WWX sits outside under a starry night, tossing back another jug of Emperor's Smile to keep warm against the Gusu air. Even after a year of living in CR, its icy chill still manages to creep down to his bones.
Normally on nights like this, he would be cuddled up with
LWJ in the jingshi. But tonight, after a small disagreement that ended in cold, awkward silence, WWX had to escape for some air.
It wasn't even an argument, and therein lies the problem. In the end, LWJ conceded to WWX’s demands, indulging him as he always does.
Sometimes WWX wants the push back. Wants the challenge. Where's the fun in getting his way when he doesn't have to fight for it?
Doing whatever he wants doesn't have the same thrill to it if there is no one to say 'no' in the first place. It is childish, but people always forget
WWX was barely 20 when he died the first time. Mentally, and even physically, he is closer in age to the juniors than the adults who surround him.
Speaking of the juniors, from his place atop one of CR's bordering walls, he sees LSZ and LJY sneaking in, faces pale and white
robes covered in blood.
What the hell?
WWX leaps down, startling the two Lans.
"Senior Wei! W-what are you doing here? It's after 9…"
"I can ask the same of you two. Weren't you on a nighthunt with JL for the next couple of days? Why are you back so soon? Are you hurt?"
His eyes widen. "Jin Ling?"
"No, Jin Ling is unharmed," LSZ insists.
"Then whose blood is this? What happened during the hunt?"
The boys exchange a look. LJY opens his mouth but LSZ is quick to shush him. "We told JL we wouldn't say anything."
WWX crosses his arms and pins them with a critical look. They fidget under his scrutiny until LJY is the one to fess up.
"It's Sect Leader Jiang!" he wails.
"Jingyi!" LSZ scolds.
"Oh come on, you know I can't keep a secret!"
Before they can bicker any further, WWX cuts
them off. "What do you mean it's Jiang Cheng? What happened to him? He's not…?"
His mind races with every worst possibility. It's been over a year since he last spoke to JC, since Guanyin Temple. Though they finally severed ties that day, an unspoken agreement to stay away from
In the back of his mind, there was always time to meet again. To make things right. Or at the very least, exchange a proper goodbye..
It never occurred to WWX that he wouldn't get that chance. And now, a fear he never even knew sprouts in his chest.
JC can't be…
He grabs LSZ's shoulders, suddenly aware the cold damp blood smearing onto his hands must belong to his shidi.
"Where is he? What happened to Jiang Cheng? Don't tell me…"
"He's alive!" LJY assures. "He's back at Lotus Pier with Jin Ling right now."
"Tell me what happened."
LSZ looks hesitant to answer. WWX shakes him back and forth, not realizing how rough he's being. Not caring at this point.
"Tell me what happened to Jiang Cheng!"
LJY pulls WWX off. "Okay, okay, we'll tell you! Just calm down!" he complains. He gives LSZ an apologetic look
then faces WWX. "It started off as a normal night hunt…"
They were investigating a small town sitting between Gusu and Yunmeng with JL. There had been reports of water ghouls at the modest fishing port, so the Lans invited JL along since he had experience in the area, having
partially grown up in Yunmeng.
It went without saying that Sect Leader Jiang was nearby, watching over his nephew, though he didn't make himself known.
The water ghouls were easily cleared out of the large lake bordering the town, but as they began to pack up for the night, the
lake began to shake and small ripples grew into violent waves. Suddenly a giant scaled serpent emerged from the water, lashing an enormous tail and razor-sharp maw around, barely missing the juniors upon its breach.
They attacked with swords and talismans but nothing worked--the
serpent's scales deflected everything they threw at it.
Seeing them struggle with the monster, both Sect Leader Jiang and Wen Ning emerged from the shadows they were hiding to help. They would have clashed had they not had to focus on the giant water snake.
Zidian proved most
effective against the serpent's hide. The ruthless lashes of purple lightning split the monster’s flesh where black ichor leaked from its wounds.
And that was how the serpent found its target. Seeing the monster’s focus on him, Sect Leader Jiang drew it out to the center of the
lake, ordering the boys to stay back.
The monster took chase. It reeled back and dove at Sect Leader Jiang with the entire length of its body. Both Sect Leader Jiang and the serpent crashed beneath the surface of the lake. Purple light lit up the water before slowly fading.
Then the water stilled.
"Jiujiu!" JL cried as he swooped down, searching the lake for any sign of Sect Leader Jiang. It was as if he and the serpent had disappeared.
Finally, the murky water beneath them turned red. Blood drifted to the surface along with a purple robed body.
JL quickly fished his uncle from the water and, gods, there just so much blood. His throat had been slashed, and unconscious like this, he couldn't stop the bleeding.
JL reluctantly accepted WN's help in keeping Sect Leader Jiang from bleeding out, and with LSZ and LJY by
his side, they all rushed his uncle back to Lotus Pier. Luckily they got Sect Leader Jiang to YMJ's healer in time, who then shooed them out of the room so she could work.
LSZ and LJY stayed with JL who tried and failed to hold back his tears. LJY couldn’t get the horrific image
of the injured man out of his mind. The once fierce sect leader looked so small and fragile in JL’s arms as they flew to Lotus Pier. He was nothing like the infamous Sandu Shengshou they'd come to know and fear. And occasionally sass.
In fact…the more the memory played in his
head, there was something seriously /off/ about Sect Leader Jiang. He was different somehow, but LJY couldn’t place what it was. He whispered (loudly) to LSZ.
“Didn’t Sect Leader Jiang look strange to you?”
LSZ frowned. “Strange?”
“I don’t know, something about him didn’t seem
right. What if there’s something wrong with him?”
JL overheard and shouted between his sobs. “Shut up! There’s nothing wrong with my jiujiu! He’s going to be okay! You don’t know anything!”
“Easy, Young Mistress. I was just saying what I saw!”
They argued back and forth til
LSZ pulled them apart, suggesting he and LJY return to CR for the time being. It was then that JL made them promise to keep quiet about Sect Leader Jiang's injury, not wanting to put the Jiang Sect in a vulnerable position.
From there, they returned to Gusu and ran into WWX.
WWX listens with a knot twisted in his gut. JC has been injured, perhaps permanently. And LJY is saying he seems different? What does that mean? WWX needs to see his shidi.
He wakes up LWJ and after a rapid explanation, they are on Bichen, headed to Yunmeng. They reach LP the
next morning and are immediately denied entry. YMJ disciples have never liked WWX for how he wronged their sect leader; they certainly aren’t going to let him in now. They point their swords when he refuses to leave, and LWJ draws Bichen to his defense.
It’s not until JL emerges
from inside that everyone drops their swords. His golden robes are still covered in blood and his eyes are baggy with lack of sleep and stress. The teenager crosses his arms and scowls, looking so much like JC from their days in CR.
“I should have known Jingyi couldn’t keep his
big mouth shut.”
“I just want to make sure Jiang Cheng is okay.”
“You nor HGJ are welcome in Lotus Pier. Leave now.”
“I’m not leaving until I see him!”
JL turns his nose up. “You’ve got some nerve demanding to see my jiujiu after ignoring him all this time. Now that he’s hurt
suddenly you care?”
“I’ve always cared! And it’s not like he’s dropped by Gusu to pay me any visits either,” WWX mutters.
“Weren’t you the one who said you two should forget your past with each other? It was your choice to leave him the first time, and run away the second;
why should he be the one to seek you out?”
WWX pales at the accusation. LWJ comes to his aid, sizing up his nephew. “Jiang Wanyin will never be able to repay the sacrifices Wei Ying has made for him. He has yet to show any gratitude."
JL scoffs. "Is that why you both flew here
so quickly? To ensure he doesn't die before thanking the great Yiling Patriarch for all you've done for him?"
"That's not it! Lan Zhan, let me handle this."
Suddenly a woman's scream carries from inside Lotus Pier. JL is the first to rush in, followed by the group of Jiang
disciples. With no one blocking their entry any longer, WWX and LWJ run in as well.
The screaming comes from the healer's quarters. When they reach it, JL flings the door open and everyone freezes at what they see.
YMJ's assistant healer is on the ground, holding a gash in his
side. Across the room is JC, face pale from blood loss and eyes wild as he holds Sandu to the head healer's throat. He uses her as a shield between him and the rest of the people entering the room.
But it's not the frenzied behavior of his shidi that has WWX gaping like a fish.
This is not Sect Leader Jiang.
Right now, WWX is looking at the youthful, round face of a Jiang Cheng no more than 17 years old.
Somehow, he is staring into the freshly grief-stricken eyes of his shidi who has just witnessed Lotus Pier burn and his parents along with it.
WWX could never forget the pain that stuck to JC’s face in the days that followed the Wens’ attack. It’s the same as the one backed into the corner of the room like a rabid animal right now.
It makes sense to WWX why others might not have caught on as quickly. With JC’s high
level of cultivation he already looked as though he hasn't aged a day since he turned 20, as is the same for the likes of the Twin Jades.
And, truth be told, there is hardly anyone left alive who would actually know what JC looked like as a teenager.
The white bandages around JC’s neck turn red and blood sputters from his mouth when he tries shouting.
JL runs forward. “Jiujiu, what are you--”
WWX barely pulls JL back in time to miss the worst of Sandu’s edge, though it lands close enough to run a fine line across the boy’s
cheek. JL holds his face, for once too stunned to speak and WWX steps between them.
JC struggles for breath, his body still weak from his injuries, and his limbs tremble. He lets go of the healer, but swings his sword with what little strength he has to keep a distance between
himself and his panicked disciples. They all shout different things, trying to get him to calm down but it only seems to confuse and agitate him further.
Finally WWX finds his voice.
JC looks his way. His eyes widen in recognition, he lowers his sword and runs
forward. WWX opens his arms to embrace his frightened shidi, only for JC to run right past him.
Everyone's jaws drop when JC clings onto LWJ's robes, frantically trying to speak despite the blood filling his mouth. LWJ makes to push him off, but stops when he sees the sheer
desperation in JC's bloodshot eyes.
WWX tries not to be miffed at the sudden turn of events. Of course JC wouldn't recognize him in MXY's body.
LWJ doesn't know what to do--he's hesitant to even touch JC. He looks to his husband for help. "Wei Ying."
At the name, JC whips his head around, looking for his brother. When he can't find him, he pulls on LWJ's sleeves again.
"Wei...W-Wuxian..." JC whimpers, voice wet and raspy as he forces sound to come out. "Wh...where...?"
WWX restrains himself. He wants nothing more than to
comfort his shidi who looks on the verge of tears, but knows JC would only freak out even more, not knowing who he is.
JC's injury worsens the more he tries to speak and clutch onto LWJ. Finally, LWJ hits a pressure point in JC's neck, knocking him out.
The moment he sags in LWJ's arms, WWX snatches him up and holds the unconscious boy close. Cradles his smaller, slimmer body. The one he remembers so clearly from over 16 years ago--only a couple years in WWX's perspective.
His eyes burn.
What the hell is going on?
WWX stands beside his husband, JL, and YMJ’s second in command, listening to what the healer has to say about their predicament.
"It would appear Sect Leader Jiang is currently about the same age as Sect Leader Jin."
JL scowls, fidgeting with Zidian on his finger.
"Okay, so how do we get my real jiujiu back?"
Though he promised to be a quiet observer, WWX can't help but interject. "What do you mean 'real'? This Jiang Cheng is just as real as his even grumpier, older self."
"My real jiujiu would never attack me."
“Well,” WWX starts, not wanting to come off as insensitive, “technically he's not your uncle. At the age he is right now, you weren't even born yet.”
Shockingly this doesn’t calm JL down at all. The healer backs up WWX’s claim with a grim expression. She explains that JC's age
has exponentially regressed, and his memory along with it. And yet he still has scars from wounds he received in recent years, like the stab wound from JGY.
JL's face darkens at the mention of his other uncle, a betrayal he has yet to fully process even a year later.
"However, most telling of all is his golden core," she says as everyone's eyes drift toward WWX. "It's far too strong to be anything but the core he's been cultivating with for the past 14 years. It has not regressed with the rest of him."
So this is for certain their JC.
His golden core--WWX’s, a lifetime ago--is still inside him and stronger than ever. But even with this knowledge, the healer hasn't determined what caused this change.
"A curse?" LWJ suggests.
"It could be, but I've been unable to detect any foreign spiritual or resentful
energy affecting him."
"Wait, wait, wait," WWX squawks in growing frustration. "No curse means no cure. Are you saying Jiang Cheng is stuck like this? Like, permanently??"
The healer lowers her head in shame. "I'm sorry, but I truly don't know. Only time will tell."
WWX doesn't know what to think--what to even feel at the moment. All he knows is he wants to see JC and console him properly like he was unable to do in the aftermath of their profound loss. They had suffered together, but maybe if he had been more attentive or was able to
find the right words to soothe him, JC wouldn’t have gone off on that suicide mission. He had to have known he wouldn’t make it back from Lotus Pier alive.
What must this JC be thinking right now?
A YMJ disciple informs them JC has woken up again, this time full of sedatives
so he won't lop off anyone's head. WWX and JL wrestle each other to the door, both wanting to be the first to see JC.
"You're not even supposed to be here! Know your place and back off; he's /my/ jiujiu!"
“I already told you, he doesn’t even know who you are. He asked for me!”
“He won’t know you either! The Wei Wuxian he knew wasn’t a crazy cutsleeve possessing the body of an even crazier cutsleeve!”
WWX gasps, insulted. He is /not/ crazy!
The healer steps in. “You can both see him, but perhaps it’s best if Hanguang-jun takes the lead?
As of right now, he is the only one Sect Leader Jiang recognizes. The two of you might overwhelm him in his current state.”
WWX and JL complain but can’t really argue with that. WWX instructs LWJ as they approach JC’s room. “We have to avoid revealing too much until we can
figure out what he remembers. If I’m correct, he’s at the age Lotus Pier was destroyed, so be sensitive, okay?”
JL scoffs. LWJ’s brows furrow just the slightest, but he nods. “Mn.”
The three of them enter, WWX and JL stand back at the other end of the room so as not to crowd.
JC is sitting up in his bed, head down, still looking quite frail. Fresh bandages have been dressed around his neck, and sitting in his lap is parchment and a brush--he won’t be able to speak much for the next couple of days according to the healer.
When LWJ approaches his bed, JC finally looks up with puffy, red-rimmed eyes. WWX feels his gut twist in guilt, for reasons he can’t explain.
“Jiang Wanyin, what is the last thing you remember?” LWJ asks without any preamble. JC stares at him for a long time,
looking like he’s about to start crying again. Then he looks at WWX and JL, suspicious. The utter lack of recognition hurts more than he expected. With no response, LWJ says, “You are safe here. We are here to help.”
JC again takes his time just staring at them before finally
picking up his brush. In characters shakier than his usually immaculate penmanship, he writes, /You are not Lan Wangji./
And thus, what follows is a long and slow process of getting JC to believe LWJ is who he says he is. It takes displaying Bichen, recounting the year JC
studied in CR in great detail, and even cautiously bringing up Dusk Creek Mountain and the Xuanwu of Slaughter which he does remember. Eventually it is enough to get JC to at least listen to what else LWJ has to say, though he is still visibly wary.
LWJ repeats his question.
Instead of answering, JC writes back, /Why do you look different?/
WWX sighs. So stubborn, even now. But JC has always been quite observant; perhaps it was too much to expect him to not notice this isn't the same LWJ from almost 20 years ago.
It's torture to not speak up during all this, for both WWX and JL. Both of them seem to think they could go about the whole situation more tactfully than LWJ, but WWX will trust his husband. After all, as backwards as it is, LWJ is the only one here JC even remotely trusts
as the only familiar face in the room.
LWJ avoids answering anything that would reveal too much too soon, so he changes his approach.
"Answer one of my questions and I will answer yours. When did you last see Wei Ying?"
JC's face pales. He quickly scribbles,
/Where is Wei Wuxian?/
It takes everything in WWX not to leap forward, shouting he's right here, he never left. But that isn't true, is it?
LWJ presses. "You tell me. When did you last see him?"
Tears well up in JC's eyes as he writes in slow, measured strokes.
Tears well up in JC's eyes as he writes in slow, measured strokes.
/Lotus Pier is gone./
LWJ nods, despite the irony of the situation. JC doesn't know where he is right now and was likely too hysterical earlier to have recognized the Jiang robes his disciples were wearing.
/Wei Wuxian and I escaped,/ he continues to write, before his hand pauses. Trembles.
JC's brow knits together, as if debating what to write next.
/We stopped for food at a market and got separated. I was captured by Wen Chao./
WWX narrows his eyes. Separated? Captured? What is he talking about? That's not how it happened. JC had stupidly ran back to Lotus Pier on his own, and that's how Wen Chao caught him.
He steps forward, startling JC. "What do you mean we were separated?
You went back to Lotus Pier for your parents' remains. You left our hiding place after I told you to stay put!"
JC's eyes widen and he starts shaking his head. LWJ tries keeping WWX back but he pushes past his husband to grab onto his shidi's arm.
"Jiang Cheng, are you saying you were captured in that market? How did the Wens find you? Why didn’t I see it? Why didn't you call for me?"
JC must think WWX is insane--he certainly feels it. The boy tries pulling his arm back as the tears he held in his eyes finally
start to fall. He's starting to panic and WWX is right there along with him.
Everything about that situation--how JC lost his core, WWX was so sure he knew what happened. They never really talked about it back then, but why else would JC have left like that?
Why wouldn’t he have corrected WWX when he called JC an idiot for going back to Lotus Pier?
"Jiang Cheng, you have to tell me the truth," he says, refusing to let go.
