Three months after Guanyin temple, a new presence makes itself known outside the Hanshi. Lan Xichen stirs from his meditation, a touch curious. Even through the wards, he could tell his visitor is not a Lan disciple.
He does not rise though. There is no need. Whoever it is, they would soon leave. The entire cultivation world knows Lan Xichen is in seclusion. They know why. He wonders if they speak of him with pity, hate or derision. It matters not; he deserves all three.
He also knows that they don’t need him. Not with uncle leading the sect and Wangji leading them all. The cultivation world has never been in safer hands.
So Xichen hides himself away, deep in the mountains where everything is perfectly quiet and still. Water in a well. Calming to the point of stagnant.
He is so very tired.
The presence moves away, and Xichen closes his eyes, mostly relieved, partially disappointed. The wards around the Hanshi were the best the Lan Clan had, intended to be both a deterrent to intruders and a containment for those within. So far, no one has come to see him, other than Wangji. He isn’t sure if no one dares to or if no one wants to.
He is also so very lonely.
The pages of the book in front of Xichen rustle as if caught in a breeze. All the windows are closed and it is too early for candles. His heart skips a beat. A moment of perfect stillness, and then with the next breath, the wards shatter all at once.
The knocking starts.
He rises slowly, bones aching and slides open the door. The face that greets him is the one he expects.
“I don’t want your help,” Xichen says, firm as he can muster. He stands fully in the entrance of the Hanshi, blocking any attempts at entry. The other might have broken through his wards with alarming ease, but Xichen thinks physically, he may be able to stand his ground.
“I’m not here to help you,” the other man replies, tone light, but not casual. “I need your help.”
Then, taking advantage of Lan Xichen’s shock, We Wuxian steps past him, and breaks the stillness of his seclusion.
Wei Wuxian helps himself to tea.
Lan Xichen didn’t even remember he had tea. Everything is a haze, foggy and soft, blocking out the sharp edges and unwanted memories. It was welcoming most of the time, but it does also mean he forgets simple things like tea.
“Young Master Wei, I’m in seclusion,” he starts, polite but not hiding the edge to his voice.
“I know,” Wei Wuxian responds. No apologies. No judgement either.
Lan Xichen frowns, then pointedly says, “Surely anything you may require assistance with, Wangji would be more than willing to lend a hand? Why come to me?”
Now, Wei Wuxian smiles briefly and it softens his face. “Yes, Lan Zhan has made such offers in his letters.” Then his gaze turns serious again. “But this is something I can’t ask of him.”
“I did not think such a thing would exist. Sect Leader Jiang then?”
Wei Wuxian tenses and shakes his head. “It has to be you, Sect Leader Lan. I need someone of strong cultivation, and who would not attempt to slide a knife across my throat the second I let my guard down.”
Despite himself, Lan Xichen couldn’t help but feel the curiosity rise. “Both Wangji and Jiang Wanyin fit those criteria.”
“Someone capable of playing music.”
Another smile, this time sharp, with teeth. “Someone who can stand to see me in pain.”
Lan Xichen inhales quietly. “What on earth are you attempting, Young Master Wei?”
“The impossible,” comes the reply, caught on a humourless laugh. “I’m going to restore my golden core.”
They sit in silence for a moment. Wei Wuxian sips his tea. When Lan Xichen picks up his own teacup and the surface ripples, he sees blood on the floor of a dusty temple; he hears the soft laugh of a companion sitting across from him in this very room.
He puts the tea cup down and clenches his shaking hands. Wei Wuxian watches him, uncharacteristically silent.
“You know I’m not in any shape to help anyone. I’m...broken.”
Wei Wuxian doesn’t respond for a long pause, and he stands, walking towards the door. Just before he steps outside, he stops and says, without turning around. “Only those who are broken truly know how to mend.”
Then he was gone, a swish of black robes and the sigh of the bamboo.
The first time Jin Guangyao had visited Cloud Recesses after the war, Lan Xichen had invited him to tea in the Hanshi instead of the Main Hall as was custom for guests.
