Wei Wuxian opens his eyes to a dim room and the smell of blood. The pain he feels tells him the blood is his own. But hadn't he died? How does he have a body to feel pain? He looks around the sparse room and sees chains. More than just chains. Someone's been doing some nasty work here--but sacrificing some poor soul to bring him back would have to be the worst.
My reputation being what it is, I suppose they'll expect me to be grateful.
He tries to stand, only to discover one of his legs must be broken. The door is probably barred, anyway. But as he collapses, he finally sees the bloody array spread out beneath him. In the dim light he can't see every line and marking, but he can see enough.
Well. That explains some of the blood.
So the former owner of this body summoned him here? To get revenge on whoever locked him up, tortured him? Understandable...but possibly difficult to arrange. He’s still locked in here, after all, without any tools to work with, presumably still at the mercy of—
The door opens. A beam of firelight overshot by purple lightning illuminates the array, and Wei Wuxian freezes. He bites back a scream as Zidian strikes his back, then forces his eyes upward to meet Jiang Cheng’s shadowed face.
“Very well,” says Jiang Cheng. “I will accept you are not Wei Wuxian.”
“...ha!” Hysterical laughter bursts forth as he pieces together what happened. “Jiang Cheng, you were searching for me, all these years? But I really had nothing to do with this fellow until you drove him to it.” Jiang Cheng's dark expression is torn between furious and--something unreadable. “This summoning ritual, do you know it? If I don't carry out the caster’s wish, I'll die a horrible death. My soul will never be reborn.” He turns his gaze back down, to the words scrawled in blood outside the array.
Kill Jiang Cheng.
Wei Wuxian struggles to his feet, then collapses to his knees once more. Even if he wanted to, this body probably didn't have the strength. “You'll finally be rid of me for good!”
But rather than the look of triumph that Wei Wuxian expected to see, confusion, then horror fill Jiang Cheng's face as Wei Wuxian's words sink in.
Wei Wuxian collapses onto what feels like a fine silk bedsheet, sticky with--he opens his eyes--blood. While the body of the one who performed this ritual had barely been strong enough to complete it, he had been prepared: the room Wei Wuxian finds himself in is full of finery, but no blood, no trace of the spell spreads beyond that one sheet. Easy to hide the evidence…
As he takes a few deep breaths to recover his strength, Wei Wuxian wonders what would have driven a man in this position to perform such a ritual. Don't rich men usually buy their revenge?
He spots a mirror lying on a small table, next to some writing paper and a couple of folding fans. As he lifts the mirror, he almost drops it in surprise. Uh. What? It’s the absolute last face he’d have expected to see. There was no way that Nie Huaisang, of all people, could have possessed the willpower needed for this particular ritual... except, apparently, he did.
Next to the mirror is a letter addressed to him. As he picks it up, he realizes that every sheet of paper beneath is filled with writing, too--the “letter” is practically a book. Wei Wuxian begins to read. Following the rules was never your thing, but I really need your help. Just keep pretending you're me, and follow these instructions to the letter. Otherwise, well, I really don't know anything about rituals like this, but I think if you don't, your eternal soul might be at stake, so…
Wei Wuxian doesn’t need to open his eyes to know he’s lying on a grave. He hadn't expected to be given a body at all, but what’s really surprising is that this is a woman's body. He'd only ever met a couple of women who possessed the determination to carry out this ritual. And just what is he going to do with himself as a woman?
...wait. That probably shouldn’t be his highest concern right now. But there’s an envelope sitting atop the casket. Maybe its contents will tell him what’s going on here.
As he scans the pages, his eyes widen. This body was once Qin Su, the wife of Jin GuangYao...and if what he’s reading is true, then yikes. But if it isn’t true, then what? The spell that brought him back cares nothing for justice, merely payment.
He pauses, hums a few notes experimentally. As expected, the small casket contains the corpse of their son, but it’s not like Wei Wuxian can ask the child how he died. He’ll have to go straight to the source to confirm Qin Su’s suspicions.
As he stands up, one more thing catches his eye--a sword, carefully laid out on the other side of the casket, away from the bloody array. What’s surprising is that it’s his sword, Suibian. Ahh...of course his possessions would have ended up in the hands of the LanlingJin sect. Qin Su had taken the trouble to ready it for him--how thoughtful! But her body’s spiritual strength is too low to make the best use of a sword like Suibian. There’s another, far more efficient weapon at hand.
