This couldn’t go on any longer.
Enough is enough!
Jiang Cheng thought as he waited for Wei Wuxian to appear. He’d been waiting for quite some time too. It was well past midnight and Wei Wuxian still hadn’t come home. Who knew when he would stumble his way inside? Jiang Cheng didn’t even bother scolding him anymore. If Wei Wuxian had any shame whatsoever, he would have changed after all the fights they’ve already had over this issue. Life should have been easy since the war was over, he mused. But for Jiang Cheng, the heir to a once proud sect burned to ashes, it was anything but. He had hoped that with Wei Wuxian by his side, he would be able to bring back glory to Yunmeng Jiang. Turns out, Wei Wuxian had become more of a liability than the right hand Jiang Cheng wanted him to be. As of now, things stood like this:
Wei Wuxian spent all his time drinking and flirting. There were times when Jiang Cheng wouldn’t see Wei Wuxian for days on end. He carried out the bare minimum of his responsibilities and drank himself into oblivion for the rest.
For Yunmeng Jiang to rise again, they needed more disciples. It wasn’t a problem until quite some time after the war. People were intrigued enough by Wei Wuxian to want to study in Yunmeng where they could learn under the notorious cultivator as their Shixiong. But they were disillusioned soon enough. Wei Wuxian spent as little time with them as possible, spending the rest with his ghosts. The number of new disciples had slowly dwindled down to almost nothing since they weren’t getting what they hoped for—time with the fearsome Wei Wuxian of Yunmeng.
As if all this wasn’t enough, everyone and their ancestors were laughing at Jiang Cheng. It wasn’t so bad before, but Wei Wuxian’s latest stunt at Phoenix Mountain didn’t do them any favors. Jiang Cheng was quickly becoming the laughing stock of the cultivation world because of his inability to control “that wild thing.”
The last nail in the coffin was a conversation Jiang Cheng had overheard earlier that day after a meeting with the other sect leaders, to which Wei Wuxian was supposed to accompany him but hadn’t bothered to show up. As he was leaving after hours of endless political nonsense, Jiang Cheng heard the rest whispering about him. Knowing that eavesdropping was beneath him, he’d surreptitiously stopped by a pillar, listening.
“Jiang Wanyin pretends to be above the rest of us. What a joke! Did you know that they haven’t had any new disciples since the beginning of the year,” Sect Leader Yao mocked.
“How could they? Nobody wants to be around that Wei Wuxian. He reeks of demonic energy all the time. It was okay before since we were at war. Now that we have peace, he still refuses to give that up? How preposterous!” Su Minshan.
“Can you blame them? The way he trots around with that mocking smile of his and looking down at the rest of us. He truly is arrogant. If I were Jiang Wanyin, I would have put a muzzle on it sooner. He is too wild to be around cultured company now that he’s spending all his time with his precious ghosts, drinking and doing who knows what else. Truly, I don’t see why Jiang Wanyin would still put up with him. Parents are refusing to send their sons anywhere near that man, making it such that they are losing the disciples that they so desperately need. Even worse, no one other than us is willing to form an alliance with them because they don’t want to be associated with Wei Wuxian at all. Jiang Wanyin is risking his sect and his legacy by keeping him around. Wei Wuxian really is more trouble than he’s worth.” Jin Guangshan commented.
“Yunmeng Jiang used to be such a great sect. It’s rather tragic that they ended up like this. Wei Wuxian is dragging them through the mud. Jiang Wanyin won’t cast him out and Yunmeng Jiang will only continue to struggle as long as he stubbornly holds on to Wei Wuxian. It’s not even like he’s their own to stay so loyal to him.”
“True, true. Do you know what I would have done in this situation?” Sect Leader Yao piped up. “I would have married him off to become someone else’s problem. That way, I won’t lose face for expelling my head disciple and also get an alliance out of it.”
A moment of silence. Then raucous laughter followed.
“Marriage? To Wei Wuxian!!!” Jin Guangshan roared in laughter. “Who would even dare to take him on? You really are funny, Sect Leader Yao!”
“Makes sense that he would be as useless in making an alliance as he is in everything else,” Su Minshan commented darkly.
“What great misfortune indeed for Yunmeng Jiang,” Sect Leader Yao’s saccharine words rang in the chamber.
“As long as he doesn’t get rid of him? It’s only a matter of a time.” Jiang Guangshan’s ominous words were the last Jiang Cheng heard before deciding that he’d heard enough. As he fled with as much dignity as he could, he was stopped by an unexpected voice belonging to one Lan Xichen.
Jiang Cheng shrugged off the memory of that uncomfortable conversation as he heard unsteady footsteps approaching him. Just as he thought, Jiang Cheng grit his teeth.
Wei Wuxian stumbled inside, drunk off his ass. His eyes widened slightly seeing Jiang Cheng waiting for him.
“Jiang Cheng!!! Isn’t it time for your beauty sleep? What are you doing awake?” Wei Wuxian walked towards him as if to hug him but stumbled and almost fell face first before he caught himself.
“Look at you! You’re a disgrace.”
Wei Wuxian winced, but played it off.
“Disgrace? Me? Hahaha. Jiang Cheng, we both know you’re more disgraceful than me. You’re just better at playing pretend.”
Wei Wuxian’s words were meant to be a joke, but they still found their mark. Jiang Cheng clenched his fists.
“Wei Wuxian, listen carefully. I have made a decision.”
Until then, Jiang Cheng hadn’t actually made any decision at all. But so greatly angered was he by Wei Wuxian’s words that his impulse got the best of him.
“Ooohhh...so serious, Jiang Cheng.” Wei Wuxian giggled . Jiang Cheng had to restrain himself from punching him.
“Yes, it is serious.”
Seeing his expression, Wei Wuxian sobered up a little.
“Jiang Cheng? I am sorry. Whatever I said or did, I am sorry, okay? I will try better. I swear, I’ll try better.” Wei Wuxian raised two of his fingers to his heart.
Jiang Cheng wanted to shake him. Scream at him. Do something. He refrained.
“I have heard all that before Wei Wuxian,” he scoffed before continuing. “It doesn’t matter anymore. Like I said, I’ve made a decision.”
Wei Wuxian’s eyes grew suspicious, the drunk haze quickly clearing up.
“Why do you sound so ominous? Like you’re at my funeral.” Wei Wuxian gasped and dramatically clutched at his heart.
“Jiang Cheng!!! You’re not going to kill me, are you?”
Jiang Cheng looked at him in pity, then shook his head in negative. Wei Wuxian was about to exhale in relief when Jiang Cheng said,
“I’m not going to kill you, Wei Wuxian. It’s far too much a headache for me to deal with. It will break A-Jie’s heart. But, listen and listen closely,” Jiang Cheng’s voice became hard, “ you are going to marry Lan Wangji for a much needed marital alliance with Gusu Lan. This is not up for debateyou are going to do it, not a word of protest. I need this for the sect.”
Wei Wuxian’s eyes were huge by the time Jiang Cheng was done. He opened his mouth a couple of times but not a word came out.
To Lan Wangji?
Was Jiang Cheng mad?
Wei Wuxian started laughing. Jiang Cheng really had outdone himself with this prank. For a moment, Wei Wuxian’s heart had actually stopped. Wei Wuxian fell down on the floor, almost rolling in laughter. Then he noticed that Jiang Cheng was entirely too tense and rigid. The laughter died down shortly.
Wide grey eyes looked up at him, pleading with him to tell him it’s a joke. Jiang Cheng subtly shook his head.
Wei Wuxian felt faint.
To Lan Wangji of all people?
“Why?” He asked in a small voice.
“Because we need the alliance, Wei Wuxian.”
“We need one so suddenly? We didn’t need it all this time. Tell me what changed your mind? Didn’t you tell me that you wanted me by your side? Now you’re trying to marry me off for an alliance that we don’t even need?” Wei Wuxian got louder with each word.
“That right there is why I’m marrying you off, Wei Wuxian. If you actually cared one whit about this sect, paid any attention at all, you would have known how desperately we need an alliance. Do you even know how many disciples we have left, huh? The way you are now...you are a liability, Wei Wuxian. Parents refuse to send their children to us because they don’t want your influence on their kids. Even disciples who joined earlier are leaving because of you. I need to put the sect first. This is the best you can do for Yunmeng Jiang, Wei Wuxian. Don’t say no. Please.”
Wei Wuxian stared at him as though he was seeing him for the first time. Jiang Cheng hated the betrayal he saw on his face. But Yunmeng Jiang needed to flourish and as long as Wei Wuxian was with them, they wouldn’t.
“For what it’s worth, I am sorry. I didn’t want this to happen either.”
Wei Wuxian was utterly still, like he’d lost any life he’d had in him since Jiang Cheng started speaking. The eyes that, moments ago, burned with fire were now banked. Then, Wei Wuxian did the one thing Jiang Cheng expected the least.
Wei Wuxian picked himself off the floor, bowed deeply to Jiang Cheng and said with a smile so painful that Jiang Cheng wished never to see it again.
“As the Sect Leader commands, this disciple shall obey.”
Without waiting for him to respond, Wei Wuxian walked out the way he came.
Jiang Cheng didn’t stop him.
Somehow, Wei Wuxian ended up at the edge of the pier. The moon was high and bright and the lake was bathed in moonlight; soft ripples playing hide and seek in the shadows. Ever since he was a child, Wei Wuxian had always been able to find peace here. Tonight though, there was no peace to be found. The beautiful sight didn’t even register in his head.
Wei Wuxian’s knees finally collapsed and he hit the cold planks.
A liability. He is a liability.
Wei Wuxian wanted to laugh because he was pretty sure he might end up bawling otherwise.
It wasn’t even the first time he’d been called that. But what hurts most is the fact that it’s the first time Jiang Cheng had called him so. His shidi, the one who…
No. Wei Wuxian refused to think about that.
When he descended the Burial Mounds, all Wei Wuxian wanted was to get revenge for the massacre of Lotus Pier. To help and protect Jiang Cheng and his shijie. To be honest, he hadn’t ever thought that he would survive the war. He was reckless to the point of suicidal and was just an ordinary human without his core. But it hadn’t mattered at the time. All that mattered was destroying the Wens. Blood for blood. Wen Chao. Wen Zhuliu. Wang Lingjiao. Wen Ruohan.
Everyone who had a hand in the burning of Lotus Pier.
But surviving the ordeal had never been his aim. He’d hoped to die on the battlefield so that Jiang Cheng would never find out the truth. But he hadn’t died. Wei Wuxian lived and he hated that he was alive. When he was sober, every horrible memory of the things hehad to do to survive the Burial Mounds, and everything that he’d done after would remind of him how much of a monster he was. Wei Wuxian wasn’t unaware of the names the other cultivators called him.
Monstrous. Dangerous. Demon.
If they really knew all the things he’s had to do...demon didn’t even cut it.
In the deepest corners of his mind, Wei Wuxian could taste the dirty, coppery tang of blood. He dry heaves to his left.
No. Don’t think about it, he tells himself, fist clenched and eyes closed against the sensory onslaught. This was why he preferred to be drunk. Alcohol kept him trapped in its pleasant haze and Wei Wuxian didn’t have to think about or deal with the things that he’s done. Truth be told, Wei Wuxian knew, he knew that he was not fit for polite company. He was not even fit to be called human, and he hated that about himself. He didn’t deserve to be around normal, living humans. But it’s okay. Wei Wuxian is happy being drunk and spending all his time with his ghosts. They were better company for someone like him anyway.
And now he is to be married. To Lan Wangji.
Wei Wuxian wanted to scream.
Lan Wangji, who’d always been on his case about his cultivation. Lan Wangji, who’d always wanted to take him back to his sect and lock him up. Lan Wangji, the epitome of perfection. So noble, so gentlemanly that people called him Hanguang-Jun.
Lightbearer wed to a man who was barely human.
Lightbearer who’s finally managed to pull off what he’s always wanted to do. Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but wonder what Lan Wangji’s motivations are for wanting this. Going this far just to punish him? Why couldn’t he leave him alone? Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji didn’t have the best of relationships. But Wei Wuxian has always respected the man. Even when they were at oddshe still respected him. But doing something as underhanded as this, pushing for a marriage—Wei Wuxian knew it wouldn’t have occurred to Jiang Cheng on his own. Not Lan Wangji and never Gusu Lan—in such underhanded ways when they were already vulnerable and can’t refuse. How cunning!
Hanguang-Jun. Wei Wuxian sneered. How very honorable of him!
He wanted a marriage, did he?
Wei Wuxian would make sure he got one.
Decision made, Wei Wuxian pushed himself up again, dusted himself off and jumped into the freezing cold lake, robes and all.
He dove deeper into the water until he couldn't see any light anymore. Then, Wei Wuxian opened his mouth and screamed. A scream full of despair and hate. As heartbroken as it was, no one else could hear.
Above the lake, Lotus Pier slept—safe, calm, and peaceful. Inside the lake, a raging inferno burned and burned. The only outward sign of it? A pair of demon red eyes.
Far away in Cloud Recesses, Lan Wangji also stayed awake, thinking of what his brother had told him earlier.
“Wangji, there might be a way for you to help Young Master Wei,” Lan Xichen had told him. As soon as he heard the name, Lan Wangji’s whole body stilled.
A multitude of meanings in that one simple utterance.
What is it? How can I help him? Do you really think I can? Would he even let me? Tell me what I have to do. Please, Xiongzhang. Anything you want. I will do anything at all.
As always, Lan Xichen read all of them with ease. He gave him a kind smile, warm with affection and a hint of exasperation.
“I told Jiang Wanyin that Gusu Lan would like to have Wei Wuxian’s hand in marriage.”
Lan Wangji’s eyes widened.
“Yes. You wanted to bring him here to protect him, did you not? I think this is the best way to do that.”
“But Wei Ying doesn’t,” Lan Wangji swallowed the lump in his throat, “Wei Ying doesn’t like me. At all.”
“Will that make a difference, Wangji?” Lan Xichen asked with all too knowing eyes.
“No,” Lan Wangji admits quietly.
“You’re tired, Wangji. Worrying over him so much all the time. Look at you! I can’t bear to see you hurting like this. If having him safe here under our protection would give you peace of mind, then so be it.”
“He will hate this.”
“Most probably, yes. But once he’s here, maybe you can get him to accept our help?”
Lan Wangji wished that he didn’t have to do this, trap Wei Ying like this. But the alternative is to let Wei Ying succumb to the dangers of his path and that’s unacceptable to Lan Wangji. Wei Ying might hate him, but at least he would be alive to hate him. That will have to be enough. It had to be.
Lan Wangji sighed before willing his mind to rest. For some reason though, he didn’t find sleep for a long, long time.
Three months later, Wei Wuxian found himself inside Jingshi, swathed in red and a veil covering his face. He didn’t even remember how he got here. The past three months felt like a fever dream, something he couldn’t quite parse out. He vaguely remembered them taking their bows and Lan Wangji tying a Lan sect ribbon around his wrist. The tea ceremony had been quick and quiet, Lan Qiren staring at him in distaste and Lan Xichen with his ever present smile. Wei Wuxian had wanted to do something outrageous to provoke them, but held himself back. It would only reflect badly upon his sect. So he let himself be the dutiful bride and made himself serve tea perfectly. No one, not even Lan Qiren would have been able to find a single fault in how he conducted himself. Wei Wuxian tried to remember what else happened, but he simply couldn’t. Everything else was just...gone. Trying to hold on to the memories enough to examine them was like trying to grip water, impossible, always slipping through. Wei Wuxian didn’t even want to try. What did it matter the hows and whys? Now that he is here, he’ll never have his freedom again. A trophy to be locked away within the walls of this tomb. Jiang Cheng didn’t want him and Lan Wangji wanted him only to make sure that he doesn’t become a nuisance to the rest of the cultivation world. Unwanted. Useless. Restricted. Wei Wuxian inhaled deeply to settle the burning flames of his resentment.
He didn’t move at all when the door opened and Lan Wangji entered the bedchamber. Quiet footsteps approached where he sat on the bed, ready to consummate his marriage. Lan Wangji paused a few steps away from him.
There was a time when Wei Wuxian used to enjoy Lan Wangji calling his name, had provoked it out of him as much as he could. Now, it grated on his ears. They haven’t spoken to each other even once in all these months. Jiang Cheng had told him of the letters that Lan Wangji sent, but Wei Wuxian had told him to burn them. To his surprise, Jiang Cheng didn’t bother arguing.
When was the last time he spoke to Lan Wangji? Wei Wuxian couldn’t remember. Did Lan Wangji try talking to him today when he brought him to Cloud Recesses? There was such a loud silence in Wei Wuxian’s mind that it would have gone over his head even if Lan Wangji did say something. With a start, Wei Wuxian realized that he didn’t just hate this marriage, but he hated Lan Zhan , no, Lan Wangji too. Even though Wei Wuxian knew the man couldn’t stand him, he had never hated Lan Wangji before. But right now, at this moment, Wei Wuxian hated Lan Wangji with a passion that could set the entirety of Cloud Recesses on fire.
From his periphery he could see a hesitant hand approaching the veil over his head. Wei Wuxian scrambled back like it was a poisonous snake and got off the bed.
“Wei Ying, what are you doing?” Lan Wangji’s voice wasn’t cold and steady anymore. Wei Wuxian could hear the shock in those words clearly.
He didn’t say a thing as he ripped off the veil himself, untied the belt around his waist and removed his underpants. He didn’t say a thing even when he bends over the bed, his ass directed towards Lan Wangji, and gathered the skirts of his robes around his waist, presenting milky white thighs and an untouched, round ass for the taking.
Lan Wangji who’d been shocked speechless finally reacted and it’s not with hands on his hips like Wei Wuxian had expected. No, what came out of Lan Wangji was a surprised noise—something hurt and broken, like he was bleeding all over.
Just his name, but Wei Wuxian was viciously happy that he had managed to shock the man.
“What?” He asked without moving at all. “Aren’t you here to consummate the marriage? Just fuck me and get it over with, the prize you’d sought for so long. Don’t you want a piece of that, huh, Lan Zh-, Lan Wangji?”
Wei Wuxian heard the man inhale sharply.
“How does it feel Hanguang-Jun? Does it make you feel even more self righteous for the sacrifice you’ve made for the safety of the cultivation world? Binding yourself to the most wicked villain of them all, the worst kind of demon. How does it feel to know that from now on, people would be heaping even more praise on the noble Hanguang-Jun?” Wei Wuxian spat out the words with all the venom he held in his heart.
He heard Lan Wangji breathe a couple more times and waited for the verdict, for Lan Wangji to shove his cock into him as punishment for his insolent words. Wei Wuxian wanted it to hurt. He wanted that reminder to himself that the whole of his worth had been brought to this. For being a vessel to Lan Wangji’s seed, a prized dog on his leash. Something for him to fuck, something for him to play with. Wei Wuxian needed this reminder to make sure that he would never ever let his guard down around Lan Zhan again.
Lan Wangji, he scolded himself for reverting into old habits of thinking of the man by his birth name.
Wei Wuxian had never minded the intimacy of calling him by his birth name when everyone else in the cultivation world called him by his courtesy name or his title. Wei Wuxian had flaunted it in front of them that even someone as stern as Lan Wangji didn’t bother reprimand him for his insolence.
They were not the same people anymore. War had made sure of that. Wei Wuxian felt something twist inside his heart. He viciously shoved the sensation away, letting only the hatred remain.