LWJ grabs his shoulder. "Wei Ying, calm down."
JC is hopelessly confused now, looking between the two and
probably deciding they have both lost their minds.
WWX persists. He needs to know. "How did Wen Chao find you?"
JC keeps shaking his head, panting like he can't breathe. Now JL is on his other side, shouting at WWX to stop and leave him alone.
But he can't.
He can't. He can't. He /can’t/ accept the other possibility.
"Jiang Cheng, fucking answer me!"
JC thrashes beneath him, crying as he tries to flee from the bed, but WWX snags onto his collar and pulls him closer.
"What did you do? What did you do!?" WWX shouts. He's demanding answers when his heart has already gathered the truth.
Suddenly everything he thought he knew
about JC--about them--has turned into a lie.
Amidst the fog of his shoddy memory, the day he almost lost JC has never been more clear than this moment. He recalls cold rain pattering against his dry skin as he walked down the market, making sure not to stray too far from where
he left JC in hiding. He remained nearby--he would have seen a fight, heard the ruckus, if only JC had done something to get his attention.
If only JC had wanted the help.
WWX returned to that empty alley, countless deaths still heavy on his shoulders, and now his final promise
to Uncle Jiang and Madam Yu already failed.
In the days that followed the open wounds of their sect and family murdered, and then JC’s melted core--through the guilt and fear and utter grief, how could WWX have done anything but what he did?
His golden core was a small price to pay if it meant keeping his promise. It was more than worth it for restoring JC’s will to live and fight.
He ensured his shidi would rise to his rightful place as sect leader and rebuild YMJ, and JC has accomplished both with unparalleled
success. In a way, WWX had contributed to that through his sacrifice, by saving JC.
But it turns out that was never the case.
Tears burn hot in his eyes, wetting his cheeks. He wrings JC's collar, ignoring JL's shouting and LWJ's urges to calm down.
"You fucking idiot, why did you do it?!" he screams over JC’s panicked sobs. "I promised your parents! If it ever came to you or me; I should have been the one to…"
His own weeping cuts himself off. How could JC be so selfish? Did he think WWX could live on knowing he let his
shidi die? How could he have faced Shijie again? Or even Uncle Jiang and Madam Yu in the next life, after allowing JC to sacrifice himself for his subordinate, the one who was supposed to be protecting him?
It was all backwards.
"You bastard, how could you give up like that! You don’t get to choose to die! Not for me!"
"Wei Wuxian, get off him!" JL yells.
JC struggles and cries until his face is a deep red. He's full on hyperventilating now, his free hand clawing at WWX’s arms to let go.
WWX shakes his head, wishing it would erase everything he's learned today.
"Why didn't you tell me?" he suddenly wails, feeling as though he has been transported back to that night in Guanyin Temple a year ago. When he saw JC so hurt, weeping as he was, WWX knew that was the
last thing he wanted his actions to bring about. That's why he lied and kept his secrets about the core transfer.
He never imagined the roles would reserve like this.
"All this time you let me think…" WWX can't tell the difference between his anger and hurt and sadness.
He only knows that it's too much. "Even after you found out the truth, you still kept this from me!"
JC finally uses his free hand to shove WWX back. The push flings WWX across the room and onto his back, coughing up a mouthful of blood.
LWJ rushes to WWX's aid. "Wei Ying!"
He sits up, spitting out more blood and rubbing his chest. He might have broken a rib. That was far more spiritual energy than JC has ever used on him in the past, even when chasing him across half the country upon his return.
After helping WWX to his feet, LWJ turns on JC,
anger and something even darker flashing across his face. "Jiang Wanyin, you--"
"Lan Zhan, stop!" WWX snaps, pushing his husband back, though he doesn't budge. "Don't touch him!"
LWJ gives him a wounded look, but WWX doesn't have time to be concerned with the other's feelings
at the moment. When he looks back to JC on the bed, it's clear they have a new problem.
WWX only now realizes the distressed state he's put his vulnerable shidi in, and now…
Now JC is looking at his own hand in confused horror. Purple spiritual energy crackles in his palm,
and he lets out a strangled cry.
Suddenly he's ripping his shirt open and feels for the scar on his chest--the one that healed years ago but to him should still be fresh. His trembling fingers fall lower, resting right above his golden core.
WWX's golden core.
JC screams until the bandages over his throat are soaked in blood as he claws and shreds at the skin over his core, like he's trying to dig it out.
"N-not…" he rasps through bloody teeth. "Out...get it...out…"
WWX's eyes widen.
JC can tell the golden core isn't his.
It must be too strong, too different from the level of cultivation he last remembers it. Despite what people would say, WWX and JC were quite similar in cultivation when the transfer took place--it's why JC never noticed.
But now, his 17 year old body is holding a golden core
over 30 years in the making.
WWX rushes to JC's side to calm him down, but it's useless at this point. JC is in full on hysterics, ripping himself bloody.
JL grabs WWX and shoves him back into LWJ. "You're only making things worse! Get out!"
"All you do is hurt him!" JL screams, holding back tears of his own. "Just leave us alone!"
WWX wants to throw up. Between JL's hateful glare and JC's horrific breakdown, he feels like a monster.
Who's to say he isn't? Only LWJ would insist otherwise, but WWX hasn't hurt or
taken from him nearly as much as he has with JC and JL.
His legs grow weak and he finally allows LWJ to pull him from the room. JC's wails echo the hallways as YMJ's healer and several disciples rush by to tend to their sect leader.
Each face WWX passes on his way out is consumed with disgust. Rightfully so, he thinks.
Naturally WWX and LWJ are immediately kicked out of Lotus Pier, but WWX refuses to leave Yunmeng. Not when JC is like this.
Not when he now knows the truth. The irony of it all feels like a sick joke.
WWX sits alone at the inn he plans to spend the rest of his stay in Yunmeng,
currently downing his fourth jar of wine. LWJ had insisted they just return to Gusu, rightly stating they are unwanted here, but WWX is tired of running away.
That's all he does when things get ugly--run and hide behind LWJ and all his beauty. Not this time.
Though obviously he isn't going to make any progress tonight, already seeing double when LWJ approaches him.
"Wei Ying, you've had enough."
WWX throws his head back in over-the-top laughter. He'll fake his way out of depression if he has to.
"Nonsense, Lan-er-gege! I've only had, uh," he holds up three fingers, "4 drinks!"
"This is your fifth, and you just ordered another."
"Whoops," WWX giggles. LWJ sighs and makes to take the jar away, but WWX hugs it tight and pouts. "Lan Zhan! No stealing!
That's against the rules! Haha, old man Qiren is gonna punish yooouuuuu~!"
One of the inn workers brings WWX’s sixth jar of wine over, but LWJ sends him back before he can reach their table. WWX starts whining loudly, causing other customers to send them dirty looks.
LWJ quickly scoops him up before they get kicked out and carries him to their room.
“Lan-er-gege is so strong, be gentle with me~!” WWX laughs drunkenly.
When they get to the room, LWJ tosses WWX onto the bed. He giggles and spreads his legs with a suggestive look.
“What are you waiting for, Lan Zhan? Every day is every day, right?”
LWJ sits beside him. “You should sleep.”
WWX whines some more, but gives up rather quickly as drowsiness sets in and lies down. He closes his eyes but tears still leak through, and he laughs bitterly.
“I really fucked up.”
He feels the back of LWJ’s hand run along his cheek. “You did not know the truth. Do not blame yourself for the decisions Jiang Wanyin made.”
He pulls away from the caress and turns onto his side, back facing LWJ. “I’m going to see Jiang Cheng tomorrow.”
There is a long stretch of silence before LWJ responds, “We are not welcomed--”
“I don’t care,” WWX says, curling into himself. “I won’t leave him again.”
The next day, WWX sets off to see JC. At least initially. He gets cold feet the moment Lotus Pier comes into view and makes a detour for a drink or two. LWJ is unusually quiet this late morning, and WWX can sense some tension, but he has a priority that he needs to focus on.
One that came long before LWJ.
WWX orders another drink and LWJ gives him a disapproving look. “It’s called liquid courage for a reason, Lan Zhan.”
He’s suddenly distracted by a flash of gold robes. “Typical I’d find you drinking,” JL greets with his arms crossed over the peony
sigil on his chest. “It’s not even noon and you’re already this drunk?”
"Who's drunk?" WWX argues as he jumps to his feet, though he immediately falls into concern. "How is Jiang Cheng?"
"Better, no thanks to you."
He flinches. "I know I reacted badly yesterday. I...I'm really
sorry, Jin Ling. I didn't mean to upset him, I just…"
"You weren't prepared to hear something that challenged everything you knew?" JL supplies in a bratty, know-it-all tone. His sharp eyes cast onto LWJ as he adds, "At least you didn't have the truth thrown in your face.
The way my jiujiu found out was even less tactful, wouldn't you agree, Hanguang-jun?"
LWJ stiffens beside him, but WWX doesn't quite follow. Hadn't JC put the pieces together himself after unsheathing Suibian? Perhaps he's referring to when JGY taunted JC back in Guanyin Temple
but then what does that have to do with LWJ?
As it turns out, unknown to anyone else at the time, JL had also been following WWX and LWJ that night after the Second Siege. From his hiding place, he saw his uncle confront WWX and LWJ at the Jiang ancestral hall, and heard the
harsh words WN had for JC.
It was seeing how distraught JC was, running around Lotus Pier asking cultivators to try and unsheath Suibian that made JL go chasing after WWX to Guanyin Temple.
JL can't forgive how unfair his uncle's life has been, nor those who have continued to
tear him down, whether intentionally or not.
"Did you know?" WWX asks. "What Jiang Cheng did for me?"
JL shakes his head. "I'm certain he never wanted anyone to know."
/Of course,/ WWX thinks. JC may be selfish with his family, but he'd never hold them to a debt.
Would never accept someone staying by his side because they think they owed him.
This secret was JC's way of letting WWX go. JC was just trying to give him what he thought WWX wanted. What WWX /said/ he wanted.
“Jiujiu is asking for you.”
It takes WWX a couple seconds to process what JL said. Finally, “What?? He wants to see me?” he asks, stunned. “As in, he knows I’m…?”
The mere question seems to drain JL. Now that he pays attention, his nephew looks awful. The kid clearly hasn’t slept or eaten in the past
couple days, and the emotional toll can't be any better.
He gives WWX a heinous stare.
“He refuses to talk to anyone else, even me.” JL’s voice almost cracks at the end. “We tried explaining things to him, but all he says is that he wants you.”
WWX’s heart flutters at the same time it hurts for JL. With JGY gone, JC is truly all the kid has left, and now the one who raised him doesn't even remember who he is. He can’t imagine how difficult these past couple days must have been for JL, but there is no denying the warmth
that fills WWX at hearing JC wants to see him. Since his resurrection, he never thought such a simple thing, so easy in their past, would be possible now.
“Sober up before you come to Lotus Pier,” JL nags before leaving. He really is so much like JC, WWX can't help but find the
He goes to Lotus Pier not long after, LWJ reluctantly coming along. When they arrive, JL informs them JC wants to see WWX separately, alone. He reassures his husband before going into JC's room. JC doesn't look much better than yesterday, though he thankfully
doesn't look nearly as frightened as before.
WWX stays close to the door, not wanting to crowd. "Jin Ling said you wanted to see me?"
JC stares at him for an uncomfortably long time. His dry lips part to release a quiet wisp of a voice. "Wei Wuxian?"
His breath catches in his throat. He nods slowly, then barely above a whisper, responds, "Yeah, shidi, it's me."
JC's eyes grow wet. He looks so hopelessly confused right now. "What's going on?"
Such an encompassing question. WWX can only start from the beginning--
the night hunt that put them in this situation. Of course that's not enough. To JC, that's irrelevant to why WWX is speaking to him with a completely different face.
WWX wishes to all the gods that he did not have to recount what's happened in the past several years. What's
happened to them. But there's no telling how long this curse will last--if it will ever be cured. As vulnerable as JC is right now, WWX can't bring himself to lie to him again.
JC sits quietly, listening with a blank expression as WWX tells him of the Sunshot Campaign,
the rebuilding of the YMJ, the rise and fall of the Yiling Patriarch, and his resurrection 13 years later in the body of MXY.
He tells JC how he got WQ and WN to transfer his golden core into JC without his knowledge.
There are several times when JC looks as though he wants to
interject or ask a question. But then fear overtakes those blue, tearful eyes, and he can't bring himself to speak. WWX slowly inches closer to JC's bed the more he reveals. The more he sees JC's hands clutch onto his sheets like he needs something to ground himself.
He looks so incredibly small when he finally looks up at WWX, voice weak and trembling when he asks, "A-jie?"
WWX hasn't mentioned her once, and it's apparent in the way JC's eyes shimmer with fresh tears that he has already deduced why. Why else wouldn't she be here right now?
"Shijie is…" WWX chokes on his own words before breaking down. Through ugly, wet sobs he tells him about that day in Nightless City, how JYL ran all the way there for WWX's sake. How she sacrificed her life to save WWX's, just as JC had, he suddenly realizes.
Why were his martial siblings so quick to throw their lives away for him? What could the Jiangs have possibly done to deserve such suffering at the hands of the servant they took in like family? In the face of JC's renewed grief, WWX is overwhelmed by guilt, both old and new.
He remembers JC's hands crushing his throat as he blamed WWX for the attack on Lotus Pier--for the death of his parents.
Then, how was it possible that only days later JC was willing to throw away his golden core, his life, and any chance of reviving YMJ, all for WWX?
It is a truth too painful to bear.
"It's all my fault," WWX weeps, bowing his face at the foot of JC's bed. "Everything--Lotus Pier, your parents, your golden core, even Shijie. I destroyed everything…"
And now JC will hate him once again, as he has every right to.
WWX has already died once for his misdeeds and yet still that is not enough to repay the pain he has brought onto his shidi. His brother.
His first glimpse of love since his parents.
That's why in the end, he thought it best to leave their past behind, and give JC a chance to
move on. But fate is not so kind. Even now, he has no right to mourn for JYL in JC's presence. WWX raises his head to apologize, to beg for forgiveness though he deserves none.
What meets him is JC's slender, shaky hand reaching out. As if WWX is the one in need of comfort
despite JC's own face being a red, blotchy mess of tears and snot.
WWX latches onto his hand. "Jiang Cheng…"
He's suddenly yanked forward, colliding into JC's smaller frame. His shidi buries his face in WWX's shoulder and sobs. He clutches onto WWX so fiercely it's painful,
but he wouldn't trade the forming bruises for anything.
WWX is hesitant to hold him back--he doesn't want to overstep any boundaries. But JC continues to press himself into WWX as if he is the only person left in the world.
From JC's perspective, perhaps he is.
WWX finally returns the embrace. JC hasn't hugged him in years, not since their reunion when WWX returned from the Burial Mounds and JC hugged him so tightly and WWX just stood there.
He should have hugged him back then…
It's hours before WWX finally leaves the room, allowing JC to rest. There is still much he didn't tell him just yet, not wanting to overwhelm him. They have plenty of time to talk once JC has fully recovered.
JL and LWJ rush WWX the moment he's out. JL bombards him with
questions while LWJ pins him with /that/ look.
Admittedly WWX does feel bad for his husband. LWJ clearly hates being here, and JC and him have never really gotten along too well. That's not even mentioning how protective he is of WWX, and how he sees JC as a threat.
But it's not like WWX can abandon JC as he is now.
"I want to move into Lotus Pier."
JL's eyes grow as large as lily pads. "Wha…?"
LWJ is even less pleased. "You can't."
WWX huffs at their reactions. "And why not? Jiang Cheng is in a very delicate state and I'm the only one
he knows. He needs me."
"He has Jin Rulan, and the rest of his sect," LWJ argues.
"Jin Ling has his own sect to run. Koi Tower is still crawling with snakes, he can't stay here to give Jiang Cheng the attention he needs, isn't that right?"
JL glares half-heartedly.
"You're not wrong. But still, Jiujiu has taken care of me all my life. I should be the one to take of him now."
"And you still can," WWX quickly agrees, "but if we're being practical, you can't stay here all the time while we wait for Jiang Cheng to return to normal. After all,
we have no idea how long it will take us to find a solution. He’s in no immediate danger, and Jiang Cheng would want you to put your duties first in the meantime."
"I guess…" JL gives in with a pout. “It would be difficult to run things in Lanling from here in Yunmeng for long.
But you'll need to get permission from the Jiang Sect's second in command before you stay anywhere."
LWJ isn't giving up so easily though. "Wei Ying, he is not your responsibility."
Sensing the tension, JL starts to duck away. "Uh, I'll just go inform the sect of your plans."
He scurries away before getting caught in what is sure to be a lover's spat.
"Lan Zhan, I know this is sudden, but this is what's best for Jiang Cheng. It's not like it'll be permanent, just until he gets better."
"/If/ he gets better," LWJ corrects. "You still don't know what
is wrong with him."
"That's my point. What if this doesn't go away in a few days? Without me, he's all alone."
LWJ's frown deepens. "Do you think you owe him now that his secret is out? Even with this discovery, your sacrifice repaid his; you aren't indebted to Jiang Wanyin."
"That's not at all what this is about," WWX defends, on the brink of irritation. Perhaps he shouldn't expect LWJ to understand. How could he? The relationship between WWX and JC had always been misinterpreted by outsiders.
"Forget it. I'll come back to Gusu once Jiang Cheng
is okay to be left on his own, all right?"
LWJ looks even more confused now. "What are you saying?"
