have understood that, would have accepted it. The problem is that it isn’t that he isn’t needed at Lotus Pier. It’s that nothing he does meets Jiang Cheng’s standards, which have somehow become even more exalting than before he had left.
He has never once complained about Jiang Cheng’s harsh words— it’s how he shows love, shijie has said to him over and over again after every fight, and Wei Wuxian has internalized those words. He knows that Jiang Cheng is just that way, that he is sometimes rude and sometimes pokes exactly where it hurts. He doesn’t do it on purpose either, at least not that Wei Wuxian thinks. It has always been the way they have communicated— Jiang Cheng says something that is, on the surface, an insult, Wei Wuxian sees the hidden concern in it and points it out, Jiang Cheng calls him annoying, shijie berates the two of them gently. It’s the way they are, the way they’ve always been. It has never upset Wei Wuxian before. Jiang Cheng doesn’t mean to hurt him— he never means to hurt him.
It’s just… living at Koi Tower has spoilt Wei Wuxian, somewhat. When he invents something new, he has gotten used to Jin Zixuan appreciating it in his usual awkward way that has become so endearing to Wei Wuxian. When he solves a diplomatic tangle, he has gotten used to Jin Zixuan’s grateful expression, like Wei Wuxian has just descended in front of him with divine wisdom. When he does something wrong, he has gotten used to Jin Zixuan’s dry teasing. When he points out an issue, he has gotten used to Jin Zixuan’s weary sigh that says he appreciates the information, even if he really wishes he had never gotten it.
Now, when Jiang Cheng responds to his invention with a barb about how he is wasting both his own time and Jiang Cheng’s, it stings, just a little bit. When he comes up with a solution for some diplomatic issue, it hurts when Jiang Cheng says “No one asked for your help, Wei Wuxian”, and that hurt does not heal even when he sees Jiang Cheng implement his idea anyway. He has to force a smile on his face when Jiang Cheng scoffs loudly when he makes a mistake. He has to pretend not to be affected when Jiang Cheng reacts to bad news by glaring at him.
He understands that Jiang Cheng is under a lot of stress— it is the kind of stress the past year has made him intimately familiar with. He knows how short it makes someone’s temper, how much worse that is for an already short-tempered person like Jiang Cheng. So he tries to compensate for it, tries to ensure that Jiang Cheng doesn’t have a reason to lose his temper, doesn’t have a reason to complain. Unfortunately, for the most part, that means that there’s nothing for him to do— because there’s nothing he can do that Jiang Cheng won’t lose his temper at, nothing that won’t have him yelling that Wei Wuxian isn’t in Lanling anymore and that Yunmeng is different. Removing himself is the only thing that works. He can’t be gone too long though, or Jiang Cheng might be angry at him for slacking off, but for now, it works.
Shijie tries, she truly does, but even her actions only go so far. She mediates between them as much as she can, but it is beyond even her capabilities to do it every time. It doesn’t help at all that Wei Wuxian hadn’t been able to crush that tiny bit of resentment at the events that led to his marriage, and even if he doesn’t hold it against Jiang Cheng anymore, he cannot stop himself from getting indignant. Maybe it is true that he has forgotten what it is like to be in Yunmeng, but it hadn’t been his idea to marry into Lanling. It’s unfair for Jiang Cheng to hold that against him.
He hates to admit it, but he misses Jin Zixuan, misses the work that comes with being his husband, misses the companionship they had managed to develop, misses bickering with him. He misses the way Jin Zixuan would make fun of him, but somehow— for all that he is clumsy with words— never hit at Wei Wuxian’s insecurities. He misses teasing back and knowing he wasn’t going to accidentally set Jin Zixuan off. He has missed not feeling like an annoyance— a feeling he finds is inescapable in Lotus Pier.
He had been so isolated at Koi Tower with Jin Zixuan as his only ally among people who whispered in corners about his heretical cultivation path, yet Jin Zixuan had made sure he knew that Wei Wuxian had his support. Here in Lotus Pier, everyone treats him kindly, but he feels so alone.
He is thinking about the merits of putting his flute down and rolling straight into the lotus pond, just to have something to do, when he hears a rustle from beyond the tree line. No one else comes here— they know not to— so Wei Wuxian is instantly on his guard. He steels himself for a threat. He does not rise, merely pulls a talisman out and prepares to throw it, when the foliage parts to reveal a familiar figure.
For a second, he thinks he’s seeing things, then he realizes that what he’s seeing is real, and his heart leaps with delight.
Lan Zhan stands in front of him, dressed not in his usual white— well, not only in his usual white— but in a pale blue outer robe. He looks as perfect as he always does, if a little more grandly dressed than usual. Not too grandly, of course— Wei Wuxian is certain that dressing ostentatiously is against at least one of the rules of his sect. He looks beautiful, as he always does, like the closest thing to perfection that Wei Wuxian has ever seen. Lan Zhan could outshine the moon, he thinks, even without trying.
It is incredibly impolite, but his arrival is such a surprise to Wei Wuxian that he cannot even bring himself to stand until Lan Zhan is right in front of him. He moves to stand then, but Lan Zhan stops him, moving to kneel in front of him instead. Like this, Lan Zhan’s face is close enough that Wei Wuxian can see every hint of motion, the softening at the corner of his lips that means that he is pleased to see Wei Wuxian, the barely raised eyebrow that means that he is wondering what Wei Wuxian is doing, sitting here all alone.
“Lan Zhan,” he asks, his voice slightly breathless, “Are you really here?”
“Wei Ying,” he replies warmly, with so much fondness that it makes Wei Wuxian’s heart melt, “I am here.”
“And what brings the great Hanguang-jun to Yunmeng?” he asks teasingly. He cannot stop himself from teasing Lan Zhan, he never can. He thinks he wants to do it forever.
“There is a question I must ask of you,” Lan Zhan says, evenly, not responding to the teasing at all, though his tone is still warm and accommodating.
“And what question could the great Hanguang-jun have for this lowly one?” he asks, still teasing to hide the fact that his heart is pounding, that his mouth is going dry.
Lan Zhan simply looks at him for a moment, then reaches up and unknots his forehead ribbon, still looking Wei Wuxian in the eye. With one hand, he takes Wei Wuxian’s in his own, turns it over till the palm is facing upward, moving it with the same gentleness Wei Wuxian has seen him use to pet a particularly skittish rabbit. With his other hand, he holds the newly removed ribbon up, offering it to Wei Wuxian.
“Wei Ying knows very well what question I mean to ask,” he says, his head tilted consideringly, his eyes knowing.
Wei Wuxian surprises himself by letting out a sound that is somewhere between a gasp and a sob. He hadn’t expected this so soon, hasn’t prepared for it yet. He wants to accept, he wants it so badly, but still...“Lan Zhan are you sure?” he asks. “There are—” he swallows and braces himself, resists the urge to press his hand against the empty, empty spot his core once occupied. “There is something you don’t know about me.”