Wei Wuxian didn’t move as Lan Wangji’s footsteps grew closer until he could feel his robes rubbing on his nude thighs as he stood behind him. Wei Wuxian controlled his panic and prepared himself for the pain.
Imagine his surprise when calloused fingers covered his hands where he was holding his robes up for Lan Wangji and removed the cloth from his clenched fists. Wei Wuxian remained speechless as Lan Wangji lowered his robes, covering him again.
“I will be in the other room,” Lan Wangji told him before walking out as graceful as ever.
It took Wei Wuxian quite some time to realize what had happened. Lan Wangji didn’t take him. Lan Wangji had walked away instead of consummating their marriage.
He distantly wondered if he’s supposed to be grateful to Lan Wangji for walking away instead of raping him. The only thing he felt was a bone deep chill. Wei Wuxian was so tired. He crawled onto the bed and curled himself into a ball.
Unwanted at Lotus Pier.
Unwanted by the cultivation world.
Now, apparently unwanted by his husband as well.
Just as well.
In the other room, Lan Wangji tried in vain to meditate. His body shook far too violently for his mind to find any semblance of peace.
Wei Ying...Wei Ying thought that he would rape him?
How could Wei Ying even believe something like that? Is that what he really thought of him? Did Wei Ying hate him so much that he believed him capable of such a heinous crime?
His heart still hasn’t calmed down, despite him trying to regulate his breathing.
More than anything, there’s something else that terrified Lan Wangji to his core.
A small, insidious voice that claimed “mine” when he saw pale thighs and muscular buttocks. Wei Ying has always been beautiful. But in the nude? He was devastating. Despite his intentions, Lan Wangji hadn’t been able to stop his cock from twitching in interest.
He was deeply ashamed of himself for that. He’s always been ashamed of this darkness inside him. An all consuming need. Lan Wangji knew that if he let it, it would devour Wei Ying, consent or no consent.
Lan Wangji closed his eyes and breathed deeply, trying to erase the image from his brain. Long legs and pretty pretty skin that would bruise so easily if his hands are even a little careless. Lan Wangji wanted to sink his teeth into that flesh, mark him, paint him in purples and blues and reds and yellows. So pretty.
He banished the images from his head and started reciting the rules of conduct.
No matter what, his need was not more important than Wei Ying’s well being. If Lan Wangji is to ever take him, it would be with Wei Ying under him, messy and crying, begging for Lan Wangji to relieve him. Nothing else would do.
Lan Wangji has been restraining himself with Wei Ying ever since he was fifteen. He would continue to do so. As long as Wei Ying was safe, nothing else mattered. That’s how it had to be. Lan Wangji really didn’t have any other choice.
He would stay away from Wei Ying and protect him as much as he can. He could do that much, at the very least.
But the pain inside his chest refused to settle. Wei Ying had corrected himself, refraining from calling him Lan Zhan. That was an unexpected blow—that small moment of hesitation before Wei Ying made himself call him by his courtesy name. Lan Wangji wondered if Wei Ying had any idea how casually he'd obliterated Lan Wangji’s heart. Lan Wangji had been ripped open by that. The void inside, pulsing with pain, pain, and more pain.
Lan Wangji had known Wei Ying would hate this. Had known it from the letters he’d written to which he never received a reply. Had known it in Wei Ying’s absolute silence. Even so, he’d hoped. For, what he didn’t know. Maybe for Wei Ying to not hate the sight of him so deeply?
“Wei Ying, do you really hate me so? Will you never let me help you? What do I have to do? What do I have to do to show you that it’s not what you think?”
Lan Wangji couldn’t find the answer.
Being married to Lan Wangji wasn’t so hard. Not much different from his life at Lotus Pier, Wei Wuxian acknowledged at last. It was rather monotonous. Wei Wuxian had been left alone mostly. He didn’t have any responsibilities and the servants were terrified of him whenever they saw him. Wei Wuxian preferred it that way actually. The less he had to interact with other humans, the better. He spent all his time inside Jingshi, reading or working. Wei Wuxian had woken up the day after their marriage to see that the room he was in had a working table in the corner and there were shelves full of talisman papers, paper, inkstones, and anything and everything he would ever need in the storage room. A perfectly functioning prison. So Wei Wuxian kept himself busy by working on his talismans and ideas.
Lan Wangji is an entirely different matter. After that first night, he scarcely saw the man again. Their vastly different sleep schedules could be one of the reasons, but Wei Wuxian can’t help but feel that Lan Wangji is doing everything in his powers to keep himself from crossing paths with Wei Wuxian. Just as well. Wei Wuxian didn’t really care. Pretending that they don't exist for each other worked fine for him. The contract was fulfilled, the merch has been traded hands. He just hoped Jiang Cheng got whatever it is that he hoped to get from this alliance. Wei Wuxian was sure that he'd told him the details before, but by then, Wei Wuxian had been at a stage where even the name of Gusu Lan would send him into a fit of madness. So he really couldn’t remember what the trade was. It wasn’t his concern anyway. He was the one dragging Yunmeng Jiang through the mud. Now that he was removed, the sect should retain its glory in time.
Wei Wuxian’s quiet, idle existence came to a screeching halt after the third day. As per tradition, him and Lan Wangji were to visit Yunmeng Jiang for lunch that afternoon. Wei Wuxian wondered how it’d feel, to go back to the sect that raised him, but this time, as a stranger. It also raised another very important question that Wei Wuxian wished to avoid.
“What do you mean we should go by boat?” Lan Wangji asked Wei Wuxian with a slight frown marring his features.
“Didn’t you hear me the first time? I said, I am travelling by boat.”
“But sword is faster,” Lan Wangji refused to relent.
“You can go by sword if you want. I am not.” Wei Wuxian said decidedly.
Lan Wangji sighed, then conceded defeat.
“As you wish.”
Wei Wuxian is petty enough to feel happy about the small victory.
It was a bit late when they docked at Yunmeng, but not very much so. The journey there had been fraught with tension. Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji hadn’t spent so long alone in each other’s company since...since when? Since the Xuanwu cave? Wei Wuxian tried to remember. They were so young back then. He wasn’t coreless back then either. A core powerful enough to kill a mythical beast. Wei Wuxian shuts down his thoughts and stares ahead. Lan Wangji was walking by his side. It was when he caught sight of Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli waiting for him that Wei Wuxian made an impulsive decision. There were so many people gathered around to see them. If they didn’t present a united front, it would be bad for Yunmeng Jiang’s reputation. So he looped his arm through Lan Wangji’s, startling him a bit, and smiled brilliantly at him.
Lan Wangji blinked. Wei Wuxian made himself laugh lightly.
“Ah, Lan Zhan, look at all these people waiting for us. Didn’t I tell you it will be fun?” He leaned his body slightly into Lan Wangji’s as he spoke, the very picture of a perfectly happy couple. Lan Wangji who’d been very stiff since the moment Wei Wuxian touched him made his muscles relax now that he was clued in to what Wei Wuxian was doing. He also selfishly liked the way Wei Ying plastered himself to his body. Wei Wuxian jumped a little as Lan Wangji’s hand settled on his lower back, but covered it easily with another coquettish laugh. Jiang Cheng regarded them suspiciously while Jiang Yanli looked a bit hopeful. Shijie has always been a romantic, Wei Wuxian thought fondly. Maybe she genuinely believed that Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian could have settled their differences in the three days since their marriage. Wei Wuxian inwardly scoffed at the ridiculousness of the idea.
Jiang Cheng hadn’t spared any expenses, Wei Wuxian realized as they were seated for lunch. The dishes were delicious and all of them were Wei Wuxian’s favorites. For Lan Wangji, they had prepared spice free food separately. Even Shijie’s Lotus Rib Soup had been made available. Why then, everything tasted like ash in his mouth, Wei Wuxian didn’t know. Throughout it all, Wei Wuxian did manage to keep the smile pasted on his face. So much so that, by the end of it, his cheeks started hurting. Somewhere along his performance, Lan Wangji also had started giving him strange looks at his overenthusiastic displays of care.
“Lan Zhan, taste this,” “Lan Zhan, don’t eat that,” “Lan Zhan, I think you’ll like this,” “Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan…”
By the time it was done, Lan Wangji sincerely wished for Wei Wuxian to shut up. It’s not that he didn’t like Wei Ying’s attention, but more the fact that he knew the actual reason behind Wei Ying’s actions. It wasn’t out of any genuine affection for Lan Wangji, but to save face in front of his sect’s people. The way he kept saying “Lan Zhan” like it’s his own personal favorite mantra made Lan Wangji want to hurt him until his voice turned hoarse and Lan Wangji’s name was the only coherent thought in his head. Wei Ying was playing with fire, Lan Wangji knew. He was only human after all. Who’s to say that one day he wouldn’t just snap? The more Wei Wuxian hurt him, the more Lan Wangji wanted to pleasure him. To make him see that no matter what he did, Lan Wangji will not leave, that he will not forsake him and look at him in fear.
“Second Young Master Lan, I hope the food was to your liking,” Jiang Cheng told him, pulling him back from his wayward thoughts.
“Mn. Thank you.”
“Lan Zhan, ah, Lan Zhan! What am I to do with you? Would it kill you to speak more than a few words?” Wei Wuxian nudged his shoulder and tells Jiang Cheng,
“What he means is that he greatly enjoyed the food and appreciates all the careful effort Yunmeng Jiang put into catering to his tastes.”
Jiang Cheng frowned but didn't say anything. Since his arrival, Wei Wuxian’s been acting very strange. Not a trace of the resentment Jiang Cheng knew he must feel could be seen. If he were anyone else, he would have bought it, thought that Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji had somehow managed to find some common ground. But he did know Wei Wuxian and knew that he was doing this to save Yunmeng Jiang some face. He looked at Jiang Yanli who nodded back in understanding.
“Wei Wuxian, can I speak to you for a moment?” Jiang Cheng asked once they were done with the banquet.
Wei Wuxian looked at him in surprise and for a moment.
“Aiyah, Jiang Cheng, what about my dear husband? I can’t leave him all alone, can I?” he fluttered his eyelashes, “I need to attend to my husband at all times after all.”
Jiang Cheng wanted to hit him for the shameless display and Lan Wangji went rigid at Wei Wuxian’s side, the tips of his ears slightly turning pink. Thankfully, no one was paying attention to Lan Wangji and his embarrassment. Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian were too busy staring at each other, one in exasperation and the other in challenge.
“A-Xian, don’t worry about Second Young Master Lan. I will accompany him to the gardens while you and A-Cheng talk.” Jiang Yanli spoke up, interrupting the staring contest between the two.
Lan Wangji knew when to retreat and he knew that if he had to put up with Wei Wuxian being so pretentiously sweet to him any longer, he would either end up strangling him or fucking him on the floor just so that he can teach him a lesson. So before Wei Wuxian could say anything else, he grabbed onto Jiang Yanli’s offer with both hands.
“Wei Ying, it’s okay. Jiang Guniang will keep me company. I will not be bored.”
Wei Wuxian realized that he’d been cornered and gave up trying to get out of it. He had wanted to avoid a confrontation with Jiang Cheng, but if Jiang Cheng wanted it so badly, Wei Wuxian had no problem giving it to him.
“Alright then. I’ll find you as soon as I can, Er-Gege,” Wei Wuxian leaned in and gave a quick kiss on Lan Wangji’s cheek.
He could hear somebody gasping from behind him and he relished in the feeling. How scandalous!! Did he have no shame? To do something like this to the peerless Second Jade of Lan in front of an audience? Just because they are married, it doesn't mean they can behave like this in public!!! Wei Wuxian paid no attention to the slight murmurs behind as he turned his back on Lan Wangji and walked towards Jiang Cheng. But for some reason, he felt like he could still feel Lan Wangji’s silken skin beneath his lips.
Lan Wangji stood stock still as Wei Wuxian walked away. Wei Ying had just....
His lips were so soft, like the petals of the peony he had given Lan Wangji so long ago. Soft and moist. And warm. So warm that it set Lan Wangji on fire. Such a fleeting touch and Lan Wangji could feel it to the tips of his toes. Lan Wangji knew why Wei Ying did it—as an insult. He thought Lan Wangji would take it as an insult to be kissed in front of so many people. If only he knew…
“Second Young Master Lan, if you would please,” Jiang Yanli requested. With a polite nod, Lan Wangji followed her towards the garden.
They were quiet for a long while. Lan Wangji didn’t mind. He didn’t know how to talk to her either way. They barely knew each other and everything that he did know came from Wei Ying. The silence between them isn’t really uncomfortable either, Lan Wangji noted. Jiang Yanli had a soothing presence. Not very different from Xiongzhang’s. Maybe it’s an elder sibling thing, Lan Wangji pondered.
“Second Young Master Lan,”
“I wanted to ask you something.”
Lan Wangji nodded in permission. Jiang Yanli seemed to hesitate for a moment, then swallowed and asked.
“Is A-Xian troubling you too much?”
Lan Wangji was taken aback by the candid question. He hadn’t expected her to be so straightforward about it. He didn’t know how to answer her.
“I know it’s none of my business, Hanguang-Jun. But A-Xian can be a bit much when he wants to. We are not unaware that he isn’t really happy with this match. But I hope you’ll be patient with him. He is really not that bad.”
Lan Wangji knew this. Even without Jiang Yanli’s words, Lan Wangji had always known how good Wei Ying is. But there is something that Jiang Yanli seemed not to know. As much as she loved and understood Wei Ying, Jiang Yanli didn’t have any idea how vicious Wei Ying could be when he wanted to. Probably because he’s never had a reason to show her that side of himself or because Lan Wangji was the only person to whom Wei Ying acted so callously. Lan Wangji didn’t want to disillusion her notions about Wei Ying. So he didn’t say anything other than acknowledging her words with a quiet hum.
“He will come around, Hanguang-Jun. He’s always liked you. He’s just not happy with the choice being taken away from him is all,” Jiang Yanli tried again and Lan Wangji wondered how she could get it so wrong. Wei Ying? Liking him? In what world? Since Jiang Yanli seemed determined to stay on the topic, Lan Wangji said:
“It’s an adjustment. But Wei Ying is good.”
Jiang Yanli looked at the quiet, solemn man walking beside her and sighed silently. Hanguang-Jun always held himself with unparalleled grace and dignity. But at this moment, she could detect a subtle note of sadness in his countenance, a silent longing. Jiang Yanli was very familiar with that look. It’s the way she used to look when thinking about Jin Zixuan in the past. She wished that she could say something more, but didn’t, choosing to walk in silence beside him. They didn’t speak at all for the rest of their walk.
“Wei Wuxian, what the hell do you think you are playing at?” Jiang Cheng asked angrily as he shut the door behind them after dragging Wei Wuxian to an empty room.
“Playing? Me? I don’t know what you mean, Jiang Cheng.”
Jiang Cheng wanted to shake him, but grit his teeth instead.
“What was that, outside?”
“What was what?” Wei Wuxian asked nonchalantly.
“The show you put on,” Jian Cheng made himself say.
“Show? What show?”
“Aiyah, Jiang Cheng. Why are you so mad? I truly do not know what you’re talking about.”
“That thing with Lan Wangji,” he spat out.
Wei Wuxian smiled at that, not a trace of warmth in it.
“Why? Aren’t you happy for us, Jiang Cheng? Does seeing our wedded bliss make you jealous?”
“You!!” Jiang Cheng spluttered. “You are utterly shameless!!!”
“Me? What’s so shameless about loving one’s husband? They did buy me to be his perfect bride. Now you’re angry with me for fulfilling my duties?”
Jiang Cheng didn’t know what to say to Wei Wuxian. His words were cold, cruel, and steeped in resentment.
“Wei Wuxian,” he tried once more.
“I don’t want to hear it, Jiang Cheng. I married someone like him for Yunmeng Jiang. He could as well be an unfeeling piece of stone for all that matters. My life is done for. What more do you want from me?”
Even as he said it, a small voice inside his mind protested that Lan Wangji didn’t feel like a stone when he touched him. He was so warm, his hands calloused from years and years of dedication to his guqin and his sword. Strong, unrelenting. Wei Wuxian told the voice to shut up.
At this precise moment, Lan Wangji who had come to fetch Wei Ying stopped at the door, feeling the vicious words sink into his bones and breaking them to pieces. For a moment he looked down at himself to see if he’s bleeding. He was surprised to see that he isn’t. The pain was excruciating.
An unfeeling piece of stone.
Lan Wangji’s whole body trembled slightly. The hand which was about to knock on the doors lowered.
Lan Wangji blinked once. Twice.
He’s always known what people thought of him. Ever since he was a child, he’s heard it from other children how stone-like he was—cold and unemotional. As he grew up and everyone started calling him the Second Jade of Lan, Lan Wangji didn't know how to feel about it. A praise, but also, something that isolated him from the rest of the cultivation world even more. Lan Xichen didn’t have the same problem. Unlike Lan Wangji, Lan Xichen has always been well liked.
Jade. Stoneface. Cold.
Lan Wangji knew Wei Ying didn’t think highly of him. But to hear the words that he’d heard so often growing up from Wei Ying’s mouth...his heart hurt.
Without a word, with his face paler than usual and eyes with very slightly reddened corners, Lan Wangji turned around and left them to their talk.
He’ll just wait for Wei Wuxian outside.
Wei Wuxian stormed out after his argument with Jiang Cheng in a hurry to find Lan Wangji to get going. The longer he stayed there, the worse his mood would be. He knew this. He was also very tired. He wouldn’t be able to keep this up much longer. If they were at Cloud Recesses, he could just keep himself busy with his own stuff instead of getting into arguments. Unfortunately for him, the one person who he’ll never ignore stopped him in his tracks.
Wei Wuxian closed his eyes in frustration. If Shijie also started on him about Lan Wangji, Wei Wuxian didn’t know what he would do. He made himself smile.
“Shijie, did you see Lan Zhan?”
“Second Young Master Lan said he will wait for you outside.”
“Did something happen just now?”
“What do you mean?” Wei Wuxian tried to play dumb.
Jiang Yanli only looked at him in disapproval.
“Ah...Shijie...why are you giving me that look? I really didn’t do anything!”
“A-Xian, I’m only going to tell you this once, so listen carefully. I know you aren’t happy with this marriage, but A-Xian, is Hanguang-Jun really such a bad person? You should give him a chance at-”
“Chance?” Suddenly Wei Wuxian was so very angry. It’s one thing for Jiang Cheng to side with Lan Wangji, but now not even his Shijie would stand by him? What was so special about Lan Wangji that everyone sided with him? Has the Lightbearer’s brilliance enchanted his Shijie too, the one person he always thought would stand by him?
“Why should I? What has he ever done for me, huh? Hanguang-Jun is such a noble, selfless soul. But what has he ever done for me other than looking down at me in contempt and standing in my way at every turn? Of course, Hanguang-Jun isn’t a bad person. He’s such a great person that he swooped in to save me after everybody else pushed me to a corner. How noble of him!” Wei Wuxian snorted in derision.
“At this point, I’m not even sure whether he started this all on purpose so that he can get me under his control. He’s always wanted me to go back to Gusu with him.”
“That’s enough, A-Xian.” Wei Wuxian had never heard Jiang Yanli say something so sharply before. He shut up.
“How can you say such vile things about him? Don’t you know him at all? I remember you coming back from Gusu that year after and you wouldn’t shut up about him at all—how talented he is, how strong he is, how fun it is to tease him. More than any of that, you talked about how righteous his character is. You wanted to befriend him so badly because you considered him to be your equal. You admired him so much. You said he’s the most honest person you’ve ever come across and you think he is capable of maligning your good name so that he can what, get you to marry him? Do you even realize how ridiculous that sounds?”