"Lan Zhan, I know you hate it here…" It absolutely hurts WWX to accept that fact. That his husband can't see the beauty in his old home--
that all that JC has rebuilt on his own is never truly appreciated for the feat that it is. "You should return to the Cloud Recesses in the meantime."
"No. I will not leave you here by yourself."
"I’m not by myself. And I won’t ask you to stay somewhere you don’t want to be
when Xichen-ge still needs you back in Gusu."
LXC is still in seclusion in the wake of JGY's betrayal, a full year later. WWX honestly doesn't know if his brother-in-law will ever truly recover, but the Lan sect leader needs LWJ's support far more than WWX does at the moment.
And truthfully, there is little the Second Jade can provide to help in JC's recovery if he stays here. It’s best if WWX goes this alone.
LWJ still isn’t ready to let this go. “What do you seek to gain from this? Jiang Wanyin will never come to appreciate all you’ve done and
continue to do for him.”
WWX’s eyes sharpen. “Taking care of my shidi is no burden; I /want/ to do this. Why should I expect something in return?”
“He is no longer your brother. He rescinded those ties when he led the siege against you.”
“That wasn’t even this Jiang Cheng!
You can’t hold that against him.”
“And what if it were? Would that change any of the choices you’re making right now?”
WWX holds his tongue, because he knows his answer is not what LWJ wants to hear. He can only shake his head, “You just don’t understand.
He needs me right now, just like your family needs you.”
LWJ stares him down with an unreadable expression. Suddenly, he asks, “How much have you told him?”
“What do you mean?”
“Have you told Jiang Wanyin about us?”
“What, you mean that we’re married?” WWX shrugs and waves a dismissive hand. “What does that have to do with anything? Lan Zhan, I’m not trying to overload him with every aspect of my life. For now, he should only know what’s relevant to him, don’t you think?”
WWX begins to head down the hall to find JL, but LWJ stops him by grabbing his arm. “When his memories return he will hate you just as before,” LWJ says coldly.
WWX matches the glare and yanks his arm free. “Well when that happens I’ll have you to come back to, won’t I?”
LWJ flinches but says nothing else. He simply watches as WWX walks away, leaving him alone in the hallway.
WWX sits outside under a starry night, tossing back another jug of Emperor's Smile to keep warm against the Gusu air. Even after a year of living in CR, its icy chill still manages to creep down to his bones.
Normally on nights like this, he would be cuddled up with
With great reluctance, YMJ and its head disciple agree to let WWX stay in Lotus Pier while their sect leader recovers.
They couldn’t give a shit about what WWX wants, but JC had practically begged to allow WWX to stay. The teenager has yet to grasp that he is the one in charge.
What he says is law around here.
WWX follows JL to what will be his lodgings. JC insists he stays close, and apparently JL already has a room in mind. Probably a broom closet or something.
JL glances back at WWX with such a JC-esque scowl. "What are you dragging your feet for?
You got what you wanted, didn't you?"
WWX sighs. He's relieved to be granted permission to tend to JC, but he can't get his earlier argument with LWJ out of his head.
They were both a little heated and said some unnecessary things, but WWX can recognize he took it too far.
It's just, the way LWJ had confronted him and then backed him into a corner like that, WWX couldn't help but lash out. He hadn't even meant to imply what he had, though he knows how it must have sounded.
Most frustrating of all, however, was LWJ's reaction.
He didn't deserve WWX's hurtful words and yet, he just took it. He didn't snap back or rightfully call him out. Didn’t stick up for himself against WWX at all.
And he just knows when they say goodbye later today, LWJ will have already forgiven him, whether WWX apologizes or not.
Slowly, WWX finds himself beginning to resent just how appeasing LWJ is with him. Had it have been JC--
No. He can’t keep comparing LWJ to JC. It isn’t fair to either of them.
“Your room is just up ahead,” JL grunts.
“Hanguan-jun is also welcome to stay, but that doesn't mean you two can waltz around here all shameless."
"Lan Zhan won't be staying. He's going back to Gusu."
JL raises a brow, but just shrugs when offered no more explanation.
WWX finally notices where they are. Even after all these years and the slight off-ness of corridors that looked similar but are clearly not the same ones from his youth, he remembers this path…
JL stops at the room and opens the door, gesturing for WWX to go in.
His mouth goes dry upon seeing his old bedroom. /Their/ old bedroom. Originally JC's until WWX came along and they were forced to share, not that WWX minded. Especially in those early days when he’d scream himself awake, plagued by nightmares of his years alone on the streets.
For the first year or so his terrors often woke JC who, despite all his complaints and huffing, would crawl into bed with WWX until he calmed down. Sometimes JC even stayed into morning on nights WWX was being particularly clingy.
In hindsight, he doesn't think JC minded it.
Upon their teenage years, they finally got their own rooms. Or rather, JFM moved JC into a different one while WWX stayed here.
At the time, he never questioned why JC had to move when it was his room to begin with.
He steps inside and his heart leaps into his throat.
Not the same as before, but damn close. Furniture and cluttered fixtures all positioned in familiar spots, and a single bed cushioned with custom imported silks that surely cost more than WWX could ever afford.
They are the same material, same color JFM had picked out for him.
He navigates to a tall rosewood dresser and opens the cabinet, feeling lightheaded when he sees a set of neatly folded robes inside, dark and lined with red. A bound red ribbon even sits atop the cloth.
Beside that set of black robes are several more outfits,
all purple and intricate, each marked with a nine-petal lotus stitched into the fabric. They are all different, one in particular being quite formal, but still uniform in color and quality. Jiang robes to be sure, but more stylish and expensive than those of an average disciple.
These are robes fit for a general, a right-hand man. A head disciple.
Who knows how long all this has been sitting here, waiting for him. Just from looking, WWX can tell the clothing is a tad too big, tailored to fit his original body.
“This room has been here since I can remember. Jiujiu never allowed anyone to go in.” JL gives him a sideways glance. “Everyone thought he was crazy when he said you’d be back. Hanguang-jun wasn’t the only one waiting for you all these years.”
WWX rubs his sleeve over his eyes.
He plasters on a fake smile. "Leave it to Jiang Cheng to raise such an intuitive brat."
JL truly has grown since WWX first met him, inevitable since the boy now leads a great sect. He's matured immensely in the past year, almost as much as JC had to during the Sunshot Campaign.
Both of them had to take on the position of sect leader far too young.
Though JL has the luxury to be a bit reckless. He's always had his uncle and YMJ to back him up, while in those early days JC had only WWX and JYL.
And then he had no one, except a crying baby to care for.
And now that baby looks at WWX like he's the shit beneath his fancy gold boots.
"Listen here, Wei Wuxian. You're only allowed to stay because that's what Jiujiu wants." He sneers, "Always lucking out, aren't you? I've never seen someone graced with so many second chances."
"Jin Ling, that's not--"
"I don't care what you see this as, but I'm not going to let you barge your way back into my jiujiu’s life and take advantage of him. You may have told him everything that happened, but he doesn't remember those 13 years of suffering you caused him.
That you caused /us/."
JL crosses the room and holy shit when did he get taller than WWX?
"He’s forgotten what it was like to lose everything at your hands, but I haven't. I'm not going to let you hurt him again."
WWX nods slowly, a resigned smile crossing his face. “I expect nothing less. Jiang Cheng and I will be depending on you then.”
When they return to the infirmary, they're surprised to find JC awake.
He sits on the floor, face red and soaked in sweat as he clutches at his chest, panting. They both rush to his side but he immediately starts to fight them off, swinging and screaming at the unwanted touch.
"Get away from me!" he yells. "Stop it! Stop! Don't fucking touch me!"
WWX grabs his wrists. "Jiang Cheng, you're okay! You're safe! It's me, remember? It's Wei Wuxian!"
JC keeps fighting back, especially against JL who he manages to kick in the chest.
JL falls to his back and while not injured looks quite wounded.
"Jiang Wanyin!" WWX shouts and it pauses JC long enough to focus on him. "It's okay, you're safe now. You're back in Lotus Pier. Wen Chao, Wen Zhuliu, they're all dead, remember? You don't have to worry about them."
"Dead?" JC repeats, eyes darting around.
"That's right, they're long gone. We killed them together. We made them pay for what they did and avenged your parents."
Though WWX’s already told him his, the last thing JC remembers is having his golden core destroyed.
The massacre and his torture are still too fresh in his mind.
“Yes, it’s me.”
JC throws himself into WWX as he trembles. “Don’t--don’t leave me. Please.”
WWX quickly holds him back. “I won’t. I’m not going anywhere, I promise.”
JC has never been this touchy, and WWX can only marvel at how he continues to initiate this closeness. He might even revel in it were it not stemming from JC’s fragile state of mind.
JL gets to his feet, anger and hurt cast over his face. He leaves the room without a word.
Now alone, JC starts to cry when he says, “I want my mom and dad. I want A-jie.”
WWX fights back his own tears when he holds him tighter. “Me too.”
Once JC has calmed down, WWX helps him back into bed just as JL returns with YMJ’s healer.
After checking him over and redressing his bandages, she recommends some tea to help him sleep. Just as she is about to prepare it, JL jumps forward, volunteering to make it.
The healer leaves the three of them alone in heavy silence.
Now sitting on the other side of the room, WWX can't help but fidget under JC's piercing gaze.
WWX chuckles awkwardly. "What is it? I got something on my face?"
JC purses his lips. "You…"
"Before you were just ugly, but now you're hideous."
Stunned that JC is the one trying to lighten the mood with jokes, WWX laughs for real this time.
"Naturally nothing can compare to my original body, but you have to agree this one isn't that bad. Admit it, this is a handsome face. It's currently in better condition than you."
JC scoffs. "That doesn't much, considering."
JL finishes brewing the tea and brings it to JC who, quite decidedly, does not accept the ceramic cup. Instead his eyes stay trained on Zidian which still rests on JL's finger.
"Here, Jiujiu. The doctor says you need to drink this."
At the address, JC's eyes snap up to JL, narrowed and untrusting. JL flinches at the heated glare.
WWX quickly jumps in. "Jiang Cheng, what's with the harsh look? This is Jin Ling, Shijie's son, you know that."
JC turns his head away. "So I've been told."
WWX nor JL know what is going through JC's head right now, but they are equally unprepared for the hostility he is showing his nephew.
/He just doesn't remember./
"Do you doubt it? He's got her eyes, no question! Though his arrogant attitude comes from a certain young master…"
JC rolls his eyes. "Of course he takes after the peacock."
WWX frowns. He had meant JL took after JC--how could he not when the latter had raised him for the past 15 or so years?
But was that why JC appears so upset? Because he's JZX's son?
"Aiyo, Jiang Cheng, you can't go giving A-Ling a hard time just because we used to beat up his dad when we were kids." He stifles a laugh at the glare JL sends him. "Besides, who do you think rais--"
"It's fine," JL says quickly, setting the tea cup down.
"It's not like Jiu--” He stops at the way JC tenses again. “Sect Leader Jiang and I are not that close."
"Huh??" WWX blurts.
JL shoots him a stern look. "After all, I’m not a Jiang; I mostly grew up in Koi Tower." He looks to JC again.
"I'm glad to see you are recovering, Sect Leader Jiang. I should return to my duties in Lanling."
JC raises a brow, eyeing JL's headpiece. "They let a brat like you run the Jin sect?"
"Not like they had a choice. And who are you calling a brat?
We’re practically the same age when you went through something similar."
JC’s words are venom when he hisses, “Similar? Don’t go comparing your situation at all to what I’ve lost.”
JL is stunned silent. WWX is about to admonish his shidi when JC crosses his arms and says,
“You say we aren’t close and yet I gave you Zidian?”
“...I was just holding it for you.”
“Then I want it back.”
Zidian awakens and slithers down JL’s hand, seemingly on JC’s command alone. Zidian’s loyalty comes from seniority so with JC as its oldest master, it will always
obey him above others, even if he relinquishes ownership. The silver serpent crawls up JC’s bed and coils itself around his wrist and finger.
JL’s eyes water up and he leaves the room. WWX follows, catching him trying to flee down the hall.
"Don't call me that."
“Don’t take what he says too personally.”
“I know. He’s not my jiujiu,” JL snaps, rubbing his eyes with his sleeve. “That’s why for now it’s best if he doesn’t know much about me. He should focus on getting back to normal.”
He really feels for JL, but doesn’t know what to say.
This is the JC that WWX remembers, the one he’s always pictured whenever he looks back on the future they had promised together, as the Twin Prides of Yunmeng.
But to JL, he’s a stranger.
He offers weak advice. “Jiang Cheng’s still processing a lot. Besides, you know him;
always saying things he doesn’t mean. Just give him a few days.”
JL calms down, continuing to demonstrate his growth in the past year. “In the meantime, we need to figure out what this curse is and how to cure him.”
WWX agrees and lays out how he plans to investigate,
including having the Lan juniors show him around the lake where everything went down. JL offers LLJ’s resources to him.
As JL prepares to leave, his pride visibly takes a hit when he musters out a bitter, “Thank you, Wei Wuxian.”
He watches him leave, then returns to the infirmary room. He wants to scold JC on his behavior but is struck by the sight of his shidi cradling Zidian, eyes blankly gazing off like he’s seeing something WWX doesn’t.
“Jiang Cheng?” he calls, startling the other out of his stupor.
“What was that about? Jin Ling is Shijie’s only child, no matter if he is Jin Zixuan’s. Why are you treating him like that?”
“I’m not who he wants,” JC rasps. "I'm not his uncle. The man he knows, that's not me."
"I don’t belong here!”
“Of course you do!” WWX insists, sitting close to his side. “You just don’t remember. You’re under a curse, but you’re our Jiang Cheng.”
JC shakes his head. “It doesn’t feel like that. It doesn’t--”
“Jiang Cheng, calm down. You’re right where you belong, okay?
Your body has regressed and you don’t have all your memories, but look here.” WWX places a hand over JC’s torso, over the dantian. “Feel how much stronger your core is?”
A curse can suppress or even destroy a golden core, but it can’t change its nature.
“You are Sandu Shengshou, Sect Leader Jiang. Your core is proof of that.”
JC clamps his hand over WWX’s, so incredibly tight it hurts. “/Your/ core.”
“It hasn’t been mine in almost twenty years.”
The irony in his words is that it doesn’t feel like that to either of them.
For WWX, he's only spent a few years without it. And as for JC; in his mind he was coreless just two days ago.
“But now you…” JC looks like he’s about to start crying again. WWX had almost forgotten how much his little brother cried in the days following the fall of Lotus Pier.
How easy it was to push him to tears sometimes. JC chokes out, "Why would you do that to yourself?"
"I would do anything for you," WWX says, easily, because there is nothing more true.
"Did that give you the right to do whatever you wanted to me?" JC yells.
"What about what I want? Why don't I get a choice?"
Despite the unquestionable guilt he feels for making JC feel this way, WWX still can't find it in himself to regret his decision. If anything, now knowing the truth of how JC lost his core, he knows he did the right thing.
JC should never have lost something so precious for the sake of his servant.
JC rests his face on WWX’s shoulder, dampening his black and red robes. His nails dig deep into the back of WWX's hand, drawing blood.
"How could you do this to me?"
He sounds so utterly defeated, it breaks WWX’s heart. How indeed, could he continue to make JC weep like this. His free hand cradles the back of JC’s head.
“What a selfish shixiong you have. You’ll need to discipline him properly.”
JC shakes his head, refusing to look up.
WWX’s hand lowers and clasps over Zidian where it gives him a small nip of electricity. He chuckles.
“This disciple is counting on you, Sect Leader. Don’t hold back.”
LWJ’s departure is awkward.
Okay, so WWX doesn’t want to freak JC out by revealing he’s married to a man, least of all to LWJ. He didn’t react well back when he found them embracing in the Jiang ancestral hall, so why would he react any better now?
So when LWJ comes to Lotus Pier to exchange goodbyes, WWX is quick to keep them separate. He draws LWJ outside the gates of the Jiang sect and his efforts don't go unnoticed.
Though to most, LWJ is an enigma, WWX can read him clearly after this long together.
So he sees the displeasure--the frustration LWJ is completely allowed to feel given the situation. And yet…
LWJ doesn't press him. He remains silent and allows WWX to do as he pleases, without contest, like he always does.
It makes WWX feel even more guilty.
"Lan Zhan, about what I said earlier…"
"There is no need. Wei Ying is already forgiven."
It's the opposite of what he wants to hear.
"Why? Why aren’t you angry with me?”
LWJ looks shocked at WWX’s visible frustration. “Do you want me to be angry with you?”
WWX throws his arms up. “Who cares what I want? What do /you/ want? Why does it always have to be about me?"
LWJ frowns. "Is it wrong to want what Wei Ying wants?" He steps closer and cups WWX’s face. “I care.”
The implication is loud and clear--LWJ is the /only/ one who cares.
And sure, that might have been true initially upon WWX’s return after 13 years, but that has not always been the case.
Before LWJ, there was Uncle Jiang, JYL, and of course, JC. Hell, even Madam Yu, despite all her tongue lashings and sneers, allowed WWX into her home.
She protected him against the Wens, at the cost of her sect and her own life.
And if JC’s own sacrifice and decision to keep it a secret even after the core reveal says anything, it’s that his shidi still cares. No matter how much WWX takes from him, JC will always care.
Now it's time for WWX to properly care for him.
"Have I upset you?" LWJ asks. "Is that why you don't want me to stay?"
WWX grabs his husband’s hands. “Of course not! If anything, you should be upset with me. This situation isn't fair to you."
"If this is what Wei Ying wants…"
Agitation swirls in WWX's gut, though he fights it down.
"Lan Zhan, please stop saying what you think I want to hear. For once, just think for yourself."