Xichen had not given it much thought. They were brothers now, after all.
“A-Yao, you didn’t need to bother bringing tea yourself. There’s plenty in Gusu.”
The other had smiled, eyes playful even as he bowed his head apologetically. “A-Yao begs forgiveness for being so forward. I simply wished to share a favourite of mine.”
The tea was clearly of exceptional quality, more floral than Xichen personally preferred, but the gesture was thoughtful and A-Yao had looked at him hopefully, just as he had that first time they met during the lectures. He had been delivering a gesture then too, ostensibly from Nie Mingjue even if XIchen knew his friend was not the kind to bother with such trivial tokens.
“It’s delightful,” he returned and A-Yao had smiled, obviously pleased. It was a good look on him, seeing him happy and relaxed. Even though he knew it was what A-Yao had wanted his whole life, being a Jin suited the younger man so well that it made Xichen a little ill at ease. The way he spoke, the way he smoothed over problems, the way he waved aside concerns. It was far more diplomatic than anything Jin Guangshan managed, but there was a vein of similarity that was hard to miss. Jin Guangyao was a man to contend with, but to Xichen, it was as if his friend had taken on another’s skin, slipping it on as if Meng Yao never existed at all.
“Er-ge? Are you okay?”
Xichen had looked up into concerned eyes, bright and genuine as can be. He shook off his discomforting thoughts and took another sip of his cup. There was tea to be had and good company to be shared.
The war was over; there was nothing to worry about.
Wei Wuxian doesn’t return for a week.
Lan Xichen doesn’t know if the man changed his mind or if he simply accepted Xichen’s refusal. Still he orders books and scrolls brought to him in secret. He pours over ancient texts and tomes, all yielding nothing of use. He doesn’t give up though, doesn’t want to disappoint with this mammoth task Wei Wuxian had somehow decided to trust him with.
He doesn’t want to go back to that awful stillness.
He thinks of Wei Wuxian’s face in the temple that night, the realisation of everything sinking in and the hurt bubbling past the surface of that playful mask. Xichen remembers the way he had swallowed it all down and the way he had said nothing at all even as sixteen years of manipulation and cruelty were laid bare at his feet.
Why me? , Xichen thinks. I’m the last person he should entrust anything to.
“They won’t help you.”
Lan Xichen doesn’t startle, but his heartbeat picks up as the object of his thoughts walks into his home. “You’ve returned.”
“I had to get some materials.”
The younger man looks exhausted, features pinched. His hair is pulled back messily and the slant of his cheekbones is sharper than last time Xichen saw him. In the glow of the moonlight, he looks other-worldly.
Wei Wuxian sits across from him without asking and proceeds to lay out his plan.
It’s ludicrous beyond imagination.
“This is....this is-”
Xichen frowns. “No, this is madness. This will only bring you suffering and pain. We don’t even know if it’ll work.”
“It will,” Wei Wuxian says with so much confidence that Xichen almost wants to laugh. This reckless, brilliant, insane boy. “You just need to help me.”
After a tense pause, Xichen nods.
Wei Wuxian is already pulling off his robes. “Brace yourself, Sect Leader Lan. This is not going to be pleasant for either of us.”
“I fought in a war, Master Wei. I can handle this.”
Wei Wuxian only smiles humourlessly. He picks up the dagger and hands it to Xichen.
Lan Xichen has heard the screams of a thousand men. Has been responsible for more than he can count.
Hearing Wei Wuxian scream cuts differently.
The man is tied down on the floor, a sigil drawn on his chest with his own blood, a talisman sunk into his skin and flesh.
Xichen keeps playing, the notes steady if not perfect, dark and heavy in the room. He’s glad the silencing talismans are doing their job. He is not sure how to explain this to anyone who might come running.
Wei Wuxian is awake, somehow, and he is shaking violently, but his eyes are calm...and ancient. Everybody knows Wei Wuxian is older than the body he is in, but right now, he looks older than even that. Eyes that belong to someone who has seen too much; that has lived through more than one should.