Wei Wuxian opened his mouth to argue but Jiang Yanli shook her head.
“Who are you trying to punish A-Xian? Himself or you? Ever since the war, you’ve been different. You don’t talk as much, you don’t smile as much, you’ve changed so much. You are so angry all the time. Do you think I don’t notice? Sometimes I look at you and I don’t even recognize you anymore, A-Xian. I don’t see the boy I grew up with, I see a man who is so angry at the world and everyone else around him that he avoids people at all costs. Are you going to blame that on Lan Wangji?”
It wouldn’t have hurt as much if Jiang Yanli had physically wounded him. Wei Wuxian’s heart bled at the disappointment in her tone.
“ What am I supposed to do ?” he wanted to scream. “ I am NOT the same as I was before. I could never be the same as I was before. I could never be him again. He died on a mountain top so long ago. He will never come back, can never come back .”
But Wei Wuxian didn’t say a word. He looked at Jiang Yanli, the outraged clench of her fist, the disappointment in her eyes and felt himself go small. Not even his Shijie wanted him anymore. Wei Wuxian blinked back the burning in his eyes.
“I should go,” he turned around without waiting for her response. But a hand on his wrist stopped him.
Wei Wuxian didn’t turn around, but didn’t shake her off either.
“I am always, always on your side. Don’t think I’m taking his side against you. Hanguang-Jun isn’t your enemy either. I hope you’ll stop seeing him as one. You’ll see that if you let go of this resentment in your heart, A-Xian.”
Wei Wuxian was so tired. Let go of the resentment? What would happen to him after? The resentment is the only thing holding him together. If he let go of that, what else can he do? Break down and crawl on the ground as he begged for forgiveness from all the people he’d disappointed? He’s done such heinous things, was tainted to all hells. There’s no redemption for him, Wei Wuxian knew. Not after all that. Jiang Yanli was still waiting for a response.
“I understand, Shijie.”
Jiang Yanli sighed.
“Look at me, please.”
Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but turn around at her pleading tone. Jiang Yanli cradled his face in both her hands.
“There he is, my three year old.” Hearing the words, a weight seemed to be lifted off his chest and Wei Wuxian knelt in front of her right there on the ground so that she didn’t have to look up at him.
“Don’t be angry with me, Shijie.”
“I am not angry, A-Xian. I just want you to stop pushing people away without giving them a chance.”
Even though she said “people,” Wei Wuxian knew she meant Lan Wangj. Wei Wuxian took both her hands in his.
“A-Xian will obey his Shijie.”
Jiang Yanli laughed lightly. “Xianxian really should grow up.”
“Xianxian has his Shijie,” Wei Wuxian told her.
“Even so. You are married now. I can’t always hold your hand. That’s your husband’s job now.”
For some reason Wei Wuxian felt himself flush.
“I’ll go find Lan Zhan,” he got off the ground. Now that he’d been properly chastised, even Wei Wuxian could see that maybe he was being unreasonable regarding Lan Wangji’s involvement in his predicament. He didn’t even know why he would say something so ridiculous. Lan Zhan, trying to ruin his reputation? He’d done that all on his own! Why would he blame Lan Zhan for something of his own doing? What kind of logic was that?
He found Lan Wangji waiting for him near the courtyard. He seemed to be deep in thought. The slight wind made his white robes flutter around him prettily. For a moment, Wei Wuxian’s breath caught at the stunning vision that was Lan Wangji.
Lan Zhan is so graceful, always has been. But right this moment, with the wind ruffling his hair and an unnatural stillness to his frame, he looked like a statue carved out of jade, every inch, sculpted to perfection. The tail ends of his forehead ribbon played in the wind, profile slightly cast in the shadow of the magnolia tree near him.
It’s not until he got closer that Wei Wuxian realized how forlorn Lan Wangji looked. He wondered why he failed to notice it earlier. There’s a deep sadness to his posture, Wei Wuxian thought. What a ridiculous thought! Why would Lan Zhan be sad? He’s as indifferent to the world around him as the mountains and the winds.
That’s not really true, a small voice inside his head reminded him. He can get hurt too. He remembered a cold, dank cave. Firelight flickering around them and Lan Wangji’s profile glowing so beautifully. He remembered the tears that reflected the light as Lan Wangji cried silently for the home he’d lost.
Suddenly, Wei Wuxian felt a bit guilty. He tried to shake off the feeling.
He walked right up to Lan Wangji’s side, but this time, kept a careful distance between their bodies.
“Ready to go?” Lan Wangji asked before Wei Wuxian could say anything.
Wei Wuxian nodded.
Lan Wangji quietly turned back towards the main hall without looking at Wei Wuxian. For some reason, Wei Wuxian didn’t like the way Lan Wangji ignored his existence, as if he couldn’t bother to spare him a glance even. Wei Wuxian swallowed the sour taste back. Even though there was a distance between them, Wei Wuxian could feel the coldness permeating from Lan Wangji like a physical warning. Lan Wangji has been putting up with him since they arrived at Lotus Pier. Wei Wuxian didn’t know what changed that made him look like the fifteen year old boy from all those years ago, grabbing his sword and asking him for a fight inside the library.
Wei Wuxian felt a sharp pang of loss at the memory. Life was so much simpler back then. Suddenly, for the first time in so long, he had an impulse to annoy Lan Wangji again, to make him look at him. But he was also pretty adept at reading people, and from the sinister aura emitting from Lan Wangji right now? Wei Wuxian could tell that it may not end well for him if he pulled something. Even Lan Zhan’s eyes looked even more frosted over. Wei Wuxian had some self preservation at least to know that he shouldn’t bother him when he’s like this.
Their farewells were quiet with no fanfare. Jiang Cheng glared at Wei Wuxian even though he was perfectly polite to Lan Wangji. Jiang Yanli, on the other hand, looked a bit sad and a lot more hopeful. Wei Wuxian smiled at her in reassurance. Before he came here today, Wei Wuxian had thought that he wouldn’t want to leave. But surprisingly enough, he found himself missing the quietude of Cloud Recesses and wanting to get back as soon as possible. Lotus Pier didn’t feel like home anymore, Wei Wuxian thought a bit nostalgically.
Their walk back to the docks was quiet and full of some kind of silent tension as well. Wei Wuxian had expected Lan Wangji to shake off whatever it was that bothered him by now. But the longer they walked in silence, the more he felt like something was terribly wrong. He didn’t even know why he felt that way. It’s not like Lan Wangji has ever been a good companion to begin with. He never spoke unless it was absolutely necessary, so Wei Wuxian was confused by his mind’s insistence that something was off with “this” silence. And then he remembered what he had done wrong.
He had kissed Lan Wangji in public! He had kissed this noble, ascetic man as some kind of petty revenge show. The same man who walked away from their marital bed without a backward glance. Lan Wangji had refused to humiliate him by fucking him without consent. What had he done? Kiss him in public precisely because he knew it would make him uncomfortable. How could he do that to Lan Wangji? Wei Wuxian wanted to slap himself.
Wei Wuxian looked at Lan Wangji and felt his own mouth tighten in concern. He wanted to apologize but he didn’t know how to. Maybe once they are somewhere more private, he could apologize. The thought didn’t sit well with him. Wei Wuxian could swear that sometimes he saw the corners of his eyes glisten in the afternoon light, like they held tears inside. Wei Wuxian knew what a ridiculous notion it was. And even if it wasn’t, it’s probably the wind. Wei Wuxian felt his skin itch, as if wanting to reach out to Lan Wangji, grab his sleeve and demand that he look at him. He restrained himself from the childish impulse. But Wei Wuxian had never been great with silences and the current silence between them was suffocating him too much. Unable to keep up with this wretched silence any longer, Wei Wuxian opened his mouth to call out to him. But the words never left his mouth as a hand grabbed his own from behind and stalled him on his tracks.
There was a weary woman in ragged clothes holding on to his hand. At first glance, she looked like a beggar. Wei Wuxian wouldn’t have recognized her at all if she hadn’t removed the hood covering her, revealing a face which was once beautiful, but now looked haggard, thin, and pale. A face that had always worn her arrogance like a mask. To see her looking so vulnerable....Wei Wuxian didn’t know what was happening. He hasn’t seen her in so long.
She was quite dirty and travel worn, but nothing could touch the quiet dignity in the way she held herself. Even so, Wei Wuxian saw the desperately wild look in her eyes. Something was wrong, terribly so, Wei Wuxian can tell.
Wei Wuxian was so taken back by Wen Qing’s appearance that he didn't notice that Lan Wangji had stopped walking as well and was silently perusing the two. Lan Wangji had heard of Wen Qing—the famed distant relative of Wen Ruohan whom he favored over his own son, Wen Chao. She was also well known for her knowledge in the healing arts. Lan Wangji had never seen her before in person. He wondered how Wei Ying knew her.
Wei Wuxian, on the other hand, was too worried over Wen Qing’s sudden reappearance in his life. They had parted ways so long ago and Wen Qing had told him not to bother her or her brother again. Seeing the pitiful state she’s in, he knew this was really bad. Nothing small can bring down someone like her to look like this.
“Wei Wuxian, you have to help me,” Wen Qing said, her nails digging into his wrist where she had grabbed him. Before he could ask what she meant, Wen Qing continued in a rush.
“They took A-Ning. They took A-Ning and the rest of my family and I don’t know how to help them. You have to help me, Wei Wuxian. Back then, you said you’d be forever grateful. Please help now. I don’t know where else to go. I don’t know who else will help me! I have to get them back, Wei Wuxian. They’re the only family I’ve got left. You know how that feels.”
Wei Wuxian did know and he did owe the Wen siblings a great deal. He was also vaguely aware of the heat of Lan Wangji’s stare. But for now, he chose to ignore it, trying to concentrate on the problem at hand.
“Wen Qing, please tell me what happened,” he coaxed.
As Wen Qing started talking, Wei Wuxian felt himself getting angrier and angrier. Lanling Jin! They’ve always been obnoxious. But to do something like this!!! The war was over. It’s been over for quite some time now. There was no need for them to hunt people down like this. Still, they had dared harm innocent people just to assert their own power and dominance. Wei Wuxian’s blood boiled at the mere thought of someone as meek and sweet spoken as Wen Ning being in the hands of ruthless Jin cultivators. He knew that they’d show him no mercy.
“I’ll leave now.”
“I’m coming with you,” Wen Qing said.
“Wen Qing, I promise you. I’ll bring him back to you. You are so exhausted. Get some rest. I’ll bring him to you.”
Wen Qing stubbornly shook her head. “I’m coming.”
Wei Wuxian didn’t try again after that. If he were in her place, he wouldn’t back down either.
“Alright. Let’s go,” he turned to Lan Wangji. “Lan Zhan, you can go back alone. I’ll catch up with you later.”
Wei Wuxian was already walking away without waiting for his response, Wen Qing, tiredly, but hurriedly followed after him. She seemed to be limping slightly. Lan Wangji wanted to ask if she’s hurt, but they were already moving fast, leaving him behind, staring at their backs.
Wei Ying didn’t even spare him a glance!
Lan Wangji didn't know what to do. It didn’t look like he would be welcome if he joined Wei Ying. But from what he’d heard, he also didn’t want them to go off alone, either. Lan Wangji was aware how quick to anger Wei Ying is nowadays. The demonic cultivation he’d been using ever since he came back had been affecting him regardless of what Wei Ying wished to believe. More than that, what Wen Qing told them was something Lan Wangji could never stand for. The Lans were a righteous sect. They respected all life and didn’t believe in needlessly harming them. To take people to be live baits...that’s a cruelty Lan Wangji cannot and will not allow. Decision made, he walked at a brisk pace to catch up with them.
Wei Wuxian held Wen Qing by the hand as he let her get into the boat first. He’d already noticed how weak she is, so once she’s inside, he walked to the closest vendor to get her something to eat. The sight that awaited him when he got back is something that he hadn’t ever thought possible.
Lan Wangji was sitting beside Wen Qing, and he was already handing her a mantou bun and some water. Wei Wuxian helplessly looked at the very spicy pork bun he had in his hands and then back at Wen Qing who was already scarfing down the very bland looking bun Lan Wangji was feeding her. He shrugged once. Her loss! At least the food wouldn’t go to waste. He took a bite of his own and settled down on her other side. Lan Wangji was carefully avoiding his eyes and Wei Wuxian decided that maybe enough is enough.
“Why are you here, Lan Zhan?”
“You are here.”
Wei Wuxian’s eyebrows almost hit his hairlines.
“I thought you were going back to Gusu.”
“I’d rather accompany you and Wen Guniang.”
Wei Wuxian frowned at that.
“Why?” the question came out almost too quietly.
“I don’t want you to face them alone,” Lan Wangji said simply. At Wei Wuxian’s confused look, he elaborated..
“You are my husband. If you are going there, I’d like to stand with you.”
Wei Wuxian heard what he didn’t say outright: I don’t trust you. My being there will reassure them that I can keep the leash on my dog. I can make sure that you don’t fuck up.
All the resentment he’d somehow managed to tamp down, floods his veins once more.
“Don’t want me to taint your precious reputation, do you? You could have just said that you don’t trust me.”
But Wei Wuxian was already looking the other way, staring into nothing and chewing on his bun as if it had personally offended him. Lan Wangji didn’t know what to do. Whatever he did, whatever he said, Wei Ying will always misunderstand him. He swallowed once. Tried to speak. When nothing came out, he swallowed once more and stared at the floor.
It didn’t matter what Wei Ying thought of him. As long as Lan Wangji could protect him, that would be enough.
They arrived at Koi Tower next evening. Lan Wangji had already notified Uncle that they would be late since they were taking a detour. The closer they got to Koi Tower, the more rigid Wei Wuxian’s posture became. Lan Wangji noticed, but chose not to say anything about it. They had made Wen Qing stay in an inn while they went and enquired about Wen Ning’s whereabouts. Wen Qing had refused at first. But Lan Wangji had quietly, but firmly told her that she needed the rest and they would come get her before they left to get Wen Ning. Wei Wuxian didn’t think Lan Wangji would manage to convince her. So imagine his surprise when she actually agreed.
Even Wen Qing couldn’t resist the peerless Hanguang-Jun, huh?
As they started climbing the numerous steps that led to Koi Tower, Lan Wangji told him.
“Wei Ying, try not to lose control.”
Wei Wuxian ruffled at that, but didn't let it show on his face. Instead, he pretended not to have heard Lan Wangji. Lan Wangji didn’t push any further either. Side by side, they walked. Together, yet so far apart. Wei Wuxian was lost in his own thoughts while Lan Wangji was lost in his own worries over Wei Wuxian. He didn’t know what kind of history Wei Wuxian had with Wen Qing—even the mere thought leaves a sour taste in his mouth if he was being honest, and Lan Wangji is always honest. So lost in his thought is Lan Wangji that he startled a bit when Wei Wuxian yelled,
They had only just crossed the courtyard and Wei Ying was staring at a man who was stumbling out of the bushes, his clothes slightly askew. It was clear to anyone who bothered to look that he was entertaining someone just before.
“Ha! Wei Wuxian!” Jin Zixun said snidely, then gave a respectful nod to Lan Wangji, “Hanguang-Jun.”
If he weren’t already so angry, that deferential treatment he reserved just for Lan Wangji would have angered him further.
“I don’t have time to waste. Tell me where Wen Ning is.”
“What are you talking about, Wei Wuxian? I don’t know any Wen Ning.”
“You!” Wei Wuxian was about to grab the man by his collars when a hand clamped around his wrist.
“Let me,” Lan Wangji told him.
“Young Master Jin,” Lan Wangji bowed slightly in greeting. “We are here about the Wen sect members you captured during that night hunt in Ganquan.”
“What of them! They are Wen scum! What does Hanguang-Jun have to do with the Wen dogs?”
“That is not important. I can get your Sect Leader involved, if you want. But I don’t think anyone would approve of taking civilians as war prisoners if they came to know about it.”
Jin Zixun stuttered indignantly.
“But they are,”
“People. The war has been over for quite some time now, Young Master Jin. You’d do well to remember that. Otherwise, Gusu Lan Will not hesitate to remind your Sect Leader of his negligence in managing the members of his sect, his own nephew at that.”
Lan Wangji’s tone brooked no argument and the whole time he was speaking, his fingers were clenching tighter and tighter on Wei Wuxian’s hand, keeping the man from interrupting him.
Wei Wuxian’s wrist hurt, to be honest. Lan Wangji’s hold was too tight, allowing no room for movement at all. He distantly wondered what it is with people grabbing his wrist like it was their personal toy to squeeze and pinch as they pleased. First Wen Qing, and now Lan Zhan. Wei Wuxian was pretty sure that Lan Wangji would be leaving marks. For some reason, the thought doesn’t irk him at all. In fact, when he thinks about the quiet dominance Lan Wangji exuded, coupled with the authoritative way he spoke to Jin Zixun and the way Jin Zixun looked at him as if he was seeing him for the first time, make Wei Wuxian feel like he’d been standing in the sun for too long, like the heat of the very hot summers of Yunmeng when he just wanted to jump into the nearest lake to cool himself down.
Wei Wuxian was so stunned that he forgot to be angry for a while and only jolted back to the present when Jin Zixun’s nasally voice finally pierced through whatever haze he was in.
“...please don’t let Uncle know, Hanguang-Jun. Lanling Jin appreciates its alliance with Gusu Lan very much. Please don’t let something as trivial as this hurt it.”
“People are no trivial matter, Young Master Jin. Tell us what we want to know.”
“They are at Qiongqi labour camp.”
Lan Wangji nodded in acknowledgement, gave him a barely there bow, and turned his back on Jin Zixun.
Wei Wuxian’s wrist was still tightly clasped by Lan Wangji. Wei Wuxian vaguely wondered if Lan Wangji had noticed his quickened heart beats yet. He didn’t even know why he was reacting like this. Maybe he really was coming down with a fever, Wei Wuxian decided.
On their way back to Wen Qing, Wei Wuxian had more than enough time to think about how different that confrontation would have gone without Lan Wangji there. He would have gotten the information from Jin Zixun, he had no doubts about that. But he wondered what it would have taken for him to make Jin Zixun spill the information. He came to the conclusion that it wouldn’t have been possible without some violence and bloodshed, at least. Having Lan Wangji there had helped avoid that and also made things easier. Maybe it’s not too bad that Lan Zhan had tagged along, Wei Wuxian accepted.
Lan Wangji’s voice brought him out of his wool gathering.
“Are you okay?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Wei Wuxian let out an awkward laugh.
“You seem a bit flushed.”
“It’s the heat!”
Lan Wangji knew that Wei Ying was lying. But if he didn’t want to tell Lan Wangji, there was no point in pushing him either.
Wen Qing was waiting for them by the inn’s entrance. She looked a lot better now that she’s freshened up.
“They’re at Qiongqi. It’s not too far from here.”
Lan Wangji wanted to offer his sword, but that would mean leaving Wen Qing behind which didn’t seem possible. So the three of them chose to ride instead.
The labour camp was in pitiable conditions. The guards there looked surprised to see Hanguang-Jun and Wei Wuxian together along with an unknown woman by their side. They scrambled to make their way to his side.
“Hanguang-Jun, why are you here? Is there anything we can do to help you?”
The way these people ignored Wei Wuxian’s existence as if he was not even there should not be bothering him, but somehow it did. It felt like they all were inherently aware of the fact that Wei Wuxian was not fit to be seen by Lan Wangji’s side and were acting accordingly.