Shit. That came out harsher than intended.
Lan Zhan frowns and doubles down. "I want what Wei Ying wants."
"That can't be true," WWX snaps. "You don't want me here in Lotus Pier. You don't want me around Jiang Cheng. You're putting up with things you /don't want/ for my sake and I'm asking you to stop."
WWX has always been a little selfish. Thoughtless. Greedy.
He will keep taking until there is nothing left if LWJ lets him.
They part without their usual affection. No kisses, no hugs, not even a wave goodbye.
WWX runs back into Lotus Pier, his guilt dissipating when he returns to JC's side.
"What a long send off. You and Lan Wangji sure have gotten close," JC pouts as he changes into his robes. The sect leader’s uniform is a little loose and makes him look even smaller.
"Jiang Cheng, you're not jealous are you? Don't worry, no one can replace my cute little shidi!"
"Who's little?" JC huffs. "I'm still taller than you."
Barely. JC full grown towers over MXY's body, as where right now they are practically eye to eye.
Once JC is dressed, they decide to have a look around Lotus Pier, both now strangers to their home.
WWX explores with a lump in his throat, realizing how much he truly misses this place. JC doesn't fare much better. He's incredibly quiet as his pale eyes run over old memories that must be so fresh in his young mind.
JC comes to a halt when they pass a small pier.
He stares out at it, fidgeting with Zidian on his finger, and his chest starts to heave.
"What's wrong?" WWX asks.
A tear rolls down JC's cheek and WWX grabs his shoulders, turning him away from the view. WWX looks out at the pier over JC's trembling shoulder and recognizes it.
Constructed just the same, this is where Madam Yu sent them off before walking back to her demise.
JC even rebuilt such a sad memory.
"She was just here. I know that's not right, but…"
WWX hugs him. JC's arms remain limply by his sides as he holds in the oncoming sobs.
WWX is taken by just how easily JC falls apart--how quickly the tears come. More so than the first time, back when Lotus Pier fell.
Perhaps his old memories buried deep down in his mind are amplifying what JC is feeling now. Or maybe it's simply that JC has nothing but time to
reflect on his losses this time around since there is no war to focus on.
No vengeance to pursue, no sect to rebuild, and no brother to search for or sister to protect. There is no distraction from the pain he surely felt all those years ago.
"Do you want to go see her?"
JC looks at him with large eyes, almost like he's frightened.
"Uncles Jiang as well. The ancestral hall..."
He quickly shakes his head and WWX holds him tighter.
"We'll go when you're ready."
WWX smiles awkwardly at all the YMJ disciples they pass on their way back to the main manor.
They all stop to greet and salute their sect leader and JC, red-faced and insecure, can only mumble back responses.
These people have known and followed him for years--along with the
familiarity with which they address him, there is an unmistakable reverence they exude toward him.
But to JC they are strangers and he has never been one to trust easily.
It doesn't help that they all keep giving WWX the stink eye, especially when they see the way JC
subconsciously clings to his shixiong, their shoulders touching whenever someone approaches him.
WWX doesn't want to be a point of contention between JC and his disciples, but what else can he do? As if he could deny coddling his vulnerable shidi.
JC has never been this open about seeking comfort from anyone, not even JYL. He's honestly too adorable right now, and WWX has to restrain himself from full on babying his little brother, lest JC snap back to his senses and tell WWX to fuck off.
YMJ's second in command, Chen Zhuo, approaches them with an entourage of disciples. They all salute JC while completely ignoring WWX, and express their relief that he is recovering well.
The slash across his throat has mostly healed thanks to the strength of his golden core.
"If there is anything you require, Sect Leader, please come to me first and I will have it handled.”
JC nods shyly, subtly pressing himself closer to WWX, likely without his notice. Chen Zhuo narrows his eyes at WWX.
"Is there anything I should be doing?" JC asks.
"Please don't concern yourself with sect matters until you are fully recovered. Our healers are still working to determine the nature of the curse that is affecting you."
WWX leaps forward. "Hold on! Young or not, Jiang Cheng is still the sect leader, no?
He's been training you lot for years, since the age he is right now. Why not let him lead a training tomorrow?"
JC pales. "Wei Wuxian!"
"What? It's just some drills; you've been leading those since we were both teens. And using your golden core will help circulate your qi--
it could help your body fight off the curse quicker."
The SIC scowls. "Young Master Wei, it is not your place to decide who leads our trainings or what is best for /our/ sect leader."
"Oh really? Isn't that why I'm here? Because I'm who he needs right now?"
"How dare you," a disciple hisses. "If Sect Leader Jiang were his normal self, you wouldn't be allowed to step foot in Lotus Pier!"
"That's enough," JC snaps, beginning to sound a bit like his old self. He steps between his disciples and WWX, shielding him.
"Wei Wuxian is here until I say otherwise, and you will show him the proper respect that you would for any guest of Yunmeng Jiang."
"But sir, he--"
JC cuts him off with a click of his teeth. "Not only do you insult my shixiong, but you talk back to your sect leader as well?
It seems I've been leading quite the unrefined sect these past several years."
The group of disciples immediately bow down.
"We meant no disrespect, Sect Leader!"
Despite his smaller stature, JC raises his nose and looks down at his disciples.
"I may no longer remember your names or faces, but since I've recruited you all into my sect, I know that you are men and women of exceptional character. So I trust during this time of my…impairment, you all will exemplify the integrity recognized of a Yunmeng Jiang cultivator.”
"Yes, Sect Leader!" the group salutes.
WWX is blown away by how naturally JC falls into his position as sect leader, though he knows he shouldn't be. JC was raised his whole life to one day lead.
He also is deeply touched at the sight of JC defending him against his own people.
It is a small gesture that seemed impossible just a week ago.
JC crosses his arms. "Good. Then tomorrow morning I will lead a training for our most junior disciples, so as not to impede the progress of the seniors. Wei Wuxian will join me."
"Huh?" WWX skawks.
The disciples look even more displeased, but keep their reservations to themselves.
JC leaves first with WWX trailing behind. He wears a goofy smile that JC perks a brow at.
"I'm so impressed with my A-Cheng! What a sect leader, sticking up for your gege like that!"
JC shoves him. "Shut up."
As the sun begins to set, they go to find JC's sect leader quarters. Upon arrival, WWX is surprised that they look nothing like JFM's.
The table JFM and WWX would drink tea over is absent, replaced by a sturdier desk on the other side of the room.
The bed is a different style, and the paper sectionals that divide the room are taller than he remembers, painted with snakes crawling up sides instead of the nine-petal lotuses JFM had commissioned.
Perhaps JC modeled his room after his mother's? It's not like WWX would have
ever known what the fierce Violet Spider’s nest looked like.
JC walks around the room, taking it in. WWX sits at the desk and pulls out some wine. JC joins him and they quietly drink together. It has been so long since they could do this, WWX can’t keep the grin off his face.
On their second cup, WWX finally muses aloud, “Wonder why you made your room different when the rest of Lotus Pier is almost identical to what it was before?”
JC looks confused for a moment, then scowls deeply. He pours himself another cup of wine and tosses it back.
“I suppose if either of us were to ever be allowed to visit my father’s quarters, it’d be you,” he mumbles.
WWX is thrown by his words. JC is suggesting he’s never seen his father’s quarters? He wants to protest and remind him of all the times JFM had invited them for tea,
chatted with them about their progress in training, asking how WWX was adjusting to Lotus Pier…
But JC was never there.
He watches JC drink his wine, unsure of what to say. As JC tilts his head back, WWX notices he hasn’t added braids to his hair yet.
His fingers itch to fix JC’s bun into the proper sect leader’s style, and /not/ because he misses the feel of those long, soft tresses of his shidi’s beautiful hair.
He recalls as children when JYL taught them how to braid, and encouraged them to practice on each other.
From then on, WWX and JC braided each other’s hair more often than either would like to admit, both wanting to imitate JFM’s regal appearance. The longer JC’s thick wavy hair grew, braiding it for him at night had become a common ritual until they got separate rooms.
He scoots around the desk, sitting closer to JC.
“Shidi, let me braid your hair?”
JC’s face scrunched up, a rejection on the tip of his tongue. WWX whines and prods until JC relents, far easier than he’s used to.
JC sits with a rigid back as WWX slowly undoes his impossibly neat bun to release a mass of thick, dark hair that reaches down his back. He runs a comb through his hair a few times, each gentle drag of its teeth easing the tension from JC’s shoulders.
He's overwhelmed by a strange mix of nostalgia and unfamiliarity. This moment between them is almost too peaceful, too tender.
His fingertips knead at his scalp, and JC releases a pleased sigh, almost leaning back into him. WWX will greatly miss this when JC is back to normal…
He thinks about what he needs to do going forward to make that happen. Perhaps investigate the lake tomorrow after helping JC train his disciples.
“Hey, Jiang Cheng, I should warn you that I won’t be much help tomorrow. My golden core is still quite weak…”
It was only in this past year and thanks to LWJ’s dedicated efforts that he was able to form a core within MXY’s body, but he still has a long way to go before it is anything substantial.
JC seems to have gathered as much. He scoffs.
“Then you’ll just have to join the juniors in training, now won’t you?”
“I won’t let you slack off either!”
“Sect Leader Jiang is so mean!” WWX whines, pressing his forehead against JC’s back. JC doesn’t tense or pull away, giving WWX a warm feeling in his chest.
"You need to do something to start earning the trust of the sect. It seems my disciples really dislike you.”
WWX sighs. “It can’t be helped. Jiang Cheng, our relationship has not been good since I was resurrected. They’re just looking out for you.”
Even in this different body, WWX’s hands intrinsically fall into the motions of weaving each lock into an even, tight braid. “Once you’ve been cured, they won’t need to worry about me lurking around Lotus Pier anymore.”
JC falls quiet.
They don't speak until WWX has finished braiding and is leaving for the night. Before he’s out the door, JC asks, “You’re really going to leave once I’m better?”
“...you’ll want me to.”
WWX bids him goodnight and heads to the kitchen for another jar of wine before bed.
That night, WWX is awoken from his sleep by a panicked rap against his bedroom door. He opens it to find JC on the other side, drenched in sweat, eyes large and a tad wild.
It's like they are children again, this time the roles reversed with JC needing his fears fought off.
He doesn’t need to ask what’s wrong, simply leads his shidi into the room and allows him to crawl into his bed.
They first lay down with as much space in between them as possible. But as JC drifts off and WWX stays wide awake, he can feel JC inch closer, reaching out for
something to hold onto in his sleep.
When JC begins to whimper, another nightmare at play, WWX finally closes the gap, allowing JC to cling to him.
The distress eases from his face just a little, but it's enough for WWX to admire how cute he is when the boy isn't busy sneering.
In fact...wow, has JC always been this pretty? Well, obviously, but why hasn't WWX ever taken the time to /really/ notice? Perhaps because while he has always known JC to be objectively attractive, there were always these pre-established barriers between them that kept
his thoughts from wandering.
Social status, duty, war, loss…
When had there ever been time in their lives for WWX to stop and admire the beauty currently sleeping in his arms? JC is truly YZY's son, down to every delicate feature, hardened to ice by tragedy.
Except this JC, the one he hugs so dearly right now, is still soft. Still open and innocent and a little needy.
Is it wrong that WWX misses this younger version of JC? The one that is still undeniably his shidi, before his own decisions destroyed that relationship,
and JC along with it?
He knows he has to help cure JC and return him back into the man he has grown into. Sandu Shengshou, the fierce sect leader who supposedly killed the Yiling Patriarch and tortures demonic cultivators.
But...what if this was JC's second chance?
/Both/ of their second chances?
JC, though clearly burdened by his past, does not remember a lot of it, and so it hasn't taken the same toll on him. His insistence in keeping WWX around is proof of that.
Maybe JC doesn't have to stay shackled to their messy history?
This could fix what was once irreparable between them.
JC snakes both his arms around him, burying his face into WWX’s chest. His heart flutters.
Would it be so wrong to keep JC like this? Vulnerable and dependent on WWX. And /only/ WWX...?
He doesn’t hate the idea.
The next morning…
“Young Master Wei! We can’t find…”
YMJ’s SIC, Chen Zhuo, bursts into the room in hysterics, only to be greeted with the sight of his sect leader swaddled in the Yiling Patriarch’s arms, sound asleep.
His intrusion startles them awake.
JC tries to get up, red with embarrassment but WWX is reluctant to let him go.
"Wei Wuxian," he whines.
Chen Zhuo draws his sword. "Wei, you scum! Release Sect Leader Jiang this instant!"
Still half asleep and not expecting the hostility, WWX lets go of his shidi and sits up.
"What's the problem?"
"Deputy Leader Chen, put your sword away," JC commands, to no avail.
The SIC is trembling with rage. WWX was infamous for his shameless manner, but to think he would go this far and pull Sect Leader Jiang, /the Sandu Shengshou/ into his bed!
With JL gone, it's up to Chen Zhuo to protect his sect leader’s honor. He hastily pulls JC from the bed and shields the teen behind him.
WWX's eyes narrow. "What do you think you're doing?"
"You're one to talk! You'd better have not laid your filthy hands on Sect Leader Jiang!"
WWX leaps from the bed, sizing up the other man. "Just what are you accusing me of, Chen Zhuo?"
"Only what one would expect of a shameless cut sleeve like yourself! You think us of the Jiang Sect will stand by while you prey on our vulnerable sect leader?"
JC looks so confused.
Chen Zhuo then sneers, "Is your perfect Hanguang-jun not enough for you now?"
JC finally pushes away from his SIC, his earlier embarrassment dissolved into anger.
"What on earth are you talking about? Cut sleeves? Lan Wangji? What does any of this have to do with Wei Wuxian?"
But then JC notices the panicked expression on his shixiong’s face.
Chen Zhuo balks. “He hasn't told you? Wei Wuxian is now married to Lan Wangji, happily living in the Cloud Recesses without a care in the world. That's why he hasn't bothered to come see you in over a year.”
JC's face drains of all blood. He looks to WWX for an explanation. For some kind of reassurance that what his SIC is saying isn't true.
It's not too different from the expression he wore back in Guanyin Temple when the truth about his golden core was confirmed.
WWX can't hide his guilt, again caught in another lie; this time one of omission. Truthfully, he didn’t want to bombard JC in his current state of mind with things he didn’t find relevant to his condition. There was no getting around why WWX is in a different body, why they don’t
talk anymore--why JYL isn’t here. But WWX’s marital life? He didn’t think it was worth the shock and discomfort it would cause.
JC shakes his head at his SIC. "You’re mistaken. Wei Wuxian is not…. He wouldn’t…” He looks back to him, eyes large and lost. “He’s wrong, isn’t he?”
WWX can’t believe it--JC is giving him an out, still so desperate to trust his shixiong. This is the same JC who leaned into WWX’s hands when he tied that blindfold over his eyes and sent him up the mountain.
So ready to believe whatever sweet smelling bullshit WWX dishes out.
/You're such a fool,/ he wants to tell him. The older JC knows not to trust him, knows that WWX is a liar that breaks his promises time and time again.
He's told this JC that as well--yet the boy continues to put so much faith in him.
“It's true,” WWX finally affirms.
"I live in the Cloud Recesses with Lan Zhan. After I was resurrected…"
/...you still wanted me dead. How could I return home?/
"It was better for both of us that I stayed away. I'd already denounced the Jiang Sect once before, so…"
JC's face cycles through a rainbow of emotions, hurt and disgust the most prominent.
Then just as quickly, he settles into a cold expression, one reminiscent of the enigmatic Sandu Shengshou. His lips curl in spite as he asks, "Then what are you doing here now?"
WWX doesn't know what to say. It's far too easy--too simple--to just claim that he's here to help JC get better. After all, that's not really what he wants anymore, is it?
Just why is WWX here?
JC doesn't wait for an answer. He storms out of the room, leaving Chen Zhuo to
continue shaming WWX with his glaring words.
“Even after all these years, you continue to violate the trust Sect Leader Jiang so freely affords you. Ungrateful! Will you not be satisfied until you’ve shattered every last remnant of your crimes, Yiling Patriarch?”
WWX flinches but won’t take the accusation lying down. He lets out a mirthless laugh. “Funny, isn’t it? How quick everyone is to pit me against Jiang Cheng, no regard for how much it hurts him. What happened to wanting to protect him?”
“You’re the one he needs protection from.”
“I’m the only one he has left, the only one he can depend on, yet everyone’s determined to take even that from him!”
“You’ve done that yourself!”
WWX’s hand is curled in Chen Zhuo’s collar before he realizes it, eyes burning red. The SIC tries and fails to hide his panic at the
display of his demonic cultivation.
“Stay out of my way,” WWX warns before shoving the man out of his room.
Even long after the SIC has left him, WWX seethes. And he despairs.
He just keeps fucking up.
For the rest of the morning, JC avoids him. WWX knows this because he actively seeks him out, only for JC to flee the moment their paths cross. Eventually JC recruits Chen Zhuo who acts as a perfect human shield, ensuring WWX is kept at a distance.
All WWX wanted was to protect JC, though history shows he’s never been good at that.
He eventually gives up and heads to the kitchen where he knows there is at least one thing that can ease his guilt.
JC is already leading the junior disciples’ training by the time WWX arrives. He stumbles onto the field as the juniors all gape and glare.
JC crosses his arms, gaze cold. "You're late."
WWX shrugs with a laugh. "Pfft, acting like you're not surprised I showed up at all.
I said I would come, didn't I? So here I am!"
JC squints his eyes in confusion at WWX’s odd behavior, but doesn't press. He juts his chin toward the formation.
