Well, that was the dumbest thing ever.
The thought so closely matched Wei Wuxian’s that he didn’t even notice that it wasn’t his own.
How could you be so stupid? Wei Wuxian tried to shout at Nie Huaisang, who was curled up gasping on the floor. The floor, which was stained with Nie Huaisang's own blood, with cuts he had made himself on himself, with the ancient body sacrifice summoning that – that –
Don’t you realize that you’d be gone? You absolute idiot! Wei Wuxian howled, even though he wasn’t actually a person right now. He didn’t know what he was, a ghost or spirit, maybe, but he was there and he was angry and Nie Huaisang’s arms were covered in blood from where he’d cut himself up in order to destroy his own soul – Nie Huaisang, the mincing sensitive little master who would complain for three weeks about having stubbed his toe! – and his robes that he had always taken such great care to keep clean and neat were a mess and he was bleeding from the nose and eyes and ears because something had gone wrong. Something had gone wrong, and Wei Wuxian hated to be grateful for it because he didn’t want to be brought back by Nie Huaisang’s death.
Not anyone’s death, really, but definitely not Nie Huaisang, who’d never hurt him or treated him badly. Even when the whole world had hated and reviled Wei Wuxian, isolating him in Yiling on the Burial Mounds, Nie Huaisang hadn’t – he’d waved jauntily to him during Phoenix Mountain, and Wei Wuxian had never doubted that if he’d somehow found his way to Qinghe, Nie Huaisang would have treated him just the same as always.
You – you –! You good-for-nothing!
“Don’t be rude,” Nie Huaisang mumbled, slowly uncurling. “Didn’t bring you back to be rude to me.”
You know what you’ve done, then? You could have died!
“Was I supposed to let someone else do it?” Nie Huaisang rubbed at his face with his sleeve, then frowned at the blood on it. “I thought about it, but I really just – couldn’t.”
So you decided to kill yourself?
“It’s like you said, Wei-xiong. I’m a good-for-nothing. I couldn’t – I can’t – I can’t fix this. So why not bring back someone who can?”
Wei Wuxian didn’t have words to express how much that was not all right with him.
Go fix yourself, he ordered. I don't care what 'this' is; I’m not talking to you until you get cleaned up.
“After all that work I did? Wei-xiong…”
Nope! You’re not dying, so you can get cleaned up before we talk, and that’s that. I still can’t believe you nearly – I don’t want it. I’ve never wanted anyone to get hurt for me.
“Wei-xiong, you’re being silly. Who said I did it for you?”
Wei Wuxian would have stared if he had eyes.
“I did it for me,” Nie Huaisang said, and finally he got up properly and staggered over to a basin to start washing himself clean. “Obviously! I'm incredibly self-absorbed. It’s about what I need from you…hey, how did you come back? I thought the ritual only worked if I died.”
It should have, Wei Wuxian agreed, unwillingly intrigued by it. I don’t know, actually. It’s strange: it should have either worked, in which case you’d be dead and I’d be possessing your body, or else not worked at all, in which case I shouldn’t be here.
“I always mess things up.”
No, really, I don’t think you messed this up? The array is perfect. There’s no reason for it not to have worked.
“These cuts won’t heal,” Nie Huaisang observed, looking at his arms. “Did I accidentally curse myself to fulfill my obligations? Ugh, why.”
As the person you were going to impose said obligations on, I’m now going to laugh at you. Hahahahaha –
“Shut up, Wei-xiong. Where are you, anyway? I don’t see any ghostly figures that might be you, and anyway, we’re in the Unclean Realm; there are ghost-repelling arrays in every stone.”
I don’t know, Wei Wuxian said, and then something else said, Ghost-repelling arrays only repel ghosts.
At first Wei Wuxian thought that it was Nie Huaisang who had said that, and he was about to ask what he meant by that, only Nie Huaisang got there first and said, “What do you mean, Wei-xiong? Are you not a ghost?”
I didn’t say that, Wei Wuxian said. That – wasn’t me.
“Who was it?”
No, that wasn’t me. I mean, it wasn’t me that said ‘me’ just now!
Of course not, the voice said, and it was Wei Wuxian’s voice – or not-voice, anyway, whatever it was that he was using to communicate – but not Wei Wuxian speaking. It was me, of course. Master forgot to account for me in his array.
What? Wei Wuxian asked, utterly confused, but apparently that made more sense to Nie Huaisang because his knees went weak and he fell down on his ass.
“Aituan?” he gasped. “I – what – is that you?”
Can I interrupt? Wei Wuxian asked. Who – or what – is Aituan?
Your – what?!
Nie Huaisang attempted to explain. It ended up being a fairly long explanation, involving his sect’s cultivation style, saber spirits, and his own personal saber spirit, which was named Aituan, and which Nie Huaisang swore up and down did not speak prior to this.