“Wei Ying wants to ask you something.”
Wei Wuxian was surprised by Lan Wangji’s announcement. He didn’t understand why Lan Zhan would let him take the reins here. He’s had no problem extracting information from Jin Zixun back at Koi Tower. Could it be that he noticed the guards’ disrespect and this was his way of letting them know that yes, Wei Wuxian, his husband mattered to him and he wouldn’t take any disrespect towards him kindly? Wei Wuxian wanted to snort at the fanciful thought. He smirked at the guards, all teeth.
The guards were already a bit pale from Lan Wangji’s words. But the smirk Wei Wuxian threw at them was downright scary. They hurriedly greeted Wei Wuxian, also acknowledging Wen Qing who stood beside him.
“Young Master Wei, Young Madam. What do you want to know?”
“The Wens. Where are they?”
If the guards were pale before, now they looked positively bloodless.
“Uhm...Young Master Wei, we are not sure…”
“Do not lie to me!” Wei Wuxian shouted and the men flinched back with terror filled eyes. They looked at Lan Wangji for help but found that Hanguang-Jun looked bored as his husband scared them to death.
Wei Wuxian’s smile grew even more terrifying.
“Do you want to tell me the easy way or the hard way? I can always just make you tell me, you know?”
Seeing that they will not be getting any help from Lan Wangji, they all started talking at once.
“One at a time.” Wei Wuxian commanded. The one who seems to be the captain steps forward.
“Young Master Wei, the matter is like this...the one you call Wen Ning...there was an accident and he…” Wei Wuxian’s ears started ringing. Even so, he still heard Wen Qing take a pained gasp. “We swear we had nothing to do with it. It was an accident!” the man continued to talk. “Please believe us Young Master Wei, Hanguang-Jun.” They turned towards Lan Wangji.
“I am the one talking to you. Look at me when you’re answering my questions.” Wei Wuxian was lethally calm, which meant he was that close to losing it. Lan Wangji slid a bit closer to Wei Wuxian, who had his hands clenched around Chenqing. The Captain looked like he’s about to cry.
“And the rest?”
“They must be in their room.”
“Yes?” the Captain sounded confused.
“If I am not wrong. There were around 50 of them. You gave them a single room?”
“Young Master Wei, you understand, we are not all that rich-” Wei Wuxian’s laughter cut off the man mid-speech.
“Who do you take me for? A fool?”
The man shut up.
“You treat human beings like this? Tell me where they are and tell me where Wen Ning is. Now.”
The guards were shaking at this point and they managed to tell him what they knew. Wei Wuxian turned to Lan Wangji who was standing with an inscrutable expression on his face. It was not his usual indifference, but Wei Wuxian couldn’t get a read on it either.
“Lan Zhan, you get the civilians. Wen Qing and I will go find Wen Ning,”
Wei Wuxian looked at Wen Qing, who stood by his side with silent tears streaming down her face and swallowed once.
“I am sorry.”
“I was late,” Wen Qing said in a dead voice. “It’s my fault.”
“Let’s go. I’d rather have A-Ning’s body brought back home.”
Wei Wuxian and Wen Qing walked away together to retrieve the body of a person whom they both loved.
When they told Wei Wuxian that Wen Ning was thrown in the mass grave, Wei Wuxian hadn’t expected this. He looked at the muddy pit with bodies piled together and the rotten stench made him want to wretch. They hadn’t even bothered to cover these bodies in a mat! Monsters! Wei Wuxian’s blood boiled at the sight. It was Wen Qing who found Wen Ning’s body first. She didn’t even hesitate before she clambered into the pit.
Wei Wuxian felt his heart cleave at the pain in her voice. It took both of them to drag Wen Ning from where he was trapped under a pile of other corpses. Wen Qing immediately pressed her hands to his neck to check pulse. But Wei Wuxian didn’t have to be a doctor to know that he was already dead. His face had lost all color and his body was stiff. His lips were blue to the point of black. Wei Wuxian wanted to scream at the injustice of it all. This was the person who helped him when he had no one. Wen Ning was the one who convinced Wen Qing to help them as well. The kind young man who was always so shy and quiet in words and deeds. He was no more. And he had died for nothing. The lure flag on his chest told Wei Wuxian what happened. Those bastards had used live people as baits. Red spread through the corners of his eyes.
“He’s alive!” Wen Qing exclaimed suddenly and started to frantically push needles into his stiff body.
It’s a sight so tragic that Wei Wuxian couldn’t help but close his eyes.
“Wei Wuxian, help him up. He still breathes.”
Wei Wuxian found himself unable to move. This hurt too much. Wen Ning deserved better than this.
“Wei Wuxian, if my brother dies because you can’t stop staring at him like a fool, I will end you.”
Wei Wuxian saw that Wen Qing was as serious as he’d ever seen her and his brain played catch up as Wen Qing placed his hand against the very faint thrum of life still left in Wen Ning. Wei Wuxian’s eyes widened.
“Wen Qing, he…”
“He’s hypothermic. We need to get him warmed up. I am trying with my qi but it’s not enough.”
Before Wei Wuxian could reply, another figure, clad completely in white knelt down beside them and took Wen Ning’s limp hand in his, a light blue light emitting from where their skins came to touch.
Wei Wuxian looked up at Lan Wangji in surprise. Why was Lan Wangji even here? Why was he helping Wei Wuxian? Why was he kneeling in the dirt for a perfect stranger?
“That should be enough,” Lan Wangji told Wen Qing before he withdrew his hands. “The others are waiting for us by the entrance. We need to leave.”
“They are all safe?” Wen Qing asked.
A strange emotion flickered over Lan Wangji’s face.
“I have already sent a message to Xiongzhang. Gusu Lan will host you until you recover from your injuries,” Lan Wangji looked pointedly at Wen Ning, then, “all of you.”
Wei Wuxian’s jaw hit the ground.
“I’d appreciate that, Hanguang-Jun,” Wen Qing assented quickly. The kind of medical care that Wen Ning needed was extensive and she really doubted she could afford those on her own. She’ll owe Gusu Lan for this, but Wen Qing also knew that she could pay them back with her own unparalleled expertise.
It took them two and a half days to reach Cloud Recesses. They could have arrived the day before, but the Wens were all suffering from various injuries, Wen Ning’s being the most grievous. So Lan Wangji had made them all rest for a day before continuing on their way. The Wens they had rescued from the camps were all elderly people. Lan Wangji’s hands clenched at the mere thought of the state he found them in. He’s seen cattles treated better than that. He will need to have words with Lan Xichen about this. Taking civilians as war prisoners, treating them worse than dirt, using live people as baits...the more he thought, the more his outrage grew. If it wasn’t so important to get Wen Qionglin treated first, Lan Wangji would have stayed back to have some words with the Jin sect leader.
Thinking of Wen Qionglin, Lan Wangji’s heart became heavier. Wei Ying had scarcely left his side since they found him. He was the one riding with an unconscious Wen Ning bound to his back. Lan Wangji had offered, but Wei Wuxian had declined. Lan Wangji had thought there was something off the way Wen Qing and Wei Ying interacted. But now that he saw how protective Wei Ying was over Wen Qionglin, Lan Wangji thought that maybe he’s got the gist of it. Back then at the camp, Lan Wangji had seen the complete devastation on Wei Ying’s face as he stared sightlessly at the motionless body of Wen Qionglin. So much pain. He’d looked so lost at that moment. So much so that he wasn’t even hearing what Wen Qing was telling him, that he still had life. Lan Wangji had witnessed the elation on his face first hand when Wen Qing told him that even though Wen Qing remained unconscious, she could tell with certainty that he’d wake up. Lan Wangji hasn’t seen Wei Ying smile so genuinely in forever as he did at that moment.
Wei Ying will never smile at him like that. Never for him. Lan Wangji held back a quiet sigh.
Uncle and Xiongzhang were both waiting for him as he ushered the Wen civilians in. He gave them a nod as he instructed some junior Lan disciples to lead them to the guest quarters. Wen Qionglin was directly taken to the infirmary and after her customary greeting, Wen Qing rushed after her brother. Wei Wuxian hadn’t even bothered to greet them before following Wen Qionglin.
Once they were all out of sight, Lan Wangji finally turned to face his family.
“They are civilians, Uncle.”
“I believe you. You did well. But Wangji, they are…”
“Wen Qing’s side of the family never partook in the war, Uncle.” Lan Xichen reminded him.
“She didn’t stop him either.”
“Does not make her an enemy. She had her own priorities.”
“Uncle, you taught us not to judge others’ actions without knowing the full truth.”
That shut Lan Qiren up.
“Wen Qing is a proud woman. She’s already offered her services free for us as compensation. Of all the healers of this generation, she is the best. We can learn a lot from her,” Lan Wangji added.
“Trust me,” Lan Wangji assured him quietly. Lan Qiren sighed.
“Your judgement has never steered you wrong before. I hope it stays true.”
Lan Wangji bowed once. Lan Qiren stared at him for a moment longer, nodded to himself, and left.
Lan Wangi felt like he could finally breathe now that it was over. He had thought it would be more difficult than that.
“Are you sure you want to pursue this course of action, Wangji?” Lan Xichen asked his brother.
“Mn. If it will not be a bother to Xiongzhang.”
Lan Xichen smiled at that.
“I am more than happy to assist you, Wangji.” He extended a hand to gently caress his head. “It’s been such a long time that you’ve asked me for anything. I’m just glad that you came to me.”
“Mn. Wangji did not need anything earlier. Xiongzhang always provides everything Wangji needs before he can ask.”
The words were quiet, but sincere. Lan Xichen’s smile wavered slightly. Lan Xichen did not need Lan Wangji to tell him that he loved him. He knew that in his heart. But then, there were times like this when his little brother so candidly, so casually acknowledged their love for each other. It made Lan Xichen’s heart incredibly fond.
“You are my brother, Wangji. Of course I’m there for you.”
“You are tired. Get some rest. We’ll talk about the details later. Alright?”
Lan Wangji nodded once more. He’d almost walked past Lan Xichen when he called out, “Wangji.”
Lan Wangji looked at him in question.
“Is it going to be a problem? With Wei Wuxian?” Lan Xichen was oh so gentle with his question.
So he did notice, Lan Wangji thought sadly. “It does not matter. Wei Ying is safe.”
Lan Xichen could see what Lan Wangji didn’t say. Wei Ying will never love me, will never care for me. I will be stuck in this loveless marriage for the rest of my life, but as long as Wei Ying is okay, I do not care how much it hurts me.
Lan Xichen’s own heart ached for his brother. Of all the people he knew, Lan Wangji possessed the most sensitive heart. Wangji may look bitter and cold to everyone outside. But Lan Xichen knew his brother, he knew how big Lan Wangji loved, how selfless he was in his devotion to the people he cared about. Wei Wuxian was such a fool for not seeing it. If it were anyone else, they’d fall down at Lan Wangji’s feet and dedicate their lives to him. But no, his brother had to fall in love with someone as callous as Wei Wuxian.
There were times when Lan Xichen wanted to shake Wei Wuxian by the shoulders for treating his brother’s feelings so poorly. The boy trampled all over Lan Wangji’s delicate heart and Lan Wangji kept allowing him to because he loved him too much. The whole situation was as painful as it could get. From a rational point of view, Lan Xichen was aware that Wei Wuxian didn’t necessarily have to reciprocate Lan Wangji’s feelings just because Lan Wangji loved him. Wei Wuxian wasn’t obligated to do anything he didn’t want to. But it was hard watching the pain in his brother’s eye grow day after day. A deep hurt born of love and longing.
But Lan Xichen knew Lan Wangji wouldn’t want him to interfere. He wouldn’t want to make Wei Wuxian feel indebted to him. So Lan Xichen kept his mouth shut and quietly raged. Just now, the way Wei Wuxian rushed after Wen Qionglin… Lan Xichen had noticed the hurt in Lan Wangji’s eyes. Sometimes he genuinely wondered if Wei Wuxian was intentionally doing these things just to punish Lan Wangji for daring to marry him. If only Wei Wuxian could see the truth. That there were no nefarious intentions behind Lan Wangji’s decision at all. Nothing other than a genuine concern for Wei Wuxian’s well being. To see him punished for that made Lan Xichen even more resentful towards the other boy.
But his personal feelings about Wei Wuxian did not matter in this situation. Lan Wangji had asked for his help in securing Wei Wuxian’s and the Wens’ futures. Despite his disapproval of the boy, from what Lan Wangji has told him, Lan Xichen can see that the Wen civilians under Wen Qing were being treated unfairly. Lan Xichen sighed. He would have to talk to the Sect Leader Jin it seemed. It’s not something he was particularly looking forward to. But as the Sect Leader, Lan Xichen knew he didn’t have any other choice. These people needed justice and he would do whatever he could to help them.
“Are you sure the journey didn’t deteriorate his condition, Wen Qing? He looks worse off than he did before.” Wei Wuxian worried.
Wen Qing checked her brother’s meridians once more, pushed some acupuncture needles while removing some, and hummed at Wei Wuxian.
“Yes. His body needs time to recover from the trauma. He was too close to death when we found him.”
“I can’t believe I left those bastards alive.” Wei Wuxian said through gritted teeth.
“You can’t just kill off everyone who offends you, Wei Wuxian. Do you think I don’t feel rage? It’s my little brother that they did this to. But your Hanguang-Jun was right in leaving them alive. It was the best way to avoid even more conflict. Violence only begets more violence. And don’t think I don’t know what it would have taken you to fight them even if you went after them. Your body has not yet recovered from what it went through during the war. You would do well to remember that. The more you cultivate, the more it damages you.”
That was one of the first things Wen Qing did after they settled Wen Ning in. Check Wei Wuxian’s own health. He had tried to protest, but one glare from her and the threat of exposure had made him sit quietly as she examined him. The frown that appeared on her. face had told him enough. It’s been a few days since that.
“Why do you have to sound like Lan Zhan all of a sudden? I already have one person breathing down my neck about it, Wen Qing. I don’t need another.” Wei Wuxian’s tone was a bit harsher than normal, even though he tried to play it off as a joke. Wen Qing wasn’t a fool not to notice that.
She sighed. Sometimes she was genuinely amazed at how Wei Wuxian survived all this while with such a lack of self preservation. He would rip himself apart to pieces if it meant someone else could be saved. But he never seemed to understand the fact other people could care for him as well. That people got concerned for him, worried over him. Wen Ning liked Wei Wuxian because he said he was one of the kindest people he’s ever met. Wen Qing knew this to be true. She also knew that Wei Wuxian is one of the most reckless people she’s ever met too.
She’d been surprised when she first heard of a demonic cultivator wiping off the battlefields in thousands. She’d heard of the fearsome reputation Wei Wuxian had managed to gain for himself during the campaign. At first, she was a bit impressed by his resourcefulness. But as time went on and his name and reputation became even darker, when she heard of the graves he desecrated and the dead he controlled...Wen Qing had also felt a kind of dread too. It wasn’t because she was worried over her sect. She knew the Wens were in the wrong. Under Wen Ruohan, they’d become a mockery of what they once were—a glorious sect of the warriors of the light. Always quick to defend the innocents and make the world a better place for them. The Wen Sect used to be proud and righteous once. But then corruption and greed had settled in and everything they once valued much had been left in the dust in their haste to grab even more power.
Wen Qing had never agreed with any of it. But she was just one person and no matter how much everyone thought Wen Ruohan favored and valued her, to speak against him would have been a death sentence to her brother and the rest of her family. Wen Qing didn’t care much about politics. But she did care about her family and her hands were tied. The war was inevitable. There were times when she genuinely thought about poisoning him to bring an end to it all. But it would’ve only brough Wen Xu or Wen Chao into power, neither of whom, any better than their father. There were so many power hungry Wen nobles too, waiting to make a grab at it if Wen Ruohan fell. If Wen Qing were to do anything about it, she would have had to commit mass genocide. She knew they were corrupt. But there were innocent civilians as well. Who was she to decide who lived and who died? So Wen Qing had done nothing and let the others fight, offering her knowledge in the healing arts to help the wounded as best as she could.
Wen Qing wasn’t perfect or blameless. But she had done what she thought was best. She had made the choice with which she could live without regrets. Was it selfish? Yes. But there was no right choice for her. She has had to choose from two very bad options and she had chosen the one which was less bad. People could judge her for her weakness, cowardice, or whatever it is that they wanted to call her. But Wen Qing knew, she knew in her heart that she’d made the best of a worse situation. And as long as she knew that, believed in it, what others thought didn’t matter.
But Wei Wuxian…
If Wen Qing ever regretted anything in her life at all, it was Wei Wuxian. The way the boy turned out after the core transfer...how could Wen Qing live with herself? He was destroying his body and his heart. Even now, she can already see the sharpness that wasn’t there when they last saw each other before parting on that mountain. There was something really dark and sinister to this boy in front of her. The brilliant light in his eyes had died down, morphing into a cold and ruthless glint.
Ever since they parted, she had been looking into golden core formation. When she was a child, she’d heard legends of core cultivation in adults. She didn’t say anything to Wei Wuxian because she didn’t want to give him false hopes. But her mother had once told her about one of her ancestors who lost his golden core in a battle and became human. But instead of accepting his fate, the man found a way to cultivate his core back again. Nobody knew how. Some said he dual cultivated, some said it was through a demonic sacrificial ritual, some even said that he stole the cores from the recently dead and found a way to use them. There were no records of it anywhere in the history texts. It was a legend as well as a myth. But her mother had believed, and since her mother did, Wen Qing did too.
The problem was, the vast collection of manuscripts they had in the library were all raided and divided into the four greater sects that remained standing. Wei Wuxian thought Wen Qing was here simply for Wen Ning, which was true. But she had also accepted Lan Wangji’s offer because this was the only way she could access the records from Nightless City that the Lans had. As far as she knew, Lan sect held most of those records because they were the most interested in curating knowledge. Yunmeng Jiang, Qinghe Nie, and Lanling Jin were all more interested in the monetary benefits. But not the Lans. They were ascetic scholars at heart and did not need as much money like the rest of the sects did. Even after the war, the Lan coffers were safe and secure. So they had chosen to take those records in as their war prize. She knew it might be difficult, but Lan Xichen wasn’t an unreasonable person. She’ll just have to come up with a plausible excuse for asking his permission to see the forbidden section of the library. Wen Qing knew that she could figure something out. Her time at Cloud Recesses wouldn’t be spent in vain. Especially with what Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji had just done for them, it was imperative that she pay them back. What better way to pay them back than finding a way for Wei Wuxian to take his sword again.
“Wen Qing?” Wei Wuxian’s questioning tone brought her back to the current conversation at hand.
“Why do you hate Lan Wangji so much? He cares for you. Otherwise why would he want you to stop harming yourself with your new cultivation?” Wen Qing pointed out..
Wei Wuxian snorted. “Lan Zhan? The only thing he cares about is the “right” path. He doesn’t care for me, Wen Qing, he cares that I’m cultivating the wrong path.”
Wen Qing seriously doubted that. She didn’t know Lan Wangji very well. But she had seen Lan Wangji taking extra steps to make sure that Wei Wuxian ate and rested while he was holding vigil for Wen Ning. Those didn’t seem like the actions of a man who only cared about Wei Wuxian’s cultivation path. But she didn’t know either of them close enough to be sure of their relationship dynamics. In any case, it wasn’t her business either. She had a debt to both Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji for saving her people. She’ll do her utmost to make sure that she did and the rest wasn’t her concern.