He knows the exact moment it goes wrong, because the note hits the precise pitch it needs to, but the song fractures and crumbles in on itself. The reverberation is so deep that Xichen drops Liebing. Wei Wuxian jerks as if stabbed and there’s a horrifyingly wet sound as he coughs up blood all over the floor.
“Don’t tell Lan Zhan,” is all Wei Wuxian manages to squeeze out, before he collapses.
It’s two days before Wei Wuxian stirs.
Xichen is a mess of nerves by then and he doesn’t cry when the other man groans and coughs himself awake, but it’s a near thing.
“How do you feel?”
Wei Wuxian grunts as he sits up, but there’s colour back in his cheeks and he doesn’t wince as he stretches. “Like I’ve had an untested experimental array drawn on me.”
Xichen lets out a heavy sigh and fixes the man with a withering glare. “ Your untested experimental array.”
The other man is pulling on his outer robe and moving to the table, eyeing the fruits on display. He helps himself to a peach, biting into it with relish. For some reason, he looks lighter, more relaxed, as if some of the tension had bled out of him along with the blood.
“We are never attempting that again,” Xichen announces at the same time as Wei Wuxian says “And I think I know what to fix for next time.”
They stare at each other for a long moment.
“You’re insane if you think I’m going to agree to do this again,” he snaps. “You almost died.”
Wei Wuxian sighs loudly, as if Xichen is being the unreasonable one. “But I didn’t! And now we’re one step closer! We know where it went wrong, right and I actually think it’s the order of the notes, we just have to figure out what and where-”
“Wei Wuxian,” he cuts in. “You’ve lost your damn mind.”
Wei Wuxian stares at him, lips parting in surprise. Then he laughs. “You sound exactly like your uncle!”
As the other keeps laughing, Xichen decides he takes back what he thought before. Bring back the stillness, the loneliness, the calmness that was his seclusion before Wei Wuxian.
Wei Wuxian had to leave shortly after, but not before he made it clear he will be back soon.
Until then though, Xichen is granted his wish. He has peace again. The Hanshi is quiet and still, though there’s residue energy in the air. Xichen feels the weight of another person in his space. It is better than the weight of ghosts lingering.
Jin Guangyao was the head of the Jin Sect and the Chief Cultivator, but before that he was Lan Xichen’s friend, his brother, someone he had confided in, and trusted. Had loved and respected and protected. Now he was dead, Xichen’s ghost, everywhere and nowhere. Xichen feels the blood still wet on his hands, the horror etched into his skin. He remembers laughter and music, painting together in warm sunlight. Each truth the other had uttered that night fell into him like daggers, memories made and unmade, poisoned with doubt.
Our ghosts are of our own making, Nie Mingjue had once said to him. Xichen had remembered thinking it was an uncharacteristically poignant thought for his friend, but now he wonders if Mingue had understood better than them all.
Da-ge, I’m sorry. Da-ge, I failed you.
Da-ge, I miss you.
When Wei Wuxian returns, he brings with him three new scrolls, a stack of chrysanthemum cakes and a parcel tied in string. He pushes the parcel into Xichen’s hand. “Steep it twice.”
It’s tea, and Xichen’s stomach tightens, but the blend smells earthy, like the forest and nothing like flowers. He had thought he had covered his reaction last time well enough, but clearly it had not escaped the other’s notice. Clearly, Wei Wuxian had also understood. This was thoughtful.
“I don’t deserve gifts,” he chokes out. “Or visitors.”
Wei Wuxian smiles, and bites down on one of the cakes he brought. “I’m not a visitor, I’m a nuisance, a job if you will. And that’s not a gift, I just don’t like your tea.”
Xichen feels something unravel in his chest and he turns away to prepare the teapot and cups.
The tea is piping hot, enough it burns the roof of Xichen’s mouth a little. It burns on the way down and he feels it swirling in the pit of his stomach. The aftertaste is of bamboo in the springtime.
Wei Wuxian is watching him, and his eyes twinkle when Xichen takes another sip. He pushes the cakes towards Xichen and says nothing.