“You will tell me when you are ready,” Lan Zhan replies simply, as though potentially keeping a life-changing secret from the man proposing marriage to you was in any way a reasonable thing to do.
Wei Wuxian makes the same choked noise again. “It might change the way you see me,” he warns. He doesn’t know for sure if it will, but if Lan Zhan marries him and then sees him differently, if he knows what it is like to have Lan Zhan and then has to give him up, it would break him.
“Wei Ying is Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says resolutely. “Nothing will change that.”
This time, the sound that escapes Wei Wuxian is closer to a sob. “You can’t know that, Lan Zhan,” he cries. “How can you say that so certainly?”
Lan Zhan merely looks at him consideringly, seemingly seeing something in his face that causes him to pull back slightly. “Does Wei Ying... not want to?” Lan Zhan asks, his face sad, but understanding.
How could this wonderful man misunderstand him so badly? “Lan Zhan, ah, Lan Zhan, of course Wei Ying wants to, how could you even think that?” Wei Wuxian looks at the ground, unable to meet Lan Zhan’s eyes. “Are you sure I’m the one you want?”
Lan Zhan only huffs softly. “Wei Ying, do you recall a conversation we had in a similar place many months ago?” he asks quietly.
That makes Wei Wuxian laugh slightly. “Lan Zhan, there is not one encounter I have had with you that I have ever forgotten,” he says helplessly. He is helpless in the face of this wonderful, ridiculous man, this man he is so utterly in love with.
Lan Zhan’s breath hitches, barely noticeably. “Then, Wei Ying, will you allow me to tell you what I had wished to tell you then?”
In the face of a plea like that, what could Wei Wuxian do but agree?
As soon as Wei Wuxian nods, Lan Zhan lets go of his hand and reaches to cup his cheek. Wei Wuxian resists every impulse to turn his face and press a kiss to Lan Zhan’s palm. There will be time for that later, he thinks.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, his gaze intense and sincere, his touch gentle and grounding, “I am not good with words, but I wish that there should be no doubt about what I feel for you. I have loved you for many years now. I have loved you since I first saw you, and I have fallen more in love with you with every passing day. If you will have me, I wish to forever be by your side.”
Wei Wuxian gasps again, heat rushing to his face. He would turn away, but Lan Zhan’s hand on his cheek stops him. “Lan Zhan, how can I follow that up?” he cries instead. “Anything I say will be inadequate!”
“No,” Lan Zhan replies firmly. “Nothing about Wei Ying is inadequate.”
“Not good with words?” he playfully nudges Lan Zhan. “You’re such a liar, er-gege!”
“Lying is forbidden,” Lan Zhan replies, a tiny smile on his lips. “None of my words are enough to encompass what I feel for you, Wei Ying. No words can compare to you, and in that, they are all inadequate in expressing the depths of my feelings for you.”
Wei Wuxian wonders briefly, if he is, perhaps hallucinating vividly, or if he has just died. “Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, now I am certain that you’re exaggerating.”
Lan Zhan looks so offended by the suggestion, that if Wei Wuxian wasn’t lost in the pleasant haze of his words, he would laugh. “Wei Ying,” he says firmly, “It is truly a great tragedy that you do not know the extent of my regard for you. I will immediately begin to rectify this error.”
“Ah, you’re too good to me Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian sighs, glad to be sitting down. If he had been standing, he is worried his knees would be too weak to support his weight. He turns to look seriously at Lan Zhan, trying to match his intensity, though he thinks he comes off a bit too vulnerable for that. “All I want from you, all I have ever wanted was for you to like me, because I like you so much,” he confesses. “Even when we were younger, I just wanted you to look at me. Even all those months when we were fighting, when I was refusing to listen to anything you had to say, even then, all I wanted was for you to like me. Lan Zhan, I love you so much, sometimes I think my heart will stop beating from the force of it.”
“Do not let it,” Lan Zhan says seriously. When Wei Ying huffs a laugh, he repeats with the same sincerity, “Wei Ying, do not let it.”
“Don’t worry, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian replies, smiling gently, then carefully guides Lan Zhan’s palm to rest against his chest where his heart is beating like a drum, his forehead ribbon trapped between the two of them. “I promise I will live a long life with you and I will tell you that I love you everyday.”
Lan Zhan nods in satisfaction, then wordlessly offers the ribbon again, and this time, Wei Wuxian huffs and holds out his wrist.
“So stubborn,” he says fondly.
“Mn,” Lan Zhan looks smug.
“You know, Lan Zhan,” he says as Lan Zhan begins painstakingly wrapping the ribbon around his wrist, “This is highly improper! I was a married man not a month ago! What will people say?”
“I care nothing for what other people say,” Lan Zhan says, as he finishes knotting the ribbon around Wei Wuxian’s wrist. Done with his task, he tilts his head up to meet Wei Wuxian’s eyes, asks the question he has asked over and over and over again. “Wei Ying, will you come to Gusu with me?”
Wei Wuxian laughs at that, clear and delighted. He cups Lan Zhan’s face with both his hands, then leans down towards him. “Shall I show you my answer instead, er-gege?” he asks.
A quick nod. “Mn.”
Wei Wuxian leans down and presses a chaste, reverent kiss to Lan Zhan’s forehead, where his ribbon was resting moments earlier. He feels Lan Zhan’s eyelids flutter closed and pulls away to drink in his appearance, vulnerability painting every one of his features. He presses another playful kiss to the tip of Lan Zhan’s nose, nearly giggles at the way his face twitches the tiniest bit. He pulls back again, and this time, Lan Zhan opens his eyes. There is amusement in his eyes, but he huffs impatiently— which for Lan Zhan is truly saying something.
Finally, Wei Wuxian leans in to capture Lan Zhan’s lips with his own. Kissing Lan Zhan is both everything and nothing like he had imagined, and Wei Wuxian decides at once that he wants to do it for the rest of his life. His lips are soft and pliant, but he kisses intensely, like a drowning man seeks air. Wei Wuxian’s hands wind in Lan Zhan’s hair and one of Lan Zhan’s hands comes up to firmly hold the back of his neck even as the other rests warmly on his thigh. Wei Wuxian frees one of his own hands, uses it to tilt Lan Zhan’s chin up and explores his mouth from this new angle, catalogues every sound, every movement Lan Zhan makes. It feels right. It feels like coming home.
When they finally part for air, too soon for his liking, Wei Wuxian can’t hold back the grin on his face, and apparently, Lan Zhan can’t help but smile too. Lan Zhan’s smile is as slow and sure as a sunrise, and Wei Wuxian can feel its warmth seep into the cracks of his soul. There is still much up in the air, and he still has many things to tell Lan Zhan, but in this moment, none of it matters to him.
If he can have this everyday— Lan Zhan’s smile, his warm presence, and the ability to ply him with sweet kisses, he thinks the future looks bright indeed.