“Wei Wuxian, why are you really here?” she asked him frankly.
Wei Wuxian was a bit taken aback at her question.
“Ah? What do you mean why am I here? I am here for you and Wen Ning, of course. Why do you even feel the need to question that?”
“You’ve been hiding out here with us.” Wen Qing cut right to the core of the matter.
“Do you think I don’t notice? You spend all your time here with us, even sleeping here instead of your own quarters. You are quite recently married, are you not? Don’t you think your husband would feel bad if you spend all your time here with us? Or is it that you want him to feel bad?”
Wei Wuxian opened his mouth to protest. But no words escaped his throat. He closed his mouth, swallowed, and tried a few more times to speak without success.
The truth was, Wen Qing wasn’t exactly wrong. Wei Wuxian was in fact hiding from Lan Wangji, in a way. He himself didn’t know why he felt like he couldn’t face the man, but the mere thought of it sent him to panic. Lan Wangji had accompanied him, helped him, stood by him...all that after Wei Wuxian had so royally pissed him off at Lotus Pier too. Whatever negative feelings Wei Wuxian had managed to arouse with his careless words and actions at Lotus Pier hadn’t stopped Lan Wangji from helping him. Lan Wangji had put his own personal feelings, whatever they were, on hold so that Wei Wuxian could help the Wens. It was the right thing to do for sure. But Wei Wuxian had never actually seen someone put other people and their well being above their own personal interests. Of course he knew about Lan Wangji’s reputation. He even knew that it must be true. But for whatever reasons, somehow, over the past few years, Wei Wuxian had managed to delude himself into categorizing Lan Wangji with the rest of the cultivators who had good reputations but were really mere hypocrites at heart. To witness that it wasn’t so, that Lan Wangji actually did care about people, that he actually behaved in a way that befit his title, it had somehow shaken Wei Wuxian. He just didn’t know in what way.
That morning when they had left for Lotus Pier, Wei Wuxian had still been so full of resentment and anger towards Lan Wangji. Since his conversation with Shijie, it had cooled down a little, but when Lan Wangji followed him and Wen Qing, the irritation had flared right back. Wei Wuxian honestly didn’t know why it was Lan Wangji who always pushed him the worst. He didn’t understand why he couldn’t get a hold of his emotions where Lan Wangji was concerned. He was all over the place really, never knowing what exactly to feel about the man.
At first, Wei Wuxian had genuinely thought that Lan Wangji only followed him because he didn’t trust him to handle it on its own. Not that he was too far off, Wei Wuxian did know that with his volatile temper, he wouldn’t have been able to keep quite as calm as Lan Wangji and act rationally. So in a way, he did owe Lan Wangji for stopping him from making a mistake.
The other thing was how very steady Lan Wangji has been since breaking the Wens out of the camp. Wei Wuxian knew that without the Gusu Lan name to back them up, it wouldn’t have been so easy to get away with what they had done. Even now, he was sure that Lan Xichen was having to deal with the aftermath even though Wei Wuxian personally hadn’t been called to give his account of the events yet. He had an inkling that it might have something to do with Lan Wangji. Lan Wangji, who had been so very willing to take the Wens in for the time being without even being asked. Lan Wangji, who had naturally assumed the calm authoritative position and reassured the scared and injured people they had managed to rescue. Lan Wangji, who constantly kept in touch with his brother, made sure the Wens would be welcomed, treated well, and protected.
Lan Wangji had done so much.
Wei Wuxian owed a huge debt to her for saving Jiang Cheng’s life. Lan Wangji didn’t. Lan Wangji had done all this for people who had nothing to do with him. More than that, these were people who were supposed to be their enemies! Wen dogs. And still, Lan Wangji had looked at the situation, made a judgement based on what he saw, and treated them fairly.
Hanguang-Jun. Lightbearing Lord.
Wei Wuxian had mocked the title on their wedding night. But now...he wasn’t so sure that he hadn’t made a grave mistake in judging Lan Wangji.
Maybe he wasn’t all so bad.
And if that was the case...the way Wei Wuxian had treated him...it was truly shameful.
An unfeeling piece of stone, he’d called him
Wei Wuxian had wanted justice for Wen Qing and her people. And yet, he had judged Lan Wangji unfairly, without ever giving him a chance.
Wei Wuxian remembered all those times Lan Wangji tried to talk to him only for Wei Wuxian to turn his back on him and walk away. Even on their wedding night, Wei Wuxian had interrupted Lan Wangji’s speech in rebellious rage to scandalize him, to make him lose composure.
Has he ever listened to Lan Wangji?
Wei Wuxian didn’t do well with guilt. He was the kind of person to accept his mistakes, learn from them, and move on without looking back. Even so, for the past few days, the way he’d treated Lan Wangji had been disturbing the peace of his mind, haunting him, reminding him that maybe, he did wrong to a good man.
But the fact was, Wei Wuxian didn’t know what to do about it. He felt awkward and uncertain. He couldn’t come to terms with the fact that maybe he’s been in the wrong all along. That maybe his Shijie was right, that maybe Lan Wangji actually is a good man who deserved none of the hateful comments Wei Wuxian rained on him as some kind of punishment.
That maybe, Wei Wuxian had been self sabotaging because he did not like how unworthy he was of standing next to someone as good and genuine as Lan Zhan.
It was easier for him to scorn Lan Wangji than acknowledge how good he truly was because that way, he didn’t have to feel so inferior all the time. Wei Wuxian had admired Lan Wangji once. Before their relationship got so strained, he would have even considered Lan Wangji somewhat a friend. Especially after they had defeated the Xuanwu and had leaned on each other in that cave for survival. Wei Wuxian could still remember how panicked he was the moment he woke up and did not see Lan Wangji around. He had wanted to make sure with his own eyes that Lan Wangji was safe and sound. That they weren’t still trapped in that cave and this wasn’t a fever dream. Wei Wuxian still didn’t know why he was so anxious to see Lan Wangji at that moment, to have Lan Wangji tell him that they had indeed been rescued. That they were safe now.
But he hadn’t seen him. He hadn’t seen him at all until it was too late. Because the next time he saw Lan Wangji, he’d already hit rock bottom. Unworthy, tainted, dirty.
Wei Wuxian did not deserve to stand beside that white clad cultivator anymore. Never again will they spar with each other and experience the thrill of fighting with someone who was truly your equal. Whatever small thread of friendship they had managed to hold between them had frayed and snapped that night, never to be reformed.
If he really thought about it, Wei Wuxian could see how, ever since that moment, he had been finding excuses to distance himself from Lan Wangji. Excuses to scorn him, ridicule him, ignore him. All their consequent fights were about one thing. His cultivation. And each time Lan Wangji brought it up, Wei Wuxian had felt such an ocean of resentment inside him for all that he’d lost. He had lied to Wen Qing. He wasn’t okay with losing his golden core. He didn’t like living as a powerless human. He missed the way spiritual energy thrummed inside him, warm and golden and wild. Wei Wuxian could, and would survive losing his golden core. He will not act as if his life has ended just because he lost it. But he still wasn’t okay with it. He missed it. His each encounter with Lan Wangji since, had only ended up emphasizing that truth. Lan Wangji, who glowed with spirituality, in the strength of his golden core, and Wei Wuxian, who had neither. Wei Wuxian hated it. And maybe, he had taken it out on Lan Wangji as well.
Why else would he resent someone whom he had once wanted to befriend so much? Why was it that it was Lan Wangji who brought out the worst in him. With Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli, or any others, Wei Wuxian did not have this problem. It was only ever Lan Wangji, who tested his control like no other.
Suddenly, there was an ache in his chest. Wei Wuxian rubbed at it absently. Why was it that when it came to Lan Zhan, he always felt like he’d been thrown into a vortex, not knowing up from down. How long had it been since he called Lan Wangji by his birth name without making it sound like an insult?
Wei Wuxian had never heard anyone else call Lan Wangji by that name. Not even his brother or uncle. There was a kind of intimacy to it when Wei Wuxian used it. Like he was so sure that no matter what Lan Wangji claimed, he still considered Wei Wuxian a friend as well. Why else would he let him continue like that?
Lan Zhan and Wei Ying.
But there was no longer a Lan Zhan and Wei Ying. There was Hanguang-Jun, the brightest gem of the cultivation world, and there was Wei Wuxian, their darkest curse. One so good and moral while the other was as immoral and bad as they came.
Light and dark.
Ice and fire.
Two vastly different individuals. How could they manage to find peace between them, ever?
Before, there was a chance. Now, coreless, with a weak, mortal body slowly being destroyed by his own cultivation, how could Wei Wuxian ever claim to be Lan Wangji’s equal again? A friend.
The loss of it all suddenly swallowed him whole.
Why did he think this was a good idea?
Why did he throw away his life?
Why did he, even after alienating him so much, still wish to stand beside Lan Zhan as his equal?
In a groundbreaking moment of clarity, Wei Wuxian finally understood. He understood and it hurt him so much.
Because what he hated, whom he resented, wasn’t Lan Wangji at all. But the person who he’d become. And all this time, he’d only ever wanted one thing.
For Lan Wangji to look at him, to see him, and tell him, “Wei Ying, it will be okay. I will be your friend regardless, no matter what condition you are in right now.”
Why he desperately needed to hear that from Lan Wangji of all people, Wei Wuxian finally knew as well.
Because despite what he believed, Lan Wangji wasn’t a somewhat friend to Wei Wuxian. Somehow, between all the teasing and constant fighting, Wei Wuxian had started considering Lan Wangji as not just a friend, but his best friend. The one with whom he could do anything, be anything, and still not be shunned.
Because, for all his seemingly indifferent attitude through these long years of their acquaintance, never once had Lan Wangji treated Wei Wuxian as less than. No matter how much Wei Wuxian annoyed him, Lan Wangji had never really been harsh with him. Not the way Jiang Cheng could be when he annoyed him too much. Lan Wangji had always treated him as an equal. Not like a servant’s son, not like a stray that the Jiangs had taken in. But always as Wei Ying, just Wei Ying.
At least, not until that night when he demanded Wei Wuxian for an explanation for using the ghost path. That night, when he looked at Wei Wuxian like he didn’t even know who he was anymore.
“Wei Wuxian,” Lan Wangji had called. And for some reason, it had snapped something in Wei Wuxian and he had snapped right back. “Lan Wangji.”
Whatever bond they had, severed in that precise moment. Wei Ying and Lan Zhan no more. In a way, it was unfair for Wei Wuxian to feel so mad about Lan Wangji calling him by his courtesy name. It was he, who addressed Lan Wangji by his title first, drawing an invisible line between them. But he had known Lan Wangji wouldn’t really care. But when Lan Wangji of all people called Wei Wuxian by his courtesy in that tone, it felt like whatever ruins of the old Wei Ying still existed inside him had crumbled to dust, never to be rebuilt again.
The one Lan Wangji called Wei Ying, the annoying boy who had always wanted his attention, wanted his words and reactions, was no more. Never will be. The person Wei Wuxian was right then actually was a stranger to Lan Wangji. Because Wei Ying would have never had to resort to these crafty tricks, to this wicked cultivation that went against everything they’d ever been taught. What else was there for them other than ashes and ruin?
Lan Wangji was a good man. Wei Wuxian could never be one again, not after everything. So he had made himself believe that Lan Wangji wasn’t quite as good as well. Fanned the flames of resentment and hatred inside him so that Lan Wangji wouldn’t feel so out of reach for someone like him. If Lan Wangji wasn’t as good as he claimed to be, then it was okay that Wei Wuxian wasn’t either.
Wei Wuxian realized with a shiver that for all this time, he had only ever wanted one thing.
To not feel so alone.
Lan Wangji sat alone in Jingshi. He had been alone since they arrived a week ago. Wei Wuxian would sometimes visit to get his clothes or some other stuff he needed since he was living in the infirmary with Wen Qing now. Lan Wangji almost sighed. If he ever had any doubts of Wei Ying’s dedication to Wen Qionglin, the way Wei Ying has been since they rescued him was more than proof enough. Lan Wangji knew not to jump to conclusions, but he also knew Wei Ying, had observed him for so long. The way Wei Ying behaved with Wen Qionglin was unlike any other interaction Lan Wangji had ever seen from him. There was a tenderness to it, a kind of loyal devotion. Wei Ying looked at Wen Qionglin differently, as if he couldn’t bear to take his eyes away. Lan Wangji only visited them once every day to enquire about his recovery and each time, Wei Ying was there in the room as well. Wen Qing would talk to him about Wen Qionglin’s improvement while Wei Ying stared anywhere but at him. It was as if Lan Wangji’s presence didn’t matter enough to be even acknowledged. Lan Wangji didn’t want to lie to himself and pretend that it didn’t hurt. But he couldn’t really blame Wei Ying either. He had known what he was doing when he offered to marry him. So whatever the consequences were, Lan Wangji would have to bear it. If it was Wei Ying’s lifelong resentment, then so be it. Even so, it hurt worse nowadays because Lan Wangji could clearly see how much love and care Wei Ying had towards Wen Qionglin. He couldn’t help but feel a little bitter that Wei Ying refused to give him even the tiniest scrap of affection.
The sound of the door opening pulled Lan Wangji back from his melancholy thoughts. Lan Wangji looked back from where he was sitting staring at the moon to see Wei Ying enter the room with an unreadable expression on his face. Lan Wangji tried not to let the surprise at his sudden arrival show on his face. He turned back towards the window and waited for Wei Ying to get whatever he needed and get out.
The room was completely silent. No sound of movement from behind him.
Lan Wangji frowned slightly. Did he leave already? He turned his slightly to the left to see that no, Wei Ying hadn’t left. In fact, he was standing there, rooted on the spot. Too still, too silent, and a bit stunned?
“Wei Ying, are you okay?”
“Wei Ying?” Lan Wangji tried again.
“Huh.” Wei Wuxian seemed to shake himself off of whatever had held him motionless.
“You...are you alright? Is,” Lan Wangji swallowed, “Wen Qionglin okay?”
Wei Wuxian—who was still trying to shake off the image of a Lan Wangji, bathed in moonlight and staring at the moon with such a forlorn expression from his head—could only partially understand what Lan Wangji was saying. And once it registered, he scrambled to make an excuse for his moment of stupidity.
“Ah..he’s okay, Lan Zhan. I was just...thinking of something else. Sorry.”
Lan Wangji’s breath caught at Wei Wuxian’s words. Just then, Wei Ying had called him Lan Zhan, and not mockingly either. It was how he used to call him before. Before everything changed. Even though Lan Wangji knew that it must have been nothing but a slip of tongue, he still couldn’t keep his heart from aching a little at the familiar address. To Wei Wuxian, he said,
“Wei Ying took me by surprise. You don’t usually come here anymore.”
There was no recrimination in his tone, still, Wei Wuxian felt like he needed to defend himself.
“Can’t I come to my own living quarters anymore?” Wei Wuxian hadn’t planned to lash out like that. But confessing to Lan Wangji that he might have been wrong and wanted to give them a try was something Wei Wuxian’s pride couldn’t take.
“Is this yours?” Lan Wangji asked quietly. Wei Wuxian was taken aback by the blunt question.
“Of course it…” Wei Wuxian trailed off. He remembered that he hadn’t even unpacked yet, holding out on settling just out of pure spite. Lan Wangji noticed? How? He made himself smile, the same smile with which he fooled even his Shijie. Lan Wangji only gazed at him unflinchingly.
“I did marry you, did I not? Or have you forgotten so fast?”
Lan Wangji sighed quietly. There was no point in picking a fight with Wei Ying. He would only ever do as he pleased. More than that, he was simply too tired to handle all the resentment he knew Wei Ying held towards him.
“I am going to rest. Don’t forget to shut the door on your way out. Last time you didn’t and it got too cold at night.”
Without waiting for his reply, Lan Wangji turned around and left, leaving a perplexed Wei Wuxian behind.
He stared at the empty space where Lan Wangji stood moments ago, looking as beautiful as he had back then, that very first night. How did he never notice that quiet sadness before? Wen Qing’s question rang in the back of his mind.
Do you want him to feel bad?
He had, Wei Wuxian thought. Wei Wuxian had wanted Lan Wangji to feel bad. But he wasn’t so sure that he did anymore. With the new realizations he’s had earlier, it really was too confusing to understand. Even if he wanted not to be so awful to Lan Wangji anymore, he didn’t know if Lan Wangji would want that. Not after everything that has happened between them. Why would he? Wei Wuxian had indeed treated him abominably.
Because you were ashamed of yourself . His brain pointed out helpfully.
Wei Wuxian was unusually quiet as he walked to his own room. For a moment, he considered going back to the infirmary and hiding out. It wasn’t a permanent solution, but it was better than having to actually converse with Lan Wangji.
Wei Wuxian has never been afraid of confrontations, has never shied away from them. But this was Lan Wangji, and for some reason, it mattered. It made no sense to Wei Wuxian. Yes, he could now see that he valued Lan Wangji far more than he realized. That wasn’t a good enough reason for him to hold back like this. But Lan Zhan...his opinion mattered...if Wei Wuxian put himself out there and Lan Wangji rejected him, could he ever look at the man again? Right now, they were living peacefully in mutual ignorance. Wei Wuxian didn’t want any more unnecessary tension between them. He knew what he had to do, he just didn’t want to do it. Maybe he could show him? Instead of actually talking to him, Wei Wuxian could maybe start showing small signs of interest in mending their broken relationship and if Lan Wangji accepted those, then he could have that talk with Lan Wangji? Decision made, Wei Wuxian got ready to sleep. That night, he dreamed of a man in white under the moonlight. Just out of reach. Just out of reach.
Lan Wangji was startled out of his morning meditation when something thumped down beside him. Whatever it was that he thought it could be, it definitely wasn’t a hazily sleepy Wei Wuxian.
“Lan Zhan,” the man yawned once. “How do you manage to wake up at this ungodly hour? What is wrong with you Lans?”
Lan Wangji was at a loss for words. He couldn’t understand Wei Wuxian or his intentions. He simply stared at the man as if he were a puzzle he needed to solve.
“Aiyah, why are you looking at me like that? Did I offend you? It was a genuinely curious question.” Wei Wuxian blinked, grey eyes wide and innocent.
“Why are you awake so early?” Lan Wangji asked him instead.
Wei Wuxian looked away at that. “I made tea for you.”
Lan Wangji’s eyebrows almost hit his hairline in incredulity. He didn’t speak a word as Wei Wuxian poured him a cup, still not looking at him.
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji paused, then, “did you need something?”
Wei Wuxian let out a light laugh at the question, ignoring the flash of pain in his chest. Did Lan Wangji really think that needing a favor is the only reason for Wei Wuxian to be nice to him?
“Aiyah, can’t I just be nice to my husband?”
Lan Wangji only stared at him.
“I just wanted to do something nice for you.” Wei Wuxian relented. “You’ve been so helpful even when you had no reason to.”
Oh! Lan Wangji finally understood.
“It was the right thing to do.”
Wei Wuxian didn’t respond.
Lan Wangji took a sip of the tea Wei Wuxian had prepared and hid a grimace. The flavor was too strong for his taste. But he didn’t want to embarrass Wei Wuxian. So he drank it without a word.
“Why are you so good?” Wei Wuxian asked abruptly.
Lan Wangji couldn’t hide the surprise from showing on his face this time.
“What do you mean?”
“You...you’re so good all the time. So righteous. Don’t you get tired of it? Always so restrained. Goodness, Lan Zhan, do you even feel things anymore? Other than your sense of right and wrong, I mean?”