I enjoyed drinking tea , he thinks, faintly. I enjoy drinking tea.
The scrolls are helpful, but they sit together making notes for the better part of a day before they even attempt to rewrite the music. It starts with tweaks of notes here and there. Xichen offers suggestions and Wei Wuxian takes on a fraction of them. Wei Wuxian proposes a dozen changes and Xichen shuts down nearly all of them.
They end up rewriting entire sections of music. He plays, Wei Wuxian bleeds and they try again.
Five days later, they’re slumped against the table and Wei Wuxian is pale again, brittle and empty of good humour. Xichen feels bone-weary.
“Why are you doing this?” he finally asks. “Core or no core, you’re one of the most powerful cultivators of this generation.”
“Does it matter?” Wei Wuxian snaps, pushing a scroll out of the way and Xichen has to reach out and still his hand.
“Wei Wuxian. I want to help you,” he pleads. “But I will not do so anymore unless I think it is worth risking your life!”
There’s a long, tense moment, and Xichen thinks Wei Wuxian might punch him. Then he feels the fight seep out of the man. “Because Lan Zhan was right. Demonic cultivation is harmful to my body and to my temperament. Last time I thought I was strong enough to overcome it, but I was wrong.”
Xichen stares. “You don’t have to use it this time. There is no war. We- Wangji will protect you.”
Wei Wuxian smiles, features softening the way he always does when they talk about Wangji. “I know he will. But I don’t want him to. I want to stand on my own, I don’t want people to fear me, I want to sword fight with Lan Zhan and Jiang Cheng again...I want to live this time without worrying about this power eating its way out of me.”
“Because I was right too,” the other cuts him off, eyes bright. “I know I am. Demonic cultivation doesn’t have to be harmful. I believe I can wield it safely, if only I-”
“Had a golden core,” Xichen finishes, realisation dawning. His chest feels tight and hollow.
“Yes,” Wei Wuxian nods. “I know I am right, Lan Xichen. I know what everyone thinks, but I know that I can make it safe. Do you believe me?”
Demonic cultivation is the crooked path, unnatural and against the righteous order. It’s a fact as clear as any in the Lan Sect. Xichen looks at the man standing in front of him. Wei Wuxian had walked the righteous path until the path was taken away from him and even then he had crawled his way onwards into the unknown. The world had labelled him a monster and his path an abomination. Xichen had been there. He had thought the same.
All Xichen can see now is someone who gave and gave, and left nothing for himself.
“I don’t know if I believe that,” he starts. “But I believe in you.”
Wei Wuxian blinks at him, then breaks out into a watery grin. “Then let’s get back to work.”
They get back to work. Xichen doesn’t remember the last time he read so intensely or played so much. They also drink tea.
Wei Wuxian had brought with him a new batch this visit, something spicier and nutty compared to last time, but still fresh. Xichen has been forcing them to take breaks, because anyone who said Wei Wuxian was a lazy student clearly has not worked with him on something challenging. The man did not know how to stop.
“I can’t just turn people into ghosts!” Wei Wuxian exclaims hotly.
Xichen suppresses a chuckle. “Well, that’s what the rumours said.The fearsome Yiling Patriarch, the grandmaster of demonic cultivation and father of ghosts.”
Wei Wuxian rolls his eyes. “Wow, how impressive. Sounds like I should’ve been unstoppable then.”
“To be fair, you were practically unstoppable.”
With a huff, Wei Wuxian threw up his hands. “Yeah but I was just controlling people who were already dead. Not hypnotising them into ghosts with my flute or whatever.”
Refilling their cups, Xichen fought to keep a neutral expression so he could add, completely deadpan. “It was actually your eyes apparently.”
Wei Wuxian’s mouth dropped open and he stared at Xichen in disbelief. He looked completely and utterly gobsmacked. In moments like this, it was hard to imagine how anyone found him fearsome at all.
“Come on Wei Wuxian, let’s get back to this sigil change you were trying to explain to me,” Xichen states seriously. Then in the same tone, he adds. “Unless you’re trying to turn me into a ghost?”