"Get in line."
When WWX tries securing a spot in the back of the trainees, JC snaps, "Front and center!
Your core is weak but you know the forms. You're here to help demonstrate."
The juniors snicker as WWX drags his feet to the front of the group, swaying on a couple steps.
JC's brows furrow in concern, but he stubbornly remains quiet.
WWX gives a sloppy salute.
"How can this lowly servant be of service to you this morning, Sect Leader?"
His scowl deepens at WWX's mockery, and he orders the older man to demonstrate a beginner level set. WWX removes Suibian from his hip and stumbles through the form, movements sloppy and haphazard until
he drops his sword. He giggles at his blunder and nearly falls over when he bends to pick it up.
JC stalks toward him, Zidian crackling on his finger. "You're drunk," he hisses as he snatches WWX by the collar. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
"What isn't?" he jokes back with
an eyeroll. As if his drinking is anything new.
People take for granted just how easy his smiles and carefree attitude come. Everyone always expects WWX to be happy, to play the fool. Sometimes he needs help to keep up the facade.
He's needed a lot of help this past year.
"Go to your room and sober up. I'll deal with you later."
WWX practically slurs when he asks, "You're going to discipline me? Then why wait? What's stopping you now?"
JC's face is unreadable as he stares into WWX’s eyes. Is it hesitation?
WWX pushes him;
with both his hands and words. "Go on, /Sect Leader/. Make an example out of me. Haha, save some face and properly punish this lowly servant!"
JC goes red with anger, Zidian hissing on his clenched fist.
WWX's eyes burn but he forces the tears back in favor of more bitter jabs.
"What are you waiting for, Jiang Cheng? Your disciples are watching! What should they think, you letting me go with that pathetic scolding?"
His drunken laughter is near manic as he continues to bully JC into a fight. "Go on and make me! I deserve it, don't I?"
/I broke my promise, didn't I?/
"Just shut up!"
"Madam Yu wouldn't have hesitated to--"
Zidian cracks fierce and hard across WWX's chest. He's flung onto his back where he coughs up a mouthful of blood, twitching at the searing pain.
He recovers after a moment and sits up with a challenging grin. "That all you got? I thought you were going to teach me a lesson?"
JC is trembling in rage at this point. He swings his arm back and forth once more, and Zidian springs to life, lashing WWX again. And again.
The lightning whips his back repeatedly like a viper. WWX holds in his cries but blood fills his mouth at the powerful beating--had Madam Yu even struck him this hard?
The disciples are in a complete panic, some pleading JC to stop while others run off to find their seniors.
When JC finally relents, WWX forces his teary eyes up to look at him. To convey this had to happen--that this doesn't even begin to pay his penance.
What greets him is a face in far more pain than himself. JC is sobbing as he falls to his knees where Zidian retracts itself.
"Stop…" he cries, shaking his head. "I don't...I can't…!"
"I don't want this!" JC yells, a mess of angry tears.
WWX pushes himself up and goes to his shidi, wrapping his arms around the trembling boy.
A small chuckle. "I'm always making you cry, aren't I?"
JC shakes his head, probably not even listening to WWX anymore. He pays no mind to the blood leaking from his nose or the iron that still fills his mouth. He just holds JC tighter, the strain worsening the white hot pain carved into his back.
"It's okay," WWX whispers against JC's temple. "We're going to be okay."
It's the last thing he says before the pain overwhelms him, and WWX passes out.
WWX wakes up in the infirmary, lying on his stomach. Though he has no shirt on, he isn't cold like he would be in Gusu. In Yunmeng, the air stays warm and humid for most of the year. It's comforting.
It's what he used to know as home.
He groans as he pushes himself off the bed.
YMJ's head healer enters the room, and immediately scolds him for his drunken behavior. And sure enough, his head is pounding from a hangover.
He's such a fucking idiot.
She pushes him flat on his stomach to apply some salve to his back. WWX squirms and whines at the sting.
"Man, he really didn't hold back!"
The healer rolls her eyes. "Hardly. He didn't even break the skin."
"Really??" He could have sworn the strikes JC gave him were stronger than when Madam Yu whipped him. They certainly felt like it.
"You've got a little bruising but that's all. Your core is so weak, you really thought he'd hurt you so badly?"
Right. MXY's body still doesn't compare to the strength of his previous one. No wonder he felt like he was dying; he's just weak!
"I hope you plan to apologize to Sect Leader properly. Don't think this pitiful beating will do in place of saying what needs to be said."
WWX chuckles, smothering his face in the bedding beneath him. "Jiang Cheng and I aren't so good with words. Actions speak louder, you know?"
"Then I ask that you reflect on your actions, Young Master Wei. They have a history of being misinterpreted, do they not?"
He is not prepared for the sinking feeling in his gut--the immediate dread that comes with knowing just how true her words are.
Still he fights the notion.
"You don't have to worry about us. Jiang Cheng and I know each other better than anyone."
"Ha! So all the lies between you two just sprung up out of coincidence then? Forgive me, I didn't realize you both /wanted/ to keep pushing each other away."
WWX sits up and swats her hands from massaging the salve onto his back. "What do you know?"
"I know you thought you could absolve your guilt by pushing Sect Leader Jiang into punishing you," she snaps.
"It's not that simple."
"I'm sure it's not, but do you think hurting you made him feel any better? Wei Wuxian, had his mother not just whipped you the same night Lotus Pier fell? And then he was whipped and tortured in the days that followed?"
Shit. He hadn't thought of that.
JC had cried just as hard when he was begging his mother to stop. Even when they all knew it needed to happen, and WWX was willing to lose his hand, JC still pleaded on his shixiong’s behalf.
"There is a reason the Jiang Sect doesn't have a discipline whip," she says quietly.
WWX enters JC's room without knocking. His shidi sits at his desk, across from his SIC who is explaining some sect matters to him.
When Chen Zhuo sees him, he stands and sizes WWX up.
"What are you still doing here? Haven't run back to your Hanguang-jun yet?"
WWX rolls his eyes and smirks. “I know Jiang Cheng is much younger now, but he doesn’t need a babysitter. Why don’t you give us a moment alone to talk?”
“He doesn’t want to talk to you.”
“He can’t speak for himself now?” WWX steps forward, a menacing smile on his face.
“I’ve already warned you once, Chen Zhuo. Don’t make me follow through.”
The SIC reaches for his sword, but JC finally stands with a sharp voice, “Chen Zhuo!”
“But sir, he--”
He exits with a seething glare that doesn’t leave WWX until the door has closed.
JC avoids looking at him. “What do you want?”
“Are you all right?”
JC’s face twists up in anger, but he doesn’t respond. WWX huffs and sits at the low table, resting an elbow atop the scrolls Chen Zhuo left behind. “I’ve been thinking…”
“Don’t hurt yourself.”
“I’m serious!” WWX whines before directing a meaningful look JC’s way. “I don’t think I’ve ever asked what you were feeling. I never stopped to ask, is this what Jiang Cheng wants? I’ve always just...assumed.”
JC is skeptical. “Why care now?”
“I don’t want to keep hurting you.”
“Then you shouldn’t have lied to me! You keep on lying and I’m the fool who always believes you!”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
JC scoffs. “Sorry? Can I even believe that anymore?”
WWX has nothing to say that would convince JC otherwise. He’s done nothing to earn his shidi’s trust.
As always, with them, it will come down to action.
At WWX’s silence, JC sneers, “Did lying make it easier for you to be here? You’re forcing yourself to put up with me when you’d rather be back in the Cloud Recesses with Lan Wangji, isn’t that right?”
“What? No, Jiang Cheng, I’m here because I want to be!”
“You’re here because you found out the truth about how I lost my core; you're trying to repay your debt so you can leave and forget about me again!” JC accuses, his eyes shimmering.
“I thought we were supposed to be the Twin Prides, but you can’t wait to leave me behind! You’d rather be in the Cloud Recesses with all their rules and Lan Qiren’s judgment than stay by my side.”
Once the tears start falling, WWX is on his feet.
He holds JC close despite the other trying to fight him off. How can WWX convince JC that none of that is true? He’s always wanted to return, but after all his mistakes, it was simply impossible.
“What did I do to make you so repulsed by me? Why don’t you want to come home?”
WWX smiles sadly, reminded that it’s not impossible anymore. This JC wants him back. His shidi finally wants him to come home. They can really forget the past, if that's what JC wants.
“A-Cheng, I’ll stay if you ask me to,” WWX says softly, running a hand through JC’s hair.
“Just say you want me to stay, and I’ll make it happen.”
JC finally hugs WWX back, face buried in his neck.
“Is that what you want, A-Cheng? For me to stay?”
JC looks up at him with large, hopeful eyes and nods. WWX presses a kiss to his shidi’s forehead. It’s settled then.
WWX sits outside under a starry night, tossing back another jug of Emperor's Smile to keep warm against the Gusu air. Even after a year of living in CR, its icy chill still manages to creep down to his bones.
Normally on nights like this, he would be cuddled up with
JC sits at the head of the mess hall during breakfast. Chen Zhuo sits at his side, hawk eyes sweeping the hall to ensure everyone is behaving.
JC is thankful for how his SIC has stood up and taken over sect duties during this time. But he's also eager to take on more as well.
They shouldn’t have to wait until the curse is broken, he thinks. After all, JC is now the same age as when he began rebuilding the sect. He should be able to do more to help lift the burden off of Chen Zhuo's shoulders.
His overworked SIC looks ready to suffer a qi deviation any minute since this whole mess started. And WWX's presence hasn’t helped.
Speaking of whom, JC looks around for him, annoyed by the other’s tardiness.
Suddenly the hall falls into silence at a new arrival. The flash of purple robe doesn't draw JC's attention until he sees who's wearing it. JC spits his tea.
WWX enters the hall swathed in beautiful lilac robes, practical but made of finer silk and much more elegant than most.
There is a smugness in the way he struts through the rest of the disciples who gawk and exchange sharp whispers.
WWX, the cocky idiot, flashes a few grins and waves at his audience.
JC, mouth ajar and meal forgotten, can't tear his eyes from the sight.
A different face but one that is undeniably WWX's, looking at him so intensely while wearing YMJ colors. /His/ colors.
JC will always favor WWX’s original body, but he can't deny the allure of this new one, especially as he flaunts around YMJ purple as though he belongs to…
WWX approaches JC's table and sits to his right, opposite of where the SIC is seated and beside Zidian. He pats JC’s shoulder.
"Sorry I'm late.” His hand falls to JC’s, brushing over his knuckles. “Did you sleep well?”
Chen Zhuo slams his teacup down.
His eyes seethe at where their hands are connected and JC pulls his hand back.
"Where did you get those robes?” the SIC asks. “I didn't realize you were part of Yunmeng Jiang now."
WWX smirks. "They were in my room. A gift from Sect Leader Jiang."
Chen Zhuo scoffs. “Waltzing around here like you own the place. Who do you think you are, Jiang-furen?”
JC flusters, face turning bright red. WWX cackles at his cute shidi.
"A-Cheng, what's that face? Don't tell me you've thought about making your shixiong into a dutiful wife?"
JC regains his composure and crosses his arms. "Who would want you for a wife?"
"Hanguang-jun, apparently," the SIC reminds them pointedly. "Wei Wuxian, you /are/ still married, are you not?"
WWX narrows his eyes. "Yes, thank you Chen Zhuo, we're all aware of that."
JC shifts uncomfortably, still processing the new information. Not only is WWX a cut sleeve now (wasn't he always flirting with girls??) but with LWJ of all people. No matter how he looks at it, it just doesn't make sense.
By WWX's own admission, LWJ is boring and uptight.
Although, he supposes, LWJ is obnoxiously attractive even by Lan standards, and he's got access to wealth second only to the Jin Sect. Two things JC can't compare to. Who wouldn't pick the Second Jade if their other option was being JC's subordinate?
He wonders how his older self reacted to their marriage. Probably not well considering how WWX wanted to keep it a secret from him now.
"Ah, that reminds me! A-Cheng, how would you feel about Lan Zhan moving into Lotus Pier?"
JC blinks in surprise.
Chen Zhuo's forehead looks ready to burst a vein.
"You...want Lan Wangji here?"
WWX shrugs sheepishly. "As your deputy so readily pointed out, he is my husband. And I've already promised to stay, right? Lan Zhan may not be too thrilled about living into Lotus Pier,
but I think it's fair to give him the option, don’t you?"
"I…" JC looks down at his hands, feeling self-conscious. He'd be lying if he said he's completely fine with LWJ being here. A part of him wants to hoard WWX all to himself.
But if that's what it will take to get WWX to stay, JC can put up with the stuffy Lan.
He can lie and say he’s okay with sharing.
"Sect Leader Jiang!" Chen Zhuo protests, earning him a scowl from JC.
His SIC knows better than to argue with him over WWX's place here by now, but his husband is a different story.
"You may have been amicable with Lan Wangji in your youth, but he has displayed nothing but contempt and disrespect toward you for years now."
"But that's all been a misunderstanding!" WWX defends. "Lan Zhan thought you killed me, so of course that would put you both at odds."
"I already said do what you want," JC snaps. "Who do you take me for? I won't force anyone to be away from their cultivation partner."
WWX frowns. "Jiang Cheng, it’s okay if you don't want Lan Zhan here. If that's the case, he and I will figure something out. You don't have to accommodate me, I'm not going anywhere."
"Yet," spits Chen Zhuo.
"First you blame me for leaving Jiang Cheng, and now you can't wait for me to be gone. Are you just wanting my shidi all to yourself now, Deputy Leader?"
"That's enough. Both of you,” says JC. Honestly, they're worse than children.
WWX sighs and flags down a servant. "Would you fetch me a couple jars of wine from the kitchen?"
The servant balks. "It's 8 in the morning."
WWX rolls his eyes. "Fine, one jar."
"Are you kidding me? After the shit you pulled yesterday?" JC scolds and turns to the servant.
"Wei Wuxian is not to have any alcohol unless granted by me. Make sure the kitchen staff know and lock up the wine."
WWX's jaw drops. "What?? Jiang Cheng, that's not fair! I need--"
He stops short, as if realizing what he was just about to say.
JC raises a brow and finishes for him. "You need it, right? You think that makes it any better? You're sorely mistaken if you think I'm going to let you stumble around Lotus Pier like a drunk!"
“Ah, come on, just a cup! Not even Lan Zhan is this strict!”
JC sticks his nose up. “What does that have to do with me? Do I look like your husband?”
WWX purses his lips, but before he can respond, a disciple approaches JC with a salute. “You have guests from Gusu Lan, sir.”
WWX perks up and JC scowls. Has LWJ returned already?
However, when JC, WWX, and the SIC go to greet the arrivals, they’re met with two Lan brats and a kid who looks to be wearing Bailing Ouyang robes. WWX seems to know them, paying particular attention to the boy who appears the oldest.
"Friends of yours?" JC interrupts.
The 3 juniors flinch and look at JC like he's going to bite their heads off. What's their problem?
The Ouyang kid gapes. "Whoa, you guys weren't kidding! He really is younger."
"Definitely shorter," one of the Lans says with a smirk. "He's gotta be younger than Sizhui now."
"Isn't he cute when he's not the scary Sandu Shengshou?" WWX teases and pokes his cheek. He nearly loses a finger when JC snaps his teeth.
JC doesn't have time nor desire to entertain a bunch of kids. He gets right to the point. "What are you three doing here?"
The oldest, LSZ, explains how he and LJY were involved in the accident that resulted in JC getting cursed. Apparently he had saved them from falling victim to the same fate as him, and possibly worse. As first-hand witnesses, LWJ sent them down to help WWX with the investigation.
"Lan Zhan worries too much--I don't need any help," WWX dismisses.
Yet, as far as JC can tell, there hasn’t been any progress in figuring out what cursed him. In fact, now that he thinks about it, WWX hasn't spent any time investigating or experimenting as he usually would.
"How can you help?" JC asks them.
WWX makes a strange face, lips thinned into a line.
"We thought we could start by investigating the lake where you were attacked by the monster. No one has seen the serpent since."
JC nods. "Sounds reasonable. Let's go then."
"Sect Leader, that might not be safe. Perhaps I should go in your place," Chen Zhuo suggests, but JC is adamant.
WWX doesn't look too thrilled at the moment either. "What's with you?" JC asks.
“Maybe you shouldn't go," he mumbles back. "It could be dangerous…"
"Says the one with the weak core. If anything, it sounds like you all need me in case that monster shows up again. Zidian was the only thing that worked against it, right?"
LSZ nods. "I think it'd be best that Sect Leader Jiang comes along."
"Then let's go."
The five of them fly on swords to the lake since it's not far from Yunmeng borders. WWX still isn't advanced enough to fly on Suibian yet, so he hitches a ride on Sandu with JC.
On the flight, JC notices how tightly WWX clings to him and decides to fuck with his shixiong a bit.
He makes a couple unnecessarily sharp turns and dips, and WWX yelps, arms tightening around JC.
"Jiang Cheng, have mercy! I'm far more delicate than I once was!" WWX whines, hiding his face in JC's back.
JC cracks up. "What happened to that touted bravery of yours?"
"Don't bully me! I'll make you regret it!"
"Scary words from someone who can't even fly his own sword," JC teases. "Who would be scared of a scrawny shrimp like you?"
WWX reaches around to pinch JC's cheek and tugs. "What a brat you are! Respect your elders!"
JC laughs even more and WWX joins him despite being terrified of falling at the moment.
The juniors look on with slack jaws. Sect Leader Jiang, /the/ Sandu Shengshou, is joking around and laughing with the Yiling Patriarch like they are best buds, brothers, or who knows what?