Lan Wangji’s hands were fisted by the time Wei Wuxian finished his question. Wei Ying was too cruel sometimes. Lan Wangji inhaled once, and then told him impassively.
“Wei Ying, can you not keep bringing this up everytime you talk to me?”
Wei Wuxian was taken aback by the obvious anger in Lan Wangji’s tone.
“I know my own shortcomings. You don’t have to keep reminding me of that.” With that said, Lan Wangji stood up and left, leaving a gaping Wei Wuxian behind. Of course, he was too refined to slam the door, but Wei Wuxian knew he would have done that if the rules of propriety weren’t engraved in his bones since childhood.
What just happened? Wei Wuxian had spoken worse to Lan Wangji and the man hadn’t stormed out like this before. And he wasn’t even being malicious this time!!! Wei Wuxian silently cursed his own thoughtless words. He had wanted for them to start fresh, to finally give this a chance. Instead, he’d gone and pissed off Lan Wangji. But Lan Zhan never used to be so touchy about stuff like this. Wei Wuxian sighed once. He didn’t know how to make this work, how to tread this turbulent waters until they both could find a stable ground.
Then walk away. His brain mocked him.
Maybe he should, Wei Wuxian thought. But the loneliness that awaited him on the end of that road wasn’t something he was particularly proud of. Maybe if he addressed all these convoluted feelings he had inside regarding Lan Wangji… No. That wasn’t something Wei Wuxian wanted to do right now. He had thought maybe pretending that nothing had happened would help them start fresh. Apparently not. He would try again later, Wei Wuxian decided. Actions spoke better than words, right? Maybe he can show Lan Zhan that he wanted to make this work. Decision made, Wei Wuxian walked out of Jingshi with a light spring in his steps.
“Wangji?” Lan Xichen asked Lan Wangji as he stepped aside to let him enter.
“Xiongzhang, I… I don’t know how to do this anymore,” Lan Wangji confessed quietly.
Lan Xichen let out a quiet sigh. He had known it would come to this.
“I know. I thought I was okay with it too. But he…”
“It hurts to see him caring for someone else, doesn’t it?”
Lan Wangji nodded.
“They will not be here forever. I don’t think Wen Qing is someone who would stay with us any longer than necessary.”
“I know. Maybe, Wei Ying can leave with them.” Lan Wangji swallowed the hurt at the mere thought of it.
“Are you sure he will be safe?”
Lan Wangji wasn’t. “I’d follow him.”
“Without his knowledge,” Lan Xichen said exasperatedly.
“Wangji, how long do you plan to put your own life on hold for that man?”
“He is it.” Lan Wangji and Lan Xichen held eyes. Lan Xichen could see the unflinching stubbornness in Lan Wangji’s eyes. He will not relent. Not on this.
“Then at least talk to him.”
“About how he’s hurting you!” It was almost a shout. “Every day, every single day since your marriage, I’ve silently watched him hurt you with his thoughtless actions. He doesn’t have to care about you. Can’t he at least try not to actively hurt you? Not flaunt it in your face how little regard he has for you. Do you think it’s easy for me? My respect for you is the only thing that’s holding me back, Wangji.”
Lan Wangji looked away at that. He knew that Lan Xichen worried over him. He had always worried over him. Xiongzhang had been his one constant growing up. The only one. He was even more of a parent than either their own father or uncle had been.
“I don’t know what else to do,” Lan Wangji admitted helplessly. Then he looked up at Lan Xichen with hurt shimmering in his eyes.
“Tell me what to do, Xiongzhang.”
Lan Xichen looked at the childish way Lan Wangji tilted his head, looking up at him as if he held all the answers in the world. He hadn’t seen this look on Lan Wangji since he was a small child. Lan Xichen’s own heart ached at the pain Lan Wangji must have been going through to openly express himself like this.
“A-Zhan, other than talking to him, I see no other solution. As much as I don’t trust Wei Wuxian, I don’t think he’d be as malicious if he knew you were hurting so.” I hope so, at least .
Lan Wangji considered his words. He didn’t think they were true. Wei Ying was doing this deliberately, Lan Wangji knew. But, if Xiongzhang wanted to believe otherwise, Lan Wangji wouldn’t correct him. He didn’t want Lan Xichen hating Wei Wuxian. Right now, it was only disapproval. But if Lan Wangji were to confess everything, he doubted that it could remain the same.
The two fell into silence after that. It was only when he left that Lan XIchen muttered to himself.
“I am so sorry, A-Zhan. I should have never let this happen to you. Had I known…”
Lan Wangji was tired by the time he returned to Jingshi that night. He’d spent most of his time in the library copying scriptures after helping some of the younger disciples with their sect duties. What he didn’t expect when he opened the room was a Wei Wuxian setting the table for their dinner. He looked up and smiled at Lan Wangji when he saw him.
“You’re here. I’ve already prepared the bath for you.”
Lan Wangji was so dumbfounded that he didn’t even know how to react. The smile slowly slid off of Wei Wuxian.
“I didn’t poison it, I swear. See.” He took a portion of the food and put it in his own mouth.
The feigned mirth disappeared from Wei Wuxian’s face at that quiet, but forceful word. He seemed to be at a loss of words. That’s a first, Lan Wangji thought detachedly.
Talk to him. Lan Xichen’s words came to his mind all of a sudden. Maybe if he did, Wei Ying would at least back off on mocking him like this? Lan Wangji clenched his fists and took a breath. Then, with the hurt that’s been piling up for so long, Lan Wangji finally let out the words that he needed to speak.
“Whatever you’re doing, Wei Ying, please stop. I do not want any part of it. It really doesn’t feel good. You may think that I am a piece of stone, but I too, am human. I, too, get hurt. So please, stop.”
Wei Wuxian opened his mouth, to say what, he didn’t even know. Never once in their long acquaintance has Lan Wangji spoken to him like this. So...raw. Maybe, if it was before, a week earlier, Wei Wuxian would have been maliciously gleeful at the undeniable hurt in his tone. Right then though…
“Please, Wei Ying.” Lan Wangji interrupted, which was highly uncharacteristic of him. Wei Wuxian shut up.
“Thank you,” Lan Wangji told him as he walked towards the screen to prepare for his bath.
Wei Wuxian slowly got up and left for his own room, somehow knowing that seeing him again when he came back would be the last thing Lan Wangji wanted to do. The thought didn’t sit well with him.
Wei Wuxian wasn’t new to Lan Wangji reacting to his words. Even from the early days of their acquaintance, Wei Wuxian had done everything he could to crack that cold mask. It was only later, after Burial Mounds, that he realized how capable Lan Wangji was of emotion, in this case, anger. Even so, never once had he heard the man plead. Lan Wangji was as refined as the most beautiful jade statue. A perfect gentleman. But just then, Lan Wangji had actually pleaded with him to stop. Wei Wuxian would have been fine had he been angered. Wei Wuxian would have shrugged it off and pretended as if nothing happened at all. But to actually see Lan Wangji with that desolate expression and deeply affected voice...Wei Wuxian hated it. He didn’t like it one bit. Not on Lan Zhan. Never on Lan Zhan. He had only just realized how much he meant to him. How much he wanted to mend their relationship, and now…
Wei Wuxian sighed. What could he do? He didn’t want to make Lan Wangji uncomfortable and for Lan Wangji to actually forbid him like this, the same man who had never once forbidden him from anything even when he strongly disapproved of his actions, it must have been unbearable for him.
Did Lan Zhan really hate him? Had he finally managed to make the majestic second jade of Lan lose some of his lustre? Ever since Jiang Cheng had talked about the marriage offer, Wei Wuxian had wanted to hurt Lan Wangji for forcing him like this. But now that the man himself had conceded the battle and admitted Wei Wuxian’s success, Wei Wuxian wanted nothing more than to shrug it off and run as far away from here as possible. Somewhere where he wouldn’t have to see the hurt he’d successfully inflicted on Lan Wangji.
It was then that he finally realized that he had never really wanted to hurt him at all. He was hurt and angry and resentful and had wanted a target and Lan Wangji just happened to be the most convenient one. But he had never really believed that anything he did or said could actually hurt the man. Lan Wangji had always been as cold as ice, as unmoving as the mountains. Indifferent to all of Wei Wuxian’s words and antics. Or so he had thought. Now that Lan Wangji himself had admitted that Wei Wuxian was hurting him, Wei Wuxian felt all the fight drain out of his body. If Lan Wangji never looked at him like that again, it would be too soon. Because apparently, Lan Wangji’s hurt turned out to be one of the few things that Wei Wuxian couldn’t bear to witness.
Too bad that it was too little, too late.
Wei Wuxian was gone.
Lan Wangji sighed heavily as he acknowledged that little fact. He didn’t know when the other man snuck out of Jingshi. Usually, Lan Wangji would have noticed, but last night, he’d been too preoccupied with his own thoughts to notice anything at all. He’d stayed awake way past his usual schedule, thinking that maybe, he shouldn’t have spoken to Wei Wuxian quite like that. Whatever his motivations were, he was only trying to be nice. Maybe he shouldn’t have let the frustration and hurt get the better of him. But in his defense, Lan Wangji had been so incredibly hurt.
Hurt enough to confess to Lan Xichen about it. As close as they were, feelings were not something that came up in their conversations often. But Lan Wangji had felt so alone and being around Wei Wuxian was only making him feel worse. So he had talked just to have someone listen to him.
The last time Lan Wangji did that was that time when he spoke to Xiongzhang about wanting to bring Wei Wuxian to Cloud Recesses. Even then, he hadn’t spoken it out loud. Xiongzhang had managed to read it all on his own. But yesterday, he had wanted to say the words out loud. Brother would never steer him wrong. And Lan Wangji knew he hadn’t. He needed to talk to Wei Wuxian. Using actual words.
But Lan Wangji also knew the way he spoke yesterday wasn’t the best way to phrase it. He had only wanted Wei Wuxian to give him some space, a respite from the constant mockery and disregard. So he had snapped.
Wei Ying had actually flinched a little. Lan Wangji wanted to forget that little detail. Now that he was thinking with a much clearer head, Lan Wangji could admit that his behavior last night wasn’t the best.
Now Wei Ying was gone. Probably back to Wen Qionglin’s room. So be it.
Lan Wangji finished his morning routine before setting off to check on the Wen sect members as was his normal nowadays.
“Hanguang-Jun,” Wen Qing greeted him when she saw him outside the healer’s quarters.
“Yes. He regained consciousness last night. It shouldn’t take him long to get back on his feet now that he’s finally awake. I can direct his qi better when he’s conscious.”
“We will be leaving as soon as he is well enough to travel.”
“And where would you go?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t decided anything yet. But we can’t stay here in Cloud Recesses forever. We don’t want your charity.”
“Wen Guniang, I understand what you’re saying. Brother and I had been talking about it. What if we could get your branch of the Wen sect recognized again?”
Wen Qing let out a very unladylike snort at that.
“Hanguang-Jun, I appreciate your optimism, but we both know it will never happen.”
“Maybe so. But there’s no harm in trying. Brother is willing to speak for your sake.”
“He is but one man, Hanguang-Jun. Last time I checked, he wasn’t the spokesperson for the whole of Cultivation World.”
“It is the right thing to do.”
“When has doing the right thing ever benefited anyone?”
“Allow us to help you.”
“Why?” Wen Qing’s voice was a mere whisper. “Why would you go out of your way to help us?”
Before Lan Wangji could form a response, the door to Wen Ning’s room opened and Wei Wuxian stepped out. He looked at Lan Wangji, at Wen Qing who was, for once, standing in very close proximity to Lan Wangji, and then back at Lan Wangji again. His brows furrowed a little at the way lan Wangji had his head tilted downwards to listen to her words. It was a weirdly intimate posture.
Now, Wei Wuxian was absolutely sure that nothing untoward was going on between Lan Wangji and Wen Qing. But, the fact that he still didn’t like it almost knocked him over. Wei Wuxian had never been a jealous person. Not even for once. And yet, he wanted to push them apart. Maybe because he was Lan Wangji’s legally wedded cultivation partner.
“Lan Zhan, Wen Qing, what are you two conspiring against?”
“Nothing that concerns you, Wei Wuxian. Move.” Wen Qing spoke harshly as he made her way inside. Wei Wuxian was quick to move out of her way lest she actually hurt him with a needle or something. But before she went inside, Wen Qing turned back and spoke in the softest tone he’s ever heard her speak.
“You really are worthy of your title, Hanguang-Jun. Thank you.”
Lan Wangji only nodded at her.
“When did you two become so close?” The words were out of his mouth before he could stop himself.
“You and Wen Qing. I didn’t know you were close.”
Lan Wangji didn’t intend to elaborate on his relationship with Wen Qing. They had gotten somewhat familiar over the last week. He did visit her and her family everyday and a woman like Wen Qing would never let such kindness go without paying it back. Wei Wuxian should know this. However, it wasn’t a surprise that he was a bit thrown either since while Wen Qing and Lan Wangji talked, all Wei Ying would do was to stare out the window or at Wen Qionglin and pretend that they weren’t there. Not them, but he. Lan Wangji specifically.
“What were you talking about?” Wei Wuxian insisted.
“Her branch of the sect.”
Wei Wuxian’s jaw almost hit the floor. Was such an event even possible without it turning to a bloodbath?
“Brother is working on it. These are civilians. No need to keep them prisoners. They should be allowed to live freely.”
“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji called softly.
“You can leave if you want to,” Lan Wangji managed to speak past the lump in his throat.
“With them,” he nodded towards the infirmary. “I’m not going to...force you to stay. It’s obvious that it’s not working out. So if you want to leave, you can leave when they do.”
Wei Wuxian froze in his steps. Leave? Did Lan Wangji want him to leave? Had he hurt him so much that he didn’t even want to see him anymore?
“I should not have made you go through this mockery of a marriage. At that time, I only thought that I was helping you. I had hope that maybe, with time, we’ll be able to figure something out.”
“It’s obvious that we cannot, Wei Ying. Not when you’re…” in love with someone else. “No one else has to know. Not even Jiang Wanyin. We can meet each other in public every now and then.”
“Another arrangement, huh?” Wei Wuxian spoke through his suddenly dry throat.
“You really want nothing to do with me.”
“Have you ever asked me what I wanted? Instead of making decisions for me, have you ever considered actually speaking to me about it, giving me a choice?”
“No, you listen to me.” Wei Wuxian gritted out. “We’ve known each other for years and for most of it, we’ve had a strained relationship. Then one day, I’m suddenly told that I was to marry you in a few months’ time. Marriage, with a person who despised the person I was.”
Lan Wangji’s eyes widened in disbelief. But he let Wei Wuxian speak.
“Yes, I was resentful. Yes, I was being deliberately mean. Yes, I wanted to hurt you. But did you know why, Lan Zhan? It was because, of all the people in this world, you were the last one I thought would corner me like that. It hurt that it was you who took advantage of the situation to bring me here. Because you, you should have known better. Before, even when you disapproved of what I was doing, you still let me have the choice whether to continue down that path or not. Then suddenly, one day, you decide that I don’t deserve that choice anymore?”
Lan Wangji swallowed. When put it like that, it really did sound quite bad. Wei Wuxian wasn’t done.
“And just when I start to believe that maybe I was wrong, that maybe this marriage deserves a chance too, you want to kick me out. How gracious of you. Fine! Have it your way. I’ll get out of your hair and won’t waste any more of your precious time.” With those words Wei Wuxian turned around and stormed out in the opposite direction. He didn’t get far before a firm hand gripped his wrist incredibly tight.
Wei Wuxian paused, but didn’t turn around, waiting for Lan Wangji to speak.
“Can we talk inside?”
Wei Wuxian nodded and Lan Wangji let go of his hand and started walking in the direction of Jingshi.
Wei Wuxian didn’t want to talk, particularly. But he still wanted to at least listen to what Lan Wangji had to say. Considering the fact that Lan Wangji had listened to him without interrupting, he owed the man at least that much. He didn’t have to like it, but he would listen all the same. Heart heavy, he followed close behind the man he was coming to realize that he didn’t want to lose.
Wei Wuxian was quiet as Lan Wangji poured them both some tea. He sat opposite to the man and watched the graceful movements of his fingers.
“I’m sorry for hurting Wei Ying.” Lan Wangji spoke at last and Wei Wuxian inhaled in surprise. Maybe he shouldn’t have been so surprised.
“Wei Ying is right. I should have asked you first. But I also knew that Wei Ying would never accept. Not someone like me. Like you said, our relationship hasn’t been the best since you came back. After the war, I was worried that people would turn against you. Your unorthodox cultivation path...It will affect your body and your heart.”
Wei Wuxian sighed at that. Loathe as he was to admit it, not using it for some time has indeed been making him feel better. He didn’t have to put up a strong front in Cloud Recesses.
“It was only a matter of time. I… I thought that if I married Wei Ying, I could keep him safe. It was a mistake. I considered your safety more important than your feelings. I was wrong. Wei Ying has been miserable since he came here. That was not my intention. I also severely underestimated how incompatible we are.”
“Why try so hard to keep me safe? And why are you letting me go now if that’s the case?”
Lan Wangji stared straight ahead as he slowly spoke the words for the first time.
“I know it’s not the same for Wei Ying, but for me, Wei Ying is a friend. I have always thought of you as a friend.”
Wei Wuxian wondered if he was having some kind of fever dream. Did Lan Wangji of all people just admit that he thought him to be a friend? That he cared enough to force an unwanted marriage on him, which was so not okay, but was still kind of sweet? Wei Wuxian’s heart fluttered in his chest.
“You’re a friend as well,” was what came out of his mouth.
Lan Wangji looked slightly surprised at that. If there was a flash of sadness on his face, it went unnoticed by Wei Wuxian.
“I don’t want to leave,” Wei Wuxian blurted out all of a sudden.
“No.” Wei Wuxian shook his head vigorously, then, in a moment of desperate need, leaned forward and grabbed Lan Wangji’s hand in both of his own.
“I want to make this work.” Wei Wuxian breathed out.
Lan Wangji has never looked more stricken than he did in that moment.
“I didn’t want to, before, because I thought you were doing this to control me, to punish me.”
“Now I know that I was so wrong about you too. I never gave you a chance and made my own assumptions about your motives. I,” Wei Wuxian stared at their hands, “I wanted to hate you. I am sorry,” he confessed.
Lan Wangji’s hand trembled slightly in Wei Wuxian’s hands.
“It’s not your fault, Lan Zhan.” Wei Wuxian smiled sardonically. “I am not the same. You are right about that. I am not the same person you knew in your youth. So much has changed. Too much. But I want to try.”
“Why?” Lan Wangji had the same question that Wei Wuxian did.
Why indeed? Wei Wuxian thought about it for a moment. What could he even say to Lan Wangji? That because you’re beautiful? Because I’ve recently realized that you are the person I am closest to in my heart? Because I’ve been too dumb to see how good I had it until it was almost completely destroyed? Because I can’t let you bear the brunt of my misplaced anger and hurt and resentment anymore?
“Because you are too good a person for me to miss out on,” was what he settled on.
“What about Wen Ning? Why are you bringing him up now?” Wei Wuxian looked up to see that Lan Wangji had already averted his eyes. What was it with Lan Zhan?
“I thought you…”
“You thought what?” Wei Wuxian still didn’t get it. Lan Wangji refused to complete his answer. A long moment of awkward silence passed before Wei Wuxian finally figured it out and burst into raucous laughter.