As promised, this is the last chapter. For all intents and purposes, this story is complete, which is why it's been marked as such
… However, there might be an epilogue, because I really can't stop myself😐
Wei Wuxian does not have much of a memory of his second wedding either— mostly because it wasn’t a proper wedding at all. They had simply eloped instead, not wanting the hassle of an official wedding, and not willing to wait long enough for one to be arranged either. All the memories Wei Wuxian needs from his second wedding are the glow of Lan Zhan’s smile, the way he had looked when they had bowed to each other, the fondness in his eyes every time he had caught Wei Wuxian’s eye. Those are the only memories worth having.
When they arrive at Cloud Recesses, they receive a warm welcome from Lan Xichen and a slightly less warm welcome from Lan Qiren. Wei Wuxian can’t tell if Lan Zhan’s uncle is more offended by the fact that his nephew had eloped without telling anyone— later, Wei Wuxian will learn that Lan Zhan had, in fact, told his family of his intentions, but his uncle had been displeased with the idea of an elopement— or if it was the fact that the person he had eloped with was Wei Wuxian. Either way though, he grudgingly welcomes Wei Wuxian into the sect and the family, scowling as he does so. It gives Wei Wuxian a little hope— he wouldn’t have done that if this was an unforgivable, unacceptable offence to him, would he?
Later in the jingshi, Wei Wuxian curls up to his husband— his husband!— and drinks in his beautiful features.
“Your uncle wasn’t very pleased,” he says softly, absently tracing a pattern on his chest.
“Uncle will come around,” Lan Zhan says with a certainty that is almost shocking to Wei Wuxian when considering the idea of Lan Qiren reconciling himself to the idea of Wei Wuxian as a family member, a certainty that is, perhaps, born partly from knowing Lan Qiren and partly from optimism. He turns and regards Wei Wuxian with a soft look. “How could he not, when Wei Ying makes me so happy?”
Wei Wuxian laughs nervously. “At least Zewu-jun seemed happy?” he offers.
“Mn, brother has known of my feelings for you for a long time,” Lan Zhan replies, his fingers combing through Wei Wuxian’s hair gently. “He is very pleased.”
“Good,” Wei Wuxian says, unable to hide the relief in his voice. “That’s good. At least one person accepts us, then. I haven’t ruined your relationship with your family.”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says firmly. “Uncle is simply upset that we eloped. He would have much preferred a more traditional wedding.”
He’s pretty sure Lan Zhan’s choice of groom has something to do with it too, but he’s willing to ignore that for a little while at least. “And you? Would you have preferred that too?”
“It does not matter to me. All that matters is that I get to call Wei Ying my husband.”
“Ah, Lan Zhan, you’re too much, where did you learn to talk like this?” Wei Wuxian exclaims. Something about Lan Zhan’s sincerity makes him want to tease. “Didn’t you want to see me in wedding robes?” he asks. “You never got to see my previous ones.”
“I imagine you must have been beautiful,” Lan Zhan replies. “Wei Ying always looks beautiful.”
“I wouldn’t know,” Wei Wuxian pouts dramatically. “A-Xuan never once told me I was pretty. Can you imagine that? Our wedding day, and he didn’t even tell me I looked nice.”
“Wei Ying?” Lan Zhan says, his eyes dark, his mouth set in a slightly displeased line.
“Yes, Lan Zhan?”
“Do not speak about another man when you are in my bed.”
Wei Wuxian laughs. “You didn’t mind when I was talking about Zewu-jun,” he teases.
“You have never been married to my brother,” Lan Zhan replies easily. If Lan Zhan was anyone else, Wei Wuxian suspects he would be pouting in displeasure.
“I thought you weren’t jealous of A-Xuan? What with the two of you teaming up to bully me and all?” he asks, grinning.
Lan Zhan merely glowers.
Wei Wuxian laughs again, and Lan Zhan’s face softens as he does. “Don’t worry Lan Zhan, as far as I'm concerned, you’re already a better husband than he was.” He pats his husband’s shoulder. “For one, I actually wanted to marry you.”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan says, his tone low and warning in an unfairly attractive manner as he reaches up to grab Wei Wuxian’s wrist. “What did I tell you?”
“Jealous, er-gege? If you don’t want me to talk about A-Xuan, why don’t you give me a reason to stop?”
Lan Zhan takes it upon himself to do exactly that, with much enthusiasm.
Two days after they arrive at Cloud Recesses, Wei Wuxian tells Lan Zhan about his golden core. It is a terribly difficult conversation to have. There are times when Wei Wuxian nearly backs out of it, and Lan Zhan’s piercing, earnest gaze is the only thing that keeps him going. There are tears from both of them afterwards, and Lan Zhan holds him tightly and refuses to let him go. He doesn’t complain, he needs it as much as Lan Zhan does. They go to bed like that, dried tear tracks on both their faces, wrapped tightly around one another and never wanting to let go.
The next morning, Wei Wuxian allows Lan Zhan to pamper him. It feels nice to be cared for, and it offers Lan Zhan some peace of mind too. After they have finished their breakfast— in silence, because Wei Wuxian cannot bring himself to disturb the fragility of the day— Lan Zhan sets the dishes aside before meeting Wei Wuxian’s gaze head on.
“What do you wish to do?” he asks. When Wei Wuxian looks confused, he clarifies, “About your golden core.”
“Ah,” Wei Wuxian sighs. “I don’t really have a choice, do I? No one has ever re-formed a golden core after losing it. It’s impossible.”
Lan Zhan raises an eyebrow. “Transfering a golden core is also impossible. Leaving the Burial Mounds is also impossible.”
Wei Wuxian’s responding laugh is more brittle than he intends it to be. “I suppose that’s true.” he stretches his arms over his head, then slumps in place. “I don’t know what I want to do,” he admits. “Part of me wants to try, but I don’t want to get my hopes up. And now that you know…” he hesitates for long enough that Lan Zhan reaches over and holds his hand. “I don’t want to disappoint you.”
Lan Zhan squeezes his wrist. “I could never be disappointed by you,” he says.
“Even if I never manage to form a golden core again? Even if I am forever core-less and mediocre? Even if I am never your equal again?”
“Wei Ying is still my equal,” Lan Zhan replies, lifting his hand and gently kissing the inside of Wei Wuxian’s wrist. “But even if you were not, I would not be disappointed.”
Wei Wuxian sighs softly. “Either way, Lan Zhan… you know I won’t stop demonic cultivation don’t you? It’s part of who I am now, and there is still so much I need to work out. I can’t stop.”
He has made this clear even before, but he does not want to give Lan Zhan a false impression, doesn’t want him to think that if he does manage to form a golden core again, he will put aside his flute and only use his sword. He might use it less, maybe, but he will not stop completely. This is his path now— he has created it, and he needs to ensure that if anyone ever follows in his footsteps, they will do so safely. Even if he refuses to teach it, he is not arrogant enough to believe that no one else will ever learn by themselves, and he would prefer it if someone did not hurt themselves or others by making mistakes he can guide them away from.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Zhan replies evenly, “As long as you promise to seek my help if you have need of it, I have no complaints about your cultivation.”