They all know WWX and JC were once close in their youth, but that was a lifetime ago, and only in stories WWX regaled after a couple jars of Emperor's Smile.
In the present--in reality--none of them ever imagined JC treating WWX with anything but contempt.
And yet, here they are. WWX dressed in fine Jiang robes, arms encircling JC's waist and his chin resting over the other's shoulder, giggling like maidens!
It's not long until they reach the lake. Before the investigation can even start, LJY can't keep his thoughts to himself.
"What the hell is going on here? You two are friends now??"
WWX scratches the back of his head. "Uh, about that. Jiang Cheng's memories regressed with his age. He doesn't really remember...much…"
OYZZ gasps. "Amnesia? So then he doesn't know you're…"
He lowers to a whisper as though JC isn’t standing right there, "y'know, the Yiling Patriarch?"
JC facepalms. "Why are you even here?"
"I didn't want to be left out again…"
LJY grabs WWX by the arm. "A moment, Senior Wei?"
JC glares as the three juniors pull the older man aside.
LJY pins WWX with a disbelieving look. "Senior Wei, what are you thinking? Have you forgotten how much Jin Ling's scary uncle hates you? You shouldn't be getting so friendly with him, he could turn on you any second!"
"Jingyi," LSZ scolds. "Sect Leader Jiang saved our lives the other day."
"Only because the Young Mistress was with us!"
"Now, now, Jiang Cheng may be an angry jerk most of the time, but he's a good guy. And as he is right now, he's not even that grouchy."
OYZZ taps his chin. "He does seem quite different. I don't think I've ever seen Sect Leader Jiang smile before, let alone laugh."
"Yeah, it's kinda creepy," LJY says.
"You three should get to know him. He's a lot less prickly at this age, you might all get along," WWX suggests.
"That probably won't be necessary," LSZ says. "After all, we're here to fix the curse he's under, right? He won't be like this for long."
WWX scratches the back of his head. "Right, of course, but you never know! We still don't know anything about the curse or if there's even
a way to reverse it. He could remain this way for a while, even permanently."
LSZ frowns. "Don't be discouraged Senior Wei. There's no reason to believe we can't help Sect Leader Jiang either."
LJY and OYZZ nod furiously. "With you on the case, we'll solve this soon enough!”
WWX laughs nervously. “Yeah, right!”
His odd behavior doesn’t go unnoticed by LSZ, but the young man keeps his thoughts to himself for now. Making assumptions about others is prohibited.
The group all stand at the shore of the lake.
JC kicks off his boots and starts stripping out of his robes.
WWX looks panicked. "You're not going in there, are you?"
"Unless you know of another way to search the lake? What, are we just supposed to gape at its surface?" JC shoots back as he removes all but his trousers.
The Lans gasp (half-naked out in the open? Shameless!) while OYZZ stares at the scars that cover JC's chest. It was known that the Wens had tortured the Jiang heir, but it wasn't talked about.
WWX stares at them as well, though his expression is impossible to read.
"I don't think this is a good idea…" LSZ starts.
"Anyone got a better suggestion?" JC challenges, quickly losing patience.
WWX then proposes flying out to the center of the lake. He takes out Chenqing with the intent to draw out anything with resentful energy.
Though he goes along with this plan, JC is hesitant, having yet to see WWX use his demonic cultivation.
WWX hops on the back of Sandu with JC once more and they all hover above the water's surface. WWX plays a few notes and they wait for any signs of movement.
Small ripples appear before suddenly--
A water ghoul leaps out from beneath the surface, lunging for LJY. He screams and OYZZ grabs his arm, pulling him out the way before it snatches him into the lake.
LSZ pulls out some offensive talismans and scans the water.
"What the hell? I thought we killed all the water ghouls here!" LJY shouts.
"I'll get it under control," WWX says as he prepares to play his dizi once more.
Several sets of grey, clawed arms spring from the lake, swiping and grabbing at anything they can reach.
One latches onto OYZZ's sword and yanks it into the water, him along with it.
At the same time, a water ghoul gets its claws into WWX’s leg and drags him off of Sandu, into the lake.
He kicks the ghoul off and shouts, "I'm fine! Help Zizhen!"
JC hesitates for a second before flying over to help the Lans pull OYZZ from the water.
WWX is suddenly pulled beneath the lake as the water ghoul attacks again. It drags him farther and farther into the murky depths until hardly any light reaches.
Unable to use Chenqing, he grabs the water ghoul and siphons its resentful energy until the ghoul is nothing but a motionless corpse. The body sinks and WWX begins to swim to the water's surface.
However, something small and luminescent wades below, slinking closer and closer.
It looks like some kind of snake, though one he's never seen before. Despite barely being the length of his arm, its features are frightening--a massive maw of razor teeth and monstrous yellow eyes.
Far too small to be the serpent the juniors described, but perhaps an offspring?
But then where is the larger one? All this ruckus and no sign of it.
The small serpent swims closer and WWX pulls a talisman from his sleeve. He grabs the creature with the seal, sending a violent shock through it, and then stuffs it into a qiankun pouch.
He begins to ascend to the surface once more, but another ghoul grabs his foot, pulling him deeper. Out of air and strength, WWX sinks, on the edge of passing out.
Suddenly he’s wrenched from the water, enveloped in a strong pair of arms.
"Wei Wuxian, are you all right?" JC asks, eyes wide with worry as he looks him over for injuries.
He coughs up some water. "I'm okay."
"Senior Wei! Sect Leader Jiang!" the juniors cry from the other side of the lake.
LSZ and OYZZ both hold on to each of LJY's hands, in a battle of tug of war with two water ghouls that have his legs. LJY screams, half-submerged in water.
Another water ghoul leaps from the lake and onto LSZ's back.
"A-Yuan!" WWX shouts. "We need to help them!"
JC flies to LJY who's already in the water and flailing about. WWX is about to fling himself off Sandu to aid LSZ, but stops when a thick iron chain wraps around the ghoul's neck. The creature releases LSZ and is violently pulled to shore, swung around by WN's chain.
WN easily kills the ghoul once it's within his reach, and whips his chains around to fend off the others.
JC and WWX help LJY onto his own sword. The group quickly flies to shore where WN waits, and the remaining water ghouls retreat to the bottom of the lake.
"Wen Ning, have you been following us?" WWX asks.
WN shakes his head. "I was following them." He points to the juniors who are off to the side, fixing their robes and checking for injuries.
WWX smiles. "Good thing you're so good at stalking children!"
"Young Master Wei…" says the fierce corpse, exasperated.
"That's Wen Ning?" JC asks, face gone pale. He looks from WN to WWX. "You did this to him?"
"You told me what you could do; what you /did/. But seeing it now, I never thought you'd actually go this far."
"Things were complicated back then…" WWX mumbles. He only now realizes a majority of that was due to the lies that were festering between them.
JC had accepted his demonic cultivation quite easily the first time around, presented to him while torturing WC and WZL.
After all the Wens had done to him, JC had no reason to refute WWX’s methods.
But now, with no revenge to be had, JC can only focus on the horrific reality of what demonic cultivation really is.
JC shakes his head, mocking when he says, "And here I thought you were hated for showing mercy to the Wen-dogs. This is mercy? What kind of life can he live like this?"
"Young Master Wei made many difficult decisions to protect others," WN asserts. "You most of all."
JC laughs bitterly. "You would try to defend his actions after the role you've played in his lies. You're just as culpable as he is."
"If you know that much, then you know how great a sacrifice it was for him."
"He gave up everything for me, is that what you're trying to say?”
JC scoffs. “Well who asked him to? I sure as fuck didn't!"
WWX flinches. "Jiang Cheng, calm do--"
"It's my fault, and yet whose hands helped shove his core into me?” JC sneers at WN. “He couldn’t do it on his own--but I'm to blame for what he’s given up, right?"
"It was his choice."
"And where was mine? It's always Wei Wuxian who gets what he wants! He gets to play the hero like a fucking martyr while the rest of us are supposed to fall to our hands and knees and praise him!"
“You admonish him still, even now as he chooses to help you again," WN criticizes as though speaking to a child. "Sect Leader Jiang, can you appreciate anything from the man who gave up his life for you?"
The look that flashes across JC's face makes WWX's stomach drop.
He never wants to see such an expression on his shidi, especially if he is the cause of it.
His own anger spiking, WWX steps in. "That's enough, Wen Ning."
"But Young Master Wei--”
"I said enough!" he shouts, eyes flashing red.
"Jiang Cheng owes me nothing, not an apology and certainly not a thank you."
While timid in his life, WN has always been more perceptive than most gave him credit for. He can tell there has been a shift since the last time the core transfer was brought up--
there's something he doesn't know about the matter. So he drops it.
WN goes to LSZ to give him some parting words as WWX talks to JC. The teen is trembling in rage, eyes yet to leave the fierce corpse.
"That's what everyone thinks of me, isn't it? So ungrateful to my /savior/."
"No one was supposed to know about your golden core--only a few people do,” WWX assures. “But I’ll make sure they all know what you did for me.”
"Don't," JC is quick to plead before hardening his features. "Don't say anything."
“I won't have you beholden to me."
"That's not how it is. You know I don't see it that way."
And yet, doubt still lingers in JC's piercings pale eyes. It will take much more for JC to truly believe WWX is by his side out of want and not obligation.
"Even if you don't, others will," JC insists.
"They'll see you next to me and think I forced you here, away from Gusu and Lan Wangji."
WWX rolls his eyes. "Who cares what others think?"
"I do! One of us has to."
JC's outburst draws the junior's attention, though they try to avoid being caught looking.
WWX sighs. There's no getting around the insecurities JFM and YZY instilled in JC, especially as young as he is now. They've always made him self-conscious, caring too much about the opinions of others.
"Fine, we'll have it your way," he relents.
WWX slings an arm over JC's shoulders, lamenting melodramatically. "No one will ever know Jiang Wanyin is the true martyr between us! What a saint, putting down his life for this worthless servant."
"Shut up," JC grumbles, half-heartedly pushing him away.
"I understand, the ruthless Sandu Shengshou can't have others knowing how much he truly loves his strong and talented shixiong!"
JC's face turns bright red and WWX finger's itch to pinch those puffy cheeks.
"You’re insufferable,” JC whines as he fends off WWX’s grabby hands.
“Stop it before I break your legs!"
WWX laughs. "What’s a stinky crybaby like you gonna do? Ow! Jiang Cheng, that really hurt!"
After WN departs, the group takes the investigation to the nearby village.
LSZ and LJY insist they killed all the water ghouls in the lake not even a full week ago, and yet now there are at least half a dozen. Even if people did drown in the lake over the past couple days,
not enough time has passed for them to form into water ghouls, and certainly not ones as strong as these are.
"Senior Wei, you were underwater for quite awhile," LSZ says. "Did you see anything? Any sign of that serpent that attacked Sect Leader Jiang?"
He notices WWX stiffen before sighing loudly. "Nope, nothing! Of course it was quite dark down there. But no serpent insight."
"Think the water ghouls and the serpent are connected?" JC asks no one in particular.
The investigation has only spurred questions instead of answers.
Not wanting to waste the day, LSZ suggests going into town to ask around.
WWX doesn't appear as eager to continue investigating but doesn't protest. Normally he'd be leading such a mission, but all day WWX has been rather tame in their pursuit, which is not like him at all.
LSZ makes a mental note to speak with WWX in private later.
They reach the nearby town as dusk sets in and start asking around about the lake and its inhabitants. It only takes a few interactions with the locals for them to deduce they will be getting no useful info.
The locals are strange. None of them are shocked or concerned to hear of the lake hosting a slew of resentful entities. And yet, no one is willing to talk about it. They shrug off questions, avoid the topic, or completely ignore the cultivators altogether.
“Something's up. These villagers are way too suspicious," LJY says with an irate huff. LSZ and OYZZ discuss something in front of him while WWX and JC lead the group some distance ahead. They walk through the market as locals give them unfriendly looks.
LJY picks up his pace to catch what his friends are talking about.
"I'm telling you, it's just like in 'Strands of Love' when Chang Feiyun cut off all of her long hair to use as rope to pull her lover from the evil king's snake pit," OYZZ regales dramatically.
"He'd already been bitten and poisoned but she refused to let him die alone down there. And after she saved him and he died in her arms, Chang Feiyun's hair never grew again as a symbol of her lost love and she lived the rest of her life in scrutiny."
LJY rolls his eyes.
"Gushing over your romance novels?"
LSZ gives a grimaced smile while OYZZ lowers his voice to a whisper. "I'm referring to Senior Wei and Sect Leader Jiang. To think Senior Wei sacrificed his golden core for the other, only for them to be separated in the end. How tragic!"
LJY's face scrunches up in confusion. "What are you talking about? They weren't in love, why would they be together?"
"Senior Wei was renowned for his cultivation; how could giving up his core be anything but an act of love?" OYZZ insists.
"You've let those stupid books rot your brain!" LJY argues. "Senior Wei was taken in by the previous Jiang sect leader, right? If anything, what he did was out of duty."
"Jingyi, not all love is romantic," LSZ says, trying to quell what looks to be the start of an argument.
LJY knows what OYZZ is implying is far from platonic.
He crosses his arms and grumbles, "As if such a thing would have worked out between them anyway. After all, who would pick someone as scary and ill-tempered as Sect Leader Jiang when Hanguang-jun is right there?"
"Jingyi…" LSZ sighs in exasperation. "It is against the rules to talk behind someone's back."
OYZZ holds his ground. "Senior Wei and Sect Leader Jiang have history; they grew up together only to be torn apart by tragedy. Quintessential star-crossed lovers if you ask me."
"Well no one did," LJY snips. "Besides, it doesn't matter now since Hanguang-jun and Senior Wei are happily together."
"He seems quite happy with Sect Leader Jiang right now," OYZZ says with a casual shrug, gesturing ahead.
“Oh, oh, Jiang Cheng, look! Tanghulu, your favorite!”
WWX approaches the cart, not wasting any time to order. JC rolls his eyes but follows along, as do the juniors.
WWX winks back at JC. “Let shixiong treat you.”
JC scoffs. “With what money? You’re always broke.”
“Not true! I’ve acquired significant wealth over the past year."
He pulls out a white pouch full of coins. LJY balks. “That’s Hanguang-jun’s money."
"What’s his is mine," WWX shrugs before giving JC a soft look. "And what's mine is yours."
JC's sputters and looks away.
OYZZ gives LJY a smug look while the other scowls.
WWX buys a few treats for everyone, giving JC the most. He waves one of his own tanghulu in JC's face, this one in particular being a candied pepper instead of hawthorn.
"Try this one!"
"I already have enough," JC complains, holding several sticks in both hands.
"But this one is spicy. What's wrong, can't handle a little heat?" WWX teases, shoving the treat closer. "Not scared, are you?"
"Who's scared?" Taking the bait, JC leans forward with an eye roll and opens his mouth.
OYZZ gasps and grabs LJY's arm in anticipation, eyes glued to the Yunmeng duo. He practically squeals when JC's lips wrap around the pepper and WWX's eyes darken, sucking in a sharp breath.
When JC pulls back as he chews, some candy sticks to his bottom lip.
WWX doesn't hesitate to gather it with his thumb before bringing it to his own mouth, dark eyes never leaving the young sect leader.
The juniors watch the bold display with hanging jaws.
JC clears his throat and starts walking again. "Let's get back to the investigation."
As the group sets off once more, OYZZ smirks at LJY with an air of victory.
With no one willing to talk, the group sits at a local inn to plan their next move. The sun has set and they consider leaving to come back another day.
"If no one wants to help us now, why would they if we come back later?" WWX says. "This town is a dead end. We should move on."
"It's not like you to give up so easily," says JC.
"I'm just saying it doesn't seem we'll get anywhere here unless you know how to get these people to talk."
As they go over they discuss, something catches JC’s eye and he excuses himself from the table.
OYZZ immediately leans over the table as if to begin an interrogation.
“Senior Wei, you and Sect Leader Jiang appear to get along quite well," he says with a knowing look.
WWX nods with a smile. Of course they're getting along. As teenagers they were inseparable--
no one knew JC better than WWX, and the same applies now.
This is how it always should have been. This is how JC wanted it; WWX is certain of that.
"Perhaps a bit too well?" LJY interjects with crossed arms. "Senior Wei, have you forgotten Hanguang-jun?"
WWX cocks his head to the side. "Huh? How could I forget Lan Zhan?"
LSZ jumps in, trying not to fidget. "Is there a reason he isn't here helping you now?"
WWX raises a brow. "What's this all about? Children, if you have something you want to say, then say it properly."
"Right, right, big brothers, please tell me your concerns."
The Lans exchange looks, hesitant to voice their thoughts.
JC then returns with several jars of wine. He takes his seat beside WWX.
"What's all this?"
JC gestures to the innkeeper. “I heard him complaining about being overstocked on wine.”
“So you just bought it all??” LJY asks.
“For information,” JC says with an arrogant smirk. “Apparently a group of kids were fishing in the lake a couple days ago--all of them drowned.
The innkeeper and everyone else in town are certain those water ghouls are the kids.”
LSZ holds his chin as he speaks. “But the ghouls we faced were adults.”
“Not to mention it takes far longer for dead bodies to reach that level of resentful energy,” WWX notes.
“So there’s definitely something strange going on in that lake," OYZZ says. "We should go back and check it out again!"
As the juniors seem eager to keep investigating, WWX puts on his lecturer's hat, reminding them that hunts involving water are best dealt with under sunlight.
Low visibility and weak swimmers are a recipe for disaster.
"And as it stands," WWX continues, "I don't think we have the proper tools."