Wei Wuxian throws a scroll at him and Xichen laughs for the first time since Guanyin temple.
His lungs burn, sharp and heavy and Xichen feels like he’s breathing in shards of porcelain. They had been working through the ritual, the music flowing smooth and fluid when the air had disappeared all at once.
Wei Wuxian is gasping, body jerking as his lungs try to work, but can’t seem to get any air. Xichen feels like he’s drowning.
By the time he manages to break the array and stumble to where Wei Wuxian is, the man is lying perfectly still. “Wei Wuxian.”
No response. “Wei Wuxian!” he rasps out, shaking the man by the shoulders.
No. No, no, no.
He thinks about sitting here with Wei Wuxian’s body growing cold. He thinks about explaining to uncle what they were attempting. He thinks about the look on Wangji’s face when he finds out what has happened, what Xichen has done. He thinks about never having Wei Wuxian bring him tea, or argue with him or smile -
Wei Wuxian jerks up with a ragged gasp and Xichen feels himself go hot then immediately cold.
He sits motionless on the ground as Wei Wuxian sits up and squints down at his chest, finger tracing one of the sigils and mind already turning. Before the other can saything, Xichen holds up his hand. “No. No more.”
Wei Wuxian’s brow creases and he pauses. “Xichen-ge, we’re so close.”
“I can’t do this anymore.”
“It’s the only way.”
Xichen presses the palm of his hand roughly against his eye and shakes his head. “Take mine.”
“Take my core. We can do what Wen Qing did to you. I don’t need it anyway.”
Wei Wuxian’s expression hardens into something furious. The placating gaze and tone disappears. He looks dangerous. “Don’t be ridiculous. You have no idea what you’re offering.”
Xichen is a mess of raw emotions and he can’t bring himself to tread carefully. “Why? You did the same thing.”
“Jiang Cheng is my brother. It’s not the same. And even if it was, it can’t be done without Wen Qing.” Wei Wuxian’s eyes are shadowed with grief. Another loss, another life Xichen stood by and let them take.
“I owe you anyway.”
Wei Wuxian frowns. “What are you talking about?”
“Everything A-Yao...everything Jin Guangyao did to you...I let him.” He looks away, focusing on the candle on the table rather than the understanding that blooms in Wei Wuxian’s eyes.
“You didn’t know. Don’t take his crimes onto yourself.”
“I supported him even when I knew he had a darker side. I helped him climb higher and higher. I stood by him as he orchestrated the deaths of Jin Zixuan, of your Shijie, you. I taught him how to kill Da-ge with my own hands, I-”
Wei Wuxian grabs him with both hands. His fingers dig into Xichen’s shoulders, the pain grounding. “Lan Xichen. You don’t owe me anything. You didn’t kill anyone.”
Something that has been bubbling inside him finally breaks. “I killed him,” he whispers.
The terrible truth of it was this: even knowing what Jin Guangyao had done, Xichen still regrets killing him. It was irrational and stupid and ridiculous, but it was Lan Xichen's truth and he hated himself almost as much for feeling it as he does for the act itself.
“I’m not sorry he’s dead,” Wei Wuxian replies, and Xichen flinches despite himself. He startles when he feels hands rub circles into his arm. “I am sorry it had to be you.”
He laughs, hoarse and empty. “Maybe it’s my penance.”
“It was cruel. We both know that was by your hand, but not by your will.”
Xichen squeezes his eyes shut. He hadn't dared to think too hard on the matter, but Wei Wuxian's words confirms the suspicion that had grew in him. Huaisang was another ghost haunting him, still within his reach, but unforgiving. He should understand, he does understand. It is nothing compared to what he owes Huaisang. Xichen should make amends, plead his case. It would be what Da-ge wanted. He still remembers the way A-Yao had looked at him, betrayed and heartbroken and Xichen can't bring himself to forgive either.
“I mourn him,” he confesses, the final truth clawing out of his throat, bloody and ugly.