“Aahahaha!!! Lan Zhan!!! Did you really think,” he clutched his stomach and keeled over. Lan Wangji’s ears were a bright red. It was obvious that he had gotten it wrong. But even Lan Xichen had thought there was something between Wei Wuxian and Wen Qionglin and he was extraordinarily perceptive. Apparently, not this time. He let Wei Wuxian laugh it out. It took quite some time before Wei Wuxian looked up from where he was lying on the floor and managed to gasp out between fits of laughter.
“I can’t believe you thought...how on earth did you arrive at that conclusion?”
Lan Wangji didn’t want to humiliate himself any further by answering him.
“It’s a life debt,” Wei Wuxian said at last, sombre.
“When Lotus Pier burned, Wen Qing and Wen Ning sheltered us for a while. Jiang Cheng was heavily injured. They helped save his life. Wen Ning also retrieved Sect Leader Jiang and Madam Yu’s bodies for us. Without him, they would have never been at peace.”
Lan Wangji didn’t know if he should feel humiliated or relieved at Wei Ying’s confession. A bit of both, he supposed.
“It’s a huge debt.”
“Yes, it is. That’s why I have to help them.”
“We can find a way. Brother is optimistic that he can convince Sect Leader Nie. If Jiang Wanyin also supports him, it might be enough.”
Wei Wuxian nodded. “Jiang Cheng would help.”
Lan Wangji wasn’t so sure. Especially not with Jiang Yanli’s marriage with Jin Zixuan on the horizon.
Wei Wuxian looked up at Lan Wangji, and for the first time in so long, Lan Wangji could see some spark in those grey eyes again.
“Where do we go from here?”
Wei Wuxian thought about it, then smiled.
“I don’t know. Let’s take it one day at a time. Maybe we will reach somewhere. All roads lead to somewhere.”
Lan Wangji liked that idea. Very much.
Wei Wuxian smiled. It was the first genuine smile he had directed at Lan Wangji in years. Lan Wangji felt a small tremor of excitement run down his spine. Wei Ying wasn’t in love with another man. Wei Ying didn’t want to hate him anymore. Wei Ying wanted to try.
Maybe, just maybe, one day, Wei Ying would grow to love him as well?
Lan Wangji didn’t dare believe, but the hope was there all the same.
There was a kind of peace to the new routine between them, Lan Wangji admitted. The fact that the atmosphere wasn’t so full of tension when they were both put in the same room made Lan Wangji feel quite relieved. It wasn’t until it was gone that Lan Wangji realized how much it had actually bothered him. Nowadays, it wasn’t one of tension, but rather amicable companionship.
Wei Wuxian always kept his word. Once he made a commitment, he will do his best to see it through and it was the same with Lan Wangji. He had made a commitment to give their marriage a chance and Lan Wangji had accepted. For Wei Wuxian, it wasn’t until he had that easy companionship back that he remembered how empty he had been without Lan Wangji’s soothing presence. Lan Wangji was also careful not to mention his cultivation path which Wei Wuxian appreciated greatly. Some days, he wondered if he should just spit it out and rip that wound open. But he didn’t dare. They weren’t there yet. As much as he wanted to trust Lan Wangji, this was something he needed to think more about before speaking.
Their days were spent in relative quiet and easy talks at dinner time. Of course, Lan Wangji didn’t speak during meals, but he didn’t particularly forbid Wei Wuxian from speaking either. So Wei Wuxian would fill the room with inane chatter. Gossip from the servants, his experiments, his random ideas. Lan Wangji listened and sometimes gave inputs once he was done with his food. It was easy. It was peaceful. It was so different than Wei Wuxian had ever imagined it to be. A semblance of what they had before everything turned to shit. With Wei Wuxian prattling on and Lan Wangji tolerating him no matter what nonsense he spoke. Why then was he so unhappy?
Wei Wuxian huffed as he turned around in his bed. Things were looking up for them. Wen Ning was getting better by day, Lan Xichen had stopped looking at him like he had personally offended him, which Wei Wuxian thought he deserved since he did in fact offend Lan Xichen by hurting Lan Wangji, even Grandmaster Lan had been a bit too tolerant towards him nowadays. And Lan Wangji? Lan Wangji and him were closer than they had ever been before. It was not exactly what they had before. This was more like a comfort that grew out of familiarity, from recognizing each other, from trying hard to acknowledge and accept each other’s shortcomings. Wei Wuxian was quite content with what they had now. Content, but not happy. He sat up on the bed, giving up on sleep.
Lan Zhan was just too much!
Before, Wei Wuxian had always thought of him as this stone cold, but righteous individual with unflinching loyalty towards his beliefs. Lan Zhan was the closest thing to perfection he had ever seen. But now...now he knew that beneath that veneer of perfection lay a man who was so softhearted that he let a herd of rabbits run amuck in the backhills of Cloud Recesses.
“They are not pets,” Lan Wangji had told him as he fed a carrot to one of the many little pests who had surrounded him, trying to clamber over into his lap.
“Oh?” Wei Wuxian hid his smile. Lan Wangji looked at him helplessly. It truly was an accident. I only wanted to return the ones you gave me.”
“Then you found the herd and decided to adopt the whole of them?” Wei Wuxian’s eyes were shining with mirth.
Lan Wangji’s ears turned redder.
“I didn’t bring you here to mock me. I thought you’d like them.”
“I am not mocking you at all. It’s admirable, Lan Zhan. How careful you are with them. Animals can sense intent better than humans ever can. The fact that they trust you so much itself is a mark of approval against your character.” Wei Wuxian’s eyes were on the gentle fingers which caressed one of the furry creatures that had made Lan Wangji’s chest it’s pillow. How could this man be the same one who wielded his sword so ruthlessly during the war?
“Would you like to hold them?”
Wei Wuxian had never been good with animals. Even so, he had still sat down near Lan Wangji, allowing him to pass one of the tiny things into his own hands.
“Hold him like this,” Lan Wangji demonstrated, taking Wei Wuxian’s hand in his own and adjusting the grip. For a moment, Wei Wuxian had completely blanked out. Lan Wangji’s touch… His fingers were rough with callouses from years of playing Guqin and wielding the sword, but they still had an innate gentleness to them as well. He had never noticed that before. He wondered how it’d feel if those fingers lost its gentleness and gripped him bruisingly hard.
It was but a moment of thought, but Wei Wuxian shook it off so fast as if it burned. What madness is this?
Wei Wuxian paced the room in remembered agitation. He should be happy. He knew he should be. He had gotten what he wanted, Lan Wangji’s acceptance and his companionship. He wasn’t so lonely anymore. The Wens were safe for now and if Lan Xichen and Lan Wangji had anything to say about it, they would be safe for their whole life. Jiang Cheng also had let them know that he would support them in the next discussion conference. Shijie was ridiculously happy about her fast approaching marriage. Everyone in his life was safe and sound. Why then did he feel like his skin was itching?
A man under the moonlight, eyes downcast, his posture perfect. but radiating a loneliness that was quite tangible. Lan Wangji’s image was so vivid in his mind’s eye.
Wei Wuxian clenched his fist. He wanted to see Lan Zhan. It was irrational, this need. It was the middle of the night and Lan Wangji must be fast asleep. But Wei Wuxian really, really wanted to see him. Tell him that he wasn’t alone anymore.
Decision made, he walked out of his own room towards Lan Wangji’s. To his surprise, the door slid open when he tried to knock. As he had assumed, Lan Wangji was most definitely asleep, hands folded on his chest. How someone could look so beautiful asleep, Wei Wuxian didn’t know. Wei Wuxian had been told countless times by Jiang Cheng that he was a mess when he slept. Lan Wangji though, looked like an immortal, all beauty and grace.
Maybe he shouldn’t be here. Lan Wangji had never invited him to his room, not even once. Wei Wuxian took careful note of the minimally furnished, but neatly arranged room. It suited Lan Zhan’s tastes, Wei Wuxian decided. Maybe it needed a bit of color here and there. Just so it didn’t look so bland. Maybe he could convince Lan Zhan to have some paintings and such?
What are you doing? Playing housewife?
Wei Wuxian ignored the snide voice in his head.
Do you, Wei Wuxian, really think that you belong here in this unblemished room with such a pristine husband? What do you think he’ll say if he knew what you had done to survive? You, who drank human blood and ate rotten flesh? You who defiled your body so thoroughly that even the resentful energy inside can’t stand it sometimes? What right do you have to be here?
Wei Wuxian started to shake as the insidious voice continued to list out all the things he had done wrong. It was getting so loud, too loud, a kind of vicious screaming.
You are not worthy.
Wei Wuxian collapsed on his knees with a loud thump, immediately alerting the sleeping Lan Wangji.
“Wei Ying!” Lan Wangji was beside Wei Wuxian in the blink of an eye. He made a grab at the man to help him off the floor but Wei Wuxian flinched back.
“Don’t touch me.”
Lan Wangji’s hands stilled.
Wei Wuxian had his eyes closed and was breathing so fast it was coming out in loud puffs of air.
Wei Wuxian opened his eyes, filled to the brim with unshed tears and whispered. “I am not worthy.”
Lan Wangji didn’t know what to do. He was confused, still hazy from sleep, but Wei Ying looked like he was falling apart from the inside. He wished he knew what to do in situations like these, that he knew how to comfort others.
“What can I do to help?” Lan Wangji asked instead. Wei Wuxian only looked at him, a bit fond and a lot hurt. Then he laughed to himself and gasped out.
“You’re so good, you know that? So incredibly good that sometimes it makes my teeth ache. How could anyone be so good?”
Lan Wangji looked at him helplessly, not knowing where Wei Wuxian was going with this. He also didn’t quite agree with Wei Wuxian’s assessment, but that was neither here nor there. He let him speak without interrupting him.
“Don’t look so torn, Lan Zhan. It’s not your fault. It’s not anybody’s fault but my own. I can’t be helped. No one can help me because I did this on my own.” He laughed once more and it pierced skin and scraped bones.
“No one can help me! The things I’ve done...I am ruined, Lan Zhan. I am so thoroughly ruined I don’t even know what to do with this defiled body anymore.” The tears were running freely now and Lan Wangji distantly wondered if Wei Wuxian even realized that he was sobbing.
“I had to survive. I had to live. After what they had done to us, I needed to live, Lan Zhan. I should have died on that mountain. I should have never tried to crawl off that rotten place. Should have just let them consume me. Now I am neither man nor corpse. How could I be either, when I can still taste the rotten flesh on my tongue but can still draw breath?”
Lan Wangji’s heart plummeted. Wei Ying…he had really been thrown on the Burial Mounds. Lan Wangji hadn’t believed it back then, had refused to believe that such a horrible fate could happen to any human being, let alone Wei Ying. But now to hear it from Wei Wuxian himself...
Wei Wuxian looked up at him, eyes wide and seeking what? Absolution? Redemption? He needed neither. He had only done what he needed for survival. If it were anyone but Wei Ying, they wouldn’t have come out alive. But Wei Ying had fought and escaped and carried the scars deep within his soul. Lan Wangji finally understood.
“ You are on a corrupt path, ” he had told Wei Wuxian countless times. For someone like Wei Ying, who had survived the Burial Mounds, how much must have it hurt?
“I don’t know how to be human anymore, Lan Zhan.” Wei Wuxian’s voice cracked, even though it was but a broken whisper, full of agony and regret.
“Wei Ying, can I hold you?” Lan Wangji asked softly.
“You still want to touch me?”
“If you are willing.”
Wei Wuxian nodded in assent and the next moment he found himself surrounded in warmth.
Lan Wangji was so solid and warm, Wei Wuxian mused. It felt like acceptance. It felt like safety.
Wei Wuxian hadn’t felt safe in so long. Why Lan Wangji was the one to provide that sense of security when nobody else couldn’t wasn’t something Wei Wuxian wanted to examine right then. He pressed his face deeper into Lan Wangji’s shoulder and breathed deep.
Sandalwood and something so unique to Lan Wangji himself.
I don’t deserve to be held like this. But since he’s offering and I’m selfish enough, I’d take this. How can he hold me like this even after hearing all that?
Wei Wuxian’s fingers dug deeper into Lan Wangji’s back, clutching desperately, afraid that he might let go once he realized what kind of abomination he’s holding in his arms.
They sat like that for a long while. Neither speaking, but neither letting go. Once Wei Wuxian’s tremors stopped, Lan Wangji pulled back a little. Wei Wuxian whined before pressing deeper into him. Lan Wangji only pushed back the hair that was sticking to his wet cheeks so that he could see him clearly.
“You’re not ruined,” Lan Wangji declared with such conviction that Wei Wuxian wanted to believe it for a moment.
“You don’t know half the things I,”
“Whatever Wei Ying did, I’m sure he only did it out of necessity.”
“And what of the rest?” Wei Wuxian asked in a small voice. “The grave desecration, the demonic cultivation, the blood I shed…”
“It was war. It was vengeance. Wei Ying doesn’t have to do that anymore.”
“Don’t I, Lan Zhan? What else do you want me to do when I don’t even have a core anymore? What path do I have left if not this?”
Lan Wangji’s whole body froze just as Wei Wuxian’s eyes widened in disbelief at what he’d just blurted out.
“It was lost long before they threw me in the Burial Mounds,” Wei Wuxian said tonelessly.
“Wei Ying. How?”
“Does it matter?”
Lan Wangji knew that it didn’t. A golden core was the most vital part of a cultivator and Wei Ying’s had been one of the strongest he had ever seen. To lose that and still find it in himself to move forward instead of giving up, fight so hard to survive the Burial Mounds of all places to come back for vengeance...only Wei Ying. Only ever Wei Ying.
Everything made sense now. The way Wei Ying reacted whenever he brought up his cultivation path, the growing anger, the increasing mood swings...Wei Ying had no choice but to follow the demonic path and had no golden core to counteract the effects of said cultivation path. No matter what Wei Ying did, he was bound to lose, with so little choice and only his will power to pull him through.
And Lan Wangji hadn’t known. Like everybody else, he had judged Wei Ying to be too reckless, too ambitious. Never once had he considered the possibility that Wei Ying was doing this only because he had absolutely no other choice left.
Lan Wangji was a fool.
He should have known better. Someone like Wei Ying, someone as powerful and capable as Wei Ying, would never have chosen this path out of his own free will. Lan Wangji should have known that. But his worry over Wei Ying had clouded his judgement and he’d been left with anger and disappointment only.
Wei Ying. Coreless. Alone. Isolated and hated by the world he had helped save.
Lan Wangji’s arms tightened unconsciously around Wei Wuxian. He’s been alone for so long.
Wei Wuxian didn’t make a sound of protest as Lan Wangji gathered him in his arms and carried him to the bed.
He didn’t make a sound when he wiped his face with a wet cloth and tucked his disheveled hair behind his ears.
Wei Wuxian was absolutely quiet as Lan Wangji climbed on the bed behind him, wrapped an arm around his waist, and curled into the shape of him. There were no words spoken, no sound other than their quiet breaths.
Wei Wuxian didn’t move, he didn’t speak, but as he fell into the deepest sleep he had since before the burning of Lotus Pier, a tear rolled down the corner of his eye.
“Thank you,” he murmured the words, knowing Lan Wangji wouldn’t respond.
He didn’t. However, his arms tightened around him all the same.
Waking up in Lan Wangji’s bed shouldn’t have felt so familiar. Wei Wuxian had never slept well in unfamiliar places and last night was the first time he had ever been to this room. And yet…
It was the most relaxing, peaceful sleep he’s had since that fateful day.
Wei Wuxian smiled to himself. Who would have thought that Lan Wangji would end up being the safest person for him?
Lan Zhan hadn’t said anything else. He had listened to what Wei Wuxian said and hadn’t pushed for answers. He had let him be, held him through the night, no demands, no expectations.
It was nice, Wei Wuxian acknowledged. Lan Zhan was nice. So incredibly nice.
So nice that Wei Wuxian thought he might even want to kiss him for being so kind.
His thoughts stopped abruptly.
Kiss Lan Wangji? Wei Wuxian had done very many reckless things in his life. But this one…
It would be the most exhilarating feeling in this world if he could get away with it. He’d already done so once. Why couldn’t he do it once more?
The difference was, back then, it was a cruel game to humiliate Lan Wangji. Now? Wei Wuxian wanted that kiss simply to feel the pleasure of it.
Wei Wuxian could feel the heat flooding his cheeks.
What was he thinking? Lan Zhan would personally break his legs if he knew these were the kind of thoughts he had about him. Wei Wuxian sighed. He and Lan Zhan were at a good place. He didn’t want to jeopardize it by his nonsense thoughts.
He had held him the whole night. Even though Lan Wangji was no longer in the room, the warmth on his side of the bed long since gone, Wei Wuxian could still feel his phantom presence on the bed with him, soothing him, holding him.
It wasn’t until he had been hugged by Lan Wangji that Wei Wuxian had registered the noticeable absence of physical touch from his life. Other than that time that Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli hugged him when he first came back, he had kept himself away from any and all physical contact with others, knowing that he wasn’t worthy of it.
With Lan Wangji, he felt like maybe, if Lan Wangji could look over the atrocities that he’d committed, then maybe, he could spend the rest of his days trying to be worthy of that forgiveness too.
If somebody told him that one day he would be willing to deal with the horrors of his past for Lan Wangji of all people, he would have laughed. He would have laughed like crazy and told them how ridiculous they were. Wei Wuxian had wanted to leave those three months behind when he descended the mountain, had forced himself to forget. Scars like that, you don’t forget. They mark you deep in your soul and change the person you are.
Wei Wuxian had changed too. He did change and it was for the worse and if it wasn’t for Lan Wangji calling him out on his crap, he would have continued down that path of self destruction until he got himself killed.
Wei Wuxian hadn’t wanted to survive the war, yet he did.
He hadn’t wanted to marry Lan Wangji, yet he did.
And now, because of that, he was starting to want to live too.
Not for Lan Wangji, no, but for himself, for his own future. Because having a future meant having Lan Wangji by his side and Wei Wuxian didn’t want to let go of that. Not anymore.
He had survived the Burial Mounds.
He had survived a war.
He would survive his past too. He had to.
The library was quiet as Lan Wangji went through the forbidden session, Wen Qing beside him.
Wen Qing had taken one look at him when he knocked on her door at the early morning hours instead of his routine visit and had asked, “Wei Wuxian told you, didn’t he?”
“Is there a way? Can you find one?”
“I don’t know, Hanguang-Jun. I’ve heard legends. But that’s all they were, legends. Nothing to prove any of it though. I have been going through the scrolls you brought from Nightless City.”
“Your brother isn’t an irrational man, Hanguang-Jun. He saw the merit of letting me study those texts since I am quite capable in my field.”
“Will it help?”
“I wouldn’t know until I see it.”
“I will help too.”
That was a few hours ago and here they were, going through each book and scroll, hoping to find something, anything at all , to help Wei Wuxian. So far, they’ve had no luck. To be fair, the session they were looking through was rather large. Lan Wangji was going through the Lan medical texts while Wen Qing took it upon herself to look through the Nightless City collection.
No one had ever heard of rebuilding a golden core once it’s been destroyed. It simply isn't possible. But Lan Wangji had to believe that if anyone could attempt and succeed in something so monumental. It would be Wei Ying.
“Ha!” Wen Qing let out an uncharacteristically loud noise of exhilaration, forgetting for a moment that they were in fact inside a library.
Lan Wangji looked at her with eyes full of nervous hope.
The smile Wen Qing threw at him was sombre, but it was bright around the edges.