"So you want us to leave?" JC asks, a little frustrated.
"Youth have no patience these days. What, did you think we'd solve this in a day?"
JC punches WWX in the arm. "Fine, then let's go home. It's already night."
"What about all this wine you bought?" OYZZ asks while LJY and LSZ perk up. "You're letting it go to waste?"
Both Lans gape at OYZZ's boldness. Is he really asking Sect Leader Jiang to drink? With them??
JC looks over the table full of wine and shrugs. "Help yourself," he says, grabbing a jar.
The juniors need no further invitation, immediately unlidding the jars of wine. WWX can't believe JC is letting the boys drink!
Then again, they did the same when they were juniors.
Hell, JC is exactly the age when they would get drunk and read porn and hide from Madam Yu's wrath.
His heart swells at the bittersweet memories.
"Senior Wei, you're not drinking?" LSZ asks, concerned. WWX has never been known to turn down a drink.
He looks at JC who watches him closely, then shakes his head. "Ah, not tonight…"
JC's brows raise in surprise. Seems he didn't expect WWX to take his wishes so seriously. JC grabs WWX’s hand and places the jar he was just drinking from in his palm.
"One drink won't hurt."
Obviously, no one stops after just one drink. The five of them inhale every last drop of alcohol until the ceramic jars are bone dry.
They are all drunk, WWX realizes, when LJY somehow talks JC into arm wrestling him.
Though JC has lost some muscle mass, his high cultivation helps him combat the fabled Lan arm strength.
LJY loses and slurs out a rematch. JC, just as drunk, boasts he can take on both Lans at the same time.
"Sizhui, get over here! We're gonna humble this guy!" LJY shouts,
even though LSZ is sitting right next to him. Inebriated as he is, LJY seems to have forgotten that JC is not one of his peers.
Likewise, JC doesn't even blink at the disrespect. He props up his arm. "Don't go crying to your Hanguang-jun when you brats lose."
LJY and (reluctantly) LSZ both grab JC's hand and the match begins. WWX cheers JC on while OYZZ roots for his friends. The ruckus disturbs the other guests dining in, causing some staff to come by and try to quiet them down, to no avail.
JC and the juniors are locked, barely moving one way or the other. Their other hands grip the table for stability, cracks forming in the hardwood.
LJY and LSZ exchange a look and push, their combined strength gradually overpowering JC. He tries to push back but can't recover.
The Lans nod to each other and suddenly slam JC's hand down against the table. And then through it.
The large table between them splits in half, wood chips and splinters flying everywhere. JC is flung to his side from the force where he collides with the nearby innkeeper.
The elderly man falls over, dropping the expensive-looking tea set he was carrying.
Noise erupts in the inn as staff workers start shouting, customers are complaining, and WWX is laughing hysterically at how easily JC was just tossed aside.
JC lies on his back, reeling from the throw while the juniors cower around him, fearing Zidian will come to life and strike.
They're stunned when JC starts laughing. Tears in his eyes, he's absolutely cracking up at the chaos around them, too inebriated to care about propriety.
It's rather contagious because soon their whole group is a cacophony of drunken laughter.
It does not last long when they are confronted by the furious innkeeper.
WWX sits in a small jail cell that she shares with JC. The three juniors occupy the cell next to them.
"I can't believe we got arrested and it wasn't even my fault!" he cackles to no one else's amusement, the alcohol slowly wearing off and giving way to some nasty headaches.
After all the damage they caused in the inn, naturally they were expected to pay. However, JC spent all his money on the wine, and WWX on junk food. While WWX had suggested they make a run for it, LSZ, the moral lad that he is, insisted they stay and receive punishment.
"This is the last time I'm going anywhere with you two," LJY grumbles from his cell.
"Well no one told you to throw Jiang Cheng across the room and into the innkeeper," WWX shrugs. "You were the ones so keen to drink."
"You're the adult here!" LJY shouts.
"Hanguang-jun is going to make us do handstands for a week when we get back!"
"Only if he finds out," says WWX.
"Senior Wei, you're truly a deplorable example."
"A-Yuan, that hurts!"
WWX turns to JC who's been sitting across the cell, quiet this whole time. WWX scoots closer.
"Don't look so down. You're a sect leader, remember? You won't be in trouble with anyone."
JC rolls his eyes. "Exactly. As sect leader, I should be more responsible."
"Hardly," WWX brushes off. "When you first became sect leader it was in the middle of a war.
You didn't have the time to goof off like the juniors do now. Enjoy it while it lasts."
JC scoffs, though there is no heat to it. "Speaking like you're so wise. Of course you would encourage debauchery."
"If I don't, who will?" WWX says proudly.
As the night moves on, everyone drifts off to sleep. WWX, however, is awoken by JC's thrashing and whimpers beside him. He is covered in sweat, mumbling incoherently in his sleep.
WWX tries to ignore it until JC snaps awake with a yelp.
A tiny sliver of moonlight peaking into the cell reveals the tears in JC's eyes.
"I was there, wasn't I?"
"What are you--"
"A-Jie," JC chokes out quietly. "I keep seeing her in my arms. There's so much blood…"
WWX sits up and tries to pull JC with him, but the teen fights to stay curled up on the floor. He sits back against the wall, then gently lifts JC's head to rest on his lap, and JC allows him.
He runs his hand through JC's hair. "You were there. You were with her until the end."
The memory sits heavy in WWX's heart, eating away at his conscience. In those last moments, as JYL sat bleeding in JC's arms, it was WWX who she had given her last words to. WWX who received her last caress.
Those should have been JC's, yet he stole them for himself. Stole JYL.
JC's breathing evens out, and he quickly drifts back to sleep. WWX's fingers graze over JC's delicate features. How he wishes he would stop seeing sadness on this beautiful face.
WWX is the first to wake the next morning, his position against the cell wall quite uncomfortable.
JC's head is still in his lap and WWX chuckles. “What a little a princess,” he coos, brushing back some loose strands from JC’s forehead.
JC doesn’t stir but lets out a pleased sigh. WWX, despite how long he’s had JC, can't get enough of staring at his pretty shidi. For years JC’s attentive eyes, his haughty smile, even his laughter, were all WWX’s to hoard. He could see them, pull them from him whenever he wanted.
This past year has felt so empty without them.
Before he realizes it, he’s leaning down and pressing his mouth to JC’s forehead. Slowly, he trails down to plant another kiss over JC’s eyes, his nose, his cheeks.
Then finally with intention, WWX kisses JC’s full pink lips, the alcohol from the previous night still strong on his breath. Underneath the wine, his tongue tingles from the sugar stuck to his shidi’s lips from the tanghulu.
He lets himself linger, feeling high off the sensation. Off the knowledge of who he has under him, even after so much that has come between them.
WWX slowly pulls back, lifting his head, only to meet JC’s wide almond eyes staring up at him.
WWX's breath hitches, but before he can speak--
They both jolt, looking to the jail cell entrance where LWJ stands, pale eyes boring into the Yunmeng duo.
WWX sits outside under a starry night, tossing back another jug of Emperor's Smile to keep warm against the Gusu air. Even after a year of living in CR, its icy chill still manages to creep down to his bones.
Normally on nights like this, he would be cuddled up with
LWJ didn't know what he was expecting when he left CR to retrieve his husband. LSZ and LJY were due back last night, and yet there was no word from the boys.
He knows WWX would never let anything bad happen to the juniors, but his husband has not been himself lately.
Not since JWY came crashing through their lives again, determined to undo all the happiness they have achieved together. After 13 years of waiting and yearning, LWJ finally got the love of his life back.
And yet with one pitiful look, one insignificant secret revealed,
WWX is suddenly being wrenched from his grasp.
LWJ has always known JWY to be a resentful, envious man. He saw glimpses of it in their youthful days during the year WWX and JWY studied in the CR. How could he not notice the way the Jiang heir's eyes always followed his shixiong?
That deep shade of green that encompassed him everytime WWX left his side to pester LWJ instead?
WWX has always been held back by his less talented, bitter shidi.
LWJ will not allow his husband to once again fall victim to JWY’s selfishness.
So when LWJ arrived at the town the juniors told him they'd be investigating, he saw his mistake in leaving WWX alone in Lotus Pier with the very man who would burn everything and everyone in his path to get what he wanted.
He stands enraged, speechless at the sight before him;
JWY's head lies soundly in WWX's lap as he looks down at him with eyes LWJ has never seen. As if he's forgotten all the pain and time SDSS has cost them.
WWX's hands rest lovingly on the youth, stroking JWY's hair while the other, even more intimately, caresses his cheek.
And just the same, JWY looks up at WWX with wide eyes, lips parted as if another sinful confession waits on his tongue.
LWJ will not allow it.
WWX and JWY both snap their eyes to him. They jump up, hastily detaching themselves from each other.
"Lan Zhan, what are you doing here?" WWX asks with less enthusiasm than usual. His grey eyes shift from LWJ and JWY, something akin to guilt in his expression.
LWJ can't fight the small frown that takes place. Even WWX sees it; how JWY is trying to pry them apart.
But of course, the revelation of how JWY lost his core now shackles them together. WWX is trapped and needs saving.
"Sizhui and the others were due back in the Cloud Recesses last night."
WWX grins. "Ah, what a dutiful teacher, coming to retrieve your students!"
At that, the juniors stir awake to see LWJ outside their jail cells. They're youthful faces turn pale.
"Hanguang-jun!" they all shout, scrambling to their feet.
Predictably LJY speaks first. "Hanguang-jun, I know this looks bad, but hear us out! We...we were only following
Sect Leader Jiang and Senior Wei's lead!"
WWX gasps. "Tattle tell!"
LJY scoffs. "You never get punishment for breaking the rules anyway!"
As the two bicker back and forth between their cells, LWJ's gaze returns to JWY.
The adolescent sect leader flinches under his glare and immediately clings to WWX, taking a step back to hide a fraction of himself behind the other.
WWX appears surprised but seemingly welcomes the closeness, giving his ex-shidi a fond smile.
"Wei Ying, we are returning to the Cloud Recesses."
"You go on then," WWX says without a second's thought. "Jiang Cheng and I need to return to Lotus Pier before Chen Zhuo flays me alive. I am entrusted with the Jiang Sect's precious sect leader after all."
/Return to Lotus Pier,/ LWJ cycles through his head, disgust bubbling in his gut. As if that's where WWX belongs.
His attention is then brought to the robes WWX is wearing. YMJ in both design and color. The material is clearly expensive. Luxurious, even. Too much so.
It would take weeks or more to commission such fine robes. Why would JWY already have these prepared if he hadn't long since been ready to snatch WWX away for himself?
One of the guards comes over and unlocks the two cells.
The juniors frightfully tip toe around LWJ who is just barely keeping his composure at how JWY plays up this pathetic facade, latching onto WWX like a lost puppy.
"Wei Ying should return home with us," he says resolutely, addressing WWX but glaring at JWY.
"Lan Zhan," WWX murmurs, "you know I can't do that right now. Jiang Cheng still needs--"
"We'll all go," JWY cuts in, finally standing front and center. "We've reached a dead end here; perhaps we can do more research in Gusu Lan? Their Library Pavillion has some of the oldest
and most extensive notes on cultivation, including ghouls and curses, correct?"
LWJ cannot lie. "Yes."
JWY nods. "Then I'll accompany you all to the Cloud Recesses to investigate further."
WWX doesn't seem to like the idea, for obvious reasons in LWJ's perspective.
Who does JWY think he is to impose himself like this, demanding GSL's resources?
"Jiang Cheng, I need to get you back home. Chen Zhuo will throw a fit if you're away any longer, and gods help me if word gets to Jin Ling."
JWY shrugs. "Then send them missives."
LWJ pipes up. "Jiang Wanyin, with no previous notice, it is highly inappropriate to ask Gusu Lan to accommodate your stay."
"Is that so?" JWY has the audacity to challenge, bright eyes finally reflecting some of his former self. "I didn't realize that was your call to make, HGJ,
seeing as only one of us is a sect leader here."
JWY then crosses his arms and sneers. "And I believe that's Sect Leader Jiang, to you."
LWJ is ready to reach for Bichen when WWX jumps between them. “Lan Zhan, what’s gotten into you?”
Desperately trying to quell the rising tension, LSZ says, “Hanguang-jun, Shifu has previously granted Sect Leader Jiang visitation to the Cloud Recesses at his own convenience.”
JWY struts past, taking the lead. “Then it’s off to Gusu. Wei Wuxian, hurry up.”
He glances back with an aimed smirk. “You need a ride, don’t you?”
WWX perks up and skips after JWY with a giddy smile. LWJ will need to intervene soon, before WWX gets hurt again.
They arrive in the Cloud Recesses not long after. As much as WWX wanted to ride with JC, things had become too awkward with LWJ there, so in the end he hopped on Bichen with his husband.
It was impossible to miss the look on JC’s face as he took LWJ’s hand.
From the moment they left to their arrival in Gusu, the juniors were uncharastically quiet.
Waiting at the entrance of CR is LQR. His eyes go wide upon seeing JC.
JC salutes. "Teacher, please pardon the intrusion. I--"
"Nonsense, Jiang Wanyin, you are always welcome in the Cloud Recesses," LQR says, ushering JC up the stairs. "I'm aware of your predicament. Wangji should have brought you here as soon as it happened."
"No need to worry, I've been taking good care of Jiang Cheng!"
WWX chimes loudly, earning a scolding look from LQR.
"Indeed," mutters the old man. "Sizhui, Jingyi, have a guest room prepared for Sect Leader Jiang." His eyes snap to WWX for a moment. "Far from the Jinshi."
WWX's jaw falls slack. What is that supposed to mean??
"Yes sir!" the juniors chorus, glad to finally get away.
LQR gives JC a fond smile that WWX has never seen before. "My boy you must be hungry after your travels. Wangji, escort Jiang Wanyin to the kitchens and get him whatever he'd like."
"But Uncle, it is not yet dinner time."
"I'm aware of the time, Wangji. Now please, show our guest some hospitality."
WWX thinks he might faint. LQR is actually breaking the rules to feed JC in between meals! And JC appears just as shocked and starts mumbling protests of being hungry.
"Now, now, a boy your age needs to eat plenty. Go on then," LQR insists.
WWX doesn't know what's gotten into the old man. Sure, JC was one of LQR's favored students while studying in CR, but he has never been one to dote on others, regardless of age.
Perhaps JC and LQR formed some sort of friendship over the last decade. WWX really wouldn't know since he spends most of his time avoiding the strict elder.
When WWX tries following JC and LWJ, LQR addresses him with a curt, "Wei Wuxian, a word?"
He gulps. This can't be good.
WWX follows LQR to his quarters where they sit for tea. He nervously sips the bland Gusu oolong, waiting for what's sure to be a verbal thrashing.
"Wei Wuxian, what are your intentions toward Jiang Wanyin?"
WWX gapes. "Intentions? He's my shidi, I'm taking care of him."
"He /used/ to be your shidi. You have since rescinded that responsibility, have you not?"
"That...that's all in the past now. Jiang Cheng doesn't even remember all that."
LQR frowns. "But you do. So tell me, what has brought on this change of heart?"
WWX doesn't like the challenge in LQR's tone. "He needs me."
"Jiang Wanyin went 13 years without you just fine. He rebuilt his sect greater than before without you. He raised his nephew into a capable sect leader with you. He has his disciples, his Deputy, and Sect Leader Jin.
What do you think you can offer him now, after all this time?"
WWX feels as though he's being interviewed for a marriage arrangement. How is JC and his relationship any business of LQR's?
He's growing tired of everyone trying to dictate what he can or can't do with JC.
If JC wants him around then that's all that matters. What others think is irrelevant.
"What are you getting at?" WWX asks darkly, suddenly defensive.
"Perhaps it is not Jiang Wanyin who needs you, but the other way around," LQR says calmly before taking a long sip of tea.
WWX sputters. What LQR is saying is ridiculous! JC needs /him/. He is JC's shixiong, his big brother, his best and likely only friend. WWX is the protector, the only one who can faithfully care for JC--the only one willing to go any length for him. To tear himself apart for him.
JC was the one in need, not him.
Had WWX not been living carefree here in CR with LWJ, completely fulfilled? Anything he wants, LWJ is more than happy to supply. For over a year now, WWX has never been in need of anything.
He recalls the pangs in his chest whenever he looks out at the docks around Caiyi Town, remembering how JC and he would run along the piers before leaping into Lotus Pier's clear waters.
He recalls the sad smiles that would fall on his face while watching the juniors train,
fingers itching for the days when Suibian and Sandu would clash in heated spars.
He recalls the restless nights when sleep would not come no matter how much he drank, trapped in that cold room that even LWJ could not warm, consumed by a feeling of wrongness, of unfamiliarity,
where his mind could only repeat over and over: this is not home.
WWX suddenly could not meet LQR's eyes. "It's not like that."
LQR sighs. "You can delude yourself all you want, but understand that even the lies we tell ourselves hurt those around us."
WWX shakes his head, anger rekindling. "What lies? What would you even know about Jiang Cheng and me, huh?"
"I know you had a duty to him and instead you chose to leave," LQR says, stern and unwavering. "How long until you leave this time?"
WWX makes to leave.
"Running away again, I see."
He stops. "What was that?"
LQR folds his arms, unbothered by WWX's glowing red eyes. "Wei Wuxian, I took you for many things, but not a coward."
"Who's running away? I'm going to Jiang Cheng right now."
"And whom are you leaving behind in the process? There are consequences for your actions, Wei Wuxian, despite your uncanny ability to avoid and burden them on others."
WWX flinches. He sees where this is all going; it all comes back to LWJ.