Wei Wuxian’s eyes widen. To know in his own mind that Lan Zhan accepted his cultivation method is one thing. To hear him declare it is another thing altogether. “Really? You won’t even tell me it’s bad for my temperament? Or my heart?”
Lan Zhan closes his eyes momentarily, then meets Wei Wuxian’s gaze again. “Wei Ying’s heart is still unchanged. My worries have proven to be unfounded so far. Perhaps I misattributed the changes in your temperament.”
“More than anything, I trust you, Wei Ying,” he adds.
“I will try to be worthy of those words, Lan Zhan.”
Lan Zhan smiles, the smile only Wei Wuxian gets to see. “Wei Ying is always worthy of them,” he says. “And Wei Ying will always have my support, for any course of action.”
Three days later, they talk to Wen Qing about the possibility of him forming a new core. Wei Wuxian sees the benefits of it, now that he has allowed himself to contemplate the possibility instead of thinking of it as a foregone conclusion. The lack of a golden core makes him more vulnerable to illness and injury and Wei Wuxian does have a tendency to get injured pretty frequently. He thinks it is prudent in other ways too— in some more years, he will start to get wrinkles and in a few years after that, his hair will start greying, and then there will be no way to hide the loss of a golden core. If he intends to keep the secret from everyone, he needs to find some way of not aging so quickly, and if it would be possible, forming a new core would be helpful indeed. He is certain he could devise a way to do it with demonic cultivation, but that would take time to devise— perhaps longer than he has before the changes become noticeable.
(He thinks of Lan Zhan too, Lan Zhan who has a strong core, Lan Zhan who will outlive him if things stay as they are, and Wei Wuxian will spare him any heartbreak he possibly can. The possibility of death doesn’t scare Wei Wuxian— hasn’t scared him in a long time when there are so many worse things in the world— but the thought of leaving Lan Zhan to mourn for him is not one he enjoys.)
Wen Qing is skeptical, but admits that it could be possible— after all, Wei Wuxian doesn’t have any of the damage to his meridians that Wen Zhuliu’s victims do. His core was extracted with care, not ripped out. There was a possibility, slim as it may be, that he could form a core again. The three of them decide to research it and try various tactics, explore their possibilities. Wen Qing assigns him meditation, procures obscure scrolls that detail adjacent techniques that are meant to stimulate the process, and even restructures his meals to include the foods that are usually part of the diet of children who are beginning to form their cores. Wei Wuxian had found that he doesn’t precisely remember how he formed a core in the first place, but the muscle memory remains, and that, combined with a better knowledge of the theory and Wen Qing and Lan Zhan’s freely offered guidance— not that he requires too much of it— helps him create a schedule for himself, tailored specifically to his own requirements in a way he had lacked the knowledge to do as a child.
After a good four months of hardly any progress— Wei Wuxian is better able to sense spiritual energy, but he is still unable to form a core— Lan Zhan suggests asking his uncle for help. Lan Qiren is highly knowledgeable on such matters, but Wei Wuxian is reluctant to share his secret with another person. It takes a lot of convincing, a lot of assurances that Lan Qiren would not tell anyone to convince Wei Wuxian. He doesn’t like the idea— too many people already know his secret— but Lan Zhan and Wen Qing both think it has merit, and if there are two people in the world who have proven worthy of Wei Wuxian’s trust, it is the two of them. He agrees, even if reluctantly.
When he first reveals that he has no golden core, Lan Qiren makes the assumption that he had lost it due to his experimentation with demonic cultivation, and berates him for it. Wei Wuxian is prepared to go through with this belief, to allow him to continue thinking that, if it means he will not have to reveal his secret to another person. He stands silently as he is scolded, as he is told that there is a price to pay for demonic cultivation, that this is why his path is evil, because it takes from people more than what they wish to give.
This lecture is stopped by Lan Zhan and Wen Qing’s interference, both glaring at him for allowing this false belief to be propagated. Tell him, or we will, their expressions said, and if Wei Wuxian hadn’t been in such a situation, he would have found great humor in it. Be as it is, Wei Wuxian only gulps and does as he is told. Wen Qing is truly the most terrifying person he has ever met, and Lan Zhan’s disappointment is a heartbreaking thing, and both of them clearly disapprove. Wen Qing had not explained her reasons for doing so, but Lan Zhan had said it hurt him to hear of Wei Wuxian talked about as though he was arrogant and foolhardy on the basis of what has been his most selfless act.
And so, Wei Wuxian does tell the truth. Lan Qiren is shocked speechless when he hears it. He almost doesn’t believe Wei Wuxian, only to do so when Wen Qing assures him that it is true. He protests for a few moments about how it is impossible to do such a thing, only admitting otherwise when Wen Qing shows him her theories. They do not tell him the details— the time it had taken, the pain, the chances— but he is shocked, nonetheless.
(Later, much later, when things are less fraught, he tells Wei Wuxian that it wasnt that he had disbelieved Wei Wuxian in particular, or because of who he was. It is only that he finds it shocking that anyone would make such a sacrifice, that anyone would give up something as important and precious as a golden core.
To him, it is an unthinkable act of sacrifice, one that is not made easily— but all Wei Wuxian knew was that it had needed to be done. No one would think to do it even if they knew it was possible— which was why no one had suspected anything like it. Wei Wuxian understands, knows it is hard to believe at first, for everyone except Lan Zhan who had known that he was telling the truth just like he had known that Wei Wuxian had tried to lie and say it hadn’t been very painful.)
Lan Qiren does soften towards Wei Wuxian substantially after that, which Wei Wuxian is immensely grateful for, if a little confused by. He knows Lan Zhan greatly values his uncle’s opinion, and having his uncle intensely dislike his husband couldn’t be easy for him. Even still, it is incredibly hard to get used to Lan Qiren actually engaging him in conversation instead of glaring every time Wei Wuxian so much as opened his mouth, or brusquely telling him to get more sleep when he turns up to one of their meetings with circles under his eyes. He still complains about Wei Wuxian’s habits, still glares at him for breaking a rule or two, but underneath the bitterness, Wei Wuxian thinks that if he squints hard enough, he can see the slightest hints of something greater than just acknowledgement. It does make him a bit self-conscious though, when he catches Lan Qiren looking at him sometimes, with an expression of grudging respect.
The four of them spend quite some time together, looking through old Lan scrolls and records for even more obscure techniques that haven’t been tried yet. They continue the old routine, but add suggestions that might work, vary it now and then. They even try energy transfers from a number of donors, but find that Wei Wuxian is unable to retain the energy long enough for it to take any effect. Wei Wuxian does everything he can without a single complaint. He spends most of the time carefully not getting his hopes up. Nobody has ever reformed a golden core, not after losing their own, even if it had been removed carefully and not melted. Even if it was possible to reform one, nobody had ever done it at an age as old as Wei Wuxian currently was. He did attempt the impossible, but this might be a bit too much, even for him.