There is no pity in Wei Wuxian's eyes, but there is kindness he doesn't deserve. “We don’t choose who we lose, or who we love.”
Wei Wuxian lies on his back in an array painted in both his and Xichen’s blood. It is one of the missing links they have tried to account for this time. A more direct anchor, Wei Wuxian had murmured, scribbling madly on multiple sheets of paper at once. Better for tuning and transfer, Xichen had agreed.
The circle is flooded with sigils, some standard - energy, strength, growth - and others completely new, invented by Wei Wuxian with an ease that astounds Xichen even now. The array is also layered, something unheard of, though Wei Wuxian assures him he had used a similar, albeit rudimentary, technique back when he took down the Wens.
Even with his own sound knowledge of sigils and talismans, Xichen is out of his depth. He can only trust that Wei Wuxian knew what he was doing. There’s a fire burning in the other’s eyes as they finalise the preparations.
So they begin.
The music flows and the sigils on Wei Wuxian’s torso alights. There are similar sigils on his back, his palms, the soles of his feet. Even one on his nape, a particularly complex swirl of strokes that Xichen had to practice before drawing onto the other man’s skin.
Wei Wuxian starts to shake as the music picks up and the first time he screams, Xichen feels his stomach clench painfully. Wei Wuxian was right. There was no way Wangji could have withstood this.
There’s an energy to the notes, something almost tangible sizzling in the air between them. A crescendo and another, drawn out scream. There’s blood. Xichen sways on his feet, feeling like a puppet master and an executioner in one.
He was wrong about me, Xichen thinks faintly, something sliding into place with a dreadful surety. I can’t do this either.
The final notes fall, tight and sharp.
Xichen drops his xiao and scrambles over to untie the other, fingers trembling and useless. He gasps with relief when Wei Wuxian sucks in a shallow breath.
The other is alarmingly pale and still shaking, but he’s alive. His skin is clammy and burning hot when Xichen presses fingers to his wrist and pushes spiritual energy into the other’s veins without even thinking about it. When something flickers and clings to his energy, Xichen almost drops Wei Wuxian’s hand in shock.
They did it. It really worked.
Wei Wuxian grins at whatever look must’ve been on Xichen’s face. “Attempt the impossible.”
Then still smiling, he goes boneless.
Xichen is going to kill him when he wakes up.
The Hanshi is surrounded by bamboo from every direction and there are no sturdy trees around for birds to perch on. They usually rest on the roof of his house instead, chirping enthusiastically in the early morning. There is no chirping this morning.
Xichen wakes to faint music and with absolute certainty it is well past five.
The sun is high in the sky when he steps outside and he watches in amusement as Wei Wuxian reclines on the rooftop, playing on a leaf, barely in tune. He seems unaware that he has taken over the birds’ territory.
“Such a late sleeper, Xichen-ge.”
Xichen smiles. If Wei Wuxian was up and in a teasing mood, he must feel better. “Such a noisy little bird on my roof.”
“It’s not my fault I’ve been deprived of a real instrument and had to make do with what I could find,” Wei Wuxian quips. Xichen had indeed taken Chenqing the previous night, locking it away in fear that the powerful spiritual tool could disrupt the ritual.
“Come, I’ve made tea.”
“You’re completely reckless, highly unorthodox and truly brilliant.”
Wei Wuxian flushes, pink dusting his cheekbones. He sits up with a yelp. “Zewu-jun, please, you can’t just say stuff like that!”
It’s unfairly endearing. “Surely you’ve been told many times,” he retorts, amused. It was only the truth. Wei Wuxian had always been brilliant, even when he was a student asking bold, inquisitive questions that had Uncle seething. Xichen had always thought he was the brightest mind of their generation, Wangji included. It was no fault of his brother’s, but of their upbringing. Too rigid, too beholden to rules. Wei Wuxian was free, limitless.
“It’s different…You were my teacher after all…and you sound like you mean it...”
“I do mean it,” he confirms and watches Wei Wuxian break into a slow smile. He thinks of another brilliant boy, with a brilliant smile. He thinks of all the things Wei Wuxian might have done had he lived, the people he could’ve saved. Qin Su perhaps, Da-ge likely. Maybe even A-Yao.