He scoffs. "I thought you wanted me far away from Lan Zhan as possible. Now you're upset I'm giving Jiang Cheng attention? Make up your mind."
"If it were up to me, you'd be far away from both," LQR huffs. "Yet they are both inexplicably drawn to you, much to their detriment."
The discipline scars that litter LWJ's back flood his mind. Physical, permanent proof that the Second Jade would do anything for him.
And then he remembers the scars on JC's chest and the truth behind them. They are, unquestionably, a brand of JC's love as well.
WWX never knew JC cared about him that much. That JC considered him worth sacrificing not only himself but the sect for.
It seems JC really did love him. Or at least he used to.
WWX shakes his head. "I never wanted anyone to get hurt for my sake."
"But you allowed it."
LQR sighs, and for once, there's pity in his gaze. "Facing the mistakes of our past is difficult, and not without pain. You hurt as well, that I can see. I only ask that you reflect."
"You think I haven't? You think I don't know how much pain my arrogance has cost others?"
"But what have you done to atone? You still refuse to acknowledge the past properly." LQR takes another sip of tea. "Upon your resurrection, instead of returning to Lotus Pier to face Jiang Wanyin and all you've done to him, you fled from those old ties and broken promises."
"You took the easy route and ran and hid behind the first person who would not make you confront your sins. Unfortunately, that person happened to be my nephew."
JC quietly follows LWJ through the corridors of CR. Alone, he could practically choke on the hostility LWJ exuded.
For JC, they never really interacted much. WWX was always ditching him to pester the Second Jade, and so all he knows of the Second Jade is what WWX has told him.
But clearly in these past several years, JC must have done something to create such animosity in the righteous Hanguang-jun.
JC wonders what kind of adult he became. His sect and disciples seem to adore him, but everyone else…
He overheard the unsavory things LJY said about his reputation, and LWJ's attitude seemingly confirms that JC is not a good man.
Maybe that's why WWX was so eager to leave him behind and live here with LWJ.
Of course. JC could never match WWX's lofty morals--not like LWJ can.
JC nearly collides into the taller man's back when LWJ suddenly stops. He turns to JC, golden eyes molten.
"If you care about Wei Ying at all, you will return to Lotus Pier and stay out of his life.”
LWJ is unusually expressive in that his brows are furrowed.
"Has he not done enough for you? He repaid the golden core you lost, and it cost him dearly. How much more pain must he suffer for your sake?"
JC glares back. "Once I'm back to normal he'll leave just like before. You can have him."
He hopes his voice doesn't betray him.
"Do you think Wei Ying is so frivolous? He escaped the servitude you shackled him to, only to once again be guilted back into your life."
"No one can make Wei Wuxian do something he doesn't want to. You should know that better than anyone, being his husband and all," JC sneers
as he attempts to walk past.
LWJ grabs his arm, forcing him still. Zidian crackles on JC's hand.
"Let go of me, Lan Zhan," JC threatens.
"Will you not be satisfied until he is no more? You have taken his cultivation, his future, and his very life with your own hands.
And now that he has finally gotten away and moved on, here you are again, clinging to him like a parasite."
A cold, sunken feeling blooms in his gut. /My own hands?/ He steps back, brushing the wall. “He...Wei Wuxian said he died from backlash. From the--"
“Sandu Shengshou personally led the siege that killed Wei Ying. You were there to ensure his death, close enough to take Chenqing for yourself, and slaughter the rest of the Wen remnants. Elderly and children alike. That is your legacy.”
Air refuses to reach his lungs, no matter how hard he heaves. JC backs against the wall for support but his knees still buckle.
WWX told him he died from the backlash of the Stygian Tiger Seal. That it was no one but himself that brought his own end. But LWJ doesn’t--can’t--lie.
He's not lying, because JC can hear the screams. The pleas for mercy and strangled wails of agony. Above it all, he can hear WWX and his dying howls.
JC feels like throwing up.
“You did,” LWJ presses, grabbing the arm JC defensively holds up. “And your presence here is killing him all over again.”
WWX flies down the halls, rules be damned. He couldn’t get away from LQR fast enough, robes nearly drenched in sweat from the third degree he received.
He shouldn't be surprised. LQR has never approved of WWX, even since he was a teenager.
However, he wasn't prepared for LQR to be so protective of JC. When did they even become friends??
WWX really doesn't know anything about JC's adult life, does he?
He rounds the corner, headed for the kitchen when he sees JC and LWJ standing in the hallway.
He smiles, about to call out when he realizes something isn't right.
JC is backed into a corner, cowering, /crying/. By the way he gasps for air between his sobs, it appears he's having another panic attack.
WWX assumes LWJ is there to help, but his husband yanks at JC's arm.
LWJ jerks JC up, forcing him to stand and look at him and--
The expression on LWJ's face is horrific. A kind of hatred WWX has never seen on that beautiful face before.
An old, familiar rage stirs in WWX's gut. Who does LWJ think he is to look at his shidi with such disgust?
Suddenly WWX stands between the two as LWJ stumbles back, forced apart by resentful energy steadily forming around the YLLZ.
WWX grabs JC's shoulders and pulls him close. "Jiang Cheng, it's okay. I'm here."
JC in his panic tries fighting WWX off, wailing and clawing wildly.
"I didn't mean to--I didn't want--" he cries brokenly, hiding his face in WWX’s shoulder. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he repeats over and over.
WWX turns to LWJ who displays a rather pitiful look. "Wei Ying…"
"What did you do?" he hisses, squeezing JC closer.
Protecting him from his own husband, he realizes. "What did you say to him?"
LWJ clearly isn't prepared for WWX's hostility, his flawless jade skin now a sickly pale.
"I told him the truth," LWJ says, unrepentant. "I told him why you couldn't return to Lotus Pier."
JC's body trembles all over as he whimpers out apology after apology. WWX stares LWJ down, and swells with an indescribable feeling at the contentment gleaming in his husband’s eyes when he sees the wreck he's made of JC.
LWJ’s beauty only runs so deep before an ugly, visceral beast stares back. How has he never noticed it before? It's always been there, and WWX has been feeding it since his resurrection.
WWX scoops his shidi into his arms rather easily given JC's now youthful, lithe body.
JC clutches his robes, burying his face in WWX’s neck, still a sobbing mess.
WWX begins to take JC away when LWJ grabs his shoulder, pleading, "Wei Ying!"
LWJ is violently thrown back by a coiling tendril of resentful energy, slamming into the wall before falling to the floor.
WWX doesn't take a finger off of JC, but pins LWJ with a deadly glare, eyes burning bloody red.
"Don't touch us," he seethes. "Don't come near him again, you hear me Lan Wangji? For as long as Jiang Cheng is here, you will not speak to him.
In fact, I better not see you in the same room as him unless I've allowed it."
LWJ gets to his feet, visibly shaken. Still, he directs his anger at JC curled up in WWX's arms.
"Wei Ying, don't you see? He has done nothing but try to wrench us apart."
WWX raises his chin. "Just as you've done to Jiang Cheng and me, right?" He gives LWJ a vicious grin. "Ever since I came back you were always there, a wall between Jiang Cheng and me. And I allowed it, taking shelter behind your extravagant light convinced I had no other option."
"I stood by and let you disrespect and degrade Jiang Cheng, but not anymore. Never again." WWX sighs, his eyes returning to normal as the resentment begins to die out. "You are not the only one at fault. I was the one who let it get this far.
I willed myself to forget what was most important to me. But I won't leave his side again."
WWX begins to walk away.
LWJ follows still, desperation clear in his voice, "You have no future with him! Jiang Wanyin has banned you from Lotus Pier, from his entire life.
What will you do when he returns to normal and no longer clings to you as he does now?"
WWX pauses, and spares LWJ an apathetic eye. "Then he can remain this way."
WWX leaves LWJ standing there without a second glance. In his arms rests a far higher priority.
While still carrying JC, WWX runs into the juniors. LSZ is immediately concerned, asking if JC has been injured.
WWX only asks what room they've prepared for the young sect leader, and goes to take him there.
LJY watches in silent frustration, disrespected on HGJ's behalf.
OYZZ on the other hand, practically squeals when he sees the Yunmeng duo. How smug he is, noting how carefully WWX cradles his shidi in his arms like the hero out of an epic romance. How soft and delicate SLJ looks, hiding himself against WWX like a fair maiden in need of rescue.
OYZZ crosses his arms, smirking at his affronted Lan friends. "Sorry, Sizhui, but I think your dads are breaking up."
LJY crosses his arms with a scowl. "We'll see about that."
"Jingyi, where are you going?"
"I have a letter to send."
WWX takes JC to his room, not wasting a second to put up seals that will keep any intruders out.
JC hiccups and continues a string of apologies that only stoke WWX's rage. He sits on the bed, holding JC in his lap. It takes some maneuvering to get JC to stop hiding his face.
"Hey now, enough of that. No apologizing, remember? You don't have anything to be sorry for."
He cups JC's cheeks, forcing him to look at WWX properly. The teen's face is red and covered in salty tears, but at least the crying has stopped.
"Don't make such an uncute face," WWX chides. "Tell me what's wrong."
JC trembles as if holding back another sob.
"A-Cheng, what did Lan Zhan say to you? Did he hurt you?"
He shakes his head.
WWX wipes away the tears clinging to JC's cheeks with JC looking quite embarrassed.
WWX bites his lip. How is his shidi this adorable??
"A-Cheng, I can't help if I don't know what's wrong."
JC looks up at him with those beautiful almond eyes and says, "I don't want to grow up. Not if it means I'll go back to hating you."
WWX gasps. Is he hearing correctly?
JC wants to stay like this? Stay with him? He fights back a pleased smile.
"Did Lan Zhan tell you that?"
"He... told me what I did during the Siege. W-what I did to you…"
WWX's blood boils, eyes burning red once more. JC flinches, but WWX runs a soothing hand over JC's head.
"Don't listen to his nonsense. Lan Zhan wasn't even there when it all went down." He latches both hands around JC's waist and adjusts him until JC is straddling him, a leg hugging each side of WWX. "In the end it was just us two. I begged you to let me go."
JC looks down at their position, face burning up. "Wei Wuxian…"
WWX squeezes JC's waist, eliciting a tiny squeak. He brings his face to JC’s neck and noses at the soft exposed skin, taking in the heady scent of lotus. “And you, my strong, brave, selfless sect leader,”
he punctuates each word with a small kiss along that slender neck, “showed me the greatest mercy by allowing me to end it.”
The praises do well to laxen JC’s taut posture, though he still holds WWX’s shoulders as if to push him away. WWX peppers some more kisses along JC’s jaw,
easing away the boy’s earlier anxiety. But the moment his lips meet JC’s, his shidi flinches back.
“What about Lan Wangji?”
He chuckles and takes hold of JC’s chin, keeping his gaze as he says, “What about him? The only one I see right now is my A-Cheng.”
At that, JC squirms in his lap and WWX knows he's on the right track to opening him up. He goes in for another kiss. JC doesn’t pull away this time, but doesn’t respond either. WWX pushes on, still holding JC’s face as he deepens the kiss and the boy gasps against his mouth when
he feels the caress of WWX’s tongue.
“But…” JC whimpers in weak protest, "w-we're both…"
"Men? That's nothing new for me," he teases, pulling JC’s hips flush with his. “Are you saying you've never thought about getting kisses from your handsome gege before?"
JC looks ready to burst into flames. WWX puts his mouth back on JC's neck, sucking lightly at his sun-kissed skin. He slowly, gently, squeezes his hands over JC's hips and pulls him even closer. WWX nearly chokes at the feel of JC's hardening cock brushing against his.
JC lets out a small groan and finally wraps his arms around WWX, hugging him closer as his head tilts back, allowing WWX better access to mark his collar with tiny bruises.
"Jiang Cheng," he breathes against his shidi's neck, "look at me."
JC, so obedient, does so without hesitation and immediately his lips are being devoured. JC moans into his mouth, clinging tighter and beginning to grind over WWX's erection.
"Good boy," WWX manages before slipping his tongue into JC's mouth.
More confident than before, JC kisses back, forcing his tongue against WWX's like he's trying to win a fight. With no experience under his belt, WWX can't help but chuckle at JC' clumsy kisses, but welcomes them all the same. To think he is the only one to know what his shidi
tastes like, sounds like--fuck, he's so hard right now.
His fingers tighten around JC's hips as he grinds up against that maddening heat. He guides JC's movements as the younger slowly to ruts back.
"Ah, Wei Wuxian," JC gasps, rubbing his clothed cock against his shixiong’s.
He tries mufflings those desperate, lustful noises against WWX's shoulder, but he's not having any of that.
WWX grabs a handful of JC's hair, yanking his head back to attack his neck once more. A soft, slutty moan jumps from JC's lips, that sweet voice going right to his dick.
“Fuck, A-Cheng, you’re so hot.”
Emboldened, JC clings tighter and rolls his hips down harder. His breath tickles WWX's ear. "You won't leave me, right?"
"No, never," WWX groans, forcing his shidi down against his cock until he's practically fucking him through his clothes.
JC pulls back to face him, eyes half-lidded and mouth unable to close from all the provocative pants he lets out.
Fuck, WWX is so close to coming just watching that beautiful face come undone. He never imagined having JC here like this, in his arms,
begging with everything but words to just be /taken/.
He should feel guilty about what he's doing, but it all just feels so right.
WWX wonders why it's taken this long for this to happen. Could he have had JC like this sooner? Back when he was still YMJ's head disciple,
helping rebuild the sect? When they were teens, before being sent to the Wen's indoctrination?
Or even when they studied here in CR, in the privacy of their shared dorms?
So many missed opportunities because he was too stupid to see how much JC just wanted him here, with him.
JC was raised as a sect heir, to one day lead his clan. WWX always assumed that's what JC /wanted/, why he wanted WWX by his side to help him lead.
But now that he knows the truth, how JC was willing to sacrifice not just himself, but any chance of rebuilding YMJ, all for WWX--
How has he been so blind before? Did he really not recognize JC's love that was so obvious until now?
"Wei Wuxian," JC whines, nuzzling against WWX's cheek, "Shixiong, don't leave me again."
"I won't," he promises, seizing JC's face to reclaim his lips.
Between their open mouths, JC demands, "Say it. Tell me you won't go."
"I won't," he repeats, frantically grinding for release. "A-Cheng--ah, shit, I'm not going anywhere!"
JC mewls, his muscles tensing beneath WWX's hold. Just one more push and--
"Jiang Cheng, I'll never leave your side," WWX says, his hands venturing to get a hold of his shidi's plump ass and somehow pulling him impossibly closer. "You hear me? Wherever you go, I'll be right there. Always."
That does it for JC.
He trembles as he buries his face WWX's neck, coming with a barely suppressed wail. With a couple more thrusts WWX soon follows, overwhelmed by how intense his release is despite remaining fully clothed the entire time.
He falls back onto the bed, dragging a limp JC with him.
He hugs tightly, laughing when JC attempts then quickly gives up on rolling onto his own side of the bed.
"Let go, you're too hot," JC whines, voice worn and drowsy.
He must be really tired because in contrast to his complaints, JC doesn't try to stop WWX's cuddles.
He even leans into them, arms still clinging as he drifts off to sleep.
WWX considers getting up to change robes and get some new ones for JC, but doesn't want to disrupt the moment.
He finally has JC back. His JC; the one he's always wanted but could never have.
His JC; his best friend, his shidi, his sect leader.
And WWX won't ever let him go again.
JC spurs awake at the loud knocking of his guest bedroom door. He sits up, untangling himself from WWX's wiry limbs and shuddering at the cold, wet fabric of his robes.
"Sect Leader Jiang, are you there?"
If he's not mistaken, that's one of the Lan brats. LJY, was it?
"Yes. What do you want?" he barks, hoping to hide his panic.
"Dinner is starting soon. Master Lan will be expecting you."
WWX stirs away beside him, a goofy smile on his face. It makes JC want to punch him.
"All right, I'll be there shortly."
He waits but doesn't hear any retreating footsteps.
"Um, well, by chance is Senior Wei in there with you?"
JC's face heats up like the sun. Did someone see them enter the room together? Or worse, heard them while they...while they…
He wants to scream.
Beside him, WWX finally sits up and with that punchable smile of his, parts his lips to answer. JC slaps his hand over WWX's mouth.
"Of course not! Why would he be in here?" JC snaps. "What are you trying to imply here? What sort of man do you take me for?"
WWX cackles behind JC's hand.
LJY squeaks. "Forgive this one, Sect Leader Jiang! I meant no offense!"
They hear his feet scurry away and JC finally releases WWX. The older man laughs madly.
"Quiet down! What were you thinking?" JC hisses.
WWX shrugs. "Why hide? I'm serious about sticking with you." He wraps his arms around JC, squeezing him close. "And about us."
JC shoves him away. "Shameless!"
"A-Cheng," WWX bemoans.
"No. None of that in front of the Lans, you damn exibitionist.
If you're really serious, then you'll settle things here properly before returning home."
"Home," WWX repeats like a giddy child, bouncing on the bed. "Okay, okay. Got it!"
JC crosses his arms, skeptical. "Awfully fickle, aren't you? What about…"
He doesn't say the name, but they both know who he means. Even though he brought it up, JC doesn't want to think about that. He shouldn't have reminded WWX.
What if WWX realizes he's made a mistake? What if he chooses LWJ again? JC will be left alone once more. Like always.
He's panting before he realizes it, fists twisted up in the bedding. WWX pulls him in, forcing JC's head beneath his chin.
"I told you not to worry. I'm not going anywhere."
JC wants to believe that.