After a few more months of being unable to proceed past the elementary stages no matter how hard he tries, Wei Wuxian decides to take a new approach. Not wanting to leave everything up to the slim possibility that he might be able to progress further, he begins looking into the possibility of using demonic cultivation to slow down the aging process, to heal. This is even more slow-going— he has no frame of reference, no previous methods or experience to fall back on, just sheer unbridled optimism, and his natural refusal to accept defeat. Any reference there is to such a thing comes from the invulnerability of ghosts nor fierce corpses, but they are both undead, and the change in state or lack thereof is more likely to be attributed to death than resentful energy, but he keeps digging anyway, keeps trying to figure things out. If he ever gave up on a goal, he wouldn’t be Wei Wuxian after all. He will do this. He refuses to fail.
One unremarkable day in the dead of winter, Wei Wuxian wakes in the warmth of his husband’s embrace— his husband, who has been by his side for close to a year now— and asks, idly wondering more than seeking reassurance, “What if it never happens? What if I never form another core? Are you sure you’ll never be disappointed? What if I can’t do it with demonic cultivation either?”
Lan Zhan only smiles at him, pulls him closer. “Wei Ying is Wei Ying. No matter what.”
“But you still think I can do it? One way or the other?”
Lan Zhan’s voice is barely above a whisper, right in Wei Wuxian’s ear, “I have every faith in you, Wei Ying. Do not doubt yourself.”
Wei Wuxian thinks that if Lan Zhan is, in fact, right, he will never live it down for all of eternity. He can tell that if he does succeed, Lan Zhan, would be too dignified to look triumphant, but he would give Wei Wuxian a pointed look every time he deems it necessary. Wei Wuxian would grumble every time, but he would secretly like it. He only hopes that Lan Zhan’s belief is not unfounded.
(He finds out, not much longer after that, that it is not unfounded in the slightest.)
Three Years Later:
Wei Wuxian slips his hand into Lan Zhan’s as he catches up to him, smiling slightly when Lan Zhan easily intertwines their fingers together. Lan Zhan is a private person, but when it comes to reciprocating Wei Wuxian’s little gestures of affection, he never hesitates, no matter who he is with. Even now, when they are climbing the steps of Koi Tower, he does not hesitate to use their joined hands to pull Wei Wuxian closer. He squeezes his fingers around Wei Wuxians gently in greeting.
“Oh, what’s this, Lan Zhan? Do you perhaps want to hear what I learnt from that long conversation?” Wei Wuxian asks, smiling teasingly up at his husband even as he is tugged closer.
“Gossip is forbidden,” Lan Zhan replies primly. He takes great pleasure in reminding Wei Wuxian of the rules, even though he has shown a willingness to break them— the small ones, at least— when his husband is involved.
“Lan Zhaaan,” Wei Wuxian pouts. “We’re not in the Cloud Recesses anymore. And it wasn’t gossip. Think of it as… information gathering!”
Lan Zhan huffs in amusement but doesn’t argue again, so Wei Wuxian takes that as tacit permission to continue.
“You remember the last time you represented Gusu Lan at Koi Tower? When Xichen-ge couldn’t?”
“And you remember how you and Jin Zixuan had a disagreement about the tea shipments?”
Lan Zhan nods.
“Apparently, it wasn’t really about tea.”
“No?” Lan Zhan’s eyes when he turns to face Wei Wuxian are fond, and his eyebrow is raised slightly in a faux inquisitive manner— a teasing expression that is only recognizable to Wei Wuxian, Lan Xichen, and very recently, A-Yuan.
“Oh no, it was actually about me! See, when Jin Zixuan said that there was greater demand for the blend in Lanling, what he was really saying was that he missed me and couldn’t live without me. And when you replied that the tea grew better in Gusu, you were really saying that you took better care of me than he did!”
“How interesting,” Lan Zhan’s voice is low and amused.
“Oh and that isn’t even getting to the other rumours Lan Zhan! Do you know people are heatedly debating whether my next husband will be Nie Huaisang or Nie Mingjue?”
Lan Zhan frowns at that. His jaw clenches slightly. “Neither of them.”
Wei Wuxian laughs. “Aiya, I won’t actually marry anyone else, but don’t you think it’s a funny rumour?”
Lan Zhan gives him an unimpressed look. “No.”
Wei Wuxian laughs again. “Ah, Lan Zhan, no need to be jealous,” he says teasingly. “Do you want to start a rumour or two with me instead?”
“Gossip is forbidden,” he repeats.
“Oh, so you don’t want to hear about how you seduced me away from my husband, and shijie had to heal his poor, broken heart?”
Lan Zhan sighs.
“That one’s almost true! Well, if you disregard the broken heart part. And the seduction part.”
“Mn, I did nothing untoward while Wei Ying was still married.”
“Nothing untow— Lan Zhan! Do you not remember shamelessly flirting with me and sending my heart aflutter? How could you forget that, er-gege?”
“That was not flirting,” Lan Zhan replies, but his eyes twinkle with mischief, in the way no one believes when Wei Wuxian tells them about it.
“No? What would you call it then, hmmm?”
Lan Zhan turns towards him properly, tucks a loose strand of Wei Wuxian’s hair behind his ear with his free hand, then leans in slightly. “Honesty,” he says.
A corner of his mouth twitches up into a self-satisfied smirk when Wei Wuxian squawks and nearly misses a step.
“Lan Zhan! Lan er-gege! Husband! How can you be so cruel? Do you want me to perish from your words?”
Lan Zhan merely looks amused. “Wei Ying has had years to get used to my words,” he says.
“And yet, your words nearly caused me to topple down these stairs! Take responsibility!”
Lan Zhan sighs fondly, then lightly rests his hand on the small of Wei Wuxian’s back, gently guiding him. “It would be my pleasure to take responsibility for my husband,” he says, easily supporting Wei Wuxian when he nearly misses a step again.
“A-Xian!” his shijie calls excitedly as soon as she sees them. “Come, come, meet your nephew!”
His breath hitches a little bit at that, at the word ‘nephew’, but he doesn’t let it show, eagerly approaching his shijie instead. He takes in her appearance— she looks tired, but happy, almost glowing with it. In her arms, she holds a little bundle swaddled in golden cloth.
“Second Young Master Lan,” she greets as soon as Lan Zhan is within her earshot. “We are so glad to have you here. Come, meet A-Ling. A-Xuan will be here soon, he was just called away by Sect Leader Ouyang.” Only the tightness in her voice reveals her disapproval at the idea that someone might use a celebration for her son to discuss politics.
“Madam Jin,” Lan Zhan greets, bowing as shijie smiles at him.