“Are you familiar with the idea of Dual Cultivation?”
“Yes. Our ancestors were quite well versed in it. It’s what made them so powerful. But it has long since been out of practice. Dual cultivation requires the practitioners to let the other person completely inside, nothing hidden, accept each other for all that they are. Ultimately, it’s an act of mutual love and understanding, a union of spiritual essence.”
“Do you? Do you love Wei Wuxian?”
Lan Wangji stared at her for a moment. She had asked it so directly.
“Even if I did, it wouldn’t be enough. Dual cultivation can only strengthen what is already there. Not create something new.”
It cannot be one sided, Lan Wangji thought to himself. Even if Wen Qing found a way, it wouldn’t work. Not unless Wei Ying loved him back the way he did Wei Ying, which was impossible. The most they will ever be were friends and companions to each other. Asking for anything more than that would be a recipe for disaster.
“I need everything you have on Dual Cultivation.”
Lan Wangji led her to another large section of shelves.
“Is there any way for me to sort through these without taking half a lifetime?”
Lan Wangji felt himself go a little less rigid. He liked Wen Qing. She was brusque and honest and always to the point. He respected that quality in people.
He took a large index from one of the shelves and handed it over. “This catalogue should help.”
Wen Qing nodded her thanks and dove straight into the book without sparing Lan Wangji another glance.
“Will you need any more help?”
“I will let you know if I do.”
Lan Wangji nodded even though she couldn’t see him. He was about to leave the room when Wen Qing called out.
Lan Wangji looked back in question.
“I will try my best.”
There was nothing more to speak of. He walked out, leaving Wen Qing to her work.
Wei Wuxian had barely finished the talisman he’d been working on when someone knocked on the door.
“Come in, Lan Zhan,” he hollered out, squinting at the design again. There was something amiss.
Lan Wangji glided into the room as if he were walking on clouds. Wei Wuxian almost snorted at the errand thought.
“Lan Zhan, look!”
“A defensive talisman?”
“Mhmm. Once it’s activated, it will hold against any and all evil for a whole three hours. Enough for the person to get help. But there’s something off with it. I can’t quite put a finger on it.”
Lan Wangji carefully studies the talisman. His knowledge was limited since talisman studies wasn’t something the Lans paid much attention to. Still, he could see that the design Wei Ying had right now will be vulnerable if the attacker targeted a specific point on the far right.
“Maybe add a character there? For fortification. Because right now it’s acting as both an anchor point and an active defensive point. Which will make it weak if the opponent is strong enough. Or you can switch either one to somewhere else.”
Wei Wuxian grinned. “I didn’t know you were into talismans, Lan Zhan!”
Lan Wangji’s ears burned a little, but he responded all the same. “Mother used to teach us when we were little.”
“Ah!” Wei Wuxian didn’t know what else to say. “My mother taught me to climb trees without falling down, haha!”
“Do you miss her?” Lan Wangji asked.
“Do you miss yours?”
So they sat, side by side, comfortable in this newfound silence between them.
Wei Wuxian was unusually quiet during dinner. Lan Wangji frowned.
“Why do you care so much about me?” Wei Wuxian wanted to smack himself as soon as the words were out.
Lan Wangji looked at him strangely, as if deciding whether to answer his question or not. He looked so painfully conflicted that Wei Wuxian immediately backtracked.
“Aiyah, look at your face. Don’t mind my stupid mouth, Lan Zhan. Haha. I was just curious. It’s nothing important.” Wei Wuxian tried to laugh harder but couldn’t get it quite right.
“It is.” Lan Wangji spoke suddenly, halting Wei Wuxian mid laughter.
“You said it’s nothing important, but it is. It is important.”
Lan Wangji stared at Wei Wuxian with such an intense gaze that it made him squirm.
“Lan Zhan, stop looking at me like that.”
“Like you…” want to devour me.
“You know.” Wei Wuxian threw his hands in the air and miracle of miracles, a small huff of laughter escaped Lan Wangji.
“Lan Zhan! Did you just laugh!!!???”
Lan Wangji wanted to deny, but found himself smiling at Wei Wuxian.
Lan Wangji should never be allowed to laugh. Or smile. Wei Wuxian decided as his heart almost burst out of his chest at the magnificent sight. He had never seen Lan Wangji laugh, or even smile for that matter. The farthest he had gotten from him were tiny twitches around the corners of his lips when they were young. But this…
Wei Wuxian covered his eyes and moaned. “Please have some mercy, Hanguang-Jun. You are too beautiful for your own good.”
“Is that all I am? Beautiful?” The smile was gone and now that he knew the other man better, he could detect the hints of sadness in the softly asked question.
“I didn’t mean you, as in your face.” Wei Wuxian clarified. “Which, it absolutely is, but I meant you as in you , the person. You are beautiful. Inside out.” Wei Wuxian should have been embarrassed by how easy it was to say these words to Lan Wangji and mean them. He wasn’t. He could be quite shameless when he wanted to.
Maybe because of Wei Wuxian’s words, or maybe because he was tired of holding it in. The words he had feared to speak out loud for so long finally spilled out of Lan Wangji. It wasn’t loud, barely more than a whisper. The words fell into the relative quiet of the room and sank deep.
“I care for Wei Ying because he is a good friend. Also, because I am in love with Wei Ying.”
Wei Wuxian’s jaw hit the floor. What? What? WHAT?
His brain refused to process the words Lan Wangji had just spoken.
Did he just say love?
As in, romantic, non platonic love?
He was in love with him? Wei Wuxian, the scourge of the cultivation world? Was Lan Wangji insane? Was Wei Wuxian insane? He must be dreaming. Wei Wuxian pinched himself on the arm hard and yelped.
Not a dream.
But how could this be possible? Lan Zhan, he was just so...good and Wei Wuxian simply wasn’t? How could he love someone like Wei Wuxian?
“You’re joking,” Wei Wuxian managed to speak somehow.
Lan Wangji shook his head in negative. “It’s okay. I don’t expect Wei Ying to feel the same. I know you don’t. I just wanted you to know that my love for you was the reason for every horrible thing I said or did to you. It doesn’t make it okay, but I only wanted to make sure that you will be oka…” the words were cut off as Wei Wuxian lunged at Lan Wangji and pressed his mouth to Lan Wangji’s, muffling his speech.
It was a very awkward kiss to be honest. Apart from that light press of lips he had done to Lan Wangji at Lotus Pier, Wei Wuxian had no prior experience. He was definitely sure that Lan Wangji didn’t either. So they ended up with a lot of teeth and slobber which was slightly gross.
What are you even doing? Wei Wuxian wondered to himself as Lan Wangji shoved his tongue into his very open mouth. It was so hard to think, Wei Wuxian decided. It was so hard because all he wanted was moremoremore from Lan Wangji and he didn’t even know what the “more” meant.
Lan Wangji loved him. Did he love Lan Wangji back? Is that what this was? The ache in his chest when he saw him, the incessant need to have him around all the time, the way he wanted to hug and soothe Lan Wangji when he saw how hurt and forlorn he was. The way he wanted to be a better version of himself because Lan Wangji inspired him to try and be better to be his equal?
Is that what love was?
This quiet companionship, the comfortable silences, the way he wanted his attention and approval.
Did he love Lan Wangji?
A long forgotten memory came back to him. Back when he was in Burial Mounds, there was one day when it had been particularly bad. He had taken a broken bone in his hands and pressed it to his wrists, ready to end it all just to stop the screaming in his head. He would have done it too, had he not heard a quiet sigh in his broken mind.
Someone humming in the dark because he had been feverish and lost.
Maybe it was a dream. Maybe it wasn’t.
Spiritual energy pouring into him.
“Wei Ying. Live.”
Cold hands on his clammy forehead.
So he had. He had fought and he had lived. Never once had he tried to end his life again after that even though he hated what he had become.
He had been asked to live.
Live, he would.
“Wei Ying,” the same person called, this time in the present. Wei Wuxian broke away from the memory to find himself spread out on the floor, Lan Wangji on top of him.
“Where did you go?”
“You are not alone in this, you know.” Wei Wuxian told him.
Lan Wangji furrowed his brows in confusion.
“This.” Wei Wuxian took one of Lan Wangji’s hands from his waist and pressed it to his racing heart. “I may not know what to call it yet, but you are not alone.”
“You mean it.” It was a statement. Wei Wuxian nodded all the same.
Lan Wangji looked at him for a long while. Then pressed a small kiss to his forehead.
“What was that for?” Wei Wuxian twined his hands around his neck.
“Okay.” Wei Wuxian raised his head a bit and kissed the tip of Lan Wangji’s nose. He could see his ears turning a bright red from the corner of his eyes.
“Because.” He repeated Lan Wangji’s response.
Lan Wangji narrowed his eyes at him. “Mark your words.”
That was all Wei Wuxian heard before scorching hot kisses rained down on him once more.
It only took Wen Qing three days to find what she needed. Since Wen Ning was doing much better, most of her time was spent in the library, searching for that link she so desperately needed. Three days, and she found it. She had the procedure outlined, but the effectiveness would be entirely dependent on the participants. From what she’d seen the past three days when Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian came to visit Wen Ning, she could see that the couple were much closer to each other. It wasn’t blatant or anything, but the way they held themselves around each other was definitely different. Maybe it would be enough, maybe it wouldn’t. She had nothing to do there. What she could do was to prepare Wei Wuxian’s body to hold a golden core once more. Decision made, she walked out of the library with her treatment plan.
Wen Qing had never been to Jingshi before, but she had seen it from afar. So it wasn’t really difficult to find her way there. Wen Qing knocked on the door and waited.
It took some time before the door opened. Wei Wuxian had his robes askew while Lan Wangji stood beside him, pristine as always. Their prospects were looking much and much better, Wen Qing noted.
“Is it a good time to speak?”
Wei Wuxian moved aside to let her in.
“Wen Guniang, did you find a way?”
“Will it work?”
“I don’t know. It’s entirely dependent upon you two.”
“What are you two talking about?” Wei Wuxian asked suspiciously.
“Is gone, Lan Zhan. Nothing to do about it.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Wei Wuxian.” Wen Qing was sharp as a blade.
“Wen Qing, don’t give me false hope,” he said quietly.
“I will not. Which is why I said it’s entirely dependent upon you two.”
“Dual cultivation?” Lan Wangji guessed.
“A specific type of it, but yes.”
“How?” Wei Wuxian asked.
“Do you really want me to spell out dual cultivation for you, Wei Wuxian? I would if you want to.”
Wei Wuxian flushed a darker shade of red while Lan Wangji remained as unimpressed as always.
Wen Qing only smirked at him. Then she turned to Lan Wangji and spoke without a hint of humor.
“This will only work if you two are willing.”
Wei Wuxian sidled up to Lan Wangji and leaned on his arm, a slight tremor of excitement in his veins. Wen Qing wouldn’t be here if she didn’t think this would work. She wasn’t the one to placate her patients.
“See, this is dual cultivation, but something even more spiritual than a regular session. Usually, when you dual cultivate, what you do strengthens each other’s core. It’s your spiritual energies synchronising with each other and blending together to create something even more stronger. In Wei Wuxian’s case, he doesn’t have a golden core which means there is nothing to strengthen at all. So Hanguang-Jun will have to will most of his spiritual energy into Wei Wuxian and Wei Wuxian has to be willing to accept whatever you give him, without reservation.”
“But my spiritual pathways,”
“Are intact,” Wen Qing interrupted.
“Currently, there’s a lot of resentful energy clogging the pathways even though I can sense that it’s considerably less than before. So you will have to be cleansed thoroughly. I have prepared a medication for you to take so that your spiritual pathways would be smoothed over, ready to accept Hanguang-Jun’s spiritual energy. You have to take this for ten days, ten days of cleansing, and then dual cultivate. If you hold back during the cultivation, your body will sense it and reject Hanguang-Jun. If that happens. The backlash would be bad for him. So if you decide to go through with it, make sure that you two are on the same page. The slightest hesitation could cost you much.”
“Lan Zhan will be in danger?”
“If your body rejects him, yes.”
“Doesn’t matter.” Lan Wangji said stubbornly.
“The hell it doesn’t.”
“No, Lan Zhan, it’s not worth the risk.”
“It will be fine.”
“What if it isn’t? What if something happened to you? What if I…”
“I am leaving the medicine here. You two can sort this out between yourself. Our debts to each other are clear, Wei Wuxian. Same with you, Hanguang-Jun.”
“Thank you.” Lan Wangji interrupted Wei Wuxian.
Wen Qing left them to their fighting, her heart, a bit lighter since the probability of them succeeding was looking even better now.
“What are you so afraid of? I will be okay. We have to try.”
“I can’t risk losing you. No, Lan Zhan.”
“What if I do? You don’t understand. To me, none of it matters if you’re not here. I can’t do this without you.”
“You won’t have to.”
“Wei Ying.” Lan Wangji gathered him close.
Wei Wuxian was feeling so many things at once. Elation, hope, excitement….and bone deep terror. A different path for him to walk on. If they succeeded, he could take up Suibian again. But if they failed and the backlash hit Lan Zhan…
Wei Wuxian shuddered at the mere thought.
He couldn’t lose Lan Wangji. He hadn’t even admitted to Lan Wangji that he was in love with him too. What else could this be but love? What if it wasn’t enough? What if Wei Wuxian couldn’t let go of his self doubts enough to let Lan Wangji see him. The dual cultivation Wen Qing mentioned was a lot like Empathy. Their minds would meld, baring to each other every hidden cravasses of their souls. Instead of one person seeing into the other person’s thoughts and memories, they both would be seeing each other.
The thought was terrifying. How could he let Lan Wangji see all the horror that happened to him.
“Wei Ying, I will not leave,” Lan Wangji whispered in his ears, instinctively knowing Wei Wuxian’s thoughts.
It came down to that, didn’t it? Trust. Wei Wuxian either trusted Lan Wangji or he didn’t.
“There’s something I haven’t told you before.”
“My golden core...it...I…”
Wei Wuxian clutched him harder.
“Mn. Wen Qing thought I already knew. She mentioned in passing that she had to make this right because she was the one who did this to you.”
“Why didn’t you ask me then?”
“If you wanted to tell me, you would have.”
“I am scared.”
“What if you wanted nothing to do with me? After you see how ugly I really am?”
“I will always love Wei Ying.”
“Even the worst parts of me?”
“The good, the bad, the worst, and everything in between. No matter what, I will always love Wei Ying.”
Wei Wuxian could feel the wetness gathering in his eyes. What had he ever done to deserve this man?
“I love you, you know?” Wei Wuxian mumbled into Lan Wangji’s shoulder.
“I know. Wei Ying may not say it, but he isn’t really good at hiding it.”
“We’ll be okay,” Lan Wangji said once more.
“I promise, Wei Ying. Let me do this for you.”
Chapter 18: Epilogue
“Wen Qing!” Wei Wuxian called out excitedly when he saw her.
He sat still as Wen Qing sent a tendril of her energy to check his newly formed, nascent golden core.
“It’s stronger,” Wen Qing observed. “You two are doing good.”
“What are you so shy about? You have a healthy golden core inside you now. It’s a miracle, Wei Wuxian. Cherish it. Treat it the best way you can.”
They both knew she wasn’t talking about the golden core at all.
“Watch me, I will be flying on my sword in a year. Want to bet?”
“No thank you. With the speed with which it’s strengthening, it may not even take a whole year.”
Lan Wangji squeezed Wei Wuxian’s hand in response as if to remind him how it’s gotten so better so fast.
As if he could forget.
Wei Wuxian pinched him on the side.
“Does he have to take any more medication?” Lan Wangji asked.
“Just the regular core strengthening ones. Make sure he doesn’t catch any sickness. Right now, it’s very vulnerable. If it has to fight off an infection, it may affect its development.”
“Wen Qing, you are gonna make him lock me up in a room and throw away the key! He hardly lets me get off the bed as it is.”
“Is it that bad?” Lan Wangji asked innocently. Wei Wuxian glared at him.
“Wei Wuxian. This is serious.”
“Yes, I know. Take medicines. Train, but don’t overdo it. Eat good food. Sleep on time. Anything I missed?”
“Shut up every once in a while,” Wen Qing snarked.
“Haha. Funny, Wen Qing.”
“Young Master Wei, I’m glad to see that you’re alright.” Wen Ning said from where he was standing near the wall, as if willing himself to fade into it.
“Aiyah, Wen Ning. Not you too.”
“You deserve to be happy,” Wen Ning said earnestly, in that openly honest way only Wen Ning could.
“So do you.”
“We will be alright. A-Jie says we can settle in the old Healer’s valley and start teaching healing arts again.”
That was the other big news. Lan Xichen had pulled through. He had managed to persuade Nie Mingjue, and with Jiang Wanyin’s support, they had managed to clear the name of Wen Qing’s branch of Qishan Wen clan. Since they were but healers and elders, they will be allowed to live freely without fear of retribution. Sect Leader Jin hadn’t been happy. But the sect heir Jin Zixuan had announced his support for Wen Qing and her family in public. Since Jin Zixuan was much more favored by the Jins than the actual sect leader, Jin Guangshan had no choice but to relent. Even the bastard Jin Guangyao had supported his half-brother and sworn brothers instead of his father. With three of the four sects against him and two of his own brats, what else could he do?
So the Wens were free. Being supported by such powerful families, automatically garnered them the support of the smaller sects as well. They would be able to live unbothered by the cultivation world. Wen Qing had decided she wanted nothing to do with the Cultivation World, instead choosing to focus on medicine.
They were only a few. But they would survive. All that remained of the once proud sect who overpowered the sun. This time, they won’t be shooting for the sun, but working to heal those on the ground. That was a much nobler pursuit indeed.
Jin Zixuan married Jiang Yanli not long after the Wens left Cloud Recesses. Wei Wuxian had bitched and moaned throughout the whole ceremony. Even at night, he hadn’t shut up, making Lan Wangji resort to other means to keep him occupied. Wei Wuxian enjoyed it thoroughly.
It was a full moon when Wei Wuxian took Suibian again. It was an exhilarating feeling, to fly on his own after so long. He couldn’t keep it up for more than a few hours, but it was still more than he ever thought possible. Now that he had his golden core once more, he knew he would be able to cultivate it back to his original strength. Maybe even stronger with Lan Wangji’s help.
He had followed close behind Wei Wuxain, ready to catch him if he fell, make him rest at the slightest hint of tiredness. Someone to have his back. With Lan Wangji, Wei Wuxian knew he could fall and still be safe. Lan Wangji would catch him. Always. Lan Zhan was the best!
After, Wei Wuxian sat with Lan Wangji under the moonlight, gazing at his profile instead of the moon, remembering every single thing he had seen when they became one and how much Lan Wangji loved him even though he seldom used flowery speech to express himself. It was okay, it was enough. Lan Wangji had also seen the whole of him too. Even the darkest parts and still he hadn’t let go, just like he promised. Wei Wuxian would never stop being amazed at Lan Wangji’s steadfast love and devotion for him.
He had loved him for so long. And to think he had almost destroyed it out of foolishness… Wei Wuxian wanted to smack himself. However, since he was someone who didn’t want to linger on the past mistakes, Wei Wuxian had chosen to linger on some of the much more, let’s just say “adventurous” thoughts he had seen in Lan Wangji’s mind. He loved those even if they got him bedridden for the next few days.
It was worth it.
Life was worth it.
With a contented sigh, Wei Wuxian snuggled up to the man he married unwillingly, but couldn’t live without anymore.
“We are okay.”
“Yes, we are.”