He tucks Suibian away inside his skirts, then hums a few more soft notes. The lid of the casket creaks aside. A tiny hand reaches out.
Turns out it’s the day of LanlingJin’s discussion conference. Turns out that a room full of powerful cultivators doesn’t respond well to a fierce corpse attacking their leader. Turns out that Suibian had sealed itself, and drawing it is enough to prove his identity, and of course it wasn't hard at all for Jin GuangYao to cast Wei Wuxian as the bad guy.
And then it had turned out that Lan Wangji helped him escape.
With soft fingers, Lan Wangji traces the cut on Wei Wuxian's arm. “It won't heal,” he says. “Not until Jin GuangYao dies.” Lan Wangji just nods, and without any hesitation, tears a strip of cloth from his robes to bind the wound. Although Jin GuangYao hadn’t admitted a thing, the way he acted when faced with the corpse of his son--so calm, so collected--leaves no doubt in Wei Wuxian's mind.
Then Lan Wangji's hand, so soft, so gentle, drifts upwards to brush a stray strand of hair out of Wei Wuxian's face. His fingers linger on his cheek, tracing the shape of his new face. “Hey,” says Wei Wuxian. “Don't make this weird just because I was given a woman's body. I'm exactly the same person I was before.”
Lan Wangji looks away. “Of course,” he says.
“The Yiling Patriarch, I presume?”
Wei Wuxian opens his eyes to find a sharp-eyed youth smiling back at him. He summoned me back? How? He looks down and recognizes the array beneath his feet, but if this other man had just stood there watching— “This body,” he begins.
The young man grins. “He was, shall we say, misinformed as to the nature of this ritual. He wanted revenge, and he wanted you , but he expected to be here to carry it out.” He stretches out a hand. Wei Wuxian doesn't take it. “I could hardly be expected to sacrifice myself to bring you back, after all.”
“Who was he?” Wei Wuxian asks. Half the cultivators in the world wanted revenge on him, after all, and the bloodstained yellow robes of the Jin sect that he’s wearing hardly narrow things down.
The other man shrugs. “Honestly? No fucking clue. Just a hotheaded kid who bit off more than he could chew. Easy enough to lure here.”
Even if this unknown soul hadn’t understood the ritual, he’d performed it correctly. His soul had passed on to the afterlife now, no going back. I’m not someone who would possess an unwilling body, but it seems I’ve done so anyway. Wei Wuxian narrows his eyes at the man. “That’s...that’s really despicable.”
The man’s expression falters. Only for an instant. “Oh, don’t say that, not when we’re going to be such good friends,” he says. “After all, aren’t you here to help me out?”
The hatred of all the cultivation clans in the world cannot condemn Wei Wuxian half as much as this: Xue Yang looks up to him. He still does, for all Wei Wuxian has made his distaste clear, each day attempting to impress him with some new atrocity. All the while keeping him imprisoned--it’s a contradiction Wei Wuxian doesn't understand, and doesn't want to.
“Meet Song Lan,” Xue Yang tells him one day as a tall, blank-eyed figure steps behind him into their home. “He’s as powerful as your Ghost General, but he's completely under my control.”
“So this is what you'd do to Priest XingChen if his soul were whole?” Of course Wei Wuxian had never enslaved Wen Ning, he hadn't needed to. They were friends—
Song Lan isn't Xue Yang's friend.
“How’d you do it?” he asks. Xue Yang beams down at him--the first time his work has impressed the master.
“Well, first I killed him. Not that I did it myself…”
Xue Yang dies only seconds after Wei Wuxian removes the pins from Song Lan’s skull. Thank you, the mute corpse writes on the ground. When Wei Wuxian presents him with what remains of Xiao XingChen’s soul, he smiles as much as he can. I can lead you out of Yi City, he writes, and Wei Wuxian follows.
But in a stolen body, in a world that hates him, he doesn't know where to go next. He steps into the first inn he sees--and finds himself face to face with a frustrated, exhausted Jiang Cheng. “Jin Ling.” His eyes narrow and he rises to his feet. “Where have you been? I’ve been searching for nearly a month!”