“Shijie!” Wei Wuxian cries happily, in complete opposition to the dignified, polite greeting the two of them have just exchanged. “It’s so good to see you! I missed you!”
She laughs warmly. “I missed you too, A-Xian,” she replies. “Do you want to hold A-Ling?”
Wei Wuxian nods eagerly, and before he knows it, his hands are full of a sleeping baby. His heart fills with warmth at the sight of little Jin Ling, his tiny fist curled over the edge of his blanket. He knows immediately that he would do anything for this child. Jin Ling squirms a little bit, but settles comfortably in Wei Wuxian’s arms, sighing contentedly in his sleep.
“Oh, he’s a beautiful baby, shijie,” Wei Wuxian says. “Should I assume he takes after you?”
“A-Xian!” she laughs, “I actually think he resembles A-Xuan very much.”
In all honesty, she is right. Jin Ling looks quite similar to Jin Zixuan. Those Jin features are very strong— there is a reason Jin Zixuan, Jin Guangyao, and Mo Xuanyu resemble each other quite a bit. Still, he has to oppose that statement, even if purely on principle. Before he can say anything though, a tiny smile appears on Jin Ling’s face.
“Oh look, Lan Zhan, he’s smiling!” Wei Wuxian whispers, his voice filled with delight. He turns to see Lan Zhan looking at him with his eyes full of love, and can’t help but smile in return. “Shijie,” he continues, still whispering so as to not wake his nephew— his nephew!— “We brought A-Ling a gift. Lan Zhan has it.”
Lan Zhan dutifully presents the box to his shijie, watching as she opens it to reveal the bracelet.
“It’ll protect him from ghosts, evil spirits, fierce corpses, anything that might harm him,” Wei Wuxian says. “And it’ll grow with him, so it will help him when he’s older and going out on night hunts.”
“Wei Ying made it himself,” Lan Zhan adds, the pride in his voice unmistakable.
“Oh, A-Xian,” shijie sighs with a delighted smile. “Thank you! It is a very valuable gift. I’m sure A-Ling will treasure it.”
“He definitely will,” a familiar voice comes from behind them, and Wei Wuxian turns to see Jin Zixuan approaching from behind him.
Wei Wuxian raises an eyebrow, schooling his face to look as impassive as possible. “Peacock,” he nods.
Jin Zixuan sighs. “Wei Wuxian,” he returns.
The two of them stay staring at each other for a moment, before promptly breaking into simultaneous wide grins.
“Look at you! You’re a father now!” Wei Wuxian says, still whispering in concern for the baby in his arms.
“I’d say the same to you, but you practically adopted A-Yuan before he even left Koi Tower,” Jin Zixuan says, before turning to greet Lan Zhan. “Second Young Master Lan,” he bows.
“Sect Leader Jin.”
At that very moment, Jin Ling decides to open his eyes. For an instant, he stiffens, and Wei Wuxian stiffens with him, terrified that upon realizing that he is not in the arms of either parent, Jin Ling will begin to cry, but Jin Ling merely relaxes before reaching to grab at a strand of hair that had fallen forward onto Wei Wuxian’s shoulder. He clenches his fist, Wei Wuxian’s hair held in his tiny palm, but he doesn’t pull, just stares at his hand in abject curiosity.
“Hello, A-Ling,” he says softly, his voice thick with emotion. “I’m your da-jiu.”
Jin Ling continues his exploration, his adorably chubby fingers clutching the hair tightly. Then, he turns his gaze back to Wei Wuxian’s face, seemingly scrutinizes him for a second, then smiles.
“Oh look at that, a waking smile!” Wei Wuxian crows in a whisper. “I’m clearly on my way to becoming his favourite uncle! Isn’t that right, A-Ling?” he coos at the baby who lets out a little yawn.
“I’m pretty sure A-Yao will fight you for that privilege,” Jin Zixuan says, a smile on his own face from watching his son, as Jin Ling closes his eyes once again. Apparently, he had decided that he had stayed awake long enough. He settles and goes right back to sleep.
“Ouch, tough competition indeed!” Wei Wuxian agrees as he rocks his nephew gently from side to side. From shijie’s letters, it seems as though Jin Guangyao is very good with A-Ling. “It isn’t fair though,” Wei Wuxian complains. “He has the advantage of permanently living in the same place as A-Ling!”
Jin Zixuan snorts. “That doesn’t stop me from being A-Yuan’s favourite, does it?”
Wei Wuxian scoffs. “Please, A-Yuan’s favourite uncle is either Zewu-jun or Wen Ning, depending on the day. Peacock-shushu is firmly in third place.”
“I can’t believe you make him call me that,” Jin Zixuan sighs.
“I know, I know,” Wei Wuxian replies in fake commiseration. “We’ve been trying to get him to switch to ‘Peacock-gufu’, but he doesn’t see why he should call you something different just because you got married. Kids, you know?” he shrugs his shoulders, carefully not jostling the sleeping Jin Ling as he does so.
Jin Zixuan rolls his eyes, but his lip twitches a little. “That’s not what I was talking about and you know it,” he says.
“No? What else could you possibly have been talking about?”
Jin Zixuan huffs and turns his face away, trying to hide how close he is to laughing, but Wei Wuxian sees it anyway. Jin Ling starts fussing a little, and making grabbing gestures towards his mother even with his eyes closed, so Wei Wuxian grants Jin Zixuan the dignity of being able to laugh in private as he returns Jin Ling to his mother’s arms as she talks to Lan Zhan.
“I don’t make him do anything, A-Xuan,” he says when he returns. “He chose himself to call you that! Who am I to deny my son?”
“And who could he have possibly learnt that from?”
“Mmm, that is a good question. I have no clue. Lan Zhan,” he calls, just loud enough to be heard, “You wouldn’t happen to know how A-Yuan learnt to call Jin Zixuan his ‘Peacock-shushu’, would you?”
Lan Zhan looks over at him from where he has been conversing with his shijie, a fondly exasperated look on his face. Then, he says in an even tone, “I do not.”
Wei Wuxian smiles in victory. Jin Zixuan’s mouth drops open. Lan Zhan goes back to conversing with shijie, who is remarkably unphased by this, even as she rocks a sleeping baby.
“You— you— you have Hanguang-jun lying for you now?” Jin Zixuan splutters.
“Now, now, peacock, you know Hanguang-jun is an upstanding man who never lies. Clearly, he must be telling you the truth.”
“I think it’s been well established that he would do anything for you,” Jin Zixuan replies, rolling his eyes. “Including, apparently lie for you.”
“What can I say, I’m a lucky man,” Wei Wuxian says. “My husband is so devoted to me. Truly the best husband in the world.” Then, with a pointed look, because he just can’t resist the chance, he adds, “Definitely the best husband I’ve ever had.”
Jin Zixuan snorts at the obvious provocation, but doesn’t respond.