Of course not, the voice now known as Aituan said irritably. Why would I speak? I’m a saber. We’re sensible, not like you humans – but now you’ve shoved a human spirit in with me, so what am I supposed to do? Not use his abilities as my own?
I feel like I should feel violated, Wei Wuxian said.
“When in fact you think it’s really neat?”
Aituan huffed. Can we get back to the part where we plan a murder? he (it?) whined.
Sorry, Aituan, Wei Wuxian said. No murder.
“Uh,” Nie Huaisang said. “Actually, about that…”
I think we should kill him.
“I can’t do that!”
Dunno, I think Aituan has a point, Wei Wuxian said. We should probably just kill him.
“You’re supposed to be helping me, Wei-xiong!”
I’m helping! I’m a saber now, I can totally help you stab him.
I like this human, Aituan declared. Good human. Proper blade on his hilt.
You mean head on my shoulders?
Nie Huaisang threw his hands up in annoyance. “Would either of you like to remember the part where I can’t actually fight? San-ge would beat me black and blue if I so much as picked up a pocket-knife in his presence!”
Get someone else to help, Wei Wuxian suggested pitilessly.
“I tried! You!”
Hmm. Lan Zhan? He’s great.
“I don’t know. He’s er-ge’s brother, isn’t he? He might not believe me…” Nie hUaisang grimaced. “He hasn’t been much inclined to believe me before.”
Why doesn’t the loudmouth do the talking? Aituan suggested.
Oh, that’s a good idea! Lan Zhan was always inclined to listen to me before.
“I thought you said he hated you?”
He still listened!
Nie Huaisang heaved a sigh.
Your other alternative is stabbing your enemy directly, Aituan said. If you’d like to give it a try…
“…I’ll talk to Lan Zhan.”
“I can’t believe you’re perving after my saber,” Nie Huaisang complained.
I can’t believe Lan Zhan likes me! I mean, likes me!
I can’t believe I’m still stuck here with you idiots. Can I go share bodies with Baxia instead?
Lan Wangji just looked awkward.
Some people might mistake it for looking noble and genteel, but by now they all knew: it was just him being horribly awkward.
“I have no such intentions,” he said stiffly. “Only – if it was possible for Wei Ying to exit the saber…”
Nie Huaisang grimaced, humor falling away. “I…don’t really know about that.”
Wait, wait, wait. If I can’t – if I’m stuck as a saber – I can’t – but I really want to kiss Lan Zhan! This isn’t fair! I don’t want to have to wait until I reincarnate.
You won’t reincarnate, Aituan said. You’re a saber. Unless we’re melted down or get ground down by time…
“Surely there has to be some way. Aituan, stop being a part of the problem and start being a part of the solution.”
Fine. Let him possess you.
He just needs a human body, right? Let him possess you. Problem solved.
I can do that?
Technically, I can do that, and you can do it because I can do it. But we’d need Master’s permission.
“There are many, many, many books about why you don’t grant your saber permission to possess you. Anyway, that’s my body!”
Yeah, I guess it would be weird for you to kiss Lan Zhan, would it?
“I mean, not really? He’s very pretty. I could swing it.”
“…you could swing what,” Lan Wangji said.
“Having Wei-xiong possess me,” Nie Huaisang explained. “So that he and you can get the whole missed opportunity thing out of your system.”
Lan Wangji’s face did a few strange things.
"Assuming that it wouldn't be an issue for you, that is, it being me on the other side..."
"No," Lan Wangji said, and cleared his throat. "That would be - fine."
Ooooooh. Does Lan Zhan like you, too?
"What? No. Don't be ridiculous, Lan Zhan doesn't like me like that."
He'd be willing to kiss you.
"Physical attraction isn't the same thing," Nie Huaisang argued. "Lan Zhan, you're with me on this, right? You wouldn't be interested in -"
Lan Wangji cut him off.
A few moments later, he pulled back and said, thoughtfully, "As suspected. It is fine."
Nie Huaisang opened and closed his mouth a few times.
"...well then," he said blankly, then frowned. “Aituan, can I revoke permission for possession?”
No idea. You'd just have to trust that we'd give it back; it's a risk you'd have to take.
“…well, as illustrated, it’s not the worst idea I’ve ever had. Let’s try it, and then once everyone’s a little more focused we can go do what we need to do. Sound good?”
“I really didn’t expect you to start a relationship Nie Huaisang,” Lan Xichen said to Lan Wangji, not long before the end. He sounded deeply puzzled. “I didn’t think you liked him like that.”
“Not by himself,” Lan Wangji said with a shrug. “But he’s good in company.”
“…you’re with other people too? Both of you?”
Lan Xichen, knowing his younger brother’s reticent temper, especially of late, declined to ask who the other parties were. “Doesn’t that make things crowded?” he asked instead.
“…surprisingly no,” Lan Wangji said. “Not as much as you’d think.”