Xichen lets the thought linger, then slip away. The past is the past. “Where will you be heading now?”
“Ah...Lotus Pier actually. I promised Jiang Cheng I’d visit soon,” Wei Wuxian replies with forced casualness. Xichen knows the tension is still there, but that the two have reconnected lately, exchanging letters and using poor Jin Ling like a messenger. There’s a delicate lotus pendant that adorns Chenqing, a token of forgiveness, gratitude and entry into Lotus Pier all in one. Wei Wuxian has a similar pendant at his waist, carved in pure white jade. A parting gift from Lan Zhan, Wei Wuxian had told him, I hope you don’t hold it against him, I promise I won’t run amok in Cloud Recesses.
“I’m glad,” he replies. “Brothers shouldn’t fight.”
Wei Wuxian grimaces. “That’s because you and Lan Zhan are so nice . Jiang Cheng is a dick and I’m a pain in the ass. We fight all the time.”
Xichen doesn’t bother hiding his snort. “Wangji will be happy to see you at Lotus Pier. The Cultivation Conference is just around the corner.”
Wei Wuxian brightens visibly. “I can’t wait to see him too, it’s nice exchanging letters, but it’s not the same.”
Xichen sighs. “I’m regretful that Wangji couldn't travel with you as you two had planned. I’m afraid it’s my fault-”
He had known, even as he entered seclusion, that Wangji wanted to go with Wei Wuxian. That his brother had mourned Wei Wuxian for sixteen years and that loved him for even longer. Xichen also knew that Wangji could not bring himself to abandon his brother and he had let Wangji give up everything because it was the easiest thing to do, lost in grief and anger and despair.
“It’s not your fault. Lan Zhan isn’t doing this because of you. He’s doing this because it’s the right thing to do. He wants to make a new world where we curb the violent and assist the weak. And I want to be able to stand beside him, free and unburdened.”
He spoke with conviction, eyes fond and tone proud. Xichen understands now, Wangji’s steadfastness, his loyalty even in death. Soulmates indeed.
Wei Wuxian stands and stretches, blinking against the sun filtering through the windows of the Hanshi. The red ribbon in his hair flutters in the breeze. Xichen had gotten this one as a replacement for his old one, which was left singed from one of their attempts.
The shade of red is off, Xichen thinks and he folds his hands in his lap against the itch to reach out and touch the ends of the ribbon.
“I should go,” Wei Wuxian says, turning to him and pulling out two talismans from his robes. He hands Xichen one, a splash of complex lines. “For your wards. Better than the one I broke. No one will disturb you if you do not wish it.”
Except you, Xichen thinks and wonders if the other man realises the irony of that. You're the only one who has; who would.
Another talisman is pressed into his palm. It’s intricate, beautiful, a strange thing to think about a talisman, but it was true. “For communication. If you wish to be disturbed.”
Wei Wuxian smiles and then with a wave of his flute, he is gone.
Xichen tucks away the talismans carefully and picks up his cup. The Hanshi was still again, quiet and empty. He smiles as he sips on another batch of tea, sweet and deep.
Attempt the impossible, he thinks. It was time to face his ghosts.
When Lan Qiren walks into the Library Pavilion and sees his oldest nephew sitting there, he almost trips over his own feet. Everyone thought him heartless, but it had hurt him deeply to see Xichen return from Yunmeng a broken man. He had understood the need for seclusion. He had feared he may never see his nephew again, a terrible repeat of what had happened with their father.
“Xichen? You’re out of seclusion?” The ‘so soon’ is left unsaid, but they both hear it.
“Yes, uncle,” Xichen responds and he smiles. It’s not brittle as it once was. “I am ready.”
Lan Qiren feels relief and confusion rise simultaneously within himself. “I’m glad, Xichen. May I ask, what brought upon this fortunate change?”
Xichen smiles, more at peace than Lan Qiren has seen in years. “A noisy little bird and some really good tea.”