“Do you know,” Wei Wuxian continues, “Lan Zhan bought me this very set of robes I’m currently wearing?” They’re nice robes too. His usual reds and blacks and greys, but the material is fine and comfortable, the embroidery is clearly expensive. They look very much like the robes he has worn ever since the Burial Mounds, but there is no mistaking the quality of these ones.
“I’m pretty sure I bought you robes too,” Jin Zixuan points out. He’s not wrong either. Wei Wuxian had refused to give any gifts from Lanling Jin any consideration, but there were definitely robes.
“But did you pick them out yourself?” he asks instead. “Did you spend time agonizing over whether I would like the pattern or if the cut would suit me? Did you look at me and feel the overwhelming need to buy me something that would complement my beauty?”
“And you call me spoilt?” Jin Zixuan’s voice is incredulous.
“Spoiling a child and spoiling your spouse are very different things, A-Xuan,” Wei Wuxian says in a sage whisper. “Children need to be taught limits, otherwise they’ll grow up to be entitled and they won’t know the value of money. Adults have already learnt that, so it’s different.” Then he considers, remembering how gaudy and gold everything in Koi Tower used to be, how it is less gaudy now, but there is still an abundance of gold. "Well, most adults have, anyway."
“Oh?” Jin Zixuan says, now clearly amused. “Are you teaching me what you’ve learnt from your parenting experience now?”
“Of course! I’ve been a father for almost five years now, so listen to my wisdom,” he replies. “See, if you buy A-Ling ten ponies because he asked for one, he will grow up to be entitled. If you buy shijie ten ponies, she will be flattered. And then she will possibly demand to manage your finances because you clearly can’t do it on your own.”
“Why do I get the feeling somehow that you’ll be the one buying A-Ling ten ponies?”
“I’m sure that won't be true, but even if it is, I'm his uncle, not his father, it’s expected for me to spoil him. The discipline is your job!”
“Really?” Jin Zixuan raises an eyebrow.
“Really! Do you want your son to be a teenager who acts like he owns the world?” It’s not easy to say no to your child. He knows, because saying no to A-Yuan breaks his heart, and he is constantly amazed by the fact that he has to be the strict one because Lan Zhan is so indulgent. “Don't get me wrong, I won't be spoiling A-Ling excessively, but he does have many, many uncles. Who's to say one of them wouldn't spoil him?”
As he looks over, he sees shijie pass Jin Ling to Lan Zhan who cradles him gently and easily shifts his hands to hold him securely. He feels his heart stutter at the sight of Lan Zhan holding a baby. It is too adorable for him to bear, and suddenly, every time he had seen Lan Zhan with a child in the past floods his mind as an idea that has been ruminating in the back of his mind takes a more solid shape. He wonders how much of his adoration shows on his face.
Clearly, something must have shown, because Jin Zixuan lowers his voice, his tone suddenly becoming incredibly sincere. “You’re… you’re happy, though?” he asks.
Wei Wuxian tears his eyes away from Lan Zhan to smile at him, equally sincere. “I am,” he admits. “I am so happy. He makes me happy.”
“Good,” Jin Zixuan says firmly. “That’s… that’s good.”
“Are you?” Wei Wuxian asks in return. “Happy, that is?”
When he smiles in response, his face practically glows. “I didn’t realize it was possible to be this happy,” he says. “A-Li is perfect. She’s so amazing.”
“I’m glad you came to see that,” Wei Wuxian says. A younger him would have said took you long enough, but he can’t quite bring himself to be that harsh.
“If…” Jin Zixuan says hesitantly. “If you ever aren’t happy though, you know that you can talk to me too, don’t you? Not just A-Li, I’m here for you too.”
Wei Wuxian smiles softly at him, warmth unfurling in his chest. “I know, A-Xuan,” he says, “And I’m here for you too.” He clears his throat. “Now let’s go, I want to hold my nephew again.”
Wei Wuxian is making his way through Koi Tower, once again with his husband by his side, only his husband this time is Lan Zhan, and he cannot stop himself from smiling when he thinks that. Gone are the days when he was wishing for just one more glimpse of Lan Zhan’s face, when he was wishing for just a few more undisturbed moments. Lan Zhan is his now, for all of eternity. He will never let him go.
Even now, Lan Zhan listens attentively as he talks, as he tells a story about Mo Xuanyu. His lack of response might make another person wonder if he is listening at all, but Wei Wuxian can tell, by the look on his face, by the occasional hums, by his knowledge of Lan Zhan, that he is listening to every word.
“And this is where he—” he cuts himself off as they turn around a corner and come face to face with Jiang Cheng. The smile slips off his face as he feels the tension in the air.
Lan Zhan stiffens immediately, the previously indulgent, fond expression on his face melting into a wary vigilance. He shifts slightly— it is imperceptible, but he is between Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng. Thankfully, Jiang Cheng doesn’t notice this.
“Wei Wuxian,” Jiang Cheng says. He is scowling slightly, but that is a common expression for him. Or perhaps, it is only a common expression when it is directed at Wei Wuxian.
“Jiang Cheng,” he replies in a subdued voice.
Jiang Cheng’s gaze shifts to Lan Zhan. “Second Young Master Lan,” he sneers.
Lan Zhan’s voice is frosty when he replies, “Jiang Wanyin.”
They had had a… Wei Wuxian was loath to call it an argument— a disagreement, perhaps— when they had last met. When Wei Wuxian and Lan Zhan had gone to inform Jiang Cheng of their intention to marry, Jiang Cheng had quickly snapped, “So you’re leaving again?”
It had taken effort for Wei Wuxian to bite back the immediate retort that Jiang Cheng had been the one to marry him off in the first place, and that he really shouldn’t act like Wei Wuxian asked for that, but he had stayed silent, not wanting to start a fight. Lan Zhan, on the other hand, had no such compunctions, and wasted no time in making it evident.
Many things had been said during the ensuing… disagreement, and the reason Jiang Cheng was angry came out fairly quickly. His problem wasn’t with Wei Wuxian marrying out— which Wei Wuxian would have understood, it would have been a concern he could have assuaged, if Jiang Cheng had simply not wanted to lose him— but that wasn’t what Jiang Cheng had been mad about. No, he seemed to be specifically angry that it was Lan Zhan he was marrying. And that was the one thing Wei Wuxian would not compromise on.
It had lasted until Jiang Cheng had snapped something unbelievably cruel at Lan Zhan and Wei Wuxian had stepped in and defended him, made it clear that he had married once at Jiang Cheng’s behest, that he would not forsake his happiness and more importantly, Lan Zhan’s happiness again.
It had been the last time he had talked to Jiang Cheng in person.