Who did this body belong to, that Jiang Cheng would come looking for him himself? “Uh, Sect Leader Jiang—”
“Don't 'Sect Leader Jiang’ me. Your other uncle has been worried sick!”
... other uncle?
This is—? “...uncle,” Wei Wuxian tries.
“Better,” says Jiang Cheng, and Wei Wuxian doesn't hear the rest. This...this is shijie’s son?
He recalls Xue Yang’s tale of Song Lan’s death. “He knew exactly who this was,” he whispers.
Jiang Cheng narrows his eyes. “What are you talking about?”
He’d never even met shijie’s son, back then. The one thing he hadn’t destroyed, and now--and now he--
“I didn’t--I swear I’ll bring him back, I’ll find a way, I swear!”
“You're not Jin Ling.” Purple lightning crackles in Jiang Cheng's hand. “ Who are you?” he snarls, and Wei Wuxian suspects he already knows.
Wei Wuxian awakens to an overwhelming sense of peace, which is puzzling, as he is supposed to be dead. He opens his eyes. Shuts them and opens them once more to make sure he isn't dreaming. He's never been in this room before, but there's no doubt about it--this is the Cloud Recesses. How on Earth did he end up here?
Further examination of the room explains the how, but only raises more questions regarding the why. This ritual... calling upon an evil spirit to carry out revenge? So he’s counted as an evil spirit, here among the Lan clan? That should come as no surprise--so why does it sting?
Anyway, isn't revenge against the rules? Then his thoughts turn more serious. He doesn't want to hurt anyone here, so whatever revenge the former owner of this body had wanted will have to—
He pauses. Did this person ask for vengeance, after all? Wei Wuxian scratches his head. He doesn't recall anything. As he lowers his hand, it brushes against his forehead ribbon, and he trails his hand down the loose ends. Cloud patterned. Not merely a disciple, but a member of the family? Sudden dread fills him. He doesn’t want to know, he has to know. Mirror, mirror-- there has to be a mirror here, mirrors aren't against the rules! Finally he finds one, but he's almost afraid to look.
He looks, of course. “H-hanguang-Jun?”
This doesn't make any sense. This is wrong. “Hanguang-Jun, what—?” His obvious shock and confusion look utterly alien on Lan Wangji's face. He schools his expression into stiffness--there, there he is. Except, of course, he isn't.
The moment he'd realized he was in the Cloud Recesses he'd been thinking how he could avoid Lan Wangji, but suddenly all he wants is for the other man to step up behind him, for the reflection to be an illusion, for him to be here. But why? It’s not like they were friends. “Lan Zhan, look at me,” he whispers. His lips curve upwards in the slightest smile at the words, and Wei Wuxian can’t help himself, he starts as if the other man really did respond. The illusion shatters. He tosses the mirror aside.
It shatters, too.
“Lan Zhan, this was a mistake, right?” Even if Wei Wuxian was nothing more than an evil spirit to Lan Wangji, he wasn’t the sort of person to go this far for revenge. And he didn’t. His body bears no wounds. It's as if his wish has already been granted, and all he wished was for Wei Wuxian to be here.
But that’s impossible, of course.
Wei Wuxian sighs. Probably, he’ll never know.
Wei Wuxian can feel the morning sun warm on his face, but he doesn't open his eyes until he feels Lan Wangji comb his unkempt hair back from his face. He looks up at him. “You slept in.”
“Mm.” Of all the rules Lan Wangji has broken for him, this is arguably the least significant--yet when they wake up together on days like this, he feels like he's been given the entire world.
Lan Wangji's hands continue to trace the lines of his face. “Does it ever feel strange to you?” Wei Wuxian asks. “To look at me, and see someone else?” It's been a year now, since he came back, but every so often Mo Xuanyu’s reflection still catches him by surprise.
A single finger presses his lips shut. Don't ask stupid questions. “You're here,” says Lan Wangji.
He's here. Wei Wuxian closes his eyes again and sighs with pleasure as Lan Wangji bends forward to kiss him. Sometimes he still marvels at everything that brought him here, at everything that could have gone wrong but didn't. But today--he wraps his arms around the other man, hand entwining in soft hair against the back of Lan Wangji’s head, pulling him close, savoring the kiss--today it is enough that he is here.