He had updates from shijie’s letters, of course, an occasional mention of Jiang Cheng was in them. He had no doubt Jiang Cheng was also receiving letters with mentions of Wei Wuxian in them. They just… weren't talking to each other. Wei Wuxian was still annoyed that Jiang Cheng, who’d had no problems marrying off to Jin Zixuan— a marriage that was meant to be permanent and only wasn’t because the Jin sect’s treatment of the Wen prisoners came to light— somehow only now had a problem with Wei Wuxian marrying out. He had already married for the sect once; he deserved to marry for love and happiness. Until Jiang Cheng acknowledged that, acknowledged that Wei Wuxian would have been gone from Yunmeng Jiang anyway, and that the only difference between his two marriages was that he had actually asked for this one, things were going to be strained between them.
Including currently, as they stand across from each other, Lan Zhan and Jiang Cheng caught in a heated staring match, with Wei Wuxian in the middle, not knowing what to do without angering Jiang Cheng.
There is no understating the feeling of relief that envelops him when Mo Xuanyu appears from somewhere, his face brightening as he sees Wei Wuxian. He hurries towards them quickly, followed by Jin Guangyao.
“Shifu, you’re here!” Mo Xuanyu exclaims, before hurriedly sketching a bow. “Hanguang-jun, Sect Leader Jiang” he greets, nervously. Despite making regular journeys to Cloud Recesses, Mo Xuanyu has continued to be incredibly intimidated by Lan Zhan, even when Wei Wuxian assures him that Lan Zhan is not scary in the slightest. Jiang Cheng’s scowl probably isn’t helping his nerves either.
“Mo Xuanyu,” Lan Zhan acknowledges, his gaze softening, though Wei Wuxian can’t tell if Mo Xuanyu sees the difference or not. His husband is a hard man to read, after all.
Jiang Cheng on the other hand, merely nods irritably. His angry gaze stays fixed on Lan Zhan, even when Jin Guangyao addresses him.
“Sect Leader Jiang,” he says politely, “Your sister asked me to bring you to her. Please follow me.”
When Jiang Cheng follows him, only sparing a single dark glare for him and Lan Zhan, Wei Wuxian nearly sighs in relief. Not having to argue is… he is thankful for it. It is almost a step forward for them, or at least, it isn't a step backwards.
“A-Yu, it’s good to see you,” Wei Wuxian says, turning to his student. “Have you been working on that idea of yours?”
Mo Xuanyu nods eagerly. “I have questions, Shifu,” he says.
Wei Wuxian lets out a cheerful laugh. “Ah, don’t worry! I’ll be here for a few more days, I’ll answer them all. But,” he lowers his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, “You don’t mind if I spend the rest of today showing my husband around, do you?”
Mo Xuanyu agrees easily. “We can meet tomorrow?” he suggests instead.
“I will see you at wu shi,” Wei Wuxian agrees.
When Mo Xuanyu is gone, leaving them behind, Wei Wuxian turns to Lan Zhan who has a complicated expression on his face. “Lan Zhan?” he calls.
Immediately, the look vanishes as Lan Zhan turns to him again. “Wei Ying,” he answers.
“Are you alright?” he asks tentatively.
Lan Zhan pauses to scrutinize his face, and whatever he sees must mean something to him, because he nods once, firmly. “There is no cause for worry,” he replies. “I am alright now.”
The next morning sees them sitting by the lotus pond that Jin Zixuan had built for his shijie as a courting gift. It is early enough in the morning that no one will disturb them. Cloud Recesses becomes a hub of activity— if very quiet, peaceful activity— in the early hours of the day, but Koi Tower is very much the opposite of that. There was a banquet last night, so it is especially an assurance that no one will wake early enough to see them here. It is only Lan Zhan’s inability to sleep in and Wei Wuxian’s inability to sleep well without his husband that has them here.
He is resting his head in Lan Zhan’s lap as he absently plays with the outer layer of Lan Zhan’s robe where it drapes on the ground next to them. His husband is staring into the distance, watching the sun make its way up the sky, watching as it paints the sky in riotous colours. His face is as beautiful as a jade statue, but it is not cold— never cold. Lan Zhan is many things, but to Wei Wuxian, he will never be cold and unreachable. Not anymore.
“We should bring A-Yuan next time,” Wei Wuxian says. They had been wary of bringing him to such a high profile event, not knowing if someone might say or do something about his Wen heritage, not knowing if A-Yuan would have painful memories of Koi Tower or of being around the Jin sect. Still, he should probably meet his cousin at some point. As a sect leader and his wife, Jin Zixuan and shijie would not be able to leave long enough to visit them at Cloud Recesses.
“Mn,” Lan Zhan agrees.
“Lan Zhan,” he says, considering something that has been in the back of his mind for some time now.
Lan Zhan makes an inquisitive noise.
“I just… you know, when I saw you holding A-Ling yesterday, I thought…”
“You thought?” Lan Zhan prompts.
“Do you want to have more kids?” he blurts out. Then immediately sits up to look at Lan Zhan properly. “I’m not just saying this because I saw A-Ling,” he assures his husband. “I actually think about it quite frequently. It’s just fresh in my mind now, that’s all.”
“I have also thought about it many times,” Lan Zhan says, looking fondly at Wei Wuxian. “Wei Ying is very good with the younger disciples.”
“Oh,” he says, and something slots into place in his heart. “So you would want that too?”
“So should we ask how A-Yuan feels about a sibling when we get back?”
Wei Wuxian feels a slow smile spread across his face at that. Quickly, he darts forward and presses his lips to Lan Zhan’s soft cheek.
“Ah, we’re truly meant for each other, aren’t we Lan Zhan?”
“Mn,” his husband replies, before pulling him closer to kiss him properly with a firm hand at the back of his neck.
They trade lazy kisses for a while as the sun rises, and Wei Wuxian feels something warm and content uncoiling in his chest. He looks at Lan Zhan with hazy eyes, then moves around until he can rest his head on Lan Zhan’s shoulder at a comfortable angle. It had taken them a while to work it out, a few tries before they could fit together like that without their heads crashing together or Wei Wuxian’s neck cramping from tilting his head too far downwards, but now that they have learnt each other’s bodies so well, they fit like they were made for each other.
Just as Wei Wuxian gets comfortable, the sun shifts in the sky and the harsh sunlight glares into his eyes. He shuts one eye to escape it, but frowns when he still feels the uncomfortable heat on his face.
“Lan Zhan,” he whines dramatically, “The way the sunlight reflects off of the pond is so pretty and I want to sit and watch it, but the sun seems to be plotting to make that impossible.” He pouts, discontentedly, expecting Lan Zhan to huff in amusement as he does, perhaps even say that the sun does no such thing.
Instead, Lan Zhan moves his arm slightly— the one Wei Wuxian isn’t leaning on— and positions it so that the drape of his sleeve shields Wei Wuxian from the sun. He doesn’t quite smile but his eyes are soft, and Wei Wuxian feels warm again, but this time, it is a welcoming warmth.
“Wei Ying,” he says, and his voice makes the name sound like it is something precious, “We can stay for as long as you want.”
I really started this fic off thinking it was going to be a 20k word two-shot and then it spiraled to thrice that length, which really says something about me, but I don't know exactly what. Thanks for reading!